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Kolner: Don't waste students' time

BY JESSICA KOLNER | SEPTEMBER 10, 2013 5:00 AM

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It is a well-established fact that college campuses throughout the United States are some of the most liberal institutions in the country. They employ some of the most intelligent minds of the contemporary era responsible for educating the leaders of the next generation.

On the heels of recent events surrounding the suspension of Michigan State University English Professor William Penn for an intense anti-Republican tirade, what constitutes crossing the line for public university professors is at the forefront of American conversation.

During an Introduction to Fiction writing class, Penn launched into an anti-Republican rant, in which he stated, “[Republicans] are cheap. They don’t want to pay taxes because they have already raped this country and gotten everything out of it they possibly could …”

“Why would Republicans want to do it?” Penn asked, referring to alleged voter suppression. “Because Republicans are not a majority in this country anymore. They are a bunch of dead white people. Or dying white people.”

Students in Penn’s class have said this was not the first time he had tried to further his political agenda in the classroom. Some say he went as far as to threaten the grades of students who disagreed with him.

Penn has been suspended from Michigan State for an undisclosed period time, during which he will receive pay. 

We expect some degree of liberal leaning from university faculties, but when those affiliations bleed into lectures and course materials, they can become problematic. Often, creeping biases are much more subtle than Penn’s.

For years, especially since the election of President Obama in November 2008, the United States has been intensely divided over political ideology. Like most current events, these partisan debates have found their way into the nation’s classrooms at every level, particularly at its colleges and universities. Indeed, part of the college experience for students is to develop their own ideas regarding what they believe and to acknowledge and understand the reasons behind these ideas.

When professors such as Penn, a professor of a subject area that has virtually nothing to do with politics, perpetrate hateful political rants during class time, they not only alienate a group of their students but also undermine that learning process.

Their students attend each class meeting or lecture series to learn about the particular subject matter, to discuss the previous night’s reading, or to further develop ideas for papers and projects.

These students do not attend class to be indoctrinated by their professors. College students are adults; they are of legal age and are intelligent and independent enough to cultivate their own ideas.

In classes where political debate and discussion is part of the class curriculum, professors should strive to thoughtfully represent both sides of an argument by incorporating sources from many perspectives. While teaching, it is incredibly important for professors to remain unbiased so as not to, however unintentionally, offend or marginalize a group of their students.

Mature and independent students who see their college education as a privilege, and not a right, wish to make the most of the opportunity they have to foster their learning. They work hard and have made sacrifices to sit in class every day and learn from these superior intellectual minds known as professors. All students ask for in return, is please, don’t waste their time.


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