Does academic freedom allow college professors to offend their students with profanity?

The question is coming up in Illinois, as an instructor is under fire for displaying the message “F— God” to his class.

Bruce LeBlanc, shown here in 2002, allegedly used his blackboards for profane message (photo: Moline Dispatch)

According to the Moline Dispatch, Bob Stotler, a 30-year-old student at Black Hawk College, filed a complaint after his sociology teacher, Bruce LeBlanc, displayed the two-word statement.

LeBlanc reportedly revealed two blackboards at the front of his class, with the F-word written on the left one and “God” written on the right one.

“I don’t even remember what went on for the rest of the class,” Stotler told the Dispatch, saying he was too upset to pay further attention.

Stotler says LeBlanc had confronted him about being Christian, conservative and Republican on his first day in class in January.

“He’s a lot liberal, and I’m a lot conservative,” Stotler said. “He was preaching his leftist ideas like they were facts.”

The college’s advisory committee has issued a report based on Stotler’s complaint, finding LeBlanc violated the school’s harassment policy, noting the conduct “shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of his/her religion.”

In addition, the committee said LeBlanc violated the policy “in that he engaged in negative stereotyping of the complainant, Mr. Stotler, on the first day of class when he made an assumptive comment about the student’s religious beliefs during class.”

The report recommends LeBlanc apologize to Stotler and meet with a dean of the school to review the class syllabus and analyze the complexity of the language used.

LeBlanc told the Dispatch he can’t comment while he’s “challenging the action through the collective-bargaining agreement.”

But two years ago, he discussed academic freedom with the paper, noting it gives professors a chance to provide information in a way that addresses classroom dynamics.

“Dynamics can range from conservative students who need a push to open their minds to other possibilities to extremely liberal students who need to examine more conservative approaches,” noted the paper of LeBlanc’s comments.

“From an institutional perspective, Black Hawk College’s board of trustees and administrators value academic freedom, and students get a high quality educational experience,” LeBlanc said in 2002.

According to the college’s website, LeBlanc is a professor of psychology as well as sociology, and is also a member of its speaker’s bureau.

Among LeBlanc’s presentations is one called “Sexual Minorities: The Science of Sexual Orientation,” which explores the science of sexual orientation and its application to the current debates regarding sexual minorities.

Karen Harris

Karen Harris, a psychology professor who is president of the Western Illinois University chapter of the University Professors of Illinois, told the Dispatch while professors rely on academic freedom to engage students, teachers should be careful not to go too far.

“As professionals we have a responsibility, and it’s a delicate line we walk between stirring emotions and fulfilling our professional responsibility, which is to contribute to the educational process,” she said.

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