Tell University Not to Fail Student for Conscientious Objection

Target: Northwestern University President Morton Schapiro

Goal: Give credit to student who was failed because of a conscientious objection

A full scholarship student at the Northwestern University School of Music was failed in a class for refusing to perform a piece with lyrics written by someone with racist ideals. The professor refused to listen to the student’s conscientious objections and gave him an ultimatum: perform or fail.

Timothy McNair, an A-student with extensive completed coursework in the program, was failed because he refused to perform a song with lyrics by Walt Whitman. McNair’s objections emerged from the fact that Whitman had obvious disrespect for African Americans. McNair contended that performing this specific song would be an instance of academic dishonesty, given Walt Whitman’s discriminatory beliefs. The professor, however, was not open to discussion.

As a member of the Executive Board of the Black Graduate Student Association who was also appointed to the University Diversity Council, McNair plays an active role in the University community in raising awareness about diversity issues. Yet when faced with a conscientious objection based on his heritage, his concerns were immediately suppressed and he was punished as a result. The professor has since banned McNair from his class in the upcoming year due to faculty scrutiny, a further injustice fueled by a complete disregard to diversity sensitivity. This type of punishment toward a student who has done exceptionally well in the class in the past and already completed substantial coursework is a disgusting type of institutional bias aimed at McNair due to his race.

A student should not be punished for bringing visibility to the nuanced backgrounds of famous artists, particularly since a University is primarily an academic environment built upon dialogue and investigation. McNair’s actions in trying to raise awareness about the truth should have been applauded as scholarly, not punished. As long as students face the possibility of retaliation for concerns based on race, the University community will remain an unjust and unsafe atmosphere for students.

By signing the petition below, you will help encourage University President Morton Schapiro to give McNair credit for and a passing grade in the class he failed. Demand President Schapiro establish an academic environment that respects students’ intelligent critiques and conscientious objections.


Dear President Schapiro,

Timothy McNair, a full scholarship student at your University’s music school, failed a class after refusing to perform a piece with lyrics written by Walt Whitman. This was based on a conscientious objection based on Whitman’s racist views; however, the professor of the class refused to open dialogue on the subject and gave McNair an ultimatum between performing and failure. Such intellectual dishonesty and discrimination is unacceptable and must be rectified.

McNair has worked hard to raise awareness about diversity issues in the University community, as is reflected by his membership of the Executive Board of the Black Graduate Student Association and appointment to the University Diversity Council. Yet his concerns, which were based on his own heritage, were suppressed and met with punishment. The professor in question has also banned McNair from his 2013 class due to “faculty scrutiny”, an additional injustice caused by a complete disregard for diversity sensitivity. This type of retaliation against a student who has in the past done exceptionally well in the class and finished a substantial amount of coursework is a disgusting type of institutional bias aimed at McNair due to his race.

Please take action to grant McNair the credit he deserves along with a passing grade. The idea that students can be punished for raising valid concerns about discrimination linked to their heritage is absurd, particularly for such a hardworking and dedicated student like Timothy McNair.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Sergio Goncalves Chicago via Flickr

Sign the Petition

  • Only your name will be displayed. By signing, you accept our terms and may receive updates on this and related causes.
FacebookCare2 NewsTwitterEmailShare


  1. J Davidson says:

    This is a violation of our constitution. Furthermore, conscientious objection has nothing to do with a student’s transcript and grades.

  2. Sheila D GGma Sheila says:

    The professor needs to bone up on conscientious objection and it’s history in this country. He also needs to loosen up, not be so very rigid in his curriculum.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Facebook Comments


89 Signatures

  • Hermann Kastner
  • Muhammad Kamal
  • James Thrailkill
  • Mal Gaff
  • Alexander Dolowitz
  • Alexander Dolowitz
  • Alexander Dolowitz
  • Terrie Phenicie
  • Nancy Petersen
  • Holly Hall
1 of 9123...9
Skip to toolbar