Tuesday, May 27, 2014

On Brian Hutzley's Letter to Colgate Employees

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 quarter-pounders. 

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 my concern.   

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 economy.” 

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 of education. 

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.

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