Cliopatria: A Group Blog
Aaron Bady (∞); Chris Bray (∞); Brett Holman (∞); Jonathan Jarrett (∞); Robert KC Johnson (∞); Rachel Leow (∞); Ralph E. Luker (∞); Scott McLemee (∞); Claire B. Potter (∞); Jonathan T. Reynolds (∞)
First, David Rees, the SUU Faculty Senate president, amplified on his criticism of Roberds, claiming that “in [Roberds’] classrooms when students express their opinions that are different than his, Dr. Roberds puts them down and ridicules them in a loud voice to intimidate them, denying the students academic freedom.”
As Cliopatria readers know, I am a strong advocate of fortifying students’ academic freedom, which represents one way of restoring a modicum of balance in ideologically imbalanced social sciences and humanities departments. And if true, Rees’ would seem a serious allegation. There’s only one problem: there’s no evidence to sustain Rees’ assertion. Roberds has consistently received stellar teaching scores (an average of 91 out of 100), was presented with the college’s Distinguished Lecturer award, and was voted by the students as Professor of the Year—hardly the kind of conduct one would associate with ridiculing students and putting them down in front of others. Moreover, Roberds previously was promoted from untenured assistant to untenured associate professor. If his treatment of students was so offensive, why did the college promote him?
Second, Rees reiterates (and Roberds affirms) what appears to have been an ugly incident involving an anti-gay marriage demonstration last spring, which devolved into a shouting match in which Roberds insulted Rees’ son, a student at SUU. While I agree with Roberds on gay marriage, I can’t say that I agree with his shouting at Rees’ son. Yet it’s also hard to see how this incident would play a role in his tenure case: it occurred not in the classroom but at a public demonstration, where Roberds (and Rees’ son) are both entitled to free speech. It’s also clear from Rees’ comments that he is a strong opponent of gay marriage, raising again the issue of how much Roberds’ politics played in the college’s decision to deny him tenure.
Third, University officials are using the old standby: according to the vice president of university relations, “By policy we are not supposed to talk about these situations no matter what the other side says,” while the dean commented only, “We have followed policies and procedures that led to the decision to not renew Professor Roberds' contract for the 2005-06 academic year." Apparently, then, it’s customary at SUU for department chairs to summon students under false pretenses, ask them leading questions, and then not write anything down when they don’t provide the desired responses.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we gained today a little context on the event that provoked this entire controversy, when Roberds used a swear word toward a student. SUU has a highly unusual organizational structure, in which criminal justice and political science were merged into one department, the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice. It’s not clear why the school would have merged a liberal arts department with a discipline such as criminal justice.
This merger made Lamar Jordan, a criminal justice professor who does not hold a Ph.D., chair of the school’s political science professors. Finding department administrators is often a problem in the academy, of course: those interested in scholarship or teaching often shy away from such positions, on the understandable grounds that they would prefer to be engaged in research or pedagogical rather than administrative matters. But there is a certainly a problem (again, something I learned from personal experience) when a liberal arts department ostensibly committed to fostering a connection between scholarship and research is presided over by a figure without a scholarly record.
It turns out that the in-class exchange grew out of the aftermath of this departmental merger; Roberds yelled at a student,"What the fuck are they teaching you in criminal justice, anyway?" Everyone concedes that Roberds immediately took the student aside and then publicly apologized to the class, but when word of the event reached Jordan, he initiated his extraprocedural summons of the students.
The motive for SUU’s action is becoming somewhat clearer. The justification, alas, is not.
Contrast that with Alex Pang's daughter's difficulty explaining exactly what she"is" or where she's"from."
We are shortchanging ourselves if we don't realize two things: first, the individual is becoming increasingly globalized and mixed, and interesting as a result. And second, it has always been this way, and only our atavistic nineteenth century concepts of race and nation keep us from seeing the constant and ongoing blending of peoples and cultures as a normal (not unproblematic, but unexceptional) thing in world historical terms.
(Yeah, I'm still grading world history finals, why?)
almost related: A discussion of autism activism in the NYTimes included this passage:
The effort to cure autism, they say, is not like curing cancer, but like the efforts of a previous age to cure left-handedness. Some worry that in addition to troublesome interventions, the ultimate cure will be a genetic test to prevent autistic children from being born.I'm quite sure that there's a false dilemma here. At least one. More later.
(Yes, I know grades are due in ten hours, why?)
update: Arthur Silber, at Liberty & Power has an excellent extended discussion of the article with particular reference to Thomas Szasz' work on demedicalization of behavior disorders and Alice Miller's work on abuse-perpetuating childrearing practices.
Fifteen years ago, with Stanford's Clayborne Carson, I was responsible for directing research on Martin Luther King's early life for the Martin Luther King Papers Project. The arrangement was a sort of three legged stool, because most of the original documents on which we were to work were located in Special Collections at Boston University's Mugar Library, the senior editor was at Stanford, and my offices were at the King Center and at Emory University in Atlanta. When I joined the Project in 1986, indeed within his own lifetime (1929-1968), it was already known that there were issues about originality in Dr. King's sermons and speeches.
What became increasingly clear as we worked through the papers from King's early career is that there were serious problems of plagiarism in his academic work. Tim Burke's colleague at Swarthmore, Allison Dorsey, was one of many graduate students at Stanford and Emory who did the fine tooth combing of the secondary sources that King wove into his own compositions. What became clear was that they were a patchwork of his own language and the language of scholars, often without clear attribution. If anything, the pattern seemed to be that the more familiar King was with a subject, the less likely he was to plagiarize. On matters that were fairly alien to his experience, he borrowed heavily from others and often with only the slightest wink of attribution. To take two extreme examples, an autobiographical paper,"Autobiography of Religious Development" has no significant plagiarism in it; his paper on"The Chief Characteristics and Doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism," however, is composed almost exclusively of paragraphs lifted from the best secondary sources available to him. Moreover, the further King went in his academic career, the more deeply ingrained the patterns of borrowing language without clear attribution became. Thus, the plagiarism in his dissertation seemed to be, by then, the product of his long established practice.
When word of our findings leaked to the press, it appeared first in England and only later in the American press. It was, for several days, very big news indeed. Our five minutes of infamy waned and scholarly reflection took over. Boston University convened a panel to assess the situation. It concluded that there were serious problems with King's dissertation, made note of that, and concluded, nonetheless, that his doctorate should not be revoked. There were dissenting voices about that. Garry Wills, for one, argued that there was no statute of limitations on plagiarism. Neither death, nor Nobelity, nor immortality conferred immunity from the consequences of academic theft, he said. Boston should have revoked the doctorate.
Still, after all these years, in spite of many very important books and articles about Martin Luther King, there is much yet to be said about his plagiaries. For one thing, King's academic plagiarism deepened as he moved from being a very young college student at Morehouse, to a seminary student at Crozier, and finally a graduate student at Boston. He entered Morehouse at 15, a consequence of aggressive parental promotion and an early admissions program at the college to fill seats vacated by World War II's draft. His record at Morehouse was, altogether, rather mediocre and his teachers noted some carelessness in his papers. When he attended Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pennsylvania, it was King's first experience as a racial minority student in a largely white student body and his grades dramatically improved.
Two things, it seems to me, were going on. First, King was a charming young guy, intent on returning to his professors the kind of work they expected of him. They, in turn, recommended to him sources which they, themselves, most deeply respected. So, the roots of King's plagiary lie in one of our two expectations of students. We expect them to learn what the authorities have to say about a subject. He worked the authorities' words into a seamless construct of his own creation and told his professors almost exactly what they, themselves, believed about a subject. To be candid, aren't we most likely to reward students with good grades when they say what we believe, in our heart of hearts, about a subject? What was lacking in King's academic work was the other thing which we commonly ask of students: originality of thought. To be candid, originality of thought is rare in any student, rare enough, even, in scholarship. We say we value it, but I suspect that originality of thought, if or when it raises an abrupt head, is fairly threatening to us.
The other thing that I think was going on, particularly in King's later academic career, was that he was being patronized by his liberal, white professors. That clearly was not the case when his undergraduate teachers at Morehouse evaluated his work. But when he went to predominately white institutions in the North, King received extra-ordinarily high grades for academic work which was not only often heavily plagiarized, but was otherwise quite unexceptional. There's probably no way to prove that King was being patronized, but I think that, in the context of the time, the temptation to over-reward a charming young African American student who told his liberal white professors in the North almost exactly what he knew they already deeply believed about a subject was simply overwhelming.
The tensions between valuing knowing what the authorities have said about a subject and producing a work of original thought came to a head in King's dissertation."A Comparison of the Conceptions of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman" is a sort of workman-like product, plagued with plagiarism, but passable if you're not paying attention. It is, however, no original contribution to scholarship. Isn't that what we say that we expect a dissertation to be? The reason that Martin Luther King's dissertation is of only historical interest is because it is all so predictable. He sets out, as an advocate of personalism, the theological persuasion of his mentors, to assess Paul Tillich's and Henry Nelson Wieman's doctrines of God. Boston personalism held that ultimate reality was personal. Tillich and Wieman were the most prominent spokesmen of their time for doctrines of God holding that ultimate reality was not personal. King's conclusion, that the doctrines of God in Tillich and Wieman, were flawed because they held that ultimate reality was impersonal was something altogether predictable by the terms of their premises. There was simply nothing new, interesting, or surprising there, at all.
I might conclude that none of this was fatal for King's career as a preacher and powerful public speaker. Had he pursued an academic career, his heavy reliance on the authorities, often without citing them, could have been fatal. But in preaching, perhaps even in most public speech, genuine originality is more often fatal. A congregation, even a public audience, expects to hear and responds to the word once delivered to the fathers [and mothers]. It is the familiar that resonates with us. The original sounds alien and tends to alienate. The familiar, especially the familiar that appeals to the best in us, is what we long to hear. So,"I Have A Dream" was no new vision; it was a recension, quite literally, of his own"An American Dream." And that dream, as we know, already had a long history. King's vision was, perhaps, more inclusive than earlier dreams, but it appealed to us because we already believed it.
Rees gives three reasons for the university’s decision to deny Roberds tenure. First, he states that Roberds was uncollegial with students, citing a heated exchange between Roberds and a student in class (for which the professor apologized and which the college has claimed in other forums was not a reason for its decision) and a similarly heated exchange between Roberds and a student who opposed gay marriage at a student rally against gay marriage. (He also claims that other incidents occurred, but doesn’t cite any, and there has been no evidence of any other incidents.) Second, Rees deems uncollegial Roberds’ attacks on a new Faculty Senate constitution authored by Rees and supported by the SUU administration. Finally, he cites process: that as “the tenure process requires input from several faculty committees . . . even after meeting several times to discuss Roberds' application for tenure, a faculty committee did not approve it,” and therefore “it can be argued that tenure to Roberds was denied by his peers.”
On the first point, SUU offers a definition of collegiality in dealing with students that I fully support—to wit,"Faculty members will provide a respectful atmosphere and not reward agreement or penalize disagreement with their views on controversial topics." Certainly, if there was evidence that Roberds violated this policy in the classroom, his denial of tenure might be justified. There is, however, no evidence except for the October 2004 incident, for which Roberds immediately apologized. There’s an additional problem here: the students of SUU voted Roberds the university’s professor of the year in 2003. Is the SUU administration really willing to claim that the professor who the students consider the institution’s finest is “uncollegial” to students?
As to the second point, there seems to be no doubt about the following facts: Rees was the primary author of a proposed new Faculty Senate constitution, Roberds fiercely criticized it as unfriendly to faculty, especially to those faculty who dissent from the dominant culture of the institution, and Rees took personal offense at Roberds’ criticism. Apparently SUU has a policy that states it’s OK to deny tenure to junior faculty who criticize institutional initiatives that enjoy the support of administrators and powerful tenured faculty on campus. As I looked through SUU’s faculty handbook, however, I couldn’t locate that policy. Perhaps Professor Rees will pen another op-ed explicating it.
As I learned from my own tenure case, when all else fails, institutions fall back on the procedural argument: “There is a ‘time-tested’ process, and there must be a justifiable reason for our decision, even if we can’t articulate it publicly for reasons of—as Rees puts it—privacy and gentlemanly conduct.’ Just trust us.”
When an institution has violated procedure, however, it no longer can credibly call on the sanctity of the process to justify its decision. In this case, Roberds’ chairman, Lamar Jordan, summoned students into his office under false pretenses, asked them leading questions, refused to take notes (according to the students) when they offered positive remarks about Roberds’ classroom performance, and then instructed them not to reveal the contents of the meeting. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t strike me as particularly “gentlemanly conduct.”
So, to sum up: the president of the SUU Faculty Senate has said that his institution fired its 2003 Professor of the Year because he was uncollegial to the students who voted him their professor of the year; because he criticized a new Faculty Senate constitution coincidentally written by the same Faculty Senate president who now deems him uncollegial; and because SUU has a process in which all tenure candidacies are considered by multiple committees in a gentlemanly fashion. A piece of unsolicited advice to Professor Rees: the next time the idea of penning an op-ed crosses your mind, sleep on it for a day or two.
Update, 2.24pm: It turns out that the student who crossed swords with Roberds at the anti-gay marriage event was none other than Professor Rees' son. Funny how that doesn't get mentioned in his article.
Hollings is also the last of another breed: the long-serving moderate-to-liberal Southern Democratic senator. The Palmetto State Democrat was longest serving junior senator in American history (for 36 of his 38 years in office, he was South Carolina’s junior senator, behind Strom Thurmond). Historians should refrain from prognostications, but I think it’s safe to say that it will be a long time before any Southern state re-elects a Democrat six times to the U.S. Senate.
Hollings came to the Senate in 1966 with the reputation as a very conservative Democrat. A former SC governor, he had unsuccessfully challenged the last of the state’s true liberals, Senator Olin Johnston, in the 1962 Democratic primary. Then, after Johnston’s death in 1965 necessitated a special election, he ousted the senator’s replacement, Don Russell, who LBJ described as one of his two favorite Southern governors (along with Carl Sanders of Georgia). Had he not done so, ironically, the seat almost certainly would have fallen into Republican hands. The special election for Johnston’s seat coincided with Strom Thurmond's first bid for reelection as a Republican, and in a year (1966) that was very strongly Republican in congressional elections. Hollings only won 51-49, a margin with which he would eventually become quite familiar.
Hollings sported a very conservative record for his first 10 years or so in the Senate, especially on national security and foreign policy issues. At the same time, however, he distinguished himself with an exceptionally good record on hunger and child poverty issues, one of the few senators to specialize in these questions. He first came to national prominence in 1980, when Jimmy Carter’s appointment of Budget Committee chairman Ed Muskie elevated Hollings, a renowned deficit hawk, to the Budget Committee chairmanship.
As the national Democratic Party moved to the center in the 1980s—and as the Reagan deficits made national Democrats far more sympathetic to Hollings’ budget-cutting preferences—the senator made a bid for President in 1984, but his efforts never received traction. The following year, he joined Phil Gramm and Warren Rudman in co-sponsoring the budget-cutting measure that eventually came to be known as Gramm-Rudman—which prompted Hollings to quip,"If you want a lesson in political anonymity, sponsor a bill with Phil Gramm."
By the late 1980s, with the exception of free trade (he was the Senate’s foremost protectionist), Hollings’ record was indistinguishable from that of most national Democrats. With Republicans assuming majority status in South Carolina, he came under strong challenge in his final two re-election bids, especially since he had pledged previously to retire and had taken to being even more blunt than usual in his public comments. But he was fortunate in his opponents. When his 1992 foe, Congressman Tommy Hartnett, challenged him to take a drug test, the senator shot back,"I'll take a drug test if you take an I.Q. test." As Hartnett wasn’t known for his intellectual acumen, the congressman wisely declined; Hollings squeaked through, 51-49. Then, in 1998, he drew as a foe Congressman Bob Inglis, who some might recall as the smarmily sanctimonious Judiciary Committee member during the Clinton impeachment hearings and trial.
Democrats pressed him to run for reelection in 2004: in retrospect, he was their only chance of holding the seat. But perhaps he was wise to retire, since he might very well have lost, and he therefore was able to go out on top. As Democrats search for a viable candidate for 2008, the Fritz Hollings of the early 1980s would seem ideal. Unfortunately for the party, there aren’t any such figures around.
Tony Blair's government will be debating and voting today on establishing I.D. cards for everyone. The Immigration Minister, Des Browne, says:
"What we are doing is taking information which the state already knows about individuals and applying it to biometric information to give the opportunity for a secure form of identification, which the society we live in is crying out for."
Margaret Thatcher is quoted as saying it all sounds very"Germanic".
Charles Clarke, the new Home Secretary, writes in the Times that:
For example, a secure identity system will help to prevent terrorist activity, more than a third of which makes use of false identities. It will make it far easier to address the vile trafficking in vulnerable human beings that ends in the tragedies of Morecambe Bay, exploitative near-slave labour or vile forced prostitution. It will reduce identity fraud, which now costs the UK more than £1.3 billion every year.
I believe that some critics of our proposals are guilty of liberal woolly thinking and spreading false fears when they wrongly claim that ID cards will erode our civil liberties, will revisit 1984, usher in the “Big Brother” society, or establish some kind of totalitarian police state. Those kinds of nightmare will be no more true of ID cards, when they are introduced, than they have been for the spread of cash and credit cards, driving licences, passports, work security passes and any number of the other current forms of ID that most of us now carry.
In order to reinforce this point, the Bill does not make it compulsory to carry a card, nor does it give powers to the police to stop individuals and demand to see their card. Neither will the database which accompanies the card hold information such as medical records, religion or political beliefs.
The Opposition Leader, Michael Howard, drops the whole"opposition" bit and explains himself in the Telegraph:
Why are ID cards important? The primary reason is that identity is a key element in detection. If someone comes to the attention of the police, arousing their suspicions that he may be involved in a terrorist conspiracy, the police need to know who that person is in order to identify who his associates are, whom he has been seeing and what they've been up to. And they need to do it fast. This information could be the determining factor as to whether a major act of terrorism and murder takes place or does not.
Bottomline: Fight Terrorists, Get an ID Card.
I come from a National I.D. society. Yes, with biometric information now. I still have my N.I.D. card tucked into my passport. Terrorism is non-existent in Pakistan. Right?
The central problem with all these programs which call for centralized information on the citizenry is that they rarely provide direct support to the causes for which they are established. Instead, the I.D. cards will get used for immigration policing or mob/crowd busting or cashing social-security checks.
I think that this debate is headed our way soon - in one form or another.
Speaking about the quality of our work, Bridget at Fear of a Female Planet looks at a decade of discussion about the quality of an important book in the history of science and suggests that the future of the history of science department at Harvard hangs in the balances. Hat tip to Nathanael Robinson at the Dictionary of Received Ideas.
James Carroll has a thoughtful essay,"God's Clock," in the Boston Globe.
If you are not enjoying the beauty of misteraitch's Giornale Nuovo, you should be. I also love the rich visual qualities of wood s lot's site. It is more overtly political than misteraitch, but where do these guys come up with these names for themselves?
Finally, my colleague, Jonathan Dresner, joined Cliopatria a year ago today. We owe him a great deal for our success. Happy anniversary, Jon!
Naomi Chana's BaraitaNow, as you were saying, about the, ... ah, dearth of female academic talent on the net ...
Erin O'Connor's Critical Mass
Belle Waring's Examined Life
the Ancient World Web groupblog
Another Damned Medievalist's Blogenspiel
Dictionary of Received Ideas groupblog
Lisa at Digital Medievalist
Clair at Early Modern Material Culture
Julia at Flailing in the Surf!
Kristine Brorson at Historiological Notes
the Interfaith Nunnery groupblog
Melissa at Medieval History
the Medieval Studies groupblog
Natalie Bennett's Philobiblion
Shana Worthen and
Esther MacCallum-Stewart's What a Lovely War.
Otherwise, I recommend two pieces from the Boston Globe:
James Carroll's"Afraid to Look in the Moral Abyss," looks at the horror that Iraq has become; and Matthew Price's"Weary of the Leisure Class" meditates on the way Thorstein Veblen's ideas help us understand contemporary America.
1) Spell-check is revising history, notes the senior Volokh. The dashing ways of Confederate General Robert E. Lee's father, the commander of the Legion of Virginia in the American Revolution, left him with the nickname of"Lighthorse" Harry Lee for two centuries. Apparently the spell-checks of neither Corel WordPerfect nor Microsoft Word recognize"Lighthorse" as a word and correct it to"Lighthouse." Slowly the dashing soldier is becoming known as"Lighthouse" Harry Lee, on a Fairfax County, Virginia, site, two Texasarchives, a legal journal, and elsewhere.
2) Since September 2003, we've been quietly waiting for the National Research Council's report on the reliability of John Lott's research in a 1997 article on the effect of the prevalence of guns on crime. There were other issues that undermined Lott's credibility. As underdog might have noted in the discussion of blogging and gender at Crooked Timber, Lott's use of a sockpuppet, Mary Rosh, puts a different spin on the whole issue of gender and anonymity/pseudonymity. As he did in the case of Michael Bellesiles, The Volokh Conspiracy's Jim Lindgren played a crucial role in outlining the reasons to doubt the integrity of Lott's research claims. Now, says Lindgren's fellow Conspirator, Stewart Benjamin, the NRC's report has been released and it is unfavorable to Lott. It remains to be seen whether the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the Federalist Society will withdraw their sponsorship of his work. Lott's liberal critics have quietly allowed due processes to work in his case. There's been little of the hue and cry that attended the firing of Michael Bellesiles from the Emory University faculty. Tim Lambert, who has been Lott's most persistent critic, responds to the NRC finding at Deltoid.
For excellent, serious reading: Palle Yourgrau,"Goedel and Einstein: Friendship and Relativity."
Over the last two days, 723 incorrectly uncounted ballots have been discovered in heavily Democratic King County (Seattle). Republicans are now going to court to keep these ballots uncounted, although their case seems weak: it is the purpose of a manual recount, I should think, to catch just such mistakes. If the ballots are allowed in, Gregoire would almost certainly win.
A case can be made, of course, that Gregoire has no one to blame for her problems but herself: in basketball, when a favored team loses because of a bad call by the referees at the end of the game, the old adage is that the better team shouldn't have put itself in the position to lose the game because of one bad call. If Gregoire hadn't taken Rossi too lightly, she wouldn't need a favorable court decision to ensure the counting of these ballots and her probable victory. Winning in this way would hamper her ability to serve as governor, and could have national effects; Rossi, if defeated, will almost certainly challenge first-term Democratic senator Maria Cantwell in 2006, and might benefit from something of a symnpathy vote.
This election, though, along with other famous such cases (beyond Florida 2000, the big two are the Indiana 8th District race in which Democratic incumbent Frank McCloskey ultimately was declared the winner by 3 votes; and the 1974 NH Senate race between John Durkin and Louis Wyman, in which the Senate ultimately decided to seat neither man and instead ordered a rerun of the election), raises the question of how well equipped we are to handle stastically insignificant outcomes. I'm not sure that Washington wouldn't have been better served by rerunning this contest, as well.
Update, 6.48pm: A superior court judge has just upheld the GOP challenge, saying that the 723 votes, even though they clearly are valid ballots that were improperly rejected, can't be counted. The State Dems are going to appeal.
Roberds is a left-of-center professor on a campus that, like almost all universities in Utah, public or private, leans right. (SUU’s mission statement lists one of the college’s aims as preparing “students as informed and responsible citizens and for effective roles in families”; it’s tough to imagine many schools in the other 49 states that place preparing students for their roles in families on par with citizenship training.) A student website publicizing Roberds’ case claims that the university is"weeding out" professors who do not fit the"Conservative Utah Brand.” Facts for that assertion don’t seem present, but there obviously was an ideological element in the administration’s handling of the Roberds case.
Roberds applied for tenure this past September. Lamar R. Jordan, chairman of the department of political science and criminal justice, initially supported his tenure, but changed his mind after a class incident in which, during a heated discussion, Roberds swore at a student. Though Roberds immediately ironed things out with the student and publicly apologized to the class at the start of the next meeting, Jordan, it appears, used the incident to torpedo a candidacy that he would have liked to oppose from the start but until that point had no excuse for doing so.
Shortly after the swearing incident, Jordan, a 22-year former FBI agent, summoned several department students to his office, saying that he wanted to discuss curricular matters for the 2005-2006 academic year. Instead, he asked for information about Roberds. The students told the campus newspaper that Jordan “asked them misleading, deceitful questions designed to elicit negative anecdotes,” although each of the students interviewed appears to have offered positive comments about Roberds and to have supported Roberds’ tenure. In the words of one of the students, “It was very misleading and deceitful. I felt like I was being interrogated. I thought what (Jordan) did, calling me in under false pretenses and asking me to keep it confidential, was more unprofessional than what Dr. Roberds did in class.” A second student added, “I knew I had to be careful with my words because of (Jordan’s) interrogation background. I didn’t want my words twisted; you could tell what his questions were leading toward.” Jordan then concluded the meetings by asking them not to tell anyone, including Roberds, about the conversation. The day after the second meeting with students, Jordan amended his tenure recommendation to urge a denial of tenure. Though the dean of the College of Education and the chair of Psychology Department both have publicly questioned the tactic of surreptitiously calling in the students, the university went along with Jordan’s recommendation.
Chairman Jordan’s public defense of his actions badly undermines his case. He conceded that he invited the students to meet with him under the “pretext of ‘a curriculum matter,’” but fantastically claimed that he had done so “out of concern for the privacy of Dr. Roberds.” To have disclosed “the purpose of my interview in advance to the students,” he continued, “would have been inappropriate and violated Dr. Roberd's [sic] right to privacy.” The students who came forward to reveal the meeting’s occurrence, according to Jordan, “did Dr. Roberds a disservice by violating his right to privacy.” He concluded by asking that “the normal process in this matter be allowed to continue without further speculation and questioning from the Journal and other members of the media.” That request would be much easier to honor, of course, if Jordan himself hadn’t violated “normal process” by secretly soliciting dirt about a professor that he wanted to dismiss.
The Spectrum, a local newspaper, reports that Roberds “has a reputation of pushing the envelope." Last April, for instance, he referred to a student as “a stupid, ignorant, hate-monger” during a club-sponsored demonstration against gay marriage. And he could have been more judicious in his public statement to his tenure denial, writing in an e-mail that the university's administrators"act like thugs" and"have no respect for diversity or true academic freedom." Virtually every student interviewed, however, stated that while he was passionate in expressing his views in the classroom, he did not attempt to indoctrinate and encouraged debate. As one student informed the Salt Lake City Tribune,"It's like the administration is sensitive to ideas of the majority, but not those with opposite views . . . [the dismissal] does make the school look like a backwater place when it really isn't."
In any event, the key figure in this case is not Roberds but Jordan. A tenure process in which a chair violates procedures to solicit one-sided secret information is about as low as things can go in the academy. (I speak, as many know, from personal experience in this regard.) Such a record by the university makes almost comical the claim of SUU President Steve Bennion that the university “made every effort to be fair and balanced.” I suspect that the courts will disagree.
Update, 4.19pm: Roberds has issued a statement to the Tribune, noting that the university has fallen back upon the last refuge of academic scoundrels . . . collegiality! He concedes that he had strong disagreements with other faculty members, largely over an attempt to change the faculty constitution, which he claimed gave too much power to the administration, and that as a result some accused him of not being a"team player." Also, the Trib--hardly a liberal paper--revealed that the faculty tenure committee at SUU made no recommendation on Roberds' case, contending instead that the issue of his employment status"should be an administrative decision." (Thanks to Mitch Lerner for the reference to the above article.)
For helping to resolve the weighty issue of whether you and I are rightly called"a historian" or"an historian," I nominate:"Talent on the HNN Comment Boards."
For sheer clarity of thought about the uses of historical analogies, I nominate Tim Burke's"One of These Things Is Just Like the Other."
For compulsive anal retentiveness, I nominate"Anonymity and Invisibility."
For identifying mistaken reasoning in public debate, I nominate Jonathan Dresner's"Illogic in Public Discourse."
For bad poetry, I nominate"On the Unity of the Faith".
For Derek Catsam's"God and Man at Bob Jones University," I nominate Derek Catsam's"God and Man at Bob Jones University."
For the most outrageous story in American higher education of the year, I nominate almost any good report on the University of Southern Mississippi; and, still, the best statement about it comes from my colleague, Tim Burke:
In a way, this shows you why some of the discussions we have on academic weblogs are, though interesting, somewhat irrelevant. Because the frame of reference that matters isn't Swarthmore or Harvard or the University of Michigan. It's Southern Mississippi which is more representative of the breadth of academic life by far ... the tinpot dictatorship of its current president seems to me is widely typical of academic administration once you get past the places where there is wide public scrutiny. The key thing is that those of us in much better situations can't afford to wash our hands and look on with distant dismay: if ever there was a place that the thunderbolt of academic wrath should fall upon, it's this one. Every sanction that we have in our quiver should be unloosed.If you compare that sensibility to the dismissal of the University of Southern Mississippi story by Oxblog's David Adesnik as"a tempest in a teapot," you can understand my felt moral obligation"to tweak a Yalie's nose" at every opportunity. Well, actually, that's just a taste of some of the best of Cliopatria in our first four months, before some of our more thoughtful colleagues joined us. It's been a very good year.
Cliopatria's readers are just more advanced than some others. 23% of our readers are using Foxfire 1.X. That's well ahead of readers at Colby Cosh, Cronaca, or Instapundit. Cliopatria's readers also tend to prefer their porn to be historical and Rabelaisian. Sharon Howard at Early Modern Notes has a Christmas gift for your erotic pleasure.
Michael Kinsley's editorial for the LATimes meditates on the remarkable shift the country and much of the western world has made in acceptance of gay people. Its conclusion is, I think, well informed by a keen sense of history, social change, and our historicity:
... all of us who consider ourselves good-hearted, well-meaning, empathetic Americans - but don't claim to be great visionaries - are probably staring right now at an injustice that will soon seem obvious, and we just don't see it. Somewhere in this country a gay black woman, grateful beneficiary of past and present perceptual transformations, has said something today in all innocence that will strike her just a few years from now as unbelievably callous, cruel and wrong.
A very smart student asked me a question I didn't know the answer to (19c Chinese life expectancy), then went and found the answer (under 45 until mid-20c) himself. Better, the whole site, known as the Historical Atlas of the 20th Century, by librarian Matthew White, is a real procrastinator's dream, with all kinds of demographic and political data in map forms. Great teaching materials for modernists.
He's got some interesting alternate histories, as well, including the"what if all the separtists won?" map, the"what if Australia had been colonized by Muslims like Indonesia?" map, and the"20c Middle Earth" map (including the Hobbits' Autonomous Socialist Republic of the Shire).
Update: Bert de Bruin at Dutchblog Israel says:"If Mr Gonzales, the person who - if president Bush gets his way - in about a month will become responsible for the enforcement of law and order in the United States and who will play a central role in the country's security policies is not even able to properly conduct a relatively simple and highly routine background review of the nominee for a cabinet position, that does not promise well when it comes to his abilities to fight criminals and terrorists. Alfred E. Neuman's"What me worry?" should be the question of the day among Americans."