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Atlantean Idol

Berkeley Fires Its Best Math Instructor

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“Do not fall into the trap of thinking that you focusing on your education is a selfish thing. It’s not a selfish thing. It’s the most noble thing you could do,” Coward wrote, saying it was a privilege to teach such exceptional and amazing people.

“Society is investing in you so that you can help solve the many challenges we are going to face in the coming decades, from profound technological challenges to helping people with the age-old search for human happiness and meaning. That is why I am not canceling class tomorrow.”

A Idol said:

This guy might be the Howard Roark of higher education. 

 

You must be either joking or trolling...?

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The passage you quoted from his letter is the reason I qualified my comparison to Roark with "might." I give him a pass on his false contrasting of nobility with selfishness, however, in consideration of the larger point he is making, that it's fine to focus on your education without embroiling yourself in political disputes that do not materially concern you, i.e. to act in your rational self-interest. In addition, one must consider that these are Berkeley students he is addressing, the majority of whom are probably altruists. His message would be less pragmatically effective if framed in egoistic terms.

Would you not agree that Coward is at least similar to Roark in that he is a uniquely talented maverick in his profession whose innovative and superior work threatens colleagues who have an entrenched interest in maintaining the status quo, resulting in their persecution of him?

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Would you not agree that Coward is at least similar to Roark in that he is a uniquely talented maverick in his profession whose innovative and superior work threatens colleagues who have an entrenched interest in maintaining the status quo, resulting in their persecution of him?

If we believe his side, he's a good teacher who puts his soul into his work, and does a good job at it. He also tries to do what is right, not what is traditional or expected. Clearly, he's a maverick who does not tag along and cozy up to his bosses.

However, the articles present his side, and we have little to go on. The validity of any conclusion would be based on understanding the actual facts from both sides, and -- as outsiders -- there's little to go on.  

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However, the articles present his side, and we have little to go on. The validity of any conclusion would be based on understanding the actual facts from both sides, and -- as outsiders -- there's little to go on.  

Academia is a horrendous area to work in, no matter what field. Low pay, antiquated hierarchy and tenure system, hardly any requirements for teaching classes other than having a PhD, and your worth is simply social status as opposed to authentic importance. It is more apparent in upper levels after undergrad, or when working with professors on things unrelated to their research. This is personal experience also from working with professors and applying for PhD programs, but things like this, and other observations I've read, it is easily validated. It's probably worst at well-known schools, like Berkeley.

So although we should hear Berkeley's side, Coward is probably right. Shake up the social hierarchy, and people in academia lose their minds. Or to put it more gently, they have no idea how to respond other than kick Coward out of their clique.

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I didn't read everything in Euiol's link, but it looks plausible. Cases like this come up at some school or other every few years. Usually they involve a popular teacher denied tenure rather than not rehired for a non-tenure-track job as Coward was. I have no trouble believing that the guy is a showboater who plays to his students' vanity or who teaches undemanding mickeys. As the others have mentioned, we'd have to know more.

If somebody is like Roark then he's likely to be as unpopular initially as Roark was and as Coward evidently is not.

Do we have any way of measuring the quality of his teaching? This might be his students' performance on standardized tests vs. the performance of other students taking the same courses from other teachers in the department. To do this really rigorously you'd have to assign them at random. Another measure might be performance in more advanced math courses. This is not an exhaustive list, but popularity with students strikes me as a less reliable measure than either of these. (I wonder how he would have compared to the Unabomber.)

Is he related to Sir Noel?

 

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It's important to remember that Coward might be as good as some other teachers, and he isn't Berkeley's best most likely. But existing atmospheres exist to support badly run systems, where later performance is dependent largely on how you do what you're told or fall in line with how things have been run. Coward just was vocal about it. Perhaps it is a bit overplayed on his end, but his point is pretty accurate I'd say across most of academia.

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