EVE BROWNING: So, how’ve you been doing in the program?
ALFRED MACDONALD: It’s been all right. I had a wedding my first week or so and that required me to be out of the country for about three or four classes, and I’m also moving. I come from a really poor background. It doesn’t seem like it, because my demeanor’s very white I guess, but if it weren’t for the student loan graduate limit I wouldn’t be able to do this at all because I wouldn’t be able to afford a car. I was able to use the money here to get the car that can transfer me to classes. So had I not had that assistance I wouldn’t even be able to go here. I’m moving also. I’m near Live Oak, which is about 45 minutes from UTSA -- roughly -- and I’m moving to Culebra and Bandera, which is about 11 minutes from UTSA. But, it’s a very annoyingly gradual thing because everything that I can move is … passworded, so, like, computer files; we have a family computer that I’m trying to transfer from. That’s taking me a while and it’s been a huge hassle because I’m basically between residences. That’s where I came from today: Live Oak.
EVE BROWNING: Well the reason why we’re meeting and why I asked to meet is that several faculty and several other graduate students have expressed concerns about things you’re doing in class and out of class, and the nature of the concerns -- I made notes from their conversations and emails so let me just run through these. There’s reference to your contributions to class discussion of questionable relevance and these were long -- so that’s one thing -- and distracting. There’s the business of being late to class, there’s leaving class partway through, sometimes according to one faculty member staying gone for half an hour and coming back. There’s a concern about your having made some inappropriate comments to other graduate students…
ALFRED MACDONALD: I don’t talk to anybody and I haven’t in a long time.
EVE BROWNING: Sorry?
ALFRED MACDONALD: I don’t talk to anybody. I don’t know what inappropriate comments I made.
EVE BROWNING: Well this was an episode in professor Chen’s class or afterwards …
ALFRED MACDONALD: I don’t have that class.
EVE BROWNING: What?
ALFRED MACDONALD: I don’t have that class.
EVE BROWNING: Well… the complaint came from him about this partic-
ALFRED MACDONALD: I don’t even know who that is. Professor Chen? Like C-H-...
EVE BROWNING: Shunwu Chen?
ALFRED MACDONALD: I don’t know who that is. I have no idea how I could’ve… I’m not even registered for his classes, you can check. I’m in two of Almeida’s classes, and Josh’s…
EVE BROWNING: Well… it’s possible I understood him a b-- the complaint came from him but he may have been graduate students talking about your behavior in other classes so I could have gotten that wrong, let me just take a quick look at … “conduct in classes so they all attend” … so that doesn’t necessarily include his class … “compromised and harmed one of our main interests” … so it was a conversation you had with a couple of other students that you weren’t originally part of, and you joined it, and the topic of… the topic of one student being engaged to a Muslim came up, and it was alleged that you made offensive comments about Islam to that student -- and this is all, I represent this all as alleged because I wasn’t there, it’s not complaints that I have made, I don’t know you in class… (continuing to other items on list) “generally, a failure to observe appropriate boundaries and norms of an academic environment”, and that was just as general as that complaint was made, and then there are concerns about poor performance. The reason why I’m meeting with you is that two of the professors who have raised these concerns say they’ve already spoken to you unsuccessfully. That it was not a successful commitment to change anything at the end of that conversation. So that’s where we are.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I don’t know how. I haven’t been late to class since. I also haven’t done the leaving class partway through thing either. That was… I had a laxative that I was taking in-between.
EVE BROWNING: Well the “late to class” I’ll just see how… “Late to each of the first three seminar meetings.”
ALFRED MACDONALD: They gave me a talking to about this like a week ago, and I haven’t been late since then. For any of the classes.
EVE BROWNING: Well what they told me was that there had been no change and that their concerns are still as serious as they were. And what we want, what we all want is for all of our students to succeed academically, so when there are students saying that something you’re doing -- and think what it could be, if anything -- when there are students saying there’s something you’re doing that is making their learning environment less helpful, less productive, less pleasant, then we have to explore what that is.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I honestly don’t know, and I don’t know what--yeah, I mean one of these is from a class I don’t even… (Reviewing list) “Relevant comments in classes” I shouldn’t, also (2&3?), okay, I’ll just comment less, that’s easy enough. “Late to class,” already taken care of that, “leaving class partway through” already taken care of that, “derogatory comments to other graduate students” I don’t even know. I’m totally mystified. I really don’t talk to people -- at this program -- much at all.
EVE BROWNING: You don’t recall the topic of a Muslim fiance ever coming up?
ALFRED MACDONALD: That yes, but I was responding specifically to number four. Number five was: I said that I was bothered that I could be killed in ten Muslim countries. I’m bisexual. So they’d definitely do that in the ten countries where I would be -- you know.
EVE BROWNING: Doesn’t that strike you as an inappropriate thing to say about someone’s fiance?
ALFRED MACDONALD: I wasn’t talking about the fiance. The fiance could have whatever interpretation of the religion that they want. I said something like … (thinking) that I … yeah it wasn’t about the fiance, it was about the religious practices in those countries.
EVE BROWNING: How is it appropriate to bring that up in connection with someone’s fiance?
ALFRED MACDONALD: They brought it up. The Islam part.
EVE BROWNING: And you brought up the threat to your life as posed by this fiance?
ALFRED MACDONALD: No. We got to the subject of Islam, not the fiance.
EVE BROWNING: Do you understand how someone would find that offensive?
ALFRED MACDONALD: How someone would FIND that offensive, yeah; how they could perceive it, yeah; yeah, I mean, if I…
EVE BROWNING: It’s a confusing comment to me because Muslims do not all live in countries in which bisexuals are executed. Muslims live in the United States--
ALFRED MACDONALD: Sure.
EVE BROWNING: --Muslims live in France, Muslims live in every country in the world -- it’s the fastest growing world religion.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Yeah, one of my good friends at the university is Muslim.
EVE BROWNING: And do you tell him that you object to his religion because there are places on earth where gay, lesbian and bisexual people are discriminated against, including your own country?
ALFRED MACDONALD: Well, “her.” And my verbiage was “killed” not “discriminated against.” I mean, Death penalty’s pretty severe.
EVE BROWNING: What does that have to do with her being engaged to a Muslim?
ALFRED MACDONALD: Nothing. I wasn’t talking about the engagement to the Muslim. I was talking about Islam in that particular moment.
EVE BROWNING: Well, let me just say that kind of thing is not going to be tolerated in our department. We’re not going to tolerate graduate students trying to make other graduate students feel terrible for our emotional attachments.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Um… all right.
EVE BROWNING: And, if you don’t understand why that is, I can explain fully, or I can refer you to the Behavior Intervention Team on our campus which consists of a counselor, faculty member, and person from student affairs who are trained on talking to people about what’s appropriate or what isn’t.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I just won’t bring anything up about Islam again. That’s pretty simple. Although I’m not sure what you mean by... so I’ve read the student handbook pretty th--well not pretty thoroughly, but I’ve read it at least twice, and what do you mean by “it won’t be tolerated?” Like I’ll be straight up prevented from registering? Or the team that you mention, the behavior intervention team, they’re going to do something or… what exactly is the penalty for breaking that assuming that I’m in some other situation where I say something that someone else finds offensive and you...
EVE BROWNING: We’d put it either before the behavior intervention team or the student conduct board and ask them to make a recommendation.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Ask them to make a recommendation? What does that mean?
EVE BROWNING: Whether they would refer you for counseling; whether they would recommend that you be academically dismissed; they would assess the damage. They would probably try to speak to the students who are complaining and the faculty that are complaining and make a recommendation. In any case…
ALFRED MACDONALD: And this is over… I thought that UTSA was a public university with first amendment protections? So I could be dismissed for stuff like that? Just…
EVE BROWNING: Making derogatory comments? Yes.
EVE BROWNING: So I thought you’re new to the program, you’re new to UTSA maybe -- and sometimes academic environments carry expectations that are not clear to all members. So I looked at the complaints that people had made about you -- the reports and concerns that had been raised -- and I made some expectations explicit. So let’s go through this. We are a transition program between your undergraduate years and your professional future. And that means we inculcate professional standards and performance and behavior. And those include: attendance -- consistent, well prepared attendance at all meetings, arriving before class begins and leaving after class ends. You said you’re already committed to that, that’s good. Professional courtesy and respectful behavior to all faculty and fellow students -- that makes the learning environment work. In its absence, students are intimidated; they don’t learn well, they aren’t happy, they don’t flourish, they leave the program. Timely completion of all assigned work -- I’m explicitly putting that out there because the phrase “poor performance” was used. Constructive and relevant contributions to class discussions, of a nature allowing equal time to all other students in class -- that means being aware of how long you’re going on what you’re talking about, making sure it’s explicitly tied to what the class is doing and that others can see that connection. Meeting the faculty outside class time when it’s appropriate to seek additional help, or study recommendations or help with a paper or project -- that comes out of the comment “poor performance”; I don’t know whether that’s been something you haven’t done but it’s something to keep in mind. Regular contact with the graduate advisor of record to keep up with the program using deadlines. Constructive participation in departmental events like colloquia, symposia and other such activities; and philosophical discussion with peers is something that Josh says he emphasizes a lot, and engaging constructively with concepts, theories, and readings.
EVE BROWNING: I would add to that that confrontational interaction with other graduate students is objectionable and unprofessional. So you need to decide whether you have been excessively confrontational. The example that you give me is very objectionable to me, and had I been there I would have taken exception to it very strongly. So “who were the people offended?” -- they were offended enough to talk to a professor about it, and you need to think “what effect are my words having on these people?”... and you don’t seem to be acknowledging that their response was legitimate. I believe it was. Just from what you’ve said. And that’s the most I know about this; I wasn’t told anything more general than … I’ll read it to you: “Mr. MacDonald improperly inserted himself into the conversation and worse yet, says another faculty member, when he learned that Sarah’s fiance and his family subscribed to Islam, made comments on Islam which Sarah felt to be extremely offensive. She was deeply offended.” So that’s what I knew before you described it; now that you’ve described it I completely agree that that was an offensive thing to say. So what we need from you is a commitment to meet these expectations.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I have no other choice. So obviously I’m going to do it or else I won’t be here.
EVE BROWNING: No one has threatened you with dismissal from the program.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Okay yes, but there are lots of little implied gestures that would eventually … there’s an implied sequence of things that happens, for example: if I don’t do some of these things, eventually it’ll be taken up with the … behavioral intervention team?
EVE BROWNING: Mhm.
ALFRED MACDONALD: … and the student conduct board, and then that will lead to one of the possible options which is my dismissal. It’s not directly “yes, do this or be dismissed”, but if I were to say… continue to say something about Islam, you would probably do that and then I would be expelled; something like that. Something to that effect. Or at the very least dismissed from the program. So yeah, if I want to keep doing it I have no other choice. Start doing that or… [inaudible]
EVE BROWNING: Doesn’t it trouble you at all that three faculty members now have talked to you about these issues and you still don’t seem to be interested … you still don’t seem to be listening, you’re responding in an extremely resistant and negative manner to all of this?
ALFRED MACDONALD: Three including you, or?
EVE BROWNING: Yes.
EVE BROWNING: And yet this is the academic program that wants you to succeed and we have a responsibility when your behavior is not going to lead to your success.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Sure.
EVE BROWNING: We would be remiss if we let all this stuff pass. And assuming you succeed academically and you head into an academic job track, things like this will get you not hired.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I don’t have plans for academic job tracks.
EVE BROWNING: Things like this will get you not hired anywhere.
ALFRED MACDONALD: [Paraphrase of “my long-term income is through passive income.”]
EVE BROWNING: Well we have in mind helping [inaudible] so that’s how we have designed our program. We have not designed our program to tolerate these behaviors.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Sure. And some of these things yes -- I consider them extremely important, like timely completion of work, attendance, and so on
EVE BROWNING: You don’t have to esteem them all equally. You just have to meet these expectations.
ALFRED MACDONALD: And I will. As I said. But it was presented to me as if, I don’t know, as if I should be enthusiastic about it or something. No I don’t think that some of these complaints are justified, but it doesn’t really matter what I think, because they’re taken as if they are anyway. So I have to follow them.
EVE BROWNING: What do you see as unjustified?
ALFRED MACDONALD: I can go there, but do you really want to do that?
EVE BROWNING: I’m curious. You don’t have to go into detail.
EVE BROWNING: Three faculty members and a number of graduate students. That should concern you.
ALFRED MACDONALD: That would just be ad populum reasoning. I’m supposed to gather from that…
EVE BROWNING: It’s troubling. It’s more complaints than we’ve had about any student in our program. [I should add at this time the program had been active for less than two years.] How many are in close succession? It’s troubling.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I’m sure it’s troubling. But I don’t necessarily think that the number of reports of something… because then I could [make up anything and with enough reports] people would believe it.
EVE BROWNING: That’s half our graduate faculty.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Okay? That’s still appeal to number, it’s not really --
EVE BROWNING: No. It’s appeal to experts who are experienced in their field. Which you are not. Neither of those things are you.
EVE BROWNING: You should be able to consider this as a serious issue and not just something to flip off. And if you can’t, it bodes ill for your success in the program.
[inaudible] a serious issue, just not all of it. [inaudible.]
EVE BROWNING: You don’t have to. [inaudible] You can blame yourself right out of academia. If that’s what [inaudible].
ALFRED MACDONALD: Continue taking courses [inaudible].
EVE BROWNING: That’s true.
ALFRED MACDONALD: So that’s what I’m saying. I want to keep taking courses so I have to take this seriously whether or not I think it’s right or not. Well, some of them.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I have another question about… you mentioned off-campus -- you said outside outside of campus or --
EVE BROWNING: No, outside of class.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Outside of class.
EVE BROWNING: Yes.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I’ve had entirely one conversation outside of class I think. My entire time here. So either this is multiple people talking about the same thing, or… I honestly can’t think of -- do these references talk about multiple conversations? Because I recall having one conversation.
EVE BROWNING: I don’t think anything more needs to be said. So you take these two things with you, you can throw them in the trash when you get out of here if you want. But I wrote them down so that you could look at them later and have something to remember in case the fact that the other two faculty have spoke to you about their concerns didn’t result in improvment from their point of view, was a result of their not having been clear enough. So here this is for you.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Most of this…
EVE BROWNING: What’s not clear?
ALFRED MACDONALD: Well, let’s see...
ALFRED MACDONALD: Two, and eight, and [inaudible] seven
EVE BROWNING: To explicitly what would you find unclear there?
ALFRED MACDONALD: Two is professional courtesy and respectful behavior of all faculty and students. You can be like, “this is obviously x” or “this is obviously professional” or “respectful” or whatever; this can easily be stretched to mean lots of things that I never or might not have considered; that just wouldn’t register on my radar as something to --
EVE BROWNING: Right. That’s the point of this meeting in a way. Things aren’t registering that you’re doing. And I’m trying to point out to you that people are finding them objectionable, and my assumption is that you would like not to be found objectionable. And my further assumption, and it’s really more of a belief claim, is that if you do behave objectionably, if you behave in ways that members of the faculty and members of the students find objectionable, you’re not being a constructive member of the community. So you should be interested in not behaving objectionably. Something to think about. Maybe your personal experience and behavior is irrelevant to [inaudible] then you need to think about conforming to the standard of decency that people expect of you. Reflect on that. “Maybe I’m being a little too blunt when I cite x y or z? Maybe this is going to make this person less happy or be functioning in this department?” Think about that.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I mean, those are all fairly surface level thoughts. Most people I know who I grew up who are also poor wouldn’t -- this is very foreign. To a lot of us.
EVE BROWNING: Everybody in this program grew up poor.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Okay so if I went to my fiancee’s black family on J Street and I told them about this conversation and about what’s considered professional courtesy and respectful behavior, they would probably look at me like I just came from another planet.
EVE BROWNING: I doubt it.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Really. I… okay. [laugh]
EVE BROWNING: It’s immaterial anyway. We’re talking about the standards of our workplace. Not every workplace has the same standards. Not every program has the same standards. We have standards. This is what they are.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Well I’m not working here. I’m studying here.
EVE BROWNING: As a student you meet our standards. Or you don’t succeed. We’re not going to let you damage the program.
ALFRED MACDONALD: It’s pretty vague.
EVE BROWNING: It’s absolutely not vague. People are getting offended by your behavior. People are getting angry about the fact that you take up too much class time with long streams of thought that don’t seem to them to have relevance and that’s your professors and fellow students both. That’s something you need to think about. That’s something you need to stop doing.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Understood. But when I say “that’s vague” I meant more toward the mechanisms and consequences rather than the thing you don’t want me to do. [inaudible]
ALFRED MACDONALD: It seems like you want me to do this, which I’m going to have to do, but you also want me to take all of these with the same seriousness or gravity -- not just in terms of an obligation but in terms of a moral issue -- that you do, and
EVE BROWNING: I don’t want you to. We all expect you to. This isn’t just me talking. I haven’t had you in class. This is me reacting to concerns expressed by my colleagues that their classes are going less well because of things that you’re doing. That’s very serious. If I didn’t act on that I would be an utterly irresponsible department chair. We all have responsibility to uphold the standards of our discipline and of appropriate behavior within the learning environment that allows everyone to learn equally well. This gives them the opportunity. And that’s the place where you’re having negative impact according to reports of multiple faculty including half the graduate faculty and numerous other students. That’s all I can say.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Half the graduate faculty? You mean, like, two professors?
EVE BROWNING: We’ve had complaints from more than two professors.
ALFRED MACDONALD: I don’t even know any graduate faculty.
EVE BROWNING: Well, yeah, let’s not keep doing this. You’re clearly expressing a lot of resistance to what I’m telling you. All I’m asking is for you to go away and think about it, and if you decide you want to keep on doing everything exactly the way you have been and that that’s going to work for you, you’ll take responsibility for that and that’s fine.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Well, I told you from the beginning that I wasn’t going to do everything as I’ve done it before. Some of these things I’ve already done. So some of these are checked off anyway.
EVE BROWNING: Good. And they’re still on the sheet so you can remind yourself.
ALFRED MACDONALD: And sure, I’ll think about “professional courtesy” but without [inaudible] I’m just going to be like, “professional courtesy. Question mark?” I can think about it for a while but it won’t be
EVE BROWNING: Those are things that would get you fired if you were working in my office. The Islam comment would get you fired.
ALFRED MACDONALD: All right. I mean...
ALFRED MACDONALD: ...Would it really get me fired to say that I could be killed somewhere?
EVE BROWNING: In that situation as you’ve described it, absolutely yes.
ALFRED MACDONALD: How?
EVE BROWNING: Don’t even ask. It’s clear you’re not taking my word for it. I don’t care to convince you. If I can’t persuade you that it’s in your interest to behave in ways that other people don’t find offensive and objectionable, then at least I’ve done my job.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Well I know that it’s in my interest. I’m just trying to understand the reasoning.
EVE BROWNING: You don’t have to.
ALFRED MACDONALD: Well, this is a truthseeking discipline!
EVE BROWNING: In your hypothetical situation where you’re going to get fired for that comment you can sit and talk to the human relations officer until you’re blue in the face. [laugh] It would not do any good. So let’s just cut that line of argument short. You don’t need to defend yourself. You just need to meet appropriate standards of behavior. And you can feel in your heart of hearts that you’re being unjustly treated for being asked not to make offensive comments. That’s okay. I’m not out to persuade you. I’m just out to read you the riot act basically. Because this is a situation where there’s been more complaining and more concerns expressed than we’ve had in the history of our program. So it is serious. And you can not take it seriously if you want, you can say “of course I have to do this, but I don’t endorse this.” That’s fine. You do have to meet expectations, you’re correct about that. So we’re going to end this right now. And take those two sheets of paper and do whatever you want with them. We’ve met. I’ve expressed the concerns. You’ve expressed your response. We’ve both done our jobs for today. Thanks for coming in.