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Tuesday, April 19, 2005

No ethics reform for you!

Sorry-- I have a senator who wants to write on this subject. I am waiting for that report so you can get a different voice on this subject. The senate bill came back to the House with amendments that put some teeth into ethics reform, and was more broad as to its scope. When it came back, it was killed again and sent off to a conference committee to try to work out the differences.

Today I will talk about the student bill of rights. This bill states that students at state funded universities should expect that

1. professors not grade them on the basis of their political or religious beliefs.

2. Teachers should follow the American Association of University Professors guidelines in that "teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject".

3.Student funds should be distributed on a viewpoint neutral basis and taxpayer funded universities should maintain a posture of neutrality with respect to substantive political or religious differences.

4.Students should also have the right to be informed of the statewide policy if a student has a grievance.

Similar bills are being proposed in many states due to an escalating number of student complaints. As far as I know, the legal concept originated in Colorado and became popular as stories surfaced relating to the problems of a few teachers using up large chunks of class time espousing their personal political or religious points of view.

In some cases, many students feel speaking up or questioning their professors has cost them a grade. In Tennessee we have lottery funded scholarships and a lowered grade or two can permanently cost a student his scholarship.

When I was in college in upstate New York, I saw problems on many occasions. Most students got to the point that they feared speaking on any subject for fear of upsetting the professor. This is not a good learning environment.

Upon moving to Tennessee I discovered the problem is worse. Although it could be just that problems have accelerated since I was in school. An example is an experience I shared with university students not long ago. I helped set up a forum called the "Bush Bash" at the Univ. of Tenn. during the last presidential election. This event was intended to attract students from all points of view to come forward and talk about why they supported their candidate or why they did not support a candidate.

The event was small, though well advertised.
I had several students come up to the microphone and say things like “my professor would fail me if he knew I was here" or "this isn't being filmed for rebroadcast on campus TV is it?"

It is time to try to address this problem. Many schools do have procedures in place, but because of teacher tenure, being able to do anything about this problem is nearly impossible. I feel students should have the right to maintain their own points of view without it hurting their grade while also ensuring them the greatest ability to grow.

I also feel that students who pay for a biology class should not have to listen to an hour and a half of partisan or political attacks against an elected official or issue. This has nothing to do with the subject that the student paid to learn nor the state of Tenn. funded the professor to teach. I want to be clear that this is not a problem with all professors or all classes--but neither is sexual harassment or racial discrimination.

The goal of this bill is to protect freedoms of students to have points of view that may be different from their professor and to truly and genuinely open debate on our college campuses. Other than stating what I believe to be non-partisan statements of the rights students should have, the central force of the bill is to set up a statewide grievance procedure where a student can have his/her grievance heard.


  1. The individual college campuses have this under control. There is a hirearchy that can be channeled if such bias exists. Thats all we need, another useless board.

  2. While a few campuses may seem to have this under control, several don't, and will continue to ignore it as long as there is no legislation against it. I know of one particular instance at MTSU where a student received a 'D' on a paper written about Congressman Marsha Blackburn b/c it didn't include a section about her 'scandals'. To date, no 'scandals' have been pinned on Congressman Blackburn, presumably b/c they do not exist. I attend MTSU, and this Student Bill of Rights has been passed by our SGA and is now in place. More than a few professors vehemently opposed this legislation, but I view that as arrogant. A professor should teach exactly what they are hired to teach. Although I'm very involved in politics and feel passionately about the subject, I care very little about my professor's political views outside of my political science classes. No student in their right mind would oppose this non-partisan legislation that is only there to help them.

  3. I, on the other hand, wouldn't feel challenged if my teachers did not introduce controversial material in my courses. It is this type of material that challenges people to re-think the position they have taken on certain issues, and it is in this manner that we grow and mature. By opening ourselves up to opposing ideas we will find that our views hold even more water than we thought, or that perhaps we were wrong all along. In either case, you've bettered yourself. And, in my mind, this is the purpose of college, and is different from high school in this respect. High school is the basic education standard: everyone should receive this basic education, therefore it should not present much challenge.

    As Terrance mentioned, colleges already have ethics standards in place to curtail these vigilante professors. To address Kara's example, as she stated, someone whom she did not admit knowing received a 'D' on a paper for leaving out a section. I'm curious if the student questioned the professor about the grade, or perhaps went to the department head. There are mechanisms in place in each university to protect students from political discrimination. If your example did not use one of these mechanisms, that is the fault of the student.

    Finally, I would like to state that there are private colleges in place that do not introduce any controversial material in the classroom. So, my final question is this: since these colleges exist, why must there be legislation that eliminates free speech and closes the marketplace of ideas on public campuses, especially when there are protections in such institutions anyway?

  4. Yes, Mike, I do know the student, but out of respect for her privacy I am not stating her name on here. Yes, she did speak with the professor, who told her, as I stated in my previous post, "there was no section on Congressman Blackburn's scandals". The student was told there was nothing else that could be done.

    Do not twist this legislation to mean that controversial ideas or ideas that everyone does not agree with are not allowed in the classroom. It does NOT ELIMINATE CONTROVERSIAL material. It eliminates bias and gives students recourse and more power where they had none before.

    I enjoy debate and radical ideas in my classes. It is what has fueled my passion for politics and writing. Fortunately, the Student Bill of Rights does not hinder that.

  5. I didn't ask you for her name, but the way you first stated your example made it sound like a rumor you might have heard. And, by the way, your friend's professor lied to her. There were other options your friend could've sought.

    So, essentially this legislation keeps professors from introducing non-related controversial material in the classroom, is that right? This "assurance" is unnecessary since students are guaranteed of that anyway by their state's higher education board. Read number two of the original post about this. It states:

    2. Teachers should follow the American Association of University Professors guidelines in that "teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject".

    Notice the part that says "teachers should follow... the guidelines..." See? It's already laid out as for how people should act. This would be like passing a law that says "everybody should obey the laws."

    It's redundant.

  6. Just because something is in the handbook that does not mean much.A professor can still violate student's freedoms because it is not law.All this bill does is ensure and codify those rights.

  7. Looks as if there is a subtle campaign underway to suggest there is no need for' A Student Bill of Rights'.
    I respectfully disagree and wish you success in its' passage.

  8. If something is in the studnet handbook, then it is university policy, and it does mean much.

    Why don't you do something useful with your Republican buddies like ending affirmative action in colleges? That makes more sense than this.

  9. By the way, Stacey, you never answered my question as to how you could speak so rudely and in such a condescending manner to a student at the University of Tennessee through your e-mail correspondence when you *claim* to be looking out for people like him. I can link the e-mail correspondence again if you'd like.


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