Friday, December 21, 2007

The Good Ole Days/ Academic Dystopia

Came across this a while back (I forget where now):

"But authoritarian control over colleges and universities is more often exerted by conservative presidents. In 1991, four former Hillsdale College professors, all members of the conservative National Association of Scholars, criticized the small college and its president, George Roche. They wrote: "For years the Hillsdale administration has neglected its academic program to pay for 'outreach' activities designed to promote Dr. Roche, maintained a curriculum that requires no appreciable knowledge of Western culture, and used every possible means including dismissals and threats of lawsuits, to silence dissent of any kind among faculty and students." (Academic Questions, Fall 1991) They noted that in 1986, "the administration began to attack the student newspaper, the Collegian, for its disagreements with college policies, threatening lawsuits and other reprisals against the student staff and any faculty who defended it." The editor of the Collegian was forced by the administration to resign, and the rest of the student staff resigned in protest."

I was writing for the Collegian at the time of the controversy (1986, my sophomore year). In fact, I wrote a piece expressing solidarity with 2 of my poli sci profs, which was critical of the administration, especially after one of the profs (Dr. Hancock, my advisor and a simply wonderful man) decided to leave Hillsdale because of the shenanigans explained above. Behold, the next year some of my merit scholarships were mysteriously cancelled without explanation. One of the lower level hacks in the personnel dept. went so far as to suggest I transfer since the financial hardship would be too difficult; I chose to take out bigger loans. Why I wanted to stay at Hillsdale is now unclear to me. I think it was that I was commited--the political whirlwind was intense (and as a poli sci student, it took on larger dimensions), I had close friendships, I felt comfortably trapped in a degree I couldn't imagine finishing elsewhere. But most of all respect for my professors knew no bounds. Looking back I see it was a moment in American history in microcosm where the shift from conservatives who believed in freedom were killed off by neo-conservative cynicism. One could say it was always "bad" conservativism underneath it all--pro-tradition (judeo christian, greco-roman), anti-left, pro-capitalism. Yes, that's true, but there were some who taught me to think critically, to value learning for its own sake, to question historical limits, to love philosophical ideas and to see that love as a political act. They might have been conservatives, but they taught me to be a radical. Finally, I believe that's why they were targeted, shunned, ex-communicated. It taught me a lesson: politics takes place on many levels the repercussions of which are often difficult to delineate, and institutions of learning, like any other place, are important sites of struggle. Perhaps it prepared me for being a grad student, or professional academic. We shall see.

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