Last semester, while I was giving a lecture on the landmark First Amendment case of Gitlow v. New York (1925), something very strange happened. In fact, one might say that it was rather queer.
Each semester, I use Gitlow to talk about the extent to which the First Amendment protects the advocacy of illegal conduct. I also use the case to explain how the First Amendment, once only binding on the federal government, was made binding on the States.
I usually begin my lecture on this topic by simulating a heated argument between a group of communists and a group of anti-communists. I sometimes run out into the hall shouting statements like ?I?d like to kill myself a liberal commie? (doing my best imitation of a redneck) or ?our capitalist government must be overthrown, by murderous violence if necessary? (doing my best imitation of a sociologist). I then ask my students to tell me which statements are not protected by the First Amendment and why. Then, I typically outline the specific facts of Gitlow.
The students here at UNC-Wilmington have responded very positively to my often-unorthodox style. In fact, students sometimes gather outside the classroom to listen to my lectures for fun while they are waiting on their next class. That?s one of the reasons I sometimes carry my lectures into the hallway.
But last semester when I went into the hall, I noticed that a faculty member was standing just outside the door listening as I discussed Gitlow. After the class, I told her that she was welcomed to come into my class anytime she heard something interesting from the hallway. I told her she didn?t have to stand outside with her ear pressed to the door. It was a sincere invitation. I was trying to be inclusive.
Unfortunately, my ?colleague? was unable to conceal her irritation with my unorthodox teaching style. In fact, she said that she intended to send me an e-mail to discuss the limitations on ?what we can and cannot say? inside the classroom. I kept waiting for the e-mail but it never came. I really wanted to hear a lecture on the First Amendment from this untenured sociology graduate student who teaches for us part-time.
About a week after the incident, a student informed me that the aforementioned faculty member was ?ragging on me? in the classroom. For those unfamiliar with this campus slang, it isn?t a good thing to be ?ragged on? in the classroom by another professor. And, of course, it isn?t very professional.