There are always a few sides to a controversy.
Fair warning, though: this controversy is about boobs. More importantly, it's about free speech.
A few weeks ago, a professor at American University brought her baby to class. She's a single mom and her daughter had a fever, which meant daycare was a no-go. During her lecture, the baby got fussy, the professor breastfed the baby, and then class ended.
At least one student found the incident unprofessional, and word of what had happened in the class eventually reached The Eagle, the student newspaper for American University. One of the The Eagle's reporters reached out to the professor so the other side of the story could be heard.
Most of the news coverage of this event has focused pretty exclusively on whether or not it is appropriate to breastfeed in class. (Pull out your pitchforks, lacto-army, because I am of the opinion it's not all that appropriate. If you breastfeed in a restaurant or the library or on a bus, and people who may be uncomfortable -- which is their right -- have the option of looking away. No harm, no foul. Breastfeeding in front of a class of 40 students who are supposed to be following your every word, who won't be able to casually bow out without making a spectacle of themselves? Not the same scenario.)
But regardless of how you feel about public breastfeeding -- and in particular, public breastfeeding in front of a captive audience -- that is not really the issue.
The professor in question has written a long, rambling, defensive blog post about how the real controversy is the fact that a breastfeeding is just as normal as menstruating (true) and therefore the fact that a professor did it in front of her class, thereby discomfiting at least one student enough to drop the class, is presumptively not news (not true).
The professor in question described the student reporter who contacted her by (professional) email as a "budding reporter." Because if someone is just learning and practicing journalism, they are to be taken less seriously than a seasoned reporter.
The professor becomes incensed when when the reporter doesn't simply acquiesce to her request to drop the story.
To borrow a page from the internet:
She describes the student reporter as "chirping" instead of "speaking," because apparently you only have to treat women as serious humans when they're breastfeeding and giving lectures on feminism, and not when they're in college and trying to build their resume.
She explains that during the interview, she had to slap her forehead with frustration and roll her eyes at the "naive" and "sophomoric" student reporter, who works for a newspaper the professor deems "third-rate," by which I can only assume she means, "less deserving of freedom of the press." She explains that the newspaper has a "solidly anti-woman slant" and points to a 2010 column by an opinion writer (who may or may not be graduated by now) as her evidence.
* Pardon my interruption of my own recitation of the controversy, but as a former opinion columnist, I must say that if my entire student paper, and every student who wrote for it, was judged by the contents of the opinion page, we'd all have quite the schizophrenic reputation.*
The professor decries the "hostile" environment this student reporter is causing, ignoring the fact that her own actions also could be described as "hostile" by the student who was uncomfortable enough to drop the class -- which is why this is news, and why the reporter is looking into the situation. What's more, calling something "hostile" does not automatically make it so, and that goes double when the scenario involves the power imbalance between a professor and a student.
And finally, the professor apparently finds it incredibly unprofessional that a reporter might not immediately and personally respond to an email demanding that a story not run, and instead refer the matter up the chain to her editor.
Do you know what I find troubling and unprofessional? That this professor, who apparently feels like she is being made out to be "tabloid fodder" (despite posting the entire story herself online, with the names of herself, the reporter, and her daughter) over what is (in her mind) a "non-issue," feels no compunction about attempting to bully a student reporter into not reporting a story. The professor openly admits going to her department chair and other professors, asking them to lean on the student newspaper staff to kill the piece -- without a hint of irony that perhaps this, like breastfeeding your crying child while lecturing students on their first day of class, is not the most appropriate behavior for a professor.
Is it possible this story wasn't completely newsworthy? Entirely.
That is not the point, however much this professor wishes it were.
The point is that deciding that something is not newsworthy, without reading the story, and then exercising your influence as a professor to censor student journalism, is the very definition of inappropriate in the academic setting.
Which is why I wish this story had involved anything but breasts, because if it had been about any other topic, I think we'd be able to see the forest for the voluptuous, lactating trees.