By Richard Pera
On November 8th, Ohioans went to the polls to decide issues on the state and local levels. Kenyon students were well aware of the key political questions, especially involving the Mount Vernon school district. Why did we know about the desperate need to renew the Mt. Vernon schools’ tax levy or elect progressive minds to their school board? Because many of our professors and administrators wanted us to vote for their agenda.
The professors who teach us are highly opinionated, which is not necessarily a bad thing. We expect our professors to be learned, and how can we expect them to teach us how to defend our opinions if they hold none of their own? I do not have a problem with our professors actively stating their political beliefs or even endorsing candidates, as long as it is not tantamount to counseling students. I take issue with a professor using their position to ask – and in some cases plead – for students to support their agenda at the ballot box. I admire faculty participation in the democratic process, and it is not my intention to judge the political positions of faculty. Rather, I oppose the unfair methods employed by some faculty members to counsel their students to vote a different way.
Perhaps you noticed the ‘Concerned Citizens of Mount Vernon School District,’ on Election Day. The political action committee, co-founded by a Kenyon faculty member, distributed flyers and posted signs that urged students to vote against creationist candidates. There is nothing wrong with the table in Peirce Hall or with the political action committee in and of itself; nothing was written on the pamphlets that suggested professors’ involvement in the organization. If Kenyon professors want to advocate certain issues with their own time and mon
ey, separate from their positions of power in the lives of students, that is their prerogative. However, this healthy political expression proved to be the exception, not the rule.
Leading up to Election Day, Allstu came alive with posts about voting. Some were generic messages encouraging students to vote, while others flatly endorsed the raising of the school levy and the election of pro-evolution candidates for school board. I became unnerved after discovering endorsement posts written by Kenyon faculty and administrators, including the following:
“Do you want to live in, or even near, a community where the public schools teach creationism/intelligent design in science class?”
“Teaching children ‘creationism/intelligent design’ is like teaching Harry Potter’s magic in physics class.”
“Keep religious education at home and in your House of Worship. Keep science and the fundamentals of education in the public schools. Period.”
Additionally, one of the founders of ‘Concerned Citizens’ (and current political science professor) sent an Allstu message asking students and community members for financial donations to her newly formed group, triggering an almost immediate response. Equally unethical are direct emails and in-person statements from professors to their students supporting their local political agenda. Many students have told me that their professors sent emails asking them to vote a certain way. One such email written by a mathematics professor to her classes included the following regarding support of pro-evolution candidates and the school levy: “This issue is important to me – both as a parent and as somebody who is concerned about the education of all children in our community…PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE get out to vote on Tuesday.”
I admit that our local situation is unique because Gambier and Kenyon are essentially the same community. In such close-knit environment where a small number of votes can sway the outcome of an election, professors may simply not be able to resist lobbying their students. Some students may conclude that if they do not follow their professor’s advice, then they are not being loyal to Kenyon College. This is just plain wrong.
Citizens who favor exposing kids to intelligent design also have a right to be heard. Yet their few supporters likely have less access to Kenyon students over online College forums like our professors and administrators do. Furthermore, Kenyon faculty condemned supporters of intelligent design when they did attempt to express their opposing views. Moreover, efforts by the faculty to target students for fundraising are egregious, if not an outright violation of school policy. Is this the right way for our faculty members to be acting? Are they justified in advocating their local political agenda to the students they are paid to educate?
In the week leading up to Election Day, professors solicited funds over Kenyon message threads for a political action committee, clearly stated their highly negative opinions of intelligent design on public College forums, and sent their students direct emails (also speaking to them in person) pleading for support of their personal political agenda. In my mind, this is unacceptable behavior. Kenyon professors who deliberately influence their students’ votes are abusing their office. For a school that prides itself on its tolerance and integrity, this behavior is unethical and inappropriate.