More on ROTC
To its great credit, the Chronicle of Higher Education is running a story about ROTC today that offers a necessary antidote to all the faculty carping and administrative resistance we are seeing at schools like Columbia. There, students want to bring ROTC back, but dated politics and a distressing willingness to use students as political pawns are getting in the way. The time has come to bring ROTC back to campus, to recognize that the way to protest DADT is not to deprive students of the opportunity to serve and the scholarships that come with it, to respect students' rights to choose their own career path, and to welcome the healthy debate that will certainly arise if the military is no longer shoved off campus and rendered largely invisible.
But Columbia--and Harvard, and Yale, and Tufts, and the University of Chicago--are losing the opportunity to be leaders in this effort. And schools like the University of Maryland at Baltimore County are filling the gap:
With its forces stretched thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army is looking to significantly expand the number of Reserve Officers' Training Corps programs on college campuses for the first time since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which led the Army to close more than 80 programs. At UMBC and other colleges that have applied for a program, the effort is being celebrated by cadets but criticized by faculty members and students who oppose the military's exclusion of openly gay service members.
The Army's expansion effort stems from the Pentagon's request for the officer-training corps to produce 4,500 second lieutenants each year, a 15-percent increase over its annual quota four years ago. That target will rise to 5,350 in 2011. This year, ROTC produced 4,300 lieutenants, more than in 2007 but still short of its quota.
That shortfall has the training corps looking for ways to produce more lieutenants, including adding 15 to 20 campus units to the 273 it already runs, according to Paul N. Kotakis, an Army spokesman. Naval ROTC, which includes the Marine Corps, is also looking to expand and has identified several universities where it may add programs.
"We're all familiar with Hollywood's idea of the Army: Pearl Harbor gets bombed, you go to basic training, then the next week you're storming the beaches of Normandy," said Mr. Kotakis. "But ROTC is fundamentally predicated on a four-year college experience. Whenever the Army gets an increased mission like that, we can't turn the numbers around immediately."
The Army contacted Baltimore County in April about adding a program, and the university submitted its application in late May. It is awaiting the Army's response, but university officials are optimistic. They have already renovated and opened a Reserve Officers' Training Corps office in a house on the campus.
"We were told our institution looked ideal, thanks to the demographics, location, and what seemed like apparent interest from students," said Mark Terranova, assistant to the university's president. "On our end, we want to make things easier on students who want to pursue ROTC."
For now, Baltimore County is one of 1,260 "satellite" ROTC campuses scattered across the country, whose students commute to other campuses for training. Its cadets gather every Thursday at 3:30 p.m. for "lab train ing" in a two-story building squeezed between the football and lacrosse fields on the Johns Hopkins campus. In a room resembling a high-school gymnasium, students from Baltimore County, Stevenson University, and several other area institutions line up, then march past a 37-foot-tall rappelling wall adorned with "ARMY" in giant yellow letters to a small field for training exercises. Today they are working on "individual movement and technique": high crawling, low crawling, and the "buddy fire team."
In civilian terms? "They're learning to work in a team," says Mr. Ashby, a senior political-science major at Baltimore County and the battalion's commander.
For the Johns Hopkins cadets, the end of training means a short walk to a dining hall or home for dinner. For the Baltimore County cadets, it means up to an hourlong trip through rush-hour traffic, just one problem they face without an on-campus program.
"It hits you once on the way over here when ... you have to plan your car ride and pay for gas, and then it hits you again when you have to feed the meter for the four hours you're here," says Dan Ingram, a senior cadet at Baltimore County. "The money adds up when you realize you've spent 50 bucks on parking."
Cadets at UMBC and the other satellite campuses face other challenges, too. Many take extra credit hours because their ROTC credits don't count toward graduation. They have to schedule classes around travel time, and many say they miss out on activities at their home campus. At a 2007 White House commissioning ceremony for graduating cadets, President Bush bemoaned the "split existence" of ROTC cadets who live on separate campuses.
Such hassles are one reason Baltimore County and other institutions are seeking programs of their own. Not only will current cadets benefit, but administrators believe the greater convenience might encourage more students to participate, and thus qualify for the Army's merit-based scholarships. An on-campus program could also help recruitment.
"Having a program on campus puts us in a more attractive, more appealing light," said Yvette Mozie-Ross, assistant provost for enrollment management at Baltimore County. "The ROTC table is always crowded at our open houses, but it's always awkward trying to explain these partnerships to prospective students. It would be nice to be able to say we have a program on campus."
But colleges have costs to consider as well. Although contracts differ from college to college, agreements between the Army and host colleges specify arrangements for who will pay for a variety of items, including faculty and buildings, Internet access, parking permits, and gym passes. Towson University, another Baltimore-area institution, was being considered for a host site but pulled its application because it could not provide the administrative personnel requested by the Army.
Baltimore County is not alone in facing [the DADT] issue. After John McCain and Barack Obama called for an end to bans on the officer-training corps at a panel at Columbia University last month, Lee C. Bollinger, Columbia's president, expressed his continued opposition to ROTC based on the military's policy toward gay service members.
On the heels of that panel, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni sent a letter to Columbia and six other institutions urging them to lift their bans. Columbia is one of four Ivy League schools that do not allow ROTC, though students can ride the subway to an Army ROTC program at Fordham University.
The Columbia University Senate voted down a proposal to allow Army ROTC in 2005, but it may consider a Naval ROTC program. A survey to gauge student opinion on the issue is planned for next month.
Colleges with programs have found different ways to address the conflict between "don't ask, don't tell" and their own antidiscrimination policies. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology promises to replace any scholarships a ROTC student loses due to the policy, while the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill says its nondiscrimination policy does not apply to its relationship with outside organizations such as ROTC.
At Baltimore County, President Freeman A. Hrabowski III says he wants to hold student forums and find ways to deal with concerns over the policy, rather than simply rejecting it. He has told opponents of ROTC that he will include a statement in the university's ROTC agreement expressing the school's opposition to "don't ask, don't tell."
"One thing we asked ourselves was, 'Do we have a public responsibility to provide these opportunities?'" said Mr. Terranova. "Ultimately it came down to, 'Let's not deny opportunities for students while we fight for this greater issue of diversity.'"
It is possible that the problem could solve itself: Mr. Obama has said he would repeal the statute if he were elected president (Mr. McCain supports the policy), and a bill was introduced last year in the U.S. House of Representatives to do just that. But for now the two sides remain at loggerheads, though both express empathy for the opposition.
"It's not that we don't want the cadets on campus," said Ms. McCusker. "It's that we don't want 'don't ask, don't tell' on campus."
That's a vital distinction, and the schools that are at the forefront on this issue are going to be making it. Those that don't will lose their carefully cultivated image as progressive leaders. And, cynically, I suspect that when that image gets tarnished, some schools may decide that they think differently about the issue.
The other thing to note about this article is how it quietly lays to rest the argument schools such as Columbia use when challenged about ROTC. "We don't ban ROTC!" they claim; "Students are free to commute to another school and train there! We are totally supportive!" But the commute is a big deal--even when it's just cross-town. Yale and Stanford students have to go a lot further than cross-town; Yale cadets travel nearly 100 miles to train at UConn, and Stanford students have to get from Palo Alto to Berkeley and back again. Those are not minor commutes.
Reading between the lines here, it looks as though the army is figuring that commuting to another campus deters a great many students from enrolling in ROTC. UMBC only has 25 students doing ROTC at Hopkins. They'll need a lot more than that to maintain a sustainable program on campus. The army is clearly betting that it can raise those numbers simply by lowering the barrier to participation. If the army is right--and I suspect it is--then schools that compel students to travel elsewhere to train can no longer count on making the argument that they are being totally supportive of ROTC and totally responsive to student interest.
Columbia is not the only school where students are fighting an uphill battle to get the administration to re-open the ROTC issue. It's also happening at Harvard, Tufts, Chicago, and beyond.
October 28, 2008
Tenured Radicals Redux
Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals set the terms for the academic culture wars when it was first published in 1990--and much of its trenchant critique is still relevant today. That's probably why a new edition is being released, along with a new introduction. In it, Kimball surveys the terrain of academic reform--and academic resistance to reform--with a focus on the pragmatics of institutional change. With tongue firmly in cheek, he asks Lenin's question: "What is to be done?"
Sketching out roles for critics, academics, parents, alumni, and watchdog groups, Kimball stresses accountability for faculty members, tenure reform, and curricular reform. He points out that the problem with academe's politicization is not politicization per se (in other words, he's not arguing for a conservative outlook over a liberal one), but, rather, the abandonment of intellectual life that takes place when an intellectual monoculture prevails over variety, difference, dissent, debate.
And he offers a cautious, qualified optimism about the pace and kind of change we can realistically expect:
I used to think that appealing over the heads of the faculty to trustees, parents, alumni, and other concerned groups could make a difference. I have become increasingly less confident about that strategy. For one thing, it is extremely difficult to generate a sense of emergency sufficiently alarming that those groups will actually take action, let alone maintain that sense of emergency long enough to allow action to develop into meaningful, large-scale reform.
What's more, those groups are increasingly impotent. Time was when a prospective hiccup in the annual fund would send shivers down the spine of an anxious college president. These days, as James Piereson pointed out in an essay on the Left University in The Weekly Standard, many colleges and universities are so rich that they can afford to cock a snook at parents and alumni. Forget about Harvard and its $30 billion, or Princeton or Yale, or Stanford, or the other super-rich schools. Even many small colleges are sitting on huge fortunes.
Consider tiny Hamilton College once more. When I reported on the Susan Rosenberg case in The Wall Street Journal, the story appeared on the day that Hamilton kicked off a capital campaign at the New York Historical Society. My article was highly critical and generated a lot of comment. Donations to Hamilton, I am told, simply dried up. But so what? The college enjoys an endowment of some $780 million. That is more three-quarters of a billion dollars. So what if the annual fund is down a few millions this year? Big deal. They can afford to hunker down and wait out the outcry.
Deep and lasting change in the university depends on deep and lasting change in the culture at large. Undertaking that task is a tall order. Criticism, satire, and ridicule all have an important role to play, but the point is that such criticism, to be successful, depends upon possessing an alternative vision of the good.
Do we possess that alternative vision? I believe we do. We all know, well enough, what a good liberal education looks like, just as we all know, well enough, what makes for a healthy society. It really isn't that complicated. It doesn't take a lot of money or sophistication. What it does require is candidness and courage, moral virtues that are in short supply wherever political correctness reigns triumphant. The bottom line is that those who want to retake the university must devote themselves cultivating those virtues and perhaps even more to cultivating the virtue of patience, capitalizing wherever possible on whatever local opportunities present themselves.
Unfortunately, Kimball cops out there at the end with the "we know it when we see it" vision of curricular reform. It doesn't work for porn, and I think we can all agree that one reason the curriculum is in such a state is that we can't all agree anymore on what a proper one should look like. I also think that word "retake" hits a bum note. What Kimball envisions is hardly a siege followed by a coup--but gradual, incremental, fitful change from within, when and as academics can be moved to implement it. The rousing conclusion is ultimately not terribly rousing and not terribly conclusive.
October 27, 2008
Scrambling academic freedom
Bill Ayers, the petition, the University of Nebraska, and academic freedom come together this morning in Naomi Schaeffer Riley's Wall Street Journal column:
Late last week, the University of Nebraska rescinded an invitation to William Ayers to speak on its campus after the election. Mr. Ayers, the co-founder of the Weather Underground and the man responsible for bombing a number of federal buildings in the 1960s, has been the subject of much media attention recently, thanks to his associations with Barack Obama. When Nebraska politicians learned of Mr. Ayers's forthcoming visit to the university, they were outraged. Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson said: "His past involvement in a violent protest group and incendiary comments are not consistent with the agenda of unity that we need in America."
The university cited "security concerns" as the reason for its action (certainly ironic, given Mr. Ayers's own background), but it was seen, in certain quarters, as mere censorship. "It's a major infringement on academic freedom," David Moshman, an educational psychology professor told the Lincoln, Neb., Journal Star. Mr. Moshman called the decision "a dangerous precedent." The one upside to the publicity surrounding this controversy, he said, was that the university "may also get a major lesson in academic freedom."
Lately, it seems, Mr. Ayers, an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has become something of a poster child for "academic freedom." An online petition signed by more than 3,000 educators explained: "The attacks on and the character assassination of Ayers threaten the university as a space of open inquiry and debate, and threaten schools as places of compassion, imagination, curiosity, and free thought."
Compassion and free thought? We should remember that Mr. Ayers was a domestic terrorist. He has never expressed the slightest regret for his violent actions; indeed, he pointedly said, in 2001, that he and his collaborators "didn't do enough." And he has continued his radical project in the classroom. As Stanley Kurtz recently explained in these pages: Mr. Ayers favors "individual schools built around specific political themes," which "push students to 'confront issues of inequity, war, and violence.' He believes teacher education programs should serve as 'sites of resistance' to an oppressive system." Surely someone whose has devoted his life to attacking the system -- one way or another -- is not exempt from attacks on his own character or ideas. But champions of Mr. Ayers's "academic freedom" seem to want exactly this sort of exemption. After all, no one is talking about taking away his professorship -- just his good name.
Riley is both right and wrong here--for reasons I have laid out in my recent posts on this subject. Public criticism of Ayers is hardly a violation of his academic freedom. But Nebraska's withdrawal of its invitation to him to speak there next month--while not a violation of Ayers' academic freedom--does pose issues for academic freedom on the Lincoln campus, where administrators and legislators seem to have colluded in a decision to deny students and faculty the opportunity to hear Ayers speak, to debate his ideas, and, if they wish, to protest his positions and his past acts. As I said before, it's arguable that Nebraska erred when it invited Ayers to speak at an upcoming education conference--but it compounds the error when it rescinds the invitation and uses trumped-up concerns about "security" to justify a transparently ideological decision.
But Riley is ultimately less interested in Ayers than she is in Stanley Fish--and in parsing the "do as I say, not as I do" approach to academic freedom that he lays out in his alternately commonsensical and nonsensical new book, Save the World on Your Own Time:
A new book out by one of the academy's more esteemed fellows offers some useful reflections on the subject of academic freedom. "Save the World on Your Own Time," a short treatise by Stanley Fish, suggests a return to an earlier and more limited definition of the idea. Citing a 1915 statement by the American Association of University Professors, Mr. Fish writes: "Academic freedom can be asserted only by 'those who carry on their work in the temper of the scientific inquirer' and never by those who would use it for 'uncritical intemperate partisanship.' "
Mr. Fish's idea of academic freedom -- what he calls the "freedom to do the job" -- follows from a more narrow idea of a college education. He writes: "Pick up the mission statement of almost any college or university, and you will find claims and ambitions that will lead you to think that it is the job of an institution of higher learning to cure every ill the world has ever known: not only illiteracy and cultural ignorance, which are at least in the ball-park, but poverty, war, racism, gender bias . . . and the hegemony of Wal-Mart." Mr. Fish is merciless in mocking the overreach of the modern university, concluding: "I want an academy inflected by no one's politics, but by the nitty-gritty obligations of teaching and research."
By such a measure, Mr. Ayers is an activist professor out to save the world by way of the classroom, and he should cut it out. Just as important, there is nothing wrong with criticizing his efforts to save the world outside the classroom because, to go by Mr. Fish's comments, such criticism in no way affects academic freedom. And yet, in an essay on his New York Times blog this spring, Mr. Fish defended, you guessed it, Mr. Ayers, accusing Sen. Obama's critics of "McCarthyism" for bringing Mr. Ayers into the discussion. And Mr. Fish confessed to trying to persuade Mr. Ayers to stay at the University of Illinois, where Mr. Fish was a dean until recently, when Harvard was trying to lure him away. In short, Mr. Fish is a defender and admirer of Bill Ayers.
What should one make of this? I asked Peter Berkowitz, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, whether Mr. Ayers's behavior in the classroom fit into Mr. Fish's model of an apolitical education. "The way a square peg fits into a round hole," he replied. "From almost every point of view, Stanley Fish reveals himself to be a colossal hypocrite."
But the problem is bigger than hypocrisy. Mr. Berkowitz went on to note that it is no longer possible to say you are going to restrict people to their discipline and expect a classroom free of politics: Disciplines themselves are politicized. Prof. Mark Bauerlein of Emory University agrees. In many cases, he says, "ideological content has drifted down to the fundamental norms of the discipline." Whether it's education studies, Mr. Ayers's specialty, or women's studies or black studies, the entire premise of the discipline is a political agenda.
Mr. Ayers doesn't spend his classes asking students to assess objectively the arguments about whether America is an oppressive regime. As Mr. Berkowitz notes, Mr. Ayers's purpose is "not to make refined minds think more sharply, but to turn teachers into preparers of young radicals." Who in turn can grow up to be college professors.
Let's set aside Ayers for a moment, and think about Fish, who is all about having it both ways when it comes to academic freedom. On the one hand, in this book and in a series of NYT blog postings that formed the draft material for much of the book, Fish takes as a founding premise that a great many academics are profoundly confused about what academic freedom is and what it is not; that they think academic freedom licenses them to bring political and social agendas into the classroom; that they are, to borrow his words, trying to save the world -- and that they are abusing their profession and failing students when they do so.
On the other hand, Fish seems to think it's enough to simply tell all these misguided academics to knock it off, to save the world on their own time. He's intensely against approaching the problem through any kind of oversight or intervention, even though his analytical starting point is the fact that academics have failed to oversee themselves. How can a professoriate that does not even grasp the concept of academic freedom reinstate it? More specifically, how can professors who have entered academe expressly in order to carry out political and social agendas through teaching and research be expected to want to change, to believe in reform, and to carry it out? Not gonna happen. And thus Fish swallows his own tail and completes the circle of the status quo.
I'll end with the usual caveats to try to prevent the predictable conniptions. Not every professor is an ideologue; many academic fields are comparatively free of proselytizing pedagogy; there are individuals, departments, and schools that do separate politics from the classroom in appropriate ways, and that do devote themselves to delivering genuinely valuable liberal education.
That said, the problem is real. Even sophists who quite like the academic status quo will admit it--though it's true, too, that many academics who should know better will not. So what is to be done? And who is to do it?
October 24, 2008
Very early London footage
"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." --Samuel Johnson, to his faithful biographer and sidekick, Boswell
A Columbia student hoists Lee Bollinger on his own ethical petard:
In June 2007, University President Lee Bollinger made one of the most controversial decisions of his presidency by stating, in ironically unsparing language, why he wouldn't make controversial decisions in the University's name. Although superficially spurred by an attempted British boycott of Israeli universities and academics, Bollinger treated the matter as a politically motivated attack on open inquiry and intellectual exchange. So he replied to the proposed boycott in the comfortable language of institutional rights and responsibilities. "If the British [University and College Union] is intent on pursuing its deeply misguided policy," Bollinger wrote, "then it should add Columbia to its boycott list, for we do not intend to draw distinctions between our mission and that of the universities you are seeking to punish."
For Bollinger, an institution remains true to its "mission" when it radically de-politicizes inquiry and exchange, when it rejects the heavy-handed responsibilities of public conscience-setting whenever they conflict with the larger goals of academia. Bollinger wrote, "We gladly stand together with our many colleagues in British, American and Israeli universities against such intellectually shoddy and politically biased attempts to hijack the central mission of higher education."
Ironically, the idea that this "central mission" is only to provide a venue--and not to provide moral or social guidance from the institutional level--is what enabled Bollinger to OK the Ahmadinejad invitation a few months later. The invite arguably stretched the idea of institutional neutrality to the point of moral abdication. But Bollinger was careful to dispel the notion that the University was standing up for anything other than its institutional neutrality in allowing Ahmadinejad to speak. Said Bollinger, "It is a critical premise of freedom of speech that we do not honor the dishonorable when we open the public forum to their voices." With the boycott and with the Ahmadinejad invitation, Bollinger was consistent in arguing that the University would never use its institutional weight to dictate policy to its students or to the broader, non-academic world.
But the recent ROTC controversy has revealed just how malleable this deeply held institutional value can be. If you follow Bollinger's logic, the very purpose of the University is confirmed by its ability to remain strictly impartial on two of the most divisive countries on earth (Israel and Iran) and jeopardized by its silence on a comparatively smaller matter: the military's "Don’t Ask, Don't Tell" policy on homosexuals in uniform. "Under the current 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy of the Defense Department," Bollinger wrote in a campus-wide e-mail on Sept. 25, "openly gay and lesbian students could or would be excluded from participating in ROTC activities. That is inconsistent with the fundamental values of the University."
Of course one of the fundamental values of any university is freedom of conscience, which the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education defines as the right of students "to make up their own minds on the issues of the day--without administrative coercion." In 2005, when several law schools sued the government over federal funding withheld from programs that would not allow military recruiters on campus--on the basis that this would coerce them into supporting the military’s homophobic policies--it was the expectation of freedom of conscience that convinced the Supreme Court to dismiss the case. Finding that "students may not be regarded as closed-circuit recipients of only that which the [school] chooses to communicate," the court decided that a pompous, pseudo-parental sense of responsibility didn’t equate with institutional first amendment rights.
Granted, law schools still have the right to effectively co-opt the marketplace of ideas--to take the more than slightly paternalistic tack that students have to be actively protected from that which the administration finds disagreeable. But in the 2005 decision, the Court determined that the government could take this sudden moral heroism into account when deciding just how much money an institution would receive.
The significance of this is apparently lost on Bollinger, who sees no conflict between a legislated morality and a vibrant public sphere. Yet every time a university acts on principle, there's the very real potential that the intellectual space it governs will shrink--after all, which IGB-sponsored student groups are "inconsistent with the fundamental values of the university?" Or which on-campus job recruiters? Or which professors or classes, or Spectator columns, for that matter?
In 2005, the Supreme Court decided that these questions were better left unasked--and that if a university wanted to forfeit its institutional neutrality and begin speaking on behalf of others, it would do so at the expense of its federal funding.
This isn't to suggest that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is anything other than a national disgrace. But as Bollinger himself so eloquently argued in June 2007, at a university, freedom of inquiry and conscience are the only values that matter. In essentially banning the military from campus, Bollinger is doing more than dictating policy on a wide swath of issues: "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and the place of the military in civilian public life chief among them. He's also imploding those ideals that he once adamantly defended.
Nice. The author, Armin Rosen, majors in English and Judaic Studies, and edits the Columbia Spectator's opinion blog.
The ROTC issue has gotten new life in recent weeks, thanks to the comments Senators Obama and McCain made at a Columbia service forum in September. And one of the things I am noticing about the renewed discussion is that it tends to be students who want to see ROTC return to campus--and it tends also to be students who can deal with the complexity of that position. Unlike the professors and administrators who oppose ROTC for ideological reasons, they draw a clear distinction between supporting ROTC and supporting DADT, rejecting the equation folks like Bollinger make between the two. The future they envision is one in which ROTC has returned to campus--and where there is also an open, reasoned debate about why DADT serves no one well. It's quite interesting to see the role reversal this involves, with students being the ones who can teach the teachers a thing or two about grasping ambiguity and grappling constructively with difficult moral issues.
Here's another example, also from the Columbia Spectator:
In a recent e-mail, President Lee Bollinger referenced a "core principle of the University: that we will not have programs on the campus that discriminate." This attitude towards homophobia explains much of the gay community's attitude toward the military. The military discriminates against us. Until this discrimination ends, we are against the military.
However, I cannot withdraw from my responsibility as an American any more than I can withdraw from my family. The military, controlled by an elected civilian, represents a permanent part of American life. The military's problems are our problems--the military's mistakes are our mistakes. Take one pressing mistake: Don't Ask, Don't Tell. In his e-mail, Bollinger referred to Don't Ask Don't Tell as a Department of Defense policy. This statement reveals a crucial error in thinking, for Don't Ask Don't Tell is not a DOD policy, but rather a federal law, brought through Congress and signed by Bill Clinton. All of these representatives acted through the power invested in them by the people. We elect our leaders, and these leaders help to shape our government. We cannot look at the military as something exterior to ourselves any more than we can look at the plight of the public schools or the prison system as exterior to ourselves.
We cannot address discrimination by distancing ourselves from the military. We cannot ignore Columbia's potential to create a liberalizing influence from the bottom up (the five students Bollinger lists as currently participating in Fordham's ROTC program can do precious little on their own). As an elite institution funded largely by taxpayer dollars, we cannot legally excuse ourselves from actively engaging with the military (read the Solomon Amendment). Most importantly, we cannot address discrimination by imagining that we can keep it off of campus. Bias exists in our homes, in our classrooms, in the law of the land, and in ourselves. When we see discrimination on campus, this means that our campus accurately reflects America. We need to see the truth. We do not need shelter. We should embrace the discriminatory--whether embodied in a person, a community, or an American institution--and thereby seek to change it.
The author is president of the sophomore class and treasurer for the Columbia Queer Alliance.
October 20, 2008
Very quick on Ayers and academic freedom
Am swamped today. Not even time for complete sentences! But wanted to note two things, as a follow-up to my post last week about academic freedom and Bill Ayers.
First--a piece in this morning's Daily Pennsylvanian, proving my point about how the mischaracterization of public criticism of academic figures as a violation of academic freedom tends to be accompanied by melodramatic and misguided cries of "McCarthyism:"
For Graduate School of Education professor Kathy Schultz, the allegations being leveled against University of Illinois at Chicago education professor Bill Ayers are "charges of McCarthysim."
That's what caused her to join the more than 3,200 people--including eight others affiliated with Penn--in signing a recent national petition in support of Ayers.
The article goes on in this vein, and, following the example of those it quotes, shows a great deal of sympathy for Ayers and for the petition supporting him. Along the way, it fails to cast a critical eye on the problematic logic that underpins it. Sigh. Think harder, kids--and don't just accept everything your teachers tell you!
Second thing: The University of Nebraska has disinvited Bill Ayers from delivering the keynote address at a November conference on campus. The official reason centers on security concerns--but that's a transparent and unconvincing attempt to render unexceptionable a highly troubling decision that smacks of political brinksmanship. The decision was made shortly after the governor, various legislators, and donors demanded that Ayers not be allowed to speak on campus.
Unlike the media criticism of Ayers, this decision does pose a problem for academic freedom--not that of Ayers, as he does not have an automatic right to express himself at Nebraska, but that of the entire campus community, which very much has the right to hear speakers of all sorts, to debate their ideas, and to decide for themselves what they think of what those speakers have to say. Bad call, Nebraska.
It's arguable that Ayers ought never to have been invited. But he was--back in March--and the worse decision now is to call his appearance off. It's the easiest thing in the world for colleges and universities to invoke "security concerns" to suppress controversial speakers--but they have a deep obligation not to go down that road.
UPDATE: More on John K. Wilson's blog. We disagree a lot of the time, but this one really is a no-brainer.
October 15, 2008
How it really works
Gary Olson is dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Illinois State University--which means he's pretty much seen it all when it comes to the behavior of academics. His column in this morning's Chronicle of Higher Ed concentrates on the humdrum, everyday, ubiquitous forms of professional violence that academics love to do to one another -- and it's worth reproducing in full.
Many years ago when I directed a doctoral program in my discipline, I invited a celebrated scholar to hold a daylong "master class" for a select number of senior graduate students. He lectured for a few hours and then opened the session to questions. "Dr. Famous," one student asked, "what do we need to know to survive our first year as assistant professors?"
A notorious enfant terrible, our mischievous guest stunned everyone with his reply: "Remember that every department has at least one ax murderer, but you won't know in advance who it is so you'd better be on your guard."
While our guest was clearly playing to his audience for a laugh, he was also articulating what has become a lamentable fact of faculty life: Many academics regularly engage in a kind of "gotcha" politics.
The propensity to pounce ruthlessly on a politically wounded colleague is rapidly becoming a favorite spectator sport in academe. I am continually astonished by the gusto with which some faculty members will leap to attack a colleague at the slightest hint of an allegation of misconduct, even when the accused is a close friend. Or by how vigorously some department chairs will initiate proceedings against a faculty member when informal discussions might have resolved the issue in question.
Over the years, I have served on or presided over inquiry panels convened to determine whether a complaint against a professor had merit. Invariably there would be a point in the proceedings — usually early on and before all the evidence had been considered — when some faculty member would pronounce indignantly that the accused was clearly guilty and that we should recommend the maximum penalty available. "He most certainly made an offensive remark in class; he should be suspended for at least a semester." Or, "She undoubtedly falsified her research results; she should be stripped of all future institutional support." Or, "This is clearly plagiarism; he should be fired immediately."
Although such pronouncements were always made solemnly, I could not help but detect a certain underlying glee — the kind you might find when a parent catches a child misbehaving.
When guilt is assigned before all the evidence and perspectives are heard, when the verdict is swift but premature, and when the recommended penalty is the most draconian available, we have entered the zone of gotcha politics. That zone has no room for judicious deliberation, reasoned debate, or compassion — which makes it especially out of place in an institution that has historically prided itself on championing reason, deliberation, and justice.
Undoubtedly, predatory behavior in the academic world is a convenient means of crippling or eliminating rivals. Why not accelerate your opponents' demise by advocating strenuously against them if the opportunity presents itself?
A business dean told me that one of his faculty members had become convinced that a popular associate professor regularly altered his teaching evaluations by slipping into the department late at night after students had returned their evaluation forms and removing any negative ones. The incensed colleague mounted a vigorous campaign against the associate professor, whose reputation was ruined in the process. Everyone in the college believed he was guilty. As it turned out, an extensive investigation proved conclusively that the professor was innocent; no tampering had occurred whatsoever.
The same people who are quick to ascribe guilt are often the first to violate confidentiality and fuel the engine of gossip and innuendo, which can, in effect, render irrelevant any official finding in the case. An individual may be exonerated in the end but found guilty in the popular imagination.
A favorite gambit of those who engage in such vicious politics is to enlist a student — preferably a graduate student — to do their dirty work. They will urge the student to file a complaint against a rival or spread malicious gossip. In fact, it is not uncommon to discover after some scrutiny that a student's letter of complaint against a professor was actually penned by another professor.
Gotcha politics are particularly brutal when they involve anonymity. A number of my fellow deans across the country tell me they are continually shocked by the viciousness with which some faculty members attack their chairs in end-of-year written evaluation surveys. Some evaluations contain abusive diatribes and preposterous allegations, all based on the flimsiest of evidence (or just on gossip).
University administrators regularly receive anonymous letters purporting to reveal some grievous act by a faculty member: This one has plagiarized; that one is sleeping with students; another is misusing grant money. Rarely does the anonymous revelation provide specific facts and details, much less do so in a coolly objective tone. More often it takes the form of a rant with little specificity.
The ever-increasing influence of blogs has exacerbated the problem. Blogs foster a culture of anonymity and unchecked expression without accountability. Bloggers can write whatever they want, regardless of the damage to others, and they can do so fully protected by the cloak of secrecy. In some universities, blogs dedicated to unseating the institution's president have proved quite effective. In response, some university presidents have instituted their own blogs and have made them easily accessible from the institution's Web site.
The kind of predatory politics I am describing thrive on righteous indignation and, as such, are self-serving: If you are in a position to renounce some perceived indiscretion or act of wrongdoing, then you can feel — at least to yourself — morally superior. No need to consider possible extenuating circumstances or alternate interpretations of the facts. After all, you have the high ground.
Perhaps the most extreme form of gotcha politics is the phenomenon recently dubbed "mobbing," in which a group of people collectively set out to damage or destroy a colleague's reputation. The Chronicle has reported fairly extensively on this trend and has detailed several cases in which professors and administrators have fallen prey to mob action.
We all have the right — indeed, the obligation — to point out potential misconduct when we become aware of it. Improper behavior needs to be identified and halted. But dealing with that behavior does not require ad hominem attack, abusive language, unsubstantiated allegations, or wolf-pack savagery.
It's not criticism that is in question; it's the tone and style of it.
Obviously, there is no way to legislate against gotcha politics or to prevent it by fiat. The only way to put an end to such incivility is for each of us to resolve not to be a party to such unprofessional behavior. It is in your own best interest to do so. After all, you never know when you might become the ax murderer's next target.
I'll make a wager. I will bet that no academic reading this blog has never seen any of the above. I will further bet that very few of the academics reading this blog have actually stood up for what's right when witnessing the poor behaviors Olson outlines. That's what keeps it going and allows it to become a norm, after all. I also suspect that no academic reading this blog can honestly say that they have never seen mobbing behavior among their colleagues--if they have not been mobbed themselves, they have watched others be mobbed, or have perhaps participated in a mobbing (rationalizing it as something else, of course, along the way). And I split a hair here that should not, perhaps, be split: If you passively sit by and let a mob do its thing, then you are accessory to that mob, and a de facto participant in it. Maybe you think the mobbing was deserved--or maybe you feared that it would target you next. But that doesn't absolve you.
Olson is describing an ugly truth about the day to day working culture of those who trumpet their special right to academic freedom--and who often invoke it as license not to have to be accountable in the ways other working people must be accountable. But part of academic freedom is the freedom to self-govern--and the obligation to do so. What Olson is describing is an academy that has abdicated that responsibility so often and so long that a very different, very toxic set of norms has taken over.
October 14, 2008
Ayers and academic freedom
Academic freedom does not mean "freedom from criticism." But there are a lot of academics who would like it to mean that--and who respond to public criticism with cries that the criticism threatens academic freedom. The cries have grown especially loud since 9/11. Remember, for example, Daniel Pipes' Campus Watch? This was an effort to publish the names and dossiers of academics whose public statements suggested that they were apologists for terror. It drew loud, angry protests from within academe, the word "McCarthyism" was much in the air, and the episode was defined by many as a threat to academic freedom. Of course, it was nothing of the kind. It was unwise and ill-advised--you don't create meaningful reform of academia by targeting individuals, and you do encourage a mob mentality that serves no one well. But it was not a threat to academic freedom.
Public criticism of academics cannot, by definition, threaten academic freedom. The only people who can threaten academic freedom are those with the power to curtail professors' ability to do their job: academic freedom, is after all, a word that describes the professional habitus of academics, and refers to the reciprocal duties and obligations (here I paraphrase the AAUP) of professors to teach and research in a manner that is utterly responsible to the pursuit of truth and the ideal of free inquiry. Administrators and, in rare cases, legislators, can threaten or violate academic freedom. But journalists, pundits, talking heads, radio personalities, and the like cannot.
The nonsensical character of yelling "academic freedom" in the face of public scrutiny of academics' public statements, published research, and public deeds seems lost on many, however. And so it is that the electoral and media frenzy currently surrounding Bill Ayers has prompted more than 3,200 academics across the country to sign a statement of support posted at www.supportbillayers.org. The statement soft-pedals Ayers' past, glorifies his academic work, and holds him up as a martyr to academic freedom: "the attacks on and the character assassination of Ayers threaten the university as a space of open inquiry and debate, and threaten schools as places of compassion, imagination, curiosity, and free thought. They serve as warnings that anyone who voices perspectives and advances questions that challenge orthodoxy and political power may become a target, and this, then, casts a chill over free speech and inquiry and the spirit of democracy." An aura of Puritanical self-righteousness hangs over it all--witch hunts are invoked, Ayers' is portrayed as the victim of "demonization," and academia emerges as the City on a Hill that is being corrupted by the false accusations of lesser, fallen mortals from beyond the ivory tower.
Inside Higher Ed has the details--but not a properly critical perspective. Ward Churchill gets three paragraphs to express his support for Ayers; much space is devoted to students and colleagues who really like Ayers. KC Johnson gets a token quote late in the piece; he touches on the problem of groupthink in academe. But no space is given to anyone who might suggest that criticism of a public figure is part of public discourse within a democracy, and hardly constitutes a threat to academic freedom.
Luckily, comments are doing what comments do. Here's DePaul math professor Jonathan Cohen:
This is a strange article because it frames criticism of Bill Ayers as an attack on academic freedom. Ayers is a very public intellectual and the public has a right to criticize him. The characterization of Bill Ayers as an unrepentant domestic terrorist is criticism of Ayers. It is protected speech. It is also undoubtedly true.
This article gives the impression that the Weathermen were simply overzealous critics of the war who were only hurting property and were careful to avoid hurting people. That is nonsense.
The details of their activities are difficult to pin down because setting off bombs is illegal and though they sent out communiques claiming credit for at least a dozen bombings, the details naming names were never included.
Before they went underground, they organized the "Days of Rage" in which about three hundred people gathered in Chicago and went running through the streets smashing windows and attacking police. When states attorney Richard Elrod was hurt by one of the demonstrators it was described in the newsletter sent out to people on the sds mailing list as "Pig Elrod was paralyzed, hopefully for life".
The group went underground two months later and two violent incidents occurred in which the Weather underground was strongly suspected. One was the bombing of a San Francisco police station in which one policeman was killed. The second was the firebombing of the house of the judge in the Panther 21 trial, an action that seemed aimed at killing not only the judge but his entire family.
In March of 1970, three months after going underground, three members of the weathermen blew themselves up in a townhouse explosion caused by the premature explosion of anti-personnel bombss that were being prepared for a dance for soldiers at Fort Dix.
After the townhouse explosion, they did move away from actions aimed at killing and injuring people. But in reality there is no way that setting off explosions in public buildings does not run a high risk of causing injury and death. Furthermore, it is clearly aimed at causing fear and intimidating the general population, something that is one of the major goal of all political terrorists. And it must be remembered, it was not until their own members had gotten killed that they developed a conscience about taking the life of innocents.
The Weathermen viewed America as hopelessly flawed by white racism and believed that a war was going on against America and the only way to help was to join that fight to help destroy it. They viewed those who didn’t join them as wedded to their "white skin privilege" and not sufficiently committed to the revolutionary struggle. Because monogamous relationships such as marriage were seen as barriers to total commitment, couples were pressured into having sex with other partners as part of the process of preparing for war.
The Weathermen saw themselves as following in the footsteps of John Brown's anti-slavery crusade. One of their chants was "John Brown live like him, dare to struggle, dare to win". While they were smashing store windows and "fighting the pigs" in downtown Chicago, they saw themselves as attacking Harper's Ferry and freeing the slaves.
It was madness and it only hindered the efforts of others to end the Vietnam War. They didn’t want to end the war, they wanted to bring the war home.
Bill Ayers has never been held accountable for his actions. By his own words he was "guilty as hell, free as a bird". Though the Weathermen acknowledged some of their excesses, there is no evidence that they have changed their fundamental view of American society.
There is no reason for a petition defending Bill Ayers' academic freedom. Nobody is trying to take his job away. Nobody is denying him the right to express his views. The only explanation for this petition is that it is a defense of Ayers' views and an attempt to demonize his critics.
You can say that again. What's happening to Ayers is intense and certainly unpleasant. But public figures--and Ayers most certainly is that--invite scrutiny, challenge, and criticism. The marketplace of ideas can be a rough place. And we should remember that Ayers does have legal recourse if he is libeled. We should also remember that none of this has anything to do with academic freedom.
As long as Ayers' employer leaves him alone--as long as there is no attempt to investigate or discipline him for his speech, as long as he is left alone to teach and research as he sees fit--his academic freedom is fine.
The state of debate in this country--and academics' duty to function as fiduciaries of free and unfettered exchange--well, that's another issue entirely.
October 13, 2008
Bok on outcomes
From former Harvard president Derek Bok's remarks at a conference sponsored by the Spencer and Teagle Foundations:
College professors could become much more effective teachers if they would approach the question of what their students are learning the same way they approach their own academic research, Derek Bok, a former president of Harvard University, said here Friday at a gathering of higher-education leaders concerned with improving liberal education.
Faculty members deeply believe in experimentation, learning through trial and error, and gathering evidence, "but they do not apply these methods of inquiry to their own teaching," Mr. Bok, who remains a professor of law at Harvard, said in an interview.
"They are genuinely concerned with the development and intellectual progress of students," he said, "but they are not willing to apply themselves to determining how much learning and engagement is going on."
If liberal education is to improve, Mr. Bok said, administrators and faculty members must work together to design, and then use, measures of how well students are acquiring key skills such as the ability to think critically and analytically and to write well. As a result of advancements in cognitive science, he said, some such measures are already available.
"We can give faculty a pretty clear sense of where problems lie," he said.
He's right--and he's also quite interesting on where faculty resistance to such a basic set of premises comes from. As summarized by CHE:
Mr. Bok blamed much of the failure of faculty members to teach effectively on their graduate-school education.
Graduate education, he said, focuses almost entirely on the knowledge and research techniques of specific disciplines and devotes little attention to teaching students how to teach. Having earned their doctorates without the benefit of solid pedagogical training, many college faculty members end up simply emulating the professors who taught them best, which leaves them repeating the instructional methods of the past rather than adopting effective new approaches.
Such professors, Mr. Bok said, assume their students are learning and engaged mainly because they do not have evidence to the contrary. He expressed confidence that faculty members would work to be better teachers if they were provided with data showing them that their students were failing to learn the skills that a good liberal education provides. "No professor I know will simply walk away from that," he said.
He might be stretching a point with that last sentence--but it's easy enough to see why he's giving the benefit of the doubt. The fact is, as he must well know, that there is quite a bit of resistance--much of it reflexive, visceral, defensive--to just such assessment. The wagons get circled pretty quickly when the topic of outcomes assessment comes up, and the usual threatened questions come up: Who will do the assessing? How is it possible to come up with an assessment tool that works for everyone? What use will be made of the results? Won't this wind up empowering administrators and bureaucrats while potentially violating academic freedom? And so on. The working assumption in this line of thought is that college professors are so unique and idiosyncratic--their methods and styles so totally beyond the ken of all analytical rubrics--that the only probable, perhaps possible outcome of such outcomes assessment is a further layer of oppressive bureaucratization in an already overly corporate educational structure. The kiss of death dismissal tends to be that the last thing we need is the NCLB-ization of higher education. Meanwhile, the needs of students--whose deplorable college learning outcomes are well documented--get ignored.
But Bok has some good ideas that attempt to sidestep the wingflapping he simply must know well. So did others at the conference:
He said college leaders can improve learning with only modest amounts of money. At Harvard, he said, he established a program that provided small grants to faculty members who were willing to try new teaching approaches, with the only condition being that they had to evaluate their efforts' success.
Among the topics tackled at the weekend conference were the role of accrediting agencies and state and federal officials in promoting better educational practices at colleges; the question of what aspects of learning and student engagement can actually be measured broadly and within certain disciplines; and how to improve the pedagogical training of faculty members and provide them with incentives to improve their teaching.
Many of those at the conference argued that colleges need to work collaboratively to improve student learning, or they run the risk of seeing their autonomy eroded by new efforts by the federal government to hold them accountable for student success. Some people here expressed frustration that their colleges already have substantial access to data on students progress--through measures such as the Collegiate Learning Assessment and the National Survey of Student Engagement--but generally are unwilling to share this information with faculty members.
The age of accountability is upon is. It's in the interests of academic freedom for college professors to take that seriously, and to assume responsibility for a form of self-assessment and continuing education that is long overdue. If self-governance is important to academics, then it really has to be self-governance. It can't be a system of strategic free passes--or communally accepted irresponsibilities.
Back in 1995, one of the first things my graduate advisor said to me when I was offered a job at Penn was, "Whatever you do, don't win a teaching award. If you do, you'll never get tenure." He was referencing an unwritten truth about the academic culture of certain departments in certain fields; his comment spoke less about Penn than about how good teaching can be seen as a positive strike against the career aspirations of young academics in certain kinds of university settings. And it points to the kind of attitude that underwrites the resistance to good teaching that permeates much--not all, but much--of the academy today.
But in the humanities in particular, good teaching is the single most important thing a college professor can do. It matters so very much more than writing the millionth obscure monograph on Jane Austen or Shakespeare. Bok's recommendations speak to that commonsense fact.
October 10, 2008
Candor, my tepid friend
I love it when we get to rewrite literary history, and I especially love it when we get to do so because new biographical information about an author has come out. It's fun to see the record reshape itself--and also fun to watch critics struggle to reconcile their imaginative investments with hard facts.
There's a great piece in Slate about how Emily Dickinson--American literature's favorite shy and retiring spinster--was really not shy and retiring at all ... and about how hard critics have worked not to take full and fair stock of who she actually was and what that means for our understanding of her poetry:
We tend to reserve special roles for our favorite writers--sepulchral Poe; sardonic Mark Twain; sexy, world-embracing Walt Whitman--and resist evidence that contradicts our cherished images. Emily Dickinson in this constellation is forever the lovelorn spinster, pining away in her father's mansion on Main Street in Amherst, Mass. We assume that the grand passion behind her poems ("Wild nights--Wild nights! Were I with thee") must have had a commensurate inspiration, whether imaginary, superhuman, or divine. Evidence that Dickinson's love life was fairly ordinary, with ordinary temptations and disappointments, doesn't quite fit the bill. Her exile on Main Street has seemed a necessary part of the Dickinson myth, so necessary, indeed, that contrary information--which happens to have been piling up lately--has often been discounted or ignored.
For example, when Mabel Loomis Todd, the vivacious and talented wife of Amherst College astronomer David Todd, was invited to play the piano for Dickinson and her younger sister, Lavinia, in September of 1882, she received a startling warning from their sister-in-law, Susan Dickinson, next door. The Dickinson spinster sisters, Sue informed her, "have not, either of them, any idea of morality." Sue added darkly, "I went in there one day, and in the drawing room I found Emily reclining in the arms of a man."
It's now widely assumed that that man was Judge Otis Lord, a widower of her father's generation who proposed marriage to Dickinson late in his life and hers (she died in 1886 at the age of 56) only to be affectionately rebuffed. "Don't you know," she wrote coyly but decisively, "that you are happiest while I withhold and not confer?" Yet the notion of Emily Dickinson making out in her living room is so foreign to our conception of her that her autumnal tryst with Judge Lord has never become part of the popular lore about her.
The discovery that Dickinson did not have to wait until her dotage to experience some of the pleasures of ordinary romantic companionship has so far sunk like a stone, too. A carefully argued scholarly article titled "Thinking Musically, Writing Expectantly: New Biographical Information About Emily Dickinson," published this summer in the staid New England Quarterly, has caused not a ripple.
The author, Carol Damon Andrews, is an independent scholar who has worked at the Worcester Art Museum in central Massachusetts. She told a reporter for the Amherst Bulletin that she was pursuing some family history among her Penniman ancestors when she stumbled across two intriguing entries in the diaries of Eliza Houghton Penniman, a music teacher who gave piano lessons in Amherst before settling in Worcester.
The first entry reads, in part: "I commenced teaching vocal & instrumental music when I was 16. My first pupils were Fanny Sellon daughter of Dr S. of Amherst ... & lawyer Dickinson's daughter Emily." This was in 1839, when Emily Dickinson was 8 years old. Part of the understated charm of Andrews' article is that she gives as much attention to her discovery that Dickinson's musical education began six years earlier than had previously been supposed as she does to the bombshell that follows, in a later diary entry:
In Amherst ... I had a class in music: ... Emily Dickinson, daughter of lawyer Dickinson, to whom Dr. George Gould of Worcester, was engaged when in college there. Lawyer Dickinson vetoed the whole affair, the Rev. George being a POOR student then, and poor Emily's heart was broken.
The name George Gould is not new to Dickinson scholars. An Amherst College graduate of 1850 and a close friend of Dickinson's brother, Austin, Gould has long been identified as part of Emily Dickinson's youthful social circle. In Brenda Wineapple's new book, White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, he makes a cameo as one of the young friends "to whom she seems to have shown some of her early work" before finding a more sophisticated mentor in Higginson.
In fact, the possibility that Gould might have been more than a friend isn't new, either--but, as Andrews shows, it received a notably cool welcome.
Andrews does not pretend to be the first person to claim that Gould was Dickinson's secret lover. Genevieve Taggard, a leftist poet best known for her Depression-era populist verse, published a vividly written biography of Emily Dickinson in 1930 after teaching for a year at Mount Holyoke, Dickinson's alma mater. Taggard discovered what she called the "purloined valentine," sent by Dickinson in 1850, inviting a mysterious someone to "meet me at sunrise, or sunset, or the new moon." Subsequent scholars have assumed Gould was a likely recipient but left it at that. Taggard, however, built her narrative around the youthful love affair of Emily and George, blaming the breakup of the engagement on Dickinson's father but ascribing a different motive, one more in line with her proto-feminist approach.
It wasn't that George was poor, Taggard maintained; it's that Edward Dickinson wanted Emily for himself. Asking Emily to play the piano "was Edward's way of bringing Emily back when she escaped." When it became clear, at a graduation party in 1850, that Emily and George were in love, Edward declared "that the affair must end." Taggard suggested that Emily and George continued to meet despite the ban, hooking up secretly in Philadelphia and New York as well as in Amherst until a final break in 1862, when George, who had trained for the ministry, married and settled in Worcester.
It's startling to go back to Taggard's nearly forgotten and rarely read book and find how much evidence she tracked down for her tale of star-crossed lovers. She quotes several sources, including a friend of Lavinia's, all of whom requested anonymity but confirmed the basic details of the affair. So, why wasn't her story believed?
Once again, it was the popular image of shade-seeking Dickinson holed up in her father's house that prevailed. As Andrews argues, there was a concerted effort to suppress Taggard's findings, led by Susan Dickinson's daughter, Martha, and Amherst College professor and biographer George F. Whicher, who announced that he intended "to terminate the persistent search for Emily's unknown love." Whicher attacked Taggard's book as "untrustworthy" and suggested that its plotline was derived from the "stale formula of Hollywood romance and Greenwich Village psychology"--a sly dig at Taggard's bohemian and socialist convictions.
There is more to this tale, including some pretty convincing evidence that three mysterious love letters Dickinson drafted in the late 1850s--passionate, masochistic, and lyrical texts referred to as the "Master Letters" for their unknown recipient--were actually addressed to Gould: "I've got a Tomahawk in my side but that don't humor me much, Her Master stabs her more--Wont he come to her." After Dickinson's death, Mabel Todd began collecting her letters for publication and wrote to Gould. He responded that he had "quite a cherished batch of Emily's letters myself kept sacredly in a small trunk ... which some 15 years ago mysteriously disappeared."
If there's a surprise in all this, it's an ordinary one. It turns out that Emily Dickinson had the kind of early romantic entanglement and disappointment that so many young people have. They find someone congenial; they exchange gifts and promises; their parents intervene for various acknowledged and unacknowledged reasons. If such ordinariness seems somehow beneath the dignity of one of our supreme poets, that's probably why even this latest challenge to the image of isolated Emily has gotten so little attention. Alas, there's nothing mysterious or mystical here except what Emily Dickinson made, in her extraordinary poems, of her all-too-human disappointment.
Perhaps we need a film to drive it all home. It could be called Becoming Emily, and could star Anne Hathaway.
October 7, 2008
More on ROTC
In the wake of comments made by Senators Obama and McCain at a recent Columbia University forum, students there are showing renewed interest in restoring ROTC to campus. And similar things are happening at Yale. Last night, a debate at the Yale Political Union saw the case for ROTC's return forcefully argued--and this morning, the Yale Daily News is following up with a strong staff editorial:
Although Yale boasts the motto "For God, For Country and For Yale," it does not, in 2008, live up to that second vow. As the YPU concluded in its debate last night, the time is right for the University to resurrect ROTC.
In bringing the program back to campus, however, the University must not abandon its opposition to Congress' discriminatory policy that prevents openly gay Americans from enlisting. In fact, it should seize such a moment to reinvigorate the debate.
As it stands, Yale's strategy to combat "don't ask, don't tell" is, practically speaking, ineffective. Yale Law School's longstanding stance against providing equal access to JAG recruiters, for example, is the closest the University has come to prevailing. That approach ended with a unanimous loss at the U.S. Supreme Court more than a year ago.
There remains, however, a serious problem: The military unabashedly discriminates. We, like so many in the Yale community, believe "don't ask, don't tell" is wrong. The next president should call for its overhaul. But not allowing ROTC won’t achieve a thing.
"It's kind of like not dealing with the problem at all as opposed to trying to change it," said Taylor Giffen '09, who spends all day Thursday at the University of Connecticut in the Air Force ROTC.
On a more fundamental level, Yale, of all schools, should reconnect to its history as a college at the forefront of national defense and public service. As Gen. William Odom, a Yale professor who passed away this summer, put it in 2006, "When a republic's upper strata of youth contribute no leadership to the upper ranks of the military, is the republic really safe?"
Or just take Major-General Leonard Wood, the Rough Rider commander who delivered a rousing Woolsey Hall speech in 1915.
"At the present time, the country is woefully unprepared to resist a great power," he said to a standing ovation. "The obligation to defend the country rests on everyone!"
Then he asked a good question. "Have you nothing to defend?"
ACTA has written to the governing boards of Columbia, Yale, Harvard, Brown, Stanford, Chicago, and Tufts urging them to take the lead in opening their campuses to ROTC.
From today's New York Times:
NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y.--The Latin class at Isaac E. Young Middle School here was reading a story the other day with a familiar ring: Boy annoys girl, girl scolds boy. Only in this version, the characters were named Sextus and Cornelia, and they argued in Latin.
"I can relate, but what the heck are they saying?" said Xavier Pena, a sixth grader who started studying Latin in September.
Enrollment in Latin classes here in this Westchester County suburb has increased by nearly one-third since 2006, to 187 of the district's 10,500 students, and the two middle schools in town are starting an ancient-cultures club in which students will explore the lives of Romans, Greeks and others.
The resurgence of a language once rejected as outdated and irrelevant is reflected across the country as Latin is embraced by a new generation of students like Xavier who seek to increase SAT scores or stand out from their friends, or simply harbor a fascination for the ancient language after reading Harry Potter's Latin-based chanting spells.
The number of students in the United States taking the National Latin Exam has risen steadily to more than 134,000 students in each of the past two years, from 124,000 in 2003 and 101,000 in 1998, with large increases in remote parts of the country like New Mexico, Alaska and Vermont. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement test in Latin, meanwhile, has nearly doubled over the past 10 years, to 8,654 in 2007.
I had six years of French in school, and only wish I had had more. You retain the language skills you build when you are young, and the benefits and pleasure last and last. It's also much easier to pick up new languages once you've gotten the hang of foreign language study. And Latin is a marvelous place to start. These kids will learn things about grammar and vocabulary that will cross over into their use of English.
Fun facts from the article: At Brooklyn Latin, Latin is the language of choice for bathroom wall graffiti. And both Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss have been translated into Latin ("Harrius Potter et Philosophi Lapis" and "Cattus Petasatus").
Here's a quasi-random question. Who out there has studied Irish? And what materials did you use?
October 2, 2008
ROTC, Columbia, and the Obama Effect
This fun and provocative WSJ piece parses how Obama's comments about Columbia's wrong-headed stance on ROTC is energizing students--and putting President Lee Bollinger on the spot:
Well, he's not a Marine yet. But Austin Byrd is a junior at Columbia University who has completed Officer Candidate School. So when he graduates nearly two years from now, he will leave campus with more than an Ivy degree. On his shoulders, he will carry the gold bars of a second lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps.
When that good day comes, Mr. Byrd says, he hopes that his university will have lifted a ban on the Reserve Officers' Training Corps that dates back to Vietnam. And here the Marine officer-to-be has a surprising ally: Columbia's most famous son, Barack Obama.
In a forum on public service on campus earlier this month, Mr. Obama (Columbia '83) and John McCain (Annapolis '58) were both asked about the ROTC ban. When Mr. McCain predictably called on Columbia to "re-examine" the ban, he was predictably booed by a crowd of several thousand students who were watching the debate on a giant TV screen on campus.
The question was later put to Mr. Obama. "I think we've made a mistake on that," Mr. Obama replied. "I recognize that there are students here who have differences in terms of military policy, but the notion that young people here at Columbia aren't offered a choice or an option in participating in military service is a mistake." The same students who had so lustily booed Mr. McCain, reported the New York Times, were "largely silent" when Mr. Obama gave the same answer.
Mr. Byrd hopes that Mr. Obama's statement is more than just a passing reference. "His words have been useful for having a debate," says the art history major from Rochester, N.Y. "But his words are not going to change anything on their own. If he really believes what he said, I think he has an obligation to follow through. This is a place where he has enormous influence."
Indeed, though the ban on ROTC is perennially debated at Columbia, Mr. Obama's answer has energized student groups like the Hamilton Society, which are working for its repeal. The last time the question was put to the student body, 65% favored lifting the ban. Now it looks as though there will be another campus vote, preceded by two town-hall style debates. Though the final details are still being hashed out, the plan is to have it all done before the November presidential elections.
And that puts Columbia's president, Lee Bollinger, in a fix. Though a student vote would not bind the university into revoking the ban, it would have embarrassing consequences. If Columbia's students were, once again, to vote in favor of lifting the ban, they would effectively be joining Mr. Obama in urging Mr. Bollinger to move beyond the partisan divisions of the past.
In this regard, the note Mr. Bollinger sent on Thursday to the Columbia family was illuminating. In an email, he outlined the reasons why ROTC was neither necessary nor desirable. When not downright misleading, the note was telling for its emphasis on side issues.
For example, Mr. Bollinger pointed out that even without ROTC on its own campus, Columbia students can fulfill their ROTC requirements elsewhere. But that option is available only for Army and Air Force ROTC. Students like Mr. Byrd, who wish to serve as officers in the Navy or Marine Corps, are out of luck. And some might even think that a scandal for a university that at one point in its life was commissioning more naval officers than Annapolis.
Even more revealing, Mr. Bollinger attributes Columbia's ban on ROTC as a reaction to the "current Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of the Defense Department." Of course, "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is not a Defense Department policy. It is United States law. Mr. Bollinger either knows this and is being misleading, or he doesn't know it. Either way, it is so much more comforting to blame the evil Pentagon than note that Columbia's real issue is with the United States Congress.
All of which leaves us with a curious cast of actors: Students who are pushing for a debate on substance while their administration throws up side issues. An alumnus on the cusp of the presidency who favors overturning both "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and Columbia's ban on ROTC. And a university leader who finds himself to the left of the most liberal member of the United States Senate.
"What Columbia needs is a debate that cuts to the heart of this issue," says Mr. Byrd. "And that is whether ROTC is fit to be on our campus." So here is the perfect proposition, edited for a Bollinger Era: "Resolved: Ask not what you can do for your country, but whether the United States military is good enough for your campus."
Yesterday, the Columbia Spectator ran an article explaining exactly what students who want to bring ROTC back have to do to get the University Senate to take the issue up. Exciting.
October 1, 2008
At-will academic freedom
Excellent article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about how the rise of adjunct faculty (70 percent of college classes are taught by non-tenure track teachers) correlates with the decline of academic freedom. Academic freedom is no longer the guiding principle of academic employment, but the privilege of the increasingly select, tenured few. The article trots out a number of recent cases in which adjuncts were summarily fired for saying things in class that offended students -- or, looked at another way, for, in effect, doing what a teacher is supposed to do. In the cases given, the adjuncts were not crossing any lines, but were, rather, challenging students to see difficult topics--homosexuality, religion, the Arab-Israeli conflict--in new ways. It's often hard, and threatening, to reorient your thinking around emotionally charged subjects. And in each case offered in the article, the teachers appeared to be well within the bounds of professionalism when they committed their fire-able offenses. One of them--the case of Terri Ginsberg--you will have read about here. I'm glad to see her case, and those of others in similar plights, getting some attention.
The AAUP, to its credit, is getting involved (though if you read the fine print in their statements on adjuncts, the AAUP tends to skew the definition of academic freedom, downplaying the responsibility side of it and playing up the rights side). And so are FIRE and the Alliance Defense Fund. And, slowly but surely, some of these wronged faculty members are getting some legal traction -- two of them have taken legal action, and one recently managed to win a $20,000 settlement.
Of course, you can't sue for having your academic freedom violated. But you can sue if your contract was violated, and you were wrongfully terminated--say, without due process. And, if you work at a public school, you can sue if your First Amendment rights were violated. And, as overused as litigation is these days, it's also the case that schools are so incredibly entitled when it comes to adjuncts that they are not likely to begin treating them more fairly unless they are taught to fear legal consequences for misbehavior. It's good to see some adjuncts pioneering this route, and it's good to see organizations such as FIRE and ADF helping them pave the way.