So are we not kicking out the jams, then?
Yesterday members of the Faculty of Arts received a communication from Acting Dean Lise Gotell expressing concern about “overly critical – even aggressive” ways of speaking on the part of faculty at campus fora, with specific reference to those focused on the BA Renewal. As I am sure it did for many of my colleagues, this communication from the Acting Dean brought to mind Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ call for “civility” on the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of the Free Speech Movement’s founding on that campus, and the furor that followed. Like any number of us, I have benefited from multiple excellent analyses of why seemingly anodyne administration-promulgated calls for “civility” at universities throughout North America represent serious threats to university vitality. I am sure I was not alone, then, in being surprised to see such a hackneyed demand echoed at a moment when the Faculty of Arts is engaged precisely on a project of renewal with a particular emphasis on relevance, variously defined: up-to-date, experiential, in touch with the real world, flexible, adaptive, immediately applicable, and generally hip to the pulse of today.
For all that, it seems the staid and stuffy bits of hallowed tradition that are to be preserved in whatever is to come are the ones involving the disciplinary uses of decorum. I’ll admit to being a bit of a creaky old dinosaur, but this makes me nostalgic for the heady early days of internet feminism when we talked about stuff like tone policing, derailing using anger, and derailing using emotion (if we were still being that kind of unfashionable, I’d make a nod to the references to our charming and adorable “passion” in Dean Gotell’s message). Oh well. I’ll be over here quietly and politely trying to figure out why everything old is new again, except for the parts that aren’t.