The Ivory Trump Tower: What the New Administration Means for Higher Education with Rebecca Schuman

Rebecca Schuman is a journalist and
essayist writing on higher education for Slate and the Chronicle of Higher
Education. She also has contributed to the Atlantic and writes on things German for the online magazine, “The Awl”. She has a PhD in German from UC Irvine
and taught for several years at the University of Missouri, St. Louis and at
Ohio State before becoming a full-time freelance journalist and she has a brand
spanking new book out which I bet she won’t object to my plugging.
Schadenfreude, A Love Story from Flatiron Books and I can’t help but quote
the extended subtitle me, the Germans and 20 years of attempted transformations,
unfortunate miscommunications and humiliating situations that only they
have words for and then she’s got another earlier book based on her
dissertation on Kafka Wittgenstein. Okay, but today we’re going to talk about
Trump and I’m gonna assume Trump is one of those cases where there is as there
sometimes can be more or less of a consensus among those in higher ed, but
Rebecca Schuman is those of you who who are fans of her columns will
know not everybody can formulate their opinions on him probably quite as acerbically or
wittily as I suspect we’re about to hear so if you want to
hear more about Rebecca and what she is up to you can visit her website I give you Rebecca Schumann! Thank you so much for having me. I’m really sorry that I can’t be there in person, you may see video
evidence of why in a minute if my daughter barges in here I’ve tried to teach
her how to do the little dance that the kid did for the BBC dad but I’m not sure
whether she’ll do it or not. Hopefully, she will leave me alone but there’s no
guarantee about that. So unfortunately this is a very
depressing and yeah it’s just a very depressing subject so I’m not actually
sure how funny I can be about the fate, not the fate but the dangers of the
Trump Administration’s effects on Higher Education…I’ll try but you know these
may be sort of what I call German-style jokes where I’ll just say like the
bleakest thing in the world and then kind of grimace a little bit and I haven’t
actually been that much about Higher Education and Trump because, not only is
it so pressing but it’s actually very hard to express the severity of the
effect the Trump government is having and will potentially have on the field
of Higher Education and of course education in general, not to mention
really the very act of thinking or being a thinking person itself and the reason
that it’s hard at least for me to express the extent or severity of this
effect is that right now we are understandably on sort of Trump horror
overload. Anyone on social media or just reading the news you see this constant
onslaught all day every day of like the next 10 or 15 pretty terrifying things
that are happening and we always think, “Okay, well this is the worst-case
scenario come to life” and then something new and so really terrible happens that
people haven’t really been able to develop the language to express
the severity without going into hyperbole because this is sort of a new
thing for everybody. I think that one of the interesting potential side effects
of this administration will be kind of a new form of written and verbal
expression where people are somehow able to express the abnormality of what’s
going on without sort of devolving into outrage porn and hyperbole…that has not happened yet and so… I mean understandably because our language only has so much as Wittgenstein said, “the limits of our language are the
limits of our world” and what’s happening right now is like outside the limits of
anybody’s world – should be at any rate and so it’s unsurprising that we don’t
really have or I don’t have the language to express it that well.
However, there’s really nobody who should be able to express what’s going on
better than scholars and writers because I mean we, I say “we” even though I’m not
really in the Academy anymore so I hope you’ll forgive me this indulgence
throughout the talk. We are the ones who have trained for years in the acts of
gathering and processing and synthesizing and sharing very difficult
information and it’s almost like we’ve been training for our whole lives for
something like this. We spend our research time and in a lot
of cases our classroom time trying to express the inexpressible: the incredible
beauty of classic literature, or the importance of certain historical moments,
or how everything fits together philosophically…all of that. The
thing that makes you want to do what you do is an inexpressible thing. The thing
that gives you the passion to spend your whole life getting a doctorate and then
working on that research and trying to express that inexpressible is kind of
your life’s work…I hope…I would imagine it’s certainly has been mine and so it’s
almost like we have all been training for our whole lives for this moment and
now is the time for us to use this out in the field in possibly the most crucial moment ever, ever in our in our lives unless some of you are my
grandfather’s age and lived through World War Two in which case you’d be 103
and congratulations on doing your doctorate at the age of 103. But anyone
who’s, you know, my age give or take 30 years on either end. This is the time…this is the only time in our lives that we’ll ever
be able to really use our strengths as scholars to change the course of history and that sounds again kind of hyperbolic because I don’t really have
any other way of expressing what’s going on. Okay, so I’m gonna do my best to
express the severity of the situation by breaking it down into the attendant parts and the first thing to understand which isn’t gonna be news to anybody is
that an entity that I call the “thinking, feeling person” which is sort of a
stand-in for everybody in the university from the you know first day freshmen all
the way up to the endowed full professor emeritus. The thinking feeling person is
the greatest threat to a repressive regime somebody who can feel and think
through those feelings is the biggest threat that a repressive regime has and
as such it is in that regime’s interest to destroy any institutions that support,
create, foster, or offer a home to the thinking feeling person in any way. So of
course, the thinking feeling person exists outside of the university but in
an ideal world the university, the Community College, any institution of
learning should be the thinking feeling person’s strongest institutional ally
and welcoming accessible place where anyone who wants to think and feel can
go to flourish. So it’s in the Trump Administration’s best interest to make
the American university as inhospitable to thinking and feeling as possible and
to make the very acts of thinking and feeling as unattractive as possible to
the general American public…to marginalize people who think and feel
for a living and who want other people to think and feel as much as possible. So
of course, to say that this era is like a ne plus ultra of anti-intellectualism
is to do a great disservice to the very powerful anti-intellectualism of
Nixon, Reagan, Bush too. I mean we’ve had anti-intellectual presidential administrations before and they’ve all done great harm, but it’s not anything
new. So, Trump didn’t invent this. He’s not smart enough to for one thing and I
don’t think any of people on his cabinet are either but…and by not smart I’m not
being ableist… I mean willfully ignorant so I should say that he’s too willfully
ignorant to create this environment of anti-intellectualism. He has benefited
greatly from it and he has brought it to a furious apex and he has welcomed the
greatest participants of it out of the shadows, many of whom are now on his
cabinet. So, as we say he didn’t invent it but his era might perfect it and so
here’s how…and sort of the three-pronged attack in the arena’s of play in that
attack are: financial, legislative, and ideological. So I’d like to talk about
the financial arena first because in the era of the corporatized university, it’s
probably honestly the arena that can do the most damage even though its sort of
the wonkiest to talk about and so let’s talk for a second about this sort of
beloved free market that’s now got the weight of a shriveled orange
presidential thumb tipping the scales of it. So, the financial attack on the
fostering in support of the American thinking feeling person is itself again
multifaceted and it’s got a lot of moving parts: we’ve got the deregulation of the for-profit universities, we’ve got the
reintroduction of predatory student lending, and the systematic defunding of
Science, Humanities and Arts research… and then of course the destruction of the
educated populace from the ground up through so-called school choice at the
K-12 level and all of the other deleterious things that our Secretary of Education has planned in Elementary, Middle and
High school milieu. So, I want to talk about the for-profits first because
that’s something I’ve done quite a bit of research on mostly four pieces for
the Atlantic but also for Slate. So, there was a lot of stuff to do on the
morning after the election, there was some crying, and rending of garments and
like sitting around shell-shocked and being terrified but what I did who’s
that I looked at the stock price among other things. I looked at the stock price
of the for-profit universities because I knew what I was going to see and I was
right, they jumped. The second that guy got elected the stock prices of DeVry
and Phoenix and all the other so-called proprietary technical and vocational
colleges were jubilant to celebrate the election of the mastermind behind Trump
University and then the stock just kept climbing as he appointed Secretary of
Education who’s raise on debt like the rest of the cabinet was to destroy the
arm of government she’d been given to shepherd. So in another era the longtime
Secretary of Education under President Obama was Arne Duncan and he certainly
had his issues and he had his critics, he wasn’t overwhelmingly popular, mostly
because of the K-12 things that he supported. He was a vocal proponent of
the Common Core standards, he was a little indiscriminate in his support of
charter schools and he was a little a little testing happy. However, when it
came to the much-needed regulation of the ballooning for-profit university
sector which drives about 35% of the student debt defaults in this
country, Duncan was on point and when they were
doing a big push to pass some legislation that’s now moot, they
did a big press push and I had the pleasure of talking with them on the phone for a while for an article I did for Slate about those regulations and so one thing
he told me about why it was so difficult even in
the Obama era to pass regulation of this very powerful and very rich industry is
that one of things that they very smartly do with their money is they donate to
the campaigns of Democrats and Republicans and so what Arne Duncan said
to me is that, “Look, these folks have friends on both sides of the aisle, very
good powerful friends on both sides of the aisle. So it’s very difficult to
enact legislation that regulates them as much as we should”…but that certainly
didn’t stop them from trying and even with all those friends in Congress under
President Obama and Secretary Duncan the for-profits were, for example, a long
last subject to the grand indignity of an enforced 90-10 rule. So the 90-10 rule,
if you’re not familiar, is a rule that says that for profits can only receive
90% of their tuition revenue from federal grants and loans and they were
mad about that only 90% and they were like, “No, it’s gonna destroy us!”…and so they want that done away with and then the other thing they want done away
with that Secretary Duncan and President Obama managed to get through was
something called the “gainful employment rule” and basically that’s kind of a
complicated series of different regulations but one of the ways in which
for profits were made to prove they could result in gainful employment for
their graduates was to make it a little bit easier to sue them for your tuition
money back if they failed you and one of the ways that they did that was that
they stopped mandating…this is kind of boring but it’s really important. Standard procedure for registration at most of these places is
to sign a mandatory arbitration agreement and you’re probably given a
lot of those to sign all the time, anytime you go to the doctors, anytime
you enter into a contract, and if you ever have the opportunity…don’t sign it… because when you sign an arbitration agreement you’re signing away your right
to sue independently and instead you enter arbitration. Arbitration is done by
for-profit companies that have big clients like the for-profits that keep
hiring them again and then little clients like you who they don’t care
about pleasing. So, mandatory arbitration is weighted in favor of the big entities
that don’t want to be sued and so the for-profits are appealing this right now
with great fervor and unsurprisingly – very unsurprisingly – they’re being
given a lot of leeway and extensions to file their appeals with the Department
of Education right now and coincidentally at the same time two new
high-level hires have joined the Department of Education and they’re:
Robert Eitel who is an attorney for Bridgepoint which is a for-profit
conglomerate, and Taylor Hansen who is an out-and-out lobbyist for the for-profit’s
major lobbying organization. So, the Department of Education is now
completely in the pockets of the for-profit university sector so whatever
feeble regulation was enacted during the Obama administration is going the way of
the dodo immediately and so the result of that is that a lot of very vulnerable
students or potential students who could really benefit from low-cost alternatives such as Community College who also offer Associate degrees in all
of the fields that the for-profit say that they offer. They’re gonna again – once
again – be siphon into these for profits with predatory advertising and these…you
know every for profit has one of the biggest offices that works for them is
their Office of Financial Aid that basically just walk people through the
FASFA and siphon away money from the federal government and also banks,
private banks, who do student loans and as some of you probably know because you have private student loans, private student loans don’t have the same
protections as federal student loans do and so they can charge you a lot of
interest, there’s no protection. If you go back to school, they won’t freeze them for a while. So, the student lending stuff is pretty
grim under the Trump Department of Education and it’s
actually about to get worse because one of the first things that DeVos’ Education Department did was make it easier to charge fees to people who
default because as you well know it’s the best thing to do to somebody who doesn’t have any money is to charge them more money and so this
isn’t actually going to get any more money – at first. I mean, it will when
they collect and have the collection agencies come after these students but
it’s mostly just gonna get these folks who are already in debt and can’t pay
their loans further in debt and I mean I can’t be the only person in this room or
virtually in this room who has a lot of student loan debt; I do have a lot of
student loan debt and I’ve luckily always been able to pay it. But there
definitely been months where it was close; and it wasn’t because I was like,
“Well, I don’t feel like doing this” and so I didn’t need to be punished with a 16% surcharge on top of that like if I couldn’t pay my loans it was because I
was in dire straits and so you know that’s sort of the MO of the plutocracy
in general. You charge as many fees as you can from people who can’t afford to
pay them and then the ultra double platinum rich person’s bank account has
bonuses. So with all of these new student lending rules, many more of which are
sure to follow for many Americans who could benefit
from college the most, a Bachelor’s or an Associate’s degree will soon be a
financial gamble as unwise as a Trump backed Atlantic City casino and so then
if you add to this the sort of final component of the financial issue which
is the well-documented defunding of the NEA, NEH, and scientific research on
climate change and other environmental crises and other scientific things that
don’t go with the Trump agenda what you have is this full-scale destabilization
of the Higher Educational system from all sides, with a pointed aim of
destruction of the educational aspirations of the most vulnerable
populations so the only people left to be able to get a college degree will be
oligarchs or people who benefit from Oligarchy and thus have no interest in
making the Oligarchy precarious in any way and so then to add to that you have
the destabilization from below of making fewer students ready for college and
wanting to go to college by basically… completely obliterating the K-12 system.
So you have to hand it to a bunch of people who are really ignorant. They have
devised a fairly brilliant plan to use their beloved financial sector to eat
away at the dream of successful education and therefore a thinking
critical populace that is going to criticize them. Ok, so I wish I were done
but that was actually just the first arena. The second arena is the legislative arena and so let’s be fair and accurate
this was well underway before Trump was elected it’s not the brainchild of his
administration but it’s definitely the recipient of new benevolence from up top.
So, everyone in this room knows about the ongoing drive to destroy the institution
of tenure and you’re probably familiar with the case of the University of
Wisconsin. So what happened there is that Wisconsin is a special case where State
University tenure was actually enshrined in the state constitution as part of the
vaunted Wisconsin idea of Higher Education and – oh good, there’s a
thunderstorm in St. Louis to add…I feel like the Count…except I’m not happy, this is horrible. So to add to the ominousness, there’s a horrible thunder storm outside my window right now. So Scott Walker, the Governor of Wisconsin did not like the idea of
professor tenure being in the constitution so he removed it in a
budget he just sort of had it written into a new budget that it was gone and
also happened to weaken shared governance. There’s just a bunch of stuff
that was enshrined in the constitution that was designed to protect scholars in
Wisconsin but actually ended up working in their disfavor because the constitution could be changed if enough people in the legislature wanted this be
and they did. So basically, what happened is that now the Regents of the
University of Wisconsin can just end any program they want to if they’ve decided
to; they can say that they want to take this school in a different direction.
Tenure doesn’t really protect anybody there because if you get along the
wrong side of the Regents – most of whom were appointed by Scott Walker – you can
just have your program ended and so there’s been sort of a mass exodus from
the University of Wisconsin. It used to be in the top three, I think, in public
universities in the country. Now it’s not because a lot of their top researchers
freaked out and took better offers at elite private universities. So that’s the
sort of thing that’s being done to tenure and copied around in states where
tenure isn’t enshrined, it’s much easier to take it away and unfortunately the
professoriate has benefited from – not benefited, I’m being sarcastic – has suffered from decades of public misunderstanding of tenure…like if you walk up to some intelligent person you know who isn’t in academia and ask them how
tenure works they will give you some of the funniest responses that you have
ever seen like just an example… if you watch TV…if there’s ever a
professor on TV, the explanation of how they got tenure or how they might get
tenure is absurd people like run for it like office or your Dean puts you up for
it without you knowing, it’s like a surprise. People think that it’s like
some sort of magic thing that you get and then it means that you never have to
work again and you know I’ve spent four years writing for Slate trying to
explain how tenure works and what it is and I’m preaching to the choir like the
people who know what it is say, “Yes. Okay Rebecca, thank you” and then the people
who don’t they don’t even read what I write and they just go, “Oh, your lazy professors and them”…not me – I don’t have tenure. I’m trying to protect something I will never have. So this sort of
professoriate has terrible branding to begin with and that allows predatory
legislators like Mark Chelgren from Iowa to introduce these ridiculous bills that
say like the students should be able to vote professors out they don’t like or
any professor who wants to work at the University of Iowa should have to take
an ideological purity test and they should have to hire 50% Republicans and
50% Democrats like neither of those bills made it to the legislature – I mean to voting. But like how would you even do that?! How would you? I mean…I was
trying to think of how you would conduct a proper ideological purity test for
potential professors and you’d have to like “Clockwork Orange” them; you’d have
to like you know pry their eyes open and then put a bunch of images in front of
them and like test how they reacted with their heart like: Ronald Reagan, Karl Marx, a
latte…like I don’t know what you would – a volvo. I have no idea how that would work. But these are the kinds of things that the anti-intellectual apex, the environment that like refers to
anybody who likes to read a book as like a snowflake, we’ll get to that a little
bit in the ideological wing in a second. There’s a lot of legislation that
is just ridiculously anti-university by people like Mark Chelgren, who got their
degree from a Sizzler, like literally – he took a two-week management course at
Sizzler and that’s his experience with the liberal professoriate and so most
of these don’t pass because they’re just too ridiculous but eventually some will
and so you know that’s the legislative attack on the thinking family person in
America. So now this brings me to the third one and the third one…just in time
for some thunder…The third one is the one that’s gotten the most press and in
a way it’s the least important even though it’s the most important because the individuals that it hurts, it hurts the most. The financial stuff…
the reason I spent so much time on the financial stuff is because that’s what’s
gonna hurt the most people, but the most visible pain is the ideological pain
that’s being inflicted and it definitely deserves our attention too. I think I’m actually just stalling talking about it because it’s so
distressing so most of you know that in the month, just the month alone
the November election, there was like almost a thousand bias incidents…no over
a thousand bias incidents in the United States, just the ones reported to the
Southern Poverty Law Center. So of these bias incidents, there were 57 just in one
month, like since then there’s been way more. But just in that one month after
the election, there were 57 documented instances of white nationalist flyering
of institutions like putting fliers up about I don’t know white supremacy, white
pride, let your white flag fly; I don’t know…but 74% of that was done
on college campuses, then there was the Swastika Graffiti. Just a few of the
places where it was reported to the Southern Poverty Law Center were: Nassau
County, Hebrew Union, Northwestern, New Mexico, William and Mary Swarthmore,
Stanford, and that’s just a month. There have been Muslim and Black students
terrorized and assaulted at Nazareth College and the University of Washington, Berkeley. The amount of bias, intimidation, and violence on college campuses since this
election, whether it be of the micro or macro aggressive variety has been very
dispiriting and meanwhile in that environment this 22 year old, the
conservative activist who himself has never been to college named Charlie Kirk
decided to launch a website called “Professor Watch List” I don’t know if any
of you are on it. I know people who are on it who see it as a point of pride but
it’s exactly what it sounds like. It’s a website that lists the names, office
locations, photos or sometimes teaching schedule, and other identifying
information of faculty members around the country who advance a radical agenda
in lecture halls. So most of these are called from conservative sites like
“Campus Reform” but some are crowd-sourced from reader submission.
So some faculty that I know have chosen to resist this by submitting their own
names and others are in fear for their safety and the integrity of their courses and this is not unfounded. Inspired by movements like
Charlie Kirk’s shortly after the election, a professor at Orange Coast
College in California was filmed without her consent or knowledge while answering
a question from a distressed student, who was distressed about Trump
so her quotes were taken out of context and this conservative furor ensued and
it sort of allowed sites like Charlie Kirk’s to justify their existence…I mean
I don’t even need to talk about the bigot tours that have gone on…like Milo Yiannopoulos or the Charles Murray who are you know being paid money and given
a platform, a university-sanctioned platform to speak and then get really
surprised when people get angry and there’s an uprising like, “Oh, I can’t
believe how mad people are…all I was gonna do was come and talk about how stupid
women are, and how inferior minorities are; that’s my free speech” and so that
sort of…it reorients the free speech conversation to be something that it’s
not and it confuses paid speech with free speech. BBC dad style I just got a text from my husband saying, “kids fine” thanks for letting me know.
Okay, so anytime anybody dares to say, “hey, we don’t want our university money
paying for these bigots to come and spout their bigotry” people go, “oh, you’re
snowflake and you hate free speech” and so it reorients this conversation so
that somehow the fascists are the free speech pioneers and the people who
actually care about freedom of thought are the liberal thought police and you
know in this spirit, the Secretary of Education got in front of CPAC (the
Conservative Political Action Committee) like you know Conservative Woodstock and
essentially accused every professor in the United States of being a Stalinist
propagandist. So, listen the job university professor has never been
particularly well understood by the general public but it’s not going to get
any better now. So the reason it’s not gonna get any better is because – this is
a generalization of course, and so take it with a grain of salt – but many
Americans have this weird thing, right, where they think that you think…if
you’re a professor they think you think you’re smarter than they are. I don’t know if
this has happened to you but when I was professor people would ask me what I did
and especially as a woman it would kind of…sort of…sometimes I would
just say I was a teacher because if I said I was a professor often times people
would go “ohhhhhhhh, you think you’re soooo smart” and thats sort of… its anti-American to think you’re smarter
than everybody else or that you’re better than somebody because you’re
smarter than they are and of course I’ve never thought I was smarter
than anybody or if I did it certainly wasn’t in a malevolent way, and I
certainly don’t think I’m better in it than anybody but sort of the…so he’s not
the ne plus ultra of an anti-intellectualism but Trump and sort of
Trump’s personality is the ne plus ultra of the person who when you try to
use the you know any sort of hard word at him just goes, “ohhhhhhh” and then trips you, right? So that’s sort of what you’re dealing with, and people who have for one reason or another actually been failed by the education system and then
choose to cling, as President Obama would say, to their ignorance, to sort of wear
it as a sign and seal of their intoxicating new power or power that
they feel exists. There are you know they’re all just pawns in a plutocracy
but don’t tell them, and on the business end of this power, the plutocrat’s power
is anyone who threatens the New World Order, and that includes first and
foremost anyone with the power and the platform to think critically and to
share those critical thoughts so if I were really…what’s the word? if I were
really nihilistic instead of an optimistic nihilist, I’d just end the talk
and we would all just have a good cry and then you know spend three hours
scrolling through outreach porn on our Facebook feeds. But what I really wanted to
do today was to share some ideas of what all of us can do to help and then I’d
like to open up the floor and maybe we can all work on this a little bit
together and everybody can leave today with a takeaway of some concrete steps
that you personally can take today to stop this from happening to the
worst extent that it can. So in the financial sector, I will readily admit that unless we’re wealthy we can’t really do much to
influence the free market system that is freely rigged against us. Universities
can hit up their big donors for more scholarship aid so that they’re not beholden to federal scholarship aid or the big banks but that’s…you know…then
suddenly there’s more fundraising and less of everything else. There are
non-profits that can spring up to help students with financial empowerment but
that has to come from where?…benevolent rich people to counteract the malevolent
rich people. So I don’t know maybe Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg or one of these
like “I’m gonna give all my money away do-gooder billionaires” will do something
like that. But that’s sort of the best that we can hope for…for now. The
legislative thing I can’t be the only person who sees like a constant stream
of my Facebook friends being like, “I’m calling my Congressman all day” and
that’s great; you’re doing the Lord’s work; I’m really proud of you. My
Congressman is Roy Blunt and he doesn’t give a good goddamn about anything. Like
he would like me to die, so I don’t even try with him because he’s just such a
bastard. What I do do is vote in my local elections and students, especially undergraduate students who are eligible to vote in the local elections where they go to school or eligible to vote in their local
elections back home, you know local elections don’t get much national TV
time, they don’t get much play so people think they aren’t important, where
in actuality they are the most important. The biggest example that I can give is my own city in St. Louis. Here in St. Louis, we just had our mayoral primary. So
St. Louis is a big metro area of about 3 million people but only about 350,000 of
those people actually live within the limits of St. Louis City like me and of
the people who live here with me in St. Louis City, a plurality of those people
are African-American Black and a smaller
amount are white and then a teeny tiny minority are any other minorities so we
are in effect a majority Black city. We have never had a Black mayor! We have
never had a Black mayor, and so we had a lot of really interesting mayoral
candidates this time. We always have a Democratic mayor, but we never had a Black mayor and this year we had an extremely electric, very dynamic, incredibly
wonderful candidate by the name of Tishaura Jones and she really ran this
dark horse campaign; she had very little money until the very end when she made
the national news for refusing to sit down with the editorial board of our
extremely racist daily newspaper; and she had a late push to win but of the
150,000 registered voters in my city, which is pathetic, I think like 40,000
people actually came out to vote and Tishaura lost her primary by 888 votes
which is a city block even in an unpopulated city like mine and if more
people, more young people especially, had recognized the incredible importance of having local leadership that actually reflects needs of the
local population, then I think she would have won in a landslide and she could
have done really amazing things for this city. So at the legislative end calling
your Congressman is great, running for local office is better, voting in local
office is the best of all. But all that is fine and good here’s where we really
can help, the ideological battle. We are the ones who know how to disseminate
ideas the best that’s our job that is what we have trained for as I said for
our entire adult lives. The ideological battle is ours to lose because we are,
nominally at least, better at rhetoric than our enemies. We are the only ones
who technically know what rhetoric is so we should…we’ve gone to all these years of school and we have spent this whole time learning to synthesize information into good arguments. The seminars, the
dissertations, the papers, the classes, the conference papers…those are dry runs and
now it’s show time. So the first thing that we can do is
take our show on the road and do outreach into communities, especially
into schools. I know of several programs here in St. Louis where professors go to
elementary school classrooms and do an elementary version of what their stick
is for the class. So obviously you have to prepare a special different kind of
activity, but if you have kids and know how to talk to kids it’s actually not
that hard to do. Another thing that you can do that is very effective with kids is to bring some of your best students with you who come from the same background as the kids who went to that school – who went to a school like it,
and you bring those Sophomores or Juniors, high achieving students with you
and you talk to kids about how cool it is to be in college some of them may
never have seen anybody in college before and so most elementary classrooms would be delighted to have you. There are programs that you can work through, you
can also work independently. If you have a kid who goes to school that’s where
you start. So whatever Betsy DeVos is doing to
ruin our young people’s schools we can “unruin” that ourselves by stepping into
those schools and talking about how awesome it is to study things that we
like to study and to actually and they’ll be like, “you do homework for a
living” and you’ll be like, “yes and I love it”. With the students that you have now,
it’s really important to keep dialogue open, try not to fly off the handle if
they’ve been watching the Breitbart or whatever and are trying to unnerve you
and definitely seem like they’re trying to film you, you know…treat every
single off-topic conversation in your class as a teachable moment. For example,
you can unpack terms like trigger and safe place and snowflake and let them
understand that everything is way more complicated than “I’m a liberal here to
indoctrinate you”. This is a fun one that I thought of
which is to set up a summit on or off campus with people who don’t like
professors and have basically like a professor versus anti-professor civil,
respectful and civil summit debate kind of thing with an audience and you can
even charge admission and have that money go to charitable educational
causes or your on-campus food pantry or something like that. Where I got that idea is I don’t know if any of you went to undergraduate at Ohio
State or know anything about Ohio State, but I’ve taught at Ohio State for two years
and in the middle of campus there’s this ginormous grass oval called “The Oval” and in the warm months, all the students just go out there in their
bikinis. But in the cooler months, there’s this dude, this one guy who’s not affiliated with university in any way, he’s just read like a lot of
Ayn Rand…like a lot of Ayn Rand and he just gets up on a literal soapbox or
some sort of box and just talks for like eight hours a day about the free market
and students. I saw students there pay more rapt attention to him than they did
to their world-class nobel laureate professors and it depressed the hell out
of me, and it also depressed the hell out me that those professors were just
ignoring that guy, instead of inviting him in and saying “okay, if you think
you’re so good for a bunch of impressionable 19 year olds, why don’t
you come in and talk to some sociologists and have a summit.” So if you
have one of those on your campus and they’re not like a total bigot who’s gonna get a violent protest, invite them
in or set up a summit in a safe space off campus, a neutral space I mean. If you
are a higher profile expert of some sort and you get asked to do TV, radio, etc,
it’s always important to humanize yourself as much as possible and emphasize the share experiences you have with everybody, instead of the
differences. The last thing that I want to talk about and if you were students
you’d all be packing up and getting ready to go now is that nowadays the most important thing that you can do at the professorial or
graduate student level is to have outspoken support for every single
marginalized community on campus, from communities of color, to women, to
intersectional communities, to the LGBT community, to the staff and adjunct
workers, and especially the sort of adjunct versus regular professor divide.
Every faculty member in a department probably agrees on like 96% of the
important things in the world and yet at every faculty meeting in this country
right now, there are people coming to blows over differences that are probably
really petty, and so for the next I hope it’s not four years but for the next however
long we have to deal with this, I would suggest two things: those at the top of the professorial hierarchy and I know that you don’t have that much
power anyway, but whatever small amount of power that you have, use it to speak
for the people who can’t speak because their jobs are precarious or because
they feel scared and for everybody, no matter how valid your criticism of
somebody else is, try to remember that 96% right now, for at least the next…God, I
hope it’s not 3 years and 10 months. Ok, so now I want to just open it up and and
we can talk a little bit, take some questions. I’m sorry this wasn’t that
funny but it’s not you know it’s pretty hard to be funny about this. I
also think that it’s super important. Thank you for having me!

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