Academic Minute: Collectivism and Individualism

In today’s Academic Minute, Steve Hirsch of Tufts University traces the historical roots of the societies based on individualism and collectivism. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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The dangers of shooting off your mouth on controversial topics (essay)

The renowned columnist P.J. O’Rourke wrote, “There is only one basic human right, the right to do as you damn well please. And with it comes the only basic human duty, the duty to take the consequences.”

David Guth should suffer some.

To date his suffering has included six weeks with pay and being allowed to keep a previously approved semesterlong sabbatical, which will begin in January. 

Guth is the University of Kansas associate professor of journalism who tweeted on Sept. 16, “Blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you,” in response to the Navy Yard shooting in Washington, D.C.

The journalism ethics educator later compounded his sin by defending the remark -- rather than claiming an off-the-cuff moment of anger, which might have been quickly forgiven and forgotten by most outside of NRA leadership. 

By early October more than 100 Kansas faculty and staff members had come out in support of Guth’s First Amendment right to call for the murder of innocent children. Guth was on paid leave from the university while the administration evaluated the situation. While he collected on his $83,000 salary, someone else had to come in and carry his workload.

It took Guth a month and eight days to issue any kind of apology.  I suspect the university panel that voted for his return to work may have forced his hand.  Regardless, the cruel irony is that Guth’s public regrets were delivered as the families of the latest victims of a school shooting — this time at a Sparks, Nev., middle school — were still making funeral arrangements and praying at their children’s hospital bedsides.

I’ve read all the commentary on how the university should not be involved, that his place of employment is irrelevant, that this is a First Amendment issue.

I disagree on both counts.

Professor Guth’s professional position is of paramount importance here. Words matter, and he knows that well. He's built a career on it.   

As a teacher entrusted to educating and training the next generation of journalists, he exercised the poorest of judgment at an already emotionally charged time.  

Is Guth's reaction typical?  Absolutely.  And it's clear how effective that's been on the gun debate.  We must demand more of those nurturing members of the Fourth Estate. 

If a master of strategic communication can elevate the conversation no further than an I-told-you-so tweet, what exactly are KU communication students learning in their classrooms?  I'd question the band for the $125,000 they're paying for four years' tuition.

It sounds great to defend the First Amendment.  It isn’t hard to do when you truly agree — at least in theory — with the vitriol.  After all, you can remain unsoiled, protecting constitutional virtue while defending these reprehensible murderous visions.


And how many of you jumped to the defense of the Chick-fil-A founder Truett Cathy when his free speech trampled on the gay rights agenda? Or did you side with Roseanne wishing cancer on all Chick-fil-A customers? I don’t remember a single commentator defending the virtue of both parties speaking their piece.

Those who preach tolerance the loudest really only practice tolerance when it fits their own agendas.  

As a Connecticut resident, the shooting at Sandy Hook opened my eyes to both sides of the gun control debate in a way nothing had ever done.  Writing this, I still think about the uncertainty of those first few hours. My own children were in an elementary school just 20 miles away ... were they safe?  I felt paralyzed with fear.

It doesn’t surprise me that Connecticut officials quickly moved to pass some of the most restrictive gun legislation in history.  It also doesn’t surprise me that gun sales in Newtown and the rest of Connecticut rose astronomically immediately after the shooting.  Similar spikes were seen after high-profile shootings in Aurora, Colorado and Tucson, Arizona.

Wishing for peace while at the same time arming yourself for possible danger seems a natural human reaction.

What Guth fails to acknowledge is that it’s easy to be a zealot when dealing with ideas in the abstract.  But Americans no longer have that luxury.  Innocents are dying by gunfire every minute — across this country, among every age group and demographic. 

If anything, Sandy Hook made me, a strict gun control advocate, question my anti-gun stance for the first time in a serious way. 

Two days after the Sandy Hook shooting, an off-duty deputy sheriff took down a gunman at a San Antonio, Texas movie theater.  The shooter wounded two before being shot. The national news media, still offering wall-to-wall coverage of Sandy Hook, largely ignored the story.  Would San Antonio — or the country — be better off, had the off-duty officer not had the gun? 

I don’t know the answer, but I do know we need to have a serious, rational conversation about the matter rather than listening to hateful sound bites in the national news or posting angry retorts on social media every time we read or hear something with which we disagree.

Guth knows that shooting down any opposition with hate speech isn’t the role of a journalist. And it's definitely not the role of a journalism educator.

Elizabeth Barfoot Christian is an assistant professor of communication at the University of New Haven and editor of Rock Brands: Selling Sound in a Media Saturated Culture (Lexington, 2011).

Professor Resigns After Charges of Past Abuse Surface

A University of Wisconsin at Superior professor has voluntarily resigned, after reports surfaced this summer that he pleaded guilty and served prison time for attempted sexual abuse in another state more than 20 years ago, when he was a high school teacher. Matthew Faerber, a tenured professors of vocal music, was placed on paid leave in August after a newspaper in Utah, where he used to live, published a report detailing his past criminal record, involving two 13-year old students. The university announced that he voluntarily resigned, after a lengthy investigation into Faerber’s record, Northland’s News Center reported.

Faerber was hired by Superior in 1998, but the University of Wisconsin System did not introduce mandatory background checks for all employees until 2007.

Chancellor Renee Wachter said in a statement that Faerber -- whose status changed to unpaid leave earlier this month --  resigned "under terms of a separation agreement. We believe that this is a fair and reasonable resolution to a difficult situation, which serves the best interests of students and the entire UW-Superior community."

Faerber could not immediately be reached for comment.

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Academic Minute: Pre-Conception Stress and Genetic Change

In today’s Academic Minute, Inna Gaisler-Salomon of the University of Haifa reveals why stress may have a more far-reaching impact than previously believed. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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Campus Equity Week 2013

Campus Equity Week -- organized by the New Faculty Majority to draw attention to the conditions of faculty members off the tenure track -- kicks off today. On different campuses there will be lectures, rallies and teach-ins. A list of events may be found here.

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Faculty Athletics Reps Want Division I to Stay Intact

As the National Collegiate Athletic Association contemplates how it will redesign its governance and membership structure, some groups, including conference commissioners, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and the Division I Faculty Athletics Representatives Board, have suggested or at least been open to the notion of the largest athletic programs forming their own division. That would allow more leniency in how they could recruit and provide financial aid to athletes.

But the group that represents FARs in all divisions, the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association, wants Division I to stay intact. In a position statement obtained by Inside Higher Ed, the FARA Executive Committee argues that Division I institutions are committed to a group of core academic and athletic values and primarily compete against each other, so retaining the current division would be "the most practical option."

The FARA also wants the Division I Board of Directors to comprise a "small group" of university presidents (as it does currently) and CEOs "looking to position intercollegiate athletics through the changing and challenging landscape of American society." The group would not make policy but would set an overarching agenda and oversee NCAA leadership at lower levels. FARs, athletic directors, coaches, athletes and other stakeholders would have a say in policy development, and would be entitled to seats on the various boards, councils and committees that make rules.

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Edinboro U. to Eliminate Jobs of 30+ Faculty Members

Edinboro University announced Friday that it will eliminate the jobs of more than 30 faculty members, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Like other members of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Edinboro is facing tight budgets. The university said that six positions would be from the tenured or tenure-track faculty members. The remaining 25.8 full-time equivalent faculty cuts will be from those off the tenure track.


Essay calls for faculty members to learn how to advise students on non-academic matters

Tryo Tracts

Faculty members need to learn how to help students grapple with their changing and challenging career prospects, writes Nate Kreuter.

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Academic Minute: Evolution Punishes Selfishness

In today's Academic Minute, Christoph Adami of Michigan State University reveals why evolution favors cooperation over selfish behavior. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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Columbia Gorge Department Chairs Vote No Confidence

Department chairs at the Columbia Gorge Community College in Oregon passed a resolution expressing no confidence in the college's president, who some said erred when announcing a high-profile personnel decision that warranted faculty input.. The nine department chairs passed a no-confidence resolution in President Frank Toda’s leadership.They are upset that Toda named a chief academic and student affairs officer without consulting faculty.

Faculty members are concerned that chief academic and student affairs officer Lori Ufford does not have the necessary background in academic instruction for the position, and are asking the president and the college’s governing body to agree to make future hires using a process that considers faculty recommendations.

Toda and Ufford did not respond to requests for comment.


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