Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Oh, hey, here's some misery...

The faculty union at Orange Coast College is squaring off against a student who shared a secret recording of a professor's in-class comments about Donald Trump on social media.

The recording starts mid-sentence; the professor was apparently responding to a student who asked her to her to "talk about how she felt" about the election.

The recording was published on Facebook, and a student group has now filed a formal complaint against the professor.

The student might be in trouble too; secretly recording the class was apparently a violation of the student code of conduct, the California Education Code, and the course syllabus.

The comment section is the usual parade of geniuses.

I'm just thankful that whatever my own misery, at least it doesn't include my unsatisfied customers students suddenly having a platform to complain about me on national news.



  1. I can remember with total clarity moments in the past semester when I've backed off saying things that I really believe, can support by the standards of my discipline, and hope would help marginalized students in the class know they have an ally, because I'm afraid of the jerk with a pocket recorder. This has already happened once at my uni.

  2. But if the instructor is asked about her opinion, recording it without permission and posting it publicly in an attempt to discredit her is entrapment. It's much like how you can't shoot a burglar if he isn't inside the house---in Florida, at least.

    Nevertheless, if a student asks me in my astronomy class what I think about Donald Trump, I will limit my response to his science and space policy. I like his apparent enthusiasm for a Mars expedition via the Moon, but I think his apparent enthusiasm for closing down NASA climate science would be a big mistake. This is because climate change isn't a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, and that pretending it doesn't exist is rather childish: and if that gets me thrown in jail, good luck in fighting a war with China without any scientists.

    1. It will be interesting to see, in this post-facts era (and given the likelihood that a substantial portion of the class wasn't paying attention at the beginning of the episode -- note that even the recording starts in medias rant), whether it's even possible to reconstruct what happened. At least one account I read (via an interview with a union rep, if I'm remembering correctly) said the professor was in the habit of taking anonymous written questions (understandable and probably good practice given the subject and level of the class; I didn't receive a lot of sexuality education, and it was a loooong time ago, but I seem to remember this approach being common practice).

      The chances of at least one student who voted for Trump being present are, indeed, very good. The professor probably had a better idea than we do of how many students from potentially-vulnerable (as opposed to potentially-empowered) groups were present, and in need of reassurance, which seems to have been at least of what she was trying to offer.

      The proffie/student power imbalance *does* matter, and I'd say she should have been more mindful about it. On the other hand, it's a huge class. If all the tests are multiple-choice scantron affairs addressing knowledge of objective information (or at least disciplinary consensus, presented as such -- and I'd argue that this is a case where questions about, say,the causes/nature of homosexuality should be presented as "the majority of psychologists agree that. . ." rather than objective fact) then the teacher's opportunities for potentially abusing that power are limited.

  3. Hmm. . .while I've read about this story elsewhere, this is the first time I've actually read (more/most of) what the professor said, beyond the "terrorism" comment, and I'm more sympathetic given the additional context. I agree the "terrorism" assessment was unwise (though not necessarily untrue, or at least not indefensible, in context, though saying the results "feel like an assault,"or "like terrorism" to some people would have been smarter, and more accurate ).

    The rest,however, though strongly worded, seems to come reasonably close to what others have recommended above (and what I'd recommend myself): sticking to a discipline/subject-specific view of the election. She did, after all, have a lot to work with, given the candidates' established records (of behavior *and* policy). Would it have been smarter to turn a "how do you feel" question into a "let's analyze this" one, with more evidence and analysis and fewer broad generalizations? Definitely. Might leading a discussion (or calling for some freewriting, or group work, or whatever, that led students in the direction of identifying and analyzing evidence) in response to this particular question have been smarter than answering it directly? Quite possibly. Do I understand why at least some of her colleagues are backing her up, and not just on the recording issue? Yes. She's clearly got a point of view, but I'm not sure she expressed it any more strongly than, say, economists or political scientists or literary critics with a strong disciplinary point of view express their own perspectives.

    Personally, given the chance (I don't teach this sort of class), I'd choose to do my best to teach a class that offers multiple points of view, and to leave students guessing which one comes closest to my own.

    But most disciplines also have things which aren't considered debatable by the great majority of people in the field. Frod points out that the existence of climate change (even anthropogenic climate change) falls in this category. Similarly, among psychologists, the conclusions, after years of research, that sexuality (and gender identity) are innate, that homosexuality is a normal variation of human sexuality (not a disorder), and that sexual orientation cannot be changed through "therapy" designed for that purpose -- all positions with which we have reason to think the VP-elect disagrees -- are widely accepted, and endorsed by all the major disciplinary bodies. Calling the VP-elect "one of the most anti-gay humans in this country" was not the best way to say that, because it's imprecise and hyperbolic, but it's about equivalent to Frod calling a climate-change denier an idiot (when in fact said denier may show signs of intelligence when dealing with some other area of knowledge, or life).

    tl;dr: yes, she should have been more careful, but much of what she said *was* relevant to the class, and drew on her disciplinary expertise. And Mike Pence, though he seems reasonably competent in other areas of life/politics, is an idiot when it comes to human sexuality. And enough Americans voted for a self-confessed sexual predator to put him in the White House, which probably isn't terrorism, but is a bit terrifying (and people, even professors,don't always use exactly the right words when they're terrified).

    1. How many people do you need to be killed? This isn't a strong argument.

    2. By the way, a great many of my Mexican-American students, even the ones whose families have been in the U.S. for many generations, are REALLY scared, and the local mosque, which is right across the street from campus, has been threatened. I don't like any of this, at all.

    3. Also, from now on I am making sure the students in my physics-for-engineers class know how to calculate radioactive decays, because they may need to. All it'll take is someone in China, North Korea, or Iran (or Canada or the blue states) making an ill-advised crack about someone's small hands.

    4. I was thinking along the same lines as Frod (who's in CA -- so, more qualified than I to speak to the local culture).

      "Terrified" feels a bit strong to me, too, but--

      --I'm not GLBT (the professor is openly lesbian, according to her union rep). While I don't think the same-sex marriage ruling, or federal regulations that stem from it (e.g. joint filing of taxes and *probably* immigration laws re: spouses) are going to change any time soon, various kinds of discrimination (job, housing) are still legal in many places, and family law not stemming directly from marriage (custody, adoption) also varies. Those laws (or lack thereof) can create real, life-changing vulnerabilities. She's in CA, but we don't know that her partner (if any), or all her potentially-vulnerable friends are.

      --I'm not Latinx (and therefore more likely to have friends, family members, and/or community members vulnerable to deportation, or harassment over perceived immigration status).

      And I don't think this applies to the professor in question, either, but

      --I'm not currently dependent on the Affordable Care Act to obtain affordable medical care despite a pre-existing condition, but I do have friends, family members, and colleagues in that position, and I could easily be in that position if I lost my present job. That's a directly, indisputably, life-or-death issue for many people (and could be, very easily, for anyone whose own or family net worth wouldn't easily yield a few million spare dollars to treat a major medical condition, because that's what dealing with such a situation, uninsured, would actually cost. The average American "just" goes bankrupt in such situations, which isn't exactly a comfort).

    5. It's also worth noting that "terrorism" has varying definitions. The FBI's definition is pretty close to yours (assuming actual violence, or threats thereof), but there are also definitions that speak more to the psychological effects of threats, direct or implied, of violence. And the two can combine to create more terror than might initially seem proportional to the actual event (the KKK committed relatively few murders, but many of those it did were especially horrific, and served very well to multiply the terror caused by acts that were, objectively, less dangerous, such as cross-burnings, and those that were not directly dangerous at all, such as marches and other shows of force. If somebody *might* come to your home, haul you out of bed, and torture you to death if they judge that you've stepped across an invisible line, you tend to avoid acts that *might* give offense).

      I'd classify at least some of Trump's supporters as terrorists of the second kind, e.g. those who wear shirts with the slogan "Tree. Rope. Journalist. Some assembly required" and those who speak of treason and firing squads on the national mall or make ambiguous statements about exercising second amendment rights (that, if I'm remembering correctly, was the candidate himself).

      And, though by no means all of his supporters fall in this category, he clearly has support among those who supplied the information that served to self-radicalize domestic terrorist Dylann Roof, currently on trial for seeking out and murdering a group of African Americans gathered in a historically-black church for Bible Study, on grounds that sound straight out of the nadir of the early 20th century ("you're raping our women"). Add in the Orlando shooting, which effectively terrified (terrorized?) friends of mine who like to relax in GLBT clubs (but where the shooter's thinking is less well known, and seems more complicated), and I think there's at least room to understand why others might *feel* terrorized (and remember, the original question, whether or not it was wise to answer it precisely, was "how do you feel about the election results?")


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