humanities

OPINION

Columbia University President Lee Bollinger made a big wager three years ago: The school could safely “invest” $30 million in developing and hiring faculty whose only qualification was they weren’t white men.

As Roger Clegg wrote at Minding the Campus at the time, Bollinger’s move was arguably illegal: The Supreme Court’s college affirmative-action decision that bears Bollinger’s name only applied to students, not faculty, who fall under an unexamined part of the Civil Rights Act.

Prezbo (as we affectionately call him) recently reiterated what we all suspected: The Ivy League school’s commitment to “diversity” only runs skin-deep.

In a mass email to the Columbia community three weeks ago, Prezbo doubled down on the diversity investment, promising another $33 million for “recruitment, support, and related programs” to fill its professorial and Ph.D. ranks with the right people.

The new money goes toward not just those with the correct melanin levels and chromosomal makeup. Guess who’s the new favored identity group?

Bollinger explains what he’s after further down the email – expanding the diversity of the “Ph.D. pipeline,” or the range of candidates pursuing doctorates in various programs. (The term is also the name of an “underrepresented” minority-focused program run out of Duke University’s business school.)

“New initiatives to be launched include supporting faculty recruitments for LGBTQ scholarship and convening conferences that facilitate and give prominence to issues of race, gender, and sexuality,” Prezbo wrote.

That’s right – you need the correct sexual orientation and gender identity to be worthy of Columbia’s interest now.

“Diversity” means that people who were born heterosexual will have to fight and claw for a stagnant pool of funding.

While there is nothing intrinsically wrong with granting a professorship to anyone for any reason that wouldn’t compromise one’s ability to teach, it could be argued that something is wrong with seeking out a specific demographic entirely for the purposes of boosting one’s own “diversity” quota.

The focus of diversity is not placed on that of ideological, political or religious identifications – things that people choose – but rather on the completely immaterial circumstances of one’s biology.

Is it any more satisfying to suspect you got into Columbia because of who you love, rather than what you look like?

Clearly Columbia’s means don’t match its lofty ends. Bollinger writes:

Our long-term goal has been, and remains, to achieve the critical mass of faculty needed to establish Columbia as a national leader and world center of the greatest scholarship and teaching that can only arise out of a diverse academic community.

Yet the real goal of this initiative seems to be winning hearts and minds superficially, accomplishing “diversity” quickly with something obvious and external.

If Columbia wants to create diversity that intellectually challenges the core assumptions in its student body, it should hire more conservative and libertarian professors in the humanities.

I still hold out hope that, at an institution as intellectually sound and honest as Columbia, the skin-deep “diversity” of our president – himself a champion and scholar of First Amendment rights – will one day sink a little deeper.

The contributor is a student at Columbia University.

Related articleColumbia U Will Practice Discriminatory Hiring

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

OPINION

Before I transferred to Columbia University, I went to a local college in my native West Virginia.

There, I was part of a student-run multicultural initiative – just a band of misfits who wanted to share our love of other cultural perspectives with whoever chose our company.

Though students who joined our group were like-minded in many ways, we did not try to alter the overall intellectual growth of our brothers and sisters in scholarship.

That might not be true at Columbia, if I’m correctly interpreting the implications of its own recent multicultural initiative: that all students (and faculty) must participate, and that this enforced participation will stymie the intellectual journey of many in favor of placating the sensibilities of a few.

The Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board has been meeting with administrators and faculty who lead the Core curriculum in a bid to make students feel “safe in the classroom” by recognizing “the multiplicity of their identities,” the board’s four members wrote in a Columbia Spectator op-ed.

The student-run organization’s mission is to ensure that “Columbia’s campus is welcoming and safe for students of all backgrounds.” It’s part of the school’s Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Its proposal, however, would do nothing short of compromise the Core curriculum.

Though they don’t explicitly recommend revising the content of Columbia’s Literature and Humanities (Lit Hum) curriculum, the members claim it’s harming students who find certain texts “triggering.”

In a forum the board hosted last semester, a young undergraduate claimed she was triggered by the content of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, an assigned required text in Lit Hum’s two-semester course progression, the board wrote.

OvidMetamorphoses.WMC

Though Ovid’s text is “a fixture of Lit Hum,” the members said that like much of Western literature, Metamorphoses can also be “triggering and offensive” to “a [rape] survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.”

While the board asks the Core gatekeepers to educate faculty about trigger warnings and create a “mediation mechanism for students who have identity-based disagreements with professors,” perhaps their most far-reaching recommendation boils down to re-education.

They want “all professors” to go through a training program that will help them “constructively facilitate conversations that embrace all identities” and “think critically about how the Core Curriculum is framed for their students.”

This is not intended to “infringe” on professors’ academic freedom, they wrote. They simply want to give professors “effective strategies to engage with potential conflicts and confrontations in the classroom” and coax out “voices which presently feel silenced.”

What about the voice of students at large who don’t have a “university-funded bureaucracy” to implement their will, as Cornell Law School Professor William Jacobson wrote about the members’ proposal?

Won’t their voices be “silenced” if the Core is neutered into a bland puddle of inoffensiveness?

I’m not the only student worried about how this could play out.

A fellow Columbia undergrad who requested anonymity was candid in an interview about the shortcomings of the proposal.

The very existence of an advisory board for multicultural grievances is alarming because it has “a big selection bias for membership,” the student told me.

He claimed no one had been accepted to the board “who thinks that ideas and logic can trump emotions and identity.” Instead, it is composed of those who consider identity itself “the most” important factor in decision-making.

This is why the Spectator op-ed “didn’t even bother” establishing such a premise, the student told me – the board just takes it for granted that identity will trump all else.

I reached out to the advisory board members to flesh out their recommendations, as well as the Office of Multicultural Affairs and director of the Center for the Core Curriculum, Roosevelt Montás, to get their take on the board’s proposal and what it could mean for the Core.

Since these issues probably won’t stay confined to Columbia, I tried to reach the American Academy of Arts and Sciences’ John Tessitore, who directs its humanities and education program, for his take on challenges to such curricula.

So far only advisory board member Tanika Lynch has responded, and asked for more time to formulate a response. (Finals week is wrapping up at Columbia.)

However they feel about the Core curriculum, students and faculty deserve to know how it might change in response to perceived slights to certain groups on campus.

College Fix contributor Micah Fleck is a student at Columbia University.

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

IMAGES: Columbia University Office of Multicultural Affairs, Wikimedia Commons

Teaching in a ‘toxic environment,’ but supported by peers and students

It all started with a dull bureaucratic word: “prioritization.”

Point Loma Nazarene University had told the campus community in April that a handful of majors would be phased out in the next few years, mostly in the humanities, due to falling interest from students.

Provost Kerry Fulcher had said that faculty in those fields wouldn’t be immediately terminated.

But “we were under the impression that we could be let go at any time,” one humanities professor told The College Fix. “That’s why professors left.”

And that’s when depression started for this professor, who asked to remain anonymous to speak frankly about tensions in one humanities department and the loneliness of going through depression at a Christian college.

‘Our department is crumbling and we all know it’

The university offered faculty in “prioritized” departments an early retirement package. Seven took this two-year option and another five left the school, according to George Latter, vice president for finance and administrative services.

The humanities professor argued against making the cuts, which spanned a few departments, to no avail. The administration’s allegedly icy reaction to that outspokenness has made the professor wary of trusting anyone with future concerns.

“It’s a larger issue than prioritization. It is how our administrative service does not care about us,” the humanities professor said. “My own boss won’t speak to me after I stuck up for what I believed about cutting majors.

“The cuts have made this a toxic environment,” the humanities professor continued. “I’m tired of crawling back into my office corner, being shut down, and having no one.” The professor has been depressed for more than six months, going back to the first faculty discussions about prioritization, and dreads coming to work.

Asked about prioritization and why the school was cutting so many majors, Provost Fulcher told The Fix that he disliked making the cuts but that it was for the better of the university.

“When you look at the news releases that are coming out there and you see the real traumatic things, even though it was rough and created anxiety because we didn’t know what the end result was going to be, I was relieved at the outcome,” Fulcher said.

But the majors announced for phasing out in April weren’t the only ones considered for the chopping block, the humanities professor said.

A meeting was held in June to consider whether to cut another major that had seen student decline. One professor in that department didn’t bother waiting, and took a position at another Christian college. A decision still hasn’t been reached on the major’s future.

Faculty in that department feel like they could lose their positions at any moment, the humanities professor said. “Our department is crumbling and we all know it.”

“To not tell us leaves my head spinning and I can only think of the worst scenario possible then,” said the humanities professor. “I have taught at this department, this major for over 15 years and to know that this major could be next to go – it’s depressing.”

Opting for prayers and coffee talk instead of official school resources

How Christians treat mental health issues has drawn more attention in recent years.

The Clause at Azusa Pacific University, another Christian college near Point Loma, ran an opinion piece last week on a new outreach effort on campus to diagnose potential depression among students.

It’s less clear how Christian colleges in general deal with depression among faculty and staff.

Point Loma does offer a free confidential counseling program for faculty and staff, known as the Employee Assistance Program, Jeff Herman, associate vice president for human resources, told The Fix. It offers help with “personal concerns like depression,” he said.

The humanities professor already had a counselor, so opted not to try Point Loma’s official services. A few faculty members have reached out to spend time with the professor. Some students have gone to coffee with the professor, written letters, shared encouraging Bible verses and prayed with the professor.

Other faculty are also depressed, the humanities professor said.

“It’s not worth being at a university where people hate me,” said the humanities professor, referring to administrators. “It’s sad to say, but I think I have done all the good I can do here. “

College Fix reporter Samantha Watkins is a student at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

IMAGE: Billy Wilson/Flickr

President Barack Obama, perhaps one of the greatest BS-ers of all time, recently divulged where he fined-tuned his skills: college.

The Washington Free Beacon reports that during a Q&A hosted by Tumblr on Tuesday, one user asked Obama how America could “promote growth in STEM fields without putting humanities on the back burner.”

“First of all,” Obama began, “I want to say, I was a humanities major. So I majored in political science and minored in English.”

But according to Obama, those majors blossomed from a desire to slack off during high school. “I actually loved math and science until I got into high school,” he reminisced, “and then I misspent those years. And the thing about the humanities was, you could kind of talk your way through classes, which you couldn’t do in math and science, right?”

Right you are, Mr. President. Thank you for that brief moment of honesty. It’s so rare coming from you nowadays.

Watch the video:

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

The humanities are facing curious trends these days. While the percentage of students majoring in a humanities field has barely budged in the past two decades, other fields considered solid for high earnings, such as business, haven’t fared much better. The sciences appear to be leaving others in the dust.

The murkiness of some data, and its variation among private and public institutions, also provides ammunition to academics with different views on the state of the humanities.

American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) data from 1987 through 2010, part of its Humanities Indicators project, show the humanities hovering around 12 percent of majors for most of the 1990s and 2000s. Business and marketing have stayed around 21 percent in the late 2000s, falling from 24 percent in the late 1980s but rebounding from 19-20 percent in the late 1990s, while engineering – at 11 percent in 1987 – hasn’t topped 7 percent since 2007.

“All sciences” together – behavioral and social sciences, health and medical sciences, life sciences and physical sciences – have steadily grown, according to AAAS data. Starting at 25.9 percent in 1987, they cracked 30 percent for the first time in 2009.

Scott Saul, an English professor at the University of California-Berkeley, wrote in The New York Times last year that the declining-humanities narrative is a “half-truth.” The trend is most pronounced in “prestigious private universities” such as Cornell, Yale and Harvard, where English and history majors have plummeted, he said.

Fewer students have been declaring majors such as writing or Greek because they have become aware of just how hard it is to find a job, says William Chace, the former president of Emory University. He is a professor at Stanford University and author of One Hundred Semesters: My Adventures as Student, Professor, and University President, and What I Learned Along the Way, published in 2006.

Writing in The American Scholar in 2009, Chace said that foreign-language majors dropped from 2.5 percent in the 1970-71 school year to 1.3 percent in 2003-04, as one example of the humanities’ decline.

Chace said schools’ pursuit of money, such as federal grants, has led them to hire “necessary non-faculty employees” such as development officers. He quoted historian Lynn Hunt of the University of California-Los Angeles, who said “The university staff as a whole is getting bigger, but the relative presence of faculty, secretaries, and janitors is actually declining.”

Humanities faculty have taken a hit because they “bring in almost no outside income,” unlike economists, computer scientists and “almost everyone in the medical sciences,” Chace wrote in The American Scholar. They are seen as “consuming money in salaries, pensions, and operating needs,” which is all “institutional,” he said.

It can be hard to tell the broader trends facing the humanities. AAAS said that faculty growth in the humanities (50.7 percent) actually outpaced U.S. postsecondary enrollment growth (40 percent) from 1999 through 2012. But U.S. Department of Education figures that show part-time instructional faculty outnumbered full-time faculty as of 2011 “do not differentiate among the academic fields,” AAAS said.

Individual institutions don’t necessarily make it easy to tell how the humanities fare there, either. Stanford’s undergraduate profile says that 30 percent of incoming students declare a major in “humanities and sciences” while more than 50 percent are undeclared.

Private schools may feel the pinch more acutely, unable to keep classes with lower attendance.

Point Loma Nazarene University, with an undergraduate enrollment around 2,600 and a cap of 750 on its incoming class, plans to phase out five majors by the 2017 school year, which together account for 54 students, according to a campus-wide email from provost Kerry Fulcher in April. Three of those – theater, Romance languages and philosophy/theology – are humanities.

Fulcher told The College Fix those three together only included 18 students, with philosophy/theology majors in particular dropping 70 percent in the past six years. Romance languages, meanwhile, were already scheduled for a phase-out two years ago when French was proposed, and the Spanish major continues as well, Fulcher said.

College Fix contributor Samantha Watkins is a student at Point Loma Nazarene University.

Like The College Fix on Facebook / Follow us on Twitter

IMAGE: Mohammad Jangda/Flickr

So this made the rounds on social media this weekend. We have no idea who this lady is, but a picture, as they say, is worth 1,000 words. And in this case, 1,000 plus a few more, thanks to her nifty poster.

(h/t: Revolutionary Communications)

WomynsStudies