pageok
pageok
pageok
Breach of Promised Anonymity and Student Free Speech Violation?

A New York Times Ethicist column discusses this, but here's a more detailed account:

A student who wrote disparaging comments on an anonymous course evaluation now finds himself facing University sanctions.

Brian Beck, a landscape architecture major from Gordon, was found in violation of three University Code of Conduct regulations in a decision announced last week by University Judiciary. Beck was found in violation of the code due to:

• Disruption of the teaching evaluation process

• On grounds of multiplicity

• Harassment based on presumed knowledge of the associate professor's sexual orientation

Beck's violations stem from comments made on two course evaluations in Joseph Disponzio's History of the Built Environment course sequence.

On the first course evaluation, Beck was asked "What aspects of the course could use improvement or change?"

Beck wrote: "Joe Disponzio is a complete asshole. I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies. To hell with all gay teachers who are terrible with their jobs and try to fail students!" ...

[On the second course evaluation,] Beck answered the evaluation question "What were the most helpful/useful aspects of the course?" with "Joe Disponzio needs help with his issues dealing with homosexuality. Fags are not cool and neither are ney [sic] yorkers."

After comparing the two evaluations to exams from the class, Disponzio said he was able to identify the student he thought made the comments....

A letter was mailed to Beck's home address on Sept. 6 stating "it is alleged that Mr. Beck wrote threatening comments on course evaluations that were directed to a faculty member. Such comments indicated that he wanted the faculty member to die. Also the comments may have violated the University's anti-discrimination and harassment policy in that comments made may have been discriminatory regarding sexual orientation." ...

The University retained a handwriting document examiner to confirm the author of the evaluations. Roy Fenoff, a 2004 graduate of the University and forensic document examiner, was faxed the evaluations in question and Beck's class exams. He "concluded that the questioned writing was indeed authored by Brian Beck." ...

Beck's punishment includes writing a 1,200-word essay on how his remarks affect the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community and interact with a greater intolerance of the campus LGBT community, a letter of apology to Disponzio including constructive criticisms of his teaching style, and meeting with Michael Shutt, assistant dean of students, to discuss completion of SafeSpace training or other programs deemed appropriate....

The student's comments are obviously appalling -- but so is the punishment for the student's speech. The statements are not, I think, constitutionally unprotected threats; sometimes expressing a hope that someone would die may be seen as an implicit threat that the speaker will kill the person, but that doesn't seem to be so here.

But in any event, the university doesn't even claim that the student is punished solely because of the alleged threat: It expressly says that part of the reason for the investigation (and, one can infer, the ultimate punishment) was the anti-gay viewpoint of the statements. That's a pretty clear violation of the First Amendment.

The loss of confidentiality is troubling, too. Students were apparently assured that their comments are confidential. ("According to the Franklin College evaluation Web site, 'the Web-based course evaluation application has been designed to encourage candor. Your identity will not be associated with any of your responses.'") And while a student can reasonably infer that there'd be an exception for comments that really are death threats or evidence of crime, I doubt that a reasonable student would have assumed that the promise would be lifted when the statements expressed disfavored viewpoints.

And of course all this will leave students guessing when else they will be identified (and punished) for their evaluations -- what if a student, for instance, faults a professor for belonging to a religious group that the student thinks is irrational or evil (Scientology, extremist Islam, fundamentalist Christianity, and the like)? What if a student accuses a professor of being a "feminazi" or a "male chauvinist," and the university chooses to interpret that as resting partly on the professor's sex as well as the professor's views.

Finally, a hypothetical: Say that instead of faulting the professor in a class evaluation, the student had publicly written "comments [that] may have been discriminatory regarding sexual orientation" about a professor in a newspaper article, or in a blog post? I take it that under the University of Georgia's view, writing such a newspaper article would lead to discipline, too, right?

Perhaps a university could distinguish targeted speech sent (especially repeatedly) to the insulted person alone, such as insulting phone calls or e-mails. (I have touched on this question in the workplace context here, and there is some First Amendment precedent that may support this.) But both the student evaluation and the hypothetical newspaper article are speech conveyed to others (future students or administrators as to the evaluation, current students and other readers as to the newspaper article), and are entitled to full First Amendment protection. The University of Georgia does not, however, seem willing to give them this protection.

Thanks to Joel Grossman for the pointer to the New York Times piece.

Richard Aubrey (mail):
This moron trusted the administration??? Jeez.

Confidentiality. Riiight.

Oh,well, at least he learned something.

Unfortunately, any more measured and accurate criticism of teaching is going to be dismissed as "Becking" and thus unworthy of concern.
1.24.2008 1:43pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
Maybe students do surrender some rights at the schoolhouse door.
1.24.2008 1:45pm
Dangermouse:
The gay rights movement marches on.
1.24.2008 1:54pm
Ben P (mail):
Now this is why I always put bland things on my student evaluations.

That or I rarely have strong opinions about teaching style in any case.

But we're definitely told consistently that the evaluations are confidential and that the professor will not see them until a significant period after grades are due. (as I recall they're only given to professors here during the summer after both semesters have ended)

Had the professor merely thought he recognized the handwriting and held a grudge against the student, I would not necessarily be more accepting, but I would be less angry. However, the school going to the trouble to get scientific handwriting identification from a document expected to be confidential is pretty offensive.
1.24.2008 2:06pm
NOLA lawyer:
I think the greatest abuse is the loss of confidentiality. Univ of Georgia has just sent a big message to its students that they can be hunted down after writing "anonymous" reviews.

Sure this was an especially vicious review, but what if he had simply stated something to the effect of, "this teacher is an idiot and unqualified for teaching this course." I'm pretty sure this teacher would have taken the same efforts to identify him and destroy the confidentiality of the process.

I think the students should initate a boycott of the review process until the University can demonstrate that future breaches of the process won't be tolerated.
1.24.2008 2:06pm
wfjag:
Queries:

1. How did Beck know of Prof. Disponzio's sexual orientation in a "History of Build Enviroment" course, unless Disponzio raised the issue? It isn't a subject matter related issue.

2. Except for Disponzio's going public, how would Beck's confidential course evaluations have "affect[ed] the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community"?
1.24.2008 2:07pm
Tareeq (www):
The content of the speech and the promise of confidentiality are separate issues. Leaving confidentiality aside, do we believe that Beck would have a legitimate complaint had he received an "F" for turning in an otherwise "C" level exam book with these offensive words scrawled across the cover?
1.24.2008 2:11pm
rbj:
Gee, for once I agree with Randy Cohen.

Beck's punishment includes writing a 1,200-word essay on how his remarks affect the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community and interact with a greater intolerance of the campus LGBT community, a letter of apology to Disponzio including constructive criticisms of his teaching style, and meeting with Michael Shutt, assistant dean of students, to discuss completion of SafeSpace training or other programs deemed appropriate Is all of this in place of, or in addition too, the reeducation camp?
1.24.2008 2:21pm
GV:
What if the note had said, “teacher, I am going to kill you at 5 p.m. today. I know you live at [insert address here].” I assume that we all agree that the school could pierce the veil of anonymity to find the student. Why? Because that speech is not protected speech. You do note that students would not “expect” protection if they made death threats. But why should students expect protection if they make any sort of threatening or harassing speech that is not protected anyway? In other words, complaints that the school should not have violated his anonymity is really just another way of complaining that his speech was protected. You’re double counting. To me, anyway, the complaint about anonymity has no vitality independent of the complaint about whether the speech is protected to begin with.

That being said, I think the speech should be protected, although the kid is clearly a bigot.

I also thought it was worth noting that the first bigoted comment was made at the beginning of the semester. At that point, the professor did nothing. The second comment was then made at the end of the semester, at which point the professor complained. I don’t think that’s clear if you just read the excepted portion of the story above.
1.24.2008 2:25pm
Scote (mail):
I'm generally against all those socialist speech codes but the comments alleged to be written by Mr. Beck show a very hateful personality combined with very poor judgement, and the author's hate was directed at the teacher in terms of wishing for his death.

While there may not have been a direct threat I believe the comments were menacing enough of the teacher in question to feel unsafe given that he may still have been teaching that anonymous person and that an investigation was warranted. If the university had not and a violent incident did occur many here would be wondering why the University did not investigate when they had the chance.

While teacher reviews should remain anonymous in general it is not reasonable to assume that such feedback forms are license to write wishes of physical harm and death for teachers without fear of repercussion.
1.24.2008 2:29pm
Brian K (mail):
neither are ney [sic] yorkers.

somehow i don't think the student is being failed because the teacher is gay...
1.24.2008 2:33pm
genob:
It is the teacher and administration that should be disciplined for violating the promise of confidentiality made to this student simply because he made statements that are pretty clearly contitutionally protected speech. Heck, if he makes a case that his homophobic views are somehow religious in nature, maybe he has a discrimination lawsuit against UGA.

Ridiculous....All who do not adhere to the approved script of the thought police must be hunted down and re-educated.
1.24.2008 2:34pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
Tareeq: I should think that a professor should ignore any personal insults on an exam, and evaluate the substance of the answer. But if you think the professor may fail the student for that, wouldn't it be because there's something special about an in-class graded project that gives the school more authority to fault a student for his content and viewpoint?

Or do you think that the professor may also give the student an F -- and the administration may otherwise discipline the student -- for publishing a similar comment in the student newspaper?
1.24.2008 2:49pm
Crimso:
Not even getting into issues of free speech, threats, reeducation camps, etc, etc, etc, UGA was quite foolish for doing this. Students at UGA would be idiots to participate in the evaluation process now. I would refuse to do so, whether my comments were positive or negative. At my institution (or at least in my dept) there are no written comments solicited. It's simply questions to which the coices of answer include "almost always," "usually," "rarely," etc. We only see a computer generated summary of the distribution of answers the students choose. We really have no way of knowing who answered in what way.
1.24.2008 2:51pm
CheckEnclosed (mail):
Does the university in question have any rules or policies prohibiting instructors from trying to match handwriting on exams with handwriting on instructor evaluations?

For those of you out there who are instructors, do the institutions you work at have such rules or policies?

Should such a rule be an explicit or implicit part of any code of ethics for instructors?
1.24.2008 2:54pm
great unknown (mail):
What is multiplicity? I am familiar with the term in math, but in this context is it a synonym for diversity?

Note that protection of student anonymity only applies to "Jane" at Brandeis, not Mr. Beck at UGA.

Question: what is the legal exposure of UGA and the individual administrators involved?
1.24.2008 2:55pm
Crimso:

Or do you think that the professor may also give the student an F -- and the administration may otherwise discipline the student -- for publishing a similar comment in the student newspaper?

The Grade Appeals Committees here would overturn that F, as it is doubtful that such a criterion ("You get an F if you send a letter to the paper berating me") would be included in the course syllabus. We can find for the student in only two instances: the grading criteria were not clear in the syllabus, and/or the criteria were not uniformly applied.
1.24.2008 2:56pm
Scote (mail):
Writing "I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies" on a teacher evaluation form is prima facia evidence that the author is an idiot. Anyone who would write such a thing has no reasonable expectation that such a statement will not be taken as a threat.
1.24.2008 2:57pm
CDU (mail) (www):
Does the university in question have any rules or policies prohibiting instructors from trying to match handwriting on exams with handwriting on instructor evaluations?


I'm surprised the actually let the teacher see the student's handwritten evaluations, for just this reason. At the universities I've been associated with (as a student and instructor) the professors are given typed versions of the student's written comments.
1.24.2008 2:59pm
karrde (mail) (www):
GV--...at the beginning of the term.
It is much more likely that the first evaluation was in the middle of the term, and the second evaluation at the end of the term.

During my (short) stint as a T.A. and another (even shorter) as an adjunct instructor, all courses had that schedule of student evaluations.

It is my experience that students are routinely assured that the evaluations are confidential, and are meant to be separated from the grading cycle (so that evaluations and grades).

This story will most certainly travel around college campuses, and cause students to wonder just how confidential such writing actually is. Thus, it will cause a chilling effect on any students who think a particular instructor is spending too much time talking about his sexual orientation/political cause of choice rather than the class material.

(Such events are rare, but not unknown...and the students ought to be able to complain properly.)
1.24.2008 3:00pm
Truth Seeker:
It seems clear that schools are today run by liberal fascists (not to plug any current bestseller) and that students have a long fight ahead to straighten them out. I just sent $100 to FIRE, and plan to send more. They are great!
1.24.2008 3:06pm
Steve P. (mail):
Scote —

It's not much of a threat, seeing as it's a general "I hope he does these things and then dies as a result," and not a "I am going to do these things to him, and then he'll die." The latter is an obvious threat. Saying, "I hope Senator Clinton gets gonorrhea" isn't a threat unless I have some plan on making her contract it.

Now, if the author is HIV positive, and this was actually a badly-worded request for a blowjob, that could be also viewed as a threat. Doesn't seem likely, though.
1.24.2008 3:07pm
H. Blix:
>>Anyone who would write such a thing has no reasonable expectation that such a statement will not be taken as a threat.<<

Really? Perhaps your community has difference reasonable expectations, but even if taken literally as a statement it's clear that the "dick" the student hoped the teacher would chock on was not the student's. How then can the statement reasonably be interpreted as a clear and imminent threat?
1.24.2008 3:08pm
MDJD2B (mail):

I should think that a professor should ignore any personal insults on an exam, and evaluate the substance of the answer.

True in theory, but just about everone would be inclined not to give the benefit of doubt to someone who wrote something like that about him.
1.24.2008 3:12pm
Mr. Liberal:
First, a point about anonymity.

If you think of anonymity as being part of a contract (1) the school promises your evaluation will be anonymous (2) you promise to submit only one such evaluation, so that your opinion does get more weight than other participating students.

It appears that the student here violated his part of the deal first, and in doing so, released the university from any moral obligation to maintain his anonymity.

It is not right for one student to try to drown out the voices of other students by submitting multiple evaluations. In cases where this occurs, it is proper for the university to investigate the identity of that person.

Second,

This harmful and discriminatory speech, attacking the teacher for his sexual orientation, was entirely inappropriate. In a school setting, attacks of this nature could very well disrupt the emotional well-being of the recipient and negative affect their academic performance.

In this case, these attacks were directed at a professor, who is in a position of power vis a vis the student. I think he should just accept the attack by this pathetic jerk and move on. However, if such attacks were directed at another student, making it difficult for that student to function in an academic environment, then I think it would be fair to take actions against the perpetrator.
1.24.2008 3:14pm
Gregory Conen (mail):
Mr. Liberal, what gives you the impression Beck submitted extra course evaluations?
1.24.2008 3:27pm
frankcross (mail):
That first point would be a good one, but it doesn't appear to correspond to the facts. It seems like there were separate midterm and final examinations.
1.24.2008 3:27pm
Steve P. (mail):
Mr. Liberal, re: your second point —

Even if the "attacks" were directed toward another student, it wasn't that student who could read them, but rather the professor. If I wrote, "Michelle is gay and I hope she gets AIDS and dies," if Michelle can't read/see that I wrote that, what's the harm to her?

If the answer is that the perpetrator, making an anonymous statement, then is more likely to make a statement directly to the other student, well, that seems like prosecuting someone for what they might do.
1.24.2008 3:28pm
Dan Hamilton:
'ney yorker' may be an attempt to show the teachers accent.

If the teacher went into his life style to such an extent that he really pissed off the student who was expecting a class on "History of the Built Environment" not the gay life.

It is not clear that Beck is a bigot. He may be just very mad at this instructor. In order to judge we should look at the other evaluations. Maybe Beck was just more "outspoken" in his dislike then others in the class.
1.24.2008 3:28pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Writing "I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies" on a teacher evaluation form is prima facia evidence that the author is an idiot. Anyone who would write such a thing has no reasonable expectation that such a statement will not be taken as a threat."

I would suggest anyone who sees this as a threat is an idiot. One might fault the student for failing to recognize administration idiots would see it as a threat. But, take a moment and consider the weapon mentioned.
1.24.2008 3:28pm
ellisz (mail):
This kid sounds like an immature moron - imagine that, he's in college.
but he was promised confidentiality by UGa, and instead got re-education camp. and anyone dumb enough to think forcing this kid to write 1200 word essays will further actual tolerance is even dumber than Beck seems to be.
1.24.2008 3:37pm
Sarah (mail) (www):
Note to self: don't say anything unique or interesting on future student evaluations. Also, write in an unusual, block-print style completely unlike anything submitted in class. Maybe don't even turn an evaluation. Sigh.

Note to self (2): don't attend the University of Georgia.

Note to self (3): don't hang out with this guy, Beck, as he's apparently a semi-literate jerk.

Note to self (4): don't promise anonymity if you don't mean it.

Sheesh.

(BTW, the evaluations were apparently at two different points in the course: there was a lengthy time between them, and the professor got evaluations from multiple students each time. Read the Red &Black article.)
1.24.2008 3:39pm
Adeez (mail):
"Joe Disponzio needs help with his issues dealing with homosexuality"

That's great stuff! Greatly ironic, that is. I think it's the author who has the issues w/homosexuality.

And is it the VC consensus that saying "I hope ____ dies" is not a threat?
1.24.2008 3:40pm
Happyshooter:
They taught all the kids a very valuable lesson. The government lies when it makes a promise.
1.24.2008 3:42pm
Sean M:
I'd counterclaim on a promissory etoppel theory and recover my damages from their imposing discipline on me.

They promised anonymity. They meant to induce reliance on the promise to get me to say what I really felt. I did so. QED.
1.24.2008 3:44pm
Vinnie (mail):
This harmful and discriminatory speech, attacking the teacher for his sexual orientation, was entirely inappropriate. In a school setting, attacks of this nature could very well disrupt the emotional well-being of the recipient and negative affect their academic performance.

How is this harmful. I would say that it is offensive, so what? When did we get the right to not be offended and how far does it go? I need to know because I have a loooong list of things that offend me. That being said this sounds like a case where one idiot met a group of idiots.
1.24.2008 3:44pm
TRE:
UGA and the University system of Georgia is like that. (Don't hunt me down and punish me!)
1.24.2008 3:45pm
Westie:
Identity will not be disclosed for "course evaluations."

Were these course evaluations?
1.24.2008 3:47pm
Sean M:
Adeez,

I hope Osama bin Ladin dies (if he's not dead already). Clearly, though, I have no means to kill him. It's hardly making a threat against him.

It depends on the context. 'I hope you die by a .50 caliber rifle shot through your window of your house which is at 123 Elm Street at 5:30 pm tonight' might be interpreted quite differently.
1.24.2008 3:48pm
Gordon (mail):
If it is a threat, then the U.S. Secret Service's time could be wholly taken up by the members of my department alone. If I had a dollar for every time one of my colleagues has said "I hope Bush dies" since 2000, I'd be sailing in Florida right now.
1.24.2008 3:50pm
Steve P. (mail):
Adeez —

I can't speak for whether it's a VC consensus, but it's certainly my view. Things like that are said all the time, and hoping for someone to die (without any other action) doesn't usually make the subject die any sooner.

That's where I draw the line, anyway; I know many people say "I'm going to kill so-and-so" without any real intent of murder, so it's not always clear-cut. It seems unlikely that it is a real threat in this case, as the professor survived the semester relatively unscathed.
1.24.2008 3:53pm
tvk:
You’re double counting. To me, anyway, the complaint about anonymity has no vitality independent of the complaint about whether the speech is protected to begin with.

GV, there is no double counting. Suppose, for example, I tell my attorney in a privileged conversation about my racist and homophobic views. My attorney reports me to the police, who lock me up for thought crime.

There are two independent wrongs. First, the thought crime charge violates the First Amendment. Second, my attorney was wrong to breach the attorney-client privilege.

The wrongs affect different policies. There is a general First Amendment interest in being able to hold viewpoints, even highly offensive viewpoints, and even homophobic viewpoints.

There is another, more specific, interest in being able to be candid when there has been a promise of confidentiality. Here, because the University of Georgia has demostrated that it not only condones but actively aids and abetts piercing anonymity in its student evaluations, it can expect that process to be completely shot in the future.

It is true that if something is extreme enough, e.g. death threats, it justifies both falling outside First Amendment protection and outside the promise of confidentiality. But that doesn't conflate the two analyses.
1.24.2008 3:54pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
The statements do not constitute a threat by the speaker to perpetrate bodily harm on anyone.
That much is clear.
But is the University supposed to intervene only where abject threats are made?
I am not sure where to draw the line.
But to label anyone who reacts with anything other than knee-jerk libertarian outrage on behalf of young Beck is to miss the point.
I can imagine an analysis which presumes a "social contract" between the univ. and the student. If so, then the student can break and, here, probably broke that contract.
Now, we are left with assessing the proper punishment.
1.24.2008 3:58pm
jim47:
Mr Liberal: how do you know that the students were not asked to complete two separate student evaluations? At my institution you completed one evaluation for all profs, and an additional evaluation for all tenure-track profs that had yet to receive tenure.
1.24.2008 3:58pm
David Schwartz (mail):
"I hope you die" is clearly not a threat nor could any reasonable person take it as one. Literally, it simply expresses the wishes of the speaker that something will happen and does not indicate any reason to suspect the speaker will do anything to achieve that. Figuratively, it just means that the speaker hates you.

Perhaps in context with other statements, it could form a true threat. But this is not such a context.
1.24.2008 3:59pm
Prufrock765 (mail):
erratum: should be "label derogatorily"
1.24.2008 4:02pm
no surprise:
1. The purpose of a course evaluation is to evaluate the course. I would feel great sympathy for the student if his evaluation had done that; including a critique of any professor's importation of sexuality into the classroom. To the extent that any comments actually reflect a course evaluation, those comments should be reflected.

2. The student's comments are not related to a course evaluation. Hence, they are outside the scope of confidentiality. Pointing out that my law and feminism professor has halitosis and is morbidly obese is not protected. Pointing out that she ignored important perspectives would be valid and protected. The guarantee of confidentiality is extended to course evaluations, not personal insults (or, if you are wuss, you may read the above as "threats")you may wish to deliver.

3. U[sic]GA is a cow college.

4. If the world needed an enema, Athens, GA is where you would inject...
1.24.2008 4:03pm
Gordon (mail):
Others will know more about this than I do, but might not the University have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act?
1.24.2008 4:06pm
BT:
I admit I haven't read the article but was this kid a problem in class? Did he make disparaging remarks directly to the teacher? Were other students aware of his feelings? While God, excuse me Jah, knows I am not an advocate of the PC doings on campus, given what we have seen at Virginia Tech, etc., there may be more to this story than meets the eye. Then again maybe it was just the ramblings of a moron.
1.24.2008 4:07pm
subpatre (mail):
Threat. There was no threat.

It's determinant the school did NOT see the Beck comments as a threat by their inaction in calling the police. The school took no action security-wise; all acts the school took indicate vindicative intent.
1.24.2008 4:08pm
Perseus (mail):
While nastier than usual, Beck's comments are representative of the kind of vacuous comments found in a large portion of student evaluations. I can only hope that this incident serves to undermine the ridiculous practice of student evaluations, i.e., customer satisfaction surveys which college administrators are so keen on.
1.24.2008 4:16pm
Elliot123 (mail):
How did the student know the prof was gay? If the prof told them this during classtime, isn't that fair game for evaluation comment?
1.24.2008 4:30pm
Ben P (mail):

While nastier than usual, Beck's comments are representative of the kind of vacuous comments found in a large portion of student evaluations.


I'm actually intrigued by this. Specifically what sort of comments are vacuous.

I suppose my comments might be considered vacuous, but it's usually because I don't have much to say in response to a question phrased "what could the professor do to create a better learning experience."

Generally either

1. I'm relatively pleased with the experience and can't think of specific recommendations. (would a comment saying "I like powerpoints, more powerpoints be vacuous?)

2. the experience was relatively neutral and I don't really expect that writing "class was extremely boring" would produce any appreciable results.

About the only specific thing I can recall writing on such an evaluation is "It would be better if 30% of the material were not crammed into the last 2 days of class."
1.24.2008 4:35pm
tarheel:

How did Beck know of Prof. Disponzio's sexual orientation in a "History of Build Enviroment" course, unless Disponzio raised the issue?



If the teacher went into his life style to such an extent that he really pissed off the student who was expecting a class on "History of the Built Environment" not the gay life.


UGA acted badly here, no doubt, but it's ridiculous to argue that the teacher brought this on himself because he was too gay in class. Gimme a break. No one has any clue what, if anything, he said in class (and I'd be interested to hear how mentioning the fact that he is gay, however it came up, constitutes a lecture on "gay life"). The kid is quite obviously a prick, and was surely a prick before he ever stepped foot into this classroom.
1.24.2008 4:36pm
Gay Guy:
My first thought upon reading this story: Is it noteworthy that the student in question is an Architecture major? Architecture is said to be a popular major among those with repressed homosexual desires; the out-of-the-closet types go straight for Art History. Just saying.
1.24.2008 4:36pm
Adam J:
Sarah - Do you really think the University of Georgia's problem with the evaluation was that it was "unique" and "interesting"? It's a little disturbing that you would characterize it that way.
1.24.2008 4:38pm
kdonovan:
I wonder if the university might have another problem in that federal law generally prohibits disclosing students grades and coursework to third parties, presumably including handwriting exports.
1.24.2008 4:42pm
Uh_Clem (mail):
Of course, as a Liberal who completely depends on the New York Times to tell me what to think, I wholeheartedly endorse their judgement:

"The university should not pursue this investigation. Even if a student violated its code of conduct by making a homophobic slur, for the university to abandon its pledge of anonymity is a cure worse than the disease."

PC is inevitable. We liberals all think alike. You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile.
1.24.2008 4:44pm
R. G. Newbury (mail):
The kid is clearly a jerk. But he should turn in an essay consisting of 199 repetitions of "Joe Disponzio is a complete asshole" and the sentence "I am an idiot for thinking that the complete asshole wasn't also a vindictive prick"...for an extra 9 words.

The kid should also change colleges NOW...and sue to get his transcript if necessary.

To No Surprise: that *is* a course evaluation. If the 'professor' is a an asshole, you don't learn much. Once had one of those, a marxist asshole teaching economics to a class consisting 100% of engineers and hard science students. He was such an asshole we got him fired for ideological grading.
1.24.2008 4:46pm
PersonFromPorlock:
great unknown:

Question: what is the legal exposure of UGA and the individual administrators involved?

IANAL but prosecution under 18 USC 241, at a guess. If the Feds were interested, which they won't be.
1.24.2008 4:47pm
Jon Rowe (mail) (www):
We had a similar circumstance at Temple Law in the early 90s where the remarks were anti-semitic, complete with Nazi references. The way I remember the story, Dean Reinstein brought in a handwriting expert; they found the student; the Dean confronted him, and the student made a denial. The Dean then expelled the student for lying. Burton Caine, my First Amendment professor, was quite upset at the Dean's actions, seeing them as a pretext for punishing speech.
1.24.2008 4:50pm
MXE (mail):
According to the article: "However, course evaluations are not always anonymous. 'When a report is made that indicates a violation of law or policy, the anonymity may be waived,' said Stephen Shewmaker, director of the Office of Legal Affairs."

I don't know if this policy is made clear to students on the evaluation forms or not. If it is not, then it should be. (Students shouldn't be misled about how far their anonymity extends.) But I think it's a perfectly reasonable policy per se.

The point of anonymous evaluations is so students can communicate criticisms of the teacher's pedagogy without worry, not so students can communicate anything at all with total impunity.

The particulars of the student's punishment were asinine, especially the essay.
1.24.2008 5:05pm
TerrencePhilip:
Wow, thank goodness the tough guys running the school stopped this "threat."

Where there is smoke there is fire. Here's an idea-- let's search the kid's house and hard drive; there might be a picture of a noose lying around somewhere!
1.24.2008 5:08pm
Scotts (mail):
Having read the account, there is no evidence whatsoever that the professor brought in issues of sexual orientation to the course curriculum. It is unreasonable to assume that the comment has some underlying merit in the context of the ugly language chosen. Some people are projecting a stereotype of someone with a victim complex onto this professor. Hmmm.

This is a _course_ evaluation. The student did not provide a _course_ evaluation. I highly doubt that most students at UGA or any school are going to extrapolate that they might be identified and face consequences for offering constructive criticism based on this extreme example.

If course evaluations go into official evaluations of professors, the professors have every right to expect that those course evaluations be made in good faith and act to defend themselves and their reputation when something grossly inappropriate is submitted to the school. In this case, the numerical evaluations do count but are separate from the written comments. ("Written comments are not used in the tenure evaluation process," he said. "Only the numerical scores are used. Only the teacher sees the written evaluation.") It isn't clear if the students in this course knew how their evaluations were processed, but it is reasonable to surmise that the students knew the evaluations were taken seriously by the school and not merely between themselves and the professor. Teachers have ethical obligations to grade their students fairly; the same is true in reverse, and when that is not honored, the expectation of confidentiality goes along with it.

The point of forcing Beck to write an apology letter wasn't to engineer a deep seated change of heart, although it would be worth a try, and there is no chance of that if the student isn't confronted with it. The point is to send a signal that exposing people to your hateful vitriol is not acceptable.

Why isn't it? Isn't that the crux of the free speech argument, that bigotry may be ugly but not the university's business?

At the college level, I am torn. Professors can be expected to be the better person and move on. But bigots don't compartmentalize their bigotry, and the point of official rebuke here is to protect other students from people like Beck, as Disponzio said: "I'm not too concerned with myself, but we had a transgender student in the class."

Silencing Beck is awfully dissatisfying, but if it makes it marginally less likely that he's going to spread his hate around in a way that dehumanizes other kids and makes them more likely to be targets, it might be worth it.

With younger students, a mutual respect policy that bans speech like "fag" or "n&&$#%" is absolutely necessary. K-12 kids have a right to an education and no reasonable person can expect a teenager to have the emotional resilience to blow off what (without the speech code) would be a significant rise in personal attacks and slander. One kid's right to get an education and feel safe is more important that another kid's right to express their ignorant beliefs. I'm not sure that college age young adults are all that much more mature and thus in need of less protection by the institutional authority, but it is a fair question.

I wonder, if the professor was black and the student, on his confidential form, had written "I wish Mr. X would go back in time and face the KKK" would that be acceptable speech? It isn't a credible, direct threat from the individual student to teacher. That doesn't make it acceptable conduct in a civilized institution of learning.
1.24.2008 5:10pm
Kevin Murphy:
Until someone sues the school and wins one of these cases, we're going to see more and more of this.
1.24.2008 5:22pm
ellisz (mail):
Scotts, you write - "Silencing Beck is awfully dissatisfying, but if it makes it marginally less likely that he's going to spread his hate around in a way that dehumanizes other kids and makes them more likely to be targets, it might be worth it."

so now it's not enough to breach confidentiality promises and send him to thinkcamp - you have to silence him, eh? all in the interest of society I'm sure.
1.24.2008 5:23pm
Adam J:
R. G. Newbury - what the hell are you talking about? The statement "I hope you choke on a dick and die", doesn't in any way evaluate the course. There's also no evidence the teacher taught ideologically, or poorly in any way, even based on what the student said in his evaluation. And are you honestly telling me that you wouldn't attempt to find out who wrote the course evaluation if you were in his shoes? You would want to know what kid harbored such hatred towards you. The fault is with the University, for violating anonomity and punishing the student, not the teacher.
1.24.2008 5:24pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
I think it is clearly not a true threat and not legally punishable. The "I hope" language is fatal to the notion it is a true threat. Consider Rankin v. McPherson, where SCOTUS noted that the statement "If they go for him again, I hope they get him" (spoken about Reagan after he was shot) "did not amount to a threat punishable under 18 U.S.C. § 871(a) or 18 U.S.C. § 2385 or, indeed, that could properly be criminalized at all."

Could a school punish based on some sort of time/place/manner rule, on the theory that one can say such things but not in every time and place? Possibly -- but absent a clear rule with a unambiguous and non-overbroad definition, that's irrelevant here.

I think the confidentiality question is more interesting. Is it an enforceable promise by the school? Does reversing the policy violate due process?

Assuming for the minute that the school was not bound by confidentiality (a big assumption, but for the sake of argument), I have no problem with the more-speech remedy of publicizing it and showing everyone the type of vermin this guy is.

I
1.24.2008 5:26pm
wfjag:

Gordon:
Others will know more about this than I do, but might not the University have violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act?


Quite likely, but, so what? There's no private right of action created by FERPA. The remedy is for the US Dept of Educ to cut off funding to the school. So, the school answer is "When pigs fly."

tarheel: Agreeing that Beck is, at best, immature, and, more likely -- as you state -- "a prick", I still can't think of any way Beck would know that Prof. Disponzio's sexual orientation in a "History of Build Enviroment" course, unless Disponzio raised the issue. If Disponzio raised the issue, he can't complain about a comment. If Disponzio didn't raise the issue, then Beck was taking a cheap shot thinking he could get away with it under a promise of "confidentiality."

That leads to my second query:


2. Except for Disponzio's going public, how would Beck's confidential course evaluations have "affect[ed] the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community"?


Even "a prick" has privacy rights.
1.24.2008 5:29pm
tarheel:
Maybe he just assumed it because of how the professors talked, dressed, whatever prejudices he might have had. Maybe the professor mentioned his partner in passing (like many professors mention their wife, kids, etc). In any case, we don't know.

I've already said the school was wrong. I am just saying the teacher is not at fault for the kid's comments, the kid is.
1.24.2008 5:33pm
Adam J:
ellisz - thinkcamp? You've read 1984 one too many times I think. Why do people have such sympathy for this bigot? The purpose of freedom of speech is to protect all ideas, good and bad. The kid certainly deserves to be punished for writing such vile crap. The only reason he shouldn't be punished is because the cure for stopping such speech (government censorship) is worse the the disease.
1.24.2008 5:40pm
happylee:
It's sad that the professor was acting like an over-sensitive queen on a bad hair day, but it's a flat-out injustice that the administration backed him up. In the student's mind the professor's orientation and place of origin made the class unbearable...so what? If faculty are to be protected from a student's frank comments, what next, protect prison cooks from nasty, expletive-ladden comments regarding the chow?

And what if the kid was right? What if this professor's teaching style is simply "too gay" or "ney yorkish?" New Yorkers are notoriously arrogant and uppity; gay new yorkers ten times so. Maybe the professor should look in his heart before lashing out at the poor kid. It's amazing how authoritarian gays (and liberals in general) can be.
1.24.2008 5:41pm
Kent G. Budge (mail) (www):
While I don't really disagree with anything in the post, I think it missed the real conclusion: Anonymous student evaluations are a crock.
1.24.2008 5:53pm
therut:
I thought the 1960's was the time of revolution when the students kicked out the college Dean and all that agitation. Where have all these toltaritarian rules and judiciary and student government holy acts from on high come from? Seems Animal House has become Animal Farm. I am blessed to have missed this situation. I always thought the University was a place I payed for an education. What is this weird beast?
1.24.2008 5:57pm
Morat20 (mail):
Agreeing that Beck is, at best, immature, and, more likely -- as you state -- "a prick", I still can't think of any way Beck would know that Prof. Disponzio's sexual orientation in a "History of Build Enviroment" course, unless Disponzio raised the issue

What makes you think the kid needed any actual EVIDENCE to conclude the guy was gay? There's a lot of people who find calling someone "Gay" to be the ultimate insult, and he seemed pretty pissed at the professor.

It's entirely possible (heck, judging by the appalling literacy and sentence structure I'd say there's a darn good chance) that he had absolutely NO clue on the professor's sexual orientation and was simply flaming the guy.

Go hang out in less literate forums than this, and you'll find a lot of teenage and barely post-teenage twerps whose idea of a cutting retort is "OMG, YOU FAG".

I have no idea whether the Professor disclosed his sexual orientation, or why it would even matter (I met the wives of several of my professors, and I can't imagine writing a scathing screed about their heterosexuality because of it) if he did, but I wouldn't start by assuming he did.
1.24.2008 5:57pm
A.:
They always told us that anonymous evaluations were typed up by the department secretary and only given to the profs in that form. I believed it until I came to discuss some very poor grading of a final exam with a prof who asked me why I gave her such low scores.
1.24.2008 6:01pm
JosephSlater (mail):
On the very limited point that wfjag and Tarheel were debating directly above only:

Tarheel is right. There is no evidence that the teacher "raised the issue" of his sexulity in his class in any improper way. I don't go on about my heterosexuality in my classes, but many-most of my students know I'm straight because I occasionally make a passing reference to my wife, and sometimes she comes and meets me at the school and students see her.

Gay people are under no obligation to affirmatively *hide* their sexual orientation, and not hiding it is in no way "raising it" such that those remarks are remotely appropriate. If I mention that I went to my family Seder over the weekend, am I "raising" my Jewishness in a way that justifies rabidly anti-Semetic remarks on my evaluations (which, I stress, I've never had).

There's obviously more to this case than just that issue, but that's my two cents.
1.24.2008 6:07pm
Adam J:
Happylee- wow, I applaud you for such an amazing display of bigotry AND hypocrisy. It's quite an achievement. You simultanously say its alright for the student to have an irrational distaste for the teacher's sexuality and place of origin, but that it is not alright for the teacher to be "too" gay or "too" New Yorker. You fail to acknowledge the fact that there's no way the student could be "right", because he didn't make a single substantive criticism. Then you go on a remarkable bigoted rant where you accuse gays new yorkers of being "arrogant and uppity". Of course, faced with your amazing smallmindedness, anyone talking to you would inevitably look down on you, perhaps that is why they all seem so "arrogant and uppity".
1.24.2008 6:08pm
NickM (mail) (www):
That evaluation called for a response of this nature:

"Based on your embarrassingly pitiful and incompetent attempt at a classroom evaluation, we have determined that you were erroneously admitted under the academic standards reserved for running backs. Since you have no prospect of leading us to a BCS bowl, your enrollment is hereby terminated."

Nick
1.24.2008 6:12pm
MXE (mail):
Judging by the comments, I do think some folks are instinctively coming down against the administration because they are against speech codes and special, politically correct defense of "protected groups." I share those opinions, but the whole homosexuality aspect seems kind of secondary.

"Choke on a dick [...] and die" is a nasty insult that really doesn't even have to be specifically directed toward a gay man. It would be a grossly rude thing to say toward a straight man or a woman of any sexual orientation, is completely inappropriate and obviously adds nothing to the course evaluation as it hasn't the slightest relationship to the course or even the teacher's pedagogical style. The fact that the student's comments were filled with anti-gay remarks is just the icing on the cake.

Honestly, the only possible wrongdoing I can see on the administration's part is the violation of anonymity, if (and only if) the exceptions to the anonymity rule were not made clear to students.

By the way, if this student had said something to the effect of, "His comments about his homosexual lifestyle made me uncomfortable," I would be rushing to the student's defense. But "choke on a dick"? Give me a break.
1.24.2008 6:20pm
MXE (mail):
"Based on your embarrassingly pitiful and incompetent attempt at a classroom evaluation, we have determined that you were erroneously admitted under the academic standards reserved for running backs. Since you have no prospect of leading us to a BCS bowl, your enrollment is hereby terminated."

LOL, cheers to that!
1.24.2008 6:21pm
DRB (mail):
I wonder, if the professor was black and the student, on his confidential form, had written "I wish Mr. X would go back in time and face the KKK" would that be acceptable speech?

You mean, constitutionally protected speech? Yes, it would be. It scares the crap out of me that kids nowadays think it wouldn't be. The indoctrination they get in schools today must be absolutely extraordinary.

"Acceptable speech" is of course in the eye of the beholder and has no practical meaning -- not in a free society, at any rate.
1.24.2008 6:22pm
ObeliskToucher:
Suppose the prof had stood up in a live feedback session after the course was over and said "Tell me what you honestly think of the class". Further suppose that a student had the nerve to look him in the eyes and calmly and non-threateningly says "I think you're a complete asshole. I hope you choke on a dick, get AIDS and die. To hell with all gay teachers who are terrible with their jobs and try to fail students!"

The real question is: Is that vulgar, rude, and ridiculously emo statement constitutionally protected, permissible speech? If so, everything else is just window-dressing -- if he has the right to make that statement in the open, he certainly has the right to make it on an anonymous questionnaire. In the context of a course evaluation ("what is your opinion?"), the student may not even have a requirement to support the accuracy of the statement -- it's his opinion.
1.24.2008 6:29pm
MXE (mail):
Regarding the First Amendment aspect of this situation, IANAL yet (starting law school this year!), but I don't see why it matters that this is constitutionally protected speech. I mean, I agree that it is, and I don't think any legal action should be taken against the student.

But even public universities must be able to take some action in cases like this, right? Saying "fuck you" to someone's face is constitutionally protected speech, but if a student did that every time he crossed paths with another student or faculty member on campus or routinely shouted political speech in the middle of class, would the First Amendment stop the administration from expelling that student for being grossly disruptive?

I guess I'm just saying that punishing a student for obviously lacking the basic maturity expected of an adult seems like a far cry from, say, forcing students to abide by a speech code mandating "respect for all belief systems" or other nonsense.
1.24.2008 6:32pm
LM (mail):
By submitting multiple evaluations he broke a reasonable rule that can't be punitively enforced without breaching confidentiality. The school should have punished him for that and stfu about the rest.
1.24.2008 6:35pm
TruePath (mail) (www):
I think it's pretty clear hear (even if the administration worded things poorly) that the student is being disciplined because of the inappropriate and offensive way they put their comments. In fact I don't think it's clear at all the student had any knowledge of the professor's orientation, this just sounds like the sort of simplistic insult some college age idiot would make.

Yet surely the university could discipline the student for this reason if he answered the professor's question in class, "What do you think of this point." with "I hope you choke on dick and die." I see no legal reason to differentiate these two cases. Of course in either case it's important to protect expression of certain ideas but I see no reason to believe the student would have been discipline if he had written a respectful restrained criticism of the professor for presenting material advocating homosexuality.

-----

As far as the expectation of privacy I think this is an overblown worry. I think most students instinctively understand that their privacy will be protected so long as they give serious reviews about the class but may not be if they use it to make hostile, irrelevant insults.

This might not be easy to characterize in a definition but I think in most cases the distinction is pretty clear.
1.24.2008 6:37pm
Adam J:
DRB - Yes, what terrible indoctrination it is that schools teach you that it's wrong to say reprehensible bigoted statements like "I wish Mr. X would go back in time and face the KKK" . Gimme a break. Just cause something is legal doesn't make it right. Why on earth shouldn't schools be teaching kids not to say things like this?
1.24.2008 6:38pm
MXE (mail):
On a similar note, could a government agency (say, the FBI) fire an employee for walking up to his boss and telling him to "choke on a dick and die"? I strongly suspect the answer is yes. If so, why can't a state university punish a student for (in essence) walking up to his teacher and saying the same?

And honestly, if anyone thinks that the thought experiment here describes an unreal course of action (i.e., the FBI boss should just "grin and bear it"), then I must have found someone who is more hardcore about free speech than I am.
1.24.2008 6:39pm
LM (mail):
By submitting multiple evaluations he broke a reasonable rule that can't be punitively enforced without breaching confidentiality. The school should have punished him for that and stfu about the rest... or as I've told I don't know how many clients, it's not just that less is more. Sometimes less is something and more is nothing.
1.24.2008 6:39pm
Scotts (mail):
"so now it's not enough to breach confidentiality promises and send him to thinkcamp - you have to silence him, eh? all in the interest of society I'm sure."

If you bothered to read the rest of my post in good faith, you would know that it would be in the interest of other students at the university who might be affected by those who create an inhospitable environment, not "society," whose interests IMO are not served by PC training that usually leaves the audience even less receptive to being respectful than they were to begin with. Requiring people to keep their bigoted thoughts private is silencing, but it also offers some protection to the future targets of their hate speech. I'm skeptical that this kind of protection is necessary or appropriate in a college setting, but I wouldn't want to be forced to live with or near someone like Beck as it most definitely has the very real potential to be upsetting and thus harmful to my education. This is the basis for speech codes in high school settings, and one that is entirely necessary.

Now, I am pretty comfortable with the idea that schools can and should expect their students to treat all members of the community with a basic level of decency because decency is something worth promoting by institutions that pass along wisdom. I hope school is never reduced to being merely a collection of classes to train people to have discrete, measurable skills. To that end, a much better response would have been no forced apology, no PC training, but some public bully pulpit leadership on the part of the University administration. This Beck kid should feel ashamed for what he did, but instead he is likely going to feel validated, and that strikes me as a collective failure of the school as well as other adults who want to turn this into a free speech cause celebre instead of calling out this coward hiding behind the letter of one policy in an effort to violate both the letter and spirit of an altogether more important value.
1.24.2008 6:41pm
ObeliskToucher:
By submitting multiple evaluations he broke a reasonable rule that can't be punitively enforced without breaching confidentiality. The school should have punished him for that and stfu about the rest.


Only if the university can point to instances where they've gone to these lengths to track down and punish students who submitted extra forms, including extra forms that said "Professor X is fantastic!"
1.24.2008 6:42pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Here's the summary:

Step 1: Obnoxious college student expresses obnoxious ideas obnoxiously.

Step 2: Obnoxious college student is ordered to apologize at length, and hear why people think what he said was so obnoxious.

That seems about right. And I would say the same thing if a student made similar remarks in a similar way about, say, a conservative Christian professor's religion.

Professor Volokh writes:


I should think that a professor should ignore any personal insults on an exam, and evaluate the substance of the answer.


I don't know if failing is appropriate, but I hope that you would significantly dock the grade. You are a law professor, and you are training lawyers. A lawyer who puts personal insults in the middle of an otherwise sound pleading could be sanctioned, and certainly hurts his case.

If your students can't express themselves professionally in an exam, they are going to make horrible lawyers. And their grades should reflect that.
1.24.2008 6:45pm
Scotts (mail):
"Even pricks have privacy rights." Hm. I wish I knew what you thought of Lawrence v. Texas.
1.24.2008 6:45pm
LM (mail):

Just cause something is legal doesn't make it right

As obvious as that should be, I've found raising it to be the third rail of conversation with ideologues left, right and otherwise.
1.24.2008 6:45pm
Michael Edward McNeil (mail) (www):
LM: As has already been pointed out on this thread, there's no reason as yet to believe he did submit multiple evaluations. If you have evidence of same, please submit it; otherwise, you're off base.
1.24.2008 6:46pm
MXE (mail):
"Just cause something is legal doesn't make it right" [...] As obvious as that should be, I've found raising it to be the third rail of conversation with ideologues left, right and otherwise.

Quite honestly, as someone with libertarian leanings, I think any libertarian who doesn't believe and live by that idea is most likely a sociopath.
1.24.2008 6:49pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Tarheel is right. There is no evidence that the teacher "raised the issue" of his sexulity in his class in any improper way. I don't go on about my heterosexuality in my classes, but many-most of my students know I'm straight because I occasionally make a passing reference to my wife, and sometimes she comes and meets me at the school and students see her.
For that matter, there's no evidence that the student found out in class at all. Perhaps he knew because Disponzio is openly gay and doesn't hide it.
1.24.2008 6:53pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
I sucked at conlaw 2, so I'll defer to Eugene on what current doctrine says, but on the policy merits the University is in the right here. If someone is harassing the employees who administer some government program in the ordinary course of participating in the program, they shouldn't expect not to be subject to any sanctions under the program. Should I really have a constitutional right, without provocation, to scream at the DMV clerk about how she's a cunt who should choke on a dick and die? Seems to me that the DMV should refuse me a license if I start abusing their employees like that. This strikes me as pretty much the same, aside from the promise of confidentiality.
1.24.2008 6:54pm
Scotts (mail):
" "I wonder, if the professor was black and the student, on his confidential form, had written "I wish Mr. X would go back in time and face the KKK" would that be acceptable speech?"

You mean, constitutionally protected speech? Yes, it would be. It scares the crap out of me that kids nowadays think it wouldn't be. The indoctrination they get in schools today must be absolutely extraordinary."

Really, this is clear as day? Wishing that a specific person be lynched is not a threat because it comes dressed up in an absurd hypothetical? "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" isn't constitutionally protected speech. The indoctrination that Mssrs. Scalia et. al. got from wherever must have been absolutely extraordinary.
1.24.2008 6:59pm
CheckEnclosed (mail):
"According to the article: "However, course evaluations are not always anonymous. 'When a report is made that indicates a violation of law or policy, the anonymity may be waived,' said Stephen Shewmaker, director of the Office of Legal Affairs.""

Does this mean that the instructor made a report about the evaluations to inside counsel, obtained a waiver, and then started looking through exams to match the handwriting?

Or did the instructor delay making a report, search through the exams himself (violating any annonymity)identify the offiending student, and then make a report seeking a waiver?

Maybe he never sought a waiver at all, but just, hypothetically like, might have.
1.24.2008 7:00pm
LM (mail):
Michael Edward McNeil said,

"LM: As has already been pointed out on this thread, there's no reason as yet to believe he did submit multiple evaluations. If you have evidence of same, please submit it; otherwise, you're off base."


Beck was found in violation of the code due to:

• Disruption of the teaching evaluation process

On grounds of multiplicity

• Harassment based on presumed knowledge of the associate professor's sexual orientation

Beck's violations stem from comments made on two course evaluations in Joseph Disponzio's History of the Built Environment course sequence.

On the first course evaluation, Beck was asked "What aspects of the course could use improvement or change?"

Beck wrote: "Joe Disponzio is a complete asshole. I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies. To hell with all gay teachers who are terrible with their jobs and try to fail students!" ...

[On the second course evaluation,] Beck answered the evaluation question "What were the most helpful/useful aspects of the course?"



My emphasis.
1.24.2008 7:01pm
Public_Defender (mail):
Here's another difference between the law professor view of the law and the real world. Even if Professor Volokh is right on the law (and I doubt that universities are completely without authority to enforce civility in the way ideas are expressed), this kid cannot really win a lawsuit.

Let's say this kid sued and "won" a judgment. Now, he's looking for a job, and the potential employer sees that when doing an evaluation, the kid made repeated, obnoxious, and bigoted remarks and then sued to enforce his right to be an obnoxious jerk. What employer in their right mind would hire him?

The school is doing the kid a favor by giving him a dose of reality when the stakes are relatively low.
1.24.2008 7:06pm
ObeliskToucher:
"Bong Hits 4 Jesus" isn't constitutionally protected speech.

It isn't protected speech when worn by a student inside a high school full of minors and where in loco parentis still applies. In a public university setting, it most certainly would be...
1.24.2008 7:07pm
Foo:
Howard Stern (and many other radio talk show hosts, I'm sure) has wished, even prayed on-air that various people die, in many different ways. If they can do that on the _radio_ without anyone prosecuting or persecuting them for making threats, then this [admittedly stupid] student shouldn't have his silly comment as a threat either. Of course, if the student then went and murdered the professor, then we'd end up with calls to treat even this sort of speech as threats, and we'd lose even more in the way of freedom.
1.24.2008 7:12pm
Adam J:
David M. Nieporent - what's your point? If the teacher is openly gay does that make the student's statements any more appropriate?
1.24.2008 7:14pm
wfjag:

tarheel:
Maybe he just assumed it because of how the professors talked, dressed, whatever prejudices he might have had. Maybe the professor mentioned his partner in passing (like many professors mention their wife, kids, etc). In any case, we don't know.

I've already said the school was wrong. I am just saying the teacher is not at fault for the kid's comments, the kid is.


So, instead of invoking a University disciplinary proceeding and Univ. making it a public matter, would your advice to the Prof. had been "Sue the little *** for intentional infliction of emotional distress"? The little twit want's to become an architect, so he should have income to collect against, and intentional torts aren't dischargable in bankruptcy. That appears a preferable course to giving the little jerk a potential 1983 action for violating his privacy rights.
1.24.2008 7:25pm
Dr. Ellen (mail) (www):
Anybody who trusts an authority figure to keep his/her/its word is a fool. That's the kid's main problem, though he might be well-advised to make more substantive and cutting evaluations. They're more effective.
1.24.2008 7:42pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
David M. Nieporent - what's your point?
My point is that there's no evidence the student found out in class.
If the teacher is openly gay does that make the student's statements any more appropriate?
I can't imagine how any literate person could get that from what I wrote.
1.24.2008 7:44pm
The Snob (mail) (www):
The comments' effectively total lack of substance in my mind excuses the University's treatment of them.

The student committed an act of juvenile asininity, and was rewarded with the choice to complete a little ritual mortification and self-criticism, or roll up his tent and go home. Fair deal, in my book. He should STFU and keep his name out of Google.

If he wrote that "Prof. Doolittle subjects his students to a daily updates on the neverending spectacle of his admittedly colorful personal life while avoiding the class's putative subject altogether," we would not be having this discussion.
1.24.2008 7:46pm
Smokey:
He might have been better off utilizing a non-university forum for his views.
1.24.2008 7:50pm
Adam J:
Oh... well then I'm sorry David, kinda jumped to a conclusion. I think I'm generally used to disagreeing with what you post.
1.24.2008 7:51pm
Ozzielaw (mail):
Am I the only one struck by the Keystone Kops nature of the investigation? A 2004 graduate identified the kid's handwriting based on FAXED COPIES??? I've been dealing with forensics documents in some form or another for most of my 20-year legal career, including a stint as a federal prosecutor. I've never met a document examiner willing to give an opinion without being able to examine the original documents. The fact that the grad was willing to give an opinion based on faxed documents makes me seriously question his objectivity. This investigation would not stand up in any tribunal I've ever practiced in.
1.24.2008 7:57pm
Thomass (mail):
Vinnie (mail):

"How is this harmful. I would say that it is offensive, so what? When did we get the right to not be offended and how far does it go? I need to know because I have a loooong list of things that offend me."

True... some leftists think all conservative ideas are a form of hate speech. And all ideas that are in conflict with their's are conservative.

Its why you can't allow these kinds of rules...
1.24.2008 7:59pm
Mr. Liberal:
On second thought...

And upon actually reading the links provided by EV with details about this incident, I do not think the rescinding of anonymity is justified.

It appears that I am wrong, and that these two evaluations were not submitted simultaneously, thus unfairly magnifying the voice of the student in question.

In that case, I would say it is improper to violate the student's anonymity.
1.24.2008 8:03pm
Al Maviva (mail):
Hey, what's the problem? In light of that student's apparent grammatical abilities, he probably just thought that the professor was asking for a coarse evaluation, so he gave him one. But seriously, I've got mixed feelings about this. UGA is a state actor, so the forced letter and essay writing is a bit suspect, but I also believe that state classrooms are limited fora of some sort - where the state can specify what topics will be addressed (but not the position you take on those topics, per se). So an instructor at a state school can ask you to spit out facts or doctrine relating to stock transactions, for example, but hold it against you if you decide to use your securities law exam to explain why Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. In this instance I view the course eval as a similar limited forum. You can say whatever you want about the course or quality of instruction, but the promise of anonymity doesn't extend to your use of the evaluation form for other purposes. As to whether heaping insults on a professor is "evaluation" - I tend to think not. But I'm undecided about whether UGA should be allowed to punish the guy, because any time you give some government body (and Big State U is 'government' times three) the legal right to censor people, that effort inevitably gets turned from people you'd like to see shut up, to people you'd rather hear speak.

The question of eval form anonymity is the smaller issue; the larger issue is the attempted indoctrination effort to make the student 'right in the head.' Sorry folks, that re-education stuff is downright Orwellian. To plagiarize Glenn Reynolds, "they said if Bush was re-elected, there would be state efforts to re-educate and brainwash college students... and they were right!"
1.24.2008 8:05pm
Milton (mail):
"You mean, constitutionally protected speech? Yes, it would be. It scares the crap out of me that kids nowadays think it wouldn't be. The indoctrination they get in schools today must be absolutely extraordinary. "

I have a question here. Clearly his speech is consitutionally protected in so much as he won't go to jail or be fined for those statements. But does the college have no rights here? Is the college forced to associate with this student that made reprehensible written statements to a professor while in school?

It's not like his comments were plucked out of his diary or even posted on a website. He made these comments on an evaluation, which serves as an official correspondence of sorts.

Clearly he has no constitutionally protected right to go to college. Isn't that a privelege of sorts? If so, can't the college end their association with this student unless he writes the apology?

Just curious.
1.24.2008 8:09pm
Jeff W:
Reading the RedAndBlack article which says "Beck's violations stem from comments made on two course evaluations in Joseph Disponzio's History of the Built Environment course sequence" led me to believe that the two evaluations were for two distinct classes. Checking the UGA course listings. I see there are two courses.

For all the dumbassitude displayed by this moron I don't see any evidence that he submitted extra evaluations.
1.24.2008 8:09pm
Jim Hu:
LM,

My reading of the story is that the prof had multiple evaluations from the student because the student was offensive on evaluations for both semesters of a two-semester sequence. I don't know what "multiplicity" means at UGA, but it could mean repeat offenses, not too many forms.

Also, I believe that the exams come into this as handwriting samples, not as places where the student wrote homophobic comments.
1.24.2008 8:12pm
Mr. Liberal:
Steve asks...


Even if the "attacks" were directed toward another student, it wasn't that student who could read them, but rather the professor. If I wrote, "Michelle is gay and I hope she gets AIDS and dies," if Michelle can't read/see that I wrote that, what's the harm to her?


I agree. This is not the sort of situation I had in mind. While I do not approve of malicious gossip of this sort, and think people who engage in malicious gossip are petty and low, I do not think it can or should be punished in the vast majority of situations. (I might make an exception if such gossip was likely to result in incitement to violence, but an isolated statement such as this is a far cry from that.)
1.24.2008 8:12pm
Jim Hu:
I see Jeff W beat me to it the same conclusions. Note also that Mr. Beck presumably passed the first semester in order to take the second.
1.24.2008 8:13pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
True... some leftists think all conservative ideas are a form of hate speech. And all ideas that are in conflict with their's are conservative.
That word, "some", I do not think it means what you think it means. It didn't include "zero" the last time I checked.
1.24.2008 8:14pm
Scotts (mail):
"It isn't protected speech when worn by a student inside a high school full of minors and where in loco parentis still applies. In a public university setting, it most certainly would be..."

The 14' banner was unveiled on a public street as TV cameras went by, not at school. It was during school hours, but students had been permitted (not required) to leave school to watch the Olympic torch run through town, and the student in question had not actually reported to school. They didn't suspend him for truancy, they suspended him for 10 days for the content of his speech. Many adults were also in the audience. The idea that this banner would influence kids to try drugs is laughable, but the court ultimately decided that no matter how absurd, the implication of the statement was related to illegal behavior that the school had a good reason to discourage.

A student of any age telling their black teacher that they hoped for a lynching, no matter how absurd the context ("I hope you go back in time..."), is still related to illegal behavior the school has a good reason to discourage. The age of the student is not irrelevant, but the point of bringing up the Bong Hits 4 Jesus case was to remind us that "constitutionally protected" is based on an interpretation of the constitution and that dissenting from the prevailing interpretation is not evidence of "indoctrination" as DRB claimed. His claim to certainty, be it about what the Constitution actually means in some existential sense, or in what the Constitution has been taken to mean by Supreme Court jurisprudence, strikes me as rhetorical flourish and unnecessarily condescending. So I called him on it.

Expressing the hope that a member of a minority group die because they are a member of the minority group is threatening. The professor in this UGA situation didn't feel personally threatened, but he did worry about whether other students at the University might one day be threatened by someone so unhinged as Beck. This was a reasonable worry and exposing this student to the University authorities was a responsible course of action. The effect on other members of the minority group is the same consideration that hate crimes laws are based on, and if people want to argue that such laws should be considered unconstitutional, I'm sympathetic. But they have not so far been considered unconstitutional, so I have a hard time imagining the University losing a case about their harassment policy and enforcement thereof, based on the information provided in the one article I have read.
1.24.2008 8:15pm
Vinnie (mail):
The guy is a jerk. I think we will all accept that as a postulate, but it is still just his OPINION. You can hold any opinion that you want to. I hate to defend the jerk but the school did ask for his opinion.

The old saying:"opinions are like a$$holes. Everybody has one and some of them stink.
1.24.2008 8:19pm
Mr. Liberal:

Let's say this kid sued and "won" a judgment. Now, he's looking for a job, and the potential employer sees that when doing an evaluation, the kid made repeated, obnoxious, and bigoted remarks and then sued to enforce his right to be an obnoxious jerk. What employer in their right mind would hire him?

The school is doing the kid a favor by giving him a dose of reality when the stakes are relatively low.


This is pretty absurd. If the school had not unmasked his anonymity, no one would associate the name "Brian Beck" with "homophobic asshole" in the first place.

The school definitely is not doing Mr. Beck any favors. The idea that it is, is just crazy. Mr. Beck would have been much better off anonymous.
1.24.2008 8:19pm
holdfast (mail):
Just one thought - had the twit yelled out his obnoxious statatement in class, then it could be argued that he could be kicked out of class, not because of the contents of the speech but because of the disruption to the education of the other students, most of whom had presumably paid good money to hear about architecture stuff, not twit's views on alternate lifestyles. By putting it in the course evaluation, twit did not cause that disruption.
1.24.2008 8:22pm
Tom Maguire (mail):
Re the Multiplicity point being discussed - as I understand it, the argument is that the student effectively stuffed the ballot box by submitting multiple negative evaluations. E.G, this is from Mr. Liberal at 3:14 PM:


It is not right for one student to try to drown out the voices of other students by submitting multiple evaluations. In cases where this occurs, it is proper for the university to investigate the identity of that person.

And eventually someone noted that the student was cited for multiplicity.

However, from reading the Red and Black account it is pretty clear that the student submitted an offensive evaluation in January and a second one after a class ending in the spring semester; Disponzio let the first one drop but resumed the pursuit after the second incident.

So the multiplicity was not ballot-box stuffing; it was repeated annoying conduct, rather than one isolated incident.
1.24.2008 8:28pm
Tom M. (mail):
Re LM's 7:01 comment:
It's pretty clear from the referenced article that Beck's two reviews were given for different semesters and that he was not stuffing the ballot box. The first was sent in 'January' and the second after the 'spring semester'. The article talks about the 'course sequence'. It seems clear that the reference to 'multiplicity' has to do with his repeating the offense of sending a review deemed inappropriate, not with his inappropriately sending two reviews.
1.24.2008 8:29pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
With respect to the employer-stink, you'd be unpleasantly surprised at how poorly it can work. I know someone who did something equivalent to this in college (yelling "hope you die of AIDS" at the home of a professor, etc.) and still got into Harvard Law and got a 5th Circuit clerkship.
1.24.2008 8:29pm
Ed Minchau (mail) (www):
No Surprise wrote "The purpose of a course evaluation is to evaluate the course."

That can be done by the Dean simply by looking at the course syllabus; it wouldn't matter who the instructor was nor what any students thought of the course.

These types of evaluations are meant to gauge how well a particular instructor taught a course, and are more correctly labelled "instructor evaluations".
1.24.2008 8:30pm
Neo (mail):
This fool just didn't get the memo that you lie out your ass when you are in college. The quest for the degree is more important than the truth.

But frankly, if I was attending Franklin, I would organize a movement to have every student submit blank evaluation forms.
The college deserves nothing but distain; their evaluation is bogus; their promises are lies. So far, only the degree has any value.
1.24.2008 8:34pm
Tom M. (mail):
So after reading this blog for months and finally deciding to post something, someone else posts an almost identical response seconds earlier... sigh. And the same first name too.

Hmmm. Just heard a credible story about someone drafted into the army for six months by mistake because he had the same name, birth date and birth place as a draft dodger. Coincidence is a powerful force.
1.24.2008 8:35pm
Mr. Liberal:

With respect to the employer-stink, you'd be unpleasantly surprised at how poorly it can work. I know someone who did something equivalent to this in college (yelling "hope you die of AIDS" at the home of a professor, etc.) and still got into Harvard Law and got a 5th Circuit clerkship.


The difference. This story is all over the blogosphere and in the news media. I don't know how long before these stories end up coming up in a Google search.

I think this is unfortunate. We should all have the chance to be assholes without it becoming a scarlet letter tattooed on our forehead.
1.24.2008 8:35pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Based on your embarrassingly pitiful and incompetent attempt at a classroom evaluation, we have determined that you were erroneously admitted under the academic standards reserved for running backs. Since you have no prospect of leading us to a BCS bowl, your enrollment is hereby terminated."

Not so fast. With a little modification, that para could easily find itself in the mail slots of many an affirmative action admittee.
1.24.2008 8:37pm
Thomass (mail):
(link)Elliot Reed (mail):
""True... some leftists think all conservative ideas are a form of hate speech. And all ideas that are in conflict with their's are conservative."

That word, "some", I do not think it means what you think it means. It didn't include "zero" the last time I checked.""

I was thinking 'all' actually... but went with ‘some’ to be safe. No 'leftist' believes in free speech. If you believe in free speech, you’re not a 'leftist'.
1.24.2008 8:40pm
Roy Mustang:
So what's the name of the bitch at the Office of Student Affaris that decided to go fascist on us?
1.24.2008 8:40pm
Scote (mail):
To all those who do not think that

I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies.

can be reasonably interpreted as a threat. I suggest you type up that phrase, exchange the "he" with "the President" and send it to the Whitehouse.
1.24.2008 8:42pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
SafeSpace?

Always wear your space suit when venturing into a vacuum.
1.24.2008 8:46pm
Jim Hu:
Tom M. You missed by more than seconds ;)

Excerpt from my blog reaction:

The point of protecting anonymity is not how it protects the students right to make obnoxious but not immediately threatening comments. It's to protect other students so that they will make useful but critical comments about what we do as profs. If Prof. Disponzio can identify students who make homophobic comments in their evaluations and turn them into the thought police, what's stopping Prof Oiznopsid from using the same method to identify students who make critical comments in the first semester of his course sequence and giving them bad grades in the second semester. After all, this allows Oiznopsid to discount the criticisms as coming from malcontents who are doing poorly in his class.

Even if Disponzio has good cause to be offended by the comments, and even if the student is a jerk who would benefit from attitude adjustment, Along with his Dean and the rest of the UGA administration, he's pretty much destroyed the fiction that course evaluations are anonymous at all. Absent a clear and present threat - as opposed to a general feeling of being threatened by the existence of homophobic jerks among your students (I'm shocked, shocked)- I can't see how the price justifies any social value in sending the student to constructive self-criticism. Unless, of course, you want to destroy student evaluations as a tool for evaluating teaching quality. A lot of profs hate student evaluations... but I'm surprised they'd get such cooperation from the rest of the administration in sabotaging the system.

1.24.2008 8:46pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
To all those who do not think that


I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies.


can be reasonably interpreted as a threat. I suggest you type up that phrase, exchange the "he" with "the President" and send it to the Whitehouse.


Now suppose you posted it to DU?
1.24.2008 8:48pm
seadrive:
My experience is that promises of anonymity are rarely honored.
1.24.2008 8:53pm
Adam J:
Thomass - right, because it's the leftists that were opposed to bong hits for jesus and flag burning and publishing the pentagon papers.
1.24.2008 8:57pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
Scote: So the test of whether something can reasonably be interpreted as a threat is whether the Secret Service investigates it?

That's odd.
1.24.2008 8:57pm
-ronnie in new orleans-:
Whoever looked at the eval should have:

- determined it was written by an upset adolescent
- placed it in the wastebasket, probably after tearing it in little pieces
- deducted 1 from the number of evaluations received

If everybody who has ever wished somebody dead by the most vile means they could imagine was judged to be a "prick" we'd have pretty much nothing but pricks walking around. Seems that everyone on board making that judgement is jumping to blame even more quickly than the previously entitled "prick" did to his supposedly "queer" teacher.

A tempest in a teacup. The kind that university poobahs feel best qualified to handle. When somebody actually does represent a threat you will see these same folks hiding under the desk.

A waste of time and money that will not serve to improve the prospects or feelings of or toward the trans-gendered, gay, lesbian, or otherwise sexually unusual community of UGA. And demanding public humiliation will of course properly adjust the thinking of the angry one. No blowback there of course.

Just having his tirade disappear into the endless dogpile (pun on UGA!) of useless paper circulating in the university dumpster (and filing cabinets) would have been sufficiently punitive to end this "incident" appropriately.

But of course I'm not an attorney.
1.24.2008 8:59pm
Ed Minchau (mail) (www):
Milton wrote: "... does the college have no rights here?"

A college is not a human being, so no.
1.24.2008 9:07pm
carray:
Why is it a threat to say "I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies"? It seems to me the substantive nature of a threat lies in the lack of ambiguity of its agency. In this statement, the student is not the agent; rather, he is passive in that his words are subjunctive, entirely in the realm of wishfulness that is based on the action of the professor himself. The student has no control over whether the teacher "chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies." Instead, the teacher is the one in control; it is his actions that put him in the position of realizing all three items on the student's wish list. The student may wish the teacher ill but is not threatening him either directly or indirectly.

There is a difference between saying "I hope he chokes on my dick" (which is highly suggestive of violence against the teacher) and I hope he passes on as a result of his own activity. I'm going to kill you is not the same as I hope you die. The agent in the first is quite clear, in the second its quite ambiguous. So, wherein lies the threat which has forced the university to respond with a Soviet hammer?
1.24.2008 9:10pm
tarheel:

If everybody who has ever wished somebody dead by the most vile means they could imagine was judged to be a "prick" we'd have pretty much nothing but pricks walking around.

If the kid had secretly thought it . . . not a [let's say jerk]. If he had the guts to tell the teacher what he thought to his face . . . less of a [jerk]. Telling off the teacher only when he thought he would not have to own the words . . . total [jerk]. And yes, I would gladly call him a [jerk] to his face.

This doesn't give the school cause to violate a promise of anonymity, but I am having trouble feeling sorry for this kid. He is not a middle schooler. He is old enough to know how to interact in society with some degree of maturity.
1.24.2008 9:11pm
The General:

They taught all the kids a very valuable lesson. The government lies when it makes a promise.


YES!
1.24.2008 9:22pm
The General:
1,200 Words? I would only need 2.
1.24.2008 9:23pm
Ed Minchau (mail) (www):
That reminds me, General. If the university considers the act of writing a 1200 word essay to be a punishment, then are the English or Law professors exposing their students to cruel and unusual punishment? They typically ask for much longer essays.
1.24.2008 9:29pm
Kevin O'Brien (mail) (www):
There are a lot of messages here.

One is that Beck is a knucklehead. That probably won't be news to anyone who knows Beck in meatworld.

Another is that Disponzio is untrustworthy and petty. Again, probably not a revelation to those that knew him already, but as the many stories about this case will live on eternally on the net, it will be valuable information to the many students who must select the section of a class based on nothing but names and schedules on a website.

The third and perhaps most important is that if you (or your kid) goes to Georgia, the student had best be silent about anything that offends the PC godlings... lest he be trod upon by the Great Buggernaut, as was the unwise, outspoken, and none-too-bright Beck.

The fourth and final message is: if you write those fat checks to send your son or daughter to Georgia, you are making your child a peer of people like Brian Beck and a pawn of people like Joe Disponzio (not to mention the unnamed various apparatchiki of the administration).

The third and fourth points deserve careful consideration by potential Georgia parents. The administration and faculty are a unitary organism which may decide to treat your child as an infection. Most of the people debating this case in the comments are arguing the question of whether Beck's juvenile rant rose to a level that merits this treatment. The real question is, why would anybody believe that the level will stay where it was in the Beck case and not slip ever downward? Why would any parent take this risk? (Maybe this is already happening, and Beck -- and, presumably, his classmates -- couldn't get into any better school?)

The same is true if you are a hiring manager....

One last aside: the commenter (Ozzielaw?) who pointed out that ethical document examiners will not make an identification from faxed materials is correct. That would never have flown in an actual court, but of course the kangaroo courts of academe are something completely different -- and radically less just. So Beck is not only convicted of a thoughtcrime, he's convicted based on evidence as bogus as Bertillonage.

Then again, UGA probably still teaches Bertillonage. In the Phrenology department.
1.24.2008 9:37pm
JosephSlater (mail):
MXE writes: On a similar note, could a government agency (say, the FBI) fire an employee for walking up to his boss and telling him to "choke on a dick and die"? I strongly suspect the answer is yes.

The answer clearly is yes (see the public employee free speech cases, Connick, Pickering, and Garcetti).

Public employee free speech cases (warning: some oversimplification ahead) balance the importance of the speech to the public against the amount of disruption caused to the public employer in its role as employer.

A student-university relationship is at least somewhat analogous.

That is not to say I approve of the privacy-breaching or the particular "punishment" in this case. But it is not always a violation of the Constitution for public entities -- employers or schools -- to take disciplinary action against employees or students in reaction to their speech.
1.24.2008 9:50pm
blackminorca (mail) (www):
Let me guess - the defendent is heterosexual.

Yes, how convenient.

And what is the complicity of the administration in these so called "violations"?

What "disruption" or "harassment" existed in a confidential statement. It is only the public disclosure that created the "violations", if any.
1.24.2008 9:56pm
jdgjtr:
I am taking a few college courses and do not give honest evaluations for this very reason. I do not trust the school to not put 2 and 2 together and figure out that I am the one who gave a bad eval of a poorly prepared, often plagiarized course. I tell them what they want to hear, give no useful feedback and continue to pass my courses. I have decided they only want my money and whether I learn anything is immaterial. Such is education today.
1.24.2008 9:57pm
-ronnie in new orleans-:
"If the kid had secretly thought it . . . not a [let's say jerk]. If he had the guts to tell the teacher what he thought to his face . . . less of a [jerk]. Telling off the teacher only when he thought he would not have to own the words . . . total [jerk]. And yes, I would gladly call him a [jerk] to his face."

Just your opinion dude... and you're calling him a jerk and saying you'd face him in a post on the internet, in writing he'll never see, cause to him you're anonymous, or lets say being granted faux confidentiality. Sounds like you're venting to me, with no real likelihood or intent of ever confronting the guy. This [jerk] judgment, does that go for internet content too? Point is if he thought the so-called evaluation was really confidential then he could be just venting, the same as millions (maybe billions), do everyday or every minute on the web. Why should putting it on a piece of paper with no name attached be viewed differently? Guess we have a lot of [jerks] on the net. Thank goodness that's not a punishable crime in the US, or at least some people don't think it should be just yet.

I think his real problem is that he made the totally unwarranted assumption that the administrators were mature enough to blow his anger off as said venting and not make a big issue of it. This is not an attack on the constitution, or the professor, or diversity in education. It's a frontal assault on common sense. If this was an attitude held by a group, a political movement, a bunch of crazies or terrorists etc, I doubt you'd hear anything from the GA admin. This is a cowardly, vindictive pay back to somebody who is largely defenseless. Bravo UGA... what a brave response to injustice and tyranny.

And somebody explain the explicit threat in the natural chain of causality described by "hope" (which dies not imply individual action), "choking on a dick" (a discrete action with no definite outcome and the genesis of this particular dick is not identified), "getting AIDS" (which can be done without the dick), and dying (a common occurence which can be done without either the dick or the virus). This is the anonymously written rhetorical equivalent of saying "F%%% you and your mother" when someone cuts in front of you in traffic. Thank goodness we don't send all those people to re-training in automotive etiquette.

The triviality of this "incident" would be hard to top. UGA should be ashamed of themselves. But they probably think they're heroically defending academia. That's where we are.
1.24.2008 9:58pm
PersonFromPorlock:
Scote:

To all those who do not think that


I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies.


can be reasonably interpreted as a threat. I suggest you type up that phrase, exchange the "he" with "the President" and send it to the Whitehouse.




Julianne Malveaux once - on TV, no less - expressed a hope that Clarence Thomas's wife would feed him a rich diet so he'd die of a heart attack. Not much reaction except from the Right and even there she was criticised for being tasteless, not threatening.

Posting nastygrams to the President is definitely Not Recommended but the reaction you'd get there would be unique to the office.
1.24.2008 10:07pm
DeezRightWingNutz:

meatworld


I have never typed this before, with the possible exception of when I was mocking someone else. But... lol.

As for PersonfromPorlock:

UANAL? I hope you never need a good evaluation from this Beck character.
1.24.2008 10:12pm
Public_Defender (mail):

The school definitely is not doing Mr. Beck any favors. The idea that it is, is just crazy. Mr. Beck would have been much better off anonymous.


Until he was stupid enough to write something like that on an "anonymous" review in his office, or any work-related correspondence for that matter. The results would vary from what happened to this kid at the low end to immediate discharge at the high end.

He was being an obnoxious jerk. He got caught. He was ordered to apologize (at length) and to listen to people telling him was being an obnoxious jerk. He could have complained fairly if he had been expelled. But the university's response is proportionate to the offense.

Have some libertarians gone so off the deep end that they can't tolerate demanding an apology from someone who was an obnoxious jerk?
1.24.2008 10:15pm
E.B (mail):
Mr. Beck is being 'prosecuted' because of the particular view-point of his speech. First, I do not see really, given the unfortunate pervasiveness of 'gay' as a derogatory adjective, that you can conclusively assume 'I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies' or the 'gay Prof X' qualifier exclusively refers to sexual orientation and not general lameness/suckitude. The west coast youth slang is filled with such expresions as: "Ugh. I need to wash the gay off me", "that was gay (dull, boring)" and "your screenplay's gayness disgusts me." The expression 'I hope you get AIDS and die" has been around for ages. The cooler kids presently use "I hope you die in a fire". It seems a bit of a stretch, but there is some latent ambiguity here.
Second had Mr. Beck written "My professor is an unashamed catamite whose constant need to publicize his same-sex satyriasis interferred with his teaching and disgusted me", he would still be in trouble.

That said, Mr. Beck should be tossed for violating the immutable laws of minimal social decorum.
1.24.2008 10:23pm
-ronnie in new orleans-:
"He was being an obnoxious jerk. He got caught. He was ordered to apologize (at length) and to listen to people telling him was being an obnoxious jerk. He could have complained fairly if he had been expelled. But the university's response is proportionate to the offense."

Awful lot of effort to get him "caught." How many obnoxious jerks get the Sherlock Holmes treatment for a silly rant on a supposedly anonymous paper.

What if he said "I hope Bush sticks his d*** in his a** and gets AIDS and dies." Think it would have gone to the Secret Service.

Being an "obnoxious jerk" is an "offense" against what?? And rates a punishment? Like where?

Seems a bit arbitrary, and certainly silly and overdone.
1.24.2008 10:26pm
nk (mail) (www):
He would have certainly violated the commenting rules here, would he have not? He is a crude jackass. As for the First Amendment, why need taxpayers tolerate crude jackasses at public universities any more than private donors at private universities? What remedy would you allow the professor for the filth this student spewed? Could he challenge him to a duel? And what remedy would you allow the taxpayers who are paying the creep's tuition?
1.24.2008 10:37pm
nk (mail) (www):
BTW, Beuharnais v. Illinois is still good law. And this "speech" qualifies as fighting words outside First Amendment protection.
1.24.2008 10:40pm
Eugene Volokh (www):
nk: Could you give some authority for the proposition that written facially anonymous evaluations could constitute "fighting words," or that a ban on group libel that would apply to true statements (with a limited affirmative defense only for those true statements said "with good motives") survives Sullivan, Gertz, and Hepps?
1.24.2008 10:45pm
nk (mail) (www):
Professor Volokh,

I'm not sure that any of those three cases decided whether 'Resort to epithets or personal abuse is not in any proper sense communication of information or opinion safeguarded by the Constitution, and its punishment as a criminal act would raise no question under that instrument.' That's what I meant by Beauharnais still being good law.

And I don't know what impact Morse v. Frederick (Bong Hits for Jesus) would have in a university as opposed to a high school setting.
1.24.2008 11:26pm
Ex-Fed (mail):
Isn't the gravamen of "fighting words," to the extent the doctrine survives, the tendency to provoke imminent unlawful action? I think if you have to hire a handwriting expert to figure out who said it, the imminence is somewhat attenuated.
1.24.2008 11:32pm
nk (mail) (www):
P.S. I would also hope that this would not be considered protected speech.
1.24.2008 11:35pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
Directing a racial insult into the face of a person might well fall into any residual fighting words exception, since it is likely to provoke an immediate violent response. (Unless, of course, the statute prohibited only racial epithets and not all epithets, in which case it would fall like the statute in RAV).

However, you can probably rest easy for posting the youtube video, nk, because it isn't likely to provoke imminent lawless action against you. Unless you have a roommate who is reading over your shoulder.
1.24.2008 11:42pm
nk (mail) (www):
My view of First Amendment freedom of speech is that it protects the speaker for the benefit of the audience. So the test is, "Who on earth would want to hear this garbage?"
1.24.2008 11:48pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
That's nice. My view of the First Amendment is that I want a pony. A six-pack says I find controlling legal authority as soon, if not earlier, than you do.
1.24.2008 11:52pm
nk (mail) (www):
With the right appointments to the Supreme Court, we might both get our wish.
1.24.2008 11:56pm
Ex-Fed (mail) (www):
We may not need to wait that long. Souter looks like a guy who likes ponies.
1.24.2008 11:58pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
I'm wondering now: can a public university establish a code of conduct, including a requirement to speak civilly of each other at all times? If not, can the Post Office as a state actor prevent employees from telling customers that, "My boss is a real asshole"?
1.24.2008 11:58pm
Tern (mail):
The problem I have with this is that he was punished for making "harassment" and "disruption of the evaluation process."

The latter is ridiculous, and the former is thoughtcrime. What he said was beyond the pale - but Skokie established that even beyond the pale speech can still be protected.

When it comes to "harassment" and "disruption", who makes the determination? What guidelines exist? Or is the process put in the hands of a government official (this is a state university) who makes the determination on their own? My understanding of the First is that this puts too much power into a government official's hands. This policy is ripe for content discrimination. What safeguards exist so that political speech is protected, etc? There appear to be none, other than the views of the official himself.

Wonder if he called the FIRE?
1.25.2008 12:14am
edh (mail):
"To hell with all gay teachers who are terrible with their jobs and try to fail students!" ...

Sounds to me the student was punished by the school in retribution for reporting the teacher's bias against heterosexuals.

A protected activity that makes the school liable, no?
1.25.2008 12:23am
Eugene Volokh (www):
nk: Oh, I see -- the quote is from Cantwell v. Connecticut, though it was quoted by Chaplinsky and from there by Beauharnais. (Beauharnais' specific holding had to do with racial libel statutes, and the statute upheld in Beauharnais would certainly be struck down today, on the strength of Sullivan, Gertz, and Hepps, plus likely R.A.V.) In any case, the doctrine that this quote describes is generally thought to be the "fighting words" doctrine, and later cases (such as Cohen v. California) have made clear that this is limited to face-to-face statements that are likely to cause an imminent fight. Apparently anonymous class evaluations pretty clearly don't fall in that category.
1.25.2008 12:34am
Swen Swenson (mail) (www):
It seems to me that when you solicit anonymous course evaluations it comes with the territory that some will be perhaps more candid and less measured than you might like and it becomes incumbent upon you to take such comments with a shovel or two of salt. Much like anonymous blog comments, it should be expected that some will take the proferred anonymity as license to say some pretty vile things.

However, when the university breached their promise of anonymity they pretty much insured that their course evaluations will be less than candid in the future. I suppose it depends on what they wanted. If they wanted to solicit candid comments in an attempt to improve their offerings to the students they've made a bad mistake. If they wanted nothing but gushing "Oh my professors here at UGa are the bestest people I've ever met" testimonials to quote in alumni fundraising letters and newsletters to the 'rents then that's what they're going to get.
1.25.2008 12:51am
tired of blogs:
Perhaps in the social sciences I do more grading of handwritten work that law profs do, but I routinely recognize the handwriting of many of my students by the end of a term, so I often know whose comments I'm reading when I get my evaluations back. (Of course, my classes are never larger than 25 at this SLAC.)

Also, it's never been clear to me -- either here or at the two large research universities where I got my PhD and served as a postdoc (respectively) (and also often recognized the handwriting of students even in larger classes) -- that I was personally obligated to treat the identity of evaluators as confidential. Certainly nobody has ever asked me to sign anything that indicated that I would, or uttered a syllable about it during any of my new employee orientations.

It may be the case that I'm not allowed to share or quote the evaluations themselves (except apparently with the tenure committee, my chair, the dean, and the president if he's interested), just as I'm not allowed to share students' grades with anybody other than the registar (under FERPA), but nobody's ever addressed that in my training, either.

Would students' anonymous evaluations be protected under FERPA, or may I share the comments (and occasional doodles) that I receive with others? If I may share them, may I speculate about the identities of their authors, or am I obligated not to mention said identities even if I recognize a student's handwriting?

In general, I have to say that training of new faculty with regard to our obligations under FERPA and other laws that affect academia is AWOL at all three institutions that I've served.
1.25.2008 1:04am
whit:
"What if the note had said, “teacher, I am going to kill you at 5 p.m. today. I know you live at [insert address here].” I assume that we all agree that the school could pierce the veil of anonymity to find the student. Why? Because that speech is not protected speech. "

no. more precisely because that speech is a CRIMINAL ACT.

it's a criminal (true threat)

what the student wrote is NOT. it's disparaging words.

"You do note that students would not “expect” protection if they made death threats. But why should students expect protection if they make any sort of threatening or harassing speech that is not protected anyway? "

there is a huge difference between committing a crime WITH speech, and using offensive speech.

the former is a crime, and the latter is not

these were not criminal threAts. any police officer (or DA) in his right mind would tell you that if you tried to make a criminal complaint.

there is a huge difference between insulting somebody (what this student did) and using speech to commit a criminal act.

if you solicit allegedly anonymous EVALUATIONS, then you should understand that comes with the possibility somebody might say something mean to you, which is all this kid did.

is it justified breaching the PROMISED confidentiality because the kid was a meanie? no.

if the kid made a criminal threat ? yes.
1.25.2008 2:02am
Cousin Dave (mail):
It stuns me that there are as many people as their are on this thread who are attempting to argue for some sort of right to not be offended that takes precedence over the First Amendment. That's the diamond lane to hell, folks. And it doubly stuns me that many of same are implicitly arguing that only certain specially-protected demographic groups enjoy this right. Did I miss something? Was the Fourteenth Amendment repealed and I didn't hear about it? A couple of thoughts:

1. If I want to walk into City Hall wearing a T-shirt that says "Bong Hits 4 Jesus", I damn well can. And I dare any government authority to do anything about it.

2. I don't feel particularly sorry for Beck. I feel sorry for the next UGA student, who, now that the dike has been breached, is singled out by a professor who decides that any criticism of him at all constitutes hate speech.
1.25.2008 3:14am
ScottS (mail):
And somebody explain the explicit threat in the natural chain of causality described by "hope" (which dies not imply individual action), "choking on a dick" (a discrete action with no definite outcome and the genesis of this particular dick is not identified)... This is the anonymously written rhetorical equivalent of saying "F%%% you and your mother"

By parsing Beck and reading each segment literally, no you don't get an explicit threat. Whoopee. Does the whole thing, in context, make an indirect, implicit threat? It is reasonable to wonder if this student is not just a jerk but a menace and a threat to his gay classmates? Hey, I'm not sure about that, but I'm not so naive to believe that wishing a gay man die as the result of being gay is in any way comparable to "f^%$ you and your mother." That is, unless he isn't actually gay in the first place, in which case the following sad but true analysis might hold:

"First, I do not see really, given the unfortunate pervasiveness of 'gay' as a derogatory adjective, that you can conclusively assume 'I hope he chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies' or the 'gay Prof X' qualifier exclusively refers to sexual orientation and not general lameness/suckitude."

No, we can't _conclusively assume_ that. But students almost always know which of their teachers are gay, regardless of what is stated in class by teacher. It's intuitive. I even have a citation. The other students in this class could easily tell us whether the professor went out of his way to weave in references to his sexuality, or whether he was just an obviously gay man going about his business, or maybe that the evaluation was a non-sequitor by an impressively immature punk. The more likely situation is that this kid didn't learn much in this class because he was so wigged out by having an openly gay teacher, then turned around and blamed the teacher, but we don't know that.

"This is a cowardly, vindictive pay back to somebody who is largely defenseless."

You do mean Mr. Beck's comment, correct?


"he's pretty much destroyed the fiction that course evaluations are anonymous at all."

No one with half a brain thinks something they submit in their own handwriting is absolutely anonymous. That's what numerical evaluations are for. Some anonymous evaluations are helpful corroboration, but like anonymous quotes, have to be taken with a grain of salt by all concerned. If students have substantive criticism but are too lame to communicate that to the professor in a constructive fashion after the fact in their own handwriting so that the professor can improve, or too chicken to take a real outrage to other professors in the department, I don't much see why they should be taken all that seriously. The idea that a great number or % of students are now going to approach their course evaluations with a different mindset because of what happened when someone else wrote "I hope you choke on dick" is just insane. The easy way to avoid having your anonymity breached is to not write inflammatory nonsense in the first place. Since most students are not douchebags and don't see themselves as such, there is no great reason for them to feel an implicit threat that future confidential correspondence will not be respected as such. Oh wait, I forgot -- unless it is so explicit that it becomes a criminal threat, no one is allowed to act. I suspect that even if the school's action was perfectly legal, many would object that confidentiality is a principle that should be respected regardless of the letter of the law.

So is common decency.
1.25.2008 3:20am
NikFromNYC (mail):
First off, his obviously frustrated and immature tirade is actually funny as hell, and quite likely one of the most accurate and astute student evaluations of the actual inner demons of that teacher. It's possible dislike a person because they are neurotic, and if in this case it is because the teacher was injecting a bunch of gay culture activism into the course, then that's bad teaching indeed, and if a somewhat homophobic student feels that his attitude is effecting his grades more than the academic merit of his essay answers, then that's s real complaint too. The fact that he also disses us New Yorkers, well, now he deserves his spankings even if the college in question is a private one (and thus immune to limits on government power). The funniest thing though isn't his prose, it's the schizophrenic divide in our own culture, in which "sexual harassment" is policed in the workplace like crazy, in which even a local car repair shop's free bikini calendar is grounds for dismissal, all the while the musak speakers pump out "Hit that Ass!" rap music, in between commercials for "Cop Killer" movies. We have this huge Victorian Age type of divide between the raciness of our poetry (rock lyrics) and officially feined "shock" and emergency response when some college kid writes a few lines no different from what the comic on cable TV is spewing out.

Advice to budding comics: write with your left hand and make a numerated list instead of write with a given style.

Advice to students: don't take this sexually-confused guys course, or any other course about "History of X" in which X does not equal something your bicycle repairman would understand what it is about, because you just *know* it's going to be chock full of activist nonsense alongside the pure nonsense you must parrot back to the teach in order to disarm your reason.
1.25.2008 3:24am
NikFromNYC (mail):
Non-cursive translation of the student's comments:

"Joe Disponzio needs help with his issues dealing with homosexuality. Fags are not cool and neither are ney [sic] yorkers"

"Joe Disponzio strikes me as a poor teacher, for reasons I suspect revolve around a neurotic and narcissistic obsession with his sexual orientation, that in my humble opinion grossly interfere with his ability to teach about the History of Architecture. Overly "affected" homosexuals, who I usually associate with video footage of "Gay Pride" marches in New York City, which would be considered lewd at best and simply intolerable if held in the same bare buttocks fashion were the parade's theme that of "Porn Actors' Pride." Homosexuals with a lot of attitude (who for instance call each other "fags" in the same way inner city black youth enduringly call each other "niggas") make me dislike them as people. That Dr. Disponzio likely noticed my disdain for him as a person makes me highly suspicious that factors other than my admittedly less than perfect academic performance resulted in a lower than fair grade, and that is not 'cool' since though I may be a B student I am no D student fool. Since it is my opinion that Docker (sic) Disponzio from Ney (sic) Yo'k is adjusting grades for people like me who dislike him, I hope that Karma is real and he thus suffers for this in a most miserable way. Were I Karma, which I am not, nor intend to be, I would take notice of him indeed."
1.25.2008 3:46am
ScottS (mail):
"I feel sorry for the next UGA student, who, now that the dike has been breached, is singled out by a professor who decides that any criticism of him at all constitutes hate speech."

Ahh, the hypothetical non-victim claiming to be a victim is going to single out a student after a course has ended for revenge just for being generally critical. Not likely. If people like this hypothetical non-victim claiming to be a victim actually exist, they can already exert their pettiness in the rare instance that they 1) identify the student and 2) have the student in a future class; they don't need this Beck case to enable them. I highly doubt that such a hypothetical non-victim acting like a victim would seek out the administration to highlight their negative reviews with no evidence of bad faith and I further doubt that many administrators will take them playing the victim card seriously.

Expecting students to maintain a minimum level of decorum does not enable future ethical mayhem by their teachers. If you feel sorry for your hypothetical student being victimized by bogus claims of victimization, I feel just as sorry for the actual teachers who are occasionally accused of some prejudice or another by an unsophisticated or bitter student. Thankfully, most of the time the administration uses their common sense to dispel this garbage in both directions while keeping a mindful ear for reasonable claims of prejudice. This UGA situation isn't going to change that one iota.
1.25.2008 4:08am
ScottS (mail):
Non-cursive translation of NikfromNYC: I hate gay people for good reasons so the student must also hate gay people for good reasons.

Bottom line: you guys have a lot of hate and I think you have issues. Haters are not cool and neither are New Yorkers. Your karma ate your dogma.
1.25.2008 4:36am
Public_Defender (mail):

Being an "obnoxious jerk" is an "offense" against what?? And rates a punishment? Like where?


Like pretty much any professional or educational setting, especially if the "punishment" is apologizing and listening to someone tell you that you were wrong.

The guy got what he deserved. Nothing more, nothing less.

And to my colleagues on the left who agree with me that this jerk got what he deserved, remember this when some student group makes a similarly obnoxious diatribe against Jews, Israel, or conservative Christians.
1.25.2008 5:24am
markm (mail):
"On grounds of multiplicity" is unintelligible gibberish. I have to assume that it referred to repeating the offense in evaluating the second class, but when did it become acceptable for colleges to hire people who cannot write more clearly than that?
1.25.2008 8:11am
-ronnie in new orleans-:
- "Mr. Beck should be tossed for violating the immutable laws of minimal social decorum."

It wasn't "social", it was confidential. The only reason anybody had a chance to get offended is that UGA made it a public issue. Now instead of one person being offended the entire "gay community" is. Good job being real UGA.

- "Like pretty much any professional or educational setting, especially if the "punishment" is apologizing and listening to someone tell you that you were wrong."

Who says he's wrong! You. Of course I'm sure the childish essay will change this guys opinion of gay people. And public humiliation can be quite a severe result for writing something he never intended for public display in the first place.

"if you solicit allegedly anonymous EVALUATIONS, then you should understand that comes with the possibility somebody might say something mean to you, which is all this kid did."

Right... being a whore for opinions means you may not like all the tricks.

- "The problem I have with this is that he was punished for making "harassment" and "disruption" of the evaluation process."

Of course. Exactly who did he harass? And the disruption was caused by UGA making a big deal of it.

-----
How about the proctor of these evals saying before they are written something like...

"We would appreciate your opinions of the class and the instructor. These will be used to evaluate both. This is voluntary and will be held confidential and anonymous. If we deem the language of an evaluation to be overly personal or otherwise inappropriate they will be discarded. Please remember that this is only to aid in the improvement of the course and not to be used to describe serious issues that should be dealt with by the administration. Thank you for your cooperation."

That would be real, and grown up.

But... this seems to be UGA's.. from my own experience and their actions in this case

"We want you to write your opinion of the course and instructor. This will be held anonymous and confidential. Any negative comments will have an effect only if the administration has a hard on for this teacher in the first place, otherwise they will be ignored. Comments regarding the course will be ignored in all cases because we know what we are doing. It does cover our ass if we are asked if we have these on hand so please do fill them out. Don't make us make them up ourselves because it may result in your grade being delayed."

"And look here, if you anonymously and confidentially offend any sexually unusual person or person of color in this evaluation or use any language deemed inappropriate we may consult forensic, legal, and punishment experts to identify and humiliate you."

"Thank you for your cooperation. The 200 page handout contains all the words that, used in certain combinations, may be deemed offensive. Good luck!"

I have a wife and two sons that teach at universities and if ever one of them brought me an issue like this my advice would be to blow it off, it's not worth bothering over. That is AFTER I asked them if there was any valid reason for the guy to be this angry. Exactly why is he this unhinged about the course and teacher? Why make a silly public issue over the fact that someone you taught came to hate your guts?
1.25.2008 8:55am
Student:
As if anybody needed any more evidence that liberals are hypocrites. They'll launch a blizzard of lawsuits for the right to insult people who've died for their constitutional liberties, but some juvenile delinquent makes comments any reasonably mature human being ought to be able to ignore and the gestapo is out in full force.

For the professors around here, the evaluation process is a joke anyway. If you all take it so seriously, why do the questionnaires generally include questions about the fairness of the final exam and the professor's grading process, while requiring the forms to be submitted before finals have even started, much less before students know what their grades are. I've seen this in both undergrad and grad school. How about some relevant questions and more than five minutes to fill the thing out?
1.25.2008 9:03am
Milton (mail):
It's amazing to me that many are assuming rationality on the part of the student (that the teacher was somehow "overly gay" and deserving of ridicule because, after all, how dare the teacher be gay and actually mention it to the class, assuming he actually did such a thing).

Do students have a right to be extremely derogatory to an instructor in the university setting (not on a website or personal correspondence) and expect no backlash? If so, where does that right end? Could the kid say such things to the professors face in class and expect to be treated fairly? Does free speech mean you can say anything and expect no consequence?

So, I ask again, does the college have any right in this matter? The student isn't going to jail or being fined by a court. He exercised his free speech rights, but can't the school sever it's association with the student? Free speech works both ways, doesn't it? Attending college is not a constitutionally protected right, last I had checked, so can't the school ask the kid to leave at the end of the semester or at least to write a letter of apology to the instructor as a condition of continued admission to the school?
1.25.2008 9:23am
Adam J:
Cousin Dave has it right. Nobody should shed a tear for Beck, the smuck got what he deserved. However penalizing this speech also chills legitimate criticism, the kind of speech which the 1st amendment is supposed to protect.
1.25.2008 10:09am
Adam J:
I mean schmuck
1.25.2008 10:09am
Tony Tutins (mail):
I have never had a professor talk about his/her sexual orientation in class.

How students know that a professor is gay, in my experience:
- If the professor is good-looking, female students somehow learn and pass on the information to each other.
- Prof has been seen with same-sex partner, or picture of same-sex partner on desk observed during office hours.

I suppose there could be a flamboyant Rip Taylor/Paul Lynde/Charles Nelson Reilly-type professor, but I've never seen anyone like that.
1.25.2008 10:16am
Adeez (mail):
"As if anybody needed any more evidence that liberals are hypocrites. They'll launch a blizzard of lawsuits..."

New rule: before the next commenter here posts something about the evil "left" or "liberals," he/she first has to give a complete definition of what a liberal IS.

Thankfully, it tends to be more of the sporadic commenters who do it than the regulars. But it's tired, corny, and offers absolutely nothing to any discussion.

Geniuses: the world is not black &white. Every issue does not come down to "us" vs. "them." What's with this tendency to pick sides and find a "team" to which one must offer blind loyalty? That's what sports are for. This is real life.

So, to all those who begin there posts about how dumb/evil the left/liberals are: you're a joke. A self-parody. We're Rome right now shortly before the fall, and you clowns are still arguing about how millions of your fellow citizens are always so wrong. So many of you seem so sure you know what this fictitious "left" believes, yet in fact your posts show you have no fuckin clue.

So, next time someone wants to slur the evil liberals: since they're so evil, please define exactly who they are so that we could all look out for them on the street.

Student: you can set it off.
1.25.2008 10:26am
JosephSlater (mail):
Tony Tutins makes several good points in his posts above. In response to his question:

I'm wondering now: can a public university establish a code of conduct, including a requirement to speak civilly of each other at all times? If not, can the Post Office as a state actor prevent employees from telling customers that, "My boss is a real asshole"?

That's an important issue here. The answer, under current First Amendment doctrine, is clearly that the Post Office could fire that hypothetical employee without violating the First Amendment. See the Connick, Pickering, and Garcetti cases on the balancing test done for the First Amendment rights of government employees vis-a-vis their employers.

So, I posted above, state actors like public employers and public universities can punish certain types of speech without violating the constitution. There are, of course, close cases (hey, it's a balancing test), and the question of exactly when it's appropriate to do that is not the same question as when it's legal.

So, what exactly can and should a university do regarding restrictions of speech? I hope we all agree that if the student had yelled those insults out to the teacher in the middle of a class, the student could have legally been disciplined. That's not the same thing as requiring everyone always be "civil" (were that a real rule, it would strike me as illegally overbroad, unrealistic, and rather creepy).

Finally, again, I'm not endorsing the privacy-stripping or weird punishment in this case.
1.25.2008 10:46am
whit:
"Like pretty much any professional or educational setting, especially if the "punishment" is apologizing and listening to someone tell you that you were wrong.

The guy got what he deserved. Nothing more, nothing less.

And to my colleagues on the left who agree with me that this jerk got what he deserved, remember this when some student group makes a similarly obnoxious diatribe against Jews, Israel, or conservative Christians"

in an ANONYMOUS evaluation??>??

who cares?
1.25.2008 11:05am
Brian G (mail) (www):
This isn't surprising at all. The two universities I went to bent over (no pun intended) so far to cater to the homosexual crowd it became laughable.

I think what he said was silly and ignorant. But it is his right.
1.25.2008 11:10am
Jim Hu:
Student wrote

For the professors around here, the evaluation process is a joke anyway. If you all take it so seriously, why do the questionnaires generally include questions about the fairness of the final exam and the professor's grading process, while requiring the forms to be submitted before finals have even started, much less before students know what their grades are. I've seen this in both undergrad and grad school. How about some relevant questions and more than five minutes to fill the thing out?

1. The evaluation process is not the profs idea - it's imposed on them by the University (with good reason IMO). It's not surprising that many do as little as possible to implement it.
2. Doing the forms before finals is simply because the students wouldn't do them afterward.
3. Regarding more time and relevant questions, see #1 above.

Student evaluations are a highly flawed process. But they aren't completely useless, despite what many of my colleagues think. Doing teaching evaluation properly is probably nearly impossible and administrators should not just use the evalutations mechanically (as Georgia says they do). But when there are consistently low scores, or a pattern to recurring complaints, it can be a reason to take a look at what's going on in a class.
1.25.2008 12:04pm
Admiral Lord Nelson (mail):
It's interesting that universities continue to hide behind the transparent promise of anonymity and expect anyone intellgient enought to get into college to believe it. (Maybe they have a more realistic assessment than I of the abilities of those getting into colleges now??)

This isn't new. My aunt was a college professor who received a poll that the college administration was requesting all faculty complete. This consisted of about 10 questions with faculty ranking the administration's handling of several issues. There was an explicit promise of anonymity to be given to one's responses.

My aunt figured no good could come of this, and considerable evil might, so she saved the poll form uncompleted in her desk. Imagine her surprise about 6 weeks later to receive a call from the Dean's secretary advising her that they had not received her form and reminding her to fill in the form and send it in.

Sure enough, on examination under a Wood's light, there were her initials in flourescent but otherwise invisible ink on the lower right hand corner of the BACK of the sheet. And this was in the 1960's.
1.25.2008 1:00pm
-ronnie in new orleans-:
"This is a cowardly, vindictive pay back to somebody who is largely defenseless."

You do mean Mr. Beck's comment, correct?

------
No

Any part of "no" that you don't understand you'll need to take up with your spiritual advisor.
1.25.2008 1:24pm
Happyshooter:
If he wrote that "Prof. Doolittle subjects his students to a daily updates on the neverending spectacle of his admittedly colorful personal life while avoiding the class's putative subject altogether," we would not be having this discussion.

He did say that. You just don't like his tone.
1.25.2008 1:29pm
wfjag:
Ronnie:

Your confusion stems from your being in NOLA and not Athens, GA.

In response to an incompetent Prof. and/or jerk students and/or a lot of other aggravations, you have the option of doing something constructive, e.g., get a Half Muff from Central Grocery or a Fergie from Mothers, and a Barq's, take the street car to Loyola/Tulane, enjoy a stroll through Audubon Park and past the zoo, and then enjoy your meal on the levee while watching the hard bodies play frizbee with the dogs.

Not much is upsetting after that. And, nothing comparable in Athens, GA.
1.25.2008 1:49pm
rmark (mail):
"neither are ney [sic] yorkers."

More likely poor penmanship, not actually mispelled, since I suspect these are hand written evaluations.
1.25.2008 2:30pm
happylee:

Sure enough, on examination under a Wood's light, there were her initials in flourescent but otherwise invisible ink on the lower right hand corner of the BACK of the sheet. And this was in the 1960's.


Wow! I have known exactly one nice, competent and thoroughly normal university administrator in my life. One. The rest are nutsoid. But, hey, maybe that's the next protected class entitled to special privileges. Maybe Yale or Harvard will set up the first (very well funded) department of nutsoid stuides to probe the history of the struggle of nutsoids to be accepted for who they are, and to take over the levers of power from non-nutsoid-centric lowlifes, and to be free to be nutsoid anywhere, anytime...
1.25.2008 2:31pm
MXE (mail):
MXE writes: On a similar note, could a government agency (say, the FBI) fire an employee for walking up to his boss and telling him to "choke on a dick and die"? I strongly suspect the answer is yes.

The answer clearly is yes [...] A student-university relationship is at least somewhat analogous.

That is not to say I approve of the privacy-breaching or the particular "punishment" in this case. But it is not always a violation of the Constitution for public entities -- employers or schools -- to take disciplinary action against employees or students in reaction to their speech.


Thank you, Joseph. I appreciate the response. That was what I suspected!

Like you, I think the privacy breaching may (if the "exceptions" mentioned in the article weren't made clear) have been wrong, and the particular punishment was stupid. However, I'd love to hear someone's argument why, in light of the above public employee free speech precedents, this is a violation of the 1st Amendment.
1.25.2008 3:15pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Do students have a right to be extremely derogatory to an instructor in the university setting (not on a website or personal correspondence) and expect no backlash?"

Yes, if one thinks students have a right to believe the administration and faculty are telling the truth when they say a particular and specific communication will remain annonymous.

However, if the notion that the administration and faculty are telling the truth is so silly that no reasonable student would believe it, then there is no expectation.

I think the second case prevails here. No reasonable student at that university should believe the administration and faculty.
1.25.2008 3:24pm
whit:
"MXE writes: On a similar note, could a government agency (say, the FBI) fire an employee for walking up to his boss and telling him to "choke on a dick and die"? I strongly suspect the answer is yes. "

of course. and totally irrelevant to the issue. the kid didn't SAY this to his prof. and he certainly didn't say it in front of other people. he expressed his opinion in an EVALUATION that was CLAIMED to be anonymous.

that makes literally all the difference in the world.

if i solicit an anonymous evaluation from a trainee or a person under me in the chain of command (in any business setting), i would expect i might get something offensive.

really, this comes down to honor. the prof said the eval's would be anon. he is being dishonorable. basically, he's welshing (is that an ethnic slur against welsh people?) on his promise because his feelings got hurt.
1.25.2008 4:28pm
MXE (mail):
really, this comes down to honor. the prof said the eval's would be anon. he is being dishonorable.

No, he didn't. These evals are run by the administration of the university, and they forward the written responses to the professor. He then inferred the identity of the student from what he got from the administration.

I'm pretty sure that if anyone violated this student's privacy unfairly, it's the administration, not the prof. After all, it was their policy, and they were the ones who chose to take action against him. The professor only told them that he suspected this particular kid.

of course. and totally irrelevant to the issue.

It's extremely relevant to the question of whether the First Amendment prevents the university from taking action. Based on your post, you seem to think it's irrelevant because this case fundamentally hinges on the anonymity part (and on "honor," as you put it!), but I am talking about the constitutionality angle.

If the university really violated its anonymity policy, then it was wrong to do what it did. If not, I don't see how one could mount an effective First Amendment defense on the student's behalf.

that makes literally all the difference in the world.

Literally all the difference in the whole world? Nah, just a lot of difference.
1.25.2008 4:50pm
whit:
good point about the university taking action vs. the prof. i missed that.

my point was not about whether this was first amendment protected. my point was that it was dishonorable to claim the eval is anonymous, then to punish the kid for expressing his opinion in the eval.

i have no opinion as to whether his eval opinion was first amendment protected (and thus the punishment was constitutional violation). i merely think it's dishonest and wrong what the university did to the kid. he is the victim.

i 100% agree that if the kid had spurted out this "evaluation" to the professor in front of the class, they absolutely could discipline him. and that they would be 100% in the right to do so - both legally and morally.
1.25.2008 5:32pm
David Schwartz (mail):
I think there's really only an extremely minor and uninteresting question here. That question is what level of conduct should be required to pierce the promised veil of anonymity. If that level is only conduct that breaks the law (such as true threats) then the administration is wrong. If that level is any conduct the University could sanction, then the administration is right.

I think if I had never heard of this case and someone asked me what level of conduct would I suspect would be needed to pierce the veil of anonymity, I would likely say that only a true threat would qualify. But then if someone presented this case to me, I would probably re-think my earlier position.

I think it's reasonable to understand that the promise of anonymity is conditioned on useful participation in the evaluation process and that while non-participation shouldn't rise to the level of justifying piercing the veil, active obstruction should.

In any event, I don't think there's a first amendment issue here. The speech *content* is obviously protected, but just as obviously the University should be able to punish him for it. (The analogy of the post office employee who tells customers his boss is an "asshole" is right on point.)
1.25.2008 5:43pm
PersonFromPorlock:
MXE:

On a similar note, could a government agency (say, the FBI) fire an employee for walking up to his boss and telling him to "choke on a dick and die"? I strongly suspect the answer is yes. If so, why can't a state university punish a student for (in essence) walking up to his teacher and saying the same?

But who's the employer? The student is hiring the school's services, which gives him some claim to that status.
1.25.2008 6:56pm
Randy R. (mail):
Virtually everyone here has assumed that student found out about the teacher's sexual orientation because the teacher somehow talked about it. Some even assume he was some sort of flammer. All, of course, without any evidence whatsoever.

Since there is no evidence either way, suppose that the teacher made absolutely no comments about his sexual orientation (ahem, not 'confusion', as one person said)? Suppose he in fact is closeted?

In this light, then, the student's comments are much more threatening, because they student could be trying to 'out' the teacher and presumably destroy his career. Perhaps the student found out by stalking the teacher or otherwise invading his personal life to some degree. THAT could certainly be interpreted as threatening.

Another thing: Is it in fact established that the teacher is really gay? Or are we just making assumptions that he is? If the prof were actually straight, then are the comments more or less threatening? I don't know.

Finally, Beck submitted multiple evaluations, and some have argued that this was for two separate semesters. If the teacher was so bad, then why did Beck take his class again?

Moreover, we don't really know the dynamics of the class. We are all assuming that Beck is some generally okay student. But perhaps his class demeanor was disruptive, or somehow unsettling, and this commnent troubled the prof so much that it was the tipping point. (REcall, the prof ignored the first comment, and acted only when when he found it on the second evaluation)

Principles of assault state that it matters whethere the plaintiff felt threatened. Therefore, I would say that we cannot judge whether the comment was actually threatening without asking the prof, "Did you feel threatened?" If his answer is yes, then it was. If his answer was no, then it was not. Subjectivitly is the issue here.

Elliot: "How did the student know the prof was gay? If the prof told them this during classtime, isn't that fair game for evaluation comment?"

NO! If the prof were black, does that make his race fair game for evaluation comments? Are women subject to mysogynist comments just because they appear female?
1.25.2008 7:54pm
galeH (mail):
I give up. What does one learn in a class entitled "History of Build Environment"? History, I understand. Build Environment, not so much.

Google provides this:

"THE HISTORICAL STUDY of the American built environment emerged in the 1970s as a multidisciplinary investigation of the social, political, and cultural processes that produce buildings and landscapes."

This sounds like an expensive waste of time to me. "Multidisciplinary Investigation" has the ring of "We really don't know anything about this subject. We just make this stuff up as a fuzzy way of fleecing our customers and their parents out of a lot of money. Miss Kitty, find our most unqualified teacher and inform him/her of this career 'opportunity.'"

"...social, political, and cultural processes.." produce building and landscapes? That's the kind of language, that if it had any substance, would be useful on my lawn--to make it green.

No wonder broken promises of student anonymity and reeducation camps are in vogue at UGA and too many other places of Higher Education.

But then, I'm not a lawyer. And I didn't sleep at a Holiday Inn last night.

Let me see..."Amendment I: Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom of speech..."

UGA is obviously not congress. Is it a part of state government? Probably (then apply Amendment XIV). Does it become part of state or federal government when it begs for and receives state or federal subsidies and grants? My boundless ignorance provides no hint.

Is the student's speech profane? Probably. But, so what? It is protected. Winters v New York (1948); Cohen v. California (1971).

Is the student's speech evil? Possibly. But so what? Gertz v Welch (1974); New York Times v. Sullivan (1964).

Does the student's speech cause incitement. Not by the rules of Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969).

Is the student's speech a false statement of fact? We can't tell from VC'c post. Even if it is, it may be protected. (Gertz v. Welch).

Is the student's speech obscene? I don't think so under rules of obscenity. If it is, I don't see it meets the tests of Miller v. California.

Is the student's speech child pornography? Clearly not.

Is the student's speech threatening? No. Rhetorical hyperbole? Probably.

Are the student's words Fighting Words? No face to face speech occurred according to VC's post. So, no.

The speech is not the intellectual property of another.

The speech is not commercial advertising.

So, my not a lawyer question is : Where's the beef? Other than nanny stateism, "Speak not to offend sensitive ears," the U's position is smelly cheese in a small Norwegian country.

Opinions contrary to my analysis are welcome.

Not a Lawyer
1.25.2008 8:43pm
Sid (mail) (www):
The administration SHOULD have stopped this inquest at the beginning. No true or believeable threat was made. The dean should have looked at the professor and asked if there was something he could learn from the evaluations. The teachable moment has passed.

What can be learned? How does your student know your sexual oreintation when you teach a class on the history of architecture? Why are you matching handwriting samples of ANONYMOUS course evaluations to a students graded material? Are you grading impartially? Do students who disagree with you in class have a reason to fear for their grades? Are you a jerk in class?

Now, the dean and the administration have to ask "does this student have grounds for a lawsuit against us?"
1.25.2008 8:49pm
Hoosier:
What if a student wrote: "Prof. X must have led such an unusual life: I can't WAIT to read his obituary!"

Ambiguous enough to get the student off the hook?

Please let me know before the end of this semester. Thanks!
1.25.2008 9:17pm
Randy R. (mail):
GaleH: It's of course easy to make fun of classes that you don't know anything about. It's easy to understand if the class were entitled: "American architecture from 1970 to the present." But the class may not be just about buildings, but about the 'built environment', which may include things such as bridges, tunnels, airports, roads, cell towers, fences, manmade ponds and lakes, and so on, most of which would never be considered 'architecture' but are certainly built by people, not nature. They are part of our landscape and should be studied.

Is that valid to study? No less so than studying post-civili war American architecture, or perhaps Gothic cathedrals, in my mind. We have to live with this stuff all the time, so I'd like to know how and why those things got there, and why they look the way they do.

As for the social, political and cultural processes, well, of course any good architectural review class would include those! When we talk about the building of gothic cathredrals, we talk about why they were built, who built them, who benefited and who didn't. All that makes it far more interesting than just knowing the difference between the trefoil, quatrefoil and flamboyant styles. (And no, flamboyant refers to the curviness of the window designs, not the builders' sexual orientation.)

The 70s built a lot of horrible office buildings, ugly ramps and highways, and also destroyed a lot of terrific old neighborhoods and buildings. (Some decent things were built, I'll admit) But how did economic forces conspire to tear down old buildings, when today, old buildings command much higher value than old ones, in some circumstances? This was also the time period when the historical preservation movement really gained traction, so it's an important time period to analyse.

These questions, and possible answers, help us understand today's built environment. We can actually learn from our mistakes. I see nothing silly about that.
1.25.2008 9:22pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
gordon: "If it is a threat, then the U.S. Secret Service's time could be wholly taken up by the members of my department alone. If I had a dollar for every time one of my colleagues has said 'I hope Bush dies' since 2000, I'd be sailing in Florida right now."

Uh oh. It turns out that in 2004 the Secret Service got involved because some kids sang a 42-year old folk song that contained these words: "I hope that you die." Were your colleagues holding guitars? Maybe that's the key element that tips the balance into danger. Which is no surprise, when you take into account the kinds of things that people write on their guitars.

thomass: "No 'leftist' believes in free speech. If you believe in free speech, you’re not a 'leftist'. "

You should warn the President that leftists have taken over the Secret Service.
1.25.2008 9:40pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
happylee: "New Yorkers are notoriously arrogant and uppity; gay new yorkers ten times so."

You really didn't need to drag Giuliani into the discussion. And a bit of cross-dressing doesn't mean he's gay.

al: "he probably just thought that the professor was asking for a coarse evaluation"

Thanks, I think that's the funniest comment so far.
1.25.2008 9:40pm
K Parker (mail):
Ben P,
would a comment saying "I like powerpoints, more powerpoints" be vacuous?
I can't speak to the vacousness, but for sure it would earn you death threats. :-)
1.25.2008 10:17pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"NO! If the prof were black, does that make his race fair game for evaluation comments? Are women subject to mysogynist comments just because they appear female?"

Appearing black or female is very different from revealing information that is not readily apparent. I'm not sure how we determine someone is gay unless we see them engaged in homosexual relations or they tell us. Do you know any other ways to tell?

As you say, we know nothing about the class or conduct of either student of professor. So, my speculation regards the possible situation where the professor repeatedly tells the students in class that he is gay, and uses his platform to lecture on the gay agenda. Did this happen? I don't know. But I have encountered professors who did just that. They seemed to think we cared about gays and their sex life, and they repeatedly bored the class by talking about it. If that was the case, then the classtime references make the prof's orientation fair game for evaluation comment.
1.25.2008 10:21pm
K Parker (mail):
tired,

Could you de-acronymize SLAC for me please?


JosephSlater,

A question about current doctrine about the "Post Office" scenario: surely it matters whether or not the speech happens at work, doesn't it? It's one thing to fire a Postal employee for saying "My boss is an asshole" while handing me the stamps I just bought, and quite another to fire him because it was somehow found out that he said it to me while we were having a drink together after work.

Admiral,

So don't keep us hanging--what did your aunt do???
1.25.2008 11:03pm
Randy R. (mail):
Elliot: " I'm not sure how we determine someone is gay unless we see them engaged in homosexual relations or they tell us. Do you know any other ways to tell? "

Actually, Andrew Sullivan points to a recent study that showed that about hetero people could tell someone was gay from a photograph alone about 70% of the time. So, many people just have good gaydar.

You are making a lot of assumptions. It's possible that the prof mentioned he was gay a few times, but that hardly warrants an attack like this.

"Appearing black or female is very different from revealing information that is not readily apparent." How so? And how would that justify rude comments by the student in the case of a gay prof, but not a black or female prof. And, unless you have been living under a rock the past few decades, trying to figure a person's race isn't always 'readily apparent.' If you aren't sure whether a prof is black, white, or some combination thereof (think Tiger Woods), then it's okay for a student to make rude comments if the prof actually did clarify for whatever reason?

Sorry, I just don't understand the double standard.
1.25.2008 11:31pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"The student is hiring the school's services..."

I pay to send my daughter to school. That doesn't mean she can do or say anything she pleases. The school has certain codes and standards of dress and behavior which she (and I) agree not to violate. If she violates them, she can be punished or expelled.

I'm struggling to understand in which universe it's excusable for a student to write, anonymously or otherwise, that he hopes his teacher "chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies" and not be found out and reprimanded for it.

What if a student wrote an anonymous note to a female professor saying, "I hope you get gang-raped within an inch of your life, you feminist bitch" and taped it to her office door? Wouldn't the school be justified in finding out the identity of this person and punishing him? Would this be considered "free speech"? Would this student be justified in saying that his "anonymity had been violated"?

It's interesting to note some of the same people who took Barack Obama to task for for associating with Jeremiah Wright, now turn around and defend this student's "right" to poison the atmosphere of an educational institute with his violent, bigoted sentiments. And these are violent sentiments, no less so than hoping your black professor "gets lynched" or that
your Jewish professor should be "shoved in an oven."
1.26.2008 12:56am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"What if a student accuses a professor of being a 'feminazi' or a 'male chauvinist,' and the university chooses to interpret that as resting partly on the professor's sex as well as the professor's views."

Yeah. Now let's see what genuinely equivalent statements might look like:

"You need to get f****d to death, you feminazi."

"I hope someone cuts your **** off, you male chauvinist."

Are we still "concerned" about students "right" to speak thusly on an evaluation form meant for the eyes of the administration and the professor?
1.26.2008 1:15am
Grover Gardner (mail):
And I'd like to know--how many people would be happy if their own kid did this?
1.26.2008 1:20am
Hoosier:
>>All that makes it far more interesting than just knowing the difference between the trefoil, quatrefoil and flamboyant styles.

Well no WONDER he thought the prof was gay!
1.26.2008 1:21am
Elliot123 (mail):
"Actually, Andrew Sullivan points to a recent study that showed that about hetero people could tell someone was gay from a photograph alone about 70% of the time. So, many people just have good gaydar."

I gave up on Sullivan when he ceased to make sense. But, even accepting his figures, it certainly doesn't provide sufficient probability to support any action or conclusion.

"You are making a lot of assumptions. It's possible that the prof mentioned he was gay a few times, but that hardly warrants an attack like this."

I am making no assumptions. I am presenting a speculation on a possible situation that would justify commenting on a professor's sexuality in an evaluation. There are other speculations of different situations which would be equally valid given our lack of knowledge of what happened inside the classroom. You offer one such speculation by pointing out the prof may have mentioned he was gay a few times, and you then say those few mentions would not merit the response. OK. And it's also possible he never mentioned anything. But, our ignorance of the exact circumstances in no way should hinder us from speculating on possible situations and how they would bear on the matter.

"'Appearing black or female is very different from revealing information that is not readily apparent.' How so?"

I am somewhat at a loss as to how to answer this. Dark skin color and negroid features indicate a person is what we call black. Breasts, dresses, skirts, softer skin, curvy figure, and longer and fuller hair are all indicators that one is a female. No other information has to be given for us to recognize a woman or a black. Therefore, race and gender are not introduced into the classroom by the profesor. No discussion is necessary for us to know someone is black or female. However, I have no idea how we are to know someone is gay unless they tell us. If someone spends class time talking about their race, gender, or sexual orientation, then those issues are fair game on the evaluation.

"Sorry, I just don't understand the double standard."

There is no double standard. If someone talks about an issue, then it is fair game on an evaluation. If a prof spends class time talking about his gender, race, or sexuality, then he is activey intoducing the subject. If there is no mention made, it is still obvious a person is a woman or a black. Perhaps you can give us some pointers to show us how to identify a gay and develop gaydar?

I agree race is not always apparent. And you forgot to mention that skilled cross-dressers can fool us.
1.26.2008 1:44am
Elliot123 (mail):
"I'm struggling to understand in which universe it's excusable for a student to write, anonymously or otherwise, that he hopes his teacher "chokes on a dick, gets AIDS and dies" and not be found out and reprimanded for it."

It's the universe in which the school promises that this specific and particular communication will remain anonymous. It's the universe in which university administrators and faculty can be taken at their word.

The student writing to the prof and taping the note to the door has not been promised the note and its contents will remain anonymous. But, they were assured the evaluations would remain so. It would be very simple for the administration to say evaluations will remain anonymous unless the professor and administration think they are rude and poisonous to the university atmosphere.

Can you tell us about the promises of anonymity involved in the public statements by Obama and Wright?
1.26.2008 1:55am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"But, our ignorance of the exact circumstances in no way should hinder us from speculating on possible situations and how they would bear on the matter."

In other words, I can make shit up and pretend it justifies my position.

"Dark skin color and negroid features indicate a person is what we call black."

Keep digging, Elliot.

"If someone spends class time talking about their race, gender, or sexual orientation, then those issues are fair game on the evaluation."

So a professor says, "For example, I'm a woman, so under this law..." and that justifies obscene, bigoted comments on a student evaluation form? Sure, I can see that.
1.26.2008 1:57am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"It's the universe in which the school promises that this specific and particular communication will remain anonymous. It's the universe in which university administrators and faculty can be taken at their word."

Then there's this other universe, Elliot, where the school has a code of student behavior which it is bound to uphold, for the sake of its educational mission and out of obligation the other students who *also* pay to go to that school, and who might reasonably expect that code to be upheld.

"The student writing to the prof and taping the note to the door has not been promised the note and its contents will remain anonymous. But, they were assured the evaluations would remain so."

And then this kid violated the student code of behavior. Why should he have any expectation of privacy after he failed to observe a clear, written set of rules?

"It would be very simple for the administration to say evaluations will remain anonymous unless the professor and administration think they are rude and poisonous to the university atmosphere."

That's what the code of behavior is for, Elliot.

"Can you tell us about the promises of anonymity involved in the public statements by Obama and Wright?"

Can you tell us why a thread-bare legalism trumps everyone else's rights in this instance?
1.26.2008 2:06am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"All lewd, obscene, indecent behavior, or other forms of disorderly
conduct on University property or at any function sponsored or super-
vised by the University is prohibited. This includes belligerent,
abusive, profane, and/or threatening behavior, and conduct which is
patently offensive to the prevailing standards of a college community,
..."

Seems pretty clear to me.
1.26.2008 2:21am
Grover Gardner (mail):
Harassment or unlawful discriminatory activities based on age,
ethnicity, gender, handicapping condition, national origin, race,
religion, sexual orientation or veteran status, or violation of University
rules governing harassment or discrimination are prohibited.
"Harassment includes but is not limited to the following:
1. any act of intimidation, harassment, or threat of physical violence
or threat of physical violence directed to another person in any
manner, including any terroristic threats;
2. intentionally and/or repeatedly following or contacting another
person in a manner that intimidates, harasses, or places another in
fear of their personal safety or that of their property;
3. any behavior that is threatening or intimidating on the basis of race,
national or ethnic origin, creed, age, sex, or sexual orientation, or
disability."

I smell a violation.
1.26.2008 2:31am
neurodoc:
rbj: Gee, for once I agree with Randy Cohen.
Even a stopped clock gives the right time twice in every 24 hours. I don't think Cohen gives the "right" (i.e., non-idiotic) answer as frequently as does the stopped clock. I would say that his column in the Sunday magazine is the stupidest thing to run in the paper, but that would probably incite others to jump in to claim the distinction for their "favorite" NYT regulars. And those claims would largely reflect different ideologic biases, whereas I object to Cohen purely on the basis of the stupidity of the advice he gives.
1.26.2008 2:35am
neurodoc:
More Randy Cohen: I have a dim recollection of Cohen's response to a reader who related that they kept a pot in their house that was supposed to be reserved exclusively for the use of his kashrus (kosher) observing brother-in-law when he visited them. The reader revealed that he did use that pot on other occasions for non-kosher food and asked Cohen whether he should feel guilty for doing so, since his brother-in-law never knew about it. Cohen reamed the guy out (like the stopped clock, Cohen does come up with the right answer on occasion), and then with glee published the reader's name, something not ordinarily done. Now I think the reader fully deserved what he got, and I don't think Cohen gives an explicity guarantee of anonymity, just an implied one, but I'm not sure about the ethicist's ethics in doing what he did, and I think it interesting given his opinion in the UofGA case.

It seems to me that there are two separable issues here, that of the school's promise of anonymity and that of the substance of what the student wrote. If there were no promise of anonymity, but otherwise similar facts, what then? If the student was headed for a D or an F in the class and just wanted to let the professor know how much he hated him, and there was no explicit pledge of anonymity, then more acceptable that the student should have been disciplined for what he wrote? Suppose that the student didn't hand it in as an end-of-term evaluation, but in imitation of Martin Luther, he had taped it to the professor's office door, would that have been much different, perhaps more egregious? (Grover Gardner's hypothetical) If it were a private university rather than a state one, would/should the school have more latitude in disciplining the student?

If I were obliged to accept Beck as a client, then as his attorney it would be my professional responsibility to represent him to the best of my abilities, ignoring his odiousness. But I wouldn't try to find exculpation or mitigation in anything the professor did or said to "provoke" Beck's despicable utterances, unless it was truly extraordinary and arguably on point (e.g., the professor had openly humiliated Beck, perhaps mocking his sexuality).
1.26.2008 3:36am
tarheel:
For those questioning the content or name of the course, UGA has a very well known program in architectural history, which is what this class is part of. Interestingly, people in landscape architecture, as this kid was, are required to take classes in architectural history (and vice-versa).

This is important for two reasons relevant to this case: (1) I know a lot of architectural historians, and I can scarcely remember more than one or two who are not either female or gay males; and (2) from what I understand from grads of the program, the landscape people are almost universally quite bitter at being forced to take the history classes. Whether (1) and (2) are related, I don't know.
1.26.2008 7:45am
steve miller (mail):
Clearly, Beck should hire a lawyer to get access to ALL the evaluations for this course to see if he were unfairly discriminated against. Were there other evaluations equally offensive? Were there other evaluations that used similar language but were complimentary? I think it is very unfair for Beck not to see whether his evaluation is completely out of line with others, and whether he is being singled out. This has the smell of a fat, juicy lawsuit against the university. I predict that if the lawsuit were to proceed to the discovery phase that the university will fold, either because they've destroyed the other evaluations, or because they have them &realize how they are discriminating against one student.

Too bad for Beck that he hasn't learned the unwritten law of evaluations of ANY kind: never tell the truth, and NEVER, EVER SAY SOMETHING NEGATIVE. Leave it blank, don't respond to the request, or write something completely contentless, such as "The course syllabus included many interesting details about [subject x]."

And to those who think evaluations are useful: they are, but not in the way you think they are. The comments are widely discarded and NOT used at all, because they do not sum up numerically. No one is actually looking for your advice as expressed in a comment form. It's a numbers game, and the numbers themselves are used to support contradictory statements depending on the need of the ones who are using the numbers.

It's too bad Beck had to be outed by someone who had the vapors. I don't find his speech particularly interesting; indeed, it seems adolescent. But here's how I treat speech that I don't like: I either don't listen to it in the first place, or I ignore it. Pretty much disables the speaker with very little cost.

Beck's supposedly anonymous speech is the equivalent of "yo mama!" So mark it as so, and move on to more important things in life.
1.26.2008 11:25am
Elliot123 (mail):
"In other words, I can make shit up and pretend it justifies my position."

You could do that if that was the only intelligent speculation you could offer. However, most of us can look at an action and make an attempt at speculating on what type of situation might justify that action.

"'Dark skin color and negroid features indicate a person is what we call black."

Keep digging, Elliot."


Well, that's my best attempt at identifying an American black. Since we have so many programs where race is a determining factor, it's reasonable to presume we identify people by race. Just look at all the problem with racial profiling ccusatons. So, could you help us out and tell us how we identify a black in America? What do we look for? What indicates one is a black American? Is it possible? Maybe you hve better ways?

"So a professor says, "For example, I'm a woman, so under this law..." and that justifies obscene, bigoted comments on a student evaluation form? Sure, I can see that."

No. A professor tells the class she is a woman, which I hope would be obvious. (But who knows? Maybe it's just as hard to determine as being black?) Then she talks about all the problems she encounters as a woman. Then she talks about the problems of women in America in general. And these are topics she repeatedly returns to during classtime.
1.26.2008 12:54pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Then there's this other universe, Elliot, where the school has a code of student behavior which it is bound to uphold, for the sake of its educational mission and out of obligation the other students who *also* pay to go to that school, and who might reasonably expect that code to be upheld."

That's correct. So, in that universe, why do they feel it is necessary to lie about the anonymity of the evaluations? In that universe I would expect the administratio has a code of behavior just as the student bOdy has a code of behavior. That code would preclude saying a specific and particular communication was anonymous whan it was not. It might be reasonable in that universe to be able to believe what the administration says.

"And then this kid violated the student code of behavior. Why should he have any expectation of privacy after he failed to observe a clear, written set of rules?"

If you are speaking of the student taping the note to the door, you are correct. There is no promise of anonymity, so there is no expectation of anonymity.

"'It would be very simple for the administration to say evaluations will remain anonymous unless the professor and administration think they are rude and poisonous to the university atmosphere.'

That's what the code of behavior is for, Elliot."


If that is the case, the administration is not justifed in promising anonymity. Just say the evaluations are anonymous unless they are seen to violate any other university code. That's easy to say.

"Can you tell us why a thread-bare legalism trumps everyone else's rights in this instance?"

Sorry. I don't know waht you mean here. When you compared ths situation to Obama and Wright, I asked what anonymity was involved in the public statements of Obama amd Wright. Perhaps you can elaborate on your answer to show it is responsive?
1.26.2008 1:05pm
Randy R. (mail):
Elliot: " A professor tells the class she is a woman, which I hope would be obvious. (But who knows? Maybe it's just as hard to determine as being black?) Then she talks about all the problems she encounters as a woman. Then she talks about the problems of women in America in general. And these are topics she repeatedly returns to during classtime."

And so if Beck wrote, "I hope this c*** gets gang-banged and dies" it would be perfectly understandable.

Wow.
1.26.2008 1:29pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"And so if Beck wrote, "I hope this c*** gets gang-banged and dies" it would be perfectly understandable.

Wow."


It would certainly be fair game for comment, and the understandability of the content of the evaluation comment would be a function of the content of the professor's class time content.

We started this exchange when I said such things were fair game for comment, and you said they were not. My position is that the professor opens the door to such comment if he engages the subject during class time. Otherwise we have the peculiar situation where certain subjects and content are appropriate in class, but not on the evaluation.
1.26.2008 1:52pm
Kev (mail) (www):
It stuns me that there are as many people as their are on this thread who are attempting to argue for some sort of right to not be offended that takes precedence over the First Amendment.

Cousin Dave nailed it. There is no Constitutional right to not be offended, nor should there be.

When I got teased as a kid (as kids often do), I would sometimes come home and complain to Mom about it for a second, and she would respond with the tried-and-true "momily" that went, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me." But the PC movement has turned it on its side, so that now, it's more like, "If you hurt me with words, I'll break your bones with sticks and stones" (with said sticks and stones usually coming in the form of lawsuits, speech control, etc.).

It's time to stop the PC movement and stand up for the First Amendment. Why not here? Why not now?
1.26.2008 2:31pm
Elliot123 (mail):
The PC movement seems to support the curious notion that the majority of straight white and Asian males are emotionally and psychologically strong enough to handle verbal attacks, while blacks, women, gays, and Mexicans are not. I say this because observation shows that the PC folks are almost always concerned with the blacks, women, gays, and Mexicans, and rarely spring to the defense of straight white and Asian males.

I'd suggest that is a very ufair steroetyping of blacks, women, gays, and Mexicans. Why would anyone think they are less emotionally and psychologically fit? Actually, the way the Mexicans are busting their asses in the workforce, it probably won't be too long before the PC folks rank them with the whites and Asians as oppressors.
1.26.2008 2:47pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"My position is that the professor opens the door to such comment if he engages the subject during class time."

I agree with you Elliot. Any teacher who engages in discussions of any sort which are highly personal in nature and/or not germane to the topic at hand could fairly be criticized for introducing a distracting element into the classroom. To my mind, that does NOT include obscenities directed at the teacher's gender, race or sexual orientation.

"The PC movement seems to support the curious notion that the majority of straight white and Asian males are emotionally and psychologically strong enough to handle verbal attacks, while blacks, women, gays, and Mexicans are not."

Can you give me some names, Elliot?
1.26.2008 3:55pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"When I got teased as a kid (as kids often do), I would sometimes come home and complain to Mom about it for a second, and she would respond with the tried-and-true 'momily' that went, 'Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me.'"

What would your mom have said if you'd suggested that your teacher should "choke on a dick, get AIDS and die"?
1.26.2008 4:00pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"If that is the case, the administration is not justifed in promising anonymity."

Why does the administration have uphold its end of the bargain when the student fails to uphold his?
1.26.2008 4:03pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I agree with you Elliot. Any teacher who engages in discussions of any sort which are highly personal in nature and/or not germane to the topic at hand could fairly be criticized for introducing a distracting element into the classroom. To my mind, that does NOT include obscenities directed at the teacher's gender, race or sexual orientation."

If obscenity was used in the classroom, or if it was directed at the student's gender, race, or sexual orientation, then I see no reason to preclude it from the evaluation while allowing it in the classroom.

"Can you give me some names, Elliot?"

Provost Marty Krauss and Director of Employment Jesse Simone of Brandies University.
1.26.2008 7:23pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Why does the administration have uphold its end of the bargain when the student fails to uphold his?"

If the content of the evaluations is subject to every other speech regulation and rule of the university, then the initial promise of anonymity is fraudulent, and the entire evaluation system is simply a fraud perpetuated on the student body. If the students are told to say whatever they want and it will remain anonymous that is an implicit waiver of a host of other speech regulations. The student was acing in good faith by relying on the word of the university administration. The administration was acting in bad faith by making a promise it had no intention of honoring.

I'd be very interested in seeing the written instructions and policy on the evaluations. But lacking that, we can dream up hypotheticals.
1.26.2008 7:35pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"If the content of the evaluations is subject to every other speech regulation and rule of the university, then the initial promise of anonymity is fraudulent..."

How so? As long as a student uses the evaluation forms for their intended purpose, and observes the code of behavior, they can have every expectation that their anonymity would be preserved. But if a student uses that form to issue a threat against the teacher, then that student has broken his end of the bargain. Some people here don't see the threat in this particular instance, but I would argue that the obscene language and harsh sentiments, combined with a reference to "all gay teachers" who "try to fail students" could reasonably set off alarm bells for the administration, especially in the wake of the V Tech incident.

Anonymity is one thing. But the student would certainly know that *somebody* was going to read those forms. And as such, he could reasonably expect a reaction from the administration if he crossed the line.

'The student was acing in good faith by relying on the word of the university administration.'

I'm having trouble seeing the "good faith" exhibited by the student here. He abused the evaluation process to vent obscene language and intimidating sentiments.

"I'd be very interested in seeing the written instructions and policy on the evaluations. But lacking that, we can dream up hypotheticals."

That's your game, Elliot--suggesting, for instance, that the teacher flaunted his sexuality and/or engaged in obscene behavior in his class. My opinion is based on what is presented in the article and the language contained in the official code of behavior from the Student Handbook. I'm not posing any hypotheticals.

"Provost Marty Krauss and Director of Employment Jesse Simone of Brandies University."

There we go. Much better to be specific, don't you think?
1.26.2008 9:37pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
Now about Krauss and Simone, member of the "PC movement"--any evidence that they wouldn't handle a threat to a white, straight teacher in the same manner? Or is this another "hypothetical"?
1.26.2008 9:42pm
Hoosier:
"Why does the administration have uphold its end of the bargain when the student fails to uphold his?"

Power differential; state vs. private actor distinction; administration is, presumably, not composed of late-adolescents; likely selective bias issues arise when it is discovered that student behavior code is not enforced consistently . . .
1.26.2008 9:53pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"As long as a student uses the evaluation forms for their intended purpose, and observes the code of behavior, they can have every expectation that their anonymity would be preserved."

We don't know the intended purpose. If the administration said they could say anything on the evaluations and they would remain anonymous, then the administration has a purpose in running the program. Given an opportunity to speak freely, then the student has a different purpose. That's why it would be instructive to know the written policy and guideliens on the evaluation program.

"but I would argue that the obscene language and harsh sentiments, combined with a reference to "all gay teachers" who "try to fail students" could reasonably set off alarm bells for the administration, especially in the wake of the V Tech incident."

That certainly is a plausible speculation on the admin's reaction. But, their actions show something different. Rather than call the police, they called a handwritig expert and assigned a 1200 word essay. Hardly a VTech situation in their mnds.

"Anonymity is one thing. But the student would certainly know that *somebody* was going to read those forms. And as such, he could reasonably expect a reaction from the administration if he crossed the line."

I would agree if a line was defined for the evaluation program. Since normal speech regulations at the school do not include anonymity, we can speculate that no line was defined for this specific and particular communication. Applying normal speech guideliens, no anonymity could ever be granted. But they said the evaluations were anonymous.

"I'm having trouble seeing the "good faith" exhibited by the student here. He abused the evaluation process to vent obscene language and intimidating sentiments."

The good faith on the student's part is his belief that the admin was telling the truth, and the basing of his subsequent actions on that belief. He was acting under their express promise of anonymity, a promise they obviously did not intend to honor.

"That's your game, Elliot--suggesting, for instance, that the teacher flaunted his sexuality and/or engaged in obscene behavior in his class. My opinion is based on what is presented in the article and the language contained in the official code of behavior from the Student Handbook. I'm not posing any hypotheticals."


I agree. I am posing a hypothetical that would justify the student's evaluation submission. And the paucity of information in the article leaves all kinds of room for such hypotheticals. For example, the article dosn't tell us about the written policies for the evaluation, nor does it tell us the verbal instructions and assurances given when the evaluation forms were distributed.

"There we go. Much better to be specific, don't you think?"

Better? Could be. It depends on one's purpose in writing something. The writer uses whatever tools he feels best suit his purpose.
1.26.2008 11:24pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"Now about Krauss and Simone, member of the "PC movement"--any evidence that they wouldn't handle a threat to a white, straight teacher in the same manner? Or is this another "hypothetical"?"

It's an answer to your request for names. These two are acting on a female's complaint about an insult to Mexicans. They have apparently also granted anonymity to the female. I hope she doesn't put too much faith in it.
1.26.2008 11:27pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"Rather than call the police, they called a handwritig expert and assigned a 1200 word essay. Hardly a VTech situation in their mnds."

They investigated, they held a hearing, this was their chosen course of action.

"The good faith on the student's part is his belief that the admin was telling the truth, and the basing of his subsequent actions on that belief. He was acting under their express promise of anonymity, a promise they obviously did not intend to honor.n form and"

But they appear to have honored it up this point. And I'm not convinced that the student's remarks are indicative of "good faith" on his part. To me, good faith would entail civil comments, not abusive obscenities that violate the code of behavior.

"For example, the article dosn't tell us about the written policies for the evaluation, nor does it tell us the verbal instructions and assurances given when the evaluation forms were distributed. "

No it doesn't. It does state the language from the web-based evaluation forms. From the article:

"According to the Franklin College evaluation Web site, 'the Web-based course evaluation application has been designed to encourage candor. Your identity will not be associated with any of your responses.'"

But the article goes on to say:

"However, course evaluations are not always anonymous.

"'When a report is made that indicates a violation of law or policy, the anonymity may be waived,' said Stephen Shewmaker, director of the Office of Legal Affairs."

Since this is the director of Legal Affairs, one would assume he knows what he's talking about. But no, the actual language of the written form is not stated. The forms are downloadable, but you have to have a student ID to access them.

"These two are acting on a female's complaint about an insult to Mexicans. They have apparently also granted anonymity to the female. I hope she doesn't put too much faith in it."

So here we have a student complaining about a professor who indulged in inappropriate language and personal anecdotes in the classroom. Now, you've speculated that the UGA student might have been justified in using obscene language on his evaluation form if his professor did exactly that. So how can you decry the investigation of the Brandeis professor on the one hand, and justify the behavior of the UGA student on the other?

Also, the female student at Brandeis did not indulge in obscene or hostile language when lodging her compliant. She played by the rules, so Brandeis responded by doing the same.
1.27.2008 12:18am
Grover Gardner (mail):
In other words, Elliot, according to your standards, the Brandeis professor's behavior would be "fair game" for complaints, right?
1.27.2008 12:20am
Elliot123 (mail):
"They investigated, they held a hearing, this was their chosen course of action."

Holding a hearing does not indicate a VTech potential. Calling the cops does.

"But they appear to have honored it up this point. And I'm not convinced that the student's remarks are indicative of "good faith" on his part. To me, good faith would entail civil comments, not abusive obscenities that violate the code of behavior."

They did not honor the promise of anonymity.

""'When a report is made that indicates a violation of law or policy, the anonymity may be waived,' said Stephen Shewmaker, director of the Office of Legal Affairs."

Since this is the director of Legal Affairs, one would assume he knows what he's talking about. But no, the actual language of the written form is not stated. The forms are downloadable, but you have to have a student ID to access them."


I have seen no allegations law was violated.

"So here we have a student complaining about a professor who indulged in inappropriate language and personal anecdotes in the classroom. Now, you've speculated that the UGA student might have been justified in using obscene language on his evaluation form if his professor did exactly that. So how can you decry the investigation of the Brandeis professor on the one hand, and justify the behavior of the UGA student on the other?"

I haven't decried the Brandeis investigation, and I haven't supported the Georgia student. In the Goergia situation I have speculated on circumstances where race, gender, and sexual orientation are fair game in an evaluation. My general point is that any content the professor uses in class is fair game for use on an evaluation.

In the Brandeis situation I replied to your request for names. The Brandeis situation may be a very serious. However, my observation was that the PC folks consider blacks, women, and gays to be emotionally and psychologically weaker that straight white and Asian men. That seems to be unreasonable stereotyping of blacks, gays, and women.

I'm glad the anonymous female student who complained at Brandies is playing by the rules. I hope the administration does the same.
1.27.2008 12:38am
Elliot123 (mail):
"In other words, Elliot, according to your standards, the Brandeis professor's behavior would be "fair game" for complaints, right?"

By my standard, content the Brandeis professor used in class is fair game for comment on an evaluation. I have no idea if it merits a complaint.
1.27.2008 12:41am
neurodoc:
Elliot123: I am posing a hypothetical that would justify the student's evaluation submission.
Given the hypothetical facts you have posited, you think what Beck wrote would have been justified?! Hmmm. Does that mean that if you were deciding on applicants for a graduate program, you might not count this against him? Similarly, if you were making a company's hiring decision, you would not rule out hiring this person?
1.27.2008 12:54am
Hoosier:
What if he'd left it at "complete asshole"?
1.27.2008 1:08am
Elliot123 (mail):
"Given the hypothetical facts you have posited, you think what Beck wrote would have been justified?! Hmmm. Does that mean that if you were deciding on applicants for a graduate program, you might not count this against him? Similarly, if you were making a company's hiring decision, you would not rule out hiring this person?"

I haven't posted sufficient hypotheticals to justify any partcular comments. I have said that the content of an evaluation can be justfied by the content of the classroom presentation. Others have disagreed and contend that race, gender, and sexual orientation are off limits on an evaluation. I contend that if that content were presented in class, it is reasonable to expect comment on it in an evaluation.

Since I don't know the content of the classroom presentation, I can't say that his particular response was justified. Therefore, I have no basis to use it as either a admittance or hiring criteria.

I would suspect his judgement was poor for believing the assurances of the administration that his comments would remain anonymous. However, in a hiring decision I am evaluating the entire person, not using a single comment to either ensure employment or deny it. I'd also note that I have heard many comments from people over the years that could be classed with his. If I ruled out all those people as employees, it would be a mightly lonely workplace. Many have even come from people in graduate programs you mention.

If every comment any of us have ever uttered were cataloged and publicly available on an indexed basis, would any of us be employed if any single egregious comment were sufficient for disqualification?
1.27.2008 1:22am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"Holding a hearing does not indicate a VTech potential."

They interviewed the student to determine what his issues were.

"They did not honor the promise of anonymity."

The Director of Legal Affairs stated that in some cases they don't have to.

"I have seen no allegations law was violated."

...OR POLICY. Read the quote.

"By my standard, content the Brandeis professor used in class is fair game for comment on an evaluation. I have no idea if it merits a complaint."

Quote:

Jane also felt Hindley made inappropriate comments regarding drug use, and alleged that another student told her Hindley made inflammatory comments about religion last semester. “When he was talking about the rising costs in reefer, you just wonder. And his silly little anecdotes about his daughter watching MTV and listening to bad music… they’re things that have no business in a classroom—they're too personal.”

She continued, “he was telling the class about his house and how all his neighbors drive BMWs and how he should tear his house down since it isn’t worth anything and his neighbors don’t like him…it’s just a perpetuation of this inappropriate nature and these inappropriate remarks.”

End quote.

So why cite the Brandeis administrators as examples of the "PC movement"? Where's the "PC" issue here? Seems like the student has a broad range of complaints, from racial comments to jokes about drug use to embarrassing personal anecdotes.
1.27.2008 2:04am
Grover Gardner (mail):
"What if he'd left it at 'complete asshole'?"

My personal opinion? Inappropriate but neither as obscene nor indicative of having an issue specifically with gay teachers.

In the article the professor indicated that he's used to positive and negative comments, but Beck's remarks crossed a line for him.
1.27.2008 2:15am
Public_Defender (mail):

some juvenile delinquent makes comments any reasonably mature human being ought to be able to ignore and the gestapo is out in full force.


Yes, the Gestapo was well know for its stern lectures and insistence on civility.
1.27.2008 6:32am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
elliot123: "I haven't posted sufficient hypotheticals to justify any partcular comments."

Then it must be an entirely different elliot123 who said this:

most of us can look at an action and make an attempt at speculating on what type of situation might justify that action


(Emphasis added.) That other elliot123 sure seems to have been saying that he was "speculating on what type of situation might justify" Beck's action. Maybe the various elliot123s should get together and pick one story. At least if they expect to be taken seriously. I am speculating, strictly as a hypothetical, that their remarks are intended as something other than satire.

"Since I don't know the content of the classroom presentation, I can't say that his particular response was justified. Therefore, I have no basis to use it as either a admittance or hiring criteria."

It's quite easy to imagine the person who said that also saying this, regarding a job applicant who recently scribbled a comment about filthy kikes: 'since I don't know the content of his recent experiences with filthy kikes, I can't say that his particular response was justified. Therefore, I have no basis to use it as either a admittance or hiring criteria.'
1.27.2008 7:12am
Toby:

What if he said "I hope Bush sticks his d*** in his a** and gets AIDS and dies." Think it would have gone to the Secret Service.

Well, in many departments, it might be passing grade if submitted as the contents of a blue book at final exam..
1.27.2008 9:44am
Elliot123 (mail):
"They interviewed the student to determine what his issues were."

In a VTech you call the cops.

"The Director of Legal Affairs stated that in some cases they don't have to."

In that case it is improper to promise anonymity without disclosing when it will not be honored.

"...OR POLICY. Read the quote."

We have yet to see the policy on evaluations. I wonder if the Director of legal affairs has? We also don't know what verbal instructions were given when the evaluations were distributed.

I will stand by my statement that content presented in class is fair game for comment in evaluations. I'm not sure why you quoted me on that.

"So why cite the Brandeis administrators as examples of the "PC movement"?

Because they seized on the wetback tale. However, we can now see it was simply envy of his Beemer.
1.27.2008 2:11pm
Elliot123 (mail):
JukeBox,

I stand by my statement that most of us can look at an action and make an attempt at speculating on what type of situation might justify that action.

Regarding student evaluations, the general case is that anything presented in clss is fair game for comment on an evaluation, regardless of the subject matter, and including race, gender, and sexual orientation.

However, in this particular case, I don't think I have posted sufficient hypotheticals to justify this particular student's statements. Do you think I have?

I suppose you can imagine someone scribbling about kikes. However, Neurodoc asked about the comments in the evaluation, and that's the question to which I responded.

If you remain confused about the various Elliots and their integration, just ask. I'm attempting to write with clarity and precision, but don't always succeed.
1.27.2008 2:23pm
Elliot123 (mail):
Neurodoc,

I thought about your question as to whether I would hire the student in question knowing what he wrote, and have some additional thoughts.

I would not disqualify him on the basis of what he wrote because I think consideration of the comments would make me complicit in the denial of the promise of anonymity. Nor would I use any similar information given to a psychiatrist, confessor, lawyer, counselor, or doctor under the expectation of confidentiality.

That said, one can easily say I am powerless not to consider it since I know about it. That's correct. I would simly do the best I can.

And one other question arises: Would I hire the professor or administrators who denied the promise of anonymity? Again, I would evaluate the entire person in relation to the job, but I would not make any attempt to disregard this information. I would definitely consider it.
1.27.2008 2:37pm
Grover Gardner (mail):
"In a VTech you call the cops."

And to prevent a VTech you watch for signs of disturbed students.

"We have yet to see the policy on evaluations."

We don't have to. We have the Behavior Policy available for viewing and we have the Director of Legal Affairs' statement that in the event of a policy violation, anonymity may be waived.

"Because they seized on the wetback tale."

Yes, according to Hindley and many of the press accounts. But do you know the full extent of the charges?
1.27.2008 8:40pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"And to prevent a VTech you watch for signs of disturbed students."

Did they find any signs of an impending VTech? Did the professor think he had a VTech when he read the first evaluation, so he waited a few months to do something about it? Neither the behavior nor statements of the professor and the administration indcate they feared a VTech.

"We don't have to. We have the Behavior Policy available for viewing and we have the Director of Legal Affairs' statement that in the event of a policy violation, anonymity may be waived."

The legel affairs folks don't make the policy. They are providing cover after the fact. If they opine that anonymity can be breached, that sounds like an implicit acknowledgement that it was granted. Under what policy and authority was it granted? How was the anonymity reconciled with the bahavior policy?

While we may have a behavior policy, we pobably also have a policy on the evaluations. Why remain willfully ignorant of that? Suppose the behavior policy did not accommodate anonymity yet the evaluation policy called for it? Suppose the instructions given when the evaluations were distributed promised anonymity? What does one do when policies conflict? Why institute an evaluation policy if it is contrary to the behavior policy?

"Yes, according to Hindley and many of the press accounts. But do you know the full extent of the charges?

Of course not. Our ignorance of the Brandeis situation matches our ignorance of the Georgia situation. That's why we are speculating on generalities.
1.27.2008 9:02pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
elliot: "I stand by my statement … "

I stand by my statement that you're talking out of both sides of your mouth. You tried to justify the statement, and then pretended that you weren't trying to justify the statement.

"I'm attempting to write with clarity and precision, but don't always succeed."

You've succeeded at this: demonstrating that you're not to be taken seriously.
1.27.2008 10:24pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I stand by my statement that you're talking out of both sides of your mouth. You tried to justify the statement, and then pretended that you weren't trying to justify the statement."

And that is your privilege. I offered to clarify anything you found contradictory or unclear, and that offer stands. You have only to ask. One of the advantages of an active dialog is that the parties have the opportunty to question and clear up any misunderstandings. These may stem from a lack of undestanding on the part of the reader, or poor communication on the part of the writer. I am probably guilty of both. The parties may not agree, but at least they will have an accurate notion of their disagreement.

"You've succeeded at this: demonstrating that you're not to be taken seriously."

That is your choice. However, I remain open to constructive exchange on the topic should you choose to engage.
1.27.2008 11:34pm
jukeboxgrad (mail):
elliot: "poor communication on the part of the writer"

English translation: 'I did something, and then claimed I didn't, but I didn't really mean to. It just came out that way.'

"I remain open to constructive exchange"

English translation: 'The day hell freezes over is the day I intend to stop pretending that I wasn't doing what I was obviously doing.'

Speaking of pretending, nice job pretending that you're something other than a complete waste of time. Your concept of "constructive exchange" is already obvious, as I pointed out here and here. Fool me once etc.
1.28.2008 7:29am
Elliot123 (mail):
"Speaking of pretending, nice job pretending that you're something other than a complete waste of time. Your concept of "constructive exchange" is already obvious, as I pointed out here and here. Fool me once etc."

Again, I remain open to engaging in constructive discussion of the issue if you choose to participate. Confidentiality, privacy, and anonymity are issus we will face more and more as technology proliferates. Interestingly, in the Georgia case it's not technology, but old fashioned human judgement that is the pivot point.

My position on the acceptable content of student evaluations is that whatever is presented as content during classtime is fair game for the evaluation, and this includes gender, race, and sexual orientation. Otherwise we would have a situation where topics were acceptable in class, but not on the evaluation.

In the particular case at Georgia, the evaluation comments would be acceptable if they mirrored content presented in class.

So, what's your general principle for dealing with cases like this? Do you hold that content may be acceptable in class, but unacceptable in an evaluation? If so, are there particular areas that are acceptable for class presentation, but are not acceptable for comment in evaluations?
1.28.2008 10:39am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
Time for some more translation: 'maybe if I try to present a superficial simulation of someone interested in an adult conversation no one will notice that I've been completely disingenuous, as usual.'

Prior examples here and here.

"what's your general principle for dealing with cases like this?"

You mean my general principle for dealing with people who are transparently dishonest? I think I've made that clear.
1.28.2008 9:26pm