A School's Place In The Community

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THE PLANK AUGUST 3, 2008

A School's Place In The Community

In the August/September issue of Policy Review, Stanley Fish has a long essay explaining why teachers should not strive to "fashion moral character or produce citizens of a certain temper." Instead, the goal of educators should be to "equip those same students with the
analytical skills — of argument, statistical modeling, laboratory
procedure — that will enable them to move confidently within those
traditions and to engage in independent research after a course is over."

Fish is much more concerned by classroom advocacy than seems warranted (although admittedly he probably has his ear pretty close to the ground on this subject), but his call for the complete "de-politicization" of universities strikes me as misguided.

--When schools are hiring workers, "The goal should be to employ the best workers at the lowest
possible wages. The goal should not be to redress economic disparities by
unilaterally paying more than the market demands."

--"Schools should not disinvest from misbehaving countries or companies, because to be consistent would require too long a list of the ethically challenged...But if you take their money, aren’t you endorsing their ethics and in effect becoming a partner in their crimes?
No. If you take their money, you
’re taking their money. That’s all."

A better example of "the perfect" being an enemy of "the good" I cannot recall. Why is inconsistency any worse than investing in Darfur? This is the old slippery slope argument pushed to its typically diminishing returns. As for Fish's comments about not paying workers higher wages because doing so would be taking a political stance, again, one wants to ask: To what end? Why is Fish so concerned that taking a particular position will lead to X, Y, or Z? Moreover, what would he argue universities should do about an issue like, say, recognizing the marriages or civil unions of gay faculty members. I am assuming married faculty can benefit from their association with a school (reduced housing costs near campus come to mind). This is not an issue where it is easy to avoid taking a political stand (one could argue the same is true of paying workers the lowest possible wage: That, too, is a kind of stand). In any event, Fish is very concerned about these issues. Is the state of higher education in this country really so dire?

--Isaac Chotiner 

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