Comments on: Phoney complaint History and sexual politics, 1492 to the present Sun, 21 Sep 2014 12:24:08 +0000 hourly 1 By: LadyProf Fri, 23 Oct 2009 16:51:02 +0000 I’m with Bavardess–I never heard of a complaint about “tone” aimed in the direction of a male speaker. The complaint would sound disrespectful in a weird way, like objecting (seriously, unfacetiously) to the speaker’s ugly tie.

Walkouts irk me too, especially because I think female instructors receive them worse than men: that is, a male instructor who is really really boring or oppressive or incomprehensible might get strolled out on, but all a woman has to do is cause a little bit of discomfort and the student feels entitled to give himself or herself a break.

By: perpetua Fri, 23 Oct 2009 12:33:32 +0000 I have to say, I hate the bathroom break thing, and *really* wish I could legally forbid them from leaving the room once class has begun. Long classes have breaks. Otherwise everyone in the world should know to go to the bathroom before class and should be able to hold it for 1 1/2 hrs at the longest. I feel like they think they can just get up and leave whenever they feel like it. But I don’t think ethically or legally I can say, No you can’t pee! I did have a student once come up to me before class and say she might have to leave to throw up. After some inquiries on my part, she insisted that she wasn’t sick, so I assumed she was massively hung over. I was kind of proud of her for coming to class anyway, and she managed to hold it together (or in, rather).

The thing that can be frustrating about college kids is that they don’t seem capable of understanding different levels of importance, or how to navigate them. What I mean is, some students think they can come and go as they choose, disrupting class at their whim. Others quake in fear of causing trouble and apologize excessively for real problems or go to ludicrous lengths to hide them. They don’t seem to know what an “emergency” is or that when they’re having a real emergency, other stuff doesn’t matter (whether you disrupt a class, or miss an exam, or turn a paper in late). I had a student once who was in the hospital having an emergency appendectomy and was so afraid of missing his midterm he sent his father down to class to talk to me about it (to explain that there had been a real emergency, etc).

By: Indyanna Fri, 23 Oct 2009 02:03:05 +0000 Ha! Let them eat cake if they think they can topple Lynn Hunt on the mere matter of a locked door! That’s a good one. (If she’d locked a kid INSIDE the janitor closet in 200 Carthage Hall, that might have merited a raised eyebrow!). But a young instructor is obviously a softer target. Grandoc’s advice to his kids was certainly what *I* got from my parents back in the day. Don’t come home and say your teacher did this or that, or you might get more of the same here. So I kept it out of that channel. Perversely and ironically (and gratifyingly, I must say), when it much later on one occasion got back to my mother via other means that a math teacher had taken a gratuitous verbal dig at me, she came down and raised hell. But it wasn’t in response to or in support of any whining on my part.

As for the kid and the “tone” issue, rub some mud on it. I had a kid just yesterday who ducked out at a break, stayed out, then slipped back in just as the second half ended to pick up the study guide for an upcoming exam. When I rebuked him for it (not in an open-spectacle way, but in front of at least the nearby students) he was all apologies and “….won’t happen again, sir’s.”

I do find the bathroom break thing not disruptive, but fairly weird. I mean, at my age, that would be one thing, but at 18? I bet they wouldn’t leave a half-empty pitcher in the care of thirsty friends at an off-campus bar just for the sake of a little more bladder comfort.

By: Historiann Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:39:36 +0000 Kathleen–yes, I think that’s an excellent strategy. Offering to introduce them to the Chair of your department probably does diminish their appetite for issuing idle threats…

Janice–I too found it strange that the student would 1) request permission to take a call, and then 2) complain when denied permission. In my experience, phone calls in class don’t happen all too often–the few times it’s happened to me, the student approached me before class and explained apologetically that she might need to leave to take a phone call. I said that was fine–since presumably other students leave to use the bathroom as needed, and I don’t really ask where they’re going. (I don’t find the occasional student bathroom-break or need for a drink of water to be all that disruptive.)

Now, don’t get me started about the surreptitious text-messaging…I’m so ready for there to be a new, irritating habit. (Kind of like remember when people’s phones would ring in class, maybe 5 years ago? Then people figured it out? I’m really ready for students to figure out how to leave their damn phones alone during class.)

By: Janice Fri, 23 Oct 2009 00:11:50 +0000 Of course, my feeling about the whole situation focused on the knee-jerk response of “wow, that’s an ill-considered policy”. I let my students leave class to take a call, but they’re not to return unless it’s a class with a break (i.e., they can leave to take a call and they’re done unless they can come back during a scheduled break).

As a parent of a special needs child, I’ve been called out of meetings and events to deal with crises that can’t be put off until a later time. I have students who are parents and caregivers of various sorts, as well as one student who has specialized emergency response training and has to be on call for some crises we hope never happen.

It’s moderately disruptive to excuse someone, but I’ve always felt it’s better to get that person out and let everyone else get on with matters. Devising policies that keep the class going but recognizes and adapts to the needs of all the people there isn’t easy. (I tell my students to set their phones to vibrate if they do need to be available for a call.)

Still, the whole “tone” complaint does sound as if the student is flailing around for some way in which to justify themselves against their meany-pants instructor instead of claiming they had a real emergency which the instructor wasn’t recognizing. At my institution, that would politely be denied but I’m sure at some SLACs you’d get an immediate institutional response regarding the precious snowflakedness of their precious little snowflakes!

By: Kathleen Lowrey Thu, 22 Oct 2009 23:32:13 +0000 it’s already been expressed here, but boy-howdy do I agree that the comments space at IHE (& the Chronicle of Higher Ed, while we are at it) is pretty consistently a miserable minefield. It’s bizarre.

Second, & another echo, but anyhoo, one of the best things I’ve learned as a beginning-ish prof is to respond to all student attempts at bullying (b/c it does sound like this is what is happening in the cell phone story) with enthusiastic support. They want to complain over my head? They should! They want to to talk to the chair, or the undergrad programs director, or a dean, or something? They should! I will help them look up the grievance procedure on the interwebs, even. I do it for two reasons: one, I believe students should know what their options are and how to exercise them; two, because since I’ve started doing it I’ve never again had an interaction with a student that raised my blood pressure much (knock on wood). Once they realize their ire is not fazing lil ol’ me, it takes them seconds to realize it’s not going to impress a Senior Grownup, either, & the jig is up. Of course, the inner karma that has come from learning this means this sort of thing doesn’t come up as much over time (or maybe it’s just due to the fact that I have a bit more gray hair every year and with it an increasing air of gravitas :)

By: Historiann Thu, 22 Oct 2009 22:33:56 +0000 THE & Bavardess–you’re reading this case the way I did, but without knowing more about the particulars, I didn’t want to venture further. I don’t blame the terrified young instructor for being rattled and writing to C.K. Gunslaus–I just thought that Gunslaus was treating the case waaaaay more seriously than it merits at this point.

This is exactly the kind of thing that would have kept me up nights as a young instructor, especially if it were becoming a matter of hallway gossip.

By: The History Enthusiast Thu, 22 Oct 2009 22:25:03 +0000 I agree with Bavardess. I just wonder if this isn’t a female instructor who is already having a hard time enforcing class policies, and who has been “tagged” as a potential push over.

Honestly, her/his “greenness” may have something to do with this, but as a fairly green instructor myself we should cut him/her a little slack for not understanding how the process works, etc. If this is his/her first time being challenged in this way, she/he may not have known whether or not to take this issue to the chair.

By: Bavardess Thu, 22 Oct 2009 21:50:26 +0000 That reference to ‘tone’ in the original letter makes me wonder (yet again) if there is a gender component to this. In other words, how dare women speak to students (and in this case, the purported complainant is identified as male) in any way that makes them even a bit uncomfortable.

And yes, if the complaint has come to the lecturer’s ears in a roundabout way, it may well be in part of a bit of subtle intimidation/bullying by other, more powerful staff.

By: Historiann Thu, 22 Oct 2009 18:18:14 +0000 Clio B.–I understood which comments you were calling out. I don’t know why Inside Higher Ed doesn’t monitor their comments more aggressively. Very quickly they’re taken over by 1) hateful regulars who rail against affirmative action or any concern about just hiring practices, and/or 2) free marketeers who think it’s perfectly fine to let “market forces” shape everything in modern universities.

Lance–I agree. All I was saying is that the chair can’t do anything unless and until the student complains. (At least, I think it would be inadvisable to do anything until that point.) But the chair and the instructor could probably have a helpful conversation about how to handle these things in the future.