Shared commitment to what kind of diversity?
The University of Oregon Ethnic Studies program is hiring a Visiting Assistant Professor or Instructor in African American, Asian American, Chicana/o-Latina/o, Native American or comparative ethnic studies. This is the job description:
The Ethnic Studies Program invites applications for a visiting assistant professor or instructor position for the 2006-07 academic year in African American, Asian American, Chicana/o-Latina/o, Native American, or comparative ethnic studies. This position, which is conditional on funding and may be renewable for an additional year, may include both undergraduate and graduate teaching. Preference will be given to candidates who will have completed the Ph.D. degree by September 2006. Research funds may be associated with this position. The Ethnic Studies Program presently includes a community of scholars in departments of anthropology, history, international studies, law, literature, philosophy, political science, psychology, sociology, and women's and gender studies. Applications, including a cover letter, curriculum vita, three letters of reference, and a writing sample, should be sent to Director, Ethnic Studies Program, 201 McKenzie Hall, 5268 University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon 97403-5268. For full consideration, application materials must be received by June 29, 2006. The University of Oregon is an equal-opportunity, affirmative-action institution committed to cultural diversity and compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. We invite applications from qualified candidates who share our commitment to diversity.
That last sentence is intriguingly reminiscent of a loyalty oath. Does Oregon's Ethnic Studies program welcome a range of interpretations of the concept of diversity? Would an applicant who believes that intellectual diversity matters more than demographic diversity have the equal opportunity the advertisement promises?
Oregon's Institutional Equity and Diversity office does say that "The University of Oregon is committed to a campus environment that is enriched and informed by the personal, cultural and intellectual differences of its students, faculty, staff and visitors." But that office has also gotten into all kinds of hot water in the past year for its attempt to implement a narrow and repressive five-year diversity plan.
The current revised plan pays lip service to an expansive definition of diversity that includes differences of political affiliation, but is ultimately focused on changing the demographic composition of the university community and on facilitating "cultural competency," which it defines as "an active and ongoing process of self-reflection, learning, skill development, and adaptation, practiced individually and collectively, that enables us to engage effectively a culturally diverse community and world." The report notes that "Goals of cultural competence are to promote the importance of multiple viewpoints, to encourage critical pedagogy, and to engage in critical discussion about diversity and equity issues. Cultural competence should not be viewed as advocating political correctness or as any sort of infringement on academic freedom." The report notes that the university has yet to study how individual units and departments are handling the issue of diversity, and goes on to state that faculty should work to "incorporate" diversity issues into the curriculum and that all faculty should attend professional development workshops to enhance their ability to foster "inclusive" classrooms. The report also recommends regular diversity training for faculty, in the form of professional development seminars focused on diversity, and recommends too that diversity training be incorporated into freshman orientation.
The rhetoric of the report is for the most part studiously neutral about the kinds of differences that must be cultivated and valued on campus; it's possible to read entire sections of the report with the idea that intellectual and political diversity really are part of the university's overall diversity mission. But the report lays that fantasy to rest pretty definitively toward the end with statements such as this one: "Although all kinds of diversity benefit the University, and units should seek to recruit and retain persons of diverse backgrounds broadly defined, to the extent the University devotes resources to building a 'critical mass,' the emphasis should be on racial and ethnic diversity" (27). The report moves from that statement to a discussion of how hiring and retention practices can be used to forward this goal.
That statement--and the detailed procotols that follow for how to attract and keep women and minority faculty--may contain the answer to the question of exactly what the Ethnic Studies program means when it "invite[s] applications from qualified candidates who share our commitment to diversity."
UPDATE 6/1: Mike Adams has a lot more to say about Oregon's Diversity Plan.
Also: More on Oregon's plan, and a comparison of that plan to a witch hunt taking place at the California Institute of Integral Studies, at ACTA Online.
And: For more on ideological loyalty oaths at colleges and universities, see this case at Bucks County Community College, and this case at Monterey Peninsula College, and this case at the University of South Carolina.
May 26, 2006
And another politicized course
Purdue Calumet's Sociology 100 course presented itself as a neutral overview of the field -- until the last unit on on race and ethnicity, when the instructor began confusing teaching the issues with telling students what to think about the issues. Similar problems seem to have arisen at North Carolina State University, where a philosophy course on contemporary moral issues has not only failed to address the issues the course description assures students it will address, but has also, according to this student, failed to present the moral issues it broaches as moral issues. Like the Purdue sociology instructor, NCSU's philosophy 221 instructor--Christine Pierce--has reportedly chosen to urge particular viewpoints about controversial issues on students rather than encouraging than to grasp all sides of those issues before making moral assessments.
Philosophy 221 promises to apply "philosophical analysis and theory ... to a broad range of contemporary moral issues, including euthanasia, suicide, capital punishment, abortion, war, famine relief, and environmental concerns." But according to one student in the class, the class neither covered all those issues nor did much in the way of demonstrating how they might be analyzed from a philosophical perspective. This student notes that in failing both to match the syllabus to the course description and to match the actual course content to the syllabus, the instructor violated NCSU's policy on faculty rights and responsibilities:
The title and description of this course do not at all reflect the content. Suicide, capital punishment, war, and environmental concerns were not even on the syllabus. Famine relief was not covered either, except for one philosopher's opinion that starvation could become obsolete if everyone became a vegetarian. Euthanasia was listed on the syllabus, but we did not cover it. This bait and switch course description flies in the face of the University's "Faculty Rights and Responsibilities" policy statement which claims "intellectual honesty in teaching" as a "specific" responsibility of its faculty members. This teacher misused her authority to decide course content/materials such that they didn't even reflect the course description, which is a gross misuse of one of the University's "primary elements of academic freedom" -- the right "to participate in academic program development and determine appropriate curriculum and course content."
The student also questions the moral integrity of a course on moral issues that consistently failed to acknowledge more than one side of the issue as valid:
One month into the course and with the first exam approaching, I became curious as to why we only studied one side of every issue, that being the liberal side of course. How were students to engage in higher education's loftiest goal of critical thinking with only half of the story? So I asked the professor why we were only getting the liberal viewpoint on these issues, and her response was that she was not aware of any relevant material by conservative philosophers. (I didn't realize that the Philosophy Department had such a limited research data bank!) If the topic of the class is moral issues, a dilemma with at least two arguments, I found it hard to believe that there was no philosophical support for another viewpoint. However, the data must not exist if a professional researcher who has based her life's work on these issues is unable to locate it, right? I even mentioned the Opposing Viewpoints series to her; she said that maybe she would look into it.
She does not appear to have done so. The rest of the student's post comprises an extended description of the course's one-sided handling of issues ranging from animal rights to abortion to gay rights. The instructor appears to have been challenged by students several times during the course of the term, and to have been unable to respond appropriately to their challenges ("When questions were raised about possible opposition to [animal rights proponent Peter] Singer's viewpoints or utilitarian reasoning in general, she usually deferred back to the literature as if to say, 'I'm teaching you Singer's viewpoints, not what others say.' Occasionally, she might say, 'Yes, Singer addresses that issue on page so & so.' In other words, whatever Singer said is her general answer. More students commented or asked questions from an oppositional standpoint earlier in the semester, but eventually everyone realized the discussion was going to go in one direction, and people tended to give up unless they had a question or comment that was in no way oppositional in nature").
The student's critique of Philosophy 221 concludes by offering an alternative course description, one that would at least have the virtue of truth in advertising, if not actual intellectual substance:
The course would have been more appropriately entitled "Contemporary Liberal Viewpoints" and the course listing should have read:
A study based largely on modern liberal thought, Utilitarian Theory, the occasional dose of Rights Theory and covering a narrow range of topics including animal rights, factory farming, abortion, and gay rights.
Hopefully, the preceding paragraphs give some indication as to how this class is misrepresented in the course catalogue and how it was used to further the teacher's own interests rather than provide students with quality educational tools for critical thinking.
According to NCSU's philosophy department homepage, Professor Pierce specializes in "ethics and feminist theory. Her work includes projects on environmental ethics; gender; individualism, communitarianism and feminist ethics; and a defense of rational ethical principles in light of postmodernist and other skepticisms." One wonders what she thinks of the particular sort of skepticism this student brought to her course.
May 23, 2006
Another politicized course
Purdue University's academic freedom policy is exemplary in its explicit protection of the rights of students to learn about all sides of controversial issues: "It is the established and firm policy of Purdue University to provide, protect, and promote an environment of academic and intellectual freedom of scientific inquiry and publication and the freedom and responsibility of teachers to acquaint their students with the various sides of controversial subjects within their fields of subject-matter competency," the statement begins. It goes on to state that professors' academic freedom does not give them the right to "subject students to their particular views and opinions concerning matters not related to the course of instruction itself."
The policy is admirable in its description of academic freedom as a responsibility as well as a right. It is also admirable in its recognition that this responsibility includes not only a professorial obligation not to use class time to editorialize on political issues but also an obligation to teach as objectively as possible--to ensure that students learn more than just one way to think about controversial material.
But not all of Purdue's courses live up to the standards the university sets for them. Consider Purdue University -- Calumet's spring 2006 edition of Sociology 100 (Introduction to Sociology). A student in the class describes it at NoIndoctrination.org, noting that until the last month of the term, Soc 100 was a thoroughly respectable course. At that point, however, the student notes that the test became "very PC and biased." Describing study sheets on "Race & Ethnicity" that the professor distributed, the student notes that
For that test, the teacher handed out stapled sheets of notes to the students. Each sheet had 6 squares of information, 2 columns down, and 3 rows across. On the second sheet, two squares contained biased political and PC messages. The first one on the top left corner reads
Minority and Dominant Groups
* Minority Groups - people who are singled out for unequal treatment
-regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination
* Dominant groups - those who do the discriminating
-have the greatest power, most privileges, & highest social status
-Privileged position attributed to superiority
What these notes imply is that dominant groups are the only ones who discriminate against people, and that minorities are defined by unfair treatment instead of a simple case of lower population.
The other square of notes appears on the second sheet at the bottom right corner which reads:
Old-fashioned racism vs. modern racism
-Old-fashioned racism: overtly expressed prejudice
-Modern racism: prejudice that is expressed more subtly
* Opposing affirmative action
Now what this set of notes is implying is that people who disagree with affirmative action are closet racists, which is simply absurd. These notes pull the race card against opponents of affirmative action, and try to get students to believe it.
I cannot recall the actual test word for word, but there were many questions that were basically just opinions passed off as facts. One question for example went along the lines of: "True or False: Women have the same opportunities as men." First of all, that is a very vague term with no specifics as to what they are describing. Is the question asking if men and women have the same social roles, the same ability to get jobs, the same likeability to get jobs, the same ability to get into college, to get a bachelor's degree, a master's degree, a PhD? It is not specific, and it is just a vague opinion being passed off as a black-and-white True or False question.
This student sees some of the issues in the course more clearly than the instructor--a graduate student in Purdue Calumet's Marriage and Family Therapy Program--does. Sociology 100 is a prerequisite for the sociology major-- and insofar as aspiring soc majors must define their terms in the ideologically loaded manner laid out for them by their Soc 100 instructor, their grades and their futures are being subjected to what looks an awful lot like a political litmus test.
We can't know whether what has gone wrong with this course is ideology or inexperience--often, in politically tilted academic specialties inexperienced teachers make ideologically serious pedagogical mistakes without realizing that they are doing so, and often there is little or no mentoring in place to help new teachers identify these mistakes and correct them. But ultimately, it doesn't much matter -- the incarnation of Sociology 100 that has made its way onto NoIndoctrination.org's website is not the sort of class that Purdue policy requires its instructors to teach. It is, however, an example of the sort of course ACTA's new report highlights.
May 20, 2006
Job ad as litmus test?
The University of Louisville is hiring:
Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality
The departments of Women's and Gender Studies and Pan-African Studies at the University of Louisville invite applications and nominations for the Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality, to begin August 1, 2007. The Audre Lorde Chair is a tenure-track, assistant professor position jointly based in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies and the Department of Pan African Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. We seek a candidate who can contribute to the intellectual life of both departments and whose teaching and research emphasis is the intersection of race, gender, class and sexualities across national boundaries. The Audre Lorde chair will teach courses in both Women's and Gender Studies and Pan African Studies, and will develop coursework in lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer studies. A preferred area of focus is the study of social activism along and across these axes of difference, and the optimal candidate will serve the university's urban mission by enhancing both departments' connections with the local community.
For information about the Departments of Women's & Gender Studies and Pan-African Studies, see our web sites: www.louisville.edu/ws and www.louisville.edu/pas
Applicants must have Ph.D. in hand by July 1, 2007, discipline open. Interested candidates must apply on-line at: www.louisville.edu/jobs. In addition, applicants must mail an application letter describing teaching and research interests, a curriculum vitae, a writing sample (article or chapter), and evidence of successful teaching to: Nancy M. Theriot, Department of Women's and Gender Studies, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292. Three letters of recommendation must also be sent directly to Dr. Theriot from the recommenders. In order to be given full consideration, materials must be received by December 15, 2006.
Equal Employment Opportunity
The University of Louisville is an Affirmative Action, Equal Opportunity, Americans with Disabilities Employer, committed to diversity and in that spirit, seeks applications from a broad variety of candidates.
One of the things that is most remarkable about the contemporary academy is how the institutionalization of advocacy--in the form of various affirmative actions, and in the form of the academy's overall leftward tilt--has yielded not only departments whose missions are more overtly political than scholarly but jobs that merge academic specialization, political affiliation, and demographic particulars in such a way as to produce endowed, tenure-track openings such as the one announced above. Yes, the description says "a broad variety of candidates" is invited to apply, but one suspects that this variety is tacitly understood to exist within a narrowly circumscribed set of parameters having to do with political affiliation, sex, race, and even sexuality. This is a job description that is not just looking for someone with a particular expertise, but for someone whose expertise is tied to specific demographic and political factors; in other words, the ideal candidate for the Audre Lorde chair will be someone whose scholarship will be complemented by a particular phenotype, a particular set of preferences, and a particular set of non-scholarly commitments.
Louisville's Pan-African Studies department does not have a single white faculty member, and only one faculty member who is not black. This does not surprise, and it telegraphs something about what sort of racial qualifications the ideal candidate for the Audre Lorde chair should have. Likewise, Lousiville's Women's and Gender Studies faculty does not include a single man (though there are five male professors in traditional disciplines who are "affiliated" with the department). It seems safe enough to assume that the Audre Lorde chair is reserved for a black woman, even though that would hardly increase the "variety" evoked by the job description. One can only conjecture--but one can also conjecture with some degree of certainty--what the politics and even the sexuality of the new holder of the Audre Lorde chair will be. Audre Lorde, it's worth remembering, described herself as a "Black lesbian, mother, warrior, poet." A dedicated activist, she was once described by Mario Cuomo as a woman whose "imagination is charged by a sharp sense of racial injustice and cruelty, of sexual prejudice." It seems safe to assume that the ideal candidate for the Audre Lorde chair will likewise be a black lesbian feminist activist. I could be wrong. The Audre Lorde chair might end up going to a straight white male whose idea of activism is to recycle and take public transportation--but I doubt it. What's more likely is that such men know they need not apply.
So what's the issue here? I have no problem with Audre Lorde--in fact I quite admire her and possess a well-worn copy of The Cancer Journals. And I certainly have no problem with either women or minorities or gay people or activists holding jobs in the academy. What I do have a problem with is the manner in which being female, or non-white, or gay, or politically engaged, can function as a job qualification within academe. It's not just that jobs such as the Audre Lorde chair seem to be reserved for academics with particular biologies and beliefs (how else could such a chair be honorably filled?), but that those biologies and beliefs are tacitly treated as part of an overall scholarly package. This is identity politics in action: the idea that professional excellence cannot be separated from personal characteristics, or even that it includes certain personal characteristics, is simply assumed in certain academic fields. I might be less annoyed by job descriptions such as this one if there were also, say, advertisements for the Christina Hoff Sommers Chair in Equity Feminism, or the Friedrich Hayek Chair in Liberty Studies. But there aren't. This sort of thinly veiled demographic screening only runs one way in academe--even though political correctness is a myth and even though accusations of liberal bias in the academy are totally unfounded.
May 18, 2006
Taxpayers to help Churchill finance his lawsuit?
Ward Churchill's lawyer explains to Bill O'Reilly how he's going to make Churchill's case against the University of Colorado and how the taxpayers of Colorado are going to subsidize Churchill's suit:
O'REILLY: [Churchill]'s not teaching in the fall. He's getting paid almost $100,000. What is he doing?
LANE: Right now, he's writing a book.
O'REILLY: He's writing a book on the taxpayers' money?
LANE: Yes, yes. Every taxpayer in Colorado is currently paying Ward Churchill to write his book.
O'REILLY: Is that unbelievable?
LANE: I will thank them on your show, Mr. O'Reilly. Thank you, taxpayers.
O'REILLY: I mean, how can I get this job?
LANE: And soon they will be paying me...
O'REILLY: How can I get this job?
LANE: Soon they will be paying -- they will be paying me to continue through this process, because the University of Colorado.
O'REILLY: How are they paying you? Isn't he paying you?
LANE: .that's part of the protocol -- no, that's part of the protocol is that the University of Colorado will end up paying me.
O'REILLY: Oh, this is interesting. So are you billing the University of Colorado for all of the time? Because you've been defending Churchill now for almost a year and a half.
LANE: Well, the University of Colorado, I believe, is obligated to give me $20,000 of taxpayer dollars to continue the defense of Ward Churchill from this point on.
O'REILLY: Is that right?
LANE: I believe so.
O'REILLY: I thought you had a good point the last time you came on where he couldn't be fired for even saying the vile things he said, because -- academic freedom, he had tenure.
But now with these five experts coming in and saying, listen, his scholarship isn't up to the standard of the university, I think you're going to lose it, there's no way on earth I think you're going to win it. But I will give you the last word.
LANE: Well, let me just say this, that in federal court, on a First Amendment retaliation claim, I have to show that retaliation for his First Amendment protected speech was a motivating factor. I don't have to show that it was the main factor. I don't have to show that it was the only factor. All I have to show the jury is that it was a motivating factor in his termination.
LANE: I don't think anybody can dispute that.
O'REILLY: I'm sure these five people will. But counselor, we appreciate you coming on the program.
Eugene Volokh has shown how it can be argued that Churchill's constitutionally-protected speech legitimated his investigation. So it looks like those will be the two main lines of argument in what promises to be quite a skirmish.
May 17, 2006
Churchill in context
More reflections on the Churchill verdict and its broader implications at ACTA Online.
Read the report here.
May 16, 2006
Churchill guilty as charged
The Associated Press reports the results of the University of Colorado's prolonged investigation into ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill's academic integrity. The results appear to be damning:
BOULDER, Colo. -- An investigation of a professor who likened some Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi found serious cases of misconduct in his academic research, a University of Colorado spokesman said Tuesday.
One member of the five-person investigative committee recommended that ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill be fired, and four recommended he be suspended, university spokesman Barrie Hartman said.
Churchill has denied doing anything wrong. He said earlier Tuesday that he had yet to see the report.
University officials had earlier determined Churchill could not be fired for his comments about the terrorist attacks, but they launched an inquiry into allegations about his research, which included accusations of plagiarism and fabrication.
Churchill's wife, Natsu Saito, who also teaches in the ethnic studies department, said Tuesday she had resigned her tenured teaching position at the school but said she and Churchill have no plans to leave Boulder.
In her resignation letter, Saito accused the university of reneging on promises to her and the department, ignoring racial harassment of the department and individuals, and treating Churchill unfairly. She said her decision to resign was not prompted by the pending report.
The investigation results are being made public as news surfaces of still more questionable academic conduct from Churchill.
May 15, 2006
Mark your calendar
Joanne Jacobs will be reading from her book, Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the School That Beat the Odds at Philadelphia's Russell Byers Charter School, 1911 Arch St., on Wednesday, May 17 at 5:30 pm.
Joanne's book has gotten excellent reviews--Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews calls it "a ground-breaking book about the most interesting, and potentially important, change in American schooling in the last 15 years"--and looks like it is making a big and timely mark on debates about what does and does not work in American high schools. Be there if you can.
May 14, 2006
The New York Times reports that, according to an informal survey of writers, critics, and "literary sages," the best novel of the last twenty-five years is Toni Morrison's Beloved. Near the top of the list are works by Cormac McCarthy, John Updike, Don DeLillo, Philip Roth, Marilynne Robinson, and a few others who won't surprise you--the point being that the list strikes me as largely predictable and, as much as I adore some of the writers on it, consequently uninspired. Perhaps that should be the tenor of such a list; perhaps my problem is that the legendary Updike, Roth, and DeLillo have never really done it for me (though I was very pleased to see Robinson, McCarthy, and Norman Rush on the list); perhaps there's nothing wrong or surprising about a list that presumes an almost absolute correlation between the greatest literary hits of the past quarter century and the best works produced during that time--but I have my doubts. Have a look at the list, see if it omits anything you think it ought to include, and, as always, feel free to post your thoughts in the comments.
If I had to name one writer whose absence from the list appears to me to be glaring, I'd go with Annie Proulx. If I had to name two, I'd say Jeffrey Eugenides. Of Proulx's work, my favorite is That Old Ace in the Hole; of Eugenides,' The Virgin Suicides. The Shipping News and Middlesex are close seconds.
May 12, 2006
May 11, 2006
What ever happened to Ward?
We're about to find out.
May 10, 2006
UC defends Prop. 209 course
University of California at Berkeley Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education Christina Maslach has responded to NoIndoctrination.org's letter to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau regarding Cal's spring offering of Ethnic Studies 198: The Prop. 209 Project. The course struck Luann Wright of NoIndoctrination.org as a patent violation of Berkeley's policies regarding academic freedom and course content; she wrote to Chancellor Birgeneau to request an explanation for how Berkeley administrators could reconcile their stated policy that the university must "remain aloof from politics" with the course's stated intent, which was "to craft a political strategy for a successful 'pro-diversity' initiative in the State."
This is what Vice Provost Maslach--who, in an odd coincidence, taught the Psychology 1 course that I took as a Berkeley freshman in 1986--had to say:
I am responding on behalf of Chancellor Birgeneau to your email of April 27th concerning Ethnic Studies 198: The Prop 209 Project.
In Spring 2006, UC Berkeley offered two diversity research seminars for undergraduates: Education 198 "Exploring Transfer Student Success" and Ethnic Studies 198 "The Prop 209 Project." The purpose of the seminars was two-fold: (1) to equip students with a set of methodologically sound research skills and tools with which to approach issues of diversity and inclusion; and (2) to provide a structured educational exercise that would give them the opportunity to practice the real-world application of sound scholarship that many will use in their lives as professionals and citizens after they graduate from Cal. The seminars were open to all upper division students in any major, and lower division students upon request of the instructors. Participation in the seminars and the selection of research project topics in the seminars were voluntary. Neither course was a graduation requirement or a pre-requisite to any graduation requirement. Rather, the seminars were designed to provide a special enrichment opportunity for students to engage in faculty-mentored research in a small group setting.
The Prop 209 Project, co-taught by Professor David Montejano (Ethnic Studies) and Professor Taeku Lee (Political Science), used a case study of Proposition 209 in order to deepen students' understanding of how issues of race and ethnicity interact with the ballot initiative process in the State of California. Within the limits of a two-unit 198 course, students learned a good deal, substantively, about voting behavior, political participation and mobilization, ethnic/racial politics, the initiative/referendum process in California, media framing, and political persuasion. They also learned a good deal, methodologically, about precinct-level, county-level, and state-level data analysis, exit polling, and public opinion polling. By designing a course that required students to apply research findings to real-world problems, the instructors sought to impart substantive and methodological points about political science in a much deeper, more enduring way than would be possible using a more traditional teaching method. Students were never at any time asked to engage in political or partisan activity as part of the seminar.
Case studies (even those with a directed point of view or starting point) are frequently used as a learning exercise here and on campuses around the country. The pedagogical approach employed in the seminar is a sound one and is consistent with The Regents' Policy on Course Content "that no campus, no academic college, no department, and no instructor distort the instructional process in a manner which deviates from the responsibilities inherent in academic freedom."
Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education
and Professor of Psychology
Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau
UC President Robert Dynes
The UC Board of Regents
Professor David Montejano
Professor Taeku Lee
Senator Jack Scott, Education Chair
There was some serious discussion on this site when I posted about the Prop. 209 course late last month; I'd love to learn readers' reactions to Maslach's letter.
On the one hand, it's clear enough that the course did not impose politics on anyone. But on the other hand, that isn't what I objected to about the course, and I don't think that's what NoIndoctrination.org objected to, either. My concern had to do with the openly political quality of the course--its stated objective to "craft a political strategy for a successful 'pro-diversity' initiative in the State," and its stated purpose, which was to do research that "will be presented to Chancellor Birgeneau, senior campus administrators, and other campus and community stakeholders at the end of the semester and will help inform campus policy decisions and initiatives regarding diversity and inclusion." WIthout imposing an agenda on students, the course nevertheless appears to be exploiting students--albeit willing ones--in the service of the university's own ideological ends. Regardless of students' own politics, it seems highly questionable whether their coursework should be so closely tied to the university's own political goals. It goes without saying that it is a problem for a state university to have partisan political goals; hence Cal's own directive that the university must "remain aloof from politics."
Some have suggested that what is valuable about this course is the way it allows students to apply what they are learning to real life situations. "There is a downside to suggesting this course should not be taught," wrote Timothy Burke. "I'm very interested in classes that have some kind of tangible project as part of the work for the course, that try to apply the knowledge they produce to the world." And that's a valid point. But what's also crucial to note here is that the university does not seem to be offering such hands-on courses across a range of political perspectives. If Berkeley were truly intellectually diverse, and if you could just as readily take a course on furthering, say, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative as you could on undoing Proposition 209, then it would be fair to argue that by enabling politically engaged students of all stripes to learn in an applied setting, the university is meeting its commitment to remain aloof from politics. But Berkeley isn't doing that. Opportunities to learn-by-doing appear to be strictly one-sided. That can't be right, and insofar as Maslach's letter evades that point by focussing on the fact that the course is not a requirement, the letter strikes me as disingenuous.
May 7, 2006
First paragraphs are so important--and so often so bad. Here's a fantastic one:
In the last years of the Seventeenth Century there was to be found among the fops and fools of the London coffee-houses one rangy, gangling flitch called Ebenezer Cooke, more ambitious than talented, and yet more talented than prudent, who, like his friends-in-folly, all of whom were supposed to be educating at Oxford or Cambridge, had found the sound of Mother English more fun to game with than her sense to labor over, and so rather than applying himself to the pains of scholarship, had learned the knack of versifying, and ground out quires of couplets after the fashion of the day, afroth with Joves and Jupiters, aclang with jarring rhymes, and string-taut with similes stretched to the snapping-point.
That's a first sentence as well as a first paragraph. It belongs to John Barth's The Sot-Weed Factor, a satirical historical novel based on the real Ebenezer Cooke, who really did write a mock-epic poem based on his experiences serving as his father's "sot-weed factor" (or tobacco broker).
I don't judge books by their covers, but I do often judge them by their first paragraphs. So far, the novel is bearing out the promise of its opening.
Readers are more then welcome to post first paragraphs that have especially charmed them--or that have caused them not to read any further.
How to think about the politicized academy
Mark Bauerlein offers some salient thoughts on how best to study the manner in which the political one-sidedness of the academy affects the quality of American higher education.
Quote for the day
"I realized early on that the academy and the literary world alike, and I don't think there really is a distinction between the two, are always dominated by fools, knaves, charlatans, and bureaucrats. And that being the case, any human being, male or female, of whatever status, who has a voice of her or his own, is not going to be liked."
May 1, 2006
John Leo has announced the winner of this year's Sheldon Award, which is "given annually to the university president who does the most to look the other way when free speech is under assault on campus." Named after University of Pennsylvania history professor and former president Sheldon Hackney, who presided over the infamous Water Buffalo Incident of 1993, the Sheldon is an honor no self-respecting presidential censor should be without. The competition was stiff this year, so much so that the judges could not finally justify differentiating between the two most impressive candidates:
President V. Lane Rawlins burst onto the Sheldon scene when his university, Washington State, organized and financed the disruption of a controversial student play. FIRE showed that the university had paid for the tickets of students who shouted down the actors and stopped the performance. The play, "Passion of the Musical" by Chris Lee, was a satire starring Jesus and Lucifer among others. It managed to offend gays, Jews, blacks, Christians and other groups on campus. Rawlins defended the disrupters, saying they had "exercised their rights of free speech in a very responsible manner." Moist-eyed Sheldon judges said admiringly, "Anyone who defends the stopping of a play as a free speech right, and finances the operation, has our full attention."
Rawlins broadened his Sheldon appeal in the highly publicized case of student Ed Swan, who was threatened with expulsion from the Washington State teacher-education program after he expressed conservative religious and political views. Swan was told he could stay if he underwent mandatory diversity training and special faculty scrutiny. Instead, he called FIRE. Rawlins and the university backed down.
Another heavyweight Sheldon contender is the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, president of DePaul, a Catholic university in Chicago. Though in office only 22 months, Holtschneider has already presided over three Sheldon-attracting controversies:
--A veteran, part-time teacher with a good record, Thomas Klocek, was suspended without a hearing after a verbal run-in with pro-Palestinian students at a school fair. He refused an order to apologize, and balked at the university's plan to put a monitor in his classes. Then he sued.
--The college Republicans were found guilty of violating a campus prohibition against "propaganda" after handing out fliers criticizing an upcoming lecture by radical professor Ward Churchill.
--Sponsors of a mock bake sale satirizing affirmative action were hauled on the carpet. The were found not guilty of harassment, but then censured because the university said their application for table space was faulty. Holtschneider denounced the sale as "an affront to DePaul's values of respect and dignity."
Judges agreed they had never seen two candidates as eminently qualified as Rawlins and Holtschneider. Calling the pair "the Ruth and Gehrig of modern Sheldonism," the judges awarded the golden no-spine statuette to both. Congratulations, Sheldon laureates 2006.
Congratulations, indeed. Both Rawlins and Holtschneider should celebrate by instituting institutional review of all university policies regarding speech and expression, with the aim of repealing their universities' speech codes. FIRE can get them started.