Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Another Aspect of the Informal Alliance Between PC and Campus Administrators?

  I used to joke that there were only two crimes according to the paleo-PC of the '80s and '90s--rape and genocide. Everything they opposed was "a type" of one or the other. A degree requirement they didn't like? Curricular rape. Fail to have sufficiently "multicultural" offerings at the dining hall? Gusatory genocide. (Of course they've settled on basically the opposite of that now; Taco Tuesday is now more likely to be deemed "cultural appropriation.")
   Anyway, the neo-PCs tend to take a more direct and less-specific route, deeming speech they disagree with to be "a type of violence." They idea, never clearly stated, is roughly: liberals think that your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins...but not before. The PCs assert that words are fists, and that I'm...I don't know...punching you in the ear if I express proscribed ideas or utter proscribed words within earshot of you. Or where you might read it. Or hear tell of it. Well, actually you're not supposed to say naughty things at all, anywhere, ever. Something something contribute to an atmosphere something. So no only, say, are we not to express the idea that Caitlyn Jenner is not a woman in Jenner's presence--something that might perhaps be defended on the basis of politeness, despite its truth--but we're ever to say it ever, since it is--somehow--tantamount to an attack on Jenner and everything like Jenner. (This, you'll note was one of the sticking points between Christakis and the shrieking students at Yale--he was willing to apologize for every imagined possible slight in the universe, but not willing to say that his wife's expressing politically incorrect views about Halloween costumes (i.e. that students might be left to make their own decisions about them) constituted a violent attack.)
   So one important confusion at the heart of political correctness is the identification of disagreement with violence.
   One of the local Anonymi has pointed out that there's a kind of informal alliance between PC student protesters and administrators. PCs make their demands, and administrators have an incentive to accept them for various reasons: they're often demands to grow the administration (by adding deans or deanlets or deanlings of diversity or multiculturalism or rape culture or what have you) or to increase the power of the administration (by decreasing student freedom, e.g. freedom of speech), or implement policies that, in the current climate, might decrease the likelihood of bad press or even lawsuits.
   Here's Catherine Rampell on administrators using trumped-up concerns about violence to keep conservative speakers off campus. (Milo's a racist now, apparently...because the alt-right is racist...  It could be, but I'm skeptical... I trust Rampell, and I'm admittedly out of the loop on the alt-right...but charges of racism against the right are virtually automatic now...so...who knows?)
   So here's how it goes, according to me: PC radicals declare the expression of politically incorrect views to be a type of violence. They use this to justify their own violent actions against speakers to their right. Administrators know that you can't go wrong siding with the left, but that opposing them will bring a shitstorm. And they just want the problem to go away. So they announce that they can't guarantee safety at such events...and voila! no more problem!
   Any even vaguely objective person can see that this is all bullshit, and that the victim is freedom of thought and expression.  But that's where we are.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am the Anonymouse who likes to push the institutional interest theory of the neo-PC's. You slightly understate my position. I don't think university admins and "radical" students have parallel interests and a resulting alliance. I believe that the "radical" students conception of their interests is largely formed by the shadow faculty existing in the various centers, offices, institutes, and foundations that have proliferated on campus in recent years. I think that the shadow faculty's basic concern is with maintaining their organizations' funding and the employment tracks for the large numbers of grads and post-docs that have missed out on the regular faculty career track. (Not necessarily through any fault of their own.) To that end, the parallel faculty works hard to get hold of incoming freshmen first, through orientation seminars, dorm life counseling, freshman "writing" classes, etc.

The early interventions are tacitly designed to create a perpetual constituency for the centers. Incoming students, especially minority students, are made to feel uncomfortable. Minority students are told that the ordinary adjustments and missteps of social life in a new environment are evidence of actual hostility, that the only non-servile response to a "microagression" is to escalate it to the level of explicit hostility. The non-minority students are taught to dread social interaction with minority students, leading them to predictably withdraw from such interactions and preventing social integration. (Also, making non-minority students afraid of putting their foot disastrously wrong in interacting with minority students makes them behaviorally indistinguishable from people who are simply afraid of minorities, full stop.) The student body is put in precisely the state of low, perpetual, miserable simmer that shows how much the Center for Student Safe Justice Life Action is needed. Grant renewals to flow, student well being be damned, minority or otherwise.

The campus Neo-PC's, I believe, are about 20% ideological commitment, and 80% emergent astroturfing.

4:51 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Thanks for the correction, A, and I knew I was botching the point as I was writing, but I couldn't stop pecking away on that bleary, early-morning post...

Glad to be reminded of your actual hypothesis in all its terrible glory...it really does seem to be onto something to me.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous rotgut said...

I think A is onto something, too. There is a structural component that benefits administrators as well. Curricular programs are a pain the ass to create and get approved. They have to go through multiple committees and probably a governing board, and are constrained by accrediting standards. Administrative proposals without curricular components don't require any of that. That makes it much easier to start up centers, institutes, programs, organizations, etc. that can influence students.

As a proud member of the shadow faculty, I see just how easy it is. I proposed a new program this past summer. It was just approved. We're starting to recruit students now. That's crazy fast. As long as an administrator can tie the program to some number on spreadsheet that makes higher admin happy, you're likely to get the green light. I happen to be a benevolent admin, but if my intellectual development didn't stop in the mid 19th century, I'm pretty sure I could've started the Diversity Educators Social Justice Program for Fighting Microaggressions and the Violent Use of Non-Preferred Pronouns.

10:54 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

[Sorry Anonymous! I was moderating comments on my phone and accidentally deleted the following long and thoughtful comment. If you got a "comment deleted message, my apologies. Below I paste in the comment from the notification email:]

That's a great point, Rotgut. Not only is it bureaucratically much simpler to get a program than a course, but a course has existing quality criteria while a program can define its own. (Anything that will go on a spreadsheet will do, as you say.) I recall the U Delaware dorm indoctrination program, that Winston linked to a while back, had the student leaders collecting data on only their greatest failure and greatest success in each group. No averages. The data was collected to tell a story of perpetual progress against a perpetual problem.

I am reminded of a situation which displayed this same structural dynamic, but less politically charged: I was starting up a graduate professional degree program. Though entrance to the program required the usual academic records, standardized testing, essays, and TOEFL for the foreign students, there was a writing test. The writing test was sponsored by the Writing Center for the professional school. Each professional school had one, and there was one for the undergrads and another for the A&S grad students. Each writing center had a roster of 5-10 grad students in English, Journalism, Education, etc. doing part time jobs, as well as a full time "coordinator", who I assume was a PhD. They were available as a "resource" for any of the professional degree students who felt "we needed help with our writing".

So, the test: It was given before the classes began, and everyone had to take it. (That is, before we had gotten any feedback on our writing from our actual professors.) Grading was reported as being pass/fail, with fails being sent to writing center for extra help until they could pass the test. (Hmm...) The task was writing a persuasive letter to a superior in an organizations, taking a positive or negative view on a supplied policy. We were given an hour to write it in the computer lab. Obviously, with the reported pass/fail, nobody worked especially hard. I wrote with a care for precision and clarity a notch or so below an anonymous blog comment.

Nobody gave further thought to that hour, until the last day of orientation, when the coordinator from the writing center showed up to hand back the tests, in person. The pass/fail tests were now each given an A to F letter grade, and each had a long paragraph of comments written on the front. Nothing about the pass/fail. Mine was a B-, which as near as I could find out later tied for the highest grade received. The comments told me my writing was "'elegant'" (yep, in scare quotes), but that I had a problem with using "ambiguous phrases" and that I should consider a visit to the writing center to work on that. (The context made it clear that the grader meant "vague".) The coordinator gave us a few minutes to read over the comments, then asked us if we had any questions about our tests. You know, in front of everybody. After an uncomfortable moment, one student asked the hand-tipping question about what letter grades were considered passing. My question was just whether the letter grade would be recorded anywhere in my academic records. The answer being no, I happily binned the writing test.

But wow, what a sales pitch for the writing center! It was like the skin test at the mall with the super magnifying mirror and the bluish light. Everyone comes in looking like a character from Barfly. Everyone needs at least the basics...

Like all of us, writing center coordinators want to feel useful, need to make rent. And that's fine; most of us are content to write passably, and are not made miserable by the thought that our classmates or colleagues might need help. But what happens when this dynamic plays out with the Diversity Office instead?

8:14 PM  

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