Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Lewis Black are the premier political comics of our time. These three comedians
have provided necessary criticism of the American government for the last few years.
One of the many things comedians in this vein have in common is that none of them teach at Temple, though there are plenty of imitators here.
Five years into his presidency, armchair comedians around the country are still pushing the same tired jokes about President Bush’s questionable intelligence, lackluster linguistic skills and his Texan personality to obligatory laughter.
Yet there are plenty of Temple professors who take these easy, recycled, “Daily Show” style remarks as their own, using them to mark their political territory in the classroom, effectively drawing a line that most Temple students would willingly cross anyway.
Perhaps an offhand comment is made about President Bush’s foot being in his mouth.
The instructor can sit back and let the forced laughter wash over him or her in self-satisfaction, gauging where students stand on the politics of the day.
Unless it’s relevant, the political comedy and commentary should either be left to the professionals or the students. This comedic license, while at times amusing and relevant, underlies a real problem in classrooms here.
On a liberal campus in a Democratic city, all that’s being achieved is preaching to the choir. Political discussion tends to be one-sided, boring, or just non-existent here, essentially quieting differing viewpoints and silencing debate as an effective learning tool for students.
When professors choose to mark their political territory, they are only exacerbating this problem.
On Aug. 1 the Board of Trustees adopted an academic freedom policy entitled “Student and Faculty Academic Rights and Responsibilities.”
The statement outlines reasonable expectations and responsibilities for students and instructors for the purpose of fulfilling the academic mission of the school: “the transmission of knowledge, the pursuit of truth, the development of students and the general well-being of society.”
The policy is student-centered, placing the responsibility of providing an academically free environment on teachers in order to “promote the learning process in all its aspects.”
The first principle listed in the policy mentions that “Faculty are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial (or other) matter which has no relation to their subject.”
However, cracking down on unnecessary political commentary by professors would have a potentially chilling effect in the classroom. Instructors would bite their lip for fear of offending someone in this politically correct, lawsuit-happy society.
Indeed, the Board of Trustees’ statement asserts that “free inquiry and free expression are indispensable to the attainment of [the university’s] goals.” This certainly applies to faculty, as well as students.
But there is still a risk of faculty expression superceding student expression, such as a classroom in which an instructor has made his or her political beliefs and biases glaringly apparent.
There should never be a circumstance in which a student feels his or her beliefs are inferior to another’s.
But in the end it is the faculty’s responsibility to make sure all viewpoints are treated fairly and equally in their classrooms.
Brian Krier can be reached email@example.com.