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November 30, 2005 [feather]
You can't make this stuff up

The University of Pennsylvania is prosecuting a student for posting on his university website photos of two Penn students appearing to have sex in their dorm window. The student now faces charges of sexual harassment and also stands accused of violating Penn's student code of conduct as well as its policy on acceptable use of electronic resources. The Daily Pennsylvanian has reprinted the offending photo, which can be seen in all its lewd glory here.

The student's defense is that because the subjects of his photographic endeavor were exposing themselves publicly, he could not have been harassing them or otherwise violating their privacy by taking their picture and posting it. The University disagrees, however, and wants the student to admit wrongdoing. The University's proposed sanction--to which the accused student has yet to respond--also involves placing the student on probation until graduation, requiring him to write an essay "discussing what was wrong with the conduct you were involved in," and writing a letter of apology. The student's transcript would not carry any record of the sanction, but prospective employers could readily uncover it.

The DP spoke with law professor Edwin Baker, a free speech specialist who sees the current case as a no-brainer:

Edwin Baker, a Law professor at the University specializing in issues of free speech, said that he believes that what occurred was a public event and the photographer was therefore not out of line in taking the pictures.

"When you're in a space that's publicly viewable, you generally have no legitimate expectation of privacy," he said.

"I believe the dominant view is that it would be viewed as protected photography and the distribution is permissible."

Baker did add, though, that because the University is a private institution, it does not have to adhere to the First Amendment.

Still, he said, the University's own Guidelines on Open Expression -- which outline the school's policies -- have been fairly consistent with the First Amendment.

The DP notes that more than one student took pictures on that fateful fall day, and that multiple students are being prosecuted for doing so. As of this time, however, the paper only has the details of one student's encounter with the Office of Student Conduct.

Penn has been pretty good about not prosecuting students for protected if offensive expression ever since the Water Buffalo Incident of 1993 rendered the university a national laughingstock. That incident led to the repeal of Penn's speech code, and to a decade of commitment to ensuring that speech at Penn was as free as it would be in any public venue. But institutional memories don't last forever, and someone somewhere seems to have forgotten--or, perhaps, never to have learned--the lessons of the Water Buffalo episode. If Penn is not careful, it can easily erode its reputation once again.

Erin O'Connor, 10:46 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

November 29, 2005 [feather]
Scoring points at Pomona

At Pomona College, tradition dictates that intramural inner tube water polo must play by certain rules. The sport is co-ed, and each team must always have two women in the water at all times. Women's goals, being more rare than men's, also count for more: When a male player scores, he earns one point for his team, but when a woman player scores, she earns two. The set-up has been a stable one since its inception, and has allowed the sport to thrive. Now, however, the hallowed traditions of co-ed inner tube water polo at Pomona have come under fire for being insufficiently attentive to the finer points of sexual difference.

From the notes of a recent student senate meeting:

Sports Commissioner Alex Wakeman '06 asked the Senate for advice about an inner-tube water polo scoring system concern. Currently, female participants are awarded two points per goal and male participants are awarded one point per goal. One student was concerned about where transgendered students fit in this system. Wakeman understands the concern, but she is reluctant to change the scoring system because she feels it encourages more women to participate. DesRochers pointed out that the Senate needs to learn more about transgender issues because they do not have the vocabulary and background to provide the best solutions for these problems.

I invite readers to resolve this knotty ethical and anatomical problem. Comments are wide open.

Via Local Liberty.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 10:43 AM | Permalink | Comments (13)

November 20, 2005 [feather]
Corrupt tenure case?

In May 2004, Indiana University of Pennsylvania health and phys ed professor Alan Temes had a disturbing meeting with his departmental chair. In that meeting, Elaine Bair warned Temes that if he continued his anti-war activities, he risked losing the department's support when he came up for tenure. Bair's warning came one month after she ordered Temes in writing to stop posting a tally of those who have died during the war in Iraq: "Hanging a body count is not an issue of freedom of speech, but one of using poor judgment and showing lack of sensitivity for students, faculty and staff in our office who have immediate family members who are themselves at risk of dying in Iraq every day," Bair wrote. Temes did not cease and desist; he continued to oppose the war in conversation, to update his body count, and to post anti-war literature around campus. One year later, Temes was denied tenure, just as Bair had predicted he would be.

Now Temes is suing the university--which is public--for violating his First Amendment rights. The suit names Elaine Bair, the ten other departmental faculty members who voted against his tenure bid, and the president of IUP himself for allowing the denial to happen. Temes wants the courts to compel IUP to award him tenure and to compensate him for lost pay and for damages. His case hinges on the manner in which Bair explicitly tied his tenure prospects to his political expression; Temes has always had positive performance evaluations, and hence it is possible for him to argue that the sole reason for his dismissal is the one laid out by his chair. The question now is whether Temes can document that Bair made the comments he says she made; he's got her dead to rights regarding her efforts to chill his political expression, but must now show definitively that Bair verbally connected his expression to his tenure prospects.

When asked to comment on the case, Jonathan Knight of the AAUP noted that this may well be the first time that a professor has claimed he was fired for opposing the war in Iraq.

Tenure review is a notoriously abusable process. Confidentiality prevents candidates who are turned down for tenure from knowing why they were turned down, and from knowing who said what damning things about them. Lifetime jobs can be created during tenure votes--but careers can also be destroyed with impunity and without accountability. The process is regarded as so special that it lies beyond the bounds of due process and the prerogatives of transparency. Corruption is easy, and some argue it is common. But it is the rare case indeed when corruption can be proven, and it usually has to do with someone somewhere leaving an incriminating email trail in his wake. This is what happened with Brooklyn College history professor KC Johnson--and it may have just happened again in with Alan Temes.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 7:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

November 17, 2005 [feather]
Woe un2mnkind!

The British mobile phone company, Dot Mobile, has solved the problem of declining cultural literacy. The way to bring classical literature home to today's students is to summarize it in the stunted syntax of the text message. Dot Mobile has hired University College London emeritus English professor John Sutherland to spearhead the project of reducing great works of literature to simple and memorable text messages that people can read while using their cell phones:

"We are confident that our version of 'text' books will genuinely help thousands of students remember key plots and quotes, and raise up educational standards rather than decrease levels of literacy," the company, Dot Mobile, said in a press release.

Hamlet's "To be or not to be" soliloquy is rendered: "2B? NT2B?=???". At the end of Romeo and Juliet, "bothLuvrs kill Emselves," while Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice concludes when "Evry1GtsMaryd."

"Woe un2mnkind," is part of its summary of Milton's Paradise Lost. Milton actually wrote "Woe to the inhabitants on Earth."

"Dot mobile's unique service amply demonstrates text's ability to fillet out the important elements in a plot. Take for example the ending to Jane Eyre -- 'MadwyfSetsFyr2Haus'. Was ever a climax better compressed?" said Sutherland, this year's chairman of the judges for the Man Booker literature prize.

I don't know what's scarier--Dot Mobile's insane idea, or Professor Sutherland's enthusiasm for it.

What I do know: Dot Mobile's plan to improve educational standards appears be more geared toward elevating the status of the text message than toward promoting either literacy or literature. But that's 2 B XpecTD.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 9:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Will work for food

When encouragement, support, and the usual punishments don't work for parents who want to see their children take school seriously, what are their options?

One Oklahoma mother chose to motivate her wayward fourteen-year-old daughter by subjecting her to some good old-fashioned shaming:

EDMOND, Okla.--Tasha Henderson got tired of her 14-year-old daughter's poor grades, her chronic lateness to class and her talking back to her teachers, so she decided to teach the girl a lesson.

She made Coretha stand at a busy Oklahoma City intersection Nov. 4 with a cardboard sign that read: "I don't do my homework and I act up in school, so my parents are preparing me for my future. Will work for food."

"This may not work. I'm not a professional," said Henderson, a 34-year-old mother of three. "But I felt I owed it to my child to at least try."

Mrs. Henderson caused quite a buzz with her tough love tactics. She's been called abusive, and was even reported to the Department of Human Services (though indications are that pursuing her will not be a high priority with that office). She isn't sorry, though, because now Coretha has cleaned up her act. For the last week and a half, she has gone to all her classes, and she has behaved better while there. A week and a half is a short time, though, and it's not hard to imagine that as the memory of her embarrassment fades, Coretha may return to her habitual ways.

Questions that come to mind: When--if ever--is public humiliation an acceptable parenting technique? How effective is humiliation as a motivator in a case like this? It's clearly a deterrent--Coretha isn't going to want to wind up back on that street corner--but it can't in itself make Coretha care about learning or about preparing for her future. Does this matter? Finally, what's next? What will Mrs. Henderson do if Coretha, whose "turnaround" has been brief and whose motivation might well prove short-lived, returns to her old ways?

Erin O'Connor, 9:23 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

November 15, 2005 [feather]
Banning Bible studies--and the truth--at UW

The University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire has responded to widespread criticism of its attempt to prevent dorm RAs from leading Bible study groups on their own time by lying about how it handles the larger issue of RA advocacy. FIRE, which broke the news of UW's unconstitutional policy, has the details:

EAU CLAIRE, Wis., November 14, 2005--Under nationwide pressure over its ban on private, resident assistant (RA)-led Bible studies, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC) has widened its assault on basic civil liberties while engaging in a campaign of deception. UWEC has told the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) that RAs are now and have been prohibited from "leading, organizing or recruiting students" for any organization or activity in their dorms--an assertion flatly contradicted by the evidence.

"UWEC's response to FIRE defies rational explanation," stated David French, president of FIRE, which brought the situation to the public's attention after UWEC refused to rectify it privately. "Faced with intense public criticism over its repressive policy, UWEC has announced an even more repressive policy. Further, for UWEC to argue that it has 'consistently followed' a policy banning RAs from leading or organizing 'all organizations or activities' flies in the face of the evidence--and logic."


Finally, in a November 8 letter, the University of Wisconsin's general counsel attempted to justify the Bible study ban by claiming that UWEC has "consistently followed" a "viewpoint neutral" policy prohibiting RAs from organizing or leading "all organization [sic] or activities." This claim contradicts UWEC's own job description for RAs, which gives RAs the responsibility "[t]o help organize and promote educational, recreational, social, and cultural activities that the students want and need," and asks them to "actively assist" in the "political" programs of the dorm. It also conflicts with the fact that the university praised an RA for leading an official dorm production of The Vagina Monologues in 2004.

You have to wonder what the conversations behind closed doors have looked like in Eau Claire recently. At the very least, it doesn't sound as though the school's administrators have even managed to get their facts straight, let alone get their story straight. Ideological double standards as evidenced in the Bible-studies ban initially drew national attention to UW-Eau Claire. But now the administration's evident incompetence is keeping eyes focused on a school that really ought to be doing its best to get out of the spotlight. That doesn't bode well for a clean or swift resolution.

Erin O'Connor, 9:20 AM | Permalink | Comments (12)

November 13, 2005 [feather]
Phasing out the tenure system

Some intriguing numbers reported by an Oregon paper:

--The American Federation of Teachers reports that over the past decade, the percentage of college and university courses taught by adjuncts has increased dramatically: Today, 43% of college teachers are working part-time, off the tenure track; a decade ago, the figure was 33%.

--In 2004, the Cornell Higher Education Research Institute reported that adjunct faculty are paid around 64 percent per hour less than tenure-track assistant professors.

--Over the past decade, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst has replaced 200 tenure-track faculty with part-time, adjunct labor.

--Since 1999, the number of adjuncts teaching in Oregon's public universities has risen from 25 to 33% of all faculty. At Western Oregon University, 53% of the people teaching are adjuncts.

The figures indicate a denigration and devaluation of academic labor via a rapid process of deprofessionalization. Administrator after administrator claims that budget constraints and skyrocketing enrollment compel them to rely increasingly on adjunct professorial labor, but what gets presented as an unfortunate side effect of the market is also effecting a dramatic shift in culture.

Almost half of all college teachers are entirely unprotected by the vaunted "academic freedom" that is so often touted as the philosophical mainstay of academic life. Add to the number of adjuncts the number of grad students and non-tenured assistant professors who are also teaching college courses in the absence of job security, and you get a picture of an academic world where very, very few people actually have the freedom to speak, write, research, and teach as they see fit (by "see fit" I don't mean to defend those teachers who abuse their positions to proselytize, or who are incompetent in some way; I mean to defend those who might have legitimate reasons for pursuing unorthodox pedagogical methods and scholarly topics, as well as those whose politics might endanger their professional positions, if known). The picture is one of an academic world in which "academic freedom" is the privilege of the tenured few; it is thus not a "freedom" at all, but the special privilege of an increasingly small group of academic elites. This, it need hardly be said, flies in the face of the very concept of academic freedom, and speaks loudly to the true state of free inquiry--not to mention strong, innovative teaching--on campus. "We have a lot of reports from part-time faculty who tell us that they are very concerned that if they say something controversial, or if they are too hard on the students, they won't be rehired," said John Curtis, the AAUP's director of research.

The figures also indicate the manner in which market forces--combined with the failure of individual institutions either to adjust the teaching loads of tenure track faculty or to hire more tenure track faculty--amount to a procedure-based, unspoken, but widely accepted phasing out of tenure itself. Some say the tenure system is necessary to protect free inquiry, while others say it is actively damaging the future prospects of free inquiry by producing conformist drones who are more interested in job security than in taking intellectual risks. But surely we can all agree that tenure should not be phased out without awareness, deliberation, and intent, and that the de facto elimination of the system as more and more college teachers come from the ranks of adjuncts is both actively taking place and urgently in need of formal acknowlegement, discussion, and debate.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the link.

Erin O'Connor, 9:52 PM | Permalink | Comments (19)

November 12, 2005 [feather]
USC administrator makes plans for thought reform

At the University of South Carolina, members of an all-black fraternity are building the first all-black house in USC's Greek Village. Sadly, but predictably, this has drawn some nasty commentary--on a national site called fratty.net, some USC students have posted anonymous, offensive messages about black people and have indicated that blacks are not welcome in USC's Greek Village.

USC officials are not going to attempt to suppress the offensive material on fratty.net--not because they recognize that it is not their place to act as censors, but rather because they feel that if they got into the business of monitoring web content, they could never keep up with all the content that ought to be banned: "We don't want to set a precedent for blocking Web sites because there are countless sites we might have to try to block," said Dennis Pruitt, USC's vice president for student affairs. But that doesn't mean USC will leave students' offensive but protected speech alone. The plan is to enlist students in the work of censoring one another, and to indoctrinate insensitive students into the proper views: "[T]he university applied pressure on the Web site operator and upon the university's Greeks to police their members and their Web pages. Pruitt said that will be followed with a strong dose of sensitivity training for students through programs such as its University 101 course, which teaches civility and good citizenship." Pruitt is also contemplating a policy that would require USC students to pass a "computer ability quiz" before they are allowed to use USC's network; the quiz would address "speech, accountability and privacy issues," and would, it appears, amount to something akin to a speech code.

It's very kind of Pruitt to alert organizations such as FIRE exactly where he plans to impose beliefs on USC students. It makes the work of organizations that fight to defend the civil liberties of college students that much easier.

But perhaps things could be made even simpler if Pruitt and his colleagues were to educate themselves in exactly what they can and cannot do to encourage--or pressure--students to adopt views that the school thinks are good for them. Pruitt could begin by reading FIRE's Guide to First-Year Orientation and Thought Reform on Campus, published just this week. The guide explains in elaborate detail how First Amendment rights include the right to private conscience, and how public colleges and universities that attempt to dictate social attitudes are violating their students' civil liberties.

Thanks to Maurice Black for the tip.

UPDATE: The national office of the Kappa Sigma fraternity is acting where USC cannot. It has expelled from the organization a USC student who posted racially offensive comments at fratty.net, and is planning to deliver a course of sensitivity training to the USC chapter later this month.

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

November 11, 2005 [feather]
And now for something completely different

If you, like me, are feeling somewhat morally depleted by the petty squabbles and impoverished ethics displayed lately by the academic side of the blogosphere, perhaps you, like me, would be replenished by a good book.

I recently re-read Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping, which I had read for an American lit course in college almost twenty years ago, but which I had not much understood at the time. All I had recalled from my collegiate reading was that there was a woman in the novel whose idea of housekeeping was never to throw anything away; I've always thought of the novel since then when my cupboards begin to overflow with the jelly glasses and mason jars that I can never quite bring myself to pitch. I discovered on re-reading what I thought I might discover, based on my reading of Gilead last year: Housekeeping is spectacular, a gorgeously written meditation on belonging and transience, family and place, forgetting and remembering, clarity and clutter. Ultimately, it's a very gentle coming-of-age story about a girl's recognition that for her, homelessness is a necessary condition of freedom.

Here's the first paragraph:

My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs. Sylvia Foster, and when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled, of her daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Fisher. Through all these generations of elders we lived in one house, my grandmother's house, built for her by her husband, Edmund Foster, an employee of the railroad, who escaped this world years before I entered it. It was he who put us down in this unlikely place. He had grown up in the Middle West, in a house dug out of the ground, with windows just at earth level and just at eye level, so that from without, the house was a mere mound, no more a human stronghold than a grave, and from within, the perfect horizontality of the world in that place foreshortened the view so severely that the horizon seemed to circumscribe the sod house and nothing more. So my grandfather began to read what he could find of travel literature, journals of expeditions to the mountains of Africa, to the Alps, the Andes, the Himalayas, the Rockies. He bought a box of colors and copied a magazine lithograph of a Japanese painting of Fujiyama. He painted many more mountains, none of them identifiable, if any of them were real. They were all suave cones or mounds, single or in heaps or clusters, green, brown, or white, depending on the season, but always snowcapped, these caps being pink, white, or gold, depending on the time of day. In one large painting he had put a bell-shaped mountain in the very foreground and covered it with meticulously painted trees, each of which stood out at right angles to the ground, where it grew exactly as the nap stands out on folded plush. Every tree bore bright fruit, and showy birds nested in the boughs, and every fruit and bird was plumb with the warp in the earth. Oversized beasts, spotted and striped, could be seen running unimpeded up the right side and unhastened down the left. Whether the genius of this painting was ignorance or fancy I could never decide.

Housekeeping was Robinson's first novel, published when she was in her early thirties. Her second novel, Gilead, was twenty years in the making, and well worth the wait. If you don't know Robinson's work, start at the beginning and watch a major American novelist emerge as you go.

Erin O'Connor, 10:54 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

November 10, 2005 [feather]
Of blogs, comments, lawsuits and professional propriety

In a nutshell: Bitch Ph.D. writes a post that is highly critical of Samuel Alito; a commenter named Paul Deignan, who is a pro-life engineering graduate student at Purdue, begins disputing Bitch Ph.D. and her fellow commenters; political sparring of an increasingly nasty bent ensues; Deignan is banned from Bitch Ph.D.'s site, and she deletes a number of his comments; Deignan then claims he was libelled by Bitch Ph.D., who says she banned him for threatening her and that he used "IP spoofing" to mask his IP address after the ban. Along the way, Northern Iowa University historian Wallace Hettle posts this comment announcing that he has reported Deignan's "unprofessional" behavior to his dissertation advisors:

Troll boy is a student of the highly relevant field of mechanical engineering.

The moron is trolling under his real name from a home page which lists the names of his advisors. So I emailed them, as this behavior is thoroughly unprofessional.

BTW, I have a PhD and actual tenure. And I happen to know many profs who work from home, like myself.

I've read some of Dr. B's scholarship and it is superb.

Maybe Paul can come back after finishing HIS dissertation--if he finishes.

Anyway, Paul, I'm going to make an acquaintance with the admin. of your engineering school tomorrow, but I'm logging off for tonight.

Wallace Hettle
Actual Professor
Google Me

Meanwhile, word of the building cyber-melee spreads across the internet as Deignan begins using his own blog to discuss his plans for exposing Bitch Ph.D.'s true identity and suing both her and Hettle (just keep scrolling). Bitch Ph.D. has now hired her own lawyer, and the ugly legal games have begun.

InsideHigherEd.com has attempted to unravel the details of this increasingly convoluted and confusing story. Deignan has a response on his own site, correcting errors of fact and adding more commentary of his own. Bitch Ph.D. has her own follow-up post on what she describes as a "teeny-tiny shit storm" here.

I'd love to know readers' thoughts on this. No one seems to have acted particularly well here--Hettle's behavior strikes me as absurdly intrusive and as an example of the very sort of unprofessionalism he feels he has sniffed out in Deignan; Bitch Ph.D. has every right to ban whoever she wants from her site, but she played into Deignan's apparently eagerly waiting hands when she began levelling undocumented accusations at him online; Deignan has chosen to handle an already ugly situation by escalating it into an expensive and, for Bitch Ph.D., professionally threatening legal wrangle. What interests me is whether there really is any legal substance to Deignan's case, and, if so, what it is.

Comments are most welcome.

Erin O'Connor, 9:51 AM | Permalink | Comments (20)

Congratulations Joanne!

Joanne Jacobs' much-anticipated book on charter schools, Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the School That Beat the Odds, is now out. Joanne's book centers on Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter school that has has remarkable success preparing disadvantaged teenagers for college. Joanne writes:

It really is an inspiring story. The average Downtown College Prep student comes from a Mexican immigrant family and enters ninth grade reading at a fifth grade level; 100 percent of graduates have been accepted at four-year colleges and 97 percent are on track to earn a bachelor's degree. DCP now scores well above the state average on the Academic Performance Index, ranking in the top third compared to all high schools, including affluent suburban schools. DCP follows what I call the work-your-butt-off philosophy of education. Its leaders analyze what's not working, adapt quickly and waste no time on esteem inflation or excuses.

While I discuss the charter school movement as a whole, Our School isn't written for wonks. I think it's a good read, sort of Tracy Kidder meets Up the Down Staircase.

Joanne knows the teachers and students at the school firsthand, having volunteered there for years. Her book has drawn strong praise from Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews ("Joanne Jacobs has written a ground-breaking book about the most interesting, and potentially important, change in American schooling in the last 15 years"), education analyst and author Abigail Thernstrom ("I cannot think of another book that provides such a close and honest look at a successful charter school serving immigrant kids in grave danger of striking out in American life"), and others.

Go Joanne!

Erin O'Connor, 8:14 AM | Permalink

November 7, 2005 [feather]
What's wrong with this pedagogical picture?

At After School Snack, a teacher describes a dismaying experience grading a student whose beliefs differ from his:

Today I had what is probably my most disheartening experience in the nascent stages of my work as a college English professor. One of the books we're reading for class is Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. Yep, the whole thing. Anyway, I asked my students to write a formal paper relating an aspect of this text to their personal life experiences or to something else they've read or seen, etc. The basic premise of my instructions were to "make it real" in some fashion. By and large, the first round of papers were rough but fairly impressive. Revisions are a required aspect of the course (it's titled "critical reading and writing"), and so I provide feedback and so forth, you know the drill.

One of my students wrote a very negative critique of Zinn's chapter titled "The Coming Revolt of the Guards," wherein Zinn presents his admittedly-utopian vision for the United States after a peaceful revolution (he intentionally puts pure realism aside, prefacing his vision with "let us be utopian for a moment so that when we get realistic again it is not that 'realism' anchored to a certain kind of history empty of surprise. Let us imagine what radical change would require of us all."). If you haven't read A.P.H. you should; if nothing else find a copy in a bookstore and spend 15 minutes reading chapter 23.

Back to my student's critique. His efforts were focused heavily on saying that Zinn is not only being unrealistic, but that he's flat-out wrong. My student claimed that equality can never exist and that American capitalism is as good as it gets, saying that we live in a violent world and any claim that a people's movement will change that is laughable.

After the first draft, I pressed him on his claim that "most people have it pretty good," because it was clear to me that his definition of "most people" did not correlate with Zinn's definition of "most people," and that my student was ignoring the plight of the lower class and underprivileged groups in his analysis. He turned in a revision that continued to tiptoe around the real assumptions he was making.

I wrote to him--and this is probably the result of poor teaching on my part, I'm still learning how to do this effectively--that he wasn't countering Zinn's logic directly because he was comparing apples to oranges. The only way his argument "works," in my opinion, is if he has some fundamental belief that economically underprivileged individuals are basically evil. If that were the case, as he implies, then he'd be right-- equality couldn't exist, and even if economic equality were achieved, violence would continue to plague our society. So I decided to test him. I told him that if he typed out the following paragraph with his signature and date at the bottom and turned it in, I would award him a perfect score on this draft of his essay (he was in the "C" range under my rubric):

"I, [name], believe Zinn is wrong because socially and/or economically underprivileged individuals are inherently evil; that true freedom, justice, and equality can never exist because the world is a dark and violent place; and that those who bear the burden so that the upper class can exist deserve their fate."

I gave him this option knowing that his beliefs in Christianity play a strong influence in his life (his other papers and comments in class point to this fact) and I assumed that laying it out on the table like this would spur him to see the significance of his implications. Well, you can guess what happened: I now have a student who signed and dated this declaration of his lack of faith in humanity in order to buy a grade on an English paper.

I don't know if I did the right thing; I don't think he really believes this... you'd have to guess that he had some sort of internal debate when typing it out on the computer and signing the sheet, right? Would any of you sign such a declaration if it went against your beliefs to boost your score on a paper?

It's fairly clear that he didn't have a problem signing the sheet. If he doesn't believe what he signed, he doesn't view his education as more than a means to an end (degree and job). If he does actually believe those claims, I'm even more frightened.

The good news is that even if this teacher didn't figure out what he'd done wrong, his commenters did. Read the whole thing.

Via InsideHigherEd.com.

Erin O'Connor, 7:34 AM | Permalink | Comments (37)

November 4, 2005 [feather]
Arizona's tunnel of oppression

The University of Arizona will be running its eighth annual Tunnel of Oppression next week. Here's an excerpt from a memo that went out about it yesterday:

To: UA Community

From: elMundo Diversity Initiatives, the Residence Hall Association, & the University Activity Board's Eye on Diversity Committee


"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

Preparing this generation to become advocates for change, in a world wrought with injustice, is a difficult undertaking. However, the TUNNEL OF OPPRESSION attempts to break down a very controversial barrier that divides those who do not understand oppression and those who live it.

. . .
The TUNNEL OF OPPRESSION is a multimedia tour designed to challenge peoples' ideas and perceptions of issues dealing with oppression. The Tunnel experience consists of a series of rooms designed with interactive skits, multimedia videos, and role playing to sharpen awareness of acts of oppression.

We encourage faculty to suggest their students attend this nationally recognized educational program. If verification of attendence is necessary to satisfy a class requirement, we would be happy to work with you to keep attendence records or provide some other kind of document to aide in verifying the presence of those students who did participate in the tour.


Please take this opportunity to help further educate the generation of the future. Support them to live in a hostile-free environment that will facilitate growth by disassociating themselves from hate crimes, bias incidents and acts of oppression.

Involve the students of this campus in a program that is dedicated to advocating a change.

Arizona's eighth Tunnel of Oppression is sponsored by Residence Life's elMundo Diversity Initiatives, the Residence Hall Association, and the University Activity Board's Eye on Diversity Committee.

The Tunnel of Oppression is a national grassroots consciousness-raising movement designed to shock and awe unsuspecting undergraduates into a state of enlightened sensitivity regarding issues of racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on. In the past, Arizona's tunnel has featured a skit in which a young man beats his girlfriend for studying with another man, a passage in which visitors to the tunnel were were treated to anti-gay taunts ("God hates you, faggot. You queer, you'll burn in hell"), and a scene set in a Nazi gas chamber in which guards in military dress shoved tunnel visitors into a small, dark room dominated by a low hissing sound. "You have just been executed for your religious beliefs," read a sign on the wall of the room.

SUNY New Paltz ran a Tunnel of Oppression this week. It featured scenes of hazing, illegal abortions, and "animal oppression" (depicted in the photo of meat eaters here). Boise State also opened its Tunnel this week. It focusses on "racism, homophobia, and gender, disability and global issues." The director of Boise State's Tunnel expresses the aim of the project succinctly: "We want it to provoke emotion." Not thought, not awareness, not discussion, not further inquiry, not criticism, not action: emotion. After all, what's more important in our therapeutically-dependent, narcissistically-inclined culture than how we all feel?

Erin O'Connor, 1:21 PM | Permalink | Comments (10)

November 2, 2005 [feather]
In the category of "you can't make this stuff up"

The University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire has forbidden RAs (students who work as residential assistants) from leading Bible-study groups in their dorms. Administrators claim they are compelled to forbid RAs from engaging in this activity because RAs who lead such groups risk seeming "unapproachable" to the students entrusted to their care.

Last summer, RAs who had been leading Bible study groups in their dorms--not as official dorm activities, but privately, on their own time, in their own rooms--received a letter from Associate Director for Housing and Residence Life Deborah Newman forbidding them to continue and threatening them with disciplinary action if they did. When one RA questioned the edict, Newman informed him that "as an RA you need to be available to your residents both in reality and from their perspective." The suggestion is not only that students who work as RAs don't have the same First Amendment rights that other students have, but also that religious RAs are off in some nether world, and that leading religious study groups violates in some manner their obligation to live in "reality" and to share their residents' presumably godless "perspective" on life. Newman has also forbidden RAs to lead Koran- and Torah-based study groups.

FIRE is defending the Eau Claire RAs. The University is ignoring FIRE. But perhaps that will change now that FIRE has gone public.

UPDATE 11/04: The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has more.

Erin O'Connor, 12:45 PM | Permalink | Comments (30)

Law outlines limits of academic freedom

"Academic freedom" is a slippery and largely undefinable term that tends to be trotted out to defend unpopular professorial and student expression. As such, it has acquired an elastic quality: "Academic freedom," like "hate" or "harassment," can mean just about whatever a person wants it to mean. It's a term that is at once useful and useless, a catch-all category that can be invoked to protect gross unprofessionalism as readily as it can be used to defend reasoned dissent or unorthodox but sound research. Two recent cases center on defining where academic freedom and the expressive rights of faculty end and other forms of professional and legal obligation begin.

At California's Palomar College, a math professor has sued five other faculty members for criticizing her administrative performance so harshly and publicly that, she claims, her reputation was materially damaged. Anne Voth claims that her critics harassed and defamed her; their defense is that their criticisms were made in protected public fora, and that their comments are thus covered by California's Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation statute.

The five professors that Voth accused of defamation are Rocco Versaci, president of the faculty union, Shannon Lienhart, Daniel Finkenthal, Susan Snow and Monika Brannick.

Lienhart, the only accused professor who returned phone calls for this story, said that the discord began when Voth essentially shut down the Tenure and Evaluation Review Board two years ago.

Voth, who joined the Palomar faculty 13 years ago, was criticized by many colleagues for the way she handled that panel, Lienhart said, who added that she believes the criticism was appropriate.

"It boils down to whether you can challenge people in positions of authority," said Lienhart.

In the lawsuit, which Voth filed Jan. 13, she thoroughly described the alleged harsh criticism and harassment in which the accused professors engaged.

"Voth has been the subject of ever-increasing attacks on her character and reputation from a small group of Palomar College employees," the suit claims. "These defamatory attacks have begun to increase in frequency and degree of harm."

According to the suit, the accused professors verbally charged Voth with "destroying the tenure and evaluations process," "fraud," "collusion with the administration to undermine the faculty's role in tenure evaluation," and "skating around doing nothing while other people get laid off."

The suit also claims the professors called Voth a liar who is corrupt, abuses her power and pursues personal vendettas. The professors made these comments maliciously, according to the suit, because they knew them to be false.

Later this week, the Vista Superior Court will begin hearing arguments about whether Palomar employees can "aggressively criticize each other during public meetings on campus, in the campus newspaper or in e-mail messages." Along the way, the court will have to grapple with the concept of academic freedom, which has historically been used to license just this sort of criticism.

And at the University of Colorado, a departmental chairman in the medical school was removed from his administrative position after publicly criticizing the school's decision to move the school from its current location in Denver to a more remote location in Aurora, a Denver suburb. Robert Schrier made no secret of his opinion that the scheduled move would be fiscally and administratively disastrous, and expected that his criticisms would be fully protected. When he was stripped of his chairmanship, he sued, declaring that the university had violated his First Amendment rights as well as his contractual right not to be retaliated against for his speech. Schrier, who retains his professorship and his salary, argued that academic freedom guarantees him greater expressive rights than other public employees, but he did not impress the court, which found for the university. On appeal, the 10th Circuit upheld the lower court ruling, finding that Schrier's opposition to the move "impaired harmony among co-workers, detrimentally impacted close working relationships within the School of Medicine, impaired his performance as department chair, and interfered with the university's ability to implement the move."

The court paid particular attention to the limits of that expansive and self-excusing term, academic freedom:

Taking up the lower court's conclusion that academic freedom has no "special" First Amendment significance, the appeals panel's opinion includes language that asserts otherwise: "Courts have conspicuously recognized that academic freedom is a 'special concern' of the First Amendment," the 10th Circuit judges wrote. "Our nation is deeply committed to safeguarding academic freedom, which is of transcendent value to all of us and not merely to the teachers concerned."

But the court goes on to say that it agrees with the magistrate judge that "an independent right to academic freedom does not arise under the First Amendment without reference to the attendant right of free expression.... Schrier's argument implies that professors possess a special constitutional right of academic freedom not enjoyed by other governmental employees. We decline to construe the First Amendment in a manner that would promote such inequality among similarly situated citizens."

Critics of the ruling worry that it will erode the special character of academic life, which, the argument goes, must encourage and sustain robust debate and dissent for their own sake. The university's lawyers, however, argue that "academic freedom" is not a term that grants academics working at public institutions more rights than other people. "These guys have been trying from the beginning to try to carve out some special protection for academic freedom," says UC lawyer Thomas Rice. "But the trial court agreed with us, and now the appeals court agreed with us: Every citizen has First Amendment rights, and there is no special or hybrid or augmented First Amendment freedom that somebody enjoys merely because their speech is of an academic nature. ... In a First Amendment retaliation case, Dr. Schrier has no more protection than anybody else."

Erin O'Connor, 11:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)