Academic Links Dump

Two quick links from yesterday’s Inside Higher Ed that a browser crash kept me from posting yesterday:

1) A story on a professor at Idaho who asks students to sign a waiver acknowledging that they may be offended by some of the material in his film studies class. There’s a bit of discussion of whether this is a good idea or not, but the main effect on my end is to make me grateful that I’m not a humanities professor.

From talking to colleagues on the other side of campus, there’s a whole bunch of stuff that they have to put up with that we don’t in the sciences. It’s rare to find a literature or politics class that doesn’t challenge at least some of the beliefs held by students, and some of them react very badly. Some of the things they report reading on course comment sheets are really pretty scary.

I’m extremely happy that this isn’t an issue in physics. I mean, I suppose it’s possible that some student is offended by, say, the Special Theory of Relativity, but really, I don’t feel obliged to care. That’s how the world works, and there’s no escaping it.

2) The other notable article is a piece by Eszter Hargittai, also of Crooked Timber, on how to write inquiring email to academics in a way that improves your chance of getting a response. Lots of people have linked this, most of them sadly noting that the people most in need of this advice won’t actually read it. I agree with that assessment, but the advice is too good not to pass on.


  1. #1 Chris Goedde
    November 29, 2006

    You clearly haven’t taught an astronomy class for nonscientists, Chad. Having students react badly to ideas that challenge their beliefs definitely comes up there, at least in my experience. I’ve also taught weather and climate, which also has the potential to upset some students, although I haven’t experienced that as directly as in the astronomy courses I’ve taught.

  2. #2 Scott Simmons
    November 29, 2006

    In my undergraduate physics classes, I think I was most offended by presentation of the classical mechanics of spring pendulums. I mean, ‘simple harmonic oscillation’? Hook’s Law?! Not hard to guess what was on that professor’s mind!

  3. #3 Jamie Bowden
    November 29, 2006

    I took Oceanography as an elective in my third year, and the instructor (a Ph.D. who actually taught at a University of 23k students, an absolute rarity) hated freshmen because he could no longer teach the class using math after one of them comlained about the course having a mathematics basis because it wasn’t a math course, and he had failed her.

    He then went on to point out that in any given year, 40% of the freshmen on campus were on academic probation and laughed at them.

  4. #4 Rob Knop
    November 29, 2006

    …but the main effect on my end is to make me grateful that I’m not a humanities professor….

    Heh. I fully expected some students in my astronomy class (focused on the age of the Universe) to be offended by the material, but an anonyomous survey suggested that only one or two were.

    Others, I am sure, are offended as always at grading standards and so forth.


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