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May 20, 2006 [feather]
Job ad as litmus test?

The University of Louisville is hiring:


Audre Lorde Chair in Race, Class, Gender and Sexuality

Position Description

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.

posted on May 20, 2006 9:58 AM








Comments:

. . . or the John R. Lott Chair in Guns, Crime and Personal Security . . .

Brian

Posted by: Brian at May 20, 2006 6:06 PM



Brian: I hereby nominate my first-year Con Law professor, Ray Diamond, for that chair should it ever come to exist.

Posted by: Dave J at May 20, 2006 9:44 PM



What's even more appalling is that there are people who actually take these course. Yikes.

Posted by: Allan at May 21, 2006 1:44 PM



It's not just the political bias that bothers me. What's really disturbing is that so many "progressive" academics seem to believe that the most important things about a human being are their race and their gender. This belief is the antithesis of Enlightenment universalism; as a matter of political philosophy, it owes more to Fascism than it does to traditional leftism.

Posted by: David Foster at May 21, 2006 7:39 PM



Good thing Enlightenment universalists never noticed race or gender, isn't it, David?

Er, which Enlightenment universalists is it that we're talking about? The ones who wrote during the Enlightenment?

How about this, that we allow that ideas about race, gender, cultural difference and so on were the contradiction at the heart of Enlightenment liberalism which both upheld its best possibilities and laid it low, depending on which moment and situation and conflict we're talking about. Just as nationalism is both American pluralism and constitutionalism and facism; as 19th Century liberalism is both authoritarian bureaucracy and libertarian skepticism.

Why is that so hard? Why is it so hard to say, "It's good that we know more about people and experiences and histories that we knew less about in 1940 or 1975"? Isn't THAT the best realization of the project of the Enlightenment? "Dare to know"? I readily grant that some intellectuals arrived at a point where their attention to identity was aggressively counter-Enlightenment, or that they believed that the urgency of knowing about people or color or women or what have you made knowing about anyone else important.

That is no reason to embrace the opposite spirit of know-nothingness, which seems for the moment to be the prevailing rejoinder. More knowledge is all to the good. It's good to know the history of women and the history of slaves and the history of non-Western people and so on. This is a good thing: we didn't know it well in 1955. THAT's the Enlightenment project; that's "dare to know". How could anyone rise in defense of the Enlightenment and be churlish in the face of that growth of knowledge?

Academia is a huge and capacious institution when taken as a whole. If it is a zero-sum game, it is a very big game with a lot of pieces on the board. And yet here we are, playing a parlous Punch-and-Judy game where two teams demand ownership of the whole board and beat each other crudely over the head. Where'd the generosity go? The humanity in the humanities? The delight in ideas, knowledge, ability of diverse intellectuals and the things they bring to the table? The proportionality?

Posted by: Timothy Burke at May 21, 2006 8:16 PM



Timothy, I think you are putting an artificial gloss on what David is saying, what these courses involve, and what the costs of such courses are. David's point, as I understand it, is simply that what's involved here is not knowledge in anything but the most trivial sense, and is rather political indoctrination. For example, how often do women's studies courses discuss the wrtinngs of Christina Hoff Sommers, Phyllis Schlafly, Wendy McElroy, Christine Stolba Rosen, or our Erin O'Connor, ettc,? If they don't do it very much, then what does this say about whether the courses are furthering knowledge or whether they are merely tools of indoctrination?

Posted by: Allan at May 21, 2006 9:00 PM



Timothy..."Why is it so hard to say, "It's good that we know more about people and experiences and histories that we knew less about in 1940 or 1975"? Isn't THAT the best realization of the project of the Enlightenment?" That would have been a very good thing, and has indeed been accomplished to a significant degree. But there seem to be far too many people in academia who take the implicit position that one's race/gender are the most important things about one's personhood. Is that really true? Does being black or white (say) really matter more to one's inner being than, say, being an extreme introvert vs an extreme extrovert, or growing up popular vs growing up an outcast, or perceiving the world in terms of abstractions vs perceiving the world in a more sensory manner?

Also, "knowing" more about people and experiences than we previously knew is one thing...building theoretical superstructures, often based on nothing more than assertion, is something else entirely.

Posted by: David Foster at May 21, 2006 10:17 PM



That is no reason to embrace the opposite spirit of know-nothingness, which seems for the moment to be the prevailing rejoinder. More knowledge is all to the good. It's good to know the history of women and the history of slaves and the history of non-Western people and so on. This is a good thing: we didn't know it well in 1955. THAT's the Enlightenment project; that's "dare to know". How could anyone rise in defense of the Enlightenment and be churlish in the face of that growth of knowledge?

[]

Is it necessary or even advisable to construct "Womens Studies" programs to study social history or household economics, or are these programs too corrupt to merit continuing? Please note that institutions have in recent decades dramatically reduced their investment in programs which, unlike the victimology programs, no one has argued are academically spurious (comparative anatomy and human geography to name two).

Posted by: Art Deco at May 21, 2006 10:47 PM



Academia is a huge and capacious institution when taken as a whole. If it is a zero-sum game, it is a very big game with a lot of pieces on the board. And yet here we are, playing a parlous Punch-and-Judy game where two teams demand ownership of the whole board and beat each other crudely over the head. Where'd the generosity go? The humanity in the humanities? The delight in ideas, knowledge, ability of diverse intellectuals and the things they bring to the table? The proportionality?

[]


Two teams? Team red is outnumbered by team blue on liberal arts faculties by a margin of about 11 to 1. They are not in a position to demand possession of the whole board, even if that was their ambition. The liberal arts college I know best has in excess of 200 professors and lecturers. A total of (2) have called attention in recent years to the fact that conceptions of the norms by which persons and collectivities should live by which are common in the tuition paying public are almost absent on the faculty. But it is this sense of norms, and thus of what constitutes a social or human problem, that guides lines of inquiry in social research and the humanities. By the way, practices of faculty governance, in which committees of professors decide all sorts of things extraneous to the work of their departments, make the social philosophy of natural scientists of interest as well. (Allan Bloom's exasperation at the fecklessness of natural scientists on the faculty of Cornell during the 1969 disturbances there is of note here.)

Posted by: Art Deco at May 21, 2006 11:02 PM



Oh Mr. Burke,

Just who have Lino Graglia, Robert "KC" Johnson, and Barry Shain 'beaten crudely over the head' in recent years?

Posted by: Art Deco at May 21, 2006 11:07 PM



Timothy Burke writes:

Academia is a huge and capacious institution when taken as a whole. If it is a zero-sum game, it is a very big game with a lot of pieces on the board.

Over the last three decades, the "elite" English department at which I got my Ph.D. has transformed itself from a fairly solid, respectable department of literary study into a department filled with charlatans and poseurs working in the fields of cultural, ethnic, and queer studies. This transformation has been effected largely by replacing outgoing experts in the major writers and genres of English literature with incoming pseudoexperts in post-colonial studies, feminist studies, queer theory, body criticism, ethnic literatures, etc. Having reshaped its English major around what it proudly calls the "varied and eclectic" interests of its faculty, the department no longer offers courses on such topics as the major Romantic poets -- and classes on politically problematic authors such as Spenser, Milton, Pound, and T. S. Eliot haven't been offered in fifteen years. Courses on Shakespeare, the novel, etc., have really become studies in feminism, imperialism, material culture, sexuality studies, and the like, in which a few canonical texts are deployed to spark debate on larger cultural and political trends.

I offer this example to show that faculty hiring is clearly a zero-sum game. At most universities in the United States, a retiring Miltonist will be replaced not by a younger Miltonist, but by a queer theorist, a Ph.D. in Asian American literature, or similar. To pretend that the latter merely supplement traditional literary studies is quite disingenuous.

Posted by: Angus Young at May 22, 2006 8:43 AM



That Ms. O'Connor's point is true seems debatable only as a formality before discussion of the underlying issues. Such a debate would, in a fair and honest forum, yield a result favoring the side holding that academia is comprised in the near-total proportion of its mass by egregious buffoonery and post-modern swamp dreck peddled by far-left "intellectuals" frustrated still that Marx has proved an ignoble failure and nobody in their right mind listens to Derrida.

It is a given that campuses are chock-full of modern liberals and worse, with only the barest sprinkling of those who hold Burke (Edmund, not Timothy) in high esteem. Even more depressing is that job ads such as the one that prompted the original post and this discussion, are as ubiquitous as they are disgusting and even, to those of fair and honest nature, tremendously offensive, representing the depths to which our professoriate has sunk.

Such things do not represent intellectual progress, but rather cultural war, if one agrees that it's "politics by another means".

Posted by: Perry Clark at May 24, 2006 12:20 PM



Here's what I disagree with - there is no demographic component. Sure, there are the aspects of academic specialization and political advocacy. This is only natural - I will contend there is no discipline which is not political. You may disagree, of course, but think Aristotle - man as an animal with the capacity for politics. Anyway - that's beside the point. There is not a demographic component. And in particular, there is not a politics based on demographics - the faculty isn't thinking "We need a Latina lesbian who is proud of it!"

One of the most essential points in cultural disciplines is against demographics - against defining people and populations on the basis of essential characteristics. That is you will find academic arguments critique various identities rather than advocate them.

Posted by: Greg at May 24, 2006 3:00 PM



"Aristotle--man as an animal with the capacity for politics"...well, I'm sure Aristotle knew man had capacity for a lot of other things, too: Human being are driven by love of beauty, intellectual curiosity, desire for adventure, and many other things. There is something vaguely pornographic about the desire of many academics to reduce everything to power relationships--especially since said academics have decided to pursue careers in which their chance of getting any substantial personal power is pretty remote. (Power as opposed to influence, which is something different)

Posted by: David Foster at May 24, 2006 6:41 PM



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. 

Yes I agree completely, but you are leaving out one interest group completely.  At my university, they recently had a search for a faculty opening in which over half the applicants were non-white, and over two thirds had letters of reference from non-white advisors.  Four white professors were chosen for consideration.  All the non-white candidates were screened out before the finalists were presented to the department to discuss.  Merit, you say, though 7 or 8 of the non-white applicants were obviously way more qualified than at least two of the white ones.  Only three could be considered, so one was ruled out for being too much like the person who wrote the recommendation letter (unspoken assumption: all people of ethnicity y are like that).  That letter writer, who is very well known, was the only letter any of the four finalists had from a non-white recommender, although two-thirds of the applicants had letters from non-whites.  Oh, and did I mention that the hiring committee was all white too?  Yet somehow, these people think they are somehow interest-free and "color-blind" when apparently all they can see or want to see is white, even if it means hiring a totally second-rate scholar when truly fantastic and exciting people applied. 

This is obviously the much more common scenario...look at the demographics of the professorate.  It hardly matches that of the country, which means either of two things White people actually are superior and thus get the jobs and tenure; or else racism (not to mention homophobia and sexism), in the form of white privilege, is alive and well in the "liberal" academy, and until the professorate reflects the makeup of society as a whole, there needs to be some privileging of non-white interest groups too in order to protect everyone's access rather than just the majority's or that of the privileged. 

Really, its amazing to watch conservatives do the emperor's new clothes thing around their own interests and privileges while railing against any that any non-white group has.  Oh, and as far as the liberal bias in academia, conservatives could easily solve that in a few years by training to become professors rather than chasing the money...Or maybe its actually just that, like the white people deserve those jobs they are getting, then liberals or radicals or anyone who doesn't goose-step to David Horowitz and George Bush, actually are smarter and get the jobs because they deserve them (wink, wink).  I kind of like the former scenario better, because if more conservatives entered into the academy, it would probably soon pay better than it does now.


Posted by: John Smith at May 24, 2006 6:56 PM