Can students record me in class?

Turns out in many states there is only a “single party consent” needed to record a conversation, and so students could record me in class.  They are limited in what they can do, since the cannot “sell” my intellectual property. But certainly they could make fun of my mistakes, tics, physical attributes.  But you know, they could do that anyway, with a crude drawing and verbal description.

In California, one of a dozen states (it seems) where “two party consent” is required,  the students cannot legally record me without consent.   And of course they cannot then use the recording for any purpose if I have not consented.

Some schools simply make it a policy (as part of the student code of conduct) to prohibit recording, regardless of legality.  Here is the policy of Georgetown Law School.   I wonder if such policies would be enforceable?  Courts might say the university cannot circumscribe a legal right.

The ethics here are interesting.  As an academic, aren’t I committed to sharing of knowledge and open discourse?  Why would I have a default position to not let students record me sharing knowledge?

In practice, my classes are recorded and available to students, so possibly that is an implicit consent on my part, so if I do something stupid that goes viral, tough luck for me.  At this point in the Internet’s short history, it clear that the effects for a relatively anonymous person of going viral are probably short-lived.  Does anyone remember the professor who threw the cell phone against the wall?  Does anyone know the identity of the policeman who manhandled the student who refused to leave?  Sure it is embarrassing.  But you will go back to being anonymous relatively soon.  And in my Economics classes, will I really go viral because I mixed up the IS curve with the LM curve (not happened yet, but who knows)?

But what if my subject matter were white privilege? Or understanding masculinity?   These are hot-button topics where haters abound.  Easy for dry academic discussion to be misinterpreted and go viral.  Even easier for a charismatic, opinionated, pugnacious classroom performance to go viral.  Why would I enable that?

Anyway, these debates are tied into issues of the meaning of academic freedom, and a good place to start on that is this excellent review of the work of Stanley Fish.

About mkevane

Economist at Santa Clara University and Director of Friends of African Village Libraries.
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