Powerlessness in the face of a horrible tutor

Powerlessness in the face of a horrible tutor

How do you stand up to an insufferable tutor?

CW: Misogyny.

I have a tutor from hell. This tutor makes me feel utterly powerless. Every time he says or does something inappropriate I feel angry, yet this anger sits stewing inside me as within the structure of university, I can do little about it.

One of the first incidences was relayed to me second hand, but has stuck with me, and with it in mind, has affected the way I can write this article. The tutor was talking to a female peer of mine about the recent Geoffrey Rush defamation case. He turned to my peer and nonchalantly remarked that “the judge found that she was a lying fucking bitch.” With this incident in mind, and a wish to not be referred to as “a lying fucking bitch” or to be taken to court, I will remain anonymous in this article, as will he, as will the University.

If a student gives a wrong answer, he will explain over and over again why they were wrong.

To give the most succinct, but anonymous picture of this tutor, he is a white male cis-het barrister who wastes hundreds of words every class telling us about how he is a barrister.

He runs his class as some form of ‘intellectual show and tell’, whereby students are put on the spot (literally) and made to answer questions which are arbitrarily related to the questions they were told to prepare answers to. If a student gives a wrong answer, he will explain over and over again why they were wrong. We have never finished class less than 20 minutes late because he spends at least 20 minutes a lesson berating students on usually useless topics (e.g. the difference between square brackets and round brackets).  To his credit, he does open his corrective rants with “I’m not singling you out, but…’.

I was required to write a research essay recently, in which I had to determine whether women are disadvantaged in the law. We were required to reference numerous peer-reviewed journal articles. After class one night, I asked him if he knew whether the Australian Feminist Law Journal was peer reviewed. I want to stress here that I did not ask him if he liked it, nor did I qualify my question with my views on whether women are disadvantaged in the law (which, by the way, they are). After I asked my question, the following interaction ensued:

Tutor:  I have no idea whether it is peer reviewed. I’ve never read the feminist law journal, and I never will.

Me: Oh…well, I wouldn’t discount ever reading it in the future.

Tutor: I’m not interested in feminism…I mean I believe in equality, but not feminism. I’m never going to read the feminist law journal.

Me: Well, I still wouldn’t discount the feminist perspectives of law because they can offer interesting insights.

Tutor: I have no interest in reading a feminist perspective on the law. I have no interest in changing the law, I think it is perfectly good. I am a barrister and so all I am concerned with is applying black letter law and winning cases.

[A few moments of silence ensued while I clenched my jaw and my brain did mental summersaults trying to work out what I could possibly say.]

Me: Well, maybe you’d have a different perspective on the matter if the law wasn’t specifically created to benefit you as a white man.

After which his face went a little pink, the student next to me gave me a subtle high five and I ran out of the class, calling out “see you next week”.

I spent the next week finishing my assignment riddled with anxiety of whether I would be marked down for using a feminist law journal, and more so, whether I would fail the assignment for purporting that women are still disadvantaged in the law. I eventually decided that if I was going to fail, I would fail in style and try to write the best research essay he has ever read, perhaps persuading him that perspectives outside of his privilege bubble are valid as well.

Tutors can so easily abuse their authority as educators.

The next week in class he continuously forgot my name (even after writing it on the board), eventually reverting to calling me “the girl who really likes law journals”. I also found out that in one of my peer’s classes he made all the students who identified as feminists put up their hands. Regardless of his values, he should not be singling out and marginalising students who hold conflicting beliefs. If there were serious consequences to his behaviour, I doubt he would consistently and lightly yield his power to make students feel inadequate and uncomfortable. Yet, it appears that within university, consequences to subversively inappropriate actions are often nil.

To say the least, I am angry, but more so I am disappointed and scared. I am disappointed that tutors like this man are allowed to teach students in an inappropriate and misogynistic way, teaching them nothing but how to disengage from learning. I am scared because the window he offers into my future bleakly suggests he very well may not be the exception when it comes to male barristers.

For the rest of semester, I am powerless. I will likely get a bad mark in this assignment and will probably do even worse for my class participation. After classes finish however, I hope to send a letter signed by numerous peers to the subject coordinator, equity department, and anyone who will care. Who knows what the outcome of the letter will be?

Who knows if I’ll even have the courage to submit one? 

All I know is that tutors can so easily abuse their authority as educators. They are capable of fostering environments where students are uncomfortable, discouraged and constantly doubting themselves. Individuals like my tutor should not be allowed to teach, but even more so, students like myself should have far more tools available to them to hold their tutors accountable for their behaviour, without fearing academic failure.

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