The push by some student government members at the University of California at Irvine to ban the U.S. flag from the student government office areas -- though unsuccessful -- has attracted widespread criticism. Many have noted that the flag symbolizes American ideas of equality and freedom of expression, and have objected to the views of those student government members that the flag is a sign of imperialism and hate. But much of the criticism of the students has also been of the "America -- love it or leave it" variety, and the students behind the measure have received rude e-mail and threats.
In response, some faculty members are circulating a petition expressing support for the students. "We write to support the six members who offered the resolution to remove national flags from the ASUCI lobby," the petition states. "The university ought to respect their political position and meet its obligation to protect and promote their safety. The resolution recognized that nationalism, including U.S. nationalism, often contributes to racism and xenophobia, and that the paraphernalia of nationalism is in fact often used to intimidate. This is a more or less uncontroversial scholarly point, and in practice the resolution has drawn admiration nationally from much of the academic community."
The petition goes on to say that the criticism of the students backs up their point. "Over the weekend, UCI has been inundated with racist, xenophobic comments and death threats against the students from people who are, precisely, invested in the paraphernalia of nationalism," the petition adds.
The Los Angeles Times reported that some faculty members and students think the administration at Irvine was too involved in the debate, speaking out repeatedly against the anti-flag resolution before the student government process had time to play itself out.
Howard Gillman, the Irvine chancellor, has updated a statement he issued on the flag controversy. In his statement, he criticized the idea of banning the flag from any part of campus and said that some students sometimes embrace ideas that are "unconventional and even outrageous."
In the update, he criticizes the threats against these students. "Regardless of your opinion on the display of the American flag, we must be united in protecting the people who make this university a premier institution of higher learning," he said. "Our campus must be a place for safe and civil discourse. We continue to call on everyone to condemn all harassment and threats of violence."
We at U of All People pride ourselves on pedagogy, since we have no publications to speak of (except Professor Milo Wag’s pamphlet last year on the crossbreeding of malamutes, which doesn’t really count, especially since he’s in Modern Languages).
As the president of our Faculty Senate declared last year, “Whatever we do here, since it’s not research, it’s got to be teaching, right?” Never mind that 67 percent of the sophomores polled said they could do a better job than their professors -- students, especially sophomores, are inclined to boast.
As for last semester, when a professor who shall remain nameless sublet the teaching of Physics 101 to a Leisure Science instructor who needed some cash -- apparently, the class ran quite well.
But why should we apologize? Better for us to come out in a public embrace of pedagogy, the soft science that comprises everything from making up creative syllabuses to grading all those damned assignments late Sunday evening.
To combat the charges of “You call that teaching?” we’ve begun a Teacher of the Year award in every department. Tell us who are the unsung heroes and heroines of the classrooms, and we will sing their praises! -- though we will not award any raises based on teaching, since that would be favoritism.
All nominations are anonymous; in fact, one professor nominated herself anonymously 12 times. Starting next year, we’ll have a Teacher of the Year Selection Committee, populated by former Teachers of the Year, but right now, all decisions are also made anonymously, possibly by the assistant provost’s office assistant.
Below is a selection from our inaugural Teachers of the Year. Drum roll, please...
Earl N. Meyer, associate professor of chemistry, likes to ignite students’ passion for chemistry with a Bunsen burner and counsels all students to wear nonflammable clothing to class. His lab display at the end of the semester, relying on a combination of lithium and water, has been termed “explosive” by all observers. He prides himself on always being there for his students, even at 3 a.m., though the student in question declined to press charges. “Without chemistry,” he declares, “life itself would be impossible. Without the chemistry department at U of All People, I’d be out of a job.”
Professor Penny Anti, the Eames Chair of Business, believes in learning by doing and “putting my money where my mouth is,” so every semester she gives her students real money to invest, at 15 percent interest. “One of us always comes out ahead,” she jokes. “It’s all a learning experience.” Professor Anti is also president of the Entrepreneurs Club, which last year grossed an undisclosed amount. Her motto: Business Is Good.
Odiette Amo, assistant professor of classics, is single-handedly responsible for the renaissance in classical studies, which includes two new students in the last five years -- single-handedly because she is the only professor left in the department. Her most popular activity is the Classics Olympics, in which students decline Latin nouns while riding chariot races around the football field. Her new campaign to increase recruitment, by serving as faculty adviser to Greek organizations on campus, has already bred success and confusion. Enchanted with Ovid at an early age, she recites her credo daily: “Venio, video, disco.”
Instructor Jess Anon in the English department maintains his sense of humor despite a teaching load of seven composition courses a semester. Paradoxically and annoyingly, he is the only publishing instructor in the department, author of a chapbook of verse that he assigns in every class. Founder of the Center for Support of Jess Anon in 2011, he supports the cause with an end-of-semester party and cash bar, held in his Quonset hut attached to a ventilation duct in College Hall. He also sells old Halloween candy during class.
Professor Al Cawlic in the sociology department studies the culture of 12-step programs. “To study the problem, be the problem,” he tells his student, the last one standing after another of Cawlic’s marathon binges. He’s often seen riding to work on his bicycle, and not just because he lost his license after three DUIs. Interviewed by the U of All People student newspaper at Garrity’s Bar and Grill, he told the reporter, “I like to emphasize the social in sociology, y’know? Y’know? When you think of it, everything’s fieldwork, really. I’ll drink to that.”
Associate professor Bill Demme in the mechanical engineering department is a self-confessed inspiration to his students, yet he remains practical. “Practical applications, I tell my graduate students. Keep it practical, especially since it’s my name that’s going on as coauthor, and I get 50 percent from any patents. Oh, and an active learning environment. That’s key.” To this end, he sponsors an annual canoe canoe race, in which contestants must construct a canoe out of two old canoes. As a former student commented, “It demonstrates the adage 'sink or swim,' which is how Professor Demme’s classes works in practice.”
David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).
Faculty members at Northwestern Michigan College voted 65 to 16 to form a union affiliated with the National Education Association, the Traverse City Record-Eagle reported. The new bargaining unit includes 90 full-time and part-time faculty members who are not supervisors. The college said in a statement that it “will begin negotiations with the [union] for an agreement that will cover wages, benefits and other terms and conditions of employment.”
Hours before a planned strike over prolonged union contract negotiations, teaching and research assistants"teaching assistants" to avoid repeating words? -sj at N.Y.U. strike a deal that they say includes historic gains. What does it mean for other graduate student workers at private institutions who wish to bargain collectively?
"I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world," Walt Whitman declares in Leaves of Grass. How he ended the line without an exclamation point always puzzled me, but maybe it was implicit. The poet sang "the body electric," and every line was meant to zap the reader into a higher state of awareness.
Whitman would have been pleased to see the new American history textbook called The American Yawp -- and not just for its allusive title. As a sometime school teacher and educational reformer, he wanted "free, ample and up-to-date textbooks, preferably by the best historians" (to quote one discussion of this aspect of the poet's life). Yawp's 30 chapters cover American history from the last ice age through the appearance of the millennial generation. It has plenty about the founders and the origins of the U.S., but avoids a triumphalist tone and includes material on inequality -- including economic inequality -- throughout. It was prepared through the collaborative efforts of scores of historians. And the creators have published it online, for free.
The beta version was released, with no fanfare at all, at the start of the current academic year. By the fall, a revision will be issued in e-book format, suitable for use in an undergraduate survey course -- again, for free. Walt would surely approve.
I contacted the editors -- Joseph Locke, an assistant professor of history at the University of Houston-Victoria, and Ben Wright, an assistant professor of history and political science at the Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in south Georgia -- to find out more about The American Yawp. They collaborated in responding to my questions by e-mail. A transcript of the discussion follows.
Q: How did you go about writing (assembling?) your textbook? Did you collaborate via Listservs? Were there any face-to-face meetings?
A: Traditional textbooks usually begin with a single editor or a small team of editors searching for some unifying theme to tie together the many thematic strands of American history. Instead, we mirrored the way our profession already works. We believed that a narrative synthesis could emerge through the many innovations of our profession’s various subfields no less than through a preselected central theme. We therefore looked to a large and diverse yet loosely coordinated group of contributors to construct a narrative.
We began by mapping out potential contributions for all 30 chapters based on our experiences teaching the survey and in informal conversations with colleagues and potential chapter editors. We came up with things like “500 words on the election of 1860” and “300 words on the music and art of the Civil War.” We compiled these into lists.
Then, after tapping into the networks of scholars we knew, as well as scouring recent editions of major history journals, combing through lists of recent dissertations, browsing the rosters of university programs with traditional strengths in particular eras and soliciting contributors through social media and H-Net’s many history Listservs, we targeted scholars to write on these themes.
We had no trouble recruiting an adequate pool of qualified contributors. In fact, we ended up with over 300 historians writing for the project. This work was done almost exclusively online.
Q: Was it a matter of one person preparing a draft chapter and then other participants proposing changes?
A: Since a textbook should be more than a series of brief, disjointed topical entries, we began the work of synthesis. We recruited talented writers and scholars as chapter editors who went to work stitching submissions into coherent chapters. We then reviewed and edited drafts of all 30 chapters, particularly with an eye on ensuring greater narrative cohesion across the text.
During our beta year, we are soliciting feedback not only from our esteemed board of editorial advisers but from contributors and users through our parallel Comment Press platform. With that feedback in hand, we will publish a refined version of the text and begin a second phase that incorporates interactive digital content and further explores what a digital textbook is truly capable of.
Q: Are you aware of anyone teaching with the beta version? Have you had commitments from individuals or departments to use it during the next academic year?
A: Students are currently working with the text at a variety of institutions ranging from major state universities (such as the University of Georgia and the University of Florida) to various community colleges (such as Central New Mexico Community College and Bronx Community College) and everything in between (Rice University, Georgia State University, the University of Texas at Dallas and others). We don’t solicit formal commitments for use, but we’ve already heard from additional instructors and history departments hoping to adopt the text next fall. We are historians, not marketers, but we believe continued positive feedback and our formal launch in the fall will also encourage additional adoptions.
Q: In the culture wars, American history is one of the more harried battlegrounds. Did that factor into the textbook’s preparation in any way?
A: We believe history should be written by historians. We have no interest in the culture war, beyond mitigating the way that some have used it to wildly distort the past. Instead, we've trusted in our profession; our desire has been to reflect all the very best of contemporary scholarship.
On the other hand, we have been conscious about how to properly synthesize the American past. What gets included, and what doesn't? This is a difficult issue and we have enlisted the historical profession to help guide us. And we remain open to critical feedback.
Q: The talk page of a Wikipedia entry tends to become a forum for debate, informed and otherwise. Yawp is not in wiki format, of course, but will the comments component be moderated?
A: We've seen very little rancor in our Comment Press platform. Disagreements have mostly taken the form of highly specialized critiques. Historians are argumentative, but we've been pleased to see that all have followed the standards of professional decorum. We therefore haven't had any plans to moderate discussions. And, unlike a wiki, disruptive comments would not be able to filter into the text without editorial decisions.
Q: It seems as if The American Yawp could serve as a model for other textbooks. Is that the plan?
A: Our model is completely reproducible. We've accomplished this without institutions, grants or rarefied technological know-how. And we very much hope that others will follow our example. We already know, for example, that within our own profession there is quite a bit of interest for a similar project in world history.
Q: A commercially produced textbook can be financially rewarding for everybody involved in its creation, and it counts on an author's CV. These seem like powerful incentives for stasis. What would it take for your mode of textbook production to establish itself as viable over the long run?
A: Of course, a commercially produced textbook is not financially rewarding for everybody involved -- it is often quite financially punitive for our students. (The College Board, for instance, found that the typical student now spends $1,200 a year on textbooks and supplies.) And outside of a few textbooks written by a few academics for a few major presses, financial rewards can be extremely limited for textbook producers.
Still, the reputational economics of academia do matter. Professional consideration of projects such as this will certainly shift as academia continues to adjust to the digital age, but we also did not embark upon the project for economic or professional gain. This has been and will continue to be a labor of love. We entered the historical profession because we believe there is a moral imperative to study the American past and to share that knowledge with students and with the public. The rising costs of higher education makes that difficult. Academics recognize this, and we believe that's why over 300 academic historians were so willing to participate in this project.
We believe our model is viable in the long term. This is not a start-up having to satisfy investors or foundation boards. This is simply a collective of historians who have come together to share the knowledge of our profession. That doesn't mean certain developments couldn't further secure the long-term viability of projects such as this, of course. For instance, we have been looking into possible partnerships with innovative university presses to help satisfy the very reputational implications you cited.