Archive for June, 2015

Tenured LSU Professor Fired for Cursing

Fired for saying fuck, and shit.

Fired for saying fuck, and shit.

I hate to be the buzzkill after all of the celebrations of marriage equality and people being able to keep their insurance, but the war on education just got hot and heavy, and the anti-intellectual corporatists are winning big. Down in Bubba Jindal’s Louisiana, a tenured associate professor who has worked at LSU for 20 years has been fired for allegedly cursing and supposedly saying something about a student’s adhd.  So far, there is minimal information about this case. Inside Higher Ed has said nothing, and only a short take at the Chronicle spells out the future for the rest of us.

Teresa Buchanan, Associate Professor of Curriculum and Instruction was in charge of assigning legions of mostly female students to schools for student teaching. A multiple award winning professor who was recommended for promotion to Full before this “complaint”,  Dr. Buchanan is not one to mince words, indeed the Chronicle describes her as “salty” as if that is funny. They are reporting on the most devastating case since Salaita, and they’re joking about a tenured professor being fired for profanity. Buchanan admits that she was in the middle of a divorce and may have said some things about men that the young sorority girls didn’t like. And, she allegedly implored them to make sure they used condoms so they didn’t ruin their lives. Given that most of them had abstinence education in Louisiana, I’m not so sure this is out of line at all. Curriculum and Instruction is a professional program, and you’ll hurt your professional development with an unwanted pregnancy. Allegations that she had said something about a student having ADHD were found to be unsubstantiated by the faculty panel, which unanimously rejected a ruling of termination put forward by the loser ass second generation corporatist president of LSU, FuKing Alexander.

So, a tenured heterosexual female professor supposedly “sexually harassed” students by, what, saying fuck a lot? Telling them not to get pregnant once in a while? Is that harassment? Was she calling all of them every night to ask if they had condoms in their purse? NO. She said something once. And, she maybe whined about her divorce–as people often do. And for this, she was fired from a tenured job at a supposed research university.

There is a much better article in the Advocate about this. Basically, the faculty committee criticized the vague sexual harassment policy, and the chair of the LSU Faculty senate said that Buchanan’s cursing could not in any way be construed as  sexual harassment. They also pointed out that any complaint against Buchanan (no student testified….) should have simply been handled at the department chair level ‘ Hey Teresa, knock off the dick jokes, you’re scaring the children…”  That the Chronicle makes a joke of it and Inside Higher Ed didn’t even bother to cover it reflects their ownership by corporate education, who are just fine with having Human Resource Deanlets policing the faculty.

This is our future. Boards of assholes appointed by politicians flanked by corporatist administrators and legions of deanlings and deanlets will be monitoring what we say and firing us for saying fuck.  Nobody will say anything about it. The “academic press” will ignore it. Every week this will happen with greater frequency, until we all accept that we cannot usurp the authority of our corporate overlords. We’ll have speech codes, conduct codes, dress codes, and content codes for our courses—syllabi and textbooks will be provided by Pearsons and Wiley and Elsevier…….Deviation will not be tolerated, it’s in the code.

How We Lost the War on Tenure

I feel the Pulse of the Populace, I can feel it!

What do you mean it’s not real? It feels real!

Obviously, I’m a bit pessimistic about the future of higher education outside of the gated communities of elite private and elite privatized/public universities. But, why can’t we win? Why do I think we’ve lost? Won’t there be a pushback? My pessimism is rooted in the complete domination of the educational field by corporatist elites, the extension of this mentality to the vast majority of political leaders in both parties, and the acceptance of the corporate narrative by the vast majority of college-educated (and virtually everyone who doesn’t have an education).

I don’t hang out with academics much. I have a few academic friends, but most of my friends are regular people—lawyers, doctors, finance people, small business owners. Most of my friends share my passion for racing and riding bikes, and I race for a large, strong, Midwestern team with lots of older racers like myself. Many of my teammates are from Wisconsin and are Scott Walker supporters—one is a major donor. I try not to let politics intrude on my cycling friendships, but I have to say I am the last liberal on my team—and politics played a role in many people leaving the team. I meet a lot of people in the community through bike racing and training, and not just racers, regular folk who are outside and visiting So Ill. In the last two years I have had at least ten people, friends, teammates, acquaintances, and strangers gently or not so gently discuss the issue of tenure with me. My teammates all know that I’m a professor, so that may be natural. Others come to know what I do, and then raise the issue. This never happened 10 years go or even 5 years ago. Most people don’t know what tenure is, but they are absolutely certain that it is bad, and that I’m a bad and lazy person for having it or wanting it.

One of my Scott Walker supporting teammates (who is an extremely nice guy and has a college degree) asked me a few months ago if I have tenure. He’s known me for 14 years, so, obviously he doesn’t know much about tenure. He wanted to know what I do, and how long I work–which he identified with how many courses do I teach, and how many hours am I in the classroom? Well, six hours a week in the hole, right? Geez, I guess my lazy tenured ass needs to be in the classroom for at least 36 hours, so I should be teaching 12 and 12 instead of 2 and 2! I briefly tried to explain that even teaching requires much more effort than the simple classroom time—course prep, grading, meeting with students, staying current on materials, dealing with administrative bullshit….And, the more sophisticated the course, the more time it takes. I don’t do multiple guess tests unless I’m teaching large section courses, which I don’t often do. And, I mentioned that the main reason why I’m employed is research, not teaching. He did seem marginally impressed that I published two books last year, but I think he wanted to know if I was going to publish another one this year. And, it is pointless to begin to describe the myriad activities that take up most of my time (reviewing 6-8 articles a month, writing letters for promotion files, letters of recommendation, data coding, analyses, writing, faculty meetings, grad student defenses….). The average person doesn’t understand any of that.

My good friend Michael Humphries (a religious studies/english professor) and I had a much more negative interaction with a group of uneducated tourists. They really didn’t think much of teachers or professors, and thought they made a shit ton of money for doing nothing and spent summers on vacation. What those damned lazy liberals need is to be fired if anyone complains about something they don’t like. We finally lost it and told them that what they were saying was offensive and wrong. Do you really think people don’t try to do a good job? Do you think we’re that unprofessional? Seriously. In my 30 years in higher education I have only seen one case where a professor needed to be removed from the classroom. I have rarely had colleagues who were “dead wood” in research after tenure, and all of the “dead wood” did yeoman’s work in teaching and administration.  Even colleagues who did not make tenure because of research deficiencies  deserved employment (and again, the bar has been raised way too high since the good old days of the 1960s and 70s when a heartbeat and a PHD got you tenure).

It isn’t just Scott Walker, and the message that Raygun birthed in the 1960s has now come to dominate public discourse. College is about teaching. teaching is about satisfying the children and making sure they get jobs. If it doesn’t lead directly to a job, then it is useless and should be done away with. The barrier to making college lead to jobs is the recalcitrance of the tenured faculty, so if we get rid of tenure, we can reinvent college as a vocational school. Research? What’s that? Why do you need to do research? Humanities faculty sit around all summer reading books? How is that helpful for getting jobs for the proletariat? You study sociology? Why do we need people doing research on that? Indeed, why should anyone have to take that shit when it won’t get them a job. I’m telling you with absolute certainty that this is the dominant opinion in the United States, even among supposedly educated liberals. We’re fucked.

The War on Tenure

Once they get tenure, they do nothing....

Once they get tenure, they do nothing….

Twenty years ago I was awarded tenure at Vanderbilt University. The senior faculty put me up two years early because they didn’t want me to come up at the same time as Holly McCammon. Tenure meant nothing to me. I expected it. I deserved it. Having tenure changed nothing about my work habits, how much research I did, how I taught my courses, or treated my students.  But I don’t think about tenure the same way anymore, or, I guess I should say tenure means more to me now than it did in the rarefied air at an elite private university.

Like all bad things, the War on Tenure began with Ronny Raygun. The general war on education forever changed public universities. Cuts to direct funding, student aid, the development of a “student loan” racket, and the decline of publicly funded research squeezed the entire sector. Competition for scarce jobs led to a dramatic escalation of requirements for tenure—I know several people who were actually hired in as tenured professors straight out of grad school. One publication would suffice for tenure at any low-tier research university such as my current humble institution, and there was no research expectation at colleges requiring 3 or 4 course teaching loads. Now,  I’ve lost a lot of sleep worrying about junior colleagues coming up with six or eight publications—and even non-research institutions are now expecting to see publications and regular conference presentations (even though less and less money is available for conference travel).

The growth of obnoxious administration led to an increasingly intrusive culture of “accountability” whereby it is assumed that professors in general, and especially tenured professors, must not be doing their jobs. Student evaluations became increasingly important, even though real research shows that they are bogus. Professors were not only supposed to do more research, but also to be more available to students as advisors and to increasingly prioritize teaching and pleasing the children . Now we have assessment administrators asking us to prove that our students learned anything, as if our grades are meaningless.

Tenure became more directly relevant to me when my spouse did not make tenure at Vanderbilt. We spent a year on the job market searching for places that would hire us both. But, the new trend in administration was to make it nearly impossible to hire someone with tenure. I mean, what if you wind up being a psychopath, or if your research record doesn’t mesh with your classroom teaching? SIU didn’t want to hire me with tenure even though I’d had tenure at Vanderbilt for 6 years. In the end, after Herculean effort from my eventual chair Rob Benford the Dean and Provost relented and we moved to SIU.

But, now, we have a new war on tenure and the professors are losing. Post-tenure review has become commonplace at many institutions, even though most are “toothless” policies. Now, ALEC inspired laws are flooding state legislatures going for the jugular—ending tenure entirely. Giving administrators and boards the power to fire tenured professors at their whimsy. As the Salaita case showed very clearly, wealthy donors and political interest groups can now influence who is hired and who is fired—to the extent that you don’t even know if you have a valid contract. Our speech utterances are being monitored and punished for infractions of civility or content. Administrators are sitting in on our classes and judging what they think to be controversial materials to be a fire-able offense. Soon, we will see conduct codes that will further enable administrators and boards to fire us at will.

I’m 49 years old, and I expect that by the time I am 60 I will no longer have tenure. I may not even have a job. I’ll be forced into early retirement. I’m lucky. If I was 29, I’d be fucked. The AAUP just slammed the University of Illinois over their abridgement of academic freedom, tenure norms, due process, shared governance, and failure to rectify their wrong in the Salaita case. I just joined.

On Church and Sect in the 21st Century



Sectarian religious groups claim to have exclusive access to supernatural rewards and compensators, while more “churchlike” groups are more universalistic in their approach to divine rewards and generally abhor the notion of punishments coming from their gods. It has long been fashionable to assume that religious exclusivism was a plus for religious groups, and it was wrongly associated with shifting religious allegiances favoring sectarian groups. In reality, what little growth sectarian groups saw in the late 20th century was a function of high birth rates. The more universalistic mainline Protestant churches “lost” because they had fewer kids after the immediate post-war baby boom.

The notion of mainline Protestant collapse has become so entrenched that even liberal protestant clergy miss the demographic point, and seem not to understand how to respond to their fundamentalist brethren touting the superiority of exclusivism as a solution to empty pews. The fact is, white mainline protestants command almost exactly the same share of the religious market as white sectarian Protestants. You wanna talk market share? Look at that! Mainliners need to suck it up and stop acting like they’re whupped by these mouthbreathing morons.

Notably, not only does Pewk mislead the public about mainline “collapse” and sectarian growth, they also claim that Catholicism is on the wane, which it is not. Further, the growth of the “nones” isn’t just a white thing, it’s spurred even more by increasing Latino defection, and also higher proportions of Asians, who are disproportionately irreligious, as I show in Changing Faith.