2006 09 29
Letter of Reference
(This is Part I of my Pot Smoking Prof Gone Mad series. Other installments:
Part II: Guardian Blog on Hutchinson
Part III: Another young life destroyed by pot smoking prof gone mad
Part IV: Pot smoking prof gone mad accomplishes nothing since 1997)
It had to happen some time. I’ve finally found a subject about which I’m actually qualified to write.
Anne tipped me off to this Boing Boing post about a pot smoking professor at the University of Florida. It sounds as if the guy was funny, but basically wasting everyone’s time. The post is updated with a reader reaction from a certain Alanna relating her experience with a pot smoking professor at the University of Toronto:
I had another baked professor for first-year philosophy: Link. From the Toronto Star’s article, I now understand why he was so hard to follow in lectures; he smokes pot with a medical clearance from the government. I’m not sure how it can be that he’s just allowed to lecture whilst high. One of the questions on our term test involved correlating Plato with an excerpt of lyrics from one of the prof’s favourite reggae songs.
I expect better from Boing Boing. No prof is going to satisfy everyone, and it sounds as if Alanna didn’t benefit from her class with Doug Hutchinson, but she has no good reason to think that pot has anything to do with it. Since when is baseless speculation about the effect of someone’s medication on his teaching worth mentioning? The answer is: only when the medication in question is pot, in which case we apparently have a license to be grossly insensitive and careless. At the very least Boing Boing might also publish Hutchinson’s own words on the subject, which I quote in their entirety at the end of this post in case the link rots.
I want to say something about Doug Hutchinson, so that at least inquiring googlers will have some point of comparison with Alanna’s. I am a former student of Doug’s. I took his first year philosophy class too, a long time ago. I loved it. It confirmed for me that I wanted to go on to study philosophy, and helped move me toward Ancient philosophy specifically. Later on, I took a fourth year seminar on Socrates, which I still remember fondly. I also undertook a semester long study with Doug the next year (which turned into an informal paper we wrote, and I delivered, later on at a conference in Padua and Venice dedicated to our project). He gave me careful, considered, and thoughtful advice about graduate school, and a lot of valuable assistance getting in. We have kept in touch, off and on, in the years since then.
Doug Hutchinson is without question the most gifted teacher I have ever encountered in my life. Rather than stretch out an account with anecdotes, let me just say that I have met other professors who care very much about teaching, but never someone as thoughtful about pedagogy. Doug has an uncommonly clear idea not just of the philosophical material he’s teaching, but also of the more general intellectual skills he is teaching his students to bring to bear on the material. I learned more from him than anyone else about how to attack an intellectual problem in general, how to think though it clearly and from the ground up. When I’m stuck with something, I really do still sometimes step back and try to imagine how he would approach it.
As for his research, it’s also solid. In addition to a book, a number of papers, and an important role in putting together the complete edition of Plato’s works (as well as translating some of the works in it), he has recently published, with Monte Ransome Johnson, an extremely important paper on Aristotle’s Protrepticus which is the most important thing to appear on the work in the last 50 years, and which I expect to be a real spur to further research on this area of Aristotle’s thought. (I’ve mentioned this before.) In the past year, I have also seen two papers in draft which Doug asked me to comment on. They’re both serious and important contributions to scholarship.
All of this – the excellence in teaching and the solid record of scholarship – are in spite of a serious medical condition, and, if we are willing to listen to him, partly thanks to marijuana. Doug does what a professor should do, and he does it very well.
Anyway, here’s what Doug has to say for himself:
Greetings, philosophers. I thought I should let you know that as of this week our university has a professor who smokes marijuana openly on campus, legally, and with workplace accommodation for his need to use this remedy.
I am that professor.
I feel it falls to me to let you know this state of affairs in the proper terms so that the inevitable rumours and possible slanders that arise can be ignored or challenged by you, my peers and fellow philosophers.
I have used marijuana for a serious and chronic health condition for over 10 years, in varying amounts for the varying condition.
Currently, the use is heavy and the condition is stable or improving. As for what this condition is, I would ask you please not to speculate or spread rumours or half-truths. Canada has laws that are meant to protect the privacy of personal health information.
If you know me well, you will feel free to ask.
How did I manage this transition from clandestine smoker to officially accommodated one? It was an ugly process that started when college and university authorities, acting on policies to repress the use of marijuana among students, decided that they needed to enforce those laws and policies against me as well.
Over the course of months of sometimes angry discussions, the other side learned better what the facts of my case and the laws on marijuana actually are.
The outcome is that I have been provided with a ventilated basement smoking room in Trinity College, and the provost of the college and the provost of the university have both written me letters in which they “acknowledge” and “respect” my choice of therapy.
I take this opportunity to thank the college and the university for this good solution and for these necessary affirmations of the legitimacy of my conduct.
Colleagues and other U of T employees who may need adapted working conditions due to a health condition should know that since 2003 our university has had an Office of Health and Well-being Programs and Services, whose function is to support the work of afflicted employees.
The staff in this office recommend the appropriate accommodation while holding health information confidential from all other university parties. I found this process worked fairly well, and I feel that others should know about it and trust in its integrity.
Colleagues and others who use marijuana wholly or partly for medical reasons should be using medical-grade marijuana, with a good selection of strains, of which there are currently two sources of supply in Toronto.
I know these compassion clubs well and will be glad to offer informed advice. Colleagues and others who wonder whether their use of marijuana is medical, or whether they should try some preparation of marijuana for their health condition, should feel free to apply to me for guidance and further information.
Professors who become known as heavy users of marijuana risk a great loss of credibility, and I wish I had been able to remain discreet; but I was “outed” by college authorities from where I was hiding in my “dope closet.”
Under these circumstances, I decided to come out fully into the open, on my own terms. This is the reason I am writing this letter to you; and this is the reason I explained the situation to my undergraduate class on Tuesday, before they could be shocked (or not) at the sight of me puffing during the break (outside the building, of course).
It would be realistic of me to expect a higher than usual degree of scrutiny of my performance at this time; but rather than resent this scrutiny, the better plan is to invite it. There are 10 spare seats in my third-year class on Seneca, which meets from 10 am to 1 pm on Tuesdays, and I invite visits to my class from graduate students, colleagues and higher university officials to see for themselves whether the pot-head professor is teaching well.
Please get in touch with me if you intend to visit; and if you wish I will send you the Seneca readings for the day.
It is not a satisfactory defence of my Charter rights to have my grudging authorization from Health Canada while students and others are hounded as criminals for doing what looks like the very same thing; this casts dark shadows of opprobrium on the blameless sick.
My experience in coming out into the open has rekindled my activism on the marijuana front, and I am now building, with other Canadian activists, fresh legal challenges to our Charter-defective and previously invalidated prohibition, which seems to have been miraculously resurrected in October 2003 .
I invite colleagues and others to join me in this liberal struggle.
Howls of outrage (6)