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P R A E S I D I U M
A Common-Sense Journal of Literary and Cultural Analysis
17.2 (Spring 2017)
The Campus in Crisis
Thoughts on New-Age Faculty Orientation (or Why I Am Definitely Retiring)
Peter T. Singleton
A veteran English teacher writes of the faculty orientation that opened his school year with a humor concealing serious concern about our growing cultural and political insanity.
Title IX and Sexual Harassment
I describe myself as semi-retired. I don’t really need the pittance provided by an adjunct’s duties, but the classroom has grown to be an important part of my life over the past forty years, and relinquishing it is difficult. At least, it seemed difficult until the rounds of conditioning and indoctrination that inaugurated our fall semester. Now I have made my peace. I am not leaving the classroom: the classroom has been wrested from me. This year is my last on a college campus.
A few months ago, as we settled in to begin another school year at my humble outlier of a large state university system, the first few minutes of a departmental meeting were “commandeered” by the Title IX people. In this instance, we were addressed by two “spokespersons” (or “spokesbeings”, if you object to speciesism: you may be laughing now, but you won’t be laughing later). Both officers were polite, proper, and even winsome. The male seemed thoroughly professional; and his female companion, though she never spoke a word, was quite unusually attractive. Nothing against the two of them, or either one of them, is intended in what follows. If these positions have to be filled, then I’m sure this pair filled them as competently as anyone might. Hey, a body’s got to eat, right?
In fact, one of the things that most disturbed me about the occasion was how readily and deeply “nice ordinary people” get drawn into the Nanny State’s abyss. Either one of these two officers might have been my child, embarked upon a solid career with plenty of benefits. I get that. Do they “get” it? Do they understand just what they are serving in white-collar capacity?
Many may know Title IX for its negative impact on college sports. The edict forces programs to spend equal amounts of money on boys’ and girls’ athletics, meaning that schools with well-funded football teams often have no baseball or soccer team because they’ve burned their fifty percent on the gridiron. Since there simply are no girls’s team sports that eat up money the way football does, the other male sports are the big losers.
I’ve never gotten terribly exercised about this “outrage”. It seems to me that kids should be going to college for other reasons, to begin with.
Yet Title IX’s reach extends well beyond sports. Somehow, it has become an overlay of the substantial career habitat where Sexual Harassment bureaucracies thrive. (You can tell that I’m not a lawyer.) This half-hour session was all about sexual harassment, without a word wasted on sporting events.
Sexual Harassment. As a state employee, one gets drilled and quizzed on SH law, practice, and lingo with the regularity of a parrot being taught how to request a cracker. If anything, this presentation was a little less obnoxious than earlier tortures I have endured in the rites of the same god. I have been handed leaflets and forced to sit through PowerPoint lectures that offered as an example of harassment (I’m not exaggerating) a male’s lingering look at a young woman’s short, tight-fitting skirt. The conditioning regimen of Clockwork Orange had nothing on these sessions in the way of crusading zeal.
Primed with that earlier conditioning, I was even, for a brief while, disturbed by the presence of the lovely young woman from our lofty Palace of Eunuchs and Mandarins. Was her appearance a test of some kind? I tried not to look at her with more than glances. Odd, that she had not a single line in the entire presentation: there had to be a hidden camera somewhere, tracking iris motions!
Her job title was something on the order of Grand Inquisitor. I’m mocking it, because I can’t recall just what it was. Yet, all mockery aside, it held more than a hint of threat—a promise of malefactors hounded to Hell. It just didn’t seem to go with that celestial face.
At some point, once I realized how tame and comparatively dull this routine was, I began to crack fewer jokes with myself and actually to listen to what was being said—and to observe how it was received.
For one thing, we teachers were now clearly no longer to think of ourselves as in loco parentis. If your child were to come to you and say, “Dad, some of us had a little too much to drink last night, and we broke into the Principal’s office,” I don’t think you’d come back with, “Let me stop you right there, son. Anything you say beyond this point must be reported to the appropriate authorities. It’s my duty. Sieg heil!”
Well, this is about the level of response that a professor is now required to make if a coed confides to him or her that a boyfriend is being abusive. My natural response would be to treat the student as I would a daughter. I would urge her to break off her relations with the man in question; and if she said that she feared for her safety if she were even to hint at breaking up, I would assist her in contacting the proper authorities—the cops, I mean, and not some campus bureaucrat. I would want the boy to receive a visit from someone in a uniform packing a Smith and Wesson rather than an email from the Office of Behavior Modification.
The reason behind the requirement to report, of course, is that the girl may come to harm if nothing is done. Even if a threat of suspension gets the boy’s attention, though, what’s to keep him—precisely because he fears suspension—from “shutting up” the girl in a deranged and permanent fashion? (One has to suppose that he is already somewhat deranged if he is beating on women; suspension or expulsion isn’t an adequate response to psychosis.) Now, a murder would naturally produce a criminal investigation… but wouldn’t the police have been better off having the case in its early stages?
And here’s the real issue, which I’m probably not reaching very directly: shouldn’t the concerned teacher in this hypothetical, who alone of all people on earth has been chosen to hear the girl’s confession of fear, be allowed some discretion in handling the affair? Teacher and student presumably know each other very well, or this situation would never have evolved. There is a great deal of trust in place. Is not the intrusion of the quasi-Miranda recitation, “I must inform you before you go further that it is my duty…” likely to make a desperate situation more so? Now the already frenetic student will feel betrayed by her “father confessor”!
Yes, it would be terrible to have on your conscience a murdered girl whose revelation of abuse was not redirected to the Powers… but would your conscience nag any less if you knew that tragedy followed after, and perhaps because of, your passing information along? These campus officers, again, are not cops. They can read a rude lad the Riot Act insofar as his enrollment is concerned—but they can’t give him a glimpse of cuffs and the slammer. I will even go so far as to observe, uncharitably, that some campuses have been known to handle delicate information so as to keep the school’s reputation spotless rather than to secure the safely of the complainant. If these situations are serious, why not treat them seriously?
The other Title IX theme that made my ears prick was student/teacher dating. Now, as a child of the Sixties, I witnessed such horseplay; and again as a young professor, I saw examples of very injudicious behavior. No such “relationships” should ever be allowed. The teacher is often played by a grade-grubbing student, the student may perhaps be drawn in deeper than he or she desires by an F-wielding teacher, and the other students (for these things never stay secret) become thoroughly demoralized at seeing the “teacher’s pet” phenomenon taken to new heights. Dating a student actively enrolled in one’s class should be grounds for the professor’s dismissal. Period. In the military, it’s called fraternization between ranks.
Apparently, the policy under Title IX is similarly severe. Things got downright creepy, however, when our earnest presenter allowed that student and teacher might date if they went through the proper channels to receive official consent. What are the criteria, I wonder, involved in winning such consent? That all exchanges must remain Platonic? That the man must have honorable intentions, with a ring waiting in his pocket if things go well? That the two must never meet anywhere either on campus or in the local community? Are you kidding?
In response to both of these issues—the “mirandizing” of abuse victims and the necessity of approval for student/teacher dating—I observed everyone around me to be nodding, and some even diligently taking notes. I had no doubt that all of them would be good little minions should these circumstances present themselves. It’s worrisome to me. The blind, implicit, almost servile acceptance of Big Brother’s increasing intrusion into our personal lives is a fully predictable reaction of the “educated” mind. To think that these are the same would-be iconoclasts who accuse mainstream culture of bigotry and are ready to go camp out on Wall Street! If a decree comes through the proper channels, they perk to attention like the dog on the old RCA logo as a phonograph plays before him: “His master’s voice,” reads the legend.
At last, the two very pleasant Title IX emissaries packed up their show and went on to the next venue. How I should love to be able to question them both about their work—if they ever really think about it, or if it’s just a job. But one just doesn’t do such things. This is a college campus, not an Athenian stoa frequented by Socrates.
Speaking of confessions… my article stalled for months at this point, and it is only with trepidation that I resume writing now in early 2017. My comments are unlikely to be read by anyone who would crucify me once they are posted in the relative obscurity of a Western- and tradition-friendly website. And I am retiring, so what harm can a crucifixion do when the intended victim has already moved away to the Caiman Islands? Nevertheless, I have decided not to call anybody out too specifically. Maybe it’s just my Victorian reluctance to confront designated individuals with needless, rude aggression…. We were taught not to do such things, you know, long before speech codes and Title IX were ever thought of.
Rather than minutely reconstructing the second half of a meeting that occurred half a year ago, therefore, I content myself here with listing some of the “adjustments” that were censoriously, Puritanically pressed upon us by senior faculty members:
“beginning student” instead of “freshman”: I at first presumed that a joke was being hatched… but no one laughed. More notes were earnestly being scribbled down. In my mind, I also underscored an already written memorandum: “Retire after this year!” If words like “freshman” are to be banned because they assist in programming women to think themselves second-class citizens, then where does it all end? Does “menu” become “culinary option list”? Does “regimen” become “”regiwhatever”? A manhole cover will now be a “personhole cover”, perhaps, and “Mandarin” morphs to “Dadadarin”? Certainly the “red-shirted freshman” will have to disappear from broadcasts of NCAA events. Now he (or she) must be designated a “russet-camisoled beginning student” (for you can’t be tossing the word “red” around when the effort to debug beginning students of their red-state bigotry is such an important part of the campus experience).
What about “gunman”? Since that’s a wicked sort of a noun, maybe it should preserve its gender-specificity, just to beat down the male ego: we don’t need “gunwoman” or “gunperson” when most bad guys are male… right? Likewise for “henchman” and “hangman”.
On the other hand, has no one noticed that certain words and phrases privilege the female gender? In English, there is no masculine form of “ingénue”. A feminist may snort, “Of course not, because being an ingénue shows the weak qualities of vulnerability and naiveté. We don’t ever use the male form of ‘naïve’, either.” This is a “heads I win, tales you lose” kind of trap. If we’re comfortable with “gunman” because males are most often violent bad guys, then why shouldn’t we be just as comfortable with the anodyne and lovable “ingénue”? All of a sudden, women want to be bruisers… is that it?
Why is necessity the mother of invention? Why is tapping into a highly profitable series of ideas “striking the motherlode”? Why is birth only attended by a midwife? Why do Christians make such a fuss about Mary but none about Joseph?
Eventually—and sooner rather than later—every argument in this vein seems to me to degenerate into a gripe session. It is unenlightening and sordid. So many academics waste so much time engaging in it that one cannot watch the spectacle from the sidelines and emerge with a very high opinion of their maturity… or even of their intelligence.
“ze” rather than “he” or “she”: an initiative already embraced at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, I believe. It isn’t just a deformed offspring of crackpot Ivy League institutions, in other words. Our department did not go quite so far as to endorse it, but a spirited case was made for referring to a singular antecedent with “they” at all times. The logic wasn’t that we should allow the agreement error because it occurs almost universally in common speech and has simply sunk its roots into our cultural consciousness (like treating “a lot of” as plural). No: the case was that choosing a singular pronoun would require specifying gender—either “he” or “she”. Twenty years ago, or even ten, the solution offered by feminist-conditioned academe was to use “he or she” at all times. The avant-garde would even toss “he” overboard and simply use “she” (except in “gunman” situations of the sort described above: e.g., “Every spousal abuser should know that he will be refused employment”). Personally, I was satisfied by either shift since both fulfilled the requirements of basic logic. Every “good guy” antecedent can be parsed as female in my classes as long as singular is being matched to singular.
Gender ideology, however, like all progressive ideology, is never satisfied with its gains because its ultimate goal is to transform earth into heaven (an undertaking that always transforms earth into hell). Now we are not to notice gender at all. Who’s to say that you are not a female who feels male today, or a male who feels female? Who’s to say that you are not some third—or fourth, or fifth, or sixteenth—gender? Reducing the gender options of language to two is oppressing all of those who do not identify with either. The “they”, according to our department’s most cutting-edge luminaries, should therefore be required. Anything else would be benighted, unfair, medieval, and in all other ways unaffected by the intellectual and spiritual evolution perceptible in the elite few superior beings among us.
Back on earth, what the “they” shift does is render certain communications unintelligible (not to mention unintelligent). Take the sentence, “The only untaxed purchases are the power-generating windmill and the solar panels as long as they bear the ‘made in America’ tag.” Such gobbledygook is showing up more and more in legalese, where failure to understand it can result in fines or prison time (or being gunned down by an ATF agent—who will invariably be a male). Logically, the windmill does not have to bear the “made in America” tag, because the subordinate clause’s plural pronoun can refer only to the solar panels… but try telling that to a twenty-first century judge. It’s surprising, in fact, how many times this very sort of confusion plays havoc in contemporary communications—and the problem will only get worse if academics have anything to say about it.
By the way, the number of languages that distinguish between male and female in ways ranging from pronouns to adjectival inflections to verbal endings is pretty staggering. May one ask what role cultural sensitivity is to play in this moralistic crusade on behalf of degendering the human race? Is gender ideology to trump millennia of cultural evolution? Are the Arabic languages, for instance, eventually going to be asked—or forced—to abandon all distinctions of male from female? What we will discover at that moment will be that academic poseurs never had the preservation of ancient cultures close to their arrogant hearts—that multiculturalism was always just a fulcrum for prying the West away from its own traditions.
I could go on, but by doing so I would escape any pretext of representing what happened in one very long departmental meeting. The two absurd grammatical issues named above consumed what remained of our three hours after the Title IX crash course. No critical or reluctant word was ever uttered: the discussion consisted of bright-eyed, bushy-tailed requests for further revelation from the gurus. Was somebody else in the room besides me listening to ocean water gush through the porous hold of Western civilization? I doubt that I’ll ever know. When the captain is determined that both passengers and crew will watch his magic tricks after supper, any glance in the direction of the lifeboats is likely to be taken as mutiny.
Dr, Singleton is indeed soon to transition from semi- to full retirement. He resides currently in the North Texas area but hopes to repair soon to his ancestral stomping grounds in Virginia.