ACADEMIC FREEDOM IS JUST ANOTHER WORD FOR NOTHING LEFT TO LOSE

Steve Verdon examines the speech code of his alma mater, UCLA:

Sexual orientation discrimination in the classroom may involve the professor making comments or actions or allow unchallenged comments or actions by students that single out or ignore lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) issues or people. This kind of often inadvertent behavior may discourage LGBT students from feeling safe in the classroom or reaching their full academic potential.

As Steve correctly points out, the use of the word “ignore” is troublesome and could have all manner of interpretations. And it would certainly seem to violate the most basic tenets of academic freedom.

The details listed further in the code are less problematic, though still messy:

Examples of discrimination against LGBT people in general terms include the following:

* explicit use of derogatory terms or stereotypic generalizations;

Fine.

* use of perceived ‘humorous’ images or statements that demean or trivialize LGBT people;

Depends on interpretation. If done as a pattern, I’d agree this would be unprofessional.

* reinforcement of stereotypes through subtle, often unintentional means, such as by using classroom examples in which LGBT people are portrayed in certain occupations;

Rather unclear. No florist or LPGA jokes?

* refusal to allow LGBT issues or people to be discussed;

Depends on context. If similar issues are discussed, then the exclusion of this topic is problematic–although it would make following the other guidelines simpler. But, surely, math professors wouldn’t be required to stop talking about differential equations so that a student could bring up LGBT issues?!

* continuous use of heterosexist terms

WTF?

such as making the assumption that all people are heterosexual.

How would that work?

Such assumptions evoke images in students’ minds and effectively eliminate LGBT people as subjects of discourse even though the elimination may be unintentional

There’s the rub, no?

but it nonetheless renders LGBT people peripheral or invisible.

That sounds fun. Hasn’t everyone wanted to be invisible? Seriously, is the awareness that some people are homosexual missing from students admitted to the second most prestigious public university in California?

Examples of discrimination against LGBT people as individuals or part of the classroom group include:

* not challenging anti-LGBT statements or comments made by other in the classroom;

Likely a good policy, although I could see letting them stand as part of a vigorous debate where other students could be expected to weigh in.

* addressing the class as if no LGBT students were there;

Good morning, heterosexuals! I trust all of you still have the same sex organs you were born with? Ha. Ha. ?!

* treating LGBT students who continue to raise LGBT-related issues as makers

Makers of what?

The intent here seems reasonable enough. But this code will likely cause more problems than it solves.

FILED UNDER: Education
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Boyd says:

    Could that possibly be a typo, and they meant to say “troublemakers” instead of “makers?”

  2. Steve says:

    James,

    Exactly my view. It looked to me like it could be used to stifle legitimate debate, and with regards to things like gay marriage maybe even necessary debate. Shutting down the side you don’t agree with can have bad consequences. The issue can fester and periodically erupt in ugly maybe even violent ways.

    Much better to just throw it out there for discussion with a more simple rule of:

    Treat your fellow students with respect and civility. Seems like that would cover most of the problems above and get rid of many of the problematic issues.

    Good morning, heterosexuals! I trust all of you still have the same sex organs you were born with? Ha. Ha. ?!

    That was funny. I don’t know how you’d treat a class as if they were all heterosexuals. Personally as a heterosexual I’d be thinking: WTF?!?!? This one weird guy (or gal).

  3. James Joyner says:

    Boyd,

    Yeah–I expect so. 🙂

  4. jen says:

    Two things that need to be remembered:

    1. It’s California.
    2. It’s academia.

    Generally speaking, that kind of political correctness is the norm in California and academia.

    No?

  5. James Joyner says:

    jen,

    Likely true re: California.

    Not supposed to be so re: academia. An essential ingredient of a professional professoriate is the ability to express oneself honestly, openly, and without bowing to the political whims of the administration.

  6. jen says:

    James, ideally you’re right. And you have to admit that you’re a little biases to thinking that’s so as a former professor.

    I, being a former student, know that the ideal is not real in all too many cases on college campuses.

    (Yes, I know you were a student, too. Work with me…)

  7. James Joyner says:

    jen,

    I’m looking at these rules as they’d pertain to the course instructor, which seems to be the intended target. There’s not much students could do about most of these issues.

  8. bryan says:

    Let me see if I get this straight (no pun intended):

    If I encourage open discourse, and someone says something against LBGT students, I’m in trouble if I don’t step in and lecture on the “heterosexism” of the offender?

    But if I – not wanting to be the center of campus controversy because I’m up for tenure – refuse to talk about matters of sexual orientation, then I’m also in trouble?

    I can see where this puts way too much power in the hands of LBGT students who know the rules better than their instructors.

  9. Kathy K says:

    “Hasn’t everyone wanted to be invisible?”

    Totally off topic here but I’ve often thought that the burqa has a few advantages for spies.