Liberty & Power: Group Blog
Robert L. Campbell
I agree with David Beito that the ongoing events at the University of Southern Mississippi show how tenure could become a dead letter. Not through post-tenure review, whose primary purpose is to weed out tenured professors who have become incompetent, but through arbitrary firings of productive faculty members for no legitimate cause, as Shelby Thames is trying to do to Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer.
A comprehensive way to catch up on events since Thames, an administrator already heartily disliked for his autocratic style, became President of USM is to read the sources linked at this protest site. (Meanwhile, Ralph Luker has been doing a commendable job posting updates on the crisis at Cliopatria.)
I find it interesting that in slightly under 2 years in office, Thames has pushed through several changes that upper administrators at Clemson wanted and got in the 1990s.
State university administrators are not particularly imaginative: the vision statement on USM’s official Web site could have come out of nearly any minor-league institution with major-league aspirations. One of Thames’ recently announced goals for USM, reaching $100 million in grant and contract-funded research, became an official goal at Clemson in the late 1990s (it has since been met). Though somewhat more prestigious than USM, Clemson is comparable in many ways: there are around 850 faculty at CU, as opposed to USM’s 600-odd; total enrollment at both universities in the 16,000s, though Clemson is heavier with graduate students; both universities belong to state university systems that are often seen as overbuilt and as tilting away from research-oriented institutions toward 4-year colleges and tech schools). So it is interesting to contrast how Clemson’s administration got what it wanted with the way Thames has tried to get what he wanted.
One change that Thames made was to consolidate 9 colleges into 5. Clemson did the exact same thing in 1994-95. Thames seems to have imposed the mergers himself, without even consulting his Provost, let alone anyone on the faculty. At Clemson there was some preparation by faculty-administrative task forces, though the final reorganization was decreed by the Board of Trustees, and implemented by a former Board member who became president for a year. 1994 and 1995 were turbulent years at Clemson. Max Lennon, the architect of the great administrative expansion at Clemson, was forced to resign in the spring of 1994, when the faculty finally became fed up with his policy of hiring more and more administrators and giving them much bigger raises than faculty members were getting. It was the Faculty Senate President at Clemson (a more adept politician than his present-day counterpart at USM) who persuaded the Senate to call off a resolution of no confidence, then upped the ante, by telling President Lennon that he would call a General Faculty meeting to consider the no-confidence resolution if Lennon did not resign.
The reorganization at Clemson did no harm overall; it actually helped us in the Social Sciences, by moving our departments out of the old College of Liberal Arts, which had always been the administration’s doormat. (I don’t know nearly enough about the history of USM, or its institutional culture, to know whether any departments have benefited from the realignment of the colleges there.) But the financial benefits of the reorg were purposely misrepresented: any money that Clemson saved by cutting 4 Dean positions was promptly spent on new Associate Dean positions. To create the semblance that the reorganization had reduced expenditures on administration, President Phil Prince and the Board arbitrarily redefined Department Chairs out of the administrative ranks. (A typical Department Chair at Clemson spends 2/3 of his or her time running the department, and teaches one course per semester.) The arbitrary redefinition came after a failed attempt to actually get rid of the Department Chair position; Prince backed off that one after he realized that he was about to spark another faculty revolt.
The reorganization has lasted at Clemson. It has outlasted the lies about how it cut administrative expense; these were loudly repeated for another 5 years, then retired when it became obvious, even to the Board of Trustees, that they were failing to impress the state legislature. For like most state legislatures during the past decade, the one in South Carolina was not terribly interested in funneling more money to the university, although it was interested in funding scholarships. In fact, President Deno Curris was forced out by the Board in 1999 after 4 years of promising, and failing to deliver, a shower of largess from Columbia. Since then, Clemson, like many other state universities, has become much more dependent on tuition as a source of revenue. Meanwhile, no reduction in administrative employment has taken place at Clemson; there are slightly more administrators working at CU now than there were in 1994, and around 100 fewer faculty members. Not having access to unfried financial numbers for USM, I can’t evaluate the claimed cost savings from the reorganization there. One source claims they amounted to $1.8 million a year. I’ll bet that that they were actually a lot smaller, for other stories indicate that Thames has kept creating new administrative positions…
Another institutional change that Thames has rammed through at USM is an online faculty activity reporting system. The Faculty Activity System, which came online at Clemson in the Spring of 1998, was the brainchild of Provost Steffen Rogers. Rogers claimed he needed it to prove to the South Carolina Legislature that we professors at CU weren’t occupied with afternoon rounds of golf, or sitting around with our feet on our desks. The legislature didn’t seem all that impressed by the FAS; bills mandating workload increases for faculty have never gotten out of committee, but the annual appropriations have been falling since 2000, and have yet to bottom out. At Clemson, the FAS was adopted after approximately a year of dickering with the Faculty Senate, and some testing of the software; at USM it again seems to have been imposed, suddenly and unilaterally, by the President.
A move distinctive to Thames’ administration was creating a new position called Director of Risk Management (truth in labeling title: Chief Hatchet Man) for a lawyer named Jack Hanbury. Hanbury just happens to have been the law partner of the husband of Angelina Dvorak, the Vice President for Research who allegedly lied on her vita. As soon as he arrived at USM in May of last year, Hanbury’s duties included monitoring every Faculty Senate meeting and heading up a commission, consisting primarily of administrators, that was charged with rewriting the USM Faculty Manual. At Clemson, the Faculty Manual is often amended to accommodate changes imposed by the administration, but all Faculty Manual language still has to originate in a committee of the Faculty Senate, and the Senate has to approve it by a 2/3 vote before it goes to the Board of Trustees for final approval. A few years ago, there was an attempt to tamper with the text of the Faculty Manual between passage by the Senate and submission to the Board of Trustees; after the Provost got caught with hand in cookie jar, such maneuvers stopped. I suspect it was the seizure of authority over the Faculty Manual that helped to push the situation at USM out of control. USM faculty weren’t too far off in speculating that Hanford was brought in to find ways to fire professors.
Other points of comparison? Well, lies told by university spokespersons have become routine. I’m afraid that Lisa Mader at USM doesn’t stand out in any way. Clemson’s university spokeswoman once faced a roomful of angry faculty members and calmly proclaimed that her job was to make the president of the university look good. She just verbalized what they’re all there for. When are journalists going to realize that university press releases are invariably written to flatter or protect the upper administration?
Fabricated or misleading statistics have also become routine at state universities, which are obligated by law to give public reports of many aspects of their operations. But Thames and his underlings don’t appreciate what is easy to get away with in this realm, and what is harder. Just a few months ago they inflated their graduate enrollment numbers (apparently so they could claim that USM had the biggest total enrollment of any university in the state system). So they were promptly caught lying about something that’s often asked about and readily checked. State universities get away routinely with fried or unintelligible financial numbers (they are held to very low standards of financial reporting to begin with). Faculty numbers are commonly exaggerated; for instance, Shelby Thames has a tenured faculty position attached to his job, so USM can count him as a faculty member when it expects some advantage out of doing so—and I’ll bet it does. These kinds of things are easy to get away with, because reporters don’t know what to ask about a university budget, and they’re not in the habit of caring how many employees spend more than half their time doing faculty work.
I would like to be able to say that cover-ups of administrative malfeasance are unique to USM, but of course they are not. Administrators at Clemson don’t want to admit that a professor lied on a vita, let alone that an administrator did it. But they would try much harder than Thames apparently did to keep the issue out of the public eye. Once the charges against Vice President Dvorak were in front of the public—as anything that’s the topic of a Faculty Senate or Student Government resolution has been—Thames either had to provide evidence to support what she said on her vita, or cut her loose while pretending that he had never tried to protect her. He did neither, and the crisis has proceeded from there.
I would also like to be able to say that arbitrary firings of tenured faculty are unique to USM, but of course they are not. In my experience, tenured professors who have displeased administrators are fired, or pushed into retirement, when they can be expected not to fight back. A soft target is a faculty member who has been on extended sick leave, and is too weak psychologically to do anything but leave quietly. Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer were too vigorous, too visible, and too ornery for anything of the sort to work. And publicly accusing them of investigating a Vice President’s credentials was a serious mistake. It would have been much better to find a pretext unrelated to the investigation. Indeed, Thames’ latest embroidery—insinuating that they violated criminal laws—reeks of desperation. Since he hates Glamser and Stringer in the worst possible way, it would be highly irrational of him not to call the District Attorney’s office and ask them to prosecute—unless he has no evidence on hand that would interest the DA.
So what’s distinctive about the president of USM? Thames’ ambitions for his kind of institution are standard-issue. His ideas are standard-issue. His level of cronyism also looks to be in the fat part of the distribution; his degree of ego involvement is noticeably above the mean, but not whoppingly so. The factors that make him different from recent Presidents of Clemson are: extreme incompetence at management; massive, unconcealed disdain for the faculty; and complete failure to grasp what is going to make him look bad when the daily newspapers pick it up. I am hoping that he stands out enough on these dimensions to have become a liability for those above him in the Mississippi state system.
I doubt that the Mississippi State Board of Institutions of Higher Learning cares that Thames is shredding tenure, or violating academic freedom—some Board members may well applaud him for doing those things. But the Board members will care that USM is getting a load of unfavorable media coverage, that faculty and student protests could paralyze both of USM’s campuses, and that prominent donors could withdraw their support. All they have to do is look at the way Thames is being portrayed by the political cartoonist at the Jackson Clarion-Ledger. And since he is clinging to power, they will have to fire him. One hopes that they will get rid of his worst cronies at the same time, but it doesn’t usually work that way; his old underlings could do damage for another year or more, until Thames’ successor finishes easing them out. The prospects for Glamser and Stringer’s fairly swift reinstatement seem better, despite the delays imposed by the appeal process, because it was Thames’ decision to fire them that sparked the crisis.
The best outcome will be decisive action against Thames by the Board at its next meeting (March 18). I would just as soon not see the American Association of University Professors get pressed into leading the resistance to the firings and to the administrative rewrite of the Faculty Manual. That’s because I fear that the national organization of the AAUP has very little gas left in the tank. The AAUP cannot afford to go up against any university administration that has a good chance of successfully defying it. The AAUP long ago gave up tangling with universities at the top of the prestige rankings, and we may be reaching the point where a minor-league operation like USM could be too powerful for it. By contrast, I am pleased to see that the American Civil Liberties Union is participating in Glamser and Stringer’s legal defense. Thames can rail against the ACLU all he likes, but there’s very little he can do to damage it.
Faculty members at USM and elsewhere are fortunate that Thames is making such an ass of himself that his own Provost is denying involvement in his decisions and taking exception to his remarks--and that influential people in Mississippi who have no objection to his program may find his manner of pursuing it unacceptably costly.
Forget about Imperialism abroad, What is happening in N.H., for example, is an excellent case of Oswald Spengler's definition of Empire as bureaucratic centralization. Why bother with a Town Meeting anymore anyway -- just a waste of time and not as entertaining as Court TV.
CSM -- As the town meeting dies, and old civic culture fades, New Hampshire town abandon a centuries-old tradition. By Noel C. Paul. Click here.
A number of you have probably read many of Jonathan Schell's books, dating back to The Fate of the Earth, and most recently, The Unconquerable World.
Schell has just published in The Nation, what I believe is a very important essay, “The Empire Backfires,” perhaps the best summary assessment of the reactionary nature of the Bush Administration’s overall policies, quite apart from the distortions of truth which have been employed to implement them.
"The government's longtime chief analyst of Medicare costs said yesterday that Bush administration officials threatened to fire him last year if he disclosed to Congress that he believed the prescription drug legislation favored by the White House would prove far more expensive than lawmakers had been told."
As we know now, the official cost estimate is a third higher ($535 billion over ten years) than we were told when the bill was being debated. What did did John Kerry call them? Crooks and liars? (Not that his wing of the ruling class is any better.)
David T. Beito
The protections of tenure are directly under attack at USM. If the administration there wins this, it will be a dangerous precedent for other administrators who, I suspect, are watching closely.
Excerpted at Salon.com today are two sections from Craig Unger’s forthcoming book, House of Bush, House of Saud.. Another follows there next week. Non-subscribers can sign in for a free day and read those selections.
Some of you may also have read Walter Karp’s classic, Indispensable Enemies, The Politics of Misrule in America (1973), detailing the corruption of the American Party System over what was then more than a century and a half.
Of course, the Parties are only one part of the American Empire which includes the Judicial System now deciding elections and making law more than ever, the Congress with its battalions of lobbyists representing the various monied interests of the Corporate State, where incumbency is now the rule, and the Administrative State itself, including the huge bureaucracies encompassing the Military, Regulatory of every kind (including creating money), Welfare (in the broadest entitlement sense), and Schooling (having little to do with real education or knowledge). This whole Federal apparat is, naturally, duplicated at the State level, as well as in counties and cities.
What Unger’s book does is offer some insight into the way the Corporate State can help to create dynasties. Whether GeoII/43 wins or loses in 2004, probably Jeb Bush will be the Familia’s presidential candidate in 2008. Momma Bush and others always anticipated he would lead the way, but things turned out a bit differently. If Kerry loses in 2004, the House of Clinton, on the other side in the “indispensable enemies” game, will come forward with the junior Senator from New York. It is getting to be a bit like the dynastic fight in England in the first part of the 18th century. The financial shenanigans of the House of Bush make Cheney/KBR look like the minor leaguers they are in the larger scheme of things in the Empire, now the subject of a whole plethora of books.
It is also interesting to note, not in this book, however, that a considerable portion of the Neocons responsible for the major policies of GeoII/43, were in 2000 recommended to the new President by his brother, Jeb (remember, George was acknowledging he knew little of foreign policy). This writer hopes to cover that as well as the elections of 2000 and 2004 in the forthcoming (2005) 4th edition of A History of Florida.
Roderick T. Long
Roderick T. Long
Three news items that caught my eye today:
Police recently found a house in Fresno with a pile of butchered corpses and, nearby, a pile of coffins. According to the AP report:"Authorities did not know why the coffins were there and said it might be a coincidence."
A coincidence? Jeez, d'ya think?
Today's Opelika-Auburn News quotes Alabama Governor Bob Riley on the subject of the state's social services:"We can tell you how many people we serve. We can tell you how much we spend. But we can't tell you whether it's effective."
For a moment I thought Riley might be experiencing a glimmer of economic understanding. But no, he was calling for (what else?) more studies.
In fact Alabama's state government, as a monopoly insulated from the price system, is inevitably going to be deprived of any way to assess its own effectiveness -- as Mises and Hayek explained long ago. But the Governor has already shown through his past actions that he is far from understanding this lesson.
The third item, also in the Opelika-Auburn News, was a remark by Bob Cloud, math teacher at Auburn's Drake Middle School and organiser of"Pi Day.""The students deal with circles every day in the real world," he explained."They need to know the attributes and properties of circles."
As a justification of geometry this is weak. The likelihood that the average person will have a burning practical need to calculate the area or circumference of a circle is actually fairly slim -- and most kids are too savvy to be fooled into thinking otherwise.
The real reason one should know geometry is not for some further pragmatic purpose but for its own intrinsic nobility and beauty, and because it is inherently shameful for a rational being to be ignorant of the basic principles of reality. As Aristotle writes in the Metaphysics:All men by nature desire to know. An indication of this is the delight we take in our senses; for even apart from their usefulness they are loved for themselves ... not only with a view to action, but even when we are not going to do anything .... Of the sciences, also, that which is desirable on its own account and for the sake of knowing it is more of the nature of wisdom than that which is desirable on account of its results. ... For it is owing to their wonder that men both now begin and at first began to philosophize ... Evidently they were pursuing science in order to know, and not for any utilitarian end ... for it was when almost all the necessities of life and the things that make for comfort and recreation had been secured, that such knowledge began to be sought. Evidently then we do not seek it for the sake of any other advantage; but as the man is free, we say, who exists for his own sake and not for another's, so we pursue this as the only free science, for it alone exists for its own sake.Or as Ælfric put it more succinctly in his Colloquy, we should be"eager for learning" in order not to be"like stupid cattle that know only grass and water." This is the original notion of a liberal education -- an education befitting a free human being. Our students deserve to hear the truth: the life of the mind is not a means to some higher practical end; it is itself the highest practical end.
NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof is making more and more sense these days. Trips to the developing world have helped him see the light on free trade, and why sweat shops are a necessary, if regrettable, stretch on the road to prosperity.
Today he strikes a blow for another libertarian theme -- the need for sound, numbers-based risk assessment in public policy, instead of basing our laws on perceived risks, hype, symbolism, and message-sending. The Cliff's Notes version of Kristof today:
Cars kill 43,000 people every year, or 117 per day. The flu kills 36,000 per year. Guns kill 26,000. Food-borne illness kills 5,000.
Excepting 2001, wanna know how many Americans terrorism kills every day? Almost zero. Much closer to zero than to one. Even if we isolate 2001 and the 3,000 people killed on September 11, the deadliest year for terrorism in U.S. history, that boils down to less than 10 deaths per day, or one tenth the number killed the same year in car accidents. Yet we've created the largest bureaucracy in the history of government, we've suspended the rules of criminal procedure, and we've launched what could amount to a trillion-dollar war -- all in the name of fighting a threat that's not even amont the top 20 killers of Americans.
Kristof unfortnately uses these numbers to suggest we need to spend more federal money on highway safety, AIDS resarch, gun control, and so on. I'd like to see us go the other way, and perhaps consider spending less on a huge bureaucracy that, if history is any indicator, isn't going to do a whole lot to make us safer.
No, we shouldn't forget September 11. Nor should we stop searching for, apprehending, and bringing justice to those who want to kill us. And Kristof's right -- the damage a one-time stray nuke could do is alone worth considerable vigilance and preventative effort.
But these are handy numbers to keep in mind the next time you hear an elected official or Bush apologist tell us we'll need to sacrifice our money, our skepticism, and a bit of our civil liberties in the name of safety and security.
A recent Boston Globe story (reprinted by the International Herald Tribune here) makes clear that immigrant colonization of the low-skilled job market is not the result of decadent American teenagers opting to shop at the mall rather than work. Quite the opposite -- immigrant competition is elbowing teenagers out of jobs they would otherwise be filling. One economist said employers"like the fact that immigrants can work more hours and more shifts than teenagers." A job counselor said"Typically when kids apply for a summer job they might want a week off to go to camp or do something else. I tell them, 'You can't do that. You are up against someone who is going to be there every day and you need to deal with that.'" As a result, the percentage of teenagers holding jobs is the lowest it's been since statistics started being compiled in the 1940s.So Krikorian starts out aiming to refute the notion that immigrants take jobs Americans don't want. To prove his point, he notes that there are plenty of teens who would take jobs currently staffed by immigrants -- so long as those teens are allowed to work fewer shifts and fewer hours than the immigrants do, and permitted a mid-summer sabbatical for band camp.
Is it healthy for the future of our society to freeze our children out of low-wage, rite-of-passage jobs? When I was younger, I washed dishes in restaurants, packed tomatoes, did lawn work -- this kind of thing is essential if we are to preserve a middle-class society that values work, rather than the Old World model that mass immigration is pushing us toward, where only inferiors ever get their hands dirty.
Well, shucks. Krikorian's sold me. I say any employer who hires a hard working immigrant looking to feed his family over an American teen looking for his due rite-of-passage short-term busing Waffle House tables for date money isn't doing his duty to preserve Anglo-American culture.
Start the boycotts.
Chris Matthew Sciabarra
I'd like to highlight another fine Chronicle of Higher Education article, which appears in this week's issue. Jonathan Brent's"Gucci Shoes and Khachapuri: Power and Belief in Russia Today" deals extensively with a topic that has preoccupied many of us: the relationship of politics and culture in the movement toward a free society. In an era when Wilsonian central planners are nation-building in Iraq, without a firm understanding of the cultural prerequisites for political change, Brent's article is a welcome addition to the literature.
Brent interviews Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev of the International Democracy Foundation. A World War II vet, former Soviet ambassador to Canada, and Columbia University graduate, Yakovlev was an"architect of perestroika during the Gorbachev years ..." Yakovlev argues that, historically, the Soviet system, from the time of Lenin through the Great Terror and beyond, was based on the"institutionalization of strakh—fear—as the ruling element in the psychology of the Russian people." This is a fear, says Yakovlev, that" continues to this day in all but the youngest generation."
Indeed, fear has even shaped the historiography of the post-Soviet era. Yakovlev tells us that"an honest textbook on Soviet history could not be written for at least a generation. Why? People are still too afraid of the consequences of telling the truth ..."
Fear. The ruling element in Russian psychology. I'd venture to say it's the ruling element in the psychology of any oppressed people.
Yakovlev is hated by those"who would like to see a return to the old Communist system." He himself fears"that the windows of reform have been closing gradually over the last several years." In Russia,"[t]he past is dead, but not dead enough."
Yakovlev is one of those visionaries who had"provided Mikhail Gorbachev with the theoretical framework for the demise of the Soviet system because he thought it was better voluntarily to give up power than to retain it illegally and ineffectively." Squeezing Communism out of Russia,"drop by drop," has required a"slow turn toward truth," which is bringing"about the collapse of an entire system of belief. Truth is dangerous still, and the masses of people remain empty and disoriented. Nothing yet has taken the system's place. There is need for a new mythology. That is partly why Yakovlev believes that only the complete debolshevization of the country can save Russia from sliding backward."
But because the central government retains control, the rule of law is forever undermined, as is liberty and productivity. In the time before collectivization, Yakovlev remembers,"people had potatoes but didn't have socialism. Afterward, they had socialism but no potatoes." Now, Russian President Vladimir Putin"has wrapped himself in secrecy, closed down the only liberal television station, and changed the way elections for the State Duma are conducted—all of which, Yakovlev points out, no one intent on democratic reform would have done." Brent continues:
The last elections, marginalizing the liberal parties and endorsing Putin's vision of a strong central government, suggest that the people themselves may want despotism in the guise of democracy. A tragic outcome. Yakovlev understands that true democracy cannot be based on force—only on the shared values of an educated public. Although the Russian population enjoys an exceptionally high level of education in many areas, history is not among them. Knowledge of the history of the Stalinist past and the cold war is particularly lacking." (emphasis added)
Unfortunately, this historical blindness to"the menacing organ of the Soviet, and now Russian, government" has led to the assertion of even"greater authority in the daily life of the people." Russia is in a downward slide, in many ways. And authoritarian traditions seem to be on the upswing."Fascist newspapers are no longer publicly on sale in Red Square, but more than 100 publish openly in Russia today. Calls for limiting the influence of Jews and members of other minority groups are a steady feature of that literature."
Yakovlev emphasizes that a democratic culture must"give heart to democratic policies. But Russia is vast, its history is long and dark, and the work of one man, or 100 men, can be swallowed up in an instant by a tide of intimidation, threat, and terror. If that happens, a precious moment for Russia and the world will have been lost."
The point at which knowledge is transformed into action is the nexus of education and political commitment. But neither knowledge nor political commitment can be sustained in a vacuum. The self-critical, democratic culture that Yakovlev seeks depends on traditions of thought that extend far beyond Russia's borders. If reform is to prevail, Russia cannot remain isolated from the West, he says. He sees Russia's sinking back into isolation as the greatest danger.
I am reminded of some points made, back in 1998, by a Hegelian thinker, David MacGregor, who sensed that my own approach to the system of thought of another"Russian Radical," Ayn Rand, had critical application to the case of Russia. MacGregor wrote:
Rand's three-tiered methodological approach, as expounded by Sciabarra, may help account for the apparent failure of unregulated capitalism in the former Soviet Union. Russia's economic and political realities are conditioned by cultural and individual factors, so that market disruption and the rise of the Russian Mafia may be traced, in Rand's schema, to cultural and personal aspects of the Russian people. The market experiment has faltered, not because of any problem inherent to it, but because residues of mysticism, collectivism, and altruism are a miserable heritage of Soviet power.
I can only add that as long as Russia is a country ruled by fear, it will never prosper. No nation can ever be built on fear. As I say in this post, there is a"reciprocally reinforcing relationship between fear, anger, hatred, dependency, malevolence, and suffering." If the Russian people, or the Iraqi people, wish to build a democratic nation, it is they who must transcend the fear. It is they who must embrace those cultural values that will sustain human life and liberty.
David T. Beito
Well, my earlier blogging on the classroom bias issue here and here, has come home to roost. My own campus has now made the national press on this topic. Today's WSJ has an opinion piece by John J. Miller on the topic that is hooked by an incident here where a junior faculty member went after the national college republicans in his blog (run on his own server using his own equipment, but accessible through a couple of links from the Sociology department web site) in terms that were, shall we say, less than flattering.
Miller's piece is the usual conservative complaint piece about left-wing faculty bias. My two complaints in turn are 1) he said nothing about the fact that several campus conservatives responded by putting up posters around campus calling the faculty member a "reverse racist." A number of faculty called for them to be punished for doing so including claiming it was a form of harassment, but the administration (of which I guess I am a part) has held very firmly to free speech on both sides of this issue; and 2) it misses the bigger picture here which is, as my own experience suggests, a place that is pretty friendly to out libertarians who are engaged in the world of ideas and campus life. I just hate seeing us lumped in with places where someone like me really wouldn't have been treated so well.
Another point to make here is that the faculty member at the center of this is the only hard-left faculty member on campus who has ever assigned an article of mine and then invited me to class to talk about it. In a 200-level class on the sociology of development last fall, he assigned a piece of mine defending free trade and then gave me a full 90 minutes of class to talk about it, with him present. It was a very civil and productive class. Is it possible to be an angry name-calling hater of college republican fascists in your blog, yet be open-minded enough to invite the opposition to class and treat conservative or libertarian students fairly? Good question. Interestingly, in the wake of some faculty email exchange on this incident in which I called attention to the faculty member having invited me to class, I now have two more invitations from leftist faculty to do guest lectures. I think this is a good thing, but I have jokingly suggested to my dean that I need to renegotiate my teaching load!
In any case, I'm just really sad this morning. I love this place and it's been very good to me and I hate to see a story that takes a very particular incident and uses it as part of a broader picture that simply doesn't so easily apply here.
Robert L. Campbell
Steven Horwitz has my complete sympathy on this issue. John Miller's WSJ piece is a dreadful hash. He lumps together St. Lawrence with Stanford and Duke and Yale—it’s hard to find a clearer signal of lazy writing on academia. And he endorses the so-called Academic Bill of Rights, which aims at things you’d expect one a them Right-wing culture warriors to oppose: mandating yet another form of"diversity," and creating a corresponding category of harassment with its own subjectively defined"hostile environment." Miller reports an official stand of the American Psychological Association (that opposition to"affirmative action" is proof of"symbolic racism") without bothering to note that many academic psychologists avoid joining the APA, which they regard as a lobby for clinical practitioners.
I will say that Bob Torres was pretty naive, if he thought that only 5 or 6 people were going to read his broadside against the College Republicans. If you put something on the Web, it’s out where people in Mongolia can see it, as well as your own students. I don’t care for the street rhetoric in the now-notorious piece, but I interpret it as venting, or as maintaining solidarity with ideological allies. (Surely Torres knows that he was presuming the truth of his charge against Republicans instead of trying to argue for it; in fact, some of his other blog entries are more serious about making such a case.) Still, I don’t blame students for wondering whether they’re guaranteed a D on a term paper should they take exception to his preferred explanations of poverty in America. I think he has fence-mending to do, but I also think that he might have figured that out by now, perhaps with a little help from the colleagues whose vigorous responses the St. Lawrence administration chose not to interfere with. Miller has accomplished little, except to add fuel to Torres’ suspicions that"McCarthyites" are on the loose.
Some readers may find this of interest:
ON THE MEDIA
Be Not Wicked
By William Powers ,National Journal Friday, March 12, 2004
If you want to know why American newspapers are dying a long, slow death -- sort of like the dinosaurs, but more pathetic -- look no further than a story that crossed the media's radar screen for about one second last week. It was a tiny flap, and it wasn't even about the news per se . It was about a cartoon. But it laid bare a mentality that's taken hold at the broadsheets in the last few decades and could prove fatal.
To view this article and the Oliphant cartoon discussed, Click Here.
On a recent Monday, the editorial page of The Boston Globe ran a cartoon by the widely syndicated political cartoonist Pat Oliphant . It shows a gigantic Catholic nun in an old-fashioned habit, holding a ruler and wearing an evil smile. A tiny boy is walking away from her, dripping blood, missing a tooth, and sporting two black eyes. Over the boy's head, there's a thought balloon with a light bulb inside. The cartoon's caption:"In his early school days, little Mel Gibson gets beaten to a bloody pulp by Sister Dolorosa Excruciata of the Little Sisters of the Holy Agony, and an idea is born."
What is Oliphant getting at here? Obviously he's poking fun at Gibson's famously bloody movie, The Passion of the Christ . Less obviously, the cartoon suggests that perhaps Gibson has some psychological issues he's working out with all that gore. Deeper still, Oliphant seems to be linking the sadism of those who torture Jesus in the movie to sadistic strains within the Catholic Church itself, as represented by this ridiculous nun. In other words, when it comes to cruelty, Catholics have their own issues.
Coming after the church's horrific pedophile scandal, and in the very newspaper that broke that scandal open, the cartoon might have struck thoughtful Globe readers as extremely apt, even brilliant. Humor that manages to be both very broad (is there any joke older than a big, scary nun?) and very subtle is a rare thing. A cartoon that does so while making a provocative point about Topic A -- well, that's a pretty neat trick.
On a more basic level, it's just a wicked cartoon, and wickedness used to be a core value of American journalism in general, and of great newspapers in particular. Long ago and oh so far away.
"Upset Boston Globe Readers in Tears Over Oliphant Cartoon" was the headline of an item last Friday on Romenesko, a popular Web site for and about journalists. The item linked to a column by Christine Chinlund , the Globe 's ombudsman, that appeared four days after the Oliphant cartoon. The column began:"The cartoon atop last Monday's editorial page was intended as a satirical comment on the violence in Mel Gibson's 'The Passion of the Christ.' But many Globe readers saw it as something else: assault-by-stereotype on nuns. Scores of readers quickly phoned or e-mailed their dismay and their disgust. They were as hurt as they were angry, and a couple were in tears. They spoke personally about nuns who dedicated their lives to teaching in poor neighborhoods for little pay. Such women didn't deserve to be cast as evil, they said, and The Globe must apologize. Some canceled the paper."
Chinlund reasoned through the question a bit and quoted some of the anguished readers she'd heard from. She also quoted Renee Loth , the paper's editorial page editor, who said:"We never intended to insult Catholics, or nuns, or even Mel Gibson by running what we saw as a comic take on a cultural subject prominently in the news.... We underestimated people's sensitivities to what appeared to us a broadly satiric commentary. I regret that." Chinlund agreed, concluding that the cartoon was too hurtful and should not have run:"The point of this particular cartoon didn't equal the cost."
And that about sums up the new journalistic thinking. We are living in The Age of the Ombudsman, a deeply earnest and practical time when it all comes down to a simple cost-benefit analysis."The point" of any piece of work is weighed against"the cost," i.e., the number of people it offends. The implications of this approach are enormous, but nobody seems to care.
Do you ever wonder why political cartoons have lost the magnetism and drawing power they once had, why they're no longer part of the political conversation? There aren't many Pat Oliphants left in America, you see, and the ones we have are so troublesome, so... costly.
And really, why offend people when you can make them happy? Why shock when you can calm and soothe? Why divide when you can unite? If the newspaper industry had a theme song, it would be that old Coke jingle: I'd like to teach the world to sing, in perfect harmony. More and more, it's doing just that.
Operate in this fashion for a while, and pretty soon you'll have a thoroughly modern media establishment, one that plays nice all the time, isn't wicked, and never ever makes anyone cry. Or laugh.
William Powers is a staff correspondent for National Journal magazine, where"On The Media" appears.
Time to change the subject.
I've been following the controversy over Bush's use of 9/11 imagery in his campaign ads, and I really don't get the objections. Let me preface this by saying that I can imagine some uses of 9/11 that would cross the line, but talking about 9/11 and using short, non-graphic images as part of a re-election campaign is totally in-bounds. However much I might disagree with decisions he has made, Bush has the right to run on what he perceives his record to be. If that includes his supposed leadership post-9/11, then so be it. As many have noted, if he didn't do that, he'd be the first president not to use his leadership of an ongoing war as a campaign issue.
What's bothering me more, however, is the way the objectors are couching their objections - specifically, the claim that 9/11 is a "national tragedy" and should not be "politicized." As Col. Potter might say: "Horsehockey!!" Although it's a "tragedy" in the dictionary sense, using that language drains the event of any moral dimension, as if it were just another example of "shit happens." The reality is that 9/11 was an act of mass murder and that mass murder was a politically-motivated act (again, whatever one thinks of what Bush has done since). To say that it is a tragedy that we can't even discuss but in tones of reverent wallowing in collective grief enables us to avoid asking the really tough questions about why it happened, how to prevent a repeat performance, and what if anything we should do to those who did it. It can't not be politicized - it was a political act. And, therefore, political actors in the US have every right to use it as part of their campaigns, within reason of course.
The attempt to stop reasonable discussion and use of 9/11 in favor of our collective self-pity is just one more sign of the "Oprahization" of American discourse, political and otherwise.
David T. Beito
For even more information on the latest developments, see here. If you haven't sent an email to President Shelby F. Thames , who is stubbornly holding on to his power, do so immediately.