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Our campuses, our selves?

From the essay “Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe” by Laura Kipnis, writing for The Chronicle Review:

I don’t quite know how to characterize the willingness of my supposed feminist colleagues to hand over the rights of faculty—women as well as men—to administrators and attorneys in the name of protection from unwanted sexual advances,” he said. “I suppose the word would be ‘zeal.’” His own view was that the existing sexual-harassment policy already protected students from coercion and a hostile environment; the new rules infantilized students and presumed the guilt of professors.

Quote from a member of the Faculty Senate, answering the question as to whether there’d been any pushback in response to a new “consensual-relations” policy. What’s noteworthy about this faculty member’s reply is that it asks persons concerned with the prevalence of sexual assault, harassment, and prejudice on campus to consider the potential problems with empowering university administrators to investigate and adjudicate sex crimes. This blogger takes the view that for all the talk of college being a “learning community”, the reality is that these institutions resemble corporations far more than communities. Institutional priorities are evaluated in terms of liability control (rather than the protection of community members) and a favorable public image (rather than an actualizing and authentic community culture). Where this is true, we might hesitate to task unelected, unaccountable administrators with the work that, in our actual civic community, we assign to employees of the public service: professionals who are committed — by regulation and public expectation, if not explicit pledge — to uphold the common good for all members of the community.

The unnamed faculty member raises a prudent question: Are we foolish to so zealously entrust the college bureaucracy with ersatz police and judicial powers? Are such institutions capable of accepting and reciprocating our trust in such matters?

The government, we’re told is of, by, for the people; in that regard (and this is admittedly an idealizing view) we  are protecting ourselves when laws are passed to protect against sexual abuse and exploitation, when police investigate such abuses, and when cases are brought to trial. Who are we asking to safeguard our campus learning community, when we ask a college to shoulder this responsibility? Is this not something we can do ourselves, through the institutional powers we already have a stake in, each of us, as residents in the civic community? What do we stand to lose, what do they stand to gain?

Patriarchal culture, being a  saprophytic parasite of a social complex, already saps so much of the strength of the people living under its influence. How then can we not be skeptical of the suggestion that the best way to build a safer campus culture is to trade in a system we collectively own, for a system wholly conducted by provosts, vice-presidents, trustees, and other officers of the alma mater?

Cui bono? Let us know what you think, below.

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