Faculty members at the University of Washington voted down a controversial plan to address salary compression, a common term for when junior faculty members make close to or more than what senior professors are paid due to changes in the market between points of hire. About 58 percent of eligible, full-time faculty members at Washington’s Seattle, Tacoma and Bothell campuses participated in the online vote; the tally was 1,328 for the plan and 1,356 against, with 58 abstentions. The initiative, which included a peer-approval mechanism for tiered and retention raises, needed a two-thirds majority of affirmative votes from those casting ballots to pass.
Gautham P. Reddy, a professor of radiology at Seattle and a member of the Washington Faculty Senate’s executive committee, said he agreed with the outcome. While faculty members in some schools and colleges would benefit from a new faculty salary policy, he said, “the proposal would not have worked well for some of our academic units, including the medical school, some of our other professional schools and our fast-growing campuses in Bothell and Tacoma.” The Senate is expected to continue working on salary compression issues next year.
Gail Stygall, a professor of English at the Seattle campus who supported the plan, said Washington knows salary compression is a serious concern, and that she hoped a feasible plan to address it would soon emerge. In the meantime, she said, “We’ll struggle onward.”
Linda P. B. Katehi, who was suspended as chancellor of the University of California, Davis, in April, spent more than $17,000 to send aides to Switzerland, Texas and Maryland to learn more about social media, The Sacramento Bee reported. The trips were part of an effort by Katehi to improve the university's image. The trip to Switzerland was prompted by a visit Katehi made there to Nestlé's Digital Acceleration Lab, which monitors all forms of media for the company. Katehi's spokesman said that the trip was part of an important effort to see if similar programs could work for Davis.
Earl H. Potter III, president of St. Cloud State University, died Monday night as a result of injuries in a car crash. He was driving to Minneapolis-St. Paul for a meeting with the university's foundation board chair. A biography on the university's website notes many accomplishments since he became president there in 2007.
A University of Alabama student who recently studied abroad has the Zika virus, AL.com reported. Officials said they could not provide details on the student but noted that most people with the virus recover quickly. The university has notified all students who recently returned from Central and South America, Mexico, and the Caribbean, and recommended testing for any experiencing symptoms. The virus has been linked to birth defects, and so exposure is considered particularly dangerous to women who are or plan to become pregnant.
This month has opened with another two-step in the national campaign. Donald Trump throws out a blunt allegation, and the news media and political class rise in sputtering indignation. Trump has questioned the fitness of Judge Gonzalo Curiel to preside over the Trump University lawsuit. Judge Curiel has Mexican-American parents, and Trump believes his plans to build a wall on the border with Mexico bias the judge's decision making. An NPR story on the matter cites Trump referring to Judge Curiel in a speech in San Diego as “a hater of Donald Trump, a hater.” On CNN, he accused the judge of issuing “very unfair rulings, rulings that people can’t even believe.”
Response has ranged from dismay to outrage on both left and right. John Kasich thinks Trump should “apologize to Judge Curiel and try to unite this country.” At Slate, Dahlia Lithwick, always a reliable voice against Republican villainy, opens, “No truly sane person can defend Donald Trump's vile, racist slander against Gonzalo Curiel.”
Anyone who has worked in academe for a measure of time has to wonder at the shock and ire of these critics. What's the big deal? We have heard the premise of Trump's gripe repeated so many times that it has become a standard part of the stagecraft of public and private debate. No concept has undergone more dismantling in the last half century than objectivity. And no criticism against objectivity has had greater popular impact than the one that says judgment is inevitably swayed by racial/ethnic/gender/sexual factors.
That line of thinking is the sole legal basis for affirmative action in college admissions, for instance. In her 2003 decision in Grutter v. Bollinger, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor acknowledged "one's own, unique experience of being a racial minority in a society, like our own, in which race unfortunately still matters." The racial diversification of the student body, the court ruled, means the diversification of experiences, which enhances the education of everyone. College and universities may practice discrimination because of the reality of racially conditioned minds.
The grounds for that assumption reach back to the Marx and Freud, among others, especially to their critique of the liberal dream of cognitive freedom. The dream allowed that, with enough education and a cosmopolitan disposition, you could transcend your circumstances and reach an unbiased viewpoint. Familial, tribal and national interests would fade, identitarian limits (racial, etc.) would fall away, and a universal human eye would be achieved.
Readers of Inside Higher Ed don't need a rehearsal of how that objectivity collapsed. Hegel historicized it, Marx materialized it, Freud psychoanalyzed it. Forever after, the liberal mind was considered a pretense -- an effort to transcend history, class or psychic repression. Race/class/gender/sexuality critics of the 1980s and ’90s gave these grand undoings an identity twist, an easy step to take in the wake of civil rights, women's lib and the Gay Liberation Front.
Many years ago, in a speech at a law conference, Sonia Sotomayor gave the identity theory a clear and simple expression that is now one of the canons of our age: “Our gender and national origins may and will make a difference in our judging. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see …. I wonder whether by ignoring our differences as women or men of color we do a disservice both to the law and society.”
Donald Trump has done nothing more than to accept Justice Sotomayor’s point. But he has broken a taboo. For identity arguments are not equal opportunity. You can raise the objectivity problem when a white man is in power, but you may not do so when a woman or person of color is in power. In other words, Trump has crossed one of the prohibitions that sustain the identity regime. He dares to challenge a man of color on the grounds of his color; also, he reveals the double standards of those who routinely challenge white men on the grounds of their color (and sex).
The dismay on the right comes less from taboo sources than from a philosophical and a tactical source. First, conservatives don’t like identity politics. As Ian Tuttle put it in National Review, Trump’s charge “plays into the left’s identity-politics game, in which one’s heritage or sex determines whether one can render a fair judgment.” Second, Republican politicians fear the “racist” tag because they believe it leads to lost votes. The left has put them fully on the defensive on the issue, and their handlers tell them that the Hispanic bloc is crucial to success in 2016 and beyond.
My prediction is that this controversy will pass like all the rest. Trump’s supporters know that the right’s standard response to identity politics -- to refuse them -- hasn’t slowed their progress one bit. Group thinking and the bad-straight-white-male image have never enjoyed so much popularity. I believed in 1992 that nobody but a transient subset of humanities professors would pay attention to identity theory after the fashion went away, but I was wrong. The feminism and neopragmatism and critical race theory and queer theory that assailed objectivity and dominated the seminar room have settled into dogma in the press, the courtroom, the art world, the White House. The counterculture is now the hegemony.
Trump is an intervention in that spread. He breaks the rules, breaches decorum, says the unsayable. He is precisely the transgressive figure that critical theory in the ’90s exalted. If they were principled in their assumptions, academic theorists wouldn’t join the universal denunciation of Donald Trump by the elite and the establishment. They would situate him in a framework of taboo and totem, interdiction, madness and civilization, or the scapegoat. I’m pretty sure that if Foucault were alive today, he would have been fascinated and amused by the phenomenon of the Republican primary winner -- and utterly bored by the other side.
Mark Bauerlein is professor of English at Emory University and co-editor (with Adam Bellow) of The State of the American Mind (Templeton, 2015).