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.
* * *
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.
Freedom of thought and expression is essential to any institution of higher learning.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.”
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.]
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.
But a whatchdog has got to do what a watchdog has got to do.
*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.