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Monday, January 16, 2006

And the winners are

Gulden vs. Kosciusko

Though Gulden’s is the oldest prepared mustard in the United States (dating from 1862), and though any New York sports fan should have fond memories of swabbing it lovingly over a hot Sabrett’s at Shea or the Garden, the edge in the Spicy Brown competition has to go to Kosciusko.  Slightly tangier, duskier, and more versatile, Kosciusko is now my mustard of choice for sandwiches, hot dogs, knishes, pretzels, lobsters, and soufflés.  Any time is a good time for Kosciusko!

1995-96 Detroit Red Wings vs. 2001 Seattle Mariners

The ‘95-’96 Red Wings set a single-season record of 62 wins; their remarkable 131 points outpaced their nearest competitor, the Philadelphia Flyers, by 24 points.  The ‘01 Seattle Mariners won a mind-bending 116 games and lost only 46.  But neither team made it through the playoffs; the Red Wings were beaten 4-2 in the conference final by the eventual Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, and the Mariners folded in five to the Yankees in the ALCS.  Which team provides a better gloss on the 2005 Indianapolis Colts?  The Mariners, by a nose.  But even the Mariners managed to get past the first round.

PC vs. Mac

I have no strong feelings about this one.  Let’s call it a tie.

“Every Breath You Take” vs. “No Reply”

Lennon’s “No Reply” is a measurably creepier Stalker Song than Sting’s, because in “No Reply” the obsessive waiting- outside- the- house- and- watching- to- see- her- peep- through- the- window thing has already begun, whereas “Every Breath You Take” consists merely of a series of threats.  Verb tense is everything in such matters.  Also, Sting’s middle eight is too abject (though it has a clever little E flat - G - E minor - C - D - E minor progression at the end), whereas Lennon’s is all confused bluster: “If I were you I’d realize that I/ love you more than any other guy.” Run those pronouns by me again?

Oh, and don’t bother me with Morrissey’s “The More You Ignore Me the Closer I Get.” “I am now a central part/ Of your mind’s landscape”?  Please.  It’s not even in the same league as Lennon bugging his stalkee to the point at which her family has to cover for her. 

Though Sting gets honorable mention for managing to get his creepy song played at weddings.

Samuel Alito vs. Robert Bork

Commentary provided by Michael Bérubé and ESPN’s Bill Clement.

Certainly the showdown everyone was waiting for, Bill!

-- That’s right, Michael, the Bork-Alito matchup promised to be a thriller, and it definitely lived up to the hype.

Alito, the elusive right-wing sniper out of Yale—but many say it was at Princeton that he really learned how to play the game—and Bork, the former “left-wing radical” from Chicago, the school known alternately as “Goaltender U.” and “Left Wing Radical U.”

-- Brings to mind the classic meeting of the Flyers’ Reggie Leach and the Canadiens’ Steve Shutt in the ‘75-’76 Cup finals! 

And with similar results, Bill.  You played with Leach on the ‘75 Cup champions, and I think you’d have to agree that he had that kind of straight-ahead style we associate with the great Robert Bork.

-- Absolutely, Michael.  There was no mystery about Leach—he just had a blazing shot, and he took that shot from everywhere.  A great scorer, but in the end, largely a one-dimensional player.  Steve Shutt, very similar profile, but ultimately, as you say, a more elusive forward.  As the Stanley Cup itself will testify, since his name appears on it five times.

What makes Alito more successful, I think, is precisely that deceptive quality Bork lacked.  His ability to split the Democrats’ defense time and again, with even the slightest hint of a feint toward the center. . . .

-- Though I have to point out, Michael, that it really wasn’t much of a defense at all.  The Democrats played so far apart that almost any decent right-winger with speed could have blown their doors off, and they have only a handful of players who know how to carry the puck back up the ice in a counterattack.  This defense is nothing like that of the team that stopped Bork.

Fair enough, Bill.  But let’s give Alito credit where credit is due.  When he claimed he couldn’t remember just why he joined the Concerned Alumni of Princeton, and offered the Democrats that head fake about the ROTC, I said to myself, I don’t think this guy can be stopped—he can only be contained.  I mean, that was a brilliant move, a brazen move, a highlight-reel move, and it caught the defense in the middle of a poorly-timed change to boot.

-- You bring up a good question, Michael.  I’m not sure Alito can even be contained.  I think we may have a player here who can score practically at will.

And we know how he feels about the “at will” doctrine! [Laughter]

-- No, I think the Republicans have themselves a twofer here.  Alito offers them the promise of a radical expansion of executive power together with a dramatic scaling back of civil liberties and rights to privacy.  It’s a devastating combination, and a tribute to the strength of the GOP farm team.  At every level, from the minor leagues up through the parent clubs, it’s just one righty power forward after another.

Bill, the Democrats are reportedly scrambling to regroup, hoping to pick up some fresh talent in the November draft.

-- Well, it’s amazing just how poorly the Democrats have drafted in recent years, Michael, and it calls into question just who’s doing the scouting for this operation.  So I’m not sure the draft really offers them a chance to recover, unless they get a lot savvier a lot sooner.

Meanwhile, Bill, the question for the GOP has to be, what’s next?  With Roberts and Alito they seem to have established a radical right presence on the bench for the next thirty years.  You have to ask, just how far can this franchise go?

-- Only time will tell, surely, but I think fans of untrammeled executive power, big business, and theocracy have every reason to be hopeful.

And in the meantime, the Democrats should probably start figuring out just how to play this game.  They haven’t coped well with the new rule changes, and seem to be hoping that the Republicans’ penalties—they are led in that department by Tom “the Hammer” DeLay and Jack “the Ripper” Abramoff—will eventually catch up to them.  So far, it hasn’t worked.

-- No, you can’t just wait for the other team to make mistakes in this game, Michael.  As you well know.

Right you are, Bill.  And those were the weekend’s key matchups, everyone!  Thanks for tuning in.

Posted by Michael on 01/16 at 04:43 PM
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Sunday, January 15, 2006

This weekend’s key matchups

Samuel Alito vs. Robert Bork

“Every Breath You Take” vs. “No Reply”

PC vs. Mac

1995-96 Detroit Red Wings vs. 2001 Seattle Mariners

Gulden vs. Kosciusko

Voting begins immediately.  Results will be announced tomorrow.*

_________________________

*As in advanced democracies, results are not necessarily related to votes.

Posted by Michael on 01/15 at 12:01 PM
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Friday, January 13, 2006

Open letter on the NYU strike

This week I finally got around to writing my very own letter about the stalemate at NYU.  I was going to put it in the mail, but I didn’t have one of those new 39-cent stamps . . . and besides, I figured that blogs travel faster than the mail anyway.  So here it is.

Professor John Sexton
Office of the President
New York University
Bobst, 70 Washington Square South, 1216
New York, New York 10012

Dear President Sexton:

I’m writing to urge you to negotiate a new labor contract with GSOC—but I’m not going to be so naive or fatuous as to appeal to anybody’s sense of justice and fair play.  I know that NYU seized the opportunity afforded it by the NLRB’s July 2004 ruling, and moved quickly to de-recognize its graduate student union.  Had your administration wanted to continue dealing with GSOC as a collective bargaining agent, you could very well have done so; the fact that you have not suggests that I would be wasting my time and yours by arguing that you should recognize GSOC out of the goodness of your collective hearts.  And, of course, the fact that your administration has threatened striking workers with long-term reprisals—which would take effect, according to your November 28 email, even after the strike is over—makes me doubt whether your collective hearts are all that good to begin with.

I know also that the political pressure on you is tremendous.  The actions of your administration are being watched across the country—not only by strike supporters like myself, but also (and perhaps more importantly, from your perspective), by the administrations of private universities everywhere.  The Ivies, in particular, have a vested interest in the outcome of this strike, since many of them have been holding their own graduate student unions at arm’s length for the past few years, and none of them, to date, has been willing to negotiate with those unions on a voluntary basis.  As far as they’re concerned, then, a victory for the administration at NYU is a victory for administrations at prestigious private universities across the board.

So, as I say, I’m not going make any lofty appeals to justice and fairness here.  I’m merely going to suggest to you that any “victory” you achieve with regard to GSOC will be Pyrrhic.  The Ivies and comparable private institutions may stand to benefit if you succeed in breaking this strike—but NYU certainly will not.  The reason is quite simple: every day you prolong this standoff, you send the message to thousands of potential applicants that they would be out of their minds to consider enrolling in a graduate program at NYU.

I believe it is a mistake for any school to send such a message to ambitious undergraduates; but it’s an especially serious and poorly-timed mistake for a school like NYU.  Over the past ten years, I have watched with admiration and envy as NYU has hired an extraordinary cohort of scholars, sometimes forging entire programs around the research of a cluster of newly-recruited faculty members.  I have watched NYU rebuild its English department while creating terrific new programs across the humanities and social sciences, ranging from American Studies to the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality.  And I have sent a number of my most promising undergraduates your way, assuring them that NYU will be among the very best places for them to develop their intellectual interests and establish the foundation of their scholarly careers.

I’m sorry to say I would not recommend NYU to a talented undergraduate today.  I simply could not, in good conscience, send students off to graduate programs in which they would run the risk of being treated as you have treated GSOC. 

Graduate programs at Yale, Penn, and Columbia will not be affected by this strike.  Their applicant pools will remain just as deep as they ever were.  But I believe that NYU will take a very, very long time to recover unless you agree to sit down with GSOC soon.  Everyone knows that your administration’s hard-line anti-union stance has nothing to do with money: your spectacular faculty hires in recent years testify eloquently to NYU’s desire—and potential—to move into the uppermost echelon of American universities.  You clearly have the financial and intellectual wherewithal for the job.  But unless you resolve this labor dispute quickly and fairly (both are key), you may wind up presiding over a university with internationally-renowned faculty and emaciated graduate programs.  For surely the best and brightest graduate program applicants, looking on at the fate of GSOC from afar, will have enough of a sense of self-preservation to conduct their studies elsewhere.

I say this with a palpable sense of dismay.  I have many friends among your faculty; I think the world of NYU Press; and, as I’ve noted above, some of my former students are now your students.  For their sake, but also, ultimately, for the sake of New York University as a whole, I ask you to reconsider the path you’ve chosen, and to negotiate with GSOC—in good faith, and for the common good.

Sincerely yours,
Michael Bérubé
Penn State University

Posted by Michael on 01/13 at 01:07 PM
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Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Indoctrinate U.

The Blogger Who Is No Longer Nice has thrown down the gauntlet.  First he quotes the Philadelphia Inquirer’s story about the recent “liberal bias” hearings at Temple University:

Show trial fizzles out:

Yesterday’s hearing on academic freedom at Pennsylvania’s public universities was hyped by conservative activists as a “historic moment,” in which school administrators would finally be “called to account” in front of state legislators for allowing student “indoctrination and abuse” by leftist professors.

But the hearing at Temple University did not live up to that billing.

A professor scheduled to testify about alleged rampant liberal bias at Temple canceled. The sole student to appear before the legislative committee acknowledged he had never filed a formal grievance.

And Temple president David Adamany testified that in fact no student had made an official classroom bias complaint in at least five years, despite well-developed policies and procedures for doing so. . . .

Rep. Dan Surra (D., Elk) called the hearings a “colossal waste of time and taxpayer money.”

Yep, sounds about right to me.  But check out what No More Mister Nice Blog has to say about this:

So much for the big victory Davey Horowitz declared last summer when the Pennsylvania House passed the resolution calling for the hearings. Incidentally, maybe I’m missing something here, but it appears that the Horowitz/Front Page Magazine crowd’s entire case with regard to Temple is based on one course. If the Liberal International is really hell-bent on brainwashing the next generation of America’s youth, shouldn’t we be working harder than that?

Well, you’re right, Steve, my man, we should be working harder.  I’m sorry I’ve dropped the ball on liberal indoctrination at Penn State; I have to confess that I was too busy last semester to attend to this.  I’ll see what I can do about getting the Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin Studies undergraduate minor in the humanities approved by the Faculty Senate without further delay.  That way the kids will have to take six indoctrination courses.  Bwah hah hah hah hah.

But seriously, folks, indoctrinatin’ is hard work.  It’s hard!  And you know how professors hate hard work.

Still, the mere fact that students are not rising up en masse to complain about liberal indoctrination doesn’t mean it ain’t happening.  In fact, if you think about it hard enough, it’s probably very good evidence that it is happening!  From the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub required, sorry):

Rep. Dan B. Frankel, a Democrat who is a member of the Board of Trustees of the University of Pittsburgh, reminded Ms. Neal [president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni] that the issue of potential political discrimination at state universities had received a considerable amount of publicity since the committee’s previous hearing three months ago.  He said he might have expected students to come forward with complaints, but none have done so. “It seems to me we may be overblowing this problem,” he said. “I don’t have streams of people coming to me.”

“Let’s not put the burden on the student,” Ms. Neal countered. “Let’s put the burden on the institutions.”

When asked to elaborate on this remark, Ms. Neal said, “I’m simply saying that if there are only a tiny handful of complaints from students, then colleges should bear the burden of explaining why more students aren’t coming forward to say what we all know is true.  That’s the way the system should work.

“In fact, the very paucity of complaints is the best evidence we’ve yet seen for the argument that conservative students are intimidated into silence,” Ms. Neal continued.  “Despite our years-long national campaign to get conservative students to expose their liberal professors’ schemes of indoctrination, we’ve come up with next to nothing.  And nothing could testify more eloquently to the pervasiveness of campus conservatives’ persecution than this next to nothing.”*

In a related development, David Horowitz has had to issue two retractions of stories he has told repeatedly in his campaign against liberal campuses. 

But while Horowitz was declaring the hearings “a great victory” for his cause, he lost some powerful stories. For example, Horowitz has said several times that a biology professor at Pennsylvania State University used a class session just before the 2004 election to show the Michael Moore documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, but he acknowledged Tuesday that he didn’t have any proof that this took place.

In a phone interview, Horowitz said that he had heard about the alleged incident from a legislative staffer and that there was no evidence to back up the claim. He added, however, that “everybody who is familiar with universities knows that there is a widespread practice of professors venting about foreign policy even when their classes aren’t about foreign policy” and that the lack of evidence on Penn State doesn’t mean there isn’t a problem.

“These are nit picking, irrelevant attacks,” he said.

“As Ms. Neal said,” Horowitz added, “we already know what is true.  Whether or not it actually happened is irrelevant.  You don’t need evidence for things you already know are true.  That’s just nit picking.  Everybody knows that.

“And the fact that no Penn State biology professor assigned Fahrenheit 9/11 is a great victory for my cause.”*

Even if these examples aren’t correct, he said, they represent the reality of academic life. “Is there anybody out there who will say that professors don’t attack Bush in biology classrooms?” he said. Horowitz characterized the debate over his retractions as a diversionary tactic by his critics.

“Retractions are irrelevant to the truth.  They’re a diversion,” Horowitz insisted, pointing to his now-famous headline about yet another academic urban legend he’s been circulating for years, the story of the poor student who was given an F for refusing to write an essay on why George Bush is a war criminal: “Some of Our Facts Were Wrong; Our Point Was Right.”

“Facts don’t do what I want them to,” Horowitz said while donning an outlandishly oversized white jacket.  “Facts just twist the truth around. . . .  Facts are nothing on the face of things.”*

* I have to admit, in the interest of fairness and balance, that I made up these quotes.  I mean, c’mon, it’s not as if these people would really say anything this foolish.

Post-Atrios update:  but all the quotes in the indented paragraphs are real.  Anne Neal insisting that the burden of proof in accusations of bias should lie with the institutions—real.  Horowitz insisting that the debunking of his urban legends is “irrelevant”—also real.  You can look them up on the Internets!

Posted by Michael on 01/11 at 04:39 PM
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The view from West 4th Street

Guest blogger Michael Cohen of NYU’s graduate student union, GSOC.  With thanks to Scott Eric Kaufman for sending this essay my way.

The GSOC strike at NYU has reached the two-month mark. For those who don’t know, GSOC is the graduate student union at NYU, and we’re striking to force the NYU administration to negotiate a second contract with us (here’s a more detailed history of GSOC and NYU). It looks like we’ll still be on strike when the spring semester begins on January 17.

The shaky state of academic labor formed a consistent theme throughout the recently-concluded MLA convention: as universities become more corporate, teaching increasingly goes to contingent faculty (as much as 70% of the teaching at four year universities is done by graduate students and adjunct faculty), while those who get tenure-track jobs face ever higher standards for actually getting tenure, even as the academic publishing industry has shriveled. Therefore, the situation at NYU seems to fit into larger patterns at work in higher education: NYU’s labor practices may be egregious, but they don’t stray that far from the rest of the crowd. However, there are some things about NYU in particular that have driven both the intensity of the strike and the intensity of the response to it, and I want to talk a little bit about that.

While resenting your home institution may seem integral to academic life, the feeling around Washington Square has been pretty bad for a long time. The NYU administration’s union-busting campaign fits into a larger pattern of behavior. Decision-making power here is concentrated at the top of a highly bureaucratic managerial structure. These decisions get made in secret, with little effort at even token community involvement. This past summer, John Sexton called a town hall (listen to it here) to discuss the union after he had already announced his preliminary decision not to recognize it. (He then appeared shocked when people showed up to challenge this decision). In fact, NYU has never released the results of a survey that it conducted last spring in which it asked directors of undergraduate study how unionization had affected their departments. When pressed to release these findings, the administration claimed it had no way to gain authorization from the individuals surveyed; the widespread feeling is that they refuse to release these responses because they were overwhelmingly positive about the union.

There’s not much social or intellectual culture among the departments, either. When the Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences spoke to a town hall meeting of Greenwich Village residents last month, he described how NYU would raise its ranking by “acquiring” (his word) 125 well-respected professors, as though buying a certain critical mass of intellectual capital would magically improve the university all on its own. In fact, virtually the only events in my department are job talks. As it stands, there are almost no forums for inter-departmental dialogue, nor are there many spaces where people from various parts of the university can meet. In the languages and literatures building where I work, there is no system—not even a bulletin board—to alert people to events in other departments. I don’t think it need be taken as a given that what goes on in, say, the German department would be of no interest to people in the Slavic languages. What this attitude does take as a given is that each department and each person in each department can be dealt with directly and in isolation. The determining features of our NYU lives are all institutionally-mandated. Not surprisingly, divide-and-conquer has been the most prominent weapon in the administration’s arsenal of union-busting tactics: divide the sciences from the humanities, divide the international students from the U.S. students, divide the languages from social sciences, and so on. There is literally almost no space for collective life on campus, other than the picket line.

Given this system of instrumental individualism, most complaints about the strike (the selfishness or irresponsibility of striking grad students) from people within the NYU community have taken the form of complaining about the strike’s effects on others. Of course the strike affects others—that’s its purpose. Anger about the strike has come from a realization that individuals are not, in fact, autonomous, but are instead interconnected: undergraduate well-being is tied to graduate well-being. Busting GSOC without any regard to the wishes of the graduate students has harmed everyone on campus, though the administration has attempted to portray their union-busting as paternalistic concern for graduate students, while any actions that grad students take in response (i.e., a strike) are reckless attempts to harm unrelated parties.

University life seems predicated on totally effacing these realities and instead presenting the university as a space outside of the economic realm—and so one of the administration’s primary rhetorical tactics has been to deny that graduate students are workers, as though being a student and being a worker were mutually exclusive categories. John Sexton has made the extreme claim that teaching isn’t work. Other administration spin-doctors have likened grad student teaching to “pedagogical training” and grad student labor to “apprenticeship” (a reference indicating a total ignorance of the history of the apprentice system and its relation to the formation of organized labor). In this rhetorical scheme, teaching is a guild system, and grad students must work their way through it as apprentices (grad students), journeymen (adjuncts) before becoming master craftsmen (tenured professor). The quirky archaism of this imagery hearkens back to a pre-capitalist economy and fantastically ignores the working realities of the corporate university. I think that the ideological wish here is to imagine that teaching really isn’t alienated labor, a desire with which I sympathize but which is in complete contradiction to the stated policies and mandates of the corporate university’s managerial bureaucracy: NYU will improve itself by buying its way to the top, which means getting as much (dollar) value as possible from everyone. The rationale is strictly economic: earning and spending money will get you success.

The strike recognizes this basic reality. Many on campus—administrators, faculty, students, both supportive and opposed—portray the strike as though it were only a political statement. In fact, the strike is our way of showing that we understand how things work here, and we’re using economic means to fight a purely instrumentalized economic structure.

The muddled interconnections between corporate capitalism and education may simply be more nakedly displayed at NYU than at other places. Universities tend to cloak their bad labor practices under the veneer of the cultural and intellectual prestige they command within society, and NYU, let’s face it, lacks the prestige of, say, Yale. Grad students have wised up to the rules of the game here: you can’t make everything economically determined and then deploy the language of liberal idealism when it suits you—ideologies always fail through their internal contradictions, and NYU’s rhetoric is pretty easy to decode. We know we’re here for an economic purpose; I’m fine with that—after all, I love the work. But I’m going to gain the best advantage I can, and that means unionization. GSOC has made life better for NYU’s grad students, and I will never trust an administration that has threatened me the way this one has. (Given the magically rising cost of tuition and the massive leveraging it now takes an undergrad to get a degree here, it won’t be long before they wise up too—many of them already have.)

The word is out about NYU, but it didn’t have much of a reputation to damage. But strikes are meant to cause economic damage, and economic statements are the ones NYU understands. So, two months in and we’re still on strike, and we’ll stay on strike until we get a contract. That’s just the way things work around here.

Many thanks, Michael and Scott.  I’ll have a followup to this tomorrow, after I take care of some local business later today. —MB

Posted by Michael on 01/11 at 09:33 AM
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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On getting our act together

Last week, I wrote two very long posts about my recent adventures on the MLA’s Delegate Assembly Organizing Committee.  This week, I have two followup posts.  Fortunately for all concerned, neither of them are very long.

Over the past five years I’ve learned that people propose all kinds of things to the MLA.  Not just resolutions about withdrawing from Iraq and Afghanistan, and not just motions in support of graduate student employees and part-time professors, but also resolutions about events and disputes at individual institutions.  The very first resolution I came across, in fact, asked the MLA to condemn an incident at a college during which campus security allegedly overreacted to something or other.  When I read that one I wondered to myself, “who writes to the Modern Language Association about something like this?  This is like calling your local public library to complain about the potholes on your street.  Yes, surely something should be done, but the library, for all its immeasurable value as a public institution, does not have a pothole-filling team at the ready.”

If I sound a bit put out by proposed resolutions like this, well, there’s a reason.  I can’t count the number of times I’ve spoken to colleagues about assaults on academe, from the PC days of the late 1980s and early 1990s right through last month, only to hear them tell me they plan to draft a motion and get their disciplinary association to take a strong stand for or against X.  “That’s all very well and good,” I usually say, “but does your disciplinary association have a legal wing?  Does it have an investigative apparatus?  Does it censure institutions for violations of academic freedom and due process?” Well, no, people say.  Disciplinary organizations aren’t like that; the important thing is that we speak out as scholars through our disciplinary organizations, and thereby take public positions for or against X.

“Have you thought of joining the American Association of University Professors and bringing this to their attention?” I ask.  “The AAUP?” people reply. “The AAUP doesn’t get anything done; they’re like a faculty club or something.  If you want to get things done, you’ve got to make a statement through the American Historical Association or the American Philosophical Association or the American Anthropological Association or the. . . .” (In fact, in the modern languages this attitude can take even weirder micropolitical forms, whenever professors get it into their heads that the MLA is just too large and impersonal and what they really need to do is to work through their subdisciplinary association.)

I’m not exaggerating when I say this attitude is depressingly pervasive in academe—and that it has things almost entirely backwards.  Not that I have anything against disciplinary associations; I’ve been plenty active in mine.  And despite all the grief it gets, the MLA actually does do plenty of stuff worth doing.  We were out in front on academic labor issues long before most of our sister organizations, and we’ve come a long way toward making our convention physically and intellectually accessible to scholars with disabilities.  The Bibliography and the Handbook remain the gold standard for such things, and though we need to catch up with developments on the Internets, our online language map rocks the house.  Still, when you’re dealing with governance disputes on individual campuses, or Horowitzian attacks on academic freedom launched in the name of academic freedom, or unfair labor practices and unjust firings, the most you can do in the MLA is make general statements of principle.  If you want something investigated or you want something done, the place to go is the AAUP.

Who do you think defined academic freedom in the first place, and remains its determined and principled defender today?  And academic freedom is just the foundation; the rest of the organization is a many-layered edifice.  Check out their definitive statement on procedural standards in the renewal or nonrenewal of faculty appointments, if you like.

Or their position on student rights and freedoms.

Or on collegiality as a criterion for faculty evaluation.

Or on speech codes.

And hey, if your disciplinary organization has a Governmental Relations Office this good, more power to you.  But I’m willing to bet it doesn’t.

The AAUP doesn’t just fling those standards into the ether, either.  They actually enforce them, they file legal briefs to support them, and they censure colleges that flout them.  They do this not just for AAUP members; they do it for everyone.

I want to emphasize that last bit.  Penn State didn’t even have an AAUP chapter until a handful of colleagues and I founded one last month.  But the AAUP didn’t stop to check its membership roster in Pennsylvania before sending representatives to Pittsburgh to testify before the House of Representatives Select Committee on Student Academic Freedom, which, as you may already know, is investigating liberal “bias” on Pennsylvania campuses (today they’re at Temple U in Philly).  The AAUP works for college faculty regardless of whether they’re members of the organization.  If there’s a bill that might give legislators direct control over departmental hiring and curricular content, the AAUP will show up to argue against it.  If people are running around the country arguing that academic departments and curricula should be overseen by state legislators in the name of academic freedom, the AAUP shows up to argue that these people haven’t the faintest idea what “academic freedom” means or why it’s critical to a free society.  And when misguided universities come up with kangaroo courts in the name of conducting “student judicial proceedings,” the AAUP insists on the due process rights of the accused, regardless of whether the accused is liberal or conservative or what-have-you.  If you’re teaching at a college in the United States, you ought to be an AAUP member just as a matter of principle.

Yet AAUP membership has declined drastically over the past thirty years.  It’s declined even more drastically as a percentage of the professoriat overall (which has grown in the past thirty years, particularly in the part-time and non-tenure-track ranks), and even more drastically if you look exclusively at AAUP membership among faculty at research universities.  What gives?

Well, I know the dues are a bit high, at least as far as young assistant professors are concerned. $150 a year or thereabouts can be a lot of money to some people—almost as much as a small-town gym membership.  (For new members, the dues are roughly half of that for the first four years of membership.  Graduate students may join as well; their dues about one-quarter the full fare.) But if money’s an issue, don’t make me climb up out of this blog and say academic freedom isn’t freeBecause you know I’ll do it.

And all the while AAUP membership has been declining, too many faculty members have been thinking to themselves that if they just send a sharply-worded resolution to their disciplinary organization, they’ll get something done that needs doing.

Listen, folks.  By all means join or stay in your disciplinary organizations.  But if you’re a college professor or advanced graduate student in the United States and you’re not a member of AAUP by now, I don’t know what to tell you.  Are you thinking that perhaps the next couple of years are going to be happy, placid times for college professors?  Or that over the next decade, the 68 percent of us who are teaching part-time, or off the tenure track for one reason or another, are suddenly going to be granted tenure?  Or that people are going to stop attacking the very institution of tenure?  Or that academic freedom would survive just fine without it?

You want my advice?  I say join the AAUP today if not sooner.  Form a local chapter, if need be.  And vote for my dear and trusted friend Cary Nelson for AAUP President.  His website includes his statement of candidacy, and if you look it over you’ll see why he’s just the right man for the job.

Posted by Michael on 01/10 at 03:23 PM
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