ORONO, Maine -
A University of Maine student alleges her former professor offered
extra credit to class members if they burned the American flag or the
U.S. Constitution or were arrested defending free speech.
the first day of class, associate professor Paul Grosswiler offered the
credit to members of his History of Mass Communications class,
according to sophomore Rebekah McDade. Disturbed by the comment, McDade
dropped the class and intends to take the course again next semester
with a different professor.
was offended," McDade said Friday. "I come from a family of military
men and women, and the flag and Constitution are really important
symbols to me because of my family background."
an e-mail responding to a request for comment from the Bangor Daily
News on Friday, Grosswiler said he thought McDade misunderstood the
class discussion, which was intended to elicit thought about the First
Amendment. He said he has held this same discussion for years without
don’t intend for students to burn either the Constitution or the flag,
and over the years hundreds of students have understood that,"
incident was made public recently when The Leadership Institute, a
Virginia-based nonprofit organization, distributed a press release
detailing the classroom discussion.
Leadership Institute was founded in 1979 by Morton Blackwell and has a
mission to identify, recruit, train and place conservatives in
politics, government and the media, according to the organization’s Web
field representative for the institute met McDade on Oct. 1 at UM, when
she shared her experience and expressed an interest in spearheading a
group "Students for Academic Freedom," Blackwell said Friday.
group’s initial goal would be to convince UM to enact a "Student Bill
of Rights," as other colleges have, which would protect students from
professors who treat and grade students differently based on religious
or political beliefs, McDade said. The institute has assisted McDade in
the startup process, she said.
we heard the story, we said ‘Hey, this is probably worthwhile our doing
a news release,’" Blackwell said. "When you expose leftist abuses, it
invigorates conservatives. I am sure that the administration, like most
administrations we deal with, is not happy when leftist abuses come to
life. They far prefer to have students under their thumb and
said Friday she was a little uncomfortable with the publicity and that
it might have gotten out of hand. She said her intent was not to put
the focus on Grosswiler, but to give students an opportunity to voice
journalism and political science double major, McDade said the first
class of her fall semester at UM began with the typical syllabus
introduction and class overview. Despite repeated "liberal" comments
made by Grosswiler, McDade said, she was not uncomfortable in the
classroom until the flag burning comment.
"Everyone is entitled to their own political beliefs, and more power to you if you are passionate about it," McDade said.
Grosswiler listed the extra-credit opportunities, McDade said the class
of approximately 50 students grew very quiet, and some questioned
whether he was serious.
first, student Kathleen Dame said she thought Grosswiler was joking,
but then he went on to explain to the class that burning the flag was
not illegal. While Grosswiler approached the topic in a serious manner,
Dame said she felt he used it as a tool to educate the class on the
"It was pretty outlandish and [he was] trying to prove a point," Dame said Friday.
While McDade said she would not be surprised if students followed through with the flag burning, Dame disagreed.
spokesman Joe Carr said Friday that Grosswiler’s classroom comments
were not intended to be taken literally and that extra credit would not
be granted for carrying out such activities.
A second person in the class did submit a complaint about the lecture, but Carr did not know in what form it was filed.
When asked whether the university would pursue disciplinary action, Carr replied, "No."
said Grosswiler has worked at the University of Maine since 1991, is
one of the more veteran professors in the department of communication
and journalism, and is a "well-respected member of the faculty."
his e-mail Friday, Grosswiler, who is a former BDN employee, explained
that he refers to provocative examples, such as flag burning, to
demonstrate the courage necessary to support free expression.
"If they don’t tolerate thought that they hate, they don’t believe in the First Amendment," he wrote.
applaud the student’s exercise of free expression. If she had stayed in
the class, I would have given her extra credit for publicizing her