Dear Chronicle: Why I Will No Longer Write for Vitae

Dear Chronicle​–

I recently accepted a job as a columnist for Vitae from the Chronicle of Higher Education, where I’ve published two columns in the last two months. A draft of my third column is due today. I won’t be submitting it.

Unfortunately, Vitae continues to publish “Dear Student,” its student-shaming series, also referred to as “professorial tough love.”

Here’s some tough love of my own.

The concerns the series has focused on are petty and pedantic, and nobody is being well-served by the content on display (not students, not professors, editors, the Chronicle, the other writers for Vitae, the job seekers visiting the site, or the job advertisers using the service).

The great concerns of teachers featured in this series:
“it’s February and you didn’t buy your textbook,”
“no I won’t change the grade you deserve,”
“my class began two weeks ago and you just show up now,”
“your ‘granny’ died and I have absolutely no compassion.”

On textbooks. Education should be about dialogue, conversation, community. We do not invite students into an educational environment by admonishing them. Our classes should have more valuable tickets for entry than textbooks.

On grades. They’re a red herring. Any teacher that regularly gets caught up in power and control struggles with students over grades has missed the point.

On a student showing up for a class that started two weeks ago. The work of gatekeeping is anathema to the work of education. Our classrooms should have more doors and windows, not less.

On grandmothers. The statistics are compelling: “grandmothers are 20 times more likely to die before a final exam.” Here’s a better statistic: it is 100 times kinder to err on the side of giving students the benefit of the doubt when it comes to dead grandmothers. And we need to consider whether there is something about the educational system that has put students in the awkward and uncomfortable position of feeling like they have to lie to their teachers.

Everyone that comes into even casual contact with Vitae’s “Dear Student” series is immediately tarnished by the same kind of anti-intellectual, uncompassionate, illogical nonsense currently threatening to take down the higher education system in the state of Wisconsin.

The word “entitlement,” used pejoratively about students in two of the four articles, needs to die a quick death. College students ARE entitled — to an education and not the altogether unfunny belittling on display in the “Dear Student” series.

This series is not effective satire, not a useful kind of venting. This series plays to the insecurities of its audience in a way that feels opportunistic. Academic job seekers are concerned about their current and future livelihood. They are oppressed by a system that calls 75% of its labor-force “unnecessary,” “contingent,” “adjunct.” The “Dear Student” series turns that oppression, and the most snickering part of it, upon students.

What everyone working anywhere even near to the education system needs to do:

  • Treat the least privileged among us with the most respect.
  • Recognize that the job of a teacher is to advocate for students, especially in an educational system currently under direct threat at almost every turn.
  • Laugh at ourselves and not at those we and our system have made most vulnerable.
  • Rant up, not down.

Giggling at the water cooler about students is one abhorrent thing. Publishing that derisive giggling as “work” in a venue read by tens of thousands is quite another. Of course, teachers need a safe place to vent. We all do. That safe place is not shared faculty offices, not the teacher’s lounge, not the library, not a local (public) watering hole. And it is certainly not on the pages of the Chronicle of Higher Education, especially in Vitae, the publication devoted to job seekers, including current students and future teachers.

I won’t stand beside this water cooler. I won’t encourage anyone else to come near to it. Until “Dear Student” has ended its run and the Chronicle has published a public apology to students, the words right here (in this “Dear Chronicle” letter) are the only words of mine the Chronicle has my permission to publish on Vitae.

While I’ve closed the comments for this space, the original conversation is archived here. I wrote a longer follow-up post about a year later.

[Photo by perlaroques]