Monday Mudras

Peter Wood

Mudra: Sanskrit, seal, sign, token. Any of a large number of symbolic hand gestures used in Hindu religious ceremonies and Indian dance. (The Oxford Essential Dictionary of Foreign Terms in English

Anger is the New Black

I just returned from several days in Lancaster, Pennsylvania at Veritas Academy, a K-12 classical Christian school with an impressive curriculum. I’d been invited to speak by the headmaster, whom I had met several years ago, and who wanted me to talk about my recent book, A Bee in the Mouth: Anger in America Now. In announcing my talk, the folks at Veritas came up with several arresting poster designs.

To see the posters, click on the link to the pdf file at the bottom of this page.

Going Nowhere

Our Delaware affiliate is (once again) concerned about the University of Delaware administration’s determination to discover the Northwest Passage to Erewhon by sailing up Chesapeake Bay. Here is the DAS’s press release.

UD Diversity Task Force Urges Unlawful Actions

                University of Delaware President Patrick Harker has announced the convening of a Diversity Action Council to "move boldly" toward the goals and strategies recommended by the UD Diversity Task Force. Unfortunately, many of the Task Force's more than ninety recommendations would blatantly violate state and federal civil rights laws.

                The recommendations call for hiring and promoting faculty on the basis of race or other "minority status." For example, the provost and deans would have funds set aside for hiring only minority applicants, and minority faculty would be singled out for appointment to leadership positions. Minority status itself would even become a criterion in faculty evaluations and rewards. "[D]iversity should be included in the criteria used to evaluate and reward faculty achievement" (p.7). Just as only minorities would qualify for certain positions, favoring minorities? or perhaps simply being one? would be rewarded as a faculty "achievement."

               The U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which has jurisdiction over Delaware has explicitly rejected the Task Force's "diversity" rationale, however. In the employment context, the U.S.

Supreme Court has allowed considering race/ethnicity only to address a "manifest imbalance" in a "traditionally segregated job category," and only in a way that does not "unduly trammel" the interests of other applicants.

                The Task Force similarly recommends ensuring that UD's "student body better represent[s] the demographic region from which we draw our students" (p.6). Here, too, it contradicts the law. The U.S. Supreme Court has allowed universities to give only limited, "individualized consideration" to a student's race/ethnicity, and only when there is a "compelling interest" in doing so. Contrary to the Task Force's recommendation, the Supreme Court has never recognized having the student body mirror the state's demographics as a "compelling interest."

The Delaware Association of Scholars (DAS) urges President Harker to reject the unlawful recommendations of the UD Diversity Task Force. Both President Harker and the Task Force speak of the need to foster "a robust educational environment" (p.1). The principal lesson in such an environment should not be that one can violate the law when one wishes.

Jan H. Blits

President, DAS


[email protected]


Help Wanted


Much as Ashley, Tom, Glenn, and I enjoy our work, we’re lonely. Today we invited NAS members who wrote for the NAS online forum (which we closed in December 2007) to contribute to this website. But that immediately raised the question, “What are our house rules?” So we invented some.


1.       LENGTH: About 1,000 words – anything much longer loses reader attention.

2.       QUALITY: Our articles need be smart, lively, connected to the moment, and well-written. is competing with hundreds of thousands of other websites for a small fraction of the time that readers devote to the web each day.  That time is precious.  Generally readers will migrate elsewhere if we don’t grab their attention instantly and hold on to it every step of the way.

3.       TONE: We have established a tone of ironic lightness.  We aren’t trying to blast into atoms those we disagree with.  We aren’t mourning the end of civilization as we know it.  Bitterness, spite, and over-the-top declarations have no place here.  Humor is OK, but it too requires a light touch. 

4.       CONTENT: focuses on higher education.  We may glance at topics outside higher ed, but only if the connection to colleges and universities is transparently clear. 

5.       POLITICS: We avoid partisan politics, but that doesn’t exclude writing about proposed legislation, presidential proposals, actions by federal and state agencies, etc. 

6.       PURPOSE: Behind every article should be a serious point.  We don’t expect every article to wear its point on its sleeve, but the intelligent reader should not be left to wonder, “What was that all about?”


We of course welcome contributions from all readers who can meet these Olympic standards.


The Disappearing Tenure Blues

The Kentucky Community and Technical College System has announced its decision to eliminate the tenure track for faculty members hired after July 1. This isn’t the first instance in which tenure has disappeared. (It disappeared for Steve Balch and for me when we resigned our tenured positions.) But it is a step that provokes strong feelings on both sides. “Ollie,” responding to the story on Inside Higher Ed, averred, “Tenure is the glue that keeps academic freedom from becoming nothing more than a slogan.” And “Bull,” responding to the story as it was reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, expostulated, “Give me a break … join the REAL world! The private sector has no ‘earned protection and job security.’”  

We recognize cogent arguments on both sides of the issue, but it also seems that the question of whether tenure should be preserved as an institution is becoming more and more marginal to the actual life of higher education. Last year, Frank Donahue, an associate professor of English at Ohio State University, titled his account of the job market in higher education The Last Professors. We don’t endorse Donahue’s account of why this is happening. He blames “the corporate university.” But it seems undeniable that the lion’s share of new teaching positions is made up of various forms of part-time appointments.

Not every faculty member, however, views this situation with Donahue’s disapprobation. Dirk Mateer, for example, is a senior lecturer (non-tenure track) in the economics department at Pennsylvania State University. Mateer has been extolling the model of the professional “teaching specialist” for the last several years. In his case, that means someone skilled at teaching large elementary classes with the help of a small army of graduate assistants. Mateer is not alone. Recently in the Chronicle, Douglas Texter, an English instructor “in the upper Midwest,” declared, “Adjuncting is the way of the future.” Texter said, “I'm flourishing, making $100,000 a year as an adjunct, working nine months out of 12.” That $100,000 he pulled down last year compares to the national average for full professors of $100,000-$867,000, and puts Texter well above the national average for tenured associate professors of $72,961. Texter and Donahue are on the same page about the basic facts. “Make no mistake about it,” said Texter. “In 20 years, there won't exist more than a handful of tenured professors. Universities want cheap, cheap labor, as much of it as they can get.” But unlike Donahue, Texter isn’t worried. “While many lament that state of affairs, I embrace it and invite other graduate students and newly minted untouchables to do the same.”

Dirk and Douglas, the Bluegrass State may need your help. The young folks are rollin’ on the little cabin floor, all merry, all happy and bright, but by 'n by hard times come a-knocking at the door, when the tech schools say to tenure, “it’s goodnight.”


ACTA Up in Denver

Ward Churchill is suing the University of Colorado on a claim that he was unjustly dismissed from his tenured position in the faculty of CU Boulder. Churchill’s legal team has launched a theory that their client was done in by a conspiracy led by….ACTA. Yes, ACTA. Churchill’s website lays out the basic proposition: 

One of the main players has been the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA). Oganized by Lynne Cheney [wife of former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney], its goal is to quash the “obsession with diversity” and the “liberal bias” in education. ACTA is financed by rightwing foundations such as Castle Rock (Coors), Scaife, Olin and Bradley, and allied with powerful neoconservative groups such as the Federalist Society, American Enterprise Institute, Cato Institute, and National Association of Scholars. ACTA furthers its agenda by enlisting trustees (regents), alumni, governors and legislators to bring political and financial pressure on universities.

We have to admit we are fascinated and hope to learn more about ACTA’s and our role in advancing the cause of censorship, social injustice, and all round oppression. 

Note to Ward’s lawyers: ACTA issued a report titled, “How Many Ward Churchills?” and NAS has a project titled, “How Many Delawares?” Coincidence?  

It is nice that someone thinks we are “powerful,” but then Ward’s judgment has proven faulty before.

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