At our mid-year commencement a few weeks ago, a faculty member I have known for many years asked me if I had been reading his Huffington Post blog on a regular basis. I answered yes and he asked me what I thought.
Before I share my response, let me tell you more about the faculty member. I actually have known this person since he was an undergraduate at The City College and I was teaching there as an adjunct while completing my Ph.D. One semester, there he was, registered for my basic economics course. And all during the course he complained that my economics was just not liberal enough for his liking.
My feeling at the time, and it still holds today, is that there are foundational basic economic principles that need to learned first before a student should be exposed to either far left wing or far right thinking on these issues. But in actuality, I didn’t mind his complaints since they were coming from a very bright, interested, and focused student. This student earned a high B for the course and this was the last I would see or hear from him for over 20 years.
Then one day, a personnel folder came across my desk. It was a recommendation that this person be hired as an assistant professor in our education area. He had the terminal degree, the professional experience, and very strong recommendations. He was hired, and his performance at Hofstra in teaching, in service, in scholarship have all been outstanding. Just one indication of this excellence is that this person has won the Teacher of the Year Award for the entire University which is the highest recognition we give to teaching excellence. To win the award a faculty member must be rated as a top teacher by graduating students for a three to five year period. Furthermore, not only does this person help train passionate teaching practitioners, he remains in contact with them after they enter the field so that they continue to benefit from his expert mentoring.
The background is important in the context of my comment on his blog. I indicated to him, that, though the education topics discussed were clearly very important, there were many cheap shot personal comments about leading political and corporate figures that offended me and, in my opinion, seriously undermined the credibility of the points made.
We have a number of our 500 full-time faculty members who write blogs. And just within the last few days, I have received a number of emails complaining about another faculty member’s most recent blog. Once again we are dealing here with a highly regarded faculty member. The gist of the complaints is that the faculty member unleashed a tirade against President Obama and described the President in a highly offensive and inappropriate manner. I responded to one of the individuals who emailed me that I agreed with him in regard to the blog being offensive but that I also supported the faculty member’s right to make such comments. He responded in return that I should use my “bully pulpit” to challenge and by inference condemn the faculty member.
Certainly an interesting point but I strongly feel that this is not the appropriate role of a chief academic officer. My bully pulpit should be focused on making sure that we provide the best education possible for our students. My pulpit is focused on excellence in teaching, on teaching informed by scholarship, on teaching that responds to changing times. My pulpit is used in support of diversity, in support of academic integrity, in support of standards, in support of outcomes assessment.
Faculty are very smart individuals and there is no shortage of political (and other) opinions emanating from faculty. And often, I find that my opinion is different from and at times in total disagreement with positions taken by individual faculty. But it would be a bad use of my time and energy to confront opinions which faculty have every right to have. As an educator, I choose to focus on the educational forest, not the opinion trees.