Hog Wild!

It’s an armada of motorcycles, thousands of them, the mufflers removed from every one, it seems, so a low steady cyclical growl floats over the whole city -- and from the horizon, for the bikers are across the river as well, in the neighborhood close to Arlington National Cemetery, which is the magnet pulling all this metal to Washington, D.C. each year during Memorial Day weekend. It’s called Rolling Thunder (which was also, not so coincidentally, the name of a bombing campaign during the Vietnam war).  

The usual tourists wander around, of course, taking the usual pictures of the usual monuments. But more awe-inspiring is the temporary installation of artwork on the streets downtown. There are long rows of parked motorbikes, customized to the point of mutation, parked at angles that seem like a temptation to gravity and the domino effect. The place is full of sweaty, beer-swilling, heavily tattooed bikers. And you should see their husbands.

Okay, now, see, there are the stereotypes again.... I really should know better -- having just discovered a new online publication called the International Journal of Motorcycle Studies. It came to my attention thanks to Political Theory Daily Review, itself an incomparable and altogether indispensable website. (For more on it, see this article.) Four issues of IJMS have appeared so far. The next is due in July.

The title might sound tongue-in-cheek. The contents most assuredly are not. The ratio of substantial, intelligent articles to resume-padding chuff would be creditable for a print-format scholarly journal -- let alone one that exists entirely online, available to readers free. I expected numerous citations of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig’s quasi-autobiographical novel -- in which riding cross-country cures the narrator of the nervous breakdown he suffered as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Chicago. But such references are mercifully scarce. The reader is more likely to come across an allusion to Donna Haraway’s agenda-setting theoretical work on the cyborg (no longer a sci-fi concept, but rather something like a metaphor for the way we live now, in a world where human beings increasingly become the missing link between monkey and machine).

There is something rather cyborgic about academic/biker hybridity itself. In the contributors' notes, an author will usually list not only scholarly credentials but also the make of his or her ride.

The emphasis of the journal's articles, which are peer-reviewed, falls mainly on the social and cultural dimension of motorcycling, rather than its mechanics. Some of the best papers explore the history of bike clubs over the past century.

Or longer, actually. The Federation of American Motorcyclists, formed in 1903, emerged as a umbrella organization to incorporate enthusiasts from already established clubs, according to an interesting (and lovingly researched) study by William L. Dulaney, a visiting assistant professor of communication at Western Carolina University.

Dulaney does not reveal the make of his motorcycle, but he spent 10 years riding with an “outlaw” club. You picture him lecturing with a pool cue in his hand, using it to point to the chalkboard and to menace students (perhaps to their pedagogical benefit).

In this context, however, the term “outlaw” has a particular meaning that does not necessarily connote violence. An outlaw club is simply one that has refused the Foucaultian regime of subjective normalization imposed by the American Motorcyclist Association. They are not (necessarily) criminal -- just sensitive to bureaucracy.

By the Great Depression, Dulaney notes, many clubs had embraced the “enduring biker pastime” of “the massive consumption of alcohol and general good-natured debauchery.” (It’s so important to have traditions.) In 1947, the AMA leadership denounced certain exceptionally wild clubs -- for example, the Pissed Off Bastards of Bloomington -- in the name of the 99 percent of motorcycling enthusiasts who were clean-cut, law-abiding citizens. In defiance, some outlaw clubs accepted the label “one-percenters,” incorporating the symbol “1%” (inscribed within a diamond) into their club logos.

All one-percenters are outlaws. But not all outlaws are one percenters. Nor (archetypal imagery notwithstanding) do cycle clubs primarily attract Y-chromosome Caucasian lumpen roustabouts. The Motor Maids, the first all-female club, received an AMA charter in 1941 (and thus are not outlaws). Now in their 76th year, they still ride. And as another paper notes, there are also fundamentalist Christian clubs, and gay clubs, and ethnicity-based groups like the Ebony Angels and the New York club called the Sons of David. Some biker organizations are serious about maintaining sobriety, just as much as the Hells Angels are committed to avoiding it.

To learn more about the Footnote Gang (or whatever the group was that got IJMS started) I contacted Suzanne Ferriss, one of the managing editors. She is a professor of English at Nova Southeastern University, in Fort Lauderdale, and among other things the co-author of A Handbook of Literary Feminisms (Oxford University Press, 2002).

The timing of the telephone interview seemed appropriate. As Ferriss explained how academic-biker culture acquired its own journal, the distant rumble of Rolling Thunder came in through the window of my study.

It all started about six years ago, Ferriss said, in the wake of a series of panels at regional meetings of the Popular Culture Association. (It might be worth interrupting her narrative to give some background: Founded in the late 1960s, the association predates much of what is now called “cultural studies,” a field that only began to establish itself in American academic life about 20 years ago. The PCA’s own internal culture and outlook have always been far more populist than theoreticist. Not that its members are averse to analysis. But the PCA’s flagship publication, Journal of Popular Culture, tends to resemble a smart fanzine more than it does, say, a special issue of Diacritics devoted to "Six Feet Under.")

Anyway, to continue: People involved in the PCA sessions began working on an edited collection of papers. The volume was accepted by the University of Wisconsin Press, only to become a casualty of budget cuts. (The editors are looking for a new publisher.) But by then a network of scholars interested in motorcycle culture was taking shape.

“We had a list of about 300 people who’d been involved in the PCA panels,” says Ferris, “or who had expressed interest.” A core group of volunteers wanted to work on a journal, and Ferriss’s institution, Nova Southeastern University, was willing to host it online. The editorial board of six scholars reflected the sense that the journal should be international in scope: it had two members each from Britain, Canada, and the United States.

The editorial board also has an honorary member, best known as Sputnik -- an activist prominent in the struggle against helmet laws. “The journal doesn’t have a position on that or any other political issue,” Ferriss told me. However, Sputnik’s advisory role lends the whole enterprise “biker cred.” As publisher of Texas Road Warrior Motorcycle Magazine, he is, as the saying goes, an organic intellectual.

IJMS also has an audience in the motorcycle industry itself. For example, it is read by the professional historians who work for particular companies.  “We knew this was a subject that had a wider readership,” she said, “and that the journal would not just be of interest to academics.”

The first issue went up in March 2005. Since then, several editors and contributors have also had work in the anthology Harley-Davidson and Philosophy, published this year by Open Court. It’s an interesting collection, if by no means exhaustive. (The papers scarcely more than namecheck Gilles Deleuze, for example, even though his concepts of deterritorialization, nomadology, and “line of flight” seem quite biker-friendly.) But the paper by Bernard E. Rollins, a professor of philosophy and biomedical sciences at Colorado State University, certainly has a great title: “ ‘It’s My Own Damned Head’: Ethics, Freedom, and Helmet Laws.”

In November, IJMS will publish a special issue on motorcycle rights and regulations. (One senses a recurrent theme here.) And the July issue will treat questions concerning teaching and research in motorcycle studies.

Ferriss kindly allowed me an early look at some of the forthcoming papers, including a couple of bibliographical essays that make clear just how large and various the pool of texts really is. The literature on motorcycle travel begins no later than 1915, with W.H.L. Watson’s Adventures of a Dispatch Rider, though there are striking manifestations of a biker sensibility already present, in unambiguous form, in Filippo Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto of 1909: “We declare that the splendor of the world has already been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed.... Time and Space died yesterday.” (You can read the whole thing here. )

Among recent titles, there seems to be particular excitement about Riding With Rilke: Reflections on Motorcycles and Books by Ted Bishop, an English professor at the University of Alberta. Published last year by Penguin Canada, it will be distributed in the U.S. by W.W. Norton starting this fall. The next issue of the journal will have an essay by Bishop discussing the overlap in sensibility between motorcycle collectors and bibliophiles.

The July issue will also run an appealing article by Katherine Sutherland about how she pulled together a course called “Motorcycles, Speed, and Literature” on very short notice. When two professors were suddenly unavailable for the semester, she offered, to her colleagues’ great relief, “to throw together something on mumble mumble and literature.” (Sutherland is an associate professor of English at Thompson Rivers University, in British Columbia.) “Situations of extreme panic planning,” she notes, “are commonplace in university settings.”

In two months, she pulled together a syllabus that included Heidegger’s analysis of death and authenticity, The Futurist Manifesto, Hunter S. Thompson’s book about the Hells Angels, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. (The latter title was only added, she says, “because I felt I really had to,” although she admits dreading the thought of having to reread it.)

Sutherland broke the material into three segments, “beginning with texts featuring the classic hero figure and the quest motif, followed by those centered on the existentialist anti-hero, and concluding with the most recent works, which featured cyborgs, or complex fusions of machine and body.”

In hindsight, the experience of prepping for and teaching the course followed a similar triadic rhythm: “There was the modestly heroic effort to get the course mounted,” she writes, “followed by some moments of crisis always present the first time a course is offered, but particularly so in this case; and finally, there were some examples of real, cybernetic intersections between minds and machines.”

Reading articles from the journal, I felt a degree of vicarious enthusiasm. This came as a surprise, given that motorcycling has never interested me, which is probably a good thing, public safety-wise. (There are grounds for wondering if I possess a center of gravity.) Over the weekend, my wife and I ventured out into the fumes and the roar in downtown Washington -- taking in the spectacle, and occasionally snapping digital photographs of striking bits of biker semiosis.

There was, for example, the helmet on the back of one chopper, where it sat unattended yet presumably safe -- in keeping, no doubt, with a strictly enforced honor system. Nearly every available inch of the helmet’s surface had some slogan on it. “Depression is just anger without enthusiasm,” read one sticker. Which after all is pretty much Freud’s “Mourning and Melancholia” boiled down to one sentence.

I was looking around for something marked with a diamond and “1%” when my wife asked, “Does that journal you were talking about publish fiction?”

“Probably not,” I said, “since it’s scholarly rather than literary. If an author published a novel about the biking subculture they’d probably run something on it, sooner or later. Why?”

“Did you notice the couple back there?” she asked.

My people-watching skills need honing. “Nope.”

“Well,” she said, “the guy definitely looked like a biker from central casting. He had the leather vest and tattoos and everything. But his girlfriend wasn’t like that at all. She was completely the opposite.”

“Suzy Suburb?”

“Exactly. She was digging around in that storage thing at the back of the motorcycle. He stood there looking kind of embarrassed. It seems like there would be a short story in that somewhere.”

Maybe so. Perhaps one with a twist ending. After all, it might be her bike.

Author's email:

This Course May Make You Uncomfortable

Last fall in the section I teach of introductory microeconomics, I asked a student a simple question about the demand and supply of gutters. Nora had a blank expression, one that said, “I haven’t a clue of what you’re talking about.” If Nora had been struggling to understand economics, I wouldn’t have thought a thing about it. But Nora is a star, one who shines brightest when asked really tough questions.

Then it occurred to me. Nora didn’t know what the word “gutter” meant. It is easy to forget that Nora is Bulgarian -- her English is that good. I asked her whether she knew what the word meant, and looking embarrassed, she replied that she didn’t. How do you explain what gutters are without using the word gutter? It’s not easy, at least not for me. So, I broke into pantomime, with my fingers simulating raindrops heading for a cliff where they were caught by an invisible gutter.  

Suddenly, her face lit up, and she quickly answered my original question. But it had taken her longer than I would have expected, even adjusting for my pantomiming skills. Still puzzled, I asked her, “How do you say ‘gutter’ in Bulgarian?” She said she didn’t know. Amazed, I said, “You’re pulling my leg, right?” She wasn’t.

Are there gutters in Bulgaria? I don’t know; I’ve never been there. Everywhere I’ve lived, gutters are ubiquitous. Are they common elsewhere, or are they just an American thing?

One student disliked my treatment of Nora, saying on her evaluation of the class:  
"Something that bothered not only me but other students (and I know this from talking to my classmates) was the way Professor Harrington picked on the international students. We had about five international students in the class, and one day Professor Harrington did a problem about gutters. The student he asked to answer the question was Bulgarian and did not know what the word ”gutter” meant, and Professor Harrington made a big deal out of this. He asked her how you would say “gutter” in Bulgarian."

She says, “He continued to [quiz international students about their understanding of English] in other classes, singling out the international students and making them look inferior to the rest of the class.”

If the student had listened to the quality of her international classmates’ answers to my questions, she would have realized that they were academically superior to the vast majority of their classmates. Indeed, their median grade was  4.0; they all spoke English fluently; and, their essays had fewer grammatical errors than most of their classmates. It seems implausible to me that any rational observer would infer that they were inferior based on my questions about their knowledge of a few English words.

But even Nora looked embarrassed when she “confessed” that she didn’t know what gutters were. She had no reason to be embarrassed, yet she was. Why?

Perhaps, it has to do with the power of gut feelings, which allow people to quickly categorize experiences without having to think too deeply about them. Following them can even save your life in situations where you need to make quick decisions, implying that gut feelings are probably hard-wired into us via evolution. Hence, gut feelings probably can’t easily be turned off, implying that Nora could have been embarrassed by the gutters episode regardless of whether it was justified. And this is a shame -- because good class interactions should be full of professors and students going in any number of directions, some of them uncomfortable, without worrying about appearances or comfort levels (or whether some comment is going to make you a poster child for the Academic Bill of Rights).

I was in a gray area with Nora, one that I did not perceive as being gray until I thought about the comments of this student. I feel badly that I might have embarrassed Nora -- it was certainly not my intention. Nevertheless, asking Nora whether she knew the word for gutter in Bulgarian was the highlight of the course for me. My intuition screamed at me to ask it and her answer rewarded the impulse -- not because I was happy to discover that she didn’t know the word, but because it made me think more deeply about the way in which languages compete with one another for survival. Indeed, many languages face extinction because they are cluttered with words that people no longer find useful. For example, some languages have dozens and dozens of different words for ice, which may not be a selling point in the coming age of global warming.

Nobel laureate Robert Solow argues that the most difficult thing to teach students is how to be creative in economics, followed closely by critical judgment. It is much easier to teach tools, such as demand and supply, than how to use them creatively, or critically. The first step in using economics creatively is to ask interesting questions, ones that naturally arise during genuine conversations sparked by observing differences like those concerning the acquisition of language. While these conversations are crucial in teaching students to be creative, they are also likely to tumble into gray areas and sometimes produce dry holes, two things that make some students uncomfortable.

Another way to be creative in economics is to apply economic reasoning to topics commonly thought to lie outside the realm of economics. Hence, I want my students to learn that there are no boundaries to the usefulness of economic reasoning. I mean NO boundaries, absolutely none. Boundaries smother creativity because they encourage students to turn off their economic reasoning skills whenever they cross them.

Last semester, I described how a San Diego abortion cartel in the late 1940s charged women different prices depending on the quality of their clothing and the characteristics of the person accompanying them, a practice that economists call price discrimination. For example, a young woman who was brought to the clinic by an unrelated, well-dressed Sacramento businessman was charged $2,600 for an abortion. If the woman had come alone, she would have paid something closer to $200. Four students have come to my office or e-mailed me with concerns over the use of examples like this one. For example, one student argued that abortion is too morally charged to be used as fodder for examples, especially ones that are so narrowly drawn.

Crossing the border into conversations about race is especially dangerous, because the border is patrolled by guards searching for insensitive comments. It takes courage and tolerance on the part of both students and professors to have genuine conversations about race. However, no topic is more important to discuss in economics courses given the glaring disparities in economic outcomes between African-Americans and whites. For another course I teach, students are required to read an article about the controversy that erupted when members of one middle-class community proposed naming a “nice street” after Martin Luther King Jr.  The proponents wanted to weaken the correlation of his name with poverty and crime, while the opponents feared that naming a street after him would cause their neighborhood to decay. I admire the proposal yet empathize with the opponents. Since streets bearing his name are more commonly found in poor neighborhoods, (even unprejudiced) people might rationally "steer clear" of the area if they name a street after Martin Luther King Jr., a phenomenon economists call statistical discrimination.

Teaching students to use economics creatively requires having conversations that are not smothered by fears of saying something wrong or of stepping over some boundary beyond which economic reasoning is prohibited. But genuine conversations require that students have done enough of the reading to participate with intelligence -- and checking on that may also make students uncomfortable.

A student last fall accused me in his or her course evaluation of picking on students, saying that “if it was obvious a student was unprepared or had not done the assigned reading [Professor Harrington] would call them out on it.” It’s true. I admit it. Failing to read the assigned articles imposes spillover costs on other students that can be corrected by imposing penalties on unprepared students. For example, one student could not answer straightforward questions about the readings in two consecutive classes, prompting me to ask him whether he had ever heard of the expression, “three strikes and you’re out.” At the beginning of the third class, he joined the conversation, easily answering my initial questions and making a few comments of his own.

Author's email:

David E. Harrington is the Himmelright associate professor of economics at Kenyon College. 

Churchill Fallout: It's About Academic Freedom

Last week the University of Colorado panel investigating Ward Churchill found that the controversial professor of Native American studies committed serious acts of research misconduct and plagiarism. It’s now up to the university to decide on an appropriate punishment for the tenured professor, who could be fired or suspended without pay. I don’t know enough about the situation to support or challenge the panel’s unanimous findings, or to suggest what the university should do about them, but one aspect of the committee’s 125-page report signals a chilling warning to academics: If you want to stay below the radar, keep your politics and your scholarship to yourself.

The Colorado investigation was prompted by the strong public reaction against an inflammatory essay in which Churchill called the people who died in the World Trade Center attack on 9/11 “little Eichmanns.” Prior to that, the university had ignored complaints about Churchill’s scholarship, and it had already concluded that his 9/11 essay was protected political speech. But the committee, which includes two law professors, justified proceeding with the politically-motivated investigation into allegations of research misconduct with this legal analogy: “A motorist who is stopped and ticketed for speeding because the police officer was offended by the contents of her bumper sticker ... is still guilty of speeding, even if the officer’s motive for punishing the speeder was the offense taken to the speeder’s exercise of her right to free speech.”

Maybe. But the courts have questioned selective enforcement of the law in First Amendment cases, and the motivation behind prosecution is hardly irrelevant in the case of racial profiling, an all too common cause of traffic stops. But even if the speeding-ticket analogy holds, how is this any different from Richard Nixon ordering the IRS to audit the tax returns or people on his enemies list, or J. Edgar Hoover shoring up his own power by compiling files on persons of interest?

The committee went on to suggest that Churchill might have been fine if he had just kept his head down: “Public figures who choose to speak out on controversial matters of public concern naturally attract more controversy and attention to their background and work than scholars quietly writing about more esoteric matters that are not the subject of political debate.”

Ward Churchill certainly never kept his head down. He’s the kind of person that everyone has an opinion about, and that can be a good thing for drawing attention to issues, or a bad thing when the attention backfires. The University of Colorado hired Churchill as a strong political voice who would shake things up, and the investigative panel is right when it concludes that the university shouldn't be surprised to get what they paid for.

Perhaps Churchill shouldn’t be surprised at the scrutiny he’s received either. Every academic field has research standards, and we are always reviewing and evaluating one another’s résumés. That’s how we find the flaws in our arguments, and how we uncover the occasional fraud. I’m sure that the University of Colorado, like my own institution, wants faculty members to explain their work to the public. Sometimes that public doesn’t like what it hears. When I write about language and literacy in the press, topics that would seem to be pretty tame, I occasionally get angry letters, even threats. But now a select university investigative committee reminds professors: If you stray from the library, you’re fair game not just for the anonymous crazoids, but for the governor and yes, for your colleagues as well.

The University of Colorado investigation is not just about professional malpractice. It’s also about academic freedom. We’re experiencing a new wave of McCarthyism in this country, and academics who take unpopular political positions can expect to have their scholarship as well as their politics scrutinized. Two members of the Colorado select committee came out against firing Churchill because it would discourage other academics from conducting their research “with due freedom.” Whatever one thinks of the Churchill case, these concerns are well placed. Ideologues everywhere are trying to shape curriculum to match their particular orthodoxies. State legislatures are being encouraged to rein in liberal faculty (Pennsylvania has already established a Select Committee for that purpose). Now the distinguished members of the Colorado panel warn us not to step out of line or they’ll take yet another look at our résumés.  

Author's email:

Dennis Baron is professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Churchill Fallout: There Are More Like Him

The American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s report "How Many Ward Churchills?" has caused an uproar in some corners of the Internet. Criticism has centered on two issues: method and message. The report’s principal critics, Swarthmore history professor Timothy Burke and The Myth of Political Correctness author John K. Wilson, have attacked it, respectively, as a “casual, lazy, cherrypicking survey of whatever materials the author(s) were able to access on the Web,” and as part of “a vast new right-wing witch hunt on college campuses.” Both critiques share confused and erroneous assumptions about the report’s message and about ACTA’s right to criticize academic culture.

Burke complains that the report’s criticisms are ill-founded: They “see what they want to see,” they “ignore context or specificity,” and they “avoid REAL argument of the kind that scholars routinely engage in,” he grumbles. “The report talks about the need to guarantee that students have unrestrained rights to the free exchange of ideas in the classroom. Seriously, unless you bother to get off your ass and stop reading catalogues online, you have no idea what happens in classrooms.”

Setting aside Burke’s contemptuous tone, let’s examine the gaps in his reasoning. Burke’s initial objections are throw-away examples of faulty logic. The first, in which he accuses ACTA of post ergo propter hoc thinking, is itself an example of that logical fallacy: Burke sees ACTA seeing what ACTA wants to see because Burke wants to see ACTA that way. But the course descriptions ACTA cites are hardly unique or isolated. There are hundreds of similarly tendentious descriptions published by institutions across the country. They were chosen for their utter typicality, not their uniqueness.

Burke’s second objection is remarkably solipsistic -- context and specificity are whatever he defines them to be. ACTA quotes course descriptions verbatim, working from exactly what students (and interested parents) read to select a class. The reason? Course descriptions are designed to stand alone -- if they are all a prospective student needs to know about a class, then they are also all tuition-paying parents, taxpayers, and concerned citizens need in order to form a preliminary judgment.

This objection is part of Burke’s larger criticism of the report’s reliance on course descriptions. But his claim that these documents -- the main resource students use to decide whether or not to register for a class -- do not tell us anything about what happens in the classes in question is illogical at best, disingenuous at worst. If true, this charge would mean either that professors routinely engage in false advertising or that the process by which students choose courses is a charade that fools no one but students themselves.

In so arguing, Burke has chosen to stretch a point ACTA freely concedes -- that course descriptions are neither courses nor perfect windows into the curriculum -- in order to avoid ACTA’s more fundamental argument about why course descriptions matter. They matter because they are professors’ own public representations of what happens in their classrooms. That so many professors describe their pedagogical aims in ideologically loaded ways raises entirely legitimate questions about accountability and balance.

Of course, ACTA has never claimed to know exactly what is happening in classrooms, and does not assume authority to determine whether a class is pedagogically sound. All ACTA’s report does is to urge college and university presidents, deans, and faculty to examine the issue themselves. ACTA has already outlined ways campus leaders can review departments and programs while still being fair, respectful, and sensitive to academic freedom and academic autonomy. Our 2005 report, "Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action," was praised for its sensitivity to academic freedom and self-governance. Burke’s hasty and intemperate critique studiously evades these points.

Burke’s other criticism, that ACTA avoids “REAL” argument because it does not argue in the same manner as scholars do, is self-servingly dismissive: ACTA’s argument need not be considered, Burke implies, because ACTA has not made its argument as Burke thinks arguments should be made. But the truth is that ACTA’s report is expressly not an academic paper. It is a report designed to initiate dialogue about the college curriculum by outlining some of the dominant terms and patterns displayed in course offerings across the country. To condemn it, as Burke has, for failing to maintain scholarly standards of data analysis is like damning an apple for not being an orange.

Burke thus badly misunderstands ACTA’s report. He both thinks ACTA isn’t qualified to judge the academic curriculum and complains that ACTA has not framed a satisfactory program of reform. But ACTA stresses that academics should address the problem of self-regulation, and that they should do so now -- in the face of mounting legislative interest in controlling the curriculum. ACTA’s report is as friendly to institutional self-governance and academic freedom as it is possible for a watchdog organization to be.

Now for Mr. Wilson.

Writing at Inside Higher Ed, John K. Wilson treats ACTA’s report as Exhibit A in “a vast new right-wing witch hunt on college campuses”: “The far right is already pursuing leftist academics for expressing their views in the classroom,” Wilson writes. “ACTA threatens that academic freedom will be revoked from colleges unless they start censoring their professors and ban [courses that mention social justice, sex, or race].” But Wilson’s scaremongering misrepresents the report to an audience who, he seems to expect, will not check his sources.

Nowhere does ACTA advocate censoring professors or banning courses. The report urges academic officials to address -- voluntarily, and in institutionally appropriate ways -- professors’ obligation to respect students’ academic freedom to learn about controversial issues. The report recommends institutional self-study, hiring administrators committed to intellectual diversity, careful vetting of job candidates’ work, review of personnel practices, post-tenure review, and -- most importantly -- fostering robust debate on campus.

Here are the study’s concluding paragraphs, which follow directly from the sentence Wilson quoted to argue that ACTA is endorsing censorship:

Ultimately, greater accountability means more responsible decision-making on the part of academic administrators, more judicious hiring on the part of departments, and more balanced, genuinely tolerant teaching on the part of faculties. It also means acknowledging--openly and unapologetically--that education and advocacy are not one and the same, that the invaluable work of opening minds and honing critical thinking skills cannot be done when professors are more interested in seeing their own beliefs put into political practice.Finally, it means defending the academic freedom of even the most militantly radical academics. Our aim should not be to fire the Ward Churchills for their views, but to insist that they do their job--regardless of their ideological commitments. We must insist that, in their classrooms, they teach fairly, fostering an open and robust exchange of ideas and refusing to succumb to a proselytizing or otherwise biased pedagogy. Only then will their ideas be subject to debate; only then will they and their students learn to defend their positions in the marketplace of ideas. Only then will other views challenge, complicate, and even displace theirs. Only then can we hope to create a truly diverse academy.

Far from calling for censorship or the banning of classes, ACTA urges transparency about what professors teach; far from trying to silence politically engaged professors, ACTA defends academic freedom while at the same time noting that 1) academic freedom does not mean freedom from criticism or freedom from accountability; and 2) students have academic freedom too. Also worth noting: When the Ward Churchill scandal broke in 2005, ACTA defended Churchill from those who sought to fire him for his speech.

Wilson mistrusts definitions of research misconduct that include egregiously misleading citations -- and no wonder. His own argument about ACTA depends on the willful manipulation of sources.

Neither Burke nor Wilson reads ACTA’s report objectively, choosing instead to see it as proof of that worn professorial complaint, that no one outside the ivory tower understands academics. But what neither grasps is that it is not the public’s job to intuit the special worth of professors. Insofar as Burke and Wilson represent an academic consensus that outsiders are not qualified to judge -- or scrutinize, or question -- higher education, they signal the depth of the complacent insularity ACTA’s report takes to task.

If ACTA’s report has a take-home message for academics, it is that they urgently need to justify to a skeptical public why their work deserves special protections. Only then, ironically, will they have a chance of preserving the independence they cherish. With transparency comes respect; with accountability comes autonomy. That’s the paradoxical point of "How Many Ward Churchills?" -- that the more open one is about one’s practices, the more willing one is to allow one’s work to be scrutinized, the more responsive one is to legitimate criticisms, the more likely one is to be allowed to carry on without undue interference. What a pity that Burke and Wilson could not take off their ideological blinders long enough to see that.

Author's email:

Anne D. Neal is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.

Euston.... We Have a Problem

Tomorrow night at a church in London, there will be a gathering of several hundred people to celebrate the launch of "The Euston Manifesto" -- a short document in which one sector of the British and American left declares itself to be in favor of pluralist and secular democracy, and against blowing people up for the glory of Allah.

The Eustonians also support open-source software. (I have read the document a few times now but am still not sure how that one got in there. It seems like an afterthought.)

More to the point, the Eustonians promise not to ask too many questions -- nor any really embarrassing ones -- about how we got into Iraq. The important thing, now, is that it all end well. Which is to say, that the occupation help build a new Iraq: a place of secular, pluralist democracy, where people do not blow each other up for the glory of Allah.

Suppose that a civic-minded person -- a secular humanist, let's say, and one fond of Linux -- takes a closer look at the manifesto. Such a reader will expect the document to discuss the question of means and ends. This might be addressed on the ethical plane, at some level of abstraction. Or it might be handled with a wonky attention to policy detail. In any case, the presumed reader (who is nothing if not well-meaning) will certainly want to know how Eustonian principles are to be realized in the real world. In the case of Iraq, for example, there is the problem of getting from the absolutely disastrous status quo to the brilliant future, so hailed.

Many of the signatories of the manifesto are, or until recently were, some variety or other of Marxist. Its main author, for example, is Norman Geras, a professor emeritus of government at the University of Manchester. His work includes Literature of Revolution, a volume of astute essays on Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg. (Full disclosure: Geras and I once belonged to the same worldwide revolutionary socialist organization, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, and probably both choke up a little when singing “The Red Flag”).

Surely, then, the Euston Manifesto will bear at least some resemblance to the one written by a certain unemployed German doctor of philosophy in 1848? That is, it can be expected to provide a long-term strategic conception of how the world reached its current situation (“The history of all hitherto existing society is a history of class struggles”). And it will identify the forces in society that have emerged to transform it (“Workers of the world unite!”). And from this rigorous conceptual structure, the document can then deduce some appropriate shorter-term tactics. In The Communist Manifesto, for example, Marx and Engels pointed to universal suffrage and a progressive income tax as mighty strides forward towards the destruction of capitalism.

OK, so the proposals might not work out as planned.... Hindsight is 20-20. But a manifesto -- to be worth anyone’s time, let alone signature -- will, of course, be concrete. At the event in London tomorrow night, the comrades will rally. Surely they would never settle for broad and bland appeals to high ideals, rendered in language slightly less inspiring than the Cub Scout oath?

Well, judge for yourself. “The Euston Manifesto” was actually unveiled in April, when it was first published online. It is has an official Web site. The inspiration for it had come during a meeting at a pub near the Euston stop on the London Underground. (Hence the name.) The document has been debated and denounced at great and redundant length in the left-wing blogosphere. So the fact that the event this week in London is being described by the Eustonians as a “launch” is puzzling, at least at first. But when you realize what a rhetorical drubbing the manifesto has taken, the need for a public gathering is easier to understand. The Eustonians want to show that their heads are bloody but unbowed, etc.

The most cogent arguments against the manifesto have already been made. In April, Marc Mulholand, a historian who is a fellow at Oxford University, presented a series of pointed criticisms at his blog that seemed to take the Eustonian principles more seriously than the manifesto itself did. “Why should we expect pluralist states to foster the spread of democratic government?” he asked. “How can we audit their contribution to this universal ideal? What mechanisms ensure the coincidence of state real politick and liberal internationalism?”

And D.D. Guttenplan -- the London correspondent for “The Nation” and producer of a documentary called Edward Said: The Last Interview -- weighed in with an article in The Guardian accusing the Eustonians of, in effect, staging a historical reenactment of battle scenes from the Cold War.

In passing, Guttenplan wrote of the manifesto that “every word in it is a lie” – a bit of hyperbole with historical overtones probably lost on his British readers. (In a memorable denunciation -- and one that prompted a lawsuit -- of sometime Communist sympathizer Lillian Hellman’s work, Mary McCarthy said: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”) Guttenplan tells me that he now considers his remark “a bit intemperate” yet still calls the manifesto “that bastard child of senescent sociology and the laptop bombardiers.”

Mulholand performed a kind of immanent critique of the Eustonians’ liberal-humanitarian proclamations. That is, he held their rhetoric up against their concepts -- and found the manifesto wanting no matter how you looked at it.

For Guttenplan, the manifesto makes more sense as a case of political bait-and-switch. “The political glue holding these folks together,” he told me, “was a kind of Zionism that dare not speak its name, in which anti-Semitism was the only racism worth getting excited about, and opposition to any kind of practical pressure on Israel or its UK supporters/defenders the only program that got these folks up from their laptops.  Personally I find that both sneaky and, as my late mother would say, bad for the Jews.” (Complex irony alert! Guttenplan himself is Jewish.)

The liberal-internationalist case for military intervention in Iraq has recently been hashed out at length -- and in all of its disconcertingly belated moral passion and geopolitical irrelevance -- by the contributors to A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq, published last year by the University of California Press. The editor of that volume, Thomas Cushman, is a professor of sociology at Wellesley College, and a member of the editorial board of the online journal Democratiya -- as is Norman Geras, who drafted the Euston Manifesto.

Many of the contributions to the book and the journal are intelligently argued. They are worth the attention even -- and perhaps especially -- of someone opposed to the war. For a whole wing of the left, of course, to admit that one’s opponents might be capable of arguments (rather than rationalizations) is already a sign of apostasy. But I’ll take my chances. After all, you can only listen to Noam Chomsky blame every problem in the world on American corporations just so many times. It’s good to stretch your mental legs every so often, and go wandering off to see how people think on the other side of the barricades.

That said, reading the Euston Manifesto has proven remarkably unrewarding -- even downright irritating. It is not a matter of profound disagreements. (I am, broadly speaking, in favor of pluralist and secular democracy, and against blowing people up for the glory of Allah.) But the Eustonians seem to be issuing blank moral checks for whatever excellent adventures George Bush and Tony Blair decide to undertake.

They call for supporting the reconstruction of Iraq “rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.” The systematic campaign of disinformation and phony diplomacy engineered over the course of two years preceding the invasion, then, is to be forgotten. It’s hard to imagine a more explicit call for intellectual irresponsibility. Or, for that matter, a less adequate metaphorical image. Anyone upset by “the rubble of the arguments over intervention” is definitely facing the wrong crater.

The Eustonians seem also perfectly indifferent to the cumulative damage being done to the very fiber of democracy itself. This summer’s issue of Bookforum contains a few poems by Guantanamo Bay detainees -- part of a much larger body confiscated by the military. As a lawyer for the detainees notes, a poem containing the line “Forgive me, my dear wife” was immediately classified as an attempt to communicate with the outside.

It is hard to imagine that this sort of thing really advances the Global War on Terror, or whatever we’re calling it now. But it is not without consequences. It destroys what it pretends to protect.

As I was musing over all of this, a friend pointed out a conspicuous absence from the list of signatories to the manifesto: Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology and journalism at Columbia University. His book The Intellectuals and the Flag, published earlier this year by Columbia University Press, defends the idea of left-wing American patriotism with a frank interest “in the necessary task of defeating the jihadist enemy.”

This would seem to put him in the Eustonian camp, yet he did not endorse the manifesto. Why not? I contacted him by e-mail to ask. “I recognize a shoddy piece of intellectual patchwork when I see one,” Gitlin responded.

He cites a passage referring to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as “a liberation of the Iraqi people." A fine thing, to be sure. The sight of a humiliated dictator is good for the soul. “But the resulting carnage is scarcely worthy of the term ‘liberation,’” Gitlin told me. “I'm leery of the euphemism.”

Humanitarian interventionism needs an element of realist calculation. “The duty of ‘intervention and rescue’ when a state commits appalling atrocities,” he continued, “must be tempered by a hard-headed assessment of what is attainable and what are the reasonably foreseeable results of intervention. The document is cavalier about the ease of riding to the rescue. So while I support the lion's and lioness's share of the document's principles, I find it disturbingly, well, utopian. It lacks a sense of the tragic. I have not foregone the forced innocence of the anti-American left only to sign up with another variety of rigid, forced innocence.”

But in the final analysis, there was something else bothersome about the manifesto -- something I couldn’t quite put a finger on, for a while. A vague dissatisfaction, a feeling of blurry inconsequentiality....

Then it suddenly came into focus: The manifesto did not seem like the product of a real movement, nor the founding document of a new organization – nor anything, really, but a proclamation of dissatisfaction by people in an Internet-based transatlantic social network.

I dropped Norman Geras a line, asking about the virtuality of the phenomenon. Aren’t the Eustonians doomed to a kind of perpetual and constitutive blogginess?

“It's true that the manifesto is not seen by us as the rallying point for a particular organization,” Geras wrote back. “But it is seen as a rallying point nonetheless - as a focus for debate on the liberal-left, and for initiatives that might follow from that. The focus for debate part has already happened: there's been an enormous response to the manifesto and not only on the internet, but with significant press coverage as well. The venue for the launch meeting had to be changed because we ran out of tickets so fast for the original venue. So this isn't just a ‘virtual’ affair.”

The question from Lenin’s pamphlet comes up: What is to be done? “I'm not going to try to predict where or how far it will go,” says Geras. “One step at a time. But we already have more than 1,500 signatories and that means a lot of people in touch with us and interested in what the manifesto is saying. After the launch, we'll see what we want to do next in the way of forums, conferences, campaigns.”

Perhaps frustration with the document is misplaced? Something better might yet emerge -- once well-meaning people see the limits of the good intentions they have endorsed. You never know. But for now, with only the text to go by, it is hard to shake a suspicion that the Euston Manifesto owes less to Marx than to MySpace.

Author's email:

Scott McLemee writes Intellectual Affairs each week. Suggestions and ideas for future columns are welcome.

It's More Than the Photos

There's been a fair amount of attention over the last week to the issue of hazing and women's college sports teams. The Web site published a number of photos depicting the Northwestern University women's soccer team conducting an initiation for new players. The women are shown being forced to chug beer, give lap dances to members of the men's soccer team, all while various words and pictures are drawn on their bodies.  Then the same site followed up with pictures from a dozen other colleges and universities, almost all of which focus on hazing/initiation rituals involving various women's sports teams. All of the colleges involved have anti-hazing policies, and all (naturally) prohibit underage drinking.

In the national media, the faces of the women involved are obscured, but on, they are in full view. Though it was obviously foolish for the teams involved to photograph their hazing rituals and post the pics on the Internet, I grieve for the embarrassment the young women involved must now be feeling, and I have no interest in staring pruriently at the various details of their humiliations. We must remember the intent of those who uploaded the photos to sites like; these pictures (often showing students in their underwear) were for the enjoyment of a select few, not a huge national audience. Foolishness on the part of those who don’t know better doesn’t excuse leering on the part of those who do.

What I've seen tells me what I already knew: the kind of hazing that takes place on contemporary college campuses is more or less identical to what happened when I was an undergrad 20 years ago. The essentials, then and now, are these: forcing the pledges/initiates/rookies/frosh to undress (at least to their underwear); forcing them to consume large amounts of alcohol; asking them to "perform" sexualized dances in front of members of the opposite sex. The Northwestern women were required to give lap dances in their underwear in front of members of the men's soccer team -- while the Quinnipiac College men's baseball team is shown on the site stripping and dancing for a group of unidentified women.

As an adult who struggled with problem drinking for years, I am of course greatly concerned by any ritual that requires that folks consume large amounts of booze in a short period of time. I have no sympathy for those who see binge drinking as an essential rite of passage; I've seen the damage it can do to lives and bodies.

As a feminist, I'm grieved to see that ritualized sexual humiliation is still such a vital mainstay of initiation practices. It's not new, of course. When I was a freshman at Cal, I flirted with the idea of joining a fraternity (one to which my grandfather, a great-grandfather, and numerous uncles and cousins had belonged). In the end, I decided not to, both for reasons of principle and because I worried that I wouldn't fit in with the fraternity culture. I had lots of friends in the Greek system, however, and I heard their initiation stories. One of my former wives was a Pi Phi in the late 1980s; she told me that she had never gotten over her hazing. She recalled being stripped to her underwear, at which point all the "actives" (members) of her sorority took magic markers and wrote on her body -- circling areas that they thought "needed work" and writing commentary about her attributes. She said she laughed at the time -- but years later, she would still sometimes gaze at those parts and think about the criticisms and obscenities she had seen written there.

I'm a fierce fan of intercollegiate sports.  With the possible exception of golf, I love to watch men and women play any NCAA sport. I know the good that sport has brought to my life, and I've seen it bring discipline, health, camaraderie, and character to a great many young people. I'm not one of those professors who "goes easy" on the jocks, but I'm not someone who wishes that intercollegiate athletics would disappear, either. And as a fan of sports -- and former athletic department tutor at UCLA --  I've got at least a passing understanding of how vital it is to build close community on a team.

I think initiation rituals can be very valuable. Requiring frosh or rookies to go through a series of steps before they are accepted as full-fledged members of the team is healthy. It is axiomatic that to suffer together is one way to build community. But not all suffering is the same. Forcing the frosh to run extra laps or do extra push-ups or go through a weekend of brutal fitness camp can build community and fellowship just fine -- all without a drop of alcohol and without a single lap dance. Requiring frosh to put on silly skits that don't involve vulgar humor, nudity, or intoxication (or asking them to memorize all the verses of an ancient school fight song) can have a similar bonding effect. The problem is not with the nature of sports teams/fraternities/sororities, or with initiation rituals -- the problem is with a culture that connects that valuable process of initiation to ritualized sexual degradation and binge drinking.

Too many university policies (such as Northwestern’s) confuse the positive effects of team-building exercises with destructive and humiliating hazing. As quoted on the badjocks Web site, the NU policy reads in part:

The university defines hazing as any action taken or situation created intentionally, whether on or off university premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities and situations may include but are not limited to paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological shocks; quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips, or any other such activities carried on outside the confines of the university; wearing apparel that is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in stunts and buffoonery; requiring sleepovers or morally degrading or humiliating games and activities.

Banning all treasure hunts, quests, and road trips along with underage drinking and strip shows demonstrates a complete disregard for the potentially positive aspects of initiation rituals. There are countless physical challenges that can be offered to frosh that allow them to retain their clothes, their dignity, and their sobriety -- all while pushing them beyond their limits. Hazing can degrade, but healthy and constructive games and rituals go a long way to building that precious sense of camaraderie which is such a vital part of the college experience.

But a call to recognize the positive aspects of some traditional initiation rituals is not a defense of what we apparently see in the pictures from Northwestern. This sort of hazing troubles me so much is because it is so fundamentally antithetical to what sports can be in women's lives. The beauty of sports for women, at the high school or college level, is that it teaches women that their bodies are not merely decorative objects to be gazed at. It teaches women that their sexuality and their potential reproductivity are not their greatest assets.  Sport -- at its best -- teaches girls that their bodies are strong, and powerful; it teaches the athlete that she can transform and control her flesh for her own delight as well as for the good of the team. It turns objects into subjects, turns the passive active. I've seen sports from softball to track to soccer to basketball do that for countless women and girls in my life, and I rejoice in it. And thus I grieve when I see young female athletes forced to use their bodies so differently -- as objects of public, sexualized ridicule -- all for the sake of creating community that could so easily be created in a different way.

Author's email:

Hugo B. Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. He teaches and blogs about such issues as the interplay of faith and sexuality, American history, and masculinity.

The Footnote Police vs. Ward Churchill

The University of Colorado committee investigating Ward Churchill has found him guilty, guilty, guilty. And on some level, they’re right: Churchill is guilty of occasionally shoddy scholarship and the dubious practice of ghostwriting, and perhaps even more. But we should be alarmed by the investigative committee’s report, and not merely because the committee exists only because of a concerted effort to fire Churchill for his obnoxious and idiotic comments about 9/11 victims.

By stretching the meaning of "research misconduct" far beyond its true definition, and by supporting the suspension and even dismissal of a tenured professor for his use of footnotes, the Colorado committee is opening the door to a vast new right-wing witch hunt on college campuses that conservatives could easily exploit across the country.

If you don’t like a professor’s politics, simply file a complaint of "research misconduct." According to the Colorado committee, if you can find a factual error made by the professor with a footnote that fails to prove the contention, that scholar is guilty of "research misconduct" and can be suspended or fired.

The far right is already pursuing leftist academics for expressing their views in the classroom. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni just issued a report on “How Many Ward Churchills?,” proclaiming that "professors are using their classrooms to push political agendas." ACTA’s alleged proof that Ward Churchills are “common” on college campuses is a survey of course catalogs and syllabi, objecting to classes that mention social justice, sex, or race. (The ACTA report denounces a University of Colorado class on “Animals and Society” because it “[e]xplores the moral status of animals.”)

ACTA threatens that academic freedom will be revoked from colleges unless they start censoring their professors and ban such courses. Colleges “must also recognize that if they do not take swift and decisive action, they risk losing the independence and the privilege they have traditionally enjoyed.” According to ACTA, “students, parents, trustees, administrators, and taxpayers have a right to be concerned. They also have the right to raise questions, demand answers, and compel action.”

Compelling action is also the goal of David Horowitz and his Academic Bill of Rights legislation. In March, Horowitz testified before the Kansas legislature. He denounced women’s studies programs as a violation of academic freedom and standards. According to Horowitz, because the University of Kansas Women’s Studies program express a goal of educating students about “how and why gender inequality developed and is maintained in the United States and in our global society,” it should be banned. Since Horowitz thinks there may not be any gender inequality in the world, women’s studies programs “can in no way be justified as taxpayer-supported programs.”

Considering how effortlessly Horowitz misreads the meaning of academic freedom under the AAUP standards, one can only imagine how effectively he could distort "research misconduct" to pursue his crusade against left-wing professors like those in his book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. If Horowitz fails to get professors fired for talking about politics in their classes, he could try to have them fired for expressing controversial views in their research.

That's the harrowing possibility raised by the irresponsible claims of the Colorado committee. They claim to be following the University of Colorado’s statement on Misconduct in Research and Authorship, which defines research misconduct as “fabrication, falsification, plagiarism and other forms of misappropriation of ideas, or additional practices that seriously deviate from
those that are commonly accepted in the research community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research."

Because Colorado’s policy explicitly exempts "honest error," the Colorado committee turned into a kind of character police. Noting their dislike for Churchill’s "attitude," the committee members seem to have concluded without the slightest evidence that Churchill intentionally deceived readers with his footnotes.

For example, the Colorado committee concluded, “Professor Churchill repeatedly and deliberately cited the General Allotment Act of 1887 and once cited Janet McDowell’s book for the details of historical and legal propositions that he advances. Because both sources in fact contradict his claims, this is a form of falsification of evidence.” This logic is repeated in four out of the seven charges against Churchill. The Colorado committee’s basis for the claim of fabrication depends upon a fundamentally narrow-minded view of what a footnote should be.

However, footnotes serve many purposes. A footnote is not always definitive proof of the sentence being noted. It is common practice for footnotes to be used in order to refer readers to general works related to the period being discussed (as Churchill does), and even to cite works which provide a different or contradictory view of the era.

In my forthcoming book, Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies, I include a quote by former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer admonishing Americans to “watch what they say.” I have a footnote listing a news report about the statement. But I also include in the footnote a reference to a letter to The New York Times by Fleischer explaining why he is being misinterpreted. I do not comment on this claim, because every word in my footnotes counts against the word limit for the book, and I don’t want to waste precious space scrutinizing some political hack’s line of bullshit. But I thought readers might want to look at a different view.

According to the Colorado committee, I have committed "research misconduct." My footnote includes a source contradicting my interpretation of the comment. On the other hand, if I simply omitted the reference to Fleischer’s letter, and deprived readers of a chance to find a view disagreeing with my perspective, I would be a perfectly fine scholar in the committee’s eyes.

There is no reputable source for the Colorado committee’s claim that footnotes cannot include sources who disagree with the author. In order to evaluate the charge of research misconduct, the Colorado committee proclaimed that it would use the American Historical Association “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct” as “a general point of reference.” However, the AHA statement is not intended to be a basis for punishing professors. Indeed, if anything the AHA justifies Churchill’s approach by urging scholars to be “explicit, thorough, and generous
in acknowledging one’s intellectual debts.” Nor does the AHA statement include anything about the proper use of footnotes which would justify a charge of falsification.

The Colorado committee provides a footnote quoting the AHA statement that “historians pride themselves on the accuracy with which they use and document sources. The sloppier their apparatus, the harder it is for other historians to trust their work.” But there a vast difference between saying that lousy footnotes will affect your credibility and claiming that lousy footnotes can justify revocation of tenure.

In other words, the Colorado committee “proved” that Churchill was guilty of research misconduct for providing footnotes that did not support his claims by citing a footnote which did not support its claims. It seems strange that a committee which provides a thorough and fascinating account of the historical minutiae surrounding an 1837 smallpox epidemic would somehow fail to do any research on the meaning of fabrication and research misconduct. The Colorado committee’s shoddy work on the meaning of fabrication and misconduct stands in sharp contrast to its extensive research of the charges against Churchill.

The problem is that when a policy largely developed to address scientific misconduct is applied to the humanities, it must be properly interpreted. For example, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology dismissed a professor last year for research misconduct, it was because he literally fabricated data. No one has ever accused Churchill of fabricating data (such as making up historical sources). He is accused of making broad claims, without adequate evidence, which are probably wrong. That is lousy historical research, but it’s not research misconduct by any stretch of the imagination.

There is some evidence to find Churchill guilty on other charges of ghostwriting and plagiarism. But using footnotes as an excuse to fire Churchill makes the entire committee’s findings look like political expediency to remove an embarrassment to the University of Colorado. By turning every case of bad research into research misconduct, the Colorado committee threatens to expose the entire academic system to a political witch hunt. In an era when the right-wing is already targeting college professors for their extramural statements and political comments in class, this radical revision of research standards could mark the next step in the war on academic freedom.

Author's email:

John K. Wilson is the founder of the Web site College Freedom and the author of Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies (forthcoming from Paradigm Publishers).

Commission: Fix the FAFSA

Hey! You! On the Spellings Commission. You’re wonking out on us. No squabbling. Enough on white papers.

Vedder!Duderstadt!Vest! You’re missing the easy stuff. Like I told you in Boston: Fix the FAFSA. Can’t you all agree on that one? No greater barrier stands between the poor and a higher education, no greater obstacle, no greater hurdle than the Free Application for Federal Student Aid. (Which students also need for state aid. And private, too.)  

Imagine the headline: “New Form Puts 10,000 More Students In College, With No Increase in Aid Funding.” Impossible? Not even close. I asked a few of my favorite design experts if the nation can fix this FAFSA mess.

“Why not make the FAFSA a pleasurable and welcoming application process?” says Jane Fulton Suri of the design firm Ideo. Ideo blinks at nothing, taking on such problems as new processes to extend the life of kidneys en route to recipients. “You could design FAFSA without any compromise of loan credit and other identity issues. And you'd even make these more enjoyable for the form recipients to process, too."

“Why should someone have to fill out this form at all?” asks Mark Schindler of visual i/o. The firm has clarified complicated subjects from baseball stats to financial markets. “All an applicant should have to do is signal his or her intention to apply for a grant and at most point to the information needed -- tax information, credit history.”  

“The FAFSA seems to be above all a test of visual acuity, recordkeeping ability, transcribing, and fluency in bureaucratic legalese,” Schindler says.  “Anyone filling it out can only say, ‘I have no idea how the machine crunches the data into a meaningful answer about whether I can afford college. If I make the slightest misstep, I am screwed and it could impact the next year or more of my life. I may never know how I messed up.’ ”  

Take a look. Yes, you reading here. Look at the form and come right back.


Who wouldn’t flee that page? Yes, I know. Millions of middle- and upper-class families survive. Those are not the students shut out of the work force for this century. The issue isn’t about Mac or Windows, or cable modems versus dial-up. I asked Mary L. Fifield, president of Bunker Hill Community College, about the everyday barriers of a typical student. “Students right now are trying to find the $1.25 to take the bus to class today,” she says.  Or deciding between the bus ride and the next meal.  

Consider the opening question from FAFSA for these students. (All gibberish guaranteed accurate, from the actual forms. Remember the Bunker Hill students.)  

Gather the documents you need.

Start with your Social Security number, driver's license, income tax return, bank statements and investment records.

Not handy? OK. Take some of the paperwork home. FAFSA is only online now. Assumes, then, that everyone has a computer and printer handy. Try the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet. 

If you read English, you can locate Spanish versions. Printed out, the FAFSA on the Web Worksheet is eight pages -- that’s six more than the IRS 1040 PDF download.

My favorite FAFSA moment is the second bullet point on Section 1 of the Worksheet, under Student Information:

  • Not all the questions from FAFSA on the Web appear on this worksheet, but questions are generally ordered as they appear online.

This is the Web, not Gutenberg and hand set metal type. Why not revise the Worksheet to match the actual FAFSA?

No mention anywhere of education or any benefits from all this work.  The fifth question for students:  

Have you ever been convicted of possessing or selling illegal drugs? A federal law suspends eligibility for some students with drug convictions. Answer “No” if you have no convictions. Also answer “No” if you have a conviction that was not a federal or state conviction. Do not count convictions that have been removed from your record, or that occurred before you turned 18 years old unless you were tried as an adult.

If "Yes," you can complete an interactive e-worksheet when you complete the FAFSA online, or you can print a worksheet at Based on the worksheet question, you will be able to answer whether you are eligible for federal aid when you complete your FAFSA online.

That’s from a left hand column.  Right column under the “Yes” box says, “If you have a conviction for possessing or selling illegal drugs, you should submit your FAFSA anyway. You may be eligible for non-federal aid from state or private sources.”  Remember, the person filling this out has not been to college.  

That’s not all. How about:

Records of untaxed income, such as Social Security benefits, welfare benefits (e.g., TANF), and veterans benefits, for yourself, and your parents if you are providing parent information; non-2006-2006 State Grant recipients in degree programs -- May 1, 2006. All other applicants -- August 1, 2006

“The FAFSA asks for too much information, or perhaps for the wrong type of information, reflecting a systemic point of view that’s cocked,” says Peter Agoos of Agoos D-Zines. “The info really needed is simple: How much do you earn from work? How much do you earn from other sources? How much do you spend for housing, food, transportation, and utilities? How many people do you support? Period.”

My recent FAFSA experience was helping a young student I met through my church this winter. Her parents are hotel workers, slogging, legally, through immigration bureaucracies. No thanks to misinformation spewed from her public high school, Cambridge (Mass.) Rindge and Latin, Wheaton College (Mass.) did accept her. No idea about the funding yet. FAFSA and attendant issues for this young woman have so far confounded two lawyers, an M.B.A., and a banker. Plus the minister gathering and re-gathering information and praying.  

The FAFSA site does have a demo. I tried.

To access the demo site, go to The user name is eddemo, and the password is fafsatest. The demo site is available in both English and Spanish.

Next, a barrage of dialogue boxes and flashing signs. Finally settled at:  

FAFSA on the Web has encountered an error. This could be due to normal maintenance. We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Select Home Page to return to the FAFSA on the Web main page.

I still don’t know the deadline for the form. The form lists the 33 states that have known deadlines.  Those in other states just need to follow these guidelines:  

Check with the school’s financial aid administrator for these states and territories: AL, *AS, CO, *CT, *FM, GA, *GU, *HI, ID, *MH, *MP, MS, *NE, *NM, *NV, PR, *PW, *SD, *TX, UT, *VA, *VI, *VT, WA, WI, and *WY the U.S. Department of Education.

Terrific grammar. The high school? The state where you want to go to school? Why not one date for a federal form?  

Clicking back to the FAFSA home page, this exhortation transforms to a taunt:

Funds for college are at historic highs.See message from Secretary Spellings.

Is the FAFSA design to keep some people out?  It doesn’t take a Grassy Knoll Theorist to see conspiracies.

“Nobody’s to blame for this kind of mess, but it happens all the time,” an organizational expert, Barry Stein, told me. “Who was asked to do what? The tech guys have their own sense of expertise, they want to show people how good they are and how many features and links you can put in.” He thought for a moment. “Have you read The Mystery of Capital, by Hernando deSoto? It’s about how these systems no one thinks about make it impossible for the poor to get capital. He looks at what we would consider simple transactions.”  

With my iBook and high-speed internet, I saw that the book (Basic Books, 2000) was “Available” at the library down the street. I went.  

Figure 2.1, p. 19: “Procedure to form a legally obtained home in Peru. The procedure consists of 5 stages. The first one alone has 207 steps.”

Commissioners – How many steps for FAFSA? In an information economy, isn’t information capital? And education?

This merciless odyssey begins with the simple Google to Where else would a student begin? Only later, I did find a friendlier site:

What are we, this nation, saying to those students, motivated to go to school, who are deciding right now between the bus to school and dinner?  

What did that cat say? With my iBook and my access and Google, easy to check with Lewis Carroll:   

Alice: Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?
The Cat: That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.
Alice: I don't much care where.
The Cat: Then it doesn't much matter which way you go.
Alice: long as I get somewhere.
The Cat: Oh, you're sure to do that, if only you walk long enough.

Author's email:

Wick Sloane is chief operating officer at Generon Consulting in Massachusetts and former chief financial officer of the University of Hawaii system.

The Kircher Code

The table sits at the front of the bookshop, near the door. That way it will get maximum exposure as people come and go. "If you enjoyed The Da Vinci Code," the sign over it says, "you might also like..." The store is part of a national chain, meaning there are hundreds of these tables around the country. Thousands, even.

And yet the display, however eyecatching, is by no means a triumph of mass-marketing genius. The bookseller is denying itself a chance to appeal to an enormous pool of consumer dollars. I'm referring to all the people who haven’t read Dan Brown’s globe-bestriding best-seller -- and have no intention of seeing the new movie -- yet are already sick to death of the whole phenomenon.

"If you never want to hear about The Da Vinci Code again," the sign could say, "you might like...."

The book’s historical thesis (if that is the word for it) has become the cultural equivalent of e-mail spam. You just can’t keep it out. The premise sounds more preposterous than thrilling: Leonardo da Vinci was the head of a secret society (with connections to the Knights Templar) that guarded the hidden knowledge that Mary Magdeleine fled Jerusalem, carrying Jesus’s child, and settled in France....

All of this is packaged as a contribution to the revival of feminine spirituality. Which is, in itself, enough to make the jaw drop, at least for anyone with a clue about the actual roots of this little bit of esoteric hokum.

Fantasies about the divine bloodlines of certain aristocratic families are a staple of the extreme right wing in Europe. (The adherents usually also possess "secret knowledge" about Jewish bankers.) And anyone contending that the Knights Templar were a major factor behind the scenes of world history will turn out to be a simpleton, a lunatic, or some blend of the two -- unless, of course, it’s Umberto Eco goofing on the whole thing, as he did in Foucault’s Pendulum.

It's not that Dan Brown is writing crypto-fascist novels. He just has really bad taste in crackpot theories. (Unlike Eco, who has good taste in crackpot theories.)

And Leonardo doesn’t need the publicity -- whereas my man Athanasius Kircher, the brilliant and altogether improbable Jesuit polymath, does.

Everybody has heard of the Italian painter and inventor. As universal geniuses go, he is definitely on the A list. Yet we Kircher enthusiasts feel duty-bound to point out that Leonardo started a lot more projects than he ever finished -- and that some of his bright ideas wouldn’t have worked.

Sure, Leonardo studied birds in order to design a flying machine. But if you built it and jumped off the side of a mountain, they’d be scrapping you off the bottom of the valley. Of course very few people could have painted "Mona Lisa." But hell, anybody can come up with a device permitting you to plunge to your death while waving your arms.

Why should he get all the press, while Athanasius Kircher remains in relative obscurity? He has just as much claim to the title of universal genius. Born in Germany in 1602, he was the son of a gentleman-scholar with an impressive library (most of it destroyed during the Thirty Years’ War). By the time Kircher became a monk at the age of 16, he had already become as broadly informed as someone twice his age.

He joined the faculty of the Collegio Romano in 1634, his title was Professor of Mathematics. But by no means is that a good indicator of his range of scholarly accomplishments. He studied everything. Thanks to his access to the network of Jesuit scholars, Kircher kept in touch with the latest discoveries taking place in the most far-flung parts of the world. And a constant stream of learned visitors to Rome came to see his museum at the Vatican, where Kircher exhibited curious items such as fossils and stuffed wildlife alongside his own inventions.

Leonardo kept most of his more interesting thoughts hidden in notebooks. By contrast, Kircher was all about voluminous publication. His work appeared in dozens of lavishly illustrated folios, the publication of which was often funded by wealthy and powerful figures. The word "generalist" is much too feeble for someone like Kircher. He prepared dictionaries, studied the effects of earthquakes, theorized about musical acoustics, and engineered various robot-like devices that startled tourists with their lifelike motions.

He was also enthusiastic about the microscope. In a book published in 1646, Kircher mentioned having discovered “ the verminous blood of those sick with fever, and numberless other facts not known or understood by a single physician.” He speculated that very small animals “with a vast number and variety of motions, colors, and almost invisible parts” might float up from from “the putrid vapors” emitted by sick people or corpses.

There has long been a scholarly debate over whether or not Kircher deserves recognition as the inventor of the germ theory of disease. True, he seems not to have had a very clear notion of what was involved in experimentation (then a new idea). And he threw off his idea about the very tiny animals almost in passing, rather than developing it in a rigorous manner.  But then again, Kircher was a busy guy. He managed to stay on the good side of three popes, while some of his colleagues in the sciences had trouble keeping the good will of even one.
Among Kircher’s passions was the study of ancient Egypt. As a young man, he read an account of the hieroglyphics that presented the idea that they were decorative inscriptions -- the equivalent of stone wallpaper, perhaps. (After all, they looked like tiny pictures.) This struck him as unlikely. Kircher suspected the hieroglyphics were actually a language of some kind, setting himself the task of figuring out how to read it.

And he made great progress in this project – albeit in the wrong direction. He decided that the symbols were somehow related to the writing system of the Chinese, which he did know how to read, more or less. (Drawing on correspondence from his missionary colleagues abroad, Kircher prepared the first book on Chinese vocabulary published in Europe.)

Only in the 19th century was Jean Francois Champollion able to solve the mystery, thanks to the discovery of the Rosetta Stone. But the French scholar gave the old Jesuit his due for his pioneering (if misguided) work. In presenting his speculations, Kircher had also provided reliable transcriptions of the hieroglyphic texts. They were valuable even if his guesses about their meaning were off.

Always at the back of Kircher’s mind, I suspect, was the story from Genesis about the Tower of Babel. (It was the subject of one of his books.) As a good Jesuit, he was doubtless confident of belonging to the one true faith -- but at the same time, he noticed parallels between the Bible and religious stories from around the world. There were various trinities of dieties, for example. As a gifted philologist, he noticed the similarities among different languages.

So it stood to reason that the seeming multiplicity of cultures was actually rather superficial. At most, it reflected the confusion of tongues following God’s expressed displeasure about that big architectural project. Deep down, even the pagan and barbarous peoples of the world had some rough approximation of the true faith.

That sounds ecumenical and cosmopolitan enough. It was also something like a blueprint for conquest: Missionaries would presumably use this basic similarity as a way to "correct" the beliefs of those they were proselytizing.

But I suspect there is another level of meaning to his musings. Kircher’s research pointed to the fundamental unity of the world. The various scholarly disciplines were, in effect, so many fragments of the Tower of Babel. He was trying to piece them together. (A risky venture, given the precedent.)

He was not content merely to speculate. Kircher tried to make a practical application of his theories by creating a "universal polygraphy" -- that is, a system of writing that would permit communication across linguistic barriers. It wasn’t an artificial language like Esperanto, exactly, but rather something like a very low-tech translation software. It would allow you to break a sentence in one language down to units, which were to be represented by symbols. Then someone who knew a different language could decode the message.

Both parties needed access to the key -- basically, a set of tables giving the meaning of Kircher’s "polygraphic" symbols. And the technique would place a premium on simple, clear expression. In any case, it would certainly make international communication faster and easier.

Unless (that is) the key were kept secret. Here, Kircher seems to have had a brilliant afterthought. The same tool allowing for speedy, transparent exchange could (with some minor adjustments) also be used to conceal the meaning of a message from prying eyes. He took this insight one step further -- working out a technique for embedding a secret message in what might otherwise look like a banal letter. Only the recipient -- provided he knew how to crack the code -- would be able to extract its hidden meaning.

Even before his death in 1680, there were those who mocked Athanasius Kircher for his vanity, for his gullibility (he practiced alchemy), and for the tendency of his books to wander around their subjects in a rather garrulous and self-indulgent manner. Nor did the passing of time and fashion treat him well. By the 18th century, scholars knew that the path to exact knowledge involved specialization. The wild and woolly encyclopedism of Athanasius Kirscher was definitely a thing of the past.

Some of the disdain may have been envy. Kircher was the embodiment of untamed curiosity, and it is pretty obvious that he was having a very good time. Even granting detractors all their points, it is hard not to be somewhat in awe of the man. Someone who could invent microbiology, multiculturalism, and encryption technology (and in the 17th century no less) at least deserves to be on a T-shirt.

But no! All anybody wants to talk about is da Vinci. (Or rather, a bogus story about him that is the hermeneutic equivalent of putting "The Last Supper" on black velvet.)

Well, if you can’t beat 'em.... Maybe it's time for a trashy historical thriller that will give Kircher his due. So here goes:

After reading this column, Tom Hanks rushes off to the Vatican archives and finds proof that Kircher used his "universal polygraphy" to embed secret messages in his the artwork for his gorgeously illustrated books.

But that’s not all. By cracking the code, he finds a cure to the avian flu. Kircher has recognized this as a long-term menace, based on a comment by a Jesuit missionary work. (We learn all this in flashbacks. I see Phillip Seymour Hoffman as Athanasius Kircher.)

Well, it's a start, anyway. And fair warning to Dan Brown. Help yourself to this plot and I will see you in court. It might be a terrible idea, but clearly that's not stopped you before.

Author's email:

The Exhausting Job of Teaching

As a purchasing agent in Silicon Valley, I felt challenged. I needed to direct sales staff, placate management, reroute angry clients, and above all, make sure that no production lines went down in northern California. It was more than a 40-hour-a-week job. I often came in one weekend a month to help with inventory. Wrangling semiconductors -- getting them from vendors at a fraction less of a penny than my competitor, divvying them up between deserving clients, and getting them to their destinations before a disaster could happen -- was exhilarating work. I often went out with co-workers after work to celebrate another "productive day." This, I thought, was living.

Years later, I found myself working as a graphic designer for a small advertising agency. Later I moved into art direction and copywriting. I worked for a large agency in San Francisco, providing campaigns to multi-million dollar corporations. I loved the work. I often felt pushed to do my best -- and per the industry standard, I often worked two full weekends a month. Creative directors would have dinner brought in from smart fusion restaurants. And we would work on. And on. More than a few times, my senior art director would find herself on the phone, trying to give away tickets to the symphony or opera as we worked into the night. I found that I thrived on deadlines.

In 1999, I made the switch. Intent on a career that provided more than a paycheck, I started tutoring high school students for success on the SAT; later I taught composition at a local business college at night. Finally I landed a string of adjunct work at several colleges in the
Bay Area. I quit my day job at the advertising agency, and by January 2000, I was supporting myself as a postsecondary teacher.

It is the most demanding work I have ever done. Yes, managing millions of dollars worth of semiconductors was challenging. Designing national advertising campaigns was tough. But these positions required less of me -- emotionally, intellectually, and physically. Teaching college was a whole new game. And one that would require me not only to use every skill I had to succeed -- but also force me to grow and change in ways I could never had anticipated.

What is it about college teaching that makes it so demanding? Why do so many professors suffer from fatigue so deep that only a summer off can revive them? The answer is complex -- and one that differs according to circumstance.

First, for most, the teaching load is overwhelming. Many of my untenured university colleagues work a 5/5 load. Some, like me, in English (or other disciplines with heavy grading requirements) work a 4/4. Add on to that the requirement to publish, to present at
conferences, stay current with industry publications, and do committee work and you have a recipe for a breakdown.

Colleagues who work for a university dedicated to research do get release time from teaching. Yet even graduate assistants and release time cannot balance out the energy required to succeed in research and teach a 2/2 load. Sometimes preparation for classes comes last -- which leaves professors feeling guilty and anxious.

The expectation to publish puts additional pressure on already-stressed professors. Today I met a colleague eating a sandwich in the faculty lounge, a staggering pile of paperwork spilling from his attaché. Exhausted, he is struggling to grade finals, conference with students, and figure final grades. He confessed that he has not written the paper he is to present at an out-of-state conference. The conference is in three days. He is not alone. Many of my professor friends have revealed that they, too, are strung out on work and unable to keep up. Knowing that publishing is crucial to promotion and tenure makes many
professors anxious and depressed when they cannot write when they are most productive.

Although rewarding, committee work requires effort. Attending biweekly meetings, studying materials, producing reports, advising colleagues, and being in constant contact with committee members can make it difficult to prepare for classes. Keeping administrators happy with up-to-date paperwork not only requires concentration, but the ability
to organize. Professors who don't log deadlines in a calendar they regularly consult may find themselves in trouble. Because so many committees' work affects things that are important, such as the curriculum, professors feel that they must invest the time -- if only to
uphold their department's goals. And that time must come from somewhere.

My colleague's office sports two full bookshelves of publications; yet not one spine is broken. Journals and magazines can be a great source of support and even inspire us to try out new teaching strategies -- but to find the time to pick one up, we must put something else down. Many of us simply cannot find time. One professor friend of mine in science does find time. A magazine holder in his bathroom is stocked with geology publications. Each of us knows that these publications can help us teach -- yet where will we find time to reconfigure our course materials to reflect these new concepts?

Preparing for lectures and creating assignments demands time. Even when colleagues teach a course they've taught before, many invest considerable time retooling the course outline, revamping handouts, and creating new assignments. I change textbooks every two or three semesters -- if only to find a new way to teach decades-old information. Workbooks and companion Web sites often help me feel refreshed, too. But in some disciplines, preparation doesn't take the biggest slice of the time pie.

For many, grading feels like the anti-teaching tool. The bulk of my time is spent in evaluating and marking up students' work. No matter how many positive comments I make on a student's paper, I feel as if I am using the stick rather than the carrot to motivate. And the sheer number of hours it takes to grade a stack of papers is intimidating. It's no wonder that many in my discipline have trouble getting to this perilous task. It's one that will steal a professor's weekend more quickly than any other teaching requirement.

Before each semester, I mark my calendar -- not only for my teaching dates, but for the weekends after I collect papers. I know that in addition to nights, I will spend six or seven hours each on Saturday and Sunday grading. This is part of my job. I anticipate it and plan
for it. Yet somehow, when I collect any one of the four papers I require (or the midterm or final essays), I feel the weight of them in a box on my front seat. It may take two trips for me to get them upstairs. After days of reading, making individual comments on papers and filling out a grading sheet, I will transport these essays back to campus, plug students' grades into my grading software, and bring them to class to hand back to students. And so the process begins again.

Even those in disciplines that require more standardized testing may find the grading process daunting. With trained graduate students, a mathematics professor I know must still review students' grades before moving on to teach another assignment. He cannot build on a shaky foundation; if students are doing poorly, he must find time for review. And that will take away from other more advanced concepts he was planning to teach. Yet every instructor knows to check for retention of knowledge; a somewhat flexible course outline will allow them to adjust for learning. This, too, requires more thought.

Managing a classroom is difficult work. Professors gradually become more adept at identifying the psychology at work in these groups -- but each class provides its own challenges. Many early morning classes can be terribly quiet; students literally have not yet woken up. Night classes can be stimulating -- or quiet, depending on students' level of
confidence in the subject. Student population may not reflect the campus demographics reported. After teaching for several years at a large community college in California, I realized that my classes were crowded with Asian-American students. After attending workshops in diversity, I found teaching strategies that encouraged participation from this population. Later I found myself at a small private university that catered to athletes; this forced me to find another set of skills to reach this specialized group.

In many general education courses, students may come into the same course with wildly different expectations and abilities. And a good instructor's job, of course, is to somehow bring all these minds to the same place -- so that they can not only succeed in this course, but also go on to the next course in the sequence. Students often disagree about class topics. They may even argue with a professor about an assignment. These conflicts, much less conflicts among students, cause professors much anxiety.

On many campuses, professors report that they feel more like security guards than instructors. Telling students to sit down, separating students who are shouting and fighting, taking away cell phones and electronics, and confiscating notes during exams not only tire
professors, but make them wonder why they got into this field. Although not all classrooms are as chaotic, even the occasional argument among graduate students can cause instructors to lose their composure. Carefully timed lessons can become a piecemeal experience. Overachieving students may feel cheated out of necessary instruction. A
professor may have to take time from another well-planned class recapturing information lost during a discussion that got out of hand. And so more thought needs to go into the next lesson.

Being "on" in the classroom is draining. Many introverted friends told me that they collapse in their offices after a 50-minute class. If they are lucky, their schedules allow breaks between each class (or between every two classes) to re-energize. One colleague told me that she now understands the life of a comedian. After grueling preparation, they go onstage, deliver what they have, look for feedback, and then slink back to a dressing room to either drink, sleep, or cry. Instruction is not so different.

With a VH1-influenced culture, many instructors feel compelled to "edu-tain" rather than educate. With iPod and MP3 Players in hand, many students have come to expect to be entertained in class; anything less may result in grade review and tenure denial. Even for extroverts, teaching demands everything we have. While delivering a lecture, we are
constantly checking for understanding. Constantly switching teaching methods can be tiring for instructors; yet we feel compelled to keep students' attention. Seeing students as an audience to be entertained can also give an instructor the false sense that students are indeed "getting it," when they are actually just responding to new stimuli in the most basic sense. Smart professors constantly check for retention; tools for assessment need to be adjusted for each course -- and in some cases, for each class.

The one quality that professors value most about their jobs can also be the one that causes them the most fatigue: intellectual challenge. Even though I had to use many strategies to sell semiconductors in Silicon Valley, it was nothing compared to the brain power I've had to use to teach a subject to college students well. A decade ago, I found advertising challenging. Dreaming up new ways to sell a product or service to corporate executives was exhilarating; still, it was nothing compared to finding ways to reach a student population of incredibly diverse abilities.

And professors do not "clock out" at 5 p.m. As one online colleague posted, "The work is infinite. There is always one more thing you could, should, would like to do." The industry encourages workaholism. Professors that "do it all" are promoted and given tenure. Those that buckled under the need to publish, teach, do research, serve on committees, and do informal public relations work are pushed out of this tremendously competitive business. For many, it's exhausting. Although tenure can provide some relief, I know of two dozen colleagues who do as much as they did when they were seeking tenure. These seasoned veterans are even more in demand by others in the discipline. Now mentoring younger faculty, they find themselves presenting at campus functions as well as at academic conferences. Retirement may be their only hope for much-needed relaxation.

The professors I know are not rich. In fact, many are not even considered upper middle class. In this Midwestern town, many are labeled "middle class" only because the cost of living here is so low.

Yet with student loans in tow, many of the my Ph.D. colleagues have found themselves working not only a full-time position, but also summer and overload assignments, just to get out from under. For many of them, it will be 10 years or more before they pay off their educational debt. Yes, some professors in research do very well. Yet these are the
exception -- not the rule. Most professors, especially those without at terminal degree, find themselves barely paying the rent. Those in the first few years of teaching may accept any position just to fill out their CV. And full-timers on contract find themselves not only working
for 70 percent of what their colleagues make -- but with no guarantee of work past that academic year. Many have made great financial sacrifices in order to teach.

Accountability at so many levels can place further pressure on professors. Not only do professors answer to students and their parents, but to administrators, colleagues, their discipline, the state -- and ultimately the nation. Education has never been the simple task
of passing information on to students. Preparing students for real-world jobs has been one goal; finding ways to assess students them has been another concern. Retaining students when local blue-collar businesses are paying double the minimum wage is a battle.

At every turn, we hear that a college education is worth less and less. In Declining by Degrees, editors Richard Hersh and John Merrow explored lowered academic standards, an increased focus on research instead of teaching, and an administration interested in rankings rather than high academic standards. The move from liberal studies and general education to specialized education (and a focus on technology) has challenged
traditional professors' values.

Most professors I know feel impotent. They may be forced into either coddling students, watering down curriculum, or passing students who have not earned a passing grade. Those who do not give in may find themselves labeled as "outdated" or, worse yet, a political outcast. In today's consumer-driven world, holding the line is becoming more and
more dangerous -- not only for institutions, but for individual professors as well.

In their book, Supporting Beginning English Teachers: Research and Implications for Teacher Induction, Thomas McCann, Larry Johannessen and Bernard Ricca have suggestions to assist secondary teachers in English; these can also be applied to postsecondary teachers in any discipline. After recognizing the pressures of teaching, administrators can seek to assign reasonable workloads. Asking a new instructor to do
five different preparations for five different courses will not produce a positive outcome. Evaluations that focus on professional development rather than taking a punitive stance is valuable. Mentors and peer coaches help not only newcomers, but those already teaching on campus. Compensating instructors to attend orientations -- either comprehensive,
or dedicated to a discipline -- can result in less concerns during the academic year. Campuses that invest in statewide or national organizations help instructors see themselves as professional educators.

Ultimately, dedicated professors will find that they will need to find their own way in balancing workload, family and personal life. Many will find phases of their career where everything else takes a backseat to education; the foundation that they are building will guide later efforts in academia. As in any industry, overachievers will often land the best jobs. Those who cannot make the ultimate investment for their career may find a place in postsecondary teaching -- or eventually move to a profession with much more reasonable demands. What was once a soulful business has become more and more businesslike. The end result is that many qualified professors may find themselves in private industry -- rather than make the sacrifices necessary to succeed in education.

Author's email:

Shari Wilson, who writes Nomad Scholar under a pseudonym, explores life off the tenure track.


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