Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Work & Days: Academic Freedom & Intellectual Activism Edited by Ed Carvalho

Works & Days
Academic Freedom & Intellectual Activism
in the Post 9/11 University
Volumes 26-27, 2008-09
Edward J. Carvalho Editor
ISSN: 0886-2060 $15.00

“…since 9/11 there have been many startling instances where the
dominant culture’s rhetoric of terrorism and fear have cast a pall
over the terrain of academic freedom.” Edward J. Carvalho

The above sentence sets the ground work, premises of what follows in each essay; the subject being terrorism, how the word itself effects, in a given situation and in an actual sense of meaning, and its effect on academia. Each essay or interview imparts knowledge by experts, within the range of their capabilities and intellectual understanding and research. Carvalho has assembled and puts forward these important dialogues: “now more than ever, rational, purposeful discussions on the future of our society must emerge so that the controversies outlined in this collection remain a relevant topic of concern for all citizens…”

Works & Days, contains some of the best, complete understandings, from historical to prophetic outlooks, and the role of the present state of regulations and deregulating, in colleges and universities. “Caught in the Crunch,” by Ellen Messer-Davidow. Her essay creates an conducive and inclusive atmosphere for what one may understand as observation and reporting. In reading her essay, I realize, trying to quote her in minuscule, is almost an impossibility, an injustice to what is being presented, but, I will attempt it, in an incomplete way:

“To harness research to their agendas, conservatives have wielded
defunding more blatantly. The basic strategy for defunding
progressive research was devised by Lynne Cheney, when she
chaired the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) from
1984 to 1994. She openly used her position to issue NEH reports
denouncing the scholarship on gender, race, class and theory,
and behind the scenes she packed the NEH council, staff,
and peer review panels with conservatives who in turn marked
this scholarship down in grant competitions.”

Each writer introduces a similar, yet different, experience and study. In an interview with Cornel West, Edward Carvalho asks, “…can you talk a little about the impact of these forces (imperialistic) on academic freedom and intellectual activism?” Cornell West, being a prolific speaker and writer, launches into a discussion which includes the Patriot Act and its influence on the academic environment:

“… So you’ve got these three forces-you’ve got 9/11 connected to the
Patriot Act, which is political; consensus, in terms of economic
ideology, and so forth; and then, of course, you’ve got the military
presence and imperial occupation, with the Israeli-Palestinian issue
looming large in relation to 9/11, and the academy unable to have
a Socratic dialogue about it.”

Cavalho has chosen his writers carefully, with certainty, and emphatic substances; they discuss some of the problems, connected to and with 9/11, within the academic society and the ramifications brought on by that particular day and thereafter the changes wrought upon the higher places of learning. The reader will find an exact fit, a voice worthy of their liking. My favorites are similar to Socrates questioning Cebes in Phaedo. “Why, when you add one to one, I am not sure either that the one to which one is added has become by the addition, two. I cannot understand how, when they are brought together, this union or placing of one by the other, should be the cause of their becoming two, whereas, when they were separated, each of them was one, and they were not two…” All the conversations within this book are one, each essay placed beside each one another, as one indication. I especially related to the interviews:

Edward Carvalho: In speaking of the relations between resistance and labor, what are some of the fundamental differences between dissidence, insurgence, and terrorism…?

Martin Espada: My own feeling about vocabulary that your addressing is that, yes, on the one hand, it’s certainly very subjective; you can talk about point of view as a major factor in labeling people as terrorists, or dissidents, or subversives, or whatever it might be. On the other hand, I think we can and should come to some agreement about what these words mean. Rather than simply dismissing it as an entirely subjective process, it’s more responsible of us as writers and activists to stop and say, “Okay, let’s decide what these words mean,” instead of just dismissing these words out of hand and never using them again.

EC: …have such terms been corrupted by the war in Iraq?…

ME: What we as poets can do is reconcile language and meaning and to put the blood back into the words. The fact of the matter is that words are perfect engines of meaning. Words are not simply noise, and words are not simply there to distract, frighten, or manipulate us. With that said, if we can simply reconcile language and meaning in ways to deliberately counteract the separation of language and meaning carried out by the people holding political and economic power, then we will have done our job as poets…

There are so many worthy writings in this book that I can only recommend buying it and gleaning from it what you will find relatable.

Karren Baird-Olson, “Learning-Centered” Urban University. Baird-olson gives an in-depth research/look into some of the problems after and before 9/11. She presents a subtitled list of subjects from her research: Cultural Imperialism, Economic Discrimination, Hyper-Surveillance, Marginalization and Exclusion. Each of these subjects backed-up in paragraphs, thoughtful explanations:

Ignoring these and other financial realities facing students, a
number of administrators, educational policy-makers, and
politicians continue to view students as consumers of a service
and to speak of their higher learning in terms of a “purchased good”
rather than “as a rite and a right.” above and beyond this obvious
corporative model, the same administrative strata erodes educational
opportunity by recommending that students incur additional debt
by taking supplemental loans to pay for their education. Few will
openly acknowledge that the ideology of privatization in education
is code for racialized thinking, which uses tropes for scapegoat
certain underrepresented student populations, in this case, First Peoples
and persons of color. The consequent justifications for shutting
out those groups from higher education undermines and/or destroys
“ethnic studies” programs, and thus excludes or silences the voices
of the less powerful…

Carvalho’s own expression, to which a reader can access, relate to what is being put forth: “But beyond the discussions and theorizing, past the vista of mere spectatorship, the ideas outlined here must become living things and through concerted agency be put to sustainable action…”

The book, Works & Days, presents a comprehensive, cohesive cross section of deliberations by the various writers. Each writer intones their perceptions through qualified research and experiences that reinforce their truths; their writing leaves an opening, so that a reader may come to think or believe or find an insightful way or course of action. This then becomes the building; how we might come to learn what the academic administrative systems try or not try to decree, how their actions effect us, according to an atmosphere of terror; terror being an implied word, presenting and implementing certain stipulations that accord an action on the part of the implementer; the leaning toward restrictions. This book takes on a huge subject and huge questions are asked of the academics and Cavalho presents, to us the reader, some of the answers, some of the thoughtful dialogues and historical data; with a sense of integrity, with an understanding of what is
happening within our educational facilities that effect us, a nation of individuals.

Irene Koronas
Poetry Editor & Reviewer
Ibbetson Street Press
Poetry Editor
Wilderness House Literary Review

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