By Professor Doom
One of the real problems with liberal ideology is the belief that it’s perfectly ok to destroy a person based on that person’s beliefs, or words, even when such does no actual harm to anyone.
Yes, we should be polite and civil, and not say or think mean things, but having seen so many people’s lives ruined based on an offhand comment, it should be obvious we’ve gone more than a little overboard. It’s nice when a believer of this ideology commits the heresy (because it’s bad to have wrongthoughts) of questioning anything about his ideology:
Alas, he doesn’t actually go so far as to claim there’s a problem with the ideology, but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself. First, he explains that’s he’s afraid in the classroom now, at least when he has liberal students:
Things have changed since I started teaching. The vibe is different. I wish there were a less blunt way to put this, but my students sometimes scare me — particularly the liberal ones.
--hmm, no kidding things have changed. Can you be a true liberal and terrify even the people who agree with you? Or is that self-evident today?
The professor really is a little misplaced in his fears. Yes, his students can do him great harm, but only indirectly via administration. Administration has changed the structure of higher education:
The student-teacher dynamic has been reenvisioned along a line that's simultaneously consumerist and hyper-protective, giving each and every student the ability to claim Grievous Harm in nearly any circumstance, after any affront, and a teacher's formal ability to respond to these claims is limited at best.
--the professor here needs to ask a question: who did the re-envisioning?
I’ve written before of the student as customer paradigm that may well have been the pebble that started the avalanche of collapse of higher education. Don’t get me wrong, student complaints should be heard…but not all complaints need to be taken with such seriousness.
“…always made a good faith effort to include conservative narratives along with the liberal ones….”
The author then discusses the only formal complaint he’s had against him so far: a student complained that the author refused to consider the government’s role in our economic collapse. I’m paraphrasing, the gentle reader is welcome to read the original version, although it doesn’t matter: this is not the sort of thing that merits a formal complaint, particularly in a writing course.
What’s particularly funny about this is how the author takes pains to point out the bogus complaint came from a conservative student, a white male. He describes the student as “older” and attributes racism to the student’s concerns….clearly not a liberal student.
“Feminists and anti-racists recognize that identity does matter. This is indisputable.”
--I know, this is the liberal party line, but careful, professor, your ideology is showing. I dispute your claim, as I believe the concepts of “right” and “wrong” are independent of genital status or skin color.
Yes, this liberal professor became afraid of liberal students because of a complaint by a conservative-leaning student. Seriously, I’ll never understand liberal thinking. The real issue, of course, isn’t the student complaint, it’s that the administrator took the complaint seriously, and time had to be wasted dealing with it (administrators have nothing better to do). Anyway, the professor is proud to have no further complaints, and explains why:
This isn't an accident: I have intentionally adjusted my teaching materials as the political winds have shifted…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.
--evaluations can be on a 4.0 scale, so there’s little leeway for unhappy customers. You really, really, want to keep your students happy. Hmm, what are easy ways to get students happy? Yep, easy classes and easy grading. There absolutely will be complaints, and unhappy students, if you put anything difficult in your class.
I can’t emphasize enough the culture of fear in higher education now, you really are terrified of offending anyone, and it’s quite easy to do so. Just last semester I offended someone in my class, by making a “pornographic” drawing (I’ll include a link to it at the end). This student went out of her way to send me a rambling e-mail on how much porn had hurt her life, and how bad I was to refer to the picture as “a porn star lying down.” Yes, I said that, but I was illustrating a mathematical concept, and trying to keep the class’ attention (hey, some folks say math is boring).
Anyway, I apologized profusely (of course), promised not to let it happen again (of course) and recommended the girl to get professional help…if she’s that freaked by even a slight reference, it’s clear she’s going to have trouble functioning in our (admittedly) oversexed society, and she’ll never manage working anywhere near the (wildly oversexed) internet.
Then I got to go through it all again a few months later, as she also filed a formal complaint. So I had to explain to my boss’ boss, had to apologize again, and again had to promise never again to describe the picture as I did (should I risk termination and instead say “Suppose I punched Dolly Parton in the face?” the next time I draw the picture? This will make more sense when you see the picture).
“I once saw an adjunct not get his contract renewed after students complained that he exposed them to "offensive" texts written by…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…”
You know professor, upon seeing the adjunct being abused, you could have stood up and tried to protect the adju…heh, just kidding, that would only have gotten you fired, I know.
I guess I’m lucky to be in mathematics, offensive things don’t show up in class unless I’m stupid enough to introduce them. On the other hand, how do you talk about literature without risking offense? I mean, most authors achieve fame (and/or notoriety) by writing things that offend someone. Many liberal ideas, like emancipation and giving women voting rights, were considered very offensive in our nation’s history. I’d like to think those were valid improvements, even if some found it offensive at the time. Have we truly reached the end of history, where it’s no longer possible to improve society?
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.
Hey, the professor got the memo I did: no matter how ridiculous the complaint, you must apologize, change the material, and promise to not let it happen again. But the professor rather misses the mark: it’s not the liberal students that have created the fear. Perhaps liberals are more likely to make ridiculous complaints, but it’s the ridiculous administration that’s the source of the fear.
“…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.”
Having been blatantly denied due process at my previous institution, the author here is naïve to think due process offers any sort of protection in today’s environment of fear. But the fact remains: it’s not paranoia at all, you need to watch out now for even the most ridiculous complaints.
“Go ahead and stare. I didn't get dressed like this to go unnoticed.”
--this is a quote from Liberace, an amazing performer known for ostentatious costumes. When people dress up, doesn’t that invite notice?
I know my days are numbered in higher education, as I just can’t adapt. Perhaps an example will demonstrate:
A student wore a beautiful dress to a differential equations test. I asked her about it, if she was going to a wedding immediately afterward, and she responded with “nope, I just wanted to wear a dress today.”
Even though I knew it was stupid, I said “it’s a very beautiful dress.” I knew it was stupid, because about a decade earlier I was accused of sexual harassment for saying something very similar in very similar circumstances. I was lucky: she didn’t complain to admin. I still feel if a person goes to the trouble of dressing so nicely, a compliment is a reasonable thing to do.
But it is a stupid thing to do in higher education’s current environment.
Back to the author’s note, he offers his own reasons for what’s happened here:
“…has led to adoption of a totalizing, simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice. The simplicity and absolutism of this conception has combined with the precarity of academic jobs to create higher ed's current climate of fear,…”
Definitely, the rise of the Social Justice Warrior is a frightening portent, but I can’t help but notice that the author really dances around the true reason for the culture of fear. Could he be afraid to say this reason?
Who, pray tell, does the author fear? Does he really fear a liberal student will read this article, and get him fired? Students don’t do the firing, and the author knows that.
I suspect the author knows the true thing to fear on campus, so let me include a line I omitted earlier:
What, you’re using a pseudonym for this article? How cowardly! Why won’t you reveal your true…heh, just kidding. The author, like most any faculty in higher education with any sense, knows full well that if you’re going to make any complaint, you’d best do it anonymously. Even if you have a perfectly valid observation, you run the risk of being terminated, without due process, by an increasingly out of control and, well, insane, administration. You’ll be gone fast, and the faculty remaining know that if they even mumble something that rhymes with “due process,” they’ll be fired as well.
The author isn’t afraid of liberal students nearly as much as administration, it’s the only justification for writing his article anonymously. Yes, liberal students are a source of complaints, but, as the author admits (in the only complaint against him), conservatives also make such complaints. It’s not students, or student ideology, that can claim ultimate responsibility for the culture of fear in higher education that has decayed into a culture of terror.
It’s the administration.
Oh yeah, the pornographic picture leading to a formal complaint.
I don’t wish to offend anyone, so click at your own risk:
I ask the gentle reader to consider: the student wrote several pages of complaint to me, and a different extensive complaint to admin, over how much this picture, and a quip, offended her.