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Higher Education Watch
Report: Activist Faculty Too Overcome With Emotion to Do Research

A professor from an unnamed university has written to Inside Higher Education‘s advice columnist to express concern for an activist colleague who is soon up for academic review:

I can see that she’s exhausted from student protests, community protests and the weight of this current political moment. I saw her yesterday, and it looked like she hadn’t slept in days. She couldn’t stop to talk because she was coming from a teach-in and heading to a die-in. […]

I share her politics, so I’m actively working for policy change and trying to be an effective ally, but I feel like I should be doing something to support her directly. I see the additional labor she is doing (meeting with students seeking support, writing for a popular audience and being a leader in difficult campus conversations), but I’m worried about her physical health and the impact that these activities are going to have on her third-year review next year.

IHE‘s advice columnist has comforting words for her correspondent: This is quite common.

Many politically engaged faculty members are feeling stretched thin at the moment. They’re revising syllabi on the fly, making time to speak to the news media, attending protests, writing for a nonacademic audience, leading campus conversations and helping students while also processing their own emotions.

She then offers an advice checklist (“assess what it means to be an ally”), including the following items:

Are you consistently and confidently challenging microaggressions that occur in your department?

Are you willing to work for expanded definitions of what counts in the evaluation criteria on your campus? If so, how?

Are you willing to take a stand on social media by making your positions visible and/or amplifying the voices of African-American scholars?

Missing from the list: The idea that faculty should prioritize teaching and research responsibilities above participating in protests—after all, it’s important “to avoid the kind of black-and-white thinking that creates an artificial divide between activist and academic.”

No, this is not the Onion.

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  • Andrew Allison

    You don’t seriously mean to suggest that faculty actually teach and do research to justify their tenure? Shame on you!

    • Tom

      I’m going to say something that may be controversial: I’m actually okay with the idea of not forcing college faculty to do research to get tenure. Far too many of the papers being put out these days are pointless nonsense, particularly in the humanities, and a large portion of this is the research requirements.

      • Josephbleau

        That’s OK but what then is the value of a PhD, the main feature (80%) of which is to teach and mentor you in how to do research?

        • Tom

          Maybe they should rethink that emphasis.

          • Josephbleau

            That’s OK too but it will not happen in the next two centuries. In real science the system is fine. In Social science or Humanities other than Econ statistics should be banned from all papers. As Heinlien said, never commit a social science, and if you do, wash your hands afterwards.

      • Andrew Allison

        I’m not sure that I understand. Are you suggesting that worthless papers should justify tenure?

        • Tom

          No. I’m saying that worthless papers happen because colleges emphasize research far too much.

          • Andrew Allison

            Thanks. I agree.

  • gabrielsyme

    The twisted thing is that universities will bend over backward to make excuses for leftist agitators on their faculty while actively discriminating against conservatives and religious believers and creating a climate of fear for like-minded students.

    • Andrew Allison

      What’s twisted is not so much that the Academy has been captured by socialists, but that they have been spreading the disease to their students for a generation. The fruits of this are already evident in what currently passes for journalism.

    • FriendlyGoat

      That’s because conservatives and (some) religious believers are peddling nonsense and the universities know it. This is precisely why we are all enduring “the weight of this current political moment” as mentioned in the article. Fighting the many tentacles of what has now distilled into Trumpism every dang day is exhausting. No one has time for the fact checks and patience for the constant offensive onslaught of baloney.

      • Fat_Man

        Goat is the only nonsense peddler I know.

        • FriendlyGoat

          Half the country is liberal and I (someone you don’t really “know” in reality—-just in the comment section) am the only one you “know”? You need to get out more, as they say.

          • Fat_Man

            I need to read Goat less.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You’re free to do that, and for that matter, read less of anything that does not support your predisposition to politics. But, I find that I can read the other side’s arguments with frequency and not die of it.

          • Fat_Man

            It’s just you. No conservative can get away from the overwhelming dominance of left wing bilge in the media. We hear despite our best efforts to avoid it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You can stay on Fox News, talk radio, read only the right-wing Internet sites and the Wall Street Journal. You CAN get away from NYT, CBS, NBC, ABC, Time and the rest if you want. You shouldn’t, but you CAN.

          • Fat_Man

            How would you know?

          • FriendlyGoat

            Common sense. If you don’t push this, we won’t have to get into lengthy discussions about you behaving like a middle schooler in the comment section.
            Remember, I am starting here from “Goat is the only nonsense peddler I know”—-addressed to me as a reply.

          • Fat_Man

            As much common sense as the average goat.

          • Anthony

            Something to read to hopefully start another day (some serious soul-searching):

      • gabrielsyme

        One could just as easily claim that liberals and secularists are peddling nonsense and the universities ought to know it. Would that be a justification you would accept for public universities blatantly discriminating against yourideological and religious brethren?

        • FriendlyGoat

          Yes, you could just as easily claim that and most of the writing here does. So do Limbaugh, Hannity, Ailes, Coulter, Palin and a number of others who have become quite wealthy in the “free-market” version of the spin business and countless big-name “pastors” who have done likewise while twisting the gospel to their business models.

          But, so far, we have not let them capture the public universities and ruin them. It is a constant battle to keep the hucksters out of the gates.

          • Tom

            Yes, which is why you don’t notice the hucksters behind them.

          • gabrielsyme

            Does it not penetrate that you are being incredibly illiberal? Is it so hard to recognize that a public university ought to be non-discriminatory on issues of political belief and religion?

            Essentially your argument is that your politics are correct, you have control of the public universities and that it’s entirely ethical to discriminate against students and faculty who have different beliefs in order to keep it that way. This is the authoritarian impulse – use the power and institutions of the state to reinforce your ideological/sectarian power base. At least have the honesty to stop describing yourself as liberal.

          • FriendlyGoat

            First of all, let’s talk universities. We have Oral Roberts, Bob Jones, Liberty and plenty of others where people pre-disposed to some certain religious view are free to go. Many do. Not only that, but those colleges and their sponsors are constantly spinning their ideas in the broader public and no one is stopping them.

            BUT, a public university is not a religious institution and really cannot promote certain points of view without promoting others. Any incessant demand that we inject the beliefs of certain Christian sectarians into the public colleges is met by an equal (and unfortunate) demand that we also invite in Hinduism, Islam, so-called Satanists and simply any made-up doctrine somebody hatched in their garage yesterday. The less of ANY of that, the better. The colleges are best operated by suggesting that the religious debates be held elsewhere.

          • gabrielsyme

            We have Oral Roberts, Bob Jones, Liberty and plenty of others where people pre-disposed to some certain religious view are free to go.

            And we have plenty of left-wing private universities that are entirely free to discriminate against conservatives and religious believers as well. The issue is whether discrimination against conservatives and religious believers should be permitted in the public universities which are publicly funded.

            a public university is not a religious institution and really cannot promote certain points of view without promoting others

            If the public university should not promote a certain religious point of view, neither should it promote a secularist point of view. Secular ideology should not possess an inherent privileged place in a pluralist society. If you admit secularism and leftist ideologies into the public universities you must likewise admit religious and conservative ideologies on equal terms. The correct and liberal position is one of non-discrimination.

            If the conservatives were generally correct with their accumulated set of positions, they would be winning with both faculty members and students.

            This is rich. You can’t defend discrimination on the basis that the ideas and people you’re discriminating against aren’t making inroads in the academy. And make no mistake, there is discrimination against conservatives and religious believers on the level of grad school admissions, on the level of faculty hiring and tenure approval, and in terms of a hostile environment that drives dissenting voices away from the academic world of public universities.

            It is incredibly toxic to a pluralist society for government-funded universities to be engines of discrimination against certain groups within society. If secular and leftist students and professors faced open hostility and discrimination in the public universities, you wouldn’t be defending such institutions. It’s no better when your side does it.

          • FriendlyGoat

            You are not the first person who has described to me the idea that “secular” is leftist ideology and who has claimed “secular” as equivalent to various religions and vice versa. I think I need to try to clarify that I do not subscribe to any of that.

            “Secular” is the life and world we live in when not talking about religion at all. “Secular” is our relationships to the grocery store, to employment in the public or private sectors, to a football game on television, to paying our utility bills, to driving on roads and obeying traffic rules, to going to a movie, to mowing our lawns, to taking our kids to a fair, to having a family dog, to helping a neighbor move a heavy object, to choosing and wearing clothes, to walking in a park, to drinking a Coca-Cola. At college, it is classes in all kinds of subjects, dormitory life, working side jobs, meeting people, doing the laundry, participating in sports or band or ROTC, social life in or out of fraternities and sororities.

            “Secular” is NOT some evil alternative religion which must give equal time to Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Confucianism, Satanism and the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. We do not have to do this in our daily lives and most of the public college community is insisting we do not have to do it on a campus. They are right.

            That said, I met my first and only wife (45 years now) on the second day I arrived in my college town. Three days later we went to a street dance on a Friday night. You know what our next date was? I took her to an off-campus church service on Sunday morning in a Methodist church we neither had ever been in. The pastor spoke an uplifting sermon. We CHOSE church. We held hands. We did not need or want on-campus religious speakers.
            There was nothing about the college which either prohibited or discouraged us from walking a few blocks to any of several churches which were right there. But college was college and church was church.

  • Angel Martin

    Give them as much rope as they will take. State gov’ts will need to make major budget cuts in the next recession, and I suggest the biggest cuts for the institutions of “higher” learning.

    • gabrielsyme

      State governments need to make their funding of public universities contingent on aggressive plans and policies to address discrimination against conservatives and religious believers in hiring and graduate admissions. Administration and boards should be purged of those defending existing and ongoing discrimination.

  • QET

    Paolo Freire smiles up from the Fifth Circle. (Or maybe it’s the Eighth. Who can know these things?)

    Also: the “research” performed by professors of this ilk doesn’t merit the name and we can easily get along without it. In fact I’d say that’s a net good.

  • Beauceron

    And people often blame the students for being “snowflakes.”
    The truth is that all of the nonsense we have seen vomited up by students over the last year or two has been taught to them by professors for decades. This idiocy was born and reared on campus.

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