I am committed to working closely with you to identify how the campus administration can support our collective duty to inspire and facilitate thoughtful consideration of diverse opinions and discourse on challenging issues.I really shouldn't be sitting here writing this right now. I have a syllabus to finish fine-tuning in preparation for classes on Monday. Its subtext is not particularly unusual and can be summed as follows:
No doubt in the weeks ahead, as I discuss on this blog some of the innovations I'm planning and describe my successes and failures, I will say more about how my carefully thought out sequences of readings and deft writing prompts serve that goal. But for now, I'm just writing against a profound sense of futility. Everything I do rests on the assumption that it is important for students to read closely, think hard about what they read, and communicate as clearly as they can in response to it. And our Chancellor says this:
I am committed to working closely with you to identify how the campus administration can support our collective duty to inspire and facilitate thoughtful consideration of diverse opinions and discourse on challenging issues.Does anyone ever really read the last sentence of an administrative email? It's ordinarily an anodyne string of words, that seeks to do rather than say: bringing closure to the business at hand with a tone of warmth and collegiality. L'Affaire Salaita has taught us, however, that this kind of formulaic boilerplate has content. Sometimes. For example: "This recommendation for appointment is subject to the approval by the Board of Trustees..." Since the Board of Trustees historically has only met to approve appointments after the appointed faculty has been on the course roster for months, relocated to the institution in question, and taught for several weeks, the phrase "Is subject to" has generally meant "will receive." If it didn't mean that, the course schedule, payroll, office space allocations for the semester due to begin Monday would be thrown into disarray. But things are proceeding normally. We're to assume those words bore the full weight of their literal meaning this one time, for this one hire.
So what does our Chancellor mean when she calls herself "committed to working closely with you to identify exactly how the campus administration can support our collective duty"? After all, what is a Chancellor supposed to do, if not support the faculty in doing the work of the university? Of course, "supporting our collective duty" generally means stepping back and letting individual departments and colleges get on with the work of deciding whom to hire and tenure--not "working closely." Same with "facilitat[ing] thoughtful consideration of diverse opinions and discourse on challenging issues." That project is dear to many faculty who host conferences, engage with other scholars in a variety of formats, bring speakers to campus. In this case, Wise's efforts to "work closely" seem to have backfired, as the list of faculty now boycotting the campus grows daily. One conference "on challenging issues" scheduled for the fall has already been cancelled, as have two prestigious lectures.
One obvious way to signal a commitment to "working closely" would be to address these consequences of her decisions. In the absence of such acknowledgment, one is left to wonder what this "working closely" means. If she's serious about refusing to tolerate "disrespectful words or actions that demean," I for one would be happy to help her organize a week long series of talks, teach-ins, and screenings about the use of native American caricatures, to conclude with a ritual bonfire on the Quad where newly enlightened students could burn their Chief t-shirts. I'm guessing that's not what she has in mind though.
So I'll get back to work on my syllabus and try not to think about the contrast between what I want my students to learn and how my institution communicates its mission.