When people think about a "threat," they tend to imagine a variety of dark scenarios -- from the mugger in the alley who says, “Your money or your life,” to the chilling answering machine message where a faceless person says, "I will kill you.” Threats like those have never been considered "free speech." In fact, true threats are a crime. In general, for a comment to qualify as a true threat, it must cause reasonable people to believe that they are going to be physically harmed.
Unfortunately, many colleges -- eager to ban speech that administrators or students do not like -- have latched onto the "threat” exception of the First Amendment to justify banning speech that is not actually threatening (as the term has been defined by the law) but instead is merely offensive to the listener. Redefining a “threat” as anything that offends is a dangerous game that discredits accusers, underestimates students' ability to cope with ideas they dislike, and trivializes the seriousness of actual threats of violence.
The latest example of this disturbing trend comes from William Paterson University, a public university in New Jersey. Jihad Daniel, a master’s student and university employee, privately responded to a mass e-mail message sent by a professor, Arlene Holpp Scala, announcing a campus showing of Ruthie and Connie: Every Room in the House, a film Scala described as a “lesbian relationship story.” The e-mail provided a link so that recipients could contact Scala. In his response, Daniel, a devout Muslim, wrote, "Do not send me any mail about ‘Connie and Sally’ and ‘Adam and Steve.’ These are perversions. The absence of God in higher education brings on confusion. That is why in these classes the Creator of the heavens and the earth is never mentioned." That is the entirety of his response. All too predictably on the contemporary campus, Scala brought charges against Daniel for making her "feel threatened at [her] place of work." Showing complete disregard of the right to dissent protected under the First Amendment, the university found Daniel guilty of "discrimination" and "harassment."
Scala’s reliance on the claim that she felt “threatened” is especially disturbing. Did she really fear that this 63-year-old man would harm her, just because they disagree about homosexuality? Yes, many people might find Daniels’ opinion offensive, but the expression of a religious opinion is hardly a threat.
Sadly, Daniel’s case is just one example of how threat allegations are abused on campus. For example, Ursula Monaco, a part-time student at Suffolk County Community College, on Long Island, was punished in 2003 for an e-mail message she accidentally sent to her professor in which she referred to the professor as a "cunt." Even though that the e-mail was clearly addressed to someone else and that the First Amendment has no exception for even the c-word, Monaco was found guilty of both “harassment” and “intimidation.”
To clarify, “intimidation” in the legal sense is essentially the same thing as a threat and doesn’t occur any time a person feels intimidated; such a vague and broad standard would devour free speech. According to the Supreme Court, intimidation is “a type of true threat, where a speaker directs a threat to a person or group of persons with the intent of placing the victim in fear of bodily harm or death.” Did the Suffolk County professor really believe she was in physical danger because of a single profanity uttered by a 55-year-old grandmother? Unlikely. Yet the administration deemed her guilty of "threatening, intimidating," and "harassing" the professor. Fortunately, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education came to Monaco’s defense. After eight months of corresponding with the college, the administration eventually decided to “suspend” the punishments.
It was clear from the start that Suffolk County’s administration had used the e-mail as a pretext for severely punishing Monaco, who was a student journalist and a persistent critic of the administration. Tellingly, her punishment included being banned from having “any contact with the student newspaper,” and stipulated that she “may not contact the office” of any school paper by “any means, including mail, telephone or e-mail,” that she “may not submit articles” to any college paper, or “propose or suggest an article to anyone associated with a campus newspaper.” She was even banned from “approach[ing] any member of the campus community for the purpose of collecting information with which to write a news article.”
For those familiar with history, there is nothing surprising about people in positions of power using perceived exceptions to free speech to silence vocal critics. In fact, the very predictability that cases like Monaco’s will arise is why we must be careful not to allow legitimate exceptions to free speech, like threats, to grow into amorphous, easily abused concepts.
Students are not the only ones harmed by college administrators’ expansive use of the concept of threats. At the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, a professor, Sandra Bond, was punished by the administration for posting two signs on her office in 2003. One said, "The End is Near," while the other was a K-Mart advertisement for guns and ammunition. The first sign referred to her contract being almost finished and her leaving the university, while she posted the latter because she found K-Mart’s slogan "The Stuff of Life" ironic in an ad for firearms. Bond, who was in her mid-40s -- and who walked with a cane due to multiple sclerosis -- had apparently scared the criminal justice department so badly that she was found guilty of threatening and intimidating the department, and placed on “administrative leave…effective immediately.” They even forbade her from entering her office building without official permission.
Do cases like those at William Patterson, Suffolk and Alaska arise from a pervasive misunderstanding of what "threats" actually mean? The recent case at Washington State University might suggest a more cynical answer. A student, Chris Lee, wrote and produced an intentionally provocative comedy/musical mocking The Passion of the Christ. In the spirit of South Park, the play went out if its way to mock everything from race, to religion, to sexual orientation, to stereotypes themselves. To make sure people knew what they were getting into, the play was widely publicized as being potentially "offensive or inflammatory to all audiences," and identification was checked at the door to prevent those 17 or under from entering.
At the April 21, 2005, performance of the play, approximately 40 student protestors attended. The protestors stopped the play several times with shouts and threats. Unlike those in the cases above, these threats were crystal clear. According to Lee, and a tape of the performance, these threats included, “I kill you,” “You better watch out,” “Get off of there or I’ll mop your fucking head,” “We will get you outside,” and, “We will kill you.” Washington State's security refused Lee’s request to remove the protestors and even told Lee to change the lyrics to one of his songs “to avoid a possible riot or physical harm.” As FIRE wrote at the time, “Washington State security’s obligation was to protect the performance -- not to enforce the will of a mob that it claimed teetered on the brink of violence.”
Surely, Washington State would not tolerate actual unlawful intimidation of a student production. After all, the university had already produced The Vagina Monologues, as well as Tales of the Lost Formicans, which included a depiction of a character masturbating onto an American flag. Certainly, Washington State administrators understood that they must not empower mobs to silence any performances that might offend their sensibilities? Well, they may have understood that, but in this case, they didn’t care. Not only did the president of the university defend the mob’s actions as a “responsible” exercise of their free speech and refuse to reprimand the campus police, but it turns out Washington State actually purchased the tickets for the protestors in the first place!
So in one case a 63-year-old student, and in two others two middle aged women (the taller of the two is 5’4”), are portrayed as placing other adults in mortal terror, while a mob of 40 angry students disrupting a play and shouting death threats is called a “responsible” exercise of free speech!? These kinds of distortions and double standards are all too common on the contemporary campus. The danger posed by the above cases, however, are especially grave. Washington State's reliance on violent mobs to silence social satire is especially chilling and reminiscent of dark chapters in our history. While in cases like Washington State or Suffolk, the administrators seem to fail to understand that by relying on such a loose definition of “threats” they may undermine how seriously the public takes real claims in the future. It may be time for a refresher course in The Boy Who Cried Wolf 101.
Greg Lukianoff and Azhar Majeed
Greg Lukianoff is director of legal and public advocacy of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. Azhar Majeed is a second year student at University of Michigan Law School and a summer legal intern for FIRE.
As the academic year unwinds, college administrators across the country anxiously await the inevitable bad news from their campus safety departments. In addition to relatively minor infractions of campus rules and regulations, there will be binge drinking, the plagiarizing of papers, and often much worse, such as acts of physical and sexual violence. It is clear that students who commit serious and violent criminal offenses must be expelled, for the safety and well-being of all. But what of the majority who commit lesser violations of campus or criminal codes? Are we using the best approaches to hold such students accountable for their actions and to meet the needs of harmed parties and the campus community?
Though colleges and universities are generally viewed as forward-thinking, even experimental, campus judicial responses generally rely on uncreative, cookie-cutter sanctions. Judicial officers are overly cautious in response to liability concerns, outcomes are often dissatisfying to victims and offenders in the process, and the system has been unable to change campus cultures dominated by partying. Campus judicial responses are lagging behind the criminal and juvenile justice systems in our society in using new, effective strategies. College campuses are ideal places to develop and test such strategies, but so far our institutions of higher learning have largely stayed out of the loop on this matter.
"Restorative justice" is a new response to offending behavior and the approach has a proven track record in criminal and juvenile justice cases. Not only does it reduce recidivism, but it is widely perceived by offenders and victims as fair and better able to meet their emotional and material needs than traditional retributive responses. Restorative justice approaches to student misconduct are a promising tool that liberal arts colleges such as Skidmore College and large public institutions like the University of Colorado are using effectively to change campus culture.
Restorative approaches call upon offenders, victims, and community members to participate in the decision-making process following a campus violation. Through open dialogue, each participant comes to understand the full impact of the offense, educating the offender about the consequences of his or her behavior. This alone is a powerful device for eliciting sincere expressions of remorse and commitments to right the wrong. Articulating the harm in detail also paves the way for creation of a restorative agreement -- a list of tasks tailored to repair the harm and rebuild the community’s confidence in the offender. Typically, such tasks include apology letters, further research on the impact of the harm, restitution, community service that is linked to the offense, and activities that better integrate the offender into the campus community. At Skidmore, students cannot register for the next semester’s classes until their restorative agreements are completed. This is a direct message that it is up to the offenders to take responsibility not only for their prior misconduct, but also for their future education.
Three cases, drawn from a variety of institutions nationally, help to illustrate this approach. The first involved a group of athletes who stole and made use of disabled parking placards. The incident generated significant ire among the disabled community. A restorative conference was held with the athletes and affected parties, including professors and students with disabilities. The dialogue enabled the athletes to learn the impact of their behavior and reduce the tension between these groups. While the athletes took responsibility for their behavior in several ways, it is notable that a major component of the restorative agreement was a collaboration with educational goals. The athletes and some of those with disabilities agreed to co-produce a video about disability issues and to present workshops during first year student orientation.
The second case was a response to a theft by a drunken student. Walking home from a bar, a student stole a public art object that was part of a citywide project of the local arts council. Participating in the restorative dialogue was the student the local artist, the store owner who sponsored the artist, and the director of the city arts council. Each was able to express how he or she was affected by the theft. By the end of the meeting, the offender committed to completing 100 hours of community service at the arts council, paying the costs of repairing the artwork, helping write a guide to proper conduct for students living off-campus, completing an alcohol use assessment, and organizing an alcohol-free social event on campus. Later, when the case reached the criminal court, the prosecutor and judge were impressed that the campus obligations were more onerous than the fine and probation they intended to impose. Restorative justice, they realized, was not soft on crime.
The third illustrates the use of restorative justice in an academic case, highlighting how the approach is particularly relevant to the educational setting. Here, a student plagiarized a paper, and appeared before a restorative panel to discuss the harmful consequences and create a plan of action. During the discussion the student learned about the disappointment and sense of betrayal expressed by her professor. The panel members were able to learn about the student’s lack of confidence in her ability to write a "college-level paper." The group agreed to a restorative contract that included several items: rewriting the paper to demonstrate a proper use of sources, an apology to the professor, and a presentation to the campus community about academic integrity and how to protect it.
Such examples illustrate the educational nature of the restorative approach, rather than having the response be simply punitive. Students are expected to reflect on the consequences of their actions. They are asked to take active responsibility for making amends. They must demonstrate their ability to be pro-social members of the community. With such an approach, there is rarely a need to suspend students for their misconduct because the response is sufficiently demanding and highly supervised. Students are not let off the hook, but they are not ostracized either. Most often, the best place for them is on campus, facing the problem directly. Campuses can do much more than cut and paste the standard issue disciplinary code. Already, job ads for campus judicial officers are calling for backgrounds in restorative justice, and this is a good sign. Now, all we need are the programs for them to run.
David R. Karp
David R. Karp is an associate professor of sociology and director of the Law and Society Program at Skidmore College.
I’ll be the first to admit that the Internet has proven to be an incredibly democratizing tool in higher education. Typewriters, mimeograph machines, floppy disks (the real ones) -- to me they’re the stuff of legend. Yet I’ve gotten to wondering if a few recent campus incidents haven’t revealed a disturbing problem in the way technology has changed the way we communicate in academe.
As a freshman way back in the technological stone age (the mid 1990s), I can remember professors announcing that we would experiment with e-mail to communicate class announcements -- a totally new concept for teachers who corresponded with family and friends with a pen, not a keyboard, when they were students. From that point on, I’ve enjoyed new technological tools as an undergrad, graduate student, and administrator. The benefits to higher education -- speedy communication, increased access to information, etc. – have been obvious. I for one couldn’t imagine not renewing my library books online, let alone what it must have been like to use a rotary phone in a dorm room.
At the same time, it’s hard not to notice that for many students and faculty members, the Web also provides an open environment to bash, belittle and bemoan. Trivial? Not so much when students utilize these tools to bypass their college communities and create a wholly unproductive debate on some hot-button social topics. The fact that the discussion on these issues has been essentially outsourced to the Internet is, frankly, somewhat troublesome.
Take the case of Ryan Miner, a sophomore at Duquesne University. Miffed at the prospect of a gay/straight student organization forming at the Roman Catholic university, Miner decided to voice his opinion. But instead of seeking a meeting with the organization’s leadership or Duquesne officials to explain why he felt the group didn’t belong at the university, Miner simply posted his comments -- which described homosexual acts “subhuman” – on Facebook.
When fellow students discovered Miner’s post, they brought it to the attention of Duquesne administrators, who in turn alerted the university’s judicial services. A few letters and a hearing later, and Miner is facing possible dismissal from the university. Did Facebook allow for Miner’s opinion to be seen and heard? Absolutely. Did the post accomplish anything positive on either side? Not a single thing. n fact, the medium used to express his opinion only encouraged Miner to be callous and superficial.
Now, there’s nothing wrong with expressing your opinion online. But something gets lost when students decide to drum up support against a campus organization out in cyberspace. The American college campus has been, at its very core, a site for the exchange of views and knowledge -- a utopia for the promotion free expression. Thus, it’s all the more reason, first and foremost, to keep the debate on campus and in person instead of relegating it to the relative ambiguity of the Internet. If Miner would have sat down and spoken with gay students or university administrators, he could have articulated his case respectfully without yielding his position and, maybe, even learned about the issue through the views of others -- an outcome much more likely to occur in person than online. If appreciating differences of opinions and learning to work with others is a prime effort of the “college experience,” then effectively making your argument online by yourself makes zero sense.
Faculty members taking the same steps can be equally as damaging to the campus (not to mention themselves). John Daly, an adjunct professor at Warren County Community College, resigned this month amid the controversy over an e-mail he sent to a student regarding an upcoming symposium supporting the war in Iraq. Instead of taking his qualms to the administration, or seeking a meeting with the student to discuss the situation, Daly simply berated the student in an e-mail. The college specifically stated that Daly's letter was “sent as a one-to-one message, via e-mail, to one person, and not to the college community.” Daly might still have his job if he opened his mouth before punching the keys.
Similarly, University of Kansas Professor Paul Mirecki’s comments about an upcoming course on intelligent design, which he was slated to teach, created a stir on KU’s campus and recently resulted in the cancellation of the class. Mr. Mirecki’s comments, e-mailed to a student listserv, referred to religious fundamentalists as “fundies” and expressed the hope his class would provide “a nice slap in their big fat face.”
By using the Web as the primary vehicle to drive their arguments, Miner, Daly and Mirecki created combative situations that never stood a chance of being heard fairly, equally, and productively from all parties involved. Sure, they expressed their opinions, but this is less about freedom of expression and more about how we communicate with one another responsibly.
If these three cases are any indication of where we are headed, then perhaps there should be a fresh effort to remind students and faculty that their views about campus issues are, at times, better communicated through more traditional means. Colleges have spent a great deal of time and effort attempting to regulate e-mail communication -- why not promote the virtues of face-to-face interaction? Facebook and e-mail have one student close to expulsion, one professor looking for a new job, and another unable to teach a course he created. Would these situations been resolved to everyone’s approval had Miner, Daly and Mirecki rapped on their respective presidents’ doors? Maybe not. But if their views had been channeled on campus -- the place best suited for a fair and informed dialogue -- I’m willing to bet none of the three would be facing the problems they have today.
Robert Steele Jr.
Robert Steele Jr. is a doctoral candidate at George Washington University.
The Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the appeal in Hosty v. Carter lets stand a disastrous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit that threatens the autonomy of campus newspapers. And although the decision directly applies only to Wisconsin, Indiana, and Illinois, it will be used by public colleges across the country to censor student expression.
The Hosty case dealt with the administration’s prior restraint of a student newspaper at Governors State University, whose officials had been criticized by the publication. But the ruling will have an enormous impact on college students’ rights. The ruling marks the first major backward step in legal protections of the rights of college students, and it may be the start of an ominous trend. If student-funded newspapers can be censored, then so can student-funded speakers. In loco parentis, the legal concept giving administrators the power to regulate college students as a parent controls immature children, is making a comeback for the first time, decades after it was killed in the 1960s.
The global protests over these drawings have given us the horrifyingly un-ironic term “cartoon death count.” But in America, the key question is whether newspapers should print offensive content, especially when that content itself is in the news. Most American newspapers have refused to reprint the cartoons -- despite their importance in the news, claiming that readers can understand the cartoons without seeing the images.
Perhaps it’s no coincidence that most of the campus newspapers that have published the Danish cartoons are at public colleges in the Seventh Circuit, including The Daily Illini (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), The Indy (Illinois State University), The Northern Star (Northern Illinois University), The Communicator (Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne), and The Badger Herald (University of Wisconsin at Madison). The Hosty case has raised the awareness of student journalists at these campuses, and perhaps made them more sensitive to issues of freedom of the press that are central to this debate.
Sensitivity is the question at stake with regard to the Danish cartoons. Should we be sensitive to the feelings of Muslims who have a sincere religious opposition to visual depictions of Muhammad? Or should we be sensitive to news values that dictate that our first instinct should never be to conceal something from our readers?
As the author of an article that included the controversial Danish cartoons in The Indy, an alternative newspaper at Illinois State University, obviously I have taken a stand on this question. It’s unfortunate that Muslims are offended by these images. But once anyone’s sense of being offended becomes the standard for determining publication, we will have lost much of the liberty essential for a free press.
The principle of freedom of the press holds that these decisions should be made by individual newspapers without government intimidation. But the Hosty ruling now gives administrators the power to impose bans on cartoons such as this, and we can only imagine how many college newspapers will face censorship -- and how many student editors will think twice about printing a controversial story or cartoon.
Of course, the fact that it is legal to print cartoons doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good idea. However, the attempts to suppress these cartoons by violence and censorship have made this a question of free expression. It is important for journalists to publish these cartoons no matter how offensive they are, to make the point that journalists should not be intimidated. Newspapers have a duty to print offensive images when they are newsworthy, whether these images are offensive cartoons, or Abu Ghraib torture photos, or the bloody victims of suicide bombers. Sensitivity is reflected in how we react to the racism directed at Muslims, not in our willingness to censor news in order to appease religious traditions.
At a time when media consolidation makes the mainstream media more and more reluctant to offend anyone who might threaten the bottom line, student journalists are the ones who can stand in defense of true freedom of the press. The fact that more student editors than professional ones have dared to print the cartoons should be a matter of quiet disgrace -- not for the students, but for the professionals.
But the Hosty case puts liberty of the campus press at risk. Even if few colleges openly crack down on student newspapers, the threat will always be there. And self-censorship is the greatest danger under a repressive regime. In the wake of the Hazelwood decision by the Supreme Court, which now applies in the Seventh Circuit to colleges, the high school press has been devastated by censorship. Principals across the country routinely censor even the most modest attempts at critical journalism, and many more student journalists simply give up because of the knowledge that they are not free to publish important work.
The response to the cartoon has already brought censorship on campuses. In Canada, Saint Mary’s University philosophy professor Peter March posted the cartoons on his office door, prompting the university to ban them. At Century College in Minnesota, an adjunct instructor who posted the cartoons on a bulletin board was told by a department chair not to replace them after they were ripped down. Other have suffered worse consequences. The Danish editors have faced death threats.
Cartoons have often had a remarkable ability to offend, and the right to print offensive images is fundamental to our constitutional rights. In the 1973 case Papish v. Curators of the University of Missouri, a graduate student was expelled for "indecent conduct or speech" because she handed out a newspaper, The Free Press Underground, that showed a cartoon of a policeman raping the Statue of Liberty. The Supreme Court made the case a cornerstone of student rights and ruled, “the mere dissemination of ideas -- no matter how offensive to good taste -- on a state university campus may not be shut off in the name alone of ‘conventions of decency.’" Now it can be shut off -- for decency, or any other reason.
Cartoons have frequently caused controversy on campus. In 2001, the University of California at Berkeley’s Daily Californian sparked protests because of a cartoon mocking the 9/11 terrorists by depicting them in hell. In 2002, a syndicated Oliphant cartoon showing Muhammed at a cocktail party sparked outrage when Purdue University’s student newspaper printed it. Other cartoons have caused protests or censorship because they mocked university officials or utilized racial stereotypes. In 2005, the University of Illinois’ Daily Illini suspended a cartoonist, Matt Vroom, because of one of his offensive cartoons was deemed anti-Semitic and got published accidentally.
The Daily Illini has also been the focus of debate over publishing the Danish cartoons. After Muslim groups protested the decision, the publisher suspended the editor-in-chief and the viewpoints editor (ostensibly for violating “process” by failing to consult other editors, although it’s hard to imagine any other topic where anyone would object to the viewpoints editor running a column by the editor-in-chief). The Daily Illini followed this up by enacting a new policy banning discussion of the newspaper on blogs by any students who work for the paper.
This incident is particularly troubling because it foretells what could happen to many more editors who dare to offend. The Daily Illini is an independent corporation unaffiliated with the University of Illinois. In theory, this should mean greater freedom. But independence means that these editors have no First Amendment protections against their overseers, as campus newspapers had until the Hosty case. As a former Daily Illini columnist, I can only view with sadness the idea that freedom of the press is being sacrificed at my alma mater on the false altar of religious tolerance.
College administrators have now been given the legal authority to censor any activities funded with student fees, which could have dramatic consequences. If sensitivity to Muslims (or any other group) becomes the prevailing standard, will right-winger Ann Coulter be banned from campuses? Speaking on Feb. 10 at the Conservative Political Action Conference (where Dick Cheney and Bill Frist were also prominent speakers), Coulter declared: “I think our motto should be, post-9/11, raghead talks tough, raghead faces consequences." Although Coulter is an ugly racist, her sickening views need to be countered, not prohibited. However, the first step in condemning Coulter is to repeat her horrible words. If we want to condemn someone, whether a cartoonist or a writer, we must first see the work. And then we must understand that critique, not censorship, is the only way to convince people to comprehend the truth.
The College Media Advisers proclaimed in response to the Supreme Court’s refusal to consider an appeal, “It is now all the more imperative that student publications establish clear operating guidelines as designated public forums, if they already haven’t.” The presidents at Illinois State University, the University of Southern Indiana, and the University of Wisconsin at Platteville have signed declarations protecting freedom of the press on their campuses, but according to the Student Press Law Center, more than 75 public colleges in the seventh circuit have taken no action. Advocates of liberty on college campuses need to convince these campuses to protect their student newspapers, and they also need to persuade state legislators to pass “reverse Hosty” laws to protect the rights of students at campuses like Governors State University that will never voluntarily grant First Amendment rights to their students.
Some critics may see the decision by campus newspapers to reprint these cartoons as a good reason to impose more control by administrators over students. But even those who see publishing the cartoons as a terrible error must understand that the liberty to make mistakes is essential in a free society. It is also essential for students to learn. At campus newspapers across the country, the cartoon controversy has been a tremendous learning experience for student editors, whether they decided to print the cartoons or not. They have learned something about Muslims, and about whether it is wise to offend readers. And, sadly, student editors have learned in the past month that freedom of the press is not so secure as they might wish.
I am a baby-boom parent with children in college. We baby-boomers, now in our pre-dotage, have become infamous on college campuses -- again -- this time for noisily hovering over our children as they try to make their ways in the world (see Wikpedia on “helicopter parents”). From my own bleak experience -- both professional and personal -- I can say with confidence that our children become adults not because of our involvement in their lives, but in spite of it.
Penny Rue, the University of Virginia’s dean of students, calls us “benign dictators.” We, who reacted against the enforced age hierarchy of our own dictatorial parents, have become instead oppressors whose rule is based on the illusion that we and our children are peers, Rue says. And the illusion is so strong, that our children are fooled into not claiming the birthright that we claimed at their age: personal autonomy.
This embrace of dependence is not surprising given the attitudes of contemporary college students toward their parents. At the University of Maryland at College Park, James M. Osteen, the assistant vice president for student affairs, writes, “I find that students and their parents generally have a much closer relationship in recent years as compared to earlier decades. Students are very likely to list their parents as significant role models; whereas in the past students might name people like Gandhi, Martin Luther King or Mother Theresa.”
It is sweet and fine for your 5 year old to think of you as sainted and heroic, but for your 20 year old to have the same attitude should be worrying. Why don’t we hear self-help sages speaking of the problem of arrested development any more? Where are the Erik Eriksons of yesteryear?
Rue and Osteen see the positive side of parental involvement. Both judge today’s parental role as student advocates to be an invitation to college-parent partnerships that can benefit students. But they also recognize the dangers: Both Osteen and Rue note that with parents handling everything from roommate problems to purchasing airplane tickets, students cannot develop a sense of mastery and the confidence necessary to live on one’s own. Erikson might observe that such parental behavior deprives young people of their identities as autonomous and competent adults.
I learned my own necessary lesson about meddling in my children’s education probably too late, after the critical period of Eriksonian development -- when the second of my three children was in sixth grade. Before that, I would regularly become concerned and then incensed about some way or other schools were failing my children. So caught up in tilting at windmills, I did not devote a moment’s attention to the big picture -- to problems of other students, teachers, schools, or to my children’s educational needs beyond small and preoccupying slights.
This is how I learned my lesson: My child, a superior sort of girl, of course, seemed not to be doing any work, while at the same time was receiving good grades. At a teacher conference I complained/boasted that my daughter was not doing any work and getting good grades. I suppose I imagined that with the complaint, her brilliance would be more appreciated, and she would get the special attention that as an exceptional person she deserved. Sure enough, it got her more attention immediately. Her grades plummeted. She became discouraged. And until she enrolled in college and had only herself to please, she never again studied for a test or did a lick of homework. To this day, this is the story my children tell their friends to describe the sort of person their mother is. There is no living it down.
As a parent of two in college and one in graduate school, I get involved only in questions of spelling. They may beg me to advise about conditional clauses, but I stand firm. I do listen to complaints about roommates, but have learned that in this area as in most issues of personal relationships it is best to listen only.
If other parents would fail earlier in their micro-management careers, college educators would not have to grin and bear helpful advice from over-bearing parents who threaten to bury student affairs offices under ship-loads of constructive criticism. Student affairs professional regularly remark to novices, “You see all those students walking around with cell phones? They are not talking to friends. They are talking to their mothers.”
And what are these students telling their parents? What they want to hear: that the people who run colleges don’t know half as much as their parents do and that life on campus is hell. And then their parents get on their mobile phones and call administrators who, if they weren’t chained to their desks would run screaming from their shabby little offices each time a call from a parent were announced.
I’ve looked at life from both sides now -- as a parent and as a college administrator. These calls can generate a lot of negative emotion -- raising blood pressure of both parents and college administrators. The number of these calls increase exponentially every year. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that in 2003, 16.6 million students were enrolled in college. I imagine that 16.6 million cell phones transmitting the troubled chatter of parents and children about what is going wrong in college must surely be capable of unbalancing the music of the spheres.
When I worked in a college president’s office, I often took calls from irate parents. I sometimes thought I felt the universe skipping a beat as they described the woes of their children in college: not being able to get into a popular (gut) class; wet, slippery floors in the bathroom; having to go to class in the snow/wind/rain; having an electrical box mounted outside their dorm room (which was sending out dangerous electrical waves); poor grades on tests studied for; having to study for tests over Thanksgiving break; having too short a Thanksgiving/Christmas/Summer break; administrators not doing something about hurt feelings caused by not being offered a place in a fraternity; not doing something about roommates having sex; not being allowed to cheat on exams; the president getting too tough on those who assault others, etc., etc. Some parents would call already angry. Some would become angry when they realized that no matter how much they wanted it, changing the university was going to take longer than 24 hours. They became angrier and angrier as they were transferred from one office to another. The political science department would get calls from parents complaining about fully enrolled courses out of which their children were closed out. The department would pass the calls on to the provost’s office, which would pass it along to the president’s office. What did I do? I told these parents to write to their legislators about getting more funding for public universities. I pitied the next person they would talk to after getting off the phone with me.
Sometimes I think that my generation doesn’t much care about what we are trying to control. It is the existential act of exerting control that is important to us. Not going gently into that good night makes us forget ultimate truths. We may have short memories, but those we plague with our demands do not. Student affairs officers shake their heads and remember that baby boomers in their own youths had demonstrated for increased personal freedom, and had gotten rid of the college practice of in loco parentis. Now for their children, irony of ironies, they are demanding that it be put back.
In our 45-60 years we have been promiscuous and irrational in many of the issues we have raised our voices about. We got the U.S. out of Vietnam and, 30 years later, into Iraq. We started the sexual revolution, and now we vote for anti-birth control and anti-abortion politicians. We rejected our elders’ assertion of control over our lives and we put chokeholds on the lives of our children.
The time has come to think about the consequences of indiscriminately throwing our considerable middle-aged weight around. It seems to me we have to face some facts. First of all, we need to let our children grow up. Second, we need to realize that we can’t stop the world from turning, that the generation we bred will replace us, and that they need to be prepared to do so. Most of all, we need to grow up, grow old, shut up, and step aside.
Margaret Gutman Klosko
Margaret Gutman Klosko is a writer based in Virginia.
There's been a fair amount of attention over the last week to the issue of hazing and women's college sports teams. The Web site badjocks.com published a number of photos depicting the Northwestern University women's soccer team conducting an initiation for new players. The women are shown being forced to chug beer, give lap dances to members of the men's soccer team, all while various words and pictures are drawn on their bodies. Then the same site followed up with pictures from a dozen other colleges and universities, almost all of which focus on hazing/initiation rituals involving various women's sports teams. All of the colleges involved have anti-hazing policies, and all (naturally) prohibit underage drinking.
In the national media, the faces of the women involved are obscured, but on badjocks.com, they are in full view. Though it was obviously foolish for the teams involved to photograph their hazing rituals and post the pics on the Internet, I grieve for the embarrassment the young women involved must now be feeling, and I have no interest in staring pruriently at the various details of their humiliations. We must remember the intent of those who uploaded the photos to sites like webshots.com; these pictures (often showing students in their underwear) were for the enjoyment of a select few, not a huge national audience. Foolishness on the part of those who don’t know better doesn’t excuse leering on the part of those who do.
What I've seen tells me what I already knew: the kind of hazing that takes place on contemporary college campuses is more or less identical to what happened when I was an undergrad 20 years ago. The essentials, then and now, are these: forcing the pledges/initiates/rookies/frosh to undress (at least to their underwear); forcing them to consume large amounts of alcohol; asking them to "perform" sexualized dances in front of members of the opposite sex. The Northwestern women were required to give lap dances in their underwear in front of members of the men's soccer team -- while the Quinnipiac College men's baseball team is shown on the site stripping and dancing for a group of unidentified women.
As an adult who struggled with problem drinking for years, I am of course greatly concerned by any ritual that requires that folks consume large amounts of booze in a short period of time. I have no sympathy for those who see binge drinking as an essential rite of passage; I've seen the damage it can do to lives and bodies.
As a feminist, I'm grieved to see that ritualized sexual humiliation is still such a vital mainstay of initiation practices. It's not new, of course. When I was a freshman at Cal, I flirted with the idea of joining a fraternity (one to which my grandfather, a great-grandfather, and numerous uncles and cousins had belonged). In the end, I decided not to, both for reasons of principle and because I worried that I wouldn't fit in with the fraternity culture. I had lots of friends in the Greek system, however, and I heard their initiation stories. One of my former wives was a Pi Phi in the late 1980s; she told me that she had never gotten over her hazing. She recalled being stripped to her underwear, at which point all the "actives" (members) of her sorority took magic markers and wrote on her body -- circling areas that they thought "needed work" and writing commentary about her attributes. She said she laughed at the time -- but years later, she would still sometimes gaze at those parts and think about the criticisms and obscenities she had seen written there.
I'm a fierce fan of intercollegiate sports. With the possible exception of golf, I love to watch men and women play any NCAA sport. I know the good that sport has brought to my life, and I've seen it bring discipline, health, camaraderie, and character to a great many young people. I'm not one of those professors who "goes easy" on the jocks, but I'm not someone who wishes that intercollegiate athletics would disappear, either. And as a fan of sports -- and former athletic department tutor at UCLA -- I've got at least a passing understanding of how vital it is to build close community on a team.
I think initiation rituals can be very valuable. Requiring frosh or rookies to go through a series of steps before they are accepted as full-fledged members of the team is healthy. It is axiomatic that to suffer together is one way to build community. But not all suffering is the same. Forcing the frosh to run extra laps or do extra push-ups or go through a weekend of brutal fitness camp can build community and fellowship just fine -- all without a drop of alcohol and without a single lap dance. Requiring frosh to put on silly skits that don't involve vulgar humor, nudity, or intoxication (or asking them to memorize all the verses of an ancient school fight song) can have a similar bonding effect. The problem is not with the nature of sports teams/fraternities/sororities, or with initiation rituals -- the problem is with a culture that connects that valuable process of initiation to ritualized sexual degradation and binge drinking.
Too many university policies (such as Northwestern’s) confuse the positive effects of team-building exercises with destructive and humiliating hazing. As quoted on the badjocks Web site, the NU policy reads in part:
The university defines hazing as any action taken or situation created intentionally, whether on or off university premises, to produce mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Such activities and situations may include but are not limited to paddling in any form; creation of excessive fatigue; physical and psychological shocks; quests, treasure hunts, scavenger hunts, road trips, or any other such activities carried on outside the confines of the university; wearing apparel that is conspicuous and not normally in good taste; engaging in stunts and buffoonery; requiring sleepovers or morally degrading or humiliating games and activities.
Banning all treasure hunts, quests, and road trips along with underage drinking and strip shows demonstrates a complete disregard for the potentially positive aspects of initiation rituals. There are countless physical challenges that can be offered to frosh that allow them to retain their clothes, their dignity, and their sobriety -- all while pushing them beyond their limits. Hazing can degrade, but healthy and constructive games and rituals go a long way to building that precious sense of camaraderie which is such a vital part of the college experience.
But a call to recognize the positive aspects of some traditional initiation rituals is not a defense of what we apparently see in the pictures from Northwestern. This sort of hazing troubles me so much is because it is so fundamentally antithetical to what sports can be in women's lives. The beauty of sports for women, at the high school or college level, is that it teaches women that their bodies are not merely decorative objects to be gazed at. It teaches women that their sexuality and their potential reproductivity are not their greatest assets. Sport -- at its best -- teaches girls that their bodies are strong, and powerful; it teaches the athlete that she can transform and control her flesh for her own delight as well as for the good of the team. It turns objects into subjects, turns the passive active. I've seen sports from softball to track to soccer to basketball do that for countless women and girls in my life, and I rejoice in it. And thus I grieve when I see young female athletes forced to use their bodies so differently -- as objects of public, sexualized ridicule -- all for the sake of creating community that could so easily be created in a different way.
Hugo B. Schwyzer teaches history and gender studies at Pasadena City College. He teaches and blogs about such issues as the interplay of faith and sexuality, American history, and masculinity.
A student asks me what I am doing this weekend. I respond, “I am going on a date.” “Where,” he asks? I answer coolly, “Dinner,” not wanting to provide details. He responds, “First you sleep with her; then take her out to dinner and get to know her.” As a college professor in Portland, Ore., I encounter this candor all the time.
This student is not alone in sharing his views. He and his cohorts are neither cynical nor angry; that myth has been perpetuated by pseudo-intellectual, 40-something bloggers and pop sociologists who think that their anomie is also ours; we yuppies, sadly, have bought the bloggers’ angst -- hook, line and sinker.
Students’ absence of boundaries today alarms us. They casually talk about and experience drugs and sex the way we talk about laundry detergent and books. Their openness is at times inappropriate, but in their willingness to disclose, today’s youth are sharing their ambivalences and ambitions.
Are they skeptical? Yes, and they should be. They are repeatedly told (by us) that politics matters, but when they listen to debates between Democrats and Republicans, they have good reason to be disappointed and disbelieving. They are told (by us) about the primacy of family, but their fragmented family unit relegates quality time to cell phone discourse. Is it any wonder that they take with a grain of salt the concepts of fidelity and solemn vows? After all, as mom and dad (sometimes called by their first names) "grew apart," discussions about separation were the norm. The result was a questioning of permanence, an affinity for transience, and a simultaneous affinity for frank discussion.
Their doubting of elite sensibilities demands an appreciation for sarcasm, most notably Jon Stewart and J"The Daily Show." Stewart’s berating of "Crossfire" hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala serve as their post-9/11, defining media moment. Finally, someone was speaking their language and articulating their thoughts. Why do Americans listen to pundits and "spokespeople"? Why are ideologues’ sound bites so predictably and artificially contrived? How can we change this crap?
Politics -- most notably inequality -- plagues them, even as their behavior perpetuates it. Young women are willingly infantilized, preferring to be referred to as "girls." Thursday night tequila shots (or pick the drink du jour) drunken off of their naked navels are celebrated as normal. Early Friday morning promiscuity undoubtedly ensues, paradoxically generating an emptiness that accompanies the concomitant pleasures associated with gratuitous sex.
Selfish and at times sarcastic, today’s youth are trying to create a meaningful, hedonistic life. How, they ask, does one change one’s politics when the world around them evolves so quickly, and they admittedly have no patience or discipline to contemplate? They have no answer, and it pesters them. Doggedly, they seek to make politics real and spiritual in an era when the superficial Desperate Housewives and the narcissism of Terrell Owens reign supreme.
They are frustrated and lonely, but their actions are neither childish nor childlike. One of my students, I’ll call him Zak, discusses his active sex life as if it were James Bond’s. Zak is artistic, athletic, confident, and by his own admission, a bit lost. Numerous conversations with him reveal a remarkable forthrightness. When he has gotten high, the potency of his sex drive, his inability to focus, his relationships with friends, Zak shares anything and everything, without hubris or solicitation.
Zak’s eagerness to divulge may be the product Dr. Phil and Oprah, but Zak does not watch television, and his disinterest in it is palpable. I-Pod and Wi-fi, yes, but cable, why? A semester in Africa taught him that television is a luxury best avoided. Music is another matter entirely. Zak downloads all types of music illegally; it is a part of his generation’s weekly routine. He enjoys our occasional discussion about morals, in large part because he has not seriously considered the consequences of downloading, or for that matter, of other ostensibly victimless crimes. Pot smoking? No biggie. Pot dealing? Buying black market Ritilin before an exam? Whatever. Is this laissez-faire moralism a product of our culture? Maybe so, but Zak dismisses television and video games as overly commercialized and conventional.
Instead, give him a latte (fair trade coffee preferred) and a companion to share -- anything -- and he is ready to consume life. Not cognizant of the latest trends in fashion, Zak nonetheless owns a vast wardrobe of T-shirts, khakis and comfortable, thermally advanced gear. This casual coolness is borne in a beige, calm indifference that my generation (born, 1965, raised on television) entirely lacks. Extroverted 40 year old males who once wore red power ties, now sell annuities or real estate. Zak sells his earthy earnestness.
He spent this past summer working for an environmental group, and actually enjoyed hustling door to door, seeking monetary contributions from liberal Portlanders. Zak was canvassing in a dangerous neighborhood; a man was shot nearby, and Zak, close to the scene, consoled the man until the police arrived. Soon afterward, Zak returned to canvassing. A woman answered her door, looked at him in shock, and only then did Zak realize that he was covered in blood. Zak is proud of his willingness to help a wounded stranger, simultaneously showing a peculiar, Garden State-like detached forgetfulness. After all, how do you forget that you are bloody? For Zak, the lesson here is “Damn, the streets are tough.” For me, the questions are, “Why continue the shift after consoling the wounded?” “Does Zak realize that even progressive do-gooder non-profits can exploit their workers?” “How come the shooting never made it to the front pages of the newspaper?” My queries are lost on Zak; he is caught up in the moment, not the history or the politics.
Zak consumes life by seeking innovative ways to give back to society. He sends me moveon.org e-mails, and listens attentively when I detail their faulty logic and reasoning. He participates in "Critical Mass,” a group of bicyclers protesting automobile riding, almost agreeing with me when I argue that the radical cause of making the working poor late for their shift may be doing more harm than good. He speaks openly about his intolerance for homophobia, but also of his reticence in silencing a buddy’s anti-gay epithets. Zak yearns for social justice without pretending to have all the answers, yet still possesses too much modesty and trepidation to take the necessary risks needed to alter the status quo.
He rides his bike because he likes the breeze on his back, and because his versatile 21-speed does not burn fossil fuels. He also owns a gas guzzling truck, often used for driving to campus, the gorge or the coast. For him there is no paradox, no contradiction, no cognitive dissonance. Do what you gotta do, but do not become preoccupied with logical consistency. Logic is an optional college class -- not a credo. Living, after all, is about relationships -- physical, intimate, casual and drifting.
Zak and his peers pay the bills, cook for themselves, go to concerts, and have multiple friends, some of whom have sex with when they feel like it and refer to as "fuck buddies." Yet they are lonely. Living for today implicitly demands an acceptance of the temporary, and a rejection of stability.
Zak is not alone. There is Jeff, who told me about his anger toward his father for not leading by example. Jeff’s dad used to bring home several women (simultaneously), and the bedroom sounds of group sex, excited and confused Jeff as he realized that his father was disrupting community and family in the name of pleasure and immediacy. There is Meredith, who smokes too heavily and eats too little, yet shuns my attempts to assist her, or even my attempts to engage her in a discussion about health. There is Joel, who thinks his frequent partying may emanate from his parents’ emotional and physical disabilities. Katie plagiarized, later admitting that her father wrote her term paper. They openly admit that their parents cheat on each other and on financial aid forms. They also share their own indiscretions -- misdemeanors and occasional felonies -- without shame. These youth have yet to develop a moral core, in part because they find passing judgment a dangerous enterprise. Why vocally question mom or step-dad? Why bother? Who cares if smoking is bad for you? Have not we all erred?
They lack discipline -- a skill that escapes them in the age of carefreedom. The thought of showering daily and putting on a business suit -- basically, of becoming mainstream -- is foreign to their world. Yet their idealism slowly is being transformed to moderation. Drug use no longer fascinates them as it once did even a year ago. The superfluous sex is becoming more banal and less fulfilling. Even hedonism fails to satisfy them.
Time for a toke? No Forget the weed -- it is time for late night bike ride, alone -- without a helmet. Zak will soon be thinking about friendship, intimacy, freedom and privilege. A meaningful life beyond college -- with Roth IRA’s, monogamy and mortgages, is not even a dream; it is a fiction neither shared nor pondered.
Robert M. Eisinger
Robert M. Eisinger is chair of political science at Lewis & Clark College, in Oregon. He is the author of The Evolution of Presidential Polling (Cambridge University Press). Â
What does private and wealthy Princeton University have in common with the public and less-wealthy University of Central Arkansas? What links Acadia University in the Canadian Maritimes and Vanderbilt University in the American South? What does the new International University in Bremen, Germany, share with the Universidad de las Américas, in Puebla, Mexico?
Each of these institutions has established, is planning, or is expanding an internal system of residential colleges: permanent, cross-sectional, faculty-led societies that bring the educational advantages of a small college into the environment of a large university. This wave of college founding, taking place in public and private institutions from Kentucky to Louisiana, from Missouri to Florida, from Pennsylvania to Arkansas, and elsewhere around the world, is one of the most substantive structural reform movements in higher education today, and it promises to repair a half-century of destructive bureaucratic centralization.
Dividing a large university into cross-sectional residential colleges is not a new idea: it is the organizational structure of Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham Universities in Great Britain, and as such is one of the oldest ideas in higher education. The collegiate organizational model is common in universities in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, and it was adopted by the undergraduate divisions of Harvard and Yale Universities in the 1930s and by Rice University in the 1950s. But residential college systems have remained rare in American higher education until quite recently. Paradoxically, they are better understood by many American undergraduates today than by American senior faculty and administrators, since, as students often remind me, the collegiate model is "just like Harry Potter." The fictional School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in J.K. Rowling’s popular young adult novels is divided into a system of four "houses" that parallel, in their structure, the structure of a collegiate university.
Although many universities that are in the process of establishing residential college systems are also embarking on construction projects at the same time, the two do not have to be connected. Creating residential colleges within a larger institution is more a matter of arranging resources that already exist than it is a matter of acquiring new resources. It need not be expensive, and it doesn’t require any changes to the curriculum.
The residential college movement today is guided not by financial concerns or questions of curricular reform, but rather by four organizational principles: decentralization, faculty leadership, social stability and genuine diversity. Each of these principles attempts to repair a portion of the damage that was wrought during the "industrialization" of higher education in the post-World War II era, and especially in the post-1960s era, two periods of widespread bureaucratic massification when student numbers exploded, central administrative offices proliferated, faculty retreated, high-rise dormitories sprouted, and alienation spread.
Decentralization is a fundamental principle of both new and old residential college systems because all education is local. Real education -- the substantive development of intellect and character -- depends on sustained personal contact between students and teachers over the long term. But universities forgot this basic principle when they ballooned in size from the 1960s onward. No matter how many slogans campus public relations people may invent about being "student-centered" and "caring," a university with high-rise dormitory towers, vast impersonal dining halls, and central advising offices that students report to for 15 minutes each term to have their schedules checked cannot possibly offer the sustained, local, personal contact that is fundamental to real education. The slogans are phony, and the students know it.
Small, decentralized residential colleges counteract the effects of educational massification by bringing students and faculty from all academic disciplines together into rich and cohesive social communities. Because of their small size -- 400 members is ideal -- residential colleges ensure that all students are known one by one, and that no student is anonymous. And while these collegiate societies are usually called "residential" colleges, they need not be entirely residential, and can be established within any university regardless of the number of students who actually live on campus. The emphasis is on the word college as a small, intimate society of members, rather than on the word residential.
Faculty leadership of residential college systems is fundamental because as universities became more centralized and bureaucratic over the past half-century, the oversight of campus life within them was largely handed off to a class of full-time residence life managers. However well-meaning these officials have been, because they are detached from the academic structure of the university, they have not been able to create meaningful educational environments for students. Even more noxiously, some universities have come to see campus dormitories as income-generating tools analogous to parking lots and vending machines. For more than a generation these deep structural flaws have cheated students out of the most important thing a university can offer them: sustained personal contact with their teachers in a rich and diverse educational environment for years at a time.
Residential college systems return the management of campus life to the faculty, and distribute most of the functions now performed by departments of student affairs and residence life into the faculty-led residential colleges. And they treat student life and housing as academic functions of a university, not as business functions. Residential colleges, as faculty-led academic societies, are consciously crafted to provide a wide range of informal educational opportunities for their members day and night, week after week, year after year. Their object is to ensure that students’ formal learning in the classroom is integrated in every way with their external life in the world.
Social stability is vital to the health of every human community, both within the university and without. But two generations of bureaucratic centralization and non-academic leadership have profoundly eroded the social fabric of university campuses, and nowhere has this erosion been greater than in "endlessly rescrambled" campus residential life. Alcohol abuse and vandalism have proliferated, elementary discipline has not been maintained, students have been bounced from "freshman experience halls" to "health and wellness halls" to social fraternity halls to upperclass apartments, all the while never seeing any older adults except an occasional police officer or maintenance worker. Students have described their time on campus to me as "the worst living experience of my life" and as "unbearable and unacceptable." For many years universities have been failing in their fundamental responsibility to support student welfare and have produced what William Willimon and Thomas Naylor have called an "abandoned generation."
Small, permanent residential colleges under faculty leadership return meaningful social stability to campus life. And as educators we must provide students with this basic social stability if we want them to take the kinds of risks that produce intellectual instability. Social stability means that elementary civil order is maintained, that buildings and grounds are attractive and safe and, most importantly, that there is a weekly, monthly and annual rhythm of events that give students a sense that they are part of something bigger than themselves, something that existed before them and will continue after them. The life of each year in a small residential college builds on the life of the year before, and students and faculty alike know that their contributions to their college endure and are remembered.
Lastly, an appreciation for genuine human diversity is fundamental to decentralized residential college systems. While it is true that nearly every university today promotes the value of "diversity" in education, the diversity that is promoted is often simple-minded and superficial, and is based on little more than broad ethnic and racial categories. And while universities promote the value of this superficial diversity with one hand, with the other they often actively segregate students according to temperaments and interests, thereby denying those same students the benefits of deep diversity -- diversity at the level of individual talents, passions, strengths, and weaknesses. This kind of segregation is most often practiced through the creation of "theme halls" -- science halls, arts halls, nursing halls, sports halls -- dormitory spaces that encourage students to spend all their time with lots of other people who think just like they do. So much for diversity.
Genuine diversity, and the deep education that comes from exposure to it, flourishes within small residential colleges that are complete cross-sections of the universities to which they belong. Each college contains the teacher, the student, the old, the young, the poetic, the prosaic, the bold, the shy, the clever, the plodding, the careless, the careful, the wealthy, the poor, the cold, the compassionate, the indolent, the industrious, the neurotic, the peaceful, the refined, the vulgar, the emotional, the analytical, the earnest, the satirical -- and by bringing all this pied beauty together into the small, stable, academically rich setting of a residential college, week after week, year after year after year, the true promise of educational diversity is realized.
At the moment of its founding in the 1630s, American higher education was given a choice: it could, as some advised, follow what was historically the Continental European path, and just rent halls and hire specialists to give lectures; or it could instead look after the whole lives of students, as the residential college systems of Great Britain did. At that moment, Cotton Mather tells us, “the Government of New-England” decided it was best to have its students “brought up in a more Collegiate Way of Living.” Mather’s turn of phrase has been picked up by many writers on higher education over the years: it appeared at the head of a chapter in Frederick Rudolph’s The American College and University: A History, it provided the title for Mark Ryan’s important collection of essays A Collegiate Way of Living: Residential Colleges and a Yale Education, and it now serves as the name of my own comprehensive Web site “The Collegiate Way: Residential Colleges and the Renewal of University Life,” where additional readings and many practical details of residential college implementation are available.
As more and more universities in the United States and around the world rediscover the importance of the collegiate way of living, we would do well to remember not only Mather’s own turn of phrase, but also the lines he quotes in the same setting from the poet Richard Blackmore: the centralized Continental model might succeed in filling students’ heads with facts, but it is in small decentralized residential colleges, “as in furnaces of boiling gold,” that new stars should be dipped, for it is there that they learn, grow, shine, and come away “full as their orbs can hold, / Of glitt’ring light.”
Submitted by John Marsh on December 11, 2006 - 4:00am
We owe Boss’s Day to a secretary from Illinois, Patricia Bays Haroski, who in 1958 sought to honor her beloved boss. Her beloved boss, however, also happened to be her beloved father. So, shrewdly -- why buy two gifts when one will do? -- Haroski chose her father’s birthday, October 16th, for the soon to be national holiday.
I know all this because for the first time in my life, someone considers me a boss. On October 16th, I came into my office -- in a humanities institute at a large public university -- and found a box of chocolates and a very sweet note from one of the secretaries who works there. I was horrified. Not at the gift or our secretary’s thoughtfulness, but at being on the receiving end of a Boss’s Day gift, for being -- I shudder even to say it -- a boss. The prospect of being a boss horrifies me for many reasons, not least of which is that I grew up in a working-class family where “boss” was an only slightly less obscene four-letter word than the other four-letter words people used to describe their bosses.
More than proletarian sympathies, though, kept me from feeling like a boss. I did not feel like a boss because I felt most like a teacher. I worked at the humanities institute part time -- it constituted only one third of my appointment at the university. For the remainder of the appointment, I did what I had always done, which is to teach literature and, now that I think of it, not be a boss. Indeed, I became a teacher, especially a higher education teacher, out of the perhaps naïve belief that doing so would mean I would never have to suffer under a boss -- nor, for that matter, boss others around. I teach my students. I do not give them orders, nor write paychecks, and, like most bosses these days, I do not offer them health insurance -- but the difference is that no one really expects me to. To wit, not one of my students gave me any chocolate on October 16th, and I did not expect them to, because teachers are not bosses. End of story.
Or so I thought. But that box of Boss’s Day chocolates just would not leave me alone. It prompted all sorts of troubling questions -- primarily, what makes me a boss when I am an assistant director of a humanities institute but not a boss when I am a teacher? Though I had some preliminary answers to that question -- most teachers, the last time I checked, did not have secretaries -- none seemed entirely persuasive, especially when I began to imagine how students perceive what I do and what I am when I stand in front of a classroom, assign them an essay, and grade their work. I could better imagine that perspective after reading Rebekah Nathan’s now slightly infamous My Freshman Year, in which the pseudonymous Nathan, an anthropology professor, enrolls as a freshman at her large, public university. Reading that book, I was struck by how Nathan’s anthropological subjects -- students -- described their academic work, their professors, and themselves, which they did in disturbingly similar ways to what I know of how workers described their jobs, their bosses, and themselves.
Was this just a coincidence, or did students really have more in common with workers than I thought? Did that mean that faculty had more in common with bosses than we would like to think? If so, should we do anything about this?
We have heard much talk -- and most of us have recoiled from it -- of students as consumers, but might students be workers? To be sure, there are any number of reasons for not thinking so. Perhaps most damningly, students receive no wages for their work, and it is the rare worker who pays (in this case tuition) for the privilege of working. Students likely receive no wages because they produce no tangible good (like a car or a computer program) nor do they provide any tangible service (like fixing your leaky toilet or selling you fast food). These two facts would seem to make the argument a non-starter. My dictionary defines a “worker” as “one that works, especially one who works for wages.” It defines “work” as “to fashion or create a useful or desired product through labor or exertion.” By these definitions, it would be a stretch to call students workers or what they do, strictly speaking, “work.” For example, I do not pay students wages for the privilege of reading their essays, and having read thousands of them at even this early point in my career, I hesitate to describe them as especially useful or, even more so when I’m staring at a stack of them waiting to be graded, especially desired products.
Even the reliably Marxist Stanley Aronowitz, who famously titled his book on the university The Knowledge Factory, still distinguishes between workers and students at this “factory.” For Aronowitz, students are not workers so much as they are workers in embryo, students instead of workers. “The main function of college attendance,” Aronowitz argues, “is to delay entrance into the uncertain job market." Students are also not workers because they are, instead, what the real workers at the knowledge factory make. Universities produce “intellectual knowledge,” such as computer and communications technology, but they primarily produce “human capital” -- that is, professionally marketable students . For Aronowitz the distinction is clear. Students are not workers; they are the commodities the actual workers -- that is, faculty -- at the knowledge factory forge.
I read my dictionary and my Aronowitz with some joy since they both confirm my desire not to think of myself as a boss and even flatter my desire to think of myself as the real worker around here. For a moment, I even think about wearing denim or buying one of those cool Carhart jackets I see the workers wearing as I ride my bike past a new building going up on campus. Still, I did not rush out to the Army-Navy store just yet because there are at least an equal number of reasons for thinking of students as workers and, thus, professors as bosses -- reasons that seem lost on Aronowitz and others. Students receive no wages for their work, true, but neither do stay-at-home parents, and as feminists reminded us in the 1970s, just because work goes unpaid does not mean it is not work. Stay-at-home parents may not produce anything salable, but they reproduce the workers and the living conditions necessary for the production of salable things.
Students, however, are not stay-at-home parents, and if they do not reproduce the conditions of capital accumulation, as the Marxists would have it, then what, exactly, do they produce? They produce, I would argue, themselves. If so, then Aronowitz is only half-right when he argues that universities produce “human capital” and professionally marketable workers. They do, but students themselves join their instructors and administrators in the production of that marketable commodity. I may assign the essay and grade it, but someone -- a student -- has to write it. I may devise a syllabus and teach the course, but someone -- again a student -- has to take it in order to graduate, get a job, and contribute to our economy. Despite our occasional use of such metaphors, then, we do not take the raw material “student” and forge it into the new and valuable “worker.” Students bend their back to that process as well, which would make them more like our co-workers.
Many students work rather long and hard at this process too. In order to graduate in four years, they must take five courses per semester, and at my university those courses usually meet for a combined two and a half hours per week, which makes for 12.5 weekly hours in the classroom. Most of the academic advisers whom Nathan encounters at her university also recommend two hours of out-of-class preparation for each hour of class work, which for a 12.5 hour week makes for an additional 25 hours. Now, most students probably do not devote two out-of-class hours for each in-class hour, but let’s take the academic advisers at their word that that is what they should be doing. If so, students come in for a 37.5 hour work week, slightly less than the standard 40-hour one. But students also have other responsibilities. Many belong to quasi-professional clubs and many do volunteer work, some out of a sense of community spirit but many because they feel they must furbish their resumes. Other students play sports, and many -- too many -- work part-time jobs. According to the National Survey of Student Engagement, as Nathan reports, “two-thirds of all students were working, including 54 percent of first year students and 88 percent of seniors.” Although we cannot be sure of their motives, many of these students may work because over the last decade, as state and federal money for public universities has declined, tuition has proportionately increased. And rather than burden themselves with more loans, or, in addition to burdening themselves with more loans, many students take part time jobs. Regardless, between classes, preparing for classes, clubs, sports, and jobs -- students put in well over 40 hours a week. Not sweatshop hours, perhaps, but certainly not bankers’ hours either.
In order to survive such hours and succeed at college, Nathan quickly learns from “more advanced” students at her university strategies for controlling her time. These strategies generally take three forms: shaping schedules, handling professors, and limiting workloads. With minor variations, these are the same strategies generations of workers learned to use in order to survive at their jobs as well, and it is these similarities that start to make professors look disturbingly like bosses. Indeed, Nathan comments that “several of the undergraduates whom I as a fellow student admired most cast professor-student relations as a rough facsimile of the boss-worker relationship."
For example, both students and workers try to limit the days of their week, the former by not scheduling classes on Friday, the latter, after centuries of struggle, by inventing the weekend. In addition to limiting the days of their work week, though, students also limit the amount of work they do, sometimes, as workers since at least the beginning of the industrial revolution have done, by just not showing up. As Nathan notes, “cutting or ‘ditching’ classes is a strategy adopted by a number of students to free up more time in their lives." Similarly, as Aronowitz documented in False Promises, a classic of 1970s labor history, General Motors and other major car manufacturers acknowledged that “absenteeism, particularly on Mondays and Fridays, constitutes its most distressing discipline problem." Nor is this “absenteeism” exclusively a modern practice. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin complained about workers who honored St. Monday, which, as Douglas Reid describes it, was the “widespread tradition among workers from the 17th to the 20th centuries of taking time off on a fairly regular basis to drink, play sport, go to the theatre, go courting, attend meetings, and, indeed, to get married, in a period when the working week was expected to be six full days with only Sunday free.” Few students use their St. Friday to get married, but I would guess that a majority of them use it for the same reasons that workers did -- to drink, to play sports, to go to movies, to “court,” or to attend meetings.
Like workers, students also limit the amount of work they do, not just by not showing up, but by doing only enough work to get by. “A common way to regulate workload,” Nathan observes of students, “is simply to restrict the amount of time and effort one spends on a course by doing no more than is necessary." The practice reminds me, again, of assembly line workers. As Gary Bryner, a young union leader at the Lordstown, Ohio, General Motors Assembly Plant, once explained to Studs Terkel for his book Working: “Occasionally, one of the guys will let a car go by. At that point, he’s made a decision: ‘Aw, fuck it. It’s only a car.'" In other words, when placed in a situation where they must choose between doing their work and doing something else, workers, like students, choose both. They do enough to get by but no more than is necessary; enough to preserve their leisure, their sense of humanity, and their “job” -- that is, they do enough not to get fired or flunked.
My point is that students engage in the same low-level battle for control over their time and labor as workers did and continue to do. And just as workers battled bosses and their petty rules, pointless assignments, and quarterly evaluations, students battle their professors and, you guessed it, their petty rules, pointless assignments, and quarterly (or semesterly) evaluations.
I will admit that it is sometimes hard, even counterintuitive, to think of students as workers. Indeed, the campus of my large, Midwestern public university sometimes reminds me of an enormous cruise ship -- I call it The S.S. College Experience -- sailing through rolling waves of corn and soybeans, its guests working out at the gym, sun bathing on the quad-deck, swimming in the pools, passing their time reading a novel, making the dining hall by six, and relaxing afterwards at the bar with a cup of warm beer. All of which is to say that there is in fact a touch of the absurd about associating students with the workers of the world, with the exploited wretches of the earth.
But if there is a touch of the absurd about it, there is not, alas, quite enough to make the argument itself absurd, or to make me stop worrying about whether my students think of me as their boss. So what is to be done, as that great scourge of bosses, Lenin, asked? If there is indeed some cause to think of students as workers, and I am convinced there is, and if, as I am also convinced, students are working longer and harder than ever to earn a college degree, then what should we do as a result?
To start, state governments might strive to make their state universities truly public once again -- thereby reducing tuition and the need for students to find work or take out loans. At least in my state, though, that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. So failing a complete reformation in the commitment of the state to higher education, is there anything universities could do in the meantime? We could start, I would suggest, by reducing the number of hours required for graduation and, thus, the number of courses students must take each term. At my university, students must complete 120 hours of coursework in order to earn a degree in their major, more if they have not yet passably learned a foreign language. If students wish to graduate in four years, they must take, as I have said, five courses per semester. If we reduced the number of hours needed to graduate from 120 to 96, students would only need to take four courses per semester in order to graduate, thereby shortening the academic workweek. If students took fewer courses, they might concentrate more on the ones they did take, rather than having to pick and choose among the assignments and classes they will focus on and the ones they will neglect. With fewer hours required for graduation, too, students would have a better chance of graduating in four years, thus paying less money in tuition and, perhaps, feeling less pressure to have to work part time or, at the least, those part-time jobs would then eat up less of their available time.
One of the disadvantages to such a proposal -- that it would reduce the number of courses the university offered and, thus, lead to instructors losing their jobs -- could just as easily be an argument in favor of reducing graduation requirements. Instead of firing instructors, universities could reduce class sizes. More damningly, some might argue that reducing graduation requirements will leave students ill prepared for the jobs they assume after college, and that may well be the case with professional and pre-professional majors like veterinary science and medicine, but those students also go on to graduate school and receive still more training. For students who major in English and other liberal arts and sciences programs, though, it is hard to imagine that they will be seriously impaired by less training. Students already claim not to remember anything they learn in classes from one semester to the other, so reducing the number of hours may actually increase what they learn and, just as importantly, remember. Moreover, most students will learn the specific components of their job on the job, not necessarily or even very often in their classes. That is perhaps why, as Stanley Aronowitz notes in The Knowledge Factory, when asked, “most employers say they want school-leavers to have a degree, to be able to read and write, follow oral and written instructions, and be fairly articulate." Employers say relatively little about new employees knowing how to do a specific job, which they assume they will have to teach them anyway. In other words, students can develop all the attributes employers want -- reading, writing, following instructions, being articulate -- by taking four classes per semester as readily as they could by taking five. Maybe even more readily.
Regardless of what employers want, though, taking four classes per semester would make universities more humane places to work, both for students and for teachers, who (ideally, anyway) would benefit from reduced class sizes and, perhaps, not quite so overworked students. Such a proposal would also save this labor sympathizer from his worst nightmare: walking into my classroom one October 16th and finding boxes of chocolate on my desk.
John Marsh is assistant director of the Illinois Program for Research in the Humanities, a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and coordinator of the Odyssey Project, a year-long, college-level course in the humanities offered at no cost to people living below or slightly above the federal poverty level. He is the editor of You Work Tomorrow: An Anthology of American Labor Poetry, 1929-1941 (forthcoming), and is at work on a book that reconstructs the role of the poor and working class in the formation of modern American poetry.
In the last two weeks, the Duke University lacrosse case has rapidly unraveled. First, at a December 15 hearing, the director of a private lab admitted that he and prosecutor Mike Nifong had entered into agreement to intentionally withhold exculpatory DNA evidence. Then, a week later, Nifong announced that a representative from his office had interviewed the accuser for the first time (eight months after arrests were made), and that she no longer claimed memory of events that would constitute rape. The district attorney promised to proceed anyway with charges of sexual assault and kidnapping against the three students he has targeted -- Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and Dave Evans. But as things stand now, the case seems unlikely to survive a February 5 hearing to consider defense motions to suppress a procedurally flawed photo lineup.
I created a blog to cover this case, exploring the twin themes of Nifong’s misconduct and Duke’s troubling response to it. I have no connection to Duke, and knew none of the lacrosse players when this case began. My initial interest flowed from dismay at the faculty’s rush to judgment in late March and early April.
I stayed with the case for a variety of reasons. As a historian of Congress, I’ve spent 15 years examining the significance of procedure -- and it’s hard to imagine a case that will better demonstrate how procedural decisions directly affect outcomes. Personally, I have some experience in dealing with rogue figures in power amidst an atmosphere of academic groupthink, and recall the importance of outside pressure in exposing wrongdoing. And pragmatically, the blog has had some impact, perhaps because I enjoy more freedom to speak out than local faculty members, who risk opprobrium from what one Duke professor termed “the wrath of the righteous.”
The response to what could now be termed the “non-rape” case will not go down among the academy’s finest moments. Three issues seem to me particularly noteworthy.
1. Concerns about McCarthyite behavior tend to depend on who is targeted. Defenders of the academic status quo regularly accuse critics of latter-day McCarthyism -- on issues ranging from the Academic Bill of Rights to Ward Churchill’s fate. Yet, last spring, when a local demagogue who ignored civil liberties targeted their own students, Duke faculty members barely expressed concern about his actions.
Over the last nine months, Mike Nifong has coupled demagogic appeals to prejudices based on class and race with a habit of making public charges unsubstantiated by material in his own files. Meanwhile, he overrode standard procedures (ordering police to show the accuser a lineup confined to suspects; refusing to meet with defense attorneys to consider exculpatory evidence; concealing DNA test results) and mocked due process. In one of his most outrageous lines, he mused, “One would wonder why one needs an attorney if one was not charged and had not done anything wrong.”
Yet despite that record, until last week only three Duke faculty members -- James Coleman (law), Steven Baldwin (chemistry), and Michael Gustafson (engineering) -- had publicly criticized Nifong’s conduct. This trio comprises 0.2 percent of all Duke professors.
2. In the contemporary academy, some students are more equal than others. On April 6, 88 faculty members issued a statement proclaiming that they were “listening” to alleged statements from anonymous Duke students. Relying solely on the version of events presented by Nifong, the Group of 88 took out an ad in the Duke Chronicle that included remarks of the signatories themselves. The professors definitively asserted that something “happened” to the accuser, while saying “thank you” to campus protesters like these, who had called the players “rapists” and distributed a “wanted” poster with lacrosse players’ photos. The statement’s author, Wahneema Lubiano, gleefully labeled the players the “perfect offenders,” and, as ESPN reported, fully understood that “some would see the ad as a stake through the collective heart of the lacrosse team.”
By this fall, student sentiment had turned overwhelmingly against Nifong and in favor of the targeted players. Yet the Group of 88 and like-minded Duke faculty no longer seemed interested in “listening” to their students. One signatory, Grant Farred, accused Duke undergraduates who registered to vote in Durham of projecting their “secret racism” onto the city. Another, Karla Holloway, denounced the Duke students who had defended the players, suggesting that they believed that “white innocence means black guilt. Men’s innocence means women’s guilt.” Peter Wood, meanwhile, leveled several unsubstantiated attacks on Reade Seligmann, about whom virtually no one other than Nifong has said anything untoward. Thomas Crowley published an op-ed containing so many falsehoods about the lacrosse team that he had to retract the document.
Duke’s admissions home page promises prospective parents that “teaching is personal,” as the institution’s professors “teach and mentor undergraduates, not only in the classroom.” Students who don’t conform to the race/class/gender worldview, however, seem to receive a different kind of “personal” attention.
3. Groupthink has its effects. Any orthodoxy -- even the race/class/gender approach currently in vogue -- can go too far, especially in an atmosphere when it passes unchallenged, blinding its adherents to injustice in their midst. Academic debates can sometimes seem trivial, and it’s easy to understand the overwhelming temptation that some Duke professors felt last April to do the politically correct thing and denounce the lacrosse players.
This particular behavior, however, had significant consequences. Less than four weeks after the Group of 88 issued their statement, Nifong captured a hotly contested Democratic primary by a mere 883 votes. Given the political and legal fluidity in Durham last spring, it’s hard to imagine Nifong prevailing had 88 Duke professors publicly demanded that he respect their students’ due process rights rather than thanking the protesters who had branded the players guilty.
Instead, of course, the denunciations continued -- and have continued to have an effect. In what could be a first in American criminal law, the actions and statements of accused students’ professors have been cited in a recent defense motion as grounds for a change of venue.
Imagine the reverse of the situation that Duke experienced. In a primary electorate almost evenly divided along racial lines, an appointed district attorney faced two challengers, a weak white man and a strong black woman. A case emerged on campus featuring allegations against members of a black fraternity by a local white woman with a checkered background. The D.A. responded by making dozens of highly inflammatory statements to the national media, going before an all-white crowd to announce that “this case isn’t going away” even though he lacked scientific evidence, and ordering police to violate their own procedures to ensure that the accuser picked out viable suspects before the primary.
Does anyone seriously believe that, under such circumstances, the faculty of Duke -- or that of any other major university -- would have stood idly by, with a vocal minority denouncing the students?
The behavior we’ve seen from Duke’s faculty -- the frantic rush to judgment coupled with a refusal to reconsider -- was all too predictable. The Group of 88’s statement was fully consistent with basic ideas about race, class, and gender prevalent on most elite campuses today. Reconsidering their actions of last spring would have forced the Group of 88, and sympathetic colleagues, to reconsider some of the intellectual assumptions upon which the statement was based.
Duke’s Gustafson recently reflected on what his colleagues had done:
"We have removed any safeguards we’ve learned against stereotyping, against judging people by the color of their skin or the (perceived) content of their wallet, against acting on hearsay and innuendo and misdirection and falsehoods. We have formed a dark blue wall of institutional silence; we have closed Pandora's box now that all the evils have made it into the universe; we have transformed students from individual men to archetypes—to 'perfect offenders' and 'hooligans' -- and refused to keep their personhood as a central component of all this. We have taken Reade, and Collin, and Dave, and posterized them into 'White Male Athlete Privilege,' and we have sought to punish that accordingly."
I’d like to think that most academics entered the profession eager to work with students; and that most professors would never prioritize advancing their own ideological agenda over protecting their students. Yet I see little reason to believe that Gustafson’s words would not have applied had this incident occurred at another major university. And that makes Duke’s failing a failure of the academy as a whole.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.