24 May 2015

The Day the Liberal Arts Died

Just to be clear, it was a long, long time ago.  The fatal wound took place in the Reagan era.  What we're observing now is not even the death throes.  It just took some of us longer than others to realize we were dealing with a corpse.  L'Affaire Salaita, if nothing else, laid that truth bare.

A certain forensic fascination remains in picking through FOIA-ed emails, the way we close-read tweets last summer.  Was Salaita subject to procedural irregularities?  Yup--procedures are, as a result, being altered to it easier for those outside the faculty chain of shared governance to intervene when necessary.  Did administrators lie?  YES!  They lied.  Will we be censured for their malfeasance?  The official decision still lies a few weeks away, but it looks like, yes, we will be censured.  Does anyone care?

Well, that's the thing.  Some people care very much.  They read my blog and my live-tweeting/facebooking of the relevant meetings.   They ask the probing questions at these events, they make their anger known, they speak to colleagues elsewhere who decry what is happening here.

They attended last month/s IPRH event to discuss the likelihood of AAUP censure and they were eloquent in their shock and dismay.

They asked trenchant questions at the first Town Hall with the new University of Illinois President, Timothy Killeen, and they elicited stirring boilerplate from him about the centrality of the arts and letters and the importance of academic freedom (even if the real questions remained unanswered).

What becomes increasingly clear, however, is that none of this matters.  There may have been a time when these stalwart voices from the liberal arts lay at the core of the university's purpose and mission, but that time is long past.  All year the administration has granted us, and we have supplied ourselves with, echo chambers in which to hear ourselves amplify our outdated convictions about our significance--senate meetings, academic freedom symposia, town halls, colloquiums, meetings.  Over and over we've seen representatives of the administration--Chancellor Wise, most notably, but also, at the IPRH symposium on AAUP censure, the outgoing academic senate chair, Roy Campbell--nurture our illusions by allowing us to vent our impotent rage at them.

Meanwhile the real work of the university, the grantsmanship, the corporate partnerships, the entrepreneurial endeavors, the channeling of state funds into lucrative endeavors, goes on.

What happens next?  I don't know.  But a meaningful answer that changes things can only come from us.

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