“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.

“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?

Speaking of banning laptops….

Since the whole role of laptops and cell phones in class has been a part of the discussion lately, I thought I’d post this.  From CHE (though this was published last week) comes “Students Are Welcome to Shop Online During My Lectures” by David von Schlichten. He begins the article by explaining that he started to draft this piece while he was in a meeting; a bit later, there’s this:

Frankly, students’ being on their computers or texting does not faze me. This may be because, before I was a professor, I was a parish pastor for 17 years. Sunday after Sunday, I preached while people nodded off or babies screamed (and screamed, and screamed). Who knows how many parishioners were actually paying attention and how many were texting, making grocery lists, or passing notes? I could not monitor all that. I did my best to prepare engaging, relevant sermons. If people chose not to pay attention, I could not help that.

I have the same attitude in the classroom. I am an excellent lecturer. If students opt not to pay attention during my lectures, I am disappointed but not angry. I do my part; it is up to them to do theirs. From what I have heard from my colleagues, the policing of students is more aggravating than worthwhile, and with 173 students in five classes, I simply do not have the time and energy to be disciplining students for not giving me their undivided attention. Besides, just as I was able to start this essay during a meeting and am able to work at home while the TV is on (although it is hard to multitask during The Good Wife), at least some students can probably pay attention to me while doing something else (one student used to knit during class.).


More about and in memory of Jordan Hopkins and Shannise Heady

From mLive comes a couple of stories about the EMU students who died over the weekend in a car accident on Hewitt Road in Ypsilanti, Shannise Heady and Jordan Hopkins. The death of young people like this so in their prime is always sad of course, but I find it even more disturbing to learn that the investigation has revealed that the two were not wearing seat belts and they were going too fast.

Also related is this story about where the accident happened, “Crash that killed EMU students is 4th fatal in just over 2 years on stretch of Hewitt Road.” It is a pretty notoriously dangerous area (at least for locals like me), and I think the Washtenaw County Sheriff detective they interviewed for this, Doug McMullen, seems oddly defensive about the problem being all about the drivers.

“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.

“2 EMU students, including women’s basketball player, killed in overnight Ypsilanti Township crash”

I just checked mLive to find this sad piece of news:  “2 EMU students, including women’s basketball player, killed in overnight Ypsilanti Township crash.”

“Pizza delivery man robbed at gunpoint at Peninsular Place”

From mLive comes “Pizza delivery man robbed at gunpoint at Peninsular Place.” I thought I’d share this story of crime at everyone’s “favorite” apartment complex for two reasons. First, the good news is that the police arrested the two guys suspected in the robbery, which, when you think about it for a second, shouldn’t be that hard to do. I mean, the pizza guy who was robbed presumably has the address of the robbers, right?

Second, the pizza guy in question, who identifies himself as “Nate,” posted in the comment section about the robbery. At least I assume that’s the guy.

“Cost of Attendance, EMU Athletics, and You”

In the realm of “sport,” there’s a good post by our friend Jeremy over at the site Eagle Totem, “Cost of Attendance, EMU Athletics, and You.” It’s about some rule changes for student athlete scholarships and also about how that is likely connected to EMU getting out of the game at home versus Michigan State. It’s a good read so follow that link. A couple of quotes here:

After years of dragging their feet, the NCAA finally approved cost of attendance increases for student athletes. It was the Power 5 conferences that finally moved on this, as they seemingly control all aspects of college athletics. The ripple effect will eventually hit us here in Ypsilanti, and how the increased costs will be dealt with is uncertain.

The MAC released a statement claiming “the Mid-American Conference’s Council of Presidents has reaffirmed its support of the NCAA’s autonomous legislation that allows for cost of attendance to be included in a grant-in-aid.” In layman’s terms the notion is this — student-athletes will see a bump in their overall scholarship allotment, money to cover food/books/rent etc. The Power 5 masters have pulled the leash, and the Group of 5 subjects have been forced to follow. The ante for admission at the adult table has been raised.

and this:

… for the sake of argument we claim that EMU will be paying $3,000 to each student-athlete [in these additional scholarship expenses], the cost will be enormous. EMU has approximately 500 student-athletes, at the cost of $3,000 per we are looking at approximately $1.5 million dollars added to the already stressed EMU athletic budget.

The EMU athletic budget currently runs an annual deficit of $10-11 million dollars. It is clear that any money used to pay student-athletes will have to come from the larger budget, as athletics cannot simply raise ticket prices to add meaningful revenue. Perhaps they can persuade Pepsi or another corporate sponsor to cover the cost. These solutions are doubtful. Odds are the only way the Athletic Department can pay for this is by either cutting expenses or drawing more money from the student population.

So far, it looks like what is likely to happen is a bit of both: that is, the department is trying to cut expenses so that they are drawing not quite as much money from the general fund, but we’re still going to end up throwing more money at athletics.

And then there’s this:

The first step toward, pardon the phrase, closing the gap in expenditures fell yesterday, when it was announced that EMU has dropped a home game with Michigan State because, in Heather Lyke’s words, “We couldn’t afford to play that game without a guarantee exchange.”

This means that EMU has to miss out on a golden opportunity to party with our Spartan amigos, amidst a full Rynearson Stadium, if only for one weekend. Have you ever noticed that almost all photos of Rynearson Stadium seem to be an aerial shot of an empty stadium? The MSU game was a chance to rectify that! Finally, a stadium full of green and white clad fans! EMU is missing out on fifteen years of useable stock photos.

I’m assuming that when Lyke says we can’t afford the guarantee exchange, she’s talking about how much money we’d have to pay MSU to come here to beat us up. I guess I can kind of understand that, but I have to say that I’m not so sure that Jeremy kind of has a point, even if he’s being a bit sarcastic here. It would be the first time that stadium has been full since… well, maybe the first time ever. Even if EMU had to pay MSU $1 million to come here, it seems possible they’d make that back in ticket sales (especially if they bumped them up for the game) and it would definitely help the attendance figures.