Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Office Door Politics

I recently finished my first year of graduate school. It had been some time since I had traversed the halls of academia. But in traversing those halls—particularly the halls housing offices of various professors, lecturers and teaching assistants—I noticed that a fair number of those doors were festooned with political cartoons, articles, and slogans.

I think politicizing one’s office door is completely inappropriate, at least at a university.

My view on this has nothing to do with the politics of the “posters." Rather, I am more concerned that the“posting” instructors seem to have forgotten what their primary function is: to educate, help, and nurture their students—not indulge publicly (and thus professionally) in personal political crusades. They would also do well to remember that some of their students might not share their political views. Finally, they would do well to remember that maybe, just maybe, some of the overtly political statements plastered on their office doors might intimidate some of their students, which is the last thing that should happen in a university environment.

In the humanities departments we deal with current events, politics and other subjective topics. For argument’s sake, let’s say Professor Schmo is an ultra conservative professor (I know, a conservative professor in the humanities sounds like an oxymoron, but let’s just pretend …), and that the stuff hanging on his office door makes it abundantly clear where he stands. Let’s also imagine that Professor Schmo has tasked his students to write a paper analyzing the pros and cons of the recent war in Iraq.

Next, imagine a young freshman, 18 years old, holds views that are critical of that war. This freshman wants to consult with Professor Schmo about her paper, but upon knocking on Schmo’s office door, the young nervous freshman is bombarded with Professor Schmo’s strident views, views that are completely at odds with her own.

She finds herself intimidated before she’s even opened her mouth. She worries that she might be ridiculed because of her views. She begins to question her ability to develop sophisticated opinions on important, complex issues. After all, the sage professor—who seems to know so much about everything, who is far more educated than she is—obviously disagrees with her, so maybe she is wrong and he is right? Or, perhaps she worries that the professor may quietly dislike her as a person: she’s liberal and pro-choice; his office door literature makes it clear that he thinks abortion is murder; does he view his pro-choice student as a supporter of baby-murder? She wonders about this. Worse, she wonders if she could be penalized grade-wise because of her dissenting views. Professor Schmo might be professional to a T when it comes to dispassionately grading a student on the merit of their work—and nothing else—but if the student doesn’t know this, and if their mind is filled with all sorts of worries owing to an instructor’s office door literature, then a terrible wrong has been committed.

Unless a student is a raving racist or completely out of touch conspiracy theorist, they should never have to worry or feel intimidated about approaching an instructor. Yes, students should be challenged, their minds opened to new ideas, but they should not feel coerced in the process. Plastering an office door with strident political messages is subtly coercive, or maybe not so suble. Either way, it has no place in academia.

4 Comments:

Blogger airforcewife said...

Isn't it interesting that festooning one's door - and even one's office - with highly charged political views is not allowed in most businesses? I read story after story about people not being allowed to bring their signs to work during the election.

And, yet, somehow university profs find themselves oustide this common courtesy.

Big fish/small pond/delusions of grandeur.
//militarybrat

8:46 PM  
Anonymous evariste said...

It's a blatant bully environment.

8:53 PM  
Blogger roya parsay said...

HELLO I am a Muslim and always wanted to go to Israel,but as I decide something happens there. And also I feel my heart beats faster when I start to think about it. I dont want secret service follow me knowing I am a Muslim thou I like Menashe Amir this radio announcer and like t meet him. I hope Israelis get to travel too.

10:25 PM  
Blogger semite1973 said...

Darood Roya Parsay,

I understand your concern. If you are serious about visiting Israel, I would suggest you contact the nearest local Israeli embassy or counsulate. This way you can let them know about your concerns and they can check-out your background. Once they see that you're just a curious tourist, perhaps they will be able to notify authorities in Israel, specifically at the airport, to let them know that you are not a security threat. Another thing you might want to do is contact some Persian Jews that have Israeli citizenship and see if they can help you.

I'd like to visit Iran, and I am confident that one day I will, but not until the government changes. Check back here often because eventually I'll blog about Iran, one of the country that I am fascinated about.

Khoda hafez,
Semite1973

10:38 PM  

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