Friday Freeze-Frames

Ashley Thorne

Ward Churchill Verdict


Yesterday afternoon, a Colorado jury reached a verdict in favor of Ward Churchill. The jurors concluded that he had been fired for political reasons, yet they awarded him the minimum settlement possible: $1.00. (Apparently, though agreeing with Churchill on the facts, the jurors wanted the world to know he wasn’t one of their heroes.)

NAS issued a press release commenting on the verdict, and today, NAS Chairman Steve Balch was quoted in articles on the jury's finding in both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.

His conclusion, as printed in the press release, was that

The outcome of the Churchill trial is unfortunate, but it was a trial that in a better academic world would never have occurred. The best point at which to protect professionalism is not career exit, but career entrance and stage-by-stage thereafter. If that’s the lesson learned from this sorry result, academe will still be able to recoup its loss.


Podcast by UC Berkeley Chancellor

Recently one of our members sent us an interesting audio clip from a March 18, 2009 public presentation given by the University of California-Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau to the UC Regents, in which he describes the "progress" and "challenges" for diversity at Berkeley. The clip is about six minutes long and is attached at the bottom of this article. I’d like to draw attention to some highlights of the talk.

Chancellor Birgeneau began by contrasting the percentage of Caucasian males in 1978—65% of the undergraduate body—to the current number—“now down to 31%.” He continued,

If you normalize the population at Berkeley now, African American females are better represented than Caucasian males. That’s, you know, one point where there’s just been really significant progress and it is a triumph on the part of African American females, with all the barriers that African Americans face, that African American women have been able to overcome them and exceed Caucasian males in their representation at Berkeley, and we need to get all the other groups progressing at the same rate.

One regent asked Birgeneau to clarify his statement, and the chancellor re-emphasized normalizing the population, concluding:

So if you said, “what’s the probability of an African American female making it into Berkeley, compared to the probability of a Caucasian male making it into Berkeley?” the African American women are now outperforming white men. [pause] That’s a triumph.

Another regent asked for numbers. Chancellor Birgeneau said there were about 3000 Caucasian males and about 500 African American females. “Normalize the number in the state,” he repeated. He moved on from students to faculty:

On the faculty front, again, we’ve made a lot of progress in terms of gender. The faculty in 1978 was 81% Caucasian males; that number is down to 59%. The most progress has been for women, overall, so we’ve increased dramatically for women on the faculty, and this is moving progressively. We had a huge increase in the number of African American and Chicano faculty because of a new initiative that’s proving to be very successful.

But what the chancellor called the “biggest challenge” at a level that is “basically embarrassing” was that executive level staff members were almost 94% Caucasian male. “This is one of our great challenges, which we’re working on very hard,” he said.

Birgeneau listed some of the University’s diversity programs, including the Berkeley Initiative for Leadership Diversity (BILD). BILD, he noted, is

Having a huge impact both ethnic diversity, but also, I must say, I have a lot of interactions with the LGBTQ staff community...that’s also an area where I think we’ve made a tremendous positive effect in terms of campus climate in the last several years and I’m very proud of that. Whether as a practicing Catholic I’ll survive excommunication is another story, but uh... [laughs nervously]

The chancellor apparently thinks more highly of his job than his soul, but uh...

At the end of the segment, he told how the University was circumventing Proposition 209, the law prohibiting racial preferences in the state of California: “Also because of limitations presented to us because of Proposition 209, we have some 501(c)3 partners [such as the Level Playing Field Institute] who are very helpful on the diversity front.”

It seems impossible to hear this speech without concluding that the chancellor is blithely intent on ignoring Proposition 209 in order to dramatically reduce the number of Caucasian males at UC Berkeley. His use of words like “triumph,” “progress,” and “biggest challenge” all refer to race. We intend to look into this further. If the university is (as the chancellor proudly proclaims) going around the good law that forbids racial discrimination in admissions and hiring, NAS will be sure to call attention to its misdeed.


Why Students Love College

When I listened to the podcast, a song title on the iTunes store homepage caught my eye. “I Love College” by Asher Roth was listed as one of the current top 10 songs. I had never heard the song, but the title indicated that it would be an accurate measure of students’ current attitude about higher education. Dare I hope—have students embraced the life of the mind? Do they scorn Halo in favor of the classroom? Has a love of learning become popular?

The little red “EXPLICIT” warning from iTunes left me doubtful. And when I found the lyrics (read at your own risk), it was clear that the “Love” Asher Roth had declared was, far from a pupil’s reverence for knowledge, a frat boy’s zest for partying. And “College” here means four years of zero-accountability pleasure-seeking.

Here’s a representative excerpt:

Drink my beer and smoke my weed but my good friends is all I need
Pass out at 3, wake up at 10, go out to eat then do it again

Man, I love college, ay!
And I love drinking, ay!
I love women, ay!
Man, I love college

Supposedly lyrics like these are to be expected in a top 10 pop song about college, if for no other reason than that the medium lends itself to such content. And, as in other pop songs, there’s something sadly futile about this one, with echoes of the Teacher from Ecclesiastes crying, “Meaningless! Everything is meaningless!” The university should cultivate an atmosphere where students pursue truth and discover meaning. The hookup, binge drinking culture, which NAS has studied both on our website and in our most recent issue of Academic Questions (Vol. 22, No. 1, Special Issue: Liberal Education and the Family), runs counter to the spirit of that atmosphere, making college a place where students abandon wisdom. Indeed, Asher Roth tells us that he learned some things like “don’t pass out with your shoes on.” But, he shrugs, “I can't tell you what I learned from school.”

At the end of the song, he asks, “Do I really have to graduate? Or can I just stay here for the rest of my life?”

A better question, Asher, might be Will you graduate? and if so, Will you be just the same as when you began?

The song is a bookmark for those who follow campus culture. “I Love College” reflects a mindset in which students see classes and homework as inconveniences getting in the way of their “college experience”—a poor substitute for a real education.


YouTube EDU

On a more uplifting note, YouTube has a new EDU channel (its version of iTunes U) for videos uploaded by colleges and universities. Most of the videos there are lectures and research expositions, but one of the most viewed is “Compliments Guys at Purdue.” In the video, two students, Cameron Brown and Brett Westcott, are seen standing on a main walkway on Purdue’s campus shouting compliments to those who pass by. To one guy: “I like your Bears hat!” To a boyfriend/girlfriend: “You guys are a very cute couple!” To a campus worker driving by in a cart: “Hey thanks, man; keep up the good work!” For two hours every Wednesday (even in rain and snow), Brown and Westcott, holding a “Free Compliments” sign, come out and give a cheerful word to each person they see.

The compliments guys baffle those who look for an ulterior motive. According to the Chicago Tribune, "People ask us if we are part of a frat or if it's a psychology experiment," Brown said. "We are here for no other reason than we like to give compliments." Both guys have girlfriends and say they aren’t looking for dates. In the video they expound, “I think we brighten a lot of people’s days and that a lot of people are happier and in a better mood, and you can’t argue with someone who’s in a good mood.”   

Brown and Westcott, and Purdue’s pride in them, evidence a different kind of campus culture than that propagated by Asher Roth. Purdue students and faculty have come to love the compliments guys, who have appeared on Good Morning America and are scheduled to be on Oprah Winfrey’s show. Brown and Westcott seem to have awakened the community’s sense of kindness and focus on others. One compliment-recipient, Todd Williams, told the Indianapolis Star, “We do just get into ourselves and forget people around us. (Their effort) is refreshing.” 


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