Thursday, June 4, 2015

Professor Vox is not actually afraid of his liberal students

We've seen bad things happen to too many good teachers — adjuncts getting axed because their evaluations dipped below a 3.0, grad students being removed from classes after a single student complaint, and so on. - Professor Vox
Anyone who teaches, particularly at four-year universities, can empathize with this fear -- and as a matter of solidarity, we should. But it's patently bizarre to understand this as a fear of students.

Professor Vox is afraid that his tyrannical employers will use their almost entirely unchecked power to punish him out of all proportion to the alleged crime. They will lock his classroom door, and they will use their administrative control of tuition funds to prevent students from paying him for his services.

The second-order fear here is that other employers will behave the same way, denying him the ability to work anywhere else. The third-order fear is that, because of his lack of income, capitalists will deny him access to basic necessities like food, shelter, and health care. Or that all of this will cascade into a deteriorated standard of living where he has to take a job he doesn't like in order to survive.

It's impossible to miss this in his essay. He openly worries about being denied tenure -- and unless we take this as a petty concern about prestige, it has to be understood as a concern about job security. The difference between his opening anecdote and his nightmare scenario is not that a student complains about him, but that his employers punish him unreasonably.

Professor Vox's essay is a stellar example of pathological psychology that capitalism imposes on workers. It's easier, and safer, to blame powerless students for your problems than it is to blame your own employers. Or to blame the economic system, and its partisans, who make job insecurity and poverty the looming dangers that they are. This is a textbook exercise in displacement, driven by an understandable but ultimately misguided refusal to bite the hand that feeds him.