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The importance of aligning your career with your core values (essay)

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A misalignment between the two could make you completely miserable, trigger depression or even cause you to become physically ill, warns Saundra Loffredo.

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Judith Butler discusses being burned in effigy and protested in Brazil

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Outside a conference she helped organize, the noted philosopher and gender theorist was burned (as a witch) in effigy. She describes the opposition and the experience of being attacked in this way.

What's to be done about the numerous reports of faculty misconduct dating back years and even decades?

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What’s to be done about the numerous reports of faculty misconduct dating back years and even decades?

Two views of the past 50 years on campuses and off (essay)

Activists from my cohort will soon mark 50th anniversaries of events that shook the world in 1968. We will recall, retell, reinterpret, revalue, reflect upon and draw lessons from those famous events, as well as from less famous ones that nonetheless changed alignments and life scripts.

One such event for me and other scholars in language and literature was a 1968 uprising within the Modern Language Association. It derailed the stately procedures of that learned society, infused it with rebellious politics and enraged or inspired 30,000 members. For me and others in the new MLA Radical Caucus, it helped open a pathway -- on which we joined many from other academic fields -- to what students were calling “relevance” in education. A heady moment. We imagined ourselves struggling toward a just and democratic society. We thought of ourselves as the academic wing of international popular movements.

At a session of the Conference on College Composition and Communication, I thought to relive that rush of political euphoria and talk about its reverberations half a century later. But the conference took place this past March in a dysphoric rush instead, brought on by a decisive win of what for most academics was the “other side” -- not our movement, but a nationalist one that might have been celebrating the 50th anniversary of a very different uprising and consolidation, post-Goldwater. I decided to juxtapose those two different takes on the last 50 years and suggest a few of the implications. Here are the two stories that I told.

Story No. 1

The post-World War II boom increased the prosperity of all classes and groups. Economic inequality stood at a historic low. Social movements arose to challenge injustice, especially of race and gender, and to protest an imperial war. Those movements flourished in a society that had rapidly expanded to beat swords into TV sets and cars and suburbs; to return millions of people from military to civilian life via the GI Bill; to build a military-industrial complex and fight a Cold War; to organize research and make consumer goods for profit. The flow into college of new populations both resulted from the civil rights and women’s movements as well as fueled their growth. The Vietnam War and the draft blew up a storm of antiwar activism on campuses.

With new kinds of students came demands for changes in college education. One demand was for a new kind of professor. More female, working-class and black students entered graduate study and college teaching. Their dissidence led to critique and revision of the arts and sciences curriculum: history from below, insurgent sociology, revised literary and artistic canons, the serious study of commercial culture, science for the people, African-American and women’s studies, and much more.

New disciplines like gender studies sprouted. Old ideas like Marxism, banished in the 1950s, were recovered, refreshed and blended with New Left thought. Social forms and ideas that had seemed natural turned out to be socially constructed. The university became a freer, more stimulating place to learn and teach about the world.

At the same time, classroom routines and relations lost their unquestioned authority. Composition and rhetoric became a leading venue for critique of hierarchy and for pedagogical innovation in the name of democracy and of respect for the lives, cultures and knowledges students brought with them to college. Practices of student-centered education and collaborative learning flourished.

Those changes swept through academic work and culture. They seemed liberating. When countermovements rose up against them -- like the culture wars waged in the humanities by federal officials like William Bennett and Lynne Cheney -- we were ready for, even a bit flattered by, the hostile attention. Higher education seemed to be developing in the direction we wanted. The university had become our neighborhood.

Story No. 2

The robust economic growth that fueled expansion of universities after 1945 was itself driven by the conversion of wartime capacity to the making of consumer goods, by the dammed-up purchasing power of people who couldn’t buy much during the war, by the big lead that U.S. capitalists had over the ruined industrialists of Europe and Japan, and by advanced scientific and technical know-how -- with universities eager to help corporations further develop it.

Those conditions weakened in the 1960s. Borrowing to pay for the Vietnam War was a burden. So was the seeming end of cheap oil. By the early 1970s, U.S. capital was in trouble: meager profits, too much equality. Business leaders sought remedial strategies. They moved production south and then overseas in search of unorganized cheap labor. They outsourced and subcontracted and otherwise weakened industrial unions.

Reagan broke PATCO, the air traffic controllers' union, in a show of toughness. Corporate leaders moved capital nimbly from one place to another, globalizing economic life. They fought successfully against the high marginal tax rates and support for public services that had prevailed for two decades.

Meanwhile, finances tightened up in education, especially at public universities. The party ended with the ’60s. Neoliberalism took root.

It’s no coincidence that the MLA job market in language and literature crashed in 1970, or that the crisis lengthened out into a 40-year depression. The job market in rhetoric and composition, which barely existed then, suffered less. But in both areas, the labor and rewards of teaching devolved from tenure-track faculty members to workers on contingent appointments with low pay, few benefits, little autonomy and almost no role in governance.

The degradation of labor has continued for 45 years in most of the arts and sciences -- and (unevenly) across the whole university. We approach the day when postsecondary education will be a marketplace where shoppers can buy credentials -- degrees, certificates, badges -- that promise the best return on investment.

Nor is this shift limited to the academy. Most established professions are in similar trouble. Even in law and medicine, most senior professionals are salaried employees, surrounded by technicians, paralegals and so on, with job security comparable to that of adjunct faculty members. The managers of economic life, having reorganized physical labor to their advantage, are now deporting, outsourcing and eliminating mental labor. Conservatives stigmatize “academic elites” along with political and media elites. The professional-managerial class declines in cohesion and influence.

Story No. 2 has a political and ideological plot, as well. Beginning in the 1950s, and picking up steam after the Goldwater challenge of 1964, wealthy people such as Joseph Coors, the Walton family and the Koch brothers funded the Heritage Foundation, the Cato Institute and many other think tanks to incubate conservative thought, institutions and eventually political campaigns. The conservative movement worked for 50 years to gain control of the Republican Party -- through, for example, the Southern strategy, Reagan’s charisma, the revolt against taxes and “big government,” the mobilizing of a Christian “moral majority” and then of the Tea Party, and the nationalist fervor of last year’s presidential campaign.

Needless to say, none of those causes (even antitax purism) sits comfortably with the principles of the Republican Party’s old leadership, which Donald Trump rudely dismissed in the primaries of 2016 and has marginalized since becoming president. Old-guard leaders like David Rockefeller believed that as long as the GOP safeguarded free markets, it could tolerate such frivolities as open-carry laws on college campuses, the defunding of Planned Parenthood, a Muslim travel ban and abandonment of the Kyoto Protocol.

But how can the corporate and Wall Street factions live with an “America First” assault on the free movement of capital and labor? The tension is palpable. To be sure, many of us have grown old and hoarse forecasting a Republican Party implosion. And though one day we could be right, this band of warring factions has more power right now than any U.S. government since 1945.

What does Story No. 2 imply for the hopeful plot of Story No. 1? Might the diverse and liberated university we built in and after the 1960s survive in the interstices of the new order? Unlikely. Big history tends to swallow and digest small history.

Moreover, the main agents of big history today have aspirations for education that sharply oppose those of academic radicals 50 years ago. They want college education to be of direct use to those who will hire its consumers and would like to replace the faculty with robots. They want school and college to be private, profitable, nationalistic, maybe pious. They do not want it to be a critique of power or a force for equality and cooperation. They don’t want their taxes to support the humanities or most of the other liberal arts.

What’s to stand in the way of their project, now that they have turned back ours? As you can imagine, this is not a happy question for an academic lefty from the ’60s to ponder.

“Pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will.” For years, I had Antonio Gramsci’s motto on my office door.

Optimism of the will, anyone?

Richard Ohmann is professor emeritus of English at Wesleyan University. The Conference on College Composition and Communication session in which he presented an earlier version of this piece was a collaboration with Christopher Carter and Russel Durst at the University of Cincinnati, who organized the panel, and Patricia Harkin at the University of Illinois, Chicago.

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Tuesday, November 14, 2017
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A ’60s Radical Reflects

Professor Sues UNC Chapel Hill for Gender Discrimination

A longtime associate professor of geography is suing the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for gender discrimination and retaliation for expressing concern about the climate for women and minorities on campus, according to The Herald-Sun. Altha Cravey says she was denied promotion to full professor, first in 2005 and again in 2015, while male colleagues with equal or lesser qualifications were promoted. The second denial came a year after she told a university ombudsman that the geography department had no female full professors and that the senior faculty seemed unsympathetic to her feminist-oriented research agenda, the lawsuit says.

While male peers are regularly assigned teaching assistants, Cravey says, she has been assigned one just three times in 23 years. She also was removed as head of a departmental diversity committee after her chair expressed concern that she was encouraging graduate students to complain about perceived inequalities within the department, according to the complaint. Cravey is a frequent critic of the university’s administration, publishing op-eds and attending rallies, she says. Only one woman has ever been promoted to full professor in the department’s more than 100-year history, according to the suit. The Equal Opportunity Commission issued Cravey a right-to-sue letter in 2016 after reviewing her case, The Herald-Sun reported. A university spokesperson declined comment on the case. Cravey is seeking retroactive compensation, damages and legal fees.

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Scrutiny of Punishment for Professor Over Harassment

Princeton University found Sergio Verdú, the Eugene Higgins Professor of Electrical Engineering, responsible for sexual harassment against a graduate student and punished him by forcing him to attend an eight-hour anti-harassment training session, the Huffington Post reported. The 23-year-old graduate student came from South Korea in 2015 to work with  Verdú, who became her thesis advisor in 2016, according to the Huffington Post. A year later, she said,  Verdú began behaving inappropriately toward her, touching her thigh and stomach at his home after he’d first invited her there to watch what turned out to be a sexually explicit Korean film.  Verdú allegedly asked her not to talk about the meeting within earshot of anyone in the department and asked her if she had a boyfriend. 

The student filed a harassment complaint, but she says that  Verdú’s punishment was the single training session. The dean of faculty at Princeton reportedly admitted in a recording obtained by Huffington Post that there was “a broader set of allegations” made against  Verdú by other women but that no one was willing to come forward on record.  Verdú said that Princeton advised him “not to reply but I categorically deny that there were any advances or any sexual harassment.” Princeton declined to comment on the specific case but said that “when a member of the university community is found responsible for violating our sexual misconduct policy, a range of penalties may be imposed.”

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Ex-Professor Sues Hartford for Discrimination

A former assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Hartford is suing the institution, saying it failed to protect him for years while he was stalked by a student, according to WNPR. The professor, Travis Tucker, who is black, alleges that the university took sufficient action to protect another faculty member who is white and who complained about the same student. He says that Hartford retaliated against him for a related discrimination complaint by not granting him tenure. Tucker also says that the university did not publicly announce an alleged hate crime -- two swastikas and the words “They lied about Hitler” -- he discovered last November in a campus bathroom.

The case comes to light days after Hartford expelled a white student who bragged on social media about bullying her black roommate and intentionally making her ill. Hartford declined comment on Tucker's allegations, saying it would respond in court. In general, a spokesperson said in a statement, the university “remains committed to fulfilling its obligations under the law, and takes appropriate action to investigate and address all student, faculty and staff complaints pursuant to federal, state and local laws.”

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Two adage-worthy behaviors of committees in higher education

Academe runs on committees, writes James Tuten, who shares two adage-worthy behaviors he’s observed about them.

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Colleges should teach technology across the curriculum (essay)

The recent presidential executive order “Expanding Apprenticeships in America” and the proposed JOBS Act, which would amend the Higher Education Act, both look to solve the skills gap by increasing support for short-term training in current technology.

Such training can provide some students with current technical skills. But according to a World Economic Forum report on employment trends across a wide range of industries, the competencies most needed for long-term employment are more foundational: critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity -- as well as digital fluency.

To close the skills gap and provide long-term employability, we in higher education must continue to offer a broad-based education in which digital skills are not developed within a single set of courses, but rather throughout the entire curriculum and the wider array of co-curricular experiences.

This approach has three advantages.

First, by infusing digital skills into all aspects of education, faculty members, administrators and students must think about which digital skills, competencies and fluencies are actually needed for success and leadership in a given area -- beyond the boundary of a single course and in ways that reflect the fact that digital skills are interdisciplinary, interconnected and contextually embedded.

Our colleagues at Bryn Mawr College have developed just such an approach to maximize our students’ digital competencies. We obtained extensive information from faculty members, staff members, parents and graduates from a diverse set of fields and professions to create a matrix of the kinds of technical understanding and critical use of data and digital tools that students need to thrive in their course work, research, internships and future professional pathways.

We then mapped to that matrix the learning opportunities that students had in our curriculum and co-curricular programs. Using that approach, we were able to see and show how students attained needed skills and also identify and address skill gaps. We found many areas of overlap, too, which often opened up several different pathways for students to reach the same objective.

The second advantage to this approach is that it allows all students, not just those focused on careers in technology, to reflect purposefully on their professional interests and aspirations and to build the digital abilities needed for opportunities and success. Thus, all students are engaged in digital development that can build on skills and knowledge they already have, and not everyone has to start in the same place.

Finally, this approach encourages critical analysis and positions digital skills as means to an end, rather than a pursuit in and of themselves. Through students’ reflection on what skills are useful to meet their goals, students learn to write and speak about their new abilities and to consider how well the tools serve their ultimate purpose.

While colleges should include courses in programming, data visualization and statistics, more students develop digital fluency more quickly and easily when digital tools are integrated throughout the curriculum -- from classical and Near Eastern archaeology to behavioral economics. Digital instruction is most effective when it’s in the service of students’ individual interests and goals.

Digital skills are also learned through many student campus jobs -- as research assistants or IT or library support staff -- and through co-curricular activities in clubs, community service and preprofessional internships. By infusing opportunities to gain digital competencies throughout students’ entire experience, we help students obtain skills in context; learn to use skills in new environments; and practice the inherent interconnectedness of skills and ideas, theories and outcomes. They also analyze digital tools through close examination, challenging assumed ideas and advancing evidence and arguments.

This approach to technology education produces students who are truly prepared for the jobs of tomorrow -- with transferable and flexible digital skills, the ability to understand the best tool for the job, and the knowledge to use and improve those tools thoughtfully and ethically with an understanding of the context where they will be deployed and the people who will use them.

In this transitional age, digital tools, data science, the internet of things, complex social media networks, and virtual and augmented reality generate both innovative practices and distinctive ethical and social issues. While there is a place for short-term technology training to meet immediate workplace needs, we cannot neglect investment in preparing students for the jobs of tomorrow. To close the skills gap in the long term, we need to offer students broad educational opportunities that help them to understand the tools they are using, that support the development of the skills and creative and critical thinking needed for continued innovation, and that empower graduates to influence the ways that these technologies are employed in their fields and communities.

Kimberly Cassidy is president of Bryn Mawr College, which recently launched the Digital Competencies Program. Gina Siesing is the college's chief information officer and director of libraries.

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Graduate student union organizers seek momentum despite political shift

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As protests unfolded at universities across the Northeast, graduate students seeking union recognition face an NLRB that might no longer be sympathetic to their cause.

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