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Monday, February 17, 2014

Rutgers Prof Suspended for Telling Students He Was Made to Teach a Course in Which He Had Zero Expertise

RutgersTown Hall, Rutgers Makes Professor Teach Class He Is Clueless About, Suspends Him for Telling Students:

Administrators on the main campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. have suspended a renowned anthropology professor because he told students that he knows nothing about the subject matter in a course school officials assigned him to teach.

The professor, Robert Trivers, had objected to teaching a course called “Human Aggression” this fall, reports The Star-Ledger. However, his anthropology department superiors told him he had to teach the class anyway.

In the first lecture, Trivers informed the 30 or so Rutgers undergrads who had signed up for the class that his plan was to learn the course materials gamely along with them. He observed that he thought it was strange that he was teaching the course in the first place since he is no expert on the material. ...

Administrators at the taxpayer-funded university then suspended Trivers for the crime of imparting this information to students. Rutgers officials also said Trivers was essentially refusing to teach the course, even though he was teaching the course.

Trivers, 70, is very unhappy with his suspension.

“You would think the University would show a little respect for my teaching abilities on subjects that I know about and not force me to teach a course on a subject that I do not at all master,” the professor told The Daily Targum, the campus rag

Trivers, who specializes in social evolution and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University, argued vociferously that he is an accomplished scholar within his area of expertise. “I don’t want to sound immodest, but I am one of the greatest social theorists in evolutionary biology alive, period,” he told the Targum.

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Comments

"Administrators on the main campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. have suspended a renowned anthropology professor because he told students that he knows nothing about the subject matter in a course school officials assigned him to teach."

This juxtaposes nicely with "A new study of the top twenty-six law school faculties
reveals that those faculties include sixty-six tenure track faculty members who do not have law degrees" and "A 2003 study found that the average amount of experience
in the practice of law among new hires at top twenty-five law schools, among those hires who had any such experience, was 1.4 years." http://www.harvard-jlpp.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/37_1_179_Campos.pdf

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 17, 2014 1:11:40 PM

You know, I kind of like this Trivers guy.

Posted by: No, breh. | Feb 17, 2014 1:24:09 PM

Perhaps Rutgers should have had a law professor teach the Anthropology course. Aren't they expert in everything?

Posted by: Modest Proposal | Feb 17, 2014 2:23:10 PM

His Wikipedia entry does say he is "one of the most influential evolutionary theorists alive today" so there's that.

Posted by: anon | Feb 17, 2014 3:02:14 PM

Wasn't he effectively teaching the students about being passive-aggressive--a seemingly appropriate topic for a "Human Aggression" course

Posted by: Eric Goldman | Feb 17, 2014 4:34:30 PM

For whatever it's worth, Trivers is in fact one of the most influential evolutionary theorists alive today. Not sure that fact is relevant, but it's true. Sort of like asking Stephen Hawking to teach a course in biochemistry. I have to assume that Rutgers is trying to get rid of him for other reasons.

Posted by: Theodore Seto | Feb 17, 2014 7:19:05 PM

I once taught a course, as an adjunct professor, in a field I didn't know. Like Trivers, I stayed one chapter ahead of the students. I told them what I was doing. I never thought of that as a crime.

Posted by: David in Cal | Feb 17, 2014 10:23:39 PM

Our department head tells people what to teach, and if they disagree with the choice -- not refuse to teach it, just disagree -- he mentions this as a big negative in their annual reviews for four years.

Posted by: Hans | Feb 17, 2014 11:01:14 PM

*THE* Robert Trivers? Holy shmoley. He's a national treasure. I have to agree with other commenters, there's something else going on here. Maybe that he's 70?

Posted by: Sparky | Feb 18, 2014 12:03:46 AM

The real crime was making administrators look bad.

Posted by: cosmicray | Feb 18, 2014 1:21:45 AM

The "other reasons" why Rutgers would want to get rid of Trivers are not far to seek. He studies the social implications of evolutionary biology, which is fine when you're looking at ants, but scandalous if you look at humans. Absolute anathema to the liberal academy. I'm amazed he's lasted so long.

Posted by: Lee Moore | Feb 18, 2014 1:29:04 AM

It's not like he was dropped in at the last second from a remote Pacific island...he had some period of time, in advance, where he knew he was to teach this course.
Boo-hoo-hoo. That mean department chair is making teach a course in addition to the (?) one per semester he is probably teaching (having dragooned a desperate grad student TA to handle the actual heavy lifting in that one), thereby upsetting his normal routine of rising at 11am, lunching in the faculty club, downing a few snorts in that club's bar mid-afternoon, followed by whine and cheese with social soulmates.

Drill into this. Dollars to crossaint that it's a slacker senior faculty member being asked to actually do something.

Posted by: Don Keefhardt | Feb 18, 2014 3:12:03 AM

This particular "slacker senior faculty" happens to be, if not the Schrodinger, then at least the Max Planck of evolutionary biology.

Posted by: Lee Moore | Feb 18, 2014 6:24:01 AM

You are way off when you say "Dollars to crossaint that it's a slacker senior faculty member being asked to actually do something."

Robert Trivers published no less than 7 major papers in 2013, one of which - in one year, has already gathered 11 citations. His citation indices are:

All Cites: 29,387
Cites since 2009: 9,474
h-index 38
i10-index 54

Law professors would offer their first born children and important body components to have that sort of record - hell almost all professors would.

Posted by: MacK | Feb 18, 2014 6:24:57 AM

I actually majored in anthropology long ago - Trivers is a big deal. I guess, with posters above, that the real motivations involved the implications of his work and his age (since we all know that institutions that aren't supposed to discriminate based on [factor] just find other ways to do it - a good example are the law firms with labor and employment practice groups who accelerate minorities and pregnant women out the door with a shrug and a "what, me?" response). I've been an adjunct (solely for a professional credential and marketing) and taught something I didn't know before - the students probably knew but they got their 3 credit hours and learned something and I got my fee.

Posted by: MJ | Feb 18, 2014 9:12:05 AM

Stop complaining, Trivers! If Obama can teach constitutional law you can teach anything.

Posted by: J.P. Travis | Feb 18, 2014 11:25:04 AM

Prof. Trivers is deservedly famous, but is a difficult person, and perhaps ought to be purely a research professor, or at least teach only PhD students. He could easily teach a worthwhile undergraduate Human Aggression course if he wanted to; indeed, I expect any full professor would be smart enough to teach any undergraduate course in his department, even if he had never studied that topic.Indeed, I bet any economics professor at Rutgers could teach undergrad Human Aggression well just by reading the book a week before each class, and the same might be true of anthro professors teaching undergrad economics---certainly Trivers could (if he was willing to put in the effort).

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Feb 18, 2014 11:35:00 AM

" I expect any full professor would be smart enough to teach any undergraduate course in his department, even if he had never studied that topic"

So, a Greek professor with only passing ability in Latin could teach the senior seminar on Ovid or Livy or Cicero in his Classics Department? If it is a well-rounded classics department, could s/he teach the subtleties of Anglo-Saxon in Beowulf or of classical Japanese in the Tale of Genji? Does Professor Caron believe he could ably teach a freshman class in Constitutional Law - a common beast in Poly Sci departments - by flipping through the book? Does the American History scholar believe s/he can sufficiently wing the freshmen intro to Chinese History or German History or whatnot? One can go on and on.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Feb 18, 2014 12:46:15 PM

Sounds like he's being encouraged to retire.

Posted by: Jack Delahunty | Feb 18, 2014 1:35:58 PM

“I expect any full professor would be smart enough to teach any undergraduate course in his department, even if he had never studied that topic.Indeed, I bet any economics professor at Rutgers could teach undergrad Human Aggression well just by reading the book a week before each class, and the same might be true of anthro professors teaching undergrad economics”

Eric,

If any professor can teach any class by reading the textbook a week before each class, one wonders why these classes cost a small fortune. How much value are students getting for their tuition dollars from an instructor who learned the course material the week before teaching it? Should such a class cost thousands of dollars?

Posted by: D++ | Feb 18, 2014 1:38:03 PM