View from the other side of the desk

David Lapakko, Dept. of Communication Studies, Film, and New Media

With the “N-word” controversy on campus, a lot of stuff has hit the fan. Some students say they don’t feel safe. I know there are good reasons for that. But if you’re a student who does not feel safe, you’re not alone. Faculty, too, are in a precarious place, one which threatens their sense of worth, their morale, their reputation and even their career.

What could a faculty member possibly have to fear? How could a college professor actually feel unsafe? Much of it involves the very “public” types of scrutiny that we face. With tenure and promotion decisions in mind, our course evaluations can be and are viewed by a variety of people on campus — and because it’s electronic data, every student comment and every numerical rating never goes away. Also, anyone on the planet can go to websites that include random and anonymous evaluations of our courses. Further, students can complain anonymously to the Dean of Students and force that office to confront the faculty member about their behavior, often with the presumption that there must have been something that the faculty member did which was wrong.

If that weren’t enough, students have at various times surreptitiously recorded what faculty members have said and put those recordings on social media. And on the most mundane level, faculty must always be aware that students might speak about them behind their backs, with the fear that as such gossip goes through several retellings, it can become badly distorted. 

In the end, we are powerless to stop any of these things and thus feel vulnerable and paranoid.  So, right now everyone is afraid; no one feels really safe. As a community of people who would claim to listen to each other and care about one another, what can we do about this?

This article was originally published in the Nov. 16, 2018 issue.