With professor Steven Helmericks' departure from the university last year, much discussion was raised concerning students' rights in the classroom. For those of you who still haven't heard, Helmericks' comments on June 14 in a sociology class of his, led to his departure. He expressed his views about the war in Iraq and one of his students, Heather Schmidt (whose husband was serving over in Iraq), thought the remarks were out of place. An extensive bit of miscommunication later and the professor was being encouraged to leave. The so-called "Student Bill of Rights" sought to address several of the many issues associated with the incidents like this one, but I believe the whole issue has been looked at from the wrong perspective.
Many of the complaints that arise are that academia is largely polluted with a decidedly liberal slant; that we aren't getting a fair education that seeks out both sides of the story. Others complain that professors abuse their platform for their own political agendas; that they grade unfairly based upon the ideals of their students and whether or not the professors find those ideals agreeable. There are those conservative students out there who would like to have professors with similar views, reading lists that aren't biased and generally not be subject to the liberal whims of those who control their academic fate.
I am, for the most part, a conservative, and I am also a devout Christian. To say that I haven't seen instances of professors using their platforms to speak their minds about politics or religion would be to lie. I, however, don't see my supposed rights being violated in any way when one of my professors shares a different set of values or political leanings as I do. Instead I see a great opportunity to learn. Colorado State is hardly the most liberal university you're going to find, and I would argue there is a strong conservative presence amongst the student body. I also believe, through my experience here, that the majority of the professors generally stray from letting their personal biases affect their presentation of material in class. All of that said, I would concede that "liberal" professors outnumber "non-liberals." That's part of why I'm here.
If I were to go to a private, conservative, Christian university, I would be taught things from a biased perspective that I would generally find agreeable. I would argue that I learn more from being in a class where the teacher doesn't believe a thing that I do. If a professor attempts to tell me there isn't a God, (you have to love philosophy class,) then I am suddenly in a position where my core beliefs are being challenged. I am suddenly forced to reflect on why I believe what I believe and either provide reasons for that belief or abandon it. If a professor starts to give reasons as to why they believe the war in Iraq is not just, then I am being challenged to justify my support for the war. Here is where the initiative and responsibility for rounding out our education falls down to us as students. The point of college, I believe, is to challenge and therefore refine everything you think you know.
Students and lawmakers who continually cry about their rights being violated need to get their act together and start putting something into their education because you'll get what you put into it. I'm not defending some fool who abuses their platform as a professor to stray horrendously off-subject in order to impose their views on others. I am demonstrating that the responsibility is on students to challenge themselves and not shy away from it in the name of someone usurping of their "rights."
Tyler Wittman is a senior speech communications major. His column runs every Tuesday.