Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Which Is More Important: Teaching or Politics?

It’s galling to (1) find oneself quoted positively in a story posted on David Horowitz’s propaganda site (though they now seem to have taken the story down: It can still be found at its original home) and (2) to see oneself criticized by someone as dedicated to the protection of academic freedom as I am. But that’s my situation this morning.


To me, it points out that our continuing problems of both negative perception of academia and our failures to take care of our own house are no nearer solution, thanks to the Ward Churchill affair, than they were before. If anything, they are worse.


The essay that Horowitz briefly hosted (I hope it was taken down because I am mentioned, but I suspect they hadn’t bothered to get permission) is by KC Johnson, a professor of History at Brooklyn College. Titled “Ward Churchill and the Diversity Agenda,” it originally appeared on a website of the conservative Center for the American University at the Manhattan Institute called “Minding the Campus: Reforming Our Universities.” It uses the Churchill firing to continue the case for reform in our universities—something I agree with, though the Manhattan Institute people are not those I would like to see formulating that reform.


I would rather see progressives do it, for their liberal ideas fit better with the underlying concepts of “liberal arts” (see Michael Bérubé’s What’s Liberal About the Liberal Arts?). But progressives, like John K. Wilson (who wrote the other article, titled “Ward Redux”), seem to have fixated on First Amendment rights to the point where they are doing no more than chasing their own tails. Certainly, they aren't contributing to the needed debate underlying future reform. They refuse to admit, for example, that Churchill was (and is) a problem for academia and continue to try to defend the indefensible. This does not help at all.


Wilson writes, in response to my assertion that Churchill had no business teaching, that “Churchill’s popularity among many students shows that it was a disservice to fire him.” Rapper 50 Cent is popular with students, too, but that wouldn’t earn him a place among the faculty.


Certain competencies are required for college teaching, among them proficiency in research (for the type of teaching Churchill was doing, at least). Even the kindest look at Churchill’s record of publication and research shows that he does not possess these competencies. Therefore, popular or not, he should not be teaching. It is a disservice to our students to claim otherwise—and an opening for legitimate criticism that we in academia are not performing the tasks of self-oversight we have taken on.


Wilson goes on to write, concerning the dubious process of Churchill’s initial hiring, that “Despite all of the accusations, no one has actually proven that Ward Churchill is not a Native American.” Well, no one has proven I am not, either.


Churchill is member of no tribe and can show no ancestry within a Native American group. The burden of proof of his authenticity rests with him, not with those who doubt him. He has yet to show anything that places his background within a Native-American community. Here again, with this spurious and laughable defense of Churchill, Wilson is making us in the progressive movement within education look bad--like we are clutching a straws to defend the indefensible. His defense of Churchill on the grounds that no one has proven a negative only makes it clearer that he cares more about keeping Churchill in his job than about education and honesty.


At the end of his article, Wilson makes the astonishing claim that, in the 1950s, “colleges thought that they could protect themselves from outside intrusion by sacrificing a few radical professors to the witchhunt.” This, as anyone knows who has either studied that time or who lived through it, is nonsense. And Churchill is not being sacrificed. There is no gain from his firing for anyone; no one thinks his going will ease the pressure on academia.


By any rational standard of evaluation of competencies (including by degrees or by proof of competency in their stead), Churchill should not have been teaching, let alone a tenured Full Professor. He got away with what amounts to a scam for almost twenty years. Yes, it is true that the means by which the scam was uncovered were highly questionable (every bit as dishonest, in my mind, as Churchill himself), but that does not mitigate Churchill’s “crimes.”


As a primary goal of an educational institution is education, we cannot go about defending the “right” of unqualified people to teach. No matter what else one might say about the Churchill case, it is unfair to our students for us to ignore this basic truth of our profession.

2 comments:

jobar said...

Rationalists, like religious believers, limit facts they will acknowledge or accept, and in doing so supply powerful ammunition to believers in even more limited framework (people who very much endanger our future). This is often career or ego related, but results even more from a social imperative to be polite – especially to anyone with money.

William Shakespeare, or "Gulielmus Shaksper," as his birth certificate spelled the name, lacked background or education for writing the astounding things attributed to him. His family was illiterate, and it’s difficult to believe that a 16th-century commoner with no records at any school could be as well-versed in English language, politics and law as to produce what is attributed to him. There’s no contemporaneous evidence that Shaksper, a grain dealer of Stratford-on-Avon, was even an actor or investor in the Globe Theater, or any other theatrical enterprise. It’s unlikely he traveled to Italy, and so inexplicable that he knew so much about it. Where could his familiarity with French, Italian, Latin, and Greek have come from? The six signatures accepted as authentically his are all spelled differently, and written in almost illegible scribble. The strange will accepted as his is hardly more impressive. The plays attributed to him, of incredibly widely-acclaimed depth and magnitude, may have had contributing influence from other members of the theatrical troupe which presented them, and outsiders too, but the sonnets seem to have but one author. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, a "Man whose countenance shakes spears," with a coat of arms depicting a lion shaking a broken spear, seems more appropriate as their author; Shakespeare was likely just a factotum for someone who wished to remain anonymous. A man of letters, deVere’s poems ceased just before work attributed to Shakespeare began to appear; a pseudonym may have appeared necessary due to social stigma attached to the stage, and because extravagance had brought him into disrepute at court. Socially prominent Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley (6th Earl of Derby) and even Queen Elizabeth I may have made contributions to what is included in the Shakespeare folio, and also have had good reason for wishing anonymity! The numerous references to horses, cattle, hawks and other animals particularly familiar to nobility, and not so much to others, are certainly suggestive; but writing was hardly considered appropriate work for members in high standing of polite society, and in just a bit I will endeavor to explain why.

We regularly make assumptions, and too frequently present questionable things as valid, often taking “Occam’s Razor” to the absurd degree of making explanations too simple to account for all documented fact, and even more, much of experience. We don’t know how mutation works or even might work, to bring about the differentiation of speciation, or how gravity works, or all that much about the sun and other stars, what light is, about the deep insides of the Earth, or even about the much less distant ocean floor. Even less do we know about intuition, how we sense someone is studiously examining us from behind, or very much about how sexual attraction works.
Derrick Jensen, author of A Language Older Than Words and The Culture of Make Believe, offers significant food for thought:
"I don't think there really is anything even remotely resembling academic freedom or freedom of discourse within the culture. I keep thinking about RD Laing's 3 rules of a dysfunctional family, which are also the 3 rules of a dysfunctional culture. Rule A is Don't. Rule A.1 is Rule A does not exist. Rule A.2 is Never discuss the existence or nonexistence of Rules A, A.1, or A.2. The way this plays out within an abusive family structure is that the members can talk about anything they want except for the violence they must pretend isn't happening. The way this plays out on the larger social scale is that we can talk about whatever we want - we can have whatever 'academic' or 'journalistic' 'freedom' we want - so long as we don't talk about the fact that this culture is based on systematic violence, and has been from the beginning. Anyone who's been paying any attention at all for the last 200 years knows that the United States is based on systematic violence. We live on land stolen from Indians. The economy runs on oil stolen from people the world over. The entire economy is based on conquest and theft. It's no wonder most of the people in the world hate the U.S. But of course we can't talk about that. Anyone who does talk about that and is noticed must be silenced as quickly as possible.
“Those in power may kill with impunity, but when those lower on the hierarchy fight back, they are committing blasphemy and must be eliminated. Even to acknowledge that this is what is happening is itself a form of blasphemy, and those who speak the unspeakable - that those who are being terrorized by those in power have the right to fight back - must be silenced."

What this is about is good manners, more than academic freedom. No one is to be allowed to too deeply question active power structures, as that would undermine the social framework which allows us to carry on. It’s hardly only the USA which is based on conquest and theft: all the “Americas,” Great Britain, Russia, and many Pacific islands are the same, and people by and large remain deeply tribal. But mentioning it, I too, must admit to be bad form. And much worse than asserting that poor people should be punished until they agree to work harder, or that “Scripture” was divinely “inspired” – in contrast to all reason. Unfortunately, the rigors of science cannot explain all, or reach closed minds; I have, for a while now, tried to show how logical evidence and Creationism might become sufficiently reconciled to ameliorate hurt to sensitive egos, but despite several very interesting findings, now find failure in this endeavor inevitable – one should be polite in the face of this obdurate ignorance no less than one should with those for whom prison, torture, and even organized murder are acceptable. And to that kind of attitude, I find polite manners less than reasonable, efficient or at all effective.

In his flawed 1985 book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Michael Denton argues the common evolutionary descent of all organisms is "a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support and very far from the self-evident axiom some of its more aggressive advocates would have us believe” it to be. A bit of a Luddite myself, I still drive a car, and am sure Mr. Denton uses electricity; one can only hide from reality so much before simply making day-to-day existence untenable. The transitional forms and gradual sequences found in the fossil record show a lot, but, unfortunately, so does carbon dating, and at the risk of becoming slandered as a complete kook, I will argue that our long-range dating techniques (beyond tree rings) may well not be as significant as scientifically assumed. I thought this out in hopes of furthering reconciliation with people dangerously dogmatic, and do not wish to provide them more irrational “weapons” – rather, I wish but (only) to open as further as possible all minds I might be able to reach.
No true and unambiguous reality at the bottom of everything has been shown, not even light-speed as an absolute, despite figures like 299,792,458 meters per second, or the meter as length traveled by light through a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second, or a second defined in terms of the frequency of electromagnetic-radiation emitted by cesium-133 (and just when, after a ‘Big Bang’, would length, width or time have started to have meaning?). This can easily confuse, making the “answers” religion seems (to many people) to provide, more attractive. Also, and similarly, spinning or rotating things slow down, so if speed affects time, time-flow for Earth may have changed much as almost everything else changes (and the ‘days’ and ‘years’ of Genesis could be reinterpreted to accord with observation). Lastly, our Earth seems to have once much smaller (I know, I’m really a kook now – see how it goes?), with less gravitational pull (as shown through the huge size of some dinosaurs), more atmosphere and quite significantly less surface water. PanGaea continental shape-congruity certainly suggests this, and Continental Drift hypotheses are as problematic as other scientific theories unfortunately taught as fact, which thus allow powerful attack from those faithful to religious doctrine and dogma. But if a smaller Earth once rotated faster than now, making shorter days, and also went faster around the sun, what then of years, time, and laboriously developed dating techniques? To say nothing of academic careers at risk!

Darwin's theory gets criticism for implying that evolution occurs through random mutation, and thus, where and what we are must be but the result of a succession of chance events - of an entirely blind random process, or giant lottery. But are we just part of a cosmic game of dice? This is like the question, “Why is there something and not nothing?” – which would not exist if there were nothing. We do know of limits to our perceptions: of birth and death, things too small or too large to perceive or comprehend, of “relativity” and dimensional theory – but do not like to admit our limitations. There may well be more, “Horatio, than are dreamt of” in philosophies of men… and though we should study, we should also be humble, as religion is thought to teach (but apparently usually does not, at least sufficiently).
Patterns of embryological development do seem to recapitulate evolutionary development, but to discount the involvement of factors beyond our understanding involves the same unfortunate, prideful hubris as asserting logic to a system which excludes known realities. We are firmly taught, though, to be polite, and not much discuss sex, money, the manipulations and secrets of power, or rigors of morality, as to do so is not only markedly impolite, but dangerous and destructive (like discussing politics and religion instead of weather and sports). Thus our minds are not sufficiently exercised, and we remain ruled as if by tribal gods, severely influenced by incompetence and incompetents…
It’s presumptuous to say that the single individual thinks, but we still like to invent inventors, give credit to leaders, disdain plagiarism, and discuss “intellectual property.” That we only participate in furthering what others have thought before does not please, but does help explain intuition. We know there are many very surprising mind-body connections and divisions, both confounding and more intimate than physicality - as we know it - offers explanation for. But, we seem only able to involve ourselves in the popular arguments of the day, upon which operate a substantial social drag. We mostly prefer fear to freedom, violence to responsibility, habit to thought. And so shall it remain, until we force ourselves to become otherwise, or events do that for us.
As experience and well-mannered acceptance of what the powers-that-be state as so come more and more blatantly, un-ignorably into conflict, it seems that social evolution, at least, becomes increasingly unavoidable, and undeniable.
And this, unfortunately, is far too revolutionary. So we de-value truth to protect ourselves; history is made but the fairy-tales of victors, news but propaganda, entertainment but slap-stick and suggestive fraud, education but baby-sitting. Writing is but for clerks and comedians, hacks and liars – it is rude, crude and impolite! So I guess I’ll stop.

jobar said...

Rationalists, like religious believers, limit facts they will acknowledge or accept, and in doing so supply powerful ammunition to believers in even more limited framework (people who very much endanger our future). This is often career or ego related, but results even more from a social imperative to be polite – especially to anyone with money.

William Shakespeare, or "Gulielmus Shaksper," as his birth certificate spelled the name, lacked background or education for writing the astounding things attributed to him. His family was illiterate, and it’s difficult to believe that a 16th-century commoner with no records at any school could be as well-versed in English language, politics and law as to produce what is attributed to him. There’s no contemporaneous evidence that Shaksper, a grain dealer of Stratford-on-Avon, was even an actor or investor in the Globe Theater, or any other theatrical enterprise. It’s unlikely he traveled to Italy, and so inexplicable that he knew so much about it. Where could his familiarity with French, Italian, Latin, and Greek have come from? The six signatures accepted as authentically his are all spelled differently, and written in almost illegible scribble. The strange will accepted as his is hardly more impressive. The plays attributed to him, of incredibly widely-acclaimed depth and magnitude, may have had contributing influence from other members of the theatrical troupe which presented them, and outsiders too, but the sonnets seem to have but one author. Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, a "Man whose countenance shakes spears," with a coat of arms depicting a lion shaking a broken spear, seems more appropriate as their author; Shakespeare was likely just a factotum for someone who wished to remain anonymous. A man of letters, deVere’s poems ceased just before work attributed to Shakespeare began to appear; a pseudonym may have appeared necessary due to social stigma attached to the stage, and because extravagance had brought him into disrepute at court. Socially prominent Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe, William Stanley (6th Earl of Derby) and even Queen Elizabeth I may have made contributions to what is included in the Shakespeare folio, and also have had good reason for wishing anonymity! The numerous references to horses, cattle, hawks and other animals particularly familiar to nobility, and not so much to others, are certainly suggestive; but writing was hardly considered appropriate work for members in high standing of polite society, and in just a bit I will endeavor to explain why.

We regularly make assumptions, and too frequently present questionable things as valid, often taking “Occam’s Razor” to the absurd degree of making explanations too simple to account for all documented fact, and even more, much of experience. We don’t know how mutation works or even might work, to bring about the differentiation of speciation, or how gravity works, or all that much about the sun and other stars, what light is, about the deep insides of the Earth, or even about the much less distant ocean floor. Even less do we know about intuition, how we sense someone is studiously examining us from behind, or very much about how sexual attraction works.
Derrick Jensen, author of A Language Older Than Words and The Culture of Make Believe, offers significant food for thought:
"I don't think there really is anything even remotely resembling academic freedom or freedom of discourse within the culture. I keep thinking about RD Laing's 3 rules of a dysfunctional family, which are also the 3 rules of a dysfunctional culture. Rule A is Don't. Rule A.1 is Rule A does not exist. Rule A.2 is Never discuss the existence or nonexistence of Rules A, A.1, or A.2. The way this plays out within an abusive family structure is that the members can talk about anything they want except for the violence they must pretend isn't happening. The way this plays out on the larger social scale is that we can talk about whatever we want - we can have whatever 'academic' or 'journalistic' 'freedom' we want - so long as we don't talk about the fact that this culture is based on systematic violence, and has been from the beginning. Anyone who's been paying any attention at all for the last 200 years knows that the United States is based on systematic violence. We live on land stolen from Indians. The economy runs on oil stolen from people the world over. The entire economy is based on conquest and theft. It's no wonder most of the people in the world hate the U.S. But of course we can't talk about that. Anyone who does talk about that and is noticed must be silenced as quickly as possible.
“Those in power may kill with impunity, but when those lower on the hierarchy fight back, they are committing blasphemy and must be eliminated. Even to acknowledge that this is what is happening is itself a form of blasphemy, and those who speak the unspeakable - that those who are being terrorized by those in power have the right to fight back - must be silenced."

What this is about is good manners, more than academic freedom. No one is to be allowed to too deeply question active power structures, as that would undermine the social framework which allows us to carry on. It’s hardly only the USA which is based on conquest and theft: all the “Americas,” Great Britain, Russia, and many Pacific islands are the same, and people by and large remain deeply tribal. But mentioning it, I too, must admit to be bad form. And much worse than asserting that poor people should be punished until they agree to work harder, or that “Scripture” was divinely “inspired” – in contrast to all reason. Unfortunately, the rigors of science cannot explain all, or reach closed minds; I have, for a while now, tried to show how logical evidence and Creationism might become sufficiently reconciled to ameliorate hurt to sensitive egos, but despite several very interesting findings, now find failure in this endeavor inevitable – one should be polite in the face of this obdurate ignorance no less than one should with those for whom prison, torture, and even organized murder are acceptable. And to that kind of attitude, I find polite manners less than reasonable, efficient or at all effective.

In his flawed 1985 book Evolution: A Theory in Crisis, Michael Denton argues the common evolutionary descent of all organisms is "a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without direct factual support and very far from the self-evident axiom some of its more aggressive advocates would have us believe” it to be. A bit of a Luddite myself, I still drive a car, and am sure Mr. Denton uses electricity; one can only hide from reality so much before simply making day-to-day existence untenable. The transitional forms and gradual sequences found in the fossil record show a lot, but, unfortunately, so does carbon dating, and at the risk of becoming slandered as a complete kook, I will argue that our long-range dating techniques (beyond tree rings) may well not be as significant as scientifically assumed. I thought this out in hopes of furthering reconciliation with people dangerously dogmatic, and do not wish to provide them more irrational “weapons” – rather, I wish but (only) to open as further as possible all minds I might be able to reach.
No true and unambiguous reality at the bottom of everything has been shown, not even light-speed as an absolute, despite figures like 299,792,458 meters per second, or the meter as length traveled by light through a vacuum in 1/299,792,458 of a second, or a second defined in terms of the frequency of electromagnetic-radiation emitted by cesium-133 (and just when, after a ‘Big Bang’, would length, width or time have started to have meaning?). This can easily confuse, making the “answers” religion seems (to many people) to provide, more attractive. Also, and similarly, spinning or rotating things slow down, so if speed affects time, time-flow for Earth may have changed much as almost everything else changes (and the ‘days’ and ‘years’ of Genesis could be reinterpreted to accord with observation). Lastly, our Earth seems to have once much smaller (I know, I’m really a kook now – see how it goes?), with less gravitational pull (as shown through the huge size of some dinosaurs), more atmosphere and quite significantly less surface water. PanGaea continental shape-congruity certainly suggests this, and Continental Drift hypotheses are as problematic as other scientific theories unfortunately taught as fact, which thus allow powerful attack from those faithful to religious doctrine and dogma. But if a smaller Earth once rotated faster than now, making shorter days, and also went faster around the sun, what then of years, time, and laboriously developed dating techniques? To say nothing of academic careers at risk!

Darwin's theory gets criticism for implying that evolution occurs through random mutation, and thus, where and what we are must be but the result of a succession of chance events - of an entirely blind random process, or giant lottery. But are we just part of a cosmic game of dice? This is like the question, “Why is there something and not nothing?” – which would not exist if there were nothing. We do know of limits to our perceptions: of birth and death, things too small or too large to perceive or comprehend, of “relativity” and dimensional theory – but do not like to admit our limitations. There may well be more, “Horatio, than are dreamt of” in philosophies of men… and though we should study, we should also be humble, as religion is thought to teach (but apparently usually does not, at least sufficiently).
Patterns of embryological development do seem to recapitulate evolutionary development, but to discount the involvement of factors beyond our understanding involves the same unfortunate, prideful hubris as asserting logic to a system which excludes known realities. We are firmly taught, though, to be polite, and not much discuss sex, money, the manipulations and secrets of power, or rigors of morality, as to do so is not only markedly impolite, but dangerous and destructive (like discussing politics and religion instead of weather and sports). Thus our minds are not sufficiently exercised, and we remain ruled as if by tribal gods, severely influenced by incompetence and incompetents…
It’s presumptuous to say that the single individual thinks, but we still like to invent inventors, give credit to leaders, disdain plagiarism, and discuss “intellectual property.” That we only participate in furthering what others have thought before does not please, but does help explain intuition. We know there are many very surprising mind-body connections and divisions, both confounding and more intimate than physicality - as we know it - offers explanation for. But, we seem only able to involve ourselves in the popular arguments of the day, upon which operate a substantial social drag. We mostly prefer fear to freedom, violence to responsibility, habit to thought. And so shall it remain, until we force ourselves to become otherwise, or events do that for us.
As experience and well-mannered acceptance of what the powers-that-be state as so come more and more blatantly, un-ignorably into conflict, it seems that social evolution, at least, becomes increasingly unavoidable, and undeniable.
And this, unfortunately, is far too revolutionary. So we de-value truth to protect ourselves; history is made but the fairy-tales of victors, news but propaganda, entertainment but slap-stick and suggestive fraud, education but baby-sitting. Writing is but for clerks and comedians, hacks and liars – it is rude, crude and impolite! So I guess I’ll stop.