In a time when free speech in the college classroom is being adamantly suppressed by many, a professor in Wisconsin is taking a stand for free speech.
Professor Duke Pesta, who teaches English at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and also hosts The College Fix’s Campus Roundup show, created a Statement of Purpose for his students, urging them to “please drop the class immediately” if they are triggered by opposing opinions or free speech.
Pesta told The College Fix that he has used this contract for the last three semesters, and has been using a different “less specific” version for eight years.
“I have learned through personal experience that university administrators and equity officers are often not willing to defend classroom speech, even if that speech is taken directly from books or used to explain them,” he explained.
The two-page contract outlines reasons why students should drop his class, including things like “free speech,” “open discussion” or if they feel “entitled to censor the thoughts or words of others.”
The Statement of Purpose, as reported by The College Fix, reads:
“In this course, we study literature from cultures that existed before you were born. Their world is not our world. Their beliefs may not be our beliefs. No one asks you to believe or endorse any premise, attitude, precept, theology, political system, or ideology contained in these books or expressed in class. Nor will you ever lose points or be docked grades because of your opinion (written, oral, or otherwise).”
“We will not malign or trivialize these texts because they do not always parrot our values. We will not assume these books are racist, sexist, or homophobic because of the period in which they were written, or because of the race, class, gender, or religion of the authors.”
“People who approach alien cultures with such preconceived notions are bigots masquerading as critically sophisticated advocates, often in the name of ‘social justice.’ Persons who so diminish the past are neither social nor just, especially when they compel students to adopt their biases.”
The contract also includes the following provisions:
Please drop the class immediately if you are triggered by free speech, the free exchange of ideas, or people who express and defend ideas or opinions that differ from your own.
Please drop the class immediately if you are triggered by open, direct, and adult discussion of issues, including but not limited to issues of faith, war, violence, race, gender, and sexuality.
Please drop the class immediately if you are triggered by recurring encounters with heterosexuality, traditional gender identities, sympathetic representations of Christianity (or religion in general), positive examples of free markets or capitalism, or unapologetic encounters with patriotism, hierarchies, or meritocracy-based institutions or attitudes.
Please drop the class immediately if you feel entitled to censor the thoughts or words of others or insist they tailor their language or attitudes to your preferences.
Pesta also told the outlet that he added the contract as a way to block complaining students from getting out of taking his class.
“Students are now keenly aware that they can put professors through an intrusive investigatory process just by complaining, even without any corroborating evidence. I have even had department heads who allow students to substitute required classes for other courses just because students complain about what they have ‘heard’ a professor’s classes are like,” Pesta added. “My contract is an attempt to make it harder for these kangaroo court investigations to be launched in the first place.”
Trigger warnings are “appalling from an educational standpoint,” Pesta added.
“But I have come to realize that they may have more utility for professors than students,” he explained. “It’s one more way to try and indemnify yourself from malicious and unfounded complaints by driving away at the outset students who only want their own preconceived ideas validated.”
One might be quick to assume that students have protested loudly, refusing to sign the document, but Pesta stated the opposite.
“I’ve not encountered a student yet who would not sign,” he said. “I do tell them, when I pass it out the first day, that if they refuse to sign they will have to meet with me sometime during the first week of classes to discuss the contract and make sure we’re on the same page.”
(H/T: The College Fix)