Pablum for the masses

An Angry professor led me to an article on Inside Higher Ed, which discusses a document by the Wingspread Conference by the Society for Values in Higher Education (pdf). I knew when I saw the word “Values” up there that I was in for some platitudinous academe-speak slathered around a set of bland pieties, and I was. Poking around on their website, I see that the Society for Values in Higher Education seems to consist of a lot of well-meaning and rather wordy types who see religion as an important “value” to inculcate in higher education—a nest of those liberal Christians everyone tells me I’m supposed to appreciate more, I think.

I think I’d like them much more if they’d just practice their religion, and stop telling me it’s so important to get their sanctity into my classrooms and politics.

We recognize and value the contributions of religious studies scholars and programs at many universities, yet they alone cannot achieve these objectives. We challenge colleges and universities to examine their courses and curricula to put into practice new ways to educate students about religion’s dimensions and influence. Students must learn the relevance of religion to all disciplines – sciences, humanities, arts, social sciences – and the professions.

Sciences? What, exactly, am I supposed to tell my students about the relevance of religion to biology? I suppose I could tell them that it has been a corrupting influence, that dogma, revealed knowledge, and obeisance to authority are the antithesis of scientific ideals, and that religion has an astonishingly bad track record on scientific issues. I could sit down with them and tell them to apply a little critical thinking to their favorite religious myths, and I could give extra credit to everyone who rejects organized religion.

But no.

I already know that that particular rational point of view is not what they are looking for, and I’m sure it’s not what the SVHE is thinking of—they want only respectful comments about religion. Different points of view are welcome, but only as long as they reinforce religious indoctrination. Take a look at what they really want:

Higher education must direct more attention to teacher education. American public schools avoid the study of religion partly because it is viewed as too controversial and also because of the scarcity of adequately trained teachers, texts, and tested curricula. Of primary importance is the need to train teachers to infuse religion in student learning without overstepping First Amendment freedoms and limitations.

That emphasis is mine. I find that a repellent suggestion.

It has a whiff of that old Indian school mentality about it—”if only we teach them White Christian values, they’ll abandon their savage, heathenish ways”—there’s that implicit assumption that their way is the only way, that religion needs to be smuggled into the classroom (carefully, carefully, though—mustn’t break the letter of the law!), that others lack values. They want to insert virtue into the university, their religious values are the path to virtue, therefore, they must teach religion. Hey, why not teach virtue without the contradictory nonsense of religion?

Higher education must foster a spirit of tolerance and actively champion an attitude of mutual respect and affirmation of the value of pluralism in a democracy without implicitly or explicitly privileging secular-rational worldviews or particular religious perspectives in the search for truth.

Here’s a translation from religious speak: “respect and affirmation” means “you aren’t allowed to poke holes in my ridiculous ideas.” Promotion of religion doesn’t mean letting students pray or practice their faith—they’re already fully allowed to do that as they will—but protecting weak ideas from the inquiry and skepticism that is supposed to be the natural environment of the university. We already mollycoddle everyone’s religious beliefs enough in this country.

And I’m sorry, but I will privilege the secular-rational worldview. It works. It provides the tools we need to work towards the truth, and is central to the role of the university. Religion already claims to have the truth—too bad it’s wrong.

And guess what? You can be a practicing Christian or Muslim or whatever, and still adopt the secular-rational worldview. Our problem, I think, is with those religious people with the strange idea that praising Jesus requires a rejection of rationality and secularism.

The study of religion and its public relevance is a crucial dimension to liberal education for all students that should be pursued in ways that affirm academic freedom, intellectual inquiry, and reason. It should never compromise rational discourse on campus nor should it subvert knowledge attained through disciplinary inquiry. Challenges to disciplinary or professional knowledge and practice should be raised through reasoned debate and academically accepted methods that enrich student learning.

This is just wrong—it’s not crucial in the sense they imply at all. Sure, it should be studied as a slice of history or sociology, like we study the Black Plague, wars, and the afflictions of drug abuse; an atheist can study religion, no problem. But that’s not what this group wants. They want religion on a pedestal, as an implicitly desirable attribute in our students, and they want to inculcate religious beliefs in our students.

I reject that. If they want faculty to “infuse religion in student learning”, they’re going to get my uncompromising views as well as the soppy views of the indoctrinated. Do they really want to open that door?

(Maybe they do. I know I’m outnumbered; maybe they’d welcome an opportunity to actively suppress freethought.)

Cut-rate professors, education done cheap

As is their habit, the Chronicle of Higher Ed has published another cockeyed article, this time arguing that the problem with the budgets of universities are all those expensive faculty, and suggesting that a solution would be outsourcing the instruction and turning the professorate into a collection of market-efficient middle managers. Profgrrrrl takes that whole idea apart, so I don’t have to.

The whole purpose of a university is to provide a space for the play of ideas among those faculty, in an environment where young men and women students can be participants and learn to contribute. The whole point is the people, and that’s why the number one priority of a university is (or ought to be) to fund a community of scholars who are actively involved in sharing their knowledge.

For someone to claim that the money spent on the people needs to be redirected, and that the people should become managers instead of scholars and communicators and teachers…well, they’re missing the whole point. I suppose some beancounter could analyze an automobile plant and declare, “Well, you’re spending an awful lot of money building these…whaddayacallems, car thingies…you could become much more efficient if you built fewer of them. Or at least cut corners and left out that costly ‘engine’ thingumabob.” It sure would. And universities would be much cheaper to run if we decided that all they were for is to house a few attendants to manage the parking lots.

By the way, my university, UMM, gets it. The administration here is working hard to raise faculty salaries and maintain parity with comparable institutions despite the all-too-typical hard financial times we’re all in. I think they know that the way to maintain the viability of the institution is to invest in the critical, irreplaceable resources, the faculty. Our virtue is that we’re supposed to be a place with smart, interesting professors who are directly involved with our student body—why would any student want to go to a place where they phone in assignments to harried, cookie-cutter ‘managers’ in cubicles?

I want in!

Maybe the right wingers will be interested in expanding this UCLA program to pay student Quislings.

A fledgling alumni group headed by a former campus Republican leader is offering students payments of up to $100 per class to provide information on instructors who are “abusive, one-sided or off-topic” in advocating political ideologies.

The year-old Bruin Alumni Assn. says its “Exposing UCLA’s Radical Professors” initiative takes aim at faculty “actively proselytizing their extreme views in the classroom, whether or not the commentary is relevant to the class topic.” Although the group says it is concerned about radical professors of any political stripe, it has named an initial “Dirty 30” of teachers it identifies with left-wing or liberal causes.

I’m liberal, a partisan Democrat, and I’m also outspoken as a flaming godless atheist—a perfect target for their partisan hackwork.

I’d like to turn myself in. I’d be happy to surrender copies of my lecture notes and make tape recordings of every class for that $100 bounty. The money would come in handy (I’m sitting in the orthodontist’s office waiting for my daughter’s appointment to end…boy, would $100 help.)

Jones said he has lined up one student who, for $100 a class session, has agreed to provide tapes, detailed lecture notes and materials with what the group considers inappropriate opinion. He would not name the student or the professor whose class will be monitored. Jones characterized the work as non-commercial news gathering and advocacy that does not violate university policy.

Holy crap! It isn’t per term—it’s per class hour! I’m in class for 7 hours and 45 minutes per week, for 15 weeks per term. That would be $23,250 a year! Feeding the persecution fantasies of the wingers could be a rather lucrative occupation.

Why stay in NY when you can visit Morris?

You wouldn’t know it to see it, but we aim to make Morris, Minnesota the Mecca of science blogging. How else to explain how we could draw Grrlscientist away from that boring dump of a town, New York, to visit our lovely prairie village for a week? It’s true: a whole two of us ScienceBlogs people are chattering away from this lonely outpost in the rural wilderness.

Any other science bloggers who want to stop on by, feel free. We’ve got a roomy house with a zippy wireless connection, and who needs anything more? Jay Manifold has been here, Radagast once drove by within a few hundred miles, and now we’re hosting Living the Scientific Life…I think that’s enough to qualify as a Mecca, right?

Anyway, we’re planning to cruise into Minneapolis tomorrow, see the Big City, and check out Drinking Liberally at the 331 Club around about 6—somebody alert the Power Liberal, Tild, and the Wege…we got some tough-talkin’, crazed scientists planning to crash their party.

We’re also hosting an event of our own here at Chez Myers on Friday, with the first
SOFA (Something On Friday Afternoon, a Morris tradition) of the semester at our place. If anyone wants to crash our party, just come on by.