I guess we’re back to business as usual at The New School—at least in some quarters. I’ll come back to that in a moment. Also? I am so excited to hear more from Laura as she works on the NOLA project. Kudos!
I had some shuffling to do thus far this fall term. First, the shuffling because when you’re unemployed the nanosecond your student loan check arrives is truly an ecstatic moment for which words fail (paying rent never felt so satisfying, which I suppose is sad). Second, more pertinent to this blog, shuffling my fall schedule. I am plugging along on requirements, being a part-time student, and this fall I had doubled up on those courses. However, I found out about a course which also fits a requirement (my international course) while being an area of genuine interest and enthusiasm: Green Jobs. I told a friend about this course and she laughed (“SO trendy”, I believe she said) but truthfully, this is a trend I am thrilled to finally see happening. The course is offered through the New School’s graduate program in International Affairs (that’s GPIA, acronym lovers) and is interesting, a seminar, oh—and also allows me to do some individual research! Sold. I have put off another required course until later on in my program, and am geeking out on climate change statistics and UNEP reports as we speak.
Now, to another matter, but it is one of much concern to me. DISCLAIMER: This is a moment when I cannot state clearly enough that what you read here is my opinion, so if you take issue, take it up with me, as my co-bloggers are not responsible. Also, I hate to break it to some folks, but according to friends who are now professors near and far, some of this can be extrapolated to apply to various schools, lest any of you come down with a case of The Smugness.
One of the truly special elements of academic institutions, particularly in the relatively anti-intellectual United States, is the creation of space, boundaried in place and philosophy, where open inquiry and rigorous engagement with ideas is protected, celebrated, and held as a cherished value. My former discipline, Women’s/Gender/Feminist Studies, is the keeper of much early feminist history, for example—now it may be integrated into some undergraduate courses, but that was not always so. What happened? A tremendous amount of rigorous thinking, questioning, open debate and conversation challenging the then-status quo occurred both outside AND inside of “the academy”. Room to question, to challenge with information, to think hard together, is a special quality of universities that I will not take for granted.
It concerns me to hear, therefore, that today there was an invited speaker at Milano (former Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge) and some students felt that the best way to express their disagreement with his work, professional history, and/or values, was to disrupt the public presentation where we, the students, had the opportunity to directly engage him in dialogue about that very work. From what I gather, the whole event was scrapped after disruptions were too noisy to allow for conversation of any kind. In some respects I feel I am overstepping a personal rule in writing about an event I did not attend, but the internet fallout has certainly been instructive. People were still talking about it at the end of classes twelve hours later.
Don’t misunderstand me. I spent a great deal of time wearing out shoes protesting the Iraq War and other activities conducted by the most recent Bush Administration. But if we do not come to grips with the events, as onerous and disturbing and dishonorable as many of us feel they were, of the past few years, I fear that we will lose whatever insights into ourselves as a nation that could be gleaned from that conversation. How did this all happen? You might think you have a quick answer to that, but I challenge you to think harder. Do you really know? I’m exhausted from trying to figure it out, but I think it is imperative that we do. Only listening to those with whom we agree is not the way towards a true education. I wish it were, because it would be so much easier and less upsetting. If there is anything I have learned, over so many years in higher education, it is that there is no greater challenge—or painful privilege—than defending the right to free speech for those whose ideas you most detest.
Do I wish that we had another speaker on offer? Absolutely. How likely does that feel now?
What kind of student do you want to be? What kind of university do you want to attend? I continue to say, claim that for yourself, but for me, the day I learned to do so with humility and respect was the first day I may have truly become a learner. How will we ever learn from each other if all we do is gather in a room and scream at one another? We can keep on doing it, and I would be naïve if I did not suspect that it might keep on happening. But this much I know: no one will really learn much of anything. What an expensive waste of all of our time and money it would be, and what a mockery of what should be such a special space that we will not always be able to occupy, in any sense of that word.
Here is hoping for a more respectful–and enlightening–October.