As the academic freedom levee breaks...
April 15, 2010 5:00 PM   Subscribe

ColdChef (2006): "Also, Dr. Ivor van Heerden is the fucking man. And he wrote a hell of a book, which will probably eventually get him fired." It did. van Heerden is suing LSU for wrongful termination, and the AAUP is investigating.

PDF of the AAUP's notice to LSU. The AAUP is also investigating another LSU violation of academic freedom: The mid-semester removal of Dr. Dominique G. Homberger from her introductory biology class for her tough grading policies.
posted by DiscourseMarker (21 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
van Heerden brought a group of undergrads and I on a tour around New Orleans, 3 years ago. He explained to us in great detail how the levees had failed, and what the problems in the design process were. I was extremely impressed with his knowledgeable description, and that he took the time to show us around.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 5:27 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

A lot of people think that the point of tenure is to keep teachers in their job, regardless of performance. What tenure is designed to do is to protect guys like van Heerden.
posted by immlass at 5:38 PM on April 15, 2010 [13 favorites]

Stay Classy, LSU

An especially tart assailment of LSU's administration appeared in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, from James A. Cobb Jr., attorney and adjunct professor in LSU-rival Tulane University's School of Law, whose letter to the editor ended thus:

Academic freedom and intellectual integrity are, at LSU, like two distant cousins who haven't spoken to each other in many, many years.

Flagship university? Please

posted by leotrotsky at 5:43 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am reminded of the story of Cassandra… as I recall it didn't end up too good for her, either.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:46 PM on April 15, 2010

There are an awful lot of universities that seem to be working pretty hard to break tenure and faculty unions. Apparently, they all want to be The University of Phoenix, which is odd, since no one seems to like the University of Phoenix very much.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:47 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

After reading The Storm, (thanks ask.metafilter!) I regretfully must admit that I found Dr. van Heerden so arrogant and confrontational in his words and actions that it seemed like he was sabotaging LSU's relationship with the Corps even as he was decrying the lack of cooperation and obfuscation. His work is obviously important and he has a knack for attracting media attention, but I wouldn't want to work in his department either.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:48 PM on April 15, 2010

I read The Storm and didn't at all get the impression of van Heerden being arrogant. I thought he was a scientist doing his job. He demonstrates convincingly that the levee and floodwall system was inadequately designed and inadequately constructed. (Personally, I believe anyone who lives in a coastal city that's wholly or partly below sea level is foolish, but that's another matter.)

van Heerden has appeared several times on Harry Shearer's Le Show. I believe you can listen to him online there.
posted by neuron at 6:08 PM on April 15, 2010

What tenure is designed to do is to protect guys like van Heerden.

Was he tenured? I didn't see that in the articles.
posted by Jahaza at 6:10 PM on April 15, 2010

Was he tenured? I didn't see that in the articles.

He was untenured research faculty. So not on the tenure track.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:11 PM on April 15, 2010

Send lawyers, guns, and money. Maybe just lawyers and money.
posted by exogenous at 6:38 PM on April 15, 2010

Which Treme character is he?
posted by geoff. at 6:59 PM on April 15, 2010 [5 favorites]

van Heerden might not have been tenured, but I'm sure ColdChef is. Now where the hell is he?
posted by koeselitz at 7:36 PM on April 15, 2010

Which Treme character is he?

One can hope that Simon & co. are using him as an influence for Goodman's character.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:20 PM on April 15, 2010

The city center, the 9th Ward and Midtown flooding, the motherfucking bull sharks swimming along Canal Street, right where I used to live, stems from one, single, awesomely stupid decision: let's build a canal or two through the heart of the city, and not put a seagate at the entrance to 'em.

My current digs, here in Providence, RI, learned that lesson in 1938 - you got low lying areas right where the water comes in at you when hurricane shows up? Build a mo'facky seagate right there, or people wind up dead. But, no, there was a huge-ass, cargo-barge carrying canal, above street level, going right through the city. That ain't no levee failing. That's a self-inflicted wound along the lines of lighting a match to see if there's gas in the tank.

That, and if there's a smart decision to be made in taming an elaborate riverine watershed, the Army Corps of Engineers can be trusted to completely fail at making it. Give it over to the SeaBees, already, wouldya? They tend to recruit engineers from coastal areas with solid educational chops. The ACOE recruits heartland reactionary bullshitistas who bend over and spreads 'em for every agribusiness interest.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:26 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

"There are an awful lot of universities that seem to be working pretty hard to break tenure and faculty unions. Apparently, they all want to be The University of Phoenix, which is odd, since no one seems to like the University of Phoenix very much." [emphasis added]
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:47 PM on April 15

I dunno, GenjiandProust. I'm still pretty happy with University of Phoenix, from which I graduated in the fall of 2004, as I am with its parent company, Apollo Group, which I bought at about $35.25 a share in late September of 2002, when I enrolled, and sold at about $78 a share in November of 2004, when I got my North Central Association accredited sheepskin. On the whole, with the tuition reimbursements I got from my employer, and my share gains in Apollo Group during the time I matriculated there, I got paid about $8,900 after-tax to get my BS, during my undergraduate days at UOPX.

And it was a pleasant way to spend 196+ evenings, in classes or mandated study groups, at the North Atlanta campus of UOPX; they really helped me save a lot of money and time by suggesting various CLEP exams they could use as a basis for granting credit towards my degree, as opposed to having me attend more expensive equivalent courses in their catalog (I ultimately got 15 credit hours via CLEP); moreover, they were pretty fair with me about a lot of old coursework from 7 or 8 public institutions I attended at various times through the '70s, '80s, and 90s. They disallowed, on their face, nearly all the employer paid credits I offered from various Ivy League institutional programs in the '80s, but they accepted my credits from various community colleges in that time frame, after I passed related skills tests in mathematics, language skills, and critical thinking. My instructors, of course, weren't just tenured academics, but people like the IT director of a major Atlanta based airline, a USAF Reserve colonel with a 28 year consulting career with the #2 vendor of Unix based computer systems in the world (2004 numbers), and a lady that was running a $31 million software acquisition project for a well known Southern state, as her day job. They were all there, I'm sure, from their performance, just to make their Lexus payments.

And while I don't presume to speak for the current 458,000+ students of UOPX, or the 500,000+ graduates (at various degree levels) of UOPX, I'm pretty sure that at least some of them must be satisfied customers of Apollo Group and UOPX.

What I'm pretty sure from your comment is that you don't understand profit based education, and that, somewhere, deep down, you don't "approve" of such. People who instruct at institutions like UOPX, just because they're willing to do so, can't be seriously considered as "academics" by your lights. And yet, at UOPX, I never sat in a 100 seat lecture hall, or was shoveled off to TA's, as I was at what is now called the University of Memphis. At UOPX, if I got a bad mark on a paper, I got handwritten notes, in the margin, from the instructor teaching the course, as to what was wrong with my paper, as I never did at various community colleges in Kansas, Tennessee, and Georgia. At UOPX, when the syllabus called for making a presentation in PowerPoint, and I proposed making it a Web/HTML based presentation, and offered to do it in both PowerPoint and HTML, I was allowed to do so, and to make my class presentation in Web format, and was graded, without prejudice, on the results of the presentation as given, having filed it as required in PowerPoint. I never, in a public institution, got that kind of cooperation, or simple methods buy-in, from low level faculty.

But, hey, you go, for what you get, on the path of implied institutional elitism you seem to need to share here. It won't affect, one bit, my memories of the 196+ informative nights I spent with people smarter than I was, at the time, who had rather be paid, for a short while, to see the fire of achievement light up in a student's eyes, than watch another installment of the then popular TV series Gilmore Girls. I'm still indebted to them, who came and spoke in my classes, and didn't need to do so, because UOPX let them be faculty, as it let me be a student, while making a decent profit, again.
posted by paulsc at 11:40 PM on April 15, 2010 [2 favorites]

paulsc? that river done washed away your mind.
posted by artof.mulata at 11:50 PM on April 15, 2010

"paulsc? that river done washed away your mind."
posted by artof.mulata at 2:50 AM on April 16

Pardon me while I disagree. Getting paid, on average, about $11.35 an hour, to risk some capital, collect some employer education benefits, and sit and listen to successful biz folks tell me what they thought was important about various subjects, until they awarded me an accredited sheepskin, nearly made up for the fact that, due to lease provisions in the UOPX tenancy contract at that facillity, there wasn't a single damn coffee machine in the whole building.

Sodas, yes. Snack machines, sure. Coffee?? Nada.

Every institution has its faults. None are universally despised.
posted by paulsc at 12:23 AM on April 16, 2010

wait. that was a true story? i'm so sorry!

i honestly, honestly, thought you were spinning a yarn.

paulsc, that is actually amazing. amazing i tell you.
posted by artof.mulata at 12:33 AM on April 16, 2010

"accredited sheepskin"

What kind of condom is that?
posted by bardic at 12:40 AM on April 16, 2010

"... What kind of condom is that?"
posted by bardic at 3:40 AM on April 16

Same as they sell in town at Harvard/Princeton/Yale/Columbia/Cornell/Dartmouth/UoPenn/Brown, I guess, as they are all accredited by the NCA, too. Only in town there, I understand, it costs the student, not pays the student, per condom.

Which is why, I guess, we have those sad questions over in AskMe, from undergrads or soon to be undergrads of prestigous institutions, looking for advice about their 6 figure undergrad student debt.
posted by paulsc at 12:55 AM on April 16, 2010

What an odd derail.
posted by paisley henosis at 9:43 PM on April 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

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