Previously I had a debate with a poster who misrepresented my remarks about the need for objectivity and professionalism in the classroom. This kind of incident is exactly the kind of thing I was talking about, and exactly the sort of thing that needs to be avoided if we are to avoid a partisan split in education like we have a partisan split in the media.
University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh officials won’t ask a tenured professor to resign for promoting a recall petition during class, nor will they launch an investigation into of staff-led political activity as some state lawmakers demanded. The issue involving UWO Criminal Justice Professor Stephen Richards is considered resolved, and the university will only investigate new complaints brought forward by students, Chancellor Richard Wells said during a press conference Friday.
Richards actions drew fire from several lawmakers when the state Republican Party on Tuesday released an audio recording of the professor encouraging students on March 7 to sign a petition during class to recall Sen. Randy Hopper due to Hopper’s support of a bill reducing public employees’ ability to bargain work contracts. The Republican Senator from Fond du Lac and Senate President Mike Ellis, R-Neenah, immediately demanded Richards’ resignation and a full investigation into on-campus political activity by faculty.
Wells, however, said the university considers the issue closed. Administrators were to work with Richards and the students who complained to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of students who complained and Richards apologized for his actions.
According to the records, students took issue with Richards for:
-- Bringing a recall petition into class on March 7;
--Spending most of the class time on two dates in February to share his personal opinions about Gov. Scott Walker, the state legislature and the contentious collective bargaining measure;
--Failing to show up to class four times and arriving late two additional times in February and March; and
--Telling students they could direct complaints about his teaching to administrators, but nothing could be done to address their concerns.
Disciplinary action included a written letter of reprimand, meetings with university administrators and an apology to at least one student. “This type of behavior is not acceptable. It is not tolerated, and if we have any evidence (of similar issues), we will investigate it and make sure it stops,” Wells said.
Students in February and March reported three other professors using class time to opine about the contentious collective bargaining measure, which also requires university employees and other public workers to pay more toward their health insurance and pensions, said Provost Lane Earns. In each case, the professor apologized and stopped, Earns said.
The provost and the dean of the College of Letters and Sciences, John Koker, met with Richards twice to discuss complaints against him. Ricahrds was given a formal letter on April 1 detailing the issues and asked to write an improvement plan, according to his disciplinary records. Koker warned that further complaints would be handled through a more formal process that could result in a reduction of rank and salary.
Richards responded with a letter rebutting the students’ accusations and defending his teaching style. Richards ultimately sent an email apologizing to one student on April 3. He also released a written public statement Friday apologizing for his actions in the classroom.
“I regret that I crossed the line when I failed to comply completely with UW System policy concerning political discussion in the classroom. I am sorry that this may have tarnished the reputation of the university community,” he wrote in the statement.
Emails obtained by the Northwestern show students accepted the apology and moved on.
Classrooms are not indoctrination camps, and an intellectual fight between a professor and a student is a fight between a man armed with a gun and a teenager armed with a club, it is cowardice and I would have fired this guy if it was up to me. Bringing in a partisan political petition and encouraging students to sign it is an outrage. Furthermore, the response of the professor, saying that nothing could be done about the indoctrination is also an outrage. He should have been heavily demoted or fired.