Classroom Disruption III
Bill Long 12/11/06
Resolution of the Issue
I am writing this essay three weeks after I wrote the previous two essays and three and one-half weeks after my classroom disruption. To review--on November 16, 2006 around 15 students, almost undergraduate, took over my Jurisprudence course, shouted me down and read a list of grievances to my class. Some of my students later said they wanted to "kick their asses," but I told my students that if they had made a move to do that in the context of the class, I would have restrained them. Though I felt the protestors were very wrong in taking over my class, I believed that the best way to deal with it was through informing proper university authorities and then letting them decide on an appropriate course of action. So, this is what I did.
After informing the Dean and President about the disruption in my class, I heard that several other classes were interrupted on campus. In most instances, I believe, these interruptions were permitted by teachers (i.e., the student protestors asked for and received permission to interrupt the class). My experience was apparently not unique, but it was not the norm.
In any case, I managed to identify the leader of the protest movement. He, in my judgment, was the only one who deserved additional scrutiny from the university because it was he who was rude to me and my class and refused to be quiet when asked to desist from speaking his demands. I passed his first name along to the University President (that is all I had), who passsed it along to one of the Deans, with authority to resolve the issue. The Dean then got in touch with me and we managed to figure out the name of the ringleader, in this instance. The Dean and the student talked, and the Dean told the student that he was in violation of University policies by doing what he did.
Then the Dean asked me if I had any proposals on how to deal with the situation. He said that the normal channels open for discipline/response to a violation of university policies (community service or monetary payment for damages) didn't seem appropriate. Did I have any suggestions? I told him that, as a matter of fact, I did. I proposed that the ringleader student be required to write a paper. Here is the proposed assignment so that you can see it:
Please write a 10-15 page, double-spaced paper on one of the topics in 1-3 below. Or, do number 4. Paper is due to me by the end of the calendar year.
1. Explain the situation at Willamette that led you to take the steps that you did, culminating in the disruption of my class on November 16, 2006. In telling your story, give attention to the following factors, please: (1) your sense that things were not "right" at Willamette; (2) your discussions with others on what you would do about it; (3) the nature of the protests planned and put into effect; (4) my (Professor Long's) view of your disruption of my class on Nov. 16 and (5) what you have learned, if anything, so far from your engagement in the protest efforts. You may consult with other students or others as you think through this topic.
2. Describe Martin Luther King Jr's philosophy of civil disobedience as reflected in the "Letter from the Birmingham City Jail." Be sure to put the letter in the context of King's biography and the dominant philosophies he adopted for his life's work.
3. On Wed., October 4, 2006 student protestors disrupted a speech at Columbia University given by a representative of the Minutemen, a private border-security group in the Southwest. Research what happened in as much detail as you can, and evaluate whether, in your judgment, the action taken by the protestors was justified.
4. Write a 500-word apology to me and my Jurisprudence class for the class disruption on November 16, 2006.
So, what is your judgment? The Dean thought it was a good idea, focusing on the issue of civil disobedience and giving the student an opportunity to reflect on what he had done. An argument could be made that to "single out" one student to write this assignment when there were 15 or so that were protesting is unfair, but for me the important point was that he was the appointed by the group as "reader" of the demands in my class, and so he was the one who did the actual violation of policies. And, to be clear, I took time to indicate why it was a violation of what I try to do as a teacher. I said that my teaching time and space is "sacred space" for me. That doesn't mean that everything said and done in my class is worthy of becoming Holy Writ; it means, however, that even the President of the University, if he desired to address my class, would first have to receive permission from me to do it.
So, that is where we are now. I am sure that you were wondering. I am satisfied with how things are working. The University took me and my reaction seriously. And, I think the assignment is a good one. I would love to do it, as a matter of fact.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long