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August 30, 2005 [feather]
The profane classroom

An English high school has decided to cope with the problem of student profanity by tolerating it. Beginning this fall, students will be allowed to curse at their teachers, just so long as they don't say "f--k" more than five times during a lesson. Part of the new policy involves keeping a running tally on the blackboard of how many times the word "f--k" has been uttered during a given lesson--a practice that promises to distract students. If the word is used more than five times during a class--and my guess is that some classes will turn into competitions to see just how many times the word can be uttered--students will be "spoken to" afterward by the teacher. The school's idea is that this policy will improve student behavior by acknowledging their habitual language patterns while making a reasonable request for modification of those patterns. "The reality is that the f-word is part of these young adults' everyday language," the headmaster said. "As a temporary policy we are giving them a bit of leeway, but want them to think about the way they talk and how they might do better." The school, which was labelled "not effective" by inspectors last year, will also be sending "praise postcards" to parents of students who avoid cursing and who show up on time for class.

Erin O'Connor, 10:09 AM | Permalink | Comments (9)

August 26, 2005 [feather]
Growing pains

For two freshmen at Bowling Green State University, college isn't all it was cracked up to be. The AP report says it all:

BOWLING GREEN, Ohio -- A college freshman was charged with assault after authorities say she beat her new roommate with a hot clothes iron, hitting her so hard she fractured the young woman's skull and broke the iron into pieces.

The 18-year-old victim told authorities her roommate attacked her following their first day of classes after accusing her of putting a hidden camera in their room.

Heather Haase suffered a skull fracture, bruises, cuts and a burn on her arm in the early morning attack on Tuesday, university police said.

Her roommate, Sharronda Barkley, also 18, told officers Haase injured herself when she fell out of bed and hit the iron, according to a police report. Barkley was being held on $25,000 bond Thursday. A judge ordered her not to return to Bowling Green State University or have contact with Haase.

You can tell the reporter had fun writing this piece. The concluding quote says it all: "'You have two young ladies that go off to college with an expectation of obtaining an education and hopefully having a good time, and they're not here a week and one of them is severely injured and the other ends up in jail,' University Police Chief James Wiegand said. 'That's not the way it's supposed to go.'" Indeed.

There's more information--and more evidence of a reporter enjoying herself--here.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the links.

Erin O'Connor, 11:03 PM | Permalink | Comments (2)

The curse of the tone-deaf editor

There is a new edition of Dante out--an anthology of English translations--and Harvard poetry critic Helen Vendler has some pointed comments to make about how Eric Griffiths' hundred-page introduction to the volume treats both the poet and his time:

...the manner of the introduction is so peculiar that its information is less salient than its expression. Did you know that Dante is so 'besotted . . . with the verb rispondere in all its forms . . . that the poem reads at times like a string of "I said to him I said"s'? Did you know that 'the mystic senses of the Scriptures were the cocaine of some clerics'? Were you aware that the Vulgate 'had itself been when it was composed an exercise in dumbing-down such as the Commedia in part aims to be'? Does your recollection of the Paradiso portray Dante 'mute and about to weep before Beatrice and the encircling blessed, harrowed with embarrassment, like a man who convivially declares "My shout!" and then finds he has forgotten his wallet'? Remembering the entrance to the infernal city, would you say that 'having made the tricky entrance into the city of Dis, Virgil rests--to take the weightlessness off his feet a while'? Would you, in commenting on the hideous episode in which Ugolino and his sons are starved to death in an 'orribile torre', remark that 'a tower is a Mr Big'? Can we infer that Dante's use of the word tencione makes 'the spectacle of the proud' seem a 'game like one of those "how many elephants are hidden in this picture?" teasers'? And when we hear Virgil say to Dante 'Che pense?', would you render it as 'What's on your mind?' Still less, when Beatrice, after cataloguing Dante's transgressions in the Purgatorio, asks him 'Che pense?', would you say: 'She waits only a moment before snapping "Che pense?"' Can we conceive of Beatrice 'snapping' like a shrew? And when remarking on the paradox of time passing in the eternity of Hell, would we feel that 'it could rightly be said: "If you're passing through it, it ain't hell"'?

There is desperation behind such a manner--the terror that nobody will pay any attention to Dante unless he is jazzed up in contemporary slang. It's a desperation that anyone teaching or writing about poetry is tempted to feel, so great is the gap between the ordinary discourse of our culture and the specialised discourses of poetry. But frenzied updating is not the solution; poetry can take care of itself, and there are other, and better, ways of drawing readers to Dante (some of them evident in Griffiths's introduction: remarks, for instance, on the strength of Dante's myth-making, his sense of dramatic occasion, his linguistic variety).

Vendler goes on to discuss how Griffiths betrays Dante in the act of ostensibly promoting him--his preoccupation with making Dante "cool" manifests itself as a palpable embarrassment about the theological foundations of Dante's work, and he is thus more willing to depict Dante as a postcolonial writer than a religious one. The whole review is worth reading--even if you aren't familiar with Dante, Vendler's discussion of this edition stands as an intriguing meditation on how the vanities and prejudices of contemporary criticism can render it utterly inadequate to the work it purports to illuminate.

Erin O'Connor, 12:37 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

August 25, 2005 [feather]
Author outed

Northern Arizona University anthropologist Cathy Small has confirmed that she is the pseudonymous author of My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned By Becoming a Student. Small decided to acknowledge authorship of the controversial book after a New York Sun piece purporting to out her created a media frenzy at her campus. "I decided with my university that I was doing more harm to students at this point by not revealing my identity," Small told the Chronicle of Higher Education. Members of the press "were starting to come to campus and call campus and call my colleagues and call students on campus in order to get this confirmed. ... It seemed like it was producing the very problems that the anonymity was supposed to prevent."

Erin O'Connor, 7:26 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

August 23, 2005 [feather]
Low-cost accountability

The University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh is so cash-poor that the College of Letters and Science will no longer pay to print syllabi for students. College dean Michael Zimmerman--whose $18.5 million annual budget is less than his budget was when he began his deanship fourteen years ago--says that teachers should put their syllabi on line instead of handing out paper copies to their students. Students who wish to have printed copies can then print their own, the reasoning goes, and the College will save the thousands of dollars it presently spends printing up syllabi for its 11,000 students. Supporters of the decree say that it's better to put syllabi and other course materials online where they can never be lost and where students can always access them; opponents argue that students need paper copies that they can carry with them and that it is especially important pedagogically to hand out paper copies of syllabi on the first day of class so that course requirements can be reviewed and clarified together.

One aspect of the decree that does not seem to have been noted, though, is perhaps the most interesting thing about it: Syllabi can be very revealing documents, and online syllabi that are expressly charged with replacing paper--and which must therefore be particularly detailed about assignments and so on--will be exceptionally so. As public concern about what really happens in college classrooms increases, online syllabi stand to become key documents in a debate that is hindered by an overall lack of documentation about how college teachers actually use their classrooms. Zimmerman may be thinking purely pragmatically, and his desire may simply be to cut a substantial cost. But his decision is a political one with fascinating potential implications for the professors and students at the Oshkosh campus.

Here--largely courtesy of Margaret Soltan's tireless interest in outrageous college courses--are just a few examples of college syllabi that tell an all-too detailed story of professors abusing their pedagogical prerogatives in order to impose their views on students. Well worth a look.

Erin O'Connor, 11:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (10)

August 19, 2005 [feather]
This was inevitable

The New York Sun has outed the author of the hottest academic monograph of the season, My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student. The story of how a middle-aged anthropologist returned to college as an undercover participant-observer, My Freshman Year has aroused a lot of interest in undergraduate culture, a lot of controversy about professional ethics, and a lot of interest in who the author--who published the book under the pseudonym "Rebekah Nathan"--really is. Now the cat's out of the bag. Her name is Cathy Small, and she teaches at Northern Arizona University (NAU was also the scene of her undercover research). Small has not confirmed the Sun's conclusion that she is the book's author. I just hope she realized that her secret was not going to be keepable, and that she is prepared for this.

Erin O'Connor, 10:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (7)

On the ways and means of conferences

Poet Kay Ryan--a self-proclaimed hermit who does not as a rule go to conferences or really any institutionally supported gathering of writers--attended this year's annual conference of the Association of Writers and Writing Programs, at her editor's behest. The resulting essay, "I Go to AWP," is not to be missed. Here is a characteristic excerpt:

My First Panel Experience

The Creative Process: The Creative Writer as Teacher Thursday, 31 March. 9:00-10:15 AM.

I'm sitting in the Vancouver Island Room on the Conference Floor of the Fairmont Hotel. The draped and elevated table of the panel setup looks like the Last Supper but with just water glasses. The room is aggressively paneled in white with elaborate gold trim. Even the chandeliered ceiling is paneled and trimmed. Good motif for panels, I guess.

The question to be addressed by our panel is, How does the creative writing teacher stay creative? I have chosen this panel using my current selection method: what looks most inimical to your nature?

These creative writing teachers have apparently gone into this line of work because they felt themselves helped by a writing teacher and feel a desire to pass it on. They resort frequently to various forms of the words "mentor," both noun and verb. They share a meaning for this word so that it requires no explanation.

Nor are they confused by the verb "to workshop." As easily and comfortably as I might say, "We started sanding the table" do these creative writing teachers say, "We started workshopping poems."

Before we get on to the question of how the creative writing teacher might stay creative, I would like to pause at these words, mentor and workshop. If, as my dictionary tells me, a mentor is a wise counselor, then to mentor would surely be to give wise counsel. And of course it would imply somebody on the other side receiving the wise counsel. Because it seems to me so deep and intimate, I have always had a very cautious feeling about this word mentor, as something far beyond the teacher of a class a student signed up for. It would be specific to two people who found some particular affinity, a relationship that would develop gradually. It would rarely occur.


Workshop. In the old days before creative writing programs, a workshop was a place, often a basement, where you sawed or hammered, drilled or planed something. You could not simply workshop something. Now you can. You can take something you wrote by yourself to a group and get it workshopped. Sometimes it probably is a lot like getting it hammered. Other writers read your work, give their reactions, and make suggestions for change. A writer might bring a piece back for more workshopping later, even. I have to assume that the writer respects these other writers' opinions, and that just scares the daylights out of me. It doesn't matter if their opinions really are respectable; I just think the writer has given up way too much inside. Let's not share. Really. Go off in your own direction way too far, get lost, test the metal of your work in your own acids. These are experiments you can perform down in that old kind of workshop, where Dad used to hide out from too many other people's claims on him.

There is much more. Ryan is funny and wry and observant and refreshingly honest about the disturbing doublethink involved in attending an event whose premises one finds philosophically repellent. Though she abhors the very idea of the conference, and hates being there, she finds herself (part of herself) responding to the event in the way it means for her to respond. At the same time, she is able to watch herself responding in this way, and to register in sharply knowing prose the discomfort, disgust, amusement, and ruefulness this produces in her. In this respect, her essay is in part a provocative meditation on how the deeply conformist prerogatives of academic culture insinuate themselves into even the most unwilling and skeptical individuals. Well worth a read.

Erin O'Connor, 8:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 18, 2005 [feather]
Due process, felony convictions, and academe

As the University of Wisconsin decides how it ought to handle the cases of three faculty members who have recently been convicted of crimes and sentenced to jail, and as those faculty members remain on the payroll because the university wants to be absolutely certain it honors their due process rights, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals has turned in an intriguingly relevant ruling.

The case involves a medical student who was expelled after being found guilty of felony drug charges. In October of 2001, third-year med student Sean Michael Flaim was arrested at his apartment and was subsequently charged with four counts of felony drug possession. Police found ecstasy, cocaine, L.S.D., a nine millimeter hangdun, and $9,500 in cash in his apartment. Flaim eventually pled guilty to a lesser felony count of Attempted Possession and was sentenced to two years' unsupervised probation.

Meanwhile, two days after his arrest, the Medical University of Ohio suspended him until such time as all "external investigations/hearings [were] completed." Flaim was informed that regardless of what the legal system determined, he would not be allowed to resume his studies until he agreed to an internal investigation conducted by the school. Flaim requested this internal investigation after pleading guilty to the lesser felony charge. The university held a hearing at which Flaim was allowed to have counsel present, but was not allowed to communicate with his lawyer during the hearing itself. Flaim was also prevented from cross-examining witnesses, which included the arresting officer. At the end of the hearing, Flaim was informed that the investigating committee would prepare a recommendation for the dean. That report was never written, but Flaim nonetheless received a notice of expulsion for "violation of institutional standards of conduct" from the dean shortly afterward. When he met with her, he was told that the school had a "zero-tolerance policy" for drugs. No more particular reason for the expulsion was offered, and Flaim was told he would not be allowed to appeal. When Flaim tried to pursue the matter, he was told he no longer had rights at the university because he was no longer a student there.

Flaim sued the Medical University of Ohio, claiming that the expulsion was conducted in a manner that violated his due process rights. The appellate court ruled that Flaim's rights were not violated, citing a number of thought provoking cases centering on schools' obligations to students in disciplinary situations. But the court also observed that the school did the "bare-minimum" to ensure that due process was observed, and noted that this was "perhaps less-than-desirable for an institution of higher learning."

Via InsideHigherEd.com.

Erin O'Connor, 7:50 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 11, 2005 [feather]
Academic freedom does time

In recent months, three tenured professors at the University of Wisconsin at Madison have been convicted of crimes and sentenced to jail: medical school professor Roberto Coronado (who makes $137,641 per year), medical school professor Steven Clark (who makes $67,761 per year), and Lewis Keith Cohen (who makes $72,856 per year). Coronado was found guilty of sexually assaulting three girls over the past ten years; he was sentenced to eight years in prison plus ten years of supervision. Cohen got 30 days plus two years' probation after pleading no contest to using the internet to send nude photos of himself to boys and to conducting sexually explicit chat room conversations with one boy in particular. Clark got a year for stalking. None of the professors has been fired, however. Unbelievably, the university is trying to decide whether there are grounds for firing Cohen and Clark (there appears to be some question in Clark's case about whether he violated faculty conduct policies, which in turn suggests that it could be within the realm of reasonable faculty conduct for him to have practised internet pedophilia and done jail time for it). The university has moved to fire Coronado, but Coronado is exercising his right, as a faculty member, to appeal.

As taxpayers continue to pay the salaries of three academic jailbirds, some people are becoming justifiably upset. State representative Scott Suder is unimpressed by a UW policy that protects professors from being fired simply because they have been found guilty of a crime in a court of law. His position is simple: Convicted criminals should be fired promptly. Suder finds the university's policy of independently investigating convicted employees so as to ensure that they have due process within the university system to be misguided and misplaced: "The constitution guarantees due process in the court system, not in the university system. I don't care if it's standard practice at other universities. Wisconsin taxpayers aren't going to stand for it, certainly not for university employees who have been convicted of a crime, especially when they're apparently able to tap into vacation time while in prison." That does sound right to me--while public colleges and universities are required by law to honor and protect the due process rights of students and faculty, it seems to me that a court conviction trumps the sorts of internal codes that govern in-house institutional judiciary procedures. But I'm not a lawyer, and I'd welcome the opinions of those more legally informed than I on this one.

I will say this: The AAUP's defense of figures such as Coronado, Cohen, and Clark rings hollow. When asked to comment on UW's present procedures, AAUP spokesman Robert Kreiser invoked the special expressive rights of tenured faculty, stating that "It's all part of the basic principle of protecting academic freedom." When the principle of academic freedom--which is really only a principle, and not, when you try to pin it down, a terribly coherent one at that--can be invoked to cover sexual assault and pedophilia, something is very wrong indeed. The last time I checked, those activities were not part of the scholarly endeavor.

UPDATE: More at InsideHigherEd.com.

Erin O'Connor, 4:53 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

August 9, 2005 [feather]
Rock on

Believe it or not, no one has ever done a full length scholarly study of the art of air guitaring--despite the fact that playing the air guitar is such an entrenched aspect of contemporary popular culture that there are actually Air Guitar World Championships (their stated purpose is to "promote world peace" because "according to the ideology of the Air Guitar, wars would end and all bad things would disappear, if all the people in the world played the Air Guitar".) The dire scholarly omission that is the absence of air guitar scholarship is about to change, however. The London Telegraph reports that Amanda Griffiths, a 32-year-old dance teacher from Wales who is also a doctoral student at the University of Salford and a former contestant in regional air guitar competitions, will write her Ph.D. thesis on the art of air guitar. Griffiths, who is being supervised by Salford's resident chair of pop music, Sheila Whitely, will focus on gender differences in air guitar techniques and will use the work of French theorists Roland Barthes and Michel Foucault to develop her ideas. She has been invited to present her work later this month in Finland, at a training camp for the upcoming air guitar world championships.

Thanks to Fred Ray for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 4:26 PM | Permalink | Comments (9)

Misrepresenting academe

Joanne Jacobs notes a serious distortion in a New York Times op-ed on autism, which uses the issue of sex-based brain differences in order to take an off-topic and inaccurate shot at Harvard president Lawrence Summers. Joanne notes that when she was an editor, she would have prevented such things from going into print.

Here's another outrageous editorial oversight. In an article on the Higher Education Act, yesterday's Boston Globe reported that the University of Colorado fired Ward Churchill for making incendiary comments about 9/11: "Earlier this year, Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., reneged on a speaking invitation to University of Colorado professor Ward Churchill because he had published an article blaming America for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and comparing the victims to Nazis. The University of Colorado fired Churchill for his comments." As anyone who has been paying any attention to events in higher education knows, Churchill is still working at the University of Colorado, where he is presently being investigated for academic fraud. The University of Colorado correctly decided last spring that Churchill's speech was fully protected by the First Amendment and that it should not attempt to sanction or discipline him for his speech.

Where are the fact checkers?

Erin O'Connor, 6:37 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

August 8, 2005 [feather]
Where have all the teachers gone?

That's what the Indianapolis Star wants to know, and with good reason--absenteeism among Indianapolis public school teachers has reached astonishing levels, and the impact on students is predictably negative. According to the Star, on any given day last year, at least 14% of IPS' 39,000 students attended at least one class without a regular teacher teaching it. The district employed an average of 275 substitute teachers each day. On any given day last year, about 8.5% of regular IPS teachers were absent from their classes, an absentee rate that is higher than that in such cities as St. Paul, Seattle, Omaha, and Minneapolis, even though those are larger districts with more students. For comparative purposes, the piece notes that private sector firms experience a daily employee absentee rate of something like a 2.4%. IPS teachers missed an average of eleven days of work apiece last year. Add to this the facts that the district is suffering from a shortage of math and science teachers and that substitutes are in such demand that in order to qualify one need only pass a criminal background check and show that one has earned 60 college credits, and you've got a deeply disturbing picture of a failing school district.

The article cites poor working conditions, burnout, and an excessively generous leave policy (teachers get 11 to 13 personal days per year, and unused days accumulate from one year to the next) as factors in the teacher absenteeism that, studies have shown, is correlated with low test scores and a high dropout rate. The teachers unions are fighting to prevent incentives such as higher salaries for math and science teachers as well as for teachers willing to work in the dodgier schools.

The good news is that the Star is speaking up and refusing to let embarrassing and pressing issues drop. Since last spring, the paper has been running a series called "Left Behind" that documents how the state of Indiana doctors its sorry high school graduation rate to make it look better than it is; demonstrates how both urban and rural schools suffer from serious retention problems; details the particular plight of young black men, who drop out in disproportionate numbers; describes the impact of poor retention on the state economy; and urges community leaders to commence open, honest discussion about how to reverse a disheartening and destructive trend in the state's public education system.

Thanks to Rishawn Biddle for the tip.

Erin O'Connor, 4:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

August 3, 2005 [feather]
Summer Reading

With less than a month left before school starts, I though I'd do the annual obligatory post on summer reading. I've read some wonderful books this summer, but I'll only talk about my three favorites:

--If you like non-fiction narrative a la Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, and Jonathan Krakauer, you must read Jonathan Harr's profoundly gripping A Civil Action. Harr wrote the book on the advice of his friend, Tracy Kidder, and it took him ten years and a large dose of angst to do it--but the story of how a leukemia cluster in a little town in Massachusetts gave rise to a pathbreaking toxic tort suit is marvelously written, at once detailed and informative and paced like a thriller, despite the fact that the bulk of it is taken up with minute descriptions of the extraordinarily particular legal ins and outs of planning and financing a class action lawsuit. What makes it work--besides Harr's contagious belief that legal minutiae are endlessly compelling--is his portrait of the lawyer at the heart of the case, Jan Schlictmann. Schlictmann is at once an aspiring, ruthlessly ambitious personal injury lawyer, a dedicated practitioner of his craft who willingly gives everything he has to a worthy cause, a thorough snob who seeks to impress with everything from clothing to car to professional comportment, and a thoroughly noble person who fights the good fight because someone needs to do it. He's a sort of tragic hero dressed up in a pinstripe suit, and he's not to be missed.

--Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose. Beautifully crafted, beautifully told. Stegner was a genuine historian of the west, and in this novel he reconstructs not only a pivotal period in a family's western history, but the particular work of genealogical reconstruction in the figure of the narrator, a historian who has turned his attention to his own family's past. Stegner won a Pulitzer for the novel, and he felt it was the book he was meant to write: "It's perfectly clear," he said, "that if every writer is born to write one story, that's my story." Part of what makes the book so interesting is the way it builds a fictional story around the actual letters of one Mary Hallock Foote, a nineteenth-century pioneer-artist-writer whose correspondence anchors the novel. Foote's letters are quoted at length in Angle of Repose, but not as Foote's letters; they are instead quoted as the letters of Susan Burling Ward, the fictional nineteenth-century pioneer-artist-writer who forms the focus the narrator's investigations into family history. Needless to say, Susan Burling Ward's life amounts to a fictionalized biography of Mary Hallock Foote, told by way of a novel about the historical work of doing accurate family history. If you like that sort of thing--and as a compulsive amateur genealogist I most certainly do--then Angle of Repose is the novel for you.

--I'm presently reading Thomas Flanagan's fat, leisurely, dense, and delightful Tenants of Time, which tells the story of a young Irish expatriate historian who, in 1904, decides he simply must write the history of the 1867 Fenian uprising as it happened in a little Cork town called Kilpeder. Flanagan, like Stegner, is a historian operating by other means; and in his three great novels of Irish history--the other two are The Year of the French (all about Ireland's failed 1798 rebellion) and The End of the Hunt (all about Michael Collins and the Irish fight for independence)--he did an enormous amount of imaginative documentary work. The magnitude of Flanagan's achievement both as a historical novelist writing in subtle and textured ways about Ireland's complicated past and as a practitioner of a genre that has in recent years effectively devalued its own claims to verisimilitude, is aptly summarized in the New York Times review of Tenants of Time. Flanagan has a way of attending to the historical impulse at the same time that he expresses that impulse in the form of historical fiction; by framing the novel in terms of a historian's project of writing about the uprising--and by framing the portrayal of that historian as itself historical (he is writing before independence), and fabricated (the novel opens in June 1904, and so invokes another odyssey, Joyce's Ulysses)--Flanagan manages to make Tenants of Time into both a gripping historical read about plots and guns and prisons and aftermaths and a gripping meditation on whether the past can ever be properly remembered, and what it means to try to reconstruct it.

Comments are open--I'd love to hear what others have been reading.

Erin O'Connor, 8:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)

August 1, 2005 [feather]
Animal rights on campus

The Chronicle of Higher Education is profiling Steven Best, a philosophy professor at the University of Texas at El Paso who also happens to be one of academe's most prominent animal rights activists. The co-founder of the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, Best has set himself up as an interpreter of--and some would say apologist for--the activities of one of the most controversial and dangerous animal rights organizations around, the Animal Liberation Front. Though Best claims not to be a member of ALF, and stresses that he doesn't even know anyone in ALF, he does socialize with convicted AR terrorists, and he does devote his spare time to the work of explaining to the general public why ALF--which the FBI lists as one of the most major domestic terrorism threats in the U.S.-- does the things it does.

Best's press office is set up to receive faxes from ALF activists, who notify the office after they have committed an attack (destroying animal research facilities, for example, or "liberating" animals from farms). Best and his three co-workers then post about the attack on their website and field queries from the press; in essence, he has positioned himself as a spokesperson for a group that cannot itself maintain a press office because it exists so far underground. Best objects to being called a spokesperson, but his ties to ALF had his colleagues concerned enough that they voted unanimously this spring to remove him from his post of philosophy department chair. The word around campus was that Best had to be ousted in order to prevent him from becoming another Ward Churchill. Best's colleagues are right to be concerned; to explain just how far afield Best's activities are, the article rehearses major moments in ALF's history and cites critics of the animal rights movement.

El Paso administrators are well aware of the the legal issues that could arise if the school appears to be discriminating against Best because of his views. Administrators state that the shift in philosophy department governance had nothing to do with politics, stressing that "Our position is that Dr. Best, just as any faculty member, has a right to express his views and engage in a discourse off campus or in any setting, as long as he is not representing himself as speaking for the institution." Administrators likewise claim that despite charges that Best is using his classes to recruit students to ALF, there is no evidence that he is actually doing so.

While there has been an enormous amount of discussion of how various forms of activism have found support on campus in the forms of ideologically one-sided scholarship, activism-oriented departments such as women's studies, and ideologically biased teaching, most of that discussion has centered on issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and foreign policy. This emphasis has been appropriate, as these issues are currently the biggest hot-button issues on campus. At the same time, it seems that there is a growing, if still nascent, movement to bring an animal right-oriented agenda into the classroom, and, from there, into the courts, and that movement deserves attention.

Spearheading this effort is former game show host and major animal rights benefactor Bob Barker, who has spent millions endowing funds for the study of animal rights law at such prominent law schools as Stanford, Columbia, UCLA, Harvard, and Duke.

There's a lot to learn here, and the Chronicle article is just the beginning.

Erin O'Connor, 7:13 AM | Permalink | Comments (8)