Tuesday, August 2, 2022

AFFIRMING DIVERSITY: "woke" nonsense revisited


Affirming Diversity, Sonia Nieto's 1992 celebration of multicultural education, has become an educational classic — of sorts. Yet her prescription for public education is based on an obviously false assumption. Namely, that cultural values are mutually inclusive and support tolerance. They're not and they don't.

What, specifically, is Professor Nieto prescribing for our schools? She calls it "Affirming Diversity." What does that imply? The professor says it, "... implies that cultural, linguistic, and other differences can and should be accepted, respected, and used as a basis for learning and teaching."

Really? But the values of cultures can be, often are, completely at odds. Plus they're commonly at odds with the very tolerance Nieto's prescription requires. Consider, for example, the dogmatism of the Quehabi Islamic sect that controls Saudi Arabia. Their brand of religion divides the world into good guy true believers — those who subscribe to their highly conservative version of the Sunni school of Islam — and the bad guys of every other stripe who don't. In their view, all other religious beliefs must be, at minimum, suppressed. Preferably, they should be annihilated.

Think this an exaggeration? Well, some Saudi's don't think so. In fact in 2004 a Saudi royal study group, no less, found that the kingdom's religious studies curriculum "encourages violence toward others, and misguides the pupils into believing that in order to safeguard their own religion, they must violently repress and even physically eliminate the 'other.' Embarrassed when their religion's intolerant dogmatism was called out, Saudi education authorities promised to eliminate these features of their curriculum. But when the Washington Post analyzed Saudi school books they found them to be as hate filled and intolerant as ever.

How is this pertinent to Professor Nieto's recommendation that we affirm diversity? Let's imagine her trying to teach in Saudi Arabian higher education. As a woman she would only be allowed to teach in a gender segregated setting. And all senior administration, even of female schools, is restricted to men. She would also discover that Saudi public higher education is only open to Saudi citizens and residents. Plus each and every student must be a Muslim. (I imagine the same criteria applies to professors.) 

Now let's imagine that Professor Nieto somehow gets a Saudi public university teaching job, accepts the gender segregation and determines she will, true to her own philosophy, accept and respect the Wahabi cult's beliefs. Then, of course, she would have to comply with their characteristic utter intolerance as THE basis for all learning and teaching. After all, that's how that culture does things. 

Now, let's say she get's the Saudi teaching job but doesn't take the second step of accepting and respecting Quehabi intolerance. Instead she bravely advocates accepting and respecting ALL cultural points of view. When Saudi authorities discover she's doing that, what do you think her fate would be? Here's a clue: in 2005 a Saudi teacher merely suggested that Jews and the New Testament could be viewed positively, and he was fired, sentenced to 750 lashes and given a prison term. (He was eventually pardoned, but only following international protests.) 

Are other cultures similarly intolerant? Of course they are. Might some cultures totally reject Nieto's prescription that they accept and respect all cultural points of view? Do pigs have good table manners? For instance, some cultures are profoundly misogynistic. They countenance, often foster, things like female infanticide, genital mutilation, selling one's daughters into prostitution, wife beating, honor killings, excluding widows from wills, banning girls from school, counting a woman's court testimony as having half the value of a man's, and so forth. These and similarly profoundly intolerant behaviors, such as stoning homosexuals to death or hating whomever is on your tribe's shit list at the moment, all are rooted in culture. Yet Professor Nieto urges we not only accept and respect all cultural differences, but use them conjointly as the basis for all teaching and learning. Really?

Imagine the possible conflicts created by such a policy in a school setting. "Yes class, Conner just spit on Maureen and threatened to kill her! Conner is a Protestant, and Maureen is a Roman Catholic. And they're both from Northern Ireland. Religious hatred between these groups has characterized their respective cultures for hundreds of years. So, we must respect and affirm Conner's culture, while also respecting and honoring Maureen's." Just how in the world is that sort of thing supposed to happen? 

"Affirming diversity" is the pedagogical equivalent of following Alice down the rabbit hole into Wonderland. And, intellectually, it's pure pablum. So when "woke" professors praise, even struggle vainly to adopt, this egregious nonsense, it evidences the idiocy that ensues when political correctness replaces rigorous logic and factual evidence.

For more on the limits of multiculturalism see: www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/Multiculturalism.html

Monday, June 13, 2022

BARE BOOBS OR MURDER? what's best viewing for kids?

Remember Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction?” This momentary glimpse of her right boob, a pasty covering the nipple, created such a furor that Congress, the FCC and the Supreme Court all got involved. 

Complaints about the incident repeatedly emphasized that "children were watching!" So what? Why is a kid getting a brief glimpse of a nearly bare boob so upsetting when, by the time they complete elementary school, the average U. S. child has watched some 8,000 murders on TV. Yep, that's right, eight thousand! And we're not even counting movie murders or the killings depicted in electronic gaming.

Routinely exposing children to murder as entertainment generates little to no public protest. Yet a momentary glimpse of a boob get's the nation's bowels in an uproar? What in the world is one to make of that?  Who but a moral cretin, someone like Rev. Franklin Graham comes to mind, thinks that feigned murder of a fellow human is acceptable while a very brief glimpse of a boob, nipple covered, is mouth foamingly outrageous? Murder as entertainment generates a great deal of money for people who count? But in what other way is it beneficial — especially for children? 

Okay, kids know that TV, movie and electronic media murders aren't real.  Nevertheless, what are they learning by living in a culture where the staged depiction of murder is entertainment? Also ask yourself, what kid's learn about sexuality when a breast bared for a fraction of a second creates a national furor? Healthy that ain't.

Here's an actual incident that first got me thinking about this. One morning my wife and I were walking to our car when some young boys next door made believe they were shooting me. I know, boys often do that sort of thing. But let's broaden our view of it a bit. Suppose, instead of pretending to murder me, they had mimicked having sexual intercourse with my wife. Let's imagine they were pointing at her and thrusting their butts. Imagine how the boy's mother would have reacted if I informed her that her were doing that. She would have been mortified. But had I expressed concern about her boys were pretending to murder me, she would have thought me tetched. Why? How come kids mimicking a pleasurable act is utterly unacceptable, while mimicking murder is amusing? What sort of weird cultural values does this reflect? 

Most of what shapes a child's sense of right and wrong is caught rather than taught. By that I mean, kids absorb how to behave and what to value just by living in a certain environment. Now, what do you think they are absorbing by watching and playing at murder? Is this wise and worthy of their promise? And as for this puritanical attitude regarding human sexuality that they absorb, how wise is that? No wonder we've got all sorts of sexual deviants running about.

So, am I far out in left field on this? Or does what I'm saying make sense? Please comment.

To examine similar educationally related issues, see articles at www.newfoundations.net 

Thursday, June 9, 2022

THE WORM TURNS: testing every political candidate

No Child Left Behind imposed one-size-fits-all standardized testing on every public high schooler in the nation. And this law's successor, the Every Student Succeeds Act, still demands state testing of all but private school students. (Thus insuring that more powerful people's children endure no such indignity.)

Here's how we might take unexpected advantage of this federal imposition. Require every political candidate to take the same high stakes battery of tests imposed on their state's high schoolers. Refuse the tests, you can't run. 

To make sure no aspiring 'public servant' escapes this scrutiny, let's also require aspiring high level government appointees, such as a wannabe U. S. Secretary of Education, Secretary of State or Supreme Court Justice, to also take the tests. 

I'm not proposing they must achieve a minimum score to run. (Though I personally like that idea.) Just that they must take the tests and the resultant scores be made very public. Mind you, no exceptions. 

Voters will be able ti compare the respective candidates. Before being allowed to run again for President, for example, Mr. Trump would have to take the Florida high school tests. (Similarly ff Biden should choose to run for reelection he too would have to take, in this case, the Delaware tests. His scores would help clarify to what degree, if any, he has been addled by age. 

We wouldn't have to use the more relaxed Every Student Succeeds standards that now prevail. We could revert to No Child Left Behind national testing and require the Common Core tests. Here we would not only be testing the candidate's math and reading, but also subjects like foreign language, economics, the arts and even physical education. I personally like this model better because voters could make national comparisons. Imagine, for example, voters directly comparing Marjorie Taylor Green' s scores with those of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Also we could lay Trump vs Biden scores side by side, should that be relevant in 2024.

We might also develop general questions for all office seekers based on our national experience. Imagine ones like these: 

1. Given an unprecedented federal budget deficit, the best course of action of those listed is to: a. borrow more money from China  b. cut another trillion dollars in tax revenue due from the wealthiest Americans  c. slash Social Security benefits  d. tighten the nation's belt and spend only what we have. 
 2. If an attractive intern offers sex, a public official should:  a. quickly take him or her up on it before they change their mind  b. accept, but make sure the intern's clothes are laundered afterward  c. politely decline  d. ask them what they mean by "sex." 
 3. If, as a member of Congress, you plan to have our schools emphasize “character education,” the best individual upon whom to base the curriculum would be:  a. J. Edgar Hoover  b. Richard Nixon  c. Bill Clinton  d. none of the above 
 4. If an attack on the US originated in Afghanistan, the best course of action would be to: a. invade Iraq  b. invade Iran  c. invade Canada  d. invade nobody 

We could also require every aspiring state Secretary of Education to pass the same battery of tests his or her state requires of aspiring teachers. In Pennsylvania, for example, they would have to pass separate NTE basic skills tests in Reading, Writing, and Listening Skills, (The later would be a tough one for any politician.) They also must pass a knowledge of pedagogy. Why require passing scores for this battery of tests? Because any teacher who has passed them should not be required to accept as a leader someone who can't? 

Of course, in dealing with aspiring politicians, dishonesty and cheating is of urgent concern. Safeguards clearly are required. We must be absolutely certain that our subjects don't cheat. And we must keep in mind that a majority of them would be unaccustomed to doing anything honestly. 

That, in broad outline, is the plan. But it needs filling in. Assuming that you like the general idea, do you think aspirants for public office should take the same tests they prescribe for others, or a brand new tests custom designed for the position desired? And should we try to measure candidate's wisdom, rectitude, practical knowledge, technical knowledge, sexual cravings, religious dogmatism, or what? 

You might like to suggest specific test items. They need not be multiple choice as exemplified in this commentary. Any type questions typically found on standardized tests are welcome. Post your thoughts and suggestions as comments. 

To examine other education policiesy issues, interesting articles are available at both  www.newfoundations.com and www.newfoundations.net. They share a common index.

Tuesday, June 7, 2022

MIRROR,MIRROR ON THE WALL: schools reflect America

Mirrors reflect reality with remorseless accuracy. Exercise and watch what you eat? There it is in the mirror — flat belly, taut muscles, and all. Sit on your duff and gobble Twinkies? The consequences also are reflected with unflattering exactitude. Well, schools are our nation's mirror. What's right or wrong with them reflects what's right or wrong with America.  In the 'good old days' 'wrong side of the tracks' kids typically dropped out of school long before graduation. So those schools provided a more flattering reflection of America. These days a lot more kids stay in school. In consequence, today's schools accurately reflect what's going on in America. 

What is going on? One of the most striking developments is that the U. S. has the most uneven distribution of wealth in the world. The Aspen Foundation reports that the wealthiest 1% of American families hold some 40% of all the wealth. The bottom 90% of share less than 25%. This disparity profoundly impacts the lives of millions of children. Teachers wrestle with the consequences every day.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that 18% of all children in America, a total of nearly 13 million (1 in 5) live in poverty. They all go to school. Plus more of our citizens per thousand are imprisoned than any where else on the globe. This means hundreds of thousands of dads are locked up. So were 57,700 mothers. In fact in 2021 some 626,800 fathers of minor children were incarcerated.  And the Casey Foundation reports that more than 5 million American children, 1 in 14, has had a parent imprisoned at some point in their lives.

The destructive effects of massive inequality and mass incarceration flood into classrooms with devastating effect. And this is especially true in the poorest school districts, where teachers have inadequate resources while the children have major problems. 

Meanwhile in more affluent areas with financially secure, well-educated parents, plus functional families, safe streets, a rich tax base and a general respect for learning, good school outcomes are much, much more likely. And teachers here are better paid and have far more resources. It's a case of "them that has, gets," 

Let's also briefly consider how the quality of parenting fits in here. Is quality parenting reflected in school outcomes? "Is the Pope Catholic?" The requirements for becoming a parent are distressingly lax. So a host of people gain parental responsibility who simply can't or won't meet the mark. Far too many are too stupid, selfish, cruel, frightened, impoverished, mentally ill, emotionally needy, foolish, addicted, ignorant, etc., to responsibly raise a child. And our schools reflect this melancholy reality every hour of the day. 

I know a first grade teacher who for 13 years was very successful, winning many plaudits. Then she was hired to teach kindergarten in the School District of Philadelphia. She quit before the year was up to preserve her mental and physical health.  Her comment upon quitting was, "I don't know what I was supposed to be doing in there, but it sure wasn't teaching. Then she added, "And I'm tired out caring more for other people's children than their parents do." Hyperbolic and spoken in disgust? Sure. But there's still is a strong element of truth.

Of course politicians, many bought-and-paid-for via campaign "contributions," find it expedient to interpret the situation differently. They maintain, some of them might actually believe, that poor school outcomes are the fault of educators. Sometimes they are. But most of the time they aren't.

Let's reprise. Our schools mirror the nation. So if you are disturbed by what you see reflected, it is unlikely to be the mirror's fault. And if you like what you see, don't give the mirror much credit either. 

Does that mean educators are essentially powerless and can do little or nothing to improve learning? Of course not. But what they can do is limited when poverty, crime, lousy parenting, social disorder, dysfunctional families, etc., create an avalanche of problems, indifference, even opposition. Of course, when the opposite prevails what they can do is vastly enhanced.

Perhaps you can remember when, in the George W. Bush and Barack Obama era, school reform was all the rage and the federal government spent billions of dollars, and a lot of hot air, on various schooling improvements. Now we know that those initiatives were largely worthless. In retrospect it seems as if these politicians were buying new mirrors because they weren't  satisfied with what the existing mirror reflected. Were they aware that's what they were doing? Who knows? But we do know that appearance matters more than reality when you're playing politics. And we also know that Barrack Obama could not have been serious when he officially ruled that folks only training to be teachers were already "highly qualified" to be one. ("Highly qualified" was a standard that the federal law required.)

If any so-called  'public servant' should really wants to improve school outcomes, here's three things they must do: 
1. reverse the growing disparity between the rich and the rest of us
2. quit locking up so many parents without regard for what that does to their kids 
3. offer free, high quality, parent training (plus follow-up support) to anyone who wants it. 

Positive results will take far longer than a typical term in public office, a great deal of money, and more rigorously selected, much better trained, and better paid teachers. Do that and school results will gradually improve. But it seems there's virtually no chance of that happening.

For more on this see www.newfoundations.com/Clabaugh/CuttingEdge/PSMirror.htm  

Saturday, June 4, 2022

FEEDING THE MONSTER: "woke" professors nourish MAGA

Many of today's colleges feature strident demonstrations of "woke" self-righteousness. Holier-than-thou faculty demand speakers be canceled and fellow professors fired should any of them harbor an opinion different from theirs. Censorious students often inspire or join in these inquisitions. And craven administrators sometimes cave in to this intolerable intolerance. 

It's hard to imagine more repulsive academic behavior. "Stupid" also applies. Particularly if these zealots teach at, or attend, a public college of university. Why? Their intolerance further undermines public funding given already shaky public confidence in higher education. 

These days attacks on higher education pay big political dividends, particularly if you're a MAGA politician. The Pew Foundation found that two-thirds of today's Republicans already have only “some” or “little” confidence in colleges as institutions. Indeed a lot of them have come to believe that higher education is little more than “woke” indoctrination.  Today's"woke" shenanigans simply feed this monster.  

Republican led defunding has already been devastating the aspirations of lower income kids who want to go to college. It's getting less and less affordable. In 1958 I, for one, was able to go to college because government funding covered, on average, 75% of public higher ed costs. Now, after more than 60 years of paring down, average public funding is 25%. . 

We can thank Ronald Reagan for modeling this tactic and demonstrating it really pays off in votes. As Governor of California, Reagan ended free higher ed tuition for California residents; annually demanded 20% across the board cuts in higher education funding; repeatedly slashed college construction funds for state campuses, and imperiously declared that the state “should not subsidize intellectual curiosity.” (Something largely absent in Reagan himself.) 

And, while he was at it, Reagan, and Republican legislators, slashed funding for California’s basic education. These cuts ultimately resulted in overcrowded classrooms, deteriorating schools, more poorly paid teachers and, of course, increased local taxes. Nevertheless, Gov. Reagan was reelected despite the fact that California's public education system has never fully recovered from his despoliation.

When he was governor. Reagan took particularly advantage of the anti-Vietnam war movement by vitriolicaly denouncing student peace protests. Whenever these students demanded an end to this ill-conceived adventure, much less had the audacity to protest the possibility of being dragooned into it, Reagan was scathing in his criticism. He called them: “brats,” “freaks,” and  “cowardly fascists.’ (Reagan, himself, spent his war, WW 2, safe in Hollywood making Army propaganda films.)

Gov. Reagan was even more severe when it came to the campus disorder that student peace protests generated. He publicly proclaimed, “… if it takes a blood bath, let’s get it over with. No more appeasement!”  A few days later 4 kids were shot to death and nine others wounded with one paralyzed, when Ohio National Guardsmen spontaneously opened fire during an anti-war protest on Kent State University’s campus. (A number of the murdered kids were simply on their way to or from class.) No one has ever been indicted, much less convicted, of these homicides. A Reagan spokesman hastily assured the public that the governor’s "blood bath" comment in no wise provoked the shootings.

In summary, when Ronald Reagan became governor, California’s basic and higher educational systems were both the nation’s best. When he left, they weren’t, and haven't been since.

Subsequently, in his two terms as U. S. President, 1981 to 1989,  Reagan continued his now time-proven tactic of criticizing educators and budget slashing public education budgets. His administration's bloviating spokesman for this effort was Secretary of Education, William Bennet whose "accomplishments" require a blog of its own. President Reagan's congress also slashed federal spending on every kind of education. In fact at Reagan's urging they cut that federal spending on education in half. When he entered office, federal funds paid 12% of the nation’s public schooling bills. When he left they were paying just 6%. (It's still just 7%.)

Sure, the Republican campaign against public education exploits America's historic distrust of learning and the learned. But the current extremism of the most strident “woke” creates an unprecedented opportunity for right wing politicians to enact more censorious legislation, foster know-nothing parent's distrust of their kid's teachers, further cut financial support for “government schools, and so forth.” For some of these politicos the final goal — besides being reelected, of course — must be total privatization of public education. After all, in 2022 government funding for K-12 schooling alone tops half a trillion dollars. And what self-respecting champion of free enterprise wouldn’t want to bulldoze that enormous mountain of cash every year into the private sector? 

“Woke” extremists doubtless see themselves as righteous campaigners for all that’s holy. Knights errant in a irreproachable crusade for justice. And there's no question that many of the injustices they seek to cure are real. But Trump style demagogues are hoping and praying that these zealots just keep on overdoing what they’re overdoing. The opportunities this creates for these right wind rabble rousers are priceless. 

Saturday, May 28, 2022

THE ANTI-ABORTION CRUSADE: more smug moralizing?

We'll get to the anti-abortion crusade in just a bit. But first, let's set the stage. Remember Janice Jackson’s 
Super Bowl "wardrobe malfunction?" National television viewers got a very brief glimpse of one of Janice's boobs and the usually inert U. S. Congress sprang into action. They hurriedly convened a high-level hearing to investigate this moral outrage that some wags were calling “nipplegate.” During this congressional circus a host of lawmakers, each pretending grave moral outrage, took turns climbing out of the congressional clown car to confront network executives and pressure the FCC to crack down on anything that might provoke sexual arousal among the pubescent.

Puritanical posing is a standard feature of American politics. Our politicos have hitched a ride on America’s sexual hangups at least as far back as the 1870's. That's when congress joined forces with Anthony Comstock, then the nation’s self-appointed moral policeman, and suppressed access to anything that might free women from unwanted pregnancy; or, heaven forbid, increase their sexual knowledge and/or pleasure. 

Comstock was the founder of the powerful New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. (You may be reminded of Saudi Arabia's present-day "Commission for the Protection of Virtue and Suppression of Vice.") Blocking access to information about birth control was Comstock’s chief objective. He also wanted to stifle access to information about abortion. And while he was at it, he set out to eliminate “obscene” books (including serious novels) “dirty” pictures, sex toys and anything else he thought contrary to God’s word — as he interpreted it.

Comstock launched his society's activities by commencing highly publicized vigilante raids on luckless retailers. He "confiscated" and handed over to the police hundreds of purloined “bad books” and “articles made of rubber for immoral purposes and used by both sexes.” (One wonders what the police did with them.) Then, emboldened by the success of this larcenous campaign, Comstock began a national crusade to criminalize sex education, birth control, abortion (except to save the life of the mother, but more on that later) sex toys, racy illustrations and “bad books.”

His crusade was hugely successful. In fact in 1873 Congress joined in by passing, without debate, the Comstock inspired, "Act for the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use." This draconian federal law defined sex education, particularly as it pertained to preventing conception, as "obscene." Here is an excerpt: “Whoever … shall sell, or lend, or give away, or in any manner exhibit … or shall otherwise publish … or shall have in his possession, any obscene book, pamphlet, paper, writing, advertisement, circular, print, picture, drawing or other representation, … or instrument … of an immoral nature, or any drug or medicine, or any article whatever, for the prevention of conception, or for causing unlawful (emphasis added) abortion, or shall advertise the same for sale, … shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and, on conviction thereof, he shall be imprisoned at hard labor in the penitentiary for not less than six months nor more than five years for each offense, or fined not less than one hundred dollars nor more than two thousand dollars, with costs of court.” 

This U. S.  law also specified that it was a crime to send any "obscene" materials through the mail. That provision led to a government sinecure for Comstock. He was anointed a special agent of the US Post Office with exclusive enforcement powers over the "morality" of the nation's mail. He held this position, — in essence, America’s sexual morality czar — for the next 42 years. 

In this role Comstock was able to prosecute anyone sending information about birth control, or committing any other "sexual offenses,” via the mail. And he was zealous in so doing. Upon retirement Comstock boasted that he had victoriously successfully brought charges against more than 3,600 defendants and destroyed 160 tons of "sexual materials." And remember, that included information about birth control, since that was officially "obscene."     

Of course this law only covered items sent via the mail. But Comstock, a zealous fellow, wasn't content with that. He moved on to push for state laws far transcending postal matters. In the following years Comstock successfully campaigned for the passage of draconian morality laws that were eventually enacted in every state in the union. 

A crusading Comstock even provoked a famous suicide. That's when feminist Ida Craddock killed herself rather than be imprisoned for sending sex education information by mail. Her suicide note reads, in part, “I am taking my life because a judge, at the instigation of Anthony Comstock, has declared me guilty of a crime I did not commit -- the circulation of obscene literature. Perhaps it may be that in my death, more than in my life, the American people may be shocked into investigating the dreadful state of affairs which permits that unctuous sexual hypocrite Anthony Comstock to wax fat and arrogant and to trample upon the liberties of the people, invading, in my own case, both my right to freedom of religion and to freedom of the press." Thus ended the life of a feminist sex education pioneer. Hundreds of others ended up in federal prison. 

Were there any limits to Comstock's zeal? Apparently, a very limited one. He once was asked by an interviewer, "Do the laws ever thwart the doctors work; in cases, for instance, where pregnancy would endanger a woman's life?"  Comstock replied: "A doctor is allowed to bring on abortion in cases where a woman's life is endanger (sic)." But then he added "... is there anything in these laws that forbids a doctor telling a woman that pregnancy must not occur for a certain length of time or at all? Can they not use self-control? Or must they sink to the level of the beasts?"" (Harpers Weekly, Birth Control and Public Morals; Mary Alden Hopkins. May 22, 1915)

So how far has America come since Comstock? Is the current torrent of anti-abortion legislation a piece of the same Comstockian pie? Is there a dime's worth of difference between the present-day politicians pushing this cause and Comstock's law-making confederates some 150 years ago? You decide. 

 To further examine similar issues involving education, see dozens of articles at www.newfoundations.net 

Sunday, May 15, 2022


Once upon a time I was an assistant professor aspiring to become an associate. As such I had to prove that my teaching, publications and service were exemplary.

My "course evaluations" were good. (Actually they were my customer satisfaction ratings. But it's far too honest to call them that.) My publications also met muster. My problem was "service." Why was that? Well, in this institution service was largely defined as serving on college committees. And despite my annually, even eagerly, volunteering for whatever committee slots were available, I never achieved appointment to a single one. I knew that some faculty got committee assignments even when they didn't fill out the requisite form specifying their areas of interest. I filled it out carefully, but still got no assignments.

Realizing this would sink my prospects for promotion, I decided to find out what was going on. Committee assignments were made by (get ready for this) the faculty "Committee on Committees." This august body consisted mostly of old boy faculty, many of them alums, and a committee chair who distinguished herself by her knee crooking servility to the Roman Catholic order that owned and ran the place. 

I requested an appointment with this chair of the Committee on Committee to find out what was going on. I was no mood to genuflect. So I simply pointed out to her that I had repeatedly volunteered for any available committee assignment and got nowhere. Others. even those who were seemingly indifferent, got one committee assignment after another. What, I asked, was going on? 

Her reply?. I had been adjudged "insufficiently sensitive to administrative intent." 

How to respond to that? I'm not recommending it, but here's what I did. I reminded this academic weather vain that my promotion was at stake. I told her that I had kept a careful record of all my futile efforts to volunteer. Then I indicated that if I failed to get promoted because of any alleged "lack of service," she and the other committee members would hear from my attorney.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

I never again had any trouble getting committee assignments, even though I continued to do my best to remain insensitive to administrative intent. As a matter of fact I was appointed to key ones. Promotion followed in due course.

Care to guess what became of this chair of the Committee on Committees? Want to wager on her future? Well it wasn't long before she was appointed, perhaps I should say "anointed," Dean of Arts and Sciences. Once in this exalted office, she continued to utilize her finely-tuned sensitivity to appraise the intent of more senior staff. Often the consequences of her appearsal disadvantaged the very faculty she supposedly represented. Before her rise to power this gal was a professor of English, not meteorology. Nevertheless, she always knew which way the wind blew.

What can be learned from this story? That course evaluations actually measure customer satisfaction? That there is a irreconcilable, though unmentionable, tension between the interests of the administration and the faculty? That too many faculty are natural-born lick-spittles? That some of them care not a wit about their colleagues? Sure, all of the above. But every one of these truths is evident to anyone who actually deserves being called “professor.“

Then what else can we learn from this tale? That there are covert academic realities that are just like the missing genitalia on censored human anatomical illustrations. Genitalia are obviously critical components of the human anatomy. But they still get “disappeared.” And even mentioning their absence is risky. 

However, joining in the pretense that academia is what it claims to be, can sometimes be exactly the wrong thing to do. There are times when it's far better to walk up to the academic equivalent of one of those censored anatomical illustration, point to the blank crotch area and boldly ask, “What the hell is happening here?” 

But when should one do that? Whenever you have more to lose if you keep pretending you don't notice. Pulling the sheet from these covert realities produces a sobering effect on academic power holders. At the very least, it causes them to stop and reflect before messing with you further. But remember, breaking the silence will forever change your status both with the power holders and your colleagues. Neither will ever view you, or treat you, in the same way again.