Possibly you have never heard of Citrus College. We confess that we were unacquainted with the community college in Glendora, California—until Professor Rosalyn Kahn catapulted the school to temporary notoriety last month. Professor Kahn is apparently one of those teachers who find it difficult to separate politics from pedagogy. Among her duties was teaching Speech 106, a “strongly recommended” course in “small group communication.” This winter, the communication concerned war with Iraq. Professor Kahn offered her students an extra-credit assignment: write to President Bush to protest the war. Note well: the extra credit was available not for a well-written letter, but only for a letter protesting the war. It transpired that Professor Kahn made a similar assignment with a state senator as the designated recipient.
Now, many teachers will try to hone their students’ rhetorical skills by asking them to argue for opposing sides of a contentious issue. Professor Kahn’s purpose here was different. She was not endeavoring to sharpen her students’ mastery of rhetoric and argumentation. On the contrary, she exploited her students in order to further a private political agenda.
We wonder how common is such blatant abuse of pedagogical authority and injection of politics into the classroom. It is difficult to say. We suspect that it is far more common than is generally thought. Professor Kahn’s letter-writing campaign would never have been exposed had not some dissenting students contacted the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a Philadelphia-based organization dedicated to free speech and academic freedom: values that are conspicuously imperiled on many college campuses. FIRE’s quick intervention sparked a strong response from the college, including a letter of apology to President Bush. We can hope that FIRE’s action will also serve to remove Professor Kahn from the classroom. A news story reported that the college has required her to apologize to her students. A real apology would require her to leave academia altogether. Rosalyn Kahn has demonstrated contempt for her students and a failure to grasp the most elementary requirements of academic freedom. Why should she be welcomed back to the classroom?