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One Little Recipe For A New (Not Quite) Anarchist's Cookbook

What with the discussion of Ward Churchill and the continuing controvery of Columbia Unbecoming (the film about supposed anti-Israel bias in Columbia's Middle Eastern Studies department), political controversy in the classroom has been much in the air here, and thus much on my mind. Believe it or not, political bias isn't as big a deal as a 2L: once you're completely in command of your own classes, you can determine the optimal degree of controversy you'd like to experience. (For instance, to make a quick daguerreo-stereotype[1], Corporations is a pretty good course for capitalists; Labor Law is comfortable for lefties. Reverse the prior sentence if you want a bit more "challenge.")

I doubt anyone would say that the classrooms here are politics-free, and not merely where it's relevant. And it shouldn't surprise anyone that the irrelevant "humorous" asides cut pretty much one way. (Of course, other's mileage may vary: I'm sure somewhere there's a law student who can relate tales of continual extemporaneous Kerry-bashing.) Mostly it's harmless.

But this isn't always true: every so often there is a professor whose agenda overwhelms the university's educational objectives. (Note: this is not targetted at a specific professor, and anyone who names names in comments will find their contributions ruthlessly expurgated. Still, I can't imagine most students at any university can't think of some example.) At least in my experience, universities treat this activity with a kind of benign neglect. There might be a rare student complaint, or a bit of honest commentary in anonymous feedback forms, but more often dissent is confined to conversations between students, stories that often become legends handed down from class to class. Direct confrontation is limited by the power disparity between professors and those they grade. If action is taken, it's only because things get so far out of hand that something like Columbia Unbecoming results.

But technology often transforms by altering balances of power. It's all a matter of changing the domain. Take, for instance, one of the accusations in Columbia Unbecoming involves a "he-said/she-said" series of events involving comments between a professor and a student. I know nothing about what actually happened in that case, but consider the situation as if all material facts were in favor of the complaining student. Then think about this: in almost every classroom these days, students bring multimedia notebooks by the hundreds. Almost every one of those has a massively underused hard drive and a microphone port. IPods are not merely the new big thing among students--they're nearly ubiquitous. And now that blogging has become almost second-nature, the technically adept are exploring Podcasting: distributing "radio shows" over the internet.

Put those together, and what do you get? If the University of Colorado thinks that Churchill's been a bit of a public relations disaster, or Columbia's feeling a bit red-faced over it's Unbecoming experiences, I wonder if administrators recognize what they may soon face. For the moment, the grumbling of, say, religious students who feel their views are maligned or conservatives who feel academia is tilted against them is mostly confined to student coffee tables. In the outside world, the problem is discussed in the aggregate, but rarely with discrete and direct examples. Now technology may now allow these dissidents to put their case to those outside the academy. Might I suggest that a revolution may be coming, and that revolution will be podcast?

[1]: OK, maybe that reference isn't entirely clear. I wanted to combine daguerreotype and "stereotype" to mean a rough, not-entirely-developed stereotype. But it didn't really work, did it?


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[Comment deleted, simply because naming names isn't acceptable, even if it's funny.]
What? Anyone who knows Professor... uh, somebody, would know.... Well, fine... Professor Make-Believe is a secret Marxist. A Groucho-Marxist, but still.

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