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My school and my department has a lot of undergraduate students from China. When I took this instructor's class, he routinely

  1. pressured the foreign students to answer questions about their home country that they weren't comfortable answering. (This is a math department; his questions weren't relevant to the course.)

  2. pressured the foreign students to quickly answer when they struggled to either understand him or respond in English.

  3. sneered when they answered one his questions wrong, no matter how strange the question was.

  4. didn't accept "I don't know" from Chinese students.

He never did this to any of the domestic students. This was a topic of discussion among the American students before his class—we all noticed it. Several Chinese students dropped his class because of the way he treated them, but they didn't complain because that isn't considered kosher in China. (He actually said, "I don't understand why 'A' students are dropping," after a very talented Chinese student withdrew from this class.)

I can't point to any one thing he said or did that clearly crosses the line—I would have reported him to the dean's office and the department chair if he had—but he came up to it too many times for me to be comfortable with his behavior. I liked the guy in the beginning of the course, but I was sick of the way he treated my Chinese friends by the end.

To summarize: I feel this adjunct's behavior towards Chinese students borders on harassment, but isn't obviously harassment. Should I do anything? What?

To clarify—this class already ended, but I'm told he still keeps up this crappy behavior. And the Chinese students actually come from mainland China.

  • 22
    Talk to the university ombudsman about your concerns. That is what they are there for. – scrappedcola Aug 16 '16 at 18:22
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    "Several Chinese students dropped his class because of the way he treated them, but they didn't complain because that isn't considered kosher in China." - for what it's worth, if it were only this part, it could be argued as legitimate filtering out of students who fail to show or develop a certain degree of own initiative and adaptability. That does not justify specifically targetting selected students with the measures that are meant to provoke such own initiative and adaptability, though. – O. R. Mapper Aug 16 '16 at 19:38
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    @O.R.Mapper You've completely missed the point of the question. It's about how to deal with bad behavior, not asking for apologetics. – knzhou Aug 17 '16 at 4:54
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    @O.R.Mapper Not to mention, your justification doesn't make sense. Try replacing 'Chinese' with 'women' and 'academic harassment' with 'sexual harassment'. Would you stand by your statement? The idea that it's legitimate to subject a certain class of people to harassment, and that they deserve it if they don't complain, is highly offensive. – knzhou Aug 17 '16 at 5:01
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    @O.R.Mapper Again, your conclusion is still highly offensive. Nobody would say (at least, I hope you wouldn't say!) women 'fail to show or develop initiative and adaptability' if they don't report sexual harassment. – knzhou Aug 17 '16 at 5:27
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Your university almost certainly has an office devoted to considering situations of racial harassment and discrimination. If the behavior is in general towards international students rather than just Chinese ones, this is usually also explicitly prohibited as "national origin" rather than race. You should Google your university name along with the phrases "civil rights office" or "discrimination." Usually you can make a report to them, often anonymously, and in theory you ought to be protected from retaliation.

Note that from what you've said here, I would be surprised if serious action was taken against the professor -- his actions were bad but no single action crosses the line, you say, and behavior like this is sadly common. However, it may result in a reprimand (which can, after all, change behavior if he feels pressured). In addition, I would encourage you to make this report so that, if his behavior ever escalates, there will be a case history. So often I read stories about harassment cases in academia where the defense is something like "well this was just one offense" and it seems it almost never is in reality; just the first one reported. If you say something, then the next person who says something (and may have a more serious complaint) is more likely to be believed.

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    The professor is an adjunct, so it's actually reasonably likely that he won't be asked to teach again if there are significant complaints. – ff524 Aug 16 '16 at 18:13
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    @zeldredge I think we have an international student support office, so if I can't figure out who I should deal with I'll send them an email. I'm not worried about retaliation, there's basically nothing he can do me and I'm fine standing behind my complaint. I feel like it would have more credibility if it didn't come from a direct victim. – user60356 Aug 16 '16 at 18:19
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    @ff524 That'd be my preferred outcome – user60356 Aug 16 '16 at 18:20
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    Indeed, they will likely be very responsive. If they seem hesitant, ask if it would be OK for the professor to treat the women in the class differently than the men, and in such a way as they are treating the foreign students. That might get them to realize they have a real problem on their hands. – Jon Custer Aug 16 '16 at 22:39
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    "His actions were bad but no single action crosses the line" - this is the same logic my kids use to get out of trouble. You can't point to any single thing that says they should be grounded, but they generally have been brats all day. It's a shame when you take a description of a professional educator and a toddler and can't tell which is which. – corsiKa Aug 17 '16 at 15:34
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Most universities provide anonymous teaching evaluations for professors at the end of the course -- that is, the students are given forms to evaluate the course, the teaching, etc. In my experience, these forms are taken very seriously by the various Deans offices. It's expected that there will be a certain level of disgruntled complaining, but if multiple people in the same course complain about race-based harassment, it's likely to get a response; whether a serious talk with the professor, or removing him from teaching duties.

1

Do foreign students at your university get proper orientation about such matters? E. g., something like "in this place you don't have to endure such and such treatment even from a professor, you can go to such and such office with your complains, we take it seriously"? And if not, maybe you should raise this issue rather than counter-attack a particular instructor (or, well, you can do both). May seem obvious to you, not to them. As Russian I do understand this "complaining isn't kosher" mentality, but there may be more to it than just old habits dying hard. We tried complaining at our university, the only thing we learned is that no action is ever taken on those complains, so why bother? Never been to China, but I suspect things are same there, if not worse. Are things different at your university? Do foreign students know about that?

  • Not that I know of. I'll speak next week with the ombudsman. I'll ask the question and maybe make the suggestion. – user60356 Aug 17 '16 at 19:48

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