science as a vocation v2.0

Princeton postdoc Amin Ghaziani writes of his decision to have his undergraduate class, “Queer Theory and Politics,” demonstrate against the National Organization for Marriage and then reflect upon and analyze the demonstration for class. The writeups–in the CBSM Newsletter and in Gay and Lesbian Studies–are thoughtful, informed, and thorough. Together they demonstrate that this exercise was both far more student-led, and far more nuanced, than simply requiring students to participate in a “partisan” demonstration. Ghaziani went far out of his way to insure that each individual student was on board and that the demonstration would be interpreted in terms of class material.

The university, predictably, reprimanded Ghaziani (albeit, it seems, mildly) both for blurring the line between politics and the classroom and for risking the University’s nonprofit status by implying a University position on a legislative matter. Ghaziani and his students think this distinction is wrong, both because the class is always-already a political exercise and, more problematically IMHO, because:

Surely, protesting for equal rights for ALL citizens of the United States (regardless of their sexual orientation) is not a partisan issue but a human rights matter which all political parties should support …

I understand both these critiques; however, I’m uncomfortable with the exercise nevertheless. Even if all the students in the class were OK with it, it does imply that to understand the material is to hold the position the demonstration espouses–thus that no reasonable person could disagree with that position. As much as I personally agree with the demonstration, that position worries me in terms of the academic mission of the University.

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

7 thoughts on “science as a vocation v2.0”

  1. I almost can’t imagine having taught in situations where student consensus on this issue was so strong that I could assume everyone’s support. I have been teaching sociology of sexualities for *cough* 10 years now, and I always find a wide range of opinions.

    When I do imagine this scenario, it is an open-air classroom, perhaps on a warm, sandy beach, where everyone is eating ice cream and chatting pleasantly about how we all agree about sexuality and human rights. I can almost hear the angels sing.

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  2. I think it means that to understand the material (GLBT social movement) participation or observation of political action is required. Would we be uncomfortable if he took them to observe a legislative session? The students had their choice of participant or observer with no negative grade impact – so it doesn’t bother me.

    I wish NU undergrads were more inclined to have a political presence on campus. they all believe that they are not allowed to do politics on campus and while it may be dicier for us (the profs) the students surely have free speech rights (correy vs stanford and Doe v Michigan) in both public and private school contexts.

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  3. I suppose the problem is that the class organized the demonstration. I wouldn’t have a problem with requiring that they do some form of relevant citizenship action, but it’s the implication that this conclusion is the only adequate one that bugs me.

    I, too, wish that our undergrads were more inclined to have a political presence, but that’s quite distinct in my mind from making it part of the classroom experience.

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  4. There is a difference between observing a demonstration and participating in a demonstration — police all the time do the former without doing the latter. Protest researchers often mingle with protesters to observe them without necessarily agreeing with the protest aims. Sending students into a demonstration with clipboards for recording data is different from sending them in with placards in support of the cause.

    I can imagine a way to construct this exercise that respects the difference between research and advocacy and respects the fact that even people who voluntarily enroll in a course on gay/lesbian issues and believe in the “human rights” argument may have reservations about participating in a protest or particular policy implications. Ghaziani’s self-defense sounds like he did not attempt to make such distinctions.

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  5. Not a partisan issue? If it weren’t a partisan issue, there wouldn’t be demonstrations.

    As for pedagogy, I wonder if we might not learn more by hanging around groups that whose views we disagree with.

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