Ryan Blacketter, an adjunct professor in the English Department, was fired from his position last week.
According to Blacketter, this is due at least in part to his decision to teach an unpopular essay entitled, “My Dad, the Pornographer” to his advanced fiction writing class.
“A faculty member in the English Department suggested I not teach the essay … One or more students had complained about it,” Blacketter wrote in an email to colleagues and friends with the subject line, “BSU First Amendment Issue.” “The next day the dean emailed me with the news that I was to meet with him and an HR rep, scheduled for the morning before I was going to class with the offending essay in hand.”
While the university is legally prevented from releasing any details pertaining to the hiring or dismissal of personnel, the English Department denies Blacketter’s removal was a matter free speech or censorship.
“This was not about academic freedom,” said Michelle Payne, chair of the English Department. “The reasons for it have to be serious. We don’t make the decision (to remove faculty) lightly.”
There does not appear to be any correlation between this firing and the layoffs that took place last week in the history department.
Other reasons—including the intensity of fiction workshops in Blacketter’s fiction writing classes—may have played a role. In his email, Blacketter described seeing breakdowns from students in his fiction classes, including one woman who left the room crying.
“There are no drama queens like undergrad fiction writers,” Blacketter said. “They said my workshops were too negative, too mean.”
Chelsea Mabbott, an English major currently taking a semester off from school, left Blacketter’s fiction class in the middle of last semester, because of her negative workshop experiences.
“He straight up, to my face, told me that my writing was crap,” Mabbott said. “To have him tell me that, having only one week to write my story, was really demeaning and hurtful.”
Mabbott felt the best thing she could do for her mental health was drop the class. Blacketter’s instruction left her without the inspiration to write instead of building up her technical skills and creative process.
“With so many things in the world that make it hard to be a writer already, we don’t need someone like that,” Mabbott said. “We need someone that is there to teach and help you get better.”
Derek Patterson, English alumni, also took Blacketter’s fiction course last semester. He completed the semester, graduated and noticed marked improvement in his writing.
“Writers seem to have a lot of ego, and Ryan sought to destroy that ego inasmuch as making one’s writing better,” Patterson said. “I can see how some students may take that and misconstrue it in their minds as something negative.”
This workshop experience only strengthened Patterson’s passion for writing and eagerness to improve. He found the in-depth critiques more beneficial than any other workshop in his writing career.
“The biggest enemy of an artist is being told ‘good job,’” Patterson said. “Ryan never told us that directly, but if one read between the lines—the very essence of writing—then one would see that Ryan Blacketter cares.”
As an adjunct professor, Blacketter is considered an at-will employee, meaning he can be removed from his position at any time for any reason. However, the English Department stressed that, in Blacketter’s case, there was a review process before the decision was made. For Payne, who has been the chair for nine years, this is only the second time she’s had to remove a professor mid-semester.
“I think it’s important that everybody knows that when decisions like this are made, they’re very carefully reviewed and we have a pretty extensive process that we go through,” Payne said.