More on Michigan's micturition case
Students, faculty, and administrators are now well aware that the case of the racist student micturator may well be a fabrication. But they are unmoved in their zealous pursuit of racial justice. It matters not whether a couple of drunken white students peed on Asian students passing by beneath their balcony, or whether, in fact, those passers by were inadvertently splashed by some beer being poured out from above. Nor does it matter that the ethnic insults alleged to have accompanied the urine-like beer went both ways: if the drunken students insulted the Asian students on the street below, they appear to have returned the favor by calling one of their interlocutors "a white fat American piggy." Racism is still bad, it still happens, and it must be fought. Specifically, anti-Asian bias is still common on campus, it's still bad, and it must be fought. Hence the lead story in today's Michigan Daily, which reports that "regardless of whether the official investigation proves or disproves the incident, many Asian students are using the incident to highlight what they say is a campus climate that condones ethnic discrimination and intimidation." "Using" is the key word in that sentence.
The Daily also reports that UM president Mary Sue Coleman remains under fire--not because she failed to get her facts straight before writing to the entire campus community to deplore the anti-Asian racism of the accused students--but because she presides over a campus where such racist events happen, even though those events didn't happen. "In light of the greater recognition of racial harassment on campus due to recent events," the Daily notes, "students are questioning whether the University's goal of diversity has been effective in fostering a campus climate of tolerance." Coleman, for her part, is running with what has become by now a nonsensical exercise in multiculturalist bad faith: "Coleman said that regardless of Sept. 15's alleged felony of ethnic intimidation, the incident has provided an opportunity for the entire campus community to reflect upon and address the issues surrounding racial harassment at the University."
In an effort to document the severe ethnic bias Asians face at UM, the Daily quotes a Filipino student who was called a "chink" ("I was offended because first of all, I'm not Chinese, and he was utterly racist against me"); another who was asked, on the strength of his surname, whether he is related to Jackie Chan; and others who testify to being asked whether they know karate and to being called a "Chinaman." University spokesman Julie Peterson has promised that UM will "establish clear guidelines to ensure that students know how to report incidents of ethnic intimidation and discrimination." But it seems to me that the "incidents" cited in the Daily fall far short of reportable offenses worthy of formal disciplinary proceedings (not least because they are all instances of ignorant but ultimately harmless speech). The way to counter speech like that, if one finds it offensive or ignorant, is to respond in the moment with better, more informed speech. Anything else only adds to the problem, pathologizing the "victims" of offensive comments, raising the comments themselves to the level of an attack, and involving the university in a highly suspect and legally treacherous attempt to regulate speech that ought to be free.
At UM, an incident of "ethnic bias" that involved a physical assault (urinating on an Asian student) has turned out not to be much of an incident of anything. So, in the search for material to bolster the outcry that has opportunistically attached itself to the outrage-that-was-not-one, UM's activists are focussing on speech--and pretty mild instances of it, too. But the university is playing right along, talking about the importance of reporting incidents of ethnic intimidation, and allowing campus activisits to substitute for the non-existent urinary incident examples of expression that they would like to see punished when they arise again.
Meanwhile, a UM student forwards an email that has been circulating on campus:
A lot of you might be shocked to hear his, but I'm a next door neighbour of the students who are accused of having committed the "hate crime".
Although I understand the agony caused by media over this incident, I can assure everyone that this case has been _altered_ and THEN amplified (in the wrong intentions) before being published to the public in the Michigan Daily.
Co-incidentally, my roommate is a witness to this "crime", and agrees to the fact that the story has been GREATLY sensationalized and exaggerated by the Michigan Daily reporters to gain additional attention!
As a second witness (25 minutes late), I can guarantee that there were no "eggs" thrown at the Asian students as no egg shells could be seen at the scene of the "crime". Also, I can guarantee that there was NO racially discriminatory intent OR 'urination' involved in the entire case.
The Asian student involved was extremely aggravated that splashes of a discarded beer cup came in contact with his garments and so he called his colleagues to the scene. It was then that the Asian students initiated a verbal, racial battle with my Caucasian neighbours, and threatened them [who were apologetic at first] and invited them to a physical fight. Further, the Asian students flicked a burning cigarette butt at my neighbours, 'the accused'.
Feel free to come by the apartment complex across from the parking structure... It is virtually impossible for an individual to stand on the 4.5 foot tall ledge on the patio and urinate down on the footpath. Even if a human being managed to perform that feat, it would have taken him/her enough
time and visual indication to give any individual standing even close to the target, to walk [at least] 50 meters away from the intended target.
An electronic petition has been created to urge Coleman to act against campus hate. There's also a blog at http://umichstopthehate.blogspot.com/.
September 28, 2005
Pissed off in Ann Arbor
A few days ago, two University of Michigan students were quietly sitting on their balcony, playing beer pong. The evening was, by their account, like many others, and would have passed into the blurred annals of inebriated memory but for one thing. Two Asian students passed by beneath the balcony, and, according to the police report they later filed, were urinated on by the students above. The urine, according to the students, was accompanied by a stream of ethnic invective. Police have classified the event multiply--as ethnic intimidation, which carries a potential sentence of four years in jail; assault; and, for the the peeing half of the pair, indecent exposure, which could require him to register as a sex offender. Police issued warrants for the offending students' arrests, and the Ann Arbor campus exploded in multiculturalist consternation.
Peeing on members of other ethnic groups while intoning ethnic slurs violates the university's code of conduct, and if UM's Office of Student Conflict Resolution becomes involved, the offenders could face expulsion. Meanwhile, piggyback accusations of "racial bias" are flying fast and thick. The Michigan Daily spoke with several Asian students who have been mocked for being Asian, and reports that the urinary incident has galvanized campus activists, who are demanding that the administration take steps to improve the climate for Asians at UM:
Mobilized by last week's racially motivated assault on two Asian students, the faculty of the Asian-Pacific Islander American Studies program have demanded that the administration take steps to eliminate similar crimes on campus.
Led by American Culture Prof. Amy Stillman, the faculty sent an open letter to top-level University leadership calling on it to "honor its commitment to valuing diversity, by taking a public stand against racially motivated bias and attacks, and to marshall the necessary resources to ensure that the wider university community can collaborate collectively to end such race-based bias and intimidation."
University president Mary Sue Coleman and vice president E. Royster Harper responded in kind, stating in a letter that "they share the faculty's outrage and promised to take steps to end such discrimination, including opening up more lines of communication to increase dialogue about hate crimes and make the University's efforts to combat them more transparent." And Stillman, et al, completed the diversity dance that schools typically do in these moments of public avowal, by stating that while the letter was nice, it was not enough: UM needs "to address not only campus climate, but curriculum," she says, adding that the university needs to offer more courses on diversity, and arguing that the university's present race and ethnicity course requirement is inadequate because there are few courses at UM on Asian culture. Stillman also complained that the university has been remiss because it has never commissioned a study of Asians at UM. Obsequious administrators have promised to investigate just that. They have also sworn to bring the offending students, who are now accused of committing a "hate crime," to justice.
There's just one problem with UM's eager rush to show its ethnic sensitivity, though. No one ever asked the two accused students for their side of the story. When the Daily finally caught up to them, they had a decidedly different version of events. It does not involve peeing on Asian students, and it does involve an altercation in which the Asian students issued physical threats and a few choice racial epithets of their own. Of course, it's quite possible that the students are bending the truth to suit their needs. But then, it's also quite possible that their accusers did the same. Whatever really happened, what's certain is that UM administrators, led by their president, jumped on a bandwagon without verifying the facts. A readiness to score easy points in the diversity game is obvious in the actions of both Stillman and Coleman. So is a distressing willingness to dispense with little procedural annoyances such as due process for the accused and getting the facts straight.
Thanks to Maurice Black for the tip.
September 25, 2005
It's not just American students
Canadian college students can't read or write, either. Last week the University of Ottawa reported that it had hired two statisticians to track the language skills of this year's entering freshmen. With the aim of identifying students in need of remediation, Ottawa sought to uncover such basic information as which first-year students are capable of writing a grammatically correct sentence in English, French, or, failing those, in any language. Not many were. And yet, their high school grades don't suggest that there is a problem.
The Globe and Mail reports that Canadian colleges are having to sink substantial funds into remedial academic support centers to compensate for the high schools' failure to provide adequate grounding in reading, writing, and mathematics. Last year, 2,500 of Ottawa's entering freshmen needed help with the basics of essay-writing, grammar, and punctuation. Things are similarly disturbing at the University of Waterloo, where students are tested on their writing skills early in their first semester; 25% fail the test--which involves writing a standard five-paragraph theme, and which assesses grammar, punctuation, and structure--outright.
Bernie Gaidosch, an English instructor at Toronto's George Brown College, says he is used to seeing students come to college with ninth-grade-level writing skills:
Kids are coming out [of high school] with some idea of content. They're just not graduating with skills. ... Students are great at e-mailing. They're good with the Internet . . . but when it comes to basic literacy, basic writing skills, they're challenged.
What Gaidosch--and the articles--do not say but strongly imply is that the problem stems in no small part from an ideology of progressive education that is famously hostile to skills acquisition (which requires such child-stifling practices as memorization, drill, repetition, and so on). Gaidosch maintains a website with writing guides for students at Profsecrets.com.
The Globe and Mail cites a recent UCLA survey that found that 40% of American professors feel college students are not prepared, skill-wise, for college-level work. Canada has no similar survey, but it sounds like it needs one. Once the extent of the problem is documented, analysis and informed plans for change can begin. Unless, of course, ideology stands in the way.
Thanks to Maurice Black for the tip.
September 24, 2005
Fighting the good fight in Florida
Sherman Dorn has located a speech code at the University of South Florida, and is opposing it. More people ought to be doing that on their campuses as a basic act of good academic citizenship. It's remarkable how many speech codes are out there, and how often they go unchallenged.
September 23, 2005
Define "business expense"
Is it legitimate, if you are a university president, to keep a chef? a chauffeur? a social secretary who works principally for your wife? Is it legitimate to send that chef on "professional development" trips to France, Italy, and Britain? Is it legitimate to bill your linens, electronic equipment, and vitamin supplements to the school? American University president Benjamin Ladner says yes. But the board of trustees says no. Its investigation into Ladner, which commenced over the summer, has become so interesting that the Justice Department is now watching it closely.
Ladner contends that extravagance at the university's expense was part of his job description (or, at least, was not specifically precluded by his job description). Between 2002 and 2004, he and his wife spent $81,662 on food; $67,877 on transportation; $37,408 on alcohol; and $13,987 on travel. These were their private, domestic expenses, unrelated to work. Ladner also reportedly spend $22,000--close to the cost of a year's tuition at American--on a first-class plane ticket to Nigeria. Ladner was placed on administrative leave last month. Right now it's looking like he will lose his job.
Margaret Soltan has for some time been all over the case, writing with characteristic bite and wit. Now the major papers are getting in on the act. See this morning's New York Times and Washington Post.
UPDATE 9/24/05: Ladner is trying to bargain his way back into the job with a check for $21,600, a willingness to pay additional taxes, and a readiness to accept a more modest contract.
September 22, 2005
Ferreting out Our Lady of the Lake
In the category of "you just can't make this stuff up" comes the story of a student, her ferret, and a debate about the nature of disability:
SAN ANTONIO -- A student at Our Lady of the Lake University has filed a complaint, alleging the school is violating her civil rights.
The student asked the Justice Department to find the university in violation of the Americans With Disabilities Act.
The complaint centers on Sarah Sevick's service animal, which is a ferret.
Sevick, 19, suffers from a variety of mental disorders and requires the animal to get through her day, much the same way a blind person needs a seeing-eye dog.
"People really don't understand," Sevick said. "They think she's just a pet, but she's working for me."
Sevick's ferret, Lilly, is trained to help her cope with anxiety and panic attacks that can come on at any time.
"She gives me something else to focus on besides what's wrong, and she just stays with me and soothes me and calms me," Sevick said.
Before Lilly came into her life, Sevick's psychiatric problems, including post traumatic stress disorder, kept her from keeping a job and forced her to drop out of college.
With the help of Lilly, Sevick was accepted to Our Lady of the Lake, but Lilly wasn't welcome at the school.
Administrators said they couldn't comment on the situation, but in letters sent to Sevick's mom, they outlined their reasoning, saying they were "unable to conclude her impairment qualifies as a disability."
"I do have a disability," Sevick said. "Just because you can't see it, doesn't mean it's not real."
The school is concerned that the ferret could hurt someone. Sevick is worried that she can't survive school without her ferret. The Justice Department can take as long as three months to make a determination. By that time, Sevick will have either left school or learned to cope on her own.
September 21, 2005
Censorship down under
In July, I wrote about the case of Australian public law professer Andrew Fraser, whose politically incorrect comments about race led Macquarie University to attempt to buy out his contract rather than keep him and his views on. The university equivocated about its motives, but it was clear enough that in asking Fraser to retire early, Macquarie was seeking to distance itself from his views and to prevent Fraser from expounding his opinions on the university's dime.
Now Fraser is facing blatant censorship in the form of a law review article that will not be published because of the views it expresses.
On Friday, Deakin University vice-chancellor wrote to tell Fraser that his essay on black immigration and crime would not be published in the school's law review because the article violates Australia's Racial Discrimination Act. Fraser's article, "Rethinking the White Australia Policy," argues that recent scientific findings regarding racial differences validate Australia's founders' original goal of creating a racially homogeneous, white state. When news leaked last week that the journal was about to publish Fraser's piece, a lawyer representing the Australian Sudanese community threatened to sue the university for "racial vilification," which is forbidden by the Racial Discrimination Act.
Fraser thinks the university is caving in to pressure: "There is a clear exemption for any statement made in good faith in an academic publication," he noted. "In the Racial Discrimination Act it says nothing in such a publication can be deemed to be unlawful." Fraser also noted that his article passed the peer review process that is designed to ensure the intellectual quality and integrity of academic work: "The article went through the normal process of peer review. ... Two academics not known to me looked at the article, suggested some changes which I made and then they agreed that it ought to be published."
What's happening in Australia right now is a classic example of why speech codes do far more harm than good. Fraser's views are controversial, and highly offensive to many. But they have also passed scholarly muster, and deserve to be heard.
Surely the vigorous debate that would certainly arise from the publication of Fraser's provocative article is better than this? By preventing Fraser's article from circulating, Deakin administrators are not only showing an institutional cowardice that speaks poorly for the university, but are also implying that Fraser's opinion can't be adequately debated, criticized, countered, and even vanquished in the marketplace of ideas. Surely that's not the message they want to be sending?
Fraser's article is now available here. Let the debate Deakin University fears begin.
Thanks to Fred Ray and Maurice Black for the links.
September 20, 2005
Of spines and student papers
Last week, the Boston College Heights ran a story about how three residence hall directors had resigned after getting caught smoking pot. Entitled "RDs Resign Following Drug Bust," the article ran photos of the three RDs--who happen to be black. It wasn't long before the sensitivity police hit the fan. Accusing the Heights of racial discrimination, a campus minority group proclaimed that the paper would not have termed the situation a "drug bust" if the three RDs had not been black. The group demanded an apology from the paper, which the paper promptly delivered. But, in the approved manner of these extortionate moments of campus agitprop, the apology was deemed by some to be inadequate. Campus activists then set fire to a rack of student papers to demonstrate their dissatisfaction. The damage from the fire is estimated at $500. As far as I can tell, the arsonists are not being punished.
For a refreshing contrast, and an example of a college paper that knows what it is doing and knows how to stand up for its principles, see InsideHigherEd.com's coverage of the flap surrounding The Independent Florida Alligator's publication of a controversial cartoon.
Thanks to Maurice Black for alerting me to events at Boston College.
September 19, 2005
Double standards at De Paul
Last year, De Paul University suspended--and effectively terminated--adjunct professor Thomas Klocek for criticizing, and thereby offending, a group of pro-Palestinian students who were manning the Students for Justice in Palestine table at a student activities fair. Klocek stopped by the table, picked up some literature, and wound up in an argument with the students. Allegedly, one compared Israel's treatment of Palestinians to Hitler's treatment of Jews; Klocek parried by observing that while not all Muslims are terrorists, most terrorists are Muslims. The offended students filed a complaint against Klocek, and he was suspended from teaching without ever seeing the complaint or having a chance to face his accusers. FIRE defended Klocek against the school's open viewpoint discrimination; he has since sued DePaul for defamation. He has refused to apologize for his statements, and as a result remains suspended without pay.
But the problem here is not just that Klocek offended some students by criticizing their views. It's also that he offended them--and the school--by having the wrong views himself. You can be offensive at De Paul as long as your offensiveness is of the accepted sort. Hence the university's invitation to Ward Churchill to speak next month. Last spring, De Paul dean Susanne Dumbleton wrote a letter to the student paper explaining that Klocek had been punished because the school felt the need to protect students from the pain of having their views rejected: "The students' perspective was dishonored and their freedom demeaned. Individuals were deeply insulted. ... Our college acted immediately by removing the instructor from the classroom." Churchill's "little Eichmanns" comment has caused similar outrage across the country. And yet De Paul does not seem to feel the need to protect its sensitive students from the incendiary insults of a man who has made a career out of angry ideological agitprop. Indeed, the school is willing to pay liberally for the privilege of having Churchill come vent his spleen on campus. Churchill makes several thousand dollars per appearance. My guess is that his fee for a single speech amounts to a substantial portion of Klocek's meager adjunct salary. But then, De Paul clearly regards the one viewpoint as more valuable than the other.
Thanks to Maurice Black/ for the link.
September 16, 2005
Overdue process at Wisconsin
Last month, I wrote about three University of Wisconsin professors who also happen to be convicted felons. Roberto Coronado (a medical school professor who makes $137,641 per year), Steven Clark (a medical school professor who makes $67,761 per year), and Lewis Keith Cohen (a comparative literature professor who makes $72,856 per year) were all still drawing their salaries at that time. As state legislators and taxpayers roared, the University scrambled to decide whether it could--and should--fire them. Invoking fairness, due process, and the rights of the accused, university officials justified their slowness to act as necessary legal and procedural prudence.
Since then, Coronado and Clark have both been placed on unpaid leave, and Provost Peter Clark has recommended that they be fired. Meanwhile, it turns out, the university was employing Cohen, whose thirty-day sentence includes a work release component, sorting books in an unused reading room and slating him to review graduate student applications. In July, Cohen pled no contest to using the internet to send pornographic material to a young boy, and to conducting sexually explicit exchanges with him; the boy turned out to be a detective posing as a boy, and when Cohen arrived at the Subway restaurant where he had made arrangements to meet his virtual love interest, he was arrested. Cohen had used his university-issued office computer to pursue the boy/detective.
University officials say the decision to allow Cohen back on campus was a pragmatic one--""Our choices were to pay him for doing nothing or to try to get some productive work out of him," said Spear, adding that Cohen's job supposedly kept him out of contact with people and also kept him away from university computers.
But that sort of rationale doesn't look all that compelling when exposed to public view, and people are predictably scandalized. "It is absolutely appalling that the university and the Department of Corrections would allow him on campus, much less give him access to student records," Republican state representative Scott Suder declared. Suder is writing legislation that would charge universities with summarily firing employees who are convicted of certain felonies. Meanwhile, UW continues with its slow, meticulous, and costly adherance to current state law, which does not allow the university to fire employees who are convicted of crimes, but instead requires the university to conduct its own investigation to demonstrate that the criminal behavior is tied to their employment.
The university's investigation of Cohen's misconduct concluded this week. Yesterday, Spear relieved Cohen of his job, recommending that he be fired and further recommending that he be barred from campus. Cohen will continue to be paid while he appeals the recommendation, a process that could take as long as a semester.
Thanks to Maurice Black for the links.
September 15, 2005
Ohio backs down on academic bill of rights
Ohio state senators have decided that attempting to regulate what goes on in Ohio college and university classrooms is an unwieldy and impossible task for a legislative body like itself to assume. Earlier this year, Republican senator Larry Mumper introduced a David Horowitz-inspired academic bill of rights that would have forbidden professors from using their classrooms to cast opinion as fact or to raise politically loaded topics unrelated to the course. After much debate and criticism, the senate did not adopt the bill, but instead worked with the Inter-University Council of Ohio to create a resolution urging schools to respect the diverse beliefs of students and faculty, and to avoid judging them on the basis of their politics. The resolution is expected to pass next month. If it does, state schools will be charged with implementing grievance procedures for students and faculty who feel they have been penalized for their politics. (Columbia University is implementing such procedures now as a result of last year's notorious investigation of its Middle East Studies department for bias and intimidation.)
Mumper says he likes the compromise better than his bill. State senator Joy Padgett, who chairs the Education Committee, supports the compromise as a pragmatic means of avoiding unenforceable, potentially abusable legislation while at the same time sending a message in a way schools are more likely to accept: "I thought there was some validity to the issue, but if we pass it as legislation, it would be difficult to control and implement."
September 14, 2005
Brooklyn College backs down
Brooklyn College administrators, no doubt embarrassed by the unpleasant media moment they brought on themselves last week by refusing to clarify whether history professor KC Johnson was or was not going to be investigated for criticizing political bias in the BC School of Education, have announced that Johnson's free speech rights will be respected and that he will not be investigated after all. FIRE has the details.
September 12, 2005
Professor fired after anonymous accusation
At George Washington University, an adjunct professor who has for seventeen years taught an enormously popular course on human sexuality has been fired (or, as his linguistically manipulative chair insists, "not renewed"). The reason? A student evaluation written last spring by a woman student. Though most of Michael Schaffer's evaluations were very positive, one woman used the evaluation to threaten a sexual harassment lawsuit against Schaffer. According to this student, Schaffer "does not teach, but reads extremely sexual student responses (to take-home papers), repeatedly hands out condoms, (and) shows naked pictures and video;" she also accused him of talking about pubic hair in class and demanded that he be fired. Schaffer does not deny doing any of the things she describes, but defends his actions as pedagogically sound.
Schaffer was not given an opportunity to respond to the accusations, which I am assuming were made anonymously--the student newspaper quotes from the evaluation, which was supplied by Schaffer, but does not name the accuser, and unless she signed her name to a form that is designed to be filled out anonymously, her identity would be unknown. Lack of due process? Absolutely. But do adjuncts have rights? No, they don't.
Schaffer's students are defending him in the student paper. Meanwhile, despite the fact that Schaffer's chair tried to convince him that one reason he was "not renewed" is that the GW exercise science department was thinking of moving in a different direction, the department is presently offering three sections of a course that Schaffer himself originated fifteen years ago.
Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.
UPDATE 9/13/05: InsideHigherEd.com has more.
UPDATE: 9/14/05: Still more at University Diaries.
September 10, 2005
Free speech or incitement?
"I say take everything you can to keep you and your family alive, because it took the government five long days to bring fresh food and water. ... I say shoot every cop, national guard and politician who stands in your way, INCLUDING GEORGE W. BUSH if need be," wrote University of Louisville student Philip Bailey on an internet discussion thread dedicated to the unrest in New Orleans. Bailey, who chairs the University's Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, is now being investigated by the Secret Service to determine if he will be charged with threatening the president. If he is, he could face a five year prison sentence. Bailey claims he was not promoting violence: "I'm advocating that people defend themselves and survive," he says.
Bailey's defenders say he was exercising his right to free speech: "Mr. Bailey's comments represent the freedom of speech granted to each citizen of this nation," write the editors of SOULution, the site where Bailey posted his comments. "We stand by our brother 100 percent, and his comments. ... Those wishing to portray Phillip Bailey in a negative light must deal with not one individual, but a movement that will continue to push the envelope of the status quo on an intelligent level. We urge all of our readers to be sure of all of the facts in this case and to view our message board, and see for themselves what was said in the context of the conversation."
Whatever the authorities decide about his initial posting--which strikes me as more rashly intemperate and stupid than as directly threatening--it seems clear enough that his subsequent defense is intellectually dishonest and self-excusing: Recommending that people shoot other people to "defend themselves" and "survive" is by definition recommending that people resort to violence.
Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.
September 8, 2005
Brooklyn College attacks KC Johnson AGAIN
Brooklyn College administrators should know better by now than to try to punish history professor KC Johnson for expressing opinions that are critical of the school. The last time the College tried to do that--by denying Johnson tenure essentially for criticizing ideological imbalances in departmental procedure--Johnson got the better of them and then some: He not only won tenure, but became the subject of a massive media frenzy that did a great deal of damage to BC's reputation. Since then, Johnson has made it a point of honor to act as a sort of institutional watchdog at Brooklyn College. He has written extensively, and in uncompromising terms, about administrative irregularities at the school as well as about instances when the school has attempted to impose an openly doctrinaire set of constraints on students and faculty. Now it seems that some people at Brooklyn have had just about enough of the whole free speech thing and are seeking to have Johnson punished--ironically for threatening "academic freedom." The occasion? Johnson's criticisms of the BC School of Education, which has instituted a restrictive and intrusive "social justice" curriculum that evaluates students according to how well they conform to the school's highly politicized definition of what social justice is, and that punishes those who complain that this system of evaluation amounts to a political litmus test. The manner of attack? A threat: if Johnson fails to cease his "attacks," an "integrity committee" may subject him to an entirely unwarranted investigation. FIRE has the details.
UPDATE 9/10/05: Linda Seebach takes up Johnson's case in the Rocky Mountain News. Meanwhile, the Fordham Foundation has published a highly critical assessment of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Excellence's (NCATE) push for teachers to be evaluated according to whether they possess a proper "disposition" toward "social justice"--precisely the issue that concerns Johnson in the articles that so offended the Brooklyn College School of Education. The article quotes Johnson's articles, and even recounts some of the instances of misbehavior Johnson describes taking place in the BC School of Ed.
Can architecture be racist, sexist, and classist?
Some faculty members at the University of Virginia think so. In an open letter that appeared in yesterday's Cavalier Daily, twenty-four UVa architecture professors protest recent campus building projects for being "mediocre," stylistically incoherent ("a faux Jeffersonian architecture, confused between style and substance"), and culturally insensitive: "Is there a problem in choosing an architecture to stand for the values of a university at the beginning of the twenty-first century when the architecture was inaugurated at an historical moment when racial, gender, social, and economic diversity were less welcome?" Elaborating on this whopper of a question--one that, if taken seriously on its own terms, militates against having any buildings at all at UVa, since even today plenty of people on campuses are arguing that "racial, gender, social, and economic diversity" are not adequately "welcome"--architecture professor Robin Dripps told InsideHigherEd.com that "Jefferson built this campus at very different sociopolitical time. ... You could even claim the Jeffersonian architecture sends very different message to a rural black man or woman, and I think there are issues of sensitivity." The professors did not explain what sort of architecture they thought would be properly respectful of the agonies of social inequality.
The open letter comes in the wake of campus-wide uproar about a recent series of racial incidents on campus that could result in the creation of a speech code forbidding hate speech. UVa has been contemplating stepping up its anti-hate crime policies for some time now; last night an ad hoc committee of students met to discuss what new policies might look like and how they might be implemented. At that meeting. some observed quite wisely that "accused students might argue hate speech is covered under the First Amendment," while one student "suggested creating a policy of non-toleration, where a student who has knowledge regarding a hate crime could be tried for not revealing that information to the appropriate authorities." I remain convinced that you can't attempt to adjudicate "hate" without reproducing and institutionalizing the very kinds of intolerance that you are ostensibly trying to end. If a definable crime is committed--harassment, stalking, vandalism--then it should be handled as such. But attempting to punish "crimes of conscience" is profoundly repressive, anti-democratic, and, in educational settings, anti-intellectual.
September 6, 2005
What's wrong with this picture?
1978: Portland, Oregon public school teacher Gary Welander pleads guilty to charges that he sexually abused an underage girl.
1983: Western Oregon University hires Welander to teach in the school of education, unaware of his criminal record.
2002: The woman Welander pled guilty to abusing in 1983 and her mother write to the WOU administration informing the university of Welander's past and arguing that he is unfit to be employed as a professor.
2003: Members of the WOU faculty report to the administration their concerns about Welander's relationship with student Rosemary Garcia. No action is taken.
2004: Garcia accuses Welander of sexual harassment.
2004: While covering the case, the Oregon Statesman reports on Welander's criminal past as well as on the WOU faculty's unanswered complaints about Welander's past conduct. Oregon governor Ted Kulongowski orders a review of sexual harassment policies and consensual relationship policies at all seven of Oregon's public universities. WOU provost John Minahan removes Welander from his post as chair of the Teacher Education Division, having determined that "there was contact with the student that was unprofessional and unethical in terms of phone calls and gifts. ... There was a clear conflict of interest between his duties as (Teacher Education Division) chair and teacher and the romantic interests that we had good reason to believe existed."
Summer, 2004: Provost Minahan retires.
January, 2005: Garcia files a multi-million dollar lawsuit that names both Welander and the university. The suit alleges that while Welander was chairman of WOU's Teacher Education division, he offered professional guidance to Garcia "in exchange for entering into a sexual and emotional relationship with him"; the suit also alleges that when the charges were brought to the university's attention, it failed to act. Welander is suspended without pay. The university eventually pays Garcia $65,000 to settle out of court.
September, 2005: Minahan returns as interim president, hoping to help the university recover from the economic and reputational damage the Welander case has done to the school. Later this month, Welander will return to teaching--but he will be barred from the classroom. In response to faculty and student concern--and even outrage--about Welander's return, Minahan decides that Welander will teach his course online. "His contact with students is minimized," Minahan said. "I'm not even sure there is going to be any contact."
September 2, 2005
Place each according to his ability...
A failing English school has become the first in the nation to group students according to ability rather than age:
The 1,100 pupils starting the new academic year at Bridgemary community school in Gosport, Hampshire - still regarded by some as the local sink school - were for the first time being taught in mixed-age classes for every subject.
Pupils have been assessed through a series of internal and externally validated tests to determine their entry to one of five levels of ability which match a government-agreed framework, and will be subjected to monitoring.
In some cases extremely able 12-year-olds are beginning GCSE courses alongside pupils two years older - at level two. Each child has been given an individual learning programme attached to a timetable, with the new arrangements designed to cater for different abilities.
The new organizational scheme is the first step in the school's long-term goal of becoming a "24/7" institution that enables motivated students to study as much and as often as they choose. "Why hold a child back if he or she is clearly ready for something more challenging?" asks the school's head teacher, Cheryl Heron. "We have already found from mentoring groups that there are huge advantages to mixing children of different ages. The idea has received strong support from parents as well as teachers and governors."
Critics of the school's determined approach fear that grouping students by ability may traumatize older children who are under-performing: "There are dangers that social difficulties can arise when you mix 11-year-olds with 15-year-olds. For example, if a 15-year-old was sent down to work with 11-year-olds that could lead to a serious loss of self-esteem and would be seen by peers as a sign of failure," said Steve Sinnott, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers. The Guardian does not mention whether Sinnott had anything to say about the damage--not only to one's self-esteem, but also to one's prospects in life--of not placing struggling students in level-appropriate classes where they can acquire the skills and knowledge that they lack.
September 1, 2005
Tommy Lee in trouble with teacher
In the category of "you can't make this stuff up":
LINCOLN, Neb. - English professor Frances Kaye said she was talking about the wonders of childbirth.
But the way it came across on rocker Tommy Lee's reality show Tuesday night, it appeared she was espousing the wonders of Lee's private parts.
Kaye is not amused.
The University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor said she believes producers of the "Tommy Lee Goes to College" show lied to her about how they would use footage shot last fall during her Native American literature class.
Her anger stems from a scene in which her class is discussing Lee's autobiography. Kaye appears to tell the class that the book's opening - a pretend conversation between Lee and his penis - is a beautiful and enduring symbol.
Lee is then shown grinning wryly.
In reality, Kaye said, she was talking about childbirth, another subject broached in Lee's book.
That comment was edited into the discussion about the first chapter, Kaye said.
"I was saying something serious about Native American literature, and they made it into something trivial and stupid about Tommy Lee's penis," she said. "I realized this was a stupid reality show, but I didn't expect to be this grossly misrepresented."
Kaye is crafting a response that Chancellor Harvey Perlman has pledged to distribute to UNL faculty and students.
"I think her concern about the representation of her class as not accurate is certainly legitimate," Perlman said. "I don't think the overall impression of the show is in any way an insult to her or the rest of the faculty."
The moral of the story? I'll leave that one for the comments.
SDSU columnist gets it right
Veronica Rollin, a staff columnist for San Diego State's student paper, The Daily Aztec has a lot of good things to say about campus speech codes. Beginning with the confession that despite being an avowed liberal, she holds unorthodox positions on gay adoption, immigration, and feminism, Rollin reflects on both the explictly censorious mission of speech codes and on the stifling atmosphere of self-censorship that such codes create:
I find it ironic that at the national level, Republican congressmen have far more important things to do than silence some newbie college columnist - such as myself - while at the state, and more importantly on a campus level, the opposite is true: The iron fist is attached to the arm of the most liberal left.
I'm specifically referring to university speech codes, rules that exist to punish the inevitable school bigots and quash hate speech. However, hateful speech can be a subjective term. To most it usually means mocking a culture, using stereotypes or epithets, etc., but this is not always the case.
The term hate speech can and has been applied to a person who endorses the proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage or argues that illegal immigrants have no right to driver's licenses. If enough people complained, a columnist could be put in the hot seat, or worse, expelled from his or her university.
I wish I were simply paranoid, but this has happened. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Harvard Law School adopted "Sexual Harassment Guidelines" to punish sexist speech after a controversial article promoting a gender-related view of the nature of law was published in the Harvard Law Review. Subsequently, these guidelines were extended to racist speech.
It wasn't long before two professors were accused of "insensitivity" for simply discussing the issue. The Black Law Students Association called for one accused professor to be banned from teaching first year courses. As a compromise, one professor stopped teaching the course in which the alleged offense occurred. The other professor was forced to tape record all his lectures so students who were "offended by his presence" could listen to the tapes instead of attending classes, according to www.chronicle.com.
At the University of Connecticut, speech codes were enacted to ban "inappropriately directed laughter," in addition to stereotyping, according to The Associated Press. In response to similar university policies, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit educational foundation, has challenged such codes and policies in federal court.
San Diego State has no such codes listed on its Web site or on that of the SDSU Center for Student Rights and Responsibilities. However, I often find myself "staying on the safe side" by practicing self-censorship on perfectly valid, yet powder-keg issues. The cautious self-censorship and censorship in general that university speech codes force on its students are the very reasons why I'm speaking against them now.
One of the fundamental rights of Americans is freedom of speech and of the press, and universities are meant to promote freedom of thought. With speech codes hanging over professors, students and student journalists, these ideals are indelibly compromised and will remain so until people speak out against them. Many have done so before me - it's my turn to rip the duct tape from my mouth.
Rollin's is a well-timed back-to-school column, one that gains resonance in the context of the University of Virginia's newly announced intention to write an anti-hate speech policy into its honor code. The movement comes in the wake of recent incidents involving people shouting racial epithets from cars as they drive past dorms and even writing such epithets on walls within the dorms. Students would have to approve a referendum making such a change to the honor code; here's hoping that informed and substantive debate surrounds the decision. As ugly as events at UVa have been, the solution is not to try to use the threat of punishment to control what people can and cannot say.
Thanks to Maurice Black for the links.