Speech, monuments, and the legacy of silence

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.

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Institutionalizing Critical University Studies

One thing I’ve been keeping an eye on for a while is the slow institutionalization of a subfield of “Critical University Studies” (call it CUS). For those who may not have come across it, CUS is a sort of compromise category that brings together a diverse set of interdisciplinary research and criticism on higher education. Jeffrey Williams began publicizing the field qua field in a 2012 piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, where he noted, as I recall, that the name was modeled on “Critical Legal Studies.” CUS, by contrast, still lacks its own Wikipedia article (I leave that as an exercise to the reader), but I’ll just note for now that CUS brings together some very different political views about higher education, ranging from social democrats like Davydd Greenwood to revolutionaries like the Undercommoning project.

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Chris Newfield and Michael Meranze’s blog: Remaking the University

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:

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Making invisible actors visible in universities as organizations

From an organizational perspective, it seems to me our grasp of how universities work remains quite spotty.  We have a variety of studies of students of different kinds: multicultural, international, by gender, fraternity and sorority members, adult students, not every kind of student and experience but a good start.  We have a stack of work on professors both by professors and about professors.  We have portraits of senior administrators and their self-portraits and their picture of the faculty and students and we have some work on admissions and “enrollment management” staff.  But universities and colleges do not operate simply by faculty teaching, students studying, and administrators “administering”.

There are all sorts of relatively invisible roles, however, that make these organizations possible and they matter a great deal to the functions and sustainability of the institutions.  Groundskeepers, maids, food service personnel, accountants and budget officers, human resource officers, buildings and properties managers, dining staff, alumni affairs staff, public relations staff, and so on are all part of the organizational structure.  They are diverse, ranging educationally and economically from the bottom and operating within a narrow organizational span to relatively well paid people with a broad span of responsibilities.

My point arises from my observations on my own campus over the years.  In every one of these categories, there are people who actively contribute to either the academic mission of the institution or to the quality of life makes it a better place to work than it would be otherwise.  In every one of these categories, I have found people who support the learning/teaching mission of universities and people who don’t.  I have seen two different people in a relatively high staff position with similar education and compensation, play their roles very differently. The actions of one undercut the organization in an authoritarian and self-interested way and the other helped make up for a variety of defective processes and structural linkages in a way that made the organization effective and more efficient.

I think positive staff contributors, often unrewarded and disregarded, should be represented in our ethnographic work.  They are part of the conditions of possibility of the institution, not mere “staff” to be hired and fired at will or to be outsourced without consequence.  By not making their roles visible and showing some of the ways they play their role, we allow senior administrators, faculty, and students to think that only they “are” the “university”.  Let’s help broaden the view.

Critical questions on Trump and higher education

This is an introduction to a series of critical analyses of Donald Trump’s impact on higher education.

The intense instability of the U.S. political situation in the days since Trump’s inauguration makes it hard for any of us to know the future or even the present. Nevertheless, the ascension of the Trump administration — a possible misnomer, admittedly, since “administering” is a plainly inadequate label for their praxis — forces us to think reflexively about our situation as academics and as denizens of the U.S. academy. What, then, is the impact of Trump on higher education? What has it been already? What will it continue to be?

Some initial elements of the situation are already becoming clear. Trump’s election sparked a wave of racist incidents across U.S. campuses, particularly by (invariably male) white nationalists, with swastikas painted on campus buildings, Muslim women choked or grabbed by the hijab, and threats of “tarring and feathering.” Scholarly research is being affected across the disciplines, as the EPA freezes and then unfreezes grants for environmental research, while humanities and the arts are targeted by threats to abolish the NEA and NEH. The currently-contested immigration ban on Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen affects more than 17,000 international students, and has led visiting speakers to avoid visiting the country: “I simply do not have the stomach to deal with being held and interrogated for hours after a transatlantic flight only to be refused entry based on directives imposed by a government where neo-Nazis are pulling the strings,” one wrote. Other scholars are proposing boycotts of U.S. academic conferences.

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