The Patti Adler controversy: goddammit, University of Colorado, will you PLEASE stop embarrassing me?
CU shoots itself in the dick again, devaluing its reputation and my degree even more.
Oh, good. The University of Colorado is in the news again. There is, of course, disagreement over what exactly the school is and is not doing and what Professor Adler did and did not do. Since I wasn’t there, I can’t say for certain.
Here’s what I do know. CU has been a constant source of embarrassment over the past several years and this grad is getting about sick and tired of it. Do I believe the university? Not so much. See, it’s spent a long time cultivating a credibility problem.
- There was the whole Gary Barnett/Katie Hnida thing.
- There was Ward Churchill debacle, where he and the school took turns devaluing my degree.
- There’s the Bruce Benson travesty (what elite university doesn’t want a climate disruption denialist at the helm, after all?).
- There’s the humiliation we all feel about former football coach Bill “Git Yer Wimmin In Line” McCartney, who just won’t shut the fuck up.
- There’s the perpetual cluelessness about policy vs. PR (CU didn’t invent hair-on-fire crisis management, but they’re doing their part to perfect it).
- There was the whole rebranding clusterfuck.
- And who can forget the time a few years back when former president Betsy Hoffman explained to the media that “cunt” used to be a term of endearment.
It’s getting to the point where I feel like “I earned by PhD from the University of
Clownshoes Colorado” ought to be accompanied by a rim shot.
So you’ll forgive me if, when controversies erupt – which happens every 15 minutes, it seems – I sort of automatically assume that the powers that be are a pack of slack-jawed morons. If a professor walks into a class tomorrow and machine guns 20 honor students, there’s going to be a part of me that wonders what the administration did to precipitate it.
As to the specifics of what Professor Adler allegedly did, I can’t help but laugh. Back when I was getting my doc and teaching as an assistant in the 1990s, shit like this was tame. For me, anyway. Let me tell you a story.
I was teaching the 1001 class – Intro to Mass Media – and we were doing a couple of days on censorship. I decided that the canned lessons on the subject were of little value. I had a bright class of thoughtful, progressive kids, and they were going to automatically dismiss, out of hand, the idea that anything ought to be censored. So if we were going to discuss the issue, they needed challenging. I needed to hit them in the face with something that would make even the hardcore types sit back and consider the possibility that, okay, maybe there are things that we shouldn’t necessarily protect. Not because I was pro-censorship – duh – but because I wanted my students to be rigorous critical thinkers who were not afraid of ideas and expression.
I warned them in advance and told them that they didn’t have to come that day. I told them that if, at any point, they couldn’t take it anymore, they could leave class, no questions asked.
And then I cued up the infamous Nine Inch Nails video package for Broken. It was six vids, with the really horrific one being what looks for all the world like a snuff film set to music. The high point has a Jeffrey Dahneresque killer appearing, best I could tell, to chainsaw his victim and fuck the upper half of the torso.
One girl left – only one. Nobody threw up. But some badass underclassmen who thought they could handle anything turned a little green.
Then we had an incredible, vital, deep, thoughtful conversation about the reality of censorship, and we were able to do so because the video had ripped away all the clichéd dogma that my students were carrying around with them. It was one of my finest moments as a teacher, and it’s something that was talked about on campus for some time.
Nobody complained. Nobody got fired. If I did it today, though, they wouldn’t fire me, they’re throw me in prison. And a generation of students, who have been sheltered and helicoptered damned near to death their whole lives, are the worse for it.
I hate to be the grumpy old coot talking about how back in my day everything was better, and get off my damned lawn while you’re at it, but once upon a time education was about making kids think. These days it’s about making sure that they don’t. We have sacrificed academic freedom on the altar of prissy, litigious, self-righteous faux-sensitivity and America will be paying the price for decades to come.
This story is one reason why I am so damned happy that I left teaching. And I’m sick and tired and over the university I so desperately want to be proud of making a mockery of higher education every time I turn around.
I assume that by now Dr. Adler has retained counsel. I look forward to having the issue in the national news periodically for the next three or four years so that every time a potential employer sees my résumé I can be sure that the last thing they think is that I must be really talented.