Friday, November 18, 2022
As much as I love being a professor, it can be hard. I’m not talking about the grading, keeping the attention of the TikTok generation, or helping students with the rising mental health challenges.
I mean that it’s hard to know what to say in a classroom. On the one hand, you want to make sure that students learn and understand the importance of critical thinking and disagreeing without being disagreeable.
On the other hand, you worry about whether a factual statement taken out of context or your interpretation of an issue could land you in the cross hairs of cancel culture without the benefit of any debate or discussion.
I’m not an obvious person who should be worried about this. Although I learned from some of the original proponents of critical race theory in law school, that’s not my area of expertise. I teach about ESG, corporate law, and compliance issues.
But I think about this dilemma when I talk about corporate responsibility and corporate speech on hot button issues. I especially think about it when I teach business and human rights, where there are topics that may be too controversial to teach because some issues are too close to home and for many students and faculty members, it’s difficult to see the other side. So I sometimes self censor.
My colleagues who teach in public universities in Florida had even more reason to self censor because of the Stop WOKE act, which had eight topics related to race, gender, critical race theory and other matters that the State deemed “noxious” or problematic.
Yesterday, a federal court issued a 139-page opinion calling the law “dystopian.” The court noted that Justice Sotomayor could violate the law by guest lecturing in a law school and reading from her biography where she talks about how she benefitted from affirmative action. That’s absurd.
I had the chance to give my views to the Washington Post yesterday. This law never personally affected me but as the court noted, the university is the original marketplace of ideas. I told the reporter that one of my areas of expertise, ESG, is full of the kinds of issues that the government of the State of Florida has issues with. I told him that I was glad that I worked at a private university because academic freedom makes me more comfortable to raise issues. I noted that students need the ability to play devil's advocate and speak freely because there's no way to mold the next generation of thinkers and lawmakers without free speech. I explained that you can't write the laws if you're not willing to hear more than one point of view.
I hope that we get back to the days when professors don’t self censor, whether there’s a law in place or not. Of course there are some statements that are unacceptable and should never be taught in a classroom.
But I worry that some in this generation don’t know the difference between controversial and contemptible. That goes for my friends of all ideologies.
I worry that some students are missing out on so much because our society doesn’t know how to engage in civil discourse about weighty topics. So people either rant or stay silent.
In any event, my rant is over.
Today is a day for celebration.
Congratulations to my colleagues in public universities.
Reason has won out.