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Diversity and dangerality

From one of my far-flung correspondents covering the Wild Wild World of Wingnuttery comes the news that the powerful Family Security Matters consortium, whose sworn mission “is to inform all Americans, men and women, about the issues surrounding national security; to address their fears about safety and security on a personal, family, community, national and international level; to highlight the connection between individual safety and a strong national defense; to increase civic participation and political responsibility; and to empower all Americans to become proactive defenders of our national security and community safety,” has finally released its Third Annual List of America’s Most Dangerous College Courses.

As you might imagine, these courses are a pretty scary bunch, and all the usual suspects are here.  “Nonviolent Responses to Terrorism,” check; “Immigration Law,” check; “Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies,” check.  Yes, these are definitely the courses that make your modern wingnut shiver under the covers.  The research methodology of Family Security Matters is actually far more rigorous than that of U. No., who famously compiled had his elves compile a list of dangerous professors whose “danger” was measured largely by things they’d said or written out of class; FSM, as befits its high seriousness, has a stringent vetting process for their determination of dangerality:

1.  The course must focus on the issue or issues detailed in the syllabus or class description. That is, a math course with a professor who may rail against President Bush or President-elect Barack Obama will not be considered;

2.  The course must also express an agenda far beyond any honest or accurate academic cause. That is, professors who teach courses that lie, manipulate facts, propagandize students, or express a dishonest and fact-deficient extremist view on the class topic, will be considered;

3.  Courses will be evaluated as if the reader of the course description was an incoming student. That is, they will judge the course only by the contents of the syllabus and whatever info they can reasonably find about the professor; and

4.  Courses that may be required as part of a “core” curriculum will also be considered if they offer nothing more than to stroke the ego of the professor’s fascination with silly topics that offer little academic value to students.

You can see why an introduction to gender and sexuality would run afoul of at least three of these criteria.  As Jason Rantz (if that is his real name) points out,

There is no need to take a course for an entire semester to get an introduction to gender and sexuality studies; in fact, I’ll introduce you to it right here. Gender and Sexuality Studies, whether here at Brown or elsewhere, is where confused students with a chip on their shoulders (usually hardcore Feminists and gay-rights activists) go to vent and get a degree which will not prepare them for the real world or help them get a job. An angry Gender and Sexuality Studies graduate with no job? Look out—that’s dangerous.

Occasionally, however, Mr. Rantz bends the rules in extraordinary cases, as when a professor has a website:

Introduction to U.S. Political Culture at the University of Oregon: While Professor Joseph Lowndes does attempt to at least appear fair—he offers a few conservative texts to counter the overwhelming liberal papers students must suffer through—it’s hard to take seriously an academic who, on his personal website, calls former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin “a kind of George Wallace in drag.” No fair-minded student would go to this professor for any lecture on political culture.

And as for that course on immigration law, well, Mr. Rantz doesn’t seem to see the need for courses on immigration law:

All you need to learn about immigration law I can teach you in this one sentence: it is illegal to enter our country without permission, bypassing our laws. Get in line, and we’ll welcome you—so long as you do not have nefarious purposes, of course.

You know, folks, with all the wingnut huffing and puffing about Teh Librul Professors, you rarely hear what a properly Wingnut U. would look like.  That’s why smart people like Mark Bauerlein can get away with saying, “Bérubé takes potshots at David Horowitz, but fails to deal with more serious conservatives, like, uh, a bunch of dead people and maybe E. D. Hirsch.” (That’s a rough paraphrase, but I can assure you that good ol’ Brad DeLong got the point.) First of all, the problem is way way deeper than U. No.; there is in fact an entire cottage industry of wingnut complaint about higher education, and lots of it looks and sounds pretty much like Jason Rantz’s List of Scary Courses.  Second of all, the wingnut complaint about higher education is a lot like the wingnut complaint about government:  they may say they want in, but at bottom, they hates it, they hates it, and just as Dubya appointed Heckuva Job Brownie to head an agency he couldn’t care less about, so too would the Jason Rantzes of the world teach courses on immigration law that consisted of the sentence “it is illegal to enter our country without permission” and supplemented by three hours a week of watching Lou Dobbs.  (Thanks for clearing up that confusing stuff about F and M student visas, I-129 forms for temporary workers, I-140s for longer visits, and the difference between residency and citizenship!  And thank goodness Professor Rantz’s course skipped over that silly stuff about “naturalization.” That would never help me get a job in today’s society today!) Just imagine Joseph T. Plumber as a Distinguished Professorship of Wartime Journamalism, and you’ve got your basic wingnut university.

Hmmm.  This brings up a point I’ve made a couple of times before, but just for the hell of it, let me give it another shot.  What follows are my remarks to Anne Neal of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni at our National Communication Association debate on “diversity in higher education” last November (for all both of you who wondered what exactly I said back then).  The final paragraph, I think, has some relevance for people who make Lists of Dangeral Courses, and for more serious conservatives in academe who really should get around to noticing that people who make Lists of Dangeral Courses are a bit of a problem for their side.

________

I want to open by saying something you might not expect me to say.  I don’t particularly like the rhetoric of diversity.  I’ve got nothing against ideological diversity on campus, within reason, of course: no Holocaust deniers in the history department and no Intelligent Design advocates in the life sciences, on the grounds that we have no business hiring such people any more than we should hire astrologers or faith healers.  But “diversity” is a sloppy concept.  It is contentless, for one thing, which is why the right has been able to deploy it so easily, complaining that universities foster every kind of diversity except diversity of opinion.  And for another thing, the primary reason we talk about diversity goes back to Lewis Powell’s rationale for affirmative action in the famous Bakke decision of thirty years ago (and I hope we can talk a bit more about that, because, as I point out in What’s Liberal, a good deal of conservative complaints about the political leanings of faculty are premised on a spurious analogy to affirmative action).  That opinion, you’ll recall, basically substituted the term “diversity” for the term “justice,” and made diversity the catch-all catchword for every kind of campus initiative ever since.  For example: I currently serve on a task force that is trying to make Penn State more accessible, in class and out, for students with disabilities.  (A subject you don’t often hear mentioned in these debates.) But the rationale for the formation of this task force, which is charged basically with getting people to obey a federal law, is that it will enhance diversity at Penn State.  I’ll take that rationale if I have to, but given my druthers, I would prefer to talk about doing justice to students with disabilities, just as I would prefer to talk about doing justice to women and minorities who were barred from institutions of higher learning for centuries.

That said, let me explain why I do not always trust ACTA as a player in these debates.  I actually think their goals are legitimate; they are one of many advocacy organizations in higher education, and they seek to move colleges and universities in a more conservative direction.  They make their case to trustees, alumni, legislators, and the general public, and I make mine.  But too often, the way they make that case is illegitimate.  For instance: in its landmark 2006 publication, How Many Ward Churchills?, ACTA claimed, on the basis of published course descriptions, that an astonishingly wide variety of subjects are inappropriately “politicized.” Here are two examples of the kind of intellectual work ACTA sought to associate with Ward Churchill:

Penn State University offers “American Masculinities,” which maps “how vexed ideas about maleness, manhood, and masculinity provided rough-riding presidents, High Modern novelists, Provincetown playwrights, queer regionalists, star-struck inverts, surly bohemians and others with a means to negotiate—and gender—the cultural and political turmoil that constituted modern American life.”

An anthropology course at the University of Illinois asks, “Are racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and other stereotypical ideologies of ‘the Other’ inevitable and universal, or do they have local histories and alternatives?” The course description informs students that the purpose of the class is to “challenge you to interrogate the cultural and historical foundations of the widespread ideologies that define ‘other’ populations,” which are “groups defined by ethnicity, ‘race,’ gender, health, religion, and sexual orientation.” (The professor’s use of scare quotes around the word “race” is itself a political statement, a common shorthand for indicating that race does not exist except as a social fiction.)

The Penn State course is included in How Many Ward Churchills?, I imagine, because there seems to be something rather queer going on in its examination of masculinities; the Illinois course is there because . . . well, it’s not entirely clear, because most educated people don’t see anything wrong with interrogating the historical foundations of racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism—or, for that matter, with putting “race” in scare quotes, because most educated people are aware that we’ve now learned enough about genetics to know that our use of the term race has no basis in biological fact.

ACTA is also the group that responded to 9/11 by collecting an array of statements made on American college campuses in the wake of the attacks, statements that included the following:  “ignorance breeds hate,” “hate breeds hate,” “our grief is not a cry for war,” “an eye for an eye leaves the world blind,” and “if Osama bin Laden is confirmed to be behind the attacks, the United States should bring him before an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity.” Again, why such statements should be cause for alarm is not clear—unless the goal is to mount a kind of campaign of vengeance against students and faculty who quoted Gandhi or opposed war as a response to the attacks.  I am reminded here of David Horowitz’s decision to include in his list of the 100 most dangerous professors in America one Caroline Higgins, a professor of peace studies who happens to teach at a Quaker college.

Now, these ACTA pamphlets could be called many things, but “intellectually honest” isn’t one of them.  What I’ve cited here are not examples of legitimate criticisms of American higher education; they are appeals to what might politely be called a low-information conservative constituency, that is, people who can be counted on to be outraged that there are literature courses that deal with masculinities and anthropology courses that deal with the historical origins of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, and so forth.

I think everything depends here on what kind of discursive community ACTA is trying to participate in.  If we see ACTA as being one among a variety of conservative advocacy organizations, and this kind of campaign as being one version of Washington politics as usual, then fine—you can go ahead and accuse professors of palling around with terrorists and chastise us for not wearing flag lapel pins.  We know how that game works; we understand its standard operating procedure.  But if ACTA wants to be a legitimate player in debates over curricula and the direction of entire academic fields, well, then it actually has to try to make the case, in a detailed and substantive fashion, that literature courses should not examine American masculinities and anthropologists should not assign books like George Fredrickson’s Racism: A Short History. [Note to people reading this on computers: check out Timothy Burke’s comment in this thread, which is what I was reading when I wrote this bit.] And ACTA will have to abandon the easy but disreputable tactic of smearing such courses with an all-purpose Ward Churchill brush.

I’ve said that I’m not opposed to the idea that campuses should be ideologically diverse places.  I believe that in many ways they already are, especially when it comes to actual research agendas and actual classroom instruction.  But I also acknowledge that fields like mine are overwhelmingly populated by liberals and leftists of various kinds, and I argue in What’s Liberal that I would indeed like to have more conservative colleagues in literary study.  It would be good for students, good for faculty, good for “diversity”—but it would not be good if it were mandated by a legislature or an external advocacy group.  And here’s why: if conservatives want greater representation on college faculties, they should go about it the old-fashioned way: they should earn it.  That means more young conservatives going to graduate school, doing the research or the fieldwork, writing the dissertations, hunting for the jobs.  As I’ve said before, I would actually like to see a world in which more young conservatives took the arts and humanities seriously—and I think it’s just bizarre the way the arts drop out of these debates entirely. 

There’s a self-selection problem here, of course: if you imagine society being divvied up into various areas of activity—the clergy, the military, the world of high finance, the world of small business, education, the environment, and the arts, say—it’s not hard to figure out where the liberals are going to tend to wind up.  There’s also a weeding-out problem: some conservatives have come to the conclusion that it’s not worth the time and effort to get a graduate degree in a field dominated by the left.  But whatever difficulties young conservatives might have in such fields, they pale in comparison to the difficulties faced by the first women who entered academic fields a generation ago, and who faced not only ideological opposition but an entrenched sexism, up to and including routine sexual harassment, which young academic women today can scarcely imagine.  It took women a generation to transform a handful of academic fields like literature and anthropology.  Conservatives could do it too—if they really wanted to.

But this last point touches on a much larger question, a question that contemporary conservatism will have to answer for itself, without any help from me.  Complaining about the preponderance of liberals and leftists in the arts and humanities and social sciences has so far allowed the right to dodge the question of how many young conservatives are actually interested enough in education in arts, humanities, and social sciences to devote six or eight years of graduate study to these subjects.  The really curious thing, however, is that there is also a preponderance of liberals and leftists in the sciences, and no one can plausibly suggest that this is due to selection bias—as if physicists are looking for new Ph.D.s who bring a multicultural approach to superstring theory and biologists are subtly biased in favor of geneticists whose work criticizes Western imperialism.  The problem here—the elephant in the room, if you will—is that there is now an entire wing of the conservative moment that is opposed to science, be it the science of climate change or the science of stem cell research or the science of evolutionary theory.  This is also one reason the Republican party has lost so much support among educated professionals with postgraduate degrees: these people are quite aware of the fact that this wing of the conservative moment fears and distrusts educated professionals with postgraduate degrees.  Call it the Palin wing, for now.  And this is one reason I say I want to see more conservatives in academe: I would like very much to see the conservative movement repudiate its anti-scientific, anti-intellectual, anti-Enlightenment, anti-rationalist wing.  I would like to see more conservatives in the academic tent, knowing how the business works, with more of a stake in the enterprise.  That would be change I could believe in.

Note: The preceding talk has been post-partisanly approved as being part of a “reasonable, cordial, and constructive exchange.”

Posted by on 01/15 at 01:48 PM
  1. It’s hard to be an academic or respect academic work when you believe that there is, and demand that there be, a simple answer to every question.  (Or when, to put it another way, you believe that questions without simple answers should not be asked.)

    Posted by Lance  on  01/15  at  04:28 PM
  2. Whoa, did Jason Rantz (if that *is* his real name) really refer to my students as “barely legal”? Maybe I’ve just been exposed to too much American masculinities, but damn.

    That is some delicious dangerality, right there.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  04:38 PM
  3. Better luck next year, Michael.  More important than any weblog award is getting your Danger Index up.

    I’ve already handed out syllabi for this semester but now that I’m aware of this Danger Distinction I’ll revise my courses for next year: nothing but heresies.

    Posted by Christian Anderson  on  01/15  at  04:49 PM
  4. “Introduction to Gender and Sexuality Studies,” check.  Yes, these are definitely the courses that make your modern wingnut shiver under the covers.

    Chicka-Wow Chicka-Wow Wow!

    as if physicists are looking for new Ph.D.s who bring a multicultural approach to superstring theory

    Oh, if only.  Harvard’s physics department would almost certainly improve, for one.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  05:23 PM
  5. Hey, sorry I missed you (again!) in Nuevo Havo, mds.  Next time, fer sure—but there’s no getting away from the Lyon clan during the holidays.  Nor should there be!

    And Christian, you better watch it with those heresies, or you’ll wind up on Rantz’s list right next to “Wiseguys, Whackos and Whiners.” You can see why a course like that would really get up Jason’s nose.

    Posted by Michael  on  01/15  at  05:26 PM
  6. Michael, you point out that JR’s one-sentence (well, two sentences, really) summary of immigration law is oversimplified, because immigration law is in fact Really Complicated, with a whole bunch of different forms and visa categories and Stuff You Need to Know, and that’s surely right.  But there’s another problem with JR’s summary: it’s wrong.  JR seems to think that all a furriner needs to do, in order for us to welcome him to the country, is to “get in line” and wait.  But that’s not right.  For the vast majority of folks out there who might want to migrate to the US, there is no queue: there’s no way for a person to immigrate to the US unless he’s got specific family or business ties to this country, and few people have got them.  (There are other ways for folks to visit here temporarily, but as a practical matter they tend to require wealth.) And even if you’ve got those family or business ties, the statute says you’re permanently barred from the US if, say, you ever persuaded somebody to support Hamas (really! 8 USC sec. 1182(a)(3)(B)(i)(VII)) or committed a drug offense.  And this matters, because wingnuts tend to cast immigration-policy issues as a matter of our not wanting people to jump the queue, rather than as a matter of our not wanting poor brown people to come here except under conditions where they can be badly exploited.  But I’m glad that we don’t need to know any of that.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  07:32 PM
  7. Wow. This is just great. I’m so glad you got back into the blogging world, Prof. Berube!

    Posted by Hattie  on  01/15  at  07:50 PM
  8. By the way, all of this ACTA business just further feeds my growing belief that there really is no rapproachement possible with these people.  We can hold these reasonable, cordial, and constructive exchanges, but then they just keep calling us traitors and try to pass laws to get liberals fired.  We are all Ward Churchill now.  How do we civilly debate people who apparently don’t want us to exist?  So again, I admire MB’s patience and ironclad principles.  Because that has more hope of swaying the mushy middle than my profanity-laced screeds.

    Hey, sorry I missed you (again!) in Nuevo Havo, mds.  Next time, fer sure

    No probalo, Professor.  Anyway, I’ve decided that I’ll probably have to come to you instead.  In fact, the police have determined that this blog comment is coming from inside your house.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  08:22 PM
  9. As someone who as apparently suffered from 40 years of dangerous instruction, i am curious if Monsieur Rantz would prefer the Masculinities course to be something more like: American White Men: and their proper claim to domination of the known world.

    I only jest in part, because it seems that there are folks out there who staunchly advocate for revision of the teaching of the American Dream, desiring to forbid such trivialities: as the American Indians, Latino populations of Central & South America, slavery as problem, and so forth.  These developing conservative academic think tanks (alleged) are being funded to promote a pro-white American ideology across the curriculum suggesting that those wonderful books of the late (captcha) 1800s and early 1900s were vastly more accurate about manifest destiny and the grand dream than the collected works of the last fifty years.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  08:35 PM
  10. Not to mention the fact that Immigration Law has a history--which, it should go without saying, impacts American history quite a bit.  I mean, I’d think the fact that Lyndon Johnson almost simultaneously delivered the South to the Republicans for a generation and made possible Obama’s victory in 2008--from beyond the grave!--might take up a class or two.

    Posted by  on  01/15  at  08:38 PM
  11. than my profanity-laced screeds.

    Besides, you’ll wake our baby.

    Love the distinction between diversity and justice, MB. Stealing for later use.

    Posted by Chris Clarke  on  01/15  at  09:09 PM
  12. when they remake “singing in the rain,” think about the gene kelly part, michael.

    some how that was, well, dancin’ in my head while reading your beautiful steamer.

    not that it coulda been malcolm mcdowell, nosiree!
    who’d wanna acta that terrible scene? Well, i guess U. No.

    and tho i too appreciate the justice-uber-diversity story, it is really, i think, just an “idiot’s guide to diversity.”

    but shorter all this: B R A V O !!!

    Posted by neill  on  01/15  at  09:37 PM
  13. Ward Churchill brush.

    It’s not enough for the wingnuts to bash Ward (and not a few liberals chiming in): any person unfortunate enough to be associated with anything Churchillian shall feel the wrath: you went to Ward churchill State, eh, phreak? You f-n godless lib-rawl, you probably majored in basketweaving between slinging heroin to children, and frenchy queer studies, eh, pussay?  ZERO-4 HUNDRED HOURS

    That said, when DINOcrats pull for a DiDi Feinstein, Hilarity, and/or Robert Gates, (hey, wasn’t he in charge of the f-n war?), some of us reach for our cliffsnotes to Bakunin. 

    Yo where’s a post on the pubic hair style of like the hotties of unfogged, dewd: or some old fashioned theosophosy, like mothers of invention related praxix.........

    Posted by Dirk McShanksky  on  01/15  at  11:57 PM
  14. uh . . .

    Well, in my English department, there used to be a healthily large minority of Republicans—before the Bush administration. They are all, I think, independents or Democrats now.

    Posted by  on  01/16  at  01:16 AM
  15. I can stand the peril without always fully understanding it, and isn’t that a defining characteristic of liberalism?

    (Off for now to change armor)

    Posted by  on  01/16  at  02:36 AM
  16. Can we just get rid of the godawful word “diversity” in all its academic/corporate/politico manifestations? Please?

    I once worked for Wells Fargo Bank as a PowerPoint guru where an entire day of a hotel basement ballroom employee propaganda “off-site” was devoted to “diversity.” The only problem was that the audience was San Francisco branch managers and they were at least 80% diverse (i.e. non-white) and the senior executives lecturing them about how important “diversity” was in the New Corporate World Order were all white. My brain just about cracked by the end of the day, to tell you the truth, and I can’t hear the word “diversity” without thinking of that moment.

    Posted by sfmike  on  01/16  at  02:38 AM
  17. I know you hinted at this, but the MAIN reason for few conservatives in the arts and humanities is that the PAY is so low. I mean, there used to be college perfessors, I dunno, in the sixties or sumpthin who were conservatives, because being a professor back them was a GOOD job; now, universities use part-time instructors who get no benefits, etc, and aren’t even sure of getting CLASSES from semester to semester, and they get paid @jackshit, and ONLY idealists are up for that kind of career.

    I have known gifted and beloved university teachers who have worked their entire careers until retirement without advancing beyond “instructor” (part-time, without benefits.)

    Posted by KMTBERRY  on  01/16  at  02:45 AM
  18. It’s nice to see these issues treated with a light touch and not too much dismissiveness. I’ve come to think of the conservative reformists, the ones associated with ACTA and editorializing on Minding the Campus, as doctors proposing a cure--namely themselves, under the guise of “intellectual diversity"--that’s worse than the disease. They’ve done a great job of highlighting the problem, as they see it (they seem to be looking through a magnifying glass). I think you’re absolutely right that intellectual honesty hasn’t been a hallmark of their project. It’s odd, isn’t it, that the folks making all this noise don’t seem to care whether they come across as smarter, more objective, or more principled than the wild-eyed radicals they like to fuss about. Their arguments tend to use the same bag of tricks: treat the exceptional and outrageous as if its typical; treat the words written by certain professors (you know the type--oppression studies, etc. etc.) as annoying underbrush that obscures the predictable, politically-correct true meaning (on the ACTA page with Timothy Burke’s comment, Anne Neal’s caricature of Anthro 268--of what the prof is really saying in the course description--is a fine example); avoid questioning things that are “obvious” (what these critics seem to have learned from their close study of “groupthink” is that it’s too much fun to leave to the tenured radicals). This stuff is laughable coming from people who claim to care about academics and scholarship. What’s not so funny is how happy some of them are to treat the enemy of their enemy as their friend, no matter how ignorant or anti-intellectual.

    I like the comment about “diversity” as a sloppy, easily (mis)appropriated concept. It made me wonder if the best thing to do with all the irate verbiage from the right about liberal bias and intellectual diversity--and wouldn’t it be nice to find a good use for it?--would be to approach it not as criticism but as parody, as sloppy, politicized ways of thinking and writing that have been appropriated and adapted from an often complacent herd of “liberals and leftists of various kinds.” This a half-baked idea (if it’s baked at all), but maybe something can be salvaged from it.

    Posted by reharmonizer  on  01/16  at  03:02 AM
  19. Jon @ 6:  Michael, you point out that JR’s one-sentence (well, two sentences, really) summary of immigration law is oversimplified, because immigration law is in fact Really Complicated, with a whole bunch of different forms and visa categories and Stuff You Need to Know, and that’s surely right.  But there’s another problem with JR’s summary: it’s wrong.  JR seems to think that all a furriner needs to do, in order for us to welcome him to the country, is to “get in line” and wait.  But that’s not right.

    As a matter of fact, Jon, it is right.  There’s a wall, you see, and on the other side of the wall there is a line.  You take a number and you wait:  it’s just that simple!  Just ask Professor Tancredo, chair of the Immigration Studies department here at Wingnut.

    mds @ 8: We are all Ward Churchill now.

    You know, that sounds like it’s time for a party!

    In fact, the police have determined that this blog comment is coming from inside your house.

    Well, that explains the tapping noise!  Fortunately I have the doughty Mr. Clarke, father or mother of your child, to protect me.

    Betsy D @ 10:  Not to mention the fact that Immigration Law has a history--which, it should go without saying, impacts American history quite a bit.

    What are you, a smart aleck?  What’s this about “history”?  There’s a wall, and there’s a line.  See above.  End of story.

    Oh, wait.  I do seem to recall a lecture I once heard about the repeal of the Johnson-Reed act.  So maybe that LBJ thing had some effect on something.

    Sfmike @ 16:  Can we just get rid of the godawful word “diversity” in all its academic/corporate/politico manifestations? Please?

    Done!  And all you had to do was ask.

    reharmonizer @ 18:  thanks!  I especially like “what these critics seem to have learned from their close study of ‘groupthink’ is that it’s too much fun to leave to the tenured radicals.” But as for your half-baked idea about “the best thing to do with all the irate verbiage from the right about liberal bias and intellectual diversity”—why not put it to an even better use?  The energy that goes into those screeds could power a city the size of Madison, Wisconsin for a year.  And it would be clean energy!  That would really piss off the right, bigtime.  It’s a twofer!

    Posted by Michael  on  01/16  at  09:47 AM
  20. "FSM” is also the acronym of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.  Coincidence?  I think not.
    .

    Posted by  on  01/16  at  12:00 PM
  21. Well perhaps we should return to a “conservative,” traditional model of the university?!?!  I have to wonder if people that feel that way know anything about the history of the academy.  I suspect not, because if curricula at American universities looked anything like they did even 2 or 3 hundred years ago in Europe, NO ONE would be there.  I for one am glad I am in the academy and not academe (even if it’s a “modern school where football is taught") and, KMTBERRY@17 your comment frightens me (will I be an instructor forever?!?!?).  But that goes back to some other comments made by both Michael and others on this comment thread.  Dealing with the demands of graduate school (I once read a statistic that only 1 in 6 ever finish with a Ph.D.) only to come out with a doctorate and a non-tenure track job that (according to a recent MSN article) pays less than the average meter reader, is not for everyone.  It takes some dedication to one’s discipline...MOST students don’t have the discipline for any one discipline--they want something that will get them the highest salary for the least amount of work.
    So maybe the wingnuts are taking the wrong approach.  They should be trying to found their own discipline based solely around their wingnuttery.  Something like: “Studies in minority conspiracies,” or just call it “Cracker Studies.” As an undergrad, I might have checked the latter out just to see what it was…

    Posted by Derek T.  on  01/16  at  02:27 PM
  22. The bit about scientists is interesting, form my point of view, because it’s one of the true mini-political-realignments that have gone on during the Bush years.  It didn’t use to be true that science types were reliably liberal.  They used to be reliably apolitical, with some taking up liberalism or conservatism as a sort of hobby.  But scientists and technologists as a group can now identify their interests as being incompatible with conservatism.

    I think that it’s only a matter of time before the same thing happens in business generally.  Crony capitalism is a horrible environment for real businesses to work in, and the professional business class, as it globalizes, is more and more exposed to relatively transparent alternatives.  If that happens, the GOP is sunk.  They can’t lose the entire professional class, in a modern society, and still maintain their status as one of the two main parties.

    Posted by Rich Puchalsky  on  01/16  at  03:30 PM
  23. But if ACTA wants to be a legitimate player in debates over curricula and the direction of entire academic fields...

    They’d rather have the power to fire legitimate players than to be legitimate players themselves. Nothing disrupts a conservative’s psyche more than the idea of ordinary people criticizing authority, institutions, and the social order without fear of employment retribution.

    Posted by  on  01/16  at  06:54 PM
  24. The preceding talk has been post-partisanly approved as being part of a “reasonable, cordial, and constructive exchange.”

    This gives me a great idea, maybe we should have “post-partisan investigations” into the worst abuses of the Bush administration. You know where we do it not because they are from the other party, but because they trampled the constitution, broke laws with regularity and abused their power at every turn. Change.gov here I come!

    Posted by  on  01/17  at  12:07 PM
  25. “""""The course must also express an agenda far beyond any honest or accurate academic cause. That is, professors who teach courses that lie, manipulate facts, propagandize students, or express a dishonest and fact-deficient extremist view on the class topic, will be considered...

    From a purely apolitical perspective, wingnut has a point, however obvious.  Any dweeb (or dweebette) who has made it through a few social science or humanities classes has most likely encountered a biased professor--whether the marxo-freudian-urban sort suffering out in the provinces OR, perhaps the libertarian Nietzchean heroic-frat boy sort (sort of a rarity these days--though a few chrome domes are still to be found, say, USC-way....). Bias not unknown in hard sciences either, though scantrons tend to attenuate the problem.

    History courses especially seem prone to ideological glosses of various sort, and the gloss seems “plus rouge que noir.” Those unfortunate enough to have fallen among literary folks are probably acquainted with Glossotitus, whether via courses in Schackaspeare, Melville, or the House On Purple Mango Street posse.  That’s perhaps to be expected: literary texts do not concern Truth as such, so it seems forgivable when the Literary master, in technical terms, makes shit up as he/she/it goes along: queequeg? Oh that’s a symbol of oppressed peoples, man.

    History, however is a different matter, as is economics.  Historical research hinges upon careful attention to detail, honesty, and even, Osiris forbid, verification. The skilled and conscientious historian presents, describes, depicts, and avoids sentimentality or psycho-historical “profiling”; the poor, or manipulative or hack-marxist historian bends facts to fit his template.

    Postmodernism seems to have facilitated the fact-benders, if not fact-deniars. The onset of Pomo means that a Zizek, for instance, can make a few trite Freudian-lite points against Rawls’ Theory of Justice, imply he’s another jackbooted liberal, and by implication suggest that only a return to stalinist five-year plans will prevent the liberal hypocritical state embodied by the Rawlsian scheme. Easy too: who needs to take on the specific problems of Rawls’ original position when Comrade Z.  can just put the Oppressor in a tutu… (a similar type of guerilla satire may be noted on DailyKOS too: why discuss the specifics of warcrime, when Cheney can be run through the Kossacks’ graphix apps, put in Hermann Goering garb, shown devouring a corpse, etc. That may be needed, but not at all sufficient...)

    Really, Postmodernist rhetoric becomes the DoubleThink that Orwell warned against: the Ministry of Truth concerns lies, or rather, in the Ministry of Untruth, Professor X may lie, bend, manipulate, or not, depending on her mood. Rationalists of any type should be concerned at the manipulation of the historical record, even when such manipulation might serve some worthy ideological goal, ala Dewey, or the latest pragmatist hype: downplaying the horrors of Stalinism or the nazis might be conducive to creating well-integrated student-practitioners (or say happy theology departments), or something like that, but it’s the Truth that counts, even if the Biffs and Bunnies up at state cain’t quite handle it.  (the fiendish Bertrand Russell discussed this issue, even pre-Orwell, via his pondering of Deweyan pedagogy)

    Posted by Dirk McShanksky  on  01/17  at  02:50 PM
  26. Good thoughts, all.  Here’s a different idea, that I might expressed here before.  If your life’s work is studying history or political culture, or the interfaces between literature and civilizations, you get some exposure to how the world really works.  Maybe you discover that every improvement ever in the lot of humankind was the result of progressive action, and opposed by the conservatives of the day.  I’ve come to believe that reality has a liberal bias.

    Rich@22
    It’s true that the Republicans have been bad for business by any practical measure.  The differences in DPG growth under Dems and Reps is stunning.  Ditto the stock market, job growth, balancing the budget. Conservative policies always get it wrong; but business leaders are immune to the facts.  Voting Rep is in their DNA.  It is the triumph of ideology over reality

    Captcha: activity.  Hmmmmm . . .

    Posted by jazzbumpa  on  01/17  at  04:33 PM
  27. Ooops.  s/b GDP (gross domestic product) growth.

    Captcha: race, of all things.

    Posted by jazzbumpa  on  01/17  at  04:35 PM
  28. I comment only to note that, hilariously, FSM’s original list of dangerous courses contains an ad linked to the word “essays.” That link is for the “best custom writing service for your admission essay, coursework, research paper or dissertation”.  Way to support educational values!

    Also: why have I been applying for funding all this time?  I can just buy a dissertation!

    Posted by Auntie Maim  on  01/17  at  05:19 PM
  29. I always wondered who exactly would go to one of those rent-a-dissertation places.  There’s a whole lot of them chipping in with seemingly human-written comments over at Acephalous.  But surely the target audience of people who have gotten to the point where they need to write a dissertation yet are so stupid that they think it’s a good idea to buy one must be very small.

    Posted by Rich Puchalsky  on  01/17  at  05:46 PM
  30. I just came by to see if the party started:

    mds @ 8: We are all Ward Churchill now.
    You know, that sounds like it’s time for a party!

    Alas, i can tell by the captcha word: ‘through’ that it has been thrown and is now past.  Sounded like fun.

    Posted by  on  01/17  at  10:17 PM
  31. Excellent, excellent post and comments (and thanks for the link to Timothy Burke’s defence of Frederickson). I just wanted to lodge one minor protest:

    I don’t know about literature, but women were integral and influential in anthropology much more than a generation ago.

    Posted by  on  01/17  at  10:42 PM
  32. I would disagree with this bit just a little:
    “...as if physicists are looking for new Ph.D.s who bring a multicultural approach to superstring theory...”
    because my own hard-science field does talk about increasing the cultural diversity of its member/practitioners, although it is hard to know where the cultural lens affecting one’s perception of time-series data or particle interactions might be.

    I think the “diversity” term is used as a substitute for “justice,” like mb suggested, and it would make sense (though it may offend The Men) to change a few terms next time “diversity” is discussed.

    Posted by  on  01/18  at  04:41 PM
  33. As I was reading your rumination on diversity, I was struck at how the whole diversity project has been such an effin dodge. If diversity was understood more in the mode of ‘we’re different, deal with it fuckers,’ then there would be a bit more room for social justice. But diversity has been sold as spinach and legumes and all that good green shit brimming with healthy stuff. Diversity builds strong bones and healthy minds. The back cover every book tells us the extent to which the author has contributed to our recommended daily dose of diversity. So affirmative action was peddled as something that science could demonstrably point as doing something good for people.

    Well exposure to difference can promote tolerance. Or it can simply get me closer to the people I’m screwing. In the latter case, I’ll pass unless I’m in an embed.

    Affirmative action was basically about being proactive about a legacy of injustice and powerlessness. Redressing social injustice was an intrinsic good thing, regardless of whether they made whites or men feel better.

    Lots of college courses can’t escape their political context. I’m about to teach a course on white racism and there’s precious little in it that celebrates whiteness or white nationalism. Only a bully would claim that was bias.

    Posted by  on  01/18  at  06:28 PM
  34. I’ve been in situations where the word “diversity” is thrown around in a way that’s totally euphemistic, and it drives me crazy. Like I said back at 18, Michael’s complaints about the concept work pretty well for me. But I also think that it’s one of those things that’s real easy to criticize until you have to come up with a better plan. So for the sake of argument or perspective, I’m gonna try a little devil’s advocacy.

    <ol>
    <li>Michael complained about the “rhetoric of diversity,” not diversity per se, and I think that’s an important distinction. The word diversity describes a real phenomenon. I would never have chosen to live in Durham NC, but I have to admit that it’s the most functionally diverse community I’ve lived in. That’s a real, practical issue for my family--we have an adopted daughter who’s not likely to thrive in a more homogenous, white community.</li>
    <li>Speaking of real, practical issues, there’s the chicken-or-egg problem of how to make institutions that were traditionally populated and run by white men into places where women and minorities thrive. It’s hard to do without having women and minorities in the mix, and in decision-making roles. Diversity does address this problem, however imperfectly.</li>
    </ol>

    It seems to me that at least some of the rhetoric of diversity is an attempt to work around the legal and political obstacles to more straightforward approaches to the problem. The folks who, for instance, stigmatize workers hired or students admitted because of affirmative action and then turn around and argue that affirmative action doesn’t work because it stigmatizes people. Dealing with the reality that those folks have a political trump card isn’t an easy thing.

    Standing for social justice is great, but how do you, for instance, translate the idea into a university that has more than a few token women in the math and computer science departments? Is there a better alternative to the rhetoric of diversity?

    Posted by Robert Zimmerman  on  01/19  at  12:53 AM
  35. "most educated people are aware that we’ve now learned enough about genetics to know that our use of the term race has no basis in biological fact.”

    Tell that to these guys.

    Posted by  on  01/19  at  01:55 AM
  36. Most scientists are liberal because: 1) We are on average very intelligent and trained to question, experiment, test hypotheses, and stay open-minded; 2) we have been in school for a very long time; 3) we are largely supported by the federal government; 4) we are not in it for the money, but generally as a “calling”.
    My four cents, anyway.

    Posted by  on  02/09  at  02:17 PM
  37. Just for the record, Jason Rantz’ real name is Jason Antebi. He made a big deal about free speech on his campus in ‘04. While I would agree with him that Occidental College can be on the extreme side of liberal (as in, the “students snuff out any and all conservative thought” kind), he is a sort of shock jock and seems to like it that way.

    Posted by  on  02/17  at  05:55 AM
  38. Hi,
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    Posted by calculadora hipoteca  on  09/23  at  02:02 AM
  39. You’re absolutely right… You can see why an introduction to gender and sexuality would run afoul of at least three of these criteria.

    Posted by Webcam Stripper  on  06/24  at  12:05 AM
  40. I only jest in part, because it seems that there are folks out there who staunchly advocate for revision of the teaching 70-451 test of the American Dream, desiring to forbid such trivialities: as the American Indians, Latino populations of Central & South America, 70-638 test slavery as problem, and so forth.  These developing conservative academic think tanks (alleged) are being funded to promote a pro-white American ideology across the curriculum suggesting that those wonderful books of the late (captcha) 1800s and early 70-576 test 1900s were vastly more accurate about manifest destiny and the grand dream than the collected works of the last fifty years.

    Posted by  on  07/09  at  03:12 AM
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  50. Diversity and dangerality
    stringent vetting process for their determination of dangerality:

    1.  The course must focus on the issue or issues detailed in the syllabus or class description. That is, a math course with a professor who may rail against President Bush or President-elect Barack Obama will not be considered;

    2.  The course must also express an agenda far beyond any honest or accurate academic cause. That is, professors who teach courses that lie, manipulate facts, propagandize students, or express a dishonest and fact-deficient extremist view on the class topic, will be considered;

    3.  Courses will be evaluated as if the reader of the course description was an incoming student. That is, they will judge the course only by the contents of the syllabus and whatever info they can reasonably find about the professor; and

    4.  Courses that may be required as part of a “core” curriculum will also be considered if they offer nothing more than to stroke the ego of the professor’s fascination with silly topics that offer little academic value to students.

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