The Dartmouth Headlines

What do news outlets have to say about the Dartmouth Trustee fracas?

Dartmouth News “Dartmouth Trustees Vote to Strengthen College’s Governance”
New York Times “Dartmouth Expands Board, Reducing Role of Alumni”
New York Sun “Dartmouth Guts Power of Competitively Elected Trustees”

Let me just suggest that one of these is less accurate than the others; I wouldn’t want to unfairly influence anyone’s judgment by saying more.

Bong Hits For Temple

The Supreme Court’s Morse v. Frederick decision was questionable on several grounds. In upholding a high school’s right to regulate student speech “reasonably regarded as encouraging illegal drug use,” the justices took the student banner “Bong Hits for Jesus” much too seriously. Was it an argument for student access to drugs or a jokey stunt that never should have gotten to the court? Besides the student was displaying the banner off campus, across the street from his school during a school-sponsored welcome for an Olympic procession.

Then there is the issue of general damage to free speech rights. Several free-speech advocates, including David French, then president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and now director of the Alliance Defense Fund Center for Academic Freedom, warned that censorship-minded universities would cite the Frederick decision as justification for campus speech codes. That has now happened. Temple University points to Morse v. Frederick as backing for its egregious speech code that prohibits “generalized sexist remarks and behavior.” The goal is to erode the wall between high school youngsters and adults at college, who traditionally enjoy greater free speech rights.

Attorneys for the Alliance Defense Fund filed the case against Temple, now before the court of appeals for the third circuit. FIRE’s amicus brief has been joined by an array of allies, including the ACLU of Pennsylvania, the Christian Legal Society, collegefreedom.org, Feminists for Free Expression, Students for Academic Freedom and the Student Press Law Center. It’s an unusually broad coalition for a college free-speech case.

Berkowitz On The University

Peter Berkowitz appears today in the Wall Street Journal writing on “Our Compassless Colleges.”

At universities and colleges throughout the land, undergraduates and their parents pay large sums of money for — and federal and state governments contribute sizeable tax exemptions to support – “liberal” education. This despite administrators and faculty lacking, or failing to honor, a coherent concept of what constitutes an educated human being.

To be sure, American higher education, or rather a part of it, is today the envy of the world, producing and maintaining research scientists of the highest caliber. But liberal education is another matter. Indeed, many professors in the humanities and social sciences proudly promulgate doctrines that mock …

And then the rest of the article vanishes, tragically, behind the subscription wall. Yet all is not lost – you can read the full piece from which the op-ed was adopted – in Policy Review – right here in our Must Reads.

Berkowitz, incidentally, is among the luminaries who will be appearing at our Center for the American University’s Allan Bloom Conference “The American Mind: Opening Or Closing?” on October 3rd.

Administrative Orthodoxy At Ave Maria

Tom Monaghan, founder of Domino’s Pizza, Ave Maria University, and the town of Ave Maria, Florida (in that order) obviously isn’t attracting media acclaim in his effort to establish a conjoined orthodox Catholic University and Catholic town on a former tomato farm in Southwest Florida. No, he comes off as something as something of an Inquisitor, putting a farm of happily secular Florida tomatoes to the sword to make room for a bishopric of right-wing Catholics. The caviling about Monaghan, for the most part, is easily explained; Monaghan has explicitly proclaimed his intention of creating an orthodox Catholic University, and his critics despise the thought.

Monaghan’s truly revolutionary step here isn’t imagining a university – it’s that he hasn’t simply handed his dream over to the standard mush of college administration, but has remained deeply involved with the project – so far as to literally uproot the college over several states. The college’s move from the Midwest to Southwest Florida is a rather dramatic example of a founder’s influence, but American higher education seems to have altogether forgotten the experience of a living founder in this day of universal rule by amorphous faculty-trustee-administrator confederation (aka “our costs will always go up but no one knows who’s responsible”). Faculties are accustomed to Presidents who can be curbed when overly outspoken (Laurence Summers) and administrations are accustomed to routinely ignoring the wishes of donors and trustees (the Bass donation at Yale, the Robertson donation at Princeton). Monaghan is a very different quantity in this mix, an individual who hasn’t been content to see his wishes run aground in the morass of standard academic decision-making. He’s continued to exert a very active role in his University – a step that professors would see in almost any case as a clear intrusion into their purlieus.

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Professors Make Fools Of Themselves

Jay Bergman has a fine new piece up at the NAS Forum, puncturing the sanctimony that surrounds the ever-expanding sphere of “academic freedom” in the minds of many professors (see “Ward Churchill, sober research scholar, victim”)

In response to the increasing contention that “academic freedom protects professorial speech in any circumstance Bergman cites the 1940 AAUP Statement of Principles, and its statement that “teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.”

At Central Connecticut State University where I am a professor, this distinction is sometimes ignored. Last fall, a professor sent the students in one of her courses more than 100 e-mails containing articles advocating the professor’s opinions on matters entirely extraneous to the course — for example, that Israel committed war crimes while fighting Hamas in Gaza last summer, and that comparisons between the Bush administration and Nazi Germany are reasonable. She also invited students to join her in attending seminars, such as Workshops on Peace, that were designed to advance the professor’s political agenda.

What is even worse, during one class, as a way of demonstrating how the American colonists stole Indian land, the same professor took a student’s backpack without permission and in front of all the students emptied its contents onto the floor, naming each item one by one. It is hard to imagine a more egregious violation of a student’s privacy, or a more flagrant abuse of the power professors have over students by virtue of their grading them and writing recommendations for them for jobs after they graduate.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. In my 17 years at CCSU, about half of my students have told me, on their own initiative or in response to my asking them, that one or more of their professors not only interjected their political opinions in class on a regular basis, but did so in an effort to convert their students to their point of view.

Read on.

The Study Abroad Scandal

The New York Times has headlined yet another scandal in higher education: colleges and sometimes individual college officials have been receiving generous “incentives” to steer students into particular study abroad programs. The incentives include financial bounties and free trips abroad for the officials. As the Times points out, the self-dealing by college officials in these programs looks a lot like the self-dealing by college officials caught up in the student loan scandal.
How big a scandal is it that some colleges and some college officials have found another way to line their pockets at the expense of students? Not very big by itself, but coming on the heels of the student loan imbroglio, the study abroad scandal has stilts. From that height we can wonder if study abroad and financial aid are the whole of it: How many other aspects of the university enterprise offer college officials the opportunity to receive “gifts” at the ultimate expense of students?

Once upon a time, a certain kind of student yearned for a semester abroad or sought out opportunities to take a summer course in Salzberg or Poitiers. This was the American version of the “grand tour” with which wealthy Europeans once capped off the education of gentlemen. But Americans, being a pragmatic people, usually made sure that the venture included academic credit for courses that would meet degree requirements at the college back home.

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St. Andrews Runs Afoul Of Accreditors

ACTA comments on an accreditation tussle afflicting St. Andrew’s Presbyterian College. It seems that the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (there’s a mouthful) is less-than enthusiastic about the college’s current expansion plans – and has placed it on an accrediting probation. ACTA is skeptical as to whether the commission should be second-guessing the board-created development plan, and notes, prudently, that such doubts should not endanger a college’s academic credentials:

As ACTA shows in its recent policy paper, “Why Accreditation Doesn’t Work and What Policymakers Can Do About It”, accreditors routinely overstep the bounds of their authority, and, as long as federal student aid hangs in the balance, there isn’t a lot schools can do to resist them. The system urgently needs reform, and the first step is to break the corrupting link between accreditation and federal student aid.

St. Andrews is a perfect case in point: an accreditor micromanaging financial matters that are best left to the board while ignoring the issue that should be its primary and determining concern, educational quality. St. Andrews has been singled out by U.S. News & World Report, the Washington Monthly, the Princeton Review, by Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, and many others for its innovative and effective curriculum. Even more to the point, SACS itself has praised the caliber of the college’s programs. By SACS’ own lights, St. Andrews is succeeding in its educational mission.

And yet, St. Andrews’ future is uncertain because the overweening bureaucrats at SACS have decided to involve themselves in fiduciary matters and to second guess the trustees who are legally responsible for the institution. St. Andrews’ financial plan may be wise – or not. But that’s something for its trustees to decide, not its accreditor.

If federal student aid weren’t tied to accreditation, St. Andrews could simply forego accreditation and forge ahead on its own. But as things stand, St. Andrews will lose everything it has worked for if it loses accreditation. Without accreditation, students who need federal aid will not be able to attend the school; they will go elsewhere, and the student body will decline in both numbers and economic diversity. SACS has St. Andrews in a stranglehold – one that arguably benefits no one but itself.

The “Fairness Doctrine” And Academia

In 1949, the United States Federal Communications Commission adopted a general policy which sought to ensure that all coverage of controversial issues by a broadcast station be balanced and fair. This policy was based on the theory that station licensees were “public trustees” and, as such, had an obligation to give those with differing points of view an opportunity to be heard. The “Fairness Doctrine” was interpreted by many as requiring that those with contrasting views be given equal time whenever such controversial issues were being discussed. The “doctrine” was abandoned during the Reagan Administration when many government activities were deregulated.
When the bill to reform the nation’s immigration policies, specifically those relating to illegal immigration, was recently being discussed, several Democrat members of the United States Senate called for bringing back the “Fairness Doctrine” out of a sense of frustration that the public was not receiving a fair and balanced discussion of the legislation on talk radio shows, which the Senate Democrats regard as universally conservative and which they thought was having an inordinate influence on the deliberations concerning the legislation.
Personally, I oppose the “Fairness Doctrine” for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it presumes the ignorance of the public and our inability to discern facts from horse manure. But, most significantly, broadcast stations are not owned by the government and should not be considered as government activity. With so many different sources of information – newspapers, major television networks, cable television and talk radio, for example – it is difficult for any one source to give us a “snow job.” But, there is one area of American life where I believe something equivalent to a “Fairness Doctrine” ought to be applied: the college classroom.

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The Mystery Of The “Diversity Commitment”

An epithet scrawled on a door, a brawl outside a football game, an ill-chosen costume for a Halloween party – over the course of the academic year, college campuses are bound to have incidents of racial friction. Some of them are indeed displays of outright bigotry. And when they occur, the diversity brigade is ready and waiting with its all-purpose solution: the idea that the cure for bigotry is a still warmer embrace of racial (and other identity group) preferences.
It has happened again, this time at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island.

In mid-July, Ralph Papitto, the chairman of its board, who had served for 39 years, was forced to resign after making a crude and racist remark. It is not clear exactly what he said, but all parties agree it included the N-word. The shake-up at the board sounds like it was overdue, and Papitto’s slur was only a nasty flourish at the end. Papitto’s racist tantrum came in response to a formal “notice of concern” issued on March 23, by the University’s main accreditor, faulting Roger Williams for its poor governance.

According to the accreditor, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) , the University board had stumbled in lots of ways – by failing to have a conflict of interest policy, by indulging numerous (apparent) conflicts of interest, by ignoring its own by-laws, by not having a separate audit committee, and on and on. But NEASC’s letter to RWU President Roy Nirschel also singled out diversity: “In addition, we understand that little progress has been made on the Board’s goal, established in 2003, to increase the size and diversity of its membership.”

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The Varieties of Reform

Candace DeRussy, in Raise The Towers: A Call to Good Governance, a new paper from the Texas Public Policy Foundation offers a terse round-up of problems afflicting university governance, and offers a summary of several modes of reform. Her initial diagnosis is a sharp distillation of the problem:

Paradoxically, it is the elusive dual nature of university governance itself that sustains the imperviousness of campuses to necessary reforms. This arrangement is “collegially” referred to as “shared governance,” but it is more accurately defined as a duopolistic form of management resting on near complete control of academic planning by faculties and on the tending of finances by boards and presidents. The duopoly arose in conjunction with the birth of the huge research university between the two world wars. An expanding, ever more specialized faculty was deemed most capable of making educational decisions about curriculum, faculty hiring, and academic assessment.

Fatefully for the academy, the final responsibility for campuses’ educational mission was thereby handed over from presidents and boards to specialized (guild-like) faculty not equipped to oversee the institutions’ overall and long-term well-being. Barring blatant scandal, such as the now infamous Ward Churchill fiasco, presidents and trustees have effectively bowed out of academic matters.

This permissive situation has led to the creation of layers of vested-interest groups on campuses and bred costly inefficiencies, such as redundant, over-specialized, and sometimes even foolish academic programs. These problems could easily be glossed over in an era of free-flowing funds for all “constituencies,” but not in the present.

So that’s the two-headed mule-hydra. What to do about it? DeRussy offers a brisk tour of current reform proposals in a variety of areas.

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This Education Is Too Practical

John Noonan, at the Weekly Standard, writes on a novel problem affecting a sector of American higher education – too great a focus on practical education. And he offers a remedy of.. more liberal arts. A fantasy? No – the case at Service academies. There, Noonan observes, curricula is centrally grounded in math, science, and engineering – a state that’s prevailed since the war of 1812. He urges a different model:

An Army platoon leader would be better equipped to administer to tribes in Anbar province if he had a degree in International Affairs and a minor in Arabic. A Marine infantry Lieutenant might be more effective unifying warlords in Afghanistan if he spent his four years at Annapolis studying the history of central Asia. U.S. Special Forces have been deployed to over 180 different countries since 9/11, and, to be sure, the military offers them the education needed to meet that goal. But in all that training an academy cadet will only get as much foreign study as he can squeeze into his schedule between orbital mechanics and advanced calculus.

The British perfected this system at the height of their empire. Relying on a strong NCO corps (which America also enjoys), British officers were trained to perform the duties of regional governors while sergeants shouldered much of the responsibility for training and disciplining the men. That freed Lieutenants and Captains to manage tribes, recruit friendly warlords as allies, establish judicial systems and public works projects, and bolster the local economy. And look at the results. India and Pakistan were stable; the Muslim holy lands were quiet, and the Palestinian territories calm.

My alma mater, the Virginia Military Institute, understands that critical social element in officer development. VMI has a strong Arabic studies department, and their history and international studies curriculums are heavy in the military arts, national security studies, foreign language, and world history. VMI places a strong emphasis on study abroad opportunities, even if it means removing a cadet an environment of harsh military discipline for a semester. The methodology is simple: a cadet will benefit more from a semester in Morocco or Egypt than a semester spent shining brass and marching parades.

More study abroad, history, and foreign languages. Good for everyone.

Gettysburg On FIRE

FIRE recently added another institution to its Red Alert List – Gettysburg College joined Johns Hopkins and Tufts in that seemly line-up. The superb success rate of FIRE tempts the viewer to tune out the cases that they follow, but a glance at this list provides a pointed reminder of the continued relevance, and difficulty, of their work. Now, in an environment where over eighty schools receive a yellow rating, with “some policies that could ban or excessively regulate protected speech” and only nine schools hold a “green” rating – free of restrictions, a school must possess really flagrantly bad policies in order to merit a red light. There’s an element of conditional threat at the yellow schools – “could ban or excessively regulate”, but the challenges to free speech are unambiguous at the Red Alert schools.
Consider the latest addition: Gettysburg College:

Despite over a year of pressure from FIRE and significant media attention, Gettysburg has not revised its Sexual Misconduct Policy, which is so broad in scope that it draws no distinction between an innocent, spontaneous hug and forcible rape. Under the policy, students must “consent” to sexual interaction by “willingly and verbally agreeing (for example, by stating ‘yes’) to engage in specific sexual conduct.” Further, students must “give continuing and active consent” or else “all sexual contact must cease, even if consent was given earlier.” The policy’s broad definition of sexual interaction includes not only sex acts but also “brushing, touching, grabbing, pinching, patting, hugging, and kissing.” This dangerous policy criminalizes so much everyday student interaction that it cannot possibly be enforced across the board, therefore vesting the university administration with the power to arbitrarily punish innocent student conduct.

Antioch College might have died, but we can rest pleased that Gettysburg College is keeping its worst traditions alive.

Two Cheers For Ward Churchill’s Dismissal

The welcome news that Ward Churchill has been removed from the University of Colorado faculty is blighted by the fact that the means used has allowed the university to avoid the much larger problem that Churchill’s conduct pointed to. It was in early 2005 that the public learned of, and was appalled by, excerpts from an essay that had been posted on the web by Churchill, a full Professor of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, on the subject of 9/11 terrorist attacks. Now, over two years later, Churchill has been fired after due process within the university for plagiarism and falsification of research. But what the public heard and responded to was not fabrication and plagiarism. Though these are certainly legitimate grounds for a dismissal, they could never have attracted the attention of the public, still less caused a widespread sense that something must be horribly wrong with a university that employed such a man as a professor.

The ACLU, basing itself on this undeniable discrepancy between the furor of the public’s response and the narrow grounds of the decision, has charged that the firing is illegitimate because the real motive is nothing to do with the ostensible reason that has been given for the university’s action. But that charge makes no sense. Al Capone may have been jailed for tax evasion when his far more serious offense was racketeering, but he was certainly guilty as charged, and so is Ward Churchill. Yet in both cases the limited grounds had the effect of removing one man from the scene while leaving a larger systemic problem untouched.

The manner of Churchill’s dismissal clearly sidestepped the issues that the public was so disturbed by. The ACLU maintains that the public furor was caused only by Churchill’s unpopular political opinions. Again, it is wrong. Far left political expression by professors is nothing new to the American public – Noam Chomsky’s views are just as extreme and unpopular, but they do not lead to calls for his dismissal. What the public reacted to was something much more than this. All of their own experience of what their teachers and professors had sounded like told them that the man they heard should never under any circumstances have been a professor at a major university.

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Ward Churchill And The Diversity Agenda

This week, as expected, the University of Colorado regents dismissed Professor Ward Churchill from his tenured position in the Ethnic Studies Department. (A university committee had found that Churchill committed plagiarism and misused sources.) And, as expected, Churchill has filed suit, alleging First Amendment violations.

The move against Churchill – who first attracted attention after describing those who perished (except for the terrorists) in the World Trade Center attack as “Little Eichmanns” – came over the opposition of the ACLU, which charged that the “poisoned atmosphere” of the inquiry into Churchill’s scholarship rendered meaningless the committee’s findings. ACTA president Anne Neal, on the other hand, welcomed the dismissal as “a very positive message that higher education is cleaning up its own.”

The viewpoints of both organizations raise additional questions. The ACLU’s position, if established as a precedent, would invite academics who (like Churchill) had engaged in research misconduct to issue inflammatory public statements, in the hopes that a public outcry (preferably from “right-wingers”) could then provide a First Amendment shield for their academic misdeeds.

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Trying To Answer Paul Berman

On June 4th of this year Paul Berman published an extraordinary 28,000 word New Republic essay on contemporary Islamic philosopher Tariq Ramadan of Oxford University and his liberal apologists, Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash, who write for the New York Review of Books. Berman’s essay was criticized by some for being too long, too meticulous, for being too concerned with ironing out any misunderstanding that might be wrung from his words. But the just published tepid reply by Scottish Malise Ruthven, a Scottish historian of Islam, for August 13th issue of the New York Review of Books suggests that, for now, Berman’s tack has cornered his would be critics.

Ruthven finds the US denial of a visa for Ramadan to teach at Notre Dame in 2004 inexplicable. The only mark against Ramadan, says Ruthven, is that he once donated money to a Palestinian charity later put on a terrorist watch list. This is disingenuous. Here’s Berman on some of Ramadan’s history:

As early as 1993, at the age of thirty-two, he campaigned in Geneva to cancel an impending production of Voltaire’s play Muhammad, or Fanaticism. The production was canceled, and a star was born – though Ramadan has argued that, on the contrary, he had nothing to do with canceling the play, and to say otherwise is a “pure lie.” Not every battle has gone his way. He taught at the college of Saussure, where his colleagues were disturbed by his arguments in favor of Islamic biology over Darwin. This time, too, Ramadan shaped the debate to his own specifications by insisting that he never wanted to suppress the existing biology curriculum – merely to complement it with an additional point of view. A helpful creationist proposal. But the Darwinians, unlike the Voltaireans, were in no rush to yield.

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Honoring Criminals On Campus

Some universities are nervous about the Ralph Papitto controversy . Papitto, 80 years old and very wealthy, used the N-word in a discussion of diversity at a trustees meeting of the Roger Williams law school, which bears his name. After protests, Papitto requested that his name be removed. But that appears to be in response to heavy pressure from protesters and the university. Papitto said that the N-word “just kinda slipped out” and that the word, which he said has never been in his vocabulary, may have come to mind after he listened to rap music. Those unconvincing explanations made it seem that he very much wanted to be excused so that Ralph A. Papitto Law School could retain its name.

The removal of a donor’s name from a university school or building in the wake of a racial slur is very unusual. But universities are on alert because naming battles are now fairly common, mostly over buildings named for felon-donors from Kenneth Lay to Alfred Taubman.
While debate over naming raged, Seton Hall University students went to classes at Dennis Kozlowski Hall, passed through the Dennis Kozlowski rotunda on their way to the Frank Walsh Library or perhaps to the (Robert) Brennan Recreation Center. Kozlowski, former chief executive officer of Tyco, was convicted of 22 counts of conspiracy, securities fraud, grand larceny and falsifying records. Tyco board member Frank Walsh pleaded guilty to concealing a $20 million bonus and First Jersey Securities founder Robert Brennan is serving time for bankruptcy, fraud, and money laundering. The Kozlowski name was removed from the hall and the rotunda at his request and the university regents changed the name of the Brennan Center. Seton Hall kept Walsh’s name on the library on rounds that his offense was milder and that he pleaded guilty.

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Desegration/Resegregation, Huh?

Inside Higher Ed features a piece today by Gary Orfield, Erica Frankenberg, and Liliana Garces bemoaning the impact of the Supreme Court’s late desegregation ruling.

They foresee an associated collapse of minority applications to colleges, as they glimpse minorities sinking into underperforming all-minority schools. They bolster their case with citations from Eric Hanushek, who’s written convincingly on the poor performance of mainly-minority schools. Yet it might have done them good to read more of Hanushek. Read their claim first:

Colleges and universities, especially selective institutions, tend to draw their successful minority applicants from interracial schools and their admissions offices know well that many of the segregated minority high schools fail to prepare their students well enough to succeed in college. Research by the Civil Rights Project has shown that too many segregated urban high schools are “dropout factories” where the main product is dropouts and successful preparation for college is rare. Conservative economist Eric Hanushek found that the damage was worst for the relatively high achieving black students, the very students likely to comprise the college eligible pool. So making segregation worse cuts the number of well prepared students. In addition to academic preparation, students from segregated backgrounds are also often not ready to function socially on a largely white, affluent campus. It also means of course, that the most segregated group of students in American schools, whites, also have less preparation to deal successfully with diversity. So colleges may have won, but also lost.

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Research As Self-Branding

By Mark Bauerlein

If you browse through the list of dissertations filed in American literary and cultural studies last year, you will find many conventional and sober projects that fit well with traditional notions of humanistic study. Here are a few sample titles:

– “Rethinking Arthur Miller: Symbol and structure”
– “Tragic investigations: The value of tragedy in American political and ethical life”
– “Reading and writing African American travel narrative”
– “From demons to dependents: American-Japanese social relations during the occupation, 1945-1952”
– “The culture club: A study of the Boston Athenaeum, 1807-1860 (Massachusetts)”
But amidst these works, you also find a fair portion of projects with titles that border on the bizarre.
– “The fluviographic poetics of Charles Warren Stoddard: An emergence of a modern gay male American textuality”
– “Transperformance: Transgendered reading strategies, contemporary American literature”
– “Cruising and queer counterpublics: Theories and fictions”
– “‘Skirts must be girded high’: Spaces of subjectivity and transgression in post-suffrage American women’s travel writing”
– “Roddenberry’s faith in ‘Star Trek’: ‘Star Trek”s humanism as an American apocalyptic vision of the future”
– “Exhibiting domesticity: The home, the museum, and queer space in American literature, 1914-1937”
– “From sodomy to Indian death: Sexuality, race and structures of feeling in early American execution narratives”
– “The sentimental touch: Hands in American novels during the rise of managerial capitalism”

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Ward Churchill And The ACLU

The Regents of the University of Colorado are meeting to determine Ward Churchill’s fate tomorrow, July 24th. The ACLU has written the University of Colorado arguing against Ward Churchill’s firing. This isn’t surprising – its letter repeats a central canard in the case – that the Churchill investigation was merely a pretext for larger, sinister pressures:

It is undisputed, however, that Professor Churchill’s views are protected by the First Amendment, and cannot serve as a legal basis for any adverse employment action. Nevertheless the University soon launched the investigation of Professor Churchill’s scholarship in an effort to find more defensible grounds for sanctioning him.

Churchill defenders willfully conflate all elements of the proceedings against Churchill – “the University” you notice, is here presented as judge, jury, and (perhaps) executioner. No difference is admitted in agency or person between the submission of a complaint as to Churchill’s work, and the creation of a University panel looking into the question; the processes are looked upon as one and the same. The timing of the complaint about Churchill’s research is viewed as an ineradicable taint, no matter what they unearth or how often they address the question directly of the reason for inquiry. Consider the Standing Committee on Research and Misconduct’s statement here:

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Only A Conservative Idiot Would Think I’m Biased

Peter Wood provides a much-needed rejoinder to critcisms of the Zogby poll on perceptions of professor bias. The poll, predictably, revealed that respondents were widely concerned about left-wing bias in the classroom. Nothing much new there – the true worth of the poll might have been in the sneering comments it provoked from those inclined to dismiss this as a sham. These criticisms ran something to the effect that simple-minded proles have been deluded by years of conservative rantings into thinking that professors are biased, when professors are, in fact, fairer than Jimmy Stewart, James Baker, or Solomon. Peter elaborates, with some piquant quotes from Inside Higher Education feedback:

Why do Americans think college classrooms are biased? The simplest explanation is that many college professors do indeed bring their biases to the classroom and many Americans have begun to notice. But some professors, having read the IHE summary, have reached for more elaborate explanations – along the lines that (a) the poll was poorly designed, (b) Americans are ill-informed and pretty stupid, or (c) Americans are gullible victims of conservative propaganda that has mis-portrayed the situation.

Zogby reported that 58.2 percent of 9,464 respondents believe bias is either a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” problem in college classrooms. No poll is perfect, but whatever the flaws in this one, the results closely match another poll, based on a completely different methodology, commissioned last year by the AAUP. The accusation that Zogby flubbed the research doesn’t hold up. What about the theory that Americans are ill-informed and stupid? Offering such a theory about one’s critics doesn’t seem an especially good way to shake an accusation of bias.

The sneer about the intelligence of the people who answered the questions, of course, blends into the accusation that conservatives have tricked people. Asks one respondent (who signs himself Skeptical) “How many of those who were polled had actually gone to college?” Blind Man adds “Hats off to the Coulters and their ilk for successfully alienating the public from academia.” Unapologetically Tenured writes, “We have confirmation that talk radio’s core demographic (older, white, male, conservative, and ignorant) has bought into the right-wing meme that dirty-hippie-commie professors are corrupting the minds of our impressionable young Eagle Scouts.”

Read on for more fine examples.

I’m A Quidditch Major

The Chronicle today reports on Harry Potter in the modern academy. It seems inevitable that Harry Potter would crop up in campus role-playing clubs, but now he’s being taught in the classroom?

Universities across the country are adding Harry Potter to the curriculum in a variety of disciplines – English, philosophy, Latin, history, and science – and professors say courses fill up as quickly as Honeydukes on a Hogsmeade weekend. When Sara C. Boland-Taylor, 21, picked up next year’s course schedule at Stephen F. Austin State University, she turned straight to philosophy. “I just saw ‘H Potter,’ and I completely flipped out,” she says. “I called Dr. Anne [Collins Smith], and I left a message – I was like, I will be there and I will bring all my friends.”

Philip W. Nel, an associate professor of English at Kansas State University, began teaching “Harry Potter’s Library” in 2002, advertising the course with fliers, “which now seems sort of quaint,” he says. Edmund M. Kern, an associate professor of history at Lawrence University and author of the reader’s guide The Wisdom of Harry Potter, says he could probably enroll more than 100 students in this fall’s course, but unless he falls under the sway of an “imperius curse,” he would like to preserve the university’s small class size.

Harry Potter’s Library – why, that must be just like Prospero’s books!

Diversity In Linguistics

Since the Supreme Court last week decided against Seattle and Louisville, Kentucky’s policies of assuring a certain degree of racial diversity in public schools, we have heard much about the undoing of Brown v. Board.

However, I have a hard time mourning the decision, though the brute notion that we must ignore race to get beyond it is, surely, simplistic.
Preliminarily, I think of the plethora of schools nationwide where all the students are brown and yet excellence is a norm. I think of the fact that to the extent that black teens tar excelling in school as “acting white,” it tends to be when they go to school with white people, as scholarly studies have shown.

Yet I openly admit that my discomfort with racial (as opposed to socioeconomic) preferences in education is also based in part on gut impressions – based on my own experiences in academia over, now, almost 20 years. Too often, commitment to “diversity” has nothing to do with recognizing the humanity and individuality of the persons in question, and much to do with reaffirming other people’s sense of moral legitimacy.

As it happens, it was ten years ago this week that I had one such experience.

Every two summers, linguists have a kind of summer camp, the Linguistic Society of America Institute, where linguists from around the world give mini-courses for students on a college campus. I was invited to teach at the one in 1997.

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Anthropology’s Holy Trinity

Karl Marx did everyone a huge favor when he announced that all history was the history of class struggle because then it was simple to analyze anything and everything confidently and crisply. But in Anthropology a new holy explanatory trinity has emerged to replace the good old simple one: Race/Class/Gender. You can barely refer to the weather without taking into firm account the now-triply-coercive impact of these factors. There are some immediate things to note about how these relatively reasonable independent variables are influenced by the prevailing ethos of the academic institutions which have affirmed their necessary role in peering at any social behavior. The first and in a way most dramatic feature is that the trinity is essentially composed of factors which are viewed as centrally negative. The use of Race (which is scientifically a hopeless, preposterous and dumb concept which should be embargoed from serious discussion) implies not that race is a positive matter but rather a source of inequity, loss of face, and the origin of variegated segments of oppression.

Another negative vitamin of the RCG Trinity is its unthinking association with the industrial way of life or of industry. Most folks in most of nature’s constituency don’t think in terms of class, unless they’ve been to the London School of Economics or any more expensive US college. Instead, kinship is all. Family, Uncle Dirk, Cousin Frank in Wichita – that’s the organizing principle of human as well as chimp and even bat society. You may be a big-city alderman or the owner of a Chevrolet dealership but you’re always a son or daughter or dim-bulb cousin first. Class as a construct was useful in trying to figure out how to deal with the conniptions of Europe when farmers had to leave the land either because of the Enclosure Acts or bad potato prices and moved to cities where they were obligated through the need for breakfast to work hard, usually for people who got to wear velvet. But as a cosmic imprimatur of how human life gets lived, sorry, class is rather particular as a tool and of course that’s why the gaseous term “middle class” serves countless suave commentators as a method of avoiding any punctilious analysis of the matter, as compared for example with folks who have tetanus and those who don’t.

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Professors And God: Any Connection?

By Louis Bolce and Gerald De Maio

A report by Gary Shapiro in yesterday’s New York Sun carried some surprising information about the religiosity of college professors: though less religious than the general population, the majority believe in God. Randall Balmer, a professor of religion at Barnard, was quoted as saying that the new data helps to refute the notion that academics are mostly atheists and agnostics.

But let’s turn on the caution light. The study of 1500 college professors at twenty top institutions that grant bachelors degrees, conducted by Neil Gross (Harvard) and Solon Simmons (George Mason), did indeed find that a slight majority claims to be religious. The numbers, not listed in the Sun, showed that 35.7 percent say “I know God really exists and I have no doubt about it,” while 16.9 percent reported “while I have my doubts, I feel I do believe in God.” Atheists and agnostics accounted for 23.4 percent of professors reporting.

The most heavily religious professors in the study teach accounting, followed by professors of elementary education, finance, marketing, art and criminal justice. The least religious professors were in biology, psychology, economics, political science and computer science. Research-oriented professors and faculty at elite institutions are significantly less religious than other academics. Only twenty percent of these academics “have no doubt that God exists.” The implications for the larger culture of these findings are crucial. Professors who are the least religious and most hostile to religion are the ones most likely to be writing textbooks, articles and monographs, and the ones whose opinions are most sought after by the media. It is these ideas of irreligious professors that carry the most prestige among the punditocracy, dominate elite discourse, and filter down to the general public. Liberal arts professors are much less likely than accounting professors to believe in God. The liberal arts and social science professors are the ones who most often express opinions on religion and deal with issues involving religion and morality in the classroom.

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Everything’s Great

A new Zogby poll confirms what everyone suspected:

58% of respondents found political bias on the part of college professors a “serious” problem. That’s encouraging. Who was concered? 91% of those self-described as “very conservative” found bias a problem while a scant 3% of liberals believed so. None of this is very surprising.

Somewhat more interestingly, 46% of respondents indicated that they believed that the quality of a college education was worse than it was 25 years ago. Only 29% believed that it had improved.
A stirring vote of confidence in American higher education.