Tuesday, April 01, 2008

"Disagreeing" with Butler; "defending" humanities profs

Folks, most of you will quickly see some of what I say here is parody.


In her Chronicle column today chiding Duke for many things, Kristin Butler questions the teaching load “common throughout the humanities”:

…And what about those elite professors we all came to study under?

Well, they have a pretty cushy deal too. With a five-hour-per-week teaching load common throughout the humanities, today's Duke professors spend much less time in the classroom than their predecessors.

In fact, teaching loads at Duke used to be as heavy as 15 hours per week until the 1960s, including mandatory Saturday classes.

Seeing as undergrads pay an average of $4,291.88 per course (that's $17,167.50 in semesterly tuition divided by a standard load of four courses), it appears we're not getting our money's worth.

And although there's a very good chance that I'll be run out of the English department on a rail for saying this, there is no good reason why humanities-based professors can't teach more than five hours per week-or at least as much as their colleagues in the sciences.
Butler’s entire column is here.

Well now, I respect Kristin Butler. She’s one of the best collegiate columnists I’ve ever encountered (she’s also more informed and reasons better than a great many MSM columnists).

However, I must disagree with Butler’s assertion “there is no good reason why humanities-based professors can't teach more than five hours per week-or at least as much as their colleagues in the sciences.”

Duke humanities professors, with some exceptions, believe they bear a very important and often time-consuming responsibility to provide their “scholarly insights and leadership” to the entire Duke community and, indeed, the wide, wide world.

Mind you, I’m not saying faculty members in the sciences don’t also care about the Duke community and the world. It’s just that, on the whole, humanities professors seem so much more willing, even eager, to provide their “insights and leadership.”

It wasn't merely coincidental that the first faculty member to circulate an open letter in March 2006 calling for the immediate expulsion of all the white members of the Men’s lacrosse team was not a physician or a chemist, but a humanities professor, Houston Baker.

And with the University at a dangerous crisis, who took the lead and spoke out to thank those who’d rallied under the CASTRATE banner, threatened students on the lacrosse team, and circulated Vigilante posters?

If science professors would do more of that sort of thing, they wouldn’t have so much time for classroom/lab teaching.

I wonder if Butler and the rest of you appreciate how much time many humanities professors actually spend each day talking to and e-mailing like-minded colleagues?

Those activities are an essential part of their staying current with the latest and most nuanced thinking and findings in the all-important areas of race, class, gender, and faculty benefits.

But what thanks do humaities professors typically get when they offer "their insights and leadership" to the community and world?

Consider what little appreciation Cathy N. Davidson, John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and Ruth F. Devarney Professor of English, received when she published an op-ed in the Jan. 5, 2007 Raleigh News & Observer.

The following is from a post by KC Johnson reporting on letters to the editor in response to Davidson's op-ed. I add a few comments below the star line.

KC begins - - -

It appears as if few of the N&O’s readership were persuaded by Cathy Davidson’s recent apologia for the Group of 88’s rush to judgment. Today’s Sunday forum published six responses to the Davidson op-ed; five letter-writers were critical.

Chapel Hill’s John Chambers notes that the reasoning behind her op-ed, not the words of Davidson’s critics, “shows the hypocrisy and tunnel vision which many would say 'make(s) academics and liberals look ridiculous.' In fact, it is exactly the mirror equal of Rush Limbaugh at his one-sided worst.”

Chyambers detects a “social disaster” from this event—the fact that a false allegation of rape will make it harder for true victims to be taken seriously. “Will the 88 distinguished and anguished professors of the Duke Chronicle ad,” he wonders, “now provide a second one, denouncing the real disaster for all women? Any bets?”

Raleigh’s Mark Esposito notes that while “it’s comforting to know the faculty at Duke are concerned enough with the side effects of the controversy to write about it some 10 months later . . . one can’t help wonder why there was no such concern for the accused three players.”

Chapel Hill’s Diane Goldstein Block takes apart Davidson’s absurd claim that in the early days of the affair, Reade Seligmann, Collin Finnerty, and Dave Evans “were being elevated to the status of martyrs.” Instead, Block correctly observes, “It is these young men who have had their names and faces splashed across the media, had their lives put on hold, lost careers that they had earned, not to mention the emotional and financial strain they and their families have been put through.”

For Block, “the social disaster is that Davidson and other faculty members who signed that ad still do not understand the harm they have done to the university itself and to society at large.”

Raleigh’s David Kelsey brings his own personal experience to bear: “Having once served as jury foreman in a volatile federal District Court case on sexual harassment, I witnessed first-hand what happens when people deliberately ignore facts—especially unpleasant ones—and stick to their personal agendas.” Group of 88 members, he notes, obviously are entitled to free speech, but he questions “their timing and their means of disseminating these views. An educator’s job is to help students learn how to think critically,” not engage in “sacrificing individuals”—in this case three of their own students—”for the sake of a debatable social good.”

Finally, a superb letter from Michael Gustafson, which I quote in full.
One problem with Duke professor Cathy N. Davidson’s Jan. 5 Point of View article was her statement that “I am positive I am not the only professor who was and continues to be adamant about the necessity for fair and impartial legal proceedings for David, Collin and Reade while also being dismayed by the glaring social disparities implicit in what we know happened on March 13.”

Such adamance would require some form of public expression. To my knowledge, none has taken place.

When Durham police entered a dorm to “interview” lacrosse players without their legal representation present? Silence.

When our students were threatened with taunts of “You’ll get yours, rapist” and “Dead man walking!” Silence.

When the committee tasked to examine the lacrosse team’s behavior concluded that “The committee has not heard evidence that the cohesiveness of this group is either racist or sexist” and “The current as well as former African American members of the team have been extremely positive about the support the team provided them”? Silence.

When Professor James Coleman stated “the line-up ordered by the D.A. for the Duke lacrosse case violated local, state and federal guidelines”? Silence.

When Moezeldin Elmostafa was arrested in connection with a crime he helped police to solve, shortly after coming forward with evidence of innocence for one of the students? Silence.

When Mike Nifong refused to hear evidence from David, Collin, or Reade? Silence.

When DNA evidence demonstrated just how fictional the district attorney’s story was? Silence.

Adamant silence.


Folks, it should concern us all that so many professors at a major American university were either taken in by an obvious hoax or were willing to use the hoax to advance their agendas, even at the cost of endorsing the police-state tactics of a corrupt prosecutor and others.

And it should concern us all that so many Duke alumni and others are willing to give money to the University when it hasn't explained what its leadership did and why it acted so disgracefully in response to the hoax.

Finally, to anyone thinks I tarred all humanities professors: Reread the post.


Anonymous said...

Thanks John

Humanities profs = re-writes


Anonymous said...

You are right, it should concern us all. I am grateful for the voices, such as yours, which refuse to be silenced.