Jan Schuette will depart as dean of the American Film Institute Conservatory at the end of the academic year, the institution announced Monday. Schuette has led the institution since 2014 but butted heads with faculty members, who voted 35 to eight earlier this year to express no confidence in him and request that he resign. Faculty concerns included those over shared governance, due process, academic freedom and instruction. Schuette said he plans to continue working in academia, as well as resume his professional career as a filmmaker and producer.
The Vassar College faculty has approved a plan to shrink the teaching load to four classes per year, from five, while adding a new student supervisory requirement. The plan, referred to as 2-2-1, also includes cutting the number of units students need to graduate. The vote was 135 in favor and 40 opposed, with one abstention. Though it passed by a relatively wide margin, with faculty proponents emphasizing a renewed commitment to one-on-one interaction with students, the plan has been controversial and remains so, to some. “My fear that Vassar's bad example could start a trend” among selective colleges, Donald Foster, Jean Webster Professor of Dramatic Literature, said via email.
New York University is further challenging a professor’s contention that he was encouraged to take time off after a diversity committee criticized his comments on an anonymous Twitter account and in a student newspaper. The university on Friday released a set of emails between the professor and his dean that suggest the professor requested leave and denied an opportunity to return to campus immediately.
Both Michael Rectenwald (right), a clinical assistant professor of liberal studies, and the university have said the paid leave was voluntary, but Rectenwald has said publicly that he was strongly encouraged to temporarily leave campus after it was revealed that he was Deplorable NYU Prof, the alias behind the Twitter account @antipcnyuprof. The account is critical of safe spaces, trigger warnings and NYU’s administration, among other topics.
In an op-ed in The Washington Post published late last week, for example, Rectenwald wrote, “I’ve become a campus pariah to some (and a hero, perhaps, to a few) in my nontenured NYU faculty job, thanks to the humorless, social justice warrior-brand of campus culture run amok and a misunderstanding about a Twitter account. Enmeshed in a conspiracy -- thinly disguised as sympathy -- of my colleagues’ design, I feel I’ve lost my academic freedom and I potentially stand to lose my appointment.”
The emails between Rectenwald and his dean, Fred Schwarzbach, paint a somewhat different picture. Early last week, for example, Schwarzbach wrote, “Contrary to what you have been saying publicly, we don't give leaves based on faculty members’ posts on social media. … If you no longer wish to take leave, please indicate so in writing to me immediately and we will make all the necessary arrangements to allow you to resume your classes and other duties immediately.” Rectenwald responded that he’d “tried to represents the facts of my leave truthfully, while also merely attempting to respond to the committee on diversity, which took such a potshot at me and with such a lack of collegiality. And I wanted to make my position on the whole trigger warning, safe space and bias reporting culture clear.”
Nancy Shurtz, a law professor at the University of Oregon, has issued an apology for a Halloween costume she wore featuring blackface. Shurtz has been placed on paid leave over the incident, which has led many at the university to call for her to resign. An image of her at the party (at right) has circulated widely on social media.
Her statement, in full: “During a Halloween party I hosted at my house, I wore a costume inspired by a book I highly admire, Dr. Damon Tweedy’s memoir, Black Man in a White Coat.I intended to provoke a thoughtful discussion on racism in our society, in our educational institutions and in our professions. As part of my costume, I applied black makeup to my face and wore a white coat and stethoscope. In retrospect, my decision to wear black makeup was wrong. It provoked a discussion of racism, but not as I intended. I am sorry for the resultant hurt and anger inspired by this event. It is cruelly ironic that this regrettable episode began with my admiration for a book that explores important aspects of race relations in our society, but ended up creating toxic feelings within our community. I intended to create a conversation about inequity, racism and our white blindness to them. Regrettably, I became an example of it. This has been a remarkable learning experience for me. I hope that all who are hurt or angered by my costume will accept my apology. I meant no harm to them or others. Out of respect for all involved, I will make no further comments to the media until the university’s investigation is completed.”
Faculty members at the financially imperiled College of New Rochelle were surprised late last week to find that their names had been taken out of online course listings showing options for students to take next semester.
The discovery set off worries about the future of the college days after it released details of a financial crisis that trustees have said will require substantial cost cutting. Faculty members also wondered how they were to advise students on which courses to take without knowing who would be teaching.
But the college said Friday that the removal of names was a mistake. Names were being added back to listed courses, according to a spokesman.
New Rochelle abruptly announced the resignation of President Judith Huntington in October after its Board of Trustees learned about “significant unmet financial obligations.” Trustees shared details of the financial issues last week, saying the college owes $20 million after not making payroll taxes for two years. The college also has more than $11 million in other debts and liabilities.
The college has said it is still reviewing the circumstances that led to the financial crisis but that preliminary findings show there is a path forward for New Rochelle to remain a stand-alone institution. It has indicated it needs substantial outside funding and cuts, however.
Colleges and universities are grappling -- urgently, constantly and necessarily -- with the problem of campus sexual assault. While higher education administrators are focusing, rightly, on what happens on campuses, in our classrooms and dorms and disciplinary meetings, this year’s presidential campaign has made clear (if it was not already) that the problem of sexual harassment, sexual assault and their enabling antecedents are widespread throughout American society.
That reality must inflect the way we approach Title IX concerns at our institutions. Given that sexual violence, harassment and misogyny are such pervasive problems, addressing them at a college level must take a similarly broad-based approach -- including the ways we educate students about everything, not just gender.
In the wake of the leak of the now-infamous Access Hollywood tape of Donald Trump describing his behavior toward women -- which Trump tried to dismiss as “locker room talk” -- women of all ages, stages and walks of life have been testifying to their experience of sexual harassment and assault. In response to the leaked tape, hundreds of thousands flooded Twitter with their stories of sexual assault. The effect has been breathtaking, both for the sheer number of people speaking out -- the disgusting and terrifying accounts, the horrifyingly quotidian nature of so much of the harassment -- and for the fact that they took place at all stages of people’s lives, when they were children, teenagers, middle-aged, senior citizens and college students.
To recognize that fact is certainly not to absolve institutions of higher education of the responsibility of making sure that the way we approach the problem is as just and effective as possible. That should be our utmost concern. But we would be naïve to think that we can extricate what happens on our campuses from the larger cultures and webs of experience that determine how our students think about, and react to, instances of harassment, misogyny and gendered violence.
As hard as we try, four years of sexual assault prevention programs during college will not, on their own, change that landscape. On the contrary, the kinds of education that we need to order to undo centuries of acculturation must start as early as preschool, when children are starting to pick up information about gender expectations and roles, and continue in robust and age-appropriate sex ed programs as early as elementary school.
It also means that we in higher education have to consider our role in ways that exceed traditional sexual assault prevention programs. We must think beyond a model that puts the onus entirely on student life programs, even excellent ones, toward a more holistic one that foregrounds the structural inequalities that shape our world. Our driving question must be: How do we give our students the tools they need to identify, analyze, engage and eventually dismantle those structures that may foster gender inequality (and the intersecting issues of race, sexuality, class, immigrant experience) -- both on their campuses, where they will spend four very important years of their lives, and in the world, where they will spend many more?
We simply can’t rely solely on student life counselors and Title IX officers to do this work -- although they have crucial roles to play. Rather, this work must happen both in and beyond the classroom, across disciplines -- in math and science as much as in gender studies -- and through myriad experiences so that we can be fully mindful of the ways in which gender informs all of our work and all of our thinking. If we are to fully grapple with the ways in which gender and racial inequalities are structural, we must examine every single structure -- not only within our colleges but also outside them. We must think about how knowledge is formed, how institutions are created and reproduced, and how resources are allocated -- so that when our students confront moments of injustice while they’re on campuses and after they leave them, they will have tools to grapple with such injustice and perhaps even undo it.
A key step is to design an educational model that shifts power from the institution to the students, so that they learn that knowledge is not only something the institution bestows on them, but something they, too, have the capacity to create. Students who imagine education as a matter of checking off requirements or passing tests -- as opposed to identifying urgent questions and amassing the information and resources they need to answer those questions -- are not being trained to change institutions but to fit into them.
For colleges to make a lasting and significant contribution to the problem of sexual assault and gender inequality, we must educate students that institutions are made by people and can be transformed by people. That means changing the way we educate from the bottom up.
Mariko Silver is the president of Bennington College. Previously, she was a senior adviser to the president of Arizona State University and held leadership roles at Columbia University, in the Obama administration and in the administration of Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano.
Submitted by Mike Rose on November 7, 2016 - 3:00am
A while back, I was reading letters of support for an award, and one of the letters contained a demeaning characterization of the home academic department of the candidate. While praising the candidate to the skies, the letter writer portrayed the department -- one of great prestige outside the candidate’s university -- as being of marginal status in the eyes of people in other academic disciplines within the institution. The letter writer wanted to assure anonymous evaluators like me that the candidate was of much higher intellectual quality than the candidate’s discipline would suggest.
Boy, am I sick of this academic snobbery.
What I read is not without its irony, however -- worthy of the most trenchant portrayals of academic life. (Think David Lodge’s Small World or Richard Russo’s Straight Man.) The discipline of the snooty letter writer is one that I heard routinely ridiculed when I was studying and then teaching in an English department.
And so it goes in the academic status games.
Applied disciplines (such as journalism, nursing, management) have less status than “pure” ones: philosophy, biology, mathematics. And within disciplines, there is typically a status hierarchy, with theoretical pursuits having more dazzle than applied work. Art history and musicology trump the making of art or music. The theoretical mathematician has the status edge on the applied statistician. The literary theorist sits on a higher rung -- much higher -- than those in academe who teach writing.
Of course, such status dynamics are not absolute -- they are ignored, even subverted, by some faculty members, and an institution’s history and current reality come into play, as well. And in our era of the “entrepreneurial university” and economic accountability, traditional academic status markers might increasingly lessen in importance; what will count will be enrollment numbers and the employability prospects of a given major.
Still, as someone who has spent decades at a research university running a tutorial center and a freshman composition program, and then residing in a school of education -- all quite low in that disciplinary hierarchy -- I can tell you that judgments of intellectual virtue based on disciplinary affiliation are alive and well. They factor into all sorts of behaviors and decisions, from departmental funding to faculty promotion to the letters written for honors and awards -- like the one I read.
We have not even considered the more pronounced status differentials among various units at the college or university: for example, student services versus academic departments. And then there are the loaded status distinctions that people make among the different kinds of institutions of higher education in the United States: the community college versus the state college or university versus the research university -- with research universities scrambling to climb to the top of their own heap.
All professions generate status distinctions, so why should the field of higher education be any different? Fair enough; I take the point. But the thing that gets to me in all this is that distinctions are made through narrow and self-interested attributions of intelligence that hardly reflect the variety of ways people use their minds to acquire and apply knowledge, to reason, plan and solve problems. Furthermore, intelligence doesn’t reside inert in a discipline or a kind of work or in one segment of a system rather than another; intelligence emerges in activity and in context.
The attributions of intelligence I’m concerned with have much more to do with the preservation of power and prestige and turf rather than helping us all -- faculty members, administrators and students -- improve on what we do. Faculty members don’t get better at teaching by luxuriating in their bona fides or looking down on the department across the quad.
This last point about getting better at educating is at the center of a recent book by one of my colleagues at the University of California, Los Angeles, Alexander Astin, an expert on higher education in the United States. In Are You Smart Enough? Astin argues that colleges -- especially “elite” colleges -- are more concerned with acquiring status markers of intelligence (high GPAs and test scores among entering students, faculty publication numbers, and so on) rather than creating the conditions for students to become more intelligent during their time in college. Instead of the competing to attract students already identified as smart, Astin wonders, what if colleges put increased effort into helping more students become smarter through greater attention to teaching, mentoring and enrichment activities? It’s a provocative and important question.
Back now to that letter. Over the years, I’ve spent time in many sectors of higher education, from a medical school to a community college tutoring center, and one of the things that has most struck me is the distribution of intelligence across the domains of the enterprise. To be sure, I’ve observed the routine pursuit of trivial research, uninspired teaching, unimaginative management and tireless self-promotion. A whole host of sins spread across areas of study and levels of the system. But I’ve also witnessed insight and inspiration, deeply humane problem solving, and moments of brilliance in both a writing and a mathematics classroom, a counseling session, a meeting of tutorial center coordinators, a laboratory, and a library. No little domain has a lock on being smart.
Mike Rose is a research professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles, and author of Back to School: Why Everyone Deserves a Second Chance at Education and The Mind at Work: Valuing the Intelligence of the American Worker (The New Press, 2012).