“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?

“Anonymous apps on the rise across college campuses”

There was a good story about Yik Yak the other day on the Michigan Radio show “Stateside” and it’s up on their site now:  “Anonymous apps on the rise across college campuses.” It’s a twelve and a half minute interview with the U of M’s Director of Social Media Nikki Sunstrum. Among other things, Sunstrum talks about meeting/talking with the folks who developed the app and their vision of it– they see themselves as a “more democratic Twitter.”

She also talked about the proactive approach to the app that they’ve taken at U of M. For example, there’s this post on the social media blog at U of M from back in September about Yik Yak.  That too is definitely worth reading because it explains what the app is and it also offers some solid advice for dealing with the cyberbullying/harassment problem that comes with this level of anonymity. Here’s a quote:

It’s up to us to change the tone of the yaks. Up-vote positive yaks that speak to us as Umich students, down-vote the yaks that can be degrading or hurtful to others, and flag hateful posts. By doing this we shape our common voice in a supportive way. Even though Yik Yak is anonymous, we can still step in to to stop the bullying found on this platform. If you see yaks about abuse or self-harm, suggest our student support resources link: http://studentlife.umich.edu/studentsupport. Our university also has resources such as CAPS, SAPAC, and our 24 hour helpline for those in need of professional help.

Yik Yak can be a way to share the hilarious and absurd thing you saw while studying in the UGLi. It can be the outlet you introduce a difficult issue that’s on your mind. It can be a way to anonymously reach out for support when you need it. Yik Yak is a culture-sharing medium. It’s hilarious and it’s entertaining. It can be distressing or it can be uplifting. It can connect us or tear us apart. Regardless of how you use Yik Yak, these fleeting posts have an impact on us.


On the lighter side of all of this, here’s Buzzfeed’s “25 Hilarious Little Gems From Yik Yak”

A loyal EMUTalk reader (who also happens to be a departmental colleague, good friend, and someone who has sent me other Yik Yak links lately) sent me this from Buzzfeed, “25 Hilarious Little Gems From Yik Yak.”  I’m posting this here for two reasons. First, it’s funny. I realize that there are those who might say something like “THERE IS NOTHING AT ALL FUNNY ABOUT YIK YAK,” and I apologize in advance to those readers. And not all of these are equally funny, family-friendly, and/or politically correct.

Second, in my reading of Yik Yak (which really isn’t all that frequent), these kinds of posts are pretty typical. Sure, you do see ugly things like the language that characterized the infamous Yik Yak incident that has put EMU on the map for all the wrong reasons. But I think a much larger percentage of Yaks are more along these lines– or maybe a better way of putting it is most of the Yaks I have seen are attempts to be as funny as these.

And by the way, if you are doubting me about this and you haven’t yet checked out Yik Yak, what are you waiting for? As I said as part of a rather “spirited” Facebook conversation I had over the weekend, if you are in the “we need to ban Yik Yak” camp, it seems to me you ought to at least see what it is you’re trying to ban.

But in the meantime, read these. They’re pretty funny.


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.


“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.

“Popular Yik Yak App Confers Anonymity and Delivers Abuse”

Just when I thought the whole Yik Yak thing was dying down comes this (which I learned about from an alert EMUTalk reader and a colleague), from the Sunday New York Times, “Popular Yik Yak App Confers Anonymity and Delivers Abuse.” Here’s a long quote from the opening paragraphs that makes it clear why this is particularly relevant for EMU:

During a brief recess in an honors course at Eastern Michigan University last fall, a teaching assistant approached the class’s three female professors. “I think you need to see this,” she said, tapping the icon of a furry yak on her iPhone.

The app opened, and the assistant began scrolling through the feed. While the professors had been lecturing about post-apocalyptic culture, some of the 230 or so freshmen in the auditorium had been having a separate conversation about them on a social media site called Yik Yak. There were dozens of posts, most demeaning, many using crude, sexually explicit language and imagery.

After class, one of the professors, Margaret Crouch, sent off a flurry of emails — with screenshots of some of the worst messages attached — to various university officials, urging them to take some sort of action. “I have been defamed, my reputation besmirched. I have been sexually harassed and verbally abused,” she wrote to her union representative. “I am about ready to hire a lawyer.”

In the end, nothing much came of Ms. Crouch’s efforts, for a simple reason: Yik Yak is anonymous. There was no way for the school to know who was responsible for the posts.

Eastern Michigan is one of a number of universities whose campus has been roiled by offensive “yaks.” Since the app’s introduction a little more than a year ago, it has been used to issue threats of mass violence on more than a dozen college campuses, including the University of North Carolina, Michigan State University and Penn State. Racist, homophobic and misogynist “yaks” have generated controversy at many more, among them Clemson, Emory, Colgate and the University of Texas. At Kenyon College, a “yakker” proposed a gang rape at the school’s women’s center.

The article goes on from there, and I think it does a pretty good job of summing up the way Yik Yak works and the limitations/problems/dilemmas universities face in doing anything about it.  Though since this is now news in the New York Times, I have to wonder: what has happened with Crouch’s threat of hiring a lawyer?

“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.

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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.

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