ORONO, Maine - A University of Maine student alleges her former professor offered extra credit to class members if they burned the American flag or the U.S. Constitution or were arrested defending free speech.
On the first day of class, associate professor Paul Grosswiler offered the credit to members of his History of Mass Communications class, according to sophomore Rebekah McDade. Disturbed by the comment, McDade dropped the class and intends to take the course again next semester with a different professor.
"I was offended," McDade said Friday. "I come from a family of military men and women, and the flag and Constitution are really important symbols to me because of my family background."
In an e-mail responding to a request for comment from the Bangor Daily News on Friday, Grosswiler said he thought McDade misunderstood the class discussion, which was intended to elicit thought about the First Amendment. He said he has held this same discussion for years without incident.
The Professor encouraged the students by reminding them that burning an American flag was not illegal. In defending the course assignment, the Professor further responded:
In his e-mail Friday, Grosswiler, who is a former BDN employee, explained that he refers to provocative examples, such as flag burning, to demonstrate the courage necessary to support free expression.
"If they don’t tolerate thought that they hate, they don’t believe in the First Amendment," he wrote.
Since the whole thing is about the First Amendment and free speech, no doubt this Professor would also extend that extra credit to those who flush a Qur'an or draw a picture of Muhammad, right? After all, neither of those two things are illegal. And the courage that would take is worthy of commendation. I'd challenge the students to use these examples to express free speech and then demand extra credit.