7.7.14

HIGHER EDUCATION CONTINUES TO LOWER ITSELF.

Sometimes by putting money into big-time football whilst automating what remains of the education function.  University Diaries asks the central question about that course.
What is there about spending all our money on sports will make us a great intellectual institution that these people don’t understand??
Sometimes, by engaging in eminently mockable transgressivity.
Since 2010 [Arizona state gender studies professor Breanne] Fahs has offered students the chance to participate in an extra-credit exercise related to body hair.

Female student participants stop shaving their legs and underarms for ten weeks during the semester while keeping a journal to document their experiences. For male students, the assignment is to shave all body hair from the neck down.

“There’s no better way to learn about societal norms than to violate them and see how people react,” said Fahs. “There’s really no reason why the choice to shave, or not, should be a big deal. But it is, as the students tend to find out quickly.”

Stephanie Robinson declined to participate in the project during the first two classes she took with Fahs, but took the plunge during her third opportunity. “It really was a life-changing experience,” she said.

“Many of my friends didn’t want to work out next to me or hear about the assignment, and my mother was distraught at the idea that I would be getting married in a white dress with armpit hair,” Robinson said. “I also noticed the looks on faces of strangers and people around campus who seemed utterly disgusted by my body hair. It definitely made me realize that if you’re not strictly adhering to socially prescribed gender roles, your body becomes a site for contestation and public opinion.”

Robinson says part of her motivation for deciding to participate in the exercise was that in previous semesters she felt left out of the sense of the camaraderie of the students who were all bonding over their body hair, or lack thereof for males in the class.

“It’s interesting how peer pressure within the class can create a new norm,” Fahs said. “When practically all of the students are participating, they develop a sense of community and enjoy engaging in an act of rebellion together.”

That act of rebellion isn’t quite the same for males as females, according to Fahs. It’s not uncommon in our society for some men to engage in “manscaping,” removing hair from some parts of their bodies. For the extra-credit assignment, she asks male students to shave everything below the neck and maintain it for ten weeks. This makes the process labor-intensive and gives men some insight into what women who shave go through, she said.
In no particular order: how "rebellious" is it to be a teacher-pleaser?  Can an observant Sikh, or some varieties of observant Moslem, request a religious accommodation? Does "the nail that sticks up gets hammered down" become a topic for serious discussion in class?  And why did the soon-to-be-married Miss Robinson decide that the approval of class-mates was more important than the approval of her wedding party?

Perhaps we're seeing, in this piece of Arizona State foolishness, the failure of humanities faculty to teach that Peter Lawler identifies.
The humanities are oscillating between the extremes of relativism and scientism.  Relativism discredits texts by depriving them of the possibility of being authoritative sources of truth that transcend the confines of time and place.  And so it allows professors to carelessly judge them according to their trendy and ill-considered ideas of what constitutes justice.

Scientistic professors hold that all human phenomena can be explained along the lines developed by the natural sciences, and therefore that humanities research should use the appropriate technology and experimental methodology.  That means that even in the humanities the proper mode of engaged teaching is “undergraduate research.”  The hope is that the social sciences and the humanities can become as impersonally rigorous as the natural sciences.

Scientism fills the void opened up through relativism.  What disappears, of course, is philosophy, literature, history, and so forth as modes of knowing and especially of addressing the “existential” questions concerning who we are and what we must do to live well.  In this conception, professors have no concern with their students’ “souls” or virtues.  The goal, instead, is to engage them is scientific research.
Yes, and to do so requires a better understanding of, for example, evolutionarily stable strategies.  In the scheme of things, perhaps one's ability to write well and speak well is more important than whether one's pits are hairy.  And a self-selected cohort of gender studies students at Arizona State might be ticketed for something other than positions of responsibility anyway.  But there's some obligation for the tenured faculty to behave like responsible adults.
Tenured professors lose interest in the content of liberal or general education at their institutions.  They’re so specialized that they can’t speak with each other about what all educated men and women should know.  The resulting void is filled in by the techno-vocationalists—administrators, accreditors, educational experts—who speak unironically about general education as a set of skills and competencies.  The tenured professors, absorbed in their own little worlds, lack the spirit and the wisdom to resist.  They surrender control over the curriculum and the mission of their institutions, and they don’t say much about the drift toward adjuncting out as many credit ours as possible—so long as it doesn’t affect their jobs.

To be sure, the problem isn’t tenure.  Without it, the problem might well be worse, as old-fashioned professors who eschew specialization would probably disappear.  These professors are already considered suckers because they emphasize teaching over trendy niche scholarship and publication. Moreover, they have no professional mobility, and they fall victim to salary compression.  Tenure allows them to fight the reactionary fight in their own classrooms.
Or, perhaps, the tenured faculty have established their reputation precisely by publishing the trendy stuff in the trendy outlets, and by going along with the worst of the PC idiocies out of Student Affairs because the PC idiocies out of student affairs make the faculty comfortable with their own prejudices.

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