Controversy on Palin Assignment at Metro State: FIRE’s Lukianoff is On the Scene

By September 18, 2008

The well-known Drudge Report is linking to a story that appears to be gaining steam in the blogospherea report that an adjunct professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver assigned his class to write an essay critical of Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. The report (with video), from CBS 4 in Denver, suggests that instructor Andrew Hallam also invited his class to ridicule Republican students in the classroom. (The assignment about Governor Palin has since been changed to allow students to write about any of the candidates.)

Students and faculty members are in luck, thoughin a happy coincidence, FIRE President Greg Lukianoff is on the scene at Metro State today to give presentations about individual rights on campus to students and faculty members. We are confident that this will lead to some interesting discussion about student and faculty rights in this case.

Briefly, professors have the right to assign their students to write about controversial people or issues, and to assign them to take a specific side on a person or issueeven if the students don’t personally agree with what they are assigned to write. In some cases, professors have crossed the line into coercing speech by turning these assignments into public advocacy pieces, as happened at California’s Citrus College in 2003 and at Rhode Island College in 2005. There’s no indication that this happened at Metro State, however. The accusations that Hallam invited ridicule of Republican students is a different issue, as ridiculing one’s students goes to legitimate issues of professionalism—but any action against a professor for such activities should only take place after paying the utmost respect to faculty rights and due process.

Stay tuned for tomorrow when Greg will have more about FIRE’s take on the situation!