Think, Know, Prove–Ad Hominem Discomfort

The Ad Hominem fallacy is well defined as occurring when debaters introduce “irrelevant personal premisses about [their] opponent. Such red herrings may successfully distract the opponent or the audience from the topic of the debate.” While I am not displeased by the media attention on the activities of our district administration, I’ve grown steadily more discomfited by the easy slips into fallacious argument, usually personal attack, that it has fostered.

A read-through of the comments that follow the CBS-2 story is enough to trouble anyone not indifferent to the boundaries of reasonable argumentation. Toss in some additional suggestions of contemporary social theory (ideas like the possibility that complaints about subject-verb agreement and misspoken words are really overt markers of social punishments for class and/or race transgression  (the odious underlying assumption being something like the easily-disproved-yet-difficult-to-dislodge-completely belief that the use of “standard English grammar is a sign of intelligence and the absence of the former is a signal of the absence of the latter)) and a semi-hysterical furor and we’ve got the makings of what one sober commenter called something that feels increasingly like a witch hunt.

As with historical witch hunts, the portrayals of those involved are demonizing, hyperbolic, and paranoid, and the effect is often spread around, poisoning the entire environment. An example of this would be the criticisms (present in the CBS comment threads and both of the recent anonymous blogs) of our new President on the basis of his previous employer, previous boss, spouses’ job, and more.

Before I started teaching as an adjunct, my professional experience consisted of working in a Marketing department, where my most impactful job was probably proofreading the first bus and last bus times times on the system map of the CTA; I only had that job in the first place (hello…philosophy major) thanks to the efforts of my chinaman (as in the Royko usage; or as here, third definition intended, definitely NOT the first), a regular from the bar I was working in while in grad school who, truth be told, probably did more work for the 11th Ward than he did for the CTA. Speaking of previous employment, at the time I was hired to teach full time, my primary source of income was still slinging whiskey in a bar on Division Street. When I got out of college, my first job was testing the air quality of and managing asbestos abatement projects. My boss at that company is now serving time in the Federal Penitentiary in Michigan.

What does any of that have to do with my ability to do those jobs and do them well? Nothing.

What does any of the above have to do with the “criticisms” aimed at either our Chancellor or new President? Well, at the risk of appearing to be a bit of a suck up, I’d say that their situation is similar. I am sure that we could all name ten academics whom we’d NEVER want to be Chancellor or President, right off the top of our heads and immediately. I’m equally sure that, if we looked, we could find ten educational leaders who were impressive in their effectiveness without previous experience as academics. In the comments of the CBS stories and in the blogs , the Chancellor has been criticized for being mean, scared, unpolished, and unprofessional while masterminding (or at least facilitating for some nefarious lever pulling cabal of greedy executives) the secret corporate takeover in plain sight of a huge institution.

Do you see the tensions there?

She is criticized consistently for a personal bankruptcy. Harold Washington, the man after whom our college is named, served 36 days in the county lock up for an income tax problem. Which is worse? If the first one is grounds for suggesting that Cheryl Hyman shouldn’t be Chancellor then the latter would suggest that, if he were alive, HW wouldn’t qualify to be the President of the College that is named after him, much less the Chancellor of the system.

She has certainly made some terrible decisions along the way–I truly can’t believe that she didn’t go around to all of the campuses to meet the faculty, set up and then canceled all of the meetings with local faculty councils over the summer, including the district wide faculty/administration retreat, all of which meant that the first interactions most faculty had with her was at the DWFDW fiasco (another terrible decision); no doubt, there have been some doozies, but a lot of the criticism I’ve seen seems rooted in deep personal dislike, and criticism rooted in “taste” is always deserving of suspicion. I have grown to appreciate many people whom I did not personally like.

(Related, mildly digressive, possibly offensive story (please skip to the next paragraph if you have delicate sensibilities): I once had a boss who liked to say, on his happy days, “Well, you’ll never have a meaner boss than me,” as a kind of consolation and half apology for his other days. My first week on the job, he called me out, screaming in front of the staff and customers, “Richardson! You ASSHOLE! What the fuck are you DOING with that? If you screw as slow as you work, you’d be the best piece of ass in Chicago!!” It went downhill from there. Ten minutes later, a bit shaken up, one of my colleagues sidled up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. Asshole is a term of endearment for him. If he calls you a motherfucker, though, that means you’re fired.” He fired me twice. He was probably the best boss I’ve ever had in the sense of the one from whom I learned the most.)

With respect to our new President and his previous (and ongoing) associations with CCA and the rest, I would urge everyone reading this to remember that while he was “found” and vetted by an expensive national search executive consultant, he was ALSO interviewed and recommended by a committee that included the current FC4 President (Ellen), the current local FC President (Rosie), at least two highly respected and fabulous faculty members (Marite Fregoso and Brian Nix), an adjunct (Floyd Bednarz, also President of CCCLOC), a member of 1708, and at least one student.

I had a 90 minute conversation with him myself and came out of it thinking that if it had been an interview, he’d have gotten a “highly recommended” rating from me. I was very impressed with his approach and his assumptions about what he needed to do; I was also both pleased and impressed by his sense of purpose, his motivation, his description of how his previous experiences will translate into our environment (all covered in his letter), and his candor. He seems like a person who is grounded in moral commitments and principles that are consistent with our mission, and one who takes an approach that is best described as academic–thoughtful inquiry grounded in prior knowledge aimed at testing and reformulating hypotheses, pursued out of enthusiasm for the subject matter–even if he is not himself marked by that particular label (yet).

And yes, I know that actions will speak louder than words, and consultants are trained to be good listeners and leave the people they’re about to disembowel smiling and looking forward to it and blah, blah, blah. Still, I do not think I am particularly naive (or, at least, I am not often accused of that unexpectedly). I also do not think that people who work in Corporate America are inherently evil. The best advice I got as a chair came from a guy who did financial services consulting (and I got plenty of bad advice from academics, come to think of it).

I think I am somewhat unusually willing to live in a state of suspended judgment–in an extended state of, “Well let’s see what happens.” I suggest that is, at the least, the proper attitude to have toward our new President, if not to be downright optimistic on the basis of how he’s approaching the job. The same ought to be said about the Reinvention recommendations. Let’s see what they are, rather than engage in poisoning of the well. That is after all, what academics do (or should, anyway), and where we see anything else–from peers, from students, from reporters, etc., we ought to oppose it.

It is not my suggestion that all of the criticisms regarding the Chancellor, the President, and Reinvention are fallacious, but it did start to feel a little hysterical this week, and as things ramp up in the lead up to the next board meeting and the release of the task force recommendations, I think it is important to have a little discussion about the rules of engagement and the standards of reasoning we are going to employ and allow. I know that there are some who will say that it is folly to declare any tools of rhetoric or persuasion as off limits, if not downright derelict given the motivations of the “opposition” and potential impact of their actions. (I knew a guy, once upon a time, who thought it an important matter of principle to announce the following to anyone with whom he was in conflict: “Sir, should this situation come to blows, you should know that the Marquess of Queensbury rules will not apply.” A mutual friend of ours spent many hours on one slow Sunday night trying to persuade the guy that to announce such a thing was to fritter away an important advantage, and if he was going to fight “dirty” anyway, there was no need to announce it. No one was persuaded, and it did not come to blows.). I understand that position, but I am unconvinced.

We may be tempted at times to take the kitchen sink approach (more is better–throw it all) and watch in silent approval while someone uses a bad argument to make a point because we happen to agree with the conclusion being asserted. There might even be temptation to endorse the speaker, despite knowing that the argument given was a dubious one, because of our belief that the situation is dire. To do so, though, is to engage in bad faith. Such actions lessen the strength and impact of the good arguments we may have in our pockets, and so ultimately undermine the cause we’re trying to support, if not right away then in retrospect.

So, the question is, how are we going to do this in a way that is both reasonable and responsible? Or should we even worry about standards of reasonability and responsibility?

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

15 thoughts on “Think, Know, Prove–Ad Hominem Discomfort

  1. Wow, this is a lot to process in one reading!
    I appreciate the clarity. I’m not sure how to respond. I guess I’ll start in the middle and throw out my premature thoughts in both directions (and in no particular order):

    I agree on some points and wonder about others.

    I understand that we need to be rational creatures, not emotional beings during this reinvention cycle. However it does become difficult to not get angry or upset when words from CCC do not directly correspond to actions.
    As a recent post from a senior faculty member stated, The Lounge has provided us with a safe place to vent. I hope we can all distinguish between the emotional venting and the rational ideas presented. I believe that to be one of the underlying ideas you wish to convey PhiloDave. (As always, correct me if I am wrong.)

    I’m against witch hunts. However, isn’t this how reinvention began? We (the faculty and students) were perceived as not being capable of doing what we were suppose to do (by the new CCC administration during DWFDW), right? A declaration of change from the top down was enforced. Faculty had very litte, if any, time to clear our names. Not that we had to, but in this witch hunt we were more or less declared guilty and little choice was left but to holler innocent as the fires were being lit (CCC is still bringing in the dry wood).

    To say that the new Chancellor does not deserve criticism is difficult to accept. I believe we need to be critical. I believe we should not criticize. Big difference.
    She was appointed to this position by the mayor. Unlike Harold Washington who was voted to his position by the citizens of the city. BIG, BIG difference. The citizens had time to be critical and criticize Harold before he took office. When did we have an opportunity to get to know (or decide on) our incoming chancellor? We didn’t. Therefore I believe we the faculty should be given the opportunity to do so now given these circumstances. I am sorry that it has to happen AFTER her appointment. Shame, shame on the system that does not permit us to vote for our leader.
    Harold did his crime and did his time. I don’t know if we can even compare the two. So, yes, that point about bankruptcy may not matter. However, imagine yourself in a classroom with a teacher who teaches ethics and in her/his past they did something that was deemed illegal or wrong. In either case there is a learning opportunity; learning to be ethical or not. The students will learn both if the teacher is truthful about her/his past. Perhaps this is what we want from the chancellor. Truth builds trust. Lack of truth, or silence in the case of our chancellor, could lead to lack of trust, or as you’ve stated PhiloDave, tension.

    Let me preface my next set of words with the following:
    I’m not saying we should fight fire with fire or that one bad move on administration should allow faculty to make one bad move too. No. I don’t subscribe to the ‘you say bad words about me therefore that gives me the right to say bad words about you’ mentality.
    Now, let me proceed.
    “I have grown to appreciate many people whom I did not personally like.” Same here boss. However, our position as faculty and NOT administrators does not afford us the opportunity to drop f-bombs on our students or on those who administrate us. We are held to high standards, otherwise we are shown the door during our non-tenured period (after that it becomes a union issue and that’s another can of worms). Why shouldn’t our administrators be held to the same high standards? Why shouldn’t we all police/patrol/monitor ourselves as equals, serving the educational needs of our students?
    Are we not entitled to tell our bosses to f-off? Would our language be offensive or would we be seen as being insubordinate? This to me smells like an abuse of power and control by those who have it. We, the faculty do not have that power and administration is not ready to share it. Perhaps we are simply trying to leverage that power. Personally, I could do without these power struggles and ideally would appreciate shared governance.

    You’ve have the privilege of speaking with our new president. I believe we would all benefit from having that same privilege. Some faculty members may want it, others may decline. In either case the CHOICE of speaking one-on-one with any, and all, administrators would go a long way towards eliminating friction, tension, and misunderstanding. We do not live in a perfect world and I know that time is not on our side (time is money, right? and we are making cuts, so there you have it) but I believe those who are in charge should see the benefit of open and truthful communication on some level (between personal and mass) to the faculty, staff, and students of CCC.
    I applaud our new president for his letter (and for participating in the Braggin’ Rights Competition). It’s a start and yes, I’ll build on that even if I don’t have an opportunity to shake his hand and say hello. I’ll let his actions be his words.

    Ah, to engage in bad faith. All was going as well as could be expected up until DWFDW. Then the blast heard round the district was heard. First by the Chancellor, then by Chico, then by Henderson. Where was the faith in our system then? Where is the faith in our system now?
    If these folks know they are going to ruffle feathers, wouldn’t they bring the message with the spirit of good faith first (as in “I’m you’re new chancellor and I know how hard y’all work, so check this out – I want to help you move these student out of remediation and into some of those honors courses you offer, whadaya say?”)?
    If they didn’t know what was going to happen, wouldn’t they have taken a straw poll first?
    Either way, bad call. I’m willin’ to forgive and forget; and I’m tryin’ to focus on the words (far and few between) along with the actions (near and many between). My problem is that I see a conflict between what is being said and what is being done. IMHO, the pace at which District is moving is not in good faith. If anything it shows a lack of trust in EVERYONE below them.

    Sorry PhiloDave, these are some quick, sloppy, initial thoughts.
    As always, never personal. I truly appreciate you bringing this issue to light. It makes me pause and reflect on what I need to do to improve the situation.
    I believe the fix is shared governance. We, the faculty need to be heard in direct proportion to our numbers.
    I don’t really know what task forces are doing and as more actions are taken by CCC that misrepresent the spirit of reinvention, I find it difficult to prognosticate that the outlook looks good for faculty, staff, and students.

    BTW, the elephant in this room, and in this state, is money. That’s what this is all about. Remediation is about cutting costs, not assisting students. IF CCC cared about students, they’d spend time with CPS trying to assist with the transition; not hiring administrators. If CCC cared about faculty, there would be more communication. The reinvention blog would allow comments. I’ve contacted reinvention via Twitter and still NO fix on the problem. I thought they wanted to hear from us? Is this the definition of good faith/communication/care?

    I’m tryin’ to be rational with a balance of emotion. If I’ve erred, correct me. I want to learn, not reinvent. Do not let the lack of organized thoughts on my part cloud your exemplary ability to distinguish logic from fallacy. I’m with you and all those who care about our students and institution.
    Signed,
    διδάσκουν μου φιλόσοφος

    • Ah, Realist…I love that we can always count on you for a perspective on the thorniest and most difficult of issues. Your generosity in sharing and your courage in offering up what you’ve got are truly inspiring, even if, like the Lone Ranger, you do it behind a mask of sorts. My own thoughts are just as protean and developing as you say yours are, so I hope you’ll be as patient and generous with my response as you were with the original posting. I’m definitely grateful for the chance to try to work out what I think about all of this with a thoughtful and generous reader like you.

      ~”it does become difficult to not get angry or upset when words from CCC do not directly correspond to actions”–I absolutely agree. It is difficult to not get angry. On this one, I think with Aristotle: “Anyone can get angry–that is easy–or give or spend money; but to do this to the right person, to the right extent, at the right time, with the right motive, and in the right way, that is not for everyone, nor is it easy; wherefore goodness is both rare and laudable and noble.”

      ~”I’m against witch hunts. However, isn’t this how reinvention began?” Again, I think you’re right, but as you say a few paragraphs down, that does not justify us conducting our own. If it was wrong when they did it, it’s wrong when we do it, and we don’t make that point well by mirroring what we decry, just as you say.

      ~”To say that the new Chancellor does not deserve criticism is difficult to accept” Agreed, and I didn’t mean to imply that either the Chancellor or our new President should get a pass from criticism. I just meant that we should be criticizing them (constructively) for the (relevant) things they do in their jobs, not the things they are or have been. Complaints about the credentials of the Chancellor are complaints to aim at the Mayor (and, like I said, quite possibly not very persuasive complaints). Complaints about the Presidential process are complaints that should be aimed toward the board and the Chancellor, but if they are uninformed complaints—as is the suggestion that faculty and students had no say in the hiring of our new President (they undermine the credibility of all of us any future, more informed complaints).

      And, I guess, I was trying to say something like, skepticism is not well expressed as certainty. Individuals may have their doubts about a non-academic running a college; they may even have some fears. Those doubts and fears should not be expressed as certainties and facts because they aren’t. Skepticism can be addressed; zealotry cannot.

      I would agree that the Chancellor has consistently blown these opportunities, and I’d agree that is telling. Still, the worst sort of manager can still have a good idea. To take it back to our own experience, that’s why we don’t fail students at the Mid-term, right? But think about a student who is struggling—genuinely trying to get it right (and I hear all the time from people, admins and faculty alike, something like, “I think her heart is in the right place; she wants to do good things for students”), who is finding that the things she is trying are not working out the way she hoped, and on top of that experience comes a barrage of withering and personal criticism. What would you expect from that student? I would expect her to go into a defensive crouch—to dig in and fight. I would not expect that person to respond with an expansive, imaginative possibilities, nor thoughtful analysis of what s/he has done up to that point. So my point I meant to make was not so much that the Chancellor doesn’t deserve any criticism, but rather that we should be mindful of the way and nature of the criticism we offer (and endorse and allow to go unchallenged) if we want any of it to be heard and effect change. We should have the moral imagination to see what it might be to be her, and work to help her/them have the capability to imagine rightly what it is to teach the students we do.

      ~”Why shouldn’t our administrators be held to the same high standards? Why shouldn’t we all police/patrol/monitor ourselves as equals, serving the educational needs of our students?” I think we should, and I didn’t mean to imply otherwise (though I recognize that I might have). In my head, I was saying something about how people who work in academic environments (maybe because of class, or ego, or personal sensibility, or limited experience, or lots of other possibilities) tend to be pretty thin-skinned and easy to offend. I’d go as far as to say that 60% or more of the criticism I’ve heard about Reinvention, for example, is rooted in some sort of objection to the personal slight implied. It’s natural, and understandable, of course. I have a friend who works as an infection control specialist. She recently switched hospitals and has had a very hard time getting the staff (nurses included) at her new hospital to follow the best practices guidelines. Their response has been something like, “Don’t you see how hard we’re working? Who are you to come in here and tell us how to do things when you’ve never done them here? This is the way that we do things and the way we’ve always done them, and you should stop wasting our time with these training sessions and let us get back to doing our jobs.” And then a baby died, and the cause was 100% completely preventable, had the staff followed the guidelines my friend was trying to establish.

      Now there are relevant differences. My friend didn’t hold a press conference and then start meeting with business groups around the city to flaunt the infection statistics of her hospital, etc., but the root point is similar, I think. That staff allowed their egos to cloud their vision of what they were supposed to be doing. I don’t want us to do that, I guess, is all I meant to say. Focusing on things like “She yells at people” or curses or whatever (does she curse? I kind of hope so—I like bosses who curse. Makes them fun to imitate, and makes for good stories, too.) in an environment of urgency is (I think) nitpicking. With that said, though, I agree, Realist—I do not endorse an environment where people are yelling at each other and on edge and hostile. That’s not good. We should hold ourselves to high standards, and expect others to behave professionally. That’s my official line. Unofficially, I like characters. I like variety. And sometimes having a hot head at the table is a hoot, not to mention good for everyone. If everyone knows it and expects it, such events can even be endearing (think Ivan at a union meeting or Art at a learning outcomes seminar—you know it’s coming and maybe you even look forward a little to it; not that either of those guys are yelling or cursing or any of that, but if they did, it wouldn’t bother me. Even if it was aimed at me. I’ve heard worse, and I know what they’re about.)

      Finally, one last point on this that I wanted to make is that communication style is deeply enculturated, and so a phrase like “highest standards” can be somewhat loaded. The standards for “appropriate communication” can differ widely with class and culture. The highest standard for a Huron tribesperson would look very different than that of an Ancient Roman (just as New Yorkers interact with others in ways that would shock and horrify the average person on the streets of Portland (Oregon or Maine). What passes for “normal conversation” at the Board of Trade or in the kitchen of a high end restaurant might curl the toes of someone who works at a bank. Culture and class are in play here (potentially). And so, maybe sometimes the right response to someone yelling and cursing at you is to yell and curse right back (with the Aristotle caveat still in mind, of course). When in Rome, etc.

      “You’ve have the privilege of speaking with our new president. I believe we would all benefit from having that same privilege.” I agree. I think he does, too. I think he’s working on it.

      “My problem is that I see a conflict between what is being said and what is being done. IMHO, the pace at which District is moving is not in good faith. If anything it shows a lack of trust in EVERYONE below them.” Agreed, and they are rightly deserving of criticism for these things.

      And in regard to the entire closing section, I’d say that you’ve done us all a service, Realist, in giving us lots to think about. My own thinking on this was affected pretty deeply by a speech that I showed my classes last week by bell hooks on “Resistance to Domination” in which she says that engaging in “the politics of blame” does more to entrench Dominator culture than undermine it and misdirects our energies in ways that make sure the same problems arise again and again. I’ll post the video again, later, because it made me think a lot about our situation and what we should (and should not) be doing.

      More than anything, though, I guess I wanted to encourage everyone to approach this situation using all the tools of our profession and the same goals, and that starts with recognizing that the other with whom we interact is a person, like us, with all of our flaws and talents, potential and emotional vulnerabilities, which is a point that seemed to be getting lost in the fury and reason to step back from the fray for a moment.

      I think our aim should be to educate and to treat this as a teachable moment. We cannot teach defensively, we cannot teach if the audience is our enemy, and we should not expect her/them to learn anything if our feedback comes in the form of personal insult, even if we are responding to the same.

      I think you exemplify the spirit and reflectivity that I’m suggesting here, Realist. “I’m with you and all those who care about our students and institution.” Couldn’t agree with you more, Realist. Glad to be on your team.

    • Thanks for being there for me (read, us), Realist. It take a lot of words for PhiloDave to be nice, safe, and act as if nothing too serious is actually going on here. Subsequently, it take a lot of words to be nice, at risk, and to ask PhiloDave whether he knows what’s going on.

      Marvin Gaye

      • Marvin makes my point much more effectively:

        “You know we’ve got to find a way
        To bring some lovin’ here today…

        “Father, father,
        We don’t need to escalate
        You see, war is not the answer
        For only love can conquer hate
        You know we’ve got to find a way
        To bring some lovin’ here today”

        That’s what you meant, right?

        (PS: Another point apparently not made very well in my original post–it is exactly BECAUSE the stakes are high that we should be mindful of choosing the most effective approach and not engage in fallacy, calumny, and petty insult.)

      • Huh? Marvin, what the hell is going on then? How is Realist “there” (here?) for you? Dave, do you know what is going on? Realist, is it okay for me to discredit Marvin’s entire comment for stating “it take” instead of “it takes”? I really think that implying Dave is ignorant of the issues at hand is exactly the type of argument he mentioned above as being fallacious, Marvin…

        “Politics and hypocrites
        Is turning us all into lunatics
        Can you take the guns from our sons?
        Right all the wrongs this administration has done?
        Peace and freedom is the issue
        Do you have a plan wager?
        If you’ve got a plan
        If you’ve got a master plan
        Got to vote for you”

        Marvin Gaye

        • Hey Heirapparent, no sweat. Like I’ve stated before, I gots nothin’ but love for all the peeps at the college.
          I don’t think MG is implying ignorance. Perhaps MG is implying that it may be difficult to ask questions and not sound disrespectful towards PhiloDave, that’s all. At least that’s how I’ll interpret the matter.

          BTW, I’ve enjoyed reading your posts. Keep ’em comin’.

          • I was not calling anyone out, just perturbed that this running conversation (here, there, anywhere) keeps coming back to people commenting what they think and challenging others on what they know without proving a damn thing.

      • PhiloDave knows what’s going on, but if you think he doesn’t, feel free to ask. “He’s cool like dat.”
        (See my response below)

        Thank you Marvin Gaye. I ask to be informed and if I do so on behalf of others by coincidence, then so be it. Think of me as that student who raises a hand to ask the question that is on the mind of half the class.

  2. Thanks PhiloDave. I was shooting from the hip and although my blogging skills are still developing you were able to read between the lines, past the outrage, and straight to the heart of the matter. I appreciate your clarification and reinforcement of the issues.

    I agree on ALL your replies. Thank you for being an attentive and understanding reader of my words.

    You’ve got some great one-liners in there boss. I may borrow a few in the future.
    You use the teacher-student relationship well, you modern day Aesop. Points well taken. That’s not to say I’m done processing or done asking questions. Keep the posts coming.

    To all of the readers:
    At no point in my posts do I ever question PhiloDave directly (as in attack of his character or color of his ties) or ever assume that he is not aware of the issues at hand. On the contrary, PhiloDave has a good pulse on our college/district issues. He’s taught me to be critical of all matters regardless of who says what.
    If I know the academic PhiloDave well, then I know he appreciates an understanding of the argument/post followed by questions and rebuttals to the argument/post (so long as the inquiry leads to positive outcomes). This guy is as thick-skinned as they come. Bring on the discussion. We’ll all benefit from a good dose of faculty development on The Lounge.

    • [I’m still new to this blog (when did it start again?) but it does feel like a safe zone. Therefore, may I play the devil just a bit?]

      ON STANDARD ENGLISH GRAMMAR
      If our new president’s letter of introduction displayed a shaky command of Standard English grammar, would I be troubled to the core?

      I understand that Standard English can be used to marginalize individuals and groups (read the preface to S. Johnson’s dictionary). I understand that “communication style is highly enculturated.” However, a command of Standard English grammar and a particular communication style are separate issues, even though both are embedded in cultural practices and we always do well to remember that “meaning is contingent” and so on.

      A command of Standard English grammar creates good ethos for a person who seeks to lead an educational institution. The lack of such a command is symptomatic of something – it’s evidence of something – and it might be grounds for not hiring a president, a Chancellor, or a teacher. Without question, some of the shrill accusations directed at the Chancellor and new president demonstrate how sometimes we can step back and learn more about the accuser than the accused. We’re teachers, as PhiloDave reminds us. (Kudos, sir!) This is a teaching moment.

      How do we teachers diagnose this symptom? Our new Chancellor is a CCC graduate who has returned to lead us. Is this social justice? (BTW: Has anyone ever gotten back to the article “Does African-American Literature Exist?” It’s very relevant here.)

      ON COMMUNICATION STYLE
      “Communication style is highly enculturated.” Why does this need saying? After all, we’re teachers with advanced degrees (and not a “bachelorette” degree as one commentator would remind us).

      Or is this another elephantine symptom?

      Years ago when I was deliberating about whether or not to enroll in graduate school, a friend of mine warned me that people with advanced degrees often lack social skills, live in their books and prefer working with ideas (as opposed to working with people or with their hands). I enrolled anyway. (Sigh.)

      PhiloDave writes “In my head, I was saying something about how people who work in academic environments (maybe because of class, or ego, or personal sensibility, or limited experience, or lots of other possibilities) tend to be pretty thin-skinned and easy to offend. I’d go as far as to say that 60% or more of the criticism I’ve heard about Reinvention, for example, is rooted in some sort of objection to the personal slight implied. It’s natural, and understandable, of course.”

      PhiloDave goes on to provide an anecdote about a friend who works in infection control (which really speaks to me) but this is a trope away from a discussion of the academic environment. So, too, is the statement that “it’s natural, and understandable, of course.”
      It’s not “natural.” Can we diagnose the symptom and track the pathology of this – well, this academic pathogen? (BTW: Does this mean movies and television shows like Dead Poets Society, Good Will Hunting, Mad Men, Friends, and Gossip Girl are more real than not? In my experience they’re quite real, but then I guess it depends on the target audience consuming and reproducing pop/dominator culture. I don’t watch these programs.)

      FINALLY!
      Finally people aren’t complaining about something as silly as someone not holding the elevator. People are complaining about REAL damage to reputations and, by extension, damage to communities, careers, and vocations.

      Interestingly, the core assumption here is that instructors with advanced degrees are MOSTLY rational creatures if you just talk to them right. However the talk about “one-on-one conversations” and “good faith/bad faith” and “truthful and open” and “trust” and so on suggests otherwise, especially when the asserted conclusion about how to judge someone remains “I’ll just wait and see” because “actions speak louder than words.” There’s something visceral about that conclusion, don’t you think?

      [The devil exits. I feel thankful to many of you for your actions during the Reinvention.]

      P.S. Well, OK. For some it is about elevators and office politics/office clique/office slop that can go from mere dislike to the real bullying that’s currently on display and that’s cognate with the elephants gestured toward in PhiloDave’s and Realist’s posts. Oh. There’s also the pain of unrequited office sexual attraction.

      • How I love a visit from the Devil…I wanted to leave this alone for awhile and see what kind of conversation developed, but your efforts, Avramakis, dazzle once again, and I cannot help myself. So here goes, or, in the words of Billy Joe Shaver, “The Devil made me do it the first time, the second time I done it on my own.”

        1. February 2010.

        2. On Standard English: Good distinction and point. I like the question at the end, too, but struggle to answer it (and have for years thanks to Lisa Delpit).

        3. On Communication Style: By “natural” I (sloppily) meant something like “predictable;” I think some defensiveness is a predictable response to correction or criticism in most cases. Furthermore, I don’t think it is limited to academic environments, but I do think it has more weight (in the form of engendered resentment) and lasting consequence (in the form of grudges) than in many other environments.

        4. Finally! (Assumption): I understand and think you’re right in regard to my basic assumption–and I’d say you worded it right in the sense that I believe academics are not exclusively rational (like Spock), but reasonable nonetheless most of the time, with significant risk of an emotional short circuit if they feel slighted. Yes, that is the position I generally take.

        5. Finally! (Bad Faith): I meant this in the existential sense of being intellectually honest with oneself and avoiding having a set of private reasons for undertaking some action that differ from one’s public reasons; I didn’t mean it in the sense of being sly, sinful, or deceitful (except in the intellectual sense). I think those are different things. No?

        6. Finally! (Viscerality): I take your point about the squishyness of that last part, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I get, rely on, and put some trust in my feel for other people (at least in the absence of other information), but I try not to trust that hunch longer than I have to or at all in the absence of supporting info or the presence of opposing/refuting info. In other words, I try, to the limits of my awareness, anyway, to revise my judgments according to the latest and widest spread of information that I can access. I guess I just meant that we should work to make judgments on good information rather than find reasons for the emotional responses that are provoked or something like that.

        7. [The devil exits. I feel thankful to many of you for your actions during the Reinvention.]: Hilarious!

        I look forward to your replies to ANYTHING, Avramakis. You do great work.

        • Hi, PhiloDave.

          I’m flattered. I wasn’t expecting to feel anything like that.

          I’m with you on all counts, but allow me some time to think about number five. I’m sure that we can pick up this thread elsewhere.

          • I look forward to it, Avramakis; I’m sure I’ll learn from it.

    • Back at you, Realist. I love the work you do. In regard to the taking of criticism, it is I who am following your example…

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