I just read an article in the University Daily Kansan linked in Glenn's Collegiate Press Roundup this week. The article, "Women, Take Back Halloween" is written by a male student whose characterization of slutty Halloween costumes on campus echoes that of Nathan Harden in Proud to Be Right. He urges women at U Kansas to cover up this Halloween and dare to dress goofy instead of sexy. I'm heartened to hear this plea, especially from a male student, for sexual dignity, but what most caught my eye was his reason for entering a costume store: research for his class, "What Fictional Characters Wore: Jesus to Jacob from Twilight." First of all, why is Jesus being called a "fictional character"? Second, why is this a college course? The author is a in the film and media studies and journalism programs. His mention of the course is the only place it exists on the internet, and it's not included in the film and media studies course list. But if this really is a course at the U of Kansas, how is it justified as advancing higher learning? Is this what college level academic work has come to?
Our friends at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education continue their stellar work defending the academic freedom and First Amendment rights of college faculty members - especially untenured adjuncts - who collide with stifiling campus political orthodoxies. This time, they've scored against the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District, which will have to pay 100K in lost wages to an adjunct instructor who was terminated in 2007 after a student complained that her brief classroom discussion of the origins of homosexuality was "offensive." The district will have to pick up the tab for legal expenses as well. Too bad for them - and the taxpayers who will carry theses costs - that they didn't simply respect the instructor's academic freedom in the first place. But while I'm glad that FIRE was able to intervene successfully in this case, I also wish that they and other organizations such as the Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) didn't have so much work to do. This is getting to be a depressingly familiar scenario: 1) Instructor in a psychology or ethics course examines homosexuality or sex differences, says something that a student finds "offensive." 2) A complaint is forwarded at the speed of light to the administration, cc to the campus women's center, the dean of multicultural affairs or the LGBT office, who don't necessarily need to interview the instructor, but nevertheless agree that yes, yes, the classroom discussion was indeed "offensive." 3) The administration informs instructor that she's outta here. 4) Board of directors upholds administration, unimpressed by quaint ideas about academic freedom or First Amendment protections. Honestly, I wonder what the worst aspect of cases such as this one is. It's appalling, of course, that such an Orwellian intellectual climate exists on so many campuses, and the examples of outrages such as this one seem to pop up weekly. See Ashley Thorne's recent post detailing the latest incident involving a socal work student whose religious convictions ran afoul of a counseling program at Augusta State University in Georgia. But what about boards of trustees, such as the one in the San Jose/Evergreen case? What could they, as the governing bodies at a public institution have been thinking? Apart from the deserved embarassment their school has incurred and the hefty settlement costs they've handed to taxpayers, what does academic freedom or First Amendment protections mean to them? Not much, I have to conclude, since they upheld the administration's outrage, without apparently seeing it as such. Kudos to FIRE once again, which seems to have a much firmer grasp of the academic enterprise and its mission than do many of the people to whom it's been directly entrusted.
Steven Rhoads, NAS member and Political Science professor at the University of Virginia, writes [along with co-authors Laura Webber and Diana Van Fleet]at the Chronicle of Higher Education about the "hook-up" sexual culture now so widespread on many college campuses (and high schools as well, according to what one informed local counselor tells me). The subject has been examined here before, when we published Wendy Shalit's call for the recovery of some minimum standard of modesty in the dorms. Good luck with that, since I doubt that there is much on campus these days that hasn't been exposed, practiced, discussed or attempted. Most undergraduates, their sap rising, have long been accustomed to inhabiting the same buildings , the same floors, using the same common bathrooms and, more recently, the same dorm rooms. Beyond that, many undergraduate newspapers feature a regular "sex columnist," who usually doesn't devote a lot of space to modesty. Not much then, seems to stand in the way of the "hookup" culture, and, as Shalit discovered, the burden is on those uneasy with it to remove themselves by choice: there are few institutional props that even encourage, much less accomodate them. We're certainly not in Kansas anymore. Rhoads and his co-authors share Shalit's negative take on casual, random sexual encounters, but offer some intriguing empirical research results rather than simply subjective disapproval. On the basis of extensive survey questionaires, they find that young college women in particular, perhaps to their surprise, are increasingly unedified and troubled when they reflect on their "hookup" experiences. Not quite what they expected, it seems. It's worth reading, especially for the lively comments thread which follows.
FIRE president Greg Lukianoff has an article in the Huffington Post about Yale' s qualms over a t-shirt with an F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: "I think of all Harvard men as sissies." Lukianoff wrote:
Unfortunately--and is it any surprise these days?--a couple of Yale administrators decided that the word "sissies" was too offensive because some people interpreted it as a slur against gay men. This was news to the Yale freshmen who, like me, see "sissies" as being funny primarily because it is such a ridiculous, silly, old-fashioned put down, somewhere between "cad" and "toots" as far as insults go. Besides, in context, Fitzgerald actually wrote, "I think of all Harvard men as sissies, like I used to be." Does anyone really think Fitzgerald was coming out as a success story of the ex-gay movement, or was he simply calling Harvard men, well, a bunch of sissies (modern translation: wusses, wimps, etc.)? The administrators were gearing up to ban the T-shirt, but the students backed down and changed the design.
"Get ready for Gender-Neutral Housing, but Don't Poster about It" reads a headline at Bwog, the blog of the Blue and White, a student magazine at Columbia University. Winfield Myers's ironic commentary on this and other mutation of regulations on campuses concludes:
Some conservatives lament the disappearance of in loco parentis or a benevolent paternalism from the post-1960s American campus. In fact, both are strong as ever, but grossly misplaced. From odious speech codes to pc in the classroom to the confused new rules at Columbia, proof abounds that today’s administrators exert as much coercive power over their charges as their predecessors. But unlike those old fogies of yesteryear, contemporary bureaucrats enforce a morality based on a gnostic conception of human nature and creation. As is often the case with academic “reforms,” the youngest and most vulnerable members of the community will be the losers.
Duke professor Dan Ariely is engaged in some research on attitudes towards sex toys. According to this story in the Raleigh News & Observer, a few people at Duke are upset. This reinforces my view that faculty research ought to be put on a free-market footing. That is, the norm should be a full teaching load (let's say 12 hours, although, speaking from experience, it isn't hard to do more), but if a professor can get sufficient outside funding for a research project to be able to buy a reduced teaching load, fine. That would lead to far less waste that the prevailing system, which has a low teaching load norm and assumes that professors will devote much of their time to useful research. What we get from that system is a lot of research that's done just for the sake of publishing. We should put academic research to the test of the market: Will people voluntarily pay for it?