Pasadena City College has started an investigation into Hugo Schwyzer after he admitted to having sex with his students in recent years, The Pasadena Star-News reported. Schwyzer teaches history at the college, and also has taught courses and lectured nationally on women's studies, sexuality, pornography and other topics. He went on leave this summer after admitting that he had been having affairs in ways inconsistent with his public statements, and he announced that he was having a breakdown.
Schwyzer has previously admitted to sex with his students early in his career, but maintained until last week that he stopped doing so in 1998. Then last week, one of Schwyzer's former students anonymously posted an account of having sex with him -- sometimes in his campus office -- while she was enrolled in one of his courses. On his blog, Schwyzer then wrote that the allegations were true. "I am deeply sorry for having maintained a lie for so long, and extend my apologies to the many whom I’ve wronged, including those who fiercely defended me against charges that turned out to be true," he wrote. He added that "I will convey this information to the college, and I expect this will be a factor in discussions about my future as an history instructor."
Two years into my doctoral program in English at the University of California at Santa Barbara, I left to spend a year in Paris doing research. Among other things, when I returned home, I was a year behind in doctorate colloquium, a course required by our department to prepare graduate students for the wondrous, painstaking world of dissertation prospectus writing.
I found myself in a classroom with our department chair, who ran the class, and six other students, all in the cohort one year junior to me. Because so many different professors in our department had taken turns teaching the doctorate colloquium, our chair would sometimes come to class with a large file folder, filled with papers of advice, samples, and notes from former professors. It was a neat little archive, and I imagined that it probably revealed a lot about the changing trends in academe and the shifting job market.
One day in class, our current chair at the time, Professor Alan Liu, picked up a Post-It note in the file and smiled. He looked up at the class and said softly, his voice full of warmth: "It’s a note from Richard. Look, his handwriting..." and lifted the Post-It to the class. I felt an immediate lurch inside me, and I blinked, smiled weakly, and looked around the classroom expecting to meet a similar expression on the faces of my classmates. But it was at that moment that Alan and I realized, possibly simultaneously, that no one else in the class had had Richard as a professor. He had died my first year of graduate school, and my original cohort was the last group of new graduate students lucky enough to be in his classroom.
Upon entering graduate school at barely 22 years of age, I was still much like an undergraduate. I was often critically unaware of what I was saying, but managed to chatter on quite a lot (probably to the delight of the older graduate students). I took Richard Helgerson’s class in the winter of 2008, the last class he taught before he died. It was required for students to take a Renaissance literature course, and as a 20th-century person, I was excited about the excursion into Shakespeare and Milton (not so much Spenser). Before I left for graduate school, a friend of mine who was an early modern scholar at the University of Wisconsin at Madison exclaimed his jealousy when he heard I would be attending UCSB. "I can’t believe you’re going to get to take classes with Richard Helgerson," he gushed. This was lost on me at the time, but I soon became aware of Richard’s celebrity as a scholar and teacher. I was set to take his class and find out firsthand what made this man such a literary legend.
But the first day of class was something unexpected. Richard came to class with a bucket. He said he might need it as he was ill. He was very matter-of-fact, reasonable, even apologetic. He had pancreatic cancer, he explained. Despite his condition, Richard’s mental sharpness and brilliance in the classroom made that course one of my most memorable experiences of graduate school. He was endlessly curious about our ideas, and I could tell that he valued the discussion of the texts above all else. The class had a kind of intensity to it, the most presence I’ve felt in a graduate seminar. Everybody read the work. Everybody participated. Everybody listened.
Most surprisingly, Richard maintained such a wonderful sense of humor throughout the course, especially with the younger, more inexperienced graduate students (ahem). As a modernist, I felt such a freedom to speak in that class. Once, I even told Richard that Spenser’s calendar was sort of like the Beach Boys’ "Pet Sounds," "you don’t want to admit it, but there is a weak link... and that link is November," I said with a smug face, thinking I had said something quite associative and brilliant. He didn’t laugh, but rather looked quite amused and pleased. This seemed to be a bold thing for a young graduate student to say with so much conviction. He was even more tickled after an older graduate student explained to him more slowly what had just transpired, what exactly "Pet Sounds" was, etc.
The next week in class when he handed out discussion question prompts, he wrote "Last week, Megan said X, which has led me to think about Y and its implications for Z." I am completely unashamed to say that I was beaming, so thrilled to be included in a Helgerson prompt. In truth, I had said nothing interesting or meaningful or provocative, but I think he saw in me someone who needed a little encouragement, who had a lot of ideas and not yet the ability to articulate or connect them. I still have that slip of paper.
What was mesmerizing about Richard in those last few months before he died was his grace in the classroom, the absolute thoughtfulness with which he considered every question or comment, the elegance in which he chose to talk about his illness. He was calm. I had never in my young life met someone so calm and soft-spoken in the face of what was to me at the time, something so monstrous and unfair. It was almost unnerving.
Once day in class, a graduate student baked all sorts of treats for Richard and the rest of us. She was an excellent and avid baker, and the aroma of rich chocolate brownies and sugar cookies filled the classroom. When Richard entered, he sat down, and looked at the dessert on the table. He was delighted, said, "Thank you, Annie. That looks so good; I wish I could eat it," and then proceeded to tell us that so many wonderful people in his life had been bringing food to the house that smelled so good and that ... he just couldn’t eat it because ... he just couldn’t eat much anymore.
We felt sick (poor Annie, most of all). Nobody said anything, but I will never forget that day in class. For three hours, the food sat at the center of our graduate table like a looming presence, and in an unspoken solidarity, nobody ate a crumb. There were other small moments like this during that quarter, all equally painful.
Sometimes I wanted to scream in class, Why are you here?! Why are you in classroom teaching silly first-years about Shakespearean sonnets when you should be making the most of your time left?! Go to the beach! Go whale watching! Once in his office, I kind of stumbled into this thought, to which he asked if I was O.K., if I felt uncomfortable in his class. The selflessness of his concern was almost unbearable. I said of course not, but the truth was that I was scared. It hurt to watch him deteriorate week to week.
But Richard was exactly where he should have been. He was with some of the great loves of his life: Milton, Shakespeare, Spenser. And I suppose one does not get tired of their great loves, but rather, in the face of death, devotes oneself to them mercilessly, reads the lines that have kept one spellbound in wonder since a young age.
Richard died a few weeks after our last class. When I went to Richard’s memorial at UCSB, there were many peers and former students who spoke of his generous nature, his kind eyes, his trips to Italy, his devotion as a father, husband, teacher, and scholar. I sat there, knowing that if I felt so terrible after knowing Richard for only a few months, how devastated his own graduate students and colleagues must be, who he had worked with for so much longer. I still think about Richard very often, perhaps too often for how long I knew him. But in my sixth and last year of graduate school, I reflect with affection on that difficult, transformative first year. I think Richard had the gift of being the mentor that each student needed at whatever stage they were at in their academic development, and he met his students there.
For me, at the risk of romanticizing (but what do I care, really), he taught me not only about the power of mentorship, but also adulthood, how to be a real person in a classroom. And whenever I become cynical about academe, the early professionalization, the politicization of the humanities, the defunding of foundational departments characterized as irrelevant, I think of Richard. I think of sitting on the beach in Santa Barbara, reading Shakespeare’s “young man” or “fair youth” sonnets for the first time, marveling over them. I think of Richard as someone who studied literature, first and foremost, because he loved language, and who, I hope, went gently into that good night. I remember thinking something odd in Richard’s class. I thought, I want to die like Richard. This is how a good person learns to die: brave, thoughtful, with gratitude.
Megan Fernandes is adjunct assistant professor of modern culture and media at Brown University.
A Facebook post seen by many as a threat led authorities to charge Matthew Rouch, a communication faculty member at Northwest Missouri State University, with an illegal pot-growing operation, The Kansas City Star reported. Rouch was originally arrested over a post in which he said that "by October, I’ll be wanting to get up to the top of the bell tower with a high powered rifle — with a good scope, and probably a gatling gun as well." Authorities were not convinced the threat was more than a bad joke, but searched his house, where they found numerous marijuana plants growing. While Rouch was originally jailed for the Facebook post, he's still there over the pot.
Read more here: http://www.kansascity.com/2013/09/06/4462247/northwest-missouri-state-professor.html#storylink=cpy
The University of London has abandoned a plan to auction off an early set of Shakespeare, The Guardian reported. The university has been defending the plan, noting that it needs more money to preserve and grow its collection of historic documents, and that it has other early editions of Shakespeare. But criticism from academics has been intense, and was cited by university leaders in calling off the plan. "The university has decided to focus its attention on examining alternative ways of investing in the collection. The money raised from any sale would have been used to invest in the future of the library by acquiring major works and archives of English literature," said Adrian Smith, the vice chancellor.
Previously, faculty and current and former graduate students at MLA-affiliated departments of English and foreign languages (at most Ph.D.-granting institutions) could access the Job Information List at no charge. Non-MLA members without that access had to pay $65, while members paid $40. (MLA also made PDFs of its jobs list available to the public for free upon publication, five times annually. The online jobs list is updated weekly). Some criticized that model and last year, an anonymous group tried to open up the databases to the general public with a website called MLAjobleaks.com. The site is now dead.
In an e-mail, Rosemary Feal, executive director of MLA, said of the change: “The Executive Council attempts to make as much MLA material as possible free or low-cost to as many people as possible. It's our mission to promote the study and teaching of languages, and this is one way we carry out that mission.”
Public reaction so far has been positive. Christopher Lupke, associate professor of Chinese at the Washington State University at Pullman, wrote on the MLA Commons discussion board: “In this age when the humanities are under siege, we need to do everything we can for those just joining the ranks of our labor force. The free MLA [jobs list] is therefore a salutary development.”
The American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a “Humanities Report Card” Tuesday to accompany its earlier, lengthier Heart of the Matter report on the state of the humanities and social sciences. The academy described the report card as a “snapshot of the current data illustrating where the humanities are today.”
The report card is made up of infographics, data for which mainly were drawn from the academy’s existing Humanities Indicators statistical database. John Tessitore, director of programming for the academy, said the document is meant to be accessible to the general public, which has taken a keen interest in the original report, as well as academics and others involved in the humanities. It’s also meant to drive traffic to the Humanities Indicators, he said, which paint a much more detailed, data-driven portrait of the humanities in schools, colleges, work and other aspects of American life.
The Heart of the Matter, released in June, argued for more investment in the humanities and social sciences, citing their value in shaping an informed electorate and in helping students prepare for careers – not just jobs.
The report card is divided into several sections, including “The Value of the Humanities,” “Signs of Health” and “Challenges.”
Positive indicators include:
84 percent of humanities majors are satisfied with their choice of major.
19 percent of members of Congress majored in the humanities; 37 percent majored in the social sciences.
Three out of four employers say they want new hires with “precisely the sorts of skills that the humanities teach: critical thinking, complex problem-solving, as well as written and oral communication.”
Between 2000 and 2009, humanities majors scored 9 percent higher on the Graduate Management Admissions Test than did business majors.
Despite reports on declining numbers of humanities majors since the 1960s, the number of bachelor’s degrees in the humanities has grown since its nadir in the 1980s, with more than 185,000 degrees reported in each year from 2009 to 2011.
Negative indicators include:
The gap between average math and verbal scores on the SAT is growing.
Only 13 percent of college students learn “critical need” languages for international security and global competitiveness.
Reading for pleasure declined 11 percent from 1992 to 2008.
U.S. high school students ranked 10th in a recent international reading assessment.
In 2011, humanities research received only 0.48 percent of the amount of research and development funds dedicated to science and engineering in higher education.
Advocates of the humanities praised the document.
Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, in an e-mail commended the academy for its statistical focus on the past two decades, noting that some of the conversations about the so-called decline of the humanities have relied on outdated data or historical scopes that don't illuminate current realities. Based on the data, there are things to celebrate about the state of the humanities, and causes for concern, she added.
James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said it shows "why humanities education benefits individuals and their communities. And then it tells us what we are accomplishing in that area, and what we are not."
Beyond the statistics, he said, it's important to consider much of the general public "knows the landscape" underlying the report card, and ways to improve it. "I suspect there is a broad consensus on the importance of young children being read to by their parents; and then having qualified teachers as they get older," he said in an e-mail, referring to statistics in the report. "And when these things aren't happening enough we have to publicize that deficiency in our public culture. We also need to be prepared to suggest ideas for improvement. President Obama cannot issue an executive order requiring parents or older siblings to read to young children. How do we encourage such activity? What sorts of professional development and hiring policies do we need to increase the number of students who learn history from qualified teachers?"
In today’s Academic Minute, Dana Hawley of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University explains why diseases evolve more virulent strains that pose a greater threat to the host. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Scholars and others are criticizing the University of London for a plan to sell four early editions of Shakespeare's plays, The Guardian reported. The university says it has other early editions of Shakespeare and could used the money raised at auction (perhaps up to $8 million) to refresh its collections. Richard Eyre, former director of Britain's National Theater, said: "Both in itself and as an emblematic gesture it is wrong. Partly because it sets a precedent: these things must be valued, and if academic institutions don't value them the game is up, really. It's completely wrong, indefensible."