Lynn just sent me an interesting article on a situation at Black Hawk College involving academic freedom. I recalled seeing a headline on Worldnutdaily about it, but didn’t bother reading it until I saw this followup article. Here’s the situation, as the Worldnutdaily describes it:
LeBlanc reportedly revealed two blackboards at the front of his class, with the F-word written on the left one and “God” written on the right one.
“I don’t even remember what went on for the rest of the class,” Stotler told the Dispatch, saying he was too upset to pay further attention.
LeBlanc is Bruce LeBlanc, a sociology professor from Black Hawk College in Illinois, and Stotler is Bob Stotler, one of his students, who was so upset that he filed a harassment complaint against the teacher for denigrating his religious beliefs. The university’s advisory committee has decided that LeBlanc violated the school’s harassment policy and should apologize to the student (their decision is not binding, however, and the final result is still to be determined).
The Worldnutdaily, predictably, portrayed this as horrible anti-Christian persecution by someone who appears to like queers (in an entirely superfluous passage, they point out that LeBlanc gives a lecture on sexual minorities). Also predictably, they use it as an opportunity to pimp books that they’re selling – anyone who reads the Worldnutdaily knows that their editorial policy seems to be “print any story that we can use to promote books that we profit from”. In this case, they use the story to pimp one book that shows “how U.S. colleges are perverting minds, morals of next generation” and another on how colleges “brainwash our youth”. You can always count on the WND to use inflated rhetoric to get a few more bucks into the coffers.
Anyway, here’s a follow up article from a local paper that sheds a bit more light on the situation. You get the idea from the WND that the professor just out of the blue wrote “Fuck God” on the blackboard to “brainwash” and “corrupt” our youth, right? Wrong. Here’s the rest of the story:
Black Hawk College professor Bruce LeBlanc was giving a lesson on the power of symbols and asked his sociology students to pay close attention to their reactions as he wrote two of the most powerful words in our language on the neighboring chalkboards.
The idea was for the students to observe how people connect words, even when they’re not connected. The exercise worked a little too well.
That changes the story considerably, doesn’t it? Placed in proper context, the story changes from one of anti-Christian harassment to one of a teacher using a provocative approach to make his students think about how they react to words and symbols that are intended to be provacative. In other words, it sounds like good teaching. The fact that one of his students reacted so negatively that he doesn’t even remember what was said after those two words are revealed is quite significant here, but rather than showing that the professor was out of line, it shows that his lesson was well-conceived and important – people really DO need to analyze their emotional reactions to words and symbols, Bob Stotler most of all.
But rather than taking this as a stimulation to his own thinking, as an opportunity to discuss a fascinating subject and examine his own reactions in context, Stotler did what so many Americans do so often – curled up in the fetal position and begged for protection. And many of his fellow Christians are demanding the same thing. William Donohue, president of the Catholic League, gave a predictably absurd response:
There is a huge difference between academic freedom and academic license, the latter being a form of academic malpractice. Furthermore, academic freedom is not an end in itself, it is a means towards the discovery of truth. But in the mind of Professor LeBlanc, truth does not exist.
Pray tell, Mr. Donohue, what IS the difference between “academic freedom” and “academic license”? You don’t lay out any criteria for this “huge difference” other than the implied distinction that if it offends you, it’s license and when it doesn’t, it’s freedom. At the very least, academic freedom must protect the right of professors to design their lesson plans for maximum effectiveness in making the point he is trying to make, right? And how on earth does it logically follow from anything that he did that LeBlanc believes that “truth does not exist”? I’ll take hysterical rhetoric for $1000, Alex. Our old pal at The Great Separation predictably goes a step further, not only calling it “evidence of intolerance for Christians in America’s colleges”, but saying:
Professor Bruce LeBlanc at Black Hawk College put the curse word and the Lord’s name up on two black boards in an apparent attempt to offend student Bob Stotler.
One thing that has been entirely overlooked by those anxious to strike the martyr pose is the fact that LeBlanc himself is not only a Christian, he is an ordained minister in the Ecumenical Catholic Church and spent several years as a Roman Catholic monk in his younger days. He left the Roman Catholic priesthood because he is gay, apparently, which of course means that Donohue and the WND crowd can simply dismiss him as not a “real” Christian, so it doesn’t count.
There are a couple of larger issues here, of course. Should religious beliefs be protected under college “harassment” policies? Should being offended be grounds for thinking you’re being persecuted? Or does the free flow of ideas in an academic setting virtually guarantee that you’re going to run into people advocating ideas you don’t like and maybe even are offended by? Frankly, I think all this screaming about “liberal indoctrination” on college campuses is nothing more than the whining of people who think their beliefs should be considered so sacrosanct and unquestionable that mere contact with other ideas is an outrage to them.
Anyone going to college is going to run into ideas they disagree with, don’t like, even are offended by. I suspect this is particularly true of fundamentalist Christians. You can’t take a basic science class without learning about evolution and the evidence for the age of the earth and universe. In a philosophy course you’re going to run into Nietzsche and Hegel and Hume, among many others; in a history course you’re going to learn about Voltaire and Thomas Paine, influential figures who rejected Christianity; in a sociology course, you’re going to have to deal with various ideas about how religions interact with each other and with other cultural institutions. The fact that you don’t like those ideas is, frankly, tough. If you haven’t run into ideas that you don’t like, you haven’t been educated at all.