Classroom learning environment, not pulpit
Sitting toward the back of the lecture hall in Wilson Hall that Thursday, I must admit I was a little excited to begin the IAH 207 course.
Literatures, Cultures, and Identities, to me, would be an exploration of classic stories and poetry; however, that first lecture proved to be more than I bargained for. English professor William Penn began to condemn the use of cell phones, which he dubbed “little toys,” as well as various social media services such as Facebook and Twitter. He declared that we as young people have forgotten how to think and that we have become so entrenched in our technological lives we have forgotten the true meaning of communication.
All of this was easily relatable to the course topic, and I found it rather enjoyable to listen to until his remarks became increasingly irrelevant. Penn began to attack the tax code of this country and proceeded to mock 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and the Republican Party. It was around this time that I decided to get out my phone and begin recording. I immediately felt that this kind of talk had no business in the classroom.
As the video shows, the professor’s monologue dissolved into an unnecessary and uncalled for rant about the politics of the day. He threatened students who did not share his beliefs, stating that he was coming after them. Furthermore, he inappropriately referred to Republicans as dead or dying white people who “raped this country,” then asked students to raise their hands if they wanted to be Mitt Romney (and, by extension, married to Ann Romney, whom he seemed to have a personal vendetta against).
I could not believe that such remarks were being uttered in the classroom. In my opinion, it was impossible to say that Penn’s monologue that day was formulated to promote open debate or the “free exchange of ideas” that the university encourages. How could a student who supports voter ID laws and had just been accused of closet racism feel that Penn was simply offering his opinions?
In addition, asking a student to raise his or her hand in defiance of the professor’s obvious bias against the Romneys could not have been perceived as anything other than a bullying tactic. He had just asked students to remember if they wanted to be greedy bastards who were rich, such as Mitt Romney, they had to be Mitt Romney; if that was not meant to discourage differences of opinion, I do not know what it was for.
I am 100 percent in favor of Penn’s right to think as he chooses and share his opinions with others in his private life. However, I do not believe that the taxpayer-funded pulpit was the appropriate place for this tirade. Michigan is home to millions of people who hold countless political philosophies. I cannot see how this detrimental and degrading rant could be related to any topic relevant to the class.
I am for the eradication of indoctrination in the classroom across the political spectrum; I would have had no trouble filming a far-right professor acting in the same manner as Penn. Students invest large sums in their education; and in my opinion, we were not getting our money’s worth.
It is time for students to stand up and say enough is indeed enough. I believe we have a responsibility to hold our professors to higher academic standards, encouraging us to think for ourselves, and not as they see fit.
Evan Schrage is a political science sophomore. Reach him at email@example.com.