UW Professor More Than Qualified to Teach Presidency Course

Syllabus week: one final week of freedom before college students get bombarded by assignments and stress; a week to relax before the reality of another semester hits. This syllabus week, however, is a little different than previous semesters if you’re a political science student at the University of Wisconsin.

Recently, a syllabus for the American Presidency course taught by Kenneth Mayer went viral on Facebook, after a student, Mckenna Collins, posted a rant accusing him of making “EVERY effort to instill in college students an illegitimate distrust and hate for the President of the United States BEFORE THE COURSE HAS EVEN STARTED!” The post has been shared over 400 times and got enough attention for the student to appear on Tucker Carlson Tonight’s segment “College Craziness.”

(Facebook screenshot)

 

Tucker Carlson started the segment by discussing how “political indoctrination is replacing teaching in many college classrooms.” He then transitioned to say that it is important to see “how bad the rot is” by taking a look at one college professor’s syllabus for a course on the American Presidency. He then transitions to say that Dr. Mayer is diverting his presidency course to “banal into a screed against the Trump administration.”

 

Carlson brought the student that shared the syllabus on Facebook onto his show to have a conversation with her about the course and whether or not he was exaggerating. Collins said that in no way was Carlson exaggerating his analysis of the syllabus and that she “had to make sure she was in an actual academic course and not Trump Derangement Syndrome 101.”

 

(copied from FB post)

Carlson also asked Collins what would happen if she dissented on Mayer’s approach and asked Dr. Mayer to teach his course differently than how he is. Collins replied that she felt she “would be penalized for that.” The three-minute interview covered a lot of ground, but very little of it was a factual representation of the course, Dr. Mayer, the University of Wisconsin, and the political science department.

 

I took the course in question during Spring of 2017. I thought that taking the presidency course the same semester that a new president was being inaugurated would be an eye-opening and unique experience—it certainly was.

 

For Carlson to call Dr. Mayer “deeply unimpressive” is egregious. While I didn’t personally see eye-to-eye with some of Dr. Mayer’s interpretations of current events, that doesn’t make him any less qualified to teach the course. He taught his course as nonpartisan as possible. He would state his opinion on current events as they were happening, asking for alternate viewpoints, and backing up his own with other cases and evidence—never did he teach his own opinion as fact. Dr. Mayer is one of the most highly regarded political scientists—his research on American political institutions is incredibly noteworthy, and it’s hard to find current political research on American politics without reference to his work, which is why this entire so-called controversy is completely puzzling to me. Dr. Mayer’s biography, publications, and awards can be found on the university’s website.

 

I would like to point out that the course that Collins is slandering is not a required course for any student at the university—including students pursuing political science degrees. The course is offered by the Department of Political Science as an elective, but it is by no means required. Additionally, this matter could have been handled in a mature and civil manner, but rather Collins took to social media and national media outlets to voice her concerns rather than approaching Dr. Mayer, the head of the department or university administration.

 

From the handful of conversations I have had with Dr. Mayer, he is completely receptive to other viewpoints and opinions. If Collins had approached Dr. Mayer regarding the way he wrote the syllabus, he likely would have had an explanation for her. Collins, instead, told Carlson that she did not approach Dr. Mayer nor any member of the university staff as she felt she would be penalized; she did, however, see it fit to go on a national news show to rant with one of the most biased TV news personalities there is instead of approaching the situation like an adult.

 

Dr. Mayer has been at the university since the 1990s, and despite what Carlson and Collins concluded, Dr. Mayer is more than qualified to be teaching this course. While Dr. Mayer did not ever disclose what political party he identifies with, he often seemed to have more conservative beliefs than liberal ones, but to note again, Dr. Mayer taught his course in a nonpartisan nature. For Carlson to state that “all the dumb kids end up teaching at the University of Wisconsin” is a gross oversight on his part. The political science program at UW is ranked 15th in the country, beating out five of the eight Ivy League universities.

 

Many have come out in support of Collins and many that have spoken against her conjecture, including College Republicans of UW-Madison. The UW College Republicans released a statement hours before Collins appeared on Tucker Carlson Tonight. College Republicans detailed that many of the members of the executive board had taken the course in question, and while they disagree with how the syllabus for this semester was written, they stated they “have found [Professor Mayer] to be an intellectually engaging professor that treats conservatives fairly.” They went on to say they “believe such criticism of professors should be reserved for cases in which students are clearly discriminated against for their political beliefs” and they “do not believe Professor Mayer is such a professor.” Additionally, several members of Her Campus Wisconsin have also taken the course in question or other courses taught by Dr. Mayer and all had positive reviews of him and are in agreement that he is a fair professor who teaches in a nonpartisan manner.

 

Again, Dr. Mayer’s course was engaging and informational and in no manner was it partisan. I learned a lot from the presidency course when I took it and it helped me grow as a thinker and helped me to develop my own opinions, never did I feel pressured to succumb to Mayer’s opinions, nor did I feel oppressed if my views differed or see an impact to my grade if I thought differently than Dr. Mayer did. He is one of the most highly respected political scholars in the United States and for a student to be defaming his reputation because she has a differing opinion is abhorrent.