11 September 2015

UTRGV makes the news

It’s almost the end of week two of the fall semester, and I’m behind. So this will be quick.

First, we have a syllabus from one of my colleagues on this campus who asked students not say say, “God bless you.” This news story says this went viral, but weirdly, I didn’t see it in my social media.

Professors already have this image of being anti-religious atheists (see the urban legends of atheist professors getting comeuppance here and here):

Likewise, "the atheist professor" is a figure common to a number of urban legends and anecdotes of the faithful: he gets flung into the mix where there's a need for someone to play the role of Science Vanquished in Science-versus-Religion tales. But he is not inserted merely to serve as an icon of learning to be humbled in tales that aim to teach that faith is of greater value than provable knowledge; he is also woven into these sorts of stories for his lack of belief. Just as the villain in oldtime melodramas had to have a waxed moustache, a black cape, and an evil laugh, so too must the bullying professor of such stories be an atheist: it would not be enough for him to be merely an insufferable, over-educated git arrogantly attempting to stretch the minds of his students by having them question something deeply believed. No, he must instead be someone who rejects the existence of God, an assignment of role that re-positions what might otherwise have been a bloodless debate about philosophy as an epic battle between two champions of faith and denial and sets up the action to unfold as one putting the boots to the other.

This incident feed right into that stereotype and doesn’t help professors’ image. I’ll place a bet that this ends up on national television on the Fox News network. If it hasn’t already.

The most charitable thing I can say about this was that it was a remarkably tone deaf thing to put on a syllabus. I just don’t understand why anyone would put this in. Maybe the idea was to keep the sound level down after someone sneezed.

But the syllabus has been changed already, and it looks like everyone acted quickly and appropriately.

Second, a few former professors are suing UTRGV because they weren’t hired back. I’ll be interested to see the outcome, since this was exactly the sort of worries that some faculty had in the planning stages.

Third, the crazy first week of UTRGV got covered in this story.

Fourth, Fridays are a fricking ghost town around here. Remember I showed this picture of parking on opening day?

Compare that to this picture from about the same time and about the same place today, this Friday:

I hate our current class schedule, which slots the vast majority of classes into twice a week 75 minute blocks. (One set on Monday and Wednesday, one set on Tuesday and Thursday.) Concentrating the classes on a smaller number of days had made the already bad parking situation worse.

Update, 14 September 2015: As predicted, the story is making its way through the national media. Interestingly, Inside Higher Education seemed to think UTRGV is the same as UT Austin:

They since corrected the tweet.

Update, 15 September 2015: More coverage, which generally transforms a polite request (“Please refrain...”) into something more strident (“outlaw”, “ban”, “prohbited”). This story made its way to Russia, in the Pravda website. Probably the first and last time UTRGV will be mentioned in Russian media for a long while.

The Chronicle of Higher Education says the UTRGV was created in 2013, which is... not exactly accurate. The law was passed then, but the university didn’t exist.

The Daily Caller took the time to call UTRGV an “unwieldy” acronym. Thanks for tossing in a dig there, guys.

One writer had a different take:

I can personally attest to students exclaiming loudly “(GOD) BLESS YOU!!” in class and during exams when someone sneezes, and it’s plainly obvious the intent was to be funny (actually annoying to everyone), not polite to the sneezer.

Of course, there are many other things with which students can interrupt, so I can see how this syllabus, as written, does appear (religiously) exclusionary.

External links

UTRGV professor asks students to resist saying ‘God bless you’ in class
Professor: Don’t say “God bless you”
College Syllabus: Please Refrain from Saying 'God Bless You'
Gesundheit, Not 'God Bless You'

More UTPA professors file suits against UTRGV, UT officials

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