All Posts Tagged With: "Florida"
Prof. Pettigrew: We neglect our great truths at our peril.
Another day, another attack on the liberal arts.
This time it’s the great state of Florida, where governor Rick Scott’s task force suggests that university students enrolling in so-called STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) should pay less tuition than those enrolling in arts programs. That arts programs cost less to offer, is, apparently, besides the point. That not everyone is interested in or has the aptitude for science (never mind math!) seems irrelevant too.
But worst of all is the facile presumption, stated once again by influential government advisers, that the main function of a degree is to qualify the graduate for a job in the knowledge economy.
Florida teacher should keep his job: Pettigrew
Florida teacher Jerry Buell has been suspended from teaching after posting controversial comments on his Facebook page. The American history teacher was angered by a TV news report on the legalization of gay marriage in New York, according to Fox News. ”I almost threw up,” he wrote in a post. “If they want to call it a union, go ahead. But don’t insult a man and woman’s marriage by throwing it in the same cesspool of whatever. God will not be mocked. When did this sin become acceptable?”
School district officials say that Buell has crossed a line, that teachers are bound by special codes of ethics, and that a Facebook page is a public forum.
Nonsense. Readers of this space will know that I am an outspoken advocate for the rights of gays and lesbians. (This post, for example.) And I hasten to point out that Buell’s statements are, in my judgement, stupid and mean-spirited. But he has the right to make them.
A Facebook page is a personal expression of one’s own particular tastes and attitudes. Indeed, it is hard to think of any mode of communication more centered on an individual. Buell was describing his revulsion toward love unlike his own; he did not claim to be speaking for the Lake County School District, or for Mount Dora High School or for anyone else.
I have sympathy with those who believe a gay student may now be uncomfortable in this guy’s class.
But if the standard is whether someone could potentially be uncomfortable, that’s casting much too wide a net. If that standard holds, it could be used to restrict the expression of almost any comment on any controversial issue. Suppose, for instance, Buell had said the reverse. Suppose he had celebrated the gay marriage legislation in New York. Would some devout Christians feel uncomfortable in his class?
Probably. The question must not be what a student heard about what a teacher said on the internet. The test must be: how does that teacher comport himself in class? If he’s worth his salary, he should take special care to make sure that when controversial issues come up, he presents all sides fairly. I myself am a committed atheist, but when religious questions come up — as they often do in literary studies — I try to ensure that the discussion is appropriately balanced.
In cases like Jerry Buell’s, people are quick to point out that there are limits to free speech; of course there are. But in a free society those limits have to be clearly defined and enforced only when absolutely necessary. If being wrong on Facebook is a crime, who among us is safe?
As long as he’s keeping his opinion to himself in class, Jerry Buell should keep his job.
Keep the natural selection haters off campus
Many years ago, a colleague of mine showed me his Darwin Fish, a little plastic fish made to look like the Jesus Fish stick-ons that were popular at the time among Christians. Remember when Puddy had one on Seinfeld? Except that the Darwin Fish says DARWIN instead of JESUS and, wait for it, has little feet on it. Get it? The fish is evolving? Anyway, I thought it was hilarious and a few months later, he gave me one as a gift. It is in my office to this day, on top of my thermostat.
These kinds of things fade into the background, so I don’t think about my Darwin Fish on a day-to-day basis, but it came to mind today, when I read this story. It seems that a couple of biology profs at a university in Florida had their cars vandalized because they had Darwin Fish on them. The vandals tore off the Darwin Fish, scraped off pro-evolution bumper stickers, and put nails in the tires. To make sure that the message got through, they left religious messages in the form of letters for good measure.
Now, I am not so naive as to imagine that everyone accepts the basic scientific facts of biology, nor do I imagine that universities are bastions of enlightenment where things like this can’t happen. But at the same time, it would be naive to dismiss such acts as petty pranks.
For one thing, it’s a hate crime. Imagine if Muslim symbols were torn off a vandalized car and you’ll see my point. For another, the vandals targeted professors, presumably imagining that somehow the profs might see the light and give up teaching evolution — which, as you can imagine they are not.
But any action, however small, that is deliberately designed to intimidate an academic into changing his position cannot be taken lightly. So far, these two professors don’t seem cowed, but what about the next brilliant young biologist who is offered a position at the University of Florida and thinks to do a Google search? Perhaps she thinks twice about taking that job, and they hire someone less talented. And little by little, the Floridian students of the future are deprived of the education they might have received.
Meanwhile, I’m looking for a more prominent place to display my own Darwin Fish.