Reading the Right: The Dean’s List

As blog readers know by now, ACTA has just launched a campaign to highlight some of the impressive strides that many institutions have made in advancing intellectual diversity and academic freedom in recent years. One such campus was South Dakota State University. Between 2005 and 2008, the South Dakota Board of Regents enacted a number of reforms pertaining to intellectual diversity, including the requirement that a “Freedom in Learning” statement appear on every course syllabus at all of the system’s campuses. The statement adopted by the South Dakota State Administration informed students of their right to be graded solely on academic merits, and also told them that if they “believe that an academic evaluation reflects prejudiced or capricious standards,” they may contact the department head or college dean.

ACTA’s Must-Reads, Posted by Sandra E. Czelusniak on June 25, 2009

The interesting thing about the American Right Wing is that they seem to have read Orwell and decided that the “war is peace” strategy was in fact a great strategy. If you just keep repeating something, even if it’s diametrically opposed to anything resembling truth, much less common sense, it takes on a certain veracity. Drink the kool-aide often enough and you can’t tell the difference.

That’s what seemed to happen with the ACTA and ‘diversity.’ (Not that they are much different than other ‘center-right’ groups.) They almost always sided with the Bush administration’s attempts to purge college campuses of dissent; this was done under the name of “diversity,” of course. Now that the Shrub is gone, they are on the lookout for other ways to muzzle thinking.

And, once again, they want to encourage diversity by creating conditions that make it as unlikely as possible. Anyone who’s taught American students knows that their complaints about their professors are a tangled mess at best and almost impossible to interpret. Cyncial– or just practical– professors know all the tricks for getting good evaluations.

Groups like ACTA, though, know that promoting student rights and especially student evaluations of professors, can have a powerful chilling effect on academic debate, especially among non-tenured professors. In part that’s becuase the easiest, maybe the only way, to get tenure (a relatively rare thing now) is to play it as safe as possible.

If you are an adjunct, and the majority of college teachers are adjuncts, these evaluations can cost you your job. A contracting economy only sharpens the effect. So this is how you read “diversity” in these right wing contexts. It’s mostly a discussion of management, that is, of keeping the range of discussion as narrow as possible.

There’s a lot to avoid. Every once in a while, though, we get a few peaks behind the great and mighty OZ’s curtains. Here in Illinois, for example, there’s been a little storm cloud of trouble as it’s emerged that powerful people can gain admission to the University of Illinois, even if they are not qualified. I wonder if the ACTA will denounce this practice, too.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol]

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