Monday, November 16, 2015

Teachers Have Rights Too

Recently, students at the University of Missouri in Columbia forced the school's president to resign. Several of the football players refused to play until he resigned. One student, Jonathan Butler, went on a hunger strike. Several other students, as well as a professor, Melissa Click, were overly aggressive with a reporter and literally pushed him away, claiming their right to a "safe, private" space.

They were (and still are) protesting because of several racist incidents on campus, including black students being called racial slurs by white students and a swastika made out of feces (though I should think that's more offensive to Jewish students than black students).

Jonathan Butler received a lot of praise from people for going on a hunger strike. It made me think of all the people in the world who are literally starving right now and who don't get to choose to be hungry. I doubt that they would praise Butler for what he did. I certainly don't.

Now students at other universities are protesting, and at Columbia University some undergrads reported feeling intimidated and pressured into protesting. Students at other schools are demanding to be excused from classes so that they can participate in protests. It reminded me of a "movement" at  Oberlin College a while ago. Students who were skipping classes in order to go to protests against police brutality wanted to be exempt from failing grades and demanded nothing less than a C for their final grades, regardless of what they earned. (The school refused.)

All of it makes me angry. I can understand their anger at feeling discriminated against, excluded, and treated unfairly. But I do NOT agree with their actions. On the one hand, NO ONE should call anyone racial slurs or leave swastikas for them to find. But on the other hand, it's gotten to a point where everyone's "offended" by everything these days. For example, once a student accused me of being racist towards minorities because I didn't call on him every time during class. He disregarded the fact that I called on him MOST times he raised his hand, but I wanted to give other students a chance to talk in class.

It makes me feel like professors and university administrators have to tiptoe around students' feelings all the time, because if we don't we'll be forced out of our jobs. Yes, racism is a problem at many schools, but that doesn't mean that students should be able to force people to quit. It doesn't give them a right to prevent reporters from doing their jobs (it's ironic and hypocritical that those Mizzou students demanded the right to free speech but prevented that reporter from exercising HIS right to free speech). It also shouldn't mean that professors have to give them a free pass from doing their work and giving them grades they didn't earn. I have never done that, and I WILL never do that. I'd rather give up my entire career than do it.

Honestly, I don't think that making university presidents or professors resign is going to solve the problem. I think they'd make a much bigger difference by tutoring students at inner city schools, volunteering at soup kitchens, or building affordable housing for the homeless.

Yes, students have the right to speak out against racism and discrimination, and they should. But they don't have the right to tell me how to do my job, or to accuse me of being a racist if I do something they don't like or they disagree with. I have rights too, and I refuse to back down to anyone, just because he or she was "offended." I read more than one article where the authors also disagree with some of these students, because they claim that the students are restricting or prohibiting any free speech that they think is offensive. (I'm sure the ACLU would have a problem with that.)

If I and all the other professors gave in every time, we'd be sending the students the wrong message. Can you imagine what their future bosses will say if they demand promotions they haven't earned or blow off work so they can go "fight for the cause"? I think that if they want to "fight," they have to be prepared to take risks and make sacrifices, not expect everyone else to cater to them.

What about you? Did you ever participate in any protests when you were in college? What do you think of the protesters' belief that they have the right to make school officials quit and that they should be exempt from classes and failing grades?

Side note: By the way, I decided not to change my URL after all; sorry about the confusion! I just figured it would be too complicated to try to change it to a different URL, since then I'd have to contact everyone about it. 

13 comments:

  1. I agree. Students have the right to speak and stand up for what they believe in, but not to criticize or hurt their teachers. Nowadays, everyone is opinionated and gets offended by something. It's really hard to help, especially when tensions are so high.

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    1. Hi Chrys,
      It's good that students have the courage to stand up for what they believe in. After all, imagine what would happen if none of them did. But sometimes it's unfair that students can say whatever they want, but teachers can't. I know it's because teachers have more at stake (i.e., their jobs), but it just feels like some students expect teachers to censor themselves more than they should have to.

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  2. I agree. If students didn't act so disrespectful toward their teachers, they may find that they're actually on the same side on a lot of issues. I have to agree with Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher. Colleges and universities have become so PC that you can't even have real discussions without someone getting butt hurt.

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    1. Hi nomdeplume,
      I know! And it's important for students and faculty to have real, honest conversations, rather than to keep worrying that they're going to "offend" people. I've heard of students who prevented certain authors and activists from speaking at their schools, just because they thought the latter were "offensive" and they didn't agree with the authors and activists' work or politics.

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  3. An extremely well thought out and expressed view on this topic, coming from your viewpoint inside a university. Thank you for sharing your insight. I agree with every single word, especially the part about if they want to make a difference, help out at a soup kitchen or an inner city school rather than protesting.

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    1. Hi Karen,
      Thank you! The funny thing is that I almost didn't write this post at all. I was afraid that there might be at least one or two students (or more) out there who might read it and get "offended" by it; then I'd get in trouble and possibly lose my job. But I think I have a right to my opinion too, even if they may disagree with it. I'd also like to know how many of those activists help people in ways other than protesting.

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  4. Boo to the ACLU. Seriously. Society sickens me, especially these entitled kids who think they can have anything they want just for whining loud enough. I was very upset to learn about the protest and that a man was forced out of his job because a bunch of unruly kids decided that should be the case. It's a bad precedent and it's only going to get worse.

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    1. Hi Crystal,
      There have been a lot of times where I disagreed with the ACLU, and I definitely disagree with most of these protesters. They have the right to protest racism, but I think that their "solutions" aren't actually going to solve as much as they think they will. You're right that it's going to get worse. I read a story about how students who were studying in the library at Dartmouth were harassed by protesters; when some of the students refused to "stand up with them," the protesters responded by screaming at them and calling them names (and some of the names were racial slurs).

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    2. Ironic, isn't it? People are crazy sometimes, thinking they can bully others into compliance. Sadly, it works.

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  5. I don't really know enough to make a judgement call here, but I agree that it's not fair of students to expect free passes just because they want to exercise their "rights". The thing is that rights come with responsibilities and choices.

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    1. Hi Misha,
      I know, right? If they want to skip class and homework in order to participate in protests, that's one thing. But their unwillingness to take responsibility for their actions really bothers me. The greatest civil rights leaders were more than willing to make sacrifices and take risks, so why shouldn't these students follow their example?

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  6. I think catering to students is downright silly. They're there to learn, so they should shut up and get on with it.
    Okay, okay, obviously, they should be allowed to express themselves, too.
    Racism has no place anywhere; I just don't see how proteting and missing classes will help solve that. Yes, they should draw attention to institutionalised racism if they see it, and certainly people being stupid and violent (feces? ew) should be apprehended. But otherwise, I like your idea that "they'd make a much bigger difference by tutoring students at inner city schools, volunteering at soup kitchens, or building affordable housing for the homeless."

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    1. Hi Deniz,
      I'm so sorry it took me so long to respond; I haven't been able to blog much these past few months, because I've been working so much.
      You're right, though, about how missing classes won't eliminate racism. I know that a lot of those protesters really do want to make things better. But they'd accomplish a lot more by helping people and treating them with kindness than by accusing people, blaming them, and complaining about everything they think is offensive.

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