Culture Clash The Political Animal

The Firing of Melissa Click

This is where the faculty case against firing Melissa Click, otherwise correct in every respect, falls apart:

But no one on the campus filed a complaint against the professor, Ms. Henrickson said, a step that would have triggered the university’s own procedures. “No one took the opportunity to avail themselves of that process,” she said, so the board began its own.

This is why the federal government becomes involved in local cases, when local government and law enforcement prejudicially does not do its job. The faculty was not supplanted or overruled. It did not do its job when it should have. Why it did not is perhaps at the very heart of the matter..


Culture Clash The Political Animal

Perspective, Ideology, and Academic Freedom

Immanuel Kant developed his own version of the...
Immanuel Kant, Image via Wikipedia

In an essay at The New York Times online, We’re All Conservatives Now, Stanley Fish seeks to reconcile the concerns of both Right and Left about the American university. Contrasting the complaints of the right wing David Horowitz to the the left wing visions offered in the recent “Academic Freedom in the Post-9/11 Era” (edited by Edward J. Carvalho and David B. Downing, and bringing together the righteous and the repellent), Fish finds a commonality of esteemed virtues.

What this means is that despite the point-counterpoint accusations of betrayal, corruption and anti-intellectualism (charges hurled by each party at the other), the left and the right are after the same thing, and it turns out to be just what Immanuel Kant urged in his essay “What is Enlightenment?” (1784) when he answered his title question by declaring that “enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity,” an immaturity marked by his reliance on the pre-packaged guidance of others as opposed to the exercise “of his own rational capacities.”

Mankind, says Kant, must constantly labor to “expand its knowledge . . . to rid itself of errors, and generally to increase its enlightenment.” No one in the Carvalho-Downing volume or on Horowitz’s side of the street would dissent.

This is, unfortunately, a little too easy. Sure, it is to the good that both sides can agree at this level of generalization. There are, in fact, extreme elements on the Right, still, who find intellectual virtue in pre-Enlightenment religious doctrine and in the volk. There are extremes on the Left, rationalizers of the Islamist critique of the West, who now challenge Enlightenment principles. But it is in the application of these general principles of education that the two sides disagree, and it is at the level of application that we live. Fish offers, insufficiently examined, the perfect example.

But the right is right to point out that the faculty who work within these ever-more-pinched spaces are predominantly liberal and have over the years created “new inter-disciplinary fields whose inspirations were ideological and closely linked to political activism” (Horowitz, “Reforming Our Universities”). (Of course, the fact that a course of study was born out of ideological/political concerns doesn’t mean that instruction in its materials is necessarily ideological and political; any subject matter, whatever its origin, can be taught from an appropriately academic perspective.)

What exactly is meant by “new inter-disciplinary fields whose inspirations were ideological and closely linked to political activism”? Most obviously, this would mean various distinct fields of cultural study, e.g. African-American studies, Latino Studies, and gender studies, but also, more generally, culture studies itself and postcolonial studies, as well as literary and critical theory. Fish is right to make the point that “the fact that a course of study was born out of ideological/political concerns doesn’t mean that instruction in its materials is necessarily ideological and political” – but what exactly does it mean for the instruction in a field of study born of ideology not to be taught ideologically? In the most neutral sense, this might mean that instruction would acknowledge the ideologically contested nature of the field and present a course of study that explored the range of contested issues. That would be a perfectly legitimate approach, though it is difficult to imagine at the college level an instructor sufficiently trained and expert in the field of gender studies, for instance, who would not, by that virtue, be someone who embraced rather than disputed or was even neutral regarding the field’s inciting ideas.

Karl Marx (1818 – 1883)
Image via Wikipedia

Here is a different sense of instruction that is not, in Fish’s words, “necessarily ideological and political,” that can be offered “from an appropriately academic perspective.” I have made the point a number of times recently that one need not be, strictly speaking, a postcolonialist – in the most commonly expressed, fully ideological sense of the term – in order to recognize a range of historical truths about the colonial era and the necessity of a postcolonial understanding and vision of world affairs. One does not need be a Marxist (despite the simpleminded propagandizing of a Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh) to recognize a range of legitimacy in the Marxist critique of capitalism. One can even still be a capitalist. Neutral does not mean without perspective. The truth is a perspective, in contrast to the lie; perspective does not necessarily mean bias or completely subjective relativity. It is a fundamental error of journalistic practice to believe that reportorial “objectivity” requires that the political corruptions or falsifications of the tyrant – or even of the democratically-elected sanctioner of torture – be reported on an equal basis with the known truth, without “perspective,” or without pointed contrast to established and well-supported political and moral virtues.

It is the political argument – the ideological argument – of the Right, to claim that only the fields of academic study that existed before some imaginary demarcation in time are non-ideological, representative of a halcyon era of  pure education. To claim that the special nature of specifically African-American history and culture in the United States – previously unintegrated into general study outside of its marginalization in victimhood – does not warrant, therefore, a specialized field of study by virtue of that prior exclusion, and the reasons for it – that is not to oppose ideologically-driven education. That is too promote it. The opposition to so obviously, conceptually well-founded a field of study is itself profoundly ideological. The pretense by the Right that the world, the academic world, before the 1960s was non-ideological is ideological.

Diagram over ideological standpoints and the p...
Image via Wikipedia

Does the arguably ideological nature of both sides of the divide mean they are equal – merely self-limiting perspectives without any claim to truth? No. These are the disputes of mere decades. The history of civilization has included combat on the field and the contest of ideas. The very fact of the contest does not make both sides the same or equal. The judgments of reason and experience will be made over time. Once, to be black in this country was to be discounted and inferior. Once, to be gay was to be hidden from view and inferior, in the military too. As of yesterday, that is no longer so, and never will be again, though there will always remain those who contest these changes and claim therefore they are not true – that those who seek not to stand still, but in Kant’s words, to rid the world “of errors, and generally to increase its enlightenment” are ideological.


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The Political Animal

Let the CEO-Kings Rule

The other day we learned from the modest Rupert Murdoch that New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg

had described President Obama as the most “arrogant man” he had ever met after playing his first and presumably last round of golf with the commander in chief.

Bloomberg is the modest Mayor who conspired, democratically, with his City Council to overturn the twice-expressed will of New York City voters that mayors and other office holders be subject to term limits. It is also the Bloomberg who believes that the City of New York should be entrusted in his care but that its citizens have no right to knowledge of his whereabouts.

Mr. Bloomberg, who owns a waterfront estate here, has walled off his life in Bermuda from voters in New York, arguing it is none of their business. He steadfastly refuses to say when he is on the island, and to blindfold prying eyes, he has blocked aviation Web sites from making public the movements of his private planes.

Now we learn more of his governing practices, after two plus terms.

Shortly after 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg circulated through his City Hall offices, introducing a tall, blond woman who looked slightly familiar to his top aides. A foreign dignitary, perhaps? Or maybe an ambitious out-of-state politician hoping to impress the mayor? Somebody’s wife whom they were supposed to recognize?

No, it was Cathleen P. Black, and in less than an hour, Mayor Bloomberg would stun New York’s political, business and education establishments by naming her as the city’s schools chancellor, replacing Joel I. Klein.

To a degree unusual even for an administration that relishes keeping its deliberations as private as possible, hardly anyone knew of Mr. Klein’s departure or Ms. Black’s arrival until minutes before the official announcement. While such posts are typically filled after highly publicized national searches that can last months or even a year, there is little evidence that anyone else was seriously vetted or considered — and few of the usual suspects, including members of the mayor’s inner circle, were even consulted.

Salon’s Alex Pereene is not impressed. May I say neither am I?

We’re two terms into mayoral control of the New York schools and not much has changed — besides the fact that fewer black students are attending the better public high schools. What looked like soaring test scores turned out to be a sham. The idea of Cathleen Black reversing those trends (through effective management!) is laughable, unless you subscribe to the religion of private sector superiority.

The appeal of Bloomberg to his Democrat-voting, comfortable, educated Manhattan base is that everyone assumes he’s quietly a Democrat who — unlike the actual Democrats — isn’t beholden to New York’s various special interests (unions and minorities), who are generally presumed to be the reason why managing the city is so damn hard. But this sort of move — along with his steadfast support for unaccountable authoritarian police commissioner Ray Kelly — demonstrates contempt for all New Yorkers who don’t summer in the Hamptons. This isn’t a cold, evidence-based approach to city management. There’s no “evidence” here beyond a rich man’s conviction that things would be better if only everyone in charge of everything were more like him.

The problem with public schools, inasmuch as there is a problem, is a problem of poverty. The idea that an injection of profit motive is all we need to become Finland is an idiotic daydream inexplicably beloved by supposed do-gooding liberals. At least this appointment is so nakedly wrong that it may shut up the “Bloomberg for president” speculation — for a week or two.

via Michael Bloomberg and the myth of corporate genius – Michael Bloomberg –

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Indian Country

The American Indian Tribal Colleges

(This is a guest post by Brian Jenkins of BrainTrack. BrainTrack is the oldest and largest directory of universities and colleges on the Web. It provides information on over 10,000 institutions listed from over 190 countries. Brian has been writing about education and career topics for BrainTrack for the past two years. He has contributed content to the college degrees and certifications advice page.)

There are more than 30 tribal colleges serving over 30,000 students. These students represent over 250 tribes from across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. Native culture is infused throughout the education programs of these schools. For example, students taking biology learn not only the Latin names of plants, but the Indian-Language names as well. Tribal colleges promote a strong sense of cultural identity and self-esteem.

Most tribal colleges are located on Indian reservations. Unfortunately, many of them have to deal with issues such as a lack of funding and minimal resources, recruitment, and retention. They are fully accredited institutions and have the same academic standards as all other colleges and universities.

The majority of the tribal colleges provide associate’s degrees. Combined, they offer degree programs in over 200 disciplines in addition to more than 200 vocational certificate options.

Some tribal colleges have transfer agreements with affiliated state universities which allows graduates from a two-year tribal college to obtain junior status in the state university system.

Bachelor’s degrees are provided by Fondu du Lac Tribal and Community College, Haskell Indian Nations University, Institute of American Indian Arts, Salish Kootenai College, Sitting Bull College, and Turtle Mountain Community College. Oglala Lakota College and Sinte Gleska University provide a few master’s degrees as well.

Here’s a list of tribal colleges that offer some online education certificate and associate degree programs:

Some tribal colleges have partnerships with organizations such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, National Aeronautics and Space Foundation, National Science Foundation as well universities nationwide to support research and education programs that focus on topics such as sustainable agriculture, climate change, wildlife population dynamics, water quality, diabetes prevention, and population dynamics. Other schools are actively involved in research in subjects such as molecular cell biology, archaeology, environmental science, community health, advanced manufacturing processes, and aerospace engineering.

Some popular majors offered by tribal colleges and universities are as follows:

  • Accounting
  • Agriculture and Farming
  • American Indian Languages
  • American Indian Studies
  • Art
  • Automotive Technology
  • Biology
  • Building Trades
  • Business
  • Computer Science
  • Computer Technology
  • Corrections/Law Enforcement
  • Education – Paraprofessional
  • Education – Professional
  • English
  • Environmental Science/Natural Resources
  • Geography
  • Health Careers
  • Hospitality Industry
  • Human Services
  • Individualized Programs
  • Liberal Arts/General Studies
  • Life Sciences
  • Mathematics
  • Natural Science
  • Nursing
  • Office Administration/Technology
  • Paralegal
  • Pre-Engineering
  • Pre-Veterinary Science
  • Science
  • Social Science
  • Vocational Career Programs

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium provides a map and contact information for all the tribal colleges. The consortium also provides a list of specific majors and the tribal colleges that offer them.

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The Political Animal

Ross Douthat Advocates Diversity

“Include me out.”

Samuel Goldwyn

I just caught up with Ross Douthat at The New York Times on “The Roots of White Anxiety.” Up until Douthat’s OpEd, I would have said the root (singular) is that it isn’t all about them (whites) anymore. But now Douthat tells us, No, really, it isn’t all about whites anymore.

Last year, two Princeton sociologists, Thomas Espenshade and Alexandria Walton Radford, published a book-length study of admissions and affirmative action at eight highly selective colleges and universities. Unsurprisingly, they found that the admissions process seemed to favor black and Hispanic applicants, while whites and Asians needed higher grades and SAT scores to get in. But what was striking, as Russell K. Nieli pointed out last week on the conservative Web site Minding the Campus, was which whites were most disadvantaged by the process: the downscale, the rural and the working-class.

It seems – long and short of it – that Pat Buchanan (Douthat tells us) has a case.

But cultural biases seem to be at work as well. Nieli highlights one of the study’s more remarkable findings: while most extracurricular activities increase your odds of admission to an elite school, holding a leadership role or winning awards in organizations like high school R.O.T.C., 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America actually works against your chances. Consciously or unconsciously, the gatekeepers of elite education seem to incline against candidates who seem too stereotypically rural or right-wing or “Red America.”

This provides statistical confirmation for what alumni of highly selective universities already know. The most underrepresented groups on elite campuses often aren’t racial minorities; they’re working-class whites (and white Christians in particular) from conservative states and regions. Inevitably, the same underrepresentation persists in the elite professional ranks these campuses feed into: in law and philanthropy, finance and academia, the media and the arts.

Let’s for the sake of argument, accept all this as true. (Monica Potts at Tapped offers a different take on the study.) What, then, is to be done? Says Douthat,

This breeds paranoia, among elite and non-elites alike. Among the white working class, increasingly the most reliable Republican constituency, alienation from the American meritocracy fuels the kind of racially tinged conspiracy theories that Beck and others have exploited….

Among the highly educated and liberal, meanwhile, the lack of contact with rural, working-class America generates all sorts of wild anxieties about what’s being plotted in the heartland….

This cultural divide has been widening for years, and bridging it is beyond any institution’s power. But it’s a problem admissions officers at top-tier colleges might want to keep in mind when they’re assembling their freshman classes.

If such universities are trying to create an elite as diverse as the nation it inhabits, they should remember that there’s more to diversity than skin color — and that both their school and their country might be better off if they admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers.

If you work anywhere in academia, you know that “white anxiety” working its way through various court challenges pretty much banished the earlier bogey man of  “affirmative action” from the admissions and hiring lexicon. What replaced it was “diversity,” whether merely as a verbal cover, as it often is, for affirmative action still, or as the real thing – a conception of what provides for a superior educational environment and more integrated socialization. So here is what strikes me about Douthat’s argument. Aside from the courage he demonstrates in defending Pat Buchanan on anything, he actually offers a defense of diversity as a policy in college admissions. It is undoubtedly true – we see the evidence of it everywhere – that many highly educated liberals lack contact with rural, working class America and tend to belittle it. It is likewise undeniable that for the rural, working class “alienation from the American meritocracy fuels the kind of racially tinged” (and other) “conspiracy theories” that currently riddle the American political scene. I think it is true, too, that the “country might be better off if [elite universities] admitted a few more R.O.T.C. cadets, and a few more aspiring farmers.”

What cannot be but further striking (and once noted, we may move on the productive fellowship of our common recognition and mission) is that once again a conservative sings the praises of a liberal cause – opposition to racism, non-discriminatory policies, the virtues of diversity – when it is perceived that white people rather than others are in need of it. Now the song is “include me in.”



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Indian Country

The Lone Butte Nine

Imagine a former deputy assistant and White House liaison to the American Indian community in the Clinton administration who in her 60s takes a job as a low paid security guard at one of Phoenix’s best high schools in order to enable her grandchildren to attend. Imagine she discovers physical abuse and terrible educational neglect of the school’s few Native American students, from the Gila River Indian Community.

Imagine she tries to help them and is fired.

It’s an amazing story of the last overlooked crime of educational discrimination – against Native Americans – often in communities and school systems nearest Indian reservations. The superbly reported account, by Jana Bommersbach, is in the February Phoenix Magazine.

Thanks to San Carlos Apache artist and “community organizer” Douglas Miles (about whom watch for my post in the coming days) for calling it to my attention.