May 30, 2006

O'Connor and French respond

Erin O'Connor (in her guise as ACTA blogger) and David French have responded to Timothy Burke's critique of the How Many Ward Churchills? paper essentially by saying, (1) asking the report to quantify is unfair and (2) it doesn't matter how infrequently professors design a course around a specific ideological bias (which is the claim in the report, from course descriptions)—any is wrong. Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but when a report title includes the words "how many," it sets up a certain expectation about quantification.

O'Connor goes further by saying that Burke used the wrong standard:

Humanists, as Burke well knows, don't amass statistical data, but they do still make valid arguments by accumulating examples and by analyzing them; ACTA's approach, centered as it is on the rhetorically suggestive course descriptions posted by academic departments across the country, necessarily has far more in common with the humanist technique of assembling textual evidence in order to demonstrate the existence of telling linguistic patterns than it does with a number-crunching methodology, and Burke, himself a historian whose work hardly inhabits the hard data world, knows this.

O'Connor wants the ACTA report judged by humanistic rather than social-science standards? Fine. She's an English professor at Penn. Would she allow any student to write a paper using only blurbs on the covers of books, without ever cracking the covers? When someone tries to analyze what happens in a class through the course description, we're getting some fascimile equivalent of the literary analysis of book blurbs.

As I've commented elsewhere, I would be far more willing to grant ACTA credibility if it didn't have a history of deliberately distorting faculty views, whitewashing its errors, having no sense of accountability for its own activities, and rarely commenting on the broader university management issues that are tough on liberal arts. When an organization devotes a disproportionate amount of energy to portraying faculty as villains, why should anyone be surprised when faculty cast a skeptical eye at reports that distort what we do?

Updates: Timothy Burke has more in reply to both O'Connor and French, as usual both substantive and written gracefully. Hiram Hover has more.

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Posted in Academic freedom on May 30, 2006 9:17 AM |