Bias and the Classroom

A conservative student gave me a Christmas gift I relish. The individual wrote in the course evaluation that I was one of the few teachers who allowed conservative opinions in my classes.

“Professor Harper is a breath of fresh air in the God-forsaken, liberal, biased school. Unlike almost every other professor, he didn’t push his political beliefs or personal preferences on anyone. And he didn’t make me feel less respected or validated when my opinion differed from the majority, and I expressed my conservative beliefs. He is highly intelligent and well-informed when it comes to politics and the true agenda of the media and the leftist state,” the student wrote in this semester’s evaluations.
I teach at an extremely liberal university in an extremely liberal city with an extremely liberal faculty and student body. Conservative students are often tossed to the wolves in classrooms either by the professor or fellow students.

I taught two sections of Journalism and the Law. The class can be a tough trick. The course is required for graduation, and most students admit they expect the class to be boring when I pose the question at the beginning of the semester. Moreover, the class tackles some tough issues, such as hate speech.

During the semester, I take the students through a document few people really understand: the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Without imposing my political views, I point out some important truths:

–Unpopular speech, like hate speech, is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

–Journalists have roughly the same rights as all U.S. citizens. Freedom of speech appears before freedom of the press.

–The First Amendment isn’t the most important one. In fact, the amendment was actually the third in the original draft of the Bill of Rights. The first two were defeated during the ratification process. Therefore, the right of freedom of the press shouldn’t make journalists feel so special.

–The First Amendment, however, should make journalists feel grateful.

–Privacy isn’t mentioned in the U.S. Constitution but should receive as much, if not more, protection than freedom of the speech.

–Ethics and the law are not the same. What may be ethical may not be legal; what is legal may not be ethical.

–Anonymous sources must be chosen carefully and infrequently. The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t provide much protection for journalists if they decided to use such sources. Journalists must testify before grand juries about anonymous sources and must pay damages to sources if reporters break the agreement for confidentiality.

By the time the class is over, the students are generally grateful for the course in how to work as a journalist under the law. More important, the students have a greater understanding about the rights they have as a citizen and how precious those rights are.

The student evaluations do provide some constructive criticism when I go over the top. During the class, I rant about the amount of government intervention especially the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC is one of the most powerful government bodies, which regulates broadcasting, satellite transmission, wireless telephones, and myriad aspects of our daily lives.

Moreover, the FCC is one of the few government entities that has the powers of the executive, legislative, and judicial branches all rolled into one. To me, the agency is what’s wrong with government.

One student called me out in the evaluations: “Maybe a small amount less of his opinions on government restrictions.”