Is There An “Incompetent At Zoom Porn Site-Frequenting Teacher Principle”?

No, but apparently the University of Miami thinks there is. The school’s business analytics professor John Peng Zhang was teaching a remote class on Zoom when he inadvertently revealed a bookmark on his internet browser that read, “Busty college girl fu…” to the class. One student pointed out the tab to others and  the students began taking photos and videos. Someone sent a complaint to the University’s ethics hotline.

The incident was investigated by the Office of the Provost, its Title IX investigator and the Miami Herbert Business School. A statement by the university said that the “University of Miami aggressively investigates all complaints of inappropriate behavior or sexual harassment,” according to NBC News.

Zhang resigned under duress or was fired.

Some students who have registered a petition on Change.org  laid out some of the reasons  why this decision is unfair:

“People make mistakes, are sexual beings, and should not be fired when no true porn was shared. We no longer live in the 18th century and individuals are allowed to have a personal, sexual life. This was obviously a mistake.”

I have some more reasons.

This is not a fair comp with the Naked Teacher Principle,” which we have had many opportunities to discuss in its many variations. The Ethics Alarms Naked Teacher Principle (NTP) states:

A secondary school teacher or administrator (or other role model for children) who allows pictures of himself or herself to be widely publicized, as on the web, showing the teacher naked or engaging in sexually provocative poses, cannot complain when he or she is dismissed by the school as a result.

The first formulation of the NTP can be found here.

The instance of the NTP that most closely resembles what happened to Prof. Zhang may be this one, “The Case Of The Involuntary Naked Teacher.” In a completely warped and unfair application of the NTP, school district officials in Union County, South Carolina, demanded and received the resignation of engineering teacher Leigh Anne Arthur after a student stole her phone, examined its contents and found a semi-nude selfie (intended for her husband’s enjoyment only), which he shared with his classmates. I wrote that it was unfair to punish the teacher for private content on her device that she had a reasonable expectation would never be revealed to students. That applies to the professor too, plus…

  • His class was made up of college students, not teens.
  • All they saw were words, not images. They weren’t even obscene words.
  • The knowledge that a professor has a tab leading to a porn site (and it might not be a porn site—it might be a tab for “Busty College Girls Fumigation Service”—should not cause a normal student to lose respect for the professor or to feel “unsafe” in the class.
  • Teaching online is a skill few teachers have been trained to do, and there have been many examples of errors and mistakes recently, like naked spouses walking within view of the camera, as colleges, high schools and elementary school classes have moved to the web. For a college to apply strict liability in the event of an embarrassing mishap is manifestly unjust.

There is also no justification for calling what occurred “sexual harassment,” and the student who made that complaint is a vicious, unethical jerk. Professor Zhang did noting wrong, and should not have been dismissed.

10 thoughts on “Is There An “Incompetent At Zoom Porn Site-Frequenting Teacher Principle”?

  1. The “complaint” probably lead to an IT examination of his browsing history using school resources; which is probably what did him in. You usually don’t get fired for “smoke”, but where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

    I agree with your analysis based on the limited understanding of the dismissal, but concede that there’s probably more going on here that neither party would like to publicize.

  2. Odds on the complaining student was at or supported those at the national mall wearing p hats for the world, including children, to see?

  3. Once in college a prof handed out an set of instructions for a project we were about to begin and while reading through said instructions I happened upon the letters C-U-M inexplicably inserted into the middle of an otherwise intact word. Could have been a weird coincidence, probably wasn’t.

  4. Having used Zoom at work for almost 4 years now (I work for a completely virtual company), I feel very badly for the professor. It is so easy to forget how many tabs you have up, what’s on those tabs, what is going on behind you, if you’ve forgotten to shut the radio off, if your neighbor is mowing the lawn and can be heard by the entire meeting, or your dog starts to bark… As you get used to using online meeting rooms, you learn to tidy up a bit before you turn your camera on or share your screen.

    I agree with Tim that it may also have been that he was using school property for personal use. Poor guy.

  5. ugh… how far is this going to go??? Joe Biden can assault a girl and that’s ok… but Busty and college gets a guy fired??? How long til we can move to Mars?

  6. I think the question of competence should come up only when the person in question has a lot of experience with Zoom in a remote learning environment. So depending on the experience of this professor at using Zoom for distance learning, the question of unethical incompetence could mitigate the actions against him.

    But other than that, I totally agree with your analysis.

  7. With the social-distancing measures taking place, we are now seeing the lack of video conferencing etiquette on a broad scale. Like the employers who had to start making social media policies for employees after high-profile incidents, it’s inevitable that organizations will now have to put in place rules for acceptable video-conferencing decorum.

    My workplace has had some form of work-at-home option for some time now. In the past six months, the efforts to get employees in a position to be able to work at home (during snowstorms, for example) was ramped up and have worked out well enough that our entire staff, save a couple of people without internet access at home, are working remotely.

    The company’s rules for working at home are strict: Employees are expected treat working from home the same as they would treat working in the office, including dressing in work clothes. The idea is that, when one dresses unprofessionally, it often leads to a subconscious attitude that one is not really working and one becomes less professional as a result.

    Some of the rules have probably been relaxed because of the unique challenges posed by the pandemic – I’m guessing the rule about not taking your kids out of daycare so that you don’t have huge distractions running around while you’re trying to work is probably being overlooked for now due to so many kids being out of school.

    Nevertheless, these rules were made specifically because some people need to be reminded of the need to be productive and professional. My husband’s company has most of its employees working from home , too, and he’s already heard complaints from his supervisor about the level of productivity dropping for those working from home.

    I wouldn’t think that lawyers should be reminded not to attend video-conferences sitting around their pool in a bikini or that people would not make sure they understand how the technology works before risking their coworkers watching them use the bathroom – https://www.yahoo.com/news/tiffany-haddish-says-she-used-172031691.html – without realizing it. I certainly hope no teacher has zoomed a classroom while just in her underpants.

    But there are so there must be guidelines in force. Businesses and other organizations will have to make sure employees know they must be fully dressed to avoid incidents like the reporter who went on the air not wearing any pants without knowing he could be seen. I can also imagine guidelines regarding what type of artwork or images can be seen in the background (can you imagine someone video-conferencing with a big Confederate flag on the wall behind him?), no distractions in the background like televisions or radios…and, certainly, requiring any other internet activity to be minimized or taken down ahead of time.

    Businesses and schools will be investing in more home-based technologies after this is over and, with that, will come codes of conduct for video-conferencing.

    • I do call center work from home, and before the pandemic, the rule was, if kids are heard on the line from our end, it would be immediate termination. Since the shut down started, we were told to do our best to make sure our workplace is quiet, but if kids butted in, we just needed to give our team leads a heads-up. Fortunately I don’t have kids, so it’s a none-issue for me.

  8. Many faculty have been banned from campus due to the shutdown. This leads to a blending of the personal and professional space. This was a poor idea to begin with. My only ‘Zoom’ capable computer at home has a camera that would display a bunch of reloading supplies and some disassembled firearms. Would students feel ‘unsafe’ and demand that I be fired if I used zoom on my computer? Possibly. If I use my university laptop in my living room with the windows open, who knows what the microphone might pick up from my child, spouse, neighbor, etc. This whole ‘Zoom teaching from home’ was bound to cause problems and there was no need for it.

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