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God, Academic Freedom, and English

The Victorville Daily Press reports that a student at Victor Valley Community College received an “F” on an English paper for using the word “God” forty-one times (Term paper about ‘God’ earns student failing grade):

[Student Bethany] Hauf’s teacher approved her term paper topic — Religion and its Place within the Government — on one condition: Don’t use the word God. Instead of complying with VVCC adjunct instructor Michael Shefchik’s condition Hauf wrote a 10-page report for her English 101 class entitled “In God We Trust.”

“He said it would offend others in class,” Hauf, a 34-year-old mother of four, said. “I didn’t realize God was taboo.”

(Hat tip: Best of the Web)

Her case has been taken up by the American Center for Law and Justice (http://www.aclj.org/).

I have mixed feelings about this. If this was just an ordinary English composition paper, the instructor was definitely out of line. The requirement to not use the word “God” seems arbitrary and prejudicial, to say the least. At the same time, the student was given a set of instructions by the instructor and failed (deliberately) to follow them. I think a better course of action would be to (a) write a letter of protest to the instructor and allow for a written response, (b) compose the paper as required by the instructor, and (c) only then contact ACLJ. Her actions seem unnecessarily provocative.

This story reminded me of a recent column by Mike Adams (www.dradams.org/articles/20050624.html) about an individual at Georgia College and State University who submitted a proposal to the Ford Foundation concerning

deeply held religious belief’s (sic) precluding or interfering with the principles of academic freedom and the enterprise of questioning and discussing controversial subjects.

Looks like in this case, it’s deeply held beliefs about religion (rather than deeply held religious beliefs) interfering with academic freedom.

One more thing that I find ironic (because I am anal retentive about these sorts of things): here we have a newspaper story about an English paper, and there are at least three grammatical and spelling errors.

Number 1:

“I don’t loose (sic) my First Amendment rights when I walk into that college,” Hauf said.

Number 2:

Hauf acknowledges she knew her teacher’s condition for writing the paper, but argued it would be impossible to write about the affect (sic) of Christianity on the development of the United States …

Number 3:

Hauf’s husband supports his wife’s position. “She has to pursue this. Not only has (sic) her civil rights been violated this (sic) is an English class she took, not a political science course,” Fritz Hauf said.

Now I realize that the last one may have been a direct quote, but the editorial notations are mine, not the newspapers. One wonders where they hire their journalists and editors in Victorville.

2 Responses to “God, Academic Freedom, and English”

  1. Robert Says:

    The thing that strikes me is the instructor’s strange reason for not allowing the word “God” in the paper — because it would offend other students in the class. Huh? Are other students in the class going to be reading these papers? If not, how would they even know what’s in another person’s paper, much less be offended by it?

    I could see a composition professor giving this requirement for a reason along the lines of trying to get students to write about a controversial topic objectively. Taking “God” out of the paper could be seen as a means to that end. But to forbid the use of the word to avoid offending other people doesn’t make a lot of sense.

    I’m with you though that the student, if she wanted to portray clearly what Christian faith looks like, should have done what was asked of her and then dissented.

  2. Veronica Says:

    I hate how for many this has turned into an atheists vs christians argument. I am atheist myself and I think that is a ridiculous requirement for a paper. If it was truly objective and not an opinion piece which did not meet the criteria of the assignment, he is just being ridiculous by shoving his beliefs down her throat. I couldn’t write a paper arguing the opposite (that this nation is not founded on religion) without using the word god.

    But it was the last line of this article that made me want to comment. I got a good laugh out of it. I lived in the high desert for most of my life, and the journalism of the Daily Press is pathetic. High school newspapers have better editing, content and structure than that piece of garbage.

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