Higher education

Big Ban on Campus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/11/2017 - 6:36am in

Editor’s note: For more on the chilling atmosphere on America’s college campuses read Bill Moyers’ interview with Professor Joan Scott, “Academic Freedom in the Age of Trump.”

This post originally appeared at Inside Higher ED.

Professors have long been political targets. But a spate of recent threats against scholars — including two that have led to campus closures — is raising fresh concerns about safety and academic freedom.

RELATED: Civil Liberties

Inscription on the Main Building at the University of Texas at Austin. (Photo courtesy of the University of Texas at Austin)

In the Age of Trump, a Chilling Atmosphere

BY Bill Moyers | October 18, 2017

The American Associations of University Professors “is definitely concerned about this trend, which I think is a fair description of what is happening,” said Hans-Joerg Tiede, senior program officer for academic freedom and tenure at AAUP. “We will continue to monitor it and consider what other actions we can take.”

First, a roundup of cases:

  • In early May, Tommy J. Curry, associate professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University, faced death threats and race-based harassment for talking about violence against whites in a 2012 podcast interview about the gory Quentin Tarantino film Django Unchained. Portions of Curry’s opinions were quoted in right-wing publications, where he was portrayed as advocating violence.
  • Bret Weinstein, a professor of biology at Evergreen State College, was in May warned to stay off that campus by security officials after he questioned the logic of a student request that all white students and faculty members stay away during a day of protest. The college temporarily shut down after further threats and demands from some students that Weinstein be fired.
  • Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, canceled planned public talks this month, saying she received hateful messages and death threats for criticizing President Trump in a commencement speech at Hampshire College.
  • Sarah Bond, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Iowa, faced threats and harassment — some of it anti-Semitic — after publishing a piece in Hyperallergic. She argued that classicists should do more to highlight the fact that statues were often painted and so not necessarily reflective of the “classical ideal” now equated with white marble. Bond’s views are widely backed by scholars in her field.
  • At Syracuse University, Dana Cloud, a professor of communication and rhetoric, was the subject of threats and harassment after she tweeted for counterdemonstrators to join her and “finish off” a dispersing group of protesters against Islamic law.
  • Most recently, Johnny Eric Williams, an associate professor of sociology at Trinity College in Connecticut, said he had to flee town due to threats — and the campus shut down for a day — after conservative news websites shared Facebook posts he made about race. He used the hashtag #LetThemFuckingDie in response to an online article about racism of the same name. Some have argued he was advocating violence against whites, but he’s since said he was referring to systemic racism.

RELATED: Civil Liberties

Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning.

A Conversation About American Racism with Ibram X. Kendi

BY Christina Greer | October 11, 2017

The AAUP has condemned such threats against scholars and asked some individual institutions to support targeted faculty members. It also earlier this year published a set of institutional recommendations for dealing with online harassment of professors. Several faculty-led petitions express support for colleagues in the crosshairs, and the American Sociological Association also weighed in to defend Williams.

“The ability to inject controversial ideas into [the public] forum is paramount to a better understanding of our society and essential to ensuring a robust exchange of ideas on college campuses,” reads the sociologists’ statement. “In principle, ASA does not take a position on such ideas themselves but does take the position that all individuals have the right to express themselves. In that context, we expect thoughtful consideration regarding the way in which the ideas are expressed. We also expect the safety of those expressing them.”

Threatening the lives “of those whose rhetoric we oppose undermines the robust and democratic exchange of ideas,” ASA said. “Ideas — regardless of how controversial — should only be attacked by alternative ideas. Mutual understanding requires more discussion rather than a stifling of discourse.”

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has long advocated answering offensive speech with more speech, not less. Calling threats against professors as “depressing” a trend as violent responses to campus free speech, Will Creeley, an attorney with FIRE, said Friday that such threats require “unequivocal condemnation from all Americans who care about the health of our democracy.”

RELATED: Activism

(Photo by Jennifer Moo/ flickr CC 2.0)

The Battle over Free Speech on Campus

BY Sarah Jaffe | October 20, 2017

Threatening violence “against those who hold opinions different from one’s own is a particularly evil form of censorship,” Creeley wrote on FIRE’s website. “To be clear: responding to speech with threats is morally repugnant, illiberal and potentially illegal.”

In each recent case, Creeley added, “the faculty member who received threats had engaged in plainly protected political speech, typically involving contentious issues like race relations. If our nation’s faculty members cannot evaluate and express opinions on the issues of the day without being subjected to violent threats, the US Supreme Court’s stark warning in Sweezy v. New Hampshire will prove prophetic: ‘Teachers and students must always remain free to inquire, to study and to evaluate, to gain new maturity and understanding; otherwise our civilization will stagnate and die.’” (In that 1957 case, the high court found that a state investigation into the alleged communist affiliations of a guest lecturer at a university was unconstitutional.)

Colleges and Universities Respond

Creeley also endorsed AAUP’s statement earlier this year in which it said campus governing boards “have a responsibility to defend academic freedom and institutional autonomy, including to protect institutions from undue public interference, by resisting calls for the dismissal of faculty members and by condemning their targeted harassment and intimidation.”

Institutions, meanwhile, have had mixed responses to threats against scholars. Texas A&M, for example, first condemned Curry’s comments but then softened its tone against him. That followed criticism from colleagues who said the university needed to back Curry and his right to academic freedom.

RELATED: Society

ISC Orientation first meeting, fall 2011. (Photo by Jirka Matousek | Flickr CC 2.0)

Rethinking Higher Education in a Time of Tyranny

BY Henry Giroux | October 10, 2017

Syracuse first clarified that Cloud’s comments were not intended to provoke violence, but Chancellor Kent Syverud offered more support in a follow-up statement last week.

Saying he’d received messages insisting that he “denounce, censor or dismiss” Cloud for her speech, Syverud said, “No. We are and will remain a university. Free speech is and will remain one of our key values. I can’t imagine academic freedom or the genuine search for truth thriving here without free speech.”

He continued, “Our faculty must be able to say and write things — including things that provoke some or make others uncomfortable — up to the very limits of the law. The statement at issue is, I believe, within those limits. I intend to act accordingly.”

Many scholars and civil liberties groups have engaged in protests like those Cloud encouraged. They have argued that since there is in fact no movement to impose Islamic law in the US, protests against it are really designed to encourage more general anti-Muslim sentiments.

Trinity’s administration, meanwhile, said it is looking into Williams’s comments and expressed disapproval of his hashtag.

Williams has since said he’s left the state to protect his family. He also issued a campuswide apology, saying, “I am sorry … I regret that the hashtag that I quoted from the title of an article was misinterpreted and misperceived as inciting violence and calling for the death of ‘white’ people.”

The professor said he never intended to “invite or incite violence.” His only aim, he said, “was to bring awareness to white supremacy and to inspire others to address these kinds of injustices.”

In another case, Essex County College doubled down last week on its suspension of Lisa Durden, a communications adjunct and pop culture pundit, after she appeared on Fox News to defend Black Lives Matter protesters’ right to all-black protest spaces on Memorial Day. She has now been terminated, NJ.com reported.

RELATED: Inequality

Public universities including the University of Virginia are the targets of a new demand that they should be treated as any corporate entity, judged exclusively on its bottom line. (Photo by Stephanie Gross/FTWP)

Who’s Behind the Right-Wing Assault on Public Universities?

BY Eric Alterman | September 8, 2016

“The college was immediately inundated with feedback from students, faculty and prospective students and their families expressing frustration, concern and even fear that the views expressed by a college employee (with influence over students) would negatively impact their experience on the campus,” Anthony Munroe, the college’s president, said in a statement Friday. “I fully believe that institutions of higher learning must provide a safe space for students. … The character of this institution mandates that we embrace diversity, inclusion and unity. Racism cannot be fought with more racism.”

The University of Delaware also distanced itself from Kathy Dettwyler, an adjunct professor of anthropology, who said on Facebook that Otto Warmbier, a college student who recently died after imprisonment in North Korea, “got exactly what he deserved.” Warmbier was “typical of a mindset of a lot of the young, white, rich, clueless males” Dettwyler teaches, she wrote, prompting the university to call her remarks “particularly distressing” and not in line with its values, according to the Associated Press. The university subsequently said that Dettwyler would not be rehired.

Questions About Self-Censorship

RELATED: Civil Liberties

 Massachusetts Office of Travel & Tourism / Flickr / CC 2.0)

‘I Will Not Shut Up. America Is Still Worth Fighting For.’

BY Heather Cox Richardson | November 29, 2016

A number of professors facing threats have attributed the deluge to slanted coverage of their public comments by various conservative news websites. Many of those reports have since been cited by Professor Watchlist, which launched earlier this year “to expose and document college professors who discriminate against conservative students and advance leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

Asked about threats facing professors on the list, Matt Lamb, a spokesperson, said via email that harassment “against anyone for their views, whether it be professors, students or politicians, is terrible. Whether it is Lars Maischak threatening President Trump for assassination, Eric Clanton throwing bike locks at Trump supporters or John Griffin saying Republicans should be lined up and shot, harassment and death threats are terrible and should be widely denounced. Likewise, threats against professors are just as bad as when leftist professors threaten other people. We oppose all forms of violence.”

Cloud, at Syracuse, said she hasn’t apologized “or made excuses for what I said, because that would serve a narrative that is blaming these faculty, rather than understanding these campaigns as right-wing political strategy on the part of people who do actually espouse violence.”

The emergence of the “hard right, including bona-fide fascists, is a product of the Trump moment,” she said, since “his rhetoric emboldens them, and this latest wave of attacks is scarier as a result, even if the messages I and other professors have received share features with earlier waves.”

Tiede, of AAUP, said that Professor Watchlist and its ilk are part of a broader attack on the “core values” of higher education, such as “serving as spaces where ideas can be explored, where dissent can occur and where the truth can be investigated,” which is “how they support our democracy.” All these functions have been attacked in the past, he said, but are now enabled with new technology.

RELATED: Democracy & Government

Middlebury College students protest speaker Charles Murray. (Photo by Todd Balfour)

Where Free Speech Ends, Ignorance Begins

BY Michael Winship | March 13, 2017

As for self-censorship, Tiede said some professors probably do censor themselves due to reports of harassment. Given that faculty members have been targeted for comments “concerning difficult social problems, including racial justice, it is worrisome that public discourse on important topics to which faculty members can bring their expertise may be curtailed as a result,” he said. It’s worrisome as well that some campuses have shut down over threats, he said.

Matthew Hughey, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Connecticut, recently wrote about his own experiences with threats in an op-ed in HuffPost.

“In early 2017 I was scheduled to give a talk that examined the role of overt and subtle racialized messages to magnetize white support for particular political parties and political platforms and how those strategies played a role in the 2016 election,” he said. Various conservative publications misrepresented some of his arguments, even after an appearance on Fox’s Tucker Carlson Tonight, leading to a few death threats, online name-calling, “over 400 emails, nearly 50 voice mails and even a couple dozen snail-mail letters. … Campus detectives got involved. Local police had to patrol my home.”

Echoing the underlying argument of his HuffPost piece, Hughey wrote in an email to Inside Higher Ed that the common thread in many harassment cases is race — specifically “that folks seem to be getting attacked when they critique whiteness.”

What Do Critics Want?

A few of the aforementioned cases have little to do with whiteness, or critiques of what being white means as a social construct. But most do focus on issues of race.

Hughey said he felt supported by UConn. As for self-censorship, he said professors “always have an obligation to speak wisely (regardless of what’s going on), but they also have the freedom to use their personal social media as they see fit.”

If universities are going to “praise and link to faculty Twitter accounts when we publish an article, win an award, etc.,” he added, “then they need to have our back when the attacks start on Twitter or when we say something less than popular and/or provocative, or share something that people might disagree with.”

Hughey and others have argued that attacks on scholars appear coordinated. If that’s true, a shared strategy speaks to a shared goal. So what do critics who resort to intimidation want? Tiede said it was hard to define clearly, but he thinks certain groups and individuals clearly would “prefer not to have the expertise of faculty members publicized when those run contrary to their interests.”

The AAUP observed in 1915 that the social sciences in particular faced a “danger of restrictions upon the expression of opinions which point toward extensive social innovations, or call in question the moral legitimacy or social expediency of economic conditions or commercial practices in which large vested interests are involved,” he added. “I don’t see any need to modify that observation today.”

The post Big Ban on Campus appeared first on BillMoyers.com.

Metrics, recognition, and rewards: it’s time to incentivise the behaviours that are good for research and researchers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/11/2017 - 10:00pm in

Researchers have repeatedly voiced their dissatisfaction with how the journals they publish in are used as a proxy for the evaluation of their work. However, those who wish to break free of this model fear negative consequences for their future funding and careers. Rebecca Lawrence emphasises the importance of addressing researchers’ recognition and reward structures, arguing it is time to […]

Institutional support for impact remains at the relatively early stages of embeddedness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 14/11/2017 - 10:00pm in

An established discourse within UK higher education institutions has developed around the pursuit of “academic excellence with impact”. However, the everyday reality is that, in terms of institutional support and opportunities, the impact element is not as embedded as that of academic excellence. Carlos Galán-Díaz has adapted the EDGE Tool, developed to assess universities’ strategic and practical support for public […]

The Global Challenges Research Fund: £1.5bn commitment is impressive in its ambition but would benefit from a tighter strategic focus

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 13/11/2017 - 10:00pm in

The Global Challenges Research Fund aims to ensure UK research plays a leading role in addressing problems faced by developing countries. To Tina Fahm of the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, the fund represents a welcome increase in the UK’s ambition in development research, drawing on well-established mechanisms for identifying research excellence and promoting interdisciplinary work on complex development challenges. […]

Book Review: How Economics Professors Can Stop Failing Us: The Discipline at a Crossroads by Steven Payson

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/11/2017 - 10:00pm in

In How Economics Professors Can Stop Failing Us: The Discipline at a Crossroads, Steven Payson offers a US-focused critique of the professional practice of teaching and researching economics today, covering areas such as publishing, hiring, and promotion. As readers will likely find themselves nodding in recognition at many of the issues identified by Payson, Christopher May finds this a welcome voice contributing to the growing call […]

Better information on teaching is required to redress the balance with research

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/11/2017 - 10:00pm in

How universities allocate resources – and how academics allocate their own time – between research and teaching is a perennial problem in higher education. The labour market for research is intensely competitive and truly global; while the market for academics focused on teaching is notable by its lack of competition. An obvious result is that academics’ promotion prospects depend primarily […]

The Influence of Communication- and Organization-Related Factors on Interest in Participation in Campus Dialogic Deliberation

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 07/11/2017 - 7:55am in

Grounded in participatory democracy principles, deliberation is designed to foster collaborative and thoughtful decision-making communication. On college campuses, deliberation can lead to a number of individual and organizational consequences, particularly for students, who may not believe that they have a significant voice in decision-making. Although deliberation ostensibly enables students to make their voices heard, the factors that shape students’ interest in participation in such deliberation remain unclear. This study explored how communication and campus factors influence students’ interest in and perceived helpfulness of dialogic deliberation participation. This manuscript concludes with recommendations for the development of campus-based and community-oriented deliberation programs.

Book Review: How Economics Professors Can Stop Failing Us: The Discipline at a Crossroads by Steven Payson

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 02/11/2017 - 11:45pm in

In How Economics Professors Can Stop Failing Us: The Discipline at a Crossroads, Steven Payson offers a US-focused critique of the professional practice of teaching and researching economics today, covering areas such as publishing, hiring and promotion. As readers will likely find themselves nodding in recognition at many of the issues identified by Payson, Christopher May finds this a welcome voice contributing to the growing call to transform the study of economics. 

How Economics Professors Can Stop Failing Us: The Discipline at a Crossroads. Steven Payson. Lexington Books. 2017.

Find this book: amazon-logo

The academic discipline of economics has been subject to a growing level of criticism, from both within and outside the academy. Often led by students, the criticisms of economists and their ideas are myriad and frequently related to their perceived position as handmaidens to neoliberalism. In the UK, groups such as Post-Crash Economics or Rethinking Economics have been launched by students dissatisfied with the mainstream teaching of economics, with The Econocracy often presented as their manifesto. Reflecting this appetite to see economics done differently, my own course ‘Economics for the Real World’ (an undergraduate political economy course offering an alternative view to that taught in the economics department at my university) saw its enrolment double in 2017, its second year. This climate of dissatisfaction with and criticism of the mainstream has generated a wide range of commentary and books, to which we can now add Steven Payson’s intervention.

How Economics Professors Can Stop Failing Us: The Discipline at a Crossroads, however, is rather differently conceived from many of these other critiques and complaints, which for the most part focus on economics as theory. By contrast, Payson self-avowedly seeks to ‘call out’ professors of economics for ‘their overall lack of ethics, integrity, and responsible leadership’ (xi, emphasis in original). This is to say, the book is often a critique of professional practice, although Payson is far from uncritical of economics itself. Indeed, early on, he argues that what distinguishes economics professors from similarly senior colleagues in other disciplines is that the faults Payson identifies are reinforced by the very discipline in which they work: there is a vicious circle operating that links economic analysis of ‘rational’ actions and the behaviour of economics professors (and, by extension, their less senior colleagues).

Payson mounts a number of withering critiques of the work of (mostly North American) professors of economics. He suggests that much theoretical work is perceived by its authors as being as strong as its strongest analytical link, when really it is as weak as the weakest simplifying assumption deployed (and some are pretty weak and unconvincing). Unsurprisingly, he also is critical of Milton Friedman’s famous (and still influential) position that economics’ assumptions don’t matter (however odd/false they might appear) if the predictions that result have some salience.

Likewise, Payson is highly critical of neologisms and new ‘technical’ concepts, all of which he regards as representing more of a rite of passage for economics graduate students to struggle through than offering any real social benefit for those seeking to understand the economy and its workings, not least of all as few people outside the discipline read much of this analysis (so-called). More generally, he mounts a detailed critical analysis of the process of publishing in economics, which includes a rather wry set of tables comparing what authors say in articles intended for publication in the American Economic Review with what they really mean, which at times verges on (but doesn’t quite become) a parody of academic discourse. Mostly, it’s all meaningless and unread, serving merely as fodder for the discipline itself.

Image Credit: (Franz Kohler CC BY SA 2.0)

As this might suggest, for Payson the behaviour of professors of economics is driven by the perverse incentives for publication as well as the self-reinforcing value system behind the recognition of important work and its role in the hiring and promotion practices of the major economics departments in the USA. This leads to an extended examination of the use and abuse of citation counts/data, both for journals and for academic authors, which he regards as a quasi-technical crutch behind which judgments are hidden in hiring committees; indeed, as he notes, given such committees often include editors of and reviewers for ‘top’ economics journals, they are effectively forcing their particular prejudices onto the next generations of scholars.

Likely much more evident in the USA, but hardly absent elsewhere, is how the normative commitments of economists in relation to markets have led to one insidious prejudice in particular: a fondness for demonising and downplaying any positive role for the state in economic growth and development. Here, he seems to be arguing (although it is not quite made explicit) that the demand that economics should not be corrupted by politics is, in fact, violated by the manner in which professors’ own political assumptions are rendered as technical results of analysis.

Payson also criticises the claim made by experimental economists that they are really conducting a science of economics: he argues that the subjects of the experiments are engaged in a set of practices so abstracted from the real world to render any results extremely doubtful, not least of all as the experiments themselves seem to incentivise specific forms of response (in other words, there is a lack of social reflexivity). Finally, Payson moves on to actual bad behaviour; here, while he might be right about the specific motivations driving ethical lapses in economics, much of what he criticises seems to me to represent and reveal a much wider set of problems than are just to be found in economics departments. Sadly, there are always too many violations of professional ethics, although Payson would likely argue it is worse in economics.

Overall, this is a highly personal book, which is in no way meant as a criticism: indeed, the entire text might be read as an implied criticism of the passive-voiced, (pretended) ‘science’ of economics. Payson builds on and develops a range of disparate criticism, some of which I was aware of; some of it not so much. His valuable work is bringing this all together before focusing on the actual agents (the professors) who (re)produce these problems for the profession of economics. At times, the book does nonetheless lapse into a scattergun of criticism, flitting from one topic to another, sometimes without an obvious central argumentative dynamic or considered direction.

In the end, then, this book may be best read in bits, utilising the index to pick those things that most annoy you about your local economics department so as to arm yourself with Payson’s withering criticisms. That the book is focused almost entirely on North American professors should not be taken as indication that all is well on this side of the Atlantic. If, like me, you work in a university with a large (and strident) economics department, but are not of that department, you will find much here to make you smile and frown in recognition. It is clear that it is time to change economics, and Payson is yet one more voice that (hopefully) will make such change inevitable.

Christopher May is Professor of Political Economy at Lancaster University, UK. His most recent book is Global Corporations in Global Governance (Routledge 2015) and he is currently editing The Edward Elgar Research Handbook on The Rule of Law (2017). He has published widely on the interaction between law and political economy, and wrote the first independently authored study of the World Intellectual Property Organisation. Read more by Christopher May.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Reshaping the tenure and promotion process so that it becomes a catalyst for innovative and invigorating scholarship

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/11/2017 - 10:00pm in

The metrics used to identify excellence, and on which current tenure and promotion decisions are based, have become a barrier to more exciting and innovative scholarship. Christopher P. Long suggests an overhaul of tenure and promotion practices, advocating a holistic approach in which structured mentoring plays a key role and values-based metrics that will empower faculty to tell more textured […]

The methodology used for the Times Higher Education World University Rankings’ citations metric can distort benchmarking

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 31/10/2017 - 10:00pm in

The Times Higher Education World University Rankings can influence an institution’s reputation and even its future revenues. However, Avtar Natt argues that the methodology used to calculate its citation metrics can have the effect of distorting benchmarking exercises. The fractional counting approach applied to only a select number of papers with high author numbers has led to a situation whereby […]