Eli asked me to review one of the major books on the history of the social sciences in the United States, Mary Furner’s Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science, 1865-1905. The book was originally published by the University of Kentucky Press in 1975 and a new edition with a long and interesting preface was published by Transaction Publishers in 2011. The current edition was published by Routledge in 2017 and there is a Kindle edition. Since the Kindle edition is what I used, all quotes will be to Kindle locations rather than page numbers.
Why bother with a 43 year-old book by an American historian in a blog on the ethnography of academia? For one thing, the level of ethnographic and behavioral detail Furner is a nuanced tour de force. Despite its compelling qualities, the book completely fails to capture the issues uniquely affecting American anthropology and therefore sets us a task that has yet to be addressed. The book remains, however, the most detailed and sustained treatment of the passage from political economy as a combined analytical/social reform effort to a set of academic disciplines called the social sciences that have mostly abandoned social reform and even abandoned the discussion of social reform issues in anything but veiled terms. The cases of the rebels she so vividly documents, and the controversies they created and how they were settled, rewards a close reading for the clues they provide to the present passive, defensive, and inert postures of most of the non-STEM fields.
Continue reading Furner, “Advocacy and Objectivity: A Crisis in the Professionalization of American Social Science, 1865-1905”
Today’s Chronicle of Higher Education had an unusually detailed article on the Columbia self study of student sexual behavior. For those with access to the Chronicle, see https://www.chronicle.com/article/The-Sex-Study-That-Could-Alter/242484. Various attempts to attach this here as a pdf failed. Sorry.
Aside from the politics of research which are fraught, the study is interesting both in content and also for the contrast and comments made by Elizabeth Armstrong, whose work I greatly admire. After reading this and thinking for a moment, I am amazed that anyone is surprised at what is happening. We herd together 18-21 year olds without parental supervision and with some spending money in intimate environment in which liquor and drugs are easily available and then say we are surprised when, in addition to liquor and drugs, they do “that”. Are we as foolish as we seem to be? Are we willing to change campuses to the point necessary to change this social environment? I doubt it.
For those who have not seen it, this piece from Inside Higher Education on the personal and professional consequences of “precarious” is unflinching in showing the costs of the neoliberal university in both personal and professional terms. https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2018/02/13/historians-quit-lit-essay-rejects-notion-leaving-higher-ed-equals-personal-failure
I particularly like the call for those who made it to tenure to reflect on this. My own career, despite all the hard work, was significantly built on chronological luck of entering the professoriate when it was a possible vocation and not a fee-for-service job overseen by armies of non-academics. What obligations do the tenured now have to the “wreckage”? If there is an obligation, how is it to be met?
Cris Shore is mentioned in an article in Inside Higher Education on a session of the AAA meetings on teaching anthropology in a “red state” in the US. Hardly surprising that a pro-evolution, anti-racist, anti-sexist field would attract the ire of many. I wonder if others in this group were present and have any reflections to share about this session or if Cris wants to elaborate?
Chronicle of higher education on student roles in course evaluation
This Chronicle of Higher Education story is both welcome and disturbing. It is welcome because it credits students being intelligent enough to evaluate constructively what and how they are learning in classes. So far so good. But the rather breathless tone of this essay ignores the fact that the Tayloristic premises of higher education institutions as organizations has primarily created students as passive consumers of “education” rather than active partners in a process. This reveals the native Fordist model that dominates and its associated “banking model”.
Continue reading Students as course evaluators
Davydd Greenwood sends in a second response to Eli Thorkelson’s recent comments on Creating a New Public University and Reviving Democracy.
We are grateful for a review that invites a dialogue and we hope these topics will be discussed more broadly and from additional perspectives. Eli has been an important partner in this work ever since his undergraduate years and will continue to be long after we are gone.
Continue reading A Response from Davydd Greenwood
I am writing to bring the work of Daniel Kontowski and his colleagues to your attention. I met Daniel when we participated in Susan Wright’s “Universities in the Knowledge Economy” EU project and I became very interested in his doctoral work at the University of Winchester. He has a diverse set of projects focused on the emergence and evaluation of liberal arts education in Europe. It was, frankly, the first I knew of this movement having arrogantly assumed that the liberal arts college is a US institution.
Continue reading Daniel Kontowski, Liberal arts colleges and the liberal arts movement in Europe
While there is an extensive literature on campus speech codes and their increasingly coercive impact (see for example Greg Lukianoff, Freedom from Speech) on classroom behavior by faculty and students, private conversations, and the selection or dis-invitation of controversial campus speakers, the analysis has tended to focus on the politics of speech and freedom of speech and not on why speech has become so dangerous and controlled. The current controversies over Confederate monuments and their consequences seems linked to this in various ways. I have nothing of particular interest to say about these topics directly.
Continue reading Speech, monuments, and the legacy of silence
A brief commentary on:
“The New Political Economy of Higher Education”, Special Issue of the journal Higher Education, Editors: Johannes Angermuller, Jens Maesse, Tilman Reitz, Tobias Schulze-Cleven, Higher Education, Volume 73, Issue 6, June 2017. https://link.springer.com/journal/10734/73/6/page/1
Eli Thorkelson put me on to this special issue of the journal Higher Education. I confess I had not seen it and that I was pleasantly surprised to see the robust theoretical and empirical work coming from a group of scholars who I was unaware of. Since I read as much as I can on US and European higher education (in English and Spanish), the fact that I was unaware of this network of researchers suggests that others might gain as much as I have from learning about their work.
Continue reading Commentary on “The New Political Economy of Higher Education”
For those not familiar with it, this blog, though it focuses on the University of California system, frequently airs issues and analyses that are of broad interest to anyone interested in university reform. In addition to the perspectives offered and the detailed, even meticulous analysis of policies and practices in the University of California system, one of the unique features is their willingness to engage university policies and finances head-on and in detail. As we know from the work of Susan Wright, Andrew McGettigan, Walter MacMahon, Cris Shore, and a few others, subjecting the policies and numbers to critical analyses and alternative formulations is hard work but is effective in calling academic administrators and policymakers “to account”. Enough accountability raining down on us. It is time to push accountability upward.
The blog entry page is http://utotherescue.blogspot.com/. Here is the most recent example:
Continue reading Chris Newfield and Michael Meranze’s blog: Remaking the University