Should students be punished for recording their instructors?

According to THIS article, a student at Orange State College recorded his professors rants about Donald Trump. The teachers union has threatened to sue or expel the student.

What do you think? Shouldn’t a student be allowed to record or even protest what a professor says?

Yes, at least if they live in a “one-party state” (PDF)

ETA: f*** the teacher’s union

It was extremely common in my college years for students to record lectures and lessons, as I’m sure it’s been for decades before and since.

There’s a sequence in Real Genius showing the protagonist in class, with a bunch of empty desks among the students with mini-tape recorders on them, then less and less students and more tape recorders, until finally the protagonist is in the room alone, surrounded by empty desks with tape recorders and at the front of the class, a reel-to-reel acting as the lecturer.

You know that the site you linked to is talking about private conversations, not public dialogue, right? :dubious: And that anything that happens in public can be recorded, right? :dubious: And that these laws you cited have nothing to do with teachers’ unions, right? :dubious:


In the 60’s I was a freshman and brought a cassette tape recorder to a lecture. The prof saw it and immediately started talking about how the war between the North and South being a class struggle.

Turns out he was a liberal and the community was very much to the right.

He did tell me after class that the appropriate thing to do is ask permission to record. Before the event.

Legally? Don’t some places have either laws or enforceable house rules against recording public performances without the consent of the performers?

Firstly, the more general question of “one-party consent” versus “all-party consent,” as well as the issue of public versus private, are largely irrelevant here, because California (where this incident occurred) has a specific law addressing the specific issue of students recording their instructors.

The article linked by the OP fails to note the relevant section of the California Education Code (78907) which says:

Of course, all this tells us is that the particular student in question seems to have violated this section of the California Education Code, and that the student can probably receive some sort of punishment. It doesn’t really address the issue of whether students SHOULD be allowed to record their instructors, or whether the California law is a good one.

I have to run off right now to do a few things, but as someone who teaches in the California State University system, i have some thoughts on this issue that i’ll come back and share later.

This country is now being run by a confederation of right wing and left wing nutjobs. Everybody has to stop ranting and raving about the ‘other side’. It’s all the perfect distraction to let the politicians take everything we have and hand it to the ogliarchy.

Anyway, unless there was an explicit rule prohibiting it then the student should sue the stupid teachers union and the school. He’ll get a better education that way than he will by continuing to go to those classes.

A high school student here recently surreptitiously recorded his principal informing him that he should “punch the students teeth down his fucking throat”. The principal is currently suspended while the situation is being investigated. The student faces wiretapping charges.


ETA: The student posted the vulgar laced recording on Facebook.

How does a teacher’s union have any such authority? (The expel part, not the sue part.)

I always ask my students to get my permission before recording me. I don’t know legal definitions, but a classroom isn’t public, IMHO. I control who can be in the room, I can ask people to leave, and am prohibited from having students attend who aren’t on my roster.

I personally want to know if I’m being recorded because students share very personal things in class so I ask students to turn off their recorders for other student’s privacy.

As i pointed out, in the post right above yours, there is such a rule. It’s actually a part of the state law, and the rule is apparently also a part of the Code of Conduct at this particular student’s institution.

And why would he sue the union? They didn’t write the law. The legislators in Sacramento did that. Admittedly, they probably had input from faculty and teacher unions when doing so, but you don’t get to sue someone just because they advocate a policy that you don’t like.

And none of this really answers the broader “should” question that the OP asked.

It doesn’t. Indeed, in the story cited by the OP, the union never claims any such authority. The union’s statement says:

There are a couple of issues here. First, the union never says that it would be the union itself taking the action. Any action against the student (assuming the student can be identified) will presumably be taken by the college administration.

Second, as far as i can tell from the section of the Education Code that i cited in my previous post, the student would not be subject to criminal sanctions for this recording. If you are NOT a student, and record a lecture, you can be charged with a misdemeanor; if you are a student, you face disciplinary action.

As for whether the union, or the teacher in question, could take legal action in civil court over this issue, i’m not in a position to offer an informed opinion about that. In America, you can sue for pretty much anything, but it’s not clear to me whether any such suit would have any chance of success.

You’ve missed a key point of your story. The student’s wiretapping charges do not arise out of the incident with the principal; they are from a separate incident where he recorded a school counselor in a private conversation.

More generally, the key issue in a wiretapping case, in an all-party consent state (like CA and PA), would likely be the question of recording a private conversation. A conversation with a counselor, in a private office, is pretty clearly a private conversation.

What about a classroom in a university or college, though? Let’s stipulate, for the purpose of the discussion, that it’s a public university, like the one where i teach.

The fact that the institution is public does not make every conversation public. Is the classroom public? Well, in some meaningful ways, it clearly is. I’m not talking to just one person; i’m talking to a room filled with 45 students. Some lecture classes are even larger.

But it’s also private. People aren’t allowed to just walk in off the street, for a variety of reasons. You need to be a registered student, who has paid your fees, to take a class. And the rooms themselves have capacity issues, meaning that sheer practicality allows only for enrolled students to be in the class.

I’m also required, under federal privacy laws related to education (FERPA), to respect the privacy of my students. I tell them that what we say in the classroom won’t go any further, and i don’t talk about anything that specific students say to people outside the classroom, unless there is a legitimate educational need for me to do so. In some ways, it seems to me that FERPA makes the classroom a private conversation, at least in terms of my obligations to them; the law, however, does not require them to keep my comments in confidence.

As i said earlier, California has a law that explicitly prohibits recording teachers without permission. If it didn’t have such a law, i’d be interested to see what a court would say about whether the classroom constitutes a private or a public space, for the purposes of wiretapping statutes.

Finally, there’s the more general question of whether recording SHOULD be allowed. To be honest, i don’t care too much if my students want to record my lectures. One of my courses is an online course where students have access to 22 video lectures that i have pre-recorded for them. They get to hear me, and see my ugly face.

I have also never, to my knowledge, said anything in the classroom that i could not defend—intellectually, pedagogically, professionally, and legally. I have certainly never done anything as stupid as suggesting that Trump voters committed an act of terrorism. While i’m sure that my politics do sometimes come through in my teaching, i don’t see it as my job to turn students into liberals or leftists or Democrats; my job is to help them develop their reading and analytical and critical thinking and writing skills, and to do so in the context of learning about the history of the United States.

I’m not saying that i’ve never made a mistake in my lectures, or that i’ve never given them incorrect information. Earlier this semester, for example, in discussing the Civil Rights Act, i made an off-the-cuff remark about the number of Democrats and Republicans who voted for the Act. I thought i had the correct numbers in my head, but when i checked later, i found that i was off by a few in each case. These things happen, and the minor factual error did not in any way impede the students’ learning on the subject. I corrected my error in the following class meeting.

I have also probably offered historical interpretations that some people would disagree with. For example, in discussing the causes of the US Civil War, i state very clearly that my reading of the historical evidence supports the conclusion that the war was, fundamentally, about the issue of slavery. You can’t understand the origins of the war without understanding a whole range of issues related to slavery, and especially debates over the connection between slavery and territorial expansion. I tell my students that the “It wasn’t about slavery; it was about states’ rights” argument is fundamentally historically flawed, and i explain a bunch of reasons why i (and the majority of respected professional historians) believe this to be the case.

I’m sure there are some Americans who would see this as bias or propaganda, but this interpretation of the war is supported by dozens of books and articles written by professional historians. Even if some might disagree, it’s a perfectly defensible interpretation, and i would feel no embarrassment whatsoever if some student recorded me making this argument and posted it on YouTube.

For me, there are a couple of reasons that i would prefer not to be recorded. The first is for the privacy of other students. While i often lecture in my classes, i spend quite a lot of class time asking questions and encouraging conversation among my students. They should feel free to participate in such discussions without fear of being recorded.

The other reason is pedagogical. In my experience, some students who like to record lectures tend to see the recording as an alternative to taking notes, and to use the recordings as a crutch to substitute for arriving at their own understanding of the material. i was a good student as an undergraduate, and the reason i did well was that i paid attention, took good notes, and thought about the connections between different lectures and different time periods and subjects. That’s what i want my students to learn, and i think that recording lectures can actually get in the way of that.

^What he said.

I guess the professor is learning that speech has consequences.

mhendo, if you were in the California State Assembly, would you have voted for or against 78907?

IvoryTowerDenizen, same question.

Sure. And the student might end up learning that breaking the law has consequences.

What’s your point? Do you have anything to add on the actual question raised in the OP? Should the recording of professors be allowed? Is this a clear-cut issue, or are there pros and cons on both sides of the debate. If it won’t tax you too much, maybe you could take a stab at some actual debate in Great Debates.

Of course, the OP didn’t help by offering basically nothing in the way of debate in the first post of the thread. All we have so far is a link, a quick and partially accurate summary of the incident, and a question. In my experience, the people who start GD threads in such a manner generally aren’t really looking for an intelligent debate at all; they just want to rant but can’t be bothered to put their grievance in the Pit.

Why don’t you do some work first? All we have from you so far in the thread is an incorrect answer based on an irrelevant reference to wiretapping laws, and a dumb, content-free broadside at the teachers’ union.

I’ve already provided a pretty good idea of my general thinking on the matter. If you want to participate intelligently in this debate, i’d be happy to discuss the issue with you. Lay out some of your own positions, and your reasoning, and i’ll gladly respond.

I don’t enough of the details of the specific bill to give an informed opinion on its merits.

However, I would rather not be recorded without my permission, even in a professional capacity.

If a student feels I’ve done something unprofessional or unethical they are welcome to go to my Dean (I’m my department chair) who can launch an investigation and interview classmates.


Forgot that scene. I actually forgot that movie. I should look for it, I think my son would like it.

mhendo, thanks for the detailed and informed post–you’ve made the board a better place!

My reaction is my normal reaction to college kids doing something dumb, and it is this: sometimes college kids do something dumb. I’m fine with their facing consequences for their dumb action, but don’t think we should make a huge-ass deal over it. This applies both to this guy and to college students who block throughways to make political points. Kids do dumb things as they begin to explore political activism.