Thursday, May 21, 2015
The Other Lesson of Kennesaw
The new reality of the threat of public exposure may motivate institutions to allow managers to address problem employees with greater dispatch before the problems go viral. After all, “looking the other way” is only an option when you control who’s looking. If you don’t have exposure control, you need damage control. If you don’t have either, you’ll spin entirely out of control, and in less time than it would have taken to jump through the first bureaucratic hoop. The Kennesaw advisor wasn’t the first to act that way, but she was the first to be exposed. The game has changed. The rules will change, too.
If you looked at a transcript of this conversation you might come to a very different conclusion than you come to with the video. That, itself, is revealing I think. Videos like this give us more information on which to judge other people's experiences.
Which seems good. And yet.
I know you should never read the comments but... the YouTube comments are sexist and directly so and offensive to women. The Inside Higher Education comments are racist and indirectly so and not so offensive that it seems crazy to reply to them. But one one level the comments in both places are exactly the same. Socializing the conflict indeed. People are clearly bringing to this issue their prior views of power. It's almost exactly like the videos of police confrontations. And yet, despite the fact I've seen mind boggling abuses of power in some of those, people can defend anything. So I'm not sure the videos really change the type of discourse you get, they just make it more likely for things to go viral, given how visual we are.
Teachers in England are asking for video cameras in the classroom*, to counter accusations levelled by students backed up by video clips (edited to remove context). Context is important, and singularly lacking in most viral videos.
As an example, consider the case of George Robitaille, a TTC ticket collector who was photographed sleeping on the job. Social media condemned him for that, with lots of self-righteous smugness. No one bothered to tap on the glass and see if he was OK. (Turns out he has a medical condition and died not too much later.
As TTC union prez Kinnear said when the shit storm hit the fan last January, "It is very discouraging that the picture taker and, apparently, other customers, made no attempt to see if there was anything wrong with this TTC employee. A simple knock on the glass might have determined if the collector was, in fact, asleep or whether he was unconscious as a result of some medical problem. The reports that passengers were laughing at him as they passed by the booth makes this even more disturbing."
(Parenthetically, people were passing without paying fares, which may have had something to do with the lack of taps on the glass. A free ride and 'gotcha' seemingly counted more than checking if someone was OK.)
And this is why I'd be leery of using a random video as evidence: it lacks context. Maybe the professor 'blowing off' a student is doing just that. Maybe they are tired of getting the same questions, several times a day. (I've had students who do just that, and when their questions aren't answered they file a complaint. It's their tactic for getting out of work, and the only defense is to log every conversation so when the dean starts an inquiry the professor can show that the student has been harassing the professor.) Maybe their spouse has gone into labour and they want to get to the hospital, and the student wants their questions answered first**.
Context is king. And that's one reason for all the rules: to make certain that everyone knows the context.
*Under impartial control, not the control of the head teacher, which says a lot about teacher/admin relations there.
**I didn't believe this either, then I met the student. "Self-centred" is too mild a term for them.
You seem to be drawing conclusions from the reporting that might not be supported by the facts concerning the entire history of (if the e-mail shown in the story applies to the event shown in the video) the interaction of a person apparently carrying out college policy and a student repeatedly seeking special treatment outside of that policy and refusing to follow standard protocol in that office.
The student only has to appear rational for the short span of the video to pull this off.
I would hope that your college would also have suspended the person with pay while a full and proper investigation is carried out, rather than react based on the publicity and the race and gender of the persons involved.
BTW, in my state the video itself might have been illegal.
There are pluses and minuses in this. First, there is a definite loss of privacy if you are aware that there are video cameras everywhere that are recording just about everything you do. But you really have no expectation of privacy if you are in a public place, but video cameras are intruding into spaces which many people regard as private. But video cameras have been useful in solving crimes, as well as in exposing misdeeds by police officers. Without video evidence, the true facts of what actually happened in a nasty incident may never emerge, and might simply devolve into a “he said/she said” controversy. But very often short video clips (perhaps even selectively edited) may not tell the full story of what actually happened, or may give a distorted view of the incident.
I think that more and more businesses, as well as educational institutions, may introduce video cameras, simply in order to cover their butts in case there is a controversy or a nasty incident. If an offended customer or student sues or files a complaint, the institution can simply wave the video, saying “See, this is what *really* happened”. Perhaps a savvy professor should record on video every one of their lectures, just in case there is some controversy about what was said in class or in case some student complains. But what are the regulations about recording the students who are in the class? Does this require their consent?
Even in private, video cameras may become more ubiquitous. I have heard that some men are actually considering video recording of their sexual encounters, not for kinky purposes, but simply to cover their backsides just in case there is a question about consent that arises at a later time. In the future, just about every human interaction will have to be recorded, just in case there is a question that arises later about what really happened.
Up here, professors are allowed to set their own policy regarding students recording them — but they aren't allowed to do anything to actually enforce it, so in practice students are allowed to record professors.
However, professors need to have prior permission to record students, and even one student in the room saying "don't tape me" is enough to make recording that class/interaction a disciplinary offence.
This asymmetry is an example of the administrative decisions that are making this place much higher stress than it was before we got a new admin team.
That is surprising, but then state laws and college policies vary widely across these United States. Our situation is that students cannot record the class (even with those magic pens that sync to a special notebook) unless they have the permission of every student in that class.
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