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Poli sci department lacking in diversity

The American political system is built on checks and balances. Our founding fathers knew that in order to keep the system fair and balanced, no one person or political party could hold all the power. 


But at the UA, the scales aren't so balanced.  

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The Arizona Daily Wildcat searched the County Recorder's voting record database for the UA's current political science professors and found no registered Republicans.


Of 14 UA professors teaching political science classes this semester, nine are Democrats, two have no designated political party and three aren't registered to vote.


Former Tucson Mayor and longtime public servant Tom Volgy said the department used to employ a few Republicans, including a Republican Pima County Supervisor.


""But we never ask,"" he said. ""So we probably don't know."" 


Volgy said his guess is that, by nature, Democrats are more interested in government, and would want to teach it, whereas Republicans want less government and aren't as interested in teaching the subject.


But Mike Cole, chairman of the Pima County Young Republicans, said the numbers are proof of the university's liberal bias.


""The students are getting indoctrinated by their liberal professors,"" Cole said.


Cole said he believes the university should change its policies, including adding a professor's political affiliation to the course schedule so students will know beforehand if their professor is a liberal or conservative. 


Though he doesn't support hiring on the basis of political affiliation, Cole said he would like the university to try to balance the number of Democrats and Republicans by making a conscious effort to hire conservatives as some of the older professors retire. 


A mandate to balance the political science department isn't like a Republican professor affirmative action plan, he said. ""It's just fair.""


""They have a college Republican club and a college Democrat club,"" he said. ""I think they need to be fair here by having professors from both parties, at least, and they're not.""


Pat Willerton, a political science associate professor, said he knows the professors he teaches with are Democratic, but wouldn't want the school to try to balance the department by hiring Republicans. 


""I would be nervous about that in any discipline,"" he said. ""That you're trying to purposely have a quota of people that are of this political orientation or that.""


Everyone has a political leaning or a bias, Willerton said, but they should be hired based on their knowledge and ability to teach, not on their pick for president.


Though he was raised a conservative Republican, Willerton said his education and life experiences have turned him into a Democrat and he suspects the majority of his colleagues in the social sciences are also Democrats. 


Research supports Willerton's hypothesis. In 2006, Chris Cardiff and Daniel Klein co-authored an article on the subject for Critical Review. The study examined the political party registration of tenure-track professors at 11 California universities and found that overall there were five Democrats for every Republican. The division was even wider in the humanities, arts and social sciences. For the political science departments surveyed, the ratio was 6.5 Democrats for every Republican. In the UA political science department, that number is nine Democrats to zero Republicans.


For Willerton, the issue isn't what party a professor ascribes to — it's how they grade. He grades students on organization, clarity of arguments and diversity of cited sources, but not on personal politics.


""I don't deny I have very strongly held views,"" he said. ""I just try to separate it out. I'm going to try to stimulate you, provoke you and welcome alternative views, but I'm not grading you on your politics.""


Though the UA political science department doesn't employ any Republicans, not all the professors vote Democrat — some don't vote at all.


Political science professor Bill Mishler said he hasn't ""committed voting"" since roughly 1980. He called voting a waste of time and said anyone who doesn't believe in the luck of roulette shouldn't believe his or her vote makes a difference. 


""The costs of voting always outweigh the benefits for the voter, for any individual voter,"" he said. ""And quite frankly, very large numbers of political scientists don't vote, we just happen to have a very large number at Arizona who do.""


He cites ""collective good,"" a theory stating that if everyone does something, like put a muffler on their car, it's good for society, but without some kind of incentive, there is no reason for any individual to do so. If the government wanted people to vote, they would make it mandatory, he said, like other countries do.


As the former head of the political science department, Mishler's choice not to vote has prompted some media inquiry in the past, and he now explains his position to his students, including Alyssa Thompson, who took his class in the spring of 2008.


As a senior in the School of Journalism, minoring in political science, and someone who was raised in a very Republican household and still leans conservative, Thompson said she could see Mishler's liberal philosophy, along with those of her other professors, but she's never been graded poorly for thinking differently. 


""(In Mishler's class) I wrote a paper that probably, definitely had my opinion in it, but he didn't have any problem with it,"" she said. ""He graded me fairly.""


This semester, her professor is ""more opinionated, and I'm definitely aware of where she stands,"" Thompson said.


In talking about health care, the professor asked students to raise their hands if they believed in nationalized health care, Thompson said, and assumed everyone in the class was for it, as she was.


In the discussion about pros and cons of national health care after the class vote, Thompson said the professor ""definitely spoke out about her reasons for nationalized health care much more so than against.""


But those instances of seeing a professor's beliefs don't bother Thompson, who still calls the classes ""pretty balanced."" 


""I feel like I'm strong enough in my own opinions that it doesn't really bother me,"" she said.


""If I was someone who didn't quite know what I thought or (didn't) know my own political beliefs, I feel like I might be a little more uncomfortable. But for myself it hasn't been a problem.""


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