Sunday, April 10, 2005

University Trustee Elections.

Dartmouth Trustee elections seem to be hitting the alumni grassroots in a semi-scandal. John Quiggan of Crooked Timber gives the links and a summary of the affair:
Apparently Peter Robinson and Todd Zywicki[1] are running on a free speech platform, promising to “rescind all infringements on freedom of speech while promoting a climate in which every man or woman on campus feels genuinely at liberty to speak his or her mind.”, views Scott finds “powerful” . But what concerns him most is that ” Some alumni banded together several weeks ago to put up a site (“Alumni for a Strong Dartmouth”) attacking Robinson and Zywicki in apparent violation of the college’s rules against campaigning. ” Following a couple of links, we find one supporter who’s alive to at least one of the contradictions that the great minds at Powerline apparently missed, saying “The campaigning policy may be one freedom of speech limitation that I actually support”.

I agree with John that the academic diversity stuff is dangerous and nutty, that this particular campaign clearly violates university restrictions, but there's something more here that intrigues me.

In fact, this post made me do a little self-interrogation because no matter how clearly I know the how I feel about this particular attempt to destroy academic freedom, I had a touch of sympathy with the means employed.

Data points:
--I am a grad student instructor at a university that has successfully destroyed a unionization drive.

--In a conversation recently with a union organizer, I suggested that the best way of putting pressure on the mostly invincible and indivisible trustees was to contact alumni.

--I met a trustee once: he bought at least $5,000-worth of historical documents off me for his sixteen year-old son, who was kinda into the Civil War.

--Shareholder proxy ballots (all two of them--don't get excited) have been arriving in the mail this month.

--Over the last, oh, six years, I have learned that perhaps the corporate officers' recommendations were not entirely void of self-interest: I read very carefully the propositions brought by shareholder advocacy groups and tend to support them.

At the end of the day, no matter how I struggled with my analogizing mind, an alum is not a shareholder, and a university is not--not exactly--a company.

The only way that a alum could be considered to be like a shareholder, by the way, would involve accepting the Marxist-sociological model of the very French Pierre Bourdieu: the cultural capital of the diploma could lose some of its exchange value if the granting university was widely understood to be fraudulent. I don't see that happening.

And while universities have massive capital holdings and employ many people in what is increasingly claimed to be service-sector jobs, the good that the university exists to produce is...wait for it...truth. Oh, heavens, I sound like a conservative there, don't I?

We're in the face of another incredibly well-orchested, neo-conservative/deconstructionist attack. Invert the values, and substitute the new order. Co-opt the means. Force the self-critical intellectuals to stand on institutional traditions and older values; the conservatives will run with all of our well-meaning cultural-economic analyses produced over the last twenty years to destroy us.

If I think about this too much it'll depress me, so here's what I'll think about instead: the idea of trying to funnel all of this self-righteous desire for fairness in academia into forcing think tanks to provide undergraduate degrees. Now there's something I could get behind. You'll have your market share of diversity, and you'll slow down production of crack-crazy white papers, all at the same time!


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