Academic failures in elementary humanity

Here’s the deal: I am paid to teach, which means I have a professional relationship with my students, and it’s an ongoing relationship that typically extends over four years. My job is to educate them in those domains of biology I specialize in. The administrators here have an expectation that I will show up, be prepared, behave professionally, and engage with students at a level beyond lecturing at them: I advise them on professional opportunities, I write recommendations, I try to help with small crises that might derail their progress.

I do not have sex with them or beat them up. This should be obvious, right? Those kinds of behaviors would be antithetical to my university’s mission and my obligations.

This seems to be a poorly understood concept at the University of Sussex. Dr Lee Salter was a lecturer there. He was convicted of viciously beating his girlfriend (warning: graphic photos of a battered, bloody woman at that link), a woman he met as a student.

This is where it gets into some difficult boundaries. She was a former student, she is an adult, and this was a consensual relationship. That part, you can’t prohibit…but it’s a bit skeevy, and says that you should be keeping an eye on the guy to make sure he is not preying on students.

The part where he batters her bloody was not consensual. That part immediately moves the relationship from slightly creepy (but maybe it was “true love”!) into flagrant criminality. That’s where you’ve revealed that this wasn’t a healthy relationship between two adults, but an abusive relationship with a man who thinks he’s the boss.

Gail Gray, chief executive of RISE, Brighton and Hove’s specialist domestic abuse service, said: “This is not a romantic ‘Educating Rita’ scenario. This is about a man who has abused and exploited his position of power and authority to perpetrate domestic abuse.”

So far, so tawdry. But what is appalling is that the administrators at this university were completely aware of his behavior, and continued to allow him to teach students, despite the clear violation of university policies.

During the 10 month period between his arrest and conviction, Salter continued to teach, the university has admitted, while Ms Smith said she remained so traumatised she was afraid to leave the house.

This is despite regulations laid out on the university’s own website which say “staff and students are subject to disciplinary procedures that, amongst other things, proscribe violent behaviour”.

The policy reads: “The University will take disciplinary action in accordance with its procedures against anyone who behaves in a violent manner including, should it be necessary, the immediate exclusion of the perpetrator from the campus.”

“The University may also seek injunctions to exclude the perpetrators of violence form University premises in order to protect staff and students from further violent incidents.”

These problems will continue to arise as long as the awareness that domestic violence is unacceptable fails to be understood at all levels. Too often, having something written in a policy handbook is a cover-your-ass move to forestall actually doing something about it.

What should have happened is that the university administration should have said, “You’re going on a trial for beating up a former student? You’re not going into a classroom until this is resolved, and are on academic leave.”

His colleagues should have said, “Nope, we’re not working with you until this is cleared up.”

And the students at the university should have been made aware of the charges, so that they wouldn’t sign up for a course and then discover it’s being taught by an accused violent abuser. There’s an element of coercion there — students must take certain courses at certain times to graduate on schedule, so the entire university has to take responsibility for the professoriate, for their safety.

We also discover that this wasn’t unusual for Salter.

Described by Ms Smith as a manipulative and cruel man”, Salter alluded to her of having previous relationships with former students. She said he attended his court sentencing accompanied by another young student from the University of Brighton.

The court heard that Salter’s relationship with that student would be “closely monitored” as part of his sentencing.

Jebus. This is a guy with a thing for young students. He’s a predator. He should not be employed by any educational institution, because he brings disrepute to the entire profession.

Yet the University of Sussex kept him on the job until only recently? I didn’t know that lecturers in media and film were such a rare commodity that they had to be retained at all cost (I know science professors aren’t; if I were tossed out for good cause there’d be a long line of applicants ready to step right into my shoes.)

It’s like the author read my mind

uonfire

Or maybe it’s just that the situation is so obvious. This past weekend, I gave a talk in Minneapolis about how messed up higher education in general was becoming, and specifically about the problems facing science education. And then this morning I run across an article from a couple of years ago that basically says many of the same things. I should have just phoned in How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps and spared myself all that thinking and planning and preparing stuff.

Here are the 5 steps in the article:

Step I: Defund public higher education.
Step II: Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s).
Step III: Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university.
Step IV: Move in corporate culture and corporate money.
Step V: Destroy the students.

Dang. I talked about all of those things. Now you can just read the article to get the gist of my discussion.

Say it isn’t so

There are reports that Prince has died.

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!


It’s true, he’s dead. Now I’m going to have to put Raspberry Beret on repeat on the iPod.

It’s a shame that his life was poisoned by bad religion, but man, he had so much talent that it all came shining through anyway. Watch this video to the end; there’s a bunch of nobodies making some noodling noises for a while, but then Prince steps in with a guitar solo and humbles the universe.

The very best academic proposal ever?

It’s brilliant, and solves a host of problems at American universities. Why Not Adjunct Administrators Instead of Adjunct Instructors? It Makes Far More Sense. I agree. With the proliferation of administrators and increasing teaching loads on us faculty, it makes far more sense to make all those administrator positions into temp jobs.

Most of the growth of university costs comes from administrative bloat. Non-faculty staff has grown at more than twice the rate of instructors – you know, the people who are the ostensible reason a university exists. As tenured professors retire, administrators kill those tenure lines and replace them permanently with part timers. Administrators do this so they can gorge on a higher salary while demanding more from the refugee ration-packet salary of academics. Think I am not being generous? Some administrators earn $300,000 a year to fundraise for new football stadium skyboxes. Vice Presidents at the University of Maryland saw their salaries increase by 50 percent between 1998 and 2003, as faculty positions were slashed. All the while adjuncts try to get by with the help of Medicaid or food stamps.

There’s only one catch. The idea comes from Glenn Reynolds, Republican toady and right-wing shill, so it makes me suspect that I’ve missed something. It makes me pretty certain, actually.

An atheist watches The Witch

thewitch

Mary and I saw The Witch at the Morris Theatre this weekend. I liked it very much.

“But,” you say, “it’s a supernatural horror story. How can an atheist see something like that and not sneer at it?”

Easy. It’s a movie. I believe that movies actually exist. I also enjoy some superhero movies in spite of the fact that they postulate huge violations of the laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. I like movies that tell me something about the human condition, and big budget spectacle is a distraction from the story at the core.

[Read more…]

Online Gender Workshop: Detour, Social Construction Ahead edition

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

To understand gender, it is vital to understand how it comes about. While the etiology of individual gender identities is very much in doubt, the etiology of gender as a framework, as a concept, that is not in doubt: Gender, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is a social construct.

Few feminists would dispute that. However, when I taught courses on gender-related topics to people who already espoused the idea that gender is a social construct, it frequently, even typically, became clear that they didn’t understand the statement at all. So while many might not dispute it, the statement itself is not helping us. Indeed, it appears to be hurting us. So let’s add to the discussion another statement, more commonly disputed among feminists: Sex is a social construct.

There. That should make all the rest easy.

[Read more…]

A small step forward for patients’ rights

Dan Markingson was a schizophrenia patient who was enlisted in a University of Minnesota trial of an experimental drug — and he killed himself horrifically while in the experiment. The university has just now made a policy change that excludes people from research trials who are restrained under a 72-hour emergency hold.

That’s nice.

Markingson killed himself in 2004, and it’s taken 11 years to get this minor, and honestly, rather obvious change in policy. Why has it taken so long? Perhaps this attitude by Brian Herman, vice president for research, explains some of the problem.

[Read more…]

Gender Workshop: I used to be okay with a “witch hunt” or two

Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

There’s been much talk over the last few years about witch hunts. Targeting Dawkins. Targeting Shermer. Targeting Hunt. Targeting anyone who happens to sit near Adria Richards. And though I think it is far from a witch hunt to be criticized by a lot of people, even by a lot of people at once, because your comments or behaviors merited criticism, for a long time I merely rolled my eyes at the inevitable, defensive backlash: “Witch hunt!”

[Read more…]

Gender Workshop: Age of Ultra Sexism? Edition

Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke

So I have now seen Avengers, Age of Ultron, and oh, androgyne! will this post contain spoilers!

Though I’ve only just seen the movie days ago, it’s been weeks since I became aware that there were quite a number of significant debates focussed on sexism and Age of Ultron. Any number of articles could be referenced, but I’m going to draw exclusively from io9’s Meredith Woerner and Katharine Trendacosta and Salon’s Marcotte, because they take on a particularly interesting and revealing moment in Age of Ultron, but seem to miss enough that there’s room for me to add.

[Read more…]

Online Gender Workshop: Be Confused, Be Very Confused Edition

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Veronica Quaife Crip Dyke.

When we last left our intrepid heroes, they were slogging through the twists and turns of translating “transsexual” into the language of a hypothetical world where sex == gender. As expected, there were some difficulties. Some of these difficulties arise from confusion at the statement, “just what does it mean to say that sex == gender”? While frustrating for those honestly attempting to answer the question, the confusion, I judge, is fair given that actual advocates for using sex in place of gender or gender in place of sex rarely show much of the totality of what they intend to convey by conflating the two.

There are, of course, languages where there is only one term for both sex and gender. Those folks will have had some leg up on the work. Nonetheless, the confusing world of communicating across others’ assumptions that sex == gender does not end at the creation of a definition, not even at the creation of a satisfying one. While the discussion about the implications of those definitions will continue in the original thread, here we will take things just a step further.

[Read more…]