Naming on Campus

December 2, 2016

calhoun-college

Calhoun College, Yale University

At Earlham, a prominent building is called Carpenter Hall, but almost no one remembers who Carpenter was. And that’s so for most buildings on campuses all across the United States.  But sometimes it does matter, as it does at Yale with Calhoun College.

When I was a graduate student at Yale, I had friends who lived in Calhoun, one of Yale’s residential colleges for undergraduates. I didn’t think much about the name.  It was only later that I read Calhoun and realized what a critical intellectual spokesperson he was for slavery.  In recent years, Yale has come under pressure to remove Calhoun’s name and replace it with something more suitable.  Last April, Yale President Peter Salovey announced Calhoun’s name would stay put.  Renaming Calhoun College could have the effect of hiding the legacy of slavery, he argued.  “More than a decision about a name, we must focus on understanding the past and present, and preparing our students for the future,” he added.  No doubt he also worried that if Yale removed Calhoun’s name, there would be calls to change the name of other Yale buildings

But still there was clamoring to remove Calhoun’s name.

Salovey appointed a committee–The Committee to Establish Principles on Renaming–to come up with a procedure and some guiding principles to consider proposals to remove a historical name from a campus building, space, or structure.  That committee has now made its report, and Salovey and the Yale Corporation (Yale’s governing board) have approved it.

It’s a terrific report.  It says that there should be a presumption against renaming, but it does acknowledge that there may be circumstances when name removal or change is appropriate.  And it puts forward a series of questions (the Quaker in me wants to say queries) to be asked in considering such proposals.  For example: “Is a principal legacy of the namesake fundamentally at odds with the mission of the University?” and “Was the relevant principal legacy significantly contested in the time and place in which the namesake lived?”

These questions don’t draw bright lines, but taken together they do lift up the questions and considerations that ought to come into play in making renaming decisions.

So will Calhoun College be renamed?  Given what the report reminds us about Calhoun, I’d say that is a likely upshot.  But there will be another committee that uses the new principles/questions to make a recommendation about that specific issue.  In early 2017.

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A Code of Conduct for the Trump Era?

December 1, 2016

Yesterday’s Inside Higher Education carried a story about a proposed “anti-authoritarian code of conduct” proposed by Rachel Barney, a professor of classics and philosophy at the University of Toronto.  I read the proposed code with interest, but also found myself with some misgivings.

Neither the Rachel Barney proposal nor the IHE story make any reference to the American Association of University Professors Statement on Professional Ethics.  First adopted in 1966, and subsequently revised in 1987 and 2009, it is to this statement that I would first look for guidance about professional rights and responsibilities.  In its statements on tenure and academic freedom, on academic governance, on freedom of expression and speech codes (and much else), the AAUP has established itself as an organization with the standing and gravitas to voice the rights and responsibilities of members of the academy.  (The IHE story did make mention of a recent statement by AAUP resolution condemning hate crimes.)

The AAUP Statement on Professional Ethics is, I believe, a fine statement.  So why the need for a new code?  A colleague remarked, in support of considering the Barney proposal that “the AAUP code and other codes were not drafted with current circumstances in mind.” But that seems to me to speak against the proposal.  We shouldn’t trim our ethics to suit circumstances; a good code of ethics ought to speak generally to all times and circumstances.

Is something lacking in the AAUP Statement that it ought to have included?  To my reading, the Blarney proposal covers substantially the same ground with a few important exceptions.  Both speak to truthfulness, free inquiry and academic freedom, fairness and non-discrimination.  The AAUP statement is more general and timeless; the Barney statement more toned to current times.  In that choice, I prefer more general and timeless codes: they don’t look like they were written to combat a particular political movement or person; they speak to all times and circumstances.

I want to lift up this statement in Barney’s: “I will not be shy about my commitment to academic values: truth, objectivity, free inquiry and rational debate. I will challenge others when they engage in behavior contrary to these values.”  The corresponding sentences in the the AAUP statement reads “Their primary responsibility to their subject is to seek and to state the truth as they see it. To this end professors devote their energies to developing and improving their scholarly competence. They accept the obligation to exercise critical self-discipline and judgment in using, extending, and transmitting knowledge. They practice intellectual honesty.”  Perhaps there are shades of difference between these two, but I applaud the unabashed use of the word “truth” in both.  Recent academic fashion has not favored that word.

There are two statements in the Barney proposal that deviate from the AAUP Code:

  • I will not aid in the marginalization, exclusion or deportation of my undocumented students and colleagues.
  • I will not aid in government surveillance. I will not inform.

By contrast, the AAUP statement has this to say:  “As members of their community, professors have the rights and obligations of other citizens. Professors measure the urgency of these obligations in the light of their responsibilities to their subject, to their students, to their profession, and to their institution.”

Barney is lifting up issues that are matters of law that bear on all citizens.  I like how the AAUP statement addresses that.

When and whether we should cooperate with government officials is not something that is different for scholar/teachers than it is for other citizens.  Matters of immigration and surveillance are very much in play in American politics.  I have strong leadings about both matters, ones that almost surely align with Rachel Barney’s.  I would be reluctant to cooperate with government officials on both.  I might even flatly refuse cooperation, but I don’t think I would view that as part of my professional ethics.  Rather, I think it would be a political stance, even perhaps an act of civil disobedience.  I don’t think we well serve the cause of professional ethics by mixing in matters of political disagreement, no matter how strongly we feel about them.

 

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Meanings: “Tie”

November 27, 2016

carlsen-karjakin-2016

Carlsen and Karjakin

In the World Chess Championships, Magnus Carlsen of Norway, the current world No. 1 and defending champion is tied with his challenger, the underdog Sergey Karjakin of Russia. The two have played eleven games and are tied at 5.5.  A win earns one point; a tie earns each a half point.  Carlsen and Karjakin have each one one game with all the other games have been drawn.  The match is tied, with one game to go.

But why do we say “tie” for a match in which no one is ahead when we also use that word for knots, cravats, marriages and railroad tracks?  Here’s etymology.com:

tie (n.) Look up tie at Dictionary.comOld English teag, “cord, band, thong, fetter,” literally “that with which anything is tied,” from Proto-Germanic *taugo (source also of Old Norse taug “tie,” tygill “string”), from PIE *deuk- “to pull, to lead” (source also of Old English teon “to draw, pull, drag;” see duke (n.)).

Figurative sense is recorded from 1550s. Sense of “cravat, necktie” (usually a simple one knotted in front) first recorded 1761. The railway sense of “cross-beam between and beneath rails to keep them in place” is from 1857, American English. Meaning “equality between competitors” is first found 1670s, from notion of a connecting link. Tie-breaker is recorded from 1938.

A connecting link: that’s the connection that ties the meanings together.

Tomorrow is the deciding game.  But what if Carlsen and Karjakin are still tied after the twelfth and deciding game?  Fivethirtyeight.com has been following the match.  Here’s their account of how the tie would be broken.

That tie would then be broken, and a world champion crowned, Wednesday with four rapid chess games — 25 minutes a side with 10 bonus seconds added per move. If those are tied, two blitz games — five minutes a side with three seconds added per move — will follow. If those are tied, they’ll play another two five-minute games up to four more times. And finally, if those are tied, they’ll play a final sudden-death game, using a format known as armageddon. In armageddon, black gets “time odds”: White gets five minutes while black gets just four, but a draw counts as a win for black.

Whew.

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Meanings: “Sarcasm”

August 12, 2016

“They don’t  get sarcasm?” Donald Trump tweeted this morning about his earlier remark that President Obama was the founder of ISIS.Screen Shot 2016-08-12 at 11.24.30 AM

Sarcasm may be a species of humor, but it is a biting kind of humor and often misunderstood by its intended audience: with sarcasm you are saying one thing and meaning something quite different.  The joke is on those who don’t get that they are in opposite world.  Merriam Webster gives this as a definition: “the use of words that mean the opposite of what you really want to say especially in order to insult someone, to show irritation, or to be funny.”

Etymology.com reminds us the root of sarcasm is a Greek word meaning tearing of flesh:

sarcasm (n.) Look up sarcasm at Dictionary.com1570s, sarcasmus, from Late Latin sarcasmus, from late Greek sarkasmos “a sneer, jest, taunt, mockery,” from sarkazein “to speak bitterly, sneer,” literally “to strip off the flesh,” from sarx (genitive sarkos) “flesh,” properly “piece of meat,” from PIE root *twerk- “to cut” (source also of Avestan thwares “to cut”). Current form of the English word is from 1610s. For nuances of usage, see humor (n.).

In a 2012 Psychology Today article, Clifford Larazus tells us “sarcasm is actually hostility disguised as humor.” He ends his piece by saying the use of sarcasm is “just thinly veiled hostility and unacceptable bullying.”

Not a form of humor that anyone aspiring to leadership should ever employ.

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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 etymology.com 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

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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