Yesterday Chancellor Dirks sent an email about free speech to Berkeley students, faculty, and staff. In today's competitive publishing environment it is astonishingly difficult to distinguish yourself as an academic by being wrong about free speech, but Chancellor Dirks is equal to the challenge. His email is so very bad on every level — legally, logically, rhetorically, and philosophically — that it deserves scrutiny.
Tragedy is inevitable. Our reaction to tragedy is not. We cannot govern every risk, but we must govern our reactions to risks. Here's the question we must ask ourselves: when awful things happen in the world, will we abandon reason and accept any measure urged by officials — petty and great — who invoke those awful things as justifications for action? Or will we think critically and demand that our leaders do so as well? Will we subject cries of "crime" and "drugs" and "terrorism" and "school shootings" to scrutiny? Will we be convinced to turn on each other in an irrational frenzy of suspicion, "for the children?"
If we don't maintain our critical thinking, we wind up with a nation run more and more like Bergen Community College in New Jersey, where we may be questioned and sent for reeducation for posting a picture of our daughter in a popular t-shirt on Google+.
Francis Schmidt is a popular professor of design and animation at Bergen. Schmidt posted to Google+ a cute picture of his young daughter wearing a Game of Thrones t-shirt in a yoga pose next to a cat. The t-shirt was this one, bearing the phrase "I will take what is mine with fire and blood," a quote from Daenerys Targaryen, a fictional character in a series of fantasy novels (which has sold tens of millions of copies) turned into a hot TV series on HBO (with close to 15 million viewers per episode.) Googling the phrase will instantly provide a context to anyone unfamiliar with the series.
So: a professor posts a cute picture of his kid in a t-shirt with a saying from a much-talked-about tv show. In the America we'd like to believe in, nothing happens. But in the America we've allowed to creep up on us, this happens:
But one contact — a dean — who was notified automatically via Google that the picture had been posted apparently took it as a threat. In an email, Jim Miller, the college’s executive director for human resources, told Schmidt to meet with him and two other administrators immediately in light of the “threatening email.”
Although it was winter break, Schmidt said he met with the administrators, including a security official, in one of their offices and was questioned repeatedly about the picture’s meaning and the popularity of “Game of Thrones.”
Schmidt said Miller asked him to use Google to verify the phrase, which he did, showing approximately 4 million hits. The professor said he asked why the photo had set off such a reaction, and that the security official said that “fire” could be a kind of proxy for “AK-47s.”
Despite Schmidt’s explanation, he was notified via email later in the week that he was being placed on leave without pay, effectively immediately, and that he would have to be cleared by a psychiatrist before he returned to campus. Schmidt said he was diagnosed with depression in 2007 but was easily cleared for this review, although even the brief time away from campus set back his students, especially those on independent study.
So. That happened.
Walter said she did not believe that the college had acted unfairly, especially considering that there were three school shootings nationwide in January, prior to Schmidt’s post. The suspects in all three shootings were minors targeting their local schools (although three additional shootings at colleges or universities happened later in the month).
This — this — is the core demand of the modern Fear State. Tell us what to fear, leaders, for the night is dark and full of terrors. Tell us what we have to do. Tell us what to think, and how to assess risks. Tell us "if you see something, say something" so we may feel duty-bound to vent our fears and insecurities about our fellow citizens rather than exercising judgment or compassion or proportion. Assure us that you must exercise your growing powers for our own safety, to ward off the terrible things we worry about.
Is Bergen some sort of unlikely citadel of irrationality? At first glance it may seem so. After all no well person would interpret the t-shirt as a threat and report it. That takes irrationality or dysfunction. No minimally competent or intelligent or honest school administrator would pursue such a report upon receiving it; rather, anyone exercising anything like rational discretion would Google the thing and immediately identify it as a mundane artifact of popular culture. No honest or near-normal intellect would say, as Jim Miller did, that the "fire" in the slogan might refer to an AK-47, a profoundly idiotic statement that resembles arguing that "May the Force Be With You" is a threat of force. Nobody with self-respect or minimal ability would claim that this professor's treatment was somehow justified by school shootings.
But Bergen isn't an anomaly. It's not a collection of dullards and subnormals — though Jim Miller and Kaye Walker could lead to think that it is. Bergen is the emerging norm. Bergen represents what we, the people, have been convinced to accept. Bergen is unremarkable in a world where we've accepted "if you see something, say something" as an excuse to emote like toddlers, and where we're lectured that we should be thankful that our neighbors are so eager to inform on us. Bergen is mundane in a world where we put kids in jail to be brutalized over obvious bad jokes on social media. Bergen exists in a world where officials use concepts like "cyberbullying" to police and retaliate against satire and criticism. Bergen exists in a world where we have allowed fears — fear of terrorism, fear of drugs, fear of crime, fear for our children — to become so powerful that merely invoking them is a key that unlocks any right. Bergen exists in a country where our leaders realize how powerful those fears are, and therefore relentlessly stretch them further and further, so we get things like the already-Orwellian Department of Homeland Security policing DVD piracy.
Certainly the Miller-Walter mindset is not unique in American academia. We've seen a professor's historical allusion cynically repackaged as a threat. We've seen a community college invoke 9/11 and Virginia Tech and Columbine to ban protest signs. In pop-culture debacle much like this one, we've seen a college tear down a "Firefly" poster as a threat. We've seen satire and criticism punished as "actionable harassment" or ""intimidation."
As a nation, we all need to decide whether we will surrender our critical thinking in response to buzzwords like "terrorism" and "drugs" and "crime" and "school shootings." On a local level, we must decide whether we will put up with such idiocy from our educational institutions. So tell me, students and teachers and alumni of Bergen Community College. Are you going to put up with that? Because institutions that act like this are not helping young people to be productive and independent adults. They are teaching fear, ignorance, and subservience.
Update: Bergen made a statement doubling down:
"The referenced incident refers to a private personnel matter at Bergen Community College. Since January 1, 2014, 34 incidents of school shootings have occurred in the United States. In following its safety and security procedures, the college investigates all situations where a member of its community – students, faculty, staff or local residents – expresses a safety or security concern."
There are at least two maddening components to this. First, they didn't just "investigate" — they suspended the professor and made him see a psychiatrist because he posted a picture of his daughter in a wildly popular t-shirt from pop culture. Second, the statement is an implicit admission that the college refuses to exercise critical thinking about the complaints it receives. There is no minimally rational connection between school shootings — or any type of violence — and a picture of someone's kid in a pop-culture t-shirt. The college is saying, in effect, "complain to us about your angers or fears, however utterly irrational, and we will act precipitously on them, because OMG 9/11 COLUMBINE TEH CHILDREN." Shameful. Ask yourself: what kind of education do you think your children will get from people who think like this?
"Considering the lessons we’ve all learned from Columbine, Virginia Tech, and more recently Arapahoe High School, I can only say that the security of our students, faculty, and staff are our top priority," Di Mare said. "CSU-Pueblo is facing some budget challenges right now, which has sparked impassioned criticism and debate across our campus community. That’s entirely appropriate, and everyone on campus – no matter how you feel about the challenges at hand – should be able to engage in that activity in an environment that is free of intimidation, harassment, and threats. CSU-Pueblo has a wonderful and vibrant community, and the university has a bright future. I’m confident that we can solve our challenges with respectful debate and creative problem-solving so that we can focus on building that future together."
My God! Columbine? Virginia Tech? Arapahoe High School? What happened? Did somebody send a death threat? Did an angry student bring a gun to school? Were there rumors of a massacre?
No. A professor criticized staffing cuts and rhetorically compared them to historical abuses of power.
This week, the administrators of Central New Mexico Community College, a public institution in Albuquerque, shut down until further notice the school's student-run award-winning newspaper, the CNM Chronicle. Administrators also attempted to confiscate copies of a run of the paper. The reason? The administration felt that the paper's sex issue was "offensive and not appropriate for the educational mission of CNM." The paper's editor-in-chief reported being ordered into the Dean's office and told the paper was "raunchy."
THE SCENE: The Office of the Dean at Central New Mexico Community College
THE TIME: Early evening.
THE CAST: RUDY GARCIA, Dean of Students, VERONICA JONES, his executive assistant, and ROGER TRUMAN, his deputy.
THE DEAN ENTERS, AGITATED, BRANDISHING A COPY OF THE CNM CHRONICLE.
DEAN: More press calls. More emails. More inquiries. I tell you, people in this country just aren't used to firm leadership.
VERONICA: Yes, sir.
ROGER: They're certainly unused to leadership of this sort, sir.
DEAN: The security staff has confiscated most of the copies of this filth, I think. [HE SMACKS THE COPY OF THE CHRONICLE AGAINST THE DESK IN DISGUST.] I can't believe they thought they could get away with this.
VERONICA: No, sir.
DEAN: I mean, I keep my distance from such things, but I suspect those are prophylactics on this front cover. And dog chew toys. What do dog chew toys have to do with anything? And why are they so big?
VERONICA: Actually, sir, those are —
[ROGER SHAKES HIS HEAD VIOLENTLY]
VERONICA: –those are for unusually large dogs, sir.
DEAN: Are they! Are they indeed! And why are they on the bed? And why isn't the bed made? In addition to the filth, why is our so-called student newspaper sending a message that slovenliness is acceptable?
ROGER: It's inexplicable, sir.
DEAN: It is! It is! With that sort of example, that's why the students dress the way they do! I apologize to both of you. It's highly inappropriate for this sort of thing even to be discussed in front of you. Especially you, Miss Jones.
VERONICA: Thank you, sir.
DEAN: The proper time for you to discuss such things is the morning of your wedding, with your mother. So I'm terribly sorry you've been exposed to this. And you, Truman.
ROGER: Yes, sir.
DEAN: It's no better for you. A man should not dwell on such things until, like the Bible says, you leave your father and mother and cleave unto your wife. Forgive my rough language, Miss Jones.
VERONICA: Yes, sir.
DEAN: Of course, you've already left your mother and father. But when you leave your roommate — what's his name?
ROGER: Vince, sir.
DEAN: — when you leave to join your lawfully wedded wife and Vince has to find a new roommate, that's the right time to think of such things.
ROGER: So I've heard, sir.
DEAN: Quite right! Quite right you have! But college? College is no place for talk of such relations, let alone for the relations themselves.
ROGER: No, sir.
DEAN: And to treat the subject so disrespectfully, and so wrongly! Why, look at this page where they talk about . . . . "positions." They are mocking the marital act. They're just making up things that don't even exist! They're giving them numbers! It's all just poppycock.
VERONICA: Yes, sir.
DEAN: What I don't understand is why we're getting calls from the so-called press about this. This is a matter of school discipline. This . . . is a matter of good order. Why should good order get so much attention?
ROGER: Well sir . . .
ROGER: It's just that . . . well, sir, these students are all adults.
ROGER: Right. This is a community college. Lots of these students are older than four-year college students. Most have jobs. Some of them have families of their own. Maybe the press thinks they are mature enough to handle this sort of discussion. These days, lots of them are even veterans —
DEAN: Mr. Truman, are you under the impression that soldiers are tolerant of ess-ee-ex talk? Let me tell you, military discipline brooks no such indelicacy.
ROGER: As you say, sir. But some people are saying that the paper has . . . has First Amendment rights.
DEAN: Rights! Rights! Rights yield to the interests of the community, as determined by people like me, Mr. Truman. That's the most important thing you need to know about modern higher education. I have risen to this position for a reason, and I determine what is fit for students to read.
ROGER: Yes, sir.
DEAN: We'll have no more discussion of this. The paper is closed. It will stay closed. Now, get me the course catalog. I've heard some very disturbing things about the curriculum in the Biology Department.
ROGER: Right away, sir.
Edited to add:
EPILOGUE: SEVERAL HOURS LATER
[DEAN GARCIA BURSTS INTO THE ROOM]
DEAN: Fine! Let everyone talk about relations! Let everyone talk about dirty stuff all they want! SEE IF I CARE!
[Runs from room weeping]
ROGER: . . .
VERONICA: Let's just pretend today never happened.
ROGER: Yes please.
TO: SINCLAIR COMMUNITY COLLEGE FACULTY, STAFF, AND SECURITY OFFICERS
FROM: PRESIDENT STEVEN L. JOHNSON
RE: I WASH MY HANDS OF THIS, AND MAY GOD HAVE MERCY ON YOUR SOULS
Dear Sinclair Community:
I have done all I can. But I am only one man.
Last year I alerted you to to the clear and present danger created by signs, posters, fliers, and other weaponized expression wielded by fanatics intent on inflicting idea-crimes on our community. I have struggled to protect Sinclair's right to ban signs and posters and other dangerous items that menace the physical and emotional and psycho-sexual security of our students and that threaten to continue the bloody heritage of 9/11, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and that time someone tried to organize a Young Republicans Club.
I come today to say I have failed you. But your blood will not be on my hands. I did what I could.
As you can see from the crowing of hate groups like the Thomas More Society and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Sinclair has been forced into a settlement of a lawsuit brought by angry student dissidents. We have been backed into amending our Code of Conduct and Campus Access Policy, both of which had been bravely drafted by some of the finest and most progressive minds of the Theater and Sociology Departments. We have no choice but to yield. We are up against the retrograde policies imposed upon us by the so-called First Amendment to the United States Constitution, a document drafted by privileged landowners without any diversity committee input or Faculty Senate debate whatsoever.
So: have your bloody victory, "free speech advocates." Be it on your heads, not on mine, when "protestors" start swinging signs like Viking battleaxes and reaping innocent freshpersons like Autumn wheat.
I take comfort in this: though I have failed in defending an official policy limiting expression that might be hurtful to students, I have nurtured in their hearts the seed of an idea — that they have a right not to have their feelings hurt or offended. I see that hopeful shoot taking root and growing across the country. Those children are surely our future.
Remember Sinclair Community College, the school that banned signs at protests because of 9/11 and Virginia Tech and stuff?
They're still easily upset by signs.
This time, signs threaten not a new violent apocalypse, but prejudice. According to some sources, Sinclair demanded that on-campus construction workers cease work until they removed offensive "Men Working" signs.
Truly this is the sort of learning, growing experience that only the modern academy can provide: people who regulate sign content for a living telling people who build things for a living what to do.
After this incident, Sinclair's director of public information Adam Murka told Fox News that the college has a 'deep commitment to diversity' and takes it 'quite seriously.'
Murka added: 'While it may not have been necessary to suggest work be stopped, we stand by our commitment to providing an environment that is inclusive and non-discriminatory.'
They're certainly not discriminating against ridiculous people.
Hat tip: Craig Mazin.
There seems to be no dispute amongst media reports that Professor Sharon Sweet of Brevard Community College asked the students in her class to sign a pledge that said “I pledge to vote for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket.” Sweet has since asked for, and been granted, an unpaid leave of absence.
Here's what's in dispute: did she ask them to sign it, suggest that they sign it, require them to sign it, or order them to sign it?
It depends on who's reporting.
Do Dollard and The Blaze have some inside source feeding them evidence that Sweet used coercion rather than inappropriate, unprofessional, and illegal persuasion? Are they making a hidden argument that a community college professor's suggestion in this context is inherently so coercive as to justify "forced" and "required"?
Or was the reported story just not sufficiently cinematic for them? Are they just full of shit?
I hate campus electioneering towards captive audiences. (And it's worse when it's electioneering for very stupid people, like "vote straight ticket.") If Sharon Sweet did this during class, they should fire her ass forthwith.
But why make stuff up to make it sound worse?
It's the silly season. Bear in mind — 95% of what you hear that includes the word "Obama" or "Romney" is bullshit.
Thirteen years ago, at Greenbrier High School in Evans, Georgia, senior Mike Cameron's smart mouth got him in trouble.
What did he do? Did he talk about drugs and God, like that "Bong Hits For Jesus" kid? Oh, no. Mike did something far worse than promoting demon weed or disrespecting Christ: he risked offending Greenbrier High's corporate sponsor. Mike wore a Pepsi shirt on Coke Day. It earned him a suspension.
"I know it sounds bad — `Child suspended for wearing Pepsi shirt on Coke Day,'" said Gloria Hamilton, principal of Greenbrier High School in Evans, about 130 miles east of Atlanta, the world headquarters of Coca-Cola. `'It really would have been acceptable if it had just been in- house, but we had the regional president here and people flew in from Atlanta to do us the honor of being resource speakers. These students knew we had guests." Friday's Coke in Education Day was part of Greenbrier's effort to win a $500 local contest run by the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. of Augusta and a national contest with a $10,000 prize.
Gloria Hamilton — whom a person less couth than I might term a Coke whore — explained that Mike's behavior disrupted the school's mutually beneficial relationship with Coca-Cola, including its innovative curriculum:
In addition to the school picture, Greenbrier officials invited a Coke marketing executive to address economics students, had chemistry students analyze the sugar content of Coke and used a Coca-Cola cake recipe in home economics.
Later, students in math class learned how to calculate the amount of life insurance would be necessary to provide for their family if they died of diabetes.
Anyway, that was 13 years ago. We were barbarians. Surely modern educators have rejected the creeping attempts by various corporations to use schools as advertising platforms to captive audiences?
Well, maybe not. At Catawba Valley Community College, student Marc Bechtol was suspended and banned from campus for questioning the college's cozy relationship with a financial services company called Higher One. Marc didn't like how CVCC was hard-selling Higher One's cards and services, and didn't like how he became an immediate target of hard-sell marketing pitches for more products and services as soon as he signed up for one of the cards CVCC was pushing. He criticized the relationship on the school's Facebook page, engaging in some mild but obvious satire. It got him kicked out. Fortunately for him, FIRE is on the case, and CVCC president Garrett D. Hinshaw is looking at the sort of bad publicity that tends to make colleges (reluctantly) do the right thing.
Modern education is too much driven by money. It makes administrators do stupid things. Neither Coca-Cola nor financial services companies like Higher One has students best interest at heart. They are in it to make money, as they should be — that's their role. Should they be allowed to market? Sure. Should public schools act as their marketing arm? No. Should protecting their message from criticism be a legitimate goal of the schools? No.
CVCC leadership is about to get a short, sharp, embarrassing lesson. They deserve it.
Edited to add: Higher One's PR team is out and about on this topic.
Last month I wrote about how the University of Wisconsin-Stout ("UWS") tore down Professor James Miller's Firefly poster upon the silly pretext that it represented a threat, threatened him with arrest, then tore down another poster decrying fascism and threatened him over that poster as well. I also wrote about how UWS, once called out, simply doubled down, offering academic double-speak about "a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure."
Have UWS or its officials gotten smarter? No. No, they have not.
The other day I described how University of Wisconsin-Stout police got all censorious and thuggish about a rather inoffensive Firefly poster and an anti-fascism follow-up. Nathan Fillion and others took notice of the story, spreading it widely. The general hope was that once the matter left the hands of UWS Chief of Police Lisa A. Walter and reached the hands of someone with a room-temperature IQ and even a tenuous grasp of freedom of expression, the problem would be corrected.
We should have known better.
As FIRE reports, UWS Chancellor Charles W. Sorensen has reacted to nationwide ridicule by acting in an even more ridiculous fashion.
There have been recent news reports about an incident in which two posters hung by a UW-Stout professor outside his office were removed by campus police. There are some important points to consider in the wake of these incidents:
UW-Stout administrators believe strongly in the right of all students, faculty and staff to express themselves freely about issues on campus and off. This freedom is fundamental on a public university campus.
However, we also have the responsibility to promote a campus environment that is free from threats of any kind—both direct and implied. It was our belief, after consultation with UW System legal counsel, that the posters in question constituted an implied threat of violence. That is why they were removed.
This was not an act of censorship. This was an act of sensitivity to and care for our shared community, and was intended to maintain a campus climate in which everyone can feel welcome, safe and secure.
Chancellor Sorensen had some "important points to consider." I have some for him, as well:
1. The obligatory "we believe in freedom of expression" paragraph in the standard defend-our-censorship communique is simply embarrassing. That's why the Chicago Manual of Style For Censorious Dipshits ("CMSCD") recommends eschewing it and launching straight into the meat of your uninformed and conclusory stomping on First Amendment law.
2. The problem with demanding a campus free of "implied threats" is illustrated by this case. Campus police first censored a poster of an imaginary space cowboy with a fan-pleasing quote. Next, just to say FUCK YOU IRONY they used threats of official retaliation against a poster condemning threats of official retaliation. No rational person could construe either poster as a threat, actual or implied, to commit violence against any person (although I suppose the second could be construed as a warning — a correct one — that thugs will act thuggishly when questioned.) If a rational person wouldn't take it as an actual threat of violence, then it's not a true threat that can be censored, however much the hysterical, irrational, nanny-stating, coddling, or professionally emo think about it, and however much university chancellors would like to believe otherwise.
3. Similarly, this case illustrates the problem with an approach to freedom of expression premised on "sensitivity" and making people feel "welcome, safe and secure." "Sensitivity to hurt feelings" is not, in fact, a First Amendment value or a justification for censorship. In fact, stopping people from speaking because the speech hurts people's feelings is the essence of censorship. A system in which what we can say is premised upon the likely reactions of the mentally ill and the undernourished pussywillows of the world is a system that encourages suppression of all unpopular, forceful, interesting, or challenging speech. The irrational and the morally and mentally weak are not entitled to have their feelings protected through the force of law, however prevalent they are on campus.
4. If your "UW System Legal Counsel" told you that these posters could be censored based on their content, then stop hiring lawyers out of the back of a bait shop. Or were you using someone who splits their duties between "UW System Legal Counsel" and "Assistant Professor of Western Hegemony And Hurt Feelings Studies"?
5. "No it isn't!" and "nuh-uh" may be entertaining, but they are not actually legal arguments.
6. Fuck you, you censorship-apologizing, rule-of-law-obscuring, equivocating, worthless bureaucrat.
I think we need a new tag for "Twits in Academia" here at the hat. But the task of going back to all the old posts about academic twits and editing them to add the tag is daunting.
When Sam Houston State mathematics professor Joe E. Kirk saw that phrase written on a student organization sponsored "free speech" wall, he first ordered students to remove it. When they refused, he attacked the wall with a box cutter.
The President's self-appointed censor, notably, did not savage a nearby inscription that read FUCK BUSH. Fortunately, the Sam Houston State University police responded to student complaints about the vandalism quickly…
By ordering the students to tear down the wall, or face a disorderly conduct charge.
Over 150 years ago, Sam Houston State's namesake proclaimed proudly that "Texas has yet to learn submission to any oppression, come from what source it may." No doubt Sam Houston would be dismayed to find that the school named after him, led by faculty like Joe Kirk, is teaching young Texans exactly that: to submit to oppression.
That seems to be the view of some at Duke, including the director of the University Women's Center Ada Gregory (previously covered here), who was quoted speaking of the school's new sexual harassment policy:
The higher IQ, the more manipulative they are, the more cunning they are … imagine the sex offenders we have here at Duke—cream of the crop.
While to some Ms. Gregory may have seemed positively proud of her school's fine young sex offenders, she later insisted she was misquoted:
[I]nvestigations of these crimes [rape] can be further complicated by offenders who may also be categorized as antisocial or sociopathic, who are of above-average intelligence and can be highly manipulative and coercive, not only with victims but in the investigation process.
Universities gather a lot of people with above average intelligence, so it stands to reason that campuses might see more of these kinds of individuals than the general population. My comments about this complex issue were selectively edited and taken out of context to imply that all Duke students fit this pattern, which is emphatically not the case.
I don't know why Ms. Gregory was upset about the original story. It seems she's still saying that those Duke University students who are rapists are in fact, superior, more capable rapists.
But Ms. Gregory's odd speech patterns aren't the main problem at Duke. The problem is Duke's definition of rape.
The mission statement published by the Duke University Board of Trustees proclaims the school's object as follows:
the mission of Duke University is to provide a superior liberal education to undergraduate students, attending not only to their intellectual growth but also to their development as adults committed to high ethical standards and full participation as leaders in their communities; to prepare future members of the learned professions for lives of skilled and ethical service by providing excellent graduate and professional education; to advance the frontiers of knowledge and contribute boldly to the international community of scholarship; to promote an intellectual environment built on a commitment to free and open inquiry; to help those who suffer, cure disease, and promote health, through sophisticated medical research and thoughtful patient care; to provide wide ranging educational opportunities, on and beyond our campuses, for traditional students, active professionals and life-long learners using the power of information technologies; and to promote a deep appreciation for the range of human difference and potential, a sense of the obligations and rewards of citizenship, and a commitment to learning, freedom and truth.
Unfortunately, the university's conduct often undercuts that noble statement, even toward students who don't play lacrosse.
"There's something wrong here," the 63-year-old [Philip] Froelich, [one of the fired professors] said. "To fire junior faculty like this is immoral — and that word is now around the country."
Eric Walker, an English professor and president of the Faculty Senate, isn't sure how layoffs in geological sciences and oceanography are playing around the country.
"I do know how this fact plays: We terminated 21 tenured faculty members," Walker said. "This is a fact that will get the attention of faculty members across the country.
What should also get Professor Walker's attention is that the state of Florida, hit as hard as any by the recession and an economy based on tourism and real estate, has a budget that can charitably be described as in the toilet. Faculty members in departments such as oceanography, who produce little of present economic value, depend on taxes paid by tourist attractions and realtors and orange growers and the like, who aren't doing too well. The only solutions for such a problem in a state like Florida are to raise taxes (which will push the economy deeper into the toilet as any economics professor could tell you), to borrow until the state's economy resembles Argentina's, or to fire people whose jobs are less than essential.
That's fine, according to Florida State's faculty senate, as long as it's other people being fired.
FSU invested considerable resources in fall 2008 when it hired Wetz, Brian Arbic and Amy Baco-Taylor in oceanography and Davis Farris in geological sciences. Approximately $1 million in "start-up" fees were earmarked for the four new faculty members, who have all received layoff notices.
Gosh. $1 million in "start-up" fees for three oceanographers and a geologist. Who I'm sure produce more of value than their equivalent in primary school teachers, road maintenance workers, law enforcement officers, or state legislators. (Heh.) But though I don't know much about the Ekman spiral effect, it boggles my mind that the upper echelons of FSU's faculty, such as geography department chair Leroy Odom, didn't see this coming when they asked for a faculty expansion in 2008:
"I'm not expecting any reversal, but I do expect we'll be treated better in the future," Odom said. "Somehow we went from a department that was good enough to deserve new faculty positions to one that didn't deserve to exist."I didn't see it coming.
I knew there was a budget problem and they were considering faculty cuts and this and that. I didn't know they would all be coming from our departments."
Sounds as though Chairman Odom was reading too many geology papers and not enough newspapers in Fall 2008, if he couldn't see this coming.
In the Soviet Union they had ladies whose job was to polish subway stair railings. That's all they did, all day. And while polished stair railings are nice enough, make-work jobs and other non-productive uses of actual productive labor, resources, and energy drove the Soviet Union into bankruptcy more surely than its tyranny and ethnic strife. And all of the rail-polishing ladies were fired. It's tragic when anyone loses his job due to economic circumstances he couldn't forsee, whether it's a rail polishing lady or an oceanographics professor.
But it isn't immoral. And for the academy to claim that it should be above the resources of the people who pay its bills indicates we may need fewer tenured oceanographics professors, and more grad student T.A.s in the economics department.
What does this mean?
How do we articulate what we have learned in recent decades from a "cultural constructionism" of subjectivity and literary canons with aesthetic ecstasy (both the "old" and the "new" aestheticism)? Deleuze's and Derrida's notions of a "dissolved cogito" and "non-egological" consciousness in the context of aesthetic ecstasy. More generally, in what might life "after the subject" consist? A reevaluation of both the continuities and apparent standoff between phenomenology — Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre, Michel Henry — and poststructuralism. I.e., possible revisionary versions of the dominant account of French thought from existentialism to the present. For example, were the French poststructuralists really ever the "constructionists" (still less the "cultural" constructionists) they have been claimed to be? Distinguishing between constructionism's lasting contributions and its simultaneous unwitting complicity with the domination of all life-forms by global capitalism.
The professor who wrote this botched abortion of a paragraph, by the way, is Philip Wood, of Rice University. I'll bet his film classes are a hoot.
I'm skeptical of the motives of many who complain about gender harassment and discrimination law and policies. If one listens to the Limbaughs of the world, before the Civil Rights Act and before corporations and universities began to follow policies against sexual harassment, women never faced discrimination, embarrassment, or humiliation in the workplace. A day at the office was like a Georgia ball, and women who worked were treated like Scarlett O'Hara. Harassment policies weren't just unnecessary but sinister, an excuse for liberal feminazis who want to sue their bosses for gentlemanly behavior, such as opening the door for a lady.
But now and again a case comes along that fully validates the Hannitys and the Becks. As with the "Duke Lacrosse" scandal, such cases, in which a well-meant but poorly implemented gender harassment policy is abused, end up hurting women far more than any number of victories over real harassers, because they tar legitimate, well-founded complaints with suspicion. Such a case is unfolding at East Georgia College in Swainsboro Georgia right now. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has the story.
Professor Thomas Thibeault is a prophet. On August 5, 2009, Thibeault attended a training workshop on the school's sexual harassment policy, given by the school's vice president for legal affairs. In the course of the workshop, Thibeault asked an uncomfortable question about whether the policy distinguished between subjective harassment (in which some nervous nelly takes offense at innocent or reasonable behavior), and objective harassment (the sort of behavior, like for instance yelling about imaginary pubic hairs on cans of Coke, which any reasonable outsider would consider inappropriate). He was told it did not. Then Thibeault asked whether the policy included provisions to protect against obviously false or malicious accusations. He was told it did not. All accusations of harassment, no matter how facially implausible, would be treated alike. Thibeault replied that "the policy is invalid."
Two days later, Thibeault's prophecy came to pass. He alleges he was called into the office of East Georgia College President John Bryant Black, told he was a divisive force in the college, and ordered to resign at the end of the meeting. If he resigned, he'd be given a good recommendation for his next job. If Thibeault chose not to resign, he would be fired and his "long history of sexual harassment" would be made public. Thibeault chose not to resign, was fired and escorted by police from the campus, and told he'd be arrested for trespassing if he ever returned.
According to Thibeault, it was news that he had a "long history of sexual harassment," but that's what they all say. What inclines one to give Thibeault the benefit of the doubt is the timing of the action (what a coincidence that Thibeault was fired two days after asking probing and pertinent questions at a sexual harassment workshop!), and the college's own suspicious actions afterward.
For instance, despite three months of requests, by Thibeault, Thibeault's lawyer, and the FIRE, the college has yet to identify an accuser. East Georgia College is a state school, so Thibeault has a due proces right to this information, unlike what he'd have in a private school star chamber. The school has yet to inform Thibeault of what he supposedly did, with or without a witness. Thibeault has been informed by other professors of what appears to be an attempt by EGC to scrounge up evidence after the fact, with faculty being asked if they remember Thibeault reading, in a faculty gathering, from a political humor book with the word "assholes" in the title.
As an aside, if that's the best the college can do Thibeault is going to collect a large damage award at the end of the day. I socialize with perfessers myself, and they're nothing but old graduate students. When around people they consider near-equals, or at least not around students, they drink and curse like sailors. In any case, a college professor at a state school absolutely has a First Amendment right to use language as mild as the almost quaint A-word outside class, and to possess books with salty but non-obscene language.
Also suspicious is Thibeault's classification. At first, Thibeault was told he was fired. Then, he was told he was suspended. Now, he's told he's suspended with pay, pending his hearing, which the college refuses to schedule or discuss despite two months of requests by Thibeault's lawyer. All of course, with no evidence whatsoever being provided to anyone, not an accusation, not a fact, not a name.
In fact, nothing but the suspicious timing. From the looks of things, the only person Thibeault ever "harassed" at East Georgia College was its vice president for legal affairs, Mary Smith, and that harassment wasn't sexual. No, if Thibeault harassed Smith, he did it by asking uncomfortable questions about a potentially illegal and unconstitutional sexual harassment policy.
Questions that the college now is answering, most eloquently, by its silence on the matter.