Imagine the following scenario: The legislature in your state passes a bill that requires all doctors to post their confidential medical records on an internet site where they will be available to the public. Every doctor, no matter the specialty - psychiatrists, gynecologists, proctologists - is obligated to do this, with absolutely no exceptions. What do you think would happen? Would the doctors willingly comply, or would at least some object strongly that the new law violates the fundamental ethical principles of their profession?
Now imagine the following: The legislature in your state passes a bill that requires all college professors to allow students with permits to bring guns to class and to other campus buildings: the library, the professors' offices, the dorm. Every professor is obligated to allow this, with absolutely no exceptions. What do you think would happen? Would the professors willingly comply, or would at least some object strongly that the new law violates the fundamental ethical principles of their profession?
Here in Texas, we may be about to find out the answer to the second question. While I am not aware of any laws being contemplated that would require medical records to go online, my own legislators are now very close to requiring me, as a college professor, to violate every principle on which my professional identity is founded.
Let me explain. Like every profession, college teaching depends on certain fundamental principles that absolutely cannot be compromised. Doctors cannot be required to make confidential information public, because patients would be afraid to come to them for treatment. Such a requirement would violate the very first statement in the Hippocratic oath: "First, do no harm."
For those of us who teach college, there is nothing more important than the open community of the classroom. It may not always be realized in practice, but at the heart of all of our lives is the belief that we are creating a space in which students can be unafraid, and in which the quest for knowledge can lead freely in whatever direction is necessary. The classroom is a sacred space, in which the anxieties of the world can be temporarily laid aside. Students come to us from different backgrounds, but we offer them all the same thing: openness, trust and absolute integrity. Students who violate that trust by cheating are rightly punished, and trust is thereby affirmed. Professors who violate that trust by inappropriate conduct are rightly fired, and integrity is thereby defended.
As someone who has devoted my life to this ideal, I can only be horrified at the prospect of students legally bringing guns to class. Nothing that I have ever dreamed or imagined would more thoroughly or effectively undermine the openness and trust of which I speak. They would disappear as completely, and as irrevocably, as my doctor's or lawyer's confidentiality would disappear once their private records went public. Virtually everyone I know who teaches understands this, and our opposition to the bill making its way through the Texas legislature is absolute.
Now here's the difference. The legislature and the people seem to understand the importance of confidentiality in the practice of medicine, and so nobody would dream of introducing such a bill. In the unlikely event that it were to be introduced, it would not pass, and in the inconceivable event that it did pass, the courts would block it. The occasional rogue doctor might still trespass on patients' trust and cause great damage. That doctor would be punished with the contempt of decent society and go to jail, and that would be the end of it.
So why are we even talking about the possibility of making it legal for students to bring guns to class? If our society had any understanding of the nature and importance of my profession - if it truly valued and nurtured teachers and professors, as it often claims to do - this law would never be considered. In the unlikely event that it were to be introduced, it would not pass, and in the inconceivable event that it did pass, the courts would block it. The occasional rogue student might still trespass on the ethics of our profession and cause great damage. That student would be punished with the contempt of decent society and go to jail, and that would be the end of it.
As someone who has devoted my life to my profession, I am appalled at the thought that what I give to society is so little understood or valued that such an unthinkable piece of legislation may in fact soon become law. For once in my life, words fail me.