On Tuesday, Oct. 1, I groaned as I entered my organic chemistry lab at 6 p.m. Luckily, my lab partner is a close friend, making the three-hour time block much more bearable. That evening, he told me about his absurd physics class he had earlier that day involving Professor E. David Davis and various misogynistic comments he made during the lecture. After class, in the Technician opinion section pitch meeting, I passed along the story, and we all speculated if anything would come of it.
The next morning, many of my group chats were exploding as a WRAL article circulated the NC State community, proclaiming that the professor in question had been suspended while the event and his overall behavior were being investigated. After hearing the news, I couldn’t be happier to hear that NC State began taking steps to reprimand the professor while also involving the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity’s Bias Impact Response Team.
Professors, lecturers and teaching faculty should not be protected and granted immunity because of their awards and publications, and this case starts to indicate that NC State agrees. The physics professor under investigation does have a few publications and awards. Teaching is the same as any other job, where you have the possibility to have your contract not renew or be fired if you are not performing to a certain level or breaking set codes of conduct. In this case, his lack of consideration for diversity created an unsafe classroom where female students were viewed inequally.
According to the Daily Mail, Davis is a relatively new professor who has only been teaching since July 2016 and is not tenured. This information instigates the question: would NC State have done the same thing had he been tenured? Not to mention, uneasiness also arises when asking if Maira Haque, a third-year studying human biology, hadn’t posted on Twitter and received national support; would NC State still have acted?
These two questions show the next steps NC State needs to take when looking at student feedback and selecting routes of how to reprimand teachers. Other aspects such as grade distributions, claims and comments on class evaluations as well as reported issues need to be taken more seriously so that events such as the ones from this incident do not happen. Davis was well known among his classes and the physics department as a teacher that preyed on students’ lack of knowledge in order to berate them with mockery and insults. If NC State would have acted sooner, one can’t help but wonder if this even would have happened.
Teaching is a people-centered occupation where safe environments and communities need to be in the forefront of all professors’ minds while working. No awards, tenure or research are enough to provide them with immunity to be a terrible professor, put little effort into their other duties and/or actively discriminate against students.
Just like Newton’s third law, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. In this case, NC State responded in an equal and opposite way to the disgusting behavior of Davis, and this serves as a warning to other faculty that they are not omnipotent and that the rules of physics still apply to them too. Hopefully NC State continues this momentum, as an object in motion stays in motion, and can work to actively reprimand teachers for not fulfilling their job requirements before situations occur.