Monday, August 20, 2012

There Oughtta be a Law

I was reading this job ad for assistant professor of online teaching at Ashford University of San Diego. The thing that caught my attention was the extremely specific and highly weird set of physical requirements at the end:

Physical Requirements:

Physical Demands: While performing the duties of the job, the employee is regularly required to use hands and arms and talk or hear. The employee requires dexterity in using telephone, computer keyboard, mouse and calculator while seated at a desk. The employee is frequently required to stand, walk and sit. The employee may frequently move to interact with fellow employees and/or clients. Specific vision abilities required by this job include close vision, depth perception and ability to adjust focus.


There were a number of things that seemed weird to me in this section. I mean, (a) I've never seen anything like this; (b) "the employee is regularly required to use hands and arms and talk or hear"; (c) "The employee requires dexterity in [doing stuff] while [specifically] seated at a desk"; (d) depth perception. The weirdest thing about this ad, though, is that they sort of seem to be saying that you would not satisfy the physical requirements of this job if you, for example, needed to use a wheelchair. It seems like there's a bunch of stuff in this ad that would have to be in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

I mean, I guess I see why they might want you to be physically located in San Diego. They're trying to run a college, and they've got meetings and stuff. But I don't see why they'd need you to specifically stand and walk. I don't see why you couldn't just roll to the meetings and stay seated the whole time.

(Also, I had a friend in college whose eyes were pretty messed up, so that she didn't have much in the way of depth perception. This problem of hers made it so that she couldn't really play frisbee very well--we talked her into it once but we quickly realized we were making a bad mistake--but I doubt it would have interfered with her ability to perform the duties of assistant professor of online philosophy.)

The other thing that stood out to me was, I checked their Wikipedia page, and according to it, anyway, Ashford is a for-profit university located in Clinton, Iowa, not San Diego, California. And as for-profit universities go, they seem to be particularly unscrupulous. Wikipedia says that they were audited by the Department of Education; that this education revealed several infelicities concerning their handling of financial aid funds; that they kept financial aid money when they shouldn't have, and that they take their time in disbursing funds to students. Additionally, only 37% of students at Ashford complete their degree program. Now, as I understand it a completion rate like that wouldn't be out of place at a community college. But community colleges are not-for-profit public service institutions, not a strategy to funnel money into the pockets of their owners.

Also, although they're private and for-profit, 86% of their operating budget comes from federal funds. I don't know what the typical number is for private colleges & universities, but that seems awfully high for a school that offers mostly online classes and that seems to have no appreciable research situation. Which makes it seem like Ashford is pretty much of an institution of predation, and not so much of higher learning.

And so the larger thing I started wondering about is, why isn't this illegal? I mean, I've been accused of being naive before, and I can't imagine that those days are over. But I don't see why this is an acceptable approach to education. Especially when these for-profit "universities" adopt the business model they do: get students to borrow money to pay for it, and then have only a third of them finish their degree. It's not a university; it's a racket.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, I don't think I'll be applying for this job.

--Mr. Zero

59 comments:

tink said...

I can't speak to the oddness of the job ad, but I can say something about the nature of the school, from this PBS show on for-profit colleges: http://video.pbs.org/video/1485280975/

The sole goal of the for-profit college is to get as much money as possible. The easiest way to do this is to teach students how to get student loans for going to for-profit college. The loan money goes to them. Then they says, "Fuck you; we have your money." Most of those student loans are federal ones.

Anonymous said...

ashford university?

read this: http://www.villagevoice.com/2012-08-01/news/for-profit-colleges-con/

things look pretty bad.

zombie said...

Congress has been investigating for-profit schools:

http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/story/2012-07-30/for-profit-schools-report/56589260/1

As for the list of physical requirements, I have seen that in job ads before (including philosophy ads), but that particular list does seem patently discriminatory and practically screams out "No cripples!"

Anonymous said...

My bet is that that stuff in the ad is supposed to protect them from ADA suits. They are supposed to be BFOQs.
I'm not saying it will work, and I'm most definitely not saying it's ethical, but I bet you that's the purpose.

Jeff Wisdom said...

Mr. Zero writes: "Additionally, only 37% of students at Ashford complete their degree program. Now, as I understand it a completion rate like that wouldn't be out of place at a community college. But community colleges are not-for-profit public service institutions, not a strategy to funnel money into the pockets of their owners."

That's right. Many students don't enroll at a community college for the sake of earning a degree. Rather, they may take a few courses for personal enrichment, or to transfer the credits to a four-year school.

As for the Ashford post, one would hope that it's just an instance of an administrator ticking boxes with standardized descriptions of job requirements that, when read together, sound bad.

Anonymous said...

I confess that I have a hard time taking the de rigeur complaints about for profit education seriously given A) The size of Harvard's endowment. B) The fact that Cal State is no longer admitting resident grad students because it makes so much more money on out of state kids.

Anonymous said...

"B) The fact that Cal State is no longer admitting resident grad students because it makes so much more money on out of state kids."

I have a tough time believing this claim.

Mr. Zero said...

Even if it were true, I have trouble understanding what it would have to do with anything. It's not as though the State of California is making a profit from the unscrupulous practices of the Cal State University system. If that's what CSU is doing, it's because they're completely broke.

Anonymous said...

And furthermore, Mr. Z., the "complaints about for profit education" weren't about the profits; they were about the crappiness of the for-profits. So the comment is twice-over irrelevant.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure someone has gotten to this first in the moderation queue, but:

For the spring semester of 2013, the California State University has told campus leaders they may not admit any Californian students to graduate programs.

Spring admissions are presumably a relatively small proportion of total admissions, so I'm sure it seemed like a lower-impact way to cut costs. (Although the article says the math/CS dept at CSU East Bay takes 50 grad students each January -- seems amazing.) It still makes me blind with rage. I recommend not reading the comments on the article, unless you just love hearing people bicker about California politics.

Ben said...

Doesn't US law require 'reasonable adjustments' to be made for disabled job candidates?

In the UK, I'm not sure this would even be allowed in an advert in the first place, but assuming it was anyone refusing to hire a philosophy PhD in a wheelchair would have a job I think proving that standing really was a requirement of the job.

Anonymous said...

That stuff is HR legal boilerplate. You'll see it in many long-form non-academic job ads. It has nothing whatsoever to do with teaching philosophy or this particular job. They just checked whatever boxes they check for a desk job. I don't know if it protects from lawsuits, but I think it serves multiple other purposes, including allowing companies to rule out unhealthy people who have higher health care costs. (You'll see jobs that say you must be able to regularly lift 50 pounds, even if you would almost never have to do that.) At the same time, I think the practice can also be seen as worker-friendly, and might be part of labor law reforms. Many job ads now make it crystal clear how unpleasant a certain job is, including what temperature the work environment is and how many hours you may have to stand consecutively. In factory and industrial settings, I think these disclaimers serve to inform potential employees about exactly what they are getting themselves into. They have carried over to some non-industrial settings, which can make for comical reading.

conflicted said...

After reading through this thread, I'm curious about others' thoughts on teaching for these types of online colleges (both from a professional standpoint and from an ethical standpoint).

Full disclosure: I just finished teaching my first online course for a for-profit college and am about to begin another. I am a grad student in the dissertation stage and spent the last two years adjuncting "brick and mortar" classes without much time to devote to my dissertation. So, here I am, teaching online for about the same pay (read: still not a lot) with much more time to work on my dissertation, so I can finish up and get out of here, like we do.

It is depressing though. I have a few bright students. I have a lot of students who need a lot more attention, structure, accountability, and direction than they have the time, energy, or skills to get out of an online course.

On the other hand, I am teaching some of them something, and many of these students are primary caregivers, deployed service members, etc., for whom education would have been less readily accessible before the advent of online education. (On the other, other hand, it's even more troubling that these are the populations that are often exploited through these programs.)

So, I am basically in this weird position where I am being exploited to exploit other students (in a slightly worse way than with normal adjuncting).

So my question is twofold.

1) How much ethical responsibility do we (grad students, adjuncts, non-tenured folks) have to keep from contributing to these sorts of programs?

2) Is teaching for these sorts of colleges (assuming that one has more brick and mortar experience than not) detrimental professionally? My original thinking was that having some online teaching experience would be an asset and give me some versatility, but now I'm wondering if the reputation of some of these schools is going to make me look worse to search committees. Would you put it on your CV? Does it depend on the school?

(Sorry if this is derailing or if this discussion has been had before!)

Anonymous said...

What's next? Job requirements include peeing while standing up, getting a sunburn, eating pork...

Anonymous said...

"After reading through this thread, I'm curious about others' thoughts on teaching for these types of online colleges (both from a professional standpoint and from an ethical standpoint)."

I do not support absentee education.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:21 asks some interesting questions. Perhaps it should be the topic of a separate thread.

(Moreover, after reading the Village Voice article linked above, moral and practical questions about whether one ought to affiliate oneself with for-profits seem a lot more pressing than the perfectly justified indignation regarding the physical job requirements that began this thread.)

I'll only speak to 9:21's second question: Should one list an association with an online for-profit on one's CV?

I teach at a reasonably selective SLAC and have served on Search Committees here. Seeing a for-profit institution listed under past employment would be a big turn-off for me and I'd advise prospective job candidates to leave that work experience off their CV.

As I write this, I realize that it is very likely completely unreasonable to hold such work experience against a candidate. Perhaps further reflection on this issue will make me better able to overcome this bias in the future. However, I suspect that typical SC members sift through job candidate applications the way old-school baseball scouts are represented as searching for prospects in Michael Lewis's Moneyball: Promising players just have the right "look," numbers be damned. In the case of applicants for TT positions in academia, having taught for online for-profits is most certainly not part of the desired "look" and for practical reasons, I'd recommend against putting it on one's CV (at least when applying to most of the institutions that advertise in the JFP). Again, I understand that I am giving this advice explicitly against the background of possibly unreasonable biases and I don't necessarily endorse those biases. But it's impractical to pretend they don't exist.

Anonymous said...

The financial incentive to join these for-profit educational institutions can be too enticing to turn down. For instance, at my satellite campus of a large state university system, Northcentral University recruited heavily. One of our faculty accepted a job offer and doubled his annual salary. He now reviews dissertation proposals in his jammies from home, does not have to attend faculty senate or committee meetings and loves his job.

Anonymous said...

Don't look now, but the APA's website has actually improved.

Anonymous said...

It is obviously an ad for a web stripper cam model.
That is the only person who would fit that description.

Anonymous said...

I don't know of a purely for profit university that is scrupulous. University of Phoenix is the most concerned about their reputation and they are awful.

I know we all want to be philosophers and get academic jobs but I would strongly urge anyone not to work for any of these outfits. They are exploiting students and the government for student loan money. They are terrible places to work.

I also hope people will educate themselves on University of Phoenix and openly oppose them. It amazes me they are even legal and that students can use federally funded grants and loans in them.

Here's a good Frontline on the issue:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/collegeinc/view/

Anonymous said...

Curious about the job (and needing to start earning an income very soon), I applied for one of their full-time online teaching jobs a few weeks ago. I got a phone interview within a week. I was interviewed by what appeared to be a early-mid 20 year old male who asked me nothing about my teaching/research. What he did tell me was the following:

You teach 1 online course at a time and they run every 5 weeks all year round. You work all year, 8-5, at a cubicle. 25% teaching/75% admin. And the Adim work appears to be overseeing admissions counselors (though he was vague and wouldn't give me a precise answer).

I then asked about research and this is that he said "Um, I'm sure your boss wouldn't mind if you did some reading in the office. Once all your admin stuff was done of course".

He then told me to send in 4 references, preferably from previous bosses. They prefer these not be from academics, but will take them if necessary.

Not sure what to do. At this point, I have no offers for any other job (Despite coming from a Leiter top ranked institution, no offers this year). I can see that I will rot in this office setting, but at some point feeding your family becomes more important than pride/soul rotting.

Anonymous said...

"Despite coming from a Leiter top ranked institution, no offers this year"

I know I'm a broken record at this point, but I am so f**king tired of the attitude that graduates from top ranked Leiter schools deserve jobs. Sigh.

Anonymous said...

12:42, 9:58 didn't say they deserved a job.
Jesus. Don't be a schmuck.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:58's description of applying to a for-profit is interesting for a whole bunch of reasons. (And just to get this out of the way, the entitlement issue raised by 12:42 was, to my mind, not one of them -- or at least pretty low on the list.)

First, if we didn't already have enough evidence, there's more for the conclusion that these "schools" are in no way to be regarded as genuine institutions of higher education. The fact that they don't want academic references suggests that anything resembling teaching ability is very low on the list of job qualifications for a job that is misrepresented to prospective students as the job of 'being your teacher'. Instead, what they want is evidence of administrative talent. In short, they don't care if students are being educated, they care about whether employees will make them money.

By the same token, when real universities hire, they look to the candidate's research not only to because intellectual advancement is one of the central (in many cases, the central) goals of the school, but also because we tend to think it's a virtue to be educated by good researchers. Even teaching-heavy colleges care a little, because ability in one's area of scholarship is thought to tell you something about one's ability to educate. (Maybe it's not the case, but it does seem to be thought to be the case.) The fact that these for-profits care not even a jot about research is very troubling.

Second, I'm fascinated (and horrified) by the fact that the job is described as 75% administration and that this appears to be managing people whose job it is to recruit more students. Again, these institutions cannot even be correctly described as businesses that earn money by successfully educating people. They are businesses that work by scamming people.

9:58, if you can feed your family in any other way that will put you in a position of being able to devote lots of time to your research (in order to turn that work into getting a job the next time around), I'd do it.

Anonymous said...

I worked for Ashford as an online instructor. The university was pretty adamant about accomodating students with disabilities, actually. Though the institution definitely exploits students and faculty alike, if you do put in the extra (unpaid) time to help students, it can be intellectually and personally rewarding to learn with adults who have overcome or are coping with very difficult situations. I've had students with debilitating mental illness, physical disabilities and intellectual disabilities, drug addiction, domestic abuse, poverty. Many single mothers and fathers working several jobs to make ends meet. People with professional and life experience that gives them great insight into philosophical topics. Many of my students said that their main objective in attending school was to set an example for their kids. Ideally these students would have other options, of course, but it's not a total waste, at least not in my experience.

Anonymous said...

How on earth could a sane person get from this ad the view that the school is anti-disability?

Jesus.

Anonymous said...

I know that University of Phoenix hires ex-convicts. It is a matter of public record. Just Google "Cornell Horn" and you'll see. Now that's equal opportunity in employment!

Justinwasright said...

10:07, what would you prefer: that ex-cons be denied work after release?

Anonymous said...

I'd rather that those convicted of sex crimes, such as rape, not be allowed to teach. Maybe I'm just too concerned with the rights of potential victims. Obviously UP is not.

Anonymous said...

@11:40,

So your view is that those once convicted of sex crimes never again be permitted to teach anything to anyone, no matter what? Not even in-house corporate training? Nothing? Keep in mind that these are university students, not children.

Do you feel the same way about one-time violent offenders? Surely, that would be at least as dangerous to students. I wonder why you only mention sex crimes.

Anonymous said...

@9:29,

Keep in mind that not only children can be sexually violated. Rapes typically occur against grown women. Obviously you are not a woman. I have worked side-by-side with ex-cons who committed violent crimes--not sex crimes such as rape, but other violent crimes--in a non-educational setting. It can be a scary experience. Threats are common. Usually they stop short of harming others for fear of re-entering the prison system. For the same reason that you do not allow child sex offenders to work at childcare centers, you should not permit convicted sex offenders, including rapists, to work at institutions of higher education. The likelihood that the ex-con will repeat the offense increases dramatically.

Mr. Zero said...

The person he's talking about seems to have been convicted of rape in 1993 or something. I googled it before approving the comment, and there is a lot of information available about how he is an ex-convict, but most of it is about the non-profit organization he founded for the purpose of helping ex-cons to successfully re-enter society and be productive and not reoffend. I had a hard time finding specific information about his crime. But he does seem to be a registered sex offender, and he does seem to have been convicted of rape in the early 90s.

Anonymous said...

10:51,

9:29 here. I'll skip over your unwarranted and silly claim that I a cannot be a woman, and remind you of what I actually said. You apparently missed the point entirely.

My point was that it seems odd to single out former sex offenders from other ex-cons like violent offenders.

Is it more dangerous to associate with the average former sex offender than it is to associate with the average person? Sure. Nobody wants to see such people re-offend, and nobody wants to be a victim. But exactly the same thing goes for former murderers, former gang members, etc.

All these people -- let's call them former dangerous offenders -- pose some risk to the public on re-entering society. How should that be handled? There seem to be two reasonable options:

1) Allow such people to become functioning members of society again, following a decision by the parole board that they can safely be released; or

2) Execute all dangerous criminals or imprison them for life without any chance of parole.

Which do you prefer?

If you answer 1), then former dangerous criminals need to be able to work upon release from prison. In fact, not allowing them to be productive members of society greatly increases the chance of recidivism. Where would you have them work, if not at a university?

Would you have them work in a store? Wouldn't you be worried that they could use the opportunity to stalk customers? People in stores have access to customer information.

Would you have them work in a factory for the rest of their lives? Do you think that other factory workers can rightly be put at risk of violent or sexual attacks, but not university students?

Maybe you'd have them drive taxis, so that unsuspecting fares might be put at risk of riding in a car with them? Or park rangers, so that they live in the middle of nowhere, meeting only the lone hikers who pass their way?

I'm keen to know which it is you're advocating.

Anonymous said...

2:23,

K, I'll take the bait. First, you have presented a perfect false dichotomy. Second, most legitimate institutions of higher ed request that applicants disclose their criminal record. As a back-up, they often conduct background checks. Third, both violent offenders and sex offenders are typically excluded from all jobs involving contact with minors or younger college aged people. Ask yourself: Would you send your child to a school or university that hired ex-cons? If you say yes, then you're surely not a parent. Would you go to a school or university that hired ex-sex offenders? If so, then you're surely not a woman.

Anonymous said...

Where do I begin, 2:45? In order, I guess...

First, you accuse me of presenting a false dichotomy (a 'perfect' one, in fact), though you don't say what your alternative is to the options I presented: execute or permanently detain dangerous offenders, or allow them to re-enter society as workers.

Second and third, you tell me what you think the practice _is_, while my question is what you think it _ought_ to be. Is... ought... two different things.

Fourth and fifth, you engage in sloppy, armchair reasoning to arrive at two conclusions, both of which are false (congratulations on that). I am in fact a female parent.

Mr. Zero said...

First, you accuse me of presenting a false dichotomy (a 'perfect' one, in fact), though you don't say what your alternative is to the options I presented...

It's not as though there are two choices: lock 'em up and throw away the key, or let 'em work wherever they want. You could let them work, but place limitations/restrictions on where they could work and what kinds of jobs they can get. I don't have an official view on this, and I haven't studied the literature on recidivism, but some of the things 10:51 said seemed like decent points.

you tell me what you think the practice _is_, while my question is what you think it _ought_ to be. Is... ought... two different things.

Come on. Do you really think 2:45 doesn't know the difference between is and ought? Don't be an asshole.

Anonymous said...

Zero, that person did respond to a question about what ought to be the case by saying what is the case. If you don't think that's an is/ought confusion, then you're welcome to explain what you think it is.

You're also welcome to answer my original question, which neither you nor anyone else has done. If released ex-offenders of a dangerous sort can't teach at a university, then what should they be able to do instead? Whom should they be permitted to put at risk?

Perhaps the answer is 'anyone but our little children'. But university students are not children. The arguments against having such people run day cares and teach at K-12 simply do not apply to the situation at hand. Those who ignore this run the risk of adopting the classist view that 19 year old university students should be protected in ways that 16 year old factory workers should not.

At the risk of repeating yet again what others have been saying for some time, Zero, it's disappointing how frequently you resort to name-calling ('asshole') rather than reasoning when your cherished feminist concerns are at stake. Most unbecoming to a would-be philosopher, as has been pointed out many times here.

Mr. Zero said...

Zero, that person did respond to a question about what ought to be the case by saying what is the case. If you don't think that's an is/ought confusion, then you're welcome to explain what you think it is.

I generally start with the assumption that people in general have a basic, intuitive understanding of the is/ought distinction, even if they couldn't state it in a clear way. Nobody thinks "you shouldn't be doing that" is the same as "you are not doing that," for example.

This assumption is strengthened when I am dealing with people who read this blog. It is safe to presume that a person who has read one of my posts, let alone bothered to comment on it, has at least some postgraduate training in philosophy. It would be highly irregular for someone with that kind of training to be insensitive to something so basic as the is/ought distinction. I abandon this assumption only as a last resort.

So, I interpreted the reference to something that is routinely done not as a failure to distinguish ought from is, but instead as an attempt to point out that there is nothing wrong with the behavior in question. If there were, it wouldn't be routine; or else it would be controversial; or else it would seem like there was something wrong with it. But since it is routine, and it is not controversial, and there does not seem to be anything wrong with it, the behavior is morally ok.

This reading is as obvious as anything could possibly be. That's why 2:45 didn't spell it out like this, and that's why my explanation of it here seems so unnecessarily laborious. But instead of supposing that 2:45 had even a marginally competent objection to your argument, your reaction was to level this insulting accusation of an extraordinarily deep and profoundly basic confusion.

This, and not the overall view you were defending, was the basis for my determination that you are an asshole.

At the risk of repeating yet again what others have been saying for some time, Zero, it's disappointing how frequently you resort to name-calling ('asshole') rather than reasoning when your cherished feminist concerns are at stake.

Blah, blah, blah. I specifically said I don't have a view about the larger issue. It seems pretty complicated--a lot more complicated than you're making it out to be--with a lot of relevant factors and no obvious way to balance them. And I can think of several things off the top of my head that lend more support to hiring the guy than does your silly little false dichotomy: that the person we're talking about committed rape in the neighborhood of 20 years ago; that he is the founder and president of a nonprofit whose purpose is to help ex-convicts successfully re-enter society; and that the university he works for is principally online, so his position there would not necessarily lead to him having any in-person contact with his students at all. (Again, not that these factors are in any way decisive.)

To paraphrase you, you have engaged in some sloppy, asshole reasoning to arrive at a conclusion, about me and my views, that is both unwarranted and contraindicated by the text of my comment. I said you're an asshole, sure, and I stand by what I said. But what I said makes you an asshole is your behavior, not your views. I didn't say anything about your views at all.

Anonymous said...

Wow, Zero. Now it's you who has committed an is/ought fallacy while trying to get someone else off the hook for doing so!

You start with two descriptive premises:
1. The behavior is routine
and
2. The behavior is not the subject of much controversy.

You follow this up with a conclusion:
3. The behavior is morally OK.

Then you say that the above interpretation doesn't commit the is/ought confusion. Admittedly, it's always possible to avoid the charge of is/ought confusion by making up a ridiculous missing premise (in this case, "Any action X is morally OK so long as lots of people do X and it isn't too controversial.") But then you have to deal with a deluge of obvious counterexamples (e.g. sex discrimination through most of history; etc.) So adopting the required missing premise is generally even worse than committing the original fallacy.

As for the rest, my original question still stands unanswered and the so-called 'false dichotomy' has not been established. You haven't shown what your viable alternative is, as I've asked twice now.

It's becoming clearer and clearer that you had no basis for calling me an asshole for pointing out an error where I did.

Grow up, Zero.

Anonymous said...

Also, I don't know why you insist that you said nothing about my views. That was never at issue and I said nothing about it.

Mr. Zero said...

Now it's you who has committed an is/ought fallacy...

Look, stupid. I pointed to some non-moral facts--that it's widely done, that nobody objects to it, and that there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with it--and pointed out that they are evidence of a moral conclusion. I explicitly have a conditional premise linking the nonmoral antecedents to the moral conclusion. I did not imagine that I would be interpreted as claiming something as strong as identity, or even entailment, or a fully general universally quantified conditional. Although I did realize that I was dealing with an asshole, so I can't say I'm surprised.

Anyways, all I was saying was, you can think that "if there was something wrong with running criminal background checks on prospective college professors, then it wouldn't be standard operating procedure, or people would think there was something wrong with it, or it would seem like there was something wrong with it," without thereby failing to distinguish between ought and is. You could see the relationship as one of evidence, not identity. You could see it as holding generally, not universally. You could see it as being defeasible, not infallible. You could see it as holding contingently, not of necessity. And you do so appropriately tentatively, with an awareness of your own proneness to error.

Which is what you would have taken 2:45 to be doing, if you weren't such an asshole.

my original question still stands unanswered and the so-called 'false dichotomy' has not been established. You haven't shown what your viable alternative is, as I've asked twice now.

I guess you didn't notice when I explained this before. They get out of jail and enter the workforce, but with some restrictions about which jobs they can hold and which duties they might perform. It's not complicated.

Also, I don't know why you insist that you said nothing about my views. That was never at issue and I said nothing about it

Because you said, "Zero, it's disappointing how frequently you resort to name-calling ('asshole') rather than reasoning when your cherished feminist concerns are at stake." This remark falsely suggests that I didn't have any argument against you; that I didn't deploy any reasoning in response to you ("name-calling rather than reasoning"); that my sole disagreement with you was political in nature ("cherished feminist concerns"); and that my only motivation for engaging with you is that you offended my feminist political sensibilities.

Not so. I had reasons for the views I expressed; I hinted at an argument (which I was willing to develop in more detail upon request); you did not offend my political sensibilities (in fact, as I have said, I think there is a reasonable case for your view, if only you were willing to take your opponent seriously enough to make it); and my motivation for engaging with you is that you're an asshole who is trying to win an argument on the cheap by smugly pretending that your opponent is an unlettered ignoramus who lacks even the most elementary familiarity with the subject you're discussing.

Anonymous said...

Zero, any objective person reading our exchange will know who won, hands down, and who can't understand the basic point.

As for calling me 'stupid' and an asshole for kicking your ass all over the room, the only adequate response to that is punching half your teeth down your throat. Please post your address so we can arrange that in person.

How dare you. Oh, right... you dare because you can hide behind your name. Post your address, and I promise not to do the same to you.

Or are you just a cowardly piece of shit after all?

anonymous bystander said...

"the only adequate response to that is punching half your teeth down your throat. Please post your address so we can arrange that in person."

"Or are you just a cowardly piece of shit after all?"

False dichotomy ftw.

Anonymous said...

11:35, your reaction is extreme and loses credibility. I understand your frustration -- I cringed over and over again when reading Mr. Zero's post, both for the philosophical errors and bad attitude -- but you are taking things too far and turning the tide against you.

Mr. Zero, if I may say so, a lighter touch is needed. You have a growing tendency to fly off the handle in a childish manner, particularly when you've been shown to be wrong on a point in ethics. Perhaps instead of name calling you might consider that your interlocutors know more than you do. This is a perfect case in point.

Scott Robertson said...

Wow. Talk about increasing the heat without the light.

Another blog recently discussed how things tend to slide downhill when people get to hide behind anonymity and aliases. Sadly, that seems to come with blogging anonymously. In person, this discussion would have been settled without insults and threats of violence.

That said, Mr. Zero, I've looked in vain for anything that could have justified your nasty and insulting response. I must say, nothing seems to have merited it. Why did you choose to fly off the handle like you did? I empathize with your frustration with your ongoing job search, as you've described it. But it's important not to take those frustrations out on others who are merely pointing out an apparent fallacy in someone's philosophical reasoning (whether or not you recognize the point that was being made as legitimate).

Anonymous said...

What's the false dichotomy, 9:12? If you talk shit about someone who calls you on it and won't take it back, then it's cowardly not to stand up and take what's coming to you.

Or do you think it's honorable (= not cowardly) to throw shit at people with a smirk and hide behind a mask to sneak out of the natural reaction?

anonymous bystander said...

9:12 here.

I don't think it is cowardly to decline to give one's personal information to someone who is threatening to punch half (or even a quarter) of one's teeth down one's throat over a philosophical pissing contest. That just seems like good sense to me.

I think that the original point was to interact with others on the board in good faith. Whatever your original intention was in bringing up the is/ought distinction, it apparently came across to Mr. Zero as unnecessarily combative or condescending rather than as a genuine attempt to have a productive conversation with people you view as colleagues. I'm not saying the is/ought conversation couldn't have been a conversation worth having. I'm saying, think about your delivery. By treating your interlocutors with respect, by assuming that they have some basic level of intelligence, education, and rationality, and by recognizing that some things get lost in translation, you will be more likely to receive the same courtesies from others. (And, I would expect, you will also be more likely to have productive, interesting, and transformative conversations that don't end in bullying and threats of physical violence.) As it stands, it seems to me that (forgive my uncharitable reading) you have done little more than to reinforce the reputation of philosophers to try to one-up each other in a battle of wits with no real purpose other than to defeat one's opponent.

Another bystander said...

Just to return to the point at hand, before it degenerated into mud-slinging:

Mr. Zero, you seem to be endorsing as reasonable an extremely counterintuitive moral principle, of which there are skads of counterexamples.

The principle is, as I understand you, that the fact that X is generally accepted social practice provides good grounds for believing that X is morally permissible. The counterexamples are... well, slavery in the 18th century, racism in the 19th century, sex discrimination in the 20th century, and so on, and so on, and so on.

This is Ethics 101 stuff, Mr. Zero. Does it really not give you pause at all? In particular, do you really think it's less charitable to saddle someone with that crazy principle than with an is/ought confusion?

Second point: the other question, as I understood it, was what jobs _should_ be made available to former violent offenders on release if we want to maintain a principle of equality (e.g. 16-year-old factory workers shouldn't be exposed to dangers that 19-year-old students should be spared, to take the point made before) and also to increase the odds that the ex-con rejoins society as a law-abiding citizen.

Yes, higher ed employers do criminal records checks. So do coffeeshops, taxi companies, transit authorities, factories, etc. etc. If one's criminal record can legitimately bar one from all employment, then we run into exactly the problem that was originally presented to you. And besides -- dare I point it out? -- you can't derive a moral fact about whether background checks _ought_ to be used as grounds... you can fill in the blanks.

By the way, naming me 'stupid' and calling me an asshole, and any other shit you might be planning to pull on me, won't work. I'm relatively unflappable, and I'll just ask you again for your argument. But FYI, I did recently see someone get a black eye and worse in a bar for taking an attitude half as snotty as the one you took with anon. It might be good to watch it.

Mr. Zero said...

The principle is, as I understand you, that the fact that X is generally accepted social practice provides good grounds for believing that X is morally permissible.

I see why you think that I committed myself to something like that principle. I suggest something like that in my comment at 12:44. I guess I wasn't being particularly careful there. Although even there, I said something more like, "if X is generally accepted, and there's no controversy surrounding the morality of X, and there doesn't seem to be anything otherwise wrong with X, then X is ok"; not plain old, "if X is generally accepted, then X is ok." But whatever.

I see that taking this principle in its full generality would be problematic. This is obvious, which is why I attempted to distance myself from this general formulation in my comment at 3:26, by emphasizing how weak, fallible, defeasible, contingent, and tentative it would have to be. (Although I did say 'generally,' which maybe was my bad.)

But look. Here's what happened. Professor "punch your teeth down your throat" says, there are exactly two "reasonable" options: 1. execution or life-imprisonment for anyone convicted of a violent crime; or 2. upon parole, former convicts of violent crimes are allowed to re-enter society in general and the workforce in particular with no interesting or important restrictions whatsoever. In subsequent comments, it is clear that prof. "punch your teeth" thinks that these really are the only two reasonable alternatives--she strongly resists the suggestion that this is a false dichotomy.

So then 2:45 suggests to Prof. "punch your teeth down" that that there is a possible third option. He/she says that legitimate institutions of higher learning ask for criminal histories and run background checks all the time. It's pretty standard, he/she says. "Here's a middle ground, people do it all the time, and it seems fine."

Not that this conclusively proves that it is fine, but that it is a reasonable third alternative that is worthy of at least some consideration and should not be dismissed out of hand.

I don't see why a person would have to commit an is/ought fallacy in order to believe that. I don't see why believing that would commit a person to an absurd general principle to the effect of, "if legitimate institutions of higher learning do X, then X is ok."

Here's another way to think of it. Prof. "punch your teeth" thinks that there are exactly two reasonable proposals concerning how to treat people who have been convicted of sex crimes and other violent offenses upon parole/release:

1. Never release them;

2. Let them do essentially whatever they want, including being placed in positions of immediate authority--as a college professor--over vulnerable members of society--teenaged college students--with whom they will have direct contact.

2:45 and I suggest that the actually widely employed practice of not doing that, and of running criminal background checks as part of the application process to prevent it, is a potentially reasonable third alternative that is worthy of some further consideration.

Prof. "punch your teeth" says that if that's what you think, then either you don't know the difference between ought and is, or you believe that all practices that happen to actually be widely employed are therefore morally right. All while simultaneously pretending that nobody has managed to suggest any third alternative whatsoever.

That's bullshit. That's not arguing in good faith. It's arguing like an asshole.

Anonymous said...

Zero,

How is "Look, people do background checks on applicants" a third option to executing/permanently detaining criminals on the one hand and employing them on the other?

Even if we add in that weird and extremely defeasible (to the point of being false) principle, all we end up with is "The third option is that we should run background checks on job applicants."

And it's not at all clear how that can be a third option. Once the background check is done, the person is either hired or not hired. If the person is hired despite the criminal background, then we're back to the second option. If the person is not hired on the basis of the criminal background check, then we're in the problem that was pointed out: we aren't serious about the person re-entering society no matter what.

This sure looks like a big mistake on your part. And even if it doesn't, there's absolutely no justification for going apeshit and calling people stupid assholes, etc. etc. What the fuck?

Mr. Zero said...

Once the background check is done, the person is either hired or not hired. ... If the person is not hired on the basis of the criminal background check, then we're in the problem that was pointed out: we aren't serious about the person re-entering society no matter what.

This suggestion fails to distinguish not being hired for this particular job/kind of job from not being hired for any job whatsoever. The fact that I would be hesitant and perhaps unwilling, depending on the details, to hire a person with a criminal history that includes a conviction for a violent felony for a certain job/kind of job, does not entail that I would be unwilling or even hesitant to hire the same person for a different job/kind of job.

Look at it another way: the job of college professor places the person who occupies it in a position of authority over teenaged students, and gives that person lots of opportunities for basically unsupervised access to these students. Your view seems be that either I am willing to place a person who has been recently released from prison for a violent felony or sexual assault into that position, or else I am not serious about allowing the person to re-enter society.

Talk about your false dichotomies. Sure, I want the person to rejoin society. I want the person to have a job. But I'm not so naive as to think that the mere fact that he's served out his prison sentence demonstrates that he can be trusted in a position of unsupervised authority over teenagers. People get let out of prison for all kinds of reasons--overcrowding, for example.

I think that trustworthiness comes in degrees. I think that a person would have to demonstrate himself to be rather trustworthy in order for it to be appropriate for the parole board to offer the person parole. But parole involves a substantial level of supervision, as does supervised release. Release from prison does not represent the judgment that the ex-convict is especially trustworthy. Sometimes it just represents the judgment that they had to make room for new prisoners. So I think you'd have to demonstrate much, much more trustworthiness than what is indicated by being released from prison in order for it to be appropriate to offer the person a position as college professor.

Anonymous said...

Fine, Mr. Zero. But the question you and the other person were asked, as I understand it, was what jobs you would deem preferable to college professor during the trial period following the ex-convict's release.

Quoting from the post that you blew up about: "Where would you have them work, if not at a university?

"Would you have them work in a store? Wouldn't you be worried that they could use the opportunity to stalk customers? People in stores have access to customer information.

"Would you have them work in a factory for the rest of their lives? Do you think that other factory workers can rightly be put at risk of violent or sexual attacks, but not university students?

"Maybe you'd have them drive taxis, so that unsuspecting fares might be put at risk of riding in a car with them? Or park rangers, so that they live in the middle of nowhere, meeting only the lone hikers who pass their way?"

It was also pointed out that hiring someone to be a college professor is not the same as hiring someone to work in a day care. If you work in a factory, you are working with people of the same age as those who would be your students at university. You are not working with people of the same age as children at a day care. And so on.

So: which jobs would you deem permissible, pending release? There have to be some, if you want these people to have a chance to re-enter society. In order not to be classist, those jobs can't put anyone at equal or greater risk to the risk you find unacceptable in the university case. And you haven't yet said what those jobs are. Neither has anyone else.

Mr. Zero said...

But the question you and the other person were asked, as I understand it, was what jobs you would deem preferable to college professor during the trial period following the ex-convict's release.

Jobs that don't involve authority over & unsupervised access to vulnerable people. There are lots of jobs like that. Arborist. Furniture repair. Ambulance driver. Maybe you could hire a registered sex offender to research public policy proposals for you.

I realize that it's likely that the kinds of jobs you can get as a freshly-released ex-con aren't going to be particularly awesome. Low levels of responsibility and satisfaction. But look. You get out of jail for a violent felony/sex crime, and you're going to have trouble finding a plum job. That's true in a good economy; it's definitely true in this economy.

It was also pointed out that hiring someone to be a college professor is not the same as hiring someone to work in a day care.

Nobody said it was. That may have been one of those straw mans you hear so much about.

If you work in a factory, you are working with people of the same age as those who would be your students at university.

But not in a position of authority, and not with unsupervised access.

So: which jobs would you deem permissible, pending [sic] release?

Most jobs don't involve authority over and unsupervised access to vulnerable people such as children and/or teenaged adults. I deem jobs like that permissible.

So: this suggestion that if I don't think that former convicts of violent crimes or sex crimes should be have jobs that place them in positions of responsibility over and would grant them unsupervised access to children, young adults, or other vulnerable people, then I am on a slippery slope that leads inextricably to mandatory life imprisonment or death sentences for these crimes is, like, not accurate.

Scott Robertson said...

Speaking for myself, Mr. Zero, I find your suggestions interesting and plausible. Thanks for saying what they are.

However, it still seems to me that you are being unfairly hostile to your initial interlocutors.

I reread the initial post from Anonymous (August 31 at 2:23 PM). It seems that she is saying the following: if you are serious about allowing former dangerous offenders to re-enter society upon release, then you can't bar them willy-nilly from all jobs thereafter. Moreover, many jobs that are not normally thought of as bad ones for former dangerous offenders could plausibly be objected to in the same way that teaching at university can. She ends with a challenge to her initial interlocutor and others: say which it is that you support (never releasing such people, or allowing them to re-enter society through work) and, if it's the latter, then specify how that process is to take place.

Personally, I found that challenge thought-provoking and worthwhile. I also find your current response adequate. But nowhere does Anonymous make any statement about there being "a slippery slope that leads inextricably to mandatory life imprisonment or death sentences for these crimes.", or even a statement that her interlocutor (and later, you) must choose between a false dichotomy. The dichotomy that was offered seems clearly to have been between what Anonymous carefully labelled as 1) and 2): releasing such people and allowing them to work in _some_ jobs (in which case those jobs would have to be specified, since some must exist, and that specification was meant to further the discussion) or else never release these criminals. So on a charitable reading -- and the one that came naturally to me when I read it for the first time -- there is no false dichotomy at all, and certainly nothing in the vicinity of a slippery slope fallacy, which would have required the explicit or implicit presentation of a _series_ of worsening cases moving to an undesirable proposal.

You also mockingly accuse Anonymous of making a straw man attack: "Nobody said [that hiring someone to be a college professor is the same as hiring someone to work in a day care]. That may have been one of those straw mans you hear so much about."

As I understand it, your interlocutor was referring to Sept. 3 - 2:45, who said "both violent offenders and sex offenders are typically excluded from all jobs involving contact with minors or younger college aged people. Would you send your child to a school or university that hired ex-cons? If you say yes, then you're surely not a parent."

Your interlocutor's response to this claim is that it's unfair to lump together the general case of ex-cons having 'jobs involving contact with minors' (which brings to mind daycares and elementary schools and hence a set of intuitions that could be misleading in this case) and teaching at a university, which is different in important ways. So then what is to be the basis for barring ex-cons from teaching at a university? If it's the fact that they will come into contact with young adults, then it's important to note that the same principle would bar most jobs working in factories. And so on. This is a response to a move that it seems someone in the discussion was actually making, so I'm not so sure it's a straw man.

Again, Mr. Zero, I think your last post responds intelligently to the challenge and furthers the discussion. But I also think that the post raised some important and reasonable points. I still can't see any basis for the name-calling and intense hostility.

Mr. Zero said...

nowhere does Anonymous make any statement about there being "a slippery slope"

I didn't say 9:22 literally said, "slippery slope," I said that the slippery slope was suggested. This happened in several places: at 4:12, the idea is clearly that if we are unwilling to hire the ex-con for a professor job, then that leads unavoidably back to being unserious about allowing the person to re-enter society. In the comment by prof "punch your teeth" at 2:23, which is quoted by anon @ 9:22, it proceeds via a progression--a "series," as you say--such that once one starts going, one cannot stop sliding until the end. Sounds a lot like a slippery slope.

or even a statement that her interlocutor (and later, you) must choose between a false dichotomy.

Prof. "punch your teeth" says that we have two choices, which, as you note, are carefully numbered. The choices were "1. Allow such people to become functioning members of society again" and "2. Execute all dangerous criminals or imprison them for life without any chance of parole." It is clear from subsequent discussion that she does not regard a willingness to consider a recent conviction for a violent- or sexually-based felony as disqualifying for a professor job as consistent with option 1, and in fact thinks it collapses, via a pretty convincing impersonation of a slippery slope, into option 2.

It's a false dichotomy because there are actually more than just the two choices. You could bar violent ex-cons from some jobs without barring them from all of them, and, as you seem to acknowledge, there are principled and plausible non-arbitrary ways to do so.

Your interlocutor's response to this claim is that it's unfair to lump together the general case of ex-cons having 'jobs involving contact with minors' and teaching at a university, which is different in important ways.

That's not what my interlocutor said. Anon 9:22PM said, "It was also pointed out that hiring someone to be a college professor is not the same as hiring someone to work in a day care."

2:45 did mention the cases of minors and young adults in the same breath, saying "violent offenders and sex offenders are typically excluded from all jobs involving contact with minors or younger college aged people." But he/she did not say working in a day care and being a university professor were the same thing. He/she didn't run them together, or suggest that the claim about children entailed or contained the claim about young adults. No reason to suspect that he/she didn't see the difference.

So then what is to be the basis for barring ex-cons from teaching at a university? If it's the fact that they will come into contact with young adults, then it's important to note that the same principle would bar most jobs working in factories.

As I've pointed out several times now, it is the authority and the lack of supervision.

Also, while it's clear that most college students are legally adults, it is also obvious that adulthood is not a necessary condition for admission to college. There are minors in college. Some are young for their grade; some are taking college courses for high school credit. You have to think about those students. (It's also pretty clear that legal adulthood is not sufficient for actual adulthood.)

For another thing, students who live on campus do so under the supervision of a team of Resident Advisors and a Housing Director, each of whom lives on-site. Colleges also typically have their own security and police forces. They do this because they are rightly concerned with their students' safety and well-being. Students ought to be able to trust their university to take steps to protect them from certain things, including, paternalistically, themselves. A university that hires a professor with a recent conviction for a violent- or sex-crime violates that trust.

Scott Robertson said...

Mr. Zero, your interlocutor did not say that barring ex-cons from teaching at universities was inconsistent with allowing them to rejoin society. Rather, she pointed out that reasons could be given for barring them from all sorts of jobs, and that all this taken together could amount to a de facto barring of ex-cons from rejoining society. If that isn't the case, then (she argued) the onus is on her interlocutors, including you, to come up with a plausible basis for distinguishing OK jobs from non-OK jobs for them. You've done this now, but hadn't done so at the time she wrote it. So there doesn't seem to be a false dichotomy there, on a reasonably charitable reading.

Also, any mildly charitable reading of "hiring someone to be a college professor is not the same as hiring someone to work in a day care" will avoid saddling your interlocutor with the preposterous view that the two hirings are identical (and hence that a college is a day care). What is meant, clearly, is that different principles are in play in both hiring scenarios due to the different ages of day care attendees and college students.

Again: you may be right in what you say. But the point is that you had no basis at all for calling your interlocutor 'stupid', etc.

Anonymous said...

The same principle is in play: protect potential victims. No one ever said that a college was a daycare. That is a preposterous and dare I say stupid claim that was never made. Learn how to use the charity principle.

Anonymous said...

9:03, you're missing the whole point. 'Protect potential victims' is a principle that applies to all sorts of jobs. It has to be more fine-grained than that, or you're stuck on the wrong side of the dichotomy.

You're the one who has a lesson to learn: you need to learn to read and think before you speak.

Anonymous said...

You're a fool