UW-W professor responds to misconceptions

Sept. 24 2014

Dear UWW Community:

I am writing in response to last week’s opinion piece published under the title “Faculty Bias an Issue at UW-W.” The op-ed grossly misrepresented my actions, words, and beliefs. It quoted a single sentence from an e-mail that I sent to faculty in the College of Letters & Sciences who I represent on the Faculty Senate. The op-ed quoted this sentence out of context. It asserted that my sentence was a partisan commentary on statements made by Mr. Eyon Biddle. That sentence was NOT in reference to anything said or not said by Mr. Eyon Biddle.

Opinion, bias, fact, and interpretation can be slippery terms. As educated people we must exercise our intellectual curiosity and apply our analytical skills to avoid mistaking or misrepresenting one for the other. Taking things out of context can turn fact into fiction, interpretation into bias. Context matters.

So does getting the facts straight. Two particularly egregious misrepresentations that I would like to correct are the statement that the Faculty Senate “approved a resolution that bans recording in the classroom” and that the Faculty Senate “attempted to silence students from taking action” when they feel their professor has acted improperly.

Regarding the first: University of Wisconsin System Regent Policy 4-1, enacted in 1977, recognizes the right of individual instructors to determine recording policy in their classrooms. The Faculty Senate resolution affirmed the right of UWW faculty to extend the meaning of the 1977 policy to include video recording (a recording technology that did not exist in 1977). The resolution does not ban recording in the classroom. It reaffirms a three decades-old University of Wisconsin system-wide policy. Students are obligated to honor such policies.

Regarding the second: UWW has a well-established grievance procedure that students can follow if they think a professor has acted improperly. (see Student Handbook) The resolution passed unanimously by the Faculty Senate last March did not affect that procedure in any way. Rather, the resolution “resolved that recordings, course materials, and lecture notes may not be exchanged or distributed for commercial purposes, for compensation, or for any other purpose other than study by students enrolled in the class without the written permission of the instructor. Public distribution of such materials may constitute copyright infringement in violation of federal or state law, or University policy.”

Video-taping in a classroom without obtaining prior approval (as happened in the Biddle case) and sending an internal memo to national blogs without asking permission (as happened in the case of my e-mail) are not conducive to the educational mission of UWW or to the enlightenment of anyone.

I and my faculty colleagues have dedicated our lives to the pursuit of knowledge. In our teaching we are passionate about examining new and old ideas, multiple perspectives and experiences. We are dedicated to helping students develop skills of critical analysis. We work hard to foster a learning environment that is safe and secure for all.

– Nikki Mandell
Professor of History