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I'm A Liberal Professor, And My Liberal Students Terrify Me

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http://www.vox.com/2015/6/3/8706323/college-professor-afraid

The next week, I got called into my director's office. I was shown an email, sender name redacted, alleging that I "possessed communistical [sic] sympathies and refused to tell more than one side of the story." The story in question wasn't described, but I suspect it had do to with whether or not the economic collapse was caused by poor black people.

My director rolled her eyes. She knew the complaint was silly ********. I wrote up a short description of the past week's class work, noting that we had looked at several examples of effective writing in various media and that I always made a good faith effort to include conservative narratives along with the liberal ones.

Along with a carbon-copy form, my description was placed into a file that may or may not have existed. Then ... nothing. It disappeared forever; no one cared about it beyond their contractual duties to document student concerns. I never heard another word of it again.

That was the first, and so far only, formal complaint a student has ever filed against me.
Now boat-rocking isn't just dangerous — it's suicidal

This isn't an accident: I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted. (I also make sure all my remotely offensive or challenging opinions, such as this article, are expressed either anonymously or pseudonymously). Most of my colleagues who still have jobs have done the same. We've seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on.

I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to "offensive" texts written by Edward Said and Mark Twain. His response, that the texts were meant to be a little upsetting, only fueled the students' ire and sealed his fate. That was enough to get me to comb through my syllabi and cut out anything I could see upsetting a coddled undergrad, texts ranging from Upton Sinclair to Maureen Tkacik — and I wasn't the only one who made adjustments, either.

I am frightened sometimes by the thought that a student would complain again like he did in 2009. Only this time it would be a student accusing me not of saying something too ideologically extreme — be it communism or racism or whatever — but of not being sensitive enough toward his feelings, of some simple act of indelicacy that's considered tantamount to physical assault. As Northwestern University professor Laura Kipnis writes, "Emotional discomfort is [now] regarded as equivalent to material injury, and all injuries have to be remediated." Hurting a student's feelings, even in the course of instruction that is absolutely appropriate and respectful, can now get a teacher into serious trouble.

In 2009, the subject of my student's complaint was my supposed ideology. I was communistical, the student felt, and everyone knows that communisticism is wrong. That was, at best, a debatable assertion. And as I was allowed to rebut it, the complaint was dismissed with prejudice. I didn't hesitate to reuse that same video in later semesters, and the student's complaint had no impact on my performance evaluations.

In 2015, such a complaint would not be delivered in such a fashion. Instead of focusing on the rightness or wrongness (or even acceptability) of the materials we reviewed in class, the complaint would center solely on how my teaching affected the student's emotional state. As I cannot speak to the emotions of my students, I could not mount a defense about the acceptability of my instruction. And if I responded in any way other than apologizing and changing the materials we reviewed in class, professional consequences would likely follow.

I wrote about this fear on my blog, and while the response was mostly positive, some liberals called me paranoid, or expressed doubt about why any teacher would nix the particular texts I listed. I guarantee you that these people do not work in higher education, or if they do they are at least two decades removed from the job search. The academic job market is brutal. Teachers who are not tenured or tenure-track faculty members have no right to due process before being dismissed, and there's a mile-long line of applicants eager to take their place. And as writer and academic Freddie DeBoer writes, they don't even have to be formally fired — they can just not get rehired. In this type of environment, boat-rocking isn't just dangerous, it's suicidal, and so teachers limit their lessons to things they know won't upset anybody.
The real problem: a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice

This shift in student-teacher dynamic placed many of the traditional goals of higher education — such as having students challenge their beliefs — off limits. While I used to pride myself on getting students to question themselves and engage with difficult concepts and texts, I now hesitate. What if this hurts my evaluations and I don't get tenure? How many complaints will it take before chairs and administrators begin to worry that I'm not giving our customers — er, students, pardon me — the positive experience they're paying for? Ten? Half a dozen? Two or three?

More at the link.

I think it should whiny students terrify me, although once students become customers you have to bow to their needs or perhaps have a disclaimer before the course starts that the content may offend some people?

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I heard a story recently of a chap in a uni near me who got fired - by 3 students.

The bloke had been working in the place for about 20 years, recently got married and his wife is expecting their first child. Turns out his job is at the behest of some student committee and 3 students, who are about to graduate, decided that they didn't like him and basically fired him. The man is in pieces by all accounts.

So some kids with little life experience in their early 20s have basically f*cked this man and his family up - and will soon go on their merry way.

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What a big world change. Now there's a need to teach students what they want to know, not what the syllabus or lecturer thinks they need to know.

Tough for lecturers - but in the long term it'll be the students' world. If they're ill equipped to deal with it at least it'll be their own fault. They'll get the world they deserve.

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What a big world change. Now there's a need to teach students what they want to know, not what the syllabus or lecturer thinks they need to know.

Tough for lecturers - but in the long term it'll be the students' world. If they're ill equipped to deal with it at least it'll be their own fault. They'll get the world they deserve.

Friends of mine who lecture in unis says this - they have to give the paying students what they want. Those who do not get called in by management and threatened with discipline, the sack, etc. Students are very aware of their power.

Appparently it is impossible to fail a student now. The only way is if a student does something major like break a criminal law, endager the life of someone.

My uni friends moan about this but I tell them why fight it. They travel a mile or two to work, work shortish hours and have long holidays. They don't commute 100 miles per day and spend 10 or 11 hours on the motorway and in work.

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Friends of mine who lecture in unis says this - they have to give the paying students what they want. Those who do not get called in by management and threatened with discipline, the sack, etc. Students are very aware of their power.

Appparently it is impossible to fail a student now. The only way is if a student does something major like break a criminal law, endager the life of someone.

My uni friends moan about this but I tell them why fight it. They travel a mile or two to work, work shortish hours and have long holidays. They don't commute 100 miles per day and spend 10 or 11 hours on the motorway and in work.

I left academia recently because of the above culture,

I am still in research but now as a freelance.

The agenda at my University was being driven by the students and facilitated by a fearful, reactionary management. "We must give them what they want, they're paying for it after all"

The University was essentially becoming a 'school' because that was what the students knew and thought it should be like.

No arguments with them. It's just that their way wasn't my way.

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I left academia recently because of the above culture,

I am still in research but now as a freelance.

The agenda at my University was being driven by the students and facilitated by a fearful, reactionary management. "We must give them what they want, they're paying for it after all"

The University was essentially becoming a 'school' because that was what the students knew and thought it should be like.

No arguments with them. It's just that there way wasn't my way.

I always thought I'd be an academic, until I went on the mandatory teaching course for postdocs and had a lecture that went like this:

1. If your student fails an exam it's because they're not suited to that method of assessment

2. If your student fails the continuous assessment (i.e. coursework) it's because you haven't given them the right reading

3. If the results of the rest of the class indicate that the reading given was good, you should have done more to motivate the student that failed

As soon as I heard that I knew I wanted no part of academia.

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I always thought I'd be an academic, until I went on the mandatory teaching course for postdocs and had a lecture that went like this:

1. If your student fails an exam it's because they're not suited to that method of assessment

2. If your student fails the continuous assessment (i.e. coursework) it's because you haven't given them the right reading

3. If the results of the rest of the class indicate that the reading given was good, you should have done more to motivate the student that failed

As soon as I heard that I knew I wanted no part of academia.

Spent 25 years in academia but as Research PI always ensuring very light frontline teaching due to decent research budget.

But the management steer was moving too much towards 'teaching', satisfying the 'student (led) experience' and the points you list.

The University management thinks that being high in the THE 'happy student league table' wins prizes (students fees). It may well do short term. But long-term the University's reputation will plummet and savvy students who want a research-inspired education will go elsewhere.

And I spent 25 years avoiding 'that' teaching course :)

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This kind of stuff was all quite normal in the early days of the university system...

wiki: Bologna University

The University arose around mutual aid societies of foreign students called "nations" (as they were grouped by nationality) for protection against city laws which imposed collective punishment on foreigners for the crimes and debts of their countrymen. These students then hired scholars from the city to teach them. In time the various "nations" decided to form a larger association, or universitas—thus, the university. The university grew to have a strong position of collective bargaining with the city, since by then it derived significant revenue through visiting foreign students, who would depart if they were not well treated. The foreign students in Bologna received greater rights, and collective punishment was ended. There was also collective bargaining with the scholars who served as professors at the university. By the initiation or threat of a student strike, the students could enforce their demands as to the content of courses and the pay professors would receive. University professors were hired, fired, and had their pay determined by an elected council of two representatives from every student "nation" which governed the institution, with the most important decisions requiring a majority vote from all the students to ratify. The professors could also be fined if they failed to finish classes on time, or complete course material by the end of the semester. A student committee, the "Denouncers of Professors", kept tabs on them and reported any misbehavior. Professors themselves were not powerless, however, forming a College of Teachers, and securing the rights to set examination fees and degree requirements. Eventually, the city ended this arrangement, paying professors from tax revenues and making it a chartered public university.

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Friends of mine who lecture in unis says this - they have to give the paying students what they want. Those who do not get called in by management and threatened with discipline, the sack, etc. Students are very aware of their power.

Appparently it is impossible to fail a student now.

Social media has changed things a lot in the last 10 years - I've seen people on my Facebook list who are doing exams forming little movements online when they think that an exam is 'wrong' (presumably this means that it's too difficult or isn't in line with what they were taught) - either way it's obvious that they won't go down without a fight, and will be complaining, en mass, to the lecturers.

I also think social media has changed people a lot in the last 10 years, and you'll have classes full of 18-21 year old gobby narcissistic twits who think everything they say is gospel because they get 30 Facebook likes each time they post something. They feel entitled to pass and pass well, and if you give them a bad mark there'll be hell to pay.

Social media plus Social Justice Warrior attitudes means that if a lecturer were to say something deemed 'offensive', they would be being torn apart in social media in real time, and this could escalate further to articles on Social Justice Warrior blogs/websites which is bad PR for the university, which means you're in very deep shit indeed - because you've offended a bunch of kids who are of a generation who just like being offended anyway.

I know through a friend that many of the established lecturers in their 50's and above now hate what the job has become (to be fair I think because they had a real easy ride 30 years ago compared to now) and they want out.

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Stop complaining, the modern world and the future are absolutely wonderful and if you don't like them you clearly want to go back to some ridiculous stone age. Or so I keep getting told.

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Maybe the lecturers are useless...I mean, 50K salaries makes them entitled to be great. Its the students who are wrong.

My daughter got her degree...she wasnt brilliant, but she moaned about the lack of enthusiasm, failing to turn up, failing to go that extra mile to help....she felt many were there for their own benefit..

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Maybe the lecturers are useless...I mean, 50K salaries makes them entitled to be great. Its the students who are wrong.

My daughter got her degree...she wasnt brilliant, but she moaned about the lack of enthusiasm, failing to turn up, failing to go that extra mile to help....she felt many were there for their own benefit..

Maybe it was being faced everyday with a less than brilliant class of students who would have been better off anywhere than lost at a University.

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http://www.vox.com/2015/6/5/8736591/liberal-professor-identity

I was a liberal adjunct professor at a large university until 2013, and my liberal students never scared me at all.

I covered sensitive topics in my courses, including rape, capital punishment, female genital mutilation, and disputed accounts of mass atrocities. Our classroom debates were contentious, and forced students to examine their own biases. I kept an "on-call" list that pressured students to participate actively in those discussions. I did not use trigger warnings.

I never had any complaints.

I bring up my own experiences as a reminder that if the plural of anecdote isn't data, the singular of it sure as hell isn't, either. The fact that I enjoyed my time teaching doesn't tell you anything about the state of education in America — and neither does the fact that the pseudonymous author of this Vox article is a liberal professor who is terrified of his liberal students.

And yet the response to his article, which as of this writing has now been shared more than 190,000 times on Facebook, shows it has struck a nerve. This is something people are genuinely concerned about — enough that the thoughts of an unidentified man from the Midwest feel like a revelation, as if some secret truth everyone suspected has finally been exposed.

In other words, it's truthy: it offers a conclusion that feels as if it should be true, even though it isn't accompanied by much in the way of actual evidence. In this case, that truthy conclusion is that the rise of identity politics is doing real harm — that this new kind of discourse, whether you call it "identity politics" or "call-out culture" or "political correctness," is not just annoying or upsetting to the people it targets, but a danger to academic freedom and therefore an actual substantive problem to be addressed.

You're a professor. Why are you scared of students?

In fact, a closer read of the article shows that the actual problem the professor faces isn't the rise of a scary new breed of students. Students, after all, have been complaining about their professors and just about everything else since time immemorial.

Rather, if university faculty are feeling disempowered in their classrooms, that's because they do, in fact, have less power at work: the shrinking pool of tenure-track jobs and the corresponding rise in the numbers of poorly paid adjuncts means many university teachers are in a precarious position right now.

It seems it's stimulated the following response, more at the link.

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Maybe it was being faced everyday with a less than brilliant class of students who would have been better off anywhere than lost at a University.

The flip side being that if universities were more discerning about the quality of their students there'd probably be fewer lecturing posts to go round.

As mentioned previously, for better or worse, universities appear to be going 'old school'. It's one thing to like or lump what's being offered when the state is funding it, another when you're racking up personal debt to pay for it.

One indicator of a decent service provider imho, be it a tutor or a tradesman, is if they can't do a particular job they don't take a potential customer's money. By the sound of it, universities are becoming less discerning about the 'jobs' they're taking on.

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The flip side being that if universities were more discerning about the quality of their students there'd probably be fewer lecturing posts to go round.

As mentioned previously, for better or worse, universities appear to be going 'old school'. It's one thing to like or lump what's being offered when the state is funding it, another when you're racking up personal debt to pay for it.

One indicator of a decent service provider imho, be it a tutor or a tradesman, is if they can't do a particular job they don't take a potential customer's money. By the sound of it, universities are becoming less discerning about the 'jobs' they're taking on.

1) You won't find me arguing with you that there isn't bloat in academia on both sides affecting quality.

2) I'd argue that many students don't have the experience to know what they should receive.

3) I think that is why I walked :) (and the fact that no amount of pay is ever a suitable trade-off)

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Maybe it was being faced everyday with a less than brilliant class of students who would have been better off anywhere than lost at a University.

I think you have a point....She wasnt taught critical thinking, the place was a production line of students. It was clear that during the 3 years the Admin blocks doubled in size, and the land around the uni was taken up by new blocks of student flats.

This was Lincoln...talk at the time about riches for the university from the student flats...

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2) I'd argue that many students don't have the experience to know what they should receive.

Probably, most of the time, I personally suspect you're right.

As they're the ones paying though, it's the students who'd need to be convinced.

And if a significant proportion of fee-paying students being taken on by universities are incapable of responding to and placing faith in a competent lecturer with a decent track record, then tertiary education is in a bubble and is f**ked. Which may well be the case.

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Guest eight

Probably, most of the time, I personally suspect you're right.

As they're the ones paying though, it's the students who'd need to be convinced.

Can I get a refund from the University of Life?

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1) You won't find me arguing with you that there isn't bloat in academia on both sides affecting quality.

2) I'd argue that many students don't have the experience to know what they should receive.

3) I think that is why I walked :) (and the fact that no amount of pay is ever a suitable trade-off)

On point 2, you;re absolutely spot on. Many expect it and want it to be like school, they don't appreciate that they have an opportunity to explore something more deeply than was hinted at in lectures. For us, lecture material was the bare bones; reciting it couldn't possibly get you higher than a 2:1. We had one lecturer (incredibly eminent inorganic chemist at the time) who claimed that:

"in an exam lecture material gets you a 2:2, something not in the lecture material gets you a 2:1, something not in the lecture material that I don't know gets you a first"

There was an element of tongue in cheek there, but the general principle is correct - turning up and doing what you're supposed to isn't particularly deserving of credit. Unfortunately we're now in an era where the kids coming through expect a gold star and a round of applause for everything, just like they got in school.

The other thing I took issue with on the postdoc teaching course was the idea that you had to tell the students what to do. Asking the question "what do you want to talk about" in a tutorial was considered to be completely unacceptable.

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On point 2, you;re absolutely spot on. Many expect it and want it to be like school, they don't appreciate that they have an opportunity to explore something more deeply than was hinted at in lectures. For us, lecture material was the bare bones; reciting it couldn't possibly get you higher than a 2:1.

I doubt many get the reading list is just a suggestion and that perhaps reading the paper/book finding what you find interesting in the quotes etc... and then going to references finding the source and reading that etc...

People are paying to be there and want to be told what to think, who to read and explore via a reading list.

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The flip side being that if universities were more discerning about the quality of their students there'd probably be fewer lecturing posts to go round.

As mentioned previously, for better or worse, universities appear to be going 'old school'. It's one thing to like or lump what's being offered when the state is funding it, another when you're racking up personal debt to pay for it.

One indicator of a decent service provider imho, be it a tutor or a tradesman, is if they can't do a particular job they don't take a potential customer's money. By the sound of it, universities are becoming less discerning about the 'jobs' they're taking on.

Quite

The expansion of Higher Education is in part funded by a massive expansion in the debt which much students have to sign upto in order to get a degree level education. Unsurprisingly as they are going to be paying for the privilege for decades via large student loan principle and interest charges they not unreasonably expect something in return. Lecturers actually turning up for work regularly and putting some effort into running seminars and tutorials would be a start. Back in the 1970s I experienced a fair share of no shows from academic teaching staff but as I was on a state grant I was prepared to put up with it since I did not suffer financially as a result, Now University education has been put on a commercial basis it is not surprising that students might actually want some say in the education process which their money is funding. If Universities dont think the students are up to the task of taking a degree under their tutelage then they should decline to take them not sign them up and the winge about their inadequacies.

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People are paying to be there and want to be told what to think, who to read and explore via a reading list.

Maybe because they believe the person responsible for their instruction knows best?

There seems to be a bit of a paradox in what has been said on this thread so far. I think I understand the sense of what has been implied. However, on the face of it, students are simultaneously at fault for not deferring to the direction of their elders and not following their own intuition and proactively scampering off and directing their own learning.

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Maybe because they believe the person responsible for their instruction knows best?

There seems to be a bit of paradox in what has been said on this thread so far. I think I understand the sense of what has been implied. However, on the face of it, students are simultaneously at fault for not deferring to the direction of their elders and not following their own intuition and proactively scampering off and directing their own learning.

As you so rightly pointed out in the early Middle Ages students tended to pay their lecturers directly. If they did not think they were any good think the lecturer did not get any fees. Equally lecturers who felt that the University authorities were not treating them properly could and did decamp elsewhere taking both the students and their money with them.

http://www.historytoday.com/alan-b-cobban/student-power-middle-ages

One suspects the process concentrated the minds of all involved wonderfully.

The story of University development from that period is how the teaching institutions slowly came to dominate the students via their control of such facilities as libraries and the granting of degrees. That process is now slowly unwinding in the internet age as the requirement for a student to be tied to a geographical location has become less important for many subjects. Universities still hold a monopoly of power over awarding degrees but needless to say as these have become more numerous they have also become less valued in wider society. Students are also keenly aware that not all degrees nor all the institutions that dish them out are equal. One wonders how well they would cope if there was a genuinely free market in awarding such qualifcations or if university teachers were able to compete individually for their students fees,

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http://www.vox.com/2015/6/3/8706323/college-professor-afraid

More at the link.

I think it should whiny students terrify me, although once students become customers you have to bow to their needs or perhaps have a disclaimer before the course starts that the content may offend some people?

Remember what happened to (Liberal Studies Lecturer) Wilt when he got momentarily on the wrong side of a student back in the 1970s?

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