Tuesday, February 24, 2009


Moments of Truth

The indefatigable Lesboprof has a great post up about a couple of legislators from Georgia who are using the economic crunch as an excuse to launch a purge of feminists, gays, and anyone whose politics or lifestyle they consider “special interest areas” from public colleges and universities. And it isn't just points of view they're out to silence; apparently, they've going after entire subject areas. The working assumption seems to be that only certain kinds of people – cough, cough – study such suspect things as gender, or women, or (horrors) homosexuality.

(I've long been fascinated by the assumption that the choice of object of study reflects the scholar. Are all scholars of feminism feminists? Are all scholars of ancient Greece ancient and Greek? Are all geologists rocks? I once took a course about dead German philosophers taught by someone who was neither German nor dead. Should I demand a refund?)

The money quote, if you will, is from state Rep. Charlice Byrd:

“Now that the state budget is under considerable reform, I believe the timing is perfect to eliminate positions of professors and staff who are paid to provide such services in these so-called special interest areas,” Byrd said Feb. 6.

LP does a great job of parsing, and rebutting, Rep. Byrd's view, so I'll defer to her on that. Suffice it to say that although LP's self-portrait (“a Jewish feminist lesbian in my 10th year of teaching in my third red state”) differs subtly from my own, our politics are pretty similar. (Full disclosure: we're also personal friends.)

Still, as an example of a different issue, it spoke to me.

One could easily read Rep. Byrd's statement as a pathetic overreach, or an unconvincing fig leaf for another agenda. I don't, though. I think it's a relatively clear statement of what he actually thinks. If you believe that, say, women's history is unimportant and/or objectionable for whatever reason, and you believe that there's a fiscal crisis, then cutting women's history makes perfect sense. The argument is with the first premise, not with the logic (or the second premise, for that matter).

Put differently, emergencies force people to put their cards on the table. To the extent that it's fair to describe the economy as being in a state of emergency – I'll go with 'yes' on that one – I think we'll start to see considerably greater clarity from leaders everywhere as to what they actually consider worthwhile and important. Some of what they say and do will make a great deal of sense, and some will be completely insane. But I expect that it will be unusually clear. In emergencies, things emerge.

Some colleges are apparently responding to the crisis by resorting to frantic, closed-door decision-making at the highest levels. This is revealing. Others are being much more open, sharing information with faculty, staff, and students, and favoring inclusiveness in both process and result. This, too, is revealing.

That's not to say that one can always infer intentions from actions. External constraints are real, and some options are simply proscribed by circumstance. But the better leaders will communicate that when it's relevant, and will do so as specifically as is realistic. If they take inclusiveness seriously, they'll do so out of respect for the collective intelligence of the larger group, and that collective intelligence can only do its thing when it has information to chew on.

I'd suggest that Rep. Byrd is showing his true colors here, and that others will, too. People with long memories would be well advised to pay very close attention over the next year or two. It's easy to please everybody when money is sloshing around. But when the chips are down, and they are, the real priorities become clear. Some of us understand the task at hand as bringing the entire community into the conversation, and preserving the best of our values during a difficult time; others understand the task as bashing the queers. If nothing else, at least we'll get clarity.

Thanks, LP, for the heads-up.

"Are all scholars of feminism feminists? Are all scholars of ancient Greece ancient and Greek? "

Just out of curiosity, what do you think the percentage of non-feminist women's studies majors is etc? I think this line weakens your argument.
I live/teach at a GA public university, though not GA State. What no one seems to be reporting is that at least one of the two legislators has publicly apologized to the two scholars in question. The scholars did a brave/great thing -- they went to a legislative session and dazzled them with their scholarship.

Do I think what started this whole thing was stupid? Yes, but it became a real teaching moment -- and scholarship won. Might be nice if someone other than the AJC reported on THAT part of the story.

See here for the link: http://www.ajc.com/news/content/metro/stories/2009/02/11/legsex0211.html?cxntlid=inform_sr
At the last university I attended men couldn't take a lot of the Womens Studies courses. They could sign up, but they'd fail—you see, they needed to participate in the discussions, and as there couldn't be a free and open discussion with a man in the room (because men are threatening) they'd fail because they didn't participate.

Idiocy like that doesn't need to be protected.
I can't help but see the actions of the Georgia legislators as of a kind with the efforts to remove funding for arts organizations - even forbidding funding any museums - from the federal stimulus package.

It seems to me that it's expedient to attack things you don't understand. It's expedient to continue to not understand them. And, if your voter base has had an education so bad that they don't understand them either, really, if you give them an opportunity to learn, you'll lose your avenues for expedience.

I'm heartened to hear that at least one legislator was willing to change his mind in the face of a compelling argument.

And, by all means Anonymous #2, if you've had a bad teacher, if you've seen one poorly run program, it probably means that everyone in that field is without merit. Doesn't it?
To respond to joe and to Anonymous #2, at my university - Red State, students with very conservative values - a good deal of people who wouldn't identify as feminists take women's studies courses and minor in women's and gender studies (we don't have a major). Why? They're attracted by the interdisciplinarity of the course of study, they're interested in the courses that are offered, and, for some students depending on their major, it can be a quicker path to graduation because of how requirements are distributed in that minor. Lots of factors go into why students choose particular courses or particular areas of emphasis in college. They might like a particular professor, they might be interested in the material, or the course might just fit their schedule in a convenient way. To assume that students take courses where they don't expect to be challenged (which I think both comments do) seems ridiculously unfair to students.

I've teach classes that count for women's studies that have been about 50/50 in terms of the gender breakdown, and the majority of the male students I've taught in those classes identify as straight, and often fairly conservative in their views about gender and sexuality. And when I took women's studies courses as an undergraduate (at another university, much more liberal in its political character), I remember men being in my classes and participating actively. I think we do students (and faculty) a disservice when we assume that they couldn't possibly have intellectual curiosity about a subject area that doesn't reflect their own personal identity politics.
I must agree with Joe's comment above.

DD, you seem to be making two points here. 1) Getting rid of women's studies department in order to get rid of feminists is a bad idea because they have some sort of intrinsic merit, and 2) getting rid of women's studies departments wouldn't succeed in purging universities of feminists since the the concentration of feminists in these departments is no greater than in other departments such as finance or chemistry.

In regards to #2, are you kidding? The only faculty member in such a department that you discuss describes herself as "feminist lesbian." No other examples. And I dare say that in addition to my experience the experience of, well, everybody, is that departments of women's studies would be the first place to look if one wanted to find a feminist on a college campus.

Now the question of whether or not getting rid of these departments is a good idea is another question but if you can't recognize the most salient feature of these units, then why should we listen to your views on their general value?
I'd be curious what the enrollment and student/faculty ratios are in the programs in question. If they are high relative to other programs, the critics don't have much of a leg to stand on. If they are low relative to other programs, then they should be just as vulnerable to cutting as any non-PC program would be.

I don't have any idea what the numbers would be like, nor do I have any particular feelings about Queer Studies, but it seems like a straightforward emprical question that no one is answering.
Related to the empirical question, most Womens/Gender studies programs (including the one at Georgia State, as one sees from quick googling) run with only a skeleton of faculty who are actually professors within that program. Typically, programs like this (as with other interdisciplinary programs like Environmental Studies or Liberal Studies) rely on faculty housed in disciplinary departments to teach courses (most typically cross-listed, so these courses would likely run even if the program was eliminated) to serve the needs of students in the program. In other words, there is typically very little administrative cost to such programs, and very little institutional investment in them. They survive because faculty within traditional disciplines work in these research/teaching areas. In other words, the idea that eliminating WS/GS programs would eliminate "feminists" from campuses is a red herring, as is the idea that shutting down these programs based on enrollments alone constitutes some sort of "objective" measure about the relative cost/benefit to the university. (Again, because of cross-listing or programs from multiple disciplines counting toward the major without designated Women's Studies courses, it's not typical for WS/GS programs to generate many FTE hours on paper, regardless of the popularity of course offerings with students.)

I agree that if in a fully developed cost/benefit analysis WS/GS programs were unsustainable that it would make sense to choose to continue or to cut those programs with the criteria used to evaluate other programs. The question is, what counts as "benefit" and what counts as "cost"? Who decides the criteria for such designations? Are such decisions "objective"? Can they be?
" . . . couple of legislators from Georgia who are using the economic crunch as an excuse to launch a purge of feminists, gays, and anyone whose politics or lifestyle they consider “special interest areas” . . . "


" . . . That's not to say that one can always infer intentions from actions . . . "

YACP: You don't seem to understand. Conservatives' motives are obvious. Their motivation is hatred of others, and we don't have to infer--we KNOW they are actively seeking to purge the Universities (and colleges, and community colleges) of these types of influences.

What other possible reason could they have?
"Conservatives' motives are obvious."

Yes indeed. Always and without question. You only forgot to juxtapose the ubiquity of nuance and subtlety (and righteous moral clarity) of the motives of non-conservatives.
In my state at "fancy" flagship the refrain is, "we're so badly funded by the state that we don't really notice budget cuts!"

I suppose it's one way to avoid having legislators target specific programs to which they object.
Well, just have to weigh in on your wonderful blog entry. Thanks for the shout out.

I am amused that everyone thinks that because I claim an ID as a "Jewish lesbian feminist," that automatically means I am in Women's Studies. I am not. I have taught one class that was cross-listed, and I have served on the Women's Studies Board of Advisors at two schools, but my substantive field is not Women's Studies or any version thereof.

This actually supports Dr. Crazy's point--feminists are everywhere, and people who study LGBTQ and sexuality-related topics can be in any discipline as well.
Justice, of course, demands that the Oppressed get the lion's share of any surplus (to Make Up For Past Injustices) and are protected from any shortages (How Dare You Single Out The Oppressed!).

Justice, by definition, requires that we abandon our linear, patriarchal, religious-ist, hetero-ist, sexist, positivist deontological notions of so-called "Right" and "Wrong" in order to embrace a New Way of Thinking that will Liberate All Peoples from the Shackles of the modern constructed reality.

As we stand on the precipice err brink err dawn of a new day of Equality, Justice, and Peace we can't let the distractions of yesterday's constructs of "fairness" cloud our thinking!

Diversity can only be achieved through Conformity!

Love is Hate!

Peace is War!

Welfare Increases are Tax Cuts!

There are a number of scholars that are in favor of dismantling gender and race studies departments by integrating these studies into other subjects such as history and english. By doing so educators could expose a broader base of students to these topics or individuals. Basically getting rid of the study of dead white males. As of now these specialized departments are not attracting a large portion of the student population, who are in dire need of this study to help bring about global awareness and equality on both race and gender.

I have to second that getting rid of these departments will not rid academia of homosexuals or feminist. As a feminist teacher of visual arts, these studies can be applied in all subjects areas. The last thing we need is close minds in academia.
I think it's a relatively clear statement of what he actually thinks.

First, Rep. Byrd is female. Second, it may or may not be completely clear what Rep. Byrd actually THINKS. All we know is what she said. And since the article in question says she "also denounced an openly gay professor at the University of Georgia in Athens", it might be deduced that she thinks there should be no openly gay faculty in the state system.

Since there are still people around who think there shouldn't be any openly Negro people in certain state universities, that alternative interpretation is plausible.

If you believe that, say, women's history is unimportant and/or objectionable for whatever reason, and you believe that there's a fiscal crisis, then cutting women's history makes perfect sense. The argument is with the first premise, not with the logic (or the second premise, for that matter).

Assuming your interpretation of the issue is correct, I would argue with the logic of making the budget situation worse by cutting a profitable program just because you don't like it, or keeping an unprofitable one because you do like it. Budget cuts only justify eliminating programs that hurt the bottom line of the university, not ones that tell you evolution is a fact or that employ persons whose racial, ethnic, or social background makes you uncomfortable.

If the issue is BUDGETS, it shouldn't matter if a legislator doesn't like the course or the professor, it should only matter whether fee-paying students do or don't like it.
" . . . And since the article in question says she "also denounced an openly gay professor at the University of Georgia in Athens", it might be deduced that she thinks there should be no openly gay faculty in the state system . . ."

1. What did she denounce the "openly gay" professor for? Gayness? Outness? Stealing money from the snack bar? Or something else?

See, we *teach* journalism students how to do this sort of misleading syllogy.

2. Did she even know that the "openly gay" professor was gay? Not clear. Again, just because "X opposes Y" does *not* mean at all that "X opposes all of Y;" just that "X opposes some of Y."

The screed reminded me of something we were exposed to in middle school. It was an interesting little made up speech by a politician accusing his challenger of everything from "thespianism" to having ideas that were "prevalent" and engaging in "extramarital discourse."

Yeah, it was meant to be read by the inattentive. And those with a very active pattern-recognition and template-forcing system in their reasoning.

The 12-13 year olds thought it was a real hoot . . . as a 50 year old, I don't find that sort of smearing by inference all that funny any more.

Look, Rep. Byrd may or may not be a thespian hater or enjoy homophonic discourse. That may or may not even be relevant.

Apparently, tolerance only cuts in one direction nowadays . . . (hmm- does being intolerant of intolerance make me intolerant?)
I wonder if the guy who studies homosexuality in fruit flies is in danger of getting his funding cut. http://tigger.uic.edu/~def/index.html

I do look forward to the day that women's studies is so much a part of our history and sociology that it doesn't have to be a separate department. Not holding my breath though....
YACP: Do you realize that your comments rarely make sense? Not in a political way, but in a "use of the English language" rudimentary way? I mean, I get that you're conservative and all that, but what exactly are you contributing to the discussion? I'm not asking facetiously here - I really want to know. And finally, a few people have noted, including me who would be supportive of such a program existing, that they think that it's reasonable to say that all programs (WS/GS programs included)should be evaluated for cuts (if such are necessary) in relation to budgets. So how is it that you argue that "tolerance only cuts in one direction"?

I mean, I get it, you enjoy trolling rather than participating in a real discussion and responding to others in that discussion in a substantive way, but come on. Do better. I'm sure you have it in you.

(This is me putting on my "feminist professor" hat, by the way, in which I expect all participants to contribute in ways that make sense and that encourage inclusive discussion. I know. This makes me an awful, awful person. In truth, I am espousing a "liberal" ideology that excludes others, in this call for inclusiveness. Clearly.)
I think that the main point is still valid - that during times of financial hardship, folks' true colors do come out, in terms of what they do (and don't) value.

For example, whenever Washington gets in financial hot water, you can always count on some legislators to propose closing The Evergreen State College, a progressive alternative institution that came out of the 'New College' movement in the 60s and 70s. The proposal is always accompanied by references to lesbians, pot smokers, communists, and, 'tree huggers'. I haven't heard the call yet for this particular budget exigency, but it is only a matter of time.
Thank you Dr. Crazy! I have called confused professor on his behaviour in the past, and was going to do it again, but you have done such an excellent job that all I'm going to do it point to your brilliance and smile.
YACP: Can't be for simply being "out". I have several friends/colleagues at UGA, three of whom are gay and definitely out. They don't teach any of the subjects Rep. Byrd seems to be concerned with, though.

Athens is a pretty LGBT-friendly place, actually. last time I was there, I went to a charity drag show at Club Detour, and I was the only straight married female in the joint. (The rest of the crowd were UGA students, who were there to play pool and drink; young gay men who were clubbing; and older members of the gay community who were there to support the show.)
Thanks DictyRanger, and just as I suspected.

The victimization ideology is particularly unidimensional in that respect.

Analogy Time:

"If I get [punished for behavior X], it can only be because I am [member of protected class Y]!"

What's funny (more sad than funny actually) is the naivete of those folks who don't even see the tautological nature of that attitude . . . let alone acknowledge that it is ultimately self-defeating.

And, engaging judgmental mode, just flat out WRONG!

But then again, for a whole lot of well-educated (but otherwise underequipped in the old 2+2=4 department), when reality interferes with their "comfort consciousness," then reality must of course be wrong.

All together now: clamp hands over ears, and chant "LaLaLaLaLa!"
Oh and for the record: I am most assuredly *not* a "Conservative;" however you choose to define that term (apparently as "anyone who disagrees with me?").
yacf -- the trick to having an open mind is not to let your brain fall out. Tolerance is about not imposing your choices on other folks, not about allowing them to impose theirs on you. The two can look similar when dealing with privileged persons.
yacp, my bad.

If we use an objective, rational, goal optimizing process that results in an outcome we might not like (low bang for the buck programs getting cancelled . . . which included a "protected class") . . . then what?

Ignore the rational,objective, goal optimizing process?

Oh of course, yes, and let's not forget that we have to back fill with all kinds of tortured rationalizations (the process was Discriminatory! The board members were Evil!) to protect our own sense of self worth and values system?

Ahh, I get dragged back in...

Punditus wrote:

"Tolerance is about not imposing your choices on other folks, not about allowing them to impose theirs on you. The two can look similar when dealing with privileged persons."

Unfortunately, often the view of tolerance from EITHER side results in the imposition of one's views on another. If one espouses a view of "tolerance" of (given this thread, and the mention of "LesboProf") homosexuals, then one usually attaches with it the "imposition" that others must not discriminate against them (hiring, housing, etc.) There is an imposition--one's views are deemed more correct than another's and that other person must change. Must become "more tolerant."

Of course, the same is true from the right. If one chooses to view a "pro-life" position as being tolerant (a stretch for some, but let's say it is arguing that we should "tolerate" the right of anyone to live) then it by nature potentially forces another to carry a baby to term.

When competing ideologies are "at war" to determine how resources are spent--resources collected from everyone--then we are forcing our world views on others.

So let's cut to the chase here. We all agree that "I am right and you are wrong (unless you agree with me.)" The only real difference, as Dean Dad once wrote a few years back now is I can be morally indignant, because I am right.

Left, right, or center. If you have an opinion, you aren't that different from any of the others. Only the opinion differs.
Yes, all opinions are equally valid, well-supported, and lead to equally good outcomes when applied in practice.

Nope, MY opinion is always MORE valid, better supported and leads to better outcomes.

It's just that "My" is self-referential for everyone.
And that's always true, so we can select opinions or persons at random to hold roles of authority and expect to see equal outcomes for all.

"Funeral by funeral, science advances." The fact that we fail to persuade some people doesn't mean that some things are and aren't true. It means that consensus is eventually derived from persuadable persons coming to a conclusions, not from principals battling it out until one concedes. You're mistaking hubris for postmodernism.
Ah, but you are unfortunately falling into the trap of believing there is a distinction between post-modernism and hubris.
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