26 August 2016

Monsters and Mythical Creatures of Higher Education

More on that U of Chicago letter to the students...

Things that pose a threat to "freedom of inquiry and expression" in higher education:

1. declining levels of public support for higher education.
2. the widespread belief that higher education exists primarily to train an entry-level workforce.
3. student debt
4. ongoing failures to give all students access to an equal K-12 education
5. the increasing adjunctification of higher ed
6. increasing reliance on private and corporate partners to foot the bill for public higher education
7. the proliferation of third-party vendors and educational corporations in the delivery of higher education.

Things that don't pose a threat to freedom of inquiry and expression in higher ed:

1. professors' efforts to prevent bigoted students from derailing discussion.
2. the acknowledgment that traumatized students may find some material difficult.
3. events, spaces, organizations that give students who have, as a group, been historically excluded from certain institutions the opportunity--if they want it--to have community and a sense of belonging at those institutions.

Things that don't exist*:

1. institutionally enforced expectations that faculty not talk about certain things.
2. institutionally enforced expectations that students be allowed to opt out of anything that makes them uncomfortable.
3. institutionally enforced expectations that students be protected from disturbing ideas.
4. the large-scale excision of intellectually viable yet controversial subject matter from college curricula.

*At least not in my experience of teaching at a public R1 for the past 12 years and interacting with lots of faculty at other institutions.


  1. The public does not hear enough about the first section in terms of how it affects teaching and learning in higher ed, but they should, so thank you for reminding us that these things matter, too (and, cumulatively, probably more). Efforts in the second section should be applauded. Unfortunately, talk to folks who have raised concerns though bodies such as the AAUP and you'll find that there are movements to enforce certain expectations (third section) which is a problem. Those against trigger warnings are not always against the efforts to acknowledge and help, but against the pressure from administrators and department heads who don't want to deal with (or suffer potential bad PR from) student or parent complaints. If we keep those lines clear and work against any enforcement of or pressure concerning those expectations, then we can focus on the rest of your list--as we should be doing.

  2. Just curious: let's say a hiring committee is looking a CVs for a tenure track position. How would a dissertation that focused on the Israel/Palestine conflict in terms of ethnic studies, race relations, human rights, etc. What if the focus was Palestinian novelists and poets? Also, what if a non-tenure track profession put together a class on, let's say, human rights and Palestinian literature? Or, what about one that explored terrorism and literature that attempted to think through the issues? Can you forsee institutional censorship with any of these topics?

  3. Clear, direct, and brilliant. Thanks KW!

  4. Here is an article I wrote on this topic for PBS Newshour that may be of interest here: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/student-resilience-time-low/

  5. I'm not sure the last seven are wrong. At any rate, R-1 professors are relatively freeer to ignore these seven these seven than teaching college professors.