Humor/whimsy

A satiric look at implicit bias training for white faculty members (opinion)

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt pens a satirical memo.

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A satirical look at the question of genetic inferiority (opinion)

After white police officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd, many of my students contacted me to ask questions -- many of which were difficult for me to respond to. Here’s one: “Why do white people keep oppressing black people?” Here’s another: “Why are so many white people so racist?” Here’s a third: “Why do white people keep killing black people?”

It’s difficult to provide a one-size-fits-all response to such broad inquiries as these. So my approach is to ask students first to share with me how they would answer their own question, and then, to broaden their perspective, I share with them possibilities they have not considered.

When it comes to this question about white oppression, I have noticed a peculiar pattern. Although many students have thoughtful answers, not one student I have ever taught has brought up the possibility that white people are genetically inferior, and that white violence against black people is a function of this subnormal genetic inheritance.

My students’ blind spot is troubling. It’s also made me more sympathetic to recent criticisms about a lack of “viewpoint diversity” in institutions of higher education. These critics have argued that colleges only expose students to a narrow range of ideological perspectives, inhibiting their growth and development and also stifling the free exchange of ideas. In order to address this issue, I propose that we expose students to an argument far outside the mainstream: that white people are genetically deficient.

Here’s an example of what this argument might look like. Many professors report that their white students tend to struggle to understand the concept of structural racism, while their students of color tend to “get it” more easily. Might genetics help explain this white achievement gap?

Perhaps genetic limitations could also help us understand why many whites in rural areas such as Appalachia are poor, or why so many whites are addicted to opioids, or why whites disproportionately suffer from such diseases as autism and breast cancer. There are so many areas of white disadvantage to investigate!

Some people might say college professors shouldn’t teach such an argument to students, basing this argument on the fact that race is a social and political construction rather than a biological reality. To this I reply: I certainly do not endorse the claim that white people are genetically inferior. I’m just saying that white students should be exposed to this claim, in service of the noble goal of ideological diversity on campus.

If white students spend their whole lives in a bubble, only interacting with like-minded people, how will they even be able to process, let alone respond to, articles such as the one on the Fox News website with the headline “Whites Genetically Weaker Than Blacks, Study Finds”? Even if race has nothing to do with genetics in reality, don’t white students still need to be introduced to this perspective? Doesn’t critical thinking require white students to engage with arguments that make them feel uncomfortable?

My proposal is likely to prove controversial. Many white students, in particular, would probably react unfavorably to the claim that they are inherently flawed. Some might get emotional, feel “triggered” and even go so far as to express their views by protesting, which would have a chilling effect on free speech. We would have to encourage these white students to lighten up, to toughen up -- indeed, to grow up.

Or perhaps we could cushion the blow, reminding our white students that as of yet there is scant scientific evidence that white people are genetically inferior. We might tell them to consider other explanations for whites’ disadvantages: their cultural pathologies, for example.

I also recommend sending inspiring messages to our white students, telling them that they should not be defined by negative stereotypes about them. We could try to make sure our white students know that we have high standards for them -- that as their professors, we fully reject claims that they are biologically inferior. Furthermore, to avoid the “soft bigotry of low expectations,” we should inform our white students in no uncertain terms that they are obligated to perform just as well in our classes as they would if they were students of color.

Another problem with my modest proposal is that once we begin teaching about white genetic inferiority, it might be hard to stop. A wide range of questions would arise: Does genetics help explain centuries of white violence beyond recent police killings -- from chattel slavery, genocide of indigenous peoples and colonization to mass shootings in the present day? Does genetics help explain whites’ historic and continued dependency on extracted and hoarded wealth?

Meanwhile, students of color would surround our faculty offices, clamoring for attention: “Please, don’t forget us -- we also deserve to be taught about our inferiority.” But I, for one, am not too worried. We already do a pretty good job of that.

Spencer Piston is assistant professor of political science at Boston University and the author of Class Attitudes in America (Cambridge University Press, 2018).

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Tuesday, June 30, 2020
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A satiric survey for assessing a virtual commencement (opinion)

A Virtual Commencement Survey

1. Did the ceremony start on time?

A. Yes, but our time zone made it 4 a.m.

B. Not sure, since we just watched the recording.

C. What’s time these days?

2. Did your family attend?

A. We showed up at the Activities Hall, but it was locked.

B. As many as we could fit in front of the webcam.

C. No, we’ve had a little too much together time by now.

3. What did you think of the commencement speaker?

A. I left to make myself lunch at that point.

B. She forgot to unmute her microphone.

C. The “What’s happiness if you haven’t got your health?” topic was a downer.

4. Were you happy with the ceremony, over all?

A. Virtually.

B. I guess I’m sort of happy we didn’t have to drive in from out of state.

C. I would’ve been happy with anything.

5. Were you given enough time on the virtual platform?

A. Maybe. I left to get myself a snack.

B. My video wasn’t working.

C. Yes, but my image got lost against the blown-up background of the school mascot.

6. Did your favorite faculty members “show up”?

A. I could see their set Zoom frames, but when I typed chat messages to them, they weren’t there.

B. Yes, but professors should know by now that a webcam reveals the smallest gesture.

C. No, they said they had other Zoom meetings to attend.

7. Is there any part of the ceremony you would omit?

A. The virtual processional was a bad idea.

B. The clap-hands emojis took forever.

C. I had nothing else to do that day, anyway.

8. Would you have preferred a hybrid ceremony instead of a virtual one?

A. Provided the social distancing didn’t take place in the Activities Hall.

B. Only if we could still click to download our diplomas.

C. Yes, to stop my parents screaming about not getting their money’s worth.

9. Did you post a clip of elbow bumping the chancellor on Instagram?

A. No, it required too much editing.

B. I used TikTok.

C. The university said it owned the rights and would charge me $75.

10. Did the school contact you to donate funds as a new alum?

A. It was already in my email inbox when the ceremony began.

B. Via text, FaceTime and Google Hangouts.

C. You had to click on “Donate” before downloading your diploma.

(OPTIONAL)

What do you intend to do with your degree?

A. Good question.

B. Become virtually unemployed.

C. Dad says I can stay in the spare room for a few more months.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, from Columbia University Press.

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College issues annual list of words to ban

Lake Superior State issues annual list of words to avoid.

Colleges offer greetings (and a crossword puzzle) for the holidays

Colleges send messages (and humor) to their friends.

Colleges and universities have perhaps more than their fair share of ghost sightings

Colleges and universities have perhaps more than their fair share of ghost sightings.

A tongue-in-cheek announcement of a new portal where faculty members can rate their students (opinion)

What better place to learn more about one’s students, John Mark McFadden asks, than a portal filled with ratings of students by teachers and professors?

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A poetic look at students in this fall's classes (opinion)

David Galef offers a poetic take on the current crop of students in his classes.

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A satirical look at faculty orientation (opinion)

 

2019 Orientation Day for New and Returning Faculty
Sturfrei-Wesleyan College
Tupper Lake, N.Y.

 

8:30 a.m. Presidential address:
Tomorrow Is Our Future
9:15 a.m. Teaching workshop No. 1:
He/She/They/Us/You/Ewe/Oy/Vey: Honoring Preferred Gender Pronouns in Class
(Mandatory for faculty members over 50)
10:15 a.m. Provost’s address:
Living in a Posttenure World: Applying Uber/Lyft Paradigms to Contingent Faculty
11:00 a.m. First all-faculty assembly of the 2019-20 academic year:
Annual Vote of No Confidence in the President and Provost
11:05 a.m. Review of budget cuts and faculty search cancellations by the chief financial officer
11:30 a.m. Teaching workshop No. 2:
(Choose one)
• New Developments in Clicker Design: Press vs. Swipe
• Interpreting Clicker Data That Have Been Butt-Dialed
12:15 p.m. Winners of the parking lottery are announced: Find out if you can bring your car to campus this year!
12:30 p.m. Lunch on the quad, featuring a drone fly-over presented by the Hi-Skyers Student Aviation Club
Meal provided by the hospitality program’s cuisine team
Menu theme: A World of Many Flavors
• Chicken Nuggets Italiano
• Mesquite Nuggets
• Pad Thai Nuggets
• Po’ Boy Nugget Sandwich
• Nugget Schnitzel
• Cheezy Nuggets
• Nuggets de Français avec Pommes Frites
1:30 p.m. Meet SWC’s new tenure-track faculty member!
• Todd Fleth, assistant professor of e-sports
1:45 p.m. Electronic introduction of new adjunct faculty
(Names and photos will scroll on the Jumbotron in Burning Man Stadium until 5:30 p.m.)
2:00 p.m. Board of Trustees panel discussion:
Emerging Models of Faculty-Free Higher Education
3:00 p.m. Introduction of SWC’s Screaming Algae varsity football team
(Faculty should arrive by 2:50 p.m. at Burning Man Stadium and form two parallel lines for the Column of Welcome)
3:15 p.m. Announcement by provost of academic programs/majors to be phased out this semester (Sorry for the late notice.)
4:15 p.m. Teaching workshop No. 3:
Advances in Multiple-Choice Question Construction: Moving From Four Choices to Five
(Interactive session: Please bring a question with you.)
5:00 p.m. Annual running of the deans on the campus quad (Pick the winner and you could go home with a free iPad!)
5:30 p.m. Final words from the president:
The Future: Really, It Starts Tomorrow!
5:45 p.m. Closing ceremony: SWC’s student chorale, The Screechers, performs its signature medley, “From Bach to Beyoncé,” accompanied by the SWC marching band’s Twerk Squad.
6:30 p.m. Bonfire on the quad, fueled by hard-copy journals and master’s theses discarded by the library. Spouses and significant others are invited. Free beer and nuggets for all!
8:30 p.m. Movie night on the quad: Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
10:30 p.m. Postmovie conversation with a distinguished panel of male emeritus faculty members
Topic: Oh, What a Time It Was!

Michael Morris is professor emeritus of psychology at the University of New Haven.

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A tongue-in-cheek look at university service (opinion)

At U of All People, we pride ourselves on service. After all, we’re not the kind of institution that’s ever going to be known as a research institution. Our idea of publication is blogging for a friend (that does count, right?).

Unlike the small, elite liberal arts colleges that promise excellent teaching, our course evaluations are underwhelming (“Professor Beekman is a little shy,” wrote one student about a public speaking class. “Was he the guy up front?”) And since no one in academe really knows what service is (chairing the Committee on Committees? Faculty adviser to the Taekwondo and Anime Club?), we’ve decided to trumpet U of All People as “the university with no service charge.” (Maybe PR can massage that phrase when we’re ready to slap up something new on our website, which hasn’t changed since the last comp sci student graduated in 2007, and it’s covered with scrolling text auto music.)

Our provost, Dr. Watt Tchaganadou, recently sent a memo to all faculty members, asking us to list our service since the start of this academic year. That way, he emphasized with several incomprehensible emoji, the university community and beyond will know about all the hard work we do behind the scenes. “You are the unstrung heroes of our institution,” he wrote on autocorrect. “Tell us five things you’ve done to make U of All People a grate pubic universally!” “Thank you for your service,” he ended, prompting a reaction from ROTC, which has since dropped the siege barricade around his office.

The memo spurred all of us less distinguished service givers to come up with creative ways to massage the data. Professor Libby Artz in the newly merged department of sociology, anthropology, religious philosophy and modern languages compiled this list:

  • Spent five minutes every morning at the entrance to Damthem Hall. (The left door sticks, and I know how to give it a zetz that pops it right open -- students appreciate that!)
  • Fixed the coffeemaker in the faculty lounge so that it emits coffee rather than a death rattle.
  • Bought a new carton of dry‑erase markers and left it open in the department mail room -- all gone by noon.
  • Volunteered to serve as assistant underwater volleyball coach, though the swimming pool at the rec center was long ago turned into a snack bar.
  • Redesigned my office door so that it no longer sports the line “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!” but instead reads, “Thou follow me, and I will be thy guide.”

Professor Al Phaziro in computer science wrote:

  • Responded to all 12,500 emails in my in-box, some dating back to 2010, including urgent messages about curing baldness and money from Nigeria.
  • Helped streamline the U of All People landing page so that it loads in under five minutes.
  • Agreed to run a Monday morning workshop on how to coordinate the Canvas course-management system with the rest of the world.
  • Will donate to the charity Disconnected Youth all the cellphones I’ve confiscated in class.
  • May show up at commencement for the first time in 20 years, at least as an avatar.

Meanwhile, Professor P. Dantic is trying to set an example for the entire English department:

  • Have offered to correct the writing style of my colleagues on numerous occasions, including “being that” and “hopefully.”
  • Nominated myself for deputy chair of the physics department to demonstrate interdisciplinarity.
  • Will serve as faculty adviser to the Drama Club, at least until my niece plays the role of Desdemona in the spring Shakespeare production.
  • Have agreed to: 1) post office hours on my office door and 2) show up for at least half of them.
  • Working on the fifth item.

Cherry-picked anecdotal evidence shows that our strategy is working. BuzzFeed recently included us in a list of “10 Universities That Are Trying To Make a Difference (No. 8 Will Blow Your Mind!)” though our new slogan appeared as “Service with a smell!” (Professor Al Phaziro is working with Dr. Watt Tchaganadou on his autocorrect.)

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is Brevity: A Flash Fiction Handbook, from Columbia University Press.

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