[Marxism] Article in Chronicle of Higher Ed
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
> 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.
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
"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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