TEXAS CITY — The College of the Mainland has disciplined one of its professors for talking about topics outside the subject matter of his class.
Professor Tracy Orr said he believed the administration was attempting to crack down on him for speaking out about issues at the college. Orr has filed a grievance against the college and is being represented by former College of the Mainland Professor David Michael Smith.
Orr’s grievance has been assigned to Lonica Bush, the college’s director of diversity and equity, to determine whether the college violated any policies or broke any rules in the discipline process, college President Beth Lewis said.
According to the “Formal Conduct Correction Plan” given to Orr, a student complained to his department chair and to Lewis that Orr held the class “hostage” while he gave his opinion on a non-class related topic for 30 minutes.
Orr was ordered to “refrain from using class time to express personal opinions on topics unrelated to course content.”
Orr said he refused to sign the correction plan.
Orr, who has worked at the college for about 10 years — six of those as a tenured professor — denied spending 30 minutes of one of his anatomy and physiology classes to talk about an unrelated topic.
While he wasn’t told by his department chair which student complained or in which class, Orr said he was told the complaint was about him talking about issue related to the college in class.
Orr said he has been critical of college administration in the past and if a student asks him a question he will answer. He said does remember spending about five minutes discussing problems at the college.
“The discussion began when I responded to students’ questions about pay raises for professors,” Orr wrote in his grievance.
Orr said he had already covered everything that needed to be covered in that day’s class. While he spends the overwhelming majority of his class time on course material, Orr said from time to time he does talk about other topics.
“Most instructors I know, if they are good, talk about other things,” he said.
While professors have the right to say what they want about the subject they teach, they don’t have the right to stray off topic and give their opinion on non-course related material, Lewis said.
“What they need to talk about in the their classroom is on subject matter,” she said.
That Orr was talking about issues at the college is not what is at issue, Lewis said.
“It doesn’t matter if he was talking about professional basketball or kitty litter,” she said. “That is not the appropriate use of class time.”
At this point Orr has just been told to not stray from the subject matter in class, she said. If it continues to happen the disciplinary level can increase, she said.
The highest level is level four in which a professor can be fired.
But at this point Orr will only receive a letter in his employment file warning him not to do it again and it will be removed in 12 months, Lewis said.