Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Listening?

With regard to the “horse mask” episode:

     THIS IS ONE in a series of episodes that point to inadequacies in our college’s approach to situations that endanger staff.
     You’ll recall an episode in November of 2010 in which, one evening, a manifestly disturbed student with a history of mental health issues menacingly wandered near faculty offices, carrying scissors. Our (resourceful and wise) dean was away visiting relatives, and so it was left to the remaining administrative crew to handle the situation.
     To make a long story short, the situation was handled badly, in part because legitimate faculty concerns were not always taken seriously. (It was hard to watch: a fine new hire suddenly feeling unsafe and alone, unprotected by her institution. We did what we could to reassure her and even to protect her. But it was "us" vs. administration for a while there. Admittedly, part of the problem was laws that protect the rights of the mentally ill.)
     (See More criticism for IVC administration and Running with scissors).
     In this recent case, an instructor reported an odd incident that, as it turns out, involved no threat of danger (near as anyone can tell), but that, in the absence of knowledge of what was occurring (namely, a sociology assignment gone wrong), was truly worrisome.
     Again: four young men suddenly entered a classroom in mid-lecture. When they were asked to identify themselves—one kid wore a horse mask—they were unresponsive. Eventually, the instructor, who is very experienced, got the four young men to leave the room without further incident. He then dutifully advised his dean of the episode and filed the appropriate paperwork. He received an obnoxious CYA letter from the head of the Sociology Dept., a woman who exhibited little interest in taking responsibility for the situation. Meanwhile, faculty were assured that the four young men were adequately dealt with (in a manner left unexplained) by a certain Dean—one notorious for piss-poor judgment.
Sociologists understand people,
they neigh
     We at DtB see, not just an isolated incident, but a pattern. One common element in the day-to-day affairs at IVC of recent years is administrative unwillingness to take faculty concerns seriously. In this case, the trouble-makers showed very poor judgment (and/or callousness, etc.) but they were not truly dangerous. But there was no way for the instructor to know that when he observed these young men entering his classroom. The situation would have been alarming to anyone.
     At this point, many faculty are unconvinced that administration understands this.
     And the notion that the problematic dean has things under control—well, it just won’t do. She is stunningly incompetent. Many of us continually ask: Why has this person been protected by her superiors all these years? What on Earth is going on here? Surely, more competent administrators are available! (And, no, we're not referring merely to her daft "lock the door" advice. That's a mere drop in a full bucket.)
     I and other faculty have no faith whatsoever in this administrator’s ability to handle these situations adequately and professionally. If our assessment is just, then, as Rebel Girl recently said to me, it is only a matter of time before something serious finally happens on this campus. I've got to agree.
     Are you listening, administrators?
     (Of course you’re not listening.)
     After the “scissors” episode, faced with administrative unresponsiveness, some of us took our concerns about the inadequacy of the college’s approach to faculty security to the Academic Senate.
     That seems to have gone nowhere. Assurances were made—ultimately by VPs, the police chief, et al. But Dean Incompetence has a key role still. Meanwhile, our police chief is retiring [This is a false rumor.] and that means we’re in for another transition with regard to how best to approach security.
     Trustees? Chancellor? Are you listening?

A few related points:
Uh-oh
• As far as I know, faculty have long been told NOT to call 911 but always to call the campus police, in the event of an emergency.
• According to the aforementioned letter, sociology students are always instructed to conduct their norm-violating “experiments” off campus.
• Not all classrooms can be locked from the inside. But there are several obvious reasons not to lock them about which Dean Incompetence seems oblivious.
• This might not be clear from the "outside": college instructors naturally do not want to call in the police (or other authorities) unless it is really necessary, for they typically approach their courses as autonomous leaders of classes—as pedagogical auteurs, so to speak. That one has called in the cops means that one has lost control, that one needs help.
• Experienced teachers are often good at sizing up instigators of disruption and dealing with them on their own. I have been teaching at IVC for over twenty-five years, and I have been forced to deal with disruption on numerous occasions; but I was compelled to call in a campus cop only once. My case is typical, I believe.
• Obviously, one could easily institute procedures that would be too sensitive, yielding numerous (highly disruptive) calls for police, most of them false alarms. On the other hand, one could easily institute lax approaches and procedures that do not sufficiently deal with hazards. Getting this right isn't easy.

36 comments:

  1. Was there a police report filed for that incident last year? What exactly happened? (minus the rumors)

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  2. I'd be concerned about how that assignment, as interpreted by those particular students, might manifest off-campus as well.

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  3. True,that assignment played out in another scenario off-campus might inspire a different kind for reaction - one that could create a liability problem for the college. "I was just doing my homework."

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  4. This recent scenario, last year's infinitely more dangerous one and many others are notable for the fact that administration seems to be unable to recognize and acknowledge very real discomfort and potential danger faculty, staff and student face. In fact, the reaction is usually one of weary imposition, a dismissive sense that the faculty is misreading the situation.


    It might be nice if their diploma mill classes taught them basic human empathy and manners: "I am so sorry you were put in that situation. That must have been terrible for you and your students. I can understand your distress at being approached by a obviously disturbed student wielding scissors." ETC.

    If anything you get the idea that they laugh after you file your incident report.

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  5. Rumor has it the horse head guy is the same guy from last year.

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  6. It's not. And they know it's not. it would be nice and easy to think there are only a handful of students like this out there but that is not true.

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  7. How does anyone expect us to handle a disruptive student that’s extremely manipulative, that students like, and is very charming? It’s like the SOB is untouchable.

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  8. 2 words. Affirmative action.

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  9. Yeah, but running with scissors is BS too and look how much time you spent blogging about it.

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  10. All right, here we go: stupid people have decided to offer their vapid blatherings, disccouraging comments from sentient beings.

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  11. On behalf of sentient beings:

    The scissors incident was not BS--it was the last sad chapter in a series of events in which a psychologically disturbed student threatened his instructor. The college knew and did very little before the final episode--a national pattern. The last incident turned out not to be violent. But what if a student in the class had reacted badly to Mr. Horse Mask? Why, in this age of violence in schools as demonstrated again this week in Ohio, would a thinking student wearing a mask have entered a college classroom? If he had chosen the public sphere, perhaps he would have entered...oh, I don't know, a crowded shopping mall or a bank.

    I believe that IVC's administration has to (1) have a policy, (2) communicate the policy to both students and staff, and (3) enforce the policy. This is not too much to ask. If the administration decides to not talk about it, that decision will be good for this blog's traffic, and bad for IVC students and staff.

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  12. Anyone who has worked at any community college over the last decade must have noticed the influx of students with many different issues, some of them which manifest in class. Many of us are not trained in how to deal with such disruptions and behaviors and meet the student's needs - AND the needs of rest of the students. Combine these students (like Mr. Scissors) with simply students who are more aggressive and belligerent - and well - you get the picture.

    I think the admin thinks that if they don't acknowledge a problem, they don't really HAVE a problem. This does a disservice to ALL students.

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  13. "Mr. Scissors" has an interesting undertone.

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  14. My classroom door doesn't lock from the inside -and I'm sure campus safety would have something to say about that suggestion.

    Any truth to the rumor we don't have police chief at IVC anymore?

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  15. Seems to me if faculty is being advised not to call 911, but only campus police, we've got a serious problem. Bad advice and it creates another liability.

    If we actually had a violent incident and word got out (which it would) that faculty were advised by admin not to call 911... Well you know the rest.

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  16. Imagine if there was an Incident and this history of ignoring them were brought to light - let alone the advice not to call 911?

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  17. I am sure Will Glen is still on the job. If he had left, they would have informed us. (I like Mr. Glen. He has already done his best.)

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  18. my greatest concern is that we spend an inordinate amount of time in retreats talking about "civility" and while everyone is hugging and being "civil" (and what does that mean anyway) students are running around with scissors and horse heads. Our campus is an open campus and as students are unable to access four year universities or in truth, social services, this problem will only continue. There are times that REAL threats (trust me, not a rumor) happen at this college and they seem to be ignored or handled in such a minor way they might as well have been ignored. Is anyone listening? We are not being uncivil but looking after our students, our colleagues and ourselves.

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  19. I’m not going to have an opinion on running with scissors. Honestly we shouldn’t even talk about it. The admin knows more than us. Whatever rumor we create is only going to make us look stupid and our opinions worthless. At worst we’ll end up fired, sued, or prosecuted.

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  20. Roy, you started the whole rumor. Leave us out of it.

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  21. "The admin knows more than us"??? Good lord, that post reminds me of my (very uninformed) students supporting the last war in Iraq several years back: "The Administration knows more than we do." Are you now abdicating your obligation to think serious issues through?

    MAH

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  22. Like the weather, everybody talks about the IVC administration, but nobody does anything about it. As the articles and posts in this blog amply demonstrate--and everyone knows anyway--one could scarcely imagine a worse menagerie of losers, a more toxic mix of ineptitude and malevolence, from the top on down, than the administrative wrecking squad currently ravaging IVC.
    The question is, what can we do about it? How do we begin disinfecting, detoxifying, and deodorizing the place before it's totally destroyed?

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  23. Has Will Glenn retired?

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  24. I think the admins are great because they served us tri-tip.

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  25. Saw an email about a Civility & Mutual Respect meeting coming up on 3/23. Says Lewis will be there representing faculty but makes no mention of anyone from CSEA, just the Senate. The Senate is not classified's exclusive rep.

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  26. The dean's quip about "lock the door" might be understood as a joke (ha ha ha) if it wasn't part of a lengthy pattern in which people feels their real concerns about real safety issues don't get respect. Her doors may lock but our do not and we work behind them every day meeting the needs of ALL our students. Our workplaces need to be safe so we can teach. The presence of disturbed students or students with behavior problems is real and daily and must be addressed.

    Having a 5 hour Civility Ball on a Friday in March may seem urgent for some people but not for me.

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  27. Isn’t it even more dangerous to have doors that lock? Everyone can’t escape if a psyco locks out the police in an emergency.

    With such frightening circumstances all an instructor can do is be on their best behavior.

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  28. A big part of the problem is we have no real consistent communication from the admin about substantive issues (potential student violence, scholarship process, the "civility project," etc.) Instead we just get a cascade of chipper press releases - no explanation, information etc.

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  29. 9:11, clearly, that is indeed a big problem. I've tried to explain it to Glenn, but he ain't listening to me. Maybe you?

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  30. Hey Roy, I read an article today and thought about you. It reminds me why I think you’re a piece of trash.

    http://usnews.msnbc.msn.com/_news/2012/03/08/10604539-when-rumor-the-internet-and-school-violence-fears-collide

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  31. Yet another self-defecating troll. Thank you for your input--er, your output.

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  32. So you know me. Good.

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  33. You, though, 11:03, are a fine human being who deserves all due accolades for your courage and wisdom. Yes indeedy.

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  34. Don’t worry Roy. I have no ill will.

    You know what I’d like to read about? Reasons why you respect and appreciate IVC’s president, vp, administrators, students, or anyone making efforts to promote a positive culture. Oh, but you may personally find it challenging, but that’s what will make reading something like that so worthwhile.

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  35. I think Roy's focus on the college has been all about his loyalty to it and his desire to see it function and thrive. Sometimes people mistake criticism for animosity. For example, WHY did he point out the problems with the programs at the Lutheran high school - because it was wrong and ill conceived and staff were subject to a litmus test based (not upon their ability to teach) but upon their faith or lack thereof.

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