Campus pushing agenda?
It doesn’t take very long to run into political opinions at Santa Monica College’s campus. From candidates at club meetings to workers wearing Prop 30 buttons on the quad, ideology is everywhere. But what happens when it reaches the classroom?
According to Teri Bernstein, chair of the Professional Ethics and Responsibilities Committee at the school, students have alleged complaints of teachers’ outspoken biases for years. However, teachers are entitled to their opinions as much as the next person — but with a few conditions.
For starters, the first amendment protects a professor’s right to free speech, but only as long as they fairly present both sides of the story. And teachers aren’t allowed to use school funded resources like computers, pens, envelopes, and more to “support or oppose ballot measures and candidates,” according to the California Education Code.
Also, as a government funded entity, SMC is required to have voter registration documents.
“I think [professors] can go as far as they want as long as they let the other side be presented,” said Bernstein. She also said teachers hold the right to speak their minds, which includes wearing political pins.
Conversely, California law states: “No officer or employee of a local agency shall participate in political activities of any kind while in uniform.” According to Bernstein, “uniform” pertains to anyone in an actual uniform like Police and Classified Employees, and typically dis-includes teachers.
That means that those workers in the quad are technically not allowed to display support for any campaign or candidate.
A document was released from the college on behalf of Executive Vice President Randy Lawson, outlining and detailing what professors and staff members can and can’t say in regards to their political opinions.
“Even if these discussions do come up and people get uncomfortable, it’s great,” she said. “It’s an important life-skill to live and work with people with different opinions than you.”
Currently, PERC is drafting a document that advises professors on how to approach political discussions. “It talks mainly about sensitivity to the needs of others, erring on the side of caution,” said Bernstein. The document was born from a complaint submitted by a student about a teacher who she found pushed his opinions excessively.
“I think it’s really important for teacher’s to be balanced in class,” said Benjamin Allen, a Political Science professor. “Our job is to encourage critical thought among our students.”
Allen’s comment falls in line with PERC’s Statement on Ethics, which in part reads that teachers should “protect students’ academic freedom and encourage tolerance and open-mindedness in the pursuit of learning, while modeling and fostering honest academic conduct.”
“It’s completely appropriate for a professor to help a student understand an issue,” said James Stramel, a Professor of Philosophy. However, as a professor, he has avoided speaking for or against Proposition 30.
“I think that teachers do have a responsibility to check themselves and be mindful,” he said.