Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Service learning? 

Faculty sometimes will use their classes to forward political positions. Here's a case from Stevens Point, Wisconsin.
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point professor John Munson sent an e-mail from his university account in November to students urging them to patronize non-smoking establishments and collect signatures to put an anti-smoking referendum on the ballot.

In exchange, he wrote, the students would get up to 1,500 extra credit points.

Although the referendum lost at the polls by 1,000 votes on April 5, a group of bar and restaurant owners called "Be Fair" is continuing their civil lawsuit against Munson and the university.

The group is asking for a ruling declaring that Munson, a professor of health promotion and human development, illegally used his classroom for political advocacy, which is barred for state employees. The lawsuit does not seek monetary damages.

...The subject line of the e-mail, which was included in court documents, is "Volunteer Opportunity to make a difference in the Stevens Point Area 1,500 Points Extra credit/Community Service."
Should this suit succeed, it would be an important victory for those who think politics needs to be out of the classroom. It might also stop the behavior of some administrators, as Stephen Karlson notes.
The service learning scam has not afflicted the economics curriculum, although from time to time the university sends around a memorandum inviting faculty members to get involved in its own service learning initiatives, many of which (not surprisingly) encourage students to engage in (approved forms of) unpaid activism for college credit.