“If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen,” was the advice given to me once when I was upset about being vilified for voting for a strike at an institution I used to teach at. So I stayed in the kitchen and took the heat. And we won several—but not all—of the issues at stake. For the past few days I have been really troubled by the pressure to remove my name from the Open Letter I’d signed asking for an independent investigation into UBC’s handling of the Galloway firing, lest I prove myself to be a supporter of “rape culture”. No doubt others (complainants, or complainants forced to be patsies for the administration) were damaged and harmed; but for me, as a retired creative writing professor, the dismissal of a tenured associate professor and chair of a department of Creative Writing is of deep personal and professional concern.
I have had increasingly deep concerns about the place of Creative Writing programs attached to universities which now as a matter of policy infantilize (and encourage self-infantilization) of adult students. Creative Writing traditionally deploys highly interactive and very “personal” relationships between instructors and students. Creative Writing supposedly believes in freedom of speech, in this case, artistic freedom. Creative Writing supposedly nurtures a spirit of “originality” and “experimentation”–but how can that happen in an atmosphere of Required and/or Forbidden Thinking? Relations between practicing artists and their students have historically been complicated, scrappy, tearful, struggling, evaluative, erotic, antagonistic, nurturing, and imperfect. I think Galloway was trying to be the old-time domineering-eccentric creative writing prof, joking and socializing and having strong opinions, and it failed disastrously. I also believe he was the fall guy for an administration that had been publicly criticized for failing to act on sexual assaults on campus, and in the context (at the time) of the Ghomeshi and Cosby revelations. If Galloway’s behaviour was becoming destructively problematic, he should have been counselled by his colleagues to quit it, on pain of official reprimand. If an official reprimand or clear warning had preceded the dismissal, there would probably have been some, but not nearly as much, concern about due process.
Meantime, I’d ask certain of my colleagues who are weighing in with solemn thoughts: have you ever flirted with a student? has a student ever flirted with you? have you ever thought that one student’s work was better than another’s? have you ever disliked a student? (in my experience, this is rare) has a student ever disliked you? have you ever been attracted to a student? has a student ever been attracted to you? Everything depends on how one conducts oneself, but Creative Writing in particular can never be a zone of completely documentable neutrality because of the overriding subjectivities of its pedagogy. This is one reason I’m concerned about the impact of university (MFA) Creative Writing programs on students, instructors, and writing itself. And why I am protesting the police-state tactics of UBC’s administration in the dismissal of a tenured professor who has not been charged with any criminal wrongdoing.