Blogs > Cliopatria > Lending a Hand

Jan 18, 2006 6:54 am

Lending a Hand

After some careful reflection, I have realized that I now agree wholeheartedly with Andrew Jones, the president of UCLA Profs. Disregard my previous post; I've decided to lend a land as the young Mr. Jones sets out to monitor campus discussions and punish people in the university community for expressing incorrect opinions. Toward that end, I've started my own parallel website, Surveillance Central. Your help is warmly solicited.

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Rebecca Anne Goetz - 1/19/2006

KC--I can see some professors having a problem with putting syllabi online. If I spend a lot of time developing a course and am forced to make the syllabus generally available online, I'll be pretty pissed off to find some prof elsewhere has copied my syllabus and is now using it in class. :) But comparing it to Halliburton is a bit of a stretch. :)

Rebecca Anne Goetz - 1/19/2006

Chris--I don't think you're being a jerk. :)

We can agree that some outside activities deserve censure--illegal ones. If a professor is dealing drugs or committing murder, for example, then that's a serious problem and institutions have to deal with that.

But other than that, I am leery of drawing a bright line against some (legal) extracurricular activities and not others. That isn't to say that I would have been overjoyed to have Pluss as a colleague. (Although he now claims he was doing "research"--yeah, I'm not sure what to make of that either.) But if he's doing it on his own time, I have a lot of trouble saying he should be fired for his (despicable) viewpoints.

What's to stop Mr. Jones from seeking to censure me because I am, on my own time, an abortion rights activist? That's the sort of thing that I find degrading...and dangerous.

Robert KC Johnson - 1/19/2006

Perhaps ideological and pedagogical pendulums do swing, but there's very little evidence of it in the contemporary academy. It might be that 10 years from now, we have slightly more pedagogical and ideological balance in the academy, but I'd say there's a much better chance that we'll have more Ward Churchills and Vinay Lals--since these are the people, after all, who are doing the hiring.

Maybe compulsory transparency isn't the way to go. I'm struck, however, by the defensiveness with which the academy has responded to calls for greater openness. At BC this year, we've been having an "academic freedom" faculty seminar, and I raised the point that the college should require all profs to put their syllabi and lecture handouts on-line. The deputy chair of the English Department said she would support this proposal when Halliburton put all of its internal documents on-line.

I had thought that (a) the academy claimed higher ethical standards than Halliburton; and (b) unlike businesses, profs never claimed that what went on in their classrooms was some sort of secret.

Chris Bray - 1/18/2006

A couple of things, very briefly, and then I'm off to bed.

First, I do have considerable sympathy for a fair portion of what Andrew Jones has to say. It's incredibly irritating to take a class on (let's make something up) ancient Martian pottery, and to then hear for twenty minutes per class that Bush is a Nazi. Some professors don't recognize the boundaries of propriety. But wow, is the UCLA Profs approach not the right way to do business.

Second, as I've said before, I do think ideological pendulums swing; history departments are no longer ruled by Dunningites and Turnerians. The language on the website about campus radicalism being on the rise strikes me as quaint. And why do I suspect that Andrew Jones would object to the presence of any radical professors, regardless of their classroom behavior and regardless of any kind of ideological balance on campus.

Finally -- and I tend to prove myself a liar when I promise to be brief -- I'd be worried that taping at a massive campus like UCLA would lead to commercial note products, Cliff Notes for classes. And other sad and lazy behaviors. Among some other objections about voluntary versus compulsory notions of transparency. Something I'd be happy to do on my own will cause me to fight if I'm forced to do it at ideological gunpoint. It's reasonable for professors to guard the boundaries of their independence, even if they disagree about where those boundaries lie.

Annnnd so on, but it's later here than it is there. Good night.

Robert KC Johnson - 1/18/2006

I agree with Stephan Thernstrom, who found the tactics of this group distasteful; and with Ralph's comments below. I also agree with Chris that some of the "outside" activities for which this group criticized profs were worthy of support, not criticism. On the other hand, the "non-academic" writings of, say, Prof. Lal only increases my concern about what he does in the classroom, as seen from his syllabi.

That said: the reaction to this episode intrigues me. There have been credible allegations of bias raised against staffing positions in the academy for the last several years. The academy's response has, in general, been "trust us." That might be a persuasive argument in the average Faculty Senate; it's not in the average state legislature.

I read an interesting comment at IHE, which said that medical school lectures regularly are taped and made available after class, as a matter of standard academic practice. (I post my lecture notes on-line for all my classes, and always give those students who want it permission to tape.) I don't see why UCLA, or any other institution, should be unwilling to follow the medical school practice: lectures at a public university aren't secret. Such an approach would remove the distaste that has been associated with the idea of an outside group paying students to tape lectures, and would provide the state legislatures and taxpayers who fund public institutions of higher education with a better idea of what goes on in the classroom.

Christopher Newman - 1/18/2006

Rebecca, do you think it's *always* "dangerous and offensive" to concern ourselves with a professor's activities outside the classroom? Should Jacques Pluss still have the job and the radio show, then?

I'm really not trying to be a jerk about this, but it seems to me that one's reaction to the notion of censuring a professor's "outside activities" is at least partly dependent on one's not entirely objective evaluation of those outside activities.

Can we agree that there are *some* kinds of outside activities that deserve censure?

Rebecca Anne Goetz - 1/18/2006

Good idea, Chris. I've just been looking through Jones's "Professor Profiles" and he also targets professors' activities *outside* the classroom, such as being active in union politics or writing for non-scholarly publications. He doesn't just want to get professors *in* the classroom, he wants to censure their activities outside it as well. I personally can't think of anything more dangerous, or offensive.