Friday, June 29, 2012

Input, please

Ah, misery.

Last semester, I had a student. Let's call him Misogynist Mark. On Day One, Misogynist Mark introduced himself as an endangered specie: The rare White Conservative Christian Male. He said, with no trace of irony, that no American has it worse than the White Conservative Christian Male.

For context, you might have called my class "Weaving Baskets during Genocide."

The rest of my class was a constant struggle to strike a balance of interests. I would call on people during discussion or if they had questions during lecture. When Misogynist Mark spoke, he would ask me point blank what my politics were and if I were one of those Liberal Professors destroying America. I'm not exaggerating. He spoke like he was reading off a Glenn Beck script. Sometimes he would demand to know what church I went to. He complained loudly about how atheists couldn't possibly be good people. He interrupted discussion to plug corporate products. When I stopped calling on him, it fed into his feelings of persecution.

(the fact that he was brilliantly good at essays and exams only further pissed me off)

Predictably, 80% of my class hated him. I failed his participation, I spoke to him outside of class, and he began to change his behavior. But while I tried to balance his being an asshole with allowing some degree of free speech, I alienated a large sub section of my class. One woman felt I was privileging Mark's opinions because I too was sexist and perhaps enjoyed his view of women. Or at least, that's what I found out on the anonymous evals.

Telling the story, it seems to have consumed my class. This is not really the case; I'm just pulling out specific examples about Mark so you can understand. I would say Mark influenced about 10% of classtime. The other 90% was fine.

Anyway, I got my evals. Mark's feedback included multiple plugs for corporations (he claims he gets money from bringing up corporate products in class; I forbade him to do this but he returned to it in the evals of all places). He spoke of the "Liberal Bias" of the book, of his classmates, of me. He talked about how I ought to have been more pro-Christian and less understanding of my atheist and Catholic students. He then evaluated the University itself, from how unprofessional it was that I signed my email with my first name to the dress of his classmates. He described the University as being occupied by "pigs" and the classroom "a celebration of pigsty culture."

The University read the evals too. The Dean of Students has contacted me. What to do with Misogynist Mark? I have two options: either file a formal complaint from my experience, since he was such an aggressive and disturbing student, or just place a note in his file for future instructors? The former leads to disciplinary review and penalties; the latter is a quiet slip in the file for future instructors.

I know not how to answer these questions. Part of me feels a formal reprimand will only enhance his feelings of persecution as a Rare Bird. But then, my friend had him in the Fall and he was similarly awful, disrupting that class in a similar way. So maybe there ought to be some action as this guy burns through all his classes and destroys the learning experience of his classmates.

Miserians. Tell me. What would you do? And feel free to wander into realms of fantasy including violence. Okay, maybe not. But what if he was transferred to Pluto and had to freeze year round? Or woke up one day as a Southern African-American living during Reconstruction? I can dream.


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