[Marxism] Article in Chronicle of Higher Ed

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Apr 7 09:18:53 MDT 2013

On 4/7/13 10:47 AM, Jeffrey Masko wrote:
> ======================================================================
> Rule #1: YOU MUST clip all extraneous text when replying to a message.
> ======================================================================
> Chronicle of Higher Ed just released a digital article about FAU and
> academic freedom that a faculty member and comrade from the Union for
> Democratic Communications would like to see. Chris Robe's comment on the
> "Jesus Stomping"  incident can be found
> here<http://www.palmbeachpost.com/news/news/opinion/commentary-fau-must-support-academic-freedom-durin/nXBPc/>.
> Can someone contact me if they have access?

April 5, 2013
Florida Atlantic U. Faculty Worries About Long-Term Effects of Recent 

The latest uproar at Florida Atlantic U. was over a classroom exercise 
that some perceived as trampling on the name "Jesus." The university's 
profuse apologies and promise to abolish the exercise in turn left some 
faculty members feeling that their academic freedom had been trampled.

By Sydni Dunn

Florida Atlantic University is putting to the test the adage that "no 
publicity is bad publicity."

In recent weeks the public institution has been plagued by a series of 
controversies that has attracted national attention and criticism from 
people both on and off the campus. And now some Florida Atlantic faculty 
members worry that the incidents have dealt a serious blow to the 
institution's reputation and to academic freedom.

Since the start of the spring semester, Florida Atlantic has had to deal 
with fallout from several widely publicized events. Among them: A 
faculty member publicly questioned whether the shooting massacre at 
Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., really happened; 
administrators struck an agreement to name the university's football 
stadium for a private prison operator that has been accused of 
human-rights violations; and, most recently, an instructor asked 
students to step on a piece of paper with "Jesus" written on it as part 
of a classroom exercise.

Steps were taken after the public outcry over each of those incidents in 
an attempt to lessen some of the public-relations damage. The university 
apologized for the "Jesus"-stomping incident and placed the 
communications instructor who presided over the exercise on 
leave—largely for his own protection, officials said. The prison company 
withdrew the $6-million donation it had pledged in exchange for the 
naming rights to the stadium, which will no longer be named for the 
company, GEO Group of Boca Raton, Fla. And the university released a 
statement distancing itself from the views of the professor who was 
skeptical about the Newtown shootings (but who remains a tenured faculty 
member in the communications department).

But even as the dust settles, some faculty members fear that long-term 
harm has been done to the public's perception of the university, and 
even more, to professors' autonomy in the classroom.
'Puzzling' Responses

Timothy O. Lenz, a professor of political science, said the university's 
"puzzling" responses to the incidents make it seem as if Florida 
Atlantic doesn't have its act together.

Mr. Lenz, a former president of the Faculty Senate, said the 
administration's response to the controversy surrounding the "Jesus" 
exercise is a prime example of how to take a bad situation and make it 

By putting the professor on leave and apologizing for the incident, he 
said, the university has made some faculty members concerned about 
whether they can freely teach and train students on controversial subjects.

It's "up to the academics who are teaching in the field to determine the 
content of the course, reading, and workload," Mr. Lenz said. Only in 
extreme cases, he said, should administrators be allowed to regulate 
what a professor does in a lesson plan. And the recent exercise was not 
such a case, he added.

The exercise took place in an intercultural-communications course taught 
by Deandre Poole, an instructor who was hired on a one-year contract. 
According to the textbook that featured the lesson that asked students 
to step on a piece of paper bearing the word "Jesus," the exercise is 
designed to ignite discussion about how cultural symbols, though 
arbitrary, take on strong and emotional meanings. The student activity 
explicitly states that "most will hesitate" and advises the teacher to 
ask those students "why they can't step on the paper."

But an offended student complained, and the story went viral. Christian 
groups spoke out against the instructor, and even Florida's governor, 
Rick Scott, weighed in. He demanded that the university begin an 
investigation and ensure such an incident doesn't happen again.

"The professor's lesson was offensive, and even intolerant, to 
Christians and those of all faiths who deserve to be respected as 
Americans entitled to religious freedom," Mr. Scott wrote in a letter to 
the university's administration.

The university repeatedly apologized to those who took offense and 
offered assurances that the "insensitive and unacceptable" exercise 
would not be used again in the future. In placing Mr. Poole on paid 
administrative leave, the university cited "safety reasons." It is 
unclear when the instructor will be able to return to the campus.

In a letter to The Chronicle about the incident, Susan Reilly, a 
professor of communication, wrote that Mr. Poole, a Christian himself, 
had received an "overpowering" amount of hate mail, including racial 
slurs and death threats. She took issue with the university's response.

"Faculty members at Florida Atlantic were shocked when the vice 
president for student affairs posted a video on the university Web site 
apologizing for the professor's behavior and promising the exercise 
would be removed from the curriculum," Ms. Reilly wrote. "Education 
cannot advance without questioning the status quo. This case has a 
chilling effect on academic freedom in this country."
'A Bad Precedent'

Chris Robé, an associate professor of communication and the president of 
the faculty union, said some faculty members have started to talk about 
tailoring their lessons to be safe, but he does not plan to alter his 

"I teach Birth of a Nation, a totally racist film, to address 
early-20th-century history," Mr. Robé said. "I'm not going to not teach 
it because someone in the class may find it offensive, including myself. 
That's weak criteria."

Any subject has the potential to be controversial, he said, and this is 
"a bad precedent if the university is going to cave to one student and 
external pressure."

"We're not being defended, and it enables any wayward student who has an 
objection to really press it," Mr. Robé said. "We didn't think the 
administration could botch this as bad as they did."

Lisa Metcalf, the university's director of media relations, said future 
administrative decisions related to regulating course content and 
personnel actions would also be made on a case-by-case basis. She cited 
a letter written by Mary Jane Saunders, the university's president, to 
the chancellor of the Florida State University system and the chair of 
the Board of Governors.

"We are challenged to balance our responsibility to protect student 
records and academic freedom with common sense, personal judgment, and 
community expectations," Ms. Saunders wrote. "This episode has tested 
our responsibilities. While a public university is a place for open 
dialogue and debate, we accept that we have a tremendous responsibility 
to consider the repercussions of our decisions."

Ms. Metcalf said the university did not anticipate that the incidents 
would have any lasting effects.

"While we can't predict how these isolated incidents will affect the 
future, we are confident that potential faculty and students will see 
all the great things about Florida Atlantic University and not be 
influenced by these unique circumstances," she wrote in an e-mail.

The faculty union, along with the Faculty Senate and others, plans to 
call on administrators to release a more-robust defense of academic 
freedom for faculty members, Mr. Robé said. If administrators refuse to 
issue such a pledge, the university may begin to find it hard to attract 
faculty members and students despite its hopeful attitude.

"Florida is already a bad state for education," Mr. Robé said. "We're 
really lowly paid, state funding has been cut back tremendously, and if 
we don't have academic freedom, who's going to come?"

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