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Ph.D candidate has meltdown over required diversity training

September 30, 2013 - Andrea Johnson
If Jason Morgan, a Ph.D candidate in history at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, had any dreams of becoming a tenured history professor at a state university, those dreams probably went up in smoke last week. On the bright side, he may well have a promising career at a conservative think tank or on some ultra-right Republican candidate's political campaign, though that's an awful lot of student loan money thrown down the rabbit hole to be a political hack.

Still, his conservative hissy fit, which can be found at http://www.thecollegefix.com/post/14698/, is one of the more entertaining burning of career bridges I have seen.

On Sept. 22, Morgan, irked by the diversity training seminar he and other teaching assistants were required to attend on Sept. 20, sent a letter of protest to the director of the graduate school. He thoughtfully forwarded the e-mail to several media outlets.

"What we were given, under the rubric of "diversity," was an avalanche of insinuations, outright accusations, and suffocating political indoctrination (or, as some of the worksheets revealingly put it, "re-education") entirely unbecoming a university of our stature," Morgan wrote. "... In an utterly unprofessional way, the overriding presumption of the session was that the people whom the History Department has chosen to employ as teaching assistants are probably racists."

The next diversity training session, which Morgan told the graduate director he will not be attending because he has far more important things to do, is a presentation on transgender students.

"Everyone is welcome in my classroom, but, whether directly or indirectly, I will not implicate myself in my students' fetishes, whatever those might be," wrote Morgan. "What they do on their own time is their business; I will not be a party to it. I am exercising my right here to say, "Enough is enough." One grows used to being thought a snarling racist–after all, others' opinions are not my affair–but one draws the line at assisting students in their private proclivities. That is a bridge too far, and one that I, at least, will not cross."

Of course, that's assuming Morgan still has a class to teach.

I don't necessarily agree with Morgan, since I think future professors really ought to have some understanding of students from different backgrounds and should make every effort to teach them effectively and help them feel comfortable in the classroom. But there's also little doubt that the diversity training that is now de rigueur at many colleges and universities sometimes goes overboard. I dare say that there are some professors and teaching assistants who might share some of Morgan's views and roll their eyes at having to attend diversity training, but most of them are far too smart to say so. Those who want to become full professors must put up with a certain amount of nonsense.

What do you make of Morgan's rant and future career prospects?

 
 

Article Comments

(20)

namexxx

Oct-04-13 4:51 PM

" . . . the diversity training that is now de rigueur at many colleges and universities sometimes goes overboard."

This lunacy recalls the famous line by Ogden Nash:

"Progress may have been all right once, but it went on too long."

AndreaJohnson

Oct-02-13 4:16 PM

The study was a bit more recent than 15 years ago -- sometime in the last decade, anyway. Several media outlets referenced it in articles that were published last year, though. I think Bregman's original article appeared in Psychology Today in 2012.

I suppose it depends on what you think is the truth and whether you value diverse opinions as well as diverse ethnicity in an academic setting. I don't necessarily agree with everything Morgan said, but I also thoroughly dislike institutions and policies that silence or censure people who speak out against the status quo.

AndreaJohnson

Oct-02-13 4:16 PM

The study was a bit more recent than 15 years ago -- sometime in the last decade, anyway. Several media outlets referenced it in articles that were published last year, though. I think Bregman's original article appeared in Psychology Today in 2012.

I suppose it depends on what you think is the truth and whether you value diverse opinions as well as diverse ethnicity in an academic setting. I don't necessarily agree with everything Morgan said, but I also thoroughly dislike institutions and policies that silence or censure people who speak out against the status quo.

MattRothchild

Oct-02-13 11:04 AM

Why? Do you enjoy silencing the opposition? It's so nice to know that you take such joy in the obliteration of voices who speak contrary to your views.

MattRothchild

Oct-02-13 9:33 AM

So, does that justify "payback"?

Marvin51

Oct-02-13 9:25 AM

I think the student has a point though he doesn't really seem to realize it himself. He has been subjected to things that make him uncomfortable and he disagrees with in the politics of the campus, much like often happens to other minorities.

People in the majority are often quite blind to how what they are doing is perceived by the minority. Whether that majority is race, or sex, or political in nature.

What many do is to move to areas where they become part of the majority so they can say and think their insensitive things about others in comfort and acceptance.

Oct-01-13 9:51 PM

There is no way to post intelligent comments on this site, since the Minot Daily bleeps out perfectly normal and acceptable words so that one can not make a cogent point without looking as though one is using improper language. Until that changes, there is not reason to continue to post. Make a change Minot!

Oct-01-13 9:49 PM

Whoops. Meant to say PHD candidate in my last post, not professor, but of course, professors have more important things to focus on that sexual preference, predilections, etc.

Oct-01-13 9:48 PM

Colleges and universities should focus on the rigors of intellectual pursuits and achievements. Political correct indoctrination is rampant on all campuses. I read about a training session last year at a U.S. university in which students were told they should accept ********** as a form of sexual behavior and not condemn or belittle those who engage in this form of sexual pleasure. That is how far out this type of politically correct nonsense has become. College professors do have more important things to focus on. I totally agree with this professor.

AndreaJohnson

Oct-01-13 2:05 PM

The research was done by Frank Dobbin of Harvard, Alexandra Kalev of Berkeley, and Erin Kelly of the University of Minnesota.

A blog by Peter Bregman at the Harvard Business Review had a good overview back in 2012.Bregman writes that, instead, people should be taught to see individuals, not labels, to have difficult conversations with co-workers that go beyond the superficial, to see the person as a whole package with different dreams and beliefs. Such training should also avoid teaching people to be "color blind" or to see the person as being "just like me," because he probably isn't. It requires complexity, in other words, not more platitudes or ideology.

MattRothchild

Oct-01-13 1:41 PM

"to make people think of individuals instead of a subgroup"

So, so much that could be said about this. I don't even know where to begin.

AndreaJohnson

Oct-01-13 1:39 PM

-- Continued -- transgender people in the abstract. It's also human nature to react defensively when you are told that you or a group you belong to is guilty of terrible things. If the U of Wisconsin is telling a bunch of TAs that they are all guilty of racism -- something we have all been taught is one of the great evils in our society -- because they are white, they are going to shut down immediately and won't accept much of anything else that is said, particularly if any open disagreement is discouraged or is outright punished, as I suspect is probably the case at that university and others. If the subject is approached differently, people might be willing to accept that some people are at a disadvantage in society and there are things they can do as teachers to make it easier for those students. I suspect there are far better ways of teaching the training session that Morgan objects to.

AndreaJohnson

Oct-01-13 1:34 PM

I've never had much patience for tired talking points from the true believers on either side of the political aisle.

A few months back I unearthed a paper by a researcher that said diversity training of this sort is ineffective and may actually INCREASE prejudices. People may not outright rebel like Morgan has, but they are more likely to make nasty jokes about the scenarios presented in the meeting or the higher ups or give it lip service. Apparently, what does actually work is a more direct and honest approach, to make people think of individuals instead of a subgroup such as "gays" or "trans people" or "blacks" or "feminists." If you make the group see that Jamie, their transgender colleague down the hall, has been brought to tears by some of the comments about trans people in the staff lounge, most decent people are going to want to do things that will help Jamie feel better in a way they might not if they are talking about transgender peo

MattRothchild

Oct-01-13 12:49 PM

"There's nothing really new or original there"

You do have a point. Too much exposure to things not terribly new or original will thoroughly jade all but the true believers in the not new or original.

AndreaJohnson

Oct-01-13 12:01 PM

Assuming that it works. To me, it sounds like a dime a dozen rant, using all the conservative talking points that you'd hear from the typical caller to the Rush Limbaugh show or perhaps from Bill O'Reilly. There's nothing really new or original there, for all he's using fairly erudite language. I'm not sure it would be enough to get him a job anywhere. But maybe I've just become jaded from years of the culture wars.

MattRothchild

Oct-01-13 11:47 AM

Well, that's assuming he had that kind of an angle in mind. If that's the case, then he's actually a genius.

See how one simple fact can change the entire dynamic?

AndreaJohnson

Oct-01-13 11:43 AM

Maybe he's positioning himself for a spot at one of those conservative think tanks or on someone's campaign. There probably aren't many positions in the country for teachers of Japanese history. He was likely doomed to be an adjunct for the next decade even if he did go to the diversity training and kept his mouth shut.

MattRothchild

Oct-01-13 10:29 AM

They DO turn them into "Come to Jesus" meetings. I've seen it.

Here's the correct way to do what this guy did. He should have kept his complaint letter private. Releasing it to the media is what you do only if you privately submit it to the powers that be at the university and they take retaliatory action against you over it.

For a PhD candidate, he was pretty dumb.

AndreaJohnson

Oct-01-13 10:14 AM

I think the argument could be made that some academics approach diversity training with almost religious fervor. This guy's description of the meeting he was forced to attend reminds me of a nun at catechism class, urging youngsters about to make their first confession to examine the dark corners of their consciences for any sign of sin, no matter how slight. In this case, the attendees were being urged to find and confess any bit of racism and acknowledge the collective guilt of whiteness. Even where there is no religious intent, maybe Americans in general are inclined to turn events like these into a "Come to Jesus" meeting.

Not that I don't think it's important for professors to treat students fairly and avoid any appearance of impropriety regarding race or gender or sexual orientation, etc. But I suspect heading off the potential of lawsuits is the main reason universities require this training.

JackAaah

Oct-01-13 9:39 AM

Some say the Catholic Church has 'obsessions'.....and I think others may say that our university systems may have an obsession in what this professor says should not be a requirement of the job....

 
 

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