Saturday, February 28, 2015

Do not read this article that I'm not linking to

First, I should write some type of disclaimer acknowledging that some of you don't like hyperlinks in your internet. Okey dokey.  I will now bang on my keyboard so that this constitutes a post in and of itself.  Half of those who trudge through this will think, "Cheese and rice, I wish he'd just link to the article and let it be."  (Ignore that colored text in the previous sentence.  It's not a link.  Don't click it.*)

The Chronicle has this new series called Dear Student in which a group of professors write letters to a student who is has a problem, like needing to add a class in the middle of the semester.  (Please don't click!)  It is what we folks around here call Smackdown.  If you were to read the Dear Student articles (by typing the URL, not clicking on a link), you'd find them to be very mild in their condemnation of the student.  The authors sign their own names so I suppose they can't bring it like we do here.

The article that prompts my little tirade here labels this behavior as "student shaming." Student shaming.  As the kids say, I just can't even.  What we do here at CM is now labeled disapprovingly with social justice terminology.  For fuck's sake.  

This is my least favorite type of academic.  (Beating out "those who get more grant money and teach fewer classes than me" for the honor.)  The preciousness of his article is worth beholding - just type http://www.jessestommel.com/blog/files/dear-chronicle.html (that's not a link!) in the address bar to find out.  

In the article, he tells the Chronicle that he is choosing to no longer write for them because of the callousness displayed in the Dear Student letters.  I imagine this will drive the Chronicle offline by Tuesday at the latest.  What is he whining about?  He explains helpfully that the Dear Student letters, those tame but amusing faculty responses to annoying students, fail to demonstrate that 
  • "Education should be about dialogue, conversation, community,"
  • "Any teacher that regularly gets caught up in power and control struggles with students over grades has missed the point,"
  • "Our classrooms should have more doors and windows, not less," and
  • "... we need to consider whether there is something about the educational system that has put students in the awkward and uncomfortable position of feeling like they have to lie to their teachers."

If that doesn't burn your britches, he casually mentions that Dear Student letters are akin to Scott Walker's education budget.

His inadvertent self-parody ends with a statement that he will not join us at a water cooler to talk this way about students.  As if we would invite a shithead like him.
 
But wait, there's more in the article's comments section.  I should have known that he's the type of professor to say that attendance is important "because I (and the other students in a class) learn as much from them as they learn from me." Then why are you the only one getting paid?  Such bullshit.



* As with all of my best work, this running gag is inspired by Grover. Don't click that link!

41 comments:

  1. I'd be more sympathetic to his argument against Vitae's column if he didn't preemptively exclude any other useful or productive venue for frank discussion of the real issues posed by our students and the conditions under which we are supposed to educate them.

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  2. Several people I respect have linked and liked Stommel's article/blog post on facebook, which reminds me why I keep my participation in our own fairly-public water cooler pseudonymous. There is, however, a higher proportion than I'd expect of sanity in the comments on his piece.

    The piece itself strikes me as a strange mix of solid observations and unsupportable statements: academic job seekers are "oppressed" and "insecure" in a system that increasingly feeds them into contingent positions at best, yet the power hierarchy in the academy is clear, with students always the "most vulnerable"? "Education should be about dialogue, conversation, community," but there's no need for students to prepare themselves for all of the above by becoming familiar with a common body of ideas, questions, etc. represented by the assigned readings? Our classrooms should have "more doors and windows," but not "gates" -- and it's doing a favor to a student to encourage him/her to begin (too late) a class that experience suggests (s)he will not successfully finish (but for which (s)he will, of course pay the tuition -- twice, if it's a course required for graduation and (s)he fails the first time)?

    And then there's this (to which Ben alludes above), which I'm not sure I can make head or tail of: "Everyone that comes into even casual contact with Vitae’s 'Dear Student' series is immediately tarnished by the same kind of anti-intellectual, uncompassionate, illogical nonsense currently threatening to take down the higher education system in the state of Wisconsin."

    Admittedly, Stommel begins his piece by saying he's imitating the "Dear Student" pieces' "tough love" style, but that's a statement that, I'd argue, in a flashback to the years in which I never really embraced theory, but did learn some of the lingo, deconstructs itself. Any statement that hyperbolic almost by definition cannot be logical or intellectual (or, to cite a value Walker rather publicly rejected, true). The statement also strikes me as lacking in compassion for fellow-faculty who perceive, and cope with, the pressures of academia in ways different from the author, not to mention a good number of students who are fed up with exactly the sorts of hijinks the "dear student" letters call out, but which Stommel, in his compassion, is willing to overlook. (This business of taking the students' perspective, like the business of trying to understand how power relationships work in present-day institutions of higher education, is a bit more complicated than it looks).

    And finally, no, I can't see the connection with Gov. Walker's actions. In fact, I rather suspect that Walker, too, sees himself as opening doors and windows and dismantling entrenched power structures by doing what he can to eliminate tenure in particular and professorial privilege in general. That doesn't mean that Stommel, or anyone who agrees with him, is somehow like Walker; it just points out the danger of throwing out a bunch of un- or poorly-supported statements apparently written in a white-hot fit of self-righteousness, and calling others illogical and anti-intellectual in the process.

    Since some of Stommel's other work is pretty good, I'd love to see him use the time he won't be spending writing for the Crampicle exploring, at length, and with considerably more evidence and nuance, the assumptions in any one of the paragraphs he's strung together here. I don't expect him to end up joining or endorsing our (or any other) water-cooler brigade, but he just might develop an understanding for a greater variety of both student and faculty perspectives.

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  3. P.S. This isn't quite as funny as the famous duck post, but only because it's hard to pull off essentially the same joke a second time. Nevertheless, it (including the Grover reference) made me chuckle. Thanks, Ben!

    And on the subject of chuckling, I'm not sure Stommel recognizes the difference between "punching-down"/bullying-type humor, and the sort of situation in which people laugh in public because it's even less appropriate to cry. When one is trying to teach students a substantial minority of whom seem determined to avoid, evade or otherwise devalue the very educations for which they're going into massive debt (and/or paying for by working such long hours that they're barely conscious in the classroom), the temptation to cry, and the need to laugh at the absurdity of it all instead, can get pretty strong.

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    1. Thanks CC. You and I expressed similar feelings about the article but with different styles. Had I employed yours, I may not have gotten blocked from his comment thread. Admittedly, I was not charitable.

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    2. But you were on fire while it lasted.

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    3. Yes, I thought you said all the right things, Ben.

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    4. I've taken up the flag from my fallen comrade. I'm guessing I too will be banned before the day is out though. He's quite a smug little prick that Stommel.

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    5. Wow; you guys (and the RGM) really went to town in there (but acted in a reasonably civilized manner, I thought; maybe I just missed the offending comment/it was deleted?). I especially appreciated Archie's point about the privileges of being a young, white, male hipster at an elite uni -- all very true, in my opinion/experience.

      I'm liking this Freddie DeBoer guy's style, too. His points about romanticizing students, and failing to see them as individuals, strike me as on point.

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    6. Everything I wrote over there was pretty nice but I suspect that Jesse read what I wrote here. I called him a shithead so banning me seems reasonable.

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    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    8. I'm so jelly. He only has a crush on Ben.

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    9. Everyone is pseudonymous here. There's actually a difference between that an a site where everyone is anonymous. This is the third iteration of a site with a pretty long history in internet years at this point. Many of us (me, the Beaker, Cassandra, Cal et al.) have known each other by these pseudonyms for years. We aren't allowed to post under different ones or change pseudonyms. So even if we don't know each others IRL identities, we always know to whom we are speaking.

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    10. Jesse, Thanks for explaining what happened with my comments at your site. Lots of people can't believe that I'm human so you're in good company.

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  4. After reading the referenced piece, I am reminded of Bill the Cat:

    Ack Ack...Thptpth! Barf.

    Clean up on aisle nine.

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    1. Bill the Cat was one of the great proffies... up there with Peter Abélard, Socrates, Nancy Etcoff, and Judith Lewis Herman.

      I don't know who Jesse Stommel is.

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  5. This phenomenon of the Cool Prof, piously defending the students against the rest of us big meanies with our outdated, un-hip standards and expectations, needs a name. Student-Centered Stockholm Syndrome?

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    1. Enabler. Kool Aid drinker. I want to go on but I'm on my phone.

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    2. Back on RYS we called them Gumdrop Unicorns. But SCSS works pretty well.

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    3. I have since realized that Frankie was talking about a name for the phenomenon, not the actors. Stockholm Syndrome involves people identifying with those who have power over them, but here we have the inverse, i.e., those who should be running the asylum over-identify with the inmates and turn against their colleagues. I'd propose Inverse Stockholm Syndrome, but it lacks a certain je ne sais quois.

      Ah, I've got it: "Kalamazoo Syndrome."

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    4. After the events of the last few days, I think we'd be justified in calling it "Stommel Syndrome."

      I generally dislike associating a person's name with a pejorative, even for a person whose views I find abhorent (which Stommel's aren't especially; they're just wrong), but I relax my aversion when the person keeps putting his foot in it so willfully. Frod reminded us of the repurposing of Rick Santorum's name (google it if you must; I well remember Dan Savage's campaign); that was perhaps the only other case where I thought it was justified.

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  6. The best part about Jesse Stommel's column is the set of links to other "Ask the Professor" columns. Those are some talented proffies, and I wish they would publish here!

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    1. I agree! I was able to go back and read the other columns and enjoy their smackdown as well.

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    2. I'm only partway through that 'suggested reading' list, and I'm finding it quite on point.

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  7. I'm glad to see someone make the connection between the Chronicle's new thing the smackdowns CM/RYS have been delivering forever. Stacey Patton has assembled a funny group of folks and I do give them props for putting their name on it, especially since some of them don't seem to be tenured. But CM/RYS invented the genre.

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  8. I've just spent 15 minutes on Stommel's Twitter. I have never been dumber.

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    1. So I had to look. I did learn at least ten new eduspeak terms. But I'm pretty sure the brain cells I had to lose to learn those terms were not worth it.

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    2. Thanks for the warning. I,m guessing that he doesn't troll students' tweets about their professors. Maybe he should. It seems that he has a limited exposure to students' negative behaviors.

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    3. I think he would say that it is ok for them to tweet about us because they are "ranting up." But we should accept their ranting with compassion, understanding, kindness and a keen awareness of the complex intersectionalities of the student-professor dynamic.

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    4. How did you, as an educator, contribute to causing your student to puke in class because he was so hungover?

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  9. Oh boy, even a thousand showers might not wash off the stench of self-righteousness I picked up after reading his blog. *shudder*

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  10. Oh well. If he's not joining us at the water cooler, that's just more bourbon for the rest of us.

    Paging Krazy Katy....

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  11. It has been a while since a Gumdrop Unicorn was sighted in the wild. Good to know they're still out there. I think I still have a current tag somewhere...

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    1. Delusional mindfucker.

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  12. You guys are wonderful. That's all.

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  13. Jesse Stommel, who posted “Dear Chronicle: Why I Will No Longer Write for Vitae” to his website on Feb. 28, 2015, has a right to his opinion, but I disagree with his characterization of Vitae’s “Dear Student” column. What he sees as “student shaming,” I see as good satire.
    Although I’m not in academia (I’m an independent writer/editor), I do read The Chronicle and Vitae from time to time. I recently read the “Dear Student” column featuring the “killing off grandma” stories. First, not all of the column’s entries were mean. They were varied in tone and substance — yes, some were sarcastic, but others were by turns empathetic and funny. And I enjoyed reading each of them. Why? Because they rang true!
    “Killing off grandma” is the college version of “the dog ate my homework.” In fact, a professor friend of mine — who is beloved by her students — says she half-jokingly tells them that she knows every excuse they can throw her way because she likely tried them. She has also shared with me that each semester a few students who haven’t done their work all semester have their parents call her to change their final grade — I’d classify that as wanting to be coddled.
    Stommel states in his piece: “The word ‘entitlement,’ used pejoratively about students in two of the four articles, needs to die a quick death. College students ARE entitled — to an education and not the altogether unfunny belittling on display in the ‘Dear Student’ series.”
    In reality, however, a sense of entitlement can be a personality trait of a student matching any and every label. Barring usage of the word in The Chronicle and its platforms won’t change that. (In another context, this line of thinking reminds me of the myth that racism is “illegal” in Brazil because it wasn’t codified in legal language in the same manner as in the United States. But racism runs rampant in Brazil, and the murky, official language surrounding it, arguably, makes it harder to name and redress.)
    Stommel also states: “This series is not effective satire, not a useful kind of venting. This series plays to the insecurities of its audience in a way that feels opportunistic. Academic job seekers are concerned about their current and future livelihood. They are oppressed by a system that calls 75% of its labor-force ‘unnecessary,’ ‘contingent,’ ‘adjunct.’ The ‘Dear Student’ series turns that oppression, and the most snickering part of it, upon students.”
    I assume his stats, above, are accurate, but what sweeping generalizations he makes! They suggest that a professor who uses satire to describe what is a commonplace experience in a column can’t also be a compassionate educator who (using Stommel’s words) “advocate[s] for students, especially in an educational system currently under direct threat at almost every turn.” The two are not mutually exclusive.
    I don’t know how Stommel defines “least privileged,” but as an African-American woman who’s earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree, I’m aware of the varying ways that students meet disrespect and discrimination in academia, including patronizing attitudes and being put in a box, one-size-fits-all. I imagine, however, that some students fitting Stommel’s idea of “least privileged” are bright enough to recognize satire — even bad satire — for what it is. Rather than having their fragile egos bruised, I imagine them reading the “killing off grandma” column and laughing aloud in recognition of their or a classmate’s hubris.
    Lastly, I find it interesting that Stommel is quitting his column and refusing to continue it unless Vitae cancel another column. That seems like armchair grandstanding. Rather than trying to silence another voice, I wonder if he’s considered less draconian ways — on the front lines of his cause — to advocate for the academic environment he seek seeks? His “my way or the highway” approach strikes me as a virtual temper tantrum.

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    1. Thanks for commenting, Ncole. It's nice to know that people outside the academic bubble see things the same way. I suppose you have some frustrating moments as an editor, even (especially) dealing with professors' writing.

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    2. I'm glad I scrolled back to some earlier posts so that I could appreciate Nicole's comment.

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