28.6.17

SELF-INFLICTED WOUNDS.

Two east coast sociologists take to Inside Higher Ed to sound the alarm against "attacks from the right."
Colleges and universities hire scholars to teach and to produce knowledge. For many years, being a professor was a job where you got paid to read and think, insulated to some extent from the rough and tumble of the rest of society. While there have always been a handful of scholars, usually from elite institutions, who could parlay the life of the mind into a more public career, and universities were happy to bask in the reflected media attention, this was the exception that proved the rule of academic isolation.
Yes, although for many years, professors understood the social contract obligated them to teach the controversies, to be careful about interjecting their own biases into class, to respect the discipline's discourse practices in writing up their thoughts.  Thus, for example, could Hayek and Keynes work together to edit Economica.

Read this passage, dear reader, and ask yourself whether that obligation still holds.
A newly emboldened cadre of people on the far right has weaponized the use of social media. In 2015, Boston University professor Saida Grundy’s comments on Twitter about white men, race and slavery led to a series of coordinated attacks against her. Grundy had called white college men the “problem population” in America and asked, “Can we just call St. Patrick’s Day the white people’s Kwanzaa that it is?” In response, a right-wing group culled several of her more provocative tweets and began a campaign to fire the newly appointed assistant professor -- although she posted the tweets before she was even employed at her university.
Did Professor Grundy cross the line, and had she been enabled in her adversarial stance by, say, the cult of authenticity that lets her get away with calling out white guys while the white guys just have to cringe and take it; or by the proliferation of -studies disciplines that treat hypotheses meriting additional inquiry as priors, and tight priors as that?

"White people's Kwanzaa" is great bull-session language: it's also more correct than she'd want to believe, for instance St. Patrick's was invented in Chicago and Kwanzaa in Berkeley, but I digress.  But is that really the stance an aspiring intellectual ought to be taking?

It's the polemics of the -studies academicians, and the ethos of student affairs, and the acquiescence of the students themselves, that's bringing the fire.  And the managers of College Fix will continue to bring it.  There's an air of injured innocence in their response, yes; and yet, when people use their status as academicians to say silly things unsupported by research, they ought be called on it.

Read and understand Yale senior Finnegan Schick for Heterodox Academy.
Because my English professors at Yale are largely liberal, the political message in my classes is always the same: Trump is a demagogue, American society is doomed, and English literature is our refuge. Liberal professors and students increasingly feel that it is their duty as professors and humanists to promote their vision of the political good. Meanwhile, the remaining campus conservatives have become less outspoken and remain fearful that they may suffer academically as well as socially for their views.

Humanities scholars have always dabbled in politics, but until Trump’s election, their sojourns into partisan debate remained fairly minimal. Now, however, students and faculty are treating Trump like an ideological threat.
I'm not sure what set of English novels and poems to recommend to get a better understanding of the controversies, although there's probably something germane in Shakespeare and perhaps Dickens and Scott.  On the other hand, I'd like somebody to compare and contrast Donald Trump and Daniel Sickles.  (That might be a good question to put to Newt Gingrich.)

Mr Schick concludes, "Let’s keep the punditry to a minimum and focus on the things that truly matter: the well-rounded, comprehensive education of our future leaders."

That's not how things are turning out, however.  Jeffrey Selingo writes, "As the baby boomer generation leaves the workforce, the United States risks having successive generations less educated than the ones that preceded them for the first time unless we improve undergraduate education."  His essay channels Charlie "Prof Scam" Sykes (has that been a quarter century plus?) in that adjunctification and research professors shunning the classroom doesn't build strong minds.  He channels Murray "Beer 'n Circus" Sperber in the nonaggression pact, aggravated by the tyranny of employment contingent on favorable course evaluations.  "So the classroom has become one giant game of favor exchanges between students and professors. When they each play their parts, everyone comes out a winner. Students receive better grades and adjuncts keep their job year after year or spend less time dealing with complaints about bad grades."  He also proposes changing the degree, in response to increased demand for vocational certificates.  I suppose I'll have to keep fighting to make high school high school again.

Provide a rigorous curriculum, turf out the -studies departments and the lackeys in student affairs and housing, and perhaps the rest will take care of itself.  Or if not, well, I've offered lots of suggestions over the years about how next to proceed.

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