Administrators on the main campus of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. have suspended a renowned anthropology professor because he told students that he knows nothing about the subject matter in a course school officials assigned him to teach.
The professor, Robert Trivers, had objected to teaching a course called “Human Aggression” this fall, reports The Star-Ledger. However, his anthropology department superiors told him he had to teach the class anyway.
In the first lecture, Trivers informed the 30 or so Rutgers undergrads who had signed up for the class that his plan was to learn the course materials gamely along with them. He observed that he thought it was strange that he was teaching the course in the first place since he is no expert on the material. He said he also planned to bring in a guest lecturer.
Administrators at the taxpayer-funded university then suspended Trivers for the crime of imparting this information to students. Rutgers officials also said Trivers was essentially refusing to teach the course, even though he was teaching the course.
A professor who had taught the course in previous semesters took over teaching the class.
Trivers, 70, is very unhappy with his suspension.
“You would think the University would show a little respect for my teaching abilities on subjects that I know about and not force me to teach a course on a subject that I do not at all master,” the professor told The Daily Targum, the campus rag.
Trivers, who specializes in social evolution and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University, argued vociferously that he is an accomplished scholar within his area of expertise.
“I don’t want to sound immodest, but I am one of the greatest social theorists in evolutionary biology alive, period,” he told the Targum. “I won the Crafoord Prize, which is considered the Nobel Prize for evolution, [worth] half a million dollars. I’m not an underperformer.”
He added that he repeatedly complained when his bosses told him he would be required to teach the “Human Aggression” course, but to no avail.
School officials suspended Trivers last month. As of now, he is still receiving his salary. However, he faces the prospect of a suspension without pay starting on March 1.
Rutgers administrators are refusing to comment on the kerfuffle.
“I’m sorry, this is a personnel matter, and I am unable to comment about it,” Douglas Blair, chairman of the school’s anthropology department, told the Targum.
Trivers does not have a spotless employment record at Rutgers. The professor was ordered off campus in 2012 for five months as a result of some fiery confrontations he had with colleagues.
Also, as the Targum notes, Trivers has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. He has suffered three breakdowns since he began working for Rutgers in 1994.
Trivers receives impressively stellar overall ratings at Rate My Professors. Students say “his lectures are very entertaining.” “He’s also great one-on-one.” “He’s like a legend in the field and it is awesome to be able to learn from him firsthand.”
“The kind of stuff he talks about: once you see it, it cannot be unseen,” explains one awed student. “You will realize the truth, but for the price of irreversible social dysfunction. Like the Matrix!!”
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