2014 Through the Academe Blog: October

Hank Reichman opened the month by reprinting a letter from Jewish scholars about which he wrote:

Three weeks ago I posted to this blog a piece I titled “And Now There’s a Blacklist?” In that post I reported that an organization called the AMCHA Initiative, which claims it is “dedicated to investigating, documenting, educating about, and combating antisemitism at institutions of higher education in America,” had published what was “perilously close” to a blacklist of 218 faculty members in Middle East studies at U.S. colleges and universities who signed a petition calling for an academic boycott of Israel.  Today a group of forty prominent scholars in Jewish Studies issued a statement deploring the AMCHA list.  The statement declares that AMCHA’s “technique of monitoring lectures, symposia, and conferences strains the basic principle of academic freedom on which the American university is built. Moreover, its definition of anti-Semitism is so undiscriminating as to be meaningless.” 

John K. Wilson asked why two cases, that of Steven Salaita and that of Kenneth Howell, were treated so differently by the University of Illinois:

We might never know whether money really influenced Wise and the trustees, or whether they simply opposed Salaita out of personal convictions (as many others have done). The motivation is mostly irrelevant. Whether money or morality motivated the firing, they still violated the fundamental principles of academic freedom and their own Statutes.

However, the Howell case (decided when Kennedy and a majority of the voting trustees were in office, but shortly before Wise was hired in 2011) indicates a polar opposite approach to academic freedom, where the only similarity was that in both cases, the University of Illinois was responding to the outrage of well-connected and wealthy individuals. It’s naïve to imagine that money doesn’t matter, in an era when fundraising is the primary occupation of a college president.

Michael Rothberg reflected on the Salaita case:

It may well be true—as Katherine Franke has convincingly argued—that the clear trigger of the Salaita crisis was the organized movement to limit dissent about Israel and Palestine on the part of Zionist groups. This movement, which has targeted numerous other scholars in recent years, brought Salaita to visibility during the Gaza war and shaped the administrative response to the revelations about his tweets through its discourse of civility. Nevertheless, understanding why those groups have been as successful as they have been and why a lively opposition has thus far failed to secure reinstatement for Salaita involves making sense of the complex conditions in which the case has unfolded, conditions that include the defunding of public education and the importation of business models of management into the university. Even when there is a clear catalyst for an event, the contradictions that arise from it are never simple: events always play out on uneven terrain.

Michael Behrent addressed students about the reality of college:

Many of you are being taught by adjuncts or contingent faculty. They are among the least paid and most overworked people on this campus. Previously, college professors generally held tenure-track positions, promising them job security once they had demonstrated competence in teaching and research. But in an age when public institutions are viewed as financial burdens rather than as investments in the future, these jobs are seen as too costly. Instead, universities prefer to hire adjuncts, the academic equivalent of temp workers. They are paid by the year or even by the course. When no longer needed, they are simply let go. Many don’t get benefits. Some live so close to the poverty line they need food stamps to make ends meet. Adjunctification is a problem for students, too: not because adjuncts are bad teachers—they’re usually uncommonly dedicated—but because their working conditions are appalling. A 2013 study published on uscrossier.org shows universities that rely on adjuncts have lower completion and retention rates, offer less access to faculty, and employ fewer successful teaching practices.

Martin Kich pointed out that Pearson knows what’s most important to it, and that’s money, not education:

If this doesn’t seem to you like a cause for concern, consider that Pearson and McGraw-Hill now provide all of the course content for Western Governors University, an institution without any faculty. Instead, if a student needs to demonstrate “competency” in some way beyond a standardized test, Pearson provides a “contracted evaluator” to look at the student’s work.

We posted AAUP President Rudy Fichtenbaum’s address at the University of Saskatchewan Faculty Association Academic Freedom Event:

The goal of privatization is to transform what has been a world-class system of public higher education, whose aim was to provide a high quality education with a strong foundation in liberal arts and sciences, into a system more suited to serve corporate interests in our new gilded age. To accomplish this goal corporate interests and politicians from both political parties, particularly in a post-Citizen’s United world, are transforming higher education into a highly segmented system.

Sharon Ann Musher questioned if the AAUP can be objective on Salaita:

Rather than plainly stating that Salaita’s position was conditional on board approval, the AAUP attempted to substitute its unenforceable professional judgment. Its letter sympathetically concentrates on the ten months between Salaita’s conditional offer and its termination, during which time Salaita corresponded with the university about what classes he should teach and “made arrangements for a place to live for him and his family.” Most people who have moved – particularly with a family – can empathize with someone in such a situation. But, contrary to the letter’s implications, this position marks a significant departure from past precedent. The AAUP appears never to have conducted an investigation of a case based on the withdrawal of a conditional offer of permanent employment with tenure.

Peter Kirstein reported on an event at Columbia College featuring Steven Salaita as a speaker:

Like the other two panelists, his remarks were read from written text. The three panelists wanted to get it right and to present carefully their remarks before a packed Ferguson Hall on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Dr. Salaita is a dynamic speaker combining both passion and stunning intellectual power as he reflected upon the remarkable situation that brought him to this point. I found his remarks on civility of particular significance as he captured the essence of the latest weapon from corporate academe and their ideological acolytes to impose viewpoint cleansing on the professoriate and derivatively on their students.

Jonathan Rees comments on the growing desire of administrators to control what goes on in the classroom:

Think how many contingent faculty could get a living wage if all the money spent on IT full of unused bells and whistle went to improving faculty contracts instead.

But perhaps most importantly, I want complete control over my own classroom so that I can decide what tech is right for me and my students. A one-size-fits-all approach to education technology isn’t just potentially authoritarian or overly expensive, it’s really bad for education. While this isn’t the place to detail them, there are some really amazing tools out there that can make any classroom run better. Whether you’re already the best teacher in the world or just starting out in academia, you should have the freedom to explore all those tools and to pick the ones that both mesh with your teaching style and fit the needs of your particular set of students.

As usual, there was lots more during the month… but you will have to do your own looking for the rest.

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