The Paranoid Style in American Professors

Since it’s attracted a lot of attention, even prompting the president of Washington State University to make a public statement against it, UD doesn’t know how long this syllabus will remain online. But for now you can feast your eyes on one of the strangest documents UD has seen in awhile. If you told me it was written by a bitter washed-up person who’d been the relentless object of her students’ contempt for decades, I’d say well okay… I can see how a lifetime of abuse would inspire this sort of long angry welcome to my classroom, assholes out to destroy me

But the instructor is a young person. A graduate student.

The part of the syllabus people are talking about and against which the university’s president is defending his school, is this:

Gross generalizations, stereotypes, and derogatory/oppressive language are not acceptable. Use of racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, classist, or generally offensive language in class or submission of such material will not be tolerated. (This includes “The Man,” “Colored People,” “Illegals/Illegal Aliens,” “Tranny” and so on – or referring to women/men as females or males.) If I see it or hear it, I will correct it in class since it can be a learning moment for many students. Repeated use of oppressive and hateful language will be handled accordingly – including but not limited to removal from the class without attendance or participation points, failure of the assignment, and – in extreme cases – failure for the semester.

This is the Kindergarten Teacher/Mao Zedong multiple personality type we do sometimes see in certain courses of study in American universities. The problem is that the professor wants to be nice but wants at the same time to subject her reactionary charges to the harsh re-education process the little fuckers deserve.

The results of this muddle are reliably funny, as when, at the end of this seven-page screed against students she hasn’t even met yet, the professor writes

No Class / Have a fantastic break!

It’s like the Alternately Rude and Polite Monty Python sketch.

Tenured Professor: One Hell of a Great Job.

A [Central Connecticut State University] professor has been placed on administrative suspension, without pay.

Last week, Ravi Shankar was arrested for the third time this past year for stealing from a Home Depot. In December he was arrested twice–once for driving with a suspended license, and once for evading responsibility for an accident that he fled from. Both of those cases are still pending.

Before that he had previous convictions for two DUIs, operating with a suspended license, reckless driving over 85 mph, interfering with police, giving police false statements in a credit card fraud scheme and violating his probation. He served a 90-day sentence broken up into several periods.

The controversy came to a head when he was promoted to a full professorship while he was in jail serving time for his convictions.

The University as Mom and Pop Store.

But mainly Pop Store – a rattling down-home establishment somewhere in West Virginia where behind a rotting wooden counter “Pops,” aka Gregory A. Hand, dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health, “hands” out, if you will, all the soda pop America’s perennially top party school – and the rest of that benighted state – desires.

Eating really bad shit and then washing the shit (and your pain pills) down with Coke is a popular West Virginia tradition, and you gotta hand it to Hand: From his perch in that state’s school of public health he can do a great deal to honor and sustain the tradition.

[WVU] disclosed that Coca-Cola had provided significant funding to Dr. Hand … The company gave him $806,500 for an “energy flux” study in 2011 and $507,000 last year to establish the [Coke-funded] Global Energy Balance Network.

It is unclear how much of the [Coke] money, if any, ended up as personal income for the professors.

“As long as everybody is disclosing their potential conflicts and they’re being managed appropriately, that’s the best that you can do,” Dr. Hand said. “It makes perfect sense that companies would want the best science that they can get.”

Absolutely! Absolutely! With the understanding that definitions of “best” may vary depending on… Well, let’s just say that when a big fat multinational like Coke scours the world and finds the best science in Pop’s lab at West Virginia University…

********************

UD has a suggestion for Hand’s campaign in West Virginia:

OVERDOSES GO BETTER WITH COKE

Where Do Professors Come From?

A philosophy professor writes to UD to say that he has long put this excerpt from University Diaries on his syllabi, in order to talk to his students about the importance of real human contact in the classroom:

Where will the discussion in a living, non-online, classroom go? Lots of places. Unexpected places. The professor has a sort of lesson plan, to be sure, but she’s eager to follow the windings of her students’ minds… to let them find truths in their own ways, rather than have those truths pre-packaged. Pre-packaged is efficient, but no real mental activity, no real-time shaping of one’s own thought and discovery of the world on one’s own terms takes place.

The classroom is the drama of the live mind and body in a buzzing world of other minds and bodies, all generating heat and light together in a vaguely known, but also excitingly open and unknown, way.

“It goes in the section,” he writes, “where I’m explaining to my students why in-class attendance and participation are crucial and valuable.”

He wrote to UD because the post has disappeared from her blog (UD took down a bunch of posts a few years ago). UD is writing the post you’re reading now in order to provide a new URL for him to use on his syllabi.

“Beautiful minds, beautiful hearts.”

Russell Crowe, who portrayed John Nash on the screen in A Beautiful Mind, remembers him and his wife Alicia, both killed in a car crash today.

The couple were in a taxi cab when the driver lost control and crashed into a guard rail on Saturday afternoon while driving on the New Jersey Turnpike, said Sgt. Gregory Williams, a spokesman for the New Jersey State Police.

Nash, 86, and his wife, Alicia, 82, were thrown from the vehicle and pronounced dead at the scene, Williams said.

************

I arrived as an ordinary freshman at MIT in September of 1958. One of the first courses was introductory calculus. My section had John Nash as its instructor… [H]e would write on the board directly in front of himself and erase as he went along: I never saw what he wrote for more than a moment or so.

Galveston, oh Galveston…

… you’ve produced a species of cheap irony:  A management professor who cannot manage his management class.

 

Whatever the back story, UD would argue that a professor who sends his students a long rant denouncing them and puffing himself up, and who announces in the same email that he’s failing every last one of them and deserting the class (he seems to have handed it off to someone else on the faculty) is un p’tit peu out of control. Texas A&M Galveston has a strategic management problem on its hands.

Sure, some professors occasionally walk out of their classes in the middle of a lecture or discussion. Scott Jaschik reviews a few such cases here. In these examples, however, it’s about something very specific — students texting, or watching films on their laptops. In the Galveston case, the professor’s email (assuming the paper covering the story has published the correct email) shades off into the paranoid, with talk of whisper campaigns against him and his wife, and of needing police protection to teach the class.

UD doesn’t doubt that this guy’s got some shitskies in his class. You’re not supposed to deal with them by going nuclear.

Yale’s Large Hardon Collider

Managing Doctor Mahnensmith’s erections was for two decades a full-time job at Yale University, and for a nearby dialysis clinic. Various ongoing court cases describe him accelerating himself into the backs of seated nurses until he exploded.

The complaints say that in November 2013, Dr. Mahnensmith went into a conference room with several of the plaintiffs and stood behind one of them “thrusting his pelvis in a sexual manner into the back of her chair rocking it to and fro.” After another of the plaintiffs told him to sit down, the papers say, “Dr Mahnensmith replied with a smirk, ‘I’m not finished yet,’ and continued to sexually gratify himself until announcing to the group that he was finished.”

Isn’t it bad enough that people suspect professors don’t …

work very hard?

Do we have to produce people like Yiwei Zheng, who apparently don’t have time to do much teaching because their business activities take up so much of their day?

Although Zheng’s philosophy writings feature deep thought about morality, he himself appears to be a liar, a smuggler, and a member of an organized crime group responsible for the killing of endangered wildlife.

Zheng, a naturalized U.S. citizen who grew up in Shanghai, China, has operated an online sales business out of his St. Cloud home called “Crouching Dragon Antiques” since 2010. On the site, Zheng has offered wildlife specimen parts for sale under the description that the items were made from “ox bone,” when they were actually suspected of being elephant ivory that was being smuggled to China, according to a federal search warrant.

There are no records of Zheng or the business ever obtaining an import-export license, or declaring any wildlife specimens upon import from any foreign country, according to the warrant.

Zheng’s business activities in buying and selling artifacts has drawn the interest of federal authorities dating back to at least 2011, when a libation cup made from Javan rhino horn was confiscated from him. Agents were alerted because the package did not have the proper documentation for import-export purposes, records show. An agent found that Zheng had illegally shipped the cup…

It’s only when you read all 83 Rate My Professors comments on Zheng that you realize how a professor could pull off running various legitimate and illegitimate businesses, traveling the world constantly, and teaching full-time. Let’s listen to his students.

Very easy course… attendance not required… easy A for sure… very easy… you can cheat on test… such an easy A… beyond easy with this prof. Take this class if you don’t want to take philosophy, no studying involved… Class said it was from 5-745 and we usually got out 615. Gave test study guide that was extremely similar to actual test. Tests were easy if you attend class. Take him if you don’t care about philosophy… Easiest class. Had him for a night class, we always finished in an hour and half AT MOST. Can use books, notes, and practice test on the actual test. No homework ever. No outside work required…. NO FINAL!… He let us out an hour and a half early EVERY TIME WE HAD CLASS… It is impossible not to pass because you get to use all your notes on the tests. I didn’t buy the book and am glad because all you need to know are in the notes you take in lecture. The course sucks, but he is the best Prof to take for it… you never have to go to class. dont buy the book- you never use it. I only went every few weeks and still got an A. He gives review before the ridiculously easy tests. kinda a waste though, i didnt learn much… Class was supposed to be 5-8 and we were always out no later than 6:30… If you’re taking this class just to get it out of the way, take him. The night class was cool because you got out an hour or two early each time… More than likely the easiest philosophy teacher possible… This class is so easy and the professor is cool as anything! =) The tests are easy, hes easy, its great. And you dont have to go to class! Ever….. . he doesn’t even notice if you’re talking on your cell phone during a test… pretty easy class get to cheat on the tests really easy to do. doesnt say anything at all when the whole class is talking. Not too much homework. doesnt want to be there anymore than you do so he makes it fast… He grades on a curve, and he adds bonus points to the tests for no reason. He is sort of a waste of time but you get an easy A. If you want that take this class!!!!…

UD doesn’t want to be unfair. Everyone has ratings they don’t like. But if you go to the trouble to read all of Zheng’s ratings over a number of years, you really have to ask why St. Cloud State University cares so little about the quality of the teaching there. Maybe if they’d put a little pressure on Zheng (doesn’t anyone there read RMP?) he wouldn’t have had time to get in all the trouble he’s now in with the federal government. Plus maybe some of their students would have learned some philosophy.

Michael Graves, a student of Mr UD’s father at the Harvard Graduate School of Design…

… has died.

Instablogging Kipnis.

Hokay, everyone’s talking about the Laura Kipnis essay attacking zero-tolerance faculty/student sexual relations rules at universities, and UD – like Kipnis, a veteran of such affairs – I mean, UD has never had an affair with one of her students… But she long long long ago had affairs with a couple of her professorsUD figures she’ll follow along as Kipnis makes her case and is then megabombed because of having made it.

She adopts what she calls a “slightly mocking tone,” which seems to UD fine, since sex and sexual passion and love are both fraught and hilarious subjects. Kipnis recalls her hippie days when rebellion, experimentation, transgression, whatever, were things a lot of people did. Was there a price to be paid? Yeah, maybe, sometimes, but it

fell under the category of life experience. It’s not that I didn’t make my share of mistakes, or act stupidly and inchoately, but it was embarrassing, not traumatizing.

So far so good. She and I are (echoing Oscar Wilde) on the same page. She points out that the new paradigm casts students in the role of weak vulnerable victims (“According to [her university’s] the code, students are putty in the hands of all-powerful professors.”), whereas the reality of this sort of interaction is in most cases far more complex.

This observation also seems to me (based on my own experience, and the experience of others I’ve known) quite true. Those implementing the new no-go zone codes are absurdly “optimistic,” argues Kipnis, that they can police complex desire.

[W]ill any set of regulations ever prevent affective misunderstandings and erotic crossed signals, compounded by power differentials, compounded further by subjective levels of vulnerability?

Kipnis also says the obvious:

Let no one think I’m soft on harassment.

But:

I also believe that the myths and fantasies about power perpetuated in these new codes are leaving our students disabled when it comes to the ordinary interpersonal tangles and erotic confusions that pretty much everyone has to deal with at some point in life, because that’s simply part of the human condition.

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It’s a long piece and she repeats herself a lot, but she’s a fun writer. This, at the end of the piece, got a rise out of me:

[I]f colleges and universities around the country were in any way serious about policies to prevent sexual assaults, the path is obvious: Don’t ban teacher-student romance, ban fraternities.

(She doesn’t add that the situation is now so bad that more and more universities are in effect banning fraternities. That is, they’re banning this fraternity and that fraternity; they’re telling this fraternity it can’t come back to campus for three years, and that one that it can’t come back for five years… The litigation cost to the national chapters of the most notorious fraternities is getting intolerable, just as the wretched publicity for places like Dartmouth is getting intolerable… So fraternities are shutting down, but very, very slowly.)

Anyway, so here’s UD‘s thing. There’s an inescapable intensity, for some people on some campuses, to the professor/student relationship. This intensity tends to have in it elements of Pygmalion, Oedipus, Electra, blahblahblah. Less mythically, it may sometimes simply and unsurprisingly have to do with finding a person who admires and shares your intellectual, aesthetic, and moral, passions, and falling in love with that person. I say unsurprisingly because where, other than the Yale archeology department and a few other rarified locations, do you expect to find a fellow very specifically passionate archeologist? UD sincerely hopes that soulmates who meet in this way continue to follow their hearts.

Horton Hatches a Scheme

Charles Horton, a computer sciences professor at the University of Alabama, required his students to buy a textbook he’d written, published by a company he owned.

The you have to buy my book so I can make some money bit is as old as the hills, of course; but Horton went one better by owning the publishing company!

You can’t argue with his results: Over many illustrious years of teaching, he made close to four hundred thousand dollars in this way.

However, this is apparently a felony.

PrecariCorps…

… is a bit of a mouthful (though it rather nicely echoes AmeriCorps). It refers to American academia’s enormous, and always growing, corps of adjunct instructors. These non-tenured, often massively underpaid, professors do the heavy lifting at many of our schools, teaching lots of classes with little institutional support.

UD‘s friend Joe Fruscione has, with some colleagues, started PrecariCorps, a foundation that offers temporary financial support to adjuncts.

It reminds UD of her town’s Betsy White Fund, whose quiet good works UD has admired for decades.

Jay Michaelson on Rabbi Professor Freundel

When I lived in Washington, I attended Kesher Israel regularly. It was a thrill to sit behind Senator Joseph Lieberman, Leon Wieseltier and other luminaries of the American Jewish scene. They and many others took pride in articulating a literate, intelligent Modern Orthodox Jewish sensibility – and Freundel was an exemplar of it…

All this time, he was a sex offender, a fraud and a pervert.

… [T]he Freundel scandal looks a lot like the Madoff* scandal. There are questions that should have been asked, suspicions that should have been raised. But the self-reinforcing loops of elite power — X likes him, X is powerful, therefore I should like him — blinded those entrusted to keep watch.

And then there are the nonsexual allegations. One of Freundel’s victims, Bethany Mandel, told The Daily Beast that we’ve gotten Freundel wrong. “People keep calling him a pervert and yes, he’s a pervert, but he’s also a power hungry sociopath,” Mandel said. “It wasn’t about porn. It was about power, and this was additional power no one knew he had.”

This, too, should have been visible in plain view to anyone who worked closely with Freundel.

… It can seem, downing a shot of whiskey with someone of influence, that you are in the presence of greatness. Really, you are only in the presence of power.

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* Board Chair, Sy Syms School of Business; Honorary Degree recipient; Treasurer, Board of Trustees — all at Yeshiva University.

Fifty-Two Shades of Freundel.

America’s voyeur-professor-rabbi supreme pleads.

Shabby, Crabby, and Gabby…

… American university professors (except for the genial, dressed for success business school guys) are often, from the point of view of a school’s corporate/trustee leadership, irritants. They file hilarious plagiarism reports against the chancellor. They blog. They get together and ask their university’s leadership why it’s spending all the school’s money on football. (They’re able to run the numbers to prove this because their ranks include really good economists.)

Two things UD has learned, over the years of this blog, about The Professor Problem:

1. Wise schools let their professors rant. No doubt it eats away at the entrails of some administrators that some professors do not behave the way employees in corporate settings behave. Yet it seldom makes sense to target this restive contingent. Doing so, you may not only be forgetting the protections of tenure; you may also be signalling to the free thinkers who will make up some of your best faculty that they’d better choose a less provincial campus for themselves. An administration which goes after irritant professors long enough ends up creating the University of Nebraska.

2. Even wiser schools realize that it’s precisely the areas of universities with which administrators feel a warm affinity – the business school, the engineering school, the medical school, and of course the athletic department – that tend to produce the really serious institutional embarrassments. Irritant professors merely irritate. Genial guys in suits (UD realizes there are exceptions to this rule) tend to be your money and/or research fraudsters, your alcohol- and sex- and violence- and litigation-challenged… It’s the quiet transportation engineer running a couple of businesses on the side to whom administrators ought to be paying attention, not the noisy old hippie making fun of the president.

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