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November 29, 2008 [feather]
Anything you want

We were all down with the flu on Thursday. So now that we're better, today is Thanksgiving. And in our family, that means an annual ceremonial listen to the greatest Thanksgiving ballad of all time. Enjoy, and count your blessings. We are.

Erin O'Connor, 12:24 PM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

November 26, 2008 [feather]
When PC meets petty

From Ottawa:

The Carleton University Students' Association has voted to drop a cystic fibrosis charity as the beneficiary of its annual Shinearama fundraiser, supporting a motion that argued the disease is not "inclusive" enough.

Cystic fibrosis "has been recently revealed to only affect white people, and primarily men" said the motion read Monday night to student councillors, who voted almost unanimously in favour of it.

Every year near the beginning of fall classes, during university orientation for new arrivals, students fan out across the city and seek donations from passersby. According to the motion, "all orientees and volunteers should feel like their fundraising efforts will serve their (sic) diverse communities."

Nick Bergamini, a third-year journalism student on the student council, said he was the only elected councillor present to vote against the motion. The decision is an example of campus political correctness gone too far, he said.

"They're not doctors. They're playing politics with this," said Mr. Bergamini. "I think they see this, in their own twisted way, as a win for diversity. I see it as a loss for people with cystic fibrosis."

Yes -- and not least because it's not even true that cystic fibrosis primarily affects white men. Girls get it just as often as boys do, says the Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation CEO Cathleen Morrison. Morrison adds that while CF is widely understood to be a "Caucasion" disease, that is a broad designation that includes people from the Middle East, South America, North Africa, and India. "'Caucasian' as we understand it isn't just white people," Morrison says. "It includes people with a whole rainbow of skins."

Callow. Petty. Stupid. Cynical. Crass. Anti-intellectual. Exploitative. All in the name of inclusion. The good news is that the students, now apprised of their massive error, are willing to reconsider their decision. But that still leaves us all with the unpleasant aftertaste of their decision to abandon a time-honored charitable effort because the perceived beneficiaries aren't demographically worthy enough.

Cystic fibrosis is fatal, no matter who has it -- though life expectancy has doubled in recent years, thanks to research funded by endeavors such as Shinearama. Median life expectancy for CF sufferers is now 37.

Erin O'Connor, 8:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

November 24, 2008 [feather]
How's your history?

Every few years, we get a new study showing that Americans know nothing about history. There is always a burp of outrage in the media--and then things return to normal, until the next study appears, confirming that Americans still know nothing about history. The latest of these is from the ISI, and it follows on two recent studies of college students showing not only that they know nothing about American history or civics, but that they often tend to lose knowledge during college--presumably because they are forgetting what they learned in high school.

ISI's new study looks beyond college to the American people. Of the 2,500 people who took a 33-question multiple-choice civic literacy test, over 1700 people failed. The average score was 49 percent -- and elected officials did worse, scoring 44 percent.

Key findings:

--30 percent of elected officials do not know that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" are the inalienable rights referred to in the Declaration of Independence; and 20 percent falsely believe that the Electoral College "was established to supervise the first presidential debates."

--Almost 40 percent of all respondents falsely believe the president has the power to declare war.

--40 percent of those with a bachelor's degree do not know business profit equals revenue minus expenses.

--Only 54 percent with a bachelor's degree correctly define free enterprise as a system in which individuals create, exchange and control good and resources.

--20.7 percent of Americans falsely believe that the Federal Reserve can increase or decrease government spending.

Predictably, there are folks out there who say this is all a VRWC set-up paid for by rich right-wing ideologues, that multiple choice tests of the sort ISI administered measure nothing meaningful, and that the whole thing is rigged to make Americans look dumb, when in fact they just have deep expertise elsewhere, and even, perhaps, have deep historical understanding that the test failed to measure. See the AFT's always entertaining Free Exchange on Campus blog for an excellent instance of how these agenda-driven defenses of the status quo work.

Then take the test yourself. I agree that multiple choice tests are not ideal indices of knowledge--but a well-written one can tell us an awful lot. It's disingenuous to say, as the AFT blog does, that the only thing such a test can measure is rote memorization. Multiple choice tests can, when well-written, identify broad areas of understanding, and broad areas of ignorance. And they can also pinpoint significant lacunae: when a majority of Americans do not know what the three branches of government are, for example, the problem is not that they are poor memorizers, but that they are pathetically ill-informed about their own system of government--and are thus not exactly equipped for full participatory citizenship. If you care about democracy, that should matter to you, no matter what your politics are.

The AFT defends the civic illiteracy of Americans because it has mistakenly and reflexively assumed the position that anything published by a right-of-center group must be wrong and bad and needs to be resisted for the propaganda it is. And in so doing, it paints itself into a corner where no self-respecting educational organization should ever want to be. You'd think we could all agree that it's a good idea for all Americans to know more about history and civics--and you'd think that we could also all agree that we've seen too many of our elected leaders, regardless of party affiliation, demonstrate a woeful grasp of American history, the Bill of Rights, the structure of government, and so on.

Most of our colleges and universities do not require students to study US history or government. But it's time they did. The ISI survey found that over 70 percent of respondents say colleges should be preparing students for citizenship by teaching American history, central texts, and institutions. Where is the argument with that? There really isn't one, once you set aside the partisan squabbling that animates groups such as the AFT in moments like this.

UPDATE: Looks like I touched a nerve. But the AFT people know that the best thing to do in such circumstances is to whip out the ad hominem attacks and have at it. Like I said, always entertaining. And good for the students, too!

Thanks to the commenters in this site for keeping the tone out of the gutter, and for conducting a reasoned, useful, and intelligent discussion about how we might usefully separate partisan infighting from the survey's findings.

Erin O'Connor, 9:03 AM | Permalink | Comments (13) | TrackBack (0)

November 13, 2008 [feather]
Tenure competing

D.C. public school chancellor Michelle Rhee is taking on teacher tenure:

Michelle Rhee, the hard-charging chancellor of the Washington public schools, thinks teacher tenure may be great for adults, those who go into teaching to get summer vacations and great health insurance, for instance. But it hurts children, she says, by making incompetent instructors harder to fire.

So Ms. Rhee has proposed spectacular raises of as much as $40,000, financed by private foundations, for teachers willing to give up tenure.

Policy makers and educators nationwide are watching to see what happens to Ms. Rhee's bold proposal. The 4,000-member Washington Teachers' Union has divided over whether to embrace it, with many union members calling tenure a crucial protection against arbitrary firing.

"If Michelle Rhee were to get what she is demanding," said Allan R. Odden, a professor at the University of Wisconsin who studies teacher compensation, "it would raise eyebrows everywhere, because that would be a gargantuan change."

Last month, Ms. Rhee said she could no longer wait for a union response to her proposal, first outlined last summer, and announced an effort to identify and fire ineffective teachers, including those with tenure. The union is mobilizing to protect members, and the nation's capital is bracing for what could be a wrenching labor struggle.

Ms. Rhee has not proposed abolishing tenure outright. Under her proposal, each teacher would choose between two compensation plans, one called green and the other red. Pay for teachers in the green plan would rise spectacularly, nearly doubling by 2010. But they would need to give up tenure for a year, after which they would need a principal's recommendation or face dismissal.

Teachers who choose the red plan would also get big pay increases but would lose seniority rights that allow them to bump more-junior teachers if their school closes or undergoes an overhaul. If they were not hired by another school, their only options would be early retirement, a buyout or eventual dismissal.

In an interview, Ms. Rhee said she considered tenure outmoded.

"Tenure is the holy grail of teacher unions," she said, "but has no educational value for kids; it only benefits adults. If we can put veteran teachers who have tenure in a position where they don't have it, that would help us to radically increase our teacher quality. And maybe other districts would try it, too."

Maybe more than just school districts. Higher ed pay is depressed because tenure is considered to offset that. But you have to wonder whether a little economic competition would work better for all involved: improve pay for faculty (not an issue with some fields, but very much an issue once you leave sciences and the law aside), sharpen the teaching and research of faculty members--thus making them better educators and more cost-effective employees, unlock the paralyzing immobility of the academic job market, and perhaps even be a back-door way of dealing with the ever-growing adjunct problem (some estimates say that upwards of 70% of college courses nationwide are taught by non-tenure-track faculty).

I know the arguments against this. Myopic bean-counting administrators, clueless legislators, politicized special interest groups--anti-intellectuals all--become characters in the worn fable of why we must preserve tenure at all costs. So does a vast and baggy concept of academic freedom, which is needed to protect academics not only from arbitrary firing, but, increasingly, criticism, scrutiny, and accountability. This despite the fact that the AAUP, the AFT, and others have acknowledged that it is no longer practical to insist that you have to have tenure to have academic freedom. That train has left the station--most academics working today will never have tenure, and will never be on the tenure track. The trick now is to figure out how to ensure academic freedom in the absence of tenure. I think that's a worthy goal, one that really ought to be a win-win for all--and one that has the potential to generate a much healthier academic employment structure than the one presently anchored by the idea--and not the actuality--of tenure.

Erin O'Connor, 6:18 AM | Permalink | Comments (5) | TrackBack (0)

November 12, 2008 [feather]
Adjunct crunch

Adjunct faculty at the University of Tennessee face a strict wage cap (it can't fairly be called a salary cap). It's possible to teach a 5-5 load there, and still not make more than $20,000 a year (no health insurance included). Setting aside the well-chewed question of why anyone would even consider working under such conditions--let's focus on what happened when UT's adjuncts presented a reasoned, researched, politely framed appeal for that maximum cap to be relaxed. Adjuncts spent two years meeting with administrators to make sure they shaped the request just right--and then UT's board said no. And I'm just left thinking--I guess those board members must really like unions, because they are doing all they can to push the folks who do all the heavy pedagogical lifting in UT's six-university, thirteen-community-college system in that direction.

The other option is that the board secretly wants to use the economic crunch to reform the tenure system. Here's how I see this: we've been reading a lot about schools laying off non-tenure-track faculty members now that the economic downturn is pressing on college and university budgets. That leaves fewer teachers for the same number of students--and those teachers are, by definition, the ones on the tenure track. At schools where tenured and tenure-track faculty teach light loads (sometimes as little as 2 courses per semester), this means that classes are either going to have to get HUGE, or that faculty members will have to teach more of them. Or maybe it means both. Maybe a reader with better actuarial instincts than I can help me out on this one.

But my main thought is this: there are entire faculties that really should be teaching much more than they do, and paring down the contingent faculty members to save money is going to make them do it. And while there may well be problems with that in some corners of the university, there are other corners where it might actually effect a needed corrective. English professors, for example, should never ever ever get to glide through on 2-2 loads while grad students and adjuncts carry the tougher, and ultimately more important, college writing courses that most lit professors won't touch with a ten-foot pole. The single most important thing an English professor can do is teach English--that is far more important than sitting around massaging a slim obscure monograph for years at a time, or filling up one's days dutifully doing committee-based make-work, or racing around the coffee-date/networking/conference junket.

The above may look like a bit of a digression. But not really. Inside Higher Ed records the stories of some of UT's adjuncts. And lo! The very first one is that of an adjunct who teaches college writing and reading:

Consider Chandra G. Elkins, who teaches composition and developmental reading at Tennessee Tech University and Nashville State Technical Community College. She typically teaches a 5-5 course load and tries to pick up a summer course or two as well. Last year, teaching ten courses over the course of a year, she earned $15,210. This year, she is hoping to earn more, so she has added a sixth course for next semester, which she will teach at Motlow State Community College.

"It's really depressing. I have to really, really love my job," she said. "Literally, I could quit my job and get a job at the local Wal-Mart full time and make more money and have benefits."

Also of note: the effort to appeal to UT to improve the adjunct pay situation was led by an English instructor at Tennessee Tech who was once an ill-paid adjunct:

Andrew William Smith, an English instructor at Tennessee Tech and president of his university's AAUP chapter, organized the effort to change the pay policy. While the adjuncts wanted to propose minimum pay levels, they were encouraged by the Board of Regents officials not to do so. So in what Smith called a "very modest, little baby proposal," the AAUP asked to have the maximums raised, so that the lowest level would have a maximum pay of $850 per credit hour, compared to $550 per credit hour now. Other maximums would have gone to $900, $950, and $1,000 per credit (from $600, $650, and $700 now).

Smith noted that nothing in the proposal would have required the colleges to pay any more than they are now--all the adjuncts wanted was the possibility of higher maximum levels. The hope was that with these maximums, colleges would see the benefit of paying a little more so that adjuncts wouldn't feel the pressure to teach more courses than they can effectively handle, he said. "We were looking for a humane solution to a very bad situation."

While this is much less than many adjuncts feel they need, "We tried to work in the system," Smith said. "Give us bread now. We'll worry about roses later." While Smith is now in a permanent position, when he was an adjunct he was on federal Food Stamps and used the state's health care service for people without money to afford insurance.

It's no accident that the adjunct problem at UT is crystallizing through the discipline of English. That's where some of the worse offenses are, because that's where the many sections of required college writing courses generally are. And while university English professors do not themselves set institution-wide pay scales and so on, they have been guilty of allowing their discipline to become hugely dependent on adjuncts as a way of keeping their teaching loads comparatively light and also as a way of avoiding having to teach the heavy-lifting service courses: writing instruction, large surveys, and so on.

The chairman of UT's board acknowledges that adjuncts are "critical" and that they are "clearly not" well paid. But he says UT just doesn't have the money to pay them more. Doing so would mean the university would have to offer fewer courses and serve fewer students. He's not willing to do that.

I keep coming back to the thought that the objective here--whether conscious or not--is to drive adjuncts out, and to move the staffing problem onto the shoulders of tenured faculty. And at UT, anyway, there just isn't much wiggle room there: a quick web search suggests that while some tenured and tenure-track professors at various UT campuses have light 2-2 teaching loads, others already teach up to four courses per term.

Erin O'Connor, 8:37 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

November 11, 2008 [feather]
Ravitch on Obama on education

If you care about education in this country--and if you understand that you need to look at what's happening now in historical context--you've got to pay attention to Diane Ravitch. Her Left Back is a magisterial account of twentieth-century America's extended history of failed school reform. And here she is in Forbes, offering her thoughts on how the Obama administration should prioritize its education initiatives in the midst of economic contraction:

During the campaign, Barack Obama pledged that, if elected, he would make "a truly historic commitment to education." And indeed, his Web site has a long laundry list of programs: early childhood programs, after-school programs, tuition subsidies for higher education, funding to recruit and retain teachers and full funding of President Bush's accountability reform called No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

The current economic climate constrains the ability of the new administration to fulfill all these promises, but one pressing issue cannot be deferred. And that is the reauthorization and redesign of NCLB, passed by an overwhelming, bipartisan vote of Congress in late 2001 and signed into law by President Bush in January 2002.

Despite White House press claims to the contrary, NCLB has been a huge disappointment, and its failure is not due to lack of funding. Although states are reporting impressive test-score gains, most of these "gains" are the result of home-grown, low standards. The gains on the highly respected federal National Assessment of Educational Progress have been meager since 2002. In fact, the gains on the federal test have been smaller since 2002 than in the years preceding NCLB.

NCLB requires school districts to test all children in grades three through eight annually in reading and math, and to report test scores by race, ethnicity, low-income status, English proficiency and disability status. The law mandates that all students will reach proficiency by the year 2014.

If any single group in a school does not make gains for two years in a row, the school will be designated a failing school. Once schools start to fail, there is a list of specific remedies and sanctions in the law. The students are offered a choice to go to a better school or to get free tutoring. If the school continues to fail, it may be turned into a charter school, handed over to the state or private management, closed or "restructured."

Here is what has happened over the past seven years: Less than 5% of eligible students chose to leave their schools; less than 20% accepted free tutoring. Very few long-term failing schools converted to become charters or privately managed. Schools that entered the last, most punitive phase--restructuring--seldom improved at all.

As the approach of the 2014 deadline for 100% proficiency grows nearer, the bar gets higher for every school. Consequently, the number of "failing" schools escalates every year. Last year, 25,000 of the nation's 90,000 schools failed to make what the law calls "adequate yearly progress." This year, the number is likely to be higher.

A recent article in Science by researchers funded by the National Science Foundation predicted that by 2014, nearly 100% of all elementary schools in California would be failing schools.

With the stakes so high, NCLB has turned every school into a test-preparation factory, focused solely on reading and mathematics. They are the only subjects that count in a school's ranking, so teachers routinely reduce attention to history, science, foreign language, literature, geography, the arts and other non-tested subjects. With this narrowing of the curriculum, students may be getting dumbed down even if their scores go up. Do we really want a society where our fellow citizens know nothing of history, literature, science and the arts?

Never before has the heavy hand of the federal government reached so intrusively into every classroom in the nation. And there is little to show for this intrusion.

The Obama administration can get off to a good start by revising NCLB. First, it should eliminate the goal of universal proficiency by 2014, because it is unattainable. Period. No state or nation has ever achieved 100% proficiency. Second, it should recognize that the federal government is best at providing accurate information, such as what children in each grade need to know to be abreast of international standards (that is known as the curriculum) and whether our children are meeting those standards (that is, testing); third, the administration should expect states and districts to fashion appropriate reforms and remedies for their schools.

One thing we have learned since the passage of NCLB nearly seven years ago is that Congress is not the right place to decide how to fix our schools. Furthermore, if we don't have the right vision for improving education, more money won't help.

The solutions have to be local, community-driven, and context-specific, though keyed to national standards. That's something that both small-government types (who tend to be on one side of the political fence) and community-organizing types (who are often on the other) ought to be able to understand, and to get behind.

Erin O'Connor, 8:20 AM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

November 10, 2008 [feather]

Peter Wood offers thoughts on master narratives, higher education, and the age of Obama:

Congratulations to President-elect Barack Obama. The National Association of Scholars looks forward to working with your administration to improve American higher education.

We expect we will differ with you on some points, but on one essential point we sense common ground. You understand the profound importance of higher education. And your election underscores that the ideas and attitudes fostered by the academy have consequences for the larger culture. So too the pattern of motivation laid down in years of schooling and the view of the world that comes to seem compellingly true because it is backed by both intellectual authority and shared experience.

We have long been critical of the widespread failure to realize the deep significance of what happens in higher education among those who give lip service to traditional values. It is too soon to know whether this election cycle will shake tendencies to trivialize the importance of those years in the lives of young men and women when they first encounter thoughtful discourse about the nature of human society, but a reassessment is certainly overdue. For many students, college sets in place their sense of what the larger world is really like. They have the opportunity to examine--critically--matters that at earlier stages of their lies seemed simply true and in need of no argument. It is the time and place in the lives of many when they decide once and for all which of the great narratives will be their own.

Will it be the diversity narrative? That's the one that emphasizes that who we are most fundamentally depends on our race, ethnicity, gender, and that our nation's history is mainly a matter of identity groups overcoming their oppression. Will it be the cosmopolitan narrative? That's the one that emphasizes a personal liberation from the small-minded, parochial views of our natal communities, and one's new identity as a "citizen of the world." Contemporary college life offers several other great narratives. Sustainability is the newest. That's the one in which we find our life's work in forestalling the impending ruination of earth caused by the heedless exploitation of the older generations.

Somewhere far down the list of possibilities is the narrative that emphasizes the exceptional nature of American society and its radical break with prior human history in developing institutions that foster personal freedom. Today, the main role played by this great narrative is to be the foil to the others. The diversity narrative mocks it as a lie intended to disguise centuries of group oppression. The cosmopolitan narrative smiles derisively at its naive simplicity. The sustainability narrative groans in embarrassment that such profligate freedom could ever have been unleashed to cut down forests, plow the long-grass prairie, and pollute the waters and skies.

Wood goes on to discuss the failure of liberal undergraduate education, linking it to various things--excessive focus on narrow vocational training, the hijacking of K-12 textbooks and testing by politically correct bureaucrats (see Diane Ravitch's chilling The Language Police for a detailed expose of same), the dissolution of a coherent core curriculum, the failure of higher education to grapple with its politicized bowdlerization.

Wood is particularly smart on this last point:

A year ago, two professors at a Harvard symposium presented data they said showed that most professors are actually moderate. (NAS president Steve Balch raised an eyebrow at their methods.) The University System of Georgia released a study in August that purported to show that students see little bias in class. (I found fault with that study.) A new book, Closed Minds? by three George Mason professors argues that campuses are not "saturated by politics" at all; rather professors shy away from political controversy. (NAS's Glenn Ricketts has doubts.) This week New York Times reporter Patricia Cohen took notice of the George Mason book and other research to argue the case that the faculty, though overwhelmingly liberal, don't force their views on students.

I've never thought "indoctrinate" was the right word for the transmission of values and worldview that occurs on campus. Although there are plenty of professors who are eager to persuade students of the merits of their own political outlook and are willing to transgress the traditional boundary between instruction and advocacy, the real issue is not so much the pontificating professor as it is the campus as a self-enclosed social world in which some narratives have high status. The student eager to show that he or she "gets it" and isn't some sort of clueless dolt adopts the postures that need to be adopted.

We could say these are just postures destined to be as readily discarded as they were donned. We could say that, but then we have to think about why it is that students in large numbers aren't learning that diffuse range of intellectual and social skills that were once synonymous with earning a college degree.

To do so, we need to weigh such factors as the abandonment of a coherent curriculum in most colleges and universities in favor of the current mishmash of aimless majors, identity group studies, and nonce courses. This amorphous curriculum is not a happenstance of history or the marketplace. It was a central demand of the academic left as it as took power in the humanities and social sciences. If students don't know much about the larger narratives of western or American history, this is the fundamental reason. If their grasp of philosophy, literature, and science is refracted through identity politics, that is likewise the result of what the NAS has called the dissolution of general education. ("I studied African philosophy, gay literature, and the exclusion of women from science.")

But it is more than just entropy in the curriculum that leaves students indifferent to that range of intellectual and social skills that were once the prized distillation of a liberal education. It is rather the dimming of desire for such achievement.

Wood goes on to discuss how expediency has replaced commitment to learning, and how a properly serious concept of citizenship hangs in the balance. Such patterns and problems are energetically ignored by the folks devoting themselves to proving that faculty political commitments don't translate into anti-conservative bias. The proselytizing professor berating his students about the evils of U.S. foreign policy or Republicans or similar does exist--but he's also an anomalous distraction from the real problem, a straw man who prevents a reasonable exploration of issues that affect all academics and all students--no matter what their politics.

Erin O'Connor, 12:59 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

November 6, 2008 [feather]
R.I.P.: Michael Crichton

Vastly creative, immensely smart, and exceptionally clear-thinking, Crichton had a great gift for translating his thinking about the strange clashes of law, science, and policy into gripping fiction. He also wrote lucidly and well about the complex legal, economic, and ethical issues that arise with scientific progress. Here's a review I wrote about his biotech novel, Next--and here is one of the companion essays he wrote about gene patents. The novel puts the analysis to work as plot. Plot sticks with many people much better than argument, but argument has more depth than story. Crichton operated on both planes beautifully, and moved between them effortlessly.

Erin O'Connor, 8:21 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

November 3, 2008 [feather]
Clarifying academic freedom

At a recent conference on academic freedom, university presidents criticized academics' collective failure to comprehend what academic freedom is--and what it is not:

[Former University of Chicago president Hannah] Gray spoke Friday afternoon at a panel discussion of former and current university presidents, the closing session of a three-day conference, "Free Inquiry at Risk: Universities in Dangerous Times." Covering expansive ground, the presidents began by analyzing the very terms that dominated the conference as a whole -- "free inquiry," "academic freedom," and "institutional autonomy." The terms themselves suggest that these values are distinct but interrelated, said Gray, who spoke of the misuse of the term "academic freedom" when cried as an automatic response to criticism.

"So, for example, those who say today that Bill Ayers's academic freedom is being violated because he is being attacked by opponents of Barack Obama are speaking nonsense in my view," Gray said, referring to the education professor whose history in the Weather Underground, and connections to Obama, have played a role in the presidential campaign. "He may not deserve the attacks he is receiving, but because he is an academic doesn't mean that his academic freedom is being attacked." Academic freedom, Gray continued, is "too important a value to squander, too important a value to allow the crying of wolf to make [it] meaningless in the eyes of the public--that may simply think that we are claiming a special privilege."

Speaking also of common confusion on what academic freedom is, Robert M. Berdahl, president of the Association of American Universities and former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, tried to disentangle it from the concept of "free speech."

"I think frequently those two freedoms are confused. The notion that academic freedom has its roots in the First Amendment is not, I think, a very apt description of why we have academic freedom," Berdahl said, pointing out that faculty are subject to evaluation by their disciplinary colleagues (though it should be said that commitments to "disciplinary orthodoxies" and conventions were also discussed at the New School conference as potentially powerful internal constraints on free inquiry). "Faculty are not necessarily free to take any position that they choose."

"I've always thought of academic freedom as being the freedom, basically, for scholars to apply the disciplinary processes of scholarship and research to what they want to study and what they want to teach," said Charles M. Vest, president of the National Academy of Engineering and former president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The panelists agreed that there are active threats to academic freedom and free inquiry today, locating them in universities' acceptance of large gifts from foreign governments, their parallel acceptance of foreign oil money to establish branch campuses in the Middle East, the sometimes tense relationships between federal research sponsors and those they sponsor (I would add to that the conflicts of interest that can be created by corporate sponsorship of research), poor K-12 education, the abandonment of core curricula and civic education, and the ever-expanding collegiate weekend, which at some schools now begins on Wednesday night.

In this context, all the misplaced uproar about Bill Ayers' and Rashid Khalidi's academic freedom operates as a distraction that enables the real problems to remain unaddressed and unresolved.

Erin O'Connor, 7:41 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)