Last month, Adrienne Pine, an American University professor, became momentarily famous for breast feeding her little son in class. The topic raised the questions of adequate child care, American discomfort with the female body and much more.
I've been teaching as a guest author at Michigan State University after many years away from academia, and I asked my students what their reaction to the story was: how would they feel if a professor did what Pine did in one of their classes?
A few were sympathetic that Pine didn't seem to have child care options, but nobody thought it was a good idea to bring a sick baby to class under any circumstances. Most of the students found her breastfeeding in class inappropriate and highly unprofessional. Many said they would have walked out; a few said they would probably have dropped the class.
What struck me most about the story was the professor's disingenuous defense of what she did. Her class had a teaching assistant. That TA could easily have taken over the first day, when not a lot gets done in most classes. The first week, registration changes anyway because of drops and adds. But if Pine didn't think her TA was remotely capable of handling the class, she could have easily mailed everyone via campus email, and then had the TA go to the classroom and wait for anyone who hadn't read their email. It's a no-brainer.
Professors nationwide complain that their students distract them and their peers by texting during class, reading emails, surfing the Web, or even writing papers on their laptops. Why should any professor be held to a lower standard than that?
One of Pine's colleagues called what happened a "teachable moment." I agree: it taught students how not to behave in class.