Academic Horror Story (Stanford University)

From the Washington Post:

At the open house, a STEP [Stanford Teacher Education Program] instructor asked [Michelle Kerr] if she planned to accept the offer of admission [to Stanford’s School of Education]. Anyone else would have said yes. But Kerr, who calls herself “fatally truthful,” said the tuition would be difficult to afford and admitted she was philosophically out of sync with the program. . . .

[Professor of Education Rachel Lotan, the director of STEP,] called Kerr in for a 45-minute session on her doubts about the STEP policy orientation. Wouldn’t she be more comfortable elsewhere? Even when university ombudsman David Arnot Rasch assured Kerr the offer of admission was binding, Lotan couldn’t let it go. According to Kerr, Lotan looked for legal grounds to keep Kerr out, something Kerr said she discovered when another official mistakenly sent her an email that was meant just for Lotan.

“I really can’t believe this response,” the official said of Kerr’s decision to accept admission and decline another meeting with Lotan. “Are you forwarding her response to the lawyer?”

Kerr called Lotan “a ruthless political animal who believes she was protecting her program from enemy infiltration.” During a second meeting with Kerr, Lotan said that she asked a lawyer about the possibility of rescinding Kerr’s admission. The lawyer had told her that was untenable. “Unfortunately,” said Lotan.

After Kerr became a student at Stanford, Lotan tried to get her in trouble at her internship school. In an official letter to Kerr, Lotan complained “you raised your voice.”

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7 Replies to “Academic Horror Story (Stanford University)”

  1. I was all ready to accept Kerr as being the victim, but, then you have this, as quoted from her e-mail on FIRE:

    “For those of you who wish to continue requesting that you not sit with me in practicum, make sure you mention the reason so that Rachel can build her case for the next time we do our little dance. “Rachel, I do not want to sit next to Michele in practicum. It has nothing to do with her views; she’s just an domineering, overbearing bitch.” DOB. We could print up cards or something. Don’t Sit Me Next to the DOB! . . .

    I am being told that I’ll be expelled if I can’t figure out how to stop my classmates from complaining about me. That’s a valid standard for a fifth grader clique, but it’s not one I’ll accept in a graduate academic setting. I’ll continue being me, and those of you who feel uncomfortable can maybe learn how to speak up. Or not. Your call.”

    AKA the old Cartman “I don’t care! I don’t care! I do what I want!”

    More or less, I am betting the actual problem is not that Kerr has problems with the program, but rather, that she is incredibly unpleasant and no one likes her. Surely you’ve met people like this in academia. I’ve had classes with them. Martyrs. Their problems look incredibly good on paper because the only actual ways people can get rid of them are technicalities. People want to get rid of them because they are INTOLERABLE, but since that is matter of opinion, even if it is a extrasupermajority, there are no procedures in place to make them leave. Don’t get me wrong, they could very well have valid points and good ideas (Richard Stallman, anyone?), but valid points and good ideas that you wish were being injected into the discussion far, far away from you.

    Disclaimer: I (really and truly) don’t know any of the people involved here. I’m just going based on what she said about herself. Anyone who knowingly calls themselves a domineering overbearing bitch is by definition, not someone you want to work with. The fact that she doesn’t have the good sense to not even say that about herself speaks volumes.

  2. anonymous, the “actual problem” is that Lotan wanted Kerr out of the program because Kerr disagreed with Lotan. That’s thought police. That’s awful anywhere; at a place like Stanford, that’s supposed to make intellectual progress, it’s even worse. Not only did Lotan try to enforce conformity, she really was ruthless in her attempts to do so. Lotan started treating Kerr very badly long before there was time to decide that Kerr was “intolerable”.

    As for her classmates complaining about her, I agree with Kerr: They shouldn’t go running to higher authority. They’re graduate students, for heaven’s sake. They should be able to solve their own interpersonal problems. If they have a problem with Kerr, they should complain to Kerr.

  3. You might be right. I concede that I do not know all the facts, nor do I condone what happened. I just do not believe Kerr to be entirely faultless.

  4. Without knowing the people involved – though I’ve probably sat next to them at Borrone – I think the first comment brilliantly describes a situation with which we are all familiar. People are people first, whether it’s fifth grade, grad school, or work, and one obnoxious, disruptive, person can and does ruin it for the entire group. Most of us don’t want to be fighting all day long.

    (I will say that Stallman was nice enough when I knew him – rather quiet, in person.)

  5. “Most of us don’t want to be fighting all day long.” Again, the mistreatment of Kerr began long before any “fighting” or disruption. She was mistreated after she simply expressed an unorthodox opinion. The fact that a STEP instructor went to Lotan and told her about an unusual student she’d met during open house (Kerr) also reflects badly on the program — and especially badly on Lotan.

  6. I’m guessing that the original issue – and the real issue throughout – may have been not so much with the content of some opinion that Kerr expressed, as with the manner in which it was expressed.

  7. If Lotan objected to Kerr’s behavior (how she expressed herself) rather than Kerr’s opinions, Lotan should have made that clear right away. I see no indication that happened.

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