Whatever happened to the Golden Rule of “Don’t be an Asshole”?

Recently, Rachel Leventhal-Weiner wrote a column in Vitae called “What Do I tell my Students?” Like many of us, Rachel is leaving a multi-year VAP position. Like for so many of us, it was long enough to like a place, get to know people, and despite our best attempts to not get attached, leave a bit of ourselves in that place: “I do feel like a part of the place. But I have always known that I really wasn’t — that, eventually, the gig would be over.”

The reactions were visceral. It seems that the Chronicle of Higher Education Website (and its facebook account) is where academic assholery intersects with general internet assholery. There were two, two I quote: “You are not the center of the universe. They’ll be fine.” –“Boo freakin Hooo”—or of course, the philosophical interpretation: “Tell them that the only constant in life is change.” (Seriously, did you read that on the wall of a toilet of a yoga studio?)

There are so many issues I have with these nasty comments- and it’ll be another list to address them:

  1. Contrary to popular belief- our students do notice.  Especially at State Universities, where funding is slashed left and right, students notice. They may not necessarily be angry that the instructor in person is leaving, but they are angry at what it represents. To them it means that they are not worth an education that is characterized by continuity and stability. Especially if they are minorities, first generation college students or just kids who need some attention, then the brutal budget cuts, the large classes, and the large amount of contingent faculty that change every year tell them that they are not worthy. No matter how hard they try, no matter how hard they work, to their legislation and to the College administration, they are not worthy.
  2. The low opinion commenters have of students. True, they drive us crazy, many of them are entitled little brats who in four years will have a salary that exceeds what we will make as full professor, thanks to their daddy’s connections. Yet, they are still your students, and when you signed that contract, you assumed an educational responsibility. Why don’t you spend the time putting others down online and actually listen to your students instead?  It might surprise you to find that  not all of them are ignorant little airheads (and if they are, be the bigger person. It’s not like you have never been young and stupid).
  3. The lack of empathy with others that are not as fortunate to have jobs or contracts renewed. How dare the hoi-polloi talk back instead of vanishing into the nothing? Tenure Track jobs are getting rarer and rarer and those who have them, usually brought great sacrifices. But that doesn’t give you a carte blanche to put everybody else down and declare them lazy and incompetent. Instead being the great gatekeepers, it may serve them well to stand up for those who are less fortunate than you. You know, the whole practicing the Marxism that you’re so fond of teaching.
  4. Aside from a glaring lack of understanding that several complex factors go into the reasons why someone is leaving a place or did not find a position (aka. shit is complicated), the privilege that these nasty comments reveal is astounding. Chances are that you assholes have taught some sort of freshman intro course, in which you told them about the life of the mind, values of community and- wait for it- the value of education for their lives. It scares me that the same people who articulate themselves as eloquently as “Boo-freaking-hoo” and “Narcissistic Drivel. You are replaceable” get to teach a young generation about values, education and prepare them for the so-called “real work.”

I guess it boils down to my title question: Whatever happened to the golden rule? You know the whole “do unto others as you would have them do onto you” or the secular version “don’t be an asshole?” Is it asked too much to show some respect and either respond in a well-articulated manner, or shut the fuck up?

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