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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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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Culture Clash

Tenure, RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for the Future of Education

From The Chronicle of Higher Eductation

The AAUP has for years argued for the necessity of tenure. This spring Cary Nelson, president of the association, visited Principia College, a liberal-arts institution in Illinois where there is no tenure. “You could cut the fear with a knife,” says Mr. Nelson. “Faculty members are guarded, they’re not making courageous decisions about what to say, what to think, and how to challenge their students.” (Jonathan Palmer, Principia’s president, told The Chronicle that simply isn’t true. “Tenure in and of itself does not induce or allay fears of faculty members,” he said. “The deep, rich conversations we seek among our students and ourselves are not tied to tenure, but to the continuing desire to stretch, liberate, and educate.”) * [Emphasis added]

According to Mr. Nelson, though, the biggest loss isn’t what professors can’t say in the classroom. It’s what they don’t say to the president or the trustees—or to politicians. “The president doesn’t really care what you say in your World War II-history class,” says Mr. Nelson. “You can say what you want to about your subject matter, but don’t think you can say what you want to about the president’s edicts.” Indeed, what’s disappearing along with tenure, say its advocates, is the ability of professors to play a strong role in running their universities and to object if they think officials are making bad decisions.

“One of the jobs of tenured faculty is to raise a lot of questions and make people uncomfortable,” says Martin J. Finkelstein, a professor of higher education at Seton Hall University. “Nontenured faculty are very cautious. They want to be retained.”

Vanishing tenure may be bad for students as well as teachers. A couple of dozen studies over the last decade have shown that as the proportion of professors off the tenure track rises, the proportion of students who return to college the following year and eventually graduate declines.

Read more

* Qualifies for an EDL (Empty Disingenuous Locution, aka bullshit) award.


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Culture Clash

Good in Theory

In honor recognition of the approaching academic year, this nugget, (via Greg Weeks at Two Weeks Notice) concerning the occasional confrontation with reality of idealistic pedagogy. (More often IP continues on its constitutional, head held high and determined not to notice the deep shit.) Our author, the wry Chris Lawrence at Texas A&M, comments on “a rather, er, innovative approach to grading classroom assessment (gotta go with the Newspeak term).”

Chris’s blog, by the way, is called (I shoulda thoughta that – damn, why didn’t I?)  Signifying Nothing. My own most recent quixotic academic endeavor was my futile essay against the Newspeak of course objectives Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) on which, California students now paying higher fees will be delighted to learn, many millions of dollars were tautologically expended to reinvent the wheel circular turning mobile device (CTMD).

Credit where credit is due: Chris makes delightful use of the inner-censor-smashing faux strike through. It’s catching.