Grab Bag

A warning: This week’s column will be miscellaneous, not to say meandering. It updates earlier stories on Wikipedia, Upton Sinclair, and the Henry Louis Gates method of barbershop peer-review. It also provides a tip on where to score some bootleg Derrida.

Next week, I’ll recap some of my talk from the session on “Publicity in the Digital Age” at the annual conference of the Association of American University Presses, covered here last week. The audience consisted of publicists and other university-press staff members. But some of the points covered might be of interest to readers and writers of academic books, as well as those who publish them.

For now, though, time to link up some loose ends....

One blogger noted that the comments following my column on Wikipedia were rather less vituperative than usual. Agreed -- and an encouraging sign, I think. The problems with open-source encyclopedism are real enough. Yet so are the opportunities it creates for collaborative and public-spirited activity. It could be a matter of time before debate over Wikipedia turns into the usual indulgence in primal-scream therapy we call "the culture wars." But for now, anyway, there’s a bit of communicative rationality taking place. (The Wikipedia entry on "communicative rationality" is pretty impressive, by the way.)

A few days after that column appeared, The New York Times ran a front-page article on Wikipedia. The reporter quoted one Wikipedian’s comment that, at first, “everything is edited mercilessly by idiots who do stupid and weird things to it.” Over time, though, each entry improves. The laissez faire attitude towards editing is slowly giving way to quality control. The Times noted that administrators are taking steps to reduce the amount of “drive-by nonsense.”

The summer issue of the Journal of American History includes a thorough and judicious paper on Wikipedia by Roy Rosenzweig, a professor of history and new media at George Mason University. Should professional historians join amateurs in contributing to Wikipedia? “My own tentative answer,” he writes, “is yes.”

Rosenzweig qualifies that judgment with all the necessary caveats. But overall, he finds that the benefits outweigh the irritations. “If Wikipedia is becoming the family encyclopedia for the twenty-first century,” he says, “historians probably have a professional obligation to make it as good as possible. And if every member of the Organization of American Historians devoted just one day to improving the entries in her or his areas of expertise, it would not only significantly raise the quality of Wikipedia, it would also enhance popular historical literacy.”

The article should be interesting and useful to scholars in other fields. It is now available online here.

This year marks the centennial of Upton Sinclair’s classic muckraking novel, The Jungle, or rather, of its appearance in book form, since it first ran as a serial in 1905. In April of last year, I interviewed Christopher Phelps, the editor of a new edition of the novel, for this column.

Most of Sinclair’s other writings have fallen by the wayside. Yet he is making a sort of comeback. Paul Thomas Anderson, the director of Boogie Nights and Magnolia, is adapting Sinclair’s novel Oil! --  for the screen; it should appear next year under the title There Will Be Blood. (Like The Jungle, the later novel from 1927 was a tale of corruption and radicalism, this time set in the petroleum industry.) And Al Gore has lately put one of Sinclair's pithier remarks into wide circulation in his new film: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

That sentiment seems appropriate as a comment on a recent miniature controversy over The Jungle. As mentioned here one year ago, a small publisher called See Sharp Press  claims that the standard edition of Sinclair’s text is actually a censored version and a travesty of the author’s radical intentions. See Sharp offers what it calls an “unexpurgated” edition of the book -- the version that “Sinclair very badly wanted to be the standard edition,” as the catalog text puts it.

An article by Phelps appearing this week on the History News Network Web site takes a careful look at the available evidence regarding the book’s publishing history and Sinclair’s own decisions regarding the book and debunks the See Sharp claims beyond a reasonable doubt.

In short, Sinclair had many opportunities to reprint the serialized version of his text, which he trimmed in preparing it for book form. He never did so. He fully endorsed the version now in common use, and made no effort to reprint the "unexpurgated" text as it first appeared in the pages of a newspaper.

It is not difficult to see why. Perhaps the most telling statement on this matter comes from Anthony Arthur, a professor of English at California State University at Northridge, whose biography Radical Innocent: Upton Sinclair has just been published by Random House. While Arthur cites the “unexpurgated” edition in his notes, he doesn’t comment on the claims for its definitive status. But he does characterize the serialized version of the novel as “essentially a rough draft of the version that readers know today, 30,000 words longer and showing the haste with which it was written.”

A representative of See Sharp has accused me of lying about the merits of the so-called unexpurgaged edition. Indeed, it appears that I am part of the conspiracy against it. (This is very exciting to learn.) And yet -- restraining my instinct for villainy, just for a second -- let me also point you to a statement at the See Sharp website explaining why the version of The Jungle that Sinclair himself published is a cruel violation of his own intentions.

Memo to the academy: Why isn’t there a variorum edition of The Jungle? There was a time when it would have been a very labor-intensive project -- one somebody might have gotten tenure for doing. Nowadays it would take a fraction of the effort. The career benefits might be commensurate, alas. But it seems like a worthy enterprise. What’s the hold-up?

In February 2005, I attended a conference on Jacques Derrida held at the Cardozo Law School in New York, covering it in two columns: here and here. A good bit of new material by “Jackie” (as his posse called him) has appeared in English since then, with more on the way this fall. Next month, Continuum is publishing both a biography of Derrida and a volume described as “a personal and philosophical meditation written within two month’s of Derrida’s death.”

Bet you didn’t know there was going to be a race, did you?

In the meantime, I’ve heard about a new translation, available online, of one of Derrida’s late-period writings. It is part of his engagement with the figure of Abraham, the founding phallogocentric patriarch of the three great monotheistic religions. The translator, Adam Kotsko, is a graduate student at the Chicago Theological Seminary. (See this item on the translation from his blog.)

The potential for “open source” translation may yet open more cans of worms than any team of intellectual-property lawyers can handle. I’ll throw this out as a request to anyone who has thoughts on the matter: If you’ve committed them to paper (or disk) please drop me a line at the address given below.

And finally, a return to the intriguing case of Emma Dunham Kelley-Hawkins -- the most important African-American writer who was not actually an African-American writer.

In a column last spring, I reported on the effort to figure out how the author of some rather dull, pious novels had become a sort of cottage industry for critical scholarship in the 1990s. After a couple of days of digging, I felt pretty confident in saying that nobody had thought to categorize Kelley-Hawkins as anything but a white, middle-class New England novelist before 1955.

That was the year a bibliographer included her in a listing of novels by African-American writers -- though without explaining why. And for a long time after that, the scholarship on Kelley-Hawkins was not exactly abundant. Indeed, it seemed that the most interesting thing you could say about her fiction was that all of the characters appeared to be white. Kelley-Hawkins did make a very few references to race, but they were perfectly typical of white prejudice at its most casually cruel.

Only after Henry Louis Gates included her work in a series of reprints by African-American women writers did critics begin noticing all the subtle -- the very, very subtle -- signs of irony and resistance and whatnot. Why, the very absence of racial difference marked the presence of cultural subversion! Or something.

So much ingenuity, in such a bad cause.... Subsequent research suggests that Kelley-Hawkins was Caucasian, by even the most stringent “one drop” standards of white racial paranoia in her day.

A recent item by Caleb McDaniel discusses the most recent work on Kelley-Hawkins. The puzzle now is how the initial re-categorization of her ever took place. Evidently that bibliography from 1955 remains the earliest indication that she might have been African-American. (A second puzzle would be how anyone ever managed to finished reading one of her novels, let alone embroidering it with nuance. They can be recommended to insomniacs.)

McDaniel also quotes something I’d forgotten: the statement by Henry Louis Gates that, if he had put up a photograph of Kelly-Hawkins in his barbershop, “I guarantee the vote would be to make her a sister."

You tend to expect a famous scholar to be familiar with the concept of the sepia tone. Evidently not. Here, again, is where Wikipedia might come in handy.

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Rumor and Innuendo

Springtime in higher education heralds the faculty search extravaganza. As a newly minted Ph.D., I dove head first into the overflowing candidate pool. I was engaged with some short-term work at my graduate institution and had a strong desire to remain there. It is located in my home state, close to family and friends, and is a highly regarded national university. I also had a strong personal affinity for the institution and had developed strong personal and professional relationships, which I valued a great deal. I navigated my way through the process of creating a dissertation-length CV, the nerve-racking experience of being interviewed by my speakerphone (i.e. the dreaded first-round phone interview) and the endurance test of 8 to 10 hours of interviews and meals with people in positions I never knew existed.

I was fortunate to have reached the “I can taste the job it’s so close,” campus-visit stage in two searches at my institution. I felt fairly confident that I would emerge from this process with at least one offer. What I did not foresee was that my experience would force me to reflect on the role of trust  in higher education. My first foray, as a “full member,” into the academic universe would be a “teachable moment.”

During one of my campus visits, I knew that an intimate knowledge of and appreciation for diversity would be a trait required of the position. So in 3 different sessions with 12 different individuals, I chose to share that I am gay as a means to illustrate my ability to empathize with students, professors, and staff of diverse backgrounds. It was a strategic decision, which, after researching institutional policy, I believed would unfold in the context of a confidential faculty search.

Heretofore, I had not been open about my sexual orientation in my professional or educational life (while being so to family and close friends). My reasons are many and my own; yet, in my view, not terribly relevant to this particular situation. The decision to “be out,” in this part of my life, was mine alone to make.

Nineteen days after my interview, a colleague and personal friend, unaware of my sexual preference, called me at home that evening. She wanted to let me know that late in the day she had been approached by a colleague, uninvolved with the search, who stated “There is a rumor going around that Jim ‘came out’ during his interview.” My friend, never a gossip, asked the colleague how he had heard information revealed during a confidential search. My friend, feeling duty bound, contacted the chair of the search committee, 1 of the 12, to inform him  that information from a candidate interview was being shared outside the search process.

It has been five weeks since that evening telephone call and I have not heard anymore of it. I am not quite sure what, if anything, I should expect to hear. As I reflect on my experience, I circuitously analyze the issues it raises. It undoubtedly raises issues of professionalism. A case can be made that it raises ethical considerations. Perhaps, it crosses into the legal realm, but I leave that to the lawyers among you. That is of little interest to me.

It is the ethical implications that keep my mind stirring late past my bedtime. They are what keep sending me back to my computer to read, over and over, the institution’s policy on confidentiality in the search process. As I have already said, there were many reasons I chose not to “be out” in my professional life. However, after completing my Ph.D. and embarking on a new chapter in life, I was now prepared to travel down that road. Revealing my identity during a confidential search process, to a limited audience, was the first of many destinations on that journey.

I keep returning to two primary considerations. The first relates to diversity. My institution professes a strong commitment to and appreciation for diversity, almost to the point of overkill. Perhaps that is why it was that much more difficult to swallow that the information I shared was deemed, by an individual involved with the search, fodder for the rumor mill.

The far more salient issue to me is that of confidentiality, and more specifically trust.  Institutional policy dictates confidentiality in the search process.  Common decency demands it. The search process is an opportunity for the committee and potential colleagues to gain an intimate understanding of the candidate in a relatively brief period of time. To effectively evaluate what strengths and challenges a candidate would bring to the institution, he/she must be willing and permitted to be utterly candid and acutely honest.

At the same time, candidates should be able to have confidence that information shared during the interview process is privileged and confidential. Whether such information be a medical condition, unique family situation, special accommodation, or sexual orientation, it should be treated as internal knowledge to those involved in the search. When speaking of confidentiality in the selection process, Joan Rennekamp, a national commentator on personnel issues,  states: "It is sometimes helpful to think of information as you would think of a material object that has an owner.... No other employee has the right to communicate it to someone else unless some overriding concern arises, or unless the owner gives permission to do so."

Yes, Rennekamp is a lawyer (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but even lawyers have sage advice at times.

Trust, leadership, and moral conduct are professed institutional values at my college. Of course, as an educational institution, those values are most strongly inculcated in students. However, as educators, we have a responsibility to model proper, responsible, and ethical behavior to our students. If we fail to lead by example, then we fail to lead at all. If we are unable to maintain trust among colleagues, how can we develop trust with students, or teach them to develop trust in each other.

Lest I seem to be presenting myself as some type of moral elite, I must admit that I am all too experienced in losing the trust of those close to me. I will never forget the utter look of devastation on my mother’s face when she discovered I had lied to her as a teenager. More recently, I lost the trust of a supervisor who felt I had betrayed our professional relationship. Yet, in each of those instances I was able to make an honest, open, and sincere apology to the wronged individual. I have a strange feeling that no such apology will be forthcoming in my situation.

I suppose I never realized how important those three simple words -- I am sorry -- are to my value system. The fact that my sexual orientation is now part of the public domain is not what makes me continue to brood over my experience. The issue that forces my mind to wander is that one or more of those 12 individuals felt it their prerogative to decide how I “rolled out” my sexual identity to my professional colleagues. There were unique aspects of my own experience that I felt could be educational to faculty, staff, and students. For better or for worse, I am an educator. I had a “lesson plan” for sharing my experience with members of the campus community. That “lesson plan” was my own to execute.

Yet beyond my own experience, what do such actions say about trust among members of the campus community. Higher education is, admittedly, a gossip factory on overdrive. How often have each of us heard information that was not intended for anyone but those involved with the search process? How often have the personal issues or misfortunes of our colleagues been whispered throughout the classrooms, laboratories, and conference rooms of academe? How desensitized have we become to the whirlwind of rumor and innuendo? Knowing the character of the collegiate workplace, I perhaps should have known better. Yet, based on an explicit, written statement of confidentiality, I chose to begin this particular personal journey during the search process. In hindsight, it was a poor choice.

As in any situation, I look for the lessons learned. For good to emerge from a bad experience, I always look for the “take away.” In no particular order, and limited to the clarity of my thinking on this issue, are some thoughts for institutions, candidates, and myself.

For the institution:

  • What is the institutional policy on confidentiality? Is it a policy that is iterated not only to search committee members, but also to other faculty, staff, and students whothat may interview a candidate? Does the institution also communicate the seriousness of the policy and that it exists for reasons other than mere formality? Are processes in place to handle a breach of confidentiality?
  • Do attempts to include a breadth of constituencies in the selection process sacrifice the integrity of the process? I wrote 26 “Thank You” notes for the campus visit alone. Can confidentiality be maintained in such an open and inclusive environment? Should only the search committee interview be subject to confidentiality? Should an explicit notice of when confidentiality applies be provided to candidates?
  • Are there implications for student confidentiality when candidate confidentiality cannot be maintained? Do professionals with access to student records have a sufficient understanding of federal and state privacy laws? Are professionals required to undergo training on legally protected data and information? Are we modeling professional, ethical, and legal behavior for our students when it comes to matters of trust and proper conduct?

For the candidate:

  • Be clear about  institutional policy concerning confidentiality. Research the policy with human resources and/or the equal opportunity office. At a minimum, be aware of the written policy. Be confident that information shared is privileged information. As Ronald Reagan said, “Trust, but verify.”
  • Be even clearer about your expectations should you choose to share a personal or private experience. For example, during the interview process, you may choose to share information about a current or former supervisor, co-worker, or subordinate. If such information reflects a negative experience, you should preface the information by asking that such information remain internal to the search process. Some candidates may want to share information about a medical condition -- and should be very clear about expectations.
  • For internal candidates, be aware that professional responsibility and personal friendship make strange bedfellows. Knowing the actors in a particular search makes the issue of trust and confidentiality that much more critical. Should irregularities arise in the search process, the actors have a professional responsibility to the institution. That responsibility will, more often than not, take precedence over duty to personal friends.    

For myself...

I do my best to approach my experience as a professional, letting reason guide my analysis. But, emotions do enter the scene. Hurt, anger, and disappointment inevitably play a role. While it is difficult to lose respect for and trust in the colleague who divulged the information, it has been far more difficult to question the status of personal friendships I have developed with others involved in the search process and hiring department. Their lack of communication leaves me to assume indifference to the issue.

I would like to say I have not become a less trusting person. But, I would be lying. However, with no one from whom to hear those three magic words, I am left to lose a little bit of trust in the institution as a whole. That is a very hard pill to swallow when you have a passion for your institutionschool. I am still processing that aspect of this whole experience.

And for those interested, I was not offered this particular position. I accepted another position at the same institution, which has greater responsibility, offers a higher salary, and is a new field for me within higher education. Had I been offered the position in question, my adverse experience during the search process and the subsequent administrative silence would have been a rocky start, to say the least. So, I am optimistic about what lies ahead, yet uncertain as to how I feel about the personal and professional relationships I leave not so far behind.

As for my “lesson plan,” I guess that is on hold for now. I need to retool it given new realities on the ground. Of more immediate concern is the 500-pound gorilla in the room. More specifically, the great majority of individuals who are aware of my sexual orientation are also aware of how the information came to be shared (and most of them did not learn of it during the search process). It is a uniquely interesting experience to be meeting or dining with a colleague and have the proverbial “family secret” lurking under the table. In two days, I have a meeting with the individual who mistakenly gossiped to my friend and started this chain of events. We have not seen each other since this whole episode started. For some odd reason, I chuckle to myself when I think about the encounter.

My hope is that after writing this piece, I will feel a sense of closure. Since I am not privy as to whether there has been any administrative action on the issue, I cannot gain the satisfaction that some good or value came out of my experience. For myself, I suppose the good comes in that I think far more about what is and what is not appropriate information to share. I think far more about trust. I am more cognizant of my own behavior and how it positively and/or negatively affects others.

We all receive an enormous amount of information each and every day. Being able to differentiate between routine, need-to-know, and confidential information is a critical skill, and more importantly personal and professional value, for administrators, faculty, staff, and students. Trust is the foundation on which any vibrant community, academic or otherwise, is built. No community can survive without it.

Democritus said, “Do not trust all men, but trust men of worth; the former course is silly, the latter a mark of prudence.” I honestly do not know how I feel about that statement. I have always been an openly trusting person. What I do know is that I have a newfound appreciation for those individuals who I trust implicitly and who have not given me reason to doubt that trust after many years of friendship. I have a new respect for those closest to me who are “men [and women] of worth.”

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James Pierpont is the pseudonym an administrator at a research university.

Motivations -- for Students and Instructors

Paula M. Krebs has been a professor of English at Wheaton College, a selective New England liberal arts college, for 15 years. Her sister Mary Krebs Flaherty teaches writing as an adjunct at the inner-city campus of Camden County College, a two-year institution. They are writing a series of articles about what it’s like to teach English at their respective institutions.

Paula: Well, how was your first year of teaching? When I started teaching in grad school, it was freshman comp, a required course but one that at least carried graduation. I've never taught "developmental," non-credit courses like the ones you were teaching. Was it frustrating to your students to have to pass your class just to get into a position where they could take an English course that counted for credit? Was it frustrating for you? Did it feel like college teaching?

Mary: Since I've only taught developmental, non-credit courses, I'm not sure there is a difference, but I can tell you that I had college expectations for my students. Several of my first semester Writing Skills III students approached me this past semester and thanked me for preparing them for Comp 101, even though they had complained about how much work there was in my class. They said that Comp was a breeze. I think that their frustration while taking my class was in part due to it being a lot of work for a non-credit course (eight essays in 15 weeks).

Paula: Eight essays in 15 weeks is a lot of work, especially if you know you’re not getting college credit for it. How do you keep them motivated? My students are sometimes motivated to pass my classes so they can keep their scholarships or stay on an athletic team or just stay out of hot water with their parents. But more of your students are independent, aren’t they?

Mary: You’re right -- the students in my classes are at just completely different starting points than your students. Many of the Camden County College students on the Camden campus are usually the first of their family to attend college and they seem to have an inner drive to pass their classes for themselves, while the students with children are motivated because they want to eventually provide better lives and opportunities for their children. Students who test into basic writing classes also test into developmental reading and math classes as well. Imagine paying for three remedial classes that you aren't getting any college credit for!

Paula: Speaking of paying for classes you aren’t getting any credit for: I have a colleague who once a year or so asks his students to bow their heads in silent thanks to the students who don’t show up for class -- the ones who are not cluttering up the classroom but whose tuition dollars are making it possible for those who want to learn to do so. But back to the point: How do you motivate students if they’re not getting credit, and what exactly goes on in a "developmental" course?

Mary: Well, my Writing Skills II class in the spring seemed even more frustrated than my Writing Skills III course in the fall, partly because they knew they still had to pass into Writing Skills III before getting into Comp 101. That's a lot of work to do and not receive any course credit. The students also know that they only receive a pass/fail grade for the developmental classes (although their actual numeric grade will show on their transcripts). On a daily basis, keeping their interest in the writing material and assignments is pretty easy. It’s when we cover a grammar lesson that their eyes glaze over. Luckily, I have a lot of support from the program director and I've done a lot of research for interesting grammar activities. Students’ favorites seem to be cartoons and ad spoofs with grammar topics.

The objective for the Writing Skills II students is to write grammatically correct essays with unity, support, and coherence. These students start at the paragraph level with a  focus on topic sentences, supporting evidence, and grammar, and are given ample classroom time for revising and editing with teacher input.  After mid-term portfolios, each Writing Skills teacher can modify assignments based on the class’s needs (as long as each student completes seven essays). The majority of my students were ready to move on to a five-paragraph essay. I added in some reading-based assignments, but allowed students to continue to use their personal experiences as supporting evidence. On the other hand, WS III students start off with the five-paragraph essay, usually experience-based as well. They concentrate on writing thesis statements, grammar, and eventually work up to doing peer editing in class. They also move on to reading-based essays and using citations by the end of the semester. The objective for these students is, in addition to proper grammar, unity, support and coherence, to be able to edit their own papers, and to start to critically read an article and write about it objectively. I think the largest leap into Freshman Comp 101 is that comp students must come up with a thesis statement that attempts to prove something, not one that just states the obvious. Of course, you've probably had some students in your classes that could have used a bit of developmental writing before coming into your class!

Paula: My problem this semester was not first-year students who needed developmental writing (although I did have a couple in my Victorian lit class). No, my problem was my seniors, all of whom were well trained in writing good essays. But good training did not always translate into motivation, as it turned out. I had some excellent essays in the senior seminar, and I also had some of the laziest work I’d ever read. It really took me aback. I try to tell myself that it was an acute and contagious case of senioritis, causing otherwise hard-working students to turn into do-the-bare-minimum artists in their last semester. But I can’t help blaming myself, too -- I had to have created the conditions that let them think they could get away with turning in such work. I hate giving C's. It’s a rare thing in a course for majors.

Mary: My students ran the gamut in both semesters: A’s through F’s. All of the F’s in my Writing III were simply no shows -- there wasn’t one student who tried but didn't pass. The Writing II class seemed to be divided in half -- they were either really strong or really weak writers. There were several students in my Writing II class who tried and still failed and there were a couple of others who were right on the border of passing or failing their final portfolios. The decision then comes down to which would benefit the student the most -- repeating the class or taking a risk of failing Writing Skills III the next semester. It’s a difficult decision, especially considering the non-credit status of the class and keeping the students motivated and interested in staying in school. I realize that not everyone is college material, but if students can maintain the desire to do well, then I really do believe that they will eventually succeed.

Paula: Well, I’m really proud of you. I know I never could have done it -- worked full time, taught during my lunch hour, and taken graduate classes at night. I loved doing grad school the traditional way, and teaching is a great joy for me. But I do envy you. I envy you the impact you have on your students -- the difference an inner-city two-year college can make in a student’s sense of self, career prospects, family life. I hope you can stick it out and eventually, if you want, move into full-time teaching.

Mary Krebs Flaherty
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The previous column by Paula M. Krebs and Mary Krebs Flaherty examined the meanings of classrooms that are full (or aren't).

Getting the Faculty On Board

External demand is building for accountability in higher education. From discussions in state legislatures to the work of the Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education, policy makers are increasingly asking how we can strengthen effectiveness and productivity in our colleges and universities.

Some skepticism by the academy is understandable. Those on the outside sometimes fail to recognize just how much those of us on many college campuses are already talking seriously about the need to measure what we do and to be constructively critical of ourselves. And some of us may not like the tone of the voices that insist on greater accountability or some of the related ideas, including suggestions to eliminate regional accreditation, dismantle the federal student-aid system, and test college students to determine what they’ve learned.

But as assessment becomes a national imperative, college and university leaders face a major challenge: Many of our faculty colleagues are skeptical about the value of external mandates to measure teaching and learning, especially when those outside the academy propose to define the measures. Many faculty members do not accept the need for accountability, but the assessment movement’s success will depend upon faculty because they are responsible for curriculum, instruction and research. All of us -- policy makers, administrators and faculty -- must work together to develop language, strategies and practices that help us appreciate one another and understand the compelling need for assessment -- and why it is in the best interest of faculty and students.

Why is assessment important? We know from the work of researchers like Richard Hersh, Roger Benjamin, Mark Chun and George Kuh that college enrollment will be increasing by more than 15 percent nationally over the next 15 years (and in some states by as much as 50 percent). We also know that student retention rates are low, especially among students of color and low-income students. Moreover, of every 10 children who start 9th grade, only seven finish high school, five start college, and fewer than three complete postsecondary degrees. And there is a 20 percent gap in graduation rates between African Americans (42 percent) and whites (62 percent). These numbers are of particular concern given the rising higher education costs, the nation’s shifting demographics, and the need to educate more citizens from all groups.

At present, we do not collect data on student learning in a systematic fashion and rankings on colleges and universities focus on input measures, rather than on student learning in the college setting. Many people who have thought about this issue agree: We need to focus on “value added” assessment as an approach to determine the extent to which a university education helps students develop knowledge and skills. This approach entails comparing what students know at the beginning of their education and what they know upon graduating.  Such assessment is especially useful when large numbers of students are not doing well -- it can and should send a signal to faculty about the need to look carefully at the “big picture” involving coursework, teaching, and the level of support provided to students and faculty.  

Many in the academy, however, continue to resist systematic and mandated assessment in large part because of problems they see with K-12 initiatives like No Child Left Behind -- e.g., testing that focuses only on what can be conveniently measured, unacceptable coaching by teachers, and limiting what is taught to what is tested. Many academics believe that what is most valuable in the college experience cannot be measured during the college years because some of the most important effects of a college education only become clearer some time after graduation. Nevertheless, more institutions are beginning to understand that value-added assessment can be useful in strengthening teaching and learning, and even student retention and graduation rates.

It is encouraging that a number of institutions are interested in implementing value-added assessment as an approach to evaluate student progress over time and to see how they compare with other institutions. Such strategies are more effective when faculty and staff across the institution are involved. Examples of some best practices include the following:

  1. Constantly talking with colleagues about both the challenges and successful initiatives involving undergraduate education.
  2. Replicating successful initiatives (best practices from within and beyond the campus), in order to benefit as many students as possible.
  3. Working continuously to improve learning based on what is measured -- from advising practices and curricular issues to teaching strategies -- and making changes based on what we learn from those assessments.
  4. Creating accountability by ensuring that individuals and groups take responsibility for different aspects of student success.
  5. Recruiting and rewarding faculty who are committed to successful student learning (including examining the institutional reward structure).
  6. Taking the long view by focusing on initiatives over extended periods of time -- in order to integrate best practices into the campus culture.

We in the academy need to think broadly about assessment. Most important, are we preparing our students to succeed in a world that will be dramatically different from the one we live in today? Will they be able to think critically about the issues they will face, working with people from all over the globe? It is understandable that others, particularly outside the university, are asking how we demonstrate that our students are prepared to handle these issues. 

Assessment is becoming a national imperative, and it requires us to listen to external groups and address the issues they are raising. At the same time, we need to encourage and facilitate discussions among our faculty -- those most responsible for curriculum, instruction, and research -- to grapple with the questions of assessment and accountability. We must work together to minimize the growing tension among groups -- both outside and inside the university -- so that we appreciate and understand different points of view and the compelling need for assessment.

Freeman A. Hrabowski III is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. This article is adapted from a keynote address he gave at a conference on assessment this month co-sponsored by the Educational Testing Service and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

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Beyond a Sense of Place

Recently I have been gathering an editorial board for a new online journal. My intention was for the journal to be international in scope, but the majority of the early board members happened to be from the United States, which is no surprise, given its preponderance of researchers. It wasn’t too long before the board started to become more international in its representation and I began to feel more confident that the journal would be able to reflect other regions and their particular voices. Many journal editors recruit internationally, correctly assuming diversity to be important. But then I began to wonder what particular voice could I offer if some editorial manager sought to recruit me? How much does my “region” actually inform my research, my identity?

I was born, raised and educated in England, but never really felt English. Part of this was a political response: Being brought up in a militantly left-wing and anti-monarchist household, and also being one of “Thatcher’s children” instilled in me a certain disdain for all things British. But aside from this it never really occurred to me to include “national identity” as a variable of my “personal identity.” After university, like many lucky 20somethings, I spent a year or so backpacking, missing nothing of England and feeling increasingly “international.” After a couple more years in England I married someone from New Zealand, where I am engaged in Ph.D. research.

So, to the hypothetical recruiting editorial manager looking for a representative voice from the Pacific, will you find one in me? Probably not. Despite having spent several years in New Zealand I have no special feel for the place: there is nothing in my research about masculinity and spirituality that is explicitly informed by my residence in New Zealand. But nor could I be a representative voice for England, which arguably shaped me, having not been there for some time and being remarkably disengaged from English current affairs. My voice is representative of no particular place, yet perhaps also of multiple places: almost stateless, I am something of a gypsy.

Let me take you down a rather romantic path, for I am indeed a gypsy boy: My maternal grandmother was the last of a bona fide line of gypsies. She spent her girlhood in a caravan, the ornately decorated kind you imagine when picturing gypsies. She felt the stigma society placed on gypsies and opted to leave the road for the stability of a life in a brick house. In my boyhood (as is still the case) that stigma was very much alive and I have vivid memories of the hostility gypsies would receive when they would occasionally inhabit a local patch of rough land, or even the school playing field during the summer holidays. I never found out about my gypsy lineage until my late teens: My mother opted to keep it from me, to save me the abuse of being taunted at school, of being labeled a thieving gyppo or pikey. So perhaps I have some genetic memory of being stateless, of defining identity by action rather than place, or at least of the instability and fluidity of place.

Some attention, although not enough, has been given to notions of identity among migrants, refugees and other people who, because of economics, war or some other trauma are no longer resident in their homeland. These peoples’ statelessness, understandably, is a wound to be healed, a wrong to be righted. But my statelessness is not located at the oppressed end of a power dynamic: I am not  disadvantaged by my geographical movement, nor troubled by an identity that some might consider to be in limbo. Yet my identity is a shifting category, which keeps me on the margin: I don’t really fit in giving a paper at a local conference focusing on Pacifica, yet in an overseas context I appear “from” the Pacific region.

There is one place where I feel I do belong, like I have a “right” to pass the comment, ”look, I’ve been here a long time and think it’s fair to say....” That place is the Internet. Around 95 percent of my research is done online; I’ve only met 2 of the 40 people involved in the journal I’m organizing. I know the Internet, enough to pass inconspicuously as a local -- the online equivalent of using a regional colloquialism or drinking the right kind of beer from the right kind of glass. Rather than a communication device, I consider the Internet a place, one in which you can be “local” in Jamaica, Finland or the Philippines.

But so what? What does this actually mean? The answer is twofold. First, we need to start thinking more of the Internet as a place rather than a tool. It is a diverse place of many languages and cultures, but a place nonetheless. In our approach to scholarship we should consider the Internet a region like South-East Asia or Latin America and expect to hear some voices articulating positions that are comparably unique. These voices are unique not simply by using email and browsing, but because the Internet is their primary place of work, and their research is informed by its topography, politics, limitations, and potential.

Secondly, somewhat paradoxically, in the physical world we should resist putting too much emphasis on location as a primary defining category. I’m not for a moment suggesting different locations and particular voices are unimportant or are in some way to be transcended: Difference is, after all, identity. Rather, to give some pause for thought about what and where people are actually representative of. If we assume too much about the particularity and voice of any given place, especially if that place is outside North America or Europe, there is a danger of limiting that voice to a position that is similar to not hearing it at all. So I ask that next time you scan the editorial board of a journal, you resist the temptation to conclude too much from the members’ locations, and to see if you can identify anyone indigenous to the Internet.

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Joseph Gelfer is a Ph.D. student at Victoria University of Wellington and managing editor of the Journal of Men, Masculinities and Spirituality.

Pressing On

Late last week the Association of American University Presses held its annual meeting in New Orleans, or in what was left of it. Attendance is usually around 700 when the conference is held in an East Coast city. This time, just over 500 people attended, representing more than 80 presses -- a normal turnout, in other words, justifying the organizers’ difficult decision last fall not to change the location.

Inside the Sheraton Hotel itself, each day was a normal visit to Conference Land -- that well-appointed and smoothly functioning world where academic or business people (or both, in this case) can focus on the issues that bring them together. Stepping just outside, you were in the French Quarter. It wasn’t hit especially hard by last year’s catastrophic weather event. But there were empty buildings and boarded-up windows; the tourist-trap souvenir outlets offered a range of Katrina- and FEMA-themed apparel, with “Fixed Everything My Ass” being perhaps the most genteel message on sale.

The streets were not empty, but the place felt devitalized, even so. Only when you went outside the Quarter did the full extent of the remaining damage to the city really begin to sink in. On Thursday morning -- as the first wave of conference goers began to register -- a bus chartered by the association took a couple dozen of us around for a tour led by Michael Mitzell-Nelson and Greta Gladney (a professor and a graduate student, respectively, at the University of New Orleans). If the Quarter was bruised, the Ninth Ward was mangled.

It was overwhelming -– too much to take in. More imagery and testimony is available from the Hurricane Digital Memory Bank, a project sponsored by the University of New Orleans and the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University.

So you came back a little unsettled at the prospect of discussing business as usual. Then again, the prevailing idea at this year’s AAUP was that business has changed, and that university presses are rushing to catch up. The announced theme of the year’s program was “Transformational Publishing” -- with that titular buzzword covering the myriad ways that digital technologies affect the way we read now.

It was a far cry from the dismal slogan making the rounds at the AAUP meeting three years ago: “Flat is the new ‘up.’ ” In other words: If sales haven’t actually gone down, you are doing as well as can be expected. The cumulative effect of increasing production costs, budget cuts, and reduced library sales was a crisis in scholarly publishing. The lists of new titles got shorter, and staffs grew leaner; in a few cases, presses closed up shop.

I asked Peter Givler, the association’s executive director, if anyone was still using the old catch phrase. “Right now it looks like up is the new up,” he said. “It’s been a modest improvement, and we’re hearing from our members that there’s been a large return of books this spring. But it’s not like the slump that started in 2001.”

Cautious optimism, then, not irrational exuberance. While the word “digital” and its variants appeared in the title of many a session, it is clear that new media can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, the association has been able to increase the visibility of its members’ output through the Books for Understanding Web site, which offers a convenient and reliable guide to academic titles on topics of public interest. (See, for example, this page on New Orleans.) At the same time, the market for university-press titles used in courses has been undercut by the ready availability of secondhand books online.

And then there’s Google Book Search. The AAUP has not joined the Authors Guild’s class action suit   against Google for digitizing copyrighted materials. But university presses belong to the class of those with an interest in the case -- so the organization has incurred legal expenses while monitoring developments on behalf of its members. One got the definite impression that the other shoe may yet drop in this matter. During the business meeting, Givler indicated that the association would be undertaking a major action soon that would place additional demands on the organization's resources. I tried to find out more, but evidently its Board of Directors is playing its cards close to the vest for now.

With new obligations to meet, the board requested a 4 percent increase in membership dues. This was approved during the business meeting on Thursday. (Three members voting by proxy were opposed to it, but no criticism was expressed from the floor during the meeting itself.)

Proposals for longer-term changes in the organization’s structure and mission were codified in its new Strategic Plan (the first updating of the document since 1999). A working draft was distributed for discussion at the conference; the final version will be approved by the board in October.

This document -- not now available online -- conveys a very clear sense of the opportunities now open before university presses. (For “opportunities,” read also “stresses and strains.”)

It’s not just that technological developments are shaping how books get printed, publicized, and sold -- or even how we do research. A variety of new forms of scholarly publishing are emerging -- some of which make an end run around traditional university presses. “Societies, libraries, and other scholarly groups are now more likely to undertake publishing ventures themselves,” the proposal notes, “although they often lack the editing, marketing, and business skills found in abundance in university presses.”

Full membership in AAUP is restricted to presses that meet certain criteria, including “a faculty board that certifies the scholarly quality of the publications; a minimum number of publications per year; a minimum number of university-employed staff including a full-time director; and a statement of support from the parent organization.” But an ever larger number of learned publications – print, digital, or whatever – are issued by academic or professional enterprises that don’t follow this well-established  model.

Indeed, if you hang around younger scholars long enough, it is a matter of time before someone begins pointing out that the old model might be jettisoned entirely. Why spend two years waiting for your monograph to appear from Miskatonic University Press when it might be made available in a fraction of that time through some combination of new media, peer review, and print-on-demand? No one broached such utopian ideas at AAUP (where, of course, they would be viewed as dystopian). But they certainly do get mooted. Sometimes synergy is not your friend.

The organization’s new strategic plan calls for reaching out to “nonprofit scholarly publishers and organizations whose interests and goals are compatible with AAUP” -- in part, by revising the membership categories and increasing the range of benefits. New members would be recruited through an introductory membership offer “open to small nonprofit publishers.”

These changes, if approved, will go into effect in July 2007. Apart from increasing the size of the association, they would bring in revenue -- thereby funding publicity, outreach, and professional-education programs. (One of the projects listed as “contemplated” is creation of “a ‘basic book camp’ to orient new and junior staff to working at a scholarly press.” I do like the sound of that.)

For the longer term, the intent is clearly to shore up the role of the university press’s established standards in an environment that seems increasingly prone to blowing them away.

“University presses,” the AAUP plan stresses, “are well positioned to be among the leaders in the academic community who help universities through a confusing and expensive new world. They can enhance the ability of scholars to research, add value to, and share their work with the broadest possible audiences, and they can help to develop intellectual property policies and behaviors sensible to all.”

Of course, not every discussion at the meeting was geared to the huge challenges of the not-too-distant future. Late Friday afternoon, I went to an interesting session called “Smoke, Mirrors, and Duct Tape: Nurturing a Small Press at a Major University.” It was a chance to discuss the problems that go with being a retro-style academic imprint at an institution where, say, people assume you are the campus print shop. (Or, worse, that you have some moral obligation to publish the memoirs of faculty emeritus.)

It was the rare case of an hour I spent in New Orleans without hearing any variation on the word “digital.” After getting home, I contacted one of the participants, Joseph Parsons, an acquisitions editor for the University of Iowa Press, to ask if that was just an oversight. Had academic digitality hit Iowa?

"We routinely deal with electronic files, of course," he responded, "but the books we produce have been of the old-fashioned paper and ink variety.... When we contract with authors, we typically include digital rights as part of the standard agreement, but we haven't published anything suitable for an electronic book reader."

He went on to mention, however, that print-on-demand was a ubiquitous and very reasonable option for small press runs. It was surprising that he made the point -- for a couple of reasons. POD now seems like an almost antique form of "new media," in the age of Web 2.0. I don't recall hearing it discussed in New Orleans, for example, except in passing. At the same time, it clearly fit into the plans of an old-school university press with a catalog emphasizing literature and some of the the less trend-obsessed quadrants of the humanities. It seemed like a reasonable compromise between sticking with what you already know and making a leap into the digital divide.

Anyway, I'm just glad to think there will continue to be books, at least for a while. As a matter of fact, while in New Orleans, I even bought a few. They were second-hand, admittedly, but it seemed as if the shop owner needed the business more than any of the university presses did.

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Summer Thoughts -- II

By the time I turn in final grades for four classes, I feel exhausted -- physically, emotionally, and mentally. I go home, drop into bed and sleep for 12 hours. Even that does not heal my fatigue. The next day, I cannot even get my mail from the mailbox. If I am smart, I have stocked enough food and toiletries that I will not have to move from my apartment for the next few days. I shovel in bacon, eggs and raisin toast at every meal, too tired to rewrite my own menu.

Finally, three or four days later, I awaken to boredom. The television does not keep it at bay. Even sleeping loses the ability to make me sharp. Afternoon naps make me feel dull, rather than relieved. Books from the library lay on my coffee table unopened. Titles I have spent months coveting no longer catch my eye. Strangely enough, I find that I am looking forward to the next semester. I start to pull papers out of my attaché, set my new textbook on my desk, and write a few notes to myself about changes to be made in my syllabus.

I can’t believe it. I finally have real time off and I am not appreciating it. This is not in-between time. This is not a Saturday afternoon during a full semester when I have no grading. This is not an hour at night when I am done marking up papers. This is a real break. This is summer. This is weeks and weeks off. Time to do all the things
I had hoped to do during the semester: write, study, go to local events, see friends, sleep in late, and even do a short road trip. Yet I cannot lift a pen, break open a book, skim the newspaper for community happenings, call friends, sleep past seven a.m., or get in the car for anything other than buying a newspaper or soda.

Why can’t I successfully switch gears? What happened to my list of things to accomplish? Why can’t I get to all these important things? Why am I already thinking of my next classes? Can’t I appreciate time off -- time that I have earned. Time that others use well, I chastise myself. What’s wrong with me?

The truth is I get bored. Although I thought this free time would let me do all the things I don’t usually do during classroom times, this is an illusion for me. First, I do outside work during semesters.  My best writing is done when my mind is already engaged. And going to community events or seeing friends seems easier when I am already on the road. My mind is already working, as is my car, and making time to swing by the dry cleaners or the bookstore is easy when I’m already moving.

Second, short periods off -- say, weekends, or even a week -- are more productive for me than long weeks or months with no discipline in place. Not having a regular wake up time leaves me feeling dislocated. Sometimes I am grateful if a friend calls at 7:30 or 8 a.m. -- if only to give me a start time for my day. Even when I schedule activities for a day, they don’t seem pressing. I move events from page to page in my calendar -- even calling to reschedule a chiropractic appointment because I am too lazy to put on decent clothes and drive the half-mile to his office. Regular dog walks are the only constant. And my dog sometimes looks as though he’d like to sleep a few of those off, too.

Yes, I’m a workaholic. Yes, I’m more of a "Type A" personality than most. Yes, I have what Buddhists describe as a "monkey mind." So this problem may not be universal. Many professors reading this will laugh. Imagine not being able to take time off successfully! Imagine not enjoying the summer that one has been waiting for, even praying for! They will think I am crazy. And in a way, I am. But to the few, like me, who have trouble getting going during long stretches of “not-teaching” time, I want to offer some hope. Even without scheduled
classes and departmental meetings, we can be effective. Here are a few things that have worked for me:

Volunteer work. This sounds crazy, but volunteer work or an internship has helped me stay intellectually challenged enough to write, do research, and prepare for the next semester. Two years ago, when faced
with an empty four-week period before summer started, I signed up to become a page at my local library. Friends and family were surprised when I checked in for the unpaid one-day training and prepared to
shelve books properly. Yet, being able to dress in business casual clothes, talk with new people, and learn new tasks kept my mind from turning to slush. Knowing I had a four-hour shift each day kept me from falling into poor habits -- such as that passive non-intellectual cable television that chewed up hours of my time and left me tired. I not only had a reason to wake up each day, but found myself excited by my new duties. I was delving into the secret world of the library. I was allowed to spend hours around books -- the love of my life. This kept my mind stimulated. I felt alive. In the hours around my short shifts, I was able to write articles, read and underline a textbook I’d never used before, and prepare for classes in record time. I was surprised. I
thought that these shifts would take away from my time; technically they did, but somehow, they made the time that I had left far more productive. And I made some new friends. One librarian still e-mails me from her new position at a university library in the Bay Area. It’s a nice friendship based on the love of books.

Paid work. This year, I not only had four weeks before my first summer session, but another five weeks before fall started. Horrified at the thought of lounging in my pajamas and eating breakfast foods three times a day for months, I started to examine my options. First, I rewrote my résumé in several formats: one, for working a retail
job -- focusing on local bookstores; two, for administrative and clerical jobs -- targeting temporary and seasonal work; and third, for design firms, advertising agencies, and companies that support those
industries. I realized that my “previous life” working in private industry was going to help me here. I had worked retail. I had been a secretary for years. I had managed people and products. And finally, I had written copy, created ads, and supervised other creatives. This experience was going to be of use. I immediately sent out unsolicited résumés with custom cover letters to every ad agency, design firm, and copy house in town.

While those résumés were in transit, I applied online to jobs at the local Barnes and Noble and Books-a-Million. The following week, I received a call from a small marketing firm that wanted to interview
me. After showing him my portfolio, the owner said that he would like me to work at his office on contract, designing logos for a few of his clients. I shook his hand, happy that a few of my “non-teaching” days would be full. Knowing that would leave me weeks and weeks of down-time, I started to work on my back-up plan.

I re-read the Sunday paper, looking for clerical jobs. Stumbling on a few jobs that listed temporary or seasonal work gave me hope. I made a list of those firms, and added a few from the phone book -- looking at companies that seemed to focus on office jobs rather than factory work. I checked these firms out online to find out more. Several directed applicants to e-mail résumés; I did this immediately. I then sent my résumé and cover letter to all of these temporary employment agencies. By the end of the next week, I had not received one phone call. No bookstores had called. No temporary agencies had jumped at the chance to hire me. Even the marketing man hadn’t called. Concerned for my mental health, I didn’t give up. After calling the owner of the marketing firm and receiving a vague promise of work, I made a list of the four top temporary agencies. The next day, I woke up early, dressed in a suit, and made the rounds. Two companies brushed me off. What they said was that there were no jobs.

What I sensed was that they saw me as another overqualified applicant who, unwilling to take any work available, would not only be difficult to place, but would expect wages that none of their clients could pay. The two other firms, one a national temporary agency, were somewhat encouraging. While I worked through spelling and grammar tests, timed typing skills tests, and software tests that took hours, I reassured the office staff that I would work an assignment of any length -- a few hours, a few days, or a few weeks -- at any wage. While interviewing with bright, young women who seemed far more capable of doing office work than I did, I emphasized my earlier secretarial and administrative work in offices rather than my years in the classroom. I talked about transferable skills -- not only simple office work (answering phones, typing, copying, filing), but softer skills, such as working well with others, problem-solving, and balancing many tasks successfully. I was
confident that I have done all I can. Now it was my job to wait -- and call to recheck—with the hope of having something to do during the long, long hours that would stretch out in front of me.

I was lucky. Four days later, I received a call for a day’s worth of work at an industrial office on the north end of town. I was asked to answer phones, type out client orders, and page workers in a warehouse. I laughed with the office manager, a woman with orange-red hair and a sarcastic tongue. “You’ll never get these guys to answer your page like that,” she said, tapping the microphone button, “do it loud.” At lunch, I had to wolf down a ninety-nine cent hamburger on the ride back to the office. Finally I sat back down at the front desk, surprisingly comfortable in my new surroundings. At the end of the day, I logged my hours online with the temporary employment firm.

The fact that I would make a few dollars was not the primary reason that I did this simple job. It was the feeling of being useful that I craved. I realized that studies of the brain were right. I needed stimuli. New experiences help me to feel fresh and interested; this has resulted in increased productivity at home. Not only am I forced to
schedule my time better -- I feel “up” before and after I work. I also feel more active during what would have been “down-time” had I not been working. Excited, I contacted another temporary firm and was assured that I will be placed for a full-week’s worth of work if I can come in for a 10-minute face-to-face interview with the office manager.

I like the idea of the small paychecks -- which may be enough to buy a new attaché or even a badly needed laptop. The other side benefit is that I am reconnecting with the working world. This is not only good fodder for the columns that I write -- but a way to start to really know the constituents that I am working for in this town. Without planning it, I am getting to know students and parents of students in these offices. I realize that I will start to think of them as real people when my semester starts in a few weeks.

I also realize that working in private enterprise is chipping away at the "us vs. them" attitude that I’ve subscribed to as a college instructor. When I set my pride aside, I realize that I am a good secretary, a passable typist, and a receptionist that holds up well under pressure. This helps me feel more “part of” my community in this town. I start to see transferable skills as just that -- things that we all do. These activities exist not only in the academic circles, but in the real world, too. And at the very least, it gives me confidence that if I ever find myself without a teaching contract, I can make it in the outside world. My fast typing fingers and quick mind guarantee me some sort of paycheck.

Audio tapes. It sounds odd, but as a person who lives alone, I sometimes crave the sound of a human voice. Unless I call family in California, have lunch with friends, bump into the mailman, or go into the office to check my mail, I start to get a little strange being alone for days at a time. Even the television no longer amuses me. I
need contact that encourages me to use my brain. So, in addition to working (paid or unpaid), I have started to check out audio tapes or CDs from my local library.

A month ago, I checked out a James Lee Burke fiction novel to keep me awake on the way to a local airport. The narrator, Will Patton, had the ability to do a number of voices -- creating a cast of characters that were easily identifiable. I was riveted. By the time I arrived at an airport two hours later, I was disappointed that I could not finish the novel on CD. I was captured by Burke’s writing. And I enjoyed the narrator’s voice -- and his ability to create a number of different characters simply through inflection and tone.

I realize that listening to the spoken word requires more from my brain than listening to music. Music tends to relax me rather than get me moving. When I am driving tired, even hard rock may not keep me awake. But if I find a mystery theater on the radio, or pop in a CD, I must process information. My imagination is asked to work and the pace of the recording keeps me from stalling. This keeps my brain awake.

There is something intrinsically different about listening to a book read on tape than traditional reading or watching television. I will say that when I can focus, I prefer reading books. This allows me to pace my reading, re-read when I want, or take short breaks without being penalized. Traditional reading also forces me to remember details and visualize -- a form of intellectual activity.

Watching television, on the other hand, is usually a completely passive medium. All interpretation and visualization is done for us. We simply turn on the box and sit. With many stations (and shows), our imagination is not fired. Unless I am watching a documentary or other form of edu-tainment, I am often just floating along. I feel as if my brain is half asleep. That is why when watching, I often feel that I have taken more time than I wanted to watching television; I am in a state between awake and sleep-watching. It is not productive time. When I use it as a time-waster during non-teaching breaks, it can become destructive -- eating up hours and leaving me feeling fatigued. Books on tape or CD, however, are a different story. They ask something of me -- yet give me the sense of “having company” which relieves loneliness. Ideally, I need to be in company with others who use their brains.

Academic activity. Knowing that a syllabus needs to be updated or that I need to create a course outline does not always motivate me to spend my non-teaching times wisely. I sometimes act like my students. Dragging my feet, I often leave materials until the week, or worse yet the weekend, before class starts to get materials together. A dozen colleagues have confessed to having trouble getting started, too. Only the threat of a deadline will get some of us moving.

Still, I know 50 or 60 professors who use summers and inter-sessions to do research, write articles, attend local conferences and workshops, and review texts. Somehow they get going without a regular schedule. One friend who teaches business in California tells me that he uses this time to set up internships and service work for his students. For a five-week period, he schedules a few appointments each day with local businesses. Armed with information about the campus, his students and his courses, he chats with business owners, general managers and supervisors.

The result? He has detailed lists for students outlining service projects and contacts for the coming semester. Not only is the information up-to-date, but also seems to reflect trends in business that textbooks can’t capture. A dozen of his students will land internships -- a valuable addition to their résumés. Yes, my friend sounds like a man who puts too much effort into his job -- but when I see him, he is always enthused about his work. For him, scheduling appointments is not only a way to structure large blocks of time, but also a way to keep his mind active.

As an undergraduate, I did my best writing in the mornings. Knowing this, I wrangled afternoon or evening shifts waiting tables at a local restaurant. The next semester, I worked on staff with the campus as a secretary; my best schedule was one to five p.m. every day. This was ideal. I wrote from 8 a.m. to noon every day and then dressed for my office. Having spent the most productive time of day on something as important as my education and future career somehow put me in the perfect mood to type, file and produce budget reports all afternoon. My academic activity was paramount; the work secondary, but necessary for survival.

I realize that I am not like many of my colleagues. For them, summer and inter-sessions are valuable times to recoup, re-energize, and recommit to teaching. Time to invest in one’s future with research and writing. My fault is in having a mind that does not easily rest. And a laziness that prevails when I do not have activities scheduled. With volunteer work, part- or full-time temporary work, I can do less intellectually demanding work, leave it at the door, and go home to be productive. I even sleep better after a day’s work in an office.

Listening to tapes lets me multi-task without falling asleep. I’ve been lucky enough to “listen” to a half dozen books I otherwise would not have made time to read. And after attending a local writer’s conference, I not only updated two syllabi, but also outlined several articles for publication. I feel ready to teach my summer class which does not start for another two weeks. And knowing that I work better when already working, I’m sure to be ready for fall before the third weekend in August comes.

Author's email: 

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

Summer Thoughts -- I

Being a teacher means never having to give up summer break. While other people graduate from college and go on to a professional life punctuated only by holidays and weekends, many professors get the same time off as their students: breaks in winter, spring, and of course the break most of us are now well and truly into: summer.

As someone just starting out my teaching career the experience of summering as a professor is novel. But what really makes it so earthshatteringly new is not how different it is from my summers as a student but just how long it's taken me to get from one to the other. Like many Ph.D.'s, I've been in school so long I can't remember a time of my life that didn't involve summer vacation. So while I can count the number of summers I've spent as a professor on one hand, I'd need not only an extra leg, but a third arm to have sufficient digits to enumerate the summers I've spent as a student.

In mid-May, the difference between the student summer and the professor summer seemed vast to me. One approaches the student summer the way Evel Knievel approaches a line of Ford Mustangs -- a burst of frenzied acceleration as one heads up the ramp of stress and procrastination, a brief moment of giddy release as one floats tantalizingly close to success in the course of an all-nighter or three, and then a crash-and-burn landing in which one turns in the finished product which earns one notoriety but isn't quite as successful as you had hoped it would be.

Entry into the professor summer is much more apocalyptic. You announce to your students that the end times are coming. Panic ensues as all and sundry suddenly realize -- despite your jeremiads to the contrary throughout the entire semester -- that they shall all be judged when the last days come. What follows is typically a period of intense activity as students undertake the scholarly equivalent of cashing in their lifetime savings and spending it on kerosene and canned goods (or, to keep the metaphor straight, jumping over a line of Ford Mustangs). Are there extra credit assignments available? Can papers due months ago still be turned in for credit?

Eventually the final is handed out and the End Times begin. The class is over and yet the final ascension to summer has not occurred. There is a period of eerie calm. Finally the due date arrives and good students turn in papers, in reward for which their grades are instantly raptured up into WebCT. As for the late papers, no one knows the day or hour on which they will arrive. Eventually there is an intensely unpleasent tribulation in which you must put the The Grade upon the brow of all assignments, and then you are finally free to ascend into your summer.

The professor summer differs in several other important ways from the student summer. The most different is the way it fits into the life course of the people involved. The student summer is part of an upward trajectory that leads the student (however sluggishly) through school to graduation so that then can then enter into "real life." There is forward movement and a sense of growth.

The professor summer is part of the eternal reccurence of the same, a momentary pause. Have classes ended? No, they have only paused. Soon they will begin again, and the same classes will be taught to the same students who visit upon the use of semicolons the same violence the last students did. It's like the movie Groundhog Day, but without Andie MacDowell trying to hide her Southern accent.

But of course this is not strictly true. The professor summer is more a corkscrew than a circle. There are wheels within wheels and professors experience their careers as an increasingly upward spirals, moving ever closer to the (supposed) nirvana of tenure, retirement, or a salary large enough to summer in a rustic cabin on the edge of the large body of water near your university. Summer is where it is supposed to happen: professors embrace the summer as the time when they can perform the meritorious deeds necessary for them to attain a position close to the hub of the wheel of academic samsara.

But as the summer progresses I am beginning to realize that perhaps these differences between the student summer and the professor summer are illusory. My sense that professors are just grad students with health care grows. For while summer is supposedly a time of growth and improvement, it actually gets frittered away using the same techniques of procrastination and denial that one perfected during graduate school.

For instance, in the fall I will be teaching my first intro level course at a large state university rather than the small liberal arts college where I usually adjunct. For the first time -- ever -- I will be teaching from a textbook and lecturing rather than running a small seminar-style class. This freaks me out and I've spent a lot of time thinking about it. I want the entire summer to really read the textbook and prepare everything -- if it comes on the first of August then I'm going to be in trouble.

As a result I badgered my sales rep and finally got a copy of the textbook in late May and I have not even opened it. Now that it has arrived I can create my own emergency! As an expert procrastinator I am all too aware of just how much lead time I have before I have to get down to work. By putting this off until the last minute, I can take on some of my other summer projects, writing a best-selling follow-up to Guns, Germs, and Steel and learning Ugaritic.

Yeah right. What have I really been doing this summer? Most of my time has been spent catching up on Beat Takeshi flicks and playing Oblivion, Bethesda software's award-winning follow up to the popular computer game Elder Scrolls III: Morrowwind. My level 14 Orc brawler not only has a heavily enchanted katana, he can cast destruction spells as well. Oblivion's state-of-the-art game engine makes the marble in The Imperial City gleam with incredible realism, and my character's progressive advancement through quests allows me to wallow in a fantasy world similar to grad school, where my life was full of quests with defined goals and directional motion, not the recurrence of the same.

In the final accounting I don't think this is such a bad thing. We are one of the few professions in the United States that still gets a sizeable vacation. Why not enjoy it? Even professors need to stop and smell the flowers every once in a while, even if doing so means that come August we will be mentally putting on our Evel Knievel costumes and eyeing our classes as if they were a line of Ford Mustangs.

Author's email: 

Alex Golub teaches at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He blogs at Savage Minds, a group blog about cultural anthropology.

Pitching Writing

The other day, I received an e-mail from a colleague who teaches part-time at my university. She read an earlier piece I had written for Inside Higher Ed on why I thought students wrote poorly in college, and she wanted to talk to me about strategies for improving the quality of her students’ writing. She had just completed grading their final papers for the term, and she was frustrated with the number of grammar and citation errors.

During the week after grades were due, we met in my office, and she asked if I encountered the same kinds of mistakes. She also wondered what students were actually learning in our two-semester sequence of required writing courses. Were her expectations unreasonable? Should she assume students should be able to write correctly and cite secondary sources? As a member of the English and foreign languages department and past director of the writing program, I assured her that her expectations were not unreasonable and that students who had taken research writing at our school had received a general introduction to managing sources.  

Then she shared with me her syllabus, which contained a one paragraph description of one of her writing assignments. My experience tells me that one of the main problems students have with successfully completing writing projects is the design of the assignments. I’ve found assignments left in the copier by colleagues, and I’ve cringed at the unnecessary complexity of the tasks described or the insufficient explanations of what must be accomplished by the student.

Many assignments, like the one contained in her one paragraph, jumble what we want students to do and what we want students to present. In other words, many assignments I’ve seen fail to clearly delineate between the kind of thinking students need to perform and the kind of communication students need to present. So instead of adequately providing students the information they need to succeed, faculty often distribute a sloppily designed task that is cognitively difficult, if not impossible, for students to sort out. Here’s an example of what I mean:

Describe your agreement or disagreement to the statement below. I would also expect you to include at least 3 references from the course readings. Your response should be in the form of a clearly written and logically organized paper of no fewer than 1500 words. No works cited page is necessary for this assignment, but use MLA format for citations. If you wish to show me an early draft, send it to me by e-mail no later than 2 days before paper due date. Also use no smaller than 12 point font and be sure to proof for grammar and spellcheck. As I explained in class, underline your thesis statement in your introductory paragraph, and try to come up with an original title for this paper as well.

Garbage In, Garbage Out.  And then come the many complaints that students don’t know how to write.

I don’t mean to place all of the blame on faculty -- though some serious reflection on our culpability in these matters would certainly help. However, I did say to my colleague that students often fail to understand the complexity and time-consuming nature of writing, and instead of just demanding writing projects and assume students come to us as primed and ready to fire away, we need to help them manage their writing projects by providing carefully constructed assignments and a few opportunities to practice writing as a process over the course of the term.

Helping students practice writing as a process has long been taught as a solution to poorly composed papers, yet I don’t think it’s promoted much across the disciplines. But I also told her that there are cultural dimensions to this problem as well. I believe most students equate writing with transcription because the texts they most often encounter are the perfectly polished written products found in books, newspapers, and magazines. Since the hard work of composing those texts is hidden from readers, they believe that good writers think up what they want to say and then copy down their fully-formed thoughts onto the page. Thus, many students think they can’t begin to write until they have decided what they want to say. This, of course, is no news to composition theorists and teachers of rhetoric. But an alternative approach is rarely presented to students.

I did pitch my colleague some strategies for designing assignments and for providing models of what she expected, and I wish her the very best as she rethinks how to best support her students’ writing. Still, we have a cultural battle to fight. So here is another pitch: a new reality TV series called “The American Writer.”

Since contest shows on television have always generated enormous fascination and appeal in our culture, I would like to pitch a basic cable series (A&E, are you listening? PBS? Bravo? Hey, Oprah!) that follows a select group of college students, faculty, and authors as they meet together for a month at a writers’ retreat. The students will have been selected by a jury of college professors and professional writers based upon three writing samples: a short poem, a personal narrative essay, and an opinion piece. The faculty members will be selected from a variety of academic disciplines, and the authors will be selected based upon their abilities to write in more than one genre. At the end of the program, students will be judged on the quality of three new pieces of writing composed at the retreat, and the winner will receive a very generous cash prize.

The series will provide background about each of the students, faculty members, and authors, emphasizing their writing histories, as well as their favorite kinds of reading. The series will also follow these participants as they come to the retreat, reflect upon their selection to participate in the contest, share meals, attend workshops and tutorials, and describe their perceptions of the other participants. But the primary focus of the program will be on the participants’ descriptions of how they go about the act of writing. We will see them planning, drafting, revising, and editing works in progress. And we will sit in on writing workshops and individual tutoring sessions.

This is the basic pitch. Interested agents and producers should contact me for a more developed treatment.  (Then there are the spin-offs: “The American Artist” and “The American Actor.”) But more to the point, my proposal is intended to introduce into our most popular cultural medium powerful knowledge all college students should have:  an inside view of what really happens when writers struggle with the inescapable difficulties of communicating their ideas and emotions and stories and values through words on the page.

Maybe professors will learn a thing or two along the way as well.

Author's email: 

Laurence Musgrove is an associate professor of English and foreign languages at Saint Xavier University, in Chicago.

Connecting the Dots

By all objective measures, the dawning of the 21st century should be a golden era for American higher education. A recent issue of The Economist described America’s system of higher education as “the best in the world” and provided convincing documentation for its claim. A recent review article by Jonathan Cole, provost at Columbia University, meticulously documents the preeminence of U.S. higher education in the world today as an established fact.

Perhaps sensing the current domestic political climate, however, Cole uses his analysis as the basis for sounding a strong cautionary note. “The United States paid a heavy price when the leaders of its research universities in the 1950’s failed to defend the leader of the Manhattan Project J. Robert Oppenheimer; the double Nobel Prize chemist Linus Pauling; and the China expert Owen Lattimore. But a wave of repression in American universities today is apt to have even more dramatic consequences for the nation than the repression of the Cold War.”

This broad-based and even global acclaim for higher education in the United States is strangely at odds with the concentrated political attacks that Cole warns us about and that the academy is currently experiencing. It is particularly out of step with the dark and dysfunctional picture of the academy painted by David Horowitz and his Center for the Study of Popular Culture. If Horowitz were simply a disaffected political crank, as many have hitherto regarded him, then his views on the academy could be easily dismissed. Such dismissal would seem to be all the more in order following his disastrous testimony before the legislative subcommittee in Pennsylvania in which he was forced to recant as unsubstantiated several of the cases that he had been widely circulating as documentation of alleged malfeasance in the academy.

Oddly, however, his campaign goes on. Horowitz, with assistance from Karl Rove and the former House majority whip, Tom DeLay, has briefed Republican members of Congress on his Academic Bill of Rights campaign and DeLay has even distributed copies of Horowitz’s political primer The Art of Political Warfare: How Republicans Can Fight to Win to all Republican members of Congress. Rove refers to Horowitz’s pamphlet as “a perfect pocket guide to winning on the political battlefield."

In a more recent development, last fall, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings appointed a Commission on Higher Education. Spellings, described as a protégé of Rove, gained considerable attention as the principal architect of President Bush’s controversial “No Child Left Behind” initiative. Among the proposals being discussed by Spellings’s new commission is one that calls for scrapping the current system of accreditation, which is done by independent regional bodies, in favor of a National Accreditation Foundation that would be created by Congress and the president.

The current system of institutional review through independent accreditation boards is one of the hallmarks of American higher education and is one of the most important structural safeguards of the academy’s ability to ensure academic quality and intellectual excellence. The introduction of oversight by an inherently partisan political body in lieu of the currently independent accreditation process is a peculiar remedy if the perceived ailment in the academy is political bias. Carol Geary Schneider, president of the American Association of Colleges and Universities, has said that “the commission is sending out firebolts, one after another." To chair this extraordinary committee Secretary Spellings chose Charles Miller, a former chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents and, historically, a large contributor to the President’s election campaigns.

The question of why the academy is under such focused and persistent attack by individuals like David Horowitz and his political supporters despite the fact that it appears to be an extraordinarily successful enterprise and an unrivaled resource for the nation is a question that many Americans are asking. In understanding the origins, scope and staying power of this attack it is crucial to understand not only the political relationships that Horowitz enjoys, but the sources of funding that created and sustain his Center for the Study of Popular Culture and its Academic Bill of Rights campaign. It is also critical to understand that the same funding sources that brought Horowitz’s organization into being, also created and sustain a large and integrated network of ideologically defined think tanks and centers both outside of and within the higher education establishment.

When Michael S. Joyce died in February 24, his death received scant attention in the mainstream press. Although very few people in academic circles are familiar with his name, he was, nonetheless, one of the foundational pillars of the current ideological attacks on the academy. A tribute to him by Peter Collier was published in FrontPage, Horowitz’s Web site. Joyce and his intellectual muse -- the late University of Chicago political philosopher Leo Strauss -- would have been pleased by the level of anonymity that he maintained during his lifetime. Joyce's ability to maintain such anonymity despite the enormous influence that he wielded in shaping and developing the infrastructure of the neoconservative movement in this country is quite remarkable.

Although The Atlantic Monthly, as early as 1986, was describing Joyce as "one of the three individuals most responsible for the triumph of the conservative political movement," he nevertheless adhered rigorously to the secretive and profoundly antidemocratic principles advocated by the enigmatic Strauss. As characterized by Jeet Heer in The Boston Globe, Strauss held that "the best regime is one in which the leaders govern moderately and prudently, curbing the passions of the mob while allowing a small philosophical elite to pursue the contemplative life of the mind. Such a philosophical elite may discover truths that are not fit for public consumption.... For Strauss the art of concealment and secrecy was among the greatest legacies of antiquity."

In 1979, Michael Joyce entered the world of large-scale philanthropy with assistance from his mentor Irving Kristol, when he assumed the reins of the John M. Olin Foundation from the retiring president, William Simon. At Olin, one of Joyce’s first projects was to organize support for the launching of the Federalist Society. Joyce’s work in creating and fostering the development of the Federalist Society is instructive and foreshadows the role that he has played in current efforts by neoconservatives to restructure American higher education. The Federalist Society, with Joyce’s ongoing support, not only fostered the development of ultra-conservative legal scholars and politicians such as Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Robert Bork, Samuel Alito, John Ashcroft, Alberto Gonzales and Kenneth Starr (all of whom are members) but organized them into a powerful force for reshaping American jurisprudence in support of a larger neoconservative agenda.

Also significant in this regard is a report by Jerome Shestack, former president of the American Bar Association, that the Federalist Society is being increasingly being used as a platform from which to launch ideological attacks on the mainstream legal community. Through the device of the Federalist Society publication, ABA Watch, the society has launched a vicious attack on the ABA. In a special edition of the Watch, U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), co-chair of the society, announced that he would no longer invite the ABA to participate on a pro forma basis in the Senate judicial confirmation process. Employing rhetoric eerily parallel to that being used in the current attacks on the academy, Justice Clarence Thomas openly denounced the ABA, declaring “I am doubtful that the ABA can ever reform itself.”

In her testimony before Pennsylvania's Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education, which convened in Philadelphia, Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, expressed a similar sentiment as to the ability of the academy to reform itself. “Faced with growing legislative pressure on this issue, the higher education establishment issued the American Council on Education statement, figured it would pretend to have a quick conversion, endorse intellectual diversity, get those yahoo legislators off their backs and go back to business as usual. DO NOT LET THEM GET AWAY WITH THIS CHARADE.”

In 1985, Michael Joyce left the Olin Foundation to assume the presidency of the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, in Milwaukee. During this time, he not only built the Bradley Foundation into the largest and most influential right-wing foundation in the country, he also forged a  formidable alliance among a small group of the nation’s largest, far right-wing foundations so that their resources could be more strategically deployed in support of the developing neoconservative agenda. Included in this alliance are the Koch Foundation (either directly or through its subsidiary the Claude Lambe Foundation), the Castle Rock Foundation (Coors) and the Sarah Scaife Foundations  (either directly or through its subsidiaries the Carthage Foundation and the Alleghany Foundation) which, together with Olin and Bradley, have collectively financed the rise of the neoconservative movement in this country and have done so with an impressive display tactical precision.

It is a telling marker of the ideological cohesiveness and extremism of this core group of philanthropies that three of the five founding members, Joseph Coors, David Koch and Harry Bradley, were members and financial supporters of the John Birch Society. The Scaife foundations, headed by Richard Mellon Scaife, are also involved, albeit in less direct ways.

In the past 20 years this core group of funders has, by many reports, built and strategically linked an impressive array of almost 500 think tanks, centers, institutes and "concerned citizens groups" both within and outside of the academy. It is particularly telling to observe the funding sources of these organizations during the first 10-15 years of their existence, when their ideological identities were being established. A small sampling of these entities include the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, the Manhattan Institute, the Hoover Institution, the Claremont Institute, the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, Middle East Forum, Accuracy in Media, and the National Association of Scholars, as well as Horowitz's Center of the Study of Popular Culture.

The absence of formal organizational linkages between the entities within these networks creates an illusion of independent analytical voices reaching similar conclusions about strategic policy issues, a technique known in the public relations industry as “astroturfing.” This network has developed an enormous capacity to generate “data” consistent with the targeted political agenda and world views of its core group of funders to quickly and redundantly represent these issues in the mainstream press by what appear to be the voices of independent analysts and to translate these viewpoints into public policy that serves the focused ideological agenda of this core group of funders. The Bradley Foundation under Michael Joyce's leadership has even established a publishing house, Encounter Books, to ensure that grantees like Horowitz have a quasi-academic outlet for their viewpoints.

The degree of interconnectedness within this network of organizations is considerable but almost invisible to the casual observer. For example, when ACTA’s president, Anne Neal, introduced herself to the Select Committee on Academic Freedom in Higher Education in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, she presented ACTA as “a bipartisan network of college and university trustees and alumni across the country dedicated to academic freedom.”

Full disclosure should have required some mention of the fact that ACTA (see funding sources above), which changed its name from the National Alumni Forum in 1998, was established by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute in 1994. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute in turn evolved from William Bennett’s Madison Center for Educational Affairs and the Institute for Educational Affairs founded by Irving Kristol, Michael Joyce’s mentor, and William Simon, the first president of the John M. Olin Foundation. Bennett and Kristol also sit on ACTA’s Board of Directors. The remarkably consistent record of funding across all of the incarnations of this organization and the high degree of redundancy with Horowitz’s own, highly partisan Center for the Study of Popular Culture is not consistent with Neal’s definition of ACTA as an independent, non-partisan organization.

Another example illustrative of the quietly incestuous nature of this network is presented by an article by the Boston Globe columnist Cathy Young. The article is entitled “Liberal bias in the ivory tower” and by all appearances is an independent opinion piece written by a regular Globe columnist. At the end of the article Young identifies herself as “a contributing editor at Reason Magazine.” What is undisclosed in the article is that Reason Magazine is the publication of the Reason Foundation, whose funding sources are virtually the same as those funding Horowitz’s "Academic Bill of Rights" project and Neal’s ACTA.

Young’s premise for the article is stated in her opening sentence: “Yet another study has come out documenting what most conservatives consider to be blindingly obvious: the leftwing tilt of the American professoriate.” The study that she references was conducted by Stanley Rothman, now emeritus professor at Smith College; S. Robert Lichter, emeritus professor at George Mason University; and Neil Nevitte of the University of Toronto, and was published in the online journal Forum. This study was also cited by Neal in her testimony in Pennsylvania. Young does not inform her readers that Rothman is director of the Center for the Study of Social and Political Change, a center with funding sources that are remarkably redundant with Horowitz’s Center for the Study of Popular Culture. Lichter is also president of the Center for Media and Public Affairs, which again has funding sources that are redundant with those referenced earlier.

In addition, a recent article in Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting is highly critical of Lichter’s research methodology. Another example of such conflicted interests is provided by Professor Thomas Reeves. When Reeves writes in strong support of Horowitz’s proposals on the History News Network, he fails to note that he is a spokesman for the California Association of Scholars, a branch of the National Association of Scholars (see funding sources above) and that he is director of the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute, which was, again, brought into being by the Olin and Bradley Foundations.

This manufactured drumbeat against “academic bias” is amplified by Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institution (see funding sources above), Heather MacDonald, a John M. Olin fellow at the Manhattan Institute (see funding sources above), and Brian C. Anderson, editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal and a former research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (see funding sources above).

The relentlessness with which columnists and experts with direct funding relationships with Olin, Scaife, Bradley, Koch and Coors level charges of academic bias and assert the need for legislative reform of higher education is remarkable. The goal of this narrowly focused and ideologically driven public relations campaign can only be understood in terms of its fostering of a political climate in which federal regulatory “reform” of what is universally recognized as the finest system of higher education in the world, will be tolerated.

Indeed, as has been discussed, such regulatory oversight may already be in the offing. The academy stands today as one of the last spaces in America where the democratic ideas that shape the social, economic and political fabric of the nation can be openly and independently debated on the basis of their merits and without coercion or distortion from vested economic and political interests. It is certainly in the national interest that it remain such.

Author's email: 

Alan Jones is dean of the faculty and professor of psychology and neuroscience at Pitzer College.


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