Are American Scientists an Endangered Species?

There is little doubt that the United States has some of the best science and engineering schools in the world. So why should we be concerned that the American scientist might become an endangered species?

The main problem is that too few Americans are enrolling in these programs. Although the number of students enrolled in science and engineering graduate programs in the United States has increased by 25 percent from 1994 to 2001, the number of U.S. citizens enrolled in these programs has declined by 10 percent during that period. Contrast this with India, Japan, China and South Korea, where the number of bachelor's degrees in the sciences has doubled and the number of engineering bachelor's degrees has quadrupled since 1975.

In the United States, 17 percent of all bachelor's degrees are awarded in the sciences and engineering, while in China, 52 percent of four-year degrees focus on STEM areas. This trend is just as obvious in graduate programs: U.S. graduate degrees in the sciences make up only about 13 percent of graduate degrees awarded in this country. In Japan, South Korea, Sweden and Switzerland over 40 percent of the graduate degrees are awarded in science.

The numbers indicate that the American scientist population is not healthy, especially not in comparison to scientists in other countries. This will impact America's ability to retain its
place in the global (scientific and technological) food chain. What could be responsible for this decline? My money is on the changing habitat of the American scientist , climate change, and the introduction of exotic species.

Changing habitat. The number of males going to colleges and universities in America is declining. This has a significant effect on the number of scientists, since white males make up two-thirds of the scientific workforce but represent only one third of the population. Possible reasons for this -- competition from computer games and the disappearance of chemistry sets. Fortunately the number of females entering the sciences is increasing; however it's not fast enough to keep up with the disappearing males.

African Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians comprise 23 percent of the American population and the percentage is increasing. However, students from under-represented minority groups make up only 13 percent of science graduates. They are an intellectual talent pool that is waiting to be tapped.

Climate change. The authority and autonomy of science is being eroded. The current administration is mainly responsible for this. How can we expect our youth to aspire to being scientists when NASA, NOAA and the Smithsonian admit to changing reports, graphs and scientific conclusions in order to appease the Bush administration's ideas about global warming?

There are no modern Einsteins gracing the cover of Rolling Stone. Most Americans will have difficulty naming a living and influential scientist. Perhaps this is due to the decrease in popular science writing. In the same week as the Time/People/Fortune group of magazines laid off their three science writers they paid $4.1 million for the pictures of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie's baby.

Decreased biodiversity. In 2005, 29 percent of science and engineering graduate students were not U.S. citizens or permanent residents. Due to stricter immigration regulations after 9/11 fewer of these graduates were able to join the ranks of the American scientist -- depleting the species of diversity and many talented individuals.

Introduction of exotic species. Pseudoscience is putting a dent in the reputation of the American scientist at home and abroad. A $27 million museum just opened in Kentucky. It claims to use science to prove that everything in the book of Genesis is true. Three Republican presidential candidates do not believe in evolution, not surprising since a recent poll showed that half of Americans agree, and think the age of the earth is in the thousands of years, not billions. Here again the authority and autonomy of science are called into question.

According to, "One of the most important ways to help threatened plants and animals survive is to protect their habitats permanently in national parks, nature reserves or wilderness areas. There they can live without too much interference from humans." Perhaps this could be adapted for the endangered American scientists: One of the most important ways to help threatened scientists is to protect their habitats permanently in laboratories, classrooms and museums. There they can live without too much interference from politics and religion.

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Marc Zimmer is the Barbara Zaccheo Kohn '72 Professor of Chemistry and chair of the chemistry department at Connecticut College.

Time for a Wartime Higher Ed Tax Policy


Memorandum to:
The Honorable Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Chair
The Honorable Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Ranking Member
U.S. Senate Committee on Finance

Wartime Higher Ed Tax Policy:
Make Increased Student Aid Revenue Neutral


Perhaps it’s time for the nation to admit we are at war and to act accordingly. The immense Iraq war spending is the answer, not the obstacle, to helping millions of low-income students attend and finish college now. Via tax policy for donations and endowments alone, our nation allocates $18 billion in benefits to higher education. In a commendable bipartisan spirit, the Senate, this year and last, has moved to reallocate billions in federal funds for student-loan subsidies from banks to students. The Tax Code offers the same opportunity.

Executive Summary:

  1. Until the end of the Iraq war, eliminate tax deductions for new campus construction. Institutions are free to raise money and build away. I am only shifting the tax policy. How can we reconcile tax-deducted student centers with U.S. troops, the same age as college students, in Afghanistan and Iraq sleeping outdoors and eating meals out of plastic MRE bags? And being shot at.
  2. As evidence that I am for education, make donations to endow need-based scholarships for families with income under $50,000 tax deductible at a rate of 115 percent. Allow those endowing whole scholarships to write off the gift as fast as their income permits. Now, the write-off is at least three years. Donations to endow scholarships create funding in perpetuity. Buildings only create ever-increasing operating expenses in perpetuity.
  3. No tax deductions for any donations to institutions spending less than 5 percent of endowment income for student aid, not capital costs. The National Association of College and University Business Officers, NACUBO, reports an average endowment return of 10.7 percent. Note: I am not proposing federal mandates on endowment spending. My point is wartime tax policy. Yale had a 22.9 percent endowment increase, to $18 billion, for 2006; for this fiscal year Yale will spend 3.8 percent of the endowment; Yale has launched a $3 billion fund raising campaign; and Yale raised tuition and fees 4.5 percent to $43,050. Why the tax breaks in wartime?
  4. No tax deductions to institutions with endowments greater than $250,000 per student that raise tuition or fees. My own Williams College, for example, has an endowment of $750,000 per student, just raised $400 million more, raised tuition by 5.9 percent, all while using tax-deducted dollars to tear down a sound student center and build a new one. I don’t propose seizing funds, only shifting future federal focus to low-income students for as long as Iraq War spending constrains funds for social programs.
  5. Ask the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to fast track proposals for formulas that would determine institutional tax status as a function of enrollment, endowment per student, percentage of full Pells, application of Work Study funds, and need-based scholarship aid. National tax policies for individuals and corporations derive from wealth and income. Why not for colleges and universities? Too complicated? Well, consider higher education and federal sponsored research. I have heard no complaints about the 35,000-word, 123-page Federal Office of Management and Budget Circular A-21, which governs formulas for research funding. Higher education wades through this play book without complaint each year for the $27 billion in federal research dollars.
  6. Save time in the public hearings and invite to testify only the chairs of the trustees of colleges and universities. The trade groups protect the presidents, and the presidents, many my heroes for what they must endure, take the public hits for their trustees. Lobbyists and presidents can’t give you straight answers. What’s the fun of subpoena power if you are just going to talk with lobbyists?
  7. Reclaim your Constitutional responsibilities over federal spending. Columbia University, Cornell, Yale and other colleges and universities have multi-billion-dollar fund raising campaigns under way. These, in turn, cause billions in forgone federal tax revenues. College and university trustees, elected by no one, then, are making decisions about billions in federal spending. Why is your Finance Committee ceding this responsibility to college and university trustees?

Discussion, Exhibits and Photographs

No, I do not propose wholesale plunder of higher education. My lunatic premise is that this $18-billion subsidy is a public good, a public trust. The $18 billion are not funds owned by colleges and universities. The $18 billion are resources that we, the people, allocated to higher education. If national circumstances change, we can review the allocation. What higher national priority can our nation have than helping students through college?

Dining at Harvard.


The Finance Committee must revise higher education tax policy to recognize wartime spending without further denying access to millions of low-income students. Reallocation of even $1 billion could create 240,000 new Pell Grants for students deciding today between groceries and books.

Your inquiry to Treasury Secretary Paulson to review college and university tax status in light of high institutional salaries and increasing student need is way too narrow. The Finance Committee can create wartime tax policies that free up funds and narrow the nation’s focus to educating low-income students.

Dining in Iraq. For more images, click here (YouTube video) or here (PowerPoint).


Higher education federal tax policy discriminates against low-income students. Our one-size-fits-all policy treats the poorest colleges the same as mighty Harvard with its $30-billion endowment. Is this fair?

In your Iowa, Senator Grassley, Grinnell College has an endowment of more than $1 million per student and revenues totaling 181 percent of expenses. Senator Baucus, for your alma mater, Stanford University, recent reported revenues were $4.5 billion with expenses of $2.6 billion, for a surplus of $1.9 billion. Stanford undergraduate tuition and fees this fall are $45,608, up 5.17 percent, and Stanford is boasting about another surplus. Grinnell -- $1 million endowment per student remember – will charge $42,422 this fall. Shifting tax policies is not seizing assets from colleges and universities. It’s deferring gratification until the troops are home. During wartime, do these institutions, however well managed, need tax benefits for gyms and student lounges and golf nets at the expense of single mothers who can’t qualify for any Pell Grant at all?

The duchies of Dupont Circle trade associations and the higher education lobbies will howl. Invite those who disagree to make their case on television in your stately Dirksen 215 committee room. Let them make their complaints eyeball to eyeball to a panel of wounded Iraq soldiers and veterans, and a few community-college students holding two or three jobs just to go to school part time.

Every year in a special section on executive compensation, The Chronicle of Higher Education also includes institutional revenues and expenses. See for yourselves below. Ask your staff to run the numbers on the federal Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). This list goes on. Let these institutions raise and spend money as they wish. In wartime, why the tax breaks at the expense of low-income students?

Higher Education Positive Cash Flow Numbers      
  Revenue (000s) Expenses (000s) Profit (000s) Profit as %
of revenues
Ratio of revenues to expenses
Grinnell $165,000 $91,000 $74,000 44.8% 181%
Stanford $4,500,000 $2,600,000 1,900,000 42.2% 173%
Yale $3,400,000 $1,900,000 1,500,000 44.1% 179%
Harvard $5,000,000 $2,800,000 2,200,000 44.0% 179%
Princeton $1,900,000 $1,000,000 900,000 47.4% 190%
Williams $242,000 $160,000 82,000 33.9% 151%
Amherst $257,000 $133,000 124,000 48.2% 193%
Cornell $2,500,000 $2,100,000 400,000 16.0% 119%
Brown $776,000 $621,000 155,000 20.0% 125%

Source: Revenue and expense totals from IRS tax forms, via The Chronicle of Higher Education, November 2006


I calculate my $18 billion per year by the forgone revenue to the U.S. Treasury at a 30 percent tax rate for the $28 billion in tax-deductible donations and the tax-free income on $300 billion in endowments. Reasonable analysts may derive different numbers. None can dispute that even at the scale of federal budgeting, real money is at stake.

Your Finance Committee colleague, Sen. John Kerry, when he visited our class at Bunker Hill Community College, noted that proposed tax breaks for students and families are expensive, given the funding needed to finance the Iraq war. I have considered how to address the concern. Aren’t the proposed breaks expensive if they are in addition to the current tax policy? Modest, reasonable tax-policy adjustments, for the duration of the Iraq War, can increase desperately needed federal aid to low-income students facing soaring tuitions without breaking the Iraq-strapped Treasury.

On spending, remember, Senators, that Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution provides to Congress, not university trustees, the “Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imports and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States.” My Constitutional reading, constructionist or liberal, finds no spending power granted to college and university trustees.

For the hearings, when higher education piles in to tell you the U.S. economy will crumble with any shift in tax policy, do swear in the witnesses, for form if not for necessity. The trustees set the fiscal decisions. Invite, for example, Burton McMurtry, the chair at Stanford, Nordahl Bruce from Grinnell, James Houghton from Harvard, Jide Zeitlin from Amherst, Robert Lipp from Williams, Stephen Oxman from Princeton, Thomas Tisch from Brown, and Stanley Gold from University of Southern California. Your ambrosial lagniappe for this hearing, Senators, is the Senior Fellow of the Yale Corporation, Roland Betts, lifelong friend of President Bush. The Michael Brown or the Socrates of education? Trustees are the people to explain to Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and to community college students why a tax deduction for a fitness center is more important than more Pell Grants. Let these chairs explain why all the tax policies should stand when the total G.I. Bill benefits of $50,000 wouldn’t pay for a single year, including books, pocket money, and travel, at their colleges, let alone four years.

This column began gathering in my mind on Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend. That afternoon my friend Rich Morales telephoned from Dulles Airport. Rich, a U.S. Army Colonel, and his wife were leaving for Germany. From there, Rich would leave for his fifth combat tour in the Mideast since Gulf I. Rich, a graduate of West Point and Yale and a White House Fellow, has a three-year tour commanding a 600-soldier tank battalion.

U.S. higher education leaders will scoff at any policies that curtail their ability to spend money. These leaders believe the U.S. has the finest higher education system in the world. We end-users of this great education, though, are not doing well by the world -- pollution, poverty, and war thrive. What does that say about the work of U.S. colleges and universities? Why, for example, is Rich returning to Iraq?

Author's email: 

Wick Sloane’s column, The Devil’s Workshop, appears as needed. He was recently awarded a fellowship from the Hechinger Institute on Education and the Media to write about community college finance and equity issues.

'Dude, You're a Fag'

"There's a faggot over there! There's a faggot over there! Come look!" Brian, a senior at "River" High School yelled to a group of 10 year-old boys. The group of boys dashed after Brian as he ran down the hallway, towards the presumed "faggot." Peering down the hallway I saw Brian's friend, Dan, waiting for the boys. As the boys came into his view, Dan pursed his lips and began sashaying toward them. He swung his hips exaggeratedly and wildly waved his arms on the end of which his hands hung from limp wrists. To the boys Brian yelled, referring to Dan, "Look at the faggot! Watch out! He'll get you!" In response, the 10 year olds screamed in terror and raced back down the hallway.

I watched scenes like this play out daily while conducting research for my book Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. I saw and heard boys imitate presumed faggots and hurl the fag epithet so frequently at one another that I came to call it a "fag discourse." I use the term fag and not gay, advisedly. Boys at River High repeatedly differentiated fags from gay men. For these boys gay men could still be masculine, whereas a fag could never be masculine. Thus the term "gay" functioned as a generic insult meaning "stupid" or "lame" whereas "fag" invoked a very specific gendered slur, directed at other boys. For these boys a fag was a failed, feminine man who, in all likelihood, was also gay. Boys participated in a fag discourse to ensure that others saw them as masculine by renouncing any fag-like behavior or same-sex desire. They did this by imitating fags and calling other boys fags. Boys imitated fags by lisping, mincing and pretending to sexually desire men, drawing laughs from male audiences who howled at these imitations.

They frantically lobbed the fag epithet at one another, in a sort of compulsive name calling ritual. In the context of River High (the pseudonym of the school where I conducted this research) being called a fag had as much to do with failing at tasks of masculinity as it did with sexual desire. More often than not these fag-like behaviors were those associated with femininity. Exhibiting stupidity, emotions, or incompetence, caring too much about clothing, touching another guy, or dancing were all things which could render a boy vulnerable to the fag epithet. In this sense what I call a fag discourse is not just about homophobia, it is about a particularly gendered homophobia as these renouncements of the fag are as much about repudiating femininity as they are about denying same-sex desire.

After listening to my tales about adolescent masculinity at River High people often ask me if this is a phase peculiar to high school, one that boys leave behind as they enter young adulthood and college. While the intensity of the fag discourse may decline with age, observations of and discussions with college students indicate that the gendered rituals central to adolescent masculinity do not disappear as youth leave high school and move to college. While college classrooms are often constructed as non-homophobic and gender equitable spaces and while many colleges have anti-bias policies that cover gay people, students enter the classroom having been steeped in the fag discourse during their former school experiences. Additionally, some college students spend some of their non-class time (after all, courses are only a part of the college experience) engaging in masculinity rituals reminiscent of those I saw at River High.

Two years ago a student reminded me about the way in which the fag discourse might color students' understandings of what they learn in college classrooms. During my senior seminar entitled "Masculinities," Bradley, a former Marine and football player, continually sat back of the classroom arms folded defiantly, sneering at students' attempts at sociological analyses of inequality. As a result, I found my self surprised when he visited my office hours. Apparently inspired by a piece on the social construction of gender in childhood, Bradley poked his head in to my office asking, “You got a sec, teach?” I said “Sure,” taken aback that after his angry outbursts in class he wanted to speak with me.

As he folded himself in to what now seemed a ridiculously small chair he asked, “Teach, now, I have no problem raising a girl to be tough, but what am I gonna do if my son wants to play with Barbie dolls?” I couldn’t answer before he began to tell a story of childhood gender socialization. “You see,” he told me, “when I was little I loved playing with Barbies. My sister, she always told me to put ‘em away. One day she got so fed up she dragged me outside and shoved Barbies in all my pockets and made me stand there while my friends laughed at me.” We spent the next hour discussing a sociological analysis of his experience, how boys have to deny femininity and weakness or suffer teasing and harassment. Bradley, in this instance, serves as a classic example of the legacy of the fag discourse, the way in which some young men might come to class shaped by negative memories of gendered norms. Like some other young men in my classes, Bradley learned early in life to renounce femininity and stereotypically feminine interests or suffer ridicule.

These sorts of classroom experiences to which faculty are privy are only a small part of the college experience for many students. Students play sports, go to parties, organize clubs and pledge fraternities and sororities. In my book I note that the fag discourse runs particularly rampant in primarily male spaces. In auto-shop or the weight-room at River High, boys constantly insinuated that other boys were having sex with one another, that the friend sitting next to them on a weight bench was a fag or that their buddy across the room "loves the cock." Similarly, on college campuses primarily male organizations such as fraternities are particularly fertile ground for the fag discourse. Fraternity members have told me that their pledging rituals are filled with references to femininity and faggots. In these stories fraternity brothers humiliate pledges by teasing them for being feminine or gay. One fraternity member showed me a picture of his fraternity's relatively mild hazing rituals in which four pledges stood against the kitchen wall. Each boy's face sported lipstick, blush and eye shadow. One pledge's hair stuck out from his head in pony tails and another in braids. Other fraternity brothers reported to me that they had to describe themselves as "cum coveting," "cock craving" "faggot magnets," while fraternity brothers laughed at them.

A look at other fraternities indicates that the rituals described to me by these fraternity members were not isolated ones. Last year, for instance, at the University of Vermont fraternity members were accused of forcing pledges to wear cowboy gear while listening to homophobic insults, an activity seemingly inspired by the movie Brokeback Mountain. Not long ago a fraternity member at the University of Texas was found dead after a night of partying, with homophobic epithets such as "fag" scrawled across his torso and legs. Sometimes fraternities do hold their members accountable for engaging in this type of gendered homophobia. For instance, a member of a Dartmouth College fraternity called a passerby a "fag," inspiring his fraternity brothers to hold a panel on inclusivity entitled, "Don’t yell fag from the porch."

It seems that the fag discourse, while particularly pervasive in the social pressure cooker that is high school, doesn't disappear once young men reach college. While my book documents the sort of gendered homophobic teasing that constitutes masculinity in adolescence, a similar sort of fag discourse is far from absent in a college setting. As with the 10 year-old boys at River High, college men are still watching out for the faggot who might get them, whether that faggot is part of their memory as with Bradley and his Barbies or a part of their social worlds in which they label each other fags as part of fraternity rituals. The official line of most universities, espoused by administrators, teaching assistants, and faculty members, is that the learning process should be non-homophobic and gender equitable. But, faculty, administrators and teaching assistants would do well to remember that the academic portion of college is only a small part of the student experience. Indeed, the world students inhabit and construct outside the walls of our classrooms and offices is a different one than the sheltered worlds within it.

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C.J. Pascoe is a sociologist at the Digital Youth Project of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of California at Berkeley.

Casaubon on Viagra

One generation’s faculty gossip is sometimes another’s cultural history. At the University of Chicago in the early 1950s, a professor stopped a teenage student leaving one of his classes. She was not properly enrolled in the course, but bureaucratic proprieties really did not have anything to do with it. She was stunning. He was smitten. They had lunch. And 10 days later, give or take, Philip Rieff was joined in marriage to a young woman who never actually did change her name to Susan Rieff, instead always being known as Susan Sontag.

They did not live happily ever after. The opening pages of Sontag’s last novel, In America, are written in a first-person voice that sounds very much like the author’s. The narrator mentions reading George Eliot as a young bride and bursting into tears at the realization she had, like Dorothea in Middlemarch, married Casaubon.

As you may recall, Dorothea is at first transfixed by the learning and gravitas of Casaubon, a scholar who is many years her senior. It soon dawns on her (as it does perhaps more quickly for the reader) that he is a bloodless pedant, joyless except when venting spleen against other bloodless pendants. And there are hints, as clear as Victorian propriety will allow, that Dorothea’s honeymoon has been disappointing in other ways as well.

Sontag’s allusion must rank as one of the more subtly devastating acts of revenge ever performed by an ex-wife. At the same time, it is in keeping with some durable and rather less literary attitudes towards professors -- the stereotype that treats them as being not just other-worldly, but also rather desexed by all the sublimation their work requires. This view really took hold in the 19th century, according to the analysis presented by A.D. Nuttall in Dead From the Waist Down: Scholars and Scholarship in Literature and the Popular Imagination (Yale University Press, 2003).

But a different cliché is emerging from Hollywood lately. The summer issue of The American Scholar contains an essay by William Deresiewicz called “Love on Campus” that identifies a “new academic stereotype” visible in popular culture. The sexually underachieving Casaubon’s day is over. The new stereotype of the professor has some notches in his bedpost (this character is almost always a male) and for the most part demonstrates his priapic prowess with students.

Universities in real life are “the most anxiously self-patrolled workplace in Ameican society,” writes Deresiewicz, “especially when it comes to relations between professors and students. This is not to suggest that sexual contact between college students and professors, welcome or unwelcome, never takes place, but the belief that it is the norm is the product of fantasy, not fact.”

Yet the fantasy is played out in numerous contemporary films. It merits examination for what it implies about how academe is perceived and (mis)understood.

The stereotyped character in question is often a professor of English or creative writing, as in "The Wonder Boys" or "The Squid and the Whale." But sometimes he teaches philosophy ("The Life of David Gale") or French ("Little Miss Sunshine"). He is consumed with ambition. But he is also a loser. Those condition -- academic ambition, abject failure -- are identical, at least given the implicit logic of the stereotype.

“In the popular imagination,” writes Deresiewicz, “humanities professors don’t have anything to be ambitious about. No one really knows what they do, and to the extent that people do know, they don’t think it’s worth doing.... It may be simply because academics don’t pursue wealth, power, or, to any real extent, fame, that they are vulnerable to such [criticism]. In our culture, the willingness to settle for something less than these Luciferian goals is itself seen as emasculating.”

So he neglects his family, or drinks, or both. Above all, he seduces his students. The latter is not so much an abuse of power as a symptom of having no real power at all. He is “a figure of creative sterility,” writes Deresiewicz, “and he is creatively sterile because he loves only himself. Hence his vanity, pomposity, and selfishness; his self-pity, passivity, and resentment. Hence his ambition and failure. And thence his lechery, for sleeping with his students is a sign not of virility but of impotence: he can only hit the easy targets; he feeds on his students’ vitality; he can’t succeed in growing up.”

At one level, this new character may look like the negation of earlier clichés about absent-minded and asexual professors. But that appearance is, in some ways, misleading. These more recent fictional figures are, so to speak, Casaubon on Viagra. Like his ancestor, the contemporary on-screen professor is empty and vain, and going nowhere fast. But he has another way to vent. “In both ‘Terms of Endearment’ and ‘We Don’t Live Here Anymore,’” notes Deresiewicz, “ ‘going to the library’ becomes a euphemism for ‘going to sleep with a student.’ ”

Deresiewicz offers a cogent analysis of how this stereotype may reflect the changing place of academe in American society and the contradictory attitudes it evinces. He also presents some thoughts on a dimension of education that popular culture for the most part ignores: the eros of learning, the way a student can fall in love with a teacher for reasons having nothing to do with sexuality. Combining them, as Sontag tried to do with Rieff, seems like a bad idea.

It is a remarkable essay -- cogent on many points, and adventurous in making some of them, given the inescapable risk of being misunderstood. (I half expect to see Deresiewicz on a cable program with the words "Professor Advocating 'Brain Sex' " at the bottom of the screen.) Rather than quote or paraphrase any more of it, let me simply recommend that you read the whole thing.

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The Defense Department vs. Free Speech on Campus

The U.S. military hasn't had much luck in occupying Iraq, but now it's planning to invade more territory often deemed hostile to its interests. No, not Iran. We're talking about American colleges.

Last month, the Defense Department announced a proposed rule for implementing the 2005 Solomon Amendment, requiring access to colleges receiving federal funds. The rule represents an extraordinary attack on academic freedom and institutional autonomy, and goes far beyond the text of the Solomon Amendment or the ruling of the Supreme Court last year in FAIR v. Rumsfeld that supported it. If this proposed rule is not changed, colleges will be forced to give the military extraordinary access to campus, to allow ROTC programs without any restrictions, and to ban all protests against military recruiters.

The Solomon Amendment prohibits a college from receiving federal funds if it bans military recruiters, prevents the military "from maintaining, establishing, or operating" an ROTC unit at that college, or prohibits a student from enrolling at an ROTC unit at another college.

But what does it mean to establish an ROTC unit? For example, no college prohibits any students from enrolling in ROTC at another college. Likewise, to my knowledge, there is no college that has actually banned the military from renting space on campus like any other group and holding ROTC training sessions. The proposed rule explicitly rejects the concept of equal treatment; instead, the military is demanding special rights to control curriculum and faculty that no other outside group is ever granted.

It's common to refer to campuses "banning" ROTC, but it apparently never happened. For example, in 1969, Yale University never "abolished" ROTC; it simply denied ROTC academic credit and faculty rank, and the military chose to withdraw under these conditions. In 1970, Stanford's Faculty Senate voted to end academic credit for ROTC courses because the courses were not open to all Stanford students, and the military (instead of Stanford) chose the teachers.

The proposed rule not only prevents a college from prohibiting ROTC, but also bans a campus from doing anything that "in effect prevents" an ROTC unit from operating. This would include neutral rules applied to everyone on campus, such as nondiscrimination rules, faculty control over the curriculum, or academic freedom. According to the proposed rule, "The criterion of 'efficiently operating a Senior ROTC unit' refers generally to an expectation that the ROTC Department would be treated on a par with other academic departments." Since in other academic departments, professors are given faculty rank and students receive college credit, this provision would effectively revoke faculty and campus control over the curriculum. It appears likely that the military will demand academic credit for ROTC classes (including those held at other campuses) and faculty rank for instructors who are selected and controlled by the military. Yet there is nothing in the Solomon Amendment to require this.

If colleges allow students in ROTC classes to receive credit, they should be careful to impose the same conditions offered for all other classes: the faculty must be appointed by the college, not the military; the faculty, not the military, must determine the content of the classes; and all qualified students, regardless of sexual orientation or enrollment in the military, should be able to take the class. Nothing in the Solomon Amendment reverses these common rules, and if it did so, it would be unconstitutional, as this proposed rule is. In FAIR v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled that allowing military recruiters on campus did not affect academic freedom; plainly, the same cannot be said about the freedom to determine course content and faculty hiring.

The FAIR v. Rumsfeld case challenged only one part of the Solomon Amendment -- the least objectionable part about allowing military recruiters on campus. Thus, the reasoning used by the Supreme Court about military recruiters cannot be equally applied to ROTC units or used as an excuse to ban student protests. The Supreme Court based its decision on "the difference between speech a school sponsors and speech the school permits because legally required to do so." As the Supreme Court noted, "recruiters are not part of the law school. Recruiters are, by definition, outsiders who come onto campus for the limited purpose of trying to hire students-not to become members of the school's expressive association. This distinction is critical." The Supreme Court declared, "In this case, accommodating the military's message does not affect the law schools' speech, because the schools are not speaking when they host interviews and recruiting receptions." But clearly, colleges (and their faculty) are speaking when they hold classes and offer credit.

Of course, this does not mean that ROTC units are banned from campuses, nor should they be. ROTC units can be run by the military using facilities rented from a college. Or they can created as registered student organizations open to all and run by students, or departments run and controlled by universities. But decisions about academic credit and faculty appointments cannot be removed from colleges and handed over to the military. Forcing colleges to give academic credit for courses at other colleges run by the military without academic supervision is a clear violation of higher education's autonomy; forcing colleges to create academic programs controlled by the military is an even worse violation.

The military seems unwilling to give up control over the selection of ROTC faculty and the curriculum. The choice of faculty and content for courses must remain the authority of faculty at each campus, and not be handed over to the government. Decisions on whether a particular department or course is legitimate must be determined by the faculty, not by a government fiat.

Nor should military recruiters be exempt from protest or criticism. The proposed rule makes it a violation if the college "has failed to enforce time, place, and manner policies established by the covered school such that the military recruiters experience an inferior or unsafe recruiting climate, as schools must allow military recruiters on campus and must assist them in whatever way the school assists other employers."

It is essentially impossible for any college to prohibit an "inferior ... recruiting climate" for military recruiters without banning all such protests. Obviously, if military recruiters are being protested, then their recruiting climate is inferior to recruiters who are not being protested. And according to the Department of Defense, that's justification for withdrawing all federal funds. If a college has any kind of time, place, or manner policies -- and essentially all of them do -- these rules would force the colleges to ban anti-recruiter protests.

In FAIR v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court reported that even the solicitor general acknowledged that a university "could help organize student protests." Now, the Bush Administration is seeking to ban these very same student protests.

FAIR v. Rumsfeld allows the institution to engage in criticism of the military policy. The colleges that lost this case over military recruiters should continue their resistance in the face of the far more serious threats to academic freedom from this proposed rule. But they should go further in protecting the right of protest and counterspeech. Colleges should pass policies protecting the right of students to peaceably protest recruiters of any kind, and to allow anyone to provide potential recruiters with counterspeech. Colleges should also adopt a "Truth in Recruiting Policy" that requires any recruiters who engage in discrimination to fully disclose this fact in all recruiting materials.

Some critics may contend that since colleges can simply give up federal funding (the rules don't apply to student financial aid), there's nothing wrong with these rules. However, colleges are effectively obligated to obey these rules because the federal government's funding is so essential to higher education. A college cannot ethically ban all government grants, because to do so would affect the academic freedom of scholars who need these grants for their work. And the government cannot impose unconstitutional conditions on its grants.

Another problem with the proposed rule is its enforcement. In interpreting these rules, the "decision authority" is the "principal deputy under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness." It is inappropriate for the military to serve as the judge of all disputes between the military and colleges. Plainly, one would expect the military to win all such arguments and unilaterally order federal funds to be cut off to colleges that disagree with it. A far better solution would be to have an independent committee comprised of leading scholars and some retired military officials who would deal with disputes to offer a kind of arbitration in order to avoid endless litigation over enforcement and interpretation.

The Solomon Amendment (especially as interprted by FAIR v. Rumsfeld) was a massive expansion of federal power over private individuals and corporations. If you sell any product or service (such as research, or education) to the federal government or receive any subsidy, according to the court in FAIR v. Rumsfeld, the government can now order you to be their propaganda agent and use your property for the government's recruitment purposes. Conservatives, seething in their hatred of universities, didn't seem to notice or care about this attack on the sanctity of private property.

The flaws of the Solomon Amendment and the Supreme Court's interpretation of it need to be addressed with legislation and further judicial challenges. But there is no excuse for the Defense Department to go far beyond these legislative boundaries with an unprecedented attack on academic freedom and free expression.

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John K. Wilson is the founder of the Institute for College Freedom and the author of Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies (Paradigm Publishers, fall 2007). To comment on the proposed rule, go to and search using the keyword DoD-2006-OS-0136. Comments must be received by July 6, 2007.

The Inevitability of Intimacy

This month I finished my first full year of teaching as a tenure-track professor. I've learned a lot this year, much of it an odd amalgam of the practical and philosophical: I've reflected on the nature of education. I've pondered the ultimate existential importance of education for the development of the individual. I've also mastered the overhead projector in my classroom and learned how to make two-sided hand outs on the office photcopier. But the one thing that I learned this year that I did not expect to learn was the value -- and inevitability -- of intimacy.

As an adjunct teaching for the first time I hungered for acceptance and praise. I wanted my students to tell me that I knew what I was doing because I couldn't quite convince myself that I did. I quickly learned, however, that adjuncts have to have thick skin -- negative student feedback is inevitable when you are inexperienced and overworked. And of course students are interested in receiving a high grade and learning a thing or two along the way, not being caught up in the complex interior psychology of their professor. As a result, the message I took away from my years of adjuncting was the importance of separating my private thoughts and feelings from my public role as an academic: professionalism, judiciousness, and a commitment to the craft of teaching were all skills that I worked to cultivate.

Of course, these are not values that I gave up once I became an assistant professor (a point I'd like to underline in case my chair is reading this!) But now, at the end of my first year, what has struck me most about being in a tenure-track position is interplay between professionalism and personal intimacy. And the nature of this interplay is, as far as I can tell, denial: a necessary and yet futile insistence that we can separate who we are as professors is different from who we are as people.

There is very little in a professor's life that does not stem from intensely personal commitments. With the job market the way it is these days you don't become a professor unless you are in love with your area of expertise. In fact, given the length of graduate school and the rise of adjuncting as a near-inevitable phenomena in some fields, it takes so long to become a professor that you have to fall in love with it two or three times as you grow and change as a person in the course of your career. Of course it might not be love for you -- it might be obsession, addiction, or any of the other emotions that keep people coming back for more when they should walk away. But regardless of which particular feelings draw you in, this is a line of work that's hard to get into without it getting pretty deeply entangled in who you are.

In many ways, however, these are unseemly entanglements that ought not be displayed by professionals. Pencils do not get purchased and job advertisements do not get written when faculty meetings involve table-pounding denunciations of the false readings of Blanchot perpetuated by others in your department. Students leave your classes feeling wounded and bitter when they become ego-fests in which your personal agenda dominates. For all of these reasons and more, we tell ourselves that professors -- "even professors" -- must act professionally.

Of all the lies that we tell ourselves, this one is probably the most necessary and also the most heinous. Like most strongly-enforced boundaries, we insist on separating intimacy and professionalism because in practice the line between them is so blurred as to be indistinct.

Take teaching, for instance. I was very lucky this semester to have some very good discussions in one of my classes. I remember one moment in particular when the class as a whole began focusing in on one particular issue. I could feel the entire room poised on the brink of commitment to the idea that what we were talking about was not just interesting, but important. It was one of those rare moments of intellectual and emotional commitment that educators live for.

But why were we only on the brink? What was missing? As I attempted to draw students out I realized mid-sentence that the missing ingredient was me. I brought an important issue to the table, but in doing so I distanced myself from it because I was, at some level, afraid to let my students see just how seriously I took it. I was just about to tell a joke -- the easy way out for all young hip assistant professors -- to lighten the mood but instead I stopped, reset, and tried to lead by example by demonstrating how important I thought the topic in question was for me.
It is not easy for students to speak in class, especially when what they say lays who they are out on the line. In these moments students need to know it is OK to take risks, and the way they learn this is by seeing their teacher do it. As an adjunct I learned the downsides of this sort of openness, but this year I was struck by how inescapable and important it is to temper one's professional remove with a generous helping of intimacy.

Advising graduate students is even more clearly a case of managing the tension between intimacy and professionalism. As someone whose Ph.D. is just over a year old, I have more in common with my graduate students than I do with some of the faculty members in my department. Indeed, some of my graduate students are older than I am. And yet, professors
have power over graduate students: Structurally, they control letters of recommendation, grades, and of course approval of M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s. They have soft power as well -- graduate students care about what professors think of them, and we have an infinite amount of opportunities to make ourselves feel more important by making our students feel less so.

Despite -- or rather because of -- the ambiguities of this boundary, professionalism is key. And yet graduate students are ill-served by professors who hide behind a shield of professionalism. Professors are role models, and much of graduate teaching involves modeling what Malinowski called the "imponderabilia of everyday life" for our students: methods of underlining books, the intuitive way we handle data, and of course the informal shop talk of our disciplines.

Even more important, professors demonstrate to students what a life lived as a professor is like. Having these sorts of role models is key not just to earning a Ph.D., but to one's choice of career. It is not impossible to become a professor in today's job market, but it is difficult. What, then, are we supposed to tell our students? Not to pursue the careers that we ourselves have chosen? The truth is that being a professor is good, but it is hard -- and we need to let our students inside our lives so that they can see this, and make up their own minds about their careers informed of both the intimate and professional side of the professoriate. In my case, I believe the best way to do this is let my graduate students see me in all my anthrogeekery.

Of course the other thing about have graduate students is that they figure out stuff about you whether you want them to or not. In fact, they figure out stuff about you that you yourself didn't know. Does my extroverted overenthusiasm in class hide a deeper, more easily wounded side that I hide from others? Is my overblown dislike of certain approaches bluster which papers over a private more embracing pluralism or am I in fact a brittle, doctrinare academic?
This is the other side of intimacy: its inevitability. As an adjunct I could get in, teach, and get out again -- the relationships I had at the institutions where I adjuncted were relatively unentangling. But mentoring graduate students allows them to see who you are -- indeed, it is in the very process of working with them that I find myself spinning out who I am and will be as a professor.

Even the complex webs of self-cultivation woven during graduate advising seem as nought compared to the ultimate form of academic intimacy: faculty meetings. Hard decisions about important topics get made in faculty meetings, and it is exactly in these high-stakes situations that it is most necessary to act professionally to advance the interests of your department, rather than just yourself. And yet these are also the decisions that will have the most effect on us as people, and deal with the topics that we are least likely to compromise on. You cannot
escape being who you are for other faculty in these sorts of situations.

And worse, like some sort of existentialist novel, departments perdure. We have track records. Decisions made and relationships forged decades ago play out in every faculty meeting. This means that new faculty walk into rooms filled with history, and it makes us -- or me, at least -- keenly aware that the decisions we make today will impact us for many years in the future. Here intimacy is at its most inevitable.

I'm very lucky to have a department full of colleagues who have been welcoming and eager to help me get my footing on the tenure track, and overall my first year went really well -- especially after I learned how to use the projector in my classroom. As I take my first tentative steps down the road to tenure, I realize once again that however much we tell ourselves the academy is not 'the real world' it is far more real than the cubicleland to which many of my high school friends have been consigned. Professionalism is important because it is the only way we to deal with the very scary fact that professors and students share a life together that is both very real, and intimate.

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Mass Culture 2.0

This month, Encyclopedia Britannica’s blog is serializing a commentary on the cultural effects of Web 2.0. The author, Michael Gorman, is dean of library services at California State University at Fresno and a former president of the American Library Association.

About two years ago, Gorman published a memorable essay in Library Journal. In it, he referred to “the Blog People,” expressing doubt that they were “in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts.” The immediate occasion for this remark was the public reception of one of Gorman’s own complex texts, about which uncomplimentary things had been said by bloggers (some of them, in fact, being his colleagues in the library world). “It is entirely possible,” he continued, “that their intellectual needs are met by an accumulation of random facts and paragraphs.”

There were other zingers of the same general sort. And so it has not escaped notice, much of it sardonic, that his most recent effort to win friends and influence people is taking place at a blog. His Britannica series consists of three chapters, each in two parts. Something of the flavor of the whole work may be gleaned from the phrases heading up its various segments. So far, “The Sleep of Reason” and “The Siren Song of the Internet” have been published, and may be consulted here. The final portion, “Jabberwiki,” will run next week.

A precis, then. Gorman points out that the public now has instantaneous access to a chaos of “information,” broadly defined -- an abundance that is ill-sorted and atomized, possessing no very consistent degree of reliability. People believe everything they read, then they go on talk radio and regurgitate it. They believe that Paris, France is named after Paris Hilton.

Plagiarism is on the rise. Intellectual property is not safe. Students do not grasp the possibility that a thing may be known and yet not digitized. They hear about books as they do about the Pilgrims, without ever meeting one.

Also, Wikipedia is bad. Maybe not any given entry, just on principle: The whole concept is dubious.

The legacy of humanist culture smoulders in ruins, pulverized by PlayStation missiles. Trendy professors encourage their students to use Google and be “screen potatoes,” which they presumably would not do otherwise. The capacity for rational thought is disappearing.

Yet we must preserve the dignity and authority of genuine expertise, somehow. After reading and rereading Gorman's work in manuscript a number of times over the past few weeks, I am still at a loss to say just how that is supposed to happen.

Such is the gist of what Michael Gorman has to say. (I condense his points with tongue somewhat in cheek, perhaps, but accurately.) You, dear reader, may even have thought some of the same things yourself, from time to time. It would be surprising if you had not.

Gorman’s jeremiad rests upon a stark contrast. On the one hand, there are mindless proponents of digital boosterism. "Jimmy Wales and his ilk" come in for a shellacking, for example. On the other hand, there are heroic defenders of serious literacy and informed authority. We might as well call them the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarins. (In the words of Theodore Adorno: “The cultural critic can hardly avoid the imputation that he has the culture which culture lacks.”)

The contrast is striking, and it makes for an exciting apocalyptic showdown. But I'm afraid that it can be difficult to suspend disbelief. In reality, the cultural landscape does not always look like a battleground between the forces of good and evil. Most of us are wandering in the broad, unruly twilight zone between Utopia and the Inferno.

Established ways of organizing and disseminating knowledge and ideas are mutating. The patterns starting to emerge are, as yet, quite unstable. In some cases (the obvious example, and the focus for much of Gorman’s anguish, being Wikipedia), the weaknesses are closely connected to the strengths. We maneuver as best we can -- aware that everything is still very much in flux, by no means certain what is coming next.

But no such ambiguity colors the scenario we find in Gorman's commentary.For the digital boosters, the problems will all repair themselves over time. For the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarins, by contrast, the new-media matrix is a catastrophic force so devastating that its effects may well contaminate human consciousness for centuries to come.

“There is a present danger,” writes Gorman, “that we are ‘educating’ a generation of intellectual sluggards incapable of moving beyond the Internet and of interacting with, and learning from, the myriad of texts created by human minds over the millenia and perhaps found only in those distant archives and dusty file cabinets full of treasures unknown. What a dreary, flat, uninteresting world we will create if we succumb to that danger!”

He is full of high sentence, like J. Alfred Prufrock. But beneath it all, one finds a sense of cultural history combining one part idyllic idealization with two parts status anxiety. Gorman only appears to be facing hard questions about the new digital order. Actually he is just echoing debates on “mass society” from five or six decades ago.

So let us go, then, you and I -- friends, as we are, of dusty pre-digital cultural literacy -- into the library stacks. Let us locate a bound volume of Sewanee Review from 1957 and open it to read “Daydreams and Nightmares: Reflections on the Criticism of Mass Culture” by Edward Shils. The same text may be found in Shils’s collection The Intellectuals and the Powers and Other Essays, published by the University of Chicago Press in 1972 -- a volume not yet absorbed by Google Books.

Shils, a social theorist who taught at U of C until his death in 1995, was not anyone's idea of a trend-hopping hipster. He exhibited no reluctance about distinguishing between what he called “superior or refined culture” (defined by “the acute penetration and coherence of its perceptions, the subtlety and wealth of its expressed feeling”) and the rest of the stuff circulating in any given society.

But Shils was also very critical of the assumptions behind the discussions then under way on the menacing rise of mass culture. He thought that the tone of the arguments often tended to be melodramatic -- not to mention terribly self-aggrandizing for the intellectuals who indulged in them.

According to the critics of "mass society," writes Shils, it was occupied by a new kind of human being: "He is standardized, ridden with anxiety, perpetually in a state of ‘exacerbated’ unrest, his life ‘emptied of meaning’ and ‘trivialized,’ ‘alienated from his past, from his community, and possibly from himself,’ cretinized and brutalized.”

All the words and phrases put in quotation marks by Shils were drawn from then-contemporary discussions of cultural trends. But replace the term “mass” with “digital” (or “new media”) and this essay from 50 years ago will seem quite current.

“The mass-produced nature of his culture,” as Shils goes on to write, “which is necessary if he and his kind are to be satisfied in sufficient quantity and cheapness, prevents him from developing his taste and intelligence.”

By contrast, the world before the advent of mass society (or of digital culture, perhaps) was elegant and rich and complex, or at least stable. The cultural products of “this legendary time,” in Shils’s skeptical account, “were vitally integrated into everyday life, the artist was aware of his function, man was in a state of reposeful self-possession.... Nothing factitious or meretricious existed.”

And respect for cultural authority was entrenched and almost automatic. As Shils puts it, “The educated classes were genuinely educated, and, despite the rigors of a fundamentally exploitative society, religious faith was geniune, artistic taste was elevated, and important problems were thought about with true sincerity.”

To repeat, Shils himself does not believe this; but such attitudes were actually pretty common in some circles. As the art critic Harold Rosenberg (like Shils a professor in the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago) once put it: "Too much reflection on the 'degradation of modern man' leads the oddest people to put on the air of feudal aristocrats."

Glimmers from that golden age occasionally flash through in Gorman’s commentary. By his account, the dynamic of new media (or “mass culture 2.0,” as we should perhaps call it) tends to create a hive mind that is intrinsically thoughtless and prone to deep confusion. But sound standards and admirable practices in research were normative, back in the days before there were search engines to confuse the issue.

“The structures of scholarship and learning,” writes Gorman, “are based on respect for individuality and the authentic expression of individual personalities. The person who creates knowledge or literature matters as much as the knowledge or the literature itself.”

That zesty scholarly individualism of yore had a positive effect on prose: “Good clear writing is more than a vehicle for conveying knowledge and information -- it is an authentic expression of human personality. Bad writing is, all too often, the outward manifestation of inward confusion and lack of clarity, as is bad organization or the lack of organization.” (The latter unhappy qualities being fostered, alas, by our point-and-click culture.)

Unfortunately such fond notions do not long survive careful consideration. They are unhistorical. The idea that an “authentic expression of individual personality” was necessary or desirable qualities in a scholarly text would have been quite suspect, not so long ago. Erudition is in some cases a matter of subordinating personality to established norms of learning.

And the belief that "true literacy" demands, in Gorman's words "the ability to express complex ideas in clear prose" has seldom been honored except in the breach. The problem is not of digital vintage. When Nietzsche made a sarcastic comment on German philosophers “who muddy the water, to make it seem deep,” the most high-tech gizmo at his disposal was a typewriter.

What is bothersome about Gorman’s intervention isn't the mood of irritation with the changes now under way. Many of us indulge that temper on occasion. Nor is it even that Gorman insists that cultural authority and respect for expertise be restored and enforced -- without letting us in on the secret of how this is to be accomplished.

No, what seems particularly off-putting are the moments when the author seems to imply that everybody else in the world is wittingly engaged in making things worse.

Educational institutions are responding to “the digital tsunami,” he writes, by “abandoning the fundamental values of learning that have obtained in Western societies since classical Greece.” That fine legacy (evidently homogenous from Plato to NATO) is being destroyed by “the collective pretense that the established criteria of learning -- notably literacy and intelligence -- are dilutable.”

“True literacy," he complains " being equated with ill-defined concepts such as ‘visual literacy,’ ‘computer literacy,’ and ‘21st-century literacies’ as if they could make up for illiteracy and a-literacy.... The same goes for the theories of different ‘intelligences.’ Intelligence is the ability to think quickly and logically, to absorb new ideas and to incorporate them into existing knowledge, to express ideas clearly in speech and writing -- in short, to learn and grow in understanding. Intelligence, an essential component of success in the educational process, is partly a gift and partly the result of work and training. There is no substitute for it academically, and it is very important that it be nurtured, encouraged, and rewarded.”

The tone of Gorman’s remedial lecture implies that educators now devote the better part of their day to teaching students to shove pencils up their nose while Googling for pornography. I do not believe this to be the case. (It would be bad, of course, if it were.)

But the idea that new forms of media require training in new kinds of literacy hardly counts as an evasion of the obligation to cultivate critical intelligence. Today the work of acquiring knowledge on a given subject often includes the burden of evaluating digital material. Gorman may pine for the good old days -- back when literacy and critical intelligence were capacities to be exercised only upon artifacts made of paper and ink. So be it. But let’s not pretend that such nostalgia is anything but escapism at best.

What really bothers the neo-Luddite quasi-Mandarin is not the rise of digitality, as such. The problem actually comes from “the diminished sacredness of authority," as Edward Shils once put it, "the reduction in the awe it evokes and in the charisma attributed to it.”

But it's not that all cultural authority or critical intelligence, as such, are vanishing. Rather, new kinds are taking shape. The resulting situation is difficult and sometimes unpleasant. But it is not exactly new. Such wrenching moments have come repeatedly over the past 500 years, and muddling through the turmoil does not seem to be getting any easier.

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Academic Freedom Needs Defending -- From Ward Churchill

Two years ago, the University of Colorado found itself at the center of a national scandal involving one of its ethnic studies professors, Ward Churchill. His characterization of 9/11 victims as “little Eichmanns” rightly provoked condemnation from commentators across the country.

But Churchill is in the headlines today for something other than his opinions -- this time, because of Colorado’s attention to his scholarly record.

Despite having only a master’s in communications, Churchill’s Colorado career was put on the fast track -- landing him both a tenured professorship and chairmanship in ethnic studies. In subsequent years, charges of research misconduct began to surface. And in 2005, his university chose to ignore those allegations no longer. Having first made clear that Churchill was not being punished for his public utterances, the university launched a meticulous investigation centered on specific charges of scholarly misconduct. That is, it did what any institution claiming to care about academic standards must do. For this Hank Brown, who became president at Colorado after the scandal broke, deserves great credit.

When the Boulder campus’s Standing Committee on Research Misconduct issued its report on Churchill last summer, it unanimously found Churchill guilty of severe, sustained, and deliberate breaches of professional integrity. It further noted that the evaluative system that nurtured and rewarded Churchill needed an overhaul. Now, as Brown advises what sanction should apply, the investigation has also galvanized an important discussion about what academic freedom is -- and what it is not.

To Brown, accountability is a crucial component of academic freedom. In recommending that Churchill be dismissed, Brown noted that the university’s policies define academic freedom as a set of privileges and correlative responsibilities -- the latter often ignored in academic discourse on the topic. Academic freedom, he wrote, is “the freedom to inquire, discover, publish and teach truth as the faculty member sees it. … Within the bounds of the definition, however, ‘faculty members have the responsibility to maintain competence, exert themselves to the limit of their intellectual capacities in scholarship, research, writing, and speaking; and to act on and off the campus with integrity and in accordance with the highest standards of their profession.’”

Noting that academic freedom entails both individual and institutional accountability, Brown observed that taxpayer-supported institutions have particularly binding obligations to the people. “The public must be able to trust that the university’s resources will be dedicated to academic endeavors carried out according to the highest possible standards,” he wrote. “Professor Churchill’s conduct, if allowed to stand, would erode the university’s integrity and public trust.” Churchill’s conduct, said Brown, “clearly violated the University’s policies on academic freedom.”

Of course, Churchill and his defenders claim that Colorado’s two-year investigation was an assault on academic freedom because it arose from a public scandal about Churchill’s speech. Churchill’s lawyer even suggested to The Rocky Mountain News that “[a]ny discipline is wrong” in this case. But to suggest that notoriety somehow exempts Churchill from scrutiny is risible. Scrutiny should be applied to scholarly work – as a matter of practice. And Brown -- himself a public figure -- has rightly pointed out that public figures cannot escape accountability by hiding behind their fame.

Crucially, disagreement on this very point is dividing the American Association of University Professors. As Inside Higher Ed has reported, Margaret LeCompte, an education professor who is also president of the Colorado AAUP chapter, calls the Churchill investigation “an opening wedge in the concerted effort to curb academic freedom and tenure.” But Jonathan Knight of the national AAUP’s academic freedom program has defended universities’ right to investigate allegations of faculty misconduct.

Historically the custodian of academic freedom, the AAUP is struggling to clarify, for itself and others, what academic freedom is. And that struggle centers on accountability -- which, unfortunately, explains much of why the AAUP is encountering such difficulty. Roger Bowen, the outgoing general secretary, has vocally defended the notion that academics should not have to answer to anyone but themselves. “It should be evident,” he has written, “that the sufficient condition for securing the academic freedom of our profession is the profession itself.”

This is a far cry from Brown’s conception of academic freedom as part of a public trust. It’s also a far cry from the AAUP’s own foundational 1940 statement on academic freedom, which defines it as a set of “duties correlative with rights” and which sees academic freedom as the means by which colleges and universities serve the public trust: “Institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good and not to further the interest of either the individual teacher … or the institution as a whole.”

Colorado has acknowledged that its system of peer review and professional assessment failed in Churchill’s case. It has taken steps to repair that system. And it has urged academics across the country to learn from its example. As Brown observed last March, “It is imperative that we in higher education take the initiative to examine ourselves. There are many lawmakers at the state and federal level willing to intervene if we do not do so.”

Noting that “much of the scrutiny we are under is of our own creation,” Brown urged academics to recognize how their reluctance to be accountable to the public has produced “the suspicion that higher education’s primary focus is protecting its own rather than guaranteeing the highly effective and productive teachers and researchers that students and taxpayers deserve.”

The arguments of Churchill and his misguided defenders do -- regrettably -- arise from a basic conviction that academics should be free from accountability. They involve manipulating the term “academic freedom” in ways that undermine a concept of foundational importance to the academic enterprise. They amount to an attempt to turn the concept inside out -- morphing what was originally a cluster of interlocking privileges and responsibilities centered on the public good into a justification for the false idea that academics have no obligation to the public at all. Finally, they stem from the profoundly mistaken premise – which Brown rebuts in his letter to the Board of Regents – that input from the public, from constituencies such as alumni and trustees, violates academic freedom as well. Why else would Churchill and his defenders absurdly claim that Brown’s advisory role with the American Council of Trustees and Alumni -- which ended a decade ago -- invalidates his opinion?

Far from being an “attack” on academic freedom, Colorado’s handling of the Churchill affair is, in fact, in defense of academic freedom. And if Churchill and his defenders win the day, their perverse redefinition of academic freedom will result in an immeasurable setback for that concept -- not to mention the academy itself.

As the decision-making process winds down in Colorado, Churchill’s career hangs in the balance. But so does the integrity of academia.

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Anne D. Neal is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni and a First Amendment lawyer.

Why Antioch Matters

Antioch is not just about Antioch. It is about the future of small liberal arts colleges. It is about the future of higher education. And it is finally about the kind of country we are and what role higher education has in preparing citizens for participation in public life.

As one small university undergoes a severe -- and quite possibly fatal -- crisis of both finances and shared governance, deciding to shut down for now the undergraduate college that defined the institution, it is worth differentiating between its unique and its representative contributions to the nation it has served. Both structurally and culturally, Antioch was and is distinctive. Its multigenerational "experiment," never fully adopted by other colleges, was nonetheless successful for many decades. By keeping its traditions alive, it offered them as imaginative possibilities for others to consider and modify. The loss of its controversial inspiration is fundamentally incalculable.

Taken together, the campus and the village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, share a combined commitment to social justice that achieved a remarkable level of community consensus. Antioch’s history with Yellow Springs is far from conflict free, but it has left an impressive legacy nonetheless. While there are other roughly comparable small college towns, I know none other quite like this one.

Yet in other respects, Antioch is simply a member of its class. The faculty at many small liberal arts colleges regularly gather to debate the mission and the aims of undergraduate education. At our large multi-versity campuses, such conversations among English professors and engineers are not only impossible; they are unthinkable. On many campuses there is no real agreement about the purpose of undergraduate education and thus little possibility that such institutions can have any coherent impact on public life.

In an increasingly corporatized climate, higher education amounts to advanced job training. It does well at producing compliant employees, but it cannot be counted on to produce citizens capable of evaluating public policy or political debates, let alone taking an active role in them. As the multi-versity worldwide moves to defund humanities and interpretive social science education, higher education's role in producing informed citizens fades into the background. Although some academic disciplines in large institutions fulfill this role, the small liberal arts college remains its last comprehensive institutional base. The contribution the liberal arts college can make to the nation's political and cultural health is irreplaceable. Antioch has been a stalwart member of that tradition, producing generation after generation of socially and politically engaged graduates.

In one surprising way, however, Antioch has historically been on the opposite side of the cultural divide between general education and employment preparation. No other college in the country -- or so it seems on the surface -- was so intricately structured to combine a liberal arts education with job training. In its heyday, Antioch maintained an elaborate nationwide employment system for its students. It ran two simultaneous "divisions," each of about 750 students. Half of them were at work at jobs around the country, while the other half studied on campus. Every three or six months, the two divisions switched roles, with one group of 750 students returning to campus, while the other half went out to take up the jobs their counterparts just left. Students chose their jobs from among hundreds of options by reading through files of reports supplied by their predecessors. A group of college faculty members were tasked with visiting employers and seeking new job opportunities. Oddly enough, you could go through your entire undergraduate career without meeting your shadow classmates in the opposite division.

Certainly some students could sample jobs in exactly the careers they hoped to pursue. There were many jobs in science labs, some conventional, others exotic. I would count three months on an ocean going research vessel and six months in an Antarctic research station in the latter category. You could also try a job to see whether it was really for you -- in a factory, on a farm, in an ad agency, with a publisher, with an accounting firm, in a theater, with a radio station, in a department store. But there was in addition a more metaphysical dimension to these job experiments. Many jobs were fundamentally opportunities to enter into and experience a different world without making any sort of long-term, let alone lifelong commitment, to it. You could work on a small town newspaper for six months. You could work in a mental institution for a quarter. You could succeed or fail at any of these jobs without suffering major career consequences. And you didn't have to train for them for years before experiencing what they were like.

The result was thus not job training in the manner of technical schools, but rather a hands-on education in the nature of work. It did not produce compliant employees but rather employees with a distinctive comparative experience of the contemporary workplace. Antioch students came to know employment in depth, and they graduated ready to evaluate and, when appropriate, improve the work places they eventually joined long term.

The whole system was astonishingly efficient -- with one faculty and one physical plant, yet two entire student bodies. Most students took five, rather than four, years to complete an undergraduate degree, but the overall annual production of graduates was still impressive. Oddly enough, the Antioch model seems even more relevant today than it did two generations ago. It answers to the corporate pressure for job training, while adding a powerful and transformative philosophical dimension to what otherwise seems crass and instrumental. For work at Antioch was always "a meaningful learning experience."

Some of the job experiences, to be sure, were absolutely dreadful, for some exploitive employers took advantage of these youngsters to extract very long hours indeed. Yet there was always the escape hatch in sight. The job had a definite end. The Antioch campus could also be maddening. Student government had far more power than on most campuses, and the results were not always either fair or rational. Students were thus empowered not only to succeed but also to fail at running a community. Again, they learned.

In the 1970s a visionary but thoroughly impractical college president opened a great number of satellite campuses across the country. Seriously underfunded, they failed in large numbers and depleted the college's endowment. A few have survived and prospered, but the renamed Antioch University has struggled financially ever since. The economic effects of a long 1973 strike were also substantial. Had the endowment survived intact, its income could have sustained the physical plant and vastly facilitated student recruitment. Perhaps loyal alumni can still save the Yellow Springs campus.

The Antioch experiment aimed to produce informed and critical citizens who were ready to take up the struggle to make a better world, both locally and nationally, in their work places and in their country. Corporations interested in obtaining inventive, thinking employees could do worse than to invest in this model and bring it back to life.

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Cary Nelson is the Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He graduated from Antioch College in 1967.

Credentials, Accomplishments and Redemption

Among connoisseurs and admirers of fine art, nothing is more troubling than the discovery that a great and celebrated painting is a forgery. Those who praised the picture find themselves embarrassed. Worse still, all reverence for the picture vanishes and its high value plunges to near worthlessness.

Why this happens is clear. The picture was valued primarily for its creator’s name -- that is to say, for its credentials. The beauty and interest of the picture have not changed, but when its credentials reveal the painter to be Han van Meegeren, a 20th century forger, not Jan Vermeer, a 17th century master, everything else does change.

I offer this observation to illuminate the case of Marilee Jones, whom I do not know. She had been employed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for 28 years, most recently as the dean of admissions. In this last position, she was celebrated, a rare case among admissions deans who are usually obscure, for her efforts to humanize the overwhelming process of applying to colleges and universities. When a few weeks ago someone anonymously informed the MIT administration that she had falsified her résumé, she stepped down.

And like a forgery discovered, her value became nil upon the revelation. Having been a university president for 30 years, I find this whole business troubling and dismaying for several reasons.

I am troubled that she lied about where she earned her bachelor's degree and that, over the years, she did not attempt to correct the record. I am further troubled by her hypocrisy, Ms. Jones having made a great point of telling students to be honest about their accomplishments on their admissions forms. None of this is good.

But I am dismayed by the weight that has been put on credentials that, after so many years, have absolutely no bearing on her performance. It visibly makes no difference that she earned her bachelor's degree from the College of St. Rose, in Albany, not Union College, or that she has no degree from Albany Medical College or Renssalaer Polytechnic Institute.

Of course colleges must perceive degrees as consequential. If not colleges, who? But degrees as “sacred,” I’m not sure. “Sacred” has theological implications that may take us a step too far. We do, after all, give university credit these days for courses taken in high school, and we give credit with university degrees for life experience. There are all sorts of degrees that can be earned through experiential programs. The box is not as hermetically sealed as it once was. And that is a good thing.

To put it plainly, she is not a forgery. She is what she has always appeared to be -- a very accomplished university administrator. The value of the Vermeer resides almost entirely (and unfortunately, I think) in the certainty of its authorship. I wonder if Ulysses S. Grant would have been a lesser general or a greater president had he not attended West Point, but claimed that he had. We are known by our accomplishments and rewarded accordingly.

We may insist that we are also known by our character, and I agree. However, as far as I know, Ms. Jones muddied her skirts many years ago and has since been otherwise blameless. This apparent fact is also troubling.

The laws regarding privacy have traditionally recognized “unconscionable publication” as appropriately actionable. An example: A young man is convicted of a misdemeanor, serves his time, then moves to another city and starts over, becoming over the years a respectable businessman and philanthropist. Someone discovers his indiscretion and publishes it. Courts have found that this invades privacy (and is akin to libel), the reasoning being that the fault is so old and so immaterial to the character and actions of the man some 28 years later as to be “unconscionable” or offensive to the community’s standards of decency.

The outing of Ms. Jones strikes me as unconscionable. She had done no harm, and revealing her dishonesty so many years later only undermines the good she has done. (I doubt her résumé fraud deprived anyone of her lowly first job in any event; she probably would have got it with her true credentials, sad to say.) I am reluctant to criticize the administration of MIT, however. Had Susan Hockfield, the president of MIT, declined to do anything, no doubt the informant would have gone to the press and outed MIT. It’s a sorry fact that many in the media prefer getting the goods on higher education than getting the good that higher education does -- and Marilee Jones had done a great deal of good. Thus, MIT was in a bind, one I would tremble to be in.

But, from a safe distance, I want to offer some thoughts. It seems to me that some sins are more forgivable than others, especially after so many years. Do we not, after all, believe in redemption not to mention the statute of limitations? Does Ms. Jones’s failing when she was 27 still define her at 55? I think not. How many years must go by before we forgive? Twenty-eight seems more than enough to me.

It is not that Ms. Jones should not have been sanctioned. She should have been, but she should also be forgiven. College degrees are meant to represent the judgment of faculty that a student has demonstrated competence in a discipline. We go to universities to learn -- not to get degrees. The degrees are symbols. If 28 years of performance haven’t proven that Ms. Jones mastered the lessons, of what utility would a degree be?

Were I and George Washington University to be faced with such an unhappy case, I want to believe that this is what I would do:

In recognition of her many years of service, I would confer an honorary and retroactive degree on Ms. Jones in order to ameliorate her defective résumé. I would say she messed up. I would say she embarrassed herself and GW. I would add that she is human. And then I would issue a pardon in the name of the university and everyone else who has an old failing that has yet to come to light.

I am surprised no one has raised the feminist argument -- the date of her employment, the sociology of the time, the place, her gender, the ceilings (both glass and otherwise), the preemptory strike against anticipated bias in the human resources office.

Yes, she lied. What is the appropriate action to take when one discovers that transgression after 28 years of loyal, dedicated, competent service? Surely it is distinguishable if one discovers it the next day.

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Stephen Joel Trachtenberg is president and professor of public administration at George Washington University.


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