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.