I have been monitoring the conversation regarding censorship/obscenity/
teaching practice, and have a few comments. Dr. Jenkins (sorry, Henry,
it's a term of respect) has made many good points about teaching
"sensitive" and potentially obscene materials (in the legal sense).
However, I object to the mention made in other discussions to the
University of Iowa policy on depictions of "human sexual acts." While
I agree that the thought and consideration that Jenkins and others put
into lesson plans is "good teaching," a problem arises in forming a policy
about sexual, visual, and possibly explicit materials. It seems to me that
if students object to class materials, the hue and cry is indicative of a
larger problem than the presentation of the material.
The incidents that have precipitated the discussion and policy at UI are
not about depictions of "human sexual acts" (whatever those might be) but
about political differences and conflicts among class members, the T.A.
s included. Such conflicts should be handled through the established
channels regarding student complaints. Instead of censuring the T.A. for
presenting the materials, wouldn't it be more appropriate (in a setting of
"higher" education) for a senior faculty member (read, advisor) to talk
with the T.A. and perhaps the offended student(s), evaluate the situation,
and then take appropriate measures? In this way, the T.A., the student, and
even the advisor could all benefit from the situation. No additional
policy would have to be formed, as complaints could be handled through the
normal channels. Such an approach to this "problem" would not produce a
chilling effect (which is now a reality at UI) and would increase
understanding and communication.
As my colleague R. Hurst has proposed in the last few days, this hullabaloo
is a symptom of a larger problem, and should be treated as such. Conflicts
about explicit materials can be an opportunity for learning and should not
be silenced with a policy like the Iowa Regent's.
As an update, the Iowa Board of Regents has rejected a compromise policy
from the faculty senate. The policy still stands.
University of Iowa
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