As Classes Resume…

Steve Volk, January 30, 2017

I was fortunate to be able to attend the (just-concluded) national meetings of the American Association of Colleges & Universities. The AAC&U is among the most forceful and persuasive organizations defending high-quality, inclusive liberal education in the United States. AAC&U’s president, Lynne Pasquerella, staff, and many of the speakers at the conference offered a full-throated defense of inclusive higher education, the linking of education and calls for social justice and a path forward in seeking racial healing on our campuses and in the broader community. These positions were all the more important in the face of the mounting attacks on the ideals we hold as educational institutions that unfolded in tandem with the conference.

Illustration from Christina Georgina Rossetti, "Goblin Market," Illustrated by L. Housman, p. 29

Illustration from Christina Georgina Rossetti, “Goblin Market,” Illustrated by L. Housman, p. 29 (British Library, public domain)

As I flew back from San Francisco, I continued to think about issues that were raised, both regarding the development of approaches to teaching that can help us reach all our students, as well as how to think about the distressing political climate we find ourselves in. I haven’t been able to process everything I heard, but here are some points that stayed with me from the meetings, beginning with what we should keep in mind as classes restart for the spring semester.

First and foremost: Think of concrete ways you will defend and support students who are most vulnerable at this time and who have already come under attack, particularly undocumented and Muslim students, as well as students from those communities  which the current administration in Washington has chosen to belittle and threaten. You may not know which of your students are vulnerable, but assume that those at greatest risk are seated among your students and make sure your classroom is a welcoming space for all. Regardless of the subject you teach, our students need to be supported and we are the best ones do to that. Continue reading

The New Information Literacy: Clearing the Fog of “Alternative Facts”

Rosalinda H. Linares (Information Literacy & Special Initiatives Librarian, Oberlin College) and Steve Volk

January 23, 2017

A recent humor piece by Marika Seigel in McSweeney’s lists the “Action Items on Your Radical Professor’s Liberal Agenda.” About a third of the way down, one finds: “Painstakingly write another comment explaining why this particular claim needs to be supported with a credible source and that it needs to include a parenthetical citation formatted — as specified in assignment guidelines — according to APA style…” Another “action item” comes fast on its heels: “Wonder whether supporting ‘claims’ with ‘credible sources’ is even still a ‘thing’ in 2017?”

NPR, in announcing its coverage of the inauguration, noted that it would be “live fact-checking” the inaugural address online.  Was that also an attempt at humor?

Women's March, Washington DC, January 21, 2017. Steve Volk photo

Women’s March, Washington DC, January 21, 2017. Steve Volk photo

Contemplating what it means that a major media outlet is even thinking about live fact-checking an inaugural address is truly dispiriting…but unfortunately necessary. Two days after the inauguration, Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Mr. Trump, argued that the White House had offered “alternative facts” to the media when it stated, untruthfully, that Trump’s swearing-in was witnessed by “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.”

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Why Studying Sexually Dystopian Themes in 14th-century Epic Poetry Matters… and other thoughts on an education in the liberal arts

Steve Volk, January 16, 2017

Konrad von Altstetten embracing his lover. (Codex Manesse, UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 249v)

In Starving the Beast: The Battle to Disrupt and Reform America’s Public Universities, a film about higher education that came out late last summer, Frederick Hess, the director of education policy studies for the American Enterprise Institute, commented, “If somebody wants to write about sexually dystopian themes in 14th-century epic poetry, I think that’s fine.” But, he continued, “I have no earthly idea why taxpayers are supposed to subsidize this or subsidize students to learn it.”

Hess’s comments echoes the sentiment emerging from a considerable number of state houses lately, particularly as governors and state legislators feel emboldened to dictate what should and should not be studied at public universities and colleges in their states. Examples are not hard to find: Continue reading