by Sheri Urban
A professor has taken a novel approach when it comes to dealing with the increasing number of students railing against and even shutting down academic ideas they don’t agree with: a contract.
James “Duke” Pesta, an associate professor of English at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, presents a two-page contract to his students on the first day of class that asks them to drop the course if they are “triggered” or offended by certain ideas or beliefs.
What does the contract say?
“In this course, we study literature from cultures that existed before you were born. Their world is not our world. Their beliefs may not be our beliefs. No one asks you to believe or endorse any premise, attitude, precept, theology, political system, or ideology contained in these books or expressed in class. Nor will you ever lose points or be docked grades because of your opinion (written, oral, or otherwise),” the contract’s Statement of Purpose reads, the College Fix said.
“We will not malign or trivialize these texts because they do not always parrot our values. We will not assume these books are racist, sexist, or homophobic because of the period in which they were written, or because of the race, class, gender, or religion of the authors,” the contract also says, the outlet reported. “People who approach alien cultures with such preconceived notions are bigots masquerading as critically sophisticated advocates, often in the name of ‘social justice.’ Persons who so diminish the past are neither social nor just, especially when they compel students to adopt their biases.”
The College Fix noted that the contract also offers the following instructions:
- Please drop the class immediately if you are triggered by free speech, the free exchange of ideas, or people who express and defend ideas or opinions that differ from your own.
- Please drop the class immediately if you are triggered by open, direct, and adult discussion of issues, including but not limited to issues of faith, war, violence, race, gender, and sexuality.
- Please drop the class immediately if you are triggered by recurring encounters with heterosexuality, traditional gender identities, sympathetic representations of Christianity (or religion in general), positive examples of free markets or capitalism, or unapologetic encounters with patriotism, hierarchies, or meritocracy-based institutions or attitudes.
- Please drop the class immediately if you feel entitled to censor the thoughts or words of others or insist they tailor their language or attitudes to your preferences.
Pesta — a conservative — told the outlet in an interview that he’s used his contract for three semesters and a less-specific version for about eight years.
“I have learned through personal experience that university administrators and equity officers are often not willing to defend classroom speech, even if that speech is taken directly from books or used to explain them,” he told the College Fix.
‘Intrusive investigatory process just by complaining’
“Students are now keenly aware that they can put professors through an intrusive investigatory process just by complaining, even without any corroborating evidence. I have even had department heads who allow students to substitute required classes for other courses just because students complain about what they have ‘heard’ a professor’s classes are like,” Pesta added to the outlet. “My contract is an attempt to make it harder for these kangaroo court investigations to be launched in the first place.”
What does Pesta have to say about trigger warnings?
Pesta told the College Fix he finds trigger warnings — which inform students in advance that subject matter might offend them — “appalling from an educational standpoint.”
“But I have come to realize that they may have more utility for professors than students,” he added to the outlet. “It’s one more way to try and indemnify yourself from malicious and unfounded complaints by driving away at the outset students who only want their own preconceived ideas validated.”
How have students reacted to the contract?
Pesta told the College Fix that students so far have been willing to sign his contract.
“I’ve not encountered a student yet who would not sign,” he added to the outlet. “I do tell them, when I pass it out the first day, that if they refuse to sign they will have to meet with me sometime during the first week of classes to discuss the contract and make sure we’re on the same page.”
Here’s Pesta discussing “Back to School in the Age of Trump” for FreedomProject: