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I am writing a paper for a class that requires me to write from a perspective I disagree with. To an external observer it may not be clear that I am not allowed to disagree with the premise of the prompt.

I disagree with it to such a degree that I would like to add something at the beginning or end of the paper that expresses my dissent in case my work or record is made public for some reason. It would be professionally and personally embarrassing to have the work become public.

Is there a way to do this professionally? Is there a way to do this without offending my professor?

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    Can it be incorporated in the introduction like "while I personally do not agree with the premise, some points from the angle of the proponents are worth discussing. In this paper I list a, b, and c...?" – Penguin_Knight Nov 10 '15 at 1:53
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    Footnote on the title page: "The views expressed in this paper do not necessarily reflect the personal beliefs of the author." – JeffE Nov 10 '15 at 2:28
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    @JeffE that's much too weak. It sounds like a cop-out, something you would write if you were actually a cannibal/Nazi/racist/whatever and wanted an outlet to express your reprehensible views while maintaining plausible deniability so you cannot be accused later of actually holding those views. – Dan Romik Nov 10 '15 at 3:03
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    If this is just for a class, why do you really care? You arent going to publish it. If you really want you can delete it when its done. – Reinstate Monica Nov 10 '15 at 4:12
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    @DavidGrinberg A seminar paper of mine got a citation. But well, I uploaded it in a public place. – Raphael Nov 10 '15 at 7:15
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I would precede my paper by a strong explanatory note disassociating myself from the views expressed in the paper, in boldface and surrounded by a big black frame. For extra clarity and safety, I would then quote verbatim the assignment that the project is fulfilling, before starting the actual paper. E.g.:

Confessions of a cannibal
Final project for Philosophy 101
[your name]

Explanatory note: the views in the essay below are written in the context of a final project assignment for the course Philosophy 101. They are fictional and do not represent the author's actual views on cannibalism or on any other subject.

Project assignment: "Write a 4000-word essay written from the point of view of a cannibal living in New York City in the year 1987. Discuss the narrator's views and opinions on cannibalism and other topics of interest."

[body of the essay]

I should note that you say "To an external observer it may not be clear that I am not allowed to disagree with the premise of the prompt." It's not clear to me if you mean that you are not allowed to include an explanatory note of this type, or even to quote the assignment text. If that's what you meant, I'd have to say that forbidding you from including such explanatory text would in my opinion be tantamount to requiring you to actually pretend to be a cannibal (or other such person with unsavory views), which would be a highly unethical requirement. In the face of such a restriction, I would frankly refuse to hand in such an assignment, and take the matter up with the instructor and/or higher university authorities.

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    +1 for adding the directions copied verbatim. This is probably even more important than the explanatory note because it explains exactly what was asked of the writer and will make the issue very transparent. – WetlabStudent Nov 10 '15 at 15:34
  • Nice creativity. Something tells me you have an active account over at World Building... – JPhi1618 Nov 11 '15 at 17:20
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    @JPhi1618 that would be nice, but one time-sucking online addiction is enough for me at the moment... – Dan Romik Nov 11 '15 at 18:54
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I'd like to point out that the traditional debate form often involves defending a proposition that you don't agree with, as may the traditional essay form. A brief statement at the start that this is hypothetical/fiction will do the job (as I said in the comments, this could be abbreviated down to "n.b.: non credo").

But I'm reminded of the student who, in response to te Writing Requirement's demand for "a great man", wrote an essay about Hitlers strengths and successes. The school accepted it without an eyeblink; they understood that he was protesting the assignment, and that all that mattered for their purposes was that he had proven he could write. Unless you're doing things like actively posting the essay without explanation, and/or posting it to hate sites, I really don't think it will be that hard to explain.

2

It's extremely troubling if the professor will not allow you to disagree with an opinion that is a premise of a writing prompt, except perhaps in a debate class, as was mentioned in a previous answer. It may also not necessarily be the case.

One approach to consider is to email the professor, tell him that you disagree with the premise of the prompt, briefly explain why, and suggest an alternative prompt that is substantially the same but assumes a premise that you can agree with.

The advantage to this approach is that either (1) the professor may permit you to discuss the subject from a position with which you agree or (2) you will have on record that the professor required you to answer the prompt as written.

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    Why is it extremely troubling? – jwg Nov 12 '15 at 12:50
  • @jwg: Clearly, the OP finds it extremely troubling, because to him it would be "professionally and personally embarrassing to have the work become public". For me, the key word in my answer is "opinion": if the premise is an opinion--a statement that is unsupported by evidence or argument, or only by evidence or argument that the student can refute--then, in my opinion, requiring the student to accept the opinion is tantamount to indoctrination. Of course, this is my opinion, so I will not ask you to accept it if you find this argument unconvincing. – jjj Nov 12 '15 at 13:56
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    It's extremely troubling if the professor will not allow you to disagree with an opinion. What gives you the impression that that's what's happening? The professor obviously isn't forbidding the student from disagreeing (what would that mean anyway?), he is simply requiring the student to write an essay from the POV he disagrees with, which is quite a different thing. Writing an essay doesn't entail agreeing with the views it expresses. What I agree would be troubling is if the professor forbade the student from including a disclaimer clarifying that the POV of the essay is not his own. – Dan Romik Nov 12 '15 at 19:58
  • @Dan: My impression is that "the professor will not allow him to disagree" may not be what's happening--I'm responding to the OP's claim that he is "not allowed to disagree with the premise of the prompt". Unfortunately we don't have the text of the prompt, but my impression was that it is not "write A from the POV of B" but "write a proposal C" which implicitly requires assuming D. This is a problem if the student reasonably believes that D is untrue. By discussing it with the professor first he might avoid the need to write a disclaimer at all. – jjj Nov 13 '15 at 1:53
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Use a pseudonym. Write a separate email, or tell the professor in person, what your pen name is for this project.

You don't need to give a reason for using a pseudonym.

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    That's a clever idea, but what if the professor prints out a copy of the submitted paper, and to make sure he remembers, scribbles the OP's real name at the top; 20 years later, OP is running for office, and the paper emerges bearing OP's name. Journalists then ask: "Did you write that paper?" and OP obviously cannot honestly deny it. However OP in this situation does not have the strong disclaimer suggested in my answer to prevent a misinterpretation of his intents. Anyway, +1 for the creativity. – Dan Romik Nov 10 '15 at 5:43
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    20 years later, OP is running for office, and the paper emerges — Who still keeps paper for 20 years? – JeffE Nov 10 '15 at 8:58
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    @JeffE people who plan to run for office (and their enemies) :-) – Dan Romik Nov 10 '15 at 10:03
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    @JeffE: supposedly confidential data are being leaked frequently. All it takes is for some hacker to dump the entire university server on the net, after which point anyone with a search engine will be able to dredge up anything. Maybe this doesn't happen yet, but I would not bet on this not happening in the next 20 years. I already try to write each and every email in a way that it could be publicly available on the net without embarrassing me. Paranoid? Maybe. – S. Kolassa - Reinstate Monica Nov 10 '15 at 11:33
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    A more likely backfire: the professor misses the clarification and marks the OP with a 0 for not turning anything in, while wondering who is this "thisischuck" that wrote an essay for the class. – Davidmh Nov 10 '15 at 13:56
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Provide context by putting the prompt/constraints at the top of the page, preceding the content.

Use this to demonstrate that you are answering the task assigned, rather than coming up with the content completely on your own. That helps shift a reader's evaluation to "how well does this fit the prompt" instead of trying to assess it against their own evaluations (like agreeableness of points presented).

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Find something better to worry about.

First of all it is very unlikely that someone is going to try and smear you by either publishing this paper or keeping it for a number of years and then publishing. I don't know why you are specifically worried about this, but it's hard to think of many situations where someone would have a significant motivation to do this.

Secondly, even if someone does try and do this, it's unlikely to work. Information simply sticks around longer than it used to at the times of Barack Obama's birth certificate and Ben Carson's joke exam. If it's possible to find your paper, it's probably going to be relatively easy to find the nature of the assignment, details of the course, the contact details of other people who remember the situation, etc.

Thirdly, disclaimers and so on just will not protect you against a certain type of attack. If someone is really holding up your paper in the future as an example of your true but secret beliefs, they will easily be able to claim that the disclaimer is fake, that it was not present in the original, that its presence was itself a deception, and so on. These claims might be laughable - but so was the original one. This won't stop some people from believing them.

You might be someone with a very active imagination, who spends their whole time reimagining how their current actions will look when they are a presidential candidate in the future. Maybe you are simply indulging in a form of role-playing where you cut down cherry trees with your little hatchet, and then refuse to lie about it, and so on. I suspect however, that you simply object to having to write a paper from an opposing point of view, so you have invented this supposed practical objection as a form of protest.

In either case your energy might be better spent trying to develop your compassion and emotional maturity.

  • These types of things to come up, and as you point out they come up fairly often. "I suspect however, that you simply object to having to write a paper from an opposing point of view, so you have invented this supposed practical objection as a form of protest." I had already completed the paper when I asked this question. – thisischuck Nov 12 '15 at 15:17
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    Your addition of an ad hominem statement at the end is quite telling. There were some valid points in there but you go off the rails in the last two paragraphs. Perhaps this answer is more indicative of your own inability to cope with the fact that you have not achieved your goals in life. – thisischuck Nov 12 '15 at 15:20

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