Monday, August 04, 2008

Academics under surveillance

Well, this week has certainly been disgusting in terms of educational news. The National Association of Scholars have undertaken a new stalking initiative. It isn't enough that they publicize tales of (as they say) political correctness gone awry, now they are recruiting people to spy and report on their own schools. Be wary of who comes to see your class.

That peer evaluation you need? Consider which colleague you trust.

Those students from outside your major who "really need your class"? Careful, they might be coming to spy on your teaching style.

I really cannot stand these people. The NAS says on their website that they are "non-ideological and politically centrist." I worked with several members of NAS in one of my previous schools, and I can assure everyone that neither of these claims is true: they have a distinct perspective that doesn't support (and sometimes actively opposes) people like me (lesbian, feminist, anti-racist academics).
The NAS folks act like they come from some politically pure place of traditionalism and objectivity, when in truth they embody a censoring, conservative perspective. I know that their numbers are few, and their influence is very small, but they cast a shadow long enough to intimidate and rile people, and they have a deleterious effect on universities.

On their website (I refuse to add the link, because I hate to pimp for them), they argue that they only plan to use publicly available sources, though in the article at IHE, they never say that clearly. Instead, they say only that their campus-based sources should ask permission to sit in a colleague's class, following what they consider appropriate spying etiquette.

Speaking of spying, IHE also had the story of an undercover police officer who spied on anti-war and anti-death penalty groups in Maryland three years ago. Using a young, inexperienced officer, the Maryland State Police infiltrated these community groups looking to "protect homeland security." Instead, they spied on citizens using legal and appropriate means to advocate for change. Several faculty members were among those citizens whose information is included in the notes released as part of the ACLU lawsuit.

So now, the moral of these stories seems to be: no politics in the classroom, no politics in our personal lives. Who do these people think they are, to dictate how we teach our classes or live our lives? Since when can't instructors teach their students how to think critically about political issues, or provide them with information about activism and methods for pursuing democracy? Since when can't private citizens organize to lobby, peacefully protest, and educate our communities about issues we think important?

I believe it is my right--and perhaps even my responsibility--to discuss political issues in the (social science) classroom, to teach advocacy skills (a required area of study in my field), and to engage students about issues of culture and conscience. I believe that we are training citizens of tomorrow; in fact, teaching advocacy is no different than encouraging community service and global awareness. I do not teach them which "sides" to be on, which positions they have to take, or which causes they should pursue. I simply teach the skills to advocate on their issues. And I certainly retain my democratic right to advocate on behalf of causes that matter to me when I am on my own time. I support democracy, justice, and quality higher education--in and outside of the classroom.

1 comment:

Virginia S. Wood, Psy.D. said...

Makes me glad I'm just a lowly, part-time adjunct. Nobody gives a sh*t what I say in my classroom. Hell, nobody can even find my classrom.