Tuesday, March 20, 2007

What to do about ranting professors? 

One thing the internet and places like FIRE and NoIndoctrination have done is to let students know that they don't have to put up with faculty who are spouting off their political views in a class and disguising themselves as practicing academic freedom. The recent case at North Idaho College gives an example of this. A freshman comp course, taught by an adjunct instructor (though the instructor says she has taught for 25 years), in which the instructor wants to "spur debate and get students to think critically." As RightWingProf notes, critical thinking as practiced here "has nothing to do with thinking, unless you consider groupthink and parroting the left-wing PC party line to be thinking, and it certainly isn't critical." The student -- a former aide for Rep. Helen Chenoweth, so not your usual student here -- marched out and demanded her money back. The school paid her off.

That's certainly one way to go. But the faculty member complains that she had no idea the student was offended. And while you and I, as people of the right, might think "why should I have to explain to you that lipping off about how Republicans can't read in a classroom is inappropriate?", there are others who would say there has to be some due process given to the faculty member. So if you are a student or parent of a student facing this, here's what I say to do.
  1. Talk to the instructor. I hear complaints about faculty. Until the student and the faculty member have a talk, there's very little I can do. The student will come in and vent, and I will give a sympathetic ear, but I cannot do anything as a department chair on that basis. Frankly, nobody can. Students fear retribution, but until it actually happens there's not much we can do. When retribution does happen, we have ways of dealing with that. Not always effective, but better than you might think.
  2. Document everything. Take good notes, noting the time, what was said, what was the topic being discussed before the rant, what was on the syllabus for discussion that day, etc. Take a tape or digital recorder to class. If your student handbook says you must ask permission first, do so. If it doesn't, put it on your desk and turn it on. Say you're using it to assist note-taking. That may get the faculty member to desist. I've seen it work a couple of times. (There does not appear to be any restrictions on taping here.)
  3. Talk to classmates. Ask them if they hear the same things and if they have similar reactions. That can help verify the complaint. Meeting collectively with the faculty member, in or out of class, may solve things.
  4. When all that fails, go to the mattresses. That means the blogs, the press, the president of the university, everywhere. It is not illegal for the faculty member to indoctrinate, but it's unprofessional behavior. Call them on it, and if it's at a public school whip out the taxpayer card. If it's a private school, mail the link or the newspaper clipping to the trustees.