Columbia Responds to Froscanity

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HughesYesterday, Professor Hughes began Frontiers of Science’s three-lecture physics unit by playing Lil Wayne, changing clothes on stage, and displaying 9/11 and Nazi Germany footage. Various news outlets (Slate, TIME, NY Daily News) have picked up the story, and here is some of the known coverage for today:

  • Fox News’s The Five at 5 pm
  • ABC Eyewitness News at 5:30 pm (Channel 7)
    • Update: here’s ABC, featuring Bwog Daily Editor Sarah Thompson, CC’16!
  • Fox News’s Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld at 3 am

Also, Columbia released the following statement saying that faculty members bear “corresponding responsibilities” and that they are “reviewing the facts” of the lecture.

Universities are committed to maintaining a climate of academic freedom, in which the faculty members are given the widest possible latitude in their teaching and scholarship. However, the freedoms traditionally accorded the faculty carry corresponding responsibilities. Columbia’s Faculty Handbook states that “In conducting their classes, faculty should promote an atmosphere of mutual tolerance, respect, and civility [and] should confine their classes to the subject matter covered by their courses.” While one must exercise caution in judging excerpts from a lecture or short presentations from an entire course outside of their full context, the appropriate academic administrators are currently reviewing the facts of this particular presentation in quantum mechanics.

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  1. FroSci Student  

    This has honestly been blown way out of proportion. While I understand why some people may have thought some portions of the video were in a bit of poor taste, there was obviously no malicious intent nor was he endorsing any of the things he displayed. People were laughing hysterically during the lecture and he was successful in getting the room's attention. Can the ridiculously PC people at Columbia calm down and find another thing to get upset about?

    • Anonymous

      Ridiculously PC is one thing, but there are legitimately people who get flashbacks/PTSD triggers/etc. from seeing the Twin Towers burning like that, especially if it was completely unexpected. Luckily, I'm not one of them, even though my high school was about 4 blocks from Ground Zero, but I still think that part in particular was in really, really poor taste.

      • Anonymous

        And I'm generally very very much on the side of not PC/not getting offended by stupid stuff/etc., but even for me, I think this crossed some kind of line...I'm not going to be out protesting Prof. Hughes or anything, and honestly this has very little impact on my life so this Bwog comment will probably be the last I ever think of it, but it was enough to warrant actually typing this out (which I don't do often).

      • Anonymous  

        and not only getting triggered, but feeling in physical danger during the lecture. i was half-afraid he was going to go all james holmes on the crowd.

        • Anon

          Thing is, half those images you've already seen--most of them from the news and media outlets. If he had wanted to truly shock and trigger he could have shown the close ups of people jumping from the towers, or the experiments done at the concentration camps, or way more jarring acts of violence. People in this world who desire to grow to adulthood and take care of themselves should not expect to be treated with kid gloves and trigger warnings all the time. News Flash! You will deal with way worse triggers walking down the street and surfing the internet, even if you attempt to hide yourself from it. I'm not just saying "Man up and get over it," but you need to seriously develop a way to calm yourself down and bounce back, because nothing in that video was anything new for New York, the US, or this world. It's about damn time students at Columbia got a wake-up call.

  2. Anonymous

    Columbia plz stop taking yourself so seriously ok byeeee

  3. wc  

    look, i love dark humor as much as the next guy, and i'm all for making fun of frontiers, which i think is a joke class. but to me, this issue isn't about "PC" or "hurt feelings". the point is, this professor pulled a completely bizarre stunt with unclear pedagogical value, that seemed more concern with getting attention and causing discomfort than actually proving any sort of point or furthering the class's understanding of anything. and if it was just a joke and meant to entertain us, where was the fucking punchline? either way it fails. the only way i can see his little performance art piece as being somehow intellectually justifiable is if he made it crystal clear afterwards that it was meant to illustrate some sort of lesson, like the futility of understanding theoretical physics or how the universe is unpredictable or something or that frontiers itself is a waste of time. but he didn't. he just sort of did it and then acted like nothing had happened and then lectured for the rest of the class wearing a hoodie and sunglasses. it just comes off as disturbing and pointless - and when you take into account how eagerly he employed some genuinely unsettling imagery, and how little responsibility he felt in terms of explaining himself to students afterwards, you have to ask yourself, how was this in any way necessary? it wasn't genius - it comes across as a tasteless, self-absorbed exercise in attention-getting. i just want an explanation from him.

    • Anonymous  

      I wasn't at that lecture so I can't comment on whether or not his intro served any actual purpose for the lecture, but he gave the Quantum Mechanics lectures for FroSci last year also, and I loved the dude. If he gave this lecture last year, I would have found it hilarious. If it offends you, well, you have the right to be offended and say something, of course, but that doesn't mean others won't disagree with you.

    • Anonymous  

      Sadly, you're probably too insignificant to warrant an explanation from someone as busy as Prof. Hughes. Likewise, I doubt his narcissistic motives that you're suggesting because your opinion of him is probably meaningless to him one way or the other.

      I have no problem with his own short explanation of his intentions. Why is it that people no longer appreciate eccentric professors who make a class engaging, even if it's in an unorthodox way?

      And since when did it become illegal to make people uncomfortable?

  4. Just remember  

    It's your right to get offended, but you look like a little bitch to everyone else.

    • Anonymous  

      In most cases I agree, but if you, say, get seriously freaked out by videos of something traumatic that you may have experienced in person, like 9/11, then the person who calls you a little bitch for that, well...I'll let the crowd decide a better name for him.

      I didn't (experience it in person), but there may have been people who did sitting in that lecture hall, and Prof. Hughes showed a blatant disregard for how they might have instinctively reacted. And I don't think you can call somebody a little bitch for that.

      • Umm  

        The news plays segments of 9/11 all the time, and so do many other classes dealing in the humanities; it has even sneaked its way into a documentary on econ when talking about the fallout costs. We do not have to give people a slip of paper to sign warning them that one of the most common images of the extremely familiar attack on American soil from will be shown and if they have PTSD from it, they should go home.

        All of the images and footage shown are wildly popular and frequently shown images in the media or academia. Nobody made a fuss when my biology class showed a video of primates raping each other in my freshman year. And even though there were rape victims in that class, and several of us held a useful discussion about it, NOBODY felt like the video shouldn't have been shown just because some of us were uncomfortable.

        PTSD is real and horribly crippling at times, and it's offensive to have people use it as an excuse to try and sanitize the world from anything that might be a trigger. It's an illness that should be respected, but like all illnesses, it cannot overwhelm the masses by expecting the world to bow to it.

        The people in FroSci were largely laughing and feeling confused. I applaud this professor for introducing quantum mechanics in a unique way to get your attention. It's a difficult and dry topic to grasp if you don't begin it with some enthusiasm.

        • Anonymous

          The issue is one of context. No situation is ever divorced from the context in which it happens. In your biology class, the video of primate rape may have been uncomfortable, but that's to be expected. No question there can be value sometimes in shocking a group of people into attention...but only if it serves a point. Shock for shock's sake - which is what this seemed to be and the professor admitted as much with his lame explanation - is silly and when it veers into an area that preys on the potentially vulnerable, it is simply irresponsible. Look, this guy shouldn't be fired for this stunt or lose grant money or whatever, but he deserves to get a good yelling-at by his boss, I guess whoever the head of his department is. That seems like fair punishment for a stupid slip up.

  5. Anonymous  

    Hey newsflah if you were shocked and confused by this MAY BE THAT WAS HIS POINT

  6. Well...  

    ... a part of it was in bad taste, but he offered some kind of explanation.

  7. Hi Bwog  

    Why is there not an entire series with the tag "Vague Statements"?

  8. Anonymous  

    Emlyn Hughes must have lost a bet, I wish I could lose a bet like that

  9. Anonymous

    If Professor Hughes wanted to make people uncomfortable, he likely could have done so through a medium other than a short play about fear. Likely it would be possible to convey the sense of an upside down world (where your presuppositions must be lost, etc. - apparently the metaphor he was going for) without resorting to slideshows and videos of some of the last century's greatest tragedies. I admit, I wasn't there, I only watched the short video on Bwog, but the fact that he was successful in inducing that fear is palpable enough in the way the crowd quiets, the ironic chatter fades, people are stunned to silence, etc.. Yes he gains the attention of his audience, but in what state? The answer seems to reveal itself when one of the girls filming half jokingly (and maybe half not) asks, "is that a gun?" Perhaps its unfortunate that we live in a society where a person enacting something that seems like it may be intensely personal (and, watching the video, I did have the thought for a minute that the Professor had had some break with his sanity and was acting out some private metaphor that only he understood), but either way, Professor Hughes using his position of power in the classroom setting to induce fear for a lecture that conceptually and intellectually does not it, seems like something worthy of repercussions. And perhaps you were there and you "got it" and you weren't afraid and, well, bully for you, but being brave or strong or smart or whatever virtue you want to give yourself doesn't excuse praying on the weaker. That ain't Justice and if you want a good argument on that, go reread The Republic.

  10. Anonymous  

    all of this faux outrage gets my panties wet

  11. Quantum Mechanics  

    is confusing, terrifying, and at most times makes no sense. I think the point was to elicit all those emotions BEFORE the subject just to get it out of the way. It was brilliant and I'd expect no less from someone who understands the stuff.

  12. Sherry J. Wolf  

    Let's fight for justice. Email multicultural@columbia.edu! Hughes is the most privileged, sexist, racist, heteronormative fuckhead I've ever encountered. Even more than the marching band. Let's march on his office and set up camp until he is fired or executed. #Occupyhughes!

  13. Michael

    Can an actual witness give us a little more info? Specifically, what was his behavior like after the video/stunt, during the remainder of the lecture? Was his speech pressured and/or erratic? Did he seem energized, or maybe 'supercharged'? The performance part is obviously indicative of massive disinhibition, did this carry over into the rest of the lecture?

    Just curious, since no one else seems to suspect the simple manic episode explanation.

  14. Leo

    So I wasn't at the lecture, nor do I have an undergraduate degree from Columbia (...). But judging by the huge skull icon popularized by The Misfits, it seems as if the good Professor was trying to engage his class with music and video while expressing discontent at the futility of having to lecture on the entirety of quantum physics (!) and its destructive past in the space of an hour.

    If justice is served here, Professor Hughes will never have to teach this subject again, the two or three students will receive treatment for PTSD or whatever's ailing them this week, half of the class will learn about the New York 80s punk scene and Columbia will remember what it means to educate instead of babysit.

  15. even more varsity show fodder?  

    between 1020 michael, forest whitaker and this, varsity show has so much to work with this year. can't wait to see how they incorporate all this :)

  16. Anonymous

    What his real message is, is that he thinks that most FroSci students don't have the background to understand quantum mechanics, so why not just continue the tradition of quantum mechanics blather as mysticism or popular entertainment? Anyone who's taken quantum mechanics knows it's a 10 mile slog through knee deep mud with a 100 lb. pack, and that's even if you have had math through diff. eq. Yet the urge to present foo foo quantum mechanics lite is impossible to resist. Aren't there a lot more accessible topics that could be covered instead? There have to be hundreds of applied researchers on campus who could be dragooned into giving talks.

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