November 14, 2015

Dear #ConcernedStudent1950: Mike Middleton might not be "the answer" for #Mizzou

New Missouri university system interim chancellor
Michael Middleton
It was announced last week that Michael Middleton, an assistant chancellor at the Columbia campus, has now been named interim president of the Missouri system; he is also one of the founders of the Legion of Black Collegians.

Activist groups like Concerned Student 1950 may be applauding this move. However, given that Middleton has been assistant chancellor of the Columbia campus for a few years, and probably played some academic politics to get there, he may be part of the problem, not the solution, even if he has a copy of the 1969 LBC demands in his desk.

For why he might be part of the problem, we need to look at this very insightful essay on the corporatization of the modern university by Fredrik deBoer. It was actually written two months ago, but it has perfect timing for now.

DeBoer actually has the "nut grafs" near the end, but it's a magazine essay building to a conclusion, not a newspaper news story.

Near the start of the piece, he notes that the modern university is becoming more and more like the modern K-12 public school district:
It’s not unheard-of for colleges now to employ more senior administrators than professors. There are, of course, essential functions that many university administrators perform, but such an imbalance is absurd — try imagining a high school with more vice principals than teachers. This legion of bureaucrats enables a world of pitiless surveillance; no segment of campus life, no matter how small, does not have some administrator who worries about it. Piece by piece, every corner of the average campus is being slowly made congruent with a single, totalizing vision. 
No, I'd prefer not to see that. The university as quasi-Panopticon is mind-bending.

And, this has actual results.
Current conditions result in neither the muscular and effective student activism favored by the defenders of current campus politics nor the emboldened, challenging professors that critics prefer. Instead, both sides seem to be gradually marginalized in favor of the growing managerial class that dominates so many campuses. 
And, bureaucrats are always the ones who interpret the rules, then write up the paperwork. As noted above, and a bit more in the NYT piece about his hiring, Middleton has spent his share of time on the university bureaucracy. Let's see if he's been co-opted, whether to ignore the neoliberal corporatization, or shunted aside and head-faked to see almost all Mizzou problems in terms of racism or similar social justice lenses.

DeBoer goes on to note that corporatized universities have reasons for that. Like this:
Yes, students get to dictate increasingly elaborate and punitive speech codes that some of them prefer. But what could be more corporate or bureaucratic than the increasingly tight control on language and culture in the workplace? Those efforts both divert attention from the material politics that the administration often strenuously opposes (like divestment campaigns) and contribute to a deepening cultural disrespect for student activism.
Hence my note that Middleton might be on a tight leash on effecting real socioeconomic change — if he even supports making such change. Maybe he’s already been co-opted.

And, without even noting that the corporatized model is part of what’s behind the cutting of tenure-track faculty positions, deBoer goes on to note:
Professors, meanwhile, cling for dear life, trying merely to preserve whatever tenure track they can, prevented by academic culture, a lack of coordination and interdepartmental resentments from rallying together as labor activists. 
Indeed. Corporatization as Balkanization. So, students, per the 1969 LBC demands, rather than demanding that Mizzou meet the pay demands of black professors no matter what the cost, I suggest that you support more tenure-track faculty positions of all ethnicities along with an insurance of equal pay and worth for any minority professors.

Finally, the end result:
That the contemporary campus quiets the voices of both students and teachers — the two indispensable actors in the educational exchange — speaks to the funhouse-mirror quality of today’s academy.
That’s another weapon for conservatives.

Meanwhile, this causes, or can cause, a clusterfuck:
I wish that committed student activists would recognize that the administrators who run their universities, no matter how convenient a recipient of their appeals, are not their friends. I want these bright, passionate students to remember that the best legacy of student activism lies in shaking up administrators, not in making appeals to them. At its worst, this tendency results in something like collusion between activists and administrators.
Besides, “the enemy of my enemy” is often no more than a short-term ally of convenience, not a friend.

Meanwhile, we get to a big related issue, one I’ve blogged about before. Campus drunkenness, with many women refusing to take responsibility for their own drunkenness when it leaves them open to sexual assault, or using said drunkenness, per Ken White of Popehat, as a sword not a shield when they have sex they later regret.

DeBoer comes at this from a different angle.
As a result, our campuses are becoming simultaneously too safe and too dangerous, with every safe academic space balanced by a space of socially desirable danger out of activists’ reach. Our students emerge from classrooms that, we complain, have been sanitized to the point of ridiculousness, and then spend their evenings in Greek houses and dorms that are in a state of perpetual alcoholic fugue. (And let us not be so naïve as to doubt that universities quietly cultivate their reputations as party havens, knowing how essential such a reputation can be to attracting potential students.) 
As noted on my first piece about Mizzou, Click, in her Twitter profile picture, looked like she'd been out for a night on the town, getting hammered with Rebecca Watson.

Somewhat like deBoer, I want to improve campuses, not destroy them. Conservatives — or certain strains of libertarians/liber-conservs, a la many of Popehat’s followers — who lament Melissa Click are only the most temporary of allies if their goal is to make the modern university even more a place of rote and regurgitative learning. I know that religious conservatives want that; critical thinking, and access to the information to do that, threatens all of their religious views.

Hence, my "short term ally" comment. If incidents like Mizzou, Yale, Clarement, Wesleyan, Vanderbilt etc., lead to instances where conservatives as well as SJWs become more vocal for changing the current university, I'll welcome their help in pushing for change while just as much rejecting their ideas about specifics of change.

As said on my first piece, I reject the likes of Jonathan Haidt and his seemingly deliberately flawed reasoning, and Greg Lukianoff's apparent cohabitation on such ideas, just as much as I reject the SJW world. And, per a Twitter exchange, I reject conservatives who claim to have little use for philosophy, or a philosophy professor who has documented such flawed thinking.

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