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Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Another Salaita post

Here's a good post on Salaita. (Hat tip to Leslie on whose facebook feed I found it.)

He also think affirmative consent laws are a mistake. Me too.

17 comments:

clarissasblog.com said...

A brilliant article. I agree completely.

Thomas said...

Great post. Thanks for the link. I liked Katherine Franke's remark a while back on Democracy Now: "Civility is not an academic norm." (Start at about the 49:30 mark)

clarissasblog.com said...

I meant the one about affirmative consent. The one on Salaita I don't like as much. This demonization of academics does more harm than good. Like this part, for instance: "Or you can contribute to a climate of fear in which adjuncts, pre-tenure TT faculty, and graduate students are forced into servility, forever chasing fads in research and pedagogy, conceding to every new demand from administration, and refusing to fight for what they need and believe in, leading inevitably to the total and irrevocable deprofessionalization of the university." And the part right before that is just as bad.

Thomas said...

@Clarissa: That doesn't demonize academics, it's a critique of the climate that turns them into demons, isn't it?

Jonathan said...

I'm not saying I agree with every point he makes, but overall it is a good post, even if I disagree with parts of it.

For example, one thing I disagree with is the value of civility. He seems to think it it exclusively a tool of the power. It can be that (and is). But I think certain forms of civility are desirable and strategically useful, and that certain forms of "incivility" lead to counterproductive results.

Thomas said...

@Jonathan: I think the point is that calls for a civility are means of exerting power. (In fact, you have to have power in order to effectively call for your opponent to be civil.) It's certainly true, and I don't think deBoer would disagree, that sometimes maintaining a civil demeanour is rhetorically more effective than offending the hell out of someone. What deBoer is saying is that incivility should be a perfectly legitimate possibility. This is what Franke is saying when she says civility is not a norm. When you fail to be civil, or wilfully offend, you are not failing to be academic. Or that's how it should be. The times they are a-changing.

Jonathan said...

I do understand that point, of course. I've made it myself. But does that mean there is no line at all which you can't cross? I think a line, for example, with jussives about violent things happening to people. The whole social media thing at KU was caused by a tweet that said this:

"The blood is on the hands of the #NRA. Next time, let it be YOUR sons and daughters. Shame on you. May God damn you."

Much as I think this statement is idiotic, I also believe it should be protected speech. Yet shouldn't an administrator say: this is not how we want our faculty members to behave? Should we attack them because they point out that this is not "civil."

Thomas said...

I an administrator should always fight the temptation to intervene. It will always look like an exercise of power. It will always cause a chill.

We should not say that Salaita's tweet cross some abstract but absolute line. We should tell him in that particular instance (if we're the one's talking to him) that that's going too far.

The part that's worrying is the idea that because Salaita is an academic he crosses, when he does, a much clearer and much more sacred line. In my view, his tweet is just plain, ordinary offensive. And that's exactly what he was trying to be.

He may have regretted it afterwards (as some might) or he may not. But he should not feel extra shame (or anxiety about the consequences) because he's an academic.

Jonathan said...

So you're saying we're not superior to other people because we're academics? [sarcasm]

I actually think I hold myself to a higher standard because I am an academic. Maybe I'm wrong to do so, but it's my choice and I don't think I'm harming anyone by doing so. I guess the harm would be in expecting others to do the same, then. I guess an administrator has to lead by example. For example, Wise, who is maligned (justly) for he treatment of SS, did a great thing earlier by responding well to the racist and sexist comments she got when she didn't cancel classes on a cold day.

clarissasblog.com said...

"That doesn't demonize academics, it's a critique of the climate that turns them into demons, isn't it?"

- I firmly believe that no set of circumstances can bring out in you what wasn't already there. People who behave in a lousy way exist in any profession and they would behave in the same shitty way even if they had no need to be employed at all.

clarissasblog.com said...

"Yet shouldn't an administrator say: this is not how we want our faculty members to behave?"

- I wouldn't like this statement if it came from an administrator. The attitude is paternalistic and condescending. It is not the administrator's place to "want people to behave" in any specific way. Are employees fulfilling their contractual obligations? If so, the administrator has no business wanting or not wanting anything else from them.

Thomas said...

I wonder if you would be less civil if you were in some other profession. I seriously doubt it. But it raises some interesting questions.

Suppose you were a really, really cantankerous person--mean, sarcastic, not very civil. But you knew everything you know about poetry, and, thirty years ago were capable of learning it.

It's true that you're not harming anyone by taming yourself. But...

There would be a harm if someone barred you from a career in academia because of your gruff persona.

You'll grant that point, of course. So try this one:

Suppose that you choose not to go into academia because you don't want to observe the high standard of civility you think applies there. Suppose that out of desire to spare your apparently easily offended colleagues, you go elsewhere.

Now, that would be a real loss to the study of literature. That's why we must not even hold ourselves (as academics) to a standard of civility. We mustn't give our students the impression that on that point, they should follow our lead. It will discourage some of the most interesting minds among us.

It's actually an argument for being a bit uncivil even in class: you're saying, "You should be able to deal with this kind of shit."

Ironically, I think civility is and should be an administrative norm, by the way. Its application to academic is rightly seen (by deBoer and Franke) as a sign of "corporatization". Civility is ultimately a respect for power.

Jonathan said...

Yes, that sounds incredibly patronizing, come to think of it. The best approach is to let a faculty member make a fool of himself.

Thomas said...

@Clarissa: "...no set of circumstances can bring out in you what wasn't already there. People who behave in a lousy way exist in any profession and they would behave in the same shitty way even if they had no need to be employed at all."

Yes, but this assumes that we're dealing with a static population with no options. The climate is attracting one kind of person and repelling another. So the "kind of person" an academic is can be changed by the climate even if it doesn't essentially change any particular person.

That said, I do believe people have a lot of both good and bad in them and that circumstances should, to the best of our abilities, be designed to bring out the best in people.

Jonathan said...

I am cantankerous, so civility for me is a learned skill. It could have cost me a job or two in the past (incivility).

I destroyed someone's book in a review recently. I've done that before. I think in the scholarly heat of argument you can attack ideas without attacking the people behind them. I'm tough on a dissertation defense too. I agree that uncivil administrators are simply bullies (by virtue of their power.)

In class, you can say: "Please back up that point better." Or "I don't understand what you're saying." You can't say "that's the dumbest thing I've every heard."

Thomas said...

@Jonathan: yes, and to let their colleagues call them fools when it happens.

Thomas said...

(That last comment was to previous one, of course.)

I think there's an interesting rhetorical space between "Please back that up a little better" and "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard" that is way too rarely explored in today's university classroom.

I think you were right earlier when you said that it has to to with not being condescending. If you would call a peer an idiot for saying something you should find a way to say it to a student as well. True, here you have to respect the asymmetrical power situation.

But students who sometimes feel great pride when you say, "What a great a question!" have to experience (at least the possibility) of being profoundly disappointing to you as well. Even if it's just a matter of a facial expression that lightly mocks them.