Monday, April 4, 2011

Professor Arrested for Shutting a Student's Laptop

I just read the following story in Inside Higher Ed:
Frank J. Rybicki, assistant professor of mass media at Valdosta State University, shut the laptop of a student who was allegedly web surfing as opposed to taking notes. She filed a complaint (reportedly about a finger or fingers that were hurt when he shut the laptop) and the university's police arrested him on a charge of battery. The Georgia institution suspended his teaching duties there, although not his pay. Reached on the phone, Rybicki confirmed his arrest and suspension, and said that he had been told by the university not to answer questions about the incident. He did say that the article and comments in the student newspaper, The Spectator, were accurate. That article quoted students who saw the incident as saying that Rybicki closed the laptop amid an argument with the student over his view that she had been on websites not related to the course.
In this situation, both the student and the professor acted in a very unintelligent way. The student is obviously an idiot who has no interest in getting an education. There are students who are so behind in class that they have no idea what's going on. They can't participate or contribute anything to the discussions, which makes them feel stupid. In order to save face, they hide behind their cell-phones, laptops and iPods. I have a students like that who always have their iPhones at the ready in case I give out an assignment they cannot complete, or often even understand.

The professor in this situation showed himself to be as unintelligent as the student. What's the point of jeopardizing one's career for the sake of a student who has no interest in learning? You can't force a person to learn against their will. You can take away all their gadgets and chain them to the desk. And they still will not learn. 

In my teaching, I made a decision a long time ago to concentrate on those students who do want to learn and forget about the snoring, web-surfing, texting losers. They are destroying their own chances at getting educated. Why should I care about that or about anything in their sorry lives? I actually prefer that such students sit there with their noses stuck into their laptops and iPhones instead of distracting the entire class with stupid jokes and idiotic comments. I wish that Professor Rybicki had done the same instead of putting his entire career at risk for the sake of a silly hope that a stupid, ignorant student can be redeemed.


Canukistani said...

The question is really for what would you be willing to put your entire career at risk? Professor Outis Philalithapoulos did it to follow his intellectual beliefs.

Academic choice theory is a subset of Public choice theory which in turn is a subset of Positive choice theory. PCT’s basic premise is material considerations predominate in politics and Public choice theory states that the personal material considerations predominate in the decisions of politicians. Public choice theory explains how political decision-making results in outcomes that conflict with the preferences of the general public. This theory ties in with my ideas of the central role of the low information voters in current American politics on which I commented at length previously. Professor Philalithopoulos applied this analysis to Academia which resulted in being cast out as a heretic. Yves Smith wrote on his blog today:

“Professor Outis Philalithopoulos was found dead in his home three days ago; the coroner’s report cited natural causes that were left unspecified. Unfortunately, all of the professor’s academic work has disappeared; the only trace left appears to be the following letter, which he sent to an admirer shortly before his death. The understandably concerned recipient of the letter has shared its contents with Naked Capitalism, and has insisted that her identity be protected.”

In the letter he wrote the following:

“Would you recommend a research career in Academic Choice theory? There are certainly a few obstacles. You would have to resolutely conceal your interest in Academic Choice during your entire educational career, at least until you receive tenure. Once you reveal your true passion, you would have to accept both relative poverty and ceaseless acrimony on the part of your colleagues.”

You can read the whole letter at:

Those stupid, ignorant students will become the low information voters of tomorrow. I’m not arguing against your opinion but there are consequences.

Rimi said...

"The professor in this situation showed himself to be as unintelligent as the student. What's the point of jeopardizing one's career for the sake of a student who has no interest in learning?"

A bit shocking, that, Clarissa. Your proposed course of action is much more politic and safe, but when shutting a student's laptop results in being arrested fir battery, perhaps it's time to stop yielding inch and inch to inanities, and fight back. Teaching is definitely a paid profession, and like all such it must definitely act within certain parameters, but it comes with a degree of social responsibility. And contrary to popular belief, uninterested, uninformed, troublemaking students (who think they're 'protecting thieir rights') don't vanish into thin air when ignored. They graduate and begin to vote, or abstain from voting, and it's by their consensus that elected leaders propose to cut teaching budgets, research grants, pension programmes, and eventually, Medicare, welfare, Social Security. And they've begun to succeed.

It feels odd to defend a chap arrested for battery in the classroom, since I activly support banning corporal punishment or verbal harassment, but in our times corporal punishment or assault were caning, slapping, twisting ears, putting pencils between fingers and pressing them together, yanking children by their hair, and plain all out hitting. Compared to this, shutting a student's laptop seems, well, you know what it seems like. But our collective futures are at stake here.

I wish teachers in the west still had the right to ask students to leave their class. Sure, it might damage the students emotionally, but then I'm sure the professor has also been damaged emotionally by the students' lack of interest in his teaching, so it's fair play :P

Clarissa said...

Canukistani: you are right, of course, in that we are all going to pay the price of bringing up a generation of indifferent, ADD-ridden slackers. But I don't see how slamming their laptops shut is going to solve that problem. You can't force anybody to be interested if they decide not to be. I work extremely hard to make my material as accessible and easy for the students to relate to as possible. But there is nothing I can do to make those who don't want to learn.

Rimi: as I understand it, the prof slammed the laptop lid on the student's fingers, which is definitely not Ok. We do not harm people physically, no matter how annoying we might find them.

I do agree, though, that it would be great to have the right to ask disruptive students to leave the classroom until such time as when they can gather themselves and begin to behave like civilized human beings.

Canukistani said...

Sorry Clarissa,

I got hoaxed on the Prof. bit. I don't usually vet Yves because he is very reputable. At 3:30 pm he wrote:

"This is a satirical presentation of a serious theory. That’s why we didn’t run this on April 1."

The internal logic is accurate and my comment about the consequences does still stand although physical force is not acceptable.

Pen said...

Wait, you can't tell kids to leave? Why?

Clarissa said...

I once suggested to a student who barged in 20 minutes into the class and told me to "Fuck off, bitch" that it might be a good idea for her to leave. Then I was told by the administration that I can't do that because the student paid to be there. She was obviously on drugs and everybody was kind of scared to have her there. But still, you can't ask them to leave.

A colleague told me that she once had a student who repeatedly threatened her with physical harm. She had to invite a police officer to sit on her classes just in case. But she couldn't ask the student to remove himself.

Pen said...

I find their economic reasoning completely ridiculous. In my opinion, there are some college kids who are worse than high school kids (and that's saying something). It's completely ridiculous to not allow a teacher to suggest removal from the class--especially where potential harm is involved, either toward the student in question, other students, or the teacher. Or if the class is constantly being disrupted. That kind of policy does not respect the teachers at all.

Paying for school is like paying for privilege: it can be taken away. Is it so wrong for teachers to not want such students (during these instances--there is also a point where it can go too far) in their classes?

Clarissa said...

Administrators brand as problematic any instructor who students complain about (whatever the reason for the complaints), so it's easier to avoid doing anything that might cause students to complain.

Of course, we aren't doing the students any favors by coddling them in this way. Jobs are hard to come by nowadays and even harder to keep. For how long do you think such attitudes will be tolerated in the workplace? I give it about 5 seconds before any employer puts such a person's ass right in the street.

Anonymous said...

A professor at WKU (my alma mater) had an ingenious solution to this--he played a joke on his students. He was a History professor, and so was on the second floor. He gave a student an old laptop, told said student to have it open and to be obvious about not paying attention during the next class meeting. During the next class he railed at the conspiring student for not paying attention and threw the laptop out of an open window! It shocked all the students into paying attention. And the professor passed into WKU legend (or he should, anyway). I wish I'd been in that class. I heard about it later that day from a friend who'd been in that class.

I wish Rybicki had been as creative. I know many professors at Western simply ban laptops in their classrooms.