Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Syracuse Professor Laurence Thomas and the Cell Phone of Doom

I received the following link from a mailing list I belong to at work:

It is an article describing an incident between a student and a professor. The student was text messaging (texting) in class, and in the front row, no less, so the professor walked out on the class.

The professor states in his syllabus that he will react this way if students are "rude" enough to text in class. The class in question has roughly 400 students.

The above link shows lots of support for both the students and the professor. It brings up an interesting question. Does the student who pays tuition have the final say over what he/she is allowed to do in class? Is the professor the final authority on classroom antics? The chancellor at Syracuse appears to be dodging the issue, but I am sure the time is coming when she will have to take her stand.

There are a number of points in favor and against both the professor and the student. I will begin with the professor. Professor Thomas did publish a syllabus stating that cell phones and texting are not allowed in his class. His actions are consistent with the syllabus here. In my opinion I think walking out on the class is a little extreme, but he did give fair warning.

Professor Thomas uses some strange arguments to support his position. In one of his emails he states, "I am an old fashion individual in that I believe in principles of right and wrong that transcend every race/ethnicity and sexual identity." I get the part about the old fashioned individual, and the part about the principles of right and wrong, but what does it have to do with race or sexual identity? Since when is texting being racist? I even somewhat get how he would jump on the race card. Even more baffling is the sexual identity. Where did he come up with this stuff?

The students seem to be using the worn out story about how they pay his salary when they pay tuition, so he should back off and conform to the norm. While I may agree that the professor was out of line, I cannot support this statement. One pays tuition to receive instruction. The salary is paid by the University, and not by Joe Student sitting in the front row. One of the conditions of admission to any larger body is that the student conform to the standards upheld by the University. To act in opposition to the University's guidance and standards is failure to follow through with your end of the agreement. That being said, I am not restricting the role of a student to behaving as a robot.

The educational process is dynamic. There is no easy way to pin down where the line is between maintaining an agreement to follow University guidelines and the University trying to control one's every thought and action. I believe that if a student wants to throw away a $30,000 a year education, he has the right to do so. However, I also believe that the other 399 students in this class that are also paying $30,000 deserve to have an uninterrupted lesson from their professor. In this case, I think both the student and the professor were wrong, as they acted in tandem to deprive the 399 from their rightful educational experience.

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