is that you can be fired at any time for just about any reason. Example: Nicholas Winset was recently let go from his adjunct position at Emmanuel College in Boston, with only two weeks remaining in the semester, for discussing the Virginia Tech shootings in class. In doing so, he pretended to shoot some of his students (and one student pretended to shoot him). According to Winset, the college’s administration had encouraged faculty, as the Globe puts it, “to engage students on the issue.” Winset (allegedly) did as he was told:
The five-minute demonstration last Wednesday included a discussion of gun control, whether to respond to violence with violence, and the public’s “celebration of victimhood,” he said.
Why was he dismissed? The Globe reports:
The college said on Monday that Winset’s firing “had nothing to do with academic freedom” but rather “his insensitivity toward the students who were murdered at Virginia Tech” and “his use of obscene and discriminatory language which is not tolerated from students, faculty or staff at this institution.”
Winset was “disparaging the victims as rich white kids combined with an obscene epithet. He did not do this as part of an open debate with his students,” the statement said.
Many have come to his defense (e.g.) crying academic-freedom-foul (and a late call, at that). And his students don’t seem to have been upset by the incident (though one wonders how the administration came to know about his demonstration).
As always, though, things are no doubt more complicated: True, the administration can’t encourage its faculty to “engage” students on this topic without granting some freedom to broach potentially explosive topics such as gun control, violence in America, and even victimhood as such. Winset, however, doesn’t really need to make his point, whatever it ultimately was, using obscene epithets (whatever they were).
More important, it’s questionable in the first place whether a lecturer specializing in financial accounting should be devoting any of his class time to unpacking cultural issues. Academic freedom, traditionally understood, shields academics from external political whim when they pursue their expertises where they lead. My guess is that Winset hasn’t published or taught that much on American violence, gun or otherwise, and its victims.
Sure, he says he only took five minutes for discussion. Okay, but if that’s true, he wasn’t really engaging students in any meaningful way, instead either glancing off the deeper issues or asserting a position without leaving much time for student rumination. Which gives a little purchase to the administration’s claim that Winset didn’t frame his comments “as part of an open debate with his students.” I wasn’t there, admittedly, so I don’t know.
In any event, one clear lesson is that if you’re an adjunct these days, you’re better off not pointing a dry-erase marker — or probably anything else for that matter — at your students.
(Hat tip: My own students for drawing my attention to this incident.)