Best. Hate mail. EVER.

I am apoplectic at the idea that a squib like you would invoke Professor Nussbaum in the name of an argument against the very idea of intellect and rigor and the possibility that a young person might discover the power and beauty of their mind. I will be in touch with the trustees of your university in the interest of having you removed from the venerable position you hold without any regard. You ought to be preaching this crank to your colleagues at Walmart, not to people paying and trusting you to mentor them in the most important and intimate way. You are a disgrace to the accumulated beauty and precarious sense that we miserable humans have been able to cobble together through our written word. Fuck off.

Best,

XXXXX

[UPDATE: I redacted the name in the post because I'm about to link to it from Slate. Get ready, my friend.]

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28 comments

  1. The saddest part of all this is: Rebecca is not arguing against writing assignments, which is what trolls and some well intentioned folks are tsk–tski–ing and misunderstanding. Rebecca is simply acknowledging the truth: most college students CANNOT write because high school education has failed them miserable. The quality of the writing I get leaves a lot, A LOT to be desired and, in fact, much of it is not beyond middle school level.

    I do assign essays–but demand that a draft be handed in to me electronically a few weeks before the final version is submitted. I spend, on average, six hours giving feedback on each essay. Students tell me they have NEVER gotten ANY comments and suggestions on how to improve their writing from other instructors. Even worse is that these students have been getting A’s and B’s in their other classes. This, to me, exposes so much of the expensive sham humanities degrees have become (and I adjunct at one of the best public university systems in the country). Talk about institutional complicity.

    I like the idea of focused writing assignments. College, sadly, has become the place where students (should) learn to write rather than the arena where they come to gain erudition, think and express those thoughts through adequate writing skills.

    1. I was unkind and I have already apologized to Ms. Schumann for that. My email was, however, a correspondence that was intended to be private. I am not sure what a Troll is, but expect it is not meant as an affection. In any case, whatever “trolling” has occurred has not been my doing, but hers. She posted the email without my knowledge. I have no problem with this, but please stop fueling your imagined persecution. It does not exist in this case. I have deep problems with what I see as the reductive, defeated logic presented in the piece published on Slate.com. I am interested in a fuller and more civil discussion which Ms. Schumann has kindly invited and will submit a fuller piece that I hope will be constructive. Until then, please know that I have no hate, only fear that people are being are being let down in a very important way.

      Sent from my iPhone

      1. Shaw is right everyone. We have spoken over email, and Shaw will be publishing a rebuttal (and get paid for it) on this very site, soon. I printed the hate mail because I thought it was a work of art. I assume Shaw’s post will be as well. And I’m looking forward to it. I’m on the road so I can’t respond to nearly enough of these. I love you all!

    2. Echoing these sentiments: I have made the startling observation (to me, anyway) that German and Austrian students graduating from Gymnasien with their Abitur are better educated and generally more impressive in their communicative skills than American students who graduate with Bachelors degrees. This seems to me a result of the fact that the vast majority of American college students — as well as the universities who enroll them and the companies who hire them — simply value the composition of spreadsheets and powerpoints over the composition of complex ideas and arguments in lucid prose. The corporatization of American universities goes hand in hand, of course, with the erosion of “traditionally” valued skills like writing, and I do not blame Schuhmann one iota for not wishing to participate in the sham. To get personal about it, these observations have led me to consider opting out of teaching future financiers and accountants at the university level, and to consider instead teaching at a good secondary school where, oddly enough, the humanities are often held in higher esteem.

    3. Dm, goodness me, we have different ideas about what our respective places and responsibilities in our communities require… I am sorry to call you out, but if we are not willing to fix things, then who can we trust to do it for us? Are you a leading light or a trailing fade? Please be on the right side of human, decent history.

  2. I am a writer. (And a one-time theology major, yet. Which is as much a writer’s dream as majoring in English is.) I also really liked the Slate piece. I understood it as a Swiftian “modest proposal,” the real point of which is for us to grasp today’s university as it is (i.e., a job-credential-widget-maker that, alas and alack, attracts its “customers” accordingly), not as it was, nor as we would like it to be. And I say all this ruefully, for I am somebody who blows precious money taking grad school courses in the summertime, for which I proudly write essays containing words like “Christology” and “sarx.”

  3. @Shaw Zeeck Some guidelines as you seem unsure of ‘internet etiquette': 1) When you resort to personal insults and sign off with such drama (“Fuck off.”), you surrender any control over the public/private nature of your message. 2) Personal insults due to professional disagreements constitutes trolling, ergo you are a troll.

    1. Karl, you seem like a decent fellow, and i appreciate your generous tutelage. However, I have no problem- as i said- with Ms. Schuman posting my email. There is, and never was, a control issue for me. I merely meant to point out that I was not “just looking around for people to be publicly pissed at.” Also, there is and never was a possibility that this could have been a “professional disagreement.” She is an educator, i am a woodworker. I have received a bit of education in my life, and I have also bought clothing; i have opinions about each but I am neither educator or clothier. Finally, and most important to me, I was reacting to a “broadsheet” article posted on Slate.com that will be read by thousands- hardly a closed, “professional” forum. Publishing on this scale invites a “personal” reaction. If “ergo”, i am a troll, then fine…

      1. Karl, that was a gentle, but solid kindness that you paid me very publicly. I called you a dick, and you paid me a compliment. Thank you.

        Shaw

  4. I see that any disagreements have now been resolved in a civil manner, but I would like to address the portion of the email in which Zeeck states, “I will be in touch with the trustees of your university in the interest of having you removed from the venerable position you hold without any regard,” by saying–AS A STUDENT OF REBECCA SCHUMAN–that she is a phenomenal and impassioned professor. In her course this past semester she was able to instill in me a value for my education that I don’t believe many of the students who took the same required Honors course from other professors received. Through my own choice to supplement the wisdom she imparted to me in class concerning my liberal arts education with articles that she and others have written concerning corruption in the public university system I have become a more conscientious individual. I have the utmost respect for this woman, and can tell you that there are a large number of students who would stand up for her at my university–for what it’s worth–if you were to try to have her bosses remove her from her position on the grounds that you have outlined. (Of course, her authorities would never do this, being the extremely wise and conscientious liberal education-loving individuals that THEY are.) All in all, Rebecca Schuman is a truly great Teacher, and I will continue to glean knowledge from her for as long as she continues to publish.

      1. Dear Ms. Dierksen,

        I am pleased to hear that you were well treated by Ms. Schuman. She does seem to be a remarkable educator. I am still struggling to understand her Slate piece, but this is my problem. Congratulations on finding a competent, caring teacher. Make the most of this opportunity, that is what it is.

  5. Rebecca:

    You had me at “The End of the College Essay: An Essay” (you may not have written the headline, but whoever did surely understood what you were about). I thought it was a great, shocking, stimulating piece.

    Shaw:

    Where you seemed to cross the line was not only in advising Ms. Schuman to “Fuck off,” but in suggesting that you’d like to undermine her employment. While I guess it’s your right to attempt to do so, it’s probably better left to her administrators, colleagues, and students, who can put this essay in the context of her work and her personality.

    Not flinging any hate your way. In fact, I kind of admire the fact that you’re here, responding. And I look forward to reading your piece.

  6. Wow: this has been a much needed reprieve from grading final essays! I’m mind numb, not from this entertaining thread, but from the handful of predictably stale essays submitted by students who care less about their educational opportunity than you, Shaw, like to imagine they do. The reasons you are upset only confirm what we know: the system is corrupt, oppressive, and it is no wonder why students who are commodified in the corporatization of academia behave badly and perform poorly. Follow their tuition $ and demand transparency (you won’t get a response from administration, but go ahead and send love letters).

    By the time any $ trickles down to the squabs who teach 75% of the instructional course loads nationwide, you’ll see just how socially devalued teaching and learning (the purpose of the university?) are.

    I would much rather read fucking banter than anything at this moment: thank you. Man! I would love to keep venting, but I have to get back on task: assessing the merit of student writing for an arbitrary grade that is meaningless in the scope of life.

    1. Squibs are entirely different than squabs. I can understand the mistake after having read so much drivel, though. People are fucking idiots- i could never suffer the shit they write. My point, though, is that we all have to sleep in the bed we shit in. Don’t want to be an academic? Fine, be a woodworker, be a cashier, a hedge fund manager, be a fucking junky- just do something else. The issue remains on the front line, however; if the people that students interact with refuse to push them then our shit continues to dribble downhill…

      1. Let’s all simmer down on this thread, yes? Shaw, you can make all your awesome points in your guest post! Everyone else, Shaw and I are BFFFFFFF now so lay off.

  7. Loren, really, really kind of you to care at all, thanks. Truth is, I am really struggling with a publishable rebuttal. I am kind of coming around to her side…

    1. Wow. Well done Shaw. Perhaps you could tell her trustees that you were wrong about wanting her to lose her livelihood.

      I wonder how often someone tells you they are actively attempting to reduce you to a Walmart worker, rather than in your trained profession?

      1. Shaw’s actually come around since writing this, and we are BFFF. But there were other calls to my employers, and I will not be returning to UMSL in the fall.

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