University of Nottingham English lecturer Tony Fisher has labelled several students as ‘semi-literate’ and ‘idiots’ on his public Facebook profile. He has also made explicit references about students’ essays, student welfare and labelled the University’s Human Resources department “intransigent, dogmatic… completely unreasonable” and “absolute arseholes”.
The Facebook statuses were made on a personal profile page visible to the public and date back as far as October. The comments were made by English Teaching Associate, Tony Fisher, who lectures in Linguistics in the School of English. The profile was made private this afternoon after students on the module approached the School of English with their concerns about Fisher’s comments.
Students are “Idiots” and “semi-literate”.
In one Facebook status, dated 13th January 2014, Fisher called his student ‘an idiot’ quoting a phrase from the third year linguistic essay he was marking. Anna Herron* who takes Fisher’s module said: “It’s one thing that he jokes about essay marking, but identifying students’ genders and calling them idiots is appalling. “It also means that the student might be able to work out if it is her essay he’s talking about”. In comments on the status, Fisher then identified the student as female, saying: “she’s an idiot, as the rest of her ‘essay’ (and I use the word advisedly) confirms”. Further comments then explicitly identified other aspects of the individual’s essay: “She also said something about linguistic theory ‘consummating’ towards an understanding of interruption”. He commented that the points made in the essay were “the result of semi-literacy” and added: “She’s a creative genius!”
“Identifying students’ genders and calling them idiots is appalling”.
According to the module seminar sign-ups on Moodle, of the 59 students enrolled on Fisher’s sociolinguistics module, 49 are females. One student taking the module told Impact that Fisher’s specification of gender raises concerns that the student can be identified from the comments.
“It’s not looking good kid”.
On several occasions Fisher also disclosed students’ personal information, including direct quotations from exam scripts, the content of personal emails, and references to students’ welfare. While marking the exams of the third year sociolinguistics module, Fisher quoted the first question of the paper and a student’s answer, commenting: “First answer on the exam script – it’s not looking good kid”.
“He has drilled into us the importance of ethics in linguistics, and yet he himself personally targets students and ridicules their essays and exam answers”.
Third year English student on the module, Laura Walker*, stated: “Tony’s behaviour has been completely unprofessional. “Throughout the module he has drilled into us the importance of ethics in linguistics, and yet he himself personally targets students and ridicules their essays and exam answers. What a joke”. He also referred to the welfare of specific students and revealed personal details about the module mark of others. Asking the Facebook community, Fisher posted: “Does anyone know the name of over the counter herbal sweets that have a mild sedative effect?”, stating that it was not for him, but “for a student having panic attacks!”. Facebook friends of Fisher posted their comments on the status, with one suggesting that Fisher should “Tell him to have 4 pints and a spliff”. Fisher liked the comment. Fisher also mentioned private email conversations between him and his students, including a status complaining about “some of the crap [his students] come out with”.
“Email from one of my undergrads re proposal for essay – “how do I go about the research thing?”. How indeed”.
He stated his “favourite so far” was receiving an email “from a Chinese student who had missed class and emailed… to explain that he had been to ‘crazy party’”. Fisher ended the status with: “He failed the module and the re-sit”. This again raises concerns about the possibility of identifying the student from Fisher’s comments. Another email he quoted in a status was in relation to a student’s sociolinguistics essay he later complained about marking. It stated: “Email from one of my undergrads re proposal for essay – “how do I go about the research thing?”. How indeed. [sic]”.
The “marking fairy is a lazy bastard”.
A student told Impact that Fisher had informed them that their essay feedback would be given to them prior to their exam on the 24th January 2014. But one of his statuses revealed that he had been “ignoring the 50 odd sociolinguistics essays”. Engaging with comments from Facebook friends below, Fisher joked that the “marking fairy is a lazy bastard” and “a fat, hungover, idle marking fairy – what good is that to anyone?”.
“Today has been a marking day. As a result of this, my bike is sparkling clean”.
Students on the module did not receive their essays before the sociolinguistics exam. Fisher also posted a status on the 19th January 2014 read: “Today has been a marking day. As a result of this, my bike is sparkling clean and has new tape on the handlebars, and we have not one but two fresh loaves baking in the oven.”
“The twats in HR”.
Fisher not only makes comments about students, he also publicly accuses the University’s Human Resources department of being “twats” and “absolute arseholes” in “refusing to release [him] from [his] contract at Nottingham a month early”. He will be leaving in March, one source told Impact, reportedly taking a position at the University of York St. John as a lecturer in Language and Linguistics. Impact approached Tony Fisher who said he preferred not to comment. Sarah Hall*, another student on the module, said: “His behavior has completely diminished my confidence in the professionalism of the School of English”.
*Names have been changed at the request of the students.
Update 3pm 5th Feb: Response from Tony Fisher:
On Tuesday 4th February, a number of students from the School of English complained that they had seen quotes from their work and derogatory remarks on my Facebook page. This was then picked up by Impact Magazine, which ran a piece in their online edition giving details of the Facebook posts in question. I fully understand that these comments have caused considerable distress to the students concerned, to their friends, and to other students and staff in the School of English, and for this I apologise unconditionally.
I would like to stress that I had been posting on Facebook in the belief that my profile page and comments were accessible only to friends, and indeed have a recollection of trying to alter my privacy settings in this way some months ago. Clearly, I made a mistake when altering my settings, and my profile page was in fact public all along. I fully accept that even in a private context, these comments are wholly inappropriate and, with the benefit of hindsight, I deeply regret posting them. However, it was never my intention that these comments should be seen by any other than a handful of personal friends. In this private context, the comments in question were not intended as criticisms of individual students, or of the student body as a whole. I can only describe them as a way of letting off steam when under pressure, usually due to marking deadlines. Of course, this is not how they appear, and the explanation I offer here in no way excuses me from responsibility for my actions. Nor does it erase the distress that my actions have caused.
I would like to point out that at no point did I, nor would I ever, name any individual students. I realise that the students in question must have been able to identify themselves from the comments posted, and that it must have been very upsetting for these students to see extracts from their work presented in this way. I hope to have an opportunity to apologise to these students individually at some point in the near future. To the rest of the student body at the University of Nottingham, and to the Union of Students, I would like to offer my assurance that the comments in question are in no way representative of my actual opinion of Nottingham students, or students at any university. I have always thoroughly enjoyed teaching at the University of Nottingham, and have undoubtedly learned as much from my students as I hope they have learned from me. I believe that I have, with this one notable exception, always acted with my students’ best interests at heart. I have always taken my responsibilities as a tutor very seriously and deeply regret that my relationship with my students has been undermined by Facebook posts and comments that were never intended for a public audience.
I very much hope that this explanation and apology go some way towards alleviating any anxiety and distress experienced by the students concerned, to whom I most sincerely apologise.
Response from the School of English:
The School greatly regrets this incident. It views the behaviour of Tony Fisher as completely unacceptable and wholly out of character with the teaching ethos of the School. The quality of student experience is our first priority. All student complaints are taken very seriously, and this complaint is currently being addressed. In the meantime, the School can reassure students that Tony Fisher will no longer be involved in any assessment procedures in the School; and all assessed work for the module in question will now be remarked. Tony Fisher’s contract with the University of Nottingham ends in March.
Image courtesy of “mkhmarketing” via flickr. License here.