Editorial: Classroom recording should remain a privilege, not a right

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

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Recent events at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater have sprung controversy nationwide over the recording of lectures in college classrooms.

Kyle Brooks, a freshman at Wisconsin-Whitewater, recorded a guest lecturer during class who communicated his distaste for many Republican legislators. Brooks later posted that video to the web, at which point it went viral, bouncing around the Internet and spurring the university’s Faculty Senate to revamp the policies it has regarding classroom recording.

“Faculty on this campus have the right to establish the policies for their individual classrooms,” said the campus’s chancellor, Richard J. Telfer.

This sentiment echoes the new policy, which will bar students from recording and disseminating such classroom footage, upon full enactment. In this case, and the issue of classroom recording more broadly, the decision should not be of the administration or of the student, but the instructor. They have a right, as initiators of much of the discourse within a classroom, to decide whether a discussion can be recorded and disseminated publicly. Wisconsin-Whitewater Faculty Senate’s newest policy regarding the issue is fortunately in line with this argument, strengthening their policies enacted in the 1970s. However, these policies can be better tuned to address some of the reservations opponents have to this view, namely protocols regarding student complaints against lecturers.

But first, it’s important to realize that the point of barring students from recording lectures without proper authorization is that it weakens the exchange of ideas, and in turn, supresses free speech. Pitt policies regarding the issue are in accordance with such a view. In order to properly promote and “ensure the free and open discussion of ideas, students may not record classroom lectures, discussion and/or activities without the advance written permission of the instructor, and any such recording properly approved in advance can be used solely for the student’s own private use.”

Students can and should be able to benefit from recording lectures, upon authorization, in order to revisit course material and discussion at later times. This is especially useful during reviewing and studying prior to exams. But it is necessary to allow instructors to decide on the matter of academic constraints or lack thereof. Instructors should feel free to provide an open, free discussion in which students can feel comfortable expressing their views. In a given lecture or course, the discourse can take any path or form from the course material introduced. To that end, publicly broadcasting such a discourse might be unrepresentative of that instructor, student or course. The potential for the broadcasting to be taken out of context is likely and the instructor has little control in trying to combat this.

Although benefits are prevalent, opponents to these policies cite instances during which the student feels the instructor’s expression has been discriminatory or otherwise inappropriate. Students should not feel that the answer to resolving the situation, which has been apparent in other institutions, is to publicly broadcast their message. Instead, these policies have to emphasize that the first avenue to pursue should be approaching administrators and department heads, due to the expediency with which they can fix such an issue.

Plain and simple, it should be the instructor’s call to decide whether their lectures can be recorded, and university policies must exhibit this protocol to uphold a free, open discourse in the classroom. 

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