Kill the professor
Just three little words. Why make a fuss? Michael Ballou, a part-time government instructor at Santa Rosa Junior College, defends assigning students to send a “kill the president” e-mail to an elected official. Emily Jones has the statement.
1. This was a hypothetical, experiential object lesson. No email address was given; no president was defined; no one was told to actually send an email to any place nor to anyone.
If students weren’t supposed to send an e-mail, what experience were they experiencing?
2. The exercise was not to “instill a sense of fear” as one newspaper reported, but to bring out the fear and paranoia that already exists within each one of us. . . . It’s fear of our own government surveillance and of each other.
If everyone’s already afriad of government surveillance, to the point of paranoia, why bother with the non-experienced experiental lesson? (Actually, like Emily, I’m not afraid of government surveillance.)
3. I’ve taught for 25 years and have been at my current assignment for 12 years. I’ve used this exercise for a long time and have never had a problem. So I suppose the question is “Why now?” Well, it’s been a couple of years since 9/11, so that doesn’t explain it? Do you think it’s because we’re whipping ourselves up into a state of frenzy?
I was in sixth grade when President Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the assassination attempts on President Ford and President Reagan. And I know that Flight 93 was heading for a target in Washington, D.C. — the White House or the Capitol, most likely — when passengers fought back and crashed the plane. No sane American takes a threat to kill the president as a joke. The Secret Service certainly doesn’t.
Ballou’s defense goes on, getting less and less relevant to the issue. Emily fisks it all. I don’t have the patience. The man is just babbling.
As a long-term part-timer, Ballou has no tenure and no job security. College officials, unless they’re nuts, won’t rehire him for the fall. Government instructors are a glut on the market, and most will not tell students to commit a felony. So Ballou will be able to claim his “academic freedom” has been violated; his paranoia will blossom luxuriantly. The woman who actually experienced sending a “kill the president” e-mail will not be charged, but she’ll never be hired for a job that requires a security clearance.
If Ballou does teach again, I suggest modifying the assignment. To really bring out the inner coward in his students, he should tell them to stand in line at an airport and say, “Bomb the plane.” Just three little words.
Or perhaps they could bring out their fear of authority by putting a finger in someone’s back and saying, “Stick ’em up.” Then, when the victim calls the police, students could explain that it was just a hypothetical experiental object lesson in idiotarianism.