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OP-ED | When Adjuncts Attack: GOP Paranoia on Display in ECSU Professor Flap

by Susan Bigelow | Apr 25, 2014 1:15pm
(20) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Opinion

Republicans, meet the face of everything that scares you: an adjunct professor in a public university classroom giving an unfocused, rambling speech about how awful you are.

Recently a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University named Brent Terry decided to inform his creative writing class that Republicans would “close colleges” if they took over the Senate in the upcoming election, that Republicans were all a lot of rich jerks, and that “…there are a lot of people out there that do not want black people to vote, do not want Latinos to vote. Do not want old people to vote, or young people to vote. Because generally, people like you are liberal.” It goes on from there. A student recorded the rant, and a conservative website called Campus Reform picked it up.

Republicans were quick to denounce Terry. “I find it offensive as a Republican, as a parent, and frankly as a citizen of the state of Connecticut that we would have in our public universities a professor who would make such a comment,” said House Minority Leader Larry Cafero. GOP state chair Jerry Labriola Jr. said that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy should investigate this “clear abuse of a taxpayer-funded position,” and called Terry’s remarks “indoctrination.” John Rowland would doubtless have spent several days talking about it—if he still had a radio show.

So let’s unpack all of this.

First, Terry’s statement was not particularly well thought out. It was the sort of thing that you might find in the lower levels of a comments section at Daily Kos, more a stream of invective than a cogent argument. As opinions go, it’s boilerplate anti-Republican stuff.

Does it belong in a college classroom?

That’s tricky. Opinions, especially well-informed ones, are often a critical piece of academic debate. I had a history professor who had a serious grudge against FDR, and detailed all his faults in contrast with Herbert Hoover’s unadmired greatness. I eventually discovered that this was an argument with a partisan pedigree that went back to the cranky, bitter Republicanism of the 1930s.

He taught a side of American history I didn’t get to see much of, and it got me thinking about how everything has another way of looking at it. He supported his reasoning with sources and facts, and defended his interpretation of them. Many years later I can disagree with that professor, but I would never think to censor him.

This isn’t that, though. This is less a well-supported academic opinion and more a partisan political opinion, and there are some very important differences between the two.

I’m reminded of a mistake I made a long time ago. In my first year of teaching high school I was doing a unit on Animal Farm and somehow got onto the topic of guns. I said something about the dangers of weapons, and a student very perceptively asked me, “Are you advocating gun control?”

“Yes,” I blurted out before I could really think about it. The bell rang, the class left.

Later, I regretted it. Should I have said that? Should I be bringing my own personal beliefs into the classroom? I realized that I was wrong. My purpose was to pose the questions, present the information, and help students develop their own answers, not to dictate my personal politics to them.

There’s another element to this, too. Controversial opinions are one thing, but something else when coming from someone who grades you. Students might not feel safe pushing back against his politics without worrying that their professor would see them as lesser.

Terry realized that. He apologized. I hope it was sincere, and that he’ll reflect on his teaching.

That said, the Republican response was completely out of proportion. Did Larry Cafero really need to take to the floor of the House to yell at him? Did Jerry Labriola really need to call for some sort of “investigation”?

Are they aware of how utterly paranoid they look?

I get that a lot of conservatives feel like the academy is a bastion of liberalism that stifles conservative opinions. I’ve worked in education for my entire adult life and there is something to that, though it’s more complicated and less threatening than this myth of liberal indoctrination.

However, this kind of overreaction doesn’t help Republicans. They may raise some money from it, but most will be scratching their heads at why the GOP’s reaction was so fast, so defensive, and so over-the-top.

It’s almost as if there’s an uncomfortable grain of truth in what Terry said.

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

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(20) Comments

posted by: NoNonsense2014 | April 25, 2014  1:38pm

You think the Republican response to the professor’s rant was “out of proportion”? Are you forgetting it was just a week or two ago they all got their knickers in a twist because some union official “rolled his eyes”? I think at the time some Republican Pooh-Bah actually admitted that the GOP is ultra-sensitive these days. They need help.

posted by: Councilman1 | April 25, 2014  1:41pm

Grain of truth? It was completely true

posted by: Greg | April 25, 2014  2:42pm

On one hand, this type of drivel comes from the mouths of the over-entitled, holier-than-thou, cocktail party crowd of academia all the time.  My glory years at uconn had more than one humanities or liberal arts professor going on some idiotic rampage about anything non-communist on a regular basis and the students managed to tune out and not care.  Except for that one time in my GenEd “feminism” class where a student asked the very angry professor if he, and all other males, were evil due to the simple fact he/they had testicles. 

She got very angry, the lecture hall of 100+ laughed. Everyone got over it.

On the other hand, there is indeed a pervasive hyper-leftist bent in academia and that is awfully irritating to those of us who were singled out for challenging their precious worldview under the perview of “free and open debate” and “critical thinking” so many colleges love to talk about.  Hard to debate when the other side holds the hammer over your final grade.

In addition, if this was a professor going on some rampage about democrats pandering to welfare queens with their Obama Phones with 5 kids from 5 different babys-daddy in the ghetto, would the Democrats be out looking to send this guy to the gallows and take his pension away?  Racist! How insensitive to the poor!  The Courant would write editorials and Rachel Maddow would call for his immediate resignation. Koch Brothers KKK Tea-Party Racist(!) the left would yell from the rooftops. 

Daily Kos indeed.

posted by: justsayin | April 25, 2014  2:59pm

Please stop. You libs run to the microphone whenever the wind blows. No professor should label any group as he did. Not to mention he was wrong. Susan are you in favor of lib racism?

posted by: Historian | April 25, 2014  3:16pm

Nice that Terry’s “ramblings” are receiving all this attention. There was another similar incident reported yesterday when another professor delivered another biased lecture to some christian street ministers recruiting on campus. -
  Spring has always been the crazy time for students - it is the warming flowering time but I assume that global warming has spread that annual infection to the adults.

posted by: Bluecoat | April 25, 2014  3:33pm

Or maybe this “adjunct professor” like many of his kind are upset that they now live in a part-time world, where they may never get a tenured position and feel they have to take it out on the boogey-man - i.e. republicans.

Great article on why adjuncts are the way they are…
<https://chroniclevitae.com/news/461-sharecroppers-migrant-workers-adjuncts>

Or maybe the professor is mad about the Administrative bloat that is bankrupting almost every college…
Professor Reynolds has been all over this for years…
<http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2014/02/17/college-tuition-job-students-loan-debt-column/5531461>

posted by: Bluecoat | April 25, 2014  3:43pm

People like this Professor and the ones who want to defend him, belong to the group of individuals that Thomas Sowell termed the “Vision of the Self-Anointed”.
From his 1995 book:
“The presumed irrationality of the public is a pattern running through many, if not most or all, of the great crusades of the anointed in the twentieth century–regardless of the subject matter of the crusade or the field in which it arises. Whether the issue has been ‘overpopulation,’ Keynesian economics, criminal justice, or natural resource exhaustion, a key assumption has been that the public is so irrational that the superior wisdom of the anointed must be imposed, in order to avert disaster. The anointed do not simply happen to have a disdain for the public. Such disdain is an integral part of their vision, for the central feature of that vision is preemption of the decisions of others.” — P. 123-124
Or this one may fit better:
“The vision of the anointed is one in which ills as poverty, irresponsible sex, and crime derive primarily from ‘society,’ rather than from individual choices and behavior. To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by ‘society’.” — P. 203

posted by: Bluecoat | April 25, 2014  3:44pm

Thomas Sowell- The Vision of the Anointed

“In the anointed we find a whole class of supposedly ‘thinking people’ who do remarkably little thinking about substance and a great deal of verbal expression. In order that this relatively small group of people can believe themselves wiser and nobler than the common herd, we have adopted policies which impose heavy costs on millions of other human beings, not only in taxes, but also in lost jobs, social disintegration, and a loss of personal safety. Seldom have so few cost so much to so many.” — P. 260

posted by: Ct Hostage | April 25, 2014  3:53pm

>>>I had a history professor who had a serious grudge against FDR, and detailed all his faults in contrast with Herbert Hoover’s unadmired greatness.

See, there’s the difference.  At least your professor was discussing history in a history class.

What subject was being discussed in a Creative Writing class that prompted Terry’s idiotic outburst?

We all recognize that there is an overwhelming majority of liberals in academia.  It’s just a fact of life and we deal with it.

But we are constantly assured that their classwork is not influenced by their politics.

I guess we are seeing that lie finally being exposed over the last week.

Seriously, these are the people that are responsible for educating the next generation?  They aren’t even mature enough to act like adults.

posted by: Chien DeBerger | April 25, 2014  4:40pm

Mark Twain observed: “Better people think you’re a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

He is right again.

posted by: art vandelay | April 25, 2014  5:08pm

art vandelay

Interesting that Professor Terry is getting a pass yet Cliven Bundy is being raked over the coals.

posted by: ABC | April 25, 2014  7:08pm

The thing that pisses me off is that I am paying this “professor” with my tax dollars.

If this were a private college, you can bet that the president would hear from me if my kid was enrolled or they were asking me for money. 

But this is a publicly funded school where I gave no choice but to fund it.

posted by: StillRevolting | April 25, 2014  8:01pm

Yes, students should be challenged with stark positions that take them out of their comfort zones. Yes, Cafero and Labriola come across as crybabies. No, it is not wrong for me to be offended when being characterized as someone who would wish to disenfranchise large voting blocks because I’m a Republican. Susan, ask yourself how this would read if Terry were perpetuating an LGBT stereotype instead of just calling all Republicans narrow-minded racists. So, “let’s unpack” (Thanks, I like that!) a bit more. Let’s add the remarks of the brilliant Serafin Mendez of CCSU who felt the need to come to Terry’s aid with, “Maybe Professor Brent should have provided more context such as the Republican fight against the Civil Rights Act…” Now we are starting to get the soup stock ready with a combination of something like intellectual dishonesty, revisionist history, and outright demonization. Please make a quick search for the YouTube and Channel 30 videos of Professor Boster on the UCONN campus for the next ingredient in what is progressing from stock to a nice, thick soup. He may not have evolved as far as he would have liked from the apes. Adding a public display complete with profanity and physical intimidation makes our soup into a stew that nearly needs a fork to enjoy properly. Wonder why we can’t seem to talk anymore? These rants passing as education might be part of the reason for that. I like to be able to pick the scabs with friends and have honest discussions about why our views differ. Funny, that’s also how good policy used to be made. The real question becomes, why are any of these three intellectually lazy people paid to teach anyone anything with my tax dollars? With the power-over relationship between student and teacher and the lack of room for dissent or questions allowed by the teachers involved, this is actually liberal indoctrination rather than education. That makes me want to go looking for a refund of their salaries. They should all be hugely embarrassed.

posted by: enness | April 26, 2014  6:39am

Way to equivocate!  This piece is a joke.

You omitted the worst part of the rant, which is when he actually used the words ‘racist’ and ‘misogynist.’  I can deal with being a ‘jerk’—that’s a subjective matter.  What he actually said is a flat-out lie about myself and others.

This past week alone we have seen news of Terry’s rant; another professor writing into the Hartford Courant with a colossally arrogant defense of him; a UConn professor cursing and shaking his fists in the face of a man holding a sign; I could go on.  It’s becoming clear to me that this is not an isolated problem at all.  There is a serious chill in this state on one viewpoint.

No, it’s not tricky.  It’s not tricky at all.  There’s no question Terry’s rant did not belong.  If he admitted it why can’t you bring yourself to do the same?  You’re not doing a whole lot better than Serafin Mendez, suggesting that students who object are merely suffering from ‘discomfort.’  Minimize, rationalize.

posted by: Bluecoat | April 26, 2014  12:05pm

I wonder if the UCONN Professor or the CCSU Professor would have the courage to confront say, CCSU Physics Professor Ali Antar, if Mr. Antar was on Campus as a representative of his Mosque(I believe He is an Iman at a Mosque in Berlin, CT). Imagine Iman Antar exposing his views about his god, and the his views on moral decay of the US, or his political views on Israel. Does anyone think the UCONN Professor would get in his face?

posted by: Bluecoat | April 26, 2014  12:07pm

Once again these professors and their apologists show their true tolerance, which is they have none whatsoever, especially if you don’t agree with them, then your are an imbecilic or ignorant

posted by: Historian | April 27, 2014  5:46pm

Addendum: those public lawyers employed by the DCF to represent children are worthy of attention as they are paid by the state at minimal rates for equally dramatic and horrendous conditions =- Why?  Are not their clients equally worthy of attorney fees at the same rate as divorce cases? After all they are humans, helpless and tied to an equally complex system. ?? Perhaps the answer is they are broke..Here is solution.. All family practice lawyers have to accept the same hourly fees - and each case shall be assigned to a lawyer by the system - no cherry picking. Think that will change the bottlenecks in a hurry?

posted by: Noteworthy | April 29, 2014  7:01am

Bigelow does her best to put lipstick on a pig and even adds a purse - but it’s still ugly and unacceptable. This is not about opening students’ minds, it’s about repeating at best what are lower rung partisan broadsides and generalizations or at worst, just dumb, ignorant prognostications. The offensive part is this was not a political science club or class, it was creative writing. We are spending all this money on this sorry level of education? And we wonder what is wrong with education? Come on.

posted by: art vandelay | April 29, 2014  9:47am

art vandelay

Looks like I now have to add Donald Sterling to the list.

posted by: bff426 | May 4, 2014  12:28pm

Terry makes these comments in a public forum, and Bigelow pooh-poohs them. Donald Sterling makes comments in a private setting that are surreptitiously recorded, and now he’s being run out of the NBA, forced to sell his team. Where is Ms. Bigelow’s column defending him?