We would like to write in response to last week’s Wespeak regarding Visiting Associate Professor of African American Studies Anna Bean’s case (“Bean’s case needs clarification,” April 15, Volume CXLIII, Number 40), as students who have taken her courses. When you read between the lines of this Wespeak, it seems that the authors did not care for Professor Bean’s teaching, or have not taken a class with her. In the former case, it is perfectly fine not to like a class. Everyone, including professors at this school, realize that not everyone will be pleased by a professor’s teaching, and that what works for some will not work for others. Teaching is subjective.
The Wespeak’s request for The Argus to interview Professor Bean’s students on her teaching would have been nice in theory but, in reality, quite difficult, as to have any real meaning, a survey of unrealistic magnitude would have been required. It was also a mistake that the writer of the article “Visiting professor turnover questioned after Bean’s dismissal” (April 11, Volume CXLIII, Number 39), News Editor Kim Segall, was accidentally not informed that Stephanie Quainoo, who was quoted in the article, was in Professor Bean’s Whiteness (AFAM 222) class last semester. Stephanie did not at the time mention that Whiteness was one of the only classes she has taken that profoundly influenced her way of thinking as well as solidified her Wesleyan experience, becoming one of the classes that truly changed her life. Although you may not agree with the human-interest angle that Kim took, ultimately, this is how she saw fit to highlight this larger problem: with a personal story that is a microcosm of a larger institutional problem.
Continually, because this case, and others like it, is so muddled in politics, the detailed information you are seeking isn’t readily available for public knowledge—which we very much agree is part of the problem.
The facts of the matter as stated in the article still remain:
1. At the time that she was notified of her non-rehiring, Professor Bean was told she was being released from her contract solely due to the ratings from her first semester at the University. The issue is not the ratings themselves. It is that her dismissal was based upon an unfair standard: a mere percentage based not upon what students wrote, but what they circled.
2. The assignment of a percentage to asses the rigor and quality of a professor’s teaching 75 percent satisfactory ratings, 88 percent, or what have you, are quite arbitrary and unfair, as these are standards that not even tenure-track faculty are expected to fulfill, and certainly not within their first semester at the University.
3. Professor Bean’s case stands out as one of the most jarring examples of the treatment of visiting professors at the University, who as non-tenure-track faculty seem to be stop-gaps given by the Academic Affairs Office to departments and, more often, programs instead of tenure-track positions, and thus begin a relationship with a department or program that is tainted and under-supported from the beginning.
4. All that the article attempted to outline was the fact that Professor Bean was held to incredibly high standards and, most problematically, given very late notice as to the status of her employment, which left her without a job and a chance to search for one. This issue, as we see it, is not really about Professor Bean’s teaching, as the judgment of such is ultimately subjective.
We are writing this Wespeak because we have been really inspired by Professor Bean’s classes but that is, again, beside the point. The point is that she, and other contingent professors, are not treated with the respect that should be accorded to any member of the University community and that is something we hope, through the publishing of Segall’s article, the University will change.