Political advertisement violated teacher-student social contract

On Tuesday, Oct. 31 the Sanders for Senate and Welch for Congress campaigns bought a set of advertisements in UVM’s student newspaper, The Vermont Cynic urging students to “join us in voting for [Bernie Sanders/Peter Welch, respectively] on November 7.” Over 100 University of Vermont faculty members signed the advertisements, ranging from English professors to Computer Science lecturers. These advertisements are a blatant display of personal political views being impressed upon students. The advertisements prompt us to ask the following question: where is the bright-line in terms of influencing students with advertisements of the political views of University faculty and staff? The University community must entertain this discussion in a serious and contemplative manner. To ignore this issue is to invite an atmosphere of dictation as opposed to Socratic discussion in the classroom. In order to foster open and uninhibited discourse by students in the collegiate setting faculty must regard their own neutrality as an ethical imperative. The Oct. 31 advertisements breeched this social contract. When the participating faculty chose to endorse these advertisements, they did so with their names but not titles, presumably as an indication that they were doing so as private citizens and not as University affiliates. But one must question the underlying motivation. One must ask: what is the point behind these signatures? The only readily available answer is that students respect these individuals in a professional sense and thus the signatures can be used as an effective political tool to sway the opinions of students. Political Science professor Anthony Gierzynski explained his reaction to the advertisement. “[the advertisement] violates a sense of neutrality [we’re] not supposed to tell students what to do/think, especially in terms of politics.” For students, faculty represent the epitome of academic success in our individual fields of study; they are our mentors, our idols and our counselors. To have them negate their neutrality can break down essential lines of trust. Without this trust, truly free academic discourse is impossible and can quickly mutate, in the eyes of students, into academic discord. Had these faculty members placed these advertisements in the Burlington Free Press or another media outlet that is not directly connected to the University, the current ethical debate would be a moot point. However, having the advertisement published within the faculty members’ professional community makes this discussion of the utmost importance. We must establish this bright-line as members of a conscientious academic community; one committed to the highest ethical and moral standards that puts the ideals of an open forum at the forefront of the educational experience.