If Emory University students got their way, end-of-semester course evaluations would ask them to indicate whether their professors had committed "microaggressions" against them.
The explicit goal of such a question on evaluations would be to punish professors who engaged in speech that offended students. According to student-protesters, as reported by The Emory Wheel:
We demand that the faculty evaluations that each student is required to complete for each of their professors include at least two open-ended questions such as: "Has this professor made any microaggressions towards you on account of your race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, language, and/or other identity?" and "Do you think that this professor fits into the vision of Emory University being a community of care for individuals of all racial, gender, ability, and class identities?" These questions on the faculty evaluations would help to ensure that there are repercussions or sanctions for racist actions performed by professors. We demand that these questions be added to the faculty evaluations by the end of this semester, Fall 2015.
Students certainly have the right to denounce racism in the classroom, but not all microaggressions equate to "racist actions." Indeed, there's no standard for what counts as a microaggression—they are, by their very nature, vague, subjective, and inconsequential. As Reason has previously reported, uttering phrases like where are you from? and America is the greatest country in the world is considered microaggression by certain university administrations. If a professor made one of these statements in class, would we really want his transgression recorded as "racist action" on an offended student's course evaluation?
As the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education's Catherine Sevcenko wrote:
Note that a microaggression can be unintentional. So these students are proposing that faculty members be penalized for any comment made sometime during the semester that the professor didn't even know was problematic when it was uttered. Furthermore, professors would be subject to the subjective assessment of each student as to what constitutes a microaggression—something even students themselves don't agree on. University-level teaching would simply be impossible under such conditions.
Meanwhile, the faculty at Occidental College are considering a motion that would create a mechanism for students to report professors who commit microaggressions to the administration. If professors have to worry about being investigated by bureaucrats for the crime of saying the wrong thing, the result will be a meaningful reduction in the practical amount of academic freedom on campus. This is not a wise path for any institution that actually values free expression.