Do today's activist students 'terrify' you?

Two faculty members debate

"My liberal students terrify me," a professor declared last week in a much-discussed article.

Writing under the pseudonym Edward Schlosser for Vox, the professor says he was forced to change his teaching materials in order to appease students. He cites an adjunct professor whose contract was not renewed because of student complaints about Edward Said and Mark Twain.

The professor-student relationship has changed dramatically, Schlosser argues. Students are using formal complaints and teacher evaluations as a way of getting more power over their professors—and demanding that those professors teach content that students are "comfortable" with.

Schlosser blames a new "stifling conception of social justice" adopted by the students, as well as a "general hostility against opinions and viewpoints that could cause students so much as a hint of discomfort." He concludes by worrying that his students' focus on identity politics and feeling comfortable will distract them from actual politics and working toward real social change.

Two days later, a former adjunct professor took to Vox to criticize Schlosser's fear of his students—and suggest he overlooked the real problem.

"My liberal students never scared me at all," counters Amanda Taub. She points out that students have always complained about their professors—and probably always will.

What has changed, she says, is that tenure has been weakened.

Tenure is designed to preserve professors' academic freedom and protect them from backlash against controversial ideas. But according to the American Association of University Professors, a full 76% of faculty members are adjuncts without tenure. Studies show that tenure-track openings are rapidly disappearing and that more than half of adjuncts live below the poverty line.

'I'm looking for a new job': Wisconsin faculty brace for battle over tenure

In such a climate, Taub argues, it is not surprising that non-tenured instructors "would take an extremely conservative approach to any perceived threat to their job security."

The solution, Taub says, is not to lash out at students. Rather, she argues, administrations should reaffirm their support for faculty members and restore tenure protections (Schlosser, Vox, 6/3; Taub, Vox, 6/5).

Thoughts on the story? Tweet us at @eab_daily and let us know.

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