Wednesday, April 19, 2006

CONTROLLING WORDS

One of the ways the children of privilege control higher education is by the use of codes of conduct. Typically this involves accusations of uncollegial or unappropriate conduct when they are threatened by the substance of an exchange. Case in point: The Deans of my School in recent years have been known for avoiding controversy and on more than one occasion have used "soft" words to avoid actually saying anything. Or, they ignore questions altogether. For example, a faculty member may ask a direct question like: Should we offer classes in the summer? and the answer might be "We need to operate a 'robust' summer program." When asked what "robust" actually means, the response is silence. Or a dean may be asked to provide a list of people on leave in order to assess whether faculty have received special favors. The answer might come in the form of a data sheet in which the term "leave" has be redefined and then the quesion answered in order to conceal a direct response. Evasion and half-truths are acceptable forms of conduct to those in control. But any effort to pierce this duplicity by asking pointed questions that cannot be evaded results in charges that one is being uncollgial and, thus, the substance of the question itself is irrelevant.

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