Song of Solomon
When the Supreme Court issued its ruling on the Solomon Amendment, it was quite clear that the law does not prevent law school faculties from protesting the presence of military recruiters on campus--but it also upheld the law itself, which requires schools receiving federal funding not only to permit military recruiters on campus, but to ensure that they have equal access to facilities and students.
Stanford seems to have forgotten about that last part. From the New York Sun, which has picked up on Power Line's excellent coverage:
The battle over the Solomon Amendment that is designed to protect the access of students to the Reserve Officer Training Corps on campuses funded in part by the American taxpayer is getting quite a workout, we see from reading the Power Line blog. When the amendment was last in the news, law professors from around the country had flunked out completely in trying to get the Supreme Court to rule the Solomon Amendment unconstitutional. It denies schools federal funding if they deny ROTC the right to recruit on campus.
One would think that of all people, law professors, would have enough respect for the courts and the Constitution to accept the unanimous decision of the justices. But what is going on at Stanford Law School these days suggests otherwise. The sages of Palo Alto have decided that if they can't stop the recruiters from coming, they will try to stop the students from meeting with recruiters. The blog, Power Line, has followed Stanford's conduct closely in several recent posts, as Stanford plays the kinds of games that segregationists played to get around Brown v. Board of Education.
Now all students receive a letter from the office of career service signed by more than 40 faculty members that outlines Stanford's opposition the military's discrimination against gays and lesbians. Any student who nonetheless asks for an interview with a military recruiter will get a phone call or e-mail from the career service folks. The law school's dean, Larry Kramer, has a handy explanation for the law school's outreach to any prospective military officers. In an e-mail that has been posted on Power Line, Dean Kramer writes that the effort to contact students who have expressed an interest in JAG is to "ensure that their interest is real."
In other words, at Stanford the thought that a student would opt for a career defending the country, as opposed to a career spent suing it, is cause for incredulity. Dean Kramer told us that the same inquiry is made in any instance involving first-time employers or those that have little track record at recruiting at Stanford. In recent years, the military hasn't elicited more than five interviewees in any one year at Stanford Law, Mr. Kramer said. But this is a Catch-22 if there ever were one. Surely more students would meet military recruiters if they weren't harangued for doing so.
Dean Kramer also wrote in his email to Power Line that "we have had students on the left signing up with the intent of going just to hassle and fight with the interviewer, and students on the right signing up just so that recruiters could do school-sponsored on-campus interviews." Dean Kramer ought to have better things to worry about than students "on the left" going to the interviews to heckle the military. We have no doubt that a JAG recruiter would get the better of any argument a 2L wants to pick.
Notice that the faculty letter, which is sent from the career services office to all students, says: "we hope those of you who seek military service will arrange to meet military recruiters off campus." The Supreme Court's decision last year in Rumsfeld v. Fair said that the Solomon Amendment doesn't violate the First Amendment because law schools can continue to protest military recruitment, so long as the schools permit military recruiters from visiting.
But a policy of asking students to meet with recruiters off-campus may cross the line. It isn't a whole lot different from an illegal policy of asking recruiters to meet with students off campus. It seems to us that what Stanford Law School is a prima facie case of flouting the Solomon Amendment. So the test here is really of the Bush administration's mettle. It needs to assert the Pentagon's--and the taxpayers' — standing under the law lest it and the Supreme Court of the United States be made a mockery by professors who, in theory, are teaching law.
Stanford gets around $540 million in federal funding each year. Schools that violate the Solomon Amendment lose their federal funding. Is that letter--which must feel so good to its signatories, in that pruriently righteous politicized way that is endemic in academe--really worth it?
November 18, 2007
More on Brandeis
Members of the Brandeis community are speaking out regarding the administration's botched effort to "implement policy" (read: destroy the teaching environment for teachers and the learning environment for students by getting all Orwellian in the name of sensitivity). From The Hoot:
I was distressed to read that the administration is assigning human apparatchiks to monitor Brandeis classrooms to assure linguistic conformity and political orthodoxy. Surely, the administration knows that the technology of authoritarian surveillance has advanced far beyond the primitive methods employed by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover and Erich Honecker.
A laptop and a webcam can do the job far more cheaply and efficiently. Just position one unit per class in the back of the room, then patch the feed into a mainframe system located in Bernstein-Marcus. This simple expedient would not only provide an accurate audio-visual record of conversational malfeasance by faculty and students, but the real-time surveillance would allow the administration to dispatch agents immediately into the classroom to stop the utterance of verboten words or ideas
-Prof. Thomas Doherty (AMST)
The Faculty Senate is also taking a stand:
At its Nov. 8 meeting, the Faculty Senate unanimously adopted a motion expressing concern with the way the administration has responded to complaints about Prof. Donald Hindley (POL).
Earlier this month, Hindley was charged with violating the University's Non-Discrimination and Harrassment Policy for alleged "inappropriate, racial and discriminatory conduct."
The Faculty Senate's motion states that the administration violated a section of the Faculty Handbook when it threatened to suspend or dismiss Hindley without first bringing the issue before the Faculty Senate council.
The motion was sent to The Hoot by Prof. Marc Brettler (NEJS), Chair of the Faculty Senate.
Brettler did not elaborate about the Faculty Senate's choice to adopt a motion. A copy of the Faculty Senate minutes could not be acquired because they had yet to be released to the faculty.
The motion states, "the Provost's letter to the professor includes reference to 'termination' as a possibility if the professor does not accept the suggested remedies," and goes on to cite this as a violation of Section VIIC2a of the Faculty Handbook. Section VIIC2a reads, "when considering suspension or dismissal, the Provost will first consult with the Faculty Senate Council." According to the Faculty Senate "no such consultation occurred" before the Provost's letter was delivered to Hindley.
The motion makes no mention of the time between when the complaint was filed and when Hindley was notified by the administration, or of the apparent secrecy of the investigation into his allegedly racist remarks -- two issues of concern for Hindley as reported in the Nov. 2 issue of The Hoot.
Additionally, the motion does not mention the monitor placed in Hindley's classroom by the Provost.
Hindley did not respond to requests for comment regarding the motion.
Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC) remarked, "I support the Faculty Senate resolution and believe it is within its responsibilities and obligations to make it."
He added, "I believe the administration of our university is not handling itself well or wisely in its part in the Hindley case."
Student response to the Faculty Senate resolution varied. Eben Cotrelle '10 felt the resolution was too weak. "If this is [the Faculty Senate's] response, then that's not enough. It doesn't even mention his name," he said.
Ryan McElhaney '10 said, "the Faculty Senate is trying to posture itself ... to establish its role in this process ... instead of protect a member of the faculty."
He added, "[the motion] doesn't comment on Hindley being investigated without knowing it."
Ilana Silverstein '11, however, agreed with the faculty's statement. "I think that's a legitimate argument for the faculty to make," she said. "It doesn't say the faculty agrees with what [Hindley] did, but that the administration has to abide by procedure. If the administration didn't, it’s fair for there to be an outcry."
Loren Chen '10 also felt the faculty's action was warranted. "I guess if it's in the Faculty Handbook, if it's clearly stated like that, I would agree with [the faculty] releasing a statement."
Worth remembering: Hindley's alleged offense is that he explained, as a relevant part of a class session, how the term "wetback" came into being. Forty-seven years of college teaching really can all come down to this: a career derailed when an administration panders to the highly dubious complaints of a handful of disgruntled students. It's pathetic. Brandeis should be ashamed--and ready for a lawsuit.
Top down solutions for failing schools are last ditch efforts that have minimal potential to work -- at least as far as I can see.
What you need is local solutions that, while keyed to broader curricular standards, are personalized in imaginative, compelling ways.
Robert Mellors Primary School on the outskirts of Nottingham, England, is a long way from the verdant lawns and haunted forests of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, the main setting of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter books. But by borrowing elements from that fantastic realm, this once-failing school has turned itself around as if by magic dust.
"Historically, the school had a really bad reputation," says Donna Chambers, head teacher at this institution of about 250 nursery and primary schoolers, which serves one of the most deprived sections of Nottingham. Charged with rejuvenating the state-run school, where "children come in well below national averages," Chambers has taken the innovative approach of organizing all subjects around a single theme, which the students themselves select by simple vote. "We were in a situation where we could take that risk," Chambers says. Past semesters have been centered on Africa, the Titanic and chocolate. This semester, students were given the stipulation that the organizing principle would be a book, and Harry Potter edged out The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The result, Chambers says, has been "phenomenal."
The theme-based approach has catalyzed a dizzying rise in academic achievement at Robert Mellors. Three years ago it was languishing in the bottom quarter of English schools; it has since vaulted into the top 25%. A September visit from Ofsted, England's educational inspection body, yielded a rating of "outstanding," and special kudos were given for the school's ability to mentor pupils with learning disabilities or behavioral problems. "The school recognizes that pupils will only be successful if lessons are stimulating," the report said.
While Rowling's tales have long been cultural touchstones and commercial blockbusters, at Robert Mellors they permeate every aspect of this term's studies. In literacy classes, students learn to distinguish between types of prose by writing their own screenplays based on Potter's exploits; they pick up the basics of geography by plotting locations used in the Potter films. The student body is divided into the four "houses" in Rowling's novels -- Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw and Slytherin -- and earn "house points" for academic achievement, just as in the books. "It's made school a lot easier and better," says 10-year-old Chantelle. "Everybody likes going to school."
Many thanks to the dear friend who forwarded this to me.
November 16, 2007
The Libel Tourist, a new short film from the Moving Picture Institute. It's eight minutes long--and it's incendiary. That may be why the YouTube version is down. But you can watch it at the link above.
Full disclosure -- I do some writing and editing for MPI.
November 15, 2007
How to destroy a teacher, part 2
One of the things Brandeis got wrong when it implemented a set of humiliating and inevitably backfiring measures to address student complaints about a professor's use of the term "wetback" in class: There was never a moment when students simply approached the professor with their concerns, nor, apparently, was there a moment when the administration said to the students that they should do that before they do anything else.
The assumptions are that you "report" someone rather than interact with them, that you seek administrative intervention from above in lieu of interpersonal clarification on the level, and that when you are offended by something someone says you can fast forward to punishment -- these are all symptomatic of a very big problem at Brandeis and beyond.
Yes, I know--teachers have power over students, and there is an imbalance there that can make it hard for students to approach a teacher with concerns. But they still have an obligation to try--just as the teacher has an obligation to respond respectfully. Teaching is delicate work, and depends a great deal on mutual trust between teachers and students. Both owe the other certain kinds of good faith.
To take just one serendipitous example, consider the case reported this morning in the GWU student paper:
A visiting political science professor told her Arab-Israeli Conflict class Tuesday she plans to resign from teaching the course for the remainder of the semester, according to students in the class.
Chris Deering, chair of the political science department, would not confirm if Hanna Diskin, a visiting professor from Hebrew University in Tel Aviv, Israel, will be leaving the University. In an e-mail to The Hatchet, he wrote that the course will "continue as scheduled," but did not say who will be teaching the class.
Senior Liz Kamens, a student in the Arab-Israeli Conflict course, contacted her political science adviser, Susan Wiley, immediately after Tuesday's class. Wiley told Kamens, also a Hatchet staff writer, that she or Bernard Reich would teach the class.
Students in the class said they were shocked when Diskin made her announcement, said senior Gregory Berlin, another of Diskin's students.
"At that point the entire class had jaws on the floor and really couldn't believe what was going on," Berlin said. "People were very, very angry."
Diskin told the class she was upset because students had addressed complaints about her teaching style to the political science department without speaking to her directly, Berlin said. Diskin also said her Arab-Israeli Conflict class next semester has been put on hold until course evaluations are assessed at the end of this term, Berlin said.
Berlin and other students in the class said they were concerned that Diskin taught the class with a bias toward Israel. He said the main textbook in the class focuses on the history of Israel, with no counterpart book about Arab states.
"We would learn about so much about Israel and specific institutions, but we learned very little about the other states, the Arab states, the Palestinian people ... it has to be especially at GW," said Berlin, who is Jewish. "People here are not going to sit down and let professors just tell them how things are if kids think it's another way. Eventually kids just stood up to her."
Berlin said he and a number of students in the class met with members of the political science department about Diskin's teaching style.
Kamens said she did not have a problem with the class.
"I sensed a bias; however, I knew that there was ample opportunity to leave the class, and I chose to stay in the class," Kamens said. "I think with any class there is a certain bias that the professor goes in to it with, whether it's another political science class or a history class or an English class, though I think in this instance the topic of the class is very sensitive."
She and Berlin both said they are concerned about how the political science department will deal with the continuation of the class.
"As a senior graduating in May I am definitely concerned about whether or not a new professor will come in and how their grading patterns will affect the class," Kamens said. "We already missed one class period on Tuesday and we were behind anyway."
Let's assume for the sake of argument that everything the students say about Diskin is true. The students still ought to have approached her first, before initiating the big brotherly process of reporting, complaining, suspicion, guilt by association, and bad faith. If what you want is for your class to go well, to be a rewarding learning experience--you go to the teacher first, and you escalate only if you get nowhere. If what you want is to destroy the class, then you do what these students did.
Students today inhabit a disfunctional campus culture that can make it difficult to understand this. They are taught to see themselves as vulnerable victims, and they are pressed constantly to fear words, ideas, and perspectives that differ from their own. Such things, they are told, are not only offensive--they can be harassing and damaging. You don't handle harassing and damaging things on your own. You report them--like the victim you are--and leave things to the experts.
Meanwhile, administrators who encourage and continue the "behind-the-back" process of complaint and eventual investigation--seemingly with great willingness to do unto colleagues what they would find immensely damaging if it were done unto them--just help it all along.
When teachers find themselves on the receiving end of this kind of thing, it's natural to want to walk away. And some do.
The students were shocked that Diskin is quitting. At least according to the article, their sole concern is the continuity of their own educational experience. But Diskin's decision makes sense. And until academic culture can grasp why that is, things will only get worse, for students and teachers.
November 12, 2007
At the University of New Hampshire each fall, something called the "Bias Gallery" goes on tour in the dorms. A photographic collection of recent campus incidents, the gallery recasts those incidents as aesthetic artifacts--and as such makes a tacit acknowledgement of how UNH is staging "bias" as a way of authenticating it. It's also, along the way, revealing a sensibility that has much in common with that of the folks who like to build Tunnels of Oppression, and with that of the University of Delaware, which recently yanked its entirely over-the-top residential indoctrination program.
Each year, UNH's Office of Residential Life brings the Bias Gallery; a collection of discriminatory incidents that have occurred on campus over the last couple of years to the dorms, and the gallery is currently making its way across campus. It has already been featured in several dorms within the past week or so and still has several more to visit. The gallery is part of the Diversity Engagement section of the University's Mission Statement. According to a document on the Office of Residential Life's website, the Bias Gallery is something that should be shown in every dorm at least once a year and is "very powerful."
The Bias Gallery is essentially a collection of photographs of bias-related incidents that have taken place at UNH, mainly within the dorms. The gallery is typically set up in a dorm lounge, where students walk through silently, viewing and reflecting on the acts of discrimination displayed.
Jay Tifone, hall director of Jessie Doe Hall, has a lot of knowledge about the Bias Gallery as a UNH Residential Life faculty member, and feels that it is significant for students to view.
"I think it's important for students to see the Bias Gallery because it's a tangible example of the ignorance and hate that occurs across campus," Tifone said. "I often hear students say as they're leaving, 'I had no idea that this happened on campus.' If you're in a majority group and your friends are too you might never see such discrimination occurring."
A document released by UNH's Affirmative Action and Equity Office states that, between Nov. 5, 2006 and Apr. 15, 2007, there were 39 bias or hate incidents reported on the UNH campus. --28 of which occurred in the residence halls and 30 of these incidents were perpetrated by UNH students.
The thought that fellow students could commit such acts of hate proved to be shocking to many students on campus. Katharine Mooney, 20, a junior at UNH, was one of these students who reflected on her own experience with viewing the Bias Gallery.
"It shocked me, honestly," said Mooney. "Some of the things that students write are so disrespectful it's disgusting. I never thought that a student would draw a swastika on another student's door. But these are the kinds of things you'll find in the Bias Gallery."
I'm not saying it's right to scrawl nasty epithets and hang nooses and the like. It goes without saying that such stuff is repugnant, not to mention hateful and threatening. But it should also be noted that this sort of thing is also not infrequently staged, often because the perpetrator can get some sort of short-lived collateral gain from being a recognized victim (recall, as the most recent example of this pattern, the GWU freshman who inscribed multiple swastiskas on her own door). A balanced Bias Gallery would have the bravery to frame that phenomenon in as well.
Guest blog from distressed student
I'm reprinting below an email I received from Thomas Rebman, a retired naval officer who is now training for a second career in elementary education. Mr. Rebman is seeking practical advice as he pursues a complicated and frustrating lawsuit that has strong implications for buyers of overpriced textbooks--not to mention academic whistleblowers--everywhere.
My name is Thomas Rebman and I am currently a student at Daytona Beach Community College. A highly decorated, retired, 23 year Naval Officer, I am obtaining my Elementary Education Degree so that I can teach Elementary School as my next career.
My reason for writing is I could use your advice on what resources are available within the Education community to assist me. I have tried to reach out to every government and private organization I can think of, to no avail. Although I have gotten support from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and the ACLU, the college does not seem to want to correct the problem. I am now trying to inform the public at large about my discovery that Follett Higher Education Group (a $200 Billion a year company with 700+ campus bookstores throughout the country) is willfully and intentionally defrauding students against the contracts in place to protect the students.
I also want the public to know that at least one college president, D. Kent Sharples, of Daytona Beach Community College, has chosen to ignore mounds of irrefutable evidence that this is, in fact, taking place. As a matter of fact, he has mistakenly gone one step further. He has chosen to personally attack me, kick me off campus with police (I am 6 credits short of my AA degree), and has stated to the local media that I "slapped" someone. I believe he has done this because pressure exerted by Follett, who incidentally paid the college approximately $500,000 dollars last year (we have an enrollment of around 11,000 students) as the college's share of their revenues.
I know this is a lot of information to take in. I can easily summarize it this way. I feel Follett is breaking FTC Monopoly laws, intentionally overcharging students, and making a lot of people at Follett rich instead of using education dollars to educate our children. They restrict book information so that students are forced to use their on-campus bookstore. They underpay for used textbooks (each college has a contract that states what they should pay as a buyback minimum), overcharge when they resell these textbooks (again, the contract states they SHALL NOT sell used textbooks for more than 75% of the current new text selling price), and at least here at DBCC, all financial instruments issued by the college are only good at the campus bookstore (Pell Grants, Book loans etc.) which prevents the student from competitively shopping (internet book prices are 40-70% cheaper).
If you have any ideas on how I can get the national media involved or if you know of a government or private agency that could help me I would greatly appreciate your assistance. If you have any personal feedback, I would greatly appreciate that as well. Their actions have financially devastated my family, ruined my civic reputation, and have dramatically decreased my employability as a teacher. I feel they are trying to "out money" me and frankly, right now, they are doing a good job of it. I can no longer even afford the maintenance fees on the two free bookswap websites I set up for students at DBCC and UCF.
Thanks so much in advance for your assistance, I genuinely look forward to your opinion of my situation. If you have any questions, feel free to call or email anytime.
Thomas F. Rebman
LT, USN Retired
Daytona Beach Community College Student
If you have ideas or feedback for Mr. Rebman, feel free to respond in the comments.
November 9, 2007
How to destroy a teacher
Oh, look. Brandeis is working hard to ensure that its faculty is properly sensitive and that its students are properly empowered to punish professors who they determine are not sensitive enough:
A professor's alleged remarks in September set off an investigation at Brandeis University that has left some faculty members skeptical, students divided and the class itself monitored--for the time being--by an administrator.
The incident recalls one this year at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, where a law professor was accused of making anti-Hmong comments, and the details he later provided placed those comments in a very different context, one contested by some who brought the complaints in the first place. At Brandeis, a university named for a defender of freedom of expression, the episode took place in a class on Latin American politics, and the statements in question centered around a single word whose connotations have historically caused pain to Mexican Americans.
The word was "wetback," an insult describing illegal immigrants from Mexico. But as is often the case with powerful words whose use has been intertwined with painful history, it could all boil down to the context of the professor's utterance--and that context is in dispute.
According to the professor, Donald Hindley, who has taught in the politics department for almost 47 years at the university, the word came during a historical discussion about racism against immigrants. "When Mexicans come north as illegal immigrants, we call them wetbacks," he told the Brandeis student newspaper, the Justice, in describing his comments. He says he wasn't saying that's what they should be called, but what many Americans do call them. (Inside Higher Ed spoke briefly with Hindley, but he did not return subsequent calls for clarification.)
That's not how some students in the class--at least two--interpreted it. They "individually and independently" approached Steven L. Burg, the Adlai E. Stevenson Professor of International Politics and the chair of the department, "to register serious concern and complaints about things that had been said by professor Donald Hindley in class and in the case of one of the students, directly to the student," he said. (Since the proceedings of the subsequent investigation are still confidential, it is not certain whether all the students responded to the same incident.)
Now, Hindley had circulated letters addressed to him by Provost Marty Krauss as well as the human resources office, creating what Burg called an "e-mail campaign" against the university's decision, which found the professor in violation of anti-discrimination policy. The decision mandated that an assistant provost monitor the class for an indefinite but temporary period of time, and it ordered Hindley to complete sensitivity training. About 13 students, or a third of his class, staged a walkout to protest the professor's treatment, according to the Justice, and the professor is also filing a formal appeal to the decision.
Many of the criticisms of the university's response have focused on the process behind the investigation itself and the lack of consultation with faculty leaders. Speaking after taking part in a faculty meeting, Burg characterized those involved in the decision as having "acted extremely carefully" and responsibly under the existing rules. At the meeting, however, the Faculty Senate chairman disputed the process itself and questioned whether it was implemented correctly. "We were following the process as we understood it," Burg said, despite complexities in coordinating anti-discrimination policy as mandated by law and as outlined in the faculty handbook.
"It's a balancing act, we all recognize it's a balancing act," he said, but some faculty members at the meeting displayed "almost knee-jerk suspicions [about the] motivations of the administration."
After hearing the students' complaints and taking "careful notes," Burg said he felt the allegations were severe enough to pass on the concerns to the dean level. (In less serious situations, he might simply direct students back to the faculty member, he said.) The dean then determined that the case should be referred to the human resources department, where the anti-discrimination policy is administered. An official there conducted an inquiry, Burg said, that involved interviews with Hindley as well as with the students. "The whole process is supposed to be confidential," he said, to protect students from potential retribution and shield accused faculty members from damage to their reputations.
After the investigation determined that the students' claims were substantive, another series of meetings determined the appropriate actions to take. "The provost issued a letter to Professor Hindley describing the steps being taken in response to this determination, consistent with the university's moral and legal obligation to take prompt and effective remedial action," Burg wrote in a statement describing the process. "Professor Hindley chose to make the issue public by reading the letter out to his class and initiating a campaign of e-mails."
In a comment posted to an editorial on the Justice's Web site titled "Prof. Hindley deserves better," a former student wrote, "Through humor and through sarcasm Professor Hindley is able to keep learning exciting. He is a brilliant mind with years of teaching experience. Sometimes his sarcasm did seem on the edge, but at the end of the day, if you had been coming to class regularly, you knew where he was coming from."
Jonathan Knight, who directs the program in academic freedom and tenure for the American Association of University Professors, said he hadn't heard of a single instance in which an administrator had been assigned to oversee a professor's class after allegations of misconduct.
"Any time a complaint is made by a student or someone else that a faculty member has crossed the line in the classroom, that of course potentially raises a question about academic freedom because the obvious next question is whether, in fact, what the professor is alleged to have said is protected under principles of academic freedom," Knight said. "The principles of academic freedom allow for a good deal of room, as it were, for professors to express themselves in ways that they think appropriate to the particular class and subject."
What Brandeis is doing is, by now, a caricature of how the campus thought police destroy the learning environment for both students and teachers. It's a refined, stylized form of mobbing--institutionalized, administratively sanitized, morally ratified, righteously bureaucratized. No one is the bad guy. Everyone is just doing his job, making sure the policy is carried out.
That sort of blamelessly banal evil should be understood for what it is. And so should the unconstitutional policies that license it. Read what you can and cannot say and do at Brandeis--and ask yourself if you'd last a day there.
I somehow doubt the professor really did make a horrendous racist comment in class. I very much suspect that some students with chips on their shoulders misunderstood and/or misrepresented him. Regardless, though, one thing is clear: Brandeis is not responding in a manner that will do anything but deepen and intensify the problem.
It's not just learning environments that are destroyed when administrators and students go after teachers this way. It's people.
November 7, 2007
You never know where you'll find the truly cool or the genuinely beautiful.
Case in point:
November 5, 2007
School of rock
I love rock music as much as anyone, and like many I've felt that Allan Bloom did more to reveal himself as a curmudgeon than to offer meaningful analysis when he wrote so scathingly about the cultural erosions caused by rock and roll. Still, it's a real pleasure, and a good provocation, to see Mark Steyn elucidate that aspect of Bloom's book. The whole article is worth reading, in the snowballingly intelligent manner that Steyn's articles are typically worth reading. But here's a good excerpt to get you going:
Bloom is less concerned with music criticism than with what happens when a society's incidental music becomes its manifesto. The key to what's happened is in the famous first sentence of the book. "There is," writes the author, "one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative." To quote the African dictator in a Tom Stoppard play, a relatively free press is a free press run by one of my relatives. A relative culture ends up ever shorter of any relatives to relate to. In educational theory, it's not about culture vs. "counter-culture" but rather what I once called lunch-counterculture: It's all lined up for you and you pick what you want. It's the display case of rotating pies at the diner: one day the student might pick Milton, the next Bob Dylan. But, if Milton and Bob Dylan are equally "valid," equally worthy of study, then Bob Dylan will be studied and Milton will languish. And so it's proved, most exhaustively, in music.
Recently, I was sent a clipping from Newsweek's 1964 cover story on the arrival in America of the Beatles:
Visually they are a nightmare: tight, dandified, Edwardian-Beatnik suits and great pudding bowls of hair. Musically they are a near-disaster: guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony, and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of "yeah, yeah, yeah!") are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments.
There was nothing unusual about those sentiments in 1964. As Bryce Zadel of the Instant History website put it, "The Beatles generation became so mainstream that nobody can imagine that people felt that way, but Newsweek wasn't just being stuffy, they were representing the overwhelming feelings of the vast majority of people over, say, twenty." Including some quite cool people over twenty. That same year, in the film of Goldfinger, James Bond compares drinking unchilled champagne to listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.
Nobody at Newsweek would be so confidently dismissive of any pop culture figure on the way up today. Compare and contrast that analysis with this MTV show more or less exactly forty years later--2004. The interviewer asks his guest: "Well, we know that you were into rock and roll when you were in high school, and we know that you play the guitar now. Are there any trends out there in music, or even in popular culture in general, that have piqued your interest?"
And the guest--presidential candidate John Kerry--replied: "Oh sure. I follow and I'm interested. I'm fascinated by rap and by hip-hop. I think there's a lot of poetry in it. There's a lot of anger, a lot of social energy in it. And I think you'd better listen to it pretty carefully, 'cause it's important. I'm still listening because I know that it's a reflection of the street and it's a reflection of life."
Really? John Kerry is "fascinated" by rap and "listening" to hip-hop? Think if you broke into the Kerry household and riffled through John and Teresa's CD collection you'd find a single rap album? I didn't mind Senator Kerry when he was being mocked as a flip-flopper, but I find him even less plausible as America's first flip-flopper hip-hopper. You can smell the fear in his answer.
And consider his recitation of rap's virtues: theres "a lot of anger, a lot of social energy ... it's a reflection of the street." That's something else that happens in a relativist culture. First, if Tupac Shakur is just as good as Milton, then everybody drops Milton. Then comes the second stage: once Milton's dropped, and Bach and Keats and Mozart, you no longer have a very clear idea of who exactly Tupac Shakur is meant to be as good as. It's not comparative anymore: he's all there is. The argument is that, oh, well, you uptight squares are always objecting to stuff: you thought Sinatra exciting bobbysoxers was dangerous, and the Viennese waltz was the mating dance of a hypersexualized culture. No. Benny Goodman, noted by Bloom, was a huge pop star but he could play the Mozart clarinet concerto. Popular culture used to be very at ease with the inheritance of the past. One of the trends of the last forty years is not just the vanishing of "high culture" but of low-culture jokes about high culture--the variety-show sketches in which Schubert's mates urge him to come down the pub with him and he says "No, I've got to stay in and finish my symphony." It assumes a residual familiarity--from some half-recalled school lesson--with a bloke called Schubert who wrote an "Unfinished Symphony."
Likewise, P. G. Wodehouse is stuffed with literary and classical and Biblical allusions: "He conveyed to young Mr. Rastall-Retford the impression that, in the dear old 'Varsity days, they had shared each other's joys and sorrows, and, generally, had made Damon and Pythias look like a pair of cross-talk knockabouts at one of the rowdier music-halls." Wodehouse assumes you know who Damon and Pythias are: They were best pals back in the fourth century BC. Ran into a spot of bother with Dionysius of Syracuse. You could junk Damon and Pythias and replace them with Damon and Affleck--Matt Damon and Ben Affleck: They're also best pals, they make movies together. But eventually you dwindle down to a present-tense culture unable to refer to anything beyond itself. You can make the argument that, say, Jerome Kern, the first great Broadway composer of the twentieth century, is at his best as harmonically sophisticated as Schubert. But to do that you would first have to know something about Schubert. I think it's harder to make the claim to harmonic sophistication in the Beatles, but William Mann, the music critic of The Times of London, gave it a go in 1963, comparing the Aeolian cadence in "Not A Second Time" with the end of Mahler's "Song of the Earth." But, as I said, to do that you have to know about Mahler.
By the way, last night I saw Into the Wild, Sean Penn's adaptation of Jon Krakauer's exploration of how one young man lost his life trying to find his way beyond the governing ideas and values of contemporary American culture. One of the finest things about this fine film--which avoids the temptation to romanticize Chris McCandless, centering instead on carefully studying how he romanticized himself--is the soundtrack, a haunting acoustic set of eleven songs written and sung by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. Vedder's lyrics fit right into the broader history of ideas (Thoreau and London on the one hand, Tolstoy and Pasternak on the other) that animated McCandless's quest for freedom, authenticity, and communion with the wild. They aren't cut off, historically or culturally, but deeply connected, and knowingly so.
November 3, 2007
Libel tourism at CUNY
We've read a lot in the news lately about "libel tourism," or the habit alleged terror financiers have of using the accommodating English courts to mount--and win--spurious libel suits against those who purport to expose their ties to terror. Rachel Ehrenfeld, author of Funding Evil, has been a target of one of these, and is now defending her free speech rights in the American courts. And over the summer, Cambridge University Press became so worried about a similar suit that it recalled and pulped Alms for Jihad, a book about ties between Muslim charities and terrorism.
Now, in a curious academic twist, a CUNY English professor and faculty union leader is doing some local libel tourism, suing a fellow CUNY professor who has satirically attacked her for her efforts to ensure the academic employment of convicted terrorists such as former Weatherman Susan Rosenberg.
Susan O'Malley is a frequent target of Sharad Karkhanis, whose online newsletter charts--and regularly pillories-- the antics of CUNY's faculty union, which he regards as both incompetent and ideologically biased. Karkhanis has devoted special attention to O'Malley. And she doesn't like it.
Expressing sharply worded criticism of O'Malley's work for the union, Karkhanis's writing would appear to be nothing more outlandish than an exercise of his free speech rights, not to mention his academic freedom. But there are a lot of academics out there who view unwelcome criticism as a form of "assault" (the word is everywhere in debates about such things). They reason from that overblown characterization, which misconstrues words as weapons, that hurtful language is an actionable violation of one's person. And then they get onto the terrain that leads them to craft speech codes and, in this case, to sue.
The doublespeak surrounding the lawsuit is fascinating. It's become common for defenders of an academic status quo that is in many ways indefensible to accuse critics of that status quo of threatening academic freedom. That's what the AAUP did in its Freedom in the Classroom statement. It's what the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend the University does in its recent statement. And it's what O'Malley is claiming now--even though the facts suggest that if anyone is threatening open debate and academic freedom, it's her.
Here's O'Malley's lawyer, speaking to Inside Higher Ed: "What the Web site is trying to do is to silence Susan O'Malley by branding her a terrorist, which is the exact opposite of a free debate." Translation: O'Malley wishes to silence her critic by accusing him of trying to silence her; she doesn't like his criticism, and rather than respond to him, she's trying to shut him down--and make him pay.
Also speaking to IHE, KC Johnson notes that the CUNY union now stands at an ethical crossroads; how it responds to O'Malley's suit will say a great deal about whether it's really committed to the academic freedom of its members. That will, in turn, reveal whether what the union really wants to do is use academic freedom to promote some views while suppressing others. Noting that in the past, "PSC president Barbara Bowen has suggested that academic freedom protected" a CUNY professor's right to label religious people "moral retards," Johnson now asks a pointed question: "Will she now similarly apply her flexible definition of the concept, and rebuke O'Malley's attempt to silence Karkhanis?"
I don't want to make light of the sharpness of Karkhanis' characterization of O'Malley. But I do want to stress that the First Amendment makes lots and lots of room for sharp characterizations; libel law in turn makes particularly large allowances for public figures, on the understanding that in a free society, a lot of flak is going to be directed their way.
Meanwhile, if you are inclined to more abstract considerations, you might wish to meditate on the broader question of how it is that we have lost our ability to comprehend and tolerate satire. In the comments at IHE, "Frizbane Manley" reproduces remarks he once delivered to young academics:
I'm leading up to my advice to young faculty members. You young folks in graduate school and in your first positions as assistant professors, however you structure your careers, do not, under any circumstances, write parody or satire. Eschew irony! Take my word for it, you will be writing in an environment in which sarcasm, biting wit, and paradox will confuse your colleagues, anger your chair and dean, and infuriate your president. And the legislators who vote on bills providing financial support for your university ... well, du-uuh. Were Jonathan Swift your colleague, 'A Modest Proposal' and 'Gulliver's Travels' would forever block his progress toward promotion and tenure.
It's not that these academics and legislators object to satire and irony, per se; it's simply that they don’t understand it ... they are forced to take it at face value ... the curse of the intellectually challenged.
One is reminded of a scene in the Steve Martin classic, Roxanne. Martin, in his guise as local fire chief, is walking a naked Daryl Hannah home after she has been locked out of her house. A hedge is between them, for propriety's sake. "Nobody had a coat?" Hannah/Roxanne asks. "You said you didn't want a coat," Martin replies. "Why would I not want a coat?" Roxanne repeats. "You said you didn't want a coat," Martin repeats. "I was being ironic," Roxanne says, to which Martin responds, "Oh, ho, ho, irony! Oh, no, no, we don't get that here. See, people ski topless here while smoking dope, so irony's not really a, a high priority. We haven't had any irony here since about '83, when I was the only practitioner of it. And I stopped because I was getting tired of being stared at."
November 2, 2007
One of my favorite Freaks and Geeks episodes is the one about Halloween. This was a show that got right to the heart of the special, unforgettable misery of adolescence; it maintained a strong sense of how cruelty, uncertainty, and hilarity combine during that time in unpredictable but utterly formative ways. The Halloween episode does that especially marvelously. In the above clip, Sam and his friends decide they aren't too old to trick or treat, and they dress up in their costumes and sally forth in search of candy.
In the below clip, some older kids decide Sam and his friends are most definitely too old--and too geeky--to be trick or treating, and punish them accordingly.
Together the clips capture the way Halloween seems to license both kids' remarkable imaginations and their equally remarkable capacity for meanness. And as such they get at something timeless, at once terrible and wonderful, about being that young.
The English are having some issues with youth these days, and have in some quarters decided that Halloween, as a day of youthful license, must be suppressed:
Remember when trick-or-treating was looked upon as a bit of fun, or at worst a bit of mischief? Now it is branded Anti-Social Behaviour, and the children who carry it out are referred to as 'Halloween hellraisers.' Police forces around Britain are supplying households with posters warning children not to knock on their doors. A poster distributed in the London borough of Barnet by the Metropolitan Police and the Evangelical Churches of Barnet (an unholy alliance if ever there was one) says: 'SORRY! No Trick Or Treat ... Trick or treat causes DANGER to the children who are often unsupervised; DAMAGE to other people's property; and DISTRESS to the elderly and vulnerable.'
A poster produced by West Mercia police in Shropshire says: 'Sorry, No Trick or Treat. Thank Yooooou!' West Mercia police have warned local kids 'Don’t be a rotter this Halloween'. They urged 'all wannabe Harry Potters, witches, ghosts and devils' to avoid cold-calling at people's homes (er, isn’t that the point of trick or treating?) because doing so can cause 'fear, harassment, alarm and distress.'
Other police forces have put pressure on retailers to stop selling eggs and flour to under-18s in the run-up to Halloween, since some youths use these lethal weapons to pelt the homes of people who refuse to give them a treat. So everyday foodstuffs will now join knives, cigarettes, alcohol and porn in the list of things that must not be sold to youth.
The Halloween panic captures modern Britain's view of children as both threatening and super-vulnerable, as both 'rotters' who must be controlled and potential victims who must be prevented from knocking on strangers' doors. Youthful exuberance is relabelled 'anti-social behaviour'; and that kindly old phrase that was used to describe mischievous children -- 'little monsters' -- has been replaced with the not-so-kindly (ie, serious) phrase 'Halloween hellraisers'. The authorities are effectively saying: 'We're scared of kids, and scared for them.' And that's a really scary, and confusing, message to transmit to the next generation.
One reason why Halloween gives the powers-that-be the heebie-jeebies is because it involves people getting out in the open unsupervised. We can't have that. So police forces are introducing Halloween-appropriate authoritarian measures to keep an eye on the monsters, zombies and freaks traipsing through the streets.
In North Wiltshire, police will wear special 'head cams' -- video cameras attached to their helmets--to record anti-social behaviour. 'We hope they will act as a deterrent as well as an excellent evidence-gathering tool', said a Wiltshire-based Inspector. In short? The cops in Wiltshire will wear weird costumes that really are designed to frighten the local population. In Lancashire, four dedicated control rooms have been set up by the police to monitor CCTV footage on 31 October. The Lancashire police say that they will issue on-the-spot fines of L80 to anyone under the age of 18 found in possession of a firework or other potentially dangerous items (eggs and flour, perhaps?).
The authorities' plans for Halloween reveal their profound distrust for the public – and their absolutely cavalier attitude to introducing new forms of spying and petty punishment. A spokesman for London mayor Ken Livingstone once said that New Year's Eve is not so much a public holiday as a 'public order problem'. Now even Halloween – a children-oriented evening event, which in Britain has always been a pale imitation of the bigger celebrations in the US – is looked upon as a ‘public order problem’ that requires stern posters in house and shop windows, spycams on street corners and coppers' helmets, and fines for anyone who gets a bit too frightening.
And of course, no public holiday is complete these days without lectures from on high about how wasteful we are. Apparently, we consume too much on Halloween, leaving a carbon devil's hoofprint in our wake. Some local councillors are worried that the million-plus pumpkins sold at Halloween will clog up landfill sites, where they 'break down without oxygen and create methane, a potent greenhouse gas'.
The UK Energy Savings alliance has issued advice on how to celebrate 'Hallowgreen': make your kids costumes from second-hand clothes; only give out sweets that don’t come with packaging to trick-or-treaters; and give your own children a re-useable container for trick-or-treating, such as a 'cloth bag, decorated lunch box or upside-down hat.' There's nothing like a bit of patronising advice about the green'n'careful way to do things to inject a bit of spirit into a minor kind-of holiday.
I'm a quiet sort of person, and I don't enjoy mayhem or malice. But I enjoy repressive authority and ideological imposition even less. Surely there's a happy medium to be found here, one that doesn't automatically cast trick or treaters as criminals, and that doesn't reflexively co-opt a playful holiday into an exercise in political correctness?
The English often get credit for "inventing" the child (think: Lewis Carroll, J. M. Barrie, Beatrix Potter, all pathbreaking in their day). Now they may be working on the decidely less honorable distinction of destroying childhood altogether.
Canary down mineshaft
Historian Mark Moyar has become a bit of a canary down the mineshaft when it comes to exposing when and how academic hiring committees cavalierly reject candidates who don't have the right views. He's recently challenged Iowa, which actually has on the books a policy requiring hiring committees to consider job candidates' ideologies as part of its diversity initiatives. And it turns out he's had similar problems with Duke. The article I reproduce below explains--and also raises difficult questions about how the flabby concept of "fit" as well as the buffer zone produced by "confidentiality" contribute to a virtually impenetrable and unaccountable hiring mechanism:
The University of Iowa's history department and Duke's history department have a couple of things in common. Both have made national news because neither has a Republican faculty member. And both rejected the application of Mark Moyar, a highly qualified historian and a Republican, for a faculty appointment.
Moyar graduated first in the history department at Harvard; his revised senior thesis was published as a book and sold more copies than an average history professor ever sells. After earning a Ph.D. from Cambridge University in England, he published his dissertation as "Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965" with Cambridge University Press, which has received even more attention and praise.
Moyar's views of Vietnam are controversial and have garnered scorn and abuse from liberal historians, including the department chair at the University of Iowa, Colin Gordon. Moyar revealed on his resume that he is a member of the National Association of Scholars, a group generally to the right of the normal academic organization. Gordon and his colleagues at Iowa were undoubtedly aware of Moyar's conservative leaning and historical view.
Moyar is undoubtedly qualified. He is unquestionably diverse; his views are antithetical to many of the Iowa professors' views. Yet the Iowa department hired someone who had neither received degrees from institutions similar to Cambridge and Harvard nor published a book despite having completed graduate school eight years earlier (history scholars are expected to publish books within approximately six years of finishing their doctorates).
In the Iowa history department there are 27 Democrats and zero Republicans. The Iowa hiring guidelines mandate that search committees "assess ways the applicants will bring rich experiences, diverse backgrounds and ideology to the university community." After seeking a freedom of information disclosure, Moyar learned that the Iowa history department had, in fact, not complied with the hiring manual. It seemed that Moyar was rejected for his political and historical stands.
Maybe it was an unlikely aberration. But Moyar told the Duke College Republicans earlier this fall that he is skeptical because an application of his a few years ago at Duke for a history professorship progressed in much the same way it proceeded in Iowa.
After Moyar did not receive an interview he asked Professor Alex Roland, head of the Duke search committee, why his qualifications did not at least merit an interview. Roland replied in an e-mail obtained by the Duke College Republicans that, "Each of the committee members attempted to balance scholarship, teaching experience and/or potential, programmatic issues, fit with the department, and other issues in reaching their decisions. I cannot summarize how those played out for each committee member in your case."
Roland provided nothing specific; Moyar was baffled that someone with his qualifications could be rejected without any reasons given. He asked Roland again why his application was rejected despite the fact that Moyar would have replaced a professor with a similar research interest. Roland stated simply that the process was confidential.
Duke's history department rejected Moyar in Spring 2004 and granted the position to a historian who has not published a book, even today, three years after the appointment.
Moyar was nonplussed, needless to say.
The Duke Conservative Union revealed in 2004 that the Duke history department had 32 registered Democrats and zero registered Republicans. John Thompson, the history department chair, blithely told The Chronicle in February 2004, "The interesting thing about the United States is that the political spectrum is very narrow," implying that political affiliation is relatively trivial. According to Michael Munger, a political science professor at Duke, Duke faculty remarked in a Duke-sponsored panel in 2004 that, "Asking history to hire a conservative is exactly like asking biology to hire a creationist."
Moyar learned of the information about party affiliation among Duke faculty and suspected that it had something to do with his rejection. He voiced his concerns in a letter to Nannerl Keohane, who was then president of Duke. Keohane told Provost Peter Lange to look into the matter.
Moyar said that Lange set up an inquiry, which proceeded privately for five months. Moyar said he received a short message from Lange saying that the history department's search had been correctly carried out. Moyar asked for a more detailed account of Lange's inquiry, Moyar said the request remains unanswered.
The lacrosse scandal received and still receives incessant public and private attention. But the hiring debacle was passed over in relative silence.
Keohane stated around that same time, "One of the fundamental tenets of our University is that we provide an environment where multiple views can be raised."
Not too many Republican views, it seems.
I for one have had teachers I know are left-wing. Yet never have I had teachers tendentious, unfair or inappropriate in their behavior, although others reportedly have. The problem here seems institutional. When-according to Munger-in at least one case a Duke department chair has said, "The function of Duke [is] to rid conservative students of their hypocrisies," there is something not quite right.
Seven Duke professors have signed onto Historians Against the War, a group that expressly implores other historians to publicly denounce the war. Perhaps professors are willing to tolerate conservative students, but it is clear that faculty members are expected to conform to a political standard.
Yes, I know. An academic job candidate who wants specific reasons for why he wasn't hired, and who initiates grievances when those reasons aren't satisfying, is, to say the least, showing a tin ear for academic culture and academic process. There are typically hundreds of applications for every tenure track spot, and the vast majority just aren't going to get the kind of consideration that would enable articulate rationales for their rejection to be offered on request. And if every last one of them grieved the process, no hiring would ever happen. Still, Moyar's qualifications suggest that his application should stand out from the rest, and it's interesting to watch department after department reject him and then stonewall. The odds should sort out in Moyar's favor eventually--unless, of course, the problem is his politics.
Question: What's the best way to review and reform an academic hiring process that is not accountable and about which there are legitimate concerns about its integrity?
Delaware backs down
Despite the sanguine assurances of Delaware's vice president for student life, the University has decided it's not a good idea to keep its Orwellian residential program in place. Delaware's president issued a statement tonight, stating, "I have directed that the program be stopped immediately. No further activities under the current framework will be conducted." He also called for a "full and broad-based review" of the program--one I hope includes some stiff accountability measures. FIRE has the details.
November 1, 2007
Delaware staff and students speak
At the Chronicle of Higher Ed, students and staff who have been affected by the doctrinaire residential life program--the one the University is now passing off as a voluntary program that promotes free exchange--are speaking up.
From "Marie": "I am so happy that FIRE blew open this case. I work in the student affairs office and the place went crazy when the letter from FIRE arrived. THe truth is that they created a well intended program, but crossed the line in many ways. Yes until this week the program was mandatory and they have temporarily suspended the mandatory nature of it, but once the attention goes away especially with Parents Weekend arriving they want to look good. Boy can they lie."
From "Bill": "I have been an RA for the past two years and have not been comfortable with this program. It has gotten out of hand and demanding of students. Yesterday I was approached to be an advocate of the program. Several of my RA friends have been asked to be available for talking with the press. When I declined I was taken aside and told that my future as an RA was in jeopardy as was future a student. I decided to stand-up for myself. I read the university response to FIRE and they seem to want to divert the attention away from the programs flaws and talk about how FIRE make U Del. students look. Well it was U Del. students that had the backbone and insight to bring this issue up to FIRE. Go Hens! FIRE believes in us."
From "Diane": "I am a faculty member at UD and I am embarrassed. I had no idea there was such a program and I hope the University does the right thing. I have a lot of respect for UD’s students. They are a great bunch of people and if they see a problem, the University should listen."
This isn't over yet, by a long shot.