Friday, February 10, 2012

This alarms me.

There is a bill in the Arizona legislature, that would permit the firing of any teacher/professor caught using "profanity" in the classroom. (In fact, the introduction - the part A in that bill - could be interpreted broadly enough that it could apply to people when they are OUTSIDE the classroom).

Now, I DON'T use profanity in the classroom. I'm not that kind of a person. I think the angriest I ever got, I said "Dangit!" about something. But still, the bill worries me on a number of levels. Because I can see the Law of Unintended Consequences being strong with this one.

Allow me to enumerate my problems with the bill:

1. Freedom of speech, anyone? Yes, I know, people don't like profanity and especially don't want their children exposed to it. (Well, some people. I've also known of people taking fairly young kids to "strong R" movies. And I know people who let their seven-year-olds watch things like "South Park.")

And yes, I realize that state employees give up some level of guaranteed rights when they are in state employ. Were I the sort of person who had a concealed-carry license and carried a gun at times, I could not do so on campus. (Actually, there was a move afoot to change this here...though I don't think it would pass, for a number of reasons). But: there are a number of instances where a "bad language" ban across the board could be a problem, because:

2. Some college classes actually DISCUSS this kind of language. Linguistics classes, for example. And art and film and theater classes....there's the occasional foul word. There's even quite a bit of bawdy stuff in Shakespeare, if not the outright WORDS that would be banned. (And, if I remember correctly, Chaucer has as least several mentions of a fairly strong term for human excrement). And film classes - would they be restricted to showing G and PG stuff, or would they be expected to use the "edited for television" versions? Because, arguably, a prof showing it could be the prof condoning that kind of language....(Then again - if there's some provision made for "as long as the prof doesn't say it," I can see a business opportunity for "swear proxies" - a person hired to come to class with the prof and say the words he or she is not permitted by law to say)

3. What about students? Frankly, some of the worst language I've heard has come out of students' mouths. (The interesting thing, at least in my department - the Fish and Wildlife people seem a lot less prone to do it in professors' earshot, and when some of them slip up and DO, they get really embarrassed if we happen to gently chide them on it. I remember one day I had students out doing a field lab, and one guy groused about having to go to the far sampling spot: "She's sending us out to BFE!" I cocked an eyebrow at him and quietly said, "I know what that stands for." He turned bright red and apologized.

I also remember un-fondly the high school student who was a "guest" on our campus to take the Curriculum Contest, who made multiple loud jokes about the fact that our building's initials are BS. (Yeah, dude, wasn't funny the first time you said it.)

4. School and university bureaucracies (ideally) have the means to take care of this. In tenure and promotion decisions - and in contract renewals for non tenure track faculty - there is a somewhat-amorphous quality called "collegiality." Fundamentally, this means, "Does the person play well with the rest of the department and the students?" Someone who was regularly verbally abusive to the students (which could be what this bill is about) would be gone. (Regardless of whether they used profanity or not). Department chairs don't like dealing with student complaints and if there were a LOT of student complaints about someone using bad language in class, they'd deal with. And if they didn't, the Dean would. We don't need a second bureaucracy looking over our shoulders in that way. There are methods in place already (at least at the college level - again, I don't know about schools, and perhaps this is a move to fight the unions) to remove someone from the classroom who should not be there.

(If this is an actual response to a real problem - rather than mere politicking - well, this is another case of A Few Bad Apples Spoil It For The Rest Of Us. I think a lot of the horrible laws we get, we are getting because there are people not wise enough to use their good judgement, or who don't care about other people and so just let fly with whatever - and then we all wind up paying. Not unlike the times in fourth grade where my ENTIRE class had to spend recess sitting in the room, with the lights off and our heads down on the desk, because two of the bratty popular girls wouldn't stop talking when the teacher told us she needed quiet to teach.)

5. I think universities and community colleges - where all (or almost all) of the matriculants are legal adults (over 18) are fundamentally different from day cares and grade schools. (Though I don't know; I've had a few classes here that felt like I was teaching seventh graders). It seems wrong to lump instruction-of-adults under the same rules as instruction-of-impressionable children. I can almost guarantee you that 99.9% of my students have heard or read (or said) stronger language than they will encounter in their college classes.

I have to confess, as alarming as the bill is, I'm wondering if maybe it's actually intended as some kind of object lesson or retaliation - against what the legislatures see as excessive interference by the Feds ("You want stupid legislation? We'll show you stupid legislation!") or perhaps as a stalking horse (that's not quite the right term, but I can't think of the right one) for a bill about the Second, rather than the First Amendment. (In the sense of: "You don't want concealed carry on college campuses? Okay, then, you probably don't want some of those other ten amendments either") I don't know. Maybe I'm trying to read some kind of petty motive into this that isn't there.

But this is one of those things that makes me crazy. I hope it goes nowhere, because if it doesn't, I can totally see other states - including my own - taking on some form of this. And I don't want to have to worry that "If I drop the bulk density sampler (~50 pounds) on my foot in the field, I have to be very very careful that nothing stronger than "Oh, that hurts" slips out, lest I lose my job"


And as we say over on CPAAG, in return for the pointiness, here's something arbitrary and cute. (Well, at least, I think it's cute:)

(Source: Bamboodog on DeviantArt

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