I’ve written before of the fear that now pervades the job of a college professor. Say something that can be remotely be considered criticism, and you’re fired. Say something that students find offensive, and you risk complaints that could lead to termination. They’re simple rules, but it’s hard to claim there’s academic freedom or freedom of speech when you must watch what you say.
I grant that, in times past, professors (and other people) said some outright offensive things, but nowadays, the only offensive racists I’ve seen and heard on campus were multiculturalists and diversity professors.
With all the overt racism removed, we’ve now moved on to the concept of “microaggression,” where students take offense at the most ridiculous thing, cry “racism,” and spineless administration supports the student, even when the aggression is literally so small that it can’t be seen (hence the name). That’s ok, because that’s the point of microaggression.
Ridiculous? Absolutely. An example that didn’t quite make the mainstream news really highlights just how miniscule these so-called aggressions are:
In November 2013, two dozen graduate students at the University of California at Los Angeles marched into an education class and announced a protest against its “hostile and unsafe climate for Scholars of Color.” The students had been victimized, they claimed, by racial “microaggression”…
Now, these are graduate students, and I’ve covered graduate student protests before. Absolutely, when this many students protest, you have to consider their claim, particularly when the class generating complaints is dissertation level: these students are very close to officially establishing themselves as scholars.
So, what, pray tell, was the micro-insult being delivered so grievously that students felt the need to complain?
[The professor, Rust] had changed a student’s capitalization of the word “indigenous” in her dissertation proposal to the lowercase, thus allegedly showing disrespect for the student’s ideological point of view. Tensions arose over Rust’s insistence that students use the more academic Chicago Manual of Style for citation format…
That’s right, folks, we’re now at the point that professors need to fear student protests over issues of capitalization and citation style. I totally respect the students’ right to protest, but this is pretty micro, eh?
The fear doesn’t come from the student protests, it comes from administration’s response to this level of lunacy.
UCLA’s response to the sit-in was a travesty of justice. The education school sacrificed the reputation of a beloved and respected professor in order to placate a group of ignorant students making a specious charge of racism.
What did they do to this highly regarded professor with decades of experience?
The administration announced that Rust would not teach the remainder of the class by himself but would be joined by three other professors, one of whom, Daniel Solórzano, was the school’s leading proponent of microaggression theory and critical race theory. This reorganization implicitly confirmed the charge that Rust was unfit to supervise “graduate students of color.”
This is really, really, insulting to the professor. He’s been teaching for decades, but now needs the help of three in-class commissars supervisors?
Now, I grant that the students are in a field (racial and gender issues) notorious for complaining about the most ridiculous things…but every once in a while this field does have something relevant to say (a stopped clock is correct twice a day, after all). Complaints, especially mass complaints, should be heard, and considered. In the past, such complaints were heard by actual faculty, people that cared about scholarship and education. Today, such complaints are handled by a questionably highly paid and unquestionably incompetent cadre of professional administrators, who simply don’t care about education or scholarship.
I’ve pointed out before that higher education administration seems to thrive on hypocrisy and double standards, and, again, we see a double standard here. Consider the abuse, the real abuse, that was inflicted on the Roski students, motivating faculty to resign as well as the entire graduate class. Admin doesn’t give one whit about that (no surprise, since the abuse is coming from admin).
Student complaints about being forced not to capitalize “indigenous” are taken very seriously, on the other hand. The proper response would be to
crack a few heads together acknowledge that the highly respected professor knows better about capitalization and citation than the students, and support the guy they hired to train scholars.
Looking at some of the writing of these students, it really seems like they could use some help with their skills in this regard, especially in writing understandable prose. I’ll include one line as an example:
“It is, at its most benign, disingenuous to the next generations of Scholars of Color to not seek material and systematic changes in this department. It is a toxic, unsafe and intellectually stifling environment at its current worse.”
I concede I was at one community college where several faculty really aspired to write at this level of clarity and correctness, but trying to improve this writing is what education is supposed to do. Anyway, at UCLA, it’s not a good idea to try to teach students to write well, apparently:
“Asking for better grammar is inflammatory in the school,” says an occasional T.A. “You have to give an A or you’re a racist.
Administration should support the production of scholars that can write clearly and correctly, and support faculty that work towards that goal. Admin, of course, did the absolute worst thing, support the students, with predictable results:
The pattern would repeat itself twice more at UCLA that fall: students would allege that they were victimized by racism, and the administration, rather than correcting the students’ misapprehension, penitently acceded to it.
And thus the culture of fear gets even worse. Now, across the country, people are terrified of saying something insulting, with the threshold of insult being lowered to literally microscopic levels. How on Earth did acts that explicitly cannot be seen as insulting nevertheless be considered insults?
Even comedians, usually fearless in what they say in the pursuit of humor, are now too afraid to perform on campuses. In days of yore, comedians used to make pretty good money and further their careers performing on college campuses, and now they know doing so is a major risk to their career. “Opening your mouth on campus” is now dangerous.
The American higher educational system used to be the envy of the world, and, to some extent, would-be scholars from other countries still come here for higher education. What do these people think of the environment created by administration?
Foreign students are particularly shell-shocked by the school’s climate. “The Asians are just terrified,” says a recent graduate. “They walk into this hyper-racialized environment and have no idea what’s going on. Their attitude in class is: ‘I don’t want to talk. Please don’t make me talk!’ ”
Please, the gentle reader needs to understand that the creation of this environment will have long lasting repercussions across American campuses. If we had leaders interested in fostering scholarship and education instead of feathering their own nests for short term gain, we could easily stop this.
This whole matter should have been resolved with some restrained laughter and administration telling students to get back to work. Instead, it just gets escalated and escalated:
“…Rust’s employers presented him with a choice: if he agreed to stay off the education-school premises for the remainder of the academic year, they would not pursue disciplinary charges against him. The administration then sent around a letter to students, alerting them that the school would be less dangerous—for a while, at least—with Rust out of the picture.”
–by the way, Rust is 79 years old, with many awards and commendations for his work in this field. And, apparently, he’s a threat and a racist because of his citation style preferences…
The article I’m quoting from goes into much more extensive detail on how vile microaggression theory is, and I encourage the interested reader (with plenty of time) to peruse it further.
Simply asking students to use a long established citation style can lead to a professor getting kicked off campus. Is this not yet another sign that something has gone horribly, horribly, wrong in higher education?