Professor Suspended for Showing Class ‘Fahrenheit 911’

Professor suspended for showing class ‘Fahrenheit 9/11’ (Jackson Sun News – AP)

A community college instructor who was suspended for showing classes ”Fahrenheit 9/11” in the week before the presidential election says he is unapologetic and believes he should be able to teach as he sees fit. ”This story is now about academic freedom … the movie is ancient history,” said Davis March, who served his four-day suspension and returned to Rowan-Cabarrus Community College on Nov. 2, which happened to be Election Day. The Michael Moore documentary, which criticizes President Bush’s actions regarding the Sept. 11 attacks, was shown in its entirety to March’s film class, and administrators pulled the plug with about 20 minutes left when he tried to show it to an English composition class.

School officials said March disobeyed orders by refusing to meet with school administrators before showing the film in class. But March disputed that, saying no edict to seek that permission was issued. ”If I’m wrong about this I’ve been wrong my entire career,” said the 54-year-old March, who has taught at the school for two decades. ”If I backed down, how could I go back into the classroom and face my students?”

The confrontation has become a major topic of discussion on this campus 45 miles northeast of Charlotte, where students are divided over the film and the school’s response. ”As a college instructor, I think he should be expected to know that he needs to show both sides of an issue,” said 29-year-old Christina Helm, whose husband is serving in the armed forces in Iraq. But Brett Fernald, 24, said he believed March was well within his constitutional rights in showing the movie. ”It’s a freedom-of-speech issue,” he said. ”If you can’t discuss this kind of thing on a college campus, then where can you talk about it?”

Ann Hovey, executive vice president at the school, said the board of trustees has a clear policy of nonpartisanship regarding political issues. She said the school’s president, Richard Brownell, has issued several memos on the topic. One dated Oct. 25 said, in part, that no college employee ”is authorized to use the classroom or college environment as a platform to promote their own personal, religious or political views or to advocate for specific political candidates.” Hovey said March asked school officials in August if he could send out flyers promoting a screening of Moore’s movie. The school rejected that request. ”He was insistent about wanting to show it before the election, which implied some possible political intent,” Hovey said. She said March erred by not also presenting an opposing view to the film. ”We are not about trying to suppress critical thinking or academic thought,” she said. ”But if you are trying to promote critical thinking, then both sides need to be presented.”

This is an odd one. Certainly, professors are ordinarily free to choose classroom materials without prior approval from school administrators. Indeed, it would never have occured to me to ask permission to send out the fliers.

One wonders, however, what possible relation Moore’s propaganda piece had to teaching junior college English composition. College students in general and community college students in particular have atrocious writing skills. The idea that two hours of classroom time would be devoted to something like this is, to say the least, puzzling.

via Jeff Quinton

FILED UNDER: 2004 Election, Education, Environment, , , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tig says:

    I dunno, I suppose I could see how to use it as a teachin’ tool at an English composition course. I show them the movie, explain what was wrong with the scenario, and tell them any one of them could have done a better presentation of a story than the one they had seen, because I was almost sure they each had the fortitude to actually check out the truth of what they were presentin’ as the truth before actually presentin’ such. Or simply as an example of propoganda.

  2. ken says:

    I think the movie was entirely appropriate to show in his film class. It was after all a major award winning documentary.

    As far as it being shown in an English composition class, again as a documentary it has educational value as a topic on which student can write papers. Teachers often introduce subject matter and ask student to write about it without such censorship on the part of the administration. Because it was such a powerful film it would probably elicite powerful feelings on the part of the students which would need to be controlled in order to write coherent english sentences.

  3. James Joyner says:

    It wasn’t a film class, it was a remedial English class at JuCo. Apparently, the college has rules in place against profs bringing politics into the classroom.

  4. Anjin-San says:

    He should have showed FarenHype for balance. That said, we do need to be careful about the supression of ideas in the classroom.

  5. Attila Girl says:

    In the abstract, there’s nothing wrong with showing the movie: after all, at my high school *Birth of a Nation* used to be shown in the AP history classes.

    What’s wrong is a community college teacher flagrantly abusing his position of authority in a naked attempt to sway his students to his own way of thinking regarding a presidential candidate–and on the eve of an election. Using taxpayer money.

    It would be one thing if this were an attempt to study propoganda techniques, or how to “lie by telling the truth,” or discussing what constitutes a bogus argument. But simply showing the film without any kind of context is tantamount to showing *Birth of a Nation* in a positive light, or displaying and endorsing the work of Leni Riefenstahl. It’s an egregious abuse.

  6. ken says:

    I see by the comments of our conservative host and by some of his coherts that freedom of speech and acedemic freedom are not values you find worthy of defending.

    You give lip service to them but as soon as the speech becomes a challenge to the dominant conservative culture you want to squash it.

  7. McGehee says:

    I see by the comments of our conservative host and by some of his coherts that freedom of speech and acedemic freedom are not values you find worthy of defending.

    All this because we don’t agree with you.

  8. LJD says:

    With the state of education as it is, instructors need to stick to the basics. All too often the classroom becomes a soap-box for some left-wing prof. who couldn’t make a splash in the working world.

    If there was a policy in place against political grand standing, the prof. knowingly violated it and should be kicked to the curb. That would make this a simple matter of pissing upwind, rather than a question of whether or not thestudents should be seeing this material in class

  9. Kris says:

    The english class in question is an argument based class it says so right in the syllabus. I attend the school and have attended all of his classes. People who fear ideas that go beyond the level of their comfort zone should not waste their money to attend a school of HIGHER education. The college classroom is intended to expand your mind and present new ideas. He was presenting an issue to the students so that they could form their own opinions in an educated, adult manner. I thought that was what college was all about.

  10. James Joyner says:

    Well, it’s junior college. They should probably teach people proper grammar and capitalization before they “expand” their minds with nonsense like this.

  11. Kris says:

    You must be implying that students attending a junior college do not deserve the same educational opportunities as those at a four year school? My money is just as green as everyone else’s. I may be at a junior college but I am there to make the best of the classes, not to shut out ideas that may be different from my own. No one is forced to believe anything or to even be there. Just because you don’t agree with something, that doesn’t necessarily make it wrong and it’s the people that can’t except that who make Americans look bad to the rest of the world. What happened to freedom of speech and expression? There are much bigger problems in this country than my punctuation and grammar.