We continue awaiting the decision of a grand jury on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, exactly 15 weeks ago today on a suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri. News reporters from across the globe have been camped out in Ferguson for months, their expectation of an announcement teased and disappointed several times in the last week alone. On Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in advance of the grand jury's decision. Yesterday, President Barack Obama, in what can only be judged to be an anticipation of Wilson's non-indictment, preemptively urged protesters not to use Ferguson as an "excuse for violence." In the meantime, demonstrators of various ilk remain on standby, rallying their troops, refining their organizational strategies, painting their oppositional signs, standing vigilantly at the ready for whatever may come.
But what are we waiting for, really, as we wait for Ferguson?
By now, many readers will be aware of the events which have unfolded around Cheryl Abbate, a Ph.D. student and instructor in Philosophy at Marquette University. Those who are not up to speed should read this excellent post by Justin Weinberg at Daily Nous. Briefly, Ms. Abbate has been the subject of public, political attack by an associate professor of Political Science at Marquette, John McAdams, concerning matters that took place in her classroom, after class, and in a subsequent meeting of the class.
Leaving aside the highly problematic evidentiary basis for Prof. McAdams' claims (the report of a single student who had attempted to record Ms. Abbate covertly and without her permission, and had lied to her when confronted about what he was doing), and the extent to which McAdams' version of events seems to have misrepresented what took place in material ways, there can be no question that it is categorically inappropriate for a senior faculty member (or indeed any faculty member) to publicly attack a graduate student over what happens in his or her classroom, regardless of whether that student is in the faculty members's own department.*
The fact that Prof. McAdams' intervention has, rather predictably, led to Ms. Abbate becoming the subject of a number of gendered attacks only exacerbates the wrong here, which is certainly a matter of principle as well as of consequences. But it does make it even more urgent that Marquette should address the situation and do whatever is necessary to offer Ms. Abbate support.
In the same spirit, many of us throughout the philosophical community have sought to express our support for Ms. Abbate and our dismay at the conduct of Prof. McAdams. Justin Weinberg has suggested writing the provost and the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Marquette. John Protevi has taken that suggestion up in the form of an open letter, to which he invites others to add their signatures. Keeping in mind that a public wrong needs to be countered publicly, I am posting this, here, to further express my support—and I invite others here to add their names in the comments should they wish to do so.
Many readers of this blog will be aware of the remarkable institution known as the Collège International de Philosophie, based in Paris and supported by the French government since 1983. During its more than 30-year existence, the Collège has offered an extraordinary range of very high-quality free and public programs in France and around the world. It is, as such, one of the world's foremost institutions dedicated to public philosophy.
Sadly, the Collège now stands days away from being forced to close because the funds to support its operations have not been paid. As is detailed here, the Collège has been the subject of a number of discussions concerning its maintenance since 2012, which led to its association with the new Université Paris Lumières in 2013. This administrative association was supposed to provide a sustainable home for the Collège; but the 240,000 Euros that form the Collège's annual operating budget have been withheld by the ministry responsible for the UPL and its associated elements—leaving the institution days away from bankruptcy.
There is a petition circulating where people can offer support for the Collège—below the fold you can find, with his permission, Gabriel Rockhill's translation of the original French text (which also details the situation that the Collège is facing, and its accomplishments and history, a bit further than my remarks above).
Nice article by slate dot com's Rebecca Schuman here,* about the move among university libraries to put more and more printed material in compact shelving where people cannot browse.
Schuman sees these moves as one more instance of administrators and staff turning universities into strip malls with frats:
But there’s one wholly unsentimental reason the stacks are both vital and irreplaceable, and that brings us back to Colby’s decision to replace theirs with a gleaming shrine to the corporate bottom line. As more of the books disappear from college libraries, the people in charge of funding those libraries will be more tempted to co-opt that space for events that bring in revenue, or entice students for the wrong reasons: food courts. Gaming lounges. I expect rock-climbing walls soon. Unless administrators make a protracted effort to preserve the contemplative and studious feeling, that feeling will disappear altogether, and the whatever-brary will become just another Jamba Juice.
Faculty around the country have been trying to fight the strip-mallification of their campuses, but in most cases the administration and staff argue that financial necessity dictates whatever thing it is they are doing to make the campus worse. In most cases the faculty don't have access to what the money is really being spent on, so no way to adjudicate the claims.
When Tyson laughs as he dismisses philosophy as "pointless" he reminds me nothing so much as a high school bully who has just visited an indignity on his victim. And, as in high school, nobody much seems to mind.
I don't know why this kind of thing is so popular among physicists who don't know any post-World War II philosophy of science or any pre-World War II history of science (one could do worse than starting here). See Stephen Hawking telling Google that "philosophy is dead" and Lawrence Krauss calling David Albert a "moronic philosopher" in a manner which suggests the phrase is pleonastic for him.
It's maybe not so weird how often philosophy's enemies end up just doing bad philosophy themselves.
Anyhow, it was very nice to read Damon Linker's take-down of Tyson's philistinism here. Depending on your meta-philosophical commitments you might be tempted to split hairs with respect to Linker's epistemology-centric characterization of the philosophical tradition. But what he writes isn't implausible, and he's clearly getting a very large part of the tradition correct.
Really fine review of the movie (filmed on the LSU campus) at Psychology Today here, with a number of comparisons between the film and that one Rocky film where Stallone wins the Cold War, including this:
If you recall, the Russian boxer Drago trains in a state of the art scientific facility, where they measure the impact of his punches, train him on machines and try to figure out how to make him a better fighter. Meanwhile Rocky runs out in the snow and lifts logs. God’s not Dead is very similar. The reiteration of Hawking’s statement that philosophy is dead was not accidental. It is something that the conservative evangelicals who made this movie desperately want to be true. In the real world, Hawking’s statement was met with condemnation from both scientists and philosophers,* and philosophy is so alive and well today that the Christian right-wing feels they need a movie to demonize it. But this is a part of a larger anti-intellectual movement in evangelical Christianity that distrusts what academics say on everything from American history to evolution.
The end of Johnston's piece is a little bit unfortunate.
In comment #9 at this post, Susan makes a kind of canonical case I've heard from lots of assessment people.
First, I should say that I agree with 95% of the intended answers to Susan's rhetorical questions. We should be much clearer about what we want our students to get out of their degrees, and we should put in the hard work of assessing the extent that we are successful.
But "assessment" in contemporary American bureaucracies almost always accomplishes exactly the opposite of the laudable goals that Susan and I share. And there are deep systematic reasons for this. Below, I will first explain three fallacies and then explain why everyone involved in assessment faces enormous pressure to go along with these fallacies. Along the way I hope to make it clear how this results in "assessment" making things demonstrably worse.**
Why do things like "professional development," "continuing education," "team-building," and (yes, this too) "assessment" always have to tend towards infantalizing the poor people subjected to them?
It's one thing to bureaucratically humiliate people by making them waste huge gobs of time. But this business of making them engage in ritualistic idiotic performances (which always involve to some extent enthusiastically presupposing that everyone is not in fact wasting time) is a much higher echelon of evil. How can the adult human beings in this video (courtesy Washington Post) have any self-respect?*
Mark my words. First they came for the high school teachers. . .**
[*To be fair, everyone involved in making the video and smuggling it to the Washington Post gained back their self-respect fourfold.
**If I was doing my normal thing and putting a rock video in the upper right hand corner, it would probably have been Jane's Addiction's "Idiots Rule." But I realized that it didn't scan because even if team-builder/professional development/assessment types are self-deluded enough to believe in the rightness of what they make the rest of us do, it takes quite a bit of intelligence to get people so complicit in their own immiseration.]
Exactly one year ago I finished off my blogging year with a post on gendered atrocities, focusing in particular on the Newtown shooting and the widely discussed gang rape in India. At that point, the hope was that these two events would at least not have been in vain, and that they would stir changes in the right direction. It seems that this did in fact happen in India, where the horridness of rape was given much more attention in the aftermath of the event, which triggered a firestorm of protest. (As for mass shootings and gun control in the US, to my knowledge nothing much seems to have changed since last year...)
And now, looking back on 2013, what strikes me as an absolute lowlight of the year is again something gender-related, at first sight of a much lesser degree of gravity – but only at first sight. One of the biggest hits of the year, Robin Thicke’s ‘Blurred Lines’, is nothing short of a badly concealed rape apology (read the lyrics for yourself here). That millions and millions of young (and not-so-young) impressionable people should be exposed to the truly disturbing message of the song is very, very worrisome. The catchiness of the song (yes, I’ll admit to its catchiness, which is really the merit of singer, co-writer and producer Pharrell Williams -- who, unlike Thicke, is a talented musician) only makes it worse, as it results in millions of kids singing ‘I know you want it’, ‘good girl’, and other horrific bits of the text. (It is particularly surprising that the three singers all seem fairly adjusted, family-oriented people; but what doesn’t one do for success…) The video is equally appalling, featuring three scantily clad female models interacting in unflattering ways with the three fully clad male singers (I’ll just mention hair-pulling and puffing smoke on one of the women’s face – see the video for yourself if you have to. Oh, and there is also an uncensored version!).
Why? Well, because this post is about the Kansas Regents' decision to pass a new social media policy, which states that:
the chief executive officer of a state university has the authority to suspend, dismiss or terminate any faculty or staff member who makes improper use of social media.
Improper use means making a communication that:
— Directly incites violence or other immediate breach of the peace;
— Is made pursuant to the employee’s official duties and is contrary to the best interests of the university;
— Discloses confidential student information, protected health care information, personnel records, personal financial information, or confidential research data; or
— Impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.
Reading this, I'd feel compelled to say that it 1) seemed like an effort to stifle criticism of the University, 2) veered periliously close to making it impossible for colleagues to disagree publicly, especially over matters of instiutional practice, policy, or pedagogy, and 3) similarly put anyone considering discussing his or her experience with, say, discrimination or harassment on notice that doing so could be harmful to his or her carreer. Even better, this transparent attempt to initmidate and constrain faculty speech in public fora was imposed by fiat without prior consultation with the faculty, though--in a clear effort to satisfy some of Protevi's likely objections--faculty were told that "the board would welcome input over the next several months."
Presumably, this input shouldn't be on social media, however, especially if it were critical or the process by which this policy were imposed, or its content.
Update: Scott Jaschik now has a story up at Inside Higher Ed that adds a few new details, including comments from the chair of the AAUP's Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure.
Update 2: KU Law and Economics Professor Bill Black has written an analysis of the policy here, and been interviewed by the Kansas City Pitch here [h/t William Pannapacker]. Black pretty much confirms (and even extends) the worst case scenario interpretations of this policy that have been floating around.
A few days ago, while trying to open the interwebs thingy to allow me to start entering my grades, I was prevented from doing so by a pop-up menu that referenced LSU's Policy Statement 67. The text included unsubstantiated and highly dubious claims such as that most workplace problems are the result of drugs and alcohol abuse by workers. And this was only a few weeks after all of the chairs at LSU had to provide verification that every single faculty member had read a hysterical message from our staff and administrative overlords that justified expanding the extension of pee-tested employees at LSU to now include faculty. The wretched communiqué justified pee-testing faculty because of new evidence showing that marijuana is harmful to 13 year olds.*
Anyhow, when I scrolled to the bottom of the popup, I had to click a button saying not only that I read the document but also that I "agreed" with it.
I honestly don't get this. Are my beliefs a condition of employment at LSU? There was no button that said I read it but didn't agree with it.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Texas in the late 80s there was the huge fad of philosophers making fun of professors in other departments who had appropriated philosophical thinking for their own projects.
Honestly, it's pretty easy work for people who spend their lives just studying philosophy to beat up on our brothers and sisters in humanities departments when they enter into conversation with a philosopher. The trick is to bracket the dialectical context of the appropriation as well as treat the norms relevant for engaging in those debates as if they are the same as writing good philosophy. With literarature department deconstructionism, this meant completely ignoring the context of New Criticism and the contribution that the appropriation of Derrida and De Man's writings made with respect to this background.
As a result of the kind of methodological stupidity the revolution very quickly began eating its own,* culminating perhaps in the 1992 petition against awarding Jacques Derrida an honorary Cambridge doctorate. By this point it was clear that American philosophy had completely squandered a very real chance of retaining a role as queen of the humanities. If during theory's heyday, a critical mass of us had actually taken the time (a couple of years hard work in each case) to actually immerse ourselves in the relevant history and canonical texts of other departments doing "theory," philosophy would today widely be viewed as a helpful discipline, as opposed to this weird thing where we spin our own wheels.**
One of the most depressing things to me as a student of continental philosophy is to see how the worst aspects of the the analytic/continental rift are now being replicated within continental philosophy.
While reading this recent KCNA article about the execution of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un's uncle, I was really struck by just how transparently stupid the thing is from beginning to end. It never really tells you what the uncle did that was so bad, but just accuses him of broad classes of sin:
The accused Jang brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.
The closest it ever gets to actually specifying anything is when it says that Jang didn't clap enthusiastically enough at one meeting!
When his cunning move proved futile and the decision that Kim Jong Un was elected vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea at the Third Conference of the WPK in reflection of the unanimous will of all party members, service personnel and people was proclaimed, making all participants break into enthusiastic cheers that shook the conference hall, he behaved so arrogantly and insolently as unwillingly standing up from his seat and half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people.
Clearly this functions to get people in line so as to be enthusiastic in their public displays of affection for dear leader. But I think there's something more universal going on in the whole piece.
It should be clear that bludgeoning people into publicly acquiescing to transparent stupidity is a powerful way to make them complicit in their own immiseration. Orwell came very close with the 2+2=5 thing, but he didn't quite get it. It's much more subtle and powerful. The linked to article doesn't state any mathematical falsities, but just insults the intelligence through vagueness, unsubstantiated insults, and insults that presuppose ridiculous world views ("thrice cursed dog" etc.).
I think this kind of thing is much more common than we presuppose. For example, even to be able to talk about Obamacare in many contexts you have to go along with the presupposition that private insurance for health makes sense in the first place. Or when you are at an assessment meeting at your University, you just have to go along with a lot of pernicious, false presuppositions even just to discuss how to use the newest interation of the unhelpful web interface. Or consider Protevi's recent expose of a bit of utterly typical administrative newspeak.
Just to get along and navigate basic things in life you have to communicate as if a bunch of stupid nonsense actually makes sense.
Obviously this trope is used to much more destructive effect in North Korea (mass starvation, intergenerational gulags, etc.) but I'm not sure that our own public discourse is any less ridiculous than that of the KCNA. Jello Biafra is perhaps our saving grace on this score.
This is a classic in the admin bullshit arsenal, the old "here's the strategic action document that will be implementized [oh, you think that's an exaggeration of admin-speak? I see you haven't gotten a "communiqué" -- yes that's the word they chose of their own free will-- from the LSU admin] come hell or high water, it's a fate accompli [get it? Who said admins don't have a sense of humor?], but we also want to insult your intelligence, so we'll invite comments [chuckles, sneers, and high-fives among the adminbros]: “There is no truth to the claim that we were attempting to hide the documents from anyone,” he said. “When the strategic planning process was complete, we released the documents to the entire campus and invited comments.”
JPMorgan Chase plans to give $17 million to start a doctoral program at the University of Delaware...
As part of the plan, JPMorgan will renovate a building to house the program, put up money to pay program faculty and pay a full ride for students seeking a degree, according to an internal university plan. In addition, JPMorgan employees may sit on dissertation committees and advise the university on which faculty members should teach in the program, according to the planning document and a top university official....
The doctorate would be be in "financial services analytics," which relies on "big data." Bruce Weber, the dean of Delaware's business school, said working closely with industry will help academics prepare students for the real world, something some business school deans feel is not happening enough.
Meanwhile, I called Adult Protective Services right after talking to Margaret Mary, and I explained the situation. I said that she had just been let go from her job as a professor at Duquesne, that she was given no severance or retirement benefits, and that the reason she was having trouble taking care of herself was because she was living in extreme poverty. The caseworker paused and asked with incredulity, "She was a professor?" I said yes. The case- worker was shocked; this was not the usual type of person for whom she was called in to help.
Of course, what the case-worker didn't understand was that Margaret Mary was an adjunct professor, meaning that, unlike a well-paid tenured professor, Margaret Mary worked on a contract basis from semester to semester, with no job security, no benefits and with a salary of between $3,000 and just over $3,500 per three-credit course....
From the CHE. (This is not a critique of the ACA, dispute the attention-grabbing lead.)
Recent moves by colleges to cut adjunct hours in advance of the Obamacare employer mandate offer a reminder of why contingent faculty labor is the gift that keeps on giving to the corporate university: Not only do part-time adjuncts receive a fraction of the pay expected by full-timers for the same work; they also do not encumber the institution with health-care costs. A majority of today’s teaching faculty members are thus vulnerable not only to the first round of pink slips mandated by budget cuts but also to the predations of our health-care system....
Penn's State's new Health Care policies, which have been rolled out quietly in the middle of the summer, include an excessively invasive "Take Care of Your Health" plan that forces employees, by imposing a massive, $1200 a year surcharge, to submit to poorly and unprofessionally mass-organized blood tests and "biometric screenings." Included in this mandate is an additional mandate, requiring all employees and their spouses/SSDPs, to fill out an incredibly invasive "Wellness Profile" that, if taken, immediately shares ALL of the person's private medical information with WebMD, a third-party agency with a far from comforting record in the area of privacy.
The latest The Stone column is by Roger Scruton, with the
suggestive title ‘When hope tramples truth’. There is not much to disagree with regarding his apparent main point, namely that we all prefer to hear good news
over bad news, and that we have a strong tendency to seek confirmation for the
beliefs we already hold rather than to actively look for dissenting opinions.
In particular, the phenomenon of confirmation bias (and other similar cognitive
tendencies) has been extensively documented by psychologists. So far, the piece
is just trivial. (It remains nevertheless sound advice that, to counter confirmation bias, looking for
counterarguments to the thesis one wants to establish is quite effective -- as philosophers know
all too well but do not always practice.)
But of course, Scruton has a non-trivial (and controversial)
point to make, concerning his own ‘worry of the month’ (see the wikipedia entry for some of his other worries), namely same-sex
therefore united to promote this cause, and, as is so often the case, have
turned persecuting stares on those who dissent from it, dismissing them as
intolerant, “homophobic,” “bigoted,” offenders against the principles of
liberal democracy. Of course the optimists may be right. The important fact,
however, is that hope is more important to them than truth.