A Forum for Vigorous Debate, Cornerstone of Democracy

[For the journal (guidelines, focus, etc.), go to www.theamericandissident.org ].
Encouraged censorship and self-censorship seem to have become popular in America today. Those who censor others, not just self, tend to favor the term "moderate," as opposed to "censor" and "moderation" to "censorship." But that doesn't change what they do. They still act as Little Caesars or Big Brother protectors of the thin-skinned. Democracy, however, demands a tough populace, not so easily offended. On this blog, and to buck the trend of censorship, banning, and ostracizing, comments are NEVER "moderated." Rarely (almost NEVER) do the targets of these blog entries respond in an effort to defend themselves with cogent counter-argumentation. This blog is testimony to how little academics, poets, critics, newspaper editors, cartoonists, political hacks, cultural council apparatchiks, librarians et al appreciate VIGOROUS DEBATE, cornerstone of democracy. Clearly, far too many of them could likely prosper just fine in places like communist China and Cuba or Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Russia.

More P. Maudit cartoons (and essays) at Global Free Press: http://www.globalfreepress.org

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Censored Once Again by Inside Higher Ed


Unfortunately, tenure has led to the ossificiation of American education. The hiring, promotion, and tenure system has institutionalized sycophancy toward those in power.
—Tenured professor Camille Paglia

Tenure corrupts, enervates, and dulls higher education. It is, moreover, the academic culture’s ultimate control mechanism to weed out the idiosyncratic, the creative, the nonconformist.
—Journalist Charles Sykes

This essay was sent to the English department members of Drew University, new home of Melissa Nicolas, expert in "writing across the curriculum" and author of "Lessons of an Academic Vagabond" (see http://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2010/01/20/nicolas), an embarrasingly sappy Ms. Mentor-like, career-advice article. Academe has really gotten cutesy-bad today with regular columns by Ms. Mentor, Mama-PhD, Confessions of a Community College Dean, the Education of Oronte Chum, University Diaries, and who knows, soon-to-come, the Academic Vagi-bond? Be assured, however, we'll never see columns by Dr. Go Against the Academic Grain, Ms. Make Waves, or Mama TruthTeller.

Hopefully, Inside Higher Ed, where Nicolas' column appeared this week, will permit me to comment on it. One never knows because that academic publication has censored at least six of my previous comments. Should higher ed be in the censorship business? Well, my experience tells me that, quite likely, every English professor at Drew University thinks it should be.

To summarize, Nicolas’ advice is simply to play the academic game, that is, turning a blind eye to inevitable internal corruption. What she advises is business as usual, that is, corruption as usual. But until power is taken away from corrupt deans and chairpersons and even corrupt faculties, academe will remain ever the “political” rat nest and the best, that is, those with the courage to stand up and decry the rat business as usual will simply be eliminated. Does the nation and democracy really need more like Nicolas in tenured positions? I think not. The following are my responses to her 8 keys to academic "success," which in reality are 8 keys to avoid making waves and otherwise being perceived as an individual with the guts to "go upright and vital, and speak the rude truth in all ways" (Emerson).

1. "Every department, every division, every college has politics," notes Nicolas. The term “politics,” however, is nothing but a cop-out euphemism for “intellectual corruption” just like “moderation” is used to replace “censorship.” After all, highly educated persons surely cannot be “corrupt” and “censors.” Instead, they can only be “political” and “moderators.” We rarely, if ever, hear the word “corruption” applied to higher education, unless of course the dean or college president absconds with the cherished endowment fund.
2. As for “everyone [i.e., professors] is overworked and underpaid,” perhaps academics ought to engage in a physical exercise program. When one is out of shape, even walking to the building next door and sitting in a chair will seem like an exhausting chore and an example of being "overworked." Also, why not encourage academics (usually that's done monetarily) to use their sabbaticals to work at a job normally occupied by proles. Hell, I was once a shipyard welder, carpenter, factory worker, cabbie, census worker, radiation monitor at a submarine base, and toiled as an FDIC accountant trainee, amongst other things. I know what real work is. Being a professor is not akin to spending 8 hours on an assembly line. The latter is exhausting work, not the former.
3. If colleges and universities stopped treating students as paying business clients, adjusting to new students would not be the problem noted by Nicolas. Indeed, students would have to adjust to new professors instead because professors would not be forced to focus on student retention and pleasing student clients. On the contrary, the latter would be forced to do the work or be expulsed. Expulsing students, however, could threaten faculty jobs and even the existence of the university or college (i.e., the business).
4. "Even if you are excellent at your job, you are replaceable," warns Nicolas. “Your department may love you; you may get glowing reviews,” she states without thinking, without seemingly even having the capability to think, that “fit-in” and “collegiality” work against democracy. To be a good fit and “collegial” one must avoid at all costs being critical… and without criticism we end up with business as usual. The other side of this problem is that far too many professors doing a less than laudatory job and occupying tenured positions are not replacable because the law stipulates they cannot be replaced. Think, chere Nicolas, think!
5. “The least you can do is give them your best effort up until you leave,” notes Nicolas regarding the institution and vagabondage. I can agree with that to a certain extent. Unfortunately, it also implies, however, keeping ones mouth closed and turning a blind eye to intellectual corruption, both highly detrimental to democracy, though favorable to academic autocracy. Evidently, Nicolas like the bulk of academics favors the latter. Yet what kind of role models do such academics make? Well, they make good professional cookie-cutter role models, but bad citizen role models.
6. Nicolas' advice to "publish, publish, publish" mirrors the quantity over quality mindset that plagues poets and writers! The flood of academic publications is akin to the flood of New York Times bestsellers. One year later, you can pick them up on Amazon for 25 cents or even a penny. How does that mindset help the country and democracy? How does it help academe? Well, clearly, it does help the BUSINESS of academe.
7. At least Nicolas admits the existence in the academic happy-face paradise of “dysfunctional departments,” those departments that fail to heed the number-one hiring criterion of the university: collegiality, as opposed to courageous truth telling. To tell the uncomfortable truth openly, of course, will always be viewed as “shouting” and “angry,” to use Nicolas' words.
8. “By and large, academe is filled with talented, caring, interesting, and professional people,” notes Nicolas without however pondering what those adjectives really tend to indicate more than anything else: NOT CRITICAL OF ONES COLLEAGUES, DEPARTMENT, AND UNIVERSITY, HERD CONFORMITY, AND ESPECIALLY INDIFFERENT TO THE NEEDS OF DEMOCRACY. “Professional people” tend to be of that ilk.

One really has to wonder how so many like Nicolas manage to get PhDs without seemingly managing to learn how to question and challenge what so many seem to take for granted. Sadly, academe fails to encourage such questioning and challenging, instead encouraging conformity and acceptance, both important in the continued demise of democracy in America today.
What is really sad about Nicolas is her seeming acceptance of a really horrendous situation. She’s become an expert at playing the academic game, and indeed that’s why she gets to get her articles published in Inside Higher Ed, while I do not. Yes, why not an article by a professor who was forced to be an academic vagabond, not because of child custody concerns, but rather because of his inability to play the academic game of see-no-evil, hear-no-evil, and speak-no-evil?

Now, when will we finally see the demise of “writing across the curriculum,” “writing for the humanities,” and “technical writing”? When will we just see plain old good “writing” again? By the way, how about considering me for a position in your English department, O Drew University professors? Or how about inviting me to speak to your students on Literature, Democracy & Dissidence?

1 comment:

Joe said...

A voice crying in the wilderness, G.T. Or as someone (Russell maybe - some scientist anyway) said said about Shelley (sorry), he was an angel beating his luminous wings ineffectually in the void. Or something like that. Be glad when your new issue arrives, am looking forward to it. Joe Hart