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[Xmca-l] Re: The imploding university



Hi Wendy and Greg (and others),

Thanks for sharing your comments. The pivotal sentence for me in the article was:

"In fact, he [Chris Patten's Marxist teacher] made me a great deal better informed, more open to discussion of ideas that challenged my own, more capable of distinguishing between an argument and a quarrel, and more prepared to think for myself."

Please highlight in yellow: "capable of distinguishing between an argument and a quarrel."

So in light of your replies, I think that content should not be what is at issue, but the method by which such content is handled in discourse in a free and democratic society. Theoretically, one should be free and able to be a complete bigot or say bigoted things, but at the same time be rigorously challenged for being one or saying such things. The worst meets the best.

Don't get me wrong: In the process of examination, bigoted positions are inevitably seen as untenable and unsustainable, but the part where we (all) learn is how we (all) are able to see that process of examination in action, and in particular scenarios where the content is always changing. 

So... why is it not a good idea to be a bigot in society?

We learn to answer that question best in the university. Every academic and every graduating student should be able to answer such a question. 

I myself do not have the confidence in myself to articulate in a public sphere (of heated debate) why it is not a good idea, but just that I know and feel that it's wrong. But thinking, feeling, or saying "it is wrong!" is not good enough (to me anyway). I should be able to fully explain my argument in a given scenario and do it with a cool head. (Can you?) I should be able to confront sexist or racist or elitist behavior with equanimity, because doing so is my small contribution (and perhaps one might say duty) to maintaining a democratic society (or planet?), as a(n earth) citizen.

To be that kind of citizen, there requires scaffolding between feeling/knowing it is wrong (and even not feeling/ not knowing it is wrong) and explaining (why it is wrong). To do this, I require the space to play on that scaffolding, with lots of padding so that if I fall, I can get back up and climb that scaffold until it becomes facile for me. I become an acrobat of debate. 

Imagine a society full of such acrobats, but where no one gets hurt, and everyone is in appreciation of acrobatic endeavors, spotting others and challenging ourselves to do new moves. 

This is where the university is failing us because we have fewer safe arena to debate the merits (and not just for the students), yet there is plenty of quarreling and pettiness over turf, which in my view has (at its root) more to do with insecurities and discomforts with acts of debating, and thus any discussion can easily turn into a fit of intolerance and attempt to muffle others, or should I say Others? 

(White privilege can be an Other, too, because the definition of an Other is: "Anyone not like me is an Other", right?)

To be fair, if no academic feels safe to "say it like it is" and debate the merits, then how can students see that in action? It means that insecurities to debate come not from being intolerant oneself, but knowing/feeling one is economically dependent upon an intolerant environment, and that just feeds on itself into a circle of vice.

It becomes a Game of Gotcha or of Musical Chairs. 

What happens when there is only one breed of an academic who says only what is safe to say? What happens to the gene pool?

Just my 2¢ of duty, for what it's worth!

Kind regards,

Annalisa