By Barbara Regenspan
Chair, Department of Educational Studies
I write to applaud Michael Johnston’s
response to the recent letter by Brian Hutzley, which makes a cynically timed and
outrageous demand of Colgate employees.
Those of us who wish to claim dependent benefits will be required to
provide sensitive (and troubling) personal documentation to one of the new, and
highly profitable corporations making money, literally, out of the erosion of
the very qualities that make any community possible.
Such a practice will damage our
specific “Colgate community” through loss of feelings of mutual trust between
faculty/staff and administrators. This
practice will also lower the bar related to the intellectual standards on which
institutions of higher education win our credibility. Mr. Hutzley tells us that we must comply
because such practices are increasingly “common.” My reply: So is the practice of living on
As a faculty member whose second (and
younger) child has already become ineligible for inclusion on our health
insurance policy, and who has since found a good alternative for herself, I
could take the attitude that this issue does not concern me. But on
account of the scholarship I do, and my feelings of loyalty to what I do
continue to experience as a positive Colgate community, I cannot avoid voicing
I have been asked on other occasions
what I and other faculty mean by "the increasing corporatization and
neo-liberalization of the university." This letter from Mr. Hutzley
represents an excellent example. Market relations take the place of human
relations. Indeed, "human nature" becomes defined as the
quality of taking what one can get away with in any circumstance. From this newly defined “human nature” comes the expectation of abuse of all
hard-won provisions towards the public or community good, like health benefits,
for instance. Although the big banks can no longer be regulated (against
amassing a greater and greater percentage of public wealth) because they are “too
big to fail” we are little enough to regulate…we are little enough to be forced
to waste increasing percentages of our time and energy accounting for
everything we do…for everything we are.
The procedure of requiring such new
verifications is made normal, as Michael points out, in the same way that those
politicians (typically on the political right who wish to discourage poor
people and people of color from voting), enact onerous rules related to voter
registration. Related, and similarly more broadly significant, they shape
a political reality in which our students, for instance, do not know that
things can be otherwise. A philosopher significant in my own research
charges that they shape a “suffocating reality principle whose distillate is the
Related, and again, back to
intellectual standards: Highly paid
college administrators are supposed to be intelligent and informed people.
Surely they know that there is plenty of research on the subject of how
eroded trust literally engenders fraud because it threatens respect for the
unwritten social contract.
Ramped up demands for verification
are not unrelated to increasing numbers of students engaging in plagiarism, and
even more commonly, not doing the readings.
These young people view their college education as a ticket to an ever
narrower conception of getting what they want, supported by that suffocating
reality principle in which knowledge primarily fuels cocktail party chatter for
those who have been competitive enough to win entre to cocktail parties. The social contract that morally binds our
students to us is eroded. Indeed the
sickening increase in testing and standards, and related draconian teacher
“accountability” mechanisms in the public schools, have already significantly
eroded trust and belief in the enlivening possibilities of public education.
Finally, and returning to the cynical
nature of the timing of this letter from the administration, (with the
community dispersed, and no faculty meetings
for three months): Did our
administrators not consider how it would feel to receive such an e-mail
communication after having completed the extra-demanding work of ending the
term, all of which calls up, for faculty and staff, issues of allegiance to
others, community-building and trust between ourselves and our students, and personal
self-reflection about the worth of our work?
Like many of my colleagues, I experience the most
meaningful aspect of graduation as the opportunity to express gratitude towards
one another for making possible the integrity inherent in our highest
conceptions of an educational community.
I participate in graduation and related events and host a party in my
home for beloved students and their families.
Some of the meetings with parents represent the most touching moments of
my academic career. This year’s party
was especially moving because my successful Challenges of Modernity FSEM of
four years ago was graduating and because we currently have a wonderful group
of both majors and certification students, including particularly gifted MAT’s,
in my Department of Educational Studies.
And a few days after these events, I
find that had our Sarah been one year younger, I would have been required to
provide a copy of my marriage license and more documentation to Colgate, in
relation to which I have been a loyal worker for nine years, in order to prove
that I had not committed fraud against it. And wait…I would not
even be providing the documentation to Colgate…I’d be providing it to The Bonadio
Group, (which appears to need to disguise its corporate nature, including its
ties to those same banks that are “too big to fail” in “Group-ness”), costing Colgate resources I want us to spend on
achieving the goal of need-blind admissions.
In my vision of funding need-blind
admissions (and as important, a four-course teaching load) instead of the
Bonadio Group, at future graduation parties I could express and experience
gratitude in relation to more parents for whom a Colgate education for their
child was once unimaginable. And perhaps
gradually, through these, and similar acts of community-building, we might
reclaim the genuine struggle to face “The Challenges of Modernity” as the point
Thanks again to my colleague Michael
Johnston for providing a wonderfully cogent response to the letter in question,
a response uniquely situated in his scholarship, most recently made accessible
in Corruption, Contention, and Reform:
The Power of Deep Democratization.
Senior faculty who have the slack to
invest in this issue: It’s an important one because it is concrete and all the
data is available to us, unlike neoliberal “reforms” on which it’s harder to
get a handle. Please air your views on
the AAUP website and let’s demand a public answer to all of Michael’s questions
and an end to this demeaning new requirement of Colgate employees.