Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category.

Quote for the day

For me, at least, writing consists very largely of exploring intuition. A character is really the sense of a character, embodied, attired, and given voice as he or she seems to require. Where does this creature come from? From watching, I suppose. From reading emotional significance in gestures and inflections, as we all do all the time. These moments of intuitive recognition float free from their particular occasions and recombine themselves into nonexistent people the writer and, if all goes well, the reader feel they know.

There is a great difference, in fiction and in life, between knowing someone and knowing about someone. When a writer knows about his character, he is writing for plot. When he knows his character, he is writing to explore, to feel reality on a set of nerves somehow not quite his own. Words like “sympathy,” “empathy,” and “compassion” are overworked and overcharged—there is no word for the experience of seeing an embrace at a subway stop or hearing an argument at the next table in a restaurant. Every such instant has its own emotional coloration, which memory retains or heightens, and so the most sidelong, unintended moment becomes a part of what we have seen of the world. Then, I suppose, these moments, as they have seemed to us, constellate themselves into something a little like a spirit, a little like a human presence in its mystery and distinctiveness.

Two questions I can’t really answer about fiction are (1) where it comes from, and (2) why we need it. But that we do create it and also crave it is beyond dispute. There is a tendency, considered highly rational, to reason from a narrow set of interests, say survival and procreation, which are supposed to govern our lives, and then to treat everything that does not fit this model as anomalous clutter, extraneous to what we are and probably best done without. But all we really know about what we are is what we do. There is a tendency to fit a tight and awkward carapace of definition over humankind, and to try to trim the living creature to fit the dead shell.

The advice I give my students is the same advice I give myself—forget definition, forget assumption, watch. We inhabit, we are part of, a reality for which explanation is much too poor and small. No physicist would dispute this, though he or she might be less ready than I am to have recourse to the old language and call reality miraculous. By my lights, fiction that does not acknowledge this at least tacitly is not true. Why is it possible to speak of fiction as true or false? I have no idea. But if a time comes when I seem not to be making the distinction with some degree of reliability in my own work, I hope someone will be kind enough to let me know.

When I write fiction, I suppose my attempt is to simulate the integrative work of a mind perceiving and reflecting, drawing upon culture, memory, conscience, belief or assumption, circumstance, fear, and desire—a mind shaping the moment of experience and response and then reshaping them both as narrative, holding one thought against another for the effect of affinity or contrast, evaluating and rationalizing, feeling compassion, taking offense. These things do happen simultaneously, after all. None of them is active by itself, and none of them is determinative, because there is that mysterious thing the cognitive scientists call self-awareness, the human ability to consider and appraise one’s own thoughts. I suspect this self-awareness is what people used to call the soul.

That’s the wonderful novelist Marilynne Robinson, writing in The Chronicle of Higher Ed.

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The dustbin of history

Historian KC Johnson has for years now been tracking how the politicization of his discipline has transformed it in ways that thoroughly compromise and threaten not just the study of history, but our capacity to be a functional democracy.

Here’s an excerpt from his latest:

In a ruling likely to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, the Montana Supreme Court last month upheld the state constitution’s prohibition on corporations directly spending on state campaigns. For those concerned with academic matters, the case is important for reasons quite unrelated to political debates about Citizens United. In a significant case involving history (the Montana court relied heavily upon the scholarship and words of historians to reach its conclusions), all the books cited were more than 35 years old. And that wasn’t a coincidence: the kind of U.S. history relevant to influencing legal and public policy debates increasingly has been banished from an academy obsessed with scholarship organized around the race/class/gender trinity.

A quick summary of the decision: the Montana court ruled that “unlike Citizens United, this case concerns Montana law, Montana elections and it arises from Montana history,” requiring the justices to examine “the context of the time and place it was enacted, during the early twentieth century.” To provide this necessary historical background, the Court repeatedly cited books by historians Helen Fisk Sanders, K. Ross Toole, C. B. Glasscock, Michael Malone, and Richard Roeder. The Court also accepted an affidavit from Harry Fritz, a professor emeritus at the University of Montana and a specialist in Montana history, who affirmed, “What was true a century ago is as true today: distant corporate interests mean that corporate dominated campaigns will only work ‘in the essential interest of outsiders with local interests a very secondary consideration.’”

An attorney analyzing the decision, however, probably would have been surprised to see that the works of history upon which the Montana court relied were all published before 1977. She might even have wondered whether the court’s reliance on older works suggested that it had ignored newer, perhaps contradictory, publications. But for anyone familiar with how the contemporary academy approaches U.S. history, the court’s inability to find recent relevant works could have come as no surprise at all.

The study of U.S. history has transformed in the last two generations, with emphasis on staffing positions in race, class, or gender leading to dramatic declines in fields viewed as more “traditional,” such as U.S. political, constitutional, diplomatic, and military history. And even those latter areas have been “re-visioned,” in the word coined by an advocate of the transformation, Illinois history professor Mark Leff, to make their approach more accommodating to the dominant race/class/gender paradigm. In the new academy, political histories of state governments–of the type cited and used effectively by the Montana Supreme Court–were among the first to go. The Montana court had to turn to Fritz, an emeritus professor, because the University of Montana History Department no longer features a specialist in Montana history (nor, for that matter, does it have a professor whose research interests, like those of Fritz, deal with U.S. military history, a topic that has fallen out of fashion in the contemporary academy).

History departments have an obligation to be, at least to some degree, curatorial: they need to make sure that they responsibly cover all the important areas (with the caveat that larger, better funded departments can define and do this more expansively), and that they are not absurdly lopsided. This responsibility is partly about teaching (KC often writes about the deplorable lack, for instance, of course offerings on military and diplomatic history), but it’s also, as his current piece shows, about ensuring that we have the capacity to make knowledgeable choices at the very highest procedural levels. We aren’t doing that. And we’re dooming ourselves to bad decisions based on mass forgetting and ignorance.

Marx said it best: history repeats itself, “first as tragedy, then as farce.”

My feelings about the human condition are pretty cynical. Our pattern is to build something amazing, and then to get complacent about it, fail to maintain it, do a lot of resting on laurels and over-reaching, enter a period of decadent decline, and kill off, through sheer human stupidity, the good we’ve done. Seems like we’re in one of those periods now.

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A day in the life

I am a sucker for biography. Right now, sitting on the bedside table, I’ve got David McCullough’s John Adams and Frances Wilson’s Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth, waiting patiently to be taken up. I’ve got to finish Jane Smiley’s Private Life, Peter Ackroyd’s Thames: The Biography, my third trip through Melville’s Moby Dick (it’s been twenty years, and I think maybe now I am old enough) and Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, which I have never actually read, before starting anything new.

But the itch is there, intensified by this Wilson Quarterly interview with Michael Scammell, author of acclaimed biographies on Solzhenitsyn and Koestler. Excerpts:

Michael McDonald: How did you become a biographer?

Michael Scammell: A big question. Until I was in my early twenties, all I wanted to do was write fiction. I tried many times, but came to the conclusion that I didn’t have the stamina for it, so I turned to translation, putting the words of foreign writers into English—which is a kind of creativity: creativity with language but not with thought.


McDonald: How do you view the essential difference between being a novelist and a biographer?

Scammell: To paraphrase the British literary critic Desmond MacCarthy, the biographer is the novelist on oath. He captured both parts of what’s important. Where he was very astute was in recognizing that the biographer is using the same arsenal of devices as the novelist; that is to say, the biographer is using characterization. It’s not simply enough to take the sum total of people’s impressions of someone, to collect them and put them all down on the page; a biographer has to select, too. One has to be able to set a scene in such a way that the reader is drawn in and convinced by what one has written, and that too is a novelistic gift.

McDonald: Facts alone don’t convince?

Scammell: It depends on the genre, but facts alone can never convince the reader. At the very least, there has to be an argument. In a biography, if the facts aren’t artfully presented, you end up with a flattened portrait. Let me put it this way: Quite a bit has been written about the suspension of disbelief in fiction. My wife, who reads more novels than I do, has a habit of picking up a novel, starting it, and then all of a sudden she’ll throw it on the table or chair. I say, “What’s wrong?” She’ll respond, “I don’t believe in this anymore.” And the biographer has the exact same problem. It’s twofold: One, does the reader believe what the biographer is saying to him about the subject of the biography? And, two, does the reader believe that the biographer has found the best way to say it? Of course, biographers also rely heavily on the intrinsic interest of their subjects, often too heavily, in my opinion, but credibility is even more important in biography than in fiction, because fiction is made up.


McDonald: Given the oppressive weight of modern archives, how do you know that you’ve read enough?

Scammell: It’s a combination of things. Let’s just take a prosaic and yet important practical consideration. Biography is rife with examples of people who don’t finish for 20 or 25 years—or perhaps ever—and this is often a result of reluctance to stop researching. There’s always more to find out. But after a certain point in time, even they feel the pressure. Others around you (your agent, your publisher, your spouse) are pressing you to finish, and you begin to feel ridiculous. Another unheroic explanation is sheer exhaustion. You may feel there’s important information still out there, but you don’t have the strength or time or inclination to go further. But it’s more complicated than that, because research and writing aren’t completely separated from one another, and it’s not as if you come to the complete end of one before starting the other. There does, however, come that moment when you begin to grapple with the writing in a serious way. You grow impatient with the collection of material; you can’t wait to explore your notes and get your cherished insights down on paper. At the back of your mind is the fear of losing your freshness and growing stale. At last, you feel you’ve covered all the main bases, you’ve gathered up all the relevant material, and whatever else you collect is not going to change the picture you’ve built up in any significant way.


McDonald: Is there a code of ethics for a biographer?

Scammell: It’s very simple: Don’t lie. Of course, when you break that commandment down and start to analyze it, you realize it’s not that simple after all. You can, after all, without technically lying, create a false picture. Or you can try to force the reader to conclusions that are not truly justified by the evidence. I think that voice also plays a role here. Can you trust that person who’s telling you all these things and setting out the evidence for them, or is there something shady and evasive about it? The judgment is quite subjective, of course, and readers don’t always agree, but I have faith in the ability of most intelligent readers to spot the difference.

McDonald: Does the public have a right to know everything about a writer? W. H. Auden, for one, thought that a writer’s personal sins, sufferings, and weaknesses are of absolutely no interest.

Scammell: He wasn’t the only one. Thomas Hardy ordered all his letters and diaries burnt after his death, and virtually dictated a biography of the early part of his life to his much younger wife and secretary. James Joyce referred to biographers as “biografiends,” and then you have the famous Oscar Wilde quote about each great man having his disciples and how it’s the Judas among them who ends up writing his biography. There’s a long tradition of that, I think, and to a certain extent they’re right, for biographers do in a sense exploit their subjects for their own ends.

McDonald: Some say biographies deflate the novelist’s work—that they rob the work of its autonomy.

Scammell: Do they? In my experience, they almost always turn readers’ attention back to the work, not away from it, and I can’t really think of any great or good novel, poem, or play that I’ve read—knowing much more about the background of the work—that’s been diminished by a biography.

McDonald: Auden disagreed; but then he himself was a voracious reader of biography.

Biography is a marvelously complicated and crazy genre, once you start thinking about it. This interview touches on some of the reasons why. Scammell, for what it’s worth, adores Gerald Clarke’s Capote (agreed!) and doesn’t love Lytton Strachey’s work, because he’s cynical and condescending toward his Victorian subjects (also agreed). To the list of wonderful biographers I would add Richard Ellmann, whose mammoth biographies of Joyce and Wilde are can’t-put-downable, and Victoria Glendinning, who works on a smaller canvas, but whose biographies of Trollope and Elizabeth Bowen are absolute pleasures to read. Then there is also, of course, Peter Ackroyd’s Dickens. There is a long, weird experimental digression in the middle of the thing, but it’s easily skipped.

My own little essay on biography is here.

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Welcome to the desert of the real

Quote for the day: “I feel like there’s a red pill and a blue pill. And you can take the blue pill and go back to your classroom and lecture your 20 students. But I’ve taken the red pill, and I’ve seen Wonderland.”

That’s soon-to-be ex-Stanford professor Sebastian Thrun, whose recent online course on artificial intelligence drew 160,000 members–and convinced him that he can never go back to a traditional classroom. Thrun is founding Udacity, a start-up that will offer low-cost online courses. Very curious to see how he handles credentialing, which at this point is looking like one of the only things higher ed can use to trump this sort of endeavor. And yes, I know there is no substitute for engaged seminar discussion, one-on-one contact with professors, shared learning environments, etc. etc. etc. Except that, it seems, there is.

Extra credit: Without Googling, what’s the source for Thrun’s quote about the pills?

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Don’t cheat!

Happy Friday, everyone. If you are like me, you are looking forward to a weekend with lots and lots of reading in it. I’ll be finishing Ransom Riggs’ strange and wonderful first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, which is inspired by and woven around Riggs’ amazing collection of creepy vintage photographs of children. I will also be dipping into Peter Ackroyd’s wonderful The Thames. If you don’t know Ackroyd’s historical and biographical work, change that: London: The Biography is just marvelous, and he just brought out a study of all the great stuff that’s under London, from tube stations and tunnels to Roman ampitheaters to sewers and hideouts and crypts. And, of the zillions of Dickens biographies out there, Ackroyd’s–which is scandalously out of print–is the best.

Which brings me to Dickens. And to Christopher Hitchens. And to the fun quiz that occasions the title of this post. Don’t cheat!

Hitchens’ last piece was on Dickens, and appears in the February edition of Vanity Fair to commemorate the bicentennial of Dickens’ birth. It’s mostly a meditation on how the legendary-ness of Dickens has swamped the truth, so that false, or at least unverifiable, anecdotes about him get as much play, and count as much, as the more clearly factual stuff.

Hitchens’ piece also contains a wonderful sentence: “Opening his own memoir, the most inept fictional narrator of my generation showed that he was out of his depth by dismissing ‘all that David Copperfield kind of crap.’”

Now for the quiz. Who said that? No googling to get the answer. It must come from your memory or not come at all.

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In the mail

… A review copy of Frank Delaney’s The Last Storyteller. I’m in the mood for some Irish historical fiction, so this is perfect.

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My year in books

First, a confession: I don’t entirely know what books I’ve read this year. Until about April, I wasn’t writing them down and never had. But I didn’t like the way that sent reading experiences down the memory hole (I never used to forget anything, but I am fast becoming my father’s daughter — if it’s not written down, it’s gone, with rare associative exceptions — I know I was reading Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children when my father had his heart surgery, and suspect that if I read it again, it would bring back, Proust-like, the thoughts and feelings of last March).

So anyway, I started keeping a log of what I am reading, and when. It’s strangely gratifying, and allows me to get a quick sense of “my year in books,” which is terrifically important to me. You either get that instantly, or you don’t. Either way, here goes, in no particular order.

–Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White: This one had sat on my shelf for years, because I have a troubled relationship with contemporary authors who write Victorian novels. But I finally gave this one a chance, and then I could not put it down. Historically precise, but not bogged down in detail, and not full of historical mistakes and non-sequiturs as so many of these are. A London prostitute who is also a pornographer falls in love with her well-to-do John and turns into Jane Eyre, with lots of twists.

–Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation: Vowell is a terrifically talented and original public historian–at once laugh-out-loud funny and geekily obsessed with the obscure and bizarre arcana of the American experience. That’s my kind of historian, so much so that I forgave her the digressive tic by which she managed to convey, multiple times, that it was too bad George W. Bush wasn’t among the assassinated presidents whose stories she tells in this book. Focussing on Lincoln, Garfield, and McKinley (because the Kennedy story is pretty well exhausted), Vowell travels around the country visiting their graves, assassination sites, and other relevant locations, such as Oneida, New York, where McKinley’s killer was once a failed member of a utopian community that advocated cross-generational, extra-marital sex but is best remembered for making silverware. Do you have Oneida forks and spoons? I do. Great, wonderful read, and the sort of book that makes you want to immerse yourself in the study of history because nothing is more fun.

Jude Morgan’s Passion: This is a gorgeously written, compulsively readable novel about the second generation of major Romantic poets–or, rather, about the women in their lives. Shelley and Byron in particular had incredibly messy, entangled, and fascinating love lives, the sort of thing that makes you say, “you can’t make this stuff up.” Couldn’t put it down.

J. L. Carr’s A Month in the Country: This is a skinny little book from one of those twentieth-century English writers who have wrongfully been forgotten. It seems to be about not much — a World War I vet is hired to spend the summer in a sleepy English village removing layers of whitewash from a lost mural in the local medieval church — but it’s about everything. It has a simplicity, and an elegaic quality, that is absolutely heart-breaking.

There was a lot more reading this year, but that’s the best of it. You?

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Best books about higher ed: 2011

Minding the Campus asked ten people to vote on that (I happened to be one). I picked Academically Adrift, and so did most of the others. I also gave props to Professor X’s In the Basement of the Ivory Tower: Confessions of an Accidental Academic, which I thought was a particularly good evocation of what it’s like to try to teach writing to grossly underprepared college students. The book was a bit stretchy (it began as an Atlantic article, and grew after contract), but I loved that it was a frank and ideologically uninfected memoir about academic life.

Most of the critiques we have of academia sidestep the personal like it’s a steaming pile. And — with the exception of the amazing Academically Adrift — that’s gotten to be a huge drag. We’ve had quite enough macro-arguments about what ails higher ed. They are for the most part repetitive, politicized, and polarized, and they have stalled the conversation in a way that aids the status quo and begs solutions. Higher ed is in crisis — but the conversation about it has become so incredibly boring that even people who care about it passionately find talking about it paralytically dull.

The second place finisher in Minding the Campus’ little poll, Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College, is, like Professor X’s book, a critique-by-memoir. I think–or perhaps I just hope–that we’ll see more of this sort of thing in the coming year. It humanizes the problem by telling a story; along the way, it makes facts and figures and argument feel far more personal than they do when authors, in good academic style, purge their presence from their work.

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Humanities and the black hole

Emory English professor has long argued that the academic humanities needs rethinking–and has specifically pointed out that the research imperative that for so long existed to dignify and professionalize the humanities disciplines has outlasted its usefulness. Now, most of the scholarship coming out of humanities departments isn’t, sadly, worth the paper (or the bandwidth) it’s printed on — not because it’s bad or pointless, necessarily, but because its impact is essentially nil. It’s the academic version of the old conundrum about the tree falling in the forest: if an article is published in a peer-reviewed journal and there’s no one there to read it, was it worth writing in the first place?

Bauerlein has caught a lot of flak for this argument. That’s no surprise — he’s hitting his fellow humanists where they live. They don’t like that. They feel threatened. But he’s right, and now he’s got the numbers to prove it.

Bauerlein has been quantifying and counting to see what would happen if he put his gut sense to the test. This is what he has found:

However much they certify their authors as professionals and win them jobs and tenure, essays and books of high scholarly merit in literary studies suffer the same inattention all the time. Why? Because after four decades of mountainous publication, literary studies has reached a saturation point, the cascade of research having exhausted most of the subfields and overwhelmed the capacity of individuals to absorb the annual output. Who can read all of the 80 items of scholarship that are published on George Eliot each year? After 5,000 studies of Melville since 1960, what can the 5,001st say that will have anything but a microscopic audience of interested readers?

To test that supposition, I devised a study of literary research in four English departments at public universities—the University of Georgia, the University at Buffalo, the University of Vermont, and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—collecting data on salaries, books and articles published, and the reception of those works. The findings:

Those universities pay regular English faculty, on average, around $25,000 a year to produce research. According to the faculty handbooks, although universities don’t like to set explicit proportions, research counts as at least one-third of professors’ duties, and we may calculate one-third of their salaries as research pay. This figure does not include sabbaticals, travel funds, and internal grants, not to mention benefits, making the one-third formula a conservative estimate.

Professors in those departments respond diligently, producing ample numbers of books and articles in recent years. At Georgia, from 2004 to 2009, current faculty members produced 22 authored books, 15 edited books, and 200 research essays. The award of tenure didn’t produce any drop-off in publication, either. Senior professors continue their inquiries, making their departments consistently relevant and industrious research centers.

Finally, I calculated the impact of those publications by using Google Scholar and my own review of books published in specific areas to count citations. Here the impressive investment and productivity appear in sobering context. Of 13 research articles published by current SUNY-Buffalo professors in 2004, 11 of them received zero to two citations, one had five, one 12. Of 23 articles by Georgia professors in 2004, 16 received zero to two citations, four of them three to six, one eight, one 11, and one 16.

Books performed better, but not enough when we consider how much more labor goes into a monograph. A 2000 book on Gerard Manley Hopkins collected four citations in eight relevant books on the poet published from 2007 to 2010. A 2003 book on Thomas Hardy garnered one citation in 16 relevant books published from 2007 to 2010. Of eight books published by Vermont professors from 2002 to 2005, four of them received zero to 10 citations in subsequent essays, and four received 11 to 20 (four of the top five were studies in film).

Franco Moretti would be proud. (That’s an in-joke for all you humanists out there.)

Of course there is the odd breakthrough book or article that everyone cites. And of course there are the usual objections, which Bauerlein duly notes: “Research makes professors better teachers and colleagues,” “We need lots of research activity to produce those few works of significance,” and “Google Scholar and citation counts are hardly the best way to examine humanities research.” But, as Bauerlein also notes, such objections are located in Neverland. They are long on principle, but short on reality. The money just isn’t there to pay for an endeavor with so palpably little positive impact — especially when we can also calculate its negative impact in terms of dollars and time that could be devoted to higher ed’s primary mission, teaching.

As Bauerlein puts it, “The research identity is a powerful allure, flattering people that they have cutting-edge brilliance. Few of them readily trade the graduate seminar for the composition classroom. But we have reached the point at which the commitment to research at the current level actually damages the humanities, turning the human capital of the discipline toward ineffectual toil.”

There’s no disrespect for academic humanists here, nor is this an attack on them. Rather, Bauerlein is watching a profession — his own — die a self-imposed death because of skewed prerogatives and failure to adapt. He respects his field, his colleagues, and the scholarship they produce — but he’s looking at what’s real, and he’s doing the thankless work of urging a group of people who are intensely set in their ways for all sorts of institutional, cultural, and personal reasons to find a way to change before they are officially defined as intellectually irrelevant.

Two things Bauerlein doesn’t mention — probably because there wasn’t room. Those Chronicle of Higher Ed space constraints are a bear!

One is that people who are really driven to do scholarship will do it, regardless of whether it’s officially part of their job duties. Those who aren’t might just welcome the removal of an immiserating and distracting job requirement and the room it creates to focus on other things. The natural selection that would happen under such conditions might be good for both scholarship and teaching, not to mention the general repute of academic humanists.

The second thing is that humanist scholarship has harmed itself by over-professionalizing and by confining itself to the exclusive gated ghetto of peer-reviewed journals and university press monographs. While the market for such work is saturated and was never big to begin with, there is a market for genuine public intellectuals who write about literature, history, and culture in ways that take an intelligent and curious non-academic audience seriously. We could do with a little more common culture than we have now — and academic humanists could do a lot to help reconstitute and revitalize that, if –

It all does come down to “if.”

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Riding the wave of the Penn State scandal, the AAUP has released a statement about the dangers of unchecked college athletics. As summarized at Inside Higher Ed:

Leaders of the American Association of University Professors on Tuesday released a statement warning of the “dangers of a sports empire” in higher education, citing recent sex-abuse scandals as evidence. “Recent accounts of the systemic cover-up of allegations of sexual assaults on young boys at Penn State indicate that the unchecked growth of a sports empire held unaccountable to the rest of the university community coincided with the steady erosion of faculty governance,” says the statement. “Genuine shared governance, which involves meaningful participation by the faculty in all aspects of an institution, could have resulted in these alleged crimes being reported to city and state police years ago, and might have spared some of the victims the trauma they endured, and indeed continue to endure, because of the memories that remain, and the legal and judicial processes they still face.”

The statement added that “the AAUP’s Council, in the earnest hope of preventing abuses of power, suffering of victims, and betrayals of trust, reaffirms the necessity of ensuring meaningful faculty participation in all aspects of institutional governance and, in particular, of athletics programs.”

Some phrases come to mind: one-trick pony, broken record, agenda-driven. The AAUP is awfully skilled at hijacking issues for its own ends, and most often those ends are the ends we see here: putting the faculty on a pedestal and arguing that all of higher ed’s ills would magically resolve if faculty just had more power (which is what the AAUP means when it talks about governance and academic freedom).

Perhaps, in this instance, they would be right if the professoriate had historically shown even the slightest respect for professional ethics. If it had, it could reasonably argue that more faculty oversight of college athletics could clean them up and prevent future sex scandals and so on. But as Maurice Black and I noted at Inside Higher Ed earlier this year, professors are, as a group, a failure when it comes to professional ethics. And the AAUP, which has abandoned its founding intention to promote and enforce academic ethics, has led the way to that failure.

UPDATE 11/30/11: As a contrast, see ACTA president Anne Neal’s take on Penn State in today’s Wall Street Journal.

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