The "Opt-Out" Idea in Arizona
From Mesa, Ariz., comes this. According to today's story from the AP, the Arizona State Senate Committee on Higher Education last week approved a bill that would force college instructors to offer alternative coursework for students who deem certain assignments offensive to their sexuality, morality or religion.
Think about that for a sec. "Offensive to their sexuality, morality or religion." Who decides what that is? Well, according to the bill, the student decides.
The bill was intro'd by Arizona State Senator Thayer Verschoor (Republican) after a community college student complained to him that he was assigned Rick Moody's The Ice Storm. The "offensive" scenes included sexual acts and drug use. (I've only seen the Ang Lee movie version, which depicted rather mild pot-smoking and pill-popping--the movie's set in the 1970s--and one grown-up party featuring a "key party" for wife-swapping.)
The bill would allow college students to "opt out" of assignments. It would require profs to come up with non-offensive assignments that carry equal weight.
Welcome to a new and treacherous slippery slope.
Quoted in the story is a teacher of poli-sci at Scottsdale Community College: "You couldn't have a college if students could simply veto the assignment. They could simply say, `Give me something else to read,' and it would make my job impossible."
You said it, brutha.
Imagine writing exams for students who've opted out of certain sections of the syllabus. Try coming up with alternative reading and viewing for those students who think In Cold Blood is too violent--and besides, it was written by a homo--or who object to the incestuous plot elements of Psycho or Chinatown (I mention those because I use them both in the film criticism course I teach). What are the opt-out options for those? Bambi? Nope, Mom dies in that one and it's anti-hunting. Citizen Kane? Hmmm, might offend someone's morality because Charles Foster Kane has an extramarital affair. The Sound of Music? That one casts Nazis in a poor light and it's pretty pro-Catholic.
There goes all of Shakespeare, too. I can't begin to count how many morally, sexually and religiously offensive elements there are in Will's works. And most every other great book, poem, play, opera, film, painting...you name it. What's left? The Complete Works of Charles Schulz? Will that be a lower- or upper-level course?
We're entering real 1984 territory with this. (As if we haven't already been living under the burning gaze of Big Brother and his Ministry of Love for the past six years.)
If this sort of law starts to spread to the other 49 states, we might as well turn off the lights and lock all the doors and stay home. Teaching at a university will be like working in a rather strict asylum--with the inmates in charge.