Professor Paula Anderson has a curious approach to controversial topics. Some of us encourage students to taken controversial positions to generate passionate class debate. Professor Anderson, according to critics, calls the police. She is accused of calling police on her student John Wahlberg at the Central Connecticut States University after he and two fellow students argued in favor of allowing students and teachers to carry weapons on campus, citing the tragedy at Virginia Tech. Other faculty members have defended her and suggested that there is more to this story.
The students were asked to discuss a “relevant issue in the media,” and the students argued that they death penalty would have been lower had teachers and students been allowed to carry weapons. After his presentation in October, Wahlberg, 23, was pulled into the police station where officers demanded to know where he kept his weapons. They are all lawfully registered and locked in a safe.
Anderson is quoted in claiming that it was a matter of safety that led to her dropping a dime on her own student:
“It is also my responsibility as a teacher to protect the well-being of our students, and the campus community at all times. As such, when deemed necessary because of any perceived risks, I seek guidance and consultation from the Chair of my Department, the Dean and any relevant University officials.”
It is not clear what about this presentation was so threatening beyond the subject. Jerold Duquette, an associate professor of political science at CCSU who sits on the Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom, insists that Anderson might have had valid reasons for the call: “[Wahlberg] certainly has a reason to complain, since he didn’t do anything directly threatening. But I wouldn’t say the administration has a reason to sanction or punish the professor or the police…. I don’t know if I would have done anything differently in the situation.” [see update below]
Professor Anderson may have such reasons but she should state them. It is a very serious matter when students or faculty are pulled into a police station for comments made in class. Notably, Wahlberg is no longer discussing the incident. There may be more to this story, but it is important for the other faculty and students to know what the school considered an appropriate basis to call police on a student.
For the full story, click here.
Update: Recently, Professor Duquette wrote me to object to the original language of this post that said that “Jerold Duquette, an associate professor of political science at CCSU who sits on the Faculty Senate Committee on Academic Freedom, insists that Anderson had valid reasons for the call.” It is a valid point. What Professor Duquette suggested is that there might have been a valid reason. My concern was that the burden should be on the professor and the university to explain the call. I remain unclear on why a professor can decline to supply such information to the university. The school is legitimately under scrutiny over this
incident. This professor has a responsibility to state clearly why law enforcement was called into a classroom. This is not a privacy matter like grades. It was an occurrence in an open classroom. If the call was made due to something outside the classroom, the university and the professor have a responsibility to make it clear. I do not see how the university can consider this a “he-said-she-said” incident. Before a professor calls the police on a student, she had better have had an objectively valid reason to do so. There was also a suggestion that she may have consulted with other members of her department. The department should be clear on the facts and the standard for such actions in my view. I do believe that faculty members (particularly those on the academic freedom committee) should go further than stating that either party might be right in this instance and demand information from the department and the university.
Professor Duquette written to me to insist that he was not speaking for the Committee. I am not sure how the committee association made it into this piece, but Professor Duquette might want to seek a correction from the reporter if he never mentioned the committee to the reporter. The most important problem is that I have seen no call for additional information from the university or the classroom professor. Leaving the matter as “either side might be right” will leave the integrity of the institution in doubt as well as its commitment to maintaining an open and safe environment for learning.
Nevertheless, Professor Duquette was trying to remain neutral on the issue and not stating that one party was right. I should framed the line better to reflect that. Below is Professor Duquette’s full email:
I’m a fan and respect your work, but your characterization of my comments in the news story about the student at CCSU who was reported to campus police is not correct. You write that I “insist” that the professor had valid reasons for the call. Where? Where did you get this idea? All of my comments centered on the lack of factual information in the case. Nowhere did I say(or was I quoted as saying) anything justifying your conclusion. Because neither the prof or student are willing to talk, I indicated that reasonable judgment was impossible.
As it stands, all we know is that the student thinks he was wronged and the prof thinks she was justified. We have NO information about the actual content of the presentation. Even the student’s description fails to shed enough light.
The fact that neither student of prof is willing to talk is unfortunate. In the absence of full discussion people will be tempted to simply fill in their own facts, undoubtedly the one’s most consistent with their relevant prejudices. Your mischaracterization of my comments provides fodder for this and I want to urge you to correct the record.
How could anyone judge the actions of this professor without knowledge of what actually occurred in the classroom? I cannot. I said and believe that the University administration cannot. And, without this information, I certainly cannot self righteously claim that I would have acted differently.
This incident may or may not be a case of free speech suppression, without the facts we cannot know. One thing we do know though is that cases like this can cause folks to rely on unwarranted assumptions and to arrive at unsupported conclusions. Preventing that is what my job is about.
CCSU Poli Sci