Keep it off the record

Policies which restrict class recordings likely will encourage more open dialogue

A video of a guest lecturer at the University of Wisconsin has recently caused controversy over classroom recording policies. A statement issued by University of Wisconsin Campus Chancellor Richard J. Telfer indicates he will likely sign off on a new policy forbidding students from recording footage of classes, according to the Chronicle.

The student who recorded the video, Kyle R. Brooks, thinks this controversy should be focused on the content of the video rather than the policy of recording videos themselves. The guest lecturer Brooks recorded denounced Republicans, claiming in 2010 they were rapt with “white rage” — “White people having to pay for health care for blacks and browns and gays.”

Telfer said “I believe it is important that our faculty and students are able to have the free exchange of ideas without concern that what is said will be communicated beyond the limits of the classroom or campus,” while Brooks said “People should have been upset that he came into the classroom and said that” rather than being upset about the recording.

While the remarks of the guest speaker, Eyon Biddle Sr., are questionable, the matter of classroom recording is still an issue that needs to be discussed, and Telfer’s remarks about “the free exchange of ideas” have merit. There is a significant difference between a lecturer making an argument which may be controversial and a lecturer insulting a group of people by making generalizations. That is a matter of character which has no bearing on classroom recording policies, so we will not discuss the merit of the guest speaker’s remarks in this editorial.

We will, however, discuss situations in which it is important for students and professors to feel comfortable freely expressing themselves in order to facilitate the learning process, as an argument in favor of prohibiting classroom recordings. Many courses deal with material about race, class, religion, sex, gender and sexuality, in which discussions benefit from personal contributions. But such contributions may be discouraged by the threat of documentation and public exposure.

A student may feel comfortable revealing a personal experience just to the students in his or her class, but not necessarily to the rest of the world. A student also may change his or her mind during the course of a class discussion and would not want comments expressing a previously held opinion to be aired to the public for everyone to criticize.

These scenarios are more applicable in a seminar, rather than a lecture style class. But lecturers do sometimes ask questions to the class or invite them to ask questions, and such dialogue would be more open and productive if it was not recorded.

Professors, of course, should have a say in the policies of their classrooms. Recording can be a useful tool for students to recall the information from the lectures. But professors have legitimate cause to forbid recordings as well as to allow them, and there ought to be institutional avenues in place to discipline students who violate the instructor’s rules. Such policies should also be disclosed at the beginning of the term, so anyone who violates them cannot plead ignorance.

Open and productive dialogue enhances education. All steps should be taken to preserve it. Courtesy and respect are also essential components of such discussion; hopefully all participants can be trusted to maintain those as well.

Published March 31, 2014 in Opinion

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