Monday, January 23, 2006
In today’s Inside Higher Ed, UC-Irvine doctoral candidate Brian Thill has an open letter in response to Andrew Jones, the Bruin Alumni Association, and UCLAProfs.com. I’m sure you remember them—they’re the ones who are scandalously underpaying undergraduates for the lecture notes and audiotapes of liberal UCLA professors. You are hereby invited to read the whole thing, as we say in the blogging industry, but for those of you with busy daily schedules, here are the final two paragraphs:
I cannot remember the last time I proselytized (according to your definition) in class, if I ever did; nor have I found it necessary to offer a disquisition on any of the particular subjects you consider off-limits or ideologically suspect, but this has nothing to do with the fact that I think your entire approach is wrong. In fact, all of what I have said thus far is really only a relatively minor criticism of your ideas, the faulty assumptions behind them, and the dangers inherent in your approach to solving this perceived problem. In the end, the greatest weakness in your investigative project is that your own ideological investment in curtailing academic freedom to express views you disagree with has blinded you to a whole set of profound crises that are in fact debasing higher education and shortchanging generations of hard-working students.
While you target professors whose political views conflict with your own and attempt to paint a shocking portrait of the corrupt ideologies that are eating away at the very foundations of higher learning, you ignore the legitimate problems most students face and instead direct your energies toward the worst sort of partisan whining and straw-man argumentation. If you were genuinely interested in preventing students from receiving a “debased education,” you might want to devote some of your estimable energies to dealing with the following crises in education: the increasing burden of debt being carried by students; the skyrocketing costs of attending college (from tuition increases to the lack of affordable housing); restrictive immigration policies that prevent many excellent international students from attending American universities; the corporate takeover of the university; and so much more. In order for me to continue to talk about these issues, however, I may find it necessary to mention something other than Shakespeare, Harold Pinter, or the assorted subjects you are willing to grant me license to discuss. If I do, perhaps I can monitor myself, and provide you with all the materials you need to add another profile to your archive. For the sake of convenience, please make the check out to “Cash.”
Well, it didn’t take long for my old pen pal (and admirably early riser) KC Johnson to reply to this. At 6:18 this morning, he chimed in to say,
A few months ago, I wrote a column for IHE analyzing responses to allegations of bias in the academy. The piece argued that defenders of the academic status quo often proved the critics’ case in their attempts to explain why we ought not to be concerned about the increasingly imbalanced ideological nature of the contemporary academy.
I should note that I consider the reasoning behind much of the analysis on the UCLAprofs’ to be intellectually sophomoric and the site’s tactics to be needlessly confrontational. But Prof. Thill’s column doesn’t exactly provide reassurance, and it reinforces the argument of my IHE piece. On the one hand, he writes, “I cannot remember the last time I proselytized. . . in class, if I ever did.” On the other, he claims the freedom to spend class time to such matters as the Bush administration’s “restrictive immigration policies,” “the corporate takeover of the university,” and “so much more.”
Such views, of course, are defensible political positions (if minority ones), welcome within an intellectually diverse community that features honest and open debate. Yet that Prof. Thill does not consider spending class time in an English course advancing such arguments to constitute proselytizing is, unintentionally, revelatory.
Now, I’m not going to get all “personal” with KC here, and suggest that he sometimes has trouble paraphrasing other people’s essays. That would be so 2005. Besides, I have a very hectic week in front of me, part of which involves writing a talk on—guess what?—recent attacks on academic freedom. So I’ll turn this one over to you, dear readers. I can count five things wrong with KC’s reply (four major things, one minor), but who knows? There might be more. Until tomorrow, I leave matters in your most capable hands.
(Oh, and in the meantime, check out this most illuminating letter to the editor on Andrew Jones from back when he was a student at UCLA and his unofficial slogan was apparently “Hate Me Because I Hate You.” I wonder if you could fit that on the back of a vintage XFL football jersey.)
Friday, January 20, 2006
Arbitrary but fun Friday: Great American something
Last summer a local radio station conducted a listener poll to determine the “greatest American rock and roll band.” Because it was a classic-rock station, the leading candidates were the usual Parade of Horribles: the Eagles, the Doors, the Grateful Dead (three different kinds of hideous right there), and of course the various All-Stars of Turgid who named their groups after cities, states, or rivers of Hades.
But when I finished all my retching and kvetching—being, after all, a small-time Insufferable Music Snob—I realized that I didn’t have the faintest idea what “alternative” I would offer. Part of the problem, I think, is the term “greatest”: it suggests a longevity and/or a ponderousness that eliminates from consideration groups like the Ramones, who had a tremendous impact on American popular music but are really, in retrospect, three-album wonders. See also Velvet Underground, Television, Modern Lovers, Nirvana. Well, so maybe X? Hüsker Dü? The Replacements? Can it be true that there were no “great” American bands prior to the late 1970s? (Musically, btw, I think the best of these bands was X. Partly that’s because it’s true, and partly it’s because I never completely forgave the Replacements for being such incompetent drunken louts in half their live shows. At least Hüsker Dü showed up and played like they meant it.) I ask this with all due respect to you Creedence fans out there, but c’mon, CCR is a B plus at best.
And then I began to marvel at how overwhelmingly white this question is. You might conceivably be able to suggest P-Funk, but the rules seem to forbid suggestions like the Funk Brothers or the incarnations of the James Brown Band that involved Maceo Parker, Fred Wesley, Jimmy Nolan, Clyde Stubblefield . . . or a medley of people who’ve backed up Prince over the past 25 years. . . .
So I’m turning this one over to you, folks. Have a fine weekend. But anyone who says “Grand Funk Railroad” will be banned. And don’t even think of reviving this summer’s Southern Rock thread, either.
Aid and comfort
You gotta love that wacky bunch of wingnuts over at Fox. One day they’re inviting al-Qaeda to strike San Francisco, the next day they’re saying that the American “far left” has been working for bin Laden. It’s just funny, in a crazy coward-traitor-scoundrel kinda way.
And I think it was exceptionally bad manners for bin Laden not to thank Bill O’Reilly for his suggestion that al-Qaeda blow up the Coit Tower. What a lousy ingrate.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
Mister Answer Man: Special UCLA edition!
Dear Mister Answer Man: Have you seen the latest news from the campus wars? It seems that—as Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed puts it—“a conservative group is offering students at the University of California at Los Angeles money to tape lectures and turn over materials distributed by professors.” What do you think of this? —R. Cohn, Long Island
Mister Answer Man replies: Actually, Ms. Cohn, dozens of people have written to me in the past few days about this, and I’ve had the chance to look over the website of UCLAProfs.com, which describes itself as “exposing UCLA’s radical professors.” Here’s their pitch, for those of you who don’t want to visit the site itself:
Do you have a professor who just can’t stop talking about President Bush, about Howard Dean, about the war in Iraq, about MoveOn.org, about the Republican Party, about the Democratic Party, or any other ideological issue that has nothing to do with the class subject matter? It doesn’t matter whether this is a past class, or your ongoing class this winter quarter.
If you can help UCLAProfs.com collect information about abusive, one-sided, or off-topic classroom behavior, we’ll pay you for your work.
To see if we need information on the professors you’ve already taken, or will be taking this winter quarter, call 310-210-6735, or email bruinalumni (AT) bruinalumni.com today, and you could be paid tomorrow.
The following are materials we need for past or ongoing classes, along with rates of compensation.
* Full, detailed lecture notes, all professor-distributed materials, and full tape recordings of every class session, for one class: $100
(Note: lecture notes must make particular note of audience reactions, comments, and other details that will properly contextualize the professor’s non-pertinent ideological comments. If the class in question is ongoing or upcoming, UCLAProfs.com will provide (if needed) all necessary taping equipment and materials.)
* Full, detailed lecture notes and all professor- distributed materials, for one class: $50
(Advisory: without tape recordings, detailed note-taking is crucial. Particular care must be taken in transcribing the professor’s non-pertinent ideological comments as closely as possible to direct quotes.)
* Advisory and all professor-distributed materials: $10
Even if you didn’t take detailed notes or attend class regularly, you can still help UCLAProfs.com by alerting us to a problem professor not already in our database or target list (below). This is a particularly attractive option for students wanting to report past classes in which their notes and attendance did not match UCLAProfs.com’s high record-keeping standards. Simply provide us the name, your notes from the class (or substitute your current recollections), and any other materials you still retain, and we’ll pay you $10 for the tip.
To answer your question, Ms. Cohn, I condemn this enterprise wholeheartedly and unreservedly. It’s going about the task all wrong.
Dear Mister Answer Man: Come again? What do you mean, “going about the task all wrong”? Would you care to explain yourself? —C. Coughlin, Detroit
Mister Answer Man replies: Well, Ms. Coughlin, for one thing, look at the pay scale. Fifty bucks for full, detailed lecture notes and all professor- distributed materials for one class, including notes on “audience reactions, comments, and other details that will properly contextualize the professor’s non-pertinent ideological comments”? A hundred bucks for all of that plus full tape recordings of every class session? It’s downright exploitative, is what it is. In-state tuition at UCLA is about $6500; nonresident tuition is over $24,000. That means students taking, say, ten classes per year are paying either $650 or $2400 per course. And this Andrew Jones fellow wants to pay students only $50 for all that information? UCLA is on the quarter system, with ten-week instruction periods. So students are being asked to provide detailed lecture notes for twenty or thirty class meetings—or somewhere around two dollars an hour for all their hard work.
I find this reprehensible. If I were a student at UCLA who wanted to rat out liberal, progressive, and “radical” professors, I’d demand at least a living wage. Not that I would form a union or anything. That would be marching down the road to serfdom. But I’d definitely hold out for a better offer.
Also, I think the pay grades should be scaled to the kind of professor you’re going after. Many of the professors listed on UCLAProfs.com so far seem to be involved in ethnic studies and women’s studies, and I think they’re worth only about $300 or so, myself. If a student can bag bigger game, like a Howard Dean supporter in the department of political science, for example, I think Jones and his friends should put up at least $1000. And if an enterprising student manages to out a scientist who criticizes the Bush Administration over stem-cell research, climate change, Intelligent Design, or energy policy, I would think a full quarter’s tuition remission is in order.
Dear Mister Answer Man: I have to say I think you’re missing the point. This is a straightforward attempt to intimidate professors, and it constitutes an attack on academic freedom as well as (via the taping) a possible infringement of the intellectual property rights of faculty members. Moreover, if you read a couple of UCLAProfs.com webpages devoted to individual faculty members, you’ll find that these professors aren’t being charged with inappropriate behavior in the classroom; instead, they’re being charged with thoughtcrimes like writing for The Nation and signing petitions that call on “our members of Congress [to] assume their Constitutional responsibility to debate and vote on whether or not to declare war on Iraq.” This is wingnuttery of the first water. I thought I could count on you! Where’s the outrage? —J. Dewey, New York
Mister Answer Man replies: Whoa, hold on there, Chicken Little! Next we’ll be hearing hysterical remarks about “McCarthyism” from the likes of you! Listen, Ms. Dewey, maybe you haven’t heard, but everything changed on 9/11. If you’re trying to tell me that college professors can go on about Howard Dean, or bring irrelevant remarks about the Democratic and Republican parties into their American history, sociology, and political science classes, you’re clearly stuck in the 9/10 mindset. We are at war with people who hate our freedoms, Ms. Dewey. It only makes sense that if we rid ourselves of some of those annoying freedoms, then those people will like us and stop fighting us.
Dear Mister Answer Man: So you’re not worried about how this information is being gathered? What about the ten-dollar option for students who “didn’t take detailed notes or attend class regularly”? Isn’t that an open invitation to all manner of mischief and nonsense? —J. Spicoli, Ridgemont
Mister Answer Man replies: You may have a point, Ms. Spicoli. I asked my wife, Mrs. Answer Man—oops! I mean “Ms.” (don’t want to get the little lady all riled up!)—about this, and she suggested that Andrew Jones might have more success with those students if he offered them a drinking game instead. You know, whenever your professor mentions Howard Dean, MoveOn.org, Iraq . . . it’s shots time! No “detailed notetaking” involved. It’s a win-win.
Dear Mister Answer Man: I still don’t know. This whole thing sounds creepy and Horowitzian to me. I mean, spying on professors is cool and all, but I just think money taints the system. —J. Abramoff, Silver Springs
Mister Answer Man replies: That just shows you how little you know about the real world of money and influence, Ms. Abramoff. As a matter of fact, the Chronicle of Higher Education (sub required) asked David Horowitz about UCLAProfs.com, and here’s what they learned:
The Bruin Alumni Association has no connection to Students for Academic Freedom, a national watchdog group, started by David Horowitz, that helps college students document professors who introduce their politics in the classroom.
Mr. Horowitz said that while he objects to professors’ injecting their politics into their teaching, Mr. Jones’s approach of “baiting people” is wrong. Furthermore, he said, Mr. Jones used to work for him but he had to fire the UCLA activist after receiving complaints that Mr. Jones pressured students to file false reports about leftists. Mr. Horowitz accused Mr. Jones of stealing his donor list and has contacted his lawyer.
What Horowitz fails to understand, clearly enough, is that pressuring students to file false reports about leftists is what it’s all about. See my answer to Ms. Dewey, above. And surely Horowitz doesn’t have to be so possessive about that donor list! Goodness gracious, let’s have a little honor among false-report-filers, shall we?
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
Roger and me
A reader writes in to say: “hey, Michael, did you see that you were recently linked by the brilliant Tom Tomorrow? It seems that you’d parodied a form of wingnuttery that was then echoed, in precisely so many words, by an actual wingnut. How about that?”
Well, dear reader, it’s true. Here’s what happened. Back on December 21, I’d asked why it is that newly-minted wingnuts adopt all the wingnut positions of the past three or four decades even if they themselves became wingnuts only in the past four years. And I’d summarized their Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Post-Sixties Wingnuttery like so:
Everything changed for me on September 11. I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.
Within a month, right on cue, Roger L. Simon and his hat had this to say about the Alito hearings, in a post titled “To the Manor Born”:
The big loser of the confirmation hearings so far is Teddy Kennedy. In his hectoring and tasteless attack on Samuel Alito he has succeeded in nothing but reminding us of his (Teddy’s) past. While Alito may have been associated with a creepy Princeton alumni publication of twenty years ago, Kennedy was associated was something much worse than that—and we all know it. . . . When Mrs. Alito walked out of the room, I thought of Mary Jo Kopechne.
Leaving aside the pedestrian fact that this is a world-historically stupid thing to say (and also leaving aside the fact that Alito was actually a member of a creepy Princeton alumni organization, not merely “associated” with a “publication,” as well as the fact that it’s “to the manner born,” as in Hamlet I.iv.14, not “manor,” as Simon would know if he knew anything about literature), Simon’s remark has seemed, to some readers, an eerie confirmation of my own—as if, back in December, I was not parodying a wingnutterance so much as predicting it. One blogger, in fact, finds the coincidence “uncanny” and “creepy,” though I presume he does not mean “creepy” in a creepy-Princeton-alumni kind of way.
Now, I’ll confess that I was fond of the sentence, “I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.” I thought it was clean and economical, and really sort of funny-because-it’s true. In fact, I liked it so much that I repeated it at the MLA last month, while I was conversing at dinner with Tom Frank (yes, that Tom Frank), Ariel Dorfman (yes, that Ariel Dorfman), and Alexandra Stanton (who happens to be a policy advisor to New York Senate Minority Leader David Paterson).
But for the record: it is not eerie that Roger Simon said the very same wingnut thing I’d tried to parody back in December. What’s eerie is that this is now the second time this has happened.
Fifteen and a half months ago, as some of you may recall, I did a six-part series of parody liveblogging at the Republican National Convention. It was great fun at the time, and installment number two nearly won me a much-coveted Koufax. (Curse you, Poor Man! And curse you in especially vivid cursing language, Rude Pundit!) But just as I began to recover from the RNC, I learned that Roger Simon had echoed nearly every single one of my parodic posts with a “real” post of his own. And so, at once deeply honored and deeply amused, I offered readers a side-by-side comparison way back on September 6, 2004. Here it is again for all you fans of the eerie, the creepy, and the uncanny:
On the honor and dignity that is Ed Koch:
Me: For a quarter century, the name “Ed Koch” has been synonymous with integrity and rectitude—he’s a beacon of sanity and light in dark times. If he says George Bush is our man, I think Democrats should sit up straight and listen.
And Roger Simon:Koch is my man. He is pro War on Terror and pro same sex marriage. He is a moral man of guts who, as a lifetime Democrat, was willing to speak in favor of Bush.
On the warm and fuzzy feelings of that first moderate and tolerant inclusive compassionate night:
Me: These people really seem very nice, once you get to meet them. They’re not wild-eyed ideologues—they’re just ordinary folks, sitting there in Madison Square Garden, trying to have a good time. They’re as sensible as you or your grandmother, and all they want is for people to love one another, inclusively, in a big tent that is inclusive.
And Roger Simon:
Listening to Giuliani and McCain last night, I was starting to think, well, this Republican thing ain’t so bad. Just like when I listen to Lieberman or Evan Bayh I think the same thing about Democrats—hey, these folks make sense.
On Zell Miller, the last honest Democrat in America:
Me: The Zellraiser started off on fire: “Where is the bipartisanship in this country when we need it most?” he asked. Our nation is being torn apart by Democrats and their obsession to bring down our Commander-in-Chief! And that, my friends, is why we cannot unite the country the way we so desperately want to: these goddamn Democrats are a bunch of soft-bellied traitors! They insist on seeing American soldiers as occupiers, not liberators, when in fact, as Zell pointed out, the soldier, not the reporter, has given us the freedom of the press. Many cheers for this line from the crowd below me in the Garden! Screw those reporters who abuse the freedom of the press! Just like the soldier, not the agitator, has given us freedom of expression. Damn to hell fire those protestors who abuse the privilege of freedom of speech! Real American patriots know that dissent is possible only in America, and therefore unnecessary. Actual dissenters, who don’t bathe very often and who habitually abuse the privilege granted them by the military, are therefore traitors. To Gitmo with ‘em all!
And Roger Simon:
I’d like to log in on Zell Miller. That was one down home stemwinder out of the 1930s he gave and I agreed with pretty much everything he said. I think a lot of the negative reaction comes from the general lack of (or fear of) honesty in polite society. You’re not supposed to say what you think. You’re supposed to mask it.
And finally, last but not least, on how Bush’s War on Terror kicks serious butt whereas Bush’s new War to Teach Our Children the Equation for the Volume of a Cone is lame-ass nanny-state nonsense:
Me: Leadership is all about “making decisions you think are right, and then standing behind those decisions.” Even when it looks like your decision to invade Iraq was based on the advice of a notorious kleptomaniac who was possibly serving as a double agent for Iranian mullahs, you stand behind your decision, because leadership is all about making decisions you think are right and then standing behind them. Um, I said that already. But that’s all right, because it makes it even more true!! And I stand firm in repeating what I said about leadership!!
. . . Why, why, why would Bush mention the economy at a time like this? I thought the important thing was that he will grab terrorists by the throat. All I wanted to know was whether he would rip out the terrorists’ jugular veins or tear their windpipes from their necks. I didn’t want to hear about whether the economy was staggering under the eight count.
And Roger Simon:
Bush is the opposite [of Kerry], the original WYSIWYG candidate—for good or nil. He knows that too and that’s the best part of him. He said as much at the end of his speech last night, acknowledging many of us don’t agree with him on everything, but still soliciting our votes. I appreciated that candor because I certainly don’t. Of course it’s hard for me to imagine a candidate I would agree with on everything, but I admit I wince particularly when he addresses the social issues. Still, that was hardly a surprise and that is the pill I will have to swallow when I vote for him.
Of course that is also why I enjoyed the stomping War on Terror speeches… Giuliani, Miller, McCain… more than I did the others. I didn’t want to be reminded of the parts of Bush’s program with which I disagree.
So, folks, now you know the real reason I didn’t sign up with Bedwetters Media when I was given the chance last November. Who wants to write parodies of wingnuttery for an outfit headed by a guy who throws the very meaning of “parodies of wingnuttery” into semiotic crisis? I mean, think of the position I’d be in. One week I’d be making up batshit crazy stuff like “I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick,” and the next week Roger would be writing, “I used to consider myself a Democrat, but thanks to 9/11, I’m outraged by Chappaquiddick.” Before too long, Roger would be charging me with proleptic plagiarism or unauthorized time travel or something. I just don’t need the hassle.
However, even though I didn’t sign up with the jammies crowd, I really could use the advertising revenue—especially since my little experiment with BlogAds has generated so little interest in its first month. So I’ll tell you what. I’ll offer my potential advertisers a special deal: if you buy blog ads on this site, I promise to let you know what Roger Simon is going to say at least 48 hours before he says it. No other blogger—nay, not even Roger Simon himself—can make this amazing guarantee.
Michael Bérubé Online: your best—and first!—source for blogging by Roger Simon.
Tuesday, January 17, 2006
‘Brokeback Mountain’ award sparks criticism
Following the success of “Brokeback Mountain” at last night’s Golden Globe Awards, conservative activists have called for a national inquiry into “liberal bias” in the film and theater industry.
“My scientific studies indicate that liberals outnumber conservatives by 3500 to 1 in film and theater,” said David Horowitz, director of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, a nonpartisan watchdog group funded by nobody in particular. “There’s no way to explain that kind of imbalance except by active, conscious discrimination on the part of so-called liberals.”
Michael Medved, an independent film critic and bestselling author, agreed, remarking that liberal bias was not confined to Hollywood and the independent film industry. “Look at Broadway, Off-Broadway, Off-Off Broadway, the Goodman and Steppenwolf in Chicago, the Guthrie in Minneapolis, regional theaters throughout the country—and don’t get me started on San Francisco,” said Medved. “The bias is pervasive and systemic, running all the way from top producers and directors to set designers and stage hands.”
Medved pointed to an essay published last year by In Character magazine in which New York-based theater critic Terry Teachout wrote,
I’ve seen, read, and heard about enough contemporary American and British plays to know that the political point of view of most of their authors is well to the left of center. . . . Of the two hundred-odd new plays I’ve seen in my two years as a working critic, not one could be described as embodying a specifically right-wing political perspective, nor do I know any New York-based playwrights or actors who are openly conservative.
“If we could do for theater what David Horowitz has done for American campuses,” said Medved, “the New York State Senate would already be holding hearings on liberal bias in the industry.”
Other critics argue that the liberal dominance of film and theater inevitably leads to a “skewing” of subject matter and perspective. As James Dobson, an unaffiliated cultural critic with no explicit political agenda, points out, “Nowhere in ‘Brokeback Mountain’ is there any indication that 43 percent of gay cowboys have an average of five hundred sexual partners in their lifetimes, that 28 percent of gay cowboys have over one thousand sexual partners, or that gay cowboys have an average life span of only 43 years as a result. Hollywood needs to begin telling the truth about the gay cowboy lifestyle,” concludes Dobson, “and it won’t do that until the conservative viewpoint is included in a fair and balanced way.”
L. Brent Bozell III of the Media Research Center, a just plain, ordinary media research center of some kind, added that liberal bias can also be detected in the range of subjects traditionally ignored by mainstream film and theater. “Heterosexuality is the last taboo,” Bozell noted, “and heterosexual conservatives have to break the silence and begin demanding respect as human beings. We want to see heterosexual Westerns, heterosexual romantic comedies, heterosexual domestic dramas, and heterosexual action films when we go to the movies. We want Hollywood to represent our experiences, our lives, and our loves for a change.”
Dobson likened conservatives’ battle against mainstream film and theater to the civil rights struggle of the 1950s and 1960s. “Like the great Dr. Martin Luther King, we have a dream,” Dobson said, “and we dream of the day when the conservative viewpoint finally gets a fair hearing in American culture.”