The National Coalition Against Censorship -- which includes numerous academic groups -- has written to Kennesaw State University to demand the restoration of an installation that administrators ordered removed from an exhibit last week. The installation was about land once owned by Corra Harris (1869-1935), who was a prominent author and whose homestead the university accepted as a gift to preserve in 2009 -- over the objections of some faculty members. Part of the installation dealt with a racist letter Harris wrote -- a letter that launched her careers and that has had her identified ever since as an apologist for lynching. The university said that the installation was ordered removed from an exhibit in the new art museum at Kennesaw State because the work was "not aligned with the celebratory atmosphere of the museum’s opening."
The letter from the National Coalition Against Censorship says in part: "The removal of Ruth Stanford's [the artist's] work is not only a missed educational opportunity, it also raises serious constitutional concerns. As a public educational institution, Kennesaw State has an obligation under the First Amendment not to discriminate against particular ideas, no matter how controversial they might be."
A spokeswoman for the university said that she did not know of a response from the institution.
In today's Academic Minute, Michael Bruno, dean and professor of engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology, reveals how imaging technology can be used to educate and inform residence in the path of future storms. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Some faculty members are concerned that Bryan College, a Christian institution in Tennessee, is making its required statement of faith so specific in its Biblical literalism that it may be difficult for them to teach there, The Times Free Press reported.
Like many Christian colleges, Bryan requires faculty members to sign and abide by a statement of faith, which has said in part that "the origin of man was by fiat of God in the act of creation as related in the Book of Genesis; that he was created in the image of God; that he sinned and thereby incurred physical and spiritual death." That statement of faith has been broad enough that some faculty members have said they can believe in evolution and also sign the statement, arguing that they believe evolution was divinely inspired. But the Bryan board has adopted changes to make the statement more specific, and that's why some faculty members believe their beliefs are being declared unwelcome. The addition to the statement says: "We believe that all humanity is descended from Adam and Eve. They are historical persons created by God in a special formative act, and not from previously existing life forms."
Bryan College's anti-evolution stance dates to its founding. The college was founded in 1930 in honor of William Jennings Bryan, the lawyer who crusaded against evolution in the Scopes trial.
Although these sound bites slight the seriousness of their subject, Cuomo’s critics raise a fundamentally important question: When low- and middle-income students are burdened by tens of thousands of dollars of debt, how can government support for college prison programs be justified?
And the issue matters not only in New York State, where Cuomo’s proposal has captured public attention, but nationwide, where the idea of promoting college education in prisons is mostly ignored by politicians fearful of the kinds of attacks Cuomo is receiving.
We agree that any argument for funding college courses and/or degrees for prison inmates must reckon with the reality of the financial pressure on students who incur onerous college loans only to face an uncertain job market. In New York State, 6 out of 10 college seniors graduate with debt averaging $25,537, a reality not lost on some of our students in the Cayuga Community College-Cornell University Prison Education Program. Many men in our program have sons, daughters, nieces and nephews on the outside who are struggling to pay their own college loans.
That said, approaching college programs for prison inmates as a matter of “them or us,” the middle class or the undeserving poor, distorts what is at stake. This happened before. In the mid-1990s, Congress eliminated the use of federal Pell Grants for college programs in prison in response to critics who claimed that they drew resources away from worthy young men and women who were struggling to pay their way through college.
That was misguided then, and it remains so now.
First of all, the cost is relatively small. Governor Cuomo has proposed 10 programs, each with about 100 students, at a cost of $5,000 per individual that totals about $5 million. Compare this to the financial support available to New York college students more generally. In 2013, close to $2 billion in federal Pell Grants were disbursed to about 97,000 students in New York State, a figure that does not include a vast array of other federal and state as well as private scholarship and loan money available generally to students in New York’s two- and four-year colleges.
Second, the us-vs.-them frame is blind to the crime reduction and tax benefits that even a small college-educated prison population can deliver. College programs lower the incidence of crime both inside the prison and beyond its walls. Facility superintendents are usually eager to have college programs. A good discipline record is required to join and remain in the program. In those facilities with college classes, the incentive for staying out of trouble rises sharply.
When college-educated individuals are released to the street, recidivism drops dramatically. The Bard and Hudson Link prison education programs record low single digit return-to-prison rates of their students and graduates. A careful, synthetic analysis of multiple studies done in Ohio reports college as contributing to a one-third decline in reincarceration.
Even under conservative assumptions, the program will pay for itself and more. Assuming a $5 million cost, the release of no more than one-tenth of the 100 students in each of the 10 graduating classes, and recidivism rates of not more than 25 percent (much above the single-digit recidivism rate that New York State’s college programs currently experience), the savings during the first year are close to $5 million. Compounded over many years, they are substantial.
Third, it would be a mistake to see the benefits only in quantifiable monetary terms. Many student recipients of a college education behind bars play a role in urging young members of their own families to stay in school, to work hard, and to consider college. On returning home, many of these former students become passionate mentors of younger adults who face the same choices they once did. And the “us-them” divide is blurred still further in that many prison students become us returning to OUR families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces, and our communities.
We ask that voters and our elected representatives act on the proposition that all New Yorkers – and all Americans – are better off by ridding ourselves of the legacy of binaries that force us to choose between the morally pure and the undeserving poor and by implementing public policies that reflect a commitment to provide education free of any racial, class, or moral litmus test.
Glenn Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. Mary Fainsod Katzenstein is the Stephen and Evalyn Milman Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.
The Graduate Center of the City University of New York announced Friday that Paul Krugman, the Nobel laureate and professor of economics and political science at Princeton University, would be joining the faculty. He will switch universities but keep writing his column in The New York Times. At a time that many leading public universities worry about losing talent to private institutions, Krugman's hire was announced just after that of Cathy Davidson, who is moving to the Graduate Center from Duke University.
In today's Academic Minute, Daphne Hernandez, assistant professor of nutrition at the University of Houston, explains that while food-insecure families struggle to pay for healthy food, the roots of the problem go beyond economics. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.