December 13, 2017
As those of you who will be teaching next term prepare for winter-term courses, it is important to think again about pedagogy and classroom management. When contentious social issues are discussed in class, students sometimes make declarations and accusations that, intentional or not, disrupt the learning environment. This happened several times last term, including two cases in which students made declarations in favor of white nationalism/white supremacy and at least one case in which someone not enrolled in a class disrupted it by shouting political slogans.
It is important to note that student speech, when related to class discussion and consistent with an environment conducive to learning, is vigorously protected by law and by university policy, even when such speech is offensive to others. At the same time, speech that is not relevant to class discussion and that disrupts the ability of our instructors to teach or our students to learn can be forbidden as disruptions of university activities in violation of policy.
We must not allow non-relevant disruptive incidents to divide our community, but instead strive to foster inclusive and critical conversations about the things that matter to our students and to our larger communities. While such episodes are taking place on many campuses and express the turbulence of the times in which we live, we want you to know that we actively support your efforts to establish classroom environments that are, as UO Student Conduct Code makes explicit, environments “where the rights, safety, dignity and worth of every individual are respected.”
The Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs (OPAA) encourages instructors to think through their possible responses to these kinds of situations and aims to provide information about resources that can help you do so. Informing the campus community and preparing instructors to navigate classrooms where learning and free speech can coexist and flourish are responsibilities of any great university.
Here are concrete actions you can take:
- Make sure that the key elements of respectful classroom conduct are clear to students in your class and that conduct in the classroom that is unrelated to the instruction underway and that disrupts that instruction will not be tolerated. That could, for example, take the form of explicit language on your syllabus about the importance of open inquiry, freedom of expression, and respect for viewpoint diversity. See suggestions from the Teaching Engagement Program’s (TEP) document called “Controversy on Campus” on the TEP blog.
- Inform your unit head or the Office of the Provost and Academic Affairs if an incident takes place in your classroom. For more information related to classroom management and pedagogy, see the UO Student Conduct Code and the Teaching Engagement Program.
OPAA is currently assembling additional teaching resources and plans an announcement early during winter term. These resources will include:
- Strategies for responding to disruption of the learning environment in the moment
- Information about reporting and support networks around classroom challenges
- Workshops for instructional faculty and graduate employees addressing a range of issues related to teaching in turbulent times, to be coordinated by TEP and the Center on Diversity and Community (CoDaC)
- Other materials authored by TEP that offer concrete resources for a range of teaching challenges
Thank you for the essential work you do as teachers. Please let us know if you have questions or need other assistance.
Provost and Senior Vice President