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How The University Works » david horowitz and ABOR legislation http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress Mon, 21 Nov 2011 00:40:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.2.12 Giggling at Stereotypes http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/290 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/290#comments Tue, 12 Jul 2011 13:57:55 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/290 When we added humorous chapter books (eg Roscoe Riley) to my three-year-old’s story time, we were appalled to find that one of them featured one of the cruder and, we thought, outmoded Asian stereotypes–the New Kid from the Black Lagoon, it turns out, is not the scary blue-skinned alien from Mars that the other kids imagined, but simply Xu Ping, whose family has flown all the way from Beijing to start–you guessed it, a Chinese restaurant. How reassuring.

When planning her own recent humorous chapter book, Brainstorm colleague Naomi Schaefer Riley (no relation to Roscoe) apparently didn’t get the memo that the “lazy professor” stereotype has been consigned to the cultural dustbin since, roughly, her own graduation from kindergarten. As you might surmise from the title (The Faculty Lounges–har har–And Other Reasons You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For), the book relies on silly, outmoded stereotypes, arguments from anecdote and bluster from the likes of John Silber instead of evidence.

At one time or another in what too often reads like an audition for Fox News higher education attack dog analyst, Riley deals every bromide in the deck, usually from the bottom: while accepting conservative foundation support for her own propaganda, she goes far out of her way to caricature Ford Foundation grants in support of academic freedom as a”gravy train” for left academics (would that it were so!)

Just like the beginning chapter books my son favors, Riley’s book features one cartoon illustration per chapter, usually reprinted from stock cartoon banks. None of them have anything to do with the issues; they just underscore the irrelevance of her stereotypes (“Your wife hasn’t broken the law, professor–she can leave you even if you do have tenure!”) Ha, ha, chuckle, zzzzzz.

That’s too bad, because Riley is bright and analytical, and sometimes grasps real problems with the tenure system, which is more than I can say of many contemporary observers on my own side of the political aisle.

She’s right, for instance, to note that the tenure system as we know it today is deeply flawed:

Supposed to produce courage and security, it breeds cowardice and anxiety, check. Supposed to unite the faculty, it now serves as a marker of apartheid between the academy’s minority “haves” and majority “have-nots,”check.

Supposed to encompass peer accountability for all professional activities it too often rewards those who neglect their students, family, and the profession, check.

Supposedly the pipeline for equality in the professions, the tenure system funnels academic and professional women into subordinate positions, check.

Supposed to guarantee reasonable economic return on education (you know, so that English professors can expect lifetime earnings not too much lower than good legal secretaries), tenure has become a generational lifeboat for greybeards selfishly uninterested in the crisis of young faculty, check.

All of these concerns, which plenty of tenure’s defenders are all too happy to gloss over, add up to an argument against tenure from the labor front.

Contingent-faculty activists like Joe Berry have long observed that tenure is reserved for a shrinking labor aristocracy–the group of persons who do front-line supervision of transient labor, and who provide the talent pool for upper administration. From the perspective of actual, informed unionists like Berry, tenure has frequently served as an engine of inequality.

Nor is it generally the goal of contingent-faculty unionists to win entrance into the stressful, irrational tenure crapshoot which is far from the gold standard of job security that most faculty imagine (ask anyone who’s had a department restructured or eliminated, or had an administrator declare a fake fiscal crisis).

Therefore, many contingent faculty, and left-labor faculty of any appointment type, share Riley’s sense that tenure should be abolished. (Either that, or like me and the AAUP, they feel that a reformed, teaching-centric tenure system should be the norm of faculty experience, as it was in 1972, when the professoriate was largely populated by well-off white men.)

Riley’s at her best and most revealing when she talks about how the tenured (like her father) treat contingent faculty, like her mother. At times the book is honestly reported–Riley admits that tenure isn’t the reason college is expensive–quite the contrary, it saves on salary–and that tenure is a minority experience.

I think if Riley’s analysis had taken the form of a long essay on the extremely important theme of how the tenure system marginalizes women teaching faculty, a topic scandalously under-addressed by liberals and academic feminists alike, it almost could have been one of those occasional offerings from the right that joins with the left in challenging some of the sacred cows of the liberal mainstream. (See chapter 4, “The Academic Underclass,” which appropriately excoriates “the hypocrisy of academics who claim concern for society’s marginalized while ignoring the [gendered and racialized] underclass in their midst.”)

If you subtract the ideological claptrap from Riley’s book, you have a perfectly reasonable call to invest in undergraduate teaching. However, in adding enough vitriol and borrowed observations to make a book, Riley goes awry in two basic ways, the scary and the lame.

Under the heading of scary, I have to point out that every once in a while, Riley’s mask of reasonability slips. In chapter 2, she wonders aloud, a la David Horowitz, Don’t some radical faculty members deserve to be run off campus?

A little later we learn the identities of the radicals to be run off, when she channels the radio talk shows for this sweeping non sequitur: “Whether it’s women’s studies or black studies or queer studies, the entire premise of the discipline often rests on a political agenda…. there [is] a growing sense that projects that are not strictly academic are not deserving of academic protections.”

The scary part is that we and her actual target audience know what she’s saying even though she isn’t saying anything–what is the meaning of the nonsense phrase “the entire premise of the discipline”? This is all too much like Limbaugh, rolling empty longish words off the tongue in order to manufacture a sense of cogitation and portent.

Under the heading of lame, I have to place the one argument she really makes with any vigor, that so much of higher education is “vocational” that there’s no controversy in those fields, hence no need for academic freedom. “These are all fields with fairly definitive answers,” Riley says in total ignorance of the fields she cites–like nutrition, family sciences, security, and sports history. “Faculty members don’t really need the freedom to ask controversial questions in discussing them,” she says, with unearned confidence.

It’s hard to believe that someone with two academic parents made this argument or, having made it, kept it in the manuscript–as its great gotcha! centerpiece, no less. When Gary Rhoades pointed out to Riley that nutrition faculty, just for example, engaged in plenty of controversy, she amateurishly dismisses the point rather than checking to see whether, in fact, there aren’t some fairly intense controversies in the field. Hint: there are, as in every one of the other fields she names.

But what of the obviously roiling controversies in other “vocational” fields, like legal, business, and medical education? Riley has nothing to say.

Riley is similarly cavalier with the evidence regarding faculty and teaching. There are literally thousands of studies evaluating faculty teaching, but instead of addressing any of them, Riley uses a few administrators as quote farms in support of her preconceived thesis and dials up the Limbaugh: “Tenure means they can simply neglect their students!”

At other points the just-published work is already out of date, touting the Garcetti decision, which has been successfully challenged, or Stanley Fish’s positions since recanted.

Frequently it’s just juvenile, as with the cartoons or snarkily describing the academy as a “profession” only in skeptical quotation marks.

Sometimes it’s just inept, as when she relies on John Silber’s “analysis” of tenure to make her case that it isn’t necessary to protect academic freedom–when, notoriously, it was only tenure that protected the late, beloved and irreplaceable Howard Zinn from Silber’s relentless efforts to drive him from the campus.

Much of the rest is cribbed from usual suspects like ACTA and Richard Vedder, or retread David Horowitz–Oh my gosh, the Berkeley writing classes sometimes cover controversial content!

A couple of points under the heading of full disclosure: Riley interviewed me for this book, and I make several appearances in the one chapter I thought worthy of her talents. She treats me as far less of a caricature than she might have, and I wish I had kinder things to say about the project.

Additionally, my spouse and I are, like Riley’s parents, and as many as a third of all faculty, navigating the often-breathtaking challenges of a dual-career academic couple in a system that is particularly cruel to academic women.

I share Riley’s disquiet with academic hypocrisy. On top of still rampant sexism and sex discrimination in academic employment, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the viciousness with which many academic “feminists” with tenure treat some of their “sisters” off-track.

As I read Riley’s book–which I had to buy because her publisher declined to send me a review copy–I thought often of my son, and his sunny disposition. I hope that we can find a way to insulate his good nature and deeply, deeply inquiring mind from the academic shabbiness, hypocrisy and dishonesty that Riley chronicles best from her personal experience.

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NYT Offers Dianetics for Higher Ed http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/262 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/262#comments Tue, 27 Jul 2010 16:06:57 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/262 Should The New York Times (NYT) exist? Ha–you’re thinking, “What an unfair question!” Or “You’ve framed the debate in an obviously unfair or careless way.”

And right you are. But since I’m a rich and powerful chunk of media capital with a stake in the answer, I don’t care what you think, and I’m free to compound the injury by holding a false “debate” on a question that unfairly asks one side to argue for its existence.

Enter The New York Times and its latest bungled attempt at analyzing higher ed, which just riffs on a piece reported by Robin Wilson for the Chronicle. As if framing a loaded question weren’t enough, they stack the deck, a couple of different ways. In the more obvious manipulation of the lineup, opponents of tenure outnumber proponents 3-2.

More importantly: in a debate about the “demise” of tenure,” the debate’s framers don’t include any voices of persons who are living the circumstances they purport to examine: the life of career faculty, full time or part time, with a teaching-intensive load and a nontenurable contract. One participant is on a nontenurable research contract–for a Harvard outfit that does management consulting for higher-ed administration, natch. But that’s like dressing up the testimony of someone who’s always driven a Rolls as the honest voice of straphangers–the near-volunteer faculty on freaking food stamps, like Monica, Andy, and many others.

As it turns out, 95% of the sense made in this debate is contained in the 40% assigned to the pro-tenure folks. AAUP president Cary Nelson patiently explains the centrality of tenure for academic freedom, and USC’s Adrianna Kezar, points to the real debate we should be having–about the high cost of nontenurable hiring in higher education, especially for the majority of faculty whose appointments are teaching-intensive, and the students they try to serve in the unsavory conditions management has created.

In the Opinion of L. Ron Hubbard…

Excepting a couple of minor points by the nontenurable researcher/management consultant, the anti-tenure side had little to offer beyond witless praise for The Market. Remember the the Planet of the Apes sequel where the surviving mutant humans live in a cave and worship the Holy Bomb that destroyed them?

It’s like that, including the gallows flavor to the campy humor, once you rip off the masks of the robed ritualistas:

Batting first for the NYT education-capitalist home team is Richard Vedder, perennial flack for the neo-cons at the American Enterprise Institute. His line here, that tenure “reduces intellectual diversity,” is just warmed-over David Horowitz, long debunked by any serious study.  The fact is that more academics fear for their academic freedom today than in the McCarthy era–because they lack access to tenure, not the other way around.

Playing new kid in the lineup is Mark C. Taylor, a distance education entrepreneur with books and interests ranging from religion and organization theory to management and–I am not making this up–stealing dirt from the graves of famous persons.

Taylor’s data-free ruminations bear as much connection to the actual world of higher education as Scientology does to particle physics. He’s the fellow that bemoaned per-course salaries “as low as” five grand (!) and basically acts as if you could still arm-chair analyze the academic labor system, which is nearly 80% contingent, as if it were a “market” in tenure-track jobs.

Taylor’s retread analysis is straight outta 1972: “If you were a CEO,” he begins, and races downhill from there. Dunno, Mark: If I was the CEO of my neighborhood… If I was the CEO of my marriage… If I was the CEO of this poker game… If I was the CEO of your church… If I was the CEO of the planet… If my dad were my CEO… If I were the CEO of this one-night stand… If I was the CEO of this classroom… If I was the CEO of this audience at this Green Day concert…

Gosh, Mark. Seems like some social organizations and relationships shouldn’t have CEOs at all.

Wait, there’s more. Taylor goes on to, like, use math and stuff because it sounds good when you’re talking about money. He figures out the lifetime cost of paying tenured faculty and boggles, claiming that funding this commitment “would require” four million in endowment now and thirty million thirty years from now. Et voila! Clearly, then, paying faculty anything at all is impossible! QE freaking D, lads and ladies.

Of course the fact that most faculty aren’t paid out of endowments at all but, like, from tuition and appropriations and grants and stuff, does create some stumbles among the seraphim in Taylor’s elegant pin-top choreography.

I did say that the anti-tenure side contributed 5% of the sense out of the 60% of the space allotted to them.

That modicum goes to Cathy Trower of Harvard’s COACHE, like the handbag, with an elegant E for education.

Her project is like a higher-ed stepchild version, less mean and less well-funded, of Harvard’s toxic b-school/ed-school partnership–you know, the folks that brought you Arne Duncan.

Unlike her comrades, Trower actually thinks about tenure and correctly advocates for a less rigid understanding of it. Somewhat overdramatically, she proposes blowing up the tenure system and starting over with a new constitutional convention:

Some features of a newly imagined faculty workplace might include variable probationary periods, with extensions for parenthood, rather than a fixed seven-year up-or-out provision for tenure; a tenure track for faculty members focused on teaching; a non-tenure track that affords a meaningful role in shared governance; interdisciplinary centers with authority to be the locus of tenure; broader definitions of scholarship and acceptable outlets and media to “publish” research….

Most of these notions, of course, are very sensible, and versions of them are in place all over the country. No need to lug jerrycans of petrol to the bonfire.  It’s not until we get to Trower’s stealthy last two suggestions (“tenure for a defined period of time; and the option to earn salary premiums while forgoing tenure entirely”) that we see that the NYT was perfectly fair to run her piece under the headlines “How to Start Over” and “Get Rid of (Tenure).” Trower conveniently left these out of the version she published two years ago in AAUP’s Academe.

Most Tenured Faculty ARE on a Teaching Track

If Trower were better informed about what’s actually going on, she’d be aware that all of her reasonable suggestions have distinguished histories as well as plenty of contemporary reality. Rendered most invisible by Trower’s crowing from the business-administration battlements is the suggestion that we need to invent a “tenure track for faculty members focused on teaching.”


In 1970, the overwhelming majority of tenured faculty were on teaching-intensive appointments. Even today, after four decades of hiring teaching-intensive appointments nontenurably (full-time and part-time), tenured teaching-intensive faculty out-number tenured research-intensive faculty as much as two to one.

The idea that “tenured” equates to teaching 6 hours a week or fewer is just silly propaganda. And I for one am sick of liberal bastions like Harvard and the NYT passing off propaganda as scholarship.

Including propaganda that has numbers in it: for crying out loud, my math-avoidant friends, the whole meaning of the expression that “there are lies, damned lies, and statistics” is that any paid mouthpiece, windbag or liar can claim to be “data-driven.”

I mean, Cathy, let’s be real here.

MANAGEMENT has spent the last four decades actively dismantling a long-existing “tenure track for faculty members focussed on teaching.” Now you lean out from the windows of your Lear jet to shout that we need to hold a constitutional convention to invent it?

You folks at Harvard oughta know that “data-driven” should mean something more than running a bunch of surveys. It should mean some reasonable attempt at a connection with the facts.

Regular readers know I’ve been pointing out the epic badness of the New York Times’ reporting on higher education for some time now. For what it’s worth, I have it on good authority that more than one academic journal is interested in taking a closer look at media bias in higher education coverage.

Of course this is a little like saying I know several clever Davids prepared to flip the bird at slow-witted Goliath. On the other hand, one of them might prove to own a slingshot.

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Hooked on Measurement http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/259 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/259#comments Thu, 24 Jun 2010 17:38:09 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/259 Just last year, Stanley Fish was playing Clint Eastwood with his manifesto: Do Your Job, Punk! (or, My Tinfoil Hat Keeps Politics Out of My Teaching–Get Yours Today!) In that widely panned book, he argued that the role of the faculty was to produce and distribute knowledge magically apart from the mundane and political.

Earlier this week he more convincingly took on the student evaluation of teaching and specifically, a Texas proposal to hold tenured faculty “more accountable” by giving faculty bonuses of up to $10,000 for earning high customer assessments of specified learning outcomes.

Fish makes two arguments against the proposal. He squanders pixels bolstering his weaker point, that students aren’t necessarily in a position to judge whether Fish-as-teacher-phallus has, ugh, “planted seeds that later grew into mighty trees of understanding.”

Far better is his second point:

Students tend to like everything neatly laid out; they want to know exactly where they are; they don’t welcome the introduction of multiple perspectives, especially when no master perspective reconciles them; they want the answers. But sometimes (although not always) effective teaching involves the deliberate inducing of confusion, the withholding of clarity, the refusal to provide answers; sometimes a class or an entire semester is spent being taken down various garden paths leading to dead ends that require inquiry to begin all over again, with the same discombobulating result; sometimes your expectations have been systematically disappointed….

Needless to say, that kind of teaching is unlikely to receive high marks on a questionnaire that rewards the linear delivery of information and penalizes a pedagogy that probes, discomforts and fails to provide closure. Student evaluations, by their very nature, can only recognize, and by recognizing encourage, assembly-line teaching that delivers a nicely packaged product that can be assessed as easily and immediately as one assesses the quality of a hamburger.

This part rings mostly true for me. No question, Fish is clearly wrong to generalize so broadly about students and evaluation instruments. As students enter majors and graduate programs, they are of course far more likely to welcome the sort of intellectual adventure that he describes.

And it’s just plain out of touch with the subject he is purporting to address to claim that all kinds of student evaluation are “by their very nature” (huh? philosopher much?) of the sort that can “only recognize” teaching-as-information-delivery. Nonetheless, that’s the kind administrators mostly impose so his point is valid despite the unwarranted generalization.

That said, I personally like getting student evaluations of my teaching, even the lame sort that predominate and which Fish is critiquing here. I learn things even from bad instruments poorly used by persons with little knowledge of the field or who display imperfect judgement, and so on.

My concern is with the way these instruments are misused–by activist administrators and politicians, aided and abetted by paid policy flacks. The managerial literature cheerfully describes all this as the “assessment movement” to consolidate their control of “institutional mission.”

Faculty themselves, even with tenure, learn all too quickly to teach to the instrument.

Example: long after receiving tenure (twice!) I once got mid-range scores in response to a question asking students to assess whether their capacity for critical thought improved. The next term I included a twenty-minute exercise studying different definitions of critical thought the week before they took the survey: my scores jumped to the top of the range, with no other change in the syllabus.

I use that example because it’s double-sided. On the one hand, it shows how a modest change can essentially manipulate the results or, more to the point, manipulate the students providing the results.

On the other hand this modest change, motivated by a base consideration, was also a real one: it marked a moment where I took seriously the importance of reflection in the learning process.

By asking students to reflect on what had happened to their thinking in the class, they were not only more likely to appreciate the teaching, they were more likely to appreciate, value–and retain–the change itself.

So the stupid instrument, my vanity, and a modest change resulted in better learning.

While that instance of teaching to the instrument worked out more or less fine, most responsible studies are pretty clear that teaching to the instrument is generally harmful.

For instance, one Fish commenter quoted a reliably-constructed study that concluded “professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement teach in ways that improve their student evaluations but harm the follow-on achievement of their students in more advanced classes.”

In other words: teaching to get high customer assessments produces intellectual junk food: the focus group says “yum!” but it’s all bad news after that. This is consistent with study after study on “teaching to the test” in K-12: the more tightly that management and politicians grip the handful of sand that is teaching and learning, the less they grasp.

Most of the commenters don’t address the motivation for the Texas proposal, which is to standardize and marketize the curriculum along the lines supported by the current administration. An easily assessable form of learning-as-information-download is an easily commodified form of learning: “Log in to Pixel University, where you get the exact same education as Yalies!” It’s also more easily controlled by a political bureaucracy, along the lines of K-12. Both Republicans and Democrats are actively supporting for-profit “education providers,” and the leading edge of their contribution is redefining knowledge as information delivery.

So what’s best about Fish’s effort here is the emphasis upon the nature of learning itself, which is easily distinguishable from information download.

The most difficult lesson for my first-year students to learn–the most frustrating, the one with the longest-term impact–is the construction of a review of scholarly literature, toward posing a research question unanswered by that literature. I ask them to zero in on a “bright spot” in the literature, where conflicting views are unresolved, or a “blank spot,” a question that hasn’t been posed. I try to help them to think of a modest but original way that they might advance the conversation.

The lesson takes them on a journey of the sort that Fish describes, full of frustrations and ventures into the failings of academic prose, dead ends and discombobulations. What they learn is that any act of knowledge origination emerges from a vast multivocal conversation and is framed by the professional modesty of the actual researcher. They are often amazed by the narrow frame of actual research questions, the extent of qualifications and hesitations, and the ways that knowledge is produced by error. They are often confused by the extent of collaboration, the fact that questions aren’t constructed in binary terms, the fact that questions are constructed, and by the amount of time spent acknowledging the diverse views and paths explored by one’s professional colleagues.

As Fish points out, students come to us trained to see “the master perspective” (of history-as-objective-fact, eg, rather than history-as-historiography, the writing of Helen Keller, Jack London and Einstein’s socialism into, or out of, the conversation). Or at most they see two perspectives, the binary the either/or of right and wrong, or for and against, good and evil, etc. I tell them that easy clarifications–such as “are you for or against” such and such a proposition– are usually trick questions, that making knowledge and the act of learning entail entering into a hive of confusion, ambiguity, and error.

They don’t always like this lesson, which is deeply experiential: they have to try to read difficult things, ask for help, wait in line to get journals delivered to them. But they are always glad to have had it, and it clearly yields real results in subsequent classes.

Can this sort of lesson and journey be assessed? Yes, but not so easily by the sort of instruments we use for the purpose. We do need better instruments. For instance, measurement per se is not intrinsically useful: you might say losing 20 lbs at Pixel U is the same as losing 20 lbs at Swankfield–until you learn that at one school you lost the weight by exercising, and at the other they amputated a limb.

More than better instruments, though, we need better attitudes toward these instruments. We could start with a critical understanding of why administrations and politicians support the kind of assessments they do, and not the many better alternatives.

Above all: we need to be able to offer a clear, cogent justification of education as learning and distinguish between learning and download.

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Baddest of the Bad http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/246 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/246#comments Tue, 09 Mar 2010 17:49:23 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/246 What’s worse than David Horowitz’s brand of right-wing drivel giving yellow journalism a bad name? A ghost-authored Horowitz sequel, padded with over 150 witless, tendentious summaries of courses that the compilers erroneously imagine will frighten middle America into hauling the faculty up the nearest telephone pole.

The current issue of American Book Review highlights their Top 40 Bad Books.  Heading the list for me is One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine our Democracy, by David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin.  Since I often can’t make time to review excellent books, I don’t usually waste pixels on bad ones. But one has to make an exception for the epic badness of Horowitz’s failed hit job.

At least the first book in this series, The Professors, gave the “101 Most Dangerous Academics in America” something to brag about in their red-diaper parent-participation preschools (whilst plotting Trotskyite mayhem from behind piled bookshelves).

This cheesy compilation is too lazy even to attack faculty scholarship. It’s little more than a list of syllabi with a shrill “I see Marxism!” appended to each–150 times.  The somnolence it produces is hard to describe.

Evidently they should have credited Google as the third author.

The Horowitz staffers tasked with compiling this stinker simply trolled online campus catalogs to yield course descriptions employing such “democracy-undermining” terms as justice, inequality, race, and feminism. Then the staffers wrote lame descriptions characterizing the syllabi as part of a plot to deprive plutocrats of their hard-earned profits.

Once I got the concept, I briefly held the flickering hope that I could read it ironically–as in, “hey, what a bunch of good classes I wish I’d been able to take in college.”

Wrong. The relentless, narrow-minded prose immediately disappeared my hopes of snarky thoughtcrime.

Even if you’re sympathetic to its politics, the concrete brutalism of this compilation’s formal properties will crush your spirit in a few pages–like reading a year’s worth of your daily horoscopes straight through, or a cookbook cover to cover.

I know, I know. I’m well-known for holding such anti-democratic views as that we should all have enough to eat, health care, and free education. So don’t take my word for it. Peruse a chapter over at the Random House website. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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Churchill to Appear in Pennsylvania Before Court Date http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/190 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/190#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2009 22:27:15 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/190
“The Adjuncts” by Chloe Smolarski, City University of New York, CUNY Contingents Unite

Academic freedom is the subject of three major conferences and at least two substantial journal issues this season, and they’ll all get a fair amount of ink and electrons when Ward Churchill’s lawsuit against the University of Colorado commences next month in Denver. Churchill’s campus process was wrongly decided in the fallout of a political witch hunt, featuring a faculty committee that generated spurious charges of “plagiarism” and “research misconduct” that will not bear the scrutiny of history (nor, one hopes, the district court).

You can read Churchill’s essay on the case in a massive, just-released special issue of Works and Days, guest-edited by Edward Carvalho and available for just $12 by emailing Tracy Lassiter (t.j.lassiter@iup.edu) or David Downing (downing@iup.edu).

The issue includes important work by a huge lineup: Derrick Bell, Joe Berry, Michael Bérubé, Eric Cheyfitz, Noam Chomsky, Grant Farred, Norman Finkelstein, Henry Giroux, Sophia McClennen, Randy Martin, Ellen Messer-Davidow, Cary Nelson, R. Radhakrishnan, Bruce Robbins, Susan Searls Giroux, Cornel West, and Jeffrey Williams, and many others, including yours truly. It’s the best value in academic freedom short of joining the AAUP.

Following the Works & Days release and just two weeks in advance of the scheduled start of the lawsuit, Churchill will speak at Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP), Downing’s home campus about an hour’s drive from Pittsburgh.

From the reports I’ve seen, a few complaints have been registered with the IUP administration, but nothing with the hysteria and virulent hatred stirred up by the Churchill case in the past. The event also features appearances by Nelson, McClellan, and Williams; if you’ll be in western Pennsylvania on February 23, it’s worth making the drive.

The chance to attend the linked conference at the Cornell Africana Studies and Research Center during surprisingly balmy February weather has already passed you by, but watch this space for news of a South Atlantic Quarterly special issue on related topics, prepared by Grant Farred with guest editor Evan Watkins.

On April 3, the Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Center in New York will host a conference about the threat to those freedoms represented by corporatization, including such topics as the rise of the business curriculum and the permatemping of the faculty.By far the most common curtailments and violation of academic freedom are experienced by faculty serving contingently, as I’ve pointed out recently.

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America’s Least Dangerous Professors http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/184 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/184#comments Tue, 27 Jan 2009 23:29:23 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/184 At the annual convention of the Modern Language Association last month, David Horowitz once more shared a panel with AAUP President Cary Nelson, who has previously replied to Horowitz’s exaggerated claims of bias in the classroom. As Chronicle Review editor Liz McMillen’s coverage pointed out, there wasn’t much actual debate in this over-hyped appearance, which featured almost as many security guards as audience members.

The real draw was the more timely panel featuring Stanley Fish debating critics of his notion that faculty should shut up and “do their jobs.” (Staging a meeting between Horowitz and an articulate critic has been done before.)

As many others have pointed out, where students have been given the chance to protest grades based on faculty political bias, they rarely do so. The few complaints made are even more rarely upheld, and are just as likely to be claims of right-wing bias.

In my view, Horowitz is manufacturing a problem in order to push a real agenda: ie, by making exaggerated and often simply ridiculous claims about left-wing bias in classroom instruction and the “danger” that faculty political beliefs represent to student learning, he wishes to sweepingly institute affirmative action for right-wing scholars in hiring, and employ “intellectual diversity” as a wedge to force conservative ideas onto curricula.

The author of The Art of Political War: How Republicans Can Fight to Win, Horowitz has openly identified himself as a partisan political operative, receives substantial right-wing foundation funding, but wishes to represent himself as casually thrown up by a grassroots student movement.

On the other hand, faculty and graduate students are finding that their academic freedom is under actual, sustained and intensifying assault.

This is most obvious among the faculty serving nontenurably, now the overwhelming majority of college faculty. Not counting graduate students, or factoring for widespread administrative under-reporting, in 2005 at least 70% of all U.S. faculty served on nontenurable appointments.

Nontenurabililty is the norm of academic employment; therefore it is now simply normal for college faculty to enjoy little to no protection of their academic freedoms, as Cary Nelson makes clear in one of the more popular videos in our series. The precariousness of their employment means that most can be retaliated against for almost any speech or action, without the administration engaging in due process (or even giving a reason) by the simple expedient of non-reappointment.

As reported in this month’s Academe, in one particularly egregious case investigated by AAUP’s Committee A, a North Idaho faculty member serving contingently was retaliated against by an administration that had a beef with her tenured spouse.

The report concludes:

The case of Jessica Bryan exemplifies the plight of many contingent faculty members: vulnerable and insecure no matter how long and how well they might have served their institution. An experienced, highly regarded parttime English instructor with thirteen uninterrupted semesters of teaching at North Idaho College, Ms. Bryan was informed by e-mail on the last day of the fall 2007 semester that the administration would not offer her any courses to teach in the spring (or any time thereafter, it would appear) despite the fact that other part-time instructors junior to her in years of service were being assigned courses she had taught for more than six years and the administration engaged new instructors to teach some of those courses in fall 2008. When she asked for a substantive explanation for its decision not to reappoint her, the administration, through college counsel, declined to do so. When she requested an opportunity for faculty review of her claim that inadequate consideration had been given to her qualifications and that the decision resulted in significant measure from impermissible considerations, the administration, again through college counsel, told her that the contract governing her temporary appointment afforded her no such rights.

So far from the intellectual “threats” and “dangers” that Horowitz imagines, most faculty are in fact reticent and easily intimidated, living perpetually “30 seconds from humiliation,” just as Anonymous describes.

The report goes on to suggest the “chilling effect” that the absence of protections has on the contingent faculty majority. They might well have added to that the chilling effect that the ability to do this to one’s spouse or partner has on many of the tenured–some estimates calculate that at least a third of all faculty partners are other faculty.

Dangerous? One can only wish that every campus had a handful of faculty who were half the threat that Horowitz imagines.

Coming attractions: new video featuring Paul Lauter and Gary Rhoades, among many others….

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(updated) Appearances 2009 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/176 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/176#comments Sun, 21 Dec 2008 22:51:56 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/176 There are several new confirmed appearances for the spring. Some of these events are free and open to the public.  With the exception of possible appearances in Southern California (Occidental College and/or Cal State San Marcos), I think I’m pretty much as booked as I can handle until very late in 2009.

“Social Media and Social Reality.” Modern Language Association Annual Convention, San Francisco, CA. December 29, 2008.

“The Figure of Writing and the Future of English Studies.” Modern Language Association Annual Convention, San Francisco, CA. December 30, 2008.

Featured Speaker, “Take Your Ritalin and Shut Up.” South Atlantic Quarterly conference on Academic Freedom, Cornell University. February 6-7, 2009.

“Job Security for Contingent Faculty.” Adjuncts & Allies Workshop, CCCC, San Francisco. March 11, 2009: 3 pm.

Featured Speaker, Art Institute of Chicago, March 18, 2009

Keynote Speaker, NC-AAUP Annual Conference, UNC-Chapel Hill. March 20, 2009.

Featured Speaker, Frederic Ewen Academic Freedom Center at New York University, April 3, 2009.

Featured Speaker, Initiative on Labor and Culture at Yale University: April 6, 2009.

Featured Speaker, “American Studies/American Universities,” Eighth Annual University of Florida Americanist symposium: April 10, 2009.

Featured Speaker, Cultural Studies Association Annual Meeting. Kansas City: April 16-18, 2009.

AAUP Council Meeting, 95th Annual Meeting of the AAUP, Washington DC: June 11-14, 2009.

Keynote Address. “Labor in Higher Education.” Sponsored by the Association for Pennsylvania State College and University Faculty. Slippery Rock, PA: October 2009.

AAUP Council Meeting, Washington DC: November 21-22, 2009.

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Oppositional and Defiant–Or Critical Thinker? http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/143 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/143#comments Fri, 12 Sep 2008 13:01:12 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/143 An epidemic of compliance in higher ed helps turn parents and schoolteachers into corrections officers.

I’m working on a piece about undergraduate academic freedom that relates changes in campus culture to changes in the culture of schools. One area of particular interest is the medicalization of youth relations with authority. AlterNet’s Bruce Levine, a clinical psychologist, argues that “teenage rebellion has become a medical illness” with the 1980 introduction to the DSM IV of “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” (ODD):

Many talk show hosts think I’m kidding when I mention oppositional defiant disorder. After I assure them that ODD is in fact an official mental illness — an increasingly popular diagnosis for children and teenagers — they often guess that ODD is simply a new term for juvenile delinquency. But that is not the case. Young people diagnosed with ODD, by definition, are doing nothing illegal (illegal behaviors are a symptom of another mental illness called conduct disorder). In 1980, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) created oppositional defiant disorder, defining it as “a pattern of negativistic, hostile and defiant behavior.” The official symptoms of ODD include “often actively defies or refuses to comply with adult requests or rules” and “often argues with adults.”

A diagnosis of ODD can result in medication with powerful tranquilizers like Risperdal and Zyprexa. Numerous experts have worried about overdiagnosis and overmedication of young people, and critical educators frequently worry that the problem is not lack of compliance by American youth but its precise opposite, an epidemic of compliance.

Norm Diamond, for instance, argues that many of the so-called defiant “symptoms” are in many cases “part of establishing independence and developing critical thinking. Equipping children to argue back is part of good parenting and good teaching.” Nonetheless a massive therapeutic industry of behavior modification, including pharmaceutical companies, now targets parents, promising cures for “defiant children.”

One of the most pervasive ad campaigns draws on the rhetoric of homeland security to label youth defiance “The War at Home,” urging a corrections mentality on the family: “The focus of treatment should be on compliance and coping skills, not on self-esteem or personality. ODD is not a self-esteem issue; it’s a problem solving issue.” .

Responding to Big Pharma ads for ODD medications targeting parents in his Portland media market, Diamond created a parody description of what he argues is the real social malaise, “Compliance Acquiescent Disorder,” which played locally in both radio and print versions. (An unexpected result of the parody was that outlets publishing them received calls from readers and listeners seeking treatment for their compliance disorder!)

Noting that “ODD-diagnosed young people are obnoxious with adults they don’t respect [but] can be a delight with adults they do respect,” Levine suggests that in many cases the symptoms of ODD are rational resistance to authoritarian abuses and “rebellion against an oppressive environment,” explanations rarely considered by educators or mental health professionals. Levine speculates that the willingness to medicate rebellion and nonconformity emerges in the social psychology of medical professionals, including a sense of shame for “their own excessive compliance”:

It is my experience that many mental health professionals are unaware of how extremely obedient they are to authorities. Acceptance into medical school and graduate school and achieving a Ph.D. or M.D. means jumping through many meaningless hoops, all of which require much behavioral, attentional and emotional compliance to authorities — even disrespected ones. When compliant M.D.s and Ph.D.s begin seeing noncompliant patients, many of these doctors become anxious, sometimes even ashamed of their own excessive compliance, and this anxiety and shame can be fuel for diseasing normal human reactions.

Of course, Levine’s observations would seem to hold for educators as well, many of whom welcome the diagnosis of ODD and other conduct-related disorders as “classroom management tools.” (On the other hand, the vast majority of teachers discussing “defiant” students on fora like ProTeacher.com are exchanging non-medical tips, often involving massive extra-curricular, non-instructional effort and expense on their part, voluntarily taking on the role of therapist and parent as well as instructor.)

“Finally, a cure for the class struggle,” wryly observed one of the Alternet discussion threads in response to Levine’s piece. “Is there a pill for megalomania and warmongering?” wondered another.

Thanks to Joel Westheimer (U Ottawa, formerly NYU) and Wayne Ross (U British Columbia, formerly U Louisville) for alerting me to the growing enthusiasm of educators and parents for ODD diagnoses of young people.

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(video) “Somewhere between a provocateur and a buffoon” –Michael Berube on David Horowitz http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/38 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/38#comments Fri, 21 Dec 2007 01:30:36 +0000 http://howtheuniversityworks.com/wordpress/archives/38 In this first segment of our interview, Michael Berube discusses David Horowitz and the “academic bill of rights.” He talks about what happened in Pennsylvania after the passage of some Horowitz-sponsored legislation, and thinks that Horowitz may have helped the cause of academic freedom by motivating science faculty who, he says, “sat out the culture wars of the 90s.” He suggests that history may judge Horowitz as “somewhere between a provocateur and a buffoon.”

You can play a good quality streaming version in the vodpod player at right, or after a short delay you can get downloadable quicktime and mpg at the links below:

Quicktime version (.mov)
Windows version (mpeg-1) (highest quality)

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