Thursday, April 8, 2004

Teaching As Therapy

The experience of my wife and I attending Sonoma State University was that there seemed to be a number of professors for whom class was a form of therapy--a way for them to deal with their demons. Not surprisingly, these were among the more wasteful classes (at least for the students). I had an ethnic studies class where the professor insisted quite frequently that attitudes about race in America hadn't changed since the 1950s--and here he was, a black guy who was a tenured professor and an elected member of the school board in an overwhelmingly white city. He told us that in the 1950s, he and a white girl that he knew would respond to apartment rental ads just for the reaction of the landlord. (He told us that they stopped doing this when one landlord's response was to have a heart attack.)

My wife had a professor for a Women's Studies class whose notion of scholarship could be deduced from the fact that much of the reading for the class was 10-15 year old articles from Time and Newsweek. She handed out a fairly silly paper written by some overprivileged undergraduate about how white privilege and male privilege are very similar institutions, and then asked students to critically analyze the paper.

My wife's paper pointed out the many flaws in this analogy, not just the obvious one that females aren't disproportionately raised in impoverished homes. I sat outside the professor's office while this "professor" ranted and raved at my wife for writing such a negative paper; it was pretty obvious that my wife had made a serious mistake: she actually analyzed the paper's flaws, instead of gushing over it. From then on in class, whenever my wife would raise her hand, the professor would look around, look right at her, and say, "No questions? Okay, we'll move on."

You will notice that the examples that I have given are from two of the joke departments: American Multi-Cultural Studies and Women's Studies. I don't think that either of these has to be a joke--but in practice, ethnic studies departments at many schools came into existence as a way of getting the Administration Building back in one piece, and Women's Studies were started because, "Well, blacks have an ethnic studies department...."

A few weeks back, I mentioned the professor at Claremont-McKenna College whose car was vandalized in a "hate crime"--and then, it turned out, that witnesses reported that she had vandalized the car herself. Her own statement's inconsistencies soon demonstrated that she was lying. Now the Los Angeles Times reports that she has a previous criminal history--and one that reminds me of our experiences at Sonoma State, where the line between emotional problems and teaching was often invisible:
Police and court records show Dunn's other side.

On Sept. 24, 1999, she was arrested and charged with driving without a license and with fictitious license plates, said Officer Katherine Finnell, a Lincoln police spokeswoman. Dunn paid $75 in fines, said chief prosecutor John McQuinn.

On Dec. 31, 1999, Lincoln police arrested Dunn for shoplifting, Finnell said. On that day, she said, Dunn hid a $30 pink sweater in her purse while she was in the dressing room of a clothing store. A store employee called police, Finnell said.

The charges against Dunn were dismissed in exchange for her paying court costs, McQuinn said.

Less than a year later, on Sept. 29, 2000, a Dillard's department store employee saw Dunn putting a shoe box in a shopping bag, Finnell said. A police officer found Dunn's shopping bag contained a pair of red size 7 shoes and some Liz Claiborne jewelry: three bracelets, a necklace and a pair of earrings, Finnell said ? about $141 worth of merchandise from Dillard's.

On Tuesday, a Times reporter visited Dunn's house to ask about the shoplifting. She said she would not discuss it.

Gann, the president of Claremont McKenna, said that when college officials interviewed Dunn for her job as a visiting assistant professor, they checked references but that prospective faculty are not asked about a criminal record. Now they might be, she said.

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