Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Cost of Freedom (of Information): In Defense of William Cronon - Inside Higher Ed

Barbara Fister at Inside Higher Ed on the Wisconsin Republican e-mail search:

I am a huge fan of open government and of the Freedom of Information Act. The right of the people to request information from public officials is an important tool for journalism, research, and activism. That’s why, as I read responses to a political group’s request for e-mail correspondence from a state employee, my knee does not begin to jerk convulsively. I don’t think, “e-mail!? That’s outrageous! how dare you invade an individual’s privacy?” Not only do I know better than to think a work account is in any respect private or personal, but I remember how outraged I felt when I learned that top officials of the Bush White House used unofficial e-mail accounts to avoid their official correspondence being part of the record. (And I must say I am impressed that there’s a Wikipedia article on this very topic.)

All that said, I am appalled that officials of the Republican Party in Wisconsin have decided to use a public records law to peer into a University of Wisconsin history professor’s e-mail to see if he’s said anything they consider inappropriate and to find out if he can be attacked for violating the university’s policies. (An aside: as a born-and-bred Sconnie who spent my childhood hanging around the UW campus and playing tag in the basement hallways of the capital building, I am baffled and dismayed by recent events and wonder how it can possibly have happened in my home state; as a connoisseur of headlines, “Wisconsin Gets Weirder” is a keeper.) . . .

The Cost of Freedom (of Information): In Defense of William Cronon - Inside Higher Ed

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Intimidation Spreads

E-mail trolling linked to freedom of information requests is apparently becoming a method of intimidation for some Republicans.

A free enterprise think tank in Michigan -- backed by some of the biggest names in national conservative donor circles -- has made a broad public records request to at least three in-state universities with departments that specialize in the study of labor relations, seeking all their emails regarding the union battle in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) and MSNBC's Rachel Maddow, TPM has learned. . . . [more]

Evan McMorris-Santoro, "Conservative Think Tank Seeks Michigan Seeks Michigan Profs' Emails about Wisconsin Union Battle . . . and Maddow," Talking Points Memo, 29 March 2011.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Academic Freedom in Wisconsin

Editorial in the New York Times, today:
The latest technique used by conservatives to silence liberal academics is to demand copies of e-mails and other documents. Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli of Virginia tried it last year with a climate-change scientist, and now the Wisconsin Republican Party is doing it to a distinguished historian who dared to criticize the state’s new union-busting law. These demands not only abuse academic freedom, but make the instigators look like petty and medieval inquisitors. . . .

"A Shabby Crusade in Wisconsin," editorial, New York Times, 28 March 2011.

Is This the New McCarthyism?

Paul Krugman in the New York Times:
The hard right — which these days is more or less synonymous with the Republican Party — has a modus operandi when it comes to scholars expressing views it dislikes: never mind the substance, go for the smear. And that demand for copies of e-mails is obviously motivated by no more than a hope that it will provide something, anything, that can be used to subject Mr. Cronon to the usual treatment. . . .

Paul Krugman, "William Cronon and the American Thought Police," New York Times, 28 March 2011.

Wisconsin's Republican Progressives

Professor William Cronon in the New York Times:

NOW that a Wisconsin judge has temporarily blocked a state law that would strip public employee unions of most collective bargaining rights, it’s worth stepping back to place these events in larger historical context.

Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well. . . .

William Cronon, "Wisconsin's Radical Break," New York Times, 22 March 2011.

It did not take long for Wisconsin Republicans to launch a McCarthyite attack on Professor Cronon.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bob Herbert, "Losing Our Way"

Bob Herbert's last New York Times column:

Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone. . . .

Bob Herbert, "Losing Our Way," New York Times, 26 March 2011.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Where the Action Is - Inside Higher Ed

Russ Olwell, "Where the Action Is," Inside Higher Ed, 25 March 2011.

When asked what they want to do when they grow up, few little kids answer, "I want to teach at a regional public university." They want to be astronauts, fighter pilots, spies or generals (OK, those were my choices at that age). In Ph.D. programs, graduate students are encouraged to seek work and accept positions at the kind of research institutions where they do their doctoral work, whether they are wealthy private institutions or top flagship public institutions. The only step off the research track imaginable is the private liberal arts college, where selective admissions and small classes promise an ideal teaching setting.

Where the Action Is - Inside Higher Ed

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Brit Celeb Deplores U.S. Political Polarization

Hendrik Hertzberg in the New Yorker:

Harken, please, to Charles Dickens, in “American Notes for General Circulation,” his account of his one and only visit to the United States. It’s 1842. Dickens, just thirty and already world-famous, is on a train out of Boston, his first American railway trip.

Brit Celeb Deplores U.S. Political Polarization

Superficial & Sublime? by Garry Wills | The New York Review of Books

A great bad review; a wonderful and hilarious gem by Wills, but it also evokes terror in the heart of any author.
This book, which was featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review, comes recommended by some famous Big Thinkers. It is written by well-regarded professors (one of them the chairman of the Harvard philosophy department). This made me rub my eyes with astonishment as I read the book itself, so inept and shallow is it. . . .

Superficial & Sublime? by Garry Wills | The New York Review of Books

Embattled Public Radio by Bill McKibben | NYRBlog | The New York Review of Books

National Public Radio has taken a beating over the last two weeks: first its chief executive was forced to resign amid a scandal caused by a right-wing frame-up, and then, on Thursday, the GOP-dominated House voted to cut off all federal funding to NPR. For the moment, that bill seems unlikely to get far in the Senate, but it suggests just how much public radio has been undermined in recent weeks and months. What’s almost as disturbing as the persistent right-wing attacks on an institution respected and relied upon by the broad public is NPR’s seeming unwillingness to stand up for itself. . . .

Embattled Public Radio by Bill McKibben | NYRBlog | The New York Review of Books

Robert Darnton on a National Digital Library

Robert Darnton on the Google decision, in the Times:

ON Tuesday, Denny Chin, a federal judge in Manhattan, rejected the settlement between Google, which aims to digitize every book ever published, and a group of authors and publishers who had sued the company for copyright infringement. This decision is a victory for the public good, preventing one company from monopolizing access to our common cultural heritage.

Nonetheless, we should not abandon Google’s dream of making all the books in the world available to everyone. Instead, we should build a digital public library, which would provide these digital copies free of charge to readers. Yes, many problems — legal, financial, technological, political — stand in the way. All can be solved. . . . [read more]

Robert Darnton, "A Digital Library Better Than Google's," New York Times, 24 March 2011.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Fish Named Badger

Stanley Fish in the Times:
In over 35 years of friendship and conversation, Walter Michaels and I have disagreed on only two things, and one of them was faculty and graduate student unionization. He has always been for and I had always been against. I say “had” because I recently flipped and what flipped me, pure and simple, was Wisconsin. . . . We are all badgers now. . . .

Stanley Fish, "We're All Badgers Now," New York Times, 22 March 2011.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Hush Harbor Rhetoric

Vorriss L. Nunley, Keepin' It Hushed: The Barbershop and African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2011).

from the publisher:

In Keepin’ It Hushed: The Barbershop and African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric, Vorris L. Nunley investigates the role of the hush harbor (a safe place for free expression among African American speakers) as a productive space of rhetorical tradition and knowledge generation. Nunley identifies the barbershop as an important hush harbor for black males in particular and traces the powerful cultural trope and its hidden tradition of African American knowledge through multiple texts. From Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask” to the recent Barbershop movies and the provocative rhetoric of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Nunley’s study touches on a range of time periods and genres.

Nunley’s introduction connects African American Hush Harbor Rhetoric (AAHHR) to everyday considerations of what may or may not be spoken in public and how African American speakers manage numerous hidden transcripts. In the first three chapters, Nunley charts different iterations of hush harbors and their function in the context of residual and emergent rhetorical traditions. He investigates public sphere theory and its application (and misapplication) to black civil society and hush harbors and connects AAHHR to nommo, the power of the word. In chapters 4 and 5, Nunley examines the ubiquity of the hush harbor trope in African American culture and considers barbershops as pedagogical sites, using literature, poetry, philosophy, and film to make his case. In chapter 6, he analyzes the Barbershop movie in detail, arguing that the movie’s commodified, neoliberal version of AAHHR did not represent a hush harbor, although that was ostensibly the aim.

Keepin’ It Hushed concludes with a presentation of a hush harbor pedagogy in chapter 7 and a distinctive analysis of hush harbor oriented speeches by then-Senator Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Rhetoricians and readers interested in African American life and culture will appreciate the cogent analysis in Nunley’s volume.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

NPR Funding - Up for a Vote Today

Here's an e-mail just received from my local NPR station --

Dear Friends of WPSU,

The House of Representatives will be voting mid-afternoon today on a bill, H.R. 1076, that would prohibit local stations, like WPSU, from using federal funds to purchase radio programming. The ostensible target of this proposed legislation is NPR which produces public radio's most popular daily news programming. However, this bill would also prohibit stations from using federal funds to purchase other highly valued public radio fare like Car Talk, Living on Earth, and Prairie Home Companion. It does not allow the use of federal funds to buy any programs at all.

The bill is a direct threat to the viability of smaller public stations, especially in rural areas, who might not have sufficient non federal discretionary dollars to acquire these programs. It is also a misguided attempt to stifle an important and highly valued public service.

NPR has made some very public misteps in the past year. For that they rightly deserve criticism. However, they have also been the target of unethical attacks by individuals with the very narrow and specific agenda of destroying NPR.

That will not happen. NPR will survive, with or without federal funding. However, local public radio stations are directly threatened by this action. This bill undermines their autonomy as locally controlled public service entities, and their ability to generate needed support for their operations.

Below is contact information for the federal representatives elected from the WPSU broadcast area. I am asking you to please contact your legislator today, and share your concerns on this matter. Our representatives need to hear that constituents will support them in opposing House Bill H.R. 1076.

Rep. Kelley - (202) 225-5406

Rep. Thompson - (202) 225-5121

Rep. Shuster - (202) 225-2431

Thank you for your support of public broadcasting.
Ted Krichels, General Manager, Penn State Public Broadcasting

Appropriations committee hearing focuses on proposed cuts

From Penn State Newswire:

In the face of a proposed state budget that would see funding for Pennsylvania's public universities cut by more than 50 percent, Penn State President Graham Spanier, along with the leaders of Temple University, Lincoln University and the University of Pittsburgh, appeared before the state Senate Appropriations Committee March 16 to make the case for continued state support for the commonwealth's state-related institutions.

Sen. Jake Corman, chairman of the state Senate Appropriations Committee, asked the university leaders about the effects such a broad cut would have on their institutions. Overall, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposes more than $660 million in cuts to institutions of higher education. The cuts proposed for Penn State alone represent a decrease of $182 million, or 52.4 percent, in state funding.

The proposed appropriation cut would represent a decrease of about 17 percent of Penn State's overall instructional budget; the money is largely used to help offset to cost of tuition for Pennsylvania residents. Spanier reminded the committee that state-related universities have not contributed to the current budget deficit, since state appropriations have remained stagnant for the past decade even as other areas of Commonwealth of Pennsylvania spending continued to rise.

"We're all very mindful of the state's current budget situation, and we do expect to be part of the solution," Spanier said. "I'm not sure it's fair to say, however, that we are part of the problem in this respect: our appropriations in actual dollars have been flat over the last decade. We have not contributed to the state's deficit because our appropriation has not increased since 2000."

The presidents all said that they would not turn to tuition increases to primarily deal with appropriation cuts, yet the reductions would result in some level of higher tuition for in-state students, potentially pushing the cost of education at Pennsylvania's state-related universities out of reach for some students and families already stressed by student-loan debt. At Penn State, Spanier said the proposed cut would result in program cuts, layoffs, salary freezes and other measures.

"It is not true that any of us would unduly raise tuition, even under the most dire circumstances, as the principal way of remedying a shortfall in our appropriation," Spanier said. "Of course tuition would need to increase, but we could not put that great a burden on the backs of our current and prospective students."

Mark Nordenberg, chancellor of the University of Pittsburgh, called the scope of the proposed cuts "stunning."

"The proposed cuts are deep, they are disproportionate, and they are damaging to some of the most productive institutions in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania," he said. "I do think that this proposal ought to be a concern for everybody who cares about the next generation of Pennsylvanians and for everybody who cares about the shape of Pennsylvania's economy as we move into an increasingly competitive century."

Spanier said Penn State agricultural research and Cooperative Extension would be particularly hard-hit by a $29 million cut to their appropriation. In agriculture alone, he said, the workforce would be cut by about 440 positions, or 50 percent. That would surely mean a severe cutback in the breadth of services currently provided by Cooperative Extension to the state's agriculture industry.

"These are not made-up numbers, these are not numbers designed to shock people; these are actual projections. We've had to get very specific in the last few days because if this budget goes forward as it is now on July 1, we have to operate with a balanced budget just as the commonwealth does, and the numbers are very dramatic. Agriculture is just in one of the colleges of our University. There are ripple effects that would go out across the entire institution with appropriation reductions of the sort that we are looking at."

"We are prepared to do our fair share. We have never said differently. But I don't believe that a decrease in our appropriation at this level would constitute anyone's idea of what is a fair share for some of the state's greatest resources -- our public institutions of higher education."

Sen. John Rafferty Jr. asked about the impact on the state's economy if the proposed cuts were to stand. Penn State alone generates about $17 billion in direct and indirect economic activity in Pennsylvania every year. Spanier said the cuts would affect the University's ability to continue that output. Penn State brings in about $800 million in research funding annually, much of which comes from outside of the state, through grants.

"Each $1 million of research funding creates about 30 jobs within Pennsylvania," he said. "From an economic development standpoint, we make significant contributions."

In addition to jobs created by the influx of research funding, the majority of Penn State's graduates, and the graduates of the other state-related institutions, work in Pennsylvania when they graduate, and many who leave eventually return, contributing further to the state's economic well being.

"On the programmatic side, we are the principal producers of college graduates -- 18,000 graduates a year from Penn State, the majority of them taking jobs in Pennsylvania. Our contribution to the tax base, our contribution to economic development, our research activity with 750 different companies throughout the commonwealth -- these are all things that could be affected and could really erode the investment that the state has made in Penn State and in all of our public institutions historically."

Between the four state-related institutions about 150,000 students are educated each year.

Sen. Lisa Boscola said that while she supports many of the cuts proposed by the governor's budget, the reductions proposed for higher education are unfair and disproportionate. Boscola asked the panel about the percentage of students who stay in Pennsylvania after graduating from a state-related institution. Boscola said it is her hope that the final budget will find ways to keep more graduates in Pennsylvania.

Spanier said more students would stay if employment opportunities were available. He also said many return later in life. "Many of the students who at age 22 leave Pennsylvania to work elsewhere do ultimately come back after they've gotten some experience. That number is almost completely dependent on what job opportunities are out there for them. To the extent that the Universities can contribute to the economic strength of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, we will keep even more of those graduates," he said.

Corman said the March 16 hearing represents a beginning to the Senate Appropriation Committee's budget discussions. He said he expects to stay in contact with the leaders of the commonwealth's state-related universities as the June 30 budget deadline approaches.

"It isn't new for higher education to take the brunt of budgetary problems. I don't know another line item in the budget that has (remained stagnant) over the last 8 years," Corman said. "This proposal has sort of shocked the commonwealth in a lot of ways ... I think by finally elevating higher education to this level, now the public is going to get engaged and hopefully put higher education at a higher level of priority for our budget."

The legislature will continue its hearings with other recipients of state funding and will work in the coming months to finalize the state budget.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Pro-Terrorist Republican Congressman? Holding Hearings on Terrorism?

From the New York Times:

For Representative Peter T. King, as he seizes the national spotlight this week with a hearing on the radicalization of American Muslims, it is the most awkward of résumé entries. Long before he became an outspoken voice in Congress about the threat from terrorism, he was a fervent supporter of a terrorist group, the Irish Republican Army.

Scott Shane, "For Lawmaker Examining Terror, a Pro-I.R.A. Past," New York Times, 8 March 2011.

Devastating appropriation cut advanced for Penn State

from Penn State Live (8 March 2011):

Penn State and other Pennsylvania public universities are slated for the most dramatic appropriation cut in the history of American higher education, based on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's budget proposal released today (March 8) by Gov. Tom Corbett.

The budget cuts Penn State's appropriation by 52.4 percent, a devastating reduction of $182 million. This includes a 50 percent cut in Penn State's educational appropriation, a 50 percent cut in its Agricultural Research and Cooperative Extension appropriations, the loss of all federal stimulus dollars, a reduction for the Pennsylvania College of Technology, and the total elimination of medical assistance funding for the Penn State Hershey Medical Center.

The proposed appropriation represents the most severe funding cut in Penn State’s 157-year history and suggests a redefinition of Penn State’s role as Pennsylvania’s land-grant institution.

"A funding gap this large is going to fundamentally change the way we operate, from the number of students we can educate, to the tuition we must charge, to the programs we offer and the services we can provide, to the number of employees and the research we undertake," said President Graham Spanier.

According to university officials, a cut of this magnitude jeopardizes the University’s mission of providing access and opportunity to students at 24 campuses. It would undermine support of the Commonwealth’s agricultural industry and force a complete redefinition of the state's Cooperative Extension Service and the agricultural research upon which it depends. It would affect the University's ability to sustain dozens of programs that support economic development in the Commonwealth.

The University currently receives less than 8 percent of its annual operating budget from the state, a figure that has eroded significantly over the last two decades. Under the governor’s proposal, that figure will fall to 4 percent.

This budget proposal comes on the heels of a decade of stagnant state appropriations that in some years also were reduced again through mid-year rescissions.

Cuts in higher education budgets are being proposed in many states, but never has a single institution's budget been slated for a reduction of more than 50 percent in a given year. The University would have a matter of only a few weeks to manage such a catastrophic cut.

"A reduction of this magnitude would necessitate massive budget cuts, layoffs and tuition increases, with a devastating effect on many students, employees and their families," said Al Horvath, senior vice president for Finance and Business. "While we have for many months been planning for a potential state funding cut, we could not have envisioned one so damaging to the future of the University and the Commonwealth."

University officials report that no one in state government reached out to them with any advance notice of such a possibility, nor was there any prior discussion about the potential impact of such a cut.

Penn State has mobilized a team of University leaders to look at operational cuts. "We must consider the welfare of our students and the quality of their education, not to mention our long-term funding stability," said Steve Garban, chairman of Penn State's Board of Trustees. "As we work to handle a potential funding cut, we’ll be guided by our goals of quality and access, and we’ll seek to avoid having our students and their families shoulder this entire burden through increased tuition -- although tuition will rise."

"We are eager to explore with elected officials whether they support this proposal and whether they see this as the first step toward the complete elimination of public higher education in Pennsylvania," said John Surma, CEO of US Steel, who serves as vice chair of Penn State's Board of Trustees and chair of its Budget Subcommittee.

Administrators plan to deal with the cuts as equitably as possible, but significant downsizing in academic and administrative units will be under consideration. Scaling back plans for critical facility needs, such as major maintenance and capital improvements, will be undertaken; changes to the University’s health care programs will be revisited to create additional savings; salary increases for employees will likely again be frozen; and more across-the-board budget reductions for academic and administrative units will have to be instituted.

"We are committed to finding every possible way to reduce expenses and maintain quality,” added Spanier. "We face difficult choices and this will be an extremely challenging year -- one that quite possibly will change the face of higher education in the Commonwealth."

The governor’s budget proposal is the first step in the appropriation process. Penn State will continue to press its case for support with the General Assembly and the governor over the next several weeks.

"I want to thank Penn Staters for their continued support and for all of their efforts that allow Penn State to be the most student-centered research university in the nation," added Spanier. "I deeply appreciate the commitment we feel from our 96,000 students, our 47,000 faculty and staff, and our 514,000 alumni. I vow to challenge the level of this reduction aggressively and welcome the support that is already pouring in."

Monday, March 7, 2011

Blaming the Teacher

Why Blame the Teachers?

Diane Ravitch, "It Started with 'No Child Left Behind," New York Times, 7 March 2011.

"A historic strain of anti-intellectualism in American thought has merged with fiscal conservatism, producing the present campaign to dismantle the teaching profession. It echoes a deeply-ingrained American belief that anyone can teach, no training or experience necessary.

Although politicians and corporate leaders claim they want to reform education, it is impossible to see how the campaign against teachers will advance that goal. No high-performing nation in the world is reducing the status and rights of the teaching profession. . . ." [read more]

Is College the Answer?

Paul Krugman in the Times:

But there are things education can’t do. In particular, the notion that putting more kids through college can restore the middle-class society we used to have is wishful thinking. It’s no longer true that having a college degree guarantees that you’ll get a good job, and it’s becoming less true with each passing decade.

So if we want a society of broadly shared prosperity, education isn’t the answer — we’ll have to go about building that society directly. We need to restore the bargaining power that labor has lost over the last 30 years, so that ordinary workers as well as superstars have the power to bargain for good wages. We need to guarantee the essentials, above all health care, to every citizen. . . . [more]

Paul Krugman, "Dollars and Degrees," New York Times, 7 March 2011.

Martin Luther King's rhetoric

Wolfgang Mieder, "Making a Way Out of No Way": Martin Luther King's Sermonic Proverbial Rhetoric (New York: Peter Lang, 2010).

from the publisher:

"In barely forty years of life Martin Luther King (1929-1968) distinguished himself as one of the greatest social reformers of modern times: civil rights leader, defender of nonviolence in the struggle of desegregation, champion of the poor, anti-war proponent, and broad-minded visionary of an interrelated world of free people. His many verbal and written communications in the form of sermons, speeches, interviews, letters, essays, and several books are replete with Bible proverbs as «Love your enemies», «He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword», and «Man does not live by bread alone» as well as folk proverbs as «Time and tide wait for no man», «Last hired, first fired», «No gain without pain», and «Making a way out of no way». He also delighted in citing quotations that have become proverbs, to wit «No man is an island», «All men are created equal», and «No lie can live forever». King recycles these bits of traditional wisdom in various contexts, varying his proverbial messages as he addresses the multifaceted issues of civil rights. His rhetorical prowess is thus informed to a considerable degree by his effective use of his repertoire of proverbs which he frequently uses as leitmotifs or amasses into set pieces of fixed phrases to be employed repeatedly."

Friday, March 4, 2011

Abraham Lincoln's First Inaugural Address

From today's New York Times, on the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's first inauguration, a consideration of his inaugural address.

"Lincoln Addresses the Nation," New York Times, 4 March 2011.