“Your class, Public Opinion and Modernity, was by far my favorite class at FAU and one of the most difficult. Thank you for enabling us to think critically.”-FAU Student, January 2013
So is James Tracy really the “twisted” (Daily News 12/15/15) “psycho” (Daily Kos 12/20/15) and “nutty” (Daily Caller 1/7/16) professor that mainstream media outlets have made him out to be over the past three years, and particularly in late December 2015/early January 2016? As we know, the mass media provided the reasoning for FAU administrators to terminate his employment on January 6, 2016.
Yet according to some Florida Atlantic University students, whose feedback and comments appear below, Tracy’s teaching endeavors over his 13 years at the south Florida college were consistently ranked “above satisfactory” and “excellent” by students and faculty peers with good reason: the classes were interesting, demanding, and popular.
Regrettably undergrad students today have very little say in university policies or decisions on who will teach them. In Professor Tracy’s case the FAU administration is happy to trample on tenure, free speech, and academic freedom by giddily dancing to the tune of corrupt newspaper editors, wealthy donors, CIA couples, Republican Party neocons, even professional stalkers, all of whom are driven by financial and/or political interests, and whose views are antithetical to the life of the mind.
Despite university officials’ well-worn boilerplate of how “special” students are, they are in fact more and more regarded as statistics. And even in this regard their opinion is derogated. For example, at one point FAU took in and processed a wealth of student feedback on faculty teaching effectiveness via a form called the “Student Perception of Teaching,” or SPOT. Such evaluative procedures consisted of 21 mandatory questions, in addition to open-ended queries. These were conducted in class at the end of each term via paper and pencil administration.
The data played a significant role in faculty peer evaluations, promotion, tenure, and merit pay increases–indeed a role many faculty would rather their students not know. Within the past few years, however, FAU sought to “cut costs,” first by making the SPOTs optional and online, and subsequently by reducing the number of questions by over two thirds so students could conveniently complete the forms on their iPhones. (See comparison below.) As with so many other things “higher ed” today, students and their families pay increasingly more while their participation and input become a meaningless formality.
This author almost always enjoyed getting student feedback on the old-fashioned, comprehensive SPOT forms. This was because designing a course that struck a balance between eliciting student interest and requiring hard work (no easy “A’s” or “B’s”) was a most rewarding challenge. Here are a few of those forms. (The third form below is for the initial offering of the now-infamous course, “Culture of Conspiracy.”)
Under Florida law all such forms are accessible here.
[Click to enlarge.]
Now here is an example of the new form, reduced to just six questions for the convenience of iPhone users:
With the above in mind the following has a special resonance–an exchange that was originally posted as a comment on the January 4, 2013 MHB article, “Sandy Hook School Massacre Timeline,” by one of Tracy’s former undergraduate students at FAU. The comments appeared on the same day Anderson Cooper came unhinged on his national broadcast at the idea that Tracy didn’t accept what we now know to be falsified reportage of the Sandy Hook massacre event.
I thought you would appreciate an honest discussion from your former students. Your class, Public Opinion and Modernity, was by far my favorite class at FAU and one of the most difficult. Thank you for enabling us to think critically. Below is a copy of the comment thread from Facebook.
Rachael: This is pretty extreme, even for Prof. Tracy. But, playing devil’s advocate, which I’m sure he would appreciate, do you think the media isn’t reading between the lines of his claims? You know how they choose to only publicize certain aspects of a story…
Amber: I was thinking the same thing. Tracy never really let on to what he believed was true… he was good about presenting facts and supposed facts rather than opinions. I definitely think the media played this against him. I thought more critically in his class than any other at FAU and I dont think his job should be on the line for this. However, JFK and 9/11…. over 10 years ago. This was too soon and too touchy. On a positive note, they published the name of his blog and im sure he got a ton of new blog traffic (and hate mail, for that matter).
Rachael: I am on exactly the same page. He’s not saying this tragedy didn’t happen; just pointing out the facts that somehow went missing. I agree with it being too soon for this theory to be published but that’s the way he is. Loves to make a little controversy! He planned it out right for the media attention though! The problem is, the American public are like sheep that follow the herd and are guided by the shepherd (aka media). People don’t realize that the media is so incredibly regulated by officials and the government. The comments on his blog post are pretty intriguing…
Amber: Wow. I hadn’t gone so far as to read the comments. I feel like I’m in his class again and don’t know what to believe! It’s so easy to make something out of nothing by analyzing every little detail, that when it actually IS something, you don’t know whether to trust your instincts or the mass media. I for one did not listen to or watch the news at all after I heard about the Sandy Hook shooting because it all seemed rushed and overplayed, and frankly it was depressing hearing the way they thought all those little kids were brutally murdered. I can’t imagine them lining up the bodies as proof or showing video of it happening in tv. It’s just inhumane for mass media. However, those facts/proof should be made available by police records or what have you for people (ahem, prof. Tracy) that want to see it. Also, there’s no reason for ‘facts’ to be misconstrued or contradicted in the media. That’s just bad journalism and opens the door (widely) for nay-sayers. Conspiracy or not, journalists should really get their acts together and know the story and the hard facts before presenting the nation with incomplete details that lead people to read between the lines, only to update and ‘correct’ thier stories every hour.
Drew: Yeah, I read this a few days ago. Listen, I really enjoyed Tracy’s class. I found it extremely interesting and thought he did a very good job of making his students think critically. I always knew he entertained the idea of “conspiracy theories” to an extent, but while taking his class, I certainly never considered him to be a “conspiracy theorist.” If anything, he used a lot of conspiracy style documentaries as a tool to actually DISPROVE the conspiracy… But with that being said, his quotes about this shooting being “staged” or possibly not happening at all sound totally batshit crazy. This shooting happened. Little kids died, a truly disturbed person killed them, and lots of parents lives are ruined forever. Yes, there was a lot of stuff immediately following the shooting that the media got wrong. Just as there was with Colombine, VTech shooting, etc.. That doesn’t mean that there was some kind of mass cover up so Obama and / or the left wing media / government can further along their gun control agenda. It’s just nonsense… On the other hand, it does suck that he’s getting portrayed as another Alex Jones type lunatic, because as a former student I know that that’s not who he was (at least as a professor). But in this particular case, I just don’t see any way to defend him. I know he’s programmed himself to question any and everything the media feeds him, but he’s gone too far with this one and now risks being pinned as a true conspiracy theorist… I have to check out the blog though.
Drew: And Amber, to your point on how journalists should get the facts straight before presenting them … I Agree with you, but in 2013 that’s just not realistic. Every news station and news site is competing against each other. In today’s day and age it’s simply not as important to get the news RIGHT as it is to just getting something out there. Viewers want everything NOW, and you know this. If CNN is waiting to get all the facts, the viewer will go to msnbc. If msnbc isn’t satisfying, the viewer will go to local news. Everyone has a job to do and sadly it’s all about ratings and the bottom dollar.
Amber: I agree 100%. Tracy’s comments were inconsiderate and, at this time of grieving, inappropriate. You just said it yourself with the way the media is (and we know its not changing) you can’t believe whole-heartedly what you see on the news, because its most likely going to be updated and changed in an hour. It’s not accuracy that they are concerned with, but who gets the story and the headline first. That’s what I took away from Tracy’s class, not that everything’s a conspiracy and the govt is out to get me, but the reports of mass media should be taken with a grain of salt.
Amber: By the way, maybe I just skimmed, but I didn’t see in his blog post his quote about it never happening and kids didn’t die…. His post was pretty impartial to me, just like his class. It stated facts and he backed them up with references and links…. Were those comments quoted by a newspaper that spoke with him, or am I missing something?
Drew: This comes from the Sentinel: In a posting titled “The Sandy Hook Massacre: Unanswered Questions and Missing Information,” Tracy questioned how Adam Lanza was able to fire off so many shots in such little time and noted a lack of surveillance video or still images from the gruesome crime scene.
“Inconsistencies and anomalies abound when one turns an analytical eye to news of the Newtown school massacre,” Tracy, 47, wrote. “While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place — at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described.”
When pressed by the Sun-Sentinel, Tracy acknowledged that “one is left with the impression that a real tragedy took place,” but suggested the Dec. 14 massacre was some sort of staged event.
“Was this to a certain degree constructed?” he asked. “Was this a drill?”
Drew: The article says that he also alluded to “crisis actors” in a radio interview. Idk the context of those quotes so I’ll hold off on judgment regarding that.
Professor James F. Tracy is an Associate Professor of Media Studies at Florida Atlantic University. James Tracy’s work on media history, politics and culture has appeared in a wide variety of academic journals, edited volumes, and alternative news and opinion outlets. James is editor of Union for Democratic Communication’s Journal Democratic Communiqué and a contributor to Project Censored’s forthcoming publication Censored 2013: The Top Censored Stories and Media Analysis of 2011-2012. Additional writings and information are accessible at memoryholeblog.com.