November 12, 2008
Probably a stupid thing...
I just did probably a stupid thing, which is to stick my two cents into an online student forum at another campus here at Claremont on a controversial issue seemingly in defense of an ultra-right-wing student with, I'm now learning, a long reputation for offensive speech. Oh well. Life has been too calm lately. What I weighed in on was not the content of the debate (gay marriage) but the fact that 74 comments followed a post by this student which had been promptly deleted by the editor of the forum as "discriminatory" and "misleading". It was the first response to a funny little satirical piece in support of gay marriage that was quite provocative and "offensive," in a way.
There is something too sanctimonious to resist about students (and sometime faculty) who rise up to attack offensive speech, with complete freedom to lay out their arguments at great length on the premise that the original speech should not have been uttered, should be censored and removed from sight. Is there no gratitude for the opportunity? The editor and other forum staff returned several times to the ensuing debate, even quoting from the deleted post and on two occasions interpolating their opinions into the posts of the student. For me, as a scholar and fan of the Net, this is beyond the pale for an editor of such a forum.
I'm very sympathetic to arguments about a hostile environment for women, gay people, racial minorities, etc. and steps to protect them. But a self-styled campus "forum" in which an offensive statement such as this receives a rousing shout-down hardly establishes such an environment. And as several students argued on the forum, there is no right not to be offended by anybody else.
We really need public, accountable forums around campus for good, open debates. This student site could be one, and I have learned interesting facts and read well-argued opinion there in the recent past. But assuming such a role implies more civic responsibility than was exercised in this thread, anyway.
One follow-up to my post, challenged my "net-cred"...
i just don’t see a pitzer prof coming in to defend an arch-conservative cmc student without knowing the contents of his post.
...which is really the main reason I'm making this blog entry. Yes, I am who I say and I really did this probably stupid thing.
PS: It's also true that I do not know contents of the deleted post, beyond the wrong-headed but not "hateful" passages quoted by the editor in his justification. I also know that it was quickly labeled "homophobic" by Pitzer students I heard from. This, unfortunately, can mean anything.
November 15, 2007
Cheney sisters insult Scripps students
Liz and Mary Cheney gave a joint speech this evening in a "Public Affairs" lecture series funded by a trustee with an interest in bringing to campus "diverse ideas about public policy" or something like that, i.e., the occasional conservative. The address itself was a ridiculous and patronizing string of anecdotes about life on the campaign trail with not a single political idea in sight. (There was a lot of appreciative laughter, though, so maybe students didn't notice the affront.) In Q&A (more below), Mary (the lesbian) handled the predicatable but very real and meaningful question about why she would support a party that doesn't support gay rights: "Oh, I've never heard that one before! How original!" she chuckled. (Her answer: because national security is the most important issue facing our country, and I vote on that basis. Followup that never came because of the format (see below): So when the terrorist threat has subsided you'll vote for Democrats?
Liz, the Middle East specialist and former State Dept. official, handled most of the rest, including questions on a solution to Iraq and waterboarding/torture, with intelligence, giving snippets of the public affairs talk she could have given. And then defended herself, probably quite well, against real questions. She gave pretty much the Party line, not surprising for someone currently advising Fred Thompson's campaign.
There was a lot of concern coming from Pitzer College faculty in the week leading up to the event owing to the impression that only pre-screened questions would be put to the speakers. The Scripps Faculty Executive Committee issued a statement expressing their desire for open questions, but there was never any explanation given to the Scripps community of how questions would be handled and why. Students had submitted questions to a box in the mailroom during the preceding week, and note cards and pencils were handed out by a small army of Scripps students, some of which were seen to arrive in the hand of Prof. Dillon, who read questions from the front row. This in the same auditorium where for other events ushers happily scurry up and down the rows with wireless mikes so people can ask questions.
The main interest from a free speech/academic freedom perspective is that questions be freely put. There are some advantages to having questions collected and read. A conscientious reader can make sure a full or representative range of questions is posed. One can avoid the long-winded questions and monopolistic follow-ups that everyone hates, and questions can be read clearly and perhaps slightly rephrased for clarity. It can thus lead to more questions being asked.
On the other hand, there is something more viscerally democratic about a speaker facing a real person asking a question in their own voice. Sometimes, like with the gay rights question to Mary, a followup is absolutely needed. And, more important, potentially controversial questions can be rephrased in a way that de-fangs them totally, as tonight, when the torture question went something very much like,"With the Mukasey hearings, the issue of torture and waterboarding is on many people's minds, and do have anything to say about all that?"
It is a shame that the talk was so bad, so bland, and that the Scripps administration didn't grab a "teachable moment" and at least clarify and defend their apparent departure from normal protocol for speakers on the campus.
November 1, 2007
George Lipsitz gave a media studies talk at Pitzer this week, "FOOTSTEPS IN THE DARK:
Popular Music and the Fierce Urgency of Now." He started with some passionate but vague exhortations to get engaged and active now, followed by nearly an hour of music video clips. Nice music, but all we were led to see was a kind of watered-down Black Atlantic hybridity.
Later that evening, an excellent and funny talk by Walter Benn Michaels on his latest book, The Trouble with Diversity. Despite good publicity, Michaels was up against Bono speaking across campus, and the audience was small. He adapted his major claims about diversity and its distractiing effect from issues of real (i.e., class-based, for Michaels) inequality to Scripps, hosting the talk in its "Unequal We Stand" series. You lull yourselves into a liberal identity based on identity politics while really being a conservative or even reactionary force, he said. He proposed no more actual solutions than in the book, but in response to questions he argued that the best academics can do is to admit this and stimulate more public discussion of America's growing inequality.