Former AFAM Professor Annemarie Bean‘s time teaching at Wes last year is chronicled in a revealing NY Times Magazine report on how teaching evaluations can affect professors’ careers. Apparently she was fired in part because she didn’t receive the necessary quota of very positive evaluations in her year here, despite generally warm responses by students.
It’s a pretty fascinating look at Wesleyan’s hiring practices, and the power that students can have over professors teaching liberal-artsy courses they don’t like:
Annemarie Bean, who goes by Anna…, is the kind of professor who draws students to small New England liberal-arts colleges like Wesleyan. She is funny, enthusiastic, devoted to her students and passionate about what she teaches. Her subject areas are offbeat and slightly avant-garde, the kind of stuff that students, and their ostensibly liberal faculties, are said to find thrilling: African-American theater, the history of minstrelsy, “whiteness studies”… Beyond her subject matter and top-notch education… she just seems like a good fit for Wesleyan.
She is an alumna of the college, class of ’88; she is informal in her manner, tall and limber like a dancer, bright-eyed, the opposite of stuffy, eminently approachable; and she suggested lunch at It’s Only Natural, the pride of Middletown, Conn., a regional mecca for vegetarian, vegan and macrobiotic dining. (Nothing says “Wesleyan” like lunch at It’s Only Natural, where you eat bulgur wheat beneath paintings by local artists.) Bean knows that she belongs at Wesleyan, which is why she’s especially sad that her students fired her.
They did not actually give her the pink slip, of course, and for that matter Bean did not receive a pink slip. A visiting professor on a one-year contract with the African-American studies department, Bean was fired by not being rehired… According to [Gayle] Pemberton, not enough students had marked “strenuous” to describe their own effort in Bean’s class. Put another way, Bean was being punished for her students’ admitted laziness.
There’s also some hating on jocks in academia:
If you came across the whole pile of evaluations on the sidewalk, you’d form a picture of a somewhat disorganized, technologically inept, very learned, passionate teacher — an acquired taste. It would be clear that her particular cocktail of traits was very appealing to some students, the ones who loved her passion or her subject matter so much that they didn’t think her tendency to be late or frazzled was worth mentioning. You’d see that other students, meanwhile, were unmoved by her considerable energy and deep knowledge — instead, they felt abused by her politics, her scattered style or her deviations from the syllabus.
Bean told me that she had a good sense of who had written the most negative evaluations. “I found there was a small group of mostly white men,” she said, “who sat there the whole time wearing their white hats on backward, sitting there angrily, who didn’t like the class.” The stereotype Bean was invoking is well known to recent college alumni, especially of wealthy Northeastern schools. There is a look popular among athletes and their hangers-on, who wear white baseball caps with the name of a college embroidered above the brim. When you see those boys in class, you do figure — at least I always do — that if they’re not jocks, they’re part of a jockish, frat-boy scene. On a campus like Wesleyan, these are the boys who have not bought into its famously liberal culture. And if you’re Anna Bean, and you’re teaching classes called Whiteness or Blackface Minstrelsy, you worry, despite your best efforts, that they might be suspicious of what you have to say.
Huh. Does anyone have their own highly subjective view of Anna Bean to add here? Backwards-hatted haters skeptical of the value of Whiteness studies, perhaps?
NY Times: Judgment Day