Penn incident leads faculty to investigate tech. rights
Faculty are responding to English professor William Penn’s in-class rant, which some are calling anti-Republican, by putting together a subcommittee to address social media, rights and responsibilities in the classroom, but some students think they should be part of the process.
The ad hoc committee was announced at the recent MSU Board of Trustees meeting by Sue Carter, Steering Committee chair and journalism professor. The committee will finish its work by the end of the semester.
“It’s important to highlight the faculty’s subcommittee … and how we sustain an active and challenging learning environment where different points of view can be seen and heard and discussed with great trust and respect,” MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said in an interview Tuesday.
Penn was removed from teaching classes in early September after a video was posted online in which he attacked some Republicans for their views, including former presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
The incident drew national media attention.
“It’s not limited to the experience of one faculty member here,” Carter said. “There are many more global issues to be aware of. How do we cope with the continued increased level of use of social media in the classroom?”
She added the committee will gather information, look at experiences of other universities and present best practices to faculty members.
The presidents of both the on-campus Democrat and conservative groups agreed students should be part of the conversation.
“It has to do with how students and faculty want to be treated in the classroom,” said Rawley Van Fossen, president of the MSU College Democrats and a social relations and policy and urban planning junior.
He added that since students advocate for their own freedom of speech in the classroom, faculty should have the same rights. He said recording video or audio during class will only make professors feel like they can’t speak to their students.
Matthew Bedard, president of MSU Campus Conservatives and political science junior, said students are paying tuition, so they should have a say in how their education is administered.
“I’m glad that students are aware of the issue — no matter which side they choose — and are willing to actively participate,” Bedard said.
The committee will be comprised of about five faculty members.
“This (is) a huge opportunity for faculty to reflect upon their rights to say what they think is important to say in a classroom to accomplish their goals,” said William Donohue, chair of the University Committee on Faculty Affairs and communication professor. “We live in a very different, technological world where you have to assume that everything you do in a classroom can and will be recorded and will be posted and will be tweeted out.”
He said assuming his lectures will be posted on social media doesn’t impede his ability to teach because he prefaces anything that could be offensive with, “Here’s an example of what I’m talking about.”
But he acknowledged his comments could easily be edited in a video.
“They’re not people trying to get at what’s really going on,” Donohue said. “They’re more interested in perhaps sensationalizing or making their own point for their own agenda so that they can get a hit on one of the talk shows, for example.”