Progressive professors behaving badly
Two professors, one in California and one in New Jersey, are reportedly under investigation by their employers for behavior that at a minimum is rude and arrogant and that, some hope, could cost them their jobs. I believe that both are exemplars of the moral hazard that accompanies the exalted status accorded professors, often aggravated by the practice of granting tenure.
Tuesday evening, following news of the death of Barbara Bush, Professor Randa Jarrar, who teaches creative writing at Fresno State University, violated the norms of decency when she tweeted:
...and followed up with tweets obviously intended to inflict emotional pain on the family survivors:
To top it off, she tweeted a taunt that she is invulnerable thanks to her status as a tenured professor.
The president of Fresno State whom she referenced has pulled the rug out from under her presumption of job security:
On Wednesday, Castro told the Bee that Jarrar's comments were "beyond free speech. This was disrespectful."
"A professor with tenure does not have blanket protection to say and do what they wish," he said. "We are all held accountable for our actions."
While I am not familiar with the terms of her contract, I do know that tenure is not an absolute guarantee of lifetime employment. A number of factors, including the closing of an academic department due to low enrollment (aka market forces), sexual misconduct with a student, and inflicting harm on the employing institution, can be grounds for termination in some cases. Nonetheless, Jarrar's presumption of job invulnerability is apparently what led her to believe that publicly inflicting emotional pain on very prominent people when they are most vulnerable is cost-free.
Perhaps it is my imagination, but I suspect that Jarrar's unattractive physical appearance has led to her generalized anger at the imperfect society in which she lives:
It is quite obvious that anger is a prominent part of her self-expression. At least in this case, she was not inflicting that anger on students.
I have far greater issue with another professor whose behavior took place in a classroom and was directed at a student. From NJ.com:
A New Jersey community college is investigating why a professor shouted the F-word at a student in an incident that was caught on camera. The student identifies as politically conservative[.] ...
During a Sociology 105, Intercultural Communication class Wednesday, Brookdale Community College professor Howard Finkelstein grew angry with his student, Christopher Lyle, shouted "f‑‑‑ your life," and pounded his hand on a table, according to video obtained by NJ Advance Media.
The incident, recorded on another student's cell phone, came after Lyle insisted both men and women can be victims of sexual harassment, said Lyle, in an interview with NJ Advance Media. It is one of many disagreements Lyle says he's had with Finkelstein over the course of the semester. ...
In an interview, Lyle said that Finkelstein's outburst is part of the professor's pattern of dismissing and disrespecting Lyle's conservative viewpoints. It's a grievance that echoes nationwide complaints from conservative students who feel they can't share their social or political views on left-leaning campuses.
Finkelstein regularly tells Lyle to "shut up," has criticized him for owning a gun and dismissed his opinions as "the reason America is not great," Lyle said.
The student who shot the video, Joey Smith, said that Finkelstein's class frequently devolves into lectures directed specifically at Lyle. Smith doesn't always agree with Lyle's views, but doesn't think a teacher should ask for a student's personal views only to rip them, he said. ...
"He is basically just lecturing this one student for the whole period," Smith, 26, said. "We are sitting there and he is speaking directly to Chris, going back and forth about personal thoughts."
If this account is accurate, Finkelstein clearly is abusing his position as a professor. Students are graded by professors, with serious consequences for their future academic and career prospects, meaning they are vulnerable. There is an absolute obligation on anyone who has such responsibility to act on the basis of personal detachment from any emotional response to disagreements over political, or moral, or other contentious issues of the moment.
I began my work life as a professor and found that the moral challenges of responsibly dealing with the power over students bestowed upon that position were quite serious and demanding. Rather than meeting my own emotional needs, my job was to put students first and deal with them from the standpoint of both a servant and a mentor. Personal reflection and self-criticism were essential, and sometimes uncomfortable. Seeing other colleagues handle these challenges with varying degrees of integrity caused no small discomfort at times, but it also could be inspiring.
The problem more than three decades later is that with very few exceptions (Hillsdale College and Grove City College are the two most prominent), a political monoculture of extreme progressivism exists on most campuses, at odds with the broader culture of the country, creating an adversarial mindset and preventing any serious open reflection on the flaws in that monoculture.
The only solution I see ahead will be brutal: the bankruptcy of many, quite possibly most institutions of higher education and their replacement by much cheaper and higher-quality online education. The decades of tuition inflation at roughly three times the rate of general costs have already made tuition a life-changing expense for parents and student-borrowers. Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit long has seen this coming. His book, The Higher Education Bubble, is in many ways prophetic.
To some degree, Professors Jarrar and Finkelstein are unwittingly "progressive" in that their despicable actions are advancing the progress of the inevitable collapse of the bubble.