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Report: Students Prefer College App's Academic Features

A report by DubLabs, a provider of personalized campus mobile applications, said that a majority of the students the company surveyed use their campus mobile app to stay on top of assignments, and that learners preferred the app's academic features over its social elements. When asked to rate the importance of each feature, respondents cited:

Shuttered Military College Can't Pay Faculty

Wentworth Military Academy and College, now defunct, reportedly can’t afford to pay its former faculty members, as it previously promised. Michael Lierman, college president, told faculty members via email in mid-May that they’d continue being paid until the end of their contracts, and the campus closed two weeks later, according to the Associated Press. But a campus caretaker emailed instructors at the end of June, saying that Wentworth doesn’t have the money to make additional salary payments now. The academy’s board hopes to liquidate campus assets and collect unpaid tuition to honor the duration of faculty contracts. An attorney for the Missouri college, which dates back to 1880, did not respond to requests for comment.

Wentworth announced it was closing in April, citing lowered enrollments, rising costs and an aging campus, the AP reported. Some 220 cadets were boarding there at the time, most of them two-year college students. Several hundred civilians also were enrolled in college courses there. The Higher Learning Commission placed Wentworth on ongoing probation in 2015 over concerns about finances and resources to support academic programs.

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The importance of the unsparing reprimand in students' learning and growth

A couple months ago, I got in the mail something that members of the graduating class of 2017 will start receiving soon, namely the alumni magazine from my undergraduate institution. In a moment of nostalgia some years back, I made a small donation and now have a correspondence for life with Gonzaga University, a small liberal arts college in Spokane, Wash., run by the Jesuits. In its commitment to a broad liberal arts education, Gonzaga is a lot like the place I have spent most of my academic career, Brandeis University -- though with different religious holidays.

Anyway, the latest edition of the Gonzaga magazine contained some sad tidings. A professor I remembered quite well, Reverend Frank Costello, S.J., had passed away. When I did the subtraction and figured out how old he was when he taught me, I was little startled to learn that he was two decades younger than I am now -- and of course he seemed as old as Methuselah to my classmates and me. Father Costello exemplified the best in old-school Jesuit rigor, the kind of man who took both of his vocations -- as priest and professor -- seriously. And he did not suffer foolishness gladly.

I learned just how ungladly during the first semester of my freshman year. I forget the class and the book we were talking about, but during the discussion of the assigned text, some guileless freshman raised his hand and said, “I haven’t finished the book yet, but I think --”

At which point Father Costello cut him off and said, “If you haven’t finished the book yet, then you should remain silent and listen to those of us who have.”

That guileless freshman was me. It was a public dressing-down, and I didn’t feel good about it, but I remember that from then on I tended to come to class a lot better prepared -- and if I wasn’t, I kept my mouth shut. To my credit (if I do say so myself) I was old enough to receive the rebuke not in a spirit of resentment -- which probably would have been my response a couple of years earlier -- but as the adult I was becoming. I took it to heart as fair warning. I wasn’t in high school anymore; this was a university seminar, not a place of unconditional love and support. I was in the big leagues.

Father Costello was not a mean-spirited man, and he delivered the rebuke matter-of-factly because he had been coping with similarly guileless freshmen throughout his teaching career. At the same time, in laying down the law, he wasn’t particularly concerned with my feelings or the post-traumatic emotional stress that may have been triggered by his remarks.

If you are over a certain age, you may remember a similar moment from your own education -- a sharp reprimand from a teacher, a coach, a boss -- and if, like me, you were of a certain age, you responded not with petulance but by trying to get your act together.

You can probably see where I am going with this. I wonder if the current atmosphere on American college campuses encourages or even tolerates the kind of unsparing rebuke from a professor that many of us remember as necessary and salutary. Lately, throughout higher education, the face-off between intellectual rigor and emotional sensitivity has tilted decisively toward the second half of the equation.

Traditionally, American universities have always celebrated and nurtured the first half: smarts over sentiment. They prided themselves on sharpening the critical intelligence and cultivating a free-floating exchange of ideas. At Brandeis, that dedication is emblazoned in the school motto: “Truth even unto its innermost parts.” The key word there is “even” -- as in, even if it is unpleasant, even if it challenges your preconceptions, even if it really hurts your feelings and even if it makes you feel spatially unsafe.

Such stern principles were not unique to Brandeis. The mottos and mission statements of most American universities expressed a clear-eyed commitment to the life of the mind, not a doe-eyed celebration of the emotions, still less the elevation of personal feelings as a moral absolute, the trump card that defeats all other arguments: “That offends me.” Presidents, provosts, deans and faculty members dedicated themselves to open inquiry, spirited debate and, as per the Declaration of Independence, a decent respect for the opinions of others. They understood in their bones that the corruption of a culture begins with the corruption of public discourse -- and they believed that the university was the designated custodian of critical thinking, congenial dialogue and, on occasion, the speaking of unpleasant and unpopular truths.

As anyone with cable news access or a Twitter feed knows, the American university is not in particularly good odor right now on matters of tolerance and free expression. Neither is the present generation of undergraduates, who tend to be portrayed as waspish scolds or delicate snowflakes. While the bad reputation of both is partly a news-media construct, there is enough on-the-ground confirmation to make anyone committed to the values embedded in the Brandeis motto a bit apprehensive. Some of the surrender to rigor and the accommodation to sensitivity is merely silly, such as the infantilizing “trigger warnings” that junior faculty feel compelled to put on their syllabi by way of CYA: (“Students who have been whipped by their father may be disturbed by certain passages in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”).

Some of it, however, is more sinister and corrosive, manifesting itself in a refusal to engage minority opinions or hear out the people who express them. The mobs of know-nothings at Middlebury College, where a controversial social scientist was shouted down and his faculty escort assaulted, and at Evergreen State College, where a biology professor has been hounded out of his classroom for objecting to exclusionary practices based on race, are two recent, and sadly not atypical, examples.

For what it is worth, I have never confronted in my own students any of the fierce anti-intellectualism that seems to be have afflicted at least some of their peers. But lately I have begun to encounter a new degree of trepidation -- and maybe the whiff of fear -- in the classroom.

For years, I’ve been teaching the 1939 MGM epic Gone With the Wind. Of course, the film is a hallucination in Technicolor, awash in offensive stereotypes and Confederate revisionism. Still, as perhaps the most popular film in the classical Hollywood canon, it warrants attention in the undergraduate curriculum. Besides, I’ve always found GWTW a surefire catalyst for animated discussion and impassioned essays.

After the students have absorbed the nearly four-hour tour through David O. Selznick and Margaret Mitchell’s version of the Old South, I focus on two scenes calculated to raise the classroom temperature: one highlighting the issue of race, the other of gender. The first features Hattie McDaniel, who plays the slave/servant Mammy, in dialogue with Clark Gable as Rhett Butler. I explain that the critical reaction to McDaniel’s character tends to divide along two lines: first, that Mammy is a racist and offensive caricature, period; and second, that McDaniel so powerfully controls her screen space that the performance undercuts the demeaning role she is required to play.

The second clip unspools the famous scene where Rhett claims his then-lawful prerogative as a husband, overpowering a struggling Scarlett O’Hara and carrying her upstairs to the marriage bed and a presumably coerced consummation. But the next morning, Scarlett is aglow in postcoital satisfaction. What gives?

As a teacher, all I want is for the students to look at the film, engage the questions and venture an opinion. In the past, they have always done so. Yet the last time I taught the film and asked for reactions, I got silence -- a nervous, queasy silence. They seemed afraid to talk lest they say the wrong thing and offend -- another student? A campus consensus?

They certainly weren’t afraid of me. I would never snap at a student for venturing an opinion. But, in the future, I think perhaps I should rebuke them for being so sensitive -- even if it might hurt their feelings.

Thomas Doherty is a professor of American studies at Brandeis University.

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Colleges award tenure

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Southern Methodist University

  • Karisa Cloward, political science
  • Archie Cummings, theater
  • Amy Freund, art history
  • Jon Hackler, theater
  • Erin Hochman, history
  • Chris Jenks, law
  • Chrystyna Kouros, psychology
  • Peter Kupfer, musicology
  • Barry Lee, mathematics
  • Brian Molanphy, art
  • Benno Rumpf, mathematics
  • Jayson Sae-Saue, English
  • Brian Zoltowski, chemistry

University of Colorado at Boulder

Faculty members who have been lead critics of administration lose jobs at Sierra Nevada

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Six full-time professors -- including leaders of efforts to question administration -- lose jobs.

Do legislators think some types of speech should be more free than others? (essay)

It is clear that lawmakers in Wisconsin and elsewhere are attempting to achieve politically neutral college campuses in the name of “protecting” free speech -- campuses where all speech is considered equally valuable, no matter how morally repugnant, intellectually empty and psychologically dangerous.

See, for example, Charles Murray’s The Bell Curve, which argues that race and class significantly influence intelligence. I highlight it here, as it is one of the more recent examples out of Wisconsin -- and is a form of speech that gloms on to the belief that white men are morally, intellectually and psychologically superior to anyone not white and male.

Yet The Bell Curve is certainly not the only example of the kind of speech that our white male-dominated Wisconsin Legislature wishes to see protected by way of illegalizing even the mildest of opposition (as though there are not already mechanisms in place to deal with activities that are actually considered illegal, such as violent protest). Such speech is now closer to protection from opposition, as Assembly Bill 299 sits before the State Senate, having achieved a 61-36 vote in favor of its passage.

That being said, what if The Bell Curve argued the exact opposite: that white men are scientifically proven to be morally, intellectually and psychologically inferior to their nonwhite, nonmale counterparts? Moreover, would those in favor of the measures proposed in the bill stand quite as determinedly behind campus speech that wishes to highlight the radicalization of young white men? What about speech equating whites and white supremacy with terrorism? To what extent would proponents of such measures sit idly by as their identity is marginalized, minoritized, threatened and called into question by people who claim to know better, as has historically been the case for people of color and marginalized populations?

In sum, whose speech is free? Whose speech does Assembly Bill 299 protect?

There is no such thing as a politically neutral campus. No speech is neutral, no message free of ideology and power relations. To speak at a college campus or educational institution is to encourage thought in one direction or another. To illegalize protest and campus activism in the name of neutrality is also a political stance -- a politics of silencing. Moreover, it is to delude the public into believing that a depoliticized campus is possible when “forced” to become one by law: an exercise deeply dependent upon civic illiteracy.

That fact is that when you have values -- whether as a lawmaker, campus visitor, student, faculty member or administrator -- you have politics.

Consider the irony embedded in the stance held by proponents who wish to see opposition to culturally toxic and damaging speech illegalized. They support Wisconsin’s attempts to “protect” free speech at the same time lawmakers have eliminated tenure protections for educators and researchers across the state, thereby threatening intellectual and academic freedoms -- again, the same sorts of freedoms I presume they wish to see “protected.”

If lawmakers and their constituents want so badly to see speech “protected,” can I count on them to stand beside me when my academic and public articles about white privilege and white supremacy fall into the wrong hands, thereby resulting in threats to my livelihood and well-being -- in much the way Sarah Bond received threats of violence for daring to suggest that classical statues and their symbolic whiteness were not actually conceived that way by their artisans? Have these same proponents of free speech stood behind Bond? Or have they stood behind Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, the Princeton University professor who dared to comment on the state of affairs surrounding this nation’s current presidency? Is such speech not deserving of the same protections that legislators in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Virginia and elsewhere envision? If not, why not?

Moreover, will proponents stand with me should Wisconsin’s Board of Regents make decisions about my future -- decisions not in my favor -- if and when they disagree with my research and teaching about whiteness and white supremacy, an objectively large and growing field of study dating as far back as the beginning of the 20th century? Will they pull for me when groups like Professor Watchlist and The College Fix publish something critical about me and my work?

Am I being cynical as I presume to know the answers to these questions?

Make absolutely no mistake: to claim neutrality is a political act; to develop and enforce laws in pursuit of the myth of neutrality is a political act; to illegalize protest is a political act. To silence opposition is a political act. To support campus speech while railing against tenure protections is a political act and also a blatant exercise in hypocrisy.

I am not sure that it’s “free speech” proponents of Assembly Bill 299 purport to want to protect as much as they wish to support perspectives that have only ever advantaged them and the bill’s beneficiaries at the expense of social progress. Rather than hide behind a thinly veiled commitment to free speech, they might ask themselves: Which speech do I want protected on college campuses, and at whose expense? Whose speech do I want protected, and at what social cost?

Those running the show in Wisconsin have presented to us, practically on a silver platter, one of the starkest cases of hypocrisy embedded in the politics of free speech across the country. One cannot support free speech and debate on campuses while unraveling tenure protections and intellectual freedoms for faculty. Unless, of course, it is a particular brand of speech that proponents are after -- and that represents a devastating social commentary about those who deserve protection and those who simply do not.

Christina Berchini is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin at Eau Claire.

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Academics who speak out against injustice are experiencing a backlash (essay)

Faculty members, particularly those of color, have suffered a backlash for speaking out against injustices, denying them opportunities for professional growth and advancement, writes Sandy Grande.

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Academic Blackballing

Why "Game of Thrones" shouldn't be used in an effort to recruit future medievalists (essay)

In May, Olivia B. Waxman reported for Time magazine on a fall 2017 class to be taught at Harvard University. The class is called The Real Game of Thrones: From Modern Myths to Medieval Models and will be collaboratively taught by Sean Gilsdorf, a medieval historian, and Racha Kirakosian, a specialist in German studies and religion. Waxman’s short article is part of a veritable media avalanche readying us for the beginning of season seven of the successful HBO series July 16. After all, GoT airs in more than 170 countries, has won more Emmys than any other prime-time series and is simply “the world’s most popular show” ever.

With their field suffering from the significant downward drift in student interest for humanities disciplines in the last decade, some medievalists have been eager to embrace the exceptional popularity of GoT. This summer’s International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds in Great Britain, for example, featured a replica of the famous Iron Throne from the series. More seriously, in a 2015 report on a meeting about the career chances of young medievalists, Lisa Fagin Davis, the executive director of the Medieval Academy of America, summarized her colleagues’ (albeit anecdotal) claims that shows like GoT may well have increased undergraduate demand for medieval studies courses. Confident in the appeal of her area of specialty as well as her colleagues’ qualities as classroom teachers, she stated, “We all know that once we get them in the door, they will want to be medievalists.”

The instructors of the fall 2017 Harvard seminar, who are similarly outspoken about their class as a “recruitment tool” for medieval studies and the humanities, tell us what they intend to do once they have lured the undergraduates “in the door”: to demonstrate how the TV show “echoes and adapts, as well as distorts the history and culture of the ‘medieval world’ of Eurasia from c. 400 to 1500 CE.”

I have two objections to this approach: first of all, I don’t think that our most noble goal as educators should be the survival of our own discipline. Such an attitude may have been acceptable during the pioneer days of installing the humanities at the newly reformed universities of the late 19th century. And even then, the likes of Richard Wagner and Friedrich Nietzsche accused humanities scholars of “being of use only to themselves” while scholars of law, theology and medicine remained connected with the general public by producing judges, lawyers, priests and medical doctors. Today, we understand too much about the constructed nature of historical periods and academic disciplines not to realize that the Middle Ages may be, as Nancy Partner once aptly put it, an “amoebic construct justified by nothing firmer than the uneven thinning out and eventual demise of Roman provincial government in Western Europe for a beginning, and, at the other end, the self-congratulating pronouncements of a few Italian intellectuals” who maintained they “definitely wrote better Latin than anyone who had lived since Cicero.”

My second objection against turning GoT into a “gateway drug” for making future medievalists is that neither the TV show nor George R. R. Martin’s narrative is really situated in “the ‘medieval world’ of Eurasia from c. 400 to 1500 CE.” True, Martin has claimed that the fictional societies he created are “strongly grounded in history” and meant to serve as a corrective against what he calls the “Disneyland Middle Ages” abounding with “princes, princesses and knights in shining armor.” However, unlike the similarly gritty anti-Disney series The Last Kingdom (BBC, 2015) or Vikings (History, 2013), which fictionalize identifiable historical persons, eras, events and regions, GoT is completely devoid of such authenticating anchors. Instead, it offers a world that is self-contained, with its own geography, languages, cultures and distinct nonhistorical temporality -- a place entirely “neo,” so to speak. Rather than creating traditional kinds of historical authenticity and authority, it engages in a myriad of cultural references that have a vaguely medieval feel (by the way, I think it’s a premodern feel, because the show also echoes the Wars of the Roses and imperial Rome).

GoT, thus, presents a simulacrum of the medieval -- neither an original nor the copy of an original. The most prominent precursor for this “neo” world is, of course, the one created by J. R. R. Tolkien, whose characters, plots and themes, infused as they originally were by Tolkien’s own academic study of the Middle Ages, now independently and contingently populate thousands of computer games and other neomedievalist cultural productions.

If I am right about GoT’s neomedievalist core, applying the traditional methods of literary studies, folklore or history may not be particularly effective at helping students make sense of it. The Harvard instructors, for example, seem to place particular emphasis on demonstrating to their students the epistemological superiority of original medieval texts and artifacts. As one of them explains, “When I read medieval verse epics with my students, they’d say, ‘Oh, that’s like in Game of Thrones.’ No, if anything at all, it’s the other way around. Isn’t it partly our job [as professors] to use that interest and go deeper?”

Going deeper here means, in a troublingly originalist sense, that including GoT in a college classroom should serve to identify a contemporary production’s distinct sources and analogues in medieval history, literature, religion and legend. The goal of the serious medievalist seems to be to move swiftly from the reel to the real Middle Ages, to abandon the shadowy postmodern representations of medieval culture to focus on medieval culture’s own self-understandings. The latter, although of course also highly subjective, seem to offer more truth value by virtue of being “old” (and within the instructor’s area of expertise).

Please don’t get me wrong: I do not advocate against medievalists’ involvement in reading and critiquing GoT. Quite the opposite. And I do not advocate against reading GoT against the backdrop of medieval sources and analogues. However, that can only be the beginning. After all, none of the main causes advanced to account for GoT’s popularity (attractive world building, thriller-fiction pacing, complex characters, sexposition, bait-and-switch plot, escapist fantasy, intricate power play, clever play with archetypes, diverse female characters, guilt-free barbarism and violence, Sopranos-like family drama) is exclusively related to medieval culture.

Clearly, an impactful cultural phenomenon like GoT deserves to be read as a self-standing cultural artifact, not as a derivative of its potential medieval models or a pretext for sustaining an academic discipline. So far, too often, medievalists have shown a narrowly parasitic relationship with medievalist and neomedievalist cultural productions. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose (1980), Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon (1983), Mel Gibson’s Braveheart (1995), Brian Helgeland’s A Knight’s Tale (2001), J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter (1997-2007) or Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur: Legend of the Sword (2017) were a) used mainly to show the continued relevance of medieval studies and b) subjected to the same binary academic reception: What’s authentic and nonauthentic; what distorts history, and what doesn’t?

Instead of such an uninspiring approach, we should rather ask, why do our societies continually seek to connect with their premodern roots, consciously or unconsciously? What imagined aspects of premodern culture continually attract reinvention, recreation, re-enactment and re-present-ation, and why? And how does the centuries-long reception of premodern texts drive the work of contemporary artists, writers and scholars? I predict that answering these more complex questions will better demonstrate the value the humanities add to a college education.

Richard Utz is professor and chair in the School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Tech and Johann von Spix Visiting Professor at the University of Bamberg, Germany.

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How to find mentors and be a good one yourself (essay)

What sustains faculty members are relationships with others, write Jennifer Lundquist and Joya Misra, who outline how to identify mentors and how to be a better one yourself.

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Faculty-to-Faculty Mentoring

Union Contract Includes Gains for Duke Adjuncts

Duke University and its new part- and full-time non-tenure-track faculty union reached a “historic” agreement, the bargaining unit announced Wednesday. The tentative three-year deal would be the first faculty union contract at a major private university in the South, according to Service Employees International Union, with which the Duke instructors are affiliated.

The contract would cover 275 professors and include job stability in the form of multiyear teaching appointments and pay increases of up to 46 percent for the lowest-paid instructors (the average per-course pay increase would be 14 percent over three years and 12 percent for salaried instructors). Other gains include Duke employee benefits, pay protections for canceled courses and a professional development fund. Duke declined to comment on the deal until it is ratified, according to The News & Observer.

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