Private = harassment / public = fair comment

The following news item was circulated this morning in the Academica Top 10:

CapilanoU removes instructor’s sculpture from campus, alleging harassment

Capilano University has removed from campus a sculpture that it says is “intended to belittle and humiliate” its President, Kris Bulcroft. However, the CapilanoU instructor who created the statue says that his work is being held hostage. George Rammell created the 2-metre caricature of Bulcroft draped in the American flag and holding her poodle to protest cuts to several programs at the institution. He says the sculpture, entitled Blathering on in Krisendom, is satire “in the tradition of the way the British satirized Margaret Thatcher.” But Jane Shackell, Board Chair at CapilanoU, said in a statement that “the effigy has been used in a manner amounting to workplace harassment of an individual employee.” Rammell had installed his sculpture at the university’s studio art gallery before it was removed. The administration has offered to return the sculpture to Rammell on the condition it “not be returned to campus.” Globe and Mail | Georgia Straight | North Shore News

I do not know anything about this situation other than what is included here, but one thing stands out: the university president, certainly on her own campus, is a public figure. As such, satiric references to her are fair comment. “Harassment of an individual employee” does not come into it. She’s the president, she made unpopular decisions, the community responds. Take it on the chin, President Bulcroft, and move on.

[I wonder if Rammell takes commissions?]


When it looked like job action was likely,

a sister president at another institution warned me against using humour in any communications for the duration. I have honoured this, as they say, more in the breech. And my colleague was correct: I should have held my tongue, run out into the woods at midnight and whispered my bon mots to the stars if I had to. Latest example: some enterprising students hung their own flag on an official university flagpole:


This is, of course, marvellous, and I immediately tweeted the image. From the response, you would have thought someone had burnt the university flag rather than merely shared the pole. Of course feelings are running high. So let me say here, categorically, that I was not chortling as I tweeted; I was deadly serious.

This action on the part of the apparently ninja-quick students is a central symbol of the struggle to wrest some control back and save the academic mission of our university from the corrosive managerialism that impedes the teaching and research functions of our institution. That little hand-lettered pillow-case of a flag represents an alternate voice among the traditional symbols of power. It puts students into a picture from which they were notably absent. It stands for the multiplicity of voices that ideally make up any vibrant community, and certainly a healthy university community. It represents the cheekiness and daring of the next generation, and bravo to them. It is a visible political action, planned and executed with grace rather than confrontation. It dares to stand up among the solid, recognized symbols of government and nation and  shout, “we’re here too!”

Yes I tweeted it and I would retweet it. Unsmilingly of course.

In case there is anyone here

who is not a regular reader of — which would be weird, but people contain multitudes — we have started a new page over there to focus on program prioritization. I know, it doesn’t exactly trip off the tongue, does it? But that is the buzz phrase so there it is. “Program prioritization” is the rationalization of university programs and departments. It is widespread, it employs lots of expensive consultants, administrators love it because it uses simple metrics and many Powerpoint slides, and it is truly horrifying. On the plus side, as an issue it is extremely galvanizing to anyone who gives a fig about education. Interesting critiques are being produced and people are drawing together to defend universities as public institutions. Read Jon’s overview, follow some of the links, then meet me back here to strategize about what to do. Once this pesky bargaining round is resolved, I mean.

These days

I find myself disagreeing with Alex Usher much more often than not, but it’s hard to stay mad at a guy who comes up with the phrase “techno-fetishist windbags” to describe promoters of MOOCs and other “disruptive” technologies. Read the whole piece for some good quotes from Sebastian Thrun, founder of patient-zero Udacity, including his admission that “[w]e have a lousy product” or my fav: “We’re not doing anything as rich and powerful as what a traditional liberal-arts education would offer you.” Doesn’t get blunter than that.

(Read the original interview with Thrum.)