Friday, October 11, 2002

Random Oddity

Was cruising the Web today and clicked over to the new and improved page for the NCSU Women's Center. Now, if you were trying to look up their number for help in the aftermath of an incident of sexual harrassment or assault, would you feel entirely comfortable trusting your mental health to a page that greets you with a perky rendition of Under The Sea from the Little Mermaid, and a photo of crazily grinning women brandishing sock puppets? I'm just saying that maybe an image adjustment is in order.

Wednesday, October 09, 2002

This just ticks me off.

Proving once again that if you don't have the correct politics, things like freedom of speech go down the toilet--check out the latest campus stupidity from Washington University St. Louis. I don't care what anyone's views on abortion are, folks have the right to express them. And this group meets ALL the requirements of the Student Organization By-Laws, oh, except for the popularity clause. Bastards.
Critique of Critical Issues

Last week, I attended a 2 hour session on Critical Issues in Higher Education, in which learned specialists in the field presented the findings of a study they conducted last year. We were given a handout which delineated the Fourteen Critical Issues Facing Today's College Students, and asked to discuss how these applied to our experience with students (Note for non-campus folk--Higher Ed as a discipline and theory is used in just about every non-academic department on campus, everything from Housing to Student Health to ROTC. It's a strange animal...but more on that at a later date). Here's the introductory paragraph for the handout:

The Task Force (there's ALWAYS a Task Force--never a committee or a group. Gives them that ominous inquisitory air of authority from on high, doncha think?) derived these critical issues for today's college students from the voices they heard (Where? In their own heads? Nowhere was there any information on statistical sample, number of responses, participating campuses, nada.)

They are not intended to represent all student voices nor are they listed in order of priority. (Okay, so we have a list of some stuff from the five student workers in the office where the task force sat around eating doughnuts? No priority is given--by the students. This will be important later. Nor does this information even necessarily represent everyone. So WHY am I wasting two hours of my day sitting here talking about it? Can I vote on a change of subject? I hear there may be a war on....what? Oh, right. That subject's not on the non-representative, non-prioritized list of issues you just pulled out of your ass, and thus irrelevant to all students everywhere. Sorry. Carry on.)

These issues are not, of course, discrete. (No, I hear that they flaunt themselves shamelessly all over unsuspecting campuses. Harlot issues! Put some clothes on! I know, I know, discreet, not discrete, but you have to admit it was too hard to resist.)

There is considerable overlap among elements of these issues. They were treated as separate in an attempt to fully describe the student concerns regarding each. (Whatever. This list bears absolutely NO coincidental resemblance to the issues that Higher Ed theory has been all over lately, right?) Let's take a look at the top three:

1. Multicultural Competence - What, you may ask, is this? The ability to differentiate between cultures in a competent manner (Why look, bubba! You're white. I get a gold star!)? Silly people. Multicultural competence "helps students explore and understand their personal identities and the impact of personal identity on interactions with others and provides students with meaningful opportunities to develop personal commitments that foster respect for self and others." I really have nothing to add to that--I think it speaks for itself in a clear and meaningful way, don't you?

2. Academic, Learning Concerns - This is actually what I would have expected to hear from students interviewed about their most pressing college concerns, particularly at a large University like this one, where quite a few are taught by TAs or herded into "weeder courses" on theoretical physics taught by professors who haven't mastered basic English. Interesting that it's second on the list, but I should be glad it MADE the list, I guess.

3. Social Justice - These two words scare me when they appear side by side. Why? Because "The central question that seems to be reflected in the social justice and citizenship concerns of college students is, 'How can I be happy when so much human suffering and injustice is required to support my cultural values and lifestyle?'" Just amazing, the underlying assumptions in that sentence. Particularly when this sentence accompanies it: "Colleges and universities are being challenged to model desired behaviors and become more just communities." How blandly perfect on the surface. Of course, "desired behaviors" and "just communities" is open to interpretation, and we know how that will likely be interpreted here, don't we?

Those were the big three. Discussion was predictably lame and suggestions for improvement eventually turned to faculty bashing, which, while always enjoyable, doesn't change anything. Sound and fury indeed, for which I am thankful.

Tuesday, October 08, 2002

Anti-Semitic or Academic?

All this talk of anti-semitism on college campuses has me reflecting on my own experience with it. My concentration was in Medieval lit.--it's what I did my MA thesis on (torture in the Passion Plays, all very Foucaultian and Bakhtinian, and I am very embarrassed by it now thankyewverymuch)--and the world view of the Middle Ages has always fascinated me. Plus, Chaucer makes some really good fart jokes. But I digress...

When you study Medieval lit. and the attendant history, you are smacked upside the head with the anti-semitism of the time. Jews had the deck stacked against them both from a religious viewpoint and a societal one--the Catholic Church forbade usury, so the only folks who were allowed to lend money were jewish. Resentment, much? So you've got the same folks who are ostensibly going to hell in charge of cash flow. The result of this was that whenever the economic situation or political situation in a particular place went bad, there was a pogrom, and Jews were persecuted/killed/set afire. This is no news to any student of history, but it is relevant background to my story. If there's any question that Jews were demonized, just read this stanza from The Prioress's Tale:

Ther was in Asye, in a greet citee,

Amonges Cristene folk, a Jewerye,

Sustened by a lord of that contree

For foule usure and lucre of vileynye,

Hateful to Crist and to his compaignye,

It continues in this vein, with the evil usuring Jews slitting the throat of a christian boy, who, through the miracle of the blessed mother, manages to sing about who killed him, bloody revenge is had by all, etc., etc. As a student, I just thought of this story as the boring one that came after the Pardoner. I love the Pardoner--what a totally villainous guy! But again, I digress...

The upshot is I always thought of anti-semitism as that bizarre antiquated medieval notion (okay, sheltered Southern Protestant who had never even MET any Jewish folks until I arrived at grad school), so imagine my surprise when a friend of mine informed me that the prof. teaching her Old English course was handing out flyers for the local Palestinian support group, and using the course to not-so-discreetly digress into the injustices done to the Palestinians by Israel, evil Zionist hoo-ha, the usual propaganda, blah, blah, blah. Now, Old English is part of a concentration in Medieval studies, it's essentially a foreign language, and it's necessary if you REALLY, REALLY want to read Beowulf the way God intended, but that's all it is. It's a language course, and its content does not lend itself to a discussion of anti-semitism the way that Chaucer does. Grendel, as far as I know, was not a Jew.

So the forum this professor chose to air her personal political views was totally inappropriate by any stretch of the imagination. It was proselytizing, pure and simple, and to a captive audience. Oh sure, I suppose a student who was violently opposed to her viewpoint could have walked out of the class, but it would be the end of that student's dream of a PhD. You cannot afford even ONE "B" grade in a stand alone MA program, or you will not get into a good PhD program, and that's the kiss of death for job prospects. And if you don't think grades are influenced by behavior...well, I've got this oceanfront property in Nebraska that you'll just loooove. The philosophy of most students when confronted with this sort of thing is "ignore, keep head down, get "A", move on." And that exacerbates the problem, because no one challenges the stupidity, and it becomes institutionalized.

Where am I going with this? Nowhere, really, except to say that I find professors who are opposed to Campus Watch to be idiots, at best. Let me clarify this mental leap. Just because we're paying attention to something now doesn't mean that it only just came into being. It means that we've realized how harmful that something can be. Anti-semitism by a professor in an Old English class in the early 90's seemed harmless, because really, what was she going to do, have a jihad? In 2002, we know that the answer to that question may well be "Hell, yes, she may have a jihad, or incite others to one, and people will die, and what the hell were you thinking letting this sort of ignorant hate speech spew unchallenged just because you're in a 'university' and 'celebrating diversity' and you need a freaking 'A'?" Campus Watch doesn't prevent anyone from speaking; it just doesn't let them do it the way that professor did--unchallenged and unchallengable. And if the intelligentsia can't deal with their views being exposed to the light of day and disagreed with, then I don't think they have any business telling anyone about "freedom of expression." There's nothing new under the sun, but at least now it's out from under a rock.