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Thread: Demoted and Placed on Probation

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    Demoted and Placed on Probation

    Published on January 11, 2020
    Demoted and Placed on Probation
    written by Stuart Reges

    It all started in June 2018, when Quillette published my article, “Why Women Don’t Code,” and things picked up steam when Jordan Peterson shared a link to the article on his Twitter account. A burst of outrage and press coverage followed which I discussed in a follow-up piece. The original article was one of the ten most read pieces published by Quillette in 2018, and continues to generate interest. A recent YouTube video about it has been viewed over 120,000 times, as of this writing:

    In his tweet promoting my article, Peterson took issue with one of my claims. I had written that I thought I could survive at the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering where I work. Peterson disagreed:



    Ever since Google fired James Damore for “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace,” those of us working in tech have been trying to figure out what we can and cannot say on the subject...

    As it turns out, Peterson was right. My position is not tenured and when my current three-year appointment came up for review in December, I was stripped of my primary teaching duties and given a highly unusual one-year probationary appointment. The administration insists this decision had nothing to do with the controversy generated by my article. But as I will explain, that seems highly unlikely. As one faculty colleague put it, an “angry mob” has been after me ever since my article came out.

    The Intro Classes

    In 2005, the University of Washington hired me to redesign their two introductory computer science classes. I developed two highly successful courses that have over 4,500 enrollments combined per year and are among the most highly rated 100-level courses at the University of Washington. In a recent internal survey, over 80 percent of the students agreed that the assignments increased their interest in computing and showed them how useful such knowledge can be. Teaching at this scale is a massive undertaking and for the last 15 years I have been responsible for overall management of the staff, instructors, and TAs who provide this service.

    In response to my Quillette article, a group of graduate students in the Allen School filed a grievance against me with their union. The university agreed to several of their demands, including that, “A group of (mostly senior) faculty will review the introductory programming courses to ensure that they are inclusive of students from all backgrounds.” A working group was formed and it produced a set of recommendations. These included:

    A relaxation of grading on coding style.

    Allowing students to work together in a group for part of their grade instead of requiring them to complete all graded work individually.

    Training for TAs in inclusion and implicit bias.

    Review of all course materials for inclusiveness. For instance, of a lecture that involves calculating body mass index (BMI) using guidelines from the National Institutes of Health, the report noted that it “seems insensitive to present students with a program that would print out that some of them are ‘obese’ while others are ‘normal.’”

    A reduction in the amount of effort expended pursuing cheating cases by 50 percent even though there has been no reduction in cheating cases.

    The report also recommends that courses incorporate inclusiveness best practices as outlined in an Allen School document. These include:

    The addition of an indigenous land acknowledgement to the syllabus.

    The use of gender-neutral names like Alex and Jun instead of Alice and Bob.

    The use of names that reflect a variety of cultural backgrounds: Xin, Sergey, Naveena, Tuan, Esteban, Sasha.

    An avoidance of references that depend on cultural knowledge of sports, pop culture, theater, literature, or games.

    The replacement of phrases like “you guys” with “folks” or “y’all.”

    A declaration of instructors’ pronouns and a request for students’ pronoun preferences.
    Most of these suggestions seem to rely on the notion that undergraduates are delicate. While I agree that we must be careful to ensure that all students feel welcome and respected, we should be helping our students to become antifragile. So I will continue to use the BMI example, I will maintain high standards for grading, and I will continue to pursue cheating cases vigorously. I will continue to say “you guys” and to make occasional cultural references. In the case of pronouns, I have always made an effort to accommodate requests from transgender students, but I refuse to use words that are not part of the English language.

    It is the prerogative of the faculty to change the intro classes if they so choose. I understand that inclusive teaching is popular now, so it makes sense that others would want to move them in that direction. Even though this review was precipitated by my Quillette article, it is not in itself evidence that I am being treated differently on account of my political beliefs.

    My Probation

    What I find difficult to accept is that I was reappointed for just one year. The Allen School often hires adjunct and temporary lecturers for only one year, but that isn’t how it routinely treats lecturers with a regular appointment. In the 15 years I have been part of the school, I am the first regular lecturer to be offered less than a three-year extension.
    Much more - read the comments.

    The writer is gay man who elected to 'come out' in the early 80s at a time where this kind of diversity was still often punished in academia. He's no stranger to holding contra views.

    Demanding that women or minorities be held to lower standards doesn't help them or anybody. It's also an insult to women and minorities who have excelled in demanding STEM fields on merit. As with AA, it puts a sort of asterisk by someone's name. Did she compete fairly and do well or did she ride on the work of others and demand easier materials and exams?

    Quillette
    "Alexa, slaughter the fatted calf."

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    I wonder what will happen when the students demand that the results of their coding exercises reach a conclusion of maybe or sometimes instead of the required yes/no, true/false that any logical expression must return.

    The students may not be binary, but logic and coding is.
    Get off the cross, we need the wood.

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