Campus Struggles to Bipartisan in Election

When one faculty member tried to take students to an anti-war rally in the 1960s, a colleague accused him of treason. Fast-forward 40 years and today, student and faculty aversion to war is public and hardly stifled. In the Andover of 2004, the community constantly engages in political debate both formally and informally. Unlike the conservative academy of 40 years ago, a majority of the community is perceived to hold liberal political beliefs. Some with conservative political views feel that the community alienates them because of this. As Instructor in History, Victor Henningsen said, “By and large the history department will not be voting Republican this fall.” Many faculty feel it is important to leave their personal beliefs out of the classroom while others find it to be an effective method of teaching. Instructor in English Seth Bardo said, “I think it’s important for faculty to be passionate about topics. Whether it’s photography or politics, we express these passions in the classroom.” The question then arises whether the expression of these beliefs strongly influences or stifles the political forum for students. Teachers say that they hope to keep students feeling “safe, comfortable, and respected,” Mr. Bardo said. Head of the Young Republicans, Nick Smith Wang ’05 said “Andover leans to the left in many ways.” He continued, “At such a young age most students don’t know that much about politics, so the natural tendency is to sway the way of the vocal majority.” Whether this majority leans to the left or right, the current administration attempts to keep an even hand amidst it all. This year’s All-School Meeting Committee is actively pursuing speakers from both the Kerry and Bush campaigns in an effort to expose students to both perspectives. Vanessa Kerry ’95 will be speaking on behalf of the John Kerry’s campaign, and the committee is still in the process of selecting a speaker to represent the George W. Bush ’64 campaign. “It’s easy to be evenhanded as our alumni is split with people from both political persuasions,” said Director of Communications Sharon Britton. Not everyone agrees with the Communications Department’s assessment. “If you’re in an atmosphere where the predominant thinking is liberal you feel like a minority…you just have that many fewer people who share your opinion,” said Instructor in Spanish George Dix. This minority has shifted dramatically over the years. Mr. Henningsen recalled a story from 1965, in the midst of the debate over the justification of the Vietnam War. “One student had the temerity to express disbelief in the domino theory and Mr. James, the head of the history department at the time, told the student to get out of class and ‘come back when you do’,” said Mr. Henningsen. This extreme partisanship and unwillingness to entertain opposing viewpoints has disappeared giving way to an open forum for discussion. As Mr. Bardo said, “We want everyone to feel they can say things, that’s education in it’s ideal sense.” This setting also includes a place for teachers to share their beliefs amidst student participation, and Mr. Bardo believes what students glean from this experience is an important part of education. He continues, “Wearing a bow tie could affect kids’ thinking. You never know what’s going to impress students, it’s what they take from it that is important.” Others believe allowing students to draw conclusions based upon their teacher’s beliefs is not the best approach. Mr. Henningsen said, “Our job as teachers is to inform not direct. We should give students a framework to think about issues.” “Students are looking to what adults do and say. Maybe adults are not always aware that we are leaving an impression,” concluded Mr. Henningsen.