I get YouTube comments

I thought my email inbox was full of crap, but this is just ridiculous.

how is he a nazi you know jordan b peterson isn’t even right wing right neither is he on the left now i i know in your ideology anyone right of Stalin is a nazi but he’s in this place called the center he despises any side that gets to much leverage and becomes extreme be it the right or left both are despicable once they get to much power the right and left need to be balanced for any real progress to be made both side’s need each other but once one side gets to much power and influence like the left has now he gets a whole host of problems and the divide is so great we can’t even talk to eachother anymore and nothing good could come from that and yes the professors are brainwashing their students i’ve seen way to much evidence to say other wise just look at what happen at evergreen college with bret weinstein for example this shit is going to far now look if you guys keep calling everyone you disagree with a nazi and keep crying wolf your going to make real nazi’s witch is already happen with the alt right a response from your nonsense they don’t even try to hide it all i hear is you saying he’s a lair he’s a white supremacist talking about how he’s misrepresentation the collage campuses while your misrepresentation every word he says and putting words in his mouth while as far as i could see is that you are the lair or are just in complete denial blind to whats really going on

Back in the good old days when we had to carve our words in stone with a chisel, people put a little more care in their compositions.

Dennis Markuze is back online

He hasn’t changed a bit. He’s posting on alt.atheism under a new name, “prophetofrevengerXX”, with “XX” a couple of random digits to help avoid searches. Then how do we know it’s Markuze? Take a look at one example of a post. Classic.

He harassed me for a couple of decades. I’m just mentioning this because, while he’s not pestering me now (I don’t think…but I have so many email filters to block him), his usual pattern is one of rising obsession and increasingly lunatic lashing out at the people he hates.

Speaking of the humanities…

The University of Minnesota, Morris has received approval from the legislature for a $4.5 million investment in…the humanities.

We’ve also been awarded a $137,000 Mellon grant to strengthen the place and the understanding of … the humanities.

Speaking as a STEM sort of guy, and one who was recently informed in a comment that The hard or natural sciences are mostly safe. Most of the corruption is in the humanities. That’s where most of the danger lies for student radicalization, I’m going to say “EXCELLENT!” We need more education in the humanities to correct these ninnies who think both that “hard sciences are safe” and “humanities are corrupt”. We need students to learn dangerous ideas, and that’s where the most dangerous ideas are found.

Fathers’ Day hangout

I changed my plans about what to talk about, and was uncertain about what to do, and then I realized, “It’s freakin’ Fathers’ Day, duh!” So go ahead, bring your tales of great dads and bad dads to the discussion today at noon central time.

That’s the conversation starter, anyway. I imagine we’ll degenerate into random topics before the end of the hour, and that’s OK.

It’s also OK if you skip it altogether because you’ve just been reminded to call your dad or be a dad.

Another professor behaving badly

At least Clyde Magarelli isn’t molesting students, I don’t think, but William Paterson University in New Jersey has a real clunker in their sociology department. He’s teaching conspiracy theory nonsense instead of sociology. It’s the usual stuff: the Holocaust was exaggerated, the moon landings were faked, etc.

“We can’t land on it [the moon] and get back. We’ve never landed on it, you didn’t know that?” he says in one clip.

Magarelli also claims that the Gestapo, the secret police of Nazi Germany, only engaged in torture during the “last part of the war.”

In another video, he tells his students that Native Americans are not indigenous people.

“We call them Native Americans but those that have their own government outside — they were never considered part of the system,” he mumbles. “They had their own tribal system.”

Magarelli also believes that the Irish were the first slaves in America — a theory debunked by Irish experts who said their indentured servitude was “in a completely different category from slavery,” according to the New York Times.

Video clips of the guy saying stupid stuff can be found on this Twitter thread.

He is a full time, tenured associate professor at the university, and has been teaching there since 1967 (!!!).

Now this is a case, though, where academic freedom does come into play. He’s saying stupid, wrong, ignorant things, but the whole point of tenure is you’re protected — you can defy the orthodoxy in all sorts of ways. He’s doing it. You can’t fire him for that.

But the flip side is that he has a job — he’s supposed to be teaching young people sociology, and he’s failing to do that. Academic departments have ways to deal, though: from the clips, it seems he’s teaching a first year course called “Social Problems”, which is almost certainly not part of the core curriculum. I’m going to guess that what the functional part of the department has done is shunted him off into non-critical electives, because you certainly can’t expect him to prepare students for other courses in sociology, and are limiting the harm he can do as much as possible. The curriculum can be thought of as a network that routes around damage, and deadwood faculty — he looks like the very definition of the term — are interpreted as damage and shuffled off to the side until they get around to retiring, or die.

The students should view him as a practical exercise in dealing with bad ideas.

The greatest harm he is doing, though, is that he’s taking up space that could be used more productively and creatively with a new faculty member — and he’s probably getting paid more than he’s worth. But that’s one of the inherent flaws of the tenure system.

Maybe it’s just neurobiology departments that suck…

What is this? Another case of academics behaving badly? And specifically, academics involve in neuroscience research?

The Psychological and Brain Science department at Dartmouth is experiencing a bit of upheaval, again based on sexual misconduct. The stories have all been a bit vague on the details, but it was serious enough that one faculty member’s tenure was about to be revoked, and two others are under investigation.

Psychological and brain sciences professor Todd Heatherton has elected to retire immediately following a recommendation from Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Elizabeth Smith, upheld by the faculty-elected Review Committee, that his tenure be revoked and his employment terminated. Smith’s recommendation follows a review of Heatherton by an external investigator for sexual misconduct. Professors Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen of the PBS department, who are also under investigation for sexual misconduct, remain under review.

In a press release provided by his lawyer Julie Moore, Heatherton stated that he retired because he thought it was best for his family, the College and the graduate students involved in the investigation.

Oh, that familiar song. “I was a reprehensible shit for years, but now I’m committing a selfless act of career suicide for my family’s sake, so forgive me.” Late-in-life remorse is such a useful card to play, especially when the hammer is about to come down anyway.

This has been building for a while — there were reports months ago about a growing criminal investigation.

Three tenured professors from the psychological and brain sciences department at Dartmouth College—Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley, and Paul Whalen—are targets of a criminal investigation, according to official statements from Dartmouth’s president and the New Hampshire attorney general on Oct. 31. The school, which has variously described the allegations as referring to “serious misconduct” and “sexual misconduct,” had already launched its own internal investigation of the three men. Heatherton, Kelley, and Whalen are all on paid leave with restricted campus access, according to the statement from Dartmouth’s president. Heatherton also lost his affiliation at New York University, where he had been a visiting scholar since July.

Again, the details are lacking, but whatever they were, they were sufficient to prompt 15 students and post-docs to make a complaint and bring in outside law enforcement. University administrations hate bringing in the law from outside, and that more than anything tells me there is an awful lot lurking beneath the official statements. And also that they’re actually revoking tenure for at least one professor.

The professors — Todd Heatherton, Bill Kelley and Paul Whalen — are under investigation by both college and law enforcement officials for sexual misconduct.

“We wish to dispel any sensational or inaccurate accounts of these allegations and to counteract any efforts to minimize their severity,” the statement reads. “In our collective experience, these professors have all created a hostile academic environment in which sexual harassment is normalized.” (Scroll down to read the statement in full.)

Beyond the written statement, several students also described to the paper a culture of drinking where the line between professional and personal interactions was often blurred.

OK, I confess: I’m also a graduate of a neuro program, the Institute for Neuroscience at the University of Oregon. Also, for many years it was a tradition for the lab to stroll over to a nearby bar late on Friday afternoon and shoot pool and share a pitcher of beer, and faculty were often there, socializing. That’s a good thing. But there was no drinking to excess, no sex talk, and I honestly cannot imagine my advisor, Chuck Kimmel, behaving in any way other than with respect and kindness to his students.

OK, sometimes he could get a little cranky. There were a few clashes. But nothing where we ever felt a lack of decency in our treatment.

While informality and social interaction are good, there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed — lines that are there to protect students and faculty together. Dartmouth PBS seems to have made a practice of crossing them.

New college students are independent adults. Respect that.

I remember when I went off to college. I enrolled at DePauw University, a liberal arts college in Indiana. All my life until then I’d lived only on the West coast; it was going to be my first flight on an airplane, too. My family supported my decision, helped me pack the one beat-up, shabby suitcase with about 50 pounds of stuff, and waved bye-bye as I boarded the jet at Sea-Tac. I still remember that I sat on the plane next to a school teacher from Brownsville who must have noticed that I looked rather lost, and he talked to me the whole way to reassure me that this was going to be a great adventure.

After I landed in Indianapolis, I had to find my way to Greencastle, and I had no idea where it was except that there was supposed to be a bus service that could take me there. I stumbled my way around, found the bus, eventually got delivered to the town, and this was what I saw.

Just picture a scrawny 18 year old standing there, hauling a massive battered suitcase held shut with a belt strapped around it, his arms aching, blisters on his hand, standing there alone with absolutely no clue about where to go. That was me. It was terrifying and thrilling all at the same time. I managed to drag my burdens across campus to the dorm (why did Bishop Roberts Hall have to be so far from the campus entrance?) and began my first year of living independently. I was a totally clueless nerd, but I managed and learned a lot.

So now I’m reading this article about a young student at Bristol University who killed himself in his first year, and I’m sympathetic — that first year is hugely stressful. I was doing new student registration just yesterday, and I saw students in tears because they’re suddenly facing new decisions — “Why do I have to take that class? Oh, no: this class I wanted to take is full! My life is over.” It is hard. Go ahead and cry, I’m not going to hold it against you, I’ve been there myself. But the solution in the article isn’t a good idea.

The father of a student who killed himself is calling for the relaxation of data protection rules that currently deter universities from alerting parents that their child has serious mental health problems.

Nope. I guess some parents just can’t let go, but you have to. The official, legal position of American universities is that we have to abide by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), which respects the privacy of the student — they are now independent adults. They can, of course, freely communicate whatever they want to their families. I did! I wrote letters every week or so back home, and this was in the 1970s, no email, long distance phone costs were absurd, and I had to write by hand (we didn’t have printers) on paper and send it by mail with a stamp and everything. But all of my interactions with students are confidential. They’re between the university and the student, even if the parents are paying tuition.

I put three kids through college. I never saw a single report card. I’d ask in a general way how things were going, but it was their choice how to answer me…and they always said “fine”, so I’m pretty sure there were dramas and anxieties and struggles they weren’t telling me about. That’s the way it goes. This ain’t kindergarten anymore — these are adults, taking their first steps forward. Let ’em go.

I occasionally get concerned parents who ask me what their student’s grades are in my class — I tell them no, ask them, not me. I’ve had parents show up at my office door, very worried about whether their student will graduate, and I tell them the same thing. In one case it was tough, because the student was actually blowing off all their courses, had dug themself a very deep hole, and was not going to graduate for sure…but that’s not their business. What can a parent do in such a situation? Yell at them? Cut off their funds? None of that helps solve the problem. I sent the student off to talk with advisors in our learning center instead.

But, you’re saying, this Bristol student killed himself. Yeah, and what is the parent going to do? I would assume they have been giving their unstinting love and support all this time, but the student is still struggling. They don’t need mom and dad, they need professional help. If I were informed by a parent or a peer or observed a student flailing, I wouldn’t call the parent: I’d call a counselor (we have trained experts in this sort of thing), or a dean or take it all the way up to the chancellor to get them help. Parents aren’t usually trained in clinical interventions.

Also, terrible as it is to say, some parents are the problem. I’ve seen everything from neglect and abuse to those high-pressure parents who are the ones applying the most strain to the students’ sense of self-worth and identity. I usually don’t know. I’m not going to contact someone who is a stranger to me and is unlikely to have the specialized skills to deal with, for instance, depression or an identity crisis. Yeah, like I should call a parent and say, “Your son has discovered he’s gay, thinks he’s going to hell, and just broke down in tears in my office. Could you come take him away?”

The father here blames the university. He thinks the cause of the suicide was a sense of failure because he didn’t get into his first choice university.

Murray believes that sudden change of plan and narrowly missing out on Edinburgh made his son vulnerable. “He loved Edinburgh. We had been there many times,” he said. “A sense of not succeeding becomes a sense of failure. I think that’s what Ben was carrying with him going to university. To take your own life you have to be in extraordinary mental pain.”

Ben told his family he was enjoying university, but they discovered after his death that he had struggled to engage with the course and had missed lectures and exams. Murray said his son had informed the university he was suffering from anxiety and he was sent a link to support services.

He killed himself a few days before he was due to leave Bristol at the end of a formal withdrawal process.

And there’s the problem. Ben Murray was in contact with his family, and chose to hide his problems from them. That was his choice. His father now wants the university to change their policies and inform the family of difficulties against the student’s desires. There may be a very good reason their son didn’t want to discuss these issues with his parents; if we go against the wishes of an adult student, unaware of the full situation, we could make the problems worse.

It is worth noting that Ben Murray was more willing to inform the university of the problems than he was his parents. That’s a decision that should be respected, and that we are obligated to respect, and he made that choice. You could make a case that the university should have done more — sending a link to support services is kind of impersonal — but the more appropriate response would have been to set him up with appointment with a trained counselor, not to go running to the people Murray was avoiding.

Raining!

We’re in the middle of one of those summer thunderstorms — you know, the constant rumble, a deluge of rain, occasional flashes of lightning arcing against a light gray sky. I did my rounds this morning, going to the gym, tending to fish, getting soaked to the bone despite carrying an umbrella (they are useless when it’s windy), and I passed through the science building atrium, which is roofed with these large skylights that rumble when the rain drums on it, and caught a quick video on my phone. It doesn’t do it justice — I should go in with my good microphone and just capture the sound for an hour or two. It’s very soothing.

Important safety tip: the science atrium is not the place to hang out if there is a tornado alert. Any other time, it’s great, but during a tornado it might just rain shards of glass.