What Students Mean When They Say Professors “Indoctrinate”

By October 1, 2007

In light of the recent AAUP statement on “Freedom in the Classroom” and the September 26 world premiere of Indoctrinate U, I thought it would be helpful to investigate what students actually complain about when they use the term “indoctrinate.”

The AAUP statement is concerned with addressing four sets of charges laid by critics (quoting AAUP):

(1) instructors “indoctrinate” rather than educate;
(2) instructors fail fairly to present conflicting views on contentious subjects, thereby depriving students of educationally essential “diversity” or “balance”;
(3) instructors are intolerant of students’ religious, political, or socioeconomic views, thereby creating a hostile atmosphere inimical to learning; and (4) instructors persistently interject material, especially of a political or ideological character, irrelevant to the subject of instruction.

Peter Wood at the NAS adds a fifth charge: (5) instructors “coerce students to engage in political action.”

For my unbiased source of student complaints, I turned to RateMyProfessors.com. Search on the word “indoctrinate,” and this is what you’ll get, here excerpted but unedited. (You’ll get additional hits if you search on “indoctrination.”) I only include instances where two or more students comment similarly:

  • She tries to indoctrinate all of her pupils with her liberal views on the the environment, business, and religion. She’s patronizing, rude, her voice is annoying, and she NEVER speaks on econ. she pushes her views on us daily. cares more about the environment than econ and won’t listen to other opinions. treats students like they’re idiots. [From another student:] rambled about history all the time, thought i was learning macro economics not economic history from 1900-present.
  • Her goal doesn’t seem to be to educate but to indoctrinate. She fumbles around true topics and concerns herself with egotistical, superior, definitions of religion derived from the texts. [From another student:] She preaches Catholicism as the only way to go, if you’re not Catholic, she hates you. [From another:] The essays are absurdly difficult, she allows for no personal opinion. And yet she asks for it.
  • She is brilliant—at revenge politics. Showed favoritism to those w/ her political bent, even when not rigorous. … Hated me for my views, and walked out of the room during my presentation. I hear she has done this to others. [From another:] Too political—focused more on what she believes and what she wishes to indoctrinate her students with than the topic at hand.
  • Very stubborn and openly tries to indoctrinate everyone to his libertarian point of view, but very nice, helpful, and an easy grader. [From another:] He has a ridiculous “my way or the highway” attitude about economics.
  • There’s not a topic that he touches that he doesn’t turn into an excuse for a social commentary. He appears to hate America and loves to pivot every subject into that hatred. [From another:] Did not have a plan, talked about his cats and stereo system instead of the subject …
  • wants to indoctrinate you, has a fixation on the Iraq War, yes, its horrible, move on! opinionated. But a fair grader, 3 papers and your done, keep any kind of conservative views to yourself and you’ll do great. [From another:] has a wierd obcession with cindy shehann, and she just likes to bash bush everyday, we can be talking about sandwhiches and shell start talking about how bush cant eat a sandwhich and how he shouldnt be running the country [Another:] Worst Professor i ever had. Didnt teach facts, just her opinions [Another:] All she talks about is how America has ravaged the world. She blames the U.S. for everything from the cold war to some poor guy who slipped on a banana peel. Her class is nothing but a bash America session.

The postings are anonymous, and we should be careful not to take these assertions as fact, or even as well-considered opinions, even if they are. Yet, when two or three or four students agree, and when more than one course is mentioned, the collective credibility of such assertions rises considerably. RateMyProfessors.com provides a forum for students to advise one another about professors, in their own words and free of possible retribution. Professors are permitted to flag posts that may be libelous or incorrect. I would never use the site for a faculty performance review, but the assertions here are satisfactory for the present purpose.

Besides, some comments, like these, are on the positive side:

  • Ignore the complaints that he’s attempting to indoctrinate you. Yes, he’s a Marxist,so what? I consider myself right of center and I absolutely loved the class and respect the hell out of this man. He will NEVER discourage you for having an opposing view.
  • One student got him to admit that he is politically conservative, but when pressed for details he politely declined and said he did not want to indoctrinate students. He has integrity that is severely lacking in so many liberal professors …

The AAUP did not need to wait for Harvey Silverglate’s article, “When Education Becomes Indoctrination,” to come out in order to find evidence of indoctrination (or, at least, attempted indoctrination) in America’s colleges and universities. I know that people tend to ignore evidence they don’t like, but Anthony Dick has it right:

It’s hardly worth asking anymore whether political indoctrination is a problem in higher education. The problem has been demonstrated and re-demonstrated ad nauseam over the last couple of decades …

Some easy research on the part of the AAUP would have turned up quite a number of specific complaints about specific professors, such as those above. I find it rather misleading for the AAUP to argue that

with more than half a million full-time faculty in four-year colleges and universities teaching more than seven million students, it would seem statistically certain that sometime, somewhere, some instructor will step over the line.

Well, quite a number have stepped over the line. To start with, how about those six above?