Extreme Makeover: Classroom Edition
June 3, 2015 10:01 PM   Subscribe

I'm a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me. 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. Not, like, in a person-by-person sense, but students in general. 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.
posted by hank_14 (157 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
 
Going to repost here some remarks I wrote elsewhere:

He wrote: "The real problem: a simplistic, unworkable, and ultimately stifling conception of social justice"

It's funny he would say that, because I strongly suspect that the REAL real problem is what he wrote exactly one paragraph above those words:

"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."

If the educational infrastructure of the nation hadn't been under relentless assault from the right for decades, professors would not be economically desperate and terrified for their jobs, and if somebody tried to get all "stifling" at them they could say "fuck this" and easily find another job elsewhere.

Why would he forgive society and government for making his situation so desperate and fragile that he feared the slightest complaint, and instead blame the makers of slight complaints for daring to do so?

It's like somebody put a gun to his head and he thinks the REAL probem is not the guy with the gun to his head, but at other people in the room who might make loud noises that startle the guy and make the gun go off.
posted by edheil at 10:10 PM on June 3, 2015 [145 favorites]


He says that tenure and job security is a factor. So why is he blaming the students, who are in the midst of having many assumptions challenged and don't even have the education to know yet how they have been cheated? It's not that oversensitive students aren't a thing - they are there to deal with this very issue, and to put the responsibility at their feet is a very individualist, as opposed to political or structural solution.
posted by decathexis at 10:12 PM on June 3, 2015 [12 favorites]


edheil - So the response to "you can be reprimanded or lose your job unfairly" is to say - no worries, you can just go find another one?
posted by xdvesper at 10:22 PM on June 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I'm not sure the modern left's "Gasp, how dare this person hurt my feelings. TO TWITTER! SEE THAT THEY ARE FIRED AND NEVER WORK IN THIS TOWN AGAIN AND ALL TRACE OF THEM SCORCHED FROM THE EARTH!" is totally the right wing's fault.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:27 PM on June 3, 2015 [66 favorites]


It's the "consumerist" angle I want to respond to. Damn right students are taking a consumerist attitude toward their college educations when it increasingly costs more than a car per year to attend and everybody's scared shitless of how they're going to get a job after graduation.

I realize that entire situation may not be this pseudonymous professor's personal fault and I emphasize that may be frustrating for him, but the reality of what most students are there for is not the reality this professor is living in. College students are there for the piece of paper, not to be challenged or think. I don't like it, but it's awfully late to be shocked that students take a consumerist approach to their educations when colleges have been milking student-consumers dry for years.
posted by zachlipton at 10:32 PM on June 3, 2015 [50 favorites]


Undergrads have always been whiny. The issue really seems to be one of classroom management. It doesn't really make any sense to piss people off.

I do agree the way instructors are hired and fired these days is bloody ridiculous. I'm an adjunct myself. But luckily it's just a side job.
posted by Nevin at 10:34 PM on June 3, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ghostride, it may shock you to discover that the left indeed has no monopoly on calling for someone's head to take a sabbatical from their body. It may further shock you to know that not every call for decapitation can be parsed through a simplistic left/right lens.

I wonder what this fellow would have made of the student environment of the sixties, esp in Europe. Certainly there was job security, but the students were just as, if not more strident and radical from what I've read and heard.

In which case, as pointed out above, the students are not the problem.
posted by smoke at 10:35 PM on June 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


The video stopped, and I asked whether the students thought it was effective. An older student raised his hand.

"What about Fannie and Freddie?" he asked. "Government kept giving homes to black people, to help out black people, white people didn't get anything, and then they couldn't pay for them. What about that?"
...
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.


I have difficulty understanding how this ignorant racist student could be described as 'liberal' in the political sense.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:38 PM on June 3, 2015 [73 favorites]


xdvesper - I interpreted edheil's comment differently.

I think he's just suggesting that the forces that brought about the current state of jeopardy are probably a better target for the article's author.

In short, the author's railing against the symptom instead of the root cause.
posted by Lesser Spotted Potoroo at 10:38 PM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


I have difficulty understanding how this ignorant racist student could be described as 'liberal' in the political sense.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:38 AM on June 4


This was my confusion, too. The examples he brings up are of narrowminded/racist/classist students complaining because their beliefs are being questioned. How exactly can that be ascribed to "liberal students"?
posted by schroedinger at 10:48 PM on June 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think he must be young, and his example from 2009 is to show some difference (??) between "way back then" and now. It doesn't really work, I don't think.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:51 PM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


These days, everyone is calling to complain about you when you work at a university. Anything you say or do can and will be phoned up to the level of chancellor, no joke. If you aren't 100% perfect/don't give someone or some helicopter parent what they want, people just start calling up the chain until they do get what they want, and we're all easily disposable and can't find other jobs.

I related to this all too well.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:54 PM on June 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


This was my confusion, too. The examples he brings up are of narrowminded/racist/classist students complaining because their beliefs are being questioned. How exactly can that be ascribed to "liberal students"?

He was (I think) suggesting that when stupid racists complained about his teaching in 2009, no one gave a shit that their feelings were hurt when they got shut down in the class - because, hey, they're idiots. In contrast, in 2015 when liberal students get their feelings hurt by a professor, the reaction from his administration seems to be very different for the reasons he goes on to outline about identity trumping argumentation.
posted by modernnomad at 10:55 PM on June 3, 2015 [22 favorites]


I thought this was going to be "My Title IX Inquisition" by Laura Kipnis, from the Chronicle of Higher Education. (Now behind a paywall; Washington Post story here, Chronicle followup here.)

(I see that was cited in the linked article.)
posted by themanwho at 10:55 PM on June 3, 2015


On the piece more broadly, I think the author overstates his case partly by cherry picking particularly extreme examples - an op-ed tactic if ever there were.

I think he is right in explicating a change at play in the discourse of activism, or even of "the left", but I didn't buy his attempts to tie this into the fraught atmosphere of modern academics.

This, I feel, is key: "This new understanding of social justice politics resembles what University of Pennsylvania political science professor Adolph Reed Jr. calls a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed."

But ironically, he falls into the same trap himself - discussing how these feelings make him feel as an academic (Attacked, vulnerable, etc) despite nothing bad ever actually happening to him. This illustrates two things to me.

1. Feelings matter and are important. They may not be of prime importance but they are important and dismiss them at your peril. They do not exist in a vacuum and are connected to our broader culture.

2. This is bigger than students, or young people, or universities. It is, in my opinion, a broader larger cultural change and I - like the strident young student I was once - pin the blame on capitalism.

We reside in a system that works very hard to close off or render invalid all avenues of expression except individual one. In capitalism there is nothing but a collection of individuals, and in this postmodern world we have a crisis of authenticity (because of an inherently unjust and mendacious society), thus the only truly authentic thing available for people to connect with is their feelings, the only way to express them as an individual.

Therefore, it is understandable, I think, this... battle of the Feelings. It's the only way we can fight, and the only power, however neutered and anemic we can express.
posted by smoke at 10:58 PM on June 3, 2015 [48 favorites]


This essay really shows how damaging genuine job insecurity can be for those already in precarious mental positions.
posted by chortly at 11:03 PM on June 3, 2015 [3 favorites]


jenfullmoon: "These days, everyone is calling to complain about you when you work at a university. Anything you say or do can and will be phoned up to the level of chancellor, no joke. If you aren't 100% perfect/don't give someone or some helicopter parent what they want, people just start calling up the chain until they do get what they want, and we're all easily disposable and can't find other jobs. I related to this all too well."

Yep. And it would be so, so wonderful if this were all down to a simple misunderstanding about social justice. But it isn't - and disabusing people of their misconceptions about identity or the importance of feelings wouldn't do shit to help it. We'd just be digging ourselves deeper in the hole, whilst adjuncts keep getting not-hired-again and lines of tenure keep drying up.
posted by koeselitz at 11:04 PM on June 3, 2015 [4 favorites]


The piece falls down, in my opinion, in the utter lack of examples he's given for this being a widespread phenomenon.

The things he's using to bolster support for this argument:
-Oxford canceled an abortion debate
-An afrobeat band got disinvited from playing
-Someone tweeted something critical of our unquestioning acceptance of scientific authority
-Someone suggested that we should presumptively believe people when they say they've been harrassed

None of this has much to do with his contention that his university will shitcan him the instant a student complains that he isn't conforming to some strident liberal ideal. I don't see any support for this, aside from one anecdote: "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." This is all we get, and we're not treated to any of the details (What were the actual reasons here? How did the administration react to the complaints? Could there have been something else going on?)

If this is the specter hanging over every non-tenured professor's head, and it's as bad as he says it is, then we're going to need some concrete examples, and we're going to need more than his word.

"I've seen what's being described here. I've lived it. It's real." Okay, but back it up.
posted by naju at 11:06 PM on June 3, 2015 [28 favorites]


I found this para the most compelling:
Herein lies the folly of oversimplified identity politics: while identity concerns obviously warrant analysis, focusing on them too exclusively draws our attention so far inward that none of our analyses can lead to action. Rebecca Reilly Cooper, a political philosopher at the University of Warwick, worries about the effectiveness of a politics in which "particular experiences can never legitimately speak for any one other than ourselves, and personal narrative and testimony are elevated to such a degree that there can be no objective standpoint from which to examine their veracity." Personal experience and feelings aren't just a salient touchstone of contemporary identity politics; they are the entirety of these politics. In such an environment, it's no wonder that students are so prone to elevate minor slights to protestable offenses.
He also goes on to say, "But we also destroy ourselves when identity becomes our sole focus."

(Nice job posting this.)
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 11:06 PM on June 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


Okay, I've read the article. He provides a list of things he imagines might happen and then uses that as evidence to support his concerns. I am unimpressed.

The actual incidents he has don't seem to prove what he wants them to. The Jonathan Chait article, for instance, was not exactly a brilliant piece of work and frankly more or less deserved to be given the :-| and a quick eyeroll offstage. The prevalence of Avengers criticisms over abortion debates on the Internet? Maybe it's a symptom of "identity politics." Or maybe it's because the Avengers is new and popular and generally well-liked (so taking a contrarian position generates clicky-clicks), and also the Internet is *always* way more enthusiastic about superheroes than serious social issues. Another article explaining how depressingly retrograde American culture is IN RE actual civil rights issues is not going to be nearly as popular (and thereby profitable) as an article trying to incite nerdrage by snarking on $_popular_comic_book_film. Another person tweets that the scientific process is subject to unstated cultural bias just like every single other human endeavor. STOP THE PRESSES WE GOT A HOT ONE.

So basically a man imagines he might lose his job without any recourse or appeal at the slightest provocation and then becomes anxious because that scenario is now real due to existing in his head. This is therefore the fault of liberalism. What?

Hell, I was in college at the turn of the millennium and back then there was already a bunch of stuff about identity trumping anything else. I recall getting very depressed because the prevailing line of thought in most of my lit courses seemed to be that no one can ever actually understand or empathize with another's situation unless they are also that exact person, so why bother even writing anything?

(And I remain irritated by people misunderstanding trigger warnings. A trigger warning is not like a movie rating. It is not for marking potential offensive content, though there's also nothing wrong with labeling offensive content, to my mind. It is not even about preventing people from becoming traumatized per se. It is about helping people who HAVE been traumatized and have some form of PTSD or related symptoms from being unexpectedly exposed to a trigger for those symptoms. Hence the name.)
posted by Scattercat at 11:42 PM on June 3, 2015 [16 favorites]


The more I think about this, the more I think we should just be reading Adolph W. Reed and not the people rehashing and simplifying him (like this guy and FDB).
posted by Sonny Jim at 11:44 PM on June 3, 2015 [2 favorites]


The left are destroying America with their right-wing talking points.
posted by fullerine at 11:45 PM on June 3, 2015 [13 favorites]


Concerns about academic freedom are legitimate, and about being held to consumerist standards in the new corporatized higher education environment are also legitimate. Blaming the students for the changes to the culture of higher education engineered and executed by boards and administrations that have expertise only in running businesses, not in teaching, research, or public service is ridiculous.
posted by gingerest at 11:45 PM on June 3, 2015 [14 favorites]


To addendum: I'm leaning toward those who are inclined to trace a little further up the line. The bad guy here (whether the article realizes it or not) is the situation that has left him feeling so precarious in his employment, not any hypothetical whiny/crazy people making complaints, who remain as they ever were.

(It would also help if he correctly identified actual whiny/crazy people who were involved in "identity politics," as far as his central thesis; as noted above, the example he has of an actual whiny/crazy person complaining was actually a racist reactionary and not a "liberal".)
posted by Scattercat at 11:48 PM on June 3, 2015 [7 favorites]


I think a lot of this is a continuation of the '90s trend (these days we would call it a meme) of portraying America as an overly-litigious society where people were suing McDonald's for spilling hot coffee on themselves, and all sorts of wackiness. Except now people don't even need to pay for lawyers, when they can conceivably tar and feather people via Twitter and Tumblr, damaging reputations with online shaming over social media, no court of law necessary.

Just as the former trend became an excuse for the right-wing cause of tort reform, I'm not sure the validity of the latter meme. Certainly, Americans are gonna keep complaining in one way or another, it's part of the origin story of this country after all, but are kerfuffles over 'identity politics' really so destructive? People keep on making bigoted comments using their real name Facebook logins, regardless of Tumblr and Gawker media blogs pillorying them afterwards.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:55 PM on June 3, 2015 [6 favorites]


And somewhere rightwing ideologues are gleefully preparing for the backlash against PC 2.0 to give them renewed license for carrying out more gross economic crimes while hiding behind a rhetoric of outrage against the left. It's quite correct that ultimately the system is at fault, but both sides are guilty of driving the other to further extremes while the neoliberal monster takes advantage of the distraction to devour all.

Seriously though, I don't quite understand all the complaints that the article doesn't give enough examples when every single one it does make gets dismissed anyway. Granted, it could have been better backed up with more evidence and less emotion, but there have been enough incidents already and enough talk on the subject to make it a thing, and the points about identity politics are valid and accurate.
posted by blue shadows at 12:04 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


"I have difficulty understanding how this ignorant racist student could be described as 'liberal' in the political sense."

He's contrasting that the sole complaint he's actually received was obviously racist and ridiculous, whereas he's frightened by complaints that he thinks have some legitimate basis broadly but are inappropriate to the specifics of the incident.

As for needing more examples of students using identity politics to suborn anti-intellectualism, his weakness there may be that there are so many (and most are so minor) that he assumes his audience is familiar with them. I'm not in academia (until recently, I did work in social justice) but both my parents are (or were, in my dad's case) and every week my mom has another story about a student attempting to use discomfort or identity to escape being challenged or doing work. This is from across the ideological spectrum — she teaches fine art photography, including the history of photography, so includes folks like Mapplethorpe and Diane Arbus, and has been told things like that seeing nudes "is triggering" for a Christian or that Sally Mann is promoting child sexual abuse.

I tend to view population-level intelligence as a roughly stable thing, and my hunch is that a lot of this comes from a significant plurality of undergrads being immature idiots, something that's only moderately ameliorated by further education. Like, I have a hard time believing that current undergrads are more strident, deluded or inimical to teaching than the dorm room Maoists who were occupying faculty offices in the '60s. There are certainly plenty of dumb people on the left, as well as plenty of people who aren't perfectly articulate, especially when they're expressing frustration or seizing power that's long been structurally denied to them. The tweet he cites about white male science was glibly overbroad in making a reasonable point. It seems churlish to treat it as absolutist absent a coherent statement of totalizing intent.

Similarly, the more I see essays like this, the more I react against sweeping statements — for instance, the complaints about how the librarians pushed back against the idea of interrogating the person reporting sexual harassment. That interrogation is frequently used as a method to silence or undermine legitimate complaints, and through knowing a bit more back-end academic librarian gossip, the complaints seem entirely legitimate. So in this case, responses that attack that veracity by demanding proof are further injury to someone already harmed. Does that mean that the librarians are taking a pomo anti-truth, anti-proof stance? No, not necessarily. Is it likely that online supporters of #teamharpy over-simplify and react against the general pattern of interrogation as attack? Yes. The sweeping notion of coddled, consumer kids is broadly valid (likely every generation a little more than the last, absent some massive war or plague to shift values and redistribute wealth), but it's a narrative used to dismiss legitimate complaints, especially by less than perfect victims. Likewise, the appeals to what I think of as identity nationalism and weaponized critical theory are vital and create both coherent communities and change, but are also tools that disingenuous, self-involved or just plain stupid students can wield against profs whether or not there's a legitimate complaint underneath. Aside from evaluating each instance on a case-by-case basis, I just don't see a less-bad option.

Which brings us back to the apt points upthread that the real problems seem to be the insecurity of the professorial position, the relative rise of academic administrative power, and that goddamned late stage capitalism again.
posted by klangklangston at 12:06 AM on June 4, 2015 [30 favorites]


Anecdata: I've got a friend who teaches near the Sacramento area, and reports that the elementary school does not observe Halloween because it is perceived as a religious holiday.
posted by Apocryphon at 12:08 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


"So basically a man imagines he might lose his job without any recourse or appeal at the slightest provocation and then becomes anxious because that scenario is now real due to existing in his head. This is therefore the fault of liberalism. What? "

That's kinda a lazy and disingenuous paraphrase of what he said, which is part of what he's arguing is the problem. It's an ad hominem dismissal of his complaint, and while you say you went through the examples he provides, you don't seem to have actually engaged with at least some of them. It's not all imagined, and while his essay isn't perfect, dismissing it entirely because it isn't perfect isn't fair.

"Anecdata: I've got a friend who teaches near the Sacramento area, and reports that the elementary school does not observe Halloween because it is perceived as a religious holiday."

While this is something I've seen trotted out as an OH NOES PC anecdote, I'll note that the decision to not celebrate Halloween at a couple of schools near where I grew up was because fundamentalist Christians complained about celebrating a pagan holiday that encouraged kids to sin — liberals tended to be fine with it.
posted by klangklangston at 12:12 AM on June 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


Well, if someone is arguing that, say, Beefy Bob's Burgers sells tainted meat, but every example they have is of someone eating at McDonald's, or ordering only salad before feeling unwell, or being later diagnosed with a preexisting ulcer, then their contention that Beefy Bob's is serving bad meat seems to be called under greater scrutiny.

They might be right. There might be an issue with Beefy Bob's meat.

Or it might just be that greasy fast food tends to result in upset stomachs in general.

I'll freely grant that there are people using the latest terminology of inappropriate behavior in bad faith. Bad faith actors are a perennial problem in human history. But this is not some sort of indictment of liberalism, and it's not new, so both of the article's main points are therefore kind of not actually true.
posted by Scattercat at 12:15 AM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


"Both of the article's main points are therefore kind of not actually true" - based on an imaginary and exaggerated comparison?
posted by blue shadows at 12:26 AM on June 4, 2015


I mean, klangklangston, are your parents saying that there are MORE students trying to dodge work than there used to be, and that this is the direct result of campaigns for social justice? Or did the shirkers just used to use different tactics, and the recent rise of identity politics has simply given new clothing to the ancient problem of jerks/whiners/idiots being what they are? (My money is on the latter, for the record.)

Calibrating institutional response seems like a valid use of time and resources for discussion, but articles like this that place the blame on this (by my reckoning) mythical cohort of social-justice-crazed rampaging loons don't strike me as a particularly useful part of the conversation, and the weakness of its arguments and lack of specific examples only makes things worse.
posted by Scattercat at 12:26 AM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


No, blue shadows, based on the fact that people have been making false/exaggerated complaints using whatever local law/culture considers valid grounds since the beginning of human history, so the fact that now people might be making exaggerated complaints based on modern Internet social justice concerns isn't new and isn't particularly the fault of concerns for social justice and identity politics.
posted by Scattercat at 12:29 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Yeah, but you were complaining about the lack of specific examples and then making vague and sweeping statements.
posted by blue shadows at 12:33 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because I provided specific examples of the lack of specific, concrete examples? And so therefore I think the article sucks? And am making vague sweeping statements about the article sucking?

I'm not sure where you're going with this.
posted by Scattercat at 12:35 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


1) He cites things like Laura Kipnis's academic trial at Northwestern, which (despite disagreeing with a lot of what she wrote in the essay that prompted it, as well as several other similar essays) does seem pretty bogus from the outside. It still has a chilling effect on academic freedom — tainting the meat, as it were. He cites a complaint where Ovid's Metamorphoses is not just something that could be taught from a perspective that recognizes the problematic parts but that is inherently unsuitable for the classroom (while, ironically, arguing for Toni Morrison's inclusion — I don't think there's a canonical Morrison work that doesn't include sexual violence). He cites this dismissal of the scientific method: 'most "scientific thought" as u know it isnt that scientific but shaped by white patriarchal bias of ppl who claimed authority on it.' He cites Hampshire canceling a predominantly white Afrofunk band putatively due to inflammatory Facebook comments that "pose a threat to the safety" of Hampshire students. He cites a canceled abortion debate at Oxford.

You rolled your eyes at Chait and the Avengers and then didn't bother with anything else. You can't dismiss his overall point on that basis.

2) "I mean, klangklangston, are your parents saying that there are MORE students trying to dodge work than there used to be, and that this is the direct result of campaigns for social justice? Or did the shirkers just used to use different tactics, and the recent rise of identity politics has simply given new clothing to the ancient problem of jerks/whiners/idiots being what they are? (My money is on the latter, for the record.)"

I'd agree that it's probably the latter. That doesn't undercut his point, really, which is that he's scared for his job because of a shift by shirkers, whiners, idiots, etc. to a framework that liberals are and should be more sympathetic to. He doesn't have to argue for an increase in prevalence of shirkers, etc. to support his argument, just a shift in mode. And there has been a huge increase in the fluency of the general student and professorial body in the vocabulary of social justice. The whole point is that because social justice is a valuable approach that makes valid points, it takes more work to engage with and rebut if false than e.g. outright racist bullshit. That nuance is directly undermined by the oversimplification and #signalboost rhetoric of current activist modes. Those tactics are necessary in a lot of situations due to significant structural and institutional impediments to justice, but they are corrosive to having a discussion between mutual parties seeking understanding. Again, the reason why liberalism is invoked is because liberals (or, more aptly, progressives) are more sympathetic to both the goals and the modes of these activists and that very recognition of the general legitimacy makes it harder to create ways to fairly suss out bullshit disguised as solidarity.
posted by klangklangston at 12:41 AM on June 4, 2015 [29 favorites]


Vague and sweeping statements about history and how this is just more of the same old. I guess that argument could be used to explain away just about anything. You're entitled to your opinions about the article, but making broad claims against an article you claim is doing the same (but actually does cite examples) doesn't add much.
posted by blue shadows at 12:46 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


This is such a shitty article. The author has faced a formal complaint ONCE in his entire teaching career. The complaint was from a mouth-breathing Fox News watcher, and it was quickly dismissed. From which he concludes that his liberal students are terrifying?!
posted by LarryC at 12:56 AM on June 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


It's funny he would say that, because I strongly suspect that the REAL real problem is what he wrote exactly one paragraph above those words


Well, there is a ongoing jobs & exploitation crisis for untenured profs but tenured professors are scared of these students' reactions too. Just less so than the untenured ones.

Kipnis at Northwestern is a tenured prof and she had her free speech rights suppressed for writing publicly criticizing these students and was put through the legal Title IX wringer before being rightly exonerated
posted by Bwithh at 12:58 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


At the same time, "I am a liberal [older person] but these kids today are too radical and it's ruining everything" is a pretty bog-standard narrative and I can think of examples going back to the thirties. "Liberal, but too much", we could call it.

The reason that administrations are canceling band appearances or infringing on various academic freedoms in response to student complaint is because administrations want both to limit liability AND to restrict academic freedom generally since both those things make it easier to run the university "like a business". If this were all mere PC-thuggery, surely Salaita would have been offered, like, insta-tenure rather than dehired, students at the California protests would have been embraced rather than beaten and pepper-sprayed, etc.

We reside in a system that works very hard to close off or render invalid all avenues of expression except individual one. In capitalism there is nothing but a collection of individuals, and in this postmodern world we have a crisis of authenticity (because of an inherently unjust and mendacious society), thus the only truly authentic thing available for people to connect with is their feelings, the only way to express them as an individual.

I think this is brilliant. To my mind, we're in an era of tremendous forced intellectual shut-down in student life in the interests of financialization and tight control of the day to day lives of students. (Locally, it's been shocking to see, in just the last ten years, the almost entire disappearance of film societies, office space for student groups, student groups that are neither religious nor national affinity groups, "third spaces" near the university that are not chains...basically everything that created any kind of visibility or mass for student-directed student life. And that's not students giving in to PCness; it's the culmination of a twenty year campaign by the university to restructure how students live.) What we're looking at right now is a sign of declining student power, not its excess.
posted by Frowner at 1:00 AM on June 4, 2015 [63 favorites]


That interrogation is frequently used as a method to silence or undermine legitimate complaints, and through knowing a bit more back-end academic librarian gossip, the complaints seem entirely legitimate. So in this case, responses that attack that veracity by demanding proof are further injury to someone already harmed. Does that mean that the librarians are taking a pomo anti-truth, anti-proof stance? No, not necessarily.


the court of public opinion isn't actually part of the criminal or civil legal system and "gossip" is not valid evidence for accusing someone of crimes. Murphy was right to sue in this instance and justice was done. If actual evidence arises and is submitted, then that's a new story. If the legal /police system fails and refuses that actual evidence, that's a new story too. But teamharpy didn't even try.
posted by Bwithh at 1:02 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


At the same time, "I am a liberal [older person] but these kids today are too radical and it's ruining everything" is a pretty bog-standard narrative

Phil Ochs, from 1966:
Once I was young and impulsive
I wore every conceivable pin
Even went to the socialist meetings
Learned all the old union hymns
But I've grown older and wiser
And that's why I'm turning you in
So love me, love me, love me, I'm a liberal
posted by teponaztli at 1:43 AM on June 4, 2015 [15 favorites]


"the court of public opinion isn't actually part of the criminal or civil legal system and "gossip" is not valid evidence for accusing someone of crimes. Murphy was right to sue in this instance and justice was done. If actual evidence arises and is submitted, then that's a new story. If the legal /police system fails and refuses that actual evidence, that's a new story too. But teamharpy didn't even try."

Aww, incoherent bullshit. (Gossip is entirely sufficient to accuse someone of crimes; I've never seen Kevin Smith get high, but through gossip and reasonable inference I can state pretty confidently that he does. It's insufficient to convict someone in a court of law.) The #teamharpy folks were one inch over the line in how they phrased their comments about someone whom women warn each other not to be alone with. In order to avoid a costly loss in Canadian court, they put up retractions. But you're giving a pretty great example of how the "actual evidence" standard here is flawed and biased against claims of sexual harassment — there are a bunch of legitimate reasons not to present that evidence, including interrogations like this, in a legal setting. You're representing a point of view that has historically led to biased outcomes against women reporting sexual harassment while pretending it's neutral. That's exactly what a lot of these social justice activists are pushing back against, some of them inartfully.
posted by klangklangston at 1:47 AM on June 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


Aww, incoherent bullshit. (Gossip is entirely sufficient to accuse someone of crimes; I've never seen Kevin Smith get high, but through gossip and reasonable inference I can state pretty confidently that he does. It's insufficient to convict someone in a court of law.) The #teamharpy folks were one inch over the line in how they phrased their comments about someone whom women warn each other not to be alone with. In order to avoid a costly loss in Canadian court, they put up retractions. But you're giving a pretty great example of how the "actual evidence" standard here is flawed and biased against claims of sexual harassment — there are a bunch of legitimate reasons not to present that evidence, including interrogations like this, in a legal setting. You're representing a point of view that has historically led to biased outcomes against women reporting sexual harassment while pretending it's neutral. That's exactly what a lot of these social justice activists are pushing back against, some of them inartfully.

The issue isn't what you need to accuse - anyone can accuse anyone of anything without it having a shred of truth to it. As Bush showed, you can also go to war that way. The real question is how to the rest of us evaluate such accusations.... so where do we go from here? It seems like we're stuck between two unsatisfactory options when it comes to assessing claims of sexual harassment. 1) Continue with an evidentiary-based 'legal' approach that has historically lead to underreporting or blanket dismissal of claims of sexual harassment or 2) Go with a system where a single allegation or piece of gossip is seen as incontrovertible truth in the context of sexual harassment claims and even retractions of said gossip are not to be believed. Neither of these seems particularly appealing.
posted by modernnomad at 2:15 AM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


He cites a canceled abortion debate at Oxford.

In, not at.

It was to be hosted _at_ an Oxford college. And was organized by an Oxford University student society, which was not directly affiliated with that college. Christ Church College then withdrew its offer of a venue for the event because there was not time between the announcement of the event and the event taking place to address concerns raised by the Christ Church JCR committee - that is, the undergraduates elected by their peers in the Junior Common Room to represent undergraduate interests to the Senior Common Room. Oxford University played no part at any point.

It's OK not to have that detail, generally - Oxford's orgnizational structures are pretty baroque. It isn't good, however, if you are writing an article about it in a publication that claims to be an "explainer", and particularly if you are writing about academic structures which, in this case, you don't seem to be familiar with, while linking to a report in the Oxford Student that you appear not to have read or understood.

"Oxford cancelled an abortion debate" as a gloss on what actually happened is either ignorant or simply dishonest.
posted by running order squabble fest at 2:43 AM on June 4, 2015 [22 favorites]


"at one of the University of Oxford's constituent colleges" is a legitimate meaning of "at Oxford". I'm at Cambridge. I study at one of its colleges. I've been to many talks, events, dinners here (ugh) that I can describe as "at Cambridge".

You're right about not using "Oxford" as the active entity in the cancellation, because that implies university level action, but not about the sentence you quote.
posted by lokta at 3:23 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I am surprised to see this here since my FPP on Laura Kipnis was scrubbed by a mod because he thought it might lead to a shouty discussion. Whether or not this guy's (I'm not certain if he is writing under a psdeudonym or not) complaint is real, it is a current debate. Here are some links:
Kipnis
Response by opposed faculty
(The charges against Kipnis have been dropped)
Washington Post on academic freedom
A general overview of the specific situation.

There are several questions here. Are Title IX complaints the proper way to attack an opinion you find odious? Are such complaints stifling academic freedom? To what degree should students be protected from the opinions of their professors? And so on.
I have no specific dog in this fight, though I (and everyone) have a stake in the larger issues. (Has anyone yet mentioned the censorship of pro-Palestine speakers? This is not just about sex/gender/American race issues.)
posted by CCBC at 3:28 AM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


modernomad - two unsatisfactory options when it comes to assessing claims of sexual harassment...

This mirrors what is said in TFA as I parse it. Social justice is meaningless when it is used as a beard for lazy solipsism.

To reiterate klangklangston - The whole point is that because social justice is a valuable approach that makes valid points, it takes more work to engage with and rebut if false than e.g. outright racist bullshit. That nuance is directly undermined by the oversimplification and #signalboost rhetoric of current activist modes. Those tactics are necessary in a lot of situations due to significant structural and institutional impediments to justice, but they are corrosive to having a discussion between mutual parties seeking understanding. Again, the reason why liberalism is invoked is because liberals (or, more aptly, progressives) are more sympathetic to both the goals and the modes of these activists and that very recognition of the general legitimacy makes it harder to create ways to fairly suss out bullshit disguised as solidarity.

Perhaps the writer doesn't overtly state that the current situation in US education is due to the long running systematic attack on education by those who are afeared of any circumstance that might cause coalescence of 'anti-establishment' citizenry because it is assumed that the audience doesn't need reminding of that. Instead the article focuses on the experience of the writer in the current environment where she feels attacked from all sides.
posted by asok at 3:47 AM on June 4, 2015


You're right about not using "Oxford" as the active entity in the cancellation, because that implies university level action, but not about the sentence you quote.

Well, there's a level of specificity required here that is more exacting, because controversy. Klang was referencing an incorrect or dishonest gloss by the author of the Vox piece, which meant "at Oxford" provided an insufficient level of detail. Which we apparently agree on, but thanks for the note.

Actually, that also puts me in mind of:

He cites a complaint where Ovid's Metamorphoses is not just something that could be taught from a perspective that recognizes the problematic parts but that is inherently unsuitable for the classroom (while, ironically, arguing for Toni Morrison's inclusion — I don't think there's a canonical Morrison work that doesn't include sexual violence).

Interestingly, the Columbia university op-ed (not a complaint) is precisely not about this, if you go back to the original source - it is about a student disengaging from the teaching of the text precisely because of a failure and then a refusal to recognize those problematic parts:
During the week spent on Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” the class was instructed to read the myths of Persephone and Daphne, both of which include vivid depictions of rape and sexual assault. As a survivor of sexual assault, the student described being triggered while reading such detailed accounts of rape throughout the work. However, the student said her professor focused on the beauty of the language and the splendor of the imagery when lecturing on the text. As a result, the student completely disengaged from the class discussion as a means of self-preservation. She did not feel safe in the class. When she approached her professor after class, the student said she was essentially dismissed, and her concerns were ignored.
Now, the text is indeed beautiful and the imagery is indeed splendid. However, it's hardly a radical notion in the field of Lit. Hum. that Ovid is writing within a series of contexts different from the modern reader, and that it's profitable to tease out those contexts and their contrasts. That student isn't even saying that she couldn't have engaged with the Metamorphoses, much less the whole student body - just that the way it was being taught made it harder for her to do so.

So, the idea that it's contradictory to take this position, while also supporting the right of a different student in a different class to argue that Toni Morrison would be a good choice for a student-nominated addition to the syllabus, is I think not a wholly coherent one. Specifically, in the other class, the complaint was that the professor missed a chance to intervene after another student said that "texts by authors of the African Diaspora are a staple in most high school English classes, and therefore they did not need to reread them".

TBH, this feels like a very different example within the set of "professors not listening to the concerns of women and members of ethnic minorities", in the sense that it sounds like a case of a teachable moment - e.g. the professor saying "OK, but we also study Shakespeare in high school, and we see new complexities in that work that justify continued study at undergraduate level - what's different?" - being missed, rather than a professor dismissing a student's concerns. However, if you have a Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board, this is probably going to be the kind of issue they raise. Nobody has been suspended or fired - the MAAB has made a series of suggestions to the faculty:
First, we proposed that the center issue a letter to faculty about potential trigger warnings and suggestions for how to support triggered students. Next, we noted that there should be a mechanism for students to communicate their concerns to professors anonymously, as well as a mediation mechanism for students who have identity-based disagreements with professors. Finally, the center should create a training program for all professors, including faculty and graduate instructors, which will enable them to constructively facilitate conversations that embrace all identities, share best practices, and think critically about how the Core Curriculum is framed for their students.

Our vision for this training is not to infringe upon the instructors’ academic freedom in teaching the material. Rather, it is a means of providing them with effective strategies to engage with potential conflicts and confrontations in the classroom, whether they are between students or in response to the material itself. Given these tools, professors will be able to aid in the inclusion of student voices which presently feel silenced.
I mean, obviously professors hate training and admin with a passion, and often with good cause, but this doesn't feel like anyone is being bundled into black helicopters and taken off for reeducation...

(More broadly, I think part of the resistance to considering the risk of triggering students, or accepting this risk as worth worrying about, is connected to a reluctance to acknowledge that a lot of your students may have experienced some form of sexual assault, because that's a terrible and depressing thing to acknowledge. But not acknowledging that is not a viable long-term solution. Which ties in to an extent to the Kipnis case, which I think is a rather different case, and my immediate response to which was "wait, Northwestern only banned relationships between faculty and undergraduates in 2014? The Hell?")
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:31 AM on June 4, 2015 [14 favorites]


one of my colleagues had a student complain to the Dean when she assigned Slaughterhouse Five to a class. No other aspect to the complaint, that's all it was.

It would be funny but for the fact that things like this affect when/if she got classes for the next semester. Keeping the students happy is definitely part of of the mandate where I work. It's not fair for the teachers, and moreover, I don't see how it serves students well.

I mean you can't go to the IRS and tell them that their rules are too confusing and you want to file a complaint with the IRS dean.
posted by angrycat at 4:33 AM on June 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


The social media response has been interesting, and also somewhat hysterical and heated. I've seen this posted many times by both personal friends as well as accounts I follow.

One of the accounts from which he quoted - and criticized - two (2) tweets has been arguing that he should not have quoted those tweets (or not have criticized them, I'm not entirely sure). The tweeter and her supporters seem to be arguing either that he's appropriating her work, that she should be paid for use of her intellectual property, or that he is incorrect to disagree with her.

One unfortunate thing is that instead of a rational "I disagree with this Vox article and here's why", the twitter-sphere has blown up into an example of the very thing that the article criticizes. I imagine the writer is probably happy that he's anonymous at this time.
posted by theorique at 5:10 AM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


This word "liberal". It really doesn't mean the same thing it used to, I think.

Goes to show how self identification can be a bunch of bullocks sometimes.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:12 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know who else doesn't get due process? Students who have the course of their lives determined by the professors who grade them.
posted by srboisvert at 5:37 AM on June 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


For what it's worth:

My wife is a non-tenured, contract-labor instructor at a good-sized state college, and an adjunct at a state university. She's been teaching 4 or more sections per semester (one semester she had 8 sections) and usually at least 2 classes per summer for about 15 years, and the department she's worked in for the last 9 years is utterly reliant on adjuncts (they engage 30 or more each semester). About 11 years ago she spent a semester filling in for a program admin on sabbatical during which she managed a score or more of adjuncts at another state college. She has never seen anyone disciplined in the way this person fears.

So, my reaction is basically that unless the author can provide examples, it's not real.

Also, the whole "I'm a liberal and I'm scared of liberals" trope is very, very tired. In my experience, people who say that are usually quite centrist and not at all interested in such liberal ideals as self-actualization and democratization of the learning process.
posted by lodurr at 5:44 AM on June 4, 2015 [27 favorites]


I mean you can't go to the IRS and tell them that their rules are too confusing and you want to file a complaint with the IRS dean.

Sure you can — the catch is that you need to have a lot of power to pull it off. And money: the IRS dean Congress is not bought that cheaply.

Seriously, there's surely an interesting, nuanced piece or ten to be written on how students of an activist bent might nowadays have a bit more relative power with respect to their faculty, particularly adjuncts — and how that power is being used for good and ill.

The Vox piece isn't it. For one thing, I'd give it a D for lack of effort. It gets details carelessly wrong — calling the Team Harpy defendants library "professors" is idiosyncratic and possibly completely wrong. Academic librarians may have professorial rank at some colleges, but certainly not all; either way, they rarely call themselves professors. The piece is also clunky: not balancing the anecdote about the anti-"communistical" student with a direct example of a student complaint coming from the left is at best confusing, at worst suggests that the author couldn't find one.

The author may be afraid of groundless student complaints for good reason — but has not proven a case that social justice activism is particularly to blame.

The laziness of the piece is a pity, as I would have liked to read a critique of student activism in the classroom that actually engaged with the activists' critiques of the academy, even if it ultimately rejected them.
posted by metaquarry at 5:45 AM on June 4, 2015 [13 favorites]


You know who else doesn't get due process? Students who have the course of their lives determined by the professors who grade them.

If a rigorously protected ability to appeal grades to the chair, the dean, the dean of students, and the board of trustees, if you wish, forcing your professor to justify and thoroughly document your grade isn't enough due process for you, I don't know what to say.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:50 AM on June 4, 2015 [23 favorites]


To me this reads as a fancypants college version of blaming everything on "millenials with too much self esteem" who got participation trophies in everything, are too "dependent" on social media, and can't handle discomfort or being offended. If your complaint is that your career is unstable and feels more coglike, that's a problem with University admin. If your complaint is that you are no longer treated as a one-way font of knowledge by your students, and they're too at ease pushing back against your ideas, I don't have a lot of sympathy.
posted by almostmanda at 5:57 AM on June 4, 2015 [21 favorites]


Alexandra Erin on Schlosser and his fear of call out culture:
In an article whose subject is, I remind you, “my students scare me”, he chooses to highlight a couple of tweets by blogger @bad_dominicana, Zahira Kelly, talking about bias in science.

Note that Zahira Kelly is not one of his students. Zahira Kelly is not one of his colleagues. Zahira Kelly has bother-all to do with him or his. What Zahira Kelly is to him is a convenient target of opportunity, a person who can be used as both a scapegoat and a lightning rod.

I have the feeling that Schlosser knows none of his students would actually be that scary to the Vox.com reading audience. I’m sure he knows that it’s hard to sell his fear describing them in the abstract. But what is scary to his audience? But an outspoken AfroLatina blogger, a self-described “Bad Dominicana” speaking her unvarnished thoughts in Tweet form?
And:
Why is it an example of toxic call-out culture that creates an aura of silence and fear for her to call out the presence of white patriarchal bias in a lot of what gets labeled”scientific thought”, but it’s not an example of toxic call-out culture for him to hold her up, call her specifically by name, and say, specifically, that she’s causing this problem?
I also note that Schlosser repeats the canard about the abortion debate being cancelled by "Oxford" when a) there's no such thing as "Oxford" and b) it was actually a student debating society.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:22 AM on June 4, 2015 [27 favorites]



If a rigorously protected ability to appeal grades to the chair, the dean, the dean of students, and the board of trustees, if you wish, forcing your professor to justify and thoroughly document your grade isn't enough due process for you, I don't know what to say.


But the thing is, this is so rarely how it works. I was thinking about this because I recently took required classes in the business school toward a certification that I'm getting, and I really ended up being shocked by some of the completely inappropriate stuff I saw and the fact that there was no method for dealing with it. I've encountered professors saying unintentionally but overtly racist stuff in the classroom (like really, stuff that's practically on the level of "those kids today with their bling and their hippity hop"), saying sexually explicit things that had nothing at all to do with the class, doing all kinds of things that made class content less accessible to non-US students and students from non-wealthy backgrounds...The business school administration, as far as I can tell based on observing, talking to a guard about and complaining about an incident, also has a policy which allows racist security practices - targeting black students who are studying in the study areas out of the perception that any black people in the building are criminals. By the time the student gets to any actual concerns about their grade, there's this huge weight of institutional discrimination that contours who can access the complaints process and how they feel it's likely to go. If you don't know about the complaints process or you've gotten kicked around in unfair ways by the administration, you're not going to use the process.

What was especially demoralizing about all of this was that the professors were, at the very worst, people who were not being pushed by the school to improve their teaching practice, and were in general pretty decent people. You don't need to be a racist jerk to perpetuate this system.

On call-out culture: I am super flinchy and anxious and prone to guilt. I worry a lot about "call out culture", I worry a lot about whether I am actually a terrible person, I worry about being blamed for being a terrible person when I just made an innocent mistake or did nothing wrong at all, etc. I really, really feel the kind of anxiety that a control-freaky smart person can get around all this internet stuff. In that respect, I am very sympathetic to the writer - dealing with the anxieties provoked by the social justice internet (and the internet generally) has been really hard for me at times.

I absolutely believe that the guy really is anxious about his job and about his interactions with students, and I absolutely believe that this can be incredibly hard to deal with. But I do find that in my own case at least, I tend to wind myself up, catastrophize and blow small interactions out of proportion - one awkward conversation means that I am a terrible person and everyone hates me, one person disliking me because I said something dumb and our personalities clash means that the whole world thinks I'm awful, etc. I think that may be why the guy both feels really anxious and can't seem to bring much in the way of example - he sincerely feels this anxiety producing situation, but because it's produced more by his own brain than anything else, he can't really adduce evidence.
posted by Frowner at 6:33 AM on June 4, 2015 [15 favorites]


I also note that Schlosser repeats the canard about the abortion debate being cancelled by "Oxford" when a) there's no such thing as "Oxford" and b) it was actually a student debating society.

Wasn't it not even an abortion debate? But some sort of faux debate where they were transparently both going to agree there was a CULTURE OF DEATH or something?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:40 AM on June 4, 2015


IIRC at the very least it was to be a debate with no women present.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:43 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, there weren't going to be any women present, it was organised by an anti-abortion group, and it had one of their (male, obvs) representatives debating a motion with the tag line “Last year in Britain, over 185,000 abortions were carried out. What does this say about our national culture? Is it a sign of equality, or does it suggest we treat human life carelessly?"

Debating against him was Brendan O'Neill, hardly the paragon of feminist thought. His deputy editor at Spiked wrote this, which should give you an impression of their views on women and they were arguing against the motion.

It's also worth remembering that as well as being an ancient academical and cultural institution blah blah blah, an Oxford college is also an intense little bubble where students eat, sleep, study, socialise and just about everything else for years on end, so asking these people not to shit on their doorstep seems pretty reasonable imho.
posted by Ned G at 6:58 AM on June 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


[Couple of comments deleted. As always, meta-commentary about moderation doesn't belong on the blue, and we broadly try to keep discussions of one thing from turning into discussions of a different hot-button topic.]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 7:10 AM on June 4, 2015


I think of this type of article as belonging to a genre I call "I'm a Liberal Butt"
posted by srboisvert at 8:18 AM on June 4, 2015 [11 favorites]


This is such a shitty article. The author has faced a formal complaint ONCE in his entire teaching career. The complaint was from a mouth-breathing Fox News watcher, and it was quickly dismissed. From which he concludes that his liberal students are terrifying?!

I think his claim was that he hasn't faced further complaints because he has modified his teaching-in ways that make it less effective--because he is convinced that similar objections from students today, ones with no more validity than the one he faced in 2009, would not be quickly dismissed in the way that one was.
posted by layceepee at 8:38 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I guess my feeling about this complaint is the same as every complaint I have heard about students since I started in college in the 80s, and seemed to be held over from the 60s:

If you're a teacher and you think students are the problem, there is a real chance that you are the problem.
posted by maxsparber at 8:55 AM on June 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


The singling out of Zahira Kelly is kind of telling. She is not a student of his, or to my knowledge a student at all. He is not a scientist, so her position on the scientific method is not very relevant. She is not trying to get anyone fired.

She's there because all of these articles ultimately end up on how awful black feminists are on Twitter. It's a formal requirement. One can no more skip it than one could skip the arming scene before a Homeric aristeia.
posted by running order squabble fest at 8:58 AM on June 4, 2015 [20 favorites]


His writing and intellectual skill doesn't impress me. The complaint was from a racist expressing a view that was Conservative, not Liberal. Is there something I'm missing? Easily frightened white guy terribly threatened by liberals. Hmmm, could he be blaming his failure to succeed on Blacks, Women, Gays, Immigrants, whoever looks good to be blamed today?
posted by theora55 at 9:09 AM on June 4, 2015


I suppose, with the old criticism example, he's implying "you wouldn't let poorly thought out conservative criticism force changes in my syllabus, so why would you let similar liberal criticism change what texts I teach?"

(I don't agree that all liberal complaints are poorly thought out. Also, I think he at some points oversimplifies or overextends the criticisms he disagrees with (e.g. the tweet from Dominicana).
posted by puddledork at 9:20 AM on June 4, 2015


I think his claim was that he hasn't faced further complaints because he has modified his teaching-in ways that make it less effective--because he is convinced that similar objections from students today, ones with no more validity than the one he faced in 2009, would not be quickly dismissed in the way that one was.

I'm not sure if this is deliberate, but the way the example was framed seemed like he was suggesting that a "crazy" complaint coming from a conservative was correctly identified as crazy, and he was speculating that an equally "crazy" complaint with a progressive / identity politics angle might not be dismissed so easily. (a la the Title IX situation with Professor Kipnis mentioned earlier)
posted by theorique at 9:24 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]



there is a real chance that you are the problem.


That's a little glib for me.

If anecdotes count, someone close to me, a professor, was recently the target of a disingenuous public shaming over a remark that was taken out of context by an aggrieved student. The incident wasn't career-destroying, but it was pretty horrible.

I know one example doesn't constitute an epidemic, and it's lazy and wrongheaded to blame it all on critical theory or call-out culture, but it's also discouraging to see the damage downplayed. Is there a way to offer support to people who've experienced bad-faith shaming without giving comfort to the opposition?
posted by ducky l'orange at 9:29 AM on June 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


The teaching environment is getting so stifling it's reaching the point where an atheist professor can't even challenge his students to prove the existence of god in class anymore
posted by prize bull octorok at 9:38 AM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


My father was a career professor. There is a difference between the behavior of individual students and writing an essay that suggests a sea change in the way students behave, passing along a lot of easy complaints about entitlement culture, Twitter, and liberalism, as though there were a mass movement afoot.
posted by maxsparber at 9:39 AM on June 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


'm not sure if this is deliberate, but the way the example was framed seemed like he was suggesting that a "crazy" complaint coming from a conservative was correctly identified as crazy, and he was speculating that an equally "crazy" complaint with a progressive / identity politics angle might not be dismissed so easily. (a la the Title IX situation with Professor Kipnis mentioned earlier)

Yes, and he provides a specific reason for his belief; the 2009 complaint was a crazy assertion about his political ideology. That was, at best, a debatable assertion.

In contrast, he claims, a 2015 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.
posted by layceepee at 9:48 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Two thoughts:

1. I think it is important to take this article in the larger context of the moment we're currently living in. While it may seem like we live in a moment where the world (the internet, really) is rife with "call-out culture" and PC thuggishness (imagine my eyes rolling so hard they fall out of my skull here), but we're not. We're living in a moment where THIS is the article going viral. This and Chait's article and Jon Ronson's new book and the list goes on and on. We're in the midst of a backlash against young people becoming increasingly literate in what is basically incredibly obtuse academic theory and deploying that with varying precision and success. This horrific new trend of liberal fascism that is stomping on the face of academic freedom has existed for...the last year? Two years at most? And already people (on the left, ostensibly, though I sort of wonder) are pining for the halcyon days of, what? 2003? When the national conversation was perfectly fair and balanced and liberals were made of sterner stuff and actually got a lot accomplished through their measured responses to the Right? Cause that is not how I remember it. I think we're headed back into an era that is going to be a lot more. "What's the big deal, I'm an equal opportunity offender!" and it's gonna suuuuuuck.

2. I like Adolph Reed Jr a lot and think a lot of his larger points are really fascinating and true, but I think the mistake he and articles like this tend to make are in the whole-sale dismissal of identity politics. For my money, dismissing "identity politics" outright is just a mode of silencing the lived experience of people who traditionally haven't had space at the table. To me, it's asking for a perfect vacuum in which to discuss all matters where one's identity in no way informs their thinking or structures they create and inhabit. What about "Black Lives Matter?" Is that identity politics? Is the organized, mass-pushback against racialized police violence in this country identity politics? Because if so, when you glibly dismiss it as being solipsistic or narrowing, I think you do a huge disservice to one of the most important and effective leftist movements in, certainly, my own lifetime.

If the price of having an energized, engaged, educated and young left-wing with the power to actually get things accomplished is that sometimes you feel anxious, I will take that bargain.
posted by StopMakingSense at 9:59 AM on June 4, 2015 [15 favorites]


My sister quit teaching for this very reason. That and the insanely intrusive and easily offended helicopter parenting. Heard an interview with Seinfeld this morning saying he is quitting doing college shows because it is no longer worth dealing with the over-the-top PC bs that comes with it. No one here will agree I'm sure.
posted by umberto at 10:03 AM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


In contrast, he claims...

...(without any apparent justification)....
posted by lodurr at 10:05 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


The teaching environment is getting so stifling it's reaching the point where an atheist professor can't even challenge his students to prove the existence of god in class anymore

I know that this is a joke (and a funny one, to boot!) but evidently you'd be surprised by how many students have dropped Philosophy of Religion (!!) because they find the readings too, in their words, "uncomfortable." And we're talking bog-standard stuff, like Plato, Pascal, and Hume. The caricature of the Hostile Atheist Prof makes this job even tougher than it already is.

That said, there is a fascinating article to be written on asking adjunct/contingent/"part-time" faculty with zero job security to teach most of the courses that address sensitive subjects, but I don't think the linked article is that article, unfortunately.
posted by Xavier Xavier at 10:07 AM on June 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


No one here will agree I'm sure.

Agree with what? That those were your sister's reasons? That that's why Seinfeld is quitting college shows?
posted by lodurr at 10:08 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I have difficulty understanding how this ignorant racist student could be described as 'liberal' in the political sense.

I think he's saying that when people he identifies as conservative complain, no one takes them seriously and they don't have a twitter mafia, so it goes nowhere.
posted by corb at 10:13 AM on June 4, 2015


That and the insanely intrusive and easily offended helicopter parenting.

This mostly goes away in college/university. "I can't discuss that with you" is a glorious and beautiful thing.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:21 AM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


[conservatives] don't have a twitter mafia

Of course conservatives have a twitter mafia. It regularly gets more traction with the media and has been more effective at driving people out of their jobs and homes and occasionally their lives than any made-up "PC 2.0" trend.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:23 AM on June 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


I like Adolph Reed Jr a lot and think a lot of his larger points are really fascinating and true, but I think the mistake he and articles like this tend to make are in the whole-sale dismissal of identity politics.

The author identifies Reed as critiquing a politics of personal testimony, in which the feelings of individuals are the primary or even exclusive means through which social issues are understood and discussed. (My boldface)

The author himself writes: Herein lies the folly of oversimplified identity politics: while identity concerns obviously warrant analysis, focusing on them too exclusively draws our attention so far inward that none of our analyses can lead to action. (Again, boldface is mine).

He writes further: A sensible response to Chait's question would be that this is a false binary, and that ideas can and should be judged both by the strength of their logic and by the cultural weight afforded to their speaker's identity. Chait appears to believe only the former, and that's kind of ridiculous. Of course someone's social standing affects whether their ideas are considered offensive, or righteous, or even worth listening to. How can you think otherwise?

Feminists and anti-racists recognize that identity does matter. This is indisputable. If we subscribe to the belief that ideas can be judged within a vacuum, uninfluenced by the social weight of their proponents, we perpetuate a system in which arbitrary markers like race and gender influence the perceived correctness of ideas. We can't overcome prejudice by pretending it doesn't exist. Focusing on identity allows us to interrogate the process through which white males have their opinions taken at face value, while women, people of color, and non-normatively gendered people struggle to have their voices heard. (My boldface)

It doesn't seem accurate to describe either the position ascribed to Reed or the author's own position as a whole-sale dismissal of identity politics.
posted by layceepee at 10:24 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Of course conservatives have a twitter mafia.

Alright, conservatives don't have an effective twitter mafia. As evidenced by the social media failures of 2012, where Obama was regularly spanking Romney on every social media opportunity ever.
posted by corb at 10:26 AM on June 4, 2015


It doesn't seem accurate to describe either the position ascribed to Reed or the author's own position as a whole-sale dismissal of identity politics.

Except that in the main article, right after he quotes Rebecca Cooper (and the quotation is ended) he says -- Personal experience and feelings aren't just a salient touchstone of contemporary identity politics; they are the entirety of these politics.
posted by puddledork at 10:35 AM on June 4, 2015


So...one time a conservative student lodged a complaint against him, and in conclusion, he is worried about mean liberal students.
posted by naoko at 10:37 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Heard an interview with Seinfeld this morning saying he is quitting doing college shows because it is no longer worth dealing with the over-the-top PC bs that comes with it. No one here will agree I'm sure.

I don't know if this is the interview you heard this morning, but he did give an interview that exactly doesn't say that:
Colin Cowherd: Does the climate worry you now -- I've talked to [other comedians who] don't even do college campuses anymore.
Jerry Seinfeld: I hear that all the time; I don't play colleges, but people tell me, "don't play colleges, they're too PC."
He did go on to say that
"Let me give you an example. My daughter is fourteen. My wife says to her, ‘Well, you know, in the next couple of years, I think maybe you’re going to want to hang around the city more on the weekends so you can see boys.’ You know, my daughter says, ‘That’s sexist.’ They just want to use these words. ‘That’s racist. That’s sexist. That’s prejudice.’ They don’t even know what they’re talking about.”
Yes, Seinfeld apparently would agree that people will be criticized you for things they say in public. But his evidence in support of that is second-hand -- 'other comedians have told me this' -- and he's not quitting college shows over; he wasn't playing them before, and doesn't have any first-hand experience of them. And then, in response to whether a question about whether he feels limited in what he can say, he responds:
Jerry Seinfeld: If I wanted to say something I would say it...I talk about the subjects I talk about because for some reason that's the subjects I can make funny. The things I can't make funny you don't hear.
So (a) he didn't quit college shows because 'they aren't worth dealing with,' since he didn't quit doing college shows at all, (b) he has no actual experience of doing college shows, because he hasn't been doing them, and (c) despite hearing that other comedians feel restricted in the jokes they can make at colleges, he doesn't feel personally restricted, regardless, in what jokes he can make. That's certainly evidence that people think colleges are 'too PC', but not really evidence that they are 'too PC.'
posted by cjelli at 10:41 AM on June 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


Alright, conservatives don't have an effective twitter mafia.

See: #gamergate.

Or are we not calling that 'conservative' this week?
posted by lodurr at 10:43 AM on June 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


You don't need a Twitter storm when you have top down hivemind communication from outlets like Fox News and talk radio. There seems to be real differences in the communication channels preferred on each side.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:44 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Honestly, it's gotten to the point where I'm surprised comedians aren't blaming political correctness for every time they don't get a laugh.
posted by maxsparber at 10:45 AM on June 4, 2015 [7 favorites]


Heh, I'm pretty sure they do whenever it's even remotely plausible.
posted by Drinky Die at 10:47 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


See: #gamergate.

Sadly MRAs are totes equal-opportunity in political choice.
posted by corb at 10:50 AM on June 4, 2015


You don't need a Twitter storm when you have top down hivemind communication from outlets like Fox News and talk radio. There seems to be real differences in the communication channels preferred on each side.

Except that they have a large and, yes, effective presence in social media as well. In addition to Gamergate, you've got Twitchy, the Islamophobia-industrial complex, the Breitbart media octopus, and a ton of other ways that they spread idiocy through social media. When you've got the governor of one of the largest states in the country and several major political figures parroting Alex Jones-level conspiracy craziness (GOOGLE JADE HELM 15), the claim that they're ineffective in spreading their message to powerful people falls apart.

Sadly MRAs are totes equal-opportunity in political choice.

Bullshit. Gamergate has made extensive use of conservative language ("cultural Marxism") and philosophy, and are almost entirely allied with conservative news orgs.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:55 AM on June 4, 2015 [12 favorites]


Alright, conservatives don't have an effective twitter mafia. As evidenced by the social media failures of 2012, where Obama was regularly spanking Romney on every social media opportunity ever.

Step right up and see The Astonishing Powers of the Liberal Twitter mafia folks. Step right up and watch as they turn a rich clueless political operator into a rich clueless political operator. Using only 140 characters at a time. Step right up. See it with your very own internet enabled devices.
posted by srboisvert at 10:58 AM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Sadly MRAs are totes equal-opportunity in political choice.

Not as far as I can see.

In any case, the basic position (which boils down to 'uppity women are uppity') is fundamentally conservative.
posted by lodurr at 10:58 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Sadly MRAs are totes equal-opportunity in political choice.

I don't doubt there are a few far-left identity-politics-rejecting types who subscribe to the Manosphere's swill, and simple misogyny obviously has no political affiliation, but the Men's-Rights Movement as a whole is conservative. Its affiliates use reactionary language to support reactionary politics.
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 11:02 AM on June 4, 2015 [6 favorites]


That's a fair point, layceepee. Though, I was going to point out the same quote that puddledork did. Re-reading the article, I can see he shares some of the same concerns I have about a coming backlash, but I don't think the solution is "rein it in a little, ALL LIBERALS." I think it's the inevitable result of actual strides that have been made, and if the glossing on it weren't "The oppressive and incredibly powerful American left is stifling your freedom" it would be something else.

Maybe I just disagree outright with the proposition that the left is suffering from the ailments he thinks it is. To me, it's a sort of concern trolling. I think much of what he's arguing for is already taking place (and is, in fact, the majority position), but doesn't garner the attention or page views of the flashier or more strident bomb-throwers. I'm not sure that this constitutes the crisis he seems to think exists. The tactics are imperfect and it would be foolish to not allow for some self-criticism and reflection, but I feel like a handful of mostly negligible moments of (again, young) people not perfectly employing identity politics is being used as a cudgel to beat back actual progress and articles like this ultimately feed into a narrative that I'm not particularly sold on in the first place.
posted by StopMakingSense at 11:04 AM on June 4, 2015


Fair clarification, Rustic Etruscan. I think though that even outside of far left spaces, with Gamergate specifically, there are a lot of young guys who would never consider voting for a Republican, but are totally happy being shitty to women. But you are probably right that the formal MRA folks are more conservative - I was using lazy shorthand for 'shitty sexist assholes'.
posted by corb at 11:06 AM on June 4, 2015




I had a glancing insight that I may not be able to fully articulate.

If some/many professors talk down to their students because of the professor's greater age and greater education then in the case of a SWM professor and a not SWM student, it is not always clear if the small sting of condescension comes from the age and knowledge gradient or from the race or gender identities that may lead to one person talking down to another.

(And the "I know more than you" stance tends to be valid mostly in the particular subject domain, but not in the case of some types of life experience. Too much "I know more than you" can be insufferable. And a little openness to criticism and a willingness to try hard to see bias can be useful.)
posted by puddledork at 11:12 AM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Rei Terada, The New Inquiry: Recrimination and Ruined Hope
Reading Laura Kipnis’s “My Title IX Inquisition” prompts the need to consider student-faculty hostilities in a more historical and relational light. Kipnis’s article details how she has become the target of student protest and Title IX retaliation complaints. She had published an essay, written in what she calls a “slightly mocking tone” arguing that new codes ruling out consensual erotic student-faculty relationships “infantilized students while vastly increasing the power of university administrators over all our lives.” For Kipnis, complaints of retaliation against her appear misplaced because she had never been accused of harassment and therefore had nothing, in her view, to retaliate for; as she saw it, she had simply published an opinion about a matter that did not directly concern her. Thus, Kipnis discusses student hostility primarily as a threat to her academic freedom. She laments a “climate of emotional peril” and “collective terror” on campuses, where “there are a lot of grudges these days” (“My TItle IX”) as well as the capriciousness and opacity of the officials investigating her.

Lauren Leydon-Hardy, who is a member of the department from which the Title IX complaints against Kipnis have issued, has written from her perspective. I would like to step back from the particulars of this and any dispute, however, to connect some otherwise unconnected elements of the larger situation.

Everyone seems to agree that this kind of conflict is new, as is its expression through rhetorics of vulnerability and institutional instruments such as Title IX and codes of conduct. Indeed, this trend has developed in the aftermath of student protests over privatization and other crises, and needs to be considered in conjunction with them. The protests began in California in 2009, then spread with the help of Occupy in 2011-12. They encompassed tuition increases, exploitation of workers, institutional anti-blackness, and police brutality, among other issues. Over the course of events (remember?), campus police arrested, beat with batons, pepper-sprayed, fired projectiles at, and on at least one occasion drew a gun on student protesters. University administrations harassed students with conduct charges for protests and prosecuted them in county courtrooms for political speech. There were people whose lives were seriously damaged by frivolous criminal charges.

During all this, the overwhelming majority of faculty remained distant and passive.
many links inside. go read it.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:20 AM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Except that they have a large and, yes, effective presence in social media as well. In addition to Gamergate, you've got Twitchy, the Islamophobia-industrial complex, the Breitbart media octopus, and a ton of other ways that they spread idiocy through social media.

Sure, and you have some effective liberal voices in cable news and radio. It's just not the primary messaging vehicle. Twitter is an obstacle for a lot of the conservatives in my family who I talk to because "FWD: FWD: FWD...." would take up their entire tweet.
posted by Drinky Die at 11:21 AM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


Northwestern and Title IX: What’s Going On
Now put yourself in the shoes of the graduate student, for a moment. She has made a Title IX complaint against a well-known and highly established professor in her program that involves a serious accusation of rape. She is sued for defamation by the professor. The lawsuit is dismissed. But then another professor at her university, Kipnis, writes an essay in her profession’s main news outlet that echoes Ludlow’s account that they were consensually dating, implies she is lying, and suggests that her complaint of rape is an exaggeration and “melodrama.” Kipnis urges readers to see her as harming Ludlow, rather than the other way around, and implies that Ludlow is not a real harasser. Further, when Kipnis is informed about the facts, she refuses to alter the relevant language to remove the implications. What is the lesson to the student, and to others who might come forward?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:36 AM on June 4, 2015 [16 favorites]


Christ, what an asshole.
posted by allthinky at 11:56 AM on June 4, 2015


"What about "Black Lives Matter?" Is that identity politics? Is the organized, mass-pushback against racialized police violence in this country identity politics? Because if so, when you glibly dismiss it as being solipsistic or narrowing, I think you do a huge disservice to one of the most important and effective leftist movements in, certainly, my own lifetime. "

Identity politics has been the driving force behind civil rights gains for feminism, African Americans and LGBT people in the last 50 years. You can even argue that the current power of the religious right comes in significant part from adopting an identity politics lens to traditional religious organizing. It's one of the most significant political frameworks of our day, at least in America. I don't know enough about identity politics abroad to know how well our idioms translate.
posted by klangklangston at 12:59 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


For all those citing Adolph Reed as a more thorough and articulate writer on this subject, where should I begin with his work?
posted by kingoftonga86 at 1:07 PM on June 4, 2015


I think it is not so much that Adolph Reed is better, as that he was _earlier_.
posted by running order squabble fest at 1:09 PM on June 4, 2015


"Northwestern and Title IX: What’s Going On"

That essay was excellent; far better than the FPP.
posted by klangklangston at 1:15 PM on June 4, 2015


For all those citing Adolph Reed as a more thorough and articulate writer on this subject, where should I begin with his work?

Class Notes: Posing As Politics and Other Thoughts on the American Scene
posted by RogerB at 1:18 PM on June 4, 2015


Bwithh: “Kipnis at Northwestern is a tenured prof and she had her free speech rights suppressed for writing publicly criticizing these students and was put through the legal Title IX wringer before being rightly exonerated”

I gather that either you haven't read her execrable essay or you are trying to defend it under some sort of "people should be allowed to say whatever they want under free speech" rubric. But academic freedom is not the same thing as freedom of speech, and even freedom of speech has its limits. When the thing you choose to use your freedom for is standing up and saying that teachers have a right to fuck their students, you're actively threatening the safety and well-being of students, and that bumps up even against the natural limits on freedom of speech.

klangklangston: “He cites things like Laura Kipnis's academic trial at Northwestern, which (despite disagreeing with a lot of what she wrote in the essay that prompted it, as well as several other similar essays) does seem pretty bogus from the outside. It still has a chilling effect on academic freedom — tainting the meat, as it were.”

Laura Kipnis' original article was an affront to academia in general. Academic freedom is awesome, but if you flatly decry the founding principles of academia itself – that is, for instance, if you flatly declare that professors can and should fuck their students, which is what Kipnis said in her original essay – then it ought to be possible to remove you completely from the academic realm.

Keeping her on amounts to threatening the tenure system itself, and when we pack it all in and academic freedom is completely dismantled a generation from now, Laura Kipnis ought to be pointed to as a willing collaborator in this process. She is a textbook case of the flagrant abuse of academic freedom, and allowing her to continue as a tenured professor is a mark of shame on every other tenured professor in the United States.

I mean, here's the deal: people combed through that Kipnis article looking for individual details because it really does contain implied attacks on students. And that's all well and good. But that doesn't change what the whole of the article amounts to: a manifesto demanding that professors must be allowed to fuck students with impunity. This flies in the face of the way our society works, and for good reason. She should not be a professor. Title IX was the wrong way to remove her, maybe, but she should absolutely be removed.
posted by koeselitz at 1:19 PM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


"Laura Kipnis' original article was an affront to academia in general. Academic freedom is awesome, but if you flatly decry the founding principles of academia itself – that is, for instance, if you flatly declare that professors can and should fuck their students, which is what Kipnis said in her original essay – then it ought to be possible to remove you completely from the academic realm. "

Meh. The idea that adult teachers and students shouldn't ever hook up is hardly a foundational principle of academia. I mean, at The Academy Lastheneia of Mantinea was likely involved with Speusippus.

It can be a fraught relationship, sure, but ascribing it foundational status is like saying that no coworkers of different levels within a company should ever hook up. That's the policy at some businesses, but it ignores a huge, huge, huge body of contrary practice that has worked out OK.
posted by klangklangston at 2:12 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I have a question.
Why does it seem like whenever anyone seems to talk about 'identity politics', I always hear Inigo Montoya saying "I do not believe that words means what you think it means"?

Just like when ever someone talks about how awful "Political Correctness" is, they never seem to be referring to the actual thing, but to some vaguely amorphous idea of all the awful things that other people might emotionally associate with that thing, but not the thing or idea itself?

Maybe I am just confused, or have spent way too much time thinking about the history and actual usage of these concepts, and maybe I have a more limited, or stricter definition in mind about these concepts.

Identity Politics: an extension of the classification and categorization of an individual in a political motivational sense, where-in the individual can be identified and marketed to by a political entity, through the use of propaganda, marketing PR, and media saturation.

Now, while I get that many people will self-select these identities, the majority of the work done in Identity Politics is an extension of active marketing research into ways of categorizing subsets of the population to better winnow down focused advertising. And it's, like, really freaking old. It was most notably used in the 1990's by the Clinton campaign, and is actively used today by every national political movement (think John Kerry windsurfing, or Barack Obama skeet shooting). What most people seem to refer to when talking about it only seems to be addressing where individuals (of any political affiliation) actively choose to use those identifying categorizations as "personal branding", mostly in relation to social media activity. And yes, the younger generations use this in a very distinct manner, but it is not just the (god, I hate using this to describe people) SJW's or Tumblerista's, but also massively used by the right-wing groups, like the Evangelicals, Tea Party, Rand Paul contingents.

But it is also what our society has trained us to do, in certain regards. The over saturation of marketing and brand affiliation has created a huge social shift from larger social groupings into isolated individualistic politics. That a previously marginalized and categorically ignored group has taken these concepts and are now using them in a manner never intended should not be surprising.


As for "Politically Correct":
Ah My Fucking God to I hate that the only definition anyone seems to know of this is from how the right took an in joke about, you know, actually thinking about your politics and understanding their effects, and made it into some great boogieman thought police bullshit.

To be politically correct simply means to have a working understanding of your politics. You can be any political affiliation and be politically correct. At best, most of what this article is complaining about is that the author feels that the students are actual NOT politically correct. He "feels" that the students are using their identity politics in a politically INCORRECT (meaning they do not understand the meaning of the policies and politics they espouse) manner.

But I guess the definition of a word or phrase really does belong to the majority use, so I won't get too prescriptivist (or is it descriptivist) with my argument.

But at least I got that off my chest.
posted by daq at 2:13 PM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


You see, it's only identity politics when members of previously or currently marginalized and oppressed groups do it.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:39 PM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Laura Kipnis' original article was an affront to academia in general. Academic freedom is awesome, but if you flatly decry the founding principles of academia itself – that is, for instance, if you flatly declare that professors can and should fuck their students, which is what Kipnis said in her original essay – then it ought to be possible to remove you completely from the academic realm.

I'm on record under my real name as being utterly contemptuous of Kipnis' original essay, but "do not screw the students" is not a founding principle of academia. We're talking about an issue that is still being adjudicated on a campus-by-campus basis--complete bans like Northwestern's are a very recent thing. It's not even clear that anyone thought this was a pressing matter of professional ethics until well after the 1960s. If academic freedom can withstand this other individual at Northwestern University, then it can withstand Laura Kipnis.
posted by thomas j wise at 3:04 PM on June 4, 2015


thomas j wise: “I'm on record under my real name as being utterly contemptuous of Kipnis' original essay, but ‘do not screw the students’ is not a founding principle of academia.”

Well, if we're talking about history, neither is tenure or academic freedom. But I wasn't really talking about historical founding principles of academia. I was talking about the foundation of a healthy teacher-student relationship – I admit I misspoke.

Laura Kipnis sincerely makes me feel as though tenure can be a mistake, though. At the very least, as someone who has steadily failed to break through into the vaunted realm of professional academic scholarship, it is utterly and absolutely infuriating that people like Laura Kipnis are granted a surety against any criticism whilst perfectly good and thoughtful scholars like myself and my friends are consistently denied any kind of reasonable employment.

And that tension is probably what will kill tenure. Or it'll be what the administrators use to kill tenure.
posted by koeselitz at 3:30 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


kingoftonga86: “For all those citing Adolph Reed as a more thorough and articulate writer on this subject, where should I begin with his work?”
Linked in the article from the post: “The limits of anti-racism,” Adolph Reed, Jr., Left Business Observer, September 2009.
posted by ob1quixote at 3:34 PM on June 4, 2015


What an irritating article. It's funny that the author throws the word "liberal" around so much in reference to himself as well as others, because in this article he really does perfectly exemplify the leftist stereotype of a liberal: someone with privilege who desperately claws in the face anyone to the left of him, to achieve the much-vaunted "voice of reason" identity among other privileged status quo-ists.
posted by threeants at 4:33 PM on June 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


Perhaps the question one might ask here is not "is not boinking your students a foundational principle of academia?", but "why has it taken so long for academia to start considering that the presence of sexually inexperienced and easily impressed young people may be a potential risk rather than a perk of the job?".
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:02 PM on June 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


"You see, it's only identity politics when members of previously or currently marginalized and oppressed groups do it."

What's that snark in response to? It seems like you're replying to something, but I can't find any comment near you that could be burlesqued into that.

"At the very least, as someone who has steadily failed to break through into the vaunted realm of professional academic scholarship, it is utterly and absolutely infuriating that people like Laura Kipnis are granted a surety against any criticism whilst perfectly good and thoughtful scholars like myself and my friends are consistently denied any kind of reasonable employment.'

I love ya, man, but without knowing anything about Kipnis's actual record of scholarship or yours, this seems like an ad hominem mistake. Somebody in the recent Buffalo Oboe thread earnestly proclaimed that you couldn't be a good musician if you were an asshole, and this feels similar — I'm not saying that Kipnis is the Miles Davis of critical theory or anything, but it's entirely possible to be an asshole about some (even most!) things and still produce valuable work for the field. There's plenty in academia that selects for assholes, just like politics or business, but Kipnis being an asshole isn't an argument against tenure. If anything, it's an argument for tenure and for the need to make that distinction between personality and work clearer. It always feels unfair when an asshole succeeds at something, especially if they're beating you out (even tangentially), but letting that turn into spite against protections of their position only plays into the hands of people who want to dismantle those protections. Her being less secure won't get you a job.
posted by klangklangston at 5:26 PM on June 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Tenure can protect people who might not deserve to be protected, and so can unions. I still think the world is better off with both institutions, on the whole. I don't like the idea of professors having to worry about the opinions of whoever just donated a building to the campus, to choose a not-very-far-out-there example.
posted by uosuaq at 5:54 PM on June 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


A REAL Liberal Professor calls total "Bullshit" on Professor Schlosser. I think we've all been well-trolled.
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:50 PM on June 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


From oneswellfoop's link: Why that situation would cause a liberal professor to be afraid of liberal students is a mystery to me. It’s political conservatives who have gutted university funding and made our jobs more fragile who are to blame.

I don't think these things are mutually exclusive. You can simultaneously have 1) an ongoing neo-liberal (or neo-con I guess if you are American) campaign against publicly funded higher ed and systems (e.g. tenure) that protect political thought in those institutions that is contrary/provides opposition to such campaigns and 2) a development on the opposite end of the political spectrum that appears to increasingly prioritise the emotions of students such that professors feel the need to modify classroom materials/techniques so as not to become victim to blowback related to those emotions.

They end up reinforcing each other because 1) neocons/neolibs can point to laughable on-campus 'outrages' by students as a reason why we need to continue to strip universities of their position/respect 2) university administrations seek to avoid public condemnation as a result of social media responses to student complaints because they are afraid of giving further evidence to the neocons who want to further marginalise their position.

It's a clusterfuck from all angles.
posted by modernnomad at 8:54 PM on June 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's a clusterfuck from all angles.

I agree, it's never straightforward. It's debatable how many students in the US understand the key differences between liberal and conservative well enough to use the label accurately when describing or adopting the opposing politics of their household. The right-left delineation is not simply a theoretical skewer with one center point in common, but a messy divide that stretches across issues in terms such as the environment, equal pay, abortion, education funding, with gains and losses measured in budgets. A convert to the struggle, perhaps as a student, may start out identifying as a true believer, often resenting those who aren't proud, but who calmly engage in changing attitudes at close ranges. Regardless, political locality matters when slinging these labels. A moderate person can be perceived as a liberal in a conservative place, or perceived as a conservative in a liberal place. A moderate professor would be an easier target at either because he or she would more likely have their guard down when speaking as an authority.
posted by Brian B. at 10:07 PM on June 4, 2015


Apocryphon: “You see, it's only identity politics when members of previously or currently marginalized and oppressed groups do it.”

klangklangston: “What's that snark in response to? It seems like you're replying to something, but I can't find any comment near you that could be burlesqued into that.”

It's a response to the article in the post, wherein the author himself seems distinctly to be engaging in "identity politics" of his own.

klangklangston: “I love ya, man, but without knowing anything about Kipnis's actual record of scholarship or yours, this seems like an ad hominem mistake. Somebody in the recent Buffalo Oboe thread earnestly proclaimed that you couldn't be a good musician if you were an asshole, and this feels similar — I'm not saying that Kipnis is the Miles Davis of critical theory or anything, but it's entirely possible to be an asshole about some (even most!) things and still produce valuable work for the field. There's plenty in academia that selects for assholes, just like politics or business, but Kipnis being an asshole isn't an argument against tenure. If anything, it's an argument for tenure and for the need to make that distinction between personality and work clearer. It always feels unfair when an asshole succeeds at something, especially if they're beating you out (even tangentially), but letting that turn into spite against protections of their position only plays into the hands of people who want to dismantle those protections. Her being less secure won't get you a job.”

Well, it's more than a little distasteful that I made this about myself, even tangentially; I meant to point out rather that there are a lot of great scholars better than Kipnis (and me) who are waiting in the wings for a chance to do much better than she has, and who are instead stuck as adjuncts and lecturers working their tails off and hoping they don't get dismissed. And, yes, I do indeed believe that writing a veritable manifesto insisting that professors ought to be allowed to fuck students, and in the process publicly calling out individual students' Title IX claims as mere "melodrama," makes you a bad teacher. I think that attitude has an effect on what you do. Heck, it's about what she does. If a gardener wrote a screed insisting that she ought to be allowed to fuck the rosebushes she's charged with taking care of, it would be fair to say she isn't likely a good gardener, even granting her some room owing to her supposed expertise in gardening.

Yes, that's also an argument in favor of tenure, in a sense. But I still think professors who talk about open Title IX cases in this way at the very least are opening themselves up to reprimands or warnings. Contrary to conservative paranoias, tenure isn't unlimited or iron-clad; you can do things for which the university is allowed to dismiss you. As Kipnis laments, one of those things at many schools now (including Northwestern) is fucking students. Being combative toward students in the way Kipnis has been is apparently not one of them. More's the pity.
posted by koeselitz at 10:18 PM on June 4, 2015 [4 favorites]


the man of twists and turns: Jeet Heer in The New Republic: Stress Test: Critics fear that a new political correctness has invaded college campuses. But the real explanation for our newfound trepidation has to do with the way we process trauma.

Wow, that article starts as rhetorically manipulative bullshit (e.g. pretending to disagree with Chait et al while never actually doing so) and just gets worse. Trigger warnings are "prevalent"? And then it proceeds to spend the bulk of its inches expoinding on the history of PTSD treatment while omitting any clear reference to recent research or therapeutic practice, thus giving utter lie to its title.

AFAICS, all of the anti-PC crusading boils down to the idea that it's Intuitively Obvious and True that [sexually exploiting / beating / raping / sexually-assaulting / tramatizing / shaming / humiliating / etc.] kids is a fantastic way to teach them.

I really don't think that's very far off, especially when we are presented as an example of unobjectionable academic ideas Kipnis' notion that it ought to be just fine for profs to fuck their students. I agree that it used to be normal. I'm at a loss to understand why a thoughtful adult should think it ought to be regarded as such.

Likewise anyone who wants to think of themselves as a good teacher while not paying attention to the fact that inducing anxiety results in poor learning really needs to re-assess.
posted by lodurr at 5:49 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


I'm not liberal by any means, but this has got to be the best write-up on the overdrawn political correctness plaguing our system, both education and elsewhere.

Anything you say might upset someone - either you get outed and never re-hired, or you get sued.

There's no right to not be offended - there's the obligation to be nice, but that's it. While they can definitely speak out, it's not a reasonable justification to report the teacher as if there were a viably pursuable infraction.
posted by Grease at 9:57 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm not liberal by any means, but this has got to be the best write-up on the overdrawn political correctness plaguing our system, both education and elsewhere.

Yeah, you know, you just came in on the tail end of a thread where it was repeatedly demonstrated that there is no evidence of this.
posted by maxsparber at 10:11 AM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's no right to not be offended ...

True, totally non-controversial, and not likely to be debated by anyone on this thread.
posted by lodurr at 10:13 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


" If a gardener wrote a screed insisting that she ought to be allowed to fuck the rosebushes she's charged with taking care of, it would be fair to say she isn't likely a good gardener, even granting her some room owing to her supposed expertise in gardening."

Students aren't delicate flowers, an especially off analogy when she complains of neo-Victorian framing of students. Like I said, it's more like a senior and junior coworker — which can no doubt be unethical, but isn't necessarily. This is especially true the less direct influence a professor has, i.e. not being an advisor, the student not taking any classes with the prof., etc.
posted by klangklangston at 11:47 AM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


Students aren't delicate flowers...

... and neither are roses, and if you did fuck them, you'd regret it. So yes, it's not a great analogy, but at least it's one that can make you very uncomfortable.

As for it being more like a junior and senior co-worker: I would have more sympathy for that view if you amended it to be 'manager and subordinate', and even then I don't think it would be an adequate analogy. 'Senior co-workers' can't flunk you, and aren't authority figures in anything like the way a teacher is.

And it gets even worse when you start talking about graduate advisers. They can make or ruin your life, single-handedly. So in that case, I think it's even MORE important that you not fuck your students.

When I was younger, I would guess I thought about profs fucking students much the way Kipnis does. I'm older now, I understand better how murky authority is and how poorly young people understand it (especially their own).
posted by lodurr at 11:55 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


.. and neither are roses, and if you did fuck them, you'd regret it.

I just want a kiss from one.

BABY
posted by maxsparber at 11:59 AM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


As for it being more like a junior and senior co-worker: I would have more sympathy for that view if you amended it to be 'manager and subordinate', and even then I don't think it would be an adequate analogy. 'Senior co-workers' can't flunk you, and aren't authority figures in anything like the way a teacher is.

Teenaged subordinate. Whose first job this is, and whose entire future career rests on how well they do. Who cannot be promoted, and who has spent their entire life up to that point being told to obey instructions given to them by people in loco "senior co-worker"... So, yeah.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:15 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: “Like I said, it's more like a senior and junior coworker — which can no doubt be unethical, but isn't necessarily.”

Well, I was specifically trying to avoid capitalist worker / coworker / client / etc analogies, because I feel as though they're quite incorrect, as well. I don't say students are delicate flowers. But it's certainly not true that students are coworkers, is it? And I'm sure you avoided saying students are clients or customers because, well, that's exactly what we're trying to get away from here, and Kipnis is right at least as far as she says that's an inapt way to see it. Some students are minors. The purported victims of Kipnis' colleague were underage, for instance. So while we're not talking about issues of delicacy, we absolutely are talking about matters that our society has taken a clear side on.
posted by koeselitz at 12:19 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm sure there's a reason to avoid 'capitalist worker / coworker / client / etc analogies', but there are real authority and subordination issues at play here. Whatever idealized view we want to have of a college-level teacher-student relationship, Schlosser, Kipnis and others aggressively demonstrate that it is, as far as they are concerned (and rightly so) a matter of them pumping knowledge into students, and the students not having the grace to lie back and take it.
posted by lodurr at 12:29 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


AFAICS, all of the anti-PC crusading boils down to the idea that it's Intuitively Obvious and True that [sexually exploiting / beating / raping / sexually-assaulting / tramatizing / shaming / humiliating / etc.] kids is a fantastic way to teach them.

This isn't my reading of the situation. The usual suspects who complain about this stuff (i.e. conservative news media) tend to spin up in response to perceived "politically correct lynch mobs". The canonical situation seems to be when someone is revealed to have done something racist / sexist / insensitive, and the outcry leads to them being fired from their prominent position. Examples of the situation include the celebrity chef Paula Deen, or the broadcaster Anthony Cumia.

Usually, the person has done "something" so they aren't completely blameless. But the (conservative) media usually argue that they should not lose their position over a minor slip that they later apologize for.
posted by theorique at 12:59 PM on June 5, 2015


"Teenaged subordinate. Whose first job this is, and whose entire future career rests on how well they do. Who cannot be promoted, and who has spent their entire life up to that point being told to obey instructions given to them by people in loco "senior co-worker"... So, yeah."

But the Northwestern policy doesn't just prohibit "subordinates," it prohibits any faculty (or coaching staff) from having any consensual relationship with a student, even if they would have no interaction at all on campus.

And students aren't all teenagers — when I was a freshman, I could legally drink. I was older than some of my TAs. Even beyond that, assuming that 19-year-olds can't give informed consent is infantilizing. They're adults. They can vote, they can kill in the Army, and in Canada they can drink. The whole idea of substituting "senior co-worker" for "parentis" is insulting and frankly sounds like the naive moral pronouncement of someone who's never had a job in a restaurant or bar or any other place where young people regularly work and date each other.

These are decisions that hinge greatly on the specifics of the people involved and the relative contexts. A blanket prohibition such as Northwestern's is one formed of legal convenience and bright line ass-covering, not a coherent statement of ethical truth.
posted by klangklangston at 2:43 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


1: I guess I'm not clear where you're coming from on this whole 'senior co-worker' thing, because I thought you were the person who introduced the term.

2: Why 'infantilize'? Do you really not think that's a TINY exaggeration?

3: Sure, a blanket prohibition is a legal convenience. But if their goal is to prevent people from abusing their positions of authority -- and whether or not you agree that it's an abuse is not the issue -- what other means would you suggest? An age-cutoff?
posted by lodurr at 2:52 PM on June 5, 2015


John Holbo on Crooked Timber ties the Kipnis case in with everyone's favorite orthodox Orthodox conservative: The Counter-Enlightenment as Gotcha!
Where to start, where to start? Dreher, like a lot of conservatives, is aghast at the Kipnis case.

Dreher finds all this ‘chilling’, stunning’ and ‘scary as hell’. I agree that it was very, very bad and not the sort of thing – at all – that Title IX ought to entail. (Congratulations to all involved for providing the anti-PC brigade with such high-quality ammo!) That the charges were dropped is a good thing, but they shouldn’t have been brought in the first place. (The only semi-defense of the logic of the Kipnis charge I have read is here and I don’t think it works, although you can yell about it in comments if that is your bliss. If it calms you down, I might go this far: the case isn’t as utterly nuts as it might look, but it’s pretty damn nuts.)

Here’s the Dreher thing. Just a week earlier, he kinda sorta said farewell to all that – the Enlightenment, that is.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 3:05 PM on June 5, 2015


But the Northwestern policy doesn't just prohibit "subordinates," it prohibits any faculty (or coaching staff) from having any consensual relationship with a student, even if they would have no interaction at all on campus.

Shit, no, even the coaching staff? This is political correctness gone mad!
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:54 PM on June 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


klangklangston: “And students aren't all teenagers — when I was a freshman, I could legally drink. I was older than some of my TAs. Even beyond that, assuming that 19-year-olds can't give informed consent is infantilizing. They're adults. They can vote, they can kill in the Army, and in Canada they can drink. The whole idea of substituting ‘senior co-worker’ for ‘parentis’ is insulting and frankly sounds like the naive moral pronouncement of someone who's never had a job in a restaurant or bar or any other place where young people regularly work and date each other. These are decisions that hinge greatly on the specifics of the people involved and the relative contexts. A blanket prohibition such as Northwestern's is one formed of legal convenience and bright line ass-covering, not a coherent statement of ethical truth.”

"Boss" or "manager" makes more sense in those cases – isn't that clear? Teachers are in an obvious position of power. Bosses sleeping with their subordinates isn't illegal, but in most cases it's pretty clearly unethical because of the power imbalance. Combine this with the situation many young students are in when they go to college – yes, even 19-year-olds! – and the power imbalance becomes extreme: kids are away from home for the first time, and therefore are susceptible to manipulation by power holders. Yeah, that's part of life. Yeah, kids go away to college and do crazy stuff. Yeah, most of them will be fine. That doesn't make it okay for teachers to take advantage of that situation.

And please note – this isn't some prudish prohibition on students having sex, or on professors having sex. The university is just laying down clear rules. Most workplaces do this. Every place I've ever worked at has had rules against relationships between bosses and the people they manage, and it's never seemed weird or restrictive.

"Don't fuck students" just isn't that egregious or painful a sacrifice to ask teachers to make. In fact, it turns out that it's quite easy.
posted by koeselitz at 4:03 PM on June 5, 2015


But if their goal is to prevent people from abusing their positions of authority -- and whether or not you agree that it's an abuse is not the issue -- what other means would you suggest?

Northwestern's really is quite broad and the more normal/usual rule is to prohibit relationships between faculty and students that they have or might reasonably expect to have some form of academic supervision over. But at my university it would be within-policy (but probably still totally gross) for, say, an electrical engineering prof to accept the romantic overtures of an undergraduate English major who's never going to take a double-E course.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:05 PM on June 5, 2015


Students aren't delicate flowers...

... and neither are roses, and if you did fuck them, you'd regret it.


Well, you could but you would just have to be really, really careful. I think it's a good analogy for the possible troubles of relationships with problematic power dynamics that way.

I don't know about professor/student relationships, but my parents met in a situation where Mom was in one of her first few jobs after college and Dad was basically the big boss. It was a local newspaper and he was editor-in-chief. It's been a healthy, decades long relationship. For a good chunk of it he stayed home with the kids after disability made it harder for him to do his job and she supported the family financially. The power dynamic shift of that didn't hurt anything.

So, when we talk about blanket bans of relationships between older and younger adults with potentially problematic elements I'm not really in favor. Such relationships aren't always exploitative or wrong. As for how to develop a policy for how to responsibly handle this as a University to prevent the relationships that are a problem? Err, hell if I know, but a total ban rubs me the wrong way.

Here's one thing though, my Mom's parents were very nearby and in touch when she first met my father. That can be a moderating influence to keep an eye on the relationship and raise the warning bells if something seems off. A 19 year old man or woman at a college might not have that support system which raises the possibility for bad stuff to happen. Would some sort of formal disclosure to the university sort of process help out there? (Are those already in place elsewhere?) It definitely seems like a situation where maybe somebody outside the relationship should be looking out for warning signs. That does sound infantalizing to me, but it also could be something that is the reasonable middle ground.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:06 PM on June 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


The way some people talk about it in this thread, it's like the more important thing is that there's the potential for things to go well, rather than for things to go horribly. If administrations are supposed to be looking after the well-being of young students, I'd think it makes sense to focus more on the potential for harm that is inherent to an age and power difference.
posted by teponaztli at 4:13 PM on June 5, 2015 [5 favorites]


I mean, the other thing, of course, is that we are not generally talking about a hypothethical happy, mutually fulfilling relationship between a young, buff and very responsible member of the coaching staff (possibly played by Mark Blucas) and a self-possessed, very mature for her years English student. Let's roll the tape:
In particular, I find that he initiated kissing, French kissing, rubbing your back, and sleeping with his arms on and around you on the night of February 10-11 2012...

I do not find that Respondent touched your breasts or buttocks. I find that you were incapacitated due to heavy consumption of alcohol purchased for you by Respondent, and were therefore unable to offer meaningful consent to this physical touching that night.

"I also find that Respondent told you he thought you were attractive, discussed his desire to have a romantic and sexual relationship with you, and shared other personal information of a sexual nature, all of which was unwelcome to you.
That's Joan Slavin of Northwestern's Office for Sexual Harassment Prevention. I mean, on one level I guess one could say "hey, no touching of breasts and buttocks. What more do you people want? What does it take?"

However, if we're making a case for the general desirability of the student body being sexually available to the faculty, I think it's worth looking at the specific case that Kipnis is getting exercised about.
posted by running order squabble fest at 4:26 PM on June 5, 2015


I'd think it makes sense to focus more on the potential for harm that is inherent to an age and power difference.

I think what people are saying is that it makes the most sense to focus on the potential for harm, but the ban may not be the best way to handle it much like you can try and develop ways to address alcohol abuse on campus without being a prohibitionist.
posted by Drinky Die at 4:29 PM on June 5, 2015


"Shit, no, even the coaching staff? This is political correctness gone mad!"

Yeah, ace snark, chief. When I was an undergrad I knew people who were coaching staff — who were, again, the same age as I was — and they had absolutely fuck all to do with my education in any meaningful way. Barring coaching staff from hooking up with athletes makes sense; barring them from hooking up with any undergrad or grad student is ridiculous. That's not "political correctness gone mad," that's an overbroad policy that treats students and staff like children.

"I guess I'm not clear where you're coming from on this whole 'senior co-worker' thing, because I thought you were the person who introduced the term. "

Because it prohibits people who have no real connection despite nominally having the same "employer," i.e. as ROU mentioned, an Electrical Engineering prof and a sociology major.

"Why 'infantilize'? Do you really not think that's a TINY exaggeration? "

Because it treats adults as incapable of making their own decisions even beyond any necessary safeguard?

"Sure, a blanket prohibition is a legal convenience. But if their goal is to prevent people from abusing their positions of authority -- and whether or not you agree that it's an abuse is not the issue -- what other means would you suggest? An age-cutoff?"

How about treating it like most colleges, where it's limited to profs that may have a direct impact on a student, and also require reporting of relationships to administration or department heads, then treating them on a case-by-case basis?

"And please note – this isn't some prudish prohibition on students having sex, or on professors having sex. The university is just laying down clear rules. Most workplaces do this. Every place I've ever worked at has had rules against relationships between bosses and the people they manage, and it's never seemed weird or restrictive."

This prompted me to think through the places that I've worked, and my experience has been very different.

Mexican restaurant: No policy; would have been awkward to enforce what with the boss and his wife, who he met at another restaurant, running the place. Hookups between managers and staff were commonplace, and of all the fucked up things that happened there, coworker relationship drama was not an issue.

Three different pizza joints: No policies, or at least no enforced policies. Frequent hookups between coworkers, including managers and subordinates. Again, labor problems more related to capitalist drudgery and substance abuse.

Summer festival: No policy; hookups between supervisors and supervised frequent.

Grocery store: If there was a policy, it was unenforced. Hookups between managers and staff frequent.

College town magazine: No policy; hookups infrequent but did happen.

College newspaper: No policy; editor-in-chief of my tenure now married to entertainment editor.

Corporate magazine: Lots of policies, dubious enforcement. I don't know of any problems, though I don't doubt there were plenty — it was constantly embroiled in labor lawsuits.

Political canvassing: No policy; hookups frequent between managers, directors and staff.

LGBT civil rights org: Policy developed during my time there; hookups frequent (though not what prompted the development of the policy, which was rolled into the sexual harassment policy, also developed while I was there).

A couple of these places had sexual harassment problems, but they were handled within a general sexual harassment policy rather than blanket bans. Almost all of them had a significant plurality of college students as employees.

Part of what resonated with me about Kipnis's essay was the thought that it requires a view of power that is aloof and self-reverent to the point of diminishing the agency of students to both make decisions for their own lives and to regard professors — or powerful people in general — as equals, thus reinforcing that power structure.

This doesn't mean that I don't recognize that the professorial context does require special safeguards, or that power differentials matter in relationships, but the ban Kipnis wrote about is an insulting one to the majority of college students who are adults and deserve the right to make their own decisions. It's a prohibitionist, moralist over-reaction.

"I mean, the other thing, of course, is that we are not generally talking about a hypothethical happy, mutually fulfilling relationship between a young, buff and very responsible member of the coaching staff (possibly played by Mark Blucas) and a self-possessed, very mature for her years English student. Let's roll the tape:"

Of course bad, inappropriate relationships would be the ones that would be most talked about. The unobjectionable ones garner no objections. This is a general prohibition — if you didn't stop thinking once you had a glib zinger, you could probably think through how to construct a policy that would both curtail most bad behavior while still allowing adults to make their own decisions. For a start, you could look at any number of other universities' policies.
posted by klangklangston at 8:59 PM on June 5, 2015 [3 favorites]


klangklangston: “For a start, you could look at any number of other universities' policies.”

That's a point, and I know there are edge cases. We probably disagree less than anyone is letting on. But – keep in mind that this is generally taken to be the ethical benchmark in most universities, even if it isn't written in policy. That's why arguing against it seems a bit distasteful. I've known a number of situations where teachers and students found they had an attraction to each other and had the desire to form romantico-sexuo-freaky whatever situations with each other. You know what they did? They waited until the student wasn't a student anymore, to avoid any impropriety.

It seems like part of this is our casting about for rational ethical standards because the old regime has dissolved. The old regime was: don't talk about it. If it comes out that it happened, even if it's completely proper, you will be shamed and made an example of; rape and "indiscretions" are morally equivalent. This meant that plenty of gross rapey stuff went on behind the thin veil of secrecy that protected those in power from scandal as long as they were at least a little discreet. Now we're out here in the open, and we have to think about where the lines should be drawn if we're making policy explicitly. I feel as though the "don't fuck students" rule is something people can and should abide by, and as far as I can tell all the academics I'm friends with agree – but of course they're absolutely not from Laura Kipnis' generation at all. My sense is that we should make explicit policy close to the social norm, and that complicating that policy is unnecessary, since it's not that hard to abide by, even if one thinks it a bit strict.

“Part of what resonated with me about Kipnis's essay was the thought that it requires a view of power that is aloof and self-reverent to the point of diminishing the agency of students to both make decisions for their own lives and to regard professors — or powerful people in general — as equals, thus reinforcing that power structure.”

I can see the rationality of chafing against apparent regulation of the sexual lives of adults. I am not against such regulation per se; but, as I said, I can see the reasons why someone might be. I considered pointing out that I don't feel infantilized by the fact that I'd probably get fired if my boss found out I was screwing a client, but thinking about it I realized that a lot of people would see that as an unfair restriction of what I and the client choose to do in private, as free and consenting adults. Still, as I said, I don't have any problem with these kinds of policies. I don't find them infantilizing.

Ultimately, I think the context of Kipnis' essay also sort of matters to some of us. It really sticks out to me that the case she was talking about was one in which the accuser was a minor and the teacher was an adult. That changes things, and makes the essay seem rather to be a defense of something else. Since many of the arguments used are familiar to me from other less savory realms – the argument that it doesn't do young people any harm, that it might be a good experience for them anyway, that it's not as bad as people want to say it is – I think I reacted rather strongly. Still, it's written in such a mawkish and sneering way that it's hard not to read it in the worst possible light.
posted by koeselitz at 11:09 PM on June 5, 2015




The then head of my MFA program had a thing for fucking his students. He was also one of those people whose teaching philosophy was WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW like a screaming Hitler, and required his students for their first assignment to write about losing their virginity or the first time they did drugs. This kind of horribly led this virgin student who had also not done drugs ever and just wanted to write about elves to then have her first drug experience as she was prescribed benzos for stress.

Anyway, I was submitting some shit to some place and you know what you do is try to read the various other crap the mag has published. And the last thing they had published had been from this dude who fucked his students. And the piece was about this older guy gloriously fucking this nymphette.

So my reaction to that was *oh ha ha ha (puke) oh ha ha ha (puke)*

Sleeping with your students is just the lowest, tackiest thing. I had a British guitar god guy close to my age who liked to flirt with me, and once I caught myself playing with my hair (puke) as I was talking to him, and from that moment forward I was like angrycat the non sexy spinster teacher lady because flirting with your students PUKE
posted by angrycat at 5:33 AM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


if you didn't stop thinking once you had a glib zinger

Funnily enough, klang, considering that you are apparently very invested in the idea that it is infantillzing students to put in place rules about student-faculty sexual relationships, you don't seem to be keen to demonstrate the ends of infantilism. The above is not how grown-ups talk about things.

However, that post of yours seems, again, primarily to be about people having sex in the workplace. And it's probably worth saying, again, that an academic institution is not exactly a workplace in that sense, and - and this seems genuinely not a bewildering proposition - students and faculty are not in every sense co-workers.

Here's a common-sense test. If somebody were to say to you "I work at Harvard", this could mean "I am a student, who works in the library writing essays" or "I have a paid job as a professor at Harvard". However, I think that the former would be seen as a weird and possibly deceptive formulation, just as a professor saying "I study at Harvard" would no doubt be in some sense true but still misleading. Students and teachers are explicitly not co-workers. Nor are they exactly clients and contractors. "People were having sex with each other at the restaurant I worked at" is not, I would say, a wholly relevant exemplum.

So, it seems sensible to me to look at the actual situation under discussion, rather than food service. And, although of course there are meltingly handsome TAs reading poetry under trees to mature undergraduates in totally difference fields who took three years out to volunteer with the Peace Corps, we should also probably be realistic about what a strong defence of student-teacher sex is generally seeking to legitimize, which is a middle-aged man insisting that for some reason he was absolutely sure that the coed he was buying alcohol for was 22. That is absolutely the situation Laura Kipnis is defending:
What a mess. And what a slippery slope, from alleged fondler to rapist. But here’s the real problem with these charges: This is melodrama. I’m quite sure that professors can be sleazebags. I’m less sure that any professor can force an unwilling student to drink, especially to the point of passing out. With what power? What sorts of repercussions can there possibly be if the student refuses?
So, it seems appropriate, if we are talking about Laura Kipnis' article, actually to look at the case she is dedicating her attention to, and the statements she is making (several of which of course then had to be corrected subsequently).

So, again, I don't think anyone is arguing that undergraduates are not attractive, and are not more or less sexually mature. However, it is unsafe, I think, to argue that an undergraduate and a professor exist in the same relationship as two hot co-workers in a food service establishment.

Looking at the actual situation under discussion, the University of Texas' rules seem to me to broadly line up with the "students as equivalent to co-workers" model:
It is the policy of The University of Texas at Austin ("University) that employees with direct teaching, supervisory, advisory, or evaluative responsibility over other employees, students and/or student employees recognize and respect the ethical and professional boundaries that must exist in such situations.
It's worth noting that when when you say:

Like I said, it's more like a senior and junior coworker — which can no doubt be unethical, but isn't necessarily. This is especially true the less direct influence a professor has, i.e. not being an advisor, the student not taking any classes with the prof., etc.

That not actually supported even by this policy, which explicitly says that a relationship where there is direct influence is not ethical, and either the relationship must not happen, or the influence must be removed:
Should such a relationship develop, the teacher, supervisor or advisor has the obligation to disclose its existence to an immediate supervisor and cooperate in making alternative arrangements for the supervision, evaluation, teaching, grading, or advising of the employee, student and/or student employee.
However, even this is not an uncontroversial gold standard. For example, at Yale:
...teachers (see below) must avoid sexual relationships with students over whom they have or might reasonably expect to have direct pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities, regardless of whether the relationship is consensual. Conversely, a teacher must not directly supervise any student with whom he or she has a sexual relationship. Undergraduate students are particularly vulnerable to the unequal institutional power inherent in the teacher-student relationship and the potential for coercion, because of their age and relative lack of maturity. Therefore, no teacher shall have a sexual or amorous relationship with any undergraduate student, regardless of whether the teacher currently exercises or expects to have any pedagogical or supervisory responsibilities over that student.
These are definitely different approaches - one of which sees undergraduates as benefitting from specific protections from faculty. However - and I think that at this point we are not actually talking about rules of sexual conduct in the workplace but simply about intellectual honestly - Laura Kipnis is absolutely arguing that it should not be a big deal for professors to initiate sexual contact with undergraduates with whom they have a direct tutorial or pastoral relationship, literally from the first sentence of her piece:
You have to feel a little sorry these days for professors married to their former students. They used to be respectable citizens—leaders in their fields, department chairs, maybe even a dean or two—and now they’re abusers of power avant la lettre. I suspect you can barely throw a stone on most campuses around the country without hitting a few of these neo-miscreants. Who knows what coercions they deployed back in the day to corral those students into submission; at least that’s the fear evinced by today’s new campus dating policies.
One could, of course make an interesting point about power relations by noting that these professors are actually still respected citizens, still department chairs, still deans and so on - but I don't think that's a necessary detail to explore. It is enough to note that Laura Kipnis is advocating for sexual relationships between professors and their students, specifically to be treated as not a big deal. She is also arguing that protest about a situation in which a professor is accused specifically of being alcohol for an underaged student of his and who wakes up the next day in his bed should be treated as melodramatic rather than cause for concern.

(Her use/scarequoting of "mixed" to describe professor/student relationships, of course, is a little melodramatic in itself, drawing as it does a series of deliberate equivalences to the civil rights struggle and racism in America, but that's a story for another day.)

So, klang, I think that an insistence that undergraduates and professors exist in the same relationship as junior and senior coworkers is generally unsafe, and relies possibly on the kinds of misunderstandings of detail we've already addressed with regard to the Oxford collegiate system, Ovid, Toni Morrison et alia. That said, I would definitely concede that there is blue water between "a 21-year old literature TA and a 22-year old frosh majoring in astrophysics can probably date without it being a huge issue" and "Laura Kipnis is broadly correct". You said earlier that you disagree with a lot of what Kipnis is saying, but perhaps we need a bit of specificity to understand this better.

So... leaving aside any comparisons to food service, magazine publishing or similar, are we agreed that, broadly, a professor probably should not find themselves waking up in bed with an undergraduate they are teaching, no matter how good-faith their belief that this undergraduate was over the age of 21 (or that they were actually in Canada for much of the evening)? That feels like a basic bedrock question here.
posted by running order squabble fest at 5:36 AM on June 6, 2015 [4 favorites]


(Which, to bring this back to TFA, is a reason why I think I am basically OK about liberal professors being afraid of their liberal students, if the specific thing that they are afraid of is that students might complain, and have that complaint be listened to, if they are the subjects of inappropriate advances from professors. If that is a fear that professors - liberal or otherwise - have, then I think the system is working. Although I don't know if there is actually much evidence that professors should be particularly worried about there being adverse effects...)
posted by running order squabble fest at 10:52 AM on June 6, 2015 [1 favorite]


Because ['infantilize'] treats adults as incapable of making their own decisions even beyond any necessary safeguard?

And it's also a mind-bogglingly loaded term that doesn't begin to describe what happens when a law simply prohibits behavior of a certain type. It's qualitatively analogous to saying laws that define consent as requiring the consentee not be in an impaired state infantilize potential victims because we're treating adults as incapable of taking protective measures to prevent being in that position.
posted by lodurr at 3:52 AM on June 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


If that is a fear that professors - liberal or otherwise - have, then I think the system is working.

Depends on your definition of 'working.' It's doing what we pretend to want it to do on a gross scale (i.e. generating and responding to social change), but it's still producing professors who have deeply ill-conceived notions of what constitutes effective teaching. Though I suppose the latter is a problem we can't expect to fix on a timescale of less than about 2 generations.
posted by lodurr at 3:55 AM on June 9, 2015


It's doing what we pretend to want it to do on a gross scale (i.e. generating and responding to social change), but it's still producing professors who have deeply ill-conceived notions of what constitutes effective teaching.

I think that's deeper than I was going. I was limiting this to fear as a way to motivate professors not to try to have sex with their students. I hadn't even got as far as social change, or pedagogic outcomes, just... genital continence.
posted by running order squabble fest at 12:50 PM on June 9, 2015


I think that's deeper than I was going.

I was just expressing my depression over the whole thing.
posted by lodurr at 5:25 AM on June 10, 2015


As an aside, Vox has removed the name of the black feminist that "Edward Schlosser" was particularly upset about, and posted a kindasortapology:
Update: After a discussion with a woman whose tweet was quoted in the story, the editors of this piece agreed that some of the conclusions drawn in the article misrepresented her tweet and the article was revised. The woman requested anonymity because she said she was receiving death threats as a result of the story, so her name has been removed. Unfortunately, threats are a horrible reality for many women online and a topic we intend to report on further.
Which does feel a bit like a news agency representative punching someone in the face, and then asking them to describe their feelings of having been punched in the face, to be honest.
posted by running order squabble fest at 3:51 AM on June 13, 2015 [2 favorites]


Against Students - "Complaining, censorious, and over-sensitive, university students are destroying their own institutions. Wait, seriously? People think that?"
We are looping back to a starting point: how equality is dismissed by being identified with managerialism, with the imposition of moral norms from the top down. Feminism is then aligned with management, as a technique for managing unruly bodies, just as feminism can be aligned with the market, as a consequence of unruly bodies. Not surprisingly the techniques for dismissing feminism are the same techniques for justifying male power. Of course what has to be remain unsaid here is this: The freedom of some rests on the restriction of the freedom of others. So much harassment is justified and reproduced by framing the very language of harassment as an imposition on freedom. And so much violence (such as domestic violence) is not called violence because it is understood as a right and a freedom: “It is not violence, it is not force, I have a right (to your body).”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:08 PM on June 29, 2015 [2 favorites]


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