This video will cover:
01:08 Recent studies on free speech on campus
02:33 A four-part approach to encourage robust, respectful classroom debate
04:10 How to use the approach to discuss capital punishment
Hello, I’m Dr Brian Ray, director of the Poe Business Ethics Center at the University of Florida. I’m also the Wall Street Journal’s contributing professor for leadership and ethics.
Let me open by commending the Times Higher Education for their work on this important topic. It’s critically important that we in higher education do all that we can to equip our students with the tools to fight misinformation as well as ensure their success in future professional endeavours.
Let me offer my thoughts on two topics about which I have particular interest – number one, managing respectful but robust classroom debate, and number two, how to disagree well. Many of you watching this video whose undergraduate and graduate years include the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s likely don’t recall either of these topics being an issue.
However, times have changed significantly. The following findings make this crystal clear. A recent survey of 37,000 college students by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education [now the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression] found that 62 per cent of students believe it’s OK to shout down speech with which they disagree. Shockingly, 25 per cent of students said it’s OK to resort to violence to suppress speech. You can imagine the impact this has on classroom debates.
A recent Forbes article reports that more than half of college students regularly “hold back” on expressing their views; 55 per cent of conservative students and 49 per cent of liberal students say that they always or often refrain from speaking out in class on political and social issues.
Wow. Half of our students are not comfortable engaging. You and I, of course, want them eager to engage, a standard much higher than simply feeling comfortable.
To my fellow faculty members, this is the key challenge of our time.
I teach ethical decision-making. Accordingly, I need my students to embrace being respectful during classroom debates as well as disagreeing well.
Here is a four-part approach that I have found to be quite successful.
Number one, establish small groups of four to five students. I have students promise their table mates that they will do all that they can to make one another better analysts and problem-solvers. I evoke the phrase “iron sharpens iron” to stress the importance of this in-class dynamic. In the eight-week course I teach, which meets four hours per week, I notice that students soon develop solid relationships in these small groups and begin to be quite open with one another.
Number two, borrowing from Dr Susan Liautaud, a business ethics professor at Stanford, I have my students ask themselves the following question: when and under what circumstances? Again, the question is: when and under what circumstances? Asking this question results in students broadening their thinking on a particular topic.
Number three, I then have my students ask themselves: what additional information, if true, would result in me changing my position?
And number four, I have my students address both sides of an issue by asking them to make an ethical argument in support of X as well as an ethical argument against X. I especially like doing this during the final few weeks of my course when the individual student relationships have developed a solid level of trust.
Let me close by offering an example of this four-part approach. I dedicate a two-hour block of time to a class session I refer to as “show courage, speak your mind, and defend your views”. I tell students to pick the most controversial issues they can think of and share their personal stance with their table mates. The topics are often quite contentious: abortion, gun control, capital punishment, euthanasia, etc.
The four techniques described earlier make this type of in-class discussion engaging and impactful.
Take capital punishment, for example. Technique one of putting students in groups of four to five means all students engage.
Technique number two of asking when and under what circumstances results in students exploring the full range of possibilities.
Technique three of asking what additional information, if true, would result in me changing my position requires students to identify where and how they drew the line on a particular issue.
And, finally, having been successful with the first three techniques, students are then prepared to embrace technique four by making an ethical argument for X and against X.
Let me close by wishing you all well in promoting robust classroom debate as well as teaching your students to disagree well. As educators, we owe our students our best efforts in this important endeavour.
Brian Ray is director of the Poe Business Ethics Center at the University of Florida and Wall Street Journal contributing professor for leadership and ethics.
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