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VIDEO: Excuse Me, Professor! Correcting the slant on campus

excuse me professor book coverToo often, the message students get in college is that government is the answer to all social and economic problems. This happens in classes on history, sociology, politics, literature, and even in economics. You can graduate having heard only one narrative: the market has failed, so it must be replaced by all-controlling government bureaucracies.

FEE president Lawrence Reed is the editor of a wonderful collection of essays that address myth after myth. The book is Excuse Me, Professor (buy it from FEE). The essays deal with a huge range of issues that confront students every day. Unless young thinkers have an alternative paradigm in mind, the cause of human liberty will continue to lose the intellectual battle.

In this presentation at the Acton Institute, Reed discusses his new book and why it is an important contribution to setting the record straight. (Talk begins around 4:30 mark.)

Jeffrey A. TuckerJeffrey A. Tucker

Jeffrey Tucker is Director of Digital Development at FEE, CLO of the startup Liberty.me, and editor at Laissez Faire Books. Author of five books, he speaks at FEE summer seminars and other events. His latest book is Bit by Bit: How P2P Is Freeing the World.  Follow on Twitter and Like on Facebook.

Emote, protest, get naked for your professor, and get credit

Pity poor Emma Sulkowicz lugging a mattress around the Columbia University campus now for almost a full academic year.

This act, recalling Christ carrying his cross (that is if any on our college campuses know about this part of our Judeo-Christian heritage any more) has drawn attention to her alleged rape by fellow student and one-time lover, Paul Nungesser, who in turn has filed a Title IX suit against the university for allowing the campaign of harassment against him. Nungesser was cleared by a “campus court” (itself a disturbing extra-legal development).

Sulkowicz’s back-bending activity, however, is actually her senior thesis, “Carry That Weight,” directed by Jon Kessler, a professor in the School of Visual Arts. Kessler, who has received several grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, in the 1980s and 1990s made “kinetic sculptures,” and used video and surveillance equipment in his work to express “political urgency” after 9/11.

Sulkowicz seems to have learned from her professor about the new academic requirements and purposes of art, as her words in an email to AP reveal:

“I think it’s ridiculous that Paul [Nungesser] would sue not only the school but one of my past professors for allowing me to make an art piece. It’s ridiculous that he would read it as a ‘bullying strategy,’…when really it’s just an artistic expression of the personal trauma I’ve experienced at Columbia. If artists are not allowed to make art that reflect on our experiences, then how are we to heal?”

Sadly, Sulkowicz’s performance art project reflects a growing trend of professors giving students assignments that have little to do with real academics. Most colleges now require (or at least allow students to get credit for) service-learning, a sort of charity for liberal causes that garners academic credit. The exercises typically require work in homeless shelters, inner-city schools, parks, and even prisons.

For example, at Boise State University students taking Advanced Spanish Conversation and Composition (SPAN 303) last month went to Idaho Correctional Center in order to translate letters by Hispanic inmates for the American Prison Writing archive page. Students also learned about the collection in the prison library and job training programs for the inmates.

Predictably, the students’ “reflection papers,” many handwritten and on posters interspersed with photos, testified to how the program succeeded in changing stereotypes they held about prisoners. No doubt, the professor, Doran Larsen, whose c.v. includes a collection of prisoners’ writings, was pleased.

In this advanced Spanish language course, discussions with inmates and casual writing (in English) pushed aside hours of study that could have been devoted to Cervantes and Marquez. Likewise, the assignments accompanying service-learning projects are a degraded form of academics. “Reflection papers” replace traditional essays and research papers. One handwritten reflection paper on a poster board display paper looks like a third-grader’s journal. In the past, it would have been their language skills and knowledge about Spanish that mattered. Today, however, students are judged by their attitudes, not their knowledge.

Even in composition classes, reflection papers and participation in preselected protests, such as “Take Back the Night,” take the place of writing formal essays. Composition teachers, as I learned at the 2011 Conference on College Composition and Communication, take students on protests to study the “rhetoric” of slogans and “bodies,” instead of having them read classic works.

Such ideological and emotional assignments, and “performance art,” grew out of the 1960s protest movement and the rejection of Western standards. The radicals who went into academe embraced the new standards and have passed them on.

Performance art has become a favorite of feminists, who follow theorist Helene Cixous, who insisted, “Women must write through their bodies, they must invent the impregnable language that will wreck partitions, classes, and rhetorics, regulations and codes….”

One of the most famous purveyors of this mode is Karen Finley, who in her younger days famously smeared chocolate and honey over her body to express her feelings about the objectification of women. She then took her outrage over the revoking of funding by the National Endowment for the Arts to the Supreme Court, where she, along with her three co-litigants, lost. What is such a transgressive artist going to do without public funding?

She soon found a teaching position at New York University.

She landed there after she was denied a position at Georgia State University (where I earned my master’s degree) as a visiting professor after she refused to sign Georgia’s loyalty oath (requiring that applicants promise not to overthrow the government by violent means). At a 2009 South Atlantic Modern Language Association meeting, English department co-chair Matthew Roudané introduced her and related the story about how he had offered her the position after her NEA difficulties.

In her presentation, Ms. Finley recounted going into “a subtle form of body trauma” after seeing Georgia’s loyalty oath.

“You have to start with an individual, emotional place,” she insisted, describing her principled resistance and her form of art.

She would have fit in at Georgia State. One of my professors allowed another graduate student to write her final paper in the form of a “quilt” of colored paper. A feminist, she was defying the linear, patriarchal form of writing, i.e., organized with a thesis statement and argued logically.

Students are now being asked to follow the lead of performance artists like Finley and do assignments in the nude. This is the case of a visual arts class at UC-San Diego taught by Roberto Dominguez, who famously concocted an electronic Transborder Immigrant Tool, winning awards from the Endowment for Culture Mexico-US. In 2010 he used students to conduct a virtual sit-in to protest cuts in the budget for the California state university system.

Dominguez, naturally, has given a different version to the original complaint by a parent. He told Inside Higher Ed that students have two “clothes-free” options for the class: “The students can choose to do the nude gesture version or the naked version (the naked gesture means you must perform a laying bare of your ‘traumatic’ self, and students can do this gesture under a rug or in any way they choose—but they must share their most fragile self—something most students find extremely hard to do).”

In contrast, “’The nude self gesture takes place in complete darkness, and everyone is nude, with only one candle or very small source of light for each individual performance…. A student may decide to focus on their big toe, their hair, an armpit, as being a part of their body that is ‘more them than they are.’”

Presumably, this should alleviate parental concerns. But a room with naked (in distinction from nude) students in front of their nude professor blubbering about how they feel about their armpits illustrates vividly the decay of academe.

Such assignments do not prepare students for the world of work and adult responsibilities, where their emotions do not factor in performance reviews, where they are expected to communicate in a clear and logical manner, and where they will have to know certain facts in order to build a bridge, argue a legal case, treat a heart attack victim, or teach children to read. Nor do such assignments prepare them to participate as free and literate citizens in a constitutional republic.

So where is the oversight? In the case of the Boise State prison service-learning program, we can see that the inmates are indeed running the asylum. Sadly, this is happening in most of our institutions of higher learning.

EDITORS NOTE: This column originally appeared on the John Pope Center for Higher Education Policy.

PLAGIARISM: Students fail, politicians resign, but professors go back to work

Students_in_a_computer_lab

No peeking!

The Dissident Prof has spent many an agonizing hour with the student who has insulted her intelligence by copying and pasting large pieces of text into her own paper.  She has followed the policy of the various institutions in which she has taught and punished students accordingly.  She remembers one case of a solid B student who in the midst of the rush or the excitement of the end  of the semester decided to use the cut and paste functions on her keyboard for large portions of the final paper.  Alas, I had to inform her that her paper received a zero.  Her final letter grade dropped down to the next one.  That is one reason why college professors always have boxes of tissues on their desks.

The same punishment is not meted to some tenured professors, however. 

In Minding the Campus, I write about the case of Slavoj Zizek, the Slovenian pseudo-philosopher who was discovered to have lifted entire passages from the magazine American Renaissance.  Writers jumped to his defense.  At Inside Higher Ed the worshipful Hollis Phelps contextualized the “sharing” in terms of postmodernism and death of the author, etc.–plus the fact that such a celebrity academic cannot be fully responsible for errors committed by assistants.  Zizek holds forth, sometimes bare-chested from his bed, mixing Marxism, Freudianism, Hegelianism, and pop psychology to offer what is taken as trenchant commentary.  There are entire college courses and books on Zizek. Fortunately, Professor Zizek remains covered up in his bed.

See the below video clip. It’s from one of his full-length movies in his filmography, probably The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology.

The Cabinet of Plagiarism blogger calls this “the summer of plagiarism,” and brings to our attention also the case of Professor Matthew C. Whitaker, who is Professor of History and Founding Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Democracy at Arizona State University, who was recently accused of plagiarizing.

Professor Whitaker:  the Cabinet has wearied of him.  No interesting defense of his actions has ever come forth.  Yet Professor Whitaker sails majestically on, writing editorials decrying the immorality of, for example, net metering (to the great delight of the Edison Institute, at whose conference he also spoke) and preparing for another semester in which he will require his students to purchase his University of Nebraska Press book — thereby inducting them into one aspect of academic scholarship, even if he is woefully unable to induct them into others.  Too big to fail at his university and press, Professor Whitaker is perhaps too small to matter to anyone else.  But….

No doubt these professors are directing their minions (a term used to describe Marxist Zizek’s student assistants) to compile syllabi in preparation for the upcoming school year.

Not only professors, but history book writers, are being accused of plagiarism this summer.  Today, we learn that New York Times/NPR darling Rick Perlstein is being accused of “sloppy scholarship, improper attribution and plagiarism” in his new book on Ronald Reagan, The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan.  The Times refers to its own “prominent book critic” Frank Rich, who in his review applauded Perlstein’s “gifts as a historian.”

Unlike the professors, it doesn’t look like Montana Senator John Walsh will escape political punishment for plagiarizing his master’s thesis at the U.S. Army War College.  He is getting pressure to resign, and Democrats seem to be talking about a replacement candidate.

In the case of Professor Whitaker, Inside Higher Ed reported that after he was found not guilty of deliberate academic misconduct, “the chair of his department’s tenure committee resigned in protest and other faculty members spoke out against the findings, saying their colleague – who recently had been promoted to full professor – was cleared even though what he did likely would have gotten an undergraduate in trouble.”  As the Cabinet of Plagiarism reported, Whitaker will likely assign his plagiarized books to students in the upcoming semester.

As for the globe-trotting, lecture-bed-hopping Professor Zizek?  He seems to be a one-man academic-industrial complex.  In 2012, Salon reported he had published over 50 books. In some years he has published four books.  But of course that cannot be too much when his Marxist ideas will be redistributed to students buying his books as they study the great man in seminars devoted to Slavoj Zizek.