What professors should and shouldn’t be allowed to say in classrooms has come into question at many universities, including GW. Last month, the faculty senate passed a resolution for more defined guidelines for exercising and defending academic freedoms after students allegedly recorded class lectures without approval from the professor.
At other universities, similar situations have quickly escalated. At Orange Coast College last year, a professor went on an anti-Trump rant, making students who supported President Donald Trump feel uncomfortable. One student recorded the rant and posted it on YouTube and Facebook. As a result, the student was suspended for the semester – although his suspension was later revoked after the student appealed the punishment – and the professor faced harassment through social media, leading her to leave her job and California.
OCC has a firm rule derived from state law that prohibits students from recording professors without their permission, and doing so can lead to disciplinary action, which I wholly agree with. Professors have the right to decide whether their lectures are recorded or not, and students shouldn’t be recording lectures in the first place because it negatively affects class discussion.
Incidents like the one at OCC have also caused many websites to pop up, such as Professor Watchlist, with the sole purpose of publishing professors’ partisan statements in order to prevent them from abusing their power. The website essentially acts as a record if a professor were to express any biases or discrimination against a particular political side.
I understand the students’ position in wanting to keep a professor’s actions in check. These students are afraid of being silenced and discriminated against because of their political standing. They believe that by recording evidence of professors’ political leanings and posting it online, they can then ensure professors don’t abuse their position as educators. But the situation in OCC was blown out of proportion.
The OCC professor not only received massive harassment through social media, but also had to leave her life behind in order to keep her privacy. This is what professors who discuss politics in class fear will happen to them when students record their lectures. This fear, in turn, censors professors and affects the class’ ability to have necessary, thought-provoking discussions.
Tip-toeing around students in fear of retaliation for expressing opinions is both a tragedy and a loss.
Professors in political-oriented classes already censor their words to protect themselves from any backlash after expressing political ideals. They often begin their sentences with “I’m not taking sides or anything,” before proceeding with their statements. Tip-toeing around students in fear of retaliation for expressing opinions is both a tragedy and a loss. Professors should be able to state their opinions and their reasons for that thinking. And at the same time, students should be allowed to give reasons for why they disagree with the professor’s statement.
As a political communication major, debating issues and listening to others’ opinions is what I enjoy the most during class. I learned the best way to improve my own knowledge is to listen to different opinions, and then stop and think, “OK, now how can I prove them wrong?” If students and professors fear retaliation for expressing their opinions, then it will be difficult for them to have thorough and thought-provoking debate.
Some people are open to changing their opinions, but it’s generally difficult to change a person’s mind. GW is the most politically active campus in the country, so changing a student’s opinion here involves a substantial amount of counter-debate. This is why GW needs to expose students to debate in a classroom environment without fear that those views will be broadcasted online. A true democracy is one in which all sides are given a chance to voice their opinion without fear of censorship.
A true democracy is one in which all sides are given a chance to voice their opinion without fear of censorship.
By constantly surveilling professors, the quality of lectures and in-class discussion would deteriorate. Professors would be too concerned with whether what they’re saying is biased or overly political to lead a proper classroom discussion. For people majoring in fields like political science, political communication and journalism, this dialog is the highlight of the class. There is no better way to challenge students than to have them argue for their own beliefs. These differing opinions force students to hear all sides of a topic, which helps them further develop their thoughts. But if professors are too concerned with what they say, they may hold back on valuable information that could affect the outcome and direction of a debate.
I understand the concerns of students who record their professor and post partisan geared statements online because I know it can be uncomfortable to listen to different viewpoints, especially those that go against a person’s core beliefs. But people will be exposed to those opinions all throughout their life. I cannot condone this action because it means I would lose stimulating conversations with my professors.
If students are allowed and encouraged to freely express their opinions and stances on issues, then professors should be as well.
If students are allowed and encouraged to freely express their opinions and stances on issues, then professors should be as well. Arguing that professors are educators, and thus should have no opinion, is too weak of an argument to suppress this freedom. An educator is meant to teach and challenge students, and that job description can only be achieved if their own opinions are allowed to counter and engage the students in the classroom.
Raisa Choudhury, a sophomore majoring in political communication, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
Want to respond to this piece? Submit a letter to the editor.
This article appeared in the May 1, 2017 issue of the Hatchet.