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Professors work for you

A call to take back your education


 

CarletonPoor Carleton. From the embarrassing Shinerama fiasco to the more recent Hassan Diab hiring/firing controversy, media attention certainly hasn’t been the university’s friend.

As reported by Dean Tester, my OnCampus colleague, Hassan Diab was recently hired for, then fired from, a summer position teaching introductory sociology at Carleton University in Ottawa. Diab is accused in the 1980 bombing of a Paris synagogue that killed four and injured dozens more. He is under virtual house arrest and faces an extradition hearing in January.

Carleton released a statement Tuesday saying their decision to remove Diab from the position was “in the interest of providing its students with a stable, productive academic environment that is conducive to learning.”

I’m not going to debate the integrity of their decision. I’ll let you assume what side I’m on. Here’s what’s of more immediate importance to me:

Carleton has faced criticism from the Canadian Association of University Teachers for removing Diab from the post. James Turk, the association’s executive director, chastised the university saying, “They did this solely because of external pressure. It’s an abdication of the responsibility of universities to be insulated from these kinds of pressures.

Now, obviously I’m incredibly naïve and misinformed, but I was under the impression that students, you know, pay for their university education.

Oops, I’m sorry; am I going too fast? I’ll back up a bit. You see, “money” is exchanged for “goods” and “services.” With said exchange comes an expectation of the standard and/or quality of benefits received. So, to be specific, university tuition is paid with the expectation of receiving a level of post-secondary education befitting certain quantitative and qualitative standards.

To use a different, kindergarten-level example: if I pay a barber to cut my hair, I’m allowed to tell him how short. If I give money to a restaurant in exchange for a meal, I expect the cook not to spit in my food. And if I pay a university $5k+ a year for an education, I expect administrators to consider my opinion when I give my two cents about their hiring decisions. They don’t have to take my opinion—just consider it.

With that idea in mind, Turk’s expectation that universities be “insulated” from “external pressures” is not only misguided, but simply put, it’s unreasonable. Whether directly or through representative organizations, students should have their voices heard.

So, in my opinion, it is precisely the responsibility of universities to listen to so-called “external pressures,” especially when those burdensome letter-writers are the ones signing the cheques. Anyone who thinks otherwise should tell those thousands of students gearing up for their school year campaigns to put their paints and posters away.

Here’s another unsettling example—a personal anecdote, for a change. Last semester I was in an English lecture when my professor stopped mid-sentence to shoot a glare at one student in the 100-person theatre.

“What are you doing?” she asked, as the rest of us looked on.

Silence.

“Do you come to my class to do crosswords?”

Some sheepish mumbling.

“Either put it away or leave.”

Forever etched in my mind, I can’t decide what was more surprising; the fact that the professor actually had the gall to chew out the boy, or that I was somehow able to keep my mouth shut. If the student was disturbing the class, that would be one thing, but he was simply and quietly (albeit, rudely) not paying attention. So what? He was paying her to teach the class. If he wanted to waste his money, that was his choice.

We’re not in high school anymore. We’re coughing up the funds, so we rightfully have a say in our education. We can choose to exercise it directly or through more vocal organizations. Either way, I say lay it on. Let Turk and the crossword haters squirm.

photo by Terriko


 

Professors work for you

  1. Students indeed pay for a service. Universities, should, however be more direct about what they are selling. Education requires a certain degree of engagement from students. If I hire a personal trainer it is expected that I listen to him/her, even if I don’t want to.

    In effect when the professor told the student to get out for doing crosswords, he was being quite clear about the service he was offering. The student, evidently, thought he was paying for something else.

  2. Students do pay high tuition fees (too high, to my mind), but the fact is that Canadian students pay for less than half the cost of their own education. Most of it is paid for by the public, so arguably the university’s first duty is to the public in general, not to specific students.

  3. I assume that students are not “external” to the university. We have to see ourselves as an integral part of the university community.

    Besides, as Carson pointed out, there are limits to the client argument. Think of those students who want to be exempted from learning evolution or climate change. Education wouldn’t go very far if we never wanted to hear anything we don’t like.

  4. For ever etched on your mind? Some mind. It sounds like you’re pretty insulated from external pressures.

  5. My previous remark was too harsh, but still students need to show some courtesy.

  6. “So, to be specific, University tuition is paid with the expectation of receiving a level of post-secondary education befitting certain quantitative and qualitative standards.”

    True, and it’s quite possible that sometimes Universities have to rebuke “external pressure” in order to achieve “certain quantitative and qualitative standards.”

    Now, you’re absolutely right in saying that external pressures merit some consideration. In some cases. But I also think that in certain other cases – not this one, mind you – a university ought to fly in the face of public opinion for the sake of its’ integrity.

    So I quarrel only with the contention that it’s a regular market transaction akin to having your hair cut. It’s slightly more complicated than that.

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