‘Teach or Preach’ list exercises free speech

by Brody Burns

Courtesy of College Republicans
Courtesy of College Republicans

Earlier this month, the San Diego State College Republicans released a list categorizing some SDSU professors based upon the political biases they allegedly bring into the classroom.

According to the list, professors who taught “the subject that they have been hired to teach” were labeled “teachers,” while professors who brought their own political biases into the classroom were categorized as “preachers.”

Just as the regal and august red chili pepper scale of ratemyprofessor.com supplies prospective class-takers the “hotness” of a given professor, the “Teach or Preach” list aims to empower students in the decision-making process by providing a notification of political bias among certain professors.

In a press release, president of the SDSU College Republicans, Lx Fangonilo, gave the following rationale on the list: “Professors have been known to completely disregard the subject that they are hired to teach, and instead they use their time behind the podium to spread their personal agendas with the expectation that students will accept opinions as fact.”

While Fangonilo and his doomsday scenario of an indoctrination factory may not be the true state of every college classroom, one cannot deny the prospect that political bias could be evident in select classrooms.

In the wake of the release, much controversy has been attributed to the list. It has been labeled as “pre-McCarthyism,” “name-calling” and “simplistic.” One letter to the editor published in the San Diego Union-Tribune even claimed it was “an effort to filter and vet professors for conservative credentials (that both) insults fellow students and presumes that they could not make up their own mind.”

Responding to these labels, Carl Barnes, vice president of SDSU College Republicans, said, “One of the biggest misconceptions has been to call out liberal bias, but our main intention is to bring attention to bias of any kind.”

He continued to describe the organic and dynamic nature of the listing as he said, “It’s ever-changing; a “preacher” could easily be switched to a “teacher” and vice-versa – in fact we’ve already had positive reactions from professors taking a look at their teaching style.”

In releasing this list, there are two contentious issues: Is the listing permissible within the scope of legal behavior? And secondly, does such a listing carry any value?

Despite any personal political leanings or individual feelings, the list clearly falls under the scope of freedom of speech. The SDSU College Republicans is certainly within its right to voice its opinions regarding the professors of this institution, and if any slander or defamatory language is used, then legal recourse exists for those parties. Freedom of speech and the ability to express one’s opinion is paramount and this freedom does not end when one party simply disagrees.

This issue is addressed by the University Senate in the Freedom of Expression policy, “Freedom of expression is a tenet of higher education; is integral to the mission of the University and to its students, staff, and faculty; is a central and inviolate freedom to learn and teach; necessary for an educated populace; is a requisite to a free society; is incompatible with the suppression of opinions.”

The second issue of debate is whether there is any value in the “Teach or Preach” list. According to the administration of this university, this type of behavior is actually encouraged. University Provost Nancy Marlin was quoted as saying the following:

“We actually encourage open discussion of controversial material. This is something we think is critical; that’s how you do the exploration of new ideas. That’s why we have academic freedom and freedom of speech. Students are free to express themselves. We encourage it. All of this is part of being a vibrant university.”

Incredible value lies in the expression of opinions like “Teach or Preach.” This kind of exercise of opinions could provide a forum for discourse, a platform for change through alerting professors of their propensities in the classroom that may not have been previously brought forward. If a professor disagrees with the classification, engaging in dialogue with the source could provide education for all parties involved. As students are asked to grow and change through the educational process, professors cannot remain isolated from forms of feedback. And while current “official evaluation systems” have value, there exists the potential to constrict a free flow of expression, which other mediums can mitigate, be it expressing levels of chili pepper attractiveness or political bias.

Freedom of speech also comes with the power to censor what one hears. While the publisher may be a polarizing student organization, it makes no illusions to mask this fact. It has publicly claimed ownership of the list, meaning anyone reading the list can take it with any level of skepticism. If there exists a possibility of becoming dissatisfied or disgusted with the list, one needn’t read it. Taken one step further, if one has such strong reservations to the point of losing sleep, then freedom of speech allows for the expression of this opinion.

“Teach or Preach” is no more a means of required reading material prior to registering for a class than the chili pepper scale is on Rate My Professors. I find it permissible and interesting. If you disagree, I openly respect your right to express that opinion.

Related:  ‘Teach or Preach’ list released