University Officials Investigate Georgia Professor · 16 September 2004

By David Horowitz, 09/16/04

Professor John Morrow, who told his class on World Wars I and II that George Bush and Dick Cheney were "chicken s--t" cowards is the object of a university inquiry into his behavior in the classroom. We applaud the university for taking this important step in reminding faculty that a university has obligations to its students and their academic freedom as well as to the freedom of professors to express their opinions.

We have no quarrel with Professor Morrow's expertise or his right to express his views on the subject at hand. We would have no quarrel if he explained the world wars in Freudian or Marxian or post-modern terms for that matter, provided he made students aware that there are other significant ways of interpreting these events. We do have a problem with a professor bringing irrelevant contemporary politics into his classroom in a controversial way that is disrespectful of his students who may have different views.

A professor is the person in authority in a classroom. His knowledge is without peer in this setting. He has power over the academic careers (and future career prospects) of his students through the grading power bestowed by the institutional framework. These are not equal relationships. Partisan and passionate views expressed by students do not carry any special weight with their peers. A professor's partisan and passionate views cannot be so readily dismissed or discounted by his students. A professor has professional obligations towards his students moreover that students do not have towards each other. Students are in the classroom to learn, and it is the professor's responsibility to do everything in his power to help them learn. Bullying them in the classroom by displaying politically partisan commitments and expressing these commitments in vulgar language -- magnifying their emotional impact -- does nothing to advance the educational process or enhance scholarly understanding of the subject.

Professor Morrow defends his profanity by saying that it is the language of soldiers. But he was not discussing soldiers or battlegrounds or anything else relevant to the two world wars. He was discussing the behavior of two men embroiled in a current political controversy who were not even born when World War II ended. Professor Morrow's outburst was just a self-indulgent venting of political passions that were entirely irrelevant to the subject matter of the class he was supposed to be teaching.

The consequence of this behavior was to intimidate a student, Bradley Alexander, and cause him to drop the course. This is not a small matter for a student who aspires to be a history major and who signed up for this particular course because he wanted to learn about its subject matter. Anyone can make an error of judgment in the passion of the moment as Professor Morrow did. Such errors are usually retrievable. When Bradley Alexander dropped the course, Profesor Morrow could have sought him out and apologized for giving Bradley the wrong impression (if that was what it was). He could have reassured him that even though they disagreed, he would never let their disagreement impinge on his grading for example. In fact, a case like this occurred at Duke university last year. A history professor told his students on the first day of class that he was prejudiced against Republicans and Republican students should probably drop his course. One student did. We published an account of this incident and the university responded by contacting the professor who apologized to the student. His apology was accepted and the matter was closed.

Unfortunately, Professor Morrow has not taken this course of action in the present matter but has chosen instead to defend his untenable position and compound the problem. Having bullied Bradley Alexander in his class, Professor Morrow has now bullied him on the Internet. Apparently he needs to be taught an important lesson. He needs to understand that the first priority of a good teacher is to show his students and his subject respect. That will inspire them to respect him as well. John Morrow needs to apologize to Bradley Alexander and the students in his class and in doing so to set an example for his faculty peers: that students have rights too.