Saturday, July 16, 2011

Oregon Professor to File Suit for Being Fired for Snapping at Student to Stop Talking Or He’ll Shoot

A deaf, sign language professor is planning to sue to get his job back at the University of Oregon after he was fired for a sarcastic comment he made about shooting a student in the head for speaking out in class.

On May 4, Peter Quint, who teaches American Sign Language, started a lecture by telling a story about a dangerous situation he faced in Pakistan when a tribesman pointed a gun at him. According to Tyree Harris, a student in the class, Quint described how he was threatened by a terrorist group and smoked "some marijuana as proof that he was not in Pakistan to be drug competition."

Harris wrote in the school paper the Oregon Daily Emerald that Quint tried to use the story as an example of how he ensured his safety because he could communicate that he wasn't a risk to the group, which was believed to be in the drug trade.

But later when a student began to interrupt Quint's story, the professor's communication skills evidently faltered. "Do you want me to take a gun out and shoot you in the head so you understand what I am talking about? I had to practice being respectful in Pakistan otherwise I would have been shot. Can you practice the same respect here?" Quint responded.

The same day, university officials received a complaint from a student about Quint's comment.

Robert Shibley, senior vice president at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, a non-profit organization that works to uphold free speech on college campuses, said Michael Bullis, dean of the College of Education, notified Quint by e-mail that he had been suspended from teaching. A few days later, Bullis sent Quint another e-mail saying that he would remain on paid leave until June 15 and would not be re-appointed to teach future courses.

Quint was ordered not to "visit the college or contact faculty, staff, or students," said Shibley, who added that he was not aware of any other reported complaints about Quint's teaching performance.

Quint "was talking about the need to communicate across barriers and show respect in a foreign environment," said Shibley, whose group is working on Quint's case. He noted that the class had a history of being disruptive and the student's interjection was against class policy.

Shibley said Quint, who was finishing his second year of teaching as an adjunct professor at the university, sent an e-mail to students in the class apologizing for his remarks.

But Harris wrote in the school paper that the termination was appropriate. "Quint was fired because of his poor class management skills and his crude, inappropriate examples that made students uncomfortable all year," wrote his former student.

Korrin Bishop, another student in Quint's class, disagrees. Also writing in the school paper before Quint's termination, Bishop told a different story. "I believe Quint's best attribute is his incredible sense of passion. He has an understanding of students and maintains a positive attitude through both highs and lows," Bishop wrote.

Earlier this month, FIRE sent a letter to the University of Oregon's President Richard Lariviere, asking him to retract Quint's termination. "Professors need to have a lot of freedom to be able to pursue their scholarly interest and teach their students," said Shibley.

But Roger Hennagin, an attorney in Lake Oswego, Ore., said he thinks the academic freedom argument may be "stretching it." "Academic freedom in my view is directed more to matters that are related to what one is teaching and being able to take a controversial or unpopular position without fear of retaliation," Hennigan said. contacted university officials, who would not comment on the pending litigation. However, the university did release a statement. "The University of Oregon conducted a thorough investigation into the incident that occurred in Mr. Quint's classroom prior to taking action," the statement reads. The Oregon University system also said it has procedures for formal proceedings when dealing with matters such as Quint's.

"The charges or a notice accompanying the charges shall inform the academic staff member of the right to a formal hearing on the charges and of the academic staff member's duty to notify the president within 10 days after the charges have been delivered or sent whether such hearing is desired," read the procedures.

Quint declined requests for comment after consulting with his lawyer, Kevin Tillson. Tillson did tell that the university terminated Quint mid-term without due process and violated Quint's free speech and his rights under the Americans With Disability Act for failure to provide reasonable accommodations in the workplace.

Shibley added that under the due process claim, "he got no hearing, he got no preparation for any kind of statement of the facts and no written finding talking about why he should get the suspension and later why he shouldn't be re-appointed."

But Hennagin said adjunct teachers like Quint don't enjoy the same privileges as tenured professors, and so he has a higher burden of proof in the courtroom. "If you're on a year-to-year contract, my understanding of the law is that you've got to prove to the court that there were automatic renewals every year," he said.

"There is not a written promise of reappointment for adjuncts, but that it is customary unless something goes wrong," said Shibley.


Higher Education Loan Bubble

Instapundit has had a number of posts regarding the supposed higher education bubble. However, to me, the most disconcerting part is the massive amount of student loan debt that exists (it exceeds total credit card debt now) and the onerous terms that are attached to that debt as shown by the graphic below.

A whole generation has mortgaged their future (literally). Where are tomorrow's entrepreneurs going to come from if nobody can afford to take risks?

I have two kids nearing college age; one is a HS senior, the other a junior. Both are doing well, the senior in particular (7th in a class of 200). She continually gets all sorts of shameless come-hither letters from every elite — and horrendously expensive — college you can name.

She understands — both because she is smart and I told her so — that a college education is an investment, and that her parents are going to pay very close attention to the return. So, instead of, for example, Dartmouth, she is (likely) going to Oregon State.

It is very likely that there is a Higher Ed bubble, and it is there for the same reasons as the real estate bubble: irreconcilable goals.

Ownership and affordability on the one hand, and Credentials and affordability on the other.

Regarding higher education, societally we are not comfortable with the notion that the lack of luck (or sins) of the parents get to circumscribe the prospects of the children. So, the government sets up means to wish the affordability problem away, which, in turn, overheats the higher ed market, until such time as enough people decide they can’t flip the cost of a college degree into sufficiently high earnings.

Inflating the demand also inflates the proxy effect of a college degree. By that I mean that the possession of a college degree is a proxy for qualities that are not specific to the knowledge gained: some level of intelligence and self-discipline primary among them. (Indeed, the proxy effect is largely what keeps the elite college brands going. Someone with a Dartmouth degree on the wall must be smart because only smart people get into Dartmouth in the first place.)

For example, my occupation really doesn’t require a four year degree, but it is nearly impossible to land a job at a major airline without one. Why? Because they feel that there is a significant correlation between having earned a degree and possessing the qualities that are important to avoiding expensive failure.

For most people, and most occupations, something much more akin to a trade school would be far more appropriate; unfortunately, what started as good intentions have created a self-reinforcing cycle of government fueled demand on the one hand, and a self-licking ice cream cone industry on the other.


The rod has been spared for far too long

Allowing British teachers even the lightest touch of physical force will improve discipline

Shockingly, nearly 1,000 pupils in England are suspended for serious disorder every school day. Bad behaviour in schools is a problem that has never been tackled. Now, at last, the Government is trying to do something about it, by giving teachers more powers to use “reasonable force” to control unruly pupils.

Even the most knowledgeable teacher in the world is useless if he or she cannot control classes. All that expertise is wasted if pupils aren’t listening; or worse, if they are rioting. Yet this seems to be the case in too many schools. Indeed, two-thirds of teachers admit that serious disorder is forcing fellow teachers out of the profession.

Under these new guidelines, teachers, who until now have often felt alone and helpless when faced with the need to restrain out of control pupils, will be able to use sensible physical force to discipline them and help stop fights and injuries in the process.

For example, they will be able to block fights physically by standing between warring pupils; they will also be able to hold badly behaving pupils firmly by the arm to restrain them, preventing them from harming themselves and others. Crucially, they can now use reasonable force to remove disruptive pupils from classes, too.

It’s not all about restraint, either. A more important part of our job is to encourage children – and a small amount of physical contact can play a huge part. Teachers need the right to comfort pupils: a kindly arm around the shoulder works wonders when a child is depressed. A pat on the back to praise a child low on confidence also works well.

Too often, the “no touch” policy, endorsed under Labour, whereby all physical contact is banned, has stopped teachers from doing their jobs properly, afraid of the inevitable accusations. Now at last, this policy too will be ended.

The irony is that the vast majority of children like being in well-ordered, well-structured classrooms, which is exactly what the Government is trying to achieve. Most of them hate disorder, feel uncomfortable with it and while, yes, they’ll play along with the unruly minority, they secretly resent not being able to learn properly.

Reasonable force must, of course, always be a last resort. But at least the would-be yobs will know it can be used. The more powers teachers have in their limited arsenal, the more confident they will be in keeping order, thus meeting the educational needs of the overwhelming majority. They need no longer feel so alone.

I’m lucky enough to be teaching in a supremely well-run school. But in some schools, it’s all too easy to lose control in the classroom, especially when you’re new. New teachers need all the support they can get and these guidelines will give them much more belief in their own ability to do the job well.

As I know from bitter experience, it only takes a few short weeks for a well-drilled class to become riotous. I’ve seen colleagues in the past – well-meaning, kindly souls, who would rather resign than physically hurt a child – come out of their classrooms, at the end of a long day, shell-shocked because they’ve received so much verbal abuse. They may be experts in maths, medieval history or modern languages, but if they cannot keep order they are sunk.

Teenagers, in particular, are quick to sense what teachers can and cannot do. In fact, there has been a trend of children spouting their rights at teachers, even whilst misbehaving, emboldened by the fact that they know Sir or Miss can do very little physically to restrain them, for fear of being suspended (“You can’t touch me, Sir – my dad will be straight on to the head!”). A small minority of parents have been all too ready to criticise and even sue teachers for trying to do their jobs properly.

To my own lasting shame, early in my career I lost control of a class and I would certainly have welcomed these new “reasonable force” guidelines then. The warning signs seem small at first and easy to ignore: questions shouted out in class, constant interruptions, constant chattering to other children. But they can quickly degenerate into a hell-hole, where three or four loudmouths are ruining the education of 20 others. Shrieking yobs rather than studious pupils become the norm.

There’s no doubt in my mind that had I been able to take hold of one of these loudmouths when I was struggling to keep order and physically remove him from my classroom, life would have been so much easier. Without an audience to play to, most louts lose their power. As it was, the worst offender simply refused to budge when he was “sent out”. And with the words of my then head of department ringing in my ears – “Whatever you do, don’t touch them” – I felt powerless.

There will be those who carp and criticise (“What exactly is reasonable force?”), but these latest guidelines on the sensible use of physical restraint to help create structured, ordered classrooms should be welcomed: full marks to the Government for setting out such guidance clearly and concisely.

No one wants a return to the bad old days of canes and beatings, but teachers must have the right to use reasonable restraint as a last resort. The alternative – thousands more suspensions, thousands more failing pupils – is a far more frightening prospect.


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