December 10, 2012
My Argument Against Laurence Thomas’ Actions
Laurence Thomas is a Syracuse University professor whose actions, and the controversy that followed, were discussed in the article “If You Text in Class, This Prof Will Leave,” by Scott Jaschik. Thomas has a rule where if he finds one student texting or reading a paper in class, he ends the class and leaves (1). He has drawn a lot of criticism for his actions, and some of it is deserved. First, it’s not fair to punish an entire lecture hall because of the actions of one student. Also, the way he brings race into the situation is uncalled for and inappropriate. Finally, he does all of this knowing that he cannot be fired and as such is abusing his tenure.
To begin, his collective punishment of the class was unnecessary. Thomas states that he walks out of the class to “make a statement” (2). The problem is that he is not there to make a statement; he is there to teach. For these students, who are paying enormous sums of money to study at Syracuse University, up to “$30,000,” to have a professor walk out on class repeatedly when they themselves have done nothing wrong is an unjust and unearned punishment (2). When considering the fact that this class had close to 400 students in the lecture hall, Thomas’ decision to walk out for one student’s texting seems even for ridiculous (2).
Thomas defends his decision, however, by explaining that in his experience “confronting students directly and asking them to stop has virtually no effect” (1). According to national expert and author Gerald Amada, walking out is a “horrible strategy” and that the better option would be to have the one student leave (3). If they refused he could write up a report including only relevant information (4). In light of this, Thomas should have made a policy of having students who texts leave, while he stays to teach the rest. After all, it is that one student who isn’t paying attention to the class, so why not have them leave if they’re mentally not there anyway. That student is wasting their own money, but by walking out of the class the time and money of hundreds of students are wasted (2). It would have been much easier to dismiss that one student and have a minor interruption, after which he could go back to teaching the class he worked so hard on (2). Thomas says that he feels he has no choice but to punish the group (2). He never gives a legitimate reason however for punishing the group. Rather, his decision to walk out is reminiscent of a child throwing a tantrum.
Furthermore, Thomas’ decision to include the race of the students in the description of them was inappropriate. The race of his students is irrelevant to his point and comes off badly. Mentioning that the latest student was Cuban and that last year he had issues with two other Latino students, makes Thomas’ actions seem racially motivated (1). Making a statement like that sounds as if he feels that Latinos are trouble makers. He defends himself by saying that he would expect for “non-white students [to] be particularly committed to respecting a black professor” (1). This statement, rather than easily explaining his decision to bring race into the conversation, makes the situation worse. Not only does he make it seem as if white students are expected to be disrespectful to a black man, but he ignores the fact that the Latino students may not feel the same way about unity between minorities that he does. Thomas seems oblivious to the fact that they come from their own cultures and communities and may not categorize themselves amongst all minorities. This is a double whammy of racial and cultural insensitivity. By the time that he makes the claim that he has walked out on both white and black students before, the damage is done (3). Thomas needed to realize that it was the year 2008 when this happened. It was neither 1978 nor 1968 and although he may feel that the racial grouping of the time is still relevant, many in the younger generation are moving past that. One might wonder how a tenured professor of Philosophy, someone who has spent their career studying modes of thought and the effect of words and language, could possibly make this blunder without having done it on purpose to cause a stir. This slip up of bringing race into the debate is inappropriate to the conversation and makes Thomas seem old fashioned and divisive.
Lastly, Thomas acted in this way most definitely because of his tenured status. For professors without tenured status, adjuncts, student complaints weigh heavily on their job security. He knew that he could not be fired unless he did something criminal and he abused that privilege. After implying that he might have professional difficulties, Thomas says that he has “no fear of losing his job” (3). Most any other professors who were not tenured would have been fired or at least disciplined in some way for repeatedly leaving a class. Thomas was not even approached by any of his superiors regarding his conduct (3). He does avoid getting into the face female students so that he can’t be accused of sexual harassment, which would be grounds for dismissal (2). This leads me to the conclusion that Thomas will do whatever he wants as long as he knows he can’t be fired for it.
In conclusion, Laurence Thomas’ actions were out of line and inappropriate. It was unfair of him to punish hundreds of students for the actions of a few. His racial comments were inappropriate and divisive. For someone as educated in the art of rhetoric as Thomas, his motive is definitely questionable. Finally, his actions reflected that he was abusing his tenure and felt no fear of repercussions. This behavior is unfitting of a university professor and shows that he is out of touch with the world and situation around him.
Jaschik, Scott. “If You Text in Class, This Prof Will Leave.” Inside Higher Ed Online.
2 Apr. 2008. Web. 24 Oct. 2012