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Professor in Speech Class Refuses to Grade Student's Presentation,

apparently because of the religious nature of the student's presentation, the student's expression of opposition for same-sex marriage in the presentation, or both. On top of that, he apparently called the student a "fascist bastard" in front of the class for having supported the anti-same-sex-marriage Prop. 8, and refused to allow the student to finish the presentation. Lovely.

The student, helped by the Alliance Defense Fund, is suing (Lopez v. Candaele). The Complaint I linked to includes supporting documents. In particular, the evaluation sheet on p. 31 reflects that the teacher indeed didn't give a grade, but instead said "Ask God what your grade is." It seems to me pretty clear that refusal to give a grade because the teacher disapproves of the religiosity of the student's presentation, or of the student's opposition to same-sex marriage, is indeed a First Amendment violation.

Professors doubtless have a vast degree of flexibility in grading students, even in viewpoint-based ways. For instance, if a law student is told to construct the best possible argument in support of position X (as I often require on my exams), he may be graded down for instead constructing an argument opposing position X. Likewise, if a student, in response to a question about how old the Earth likely is, answers "6000 years," he can be graded down even though a student who answered "4.5 billion years" would have gotten full credit. A judgment about how old the Earth is an expression of a viewpoint based on the best available evidence, so the professor's grading would indeed favor one viewpoint over another -- but entirely permissibly so.

Nonetheless, this flexibility can't be unlimited, I think: When a professor refuses to give a grade, or (to take a hypothetical) even if the professor gives a low grade but for a reason that pretty clearly falls outside the academic subject matter of the class (for instance, because a student in a speech class expressed political viewpoints that the professor disapproved of), that violates the First Amendment.

The evaluation sheet also shows that the teacher wrote "proselytizing is inappropriate in public school." If, as seems likely, this represents the teacher's view that it is somehow an Establishment Clause violation for a student to convey religious views in his in-class presentation, that is not accurate. (If the teacher had set up an assignment that required secular arguments rather than religious arguments, I think that would have been within his authority, since I don't think Rosenberger applies to class presentations. But the teacher's reference to public school suggests that he's making a claim about the constitutional rules that apply to public institutions, and not to general professional norms that would apply to all colleges, or specific requirements for his own class.)

The complaint also seeks to invalidate L.A. City College's campus speech code, which the professor also referred to in a follow-up to the incident (see p. 170); I think the plaintiff should prevail on that.

Finally, note that one of the College's responses (pp. 37-38) states that the College is indeed acknowledging that the teacher's behavior was improper, that the teacher would be disciplined in some unspecified way, and that Lopez wouldn't ultimately be penalized on his final grade. At the same time, though, the College's response notes that several students were offended by Lopez's statements, and says:

Where do we go from here? Regardless of the other students' reactions to Mr. Lopez' speech, Mr. Matteson will still be disciplined. First amendment rights will not be violated as is evidenced by the fact that even though many of the students were offended by Mr. Lopez' speech, no action will be taken against any of them for expressing their opinions.

No actions will be taken against any of the students for expressing their opinions critical of Lopez -- what a blow for the freedom of speech! (Even if the "any of them" is meant to include Lopez as well as the other students, surely the reference to "any of them" misses the point, no?)

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. How About Some Links to the Underlying Documents?
  2. Professor in Speech Class Refuses to Grade Student's Presentation,
josil (mail):
Does the student expect a financial settlement or merely an apology? or a grade? and if so, what grade?
2.17.2009 1:33am
neurodoc:
EV, if you were the dean to whom the student brought his complaint, how would you have handled the matter?
2.17.2009 1:36am
Guest12345:
What is "progressive disciplinary action"? They going to pat the professor on the back, say "Good job, have a beer"?

The professor seems pretty excitable.
2.17.2009 1:53am
J. Aldridge:

It seems to me pretty clear that refusal to give a grade because the teacher disapproves of the religiosity of the student's presentation, or of the student's opposition to same-sex marriage, is indeed a First Amendment violation.

Of course I have to strongly disagree under the historical meaning and purpose of free speech.
2.17.2009 1:55am
Math_Mage (mail) (www):
Of course I have to strongly disagree under the historical meaning and purpose of free speech.


Explain, please? Prof. Volokh's argument seems pretty clearly correct to me...
2.17.2009 2:15am
Lior:
Has the social structure broken down to the extent that a student is invoking his constitutional rights in order to get a civil response from a university professor?

The student has a First Amendment right to speak on the public square. It is debatable but possible that he also has a right to address the classroom. Does the student have a First Amendment right to be graded? Surely that right derives from the university's academic policies, not from the Constitution. Let's say the local grocer refused to sell vegetables to anyone who participated in the latest anti-war demonstration. Is he violating their free-speech rights?

In a government-run university (is this one?) there might be a case that denying the student normal services (such as meaningful grades) based on political opposition to his classroom speech is viewpoint-based governmental discrimination. Even then, however, the main recourse should be for the university to follow its own rules, not for this minor dispute to be resolved in a court of law.
2.17.2009 2:34am
Bill Poser (mail) (www):
Guest12345,

"progessive discipline" refers to discipline that becomes progressively more severe. In other words, they're going to do something relatively modest this time, e.g. tell the prof not to do it again. If he does it again, they'll do something harsher, and if he does it yet again, they'll fire him. That sort of thing.
2.17.2009 2:45am
Avatar (mail):
Lior, if one can sue because they've been exposed to an invocation at a public high school football game, then surely this student has more of a complaint than that; he has actual damages to cite, not just mental distress.

On the other hand, couldn't the professor throw that argument back at him? Students were clearly expected to attend the class and listen to the classroom presentations of other students; students cannot be compelled to attend religious proselytizing at a public university; thus the classroom presentation was by default an inappropriate venue for presenting religious material.

All that said, that defense was probably shot the moment the professor decided to start calling names, heh.
2.17.2009 3:05am
BGates:
Lior, the complaint says that the student went to a Dean and the college president, who told him he was engaging in hate speech. Your question about the condition of the social structure on this campus should be answered by that, if it wasn't answered already by the fact that a professor called a student a "fascist bastard" for taking the position of the majority of California voters.
2.17.2009 3:11am
Lior:
The key Constitutional point is paragraph 31 of the complaint:
[The professor] created a public forum for free speech when he gave the [students] the informative speech assignment
.

It is really the case that when a professor invites a student to address the class this implicates all the Constitutional baggage of the First Amendment? Even if the professor says "say what you will", this is still a controlled environment, created by the professor for teaching purposes. The goal is not for the student to convince others, or even to find self-fulfilment in the expression (which the complaint alleges, in that the student's Christian beliefs include the imperative to proselytize). The goal is whatever the professor defines it to be.

However, the actual key issue in my opinion is whether the student was actually following the assignment, or whether he was abusing the forum to express his views. His lawyer says he was "expressing his faith during an open-ended assignment". This would be an odd thing to do with this particular assignment.

In this case the students were supposed to make an "informative" speech, with some speaking about food, or how to play a musical instrument (complaint paragraph 38). Everything points to the speech made by the suing student having a very different character, more argumentative than informative. Paragraphs 33-34 give the impression that the speech was not about "Christian views on same-sex marriage" but about "what is true about same-sex marriage" — indeed the student himself is asserting he was trying to "express his faith". Thus in the grade sheet on page 31 of the PDF the professor circles "Thesis Persuasive" in the middle — the student is attempting to persuade rather than inform.

Whether the speech really was informative or persuasive is of course in dispute, but the primary judge of this question should be the professor in the classroom.

I am not saying that the professor should hurl abuse at the student in class (and he should be disciplined for that by the university), or that he should treat informative speeches as argumentative simply because he has an emotional reaction to the information. I am not saying that fellow students have any right to complain about the content of the speech they heard (I'm sure they didn't get the impression they were hearing an official university position on the matter).

But the real issues here are of civility (students making the right kind of presentation; professors treating their students with respect) rather than of constitutional significance. Can a court of law really decided if the student's presentation was "informative"? Should that really a question of constitutional significance?
2.17.2009 3:16am
Lior:
BGates: The Dean and President classifying what the student said as "hate speech" indeed says that there is little hope of expecting civility (or education) from this institution. The legal system, however, is not very good at engendering civility. In other words, getting the grade (call it "specific performance") out of university won't do the student much good on the whole -- it will preserve the mutual animosity. Moreover, do we really think of the problem the student is facing as a the kind of problem the Constitutional is supposed to solve?
2.17.2009 3:27am
J. Aldridge:
Math_Mage: My point can be explained here.
2.17.2009 3:35am
Lior:
Avatar: in your analogy, the people who were exposed to the "invocation" where the follow students, not the plaintiff. They were the ones who had to listen to religious speech during an official university function. Note that the student was not simply informing his classmates of facts about Christianity: he was actively "expressing his religion".

The plaintiff was subjected to verbal abuse by his professor, and then upside-down fashion told by the university higher-ups that he was the one engaging in "hate speech". That's insulting, but it's as different kind of injury.
2.17.2009 3:36am
BGates:
The legal system, however, is not very good at engendering civility.
That's a glass-half-empty way of looking at it. Imagine how people would respond to being called "fascist bastard" in the absence of a legal system. I'd be surprised if any legal proceeding was resolved without "preserving mutual animosity", and I can't imagine the feelings in this case would be different if no lawyers were involved.

A government employee causing someone a real harm based on the religious nature of his speech sounds like a First Amendment case to me, but I'm an insomniac not a lawyer.
2.17.2009 4:03am
Frater Plotter:
Have we got any notion of what the content of the student's speech was, that attracted such ire from this (evidently volatile and likely unprofessional) professor?

Have we got any notion of what the other circumstances were? I can certainly think of fact patterns where the professor's response would be understandable.

Unprofessional, yes, but understandable. Let's see ...

The following is a hypothetical fact pattern; it is intended as an extreme example of what's possible given what little we know about the actual scenario:

The professor is openly gay. At some point in the past he was a victim of severe anti-gay violence, perpetrated by persons who justified their actions on the basis of religion. He has recovered physically from the brutality, but has not entirely recovered psychologically. This fact is an open secret among the student body, although the professor would prefer his privacy.

In the past, anti-gay students have made a point of mocking this professor, especially making comments that his victimization was justified: "If that faggot had hit on me, I would've beat his ass up too." "Damn straight."

The student in this case was not simply presenting his faith in God, with a small side comment about gay marriage. Rather, the entire speech was riddled with religiously-inspired anti-gay remarks, ranging from "Jesus kept me on the straight and narrow path," to Jack-Chick-inspired remarks about Sodom and Gomorrah, and the Old Testament penalties for sexual sin.

From there, the speech built to its core idea: the student's religious belief that that God will punish societies that tolerate homosexuals, and that the only appropriate penalty for homosexual acts is death. The speech stopped just short of calling upon the student body to straightaway rip the professor limb from limb to save the world from immorality.

The gist of the speech was not, thus, that God did good things in the student's life. It was, rather, that gays in general, and the professor in specific, should die horrible deaths and suffer eternally in hell. The speech was not given in good faith as an answer to a class assignment; it was a calculated effort to frighten and hurt the professor and to inspire others to do him harm.

End of hypothetical fact pattern.

The point of the above is to illustrate that we haven't any idea, at this point, what the rest of the story is. While it is indeed highly likely that the professor in this case is just an ideological jackass and the administrators were being the typical sort of authoritarian dweebs who infest college administrations ... we really don't know yet. We've only heard the complaint.
2.17.2009 4:24am
A. Zarkov (mail):
Does California really need to have Los Angeles City College? California currently has a $42 billion budget short fall that it's unable to resolve. As such it must make expenditure cuts, and what better place to start than Los Angeles City College? Why should the taxpayers have to support an institution that has so little respect for academic freedom? Put those administrators and professors out on the street as a clear example for others.
2.17.2009 4:32am
Angus:
Note that even the filing just leaves it as the student said "two bible verses." Want to bet they were ones about putting homosexuals to death?

Sorry, but if I give an assignment for students to make an informational speech, and one of them uses the time to advocate the mass execution of fellow students, professors, and others, I'm going to tell them to shut up and sit down.
2.17.2009 4:39am
underthegun:
The truely sad part is that I'm no longer suprised to read stories like this one.
2.17.2009 6:48am
TruePath (mail) (www):
So here is an interesting question. What would you say if the professor was black and the student's speech had been say an argument for the essential inferiority of the 'negroid' races? Or if not that say someone in an interracial marriage and a student speech about why government shouldn't have ever allowed them.

I mean apart from the fact that it's far more common to oppose gay marriage currently I fail to see any difference between the two situations. Sure, the arguments against gay marriage can be presented in a polite wonkish tone but that doesn't make them any less the product of prejudice than does the kind of wonkish racial prejudice that used to be common among European intellectuals.

I don't so much know what I think about the issue but I am pretty sure that both situations should stand or fall together (or at least university policy should be such that they do). After all it shouldn't make any difference that racial prejudice is relatively rare nowadays but many people still are prejudiced against homosexuals.
--------

Of course I think the professor handled it poorly if he called the student a "facist bastard" in front of the class. I think he should have politely informed the student that he would not be able to give the student an objective grade in the class if he insisted on talking about these issues and then encouraged everyone simply not to bring up that issue.

However, when someone stands up in your class and tries to give a speech which you take as an intense personal insult it's hard to react in a restrained fashion.
2.17.2009 6:54am
TruePath (mail) (www):
Eugene,

Also, I'm curious how you think a professor should respond when a student hands in an assignment that he *knows* he can't grade objectively and possibly no one else in the department he is on speaking terms with could either.

We all have areas that are so emotional to us that certain views make it virtually impossible for us to stay calm and thoughtful. I mean imagine if the student had been giving a calm and reasoned argument that child molestation could be beneficial to the child and defending NAMBLA.

Or if you are christian imagine that it was a speech analyzing what particular type of mental illness the historical jesus was experiencing. I mean surely this is no more 'objectively' worse than expressing support for religious beliefs that suggest those like the professor deserve to be eternally in hellfire (often atheists will do so if you draw out the inferences).

I mean when you have fundamental clashes of value systems I'm just not sure there is some neutral polite way of letting everyone speak and being objective or that being objective even makes sense.
2.17.2009 7:09am
A. Zarkov (mail):
I can see that there are all sorts of topics that some people feel should be censored because they are made to feel uncomfortable. But let's remember the under current decisional law the 1A makes no exceptions for speech that makes you uncomfortable. The very thought of abortion makes some people uncomfortable, but they still have to listen to pro-abortion speech in classroom presentations. Similarly if someone speaks against homosexual marriage, you just have to act in a civil manner and listen. Otherwise go to a private college like Reed where liberal orthodoxies remain supreme. If you can't stand listening to pro-abortion speech then go a a private Christen school which such talk is off limits.
2.17.2009 7:50am
Angus:

But let's remember the under current decisional law the 1A makes no exceptions for speech that makes you uncomfortable.
There are multiple 1A exceptions in an educational setting, especially inside the classroom.
2.17.2009 8:43am
Happyshooter:
What does academic freedom mean?

My examples below, pick the one that you agree with.

The student made a speech that the professor does not like, the student's comments went against the gay agenda. The student should be:

Executed

Have his tounge and hands removed

Imprisoned

Sent to a reeducation camp

Expelled

Sent to reeducation classes

Forced to recant

Graded lower in all classes

Failed

Forced to write a paper saying pro-gay stuff and sign it

Mocked by the teacher and his pro-gay allies

Denied a grade


My answer? None of the above. If the teacher don't like some views expressed in academia, then he needs to work for a private school or in a different line of work.
2.17.2009 8:44am
Angus:
The student made a speech that the professor does not like, the student's comments went against the gay agenda. The student should be:


Let's change the forumulation. A student consistently seeks methods to steer a class away from its objectives and plans and towards his agenda instead, and does so in a way other students find rude and offensive. He disregards assignment requirements and instead makes up his own in order to try and usurp control of the class. On top of this, he shows up to class late and interrupts other students doing their assigned work.

The professor in this particular class seems to have gone over the top and doesn't handle problem students at all well.

Is the source of the problem, though, the student or the professor?

Personally, I would have just told the student to sit down, given him a zero for not following instructions, and telling him to shut up and take it up with me after class if he wanted to complain further.
2.17.2009 9:17am
Houston Lawyer:
Shut Up, he explained.

There are few places as intolerant as a university campus these days.
2.17.2009 9:26am
Happyshooter:
A student consistently seeks methods to steer a class away from its objectives and plans and towards his agenda instead, and does so in a way other students find rude and offensive.

Assuming the documents attached to the complaint are true and unaltered, your fact pattern is wrong. I tend to accept the documents attached--of course I realize the facts alleged in the complaint are spun.

The students speech appears to have been within the assignment and he was doing well on it based on the attached document --until quoting some Bible verses that a pro-gay professor didn't like (assuming the pro-gay comments alleged in the complaint are true).

Assuming the facts alleged are true, the professor tried to stage a class walkout on the student, and was unable to gain support.

Assuming the facts alleged in the complaint are true, the teacher is a screeching pro-gay cheerleader using the classroom to express his political views.
2.17.2009 9:30am
cirby (mail):

Note that even the filing just leaves it as the student said "two bible verses." Want to bet they were ones about putting homosexuals to death?


Actually, since there was no quote, I'd bet the opposite. That's the sort of thing they'd do their best leave in, not leave out. The professor and the administration would be starting their arguments with it, not omitting details.

The interesting thing is how the professor claimed he'd try to get the student expelled for filing the complaint (not for "hate speech," but for going to the college administration about the teacher's actions). If the student had actually said anything actionable under the school's "hate speech" codes, it wouldn't have taken a visit to the Dean to trigger some official action.

The biggest hint that the teacher is deeply in the wrong? His use of the word "fascist." Nowadays, if someone in academia calls someone that name, it's a great sign that they're on the wrong side of the argument and losing fast (except in the very few cases where they're talking about actual textbook-definition fascists in WWII Italy, not "someone who just disagrees with them on something political").
2.17.2009 9:31am
therut (mail):
Professors like this should not be aloowed to "teach". They are a disgrace and not mentally stable.
2.17.2009 9:36am
Sean Gleeson (mail):

Want to bet they were ones about putting homosexuals to death?


Agreeing with cirby. I would totally take you up on that bet. The speech (or at least that section of it) was about the definition of marriage, not the evil of homosexuality. If I had to bet which verses they were, I would guess Genesis 1:27 "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" and Genesis 2:24 "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh." I may be wrong about that, but I would be very surprised if the verses were about homosexuality.
2.17.2009 9:47am
Angus:
Assuming the facts alleged are true
Here is issue #1 -- assuming that everything the student says about the professor and what the professor said in private conversations is true.

Assuming the documents attached to the complaint are true and unaltered, your fact pattern is wrong.
Even from the one-sided fact pattern alleged in the lawsuit, I can tell that the student was a problem student. He admits that he tried to preach to and convert others at every opportunity in and out of class. Indeed, he claims that he is required to do so by his beliefs. According the the lawsuit and documents, the assignment was to be "informative" (descriptive), but the student made it argumentative instead. And the student admitted to at least once entering class late and interrupting another student's speech.

Actually, since there was no quote, I'd bet the opposite.
Then why not specify which bible verses in the lawsuit? Why be so vague about it if they were relatively innocuous? Answer: because doing so would make their client look bad and reduce the chances of getting a settlement.
2.17.2009 9:56am
Angus:
The speech (or at least that section of it) was about the definition of marriage, not the evil of homosexuality.
That's not what the lawsuit says, however. Here's the sentence (my emphasis added):

"In the middle of the speech, Mr. Lopez addressed the issues of God and morality."

The student then supported that topic with a dictionary definition of marriage, and two unnamed mystery bible verses. The lawsuit does not say that the verses were about marriage. Indeed, neither of the verses you quoted would have caused students to write letters to the Dean protesting Lopez's speech. Again, why not specify in the legal brief which two verses they were unless ADF was worried that doing so would harm their client's chances at getting a settlement?

I smell something rotten in this case, and chances are it is Mr. Lopez.
2.17.2009 10:06am
Sean Gleeson (mail):

...and two unnamed mystery bible verses. The lawsuit does not say that the verses were about marriage.


No, the complaint doesn't. I told you I was just guessing. But it seems more natural to follow a dictionary definition of marriage with scriptural quotes on the same topic, rather than a different one. And for what it's worth, the ADF has said elsewhere (like WND) that the verses were about marriage.
2.17.2009 10:28am
micdeniro (mail):
Wrong Circuit, but otherwise a persuasive argument for First Amendment protection for the Instructor’s conduct at Los Angeles CC comes from Parate v. Isibor, 868 F.2d 821 (6th Cir. Tenn. 1989).

Parate, a non-tenured professor at Tennessee State University, was ordered by Isibor, his Dean, to change a student’s grade. Parate refused because, in part, he had seen the student cheating during the final exam. After being pressured by the Dean and other administrators, Parate changed the grade. Afterwards, Isibor told Parate, "You must obey and never disobey your Dean." A series of incidents involving the Dean and other administrators berating Parate while he was teaching ensued over the remainder of Parate’s contract term. When his contract was not renewed, Parate filed a § 1983 action against Isibor and other Tennessee State University administrators.

The Sixth Circuit held, “Because the assignment of a letter grade is symbolic communication intended to send a specific message to the student, the individual professor's communicative act is entitled to some measure of First Amendment protection.” (At p. 827.)

The First Amendment protects the right to not speak as well as the right to speak. The LACC instructor was exercising that right when he wrote “Ask God what your grade is.”

The solution to the problem that the LACC student is entitled to a grade for the class is also found in the Parate opinion.

“If the defendants had changed [the student’s] grade, then Parate's First Amendment rights would not be at issue. Parate's First Amendment right to academic freedom was violated by the defendants because they ordered Parate to change [the] original grade. The actions of the defendants, who failed to administratively change Student "Y's" grade themselves, unconstitutionally compelled Parate's speech and precluded him from communicating his personal evaluation to [the student].” (At p. 829.)
2.17.2009 10:39am
AN Khan:
Angus;

I smell something rotten in this case, and chances are it is Mr. Lopez.


This is a rather extraordinary statement given the supporting documentation that EV linked to. Specifically, see the classroom evaluation on page 31 of the PDF.

The evaluation form clearly shows 1) that what grades were assesed were mostly positive (a large number of 5s, indicating excellent), 2) that the instructor did not finish grading and 3) that the instructor did not provide a final grade, but, in large letters wrote "Ask God What your grade is...".

Is this sufficient to prove the entire case? Clearly not, but it certainly gives a large amount of credence to the narrative that Mr. Lopez relates.

The evaluation form itself is a damning item; what informes your opinoin to the contrary (Angus)? Surely you are not suggesting that the evaluation form is a forgery (which would, of course, mean that Mr. Lopez and the ADF are engaged in a fraud on the court). In the absence of such a (wildly speculative) suggestion, what excuses the evaluation form and reads against Mr. Lopez' credibility here?
2.17.2009 11:07am
Floridan:
Both the student and the instructor sound like idiots.

The instructor will probably keep his job. I'm not sure the student, once in the job market, will fare very well if the same confrontational behavior is exhibited.
2.17.2009 11:10am
wfjag:

There are few places as intolerant as a university campus these days.

That's why it is called "a liberal education."

I do wonder what the response of some of the commentators (especially those who make up provocative hypotheticals to argue based upon) would be, if what had occurred was that a Prof. at Bob Jones Univ. had made the same assignment and a student made a pro-SSM speech (including a couple of otherwise unidentified Bible verses). Maybe that's what's wrong with the idea of "freedom of speech" -- sometimes members of the unwashed masses get the idea that they are allowed to have opinions of their own.
2.17.2009 11:12am
David M. Nieporent (www):
Micdeniro: to reprint my response to your identical comment in the other thread:

The Sixth Circuit held, “Because the assignment of a letter grade is symbolic communication intended to send a specific message to the student, the individual professor's communicative act is entitled to some measure of First Amendment protection.” (At p. 827.)
While the facts of that case, assuming them to be true, are horrible, I find that holding to be ludicrous as a factual claim -- grading a student is not a speech issue, but a ministerial act -- and dubious as a matter of law after Ceballos.
The First Amendment protects the right to not speak as well as the right to speak. The INSTRUCTOR was exercising that right when he wrote “Ask God what your grade is.”
Sorry, but no. The First Amendment does not protect the right not to speak when one is paid to speak. Even if the instructor's specific choice of grade has some protection, his refusal to give any grade does not, any more than his refusal to speak during class sessions would.
2.17.2009 11:24am
Wilpert Archibald Gobsmacked (mail):
I believe there are far too many assumptions and hypotheticals here taking into account this stage of the commenting, at least based on reading the complaint link provided in the subsequent post. What I find ironic is the "compliance officer", when given the opportunity to right a wrong, instead threw gasoline on the fire. Talk about a "fascist" environment. It's an "us against them" world for academia, apparently.
2.17.2009 11:40am
Sean Gleeson (mail):

Both the student and the instructor sound like idiots.


The complaint contains a sample of each party's handwriting. Judging from these samples, the student comes off as less of an idiot than the professor.

Lopez's "5 Topics for Persuasive Speech" (pages 169-170 in the complaint) is insipid, but he has at least spelled all of the words correctly, even the harder fifth-grade words like situation, pregnancies, contraceptive, temperature, and constitutional.

Matteson's writing, on the other hand, shows that he is at best sub-literate. In his few notes on Lopez's evaluation sheet (p. 31 of the complaint) he commits at least three spelling errors: "prostyeletizing," "innappropriate," and "too" (as in, "Good thing you read it too us").
2.17.2009 11:58am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I suppose, considering this is the west coast and all, that another counterfactual is in order:
We already saw the "imagine Bob Jones U..."
How's about a Muslim going on about SSM?
A Mormon?
Different?
I so imagine.
Complaints by the usual suspects? Nope. The Mormon would be getting what he deserved for being a fascist bastard and the Muslim would be getting the benefit of tolerance.
2.17.2009 12:02pm
Angus:
What I find ironic is the "compliance officer", when given the opportunity to right a wrong, instead threw gasoline on the fire.


By saying they were investigating and would discipline the professor under established guidelines? That's throwing gasoline on the fire?

Even if the instructor's specific choice of grade has some protection, his refusal to give any grade does not
The student evidently got a grade for the overall course, so I assume the professor assigned some type of score/grade to it at the end.
2.17.2009 12:06pm
Felix Sulla:
wfjag:

"[I]f what had occurred was that a Prof. at Bob Jones Univ."

Well, for starters Bob Jones University is a private religious institution, and therefore, there would appear to be very little application of the First Amendment. So the pro-gay, anti-christian, straw-man "liberal" professor would likely not even have made it into the classroom to begin with, and your counter-hypothetical is of little value. As is the repetition of the term "liberal" as some sort of res ipsa loquitor substitute for having an argument or defining your terms.
2.17.2009 12:14pm
wfjag:
Richard Aubrey, you're missing to point of the counter and surr-counter-factuals, each becoming more extreme than the last. Academia just needs to adopt a more military point of view: "If we want you to have a personal opinion, we'll issue you one." Then it will be easier to give people like Lopez a grade, since all test questions will be "True/False".
2.17.2009 12:19pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
I'm curious how you think a professor should respond when a student hands in an assignment that he *knows* he can't grade objectively
Resign. He should not be teaching the class if he cannot grade the papers.
hypothetical fact pattern; ... He has recovered physically from the brutality, but has not entirely recovered psychologically.
He should not be punishing his students for his own psychological problems.
2.17.2009 12:34pm
Lior:
wfjag: I guess you don't actually teach in a university classroom, right?

The classroom is not a "public forum" designed for everyone to express their views for the betterment of society. It is a forum where paying clients (the students) of a business (the university) are instructed by a hired employee (me). The terms of the contract between the two parties (the university's academic calendar, rules and regulations, codes of conduct, etc) determine who has control in class, and it's mostly the instructor. Even then, I don't have any "free speech" rights in the classroom.

I was hired based on expertise in a particular subject, and I am qualified to teach many courses in that department. I may like to authoritatively sound my opinions on copyright law to the students, but since my course is not the copyright course in the faculty of law that would be wrong. In fact, since I grade students, it may be inappropriate for me to argue with them about copyright policy unless it clear to everyone that no-one will take it personally.

In Bob Jones university the contract is different than in the Los Angeles Community College. Moreover, Bob Jones is an entirely private institution. They have a worldview and are free to insist that students share it, including discriminating against students who don't. I think it's a bad way to educate students, but then I don't work for Bob Jones U. Los Angeles Community College is government-owned-and-run, and there is a case to be make that viewpoint discrimination by it is unconstitutional. It's not clear to me that this is what happened here though.

When I ask students to address the class (for example, by asking a question), the goal is entirely educational: it is for the education of the student answering the question, and for all the other students. I am creating a learning opportunity, not inviting the student to publicly speak about his opinions. The students are free do to that after the lesson ends. A student choosing a controversial topic for what should be a routine assignment is violating the unwritten rules of the classroom.

If the assignment is "make an informative speech", then a student making policy arguments should not get much traction. Even if the assignment is "make a persuasive speech", a student choosing an incendiary topic should tread carefully. The goal of a "persuasive speech" in "Public Speech 101" not to persuade your fellow students. It is to improve your public speaking skills. Thus, opting for an inoffensive topic is not such a bad idea. Going for a topic you passionately care about might produce a better speech, and that is good, but it might also affect the atmosphere in the classroom -- which is not a forum to air political disagreements. If you go for such a topic you must still keep in mind that this is an educational exercise -- not a speech at Hyde Park.
2.17.2009 12:45pm
Angus:
He should not be punishing his students for his own psychological problems.
Except in this case, it appears that both the student and the professor are fault. The student for trying to make up his own assignment guidelines, and the professor for not being in control of his temper.

One logical outcome would have been for the professor to give the student an "F" for not following instructions, the student to figure out that his proselytizing speech should have been the "persuasion" assignment rather than the "instructive" one, and both walk away clean afterwards. Instead, the student seems to be incapable of admitting any wrong, the professor showed terrible impulse control, and we get a bunch of unnecessary drama and a lawsuit to boot.
2.17.2009 12:46pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
One logical outcome would have been for the professor to give the student an "F" for not following instructions
That might make sense if the prof had clearly explained that any student will get an F for presenting a fact that might be used to support a point of view. But of course no prof does that, and I am sure that others included some persuasive material without penalty. The student is not at fault for the prof's psychological problems.
2.17.2009 1:09pm
neurodoc:
micdeniro: Wrong Circuit, but otherwise a persuasive argument for First Amendment protection for the Instructor’s conduct at Los Angeles CC comes from Parate v. Isibor, 868 F.2d 821 (6th Cir. Tenn. 1989).

...The Sixth Circuit held, “Because the assignment of a letter grade is symbolic communication intended to send a specific message to the student, the individual professor's communicative act is entitled to some measure of First Amendment protection.” (At p. 827.)

The First Amendment protects the right to not speak as well as the right to speak. The LACC instructor was exercising that right when he wrote “Ask God what your grade is.”

The solution to the problem that the LACC student is entitled to a grade for the class is also found in the Parate opinion.

“If the defendants had changed [the student’s] grade, then Parate's First Amendment rights would not be at issue. Parate's First Amendment right to academic freedom was violated by the defendants because they ordered Parate to change [the] original grade.
First Amendment rights were implicated in that case? I'm skeptical, but if the TN court thought so, then why would Parate's only be "entitled to some measure of First Amendment protection"? It's not a binary matter like being pregnant or not pregnant, with no possibility of being partially pregnant? One can be entitled to some measure of First Amendment protections, but less than a full measure of them?

Lopez v Candaele is in a federal district court, so I'm not sure how much attention will be paid a decision by the 6th Circuit Tennessee court.
2.17.2009 1:16pm
Sean Gleeson (mail):

One logical outcome would have been for the professor to give the student an "F" for not following instructions...

That's what I would have done. (I am a professor at a community college myself.) If I thought that a student had not followed my instructions, I would penalize him for that. It does seem that Lopez tried to slip argumentation into what was supposed to have been an informative presentation. If the teacher had simply noted that (and not the 'fascist bastard' stuff), none of us would have ever heard of this case.

The problem is (as EV explained at length in the post above) that Matteson explicitly said he was penalizing Lopez for taking the wrong (i.e., "fascist bastard") position, not for taking a position per se; and for "prostyeletizing" in a public school. The professor's remarks revealed what his real motivation was, and it is too late to claim after the fact that he actually had a more legitimate motive which he forgot to mention at the time.

For yet another hypothetical scenario as illustration, suppose Matteson had written racial slurs instead of religious slurs. Imagine he wrote, "Mexicans don't belong in America!" and called Lopez a "wetback bastard" in front of the class. In such a situation, a strong case could be made that Matteson penalized Lopez for his ethnicity, regardless of any subsequent attempts to explain the poor grade as due to "not following instructions." Whether on Constitutional of contractual grounds, I don't think anyone here would disagree that the student would deserve an apology and compensation, and the teacher would deserve firing.
2.17.2009 1:18pm
neurodoc:
A collateral question if I may about the school saying that the professor would be disciplined, but refusing to disclose what form the discipline would take, maintaining that they could keep it to themselves, that is "confidential":

What grounds, if any, does the school have for not disclosing it? Is there anything that prevents them from telling the student what the professor's penalty was to be? Would it come under the same law that affords privacy protections to student records? Is it likely to be something covered in the contract with faculty?
2.17.2009 1:25pm
Happyshooter:
Lior:

You post sounds most reasonable, and if the professor in this case had been like you all would be well.

Instead, the facts as alleged indicate that the prof was a political screecher in class. The documents attached tend to show the student was acting within the bounds of the assignment and was doing a good job. His grades were excellent until the point that he said something the prof disagreed with. The same prof who used the class as his political forum.

Once student said something the political sounding off prof didn't like, it was game on. 'Come on students! Storm out.'

Only no one agreed with the political prof, so he took government revenge for failing to support the prof's political beliefs.

There is a party at fault here, and it is the prof. He used the power and authority entrusted to him by the government to turn a speech class into the political forum. He then continued his misuse of his government power to speak out against the people of his state. I remind the readers, this in a class where politics or gayness had no reason to be mentioned by the prof.

When a student followed his lead in addressing an issue, political prof freaked and again misued the authority entrusted to him by the government.

I find nothing worse than misuse of power granted by the government. Whether the president announcing political policy with captive troops, a mayor doing the same with his armed police around him, or a planning commissioner demanding a gift to a non-profit before he will approve a site plan--it is all gross misuse of power.

In any other forum, the political prof's action would be something I dislike, but minor. Not anywhere near as bad as the mayor posing with the armed cops while announcing an illegal stop and search plan. However, political prof is misusing his government power to ram his political beliefs into the minds of the most exposed of adults in our society, and then taking vengence against those who do not toe the line of his personal beliefs.

He should and must be punished for his anti-American acts.
2.17.2009 1:31pm
Angus:
We also have the additional problem in that we have only this one student's word that the professor in fact called him a "fascist bastard" or threatened to get him expelled. The Dean said she asked Lopez to find at least one other student to support his version of the class, but Lopez chose not to and went to the ADF instead. At this point, those parts of the story are strictly "he said, she said" until we hear from other students in the class. The only hint so far is that the students who have spoken up at this point seem to be siding with the professor.

The only piece of real evidence in the case as of now is the evaluation sheet. There are two statements there of concern. "Proselytizing is inappropriate in public school" is, in my opinion, a very defensible statement. The "Ask God about your grade" is over the top and is in itself inappropriate. Is that a firing offense, or just worthy of a reprimand?

If I had to make a decision just from what is substantiated at this point, I'd make both the student and professor apologize for acting stupid and wasting people's time.
2.17.2009 1:31pm
Patrick too (mail):
Angus:


One logical outcome would have been for the professor to give the student an "F" for not following instructions, the student to figure out that his proselytizing speech should have been the "persuasion" assignment rather than the "instructive" one, and both walk away clean afterwards.


That would have been an appropriate response if that is how the professor handled other informative speeches that were actually persuasive ones. Otherwise, he would still be singling out Lopez for the content/viewpoint of his speech, which would be problematic.

However, as Sean noted, it appears there is objective evidence that the professor was singling out Lopez for his viewpoint ("P.O.V.") and the religious content of his speech, and you can't unring the bell.
2.17.2009 1:37pm
Patrick too (mail):
micdeniro:


Wrong Circuit, but otherwise a persuasive argument for First Amendment protection for the Instructor’s conduct at Los Angeles CC comes from Parate v. Isibor, 868 F.2d 821 (6th Cir. Tenn. 1989)


There has been a lot of Supreme Court jurisprudence on this topic that since the Parate decision, and this would control. The Lopez Complaint seems to be trying to fall under Rosenberger-Lambs Chapel-Good News Club limited public forum jurisprudence in which the Supreme Court has held:


When the State establishes a limited public forum, the State is not required to and does not allow persons to engage in every type of speech. The State may be justified "in reserving [its forum] for certain groups or for the discussion of certain topics." Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U.S. 819, 829, 115 S.Ct. 2510, 132 L.Ed.2d 700 (1995); see also Lamb's Chapel, supra, at 392-393, 113 S.Ct. 2141. The State's power to restrict speech, however, is not without limits. The restriction must not discriminate against speech on the basis of viewpoint, Rosenberger, supra, at 829, 115 S.Ct. 2510, and the restriction must be "reasonable in light of the purpose served by the forum," Cornelius v. NAACP Legal Defense &Ed. Fund, Inc., 473 U.S. 788, 806, 105 S.Ct. 3439, 87 L.Ed.2d 567 (1985).


Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98, 106-107 (2001).

If the classroom speeches constituted a limited public forum, then the university is going to have a lot of trouble here because the professor (acting as a representative of the State) is alleged to have made comments that facially appear to have discriminated on the basis of viewpoint.
2.17.2009 1:51pm
cmr:
The truely sad part is that I'm no longer suprised to read stories like this one.


Me neither. Of course some people are going to act like anti-gay bigotry is just as palpable as anti-religious bigotry (if they don't outright deny that it even exists).

The professor was DEAD. WRONG. Period. If he had problems with the presentation, fine, but you take them up with the student during office hours. You give him a detailed explanation of his grade. You don't act like you're sitting at home in your boxers on some message board duking it out over differences of opinion. You have to be wiser than that.

I agree with EV that this is a clear violation of the student's 1A. The professor's right to not speak, as some have called it, doesn't exist in this context because this is his...job.
2.17.2009 2:03pm
Angus:
If the classroom speeches constituted a limited public forum, then the university is going to have a lot of trouble here because the professor (acting as a representative of the State) is alleged to have made comments that facially appear to have discriminated on the basis of viewpoint.

As of yet, though, most of what is alleged in the filing is based only on the word of the student bringing the suit. As snide and inappropriate as the "Ask God" comment is, that does not necessarily translate into viewpoint discrimination.

It's still unclear whether the professor actually made those verbal comments in class toward the student (if he did, they are way out of line), or what the student said in the speech. Was the speech patently offensive and disruptive, and therefore wholly inappropriate for "the purpose served by the forum.."?
2.17.2009 2:05pm
Patrick too (mail):
Even if the student gave a speech that was patently offensive and disruptive, the university is still going to have a lot of trouble if the classroom was a limited public forum because of the comments that the professor made on the evaluation. There is the "Ask God" comment, the proselytization in public schools comment, and the comment about "Awfully Fa_____ P.O.V." (can't read the middle word) that all seemed to be directly aimed at the viewpoint expressed in Lopez's speech.

In contrast, I don't see any comments that indicate the professor thought the speech was patently offensive or disruptive (unless it is because of the viewpoint expressed).

With those kinds of facts, I have a hard time believing that the school will be able to get summary judgment in its favor and instead the best outcome they can hope for would be a trial to determine what exactly the student and professor said.

I don't know of many defendants that go into a case being pleased when the outcome are shooting for is a jury trial on the merits.
2.17.2009 2:31pm
Mikey NTH (mail):
The professor asked students for their opinions. He got one he didn't like. Grade the presentation on objective factors, not subjective factors, and if there is any subjective factors you don't like, speak to the student privately about them.

Sounds to me that the problem is the professor's, not the student's.
2.17.2009 2:35pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
I tend to think that unless the professor says beforehand that certain topics are off-limits, he or she has created a limited public forum in which the speakers can talk about what they want to talk about, even if it offends people. And the professor's comment in response to the student's request for a grade certainly sounds like religious discrimination to me. (Note that it would have been a different issue if the professor graded the student down for offensive content in the speech.) So, on the facts as we now know them, we have a First Amendment violation and the student should prevail in his suit.

That said, it is worth noting that the issue of prosletyzing students in these classes is a real problem. The student is being honest-- he has been ordered by his religious authorities to talk about his religious faith every chance he gets. But speech class is about learning to speak, not prosletyzing. The student would benefit from learning how to speak about secular topics.

Further, and more generally, when people get older and have less of the zeal of the converted, they tend to learn that it is considered quite impolite to insist on talking about your religious faith in front of people who disagree with it at every opportunity. Indeed, it's a nice route to social and professional ostracism. The religious authorities who are always pushing their new converts to do this are teaching them something that has to be un-taught in the secular world if these students want to have success.

In other words, yes, a student has the right to talk about his or her religion unless the professor rules it off-limits in the assignment. But students who insist on using every communication opportunity as a chance to try to force their faith onto others with different views are surely not acting with consideration or tolerance either.
2.17.2009 2:41pm
Angus:
"Awfully Fa_____ P.O.V." (can't read the middle word)
From years of grading bad student handwriting, my thought was that it reads "Awfully Fatalistic P.O.V."
2.17.2009 2:47pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
Did the student even say anything that was offensive? I am skimming the complaint, and all I can find are some very mainstream Christian views that would be shared by a majority of the population.

Also, why wasn't his speech a legitimate "informative" speech? It appears that the prof and the students did learn something. Or at least they would have learned something if they had let him finish and listened to what he had to say.

This prof should be fired.
2.17.2009 2:53pm
Happyshooter:
Further, and more generally, when people get older and have less of the zeal of the converted, they tend to learn that it is considered quite impolite to insist on talking about your religious faith in front of people who disagree with it at every opportunity.

Assuming the facts in the complaint are true, the prof failed to live up to your 'older and wiser' theory in living his gay faith.
2.17.2009 2:58pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):
students cannot be compelled to attend religious proselytizing at a public university;

Since they are compelled (to the extent that one ever has to go to class) to attend commie, queer, feminist, etc. proselytizing, what's the diff? At least this case was proselytizing by a private person whereas the other forms mentioned above involve official indoctrination in class lectures, assignments, admin proclamations, and orientation activities. (Not to mention the written and verbal contributions of the mentally and morally defective persons who are attending college with you.)

[Note: You may doubt that many college students are mentally and morally defective but consider their chances of gaining admission to the same institutions they are in now had they applied in 1890.]

This was an "informative" speech. The class also required a "persuasive" speech. Maybe he should have waited for the "persuasive" speech but it was certainly informative of his experiences and the beliefs of the Christian faith.

Like all these cases, it's a slam dunk 1st amendment issue and the uni lawyers always tell their institutions to fold.
2.17.2009 3:13pm
Abdul Abulbul Amir (mail):

Does the student have a First Amendment right to be graded?


If this school is like almost all others, the student has paid in advance for that grade. This seems less like a 1A issue than a simple commercial dispute.
2.17.2009 3:17pm
pete (mail) (www):

That said, it is worth noting that the issue of prosletyzing students in these classes is a real problem. The student is being honest-- he has been ordered by his religious authorities to talk about his religious faith every chance he gets. But speech class is about learning to speak, not prosletyzing. The student would benefit from learning how to speak about secular topics.


The issue is a lack of respect for captive audiances. Whether you are prosletyzing your faith, spouting off about politics, or ranting about why you think the Cardnials did not deserve to be in the superbowl, if the person you are talking to is not next to you by choice and did not ask for your opinion, shut up. At the very least ask if they want to hear your thoughts on the subject before assuming they are insterested. This goes for students there for a grade and not for your opinion (whether student or professor) or to the guy sitting next to you on an airplane.

I am referring to a civility problem more than a free speech problem: you have the right to be a boor, but you shouldn't be one. Speech courses are a bit different since you are "voluntarily" there in the sense that you most likely signed up for a course that entails listening to other people talk in order to get your degree. But the vast majority of other students signed up because they wanted to learn to speak or because they needed the grade, not because they actually care about the professor's or other students' opinions on issues not directly dealing with the course.
2.17.2009 3:34pm
Nekulturny (mail):
Is it illegal to beat your prof into the ground? If so, why?
2.17.2009 3:51pm
Wilpert Archibald Gobsmacked (mail):
Angus:

What I find ironic is the "compliance officer", when given the opportunity to right a wrong, instead threw gasoline on the fire.

By saying they were investigating and would discipline the professor under established guidelines? That's throwing gasoline on the fire?

No, by including extraneous alleged comments from other students in the written response to ADL. In essence the CO circled the wagons in defense of the professor, instead of fulfilling a role as arbiter of fact and dispenser of fairness. In my view - being a former part-time compliance officer - that was the more significant failure. It didn't need to be said. The CO had the power - however briefly - to stop the drama and reverse the process, but instead fanned the flames beyond control. Bad move.
2.17.2009 3:58pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
That said, it is worth noting that the issue of prosletyzing students in these classes is a real problem. The student is being honest-- he has been ordered by his religious authorities to talk about his religious faith every chance he gets. But speech class is about learning to speak, not prosletyzing. The student would benefit from learning how to speak about secular topics.


Um, not really. I took several speech classes in college and the biggest problem that most students had was working up the courage to get up in front of a group of strangers and talking. Giving the students the freedom to pick the topics that they were most interested in – in this case the student’s Christian faith was obviously of interest to him – is one way of helping them to overcome that fear. So long as the student fulfilled the requirements of the assignment (and given the number of 5’s on his score sheet it appears he did), it isn’t necessarily out of bounds for someone to deliver an informative speech on explaining what his Christian faith is or means. Once they break through that fear of speaking, then you work on broadening their choice of topics.

Frankly it sounds like the professor missed a golden opportunity with this student. He had a student that was apparently well-motivated to learn how to speak publicly so that he could share his religious beliefs. I agree that it would have been helpful for him to become more comfortable to learn to speak about other topics (and maybe he did). If he had been my student, I would have met with him afterwards and tried to steer him in that direction pointing out how some of the most effective religious speakers are the ones that are comfortable speaking on nearly any topic and versatility is one of the ways that you build a rapport with your audience.
2.17.2009 3:58pm
Nekulturny (mail):
No, but seriously, if the choice is turning LGBTs into hunted fugitives or turning Christians into hunted fugitives, I pick the queers - so much less work. (IANAC)

The real problem is an academic culture where profs think they are better or more valuable than janitors.
2.17.2009 4:06pm
wfjag:
Dear Lior:

You are correct that I do not currently teach in a university classroom. But, I have, and, am also considered qualified to teach several subjects. However, as I find "you can't understand because you've never walked a mile in my shoes" arguments nearly irrelevant, classroom teaching experience (yours or mine) is of little weight.

More importantly, I find your analysis and arguments unpersuasive.

First, you fail to address the thrust of the "Bob Jones U" illustration. I didn't refer to that particular institution because it is private, I referred to it because it has a well-known orientation. No public university could maintain that orientation (a fact I suspect you understand). My point was, and one I believe you actually understand, is that some of the commentators who are defending the Prof. and condemning Lopez would likely take the reverse position (condemn the Prof. and defend the student) if the partisan issue was reversed (i.e., "social conservative Prof." vs. pro-SSM student who cited a couple of unidentified Bibical verses in his speech).

At the beginning of your argument, you state:

When I ask students to address the class (for example, by asking a question), the goal is entirely educational: it is for the education of the student answering the question, and for all the other students.

Really? If you ask an open-ended question that allows the student to insert his/her own views, then do you allow the student to state those views, or do you restrict students to the ones you prefer. Your arguments indicate that you restrict students to expressing views of your preference.

In STEM subjects there are correct answers. In most other subjects there are not. Some answers are better supported by facts, historical examples and/or logical analysis, but, that is not the same as a correct answer that is subject to objective verification or refutation. In non-STEM subjects, requiring your students to stick to stating views acceptable to you looks more akin to indoctrination than teaching critical thinking skills.

My skepticism of your response was heightened by your additional assertions:

I am creating a learning opportunity, not inviting the student to publicly speak about his opinions.

Again, it depends on the subject and the question (or assignment). And, given your statement, it sounds less like your are, in fact, "creating a learning opportunity" and more like you are merely creating an opportunity for students to recite back to you what you want to hear. If you view "learning" as learning to tell those in authority what they want to hear, then what you describe falls within the ambit of "learning opportunity". If you view "learning" as learning to think for one's self, whether or not those in authority agree with one's conclusions or opinions, then I am skeptical of your assertion that you are "creating a learning opportunity".

Your argument continued:

The students are free do to that after the lesson ends. A student choosing a controversial topic for what should be a routine assignment is violating the unwritten rules of the classroom.

Please elaborate on these "unwritten rules" and explain why learning about controversial topics is excluded from the classroom. Apparently the "unwritten rules" do not include saying something you disagree with -- forcing you to defend your opinions -- and possibly educating your students with facts, historical examples and logical analysis (implying that you are conversant with those and can call on them to challenge your students with). Controversial topics are controversial because clearly there is no right or wrong answer, even in a normative sense. They are the topics on which people can disagree. Accordingly, they are the topics providing the greatest opportunity for teaching critical thinking skills, because there is no accepted dogma which provides a ready answer. This assumes, however, you are willing to allow honest debate -- without retribution for disagreeing with your opinions, howsoever cherished they may be to you.

If you don't intend to give your students an opportunity to think for themselves or disagree with you -- then tell them that at the outset. Provide them with a list of safe topics and opinions they are expected to espouse in your presence and in your classroom. I would also suggest forbidding your students from reading or referring to Orwell's Animal Farm, or one of them may decide to make a speech on the topic "Four legs good, two legs better."

So, would you be defending the Prof. if he was against SSM and Lopez's speech had been in favor of it?
2.17.2009 4:07pm
Nekulturny (mail):
Obviously neither of the above is preferable. Equally obviously it's even more in the LGBT's interest to seek the desired middle ground.

I ain't never been a prof, but I been a student. I was paying to be informed to the point of competence in a [tech/sci/engr in my case] field. I don't give a hot damn what prof or anybody else actually thinks or feels and why should I? Teach me F=ma, schmuck. I don't care whether Newton was gay or if he died a virgin. At least I'm not paying for that info.

Prof IMHO is paid to deal with same. Prof very obviously never had a real world job upon which he was dependent to eat. Prof should wash dishes till he learns his place.

Tenure is a crime against humanity.
2.17.2009 4:13pm
c.gray (mail):

Can a court of law really decided if the student's presentation was "informative"? Should that really a question of constitutional significance?



Too late.


We live in a legal regime where whether a high school student can be disciplined for holding up a "Bong Hits4Jesus" banner is a serious constitutional question warranting USC consideration.
2.17.2009 4:16pm
Angus:
No, by including extraneous alleged comments from other students in the written response to ADL.
The comments were neither extraneous or irrelevant, but were rather right on subject and the only hard evidence the Dean had been provided in the case. Evidence that directly contradicted parts of the student's account in the ADF letter to her.

The ADF ramped up all the drama when they demanded the University acknowledge a Constitutional violation and force the Professor to apologize,before there was any evidence provided or investigation.

I'd be a lot more sympathetic if the ADF had said: "We demand an investigation and that its findings be made public." Instead, they said: "We want you to instantly and without checking find the professor and yourselves guilty."
2.17.2009 4:26pm
Angus:
So, would you be defending the Prof. if he was against SSM and Lopez's speech had been in favor of it?
I would. An arrogant liberal student with a chip on his shoulder is just as insufferable as an arrogant conservative student with a chip on his shoulder. Both need to have some common sense knocked into them.

Did the professor overreact? Based on what I've seen, heck yes. Is the student an innocent little angel? Based on what I've seen, heck no.
2.17.2009 4:38pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Assuming the facts in the complaint are true, the prof failed to live up to your 'older and wiser' theory in living his gay faith.

The difference is that gays aren't trying to "recruit" straights.

Indeed, if you had a professor who constantly talked about his or her homosexuality FOR THE PURPOSE of convincing students to experiment with same-sex sexual conduct with the professor, I would say that professor has stepped quite a bit over the line and would deserve professional discipline or termination.

But simply saying that you are gay is not the same thing as religious prosletyzation. Gays don't get orders from Gay Central to indoctrinate and recruit straights.
2.17.2009 4:43pm
Happyshooter:
The difference is that gays aren't trying to "recruit" straights.

Indeed, if you had a professor who constantly talked about his or her homosexuality FOR THE PURPOSE of convincing students to experiment with same-sex sexual conduct with the professor,


So talking about Christ and his rules for life and after life is an evil evil evil attempt to recruit.

Talking about the goodness of gayness and the evil evil evil of the public who oppose pro-gay laws is not an attempt to recruit, it is a wonderful expression of wonderfulness.

You seem to have a weird spin on where you draw your definition lines. Almost like you like the gay and don't like the Christ.
2.17.2009 5:03pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Talking about the goodness of gayness and the evil evil evil of the public who oppose pro-gay laws is not an attempt to recruit, it is a wonderful expression of wonderfulness.

You don't understand the difference between religion and political advocacy.

The analogy with talking about gayness and the evil evil evil of the public who oppose pro-gay laws would be talking about the importance of religion in the public square and the evil evil evil of court decisions that preclude religious expression. And I am not aware of any college professors who have banned THAT type of a speech in their speech classes.

The student here has admitted that he has been ordered by his pastors to seek CONVERTS at every opportunity, i.e., to get people to JOIN his religion. Seeking religious converts in situations where people aren't interested in hearing about your religious faith is, at best, considered rude and boorish behavior, just as it would be considered rude and boorish for a gay man to hit on every straight guy he met.

It is not, however, rude and boorish for a Christian, in circumstances where political and cultural advocacy is encouraged, to advocate that the political system or the culture should be more tolerant or friendlier towards Christian beliefs. Just as it is not rude and boorish for a gay man or lesbian under the same circumstances to advocate that the pollitical system or the culture should be more tolerant or friendlier towards gays and lesbians.

Almost like you like the gay and don't like the Christ.

I like Jesus of Nazareth just fine-- from what I have read about him, he was a great and admirable man. Don't know who this "the Christ" person is, though.
2.17.2009 5:21pm
ArthurKirkland:
When poor judgment strikes poor judgment, the collision is often a clustermuck.

A student, apparently consequent to directions from his religious instructor, gave a speech that appears to have resembled with a pitch for a pizza chain, a Ponzi scheme, a timeshare opportunity or a Scientology center. (After reading the complaint and other reports, it is unclear to what degree the pitch complied with the assignment. It is possible that "expressing his faith" was as off-base in an assigned speech as it would have been on a science test, but I haven't seen persuasive evidence in either direction.)

The instructor overreacted to the student's poor (or lack of) judgment with similarly inappropriate behavior.

Some advocates for religion, not content with the many current "heads we win, tails you lose" preferences for religion in our society, want to make a federal case of it. (In that federal case, the student's subsequent violation of a classroom rule becomes a point in the student's favor, at least in the eyes of the student's lawyers.)

Some advocates for gay rights, not content with their current placement in the public debates, probably think a federal case is a fine idea.

Poor judgment and bad behavior all around, a clustermuck for the courts to wrangle. Students who sought an education apparently hijacked into serving as the targets of proselytism instead. A plaintiff/student who probably isn't learning much. A public institution devoting educational resources to litigation.

Proselytism and classrooms seem a bad mix. I guess it could have been worse, though.
2.17.2009 6:57pm
Chet Lemon (mail):
Angus wrote: "Note that even the filing just leaves it as the student said "two bible verses." Want to bet they were ones about putting homosexuals to death?"

You'd lose the bet, my man.

David French responds to this over at NRO's Phi Beta Cons.

Romans 10:9

Matthew 22:37-38

Pretty tame stuff, no?
2.17.2009 7:10pm
R Gould-Saltman (mail):
Mr. Kirkland:

At last, some light, in place of heat and noise. I don't know your view on the issue about which Mr. Lopez chose to speak (informatively or otherwise), and it shouldn't matter. You, sir, seem to have hit the nail on head.


Crappy judgment by a student; not a big surprise, particularly since religious fervor has been known to impair the subtler social judgment of some young folks. Crappier judgment by a professor, more unfortunate, and less excusable, (BTW, do we know whether this guy is really tenured?) followed by more lousy judgment from the administrators above him. (Not a big surprise, that latter...) Inflammatory rhetoric from an advocacy group, who kept ratcheting in search of a toe-hold for litigation.

One other point from a fan of Los Angeles literary history: my recollection is that Charles Bukowski actually got himself tossed out of a similar speech class at LACC about sixty years ago or so, because, in a characteristically misanthropic moment, he decided to see what would happen if he gave a speech explaining the political advantages of Nazism. Not because he believed it, IIRC, but more as sort of an experiment.

I wonder if it might have been the same classroom. . .

. . . and BTW, for those, like Zarkov, who want to know why there's an LACC at all, "that problem", say the State Assembly Republicans, "we can fix!": from Capitol News, last week:

Overall, according to Capitol sources, the plan includes about $15.8 billion in spending cuts, $14.3 billion in tax increases and about $10.9 billion in new borrowing. Details of the revenue package began to surface earlier this week, with increases expected in the state sales tax, gasoline tax and vehicle license fee. More than half of the cuts are to K-12 schools and community colleges.


R. Gould-Saltman
2.17.2009 7:24pm
gattsuru (mail) (www):
Gleeson
In his few notes on Lopez's evaluation sheet (p. 31 of the complaint) he commits at least three spelling errors: "prostyeletizing," "innappropriate," and "too" (as in, "Good thing you read it too us").

In the man's defense -- and this is the only part of the established facts I can defend -- writing while listening to a verbal presentation is significantly more difficult than writing at one's own pace. Errors on an evaluation form written during a face-paced speech is rather understandable.

The rest of the professor's actions speak poorly enough of his judgment on their own.
2.17.2009 7:36pm
Paul Douglas (mail):
The liberals go on and on about "hate speech", but apparently calling Mr. Lopez a "fascist bastard" isn't hatred. No, no. Of course not. Don't be ridiculous.

If we judge these liberals (and yes I'm judging the teacher to be one) by their actions, we can only conclude that there's nothing wrong with hate speech as long as the target is one who espouses a contradictory viewpoint.

The teacher's actions were clearly motivated by hate. He should be summarily dismissed, and the school should apologize in a very public fashion. Still further, there should be steps taken to guarantee this never happens to another student... ever!
2.17.2009 7:39pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Paul:

Your post is a good example of why there is so much acrimony between liberals and conservatives in this country.

Look above, and you will see Mark Field, a liberal, saying the professor's actions were unconstitutional. You will see me, a liberal, saying the professor's actions are unconstitutional. You will see other liberals raising issues NOT based on this professor's actual conduct, but based on hypothetical situations where a student's advocacy in his classroom speech really does cross the line and indicating that we should be careful about heading whole-hog towards a position where we permit even unambiguous hate speech in this context to receive constitutional protection, a position that by its very nature concedes that this speech WAS NOT hate speech. And finally, we have liberals who are indicating that IF the speech mentioned bible verses that implicitly advocated the murder of homosexuals, this could constitute a real problem if there were gays and lesbians in the class who interpreted it as a threat. Again, far from condemning all expression of opposition to gay rights as hate speech, this position draws important distinctions.

In other words, "the liberals" don't advocate the position you ascribe to them. And since you didn't bother to find out what liberals ACTUALLY believe (perhaps getting your information from conservative talk radio, authors, and/or bloggers, who lie a lot about liberals' beliefs), and you didn't even bother to read and absorb the comments of actual liberals in this thread, you made an unwarranted assumption about what the liberal "position" is on this issue.

As I said in my earlier comment, the professor's reaction to "ask God" for a grade looks to me like clear religious discrimination, and is thus a constitutional violation. However, many evangelical students need to learn that there is a time and a place for prosletyzation, and the difference between prosletyzation and making a political case against gay rights. As I said, insisting that every communication with a nonbeliever is an opportunity to win a convert is a route towards social and professional ostracism, and our education system has a legitimate interest in providing evangelical students the tools necessary to navigate a secular world.

A GOOD, professional professor would have been able to navigate this better, finding a way to impart that crucial lesson to the student without gratuitously trashing his sincerely-held and constitutionally protected religious beliefs. This, unfortunately, was by all appearances not a good, professional professor.

As for you, I would truly recommend that you spend a bit more time listening to liberals and trying to understand where we are coming from, instead of assuming that we all think that it is OK for educators to call students "fascists" simply because the students have sincere (if wrongly held) religious objections to same-sex sexual relationships.
2.17.2009 8:01pm
Sean Gleeson (mail):

Romans 10:9
Matthew 22:37-38
Pretty tame stuff, no?

Yup. I suspected as much, but I'm glad to see it confirmed.

And Angus was naive when he wrote:

Indeed, neither of the verses you quoted would have caused students to write letters to the Dean protesting Lopez's speech.

You see, Angus? Many people will protest anything Christian, even the most innocuous lovey-dovey sentiment, and call it "hate." That's what the whole "Proposition Hate" campaign was about. That's why those Christians were attacked in San Francisco (on Nov. 14), just for singing "Amazing Grace."

As for what "caused" the students to write those protest letters, I suspect it was Matteson himself, or they were produced in response to questioning from the compliance officer, as part of her own investigation into the incident.

Angus's only valid point so far, is that we really do have only Lopez's word for some of these events. The "Ask God what your grade is" comment seems incontrovertible (unless it was forged), but the "fascist bastard" slur, and the threat of expulsion, and the inoffensive content of Lopez's speech (including the Bible verses) are based on the account of Jonathan Lopez. Obviously, if he is lying about these details, the case is much different. But I'm assuming he is telling the truth, especially since nobody has denied any details of his account.
2.17.2009 8:15pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
So some people here are making claims like:

Dilan Esper:

I tend to think that unless the professor says beforehand that certain topics are off-limits, he or she has created a limited public forum in which the speakers can talk about what they want to talk about, even if it offends people.



wfjag:

Really? If you ask an open-ended question that allows the student to insert his/her own views, then do you allow the student to state those views, or do you restrict students to the ones you prefer. Your arguments indicate that you restrict students to expressing views of your preference.




Please elaborate on these "unwritten rules" and explain why learning about controversial topics is excluded from the classroom. Apparently the "unwritten rules" do not include saying something you disagree with -- forcing you to defend your opinions -- and possibly educating your students with facts, historical examples and logical analysis (implying that you are conversant with those and can call on them to challenge your students with).




Alright to make the point clear let's discard the facts of the current situation and consider the following hypothetical:

The professor in a rhetoric class asks the students to each prepare a 15 minute persuasive talk on a subject they feel strongly about. Knowing that it's often hard for students to get up the courage to risk speaking about something they feel strongly about he doesn't tell them to avoid controversial subjects or exclude any particular issue, it's worked out well in the past when students try to persuade each other about small government or national health care.

This time however one of the students gives one of the following speeches: (note the first couple are all statements of opinion or moral/religious truth).

1) The professor's mother is a filthy bitter crone and his wife is bad smelling and but ugly.

Please don't tell me you think the right answer is for the professor to push aside his own opinions and outrage and 'objectively' grade the speech, that's obviously not even possible.


2) Jews are an inferior ethnic group and deserve to die. Hitler was a great man for making the Holocaust happen.

If you let students issue these kind of direct deeply seated insults to each other in the classroom no more learning will be possible. People will come to do war not to learn about the course.

3) God condemns interracial marriages and will punish the members of the white race who intermingle their blood with that of black people.


4) God condemns same sex marriages and will burn the sodomites that copulate with members of the same sex.

5) Jesus Christ was probably really a paranoid schizophrenic but wow people are still dumb enough to believe he had supernatural powers.

6) Atheists deny God because they hate the thought that we might be happy with our creator. Child rapists and mass murders are evil but even they can be saved but only the atheist knowingly tries to keep us from god and for that they deserve to be burned eternally.

-----

So which ones get graded without comment and which ones call for punishment or at least dismissal from the class? Surely no one will really claim that in each one of these cases the professor should simply give it an objective grade disregarding the content and move on? If you admit even some of these exceptions the problem becomes judging what should count.

We don't have to spell out exactly what is socially acceptable every time we give an assignment any more than the college needs to post signs saying no nudity. In general we have to expect students to understand what subjects would be understood as personal attacks in the context of the classroom.

The problem is when the student and professor come from different cultural backgrounds and thus the student finds it insulting and unacceptable to be asked not to talk about some aspect of his faith while the professor would find it personally insulting if the student did talk about it. The reason it's hard to get a handle on this case is that many of you come from backgrounds that take it for granted that expressing fairly generic christian belief is not deeply offensive. I don't see how it differs from the other examples. If it can be too offensive to say that women deserve to burn in hell for not covering their faces in public why is it any different when someone suggests that you deserve to burn in hell because you don't accept one of their beliefs. Saying that salvation happens only through faith (in a strong form) implies that atheists don't deserve to be saved. Sounds offensive to me.

I mean the issue of gay marriage is exactly such an issue. Many people on the pro-marriage side of the fence see demands that gay people be kept from marrying to be no less insulting than statements about the need to keep the white blood pure. It's a pure difference in cultural values and I don't know what to do there.
2.17.2009 8:22pm
Sean Gleeson (mail):
TruePath: I see your point, that even in the absence of an explicit instruction to eschew certain topics or positions, there are nonetheless implicit limits on offensive speech.

I often assign "open-ended" projects to my own students (I teach Web Design and Animation) where the students may choose their own topics. Nonetheless, if any student handed in anything insulting my wife, you can bet I would fail him summarily.

But your additional argument, that whether speech should be allowed really depends on the subjective "cultural values" of the listener, is neither true nor useful. As you yourself admit ("I don't know what to do there") this proposed rule is utterly unworkable.

In such cases, a "reasonable man" test would work much better. Never mind each person's "cultural values," the values we should assume are the ones of our culture, the culture of the United States of America in 2009. Anyone from a different culture cannot reasonably expect everyone to accommodate his individual values at all times.

And so, back to particulars, it is no defense for Matteson to claim, "but in my culture, professing Christianity is highly offensive, just as professing Nazism would be in yours, and you have to respect that." The only relevant question is, would a reasonable man consider the speech obviously offensive?

(I believe the Supreme Court uses the term "patently offensive" to describe expression that is objectively offensive, but maybe only in pornography contexts.)
2.17.2009 8:47pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
TruePath:

There's a lot a good professor can do if the student gives a speech that is seen as offensive.

For instance, the professor can ask the student to re-do the assignment with another topic. Or the professor can grade the assignment but have the student come to office hours where they can discuss why the speech was offensive. In rare cases, where the speech is seriously disruptive to the educational environment, under Tinker and similar cases, the professor can stop the speech.

What the professor cannot do, however, is refuse to grade the speech based on the religious beliefs and expressions of the student. "Ask God to grade it" is thus out of bounds. And what the professor should not do is call a student a fascist. That's unprofessional.

Those who have seen my comments on other comment threads know that as a matter of civility and political discussion, I have very little respect for people who advocate discrimination against gays or lesbians or hide behind their religion as a shield from criticism while doing so. We all have a First Amendment right to be a prejudiced jerk, and that is exactly what a person who moves beyond simple moral disapproval of homosexuality to advocating the legalization of discrimination against gays and lesbians is.

But nonetheless, there needs to be plenty of cultural space for religious conservatives to express their beliefs about gays and lesbians, and good educators need to develop sensible strategies for generating a discussion as to where such beliefs arise from and how people who hold them can learn to coexist in a pluralistic society with people who have very different beliefs and who have made life choices that religious conservatives disapprove of.
2.17.2009 9:07pm
pete (mail) (www):

If it can be too offensive to say that women deserve to burn in hell for not covering their faces in public why is it any different when someone suggests that you deserve to burn in hell because you don't accept one of their beliefs. Saying that salvation happens only through faith (in a strong form) implies that atheists don't deserve to be saved. Sounds offensive to me.


I have never understood that argument. If you believe hell is a made up place, why do you care what I or anyone else says about who is going there? If you do not beleive there is a hell, then you do not believe you are going there. Therefore you might as well get offended by what I say about the Easter Bunny or whether or not Darth Vader is really Luke Skywalker's father.

And the whole theological basis of evangelical Chrisitanity is that no one deserves to be saved, whether you are a die hard athiest or the most obedient, loving Christian on the planet.
2.17.2009 9:38pm
Angus:
And Angus was naive when he wrote:

Indeed, neither of the verses you quoted would have caused students to write letters to the Dean protesting Lopez's speech.
Hardly naive. Indeed, I am as cynical as hell. I deal will college students every day of the week, and 99% of them are utterly apathetic about anything except ipods, cell phones, and video games. It takes something pretty hefty to stir them out of torpor. I'd be interested in hearing an account of what else was in Lopez's speech.

I'd also be interested in hearing NRO's source on this. I'm sure they have a good one, but just forgot to say who they got the info from.
2.17.2009 10:43pm
joe P.:
Good points Gleeson.
2.17.2009 11:25pm
trad and anon (mail):
Typically these sorts of one-sided descriptions, no matter which side they're from, turn out to be missing critical facts. There's probably something else about the background and/or the student's presentation that makes the student look much worse and the professor's reaction less unjustified. It's hard to imagine any fact pattern that would have justified the professor's reaction though.

Of course, it's possible that the student's account is 100% accurate and reveals all material facts necessary to make it non-misleading, in which case the professor's behavior is atrocious and the school should terminate his contract.
2.18.2009 1:32am
Darrin Ziliak:
Assuming the facts in the complaint are even correct, my High School speech teacher was more professional.

In fact, even though she was a liberal who made Kucinich look like Reagan, you never would have guessed it from the way she graded or talked to the students during class.

I gave my persuasive speech assignment on gun control, to convince against, and her only statement when I chose it was to remind me that it can be harder to convince the audience to be against something.

I wound up with an A- on the speech despite the fact that she thought guns should be banned.

Now if I tried to turn my informational speech about John Browning into a gun rights speech, I'd fully expect her to at least say something about it to me later and grade me accordingly, and not call me a fascist bastard* or try to organize a walkout.

Of course we only have one side of the case here and the rest will presumably come out at trial.


*I was called a fascist once, but it was during a current events discussion in American History class after a spirited defense of Reagan's hardline Soviet policy and it was a fellow student who said it.

My response at the time was to walk up to him after class and softly say 'Seig Heil, Baby'.
2.18.2009 6:04am
GL Campbell:
It is a clearly observable phenomena that when modern liberalism's proponents cry out "tolerance" to those who oppose on cultural, sociological, economic, political, or, dare we say, even Biblical grounds, a particular policy or behavior (or policy that will lead to certain behavior), the claims are selective. This is the legacy of all poorly crafted reasoning.

And this lack of tolerance is simply normal for modern liberalism ideologues. Though we hear the words come out of their mouths or from their pens that, "We hope for a world of tolerance," with the creation of a plethora of social programs and diversity curricula to that end, the pendulum has simply crossed the center point; tolerance is viewed as accepting this other *perceived* view of how things *ought* to be. And once we begin to delve into the world of perception and "oughts", we necessarily enter into the world of philosophy and ethics and, most tolerably, Christian thought, which is most intolerably avoided.
2.18.2009 7:31am
David Schwartz (mail):
I have never understood that argument. If you believe hell is a made up place, why do you care what I or anyone else says about who is going there? If you do not beleive there is a hell, then you do not believe you are going there. Therefore you might as well get offended by what I say about the Easter Bunny or whether or not Darth Vader is really Luke Skywalker's father.
There is no argument to understand. It is a fact that people find being told that they deserve eternal torment to be offensive. Offense is almost never a rational process.

Trying to put the logic behind the offense in rational terms is very difficult because the offense is a visceral reaction. Here are some attempts to make it more rational:

You are saying that profound human suffering, perhaps the greatest evil in our world, is universally deserved. If a baby suffers horrible burns over most of her body, she deserves it. All human beings deserve the most horrible suffering imaginable.

You are using a threat of physical harm to try to bully me into accepting a set of arbitrary views. You are demanding I listen to an argument that would equally well support any set of views, while rejecting the possibility that I can use this same argument to support my views. You expect me to take your argument seriously, but if I argued that perhaps all people who don't wear green hats will suffer eternal torment in hell, you would laugh at me.
2.18.2009 9:30am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
David.
The threat is entirely illusory and the threatener is entirely incapable of making it happen.
You're allowed to be offended if it makes you feel good. But there's no possible point that allows you to shut up the offender.
2.18.2009 9:39am
David Schwartz (mail):
RA: It's not the threat. It's the claim that human beings deserve to suffer the worst suffering imaginable. That claim is offensive. (If that's not offensive, what could be?)

What is more offensive than to tell a person they (and others like them) deserve to suffer some awful fate?

Seriously, if you cannot accept the 'logic' of that offense, I submit that you would not accept the logic of any offense.
2.18.2009 9:52am
wfjag:
David:

The point Richard is making is that if you choose to be offended, it is your choice. You alone control your emotions. If someone says the most vile things imaginable to you, you can: (a) laugh in their face; (b) say something like "Excuse me, did you realize that you're using adverbs improperly as adjectives?"; (c) ask them "Did your Grandmother teach you those words?"; or (d) be offended. How you choose to let your emotions respond is your choice. However, if you let others dictate your emotions, you will be a perpetual victim.
2.18.2009 10:19am
cmr:
There is no argument to understand. It is a fact that people find being told that they deserve eternal torment to be offensive. Offense is almost never a rational process.


While I agree, it's usually those who believe Hell is a made up place, and subsequently get offended by being told who is going there, who consider themselves to be rational because of their irreligious beliefs.
2.18.2009 10:32am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
David.
Okay. You're offended. Have a nice day.
2.18.2009 11:22am
Yankev (mail):

Okay. You're offended. Have a nice day.
Now I am offended, too. What makes you think that you can dictate to David what to do or what kind of day he can have? And are you implicitly threatening him with eternal suffering if he does NOT have a good day? And who made you the judge of what a good day consists of, anyway? You are using a threat of implied physical harm to try to bully David into accepting a set of arbitrary views as to what a good day consists of.
2.18.2009 11:30am
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
GL:

Stop libeling liberals.
2.18.2009 11:31am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Yankev.
You're right, in part. But I did leave open the possibility that the "nice" part of "nice day" was his to define. That's because I didn't say "good" day, since that has some objective denotations. It means not torturing puppies, for example, and I wouldn't want to restrict anybody's freedom of choice. So "nice" is self-referential.
I don't see the problem.

To be a bit less silly, feigned offense is a powerful tool in certain parts of society, most especially academia. I tend to dismiss complaints of being offended when the complainant is an adult and the offense is nonsensical. Also when the object of the complaint is to shut up an inconvenient argument.
2.18.2009 11:50am
Kent G. Budge (www):

Your post is a good example of why there is so much acrimony between liberals and conservatives in this country.


You are making an unwarranted generalization from an individual self-identified conservative to the entire conservative community. I cry foul.


As for you, I would truly recommend that you spend a bit more time listening to liberals and trying to understand where we are coming from,


Because we all know that it's conservatives and not liberals who have a hard time understanding the point of view of the other side. Except that the most recent sociological research indicates just the opposite.
2.18.2009 12:22pm
ArthurKirkland:
Most people are offended from time to time.

Some of those who dislike proselytism are offended when a public school event -- a speech by a student in class, or at a graduation ceremony -- becomes a recruiting pitch.

Some of those who believe in a particular strain of the supernatural claim to be offended when some question the 1950s decision to shove "under God" into a national pledge.

Some people are offended when an organization discriminates on the basis of religious dogma.

Others are offended when an organization that receives public money is required to refrain from discriminating based on religious dogma.

There are countless similar examples.

Tossing religion into the mix intensifies the feelings and, to some degree, diminishes the role of reason in the debate.

In the underlying episode, the student and the teacher exercised poor judgment and many people became exercised. Bad judgment colliding with bad judgment rarely produces a good result.
2.18.2009 12:38pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Kent:

You are also part of the problem. You see, any time someone raises an issue with conservative conduct, lots of conservatives (not all, but lots of them) go into "liberals do it too" mode, which is no justification for bad conduct.

Read the two posts that I am referring to again (Paul and GL). Then read the rest of the thread. You will see that these guys repeat a caricature of liberalism that they are told about by lying radio hosts. Are they the only two people who repeat this caricature? Hardly. The comments threads at powerline and little green footballs are full of these sorts of statements.

Meanwhile, actual liberals believe something completely different.

So yes, I get sick of conservatives getting onto comments threads and saying, without knowing the first thing about actual liberal beliefs, how intolerant and p.c. liberals are. And if liberals do the same thing, that doesn't make it right.
2.18.2009 12:47pm
Eli Rabett (www):
As anyone who has ever taught has learned, NEVER give an open ended assignment. Some clown will try and push your buttons. If you wonder why a lot of syllabi resemble a contract drawn by a crazy lawyer, this is the reason. We all accumulate ways in which the students try and get away with something, after which another codicil gets added the list.

In this case, the instructor should have asked the student to submit the topic they wanted to speak on and an abstract before letting them talk. Under those conditions it would have been possible to rule things out of bounds because they would discomfort others in the class.
2.18.2009 1:41pm
Lior:
wfjag:

I don't think you understand my point of view at all. Read my comments and you will see that I never cared for the particular political opinions of either the student or the professor. You might be confusing me with other people whose opinions you have read before.

First, I don't care about the content of the student's speech. I am not "defending the prof", except in a very limited sense of believing that the question at hand is not a legal First-Amendment issue but an internal university one. It is certain that the professor verbally abused a student in class. It also seems that the student didn't follow the terms of an assignment. My reaction entirely depends on these two facts and not on the views regarding SSM of either side -- those views are irrelevant to our discussion, in my opinion.

Second, when I ask a question in class, the goal is almost always to get the students to think. Even when there is a "right answer" (I am on the STEM side, and there often is), the point is not to get that answer back from them, but to force them to think about what's going on. When I ask several students to present their points of view in class, the main goal is to form, express, hear and react to arguments. It is also to expose the students ways of thinking (and my way of thinking).

As I said before, this is far removed from the "free speech" guarantee of the First Amendment. Even when the nominal goal is for students to convince each other, this is not about a student winning converts to his political side. It is about one student making good arguments, and other students learning to accept good arguments and reject bad ones regardless of their emotional reactions to the thesis or the person making the argument.

Phrasing this a different way, the students should be expressing their views, but the goal is for them to think about their views, to argue for them, and to make everyone else do the same. It is not simply that they have a "right to be heard". In class, what they are arguing for is irrelevant. It is how they argue that counts. The same holds for me: when I express my views to the class, the point is for the students to see my way of thinking, to see how arguments work, what a definition is, and so on. Except for some "fluff" I do not say something in class that I cannot back up with a solid proof.

My field is not political, and it is generally easy to tell whose argument was valid (not always mine), so the kind of issues we have here are not directly implicated. Nevertheless the same principles would apply if I was teaching a charged political topic. If I expressed my opinions this would be to show how I reached them, not because they are gospel to be believed. The goal would not be for the students to agree with me -- it would be for them to see on way to think about the issues.

In the latter situation, however, you have to pay attention to what you say. The reason is purely pedagogical: if people react emotionally rather than logically then no learning will take place. In other words, whatever the proposition you are arguing for, you should try to avoid touching the emotional buttons of the listeners. This goes both ways of course -- the listeners should avoid being inflamed.

I have recently attended a public lecture, where the speaker was trying to discuss the ethics of software development. Trying to make a point about "helping your neighbour" being an ethical requirement, he asserted that while you should save others from drowning, you would not do the same if the drowning person was one George W. Bush. This throwaway remark seemed rather popular with the audience, which I found shocking. It was shocking that such a thing could be said, and that the audience would be more favourable toward the speaker afterwards. It certainly did not make me favourably disposed to the speaker's message, my (very negative) opinion of Mr. Bush notwithstanding. Trying to push emotional buttons is not a good thing to do when you should be holding a rational discussion, even if it works with some audiences.
2.18.2009 3:10pm
Sean Gleeson (mail):

I'd also be interested in hearing NRO's source on this. I'm sure they have a good one, but just forgot to say who they got the info from.


The bylined author of the NRO post was David French, one of the ADF lawyers representing Lopez in this case. (He is listed as such on page 1 of the complaint.) So in that sense, they did say who they got the info from.
2.18.2009 4:37pm
Yankev (mail):

It also seems that the student didn't follow the terms of an assignment.
I did not see it reported that the professor criticised the speech for being non-responsive or for being persuasive rather than informative. Perhaps he did, but the complaint and exhibits give the impression that he believed the viewpoints expressed should not be expressed on campus, and that some of the viewpoints should not be held at all. Can anyone point me to evidence -- as opposed to inference or surmise -- that the professor's objection was based on the speech being of the wrong type, rather than to it expressing unacceptable views?
2.18.2009 5:58pm
Lior:
Yankev: the objection "fascist bastard" is clearly related to the views of the student. On the other hand, one of the exhibits attached to the complaint is the grade sheet. In the middle of this sheet the instructor had circled what looks like the phrase "thesis persuasive".
2.18.2009 6:31pm
Yankev (mail):
Lior,

In the middle of this sheet the instructor had circled what looks like the phrase "thesis persuasive
Yes, I saw that too, although I read it "This is persuasive," especially when I increased the magnification. Your reading is probably correct. (And for what it's worth, I thought the handwritten comment about the viewpoint says "Awfully fascistic P.O.V.", not "fatalistic," but increasing the magnification suggests the latter.)

At first I could not understand why he was praising the student's power of persuasion, but rereading the comment in light of your post, I tend to agree with you -- the prof was saying that the speech was supposed to inform, and this one set out to persuade.

Thanks for helping me see that.
2.18.2009 7:33pm
fascist bastard:
"Thesis persuasive" is just one factor in the grading scheme that may justify marking down the student; but as one factor among many, does not suffice to justify not grading the student at all.
2.18.2009 8:03pm
kentuckyliz (mail):
Our student code of conduct outlines the academic rights and responsibilities of students (among other things); one of the academic rights students have is the right to a contrary opinion. A professor who cannot fairly grade a student who disagrees needs to go back to waiting tables. The professor was proselytizing by treating the podium as the preacher's soapbox for his agenda.

The answer to speech you disagree with is more speech. Period.

Sexual orientation is not a federally protected class but religion is. The student is right. They cannot discriminate against him for his religion. If it was an open topic, it's an open topic. The professor could have assigned a topic if he's so dainty he can't bear to hear someone's differing opinion.

I work in higher education. Apparently Kentucky is more liberal than California. (In the classical sense.)
2.18.2009 10:50pm
Yankev (mail):

"Thesis persuasive" is just one factor in the grading scheme that may justify marking down the student; but as one factor among many, does not suffice to justify not grading the student at all.
Agreed. Taking the complaint as true,the Prof. was unprofessional, hostile, used the classroom as his political platform, and most likely was trying to suppress a viewpoint that he found offensive. The school punted and tried to counterattack by citing ill-taken or trumped up offense taken by two classmates. By I asked Lior for some evidence that the plaintiff had ignored the ground rules of the assignment, and Lior pointed to some that I had overlooked.
2.19.2009 9:52am
JohnEMack (mail):
I agree that a test which asked "What is the age of the earth" and marked down the answer "6000 years" would be permissible. But what about a multiple choice test where "6000 years" was one of the alternatives? There seems to me to be a good argument that actually inviting a fundamentalist to make an answer which conformed to his beliefs and then marking him down for it would create real problems.
2.19.2009 10:29am

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