'Teachers in Utrecht too often use their lectures to spread their own ideology'

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The neutrality and objectivity of education at Utrecht University is under pressure. That is what Martin Stolk, second year History student, says. Too often he notices that lecturers present their own opinions as fact.

Read in English

The situation: during a lecture, a professor at Utrecht University shows various graphs and statistics relating to European, and in particular Dutch, economic support to various African countries. The professor then shows various calculations that indicate what happened to the money and where it ended up. Then she makes a big mistake. She goes on to argues that this data show that the Netherlands should give more money to African countries.

Another situation: a lecturer talks about Voltaire and the French Revolution. In the end he makes the banal statement: 'The good won from the bad'. He presented it in a way as if this is the general consensus in the historiographical debate. Moreover, he failed to nuance his statement even a little. Since it was an online lecture because of COVID-19, I left the lecture after this statement and I didn't attend it anymore.

Impact on students
These are just two examples that took place in the past academic year during my bachelor's degree in History at Utrecht University. When you have read the situations above and you think 'what's wrong with this', you should read this essay carefully. After all, it is important that you understand how big the impact on students by teachers is or can be. Utrecht University is losing its neutrality and teachers use the lectures as a platform to spread their own ideology. Students, be (more) vigilant!

I believe that there is a degradation of the neutrality and objectivity of education at Utrecht University (at least within the History Bachelor programme). The University needs to control its employees better and feel more responsible for the dissemination of ideologies by lecturers. Take the example of the first situation in which the professor cries out that the Netherlands should send more money to Africa. What goes wrong here is that she proclaims her own opinion without explicitly mentioning it. I'm critical enough to disagree, but that's by no means the case for all students. The consequence of her statement is that the less critical students go home with the idea that the Netherlands should spend more money on African countries. What the teacher should have done is present the statistics and say: 'From this you could conclude that...' or 'I therefore think that...'. That way, the initiative lies with the student and we are not exposed to propaganda from the professor.

The good ones versus the bad ones
The same goes for the situation with Voltaire and the French Revolution. Why did the good guys win from the bad guys? The teacher may think so, but is it therefore the general consensus? For when we put Voltaire under the heading 'the good' we forget for a moment that he stated several times that black people did not have the same humanity as white people, to name but one counterargument. When you downplay a conflict in this way, you should at least indicate what makes the good people good and what makes the bad people bad.

Should teachers refrain from expressing opinions during lectures completely? No. On the contrary, I want to encourage a teacher to express an opinion. It can serve as a starting point for an interesting discussion and it can provide new perspectives. However, teachers should make it clear that this is their own opinion. They need to realise - and many teachers lack this realisation now - that they can potentially have a lot of influence on students. Students see a teacher as an authority, especially in the field they teach. Too often they (unfortunately) make the mistake of blindly taking over information without thinking critically.

Correcting errors
I think that the University’s Executive Board and the students should be more critical of lecturers who present their opinions as facts during lectures. It is possible that some lecturers may not be aware of it at all. This is sloppy, and teachers should be made aware of this. However, it is also possible that teachers are aware of it. These teachers need to be dealt with harshly. They have to rectify their mistakes immediately and then always indicate that it concerns their own opinion. After all, universities are still financed by public funds and should therefore be (politically) neutral. A university, through its lecturers, must stimulate students to be critical, also of the university itself.

At the same time, this essay can also be seen as an illustration of the luxurious position Dutch students find themselves in. A number of ideological proclamations and we already feel politically influenced. In comparison to other countries where, for example, gigantic portraits of heads of state hang in lecture halls or where a lecture is more like an average Trump rally, we don’t have it so bad at all here. However, we have to be vigilant and at least maintain or, even better, improve our current standards. Teachers should therefore always express their own opinions as such and students should remain vigilant and critical. This is the only way to prevent the demise of neutral and objective education.

 

Call for experiences
Do you recognize what Martin Stolk writes and do you also have practical examples of teachers who present their own opinion as a given fact? Or do you think it's a good thing that teachers take a stand and challenge students to discuss their opinions? Please let us know. Mail your experience to dubredactie@uu.nl.
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