Academic (Non)Sense

11 Feb

So this pops up in my Facebook feed, this morning. Go read it first.

There’s a question this guy has to ask himself, one that doesn’t seem to have crossed his mind. If it had been a white student instead of a black student, would he have done the same thing?

If the answer to that question is yes, then he has nothing to reproach himself for.

There’s two points here. The micro point and the macro point.

Going to college, or university, is nothing like buying a new car. You’re not buying a product, but a service. What use you make out of it is up to you. As I noted earlier, what you get out of education depends – very much so – on what you put into it. Paying out vast sums of money to go to a university is nothing more than a waste, if you spend your time having parties instead of actually studying. The tutors are there to help you, but you’re the one who has to do the work.

Now, lectures are rarely one-on-one. A lecturer has to give a talk to a large group of students, who need to focus on his words. A student who comes in late, plays with his iPod or chats merrily in the background is a distraction. Their actions will make it harder for other students to learn. Maybe allowances should be made for a student who is late once (although, by the law of averages, there’ll be a late student every class) but a lecturer has every right to question the commitment of a student who is repeatedly late.

Being on time, believe it or not, is a valuable skill. Employers do not, as a general rule, take an employee’s circumstances into account when they are repeatedly late. If you turn up for your 9-5 job at 9.30 or later, regularly, your employer will eventually sack you.

I’ve heard that a number of diversity training officers (a profession that makes traffic wardens look decent) are pushing the idea that being late is part of black culture. That is simply not true – it is merely making excuses for people who are pushing the limits, not doing anything to actually tackle the problem. Being late at university may have no consequences, but being late in the workforce can result in early and permanent unemployment.

The problem here is that tutors are being deprived of the ability to give feedback – or punished if they do give honest feedback. Students who are allowed to slide because they can claim ‘victimhood’ status are in for a nasty surprise, when they enter the workforce. Reprimanding a black student (or any student) for being late is not racist, but simple practicality. If nothing else, the student will be distracting other students from learning.

There’s a difference, an all-important difference, between picking on someone because of their skin colour (or whatever) and reprimanding them for their behaviour. Students in America and the West are growing increasingly unable or unwilling to tell the difference, unable or unwilling to recognise that their own behaviour gets them into trouble. And political correctness makes it impossible for tutors to stand up and actually tell their charges the truth. They are physically adults, but mentally children.

Academia can only work when it is solidly focused on a culture of merit. Skin colour does not matter. Gender and sexual orientation does not matter. The only thing that matters is being able to do the work.

The macro point is a little more complex.

People who are unwilling to come to terms with the true cause of a problem – let alone cope with it unflinchingly – have a habit of making excuses. In this case, the writer excuses his students by asserting that they are the victims of systematic discrimination. Leaving the validity of that point aside, does that excuse their behaviour?

It is unfortunately true that people who are treated badly at one point in their lives often treat other people badly as they grow up. Victims of child abuse often become victimisers themselves; the bullied often become the bullies. This happens for several reasons, ranging from a belief that this is actually normal to a burning hatred against society or a simple desire to exert a little control in their lives. A person who has been bullied savagely will often lose the ability to empathise with others.

I can – I do – feel sorry for a person who has been victimised. But I don’t think that excuses their behaviour towards others.

Severus Snape is a good example of precisely why this sort of behaviour is so toxic. Snape is a great character, but a horrible teacher. He was bullied relentlessly by Harry’s father, which drove him towards the Death Eaters (who else was going to protect him?) … but he takes his anger out on Harry. James Potter was an unrepentant bully, yet Harry – despite his flaws – is nothing like his father. And yet a great many fans excuse Snape for his behaviour.

The author asks what perspectives [non-white students] bring to the class. This is one of the core arguments in favour of ‘diversity,’ but it is badly flawed (particularly in the hard sciences). The laws of science work exactly the same for black people as they do for white people. Two plus two is always four, regardless of who’s doing the counting. Science is a constant process of discovery; a theory is proposed, tested and then either kept or discarded. Science demands merit, not social justice.

And even the soft sciences (should) have the same requirement. The law should be blind. Murder is murder, regardless of who was killed, by whom. A black man being killed by a white man is as serious as a white man being killed by a black man. The law should not be interpreted differently, depending on who is involved. And even gender studies and religious studies require a certain ability to comprehend and contextualise that is often alien to their students.

But social justice proponents have systematically undermined the whole concept by introducing so-called ‘diversity’ into academia and the workforce. In teaching students (and everyone else) that they have no control over their lives, that they are the victims of racism or sexism (or anything else along the same lines), they have undermined the concept of personal responsibility – and personal improvement. The idea that a student should be held accountable for his failings is impossible for them to grasp when they are too busy making excuses for their behaviour. Instead, they want sympathy for First World Problems.

The blunt truth is that sympathy has its limits. Someone who wallows in their own victimhood is going to receive less and less sympathy as their life goes on, as people who are forced to listen to them lose patience. That someone went through hell does not automatically provide an excuse for bad behaviour – and victimhood is not, in a rational world, an excuse for anything.

In education, the only thing that matters is merit. What you get out of education depends, very much, on what you put in. That’s a simple fact …

… And far too many students don’t even begin to understand it.

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40 Responses to “Academic (Non)Sense”

  1. shrekgrinch February 11, 2016 at 10:15 pm #

    “In education, the only thing that matters is merit. What you get out of education depends, very much, on what you put in. That’s a simple fact …

    … And far too many students don’t even begin to understand it.”

    Yup. And even worse, employers have finally started to figure this out. At first, they (and many still do) enacted policies to suck up to these lame Millennials who think employers are supposed to ‘given them a life, not a job’ (which only alienated the GenXers already on staff, like me) only to find out that there is no satisfying these young punks.

    So now, they are starting to fire them and either concentrating on foreigners or older people in their hiring.

    Great for me. I have far less of a chance of being pushed out in my 50s that are coming in a couple of years than I did before (I’m in the tech industry, which is notorious for its age discrimination). But I won’t count on a Social Security system relying on Millennials to fund it out of their payrolls, either. Unemployed/underemployed Millennial-children don’t exactly make for a rich revenue source based on income earned, you see.

    Also as a GenXer, I used to think that the worst form of ‘generational pollution’ inflicted on America were the Boomers. Now that the Millennials are on the scene, I can see how wrong I was about that.

  2. Rob Godfrey February 11, 2016 at 11:07 pm #

    Semi agreed, only point I will raise is that if you pump out people only capable of group think (as the Chinese education apparently does) you get people who can build the perfect mouse trap, the utter and complete perfection of springs bars with the perfect trigger, you do not however get the person who looks at the mouse trap and throws it away to start again, with what may or may not be a better idea, but at least is new, to bring this on to a hard science point, you get plenty of brilliant lab techs, and people who can build on what you already know…but no Einsteins, no one who comes along and breaks the mold because it is lacking in some way, it’s assumptions are at base wrong, btw this is what should terrify you (and certainly does me) about religious fundamentalists of all stripes, they have their perfect answer and will tear down anything, no matter how proven, that contradicts that, THAT is the most worrying trend in science right now, the rise of Creationism, whether evangelical, Wahhabi, Hasidim whatever , because while being to kid gloves with people leaves you bad scientists, the rise of creationism leaves you NO scientists.

    Which worries me more? The fundamentalists all of them hate science and love the apocalypse. That is more scary to me than a few students getting treated to softly (which happened in the past as well, except then it was the children of the ‘right type’ of parents, the ‘type’ has changed, not the process)

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard February 11, 2016 at 11:49 pm #

      Typical Liberal.

      You can’t counter Chris’s post so you bring up the Liberal Boggie Man of “Religious Fundamentalism”.

      And yes, compared to the problems caused by Liberals, it’s a Boggie Man and not real.

      • utabintarbo February 12, 2016 at 1:25 am #

        They are, in my experience, Jedi Masters at razing straw men. Facts and logic, not so much.

      • Obi-Wan-Kenobi February 12, 2016 at 3:15 am #

        I think you mean boogie man. And he just presented a logical argument. So instead of arguing with his irrefutable logic, you attack him as a liberal. Good job.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard February 12, 2016 at 3:46 am #

        Only a Liberal would consider it “irrefutable logic”.

        I’m sick and tired of Liberals creating boogie men of Conservative Christians and yes that’s what Rob was doing.

        After all, talk about “Radical Muslims” as a danger, Liberals scream about Islamic phobia.

      • Obi-Wan-Kenobi February 12, 2016 at 3:56 am #

        Dude. Let’s think about this…. Who believes in something totally imaginary? Oh yeah christians. Who believes that despite countless facts to prove otherwise that the earth is only 10000 years old? Christians. Who believes in taking the right to choose whether you have a kid or not away? Christians. Who wants kids to learn about God and creation in school? Christians.

      • Joel Li February 12, 2016 at 5:20 am #

        Obi-Wan-Kenobi

        Sciences has not as of yet proved or disproved that a God does or does not exist.

        Believing in a God(s) or not is in the end your own personal believe.

        If you want to talk Darwinism, it is still only a theory and has never been proven right. Same with Creationism.

        Thus in the end, both are believe systems. As such, lets all tolerate other’s believes instead of attacking them.

      • Rob Godfrey February 12, 2016 at 6:08 am #

        You do understand what theory means in a scientific context, right? It means model that works best based on current knowledge and evidence, so nuclear fission is based on theories, as are all medical treatments and in fact the space programs, evolution is about as proved as it gets, same as Einsteins theories, which allow GPS to function.

      • Obi-Wan-Kenobi February 12, 2016 at 1:28 pm #

        Here’s the difference. There’s actually evidence of scientific theories. Observable facts support them. All god has is a book written 100 years after jesus was crucified.

      • shrekgrinch February 19, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

        That, and they don’t even teach creationism in American universities except for the religious ones like seminaries.

      • R Godfrey April 25, 2016 at 11:37 pm #

        I see, the campaign to outlaw the teaching of science, kill homosexuals and make Evangelical Christianity the official religion of america, then use nuclear fire to start armagedon is aboogyman. Since Ted Cruz is a 7 pillars Domionist, an ideology that makes the taliban look like an AA meeting, it is a great deal more than that.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 25, 2016 at 11:53 pm #

        ROFL

        Where do you find such nonsense?

        The Onion?

      • Rob Godfrey April 26, 2016 at 12:01 am #

        No by listening to what they say and assuming they mean it.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 26, 2016 at 12:04 am #

        As I asked, where have you heard that?

      • robert godfrey April 26, 2016 at 12:34 am #

        https://themarshallreport.wordpress.com/2016/01/12/cruz-and-his-seven-mountain-dominionism-is-not-in-my-bible-is-it-in-yours/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominion_Theology For a start, Seven Mountains (sorry thought it was pillars) calls for perfecting the world by killing all unbelievers so Jesus can return.

      • robert godfrey April 26, 2016 at 12:44 am #

        If the links don’t get thru, google Ted Cruz Seven Mountain, and see ‘The Marshall Report’ (which is itself a christian blog, not a secular or atheist one), Rafeal Cruz says ‘Ted Cruz Anointed to Bring Spoils of War to the Priests’ is a fairly good one as well, you could also google Pastor John Hagee, Bush tells Chirac gulf war needed to b ring about Jesus return. Or ofc, the series of laws trying to force Creationism into schools, and establish the Evangelical Church as the state religion.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard April 26, 2016 at 12:53 am #

        Yep, just a bunch of Liberal Nonsense.

        If you’re going to continue this nonsense, provide links to Ted Cruz’s sites so I can see his actual words that supports this garbage.

      • robert godfrey April 26, 2016 at 1:02 am #

        Actually a challenge for you: link me evidence for your constant claims that Christians do not follow the bible, for if they do, they have to want rape and genocide.

      • robert godfrey April 26, 2016 at 1:12 am #

        I retract my comment about the conservative movement, was unworthy. The point about the anointing being a video, with sound of an event in which Rafeal Cruz does in fact anoint Ted Cruz as a king, and war leader to purge the unbelievers is true however, it is a video, no spin, nothing simply a recording of an event. The Marshall Report is not a liberal site by any stratch which is WHY I linked it. The wiki on what Dominion theology actually is is a simple report on an ideology, one that Ted Cruz and his father are prominent members of.

    • Joel Li February 12, 2016 at 5:31 am #

      Rob Godfrey, like Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard, I disagree with your above statement.

      Firstly, the China education system is not the Chinese education system. Also my counter point is that having a base line in which all students must respect does not force them into only one mold. Individual experiences, attitudes and believes will mold each student differently. Even China has their own visionaries and entrepreneurs that come out from their system or in spit of it.

      Secondly, how does believing in a God make one a bad scientist. Cannot speak for others, but the Christian Bible never tells Scientist not to explore and push the boundaries of creation. If certain groups of people have their own agendas, that is not representative of all.

      Thirdly, I am not an American, so I am under about fundamentalists. But again having a believe in God, does not make one hate science. We might disagree with certain findings especially certain theories but that does not make one hate science.

      So in conclusion, I think your argument has holes in them and is from a coloured view point.

      • Joel Li February 12, 2016 at 5:39 am #

        * Thirdly, I am not an American, so I do not understand about fundamentalists.

      • Rob Godfrey February 12, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

        3) fundamentalists of all stripes ignore (at best) or try to destroy (more usually) any evidence or people that contradict their book, so, we have Creationism, which is NOT a theory, as it provides no evidence or testable hypothesis, which evolution by means of natural selection does and has, one of these is a scientific theory, the other is a religious dogma, one belongs in science classes the other does not (and for the record gender and racial politics should not be part of a science curriculum either, except in as much as they overlap biology).

        So we have a large and political powerful group (powerful way more than their raw numbers would suggest) pushing an anti-science agenda, trying to remove science from the curriculum and replace it with dogma, trying to outlaw experiments that would bring forth more evidence against them and save lives (stem cell research being a prime example) if they succeed we end up with no scientists, but a mish-mash of mystics and technicians with no actual grounding in WHY what they are doing works, in short science, and more importantly the scientific method dies. This is true of all fundamentalists, from ISIS to American Evangelicals, the only difference is the method by which the mean to seize tyrannical control (at the moment, all bets are of as to the future behavior of any of these groups, once ‘god’ is on your side any action becomes easy to justify to yourself, as can be seen in any number of terror attacks) , and the exact dogma they wish to replace reason with.

        That is not a straw man as others have tried to imply, this is the truth, and it is far more dangerous than over compensating for past wrongs. Overcompensating and being soft damages the person on the receiving end, fundamentalism damages the entire nation, possibly irrecoverably.

  3. Joel Li February 12, 2016 at 5:48 am #

    As mentioned before, I am not an American. In fact I am South East Asian.

    I am surprised with the amount of CareBear-ness that shines forth in the Academic Article.

    It is like people are going out for their way to allow minorities to have it easy or come first or in essences Win.

    While I agree that discrimination should be guarded zealously against. I think the Professor is taking it too far. In trying to be understanding to a particular group of students, is he/she not now discriminating against her other students?

    Personally she is entitled to learn more and befriend whoever she wants. But as a educator, she needs to be impartial to all.

    For example, she should scold the students that are late and/or mark them down, but them after class. She should befriend them and ask them about why they are late and how she can help.

  4. PhilippeO February 12, 2016 at 6:52 am #

    – There’s a difference, an all-important difference, between picking on someone because of their skin colour (or whatever) and reprimanding them for their behaviour.
    – Academia can only work when it is solidly focused on a culture of merit. Skin colour does not matter. Gender and sexual orientation does not matter. The only thing that matters is being able to do the work.
    – The laws of science work exactly the same for black people as they do for white people. Two plus two is always four, regardless of who’s doing the counting. Science is a constant process of discovery; a theory is proposed, tested and then either kept or discarded. Science demands merit, not social justice.
    – And even the soft sciences (should) have the same requirement. The law should be blind. Murder is murder, regardless of who was killed, by whom. A black man being killed by a white man is as serious as a white man being killed by a black man.

    Agree with all this, that professor (martinkich) make mistake if he want to put racialized inequalities in teaching.

    On the other hand, he didn’t exactly say he would tolerate black late students. If he does it would be a mistake. He merely point out that

    “But there was no way I could insulate our interactions in class from our experience outside of it—which in their case meant a long history of discrimination and outright hostility, and in mine meant living with the privileges that come with white skin. As a result we (both, I think) had difficulty reading each other’s behavior.”

    and

    ” But it taught me a stark lesson on how history can hijack the present, in the classroom as everywhere else. It is too easy for teachers like me whose subject matter does not normally focus on inequality, whether racialized or not, to assume that it has no bearing in our classrooms. Or that treating everyone equally is enough. ”

    This is both true.

    live outside and history will always seep into everything.

    Look at “legacy scholarship” (which students given preferred acceptance if his father / brother is alumni); it certainly look colour-less, but in practice it overwhelmingly benefit white students.

    Look at “SAT”, SAT look neutral; but in practice richer school district had given their student special education to tackle SAT, there are high school in New England where 90% of their students accepted into Ivy Leagues with astronomical SAT score.

    Look at college scholarship, there are scholarship for lacrosse, for tennis, for gymnastic, etc All sports that overwhelmingly available only if you got high schooled in very rich school district.

    Look at drug enforcement in America, in many high school and college, marijuana is de facto “legal and accepted”. Barack Obama, Michael Phelps, and Bill Cilnton all are smoking them, they never had trouble, because their school and neighboorhod are rich; police didn’t enforce the law in rich neighborhood. If Barack Obama high schooled in Alabama instead of Hawaii, he would have had arrest record.

    ” But social justice proponents have systematically undermined the whole concept by introducing so-called ‘diversity’ into academia and the workforce. In teaching students (and everyone else) that they have no control over their lives, that they are the victims of racism or sexism (or anything else along the same lines), they have undermined the concept of personal responsibility – and personal improvement. The idea that a student should be held accountable for his failings is impossible for them to grasp when they are too busy making excuses for their behaviour. ”

    This I cannot agree, social justice whether in criminal justice or education, or any other field DID NOT absolve people for personal responsibility. They point out that circumstances DO matter, and circumstances do should be considered in leniency, in implementing the law and other matter.

    To make non-racial example : the law do give soldier with PTSD leniency, it did not let them absolve of them from crime (say domestic violence), but government do acknowledge that veteran with PTSD have problem, there are special assistance given (lawyer during trial, therapist during/after jailtime, etc).

    In short, I think while certainly possible that liberal/SJW overreached, especially in campus where most activist is young and still radical, in most case I support them. They are many many way discrimination/unfair advantage/secret knowledge still influence thing, so in most case its conservatives who are over-reacted or plainly ignoring problem that still exist.

    I think conservatives had tendency to :
    – trusting authority too much (they too often instinctively defending teacher/police/employer during dispute, and believe their excuse too much)
    – confusing hazing with necessity
    – too trusting of tradition ( many tradition is simply habit or worse hazing, and do not need to be continued )
    – over-react to condemnation/ boycott / accusation (private people did have free speech right and myth of liberal domination of MSM/net is exaggerated and there are lots of idiot in the net)
    – confuse “real power” and “public pressure”. (power is ability to reward/punish someone, teacher can give grade, employer can fire/promote people, government can subsidize / fine people >< while public pressure is often only "noise in internet"; attack by press /netizens about something often achieve zero effect, and usually only last very short time)

    I do think many liberal success(like affirmative action/harassment suit) is often not enough to deal with REAL discrimination that de facto exist in society.

    and education can only do so much, in most case "who you know" matter more than education itself. i think you overestimate the role of hard work and knowledge to success in society.

    in Potterverse, I agree that Dumbledore is very bad headmaster, many teacher, not only Snape but also Hagrid and half of defense of dark arts teacher, should never be a teacher in real life.

    People defending Snape is hardly "real world problem", people also defending Draco Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange. I don't think excuse fan throw in Internet is relevant to any discussion, any fan discussion is strange, childish and a bit unrealistic. People defending Snape in fiction not mean that they will excuse such behaviour in RL. There are many fans who defend stalking (vampire fan), genocide and warfare (Gundam Zeon fan), or abuse (many many romance novels). It did not mean they will do so in Real-Life, especially as public policy.

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard February 12, 2016 at 4:08 pm #

      trusting authority too much

      Considering that too much of authority these days follow the Liberal group-think, I don’t see conservatives trusting authority.

      There’s a line that is sometimes associated with Liberals that goes “Question Authority”.

      Sadly, in my experience Liberals are the ones that don’t “Question Authority”. [Frown]

      • Rob Godfrey February 12, 2016 at 4:25 pm #

        Both groups can be guilty of it (I know I can be, and try hard not to, but have seen the same behavior on the ‘other side of the aisle’)

      • robert godfrey April 26, 2016 at 12:54 am #

        Google Rafeal Cruz annoints Ted Cruz it is a damn video. or, like the entire conservative movement aqre you waiting for the gang rapes when you win?

      • robert godfrey April 26, 2016 at 12:55 am #

        Also the Marshall Report is a Evangelical Christian website ffs

  5. MishaBurnett February 12, 2016 at 11:19 am #

    “Being on time, believe it or not, is a valuable skill. Employers do not, as a general rule, take an employee’s circumstances into account when they are repeatedly late. If you turn up for your 9-5 job at 9.30 or later, regularly, your employer will eventually sack you.”

    Sadly, that is not entirely true. The fear of EEOC lawsuits has driven many employers to adopt two sets of rules (unofficial, but very real), one for Black employees and one for non-Black employees. As a middle-aged White male, I know that I am held to a higher standard than employees who can claim a special victim status.

  6. MishaBurnett February 12, 2016 at 2:57 pm #

    You don’t know any Christians, do you?

    • Rob Godfrey February 12, 2016 at 3:09 pm #

      I used to BE one, I can still remember the Faith Camps I got sent to and their attitudes to knowledge and evidence, and their hatred of unbelievers.

  7. Patrick M. Nagel February 12, 2016 at 3:20 pm #

    Social justice exists to combat systematic social inequality. It should, in theory, attempt to level the playing field. Often, however, it goes too far. It suddenly starts up the opposite slope in a struggle for immediate social equality. It starts excusing certain behaviors or conditions for certain groups. This is ultimately ineffective. Giving handouts to certain groups, whether material or social, does not encourage these groups to perform better. In fact, it often produces behaviors inimical to the goals of social justice in the first place.

    • quasirenaissance February 12, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

      Combating systemic social inequality, that is, inequality of opportunity, is a laudable goal. The approach of breaking down/revising the systems that produce the inequalities is likewise laudable. The “Harrison Bergeron” approach of making everyone equal by putting obstacles in the way of those perceived to be better off/by excusing behaviors and giving a pass to those who fail to take advantage of the opportunities is, as you say, ultimately ineffective and actually creates more inequality.

  8. Brian Wheeler February 13, 2016 at 7:36 am #

    Let me start by saying I am a liberal. However the Professor of the linked article is a idiot.

    First he missed the whole point of John Roberts. (“What unique perspective does a minority student bring to a physics class?”) The question does not presume that whites or asians or any other race is the majority, because if you replace any race with minority the answer would still be the same. None. If you have been in any serious physics class in a university you will note the teachers do care about the students perspective. It is irrelevant. You will learn that Force = Mass * Acceleration. When I took Calculus 2 the most interaction our professor had with us was a hi at the start of the class, after that he turned around and started writing on the whiteboard and teaching until class was over. The only discussions were when he left time for people to catch up writing and would explain something about math.

    There are multiple ways to deal with students who don’t come to class on time. My history teacher did it the simple way. She locked the door 1 minute after the time class started. If you were late then you missed class. Most professors couldn’t be bothered to care if a student is late or not. If you know the material then great, if not, then well your loss. In the US the student pays a LOT of money to go to school, if you don’t learn anything then it’s up to you. So I fully agree with Chris on the notion about excusing his student. But I would also say the professor is doing exactly the same thing, he is trying to find a excuse on why someone would write something negative about him in a evaluation.

    The professor missed that the negative evaluation wasn’t really about race, it was because the student blamed the professor for disciplining her. Since he missed the reason for the evaluation he had to find a reason for the evaluation which was even further off in dream land.

    • Brian Wheeler February 13, 2016 at 7:39 am #

      Need a edit button on here. I meant to say do NOT care at “will note the teachers do care about the students perspective”

  9. TonyE February 14, 2016 at 5:51 am #

    Interesting discussion. One thing that is pretty wrong is that those abused become abusers, being married to a psychotherapist with thirty years experience in counselling survivors of sexual assault I can only repeat what she says. The extremely low numbers of those who perpetuate the abuse cycle almost invariably are using their own experiences as an excuse. Statistically the proportion of abusers who have experienced abuse is about the same as in the general population.

    It may appear more prevalent however because lawyers will often advise perpetrators to detail abuse in hope of a lighter sentence. The fact is that people are responsible for their own behaviour. If you know something is wrong and you persist, and I’m pretty certain that those students knew that their behaviour was wrong, then the consequences are yours and yours alone. My worry here is that someone teaching communications couldn’t communicate.

    On a final note to all you Americans, the word is “liberal” not “Liberal”. The only spelling of Liberal with a capital refers to the Australian political party of the same name. They are, somewhat oxymoronically, a conservative party and not at all liberal. Having said that, what Americans of the conservative persuasion consider “liberal” is generally construed as middle-of-the-road throught the more civilised parts of our planet.

  10. DanJB February 16, 2016 at 1:06 am #

    “Here’s a question this guy has to ask himself, one that doesn’t seem to have crossed his mind. If it had been a white student instead of a black student, would he have done the same thing?

    If the answer to that question is yes, then he has nothing to reproach himself for.”

    Leaving aside that you’ve somehow mistaken the author of that essay (Professor Margaret Williamson) for a man, I think its an error to equate ‘equal treatment’ to ‘the same’ treatment.

    Equal treatment is about creating a level playing field – treating everyone the same doesn’t necessarily achieve that. For example, suppose I had a weekly team meeting and I set a standard whereby I expect whichever member of my team is taking the minutes to submit them within 30minutes of the meeting ending. If there is usually no problem, but one of my team was late with the minutes every time they did it and the standard is the same for everyone then on the face of it it would be reasonable of me to reprimand the person who is always late… If I then add to the picture that the late person has arthritis, so can’t type as fast as others then it seems that treating them ‘the same’ is in fact not reasonable (and in the country where I’m currently living would, quite rightly, leave me liable to charges under equalities legislation if I did).
    Similar scenarios can come up concerning ethnicity, religious etc although they’re usually harder to see.

    In my reading, the Professor isn’t attempting to say that the students aren’t responsible for their behaviour; she is discussing that she hadn’t considered the behaviour of the late comers may have been the result of some signal she had unwittingly sent out that had been interpreted as racist (until that was indicated in the after course feedback).

    There is a neat sci-fi analogy, which seems appropriate to this blog – in the Star Trek the Next Generation episode ‘Hollow Pursuits’ LaForge is explaining to Guinean that Lt. Barclay’s behaviour is intolerable “he doesn’t fit in here [he’s] always late, he’s nervous – nobody wants to be around this guy”
    Guinean’s reply is “If I thought that nobody wanted to be around me, I would probably be late and nervous too”

    It isn’t that Barclay or the students aren’t ‘responsible’ or that they have an ‘excuse’ – its understanding that it is (or at least might be) a two sided issue.

    The related point I think Professor Williamson was trying to make was that she had handled her classes in the US in the same way as she handled her classes in England – but that the prevailing experience of students of colour in the US is different to that of students of colour in England, resulting in her words/actions being interpreted differently than she had expected based on her own experience.

    As to the ‘macro’ point of diversity
    “Two plus two is always four, regardless of who’s doing the counting. Science is a constant process of discovery; a theory is proposed, tested and then either kept or discarded. Science demands merit, not social justice.”

    You’re quite right that progression in science or any field should be on merit and ability. The issue with diversity though is properly recognising and defining ability and merit. Through various mechanisms institutions often create a bias towards recruiting people who reflect those doing the recruiting (merit = like what we have now) whereas there may be other ways of showing that same merit. The consequence of not looking for or recognising merit is that you may miss the opportunity to work with talented people (which most organisations can’t afford to do – particularly if it means leaving an Einstein or a Leonardo undiscovered). That could be unconscious bias, as in recognising something of yourself in people who are superficially like you (e.g. same race or gender) and so leaning towards them, or it could be looking only at one academic route into the field which is likely to be more readily accessible to the wealthy (and may in turn be correlated to ethnicity/nationality/region of birth).
    I would also argue there is an inherent value to diversity of cultures and backgrounds, in that having people with a wide range of different backgrounds may lead to a broader set of theories.

    Diversity in the workforce isn’t a question of giving out sympathy, its a matter of creating conditions in which the most talented people can be found and can reach their potential – something every employer worth working for should be interested in – and I don’t see why academia should be different.

  11. R.A. Mathis April 25, 2016 at 5:34 pm #

    Well said, Chris. It’s refreshing to see an author with a bit of common sense. I was starting to lose hope in the profession.

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