Philosophical ruminations.
March 31 1999 3:30 AM

News from academe.

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Segregation Today, Segregation Tomorrow

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Boston College administrators may force feminist theologian Mary Daly to admit men into her classroom. For 25 years, Daly has preached her brand of mystical feminism and revolution against the patriarchy to an all-female audience. Most men stayed away, and those who enrolled were assigned to a special section. But last fall, a male student enlisted the support of a conservative law firm and threatened to sue under discrimination law after Daly ejected him and another male from her classroom. Rather than admit the men to "Introduction to Feminist Ethics," Daly took the semester off, accused the school of "caving into right-wing pressure," and refused the retirement package offered by the Jesuit school. Institutions find themselves increasingly under legal scrutiny for supporting race and gender preferences. Last month, Dartmouth College announced that it will no longer tolerate single-sex policies at the school's fraternities and sororities, while Radcliffe College said it would encourage more men to apply for its prestigious Bunting Institute fellowships. Meanwhile, federal courts continue to debate whether the National Collegiate Athletic Association should be subject to federal sex discrimination laws.

The Presidents of the United States of America

College presidents can now be hired from a temp agency. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Florida-based Registry for College and University Presidents maintains a list of 55 retired college presidents who are ready to lead academic institutions around the country on an interim basis. Robert Funk, the former president of a Seattle college, is already finishing up his second assignment.

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Book Bind

Looking for a book? Don't go to East Lansing, Mich. Michigan State University's Movimiento Estudantil Xicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement) took 4,500 university library books hostage for a day and presented the administration with a list of demands that included asking the university to inaugurate a Hispanic studies major, hire more Hispanic faculty, introduce dormitory "culture rooms" devoted to Latino themes, and name a building after Cesar Chavez. Will booknappings catch on? When Columbia University undergraduates wanted an ethnic studies major a couple of years ago, they held a successful hunger strike on campus. It remains to be seen whether hoarding books will prove as effective as self-starvation.

Surrender Your Right to Party

Universities are playing parent again, reported the New York Times this month: Pennsylvania State University now hosts an alcohol-free student center that features adult-supervised weekend parties; the University of Wisconsin has started theater outings for students and staff; the University of Virginia may start telling parents of student drinking violations; Lehigh University prohibits campus parties without a staff member or approved adult in attendance; and after 10 students suffered alcohol poisoning in January, Princeton University banned its annual Nude Olympics, in which students streak naked through campus on the night of the year's first snowfall. According to the Times, the crackdowns represent the biggest shift in campus social policy since the '60s student revolts ushered in laissez-faire attitudes. Both ends of the political spectrum seem to favor the trend. The Chronicle of Higher Education attributes the increase enrollment at Christian colleges--up 24 percent between 1990 and 1996--partly to parents' concerns about binge drinking and other behaviors at public institutions. Meanwhile, in a Times op-ed, libertarian feminist Katie Roiphe declared herself in favor of "establishing a benign and diffuse adult presence" on campus.

Block Busting

Washington's new mayor, Anthony A. Williams, wants to move the beleaguered University of the District of Columbia from its affluent Northwest Washington digs to Anacostia, the District's poorest and most isolated area. The school's poor academic record has made it a frequent target of critics but, according to the Washington Post, Williams still believes it can become a magnet for economic development in its new location. UDC President Julius Nimmons Jr. worries that the move will demoralize a school, which, like the District itself, is just beginning to recover from a fiscal crisis. Other critics add that the university's current presence in Northwest gives many Washingtonians a valuable opportunity to leave their troubled neighborhoods behind.

Ad-git Prop

The Menchú wars continue. David Horowitz, right-wing firebrand and head of the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, has taken out an ad in six college newspapers excoriating "tenured radicals" for defending the distorted autobiographical writings of Guatemalan Nobel laureate and activist Rigoberta Menchú. (See the Feb. 2 "Egghead" for the back story.) The ad singles out one Wellesley College professor by name and declares, "This fraud was originally perpetrated and is still defended by your professors." A few weeks ago, a conservative foundation placed an ad in college papers urging undergraduates to sue their schools in order to battle affirmative action policies. Will suing professors be next?

The Bookie

Robert Darnton, an expert on the history of the book, predicts a long life for the medium in the New York Review of Books. The prophecies of '60s media guru Marshall McLuhan have not come to pass. In spite of the rise of television and the Internet, we do not live in a "post-literate" civilization dominated by "technological man." Although the book remains uniquely portable, durable, and an aesthetically satisfying means of conveying written information, there is one corner of the Gutenberg galaxy where print may be passé--the world of scholarly publishing. The monograph, traditionally the young academic's ticket to tenure and promotion, has become too expensive for presses to produce or for libraries to purchase. Darnton suggests that electronic publishing can change not only the way scholarly work is disseminated--online rather than in the stacks--but also the shape of scholarship itself. The electronic book would ideally be arranged "in layers, ... like a pyramid." Readers could move from basic information to complex analysis, from primary sources to ongoing debates. The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies have committed funds to the development of such books.

School's Out for Chandra

Malaysian dissident Chandra Muzaffar lost his post at Universiti Malaya last month. University officials claim that tight finances forced them to cut funding for Chandra's Centre for Civilisational Dialogue. But human rights groups in Malaysia and abroad see other motivations at work: A vocal supporter of the embattled ex-Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim, Chandra has "frequently criticized the abuses of power by the authorities," writes one Malaysian group. He was the founding president of a prominent Malaysian human rights organization and, together with Anwar's wife, Azizah Ismail, he founded the Social Justice Movement known in Malaysia as Adil. Human Rights Watch has initiated a campaign on Chandra's behalf. Jonathan Fanton, chair of Human Rights Watch and president of the New School University, wrote to the Malaysian government urging both an investigation into Chandra's dismissal and a stop to the spread of political battles into the academic realm.

MIT's Woman Problem

Confessing a decades-long pattern of discrimination against female faculty, Massachusetts Institute of Technology is taking measures to cure itself. In a report posted on the Web, the country's leading institute of science documents entrenched if subtle discrimination against women in almost every aspect of professional academic life from salaries and promotions to committee work and office size. The report notes that the school's tenure rate for women has stagnated at 8 percent for two decades (the national average is 26 percent) and that women faculty were required to raise twice as much money in outside grants as men. "I believe that in no case was this discrimination conscious or deliberate," Robert Birgeneau, dean of MIT's School of Science told the New York Times. "Nevertheless, the effects were real." Birgeneau has promised increases in salary, lab space, and research money to women faculty and vowed to bring the number of tenured females to 10 percent by next year.

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