The Corner

Culture

Recording Professors

Dennis Prager argues that college students should record what their professors say in class. Professors will object, he says, only if they are abusing their position to indoctrinate their students and wish to hide it. I sympathize with Prager’s desire to combat that abuse, but off the top of my head I can think of four reasons a professor who has no reason to be “ashamed of what he or she is saying in class” might object to being recorded.

First, it might interfere with a college’s business model. A no-recording policy would make it easier to prevent anyone from putting lectures online so that people can get them for free.

Second, snippets from recordings could be taken out of context and used to subject professors to undeserved mockery, criticism, and abuse. Prager recommends that professors record themselves “to protect themselves against doctored material,” but that would not fully protect them from a social-media firestorm based on incomplete information–which, in case you have not spent much time on the Internet, sometimes happens. 

Third, a professor might worry that recording would chill classroom discussion in classes with significant amounts of give-and-take: that students might feel inhibited in asking questions or expressing viewpoints.

Fourth, speaking in front of a group of people, even a large group of people, is just different from speaking in front of a camera for people you can’t see. There is such a thing as weighing your words too carefully, and a professor might think that it would be impossible to avoid doing that if students were recording him. 

I don’t know if I would have a no-recording policy if I were a professor (or university administrator). But if a professor had such a policy, I wouldn’t hold it against him.

 

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.