[dropcap]S[/dropcap]hould professors be allowed to drop F-bombs in lecture? For years, Dr. Michael Persinger’s first-year psychology course at Laurentian University has included a disclaimer form on the first day of class that warns students of the use of foul language. To me, this is ideal.
However, the school recently removed Persinger from his teaching position for administering these “Statement of Understanding” forms. The document informed students of a list of nearly 30 potentially offensive words that they would encounter in the course, including homophobic and sexual slurs as well as vulgar and obscene language. The document suggests that if a student feels uncomfortable, they can feel free to transfer to a different section.
Following complaints from students, university administration decided to remove Persinger, not because of his use of obscene language, but on the grounds that faculty may not have students sign a waiver form as a component of the class. Persinger stated that he began distributing these forms over 10 years ago after the dean at the time suggested it due to the student complaints.
What a catch-22. It’s difficult to see what the decision to remove Persinger achieves. The student union says that the form is not a contract, and according to CBC News, Persinger would not have forced any student to leave the class if they did not sign it. It is merely an engaging way to ensure students are aware of what follows in the class.
This decision seems to echo a common trend throughout Canadian universities as of late — that students are being needlessly sheltered.
Our universities are not building the minds of our students by restricting content that may shock them.
Why does this waiver suddenly justify the removal of a popular professor? It suggests that Persinger would have been better off if he simply conducted the course with no prior warning to students of the potentially offensive course content.
Honestly, if a student doesn’t agree with the waiver or the proposed course content, then they can switch to another section. That was the original purpose behind having a waiver.
Students should attend university to have their beliefs challenged and to be exposed to real-world content such as offensive language. Our universities are not building the minds of our students by restricting content that may shock them.
In the real world, there are no options to stifle offensive content. When we inevitably find ourselves confronting bigots and foul-mouthed individuals, how then will we react?
Persinger intended to make students think about why certain language makes us feel the way we do. By introducing them to this content early, students would be better equipped to think rationally when faced with offensive material.
This was undoubtedly a poor decision by the university administration. Sure, they may have enforced a redundant rule regarding students signing non-legally binding and unnecessary contracts, but at what cost? Now, they find themselves in the spotlight of criticism regarding speech and academic freedoms. The students who wished to take this class with Persinger now find themselves without an informative course that introduced them to real-world language.
Ultimately, it is the student’s decision to take whichever courses they’re interested in, and I’d be ashamed of SFU if it were to take similar actions toward its professors.