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.
I’m feeling a bit cranky.My colleagues and I have just received word that our next professional development day will focus on ways we need to technologize our teaching methods so that we can better facilitate the success of the newest new generation, commonly known as “Millennials.”This latest alien invasion of first-year students, we are told, are teenage battery packs “with wires running through their veins” plugged into video games, MySpace and iPods.Therefore, we better get our collective act together and at the very least hybridize the delivery of knowledge so that we can help them make the grade in the global marketplace.
I’m no Luddite. In fact, I spend a good deal of my day reading news online, communicating with family, friends, colleagues and students, banking, writing, listening to music, checking job lists, updating my queue in Netflix, and so on. This morning, I received some garage-band mp3s from my daughter who is studying in Italy, and yesterday my brother in Houston sent me a funny wmv. I opened it last night just and showed it to my wife just after I had looked up a recipe for kale on www.marthastewart.com. Sometime today, I’ll be updating my CV html and ftping it to my academic domain. I regularly put course materials on Blackboard, and I’ve taught an online course in contemporary American poetry using the rich resources of video easily available on the Web.
So one of the reasons I’m cranky today is because most faculty development workshops I’ve attended assume no knowledge and experience on the part of those being lectured to about the latest advances in technology, learning style, and interconnectivity.
Nobody asks us what we already know and do. Nobody wants to know what the personality of our learning is. Nobody really wants to hear what we have to say. We’re stuffed into row after row of folding chairs facing the PowerPoint torture of illegible pie charts, tables, and data we need to remember so that we’ll be better prepped to perform in the learning community breakout sessions just after the chicken wraps at lunch.
Another reason I’m cranky today is that I detest these facile characterizations of our students. At some point, I expect the next newest generation to be labeled “USBs” or “ScanDisks” or “Intels” or “iLearners.” These names and framing metaphors, of course, support all sorts of false notions of knowledge and learning and teaching and success and most frightening: humanity.
And I’m cranky because this attempt to equate pedagogy with technology confuses ends with means. “Student engagement” has become the latest assessment buzzphrase, and thus, the newest once-and-for-all measure of and purpose for learning. In other words, any desire to understand the value of learning to individual students is replaced with the desire to promote the most efficient and engaging mode of learning by as many students as possible. And faculty better get in line to be online.
Techno-teaching and ilearning are also best because that’s what our students expect from us. They are the current experts on learning, they know how they best prefer to learn, and we should deliver unto them what they want in the way they want it. Thus I’m cranky because in between the government money pouring into institutional assessment and the tuition pouring in from 18 year old students, faculty members get shortchanged.
Finally, I’m cranky because I have to confront all of this professional development ruckus to claim my own professional authority, to say that I am smart enough to keep track of my own discipline and the latest pedagogical advancements without having to be lectured to two or three times a year about what college students need.
What our students need is not more of what they come in the door with. They don’t need more of the same in the same way they got it before. They need to be confronted with people who talk about ideas that matter. They need to become people who can confront and talk to other people about ideas that matter. They need to sit in a room of people and learn about humanity.
Also, not more Facebook, but more faces in books, extended periods of silent and sustained reading and writing, developing intellectual stamina and the ability to ask questions that don’t lead to easy answers or a quick and final Wikisearch.
Laurence Musgrove is an associate professor of English and foreign languages at Saint Xavier University, in Chicago.
Roiling the blogosphere with opinion mostly favoring the Duke University lacrosse team players, the aftermath of the now notorious party has shaken up Duke with charges of sexism and racism on one side and outraged declarations calling for campus administrators to support "our students" on the other. The furor has distracted attention from the misogynist sexual culture on display at the party. Regardless of the outcome of the legal case against the indicted players, the question raised by an administrator regarding whether Duke intentionally or unintentionally promotes "a culture of crassness" remain.
In its coverage a Newsweek reporter wrote: "It is hard to know just how deep the culture of crassness runs at Duke, but one wonders after reading an e-mail sent from one of the lacrosse players' address an hour or so after the party." In this now infamous e-mail the author told his buddies that after the party he wanted to hire some strippers and skin them and kill them while he ejaculated in his Duke-issue spandex.
Leaving aside the question of whether a sexual assault took place at the party or whether the district attorney botched the investigation in ways that may have forever hurt both the accuser and the accused, there are some undisputed facts in the case that do not speak well for gender and racial parity in the Duke student culture. A large group of white male students at a wealthy prestigious university that claims to teach students to respect one another didn't give a moment's thought to hiring two minority "exotic dancers" to perform for them. One of the women attended the historically black college on the other side of town. The degrading e-mail message sent after the performance mirrors an evening of excess and debauchery. Based on my studies of gang rape on college campuses I suspect that there is a grain of truth in the messenger's fantasy about reliving the excitement of the evening.
The eye-witness accounts of campus gang rape I present in Fraternity Gang Rape and A Woman Scorned provide powerful testimony of the depth and breadth of the problem, including the degradation of women, the bragging, and the urge to make a record for future reference. The unfettered expression of male sexual dominance first came to my attention in the winter of 1983 when a student in one of my classes at the University of Pennsylvania who had a drinking problem went to a fraternity party where she was raped by a number of brothers in what they labeled an "express" in the minutes written for their next meeting, playing on the word "train" used for group sexual activity in which males mount a woman sequentially. According to various eyewitness and hearsay accounts of what happened that night, Laurel (pseudonym) was incapable of consent due to her drugged-drunk condition. The next day, based on what she had observed of Laurel's behavior at the party a woman friend of the brothers angrily told them that it was rape when they bragged to her about their sexual escapade the night before. The local DA for sex crimes came to the same conclusion after hearing the facts of the case.
Few of the males involved in this and the other cases that I have studied know or even care to know that legally if a woman cannot consent to sexual intercourse, it is rape. Males who feel sexually entitled see nothing wrong with taking advantage of a woman's physical helplessness or inability to consent. A woman who gets drunk is "asking for it." This is true despite the fact that they may have made the woman's drinks "really strong to loosen up some of those inhibitions." Fraternity brothers have told me that the goal of their parties is to "get em drunk and go for it."
All of this would be classified as a felony in the Pennsylvania rape law, which states that a person who engages in sexual intercourse with a person "who is unconscious" or who "has substantially impaired the complainant's power to appraise or control his or her conduct by administering or employing, without the knowledge of the complainant, drugs, intoxicants or other means for the purpose of preventing resistance," commits a felony of the first degree.
Rape is not necessarily the only offense committed in the group sexual degradation of women. I know of cases in which there was no rape but there was sexual abuse. I am not surprised that the rape charges were dropped in the Duke case in light of the absence of DNA evidence. Indeed they should have been dropped much earlier. While rape is defined exclusively in terms of "vaginal intercourse" a sexual offense refers to everything else including touching, using objects, or anal intercourse. It is noteworthy that the sexual offense and kidnapping counts have not yet been dropped.
Another case I followed closely parallels the charges in the Duke case in that it also involved members of a lacrosse team, a black complainant, alcohol, kidnapping, and sexual offenses short of rape. This case was widely referred to in the news as the "St John's Lacrosse Team Sex Assault Case." Getting a woman drunk to have sex in a show staged for one's buddies was tragically evident in the testimony heard in a Queens courtroom in 1991-2 after indictments were issued against six members of the St. John's University lacrosse team for acts ranging from unlawful imprisonment and sexual abuse to sodomy. A seventh defendant pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for immunity.
The complainant was a young black student. I call her Angela in A Woman Scorned, a book devoted to the legal and cultural history of sexual culture in the United States. She had imigrated to the U.S. with her parents from Jamaica when she was in elementary school. A student at St. John's, she accepted a ride home from school from a male friend, Michael. On the way, he stopped at the house he shared with members of the St. John's lacrosse team, ostensibly to get gas money, and he invited her inside. At first she refused to go in but upon his insistence accepted the invitation. Inside she met his roommates. Left alone in a third floor bedroom, she accepted a drink from Michael. The drink tasted terrible. Based on the symptoms she displayed throughout the evening, many involved with the case suspected that the drink was spiked with ketamine, a drug that other rape cases demonstrated caused a separation of mind and body so that the ability to feel and control one's body is blocked, but this was never proved.
After Michael plied her with three drinks, which she could barely swallow, Angela passed out. Testimony in the courtroom revealed that Michael then proceeded to engage in oral sodomy watched by three house members. After Michael finished, these three took their turns while visitors invited over from another lacrosse team house watched. Angela was unconscious through most of it. When she awoke, it seemed like there were five or more boys in the room. She was propped in a sitting position, but her head wouldn't stay up. The leader, who was addressed as Walter and was later prosecuted as was Michael, held her cheeks to force her mouth open so his friends could slap their penises against her face or put it in her mouth. She tried to get up several times. Once, her nails scratched Walter. He slapped her hands. She passed out again. When she came to, she screamed. When Walter put his hand on her neck, she knew that she had to be careful not to upset him. She didn't know what he might do to her. Dazed she fell back on the couch. She felt Walter pushing her down on the sofa. One of the guys in the room left and she heard someone say, "Her pupils are dilated. She doesn't know what's going on." She was then taken to another lacrosse team house. There, for the first time in the gruesome experience, one of the players challenged the others and told them to stop.
The steps taken by the St. John's administration after Angela went to a trusted member of the administration were unusual at the time. The university turned the matter over to the police and suspended the alleged abusers, pending the legal outcome of the case. At the end of the legal proceedings, which resulted in a number of convictions, St. John's took the additional step of expelling all but one of the students who asked for reinstatement, on the grounds that they had violated the student code and displayed, in the words of the university's president, "a serious lack of respect for others and even one another." The one student whose request for reinstatement was granted had cooperated with the authorities.
Although separated by more than a decade and differing in details the overarching commonality in these cases is the use of a visibly incapacitated woman as a tool for male bonding in a game of sexual dominance. Alcohol played a central role in all three cases. At the Duke lacrosse party both of the exotic dancers were given cups of "a drink" after they arrived at the house while they were in the bathroom getting ready for the strip show. Only one drank the contents. The other dancer gave the cup to her partner who began acting strangely soon after. According to the dancer who did not take the drink the accuser was sober when she arrived at the house. It was when they began their strip show that she "began having trouble," she later told the press.
The scenario is one of privileged males proving their manhood by staging live porno shows for one another involving a wounded young woman. She is the duck or the quail raised and put in place for the hunter. Who she is doesn't matter and she is quickly forgotten after it is all over – sloughed off like a used condom. The event operates to glue the male group as a unified entity; it establishes fraternal bonding and helps boys to make the transition to their vision of a powerful manhood -- in unity against women; one against the world. The patriarchal bonding functions a little like bonding in organized crime circles -- generating a sense of family and establishing mutual aid connections that will last a lifetime.
The gender picture that emerges from these cases mirrors the double standard of the 19th century: Nice women wait to get married and elite males sow their "wild oats" on party girls who are demeaned as the males demean their own sexuality. If the males are prosecuted they defend themselves saying "she asked for it;" "she is a woman scorned;" or "she wants money." Most commentators in the blogosphere, on news programs, and in the media are convinced that the latter motivated the actions of the Duke accuser. I'm not so certain. I am inclined to think that her impaired memory and immobility provides evidence that she was incapacitated.
It is a shame that the commentary focusing on the legal issues and the alleged ethical violations on the part of the DA has obscured the broader cultural issues such as the impact of alcohol in this case and more broadly on college campuses. It is now well known that there is a high correlation between campus rape and alcohol. The 2004 study by the Harvard School of Public Health involving 119 colleges and 23,000 students establishes this beyond a reasonable doubt. Another important finding of this study indicated that the highest rates of rape are found on campuses with a lax alcohol policy.
In its report the faculty panel charged with reviewing the Duke lacrosse culture stated that "alcohol is the single greatest factor involved in the unacceptable behavior of Duke students in general and members of the lacrosse team specifically, both on-and off campus." The report indicated also that "the university's ability to deal fully with the problem of alcohol is undermined by its own ambivalence toward drinking and the conduct it spawns." The report expressed "deep concern" with this finding saying that by its "lack of leadership in this area" the university is "implicated in the alcohol excesses of lacrosse players and of Duke students more generally." This kind of honesty provides the sort of moral leadership that can turn the tide on campus from the culture of crassness into the culture of character and gender parity.
"There's a faggot over there! There's a faggot over there! Come look!" Brian, a senior at "River" High School yelled to a group of 10 year-old boys. The group of boys dashed after Brian as he ran down the hallway, towards the presumed "faggot." Peering down the hallway I saw Brian's friend, Dan, waiting for the boys. As the boys came into his view, Dan pursed his lips and began sashaying toward them. He swung his hips exaggeratedly and wildly waved his arms on the end of which his hands hung from limp wrists. To the boys Brian yelled, referring to Dan, "Look at the faggot! Watch out! He'll get you!" In response, the 10 year olds screamed in terror and raced back down the hallway.
I watched scenes like this play out daily while conducting research for my book Dude, You're a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School. I saw and heard boys imitate presumed faggots and hurl the fag epithet so frequently at one another that I came to call it a "fag discourse." I use the term fag and not gay, advisedly. Boys at River High repeatedly differentiated fags from gay men. For these boys gay men could still be masculine, whereas a fag could never be masculine. Thus the term "gay" functioned as a generic insult meaning "stupid" or "lame" whereas "fag" invoked a very specific gendered slur, directed at other boys. For these boys a fag was a failed, feminine man who, in all likelihood, was also gay. Boys participated in a fag discourse to ensure that others saw them as masculine by renouncing any fag-like behavior or same-sex desire. They did this by imitating fags and calling other boys fags. Boys imitated fags by lisping, mincing and pretending to sexually desire men, drawing laughs from male audiences who howled at these imitations.
They frantically lobbed the fag epithet at one another, in a sort of compulsive name calling ritual. In the context of River High (the pseudonym of the school where I conducted this research) being called a fag had as much to do with failing at tasks of masculinity as it did with sexual desire. More often than not these fag-like behaviors were those associated with femininity. Exhibiting stupidity, emotions, or incompetence, caring too much about clothing, touching another guy, or dancing were all things which could render a boy vulnerable to the fag epithet. In this sense what I call a fag discourse is not just about homophobia, it is about a particularly gendered homophobia as these renouncements of the fag are as much about repudiating femininity as they are about denying same-sex desire.
After listening to my tales about adolescent masculinity at River High people often ask me if this is a phase peculiar to high school, one that boys leave behind as they enter young adulthood and college. While the intensity of the fag discourse may decline with age, observations of and discussions with college students indicate that the gendered rituals central to adolescent masculinity do not disappear as youth leave high school and move to college. While college classrooms are often constructed as non-homophobic and gender equitable spaces and while many colleges have anti-bias policies that cover gay people, students enter the classroom having been steeped in the fag discourse during their former school experiences. Additionally, some college students spend some of their non-class time (after all, courses are only a part of the college experience) engaging in masculinity rituals reminiscent of those I saw at River High.
Two years ago a student reminded me about the way in which the fag discourse might color students' understandings of what they learn in college classrooms. During my senior seminar entitled "Masculinities," Bradley, a former Marine and football player, continually sat back of the classroom arms folded defiantly, sneering at students' attempts at sociological analyses of inequality. As a result, I found my self surprised when he visited my office hours. Apparently inspired by a piece on the social construction of gender in childhood, Bradley poked his head in to my office asking, “You got a sec, teach?” I said “Sure,” taken aback that after his angry outbursts in class he wanted to speak with me.
As he folded himself in to what now seemed a ridiculously small chair he asked, “Teach, now, I have no problem raising a girl to be tough, but what am I gonna do if my son wants to play with Barbie dolls?” I couldn’t answer before he began to tell a story of childhood gender socialization. “You see,” he told me, “when I was little I loved playing with Barbies. My sister, she always told me to put ‘em away. One day she got so fed up she dragged me outside and shoved Barbies in all my pockets and made me stand there while my friends laughed at me.” We spent the next hour discussing a sociological analysis of his experience, how boys have to deny femininity and weakness or suffer teasing and harassment. Bradley, in this instance, serves as a classic example of the legacy of the fag discourse, the way in which some young men might come to class shaped by negative memories of gendered norms. Like some other young men in my classes, Bradley learned early in life to renounce femininity and stereotypically feminine interests or suffer ridicule.
These sorts of classroom experiences to which faculty are privy are only a small part of the college experience for many students. Students play sports, go to parties, organize clubs and pledge fraternities and sororities. In my book I note that the fag discourse runs particularly rampant in primarily male spaces. In auto-shop or the weight-room at River High, boys constantly insinuated that other boys were having sex with one another, that the friend sitting next to them on a weight bench was a fag or that their buddy across the room "loves the cock." Similarly, on college campuses primarily male organizations such as fraternities are particularly fertile ground for the fag discourse. Fraternity members have told me that their pledging rituals are filled with references to femininity and faggots. In these stories fraternity brothers humiliate pledges by teasing them for being feminine or gay. One fraternity member showed me a picture of his fraternity's relatively mild hazing rituals in which four pledges stood against the kitchen wall. Each boy's face sported lipstick, blush and eye shadow. One pledge's hair stuck out from his head in pony tails and another in braids. Other fraternity brothers reported to me that they had to describe themselves as "cum coveting," "cock craving" "faggot magnets," while fraternity brothers laughed at them.
A look at other fraternities indicates that the rituals described to me by these fraternity members were not isolated ones. Last year, for instance, at the University of Vermont fraternity members were accused of forcing pledges to wear cowboy gear while listening to homophobic insults, an activity seemingly inspired by the movie Brokeback Mountain. Not long ago a fraternity member at the University of Texas was found dead after a night of partying, with homophobic epithets such as "fag" scrawled across his torso and legs. Sometimes fraternities do hold their members accountable for engaging in this type of gendered homophobia. For instance, a member of a Dartmouth College fraternity called a passerby a "fag," inspiring his fraternity brothers to hold a panel on inclusivity entitled, "Don’t yell fag from the porch."
It seems that the fag discourse, while particularly pervasive in the social pressure cooker that is high school, doesn't disappear once young men reach college. While my book documents the sort of gendered homophobic teasing that constitutes masculinity in adolescence, a similar sort of fag discourse is far from absent in a college setting. As with the 10 year-old boys at River High, college men are still watching out for the faggot who might get them, whether that faggot is part of their memory as with Bradley and his Barbies or a part of their social worlds in which they label each other fags as part of fraternity rituals. The official line of most universities, espoused by administrators, teaching assistants, and faculty members, is that the learning process should be non-homophobic and gender equitable. But, faculty, administrators and teaching assistants would do well to remember that the academic portion of college is only a small part of the student experience. Indeed, the world students inhabit and construct outside the walls of our classrooms and offices is a different one than the sheltered worlds within it.
C.J. Pascoe is a sociologist at the Digital Youth Project of the Institute for the Study of Social Change at the University of California at Berkeley.
An organization known as the LaRouche Youth Movement has become a fixture on many college campuses over the past few years. Many of its adherents are undergraduates, though members are eventually urged to quit school to work full-time for the organization. "We are in a complete breakdown of the financial system and we know that," one member told a student newspaper in California. "We can use our time in a more appropriate manner than going to school." Recruits have been tireless in distributing tracts that bear such lurid titles as “Children of Satan” (about members of the Bush administration) and “How the 'The Sexual Congress of Cultural Fascism' Ruined the U.S.A.” (an allusion to the Cold War-era Congress for Cultural Freedom).
While LYMers do support the perennial American presidential candidate Lyndon LaRouche, it is somewhat misleading to think of these texts as mere campaign literature – or the movement itself as essentially political. Members are recruited in part around the claim that the movement will give them a real education in classical culture, with a particular emphasis on mastering Plato and Leibnitz.
His adherents regard Lyndon LaRouche as the greatest mind of the past 300 years, at very least. "I'm probably the best economist in the world today," as LaRouche told The Washington Post in 1985. But a list of the areas of expertise behind that claim of eminence is even more astounding.Members of his youth group now publish a scholarly journal, of sorts, called Dynamis, devoted to their studies of his mathematical and scientific doctrines.
LaRouche has also determined the correct pitch for tuning musical instruments. Any other tuning bothers him, besides being incompatible with the structure of the universe. In the best of all possible worlds, people found in possession of “incorrect” tuning forks and pitch-pipes would be fined. His followers in Italy once proposed legislation to that effect. It failed. That campaign seems to be at a standstill, but it once drew close attention in the pages of Opera Fanatic magazine.
In one of his autobiographies, LaRouche explains that his mission is to create what Plato called “golden souls” – fit to rule those of us of a more silver or even bronze hue. His quest to do so began among students on college campuses 40 years ago. Members of the inner core of his organization have long since qualified to join the AARP. LaRouche himself is now 85 years old. And yet it is clear that he remains ready, willing, and able to serve as philosopher-king for the entire planet, given half a chance.
And so a few years back LaRouche's followers began recruiting new support among university students. In 2002, organizers for the movement, one of them carrying a megaphone, rushed into classrooms at Santa Monica College to spread the good word, according to the campus newspaper. By 2003, recruitment was successful enough to receive LaRouche's own enthusiastic approval."Give me 1,000 youth leaders like these," he announced that year, "and I'll take over the country."
That goal may have been a little optimistic. The figure of 1,000 new members has not been mentioned in a while. But the movement’s Web site now lists contact information for 21 cities.
Members of the LaRouche Youth Movement also make themselves visible, if no means welcome, at Democratic Party events. Perhaps “visible” is not really the right word. The LaRouchies are prone to heckle and to sing – often, in fact, at the same time. One central doctrine of the movement is that certain classical compositions (sung at the proper pitch) can transform both singer and listener in a golden-soulful way. Here, for example, is a video of Joseph Lieberman being subjected to LaRouchian bel canto yodeling
LaRouche supporters claim to be a wing of the Democratic Party -- something the party itself strenuously denies. His following has the LaRouche Political Action Committee as its electoral arm. LPAC raised more than $7.4 million in 2006, according to statements filed with the Federal Election Commission. It dispersed a grand total of $1,565 to a Democratic candidate for president.(Guess which one?) A review of expenditures (also available at the FEC site) shows a total of $462,850 going to the LaRouche Youth Movement. Another $6,223 went to Bruce Director, a longtime supporter of LaRouche who teaches the candidate’s mathematical theories to the youth group.
When they are not busy studying geometry or learning to sing properly, youth organizers are expected to meet a daily fund-raising quota. In an open letter to the father of a Youth Movement member, a former long-time supporter of the LaRouche organization described the life of a full-timer organizer as "dreary."
But one might never know that from LaRouche's speeches to the movement, which often end, "Have fun!"
The emergence of the group is all the more surprising, given that LaRouche himself has long since become the walking punchline to a very strange joke. He is known for some of the most baroque conspiracy theories ever put into circulation. Members of the LYM now deny that he ever accused the Queen of England of drug trafficking – though in fact, he did exactly that throughout the 1980s. At the time, he won admirers on the extreme right wing by denouncing Henry Kissinger as an agent of the KGB and calling for AIDS patients to be quarantined. A good roundup of LaRouche's positions and conspiracy theories is available from PublicEye.org, the website of Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank.
The movement lost even more credibility when LaRouche and several of his top associates were convicted of mail fraud in 1988. He even ended up sharing a prison cell with Jim Bakker, the disgraced televangelist. (Now there's a Platonic dialogue one would like to read.)
But most of the students joining his movement now were barely learning to read when LaRouche was paroled in 1994. He has managed to repackage himself as a former “political prisoner.” Actually LaRouche was prosecuted for making a million dollars’ worth of unauthorized charges to credit cards, which would not ordinarily count as a manifestation of high idealism. Be that as it may, LaRouche has displayed a certain knack, over the years, for pitching his message to young people. The new focus on student recruitment is, in fact, a return to the movement's origins.
In the mid-1960s, LaRouche gave rather spellbinding lectures at Columbia, Temple, Swarthmore, and other campuses – never as a professor, but rather as a guest speaker invited by radical students. His career up to that point had certainly been unusual.
Although a member of various small Marxist organizations, LaRouche was also employed as a management consultant to the shoe industry. According to some of his later statements, he was involved in early efforts to apply computer technology to bookkeeping practices.Meanwhile, he published radical tracts under the pseudonym Lyn Marcus. (He describes his early years as a revolutionary, his use of the pen name, and his pioneering role in creating accounting software in The Power of Reason, an autobiography published in 1979.)
It is often said by LaRouche's critics that his pseudonym, Lyn Marcus, was meant as a reference to Lenin and Marx – a colorful detail, though, alas, one not really supported by an evidence. A more parsimonious explanation for “Lyn” is that it is just a contraction of “Lyndon.” As for "Marcus," he claims that his nickname as a young man was Marco Polo.
But my friend James Weinstein -- a radical historian who knew LaRouche briefly during the mid-1960s -- had a different perspective. "A lot of Jews in the radical movement took WASP-seeming party names," he told me. "So here you had this guy who looked and sounded like a Boston Brahmin taking a Jewish name. He was very strange. He would show up at meetings of his own organization to hand out leaflets denouncing it."
He was, in any case, a man of numerous theories. And as protests against the Vietnam war grew, he found a ready audience for them. Lyn Marcus developed a following among radical students at Columbia University in the months just before the campus upheaval there in 1968. Several of his young disciples were part of the student strike committee. His following won occasional passing references in James Simon Kunen’s once-famous book The Strawberry Statement: Notes of a College Revolutionary, published the following year.
Kunen describes a meeting at Columbia during which a shaggy-bearded radical orator, obviously is somewhat older than his audience, lectures on the impending global depression. Although he is not identified by name, this was almost certainly LaRouche. The beard is documented in a photograph from the period. He later cut it off – but kept the lecture about impending global depression, which has always been a staple of his ideology.
By the early 1970s, he had a following of nearly 1,000 students on campuses across the country, organized as the National Caucus of Labor Committees. It was the most bookish of far-left groups, and included some very smart people, several of them holding advanced degrees. (Quite a few also had trust funds, at least when they joined.) At least some professors must have taken the movement seriously. Writings by Lyn Marcus and other NCLC members appeared in Institutions, Policies, and Goals: A Reader in American Politics, a college textbook issued by D.C. Heath in 1973.
In 1975, Heath also brought out a curious volume called Dialectical Economics: An Introduction to Marxian Political Economy, which appeared under LaRouche's pseudonym. This was his theoretical magnum opus. It received exactly one notice in an academic publication: a review in The Journal of Political Economy by Martin Bronfenbrenner, a professor of economics at Brown University.
The LaRouche movement has inspired some excellent investigative journalism over the years – in particular the work of Dennis King, who has unearthed many a surprising and unpleasant fact about the candidate. (His book about LaRouche, published by Doubleday in 1989, is now available online.)
But it seems that no reporter has ever noticed Bronfenbrenner's examination of Dialectical Economics -- the one occasion, I believe, when LaRouche's work was discussed by a serious scholar. It is a remarkably interesting item in its own right. As a review-essay, it is sober and judicious, yet suffused with a certain tone of puzzlement, as if Bronfenbrenner had to stop every so often to scratch his head.
“As regards content,” he noted, the book was “perhaps 50 percent dialectical philosophy, with a strong epistemological stress. The remaining 50 percent appears fairly evenly divided between history (including economic history), anthropology-cum-sociology, and economics (including a surprisingly large loading of business administration).....For a 500 page introduction to economics, in sum, the economics is disappointingly thin.”
And yet there was, indeed, some economics in it. The exact kind was worth noting -- for not all of it came from Das Kapital, by any means. Bronfenbrenner discerned that the author “had the advantage of more private-business experience than the great majority of academic economists.” A good deal of that direct knowledge “has been at the exploitive frontier of ‘white-collar crime,’ bordering on fraud both in the inducement and the factum....Marcus’s experience extends to the speculative overcapitalization of capital values, creating ‘fictitious capitals’ which cannot later justify themselves by earning capacity in the normal course of events.”
In short, Dialectical Economics was the work of someone familiar, not just with Marxist theory, but with creative bookkeeping. Bronfenbrenner also wrote that the book left “a distinct impression, redolent of the 1930s, of the one-man-party member with whom the world is out of step.”
That may be one of the more insightful comments ever made by a book reviewer. But at the time, in the mid-1970s, LaRouche's "one-man party" was already a bit larger than that. An account of life in the group appeared in a memoir by two friends, Jeff Durstewitz and Ruth Tuttle, called Younger Than That Now: A Shared Passage from the Sixties (Bantam, 2001). One of the authors, Tuttle, joined the group in the early 1970s.
Members “spent countless hours reading and studying,” she wrote, “getting a better education in Western philosophy and politics than we had gotten [in college]. But that benefit was far outweighed by the brutalized and controlled nature of our day-to-day lives. Even as we were verbally flogged each day to use creative thinking to achieve ‘humanistic relevance’ in the world, the reality was that we and our comrades used most of our time in dehumanizing and mind-deadening activity.”
Not that much has changed in more than three decades, to judge by accounts of life in the LaRouche Youth Movement from people who have left recently. There is something morbidly fascinating about the phenomenon, if also terribly sad. One of LaRouche's longtime followers, the head of his publishing company, recently jumped to his death from a highway overpass after a statement by the leadership praised the dynamic youth organization while suggesting that "Boomer" members might just as well commit suicide.
Charisma is a mysterious thing, and even more so when it has a rather seedy feel -- the claims of universal genius, a la Leibnitz, suffused a quality owing more perhaps to Elmer Gantry. It is hard to imagine what the organization's future may be. Even if LaRouche is Socrates, all men are mortal, and everybody knows how that syllogism works out.
I have just a nip of buyer’s remorse. It’s been two months since graduation, and, stuck in unemployed Purgatory, I’ve had some time to reflect on my four years at Brown University. Most of the ingredients of a great education were present, as advertised: brilliant faculty, bright peers, lovely old campus. The aspiring journalist in me even got to indulge in an unofficial major working at the student paper. I already look back at my new alma mater with fondness.
And yet I have one big disappointment. Brown’s president, Ruth Simmons, simply did not -- with one important exception -- engage my peers and me in any meaningful way. It’s not just that Simmons was a rare presence on our close-knit campus (though she was). It’s that, six years into her term, an eloquent, almost irrationally popular university president has made precious few sallies into the public sphere. I regret that my memories of Simmons will mainly consist of the easy platitudes she delivered each year at “meet the president” receptions. It’s doubly regrettable that my disappointment probably would have been the same at any top American university.
Simmons’ general failure to challenge students -- intellectually, morally, or politically -- is all the more painful in light of the successful University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice. This was her one coup. Simmons charged the committee in 2003 with investigating Brown’s historical ties to slavery. She commented for a much-discussed story in The New York Times and followed up with a thoughtful op-ed in The Boston Globe. Thanks to Simmons, people around the country were talking about reparations and forgotten histories of slavery. For me, first through directing coverage of the project as an editor at The Brown Daily Herald, and later through reading and commenting on the committee’s 100-page report, the experience was among the most intellectually fulfilling I had at Brown.
That was all thanks to Simmons’ willingness to wield the power of the presidency. My professors, the good ones, spoke out all the time. In one way or another, they habitually challenged students. But, next to Simmons, and the respect and media coverage she commanded, faculty voices seemed like a chorus of whimpers. Besides quietly sitting on a couple of local panels, however, and co-writing an op-ed about colleges in New Orleans post-Katrina -- neither activities aimed at undergraduates, anyway -- Simmons was not otherwise a presence in the public sphere. The inevitable corollary? She was rarely part of the personal development of students like me.
What could Simmons have done? She might have weighed in on any one of the pressing political questions of the day. (Conventional wisdom has it that she is liberal-minded, but I’m not so sure -- there’s no record to judge by.) She might have offered a fresh insight gained from decades spent in the highest academic offices. Finding time to serve on the boards of Pfizer, Texas Instruments, and Goldman Sachs, she might have pushed for corporate reform, or merely turned our attention to some aspect of capitalism in the 21st century. Above all, by words or actions, Simmons might have challenged us to stray, even a little, from the comfortable, preordained road to an Ivy League diploma. She did not.
In fairness, students bear some blame. A recent Brown Daily Herald article explored the president’s 81 percent approval rating. It conveys the disturbingly shallow nature of Simmons’ on-campus celebrity status. Students professed ignorance of the president’s duties but were full of mush about her persona. One freshman called Simmons “a power woman;” “she makes people feel empowered,” said another; and a third commented, “I feel like if you do meet her, she will hug you and make you cookies.” Students should expect their university president to be more than a wonderfully pleasant grandmotherly figure. It speaks ill of the institutional health of the university presidency that Simmons, on paper, is the model candidate to be an engaged president. Leading Brown probably will be her final job, so caution in the service of career should be irrelevant. And as an African-American women who grew up in poverty, Simmons’ outsider perspective should leave her uniquely positioned for real engagement.
What was she spending large chunks of time doing instead? Arguably the least bold option available: stumping around in service of the university’s so-called “Boldly Brown” capital campaign. Here, the problem is systemic. Simmons is a victim. This system favors the easy currency of “prestige” -- fundraising, rapid expansion, etc. -- over what a favorite professor of mine used to call the life of the mind. As a result, presidents are caught in a cycle which will sound familiar to anyone in academia: draft blueprints for the next big project; develop a pitch; glad-hand the right parents and alums; eschew serious public engagement for fear of controversy; cut the ribbon or accept the oversized check; discover a new “need”; repeat until retirement.
There are, of course, exceptions here and there. Larry Summers, it must be said, had a knack for public engagement. When he denounced academic critics of Israel as “effectively” anti-Semitic, when he suggested that top humanities students don’t pay enough attention to the sciences and, later, when he mused on gender and scientific aptitude, at least he gave Harvard students something to think about, and in some cases, to protest. It’s too bad Summers became a victim of his own success in engagement. He challenged the university with a new perspective, they considered it -- and quickly reconsidered him. Here’s hoping his successor, Drew Gilpin Faust, does not hold back.
But by and large, Summers aside, quietism has afflicted most of our university presidents. Consider the war in Iraq. The United States invaded when I was a senior in high school and the war was a constant backdrop during my four years at Brown. But no prominent university president I can think of has uttered a critical word -- or any word, really -- about the war. Where do university presidents stand on this most important issue?
It was not always this way. The modern archetype of the engaged university president is the Rev. Theodore Hesburgh of the University of Notre Dame. During the anti-Vietnam War protests of the late 1960s, a group of undergraduates approached Father Hesburgh and asked him to pass along a peace petition to President Nixon, a personal acquaintance. But instead of delegating the matter or releasing a tepid public statement, Hesburgh responded with a counter-offer, as related by presidential scholar Stephen Nelson: the petition would be typical student protest fare, Father Hesburgh reasoned, and thus ineffective in Washington. The Notre Dame undergraduates should instead canvass the blue collar citizens of South Bend and seek 40,000 petition supporters, or roughly 80 percent of the town. Recognizing the wise counsel of a president they respected, the students accepted the challenge. Soon, they won more than 40,000 South Bend signatures and Father Hesburgh passed the petitions on to Nixon.
Father Hesburgh’s example could not be more relevant today. My own model college president is Alexander Meiklejohn. Alexander Meiklejohn: Teacher of Freedom, an introduction to the philosophy professor, First Amendment scholar, and university president should be required reading for every sitting university president in the country. After serving as a dean at Brown, Meiklejohn became president of Amherst College in 1912. A student favorite who made a point of teaching philosophy classes himself (he excelled as a seminar leader), Meiklejohn’s tenure was marked by innovation and controversy. He angered alumni by urging amateur, not professional, coaching in college athletics. He established courses, taught by both faculty and students, for workers at local mills. He made it known he wouldn’t mind having a Bolshevik on the faculty, providing that the man could teach. And before America entered World War I, Meiklejohn opposed “preparedness training” on campus.
Where are the Meiklejohns and Hesburghs today? Meiklejohn himself warned that college administrators “if they can have their way will make of life a smooth, well-lubricated meaninglessness.” That phrase pretty well sums up the state of the university presidency today. Standing atop the most prominent bully pulpits in the country, university presidents too often retreat into a safe passivity. They spend too much time stooping down, hands outstretched, wooing the next big-ticket donor. Until they learn to prod and provoke again, to truly employ their good offices, not just students will lose -- the country will too.
Justin Elliott graduated in May from Brown University, where he concentrated in history and classics and served as executive editor and vice president of The Brown Daily Herald.