From the Editor: The Divided University

By Aaron Barlow

The University of Virginia. Evergreen State College. Middlebury Col­lege. Oberlin College. The University of California, Berkeley. This short list of campuses where societal strife has landed in the news makes a larger point. Our colleges and universities, like American society as a whole, are divided—and not simply by politics. Yet, just a generation ago, our campuses operated under a more unified vision; many basic assumptions about purpose and method were undisputed. Not even the strife of the sixties could put an end to generalized as­sumptions about college life.

A century ago, as John Dewey wrote in The School and Society, school was seen as an exercise in “directed living”: “Instead of being only a place to learn lessons having an abstract and remote reference to some possible living to be done in the future . . . [school] gets a chance to be a miniature community, an embryonic society. This is the fundamental fact, and from this arise continuous and orderly sources of instruction.”

In terms used by technological start-ups, school was the “sandbox” of experimentation and learning. Now, its focus is certification and career, training and advancement. Its styles and goals are myriad where once they were at least somewhat unified. Now, it is part of the dangerous and very real world rather than a separate place of preparation for it.

Today, all of us involved with colleges and universities, students, faculty, and administrators, are engaged with issues on campus with a constant eye to their relevance in—and application to—the public sphere outside. We look at what our institutions are in the world at large, not what we might like them to be: we have no choice. The campus cannot survive as a separate “safe space” where the greater world can be avoided. Instead of an experiment for living, it becomes a place for triage.

Yet, even in a politically fragmented America, college should strive to be something more than this; in a return to the vision of Dewey, it should be an incubator of new political movements and ideologies, ones that may, perhaps, begin to heal the rifts around us.

In this issue, we examine ways American campuses can be reenergized even in the face of division. In the first article, Larry Catá Backer argues that graduate instructors are in the workplace as well as the classroom—and that the barrier between the two is a fiction that harms not only employment but also learning. Amy Hagopian and Eva Cherniavsky follow with an examination of how AAUP chapters should fight back when campus diversity is threatened by violence.

Next, Rachel Watson, an undergraduate student activist, demonstrates the importance of faculty and students—and even administrators—working together. In the pair of articles that follow, Catherine Nolan-Ferrell explores the difficulty of teaching in a fact-free political world and Lynn C. Lewis offers practical advice for keeping the classroom civil. The final print feature is Gwen­dolyn Alker’s exploration of the contribution feminism can make to the quest for faculty unity.

Online, Rebecca S. Linger and Ericka P. Zimmerman detail the process of creating a new faculty handbook and John Fawell exposes the weakness of another outside “solution” for university problems, experiential learning.

This issue’s articles offer but a few examples of the ways in which college is not simply a place for training or for creating the “product,” the graduate. It’s a much more complicated place; it can be much better and, ultimately, more useful than that.

Especially when the campus is active.

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