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Some of the students in my class take a class with another member of faculty. That other, tenured, member of faculty has taken to abusing individual students in front of the whole class. This abuse takes the form of calling them "dumb" and "racist", and threatening to "report" them (whatever that means).

From my perspective, in my class the students are polite, diligent, and get on well with their peers. I'm happy to have them in my class.

Is there something I should / could be doing more than being as objective and supporting of them as possible for my own course?

The students have already started walking their complaints about the tenured faculty member up the university hierarchy. Each successive rung (department head, dean of school, provost so far) seems intent on fobbing them off.

If it makes a difference, the students involved are women of color and I am an older, white male.

Added: Apparently this behavior is not new. That's how the faculty member started out pre-tenure. The behavior modified. They were granted tenure last year, so the previous behavior has returned.

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    Are you tenured? – user111388 Mar 8 '20 at 22:13
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    Hm, that's not good.. you might want to state what you would be willing to risk for justice and if students are taken seriously by poeple in power. – user111388 Mar 8 '20 at 22:23
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    Have you witnessed this abuse yourself, or are you basing the question on what students have reported to you? – Brian Borchers Mar 9 '20 at 1:49
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    What country are you in? – Kevin McKenzie Mar 9 '20 at 12:55
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    I was fired for raising complaints about discrimination. It was one of the best things that happened to me, as it eliminated from my life people who implicitly support discrimination, and reinforced my relationships with people who stand up to it. It turns out the latter are better company all round. And there is other work. – j0equ1nn Mar 10 '20 at 6:39
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Depending on how your department works there might be something you can do. People don't like their foibles and sins brought to light. Bad things happen in the dark.

See the caveat, below, but if you have regular faculty meetings, you could raise the issue without naming anyone. "Students are complaining to me of racist/sexist behavior by some faculty member. I think we need to discuss it and whether we need policies to prevent it going forward. It is affecting their learning. It is affecting our reputation." This isn't a formal complaint about a person but it could bring about some discussion and possibly a change in behavior, if the person thinks they get no support from colleagues.

I can't guarantee that, of course. Some jerks will just be jerks.

But the caveat is that if you are a new faculty member (within, a couple of years of hire) this could be extremely dangerous for you to mention. Some places have a culture and they don't want newcomers to rock the boat in any way. All you will get, in some places, is "shut up shut up shut up". You will need to analyze how faculty generally treat one another before stepping forward. If they are willing to accept bad treatment of students, perhaps they are willing to do so generally.

In the worst case, start looking for an exit. There are some things over which you have no power and no control as a newcomer. You can find a place where faculty respect one another and the students as well.


A second option, if you don't feel safe in coming forward in public, is to feed ideas to students to make the issue a public one. Nailing theses to the cathedral door has a clear historical precedent. But this would need to come from students and they may not have thought of the possibility. Having a list of grievances posted on office doors is pretty dramatic.

But this would depend on some solidarity among students themselves. Some actions can be anonymous. Some can be through a spokesperson. And they can get a conversation going amongst faculty that is necessary.

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  • Thanks for the wise, calm words. I've taken to being supportive of the students, and suggesting other ways things can be reported. For example, there are various external accreditations that are due soon. I suggested that the students report the problems there (or at least tell the hierarchy that they intend to if nothing is done). – Acton Bell Jun 16 '20 at 15:42
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Talk to someone in Dean of Students to help. Although the department head, dean, provost, etc. are supposed to help, the Dean of Students are the ones who can probably help you the most in this case. It’s their job to protect students from any form of harassment.

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How to support students who are/were being abused:

  • Ask students how they are feeling and what they need.
  • Tell them you care.
  • Thank students for telling you about their problems. Just telling someone is scary.
  • Tell students that abuse is wrong and should not happen at universities, but that sometimes it does happen.
  • Tell students about resources available to them. Do you have a counseling office? A diversity office? An omsbudsperson?
  • Ask students if they want you to keep what they tell you private. Tell them that if they are in danger or if you receive a court order, you may not be able to keep a secret.
  • Tell students that if they have experienced trauma, they may need help from a mental health professional, especially if they feel bad after four weeks.

Taken in part from "Standard Mental Health First Aid."

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