9.6.06

DON'T WORRY, BE HAPPY. Or so the General Secretary of the American Association of University Professors (a four-initial organization with a general secretary ought be worrisome) suggests, referring to a survey recently commissioned by his organization on public attitudes toward higher education. It's part of a continuing spat between the Association and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (yet another four-initial organization.)

The ACTA report lists no author(s) but Ann Neal, a lawyer, president of ACTA, and wife of influential conservative Congressman Tom Petri, is the author of record of the “Foreword.” For Neal academic freedom “is as much a responsibility as a right” and adds it “should end at the point where professors abuse the special trust they are given to respect students’ academic freedom to learn.”

But who should decide what the students learn and the criteria used to determine “learning”? By all customary standards of academic freedom, faculty professionals alone are qualified to determine curriculum and faculty alone are qualified to judge whether students have learned the material assigned.

The ACTA report avoids such issues. The report instead reads as a piece of political propaganda, built atop some anecdotes about courses bearing racy titles; and written by non-educators who object to college courses that deal with the issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, globalization, capitalism, American hegemony, oppression, and the destruction of the environment. For ACTA such courses betray an unacceptable “political stance” because they are taught by “scholar activists.” ACTA objects to courses that, in one example, stipulate that students “respect cultures and traditions that are not their own”; and it excoriates all courses dealing with “justice,” whether environmental, social, or racial. ACTA warns that “’Justice,’ in all these examples, is synonymous with a specific social agenda,” an agenda that clearly differs from ACTA’s own. The upshot, says the report, is that many students are “not receiving a sound education” and students “are being exploited by professors…” All Americans, says ACTA, “have a right to raise questions, demand answers, and compel action.” OK, but ACTA will not like what the public thinks about such calls for action.

The first paragraph is classic guilt by association. "Neal sleeps with Republicans from Green Bay." That second paragraph reminds me of a passage in "The Masonic Testament."
If thy intellect is dull and coarse by nature, or clouded and confused by indulgence, the sacred symbolism will have no meaning to thee; and we shall address thee in a foreign tongue. Thus it is that true Masonry has always been, and always must be, confined to a few, since to the mass its truths are foolishness and valueless."
(Page 366.) That's the false consciousness heresy, and Professor Bowen appears to be as protective of his handshakes and passwords as the Worshipful Master is of his. Under its authority, his colleagues are free to offer whatever warmed-over Barrington Moore they please.

There are, however, market tests for education, whether it be conducted in the transparency of the lecture room or the conclave of the Thirty-Third Degree. Sure, professors are free to determine curriculum, and students and parents are free to decide to enroll (or not.) "But what does one do with an English (or Communication Studies or Victimoplogy) degree?" Want fries with that? Perhaps those degrees would have greater value stripped of their activist trappings.

King at SCSU Scholars has taken a closer look at the allegedly rosy findings of the poll.
Most parents, and particularly those getting ready to send kids to college, probably have as their primary concern how to pay the bill. The binge drinking answer is likely influenced by the Duke lacrosse story. And the surveyors split out concerns about faculty performance into three categories -- standards, bias, and incompetence -- to hide the concern in the American public over the quality of higher education. When asked which problems were very serious, of course four in five thought tuition was a very serious problem. But 48.9% thought low educational standards were, 37.5% said so for political bias, and a third thought incompetent professors were a serious problem.
Market tests. The crime is in selling a Yugo equivalent at a Lexus price.

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