The events in the past week at CSU involving sociology professor
Steven Helmericks show the danger of politics controlling our
classrooms. Instead of encouraging the ideas of free and open
debate in a public forum, the university took a step in the
opposite direction when the part-time professor stepped down from
his teaching position because of concerns for his safety.
Helmericks apparently made the mistake of sharing his opinions
on the war in Iraq and of the Bush presidency during his sociology
class. Yet, his opinion was evidently more than one student could
handle. Heather Schmidt, whose husband was serving in Iraq at the
time, took up the issue with the professor, who stated he respected
her views and did not mean to offend. What was said during a second
exchange after class is disputed. However, it does appear that in
one form or another, the idea of finding a different class that the
student might find more agreeable was presented.
The need for open communication is imperative in the classroom.
The importance of the teacher and student being able to disagree
and discuss differences of opinion goes back to Plato and
Aristotle. Helmericks floating the idea of the student switching
classes if his views were too intolerable was not out of line.
Students regularly search out certain professors or switch to
different sections of a class to seek an atmosphere that is
However, that a teacher on campus would publicly state an
opinion so far removed from their own was more than some people
would tolerate. Despite the fact that the incident was isolated and
that there were numerous students to account for the teacher’s
credibility, the witch-hunt was on. One of the first to cast a
stone was Chuck Fogland, president of the CSU College
Fogland, in a rolling diatribe to sociology department Chair
Louis Swanson, accused the professor of being both a communist and
promoting fascism. Being that the right-leaning Fogland is a
political science major, one would expect him to understand the
duplicity in being both a communist and a fascist at the same time.
Technicalities involving grammar do not appear to be a Republican
strong suit at the moment, however.
The letter rambles on, accusing the professor of “assaulting”
the student and threatening to use all available right-wing powers
if his demands were not met. Fogland also included a recommendation
that the teacher be sent off to Berkeley or Beijing. While failing
to explain the reasoning, Fogland may be at issue with good
football schools and/or Chinese people. To view this, as well as
another piece of classic literary work directed at professor
Helmericks, all are encouraged to visit the CSU Republicans Web
Republicans have no problem lately kicking open Pandora’s box
(i.e. Iraq), and this would be no exception. Now students leaning
to either side of the political spectrum have a powerful tool
against teachers from whose favor they fall. When faced with the
prospect of an unattractive grade, one can claim to be the victim
of political discrimination. The days of open, thoughtful public
debate among those from differing political, as well as social,
standings at this state institution may soon be coming to an end.
But, according to Chuck Fogland, at least we will finally be able
to enjoy a “safe environment on campus.”
Yes Chuck, then your ears will be safe from hearing others’
J.P. Eichmiller is a junior studying journalism. His column runs
every Tuesday in the Collegian.