Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Terror Of Teaching

Today's Roanoke Times features commentary from Bernice L. Hausman, an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech. It seems Ms. Hausman lives in fear of some of her students. But please don't take that as a criticism of the Blacksburg student body. Apparently she attracted "disturbed" students in Chicago as well.
Once, while I was an instructor at the University of Chicago, a distraught student came to see me late in the afternoon. He was a student from my previous quarter's humanities class; he had written a series of papers that had led to his final grade of C. He came to ask me, at the end of my office hours, to change his grade; as it was winter, it was getting dark. I declined, after showing him why the grade was warranted. He didn't give up.

He stayed in my office, trying to get me to read more of his work. I realized at a certain point that he wasn't going to leave willingly, that he sat between me and the door, that he was increasingly insistent, and that I didn't know what to do.

Fortunately, and completely unexpectedly, another student happened by and popped her head in my office to say hello. Her presence broke the spell, and I was able to usher out my troubled student. I was more than relieved. I now see that as a recent Ph.D., and as a woman, I was uncertain of my own authority in relation to this smart but disturbed male student.

Since then, I have learned to act more decisively so that situations do not get out of hand. In the back of my mind, however, I retain that initial fear in my meeting with the student in Chicago, when I didn't know what to do, felt helpless in my own office, and realized my own vulnerability in isolated encounters with disturbed students.
It seems Professor Hausman believes that somehow magically an act of the Virginia General Assembly will prevent her "disturbed" students from coming onto campus armed.

In the real world, inhabited by those of us less morally and intellectually superior than she, it could be expected that the exact opposite would occur. The few students with a concealed carry permit would obviously obey the new statute.

But those are not the students she is living in fear of. She is living in fear of a student suddenly going berserk and wreaking mayhem upon the Blacksburg campus. This "disturbed" student would somehow decide that, in spite of the numerous laws currently in effect against violence upon his (or her, we mustn't stereotype the mentally deranged) fellow students and faculty, this one additional statute is all it takes to hasten his return to normalcy.

Professor Hausman comes to this same conclusion herself, but then tosses it aside;
Most students, of course, are reasonable, even when they feel that they have received a lower grade than they deserve.

The issue of guns on campus is not about what most students would do, even if it would be impossible to guarantee that the few dangerous ones would be prohibited from possessing a gun.
Excuse me Ms. Hausman, it is and will always be "impossible to guarantee that the few dangerous ones would be prohibited from possessing a gun", not "if".

Ms. Hausman includes two anecdotes about campus shootings to advance her argument. Both occurred in spite of laws current at the time prohibiting weapons (and murder) on campus. She herself acknowleges this fact as well;
The graduate student at Iowa who killed four others before committing suicide was upset, apparently, because he had been passed over for a significant dissertation award. There's almost no way to protect ourselves from individuals who go over that edge of civility, who decide that revenge and self-annihilation are reasonable responses to the vagaries of life experience.

Surely after the Iowa killings and those in Montreal in December 1989, when a reclusive young man killed 14 female students at the Ecole Polytechnique while stating that he hated feminists, most of us are aware that universities are places distraught individuals can take out their frustrations by murdering others.
My! I had no idea that along with tenure comes such a dangerous workplace. Yet, she persists in her naive belief that one more law, just one more regulation will be the magic potion that keeps her safe.

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