Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A civility policy? Arf!

     Today, I was among the many who received an announcement from the IVC college President. It revealed the (huge!) membership of a new committee: the IVC Civility Policy Workgroup.”
     A civility policy?
     That doesn’t sound good.
* * *
     I recall a meeting of the IVC Academic Affairs committee some time in the late 90s. At the time, Kate Clark was the chair. The committee was charged with considering pursuit of some sort of “civility” or “ethics” code for faculty. Some in the room were well aware of the many tools—refusal to grant tenure, firing of noisy adjuncts, trumped-up charges of discrimination and violence—that had been employed to make life difficult for critics of the then-current regime (Raghu Mathur and the Board Majority: Steve Frogue, Dot Fortune, John Williams, et al.). Especially with that in mind, but also because of our independent regard of free speech, we agreed to eschew such codes. They could too easily be used as a bludgeon to punish or deter valid criticism, we reasoned.
     Besides, as academics, don’t we seek to champion freedom rather than to limit it? Plus: do we really want to start policing the conduct of our colleagues? That's an ugly business. Is it really necessary?
* * *
     I’ve been away on sabbatical, and so I don’t know the origins of this “civility policy” initiative, though I have some idea what’s going on here. Obviously, when interest in civility policies crops up, it is usually a reaction to alleged “incivility.”
     I.e., somebody's been unpleasant.
     On this blog—and its newsletter predecessor—we criticize and object. We’ve always tried to do that responsibly. I think we’ve succeeded. But I’ve learned that some people just don’t take criticism well. In their minds, any criticism, even implied or gentle or just criticism, is an assault.
     Being a leader or some other public person demands a thick skin. I’ve certainly learned that lesson in the last dozen or so years, pursuing Brown Act lawsuits (two of them), highlighting administrative folly (e.g., banning faculty “war” talk), noting trustee cluelessness and unsavoriness (Fortune’s residence issues, Tom Fuentes’ nixation of the Santander “study abroad” program, etc.), and so on. You get some push-back. You get called things. It can get pretty rough, even dicey.
     These days, top administration at IVC is arrogant and contemptuous of all who seek a place at the decision-making table. The key problem here is the VPI, a fellow with a well-deserved reputation for ruthlessness and vindictiveness. He’s the sort who, in the end, insists on running things. Everyone else needs to get the heck out of the way.
     Faculty's job: to raise no questions, to cause no ripples.
     Naturally, a guy like that will be all over a “civility” or “ethics” policy. I have no doubt that he views the preceding paragraph as an instance of incivility or unethicalness most foul—something that, if possible, should be stamped out, punished.
* * *
     I recall the many lies and machinations that former administrator Raghu P. Mathur would deploy. Starting in 1997, I responded to this by stating the facts and then calling him a “liar” and a “schemer,” etc., in Dissent and The 'Vine. Lots of people seemed to reason that, ipso facto, I was engaged in “name-calling.” I.e., I was being uncivil.
     Well, maybe, I said. But it’s true, isn’t it?—he is a liar and a schemer. Look at the evidence! And if it’s true, given Mathur's power and authority, it’s important to point it out and to understand it, no?
* * *
     Back in the nineties, our newsletter (Dissent) engaged in criticisms of the powers that be. The push-back was ferocious. I had to go to federal court to defend myself against outrageous (and implausible) trumped-up charges—e.g., that I personally caused the colleges' accreditation woes!
     In the end, Judge Gary Feess stated:
I understand that a lot of people would like to do business behind closed doors, that they would like to make decisions that they don’t have to explain, that they would like to come to conclusions and judgments and issue policy without having anyone present to listen and hear and to understand and therefore to make rational, powerful, criticisms of them. That’s just too bad under our system…And if people are afraid of going to meetings and speaking up because … they’re going to be the subject of criticism in a publication, that’s…just life under the First Amendment…. [My emphasis.]
     Yeah. In our system, people in positions of power can be criticized. Nobody is immune from that.
     Deal with it.
* * *
     At one point—I believe it was in the May of 1998—Mathur was in a bad spot. The faculty had just recorded a stunning vote of “no confidence” in him. Mathur was furious.
     He responded by accusing three faculty leaders, including me, of racism and “mail threats.” He offered no evidence. I recall John Williams shaking his head at me. Dot Fortune too. "You're bad," their bodies sneered.
     There was nothing really that I could do about Mathur’s absurd charges. I had to live with them.
     And I did.
* * *
     Academia—colleges and universities—are associated with free speech. If you can’t speak freely and criticize authority at a college, so the saying goes, then where can you speak freely and criticize authority? Judge Gary Feess made that exact point in court. It was also made by several people back in 2003, when administration at IVC banned faculty comments about the war in the classroom. (Do you suppose Dennis "Moneybags" White and Glenn "Clueless" Roquemore are at long last ashamed? —Of course not.)
     But some people don’t see it that way. Even in academia, there are some with a little bit of the Pious Puritan or Grand Inquisitor in ‘em.
     Remember those speech codes at colleges, back in the 90s? Luckily, academics with a longer view of higher education and free speech pushed back against them, arguing that restrictions on speech are contrary to the very idea of higher education. Thus we have the American Association of University Professors’ famous policy concerning “Freedom of Expression and Campus Speech Codes.” It's marvelous.
     Some excerpts:
     Freedom of thought and expression is essential to any institution of higher learning.

     This mission guides learning outside the classroom quite as much as in class, and often inspires vigorous debate on those social, economic, and political issues that arouse the strongest passions. In the process, views will be expressed that may seem to many wrong, distasteful, or offensive. Such is the nature of freedom to sift and winnow ideas.
     On a campus that is free and open, no idea can be banned or forbidden.* No viewpoint or message may be deemed so hateful or disturbing that it may not be expressed.
     …Most campuses have recently sought to become more diverse, and more reflective of the larger community, by attracting students, faculty, and staff from groups that were historically excluded or underrepresented.

     Hostility or intolerance to persons who differ from the majority … may undermine the confidence of new members of the community….
     …[S]ome campuses have felt it necessary to forbid the expression of racist, sexist, homophobic, or ethnically demeaning speech, along with conduct or behavior that harasses….
     …But … rules that ban or punish speech based upon its content cannot be justified. An institution of higher learning fails to fulfill its mission if it asserts the power to proscribe ideas…. Indeed, by proscribing any ideas, a university sets an example that profoundly disserves its academic mission.
. . .
     … A speech code unavoidably implies an institutional competence to distinguish permissible expression of hateful thought from what is proscribed as thoughtless hate. [My emphases.]
     As near as I can tell, nobody’s accusing me or anybody else of “hate speech” at IVC. It’s a lesser charge, I suppose: some kind of loutishness, boorishness. —“Incivility.”
     On the other hand, I suspect that that mean spirit that lets people assume that they and the “institution” are competent to distinguish permissible and impermissible speech—well, it's alive and well at IVC.
     Maybe I'm wrong. We'll see. (I'm thinking of monitoring the proceedings of the IVC CPW, doin' a play-by-play.)
* * *
     But what, exactly, are those who shout "incivility" referring to? That’s the funny thing. When you ask that question, often, the “victims” of allegedly obnoxious speech (or their terriers) seem unable to cite anything relevant.
     Back in 1998, incensed by Dissent’s endless criticisms, administration accused me of  “discriminating” (against Indians, I guess—I called Mathur “Mr. Goo”—and against Christians—I said something snarky about the Christian Coalition) and violating the “workplace violence” policy (I told Glenn Roquemore he was “going down” along with Mathur).
     I recall challenging the Chancellor (Fredrick Sampson) over this anti-Christian blarney. I asked: where exactly did I exhibit hostility to Christians? In fact, I hadn’t. Not once. A certain speechifying member of IVC’s faculty evidently “believed” that I was anti-Christian because I had once criticized him (he had led his forensics students in prayer before tournaments). He complained to Mathur. That was it. I kid you not.
     Even now, I am often accused (by commenting DtB readers) of being an anti-religious atheist. When I challenge them to show where I have evinced that perspective, they come up with nothing.
     Poor readers, I guess. They oughta go to college.
     It’s part of the blog (or newsletter) thing. Bloggers are routinely accused of anything anyone ever says in their blogs, including reader comments over which they have no control
* * *
     QUESTION: People need to ask themselves why a “civility code” is being pursued right now. What exactly has occasioned this? (The official "story" seems to be that it's demanded by the accreditors.)
     My guess: as usual, people with power do not like to be criticized. They use their power to push-back against the critics, to portray them as hateful or uncouth or even sporting bad hair.
     Again, I could be wrong. Wouldn't be the first time.
* * *
     GOSH, since I’m going to be accused of saying loutish things in loutish ways, I may as well come right out and say them. Clearly. (In my view, of course, these things are not loutish; neither are they delivered loutishly!)
• Just what are we to make of a faculty member who makes no secret of her administrative ambitions and who then attains the Presidency of the Academic Senate (the obvious faculty “step” toward an administrative career)?
   Might there be some conflicts of interest in this scenario? My answer: in this case, I do think so. (Please note: I am not objecting to administrative ambitions per se.)
• What are we to make of a faculty leadership that must be goaded to take to task the bad initiatives (e.g., the infernal Early College program; the quietly mounted and initially disastrous Crean Lutheran set-up) of top administration? That steadfastly refuses to acknowledge a spirit inimical to "shared governance" in the latter? My answer: get straight, lady, or move aside
     There is nothing personal here. On the contrary, I have always liked LDA. We’ve been friends for years. I’ve even given her a pass for being a Texas Republican for chrissake. (I can be absurdly tolerant.)
     But a whatchdog has got to do what a watchdog has got to do.
     Arf. ~

*As I have explained previously, my adventures in "free speech" in the last dozen years have led me to reconsider positions I once took publicly. For instance, I no longer feel that the appropriate response to Mr. Frogue's planned "forum"—one that included participation by Holocaust deniers and members of an anti-semitic organization—was cancelation of the forum. A better response: the setting up of a corrective "forum" plus the deposit of a burning sack of shit on Mr. Frogue's doorstep.**
**Just kidding about the sack of shit. Fudge maybe. And those cool fake flames.


Anonymous said...

There's been some coverage on this issue in the Chronicle and Inside Higher Ed. All I can say is that they better read their Constitution but I wouldn't count on it.

(When is your sabbatical over?)

Anonymous said...

You know what it is all about? Kiana and her cake and that dean who let people laugh about it. That's where this got started.

I'd rather have a task force on something real that really impacts students - like, say textbook prices and the bookstore. Why not devote all that energy (look how large the "workgroup" is!) is creating a lending library of desk copy textbooks for the needy?

Anonymous said...

Face masks are needed to cover up issues such as a lack of administrative transparency, inability to resolve issues such as the El Toro Road line--SADDLEBACK shall not come north of it and IVC shall not come south of it, the years of attempting to make sense out of ATEP. Look at the endless stream of consultants, along with supposedly likely businesses to set up shop with us on the former base. Dozens of special BOT meetings and regularly scheduled BOT meeting focused on this group or that, the universities interested in linking up with us at this Advanced Technology Park. Millions of dollars down the rabbit hole. And ATEP is being referred to as a campus. The inter-college bickering between the schools is intense and sometimes uncivil. Who to blame? Saddleback or IVC faculty, the other school. Maybe our current Chancellor can sort this out--hit some heads together (civilly of course)--to make something happen in Tustin.

Roy, right on.

Anonymous said...

That's some big work team. Yet another committee in an era of committee proliferation. How do they meet all their other responsibilities? They are at meetings all day already.

Anonymous said...

I thought work group was two words but it can be one as it used here. But I do wonder what are the differences between a workgroup and a task force and a committee and whether or not there are restrictions about the number of groups to which an individual can belong. I think a number of these people are beyond that number.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, Roy. We're putting together a "civility policy" 100 miles down the road from you, and I share your concerns.

Uncivil behavior is still protected by the Constitution--last I heard, anyway. And it's all in the eye of the beholder.

"Impolite" is a synonym for "uncivil," so what we're really talking about here is etiquette. People need to realize that democracy (and free speech) is not men in white wigs exchanging polite notes on silver platters.

It's messy, noisy, contentious, and sometimes nasty. Look at what goes on in the British Parliament.


Anonymous said...

I love some of the "civil" folks on the committee.

Anonymous said...

It's all about the cake. Now that she's chair she gets what she wants.

Anonymous said...

Work group should be two words, not one. The "k" shouldn't touch the "g."

Anonymous said...

"people with power do not like to be criticized. They use their power to push-back against the critics, to portray them as hateful or..." (bvt).

Sounds exactly like your highly academic Obama admin, Roy. Gee, I guess this works both ways...

I for one do agree with bvt, that this civility stuff sets a dangerous precedent. Who decides what is civil or uncivil? The people who hold the power, of course! Isn't that convenient...

I thought Poertner was your guy, bvt? Looks like he's willing to do just about anything it takes to get IVC accredited.

B. von Traven said...

I do think that someone like Poertner must be very tempted to view the accreditation process skeptically. (At this point, I would.)
Poertner is at the district; my comments here concern Irvine Valley College only, though, as I understand it, our sister college has also been told to scrape up a "civility" policy. I'm glad Carmen moved on; she'd insist that we all smoke cigars.
I wonder if our shiny new policy here at IVC will cover trustees who paint faculty with a broad brush, carpin' about short hours and big pay?
And trustees who spend tens of thousands on trips to Orlando to see the family?
For years, the alarmingly uncivil behavior of certain B-200 instructors was protected by Mathur, then Roquemore. Instituting "civility" policies with that in the background is more than I can take.

Anonymous said...

I don't blame the chancellor for trying to solve some of the problems between the campuses, but in the meantime, IVC is falling apart. If you are going to have a supersized civility work group, put some civil people on it. It is the same few people on every stinking committee running the college into the ground. Justice is destroying the college. Gatewood watches and says nothing. Meanwhile, Glenn sits and does absolutely nothing while IVC crashes around his ears.

Anonymous said...

On another note, it is ridiculous that Kiana is the chair. She should at least have the grace to step down amid all the issues of nepotism and favoritism. I hear she tells the deans what to do, and they do it. The senate is in Justice's pocket and the faculty lose valuable ground on a daily basis. Classified are demoralized. I hope I'm on the hiring committee when the senate prez tries to become dean. It is time to clean house!

Anonymous said...

Well 12:39, the k & g do touch in IVC's fav. contractor, gkk Works, if that means anything to you.

Yes, I couldn't agree more. That committee is loaded up with control-freak jerks.

The purpose is to institutionalize policies so "legitimate" cases can be built against those who oppose them. Then they will have a legal mechanism in place to eliminate dissenters.

Strangely, civil discourse will become uncivil, hate speech.

Just like with the Obama admin; if one disagrees with any of O's policies, they must be racist.

Summer runnin' down