“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?

“Stepfather of EMU student is a person of interest in murder case”

Well, this is icky: from the Eastern Echo comes “Stepfather of EMU student is a person of interest in murder case.” This headline doesn’t really tell the real story here though; I would have written something along the lines of “Murder victim and former EMU student Julia Niswender’s stepfather charged with child pornography, suspect in stepdaughter’s murder.” But that’s kind of a long headline.  Here’s a long quote from the beginning of the story:

James Turnquist has been named by Ypsilanti police as a person of interest in the murder of his stepdaughter, Julia Niswender.

Turnquist was arraigned on charges of child pornography Feb. 27 and is currently being held in the Monroe County Jail on a $100,000 bond, MLive reports.

MLive also reports that investigators are concerned that he may have knowledge related to Niswender’s death, but that the pornography case is unrelated, according to a release by the department.

The Ypsilanti Police Department could not be reached for further comment.

Julia’s sister, Jennifer Niswender, thinks that trying to link Turnquist’s recent charges back to her sister’s death is “absolutely absurd.”

Here’s a link to the mLive story about all this, btw.


“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.


“Charges flew after IU-Kokomo chancellor’s (former EMU Associate Provost Michael Harris) sudden exit

It’s kind of interesting/ironic/something that the day after I announce that I’m going to start phasing out EMUTalk in large part because I’ve been doing this more than long enough that I receive this tip from an alert EMUTalk reader about an administrator from that distant past. From the Indianapolis Business Journal web site comes “Charges flew after IU-Kokomo chancellor’s sudden exit.” The chancellor with the “sudden exit” was none other than former EMU administrator Michael Harris, who was a bit of a lightening rod when he was here way back when.

“Judge lowers bond of man accused in ‘bizarre’ sexual assaults at EMU dorm”

From mLive comes “Judge lowers bond of man accused in ‘bizarre’ sexual assaults at EMU dorm.” I hadn’t heard this story prior to this, but what it sounds like is a kind of crazy guy wandering around in the dorms.

EMUTalk.org news: The sun will be setting on the site in a few months, certainly by September 2015

This site started on September 14, 2006. So far, there has been almost 2,750 posts and just shy 14,000 comments. Since 2013, the site has gotten around 395,000 hits, which means that it really has certainly been hit over a million times since I wasn’t keeping very good track of those stats previously. It is and has been a good thing, and like all good things, it’s going to come to an end.

EMUTalk.org will probably start fading out this summer and be left as an archive of some sort by the beginning of the Fall 2015 term.

Why, you might ask? Before I get to that, let me first be very clear: no one is trying to get me to shut down this site. I’ve never have heard anything negative about EMUTalk from any administrator or other official EMU entity. In fact, the only conversations I’ve had with anyone officially tied with EMU have been completely supportive of the site. Regular readers know that PR guy and EMU’s most popular emailer Geoff Larcom often sends me stuff to post and I’ve received similar requests to post things on EMUTalk from other official campus groups.

And I have to say I think the administration generally kind of likes EMUTalk. I mean, I suppose you could argue that the EMU administration doesn’t interfere because they know that if they did it would become a very bad PR story about trying to squelch academic free speech and all of that. But I do have the impression that the powers that be generally recognize there’s a value in spaces like EMUTalk where folks can vent about topics of concern.

No, I’m not being asked by anyone to end EMUTalk. This is all my idea. Why? Well, sort of (but not exactly) in this order:

  • I’ve been doing this for almost nine years. That’s enough. I’ve gotten a lot out of the experience and I like to think the site has done some good, but I think I’ve gotten all that I’m going to get out of the experience.  I have other things I want to do (including with my own blog and/or a site that is more “official” site that I can incorporate into my teaching and work), so it’s time to move on and encourage someone else to take up the charge.
  • I’m at a stage in my career (I’ve been a full professor at EMU since 2007) where I’m kind of interested in some administrative/quasi-administrative positions. Kind of. Never say never, but I can’t see myself as a department head or a dean, but there are a lot of other kinds of administrative jobs that strike me as potentially interesting (though I don’t want to be to terribly specific about what I mean for what I assume are obvious reasons). Anyway, while the administration has been okay with me running this site in my current position, I don’t think they’d be all that crazy about me running this site– even as an unofficial hobby– if I was a suit.By the way, I don’t think blogging, writing op-ed pieces, and/or expressing opinions publicly are completely at odds with being some kind of administrator. Matt “Confessions of a Community College Dean” Reed is one of my favorite examples of how that can be done effectively.
  • It’s been a time-suck for a long time, but EMUTalk has become a more noticeable time-suck for me lately. I’m not entirely sure why this is the case. It probably has something to do with being on sabbatical, which has been an experience where I simultaneously have a lot of free time and, conversely, I feel a certain self-imposed pressure to get some shit done.
  • I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with me being pretty much the only voice/contributor. Way back at the beginning, there were a number of regular contributors to EMUTalk, people who had access to the site to post about whatever they wanted. Long-time readers will recall that caused a lot of chaos, so I reined things in with the hope that eventually there’d be new contributors and I’d take on more the role of editor where I could screen and (I guess for lack of a better way of putting it) control what did or didn’t get posted. That hasn’t worked out. Sure, I get emails to post stuff, but it’s still mostly just me. It’s not that the work is overwhelming (though see the previous point about time-suck), but I’ve started to grow tired of hearing myself talk, if that makes sense, not to mention I’ve gotten tired of taking on too many different fights and causes.
  • There are other places to participate in the kinds of conversations that take place on EMUTalk nowadays– not only the Facebooks and Twitters of the world, but also other web sites. I think that’s reflected in site traffic because while EMUTalk still gets 200-300 visits on a typical day, it’s not as many visits as it used to be. And hey, now that the EMU-AAUP are on both Facebook and Twitter, maybe they’ll step up and be a place for discussion.

There are probably some other reasons, but I can’t think of them now.

Anyway, I’ll keep posting stuff here for at least several more months.  Then sometime in the near future (maybe this summer, certainly by September when the contract is up for the domain name and server space), I’ll move the site to some kind of archive space and then pull the plug on EMUTalk.

But one more important thing: I’d be really really happy to help some person(s)/group(s) set up an alternative to the kind of EMUTalk-like space. I can help with the technical stuff, with getting the word out about a new site, offer words of advice/wisdom on what to write/what to publish, policies on commenting and all that, etc. Just let me know.

“Study says many Michigan charter authorizers succeeding but poor performers have more schools”

A loyal EMUTalk.org reader just sent me this link in mLive: “Study says many Michigan charter authorizers succeeding but poor performers have more schools.”  This is a story about a report about how there is a relationship between the number of charter schools being authorized by an institution and how well those charter schools are doing. Go read it and you’ll see what I mean. But here’s the quote that really stands out (and not in a good way):

While the majority of the authorizers in the study got an A or B grade, the majority of the students who attend charter schools in the state don’t attend schools chartered by those authorizers.

Central Michigan University received a C grade, while Oakland University, Detroit Public Schools and Saginaw Valley State University all received D grades.

Eastern Michigan University and Northern Michigan University both received F grades. Northern received zero points for improving chronically failing schools and just 14 points for setting standards for current schools.

“Student performance at the schools authorized by one of our ‘F’ authorizers, Eastern Michigan University, borders on criminal,” the report states. “All nine schools ranked by the state were in the bottom third of all schools statewide. All but one school was ranked among the bottom 25 percent of schools in the state.

Most of the authorizer’s schools demonstrated low student improvement, with eight of nine schools showing significantly worse improvement in elementary math than the average Michigan school.”