Diversity Is Our Weakness: University Edition Part CDXVII

Here then is the sad but common tale of Alex Southwell, a nom de plume, professor at “Hudson University” (Columbia?). The De-Professionalization of the Academy, from Quillette magazine. Excerpts only. See the original for all.

…I was promoted to full Professor last year…Over twelve years, I have watched with increasing dismay and incredulity as academic integrity, fairness, and intellectual rigor have been eroded, with the implicit endorsement of administration and faculty alike. I have witnessed the de-professionalization of the professoriate—hiring policies based on tokenized identity politics and cronyism, the increasing intellectual and ideological conformity expected from faculty and students, and the subsequent curtailment of academic freedom…

Some of the faculty members with less than impressive credentials hold positions of significant authority in terms of curriculum development…

My first collision with the rather anomalous and dismissive treatment of credentials and accomplishments in the program occurred during my second semester at Hudson and involved the election for writing faculty chair in the spring of 2006.

The candidates included me and another faculty member. She holds an M.A. degree, but no degree in literature or writing. After each of us was asked to write an introduction and mission statement, the voting began. The ballot box was controlled by a faculty aide, and the votes were cast manually. Upon counting the votes, the faculty aide announced that I had won by two votes. Upon hearing this, a proxy of the competitor, who had no official role in the process at all, confiscated the ballot box, and absconded with the ballots to his office. Subsequently, a “recount” was conducted (by whom, I never discovered, and after what happened to the ballots, I am obviously entitled to suspicions). I suddenly became the loser by the same margin that I had won.

In a more recent election for writing curricular chair, my competitor accused me in his mission statement of writing books and publishing essays…

Here is the best part, where I use “best” in the sense of “hilariously worst.”

I was…the chair for a writing hiring committee…The committee of three met…I mentioned that I had received an email from one of the candidates and shared it with the committee members. After reading the email aloud, I argued that the missive effectively disqualified the candidate. The writing was riddled with awkward expression, malapropisms, misplaced punctuation, and other conceptual and formal problems. Rarely had a first-year student issued an email to me that evidenced more infelicitous prose. I asked my fellow committee members how we could possibly hire someone to teach writing who had written such an email, despite the fact that it represented only a piece of occasional writing. The candidate could not write. I also pointed back to her application letter, which was similarly awkward and error-laden. My committee colleagues argued that “we do not teach grammar” in our writing classes…

In the Skype interview following this discussion, a fellow committee member proceeded to attack the next job candidate…In fact, before the interview, this colleague, obviously enraged by my criticisms of her favorite, announced that she would ruthlessly attack the next candidate. She did exactly that, asking increasingly obtuse questions, while adopting a belligerent tone and aggressive posture from the start. That candidate, incidentally, had done fascinating scholarship on the history of U.S. journalism from the late 19th through the first half of the 20th Century. He had earned his Ph.D. from a top-ten English department, had since accrued considerable teaching experience in relevant subjects, and presented a record of noteworthy publications, including academic scholarship and journalism. He interviewed extremely well, except when he was harangued and badgered by the hostile interviewer. He should have been a finalist for the job. But he had a fatal flaw: he was a white, straight male.

…Next, I was on the receiving end of [the committee member’s] verbal barrage. Not only did she call me some choice expletives but also rose from her chair and posed as if to charge me physically, all the while flailing her limbs and yelling. I left the room and proceeded to the dean’s office. I told the dean what had just occurred. He advised me to calm down and let it rest until the following week.

What happened next was telling…The woman who had verbally assaulted me was a black female and the candidate whom she championed was also a black female. I was informed by the dean that pursuing a grievance, or even remaining on the committee, was now “complicated.”

You know what happened. Southwell resigned from the committee and the unqualified black woman was hired. Hired affirmatively, we might say. In just the exact precise way proponents of the original Affirmative Action promised would never happen. “Standards will never drop…”

Southwell never tells whether the tuition rose at “Hudson.” I’m guessing it did.

Incidentally, Affirmative Action is dead. It’s no longer needed, as is obvious.

14 Comments

  1. Where I live the principal of our local elementary school had no skill at management of teachers or the kids. The classrooms were chaotic. The parents were pulling their kids out and sending them to other schools. The superintendent seemed reluctant to do anything to remedy the situation. The principal had used threats of discrimination to ascend to this lofty post.

    Finally, the leadership figured out the solution. Make the school into a STEM specialty school. The current principal was then not technically qualified to run the school. She had to go. They promoted her into administration far from the students.

    Of course, she will be successful in her new position. Maybe one day she’ll be the superintendent!

  2. Yawrate: What a wonderful solution! Very creative!

    As to diversity:
    1. There is NO diversity—it’s stupid, arrogant, belligerent women all the way now. And men who cower like sheep. I am often ashamed to admit I am part of a species that stupid and short-sighted. (It does seem evidence for the existence of God—otherwise, evolution would have taken us out centuries ago.)
    2. The teaching that the Tower of Babl was a reward, not a punishment, has lead to this idiocy.

  3. Hudson University?
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson_University

    Briggs, you are so willing to believe any reports that confirm your prejudice, and unfortunately those reports only add more misery into your life. Wake up, and I dare you to publish all my comments that are as political incorrect (but truthful) as possible. Just the way you like it.

  4. From the original Quillette article: “The names of both university and professor have been fictionalized to protect the professor from retaliation.”

  5. JH —

    Hmmm.

    Did you happen to notice the quotes around Hudson? Did you?!?

    Do you have any — and I mean, ANY — idea what is implied by quotes?

    Seems you cannot see beyond your biases.

    Lee —

    You just provide one additional example of where YOU make a claim that is unsubstantiated — in violation of your supposed number one rule.

    Hypocrisy and lack of credibility.

    You both remind me of the chestnut, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt.”

  6. I graduated with a B. of Architecture in 1990. By and large, the degree consists of 5 years of studying design, history, and engineering (with little to no studying of how to run a business or make money – most architects are still trying to learn that, lol).

    It was a pretty good experience, overall. I did have one professor who refused to grade one of my projects because he didn’t like the design. But to his credit, he gave it to another professor who gave me an A. My father designed, built and sold houses, and having grown up around construction, I took it as a point of pride to only design things in college that could actually be built. That’s pretty much why the professor refused to grade it.

    The Vietnam War Memorial had been completed just prior to my entering school. It was designed by Maya Lin who, at the time was a grad student in architecture at Yale. She was receiving a tremendous amount of press at the time, and I remember many of us thinking (sotto voce), “WTF? Any 2nd-year student could have designed that!” I think many of us questioned (again, sotto voce) whether or not it had truly been a blind submission, since she so perfectly checked-off the boxes – an Asian Woman Architect.

  7. The producers of Law and Order used the fictional “Hudson University” as way of avoiding any legal problems arising from storylines. However it was always an open “secret” that fans and viewers would know that Columbia was implied.

  8. Jim F,

    I don’t deny my bias and prejudice. Would you believe that I have seen firsthand that white males with weaker credentials are given better treatments in the judgment of their qualifications? Not just once, or twice, or trice. This has happened in every hiring committee I have served on. Sorry I cannot offer you any examples. Yes, there might be faculty members who’d like to promote certain people. How they go about doing it depends on their ways of doing things.

    What happens in an department can hardly be generalized to another or to the entire university.

    Do you realize how easy it is for an academic to attack an applicant’s credentials especially when the applicant is junior or not well-established? Yes, I could say a few bad thing to badly trash. Or I could say a few good things to promote. I have done the latter. No kidding.

    And oftentimes, things are blown out of proportion. I know because I have had administrative duties that require me to listen to complaints and to watch ridiculous reactions from one or two supposedly mature adults, and to keep the complaints comfidential.

    No worries, big universities don’t easily tenure “incompetent” instructors or researchers; however, to be given a chance and hard work are the key to succeed in academic. I have white male classmates in graduate school who didn’t do well academically are now famous researchers at flagship universities. Good for them.

    A one-side story should be taken with a grain of salt. My experience tells me that the other side would tell you a different story. I have seen and heard too much to believe too much in what people write.

    Lee,

    I am trying to be as nice as Briggs is to other people.

  9. JH —

    Lots of words, so I assume you are responding to something. However, you are not responding to my question: Do you have any idea what is implied by the quotes around Hudson?

  10. Jim, do you know why linked Wikipedia? I ignored your question because I thought the answer is obvious. Do you notice that my comements were in two paragraphs?

  11. JH —

    So you claim you understood that Briggs knew Hudson is a fictitious university. Yet you intentionally replied as if Briggs was caught by some hoax.

    And this is your argument? Hmmm.

    It is obvious to me that you had no understanding of his intent in using quotes and now are trying to cover your tracts.

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