Students and the SU React to Lecturer’s Facebook Comments

5th February 2014

The School of English

Yesterday, it was found that Tony Fisher, a lecturer in the School of English here at Nottingham, had made derogatory comments about students on his public Facebook page. We discussed this, and various reactions to it, on The Pulse.

Caitlin first explained a bit about the comments:

Next we discussed the issue in the studio:

We spoke to Lucy, who is one of Tony’s tutees, and who supports the view that this was a simple mistake which has been blown out of proportion:

Not everyone agreed though, as we discovered when we went out and about on campus to get other students’ views.

You were keen to express your views about this throughout the show. One listener said:

“There isn’t an issue at all. It’s such a non-story…I’m more concerned that students who are adults are unable to handle comments on the internet without freaking out to this extent. If someone says something online that you disagree with either ignore it or just tell them. This just in, Nottingham admits babies.”

Someone else added:

“I am a Postgraduate who marks UG work and sharing amusing things students have written in essays is part of our bread and butter. It’s what makes the tedium of going through fifty exam scripts on low pay bearable. Fisher’s mistake was to do it on Facebook instead of somewhere more private or more anonymous.”

Caitlin then explained how Tony Fisher and the School of English have reacted:

Tony’s full response on Wednesday 5th February;

“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.”

The School of English’s response;

“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.”

Finally, we spoke to Education Officer Dasha Karzunina, who explained how the SU are dealing with the issue:

A meeting is being held in the English department with students sent the following email:

“Dear All,

I would like to invite anyone who has concerns over the recent comments posted on facebook, regarding the sociolinguistics module, to a meeting in A35 on Thursday 6th February at 4.00pm.

With best wishes,
Josephine Guy
Head of School of English”

If you have any thoughts on this, please leave your comments below.