Just when I thought no one read or took my columns seriously, along comes State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) with House Bill 837, an academic Bill of Rights.
I’m only kidding. I still think there’s probably only about five people who actually read this column all the way through each week, and none of them are elected officials. That also goes for the three columns I wrote in February concerning liberal professors.
The new bill sponsored by Baxley would, among other things, limit the discussion in classroom settings to the subject of the particular course.
The bill says, “Students have a right to expect that their academic freedom and the quality of their education will not be infringed upon by instructors who persistently introduce controversial matter into the classroom or coursework that has no relation to the subject of study and serves no legitimate pedagogical purpose.”
This would avoid the example I gave in a previous column of a Spanish teacher ranting about his or her opposition to the Iraq War. I witnessed a similar occurrence in one of my classes.
So far, so good. But some critics argue that the bill allows for teaching absurd theories such as that the Holocaust never occurred.
They most likely gather this from the part that says teachers should “make their students aware of serious scholarly viewpoints other than their own and should encourage intellectual honesty, civil debate and critical analysis of ideas in the pursuit of knowledge and truth.”
Those critics should take note of the phrase “serious scholarly viewpoints.” The idea that Holocaust denial is a serious scholarly viewpoint is certainly lacking.
But then comes the tricky part about deciding what is and is not a serious viewpoint. We can all probably agree that the Holocaust example is not serious, but what about another example such as the debate between evolution and creation. No doubt many would deny that “intelligent design,” as it is called, is a serious scholarly viewpoint. There are, however, many who believe it should be taken seriously. It’s quite a conundrum.
The Oracle reported that USF Faculty Union President Roy Weatherford said, “The judgment as to what is intellectually appropriate for classroom use is and must be a judgment made by the faculty. Whenever the government tries to usurp that judgment, they are flying in the face of academic freedom.”
When it comes to deciding what is serious intellectual discussion, for better or for worse, Weatherford is right that it should be left up to academics that know the subject matter. But when it comes to professors wasting time and money by going off subject to proclaim their geopolitical viewpoints in a class that has nothing to do with the subject, the bill is correct.
Another part of the bill would reinforce the long-standing notion that professors should not base students’ grades on their political or religious beliefs.
In my own experience at USF, I’ve encountered many professors whose views clashed with mine, but I’ve never seen any direct evidence of grading bias. If you have, please let me know. Although it likely does occur, I think students sometimes use grading bias accusations as a way to excuse their deservedly bad grades.
Regardless of whether you like it, or not, professors who disagree with you are here to stay. Even if this bill is passed, continue to expect opinions that differ from your own. That’s the nature of college.
Adam Fowler is a senior majoringin political firstname.lastname@example.org