Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Tragedy, gun control, and free speech in the classroom

Nicholas Winset lost his job yesterday.

He used a classroom demonstration to make a point about gun control, pretending to shoot six students with a magic marker before another student could take him out. Winset says “A classroom is supposed to be a place for academic exploration,” but Emmanuel College did not agree.

They gave the professor his walking papers, along with some helpful tips on filing for unemployement. Winset was an adjunct professor of financial accounting. Apparently his demonstration was supposed to segue into an assignment about the media's impact on financial markets.

Conservatives are quick to protest when liberal professors use their classrooms to push political points of view. I wonder how those critics will react now that Winset has turned the tables.

Is it appropriate to discuss gun control in an accounting class? Is it appropriate for a professor to make political points by dramatizing a massacre? The college won't say exactly why he was fired, leaving us free to guess.

I'd like to say he was fired for politicizing a national tragedy, but more likely, he was fired for being tasteless.

I'm inclined to cut professors a lot of slack on issues like this. I agree with Winset about free speech and academic exploration. Some of the most important lessons in my life have been learned from teachers who went “off the script” and shared things that they were passionate about.

Like it or not, teachers are human beings. We hold them to certain standards of objectivity and professionalism, but at the end of the day, we can't fire them for being human, for having opinions and sharing them — as long as their students are free to disagree.

Winset may deserve a reprimand, or a stern bit of professional advice, but I'm sorry to see him lose his job.

UPDATE: The college won't comment about Winset's termination, but the professor has decided to tell his side of the story on YouTube.

UPDATE: I am generally on Winset's side here, but one part of his position really bugs me. In the Boston Herald article, he's quoted as saying, “Just because everyone is portraying this as the national tragedy of the year doesn

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Written by Michael B. Duff

April 24, 2007 at 09:41

Posted in Politics

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