When Kevin Roose’s New York Magazine article on the Kappa Beta Phi induction ceremony was published, I naively dismissed its significance. TL;DR, as they say (too long, didn’t read). As articles about the event, a celebration of a secret society of very wealthy and powerful people, multiplied, I decided I should probably pay attention. Paul Queally, a University of Richmond alum and member of the Board of Trustees, made a few comments at the event that many have appropriately deemed offensive to women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The event also featured jokes about working-class and poor people, liberals, and a little bit of nostalgia for the Confederacy, as well as forcing KBP inductees to wear drag, supposedly as good-fun humiliation.
When news broke about Queally’s comments, he remarked that his “jokes” were in the spirit of the event – but that those zingers about the politicians Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barney Frank were not reflections of his own values. Unfortunately for him, he found himself in the hot seat again upon news about a picture on Facebook featuring his use of the term “fag.”
Queally’s comments were offensive, and his participation in the ceremony is questionable. But he has donated generously to the University of Richmond, enough that the business school bears his name, as does the new Center for Admissions and Career Services. Thus, it does not surprise me that the university has not jumped to dismiss Queally from the Board of Trustees. It does surprise me, however, that the only statementreleased from the board reaffirms a commitment to “inclusivity, civility, and respect,” yet says nothing about Queally’s comments.
President Edward Ayers further emphasized that the board shares the values of the university, which have been laid out in the Richmond Promise -- an initiative he created and successfully advanced. This response has left many students, staff, faculty, administrators, and alumni underwhelmed. Yes, the university, including the Board of Trustees, is committed to diversity and inclusivity; but what is it going to do about this controversy, which has received national attention?
The personal significance of Queally’s comments and the limited response from the university finally sank in by the week’s end. As a trustee, Paul Queally will be one of the last individuals to decide my professional fate: tenure. I am a queer man, and some of my research is on the lives and well-being of LGBT people. And I just began my first year as a tenure-track professor at the University of Richmond. Life on the tenure track is already stressful and scary enough. Now, add to that the possibility that at least one person has indicated, at least to me, a level of hostility toward me, my community, and my research. After a tight knot formed in my stomach, I felt I needed to lie down right on my office floor. What is the point of working toward tenure over the next six years if the odds are already against me?
Sure, that may sound paranoid or overly dramatic. But I encourage the heterosexual majority to understand that LGBT people, as a means of survival in a hostile society, must look for signals regarding the social and political climate. Are we safe from prejudice, discrimination, and violence? The absence of anti-LGBT prejudice and discrimination does not necessarily indicate the presence of LGBT-friendliness and inclusion. This is why many colleges and universities have Safe Zone programs, which indicate places on campus that are making intentional efforts to be safe and inclusive for LGBT students. So, the slightest hint of hostility – say a joke about Barney Frank, or the use of the term “fag” on Facebook – sends a message to LGBT people to be on alert for the possibility of more, and more extreme, hostility.
I decided to seek out motivation of the caffeine variety to keep working. I am still doing my best to adjust to life as a professor, which really means I am simply too overwhelmed to stop work to have a mini meltdown over this controversy. At our campus coffee shop, I ran into my dean and a director of one of the social justice offices on campus. They both hugged me and expressed sympathy for my precarious position. There is news of homophobia at the highest rung of the university ladder; they were right to assume how troubling this is for a new, queer professor who studies sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. And, to my surprise, my dean noted that the college would support me, including any efforts to right this wrong that has occurred at the university. I did my best to hold back the tears that threatened to come forward as I returned to my office; I felt such a deep sense of relief after bumping into them.
Why was I surprised? This is not the first time I have heard from colleagues – including people who will decide my professional fate in a few years – that I am supported as a scholar, teacher, and advocate for social justice. I have been reminded on a couple of occasions that one of the very reasons for which I was hired as a professor was to contribute to the university’s mission toward inclusivity and diversity. This even includes my work as a blogger, making my and colleagues’ research publicly accessible, and, at times, criticizing norms and practices within academia that constrain the well-being and scholarship of marginalized academics (like myself). In the midst of other universities cracking down on professors’ social media use, advocacy, and teaching on difficult subjects, I have found a job at an institution that supports my own efforts.
The university has made great strides in the past few years toward inclusion of and support for LGBT students, staff, and faculty: hiring an associate director of LGBTQ campus life; creation of a living-learning floor in LGBTQ studies; creation of an office for LGBT students; recently hosting the first-ever conference for LGBT athletes; solidified a major and minor in women’s, gender, and sexuality studies; revamping and subsequent campuswide adoption of the Safe Zone program – just to name a few recent advancements! This year’s book selection for the One Book, One Richmond program is The Laramie Project – a play depicting the brutal murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard and its aftermath.There are several on-campus events associated with the book, which included a talk by Matt’s mother, Judy Shepherd, in October.
When I interviewed for this job, I did my homework about the institution. I saw these initiatives, and scoured the archival project of graduating senior Dana McLachlin (a phenomenal student!) on the history of LGBT life and activism at the University of Richmond. I found, given the tremendous progress in just the past decade, I had little reservation about joining the Richmond community.
The comments by Paul Queally are troubling. And the response thus far from the university about this controversy is underwhelming. But I do feel the commitment to diversity and inclusion is genuine. I see that in hiring staff and faculty who not only are LGBT or allies themselves, but clearly bring energy and visions that will propel the university even further toward LGBT inclusion and support. However, this controversy leaves me a little worried that some of the top leaders may not be nearly as inclusive as the students, staff, and faculty – a fear I am certain is shared by colleagues at other institutions. The University of Richmond (like many colleges and universities) is a work in progress that I, as a queer professor, stand by.
Postscript: After I wrote this piece, but just before it was published, Queally issued more of a full apology and the president of my university sent a campuswide statement that went well beyond what the university had said earlier. While I'm pleased with those statements, I still ask: Should it have taken a week to figure out that this was much more than bad humor?
Eric Anthony Grollman is assistant professor of sociology at the University of Richmond. He also maintains a blog for marginalized scholars, ConditionallyAccepted.com.
Lesley University adjuncts have voted to form a union affiliated with the Service Employees International Union, becoming the second group of Boston-area adjuncts to do so. Tufts University adjuncts voted in favor of a union in September, as part of SEIU’s Adjunct Action campaign to organize adjuncts and improve their working conditions across multiple U.S. cities. Lesley's adjuncts voted 359 in favor and 67 opposed.
Norah Dooley, an adjunct instructor of business management and communications and Lesley graduate, said in a news release that the issues surrounding adjunct labor in higher education -- such as relatively low per-course pay compared to tenure-line colleagues and little to no benefits -- are “complex” but “not intractable.” And as an alum, Dooley said she wanted Lesley to take a “leadership role in this movement.” A Lesley spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In today’s Academic Minute, Nicholas Leadbeater of the University of Connecticut continues his examination of the chemistry of the show "Breaking Bad." Today he discusses Walter White's use of acids to make evidence disappear. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
In today’s Academic Minute, Nicholas Leadbeater of the University of Connecticut begins a three-day examination of the chemistry of the hit television show "Breaking Bad." Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Last week, Nicholas Kristof revived the old canard that academics have removed themselves from the public sphere through obscure prose and interests. Among the problems we might identify in Kristof’s essay -- thereare, obviously, many -- is the irony of a writer with the resources of The New York Times supporting him chiding the rest of us for not writing in outlets such as The New York Times.
But who gets to write in The New York Times -- and to whom is The New York Times accessible? If we’re talking about accessibility and insularity, it’s worth looking at The New York Times’s own content generation cycle and the relationship between press junkets and patronage.
So, instead of confusing intellectual meritocracy with access to outlets, let’s look at how The New York Times itself generates content about something that matters greatly to professors: higher education.
What I learned there -- besides how weird corporate-sponsored conferences are, right down to commercials they looped on screens between talks -- is that there is a system of content generation that feeds thinkpieces and thinkfluencers with greater speed and sound bite concision than most professors can offer.
It’s important to note that the only professors on stage at this conference on the future of higher education had left teaching and research as faculty for academic upper administration or to launch their own MOOC companies. While Kristof might see this lack of platform as more evidence of academic self-cloistering, I see it for the closed system that it is: “influence” comes mainly from those who might be in the position to take out full-page ads in the Times.
I saw the Schools for Tomorrow conference advertised in the Times’ Sunday Magazine, and looked into registration online. It cost $795 for a one-day event. For reference, I just registered for a four-day conference in my humanities field for $150.
I wrote to the Schools for Tomorrow registration office and asked if they could lower the cost for actual professors, bringing it in line with typical registration fees between $75 and $200. They said they could bring it down to $495. I found some institutional money for online teaching development and paid the “reduced” fee.
The $495 did not, however, guarantee me a seat when I got to the conference. The mid-three figures is a lot for humanities faculty and their limited (if existent) travel support, but in this world it just got me through the first door. It turned out that the plenary talk by Sal Khan (of Khan Academy) on globalizing access to education was overbooked, so while corporate sponsors like Bank of America and Blackberry enjoyed reserved seats in the auditorium, a lot of self- or university-sponsored folks like myself ended up watching on screens in the basement.
This was the first lesson in sponsored access to influence and content creation. Since Khan’s talk led into the panel discussion “Has the University as an Institution Had Its Day?” a lot of professors sat out the Q&A in the cheap seats. Not even, really. We were in a different arena altogether.
These weren’t conversations; these weren’t arguments. Mainly, these were rehearsed pitches for products, policies, and industries in which presenters had considerable financial or political stake. Some featured speakers, like former Senator Bob Kerrey, had a foot in several categories: he was in the Senate, he had been president of the New School, and he is now starting a for-profit university.
At various points it became clear that the speakers were used to talking to one another “on the circuit” as one said to another, suggesting that they’d been on the online education junket a lot together that year. And some cycle back through the Times meetings. Having missed Sal Khan at the education conference, I could have caught him the next month at the DealBook business conference.
The third lesson of the conference, however, came when I picked up my New York Times at home. The November 1 "Education Life" section titled “The Disrupters” is almost entirely drawn from or inspired by the conference. One conference reviewer quipped that “so many Times newsroom staff members are participating in the conference, they might not be able to put out the paper on Wednesday.”
To the contrary, such events seem to be built into their content generation strategy. “The Disrupters’ ” lead article, "Innovation Imperative: Change Everything, Online Education as an Agent of Transformation" was written by Michael Horn and Clayton M. Christensen. Both hail from the non-university-affiliated Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation. The latter is a business professor at Harvard and the former was a panelist at the conference. Here's Horn’s bio from the conference webpage. He did a 25-minute one-on-one with David Leonhardt, the Times'sWashington bureau chief, advocating “The Disruption of Higher Education.”
According to his bio, Horn studied for an M.B.A. at Harvard (presumably with his co-author Christensen), then gained a platform as an educational innovation consultant at Arizona State, the editorship of a “journal of opinion and research about education policy,” and invitations to testify on issues relating to education. He does so not from a university, but from an institute that operates in the world between academia and lobbying. He does not balance his time between teaching, service, and peer-reviewed research and publishing. Yet he is a recognized authority on higher education according to the Times’s invitation. And then his work is immediately funneled into and amplified by featured space in the Sunday Times.
Even if the Times itself might be forgiven for seeking out breathless think tankers over professors who lack their own Center for Thinkfluencer Excellence, we might be more critical of the blurry line between content and advertisement.
Elsewhere in the issue you’ll find Bob Kerrey’s Minerva University, a for-profit liberal arts venture, featured prominently. It is mentioned in the Horn article, and is the focus of this article on “affordable elitism.” And then there’s major conference sponsor, Capella University. Their “credit for competencies, not credit hours” model is the subject of this article. It was also a major topic of conversation at the conference, discussed at length by Capella University's president, Scott Kinney. Days before the conference, every registrant received an email promoting Capella and bearing their logo.
How much money did Capella pay for this multiplatform marketing strategy? And where did their marketing end and the ideas at the conference begin? They were in the email of all registrants. Their logo was all over the conference and in full color on the back page of the Times Sunday Magazine. Policy changes crucial to their success were discussed favorably at a conference with Education Secretary Arne Duncan in attendance, and they got an article focusing on them in the Times just below an editorial praising their sort of educational “disruption.”
When Kristof's article began raising questions about professors’ ideas and public influence, I was reminded of the way influence moved from the $795/$495 per person corporate-sponsored conference to the pages of the newspaper of record.
Professors, we need you! Who, then, is the “we”? As lots of people have pointed out, if the “we” is the American public, then you’ve already got us as teachers, popular and specialist writers, activists and more.
If the “we” is pageview ad-metric revenue-hungry online content providers and writers, then that’s another question. Do you really want us? And if we come to you, how much will it cost to get in?
Jonathan Senchyne is an assistant professor of library and information studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. A version of this essay originally appeared on Avidly.
Judith Butler, a noted literary theorist who is the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Visiting Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, has called off a talk she was supposed to give at the Jewish Museum in New York City, amid criticism of her support for the boycott of Israel. Butler's talk was not to have been about her views on the Middle East, but on Franz Kafka, who died well before the State of Israel was created. A statement from the museum said: "She was chosen on the basis of her expertise on the subject matter to be discussed. While her political views were not a factor in her participation, the debates about her politics have become a distraction making it impossible to present the conversation about Kafka as intended."
In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Butler said: "I did decide to withdraw when it became clear to me that the uproar over my political views (actually, a serious distortion of my political views) would overtake the days ahead and the event itself. As I understand it, the Jewish Museum also felt that it could not handle the political storm, and we were in complete agreement that the event should be canceled as a result."
She continued: "What is most important now, in my view, is for both educational and cultural institutions such as these to recommit themselves to open debate, not to become vehicles for censorship and slander, and not to become party to forms of blacklisting. It certainly should not be the case that any of us are forced to give up speaking in public on scholarly topics that have no bearing on the political issues that are so controversial. It constitutes discrimination against a person on the basis of political viewpoint, implying that the speaker ought not to be allowed to speak on any topic given the political viewpoint in question. It is one thing to disagree, say, with my political viewpoint and to give reasons why one disagrees, even to call for an open debate on that disagreement, and to ask the Jewish Museum to exercise its authority and commit its resources to such an open debate. It is quite another to say that anyone with my political viewpoint (itself badly distorted in this case) should not be able to speak at a Jewish cultural organization.... Whether one is for or against [the boycott movement], it seems important to recognize that boycotts are constitutionally recognized forms of political expression, affirmed by international law as well. That means that one cannot exactly outlaw a boycott, even if one opposes it with great vehemence, without trampling on a constitutionally protected right. We are seeing several efforts now to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and so cultural institutions like the Jewish Museum will now have to decide whether they will allow their choices of speakers and artworks to be coerced, whether they will have the courage and the principle to stand for freedom of expression, refusing to impose a political litmus speakers on speakers and artists who have every reason to be part of the broader community they serve and have ideas on many other topics to share."
Cathy Davidson, a major player in the digital humanities and discussions of new models of higher education, is leaving Duke University for the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Davidson is currently the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English at Duke University. She is also co-founder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), and the Graduate Center will become the main home of the organization. At CUNY, Davidson will be a professor of English at the Graduate Center and will direct the Futures Initiative, a CUNY-wide program to promote collaborative and participatory innovation in higher education.
In a statement, Davidson said that CUNY's Graduate Center "proves that a public, urban university is both accessible and exemplifies the highest possible intellectual standards.... My dedication to public higher education, while always strong, has grown in the last few years. How can the most affluent nation on the planet not invest in the future of public education? The Graduate Center and the entire CUNY system can be, and will be, the world leader in higher education innovation. I’m so proud to be part of the effort at such a fine public urban university system.”