The American Association of University Professors and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education both on Thursday expressed concerns about the way Texas A&M University at San Antonio notified Sissy Bradford, an adjunct with excellent teaching evaluations who had been told earlier she would have four courses for the fall, that she would have no courses. The university told Bradford of this development the day that a local newspaper noted her complaints about how the university responded to threats she received after her objections played a role in the removal of crosses from a tower being built at the entrance to campus. Bradford and her supporters see the university punishing her for speaking out. University officials have said that there is no relationship between her lack of courses for the fall, and her public statements. And university officials have stressed that adjuncts are not entitled to courses in any future semester.
A letter from the AAUP to President Maria Hernandez Ferrier said that "we believe that the action taken against Ms. Bradford was effectively a dismissal for cause, without the administration's having demonstrated adequacy of cause before a faculty hearing body. It thus seems to us to be a summary dismissal, fundamentally at odds with academic due process." The letter continues: "We accordingly urge that the Texas A&M University-San Antonio administration rescind her dismissal and reinstate her to the teaching that had been assigned to her for the fall semester, with any further action in her case to be consistent with the enclosed principles and standards."
FIRE announced that it was looking into the case. A statement from the organization said in part: "Many know, of course, that the job security of adjunct instructors like Bradford is nowhere near what it is for tenured professors and that universities may (and frequently do) decide not to rehire them for myriad reasons -- or no reason at all. But this does not mean that adjunct professors possess fewer First Amendment rights than their tenured counterparts. Adverse employment action taken against adjunct instructors on the basis of their protected expression as citizens violates the First Amendment."
On Thursday, the university released a letter from Bill Bush, interim head of the School of Arts and Sciences, in which he said that portrayals of the situation at the university have been "extremely one-sided." He said that the university offered support to Bradford amid the controversy over her statements about the crosses. He said that the decision not to offer Bradford courses for the fall was related to a desire to hire more tenure-track faculty members, and he said that she was in no way punished for any stances she took. He said it was a "duty" of the university to protect students and faculty members who express a range of views.
The university did not respond to a request that it explain why Bradford was initially offered courses for the fall, and then told that she would not teach those sections.
The National Education Policy Center, at the University of Colorado at Boulder, evaluates many think tank reports on education policy. The center also issues "Bunkum Awards" for education studies it finds "worthless and mundane," and this year's top "winner" is the Progressive Policy Institute for a study of charter schools. (A spokesman for the institute said that it stands behind its research.) Other entities "honored" by the center include the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the New America Foundation and Jeb Bush's Foundation for Educational Excellence.
Faculty members at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities are debating whether too many students are earning A grades, The Star Tribune reported. One proposal under consideration is that transcripts should indicate the share of each class receiving a particular grade, so that an A might have less value in courses in where many such grades are awarded.
The cover of the latest issue of Radical History Review shows a naked man, viewed from behind, standing astride the dividing line on a highway while balancing all his weight on one leg and holding his other limbs in the air at angles such that he might be aiming a semaphore, among other things, at the drivers of the two automobiles headed towards him on either side of the dotted line. (Another possibility is calisthenics.) The theme of the issue is “Calling the Law into Question,” and that’s certainly one way to go about it.
The cover catches the reader’s attention and the issue’s introduction explains what the editors plan to do with it. The assembled papers explore “a range of sites where confrontations and challenges to the law and prevailing social customs have taken place, whether on urban streets, in the archives, or in museums and courtrooms.” How? By “identifying protagonists outside academia who have challenged, or otherwise exposed, the ideological basis by which normative ideas of licit behavior have been constructed, enforced, and discursively supported.”
It demands a certain steeliness of will to keep reading beyond that point. Lately the air has been full of challenges to the order of things (not to mention pepper spray) yet so many left-wing academics still write with sludgy diction in tones of somber flatulence. As Marx famously did not say: “The philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world; the point, however, is to render problematic the continuing enforcement of its discursive legitimation.” It makes you tired.
But one set of papers did jump out at me as a bit off-kilter, given the focus on subverting the order of things: a forum on police museums in Latin America. (If ever a combination of words seemed both innocuous and menacing, it would be “police museums in Latin America.”) The whole idea sounds Bolaño-esque -- conjuring up images of a hall full of lovingly prepared exhibits devoted to corruption and mayhem, where the museum-goer might become part of the next diorama on the tour.
Police museums "appeared with remarkable simultaneity on both sides of the Atlantic in the first two decades of the twentieth century,” writes Amy Chazkel, an associate professor of history at the City University of New York's Queens College and the Graduate Center, in her preface to the forum. They are “a product of popular interest in crime on the one hand and police reform on the other.” By now the phenomenon is even more international than Chazkel indicates. There is, for example, an International Police Museum in New Zealand, which doubles as a bed-and-breakfast. These institutions are exercises in community relations, as well as memorials to officers killed in the line of duty.
Challenging “normative ideas of licit behavior” is never part of the mission. About the museums in Cuba, Argentina, and Mexico discussed in the forum, Chazkel writes that they “share a common concern with controlling and sanitizing the image of the police while vigorously avoiding confronting the question of police criminality, corruption, and ineptitude.” (Nor, presumably, do they instruct civilians in the techniques mentioned by an East Texas sheriff I knew who said, “We’ve got ways to beat a guy that don’t leave any marks.”)
The museum in Havana that Alejandra Bronfman, an associate professor of history at the University of British Columbia, discusses in her paper was inspired by the Sixth Congress in Criminal Anthropology, held in 1906, which called for government to “collect any confiscated objects that would be otherwise neglected or destroyed, and place them in a museum that would be very beneficial for the study of law and policing.” Beneficial, in the first place, to the police themselves, since one of the initial functions of the museum was as an instructional institution for trainees. In the words of one official account, students might go “without finding, in the course of everyday policing, typical examples of strangulation, poisoning, or other kinds of wounds,” so a collection of crime scene photos and instruments of mayhem would prepare them.
One consequence was the accumulating of clothes, jewelry, musical instruments, and ritual objects related to Afro-Cuban religious practices, which were prohibited. Learning to recognize such contraband items paid a double premium, since anyone found with them probably had other illegal proclivities. (Or so went the logic of the job, otherwise known as racial profiling.) The unintended result was that the museum became a repository for folkloric artifacts that remain of interest for reasons completely unrelated to why they were gathered in the first place.
While the Havana museum accumulated items to train a cop’s attention to signifiers of criminality (including at least one piece of human skin with a tattoo on it), Lila Caimari’s paper stresses how much the Buenos Aires museum serves as the institutional memory of the police force -- celebrating its history and professional culture, including the various uniforms and insignia. It also exhibits criminal paraphernalia (housebreaking tools, etc.) as any other police museum might. But according to Caimari, an independent scholar in Argentina, the institution’s development over time was conditioned by public contempt for the police role in repressing discontent.
The more far-sighted officials “urged for measures to ‘reconcile’ with the ‘people’ ” -- including a role for the museum in “attempting to build a public narrative that stressed modernity and professionalization, as well as police sensitivity regarding a number of social problems.”
A similar desire to court public opinion -- or at least to defy it -- seems to inform the venues covered by Robert M. Buffington’s account of what he calls “the curious genesis of the Mexican police museum.” Buffington, an associate professor of gender studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, seems to be the only contributor to have engaged very deeply with the museological literature. The institutions he describes (two in Mexico City and one in Guadalajara) have been established only in recent years -- long after the epoch of professionalization in the early 20th century that shaped the others discussed in the forum.
“As desperate politicians and police administrators scramble to reduce recent damage done to the already dubious reputation of the police,” writes Buffington, “the sudden emergence of three police museums in Mexico’s two largest cities hardly seems a coincidence. Nor is it coincidental that all three are affiliated with the national and state-level police forces that are responsible for combating (yet accused of abetting) serious crimes like murder, kidnapping, and drug trafficking.”
But the tarnish-removal efforts of the Mexican museums are evidently quite different from their Argentine counterparts. One of them devotes exhibits to such pressing social problems as “Vampires and Werewolves,” “Serial Killers,” and “Murderous Women.” Another puts up display cases for the “gaudy trophies” and “narco-bling” confiscated from traffickers.
Buffington argues that the well-trained soldiers who serve as tour guides at one museum are engaged in a sort of performative exhibition of “the honorable, hard-working, self-disciplined ‘good’ macho who watches out for his family and fellows,” as opposed to “the dishonest, abusive, philandering, substance-abusing, self-destructive ‘bad’ macho who brings nothing but trouble down on anyone caught in his orbit.” And perhaps that is the key to whatever function the police museum plays. Still, the featuring of vampires and serial killers might suggest another symbolic matrix shaping the institution at this point in the 21st century: really bad exploitation TV. It's the same thrill of transgressing "normative ideas of licit behavior" vicariously, and with no consequences.
In today’s Academic Minute, David Wilkinson of Liverpool John Moores University examines the role methane may have played in warming the Earth during the time of the dinosaurs. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
In many states in recent years, summer enrollments have gone way up at public institutions, as students who struggle to get into sections during the regular academic year take advantage of greater availability in the summer. But in California, higher education budgets are so tight that many community colleges have cut way back on summer programs -- despite student demand, The Los Angeles Times reported. Eight community college campuses plan no summer courses this year, and the community college system's summer enrollment was down 43 percent from 2008 to 2011. A survey by Santa Monica College found that, at 15 community colleges in the Los Angeles area, only one-third of the courses offered in 2008 are going to be offered this year, representing a loss of 6,000 teaching assignments and 168,000 classroom seats.
In today’s Academic Minute, Brick Johnstone of the University of Missouri explains efforts to pinpoint the location of the religious experience through brain imaging. In Monday's Academic Minute, Bridget Chesterton of the State University of New York College at Buffalo discussed the common experience of European immigration to the Americas. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.