The Whine of Disgruntled Academics

A cursory glance over Herb Childress’s screed in the most recent The Chronicle Review reveals him to be little more than another jaded professional, still muttering over his unrequited dreams of academic tenure in a now-villainous American college system.

The whole piece is rather unflattering and self-serving. It reads as one more Marxist screenplay starring the Kafkaesque suffering of yet another paper victim, as evidenced by Mr. Childress’s decision to assume a series of non-teaching careers in academia simply to remain alongside the faculty “who had somehow passed through the gates that had closed in the face of [his] pleas” and into “heaven” to which the author so desperately had “ached” for “membership.” Upon highlighting his wife’s prolific resume, herself former college faculty who, too, experienced hardships, Mr. Childress mourns more the “collegiality [she] offered to deaf ears and turned shoulders” than he celebrates her “outstanding course evaluations and devoted students.” And his self-described nervous breakdown in his 40s had apparently stemmed from his admitted “grief of not finding a home in higher ed,” despite his doing just that for a brief period as post-doctorate instructor. He even goes so far as to self-identify as a refugee “from a nation that would not have” him upon his exiting the academic stage.

But it is Mr. Childress’s temerity to fault Americans en masse for his obsolescence that fully caricaturizes him as the local, yelling-at-the-nighttime-sky old-timer who seethes fire and brimstone to anyone within earshot or eyesight. This one-man production broods terribly from the onset, blaming Americans’ insatiable appetite for all things innovative for having somehow hastened his departure. Through a litany of criticisms masquerading as genuine inquiries, Mr. Childress dispenses serious timeworn contempt:

How did we discard the idea of college faculty? That is, how did we decide to systematically eliminate an entire class of professionals…? How did we come to decide that college teachers didn’t deserve job security, didn’t deserve health insurance, didn’t deserve to make more than convenience-store clerks?

He fumbles through various livelihoods that “we” Americans have collectively bled dry before discarding to the fringes of Mr. Childress’s bitter universe, where lay the masses of obsolete general practitioners, cab drivers, newspaper and magazine writers, auto mechanics, and bookkeepers, suspended in the heavy, dank air of conspiracy overhanging a swift but shallow undercurrent of anti-capitalism. “We” engineer innovation misanthropically—we intentionally induce economic hardship and psychic suffering in others to impose dominion over them, or so it is told by any one of the increasingly number of adults who confuse sanctimonious whining with legitimate activism.

If ever there were more like-minded persons seeking a mascot who could brilliantly amplify their misdirected resentment and toxic entitlement, Mr. Childress appears available.

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Two More Years’ Further from the Truth

“We should take exception, however, to the notion that students’ recent demands show they are cosseted, lacking resilience, or somehow seeking to infantilize themselves. On the contrary, these students are taking on deeply entrenched problems, such as institutional racism, and showing that they are determined to do something about it.”

In his 2016 article for The Advocate, National Education Association attorney Jason Walta vainly attempts to defend what has since become a caricature of student activism on American college campuses, replete now as then with the same disruptive and petty tactics of a youth different only in age but not in naivete, impervious to both fact and consensus.

And apparently to jurisprudence, for Walta’s defense below that tactics such as shouting down speakers, disrupting official school business, and threatening to riot are within students’ right to freely express bring into sharp relief a degree of deceit that borders on malpractice:

“Universities are— and should remain—bastions of free inquiry for students and faculty alike. That means students are free to protest and to issue whatever demands they think will advance their cause. And, it means that teachers and administrators should tolerate and even invite forceful protest and debate.”

Students actually possess no right to “forceful[ly] protest,” despite what Walta—a credentialed attorney—claims, let alone an entitlement to commit violence that easily qualifies as “forceful protest.” In fact, interrupting and interfering with academic affairs, including school-sanctioned events, are not protected by any legal document, let alone the U.S. Constitution. Rightfully so, such unprotected tactics have increasingly received greater public scorn.

It is also unnecessary to insist universities and colleges remain epicenters of free inquiry of ideas. It is disingenuous, however, to proclaim such and then fail miserably at reconciling students’ moblike behavior and childish aggression when confronted with disagreeable ideas—words—that are themselves legitimately protected. It is more egregious to then tacitly support restricting language on the basis that words could cause a student to experience irreparable trauma for which the college could be held liable. (It could not be.)

And it certainly fares poorly that so many faculty support these illegitimate protests, including some whom have actively engaged in mob-rule actions worthy of a swift termination. It appears self-victimization is an honorable way to quench unrequited anger, misdirected that resulting demands reveal a frightening profile of persons who are anything other than tolerant or intuitive.

Such incoherence and subsequent extremism perfectly capture the infantilization Walta so earnestly disavows. This particularly large demographic of misplaced activism neither appropriately or effectively confronts systemic issues. The tactics used are as shameful as those carried out by the several Black Lives Matter activists whose recklessness effectively crippled a potentially revolutionary movement, had it not been sullied by the civically ignorant and emotionally unstable.

Likewise, students possessed “to do something” just as counterintuitive and reactionary will only risk ending in disgrace yet another profound undertaking, in whose diminished wake will leave nothing this time but shambles of a makeshift philosophy and its unintelligible drivel, spurred by the overzealous and attention-seeking behavior of youth desperate for acceptance and relevancy.

But most assuredly, the kicking and whining will continue unabated and unmoored from the more consequential reality that lay beyond the hysteria and nonsense of today’s modern college campus.

Continuing Allegations from the Unrefined

GQ magazine’s Jay Willis’s tenuous grasp of American law is surpassed only by his absurd sweeping generalization of the country as a “culture of sexual assault.”

This qualifies as journalism these days, I see.

He bemoans in his latest failed hit-piece Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation as the most recent Supreme Court Justice despite the few and unproveable sexual assault allegations levied against the former D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge.

But Mr. Willis is quite discontent with how the kangaroo trial by public opinion rightfully panned out because to him, as well as to scores of other civically-challenged Americans, unproveable allegations should constitute full legal recourse, including the summoning of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. And why not shoot for the moon in desiring one of the top investigation agencies under whose purview this does not ever typically fall, especially since it matches nicely with the set of specious assault claims that would not even qualify beyond an actual evidentiary hearing? What amounts to unprovable hearsay would not even justify a trip to the principal’s office nor be entitled to demand the services of the local police precinct (for relative comparison).

It appears the takeaway for Willis and his people is to work on achieving some modicum of basic law and the thresholds constituting the use of various legal terms, like evidence.

But civics be damned, for the villagers desperately need their ogre on which to lay revenge conducive to whatever “meaningful consequences” Willis demands but never enumerates. Details matter not in the judiciary of the liberal left. Generalities and presumptions are as valid as hearsay and are deserving of federal-grade punishment, especially under the skies of America’s mythical rape culture that has been pedaled ad nauseum nearly to the point of caricature:  the throngs of snowflakes, their spittle shooting violently from between their teeth as they cast obscenities, resemble so perfectly the cartoonish imbecility of those crowds that once would demand a black youth be duly punished purely on the hearsay that he assaulted a white woman, and despite no evidence proving either party’s account.

Mobs as intense as each one described above are frighteningly unhinged: they never feel culpable for what transgressions its individuals commit as a unit, but they never are hesitant to grandstand the results of their lunacy if, as in the first case, they dupe enough youngsters into believing violent rule is justifiable when exacting a popular cause. The second case is fundamentally no different.

And liberals’ carefree condemnation of America as a rape culture is no less disingenuous as their blithe condemnation of conservatives as bigots when even a hint of suspicion or caution be expressed in matters and procedures involving the alleged infringement of one’s civil or natural rights. Nothing hearkens to America as a land cultivating or trafficking in rape or sexual assault. Pointing to various mass media portrayals reinforces the unruly tendency to conflate insinuation with concrete proof, or distinguishing fantasy from reality. Moreover, regarding the false phenomenon of rape culture as if it were a legitimate force or epidemic is to pedal a most despicable brand of victimization over what so many have chosen to buy into and whose unprincipled persona they feel entitled to assume. “Victim” is not a permanent state but a short-lived phase. Treating it otherwise is a selfish matter of choice serving no constructive purpose.

Allegations—unsubstantiated, no less—drove to the doorsteps of the Capitol this mob, its inanity demanding national attention from citizens possessing better reason than to fall prey to those bleating stains scratching so desperately at the Senate’s chamber doors, pining for relevancy.

But the cure is reason:  incisive, intelligent, refined—attributes naturally incompatible with the limitations inherent to mob-induced drivel.

A Quick Word on Gun Control

In my past life as an educator instructing college-level argumentation, students would frequently solicit my views on a gamut of current events, including this one, which has slipped again into media scrutiny since the recent tragedy at Thousand Oaks, California. Friends and family—including one victim’s mother—are pleading for and organizing with the commitment to enact the most comprehensive and historic gun-control legislation beginning this next year.

My response since time memoriam has been, “I will have a serious conversation on gun-control in America once there has been a serious discussion on mental health in America.”

But little to nothing has been covered since Thousand Oaks on mental health reform—on the inarguable need for greater attention and expansion of resources necessary to remedy what invariably has led to most American mass shootings:  mental disorders and diseases, whose funding for effective and sustained treatment continues a decline as precipitous as any corresponding acts of mass violence have become frequent.

Treating a gun as an end is believing that gun-control legislation will effectively reduce or prevent the occurrence of mass violence. Guns are not an end to a means; legislating them either out of existence or into a black market and believing in such an outcome is as absurd as it is dangerous. And believing that a resounding attitude will always lead to intentioned outcomes is dangerous as it is lethal. Guns are a means, a tool—one of innumerable others that humans can calculating use to pleasure the itch to kill. Guns are not the problem; the act of killing is the problem. Trusting otherwise is shooting the messenger with the presumption that destroying him somehow invalidates the message and its consequences.

And the irrationality of banning guns outright must logically extend to other equally absurd reactions, including a complete ban on automobiles. And any “best-case scenario” the opposition might tout does not apply to gun-control legislation as it would in emergency situations as they would have one believe. Genuine emergencies grant few options, are immutable, and conclude as predictably as any present empirical evidence determines. Democratic legislation, on the other hand, is not bound by such fundamentals. Moreover, no precedent exists on which to base any previous gun-control measures as provenly effective. Preventative legislation is radically different than, say, seatbelt laws—a false analogy I have had to routinely expose to the gun-control activists that wield it.

I understand the emotional responses despite my disagreement with demands born from them. I cannot imagine the pain of losing someone to such a despicable act, but one that undoubtedly exposes the mental dysfunction undergirding it. And I acknowledge how tone-deaf and undermining some responses have been to what undoubtedly is a critical public health issue that personally touches a nerve across many professions and among numerous roles, including those as obvious as health care.

But conflating what sounds attractive with what proves effective only satisfies a sense of righteousness rather than achieves what is right. And the attractiveness of instituting a ban or a limitation is definitely more attractive:  it is easier, quicker, and cleaner. It is more satisfying, even. But such prohibitions are reductive and spurn the greater, typically more complex causes whose sensible solutions would not only preclude such oversimplifications from occurring but also perhaps prevent the tragedies that fuel such reduction in the first place.

But onward as we continue to collectively deny or disregard the indisputably more pressing issue of mental health, one graver than all its violent manifestations. Ahead as we continue to reduce treatments that simply deny access rather than induce progress. And forward as we continue to feed a false narrative whose overtones are more political than humanitarian.

Improving mental health resources and coverage will of course not guarantee a cease-fire, but directly addressing the source and not the symptoms of mental disorders and diseases will always prove more prudent than enacting unnecessary gun-control legislation that consumes inordinate amounts of resources and further divorces logic from public policy.

 

The Continuing Folly of Facebook

Facebook’s most recent debacle is actually two:  the first is the uproar its employees have created over the presence of Vice-President for Global Public Policy, Joel Kaplan, at Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate confirmation hearings, and the second is management’s sympathetic response to what amounts to more as a noisy thunderstorm than as the dramatic firestorm used by so many commentators. Facebook employees apparently believe any undesirable political expression—even when nothing is ostensibly being expressed—should be codified into some sort of Draconian policy that concludes with termination. Perhaps even with public censure. Maybe the oracle known as Zuckerberg could further satisfy his labor pool by stockading the unruly and flogging them until morale improves. Such lengths would at least befit management’s decision to waste an inordinate amount of productivity aimed at addressing and even possibly legislating matters that are both personal and non-pursuant to the job—matters that ought to be out of its jurisdiction, in other words.

It is embarrassing to see adults, allegedly mature ones, instantly regress into children upon hearing something mean or witnessing something offensive and then demanding the nearest authority, now assuming the role in loco parentis, swiftly punish the ne’er-do-wells into oblivion. And here many of us believed that such noise infected only college campuses, not industrial ones.

Because unless I missed it, I did not catch Kaplan’s own public testimony before Congress as to why he was sitting a few rows behind his friend during a critical moment in his life and in the nation’s own. I did not hear Kaplan defending his political viewpoints on any matters, much less those in direct orbit of Kavanaugh’s eventual confirmation because he did not express any, even tacitly. And for the liberal elite to presume otherwise is both repugnant and gravely ironic since such tactics are what its minions so breathlessly rail against otherwise, and often with the most suspect reasoning. But Facebook employees have graciously invented such a reality since one’s quiet presence during another’s testimony is valid grounds for presuming the former’s political and personal beliefs match the latter’s own as well. It is always a treat to see how alive and well guilt-by-association is well among a generation of workers whom Zuckerberg contends “are just smarter” than their older counterparts on virtually all matters. (When irony of this thickest sort abounds in matter like these, it is most assuredly a genuine treat for older folk such as myself.)

I wonder how much productivity has been and continues to be lost because of yet another self-inflicted black eye caused internally, not this time not by management, but instead by its underlings. I ponder how much more stock value Facebook will continue to lose simply because it continuously bungles internal matters to such a bewildering degree that I cannot help but see Facebook simply as a dysfunctional enterprise that has passed its prime and is not floundering for purpose and direction. If this were to follow a literary narrative, Facebook would be its denouement—and a most precarious one—whose finish will seal this social media titan’s fate as either a shameful caricature or as a distinguished conglomerate. Once Facebook asserts and follows it core beliefs as a business and not as a parent, legislator, or commander, perhaps it can dignifiedly prolong its final chapters. But it is more likely the public will witness before twilight even more tragedy befall its brightest-of-them-all workforce.

But as smart as these kids supposedly are, they—and their slightly more grown up superiors— are in desperate need of a mature adult.

But I admit that that may be just my age showing, to which I am guilty as charged.

The Sport of Defining ‘Sport’

The cover story of the most recent edition of ESPN magazine is most peculiar for what it lacks:  a profile of an actual sport.

Gracing the cover of a publication increasingly more wedded to TMZ-style coverage instead is the smug headshot of “Ninja,” the current e-gaming, self-monikered godfather who has ushered e-gaming full-bore into the mainstream, frosted tips and all. The article presents a pictorial of Ninja’s existence, dogged with multiple computer monitors, half-empties of processed snacks and energy drinks, and his family, the latter being the oddest duck for this presumed modern-day sports icon.

But e-gaming is not a sport. Not even within the most elastic analytical framework can e-gaming be considered without making a mockery of the enduring competitions worthier of the title, and which are central to maintaining the veneer of civilization without its citizens resorting to their baser instincts. (Jonathan Gottschall’s The Professor in the Cage (Penguin P, 2015) provides an eloquent account of sanctioned violence’s place in American civilization upon its very birth as a sovereign nation.)

E-gaming is, like bodybuilding, chess, or competitive cheer, only a competition, itself not the sole criterion for what validly constitutes a sport, whose legitimacy transcends strict classifications and instead spans a more relativistic spectrum—a hierarchy situated by sports’ tumultuous histories and enduring legacies, not one of which is wholly dependent on electricity to even commence. Whereas near-perfect hand-eye coordination is just one of many numerous features in a traditional sport’s physical repertoire, it is the only defining feature in a gamer’s agility that separates mediocrity from mastery.

E-gaming rests well below the current threshold of sport. And I doubt any incarnation of e-gaming will suffice beyond its current realization, even with the free-market sanctioning powers of the American college, which has recently spawned partnerships with the electronics gaming giant, EA Games, which funds for these schools numerous scholarships, sanctioned tourneys, and delusions of accomplishment, with many such testimonials baked right into a college’s promotional materials: “Students who represent their schools say [e-gaming] teaches them lessons in strategy, teamwork and time management, and it offers camaraderie with other gamers on campus.”

Right.

At best, e-gaming’s sanctioned adoption into collegiate activities is marketing tactic to buoy decreasing enrollments nationwide. A recent profile reveals how lucrative this movement has become lately, thus providing many institutions—notably public community colleges that are experiencing the greatest enrollment declines—with a relatively untapped market to bullishly pursue.

But despite this novelty’s means to generate necessary revenue through much-needed higher enrollments, these institutions are split on whether it qualifies as a legitimate sport under the governance of athletics. About half of those institutions place it under the purview of student affairs as something akin to a student club. And this designation does matter:  Title IX federal legislation would apply to e-gaming if it were to be officially recognized as an athletic sport, complete with funding and the litany of federal policies and protocols in need of full compliance. Federal courts will inevitably decide on this matter, and soon, and any decision not to the advantage of participating colleges would leverage away significant revenue. And considering how financially strapped many colleges currently are due to downturns in enrollment and general aide, I doubt courts will issue a countervailing ruling.

I am not an e-gaming teetotaler, per se. I will always acknowledge its limited or supplemental catalytic benefits:  its influence in increasing socialization among like-minded adolescents and its causal link to improvements in physical or cognitive impairments, including progressive diseases of the latter. The U.S. military’s various UAV programs enlist persons with considerable hand-eye coordination as a result of e-gaming (although verification is debatable). And various private industries, including medicine, criminal justice, and some trades, employ virtual reality for training simulations whose skillsets are analogous to e-gaming.

But I speculate many college students obsessed with e-gaming are not pursuing programs or fields that reward the coordination and cognitive benefits of electronic gaming. If they are, numerous struggle to balance their habit with their academics; they fail to prioritize their lives, namely their education, as I have often personally witnessed in my classrooms over the past several years. Their inability to focus on matters that are neither animated nor automatically rewarded come into sharp relief in the classroom. Directions become unmanageable, deadlines pass without notice, and dignity in work that is submitted is non-existent. Some have even failed to maintain basic hygiene standards to the point that the campus nurse had to intervene. And in the lives of 18-year-old adults, allegedly. (The darker side of e-gaming’s effects on adolescents is brilliantly profiled in a 2010 PBS Frontline episode, Digital Nation.)

These effects only echo the poor self-management skills that prevent many from being able to acclimate to and socialize in the reality that matters—the one with which we are currently graced, without restarts or do-overs, and sometimes with as many opportunities as the single life it determines.

Unfortunately, this demographic believes virtually otherwise.

In Defense against Academic Freedom

In the August 27th, 1966 edition of Saturday Review, then-Vice President Richard Nixon and the revered American Historian, Henry Steele Commager, both authored distinct editorials defining the concept of academic freedom and its acceptable applications in higher education, at that time a more respectable American institution.[1] Both men write passionately, their missives void of artifice, exhorting officials to permit students to freely exercise their political viewpoints on college campuses during the Vietnam-era, when heightened scrutiny of one’s political leanings in public forums was at a fever pitch.

As to public college[2] professors, however, both men cautioned the university in granting them expressive latitude pursuant to their contractual duties on its premises. Nixon acknowledged the natural right of these educators to hold political viewpoints but advised them to exercise self-restraint so as not to unduly inflame or influence students to adopt anti-American sentiments. To him, America held its scholars to different, higher standards of conduct after having granted them full autonomy to direct their specialized knowledge and flex their prestige within a powerful American institution. Commager couched his apprehensions in the context of an enduring legacy of higher education: “…to act as the critic and the conscience of society. Society has indeed created it [higher education] to play this role.”[3] However, he defers to the unspoken social contract insisting professors be demure toward politics while in the college’s employ: “We require you, therefore, if you would not betray your historic function, to avoid all that is merely parochial, all that is interested, all that is prejudiced.”[4]

These narratives are the table stakes in discussions on the purpose of public higher education and, by extension, the standards of its faculty. A far less commonly addressed issue, however, centers on a more discreet means that some public college educators use to advance their political leanings:  curriculum development, specifically course creation, whose content and delivery are as parochial and mediocre as the teacher’s politics are prejudiced and uninformed. Some niche courses, like Cornell’s “Tree Climbing” or San Diego State’s “Invented Languages: Klingon and Beyond,” are wondrously apolitical but questionably relevant in any way, further underscoring the deficiencies in undergraduate education nationwide.

Liberal arts and social sciences are the primary culprits, amending course catalogs with such apolitical novelties including “American Degenerates,” “Whiteness:  The Other Side of Racism,” “Cyberfeminism,” and “The Lucifer Effect:  How Good People Turn Evil.” Present in all tiers of higher education, this tactic is thickest among Ph.Ds. at four-year public institutions that have historically emphasized professional research accomplishments over effective instructional practices for over a century. Many of these doctorates are neither short on bluff nor bluster, and conveniently rationalize their pet political projects as “fun” or “more engaging” for students when all likelihood, little credence will be given to pedagogical matters.[5] Department heads rarely will follow up with an evaluation, trusting that the initial sales pitch that sounded sweet in person and read persuasively on paper will transfer just as successfully when applied in the classroom. Philosopher William James even criticized the university’s chronic tendency to conflate the conferment of a Ph.D. with the presence of sound pedagogy, leading the prominent social scientist to tersely quip, “Will any one [sic] pretend for a moment that the doctor’s degree is a guarantee that its possessor will be successful as a teacher? … his moral, social and personal characteristics may utterly disqualify him for success in the class-room; and of these characteristics his doctor’s examination is unable to take any account whatever.”[6]

Instructionally, niche professors largely default to lecture with a smattering of “loaded” discussion, whereby a class forum marches to preemptive questions basted heavily with partisanship. Student spontaneity can be hushed altogether, manipulated to favor a different view, or retailed as the opposition to then be ridiculed and condemned. Objectivity is summarily jailed while revisionism runs amok, purging tradition and vandalizing truth, replaced with fanciful interpretations of timeworn themes of power and control.

Nixon’s last of his “Four Academic Freedoms”—an intentional play on Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s influential, “Four Freedoms,” decades before—preserves “the freedom of the student from tyranny by the faculty…”[7] (emphasis mine). Many niche courses represent a valid form of academic tyranny, not freedom. They are often cocktails of entitlement and fraud, blended by niche instructors and force-fed to students who experience nothing short of an academic “bait-and-switch.” Like activist judges who manipulate American jurisprudence in the name of democracy, these professors engineer clever ways to spin gold from straw in the name of education.

This strain of academic freedom runs amok of faculty’s obligations to instruct undergraduate students in a more pragmatic, essentialist manner in accordance with economic demand and unencumbered by novelty or postmodernism. Moreover, the politicization or aimlessness of a course further risks dispossessing minority viewpoints in favor of a mob majority, a tactic running aground to the inclusivity and democratization that many of niche professors preach but ironically fail to practice.

A caricature thus emerges from this brand of academic freedom—that of the college professor, pontificating ad nauseum to scores of impressionable or oblivious students, an academic sideshow further rendering American undergraduate education as the circus it risks becoming.

 

 

 

 

[1] This piece targets educators who routinely disguise their lackluster or poor teaching abilities with niche courses whose relevance to a program’s stated outcomes and objectives is tenuous at best, deceptive at worst. This is not condemning any instructor who has created what could be considered a niche course, nor is this ridiculing Ph.Ds who do exhibit best teaching practices.

[2] Unless otherwise noted, “college” is synonymous with all levels of public higher education in this paper. Also, “professor” is used interchangeably with non-Ph.D. representatives for convenience and to underscore my belief that a terminal degree rarely correlates positively to effective instructional methods. Often, there is a negative correlation, owing to the overemphasis on research at the expense of undergraduate education.

[3] Nixon, R. and H.S. Steele. (1966 Aug 27). “What do we mean by academic freedom?” Saturday Review, p. 37.

[4] Ibid, p. 37.

[5] Kevin Carey’s The End of College (2015) and Cathy Davidson’s The New Education (2017) aptly highlight the shoddy quality of undergraduate education in American colleges and universities.

[6] As cited in Carey (2015), p. 32.

[7] Nixon, R. and H.S. Steele. (1966 Aug 27). “What do we mean by academic freedom?” Saturday Review, p. 12.