The University of Chicago's Brian Leiter has announced that, after 2014-15, he is giving up the editorship of The Philosophical Gourmet Report, a rankings system he created for philosophy departments. Leiter has come under fire for his exchanges with some philosophers (which he has defended as frank, but which critics say have crossed a line to rude and demeaning). Many philosophers have pledged not to participate in the ratings if Leiter continues to run them. Leiter announced his move away from the editorship, based on the recommendation of the project's advisory board, and while a statement from Leiter said that he agreed with the shift, he also indicated frustration with his critics.
Jean Tirole was this morning named winner of the 2014 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. Tirole, of Capitole University, in France, was honored “for his analysis of market power and regulation." More information about Tirole and his research may be found here.
The Public Sociology Association, made up of graduate students at George Mason University, has published what adjunct advocates are calling the most comprehensive study of one institution’s adjunct faculty working conditions ever. Their report, called “Indispensable but Invisible,” is based on an online survey completed by 241 adjuncts at George Mason.
The vast majority of respondents (85 percent) say that they are motivated to teach by their passion for education and their respective disciplines, but only 26 percent believe the uncompensated time they devote to the job – about five hours per class per week, on average – will be recognized by the university. Some 40 percent say they aspire to tenure-track jobs, but many express concern that they will not be considered for such positions due to their adjunct status. About a quarter of respondents (23 percent) have an annual household income of less than $30,000. One-third are also graduate students, and 51 percent of those respondents say that teaching responsibilities slow down their progress to graduation.
“Significant minorities” of respondents didn’t receive course resources such as curriculum guidelines (29 percent) and sample syllabuses (19). Some 40 percent said they didn’t have access to a computer and 21 percent said they didn’t have access to copying services. Most are using their own computers (77 percent) and office space (56 percent). Most (79 percent) say they have not received training to accommodate students with unique or special needs.
Marisa Allison, report's lead author, said it’s significant because it captures such a rich picture of adjunct faculty working conditions at a single institution. (At the same time, the report acknowledges that a minority of those invited to respond did, which could have skewed to reflect the positions of those most motivated to respond.) Allison said it was the group’s “genuine hope” that the survey tool could be used elsewhere to gather data on adjunct faculty working conditions.
Gary Rhoades, director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona, said the new survey is a "model of how local contingent activists can identify and hopefully take concrete steps in improving working and learning conditions, as part of beginning to reduce the structural" issues surrounding non-tenure-track faculty employment. Local activists, faculty unions and academic administrators on other campuses "should be following their lead," he added.
Via email, S. David Wu, provost, said: “We are concerned about our faculty members and are committed to their professional growth, wellness, and well-being. We are also pleased to see our students pursuing research that is of critical importance to our community. While we would agree that there is a need for more research and dialogue around the issues raised, the study’s findings are not consistent with the environment here or the services we provide.”
Lorenz Haag is frequently quoted in Russian media as a professor in Germany who defends the Kremlin and urges Western countries to be more open to the Russian leadership. But Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty have reported that Haag does not exist, nor does his research institute. The report credited Dmitry Khmelnitsky, a Russian architectural historian in Berlin, for being the first to report that Haag could not be located. He wrote on Facebook: "Professor Lorenz Haag, the head of the Agency for Global Communications, exists only in the imagination of ITAR-TASS correspondents who have interviewed him regularly and for many years in the capacity of 'German expert'.... There is no such professor in Germany. And no such agency."
In today's Academic Minute, Diane Beauchemin, a chemist at Queen’s University in Canada, discusses how she is furthering forensic hair identification techniques. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Printed posters carried aloft in a September demonstration at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign read “Civility = Silence. Silence = Death.” In a particularly hyperbolic move, Henry Reichman, chair of the American Association of University Professor’s Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, claimed that charges of incivility are being used to silence faculty members in the same way that accusations of communist sympathies were used to silence them during the McCarthy period of the 1950s. Historical comparisons should be carefully justified. This equation is at best frivolous; at worst it risks fomenting unwarranted feelings of victimhood.
Faculty members and students share with all Americans the right to indulge in uninformed and intemperate speech. Social media provide them with effective means for doing so. But does unrestrained antagonism make for the best learning environment? Does it advance knowledge in the way higher education is pledged to do? Does it train students to evaluate evidence dispassionately? Does it prepare students to participate productively in public life? Does it help students learn that it is possible, indeed preferable, to be zealous in advocating a point of view without vilifying or trying to silence those who differ?
These effects include long-term consequences. The immediate effects of uncontrolled campus hostility can be more dramatic. We have already seen intemperate campus speech escalate toward violence. That happens most often with debates over Israel. Indeed verbal excess, aggression, and ad hominem attacks are part of the standard repertoire of the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement. That typically stimulates raised tempers and sometimes similar behavior on the pro-Israeli side. Nothing good comes of these confrontations.
We have recently seen campus passions cross the line into a moment of physical violence at Temple University. We saw extreme speech and symbolic action degenerate into threats, accusations, and even arrests at Ohio University. If we add to the list instances when campus groups sought to undermine academic freedom by denying invited speakers the right to speak the list of examples would grow. A silent protest at a lecture is a dignified act of moral and political witness. A brief noisy demonstration that ends after a minute registers passionate discontent but preserves academic freedom. Both of course require group discipline. A vocal demonstration that blocks a lecture abandons civility and undermines the purpose of higher education.
A certain portion of the American left now regards civility as a bland form of corporate speak. Or, worse still, as an Orwellian effort to stifle academic freedom. And the far right thrives on hostility and ad hominem attack. Our divided national political culture can hardly be said to encourage anything different. But should a campus try hard to emulate Washington?
Academic freedom does indeed protect both current faculty members and students from institutional reprisals for deplorable speech. But it was never intended to protect people from criticism for what they write and say. Uncivil students and faculty at a university should not be punished. University presidents who urge civility are not trying to stifle dissent or suppress speech. They are trying to make the campus an oasis of sanity. They are trying to urge faculty and students to showcase productive dialogue. That is part of what higher education owes the country. That is part of the cultural and political difference higher education can make.
Civility does not preclude passionate advocacy. It doesn’t preclude devices like irony and humor. Nor does it mean ideas and arguments cannot be strongly expressed and severely criticized. Civil discourse need not be bland. Civility should lead us to treat people with respect, but it doesn’t mean that all arguments or ideas merit respect. Eloquence in the service of conviction does not require abusive rhetoric or personal accusation. It does not require us to claim we know what is in one another’s hearts and to indict people on that basis. It does not require us to demonize our opponents unless we believe they are beyond hope and fundamentally corrupt or evil, a perspective not likely to apply to campus colleagues. Campus speech that harasses, bullies, or intimidates cheapens our communities and diminishes their value.
When administrators urge us to be models of civility they are doing exactly what their job requires. Civility does not mark the boundaries of free speech protection. But it helps describe how we can most often relate to one another productively. Voluntary civility is the best way to conduct difficult debates, but it is not a limit on permissible speech. Faculty members need to teach by example. They need to take the lead in demonstrating what good citizenship entails. Unfortunately, far too many faculty members are doing precisely the opposite.
The Arab/Israeli conflict gives continuing evidence of how inflammatory rhetoric in the Middle East can lead to actual violence. It is thus both sad and ironic to see our campuses conduct debate on the subject as if campus debate amounted to war by other means.
Cary Nelson served as national president of the American Association of University Professors from 2006 to 2012. He teaches at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.