Last Friday, Jacob Smyth, a senior film student at a Private University in Illinois, posted his story of a professor’s anti-conservative bias and discrimination during his freshman year. The following occurred in Smyth’s ‘Composition and Rhetoric I’ class, which is required for all students as part of their ‘Liberal Studies core.’ The incident stems from an in-class discussion about “how ‘effective’ violent protests are,” specifically in the context of Ferguson, MO following the death of Michael Brown.
Smyth writes: “My point was that violent protests are counter-productive because small businesses that are needed for Ferguson and communities like Ferguson to survive, let alone thrive, are being driven away and destroyed. I mentioned the fear my family and I had when protesters were going to riot in a mall a block from us. He [the professor] made fun of my shoes and pointed at them. ‘Oh were you not able to buy your SHOES?’ I remind you, people were burning cars and looting businesses. It was scary stuff.”
In his post, Smyth also included two screenshots of emails sent between him and his professor following the previously mentioned discussion.
In the first, the professor seems to believe that Smyth’s contribution to the discussion was off-topic: “Did you notice the same thing happened again yesterday when we were trying to generate a discussion on one issue – the Justice Department and the Ferguson PD – and you changed it to something else? Your distaste for particular kinds of protests? Your local mall?… I need to ask you again to take a moment before you speak up in class and ask yourself if the timing seems appropriate and on-topic.”
The real problem, however, stems from the next paragraph: “There’s another layer to it, given yesterday’s topic – that of dominant cultural groups and who tend to dominate conversations. If we are not sensitive to these kinds of things in the moment, we can actually shut down other people’s willingness and ability to talk and contribute. That, of course, is unacceptable behavior in my class, and I cannot allow that to happen.”
This is an obvious jab at Smyth, as a self-described “white conservative” student in a class discussion essentially about race-relations. Smyth responded to his professor’s email in confusion, at which point the professor threatened to send Smyth to the Dean of Students. “It seems like you don’t perceive any value in the advice I am giving you – both in my office and in my email – about taking some time to think, and even to reflect, before speaking up in class, and how to practice active listening. I’ve contacted the Dean of Student’s office, who will be contacting you to schedule an appointment with you; they might be able to articulate these issues with you better and more effectively.” Smyth replied by saying that he was interested in seeing the dean as well, to discuss the blatant bias he had experienced in his class. The professor then dropped the matter entirely.
Smyth’s experience demonstrates perfectly the kind of treatment so many young conservatives find themselves having in universities. With mainly liberal professors teaching required general education courses, there is little way to escape the inevitable bias brought into the classroom. Raging Freedom applauds Jacob for standing up for himself. It is troubling to many students in situations like these that they could potentially face academic repercussions for their political speech. We classify this abuse of power by a professor for political aims.
Authored by Brennan Dourdoufis