“Yik Yak catches flack form Mich. universities”

From The Detroit News comes “Yik Yak catches flack form Mich. universities,” which, as the headline suggests, is more about, well, Yik Yak and flack.  It more or less rehashes the same arguments about Yik Yak that have already been trotted out, though I will highlight two passages I thought were kind of interesting. First there’s this:

Laura Krench, a junior at Eastern Michigan University, is a huge fan of Yik Yak. She downloaded the app onto her phone about a month ago and checks it about every 20 minutes throughout the day.

Recently, she commented on a yak from someone who posted that they had stopped cutting themselves for almost six months but had cut themselves three days in a row.

“If you feel like cutting, write about it, cry about it,” Krench wrote. “Find an alternative because hurting yourself is not the solution. I’ve been there and I believe in you. You can quit again, you truly can.”

I have to say that I’ve seen a lot of Yaks along these lines– maybe not quite this extreme, but Yaks that anonymously express some kind of loneliness, depression, etc. There are obvious problems with the anonymity of Yik Yak, but I’d suggest that a) Yik Yak becomes a safe space to express these kinds of thoughts, and b) Yik Yak is used a lot more for this kind of thing than it is for harassing professors.

The other passage I wanted to highlight from the end of the piece takes a bit of set-up. In the opening paragraphs, the reporter– Kim Kozlowski–  makes reference to Plato’s (aka Socrates’) low opinion of anonymity generally. I don’t know the dialog specifically where Plato talks about this, but given the high value Plato/Socrates places on the exchange between Socrates and others as a means of arriving at “Truth,” this makes a certain amount of sense. Then Kozolowski quotes EMU Professor Margaret Crouch about how the infamous Yik Yak incident made it impossible for her to teach because “they (the students, that is) did not respect us.” That leads to these concluding paragraphs:

Crouch said students need to be held accountable for violating the student code of conduct, especially in a world that continues to be changed by technology. Already the Internet has created distance between people who use it more often to communicate than face to face, and sometimes to hide as trolls on blogs.

Social media apps that allow anonymity change things even more, leaving no social sanctions — exactly what Plato was talking about centuries ago, Crouch said.

“The kind of behavior we think of as ethical or even just decent is kept in place by social sanction — by other people,” Crouch said. “There will be people who will do bad things if they don’t have the social coercion to behave. … So the idea that people will behave badly if they have anonymity has been around a long time. It’s not anything new.”

A couple of quick thoughts. First, without going too far into the weeds with this, what Crouch is talking about in terms of communication technologies like the Internet is more or less what my dissertation was about. What I argued way back then was that these technologies create what I described as “immediate” rhetorical situations, where the term “immediacy” has both positive and negative connotations. On the one hand, the quickness and juxtaposition of “immediacy” can be confusing and chaotic because of a lack of perspective, reflection, etc. On the other hand, immediacy also breaks down barriers, and it can foster connectedness and intimacy between communicators over a great distance. Or to be more direct about it, while the internet and anonymous communication is not universally good, it’s obviously not universally bad either.

Second, I’m not so sure about the “social coercion” to make students “behave” squares with students “respecting” their teachers. I’m not sure the two are related, and I’m quite sure that “coercion” is a bad way to get “respect.” We’ve all been in situations as students or other kinds of listeners where we “behaved” but where we also had zero respect for the teachers/speaker. So I guess I’m questioning the point where “respect” broke down, and I also am of the opinion that “coercion” is not a great approach to teaching.

And third, as Crouch says, this is nothing new, which is again why I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to ban Yik Yak.

Today is National Adjunct Walkout Day

Today is the grassroots/social media organized National Adjunct Walkout Day, as noted here, on the AAUP web site. The plight of adjuncts is all over the internets, but just one example here from Vitae, “The Adjunct Crisis is Everyone’s Problem.”

Of course, since EMU is on break this week, adjuncts don’t really have to make the personal decision about actually “walking out” of their classes or not (and the same goes for lecturers and faculty, too). Regardless, I have tremendously mixed feelings about all this.

On the one hand, I think that higher education’s reliance on part-time labor is (and has been for a long long time) a huge problem and one that is in terms of actual income clearly getting worse. I taught part-time for a few years back in the early 1990s, and I think part-timers are getting paid about the same now as I was getting paid way back when. I think higher education has something akin to an addiction to cheap teachers, especially when it comes to general education and labor-intensive courses like first year writing.

On the other hand, I don’t know if you can call something a “crisis” that has been (sadly) the status quo for over twenty years– at least in my field. Which brings me to the other issue, the other half of the addiction issue. The reason why universities continue to hire a lot of part-time teachers is because there is an abundant supply of them who are willing to take these jobs. So yes, universities need to start thinking more creatively and proactively about the adjunct problem, but degree programs that produce a high percentage of graduate students who will end up as adjuncts need to think about what they’re doing as well. And would-be graduate students and adjuncts also need to know what they are getting themselves into.

One more thing: in “celebration”/recognition of National Adjunct Walkout Day, I thought I’d share this, the movie Con Job: Stories of Adjunct & Contingent Labor:

What I’ve embedded here is actually an introduction; the movie itself is about 50 minutes long. I blogged about this last year on stevendkrause.com here, and as I said there (in much more detail), I found the movie simultaneously well-done and inspiring and infuriating.

 

Firing a tenured professor for blogging: The case of John McAdams at Marquette

Kind of in the same general theme of the Steven Salaita controversy at the University of Illinois comes the case of John McAdams at Marquette University. Here’s a link to an Inside Higher Ed article from last week, “Firing a Faculty Blogger,” and here’s a link to McAdams blog, “Marquette Warrior.” This story has a lot of twists and turns and nuances that I do not have the time or interest to really understand in detail. But I think this long quote from that IHE piece kind of sums up the basic issue:

In November, McAdams, an associate professor of political science, wrote a blog post accusing a teaching assistant in philosophy of shutting down a classroom conversation on gay marriage based on her own political beliefs. His account was based on a recording secretly made by a disgruntled student who wished that the instructor, Cheryl Abbate, had spent more time in class one day on the topic of gay marriage, which the student opposed. McAdams said Abbate, in not allowing a prolonged conversation about gay marriage, was “using a tactic typical among liberals,” in which opinions they disagree with “are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.”

Abbate said McAdams had distorted her actions — and that she wasn’t trying to shut down an argument she disagreed with, but simply had wanted to keep a focus on an in-class conversation about the philosopher John Rawls’s equal liberty principle. But conservative blogs spread McAdams’s take on the situation — and she found herself receiving a flood of hateful e-mail messages, some of them threatening.

McAdams on Wednesday posted a letter he received from his dean, Richard C. Holz, in which Holz told McAdams the university was starting the firing process.

“Tenure and academic freedom carry not only great privileges but also vital responsibilities and obligations,” Holz wrote. “In order to endure, a scholar-teacher’s academic freedom must be grounded on competence and integrity, including accuracy ‘at all times,’ a respect for others’ opinions, and the exercise of appropriate restraint. Without adherence to these standards, those such as yourself invested with tenure’s power can carelessly and arrogantly intimidate and silence the less-powerful and then raise the shields of academic freedom and free expression against all attempts to stop such abuse.”

Jeez.

First off, I think McAdams sounds like a real cranky piece of work. I haven’t studied this case in any great detail, but a) I have no idea why he felt compelled to write about some GA’s class discussion that went wrong in some way (as far as I can tell, McAdams has zero connection with Abbate), b) it seems pretty irresponsible and jerky to “out” a GA like that in his post, and c) the “facts” of what actually happened in Abbate’s class with this discussion about gay marriage isn’t apparently quite as clear as McAdams might be suggesting.

But as the IHE piece suggests, McAdams’ cause has been picked up by the right-wing blogosphere. So one conservative and alert EMUTalk reader sent me this link from reason.com with this pull-no-punches headline, “Marquette University Trying to Fire Prof for Criticizing Pro-Gay Instructor.”

The AAUP has also come out in support of McAdams. There was this AAUP letter of support for McAdams to Marquette, and  this post at The Academe Blog, “Marquette to Fire John McAdams for His Blog.” Here’s a quote from this piece that post I find especially interesting:

According to the letter [from Holz], McAdams is being fired because “your inaccurate, misleading and superficial Internet story lacked any measure of the due diligence we expect from beginning students.”

While there is some reason to question Holz’s critique (as McAdams does on his blog), none of that debate is relevant to the attempt to fire McAdams. Abbate was not a student of McAdams, and he was under no obligation to choose more private criticism of her teaching methods. Nor did McAdams have any obligation to contact everyone involved for comment before writing a blog post.

One can conclude that McAdams is a terrible journalist, and a terrible person, and that changes nothing about the threat of academic freedom created by this dismissal, and the lack of any basis for it under Marquette’s policies.

McAdams’ blog is a classic example of extramural utterances. McAdams’ blog is not part of his teaching or his research. It is an expression of his own opinions.

And the rest of this post goes on to explain the different ways that the AAUP thinks that Holz has distorted the AAUP’s statements on tenure and academic freedom and the like.

Anyway, two thoughts from me. First, I agree with the AAUP (and I guess the right-wingers too) that MacAdams shouldn’t be fired for this, though I have to say that I agree with that somewhat reluctantly. The problem for me here is not McAdams status as a potentially “terrible journalist, and a terrible person,” though it is frustrating how supporting free speech/the protections of tenure always comes down to supporting jerks– McAdams, Salaita, etc. No, the problem for me here is McAdams’ making public some kind of dispute that happened in class he had nothing to do with that was being taught by a graduate assistant, who (by definition) is not as empowered or as protected by tenure. So no, Abbate was not a direct underling of McAdams, but he’s clearly more empowered (and powerful) than her. It’s kind of like one of the big kids on the playground (McAdams) picking on one of the little kids (Abbate). That’s just not cool.

Second, I am once again left to wonder about the protections of tenure relative to a professor’s “extramural utterances.” I mean, this case seems in some ways a little less “extramural” than the case of Salaita. In that case, Salaita was expressing some pretty extremist political views about Israel; but here, McAdams is talking about a teacher and a course at Marquette, which doesn’t seem to me to be “extramural” at all. Needless to say, I’m interested in this fuzzy line in definitions of roles with a space like EMUTalk, which I believe is a “hobby” that has nothing to do with my day job but which also is almost entirely about the place where I work and the kind of work I do as an academic.

 

“Sponsored Research Shows Significant Growth at EMU”

I’m not completely sure what this means, but I think it’s generally good news: “Sponsored research shows significant increase at Eastern Michigan University.” Here’s a quote:

Funded research for the six-month period ending December 2014, is $7.38 million, reports Jeffrey Kentor, associate provost and associate vice president for graduate studies and research at Eastern. This represents a growth of more than 50 percent over the prior six-month period.

“This is exceptional growth, which reflects a heightened emphasis on research at EMU” Kentor said. “This includes expansion of the Office of Research Development and Administration (ORDA) with new staff in the pre-award and post-award areas, and a new director of technology transfer. ORDA is now a one-stop shop to support faculty in all aspects of grant development and management.

So I think this means that EMU has been more successful recently in securing grant money for research, which is a good thing. I’ve just never heard the term “sponsored research” before; though that might be because I don’t really do work like that, so….

“I Am Not Charlie Hebdo” (or am I?)

While scanning through the book of face this morning, I came across a New York Times Op-Ed column by David Brooks titled “I am Not Charlie Hebdo” I thought I’d link to/share here. It’s kind of a weird piece and I’m not sure what to make of it.

Let me quote from the first couple paragraphs, which are the most confusing part for me:

The journalists at Charlie Hebdo are now rightly being celebrated as martyrs on behalf of freedom of expression, but let’s face it: If they had tried to publish their satirical newspaper on any American university campus over the last two decades it wouldn’t have lasted 30 seconds. Student and faculty groups would have accused them of hate speech. The administration would have cut financing and shut them down.

Public reaction to the attack in Paris has revealed that there are a lot of people who are quick to lionize those who offend the views of Islamist terrorists in France but who are a lot less tolerant toward those who offend their own views at home.

Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.

Americans may laud Charlie Hebdo for being brave enough to publish cartoons ridiculing the Prophet Muhammad, but, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali is invited to campus, there are often calls to deny her a podium.

First off, let’s be clear that there is an enormous difference between all of the examples that Brooks cites here and killing people in their offices. The idea that he is making a comparison at all strikes me as both downplaying the terrorism and exaggerating the on-campus examples. The fact is  censoring a student newspaper (which I would agree is wrong) is simply not at all “like” killing people.

Second, context matters a great deal here. There’s a difference between all of the things that Brooks mentions happening on a college campus versus not. So yeah, the University of Illinois might have “fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality” (though I am quite certain that there’s more to the story about whatever he’s referencing here), but it’s not as if that speech is shut down entirely– probably not at the Catholic student center at UI, for example.

This all seems to circle around the bad logic of “Political Correctness,” which, as far as I can tell, is always in the eye of the beholder.  One person’s “ideologue who must be silenced” is another person’s “voice of freedom and reason.” I don’t disagree that college campus discussions often get skewed by different views, and sometimes the effort to protect people/censor people in the name of decorum or fairness or whatever goes too far. But using this particular French situation as an example of how speech codes in the U.S. have run amok go too far.

“A Mixed Report on Salaita Controversy”

From Inside Higher Ed comes “A Mixed Report on Salaita Controversy.” Here’s a quote from the first few paragraphs:

The University of Illinois violated key principles of shared governance and academic freedom in its review — and rejection — of the hiring of Steven G. Salaita, a faculty panel has found. The faculty panel’s report, released in December was particularly critical of the use of civility as a standard in making hiring decisions. But the panel also found that there may have been legitimate reasons to reject Salaita’s appointment with tenure to the faculty of the American Indian studies department at the Urbana-Champaign campus.

The university’s August decision not to hire Salaita — just weeks before he and his would-be faculty colleagues thought he would start teaching in the fall semester — set off a huge national debate over academic freedom, civility and the role of trustees and administrators in reviewing hiring and tenure decisions.

The university acted in response to a series of comments on Twitter that Salaita made about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — tweets that were harshly critical of Israel’s government and supporters. Salaita’s defenders have said he was punished for political speech — and that denying him a job was a violation of academic freedom. His critics have said that the tone of his comments suggested a lack of civility and tolerance for other ideas that raised real questions about whether he would be a good colleague.

Based on this summary, it seems like this is a report I would probably mostly agree with. Interestingly enough (or maybe not surprising, really), Cary Nelson is again quoted. He thinks that the faculty report gets it wrong, and he also seems to go a step further in saying that Salaita should have never been offered a job specifically because of his scholarship. Here’s the last paragraph from the article, which is a quote from Cary:

“I also believe a standard of professional care applied to his comments on social media because they were in the exact area of his research. In the course of his six books, one paired subject — the plight of Palestinians and the actions of a Jewish state Salaita regards as an example of European settler colonialism — is at the center of everything he writes. The tweets merely condense and dramatize the views expressed in his books. My own reading of those books persuades me Salaita did not exercise appropriate professional care in them either. His standards for evaluating evidence and accounting for the work of other scholars are unsatisfactory.”

I haven’t read Salaita’s work, and even though I have a little more free time right now, I’m unlikely to read it anytime soon. But this seems to be a pretty bold claim to me, one that seems at odds with someone who has so vocally defended academic free speech in his previous life and someone who I saw spoke on campus recently and who I wanted to ask some questions.

 

More EAA news for today’s BoR meeting

The Detroit News is reporting “EMU board could cut ties to Michigan’s EAA.” Here’s a quote:

At a meeting Friday afternoon, the EMU Board of Regents will consider whether to sever its relationship with the EAA — set up by Snyder in 2011 to turn around the academic performance of students in the state’s lowest performing schools to prepare them for the workforce and global competition.

But the initiative has been controversial. EMU students, faculty and staff, along with faculty from other universities and Detroit educators, are expected to be out in force, demonstrating before the 1:30 p.m. meeting.

It is the last meeting of the year, and regents must give notice by Dec. 30 if they intend to withdraw from the interlocal agreement, according to the contract.

Steve Wellinski, an EMU associate education professor and leader among those demanding that the university end its partnership with the EAA, said he’s confident the regents will exit the contract.

 

Fingers crossed that Steve is right!

Tomorrow’s BoR and the EAA show-down

Well, it’s all come down to this: Friday the EMU Board of Regents is meeting (I assume the last meeting of the term?) and clearly one of the top agenda items for this meeting is undoubtedly going to be EMU’s ongoing relationship with the Education Assistance Authority.

It’s certain this is going to be on the agenda, and all the signals so far have been that EMU is going to find a way out of the EAA. Steve Wellinski, an EMUTalk fan and faculty member who has been working hard to get EMU out of the EAA, sent me this link from Detroit’s metrotimes, “EMU considers ending its association with the EAA.” Here’s a quote from later in the article:

If EMU’s Board of Regents decides to withdraw from the inter-local agreement at its upcoming meeting, the school’s relationship with the EAA will remain intact until June 2015. That allows time for a new entity – another state university, for example, or some other unit of government – to step into the void and allow the EAA to stay in business.

According to Steve Wellinski, an associate professor in EMU’s Education Department and the person who launched the petition drive, the Board of Regents could also attempt to immediately withdraw from the agreement if it determines the EAA has, in essence, voided the contract. Failure on the part of the EAA to follow the law regarding treatment of special education students, for example, would be grounds for EMU to pull out immediately, Wellinski contended. He said he plans to raise that issue with the regents during this week’s meeting.

This is the approach I’d favor, personally. It sounds like EMU was kind of forced into this, that there was a hint at favors from the state that never came, and I think the wise move (as James Stapleton implied in the recording featured in this post) would be for EMU to get out while the “gettin'” is good. But according to this article, another possibility is for EMU to get even more involved with the EAA:

“One of the many changes that Chancellor Conforme envisions is in the EAA’s relationship with the Eastern Michigan University community,” noted [EAA spokesperson Mario] Morrow. “Over the past few months, she has been listening to parents, principals, teachers, students, and community leaders about what improvements the EAA needs to make. She firmly believes that dialogue must extend to EMU’s educators, administrators, and students, and she intends to make that happen in the months to come.

“The EAA’s goal is to provide our children with the best education possible, regardless of their economic circumstances. We know that is the goal of Eastern Michigan University as well. It is critical that we reach that goal together for the sake of our students.”

Oh, hell no. The first rule is if when you find yourself deep in a hole is to stop digging.

There’s more about all of this at electablog, “ACTION/EVENT: Join EMU faculty, students, & alumni in their continued fight against EAA partnership.” And if there is info to share from or about tomorrow’s BoR meeting, be sure to pass it along.

Two bits of EAA note

First off, I heard via a loyal EMUTalk reader that the EMU Student Senate passed a resolution where “Urge the EMU Regents to Sever Ties with the EAA.” A quote from (I think?) a press release:

This evening the EMU Student Senate voted in favor of a resolution (#101-004) to “strongly urge” the Regents to terminate the contract that created the EAA. The Senators heard from Guest Speaker Steven Camron and deliberated President Desmond Miller’s draft resolution. The focus of the resolution was on the negative impact this affiliation has had on students, the graduates and faculty at the College of Education, and the University at large.

Here’s a link to the PDF of the actual resolution with all of its “whereas”-s and such.

Second, I heard that this afternoon, the Michigan Public Radio show “Stateside” is going to be doing a show about the EAA. I don’t know a whole lot more about it than just that, but it might be interesting. It’s on at 3:00 PM and rebroadcast at 10:00 PM.

What I wanted to ask Cary Nelson last night

Dang it! Just as I saw an opening for my question to Cary Nelson about his support of the unhiring of Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois, the night was over. I guess I could have hung around for the reception afterwards and tried to talk to him, but it was getting late and I felt like it would have looked like I was confronting the guy over juice and cookies.

Oh well. I guess I’ll ask it here and see what happens. But first a recap:

Cary Nelson came to campus last night to give a talk, “Bait and Switch: The Purpose of the Movement to Boycott Israel,” which was about his take on the efforts of some academic organizations to boycott, financially divest, and otherwise sanction Israel– the “BDS” movement. The crowd was mostly a friendly group, though there was a “boycott Israel” contingent up front. I snapped this picture that pretty much captured the spirit of the protest:

Nelson-Protest

That woman stood there quietly for almost the whole 45 minutes or so Nelson talked. Then she asked the first question during the Q&A (though it wasn’t really a question so much as it was a sort of disjointed rant) and she left. But I digress.

Nelson started by saying that he was going to not stoop to emotional arguments about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and he then outlined in broad terms his position (in short, a two state solution where the Israelis are going to have to give up on some settlements and territory, where there is international support to the Palestinians since people who are making decent livings are a whole lot less motivated to bomb people, etc.) before moving to what he thought was wrong specifically with BDS.  Though as Nelson went on, he did get more emotionally caught up, his language became a bit less disciplined, and a lot of his criticism was pointed very specifically at two of the more active/outspoken academics in favor of BDS, Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti.  At one point he said “I would never say this in print, but I think [Judith] Butler is a lunatic.”

Still, Nelson’s overall take on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems pretty reasonable and pragmatic to me, and he was persuasive about the problems with BDS. Though to be fair, I haven’t studied the BDS position and I certainly haven’t studied the specifics of the Butler et al side of the argument. It would have been a different event, but it would have been interesting if there was someone there representing the BDS folks so this was more of a debate. And while I haven’t always agreed with Butler, I don’t think it helps Nelson’s credibility to describe her as a lunatic.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: my personal views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are very Milquetoast (“can’t we all just get along?”) and I have a enough imagination to have sympathies with both the Israelis and Palestinians in the region. But I’m not comfortable going a whole lot further than that because I don’t have a cultural/social/ethnic/religious dog in this fight (so to speak) as white agnostic on a good day/atheist on a bad day American of European descent, and also because this has become an incredibly polarizing “third rail” among academics. I have friends and colleagues around the country who feel very strongly one way or the other on BDS, and I’d just as soon not alienate and/or piss off either group.

Anyway, the question and answer time came and Nelson was more than game for some conflict and tough questions. He seemed to be encouraging it in a way I recognize among academics (including myself), basically saying “hey, let’s have an argument, it’ll be fun!” And just when I saw an opening to raise my hand, it was done. Dang it.

So if I could have asked a question, it would have been something like this:

“Just to change the topic a bit, I want to ask you about your stance on the unhiring of Steven Salaita from the University of Illinois. Because I have to tell you, given what you’ve said and demonstrated here about the importance of engaging and debating people who hold opposing views like the folks down front who are in the “boycott Israel” camp, and also given what you’ve said in the past about academic freedom, I have to say your strong support for the Illinois administration’s move to stop Salaita from being hired into a tenured position seem strange. You’re clearly encouraging free and open debate here on the question of BDS, but not when it comes to hiring faculty with different views.

“So I guess this prompts for me several questions:

  • “You have said before that if Salaita had sent his various offensive tweets after he had been hired into his tenured position, then he would have kept his job because he would have been exercising his right as a tenured professor to academic free speech. Let’s set aside the question of whether or not Salaita was actually hired or not because I think that’s something the courts are ultimately going to decide. What is the “magic” about the tenure switch? What is it where one minute, anything a non-tenured academic says can be held against them, but the next minute, once the tenure switch is flicked, anything goes?
  • “Are there any logical limits to academic free speech? That is, is there anything a tenured professor might say that could cause them his or her job?
  • “Shouldn’t non-tenured members of the academic community be afforded at least some level of protection? After all, non-tenure-track faculty are steadily increasing in numbers and it seems problematic to me that we don’t extend any sort of academic free speech to them.
  • “What’s the role of things like social media and other non-official channels and academic free speech? I’m personally very concerned about this because I have a pretty extensive presence online (this blog, my own blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), and I think it’d be very problematic if something I wrote in one of these “unofficial” spaces was used against me in my job. As an academic, am I not allowed the chance to express myself on Twitter without it potentially coming back to haunt me in my day job?”

I’m not expecting Nelson to answer any of these questions, but hey, who knows? Maybe someone else who was there can offer their thoughts?