A freshman in a sociology class at the University of Wisconsin (Whitewater) recorded “a guest lecturer denouncing many Republicans as racist, classist, sexist, homophobic, and dishonest.” To his surprise, he–rather than the Republican-bashing lecturer–became the issue. Since the 1970s, the university has required permission to record and distribute classroom discussion, and now seems bent on reaffirming that policy. The student said: “People should have been upset that he came into the classroom and said that. but instead they were upset that I recorded it and made it public.”
But snippets of speech from close-door meetings are routine these days, and one wonders about double standards. Would the student have been in trouble for recording an equally baleful, generic attack on Democrats? How many questioned the surreptitious recording of Mitt Romney’s “47 percent” outburst?
Instead, the sociology class described by the Chronicle appears to have had ambitions that have been called “political” on the mild side to “indoctrinating” on the not-so-mild side. What a video exposé accomplishes is a moment when those not in the classroom can determine where the line might be drawn between the mild and less mild. Calling someone a racist is hardly the same as examining the social realities of racism.
The modern university classroom is no longer a sanctuary of thoughtful engagement with ideas and the pursuit of the truth. The problem with a good deal of sociology taught to undergraduates today is not its touching upon controversial and morally complex matters, it is how those matters are reduced to simplistic, often stupid, assertions about right and wrong. Textbooks and introductory courses in sociology are filled more and more with judgments rather than analyses, that is, it seems perfectly consistent to invite Republican-bashers into such a classroom without asking students to analyze those judgments. That is not what sociology is for.