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August 26, 2003 [feather]
Segregation at Brown

At NoIndoctrination.org, a Brown University student has posted a lengthy and damning account of the school's minority-only orientation:

The Third World Transition Program is a non-mandatory orientation program for racial minorities that occurs before the mandatory Orientation for all incoming freshmen. As a participant of this program, I was told to give my experiences of "oppression" by white people, and in group sessions we were encouraged to speak out against not only racism, but specifically of oppression from other races. Some students were quiet and didn't want to share their complete experiences with being a racial minority, but since it was the objective of the program, most were ready to speak. There was no intimidation or coercion since there were many very vocal students who were more than willing to share every detail of their experiences. However, there were activities that forced students to reveal details about themselves. In one activity, everyone formed a large circle and we were asked to step inside the circle if a fact that was read aloud pertained to them. We were asked questions about being on financial aid, having only one parent in the home, having been called racial epithets, being the only minority in a classroom or program, renting or owning a home, and several others.

While at the program, I was told not to write for the college daily newspaper, having been told that they are "biased" and "against minorities." Several of the leaders of the program complained about minorities who did not take advantage of the Third World Center programs while at Brown. In addition, we were given advice on how to "deal" with a white roommate. This wasn't "official" advice, but advice given to some groups by group leaders and other TWTP participants, just to clarify. But as "leaders" of the program, they certainly should reflect the values of the program. My group in particular was told to come to the Third World Center if there were any problems with white roommates and was told specifically that there was a history of problems with white students not understanding concerns like student work, being on financial aid, or minority activities and groups.

One participant in the program joked that the University would soon be "whitewashed," and some of the leaders laughed at that. Given that minority students are encouraged to come to Brown before white students for this program, I found the sentiment inappropriate.

Several leaders expressed liberal views, and the idea that we should all support affirmative action programs was assumed. Although there were valid workshops and programs, the underlying current of the program was to perpetuate a feeling of "otherness." I would like to see this program disbanded. It fostered an "us vs. them" mentality with white students on campus and directly and indirectly encouraged minority students to seek out friendships with students of color before white students arrived on campus.

While I believe diversity programs are beneficial, this one in particular actively excludes white students from participating in any of the workshops. While the rationale behind this is that minority students are able to talk more freely without white people present, how can there be a true exploration of racism and race issues without having the viewpoint of white students represented in some way?

I also found that later on in the year, white students were reluctant to come to cultural dinners or other events, after not having been able to participate in the first diversity program they encountered on campus. Several of the program participants went into the required Orientation with a biased mindset, staying close to other minorities that they had met beforehand and just generally being suspicious of certain groups and people on campus. At a diversity discussion at the full Orientation, I found that students who attended TWTP were on the attack, using the ammunition they got at the program to counter any statements about racism that a white student would make, thus dominating the conversation. Having spent several days dealing with issues of race before white students even moved in, the minority students were definitely more adept at answering questions. So there too, the viewpoints of white students were not adequately represented.

Also, it's interesting to note that a visiting committee made recommendations about diversity and diversity programs in 2000. While the executive summary can be found here: http://www.brown.edu/Administration/George_Street_Journal/diversity.html, the entire report was deleted from the President's Web page. A link in the executive summary to the full report is now inactive. In short, the committee recommended that the Third World Center's name be changed and that TWTP "remain as a discrete program, but that it be integrated into orientation activities organized for all entering students." The visiting committee's "strong recommendation" about reforming TWTP has never been addressed by either the University or other groups. As evidence of the pressure to keep students quiet about what happened in TWTP ... from the website of a radical Brown minority group called "third world ACTION" (http://www.brown.edu/Students/Third_World_ACTION/alumni.html): "Coalition on MPC & TWTP: This coalition, largely consisting of Minority Peer Counselors, works on ensuring that myths are dispelled about TWTP each year." [The TWTP program is described on the following website: http://www.brown.edu/Student_Services/TWC/TWTP/TWTP.html ]

One person's description of a course or workshop should never be taken as gospel. But this student's description meshes with what others have had to say about Brown's Third World Transition Program. You can read other students' testimonials and commentary here and here, and you can read the extended analysis I did of the program last year here and here.

I said it yesterday and I will say it again today: it's remarkable to me that intellectually bankrupt, legally questionable, and politically reprehensible diversity programming such as Brown's Third World Transition Program does not seem to be affected by the severe economic crunch campuses across the country are facing.

There are hiring freezes and cancelled classes, tuition hikes and staff layoffs--but the ideological work of the campus diversity missionaries cannot be curtailed. It must, in fact, be expanded: Brown has just hired its first diversity administrator; St. Cloud State is strapped--but it is bribing faculty to attend designer diversity training. That diversity programming, training, and hiring is not one of the first things to go when colleges and universities are feeling economically pinched--that, indeed, they seem to have a higher priority on campus than offering enough classes and keeping those classes small, should lay to rest any doubt about whether education or social engineering matters more on campus today.

Erin O'Connor, 9:23 AM | Permalink

August 25, 2003 [feather]
The other orientation

The College of William and Mary has retained its title as the top small public college in the country. But a piece in Saturday's Washington Times by William and Mary sophomore Jeanne McDonnell suggests that there are some huge unacknowledged problems at the school. McDonnell's subject is the College's Summer Transition Program, a freshman orientation program specifically designed for minority students.

During the last few weeks before I began my freshman year at William & Mary, the school offered a learning experience that sounded like a pretty good deal.

It was a five-week seminar called the Summer Transition Program. It promised to help students "develop and enhance study habits, test-taking and time-management skills necessary for a successful college experience." It also sought to "create friendships" and a "lighter fall course load by offering three credits."

I couldn't participate, though. I'm white -- and the class was offered only to racial and ethnic minorities.

That raises a few questions: Is William & Mary saying only ethnic and racial minorities need extra help with study habits, test taking and time management? Do white freshmen already have these skills down cold? Wouldn't a class that counts as three hours of course work and thus could be used to lighten the first-semester workload help all novice collegians?

Furthermore, why on Earth would a friend of mine who scored 1490 on her SAT be invited to take such a course -- all expenses paid -- simply because she's Hispanic? You would think anyone who scores a 1490 on the SAT has a pretty good handle on study habits, time management and, especially, test taking. At least that's what my friend thought. She took the invitation as an insult.

And why would the college seek to foster "friendships" exclusively among minority students? Isn't one of the purposes of college to meet and learn from students of different backgrounds? Doesn't cloistering minority students together for the first five weeks of their college education constitute a signal from the college that they need not -- indeed, should not -- mix with others?

McDonnell observes the sad irony of the situation on her campus and many others like it, that "some of those who fought so hard for desegregation now fight for resegregation -- in the name of multiculturalism and diversity." And her point about the discriminatory character of William and Mary's minority orientation program is more than merely rhetorical. The Center for Equal Opportunity has been targeting schools that run race-based programs like this one, pointing out their unconstitutional nature and threatening to turn schools in to the Office of Civil Rights if they don't clean up their acts. Arguing that all colleges and universities--even private ones--that accept federal funds are obligated not to discriminate on the basis of race, the CEO has succeeded in forcing Princeton and M.I.T. to drop their exclusionary summer programs. William and Mary sounds like it might be a good candidate for the group's attention.

William and Mary's press release on its U.S. News ranking focuses heavily on how state budget cuts have hurt the school. The college is offering fewer total classes, and class size is increasing proportionately. ìThis is a result of reductions in state funding, which are hampering our efforts to provide small classes that foster exceptional teaching and learning,î said Timothy Sullivan, the president of the college. ìWilliam and Mary retains its national reputation and high rankings in the face of budget cuts primarily due to the efforts of dedicated faculty and staff who have mitigated the impact of inadequate funding on students.î The school's Summer Transition Program offers minority students an all-expenses paid five weeks at the college. It's worth noting that despite the budget crunch, this extraordinarily troubling program has not been cut. One would think that programs whose discriminatory character could jeopardize a school's public funding would be the first to go in an era of downsizing and scarce dollars.

Thanks to reader Fred R. for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 10:16 AM | Permalink

August 21, 2003 [feather]
Guest Post IV: Frederick Lang

Ignorance is Business, Part 4 (see also parts one, two, and three)
by Frederick Lang

Before being transferred to the English department in 1998, I had spent twenty years teaching in a remedial department. (In 1996, I was given an award for distinction in teaching as well as scholarship.) I was preparing students for a college education. By ìcollege education,î I mean nothing more than what is offered in the Brooklyn College bulletin.

When I joined the English department and taught both literature and freshman composition, I tried to give my students a college education. I found that most of them were unprepared for one, but had been deluded into thinking they were doing just fine because they had been receiving passing grades. At arbitration, Tremper and Matthews admitted that most Brooklyn College students were unprepared, but insisted that I should have awarded my students only As, Bs, and the occasional C, so as not to ìhamper their progress.î In effect, they admitted that the college was deluding its students.

There are other teachers besides me who have been persecuted at Brooklyn College. Those I know of are scholars. I have a Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature, and am a well-regarded Joycean, owing to articles and a book. I submitted a proposal for a course on Joyce to the English department, which was turned down, and was criticized by Tremper for using Joyce as the focus of English Composition 2, the departmentís course on research. In other words, as I did at Columbia and NYU, where I also taught, I wanted to draw upon my scholarship in my teaching. But doing so meant that I was requiring students to acquire information, to analyze and synthesize it, to think critically about it, and then to reveal the results of their intellectual activity in clear, coherent prose. This most Brooklyn College students cannot do.

But the administration wants to retain these students nevertheless, because it wants the money that comes with them. At first the administrationís solution was to convince those instructors who drew upon scholarship when teaching to lower their standards. I am now an example of what happens to those who refuse. A further step is to get rid of those with scholarship or not hire them to begin with. A final step is to dilute the collegeís core curriculum to make it far easier for students to pass its courses. (President Christoph Kimmich has said publicly that the Core in its present form is too expensive, and that many students have complained about the Core.)

At Brooklyn College the dichotomy between appearance and reality has assumed a second form. Matthewsís agenda seems lame-brained: ìdiversity training,î and all that nonsense. But there is shrewdness underlying it. If students are not asked to learn information or skills, they cannot be held to any real standard, and so they will not be given criticism or correction. They will all pass and graduate in four years.

Speaking of Matthews, she has already threatened me with disciplinary action for not doing properly the tasks I was given in lieu of teaching. Now that my grievance has been denied at arbitration, I am even more vulnerable. I canít afford to retire, feel I am too young to even consider doing so, but Matthews will soon bring my academic career to an end. The last lesson I teach will be to demonstrate to my fellow instructors at Brooklyn ìCollegeî what happens to anyone who takes the word seriously.

The End
Erin O'Connor, 9:30 AM | Permalink

August 20, 2003 [feather]
Guest Post III: Frederick Lang

Ignorance is Business, Part 3 (see also the first and second parts)
by Frederick K. Lang

While I was teaching three sections of English Composition 2 in spring 2002, Tremper tried to follow Matthewís advice about the need for documented student complaints against me. She first solicited student complaints, then documented them. On March 6, 2002, she sent a letter to each of the 74 students enrolled in my three sections of English Composition 2. Her rationale for writing this letter was that I had misinformed my students about their right to protest a final grade.

Although Tremperís letter of solicitation was sent to 74 students, only 8 students ìcomplained.î Almost a year earlier, Tremper received an e-mail letter from a disgruntled student and a signed letter from another, and she wrote a memorandum that she claimed the complaining student refused to sign, a memorandum that did not include the studentís full name.

Tremperís letter to my English 2 students did have the desired effect of eliciting more so-called student complaints. But not very many. On March 8, 2002, one student wrote an e-mail letter to Tremper. On April 16, 2002, Tremper wrote a memorandum supposedly summarizing a studentís complaints against me, and this memorandum was signed by the student. The remaining so-called student complaints were actually 6 unsigned memoranda written by Professor Tremper.

But even if all the so-called complaints submitted in evidence were authentic, the number of students who complained would amount to 11, 11 out of the approximately 750 students whom, according to Professor Tremperís own testimony, I have taught in the English department, and out of the thousands I have taught at Brooklyn College.

It is no wonder that CUNY could not have relied on ìstudent complaints,î but needed both Tremper and especially Matthews to testify against me. It is also no wonder that they both agree to testify, since they had been conniving against me since November 2001.

(At the beginning of the hearing, which lasted three days, each weeks apart, CUNYís lawyer told me that several of the 11 students who had ìcomplainedî about me might be called to testify against me. In the event, none appeared, though three did submit sworn statements to the CUNY lawyer, which she read into the record.)

The arbitrator considers the seemingly damning e-mail exchange between Tremper and Matthews irrelevant, because it took place after the complaints about my grading had begun. I had already been told my students regarded me as a ìprick,î and had refused to inflate grades and thus alter their assessment of me.

I continued being a ìprickî partly because I had a very personal for doing so. On January 23, 2002, I wrote to Tremper to tell her why I would never lower my academic standards. I sent a copy of the letter to Matthews.

I think I owe you an explanation. Or, to be precise, I should complete the explanation I began to give you on one of the several occasions when I told you I would never inflate my grades. Besides stating the obvious, that inflating grades was dishonest and unethical, I said I had a more personal reason for refusing to accede to your wishes.

Inflating grades is obviously detrimental to those students who, at this point in their lives anyway, are unable to profit from a college education. If their grades are inflated, they are fooled into thinking otherwise, and thus have no motivation to seek the skills and knowledge they need to become college students. But grade inflation also hurts those students who are able to profit from a college education.

I have mentioned to you that I come from a working-class background, like many, if not most, of the students at Brooklyn College. I have also told you that I could not have afforded to pay for the education I received in college and graduate school--that I went to NYU on a full-tuition scholarship and to Columbia on a full-tuition fellowship.

Full-tuition scholarships at private institutions are, I believe, a thing of the past. Were I far younger and beginning to attend college now, I would probably be at CUNY. I might even be attending Brooklyn College. (Indeed, I was accepted by the college in 1965, but elected to go to NYU on a scholarship.)

If I am as well educated as my record indicates, it is because I was held to the same standards as the students who were paying tuition at NYU and Columbia. Were I currently a student at Brooklyn College, I would receive high grades, but I would quickly realize that I was not being required to meet high standards. I would not study as hard, learn to write as well, or strive to distinguish myself. In short, I would probably graduate with honors and as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, as I did at NYU, but I would not be nearly as well educated.

In short, my personal, perhaps selfish, reason for refusing to inflate my grades is that I can easily imagine myself being victimized by the practice. What this means to you is that I am even less likely to succumb to your harassment than you may have imagined, and that, although you may feel you know how much I despise your attitude and lack of ethics, you donít.

(I have been told that this letter, together with the fifty or so others I wrote, antagonized the collegeís administration. Thatís probably true.)

In my letter I referred to students who could profit from a college education and those who could not. There is also a third group, students who could profit from a college education if Brooklyn gave them sufficient time and assistance, something promised to students in the college bulletin. Students needing needed extra time and assistance used to receive it, but no longer, because it is considered too expensive.

The Brooklyn College web page contains the boast that BC is the most beautiful college in the country. This claim revivifies the clichÈ about appearances being deceiving, and, as a former teacher of English literature, I see a parallel with Wildeís Dorian Gray, whose physical beauty conceals moral ugliness. I am not referring only to what the collegeís administration did to me, or even what, during the same period, it did other instructors as well. The greater crime is what BC is refusing to do for its students. Now that a large portion of financial aid is given only upon graduation, the college wants to make sure that students graduate in four years. Giving them additional time means that they will take longer to get their college diploma, and so the college will have to wait longer for its money.

Brooklyn Collegeís criteria are now financial rather than academic. Several times during my arbitration I was told that I had been suspended from teaching partly because I was causing the college to lose money. If, for example, I gave a student an NC (No Credit) in a composition course, which meant that I thought the student needed to take the course again, the college suffered financially, because it had to spend more money on that student than it would have if I had simply given a passing grade.

to be continued

Erin O'Connor, 8:18 AM | Permalink

August 19, 2003 [feather]
Guest Post II: Frederick Lang

Ignorance is Business, Part 2 (Part 1 is here)
by Frederick K. Lang

One of the many criticisms made by Tremper and Matthews was that a high percentage of students withdrew from my courses. Significantly, almost all of the ìstudent complaintsî were attributed to students who had withdrawn from one of my courses quite early in the semester. If I did have a high withdrawal rate, it was because students soon discovered that the only way they would receive As and Bs would be to meet higher standards than they were used to encountering at Brooklyn College, and that to meet those standards they would have to work harder than they were used to doing. For example, they would have to spell answers on quizzes correctly in order to receive credit, and to revise their essays in accordance with my instructions and corrections in order to receive the grade they desired.

I wasnít the teacher most of my students wanted, and so I wasnít a teacher either Tremper or Matthews wanted. Both worked hard to ensure a victory for CUNY. They lied, and cited documents that I hadnít seen previously, or that simply didnít exist. I donít know which amazed me more, the nonchalance with which they invented while under oath, or by the nonchalance with which they admitted to wrongdoing.

(95% of the time Tremper, Matthews, or CUNYís lawyer did the talking while I had to listen in silence. I soon learned that even being criticized, ridiculed, and lied about became boring after a while. So my mind often wandered, and at one point I imagined that the CUNY lawyer, one of eleven working for the university, had been chosen for this arbitration, because her coarseness and underhandedness ensured that Brooklyn Collegeís presence at the hearing would be even further felt.)

Tremper, Matthews, and CUNYís lawyer had to work hard, because they all knew that I had evidence that showed misconduct on the part of both my chair and my provost. Before arbitration began, I was given the right to acquire from CUNY any document whose existence and relevance I could make a convincing argument for. I must have been very convincing, for I was given a copy of a private exchange of e-mail between Tremper and Matthews. I presented the e-mail in my closing statement, which is part of the transcript for the last day of the arbitration.

Following are excepts from my closing argument along with excerpts from the e-mail exchange.

On November 8, 2001, Tremper described me to Matthews as

A person . . . I donít much care to be around.

On November 10, 2001, she expressed to Matthews her desire to have me removed from the English department.

Perhaps if I canít abide him . . . , we can decide that the college would be better served by moving him elsewhere (I began investigating the possibility with Joan Rome last year)..

Tremper began her tenure as chair of the English department in fall 2000. Thus, when she said that ìlast year [she] began investigating the possibility of [moving me elsewhere],î she was admitting that she had started plotting to remove me from the English department almost as soon as she became chair.

Tremper wanted not only to remove me from the English department but also to end my teaching career. On November 10, 2001, she wrote to Matthews,

Iíve wondered if he could be moved into some sort of curriculum development position in Education . . .

Iím not aware that he has any more experience [in curriculum development] than any of us does. It was a thought about how we might extract him from the classroom.

On November 10, 2002, she again wrote to Matthews,

[Herb] Perluck, the former chair of the English department] wanted to serve for a fourth term and couldnít understand why I wouldnít wait for ìmy turn.î

Tremperís use of the phrase ìmy turnî suggests that she saw becoming chair as her due, not as a position to which she might or might not be elected, but one to which she would succeed. And because she felt entitled to her authority, she was enraged when she discovered its limitations, when she realized she could not destroy my career without considerable effort and the help of the provost.

Thus, Matthewsís approval was crucial to her. Indeed, she wanted the provost to approve of the spring 2002 assignment of three sections of English Composition 2 even though it constituted a work overload. On November 8, 2001, Tremper confessed in a letter to Matthews that she realized my spring 2002 assignment was ìtruly grievable.î

On November 10, 2001, Tremper wrote to Matthews that I thought I was

doing the world a favor by teaching James Joyce in Freshman Composition.

Well, I had thought I was doing my students a favor by introducing them to one of the great writers in the English language. And I was simply drawing upon my scholarship in my teaching, a traditional academic practice. Moreover, Professor Tremper neglected to mention to the provost that those teaching English Composition 2 had been asked to organize their course around a theme.

I selected ìJames Joyce: Life and Art.î The focus of English Composition 2 is research and Joyceís fiction cannot be fully understood without doing research into his life and life in Dublin near the turn of the century.

Initially, Tremper was unsuccessful in her effort to persuade Matthews to help her end my teaching career. On November 10, 2001, the provost wrote in her first reply,

Frankly, I would rather not get involved in this . . .

But she did offer Tremper useful advice on how to proceed against me:

How many of his student complaints are documented and how long? Would you be willing to begin doing this now? If we have some documentation, begin getting what we need, begin involving those who should be involved, and ultimately decide whether we are worse off inflicting him on students or somehow getting him out of the classroom altogether, we will be in a position to figure out our options and to start acting on them.

By November 11, 2001, Matthews had a change of heart.

When Denise gets back, or perhaps it would be better to go to Pam Pollack, bring everything to her (whoever she turns out to be) and get a judgment call on all this. Then we will proceed.

ìDeniseî is Denise Flannagan, Brooklyn Collegeís Director of Human Resources. ìPam Pollackî is one of the collegeís attorneys. So, in effect, Matthews was assuring Tremper that much of the collegeís legal machinery would be at their disposal as they attempted to end my teaching career.

to be continued

Erin O'Connor, 10:08 AM | Permalink

She said, she said

Ralph Luker has more on the lesbian sexual harassment case at Rhodes College.

Erin O'Connor, 10:04 AM | Permalink

August 18, 2003 [feather]
Guest post: Frederick Lang

Last spring, I wrote a number of posts on the case of Brooklyn College English professor Frederick Lang, who had been forcibly removed from the classroom because he refused to inflate his grades (read the posts in order here, here, and here). Lang's situation drew a lot of commentary from readers (scroll down to the bottom of each post), and Lang responded to them here. Lang's case was entering arbitration at that time, and he promised to let Critical Mass readers know the results. The arbitrator has now ruled. Over the next several days, Critical Mass will be publishing Lang's account of the hearings, along with his reflections on what the arbitrator's ruling means for his career and for the quality of education at CUNY.


Ignorance is Business, Part 1
by Frederick K. Lang

You may remember me as the ìprick.î In April, Erin began writing about my problems at Brooklyn College, City University of New York, where I am a professor of English, and where I taught, for twenty-five years, until Ellen Tremper, the department chair, suspended me from teaching as fall 2002, and assigned me to glorified clerical work. Earlier, she had told me that my students thought of me as a ìprick.î The fact that I did not give credit for misspelled answers on a quiz was the initial complaint. Tremper showed that she agreed I was a ìprickî when she sided with a student who insisted I should have given him credit even though he had misspelled ìByron.î

The complaints accumulatedóI gave difficult assignments, corrected essays too thoroughly, required that each essay be revisedóbut the single reason for all of these complaints was my grading policy. My grades included As and Bs, but not for everyone. I also gave Cs, Ds, and Fs.

When I was told I was being suspended from teaching because of ìstudent complaints,î I feared that I was being accused of unprofessional, or even immoral, conduct. But no. I filed a grievance over my suspension from teaching, and finally went before an arbitrator this spring, only to discover that the ìstudent complaintsî were those I knew about, and had considered trivial.

Not only did Tremper claim that the ìstudent complaintsî justified a suspension from teaching. So did Roberta Matthews, the provost of Brooklyn College, who also testified against me at my arbitration hearing. Unfortunately, so did the arbitrator. My grievance has been denied because, according to her, my chair represents the college administration, she told me not to be a ìprick,î and I failed to comply.

Obviously, the fact that Matthews had come to testify against me greatly influenced the arbitrator. Also, I had no apparent support from either colleagues or educational associations. And I may have been at a disadvantage because I represented myself. After paying out more than $10,000, I could no longer afford the services of the lawyer I had retained after I learned that my union, the Professional Staff Congress, had been deceiving me.

When I went to arbitration, I believed I had a strong case. I realize now that I was naÔve, for in effect I was asking the arbitrator to render a decision that would severely limit CUNYís power to coerce its faculty. Indeed, the arbitratorís written opinion makes CUNY look not just correct but infallible. For example, CUNYís lawyer conceded that, in spring 2002, I had been given an overload of one hour. Tremper had threatened that, if I ìwanted a fight,î she would allow me to teach only composition courses. In spring 2002, I was assigned three sections of composition, and so I was required to correct 600 essays in a single semester, 40 each week. Which meant that in fall 2001-spring 2002 I taught 22 hours, one hour more than the contractual limit. In her written opinion, the arbitrator contradicts CUNYís lawyer and claims that there was no overload.

The arbitrator also claims that my grading policy was not at issue. She concludes that I was no longer fit to teach because of my ìcourse work, attitude, . . . the manner in which [I] communicate and enforce . . . high standards, [and] my classroom conduct and treatment of students.î She claims that ìit was the grievantís classroom conduct and treatment of students that resulted in the decision to assign him to non-teaching duties.î

Although the arbitrator insists that it was not my grading policy that brought an end to my teaching career, she makes two statements that indicate otherwise. The first occurs early in her opinion: ìNo useful purpose would be served by reviewing in detail each of the student, or student group, complaints raised against grievant over his course work, attitude and grades prior to the Spring 2002 assignment.î The emphasis is mine.

The recurrent theme in all the ìstudent complaintsî CUNY submitted as evidence was my grading policy: marking down for spelling errors on quizzes, and so on. In deciding against ìreviewing in detail each of [them],î the arbitrator is suppressing this fact.

The arbitrator again betrays herself by protesting too much: ìthe testimony of Tremper as well as the documentation and grievantís own testimony demonstrate that, as Tremper said in a December 13, 2001 note to Provost Matthews, ëitís the manner in which he (grievant) conducts himself . . . the way he communicates and enforces . . . high standards,í not his standards nor his grades that gave rise to the constructive criticism of his superiors.î The emphasis is again mine.

I chose not to testify. So, if my ìown testimonyî is said to ìdemonstrateî that my ìmannerî is at fault, it must be something in my written statements which is being referred to, something in my opening remarks or in my closing argument.

The arbitrator said she would accept as ìproofî of my teaching technique the description I included in my opening remarks:

Since my teaching has become an issue, at least with respect to writing assignments, I think I should be allowed a brief digression from narrative, so that I may describe my methods. I have been influenced by the superb example of teachers I had at NYU and at Columbia, and by my experience while teaching not only at those institutions, but also at Lehman College, LaGuardia Community College, and of course Brooklyn College, where I have taught since 1977.

I have also been influenced by my association with the late Alice Trillin, Anna Quindlen, and other professional writers when I served as educational consultant to WNET/Thirteen on the Writers Writing series.

Whether I am teaching composition or literature, I never give a writing assignment without including an example I have written myself or detailed written instructions. I sometimes include both. If I receive an essay and see that the student has not followed my example or instructions, I do not accept it for grading. If I did, I would have to give it an F. Rather, I have the student rewrite it. Depending on the seriousness of the studentís problem, I leave it to the student to determine the need for revision, give oral or written instructions, or use a combination of all three approaches.

I always have my students revise their essays. In the writing process, revisions, sometimes many, are essential. I have seen the need for revision and its beneficial results demonstrated not only in my teaching, but also in my work with professional writers during the making of the Writers Writing series, in my study of literatureóJames Joyce, for example, revised his work compulsively--and in my own efforts as a writerówhen writing my book on Joyce, I found myself following his example.

In a literature course, I assign two essays and allow any student who is dissatisfied with the grade I give the first essay to revise it. If the second grade is higher, I ignore the first grade. In a composition course, I have students rewrite almost all the essays after I have corrected them. Indeed, I write comments and make changes with revision in mind. This practice is based on my experience with editors and as an editor, of my own writing as well as that of others. I always return a corrected essay within a week so that the student has ample time for revision. I also allow a limited number of additional revisions, so that the student can attempt to achieve grades that would improve the studentís average for the course.

If this description of my teaching is what the arbitrator means by my ìown testimony,î then it seems that my crime was telling my students that, if they wanted a higher grade, the only way they would receive one would be to work for it.

to be continued

Erin O'Connor, 9:37 AM | Permalink

August 13, 2003 [feather]

American colleges and universities have for years been in the business of training students to be political activists. Participating in protests is practically a rite of passage at some schools, especially for undergraduates and graduate students in the humanities and social sciences. Professors will often encourage their students to attend progressive political events--teach-ins, marches, sit-ins--and will sometimes even cancel class to make it easier for them to do so (last spring, countless campuses held anti-war teach-ins, and countless classes were cancelled by teachers who wanted their students to attend). Some of the more shameless members of the professoriate have even been known to offer extra credit to students who perform certain political tasks--and to deny that same credit to other students whose politics differ from that of the professor (remember Rosalyn Kahn?). Still others try to incite students to protest--last fall at Harvard, an adjunct professor of English sparked the now notorious protests against poet Tom Paulin by sending an email to her students about why they should be offended by him and what they should do to protest his visit. Some schools are more open than others about their mission to educate students in the ways and means of activism--pro-Palestinian martyr Rachel Corrie was the proud product of Evergreen State's explicitly politicized curriculum. A growing number of schools are offering frankly ideological majors in "labor studies." The University of California has recently revised its statement on academic freedom to facilitate and legitimate its ongoing conversion of the classroom into a soapbox.

Still, the vast majority of colleges and universities cling to their images as dispassionate educational institutions where free inquiry and the pursuit of truth reign supreme. They have to--even though in practice they use speech codes, diversity course requirements, and an overwhelmingly liberal faculty to enforce liberal norms of belief and to create a decidedly progressivist campus culture. Their funding and their reputations depend on it. The trouble with this approach, though, is that the image of the dispassionate institution of higher learning committed to the open expression and debate of all ideas is losing its luster (a recent piece in Boston Magazine charts Harvard's self-imposed tarnishing). As the example of Harvard shows, the hypocrisy upon which this lustrous academic image so often rests is becoming ever more visible to a public that is looking more closely at where its tax dollars and tuition money are going than ever before.

One college is navigating this political minefield by simply declaring itself to be an institution devoted to teaching students to be activists. At the New College of California in San Francisco, you can get a degree in "activism and social change." For about $6,000 per semester, you can work toward either a B.A. or a Master's degree in the theory and practice of protest:

"Students can shape their own (activist) program at other schools," said Michael Baer, senior vice president at the American Council on Education and former provost at Northeastern University. "But to have it all together -- the theoretical and the practical -- under one roof and labeled as such is somewhat rare."

Almost as rare is New College's eclectic lineup of activist instructors, a progressive all-star team that includes tree-sitting environmentalist Julia "Butterfly" Hill, "ecofeminist witch" and author Starhawk and San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly.


Students will study everything from anarchist theory to the civil rights movement. The master's program has a course on globalization, the hot topic in progressive circles.

"We want people to learn how they can be activist and not just someone who is angry and against the system," said Peter Gabel, president emeritus of New College, who plans to teach in the activist program. He is now director of the Institute for Spirituality and Politics.

For applicants a little light on the prerequisites -- a high school degree and at least 45 units of college credit -- New College will consider their "life experience." And no, school officials said, being arrested four times for blocking an intersection isn't what they mean. Admission officials want to see a portfolio of community work, not a rap sheet.

"We're not training rabble-rousers," said Michael McAvoy, a longtime activist and New College's academic vice president. "What we want to do is give people the skills to build sustained social change movements."

Interestingly, the college's mission statement implicitly acknowledges the intimate connection between "educating in activism" and quasi-therapeutic thought reform:

We are developing our academic programs and curricula to create pathways for our students to walk toward this better world. We teach of the need to heal from the traumas of living in less than a just, sacred and sustainable world; to resist the further destruction of people, planet and the more than human world; to create alternatives which inspire us to live differently in the world; to change consciousness from an objectifying and reductionist paradigm to one that is holistic and systemic; and finally of the need to overcome the fallacy of the isolated, autonomous individual and recognize the communal and ecological self.

All schools should be so open. It wouldn't solve the larger problem, but it would at least achieve truth in advertising.

Hat tip to Fred R. and Judith W.

UPDATE: Reader Cameron W. responds:

$6000 a semester to learn to fight the machine that would more than likely be paying for said education in the first place. That is gut-bustingly funny on SO many levels.

Questions come to mind: Would the students be allowed to protest a class they didn't like? Would they get extra credit for doing so?

Then, of course, it's hard not to consider this possible scene: "Hurry! We're studying the value and benefits of anarchy today and attendance counts for 25% of my grade, and the teacher doesn't cut anyone slack!"

Why my state? Why?

Erin O'Connor, 9:32 AM | Permalink

August 11, 2003 [feather]
The lighter side of Hawthorne

The appeal of A.S. Byatt's Booker Prize-winning Possession was--for many people I know--the way Byatt tapped into a fantasy many literary critics and lovers of literary history share. That fantasy grows out of the difficulty of finding truly original things to say about classic works of literature combined with the pressure one is under, in an academic setting, to publish self-professed pathbreaking research at breakneck speed. Literary theory exists in no small part to enable careerist critics to continue to find things to say about writers and works that have already had hundreds, even thousands, of articles and books published about them.

It is the very rare, and very lucky, student of literary history who actually does turn up something genuinely new to say about famous writers who have been endlessly and exhaustively trawled by countless others. But it is not at all rare to dream about being one of those lucky few, and this is what Byatt understood when she wrote her bestselling novel about two academics, one a struggling white male grad student who studies a white male poet and thus hasn't a hope in hell of getting a job in the trendy academic marketplace, the other a hipper than thou feminist theorist who has made her name bashing men in the approved poststructuralist style but is feeling a little tapped out and a little like it's all a big charade starring her precious famous self. Possession centers around the story of how these two unlikely individuals uncover a hidden piece of literary history.

The novel is, in a way, an extended academic chase scene in which this mismatched pair works together to show how two Victorian poets who had been regarded as entirely unconnected to one another were in fact deeply involved with one another, intellectually and sexually. Of course the mismatched pair falls in love. But that's not the hook. The hook is that they actually found something other people had not found out already. They actually came up with something new to say that was actually worth saying. The romance of Possession is the idea that every now and then, someone in an English department actually manages to do some real scholarship. The fantasy of it, for the frustrated academically-inclined reader, is that someday, what happens in the book could also happen to the reader.

And, every now and then, it does. Today's New York Times carries the story of how author Paul Auster rediscovered, edited, and published a forgotten and strikingly revealing story by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Known for the puritanically stiff prose of The Scarlet Letter and other works, Hawthorne has been remembered as one of the grimmer, more tightly-buttoned figures in American literary history. To many, he is a bit like medicine: you read him because he is assigned in school and you know it's good for you, but you don't enjoy the experience much at all and you are quite glad when it's over. The story Auster has unearthed shows another side of Hawthorne. Entitled "Twenty Days With Julian & Little Bunny by Papa," it tells the story of the weeks Hawthorne and his young son once spent together when his wife and daughters were away. It was not written for publication, but for a much-loved private audience of family. It's a charming find, and an exciting one. Read the article, and then consider revisiting your Hawthorne.

Erin O'Connor, 3:05 PM | Permalink

Living the life of the mind

The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine has just published the results of a study correlating college major with longevity. Researchers at Queen's University in Northern Ireland examined the medical records and death rates of 8,367 men who attended Glasgow University between 1948 and 1968. The results are summarized here. There will be those who take issue with the white maleness of the subject pool, and there will also be those who say that what was true of Scottish men in the mid-twentieth century cannot be generalized to anyone--Scottish, male, or other--today. Be that as it may, it is still interesting to discover that students studying medicine lived the longest, and that those majoring in the liberal arts and social sciences died youngest; that theology majors were most likely to kill themselves, and that medical students--longlived as they were--drank themselves to death more than anyone else. Correlations are hardly causations. But it is interesting nonetheless to notice that the softer the studies, the shorter the lives. In more ways than one, it seems, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Thanks to reader Fred R. for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 2:34 PM | Permalink

August 10, 2003 [feather]
So expert it's criminal

More on the faculty diversity front: criminologists who claim special authority and expertise because they were once convicted criminals themselves. This is an interesting expansion of academic identity politics--the central tenet of which, boiled down, is that it takes one to know one. Such logic is routinely used to bolster arguments for making race and gender a factor in hiring and admissions and for creating academically dubious sub-specialties, like women's studies. But now we are, perhaps, seeing the logic of identity politics come into its own. If it's reasonable to argue that, for example, only blacks can teach black history (and many think it is), it must also be reasonable to argue that only an ex-convict can teach about prison with proper conviction.

Thanks to Twilight of the Idols for the link.

UPDATE: Big Arm Woman gets the last word. Do not read while mouth is full.

Erin O'Connor, 9:17 AM | Permalink

August 8, 2003 [feather]
The protocols of academic freedom

The University of California faculty recently voted to amend its statement on academic freedom to bring it into accordance with the politically engaged (or doctrinaire, depending how you look at it) pedagogy of most of its teachers. Gone is the old wording about the professor's obligation to maintain neutrality in the classroom; in its place is new wording about how academic freedom protects instructors' and students' rights to advocate their political views in the classroom.

The amendment was made following the May 2002 uproar that surrounded the course descriptions of UC Berkeley English graduate student, Snehal Shingavi. In his blurb for a course entitled "The Politics and Poetics of Palestinian Resistance," Shingavi advised conservative students against taking the course. Though Berkeley administrators had Shingavi, an activist who heads the Berkeley chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, alter his course description so as not to appear overtly discriminatory, the story didn't end there. The changes to the UC academic freedom statement are frequently cited by newspapers as growing out of that controversy (here's an example and here's another). The implication--which the papers don't make explicit, but which they make nonetheless--is that what went wrong during the Shingavi debacle was not Shingavi's arrogantly partisan approach to teaching freshman composition, but the school's inability to point to an academic freedom statement that anticipated and justified his actions. It's always been clear that the issue for Berkeley admins wasn't that Shingavi was using freshman comp as a soapbox for his politics, but that he went a bit too far when he explicitly discouraged conservatives from taking his class. Had he let that discouragement remain implicit in his pro-Palestinian course description, there would have been no problem at all as far as they were concerned. Critics of the new policy have rightly voiced concern that the new policy gives a green light to professors who want to use their classrooms not to educate, but to indoctrinate.

Now UC faculty and administrators are facing the first test of the new policy on academic freedom. A graduate student instructor has used his Arabic language course to expound his views--which include the canard that the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" is not an anti-Semitic forgery that has been used to justify acts of hatred against Jews, but is, rather, a legitimate document written by Zionist Jews themselves. The instructor is a former Iraqi soldier who comes to Cal via Saudi Arabia. He is working on his doctorate in Islamic Studies. A Jewish student taking the course wrote a letter of complaint to Berkeley's Dean of Letters and Science -- and then forwarded it along to sundry bloggers. You can get the full picture at Little Green Footballs and FrontPage.

As enrollment in Arabic language classes soars at Berkeley and elsewhere, there may well be more of this sort of thing. Many of the folks who can teach this stuff are likely to have views that are mortally abhorrent to some of their students. And it will be interesting to see how the school deals with the trouble that is beginning to brew. Will Berkeley admins point to their new improved industrial-strength academic freedom policy, and defend the instructor's right to express his beliefs? Will they take the slightly more circumspect position that the instructor has a right to his beliefs but that it was out of place to bring them into the classroom? (In fairness to the instructor, it sounds like his views came out incidentally, while conversing with a student who had initiated a conversation with him about foreign policy.)

My guess is that there's no way in hell Berkeley admins will take a public stand on whether the Protocols are forged or real--it's too volatile, and they will thus treat the issue of the instructor's confusion of propaganda and fact as a question not of his competence, but of his right to his beliefs. The old academic freedom statement required professors to "stick to the logic of the facts." The new one expressly does away with that language. In doing so, it effectively allows instructors such as this one to elevate belief to truth, and to present propaganda as fact.

Some are calling for the instructor to be dismissed. But that won't happen. If people don't like what they see at Berkeley, they should vote with their wallets, their words, and their votes. They are wasting their time demanding this guy's dismissal.

UPDATE: The Daily Californian has more.

Erin O'Connor, 9:48 AM | Permalink

August 7, 2003 [feather]
Oprah 101

As a group, English professors have long abandoned the concept of "classic literature." The idea of a literary canon is just too ideologically fraught. Historically, it has been the hegemonic construct of privileged white men who are only out to promote other privileged white men. The concept of "great books" is a disaster from the perspective of race, sex, and class, a totally discriminatory boondoggle designed to keep the patriarchal imperialists on top and to keep everyone else down. That's why, if you've looked at the course offerings in any old English department lately, you are likely to find lots of courses on women writers and writers of color, and lots of courses centered on the themes of identity, politics, power, and oppression. Sure, you'll still find courses on Shakespeare. The need to pull in large numbers of undergraduates pretty much guarantees that. But otherwise, you are looking at a politically correct mishmash. It's possible to teach a survey course in nineteenth-century American literature using only slave narratives, for example--no Emerson, no Melville, no Hawthorne, but all Frederick Douglass and Linda Brent, all the time. It's also entirely respectable to teach a course on the rise of the English novel as a course on women writers--no Defoe, no Richardson, no Dickens, but plenty of Austen, Bronte, Eliot, and, of course, the obligatory unreadable "minor women writers." I'm not speaking hypothetically here--I see this sort of thing done all the time.

The good news is that the canon is not dead yet. Since English professors don't want it, Oprah Winfrey has decided to make it her special new provenance. She has revived her famous book club with the aim of reviving interest in literary classics. Of course, some concerned English professors are sniffing a bit about Oprah's undertaking--especially after she kicked off the project with John Steinbeck's potboiler, East of Eden. Telling her audience that "We think it might be the best novel we've ever read!", Winfrey singlehandedly caused the book's sales to spike. Within a day, the novel's Amazon.com sales rank had risen from 2,352 to 2. "She's crazy," University of Louisville English professor Dennis Hall told a local paper. "If she says 'East of Eden' is one of the best novels she's ever read, either her tastes are very narrowly defined or she hasn't read many good novels."

But it's hard to get too snooty about Oprah's enthusiastic literary populism when your own profession has discarded the notion of the classic for being elitist. Possibly without knowing it, Oprah has hoist the troubled and misguided profession of letters on its own ideological petard. "It's very hard to say Oprah is wrong," said Louisville English professor and literary theorist Matthew Biberman. "She seems to be reinventing the notion of a classic." Some even think Oprah might be the future of English: "The literary elite persist in dismissing Oprah and her readers ... (as) lowbrow, unworthy of serious attention," said Mark Hall, who teaches rhetoric and composition at Cal State Chico. "As a teacher, however, I struggle to engage my students in reading, and so I wonder if academics might learn something from Winfrey about how to tap into the interests of general readers. ... In my experience, the treatment of literature in the classroom often kills the joy of reading for many students. By contrast, Winfrey fosters the deeply felt pleasure that hooks readers and keeps them engaged."

He may be right. Personally, I loved East of Eden. When I read it as a college freshman--during time stolen from homework and athletic practice--I thought it was the best novel I ever read. I used to dream about quitting my job and running off to work on the Oprah show, thinking that at least this was someone who actually speaks to people and actually gets them to want to read. I wasn't seeing much of that in my, ahem, line of work. Whatever you think of her taste, we need people like her.

Erin O'Connor, 9:24 AM | Permalink

August 4, 2003 [feather]
Put your reading list where your mouth is

Devoted followers of campus politics will recall the uproar that took place this time last year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The occasion: the school's freshman reading program, an adjunct to freshman orientation in which each incoming student reads an assigned book over the summer and then, on a designated day during on-campus orientation, discusses the book in a small group led by a UNC professor. The problem: UNC's chosen book last year, Michael Sells' Approaching the Qu'ran: The Early Revelations, rubbed a few too many people the wrong way. On behalf of outraged students and parents, the Family Policy Network, a conservative Christian group, filed suit against the school, claiming that in requiring students to read portions of the Koran, UNC was violating their religious freedom and attempting to indoctrinate them. Outraged pundits used the suit as an opportunity to pontificate about the school's liberal bias. The school was surprised and embarrassed. The court upheld the school. The offended students did not have to read the book. The reading program went ahead as planned.

This year, it's happening again. UNC assigned Barbara Ehrenreich's bestselling expose of the lives of America's lowest paid workers, Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. Ehrenreich's book tells the harrowing story of her own undercover three-month stints as a waitress in Florida, a maid in Maine, and a Wal-Mart worker in Minnesota. Beautifully written and told from a compelling first-person perspective (a few excerpts are here), the book has worked well at other schools--among them Siena College in New York, Fairfield University in Connecticut, Southern Oregon University, the University of California-Riverside, Ohio State, Indiana State, Lehigh University and Ball State University. Nearby Appalachian State and UNC-Asheville are using it this year, with no fuss.

But at UNC, the precedent of protest has been set, and this year a new group of conservative students and lawmakers stepped forward to complain about UNC's liberal bias. Ehrenreich, they argued, is a leftist (as if her politics automatically invalidated her book). Her book is sacreligious (she refers to Jesus as a "wine-guzzling vagrant and precocious socialist" at one point). She has bad things to say about capitalism (like that minimum-wage workers can't make ends meet unless they work multiple jobs). And she is too hard on Wal-Mart (Wal-Mart workers may not be able to pay their rent, but they should remember that Wal-Mart's business model is highly respected and that Wal-Mart is a force for good).

The sniping back and forth has been going on for weeks. Conservative students and opportunistic state legislators complain about the ideological bias that is institutionalized at UNC, holding press conferences and taking out costly newspaper ads in which they call the book a "Marxist rant." Defenders of UNC's choice of book point out that the school isn't planning to teach the book as true, but rather wants to use it to launch spirited discussion about an issue that will be new to many students. They note that the point of educated inquiry is to read all sorts of things written from all manner of perspectives--even ones the reader disagrees with. Ehrenreich herself has gotten involved in the fray, defending her honor in The Progressive and granting numerous interviews to local media outlets (here's one in the Herald-Sun).

So far, it's been the usual type of battle with the usual sorts of players and the usual sorts of arguments. But in recent days things have begun to get a bit more interesting.

The UNC-Chapel Hill housekeeping staff has become involved. After weeks of watching the well-heeled ideologues they clean up after arguing about whether the book tells any kind of truth and whether it has any legitimate bearing on life at Chapel Hill, a group of campus groundskeepers and janitors have decided to hold their own teach in. Citing the authority of their own underpaid experience (most fulltime house- and groundskeeping staff at UNC make a bit less than $20,000 per year), they have invited--or challenged--the faculty who benefit from their services and the administrators who don't pay them adequately to attend.

And now--because we are entering the farcical stage of this historical repetition--there is a chance for everyone to weigh in. The Charlotte Observer is calling on conservatives to stop the whining and start the constructive criticism:

Here's a suggestion to prevent a similar political squabble next summer: Why not invite conservatives who have objected to UNC's choices to suggest books they consider appropriate?

Sure, Anne Coulter's "Treason: Liberal Treachery from the Cold War to the War on Terrorism" might be a bit tough for Chapel Hill to chew on, but social and political conservatives have written many thoughtful books about America, international relations and global challenges that might prompt rewarding discussions among new students and UNC professors.

So here's your chance, conservatives. Send us the titles of books you think incoming UNC students should read, and we'll share them with Observer readers and with Chancellor James Moeser. Send your suggestions to Right Books, Editorial Department, The Charlotte Observer, P.O. Box 30308, Charlotte, N.C. 28230-0308 or editorialmail@charlotteobserver.com. In a couple of weeks we'll publish the conservative reading list and forward it to Chancellor Moeser.

Forget about the annoying suggestion that only conservatives might have objections to a chronically one-sided reading list. And forget the insulting insinuation that deep in the heart of conservatism lies a politics as mendacious and simplistic as Anne Coulter's, just waiting to come out. This is a great opportunity for people of all political stripes who thinks UNC's reading list could be improved upon to make their thoughts on the matter known. I'll be suggesting Diane Ravitch's The Language Police, which is unusually non-partisan in its careful analysis of how both left- and right-wing advocacy groups have bowdlerized and corrupted K-12 education. Given the grandstanding coming from all sides of the political spectrum at UNC, the book seems peculiarly apt.

Thanks to reader Fred R. for various links.

Erin O'Connor, 10:15 AM | Permalink

Gimme a D! Gimme an I!

More on the faculty diversity front: an assistant professor in Purdue's Department of Forestry and Natural Resources is also a cheerleader for the Indianapolis Colts. You go, girl--I mean professor!

Erin O'Connor, 8:59 AM | Permalink

August 3, 2003 [feather]
Blind leading the blind

In today's New York Times, Bruce Boucher, author and curator at the Art Institute of Chicago, reflects on what happens when novelists don't know their history and when readers don't notice. Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, a murder mystery set in the present that hinges on Leonardo's art, philosophy, and life, has ridden the New York Times best-seller list for eighteen weeks now. It has been hailed by Janet Maslin--writing for the NYT no less--as "blockbuster perfection .... an exhilaratingly brainy thriller." The Rocky Mountain News says it contains "enough medieval history to please any historian," Bookpage says that "Brown's scholarship never slows down," and the Chicago Tribune says that the book contains "several doctorates' worth of fascinating history and learned speculation" (for many more comments along these lines, see Brown's website).

But at least one expert says the book is filled with gross errors of fact and embarrassing gaffes. Brown claims to have researched the book extensively, but Boucher assembles damning evidence that Brown is neither particularly careful nor especially knowledgeable:

...the author's grasp of the historical Leonardo is shaky. One small but telling point comes in Mr. Brown's references to Leonardo as "Da Vinci," as if that were the painter's last name, yet it is no surname but simply a reference to the fact that he was the illegitimate son of Ser Piero of Vinci, in the Florentine territory. Like other great artists, with or without last names, Leonardo is invariably referred to by his given name and not by da Vinci.

The nomenclature suggests a lack of familiarity with the copious bibliography on the painter, as do Mr. Brown's references to Leonardo's "enormous output" of Christian art and "hundreds of lucrative Vatican commissions." Leonardo was, in fact, notorious for his meager production and spent little time in Rome. Neither, for that matter, is it accurate to call Leonardo a "flamboyant homosexual": despite a charge of sodomy against him as a young man, the evidence of his sexual orientation remains inconclusive and fragmentary.

It is also breathtaking to read that the heroine, Sophie Neveu, uses one of Leonardo's paintings, "The Madonna of the Rocks," as a shield, pressing it so close to her body that it bends. More than six feet tall and painted on wood, not canvas, the "Madonna" is unlikely to be so supple. But that may be poetic license on Mr. Brown's part; even the legendary connoisseur Bernard Berenson was uncertain whether Leonardo painted on wood or canvas.

Boucher goes on to dissect Brown's deeply confused and uninformed understanding of the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper and ends with the wry comment that "Somehow, you know that Umberto Eco, author of the "The Name of the Rose," would have been more adept at this."

As Brown counts his royalties, he ought to be squirming. So should his editor.

Erin O'Connor, 11:45 AM | Permalink

August 1, 2003 [feather]
Free speech 101

With all the publicity about speech codes and students' rights (for a tiny sampling, see this and this), you'd think college administrators would start to get it. After all, the new campus free speech movement is getting so prominent that it has even got itself a poster girl. But admins, it seems, are not always the brightest of bulbs.

The University of New Orleans is getting itself sued by the American Center for Law and Justice, a D.C. public interest firm, for barring a Messianic Jew from distributing leaflets on campus. UNO is a public institution, and so is obligated to respect both the First Amendment and the right to due process. It ignored both when it told Michelle Beadle, a New Orleans resident, that she could not hand out her literature because it might offend some members of the UNO community (Beadle's tract controversially states that "Jews should believe in Jesus"). The law suit notes two big problems with UNO policy: first, that it requires those who would distribute religious material on campus to submit it to a university official for review; second, that it does not have clear guidelines as to what sort of expression is and is not acceptable. Beadle has met both problems face to face: when she first attempted to pass out tracts on campus, she was stopped for not having permission. When she then sought permission, it was denied. "The literature may be offensive, but the First Amendment protects even speech sometimes that people find offensive," said Beadle's lawyer, who calls this case a classic instance of "prior restraint." He added, "In a public place, you can't deny people from distributing literature or engaging in speech activities."

Some admins are starting to learn, but not without some unpleasantly public prodding. The University of Maryland also got itself sued for unreasonably restricting students' free speech rights. The ACLU filed suit against the school for restricting leafletting to two small "free speech zones" and confining demonstrations to ten locations on campus. Lots of schools have such zones--which do less to encourage free speech in the zone than to send the message that speech is not free on the rest of campus. And lots of schools are starting to take some heat for it (Citrus College and Texas Tech are prominent recent examples). The good news is that Maryland saw the error of its ways and rescinded its policy. Now students, faculty, and staff can hand out leaflets in any outdoor location on campus (are you watching this, UNO?), and demonstrations of up to ten people can be held anywhere, at any time. The school no longer requires small groups of demonstrators to register their protests in advance. There is still one area of contention, however: the school disagrees with the ACLU about whether people from off campus should have the same rights as students, faculty, and staff.

Erin O'Connor, 9:33 AM | Permalink