The assault on higher education in Texas has been painful in recent months. Mysterious organizations with deep pockets have been pushing "breakthrough solutions" with little sense of the realities of higher education. Why do these people want to mess with Texas’s best universities? What kind of political game are they playing?
I look at my colleagues at the University of Texas at Austin and see hard-working, student-centered, idealistic people who are contributing to the quality of life in Texas. No different than faculty at Texas A&M or other state universities, we are proud of what we do.
Yet we’re under fire, forced to justify our existence to a grim assortment of the dim, the lost, and the self-interested. Yes, we realize that the attack is coming from a toxic blend of ignorance and ideology. It's often coming from narrow-minded people who don't know the difference between a teaching assistant and an assistant professor, who don't understand how research and teaching are interdependent, and who cynically want to make room for their own for-profit colleges and online schemes. To many of our critics, an education is a fungible asset that boils down to dollars and cents and nothing else.
It’s an absurd position -- but that doesn't mean we're immune to their criticism. The sad truth is that it's undermining our morale as well as the public perception of what we do. Let me give some examples of the claims that have been made about institutions like UT, each one tearing down our mission and our morale with falsehoods and distortions.
Not invested in our students? Apparently, the attack dogs have never spent much time with faculty members. If they did, they would see a high level of student interaction among tenured, tenure-track, and adjunct faculty alike. They claim our commitment to students is measured only by hours in formal class time. While our detractors imagine us frittering our days away with tea and crumpets, they fail to appreciate how our lives are freighted with hundreds of hours of invisible labor each semester: the long hours on scholarship committees; the late night e-mails from students needing an immediate response; the endless stacks of papers to grade; the extra meetings with students that spill out of office hours. Day after day, we are doing the little things that allow undergraduates to flourish in the world after UT. Our task is daunting but meaningful: we are teaching young people how to research, analyze, write, present, and innovate in ways that enrich individual lives as well as communities.
Faculty not working hard enough? We cringe when we hear that our productivity should be measured with a simplistic formula, one that would never be applied to lawyers, doctors, or legislators. We listen to claims that we’re neglecting our students because we’re too focused on research --- or, paradoxically, that we’re not doing enough research. Somehow our critics think we’re only working when we’re physically in the classroom, which is akin to saying lawyers only work when they're in the courtroom. All I can say is this: Being a professor is a great but exhausting job in 2011. The combination of student demands, research pressure, and service expectations creates a hectic workday that is never really over, not even late at night or on the weekend. In other words, it’s like most jobs in the frantic post-industrial economy.
Putting research over teaching? Sorry, wrong again. One of the key figures in the attack on UT is oil-executive Jeff Sandefer, who claims that UT hires top researchers without regard for classroom effectiveness. “They’re willing to trade off quite a bit in teaching quality for that research,” he was quoted as saying in The Texas Tribune. “Whether the new people are good or not is beside the point.” The reality is that good teaching is almost never “beside the point,” not even in the “publish or perish” culture of a research university. Professors who are not naturals at the podium are pushed into remediation -- if they do not arrive as strong teachers, they receive assigned mentors, special training, and peer pressure from faculty who expect excellence in research and teaching alike.
The need for greater transparency. If you want to feel naked to the world, try teaching at a public university --- not much is kept under wraps. Your salary, your syllabi, your publications, even whether you are “hot or not” is posted on the Web (the last on sites like RateMyProfessor.com). If you want to feel secure behind a wall of lawyers and feudal privilege, try working at a corporation or perhaps in the governor’s mansion. (Or check out the website of the group behind much of the criticism – the Texas Public Policy Foundation -- and try to figure out who is really funding their campaign against Texas’s universities).
A greater reliance on student evaluations will result in a better education. Unfortunately, turning education into a popularity contest is not the answer. For years universities have expanded their assessment programs to fit a more corporate model. What have we learned from this vision of students as “consumers”? That they don’t like it when historians "talk about lynching." That they favor female professors who "look sexy" in particular outfits. That they don’t like "reading books that are hard." (All actual comments that my peers have received). Of course, student evaluations can sometimes be useful --- but only to a point, one that gets overlooked in the mania for "market based solutions." Sadly, our market-minded critics won’t be satisfied until we put instant polling in the classroom, so we can see what ideas are "selling" without waiting for end-of-semester evaluations. Driven by market imperatives, commercial radio has moved in this direction --- why not let "edu-consumers" shape the curriculum with instant feedback?
Because it doesn’t work. We know that evaluations soar when students are presented with information that confirms what they already know --- just as evaluations go down when students are challenged to confront new ideas. In other words, in a "market driven" classroom, critical thinking and real innovation wouldn’t "sell," while comforting mythologies would be rewarded with high evaluations linked to compensation. Consider Presidential candidate Michele Bachmann's absurd claim that the Founding Fathers eliminated slavery -- many students would be pleased to hear such a comforting vision of our national origins. But wouldn’t you prefer to learn the hard truth? Wouldn’t that result in an informed citizenry able to make wise choices? Academe is one of the few places where we can choose hard knowledge over self-indulgent fantasies without being penalized.
Despite the attacks on our mission, our budgets, and our morale, I still believe that places like UT are extraordinary. In a state that has not always made a strong investment in education, UT has become one of the top public universities in the United States and as well as a powerful cultural resource. Speaking only for myself as a faculty member and an alumnus, I would offer a simple message to the attack dogs: don’t mess with Texas higher education. If you have a useful solution to a real problem, then let’s talk. We are an idealistic bunch eager to find a better way forward. There is always room for improvement. But don’t come at us half-cocked, distorting who we are and what we do. The people of Texas deserve better.
Randolph Lewis is associate professor of American studies at the University of Texas at Austin.
Like everyone in higher education, where the politics are bloodier because the stakes are so much smaller (variously attributed to Woodrow Wilson and Henry Kissinger), I've found myself working in colleges and departments alongside devout obstructionists, academic colleagues deeply resistant to change (any change), who stifle leaders, douse optimism, and undermine progress.
Generally, they're senior colleagues who have either chosen to resist or learned not to trust new colleagues who enter the scene with ambitions for change. To begin with, their obstructionism is almost always more effective than their ambitious colleagues' proaction because they are better organized: we don’t need to study community organizing to know that it's easier to organize against something than it is to organize for something!
Their tactics include:
"it can't be done": stopping meetings with arcane rules they can't produce, that predate the memories of everyone present, and that no one dares challenge for fear of looking uninformed;
the loud and persistent "no": scaring untenured faculty by the adamance of their negativity and challenging the confidence of their chronological peers to take them on once they've staked out their positions;
and storytelling aimed at portraying the advocates for change as turncoats who don't respect the good work of the faculty.
Fundamentally, their strategy is to churn up a climate of disaffection and anxiety aimed at establishing themselves as the sympathetic figures protecting faculty and the status quo.
And I'm a perpetrator because -- like so many of us who gather to chat at the coffee shop, the bar or the grocery store -- I churn the climate with delicious my-god-did-you-hear-abouts in which I recount the bad behaviors, give incidents of obstruction more and longer life, encourage colleagues who didn't know (and who, therefore, didn't feel bad) to now know and feel bad about what was said or done, and hope-upon-hope that I can invoke a bit of sympathy to make me feel a bit better about the blow I suffered in my support for good change and stronger as I gird for the next blow. I'm a perpetrator because, when I do this, I spread the odious climate of the resisters and become an unwitting accomplice of their bullying style.
Stay with me as I change the metaphor to one that every classroom teacher will recognize. Every one of us who has taught has walked into a new classroom, looked out over the sea of new students, found most looking eager and ready to learn, anxious to connect; and found one, two or three students propped in the corners or in the very back row, jeering, sleeping, distracted or even obnoxiously taunting us and their peers to stop doing what we're doing and pay attention to them.
Inexperienced teachers will become consumed by the distracters and all but ignore the large plurality of eager students (perhaps trying to prove to themselves that they can conquer the confrontational challenge). The price of this inexperience is the loss of precious instructional opportunities with the 29, 28 or 27 students who are eager to move to the next level ... and, if protracted, the loss of those learners in that class.
(This metaphor brings to light an added complexity: arguably, these distracters deserve our sympathy and attention as well. A complexity of conditions may bring them to these behaviors. But, while we may not like the behaviors -- we may not even like the people -- they are students [or colleagues] whose positions demand that we find the time and seek the skills to understand and help engage them with their peers.)
How do we stop being unwitting accomplices of obstructive behavior? There are at least four things that concerned colleagues and change agent leaders can consider and do to overcome the obstructive behavior and, perhaps, reduce its effects:
1. Personalities play a big role in the politics of higher education, of course. But let’s never confuse idiosyncratic personalities with obstructionism: gruff pessimism (for example) is not the same as obstructionism. In fact, the informed input of a gruff pessimist may add important contrarian value to the conversation or final decision.
2. We're ethically obliged to authentically try to understand the logic and motives of colleagues who resist before we label them obstructionists. In the same way that sunlight is the best disinfectant, openly and inclusively examining controversial issues and decisions is an opportunity -- and a litmus test -- for airing objective and fact-based differences. If it doesn't -- or won't -- come out in open and inclusive conversations, then it probably isn't objective or fact-based.
3. The logic and economics of both learning and change compel us, first, to invest in securing and optimizing those who come predisposed to participate in it; supporting, encouraging, incentivizing and rewarding those who come ready to explore and to invest energies in learning and change. Progress happens when we move forward; that’s what deserves our attention, more so than simply removing (or complaining about) hurdles. By focusing on those colleagues who are predisposed to moving forward we either ignore and plow past whatever hurdles exist, or build allies whose investment in -- and mounting commitment to -- progress engages them in either marginalizing or removing obstructions.
4. Neither teaching and learning nor change are events; they're processes. Protracted, challenging and expensive processes. When someone chooses to become an obstructionist, usually it's a long-term commitment (perhaps lasting up to and beyond retirement). Concerned colleagues and change agents need to adopt a similarly distant horizon toward which they navigate their collegial efforts. When our frame of reference is small (like this afternoon's meeting, a hallway conversation, or a committee decision), small hurdles, problems and confrontations loom unreasonably large. When our sense of temporal context is longer (as in a two-year program curriculum, a three-year strategic plan, or a five-year promotion and tenure decision), then the same hurdles become manageable, like squalls that buffet us around while we right our ship to navigate towards that point we're aiming to reach on the horizon.
Higher education is under attack from just about every direction. Ironically, that which ought to liberate our creativity, to challenge us to find our better angels, may bring out the very worst in some of our colleagues. So let's be clear: in the long term the worst we can experience is never perpetrated by bad people who do bad things. The worst occurs when good people stand by and do nothing. The times call for each and every concerned colleague, those of us who are ambitious and see changes that need to be made, to step forward, work to understand, lead, persevere, and be strong.
Anonymous has experience as a dean at four universities during a 30-year career and is author of two books and several dozen articles on education and public leadership.
In response to the scandal surrounding the men's lacrosse team, Duke president Richard Brodhead has initiated a "conversation on campus culture." The first installment provided little insight. To Mark Anthony Neal, a professor of African and African-American Studies, recent events showed that "we need an innovative and brave curriculum that will allow our students to engage one another in a progressive manner." It's worth remembering that only two years ago at Neal's institution, a department chairman jokingly explained the faculty's ideological imbalance by noting, "If, as John Stuart Mill said, stupid people are generally conservative, then there are lots of conservatives we will never hire." It seems rather unlikely that Duke's curriculum lacks a sufficiently "progressive" nature.
Indeed, far from needing a more "progressive" campus culture, the lacrosse scandal suggests that a considerable portion of the Duke faculty and student body need to reread the Constitution and consider the accused -- regardless of their group identity -- innocent until proven guilty. Moreover, if, as Duke officials have claimed, Brodhead seriously desires to use this event as a "learning opportunity," he needs to explore why voices among the faculty urging local authorities to respect the due process rights of Duke's students seemed so overpowered by professors exhibiting a rush to judgment.
In early April, prior to his peculiar commentary on campus culture, Professor Neal joined 87 other Duke professors in signing a public statement about the scandal. Three academic departments and 13 of the university'ss academic programs also endorsed the statement, which was placed as an advertisement in the student newspaper, The Duke Chronicle, and is currently hosted on the Web site of Duke's African and African-American Studies program. That 88 faculty members -- much less entire departments -- would have signed on to such a document suggests that whatever plagues Duke's campus culture goes beyond the lacrosse team's conduct and the administration's insufficient oversight of its athletic department.
Few would deny that several players on Duke's lacrosse team have behaved repulsively. Two team captains hired exotic dancers, supplied alcohol to underage team members, and concluded a public argument with one of the dancers with racial epithets. In response, Brodhead appropriately cancelled the team's season and demanded the coach's resignation. Yet the faculty members' statement ignored Brodhead's actions, and instead contributed to the feeding frenzy in the weeks before the district attorney's decision to indict two players on the team.
The 88 signatories affirmed that they were "listening" to a select group of students troubled by sexism and racism at Duke. Yet 8 of the 11 quotes supplied from students to whom these professors had been talking, 8 contained no attribution -- of any sort, even to the extent of claiming to come from anonymous Duke students. Nonetheless, according to the faculty members, "The disaster didn't begin on March 13th and won't end with what the police say or the court decides." It's hard to imagine that college professors could openly dismiss how the ultimate legal judgment would shape this case's legacy. Such sentiments perhaps explain why no member of the Duke Law School faculty signed the letter.
More disturbingly, the group of 88 committed themselves to "turning up the volume." They told campus protesters, "Thank you for not waiting and for making yourselves heard." These demonstrators needed no encouragement: They were already vocal, and had already judged the lacrosse players were guilty. One student group produced a "wanted" poster containing photographs of 43 of the 46 white lacrosse players. At an event outside a house rented by several lacrosse team members, organized by a visiting instructor in English Department, protesters held signs reading, "It's Sunday morning, time to confess." They demanded that the university force the players to testify or dismiss them from school.
The public silence of most Duke professors allowed the group of 88 to become, in essence, the voice of the faculty. In a local climate that has featured an appointed district attorney whose behavior, at the very least, has been erratic, the Duke faculty might have forcefully advocated respecting the due process rights of all concerned. After all, fair play and procedural integrity are supposed to be cardinal principles of the academy. In no way would such a position have endorsed the players' claim to innocence: Due process exists because the Anglo-Saxon legal tradition has determined it elemental to achieving the truth. But such process-based arguments have remained in short supply from the Duke faculty. Instead, the group of 88 celebrated "turning up the volume" and proclaimed that legal findings would not deter their campaign for justice.
When faced with outside criticism -- about, for example, a professor who has plagiarized or engaged in some other form of professional misconduct, or in recent high-profile controversies like those involving Ward Churchill at the University of Colorado -- academics regularly condemn pressure for quick resolutions and celebrate their respect for addressing matters through time-tested procedures. Such an approach, as we have frequently heard since the 9/11 attacks, is essential to prevent a revival of McCarthyism on college campuses.
Yet for unapologetically urging expulsion on the basis of group membership and unproven allegations, few professors have more clearly demonstrated a McCarthyite spirit better than another signatory to of the faculty statement, Houston Baker, a professor of English and Afro-American Studies. Lamenting the "college and university blind-eying of male athletes, veritably given license to rape, maraud, deploy hate speech, and feel proud of themselves in the bargain," Baker issued a public letter denouncing the "abhorrent sexual assault, verbal racial violence, and drunken white male privilege loosed amongst us." To act against "violent, white, male, athletic privilege," he urged the "immediate dismissals" of "the team itself and its players."
Duke Provost Peter Lange correctly termed Baker's diatribe "a form of prejudice," the "act of prejudgment: to presume that one knows something 'must' have been done by or done to someone because of his or her race, religion or other characteristic." It's hard to escape the conclusion that, for Baker and many others who signed the faculty statement, the race, class, and gender of the men's lacrosse team produced a guilty-until-proven-innocent mentality.
Baker's attacks on athletics added a fourth component to the traditional race/class/gender trinity. It's an open secret that at many academically prestigious schools, some faculty factions desire diminishing or eliminating intercollegiate athletics, usually by claiming that athletes are lazy students, receive special treatment, or drive down the institution's intellectual quality. In fact, with the exception of the two revenue-producing sports (men's basketball and football), the reverse is more often true at colleges like Duke, Vanderbilt, Stanford, or the Ivy League institutions.
I admit to a bias on this score: My sister was a three-year starter at point guard for the Columbia University women's basketball team. Seeing how hard she worked to remain a dean's list student and fulfill her athletic responsibilities gave me a first-hand respect for the challenges facing varsity athletes at academically rigorous institutions. In addition to the responsibilities sustained by most students (challenging course loads, extracurricular activities, often campus jobs), athletes in non-revenue producing sports have physically demanding practice schedules, in-season road trips, and commitments to spend time with alumni or recruits. They play before small crowds, and envision no professional careers. It's distressing to see that many in the academy share Baker's prejudices, and view participation in college athletics as a negative.
With the most vocal elements among Duke's faculty using the lacrosse case to forward preconceived ideological and pedagogical agendas, it has been left to undergraduates to question some of the district attorney's unusual actions -- such as conducting a photo lineup that included only players on the team, sending police to a Duke dormitory in an attempt to interrogate the players outside the presence of their lawyers, and securing indictments before searching the players' dorm rooms, receiving results of a second DNA test, or investigating which players had documented alibis. In the words of a recent Newsweekarticle, the lawyer for one indicted player, Reade Seligmann, produced multiple sources of "evidence that would seem to indicate it was virtually impossible that Seligmann committed the crime." To date, the 88 faculty members who claimed to be "listening" to Duke students have given no indication of listening to those undergraduates concerned about the local authorities' unusual interpretation of the spirit of due process. Nor, apparently, do the faculty signatories seem to hear what The Duke Chronicleeditorial termed the "several thousand others of us" students who disagreed that "Duke breeds cultures of hate, racism, sexism and other forms of backward thinking."
The Raleigh News and Observer recently editorialized, "Duke faculty members, many of them from the '60s and '70s generations that pushed college administrators to ease their controlling ways, now are urging the university to require greater social as well as scholastic discipline from students. Duke professors, in fact, are offering to help draft new behavior codes for the school. With years of experience and academic success to their credit, faculty members ought to be listened to." If the group of 88's statement is any guide, this advice is dubious. Even so, Brodhead has named two signatories of the faculty group to the newly formed "campus culture" committee. Given their own record, it seems unlikely that their committee will explore why Duke's campus culture featured its most outspoken faculty faction rushing to judgment rather than seeking to uphold the due process rights of their own institution's students.
KC Johnson is a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the City University of New York Graduate Center.
The wedding announcements in The New York Times are, as all amateur sociologists know, a valuable source of raw data concerning prestige-display behavior among the American elite. But they do not provide the best index of any individual’s social status. Much more reliable in that respect are the obituaries, which provide an estimate of the deceased party’s total accumulated social capital. They may also venture a guess, between the lines, about posterity’s likely verdict on the person.
In the case of John Kenneth Galbraith, who died last week, the Times obituary could scarcely fail to register the man’s prominence. He was an economist, diplomat, Harvard professor, and advisor to JFK. Royalties on his book The Affluent Society (1958) guaranteed that -- as a joke of the day had it -- he was a full member. But the notice also made a point of emphasizing that his reputation was in decline. Venturing with uncertain steps into a characterization of his economic thought, the obituary treated Galbraith as kind of fossil from some distant era, back when Keynsian liberals still roamed the earth.
He was patrician in manner, but an acid-tongued critic of what he once called "the sophisticated and derivative world of the Eastern seaboard." He was convinced that for a society to be not merely affluent but livable (an important distinction now all but lost) it had to put more political and economic power in the hands of people who exercised very little of it. It was always fascinating to watch him debate William F. Buckley -- encounters too suave to call blood sport, but certainly among the memorable moments on public television during the pre-"Yanni at the Acropolis" era. He called Buckley the ideal debating partner: “pleasant, quick in response, invulnerable to insult, and invariably wrong.”
Galbraith’s influence was once strong enough to inspire Congressional hearings to discuss the implications of his book The New Industrial State (1967). Clearly that stature has waned. But Paul Samuelson was on to something when he wrote, “Ken Galbraith, like Thorstein Veblen, will be remembered and read when most of us Nobel Laureates will be buried in footnotes down in dusty library stacks.”
The reference to the author of The Theory of the Leisure Class is very apropos, for a number of reasons. Veblen’s economic thought left a deep mark on Galbraith. That topic has been explored at length by experts, and I dare not bluff it here. But the affinity between them went deeper than the conceptual. Both men grew up in rural areas among ethnic groups that never felt the slightest inferiority vis-a-vis the local establishment. Veblen was a second-generation Norwegian immigrant in Wisconsin. Galbraith, whose family settled in a small town in Canada, absorbed the Scotch principle that it was misplaced politeness not to let a fool know what you thought of him. “Better that he be aware of his reputation,” as Galbraith later wrote, “for this would encourage reticence, which goes well with stupidity.”
Like Veblen, he had a knack for translating satirical intuitions into social-scientific form. But Galbraith also worked the other way around. He could parody the research done by “the best and the brightest,” writing sardonically about what was really at stake in their work.
I’m thinking, in particular, of The McLandress Dimension (1963), a volume that has not received its due. The Times calls it a novel, which only proves that neither of the two obituary writers had read the book. And it gets just two mentions, in passing, in Richard Parker’s otherwise exhaustive biography John Kenneth Galbraith: His Life, His Politics, His Economics (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005).
While by no means a major work, The McLandress Dimension deserves better than that. Besides retrieving the book from obscurity, I’ll take a quick look at a strange episode in its afterlife.
The McLandress Dimension, a short collection of articles attributed to one “Mark Epernay,” was published by Houghton Mifflin during the late fall of 1963. At the time, Galbraith was the U.S. ambassador to India. Portions of the book had already appeared in Esquire and Harper’s. One reviewer, who was clearly in on the joke, introduced Mark Epernay as “a gifted young journalist who has specialized in the popularization -- one might almost say the vulgarization -- of what one has learned to call the behavioral sciences.”
The pen name combined an allusion to Mark Twain with a reference to a town in France that Galbraith had come across in a book about the Franco-Prussian war. (Either that, or on the side of a wine crate; he was not consistent on this point.) “The pseudonym was necessary because I was then an ambassador,” recalled Galbraith in a memoir, “and the State Department required its people to submit their writing for review while forbidding them to take compensation for it.... However, it did not seem that this rule need apply to anything written in true anonymity under a false name. Accordingly, I wrote to the then Attorney General, Mr. Robert Kennedy, proposing that I forego the clearance and asking if I might keep the money. So difficult was the question or so grave the precedent that my letter was never answered.”
But Epernay was just the foil for Galbraith’s real alter ego -- the famous Herschel McLandress, the former professor of psychiatric measurement at the Harvard Medical School and chief consultant to the Noonan Psychiatric Clinic in Boston. The researcher was a frequent recipient of grants from the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and sundry other nonprofit geysers of soft money. His ideas were the subject, as Epernay put it, “of some of the most trenchant debates in recent years at the Christmas meetings of the American Association for Psychometrics.” While his name was not yet a household word, McLandress had an impressive (if top-secret) list of clients among prominent Americans.
The work that defined his career was his discovery of “the McLandress Coefficient” – a unit of measurement defined, in laymen’s terms, as “the arithmetic mean or average of intervals of time during which a subject’s thoughts centered on some substantive phenomenon other than his own personality.”
The exact means of calculating the “McL-C,” as it was abbreviated, involved psychometric techniques rather too arcane for a reporter to discuss. But a rough estimate could be made based on how long any given person talked without using the first-person singular pronoun. This could be determined “by means of a recording stopwatch carried unobtrusively in the researcher’s jacket pocket.”
A low coefficient -- anything under, say, one minute -- “implies a close and diligent concern by the individual for matters pertaining to his own personality.” Not surprisingly, people in show business tended to fall into this range.
Writers had a somewhat higher score, though not by a lot. Epernay noted that Gore Vidal had a rating of 12.5 minutes. Writing in The New York Review of Books, Vidal responded, ““I find this ... one finds this odd.”
What drew the most attention were the coefficients for various political figures. Nikita Khrushchev had the same coefficient as Elizabeth Taylor – three minutes. Martin Luther King clocked in at four hours. Charles de Gaulle was found to have the very impressive rating of 7 hours, 30 minutes. (Further studies revealed this figure to be somewhat misleading, because the general did not make any distinction between France and himself.) At the other extreme was Richard Nixon, whose thoughts never directed beyond himself for more than three seconds.
Epernay enjoyed his role as Boswell to the great psychometrician. Later articles discussed the other areas of McLandress’s research. He worked out an exact formula for calculating the Maximum Prestige Horizon of people in different professions. He developed the “third-dimensional departure” for acknowledging the merits of both sides in any controversial topic while carefully avoiding any form of extremism. (This had been mastered, noted Epernay, by “the more scholarly Democrats.”)
And McLandress reduced the size of the State Department by creating a fully automated foreign policy -- using computers to extrapolate the appropriate response to any new situation, based on established precedent. “Few things more clearly mark the amateur in diplomacy,” the reporter explained, “than his inability to see that even the change from the wrong policy to the right policy involves the admission of previous error and hence is damaging to national prestige.”
One piece in the book covered the life and work of someone who has played a considerable role in the development of the modern Republican Party, though neither Galbraith nor Epernay could have known that at the time.
The figure in question was Allston C. Wheat, “one of the best tennis players ever graduated from Cornell” as well as a very successful “wholesaler of ethical drugs, antibiotics, and rubber sundries in Philadelphia.” Upon retirement, Wheat threw himself into he writings of Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand, and Barry Goldwater, among others. His studies left Wheat sorely concerned about the menace of creeping socialism in America. As well he might be. Certain developments in the American educational system particularly raised his ire. Wheat raised the alarm against that insidious subversive indoctrination in collectivist ideology known as “team sports.”
“Every healthy able-bodied young American is encouraged to participate in organized athletic events,” Wheat noted in a widely-circulated pamphlet. This was the first step in brainwashing them. For an emphasis on “team spirit” undermines good, old-fashioned, dog-eat-dog American individualism. “The team,” he warned, “is the social group which always comes first.... If you are looking for the real advance guard for modern Communism, you should go to the field-houses and the football stadiums.”
The tendency of the Kennedys to play touch football at family gatherings proved that “they are collectivist to the core.” And then there was the clincher: “Liberals have never liked golf.”
Wheat’s dark suspicions had a solid historical basis. “In 1867,” Epernay pointed out in a footnote, “the first rules for college football were drawn up in Princeton, New Jersey. That was the year of the publication of Das Kapital.... Basketball was invented in 1891 and the Socialist Labor Party ran its first candidate for President in the following year.” Coincidence? Don’t be gullible. As the saying has it, there’s no “I” in “team.”
The goal of Wheat’s movement, the Campaign for Athletic Individualism, was to ensure that young people’s McLandress Coefficients were low enough to keep America free. Today, Wheat has been forgotten. No doubt about it, however: His legacy grows.
In many ways,The McLandress Dimension was in many ways a product of its moment -- that is, Camelot, the early 60s, a time of heavy traffic on the wonky crossroads where social science and public policy meet.
Books like Vance Packard’s The Status Seekers were showing that the American social hierarchy, while in transition, was very much in place. A celebrity culture in the arts, politics, and academe was emerging to rival the one based in Hollywood. The sort of left-liberal who read Galbraith with approval could assume that the McCarthyist worldview belonged in the dustbin of history.
The McLandress Dimension satirized all these things -- but in a genial way. It said, in effect: “Let’s not be too serious about these things. That would be stupid.”
So Galbraith’s timing was good. But it was also, in a way, terrible. Articles about the book started appearing in early December -- meaning they had been written at least a few weeks earlier, before the assassination of the president. There was a lightheartedness that must have been jarring. Most of the reviewers played along with the gag. One magazine sent a telegram to the embassy in India, asking Galbraith, “Are you Mark Epernay?” He cabled back, ”Who’s Mark Epernay?”
But the season for that kind of high spirits was over. If Herschell McLandress was the embodiment of the number-crunching technocratic mentality in 1963, his place in the public eye was soon taken by Robert McNamara. Such “extremists in defense of liberty” as Allston Wheat were trounced during the 1964 presidential campaign -- only to emerge from it stronger and more determined than ever. Galbraith’s serious writings were a major influence on the Great Society programs of the Johnson administration. But that consummation that was also, with hindsight, a swan’s song.
As for The McLandress Dimension itself, the writings of Mark Epernay found a place in the bibliographies of books on Galbraith. But they were ignored even by people writing on the development of his thought. I recently did a search to find out if anyone ever cited the work of Herschel McLandress in a scholarly article, perhaps as an inside joke. Alas, no. All that turns up in JSTOR, for example, is a brief mention Galbraith’s book in an analysis of the humorous literature on Richard Nixon. (There is, incidentally, rather a lot of it.)
And yet the story does not quite end there.
In 1967, the Dial Press issued Report from Iron Mountain: On the Possibility and Desirability of Peace, which the publisher claimed was in fact a secret government document. The topic was the socio-economic implications of global peace. It was prepared, according to the introduction, by a group of prominent but unnamed social scientists. The prose was leaden, full of the jargon and gaseous syntax of think-tank documents.
The challenge facing the Iron Mountain group, it seemed, was to explore any adverse side-effects of dismantling the warfare state. The difficulties were enormous. Military expenditures were basic to the economy, they noted. Threat from an external enemy fostered social cohesion. And the Army was, after all, a good place for potentially violent young men.
It would be necessary to find a way to preserve all the useful aspects of war preparation, and to contain all the problems it helped solve. A considerable amount of social restructuring would be required should the Cold War end. The think tank proposed various options that leaders might want to keep in mind. It could prove necessary to sponsor new forms of extremely violent entertainment, introduce slavery, and concoct a plausible story about the threat of extraterrestrial invasion.
This was, of course, a satire on the “crackpot realism” (as C. Wright Mills once termed it) of the Rand Institute and the like. It was concocted by Leonard Lewin, a humor writer, and Victor Navasky, the editor of The Nation. But the parody was so good as to be almost seamless. It proposed the most extreme ideas in an incredibly plodding fashion. And the scenarios were only marginally more deranged-sounding than anything mooted by Herman Kahn, the strategist of winnable thermonuclear war.
Serious journals devoted articles to debating the authenticity of the document. One prominent sociologist wrote a long article suggesting that it was so close to the real thing that one might as well take it seriously. At one point, people in the White House were reportedly making inquiries to determine whether Report from Iron Mountain might not be the real thing.
In the midst of all this, Herschel McLandress, who had retreated into silence for almost four years, suddenly returned to public life. In an article appearing in The Washington Post, the great psychometrician confirmed that Report from Iron Mountain was exactly what it claimed to be. He had been part of the working group involved in the initial brainstorming. He chided whoever was responsible for leaking the document. By no means were Americans ready to face the horrors of peace. He did not challenge any of the report’s conclusions. “My reservations,” McLandress stated, “relate only to the wisdom of releasing it to an obviously unconditioned public.”
Writing from behind his persona, Galbraith turned in a credible impression of social-science punditry at its most pompous. (You can read the entire review here.) It must have been very funny if you knew what was going on. And presumably some people did remember that McLandress was himself a figment of the imagination.
But not everyone did. Over time, Report from Iron Mountain became required reading for conspiracy theorists -- who, by the 1990s, were quite sure it was a blueprint for the New World Order. After all, hadn’t a reviewer vouched for its authenticity in The Washington Post?
And what did Galbraith think of all this? I have to.... One has to wonder.
The University of Colorado committee investigating Ward Churchill has found him guilty, guilty, guilty. And on some level, they’re right: Churchill is guilty of occasionally shoddy scholarship and the dubious practice of ghostwriting, and perhaps even more. But we should be alarmed by the investigative committee’s report, and not merely because the committee exists only because of a concerted effort to fire Churchill for his obnoxious and idiotic comments about 9/11 victims.
By stretching the meaning of "research misconduct" far beyond its true definition, and by supporting the suspension and even dismissal of a tenured professor for his use of footnotes, the Colorado committee is opening the door to a vast new right-wing witch hunt on college campuses that conservatives could easily exploit across the country.
If you don’t like a professor’s politics, simply file a complaint of "research misconduct." According to the Colorado committee, if you can find a factual error made by the professor with a footnote that fails to prove the contention, that scholar is guilty of "research misconduct" and can be suspended or fired.
The far right is already pursuing leftist academics for expressing their views in the classroom. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni just issued a report on “How Many Ward Churchills?,” proclaiming that "professors are using their classrooms to push political agendas." ACTA’s alleged proof that Ward Churchills are “common” on college campuses is a survey of course catalogs and syllabi, objecting to classes that mention social justice, sex, or race. (The ACTA report denounces a University of Colorado class on “Animals and Society” because it “[e]xplores the moral status of animals.”)
ACTA threatens that academic freedom will be revoked from colleges unless they start censoring their professors and ban such courses. Colleges “must also recognize that if they do not take swift and decisive action, they risk losing the independence and the privilege they have traditionally enjoyed.” According to ACTA, “students, parents, trustees, administrators, and taxpayers have a right to be concerned. They also have the right to raise questions, demand answers, and compel action.”
Compelling action is also the goal of David Horowitz and his Academic Bill of Rights legislation. In March, Horowitz testified before the Kansas legislature. He denounced women’s studies programs as a violation of academic freedom and standards. According to Horowitz, because the University of Kansas Women’s Studies program express a goal of educating students about “how and why gender inequality developed and is maintained in the United States and in our global society,” it should be banned. Since Horowitz thinks there may not be any gender inequality in the world, women’s studies programs “can in no way be justified as taxpayer-supported programs.”
Considering how effortlessly Horowitz misreads the meaning of academic freedom under the AAUP standards, one can only imagine how effectively he could distort "research misconduct" to pursue his crusade against left-wing professors like those in his book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America. If Horowitz fails to get professors fired for talking about politics in their classes, he could try to have them fired for expressing controversial views in their research.
That's the harrowing possibility raised by the irresponsible claims of the Colorado committee. They claim to be following the University of Colorado’s statement on Misconduct in Research and Authorship, which defines research misconduct as “fabrication, falsification, plagiarism and other forms of misappropriation of ideas, or additional practices that seriously deviate from those that are commonly accepted in the research community for proposing, conducting, or reporting research."
Because Colorado’s policy explicitly exempts "honest error," the Colorado committee turned into a kind of character police. Noting their dislike for Churchill’s "attitude," the committee members seem to have concluded without the slightest evidence that Churchill intentionally deceived readers with his footnotes.
For example, the Colorado committee concluded, “Professor Churchill repeatedly and deliberately cited the General Allotment Act of 1887 and once cited Janet McDowell’s book for the details of historical and legal propositions that he advances. Because both sources in fact contradict his claims, this is a form of falsification of evidence.” This logic is repeated in four out of the seven charges against Churchill. The Colorado committee’s basis for the claim of fabrication depends upon a fundamentally narrow-minded view of what a footnote should be.
However, footnotes serve many purposes. A footnote is not always definitive proof of the sentence being noted. It is common practice for footnotes to be used in order to refer readers to general works related to the period being discussed (as Churchill does), and even to cite works which provide a different or contradictory view of the era.
In my forthcoming book, Patriotic Correctness: Academic Freedom and Its Enemies, I include a quote by former Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer admonishing Americans to “watch what they say.” I have a footnote listing a news report about the statement. But I also include in the footnote a reference to a letter to The New York Times by Fleischer explaining why he is being misinterpreted. I do not comment on this claim, because every word in my footnotes counts against the word limit for the book, and I don’t want to waste precious space scrutinizing some political hack’s line of bullshit. But I thought readers might want to look at a different view.
According to the Colorado committee, I have committed "research misconduct." My footnote includes a source contradicting my interpretation of the comment. On the other hand, if I simply omitted the reference to Fleischer’s letter, and deprived readers of a chance to find a view disagreeing with my perspective, I would be a perfectly fine scholar in the committee’s eyes.
There is no reputable source for the Colorado committee’s claim that footnotes cannot include sources who disagree with the author. In order to evaluate the charge of research misconduct, the Colorado committee proclaimed that it would use the American Historical Association “Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct” as “a general point of reference.” However, the AHA statement is not intended to be a basis for punishing professors. Indeed, if anything the AHA justifies Churchill’s approach by urging scholars to be “explicit, thorough, and generous in acknowledging one’s intellectual debts.” Nor does the AHA statement include anything about the proper use of footnotes which would justify a charge of falsification.
The Colorado committee provides a footnote quoting the AHA statement that “historians pride themselves on the accuracy with which they use and document sources. The sloppier their apparatus, the harder it is for other historians to trust their work.” But there a vast difference between saying that lousy footnotes will affect your credibility and claiming that lousy footnotes can justify revocation of tenure.
In other words, the Colorado committee “proved” that Churchill was guilty of research misconduct for providing footnotes that did not support his claims by citing a footnote which did not support its claims. It seems strange that a committee which provides a thorough and fascinating account of the historical minutiae surrounding an 1837 smallpox epidemic would somehow fail to do any research on the meaning of fabrication and research misconduct. The Colorado committee’s shoddy work on the meaning of fabrication and misconduct stands in sharp contrast to its extensive research of the charges against Churchill.
The problem is that when a policy largely developed to address scientific misconduct is applied to the humanities, it must be properly interpreted. For example, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology dismissed a professor last year for research misconduct, it was because he literally fabricated data. No one has ever accused Churchill of fabricating data (such as making up historical sources). He is accused of making broad claims, without adequate evidence, which are probably wrong. That is lousy historical research, but it’s not research misconduct by any stretch of the imagination.
There is some evidence to find Churchill guilty on other charges of ghostwriting and plagiarism. But using footnotes as an excuse to fire Churchill makes the entire committee’s findings look like political expediency to remove an embarrassment to the University of Colorado. By turning every case of bad research into research misconduct, the Colorado committee threatens to expose the entire academic system to a political witch hunt. In an era when the right-wing is already targeting college professors for their extramural statements and political comments in class, this radical revision of research standards could mark the next step in the war on academic freedom.
Tomorrow night at a church in London, there will be a gathering of several hundred people to celebrate the launch of "The Euston Manifesto" -- a short document in which one sector of the British and American left declares itself to be in favor of pluralist and secular democracy, and against blowing people up for the glory of Allah.
The Eustonians also support open-source software. (I have read the document a few times now but am still not sure how that one got in there. It seems like an afterthought.)
More to the point, the Eustonians promise not to ask too many questions -- nor any really embarrassing ones -- about how we got into Iraq. The important thing, now, is that it all end well. Which is to say, that the occupation help build a new Iraq: a place of secular, pluralist democracy, where people do not blow each other up for the glory of Allah.
Suppose that a civic-minded person -- a secular humanist, let's say, and one fond of Linux -- takes a closer look at the manifesto. Such a reader will expect the document to discuss the question of means and ends. This might be addressed on the ethical plane, at some level of abstraction. Or it might be handled with a wonky attention to policy detail. In any case, the presumed reader (who is nothing if not well-meaning) will certainly want to know how Eustonian principles are to be realized in the real world. In the case of Iraq, for example, there is the problem of getting from the absolutely disastrous status quo to the brilliant future, so hailed.
Many of the signatories of the manifesto are, or until recently were, some variety or other of Marxist. Its main author, for example, is Norman Geras, a professor emeritus of government at the University of Manchester. His work includes Literature of Revolution, a volume of astute essays on Leon Trotsky and Rosa Luxemburg. (Full disclosure: Geras and I once belonged to the same worldwide revolutionary socialist organization, the United Secretariat of the Fourth International, and probably both choke up a little when singing “The Red Flag”).
Surely, then, the Euston Manifesto will bear at least some resemblance to the one written by a certain unemployed German doctor of philosophy in 1848? That is, it can be expected to provide a long-term strategic conception of how the world reached its current situation (“The history of all hitherto existing society is a history of class struggles”). And it will identify the forces in society that have emerged to transform it (“Workers of the world unite!”). And from this rigorous conceptual structure, the document can then deduce some appropriate shorter-term tactics. In The Communist Manifesto, for example, Marx and Engels pointed to universal suffrage and a progressive income tax as mighty strides forward towards the destruction of capitalism.
OK, so the proposals might not work out as planned.... Hindsight is 20-20. But a manifesto -- to be worth anyone’s time, let alone signature -- will, of course, be concrete. At the event in London tomorrow night, the comrades will rally. Surely they would never settle for broad and bland appeals to high ideals, rendered in language slightly less inspiring than the Cub Scout oath?
Well, judge for yourself. “The Euston Manifesto” was actually unveiled in April, when it was first published online. It is has an official Web site. The inspiration for it had come during a meeting at a pub near the Euston stop on the London Underground. (Hence the name.) The document has been debated and denounced at great and redundant length in the left-wing blogosphere. So the fact that the event this week in London is being described by the Eustonians as a “launch” is puzzling, at least at first. But when you realize what a rhetorical drubbing the manifesto has taken, the need for a public gathering is easier to understand. The Eustonians want to show that their heads are bloody but unbowed, etc.
The most cogent arguments against the manifesto have already been made. In April, Marc Mulholand, a historian who is a fellow at Oxford University, presented a series of pointed criticisms at his blog that seemed to take the Eustonian principles more seriously than the manifesto itself did. “Why should we expect pluralist states to foster the spread of democratic government?” he asked. “How can we audit their contribution to this universal ideal? What mechanisms ensure the coincidence of state real politick and liberal internationalism?”
And D.D. Guttenplan -- the London correspondent for “The Nation” and producer of a documentary called Edward Said: The Last Interview -- weighed in with an article in The Guardian accusing the Eustonians of, in effect, staging a historical reenactment of battle scenes from the Cold War.
In passing, Guttenplan wrote of the manifesto that “every word in it is a lie” – a bit of hyperbole with historical overtones probably lost on his British readers. (In a memorable denunciation -- and one that prompted a lawsuit -- of sometime Communist sympathizer Lillian Hellman’s work, Mary McCarthy said: “Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the.’”) Guttenplan tells me that he now considers his remark “a bit intemperate” yet still calls the manifesto “that bastard child of senescent sociology and the laptop bombardiers.”
Mulholand performed a kind of immanent critique of the Eustonians’ liberal-humanitarian proclamations. That is, he held their rhetoric up against their concepts -- and found the manifesto wanting no matter how you looked at it.
For Guttenplan, the manifesto makes more sense as a case of political bait-and-switch. “The political glue holding these folks together,” he told me, “was a kind of Zionism that dare not speak its name, in which anti-Semitism was the only racism worth getting excited about, and opposition to any kind of practical pressure on Israel or its UK supporters/defenders the only program that got these folks up from their laptops. Personally I find that both sneaky and, as my late mother would say, bad for the Jews.” (Complex irony alert! Guttenplan himself is Jewish.)
The liberal-internationalist case for military intervention in Iraq has recently been hashed out at length -- and in all of its disconcertingly belated moral passion and geopolitical irrelevance -- by the contributors to A Matter of Principle: Humanitarian Arguments for War in Iraq, published last year by the University of California Press. The editor of that volume, Thomas Cushman, is a professor of sociology at Wellesley College, and a member of the editorial board of the online journal Democratiya -- as is Norman Geras, who drafted the Euston Manifesto.
Many of the contributions to the book and the journal are intelligently argued. They are worth the attention even -- and perhaps especially -- of someone opposed to the war. For a whole wing of the left, of course, to admit that one’s opponents might be capable of arguments (rather than rationalizations) is already a sign of apostasy. But I’ll take my chances. After all, you can only listen to Noam Chomsky blame every problem in the world on American corporations just so many times. It’s good to stretch your mental legs every so often, and go wandering off to see how people think on the other side of the barricades.
That said, reading the Euston Manifesto has proven remarkably unrewarding -- even downright irritating. It is not a matter of profound disagreements. (I am, broadly speaking, in favor of pluralist and secular democracy, and against blowing people up for the glory of Allah.) But the Eustonians seem to be issuing blank moral checks for whatever excellent adventures George Bush and Tony Blair decide to undertake.
They call for supporting the reconstruction of Iraq “rather than picking through the rubble of the arguments over intervention.” The systematic campaign of disinformation and phony diplomacy engineered over the course of two years preceding the invasion, then, is to be forgotten. It’s hard to imagine a more explicit call for intellectual irresponsibility. Or, for that matter, a less adequate metaphorical image. Anyone upset by “the rubble of the arguments over intervention” is definitely facing the wrong crater.
The Eustonians seem also perfectly indifferent to the cumulative damage being done to the very fiber of democracy itself. This summer’s issue of Bookforum contains a few poems by Guantanamo Bay detainees -- part of a much larger body confiscated by the military. As a lawyer for the detainees notes, a poem containing the line “Forgive me, my dear wife” was immediately classified as an attempt to communicate with the outside.
It is hard to imagine that this sort of thing really advances the Global War on Terror, or whatever we’re calling it now. But it is not without consequences. It destroys what it pretends to protect.
As I was musing over all of this, a friend pointed out a conspicuous absence from the list of signatories to the manifesto: Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology and journalism at Columbia University. His book The Intellectuals and the Flag, published earlier this year by Columbia University Press, defends the idea of left-wing American patriotism with a frank interest “in the necessary task of defeating the jihadist enemy.”
This would seem to put him in the Eustonian camp, yet he did not endorse the manifesto. Why not? I contacted him by e-mail to ask. “I recognize a shoddy piece of intellectual patchwork when I see one,” Gitlin responded.
He cites a passage referring to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein as “a liberation of the Iraqi people." A fine thing, to be sure. The sight of a humiliated dictator is good for the soul. “But the resulting carnage is scarcely worthy of the term ‘liberation,’” Gitlin told me. “I'm leery of the euphemism.”
Humanitarian interventionism needs an element of realist calculation. “The duty of ‘intervention and rescue’ when a state commits appalling atrocities,” he continued, “must be tempered by a hard-headed assessment of what is attainable and what are the reasonably foreseeable results of intervention. The document is cavalier about the ease of riding to the rescue. So while I support the lion's and lioness's share of the document's principles, I find it disturbingly, well, utopian. It lacks a sense of the tragic. I have not foregone the forced innocence of the anti-American left only to sign up with another variety of rigid, forced innocence.”
But in the final analysis, there was something else bothersome about the manifesto -- something I couldn’t quite put a finger on, for a while. A vague dissatisfaction, a feeling of blurry inconsequentiality....
Then it suddenly came into focus: The manifesto did not seem like the product of a real movement, nor the founding document of a new organization – nor anything, really, but a proclamation of dissatisfaction by people in an Internet-based transatlantic social network.
I dropped Norman Geras a line, asking about the virtuality of the phenomenon. Aren’t the Eustonians doomed to a kind of perpetual and constitutive blogginess?
“It's true that the manifesto is not seen by us as the rallying point for a particular organization,” Geras wrote back. “But it is seen as a rallying point nonetheless - as a focus for debate on the liberal-left, and for initiatives that might follow from that. The focus for debate part has already happened: there's been an enormous response to the manifesto and not only on the internet, but with significant press coverage as well. The venue for the launch meeting had to be changed because we ran out of tickets so fast for the original venue. So this isn't just a ‘virtual’ affair.”
The question from Lenin’s pamphlet comes up: What is to be done? “I'm not going to try to predict where or how far it will go,” says Geras. “One step at a time. But we already have more than 1,500 signatories and that means a lot of people in touch with us and interested in what the manifesto is saying. After the launch, we'll see what we want to do next in the way of forums, conferences, campaigns.”
Perhaps frustration with the document is misplaced? Something better might yet emerge -- once well-meaning people see the limits of the good intentions they have endorsed. You never know. But for now, with only the text to go by, it is hard to shake a suspicion that the Euston Manifesto owes less to Marx than to MySpace.
The American Council of Trustees and Alumni’s report "How Many Ward Churchills?" has caused an uproar in some corners of the Internet. Criticism has centered on two issues: method and message. The report’s principal critics, Swarthmore history professor Timothy Burke and The Myth of Political Correctness author John K. Wilson, have attacked it, respectively, as a “casual, lazy, cherrypicking survey of whatever materials the author(s) were able to access on the Web,” and as part of “a vast new right-wing witch hunt on college campuses.” Both critiques share confused and erroneous assumptions about the report’s message and about ACTA’s right to criticize academic culture.
Burke complains that the report’s criticisms are ill-founded: They “see what they want to see,” they “ignore context or specificity,” and they “avoid REAL argument of the kind that scholars routinely engage in,” he grumbles. “The report talks about the need to guarantee that students have unrestrained rights to the free exchange of ideas in the classroom. Seriously, unless you bother to get off your ass and stop reading catalogues online, you have no idea what happens in classrooms.”
Setting aside Burke’s contemptuous tone, let’s examine the gaps in his reasoning. Burke’s initial objections are throw-away examples of faulty logic. The first, in which he accuses ACTA of post ergo propter hoc thinking, is itself an example of that logical fallacy: Burke sees ACTA seeing what ACTA wants to see because Burke wants to see ACTA that way. But the course descriptions ACTA cites are hardly unique or isolated. There are hundreds of similarly tendentious descriptions published by institutions across the country. They were chosen for their utter typicality, not their uniqueness.
Burke’s second objection is remarkably solipsistic -- context and specificity are whatever he defines them to be. ACTA quotes course descriptions verbatim, working from exactly what students (and interested parents) read to select a class. The reason? Course descriptions are designed to stand alone -- if they are all a prospective student needs to know about a class, then they are also all tuition-paying parents, taxpayers, and concerned citizens need in order to form a preliminary judgment.
This objection is part of Burke’s larger criticism of the report’s reliance on course descriptions. But his claim that these documents -- the main resource students use to decide whether or not to register for a class -- do not tell us anything about what happens in the classes in question is illogical at best, disingenuous at worst. If true, this charge would mean either that professors routinely engage in false advertising or that the process by which students choose courses is a charade that fools no one but students themselves.
In so arguing, Burke has chosen to stretch a point ACTA freely concedes -- that course descriptions are neither courses nor perfect windows into the curriculum -- in order to avoid ACTA’s more fundamental argument about why course descriptions matter. They matter because they are professors’ own public representations of what happens in their classrooms. That so many professors describe their pedagogical aims in ideologically loaded ways raises entirely legitimate questions about accountability and balance.
Of course, ACTA has never claimed to know exactly what is happening in classrooms, and does not assume authority to determine whether a class is pedagogically sound. All ACTA’s report does is to urge college and university presidents, deans, and faculty to examine the issue themselves. ACTA has already outlined ways campus leaders can review departments and programs while still being fair, respectful, and sensitive to academic freedom and academic autonomy. Our 2005 report, "Intellectual Diversity: Time for Action," was praised for its sensitivity to academic freedom and self-governance. Burke’s hasty and intemperate critique studiously evades these points.
Burke’s other criticism, that ACTA avoids “REAL” argument because it does not argue in the same manner as scholars do, is self-servingly dismissive: ACTA’s argument need not be considered, Burke implies, because ACTA has not made its argument as Burke thinks arguments should be made. But the truth is that ACTA’s report is expressly not an academic paper. It is a report designed to initiate dialogue about the college curriculum by outlining some of the dominant terms and patterns displayed in course offerings across the country. To condemn it, as Burke has, for failing to maintain scholarly standards of data analysis is like damning an apple for not being an orange.
Burke thus badly misunderstands ACTA’s report. He both thinks ACTA isn’t qualified to judge the academic curriculum and complains that ACTA has not framed a satisfactory program of reform. But ACTA stresses that academics should address the problem of self-regulation, and that they should do so now -- in the face of mounting legislative interest in controlling the curriculum. ACTA’s report is as friendly to institutional self-governance and academic freedom as it is possible for a watchdog organization to be.
Now for Mr. Wilson.
Writing at Inside Higher Ed, John K. Wilson treats ACTA’s report as Exhibit A in “a vast new right-wing witch hunt on college campuses”: “The far right is already pursuing leftist academics for expressing their views in the classroom,” Wilson writes. “ACTA threatens that academic freedom will be revoked from colleges unless they start censoring their professors and ban [courses that mention social justice, sex, or race].” But Wilson’s scaremongering misrepresents the report to an audience who, he seems to expect, will not check his sources.
Nowhere does ACTA advocate censoring professors or banning courses. The report urges academic officials to address -- voluntarily, and in institutionally appropriate ways -- professors’ obligation to respect students’ academic freedom to learn about controversial issues. The report recommends institutional self-study, hiring administrators committed to intellectual diversity, careful vetting of job candidates’ work, review of personnel practices, post-tenure review, and -- most importantly -- fostering robust debate on campus.
Here are the study’s concluding paragraphs, which follow directly from the sentence Wilson quoted to argue that ACTA is endorsing censorship:
Ultimately, greater accountability means more responsible decision-making on the part of academic administrators, more judicious hiring on the part of departments, and more balanced, genuinely tolerant teaching on the part of faculties. It also means acknowledging--openly and unapologetically--that education and advocacy are not one and the same, that the invaluable work of opening minds and honing critical thinking skills cannot be done when professors are more interested in seeing their own beliefs put into political practice.Finally, it means defending the academic freedom of even the most militantly radical academics. Our aim should not be to fire the Ward Churchills for their views, but to insist that they do their job--regardless of their ideological commitments. We must insist that, in their classrooms, they teach fairly, fostering an open and robust exchange of ideas and refusing to succumb to a proselytizing or otherwise biased pedagogy. Only then will their ideas be subject to debate; only then will they and their students learn to defend their positions in the marketplace of ideas. Only then will other views challenge, complicate, and even displace theirs. Only then can we hope to create a truly diverse academy.
Far from calling for censorship or the banning of classes, ACTA urges transparency about what professors teach; far from trying to silence politically engaged professors, ACTA defends academic freedom while at the same time noting that 1) academic freedom does not mean freedom from criticism or freedom from accountability; and 2) students have academic freedom too. Also worth noting: When the Ward Churchill scandal broke in 2005, ACTA defended Churchill from those who sought to fire him for his speech.
Wilson mistrusts definitions of research misconduct that include egregiously misleading citations -- and no wonder. His own argument about ACTA depends on the willful manipulation of sources.
Neither Burke nor Wilson reads ACTA’s report objectively, choosing instead to see it as proof of that worn professorial complaint, that no one outside the ivory tower understands academics. But what neither grasps is that it is not the public’s job to intuit the special worth of professors. Insofar as Burke and Wilson represent an academic consensus that outsiders are not qualified to judge -- or scrutinize, or question -- higher education, they signal the depth of the complacent insularity ACTA’s report takes to task.
If ACTA’s report has a take-home message for academics, it is that they urgently need to justify to a skeptical public why their work deserves special protections. Only then, ironically, will they have a chance of preserving the independence they cherish. With transparency comes respect; with accountability comes autonomy. That’s the paradoxical point of "How Many Ward Churchills?" -- that the more open one is about one’s practices, the more willing one is to allow one’s work to be scrutinized, the more responsive one is to legitimate criticisms, the more likely one is to be allowed to carry on without undue interference. What a pity that Burke and Wilson could not take off their ideological blinders long enough to see that.
Anne D. Neal
Anne D. Neal is president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni.