Difficult Students: Public Court of Opinion

Lots of academics have been immersed in conversation about the NYU student’s outburst against her professor. The student ended up writing letters to the NYU President and went so far to repeatedly threaten her professor and the university. She wanted to take the issue to various papers, where she has family and friend connections and the court of public opinion.

Of course, the university cannot really respond openly, as it is an issue of the student’s privacy. But, what the student did was make her various diatribes public. These letters have been made public and have really made her look terrible–like a petulant, self-entitled young person. I have not used her name and I won’t. But, what I will respond to is the fact that she was unhappy with an assignment and contacted the university president to get her professor terminated! One of her diatribes also accused her professor of being only a “spousal hire.” Obviously this student has no idea about hiring in higher ed. Even if this professor was a spousal hire–she would still have to be qualified and a good fit for the department.

There is even a blog that includes many of the student’s alleged Facebook status updates and they display more of the same sort of outrageous statements. What this makes me think of is the difficult students that instructors have in classes. These students usually make up a small percentage of the student population, but at time they can actually take up more time than all the other students combined.

Some of us on Twitter responded using the hashtag #difficultstudents and my Facebook feed was full with friends in and outside of academe responding to the incident. The discussion that I would like to have is two-fold: acknowledge that some students are difficult and that faculty need to balance protecting student needs, protecting the integrity of the classroom and more so for contingent and pre-tenure faculty protecting your reputation/job.

This is part one of this discussion. What are your thoughts?