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Conservative Article Sparks a Debate: Who is Protected by the First Amendment?

On Campus

Conservative Article Sparks a Debate: Who is Protected by the First Amendment?

Radix Admin

Written by Contributing Writer Danielle Brown '18; Interviews Compiled by Ritti Singh '18

SOUTH HADLEY, MA – Last Thursday an article was published on the website of The College Fix about Professor Peter Rosnick expressing his views on the 2016 Presidential Election. The article shares a video sent to the publication by one of the students in the first section of Rosnick’s Calculus 1 course. The video shows Rosnick stating that he encourages students to vote for someone “who understands that the goal in a nation. . .is to hold people together and not to pull people apart,” amongst other comments about his choice in a candidate, including their views on immigration and how women should be treated. The article states that the comments made in the video were “a clear jab at Republican candidate Donald Trump.” Within 24 hours, the Mount Holyoke College Facebook page was overwhelmed with a little under 100 one-star reviews, many commenting on the quality of teaching that the school provides.

  In the article, The Fix addressed how they received a video and anonymous comments from the student who recorded the professor. The student felt “it highly inappropriate for a math teacher to use [their] class time to try to tell [them] who to vote for.”

  According to other students in the course, Rosnick began speaking to students before the official session began but ran over by a few minutes into the start of class.

  “[Professor Rosnick] never said either candidate's name, and he specified that we should make sure to vote for whoever upheld what we believed in,” sophomore Sam Neally said. “His comments on immigration and feminism were about his own personal circumstance, and about what he personally was looking for in a candidate.”

  Students say that Rosnick began the discussion of his own accord but that it seemed to be prompted by recent election news and not by an agenda.

  “He was trying to emphasize that it was important that we vote, and that we understood that this was a very important election to vote in,” Neally said.

  First-year Elyse Tunkelrott felt that the video recording was in poor taste because Rosnick shared information about his family that is now public information without ever intending for it to be so. She also felt that the video shared failed to encompass the entire monologue.

  “Honestly, if someone in the classroom took his words to mean ‘vote for Hillary,’ then they don’t believe their candidate fits what Rosnick was saying,” Tunkelrott added. “The part that is cut out of the video is Rosnick saying that he wanted us to vote for who we want to vote for, not who he is voting for.”

  The College Fix is a right-leaning news outlet focused on providing articles about college campuses through a conservative lens. It publishes articles from students across the nation about their campus environments, and has a large right-winged following. This includes conservative journalist Charles Campbell. Though it is unclear if he is the only source of the reviews from many non-MHC students, Campbell encouraged his followers to leave one-star ratings about the College on multiple outlets via a Facebook post.

Math professor at Mount Holyoke College urges his students to vote for Hillary Clinton. Professor's name is Peter Rosnick. This is unacceptable, especially for a math class.

Give this college its due diligence and rate it one star. I'll link review sites in the comment section.

  After this post, which included an attachment of the video shared on The Fix, the reviews flooded onto the Mount Holyoke College Facebook page. Students faced off in comments sections with people who admitted that they were not affiliated with the school in any way but felt compelled to leave the rating based on the video and article. They called for Rosnick’s removal in some cases.

"Shaping the minds is fine, a math professor trying to influence the way young people vote should be terminated."

"Shaping the minds is fine, a math professor trying to influence the way young people vote should be terminated."

"Horrible social sciences! Teaching deplorable things to young minds. Anti-American nonsense."

"Horrible social sciences! Teaching deplorable things to young minds. Anti-American nonsense."

"Garbage school, should be ashamed to have teachers telling students to vote a certain way...sad"

"Garbage school, should be ashamed to have teachers telling students to vote a certain way...sad"

  Mount Holyoke College students and alums, as well as their friends and families, left almost ten times the amount of five-star reviews to combat the negative ratings, bumping it from a 2.0 to a 4.6 within a few days. Reviews from both sides are still coming in.

  Social media outlets have been in use to share information about the events over the last week, specifically Yik Yak. On the app, people have called for both the removal of Rosnick and of the student who recorded the video. Both requests have been referred to as “witch hunts.” These views have sparked debates on- and off-campus about Mount Holyoke’s policies.

  Many are aware that some students and professors go off on tangents at times but worry that moments like this will quell that freedom. Recently, a dean sent an email to Mount Holyoke faculty urging them to review professor guidelines regarding political commentary and urging them to be extra diligent about what they say. This comes after a recent Student Government Association Senate meeting which held a panel regarding “free speech” and how crucial it is for academic freedom and diverse thought to be present on campus.

  Students and outsiders say that Rosnick should not have been sharing political views within class, even if it was before class began. He has been accused of violating school policy since the college and its affiliates are not allowed to align itself with a specific candidate. Others say that the student was in violation of Massachusetts law by recording Rosnick without his consent. Some people have requested that she be charged on this account. Both sides cite the First Amendment as protection of the actions made by both student and professor.

  “I believe Professor Rosnick is a fantastic professor who truly cares about the education and wellbeing of all of his students,” first year Maya Rhode stated. “I think that the person who took the video did not like that Professor Rosnick seemed to be talking about their preferred candidate and they wanted to cast a bad light upon both him and Mount Holyoke. As far as I know, he has not made political comments before.”

  Professor Rosnick shared a statement with Radix about the events that day and the results.

On October 24, I made a value-based statement to my Mathematics 101 classes about the upcoming presidential election that was inappropriate. As a college educator and former dean with over 35 years of experience, I should have known that academic freedom does not extend to including personal statements that can be perceived as controversial when they have nothing to do with the content of the course and are not representative of the College's position. I apologize to my students. I love teaching. I love teaching mathematics. And, as my first semester at Mount Holyoke College unfolds, I am developing an enormous amount of respect for my students and for this institution. I appreciate the support I have received from colleagues, students, and alumnae. I am privileged to teach here and look forward to the rest of my semester.

Photo Courtesy of Mount Holyoke College, www.mtholyoke.edu

[Text of image: An empty Clapp classroom with tables, chairs, and a chalkboard]