Friday, November 21, 2014

In Support of Cheryl Abbate

Late update: John Protevi writes in to clear up some of my imprecisions in my original post:
[A] few things to correct. McAdams is an associate professor, not a full professor. And there were two students; one asked the question in class, another one pursued the matter after class with the recording and so on.
Thanks for clearing things up, John!

(Don't forget about Zombie's important post about interviews! You can use this as an open thread about the market, too.)

If you've been paying attention to the philosophy blogosphere, then you know that Daily Nous has a post up detailing a "political smear campaign" against a Marquette graduate student, Cheryl Abbate. According to Daily Nous, Abbate made a classroom decision during a discussion of Rawls to head off a discussion about gay marriage that a student attempted to initiate. She had a conversation about this decision with the student outside of class justifying her management of the classroom (that the student recorded and, it appears, lied about recording), and is now being attacked for "censorship" in the classroom by a full professor at her own school.

Please consider signing this open letter by John Protevi in support of Abbate. And read this by Charles Hermes, who encouraged us to write a post on this topic and who nicely details why it's important to support Abbate.

Read the following if you need to get caught up (or any of the links above):

At the center of this campaign, is a Political Science professor, John McAdams, who, it appears, has just emerged from a cryogenic freeze that started in the late nineties/early aughts, gnashing his teeth about the pernicious effects of "political correctness" and using terms like "gay lobby" without a hint of irony (so "trigger warning," if you click on this link).


After (if I'm remembering correctly), encouraging the student to record his conversation with Abbate, McAdams, emboldened by the remembrance of David Horowitz, posted snippets of it on his blog (without hearing Abbate's side of the story). McAdams criticized Abbate for her decisions about classroom management and accused her of being part of the vast left-wing conspiracy to silence all dissenting opinion or to make conservatives feel uncomfortable to voice their opinions.

Again: SMDH.

This is rich, coming from a man whose Rate My Professor listing is littered with references to his conservative, right-wing political beliefs (and suspenders) [sic throughout]:
Okay teacher. His bigoted attitude caused some views to be imperiously ignored. Also, according to him, this class requires a thorough background in Economics, which is not a prerequisite for the course. Conform and go along with what he says, and you'll be fine.
I took Policy with McAdams. FABULOUS suspenders everday. HOWEVER- If you are not a member of the Ron Paul fan club, the college republicans, or you don't write for the Warrior, you will be pissed off at his straight-up economist's approach to public policy. NO social graces.
So, why are we not using these testimonials from students to launch a campaign against McAdams' classroom management style? Perhaps we should send these students to record their conservations with McAdams and then "report" those conversations on our blogs expressing our worries about McAdams' inability to keep his political beliefs out of the classroom? No.

We understand that the classroom is a complicated place with dynamics that are unique to each class; hard decisions have to be made by teachers about how to manage classroom time on the basis of the unique dynamics of that class; and second-guessing teachers, especially graduate student teachers (and refraining from second-guessing students), doesn't create a space in which teachers are able to do their jobs well based on the unique dynamics of that class (also within the demands set on those teachers by the policies of their universities).

If anyone is undermining academic freedom and chilling speech, it's John McAdams.

--Jaded, Ph.D.


Anonymous said...

Even the ACLU says you're full of shit.

Jaded, Ph.D. said...

Full of shit about what? I'm defending a teacher's right to manage her class without having to justify those classroom decisions to someone who isn't even in her department.

Indeed. McAdams himself has said: "That we should ever be required to defend to university bureaucrats what we say in class is a gross violation of academic freedom."

I've said nothing at all about free speech. Though I must say, the invocation of free speech is odd here: Do you honestly think that a student has a right to say whatever they want no matter what the topic of the class is or what the teacher's lesson plan is for that day? And that a teacher should let just anything be said in her classroom despite her lesson plan?

Give me a break.

Anonymous said...

"Do you honestly think that a student has a right to say whatever they want no matter what the topic of the class is or what the teacher's lesson plan is for that day?"

Yes, if you're talking about legal rights. That said, the faculty member also has the right to, within the boundaries set by the syllabus and the university, address students who disrupt or derail class.

This is a matter of academic freedom and professional decorum, not free speech. One thing students need to recognize is that they do not set the terms and conditions for classroom discussion, and that doing so is the job of the faculty member. Students are welcome to have whatever conversations they want elsewhere.

In my own experience, I have found that many students who hold conservative views feel "censored" if their views/beliefs/opinions are not expressed during class, and I remind them that class is not about expressing views or opinions. They are welcome to express whatever views they want elsewhere; my class is about coming to learn what I am teaching, regardless of what you believe to be true based on your political or religious inclinations.

-Not 8:18

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jaded--I don't see how this is a free speech issue.

Anonymous said...

Seriously? If a student disagrees with a lecturer he has to keep his mouth shut? The student was not just saying whatever he wanted to. The lecturer put the topic on the board and then went on to dismiss it. That action made the topic fair game. Abbate shouldn't be considered for a doctorate if she can't defend her opinion in free debate.

Anonymous said...

"I remind them that class is not about expressing views or opinions. ... my class is about coming to learn what I am teaching"

I guess it all depends on how one teaches. In my introductory classes, I try to teach students how to determine the most defensible view and how to defend it with good reasons. In that respect, class is about expressing views, but not mere opinions. It's a place to articulate arguments.

But the context matters. If we're discussing topic X and views about X, students should not feel licensed to derail the conversation and express their views about Y--even if those views are well-defended. This is really what the Abbate case is about. The topic under discussion wasn't about gay marriage, so the students was not, and should not be, free to divert the conversation to gay marriage. Again--not about freedom of speech.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous...there are a lot of issues, examples, arguments, and ideas that often come up during the course of a philosophy lecture. Many of them are interesting or, at the very least, worthy objects of continued discussion. The problem is that philosophy instructors, like all instructors, have a lesson plan and objectives for that day.

In every single lecture I have ever given, I have had to choose to drop most of these tangential ideas in the service of what I judge, as instructor, to be the purpose of the lecture/lesson for that day. I am not denying anyone's free-speech rights when I do that. I am actually doing exactly what my job requires me to do: exercise my professional judgment in order to teach students.

Even if I thought that arguments against marriage equality were worthwhile (I do not), it is entirely within my purview to sideline discussion on that topic if I believe it would not help me meet my course objectives for the day. If you've ever taught a course, you should know exactly what I mean.

So, how is this a free-speech issue again?

Anonymous said...

Students - in the US anyway, I have not seen the same in other countries - have come to expect that class exists for them to blather on about their own ideas. They have been rewarded for this in the past, often with those idiotic "participation grades." Lazy teachers often award these points for anyone who "engages," or "shows enthusiasm," etc. (I haven't yet met anyone who actually *grades* participation, as in evaluating the merits of someone's verbal contributions to class and assigns a grade based on quality; such grades - from what I've seen - are always based on quantity of participation.) Americans are also bred to believe that their opinion matters, on everything. Hell, even many of the "news" programs base their reporting on opinion polls and "reporting" what viewers tweet to them.

As a result, we now have students who believe - because of the society in which they have been educated and informed - that vomiting their own (potentially) ill-formed rubbish is more valuable than listening.

And to be frank, this is especially so with students in philosophy, who are bred to argue their positions. It takes very little time for many philosophy majors to come to believe that their own skills in argumentation are highly refined and must be showcased at every opportunity.

I love philosophy, but god do I hate teaching most philosophy students.

zombie said...

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Is Cheryl Abbate a member of Congress? Does she represent the US government in any way? No? Not a free speech issue.

While I generally agree with the ACLU, and I recognize that campus hate speech codes can be problematic, there are MANY places where students are free to spout their racist, homophobic, anti-whatever views. My classroom isn't one of them. When my class discusses free speech, hate speech, etc., it is an occasion for students to reflect on and discuss the philosophical ideas in support of free speech. Can they do that without actually engaging in hate speech? I think they can.
Can they speak freely about anything else in my class? No, they can't. While we have some fairly freewheeling, wide-ranging discussions from time to time, when discussions stray from the lesson/topic, it is my job to rein in the discussion and bring it back on topic.

I don't see Abbate having done anything different. Any teacher who lets his/her students dictate the lesson and topics of discussion is not serving his/her students well.

Anonymous said...

I support Abbate one gazillion percent. But I have an odd question and please excuse my possible ignorance, because I'm late to Rawls and social justice. (Too much language and epistemology, I guess.)

Is same sex marriage a primary or secondary good? According to the IHE article, this came up during a discussion of Rawls' first principle, the principle for determining the distribution of primary social goods, that every rational person is thought to want and is compatible with equal liberties for all.

I suppose it is,

But if same sex marriage is a secondary good, then the difference in treatment of banning same sex marriage would have to be universally beneficial, which it just ain't. In the positive mode, agents in the original position would know that society largely discriminates against homosexuals and would permit same sex marriage in order to bring up those at the bottom of society through eliminating an unjust social inquality.

Ahh, frack. I hope I didn't F-this and this tread up.

Anonymous said...

Of course Cheryl Abbate can chose to consider or ignore examples offered by her students. But her explanation of why she doesn't allow "not appropriate" and "harmful" opinions for fear of offending someone is a bit troubling.

Anonymous said...

Exactly, Anonymous@4:21 pm. I think there's two different issues here that are getting conflated. Abbate certainly had the right to direct the class discussion. What's really troubling is her rationale that debating an issue might offend some students.

Anonymous said...

McAdams is something of a crank and has been known as such for many years. A quick glance at his recent blog where he comes close to advocating for intelligent design shows as much. But for those in need of more evidence:

mike nelson said...

Shame on the professor for trying to silent a student for disagreeing about a divided opinion. The only person that stood up for the student who was shunned for his opinion is prof mcadams. Good for him. I will be ending my donations at end of year.
mike n. Class of 2012

Anonymous said...

"After (if I'm remembering correctly), encouraging the student to record his conversation with Abbate..."

Blatantly false. The student came to Professor McAdams with the recorded tape AFTER he reported the events to the department chair, without success. Just thought you may want to correct that error, as it opens up the rest of your post to being discredited.