5

From this question on Academia Stack Exchange, a professor is requiring students to submit support for a law as an assignment. It's possible that the question misrepresents this, in that this is a bonus question, but assuming this is an assignment for which the final grade will be determined, is this a legal action a professor (or teacher) can make - requiring students to advocate support for a law, even if they personally don't?

Is it legal to make the students actually submit this to authorities, such as Congress? I realize it's legal to challenge students to think from different points of view, but is it legal to actually make them write support for a law and submit that to authorities?

2 Answers 2

3

There is nothing wrong with this requirement. The teacher or professor isn't requiring you to change your opinion. Instead, the requirement is simply to marshall evidence in favor of an opinion that you may not hold.

Being able to do this is a valuable rhetorical skill (and a skill which lawyers must routinely employ).

For example, in competitive debate, you often do not have the freedom to decide whether you will be arguing in favor or against a resolution, and may not even know which side you will be advancing until moments before the event starts.

Freedom of conscience does not extend to freedom from understanding people who disagree with your deeply held belief.

UPDATE: Requiring a whole classroom of students (possibly many classrooms of students) to advocate with multiple representatives for a bill does seem problematic, in terms of election laws and probably in terms of the legal requirements that apply to the university, and also possibly in terms of "forced speech", because in requiring the advocacy to be submitted to the official and take a particular position, goes beyond the "let's pretend" veneer that applies in most debate contexts.

4
  • 1
    Read the link, that's only part of what's happening. The professor is requiring a letter be written which advocates a predetermined position, signed by the student, and then the professor will be submitting it to local reps. It may not be illegal, but it's certainly unusual and unethical. Jan 29, 2018 at 18:36
  • 1
    There's more going on than just finding evidence and writing argument in support of a particular legal position as a rhetorical device. Actually sending the letters to a political representative is extremely unethical, and that would make it illegal in many countries (whose teaching certification requires adherence to ethical codes/codes of conduct).
    – user4657
    Jan 29, 2018 at 18:39
  • 1
    @Kbelder That wasn't obvious from the post here. I see the issue.
    – ohwilleke
    Jan 29, 2018 at 18:41
  • There's also the implication the bulk of the letter is written by the professor, and the student is merely to add a few sentences of personalization and then sign it. Jan 30, 2018 at 21:42
1

This is an interesting test... perhaps even SCOTUS worthy. I cannot find any SCOTUS case in which speech to a political manner was compelled by a graded assignment that would be used to promote the Professors political position to a law maker. As you attend a State Funded University, the professor is a State Employee and cannot compel speech as part of his job under the 1st and 14th Amendment. It's not only illegal, it's damn near unconstitutional.

As I have read, you have already turned in the assignment, and if you have not received a grade, I would request your envelops returned to you and not mailed to the elected officials (presumably two senators and a congressional representative?). I would also petition the department head and the school administration, protesting the assignment as a grade for the course.

Following that, you would likely want to get into contact with advocacy groups that deal with oversteps of college teachers. For this situation, I would highly recommend Campus Reform, which is a right leaning organization, but has a big media presences. I would also reach out to your two Senators, which, lucky you, are two very important Senators. Your senior leadership is Mitch McChonnell, current Senate Majority Leader, and Rand Paul, who is a big name among the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party (and will be quite outspoken on any issue like this).

This will put pressure from both the internal and external sources to remove the grade from your score. Should that not be valid, you will need to ask yourself if you are ready to fight this in court?

10
  • 1
    It seems like it "should" be illegal but that doesn't prove that it is; we would need to see the statute or case law. It has to be more subtle than "cannot compel speech" because professors do that every time they assign any essay or class presentation. The rest of this post seems to be more practical or political advice than anything having to do with law, and I think that's off topic. Jan 30, 2018 at 16:58
  • @Nate Eldredge: SCOTUS has ruled that public schools cannot compel you to "Pledge Allegiance", so I'm sure advocate for political decisions that you oppose would fall on that list as well. And Essays and Class Presentations are still your own opinions from research to support your thesis. Your grader may give you a lower score if they do not like your conclusions, but rare are you told to defend the prof's conclusion for him/her. In this situation, the professor is asking the OP to defend a conclusion that the OP may not support to the people who are making a very real political decision.
    – hszmv
    Jan 30, 2018 at 17:06
  • Professors compel speech on a daily basis: it's what we do. You need a narrower generalization.
    – user6726
    Jan 30, 2018 at 17:38
  • @user6726: So my reasoning: 1). A non-poli-sci course requires advocacy for a certain political policy without room for descent. 2). The OP believes an opinion of descent is not allowed and the assignment is mandatory for a grade. 3). The professor is implying that the assignment will be graded based on support of his position on the policy. 4). The OP believes that he will use the graded assignment to help influence government policy (by using these letters to imply that all senders sent these letters of their own free will).
    – hszmv
    Jan 30, 2018 at 19:35
  • @user6726: Had the professor made the OP clear the intention was not to send the letters to political leadership, I would not find issue with this. However, writing in triplicate implies the intention is to advocate to State Senators and Representative. I have no problem with a professor requiring a single right or wrong answer for an essay assignment. Nor do I have any problem with an extra credit assignment to benefit the professor's own activism. But this specific assignment is compelling his students to engage in political activism for a required grade, not extra credit.
    – hszmv
    Jan 30, 2018 at 19:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.