The familiar complaint among students about biased teaching on campus was debunked in the Pack Poll’s latest flash poll this semester. Contrary to popular thinking, the majority of students at N.C. State do not consider there to be any political bias in the classroom setting. To test the effects of question wording, the Pack Poll constructed two differently worded questions that effectively asked the same thing. The first question shifted the attention to the individual instructor. Half of the student sample was asked, “Do you think N.C. State faculty are politically biased in the classroom?” The second half of the sample was asked the alternative, “Do you think N.C. State courses are taught from a politically biased perspective?” The results were similar, either way. In response to the first question, 61% of students said no and 24% said yes. 15% had no opinion. Of those that responded to the second question, 62% said no and 20% said yes, while 18% had no opinion.
However, those that answered affirmatively to the presence of political bias in campus classrooms said they perceived greater liberal bias (47%) than conservative bias (11%). 42% said they perceived there to be bias in both a liberal and conservative light.
Faculty don’t know they’re doing it, according to students
Nevertheless, a large portion, 71%, of those that perceived a bias did not think faculty were intentionally indoctrinating students. Just 52 students in the poll saw bias and said faculty were purposefully teaching from a politically biased perspective. This suggests students trust that their instructors are transparent educators.
Do ideological differences play a part?
Taking the ideological differences of students into account, students’ perceptions of bias on campus did not shift according to whether they were a self-identified liberal or conservative in social and economic issues.* The survey asked students to pinpoint themselves on a scale ranging from very liberal to very conservative with moderate being the midpoint. Half of the sample was asked to identify themselves on the scale in social issues, and the other half on economic issues to better measure the differences social and economic ideology may contribute towards bias perception.
Only 17% of social liberals said there was faculty bias, while 58% said there was no faculty bias. 19% of social conservatives said yes, and 62% said no. Among those that answered the question regarding economic ideology, 30% of economic liberals said faculty were indeed politically biased, while 55% said no. 26% of economic conservatives also felt there was bias, but still the majority, 66% of economic conservatives, said there was not. Most students, regardless of where they stand on social and economic issues, do not perceive any political bias from the faculty.
Among students who saw bias, about half (47%) of them also thought that politically biased teaching changed NCSU students’ beliefs. On the other hand, 42% of those that thought faculty were politically biased did not think NCSU students were susceptible to bias, while the remainder had no opinion. Interestingly, many students who said the faculty was not biased (41%) still thought it could affect students, at least in principle. While the numbers show that there is a difference where we might expect—that is, those that see bias are also more likely to think students are influenced, and those that don’t see a bias are less likely to think students are influenced—the difference is marginal.
*Note: The above discussion of relationships between perceptions of bias and other answers are nearly identical when we substitute the faculty bias question with the wording about “courses taught from a politically biased perspective.”
The PackPoll is a representative survey of NCSU 1,032 undergraduates. The survey was conducted over the internet using email to sample students between Nov 7-12, 2013. The response rate 23%, and the margin of sampling error is +/-2.97%.