Meanings: “Gist”

April 14, 2016

On River View Friend I recently posted something I titled The Gist of Quakerism.  The word “gist” came quickly to mind as the word I wanted to comment on Chuck Fager’s two paragraph summary of Quakerism, but after I finished writing it I found myself wondering about the origin of the word “gist.”

Here’s what has to say:

gist (n.) Look up gist at Dictionary.com1711, “the real point” (of a law case, etc.), from Anglo-French legalese phrases such as cest action gist “this action lies,” from Old French gist en “it consists in, it lies in,” from gist (Modern French gît), third person singular present indicative of gésir “to lie,” from Latin iacet “it lies,” from iacere “to lie, rest,” related to iacere “to throw” (see jet (v.)). Extended sense of “essence” first recorded 1823.

So the word has French origins. The gist of something is where it fundamentally lies; its foundation.

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Ice Cream and Education

April 8, 2016

The good folks at the Economist have come up with a suggestion about how to boost scores of American students on standardized tests: eat more ice cream.  They notice this pattern in scores on the international PISA tests:

ice cream & education

The more ice cream you eat the higher the scores, and a fairly robust correlation it is.  Of course with the amount of ice cream we are already consuming, we (along with the Australians and Finns) should be doing better on the tests.  And kids in Hong Kong and Singapore are significantly outperforming their meager ice cream consumption on the tests.

Could be a spurious correlation.  Still, worth a try.  I’m in.

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Where Is Academic Freedom Most Secure

April 7, 2016

I was stunned recently when I read that Sara Goldrick-Rab, a “prominent researcher on low-income students and public policy,” would be leaving one university to accept an appointment at another university out of concerns for academic freedom.

Stunned because the university she was leaving was the University of Wisconsin and the university to which she was going was Temple University.


Temple University

If there was any university I would have held up as a paragon of what a university should be when I started my career, Wisconsin would be the one.

When I accepted a position at Temple University in 1973, its posture on academic freedom was not something I considered at all, though I don’t say that with pride.  I guess I made assumptions: the university’s faculty had just agreed to unionize with the AAUP as its bargaining agent.  After a few years there, I had come to have my doubts about the benefits of being a unionized faculty (a story for another day) and I had come to learn a great deal about Temple’s ugly episode of academic freedom.

Barrows Dunham: that was the name that came back to mind when I read of Goldrick-Rab’s decision.  Dunham had been a philosophy professor at Temple for 16 years when he refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953.  His refusal set off a firestorm of criticism, a threat from legislators to cut off funding to the university, and eventually Dunham’s dismissal by the university’s Trustees.  In time, the American Association of University Professors put Temple on its censure list.

The Barrows Dunham case remained a contentious matter for decades after. I think I first heard about it in a meeting of the University Senate, where I came to hear about it frequently.  After his dismissal, Dunham did not return to campus until 1977, and in 1981 he was named professor of emeritus, restoring his pension.  I remember then-President Marvin Wachman apologizing for Dunham’s dismissal.

The AAUP removed Temple from the censure list when Dunham was reinstated, even if only as an emeritus.  A few years later, Temple was again put on the censure list by AAUP for is dismissal of 52 tenured faculty members.  (On this, see my former colleague Judy Goode’s brief history of shared governance at Temple written in 2011.) Temple remained on the AAUP censure list for another decade — until it reinstated four faculty members (the “final four”) who had not previously been reinstated, found positions elsewhere, or accepted buyouts.

I don’t know how secure academic freedom is at the University of Wisconsin today in the aftermath of changes in tenure approved by the Board of Regents.  We may not know until those new procedures are used.  I can’t say I know how secure academic freedom is at Temple University today.  But I was stunned at Goldick-Rab’s news.

I do want to add a few words more generally about tenure in higher education.  The canonical AAUP 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure provides two quite different reasons for establishing the institution of tenure  “Tenure is a means to certain ends; specifically: (1) freedom of teaching and research and of extramural activities, and (2) a sufficient degree of economic security to make the profession attractive to men and women of ability.” 

The dismissal of Barrows Dunham violated his academic freedom and that’s what put Temple on the censure list the first time.  The dismissal of the 52 was done for putatively financial reasons and that’s what put Temple on the censure list the second time.

Thus, not all violations of tenure policy or procedures is a violation of academic freedom.

Conversely, tenure isn’t the only protection for academic freedom. I came away from Temple believing that strong, internalized, acted-upon support for academic freedom on the part of faculty, administrators, board members, legislators and yes the general public are more essential than written (perhaps contractual) statements of policy and procedure.  I believe written statements of policy and procedure such as AAUP prescribes are vital, but without well-understood support from all participants, those policies and procedures prove a thin bulwark.

Hence the long censure list. Hence the recent changes at Wisconsin, once a paragon.

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Annals of Leadership: Jose Mourinho

December 18, 2015

Image result for Jose Mourinho“I feel my work was betrayed,” he said. “Last season I did an amazing job and I brought players to a level that is not their level.”  That’s what Jose Mourinho, Manager of the English Premier League team Chelsea FC said about his players last week after they were defeated by hitherto lowly Leicester City last weekend.  Last year under Mourinho’s ‘leadership’ (and not, coincidentally with the riches of Chelsea’s owner, Roman Abramovich, and the extraordinary skill of his players), Chelsea won the English Premier League. This year Chelsea has a terrible record.

“I feel my work was betrayed:” with those words, Mourinho wins induction into the Annals of Leadership-Not!  Take all the credit for good things; assign all the blame to others. Those are key criteria for induction.  And be sure to cash the checks.


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Academic Freedom Overreach

November 6, 2015

In an other wise interesting and thoughtful article I read recently, I came upon the following passage:

In general, [universities] don’t like their professors to criticize their policies and actions, without airing their disagreements with the administration first, so that the latter aren’t blindsided. One can argue that this places constraints on the academic freedom of all … faculty.

That brought me up short. The assertion here seems to be that an administrator’s disagreeing or feeling uncomfortable with something a faculty member says or writes should, in itself, be seen as a constraint on academic freedom.

It didn’t take me long to realize I didn’t agree with that.

On a daily basis, administrators (provosts, deans, presidents) read or hear things said by faculty members with which they, the administrators, disagree, or with which they know others (faculty, parents, legislators, the general public) will disagree. Academic freedom is a principle to protect faculty members by allowing them to speak freely in the pursuit of truth. We don’t begin to have an issue of academic freedom until there is some negative consequence visited on the faculty member for what s/he said: for example denial of reappointment or tenure or promotion or salary increase. Rolled eyes or a wince on the part of an administrator can’t count as a negative consequence nor even disagreement voiced to others. Administrators need freedom, too, and they can hardly stop themselves reacting to what faculty members say. Academic freedom puts limits on the authoritative actions administrators can take.

Put another way: if administrators never found anything disagreeable, there wouldn’t be any need for academic freedom as principle or practice. It’s what happens next that matters when expression of an idea offends.

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Meanings: Character

September 1, 2015

On River View Friend, I’ve added a post about the meaning of the word “character.”

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Our Far-Flung Alumni: Robbie Rohr

June 23, 2015

Robbie Rohr - Susan Riemer/Staff Photo“Rohr said she has always had a strong sense of social justice, and when she attended Earlham College, a Quaker school in Indiana, she felt among kindred spirits, as there was a sense of joy and an appreciation of life and personal responsibility to make life better for people.”

That’s from Robbie Rohr’s interview with the Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber after she was named executive director of the Vashon Maury Community Food Bank.

“Rohr said she has always had a strong sense of social justice, and when she attended Earlham College, a Quaker school in Indiana, she felt among kindred spirits, as there was a sense of joy and an appreciation of life and personal responsibility to make life better for people. ‘Since then I have learned that it is all about compassion,’ she said,” says the article.

Rohr brings a wealth of experience in non-profit leadership across a wide range of issues.  “Her most recent interim appointments include DAWN (the Domestic Abuse Women’s Network) in Tukwila and the Wonderland Developmental Center in Shoreline. She has also served as the executive director of Cancer Lifeline, the Center for Human Services and the Executive Alliance, a nonprofit membership association she helped create to advance the nonprofit sector.”

Sounds like an Earlhamite to me.  Congratulations.

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