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September 04, 2013

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Sam

All this in his very first lesson. Something tells me he's letting the kids know what will get them good grades (and that arguing back will get them bad grades). Start as you mean to go on, eh?

What a big brave guy.

David

All this in his very first lesson. Something tells me he’s letting the kids know what will get them good grades (and that arguing back will get them bad grades).

Bingo. Imagine you’re one of his young and impressionable students. The professor’s bizarre and lengthy outburst, and his readiness to browbeat any hint of dissent, even sceptical expressions, does rather hint at the kind of “education” that’s likely to follow. One not worth paying for, in fact. And one that’s not worth being taxed for.

What a big brave guy.

Quite. It makes me wonder exactly how many arrested adolescents are employed in academia.

JuliaM

I'm glad you didn't say 'work in academia' because the obvious reply would be 'about a third of 'em'....

AC1

Extortion funded education is a complete misallocation of capital with predictably poor outcomes. Parents should pay for their own children's education, and once learners are adults (with responsibilities) they should take over the cost.

Most of the outcome comes from the effect of subsidy to lower quality as well as expectations resulting in low quality parents using schools as a crèche to dump their kids while they enjoy the peace.
The massive transfers to sustain this dismal system results in dysgenic outcomes whereby responsible parents can afford fewer children yet irresponsible adults can knock out more kids. The long term outcome of this is not likely to be beneficial...

WTP

Quite. It makes me wonder exactly how many arrested adolescents are employed in academia

Ironically, in the past at least, an objection to such one-sided BS to any higher authority resulted in being treated as/accused of being an arrested adolescent.

BenSix

I don't think he's a calculating ideologue like those unionists so much as a loudmouth. The edited clip does not do justice to how bizarre his stream of consciousness is. He starts by talking about student fees; name-drops his pet rabbits; somehow segues into his preference for the term "black" over "people of colour"; rants about Republicans, prompted by his odd, visceral hatred of Ann Romney and then launches into an anecdote about George Washington. At the end - which made me burst out laughing - he asks, "Any questions?" The most obvious is, "What the Hell was that?" but I would have been tempted to go with, "When did Ann Romney turn down that date?"

R. Sherman

Fortunately, there are still universities in this country which concentrate on education as opposed to indoctrination. One has to do one's research, but they're out there. And, BTW, it's funny how much influence a parent can have on his child's educational choices when the parent maintains a death grip on the checkbook.

David

The edited clip does not do justice to how bizarre his stream of consciousness is.

True, the extended ramble is practically unhinged. For those who missed the link, the longer version of his extraordinary monologue can be found here.

Anna

"If you go to the Republican convention in Florida, you see all of the old Republicans with the dead skin cells washing off them," said Penn.

Those must be his creative writing skillz.

sackcloth and ashes

In my uni (mid-1990s, UK), we had a tutor in the History Dept who was solidly Old Labour, and made no secret of his dislike for Tories.

But he never harangued us like this, and he certainly didn't pick on any of the pro-Conservative students in the class and abuse them. He also did not indicate to his students that they'd get better marks for their essays if they parroted his views.

But then he was actually an educator.

I'm also really interested to see how classes in 'creative writing' work. In certain cases, it actually helps if the course is taught by someone with an expertise in their professional area (journalism, nursing, teaching etc), but how many people teaching 'creative writing' have actually demonstrated a skill for said art that has been tested by (a) critical acclaim and (b) readers? Moreover, how many successful writers of fiction have actually been generated by these courses?

I hadn't heard of William Penn (well, I'd heard of the William Penn) till I googled his name. This is what I got. It has an addition highlighted below which may get edited out.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_S._Penn

'William S. Penn is a race-baiting, egotistical maniac who is brainwashing college students at Michigan State University with ever (sic) word he speaks. It is also presumed that he wrote this wiki about himself because what college professor has a massive wiki written about themselves in this way?'

Jacob

It's hard to believe how much of a prick that man is.

Did he actually call someone a racist just for frowning at his bullshit?

BenSix

Did he actually call someone a racist just for frowning at his bullshit?

No. The edited clip changes the chronology. He started his digression about closet racists after offering an unexpected critique of the term "people of colour".

David

Did he actually call someone a racist just for frowning at his bullshit?

It isn’t entirely clear to me what prompts that random little fit - or any of the other random little fits for that matter. It’s all a bit rambling and erratic. Maybe someone frowned at his “creative” vision of the world or, perhaps more likely, he just wanted to display his progressive credentials, and thereby his superiority. “I’m a college professor,” says he, modestly. “If I find out you’re a closet racist I’m coming after you.” But his reactions to any sign of demurral, however small, make me think he’s more than just another leftwing loudmouth. He may not be as sly and calculating as the ladies in the video linked afterwards, but he’s taking similar liberties, albeit clumsily.

He’s not, I think you’d agree, ideal educator material, even for a “creative writing” course.

Steve C

I studied maths at Bristol university and not once did any of the lecturers mention politics. Presumably it's just humanities students who have to suffer this nonsense.

David

Presumably it’s just humanities students who have to suffer this nonsense.

Mostly, yes. Though not exclusively.

rabbit

And now for the good news...

Cell phones with videos may well reduce this sort of thing, as professors must now assume that anything they say could end up on YouTube. This professor is a just little slow to get the memo.

David

Incidentally, Evan Coyne Maloney’s documentary Indoctrinate U is online in full here.

rabbit

Universities are rife with professors who bully and intimidate students. Students are vulnerable to this, as they tend to be poor, insecure, ignorant, inexperienced, and desperate to get a degree - just the type that bullies target.

rabbit

Here's a rave review from "Rate My Professor":

"He is creepy and misogynistic. Picks on the attractive girls in classes. Penn presents a facade of being liberal minded and claims to love women, homosexuals and people of all race, but then progresses and perpetuates detrimental stereotypes about all three. He claims to love gay men because they "dress well and appreciate art." He refers to women as "puntas" and cougars."

The misogyny is apparent in Penn's bizarre fixation with Ann Romney. This guy's got a kink in his tail.

dicentra

When I taught Freshman Writing at Cornell, I had a prime opportunity to do exactly what this guy did: rant about all my pet peeves to a captive audience who was powerless to object.

But I didn't feel that I had the right to do that. I wasn't hired to use a bunch of freshmen as my own personal sounding board, nor was I being paid to harangue and opine.

I confined my pet peeves to peeves about the subject at hand: bad writing and reading habits. In fact, I heard once that a student confided to a teacher (not at Cornell) "I know you must be a conservative because you never talked about politics."

Yes, they're all arrested adolescents. They can't stop rebelling against daddy.

anonny

Hi Class, here's today's creative writing assignment. It will be tough I know, but I want you to imagine a world where the Democrats have done good things for America. Better still, try to visualise an America where the Obamas care for society, a society where race-victim hustling doesn't exist. A society -- can you imagine it? -- where the ruling classes don't line their own nests, make passive-aggressive statements to intimidate hard-working people and who above all put ordinary Americans first.

Okay, okay, maybe that's too tough... Instead, write a love letter to Michelle saying you love to watch her perform dance routines on TV.

sackcloth and ashes

'He claims to love gay men because they "dress well and appreciate art." He refers to women as "puntas" and cougars."'

Wow. That's so enlightened and not stereotypical at all.

Incidentally, Penn says he's part Nez Perce. Is anyone else here thinking of Ward Churchill?

R. Sherman

Dicentra, you must have taught before Composition instruction succumbed to "Content Envy" and thus, had to focus more on "isms" than being able to write a well-argued paper.

David

Yes, they’re all arrested adolescents. They can’t stop rebelling against daddy.

There’s also a problem we’ve touched on before, and which makes his dogmatic rambling particularly obnoxious. Setting aside the issue of whether professors of creative writing have any business shoehorning their own politics into the classroom and trying to mould their students’ political views, there’s also an obvious power imbalance, a certain leverage. Are we to believe that the first-year student-professor relationship is sufficiently equal and reciprocal to ensure evidence and reason prevail in such situations? How would any serious, argued disagreement play out, bearing in mind what we’ve seen? Is there no pressure on students to defer, to please, to conform? Can we simply assume that improper leverage will never be brought to bear, whether in terms of grading or more subtle signs of displeasure? And isn’t there an air of inappropriate grooming?

I’m not a great stickler for appeals to bureaucracy, but maybe for his own sake Professor Penn should reacquaint himself with his employer’s anti-discrimination policy, which prohibits “acts that harass any University community member(s) on the basis of… political persuasion.” Unless of course he thinks it’s utterly professional for the gatekeeper of grades to associate his non-leftwing students (and their non-leftwing parents) with metaphorical “rapists” and “closet racists” who want to rob “black people” of their voting rights. And who then says, “If your parents are Republicans forgive me. They won’t and I don’t care.”

sk60

“I’m a college professor,” says he, modestly. “If I find out you’re a closet racist I’m coming after you.”

Is that what creative writing professors are paid to do these days? How will he know who's a closet racist and what will he do to them?

David

Ann Althouse takes a different view.

R. Sherman

Althouse is equating the teaching of Law, which lends itself to being the Devil's Advocate and teaching Humanities in 2013. It's difficult for me to see how this professor's rant could be seen as helpful to creative writing students. Further, the threat of "coming after" students would tell me, there were certain topics or themes better left untouched in his course.

rabbit

R. Sherman:

My guess is that the "coming after" remark is where Penn is going to find himself in deep crap with the university. It is undeniably threatening. Universities can tolerate a lot of stuff in the name of academic freedom, but vendettas against students -- even "racist" students -- is not one of them.

BenSix

He’s not, I think you’d agree, ideal educator material, even for a “creative writing” course.

No. (Though I'm not sure what an ideal creative writing educator would be like - and I did creative writing...)

Althouse has half a point. When educators address students there are times when they should be able to offer their own opinions, and the Internet means that there is potential for them to be demonised. The point of it, though, should be to encourage one's students to engage with such opinions, and brashly asserting that Republicans have raped the country and don't care about anyone is preaching rather than empowering. It would take a brave soul to question him after it. I wouldn't like this bloke's career to be ruined over one lesson, still less for teachers to live in fear of public exposure, the point should be made that encouraging debate is wonderful but irrelevant diatribes are not.

David

The devil’s advocate line might have been a little more credible if Penn had actually been contrarian in terms of his peer group and personal views – say, by trashing Democrats, some leftist shibboleth or the Obamas – instead of declaring himself a fan. When Penn’s students describe him as “intolerant,” “self-righteous” and “an over-the-top liberal,” i.e., a leftist, one who “hates Republicans” and “doesn’t accept any other views or ideas,” then his generic leftist tirade can hardly be construed as playing devil’s advocate.

[ Edited. ]

Jake Haye

There would appear to be some "contradictions inherent in the system" that enables clowns like this to become 'professors'.

pst314

"Ann Althouse takes a different view."

Ann Althouse is tap-dancing as fast as she can.

Ryan Marcus

As we’ve seen, more than once, the arrogance is institutional.

*applause*

Consider your tip jar hit.

Mags

So that's what a free exchange of ideas looks like...

I can't believe how disorganized he is. First class of the year and he didn't prepare any notes? The guy's some kind of genius.

David

Thanks, Ryan. Much appreciated.

David

I can’t believe how disorganized he is.

And this rambling, vacuous guff will be costing hundreds of dollars per credit hour.

sackcloth and ashes

'How will he know who's a closet racist and what will he do to them?'

I'd be interested to see this myself, as thanks to the GI Bill quite a few US ex-servicemen and women end up doing tertiary education courses.

Now one shouldn't really generalise, but I would suggest that rank-and-file ex-US Army and USMC are not necessarily the kind of people who may automatically sympathise with Professor Penn, and may feel compelled to challenge his world-view. More's to the point, I would not necessarily advise any male tutor to say 'I’m coming after you' to any of these guys unless he is actually ready for a ruck.

AC1

Semi OT

http://www.nas.org/articles/darkness_in_anthropology_a_conversation_with_napoleon_chagnon HT Instapundit.

It looks like Marxism is anti-darwin/creationist in more than just economics.

David

Thanks, AC1. I hadn’t seen that.

AC1

You might be interested in this too then http://reason.com/blog/2013/09/04/economist-ronald-coase-was-chased-out-of

Henry

“I’m a college professor,” says he, modestly. “If I find out you’re a closet racist I’m coming after you.”

This is the part of the video that really made me...er..frown. Previous comments here have noted that we can't tell (from the video evidence) why he goes so quickly from sensing disagreement in someone's facial expression to accusing them of racism.

I think it's probably the same phenomenon we've seen a thousand times: a leftist responding to rational debate, or even the mildest disagreement, with cries of 'racism' or 'sexism'.

Whatever happened there, it's surely a nauseating display of macho posturing and intimidation - even more disgusting coming from a teacher.

Novus

Much as I would like nothing better than to endorse wholeheartedly the general thesis being advanced here, I must flag up an exception, if only one that proves the rule.

I study law at Birkbeck, a choice more or less made for me given that I work full time too. Readers may or may not know that Birkbeck Law School is riddled with adherents to the Critical Legal School, and that every module whether core or optional has to a greater or lesser extent a strong undercurrent of postmodernism and so-called critical thinking. Many of the students appear to have chosen Birkbeck specifically for the more tendentious aspects of the course. My Public Law seminars in my first year were repeatedly derailed by students wanting to talk about the constitution of Cuba.

For a laugh in my second year I selected the option "Crime Fiction and the Law". I didn't quite know what to expect. We discussed Lacan and Derrida; we read Oedipus Rex and Freud; we were urged to come to the conclusion that crime fiction serves to underscore and reinforce the sinister and insidious ideologies supporting the legal system and the elite power structures in whose interests the entire edifice has been constructed. This last point tickled me so much that I chose it as my essay topic.

Liberally quoting Bastiat, Hayek and Popper, I devoted the first third of the essay to explaining why I thought the entire course was demonstrable nonsense, citing in particular the "conspiracy theory of society" section from Popper's Open Society. Allowing that I should nonetheless attempt to answer the question, I ignored all the set materials and discussed some of my personal favourite (if I must) "texts" which have a crime fiction aspect - London Fields, The Secret History, various West Wing story arcs - in a flippant tone which I rather hoped conveyed my bafflement at the very existence of the course at a supposedly serious academic institution.

To my complete surprise, the essay was awarded a first-class mark.

David

This is the part of the video that really made me...er.. frown.

It does raise some odd questions, especially given his browbeating and general demeanour. I mean, if someone in his class is a closet racist, how will he know? Will he spend class time trying to bait them? Will he set traps? Is that part of his job description now, “creative writing and ideological witch-finding”? If you hire someone to teach your child to play the piano, you don’t generally expect the piano teacher you’ve hired to start berating you for your décor and taste for trashy literature.

Again, the presumption is remarkable.

rjmadden

Is that part of his job description now, “creative writing and ideological witch-finding”?

you aren't allowed to write novels unless you're ideologically pure, David. Those are the rules.

Spiny Norman

maybe for his own sake Professor Penn should reacquaint himself with his employer’s anti-discrimination policy...

Too late. Prof. Penn has been suspended for remainder of the semester.

Tim Newman

"If you hire someone to teach your child to play the piano, you don’t generally expect the piano teacher you’ve hired to start berating you for your décor and taste for trashy literature."

That's true, but for considerable time now the "product" you are paying for in American universities is not only what it says on the can, but a whole load of other shit as well. And it's not like they're shy about advertising this, they even seem proud of it. Students these days appear to be hopelessly naive, like going into a shop to buy a meat pie expecting it to contain only the purest, fresh ingredients and made in the oven of a little old lady, only to find it's a mass-produced job you find at the back of a football stadium full of cartilage, minced bone, and other shite that you don't want and makes the overall product inferior. I'm sorry, but what did anyone expect from a professor teaching creative writing at a modern American university? An appreciation of Adam Smith?

dicentra

By Thursday morning the video had surpassed 70k views on YouTube and received coverage from major national news outlets. For example, the video was briefly played on the O'Reilly Factor on Wednesday evening.

Without that exposure, the administrators wouldn't have done jack squat. College administrators are the most spineless creatures of all, what with their sole job requirement being "don't alienate the donors."

David

Prof. Penn has been suspended for remainder of the semester.

As rabbit noted earlier, the ubiquity of recording devices will hopefully expose more incompetent and improper teaching. Whether administrators act on that evidence in a way that’s satisfactory, and whether the faculty involved ultimately change their behaviour – to say nothing of the general culture - is perhaps another matter. As we’ve seen, it’s vanishingly rare for such people to be fired or demoted. Though staff can be intimidated and fired for entirely different reasons.

David

Without that exposure, the administrators wouldn’t have done jack squat.

I’m trying to imagine being a parent whose child was determined to venture into the Clown Quarter of academia. I suppose I’d try to warn them they’ll be entering a pathological environment, where damaged people may try to damage them. And to keep their phone camera on hot stand-by.

JuliaM

Looks like some educators have decided that it can work both ways:

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/education/london-school-head-tells-police-of-pupil-enchanted-by-anarchism-and-tips-off-his-chosen-university-8801621.html

sackcloth and ashes

'[We] were urged to come to the conclusion that crime fiction serves to underscore and reinforce the sinister and insidious ideologies supporting the legal system and the elite power structures in whose interests the entire edifice has been constructed'.

I'm quite a fan of crime fiction. My most recent read was Leopoldo Sciascia's 'The Day of the Owl', in which a murder investigation in Sicily is frustrated by official collusion with the mafia. James Ellroy's Underworld trilogy ('American Tabloid', 'The Cold Six Thousand', 'Blood's A Rover') tied in organised crime with successive Presidential administrations, and their policies towards Cuba, Vietnam and the Dominican Republic.

David Peace's 'West Riding' novels revolve around police corruption in Britain, and the appalling collusion between police officers and criminals guilty of some particularly revolting crimes. With the Swedes, the novels of Henning Mankell and Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo are all written from a left-leaning, anti-establishment standpoint.

I suspect your tutor had never read any crime fiction whatsoever, otherwise he/she would have realised that such an assertion was so way-out it didn't even begin to be wrong.

Ange

I suppose I’d try to warn them they’ll be entering a pathological environment, where damaged people may try to damage them.

David, thank you for posting videos of the David Horowitz lecture. Jaw-dropping stuff.

David

Jaw-dropping stuff.

Yes, Horowitz gives a very good overview of the problem. His book with Jacob Laksin, One-Party Classroom, is also recommended.

sk60

"Penn, a tenured professor, was pulled from all his classes Thursday in the wake of videotaped comments he made during a previous class... The university conducted a quick investigation before placing Penn on what in effect is a paid semester-long sabbatical… Penn remains an employee of the university, and will continue to draw his $146,510 salary. No decision has been made about whether he will teach next semester, MSU officials said… Derek Wright, 20, a junior actuarial sciences major… said the comments in the video "were pretty much the same thing he had been saying for the last two classes... He hadn't done much teaching of the class, just talking about his personal opinions and preaching them." Wright said he wasn't offended by what Penn had been saying. "I was more offended he wasn't teaching the class."

http://www.freep.com/article/20130905/NEWS06/309050139/

David

Thanks for that, sk60. I’ve updated the post.

“I was more offended he wasn’t teaching the class.”

Which makes me wonder whether those footing the bill for this ‘education’ may have some legal basis for taking action of their own. The assumption of an entitlement to demagogue rather than teach will only be curbed when students and parents start pushing back. One or two expensive settlements and some high-profile firings may encourage a little probity and propriety, at least for a while.

Min

He'd have saved himself a lot of grief if he'd started a blog instead of being a jerk in class. ;-)

David

He’d have saved himself a lot of grief if he’d started a blog instead of being a jerk in class.

It would have wasted less of his students’ time and money. But keeping his own adolescent politics out of the classroom would presumably leave a big hole in the professor’s lesson plan, one that would have to be filled with some instruction and intellectual content, i.e., actual work. As opposed to self-indulgent bluster. And something tells me that Professor Penn, like many of his peers, very much enjoys taking liberties of this kind (and I’d guess until recently, taking them with impunity). On a public blog, he would have a lot less leverage and power. The professor might have to deal with adults, some of whom might be well-informed and inclined to disagree with him, at length and in detail, without fear of reprisals via grading or classroom browbeating. Take away the uneven playing field of his classroom and what do you have? A narcissistic coward with sophomoric views.

As Ken White noted,

His discourse isn’t embarrassing because it is “liberal” or “anti-Republican.” It’s embarrassing because it demonstrates the level of discourse you’d expect from YouTube comments… It’s trivial and banal, the self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness sniping of someone with a captive audience and a position of power. This is a sad old man masturbating in public.

Quite.

WTP

One thing I find especially grating is this guy's "apology". Like it was all just an oopsie.

http://youtu.be/Ya2xifdO_l0

David

Having previously made it clear, in front of the entire class, that his apologies wouldn’t be honest.

Ryan Marcus

I wonder if Professor Penn is frowning right now.

David

Meanwhile, in other education news: “At what point in time did it become necessary to tell teachers to wear underwear?

WTP

Well to be fair, this is Arkysaws we're talking about. Undergarments were generally only worn for church or fancy occasions there until somewhat recently. Now if we were talking about Utah, well
http://www.mormon-underwear.com/

Ryan Marcus

"Another student who was directly accused of harboring pro-Republican sentiments said Penn had threatened to give bad grades to students who disagreed with him. "He had said before, 'You have every right to disagree with me, but it may be reflected in your grade,'" said Caroline Freeman, a student in Penn's class, in an interview with MLive."

http://dailycaller.com/2013/09/11/professors-union-defends-michigan-state-prof-who-went-on-crazy-rant/

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