One of the first contributions to the Academe blog this year was Hank Reichman’s “How NOT to Oppose the Academic Boycott of Israel.” He wrote:
Clearly, college and university presidents have the right to speak out on issues of public concern, especially as these relate to higher education. And while their statements may or may not represent the formal stance of the institution, the expanding chorus of university leaders opposing the boycott is certainly a welcome, albeit not entirely very courageous, reaffirmation of academic freedom. But surely an institution’s president cannot be said to speak for all faculty, staff and students, whether they oppose or support the boycott.
This set the tone for a year dominated by growing resistance to executive power in higher education (though that would not prove the only major issue in a troubling and troubled year). The American Studies Association had, in December, 2013, voted to boycott Israel or, more accurately, to refuse “to enter into formal collaborations with Israeli academic institutions, or with scholars who are expressly serving as representatives or ambassadors of those institutions.” Though the AAUP has expressly rejected such actions, it was the reaction to the ASA that disturbed the Academe bloggers. John K. Wilson wrote:
Any attempt to punish or de-fund a scholarly association because its members voted to express a position on a political issue is, without question, an attack on academic freedom, as I noted when Larry Summers called for college presidents to ban travel funds for faculty attending ASA meetings. You are free to urge scholarly groups not to take political stands (or to avoid stands you don’t like), but you cannot punish an individual or an organization for its politics without endangering academic freedom.
While that is certainly true, attempts to quash independence of thought and action don’t only come from outside or from executive suites. Janet D. Stemwedel warned us:
Defining success for those training in a discipline in terms of One True Path — even if we only do it implicitly (say, by describing everything else as an “alternate” career path and professing our helplessness to prepare trainees for those) — means setting up most trainees for failure. It means recognizing a much smaller and less diverse professional community, one that is less well-positioned and less able to interact with the larger society than it might be if success were defined more broadly.
It means disrespecting trainees’ abilities to set their own ends. It means undervaluing their happiness.
Why on earth would anyone want to join a professional community that did that?
Wilson, ever vigilant against attacks on academic freedom, soon wrote of an attempt by Chicago State University to shut down a blog, the CSU Faculty Voice:
Think of what CSU is doing as trimming the hedges of free speech. Just chop a bit off the top, and if the critics don’t learn their lesson, well, there’s a lawyer with a hedge trimmer ready to make some more severe cuts. CSU claims that they’re not demanding censorship, even though they have demanded that the blog be shut down and have now asserted the right to shut down any website they want to that mentions CSU.
Brian C. Mitchell posted about attempts to make changes in higher education from outside:
Change is inevitable. No one group – not even the executive branch – can foist its brand of change on a complex higher education system.
If progress is made, those responsible must have better research, deeper, ongoing conversation across all sectors of higher education – public, private, two-year, four-year, non-profit, and for-profit – a consensus on policy, and a strategy to fund a common direction as the tools that make it happen. “Good cop/bad cop” is counterproductive to sound national higher education policy.
The theme of shared governance–even beyond the university and higher education more generally–would be an important one for the Academe blog throughout the year. Another major concern has been growing reliance on contingent hires and particularly adjuncts for college teaching. I wrote:
By relying on part-time teachers while also making it impossible for them to do their jobs as well as they could, we are compromising the education we are offering. This is true on every campus where adjuncts (to say nothing of other contingent hires) make up a substantial portion of the teaching staff.
We, as college and university communities, need to insist that the number of adjuncts be limited, the number of contingent hires, too. We need to insist that adjunct lines be consolidated into full-time ones, with current adjuncts first in line for the jobs.
After a health crisis of his own, Martin Kich was also thinking about the situations of adjuncts:
So it has struck me very pointedly and poignantly that I am not Margaret Mary Vojtko, the adjunct professor who taught for decades and died in destitution. Indeed, whatever sympathy and outrage that I felt when I first became aware of her story has been much intensified by my now more immediate and visceral recognition of what it must be like to deal with a major medical crisis while worrying about how you will pay for your treatment and how you will possibly pay all of your other bills while trying to convalesce.
There was much more written on this blog in January: We averaged almost two posts a day and the blog continued on the growth path of 2013. It’s remarkable to look back over the year and to see what concerned us, and how that changed over the twelve months. Over the next few days, I will give brief looks at the other months on the Academe blog. Reading back, I am impressed by what I am seeing and am becoming optimistic that, even after terrible years and decades for the principles of the AAUP, we may be seeing, now, the turning of the tide. People are speaking out and, given our growing number of readers, others are listening.
We are also always seeking new voices for the blog. If you have something you feel would contribute to discussions about American higher education, please contact me.