A video recording of a USC political science professor, released Wednesday by higher-education watchdog site Campus Reform, has drummed up controversy and national attention regarding opinions expressed in the classroom. The university responded Friday with a statement affirming faculty members’ right to express their views.
The video shows adjunct professor of political science Darry Sragow using derogatory terms when criticizing Republicans and conservatives in a fall 2012 class focused on election law and election finance.
During the video Sragow refers to Republicans as “losers,” “stupid” and “racist.” In one segment, he also calls California Republicans “irrelevant and clinically depressed.” The video is approximately 16 minutes long, comprising clips of Sragow’s lectures throughout the semester.
Tyler Talgo, a sophomore majoring in political science and a former student of Sragow, recorded the clips. Talgo said he recorded Sragow to expose alleged unprofessionalism and to highlight the importance of creating a positive learning environment for all students.
“This is about a really important issue which is to help protect academic freedom and students’ freedom to reason and comprehend things for themselves and it helps to contribute to an academic and honest setting,” Talgo said.
Sragow did not immediately respond to a request for an interview, but he has openly defended his actions.
“While I am very candid and direct, I never say anything unless I am willing to have it repeated with attribution,” Sragow said to Fox News. “If he thought he was playing a dirty trick by taping me, it lacks creativity and the effort deserves maybe a C-plus.
“If this student was offended, he knows perfectly well that I encourage an open debate and active student participation in my classes. He could have challenged me.”
Elizabeth Garrett, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, responded Friday to the video by highlighting the importance of the faculty’s ability to express their opinions but also the need for careful judgment.
“Faculty members are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subjects, and they also have the responsibility to exercise critical self-discipline and judgment in transmitting knowledge,” Garrett said in a statement (see full text below).
But Garrett also asserted that the faculty has the freedom to express “unpopular positions” in a public setting and stressed the university’s support of this freedom.
“Statements made by our faculty members are not endorsed by the University; indeed we sometimes profoundly disagree with the statements. Nevertheless, we firmly protect their right to express those views,” Garrett said.
However, Talgo said he believes professors can positively contribute to classroom discussions without having opinions play such a large role.
“It’s the professor’s role to empower students with information and facts and meaningful discussion,” Talgo said. “They should encourage students to believe for themselves and give them a more meaningful education whether you’re a liberal or conservative.”
According to Talgo, the video was sent to the media relations department of the university on April 4.
“We asking [the administration] to give us a response within 24 hours,” Talgo said. “It went for a whole week and we contacted them multiple times.”
National and local media alike, including KTLA and Fox News, have covered the story.
Currently, the university has not taken any actions against Sragow. It is also unclear whether Talgo breached university policy by secretly recording Sragow’s lectures.
Updated on April 12 at 7:05 P.M.
Sragow continued to defend his actions on Friday in a statement to the Daily Trojan. He characterized the claims he made in the video as “a wake up call for the Republican Party” and emphasized the need for two political parties in California.
“If the Republican Party in California doesn’t broaden its appeal, within the next few years there will be more independent voters in California than Republicans,” Sragow said in the statement. “We need two strong parties in this state.”
In the statement, Sragow admitted he could have used different words, but affirmed his general argument.
“I stand by the substance of my remarks, but regret the offense caused by my choice of words,” Sragow said. “My language became an unfortunate distraction from an important discussion about the future of the California Republican Party.”
Full statement from USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett: