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Monday, January 23, 2006

Unintentionally revelatory

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.)

Posted by Michael on 01/23 at 11:49 AM
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