Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Obviously, My Education was Compromised from the Start

Good, dues-paying, conference-attending member of the political science community that I am, I received my issue of APSA's PS: Political Science and Politics in the mail today. It being the October issue, they included the annual "Censure Lists" from the American Association of University Professors--my union, you might say. Anyway, flipping through the issue I ran across the list, and was reminded that both of the schools I received university degrees from have been found to have "unsatisfactory conditions of academic freedom and tenure." What that says about the education I received at either institution I don't care to speculate. Strictly speaking, I suppose I could claim to have been untainted by Brigham Young University's listing on the AAUP's list, since they weren't censured until 1998, and I graduated from there in 1994. But then I went to Catholic University of America for my PhD, and they've been on the list since 1990, so I definitely got it there.

What the "it" I got exactly was is harder to answer. I suppose this would be an appropriate time to write at length about the problematic relationship which schools that posit a sectarian identity (in the above cases, Mormonism and Catholicism, respectively) as part of their vision for higher education will always have with the ideal of "academic freedom," however defined. It might be an interesting thing to write at length about too; as someone with a fair amount of experience at the many different ways in which religious belief can be instantiated in the context of the university experience (after all, I've settled at a religious school to teach at as well, and Friends definitely does some things differently than either CUA or BYU), I have some strong opinions on the matter.

But I don't have the time or inclination to write anything right now, so I won't. I just figured, any of you who read this blog, that you ought to know I was taught by a bunch of professors who either did, or soon would, operate under the shame of AAUP censure. In case you need a reason to dismiss my arguments, you know. Of course, you could attempt to do the same by claiming I'm not a U.S. citizen (WHERE'S THE OFFICIALLY NOTARIZED LONG-FORM VERSION OF YOUR BIRTH CERTIFICATE, MR. "FOX," IF THAT IS YOUR NAME?!?!), but this just seems so much easier. I only want to help.

9 comments:

Stephen Schneck said...

Russell, I use those censures as fodder in a lecture on market theory to explain why markets are not free but instead constrain choice to what popularly "sells."

Oddly it's easier for students to see this in regard to capitalism but somewhat harder to grasp in regard to the alleged "free" market of ideas. The point here would be that serious religious ideas don't "sell" to the kind of academics who make up AAUP.

Brigham Young and Catholic University, thus, are pressured by those darn invisible hands, pushing them to conform to the common tastes of the professorial hoi polloi, much like a television show gets the axe when it does not appeal to common tastes. It's a fun lecture and gets my sophomores all worked up.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Steve, that is genius! A great example; I'm going to steal it next semester, when I try to get my Capitalism and Socialism course off the groung. Many thanks.

MH said...

As long as the NCAA doesn't censure the football team, it probably doesn't matter.

Russell Arben Fox said...

Well and truly said, MH. Unfortunately...

MH said...

I will burn my very expired APSA membership card. I already threw away all my paper copies of PS before my most recent move.

Hector said...

Given that for these jokers, 'academic freedom' means the freedom of postmodernist nutjobs to spout some warmed-over Foucault nonesense, I hardly think you missed a d*mn thing.

One probably gets a much better education from LDS professors at Brigham Young, or from Catholic professors at CUA, then from a postmodern ultra-feminist professor at, say, Cornell. Indeed, I would think that in today's highly secularized society, (outside the natural sciences where this won't apply) the average religious academic is smarter and has more intellectual vitality than the average secular intellectual, if only because they are forced to constantly defend their beliefs against a hostile crowd. (My impression is that both Mormonism and Roman Catholicism, as well as some other faith traditions, are particularly noted for their tendencies towards intellectual achievement).

A serious Catholic intellectual (or a serious Mormon, Lutheran, Anglo-Catholic, or Conservative Jew) has their faith challenged constantly. How often does a typical liberal-feminist English professor have her views challenged, at least within the little world of her university?

Russell Arben Fox said...

I basically agree with you Hector, though "postmodernist nutjobs...spout[ing] some warmed-over Foucault nonesense" goes a lot further than I'd be willing to go. (I kind of like Foucault. Don't really understand him, but I like him all the same.) I think the right-wing attack on much of the secular academy is overblown, if not at times simply paranoid and weird. That being said, I really don't see how any fair-minded person could dissent from your final point: the liberal (really, liberationist/progressive; I hate having to use "liberal" as a shorthand here) groupthink which exists in many departments at many universities is frankly obvious, and often oppressive. Some AAUP defenders, of course, will go so far as to claim that such groupthink is appropriate and necessary, since such liberal thinking is under constant attack outside the academy. (Michael Berube makes this argument in What's the Matter with the Liberal Arts?) This, however, means that they're confused when it comes to serious, good schools--like BYU and CUA--that attempt to combine religious commitment with academic exploration. And, of course, it's always so much easier just to censure something that confuses you than allow for some real pluralism.

This isn't a blanket defense of sectarian universities, much less BYU or CUA. To tell the truth, I was pretty sick of BYU by the time I graduated; I've since softened my harsh opinions, and now consider it to have been a pretty good (not great, but pretty good) undergraduate experience. And I had a wonderful time at CUA. But obviously there are some real whack-job religious schools out there, and honestly, even the most moderate of them are probably not for everyone.

Hector said...

Russell,

Oh, sure. That's why I mentioned CUA and Brigham Young (or presumibly other schools like Wheaton, Notre Dame, Providence College) and not, say, Liberty University.

Clark Goble said...

Of course there are "po-mo" guys at BYU who I guess must combine the worst of both worlds... (Just kidding guys)

More seriously I think I, like you Russell, was pretty sick of BYU when I graduated. However in hindsight I'm not sure that's all justified. I think at a certain point a bit more diversity is nice though. Sometimes too much of a good thing is a bad thing.