Monday, October 14, 2019

Cancelling Classes for Minor Holidays: A Matter of Academic Standards

Higher education is not valued equally in the various American states. Where academia is not particularly valued, other things can intercede as priorities even at the universities themselves at the expense of academics. In such places, even the universities themselves may value academia insufficiently. That is, the value hierarchy in a locality or even state can infect universities whose academic administrators are not strong or academically-minded enough to thwart the interlarded non-academic values.
The value that a university places on its academic classes as a priority can be gauged by whether classes meet on minor holidays. Even if the length of the semester is not shorted as a result, breaking up contiguous class days may have negative academic effects. My point here, however, is that cancelling classes for minor reasons demonstrates a lack of respect for the academic functioning of universities as regards teaching and learning course material.
In 2019 at Yale, classes met on Columbus Day, Veterans Day, and Presidents Day even if administrative offices were closed. Harvard’s academic calendar explicitly stated that classes would meet on Veterans Day and President’s Day (Columbus Day being the exception among the minor holidays for the academic year). Classes are different; they are too important to be interrupted for every minor holiday.
Out in the provinces, Arizona’s major universities cancelled classes for Veteran’s Day, perhaps out of deference to the military-industrial presence in the state. The privileging of that holiday is all the more conspicuous because Columbus Day was practically ignored, perhaps owing to the salience of American Indians in the state. In fact, no mention was made of that holiday in the 2019-2020 academic calendars of the University of Arizona and Arizona State University—the latter having Fall Break instead on the Monday and Tuesday. At Yale, the Fall Break began two days after Columbus Day, as if to be particularly clear, we don’t cancel classes for such holidays.
The cultural differentials between New England and Arizona cannot be ignored. In 2017, Arizona teachers came in last in the U.S., and, moreover, K-12 (pre-college education) had consistently came in at 48th or 49th out of the 50 States for years. In an analysis by WalletHub, Arizona’s pre-college education came in at 49th out of the 50 States, whereas Massachusetts and Connecticut came in at first and third, respectively.[1] Including standardized tests such as the SAT gave the interstate comparison particular credence. Besides having a high drop-out rate at the high-school level, Arizona had a high drop-out rate at ASU and likely at the University of Arizona too given the low standardized entrance exam scores. We can conclude that education was valued much more in New England than in Arizona.
The low value placed on education in Arizona was exacerbated by the predominant politically conservative bent there. Even if the state was becoming competitive for both of the major parties, the extreme nature of the conservatism has been well documented. Enough of Arizona’s tax-payers have referred to taxes as theft (by the government) that the lack of K-12 funding per pupil and the high pupil-teacher ratio relative to the other States can be understood. Beyond the conservative politics, the sheer aggressive prejudice on the streets (i.e., low and perhaps middle-income residents) against ASU students and even highly educated people belies any suggestion that the locals respect higher education. The attitude obviously excluded respect for the academic functions of universities. Accordingly, the few major universities (ASU and AU) there strove for legitimacy in financial rather than academic terms. Students at ASU regularly referred to their university as being primarily about money. As a business, the university would follow the banks and close for the minor federal holidays. In effect, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University morphed into something more familiar to, and valued by the typical Arizona citizen. It’s a good think that Phoenix does not have snow; ASU would doubtless take advantage of a few inches of accumulation to cancel classes.

1, Adam McCann, “States with the Best & Worst School Systems,”, July 29, 2019.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Airing Ideas at Universities: Beyond the Book-Burning Hype

In May 1933, some Germans in Nazi Germany burnt books authored by Jews so as to sever Jewish influence. So when some students at Georgia Southern University gathered around a grill to burn copies of a novel by a Cuban, the obvious comparison was made by some. I submit that the comparison being made is not so obvious or straightforward. Moreover, the comparison sullies the ideal of universities being impartial to the ideas aired even as opinions.
The university spokeswoman, Jennifer Wise, cited the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as protecting the students, so no action was taken against them. In contrast, the Nazis’ book-burning took place absent any freedom of expression. Nevertheless, book-burning symbolizes the destruction of ideas. Appropriately, Wise wisely added that “book burning does not align with Georgia Southern’s values nor does it encourage the civil discourse and debate of ideas.”[1] In other words, burning objectionable books is part of free speech even though the university frowns on that particular expression.[2]
The balanced university-statement is not flawless, however. The assumption that the students were trying to destroy the author’s ideas by burning just a few copies of a novel does not hold up as no attempt was made to seek out every copy even on the campus. Rather, I submit that the students were angry because the author had insulted them. In other words, the burning was part of something larger in which the blame cannot rightly be put entirely on the students.
According to the student newspaper, a student accused the author of generalizing about “the majority of white people being privileged.”[3] This is a fair accusation. Asked in the question and answer time following the author’s talk why she had come, she replied to a student, “I came here because I was invited and I talked about white privilege because it’s a real thing that you are actually benefitting from right now in even asking this question.”[4] The author assumed rather than suggested that white privilege exists, and furthermore claimed that that student was benefitting from it even in being able to ask the question. What if the merits of the student had gotten him or her to the point of being able to ask the question? Of course, he or she felt insulted. If it is difficult to comprehend why the author’s comment was insulting, consider how the claim, “You are only here because of affirmative action” might feel to a minority student.
The author described the ensuing interaction in the Q & A session as “hostile, surreal and strange,” but she failed to acknowledge her own contribution to it.[5] Russell Willerton, chairman of the school’s Department of Writing and Linguistics, pointed to it in saying, “Last night’s discussion with the author devolved into accusations of her demonstrating racism against white people.”[6] Whether racism is or is not implicit in charges of white privilege being made to Caucasian students, the charges themselves are at the very least insulting rather than geared to the sort of open discussion that the author ostensibly thought was necessary. It’s like the kid who throws a stick then hides behind a tree and chastises the kids on the other side for not being open to civil discourse.
Therefore, I submit the comparison with Nazi book-burning does not hold. The problem can be re-stated as the following: What should a university’s position be toward a speaker who is intent on insulting students? Of course, an upcoming speaker can hid this intent, but someone in the administration, such as a department chairperson, could be present on the stage during the talks and intervene accordingly. Students would not feel the need to find their own means of venting their anger. To be sure, stopping hurtful insults at the moment they are being leveled is not easy. Some ideas couched in rational thought may be objectionable to some people. Perhaps a distinguishing feature is the amount of ratiocination leading up to such an idea; typically the intent to insult is delivered without much thought behind it, as the intent is not the rational pursuit of ideas. Pre-talk discussions with likely speakers yet to be formally invited can be helpful in this regard.

[1] Amir Vera and Natalie Johnson, “Georgia College Students Burned the Books of a Latina Author,”, October 12, 2019. Readers bothered by my use of wisely after Wise can feel free to burn this essay even though that might entail burning their computers. Seriously, the advent of computers means that printing out and burning paper copies of writings does not destroy the ideas, which still live on the internet and in computers.
[2] Fortunately, the university achieved such a balanced approach; at some other universities in the United States, a university police-force might have swooped in, with guns drawn, to surround the heinous grill. Such police-state universities are inherently inimical to the free expression of ideas because the motif of force is so salient.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Some Higher Degrees Are Not So High

American higher education contains its own erroneous nomenclature. Most notably, people having earned one degree in law or medicine presume that they have doctorates in those academic disciplines simply because a prior bachelor’s degree is a prerequisite.
The prior degree is not in the same school of knowledge, so graduate knowledge is not being laid upon prior study of that school of knowledge. Rather, the American founders, realizing that the American electorate, the popular sovereign, would be playing a decisive role in the new representative democracy, wanted citizens to be broadly educated. Judgments in casting votes would benefit from having knowledge beyond one specialization.
So first-degree law students (as it was explained to me by Yale’s law school registrar) have made a lateral rather than upward move after receiving a first degree in another school. I was surprised when a medical student told me that very little of even his bio-chemistry major was taught to the first-degree medical students. Therefore, studying for a second university degree does not necessarily mean that it is graduate. To be so, the degree must not be the first in a given school, like medicine or law.
As an aside, I went to Yale to study theology, history, and philosophy (and film) by enrolling in the masters of divinity degree program. The M.Div., being the first degree in the school of Divinity, is actually the undergraduate degree of Divinity Schools. I took three semesters of survey courses and three more of seminars. The presence of the survey courses alone indicate the beginning stage of gaining knowledge in a subject, and a year or two of seminars on top correlate with a junior and senior year of an undergraduate degree. Therefore, I submit that my Yale diploma erroneously states the degree as "Masters in Theology." It is a bachelors degree. Yet this simple conclusion is conveniently missed by so many physicians and lawyers regarding their own education in other professional schools. This is why the presumption is so outlandish, and yet it holds like arrogance on stilts during a flood.
For the record, a doctorate must be a terminal degree (i.e., the highest degree possible in a school of knowledge). A doctoral program must include a multiple-hour comprehensive exam prior to graduation, and thus given by professors rather than an industry board. My Ph.D. major exam (Business) was eight hours, and my minor (Religious Studies) lasted six by design. Thirdly, a dissertation of substantial original research must be turned in and approved by a committee of the faculty. For many disciplines (excluding math and natural science), a dissertation is book-length. Mine is over four-hundred pages. So the thesis of a first-degree medical or law student would not suffice.
A doctorate is a doctorate whether a school grants one or not, and even if the degree tends to given out as honorary (since most students stop at the first degree, even to be a professor!). Think of it: law and medical professors in the U.S. overwhelmingly only have two years of survey courses and a year (or two) of seminars in law and medicine, respectively.
In law schools, the J.D. (Juris Doctor, not doctorate in) degree was named L.L.B. (Bachelors in the Letters of Law) until the founding faculty of new law school at the University of Chicago in 1893 decided to change the name because students did not like getting two degrees called bachelors (e.g., BA and LLB). The new name, probably taken from a real doctorate in Europe, was pure marketing. This really says something about American society. Changing the name of the degree did not make it a doctorate. The doctorate of law is the J.S.D. (Doctorate in Juridical Science). The masters (LLM), stands between the undergraduate (i.e., first degree in the school) degree and the doctorate. Similarly, the doctorate in Medicine is the D.Sci.M. (Doctorate in the Science of Medicine). The M.B. or M.D. is a prerequisite hence not itself a terminal degree in medicine—the D.Sci.M. is higher). 
Even in the face of all this, the self-vaunting lawyer or physican is apt to presume that he or she has in fact earned a doctorate. In fact, rather than assumption. Here is a project: try correcting an American lawyer or physician and watch the resentment ensue. You will be presumed to be at fault for pointing out that the primped suit has overstepped without realizing it. I took up this challenge and found that even after I had explained why the given person’s degree is not a doctorate, I still sometimes got push-back. A rational explanation falling to a vacuous credential. I thought this too reflected American society generally, and specifically to the money-founded over-esteem of lawyers and physicians (and, moreover, to professionals). In some cases, even after I added that I have a doctorate (thirteen years spent studying business and six studying religion—not counting the M.Div. studies at Yale), I was still spoken down to, and presumed not credible enough for my explanation to carry any weight. Interestingly, without having earned a doctorate themselves, those people could not even claim to be my colleagues!
In short, even a vacuous credential, such as a doctorate for a couple years of survey lectures and a year or two of seminars, can attain default status and continue in the status quo unabated, even oblivious to having been flagged and uncovered.
Error itself may even be presumed to have a certain right to (an over-reaching) hegemony over knowledge in society in which higher education typically—and even by academic administrators themselves—confined to fitting the criteria of vocationHow gains value over why. The practical use of a major is highlighted not only by parents, but also the students themselves. What if Einstein had studied business rather than natural science? Furthermore, was his work of little value because it could not be applied?
In a vocational-oriented university culture, critical thinking is incorrectly thought to be problem solving (rather than the questioning of assumptions) and superior to analytical and synthetic thinking because what matters is decision-making and problem-solving. How eclipses why.
I have made some big mistakes in my higher education trajectory, but getting a M.B.A. at Indiana University is not among my errors. Removed from corporate centers, the university is located in Bloomington, a small town. So faculty were not pressured to exchange assigning books and even journal articles (e.g., even on organizational theory) for simplistic corporate power-point (or overhead projection) presentations. Joe Pica, the program’s director, told incoming students in orientation that we probably wouldn’t use the knowledge obtained in the program for ten or fifteen years. Much of the knowledge was geared to middle and even upper management use. I took a seminar, for example, on the environment of international business. We studied macro economic, political, and religious systems. I made the syllabus the template for my doctoral studies in business—hence my courses at Pittsburgh in religious studies, government, and business (ethics, and business, government & society). I wrote my dissertation on the impact of religious ethics on strategic leadership in business in British India). This was before the financial crisis of 2008, so the macro view had little value in business schools. I went into areas in which I valued the knowledge, rather than for its immediate practical use. In hindsight, this was one of my mistakes, but I continue to affirm that the quest for knowledge should not be constrained to meet the criteria of vocationalism. At Yale, the dean of Yale College used to write letters in the student newspaper explaining why the college refused to offer a major in business. Let us educate you—we know better than you how to do that—then go on and get trained. The dean was assuming, however, that a MBA program could not also be primarily educational. I think today he would be overwhelmingly correct. 

Friday, June 28, 2019

Sexual Harassment at Yale: A Wider Picture of Intolerance in Political Correctness

In his commentary on “Sex and the College Dean” in The Wall Street Journal, William McGurn bemoans what he calls the “surrender [of] what little moral authority [deans and college presidents] have left to their in-house counsel and off-campus government authorities.”[1] McGurn points in particular to the rising influence of lawyers in college administrations. “Today deans have given way to lawyers. The consequence has been endless gestures to raise ‘awareness,’ constant upgrading of procedures and the proliferation of committees—all designed primarily to limit the institution's civil liability. Thus Rutgers says it is working on making the school ‘more inclusive’” after a gay student killed himself after his roommate had posted video secretly shot of the gay student having sex in the dorm room. Not to completely dispute McGurn’s “lawyer thesis,” I do, however, want to broaden the explanation based on material provided by McGurn himself. Specifically, the “more inclusive” language McGurn cites is the signature of the political-correctness movement that had swept college campuses in the United States since the late 1980's. McGurn claims that deans of students have gone from being adults to legalists in seeking to minimize their school’s liability; I want to add that those deans went from being adults to ideologues as well.
Years after I was at Yale, fraternity students chanted, "No means yes. Yes means anal" outside women's housing. Yale College had only admitted women since 1968. The chant was of course highly inappropriate. With some trepidation, I must admit to also thinking that college students in the 18 to 22 age-bracket are not always going to be appropriate. For example, at my first university in the Midwest, fraternity students stole human cadavers from the biology building and laid out the bodies on beach towels near the campus pond. At the time, as an 18-year-old, I thought this was pretty funny. Decades later, I wonder whether the contemporary "solution" would be to create a campus safety zone where placing dead bodies would be tantamount to assault, legally. 
Back to Yale, far indeed from my first university on the plains, I submit that to expect teenage boys who had been in high school just a year or two earlier to be politically correct, or ideological, in referring to women asexually only would ignore the reality of surging hormones. The creation of campus safe zones wherein statements such as, "You're looking good today!" would be tantamount to legal assault would, I submit, go too far. Of course, if an ideological agenda is the true motivator, as in to teach the boys an ideological lesson by harming them, then such a safety zone's excessiveness could be accounted for. 
Perhaps the tension between the ideology and human nature lies at the root of the problem with adopting an ideological solution. The ideology holds that if the boys are harmed (e.g., by being arrested on overblown charges), the very nature of the boys would change. I submit that the ideology is deeply flawed in this resort. Furthermore, the ethics of broadening criminal assault to speech that does not reach hate speech can be challenged. I submit that criminalizing disagreement with any given ideology is unethical because the harm to the offender is not justified. At root is the ideologue's anger, even more than any urge for justice. As Nietzsche claimed, the weak who seek to dominate all to readily resort to cruelty, for it is power without the requisite strength that they want. 
At Yale, the response was not the creation of a safety zone, for that time had not yet arrived. Instead, McGurn reports that based in part on the fraternity brothers' chants, “16 female students and alumni are claiming under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act that the campus is now a ‘hostile sexual environment’ that denies women the same opportunities as their male counterparts.” The claim distends the plain meaning of the word, hostile, and extends a brief incident into an enduring part of the environment on campus. In other words, the women over-reacted, and I suspect that ideology played a large role in that reaction. In fact, I suspect that an ideologically-driven dean of students may have had a hand in that, for an opportunity to make an ideological statement would have been rather obvious. So whereas the boys' chant may be viewed as one of power, I submit that the reaction was even more so.  

1. William McGurn, “Sex and the College Dean,” The Wall Street Journal, April 26, 2011, p. A15.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Urge to Dominate Dominates at a University

Visiting the main campus of Arizona State University (ASU) one day, I was struck by the sight of a ASU Police jeep parked on a campus sidewalk. Was the jeep itself presumptuous in its assumption that sidewalks are for cars? The misplacement itself can be read as an attempt, even if unconscious, to intimidate, or at least to say, “I’m here! Beware me, I'm in charge here.” In academic terms, police are low on the totem pole on an academic campus, for they are neither faculty nor even students. For non-academics to have the urge to foist themselves to such visibility on an academic campus rings not only of disrespect and not knowing their place, but also the excessive urge of the weak to dominate even the strong in the strong's own turf disregarding the distinct customs therein. The university itself was complicit in subordinating an academic atmosphere to a hyperactive perspective of "security issues" as a default rather than an incident-specific phenomenon. 

Perhaps, I thought as I walked by the police car, the police were responding to an incident or emergency. I found none; instead, I saw a campus policeman, or someone who looked like one, off to the side of a sidewalk-intersection deep within the campus where a police car parked on a sidewalk would stand out as utterly out of place. The area was presumably academic—and yet the cop was watching students and faculty pass as if they were suspects even if for only braking organizational policies, rather than laws.

Did the policeman really need to park his jeep on a campus sidewalk without the urgency of an incident in progress? Without an emergency, the obvious choice would have been to park in a small parking area behind a nearby campus building. 
Three weeks later, as my bike ride took me through the campus, I observed another campus-police jeep parked on a sidewalk. The visibility of the jeep was significant. 

I surmised that the occupant was not responding to an emergency. As he was at books at an outdoor book-sale, I surmised that his purpose could not have been dire. 

Strangely, he was hanging around that area of campus even though late afternoon on a Friday meant that activity was minimal. In other words, that campus-police department must have been unaware of going too far, given the actual degree of threat. Perhaps that department's culture know only the value of security and thus accepted going to extremes without the need to balance that value with others, including academic ones on a university campus
As if seeing one police employee standing as if bored (I did sympathize with the guy) in the middle of a quiet square on the campus were not enough for the students walking through, they were treated to the sight of a police motorcycle, which of course was anything but quiet as it announced itself.

In spite of the presence of her colleague, the driver did not drive through, but, dismissing how the ongoing presence of two police employees (including their respective jeep and motorcycle) would look to young students, parked out in the open to chat with the other employee, as if two police employees were necessary to keep a continuing eye on a low-key (as seen from the photos) area of campus at 5 p.m. on a Friday. 

As the two campus police were talking, I doubt any tip or incident could have prompted or justified such a police presence on an academic campus. Forget or dismiss how the students (and faculty as well as staff) might feel; the default for being on patrol had somehow changed from being in motion to an ongoing presence in one location. 
What then, was behind the intentional decision or willingness to maintain such a visible presence that was so obviously intrusive and disruptive to the students on that campus? We are here! We are watching you! Don’t think this is your campus! Police power trump academia and whether students feel intimidated or uncomfortable with the blatant show of even latent force. The urge to dominate, it would seem, had become hegemonic even on an academic campus. That such unnecessary visibility might intrude on thinkers on an academic campus was of no concern (i.e., importance) to the non-academics' urge to dominate not by reasoning but, rather, by brute force. Such a force knows nothing of going too far, of inserting itself where it does not belong (unless, or course, an emergency exists).
So after the first instance I observed, I investigated how much support the needlessly excessive interloping had at that university from multiple stakeholders who were generally thought to esteem the distinctiveness of academic culture. I first went to the Alumni Association. The woman was contrarian at every point. “Clearly,” I finally said, “We are coming from opposite ends of the political ideological spectrum.” She answered with such definiteness I was impressed with her powers of observation. It wasn’t until I made the argument that alumni who feel uncomfortable when they visit campus because they feel intimidated by too much show of brute force even if latently are not going to feel like giving money. This got her attention. Similarly, it galvanized the attention of the provost’s secretary, before which she had run through a litany of possibilities that might have escaped my notice.
“No,” I said, “I didn’t see any indication of an incident or protest. The guy was watching people walking on the sidewalks.”
“Maybe he was making sure that the students were not riding their bikes.”
“So you have police enforce university policies—and small ones at that—even though police enforce laws?”
“Maybe he was a police assistant?” she said.
“His jeep had “POLICE” on it, and he had “POLICE” across his upper back. Perhaps he was impersonating a policeman?”
“Oh no! That wouldn't happen here!,” she exclaimed, stunned that I would come to such a conclusion, and yet she was just fine with police aides brandishing “POLICE” on their vehicles and persons. “They have little “Police Aide” badges though,” she said as if that were sufficient to rebuff my point on the misleading "POLICE" signs on the jeep and the aide's person. I had, reasonably enough, just assumed that the man was a police officer. If the man was instead an aide, the "gilding of the lily" would itself be an indication of a wider propensity in that department toward over-reaching into ethically suspect territory. In other words, the underlying mentality would be suspicious. If I am correct, then perhaps the gaze should turn around and face the watchers! Are they even whom they portend to be?
“I just spoke with your Alumni Association,” I said. “I understand you have non-police employees, students really, who regularly look after such campus policies like biking. That police or police aides would be out on a regular basis doing the same thing, and using campus sidewalks as parking lots on a non-emergency basis, surprises me.”
She had to agree that the part-time student-employees would be a better fit to the nature of the problem, but it was like pulling teeth to reach a meeting of her mind and mine. Curiously, she did not mention the possibility that the presence of the campus police would be fully justified in the case of reports of a shooting. I completely agree with that! What I had observed that morning, however, showed absolutely no signs of that. I suspect that because of shootings years earlier at other universities, the campus police had ramped up their presence and responses across the board, even on trivial matters that do not involve laws anyway. The costs are many, including the comfort of students and faculty on the campus coming across police vehicles driving down or parked on sidewalks. Such displays as well as being visibly watched are inherently intimidating as well as distracting, hence in an academic context the cost is in terms of what a university campus is. In other words, the excessiveness implies a lack of respect for other values, such as those of academia. 
Leaving the president/provost office suite, I took the elevator down with two members of the student government. Considering where they had been, they may have been the student leadership itself. I showed them the pictures I had taken of the jeep and the police employee and suggested that students would naturally feel intimidated. To my utter astonishment, one of the students replied as if on cue, “Our students have a good relationship with the police here!” Then she went into various possibilities that in her mind would justify such a presence, just as Alumni Affairs and the Provost's/President's staffer had just done. That the two students were so eager to protect the very police who were, I suspect, accustomed to making mountains out of molehills, without any apparent concern for how students might actually feel. I was also taken back by the two students' dismissiveness toward me in spite of the obvious age-gap and my statement that I am a scholar.  As I was giving my account and interpretation of the sheer excessiveness I had witnessed, at which point one student dismissively interrupted, "Our police drive on the sidewalks all the time!", I wondered where the emotion was coming from. Perhaps the students mistakenly assumed that I subscribed to the "Black Lives Matter" movement against unjustified police shootings. Perhaps the students assumed the pertinence of an ideological dichotomy overlaid on a simple point that the campus police were not sufficiently aware of the intimidation implicit in their needlessly visible presence on campus. Feeling disrespected and even discarded by the two undergraduate students, whose opening for new knowledge seemed to be contracted by an over-valued ideological bent, I stopped mid-step and let them continue walking without me through the main lobby; they barely noticed. Arrogance and ideology are not very open, even to acquiring a new perspective or knowledge.  
Walking away from that building, a professor and I talked. I marveled at how that university’s alumni association, president/provost office, and even two students in the student government had all tried to defend the campus police. My perspective was utterly foreign to multiple strata in leadership positions there. No empathy or meeting of the minds at all; instead I ran into an assumed political polarization and an awkward stance toward outsiders as if we were foreign creatures to be held at arm's length. The professor was not surprised at my feedback on the police state and the employees' anti-outsider attitude. “This is a pro-police university,” he said. "Even at the library," I said, "a scholar visiting the campus (e.g., during a winter break or a semester on sabbatical) to do research has to get a new password every 24 hours. Are professors from other universities really such a risk? I can imagine how they feel, being so needlessly inconvenienced every day." I was curious about that, so later that day I stopped by one of the libraries to ask a staffer at the library's administration office if a new login ID and password really was required even for professors visiting the campus. 
"Yes," she replied, "even they would have to get a new login ID and password after 24 hours; security issues," she said as matter of fact that is of course normal. 
There I had it right in front of me: excessive measures perceived instead as measured rather than as going too far. Accordingly, I concluded that little if any check existed to hold the campus police there accountable, and even to be used to balance security "needs" with contending values that were otherwise being excessively disrespected and eclipsed.
"Really," I replied skeptically (i.e., rejecting her assumption of the policy's prudence and normalcy), "I know of other universities that don't have such overwhelming 'security issues,' like the University of Florida," I replied. "I had read that that university has visiting researchers register once a month and not have to worry about the small stuff." The small make molehills into mountains without even having perspective enough to realize it. In other words, the petty is seen and valued as important, and thus worthy of displacing more important things. In moral terms, Aristotle refers to such misordering as "misordered concupiscence."  
Of course, the library administrator dismissed my contention that her university was taking its security precautions too far, and that her assumption of normalcy was invalid--as if it were justifiable and even practical to go to such extremes at the expense of academic visitors wanting to do academic work in an academic library. In effect, such a library loses its prestige as an academic library. 
"Given the severity of your 'security issues,'" I said as I left the office suite, "I will hold your university at arms-length." That got me a look. I was giving her a bit of her own medicine. The foreign creatures in need of being watched at what Nietzsche called "a pathos of distance," which is advisable between the sick and the healthy, the weak and the strong, were in actually inside that university.  
Back to the professor and me as we enjoyed each other's company walking on campus on that warm, sunny day in late February--the weather during the academic year being undoubtedly the chief attraction for the vast majority of the cold-climate students. He and I passed two students at a table protesting a Latino kid who had been killed by Phoenix police. I stayed behind to get their reactions. Those two students provided me with some much needed perspective. My discovery did not surprise them at all. “We are in the minority here,” one lamented. “It is pretty much a police state here.” When I pointed out the over-kill, such as in having a policeman as a matter of routine observe a sidewalk for bikers (a university policy, not a law), one of the students told me that once when sounds from a construction site sounded like gun-shots, fourteen campus-police cars showed up! I had seen that sort of excessiveness in Phoenix, but still it seemed strange that a university police would have it as well. At the very least, the incident confirmed for me at least that ASU’s police were prone to go to far—even, as I had seen, in small matters (albeit writ large in small minds).

Interesting, as we were speaking, one of the students tasked with making sure bikes were off the pedestrian-only sidewalks was watching us at close range. His arms were crossed and his feet turned out in what I would say was a confrontational posture aimed directly in our direction (even though he looked away when I took a picture of him). Someone had presumably told him to be on such guard. Perhaps the nature of their cause (i.e., pointing to police over-kill, literally) had been judged to warrant a watchful eye. This would evince not only making a molehill into a mountain, but also having an excessive urge to control, or being in control, both of which point back to an underlying inner weakness—hence the instinctual urge of some of the weak to dominate everything, even the strong by being unnecessarily and even intentionally disturbing.  
On a college campus, even the sight of police does not fit and can thus be disturbing as they are so far from academic norms, which tend not to value brute force or even threatening stances. The sovereignty of ideas depends not on the force of law, but instead on the power of reason. Should a law be broken, however, the police are duty bound to intervene even visibly if necessary. What, then of the two students inviting people passing to look at materials on the abuse of power that had been in the press on police killing unarmed people on purpose? The nature of the cause, being controversial and thus having the potential to stir emotions, including those of the police, could be enough of a trigger--enough of a threat--to a campus police force that cognitively obfuscates potential and actual as if the two were one and the same thing and is in the habit of over-reacting to small things as if they were already big. The erroneous conclusion is that even two students with a cause at a table warrant a close watch. Such watching, with police cars parked on campus sidewalks (even between classes!), easily becomes the default in cases such as this in which the university, from its student leaders to its alumni association, look the other way. Perhaps the exchange of ideas on an academic campus is itself in need of protection from intimidation on such a campus. Such an exchange is perhaps too foreign, and thus too volatile in the eyes of non-academics whose viewpoint esteems "street values" even as they are carelessly and presumptuously superimposed where they do not belong, like a net  with a bad odor over the native fauna. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

The University of Arizona: A Dysfunctional Police State

Imagine asking an organization's security employee to enforce a policy only to hear him refuse because such a policy is beneath him. Then on another occasion you find such employees in the locality enforcing local speed-limits. To be sure, speeding tickets are a lucrative business, but that usually goes for a city's police department. Imagine next crossing a grassy quad on a university campus as two campus security employees slowly pass on bikes--watching. Entering the student union, there is yet another. Then returning with a coffee back across the rectangular grassy area--which had been roped off all summer for "turf restoration"--you see a security employee passing on a motorcycle--again watching people. Then as you return to the campus library, you notice a "police" jeep slowly creeping along opposite from the quad. On another occasion, I witnessed a "police" motorcycle pull up from a bike-only path to stop just outside the science library's main entrance to watch students going by. It was creepy. The next morning, two such motorcycles were "on guard" at an intersection leading into the Student Union and two such jeeps slowly passed by as I biked past. Once on campus, I asked an administrator whether there had been an incident on campus, and she replied, "No, they're just making sure people go where they're suppposed to be going." The enablement itself of the obvious excessiveness was itself creepy. The administration there is worse than oblivious. 
The overriding sense that some of the students and faculty doubtlessly have that they are being perpetually watched far beyond the rationale of protection is something to which I can attest. One student told me she intended to transfer because she thought the security employees were watching her because of the color of her skin. Another student--honors no less--avoided the main library because of all the "police" presence; he has dark skin and typically has a pair of earphones on, and for this doubtlessly he has been particularly subject to being watched, even when he has been in a study room. 
I can attest that the administrative offices, including those of the VP for business affairs, the provost, and even the president, are accustomed to looking the other way, which in itself can be regarded as passive aggressive. In flagging that university as highly dysfunctional, and thus to be avoided especially by scholars, I draw on my time as a visiting scholar at that university, where I was met with active and passive aggression and, more generally, regarded as less than a nobody by nonacademic staff having an overblown sense of entitlement undergirded with a lack of accountability. The University of Arizona can thus be regarded as "the poster child" for dysfunctional organizational culture. I submit that aggressiveness is nothing short of anathema to an academic atmosphere. That non-academic employees at a university would have so little respect for academia while the "academic" administration betrays its calling, whether out of cowardness, incompetence, or a sheer disvaluing of academic standards is squalid enough to justify whistle-blowing on behalf of academia. 
I had the unpaid visiting-scholar status that provided access to research facilities (e.g., library databases and computers), so I was surprised to find that just a day after the last official day of my term the university cut off all of my computer accounts; I couldn't even check my university email to take care of any transitional matters. "That's petty," a professor at a European university wrote of the practice, so I checked with the human resources department. Even a full professor leaving the university to teach elsewhere is cut off on the last "contract day" without warning. I had thought the practice was just another way in which visiting scholars are marginalized there. In general, truncating a transition (e.g., cloud storage, library books, etc) is rather short sighted, and thus evinces the dysfuncational, priggish mentality. 
The "campus colleague" designation is on the faculty level, yet such a colleague would never really know it, for even the non-academic library staff regularly referred to visiting scholars as "the general public" when I was at the university. The most startling (and revealing) instance illustrative of this point came the morning after I  had been assaulted in one of Tucson's many ghetto areas. I asked a library supervisor in the science library if I could use a phone to call my physician's office as my injuries were worse than I had supposed from the attack on the previous night. "I'm on the faculty here and I was assaulted last night and the attacker broke my phone, so I would like to use a phone here to call my physician to make an appointment today," I said. Astonishingly, the supervisor replied, "There are no phones in this library; there is a pay phone for the general public in the main library." In her mind, the faculty of the university were part of the general public. Simply astonishing--the organizational culture was that distorted. I related this incident to one of the other supervisors a week later. That supervisor admitted that her colleague could indeed have used her discretion to let me use an office phone. When I mentioned another visiting faculty member who also regularly used that library, even that supervisor who presumably would have used her discretion positively for a faculty member was so oblivious to her own anti-(visiting)faculty bias that she referred to the other visiting faculty (who unlike me taught at the university) as a "nobody." Again, stunning. The organizational culture of non-academic employee quite obviously included little respect for scholars. The utter lack of respect resonates with how other non-academic employees at the university had treated me, and even with how the university handled my, and presumably other scholars', departure from the university. 
As yet another example that is indicative, I found the secretaries in the honors college to be uncooperative when I tried to find out whether something bad had happened to a student whose transition to the university had been so rough that I had helped him with some home-cooked dinners and a few nights in my living room during the semester break in December; the university had refused to put him in a dorm because the financial aid office employees were dragging their feet, so he was homeless. Six months later, I had not seen him on campus so I was concerned, given the high rate of bike and pedestrian fatalities in Tucson. The secretaries paid no regard to the fact that at the very least I had been vetted by the university as visiting faculty member; to them, I was clearly an outsider, definitely outside the loop. 
Incidentally, a faculty of Art had given the student the code to enter her building and office at night so he could sleep in her office in December, but a young library-staff person who had overheard the student and I speaking once about his plight made it her mission to get the code invalidated so the student would have to sleep outside! So he was sleeping outside by Christmas Eve. I would later not think terribly highly of myself for not having invited him to stay over at my place, or even spend the week. Perhaps unwittingly I had absorbed some of the heartlessness of the staff at the university. 
At any rate, as disrespectful and even heartless as the nonacademic staff generally were during my stay, the active and passive aggression of the security employees was beyond the pale, yet the administration repeatedly looked the other way to protect those employees even when they had behaved very badly. Crucially, a real police force is accountable to a government, whereas an organization's employees are accountable, at least in theory, only to an executive. So for a university's security employees to play local police officers is itself not only a category mistake, but dangerous given the organizational bias that executives can have. 
On the few occasions on which I had contact with campus security employees (e.g., on their refusal to enforce the campus anti-smoking policy--even as they found the time to go a half-mile off campus to ticket speeding cars), they too were not only quite rude, but also aggressive toward me in spite (and perhaps because of) my visiting-faculty status. Speaking with a former security employee just days after my "appointment" ended, I was astonished to hear that that university's security department--which fashioned itself as a local police department (hence enforcing banal campus policied was "below it")--had a thirst to dominate and even be aggressive even against students. 
The security employees' perpetual watch on the campus was thus unnerving to many students and perhaps even faculty and staff, but the "higher" administrators looked the other way, which in itself evinces passive aggression. Once when I was in the provost's office-area on another matter and I mentioned that the presence even that morning was over the top (three separate occurrences of security--on bikes, a motorcycle, and a jeep--on patrol within a ten-minute period on the main grassy area), the academic-affairs provost's assistant defiantly replied, "I feel good when there are police everywhere." She displayed no sense of there being any downside, even when I told her that students had told me they feel uncomfortable on campus as a result of the perpetual presence. Not only was she not sympathetic toward me; she was hostile! Was I running up against an authoritarian/totalitarian "red-state" mentality that had identified one of the enemy?
I instantly realized no chance of any self-correction existed within that university's administration, as I had already complained to the VP of business affairs, who technically oversees the university "police" (aka security) department. In this essay, I detail the case of that university's police state, which, like Nietzsche's new bird of prey, consists of weak people who nevertheless thirst to dominate even and especially the strong. The sheer excessiveness in the nearly perpetual presence is itself a red flag, given the implicit aggressiveness and the obliviousness of the "supervisors."
"Police day" at the University of Arizona, for instance, was overdone even for a university beholden to its own security department. Although that department only had one of the tents in the campus-safety display, the disproportionate display of "police" power evinced in the line of vehicles in the photo below reveals the underlying attitude, even if its sheer brazenness comes at the expense of an academic atmosphere that is generally expected on university campuses. 
Tellingly, yet another security jeep was yet to come when I took the picture; the driver would park the vehicle notably blazoned with "Police" on its sides on the grass (contrary to university policy), curiously placed strategically diagonal to two walkways as if to say, "I'm in your face; deal with it." That's the attitude that the security employees have foisted on a campus that could otherwise enjoy the serenity of an academic atmosphere. No matter that some students and even scholars had transferred out of the resulting discomfort while on the campus. A showing off of the hardware was actually a beating of the proverbial chests by alpha males far removed from higher education yet somehow in its very midst. The passive aggression and even cases of outright aggression of the university's security employees can be said to come from resentment, for the employees are obviously uneducated, and even, given the urge for dominance, from an "attack" orientation directed even and especially to scholars as we have an alternative basis of power to that of the threat of a gun. Of course, the esteem of scholarly expertise--higher learning--can be betrayed by university administrators beholden to their own security employees who are nonetheless under the fantasy of being a local police department with the democratic legitimacy of working for a government. 
The night before the morning of the "Police Day," I biked home from that very spot on campus. On my way, I saw three campus security cars in a campus parking lot with their lights flashing, then about half a mile from there two police cars, again with lights flashing--the police talking to a driver, then on a residential street not far from there I stopped because a policeman was scouring me from a distance with his spotlight--apparently riding a bike at 9:30 pm is somehow suspicious in a residential area. I stopped immediately to wait for him to leave the area ahead, but this only aroused his "curiosity" so he turned around and made a beeline for me. The primitives are not exactly subtle. I just watched him pass--holding my phone with camera ready. Then about a half mile from there I looked into the headlights of a parked police car parked in a small parking area at a minor intersection--presumably the guy was poised to spring on a speeding car. I had had enough. Just before I turned right, I instinctively gave him a Nazi salute. Tucson is a police state, so the instinct was right, but I was stupid to use my free speech in this way. Day in and day out, seeing police seemingly at every turn--even on a university campus!--I had had enough of the police state. In fact, I had taken residential streets to avoid the omnipresence. But alas, they are everywhere in Tucson--except in the foothills, where the rich people live. Otherwise, Tucson is a hole, a junk city. By the time I reached my apartment, I was overwhelmed by the overkill, so I knocked on my neighbor's door to chat with her; she was not at all surprised to hear my report.
The sad thing is: the locals who seek to dominate--the weak, that is, who erroneously count themselves as strong--don't even realize how uncomfortable they are making daily life for the locals, as well as students and faculty at the local university. How in the world could showing an overwhelming presence at a broader safety fest somehow make all this better than worse? "I'm in your face; deal with it."
Take a look at the picture and ask yourself--how comfortable will the student be who was stopped--he told me--by two campus security cars with lights flashing for riding on a campus sidewalk ALONE late one night, or the student who got the attention of THREE squad-cars for starting up on his bike as the light was turning from red to green, again ON A UNIVERSITY CAMPUS.  I have asked students: do you think the security employees are so clueless, or are they intentionally pushing themselves, not caring in the least that they are making people uncomfortable on campus?  Invariably, the students are confident of the latter. I think both are true.
A case in point. I was taking a picture of the student Chinese New Year display on the campus quad. My action caught the attention of two security employees, who judging from their facial expressions did not approve. Perhaps they didn't want to be photographed? Then they should have been moving, on patrol, rather than perpetually watching, and rather blatantly. No shame. No concern for the disconcerting impact they have on others.

The two facial expressions of the security employees make clear that the underlying attitude is at the very least suspect, for I was merely taking a picture on the campus.

Another case in point. One morning biking on campus--a Saturday morning no less--I looked at a security employee who was hiding at one end of the underpass between the business and music schools. Because I sustained a look at him, he got on his bike and started to follow me. Concerned, I turned around to leave campus, walking my bike. As I did so, I chatted with a college-aged guy, Jim. We were both "creeped out" by the employee's suspicion. Just off campus, as we were talking, we became very concerned when the employee stopped about 15 feet from us and watched us as we talked. Both James and I were stunned at the employee's mentality. We walked away and the employee stayed put, still watching us. I took a picture only at that point so not to give the employee any further irrational sense of being provoked (there was absolutely no provocation on our part, which made the employee's conduct particularly worrisome).

I have circled in black the security employee, who was continuing to watch Jim and I as we PEACEABLY walked away chatting.

Jim remarked to me that he could not see how students put up with this. I agreed with him. At that point, we saw that the security employee had called one of his coworkers to the "scene." James and I remarked that the employee’s mentality was utterly beyond anything normal or rational. I told Jim that I am just a visiting scholar, but that I have truncated my research because I no longer feel comfortable on campus due to the security employees--their blatant aggressiveness. I have complained to the VP of Bus Affairs, but to no avail. I honestly think the guy who oversees the university’s security department is either oblivious or he actually wants the sordid mentality to continue.
Just three weeks earlier, on a morning during finals week, a security jeep drove down the bike path near the admin building and onto the grass, stationing itself right in front of the front-windows of the science library. So much for de-stressing during finals week. A librarian subsequently agreed with me that the security employees are oblivious to the need to be discreet in their presence around academic study. I'm convinced that the security employees have no respect for our endeavor, and in fact they may even be hostile to faculty because we represent an alternative basis of power organizationally that they don't have. In short, a huge power-trip is in play. 
Looking out from the main library at dusk one evening, I noticed a campus security jeep stationed just in front of the building. The car's lights were on, and yet the vehicle stayed stationary for at least 30 minutes before driving on. Such surveillance was not unusual. That it was on such obvious display right out in the open and for so long reflects on the warped nature of the security employee's judgment. Was he or she trying to intimidate students? 
On my birthday, no less, two campus security employees demonstrated excessive intimidation when they stopped me on my bike ostensibly because I was holding a red rather than a clear light. I was returning a bike from the university's bike-share program and I had my bike. This scenario was not in itself suspicious, as the university had a bike-repair station on campus and loaner bikes. In spite of this, one of the employees did not believe that my bike was mine. Even though he was aware that I was on the faculty (albeit visiting), as my identity had to be checked!, he aggressively shouted, "Get your fingers out of your pockets!" "Stand over there!" It seemed to me that he was playing Joe local cop, so he was going to treat me no differently than were I a homeless man at a bus stop. The difference is that I had been vetted, so the "cop's" aggressiveness was "overkill." I had been compliant, so his aggression did not come from anything I had said or done. I could thus see the problem: that the university employee not only disrespected scholars, but was overtly hostile to us.
Six months before that, I had complained to a franchised restaurant manager at the Student Union about one of his student employees. The manager, come to think of it, had the same tone as the security employee who accosted me for having a red light, which "is illegal in the State of Arizona." No matter that I was on a university campus. Similarly, the restaurant manager ordered me, "Stand over there!" I rebuffed his tone, replying that it was not appropriate. He was like a child, continuing to bark orders at me. I finally said, "You know, that's low class even for Tucson." He replied that he would get back at me by calling the police. I headed immediately to the Union's administrative office, with the restaurant manager just steps behind--hounding me!
So I was surprised when I was in one of the Union offices calming recounting the incident to the marketing director only to hear a young university security employee in the lobby YELLING at me to get out of that office. The director and I were stunned. She told the young man that I had done nothing wrong and was welcome to continue to use the Union. He arrogantly dismissed what she said and told her he would follow me until I left the building. I would report the immature man with the legal right to use lethal force to the university's Human Resource department, only to find six months later--on my birthday--that he had not been fired. In fact, as the "back up" to the security employee who pulled me over for holding a red light, the kid's bravado was palpable. "I've seen him before," he told his coworker. "He was not cooperative." Stunned, I corrected the lad, explaining that his conduct had been out of order as per the Student Union's administration. In spite of the fact that I had been compliant on the bike "infringement," the other employee must have utterly dismissed my correction. "Get your fingers out of your pockets! Stand over there!" It was a power-play, as my moving a few feet along the broad sidewalk made no real difference whatsoever in distance between myself and the two university employees who had a faculty member in their cross-hairs. I complied of course, but I must admit I mentally checked out of that university at that moment. "We're done here," I said to myself in reference to my loyalty to such a dysfunctional organization. From then on, I truncated my research project with the hope of not having to set foot on that campus again, and from what student librarians would tell me, I was not the only visiting scholar to come to that conclusion and leave utterly disenchanted. 
Not even students from Greek life on the main campus to hand out candy on Halloween were spared being watched over by two campus cops with guns. One of the students told me that the fact that the presence was so close made the students uncomfortable. As the picture below indicates, the campus security employees had no problem with intimidating the students. The judgment that such an event required such a close police presence is itself warped, so the lack of needed oversight by the university's vice president of business affairs was also evident. 

As Fraternity and Sorority students handed out candy on the campus "mall" (i.e., green) at around 6 p.m. on Halloween, two armed campus policemen stood in the middle of the event, rather than bothering to be out of the way such as where I was when I took this picture Was the intimidation really necessary? Did the two even consider how their central, on-going presence would impact the students? 

Ethically dysfunctional organizational cultures can be found in not only for-profit corporations, but also universities—especially in those whose managements are business-oriented rather than academic. The University of Arizona is a case in point. That managerial incompetence and sheer bad judgment could exist even at the “highest” levels points to how dysfunctional organization can perpetuate itself, and be extremely hard to correct.
As if the university security department is not a handful for students, staff, and faculty, step off campus, and the local police are perpetually stationed--watching us--and they are so blatant about it we can only wonder at the underlying mentality.

Was ongoing surveillance necessary on a quiet weekday morning with just five people out?

On another quiet weekday morning, at same location, a squad-car pulled up across the street from a parked police jeep. The jeep belonged to two policemen apparently "eating" at the local establishment (not the two guys pictured above), so it is strange that the employees in the squad-car in the foreground pulled up anyway, oblivious to the obvious concern that two vehicles in close proximity would arise. The two employees got out of their car and walked a half a block, so they really didn't have to pack so to make the police presence so apparent on that street. A local squad car will even go through the main entrance and loop around inside the campus even though the university's own security presence can be said to be excessive. For a local police employee to make the incursion even though it is obvious that campus security is right there ahead, watching!, is yet another indication that the overkill is pathological in nature.

That security jeep is manned, and stationary. Nevertheless, a local police car had just looped around anyway, just before I took the picture. The excessiveness would have been readily seen had I taken the picture earlier.

I wrote to the alderwoman of the ward that includes the university about the excessive presence of the local police near and even on the campus. Demonstrating possible collusion or at least wayward incompetence, she replied that she does not get personally involved in such matters. Clearly, there would be no accountability locally too. Perhaps the mentality on campus was merely a reflection of a decadence locally, reaching even the local government. Such a system is devoid of the check provided by a feedback loop. For it to be operative, a sense of humility concerning the possibility of being wrong, including of going too far without realizing it, is necessary.
I submit that a society has an interest in policing large institutions that are themselves not governments (i.e., accountable to the people) and yet hire employees and permit them to regard themselves as part of a local police force. A university is a non-profit or for-profit organization, even if some money is received from governments. Security employees are non-academic employees rather than part of the local police force. For some non-academic employees to be not only rude, but aggressive toward faculty--including scholars/doctorates--ought to be anathema to academia. Perhaps in spite of its money for research, American academia has become rather decadent and weak. Such a condition definitely exists in the dysfunctional culture and administration at the University of Arizona. 

See also, "Corruption Enabled in the University of Arizona's Athletic Department."