Proofreading prof charged with ‘microaggression’

Protesters claimed a “toxic” racial climate in UCLA’s graduate education school motivated their sit-in last week in the classroom of Professor Val Rust.

Call2Action protesters said Rust committed “microaggression” by correcting their grammar and spelling on their dissertation proposals, wrote the professor in a letter from China, where he’s traveling. He also said “Students of Color” were angry that he hadn’t stopped a student discussion.

. . . a white female student . . . wants to use Standpoint Theory [a method of analysis coined by feminist sociologist Dorothy Smith, based on the idea that all knowledge is subjective and based on one’s position in society] in her dissertation, and the Student of Color told her she had no business claiming that she was a member of an oppressed group. She came back saying there are all kinds of oppression. I likely did not handle the situation well, because I chose not to stop the discussion between them, so it went on for quite a while, and the Students of Color apparently interpreted my silence to mean I wasn’t supporting them.”

Rust urged the department to organize a town hall meeting later in the month to begin a dialogue.

Protesters did complain about Rust’s corrections reports Inside Higher Ed.  In addition, Call2Action’s letter accused the professor and classmates of repeatedly questioning their “epistemological and methodological commitments.”

The statement accuses “the professor” (it does not identify Rust by name) of correcting “perceived grammatical choices that in actuality reflect ideologies” and “repeatedly questioning the value of our work on social identity and the related dynamics of oppression, power and privilege.” The “barrage of questions by white colleagues and the grammar ‘lessons’ by the professor have contributed to a hostile class climate,” it continues.

“Students consistently report hostile classroom environments in which the effects of white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and other forms of institutionalized oppression have manifested within the department and deride our intellectual capacity, methodological rigor, and ideological legitimacy,” charges Call2Action’s online petition.

“Many of us have been through the formal complaint system of leveraging charges … the letters are reviewed, and we receive responses saying (the) charges have no merit,” said Kenjus Watson, a graduate student researching black men and microaggressions in higher education. Some have questioned his research as “too subjective,” he said. (I’ll be microaggressive and point out that “leveraging” is the wrong word. He must mean “leveling.”)

Many current and former students defended Rust, saying he was singled out unfairly. The sit-in was a “mean-spirited circus that creates exactly the hostile and toxic environment” the demonstrators claim to be fighting against, wrote Stephanie Kim, a graduate student who works with Rust, in the Daily Bruin. “

As a woman of color, I am deeply saddened that my adviser and mentor for the last five years, Rust, was unjustly demonized as the symbol of white male oppression as a cheap way of arousing public support.

Call2Action is demanding more black and Latino professors, a streamlined complaint procedure, etc. But what they really want is an end to “questioning” of their ideas, research methods, values — and grammar. That would be a toxic victory.

About Joanne


  1. Standpoint Theory: all knowledge is subjective and based on one’s position in society

    Humpty Dumpty: ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

    Lewis Carroll would be so proud.

  2. Stacy in NJ says:

    When did educated black people become a bunch of friggin babies?

    Strike that. Insert instead: When did educated people become a bunch of friggin babies.


  3. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

    Standpoint theory isn’t about all knowledge being subjective. Standpoint theory actually holds that there are *better* ways of knowing, and that those ways of knowing are to be found in the oppressed.

    Full on pomo relativism, for all of its faults, is at least consistent. Standpoint Theory just posits that “outsider” perspectives are somehow more objective — without really offering any sort of explanation for how that works. I mean… there are explanations. But they’re more or less incoherent.

    (I’ve not made an extensive read of the subject, but I’m broadly familiar with its contours.)

    And in other news… “Call2Action’s letter accused the professor and classmates of repeatedly questioning their “epistemological and methodological commitments.””


  4. This has got to be the most ridiculous thing to come out of a university to date. And that is saying a lot. Since the modern(or post-modern) university is producing the dumb down students who takes seriously the subjectivism of a bogus theory like Standpoint Theory. I never even heard of it.

    As a black woman, I’m embarrassed by this whole thing. It’s now racism because someone expects you to write proper English?!?! This obtuse thinking is what is destroying the university and the Western world in general.

  5. Burn it all down, never rebuild. Consider salting the earth, in fact.

    Not a cent of public money.

    It’s too corrupt, too toxic, too useless.

    All the “theory” is in fact worse than useless, that I’ve seen (and I got a philosophy degree, and took high-level English classes, so I’ve seen as much of it as you can see outside of the “Studies” curriculum, and the best-justified parts of it).

  6. I’m not sure what these students expected of graduate school, but my experience (in a STEM field) was that every word that you wrote or spoke was subject to being corrected. Seminars were critiqued, conclusions were questioned…and the process was supposed to help you learn to think more scientifically. Although some faculty were known for being harder to work with than others, they all were pretty free with their suggestions. I’m not sure what the point would have been if they had just passed us along – if I hadn’t wanted to be taught something (even if the method wasn’t a lot of fun at the time) I could have skipped grad school.

    • I’m not sure what these students expected of graduate school

      They expected to sit there and get passed thru and get good grades based on their skin color

  7. To think, as a California taxpayer, I’m subsidizing universities where students come out dumber than when they went in. Lovely.

  8. Has the lunacy really gone this far? What a disgrace that students like that somehow bamboozled their way into graduate school of any kind, and even worse, into education graduate school. Where the hell did they find undergraduate professors that filled them up with this ignorant, absurd claptrap?

  9. If these individuals are applying for a job, they should understand that 80% of all resumes that are screened at most companies never get farther than a first glance and hit the shredder due to lousy grammar and spelling errors.

    This is from someone who has reviewed a LOT of resumes in a 30+ year STEM field. I’ve warned students in presentations, I’ll stop looking at a resume when I’ve reached the third grammatical or spelling error (minor issues overlooked, however).

    That usually gets them thinking that their resume is the 2nd most important document they’ll ever prepare.


    • If you check this out more closely, it is clear that this is not about proofreading. The main problem that the students have is that the prof is insisting that they follow the Chicago Manual of Style and the students prefer the American Psychological Association rules because these are more appropriate for social science research. They find it condescending when he treats the use of APA rules of style as an error that requires an in-class grammar lesson. It is also irritating because if they do use the Chicago Manual of Style, they will have to rework their papers using the APA style if they want their work to be published.

      The UC system is forbidden to use race based affirmative action. This has been the case for years.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        I prefer the CMS. Sometimes my clients prefer the AP guide or the APA guide. You know what? I do what the client asks. Learning to switch between style guides is essential for most careers. If they’re throwing a hissy fit over this, they don’t deserve to be in graduate school.

      • Mark Roulo says:

        “If you check this out more closely, it is clear that this is not about proofreading. The main problem that the students have is that the prof is insisting that they follow the Chicago Manual of Style…”


        Cite, please? I’ve clicked through the link and don’t see anything about this …

        • “Rust also insisted on Chicago Manual of Style form in research papers, even though some in the group wanted to use American Psychological Association style, in line with their more social science-oriented research.”

      • Roger Sweeny says:

        “The UC system is forbidden to use race based affirmative action. This has been the case for years.”

        Years ago, many southern states had literacy tests and citizenship tests for voting. The registrars would ask people questions and decide whether or not to pass them. Just about all whites passed and just about no blacks did. Everyone assumed that the registrars were engaging in racial discrimination, though the registrars stated that they didn’t. Since there were no public records of the questions and answers, it was impossible to prove.

        Nowadays, everyone assumes that “under-represented minorities” have a much easier time getting into a California state university than a white or an over-represented minority (Asian). University officials say that they simply look at the “whole applicant” and don’t engage in discrimination. Since there are no public records of the admission deliberations, it is impossible to prove.

  10. Remember that this is ed school, not the real world, and most grads will be applying to public schools or ed organizations, not to the real world. Even though my kids attended “top” schools in affluent areas that attracted top teacher candidates, they still had some teachers/admins whose written communications made my hand itch for a red pencil and a return trip to the writer. Admittedly, those were disproportionately from younger teachers and URMs – who, as said above, are often held to lower standards, in the interest of “diversity” and keeping lawyers/politicians off the district’s back. Idiocy like this is why colleges in general and the ed world in particular are no longer given the respect they think they deserve.

    I’ve written a master’s thesis and a doctoral dissertation (NOT in education) and standard academic English and appropriate style were demanded. For that matter, so did all of my college courses. One English prof would give no grade above C to any paper (in-class or out) with a split infinitive and he flunked any paper with 3 grammatical/spelling errors – before word processors, computers and spell checkers. Most of us had manual typewriters and everyone had to use carbon paper to make copies. Those who object to standard written English or academic English conventions do not belong in college. Period.

    • Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

      OK, so let’s say your points are good ones.

      What do you do when you are a professor and half of your students can’t put together a coherent sentence?

      Do you penalize them for grammar? If so, you may end up failing a quarter of the class.

      Do you have ANY idea what sort of $#!+storm would come down from on high if you failed a quarter of your class? (You must — you said you wrote a dissertation, which I would guess means that you also TA-ed for a time.)

      So really — who, exactly, is supposed to what, exactly? The professor may not be able to grade on grammar.

      Is the problem the administration that doesn’t allow the professor to pursue his or her own standards of excellence?

      They’re trying to keep tuition-paying butts in tuition-paying seats. Same thing with admissions — SOMEONE has to attend these universities if they are to exist, and the plain fact is that the universities are getting the best students they can right now.

      Is this really a problem to be solved by high school teachers? Elementary teachers?

      It’s easy to complain and say what should be the case. But it’s harder to point at some particular person and say, “Here’s what you need to do better.”

  11. When I taught at SUNY–Stony Brook in the mid eighties, I once told a class I would grade their papers and examinations on the basis of 90% for mathematical content, and 10% for style. A student who did not explain his work in a logical fashion would be penalized for it. I compared this to ski-jumping competitions, and I told them that to improve their work, each should try to explain to another student what he claimed to prove. I think few did.

    Once, we had a postdoc from West Germany. The department gave him one section of multi-variable calculus to teach, and he taught it as he would have back in West Germany. He gave F’s to two-thirds of his students. The students protested to the department, the administration, and they published their petition in the student newspaper. I told one of those students that the petition proved that they should also have gotten F’s in their English courses.

  12. Crimson Wife says:

    How is poor grammar an ideology?

    • In another case that best exemplifies the “grammar ‘lessons'” referenced in group’s letter, he said, another student who chose to capitalize the first letter in the word “Indigenous” in her research papers saw it changed to a lowercase throughout.

      • Deirdre Mundy says:

        That depends on context, though. For instance “Canada’s Indigenous Peoples eat indigenous plants.” Indigenous only gets capitalized if it’s part of a recognized title. You wouldn’t use it for a sentence like “The researchers questioned whether Native Americans were actually indigenous to the area, or were, in fact, invaders who had murdered an earlier population.”

    • Mark Roulo says:

      “How is poor grammar an ideology?”


      You made my day!

      • Richard Aubrey says:

        Actually, poor grammar is a signifier of an ideology, rejecting the white patriarchy’s oppression. It’s not an ideology itself.

        • There is well written English and badly written English. English is a language, and as such has rules to be written and spoken well. It has nothing to do with skin color, or oppression.

          “Actually, poor grammar is a signifier of an ideology, rejecting the white patriarchy’s oppression. It’s not an ideology itself. ”

          So you are saying that in order to oppose white patriarchal oppression, they purposefully choose to remain illiterate and uneducated? Sounds particularly arrogant and stubborn, and in no way helpful to any sort of movement, especially one of personal or self empowerment and growth.

          The Indians have done it well: Kicking out the British from their land but never underestimating the power of knowledge and education in order to do so.