July 20, 2005

"Incredibly hot."

Is this a firing offense?
MASSACHUSETTS: teacher fired over web posting about student A former sports columnist for The Boston Herald was fired from a teaching job at Boston University after officials discovered he had posted comments about a female student on an Internet site. The former columnist, Michael Gee, who was hired to teach an introductory journalism class, was fired last Wednesday, the day officials learned of the posting, said Robert Zelnick, chairman of the university's journalism department. On July 5, Mr. Gee wrote on sportsjournalist.com, "of my six students, one (the smartest, wouldn't you know it) is incredibly hot" and, in another posting, wrote of the student's "to-die-for eyes," according to bostonsportsmedia.com.
It seems to me that "hot" has become a pretty tame, generic term for "attractive." But, in fact, I think that posting even lame little compliments singling out an individual student is wrong. I think just observing that one of your students is the smartest is wrong.

38 comments:

Howard McEwen, CFA said...

It seems a bit jarring to hear a man speak of a woman's "to-die-for eyes" much less write about it for public consumption. I've don't think most men speak like that much less notice a woman's eyes.

knoxgirl said...

What are they doing hiring a *sports* writer to teach anyway? haha just kidding. sort of.

Dirty Harry said...

It's a university, so the student's over 18. That makes it less creepy.

But it was an awfully public statement and agree that singling out a student for praise is unprofessional and a little cruel to the others.

Scipio said...

Gross stupidity should always be a firing offense.

Elizabeth said...

I think the call to dismiss him--he was a part-time adjunct, which is about as unprotected as you can be--was correct. I think this example is a fairly clear distinction from instances where academics or other employees have faced trouble from online comments on social issues, politics and so forth. What he said was dumb, and while it wouldn't have had any fallout had he said it in a conversation with friends, by posting it publically he created a bad situation for all his students, not just the one in question.

As an instructor, I encounter plenty of similar comments from my peers; with most I know there's no effect on how they treat their students in the classroom, while with others I have observed a sort of juvenile inability to create appropriate boundaries. Most of that drama takes place out of the students' view, but when it doesn't, a trust has been breached.

Allah said...

It seems to me that "hot" has become a pretty tame, generic term for "attractive."

Hmm. I'm not so sure. To my mind, "hot" suggests a greater urgency than "attractive." In fact, the latter has a whiff of damning-by-faint-praise about it. A woman whose appeal you appreciate, but who doesn't excite you personally, may be described as "attractive." A woman who excites you, and whom you'd like to get know better, is "hot." It's all a matter of intent.

Goesh said...

To me "hot" is a 6 digit income with a generous attitude. He deserved the axe he got.

mcg said...

If he'd have shared his sentiments in private, I'd have no beef with him. But to share it in a public forum? Not good.

Kim said...

Rats -- I suppose this means that "ratemystudent.com" is out of the question. (In my defense, on ratemyprofessor.com, the chili pepper icon was going to be replaced with the drama face, coffin, and alarm clock icons.)

wyok said...

If I were another student, I would wonder which came first -- the judgment of "incredibly hot" or the judgment of "smartest" -- and if the two would be viewed separately. It could be argued that the comment about the woman being "smartest" was okay given the academic environment but, methinks, the hot comment was ill-advised.

Freeman Hunt said...

Here was his full quote:

Of my six students, one (the smartest, wouldn’t you know it?) is incredibly hot. If you’ve ever been to Israel, she’s got the sloe eyes and bitchin’ bod of the true Sabra. It was all I could do to remember the other five students. I sense danger, Will Robinson.

I think that's laughably inappropriate. Can you imagine how embarassed you would be if you were that girl? I wouldn't be able to look the other five students in the face without blushing.

Tristram said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tristram said...

Let me try again, in English. I'd be dangerous if I learned how to type...

I am not as concerned about the language as the public discussion of students merits (academic or ...cough... other).

See, where I really have a problem: tha appearance of favoritism / impropriety.

Were I in that class, i would be concerned about whether I would get a fair shake or not.

What the teacher did was (in my former employers terms) 'Prejudicial to Good Order and Conduct' and was termed Fraternization. Whether the subordinate aquiesced, or even particpated does not change the fact that the person in a position of authority made a situation basically ungovernable.

Telecomedian said...

Stupid comment to make in a public forum, though I believe more faculty talk about the attractiveness of their students - college on down through middle school - than we'd like to think.

I'm curious - has that posting been verified as truly coming from the adjunct? And, does the school have a policy in place about banning faculty/student relationships? While I would classify them as "icky," if it's not a specific violation of a contract, I can envision a lawyer arguing where calling a woman "smart" and "attractive" is not the worst thing in the world, as long as it didn't affect the grades.

Charlie (Colorado) said...

Howard, I'm guessing you're much younger than I am. Honest, there comes a time when your eyes get above a girl's collarbone.

On the general topic, though, I don't think we're addressing Ann's (who's also kinda hot, btw) question: was it inappropriate? Perhaps. Is it a firing offense? If so, then what's the appropriate punishment for the occasional professor who sleeps with a grad student? Execution?

I think a sense of proportion is in order.

Freeman Hunt said...

He admitted that he posted it.

They came to a severance agreement and basically bought out his contract, so I don't think he'll fight it.

Freeman Hunt said...

I think it's actually more inappropriate than sleeping with a student. Sleeping together, while also totally inappropriate for a professor, is at least consensual. Having a professor post what are basically cat calls about you on a public forum is not. What a professor says about you to his friends or to you in private is one thing. If he's yelling the same things across campus, (something I see as equivalent to this) I think that's worse.

gs said...

It's unacceptable to make a public sexual remark about a counterparty in a professional relationship. If the instructor were a permanent employee, disciplinary action might suffice for a first offense. For a temporary employee, it's absolutely a firing matter. (Severance was paid? Don't get me started...)

I'd treat similar student behavior comparably: for a first offense, either a mandatory apology and/or expulsion from the class; for repeated incidents, expulsion from the university.

*********************

To me, the expression 'she's hot' is a double entendre with 'she's in heat'. My interpretation may be unwarranted but, given the overt sexualizing of popular culture in recent decades, I doubt it. A double entendre may be implicit in innocuous phrases like 'hot topic'--we're sexual beings 24/7--, but imho keeping it implicit is part of civilized restraint.

South Park is hilarious, but it shouldn't set standards for everyday discourse.

Sigivald said...

gs: In my experience with the use of the word, that interpretation is completely unwarranted.

And what would the "similar" student behaviour be? Do you mean to suggest students should be expelled for saying, without naming names, that one of the other students is very attractive? (Or for saying that he/she finds the teacher attractive?)

I can see some vague sort of grounds for doing so if an instructor makes such comments (issues of potential favoritism or bias), but students, of course, have no such power to abuse, so what's that rather extreme punishment for?

Freeman Hunt said...

And what would the "similar" student behaviour be?

I would think that making comments of the same nature to the professor. It's not as much about power, in my opinion, as professionalism. Posting comments about a student's "bitchin' bod" on the Internet is totally unprofessional.

And I agree with others who have said that posting comments about the relative intelligence of one student as compared to others is pretty darn unprofessional as well. (Though, I think, a bit less in that the students' intelligence has at least some bearing on the task of teaching them.)

gs said...

Sigivald: It's undeniable that popular culture has become more overtly sexual; as to whether 'she's hot' is a legitimate example, I can only give a layman's conjecture.

Regarding your other point, suppose, in the Boston University case, the instructor had been female and the post had been made by a male student. I would act against the student along the lines of my previous comment. Sexual suggestiveness is 'prejudicial to good conduct and order' (to borrow another commenter's phrase) in a classroom setting and in the workplace.

Freeman Hunt said...

I believe more faculty talk about the attractiveness of their students - college on down through middle school - than we'd like to think.

I just now caught this: down through middle school?! /retch

Ann Althouse said...

Freeman: That's really the whole quote? Well, then the favoritism is terrible. And the ethnic stereotyping is also inappropriate. And "bitchin' bod" is just such a stupid thing to write -- ever -- about anybody. And inappropriate.

GS: Re "hot topic," people say "sexy topic" all the time. I once told I colleague I was writing about the death penalty and he said "That's a sexy topic." Really, even "sexy" isn't taken literally. "Hot" is very tame slang these days. Everything is called hot.

As to the suggestion that faculty talk about the attractiveness of their students: this has not been my experience at all. Maybe men do it when women aren't around, but in my experience, it just plain doesn't happen.

Paul said...

Well, he's got to go but let's keep Ward Churchill.
No, seriously, the two are totally different and he needs to be professional about his work. It's not fair to his students or to her, especially her.

jootastic said...

I'm just glad my boyfriend didn't mention anything about me being "hot" while I was a student in his class... by the way.. Amy at politixnprose sent me over here. Nice blog!

Freeman Hunt said...

Here's a link to an article with the full comment:

http://www.editorandpublisher.com/eandp/news/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1000979953

And an extended blog post about it by some other guy (includes the to-die-for eyes comment):

http://www.bostonsportsmedia.com/archives/shots/003013.php

gs said...

Ann: We don't necessarily disagree. I accept that 'hot' is used widely and usually innocuously...as are coarser words.

On the other hand, there is some linguistic association between sexuality and heat: phrases like 'burning with desire' have been used at least as far back as the Apostle Paul. And somebody or other--not Audrey Hepburn!--was the 'last of the red hot mamas'. Thus, one might reasonably ask whether the widespread use of 'hot' is related to the sexualization of popular culture.

miklos rosza said...

I remember a class I taught in 1988 in which all of the students were dullards save one, and she also happened to be a very attractive young woman. I bent over backwards not to show any favoritism, and the idea of more or less publicly saying "She's hot"... well, that just seems extremely stupid to me.

Brendan said...

The heart wants what it wants. As does the groin.

Tom said...
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Tom said...

I realize the shock of how public his comment was, but I'm not sure if he should have been fired. Call me strange, but for me it's seems worse to say she's the "smartest student." Now, I only wonder if she was the smartest student before or after he realized that she had "eyes to die for"...

Kate Marie said...

GS, you make an interesting point, I think. Use of the current slang "hot" to denote attractive *may* have evolved from the use of the term "hot" to suggest "in heat." Think of the phrase "hot to trot," for instance. Whatever one thinks of the connotation/denotation of that particular word, however, the professor's comments in their entirety were inappropriate.

Brendan, please tell me you were quoting Woody Allen ironically and not approvingly.

Christopher Althouse said...

What is sportjournalist.com? I tried entering in that address and it took me no where. The type of website really makes a difference. If this was his blog, he was making a pretty conspicuous display of his lust for the student; if it's an obscure message board, then he may have felt more anonymous, in which case it seems unfair to fire him over it. Either way, I can't help but look down on a man who talks about a teenage girl's "to-die-for eyes." What a nerdy way to describe someone!

Bruce Hayden said...

I agree with Ann. "Hot" today is a fairly heavily used word for attractive. Guys are probably as often called hot as girls are. Indeed, I routinely have discussions with my 14 year old daughter about who she thinks is "hot" in school and in the popular culture. For example, she and many of her friends considered Orlando Bloom in LoR "way hot". In short, I think that the word has lost its original definition and has been broadened by popular usage to mean sexually attractive, regardless of sex or sexual orientation.

No, the problem was with his professionalism, or lack, thereof.

Ann Althouse said...

Christopher: He should have called them "to-get-fired-for eyes."

Ann Althouse said...

If he could picture dying for her eyes, maybe he should complain about the lesser penalty.

Lord Osmo Blatherard said...

Christopher: The original article has the address of the site wrong. It should be sportsjournalists.com, which is a message board of some sort.

Elizabeth said...

The more I think on this, the more this guy strikes me as utterly clueless. I'll make a "Six Feet Under" tie-in: this incident is a lot like the scene where Nate's old high school pal is waxing on about how hot his teenage daughter's friends are. His tone is as gushy as "to-die-for eyes" and put him at about the same emotional level as the teens he's ogling. Meanwhile, Nate, like those of us observing this story, is listening to him with his jaw dropping, and attempting to point out "uh Dude, this is totally uncool." This journalism teacher is not ogling post-pubescents, but he's beyond the pale of professionalism, and maturity.