I was oh so VERY happy today to read that the University of New Mexico has decided to Censure Professor Terrible, (AKA Professor Geoffrey Miller) about his now infamous tweet. For those of you who have been on a media fast or have been living under a rock, Geoffrey Miller Tweeted:
As I predicted, a media “sharknado” of epic proportions ensued. Geoffrey issued a few half-hearted apologies and then, when that didn’t work, he claimed the tweet was part of a “social experiment” in some “research” he was conducting.
Except, um, no. Both universities where Geoffrey teaches, UNM and New York University determined that this tweet does not meet the requirements for university “research” which among other things, would have required pre-approval by an institutional review board.
So, after several months of review, the University of New Mexico has decided to officially censure Professor Terrible and have demanded that Miller:
- Not serve on any committee involving the admission of graduate students to the psychology department for the duration of his time as a faculty member at the university.
- Work with the faculty co-advisers of the psychology department’s diversity organization to develop a plan for sensitivity training on obesity (for himself to undergo, said a university spokeswoman). The plan must be approved by a co-adviser or by the chair of the department.
- Be assigned a faculty mentor for three years with whom he will meet on a regular basis to discuss potential problems.
- Have his work monitored by the chair of the department.
- Apologize to the department and his colleagues for his behavior.
All of which seems completely reasonable and on the right track to me. Now if you read the comments section (which you should probably never, ever do by the way) in the publications where this is being reported, you’ll see a lot of people jumping up and down and screaming that academics have gotten out of hand and that political correctness has taken over the country. You’ll also read a lot of comments screaming about First Amendment rights and censorship.
To which (after breathing in a paper bag to calm myself down) I offer this response. Even though censure sounds like censor, they are not the same thing. The University of New Mexico found that Miller’s tweet violated three different UNM Faculty Handbook policies. Presuming Miller read the handbook when he became a professor at UNM, he knew what he was and was not allowed to say in a public forum. He chose to ignore those rules. The fact that the University subsequently chose to discipline him for violating those rules is perfectly reasonable and appropriate. It is not censorship.
His behavior brought shame upon his employer, caused students to call into question whether they had been discriminated against based on appearance, and called into question whether the admissions process at this university was fair. I’m not sure whether or not this opened the University up to a lawsuit, but I’m fairly sure that legal dollars were spent assessing a potential threat.
And I’d like to point out, that Dr. Miller got a relatively light sentence. He didn’t lose his job. They didn’t dock his pay. They simply have to make sure that it’s clear that Miller’s prejudice can’t be connected with the University’s admissions process.
I would argue that the many, many graduate students who are denied access to higher education because of the way they look are paying a much higher cost than Professor Terrible. Recent research has offered further evidence of this discrimination and the lasting economic effects experienced by those who are subject to this discrimination. These students do not get “censured” they simply don’t get accepted to University–and I consider that a much more serious consequence than the slap on the wrist “poor Geoffrey” has to endure.
I suppose in a way, I need to thank “poor, downtrodden, Professor Terrible”. He brought this issue to light in a very public way, he caused a university to further examine their own bias around size and weight, and got a lot of people to open their minds to the effect that weight stigma has on higher education–well at least those people who are not writing in the comment section. Well except for you of course. I am confident that you can write stuff in the comment section below that is insightful and intelligent, because you are the best readers ever.
The Fat Chick
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