“Naspa’s Annual Conference Was Going Well. Then Yik Yak Showed Up.”

Here’s an interesting twist on the whole Yik Yak phenomenon: from CHE comes “Naspa’s Annual Conference Was Going Well. Then Yik Yak Showed Up.” Here’s a quote:

Student-affairs professionals flocked to New Orleans this week for the annual meeting of Naspa — Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education. It’s one of the few times of the year they can get away from students and their annoying habits like, say, their use of the anonymous messaging app (and frequent powder keg of vulgarity) Yik Yak. Sounds like a great getaway, right?

Foolish student-affairs professionals. When will they learn? Yik Yak knows no borders.

The conference — which, again, is attended by people who have spent time mopping up Yik Yak messes — has been at least partially derailed by some colorful posts on the app.

In the nutshell, some folks at this conference used Yik Yak pretty much the same way that college students use Yik Yak, to talk about sex, drugs, booze, partying, and also to say naughty and offensive things. If you’re curious, you can get a fuller picture of the discussion at this Storify collection of tweets and screen captures, “YUCK – A Look at #NASPA15 Yik Yaks.”

Most of the comments on the CHE piece express various levels of outrage at the unprofessional behavior by folks making these posts on Yik Yak. Frankly, I think it’s more or less evidence that grown adult professionals are just as capable as college kids to write outrageous things in an anonymous forum like Yik Yak. “Do what I say, not what I do,” right?

Dueling Yik Yak emails

Yesterday, faculty and lots of other people received not one but two emails about the ongoing Yik Yak mess. I include both below; the first was from Provost Kim Schatzel  in the afternoon. She basically outlines the administration’s response to all this and what they are planning to do about it. Among other things, it includes workshops about workplace bullying, discussions about faculty classroom rights and responsibilities, and policy reviews of classroom management policies.

Then last night, EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller sent an email which was a forwarded letter/email from MSU’s Hilda Lindemann. Lindemann is the chair of the American Philosophical Association’s Committee on the Status on Women. That letter/email (are you following all this?) expresses support for Margaret Crouch because she was the one featured in the New York Times piece and because she’s a philosophy professor. (I’m assuming that the APA also supports Crouch’s co-professors, even though they aren’t philosophers and aren’t mentioned in the APA letter.) The APA group urges EMU to do something about it.

For me, I guess this begs two questions: first, do the actions/initiatives described in Schatzel’s email adequately address the demands being made by the APA?

Second, what are the other issues on the table in contract negotiations this year?

Don’t get me wrong– as I’ve said several times before, these issues are important, particularly as they spill over from the anonymous and digital world to the non-anonymous and physical classroom world. It’s just that this seems to be the only issue I’ve heard about from the EMU-AAUP for a while now. So for example, are there issues about things like health insurance, salaries, teaching load (and so forth) on the table, or is it all about classroom conduct?

The emails after the break.

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“Colleges Should Stop Worrying About Yik Yak and Start Respecting Their Students”

An alert EMUTalk.org reader sent me this the New Republic web site, “Colleges Should Stop Worrying About Yik Yak and Start Respecting Their Students.”  It’s a very smart piece by David Sessions (who is a PhD student at Boston College), and if you only read two articles about all of this Yikking and Yakking, I’d say read this one and the New York Times article I posted the other day.

I take away three things from this piece. First, if you’re concerned about Yik Yak one way or the other and you have smart phone, install it and see for yourself. My take on the conversation is similar to Sessions: most of it (he says 70%, I’d say more like 90%) is some version of “I’m alone in my dorm and wish I had someone to talk to and possibly touch,” and (I would add) “I’m so high and/or I would like to be high.” Not exactly debates over the Platonic ideal, but not particularly surprising, either.

Second, the “brute reality” is the only way Yik Yak is going away is if the government intervenes (and no one wants that), and cyberbullying/abuse happened before Yik Yak and will happen after Yik Yak. The real project we should be engaging in is figuring out how to live in this reality rather than figuring out to make it go away.

And third, this last paragraph in Sessions’ piece:

College students are neither inherently predatory nor inherently vulnerable, and the proper response to technological challenges is not suspicion, fear, and punishment. With Yik Yak, like everything else, it’s hard to expect students to respect their classmates and professors, and to stand up when they feel wronged, if the university already presumes they’re incapable of doing so.

Exactly.

“Social-Media Skirmishes” (for faculty, that is)

Interesting little article in the Chronicle of Higher Education today: “Social-Media Skirmishes,” which is about faculty engaging/interacting in/on social media broadly speaking– Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc.  The article raises some of the usual suspects here– Steven Salaita and the anti-Israel tweets that got him unhired, along with a few others. I like that they included this passage, too:

Cases like Mr. Salaita’s get most of the attention, but they’re the exception. Most faculty members active on social media are not creating public-relations dramas. In fact, they’re doing their employers and themselves a service, says Tarleton Gillespie, an associate professor of communication and information science at Cornell University. He’s at work on a book about how social-media platforms like Twitter and Facebook handle speech-related issues such as threats and online abuse.

Given the newness of social media, Mr. Gillespie says, it’s too easy to focus on what can go wrong rather than what’s already going right. Scholars are using social media to connect with colleagues and take part in conversations beyond their campuses, which can boost their institutions’ profiles, too. “Lots of academics are doing this really well,” he says.

Though one thing I don’t like much about this article is the audience here is squarely higher education administrators, the types charged with policing these kinds of activities. There’s even a sidebar that offers “points” (tips?) for what a “college” should do about social media.

“Charges flew after IU-Kokomo chancellor’s (former EMU Associate Provost Michael Harris) sudden exit

It’s kind of interesting/ironic/something that the day after I announce that I’m going to start phasing out EMUTalk in large part because I’ve been doing this more than long enough that I receive this tip from an alert EMUTalk reader about an administrator from that distant past. From the Indianapolis Business Journal web site comes “Charges flew after IU-Kokomo chancellor’s sudden exit.” The chancellor with the “sudden exit” was none other than former EMU administrator Michael Harris, who was a bit of a lightening rod when he was here way back when.

“Message to Faculty from Chief Heighes and Provost Schatzel” (which is more or less a response to Moeller’s earlier email on faculty safety)

Faculty and a ton of other people received an email from Provost Kim Schatzel and DPS Chief Robert Heighes yesterday with the subject line “Message to Faculty from Chief Heighes and Provost Schatzel.” It’s about issues of safety on campus generally but specifically it’s a response to the emails about student harassment issues EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller have sent out recently, including one last week. I include Moeller’s earlier email and this message from Heighes and Schatzel after the break.

I’m sure folks have thoughts they want to share here; I’ll kick things off with a couple of brief observations:

First,there’s an interesting disconnect in the scope of the problem. While Heighes/Schatzel say “each and every incident of concern is important to us,” they want to emphasize that this is a relatively small problem:

For all of 2014, our DPS records indicate there were 13 incidents in which a faculty member or lecturer filed a report with the Department of Public Safety regarding a classroom conduct concern. This is out of 257,938 classroom hours delivered on our campus. Of the 13 incidents that were reported, none resulted in criminal charges.

On the other hand, Moeller’s email said:

Our faculty survey results show that at least 100 faculty have had students threaten them in or outside of their classrooms.  This is a systemic problem at EMU, which culminates in a culture where students feel free to harass and bully faculty with no worry of any recourse. The recent situation in the honors college (where three female faculty members, in a course with over 200 students, dealt with harassment through social media) is a perfect example of just that. The Provost did nothing about that situation and the faculty members received more support from the press than the administration of this university.  It’s time to change that culture.

Part of the disconnect is the EMU-AAUP is basing its argument on feedback from faculty in a survey about a variety of issues that are on the table in these recent contract negotiations. In this case, it seems to me that both the administration and the EMU-AAUP are probably right: that is, it seems entirely possible that at least 100 faculty would report to being harassed in some sense by students over their time at EMU (though maybe the harassment that faculty have felt over the years didn’t necessarily mean they would have contacted DPS), and at the same time, only 13 of those incidents became a problem that involved DPS in fall 2014.

Second, there’s an interesting disconnect in the process. Moeller’s email lays a lot of the blame with the Office of Student Conduct, while the Heighes/Schatzel email says that the contact for these kind of faculty safety issues is DPS. Moeller says the response time from the administration has been too long, while Heighes/Schatzel says that it hasn’t been. Interestingly enough, both the EMU-AAUP and the administration cite a “Classroom Management Flow Chart (PDF)” that indicates the process for dealing with these problems. Which I guess means both the EMU-AAUP and administration are agreeing on the process but they’re disagreeing on how the process works.

And third, there are clearly still some issues on the table. Heighes/Schatzel don’t address the issue that Moeller has raised about how the administration and DPS have not permanently removed students from classes where it’s so bad that a security guard has to be set up outside the classroom or where there is some kind of court order. It also seems to me that there’s no reason why faculty shouldn’t have the contractual right to have a student removed from a class for disruptive and harassing behavior.

Anyway, the whole emails below for those who are interested and/or who haven’t read them yet.

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Firing a tenured professor for blogging: The case of John McAdams at Marquette

Kind of in the same general theme of the Steven Salaita controversy at the University of Illinois comes the case of John McAdams at Marquette University. Here’s a link to an Inside Higher Ed article from last week, “Firing a Faculty Blogger,” and here’s a link to McAdams blog, “Marquette Warrior.” This story has a lot of twists and turns and nuances that I do not have the time or interest to really understand in detail. But I think this long quote from that IHE piece kind of sums up the basic issue:

In November, McAdams, an associate professor of political science, wrote a blog post accusing a teaching assistant in philosophy of shutting down a classroom conversation on gay marriage based on her own political beliefs. His account was based on a recording secretly made by a disgruntled student who wished that the instructor, Cheryl Abbate, had spent more time in class one day on the topic of gay marriage, which the student opposed. McAdams said Abbate, in not allowing a prolonged conversation about gay marriage, was “using a tactic typical among liberals,” in which opinions they disagree with “are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”

Abbate said McAdams had distorted her actions — and that she wasn’t trying to shut down an argument she disagreed with, but simply had wanted to keep a focus on an in-class conversation about the philosopher John Rawls’s equal liberty principle. But conservative blogs spread McAdams’s take on the situation — and she found herself receiving a flood of hateful e-mail messages, some of them threatening.

McAdams on Wednesday posted a letter he received from his dean, Richard C. Holz, in which Holz told McAdams the university was starting the firing process.

“Tenure and academic freedom carry not only great privileges but also vital responsibilities and obligations,” Holz wrote. “In order to endure, a scholar-teacher’s academic freedom must be grounded on competence and integrity, including accuracy ‘at all times,’ a respect for others’ opinions, and the exercise of appropriate restraint. Without adherence to these standards, those such as yourself invested with tenure’s power can carelessly and arrogantly intimidate and silence the less-powerful and then raise the shields of academic freedom and free expression against all attempts to stop such abuse.”

Jeez.

First off, I think McAdams sounds like a real cranky piece of work. I haven’t studied this case in any great detail, but a) I have no idea why he felt compelled to write about some GA’s class discussion that went wrong in some way (as far as I can tell, McAdams has zero connection with Abbate), b) it seems pretty irresponsible and jerky to “out” a GA like that in his post, and c) the “facts” of what actually happened in Abbate’s class with this discussion about gay marriage isn’t apparently quite as clear as McAdams might be suggesting.

But as the IHE piece suggests, McAdams’ cause has been picked up by the right-wing blogosphere. So one conservative and alert EMUTalk reader sent me this link from reason.com with this pull-no-punches headline, “Marquette University Trying to Fire Prof for Criticizing Pro-Gay Instructor.”

The AAUP has also come out in support of McAdams. There was this AAUP letter of support for McAdams to Marquette, and  this post at The Academe Blog, “Marquette to Fire John McAdams for His Blog.” Here’s a quote from this piece that post I find especially interesting:

According to the letter [from Holz], McAdams is being fired because “your inaccurate, misleading and superficial Internet story lacked any measure of the due diligence we expect from beginning students.”

While there is some reason to question Holz’s critique (as McAdams does on his blog), none of that debate is relevant to the attempt to fire McAdams. Abbate was not a student of McAdams, and he was under no obligation to choose more private criticism of her teaching methods. Nor did McAdams have any obligation to contact everyone involved for comment before writing a blog post.

One can conclude that McAdams is a terrible journalist, and a terrible person, and that changes nothing about the threat of academic freedom created by this dismissal, and the lack of any basis for it under Marquette’s policies.

McAdams’ blog is a classic example of extramural utterances. McAdams’ blog is not part of his teaching or his research. It is an expression of his own opinions.

And the rest of this post goes on to explain the different ways that the AAUP thinks that Holz has distorted the AAUP’s statements on tenure and academic freedom and the like.

Anyway, two thoughts from me. First, I agree with the AAUP (and I guess the right-wingers too) that MacAdams shouldn’t be fired for this, though I have to say that I agree with that somewhat reluctantly. The problem for me here is not McAdams status as a potentially “terrible journalist, and a terrible person,” though it is frustrating how supporting free speech/the protections of tenure always comes down to supporting jerks– McAdams, Salaita, etc. No, the problem for me here is McAdams’ making public some kind of dispute that happened in class he had nothing to do with that was being taught by a graduate assistant, who (by definition) is not as empowered or as protected by tenure. So no, Abbate was not a direct underling of McAdams, but he’s clearly more empowered (and powerful) than her. It’s kind of like one of the big kids on the playground (McAdams) picking on one of the little kids (Abbate). That’s just not cool.

Second, I am once again left to wonder about the protections of tenure relative to a professor’s “extramural utterances.” I mean, this case seems in some ways a little less “extramural” than the case of Salaita. In that case, Salaita was expressing some pretty extremist political views about Israel; but here, McAdams is talking about a teacher and a course at Marquette, which doesn’t seem to me to be “extramural” at all. Needless to say, I’m interested in this fuzzy line in definitions of roles with a space like EMUTalk, which I believe is a “hobby” that has nothing to do with my day job but which also is almost entirely about the place where I work and the kind of work I do as an academic.

 

Meanwhile at WMU: smoking ban and no confidence in the provost

Two articles in mLive about events over at Western Michigan University I thought were interesting and worth sharing.

First, “Western Michigan University officials pleased with response to tobacco ban after first semester.” It’s an interesting piece about how the new smoking ban is going at WMU and what they’ve done to promote it. Folks at EMU who are going to be putting a smoking ban in effect here on July 1 would do well to read this and take some tips from the folks at Western.

Second, “Western Michigan University faculty union issues official ‘no confidence’ vote against Provost Tim Greene.” There’s a lot of WMU-specific issues going on here that I can’t pretend to understand, but I think the gist of it is the faculty are mad that Greene fired the dean of the college of arts and sciences, Alex Enyedi, and apparently Enyedi was fired because he tried to “issue salary adjustments for female office workers in the college” against the Provost’s directives.

“Former EMU provost and current professor Jack Kay dies at 63”

Sad news, I’m afraid: “Former EMU provost and current professor Jack Kay dies at 63.” Just one short quote from the EMU web site and a memory:

Jack Kay was a renowned scholar and a cherished academic colleague who served as Eastern Michigan University’s provost and executive vice president, and later as a distinguished EMU faculty member often sought by national media for his expertise on hate crimes and communication.

A few years ago, I saw a presentation that Jack gave about hate groups online at the Jewish Community Center in West Bloomfield. It was a fascinating talk, and the way that he dealt with this old dude up front who seemed to be some kind of odd neo-nazi guy was quite masterful.

“Brains, Not Clothes”

Annette already posted in this comments on the post about Yik Yak, but I think this deserves its own entry: from Inside Higher Ed, “Brains, Not Clothes.” This is about a mass email to students at Rutgers University School of Law at Camden from Adam Scales, the vice dean, about how students should stop commenting on the fashion and appearance of female instructors in their end of the semester evaluations. Here’s a long quote:

“Women are frequently targets of evaluative commentary that, in addition to being wildly inappropriate and adolescent, is almost never directed at men. Believe me, I am about the last person on this faculty for whom the ‘sexism’ label falls readily to hand, but after a lifetime of hearing these stories, I know it when I see it. Anyone who doubts this would find it instructive to stop by and ask any one of our female professors about this and similar dynamics.”

Scales says that student evaluations are an “important tool,” and that they’re also public and become part of every faculty member’s record (he notes he struck the fashion “advice” from the evaluation in question in a “nanosecond,” however).

Therefore, he tells students, “When you compose comments about faculty — which can be as direct, negative and harshly detailed as you like — I want you to remember that you’re writing for the personnel file, and for history. If you have any doubts that posterity will somehow muddle through without the benefit of your fashion advice, allow me to dispel them once and for all.”

The reaction to this at Rutgers has been mostly positive, though there are some folks who disagree with Scales about his message. Personally, I think it’s right message because I often think that students don’t realize the ways their comments in evaluations (or in social media spaces like Yik Yak, for that matter) are carried beyond the specific situation.