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.
I walked eagerly last year into the picturesque and historic building that housed the Finance and Administration Office. As I sat down in the plush lair of one of the senior finance vice presidents, I was immediately hit with a nine-page, single spaced memo outlining new and innovative committees by which certain university services could be financially stabilized and told that I needed to sign on. After all, “You’re here to make the university a better place right?” asked my new administrator chum. I began to think to myself, “What have I gotten into?”
I had been elected only two weeks earlier as the student body president of my rather large research SEC, sports-loving university. The basic idea behind the job, as it is widely known, is to be the students’ voice to the administration, a man of the people! Well, at least I thought that was what I was supposed to be, that is, until I met my newly found and oh so eager group of new best friends: administrators.
Sure, every new head of student government gets the usual treatment: a round of university visits, regular access to the president, and even a free meal every once in awhile, but I had a lot more coming to me. Soon I was getting jetted off to big fund raisers in New York City, brought up to the suites at football games, and being placed on more podiums and platforms than I care to remember. Accompanying all of these outings, I was being brought into closed-door meetings where I was presented with business plans, budget sheets, and financial projections. Evidently, mostly through no fault of their own, administrators had allowed certain units on campus to go too long without a fee increase while cost of operations went up and now these units were about to, if not already, run into the red. “No need to worry” my vice chancellor blood brothers told me, they had a plan to getting these “much needed and long overdue” fee increases through: me. I was supposed to endorse the plans.
These strategies were soon followed by a new plan to have all freshmen live on campus their first year. I of course knew the students would not want this but, when I attempted to raise concerns, I was placed on a university task force to create the proposal for submission to our governing board. Before long I found myself, rather than voicing students' opposition to being forced to buy meal plans and move into rather run down dormitories, helping formulate new ways to craft the proposal so that it would be most politically palatable to the members of the board and external groups. This was shortly followed by the need for more fees for new construction projects and renovations, all of which were coupled with angry student opposition and protestations from the campus media. One late night I sat in my office in the Student Union, looked out the window and came to the realization as I shouted out, “Oh my God, they’ve turned me into one of them! I’m an administrator!”
Lo and behold it had become my reality: I was no longer an independent, elected representative of the students; I had become a Blackberry-wielding student rubber stamp to the administration. Although I understood the upper administration’s reasoning and the need for certain controversial decisions to be made, the truth of the matter was it just wasn’t my job. I was merely being used -- harsh a phrase as it may be -- to provide for the much sought after administrative Holy Grail: student input.
I brought this up with other student body presidents across the state and sure enough they too, albeit to a lesser degree because of the size and scope of resources on their campuses, had been slowly morphed from their once righteous place amongst the student constituents to a budget analyzing, policy crafting administrator-groupie. We had becomeless a part of a student democracy and more a part of a university oligarchy.
As my year in office ended I walked slowly away from the new student body president and the crowd of hopeful students surrounding him at inauguration. He stood eager-eyed and bushy-tailed, shaking hands with the university president, provost and vice presidents. I placed my hope in the fact that perhaps the next generation of up-and-coming student politicians would remember to keep a clear focus on the job description of being “SG Pres” and not be pulled into administrative orbit without a fight. I’m sure that he too thought, “I will be a man of the people, always speaking up as the voice of the students: no more fees, no more pushing students around.” Little did he know that the all too powerful lure of “doing what it takes to make the university a better place” and all the perks that come along with it would turn this student leader into a mini-administrator before you could say, “Vote for me!”
Chris Odinet graduated from Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge in May, and begins law school there this fall.
Recent campus incidents have highlighted the importance of effective communication among administrators, faculty, and staff, as well as between campus representatives and students, families, and surrounding communities. Some commentators have argued that these incidents prove the need to amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, the federal statute known as FERPA that protects student privacy, in order to permit greater disclosure of information about troubled students. Actually, the current law works well, but colleges and universities need to better understand what that law really provides -- and each institution needs to develop an internal consensus on how to approach the policy choices FERPA allows it to make.
Colleges have worked hard to educate their employees on the importance of protecting student privacy. This effort has been motivated in large part by the need to comply with FERPA. For example, following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, many campuses had to remind their personnel to protect the privacy of students against illegal disclosures of information motivated not by rational concern but by prejudice and bias many outside academe had against certain international students.
Legitimate interests in student development have also motivated concerns for privacy. Under ordinary circumstances, according college students a measure of privacy -- even (or perhaps especially) from their own parents -- can without question help their development into independent, autonomous adults. FERPA itself actually reflects this period of transition by shifting primary legal control of the student’s records from parents to the student once the student attends a college or university.
In some circumstances, FERPA has been invoked as the reason not to share student information, when in reality the law would permit disclosure but the interests of student development and autonomy weigh against it. For example, FERPA permits but does not require colleges and universities to notify a student’s parents of certain drug and alcohol violations of the institution’s disciplinary code. Many institutions do not notify parents of every incident involving a minor illegally in possession of alcohol, choosing instead to begin with an educational intervention to assist the student in making better choices, and only notify parents in cases of repeated, serious, or dangerous violations.
The decision not to disclose less serious violations is a policy decision, and should be understood and described as such. It should not be held out as a decision required by FERPA. Unintended and potentially dangerous consequences can arise if legitimate policy goals are confused with legal mandates because institutions may then forget that FERPA grants them discretion. It is especially important to remember that FERPA expressly permits appropriate disclosures in times of actual or potential emergency, as well as in various less drastic circumstances in which an individual seeks to communicate sincere concerns for a student’s well-being or the public welfare.
Although FERPA restricts disclosures of information obtained from a student’s records, it was never intended to act as a complete prohibition on all communications. One threshold point that is often overlooked is that FERPA limits only the disclosure of records and information from records about a student. It does not limit disclosure or discussion of personal observations.
In other words, if a college or university employee develops a concern about a student based on the employee’s observations of or personal interactions with the student, the employee may disclose that concern to anyone without violating, or even implicating, FERPA. (Of course, there may be other reasons an institution would not want to, or could not, disclose that concern, and, in most cases, the initial disclosure should be made to professionals trained to evaluate and handle such concerns, such as campus mental health or law enforcement personnel, who can then determine whether further and broader disclosures are appropriate).
Even when information is part of a student’s records and therefore covered by FERPA, the law provides several exceptions that permit appropriate communications under circumstances in which the student or others may be at risk of harm. For example, FERPA expressly permits the disclosure of information from a student’s records “…to appropriate parties in connection with an emergency if knowledge of the information is necessary to protect the health or safety of the student or other individuals.”
This exception doesn’t permit indiscriminate disclosures of personal information, but it does set a fairly low threshold of good faith for determining when disclosures are needed to protect health or safety, what disclosures are appropriate, and to whom they may be made. FERPA also permits disclosures, among others, of any information about a student to other college officials with legitimate interests in the information or to the parents of that student if he or she is their dependent for tax purposes; of information regarding the results of certain student conduct proceedings involving violence to the general public; and of any relevant information to other schools where a student seeks or intends to enroll.
The National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) has just published a “FERPA and Campus Safety” Q & A to provide accurate information about FERPA to campus administrators and others. This document answers frequently asked questions about FERPA and suggests important elements to consider in setting institutional policies. And while advocating compliance with FERPA, it also puts into perspective the critical importance of campus and public safety in today's world.
This is not to suggest that colleges and universities that have dealt with complicated situations and made difficult decisions have done so in anything less than good faith. Nor, certainly, is it to say that concerns for student development and autonomy have no place in the analysis when determining what, when, and to whom to disclose. But institutions should recognize these concerns for what they are -- self-imposed policy constraints, not legal mandates -- and balance them accordingly, and responsibly, against other equally relevant policy considerations such as safety. If we don't, others may well make the choice for us, quite likely without full consideration of the factors that are important to us and in ways that we won't like. It is thus critical that colleges and universities evaluate in advance both their understanding of FERPA and how they will exercise their discretion under it in response to campus incidents.
Nancy E. Tribbensee and Steven J. McDonald
Nancy E. Tribbensee is general counsel for the Arizona University System. Steven J. McDonald is general counsel at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Everyone knows that rock and roll is all about kicking out the jams: ditching uptight squares, taking long rides in the dark of night, and being a street fightin' man -- or woman. As The Who put it, it's about hoping to die before you get old.
But what does rock mean to a new generation of uptight (if updated and wired) squares, afraid of the open road, who have little fight in them? What does rock mean for a generation that has never been allowed to be young -- let alone hope to die before they get old?
For my students, the answer is simple. Rock and roll is about family happiness.
I discovered this disturbing undercurrent of rock-as-the-soundtrack-of-familial-bliss when I began teaching a college writing class this semester. The undergraduates' first assignment was to assess the personal meaning of any song of any genre. I was willing to wade bravely through the melancholy emo, the raging gangsta rap, the whiny indie rock, or even contemporary pop schlock in order to achieve my real agenda: a glimpse into the soul of my students, the inner world of their desire locked in their shiny iPods.
What I read in those papers was as unsettling and unfamiliar as the day Elvis shook it on the Ed Sullivan show -- but hardly as exciting. For my students, rock and roll is not the aural fuel of rebellion but soundtrack of familial love and safety. The essays were not about chillin' with the crew but hangin' with mom and dad; and they were not about cruising into the mystery of the night, but heading off to Cape Cod in the mini van. Rock is no longer about alienation but connection; not about escape but home; not about rebellion but reconciliation. Even bands like Led Zeppelin and The Stones emerged from my students papers in an un-purple haze of family nostalgia.
Turns out that for my elite students -- en route to becoming sharp suits and clever corporate cogs -- rock and roll is simply one more element in the finishing process of becoming just like the folks. Roll over Bob Dylan and tell Norman Rockwell the news. Jack Black's character in School of Rock had to teach his anxious and repressed grade schoolers what he knew viscerally: that the purpose of rock and roll is "Sticking it to The Man." Given that most of my students want to become "the man" (in whatever gender the icon of power might come in today), it's certainly not about sticking it to 'em.
Truth be told, many of these essays pulled at my fatherly heart strings, but I am mostly disturbed by them. I am haunted by the fact that perhaps their parents are so scarred by their own years of boomer alienation that they now feel compelled to crush any sense of rebellion with the weight of a generation's love, coddling friendship, and smothering safety. I could be wrong, but it seems that there ought to be at least an edge of disdain for the SUV-driving, suburban-dwelling, vanilla affluence of their parents, but instead, students remain hopelessly connected to them, not just by their ubiquitous cell phones but also by their parents' record collections.
The collateral damage here has little to do with contemporary debates about politics in the classroom and everything to do with students' ability to live life freely and creatively. There are glimmers of hope, but they're only glimmers. One particularly sharp student trailed me back to the office after an intense discussion about the "authentic" in Bob Dylan’s work. "Why," he asked longingly, "don’t we learn more about this in college?" Honoring the sincerity of his quest, I resisted the retort, "Because you're supposed to be talking about this with your buddies in the dorm."
Ah, you say, but this is the hip hop generation, so why should I worry about rock and roll? Despite explicitly opening the assignment up to any genre, few of my students chose to write about rap, which I found astonishing. Their commitment to most hip hop (except for the lonely black student from Detroit) was very thin and interwoven with ambivalence. Rap simply seems to be what's out there. They know the genre's prime has passed, that the heart has been taken out of it by the record industry.
At the same time, white indie rock has been devoid of soul and blues influences -- drained of the alchemical lifeblood created in the synthesis of white and black musical traditions. Indie is left with a whiny, trebly, irresolute sound that seems to fit the dull green glow of a computer screen in darkened suburban bedrooms. Music today is just another part of the price of America's re-segregation.
My own kids' strange connection to Dylan and the Clash at the tender ages of 7 and 10 suggest that I may be well on my way toward being part of the problem. Am I screwing them up by not adequately screwing them up, softly indoctrinating them into the glory days of rock and roll over family brunch on Sunday? Will they learn about the backbeat of power and rebellion at the displays of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame instead of the more illicit places they ought to be receiving such education?
Of course, the most famous momma's boy of them all was the king of rock n roll himself, Elvis Presley, and in that fact there is home for the youth of America. But that was before cool had become one of the official anchors of consumer capitalism, before the commercialization of dissent had extended into every crevice of American culture. If the reason "Why Johnny Can't Dissent," as Tom Frank put it, is the commodification of resistance, maybe it's also why Johnny doesn't know his rock from his rebellion.
Jefferson Cowie is an associate professor at Cornell University.
At three in the afternoon on Christmas Eve, the voice of a lone chorister will rise from a small college chapel in the Ouse Valley of England, and from there it will encircle the globe. It will climb into the foothills of the Himalayas, skim across islands in the far South Seas, enter the equatorial villages of Africa, and emerge in hundreds of towns and cities across the United States.
I have a special interest in the King's Festival because I am an advocate for decentralized residential college systems like those at Oxford and Cambridge. Collegiate systems of the Oxbridge kind provide students and faculty alike with a wealth of opportunities for learning and service, and they can multiply the strengths that already exist within any university. The creation of residential college systems within larger institutions is a growing international trend.
But independent of its origins in a Cambridge residential college, the Festival of Lessons and Carols from King's is an example of the kind of rich cultural tradition that any college or university can aspire to develop and maintain, not only for its own members, but also for its city, its country, and the world. And it is young people in their teens and 20s who are especially strengthened by traditions, because traditions give them not only something to stand upon but also something to push against as they seek to define their own lives.
Do successful traditions require lots of money? They do not. It's true that few of us will have the resources of King's College available to us -- their chapel did take more than 100 years to build, after all. But successful traditions are about people and about social cohesion, they are not about money. If you begin by asking how you can use a tradition to make money, you'll never establish a great tradition.
Think first about what you can do for the members of your college or university in themselves, and forget about the outside world. If you do a good job, the outside world will eventually notice.
But how to do a good job? If we anatomize the King's College Festival, we can identify a number of structural features that can be replicated anywhere by people seeking to develop and maintain strong traditions within an educational environment.
First and foremost, a successful tradition must be regular and must never fail. If it follows the full moon, it must always follow the full moon. If it settles into Sundays at three, like tea in the college master's house, it must always settle into Sundays at three, even when people are few, the weather is bad, or the usual host is away. And if it's on Christmas Eve it must always be on Christmas Eve, at the same time, year after year.
The regularity of the King's Festival and its Christmas Eve broadcast was not even interrupted, the college tells us, "during the Second World War, when the ancient glass (and also all heat) had been removed from the Chapel and the name of King's could not be broadcast for security reasons." Regularity inspires confidence and strengthens the desire of people to participate.
A successful tradition must also exhibit structural stability, and within that stability, variety. Stability gives comfort, variety gives delight. Something that is continually reinvented cannot, by definition, be a tradition -- a thing handed down. But if a tradition is to remain vital it cannot be wholly static either: it must adapt, like a gradually changing species, to its local environment.
The overall structure of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has remained stable for more than eighty years now, and people who heard it as children would recognize it today. In particular, it always begins in exactly the same way, with a solitary chorister singing the first verse of "Once in Royal David's City."
But within this pattern of stability the Festival exhibits annual variety. Most of the elements are carried over from year to year, but not all are, and original hymns and anthems are often commissioned specially for a given year's service. Each year we know how it will begin, and how it will proceed, but each year we also know there will be a few surprises in store for us to make the experience ever green.
Finally, a successful tradition must bind the members of the community together in all their diversity, and link them to other groups with which they have historical connections. This is the most important function of every tradition, and it deserves particular attention in educational environments today, environments that are often subject to terrible social fragmentation. One of our central obligations to the young people in our care should be to connect them with those who came before and those who will come after, and well-crafted traditions like the Festival of Lessons and Carols can do just that.
The scriptural lessons in the King's Festival are read by a range of people of different ages who are purposely chosen each year to bring the college and the local community together: a member of the choir, an undergraduate, a fellow of the college, a member of the college staff, the dean, the provost, a representative of the city of Cambridge, a representative of King's sister society at Eton, and several others. This conscious structure not only ties the college itself together, but links the college with its neighbors and its educational relatives as well. Through the act of participation, these many individual groups become one.
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is a Christian religious service, of course, and the older colleges of Oxford and Cambridge were all originally Christian religious foundations. But the general social principles that are manifest here -- the regularity of the service, its stability and variety, and the way it binds the community together -- apply with great generality. And they apply not only to Oxbridge-style colleges founded within other religious traditions (Shalom College at the University of New South Wales and Mandelbaum House at the University of Sydney are Jewish foundations, and the colleges of the Universiti Putra Malaysia follow Islamic traditions), but also to fully secular colleges and universities across the United States and around the world.
So please join me in tracking down a local radio station to listen to on Christmas Eve, and we can all spend an hour together as virtual members of that ancient collegiate society along the Cam. As we listen we will have to concede that the chapel's magnificent stained glass windows are unlikely to be replicated elsewhere, and that its soaring Gothic architecture may never be surpassed. But we should also hold fast to the most important lesson the King's Festival teaches: that a college is built of men and women, and that the glory of every college resides not in its material fabric, but in the way it brings its members together and illuminates their lives.
The 2008 elections have created some bizarre situations, particularly in Iowa, home of the first votes during the caucuses on January 3. After years of struggles to get more college students to vote and engage in politics, it is strange (and disappointing) to watch Democratic candidates suddenly declaring that students shouldn’t vote.
The debate over student voting was sparked when Barack Obama’s campaign gave out 50,000 fliers on college campuses declaring, "If you are not from Iowa, you can come back for the Iowa caucus and caucus in your college neighborhood." Since Obama has the strongest support of any candidate among college students, and many out-of-state students in Iowa come from his home state of Illinois, this was no surprise. But the reaction may have startled Obama, who worked in the field of voting rights as a lawyer and a law professor at the University of Chicago.
Hillary Clinton proclaimed, "This is a process for Iowans. This needs to be all about Iowa, and people who live here, people who pay taxes here.” Apparently that doesn’t include the out-of-state students who pay higher tuition in Iowa, not to mention the various taxes on their books, supplies, and pizza, and the income taxes on their salaries.
A Clinton spokeswoman went even further, “We are not systematically trying to manipulate the Iowa caucuses with out-of-state people. We don't have literature recruiting out-of-state college students.”
It wasn’t only the Clinton campaign that complained. Chris Dodd’s Iowa director, Julie Andreeff Jensen, said in a statement: “I was deeply disappointed to read today about the Obama campaign's attempt to recruit thousands of out-of-state residents to come to Iowa for the caucuses.... That may be the way politics is played in Chicago, but not in Iowa." Even Dodd’s wife claimed about voters, “They really resent it when candidates try to sign up people who are not really from Iowa.”
But encouraging young people to vote is only something to resent if you think students shouldn’t be voting. Actually, pretty much everything about the Iowa campaigning has a manipulative feel to it, including the Clinton campaign’s efforts to oppose the Obama campaign’s recruiting of students. After all, Hillary Clinton polls badly among college students, so she has few votes to lose. Instead, her campaign is skillfully appealing to the most xenophobic prejudice of older Iowa residents: the fear of people from Illinois.
This Illiniphobia is generated from many sources, from Big Ten rivalries to traditional border state snobbery, accentuated by the fear of big, bad Chicago and all its evil, urban influences. And not coincidentally, this fear goes along nicely with Clinton’s race against the junior senator from Illinois, Chicagoan Barack Obama.
Des Moines Register columnist David Yepsen wrote a blog post called “The Illinois Caucus” that denounced Obama’s efforts. According to Yepsen, “While it’s legal for college students to register to vote in Iowa to do that, this raises the question of whether it’s fair, or politically smart” since it “risks offending long-time Iowa residents.” Yepsen proclaimed: “We have to respect the integrity of this caucus system.” But part of the integrity of the process is encouraging everyone who lives in Iowa to vote, even if they’re a college student from out of state.
As Rock the Vote tells students, “As a college student, you have the right to vote from the residence that you consider ‘home,’ including your campus residence.” Here’s the law nationwide: Anyone can register to vote where they live. College students typically “live” in two places, their campus address where they spend most of the year, and the home address of their parents. Students can choose where they wish to register. There’s nothing illegal at all so long as you don’t vote twice in the same election. College students from other states are “outsiders” only in the sense of their hometown. There is no fraud here, nor any danger of fraud.
This is a fundamental issue of voting rights that should be core for all people, even if you think the students in Iowa may not vote for your favored candidate. Ever since 18 year olds have been allowed to vote, in some college towns, officials have worked hard to try to stop students from voting, fearing that these students might, if organized, wield enormous influence. After all, no one would dare to express the fear that “too many” African-Americans or Latinos might vote in the election.
Mike Connery of Future Majority called this opposition to voting by college students "advocating voter disenfranchisement." Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, "Barack Obama doesn't believe that we should disenfranchise Iowans who meet all the requirements for caucus participation simply because they're in college... We should be encouraging young people to participate in the political process - not looking for ways to shut them out."
Rock the Vote cites many examples of attempts to attack student voting rights. In 2004 near Prairie View A&M (a historically black university located in a majority white county in Texas), District Attorney Oliver Kitzman publicly declared, “it’s not right for any college student to vote where they do not have permanent residency,” and threatened to prosecute students who tried to register to vote. In 2004, after several students at the College of William & Mary ran for city council in Williamsburg, Virginia, the local register declared four students did not live in town and could not run for office or vote there. In February 2007, a state representative in Maine even proposed a bill to ban students from voting where they go to college.
As a New York Timeseditorial pointed out, “Political campaigns and elected officials have used a variety of tactics over the years to keep students from voting. There are often too few voting machines, so lines stretch for hours. Sometimes, students are falsely told that they will lose financial aid, health care or even car insurance if they vote while attending school.”
I've seen those long lines. On Election Day in November 2004 at Illinois State University, I witnessed enormous lines of students snaking through the student center, waiting for up to three hours after the polls closed for the opportunity to vote. The president of the university issued a statement praising this tremendous outpouring of student civic interest. I saw something much different: a fundamental injustice that threatened voting rights. After all, in the areas where students mixed with non-students, such as my home, the wait to vote was about 15 minutes. In some places with almost no students, the wait was negligible. Yet the Republican county officials hadn’t planned for a large student vote (which happened to vote overwhelmingly for Democrats).
Long lines to vote aren’t merely a terrible inconvenience; they threaten the ability of many people to vote. For students who have to go to class or go to work, a three-hour wait isn’t always possible. And even the most civic-minded person would have to think twice before standing for hours just to cast a vote. Local governments in college towns are rarely responsive to student needs for the simple reason that students usually don’t vote in local elections, and they like to keep it that way. If you encourage students to vote for president, they might get used to the idea of democracy and start to want local representation, too.
College officials could do a lot more to assure the right of students to vote because they have influence in the community. They must work to ensure that adequate supplies and facilities are available for precincts on and near campus, so that students don’t have to wait in longer lines than everybody else. In Iowa, where the caucus will occur during winter break, Grinnell College students coming to caucus will sleep on a gym floor, while the University of Northern Iowa is planning to keep open some of its dormitories to accommodate students.
Of course, civic engagement must mean much more than mere voting. The understanding of democracy among college students must focus on much more than just the first Tuesday in November. For the next year, all colleges should create a civic engagement program to encourage students to participate not merely in elections but in the broader scope of public activity, such as debating what policies are best for the country, and which candidates are the best to elect to federal, state, and local offices.
But the quest to promote civic engagement by college students must begin with access to the ballot box.