If you have not yet heard about Michael Bérubé’s What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts? Classroom Politics and "Bias" in Higher Education, recently published by W.W. Norton, then chances are you also haven’t seen the author’s blog, which has been advertising the book heavily for weeks now, albeit with tongue sometimes in cheek. Over the past two or three years, Bérubé’s Web site has turned into a rallying point for those fighting off David Horowitz’s so-called Academic Bill of Rights (perhaps the finest bit of political word-magic since Stalin created the “peoples democratic republics” of Eastern Europe). The blog itself is part of what is now sometimes called the “netroots” of the Democratic Party, although Bérubé himself is slightly more disposed to working out a position on the multivalence of the signifier than on, say, ethanol subsidies.
In other words, What’s Liberal looks, at first, like a book written with a definite constituency in mind. So does Rhetorical Occasions: Essays on Humans and the Humanities, out next month from the University of North Carolina Press -- a volume of Bérubé’s pieces that originally appeared in academic journals and popular magazines as well as the blog.
So all the familiar worries about the echo-chamber effect of new (or “niche”) media come to mind. You know what to expect from a certain kind of title that has become very familiar over the past few years: the op-ed in a fat suit, the sermon to the choir, the repetitious but morale-boosting statement of why "we’re right, they’re wrong." There are right-wing and left-wing versions of such books. You see them glaring at one another across the aisles at the bookstores. Sometimes they even mimic one another’s covers – either to heighten the spirit of antagonism, or just from a lack of originality, not that the distinction matters too much.
A reader of Bérubé’s blog quickly learns that satire is one of his default modes. (Upon being listed by Horowitz as one of the academe’s “dangerous professors,” he announced that his field was “dangeral studies.”) Sitting down to read What’s Liberal, I anticipated that there would be sarcasm, and plenty of it.
Parody and irony have their uses; at times, no other tools will do the trick. But as modes of argument, they tend not to be especially generous toward an opponent. They tend to reinforce the mentality common to the “we’re right, they’re wrong”-type books, for which the line between “us” and “them” is bright and clear. Reading Bérubé, I expected fireworks. Or, more accurately, dynamite -- an exercise in cultural and political demolition.
But in fact, no. The relationship between the book and the blog is not straightforward. And while each might be an example of a public intellectual at work, the contrast between them is a reminder that perhaps we should keep in mind the expression C. Wright Mills sometimes used: “publics,” for there is more than one kind.
What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? assumes the existence of a large, smart, but ambivalent (or frankly confused) audience of people who have heard about the arguments over "bias" in higher education, but not taken sides.
The author assumes on the part of the reader both skepticism and an open mind. He is canny enough a rhetorician then implicitly to equate both skepticism and open-mindedness with liberalism itself (properly understood).
There is also a steady effort to dispel fantasies about the university as a place somehow radically different from other scenes of white-collar life. It is true that the ranks of academics includes "our occasional cranks, our poseurs, our bloviators, our pedants, and a couple of those people who are just impossible to work with,” he writes, “but in this respect, we’re very much like any other workplace -- except for the pedants, who are relatively more numerous on campus than off."
And while admitting that, yes, there are more registered Democrats than Republicans in institutions of higher learning, the differences don’t automatically correspond to attitudes toward curriculum. “It is not uncommon,” he writes, “to find that the department’s gay, pony-tailed, hemp-wearing poet insists that today’s students simply must be grounded in a series of required 'core' courses in British literary history, whereas the lone suit-and-tie Rockefeller Republican is arguing that the English major should have no requirements whatsoever.”
The book covers quite a lot of ground. It debunks some of the more heavily publicized but fact-free accusations regarding the persecution of conservative students; acknowledges the embarrassments of the “Monty Python left” of Ward Churchill and friends; and describes what it’s like to teach The Rise of Silas Lapham to undergraduates who almost never actually like the book. It also offers a pretty compelling and accessible account of what’s at stake in the Habermas-Lyotard debate over the incommensurability of discourses, with special reference to the debate over foot massages in the opening section of Pulp Fiction.
And there’s more besides. None of it seems random or episodic. All of it serves, rather, to show that higher education is much less homogenous -- or for that matter, ideology-minded -- than certain propagandists make it look. Any informed account of academe must stress on the "variousness, possibility, complexity, and difficulty" it shares with the rest of life in an affluent society. (I borrow that phrase from Lionel Trilling, who was either a liberal or a neoconservative depending on the angle from which you looked at him.)
"Universities," writes Bérubé in a passage that sums up an important strand of his argument, "even private universities, are thoroughly and complexly interwoven into what remains of the public sector of the United States, and their relative economic health, together with their extraordinary capacity to generate economic wealth (if you’re interested in that kind of thing), provides powerful testimony to the wisdom and the long-term structural soundness of the mixed free-market/welfare state economy. So America’s cultural conservatives may despise us for the obvious reasons -- our cosmopolitanism, our secularism, our corrosive attitude of skepticism about every form of received authority -- but the economic conservatives, I think, despise us because we work so well."
That is not a perspective that gets usually expressed when culture warriors go to battle. But I suspect (and, frankly, hope) it may get a hearing among other sorts of people. Newspaper editors, for example, and state legislators. And smart high school students, not to mention their parents.
For more on What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts? -- as well as a little about Rhetorical Occasions, which covers many of the same issues at a postgraduate level -- you might want to listen to this podcast of my recent interview with Michael Bérubé.
This season's crop of college sports scandals is already so rancid that just about everyone is riveted to the foulness of it. Rent-A-Stripper night at Duke University is a whiff in the wake of the fumes pouring out of Auburn University (professors creating pretend courses for athletes), the University of Georgia (the canceling of classes for football games, trustee cronyism and malfeasance, NCAA violations, rampant fan alcoholism), Ohio University ( 17 football players arrested in the last 10 months, and their coach recently convicted of drunk driving), the University of Miami ( multiple on-field riots by players), and the other big stinkers.
Those who follow this stuff closely, like the Drake Group, know that almost every major sports program in this country's universities is stewing in some mix of bogus coursework, endemic plagiarism, diploma mill admits, risible graduation rates, and team thuggery -- and that's just the players. Add two-million-dollar-a-year drunk coaches crashing their cars all over town; meddling and corrupt alumni boosters subsidizing luxury boxes in new stadiums with massively overpriced tickets and names honoring the local bank; trustees averting their eyes as students tailgate their way to the emergency room; and presidents disciplining on-field rioters by ever so lightly spanking their bottoms, and you get a problem difficult to ignore.
Or so you'd think. But tenured faculty -- the one group doomed to wander the Boschean triptych of Athlete-Alumni-Administration forever and ever -- seems to have noticed nothing. Duke's faculty organized itself to protest the lurid thing its lacrosse team had become, yes, but where are Miami's and Georgia's professors, where things are much, much worse? It's like that scene in Naked Gun when, with buildings exploding into flames behind him, Leslie Nielson tells the gathering crowd, "Nothing to see here! Nothing to see here!" Or that W.H. Auden poem, "Musee des Beaux Arts," where atrocities rage in the background while in the foreground "the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse/ Scratches its innocent behind on a tree."
The psych professor pontificates to his class about Freudian denial, ignoring the fact that outside his window a group of recruits to the women's soccer team, hazed to within an inch of their lives, has just vomited in loud and anguished unison and then passed out. The sociology professor deplores the country's weak gun laws while half a block away, in student housing, pistol play breaks out on the basketball team. The political science professor decries corporate graft, his voice drowned out by a quarterback revving the Hummer he got as a token of a dealership's esteem. The literature professor recites Keats's "To Autumn" to herself as she trods the leafy paths of the quad, unaware that underfoot she's crunching not leaves but beer cans left over from the football game the school has always called The World's Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.
It's not that the faculty bench has cleared; the faculty bench was always empty. Even as public revulsion grows at the sight of grosser and grosser campuses, the professors stay silent. Why?
Some professors, to start with, are themselves team boosters. They're excited by the spectacle of game day, its bracing autumn weather, everyone wrapped in team-color scarves, the TV cameras trained on their guys, the shrieking advertising images on the stadium's "Godzillatron" screen, generations of university grads gathered in the stands to scream so loudly the other side can't hear its signals. These are the faculty members who find ways to rack up course credits for athletes who don't attend classes. As teen nerds, these professors worshipped jocks and wished to serve them. Now they're serving them.
And some professors are dupes. They actually think the sports program contributes significant money to the academic side of their university. In almost every case, they are wrong, and they could discover they're wrong. Yet they remain in a sort of bad-faith fog about it. They don't really quite exactly precisely know where all that money from tickets and TV and endorsements goes, but, hell, some of it's gotta get to the library, right? A close look at the books (admittedly, sports program managers make such looks difficult) would probably reveal that sports at the dupe's university drains money from the primary mission of the place. To say nothing of the reputational damage that's being done to the institution by scandal after scandal.
Next, there are the truly oblivious. A lot of professors are eerily good at ignoring everything in the world. They've written 14 books with obnoxious children and harridan wives bedeviling them every step of the way. To call them "absent-minded" would be an insult. They are not there. The sports program has yet to be devised which is corrupt and homocidal enough to catch their eye.
Number four would be embarrassed. Professors have shaky egos and are, as a group, preoccupied with academic status. Already, if you're at one of the big sports schools, you're unlikely to be at an academic powerhouse; but you still think of yourself as a serious person, and you very much want to think of your university as a serious one. It's humiliating to your sense of yourself and your institution to have to confront the overriding importance for almost everyone on campus of sports in general and the bad boy football and basketball teams in particular. Understandably, you will find ways to avoid this confrontation.
Now to class issues. Professors may be intellectual and social snobs, the sort of people who look down on yoyos whose face paint runs with Budweiser. Being excitable about anything strikes a lot of professors, whose approach to life tends to be tight-lipped irony, as tacky. And don't forget ideology. It's the rare women's studies prof ready to squeal along with the pompom squad. The chair of peace studies will have quite a struggle with the naked aggression on the gridiron. The contempt all of these professors express is at least an emotion and not indifference. Yet the contempt is frozen. It conveys the belief that the situation's too big and too crazy to do anything about.
There's also, finally, the corporate outdoorishness of the venture. Professors have nothing against getting quietly tight in their own snug lodgings, but the idea of braving the cold and getting soppy with a bunch of fellow drunks is revolting. In general, professors are not team players -- groups of any kind give them the heebie jeebies.
Given what looks like a pretty hardwired incompatibility between professors and sports programs, can we even begin to imagine a time when professors might take a bit of interest in the athletic scandals on their campuses? Myles Brand, president of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, recently extended an invitation to professors to become "fully engaged" in significant aspects of their universities' programs.
Individual faculty resistance can sometimes have an impact. Here are two examples, both from 2004's scandal-plagued darling, the University of Colorado at Boulder:
1.) Professor Carl Wieman, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, left Colorado in disgust, citing -- among other concerns -- the irreparable academic damage its sports program had done and continued to do. 2.) Professor Joyce Lebra, a distinguished historian, refused a University Medal, one of the highest awards the university offers, writing in her rejection letter that she would never take a prize from a place whose "gross distortion of priorities" has made it an "embarrassment." "The focus and priority on football," she concluded, "has undermined the atmosphere of this university, which by definition should be dedicated to academic endeavor at the highest level."
Both Wieman and Lebra got national coverage, and probably caused a modicum of shame among the trustees and administrators at Colorado. I don't claim such gestures make a big difference, but they certainly get people's attention. Group protest, of the sort Duke's faculty expressed, is more effective, but more difficult to accomplish. Remember, professors don't like to do groups.
Direct action has its attractions -- showing up at trustee meetings and holding signs and insisting on being heard -- but keep in mind a story the other day out of Western Kentucky University, one of many provincial institutions that convince themselves to become Division I-A football universities, because it'll really put them on the map:
From The Courier-Journal: "Western Kentucky University's board ran roughshod over faculty regent Robert Dietel last week, as it rushed to embrace Division I-A football.... WKU's board told Dietel to shut up. Contempt dripped from [one board member]: 'People on this board dedicate their time for free. They have better things to do than let some university professor just keep talking.'"
That idiot is what professors who get serious about their universities' purulent sports programs are up against. Professors on some level understand this, and shy away.
But whether through principled exits, repudiation of academic awards, organized petitions and demonstrations, involvement in groups like Drake, or simply unrelenting ridicule, more professors should act upon the disgust that the stench from sports factories inspires in people who have not forgotten what universities are.
Margaret Soltan is a professor of English at George Washington University. Her blog is University Diaries.
Consider this scenario: You are now the head of a large unit in which you have been a faculty member for many years. Until you became head, you were not fully aware of the problems with one of your colleagues, Professor Choler. Now you feel besieged by complaints from staff members about his treatment of them.
You remember, over the years, having received Choler's periodic e-mail messages -- sent to the whole department -- complaining about one matter or another, but since most of them didn't affect you directly, you paid little attention. You also knew that Choler could be unpleasant at faculty meetings, but he didn't attend very often, and most of his complaints were ruled out of order.
Now both the messages and the conduct have become your business. In his typical e-mail message, Choler describes a problem, personalizes the fault to a single individual, and recommends a solution that usually involves humiliation, if not discipline, for that person. The people he targets (or, in some cases, their union representatives) are the ones complaining to you and demanding that you take action. In addition, a few faculty members have asked you to "get this e-mail thing under control". At meetings Choler uses the same general tactic, usually going after a particular person with strong language and in a loud voice. This makes some people so uncomfortable that they will not attend a meeting if they see him in the room.
There is no evidence in the files that anyone has ever spoken to Professor Choler about his e-mail tirades or his conduct in meetings.
What do you do?
Some difficult people are merely minor irritants: Others learn to avoid them as much as possible, and the overall working environment is not badly compromised. But a person who targets others, makes threats (direct or indirect), insists on his or her own way all the time, or has such a hair-trigger temper that colleagues walk on eggshells to avoid setting it off, can paralyze a department. In the worst cases, this conduct can create massive dysfunction as the department finds itself unable to hold meetings, make hiring decisions, recruit new members, or retain valued ones. When I first got involved in helping department heads cope with such people, my colleagues and I used concepts and approaches we gleaned from studies of bullies.
The bullies I have encountered in the academic environment come in many forms, from those who present themselves as victims, all the way to classic aggressors who rely on physical intimidation. In academe and other settings populated by "knowledge workers," one often encounters other kinds of bullies as well, including "memo bullies" (who send regular missives to a long mailing list) and "insult bullies" (destructive verbal aggressors).
Whatever their approaches, bullies are people who are willing to cross the boundaries of civilized behavior that inhibit others. They value the rewards brought by aggression and generally lack guilt, believing their victims provoked the attacks and deserve the consequences. Their behavior prompts others to avoid them, which means that, in the workplace, bullies are likely to become effectively unsupervised. I've seen secretaries, faculty members, and businesspeople who were so unpleasant to deal with that they were neither given the same duties as others in their environment nor held accountable for the duties they did hold.
Aggressor bullies fit the usual idea of a bully: They threaten to beat you up if you don't give them your lunch money. Victim bullies, in contrast, demand your lunch money because of some harm they claim you've done to them.
While many workplaces have bullies, institutions of higher education may be especially vulnerable to them because of some of the distinctive characteristics of academe. First, bullies flourish in the decentralized structure of universities: the isolation of so many microclimates, from laboratories to small departments, creates many opportunities for a bully to run roughshod over colleagues. Then too, the bullies of academe typically manipulate the concepts of academic freedom and collegiality with flair. The propensity of bullies to misuse these central academic concepts only adds to the importance of being well grounded in those concepts yourself. If you have a firm understanding of what academic freedom is and what it is not, you'll be better prepared to cope with those who try to distort the concept for their own ends.
Another reason people in academe are generally unprepared to deal with bullies is that bullies are relatively rare. They are what is known as "low-incidence, high-severity" problems: one in which the problems don't arise very often, but when they do they are so serious that they can threaten the integrity of the environment.
For prevention of bullying, creating and maintaining an environment in which respectful professional interactions are expected and reinforced is the most powerful approach.
When unprofessional or uncivil conduct occurs in the work-place, it's important to nip it in the bud. The tone of your response should be nonconfrontational: "Oh, I'm sorry, maybe we forgot to tell you that we don't act that way here." Dealing with the problem head-on and promptly is critical. If someone is verbally abusive to staff or threatens physical violence, the appropriate penalty must be imposed. Any other response only erodes the trust of those who work hard to do the right thing. Similarly, ignoring or tolerating inappropriate conduct in the workplace sends the message that the way to prosper is to misbehave.
How to Handle a Bully
I once got a request from a department administrator (let's call him Holmes) for advice about how to deal with a visiting faculty member (and let's call him Cooper) whose contract was to expire in just a few weeks. Cooper had been verbally explosive all year, so people had learned to tread gently around him. But recently his volatility had increased, and a colleague who collaborated with him on research had begun to feel unsafe around him.
I asked Holmes whether Cooper had been informed that his outbursts were causing concern. Well, Holmes responded, "everybody knows" that that kind of behavior is unprofessional. I advised calling Cooper in, nonetheless, and telling him that his conduct was unsettling to his colleagues and students. He'd be doing both Cooper and the intimidated collaborator a favor by letting Cooper know -- unequivocally -- that he was expected to control his behavior and to conduct himself professionally in all interactions with colleagues, students, and staff. People who are acting out need to be told clearly that there will be consequences for uncivil behavior.
Holmes acknowledged that this made sense. But what could he say, and how should he say it?
I've learned to recommend a three-step process: First, try to identify and describe a pattern in what you're observing. In this case, the escalating explosive verbal conduct is the pattern, and it intimidates others. It sounds like a bullying situation. Second, sketch out a general strategy. In this case, the strategy is to send the message to the offender that this sort of behavior is not welcome in this department or this university. Finally, it is tremendously helpful to outline the points you wish to communicate and practice how you'll say them.
Be sure your words convey the message that you expect him to change his behavior -- a warning that he is approaching, and has crossed at times, a boundary that must not be crossed.
After the conversation, you should send a cordial and factual confirming letter restating the gist of what was said. Some people's eyes work better than their ears, and you want to be sure the bully gets your message.
Let's hope no further action will be necessary. But if the bully’s behavior does not revert to the upsetting-but-tolerable category, your next response will be to call the campus police, who will supply a bit of what my colleagues and I have come to call "blue therapy": a talk with a uniformed (and trained) peace officer. I predict that, should the need arise, the interaction with the police will be both educational and therapeutic for a tantrum habit.
But many situations involving academic bullies date back years, if not decades. Problems with long histories are not quickly resolved. In fact, it generally takes more than a year to bring about significant change in a pattern of conduct that stretches back over years. But significant, positive change can be achieved, given the right mindset, some patience, and persistence.
The key to changing a bully's behavior is to change the environment. Most bullies have never been confronted with the consequences of their actions, or even been told that their conduct is not well regarded in their environment. Thus your task is to change the environment to begin attaching natural consequences to unpleasant behavior, and most of all, to remove any rewards it has yielded. This is the essence of the hard work to come.
It's not hopeless -- you can make a difference. True, taking action will not be without cost. But what will be the costs of inaction?
C.K. Gunsalus is special counsel and adjunct professor in law and medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she formerly was associate provost. She has served as chair of the American Association for the Advancement of Science's Committee on Scientific Freedom and Responsibility. This essay is adapted and reprinted by permission of the publisher from her new book, The College Administrator's Survival Guide (Harvard University Press).
Six weeks ago, President Ronald D. Liebowitz of Middlebury College announced the establishment of a William H. Rehnquist Chair in American History and Culture. The announcement stirred considerable controversy on the campus. Some students and faculty members claimed that honoring the late Chief Justice Rehnquist by naming an endowed chair for him was an act of "symbolic violence" that betrayed the college's commitment to diversity.
Endowed chairs have a long tradition in Anglo-American higher education. In England, they go back to 1502, when Lady Margaret Beaufort, the mother of Henry VII, established the Lady Margaret Professorship of Divinity at the University of Cambridge. In America, they predate the Revolution, going back to 1721, when the Hollis Professorship of Divinity was established at Harvard University. But this has been an unusually troubled year for endowed chairs in American higher education.
The collapse of Enron several years ago, followed by the conviction on conspiracy and securities fraud charges, and the death in July of Enron's chief executive officer, Kenneth L. Lay, set four institutions to reviewing named chairs. At the University of Nebraska, Omaha, Mark Wohar was the "Distinguished Enron Professor of Economics" until July, when he became the "Distinguished UNO CBA Professor of Economics." That's Distinguished University of Nebraska, Omaha, College of Business Administration Professor of Economics. Since it was endowed in 1999, the University of Missouri at Columbia, has tried to fill the Kenneth L. Lay Chair in Economics. During that time, three candidates declined the university's offer of the chair, which is said to pay between $150,000 and $200,000 annually. The university resisted Lay's requests that it redirect his gift of $1 million in Enron stock, which it had sold before the corporate collapse, either to Katrina relief or his own legal defense.
Despite calls for a redefinition of the purpose of the endowed fund, indications are that the search to fill the chair continues this fall when several guest lecturers are being considered for offers. What it will be named remains to be seen. At the University of Houston, Bent Sorensen is the Lay Professor of Economics, but Keith T. Poole, who was the Kenneth L. Lay Professor of Political Science, has left for the University of California at San Diego. At neighboring Rice University, Simon Grant holds the Lay Family Chair in Economics, but plans for two Enron chairs in Rice's Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Management and a Ken Lay Center for the Study of Markets in Transition collapsed when the corporation went into bankruptcy.
The controversy at Middlebury is one of several recent echoes of the culture wars, closely monitored by higher education's critics, left and right. If naming Middlebury's new chair for Rehnquist is controversial, the Enron/Lay chairs and other endowed chairs elsewhere might be more obvious targets of criticism. There has been a "Richard M. Nixon Chair in Public Policy" at his alma mater, California's Whittier College, since the 1970s. According to the college catalogue, it honors a "distinguished public servant." The Nixon chair has never been more than a one year, visiting appointment and, in more recent years, its endowment has subsidized guest lecturers.
At Southern institutions, schools and endowed chairs memorialize many defenders of the old order. The Harry F. Byrd School of Business at Virginia's Shenandoah University is named for the Old Dominion's architect of massive resistance. The name of his distant cousin, Senator Robert C. Byrd, the former Ku Klux Klan member and porkmeister supreme, seems to be on everything in West Virginia. In August, a blogger in Huntington, noted that Senator Byrd was to dedicate the Robert C. Byrd Institute of Biotechnology at Marshall University. It gave him a vision of the future. "In the morning, I would drive along the Robert Byrd Blvd. to work, pass the Robert Byrd bridge, drop off my kids at the Robert Byrd Elementary School, stop by the Robert Byrd Nestle Café for a cup of coffee, then I would head towards the Robert Byrd Center of Instructional Technology," he wrote.
He continued: "I will then schedule a meeting with the Robert Byrd Professor from the Robert Byrd Department of English. After work, I will go to the Robert Byrd Square to watch 'Everybody loves Robert Byrd' with a big basket of Robert Byrd popcorn. If I happen to see someone who asks for directions for a particular institute, I would ask him to close his eyes and walk in any direction. He is sure to see a Robert Byrd Institute when he opens his eyes at the first wall he bumps into."
So, yes, of course, the University of West Virginia has Robert C. Byrd Professors. These are endowed chairs on the cheap, however. Over a period of 16 years, 16 professors will hold four year appointments as Robert C. Byrd Professor and receive $5,000 annual salary supplements.
Further south, Alabama has community colleges named for George Wallace and his first wife, Lurleen, with locations in Andalusia, Dothan, Eufala, Fort Rucker, Greenville, Luverne, MacArthur, and Selma. Apart from the racism, for which he's most commonly remembered elsewhere, Alabama dots the countryside with memorials to his populism. Elsewhere, North Carolina's Wingate University has a Jesse Helms Center, which houses the former senator's papers and sponsors conferences sympathetic to his perspectives. The University of South Carolina has a Strom Thurmond Chair in History or Political Science at its branch campus in Aiken and an underfunded Strom Thurmond Chair of Law at its main campus in Columbia. At the University of Georgia, Edward J. Larson holds chairs named -- not for one -- but for two of the state's most powerful 20th century racists. He is the Richard B. Russell Professor of American History and the Herman Talmadge Professor of Law.
It's almost enough to make you wonder if the name of any chair would cause a self-respecting person to refuse to sit in it. Discussions of the Lay Chair at Missouri led a wagging lawblogger to ask "which endowed Chairs (if any) would law professors refuse? The Martha Stewart Chair in Business Ethics? The Fred Phelps Chair in Family Law? The Roger Taney Chair in Law and History? Would [someone] take the Michael Hayden Chair in Privacy Law? What if it came with a fat salary, no teaching requirements, and a guarantee to increase blogger readership ten fold?"
Jesting aside, however, distinguished work can bring honor to dubiously named chairs. Larson's is an example of that. In 1998, his Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate Over Science and Religion won the Pulitzer Prize in History. That recognition came after two prior books, Trial and Error: The American Controversy Over Creation and Evolution and Sex, Race, and Science: Eugenics in the Deep South; and it has been followed by a half dozen additional books, on subjects ranging from a narrative history of the constitutional convention based on the notes of James Madison to a casebook in property law. His many dozens of articles and reviews have appeared in important newspapers and historical, legal, and scientific journals, both in the United States and Britain. By any measure Larson's professional work has been exemplary.
In September, John J. Miller's article, "Sounding Taps," for National Review launched a widespread discussion. Ten years ago, Miller pointed out, the historian Stephen Ambrose donated $250,000 to endow a chair at his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. The chair in American military history was to be named for his mentor, William B. Hesseltine. Subsequently, Ambrose urged others to contribute to the chair's endowment and, before his death in 2002, he contributed another $250,000. Ultimately, the chair was renamed the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair and it is endowed at over $1 million. Yet, charged Miller, the University of Wisconsin's history department has dragged its feet in conducting a search to fill it. That story, he said, demonstrated the hostility of historians, generally, to the field of military history and contributes to its general decline in American colleges and universities.
Ohio State's Mark Grimsley charged Miller with crying "Crocodile Tears" over military history's grave. Miller was primarily interested in scoring points in the culture wars, said Grimsley, and the field is more robustly healthy than Miller allowed. His own department, for example, will fill two newly endowed chairs in military history in the next five years. Grimsley's reply to Miller touched off further discussions in the blogosphere, with theaters at Grimsley's Blog Them Out of the Stone Age, the historians' group blog, Cliopatria,National Review's Phi Beta Cons, Eric Alterman's Altercation, and The New Republic's Open University. Those discussions of military history and the academy extended beyond Miller and Grimsley to include many others. The fate of the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair at the University of Wisconsin was largely lost in the broader discussion of military history in academe, but the discussion may have prompted its fate. In response to Miller's questions, a spokesman for Wisconsin's history department admitted that some of his colleagues were still less than enthusiastic about filling the chair, but denied that there was any hesitation about filling it because of the charges of plagiarism in Stephen Ambrose's work. The department, he said, was committed to filling the chair in the future.
Missouri's experience with the Lay Chair and Wisconsin's with the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair are comparable. They are comparably endowed; and the names of both chairs carry some stigma. While Missouri had aggressively sought to fill the Lay Chair, however, Wisconsin had been slow to fill the Ambrose-Hesseltine Chair. Miller's article and the subsequent widespread discussion of military history and academe may have prompted the issue in Madison. Last month, Wisconsin's history department began advertising its search to fill its endowed chair in American military history.
As for Middlebury, it announced that the first person to hold the William H. Rehnquist Chair in American History and Culture would be James R. Ralph Jr. Already a member of the history department at the college, Ralph is an expert in the history of the American civil rights movement. He is the author of Northern Protest: Martin Luther King, Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement, a well-received monograph on the subject. We've come a long way since 1964, when William Rehnquist began his career in public life by challenging the rights of ethnic minorities to vote in Arizona.
It's unlikely that any American institution will ever have to decide whether to create the Adolph Hitler Chair in Holocaust Studies and even more unlikely that it ever would. Far short of that, institutions ought to hesitate about creating endowed chairs or institutes with money that has too many strings attached. Having said that, few institutions have the luxury of choosing their benefactors or their benefactors' wishes. Endowed chairs can create the conditions for the University of Georgia to keep an Edward J. Larson or Middlebury to retain a James R. Ralph Jr., on their faculties. If their chairs are named for William Rehnquist, Richard B. Russell, or Herman Talmadge, it seems a small price to pay for that institutional capacity. I wouldn't say, "Take the money and run." I would say, "Take the money and put it to good work."
Ralph E. Luker
Ralph E. Luker is an Atlanta historian and a blogger at Cliopatria.
In the last two weeks, the Duke University lacrosse case has rapidly unraveled. First, at a December 15 hearing, the director of a private lab admitted that he and prosecutor Mike Nifong had entered into agreement to intentionally withhold exculpatory DNA evidence. Then, a week later, Nifong announced that a representative from his office had interviewed the accuser for the first time (eight months after arrests were made), and that she no longer claimed memory of events that would constitute rape. The district attorney promised to proceed anyway with charges of sexual assault and kidnapping against the three students he has targeted -- Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and Dave Evans. But as things stand now, the case seems unlikely to survive a February 5 hearing to consider defense motions to suppress a procedurally flawed photo lineup.
I created a blog to cover this case, exploring the twin themes of Nifong’s misconduct and Duke’s troubling response to it. I have no connection to Duke, and knew none of the lacrosse players when this case began. My initial interest flowed from dismay at the faculty’s rush to judgment in late March and early April.
I stayed with the case for a variety of reasons. As a historian of Congress, I’ve spent 15 years examining the significance of procedure -- and it’s hard to imagine a case that will better demonstrate how procedural decisions directly affect outcomes. Personally, I have some experience in dealing with rogue figures in power amidst an atmosphere of academic groupthink, and recall the importance of outside pressure in exposing wrongdoing. And pragmatically, the blog has had some impact, perhaps because I enjoy more freedom to speak out than local faculty members, who risk opprobrium from what one Duke professor termed “the wrath of the righteous.”
The response to what could now be termed the “non-rape” case will not go down among the academy’s finest moments. Three issues seem to me particularly noteworthy.
1. Concerns about McCarthyite behavior tend to depend on who is targeted. Defenders of the academic status quo regularly accuse critics of latter-day McCarthyism -- on issues ranging from the Academic Bill of Rights to Ward Churchill’s fate. Yet, last spring, when a local demagogue who ignored civil liberties targeted their own students, Duke faculty members barely expressed concern about his actions.
Over the last nine months, Mike Nifong has coupled demagogic appeals to prejudices based on class and race with a habit of making public charges unsubstantiated by material in his own files. Meanwhile, he overrode standard procedures (ordering police to show the accuser a lineup confined to suspects; refusing to meet with defense attorneys to consider exculpatory evidence; concealing DNA test results) and mocked due process. In one of his most outrageous lines, he mused, “One would wonder why one needs an attorney if one was not charged and had not done anything wrong.”
Yet despite that record, until last week only three Duke faculty members -- James Coleman (law), Steven Baldwin (chemistry), and Michael Gustafson (engineering) -- had publicly criticized Nifong’s conduct. This trio comprises 0.2 percent of all Duke professors.
2. In the contemporary academy, some students are more equal than others. On April 6, 88 faculty members issued a statement proclaiming that they were “listening” to alleged statements from anonymous Duke students. Relying solely on the version of events presented by Nifong, the Group of 88 took out an ad in the Duke Chronicle that included remarks of the signatories themselves. The professors definitively asserted that something “happened” to the accuser, while saying “thank you” to campus protesters like these, who had called the players “rapists” and distributed a “wanted” poster with lacrosse players’ photos. The statement’s author, Wahneema Lubiano, gleefully labeled the players the “perfect offenders,” and, as ESPN reported, fully understood that “some would see the ad as a stake through the collective heart of the lacrosse team.”
By this fall, student sentiment had turned overwhelmingly against Nifong and in favor of the targeted players. Yet the Group of 88 and like-minded Duke faculty no longer seemed interested in “listening” to their students. One signatory, Grant Farred, accused Duke undergraduates who registered to vote in Durham of projecting their “secret racism” onto the city. Another, Karla Holloway, denounced the Duke students who had defended the players, suggesting that they believed that “white innocence means black guilt. Men’s innocence means women’s guilt.” Peter Wood, meanwhile, leveled several unsubstantiated attacks on Reade Seligmann, about whom virtually no one other than Nifong has said anything untoward. Thomas Crowley published an op-ed containing so many falsehoods about the lacrosse team that he had to retract the document.
Duke’s admissions home page promises prospective parents that “teaching is personal,” as the institution’s professors “teach and mentor undergraduates, not only in the classroom.” Students who don’t conform to the race/class/gender worldview, however, seem to receive a different kind of “personal” attention.
3. Groupthink has its effects. Any orthodoxy -- even the race/class/gender approach currently in vogue -- can go too far, especially in an atmosphere when it passes unchallenged, blinding its adherents to injustice in their midst. Academic debates can sometimes seem trivial, and it’s easy to understand the overwhelming temptation that some Duke professors felt last April to do the politically correct thing and denounce the lacrosse players.
This particular behavior, however, had significant consequences. Less than four weeks after the Group of 88 issued their statement, Nifong captured a hotly contested Democratic primary by a mere 883 votes. Given the political and legal fluidity in Durham last spring, it’s hard to imagine Nifong prevailing had 88 Duke professors publicly demanded that he respect their students’ due process rights rather than thanking the protesters who had branded the players guilty.
Instead, of course, the denunciations continued -- and have continued to have an effect. In what could be a first in American criminal law, the actions and statements of accused students’ professors have been cited in a recent defense motion as grounds for a change of venue.
Imagine the reverse of the situation that Duke experienced. In a primary electorate almost evenly divided along racial lines, an appointed district attorney faced two challengers, a weak white man and a strong black woman. A case emerged on campus featuring allegations against members of a black fraternity by a local white woman with a checkered background. The D.A. responded by making dozens of highly inflammatory statements to the national media, going before an all-white crowd to announce that “this case isn’t going away” even though he lacked scientific evidence, and ordering police to violate their own procedures to ensure that the accuser picked out viable suspects before the primary.
Does anyone seriously believe that, under such circumstances, the faculty of Duke -- or that of any other major university -- would have stood idly by, with a vocal minority denouncing the students?
The behavior we’ve seen from Duke’s faculty -- the frantic rush to judgment coupled with a refusal to reconsider -- was all too predictable. The Group of 88’s statement was fully consistent with basic ideas about race, class, and gender prevalent on most elite campuses today. Reconsidering their actions of last spring would have forced the Group of 88, and sympathetic colleagues, to reconsider some of the intellectual assumptions upon which the statement was based.
Duke’s Gustafson recently reflected on what his colleagues had done:
"We have removed any safeguards we’ve learned against stereotyping, against judging people by the color of their skin or the (perceived) content of their wallet, against acting on hearsay and innuendo and misdirection and falsehoods. We have formed a dark blue wall of institutional silence; we have closed Pandora's box now that all the evils have made it into the universe; we have transformed students from individual men to archetypes—to 'perfect offenders' and 'hooligans' -- and refused to keep their personhood as a central component of all this. We have taken Reade, and Collin, and Dave, and posterized them into 'White Male Athlete Privilege,' and we have sought to punish that accordingly."
I’d like to think that most academics entered the profession eager to work with students; and that most professors would never prioritize advancing their own ideological agenda over protecting their students. Yet I see little reason to believe that Gustafson’s words would not have applied had this incident occurred at another major university. And that makes Duke’s failing a failure of the academy as a whole.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.
Submitted by Peter Wood on September 21, 2007 - 4:00am
The American Association of University Professors last week issued "Freedom in the Classroom," a report evidently intended as a landmark answer to an increasingly common class of criticisms about the behavior of college professors. The report takes issue with critics who complain about professors who use their classrooms to indoctrinate students, present imbalanced perspectives on contentious issues, demean students who disagree, or intrude irrelevant political opinions. According to the AAUP, these abuses are fictitious; or if they are not fictitious, they are not really abuses; or if they are abuses, they are rare; and anyway, the critics are acting in bad faith because their real motive is to silence professors by exciting public opinion to support a crack-down on academic freedom using “the coercive power of the state.”
The AAUP sent the report (which you can read here) electronically to 350,000 U.S. faculty members and is issuing it in French as well, for faculty members in Quebec. It has already stirred sympathetic interest in the press and I expect it will be cited in court cases and legislative hearings as “proof” that conservative critics have grossly overstated their case.
Speaking as one of those critics, I don’t think we have. For a point by point rebuttal of the AAUP report, see the reply on the National Association of Scholars’ Web site, here.
The report, however, is a somewhat strange document. Contrary to the AAUP's long-standing practice, it appears to have been issued without having first been broadly vetted among members and outside experts. The report was announced with fanfare, including a press release that firmly declares it as a report that speaks for the AAUP. The preface of the report, however, mentions only the approval of a committee and, when I and others questioned this, one of the report’s authors offered an eyebrow-raising explanation: "It has been approved for publication, which is to say for public comments. After public comments, AAUP might consider whether to endorse it as an organization. It is endorsed by Committee A at the moment."
As far as I can tell, the AAUP never publicly said the report was a trial balloon, so which is it, the official opinion of the AAUP or the ruminations of a special committee? The answer is of interest for several reasons. A handful of people appear to have assumed the right to speak authoritatively for the whole organization. If this is so, it suggests that the authors, “Committee A,” and the drafters of the AAUP’s press release, despite their self-assured tone, lacked confidence that the report would indeed be supported by the larger organization. It would also represent a serious act of intellectual dishonesty toward both the public and the membership of the AAUP.
In any event, on purely intellectual grounds, “Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure” would have been better advised to seek a broader preliminary review. That's because, regardless of one's views about the propriety of bringing political opinions to the college classroom, the report is ill-executed. It takes aim at arguments that the critics haven’t made; it caricatures other criticisms; and it insists on strange premises -- the most singular of which is the idea that “truth” is whatever the members of a discipline say it is.
Besides enunciating the AAUP's dismal view of conservative scholars, the report makes one other theme abundantly clear. If we take the corporate authorship of the report at face value, the nation’s largest association of faculty members cares far more about the freedom of professors than it does the education of students. In the AAUP's view, the freedom of faculty members is as broad and open-ended as a circus tent. The freedom of students to be taught in classes that focus on the subject at hand, unadorned by their instructors’ opinings on President Bush, global warming, or immigration -- that freedom -- hardly exists.
The AAUP Then -- and Now
It wasn’t always so. The AAUP was founded in 1915 by Arthur Lovejoy and John Dewey, who had been moved by the firing of a Stanford University faculty member because of his political views. The AAUP made its first mark with its publication of a “Statement of Principles” that laid out a compelling account of what academic freedom should be. First sentence: “The term ‘academic freedom’ has traditionally had two applications -- to the freedom of the teacher and to that of the student.” The AAUP’s founding document is primarily concerned with the freedom of the teacher, but it includes a powerful set of caveats. As this paragraph does not appear in more recent AAUP statements or as far as I can tell elsewhere on the Internet, I offer it here in its entirety: Since there are no rights without corresponding duties, the considerations heretofore set down with respect to the freedom of the academic teacher entail certain correlative obligations. The claim to freedom of teaching is made in the interest in the integrity and of the progress of scientific inquiry; it is, therefore, only those who carry on their work in the temper of the scientific inquirer who may justly assert this claim. The liberty of the scholar within the university to set forth his conclusions, be they what they may, is conditional by their being conclusions gained by a scholar’s method and held in a scholar’s spirit; that is to say, they must be the fruits of competent and patient and sincere inquiry, and they should be set forth with dignity, courtesy, and temperateness of language. The university teacher, in giving instruction upon controversial matters, while he is under no obligation to hide his own opinion under a mountain of equivocal verbiage, should, if he is fit for his position, be a person of fair and judicial mind; he should, in dealing with such subjects, set forth justly, without suppression or innuendo, the divergent opinions of other investigators; he should cause his students to become familiar with the best published expressions of the great historic types of doctrine upon the questions at issue; and he should, above all, remember that his business is not to provide his students with ready-made conclusions, but to train them to think for themselves, and to provide them access to those materials which they need if they are to think intelligently.
The AAUP in 1915 saw the potential for faculty members to abuse academic freedom, and it warned that for the profession to protect itself it would have to “purge its ranks of the incompetent and the unworthy” who included those who engage in “uncritical and intemperate partisanship.”
In 1915, the AAUP regarded college students as vulnerable to those who would take “unfair advantage of the students’ immaturity by indoctrinating him with the teacher’s own opinions before the student has had an opportunity fairly to examine other opinions upon the matters of question, and before he has sufficient knowledge and ripeness of judgment to be entitled to form any definitive opinion of his own.” The AAUP recommended that colleges teach students to look “patiently [and] methodically on both sides” of controversial issues.
That was then. The AAUP has long since attempted to distance itself from the 1915 statement. It adopted a new “Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure” in 1940; issued “Interpretive Comments” in 1970; and in recent years has leaned exclusively on these later declarations that quietly retired the strong caution of 1915. Even the more diluted 1940 statement, however, stipulated that, in the classroom, teachers “should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.”
Why stir these ashes? The AAUP remains arguably the most authoritative voice in the United States on what academic freedom is and what it should be. It derives that authority not from anything it has done in recent decades -- some of which has been quite embarrassing, such as its 1991 issue and quick retraction of a report attacking critics of political correctness as having “animosity toward equal opportunity.” Rather, its authority derives from Arthur Lovejoy, John Dewey, the 1915 “Statement of Principles,” and the decades of strenuously principled struggle for academic freedom that followed.
Thus when the AAUP speaks on academic freedom today, it is in the awkward spot of invoking the authority of documents and traditions that it has, in substance, repudiated. The new report, “Freedom in the Classroom” is a marvel of this disingenuousness. It refers repeatedly to the 1915 Declaration but in a manner that completely disguises the original points. The whole long paragraph quoted above, which was meant to safeguard students from their professors’ excesses of ideological zeal, is instead turned against students and reduced to this:
Students must remain free to question generally accepted beliefs if they can do so, in the words of the 1915 Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure, using "a scholar's method and . . . in a scholar's spirit."
That comes in the midst of an argument that critics who complain about professors engaging in “indoctrination” are quite mistaken. The professors are engaged “in instruction, not indoctrination,” and the AAUP asks us to think about the need for “professors of logic [to] insist that students accept the logical validity of the syllogism.”
An Army of Straw Men
Of course, critics are not complaining when logic professors uphold the validity of the syllogism. They are complaining when professors use their classrooms gratuitously to pronounce political views. Far from the world of syllogisms, the contemporary student often finds himself in a land of scare tactics. Here is an example I’ve gleaned from the useful Web site, Noindoctrination.com. On March 30, 2007, a student posted an exchange he had with a management professor whose required course on the contest of contemporary management he had taken. (The case is documented here.) The student alleged that the course had a pro-immigration “liberal” bias. He wrote (entire text) to his professor on November 1, 2006:
here is are a few articles that present the detriment of immigration to the United States first one is a complete anti-immigration http://www.frontpagemag.com/Articles/ReadArticle.asp?ID=1836 and the 2nd one is something i would really like you to consider adding to give a conservative view to immigration http://www.phxnews.com/fullstory.php?article=7205 thanks for reading tony “Tony” received this response two hours later (exact text): Subject: Re: takes from the 'other side' to consider on illegal immigration I get really tired of right wing stuff. Surely you get enough of it. Do you ask for additional readings in your right wing classes. Obviously not. I resent your insulting assumption that you have the right to teach my class or that students are not familiar with right wing racist crap on immigration. Of course they are. My course is not being taught to reinforce right wing ideology. Don't you get enough of this in other classes, or do you need EVERY class to be consistent with extremist views.
I quote this exchange to give a little touch of reality to the discussion. Examples of what the critics are actually complaining about are mostly absent from the AAUP report. The few that are offered are selected in the spirit of finding clay pigeons. For instance, the AAUP’s sole example of someone complaining about a “hostile learning environment” is a crank Web site claiming that the earth is the unmoving center of the universe and decrying the pernicious influence of Copernicus.
The critics who warn that professors are misusing the classroom have an intellectually serious case, but the AAUP has chosen to ignore that case in favor of rebutting a purely imaginary set of critics. Hence the report features a stunning defense of the right of an English teacher to choose whether or not to teach George Eliot’s 1876 novel, Daniel Deronda, as a way of enhancing the study of her 1872 novel, Middlemarch. We might think of the AAUP report as an army of straw men slumping across American higher ed.
Notwithstanding the parade of irrelevancies, “Freedom in the Classroom” does have a consistent theme. The core idea is that “truth” is defined by the prevailing view within an academic discipline. Therefore, if a faculty member asserts something in class that strikes ordinary people as preposterous but which is held to be “true” according to the prevailing view of the faculty member’s discipline, the faculty member has engaged in a perfectly worthy example of academic freedom.
This view has some merits when it comes to the more challenging frontiers of science. The consensus of experts really does count for something in quantum physics. But the chasm between the natural and applied sciences and most everything else is wide and deep. The prevailing view of “experts” in women’s studies, post-colonial theory, queer studies, and even fields like political science, history, anthropology, and English doesn’t reveal “truth” in any dispositive manner that most of us would accept. We know that these fields trade in approximation, hypothesis, and -- increasingly -- in mere opinion. We also know that many of the professors who hold positions in these fields have granted themselves the privilege to pronounce on all sorts of topics in which they hold no expertise at all.
Back in 1915, the AAUP warned professors that academic freedom pertained to their areas of expertise, not to their opinions on random topics. But in 2007, many of our academic disciplines are so distended that it impossible to identify any actual area of expertise. In that context, faculty members often claim a license to connect their political views to whatever happens to be on the syllabus that day.
Does anyone really believe the AAUP's new doctrine of disciplinary infallibility? Perhaps somewhere we could find an intellectual who is so theory-besotted as to believe such a pretense, but disciplinary infallibility is really just a flag of convenience for the AAUP. What the doctrine actually represents is an attempt by the postmodern academy to hide illiberal practices behind fake version of liberalism. The liberal tradition to which Lovejoy and Dewey belonged, celebrated differences of opinion. In 1919, when Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. spoke his famous dissent in Abrams v. United States that “the best test of truth is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market,” he crystallized the liberal conception of fostering free expression as a path toward truth-finding.
But liberalism has been jettisoned by postmodernists, who rejecting the assumption that the best ideas win out over time, espouse the view that the ideas that typically win are those that are backed by political and economic power. The world in this view is made of up of interest groups that use all sorts of tricks -- advertising, mass media, state propaganda, and the like -- to lull people into believing whatever the powerful find convenient. In that light, why should the post-modernists themselves agree to play by the old rules? The demand for rational arguments and evidence, as they see it, is just a device to intimidate the intellectuals, lest they start spilling the beans about how things really work. What is truth? “Truth” is just a “construction” meant by the powerful to hide the reality, and reality, of course, is the relentless exploitation of people by race, class, gender, etc.
Get into a really candid conversation with a good many liberal arts professor these days and you will hear something much like this. But obviously if you believe this is how the world works, you’re best strategy is to obfuscate what you are really doing. Using your classroom to spread political views is a good way to liberate students, who might otherwise fall for the prevailing “lies.” At the same time, it is important to fend off the critics who might interrupt these wholesome attempts to disrupt the stale orthodoxies of liberal thought.
What better way to do than hijack liberalism itself? The AAUP report is an exercise in this vein. Instead of seeking one big Truth, in which the results of rigorous research in many fields and theories that have withstood hard and critical interrogation contribute to a better overall understanding of reality, the AAUP offers us a university in which fluidly defined “disciplines” posit their own “truths.” Instead of Holmes’ marketplace of ideas, we have an oligarchy of ideologues, each with his own do-not-compete zone.
If this sounds like too bleak an assessment of what the AAUP is up to, we at the NAS would be glad to hear a better explanation. My colleagues and I examined the report in detail and have posted on the National Association of Scholars’ Web site an extensively annotated version of it, taking issue with matters large and small. We didn’t write our reply thinking that a large percentage of the report’s original audience would “patiently and methodically” want to follow such a line-by-line analysis. That would be nice, but our real aim is to be sure that when the AAUP report re-surfaces as “evidence” that the conservatives critics got it “all wrong,” a thorough and detailed answer will be on record. Someone will be able to say, “That report? It’s unreliable. Look at the errors that have been found in it.”
In other words, we still have confidence in the marketplace of ideas. The “powerful” in this case are represented by the AAUP, an organization many times the size of the NAS, and by the substantial number of faculty members who are indeed politicizing their classrooms. But contrary to the postmodernists, the powerful don’t define the truth, and their armies of straw men don’t really stand a chance against the plain facts.
Peter Wood is executive director of the National Association of Scholars. His books include A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now and Diversity: The Invention of a Concept.
In a January 8 article,Inside Higher Ed profiled former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee’s record on issues important to education. While Andy Guess gave a sterling summary of his record on issues specifically related to higher education, professors need to take a closer look at Huckabee’s record on the teaching of evolution in the public schools -- an issue that is not specific to higher education, but that ultimately can have a major impact on science education policy and the nature of intellectual debate in the United States.
Contrasting starkly with the New York mayor’s recognition of the importance of evolution to public science education, Huckabee has adopted a deplorably dismissive line of response when asked about his adherence to creationism saying, "I'm not sure what in the world that has to do with being president of the United States." However, a nonpartisan coalition, which includes 11 Nobel laureates and the editors-in-chief of Science and Nature among its impressive list of signatories, believes that such issues have a great deal to do with the office of the chief executive. In fact, they are calling for a debate between presidential candidates on science and technology. John Rennie, editor-in-chief of Scientific American and a member of the coalition's steering committee, explained, "Matters of science and technology underpin every important issue affecting the future of the United States. It's crucial for the nation's welfare that our next president be someone with an understanding of vital science, a willingness to listen to scientific counsel, and a capacity for solid, critical thinking.”
Apropos to the willingness of a potential president to listen to scientific counsel, during the same week as Huckabee’s triumph in the 2008 Iowa caucuses, the National Academy of Sciences and The Institute of Medicine, chartered by Congress to advise the government of scientific matters, released Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a book that affirms the current scientific understanding and solid acceptance of evolution and warns against undermining science curricula with nonscientific material such as creationism under any of its various guises. And, although the former Arkansas governor now attempts to deflect attention from his support of creationism with lines like, "I'm not planning on writing the curriculum for an eighth grade science book," exposing public school students to creationism is exactly what Huckabee has proposed numerous times, and with more explicit language than George W. Bush’s comments on the teaching of Intelligent Design, which drew fire from scientists in 2005.
Student: Many schools in Arkansas are failing to teach students about evolution according to the educational standards of our state. Since it is against these standards to teach creationism, how would you go about helping our state educate students more sufficiently for this? Huckabee: Are you saying some students are not getting exposure to the various theories of creation? Student (stunned): No, of evol … well, of evolution specifically. It’s a biological study that should be educated [taught], but is generally not. Moderator: Schools are dodging Darwinism? Is that what you … ? Student: Yes. Huckabee: I’m not familiar that they’re dodging it. Maybe they are. But I think schools also ought to be fair to all views. Because, frankly, Darwinism is not an established scientific fact. It is a theory of evolution, that’s why it’s called the theory of evolution.
Huckabee’s claimed ignorance that schools were failing to teach evolution properly is quite curious given a previous exchange with another young Arkansan on an earlier installment of the same PBS program only one year before:
Student: Goal 2.04 of the Biology Benchmark Goals published by the Arkansas Department of Education in May of 2002 indicates that students should examine the development of the theory of biological evolution. Yet many students in Arkansas that I have met … have not been exposed to this idea. What do you believe is the appropriate role of the state in mandating the curriculum of a given course? Huckabee: I think that the state ought to give students exposure to all points of view. And I would hope that that would be all points of view and not only evolution. I think that they also should be given exposure to the theories not only of evolution but to the basis of those who believe in creationism....
As Guess reported, Huckabee does concede that we should teach evolution “as a theory”. However, the candidate’s misuse of the word “theory” incorrectly implies that evolution is scientifically controversial. His continued vocal rejection of evolution; his use of the creationist pseudo-argument “I wasn’t there”; his recent ill-informed quip about “anyone who wants to believe they are the descendants of a primate”; and his egregious equation of acceptance of evolution with necessary rejection of the existence of God, do not speak well of his attitude toward nor his understanding of science. These sentiments send a message to the nation’s students that this man, who could lead the nation, thinks that the scientists, science teachers, science curricula, and science textbooks are all wrong.
Finally, the teaching of creationism alongside of evolution in public schools for which Huckabee has called has been repeatedly rejected by the nation’s courts. The oath of office obliges the president to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” It is unacceptable for a presidential candidate to advocate such clearly unconstitutional educational policy. University scientists, professors who train science teachers, and others who care about the quality of science education ought to oppose candidates who disparage evolutionary science and who condone the injection of religious doctrine into the public school science curriculum.
Jason R. Wiles
A native Arkansan, Jason R. Wiles is manager of the Evolution Education Research Center at McGill University and a new member of the biology faculty at Syracuse University. He is co-editor of a recent special issue of the McGill Journal of Education that focuses on the teaching and learning of evolution.
"And when I became an administrator, I never told anybody. I was so embarrassed that I had become an administrator. Oh God! All of my friends had absolutely the worst kind of total disdain for administrators. Why would anybody do this?"
--Provost at an urban public university
As faculty members, we both loved teaching, writing, and the academic life. As administrators, we came to appreciate a whole new side of academia and felt that we might, in some small ways, make our campus a better place for the students, faculty, and staff. It was exhilarating. But we continued to rub up against the harsh realities of public higher education: the endless struggles over money, the cold fact that there would never be enough to fund most good ideas, let alone every good idea. The real bitterness and enmity that existed between too many faculty and administrators, on both sides of the divide. We saw these factors wear down many good and caring provosts, deans, department chairs, and faculty members.
No longer administrators, we returned to the faculty. But we remained concerned about how difficult it was to manage the university, let alone change it in fundamental ways. Trying to find an answer, we embarked on a research project that sought explanation in the identities, experiences, and careers of both administrators and faculty at public institutions. We interviewed 30 administrators and faculty members from public campuses in the Northeast. We mined our own experience. We read widely about higher education. We thought about what we were reading. We talked to a lot of people. What we present here is part of a book-length study of public higher education based on this research.
The Bottom Line
Money matters. When resources are stretched tight, competition breaks out among programs and faculty and departments. Not everything can be funded, and not everyone can be spared cuts. Given the regular cycles of budget tightening in public higher education, it's no surprise that morale is lower in public institutions than in private ones. Decades of declining funding for public universities have left tuition and fees high and infrastructure crumbling.
Understandably, many of the tensions and issues that faculty and administrators talked about stem from the battle over budgets. And this may well have something to do with the substantial gap between faculty and administrators at public institutions, because administrators are the ones who have to say "no." Administrators are the ones who bear the brunt of bad news about budgets, and they are the ones who ultimately make allocations (sometimes with faculty input, sometimes without). On campus, administrators become the scapegoats for unhappiness about the amount of money available for public higher education. But it is not the whole story.
Challenges and Change
One of the main challenges we see on campuses is that campus governance and reward structures exacerbate divisions between faculty and administrators, making it difficult for real shared governance -- and hence real campus change -- to happen. Universities are odd institutions, with diverse and untidy arrangements for sharing power and responsibility.
Responsibility for the financial health of the institution is typically centered in a president or chancellor's office, with ultimate responsibility resting with a board of trustees. Yet boards of trustees, in the public sector, consist of political appointees, who may or may not have any background in or knowledge of issues in higher education. Unlike in private institutions, where most board members contribute financially and have a profound commitment to raising funds, public board members may not. Yet while board members serve voluntarily -- often with distinction -- and give freely of their own time and talents, they may also have deep ties to the political establishment, and their ideas about how higher education should function are sometimes at odds with those on campuses. One board member we have observed, for example, has repeatedly stated that he does not "believe in" tenure; he votes with his convictions. Our experience has been that most faculty have little contact with or knowledge of boards of trustees, and hence little sense of the impact that trustee priorities may have on a campus.
At the campus level, the president has the more fundamental responsibility of setting the direction for the campus, seeking sources of funds, and making the budget work. Yet senior administrators, while responsible for the budget, typically do not have direct authority over academic programs and curriculum, whose responsibility rests with the faculty. While professors may nod approvingly, that this is as it should be -- this is the heart of shared governance -- this state of affairs covers up a fundamental contradiction: Faculty members typically have no responsibility to deal with control of costs (and perhaps even knowledge of how). When shared governance is working, there may well be powerful mechanisms for sharing responsibility between faculty and administrators. But we have seen far too little of that on the campuses we have observed or among the administrators and professors we have interviewed for this study. Rather, we have seen a major gap between faculty and administration in terms of responsibility, control, and culture, and very little governance that is truly shared, leading to outcomes that are less than optimal for everyone.
This isn't, we believe, because faculty and administrators are particularly troublesome or uncollegial people. Rather, reward structures for faculty and administrators typically lead neither of them to focus on the institution. The rewards for professors are, generally speaking, based in the academic disciplines. Graduate school experiences and reward systems for both attaining and succeeding in an academic position are tied to the field. Peer review in grant applications and publications and tenure reviews are again conducted by the disciplines. Even more primary, however, the discipline represents faculty members' overarching professional identities; many faculty members develop stronger identifications with their discipline than with their department or university. With the "up or out" system of tenure (and the continuing competition for professorial jobs in most of the traditional arts and sciences), the stakes are extraordinarily high, with failure being not just loss of job but loss of profession -- and perhaps loss of identity. What does it mean, we ask, to be a literary scholar outside of higher education?
This reward structure leaves junior faculty particularly vulnerable. As one former chancellor we interviewed noted, "As a faculty member, you have no place to negotiate. Either you get what you need or you're dead." As a result of this, faculty have to be oriented toward the disciplines. Given the ratcheting up of standards for tenure and promotion, to invest in the institution instead of one's CV is risky indeed, and department chairs and mentors typically "protect" junior faculty from too much service. Yet, perversely, once tenured, faculty simply are not mobile -- unless they are "stars." "Once you're out a few years," one provost noted, "unless you write the definitive book, you're going to be there forever." Because most of us have trained in more prestigious institutions than those we end up teaching in, this leaves many of us deeply disappointed, for the reward structures of higher education tell us strongly that research -- at a Research I university -- is the prize.
Even if one would strongly prefer to be in a small, liberal arts environment or on a regional campus committed to access, academics are constantly reminded that, in the hierarchical scheme of things, these are seen as somehow lesser choices. This is an industry that is highly tuned to minute differences in prestige and to the privileges that prestige brings (reduced teaching loads, funding for travel, and so forth) -- and in which prestige can matter more than money. As one faculty colleague put it: "Sometimes having tenure at a public institution is like having a rent-controlled apartment in a bad neighborhood."
These cross-cutting tensions lead to a peculiar dilemma: Early training leads faculty away from the campus as a place for primary identification. Reward structures for subsequent promotions and continuing professional success also lead faculty off campus. A faculty member in the sciences proudly commented that he had successfully avoided most university service outside of his department over the span of his 30-plus year career. While deeply committed to his students and his department, his desire to spend time on his research and with his family left him no "extra" time for other campus activities.
On one campus, we observed notable tensions between senior and junior faculty, with mid-career faculty feeling the squeeze. On this campus, junior faculty had received some perks -- a semester off before coming up for tenure, improved starting salaries, and modest start-up funds -- that senior and mid-career faculty had not. However, demands for scholarship were significantly higher for these junior faculty, and many department chairs worked hard to protect junior faculty from service. Mid-career faculty, especially those who had just received tenure, found that they were often asked to pick up the slack. Many mid-career and very senior faculty resented both the exemption of junior faculty from service and the additional benefits they had received, yet they typically did not recognize the increased demands for scholarship.
There are few rewards for investing in the campus, yet it is these very investments that lead to a richer, more collegial work environment. One senior faculty member, who had made significant contributions to her campus by creating a highly successful faculty initiative on diversity and teaching improvement, found that there was very little recognition or support for her work. Rather than celebrate her accomplishments, she found that "Administrators, in my career, have not been supportive." Somewhat surprisingly, she found that administrators were "frightened by the possibility that this would get out of hand." Faced with barriers such as these, many faculty choose not to invest.
By the time faculty have achieved tenure, they have been on campus for a number of years. They are, essentially, stuck in a place in which they have been advised not to engage wholly. For some, this is a happy result. Many faculty come to love their institutions and engage wholeheartedly in the life of the campus community. When universities hire those who are passionate about the campus mission, everyone benefits. As one faculty member who became a senior administrator very late in his career recounted, he gave up opportunities to teach in larger, more prestigious universities in favor of a small institution dedicated to urban, underserved students. He had not seen the campus -- or the city -- when he signed the contract, and his first experiences of the city dirt and the unkempt campus were dismal. Yet when he finally met the students, "it transformed everything. They were so hungry for learning. They wouldn't leave me. They followed me all around, they wanted to talk. And so I was in seventh heaven." His sense of commitment to the students, to the faculty, and to the urban mission of his campus persists.
Others feel truly immobilized -- wedded to a campus in a very unhappy marriage indeed. Locked into what she termed a dysfunctional department, one faculty member in the social sciences, looking back over the 20 years she had spent at her university, said, "This was a mistake for me. The culture was poison." Because the job market had been "terrible" when she finished her Ph.D. in the early 1980s, she had few options. She knew, compared with many others, that she should consider herself "lucky." But she hated her department and, over the years, came to dislike her students as well.
Constituting the Commons
Rewards for academic administrators are structured differently. At least in the short run, administrators have to be oriented toward their institutions. Administrators are charged with seeing the whole campus and making decisions on behalf of a larger constituency. One former chancellor noted that administrators need to be "team players" who are able to "defer your important area to somebody else's important area if it's good for the university." However, if faculty do that, he notes, they "could be screwed," because no one else is necessarily looking out for them. Unlike faculty, administrators cannot be disciplinary, at least not all of the time. While academic administrators may retain their disciplinary identities at some level, they also have other groups with which they may become affiliated: professional groups of deans and provosts and so forth. Yet these are not nearly as strong or as binding as the ties of the academic disciplines and their many professional bodies.
Charged with transcending the tribes and villages of academic life, administrators face a range of demands and conflicts rarely experienced by faculty. Many seek to change their institutions, to transform administrative structures, reshape the mission, or innovate the curriculum. At the same time, they must balance budgets and attend to the day-to-day work involved in running the university. And they must do all of these, typically, at once. As one dean noted, he could go from working on a strategic plan for his college and talking to funders to meeting with a faculty member about whether an office had a window. The pace is unrelenting, and while faculty may feel that administrators do not, essentially, do anything, as this dean pointed out, someone has to do the routine work of administering the university.
That the university is, in many ways, a strange and atavistic institution is not a new or innovative insight. As many have noted, the university is a bastion of guild-like organizations. In this context, some wonder why a faculty member would chose to move into an administrative role. Why would someone who has dedicated their life to scholarship and teaching, who has struggled through the tenure process, choose to leave that behind to run a college or a university? Why would they abandon the scholarly careers they have trained for? What is it about those who have made this transition that differentiates them from other faculty?
A common assumption among the professoriate is that only "failed" faculty become deans or provosts. In part this has to do with "leaving" the faculty, of turning away from the guild. One provost at a state college, who had served as a dean and department chair, noted that when she was a faculty member she thought: "[t]hat they were aliens. I thought that they came up through a whole different biography. I didn't have any experience of a successful academic becoming an administrator."
Several of the administrators we interviewed felt disapproval from faculty colleagues when they took on these roles. In part, the extensive training for a doctorate and the socialization of those who become permanent faculty creates a barrier to thinking of other work, of a life outside the academy, even if the connection to academia is still very strong. We see this as well in the experiences of those who never find a full-time faculty job. Instead of seeking full-time work in other industries, they hobble together a gypsy existence, unable even to contemplate a life outside of academe. Many faculty, therefore, are deeply puzzled when a tenured colleague takes on an administrative job.
Tiresome as the comments about "moving to the dark side" have become, they still reflect a deeply held faculty view of those who go into administration. They mark a gap in belief systems and values, one that is reinforced by faculty and administrative culture. It must be closed, at least partly, if higher education is going to change. There are some trends here that give us hope. First, academic administrators still tend to think of themselves as faculty. They share common identities, training, and experiences. The administrators we interviewed constantly reiterated their view of themselves as faculty, even as they recognized that they rarely did faculty work.
One recently retired provost who had served as a dean and subsequently as provost in three separate institutions was emphatic about maintaining a faculty identity: "Once I became the dean I actually started to think of myself as an administrator ... [but] I always thought of myself, honestly, as a faculty member in administration.... From the day I became an administrator I never stopped teaching a course.... Because one of the things I believe in was you really had to be perceived as a faculty member first.... One of the worst things that has happened to higher education is the professionalization [of administration].... I always thought that real leadership came because you had a faculty set of values."
One common theme for administrators was that they wanted to be a part of creating something larger than themselves or their departments, or they realized early on that they had administrative or organizational skills that seemed to set them apart from their faculty peers. Several had come from a community organizing background: they saw their administrative work at the university as explicitly aimed at making the world a better place and educational institutions as critical in creating positive social change. They felt that they could open doors for underserved populations. As administrators, they believed they could have an impact on a larger number of students -- they could create change on a broader canvas -- than if they continued as a faculty member. Others felt deeply committed to their institutions. One provost stated categorically that he "wanted it to be a place that was creative. I wanted it to be a place where students, particularly the undergraduates, came and got the kind of wonderful, exciting, impassioned education that's available to kids at wealthy private liberal arts schools."
Yet there's a conundrum: While faculty and administrators alike argue that academic administrators must come from the faculty, faculty training does not adequately prepare people to manage large and complex organizations. This is especially important as universities get bigger and more complex. When a campus is the size of a small town, it's not enough to have been a marvelous cell biologist or a meticulous Romance scholar.
Perversely, administrators are mobile -- at least potentially so -- in ways that most faculty are not. The dilemma for administrators is that if they are going to make a name for themselves (and move to another institution), they have to show they've done something on their campus. But change on campuses is hard, and it takes a lot of time. Others have cynically noted that you can't begin any new project in spring semester, and little can happen over the summer, either, as most faculty are gone. This leaves only a very small window of time in which real, collaborative change can occur.
Yet turnover among administrators can be rapid. One dean of a business school -- long-lasting at 10 years in his position -- had gone through, in his estimation, five or six provosts and presidents in his tenure. By the time a candidate arrived on campus for the interview, he said that he could tell if the person was going to be "another one and a half or two-year provost." While this dean's experience may be extreme, it's not all that unusual. There is currently no national-level data on turnover of chief academic officers. Surveys by the American Council on Education estimate that the average presidential term has increased over the last two decades, from just over 6 to nearly 8-1/2 years. If each president brings a new agenda, a new vision, and a new chief academic officer to the campus, then campuses may find themselves endlessly changing direction. Under these conditions, it would be no surprise that faculty become cynical about deans, provosts, presidents, and their initiatives.
Hope and Change
While campuses in general may have adopted the models of managerial professionalization that have come to typify American organizations, public and private, in our sample we found little evidence that provosts and deans had been schooled in dominant management techniques and theory or marched to the drum of efficiency and market imperatives. Instead, we found administrators speaking passionately about their desire to help the institution and to find ways to enable faculty to do their work.
This is not to say that the lack of resources and the culture of university management left them unaffected. Administrators may inevitably become concerned with meeting budgets, aware of inefficiencies and the costs of programs, and sensitive to demands (external and internal) that the campus be run effectively and efficiently. In that sense there may well be an ideological dominance of the "bottom line." But the deans, provosts, and chancellors we spoke with clearly did not see themselves as corporate executives leading the charge for fiscal responsibility; nor did they seem enthralled by the latest management fad. Rather, they are former faculty doing the best they can with what is available to them.
The question of who administrators are is increasingly relevant as the institutions they control become larger, more complex, and penetrated by a range of external actors and demands. The calls for accountability, the costs and implementation of new technologies, competition from foreign universities for faculty and students, and the challenges posed by on-line education, all press on the administrative function. Yet at the level of dean, provost, or president, we heard emphatically -- from faculty and administrators -- that people in these positions should be academics first and foremost. This is clearly a major contradiction. Failure to resolve this problem could have significant implications for who -- in the long-run -- becomes an administrator.
This situation could -- and sometimes does -- lead one to states of severe pessimism about the future of public higher education. But while the solutions are not entirely clear, at least some partial ones come to mind. First, we have to make changes in the tenure and promotion process, or faculty will never have the ability to invest wholeheartedly in their institutions -- before it's too late. This has to include real recognition of teaching and service, both to the university and to the community. We should also develop meaningful post-tenure review processes that recognize the changing standards for faculty scholarship and ensure tenured faculty get the recognition they deserve or the guidance and encouragement they need.
We also have to develop more permeable boundaries between faculty and administration, so that the deep culture of distrust can subside. Programs that bring talented faculty into administration for short periods, that provide mentoring and training for administrative roles, would go far in tapping the talent that exists on campuses. In addition, as many of our respondents noted, administrators are typically faculty. Finding ways in which they can continue to teach and engage in research are critical. Keeping the boundaries between faculty and administrators as fluid and as permeable as possible can help break down the barriers between "us" and "them."
That said, efforts to focus on faculty development are also critical -- a faculty career need not be a long, linear march from assistant professor to professor emeritus. Policies that enable faculty to focus alternately on teaching, or research, or administration, or on risky but creative endeavors could keep faculty engaged over the long haul. In short, some creative thinking and education could improve faculty life and prevent burn-out. We have not done enough hard thinking about this.
We also need to pay careful attention to those campuses on which shared governance works well. Among other things, we suspect size of institution matters. But if we can determine what factors seem to lead to better, more collegial, and more cooperative relations on campus, we can surely create better ones. Shared governance has to mean more than interminable faculty senate meetings, sometimes attended by a provost or a dean or a chancellor. In this regard, transparency in budgeting and decision making by administrators is critical. In one small example from our experience: a faculty member (complaining about lack of faculty lines for his department) was shocked by the annual cost of heating and cooling the university and how much it had increased in the last two years.
Faculty are not accountants or business managers. They are intellectuals and researchers and teachers, but they need to know and can understand budgets. The more they do, the less likely they are to see administrative decisions as the dictats of deranged vice-chancellors. And administrators cannot afford to forget the realities of faculty life in the public sector. If we -- as smart people in higher education -- cannot figure this out, then we deserve the governance we get.
Kristin Esterberg and John Wooding
Kristin Esterberg is associate professor of sociology, and John Wooding is professor of regional economic and social development, both at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell.
I began my academic career at the height of the McCarthy era and have vivid recollections of the intensity with which the nation was consumed by fears of communism, with special attention to the “loyalty” of government employees and faculty members of colleges and universities. Non-communist oaths were enacted in most states and demanded of those who taught at public colleges. For my doctoral dissertation, I chose the topic of loyalty oaths and was then, and remain, intrigued by the obsession of many Americans in times of real or imagined national stress with loyalty and patriotism. The Vietnam War and the post-9/11 anti-terrorism fervor have and continue to unleash challenges to the meaning of patriotism in a constitutional democracy. Now the 2008 election campaign has revealed the ease with which differences of opinion become tests of loyalty.
Sen. John McCain, Republican candidate for president, has as his slogan “country first” and refers to rivals as the “me first, country second” crowd. Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate, found himself besieged by questions about his patriotism, apparently growing out of his unusual heritage, past associations and failure to wear a “flag pin.” He found it necessary to give a long speech about patriotism called “The America We Love.” He asserted, as many have over the course of the nation’s history, that people can disagree without challenging each other’s patriotism.
The allegations against Obama intensified as he drew ahead of McCain in the polls. The Republican vice presidential candidate, Gov. Sarah Palin, made patriotism and doubts about Obama’s beliefs a mantra of her campaign events. She made references to “pro-America” parts of the country, an idea “improved” upon by Republican congresswomen Michele Bachmann of Minnesota who suggested that the press investigate members of Congress to determine who among them were “pro-America or anti-America."
Patriotism is generally defined as love for one’s country. It is an easy step to identify one’s self-interest with the national interest and make it a test of patriotism. Nothing puts a person more on the defensive than a challenge to his or her loyalty to the nation. Claims of patriotism are often referred to, in the words of Samuel Johnson, as “the last refuge of a scoundrel,” though others see it as the first and last refuge of scoundrels. George Washington, in his Farewell Address, cautioned against the “impostures of pretended patriotism.”
Loyalty and patriotism take a unique American form because we do not pledge fealty to a sovereign in the form of a king or queen, or to a dictator holding autocratic power. Nor do we espouse fidelity to a tribe or to a nation based on alleged blood relationships, racial purity, or religious zealotry. The American form is far more complicated, based on commitment to a set of ideas best summed up in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States which evoke a sense of an undefined and perhaps indefinable American creed of freedom, equality, justice and opportunity.
It is instructive that the Founding Fathers, familiar with the abuse of patriotic themes in England and revolutionary America, prescribed in the Constitution the oath to be taken by the president upon taking office: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend, the Constitution of the United States.” The Constitution then requires all national and state legislative, executive and judicial officers to “be bound by oath or affirmation to the support this Constitution” with the admonition that “no religious test” is to be required for any public office. The Founders also took special note of abusive use of accusations of the supreme act of disloyalty -- treason -- and provided in the Constitution for a specific definition of the crime, the proof required for conviction, and prohibiting tainting of family.
An oath to support the Constitution says nothing more than what is the obligation of anyone residing in the United States to support the basic law of the land. Allegiance is to the law and the Constitution is the supreme law. The obligations of allegiance are not created by the taking of an oath. It does not commit a person to specific action or belief, nor does it require an express disavowal of any particular action or belief. Indeed, an oath to support the Constitution does not even convey a particular political or economic theory and certainly does not mean allegiance to a political party. A socialist and a libertarian can honestly take the same oath, and do. There can be no treason in matters of opinion because there is no sovereign command over opinion, including whatever “pro-America” means. The Declaration of Independence repudiates the notion of perpetual allegiance with its message of equality and the freedom to alter or abolish the government.
When you swear to uphold the Constitution of the United States, what have you pledged to do or sworn to uphold? If the U. S. Supreme Court can repeatedly divide 5-4 over the meaning of ordinary terms such as free speech or right to counsel, the problem of definition is manifest. When the Supreme Court completely distorted a constitutional phrase, “equal protection of the laws” as it did in the notorious case of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) to mean “separate but equal,” it sealed the fate of a racially segregated society for generations. In fact, during the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960 proponents of racial equality were regularly challenged as communists, disloyal, and enemies of the Constitution and the “American way of life.”
Oaths of office or citizenship commonly call for a person to swear to support and defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic though it is not always clear who the enemies are from day to day. Just in my lifetime the “enemies” have included, Japan, Germany, Italy, North Korea, North Vietnam, China, the Soviet Union, communists in general and terrorist in general. I am not always sure who the enemy is in Iraq and I suspect that Iran may be on the list. I admit that I never have been clear about who the enemies are in the continuing tribal warfare in Eastern Europe or Africa or Asia where our country take sides now and then including use of military force. The United Nations had 51 member nations when established in 1945 and now has 192 and few people know where many of them are located or which are enemies, domestic or foreign.
In times of national or international stress, perceptions of loyalty and patriotism change. Unlike a pledge of allegiance or generalized oath to support the Constitution, a special loyalty oath is a political test, as is any claim that one can distinguish among the pro-America and anti-America people. Such patriotic posturing establishes specific but often shifting standards of conduct or belief, requires abjurations of past or even future behavior and, if possible, imposes disabilities for refusal to subscribe. Were these mere word games, it would afford a superb outlet for debate. Unfortunately, too often they are used to promote war among nations, internecine warfare among neighbors, destruction of careers and withholding of privileges and rights. Witness McCarthyism in the 1950s and the Vietnam protests of the 1960s.
Conflicts over patriotism along with the imposition of test oaths are not a novelty in American history. They began in the colonial period, transferred from long standing British practices with religious test oaths, and were imposed before, during and after the Revolutionary War. The Civil War and Reconstruction brought forth such a rash of test oath demands by both sides that in the Border States the joke was that people could not recall which oath they took last. One of the first reactions by American political leaders to the Russian Revolution of 1917 was the imposition of test oaths for teachers which lingered until and well beyond WWII as anti-communist fervor swept the nation and remain an often ignored but staple requirement in most states today. Post WWII non-communist oaths were imposed upon a wide range of persons including lawyers, labor union officials, political parties, and even residents of public housing and student loan recipients. Allegations of disloyalty, even indirectly by requiring test oaths are weapons to impose fear and control beliefs. The impact upon society at large goes beyond oath takers to observable widespread chilling effects upon exercise of First Amendment rights to speech and association.
Most of the lawsuits and literature about test oaths and deprivations of rights such as loss of a job involve persons fully qualified to sign but refusing to do so on constitutional principle. I have yet to find a defense of test oaths that goes beyond patriotic harangue, e.g., “any loyal American would be happy to take it” or the fantasy that it will expose traitors and protect national security. A loyalty test is no more likely to stop a traitor than all the criminal laws on the books deter crime
Coincidentally, during the past year, two faculty members on separate California State University campuses refused to subscribe to an oath prescribed for faculty by the Constitution of California in 1952, a legacy of the McCarthy era, to “support and defend” the national and state constitutions. Both faculty members are Quakers who wanted to make clear that their defense would be non-violent in character.We have a long tradition of honoring conscientious objection to war. While the cases were resolved by permitting the addition of a caveat on their oath forms, the very existence of such a requirement for faculty surprised many people who thought of loyalty oaths as relics of history.
Members of the academic community need to be especially sensitive to the misuse of allegedly patriotic fervor. Professors have always been the target of oath laws and patriotic suspicion, presumably because of their influence upon the young. But the assumption cannot be escaped that oaths and other patriotic demands directed at teachers suggest that they are more likely to betray their country than others, which is not only patently absurd, but a threat nevertheless to the core beliefs of academic freedom. This absurdity was humorously captured by an anonymous bard, a faculty member in California in the early 1950s when the university was besieged by investigations and loyalty oath demands:
Ode to Hysteria: University Division
I am the very model of a member of the faculty
Because I’m simply overcome with sentiments of loyalty
I daily think of reasons why I’m glad to be American
And thank the Lord I’ve always been a registered Republican
The thoughts I think are only thoughts approved by my community
I pledge allegiance to the flag at every opportunity
I haven’t had a thing to do with Communist conspirators
And neither have my relatives, descendants, or progenitors.
The rise of the patriotism issue in our presidential election of 2008 amidst contemporary worldwide conflicts, threats to peace and actual warfare in which our country is engaged makes it imperative to guard against partisan claims to allegiance and patriotism. An agreement to disagree, so basic to American life, though alien to much of the world, is, in the absence of unlawful acts of betrayal, the core of American liberty.
Milton Greenberg is professor emeritus of government at American University where he served as provost and interim president. He is co-author (with Jack C. Plano) of The American Political Dictionary (Harcourt), now in its 11th edition.
Submitted by Paul Lyons on March 31, 2009 - 3:00am
Editor's Note: Vanderbilt University Press is this spring releasing American Conservatism: Thinking It, Teaching It, by Paul Lyons, who died in January. In the book, Lyons features writings from a teaching log he kept from a course on conservatism that he taught at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. The material from the log appears below in italics, and his additional commentary is in regular text.
Most of academic life is a blessing; sometimes I’m amazed that I get paid for doing this, doing what I love. When class discussion turns to work, I always ask my students if they or people they know would stay at their jobs if they won the New Jersey lottery big time. Almost all say that they’d quit. This is a useful marker for defining alienation, doing what is alien to you. And, of course, it is paralleled by students staying in school for reasons that are alien to their desires. Similarly, all academics hate wasted time with self-important administrators, having to deal with petty and occasionally vicious colleagues (the academy is more vicious than high finance precisely because so little is at stake), paperwork and more paperwork. For most of us it is relief to walk back into the classroom.
In this particular classroom, I found myself offering a brief biog of William F. Buckley Jr. I was well prepared having reread John Judis’s definitive study. So I walked them through his family life, his early “bad boy” years at and after Yale, his most influential books, his role in the founding of National Review. Then, with maybe 10 minutes remaining, I read to them marked-out sections in Judis’s biography that pointed to Buckley’s worst moments of narrow-mindedness, comments he made in the 1950s and early 1960s about civil rights in America and independence movements in Africa. The statements, sometimes flippant in that Buckley “squire of the manor” style, were at best patronizing, at worst, deeply racist, particularly one statement in which he suggests that Africans will be ready for self-determination when they stop eating one another. I wanted my class to come to grips with the burden conservatives carried in that period, being on the wrong side of history, still holding onto a kind of British arrogance about “wogs” — Colonel Blimp if you will. But one of my most conservative students, Dick, jumped in with support for Buckley’s worst comment, responding with a smirk, with a knowing look about “those people,” those Africans.
If there is such a thing as a teaching moment, this was it. I stopped him and asked the class if it would be different if there were African American students in this class. They quickly saw my point, but one responded, “They’d beat the shit out of Dick.” I countered by suggesting that it shouldn’t be the obligation of black students to call Dick on his statement, but the obligation of whites to do so. There were a few quizzical looks as I explained the unfairness of expecting blacks — or Jews or women or gays or Catholics — to be obliged to defend themselves from inappropriate assault.
I was thinking on my feet, mostly trying to figure out how to chastise Dick without putting him too much on the spot, how to signal what’s OK and not OK in my classroom without stifling legitimate commentary, how to, in effect, be politically correct without being stuffy, hypocritical, humorless, unwilling to engage on controversial issues. I have examined some of the literature that addresses the plight of so many African nations — the kleptocracies, the genocides, the ethnic wars, the waste of resources. I have rooted for the best of African leaders, anticipated that the resource-rich nations of Nigeria, South Africa, and Congo would have to be the linchpins of development. And I have thought a great deal about the reason why East Asia and now all of Asia is moving forward to rapid economic growth — with all the caveats about inequalities, environmental dangers, corruption, dictatorship — and Africa stagnates. Sometimes I think that it must be that Asian cultures, Asian imperial history, especially in China and India, sustained an identity that now provided the cultural capital for an Asian version of the work ethic. Africa seemingly has struggled more with the very creation of nation-states. When I consider Latin America and then the Islamic Middle East, I am more confused, in my relative ignorance of their respective histories.
I am sometimes taken aback by what we do not teach our students. Aside from the above-noted gaps in what we can reduce to the “great books,” there are other appalling shortfalls, at least in many public institutions: the shortage of courses in what are probably the most salient developments of our times, the reemergence of China and India as players on the world stage, the increasing importance of Asia where almost two-thirds of the world’s population lives; the minimal attention paid to world religions — my students are not only unable to demonstrate any accurate knowledge of Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam, but they are also remarkably ignorant about their own religious backgrounds. Few can tell me what a Christian is, at least if I ask for comment on Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox. Fewer can distinguish Presbyterians from Episcopalians, nor can they define evangelicals or fundamentalists, not to speak of Pentecostals. More heartening is that most of my students are motivated to learn about organized religions; our K–12 schools, afraid of offending almost anyone, do not teach them about the history of the very Judeo-Christian tradition they abstractly celebrate.
But I do know that leftists and well-meaning liberals too often respond to questions of African horror with the same old saw — its colonial and neocolonial factors. True but not enough to explain why Taiwan and South Korea and China have moved forward. And it just plays into conservative stereotypes that the Left always blames the West and the United States and never holds people of color, here or elsewhere, accountable. It is the macro version of what I will simplify as the attacks on Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s study of the African American family. So I tried to make sure that in chastising Dick and indicating acceptable boundaries of discourse, I was simultaneously, and as strongly, modeling that raising questions about African nations is legitimate. How could I not, given my own point of view? Whether I was successful remains to be seen. Time will tell. But it was, I think, a useful beginning of a discussion I assumed we would engage when we got to George Wallace and the white backlash of the 1960s. I am debating whether to post a question on this issue on Web Board this week or to wait until we have more meat and potatoes on the plate such that we can do more than discuss without context or information. But I must admit that I left class pumped with the anticipation of that set of discussions and, hopefully I’m right, with some confidence that we started it well.
I don’t think we as academics and teachers do a very good job teaching about race and racism. Some seems to be liberal guilt. Mostly it rests on the lack of confidence that one can present complicated situations, nuanced realities without risking being misinterpreted by colleagues and students.
Several years ago at a panel on racism I suggested that we begin by seeing if we could agree on four axioms, the first being that there is more racism in America than most white people were willing to admit. No controversies there. The second was that there has been considerable progress over the past 40 years based on the civil rights revolution of the 1960s. More curious looks but no hostility. Then the third axiom, that there were some African Americans who see racism when it doesn’t exist. At that point, the room became more agitated with some furrowed brows and raised eyebrows. The fourth axiom brought down the house: that given the above three axioms, it was presently more difficult to assess allegations of racism. Indeed, I added, there were now so many divergent voices within the African American community — a partial measure of the successes above noted — that no one could any more claim to represent “the black voice.”
The panelist following me denounced my position, arguing that racism was as bad or worse than 40 years ago, merely more hidden. Then the panel opened for questions from the audience. A black female undergraduate asked me how I would respond if she believed that I had said something racist in class and she came to complain to me. I told her that I would take her allegation very seriously, consider whether I thought it was valid, and give her my most honest response. She was dissatisfied, indeed offended by my response, as were many on the panel and in the audience. The student asked me why I wouldn’t accept the validity of her allegation. I told her that I thought it would be harmful to her or any other student to allow an automatic acceptance of any allegation, that it risked corrupting her or anyone else in that it would allow for false charges to go unchallenged. I ended by suggesting that true respect included disagreement. I added that if not satisfied, a student always had the remedy of taking the allegation to my superiors.
The room erupted with anger at me, with one white colleague screaming at me that I was patronizing the student. I was disappointed and depressed by this display of what seemed to me to be wrong-headed, racially retrograde, and demagogic. I need to add that I was not angry at the student who raised the issue; she seemed honest and forthcoming, even in disagreement.
Most interesting is that over the next weeks several of my African American students asked me what had happened — there obviously had been a buzz in the hallways. This led to some fruitful conversation about how one determines the existence of racism. I also received several notes from white colleagues expressing admiration for what I had said but confessing that they were too cowardly to do the same. This depressed me even more than the hostile responses. Had we come to this — faculty, even tenured ones, afraid to speak their minds in fear of being charged with racism? Indeed, we had. One junior faculty member told me that he never goes near certain hot-button issues like affirmative action or underclass behavior because of his fear that it might put his job at risk.
As teachers we struggle with students who hold back from authentically discussing issues of prejudice, who go silent or simply echo agreement. It is hard work to achieve honest discussions; all students enter with bruises. One must establish a trusting environment for such discussions to be fruitful. Trust does not exist at the beginning of a class. I tell students that the handshake is an apt metaphor for our relations — I hold your hand, you hold mine — we trust one another but I also prevent you from hitting me in case that is your hidden desire. We trust and mistrust simultaneously. And then we can begin to have an honest dialogue.
I begin with a modest sense of how much influence I have with my students, especially regarding changes in their essential behavior regarding issues of social justice. Teachers are fortunate if we increase at the margin those who are willing to stand up for others. But human behavior being what it is, we remain burdened with the knowledge of how difficult it is to educate individuals to identify with all of the “others,” to construct a global identity focused on human rights. Sigmund Freud, given the trauma of World War I, asserted not only that reason and enlightenment were fragile, but also that there was something in the existence of human intelligence which never allowed the darkness to be all-engulfing, and that this indistinguishable light of humane thought had a surprising persistence. Our goal as educators is to widen that ray of light, to assist a few more ordinary men and women to resist the extraordinarily evil and to stretch toward the extraordinarily good.
My own view is that the optimal way to help students respond to moral challenges is to help them understand the contradictory strands of heroism and knavery, the victimized and the victimizing, of many of our peoples. And we as educators need to understand and communicate the contextual nature of human behavior, its range and subtleties, and the contradictory ways that humans respond to moral challenges. As such, we teach humility before the wonder — the heroism, the cowardice, the insensitivities, the villainies — of our own natures, our own histories.
This might be called the double helix of all peoples, the intertwining of their burdens and their inspirations, their hidden shames and forgotten accomplishments, the recognition of which makes it more likely that they will be able to recognize the same complexity in others.
All of this has to begin with the obvious: that I am a white guy teaching about race and racism. No matter how you slice it, it makes a difference. It does help that I was born and bred in Newark and have some “cred” with my city kids (keep in mind that many of my African American students are middle class and suburban). I work very hard to break down the obvious stereotypes, including those blacks have of non-blacks. I want all of my students to recognize that each of us is simultaneously a member of an ethnic/racial/religious group, a human being, and a very distinct and unique individual. When we address social class and poverty, I want my students to understand the need to disaggregate poverty, to note three kinds of the poor: the temporary poor, the working poor, and the underclass poor. The first two groups share all of the values and behaviors of Americans, for example, the work ethic. They suffer from short-term crises, such as a husband and father splitting and not providing sufficient support, a worker facing a health problem without insurance, or people suffering from poor educations that limit their income potential to close to minimum wage, holding jobs with no benefits.
It’s only the latter category, sometimes linked to a “culture of poverty,” certainly no more than one-fourth of those poor, who exhibit the self-destructive behaviors — substance abuse, bad work habits, impulsive control problems, criminal activities, abuse of women and children — that fall outside of societal norms. Most of my students of color have no difficulty in affirming that such behaviors exist; indeed, they often go farther than I am willing to go in ascribing such behaviors to the black poor. I rely a great deal on the work of William Julius Wilson, the extraordinary black sociologist, in teaching about the links between class and race, between behavior and opportunity and, especially, the need to address the most painful and least flattering aspects of black street life honestly and directly.
I tell all of my students to go beyond the snapshot to the motion picture. That guy drinking from a bottle in a paper bag in front of a bar — how did he get that way? I bring in the start of the motion picture, the differential chances of success already there in birthing rooms. How is it that I can stand in front of that room full of newborns and, based on race and social class, tell with a high degree of accuracy which babies will graduate from college, who will have a decent middle-class life, and who will end up in prison or dead before age 30. That is criminal to me. No baby determines the well-being of its parents. But the odds are set very early. Now odds are not determinants; people beat the odds. But I remain angry and want my students to share that rage at the inherent injustices that await so many of our poor children.
Many of my African American — and increasingly, Latino — students are quite inspirational. Many, not most or all, come from difficult environments. Many have surmounted extraordinary barriers — broken families, crime-infested neighborhoods, drug experiences, lousy schools, early pregnancies and child-rearing, physical and sexual abuse — to make it to college. I hope that my pride in them, which includes pushing them to excel, prodding them to resist racial and often gender stereotypes, comes through in the classroom. I want that young woman who was offended by my comments at the panel discussion to hang in there, continue challenging me, but I also want more time to try to persuade her that there is respect in disagreement, that she will be best served by being taken seriously.
The late Paul Lyons taught American history and social policy at Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. This essay is an excerpt from American Conservatism: Thinking It, Teaching It, and appears here with permission of the publisher, Vanderbilt University Press.