The Danger of Thought Policing by Donors

George Leef of the Pope Center responds today to my critique here last week of his argument by claiming I’m creating a “straw man” and offering the hypothetical where a rich leftist “will give the school a huge amount of money (say, $100 million) if it creates a new chair in the department for a scholar who will teach the ideas he favors.” Leef wonders, “has academic freedom been diminished?…I say no. All of the existing professors…are still just as free as they’ve ever been to write or say what they want to.”

I say yes. The academic freedom of people to apply for this job has been restricted by an ideological demand for agreement with a particular viewpoint as a condition for employment. Academic integrity is also violated because ideological agreement will trump academic qualifications for this position. And the academic freedom of everyone is endangered when a college is willing to sell out anyone’s liberty for a big pile of money. That’s true whether it’s a left-wing or a right-wing donor. Leef may genuinely believe that it’s good for rich people to purchase faculty positions as playthings for their ideological desires, but it’s not a “straw man” to worry that this stand endangers academic freedom. Continue reading

Program Closures Around the Country

Reductions in state support are forcing public colleges and universities across the country to raise tuition and fees. A small but growing number of institutions are also acting on financial grounds to eliminate undergraduate majors, graduate programs, or even entire academic departments.

In an effort to document this troubling trend, Academe has created an interactive map that tracks media coverage of program closures that have occurred or been proposed since the current financial crisis began in 2008.

The map, although not comprehensive, provides an overview of local and national reporting on program closures across the country. It is designed to complement three issues of Academe that look at financial and administrative challenges facing colleges and universities: the July–August issue on the attack on workers’ rights, the September–October issue on the state of the humanities, and the upcoming November–December issue on rebuilding public universities.

Have you seen an article about program closures at an institution that is not on the map? If so, send me an e-mail with a link to the article and help Academe keep the map up to date.

An Interview with Joan DelFattore on Academia

Joan DelFattore is a professor of English and legal studies at the University of Delaware and the author of Knowledge in the Making: Academic Freedom and Free Speech in America’s Schools and Universities. You can read DelFattore’s essay on Garcetti earlier this year in Academe, and John Elmore’s review of her book in Academe.

I asked her a few questions about her book via email:

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Rush Limbaugh’s Skulls Full of Mush

Rush Limbaugh hates college. He hated it when he was a student flunking out of Southeast Missouri State, and he hates it even more today. According to Rush, Barack Obama’s plan to help students with loans is a vast conspiracy to help “big education” which destroys the minds of students:

Suzy Creamcheese gets into George Washington University and borrows from the government the requisite $212,000 to obtain an undergraduate degree, and what is Suzy Creamcheese’s degree in? She spent it on a degree in Oppressed People in the Orient, some meaningless degree like Conflict Resolution 505, whatever, some meaningless, worthless degree. She’s comes out after borrowing $212,000 with no marketable skills, and the only thing she has learned at Bill Ayers University is it’s all America’s fault. She goes in, gets a stupid degree, worthless education, $210,000 in debt, and she has no marketable skills. And it’s America’s fault after she’s borrowed all this money. So now here comes Obama riding to the rescue after his buddies in academe — i.e., the Bill Ayers types — have taken these young skulls full of mush and turned them into basically pizza.

Really? Rush thinks students major in “Oppressed People in the Orient”?

Jersey Shore Meets the U of Chicago

I believe that the two most diametrically opposed cultures in the United States are Jersey Shore and the University of Chicago. So that makes all the more bizarre to learn about a conference in Hyde Park on Friday analyzing the MTV reality show, Jersey Shore. The conference program reveals over-the-top (and I’m sure very much self-aware) MLA-type titles that go on forever, saying nothing comprehensible (which is perhaps an appropriate metaphor for Jersey Shore), such as this paper: “Situating the Situation: Psychogeography, Mimetic Desire, and the Resurgent Indo-European Trifunctional Paradigm in Seaside.” As for “Platonic Justice and the Jersey Shore,” I’m not sure if Socrates says much to enlighten us about idiots doing crap. But my favorite paper title is: “Foucault’s Going to the Jersey Shore, Bitch!” Yes, I’m sure this kind of fun little conference will encounter a lot of ridicule and rage. My question is whether an academic analysis of pure idiocy really tells us anything. Of course, as the author of a book about Rush Limbaugh, some people might say I’m engaged in a similar activity. You can register to attend this free conference and find out.

High-Pressure Recruitment Tactics at For-Profits

A few weeks ago, I looked at some of the methods which for-profit universities use to get “leads” on potential students. Getting contact information on a possible new student is, however, just the first step. The next steps are to get in touch with the potential student and convince them to enroll. In today’s blog post, I’ll look at some of the tactics recruiters use to pressure students into signing up at for-profits. Much like with the lead generating companies, the methods are highly upsetting and unethical, and cast a shadow over the ethics of some of these companies more generally.

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The Myth of Banning ROTC

Last week, an InsideHigherEd article about ROTC at Brown University contained an unfortunate but all too common error: “Like many of their counterparts, Brown professors voted in 1969 to remove ROTC from campus…” This never happened, at Brown or (as far as I’m aware) any other university. As the Brown committee’s report makes clear, it was the military, not Brown, that banned ROTC: “The Brown faculty passed a set of resolutions in 1969 that would permanently limit the authority of the military in matters of instruction. The Air Force responded by immediately removing its ROTC detachment from the Brown campus.” Diane Mazur wrote about this in “The Myth of the ROTC Ban,” noting that “I have found no universities that ban R.O.T.C.,” but the myth is seemingly immortal.
The same myth pops up in nearly every single article about ROTC, and even made an appearance in a Democratic primary debate in 2008. Plans to restore ROTC deserve serious consideration, but the debate should be based upon historical reality, not a widespread delusion. So let’s be clear: the military banned ROTC from elite universities, not the professors. And the professors were right, then and now: academics, not military bureaucrats, should decide who gets appointed to be professors and what classes receive college credit.

Leef Defends Pope

George Leef of Art Pope’s Center for Higher Education Policy denounces Jane Mayer’s recent profile of Pope in the New Yorker as a “scurrilous attack.” But Leef’s response reveals how accurate many of the critiques were.

Leef argues, “it’s no more possible to ‘buy the curriculum’ than it is to corner the silver market.” His logic seems to be this: you’re not buying the curriculum unless you purchase virtually all of it (i.e. cornering the market). And higher education is a commodity similar to silver. He’s wrong on both counts.

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COCAL Updates

By Joe Berry
COCAL Updates (Chicago Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor)

1. A nice little history of anti-Wall Street protests in US history and some useful suggestive lessons.

2. Recent grads turn to adjuncting.

3. The new Emmy award-winning documentary on the freedom riders of 1961 has many lessons for us, especially just now. See it online.

4. Poet/teacher Taylor Mali on “What Teachers Make.”

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The Sport of Money

Today’s Chicago Tribune has a lengthy front-page article about how the University of Illinois’ general fund subsidizes the athletic program with $920,000 in free tuition waivers for student athletes. The University plans to reduce this number to $500,000 by 2016, but that’s clearly not enough. All universities should, at a minimum, adopt a very simple policy about their athletic programs: Not one dime. There should be absolutely no subsidies for athletic programs. In fact, we should demand the exact opposite: athletic programs ought to be contributing at least 10% of their revenues to general university funds. That’s because athletic programs should pay their fair share of central administration costs, not to mention the fact that athletic programs often draw donors away who might otherwise give money to academic programs. It’s time for faculty and colleges to take control of their own athletic programs and demand that they serve the university rather than draining away resources for non-academic purposes.