It’s difficult for a student to know exactly when their rights are being violated in the classroom. The student is at an automatic disadvantage because of the inherent student teacher relationship. So where is the line?

The Speak Up University blog offers some good advice for students with real life examples.

Your Professor Made You Do What?!?

We get a lot of calls from students concerned about the actions of their professors.  It’s no wonder why a study by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research found that, in general, professors have very negative opinions about Christians.   But what are your rights in class?

Broadly speaking, if a professor gives you an in-class assignment or homework that you disagree with ideologically, you have to do it (if you want credit).  Say a professor asks you to write a paper arguing from a perspective that questions the authenticity of religious text in a religion class or advocating that Roe v. Wade was correctly decided in a history class.  This is generally permissible as long as the professor isn’t asking you to give up your beliefs, but rather to evaluate a topic from a particular position as an academic exercise.

Professors cross the line, however, when they punish you in class for your views or require you to advocate an objectionable point of view outside of class to a third party.  For example, in Los Angeles, a professor asked students to give an informative speech in a public speaking class.  One student chose to discuss his Christian faith and why he believed that marriage is between one man and one woman.  The professor stopped the student mid-speech, refused to let him continue, and told him to “ask God” for his grade.  That’s retaliation, and it’s illegal.

In another case, a Missouri professor required his social work class to send an advocacy letter to the state legislature supporting a controversial social issue.  A student disagreed with the letter and refused to sign it.  The professor charged her with a university ethics violation.  Like the situation in Los Angeles, that is unlawful retaliation.

Or as a more recent example, you may have heard about the Florida professor who required her students to sign a pledge that they would vote for President Obama in the upcoming election.  It’s unclear how this related to any particular class assignment, but it still infringed the students’ constitutionally protected rights by compelling them to say (or sign) something they might not agree with.

In each of these situations, the professors violated the student’s constitutional rights by either compelling them to speak in favor of something they disagreed with or retaliating against them for saying something the professor disagreed with.