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Philosophy journal apologizes for symposium on Black Lives Matter written without black people

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Political philosophy journal, subject of two scathing open letters, apologizes for lack of black authors.

How the humanities can illuminate air travel incivilities (essay)

When I worked at an airport between 2001 and 2003, the airline that hired me gave out laudatory certificates to employees whenever passengers would report above-average customer service, or any other effort that had been noticed and appreciated. On the one hand, those medal-emblazoned posters were cheesy and brimmed with the type of hollow praise proffered to alienated workers. But on the other, they were well intentioned and meaningful: they reminded us that we were working together, with and for other human beings, on both sides of the counter (as well as above, at the corporate level).

I look at a couple of those certificates now, saved from many years ago, and I wonder if the airline still recognizes such little instances of harmony in the maelstrom of contemporary commercial flight. These days it can seem as though humanity has left the airport entirely, what with random fistfights breaking out, hapless passengers dragged off airplanes, racial epithets lobbed heatedly across seat backs, families humiliated for the most minor domestic incursions and so on. Our worst tendencies and habits come into full bloom during air travel. And people seem at once both surprised by and weirdly expectant of it. We roll our eyes at the latest viral video of violence in the aisles, and we turn the channel or swipe over to a new feed.

I’ve been trying for many years, and over the course of writing three books, to untangle the distinct knots of negativity that airports have become known for. Somehow, it is perfectly acceptable to hate airports, even as they are also supposed to represent the apex of modern progress and cosmopolitan coexistence. How did we get to this contradictory place? And what, if anything, can those of us in academe do to shed light on and possibly even improve matters?

While flying recently I flipped through the pages of Delta’s in-flight magazine, Sky, and I noticed an article called “Higher Education in the Fast Lane” (May 2017). The piece surveyed a range of colleges and universities with expedited degree programs: “helping students get into the work force more quickly and efficiently.” One ad for Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Building Construction showed a worker in a hard hat and caution vest, architectural plans rolled up under his arm and giant cranes in background. The picture is one of professionalism and focused labor, and serves as a synecdoche for orderly society at large. But if the building in the background happened to be an airport, then we would know that all this supposed orderliness would soon come to an end. Build a neat and tidy airport, and you invite pandemonium and civil breakdown.

When I tell people that I teach a college class about airports, they often assume I mean from a managerial or organizational standpoint: what makes them work and how they can be improved. Sometimes I get perplexed looks when I explain that my course is about representations of airports and how we communicate and think about airports. It’s as though it never occurred to these people that airports and airplanes could have any other meaning or existence other than the status they seem indelibly to have: abject, ugly and plainly understood.

This isn’t just a shortcoming on behalf of airports. It’s also about the role of thinking and imagination in our everyday lives, and about basic standards of human interaction, respect and decency. This latter stuff makes what I’m talking about sound snobbish and stuffy, but I don’t mean it that way. I mean it in the way that college instructors try, with great patience and care, to foster classroom environments of empathy, listening and dialogue. Seminars -- especially in the humanities -- have the ability to teach students to bracket initial judgments, appreciate differences and discuss complex, nuanced topics. They do precisely what we could use a lot more of these days, especially in airports and airliners.

But as evinced by the Sky magazine article, we’re increasingly skimping on college -- and particularly the humanities. Foreign-language programs get squeezed to the minimum or cut outright because they are seen as too time intensive for today’s overworked student. History, literature, philosophy, religious studies -- these disciplines are viewed as superfluous or get whittled down to some hotly debated, if barely accepted, “core curriculum.” It is now commonplace to refer to college as too expensive and out of touch with “the real world.” But are we really so proud of this real world we’ve devised as it comes through one of our proudest achievements -- air travel? Automobile prices go up and up, as do housing prices, not to mention medicine and health care -- and people complain about the cost of higher education?

In fact, not only air travel but also contemporary life at large need more, not fewer, people taking humanities courses -- adult learning that is dedicated to reflection, understanding across differences and respectful discourse. Of course, disagreement and disparities play out in college classrooms, too, thus inviting tensions between “safe spaces” and free speech, between self-certainty and the awareness of one’s own epistemological horizons. Yet the thoughtful exercise of these soft skills is exactly what is lacking in the day-to-day grind of flight. And corporate policy and lawmaking are not going to usher such things into bustling transit nodes. Only people can do that, of their own volition and out of a collective commitment to shared humanistic values.

Such values must also be open and flexible, and they must operate irrespective of narrower value systems encoded in family, nationality, religion and so forth. Not that those other values must be jettisoned, but the heterogeneous nature of airspace requires a relentless openness along with excessive patience on all sides. Those qualities, too, can be practiced and honed in the college classroom.

And so a simple plan: if we want to work toward more civil and humane modes of air travel, we should also be willing to invest -- time, money and thought -- in the humanities. I’ve been talking here about higher education specifically, mainly because the lack of faith in humanities at the college level strikes me as a relevant analogue to the dearth of civility in airports. College and air travel are two concentrated places where what happens cannot help but reflect and reinforce broader patterns and trends. We may wish for quicker paths to college degrees, as well as fast and cheap travel by air, but are we willing to accept the consequences -- the attendant pressurized spaces and times? If not, we may want to think about the relationships between these realms, and how they are inescapably entwined.

Christopher Schaberg is associate professor of English and environmental studies at Loyola University New Orleans and the author of three books about air travel. His latest, Airportness: The Nature of Flight, will be published by Bloomsbury in September.

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How to effectively work with supervisors and other higher-ups (essay)

How can junior faculty and those in contingent positions effectively raise issues with higher-ups who have the standing, power and influence to help solve those issues? Ellen de Graffenreid provides advice.

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Managing Up: A Brief Guide

Study on Students and 'Authenticity' in Classroom

“Authentic” professors are preferred by students, many of whom learn more from them as a result, according to a new study in Communication Education, the journal of the National Communication Association. The authors questioned some 300 college students on their perceptions of professors’ authentic and inauthentic behavior and communication, and found that authentic instructors were perceived as approachable, passionate, attentive, capable and knowledgeable. Inauthentic professors, meanwhile, were perceived as unapproachable, disrespectful, inattentive, lacking passion and not capable. Students also reported higher levels of learning and deeper understanding in learning experiences they described as authentic, and at-risk students are positively impacted by teachers whose communication is perceived as authentic, according to the study.

The paper says that that professors may work to seem more authentic -- only to the degree that it feels natural -- by conversing with students before and after class, and sharing experiences and really interacting with them as part of teaching. “‘Authentic’ Teachers Are Better at Engaging With Their Students” was written by Zac Johnson, assistant professor of communication at California State University at Fullerton, and Sara LaBelle, assistant professor of communication at Chapman University.

Instructors perceived as authentic were willing to share details about their lives, told personal stories, made jokes and admitted mistakes, according to the study. They also showed concern for their students as individuals, such as by emailing sick students to see how they were doing. “Our participants made it clear that a teacher’s efforts to view themselves and their students as individuals had a lasting impact,” Johnson and LaBelle say. “The process of teaching authentically need not be more complicated than making simple and direct statements regarding the level of concern and care that a teacher holds for their students. … Our implication is not simply that teachers should engage in limitless amounts of self-disclosure. Rather, by making efforts to engage with students beyond their expected roles in the classroom, teachers can greatly impact students’ perceptions of them and their course.”

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The experience of gaining tenure after being sexually assaulted (essay)

Sexual Assault on Campus

A rape survivor finds the same campus colleagues who publicly opposed sexual assault were those who did not treat her with empathy and respect.

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Tuesday, May 30, 2017
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Colleges award tenure

Agnes Scott College

  • Yael Manes, history
  • Nicole Stamant, English
  • Jason Solomon, music

Bates College

  • Jason Castro, neuroscience
  • Caroline Shaw, history
  • Mara Tieken, education

Carleton College

Berkeley Fires Assistant Professor for Harassment

The University of California, Berkeley, has fired an assistant professor -- Blake Wentworth in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies -- after finding he sexually harassed four students, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. Wentworth and his lawyer were not available for comment. But he previously sued three of those accusing him, charging them with defamation.

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NLRB: U Chicago Hourly Student Library Employees May Form Union

A regional National Labor Relations Board office said this week that more than 200 hourly employees of the University of Chicago libraries may hold a union election. Hourly student employees are organized elsewhere, but this is the first hourly employee election order applicable to undergraduates since the NLRB said in August that student employees may form unions on private campuses. That decision, which related to graduate students at Columbia University, was surprisingly broad in its scope and opened the door to more undergraduate student employee unions.

Resident advisers at George Washington University planned a union election earlier this month but canceled at the last minute. Library employees at Chicago seek to affiliate with the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. Graduate student employees at Chicago also want to form a union, affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers and the American Association of University Professors. A spokesperson for Chicago said it would review the NLRB decision and consider its options.

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Publisher explains how article about viewing the male organ as "conceptual" got published

Publisher blames faulty peer review and automated system for forwarding articles from one journal to another to explain publication of piece on the male organ as a concept rather than anatomy.

Webinar: Teaching With Technology

Inside Higher Ed editors Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman discuss the topics from the "Teaching With Technology" booklet. To view the recording of the webinar, click here. To download the slide deck, click here.

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