Edward Schlosser says, “I’m a liberal professor, and my liberal students terrify me”. Strangely, he doesn’t give any evidence that he’s at all liberal, and the one personal incident he cites involves a conservative student.
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.
That was it.
That was the first, and so far only, formal complaint a student has ever filed against me, he says. Further, this was the response of the administration:
My director rolled her eyes. She knew the complaint was silly bullshit. I wrote up a short description of the past week’s class work, noting that we had looked at several examples of effective writing in various media and that I always made a good faith effort to include conservative narratives along with the liberal ones.
Along with a carbon-copy form, my description was placed into a file that may or may not have existed. Then … nothing. It disappeared forever; no one cared about it beyond their contractual duties to document student concerns. I never heard another word of it again.
So then he scurries off to Vox and writes a long essay in which he complains that he’s terrified by liberal students. This makes no sense at all. There has to be more to his concerns than this. He makes a few vague efforts.
He cites an example he wrote about on his personal blog. That example begins this way:
I’ve been in academe for about a decade now, and the only professors I’ve known who have slept with or dated students were female.
Then he complains about how everyone is afraid to question the
liberal orthodoxy that teachers shouldn’t fuck their students. Honestly, I had no idea this was a politicized liberal position — I thought it was a matter of professional ethics that liberals and conservatives agreed on.
Back to the Vox article — he talks about several examples of adjuncts getting fired or their contracts not being renewed after teaching so-called ‘controversial’ material. I can believe it. I agree with him that the system that currently loads the staff of our universities with fungible faculty who can be fired and replaced on a whim is terrible, and the proliferation of temporary faculty positions is what terrifies me. But that’s a structural problem, that administrators (who don’t teach!) have the power to replace faculty of any political stripe who teach anything that annoys the customers…and that’s another issue, that universities do see students as people buying an education.
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.
He cites that embarrassingly bad article by Jonathan Chait, complaining about political correctness. As I wrote then, he ignored the fact that it’s not just liberals who get criticized, it’s conservatives, and that there are huge conservative forces being applied to the educational system — to complain about some kind of vague excess of liberalism when the real threat is well-monied, fanatical conservatives is absurd. Does anyone think creationists are liberals?
He also doesn’t like worrying that he might “trigger” someone.
He cites an anonymous professor who says that “she and her fellow faculty members are terrified of facing accusations of triggering trauma.” Internet liberals pooh-poohed this comment, likening the professor to one of Tom Friedman’s imaginary cab drivers. But I’ve seen what’s being described here. I’ve lived it. It’s real, and it affects liberal, socially conscious teachers much more than conservative ones.
No, he hasn’t lived it. That’s a lie. He said himself that he had exactly one student complaint, and it was clearly from a conservative student. Basically, he’s been hiding under the blankets out of fear of those vicious liberal students, and is citing the fact that he’s hiding in terror as evidence that the students are terrifying.
I’ve written about trigger warnings before, and they’re not a sign of the coming liberal apocalypse. They’re a tool in the teacher’s toolbox. They’re a way to teach that controversial material by warning students about what you’re introducing now, preparing them for difficult ideas. They’re also a way to respect your students, some of whom may have had real-world damaging experiences, which should not be dismissed by blithe academic disinterest.
But hey, let’s get right down to the really important stuff. Edward Schlosser is apparently a white man. He’s terribly concerned about the oppression visited upon us white men, as you might have guessed from that link to his blog post, where he was troubled that he was denied the right to date his students. We must protect the privileges of white male professors, even if it requires that we willfully misinterpret criticisms!
But we also destroy ourselves when identity becomes our sole focus. Consider that tweet I linked to earlier, from critic and artist Zahira Kelly, in which she implies that the whole of scientific inquiry is somehow invalid because it has been conducted mostly by white males.
most "scientific thought" as u know it isnt that scientific but shaped by white patriarchal bias of ppl who claimed authority on it.
— el cuco (@bad_dominicana) November 15, 2014
when ppl go off on evo psych, its always some shady colonizer white man theory that ignores nonwhite human history. but “science”. ok
most “scientific thought” as u know it isnt that scientific but shaped by white patriarchal bias of ppl who claimed authority on it.
Kelly is intelligent. Her voice is important. She realizes, correctly, that evolutionary psychology is flawed, and that science has often been misused to legitimize racist and sexist beliefs. But why draw that out to the extreme of rejecting scientific inquiry as a whole? Can’t we see how it’s dangerous to reject centuries of established thought so blithely? Or how scary and extreme that makes us look to people who don’t already agree with us? And tactically, can’t we see how shortsighted it is to abandon a viable and respected manner of inquiry just because it’s associated with white males?
Pardon me, but did anyone out there see anything in which Kelly rejected scientific inquiry as a whole? Anyone?
She’s actually saying something that Professor Schlosser needs to learn: that science itself is not outside inquiry. That the institution of science is a social construct, and that it is shaped by society to certain ends. The process of science provides a method to test the validity of claims, but we are selective in how and where we apply it.
It is truer to the heart of good science to question
centuries of established thought than to expect students to simply accept what you tell them. As a teacher, you need to be prepared to address those questions, and explain why science has come to the conclusions it has, and sometimes, if your students are really good, they’ll wake you up to the fact that maybe some of your assumptions aren’t as well founded as you thought. That’s a good thing.
I think we see what this teacher is really afraid of: falling back on
centuries of established thought is demanding acceptance of dogma and orthodoxy in lieu of questioning. He’s afraid of being challenged in the classroom!
We’re always quick to say that the purpose of an education is to challenge our students with new ideas. It seems to me that a good education works both ways: teachers ought to be ready to learn and be challenged, too. Students don’t terrify me. But timid professors who want to be unquestioned dispensers of knowledge do.