Trigger Warnings, Barriers, and the Purpose of the Classroom

This is a guest post by Patrick Thaddeus JacksonProfessor and Associate Dean for Curriculum and Learning at American University School of International Service. 

If the University of Chicago intended to provoke wide-ranging discussion and debate by sending a letter to all of its new students denouncing “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” it has certainly succeeded. Of course, this being the Internet, most of the ensuing chatter has been of the slash-and-burn variety, with slogans flying fast and furious: academic freedom! Inclusion! Diversity! Coddled millennials and their helicopter boomer parents! I’m not going to dignify any of the click-bait-y things posted this week in that vein by linking to them. Instead I want to claim that this is a more complex issue than either of the quick partisan responses would suggest, and offer a reframing of the issue in terms of the very point of a classroom in the first place—something that seems, as usual, to get lost amidst the elegant yelling of the dispute.

In order to actually say something intelligent about this issue, we have to get past both the caricatured “freedom of speech” position in which any limit whatsoever on anyone saying anything is taken to be a violation of some natural law, and the equally caricatured “emotional sensitivity” position in which any feeling of discomfort is automatically converted into a violation of basic human dignity. These are caricatures, held—as far as I can tell—by pundits rather than by actual thoughtful educators, because actual educators (teachers and those who support them administratively, which I phrase very carefully so as to exclude those parts of the contemporary university that aren’t concerned with supporting teaching…you know who you are) recognize that producing spaces of learning is hard work involving the ongoing exercise of practical judgment instead of any kind of cheap, ideological sloganeering. One size certainly doesn’t fit all here, and your mileage will definitely vary.

That said: If we want our students to learn things, we have to be attentive to where they start out, where we want them to go, and what we want them to encounter on the way. No actual educator would deny any of that. So where does that leave us?

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The burden of insecurity: Using theories of International Relations to make-sense of the state of post-9/11 politics

This is a guest post by Runa Das, Associate Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Minnesota, Duluth.

The globalizing world of post-9/11 international politics unfortunately continues to be rocked by terrorist attacks impacting states and their civilians at a global level. Beginning with September 2001 (9/11) attacks on the United States, these unfortunate chains of events have (amongst many others) occurred in Europe (Madrid, 2004; London, 2005; Paris, 2015); Asia (Mumbai, 2008; Bali, 2002; Jakarta, 2005); Africa (Kenya, 2013; Tunisia, 2015); once again in the United States (Boston, 2013; San Bernardino, 2015); and, recently in Brussels (March 2016) followed by those in Pakistan (Lahore).

How do we as academics and researchers working at the theoretical intersections of the fields of International Relations and Security – who in various ways seek to engage with students, state leaders, policy practitioners, and, the broader intellectual community to bring about a world of peace and security –  make sense of (and deal with) these unfortunate incidents of terrorist occurrences that incur direct devastating consequences on states and citizens who remain victims of these occurrences? Also, at a more complex level, how does one make sense of the inter-connected issues of religion, culture, and identity of certain individuals, groups, and communities who may unfortunately become subject to implicit or explicit forms of profiling or stereo-typing as a result of these repeated terrorist occurrences? In sum, how do we as members of the academia deal with this “burden” of terrorism-prone insecurity pervading post-9/11 international affairs?

Indeed, it is common-sense that for every globally concerned citizen these terror crises are real threat issues with concrete and long-lasting physical-psychological impact on their direct victims; on these victims’ friends and families; and to any responsible and concerned member of the global community – irrespective of their gender, race, class, ethnicity, religion, and geographical location – constitute a highly disconcerting state of human insecurity.

As such, the post-9/11 aftermath has justifiably witnessed an array of responses from state leaders all over the world to fight this terror through political, military, and counter-terrorism strategies; alliance-building amongst democratic/responsible states; as well as inter-state diplomacy and dialogue to secure a post-9/11 world of peace and security. These collective efforts are evidenced in the passing of the US Patriot Act by the US after 9/11; the creation of the United States Department of Homeland Security 2002; the passing of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime, and Security Act 2001 in UK; the European Union Framework Decision on Terrorism, 2002; Prevention of Terrorism Act in India, 2002; and so forth. In addition, there followed speeches by political leaders “assuring” security to their citizens residing at home/abroad; shoring up subway, airport, and other transportation and special law-enforcement security systems; and, last but not the least, an escalation of states’ military-nuclear defensive measures (also resulting in their rising military-defense budgetary expenses).

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Professors of, not professors in…

This is a guest post by Patrick Thaddeus Jackson, School of International Service, American University.

So the LSE has appointed — appointed, not hired, which is important — Angelina Jolie Pitt (AJP) as a “Visiting Professor in Practice.” The importance of the hire/appoint distinction: there is a part of me that is somewhat perturbed that an institution that has not once but twice passed on the opportunity to have me join its ranks has made a space for someone whose scholarly CV is, shall we say, somewhat spotty, but the kind of position AJP has been awarded is a very different animal from anything I might have applied for — and presumably she did not have to give a job talk, secure letters of recommendation from senior colleagues, and have her latest book dissected by a faculty search committee, so I think it’s safe to say that there is a different game being played here.

angelina-jolie-hands

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Embracing our Failures

Guest post by Sara Mitchell, University of Iowa

My daughter recently played in the regional high school team tennis competition, she played singles in addition to the number one player on her team (#1 at regionals). On the drive home, my daughter noted that the coach had spent one-on-one time with the #1 player all week. She asked, “why does our coach spend the most time on the player who needs the least amount of help?”  In answering those questions, a lot of things about my experiences as an academic were useful. I told her that while my career has been very successful, I have been defined most by experiences where I failed. Interviewing for multiple senior jobs in the past few years and netting zero job offers was personally painful, but it also pushed me to think more about what I want for my career and how I can be successful on the job market in the future.   tennis_fail

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Turning Over the Table: Failing or Succeeding in the Tenure Process

Navel gazing at the tenure process continues and anxiety can be crippling. The same unfortunate lessons keep coming up, the University will outlive us all.  We can be discarded at any time or for just about any reason, regardless of tenure. The problem is that many tenure post-mortem cases do not seem to accept this reality, we need to go further and speak some honest truths about the process and the institutions we work for.  2015-10-06-1444167615-5163152-20140824fallingshort

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Women Shouldn’t Need Different Guidelines for Achieving Tenure (And Other Observations on Gendered Academe)

*while Foreign Policy editors expressed initial interest in this post, a long-delayed response time to its actual draft suggests to me that such interest has faded, though I cannot imagine why. I’ve decided to self-publish it here on RI. 

Recently, Foreign Policy contributor Stephen Walt published an article on how to get tenure in political science, and Erica Chenoweth, Page Fortna, Sara Mitchell, Burcu Savun, Jessica Weeks, and Kathleen Cunningham responded with an article on the different experiences women have when they go through the process of seeking tenure. Both pieces are, in some ways, spot-on. As Chenoweth et al note, Walt’s points are reasonable, but “the likely effect of his recommended strategies would be drastically different” for men and for women.

Chenoweth et al correctly identify the source of that difference – that “processes may be biased against women, often due to implicit bias rather than conscious discrimination.” They then make a very strong case that implicit bias affects almost every facet of the tenure process, from letters of recommendations to research expectations, from hiring committees to the probability of citation, from publication opportunities to syllabus assignments, from teaching evaluations to service expectations. They also correctly point out that there are different behavioral expectations of women in the field than there are for men.

The authors then go on to give women junior faculty a number of survival tips for the tenure process: get what you need at work, get what you need at home, create time, set boundaries with others, filter commentary and criticism, network, and get your work out there. All of these (if they are realistic) are excellent pieces of advice for navigating the gendered nature of the tenure process. And Chenoweth et al do not leave it entirely to women to navigate the process: the last two paragraphs of the piece talk about advice for allies to make sure that they are aware of, and not complicit in, the gendered dynamics of the discipline.

One the one hand, this advice is solid – after all, to an extent  we all navigate the existing system individually. On the other hand, from a feminist perspective, I have two serious concerns about the advice provided. First, I am concerned that providing advice for navigating the gendered system of achieving tenure without strategizing to change the system as a whole puts the primary responsibility for overcoming bias on the victims of the bias. Second, I am concerned that a significant number of the strategies provided are only available to a small percentage of those who might seek professional success as political science faculty, narrowing the spectrum of those to whom tenure might be available.

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“Liberal Intolerance” and other misnomers

Today, Nicholas Kristof had a piece in the New York Times ‘admitting’ to ‘liberal intolerance’ in academia. In relevant part, he says:

I’ve been thinking about this because on Facebook recently I wondered aloud whether universities stigmatize conservatives and undermine intellectual diversity. The scornful reaction from my fellow liberals proved the point. … To me, the conversation illuminated primarily liberal arrogance — the implication that conservatives don’t have anything significant to add to the discussion. My Facebook followers have incredible compassion for war victims in South Sudan, for kids who have been trafficked, even for abused chickens, but no obvious empathy for conservative scholars facing discrimination.

He goes on to identify that less than ten percent of social scientists are Republicans, and that there are many disciplines in which it is more likely that you will find a Marxist than a Republican. The piece ends with a hopeful plea for inclusion of conservatives:

So maybe we progressives could take a brief break from attacking the other side and more broadly incorporate values that we supposedly cherish — like diversity — in our own dominions.

Ok, so I’m one of those Marxists, I guess. That’s not the right word, but it will do as political shorthand. And I don’t have a lot of empathy for Republicans who face ‘discrimination’ in political science. But it doesn’t make me into Kristof’s anti-diversity bad guy, and I think his post just misses the actual dynamics of what’s going on.

Being conservative is not like being a woman, or being queer, or being a person of color. Being a woman, or being queer, or being a person of color do not carry with them essential characteristics. While there is no one mold for ‘conservative,’ it is my hunch that what academics really ‘mock’ or ‘exclude’ (both terms, I think, are extreme, and will discuss that below) are not people as conservatives but conservative viewpoints. And that’s not intolerance, bigotry, or anti-diversity.

There are some who would say that its just the facts. That conservatives are just wrong. That if 90% of chemists or biologists or physicists thought something, lay people would just think it was right. That the reason conservatives have no place in social science academia is because the science proves them wrong. That some people go to grad school as conservatives, then they learn things, and then they’re not conservative anymore. And that’s tempting to me – in part because many of the assumptions that conservatives make about the constitution of the United States, its position in the world, and what it is okay to do to other countries seem so viscerally problematic to me. If I’m sure of anything in the world, its finding US hegemonic positioning morally reprehensible. And while that’s not unique to ‘conservatives,’ it is often a mainstay of conservativism.

But saying that conservatives are ‘out’ because they are wrong would require me to make a number of political commitments that I find problematic – a commitment to the existence of a universal right and wrong, a commitment to strong ontologies, a commitment to objective knowledge, a commitment to scientific positivism, etc. And I’m a post-positivist, post-structuralist leftist, certainly, but that’s a weak ontology – I am sure enough to act on it, but not sure enough to exclude other possibilities.

So my argument is different. Continue reading

Do You Ever Feel Afraid? And Other Questions about Failure

I was a guest in an undergraduate class this week, and the students got to ask me questions, both about my work and about how I do my job. I received a number of questions, but one student’s question made me think twice.  The student asked if I’m ever overwhelmed by the process of writing, and just do not want to do it anymore.

And I thought – almost everyday I’m writing. I mean, some days, the writing works and flows. Other days, its 1am and I’m still plugging away at the to-do list or writing quota. Some of those days, its because there’s too much to do or life just gets in the way. But other days, its because there’s some time that I spend in a sense of fear or paralysis about something that I’m probably perfectly capable of writing.

Many will make jokes that my productivity suggests that doesn’t really get in the way; fine, fair enough. And others will suggest that my professional behavior is overall pretty fearless. Also, fine, fair enough. But perhaps it is because it is not totally debilitating to me that I can talk a little bit about that fear.

When the student asked the question, my first thought was about the recent decision of a Princeton professor to post his CV of failures. I thought about my failures. There are the things like that Princeton professor discusses – schools you did not get in to (ironically, for me, that was Princeton), jobs you did not get (I’ve applied for, by my count, almost 1000 academic jobs in my career. I haven’t gotten 1000), articles that were rejected (one article I wrote was rejected at 7 different journals), grants you didn’t get (ever tried to convince NSF that poststructuralist feminism is science?), teaching fails (I once slipped on four-inch heels in a classroom of 400 students), poor professional decisions (remember when I mentioned the kegstand in the last post?), and the like. But, to me, those failures kind of feel like bumps in the road. I’m not afraid to apply for a job I won’t get, or submit an article that will get rejected or a grant that will not be funded. I know that’s itself a privilege – a lot of people are afraid of that stuff too, and feel a very serious sense of failure around it.

For me, my CV of failures would be more of a narrative. It would tell of all the times that I sat around watching reality TV paralyzed and afraid to write something that if I just applied myself I could have. It would tell of all the emails that I leave in my inbox for like six hours for no reason except an inexplicable fear of typing whatever words I would type in response. It would talk about how I actually hide from the “send” button as I hit it sometimes when I send important or risky things. Not metaphorically hide. Actually hide. It would tell about the six weeks one summer I spent doing nothing productive except assembling jigsaw puzzles upside down while I felt insecure about my work. It would talk about how deeply personally I take personal attacks on me by people who don’t know me except professionally – how all of their accusations literally repeat in my head over and over when I am trying to write something that carries with it any professional risk.

I’m pretty sure I zoned out for ten minutes while this entire thought process went through my head, completely forgetting to answer the student’s question. When I snapped back, though, I tried to answer it honestly – yes, I’m terrified – sometimes more than others, but a lot. And I don’t think I admit that very much. I usually just humbly demure to questions about productivity, and provide professional socialization advice when asked how I accomplish this or that. I don’t know whether it is that scholars as a profession are trained not to show vulnerability or if it is just something I am not used to doing – but I do know that this is a very solitary profession with a lot of vulnerability, yet vulnerability is rarely discussed. So I admitted (and emphasized) that its not about whether you are vulnerable or not – its about how you cope with the vulnerability.

Either the student asked or I imputed a second question – so then what do you do to overcome it? Like no two people’s fears are the same, no two people’s coping strategies are the same. Mine are a set of elaborate incentives. Each day, there is a writing quota – how many words depends on the difficulty of the subject matter. It can always be accomplished, with due diligence and when nothing goes wrong, by 5pm. When that happens, those are the sane days- the ones that are functional. But most of the time it doesn’t happen directly – it gets delayed a bit, or it gets delayed a lot. That’s fear and paralysis as much as it is anything else. So, to force myself over the fear of putting the words on the (figurative) paper, I don’t let myself go to bed until the quota is done. Some days, I am done at 5 and go out for a nice dinner. Some days, its 3am. Those days, I learn – both how to keep my psychological composure in a field that lends itself to constant self-questioning and how to manage my time and overcome my fears more efficiently.

I have a lot of other tricks – small writing-windows (15 minutes at my most scared), a less desirable task set up if I don’t keep writing, accountability schemes, and, of course, the Facebook hive-mind. Some or all of my tactics might work for you; others might not. But I do think it is important to recognize that time management isn’t the only barrier to professional productivity: fear matters too,

And, for those of you who this irony is not lost on, it is 1:24am, this is the second-to-last-thing on my list, and there’s a good chance I’ll need to wait until tomorrow to wake up and send the email I’ve been afraid to send today. Or this week.

Just how to Write and Produce a Speech That May Allow You To Get Clients

Edit Report Just how to Succeed in Your Daily Life Are you scared that you’re going about living all wrong? Are you wanting todo anything you can to increase your likelihood of living an extended, happy, satisfying living? Read below for a few simple advice on enhance and HOWTO succeed your lifestyle. Advertisement Ways Process 1 of 4: Taking Responsibility Quit making excuses and blaming others. It surely doesnt in the event somebody else caused the troubles in your lifetime really make a difference. Continue reading

On Request: Marketing Your Book

So you’ve written a book, and gotten someone to publish it, you’re done, right?

It turns out that, though it depends on the professional incentives around your particular situation, in general, no, you’re not nearly done. You have just started a new chapter. Even without the book/chapter pun.

A friend of mine requested a post on book marketing, and that seemed like a good idea, since knowing how to publish a book and knowing how to promote one are two different arts.

Most (not all, but most) academic books are generally only marginally profitable – think, date night, once a year. If you’re lucky, date weekend, once a year.

Promoting you book is not about making money, though that might be a nice side effect. It is about getting people to buy your book, to read you book, to assign you book, and to cite your book.

Why? Well, I’m presuming the why matches why you published the book in the first place – that you have some professional incentives to construct a CV, develop a professional reputation, make your name, have the opportunity to publish more books, make it easier to publish a second book, etc.

The harder question is how to promote your book. You want to make sure that people notice your book without over-saturating the market or annoying people. Below the fold are some tips.  Continue reading