The current issue of The Chronicle has an illuminating piece by Elayne Clift, an adjunct professor who has taught at several colleges in New England. She writes about the sense of entitlement she finds among her students, leading to complaints about her for demanding too much and outright rudeness from some. "A sense of entitlement now pervades the academy, excellence be damned," she writes. Thinking back on my own experience, she's right. Depressingly right. If you have the paper version, just below Prof. Clift's piece is a letter from Robert Neuman, formerly associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Marquette University. He writes about the sorry decline of educational standards in K-12, commenting, "Instead of trying to increase their knowledge and refine their learning skills year to year, they simply 'glide' from one year to the next without effort." Right again. That's the logical result of having turned education over to government bureaucracy. Without any rewards for excellence, most teachers take the path of least resistance and students gladly go along.
I'd like to share with you my post at American Culture on Christopher Hill's novel. I'm sorry to say I didn't know about this novel until I visited the Alexander Hamilton Institute last summer. Fortunately, I was driving, so I could load up my trunk with books from the bookstore. Hill's novel was one of the gems.
Former student “Lamar” transferred to a University of California campus this semester and was surprised to find himself ordered to attend two mandatory “workshops,” one on alcohol abuse and the other on sexual assault. “Lamar,” an adult in his 30s, Iraq War veteran, and parent, bridled at the paternalism/maternalism. “State law,” explained the school, referring him to AB 1088 (a compilation of cooked data, murky definitions, and propaganda which does not mandate "workshops").
What next?” asked “Lamar.” “An anti-tobacco workshop, a recycling workshop, an obesity workshop, a vegetarianism workshop? Already PETA made the college dining halls start a `Meatless Monday.’”
It may come to that. One neighboring community college just took an institutional position condemning the immigration law in another state. Apparently, embedding the progressive agenda in textbooks and curriculum is not enough in our postmodern world. Walter Truett Anderson says, “In education, postmodernism rejects the notion that the purpose of education is primarily to train a child’s cognitive capacity for reason . . . . [Instead, postmodern education] is to take an essentially indeterminate being and give it a social identity.” Mandatory workshops, it seems, are intended to bring that “indeterminate being” into conformance with “the campus culture” and “principles of community.” The sign on this clubhouse reads “No Unprogressives Allowed.” Just yesterday, “Jennifer” came to me desperate to get out of her Women’s History class. “I admit, I thought it would be an easy A,” she said, “but I also wanted to learn about the Enlightenment, and all I heard was how the Enlightenment oppressed women. Help!” Sorry, “Lamar” and “Jennifer;” you might have thought it died with the millennium but the baleful Political Correctness Zombie still stalks the halls of academe.
You may have thought - or wished - that American colleges and universities had finally exhausted the outer reaches of "diversity" on their campuses. Really, there's simply GOT to be a finite limit to this thing, and we really will run out of special categories, special programs, special courses, special campus codes and relentless micromanagement by administrators, hiring committees and dormitory resident heads seeing that students and faculty members are sufficiently serious about "diversity." Well, if that's what you thought, brace yourself: according to this piece in today's Chronicle of Higher Education, a new, significantly expanded version of "diversity" is about to arrive on campus, with lots of new student classifications and obligations to accomodate them. And here's a surprise: this also means vastly greater possibilities for antidiscrimination litigation as well. Take students with various physical or learning disabilities, for example: they're accustomed to all kinds of accomodations, whether in the use of guide dogs or the constant availability of special education teachers during their K-12 years that aren't currently provided in most college programs. If all of they're accustomed to receiving these services at the secondary level, then why can't colleges and universities do likewise? There may be nothing wrong providing such accomodations, of course, but it's not immediately obvious how they're related to the idea of "diversity." This is in addition, of course, to the endlessly proliferating categories of ethnic racial and sexual categories which will have to be recognized and accomodated. If you've been troubled by the imperial march of "diversity" up to now, this is not going to make for very edifying reading. Simillar to The Blob, it expands endlessly. The comments thread, though, suggests that a number of readers have finally reached their limits and are willing to say so. Hopefully, they'll speak up at faculty meetings as well.
Since the NAS report on summer reading, “Beach Books,” U.C. Berkeley has announced its own summer reading recommendations. The theme is “Education Matters” and, not surprisingly, multicultural “social justice” predominates. Happily, Benjamin Franklin and The Education of Henry Adams are included. There is also No Right to Remain Silent: The Tragedy at Virginia Tech by Lucinda Roy. As Chair of the English Department, Roy tutored Seung-Hui Cho in poetry after he was ejected from a course for terrifying classmates. Post-tutoring, Cho proceeded to murder 32 other human beings before killing himself. Roy argues that VaTech did not adequately address Cho’s disabilities and alleges multiple institutional failures. I would argue that VaTech also failed to help students and teachers protect themselves. My friend the Philosophy professor enjoys alarming his students by telling them “Professor Clemens says that a gun society is a polite society.” Well, yes. Gun shows are the most decorous events imaginable because you never know who’s packing. As Webster’s NRA Dictionary says, “democracy” is two wolves fighting over a lamb; “liberty” is an armed lamb. Call me perverse but I do enjoy that mine is the only car in the faculty lot with the decals “Wild Alaska,” “NRA Supports Our Troops,” and “Armed With Pride.” It's particularly amusing when I park next to the Volvo whose bumper sticker reads “The Goddess Is Alive and Magic Is Afoot.” Magic and the Goddess notwithstanding, I wish that more responsible teachers were armed. I have an in-law who teaches at Virginia Tech; he heard the gunfire. A local student brought an automatic weapon to acting class; one teacher’s office is regularly trespassed at night (hopefully only by amorous custodians). At one Cow Palace gun show, I bought MACE and a billy club for my division’s office staff. Diminutive Rosa is alone in the evening; more than once she has had to face deranged, medicated, or otherwise menacing students. Rosa is a tough cookie, straight outta Compton (wore a bullet-proof vest to high school), but even she gets rattled. Better if she had training, a concealed carry permit, and a Beretta. All campus personnel should at least handle guns so that they are not afraid of them. To the gentle and nonviolent, this no doubt sounds like macho posturing but I grew up shooting, BB gun to 30.06 and .303, Enfield to M-1 carbine, Ruger .22 to S&W .357 magnum. I always carry a Kershaw Blur, but I’d like to be better equipped to protect my students and colleagues. Our campus emergency plan tells us to freeze if there is an “active shooter.” Better it if it read, “keep moving, don’t be a target, shoot back.” Freeze? Our victim culture is ideal for the psychopaths who desire helpless victims.
This weekend, I graduated from the University of Missouri with a BA in political science. Walking across the stage to receive my diploma gave me a great feeling, particularly after being away from school for a few years. My experience this past year at a major state university instructed me not only in the nature of scholarship, but in those other things that have so little to do with, but so often accompany, the serious work of the academy. The commencement exercise featured the usual fanfare, a notable part of which has become the donning of specialized, non-academic apparel in addition to the traditional academic attire of such events. Students not only wear gown, cap and tassel, but many if not most black students also displayed brightly-colored, boldly-designed sashes, ribbons and mortar board decorations representing racially-defined organizations. The idea seems to be to celebrate the black experience of one's college years. Call me curmudgeonly, but I think this inappropriately draws attention away from those wearing distinctive apparel recognizing actual academic achievement. This strikes me as a presumptuous prerogative. The function of commencement is to confer an academic degree and mark a new start for graduates. The alternative attire not only ignores that purpose and diverts attention from its highest exemplars, but elevates racial identity to similar standing with the active, educational endeavors of the wearer. Academic officials would do well to curtail this "celebration of diversity," restoring dignity not only of ceremonial purpose, but to all its participants.
Teaching Introduction to Literature, I see a curious new phenomenon: more and more students complain, bitterly, about how dark the readings are. I’m not sure what this new critical term means; I employ a canonical set of works including Hawthorne, Melville, Conrad, Kafka, Sophocles, and newer works by Phillip Larkin, Tobias Wolff, and J.G. Ballard. If such authors do anything, they force us to face existential questions. Once, students went to college to experience just this sort of perennial questioning. Today, questioning is a nonstarter having been replaced by what Phillip Rieff called “the triumph of the therapeutic” and, as he predicted, by students preoccupied only with themselves and with attaining a “durable sense of well-being.” This ends any interest in reading about what Victor Davis Hanson calls “the tragic limitations of human existence and how to meet them and endure them with dignity.” When Larkin observes that
At death you break up: the bits that were you Start speeding away from each other for ever With no one to see
it does not sit well with the Facebook and Twitter crowd, many of whom are now convinced that advancements in regenerative medicine will indefinitely postpone their senescence. With death no longer inevitable, they find that a literature based on the tragedy of mortality is both archaic and irrelevant. In insulated, technological isolation, with electronic “friends” and avatars, Comedy Central and Family Guy, they are more concerned with distraction and are irritated that plot and character create inevitabilities and moral consequences. That’s just so...dark.
Second Life, a virtual "world" resembling a video game, enables people to interact with one another via avatars - digitized, animated versions of themselves. The creepy, sexual, Second Life universe is inhabited by businesses, churches, embassies, pornographic movie theaters, and colleges. This week the Chronicle of Higher Education announced that Pennsylvania State University will now require its academic advisers to set up Second Life accounts and be available to meet with students in the virtual world. Here is PSU's webpage on the university's Second Life presence. According to a Penn State official, "We're using Second Life as a way for online students who never visit campus to feel more connected to the university and their experience, and have a way of interacting with their fellow students and other staff members as well." These online students can talk via a tight-clothed avatar to someone like Shawna Culp - known on Second Life as Shawna Charisma - on the two-dimensional Penn State "island" that cost the university several hundred dollars to purchase. I look at this and say, whatever happened to phone conversations? I suppose it's naturally in the trajectory mapped out by the online education rocket. But don't we begin to sound silly when human interaction is reduced to this?
Our recent posting, "Residence Life and the Decline of Campus Community, Part 1," aimed to place Res Life programs within the wider context of the contemporary American college and university, and in particular to highlight the central role Res Life programs have been given in the creation of "campus community."
Previous postings in this series have examined the ideological and pedagogical pathologies of Res Life programs at U Delaware and U Mass-Amherst. More programs at other institutions will be uncovered and discussed in future postings. Before we proceed any further with that, however, it is a good idea to step back briefly and place these programs in perspective. These rogue programs need to be seen within the larger context of Residential Life programs at residential colleges generally.