Tuesday, December 23, 2008

FIRE Challenges SIU Speech Zone

The campus watchdog group F.I.R.E. (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) offers a challenge -- and advice -- to SIUC on how to free up student speech on campus. Read here for the local news coverage and here for the full document (click Download and Open).

First step: Make free speech, leafleting, and the rest possible across campus. Currently, such speech is confined to a "zone." In the 1990s, colleges enacted speech codes and were swept back by groups like FIRE, ACLU, and the National Association of Scholars. (Disclosure: Together with ACLU Southern Illinois, the moderator, as president of the Illinois Association of Scholars, cosigned the FIRE letter to Chancellor Goldman).

Readers may recall that this was an issue in 2004 when a student protested outside the designated "speech zone," thus resulting in an outcry over free speech. That incident involved an antiwar protest but it could be almost any other kind of peaceful demonstration.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Christmas Time at College! Bailout for Higher Education?

It really is Christmas time! With every interest in line for the fiat currency pumping from Congress and the Fed printing presses, why not higher education?

We feel pain, certainly, and if there is any time to rush in for "free money" it is now. We shall see where higher ed comes in the priority list of the Obama administration. The Christmas tree is already laden with many ornaments (tin cars, wooden-nickel banks, and tinsel to cover any bare spots in the tree).

I'm not "Green" but if the infrastructure money is spent on green buildings, I'll take a move out of the East Berlin architectural style of Faner Hall.

On the other hand, if the money moves quickly in block-grant form to our esteemed governor and Chicago pols, one can only imagine the possibilities. Will the money trickle down to southern Illinois?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Book of the Month -- Cry Wolf: A Political Fable

By pure luck, I stumbled into author Paul Lake, the poetry editor of First Things, and then read his novel Cry Wolf: A Political Fable.

Cry Wolf is a 21st-century update on George Orwell's Animal Farm. Political correctness, upside-down notions of "fairness," and the prodding of the sophistical Owl ("the Professor") lead the orderly "Green Pastures Farm" from good intentions to a total breakdown of society and a return to the wild. Any one who inhabits academia, with its identity politics and speech police, will appreciate this fast-paced novel.

But you don't have to be in higher education to appreciate how Cry Wolf satirizes larger trends in American society. The peddler of iPhones, Steve Jobs, insists that "people don't read anymore." For those who do read books, check out Cry Wolf at Amazon or your local bookstore.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Surrender or be Sued: SIU Gives Up U.S. Grant Papers

In the past several years, Southern Illinois University has been a muckraker's dream. One scandal after another involving: speech zones, religious freedom, plagiarism, sexual harassment, and more.

When SIU fights a case, it generally loses (witness the 7th Circuit Court decision on religious freedom or the DOJ consent decree on racial nondiscrimination).

In other cases, SIU surrenders to avoid further embarassment or legal prosecution. With such a track record, there is a lot to learn in crisis management. Alas, the university lurches from one faux-pas after another like a computer program looping from one error message to another. Call it the long, slow "Blue Screen of Death."

The latest surrender involves General Ulysses S. Grant, the warrior-turned-president who pummeled the Confederacy and later sent the U.S. Army to quell the Ku Klux Klan. Today, SIU surrendered the General's papers to an academic institution in the heart of Dixie, Mississippi State University.

In its own small way, SIU has relinquished a historical remnant of that Union victory over secession and slavery. Transferred from the "free soil" of Illinois, Ulysses S. Grant will rest in Mississippi, now free in part because of his actions. Mississippi's gain is SIU's loss.

Rest in peace, General.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Champions of Freedom: NAS and FIRE meet at D.C. Conference

If there are two organizations responsible for keeping the torch of academic freedom alive, they are the National Association of Scholars and FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education). The leaders of FIRE will be among the speakers at the NAS conference in Washington, DC 9-11 January 2009. Click here for more information.

The NAS membership includes thousands of faculty committed to high standards and free inquiry. (Disclosure: I am president of the Illinois state affiliate and we have many members on the SIU campuses). NAS reports have analyzed General Education requirements (woeful decline) and the current state of various disciplines. The web site contains this information gratis. "Know your rights!"

FIRE is focused on civil liberties of all concerned with higher education, with primary focus on student freedom to speak, demonstrate, and learn from faculty who are not chained by the speech police. They have many projects, including: videos on Youtube, a fast-growing Campus Freedom Network, Traffic Signs rating schools on freedom (see SIU's to the right), and Guides on various topics (available in PDF on their web site).

If you can't be in Washington, D.C., then join either group. Students ought to join the Campus Freedom Network of FIRE (click here). Or volunteer for NAS's Argus Project.

Both groups have email listservs keeping you abreast of the fight against absurdity on campus. As they say down here, the NAS and FIRE folk are "good people."

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Separate and Unequal: The Bosses and the People

[Blog entry revised after clarification from the Office of the President. My criticism of the double standards still stands. Note that there are two draft plagiarism documents, as discussed below, and we also have a draft sexual harassment policy under consideration]

When President Glenn Poshard was under attack for plagiarism, I was one of those who supported his presidency, regardless of the plagiarism.

However, the policy draft to protect the "Office of the President" from charges of plagiarism is outrageous. It sets a double standard for the President's Office. What is good for the President ought to be good for the rest of us, including protection from "frivolous or malicious" accusations.

There is a double standard within the draft plagiarism policy (read on to "frivolous or malicious" charges).

More important, there is a double standard between the plagiarism policy and the draft harassment code.


1. Intent does not matter:

"The fact that someone did not intend to sexually harass another individual is not a defense. . . In most cases, it is the characteristics of the behavior and how that behavior is perceived by the victim that determines whether sexual harassment has occurred."
[Harassment is in the eye of the beholder]
2. Context is enough to convict the accused:

The context -- "pattern of conduct," circumstances, a set of instances-- are proof of harassment.

[Circumstantial evidence is proof of guilt]
3. False, but not frivolous reports are punishable: "False reports" made in "bad faith" are subject to punishment. Frivolous or malicious accusations of sexual harassment are not covered.


There is a
general policy for "Faculty, Staff, and Students" that takes steps to mix justice with mercy -- the mercy and consideration of intent, context, etc. that is lacking in the draft harassment policy.

A second draft applies to the President's Office. The section on punishing those making "frivolous or malicious" accusations is something that critics (myself included) have called for in the sexual harassment code -- but it appears only to defend the Office of the President. That double standard is what set the Daily Egyptian off in its editorial today.

1. Intent is all that matters

"Intentional Plagiarism: Conscious and deliberate plagiarizing of a source or sources.

Unintentional Plagiarism: Plagiarism that is due to carelessness, a misremembering . . . , a misreading of context . . . , or an inadequate understanding of the citation requirements. . . .

Developmental Plagiarism (in written communication, called patchwriting): An unintended plagiarism that is caused by the plagiarist’s effort to produce work that mimics that of a particular community while she or he is not adequately familiar with the ways of expression of that community. This kind of plagiarism can be seen as the product of an intermediate stage in the plagiarist’s development from being an outsider to being an insider....

[This clause is embarrassing to a doctoral granting institution. If we pass a dissertation that is flawed and in the "developmental" stage, what does that say about SIU? "Developmental" smacks of special education, not fully developed, immature]
An act of plagiarism can either be intentional or unintentional....

2. Context excuses the charge:
In providing an appropriate response to any accusation of plagiarism, then, the following factors should be taken into account.

a. Context: that is, whether the context was institutionalized or competitive....
[Here we enter "what is the meaning of 'is' territory]
b. Intent: that is, whether the plagiarist intended to plagiarize in order to fraudulently advance his or her status within the academy....
[Apparently, it is o.k. if you planned on a career outside the academy? Is plagiarism determined by a person's career choice?]
c. Seriousness of the offense: that is, how substantial and significant the plagiarism was.

d. Engagement with the source material: that is, whether the plagiarist adapted the source material with a recognizable intent to integrate the content honestly within his or her own work or mindlessly adopted the source material without a recognizable intent to integrate it.
[When does the plagiarist get a "do-over?"]
e. Extenuating circumstances: that is, whether there exist circumstances that mitigate punishment for the offense....

". . . [T]hose allegations that are deemed to be of substance shall be handled in accordance with the following procedures:"

"An individual who has a good faith belief that plagiarism may have been committed by a member of the Office of the President shall report the allegation to the Office of the President."

[Must the individual identify themselves? Or will plagiarism committees consider third-party, redacted complaints, as with the sexual harassment code?]
3. Frivolous reports punishable to the full extent of university "law" and civil action (think twice, sucker):

"11. Frivolous or Malicious Charges:

It shall be a violation of this policy to allege, file or raise frivolous or malicious claims against members of the Office of the President or the Chancellors of the SIUC or SIUE campuses. If a violation of this section is committed, the University may initiate any and all appropriate action, including but not limited to disciplinary action against an employee or civil action against a member of the public."
I sincerely wish the President's Office had quit while it was ahead. SIU has enough trouble without "protesting too much" an unpleasant past incident. One can attempt to rewrite history but in cases like this it is better to move on. Let's hope this draft policy remains in the "In" box gathering dust.


In tomorrow's DE (5 December 2008), the plagiarism expert who consulted on the Poshard case said that frivolous or malicious accusations ought to be punished. Agreed. So why is that same standard not applied in the case of sexual harassment? To be called a "harasser" is certainly as "weighted" as being accused of plagiarizing!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

University loses harassment case: “arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable"

From the University of Georgia:


For the court documents, click here.

Colleges are increasingly being challenged in court when they act in an "arbitrary, capricious, and unreasonable" manner. For many years, The Chronicle of Higher Education has highlighted the different ways that falsely accused, purged, and mobbed professors can "sue the bastards"--and win.

Why do university lawyers act as mouthpieces defending "egregious" actions? Do they give run-away administrators sound legal advice or simply defend the indefensible because they feel relatively immune as agents of the State? In the past, "sovereign immunity" shielded the government from lawsuits but those days are long past. Apparently old habits die hard.

Short of a lawsuit, there is adverse media attention (read FIRE's web site) and the mere prospect of being sued for improper attention to the law. As the Georgia case demonstrates, individual administrators may also be named in lawsuits.

This is a wake-up call for administrators and university lawyers. To date, their risk-aversion has erred on the side of Political Correctness: defending Star Chamber practices and adopting policies that they believe will scrub every instance of harassment, however slight or imaginary, from the face of the earth (or at least campus grounds). It is a dystopian project with a real downside if the person to be "executed" fights back.

Perhaps it is time for administrators to recalculate their risk aversion by balancing the rights of the accused with those of the accuser? What an old-fashioned concept.

To paraphrase Bill Clinton:
"it's due process, stupid."