Thursday, April 5, 2018

Evergreen Looks in the Mirror and Says It’s OK

The “Independent” External Review Panel on The Evergreen State College Response to the Spring 2017 Campus Events (quotes not in the original) just released its report, and it says that everything campus administration has done in connection with this episode and everything it is now doing in response to it is beyond reproach.  It repeats the arguments of the college’s “equity” faction (again my quotes—it has little to do with equity) in the faction’s own language and omits any information that might undermine their point of view.  Of course, it was impaneled by the college’s president and interviewed only a few authorized informants (listed in the report), so we shouldn’t be too surprised. If anyone on campus thinks it offers independent support for the “equitarian” perspective on the Evergreen imbroglio, they are really and truly credulous.

That’s the short version, which is probably all—maybe more than all—most readers of this blog care about.  The long version would require a report of its own, and I won’t bother with that.  It isn’t worth it; outside the Evergreen bubble no one will take this seriously.

Still, there’s a reason to spend another few minutes with it because, in its perverse way, the report will ultimately solidify the standard narrative about a campus gone wild with violent ultra-leftism.  This is because, by avoiding all the uncomfortable questions, it leaves their answers to right wing ideologues.

What the report does say:

The disruptions on campus reflected national and local political trends concerning opposition to racial injustice.

They were handled in an ideal fashion by the college.

Those videos-that-went-viral misrepresented what happened.

Bret Weinstein “took advantage” of the protests to promulgate his views in right wing media.

Nevertheless, the bad publicity, stoked by misinformation, has had a large negative effect on college enrollments.

Going forward, we should further embrace the initiatives already underway at the college:
support the Equity Plan
mandatory diversity training
hire more staff in diversity support
reform the curriculum to make it more “student-ready”, with clearer goals and standards
improve campus communications
provide an equity justification for every faculty position and hiring decision
require faculty statements on diversity in all course syllabi (not yet underway as far as I know)

And here are some of the things not mentioned by the report:

1. The videos were sadly quite accurate, since they were largely posted by the activists themselves, who were initially proud of what they did.

2. Nothing was mentioned about vigilante activity at the college, which might cast the “calm” response of certain administrators in a different light.

3. There were no ongoing student organizations involved in the protest.  Leaders emerged solely by virtue of charisma and were not accountable to any democratic process whatever.  Few political demands were made, and the main point was to vent.  (The video of the protest at the inauguration of Purce Hall is a gem in this respect.)

4. There is *no* Equity Plan to be implemented.  A document by that name was presented at the “canoe event” of November, 2016—another great video—but it was pasted together in a couple of hours, never proofread, and largely consists of language taken verbatim from nationally distributed diversity manuals.

5. Even though it is open admission, the college lacks both a developmental curriculum and the resources to genuinely support students from academically disadvantaged backgrounds in the “normal” curriculum (insofar as any curriculum at Evergreen is normal).  There *is* an initiative to rectify this in the area of math and quantitative literacy, but it hasn’t been funded yet and was not mentioned in this report.  A committee charged to develop a parallel proposal in writing (which included prominent “equity warriors”) chose not to develop one.

And there’s much, much more, but I have to stop.

This whole business has been terrible.  I think Evergreen is a national, even an international treasure.  It is not perfect, but it has followed its own path for decades and has made large contributions to our understanding of how college-level learning can take place.  There are lots of brilliant, hyper-dedicated people working there.  It does indeed suffer from serious equity gaps, partly because the entire country suffers from them and passes them along with each cohort of students we take, and partly from real neglect on our part.  It also suffers from the pseudo-politics of the callout culture and its ritual symbolism, also a fixture of politics everywhere.  It has lots of potential, but it needs a moment of honest communication with the outside world or it may just get crushed.

6 comments:

rosserjb@jmu.edu said...

I am very sorry that the Evergreen administration is so out of touch with both reality and how institutions of higher education should be managed, and that you have had to deal with this as a faculty member there. There have been several prominent US higher ed institutions that have had qualitatively similar problems, but I think the situation at Evergreen is probably the worst in the entire US. So sorry.

Peter Dorman said...

Thanks, Barkley. A few weeks ago I watched the Frederick Wiseman documentary about UC Berkeley, "At Berkeley". I could have cried. It follows various threads, as his films always do, one of which was about the administration's response to a student protest. You could argue about this or that tactic they adopted, but overall they were so damned professional: there were clear goals, operations to achieve them, and real time assessment on how well the operations were meeting their goals. From deep in the Evergreen hole it looked like the Promised Land.

Zachary Smithingell said...

I appreciate your information on this, Peter. I don't know any current Evergreen students, so your words are as close to an insider's perspective as I see.
I agree with your assessment of TESC as a treasure, and it pains me to see these issues handled in such a seemingly clumsy way.

Anonymous said...

I've read all of your posts on the situation. I've appreciated your intention to let the facts speak for themselves last Spring. I've been fascinated by comments by others determined to see what they want in your posts, rather than what you've written.

I had heard from one of the equity council that they were specifically asked to remain quiet during the event and the debate of the events. I couldn't figure out why people who had been closest to looking at issues and recommended solutions that sought to change classroom culture would be completely silent about matters they had researched. I learned that they were asked to be silent. I found this extremely disappointing.

I read the report and need to read it again more carefully. I do not agree that all sectors of the college did everything they could do to mitigate the fallout. I recognize the fact that those in charge of public relations were overwhelmed on several fronts by external noise and ugly underbelly of racist america. I dislike that I even have to qualify my opinion of how the college dealt with this issue and everything after. It is a custom at our college to ignore ineffective results because we are worried about overburdening or hurting the feelings of people whose professional responsibilities include promoting a narrative that reflects the real soul of the college. The response was tentative and overly aware of how unfriendly sectors would use actions and narratives to poke fun.

As a person who is not white, I have a lifetime of experience in dealing with ugly actions, words, bias, etc. It's part of my reality. As a result I have no level of patience for a mealy response or this mealy report.

I was surprised that the college's primary response was and is to cower and worry more about what people will say rather than stand up and claim a position.

As for the case of diversity training for faculty, I believe faculty do not necessarily have the skills to negotiate classroom tensions around race when they occur. Ignoring the tensions is not effective, but neither is letting tensions overtake the curriculum.

Peter Dorman said...

Dear anon and fellow Greener,

Thanks for these thoughtful remarks. I'll use the opportunity to say a bit about the demand for mandatory faculty training, which has just moved forward with the Memorandum of Understanding agreed to by the college administration and United Faculty of Evergreen, my union. Blogger, in its wisdom, will not let me do this at length in the comment thread, so I’m going to have to put it in the form of a new post. It’s going up right now, so check out Econospeak’s home page.

Unknown said...

Wow, what a weak and milquetoast report. Hardly "independent." And manages not to criticize the ill behavior of the students. And praises the actions of the college administration, when they essentially surrendered to the students. And improperly criticizes Bret Weinstein, for exercising his free speech rights. And doesn't mention the faculty member who threatened his wife. And doesn't mention that many faculty were intimidated into silence.

Marc Brenman, former Executive Director, Washington State Human Rights Commission, and former instructor, TESC