Millions of people have now seen the video of the USC political science professor calling Republicans stupid and racist, referring to them as losers and “old white guys,” and accusing them of voter fraud while appearing to advocate using voter fraud to defeat them. Fox News’ The Five opened their show with it earlier this week and the outcry (in the non-mainstream media at least) has been significant.
I’ve watched this unfold with great interest because I took that exact class, from that exact professor, just a couple of years ago. Darry Sragow was also my professor. But my class experience was a little different – and the reason it was different is the reason I am not particularly outraged by this incident, nor do I wish to see Professor Sragow censured.
I’m not outraged because I agree with the professor. On the contrary, as a conservative and a former board member of the USC College Republicans, I find his comments both false and insulting. Should he have expressed his views that way? No – I think it shows a lack of respect and certainly does not reach the standard of civil discourse.
That being said – I am more disturbed by the behavior of the students in the class. And I’m actually not talking about the ones who are laughing and agreeing with his offensive and off-target sentiments. Students parroting left-leaning professors is almost as predictable as the fact that almost all professors are left-leaning. But I’m talking about the ones who do not agree with him. And we know there was at least one student who didn’t agree, because that student, Tyler Talgo, recorded Sragow’s shenanigans throughout the entire semester and then compiled the 15-minute clip, which went viral. And Talgo may not have been the only one, either – in my experience, there is often more than one student who sees things differently.
Although I understand Talgo’s reluctance to challenge Sragow, I submit that this is where he went wrong. Because while Sragow’s comments are certainly offensive, nobody in the class challenged him – and this itself is an even bigger problem than indoctrination, at least at the college level (teachers of minor children is a different issue).
As I said, biased professors are absolutely de rigeuer at almost every college or university – and I would argue that for conservative students, that bias in and of itself isn’t always bad. College is a wonderful place to gain exposure to alternative viewpoints, because it gives you an opportunity to think about what you believe, as well as an opportunity to hone your debate skills. (This, I might add, is an opportunity left-wing students will never have!)
I argued with Professor Sragow in almost every class session. I challenged him so often that when he made certain types of statements people laughed and looked at me, knowing that I’d have a response and an argument. So in my class, alternative viewpoints were debated. I also should point out that Professor Sragow, despite his obvious partisanship, always welcomed that debate and discussion, and regarded my comments with a dry sense of humor. I realize, again, that some students may not be comfortable in such a situation – but conservative students need to understand that when they refuse to challenge faulty thinking, they’re letting only the wrong viewpoint be heard. It is crucial for us to speak up – it is crucial for us to challenge this type of rhetoric.
Had Professor Sragow punished me for speaking up, or given me a lesser grade, then a line would have been crossed. And there are methods for dealing with that kind of unfair academic practice. But whether he responded inappropriately to my challenges or not, I still had the responsibility to speak up. (He did not, by the way, grade me unfairly.)
What struck me about that video – and I think it struck a lot of people – was how unpleasant that classroom environment would have been for someone who didn’t agree with the professor. But I am living proof that it didn’t have to be that way. Our class did not have that same oppressive atmosphere, because our ideas – the ideas of limited government, personal responsibility, individual liberty – were brought to the table. We must put them out there in this kind of environment. (And sometimes when one student is brave enough to speak up, another one or two conservatives – or at least non-liberals – will join in!)
The idea that a professor should be reprimanded for something he said, with very rare exceptions, is wrong. Punishing a professor for inflammatory statements (true or not) is just another form of censorship. The entire idea of dialogue and debate is a conservative principle, as is defending free speech – even when we don’t like it. But I can’t help but think how different this classroom’s experience of these issues would have been if someone had just challenged Professor Sragow’s ridiculous assertions. It’s not about winning an argument with the professor – it’s about letting your classmates know that there is another way to see things.
Fix Contributor Emily Schrader graduated from the University of Southern California. She currently attends graduate school at Tel Aviv University in Israel.
Watch the original video:
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