The Adjunct Professor:

Grade inflation continues apace, but the amount of time students spend studying continues to fall across the board. Some theories as to why this may be the case include this:

Mother Jones commenter Lisa argues, "Rise in numbers of temporary, adjunct faculty, who teach many, many courses, and are terribly vulnerable to course evaluations (that's me, by the way). One can only assign so much work and expect to be invited back to teach -- plus, if you assign it, you have to read it and/or grade it yourself, which, when you're teaching four or five classes on multiple campuses, becomes impossible. This has become the bulk of university teaching[.]"
How vulnerable are adjunct professors to student comments? So vulnerable that a professor of Catholic studies can be fired for teaching Catholic doctrine:
The University of Illinois has fired an adjunct professor who taught courses on Catholicism after a student accused the instructor of engaging in hate speech by saying he agrees with the church’s teaching that homosexual sex is immoral.

The professor, Ken Howell of Champaign, said his firing violates his academic freedom. He also lost his job at an on-campus Catholic center.

Howell, who taught Introduction to Catholicism and Modern Catholic Thought, says he was fired at the end of the spring semester after sending an e-mail explaining some Catholic beliefs to his students preparing for an exam.
His email has been published for consideration. It's not great as a teaching tool -- it's generally not good academic practice to say things like, "I won't go into details here but a survey of the last few centuries reveals..." in academic discourse. Cite your sources!

On the other hand, (a) he is teaching a Catholic doctrine, as a professor of Catholic studies, and he's broadly correct about the doctrine; and (b) he raises some good points about some bad thinking prominent in current American thought. It really is the case that we, as a culture, have trouble separating people and actions. We see this all the time; if a Bill Clinton does something wrong, rather than saying that we approve of him in spite of his misdeed (which we condemn), we say either that the misdeed proves he is a wicked man outright; or we rush to find a way to explain his misdeed so that it isn't wrong at all. Just a few examples I remember hearing at the time: 'He was just being a gentleman in committing perjury to protect a young woman's reputation'; 'He was under a lot of stress from all the good he was doing'; 'She was a stalker, so it was really the fault of the person I don't approve of instead of the one I do'; 'It was a private matter that should not be subject to public moral evaluation.'

That approach to moral thought impoverishes us, as we lose the ability to condemn even clear wrongs like perjury and adultery. We all remember the rush of the feminist leadership to stand with Bill Clinton, and smooth away the faults of his betrayal of his wife and abusive advantage-taking of a young woman awed by his power and position. It is just as harmful from the other side, however: those who use the misdeed to condemn the whole man end up missing his good qualities. I was guilty of this myself; with time to reflect, his positive qualities have become more apparent.

Honest attempts at teaching that kind of lesson to college students, who are still young enough to be full of fire -- likely to rage, at times, against things they don't like to hear -- means you will occasionally draw some negative comments. These may be quite fiery. Yet this is what tenure was for: to ensure that one could honestly teach even controversial positions without fear for losing one's job.

Tenure led to some 'untenable' consequences, especially in terms of finances, but it needs to be replaced with something that protects this basic idea. If we've come to the place that a Catholic professor of Catholic studies teaching an introduction to Catholic thinking can be fired for expressing Catholic doctrine, we've gone too far. Students were supposed to be challenged to think about these principles, not have their own prejudices catered to by the professor. If it were a Muslim professor of Islamic studies teaching an introduction to Islam, we wouldn't think of firing him for expressing agreement with some point of shariah, and nor should we. If we want to learn about why people believe in shariah and are willing to structure their lives around it, we need honest teachers.

It would also help if students weren't so convinced that the professor's job is to give them A's while making them comfortable. Since it's unlikely we will persuade the students to feel that way, however, the next best thing is to ensure that professors who hold them to high standards -- and who make real attempts to teach controversial or difficult subjects -- will not be fired for doing what is, in fact, their job.

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