Plus ça change…

Three years before publication of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America in 1835, Frances Trollope, mother of Anthony (then not yet twenty), saw her Domestic Manners of the Americans reach print. It’s a delightful book, though not particularly kind to the people of the young republic. Nonetheless, Mrs. Trollope had quite the eye, and wit to match.

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The Importance of the University of Missouri Press

This is a guest post by Donna Potts, chair of the AAUP’s Assembly of State Conferences and a professor of English at Kansas State University.

On May 24, when the president of the University of Missouri, Tim Wolfe, announced plans to close the University of Missouri Press, my first reaction was deeply personal. I immediately thought of Clair Willcox, the editor-in-chief, who was a graduate student in English when I first entered the program at the age of 21. Clair probably didn’t know it at the time, but he was an important mentor: long before I learned to take myself seriously as a teacher and a scholar, Clair did.

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Trading Academic Freedom for Foreign Markets

By Marjorie Heins, founder, Free Expression Policy Project

The current controversy over Yale University’s planned campus in Singapore is, at bottom, an argument over how much compromise on free speech is justified in exchange for the presumed benefits of locating branches of U.S. universities within authoritarian regimes. Although the champions of global ventures like Yale’s often claim that academic freedom will be available at the foreign outposts, the fact is that such freedom, at best, will be limited to the classroom and will bear no resemblance to what we have come to expect on U.S. campuses.

In an April 2012 resolution, the Yale faculty expressed concern over the Singapore venture and urged administrators “to respect, protect and further principles of nondiscrimination for all, including sexual minorities and migrant workers” and “to uphold civil liberty and political freedom on campus and in the broader society.” Yale, in response, pointed out that its new university is a joint venture with the National University of Singapore (“N.U.S.”); it will not grant Yale degrees and will be paid for entirely by the host regime.

But Yale is lending its name; Yale faculty will teach there; the Yale-N.U.S. president, Pericles Lewis, is a former Yale professor, and the first dean, Charles D. Bailyn, currently teaches at Yale. Although Lewis told reporters that “we expect students to express all kinds of opinions on campus,” he also acknowledged that off-campus, “students will have to abide by the laws of Singapore.” Those laws include the strict censorship of films, broadcasting, print media, and the Internet, a Sedition Act, and a Public Order Act which requires a police permit to meet for any “cause related activity.” As the New York Times noted, Singapore is “an autocratic city-state where drug offenses can bring the death penalty, homosexual relations are illegal and criminal defamation charges [against people who criticize public officials] are aggressively pursued.”

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Accuracy in Academia?

One of the interesting things about fishing in unknown waters is that you never quite know what will come up when you reel in the line.

It has only been a few weeks since my first post here, but I am already getting intriguing responses. One on Tuesday follows my post with the tongue-in-cheek title Reminder to Self: Get Out More. It is called Ivory Tower Cabin Fever and comes from a blog that calls itself “Accuracy in Academia” (AIA). It starts off:

Apparently at least one denizen of the Ivory Tower thinks he’s been cloistered too long.

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The Lyceum Movement Online

The things we get most exciting about, the things we find most enticing and revolutionary, are also things most likely to be old–once you strip away the new skin. They are the familiar wrapped up in shiny new presentations.

The MOOCs (Massive Open Online Classes) are a case in point. When you look at them closely, they are little more than the lectures of the lyceum movement of ‘self culture’ of almost two centuries ago–but with an electronic sheen.

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Reminder to Self: Get Out More

In the December 23, 1869 edition of The Nation, Francis Parkman wrote:

The New England man of letters… was apt to be a recluse, ignorant of the world, bleached by a close room and an iron stove, never breathing the outer air when he could help it, and resembling a medieval monk in his scorn of the body, or rather his utter disregard of it. The products of his mind were as pallid as the hue of his face, and, like their parent, void of blood, bone, sinew, muscle, and marrow. That he should be provincial was, for a long time, inevitable, but that he was emasculate was clearly his own fault. As his scholarship was not fruitful of any very valuable results, as it did not make itself felt in the living world that ranged around it, as, in short, it showed no vital force, it began at length to be regarded as a superfluous excrescence. (558-559)

The same, unfortunately, could be said of too many of us who are involved in scholarship today. Teaching aside, little of what we do or say has observable impact on the world outside our universities. Yes, there are technological and scientific breakthroughs that clearly do, but these are rare—and are far removed from the efforts of most of us.

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The Myths about Tenure

Ron Lipsman, a former senior associate dean at the University of Maryland, writes at Minding the Campus attacking tenure: “In effect, the only tenured professors who get the sack are those who have robbed a bank, raped a co-ed or pistol-whipped a colleague.” This is nonsense. Plenty of tenured professors do get fired every year for legitimate reasons. And many other tenured professors get fired for illegitimate causes.

But Lipsman’s understanding of tenure is quite strange: “while many professors (perhaps most) do fine work, the vast majority are not engaged in research that could expose them to firing without cause.”

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The Physical College

In a New York Times opinion piece that appeared last month, Jeff Selingo of The Chronicle of Higher Education lays out ‘urgent needs’ for American colleges and universities. There are many; we are not in a position where coasting along on old assumptions will suffice. But Selingo completely ignores one area where change must come, the physical layouts of our learning spaces. These, too, must be changed if higher education’s changes are to be successful.

Selingo’s ‘needs’ are but one list among many, of course. None of us is going to agree with them all, or with his rankings. They are:

  1. Improve usage of technology in the classroom;
  2. Offer more online instruction;
  3. Make ‘academics’ the top priority;
  4. Cut back on the quest for ‘research’ status;
  5. Make sure all courses a student takes count for the degree.

The last three I agree with, but would change their focus and wording. The first two? Well, they are laden with assumptions that I am not sure I can accept. They are built upon current visions of the structures of education, structures that center on the traditional classroom and sage-on-the-stage extension into the digital world (what is a Massively Open Online Course, or MOOC, without the concept of the lecture?). Second, they assume that technology in the classroom and online instruction are two different things, assuming the classroom walls as barriers that need not be broken down.

An Article I Really Haven’t Time For

A couple of months ago, someone sent me a link to an article from The Washington Post by David Levy called “Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?” It still rankles. Levy writes:

Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.

He says this may be fine for research institutions, but at teaching institutions? Nah:

Critics may argue that teaching faculty members require long hours for preparation, grading and advising. Therefore they would have us believe that despite teaching only 12 to 15 hours a week, their workloads do approximate those of other upper-middle-class professionals. While time outside of class can vary substantially by discipline and by the academic cycle (for instance, more papers and tests to grade at the end of a semester), the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth.

A myth, huh?

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The Responsibility Behind Academic Freedom

This is a version of a piece I posted six years ago on my own blog, One Flew East. I am offering it again now as a way of introducing myself to the Academe blog:

How can we in academia make the case for “academic freedom” to the broader public and move our own understanding forward, back towards the old function of academic freedom within the public sphere?

Too many of us in academia, and for too long, have looked upon “academic freedom” as a right, forgetting that it carries specific responsibilities.

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