Laurentian Prof: where do we draw the line between useful profanity & going too far?

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Dr. Michael Persinger, a professor at Laurentian University, was recently removed from teaching a first-year psychology course due to his practice of handing out a waiver for students to sign, notifying them of his use of foul language during the course. According to Persinger, his use of this language serves an educational purpose. However, the University's stated reason for removing him was not a judgement on his language so much that handing out a waiver violated the University's policies. 

Our two Features Editors debate whether profane language has a place in the classroom. 

Coarse language not necessary

While it’s important for university classrooms to use a variety of methods to encourage open discussion, Laurentian Professor Michael Persinger’s use of profanity overstepped the bounds.

Professor Persinger was removed from teaching an introductory psychology class due to his request that students sign a waiver complying with his use of profane language for the purpose of teaching.

Although the university was unclear whether the primary concern was the waiver or the language, the broader issue is worth examining — should professors be able to use profanities as a teaching tool in university classes?

In his explanation, Persinger stated that the coarse language he planned to use was for the purposes of professional development.

However, the problem with that argument is that many other professions could use similar logic to suggest the use of coarse language in education. Deciding where the divide lies between necessary and unnecessary use of profanities as a teaching tool can become a slippery slope.

Profane language is already an ingrained part of our culture, visible in our entertainment industry, our personal lives and even within many workplaces. The university setting shouldn’t follow the same trajectory, or lower its expectations for conduct, just because it seems like an easy way to make an impression on students.

Allowing offensive language in an introductory course, where students are just beginning to get acquainted with university and their chosen fields, is counterintuitive to wanting students to both speak up in the classroom and become comfortable with its subject matter.

The purpose of a classroom is to educate, and there are numerous methods available to make that happen other than shock value.

While it’s up to the professor of the course how they choose to teach, the presence of the administration is to curb potentially problematic approaches to provide the best educational experience possible for their students.

Professors shouldn’t have to coddle their students. But neither should we lower our standards for behaviour when it comes to teaching complex subject matter.

Anastasiya is one of The Journals Features Editors. Shes a second-year PhD student in the History Department.  

 

Colourful language not so black and white

University isn’t like Thanksgiving dinner — you can make your point without a stern parent asking you to leave the table.

For at least a decade, Dr. Michael Persinger handed out a waiver to his first-year psychology students to make them aware of the offensive terms and phrases he would be using in class.

Granted, the document has the legal foundations of a pinky swear. But that’s not the point.

The waiver provides students an early chance to switch to another section if they prefer to avoid its subject matter.  But it doesn’t call them oversensitive or suggests they lighten up should they decline. It simply leaves the decision as to whether or not those words are too offensive up to the student.

The suggestion that a university student isn’t up to that choice is counterintuitive to the idea of education. University is a place to grow.

Students should be free to decide how they’ll challenge themselves. The University taking over this responsibility is a disservice to the students’ growth.

As for the course content, Persinger makes a compelling case. Arguments aren’t always polite. We live in a time of Donald Trump, of offensive rhetoric and biased appeals to emotion. The course can prepare students for the offensive exchanges that punctuate daily conversation.

So far, the willing students that took Persinger’s sections have been supportive. Persinger won the TVO Best Lecturer Award in 2007 and students have called for his return to the section. Persinger’s teaching ability isn’t in question.

Moreover, the grounds for Persinger’s removal are shaky. It’s hard to believe that if this waiver is a significant enough issue to remove him from the course, it took over a decade before the administration even noticed.

According to an internal grievance filed by the university faculty association, it was a member of the administration, a former dean, who suggested Persinger start using the form more than a decade ago.

This removal follows a longstanding and strained relationship between Persinger and the administration. But, students should decide the value of a professor’s lesson — not an administration concerned about controversial professors.

Nick is one of The Journal’s Features Editors. He’s a second-year Global Development Studies major. 

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