“EMU-AAUP Message on Classroom Student Conduct– Response to Provost’s Email”

Remember the email exchange I posted about here, “Message to Faculty from Chief Heighes and Provost Schatzel” (which is more or less a response to Moeller’s earlier email on faculty safety)? Well, EMU-AAUP President Susan Moeller has sent another email to faculty in response to the response (I’ve posted that email after the jump). I’ve been thinking about several things about all this; here are three points that occur to me.

First off, safety for everyone on campus needs to be taken seriously, and that includes the safety of the faculty, lecturers, part-timers, and graduate students who are teaching classes. As I think I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been teaching in one role or another for going on 27 years now, and while I’ve never been “threatened” by a student (as in someone suggesting bodily harm, etc.), I’ve had lots of students “intimidate” me over the years. Or maybe a better way of putting it is I’ve had students who have attempted to intimidate me but I’ve been able to deal with those intimidations without incident. Anyway, what I’m getting at is I don’t recall how I answered that survey question about “intimidation and threats” and it hasn’t been a serious problem in my academic career, certainly not while at EMU.

But I also realize that as a heterosexual white male (albeit not exactly a physically threatening one), I’m not as likely to be threatened/intimidated by an angry student as one of my colleagues who is female, non-white, LGBT, etc. Further, I think a lot of this has to do with age, status within the institution, and the courses being taught: that is, as a middle-aged professor teaching mostly advanced students, I am not as vulnerable to these kinds of threats as the twenty-something female graduate assistant teaching an unruly section of first year writing.

In other words, while I’m not sure how widespread this problem is (and I’m not sure the EMU-AAUP’s survey makes a great case that it is widespread), it’s still a serious problem that needs to be addressed. Look, we live in a country where about once a month someone in a school gets shot. Granted, the majority of these school shootings have taken place in K-12 settings, but stuff like that happens in universities too, and as several events over the years around EMU make clear (most recently the Demarius Reed murder), it can happen on or near campus. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the idea of a shooter in my class has certainly at least crossed my mind. I don’t let the possibility of it stop me from teaching (much in the same way that I don’t let the possibility that I’ll be killed in an automobile accident stop me from driving), but I do get a tinge of worry every time there’s another shooter in a school story.

And as a slight but important tangent: it seems to me that EMU has done a lot more work at making the campus safe for students and not as much for making campus as safe for its employees. Sometimes, those things are one in the same: that is, a beefed-up campus presence of DPS officers provides security for everyone. But the problems of students threatening/intimidating teachers is a good example of how that isn’t always the case.

Second, I just don’t quite understand why this has to be negotiated at the bargaining table and why it can’t be just “worked out” as common sense for lack of a better way of putting it. For example, take this passage from Moeller’s letter:

For example, recently a faculty member had a disruptive student in class for six weeks before the Provost would allow him to be removed from her class.  This student was yelling in class, ripping up his exam, and throwing it on the floor and stomping on it. The faculty member had gone to her department head many times with no results.  Finally the students in the class called DPS as the student was acting out so badly right as a class was ending.  The faculty member then refused to teach the class until the student was permanently removed.  Eventually the EMU administration did remove the student but not before the faculty member and students in the class had six weeks of dealing with a disruptive student.

How does this happen? For six weeks?! I have to assume that the details of the story is more complicated than this, though I have no idea how. As Moeller tells it here, it seems pretty cut-and-dry to me. It’s also interesting how as soon as the students got involved, the wheels of the process turned and the student was removed.

Anyway, what I’m getting at is this is the kind of example of a problem (along with the one about a professor who had a restraining order out against one of her students) that ought to be a no-brainer and shouldn’t require a specific and contractually negotiated clause that says something like “if a faculty member is feeling threatened by a student, they have the right to have something done about it.” It’s certainly a lot less complicated than the real stuff of contract negotiations– salary, insurance, rules for tenure and promotion, etc.

Third , I really think the union needs to be careful about the tone they’re taking in terms of our relationship with our students. Let’s not focus too much on bad apples and throwing out babies with bathwater and all of that: we’re talking about a handful of extreme cases, and the vast vast majority of students just don’t behave like this. We’re not facing an “epidemic” of bad student conduct, and as the various examples that have come up here recently, students are as impacted by the bad behavior of a few.

So instead of taking a stance that for me has a “us versus the students” tone to it, I think it would be a lot more productive for the EMU-AAUP to reach out to various student organizations to address these problems. I kind of understand the “us versus the administration” in the contract negotiation process, but in the years I’ve been here, students have been allies to faculty during negotiations and labor actions. We don’t want to lose that.

Okay, the whole of Moeller’s latest email after the break.

Continue reading

Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day

Today is the grassroots/social media organized National Adjunct Walkout Day, as noted here, on the AAUP web site. The plight of adjuncts is all over the internets, but just one example here from Vitae, “The Adjunct Crisis is Everyone’s Problem.”

Of course, since EMU is on break this week, adjuncts don’t really have to make the personal decision about actually “walking out” of their classes or not (and the same goes for lecturers and faculty, too). Regardless, I have tremendously mixed feelings about all this.

On the one hand, I think that higher education’s reliance on part-time labor is (and has been for a long long time) a huge problem and one that is in terms of actual income clearly getting worse. I taught part-time for a few years back in the early 1990s, and I think part-timers are getting paid about the same now as I was getting paid way back when. I think higher education has something akin to an addiction to cheap teachers, especially when it comes to general education and labor-intensive courses like first year writing.

On the other hand, I don’t know if you can call something a “crisis” that has been (sadly) the status quo for over twenty years– at least in my field. Which brings me to the other issue, the other half of the addiction issue. The reason why universities continue to hire a lot of part-time teachers is because there is an abundant supply of them who are willing to take these jobs. So yes, universities need to start thinking more creatively and proactively about the adjunct problem, but degree programs that produce a high percentage of graduate students who will end up as adjuncts need to think about what they’re doing as well. And would-be graduate students and adjuncts also need to know what they are getting themselves into.

One more thing: in “celebration”/recognition of National Adjunct Walkout Day, I thought I’d share this, the movie Con Job: Stories of Adjunct & Contingent Labor:

What I’ve embedded here is actually an introduction; the movie itself is about 50 minutes long. I blogged about this last year on stevendkrause.com here, and as I said there (in much more detail), I found the movie simultaneously well-done and inspiring and infuriating.


“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.

Continue reading

EMU-AAUP now on the Internets

EMU-AAUP President sent around an email announcing that the EMU-AAUP now has a presence on Twitter and Facebook:

EMU-AAUP is pleased to introduce our official twitter and Facebook accounts. Our main communication channel remains to be our email list however we plan on sharing recent local and national developments in unions while we will keep you updated on latest news on our contract negotiations, share pictures and much more on these accounts. We sincerely hope that these channels will enhance our visibility and communication with faculty and friends.

If you are a twitter follow us (twitter.com/EMUaaup) or like us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/pages/EMU-AAUP/857244394313676).

I’m all for this– obviously– but if I could give my EMU-AAUP leaders one tiny bit of advice: social media is an exchange, a place where users (call them friends, call them tweeters, etc.) interact with each other. So hopefully, the union Twitter feed and Facebook page will be more than announcements and whoever is the human behind these accounts will encourage the discussion.

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.”


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.

“A New Faculty Challenge: Fending Off Abuse on Yik Yak” (or, EMU made news in the CHE)

And now it would appear that the recent Yik Yak controversy has made its way to the Chronicle of Higher Education with this article, “A New Faculty Challenge: Fending Off Abuse on Yik Yak.”  And once again, I think this is something that some enterprising young person at The Eastern Echo ought to write about. There is definitely a story in the student angle on this whole thing.

The bad news is it’s behind the CHE firewall; the good news is, thanks to the kindness of friends online, I have been able to snag a copy of it. I don’t think it’d be right for me to just post the whole thing here, but let me share some quotes and comments.

First off, the setting (which I kind of knew before, but I think that’s key here): this was a mandatory interdisciplinary studies lecture hall class of 230 first year students, and it met at 9 am on Fridays.  The article says that students “resented” having to be there and were “unhappy” about what had been going on before the Yik Yak incident. If I were a first year student and I was told I had to show up to a lecture hall class on a Friday morning, I’d feel the same way.

So during one of these sessions and after the class had been going along for a while, the Yik Yak conversation got a little crazy. And then this:

After the class ended, one of its 13 fellows—junior and senior honors students who were helping teach—pulled a professor aside and showed her a screen-captured record of what she and her colleagues had just gone through. Students had written more than 100 demeaning Yik Yak posts about them, including sexual remarks, references to them using “bitch” and a vulgar term for female anatomy, and insults about their appearance and teaching. Even some of the fellows appeared to have joined the attack.

In an email to administrators later that day, one of the three, Margaret A. Crouch, a professor of philosophy, said, “I will quit before I put up with this again.”

Of course, the question that remains for me is if that class fellow student hadn’t pulled a professor aside to show the screenshot of the offending conversation, would this have happened? If a Yak falls in the woods and no one is around, does it make a sound?

I don’t meant to be flip about it, but I do think it’s tricky and this whole situation exemplifies the futility of stopping this kind of inappropriate speech and thought completely. Just to state the obvious: I think it’s wrong for students to refer to/think of their teachers as bitches, vulgar terms for the female anatomy, and to insult their appearance. That’s a given, and I think that when that happens directly– as in the student going face to face up to his GA/part-timer/lecturer/professor and saying “I think you’re an ugly bitch”– that student ought to be punished. I can understand the position of “I will quit” if that sort of face to face confrontation is not addressed.

But what happens when that sort of thing is written anonymously on a student evaluation and delivered to the teacher after the course? Should the administration try to find and discipline that student? What if this is something a student just says to one of his friends and then the friend reports this abusive language to the teacher; should the teacher punish that student? What if the student calls his teacher a bitch with a text/a tweet/a Facebook post/an email/a handwritten note? Are we going to ban those mediums?

What I’m getting at here of course is that obviously it’s a problem when students call their teachers vulgar names, but I think there are some equally obvious limits about completely eliminating the possibility students will write or think vulgar things about their teachers. Banning Yik Yak certainly wouldn’t solve this problem.

(Two quick tangents here.  First, I know both Margaret Crouch and Elisabeth Däumer and I feel bad that they’ve been embroiled in all of this. No one deserves to be abused by students or anyone else like this, and I’m sorry that this happened to them.  I don’t think the solution is banning Yik Yak obviously, but don’t interpret my “defense” of Yik Yak as defending the right for students to be assholes.  Second, I’m using the term “teacher” rather than “professor” because I think it’s more inclusive than “professor.” Professors are, by definition, more empowered at the institution, and quite frankly, I think the non-professor teachers are much more vulnerable to abuse like this. But that’s perhaps a conversation for another time.)

But again, I think this article makes it clear that it wasn’t just Yik Yak:

The professors characterized the online abuse as part of a hostile work environment. In a confidential report on the Yik Yak incident issued last month, Sharon L. Abraham, the university’s director of diversity and affirmative action, said the professors had “described a classroom environment where students talked during lecture, responded aggressively to requests to stop inappropriate behavior, and were generally disrespectful.” It said the professors had “felt threatened when dealing with students in the class who were physically large and male.”

Some Yik Yak posts about the professors suggested racial and cultural divides.

After one of the professors described a topic as too complicated to get into, one student wrote, “Are you calling me stupid? I’m an honors student bitch!”

Another Yik Yak post said, “She keeps talking about Detroit. Bitch, yo white ass probably ain’t never been in Detroit.”

[Professor Elisabeth] Däumer recalls reading the Yik Yak posts directed at her and asking herself, “Just who the hell did they think they are?”

Ms. Crouch says the Yik Yak posts “wrecked the class” and “made it impossible for us to appear in front of the 220 students again.” The instructors did not confront their students about the remarks, she says, because “we did not really feel we had any authority anymore.”

I hate to say this, but this passage suggests to me this class had kind of “gone off the rails” well before this Yik Yak incident. In reality, it doesn’t seem like Yik Yak wrecked the class so much as Yik Yak was the last incident in a previously wrecked class.

And by the way, if a teacher of any sort feels threatened by a student, then that teacher should immediately contact their department head and campus security. I don’t think it’s fair to say that someone is a threat only because they are “physically large and male,” but I also think that if the teacher thinks there is a problem, that teacher should get that problem solved and solved in a hurry.

There’s this about yours truly and EMUTalk:

Steven D. Krause, a professor of English, subsequently argued on his blog,EMUtalk.org, that Yik Yak represents a potential teaching tool and banning it would be “shortsighted.” He questioned whether the students’ comments were anything but protected free speech, and argued that the union should focus its energy elsewhere in contract talks.

Well, sort of. I think students have the right to free speech, I think that Yik Yak does have some potential applications in the classes I teach (particularly as a “discursive site” to discuss with students), I don’t think Yik Yak should be banned, and I do think the union has much bigger fish to fry in contract negotiations. But I don’t condone the student comments. I suppose students might have the “right” to call their professor a bitch in the broadest sense of free speech, but that isn’t something I support.

The article goes on to cover ground we’ve already talked about here, how while Yik Yak has given up the name of people involved in specific crimes, they haven’t given up the names of people who post harassing things, etc. One other thing I think is interesting: “The only student so far punished in connection with the Yik Yak incident is one who stepped forward and confessed.”

Here’s how the piece ends:

For her part, [EMU-AAUP President Susan] Moeller, the faculty union’s president, said in her email the three professors had been “stonewalled” by an administration that “has refused to determine which students are responsible for the sexual harassment.”

Ms. Crouch says pushing for new contractual protections against harassment is her only available recourse. “If anything happens,” she says, “it is going to be because we make it happen.”

I guess this leaves me wondering what exactly is the “it” we are going to make happen here?

“Yik Yak Rhetorics” and “Don’t Ban Yik Yak”

Speaking of Yik Yak: not one but two recent articles in Inside Higher Ed. The first comes from someone who I know professionally, Jeff Rice, and his piece “Yik Yak Rhetorics.” Jeff is an interesting writer and thinker, so I encourage you to read through the whole thing. But one observation and two quotes I’ll share from my reading: first, my experience with Yik Yak very much squares with his in that I find it banal and stupid. I can’t recall ever reading a Yak that I’d describe as a “threat.”

As for the quotes; there’s this:

Yik Yak is about proximity. A user of Yik Yak either assumes proximity (those near me will read this) or creates proximity (we are not physically near one another, but you are now close to what I am thinking). The media theorist Marshall McLuhan proclaimed proximity as a central tenet of new media logics. Information brushes against information, he wrote. Out of that proximity, ideas are formed. Italian theorist Michel Maffesoli framed the network need for proximity as a question of secrecy: we are never really sure why items interact or why we create proximity across networks. What’s our motivation? What do we hope to gain?

In the university, we encourage proximity. We ask faculty to develop relationships with students. We ask students to feel a relationship with the university (for retention purposes; so as alumni they will become donors; for networking purposes as each graduating class seeks employment). When we engage with social media, however, proximity sparks fear. Now we are too close. Now we know too much. As soon as we know what others are thinking, we get scared. Or offended. Or outraged.

And also this:

Yik Yak is admission that there is no private without the public. Social media have always been a space that – because of the sense of proximity – feels private, but is, in fact, public. Whether we are discussing Anthony Weiner’s embarrassing bathroom selfies, Lucas Oil’s Charlotte Lucas’ racist tweet, or Cee Lo Green’s insensitive tweets about rape, we recognize how quickly private thought is made public. Even former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s private phone conversation becomes a public moment as the recorded discussion is duplicated and circulated to news outlets, blogs, and other sites.

College students are hardly the only people thinking the uncomfortable or the offensive. All around us uncomfortable thought exists. Eighteen- and nineteen-year-olds are not the only people who make private thought public on a whim. We all do. My Facebook feed is proof. The majority of my Facebook friends are, after all, academics. They seldom hold back on their thoughts.

Very true.

The other piece, “Don’t Ban Yik Yak,” is from Eric Stoller, who (among other things) is the “Student Affairs and Technology” blogger at IHE. Here’s a short passage:

Yik Yak may at times be a hot mess. However, like every single communication tool in the history of humankind, Yik Yak is what we make of it. Yaks represent us. Posts on the anonymous geolocation mobile-based app run the gamut of good, bad, and ugly.

When higher education administrators (usually in partnership with campus IT pros) “ban” Yik Yak by blocking wireless access to the app on campus networks, they are sending two distinct messages: We do not fully understand how connectivity works and we do not understand how Yik Yak works. Too harsh? Perhaps.

“Focus Group on Student Issues/Classroom Management Issues – January 30, 1 p.m. 300 Halle”

I’ve received not one but two reminders about this meeting, which is for the Bargaining Council Subcommittee on Student Issues (the Bargaining Council is basically the group of faculty who have volunteered to help the EMU-AAUP figure out what faculty want as part of the next contract negotiations.).  I’m not likely to attend because I’m on sabbatical and all, but I thought I’d pass it along and add my own two cents.

This quote is from Susan Moeller’s email a few days ago:

The EMU-AAUP has handled at least 10 serious threats to faculty safety over the last two years from students.  The administration does not react quickly or in some cases at all.  We have a resolution from an arbitration settlement that is often ignored by administrators.  The only way to successfully ensure that faculty rights are protected is to have required contractual procedures for faculty and student interactions in the contract.  For example in some contracts faculty have the right to remove a disruptive or threatening student from his/her class.  Then there is a hearing and only the Provost can return a student to a class.  We do not have that right at EMU.

I have to say my first reaction to this was surprise at the low number of “serious threats.” I mean, EMU has around 23,000 students, probably over 1,200 instructors (if you add up GAs, part-timers, lecturers, and tenure-track faculty) who, over the course of two years, have met together in what I have have to assume is tens of thousands of specific class meetings. In that context, ten “serious threats” doesn’t seem like it’s much of a problem on the whole, which I guess reflects ultimately my optimism about the positive relationships we have with our students.

Second, I believe it was about a year or so ago that the EMU-AAUP (or maybe another group of faculty on campus? I can’t remember) pointed out that federal law basically guarantees a safe working environment for everyone. So what I’ve interpreted that to mean is if you feel threatened from students or coworkers or whatever, you have a right to correct that problem. Maybe someone who knows better can explain that.

In any event, at the end of the day, I agree with what Moeller is getting at here: faculty (and not just EMU-AAUP faculty) should have the right to have a student removed from a class that is disruptive and/or threatening to others. Frankly, I thought we had that right already. I know I’ve asked students to leave before, though only because they’ve been jerks. I never have had to ask someone to leave because I felt endangered, thankfully.


Of course, the devil of such a policy is in the details. I think a student who insists on talking to themselves quite loudly regardless of whatever else is going on should be removed from a course (and for what it’s worth, that’s not a randomly made up example), and obviously anyone who threatens violence shouldn’t be there. How about a student who uses his cell phone after being told to stop? A student who falls asleep? A student who says stuff in discussion like “I think this is bullshit?”  A student who posts to Yik Yak?

Non-sabbaticalling faculty should weigh in at this meeting.

“The Writing on the Wall,” a podcast about Yik Yak at Colgate

“sometimes sports fan” posted this to the comments section, but it’s definitely worth sharing in its own post: “The Writing on the Wall” is a podcast about Yik Yak at Colgate University, where a particularly ugly series of Yaks “brought out a particularly vicious strain of racism that shook the school.” Completely worth listening to in all sorts of ways, but a few highlights/quasi-spoilers:

  • The issue here was among student on student racism at the very small and very white private liberal arts school. And it sounds like a lot of the Yik Yak users are pretty freakin’ racist.
  • At about the 7:10 mark, the story explains that a) Yik Yak has honored requests to restrict access at high schools but not colleges, and b) besides, all users have to do is not use the college network and use their smart phones’ networks. In other words, what the EMU-AAUP was asking for from the administration isn’t technically possible.
  • At about the 12:30 mark, we get into a bit about how the legal ramifications of compelling Yik Yak to give up information on some of its users. This story says that request was essentially denied, though I’m a little fuzzy on the details of that denial.
  • Keep in mind that this was a situation where students were being mean/racists/threatening to other students, and the faculty at Colgate were quite upset about all this. So they decided to fight back by more or less “taking back” Yik Yak. At about the 15:45 moment, that part of the story begins. The professors basically offered naively positive and upbeat statements on Yik Yak, and those faculty signed their Yaks. That seemed to have two effects: first, it sent the message to students “we know what’s going on here,” and second, “we care.”
  • It wasn’t perfect; there were still problems, as the podcast says toward the end. But it helped.
  • And at the end of the story, there’s an important message, I think: Yik Yak made visible to the students and faculty at Colgate what people were saying only to people who thought like them. It exposed a level of racism and overall nastiness that before this whole incident was there but just not visible.

Anyway, super-duper smart stuff here, and I sincerely hope that the folks at the EMU-AAUP and the faculty who wanted to ban Yik Yak in the first place take a listen to it.