2014 Through the Academe Blog: August

Brian C. Mitchell began his August posts with a look at a survey of higher-ed CFOs:

Ultimately, it’s not the job of the CFO to find incremental solutions to systemic problems eating away at the financial sustainability of American higher education. Collaboration like that proposed by CFO’s in the recent survey is important. But it is at best a tactic.

What is most needed is coordinated leadership, experimentation and innovation, collaboration, and most important, a new strategy for putting the pieces of the financial puzzle together in a different way. The problem is the strategy and not the tactics, beginning with a need to imagine the financing of American higher education in sustainable ways.

John K. Wilson looked at accusations of plagiarism on the part of Rick Perlstein:

I’ve written extensively about the issue of plagiarism, and even defended Alan Dershowitz against charges of plagiarism. I haven’t read Perlstein’s book, but nothing cited by Shirley’s lawyer comes even close to plagiarism. The worst thing Perlstein is guilty of might be using the same words “festooned” and “dissolving” as Shirley did in describing a couple of scenes. It’s not plagiarism, it’s paraphrasing, and it’s commonly used to describe the atmosphere at a historical event, where you want to be as accurate as possible without losing the narrative in a string of quotes from historians.

Phyllis Wentworth wrote about sending her son off to college:

As a faculty member, I have insider knowledge about the sphere he is on the cusp of entering. This is reason enough to feel a sense of connection to what he will be experiencing soon, as the New England air turns from humid to crisp. But there is another reason why I am feeling empathetic toward my son at this time: I recently left the familiar comfort of my old job, to start a new position.

On August 6, the blog posted a statement from Committee A of the Illinois AAUP on the case of Steven Salaita and the University of Illinois, starting what would prove to be the most high-profile series of posts of the year:

Reports that the university has voided a job offer, if accurate, due to tweets on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would be a clear violation of Professor Salaita’s academic freedom and an affront to free speech that we enjoy in this country.

Professor Salaita resigned his position at Virginia Tech and was about to assume his  new appointment at the University of Illinois. We stand by the appointment and by Professor Salaita and defend his right to engage in extramural utterances.

The next day, Hank Reichman presented an AAUP officers’ statement on the Salaita situation:

While opinions differ among AAUP members on a wide range of issues, the AAUP is united in its commitment to defend academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas more broadly. On the basis of this commitment we have opposed efforts by some pro-Palestinian groups to endorse an “academic boycott” of Israel. This commitment has also led us to defend the rights of critics of Israel, including the right of faculty members such as Professor Salaita, to express their views without fear of retaliation, even where such views are expressed in a manner that others might find offensive or repugnant.

Additional posts would come quickly and often throughout the month. Wilson, our “resident expert” on academic freedom, soon weighed in:

Today’s InsideHigherEd includes dueling essays on the Salaita firing by me and by Cary Nelson. You can read my comment on Nelson’s essay here.

Nelson’s assertion that “I believe this was an academic, not a political, decision” strains all credulity. No one can seriously believe that the political consequences of hiring a controversial professor had no role in the administration’s decision.

Martin Kich commented on North Carolina’s attempt to tie financial aid to tuition:

This is the same sort of skewed logic that has been used by advocates of austerity during severe economic downturns, when most available evidence supports that austerity is counterproductive, making the crises even worse than they would otherwise be by reducing public employment and the economic activity that it supports. One wonders, for instance, how much more quickly the u.S. might have recovered from the Great Recession if both the federal government and the Far-Right-dominated state governments had not cut public employment—never mind passing “jobs bills” to increase it.

Wilson interviewed Donald Lazere, whose new book is Why Higher Education Should Have a Leftist Bias:

JW: You write about “the politics of no politics,” where teachers “blandly evade uncomfortable political subjects” in order “to be more popular with students.”(27) Are students (and student evaluations) the most powerful suppression of political subjects in the classroom, or do professional standards and the fear of colleague evaluations also sway faculty?

DL: None of the above. By “the politics of no politics,” I refer to the pervasive trait in American life, including college education, of avoiding politics in favor of personal consciousness. This trait has deep roots in American history, but has spiked sharply since World War II, the Cold War, and the apotheosis of consumer culture (with only short-lived challenges to it in the 1960s).

Wilson soon followed up with another interview, this time with William Deresiewicz, whose new book is: Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and The Way to a Meaningful Life:

JW: You have particular disdain for college extracurricular activities, calling them “all-consuming,”(64) “displacing intellectual pursuits”(14) and part of an epidemic of networking on campus. But it seems like extracurriculars have at least the potential to provide what you think is missing at college: student-driven, creative, social, service work. What should colleges (and students) do to improve extracurricular activities on campus?

WD: The problem, as I suggested above, is not with any one particular extracurricular activity. The problem is the way they have, as I said, become all-consuming and displaced intellectual pursuits. I don’t know what colleges can do to improve the situation. They can start by making their courses academically rigorous again, so students will actually have to spend some time on them outside of class. And they might put some kind of limit on the almost literally round-the-clock nature of those activities, like mandating that meetings be over by a certain hour–something I believe some colleges at least used to do.

Ulf Kirchdorfer took a look at pemanship and online education:

My handwriting is terrible—I marvel at how terrible it is. I was born with terrible handwriting. My mother would not post anything I wrote on the refrigerator for fear that people coming over would worry. (No, Mom, this is not true, so if you are reading this, let’s not spend an hour talking about this. You were a good mother.)

But there is something to be said for handwriting, as we exercise with our hand and pen our mind on a solid surface, the ink being absorbed by the paper.

I take a look at a case at Clemson University that brings Godwin’s Law (“online arguments devolve into comparisons with Hitler or Nazis”) to bear:

Calling something “fascist,” “Hitleresque,” or “Nazi” makes conversation afterward almost impossible. Woodard, a professor of Political Science and something of a political operative (according to his university profile, his clients have included Senator Jim DeMint, Senator Lindsey Graham, Former Congressman Gresham Barrett , Congressman Trey Gowdy, and Congressman Jeff Duncan) on the Republican right, certainly doesn’t see the debate as a “teachable moment.”

Bill Ayers connected the Salaita case and freedom of speech:

In mid-August the University of Illinois withdrew its appointment of Steven Salaita, formerly an English professor at Virginia Tech, as a tenured associate professorship at UIUC. Having cut his ties in Virginia (resignation from a tenured job, his spouse quitting her job, and the couple renting a house) Salaita was informed that the final hurdle of his appointment—the typically pro forma approval by the Board of Trustees—would not be cleared. The administration under instructions from the Board rescinded the offer. This group of wealthy business people—singularly unqualified to judge his scholarship, teaching, or collegiality—surely feared that Salaita’s presence on campus would put them in the position of upsetting other rich people.

Kich applauds Mills College for its new attitude on transgender admissions:

Moreover, it is worth noting that the “mainstream” media has paid relatively little attention to this issue and that almost all of the coverage has been provided by the Far Right media and by LGBT websites and blogs. That this sort of story is now treated as “sensational” only by the Far Right media is in itself a major indicator of how far we have come as a nation in accommodating individual identities and in transcending gender categories and stereotypes.

Joe Berry and Helena Worthen wrote on COCAL:

Over 200 people attended the eleventh conference of COCAL (Coalition of Contingent Academic Labor) which took place August 4-6 at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, part of the City University of New York (CUNY) in New York City. The focus was on contingency–the damage it does to faculty, students, and the systems of higher education­–in the three participating countries: the United States, Canada, and Mexico.

The goal: To abolish contingency itself.

It was a busy month here, especially because of the Salaita case, but other situations kept this August from the usual summer doldrums.


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