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February 14, 2003
Baaadmouthin' your professor

As you may know, I don't like to go on about the USA all the time here. I prefer to dig out local stories.

Do you live in London? Are you doing any teaching? Of any kind? (Children? Animals? Burglars? Accountants? Mass murderers? Old time dancers?) And are you proud of what you're doing? Invite me to sit in. If I share your high opinion of yourself and your teaching you'll get a plug here. If not, I'll keep it polite and find some nice things to say.

But this story, from the USA is too good to miss. And be sure to look at the stuff on myprofessorsucks.com that Professor Mary Ann Swissler was responding to. Sample complaint from a student (but follow the link and read them all – they're glorious):

The class is called Promotional Writing, and let me start by saying that there is more sleeping going on in this class than writing. No homework. No tests. The occassional press release or ad is due. The teacher makes me sick to look at, and her handwriting is worse than my lil bros (age 9). Her grey roots are gagging, and her outfits are blinding to the eye. Yes the class is easy, and thank god for the easy A, but there has to be some education that comes from class...I do pay $1500 for this damn class. Thank you Seton Hall for giving nothing but the best! Swissler is the #1 reason not to come, and the #1 reason to leave. Oh yeah--why do we have a teacher that doesn't know how to spell lead? She spells it LEDE?! wtf!! Pure crap...and I leave you with this thought--she is wearing my clothes I donated to the salvation army! (its sad-really.)

And this was Professor Swissler's magisterial reply:

All I can say is that the comments confirmed to me what I had to keep to myself all semester: that most of you mental midgets are the most immature, sheltered, homophobic, sexist, racist, lying sacks of s—t I have ever met in my life. ... Seton Hall may be kissing you're a—es now, but out here in the real world, brats like you will be eaten for breakfast.

I love that. I really do. God Bless America! It's a sublime cross between political correctness gone (and for once the phrase is not just a phrase) mad, and the Sergeant in An Officer and a Gentleman: "Don't you eyeball me boy!", "… listenin' to that punk rock music and baaadmouthin' your country! …", etc.

Consumer sovereignty comes slap up against producer sovereignty. Teach how you want, and take the consequences in student abuse. Say what you want about your teacher, and hear what she has to say right back at you.

These "promotional writing" students didn't learn much about sending out press releases, or about spelling it would seem, from Professor S. But they can all write quite well. I started reading their abuse, and was gripped to the end. I think she taught them more than they realise.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:25 PM
Category: Liberal education
[1]
Comments

Surely this story is not complete without a quote from Adam Smith:

"In other universities the teacher is prohibited from receiving any honorary or fee from his pupils, and his salary constitutes the whole of the revenue which he derives from his office. His interest is, in this case, set as directly in opposition to his duty as it is possible to set it. It is the interest of every man to live as much at his ease as he can; and if his emoluments are to be precisely the same, whether he does or does not perform some very laborious duty, it is certainly his interest, at least as interest is vulgarly understood, either to neglect it altogether, or, if he is subject to some authority which will not suffer him to do this, to perform it in as careless and slovenly a manner as that authority will permit.
...
If the teacher happens to be a man of sense, it must be an unpleasant thing to him to be conscious, while he is lecturing his students, that he is either speaking or reading nonsense, or what is very little better than nonsense. It must, too, be unpleasant to him to observe that the greater part of his students desert his lectures, or perhaps attend upon them with plain enough marks of neglect, contempt, and derision."

I wonder if Prof. Swissler was prohibited from receiving any honorary or fee from her pupils?

Smith's point seems to be lost on Erin O'Connor:

"The consumerist mentality of Swissler's students is palpable in their comments. They speak as readily of how much money they have wasted on the course as they do of how offensive she is to look at--as if she had an obligation to please them visually with her person, as if her clothing and hairstyle had anything to do with the quality of her instruction, as if her red moped and yellow thermos materially damaged students' abilities to learn. This is the rudeness of entitlement, the hostility of students who labor under the mistaken idea that education should entertain them, and that teachers are performers whose job it is to play to their audience."

The fact that the students were paying for the course out of their own pockets doesn't seem to matter.

P.S. I couldn't include any HTML commands in here. Is that deliberate?

Comment by: Andy Wood on February 14, 2003 02:04 PM

Andy

Thanks for all that. As to HTML, no it's not deliberate. But how do I switch it on? Anyone?

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on February 14, 2003 02:42 PM

To enable HTML in your comments, go to the "Blog Config" page in MT, and choose the "Preferences" page. Toward the bottom is a check box which turns HTML in comments on and off.

You might also consider adding ",resizable=yes" to the "function OpenComments" script in your main template. As it is now, your comment window is always too small for its contents and there is no way for the user to enlarge it. Check the source on Samizdata for exactly how to do it. Let me know if I have not been entirely clear (a likely event).

Comment by: Steven Gallaher on February 14, 2003 03:35 PM

Yes, it's me, from here in the US. All my PR friends are practically jealous at my ability to grab celebrity. Here is my response, and please note there's much more. These students simultaneously derided me for being too easy, and being too hard. Frankly I regard myself as a liberal teacher who'd rather be harsh in my critiques of their work so they actually learn, tempered with moderate grading standards.
anyway, happy reading, folks.
And no, I don't regret my comments, and also, I've never been in the military, or even voted Republican in my life.


ABJECT ADJUNCT?

I won’t step foot on the Seton campus much less teach there again, but that is a decision I came to on my own, early in the Fall ’02 semester. I quickly found out they don’t want teachers so much as they want babysitters who won’t insist students toe the line.

And the pay is about the same as babysitting, another noble endeavor.

Even a lowly public-school substitute teacher has the support of other teachers and administrators, and is allowed to impose order if students turn abusive.

But at Seton, that, as well as laziness, are rewarded. Don’t feel like listening to a pesky lecture, reading, following a syllabus or completing a paper? Rather send e-mails during class or recover from last night’s party? Hey, let’s get together and complain about the teacher: our syllabus (used in past semesters) is incomprehensible; she strays from the text and never explains assignments. And what about that hair??!!

Just as Seton’s comm. department chair Pete Reader and other administrators recently weaseled out of placing any blame on students for posting vile, personal attacks about me on the Web, they did the same thing with student complaints about me early in the semester. I was immediately relegated to sporadic lectures, correcting papers and writing and correcting tests.

At least I was given a break from talking until I was blue in the face, to apparently deaf students.

Still, in meetings with department chair Reader, he consistently assured me it was no big deal, that students issued the same complaints against staff professors, that they were "just out of high school and don't know anything," and wholeheartedly believed me that they didn't seem to listen to lectures, read their syllabus or the e-mail reminders I sent.

When I wasn't invited back for the Spring semester, Reader appeared surprised that I might link that with the freshman class. There weren't enough classes to warrant hiring surplus staff, i.e., adjuncts. He added that he should have divided the mob of 38 students into 2 classes, into the approximate size of all the other sections of the same class.

If that was all an attempt to spare my feelings, or avoid confrontation, so be it. We've all had jobs that weren't a "fit." But it was a decision made well before I sent out the e-mail just a week before the start of 2003.

My only regret is not leaving in September, after four weeks of being regarded as an idiot. But quitting and leaving the students and Reader in the lurch, seemed like a coward’s way out, not to mention unethical. Turns out it was just masochistic.

Afterward, I received regular e-mails from students asking what was going on because they had no syllabus and the new professors, including Reader, didn’t lecture from the textbook. But somehow they escaped the ire found on

Myprofessorsucks.com. Maybe they had the right hair gel. (Note to self…..)

This isn’t a freedom of speech issue. If it were, I would have been able to offer my side of the story on the site.

And I don’t get the clothes comments. I wore a different dress blazer each class and dress slacks – yes, both dry-cleaned – and heels. And yes, on my moped. Such a marvelous invention! I don’t wear much makeup but I do wear some, and go to a salon for a hairstyle. I bathe, wear deodorant and brush my teeth. Perhaps if teachers were paid more than 5 cents an hour, I’d have the kind of appearance Seton students would approve of. And I guess I should apologize being such a slob as to wear jeans on rainy days.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to some reading for my two college journalism courses I’m teaching this semester. The pay is only slightly better than Seton, but the crowd is more working-class and – this is my favorite – the hiring administrator asked me if I was sure I could be strict with lazy students who tried to manipulate the situation.


Mary Ann Swissler

Maplewood, NJ


Comment by: Mary Ann Swissler on February 19, 2003 12:31 AM

31 students gave you an average grade of D. Get a clue - you suck at teaching. I don't know whether it's hilarious or pathetic that someone teaching communications lashed out the way you did, but it is certainly a sign of an unbalanced mind.

Comment by: Tim Lyman on April 15, 2003 12:55 AM
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