I'm getting more and more disappointed with Canadian universities. Take, for example, the following story that is developing at Toronto's York University right now:
A York University tutorial assistant (TA) is under investigation after comments deemed unprofessional were posted to her Facebook page concerning the academic level of her tutorial students. The TA in question, Bianca Baggiarini, posted comments to her Facebook status Feb. 22. They stated, “My student’s papers are making me dumber, so very stupid; by the minute. Please, make them, stop. They are infecting me with there huge and apparent stupidity, and I fear they will start to effect in my opinion the way I myself right papers [sic].” . . . The situation is currently being examined by the department of sociology. . . The comments were taken down March 10 and are no longer visible for the public to see. However, social science TA Hans Rollmann says students may not be able to trust the TA after seeing the comments. “I think it demonstrates a real lack of respect for students,” said Rollman, a graduate student in women’s studies. “How can students trust that someone is going to have their best interests in mind and be trying to help them in that course if they are making fun of them behind their back?”
I have written before that, in my opinion, sociologists don't have much to do in terms of conducting interesting research. At York University, they are obviously even less occupied with anything useful if time is wasted on investigating employees' Facebook pages.
This case is problematic for a variety of reasons. First, it shows an utter disrespect on the part of York University for its employees' freedom of speech. The Department of Sociology at York University is forgetting that it has no right to censor and police the utterances of its employees that are made in their own free time. If anybody is being extremely disrespectful of the basic human rights of an employee, it's York University.
At the same time, it is disturbing to see how far some educators would go in order to infantilize students. When these students graduate and begin to work, they will discover that during a process of review at their companies, they will hear much harsher things about their performance. Teachers who baby their adult students and never expose them to any criticism of their output are doing them no favor. If they are too traumatized by hearing that, collectively, they don't perform well, what will happen to their tender psyches when they hear their individual evaluations at their performance reviews in the workplace?
It is also extremely sad that, instead of hiring TAs who can write a sentence without making several egregious mistakes and admitting students who are not so stupid as to drive their teachers up a Facebook wall, York University is concentrated on punishing people for expressing their thoughts. As educators, we are obligated to teach our undergraduate and graduate students alike to express their thoughts well. We are not, however, supposed to police the content of their thoughts.
What happens when a university begins to persecute its employees for speaking is the sad phenomenon that you can observe in the following statement by Nancy Mandell, Chair of the hapless Department of Sociology:
“I can’t comment on that [...] I can’t comment on anything that comments on her behaviour,” said Mandell. “I can only tell you we’re looking into it, and there are a range of things that might occur. But I can’t comment on what they might be.”
Apparently, it isn't only TAs but also professors at York University who can't create a sentence that doesn't sound ridiculous. It is also terrifying to see a scholar (even one who is uncomfortable with using language) who is so bullied by her university into being afraid to say anything that she repeats "I can't comment" three times in one short utterance.
Shame on you, York University!