Sunday, February 12, 2012


Raising Arizona

Given the level of stupidity regularly emanating from Arizona, I’m almost reluctant even to raise the topic.  But stupidity has a way of metastasizing if left unchecked.

The Arizona legislature is considering a pair of measures affecting higher education: the first requiring the use of G-rated language in class, and the second establishing political conservatives as a protected class.

As to the former, I’ll just note that hey, at least they’re speaking English!  Checkmate.

The latter, though, requires more of a response.

First, the obligatory snark.  I’m glad to see that Arizona is so conscious of civil rights!  It’s heartening to see the state that allows police to randomly stop brown people and ask for their papers suddenly develop a concern for the equal protection of the laws.  For conservative white people with graduate degrees, anyway.

Okay, that’s done.  On to the substantive objection.

If political conservatives are given “protected class” status, then they’ll be able to use the “disparate impact” standard to claim discrimination.  In other words, they won’t have to show actual discrimination; they’ll simply be able to point to a predominance of liberals in a given venue and use that as presumptive evidence that discrimination has occurred.  Clearly, the intent of the law is to bully colleges and universities into hiring conservatives and/or getting rid of liberals.

Revealingly, the opposite is not true.  Liberals will not be able to make that claim where conservatives predominate. (The bill is written only to apply to certain corners of higher education.  It would not apply to, say, the state police.)  By itself, that’s reason enough for a court to throw out the law.  If the first amendment means anything at all, it means that one’s legal standing does not depend on one’s political views.  For conservatives to have rights that liberals don’t have would be such an obvious violation of state neutrality regarding political speech that any judge who didn’t throw it out would be immediately discredited in the legal profession.

But back to protected class status.  “Protected class” status can be used as a legal battering ram against an institution.  Typically, therefore, it has only been available where a person’s membership in it can be verified.  Race, sex, and even age are mostly verifiable.  Sexual orientation is trickier, but there’s typically enough to go on.  But in the age of the secret ballot, how does one prove (or disprove) one’s political leanings, especially if one’s publication record is either thin or concerned with other matters?  This is why affirmative action for political inclinations is not comparable to affirmative action for, say, race.

And if “imbalance” is the issue, what, exactly, would constitute “balance”?  Should faculties be evenly split?  Should proportions reflect the latest election results?  (If so, then any sort of long-term employment commitment is literally impossible.)  And what, exactly, is the legal definition of “conservative” or “liberal”?  What’s to keep people from lying on a questionnaire to keep their jobs?  Would people have to testify before the House Un-Republican Activities Committee about their doctrinal purity?

If it’s a matter of party registration, this will accomplish nothing.  It’s perfectly easy and legal to register as a Republican and vote Democratic.  For that matter, it’s perfectly easy and legal to register as an Independent and vote for whomever you damn well please.  (Does “damn well” pass the G-rated test?  And how would I know?  But I digress.)  

If it’s a matter of political perspective, who gets to define them?  My own political beliefs, for example, tend to be pretty liberal, but not on every issue.  How do you count people whose beliefs don’t fall into an easily defined camp?  How do you count, say, libertarians?  And what about people whose views evolve over time, based on their discoveries within their fields?  The one group guaranteed to lose, in this environment, is people who actually think for themselves.

I’d hate to be hired to help fill a de facto quota for a given political position, only to find my own views evolving away from what my employment requires.  In that setting, “academic freedom” is entirely dead, and there’s simply no point in inquiry, since answers are assumed to be pre-defined and pre-approved.  And what happens when the political winds shift?  

Arizona has had its share of bad ideas over the years, some of which it has passed into law.  I hope this bill doesn’t get that far.  Preventing any serious intellectual inquiry for fear that it might run afoul of the political majority is a stake in the heart of higher education.  

Of course, political majorities aren’t permanent.  And payback is a bitch.  (Well, I guess there goes the G rating.)  I’d suggest that the legislature keeps that in mind...

The intent of the author may be to protect conservatives in academia, but the text of the bill certainly doesn't bear that out. There's no mention of the word conservative or anything that would establish conservatives (as opposed to liberals, libertarians, etc.) as a protected class, as far as I can see.

It's still a dumb law, since presumably your political and religious preferences are already out of bounds in hiring decisions. And I'm not clear why, if the matter is so significant, this should only apply in the humanities, social sciences, and arts. Does the legislator believe that faculty members in engineering should be allowed to discriminate on the basis of religion?
Applying the word "think" to a conservative AZ legislator is probably not going to get you far.
Good lord, what is in the drinking water down there?!
Ditto to Jason's comment. I think the IHE is reaching with their assertion that this law makes _conservatives_ a protected class. Don't radical liberal instructors have the same protection under this statute? Again, the author of the bill may have had conservatives in mind when he wrote it, but I don't see how the law extends protection to one sect over another.

It's a dumb piece of legislation in either case. Things must be going super awesome in Arizona if the legislature has nothing better to do than police college classrooms.
The language of the bill seems anodyne, but there's a trap in it.
Section A talks about hiring based on skill rather than ideology/etc., then drops the bomb: "...with a view towards fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives."

The heart of the bill is that passage, because it could easily be interpreted as "you must hire conservatives to ensure a plurality of perspectives," as everyone knows that college faculty are all a bunch of liberals. (Perspectives other than "left/right"? They don't exist, after all.)

The passage doesn't have to be interpreted as "hire conservatives over liberals," but if this becomes law, it will be.

The lawsuit format is obvious: "How can ASU be 'fostering a plurality of perspectives' per HB2770 if the humanities departments are packed with perfidious and pusillanimous pinkos? They must hire John Q. Rightwing to balance the scales! And if that means firing John Q. Leftwing, then by the Fist of Barry Goldwater, fire him!"

That this is a deeply stupid plan that doesn't survive even a cursory legal challenge, well, nobody said they thought this through. I wonder if it'll even pass. Anyplace but Arizona, I'd expect this to get laughed out of the house.
Since everyone thinks there is no need for such a law, let me ask in your school how many professors and administrators are conservative? How many of your colleagues supported McCain in the last election? I am sure there will be one or two, but far less then the 50% split among American as a whole.
Let's rephrase Anonymous' statements. "Since everyone thinks there is no need for such a law, let me ask in your police department how many detectives and officers are conservative? How many of them supported Obama in the last election? I am sure there will be some, but far less then the 50% split among American as a whole.

Do we need a law to ensure that police departments hire more liberals (or that hospitals need to hire more male nurses)?

Actually, it was a 53-47 split on the popular vote, which is pretty lopsided as recent presidential elections go...
Dovetails nicely with the AZ law.,27371/
Section A talks about hiring based on skill rather than ideology/etc., then drops the bomb: "...with a view towards fostering a plurality of methodologies and perspectives."

So, presumably, the biology department would be required to include creationists, and the geology department a young-earther?
Well there goes the neighborhood. Departments wouldn't be able to have an emphasis on quantitative methodology or survey research and would now need to ensure that they have a couple of "thick description" case study folks to balance out the quant jocks. For every rat choicer we hire, we'd need a counterbalancing historical Marxist. Time series specialists, balanced out by formal modelers.

And don't even get me started on the need for many more area studies folks to ensure a multiplicity of perspectives there! Among others, we'd need a Chicano/a studies expert...oh...wait...ethnic studies...isn't that now a violation of ANOTHER AZ law?
For everyone's immense entertainment, here is a link to an official FCC Indecency Memo that summarizes details that can be found in various places on the FCC web site.

Just don't read it out loud in an AZ classroom.

Or could you? After all, the guiding principle throughout the document concerns whether "children" could reasonably be expected to be present and they clearly exclude "subscription" services like cable TV. That means it would only impact a college classroom that had a child present for some -- but not all -- topics.

It does seem that this law would ban medical, nursing, and EMT schools from public colleges and universities in AZ. You really don't want to know what preserved materials they examine in detail in those classes.
Jason is correct about the "hire conservatives" bill itself. The remark about protecting conservatives was in a news article quoted by IHE. A news story is not part of the legislative history of a bill, but surely that legislator made similar remarks about the intent of the law during hearings that would be part of the record. Taken literally, it actually protects scientists from persecution for speaking the truth, protection they might not have today in some states until they get tenure, but who knows if a court will take it literally?

Brother of DD and Anonymous @1:53pm missed that the "diverse perspectives" requirement only applies to the humanities, social sciences, and the arts, not biology. Further, colleges and universities have the defense that they have no record anywhere of the political or religious views of job candidates or faculty up for tenure because -- unlike at private colleges -- those questions are not AFAIK asked as part of the hiring process. I've never seen a tenure dossier with a section on the politics and religion of the professor.
Oh gawd! I missed the political conservatives gambit.

This kind of sh!t makes me feel so doomed.

The minute I'm called into the chair's office for emanating the kind of language with which I do perhaps too often assault my stoonts' virgin ears, I walk. He and our honored dunderhead legislators can find someone else to read and comment upon 131,250 words of illiterate drivel for $2400/semester.

As for the protectedness of our teabaggers, I'm a lot more concerned with the law they're about to pass permitting students, faculty and visitors to carry concealed weapons to campus. When that passes, I find another job. In fact, right now I'm using my tuition waiver to take voc-ed classes in preparation for the day.

And I'm even more concerned about our fascists' plan to limit the pool of voters who can cast ballots in a recall election -- this after the most rabid of their number, Sen. Russell Pearce, was recalled.

This place is a zoo. If you're young and looking for a job and a place to live, DON'T COME HERE!
It is so embarrassing to live in Arizona sometimes. (Full disclosure: I have run for Congress here and currently am politically active.)

Demographic trends portend big changes in the Arizona electorate. Por ejemplo, Arizonans 65 and over are 83% white and non-Hispanic, but Arizonans 18 and under are only 43% white and non-Hispanic. This is the largest gap among the fifty states. Future elections -- perhaps sooner than people think -- will change the character of the state politically and we will no longer be such a joke.

Our legislature, by the way, consists of people of very low educational attainment. Many in the House and Senate have not attended any form of higher education (Russell Pearce is an example; a British citizen wrote to him years ago and posted Pearce's response on his blog; it was the kind of essay you get in a developmental writing class in a community college).

State funding for the three state universities was reduced from $1.2 billion in fiscal 2008 to $682 million last year, and the legislature warned that further cuts may be imminent.

This is the most "important" bill on higher education produced this year, along with the one allowing people to carry concealed weapons on college campuses, the top higher education priority of the NRA gun nuts who rule the legislature.

You have to laugh or you would weep.
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