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.
In his provocatively titled recent book, The No Asshole Rule: Building a Civilized Workplace and Surviving One That Isn’t, Robert I. Sutton argues for zero tolerance of “bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots, [and] unconstrained egomaniacs” in the workplace. These individuals systematically prey on their co-workers, especially the more vulnerable ones, leaving their victims feeling humiliated, belittled, and demoralized. Their weapons include personal insults, threats and intimidation, hostile e-mails, public ridicule, and scornful interruptions. In the environments that they poison, enthusiasm for work gives way to anxiety, resentment, and a longing to get out.
The importance of a civil workplace struck Sutton more than 15 years ago during a department meeting at Stanford University, where he teaches. As his colleagues debated hiring a candidate for a faculty position, one of them remarked, “Listen, I don’t care if that guy won the Nobel Prize ... I just don’t want any assholes ruining our group.” Sutton describes the group as a collegial and supportive small department, “especially compared to the petty but relentless nastiness that pervades much of academic life.”
Although he goes on to cite many businesses that have the zero tolerance policy that he advocates, he does not return to his bleak characterization of academic life. Neither does he explore the reluctance of universities to hold faculty members to the rules of conduct that many businesses are implementing — rules that supplement standard prohibitions against harassment and discrimination — even while they apply them to staff. At my own university, for example, exempt and non-exempt staff are explicitly required to “cooperate and collaborate with other employees in a spirit of teamwork and collegiality” as a condition of their employment. Faculty members are not.
The reluctance to adopt a code of conduct for faculty members stems in part from a belief also expressed in corporate workplaces: that geniuses must be jerks and that some belligerence, indifference to others, and rudeness are inseparable from the achievements of a Steve Jobs or Bobby Knight. Sutton counters this view by observing that not all successful people are jerks and that jerks succeed despite their cruelty to others, not because of it. I would add that the odds are slim that the professor yelling at the departmental secretary spends the rest of his day bringing about a Copernican revolution in his discipline.
Sutton also argues that even in the extremely unlikely event that the bully is a genius, he still does more harm than good — which is why a Bobby Knight or Michael Eisner eventually wears out his welcome. Making exceptions for seemingly special cases can be damaging, not only in spawning imitators but in depressing the initiative of others. Sutton rightly emphasizes that “negative interactions have five times the effect on mood than positive interactions”: “a few demeaning creeps can overwhelm the warm feelings generated by hoards of civilized people.”
However, the November 1999 American Association of University Professors statement on collegiality as a criterion for faculty evaluation — while conceding the importance of collegiality to teaching, scholarship, and service — favors limiting a faculty member’s evaluation to these three areas on the grounds that vigorous discussions are essential to academic life. Adding collegiality as a yardstick, the AAUP asserts, is not only unnecessary — it risks “ensuring homogeneity,” “chilling faculty debate and discussion,” and curtailing academic freedom by stigmatizing individuals who do not fit in or defer to the group:
In the heat of important decisions regarding promotion or tenure, as well as other matters involving such traditional areas of faculty responsibility as curriculum or academic hiring, collegiality may be confused with the expectation that a faculty member display “enthusiasm” or “dedication,” evince “a constructive attitude” that will “foster harmony,” or display an excessive deference to administrative or faculty decisions where these may require reasoned discussion. Such expectations are flatly contrary to elementary principles of academic freedom, which protect a faculty member’s right to dissent from the judgments of colleagues and administrations.
Weeding out the gadflies, critics, and malcontents (via the criterion of collegiality), according to the AAUP statement, leaves us with the “genial Babbitts” and casts “a pall of stale uniformity” on what should be a scene of vibrant debate.
“Should be” is the key phrase here. The individuals Sutton is criticizing — the bullies, jerks, and so on — themselves chill debate through personal attacks, intimidation, and invective. One sign of this is the relief felt when they are away. Instead of disappearing, dissent blossoms, as individuals can now express ideas without fear of vicious recrimination and unfounded attack.
Thus, some faculty members have begun exploring codes of conduct, not because they want to squelch free debate but because they want to enable it. They are especially concerned about the most vulnerable faculty members – often newcomers with fresh perspectives and much-needed enthusiasm – who may shy away from departmental deliberations lest they jeopardize their personal futures. The motivation behind codes of conduct is not to make everyone agree but to let everyone feel free to disagree, allowing all voices to be heard.
The literary scholar Linda Hutcheon offers a version of this argument in her recent essay “Saving Collegiality,” in Profession, published by the Modern Language Association. While acknowledging the potential dangers of poorly worded and insensitively enforced codes of conduct, Professor Hutcheon reaffirms the importance of mutual respect, civility, and constructive cooperation to healthy debate: “Harmonious human relations need not stifle the right to dissent that we all so rightly treasure; instead they can make dissent easier, because safer. I fail to see how inclusivity and collaboration would necessarily chill debate.”
I think that this mounting interest in collegiality stems from the intensification of the forces arrayed against it:
A star system that widens inequities between the haves and have-nots and equates academic success with a reduction in teaching loads, service commitments, and other work on behalf of the institution.
Greater reliance on adjuncts and part-time faculty with little connection to the departments that hire them.
Tension between administrators and faculty exacerbated by top-down methods of management and increased demands for narrowly defined measures of accountability.
A poor job market that places individuals at institutions where they may not want to be, thereby fostering feelings of estrangement, disdain for colleagues, and single-minded efforts to leave via one’s research.
Recourse to e-mail as a substitute for face-to-face collaborative decision-making. Its impersonality unintentionally licenses individuals to fight and distrust one another even more (as Sutton explains, “apparently this happens because people don’t get the complete picture that comes with ‘being there,’ as e-mail and phones provide little information about the demands that people face and the physical setting they work in, and can’t convey things like the facial expressions, verbal intonations, posture, and ‘group mood’ ”); and, finally,
Inadequate salaries and benefits at many universities, deepening resentment, stoking competition for increasingly scarce material rewards, and adding new urgency to often longstanding rivalries and feuds.
Add to these forces department chairs who are inadequately prepared for dealing with conflict, and an already fragile community begins to pull apart, giving antisocial behavior even freer rein.
The disintegration of community takes a special toll on academic workplaces. In a chapter of tips for surviving nasty people and hostile workplaces, Sutton mentions developing indifference and emotional detachment, limiting contact with one’s adversaries, and doing the bare minimum required by one’s job — in effect, disengaging. These are not solutions but survival strategies intended to assist individuals stuck a demoralizing job that they cannot change or escape.
So collegiality turns out to be important as well as endangered: important because necessary to the free discussions, voluntary service, and constructive collaborations that universities depend on and endangered because so many institutional developments militate against it. Thinking about the collegial atmosphere of a particular institution, one of the contributors to the Profession symposium wonders if it might not just be “the luck of the draw,” the happy byproduct of a mix of people who just happen to get along, rather than the result of institutional intention.
But other contributors rightly counter that some steps can be taken, especially by department chairs, to foster collegial professional relations: for example, modeling respectful treatment of others, expressing appreciation, hosting social events and lunch meetings, sharing information, informally consulting with and involving colleagues, distributing responsibility, supporting reading groups organized around certain topics, setting up forums where faculty members can discuss teaching or present their research — in short, creating a vibrant social context for decision-making and debate. It can be harder to demonize people you eat lunch with or see at a reception with their children. One contributor to the symposium shrewdly defines a dysfunctional department as “one where the main interactions with the faculty are around tenure decisions.” Embedding difficult discussions in a network of relationships cushions their potentially divisive impact.
At the same time, another contributor to the Profession symposium, Gerald Graff, makes the important point that these “soft” ways of nudging faculty members into collegiality, though necessary, are not sufficient. As “add-ons” or “Friday afternoon solutions,” they must compete with other priorities in a busy professor’s life. When deadlines call and the pace of the semester picks up, attendance drops off and enthusiasm wanes.
Professor Graff argues for supplementing these measures with structural changes in the curriculum such as team teaching, exchanging classes with a colleague at mid-semester, and teaching one another’s books. Overcoming the customary isolation of teaching enables collaboration to be incorporated into what we do every week.
There remains, however, the problem of those admittedly few angry, disruptive individuals whom no one would want to teach or mix with — the “bullies, creeps, jerks, weasels, tormentors, tyrants, serial slammers, despots, [and] unconstrained egomaniacs” that I started out this essay with.
It is always tempting to ignore these individuals, hope they’ll go away, or find some way of excusing them. In “When Good Doctors Go Bad,” Atul Gawande observes the extraordinary lengths physicians will go to look the other way even when one of their colleagues repeatedly botches surgeries, abuses patients, and triggers lawsuits. As with many cases of professorial misconduct, the people in the best position to see the damage being done can be in the worst position to take action against it: junior physicians, nurses, staff members. Meanwhile, senior physicians are held back partly by the tremendous work involved in documenting and substantiating evidence of incompetence and partly by social pressures.
There’s an official line about how the medical profession is supposed to deal with these physicians: Colleagues are expected to join forces promptly to remove them from practice and report them to the medical-licensing authorities, who, in turn, are supposed to discipline them or expel them from the profession. It hardly ever happens, for no tight-knit community can function that way.
As in academic departments, intervention gives way to avoidance but at great cost, in the one case to the incompetent physician’s patients, in the other to the abusive professor’s colleagues and students, who sometimes come into play as prizes to be fought over or enemies to be scorned because they have sided with a rival.
Even so, despite the odds against it, in hospitals and doctors’ practices sometimes the bad physician loses his license or gets sanctioned in some other way.
In universities, here is where a carefully designed faculty code of conduct can become necessary — as a last resort, when other interventions have failed and the behavior in question falls through the cracks of the faculty handbook. The threshold for invoking the code should be high, not just by one isolated outburst. But the expectation of collegial behavior, of cooperating and collaborating with other employees in a spirit of teamwork and collegiality, should be there — not as a distinct criterion for promotion and tenure but as a condition of employment for faculty as well as for staff. Once faculty members make the difficult decision to act against a disruptive colleague, they must have the means of doing so, lest powerlessness and frustration make their demoralization even worse.
After a code of conduct is institutionalized, it becomes everyone’s responsibility to use it. In my experience, most people treat others in the academic workplace with respect, consideration, and care, conduct code or no conduct code. My intent here has not been to legislate collegiality but to make sure that in those rare instances when enough is enough, when egregious behavior persists and reaches a carefully defined tipping point, faculty members and administrators are in a position to do something about it.
Michael Fischer is vice president for academic affairs and dean of the faculty, as well as a professor of English, at Trinity University, in San Antonio. Prior to joining the Trinity administration, he was dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the University of New Mexico. A longer version of this essay will appear in Change and is available on the magazine's Web site.
The history of English literature is replete with authors who hid their names from their audience. Should the 21st-century academy also follow in this tradition? Jonathan Swift, for example, published all of his satirical writings without revealing his identity to his audience. In the case of his late masterwork, Gulliver’s Travels, a work — as he wrote in a famous letter to Alexander Pope on September 29, 1725 — designed “to vex the world rather than divert it,” Swift went so far as to have an intermediary deliver a sample part of the manuscript to his publisher. Should contemporary academics follow Swift’s lead and publish all of their critical writings anonymously? Should they even put their name on critical assessments of their colleagues? What role, if any, should anonymity play in the contemporary academy?
While Swift may be a more elaborate case of an author wishing to deceive the public — and his publisher — as to his true identity, he was far from the only famous English writer to mask his or her identity. Spencer, Donne, Marvell, Defoe, Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, Byron, Thackeray, Lewis Carroll, Tennyson, George Eliot, Sylvia Plath, and Doris Lessing are some of the writers who published works that did not reveal their true identity to their audience.
Given that these authors and their works are some of the cornerstones of the English literary canon, one might wonder why these authors did not put their names to some of their greatest works of writing. The simplest — and probably best — answer is fear: fear of things like persecution or imprisonment. This link between fear and anonymity is now carried on in the academy. Though fear of persecution or imprisonment might not persuade academics today to hide their identity from their audience, fear of retaliation surely does. Some academics fear that negative — or even positive — comments about their colleagues will lead to retaliation from them.
This, in turn, leads many contemporary academics to voice their comments from behind the veil of anonymity. Or, worse yet, convinces them to alter their comments because they are not anonymous. The practice of anonymous critical assessment is relatively common and widely accepted in the academy. So too is the understanding that some non-anonymous comments by academics may not be reflective of their true opinions.
Here is an example of how the logic of academic fear works with respect to non-anonymous comments: Professor Jones is asked to write a reader’s report on the worthiness for publication of Professor Hill’s manuscript. Jones reads Hill’s manuscript and believes that it is a “weak” contribution to the field, and believes that it should not be published. However, the potential publisher of Hill’s manuscript tells Jones that his name and his comments will be passed along to Hill. Jones fears that if he writes a negative report of Hill’s work, that Hill will in turn retaliate against Jones by writing a negative report of Jones’ work should the opportunity arise. Therefore, Jones decides to write a “less negative” or “more positive” report of Hill’s manuscript.
A variation of this example involves the use of anonymous comments, rather than non-anonymous ones: To avoid a “dishonest” report by Jones, the publisher assures him that his comments will be kept anonymous. Therefore, Jones knowing that Hill will not discover his identity decides that he will provide a more honest assessment of the manuscript.
There are of course many variations of these scenarios including a totally anonymous interchange: An anonymous manuscript stripped of all indicators of the identity of its author is read by a reviewer whose identity is in turn not revealed to the author. Moreover, the logic of academic fear does not end with peer review of manuscripts. It is not uncommon, for example, for the identity of students to be hidden in the assessment of their professors. It is also not uncommon for the identity of faculty to be hidden from administration in their assessment of them.
Should the identity of individuals within the academy be hidden so that they may speak freely (and honestly) about each other? Or is the practice of anonymity within the academy contrary to the aim of the academy, namely, the free and honest exchange of ideas and opinions in pursuit of knowledge? Is increasing the frequency and range of anonymous assessment in the academy in its best interest? Or does encouraging anonymous assessment within the academy promote a less collegial and more thin-skinned academy? These and similar questions raise significant issues that have not received a whole lot of attention.
The prevailing wisdom seems to be that anonymity is an accepted and acceptable practice with positive implications for the academy. Many seem to believe that like the history of English literature, where anonymity has provided writers with the opportunity to express their ideas and opinions without fear of retaliation, the history of the contemporary academy will show that anonymity has been a positive, liberating practice. However, such a history of the academy would be nothing more than a fairy tale.
I believe that anonymity is the enemy of dialogue, and, as such, should have a fairly limited role in the academy.
Dialogue in Academe
Dialogue in academe involves the free exchange of ideas and opinions. It requires that the interlocutors respond to each other and know to whom they are speaking. It is difficult, if not impossible, to have a discussion or debate when one of the discussants or debaters does not participate. Furthermore, it is not possible to have a discussion with no one — some minimal level of identity is required for those who participate in dialogue.
Differing ideas and differences of opinion make the academy a vibrant, living, organic entity. Within the academy, individuals are expected to defend their ideas and opinions to the best of their ability. The question and answer rhythm of dialogue tempered by rational reflection assures that no idea or opinion passes through the academy without proper critical assessment. Knowledge of the identity of the interlocutors allows for proper and relevant questions to be asked — it also allows for questioners and answerers to be accountable.
The aim of dialogue in the academy is not merely to just state or assert one's opinion. Simply asserting one's opinion to one another has more in common with two dogs barking at each another than two people engaging in dialogue. The aim of dialogue is rather to defend or argue for one’s opinion against any and all objections. The ideal here is the type of dialogues fictionalized in the early writings of Plato. An opinion that cannot be defended against objections has no place in the contemporary academy, just as it had no place in the ancient Greek academy.
Once a view or position is stated or expressed, the expectation in the academy is that through dialogue between the source of the opinion and other members of the academy, particularly students and faculty, stronger ideas will continue to be discussed and debated, and weaker ideas will gradually fade from conversation — and be dismissed. Without the free exchange of ideas and opinions in pursuit of knowledge, the academy perishes — or at least loses part of its distinctive character.
The free exchange of ideas and opinions in the academy assumes that the aim of this free exchange is the dissemination and production of knowledge — not opinion. Discussion of all opinions and ideas in an environment that is conducive to separating the defensible opinions from the indefensible ones is essential. This means that those who share their opinions with others should not fear negative consequences or reprisal for doing so. This does not mean, however, that individuals who promote bad ideas or opinions should not be identified with them. On the contrary, if one promotes an idea or opinion which is eventually dismissed through academic dialogue, this (bad) opinion or idea becomes part of one’s academic identity.
While the continued identification of an individual with his or her bad idea or opinion within the academy may seem like a harsh statement, it is ultimately a fair one. Just as individuals that promote sound ideas and opinions continue to be identified with them, so too should individuals who promote unsound ideas and opinions be identified with them. Take for example the philosopher/scientist Albert Einstein.
Early in Einstein’s career, his notions about relativity were met with disapproval by his colleagues and members of the academic community. However, this negative reaction from his colleagues only encouraged him to find stronger grounds upon which to convince them that his ideas about relativity were valid and sound. Ultimately, he prevailed in the critical dialogue about his ideas, and was awarded with not only the Nobel Prize, but the respect and ear of the academic world. If Einstein had not prevailed, his identity as a person of intelligence and compassion would not have been secured — and his subsequent ideas and opinions would have had far less visibility. Later in his life, the world listened intently to Einstein’s comments about things other than physics because they were his ideas. Epistemological affiliations which result from critical dialogue are powerful.
Just as one tends to benefit positively from the successful defense of an idea, so too should one benefit negatively from the unsuccessful defense of an idea. Trust and power in the academy is earned, not randomly bestowed upon individuals. It does not mean that one examines any less vigorously the ideas of Einstein as opposed to someone who has never successfully defended an idea — let alone a revolutionary one. Rather, it means that those whom we value as voices of wisdom in the academy have earned this through past argumentative success, not through dialogical failure. Continued failure to successfully defend one’s opinions and ideas should not be rewarded by the academy; rather, it should be met with increasing skepticism as to the academic abilities of the individual — and possibly even dismissal of the individual from the academy, particularly if there is no record of academic (or dialogical) success.
Anonymity Is Anti-Dialogue
The academy has an obligation to protect itself from anything that enervates critical dialogue and to encourage anything that energizes it. While repeated failure to defend ones ideas and opinions is not admirable, it is also not reprehensible or unexpected. Publication, tenure and promotion, merit pay, and respect are some of the major ways in which the academy rewards dialogical success (and the denial of these are some of the ways it “punishes” failure). How then does anonymity figure into this picture? In particular, how does it contribute to the promotion of dialogue in the academy?
A common response is that anonymity is of benefit to the university because it protects individuals against reprisals from other members of the academy. In particular, anonymity is utilized to assure the free exchange of ideas and opinions in the academy. If one’s identity is not revealed in the stating of an opinion, then one cannot be the recipient of any negative (or positive) consequences from said opinion. In this climate, anonymity functions like the mythical Ring of Gyges: academics can say and do whatever they wish without fear of direct negative consequences for their actions. But does the normal operation of the academy require a Ring of Gyges? I don’t think so. In fact, I would go one step further and maintain that anonymity is also ultimately not in the best interest of the academy.
Anonymity affords one the opportunity to speak without having to be accountable for the consequences of one’s speech. Anonymous propositions do not draw their power from the reputation of the speaker. Rather, they draw their power from the fact that they could be from anyone — from their disaffiliation. They speak for and from everyone and no one. Once the identity of the source of the anonymous proposition is revealed, they become part of the world of dialogue, affiliation, and situated discourse; however, if the identity of their source is never revealed, they have a decidedly halting effect on discourse.
Anonymous propositions are fundamentally monological, not dialogical. Whereas a proposition that is attributed to or affiliated with someone always contains the possibility of being questioned or interrogated, anonymous statements cannot be questioned because there is no one to ask. Because anonymous propositions are not subject to the process of question and answer, they cannot speak back or respond to requests to explain themselves (because their source is unknown). These epistemological limitations make them a weak source of knowledge. Furthermore, anonymous propositions discourage human interaction and inquiry.
Students commonly evaluate their professor’s performance in the classroom anonymously. The alleged reason is that students will be more honest in their evaluations if they know that the professor will never be able to track the comment back to them. The fear is that if a student says something negative about their professor, then the professor will retaliate by either giving the student a lower grade in the course under evaluation or the next course that the student takes with the professor. Though this may be a valid point — some professors are vindictive — the solution to this problem is not anonymity, but rather professional reprimand.
Furthermore, comments from students under the guise of anonymity are generally not very instructive. “Professor Jones is the best teacher ever,” writes the student. Jones is then credited with superior teaching performance on the basis of this comment. But consider some possible reasons that the student might have written this comment: 1) The student is a “C” student, but because Jones is an easy grader, he or she received an “A” in his course; 2) The professor conducted class by passing out cookies and Kool-Aid each day, and told stories about his college days; 3) Professor Jones canceled the final exam; 4) Professor Jones challenged his student to master the material and an otherwise “A” student earned a “C” (and the kudos of the student); or 5) Professor Jones is the best teacher ever (outshining both Einstein and Socrates). These reasons may be multiplied many times but lead to the same conclusion: an anonymous student comment is not very informative. Furthermore, it begs for the question and answer process that dialogue provides to get at the reality of Professor Jones’ classroom performance. In other words, one needs to know a lot more about the identity of the student in order to determine the validity and soundness of their comment. Dialogue would provide this; anonymity denies it.
The case of anonymous peer evaluation is not much better in terms of dialogic effect. In her article, “Seven Faces of Anonymity in Academe," Lynn Bloom speaks to this issue directly: “I never sign my reviews. This is not a dialogue. I do not what to know your rebuttal, though I am willing to read thoroughgoing, thoughtful revision. I do not want to know the impact of my review on your life, professional or personal, or on your feelings. I am providing a Service to the Profession, even if it means keeping you out.”
Bloom is of course right. Anonymity in manuscript review allows reviewers to disengage from dialogue. It of necessity keeps the author of the manuscript outside of the dialogic process. She is also right in that reviews impact lives: they are not singular events for the manuscript’s author even though they may be for the anonymous manuscript reviewer.
To consider Bloom’s comments fairly, one must distinguish between anonymous reviewers reviewing anonymous manuscripts, and anonymous reviewers reviewing manuscripts where the identity of the author is revealed. Because the former short-circuits the potential of dialogue by not including any identity markers in the review process, one can maintain that this process is not as problematic as one wherein the reviewer knows the identity of the author but the author does not know the identity of the reviewer. The former may be called the “totally anonymous review process,” and the latter the “partially anonymous review process.”
With regard to the partially anonymous review process, it does not make a whole lot of difference if the reviewer or the manuscript author’s identity is not revealed. The same problem holds for each situation — a problem that parallels the case of a student who knows the identity of the professor but the professor does not know the identity of the student (or vice versa). Just as student evaluation under this condition is problematic, so too is the partially anonymous review process.
When the identity of one of the two parties in the review process is revealed, the possibility of dialogue takes hold. The partially anonymous review process is by definition failed dialogue. It is akin to an unidentified person yelling a comment from behind a curtain to a person who is standing before a crowd. The comment is “Professor Jones is a poor scholar!” Rightfully so, Jones and the audience will wonder about the identity of the person making the comment, and want to ask more in depth questions of them. It makes a difference if the person yelling the comment is a respected scholar in Jones’ field of expertise or a young man who has not even graduated from high school. The partial review process leaves lingering questions of identity that the totally anonymous review process avoids. While one can ask questions as to why an anonymous reviewer failed to see the power of an anonymous manuscript they reviewed, the doubt that is raised by an anonymous reviewer of a non-anonymous manuscript raises an entirely different set of questions, such as does the reviewer have a personal or professional problem with the author? And so on.
All of the scenarios of anonymous assessment mentioned above share the same effect, namely that of short-circuiting dialogue. If one believes, as I do, that dialogue is an essential feature of academia, then one must conclude that anonymous assessment is antithetical to the very idea of the academy. While one might be able to live with a less than ideal academy which extensively utilizes anonymity but is otherwise collegial, one would not be able to live in an academy that is uncollegial in part as an effect of anonymity. Let’s now briefly turn to the effect of anonymity on collegiality before establishing a conclusion on the role anonymity should play in the academy.
Anonymity, Collegiality, and Critical Judgment
The common rationale for academic anonymity is quite clear: if one were required to accompany one's assessment with one’s true identity, one would not speak the truth.
While I think that a case may be made that total anonymity is fairer than partial anonymity, the fact remains that anonymity by definition halts dialogue. Imagine, if you will, an academy where all were required to reveal their identity when they voiced their opinions or ideas. Further imagine that in this ideal academy everyone was expected to think about and respond to the ideas and opinions of others: Where critical dialogue was the norm, not the exception. Would this not be a desired situation?
Part of the problem with academia today is a fear and avoidance of critical judgment. Some even believe that criticizing the views of another is a fundamentally uncollegial (if not also unethical) act, and that uncritically supporting a colleague is a collegial act. Academia has created a culture and ethics of uncritical consent and has hidden it behind the cloak of collegiality. Uncritical kindness in response to any and all of our colleagues’ ideas and opinions is not only fundamentally uncollegial; it is also an abdication of academic responsibility.
The only reason that anonymity is so prevalent in academia today is that as academics we have forgotten that critically thinking about the opinions and ideas of others is what we do — or even what we do best. It is the task of the academic to be critical. Anonymity breaks down the critical dialogue that brings us together into a unified profession in search of answers to our questions—and questions to our answers. It atomizes the profession in a way that sets one individual and their ideas against the other in personal (not epistemological) competition for superiority. According to the popular logic of anonymity, academia is “nasty, brutish, and hard — a war of all against all” for position and power.
Collegiality requires dialogue. If we set up practices in the academy that prohibit or prevent dialogue, then we are fundamentally enabling uncollegial behavior. Partial anonymity, at least, is always already uncollegial behavior; and total anonymity, while less pernicious than partial anonymity, still discourages dialogue, and therefore is also fundamentally uncollegial.
Part of the reason that many people have difficulty sharing critical judgment with others in the academy is that we have created a culture where critical judgments must be protected from fear of retribution. If one were forced to reveal his or her identity in all critical judgment situations, individuals would probably take more time to develop their arguments knowing that they could become themselves the object of critical attention. While it goes without saying that it is wrong to be the subject of retaliation for one’s ideas and opinions, it also goes without saying that the culture of retaliation is encouraged (rather than discouraged) by the widespread use of anonymity.
It is acceptable within the public sphere to anonymously share an opinion and not have to answer to questions or concerns raised about it. However, within the academic sphere, this is simply not desired behavior. If one, for example, posts on his or her blog a statement concerning one’s belief in gremlins, one is not obligated to respond to persons who disagree with this statement. However, in the academy, students, faculty, and administration are expected to answer to questions about their opinions. When sharing an idea or opinion with ones colleagues, one should expect — and hope — that they respond to it. This is what being a colleague means.
Conclusion: Against Anonymity
The widespread use of anonymity in academia should be a cause for concern, not celebration. If dialogue is the warp and woof of the academy, and collegiality demands dialogue, then the use of anonymity in the academy should be discouraged. Though individual cases might be made where anonymity is justified in academia, these are far from the norm. The norm in academia should be against the use of anonymity, rather than for it. Increasing the role and scope of anonymity in the academy serves to make it less collegial and more fractious by discouraging dialogue as the major source of critical assessment. The academy must work toward the elimination of all forms of anonymous critical assessment — lest it lose the characteristic which most distinguishes it from other institutions: the free exchange of ideas and opinions in pursuit of knowledge.
Jeffrey R. Di Leo
Jeffrey R. Di Leo is dean of the School of Arts and Sciences, and associate professor of English and philosophy at the University of Houston-Victoria. He is also founder of the journal symploke, were a longer version of this essay will be published.as part of an issue devoted to the topic of anonymity.
There are two main narratives battling to define the current crisis at the University of California. While the California situation is an extreme example of what is happening to public higher education these days nationally, these dueling narratives can be found in many other states as well.
On the one hand, President Mark Yudof and the Board of Regents want everyone to blame all of the university's problems on the state. According to the administration’s narrative, the simple issue is that the state has defunded higher education, and due to a $1.2 billion cut from the state, the only thing the campuses can do is raise tuition (which we in California call fees), cut courses, lay off workers, increase class size, furlough faculty members, and demand that the state increases the university’s funding by $913 million.
The counter narrative, articulated mostly by the unions and the students, is that the university just had a record year of revenue, and the system does not have to raise fees or cut services. Instead, the counter discourse argues that the profit-making units should share their profits, and money earmarked for instruction should actually be used for educational purposes. While unions and students also insist that full state funding should be restored, they recognize that most of the state reductions were made up by federal recovery money ($716 million), fee increases (43 percent -- 9.3 percent in September, 16 percent in January, and another 16 percent next September) and cost saving measures that have already been undertaken.
A close analysis of the university's own audited financial statements (see page 52 of this document) for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2009 shows that in every major category of the budget -— research, medical profits, extension programs, and even state appropriations — the university increased its revenue. Thus, even though President Yudof declared a fiscal emergency during the summer of 2009 and was granted emergency powers to impose an austerity plan that included across the board salary reductions, it turns out that the university was never in better fiscal health. In fact, the university’s finances were doing so well that after the state reduced the university’s funding, the university turned around and lent the state $200 million.
When reporters asked Yudof how he could lend the state money at the same time he was cutting salaries, reducing enrollment, and laying off non-tenured faculty, he responded that when the university lends money to the state, it turns a profit, but when the university spends money on teachers’ salaries, the money just disappears. According to this logic, the university should just get out of the education business and concentrate on generating high bond ratings.
What many people do not know is that this emphasis on pleasing bond raters in order to gain a better interest rate drives many of the decisions of private and public universities today. For example, it was recently discovered that one reason why the university continues to raise tuition each year is that it has promised its bond issuers to use student fees as collateral for construction bonds. In this credit default swap, students take out high-interest loans to pay for their increased tuition, while the university gets low-interest bonds to build more buildings. Moreover, the bond raters have recently praised the university for having such a diverse revenue stream and for holding such a high level of unrestricted funds that can be used for any purpose.
When Yudof is questioned about the fungible nature of the university's $20 billion operating budget, he usually responds by arguing that almost all of the funds are restricted, and only money from student fees and state funds can be used to close the budget deficit. However, much of the university's money is only restricted by its priorities, and Yudof himself has admitted that the university needs to protect its reserves and help grow the profitable aspects of the university.
Yudof’s protection of the profit-centered units was highlighted when many of the highest earners in the university system were able to remove themselves from his furlough plan. First the people funded out of external grants were exempted, and then the medical faculty, some of whom make over $800,000 a year, were able to fight off any salary reductions. Meanwhile workers making less than $40,000 were having their pay reduced and non-tenured faculty were being laid off. The result of this process is the increased growth of income inequality in a system where already in 2008, 3,600 employees made over $200,000 for a collective pay of $1 billion.
Even with the revelation that many of the top earners are administrators and that there are now more administrators in the UC system than faculty members, many tenured professors have sided with the administration because it is much easier to attack the state for all of the UC’s problems. By blaming the state and the anti-tax Republicans, there is a clear enemy and an easy narrative. Moreover, by placing the onus of responsibility on the state, the university does not have to look at its own internal problems. However, if the faculty continue to buy Yudof’s narrative, there will be no way of fighting the continual increase in administrative costs and the further privatization of the university. This double move of corporatization and administrative growth should be a concern of all faculty members across the United States.
Yudof’s latest gambit is to ask the state, which he knows is facing a $21 billion deficit, to increase the university’s funding by $913 million. Everyone knows that the state cannot provide this money, and so when the state does not meet Yudof’s request, he will feel justified to make another round of fee increases and budget cuts. In this version of the shock doctrine, a fake crisis motivates people to give power to a centralized authority and to privatize a public good, while wages are decreased and profits are kept by a small group of power elites.
It is time for the faculty to stand up and join with the students and the unions to resist. Moreover, the university's lack of shared governance and budget transparency is but a symptom of the national move to strip faculty of any power and to shift control to an administrative class that sees higher education institutions as investment banks dedicated to pleasing the bond raters. Only the faculty can make education the priority at these institutions.
Bob Samuels is president of the University Council - American Federation of Teachers, which represents lecturers and librarians at the University of California. He teaches at UCLA and writes the blog Changing Universities.
William Buckley famously said he’d “rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phonebook than by the dons of Harvard.” In my 14 years as president of a leading liberal arts college, I grew weary of overworked jokes that likened leading a faculty to herding cats or kangaroos. Looking back, I recognize in them a bit of bravado masking an awkward misalignment. Faculty are proudly autonomous, defiantly so, independent thinkers who give each other as much trouble as they give the administration when one or another of them raises a head above the herd in a gesture of leadership. Faculty are socialized as individuals, not as members of a group; taking a broader view runs against the grain for many of them, in the ways and for the reasons Hugh Heclo enumerates in his insightful book, On Thinking Institutionally. And yet the principle of “shared governance” requires a faculty capable of effective self-governance in partnership with professional administrators and a voluntary governing board.
The institution I was privileged to lead and others with which I’ve been affiliated have wonderful faculty – exceptionally engaged, responsible, and responsive in virtually every respect. Yet from the day I arrived on campus as a new president, I was schooled in a cultural norm that the better part of valor was to tiptoe around the faculty. It was as though "the faculty" as a whole was a hibernating bear no one dared disturb for fear of being mauled. I could see all the ways in which the faculty as a body – a "constituency" in academic parlance – was being watched, coddled, and handled with enormous investments of energy and studied restraint. Over time, as I became adept at reading the emotional force fields on campus, I realized that this strenuous effort was thinly masking an undercurrent of fear. And this, I have come to learn, is true to one degree or another through much of the academy.
The fear arises out of an intellectual culture that is awash in competition and critique, in picking ideas apart and taking no prisoners. Critical thinking and skepticism are the coins of the realm. But skepticism can devolve to cynicism, and criticism to contempt, an acrid brew of belligerence and disengagement that can poison morale and yield a system of self-governance far better suited to obstruction than construction. This is a pity because it matters, both educationally and strategically.
Educationally, students pay close attention to how the "grown ups" on campus behave. The academy remains arguably one of the last major sectors in American society still making a good-faith effort to both uphold and enact the view that in a healthy democracy we have obligations to one another. This includes the obligation to resolve differences by enabling the majority to form its collective judgment through meaningful discourse in which all relevant positions are fully aired. "A democracy needs citizens who can think for themselves rather than simply deferring to authority, who can reason together about their choices rather than just trading claims and counterclaims," Martha Nussbaum wrote in Cultivating Humanity.
Strategically, faculty governance bodies have pressing work to do in this era of shrinking resources and accelerating global competition. If they once routinely fostered authentic and serious public debate about real educational problems, discussion too often deteriorates, now, into something even less informative than a clash of competing claims, a spectacle more akin to disconnected “serial oratory.” At my own institution, and others I knew well, it was mystifying to see faculty members we revered for their pedagogic virtuosity – faculty who were creating in their private classrooms exquisitely hospitable venues for courageous exploration of controversial ideas – so stuck in old and unsatisfying habits when trying to resolve conflicts in the academic calendar, or come to terms with grade inflation, or revise the curriculum.
These discussions moved painfully slowly and unpredictably. Often a lone, loud voice or a mobilized minority faction would hijack the conversation in the eleventh hour. I couldn’t help but wonder, at these times, whether this would be happening if the faculty as a whole were more vividly experiencing itself weighing evidence and making wise choices on matters of curricular or educational consequence and then feeling bound to one another by their collective decisions.
Many faculty are increasingly conscious of imbalances within their own ranks, frustrations they discuss privately with deans or presidents hoping for a simple solution from on high. Rarely do they come together to explore their mutual accountabilities: to one another, to their departments, to their disciplines, and to students other than those they see directly in their own classes, offices, studios or labs. Some carry a disproportionate load for their institution as a whole, while others seem to ride more or less free. Disparities of this kind seem to be widening.
When one or another faculty member would bring an injustice or a dispute to the administration for adjudication, I often felt tempted to weigh in with what looked like decisiveness. I learned, though, that only the faculty had the power to resolve differences among themselves. The impulse that flows from perceived inequities is to tighten central controls. But that only exacerbates the problem. People who feel under surveillance resist authority, or withdraw, or both, feeding a vicious cycle: more controls, less commitment. Rather than acquiesce in the imposition of more central controls, faculty themselves would do well to shore up their own systems of citizenship, taking account of the increasing complexity of faculty work, while recognizing that the institution’s continued success will require ever greater interdependence.
In some schools, the economic downturn has brought faculty into new relationships with the administration and the trustees on budgetary decision-making, strengthening their roles in shared governance, at least for a time; in others, the reverse has occurred. As financial and competitive pressures continue to bear down on all institutions of higher learning, the incremental changes many have been making to ride out the recession – draining reserve accounts, deferring maintenance, making across-the-board budget reductions, reducing staff, relying more on contingent faculty – are likely to shift more work onto faculty shoulders and erode the quality of their work lives. If budgets have to be trimmed further, it’s hard to imagine finding additional economies without reconsidering the organization of the educational enterprise itself and the assumptions behind it: how students learn, how faculty teach, the nature of the curriculum, how everyone uses time.
I worry that the professoriate may be standing at the threshold of a shake-down as disruptive as was the restructuring of medical work that began in the 1970s when health care costs began to spiral out of control, the process that Paul Starr analyzed with such foresight in The Social Transformation of American Medicine. And I worry that colleges and universities with strong faculty – brilliant scholars, devoted teachers, radical individualists, and stubborn skeptics who treasure autonomy, resist authority, distrust power, and who love their institutions as they have known them – may find it especially difficult to bring faculty together, bring departments together and make timely, wise, informed and realistic choices about a future worth having.
Over the next decade, colleges and universities are likely to need greater flexibility, organizational resilience and openness to new ideas, and, at the same time, stronger internal systems of shared responsibility, accountability, collaboration and communication. They will need to become more fluid learning organizations, better positioned to capitalize on the forces of change, and better able to make and defend potentially divisive choices, while remaining true to the purposes that will ensure continued success.
Faculty will need to be clearer about those purposes and about the essential ingredients of the education they want their students to expect and receive – an integrative education that prepares new generations to take their places in a world of mounting complexity, interdependency, inequality ... urgency. They will need to do a better job of modeling the serious engagement of their own differences that integrative learning clearly implies and that enlightened organizational stewardship absolutely necessitates.
Diana Chapman Walsh
Diana Chapman Walsh served as president of Wellesley College from 1993 to 2007.