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Calif. College restricts war talk in classes.

IRVINE, Calif. -- The top academic officer .at Irvine Valley College has banned faculty members from discussing the Iraqi war in their classrooms, unless their course touches directly on he conflict.

Vice President of Academic Instruction Dennis W. White said last month that he was responding to student complaints when he sent a memo, stating it was "professionally inappropriate" for instructors to discuss the war in the classroom, unless the war was relevant to course material.

"I want to make sure students are protected, and that a faculty member does not espouse personal opinions ... that are not related to the instructional material," White said. "ff a faculty member uses the classroom as a forum for or against the war, that would not be appropriate."

The memo sparked an angry debate at a campus Academic Senate meeting participants said, when professors on both sides of the war issue challenged White's ruling.

"The question is whether the war is a suitable topic to be debated at this college, and it clearly is," said Greg Bishopp, a professor and president of the faculty senate. "A more appropriate way of handling this would have been to open a dialogue and encourage people to say whatever they wanted to."

The issue came up after a student with a loved one in military service went sobbing to the counseling office, upset over anti-war remarks 4hat a professor had made in class, according to students and faculty.

White said he had reports from the campus counseling. office that several students had been upset by classroom remarks.

"If, in fact, a faculty member in a math class was bringing up political statements for or against the war, that is inappropriate," White said, adding that students have a right to learn math in a math class, instead of political rhetoric.

Spokesmen for nearby colleges said they had not imposed similar rules because they would infringe on academic freedom.

"The classroom is a place for learning, and we wouldn't ban or prohibit discussion of any world event," spokeswoman Donna Hatchett of the North Orange County Community College District said. The district runs Cypress and Fullerton colleges.

California State University, Fullerton political science professor Sandra Sutphen, former president of the CSUF Academic Senate, was incredulous at the Irvine ban and said her campus would never prohibit classroom war talk.

"This is a fundamental academic freedom concept," Sutphen said. She said the campus recently held a forum during which methods of dealing with the war were discussed.

Sutphen recommended the guidelines published by the University of Michigan's Center for Research on Learning, which suggests that instructors encourage disagreement as a "cornerstone of critical thinking," that they allow students to express differences without fear of ridicule, and they be sensitive to issues such as a student's ties to the military or the Middle East.

Irvine Valley students had mixed reactions to the prohibition.

Carmelle DeJean, 33, vice president of the Associated Student Government, was present during the angry exchange between the vice president and his faculty.

"It was very insulting to me--the whole idea of not being able to discuss the war in class," DeJean said. "I have family members in the war. How can it be business as usual?"

So far, De Jean said, she's been involved in several classroom discussions about the war, and none have included inappropriate faculty comments.

"Mostly, the instructors just sit back and listen to the students discuss their feelings," De Jean said. She cited a recent biology class she attended where a discussion before class about the war became emotional.

"All the pain and frustration we were feeling spilled over into the classroom," DeJean said. "What should our teacher have done? Just gone on like nothing happened?"

Another member of the student senate felt differently, saying she would prefer to deal with specific coursework when she goes into a classroom.

"I don't want to be harangued," said Delvia Logan, 48, a returning student. "It's appropriate in a political or psychology class, but in a math class you should talk about theories. Dr. White is a sweet man who cares about the students and he has a right to feel that way."
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Title Annotation:Irvine Valley College
Author:Fisher, Marla Jo
Publication:Community College Week
Geographic Code:1U9CA
Date:Apr 14, 2003
Words:694
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