BOOKS & THE CULTURE Against Censorship and Peonage Traditional Values in a Radical Manifesto BY JAMES SLEDD MANIFESTO OF A TENURED RADICAL. By Cary Nelson. New York University Press. Cary Nelson \(a Jubilee Professor but unrepenstrong and useful book. It should be widely read on every campus of the University of Texas System. Administrators, of course, can hardly be expected to profit from it. They are too busy spending $90 million on athletic facilities, and selling luxbished stadium at $50,000 a season thoughtful students will find in Nelson’s Manifesto many sound, familiar ideas which long ago should have prompted rational discussion and rational action on American campuses. Read seriously and in time, the Manifesto might even have checked the tide of brainless self-righteousness that swept the U.T.Austin campus after Law Professor Lino Graglia was apparently baited successfully by reporters who wanted a sensational story, not a thoughtful exchange. For academics, Nelson’s first chapters, on “the politics of English” and “the culture debates,” will have their attractions, though titles like “Always Already Cultural Studies” will not set every pulse to pounding. The buzz-phrase always already should itself be pounded. Nelson spends a full five pages on “a cultural studies manifesto,” only to prompt an indignant feminist to a counter-manifesto accusing him of intellectual police-work. But Chapter 7 \(“Hate Chapters 9 through 12 \(“Lessons from the The job wars are a sad, familiar story to every unemployed Ph.D. In a number of fields, not just English, graduate students are diligently recruited, worked too hard and paid too little as teaching assistants, bedoctoredand turned away into disillusioned years of more or less genteel poverty. They simply can’t find the jobs that supposedly they were trained for. The jobs aren’t there. But the universities that exploit teaching assistants \(many of them, notably Yale, supposedly of form without such heartless yet determined exploitation. Toplofty administrators and the tenured professoriate insist that it would be prohibitively expensive to hire tenurable instructors or assistant professors to teach freshmen and sophomores. Their first-class institutions are build on relative neglect of the students who most need teaching and on employment practices close to slavery. Such abuses are nothing new; Ronnie Dugger talked about them twenty years ago in Our Invaded Universities. One of the milder instances from the Austin campus may be taken as representative. Back in the days of John Silber’s deanship, the English Department sharply debated but ultimately approved a statement of the rights and responsibilities of TAs. The statement was forwarded through channels, wishfully, toward the Board of Regents. It reached the dean’s office, which reportedly forwarded it to even Greater Eminences, but somewhere along the way it disappeared. Because it never reached the regents, it acquired no legal force. The year after the document had been adopted, TAs complained that it was being violated. To protest the violations, they sent a delegation to the department’s acting chairman. His replyas TAs have assured me but as the acting chairman at the time was later to denywas characteristic: the document had no legal force, he said, but imposed only a moral obligation. Only a moral obligation. Morality be damned. It’s economically convenient for universities to tolerate flunk-outs and to treat grad students as TAs like peons. No amount of reasoned argument will change the situation. Change will come, of course. Administrators, who multiply like rabbits, are eager to abolish tenure, which strikes the general public as undeserved privilege: and there is little serious public support for such esoterica as postpoststructuralism or indefinable cultural studies or for pullulating academic conferences. Though the professoriate may repeat in chorus, “After me, the deluge,” their own dark and cloudy day may soon come upon them. Farsighted academics would move now to align themselves with workers, not with bosses, and to do what they can to make inevitable change less damaging than it promises to be. In the chapter “What Is to Be Done?” Nelson provides a good beginning for a tactical discussion. But don’t bet on fat-cat professors to display a social conscience. If beneficent change should come, it will be forced from below. Even in their unsuccessful strike, Yale’s TAs did a lot more than sing boola-boola. In the fall of 1997 at U.T., where unionizing is deemed unthinkable, the chapter on “hate speech” has particular relevance, as at every U.S. college and university. Free speech is meaningless unless it extends to the most unpopular opinions, and proposals to treat those who practice it as pariahs are propoSals to destroy it. Nelson argues convincingly that “efforts to regulate hate speech are ultimately more dangerous than their benefits warrant.” As he insists, following Leon Botstein, persons known to hold debatable and even disreputable opinions should be encouraged to , express them, so that they can be tested by vigorous examination. The argument that the rigidly righteous should take most seriously is Older than the U.S.A.: No man is an island. If a Lino Graglia can be silenced, so can a Jesse Jackson. Their auditors will gain more from seeing them refuted than they will suffer from hearing them pontificate; but if once the example of suppressing unpopular opinion gets well set, obscurantists will be quick to follow it. Nelson is on target when he writes, “The solution to bad speech remains more speech, including speech that is politically incorrect.” One might have hoped that that principle, forcefully stated over two centuries ago, would have been taken to heart on a campus in a town that honors John Henry Faulk. 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER OCTOBER 10, 1997
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