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Friday, November 30, 2018

Friday, November 30, 2018
Comments from the 150th Anniversary Symposium of the University of California Academic Senate, Oakland, California, October 27, 2018, 
by Dylan Rodríguez, Chair of the UC Riverside Academic Senate, Professor, Department of Media and Cultural Studies
[Photo: Gen. David Barrows, Armistice Day, 1926, courtesy of FoundSF.]

Let us reconsider the full historical context of the University of California’s founding moment and the context in which it coined its motto, “Fiat Lux.”  A brief reflection on the UC’s political, geographic, and historical conditions of possibility may offer some vital complexity and depth to recent college- and university-based discourses on free speech and academic freedom, while raising deeper questions about the notions of “speech” and “freedom” in-and-of-themselves.

The founding of the University of California represents a particular confrontation between Western Euroamerican modernity and the high point of Manifest Destiny—a nation-building cultural, political, and military regime that is inseparable from the UC’s academic and juridical infrastructure.  During this extended period, the UC’s founding faculty and administrators were engaged in a variety of global colonial projects, which is to say racial colonial projects, including the US conquest and protracted colonial governance of the Philippines.

As a Ph.D. student at UC Berkeley, i spent a lot of time in a building named after David Barrows, President of the University of California from 1919-1923.  Barrows had an interest in California Indians, particularly the Cahuilla Tribe, the topic of his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago (where else?).  Before he became the UC president, Barrows played a pivotal role in the US colonization of the Philippines, during which the US military was engaged in a genocidal military campaign to liquidate and neutralize indigenous resistance to colonial occupation throughout the archipelago.  As people and ecologies were destroyed, burned, and displaced, Barrows accepted an appointment as Chief of the “Bureau of Non-Christian Tribes of the Philippine Islands.”  I imagine that if he were awakened from his mortal slumber, President Barrows might concede that the conditions of his own “academic freedom,” of his freedom to speak and his “freedom of speech,” were not only entangled in but constituted by his lifelong engagements with projects of colonial dominance, from the Cahuilla to the “non-Christian” Philippine tribes.  “Fiat Lux” indeed.

Across these and other historical political geographies of racial-colonial dominance, modern law, rights, and disciplinary academic knowledges affirm white life’s ascendancy over all other life.  This has been the historical, if generally tacit mission statement of the modern university, including the University of California.  War against other life, culture, ecology, and sociality is the genesis of law, rights, and university epistemologies in this instance, structuring the “civility” and the “freedom” that disciplines those who are on the historical margins of that civil society, the underside of the thing called Civilization.

In this sense, it is horrifically appropriate that so many of us engaged in the counter-knowledge productions of critical ethnic studies, queer studies, gender and feminist studies, and decolonial studies have encountered David Barrows’ bronze bust in that building at UC Berkeley.  His visage reminds us that the intellectual space and infrastructure to engage in such counter-knowledge production is the outcome of intense, rigorous, collective social movement that critically extends the entitlements of academic freedom while confronting the ways in which the institutional stability constructed around the edifices of academic freedom is actively policed.

Allow me to turn to the fact of policing in the second half of my reflections on this 150th anniversary.

A spectacle of police violence at UC Davis on November 18, 2011 catalyzed a national and international response, fixated on the vulnerable bodies of young white people engaged in an act of civil disobedience. (With all due respect to the people of color who were also in the line of fire at Davis, my contention is that their bodies were not the ones with which the national and international response was primarily concerned, nor was their vulnerability centrally responsible for inciting this global outrage in the first place.)  Largely displaced by the righteous outcry over the UC Davis police’s pepper spraying of students in November 2011 was a more massive and militarized display of police force/violence that occurred at my home campus of UC Riverside two months later, on January 19, 2012.

On this day, UCR students were shot with “less than lethal” police pellets during protests of tuition/fee increases at a meeting of the UC Regents.  (Here i will gently suggest that we modify our language to acknowledge that these actions might be more comprehensively described as “debt protests.”)  In anticipation of this student-led demonstration, police were mobilized from every UC campus other than Davis and Merced, supplemented by officers from the City of Riverside Police Department and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.  Police helicopters periodically circled over the protest, while officers appeared to assume sniper positions at strategic high points on several campus buildings.  The climate was thick with police presence, and the pageantry of political intimidation represented a massive show of force against the students, faculty, staff, and ordinary people who populated the crowd.
Riot police confronting student protest at UC Regents meeting, UC Riverside, January 19, 2012 (photo courtesy of the author)

This police presence starkly contrasted with the protest’s well-disciplined adherence to tactics of “nonviolence.” (By way of definition, i do not consider loud chants, intense and vitriolic rhetorics of protest, militant refusal to disperse an alleged “unlawful assembly” or sit-down blockades to constitute “violence”; further, even if one wishes to perform the academic gymnastics of labeling such activities as forms of discursive, symbolic, existential, and/or immanent violence, they are not of a kind remotely comparable to the aforementioned marshaling of legitimated state violence.) For reasons i have explained elsewhere, we should not be surprised that UC Riverside’s scene of police repression—images of which were easily accessible via e-mail listservs, public YouTube videos, Facebook photos, and the like—did not attract remotely the kind of attention and righteous reaction as did the incident at UC Davis.

There is something structurally white supremacist about how expressions of outrage and institutional shaming over the UC Davis police spectacle seemed to be fueled by an overidentification with (historically white) university campuses as places of presumed innocence, wherein enrolled and employed (white) bodies are presumed to presume innocence.  On the other hand, UC Riverside students generally signify (and biographically reflect) the normalized policing and criminalization of Black, Native, and Brown people—young and old, urban and rural, transgender, queer, and straight.  Such bodies—such people—are incapable of extracting the consensus of liberal outrage surrounding (and ultimately protecting) the repressive university policing of white, able-bodied college youth.  Thus, while all campus policing is fundamentally “political,” only a select few of its most acute forms are addressed as such.

There is a punchline to this story that takes place in a former UCR Chancellor’s living room…

During this period, Chancellor Tim White periodically invited groups of department chairs to his residence for friendly dinners, during which he engaged us in conversation about things we felt were important to the campus.  During the dinner i attended, a fellow departmental chair and i raised concerns over the heavy handedness of the police response to the nonviolent, student-led action of January 19.  (Other chairs seemed either unaware of this matter or uninterested in raising such criticisms of police violence and administrative complicity.)  After eating, the fellow chair and i sat with Chancellor White on his living room couch.  He looked us both in the eye and, in a most calm and reassuring tone, expressed sympathy with our concerns and informed us that he had taken pains to instruct the police to shoot the student protestors “below the knees.”  My colleague and i took turns staring at each other and the floor.  Not long thereafter, i watched Chancellor White shed crocodile tears over the financial hardships of a Black woman undergraduate on an episode of the reality show “Undercover Boss.”

I offer these reflections to deprovincialize and radically contextualize the concepts and jurisprudence of free speech and academic freedom beyond the institutional mythologies of “Fiat Lux.”  Allow me to conclude with a set of overlapping questions that may offer some productive reframing of our ongoing discussions:

  • Who are the assumptive subjects of “free speech” and “academic freedom?” 
  • How are these notions of liberty (particularly as they are inseparable from the jurisprudential regime that produces them as such) structured in relations of gender, race, sexual, and colonial dominance in the long historical and recurrent-present tense?
  • How are free speech and academic freedom actually inhabited by people whose speech and thought are constituted in relations of dominance, such that the underlying humanist allegation at the core of both terms is (perhaps radically) demystified and disrupted?
  • What forms of policing are martialed through the politics of free speech and academic freedom? 

While both "free speech" and "academic freedom" suggest discourses of liberty, i would argue that they cannot be separated from the densely historical, gendered racial-colonial logics that persistently claim to secure such “freedom” and “liberty” against lurking threats from what W.E.B. DuBois famously called “the darker peoples of the world.”
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 2

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Wednesday, November 21, 2018
We've gotten dosed this past week with some prime time smugness about how we don't need to do anything much to help higher education.  First was one of my favorite data journalists, David Leonhardt, rejecting loan forgiveness in the New York Times. He wrote,  "The fatal flaw of universal student-debt cancellation is that it’s not, in fact, progressive. It mostly benefits the upper middle class. 'Education debt,' as Sandy Baum and Victoria Lee of the Urban Institute have written, 'is disproportionately concentrated among the well-off.' The highest-earning quarter of the population holds about half of all student debt, according to Baum and Lee. Which means that universal student debt cancellation would be a giant welfare program for the bourgeoisie."

Actually by American standards student debt isn't very concentrated.   And Leonhardt misses some major problems with "manageable" student debt that forgiveness would fix.

I drafted the list of problems that Leonhardt misses (below), and then stopped to meet with a UCSB senior whom I didn't know.  We talked about a book in my Detective Fiction course, Black Widow Wardrobe, and this student's account of the book was really good.  At the end of her analysis of the ambiguity of a key Mexican national mythology the novel uses, I said, "that's a great summary of this issue, and," I half-joked, "it's something you could continue to work on when you go to grad school."

"I want to teach," she said, "nothing is more important to me.  I don't think I can go to grad school though. I don't have the grades."

"Why?" I asked, surprised.  She seemed to learn completely and to forget nothing. "What's your GPA?"

"In the English major I have about a 2.4."

"That's ridiculous," I said, "that's obviously not the right GPA for you."

"Well," she said,  "I'm off academic probation at least.  I've been on it four times.  I have to work a lot to stay in school.  I had some help from family my first year, but they couldn't keep it up and told me my education was mine to pay for now.  I work 12 hours a week minimum, and then when there's a break in midterms or finals I work 20.  My father also has a new baby and I spent weekends this term helping his wife, who couldn't get around. I'm first generation college--my father and mother only finished middle school and are so happy I'm at UCSB.  It's really important that I give back to them.  I need to take care of them."

"It's none of my business," I said, "but you also need to take care of yourself in school. You need to get through this with the grades and the learning that will help you go on."

"I'm excited about what I'm learning," she replied.

"Does your GPA bother you?"

"It bothers me a lot.  I think about it all the time."

"Then how can we help you to work less? You don't want to because it means loans?"

"Yes.   That's what the probation advisors said to me --take loans so you can work less.  But I can't have any debt.  I see the job market and it isn't reliable enough for me to be sure that I can pay it back."

This went on for a while, with me trying to figure out how to save her GPA from her justified fear of debt, with a family that can at most send her $20 a month for groceries.  I failed.

"Well you have to do well in my class," I said cheerily.

"I want to.  But I couldn't turn in the midterm paper-- I had to go home."

She'd worked a lower-points alternative out with the TA, but that means she's heading for something like a 3.0 or less for my class too, where she has obviously mastered the key concepts.  I offered to advise a senior thesis so if she does well I can write her a good letter for the next phase.  She's thinking about it.

In spite of constant wishful thinking, there's no escape from the fact that student debt--in this case its desperate avoidance--is a major cause of "limited learning" and narrowed future possibilities.

The #RealCollege movement has shone a spotlight on the fact that a third of US college students face food and housing security issues.  Organizations like Temple University's Hope Center are working to fix that.  So why are policymakers and journalists as informed as Leonhardt so complacent about the educational damage done by our financial aid system?

Here's my short list of the problems that Leonhardt omits.
  • Fear of debt causes undermatching, in which lower-income students go to cheaper--and poorer--colleges than they are qualified for.  This reduces their chances of graduation and probably their learning. 
  • Students manage future debt by working more than they should while studying.  As the case of my smart 2.4 GPA student illustrates, this is a structural source of the "limited learning" that Arum and Roksa documented in 2011 (which, it must always be said, was largely limited to  "vocational" fields).
  • Loan repayment pushes students toward disciplines with higher future salaries, whether they want to study them or will do well in them.  Moving someone who loves history into computer science is inefficient as well as undemocratic, and yet debt makes this more likely.
  • Much of this "reasonable" debt is held by low-income students who have no family resources to help pay it back.  (Low income students borrow on average as much as middle-class students do.)
There's so much stubborn inertness about student debt because of a philosophical mistake made as much by Democrats like Leonhardt as by Republicans:
  • Means-tested loan forgiveness contradicts the public-good status of education.  With means-testing, the baseline norm is for everyone to pay for college out of their own pocket.  This treats college as a private good.  Then, since most people can't pay for college on their own, various kinds of state and private charity kick in--which maintain the private-good status.  Means-testing makes everyone focus on the income effects of college--as does income contingent repayment in the UK. It makes them forget the nonmarket, indirect, and social benefits of higher ed.  This in turn completely changes the psychological experience and effects of college.  Democrats supposedly don't think everything is about money, and yet they've set up a financial aid system that is only about money.  This is the system Leonhardt supports.
These market-ruled aid programs continue the Clinton-era suppression of the value of public goods. In reality, goods like clean air, sanitation systems, mass transit, vaccination, and education should be distributed according to individual need and general benefit, not according to ability to pay.  With these goods price signals don't work.  They give an oversupply to rich people and an undersupply--or much lower quality--to the poor.  This is why the Clinton-Obama market model of health and education has lost so much support.

In addition, the market-driven allocation of high-quality college is a main reason why US attainment has fallen steadily over the last 4 decades from first to about sixteenth in the world. It is also why college racial inequality persists.

Most of us feel somewhat badly about this unjust, unequal allocation and try to patch it with our high-tuition-high aid system, stuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey with loans (2:1 loans over grants vs. the reverse 30 years ago).  We know it doesn't provide equal outcomes by race or class, or actually equal opportunity (for roughly similar educational quality).  Rather than putting financial aid on a market system, we should have put it on a public good allocation system.  Having contributed to the market mistake, Democrats should now stand for the public good correction.

Market failure is what the democratic socialist wing of the Democrats understands, and what the Clinton-Pelosi wing does not--yet.  In practice it would mean that society would set a goal of all students graduating debt-free, and then buy out my smart 2.4 GPA student's 20 hours a week of work so she can actually learn as much as she can and have the record that reflects her capabilities.   Debt-free college is economics that sets socio-cultural goals rather than isolating itself from them--substantively equal access, and outcomes that reflect individual labor and preferences, not grossly unequal prior conditions.

The crisis of financial aid appeared in the biggest higher ed story this week--Michael Bloomberg's $1.8 billion gift for student financial aid.  Unfortunately, it all went to one university.  The recipient was his alma mater Johns Hopkins, and the money will do the useful thing of converting all loans to grants that need not be repaid--for Hopkins students.  It's the right idea, but obviously needs to be applied to the 99.93 percent of U.S. postsecondary students who don't go to Johns Hopkins.

I don't need to point out the problems here: many commentators blasted the elitism of this version of affordability, from Sara Goldrick-Rab to Dylan Matthews, who called the gift a tragedy.  My Twitter feed was strongly bearish.  I don't think senior administrators realize how these megagifts make the university sector seem entitled, greedy, and cut off from the lives of regular people trying to get a good education.  Why pay taxes for these billionaires' BFFs?  A clear warning sign should have been Malcolm Gladwell's trashing of a hedge fund billionaire's $400 million gift to Harvard in mid-2015--followed by his celebration of obscure giving that helps advance everyday students (and takedown of the Knight-Hennessey scholarships at Stanford).

Bloomberg was unable to avoid lecturing the nation on the need for everyone to support financial aid at public universities as he was not.  I prefer my governments actually egalitarian, my tax brackets steeply progressive, and my billionaires plutocratic.

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 5

Monday, November 12, 2018

Monday, November 12, 2018

Below you will find the announcement of  the creation of a new network that has formed to defend the critical functions and independence of higher education in a moment of crisis.

We in the United States are facing a dangerous threat to our institutions of higher learning from a political climate dominated by anti-intellectualism and willful ignorance. For more than forty years, the academic community has been the target of a sustained campaign of demonization and defunding that is designed to undercut its legitimacy as a source of expertise and a haven for dissent. The structure of this anti-education movement is deep, wide, and coordinated and the attack is being intensified under the current administration. Almost every area of academic life is now at risk: whether the threats come from the insistence of outside groups pressuring universities to host speakers who seek to affront marginalized members of the university community and others; or the federal government’s attempts to ban Muslims, “Dreamers,” and undocumented students; or the underfunding of public higher education and scientific research; or, most recently, the state’s attempt to reject years of scholarly work on the complexities of gender identity. This is not only an American issue; the world’s universities are in danger of losing the intellectual distinction and freedom that they have represented and defended.
The Network of Concerned Academics will act as a hub to bring together all those seeking to address these threats to higher education.  The originality of the network is its outreach to the three groups—faculty, students, and administrators—who are not usually in direct conversation with one another; indeed they are sometimes at odds.  Our goal is to unite these diverse constituencies in the face of unprecedented attacks on the entire enterprise of higher education, by providing information and updates on unfolding events, and by developing concrete strategies and blueprints, among them models of best practices for all those who are confronted with new kinds of provocations and threats.  The website is now live at https://www.networkofconcernedacademics.org/.
The effectiveness of this Network depends on its ability to bring together and activate people who are committed to preserving the university as a space in which diversity of perspectives, academic expertise, and critical thought can flourish. Please post this letter and the NCA link on your websites and blogs, and please inform your constituencies about this new resource.
We appreciate your help in spreading the word about the launching of the NCA website, and welcome your contributions to its resources and conversations.
If you have questions, please don’t hesitate to contact the NCA by email or at https://www.networkofconcernedacademics.org/contact-us .

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 3

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Saturday, November 10, 2018
By Robert Cohen (New York University)

The release of the California College Republican’s Platform has attracted press attention because of its extreme right wing positions demonizing the university as “degenerate and murderous” -- denouncing university support of transgender rights, undocumented students, Mexican and Muslim student organizations, and funding of birth control, and abortion.  But what the media coverage of the platform missed was the brazen dishonesty of these college Republicans’ discussion of free speech on campus. Indeed, the charge  of attempted censorship that the platform makes against  the UC Berkeley administration, with regard to the campus appearance of conservative commentator Ben Shapiro, is not merely misleading and false; it is by far the biggest lie I have ever encountered from student activists in the more than 30 years  I have spent studying, publishing books and articles, and teaching courses on American student politics. There was no attempted censorship of Shapiro at Cal, and the charge that there was represents an attempt by these right wing students to masquerade as free speech martyrs, which would be laughable were it not for the fact that such lying defames a Berkeley campus administration that has in reality ardently supported (and spent millions of dollars protecting) the free speech rights of conservative speakers at UC Berkeley.

What the California College Republicans’ Platform said was that the Shapiro incident at UC Berkeley was an “example” of  the “attempt” by campus “administrators” to “suppress… free expression” of “conservative students…. The University of California at Berkeley attempted to prevent Berkeley College Republicans (BCR) from bringing conservative speaker Ben Shapiro by forcing BCR to pay for his $600,000 security bill necessitated by violent leftist demonstrators.” This a complete fabrication. UC Berkeley never sought to force the BCR to pay an astronomical security fee. Nor did UC Berkeley in any way seek to prevent Shapiro’s appearance. Quite the opposite. The administration did everything in its power to make that appearance possible and to ensure its safety. 

Here are the facts. Back in July 2017 the BCR applied for a large room to accommodate the Shapiro event, which it planned to hold in mid-September.  It turned out that none of the  large rooms used for student events at Cal  were available on the date the BCR requested. So to ensure that this conservative speaking event could occur anyway, the Berkeley administration took the extraordinary step of making available Zellerbach Hall – whose large auditorium  had  usually been a venue for concerts and major cultural events, and in the past had rarely if ever been made available for student speaking events.  The administration even agreed that it would pay the Zellerbach venue fee, something it had never done for any student political organization. In other words, the UC Berkeley administration was leaning over backwards to accommodate Shapiro’s talk, even subsidizing it, so much so that Berkeley’s left-leaning student newspaper, The Daily Californian complained of administration favoritism towards the BCR.  

Yes, security costs for the Shapiro event in September 2017, most of which were paid for by the university, were expensive. But that was not merely – as the Republicans claimed – because of concerns about “violent leftist demonstrators,” but also  because in the wake of the Charlottesville tragedy (where a white supremacist murdered an anti-racist protester) there were fears that violent right wing extremists might come to the Berkeley campus to assault their leftist counterparts and students of color. Indeed, there had been street battles in Berkeley during the summer of 2017 between extremists on the right and left. So the university spent for for the necessary security to prevent such violence and to ensure that there was no repetition of the riot of February 1, 2017, when a paramilitary force of some 150 masked anarchists invaded the Berkeley campus,  threatening public safety, doing $100,000 in property damage to the university, forcing the cancellation of a speech by the  bigoted, foul mouthed, far right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos. Thus the administration brought in an army of police, closed five campus buildings, and had police barricades set up on Sproul Plaza to establish a security perimeter that made violence or rioting impossible, enabling the Shapiro event to occur with no disruption.

These security measures were  costly not only  in terms of money (despite a serious budget deficit Cal spent some $800,000 on the Shapiro event) but the disruption of the academic lives of many students, who could not access the services of the offices that were closed the afternoon of the Shapiro event.  This led to  complaints from students, faculty, and staff that for the sake of an unpopular speaker brought by one small student organization (the BCR), regular functions of the university had been halted. Cal’s chancellor Carol Christ, heard such complaints. But she had declared that this, her first year in office would be “free speech year,” because at Berkeley – home of the Free Speech Movement – “free speech is who we are.” And so to protect Berkeley’s vaunted free speech tradition she opened herself up to such criticism and had the university absorb the financial costs as well, all to prove that right wing speakers could come to the university to exercise their First Amendment rights. 

As to the BCR, its expenses for the Shapiro event were modest, paying only a  security fee of $9,162, which was dwarfed by the hundreds of thousands of dollars the university paid in actual security costs. In fact, had the UC Berkeley administration not covered for the BCR the venue rental for Zellerbach Hall these conservative students would have had to pay another $13,274.02 to have hosted Shaprio in its grand auditorium. 

In a more rational era, campus conservatives would be grateful that Cal had subsidized their celebrity speaker and that they had a chancellor so committed to free speech that she went to such extraordinary lengths to ensure the Shapiro event’s success and  safety. But since this is the Trump era, where much of the American right wing  disregards truth whenever it finds doing so useful for its favorite sport of liberal-bashing, we end up with dishonest statements from the CCR accusing the "liberal" University of California administration of an imaginary free speech violation. Indeed, it was Trump himself who set the standard for such dishonesty when on February 2, 2017 his blame (and threaten) the victim tweet falsely implied that UC Berkeley had caused the anti-Yiannopoulos riot, sought to suppress conservative speech, and should therefore lose its federal funding. Actually, UC Berkeley’s administration insisted on Yiannopoulos’ right to speak on campus  despite pressures to cancel the  speech on account of his record of using campus podiums to mock, bully,  and invade the privacy of a transgender student and to foment bigotry and political violence. It was only when the riot perpetrated by an invasion of club-wielding (mostly non-student) anarchists  threatened the public safety that the speech was cancelled.

The riot is, of course, evidence that a militant, violent wing of the  Bay Area Left is hostile to the free speech rights of the far right. It is also true that amidst the 2016 presidential election season made extraordinary tense because of Trump’s nativist, Islamophobic, white nationalist campaign, BCR members were sometimes treated like pariahs by leftist students, and that campus conservatives at times faced verbal and even physical intimidation from their political foes at Cal. But such problems – serious as they are – do not justify inaccurate and ideologically motivated attacks on the university  administration itself, which consistently opposed such intolerance. 

The reality is that just in the last spring semester alone, the BCR had, with the UC administration’s support, hosted such conservative speakers as Charlie Kirk, Rick Santorum, Heather MacDonald, Candace Owens, Dave Ruben, Steve Simpson Antonia Oakfor, and Allie Stuckey. Even Yiannopoulos, who would, as with Shapiro, cost the university a fortune in security,  in September 2017,  returned to Cal for a campus appearance and gave a speech so brief and vacuous that UC spokesperson Dan Moguloff referred to it as “the most expensive photo-op in Cal’s history.” So for even the crudest and most irresponsible of  right wing speakers (Yiannopoulos, who just this week expressed regret that the pipe bombs sent to critics of Trump  had not detonated ) free speech is alive and well at UC Berkeley. But so is the free speech masquerade in which the California  state Republican student leadership continues to pose as free speech martyrs, repressed by an administration that actually has consistently championed the free speech rights of conservatives.  

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 4

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Tuesday, October 16, 2018
The biggest mainstream media higher ed story last week--and this--has been the lawsuit charging Harvard with discrimination against  Asian American applicants. My piece on it has been delayed by my study of the documents, which has changed my mind from pro to con on Harvard admissions.  We may be seeing the end of the Powell Era's frustrating but functional compromise on race in college admissions, in part thanks to the Harvard practices that created it.  More on that soon.  Meanwhile, the other big higher ed story last week was confirmation of the shockingly un-Harvard conditions in the rest of higher education.

The American Association of University Professors (AAUP) released some data snapshots last week, reporting (again) that 73 percent of instructional positions are non-tenure track (NTT). In spite of the hundred or hundreds of applicants per tenure track job, academic work isn't a great thing for most of the people doing it.  By that I mean that college teaching is mostly precarious and is a proverbial middle class job only for a minority.

State legislatures and others regularly lament the inefficiencies of tenure, but it is mostly gone:  fewer than 20 percent of post-secondary instructors actually have it.   The public image of the privileged "college professor" lags decades behind the common reality. 

The employment structure also changes the nature of universities. Neither academic freedom nor faculty governance can have much general impact when only a quarter to a fifth of "the faculty" are in a position to exercise them.

This pie chart for the best case scenario-- Research 1 universities--is startling.
What most people think of as professors are only 30 percent of teaching staff. About the same share are grad students. These proportions don't say "only PhDs can teach university students." Nor do they say "university professors must be engaged in their own research." And these numbers
 are for the most research-oriented universities.

At the same time, R1s offer multi-year contracts to a much higher percentage of their NTT faculty than do non-doctoral institutions (2/3rds at R1s, half at R2).  (See Colleen Flaherty's Inside Higher Ed overview for this and related points). And yet even these NTT faculty teach 2-3 times more courses per year than TT faculty and are paid less: one UC official recently praised their "teaching power," meaning the cost-benefit advantages of their high teaching loads.

Continued austerity means that public university administrators no longer imagine replacing NTT with TT faculty, who have research and governance obligations, and whose lower teaching loads give them more time to do intensive, personalized teaching.  These are the university's three core public goods--creating knowledge, spreading knowledge, and governing knowledge in the general interest.  Keeping most faculty contingent diminishes all of these.

College teaching is also frequently hunger work. Postsecondary teaching conditions are often unethical, exploitative, and cruel.  See, for one of many recent example, the excellent "Going Hungry at the Most Prestigious MFA in America" (h/t Audrey Watters).

More public-good damage: look at the teaching conditions in community colleges.

2/3rds of community college instructors work part time.  It doesn't matter how brilliant or dedicated they are: teaching loads in CCs are 5 courses per term, and for part-timers five generally don't add up to a living wage in any one place.  A typical CC student will have 2 of 3 courses taught by a part-timer, and only 1 in 8 taught by a tenured professor.

Again, the instructors can be superbly skilled and dedicated and yet lack the working conditions to deliver.  CCs have the worst completion rates in the nation, which is partly tied to a mostly non-permanent teaching force that doesn't know each student well enough to give them personalized attention.

In their general indifference to teaching and learning quality, policymakers love CCs, ostensibly for linking their minority-majority student bodies directly to middle-skill jobs. But CCs aren't working well, and their temp teaching staffs and excessive teaching lords are two major reasons why.  (I say this in full awareness of two generations of transfers to UCSB telling me about beloved instructors at their CC: great people teach great classes there, just not at scale.)  I know of no state legislature that is worried about instructor working conditions at CCs, and the reason is that politicians really like CCs because they're cheap.

The obvious danger is this: if the majority experience of college converges with their experience of high school, the public will pay less, not more--as will the students themselves.  Politics, ethics, and knowledge aside, quality upgrades are the only business answer. It is not to be found in these employment charts.

While everyone (or at least readers of the New York Times and WeChat) obsess about Harvard admissions, it's worth remembering that 38 percent of Asian American and Pacific Islander students are in community colleges (Figure 19.6). That is almost exactly the same proportion as Black students (39 percent).  CC's house 49 percent of Latinx students, 35 percent of white students, and 45 percent of Native American/Alaskan Native students. Public colleges and universities teach 76 percent of all students and 81 percent of Asian Americans. The well-being of public college instructors is far more important to national life than anything that happens at Harvard.

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 17

Monday, October 8, 2018

Monday, October 8, 2018
Many people are worried about the damage the Kavanaugh appointment will do to the Supreme Court and to American politics.  I'm worried about the new damage it did to the public understanding of academic knowledge.   Brett Kavanaugh (left, in my one personal photo of the hearings, taken September 27th) and other Republicans attacked the equivalent of basic research-- an unrestricted FBI investigation-- as nothing more than a political hit, while generating fake academic knowledge to exonerate him.  

This reduction of knowledge to partisan politics was supposedly a left postmodernist position, but it has in fact been a right culture-wars argument about the nonsense of academic research.  It has hurt academia of course, but has also torn the intellectual fabric of society.  It weakens public resistance to the political dismissal of validated knowledge about everything from the effects of sexual trauma to Trump family tax evasion to climate change.  Political dismissal supports a he said/she said deadlock on any issue, making Americans even more fatalistic about resolving differences with force instead of knowledge.

Academic knowledge rests on a few basics that we don't make explicit enough.  People may not ever expect politics to follow academic standards of evidence and argument, but they should be able to  tell them apart--and also to recognize the superiority of academic standards for knowledge to political ones. This is particularly important when politicians claim valid knowledge to justify political decisions.

As I go through these standards, I will omit breaches that come from within academia itself.  I am aware of them.  For example, the dependence of research on private money presents opportunities for bias, corruption, and neglect of the public interest.   But breaches are no reason not to compare public debate to the knowledge standards that academics struggle to adhere to--and that produce much better arguments and conclusions than what we've been hearing in U.S. public debates about pretty much everything. 

The first of these standards is that academic research cannot be coerced, predetermined or discredited in advance by direct or indirect authority.  Academic freedom includes the freedom of an inquiry from being steered or suppresed by bullying, intimidation, slander, and blanket accusations of bias and political motives. In contrast, discrediting the allegations against Kavanaugh was a key Republican strategy, and doing it with white male anger was a calculated strategy.  Here's Kavanaugh:
When I did at least OK enough at the hearings that it looked like I might actually get confirmed, a new tactic was needed.
Some of you were lying in wait and had it ready. This first allegation was held in secret for weeks by a Democratic member of this committee, and by staff. It would be needed only if you couldn’t take me out on the merits.
When it was needed, this allegation was unleashed and publicly deployed over Dr. Ford’s wishes. And then — and then as no doubt was expected — if not planned — came a long series of false last-minute smears designed to scare me and drive me out of the process before any hearing occurred.
Crazy stuff. Gangs, illegitimate children, fights on boats in Rhode Island. All nonsense, reported breathlessly and often uncritically by the media.
This has destroyed my family and my good name. A good name built up through decades of very hard work and public service at the highest levels of the American government.
This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit, fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election. Fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record. Revenge on behalf of the Clintons. and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.
This is a circus. The consequences will extend long past my nomination. The consequences will be with us for decades. This grotesque and coordinated character assassination will dissuade competent and good people of all political persuasions, from serving our country.
And as we all know, in the United States political system of the early 2000s, what goes around comes around.
Kavanaugh was marshalling the essential claim of the culture war on academia--the pretended pursuit of truth is a cover for the politically-motivated destruction of respectable people and their values--to discredit the entire second round of research.  Having refused Sen. Dick Durbin (D-WI)'s request that he call for a full investigation of the charges against him, Kavanaugh then helped convert the FBI's supplemental background check from a required to an offensive act.

The second feature of academic knowledge is that it has to be impartial. This doesn't mean that the researcher's procedure is value-free.  It does mean that the researcher may not let self-interest control the research design, such that it leads to an answer that is more likely to benefit her, her team, or her institution. Researchers control self-interest with various well-known modes of self-reflexivity.

Thanks to reporting by Peter Baker, Nicolas Fandos and others, we know that this principle was violated when the FBI's supplemental background check was structured through a series of political negotiations.
When Mr. Durbin [D-WI] asked Judge Kavanaugh to turn around and ask [White House counsel] Mr. McGahn to request an F.B.I. investigation into the charges against him, Mr. Graham erupted in a ferocious, finger-wagging lecture. Other Republican senators began channeling their inner Trump and lashing out on Judge Kavanaugh’s behalf as well.
Republican senators met that night just off the Capitol Rotunda. Ms. Collins said she would find it hard to vote yes without a sworn statement from Judge Kavanaugh’s friend Mark Judge denying that he saw what Dr. Blasey described. Aides to Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the Judiciary chairman, got a fresh statement from Mr. Judge within three hours to satisfy her.
Mr. Graham went to dinner that night at Cafe Berlin with Ms. Collins and two other undecided Republicans, Senators Jeff Flake of Arizona and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. They discussed whether a limited F.B.I. investigation might assuage them.
The next morning, Mr. Flake announced that he would vote for Judge Kavanaugh in committee, only to change course after being confronted on an elevator by women who told him they were victims of sexual assault. Ms. Collins and Ms. Murkowski were already talking by phone when Mr. Flake called them from a committee anteroom asking if they would back him in demanding a one-week F.B.I. inquiry.
Later that day, the three joined other Republican senators in Mr. McConnell’s office to discuss what the F.B.I. investigation should look like. The three undecided Republicans settled on four people they wanted to hear from: Ms. Ramirez, Mr. Judge and two others identified by Dr. Blasey as being elsewhere in the house at the time she was allegedly assaulted.
Republicans organized the investigation to get the right answers for their remaining fence-sitters.

The investigation violated academic standards in a third way.  Academic research must respond to new information or anomalies, which are facts that don't fit the guiding hypothesis. The research needs to be open to its own enlargement, complication, or refutation at each and every point.

Instead, the Republicans set aside the major new anomaly in their theory of Kavanaugh's victimized goodness by declaring that Julie Swetnick's claims were "too over the top" to be considered.  They asked rhetorical questions whose answer was predetermined, like "Why would [Swetnick] as a college student repeatedly go to high school parties where young women were gang raped?" Of course academic researchers don't have the time or money to investigate everything, but they can't rule out possible holes in their theory with one-line objections or ad hominem attacks.

Fourth, academic research has to show its data and results to the whole knowledge community. It can't give selected results to just a few people under predetermined conditions.  In the Kavanaugh case, the FBI sent one copy of their report to the Senate, which senators could view only in a secure room without the ability to copy or to take notes.  The report was not released to the full Senate to say nothing of the public.  This of course eliminates the possibility of an impartial evaluation of scope, quality, and results performed by people other than the interested parties.

Academic research is conducted by regular humans who bring their preferences, identities, hopes and fears to work, which is why a fifth feature is so important. Once findings are released, they have to achieve a decent general agreement before they are passed on to be applied in the wider world.  When they are disputed, they are re-tested, reanalyzed, and revised until most if not all researchers in the relevant fields can at least provisionally accept them.  Think climate change modeling as an example, which has over the years gathered near unanimity about the main points even as details remain disputed and methods continue to change.  Good researchers don't pitch research results to policymakers before they have won general consent. Exactly the opposite happened in this inquiry.  Nearly half the Senate rejected the validity of the FBI's findings, with Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) calling it a "bullshit investigation."

Because none of these five academic standards were followed, the pivotal moment of Republican knowledge production--Susan Collins' brief for Kavanaugh--amounts to an apology for a political position that was decided in advance.   It takes the politically-framed investigation at face value, asserting non-confirmation of Blasey Ford's story even though the FBI was in no position to confirm it because they were not allowed to interview the many people who claimed to have information. Collins wrongly treats the cherry-picked interview list as dispositive.

Collins also considers no evidence contrary to her "yes" position.  She does not separate the textual evidence of Kavanaugh's (also cherry-picked) opinions from Kavanaugh's claims about himself in interviews with her.  Collins then claims, while offering no evidence at all, that Ford was deluded about her attack: "she is a survivor of sexual assault," Collins writes, but just not the one by Kavanaugh about which Ford claimed 100% certainty. 

Perhaps worst of all, Collins reintroduces a genteel version of Lindsey Graham's and Kavanaugh's smear of the inquiry itself as nothing more than a Democratic hit.
Some of the allegations levied against Judge Kavanaugh illustrate why the presumption of innocence is so important. I am thinking in particular not [of] the allegations raised by professor Ford, but of the allegations that when he was a teenager Judge Kavanaugh drugged multiple girls and used their weakened state to facility gang rape.
This outlandish allegation was put forth without any credible supporting evidence and simply parroted public statements of others. That’s such an allegation can find its way into the Supreme Court confirmation process is a stark reminder about why the presumption of innocence is so ingrained in our a American consciousness.
Collins doesn't actually know that the allegation is outlandish because her party blocked its investigation.  Rather than data she gives us a milder form of the male rage that had disparaged the investigation the week before.  Her tacit claim is that a full FBI investigation would be the tool of a Democrat political conspiracy that runs roughshod over the core American value of presumed innocence.  Then she concludes,
my fervent hope is that Brett Kavanaugh will work to lessen the divisions in the Supreme Court so that we have far fewer 5 to 4 decisions and so that public confidence in our judiciary and our highest court is restored.
Once you take leave of argument and evidence, its hard to return to your senses.

Kavanaugh's confirmation showed the extent to which power politics depends on invoking academic-style knowledge, even as it violates academic standards.  The default scenario for the next year is a continuation of culture war gridlock. Journalists and social media will continued to investigate Kavanaugh. The White House will denounce any new evidence as a politically-motivated lie.   Fewer and fewer people will see the Supreme Court as politically neutral, even as bad evidence for its neutrality will be advanced.  In the deepening cynicism about knowledge itself, universities will continued to be viewed as the Democrat's propaganda arm, their pale imitation of Fox News.

Why can't universities do a much better job of explaining standards of academic knowledge?   The country that isn't sure what real knowledge is, is doomed not to have it.

Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 6

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Wednesday, September 26, 2018
The answer should be an obvious no, but UCOP prepared a document for the UC Regents meetings this week that points UC in that direction.

The document is background for a preliminary discussion of the UC budget for next year (2019-2020). It advocates another multi-year agreement with state government about general funding. The immediate context is Jerry Brown cutting this year's agreed increment from four to three percent (less than that net for various reasons), as well as the overall sub-par condition of the University, again facing a series of underfunded costs summarized on page 1.  New regents will not understand the regular state breaching of compacts with UC and CSU or overall state funding declines from this document. Our overview here would be more help.

The larger context is that UCOP has never found a storyline that has attracted the state's politicians into real reinvestment.  UC's general fund has been going up at about the rate of consumer inflation (which is generally below higher education inflation).  In recent years, the state has grossly underfunded new enrollments, as the budget document points out (3).  The de facto state theory has two parts: (1) UCOP cost claims are not credible enough to address; (2) UC undergraduates can be taught for an amount similar to that of community college students.

What narrative could dislodge this second assumption?  Facts on the ground suggest it can't be.  Cal State's Board of Trustees have discussed becoming an "all-transfer" university, on the theory that their state funding doesn't allow a full-scale lower-division program. UCOP took the deal of $5000 per new resident undergrad, and as far as the state knows nothing bad has happened.  In order to keep its nonresident tuition at current levels, UCOP also accepted the pressure to increase transfer students until they are one-third of new admits, and has been making progress.  This ratio has always been a Master Plan obligation, and in my long experience, transfer students are comparable to students who started at UCSB.  But assumption (2) remains: UC lower division education is about the same as community college, and additional money put into it is probably waste.

The narrative that could justify more enrollment funding is that UC undergraduates need more, better learning than they are now getting, and will need further upgrades in the near future. Better learning produces both pecuniary and nonpecuniary benefits.  As I noted last time, the value of universities is disproportionately nonpecuniary, so stressing only wage and workforce effects guarantees underfunding.  UC, Cal State, and the community college system all generate intellectual and sociocultural capabilities that help wage gains and job growth indirectly, but can't be measured in those monetary forms.

Unfortunately, the UCOP budget document ties future budget increases to the University's ability to support the workforce with bachelor's degrees.  The goal is "Investment to Improve Graduation Rates, Reduce Time-to-Degree, and increase degree production" (5-6).  The target is set by the shortage of 1.1 million B.A. degrees that the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) has projected for 2030 (UC's share would be 251,000 additional degrees). This commits UC to producing more degrees through faster and shorter UC learning.  

I can't delve into each of the problems with this position, but will list the main ones:
  1. workforce development has always been a formal UC goal, and has not stopped state disinvestment. (See this consultant report from 2003, which in spite of its subtitle is only about economics and health).
  2. UCOP encourages the nonmonetary effects of university education to remain "dark matter," even though nonmonetary benefits explains the cost differences between universities and job training centers.  These start with new knowledge through research--obviously a core mission of research universities--and include doctoral education and the formation of non-routine cognitive skills in undergraduates.  Both of these are slow and hard. 
  3. the means UCOP proposes to get the additional quarter-million B.A.s--faster- and horter degrees--slights UC's already very good graduation rates among public universities, and downplays previous progress towards shorter degree times and higher graduation rates.
  4. It also ignores the possibility that further rate increases will be much harder and more expensive. They will often involve fixing social and economic problems, such as excessive student work hours to cover basic expenses like food and rent.  UCOP is effectively putting UC on the hook for the state's high poverty rates and very high income inequality, which it lacks the means to solve.
  5. The normal way to increase quantity is to cut corners and lower quality.  Campus administrations already pushed departments to minimize degree requirements after the 2008 financial crisis. In addition, many have or are moving to increasing units for a standard quarter course from 4 to 5 but without increasing instruction, so students can graduate with fewer courses.   More undergrad education will have to be done by the youngest and least experienced instructors, primarily graduate students and adjuncts.
  6. Paradoxically, promising to improve graduation rates will increase the chances of sub-par funding.  That's because permanent austerity has already forced the kinds of academic shortcuts that have pushed students through more quickly. The lesson the state has drawn is that less money for UC means more UC degrees.  
  7. UCOP is avoiding discussion of B.A. degree content even in the context of a narrow, monetary, human capital model of the degree.  PPIC's calculations use wage premiums to identify "college" jobs (they are these where the employer is willing to pay more to get bachelors' degrees) . They do not do content analysis of future skills (See Technical Appendix C, p 15).  Jobs in 2030 are likely to require better BAs, not just more of them.  UC could be caught far behind the quality curve.
Since UCOP isn't explaining what is really special about UC upper and lower division education, it is putting the University into price competition with the CCCs. They are cheap because they are underfunded, lack research faculty, and over-use contingent faculty.  UC can't come close to CCC cost targets, but straight workforce preparation calls are asking for UC to be compared to them.  (Workforce prep also undermines the documents other goals, like well-paid high-status research faculty.)

The quality of the education UCOP gives the regents is especially important now.  California gets a new governor next year. UC got four new regents in August, none with evident educational experience.  They need reasons to see the ideal UC as something other than an inexpensive provider of middle-skill workforce growth. This document doesn't give them any.

On the other hand, a faculty group, either the Senate or CUCFA, could write a better storyline, one that includes workforce data while going well beyond it.  Why don't we do that?

Update: Cloudminder recounts the lack of meaningful review of Jerry Brown's four August appointments to the Board of Regents, with clips.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 11

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Thursday, September 13, 2018

I don't see how we're going to survive the 21st century without much better human relations. I do see ideas about better human relations as depending on humanities expertise. Silicon Valley and Wall Street don't agree with me, and put their faith in programming. Yuvai Harari, the historian of all human history, doesn't agree either. He was on KQED's Forum talking about his new book, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. There was really only one lesson in his radio answers: the rise of artificial intelligence (AI).

It was odd because Harari has a real historian's sense of specificity, which helped him reject callers' claims for trends that will be uniform across the planet. For example, he said that guaranteed minimum income might address jobs lost to robots in Germany and Japan but not in Bangladesh and Honduras. I waited for a reference to building global planning agencies through upgraded capacities to do trans-cultural cooperation. It didn't come.

Again and again, Harari placed whatever hope he had in "hacking the human." Code had to overwrite human factors. Algorithmic progress was inevitable and AI was here to accelerate it. He knew that only a minority of the world population would benefit, but he said nothing about how to solve the political and cultural problems so tech could help overcome inequality rather than making it worse.

I was listening to him while reading Facebook posts about the new MLA Job List. One friend counted a total of 16 tenure-track jobs in African American literature-- for a country with 7000 colleges. The survival of much if not all of the humanities is at risk. But in Harari's model, that wouldn't slow down progress.

This KQED Harari is wrong-- the world absolutely needs what humanities scholars know--about languages, the history of cultural conflicts, the communal effects of every kind of identity in their startling fluidity, the psycho-cultural impacts of economic inequality, for starters. So what can we do, besides what we've been doing, which is accepting austerity?

Here are two things.

The first is confronting the Great Mistake from within humanities-based theory. That mistake was to retreat from defining academic knowledge as a public good and restructuring it for market forces. Economists generally define public goods too narrowly, as non-excludable and non-rivalrous. We got confused about higher ed because we exclude people from higher education all the time and make them rivals to get for the really good versions of it, so maybe it was an individual private good, which is what colleges say to prospective students when they recruit them.

In reality, about half of the total value of college is nonmarket, indirect, and/or social-- according to the one guy who heroically tried to add it up. This is what the idea of public goods expresses. All sorts of educational effects are what economists call "nonpecuniary." They have a value that is greater than what individuals receive as a private return, and often don't have any equivalent monetary quantity. (See Stage 1 of TGM for more on this -- now in paper!)

These effects are well known, and everybody from students to business executives call for basic ones like critical thinking, problem solving, oral communication skills, or a capacity for lifetime learning. And yet by measuring their value as a pecuniary return like an increased salary, we systematically neglect the nonpecuniary effects. We underinvest in them, or in other words subject them to market failure, with some fairly obvious social results.

Many other nonpecuniary effects are equally important. In lit crit we roll our eyes when a radio show host talks about how reading novels teaches empathy. Yet it is broadly true. It is also true that empathy is a public good that can change the world. It's hard to imagine international political progress without a very big increase in cross-religious empathy, and on a global scale.

The troubles of the humanities flow inevitably from the decline cycle that this retreat from public goods set up. That retreat induces not only the bad accounting I just mentioned but also a shift to the relentless pursuit of non-state funds, nearly all of which is returns-tested, meaning it's not allowed just to benefit people and society generally. The veneration of revenues with calculable returns discourages universities from having enough internal, institutional funds to support their noncommercial research (TGM Stage 2). That includes all the research that cannot be justified with claims to future revenues through the sale of a license or product or service. "Small science" doesn't get properly funded. And the humanities fields are barely funded at all. All sorts of research outputs simply never exist. The same is true for the nonpecuniary / social benefits they might have produced.

The decline cycle also routinizes "limited learning." It's really hard to grasp something like the big picture of a culture's history by grasping the main lines of hundreds of years of literary output. It also takes a long time. Maybe it takes 10,000 hours, but we teach literary history and everything else in 40 hour chunks, giving in a 10-week term as much direct intellectual contact as some college sports require over 10 days. Private return-on-investment calculations will always underfund real learning, leading us to replace mastery as a B.A goal with something like mechanical competence in written communication for most students (TGM Stage 6). MOOCs and other short-cuts fill the gap. Since we haven't detailed the nonpecuniary benefits, politicians want professors to teach twice as many students for today's workplace tasks. But deep learning probably means teaching half as much, more intensely, with more than twice as many professors. The point here is not a particular number, but that the private-good model keeps us from even admitting the losses to both individuals and society of limited learning, to say nothing of doing something about it.

The second issue is why Theory (our HT from last time) hasn't done much with institutional and economic value. I remember, around 25 years ago, when the Village Voice was really a thing, that the critic Scott Malcomson asked why Derridean theorists weren't also critiquing the premises of finance capital. We never did answer that question, or just actually do it. Now the answer seems to me to be a lack of intellectual confidence.

The Ronell case has produced some examples. In a fairly nasty piece, the eminent modernist Marjorie Perloff spent much of her commentary saying how worthless Ronell's kind of theory is. She didn't say Ronell argued A and B on topic C when a good HT person would have argued X and Y on topic Z. She made the whole field seem empty.

To make matters worse, she concluded, "the focus . . . should shift, as it has at many institutions, to undergraduate education, for it is the undergraduates who will determine the future course of a discipline like Comp Lit." It's completely true that the drop in major numbers does need to be reversed with better undergrad curriculae. But Perloff's message is that lit crit doesn't produce the kind of worldly knowledge that requires doctoral training and tenure-track jobs. Backing away from humanities doctoral education will make the whole situation worse.

Equally senior Germanist Bernd did the same thing in a belated score-settler with Ronell (see the Salon translation of the original German): he produced such a wall-to-wall trashing of Ronell's legacy as authoritarian in thought and deed that he trashed the entire field.

I thought this might just the the message from people who had already hated HT in the 1980s. But then there's this passage from NYU grad student Andrea Chu's powerful piece, which got relayed enough times for me to ponder it carefully.
Structural problems are problems because real people hurt real people. You cannot have a cycle of abuse without actually existing abusers. That sounds simple, which is why so many academics hate it. When scholars defend Avital — or “complicate the narrative,” as we like to say — in part this is because we cannot stand believing what most people believe. The need to feel smarter is deep. Intelligence is a hungry god.
In this way, Avital’s case has become a strange referendum on literary study. Generations of scholars have been suckled at the teat of interpretation: We spend our days parsing commas and decoding metaphors. We get high on finding meaning others can’t. We hoard it, like dragons. We would be intellectually humiliated to learn that the truth was plain: that Avital quite simply sexually harassed her student, just as described. Sometimes analysis is simply denial with more words. Sometimes, as a frustrated student in a first-year literature course always mutters, the text just means what it says it means.
I'm horrified that any graduate student would have this experience of PhD-level literary study, in which it is nothing more than belabored overcomplexity yielding errors to be used in power shows.

We have to fix the second problem before we can address the first. We can't just say that Chu's description isn't typical. Folks in HT, lit crit, cultural studies, will need to be relentless and systematic in saying what our research programs are. We need to explain why we pursue them the way we do.

Above all, we now have to spell out the humanities' nonpecuniary benefits. Theorize this.
Posted by Chris Newfield | Comments: 56

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Tuesday, August 28, 2018
As part of their negotiations with the university, UC librarians requested that the University formally acknowledge their claim to academic freedom.  UC-AFT reports that UC refused, indicating that "Academic freedom is not a good fit for your unit."  They furthermore report that the university negotiators claimed that the right was tied to the instructor of record for faculty and for students when they were in the classroom. I have been told that the University has also indicated that they had conferred with both senate faculty and the AAUP about their position.  I haven't been able to find any indication that there was formal Academic Senate discussion of this issue and both CUCFA and CA-AAUP have explicitly rejected the University's position in a joint statement.

The University negotiators' position is foolish at best and absurd at worst.  The AAUP and the Association of American Colleges and Universities (to which all UC campuses aside from UCSF belong) have explicitly stated that librarians are entitled to academic freedom.  As the "Joint Statement on Faculty Status of College and University Librarians" (2013) puts it:
College and university librarians share the professional concerns of faculty members. Academic freedom is indispensable to librarians in their roles as teachers and researchers. Critically, they are trustees of knowledge with the responsibility of ensuring the intellectual freedom of the academic community through the availability of information and ideas, no matter how controversial, so that teachers may freely teach and students may freely learn. Moreover, as members of the academic community, librarians should have latitude in the exercise of their professional judgment within the library, a share in shaping policy within the institution, and adequate opportunities for professional development and appropriate reward.
Now it is true that at UC most librarians do not have formal faculty status.  But as the Association of College and Research Libraries argues, even librarians without faculty status are entitled to academic freedom.

If you think about it there are many reasons why librarians should hold academic freedom.  For one thing, university librarians are research professionals often engaged in their own research.  This research can take many forms--from more conventional academic work, to understanding both the trends in library science, onto the latest issues in digital technology.  Beyond that, librarians are constantly engaged in precisely the sort of academic and intellectual judgment about which materials to purchase for libraries, how they should be organized and presented, developing and organizing exhibits and conferences that pull them into precisely the sort of controversial decisions that academic freedom is designed to make possible.   Moreover, between digitalization and efforts by faculty to increase opportunities for students to participate in research based inquiry, librarians have become even more central to the basic educational mission of the university as key mediators of resources and knowledge to students and faculty.

Finally, I probably don't need to mention that in our age of increased surveillance librarians have been at the forefront of protecting the privacy rights of borrowers.  Or that in the age of social media we would want our librarians to have universities recognize the academic freedom rights of librarians as the very act of choosing which books to purchase and recommend can lead you into controversy.

There really are no good principled reasons for university negotiators to deny that academic freedom applies to professional librarians. In fact, it is difficult to understand how university negotiators could think that librarians should not possess academic freedom.  After mulling this issue over for a while I have come up with a few possibilities:

1) This is simply another example of a problem that Chris and I have noted repeatedly over the years: the gap between what high-level management (especially at UCOP) thinks and what front line people actually do.  I suppose it is possible that whoever made the decision to declare that academic freedom wasn't a "good fit" for librarians simply doesn't know what librarians actually do in the university.  In some ways, this supposition would be the most positive spin one could make.

2) This is an effort on the part of the University to deny or diminish the professional status of the system's librarians.  In fact, the previous MOU already acknowledged that librarians are "academic employees" (1) and that librarians should be credited for their research activity:
Research by practicing librarians has a growing importance as library, bibliographic, and information management activities become more demanding and complex. Librarian engagement in academic research enhances their ability to relate their functions to the more general goals of the university. It is therefore appropriate to take research into account in measuring a librarian’s professional development. The evaluation of such research or other creative activity should be qualitative and not merely quantitative and should be made in comparison with the activity and quality appropriate to the candidate’s areas of expertise. Note should be taken of continued and effective endeavor. This may include authoring, editing, reviewing or compiling books, articles, reports, handbooks, manuals, and/or similar products which are submitted or published during the period under review. (3

The University may be attempting to restrict the professional claims and status of librarians in order to gain greater control over their activities.

3) The University may think that it can use the recognition of librarian's academic freedom as a bargaining chip.  If this is the case then OP should be ashamed of themselves.  Academic Freedom is a fundamental aspect of the modern university and one that UC insists that it believes in deeply.  To treat it as a bargaining chip in negotiations debases its meaning at the same time as it diminishes the academic work of the university's librarians. I hope that this is not the case.  UC could affirm its principles by correcting its negotiating position quickly.

The UC-AFT has asked that people who support their case for Academic Freedom sign their petition.

Posted by Michael Meranze | Comments: 2