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Posts Tagged ‘Chronicle of Higher Education’

A Different Kind of Score Settling in the #MeToo Age

In Academia, Arts & Letters, The Academy on April 4, 2018 at 6:45 am

This article originally appeared here in The American Spectator.

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Katrin Schultheiss tells her story about enrolling in a doctoral program where so-called “Professor Famous” was on faculty. Professor Famous was, she submits, “an internationally renowned scholar” who “tended to schedule advising meetings during walks to his car to feed the meter.” (Presumably she meant to say that these meetings occurred while he walked to his car, not that he scheduled them as he walked.)

Although Schultheiss doesn’t specifically say so, she implies that Professor Famous was her first adviser. Her “new adviser” after Professor Famous was Professor Prominent, a “well regarded” man “but not a superstar like Professor Famous.” Unfortunately, Professor Prominent disappointed her, failing to comment substantively and promptly on her dissertation.

So she turned to a junior faculty member, a female, for help. This professor (Schultheiss doesn’t give her a playful moniker) diligently and thoughtfully commented on the dissertation, in effect completing the work that Professor Prominent should have done.

Professor Prominent’s nonfeasance has a name: “ghost advising.”

Ghost advising is probably common. I’ve heard similar anecdotes before. They reflect poorly on the professoriate, which already suffers, in some circles, from a reputation for laziness. Stories like these reinforce the stereotype that the university is not “the real world.”

As bad as this story is, however, Schultheiss’s extrapolation from it is unwarranted. She draws from her undeserved mistreatment, and presumably that of others, a grand inference about gender politics. “It has taken me two and a half decades,” she writes, “to recognize that my experience of having a senior male nominal adviser and a female (usually more junior) actual adviser is common throughout academe.”

Rather than use empirical methods to research gender disparities and conditions involving mentorships, rather than derive verifiable statistics and measurable data, Schultheiss disseminated a mass email to an unspecified number of female historians asking “whether they had ever served as a ghost adviser for the students of a male colleague.” She claims to have received over 100 affirmative responses to this unscientific poll.

Just how many people were on her email list? Were they selected at random? Did she know them personally? Or were they strangers? Did they inhabit different regions, types of schools, and stages in their career? Did she employ statistical models? Why did she write to historians but no faculty in other disciplines?

Schultheiss alleges an anecdotal pattern: senior male faculty members attract female graduate students to their department only to later ignore them or inadequately respond to their work. Without the male mentor, this narrative runs, the young female graduate student finds a female substitute who performs the role of the absent male. The accusation is that female faculty, by helping female graduate students, enable senior male faculty to gain prestige on the labor of females. Schultheiss suggests that female faculty systemically assist female graduate students while male faculty get credit for the results.

“I certainly don’t mean to essentialize here,” Schultheiss says as if to temper her rhetoric. “Women can be as arrogant, self-regarding, and oblivious as men.” She adds, “We all know women who neglect their graduate students after fighting to add them to their stable of advisees just as we all know senior men who are diligent and conscientious advisers.”

Then why spend most of her article complaining about male advisers? Instead of an angry-seeming op-ed, why not undertake a careful study to determine whether her hunch about male exploitation of female faculty bears out factually?

Without any hard-earned data or empirical methods to control for variables, she concludes:

Every aspect of the ghost-advising cycle is a product of the gendered behavior norms that are ubiquitous in our society generally. All the players in what might be called the family drama of ghost advising are complicit in perpetuating norms of masculine ambition and feminine helpfulness; of masculine genius and feminine drudgery; of masculine self-promotion and feminine self-effacement. We are participating in a system that values and rewards a very particular, masculine-coded model of professional and scholarly success, a model that is perpetuated and strengthened by feminine-coded behaviors such as empathy for a wronged student and a reluctance to appear selfish or ambitious.

Does this sweeping, expansive, unqualified complaint (every aspect, all players) have merit? Is it true that academic women “are expected to play the role of nurturing mother to a struggling student or supportive wife to a brilliant and ambitious male colleague”? (Schultheiss states that “too many academic women are painfully aware that they are expected to play the role of nurturing mother to a struggling student or supportive wife to a brilliant and ambitious male colleague,” but I suspect, in light of context, she means to say that too many women play that role, not that too many women are aware of that role.)

I chose an adviser for my dissertation early in my doctoral studies. I’m male. My adviser was female. Our relationship broke down, necessitating the intervention of the university ombudsperson and administration. In my opinion, my youngish adviser abused her power due to hostility toward my political beliefs. I have plenty of evidence to back up this view but have pledged confidentiality regarding the conflict that transpired between us. She was my adviser for almost three years and I made no progress towards my dissertation (although the entire manuscript had been drafted) under her direction. When the university aided me in replacing my adviser with a new one, a senior male faculty member, my dissertation was finished less than a year later.

Schultheiss may be correct about systemic gender bias and male-dominated mentorship dynamics. We don’t know for sure, in part because she didn’t do the requisite research before sounding off. Her charged rhetoric about how the system is “deeply rooted in gendered professional norms” is unnecessarily divisive and provocative because she has not attempted to gather numbers to verify her broad charges. She therefore comes across as hostile to men and unwilling to consider the viewpoint of male colleagues, many of whom likely could have corroborated her argument about “power structures” or at least provided her with different perspectives to consider.

The fact that she emailed no males for her polling opens her up to the accusation, or impression, that she has a chip on her shoulder, an axe to grind, that she doesn’t believe figures are needed to substantiate her indictment of the adviser system that purportedly enables heedless, powerful males to exploit young females. Had she asked around, perhaps approached some males about their experiences, she might have heard stories like mine. Learning that a prominent historian was seeking information about bad advisers, young males like me might have reached out to her to share their experiences and thereby diversify her samplings. Of course, those stories might have threatened to undermine the narrative she wanted to tell.

The role of the academic is, among other things, to contribute to the sum of knowledge, to advance scholarly conversations, to teach and employ reliable methods for deepening our understanding of a subject. This cannot be accomplished if one does not address pressing issues civilly and constructively through good-faith dialogue, if one seeks to inflame passions rather than ascertain facts and cultivate trust.

Scholars search for viable answers to concrete problems, or should. Schultheiss’s piece presupposes a problem without offering much in the way of a resolution. With its rousing language, mocking labels for male figures, and strong allegations of systemic impropriety, it may appeal to those already in-the-fold, or those bent on stirring up quick action, but it will alienate those who value civility, collegiality, and moderation. It may even complicate the problem, driving apart with its contentious tone those who are open to practical solutions.

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Outposts of Culture: Gerald Russello Reviews Jason Harding’s The Criterion

In Academia, Arts & Letters, Book Reviews, Books, Britain, British Literature, Communication, Essays, History, Humanities, Literary Theory & Criticism, Literature, Scholarship, Writing on April 2, 2014 at 8:45 am
Gerald Russello
 
Gerald Russello practices law in New York and edits The University Bookman. He is the author of The Postmodern Imagination of Russell Kirk (University of Missouri Press, 2007).  His articles, essays, and reviews have appeared in The National Review, The New CriterionCrisis Magazine, The American Conservative, Chronicles, The Imaginative Conservative, The American Spectator, City Journal, The Intercollegiate Review, Modern Age, First Things, and many other publications.
 
This review originally appeared here in The University Bookman in 2003.  It is republished here with the express permission of The University Bookman.  The book under review is Jason Harding’s The Criterion: Cultural Politics and Periodical Networks in Inter-War Britain (New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002).

 

In the final issue of the Criterion, which appeared in January 1939, T. S. Eliot wrote that “continuity of culture” was the primary responsibility of “the small and obscure papers and reviews.” It was they that would “keep critical thought alive” amidst troubled times. And so it has been, for a century and more. The vitality of the “little magazines” is one of the strongest indicators of a culture’s intellectual level. These journals, typically of small circulation and little revenue, serve a crucial function as the medium for the transmission of ideas among scholars, elites, and the larger population. it is perhaps a sign of our times that so many of our Masters of the Universe choose to endow business schools or fund independent films rather than to support the written word. Many of the journals themselves, unfortunately, have become so obscure and inward-minded that they may no longer be worth the trouble.

The British aptitude for starting small associations of like-minded folk was well expressed by the profusion of little magazines, especially in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This proclivity was to bear further fruit across the Atlantic, where Americans followed the British model. Up until the Second World War, America had a thriving culture of little magazines that tradition survives, in a somewhat anemic form, in the independent so-called “zines” that clutter the bookshops of progressive enclaves like Manhattan or Berkeley. There have been two recent examples of the differing fates of such journals here in the United States. Lingua Franca was an energetic journal devoted to academic life, which it chronicled in a sharp, intelligent style. After less than four years of publication it went bankrupt and ceased publication, only to be partially revived in an Internet incarnation after being acquired by the Chronicle of Higher Education. On the other end of the scale is Poetry, which recently received a gift of $100 million from a philanthropist whose own poems it had rejected. The gift instantly made the small journal one of the best-endowed cultural institutions in the country.

The Criterion was perhaps the most important of the journals of the last century. The first issue, which appeared in October 1922 and contained (without epigraph or notes) Eliot’s poem The Waste Land, changed Western intellectual life, and it continues to define what an intellectual journal should be. However, study of the Criterion has been subsumed by the focus on Eliot’s development as a poet and thinker. The larger cultural importance of the journal has received insufficient attention. That has now changed. From such an improbable place as the department of foreign languages and literature in Feng Chia University in Taiwan, where Jason Harding is assistant director, comes The Criterion: Cultural Politics and Periodical Networks in Inter-War Britain. It is a work of polished scholarship on the role of the Criterion in British intellectual life.

Harding divides his analysis into three parts. Part I, “Cultural Networks,” deals with the Criterion as one of a number of small intellectual periodicals, such as the Adelphi and New Verse, which appeared in this period. The second section, titled “The Politics of Book Reviewing,” focuses on a number of regular Criterion contributors, and their relationship with, and treatment by, Eliot as their editor. The chapters include studies of almost forgotten figures like Bonamy Dobrée and Montgomery Belgion as well as more well-known figures such as John Maynard Keynes and the difficult but brilliant Ezra Pound. Harding shows that, while Eliot directed and organized every aspect of the journal, each of the contributors played their own part in establishing the Criterion’s preeminent position.

The final section, “Cultural Politics,” focuses on the purpose of the Criterion as Eliot came to see it in the dark days of the 1930s. As the influence of the journal increased, it became known not only as a showcase of modernism but also as a conduit for what Eliot called “the mind of all Europe” and a defense of the West. The author discusses Eliot’s attempts to persuade major Continental intellectual figures such as Ernst Robert Curtius to contribute to the journal, and his efforts consistently to review foreign periodicals for his British readership.

Harding presents a complex cultural picture in service of his goal of establishing the Criterion as part of “an ongoing cultural conversation, most immediately a dialogue with a shifting set of interlocking periodical structures and networks.” Eliot, as an editor, had to deal not only with his rival journals, but also with his sensitive patron, Lady Rothermere. There were also those occasionally truculent contributors, such as Wyndham Lewis or D. H. Lawrence, who sometimes abandoned the Criterion for other, better-paying reviews.

Among a number of fascinating episodes, Harding recounts here the controversy over classicism and romanticism between Eliot and John Middleton Murry, founder of the Adelphi. Murry launched the first salvo in 1923, claiming that there was no tradition of classicism in England. Although not the subject of the attack, Eliot felt obliged to respond and published in the Criterion the following month his famous defense of classicism, “The Function of Criticism.” Murry and Eliot were to have a limited rematch at the end of the decade over the humanism of Irving Babbitt. Other scholars have examined the substantive merits of their respective positions. Harding’s purpose is rather to show that the literary rivalries among serious journals spurred Eliot, as a writer and editor, to set out his critical and literary vision. They necessarily shaped the kind of journal Eliot was creating.

In his final sections, Harding examines the evidence for Eliot’s supposed anti-Semitic or fascist sympathies and finds them wanting. Under Eliot’s editorship, several writers documented the rise of Nazism in Germany, and the final issue contained a condemnation of Nazi racial theories. Harding concludes that: “Given the Criterion’s record on these matters, it is remarkable that recent critics have stigmatized the journal by suggesting that Eliot was sympathetic to the aims and methods of Nazism.” Harding realizes that Eliot’s conversion to Anglicanism and his efforts to “stitch together into some kind of unity the Latin-Christian elements of the otherwise diverse cultures of Western Europe” meant his rejection of the Nazi regime. And even though Eliot was somewhat sympathetic to fascism, that sympathy, as Harding demonstrates, was attenuated and did not cause him to suppress other viewpoints in the Criterion.

Drawing on a wealth of previously unexamined materials and private collections, Harding expands upon our knowledge of Eliot as a major twentieth-century figure. His careful research adds a new dimension not only to Eliot as a thinker and editor, but also to the entire period of British literary journalism.

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