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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Nutty Professors: Crime and Craziness Within the Academic Bubble

Publish or Perish

     In April 2011, Diederik A. Stapel, a professor of social psychology at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, published a study based on questionnaires and human experiments that showed, among other things, that advertising works by making "women feel worse about themselves," and that conservative politics creates hypocrisy. Stapel's findings attracted a lot of positive media attention which included articles in the New York and Los Angeles Times. As it turned out, Professor Stapel and his study were frauds. In September, following revelations that Stapel had invented data and lied in more than thirty experiments, Tilburg University fired him.

     Professor Stapel's response to his problem wouldn't surprise anyone familar with academia. He claimed that under pressure from the university to publish, he gave in to temptation and produced a bogus paper. He also blamed the lack of scholarly checks and balances that would have prevented him from being a fraud. "I want to emphasize," he said, "that the mistakes that I made were not born out of selfish needs." (No one admits to actual wrongdoing anymore, it's always "mistakes." But how does someone "mistakenly" commit fraud?)  Professor Stapel managed, in his case, to both publish and perish.

Suffering for his Art

     Michigan State University art professor Danny Guthrie was photographing himself with former and current students--male and female--who were typically forty years younger than him. His critics at the university asserted that these sexually suggestive photographs were "obcene" and "oppressive to women." An outraged student (we are now living in the Outrage Era), writing in the school newspaper, objected to the fact that Guthrie, in the photographs, appeared to be dominating his female subjects who were often sitting or reclining. According to this critic, the professor was "virile, powerful, and masculine" while the female subjects were "disempowered, silenced, and feminine."

     On the university's web site, Professor Guthrie responded to his critics' handwringing this way: "Certainly subject matter such as this is politically charged....My interest is to acknowledge these various traditions and debates, twisting and blurring the codes of classical aesthetics, contemporary rhetorically motivated art, and even erotica." The beauty of this response was that nobody had any idea what it meant. Professor Guthrie had more: "As one ages, it is with no small sense of remorse and regret, that one comes to experience the realm of desire, remorse, and carnality as existing more in the past than the future." (Forget art, this BS artist belonged in the English Department.)

     On November 29, 2011, Michigan State's interim president of university relations told USA Today that Guthrie's behavior and his photographs were not inappropriate. As a result, he was not reprimanded by the university. With that, the nation breathed a collective sigh of relief.

The Meth Professor

     On November 7, 2011, investigators from several law enforcement agencies searched the Somerville, Massachusets residence of Professor Irena Kristy and her 29-year-old son Grigory Genkin. Narcotics officers had surveilled the couple for almost a year. In the home, the searchers found a large amount of materials used in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Chareged with crimes related to the making and distribution of meth, Genkin turned himself in a few days after the search. On December 4,   2011, police took 74-year-old Professor Kristy into custody for allegedly helping her son operate a meth lab in their home.

     After emigrating to the United States from Russia in 1985, Kristy was hired as an adjunct professor of calculus at Suffolk University. (Adjunct faculty are appointed semester by semester.) Two years later, Kristy accepted a tenure-track professorship at Boston University while holding her position at Suffolk University. Reporters compared the Kristy case to the then popular TV series Breaking Bad starring Bryan Cranston. The show featured a former high school chemistry teacher named Mr. White who was a master meth cook in a high-tech, underground lab.

     The prosecutor's office, in February 2012, dropped the charges against the professor. Boston University, however, did not renew her teaching contract.

Puppy Love

     If you can't handle the stress of law school, how can you deal with the stress of the legal profession? Students at George Mason University Law School, in 2012, were given access to homeless puppy dogs as a means of coping with the stress of academic life.

     One of the George Mason University law students soothed by a puppy told a reporter that as a result of her dog therapy "I got to be human again." These law students, when they enter their dog-eat-dog profession, are in for a shock. It's going to take a lot of puppies.
 
Professor Solicits Prostitution

     In August 2007, Miami Police arrested Donald Marvin Jones for "soliciting to commit prostitution." Jones, a well-known, TV friendly constitutional law professor at the University of Miami, had allegedly offered an undercover cop $20 for oral sex. On September 26, 2011, the 63-year-old law professor was busted again for the same offense.

     The citizens of Miami could take comfort in knowing that as murderers, rapists, muggers, burglars, and drug dealers roamed the streets of their great city, high-paid cops were out there posing as prostitutes to bring down criminals like Professor Jones.

     The professor pleaded guilty and paid a fine.

Bad Santa

     There is nothing more goofy than a professor who has inflated a nonexistent problem into a real problem that can be solved with the professor's easy but ridiculous solution. Say hello to Nutty Professor George Giuliani, the Director of the Graduate School Program in Special Education at Hofstra University. Giuliani, a New York State licensed psychologist and author of books with engaging titles like: "Creating Confident Children in the Classroom: The Use of Positive Restructuring, and What Every Teacher Should Know About Students with Special Needs," appeared on the morning TV show "Fox and Friends" in December 2011 to discuss the evils inherent in the animated film classic, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

     Professor Giuliani told the TV audience that because of Rudolph's disability--his flashing red nose--the deer was bullied by Santa and his other reindeer. According to the professor: "Comet is saying to children, don't play with this reindeer again. And he [Comet] tells him [Rudolph] to go home and he bullies him and mocks him, and the other kids [what kids?] start mocking him. Can you imagine if your child's teacher said to the class, 'don't ever play with this child again'?" Professor Giuliani obviously didn't like Comet, but he was also tough on Santa as well: "Santa Claus is saying, 'you [Rudolph] cannot be on my team because you have a disability....' "

     Okay, so that's the problem. The solution? Keep "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" off TV! (Perhaps they could rate it for mature audiences.) That won't happen of course, and Professor Giuliani knew that. But hell, what's wrong with dreaming of a perfect world and a chance to appear on national television?     

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Professor Giuliani! I now have an excuse for having low self-esteem. I grew up watching Rudolph the red nosed reindeer on TV and that has scarred me for life. I guess I had better go cuddle with my puppy to deal with the stress. Who keeps hiring these nuts? I would love a job where I could be completely bonkers and know that no matter what, I would still have a job and get paid. I am a non-traditional student right now and have had my share of whacky professors. I wonder, are they whacky before they get hired or does the job do that to them? Maybe a professor could do a study on this subject and publish it so they don't perish.

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