25 February 2008

British Theory

Here is an old lecture (1989), dated but perhaps still useful to students of literary theory:

An Unreconstructed Filipino Deconstructionist in Thatcherite Country, or Travels in British Theory 1988

Like Britain, British literary theory today is divided into three parts, limply labelled feminism, structuralism, and cultural materialism. Typically British, British feminism has little to do with American feminism, despite Gayatri Spivak of Pittsburgh’s non-stop transoceanic voyages. Instead, British feminism wears French clothes, designed by the French Feminist Trinity of Helene Cixous, Julia Kristeva, and Luce Irigaray, and marketed by Toril Moi, formerly of Oxford’s Lady Margaret Hall. Similarly British, British structuralism, being marxist, is the exact opposite of rightist, formalist, synchronic Yale deconstructionism. More identifiably British because indigenous is Raymond Williams of Cambridge’s cultural materialism, given new life through his sudden death on January 26, 1988, and through the continuing productivity of his disciples Terry Eagleton of Oxford’s Linacre College, formerly of Wadham College, and Sussex’s dynamic duo of Jonathan Dollimore and Alan Sinfield.

We can say that Scotland with Strathclyde is cultural materialism, Wales with Cardiff is feminism, and England with Southampton is structuralism, though we can just as adroitly draw the theory map with Strathclyde’s literary linguists keeping structuralism alive, Cardiff’s Terence Hawkes canonizing cultural materialism by commissioning a volume on it in his widely- influential New Accents series, and Southampton’s feminists attacking both patriarchy and the academic aristocracy. But then again we can start with Cardiff’s Christopher Norris championing structuralism with a straight deconstructive face. Theoretically, we would never stop redrawing the map, drawing maps being Hawkes’ favorite metaphor for theorizing. No matter how we juggle the pieces to fit England, Scotland, and Wales, however, one odd piece remains: the Northern Ireland of theory, Reading’s Patrick Parrinder, whose movement against theory is a theoretical movement in itself.

Like tracks on the London tube, the paths of the three trains of theoretical thought constantly intersect, appearing to run parallel at times only to merge at unexpected moments. Today’s senior British feminists used to be the young radicals of The Marxist Feminist Literature Collective. Those who used to call themselves structuralists now prefer to be known as post- structuralists, though in a pinch, they would rather drop the root word altogether in favor of the more deceivingly neutral term “theorists,” meaning, in British theory English, marxists. Marxism, of course, is the genre to which cultural materialism belongs, though Dollimore and Sinfield, in insisting that homosexuality must be problematized within the marxist agenda, have effectively collapsed sociology and psychoanalysis, bringing the British theoretical world back full circle to feminism, through which Sigmund Freud and Jacques Lacan entered, first surreptitiously, then rowdily, British academic life.

My lecture, as envisioned and demanded by the Alfredo E. Litiatco professorial chair fund, is not in three (or four) parts, but merely in two. This first part consists mainly of a name-dropping account of my grand tour of Britain, a kind of intellectual home movie for which I am thankful I have an audience of masochistic friends. I intend merely to give information in today’s sense of that term; that means I shall be playing the game of Literary Theory Trivial Pursuit. Pursuing literary theory aptly describes what I actually did for the five months I stayed in England as a Senior Fellow of the British Council, a signal honor that allowed me to be collected from the airport, to collect generous amounts to spend on fish and chips and on British publishers, and to be wined and dined by the Council’s Harriet Harvey-Wood and John Green. To the British Council head office in London, to its various regional offices particularly the one in Oxford, and to Manila representative Hugh Salmon, I offer sincerest thanks. To them I owe the most recent of the radical changes in my theorizing.

In the second part of my Litiatco lecture, which I shall deliver next month in my own language, I shall illustrate what each of the three theoretical strains can add to our repertoire of reading skills, particularly in our reading of Balagtas’ Florante at Laura. I choose English now because the discourse of the authors I shall mention is in English; I shall use Filipino then because my text will be in Tagalog.

To carry on, then. What is happening in British theory today?

First, Britain is losing some of its best theorists. Moi, who was strangered by Oxford’s patriarchy, forcing her to accept the directorship of the Centre for Feminist Research in the Humanities at the University of Bergen in Norway, now spends half the year at Duke University, the great and successful American pirate of theorists. Duke has also dangled the dollar carrot successfully in Dollimore’s face. Also half the year out is Norris, who bilocates at Berkeley. Strathclyde’s Derek Attridge and Sussex’s Cora Kaplan have joined Rutgers. Still rooted in merry olde England are Eagleton, Manchester’s Antony Easthope, and Cambridge’s Elizabeth Wright, but all three do the British Council lecture circuit, being globetrotting academics straight out of David Lodge’s novel Small World. It’s only a matter of time before the feelers sent to these three, as well as other critics, will turn into luscious offers, and then, who knows? The British government’s drastic cutting of university budgets, the dropping of tenure, and the continuous attrition of feminists and marxists from Oxford and Cambridge have all made Thatcherite country a place to drain brains from. America, though former colony rather than colonizer as in our case, seems to be just as attractive to British intellectuals as it is to our own writers.

While driven theorists are being driven out of the country in droves, theory itself may be said to be driving itself out of existence. It was not unusual for me to hear the remark, in the words of Ann Jefferson of Oxford’s New College, that “the moment of theory has passed.” Symptomatic of the sense of an ending (as Frank Kermode -- who I did not meet -- might put it) is the publication in 1988 of Easthope’s British Post- Structuralism since 1968, a summing-up if we ever saw one. The book’s first chapter is entitled “Beginnings: On the Left,” and though the last chapter is not entitled “Endings: On the Right” -- Easthope, in fact, in an appendix, protests that “post- structuralism is nowhere near an orthodoxy, still less a hegemony in English intellectual life” -- literary competents can easily provide the closure code. Kent’s Bernard Sharratt protested even more violently when I called him a literary theorist; he had left literature, he said, ten years back. At Essex, of course, which used to be the breeding ground of Machereyian marxists like Soledad Reyes, the 1986 Literature, Politics & Theory marked an institutional closure, though current plans include a revival of the famous Essex conferences, with New Historicism trumpeting in a new series in 1989. Interestingly enough, the convenors of the conference, Francis Barker and Peter Hulme, are thinking of inviting not only non-theorists, but anti-theorists as well. The commonsensical realists have scaled the wall, or the wall has turned out to be illusory.

If the moment of theory, after much scrutiny, has indeed passed, what has taken its place? Cultural value theory, of course, though old-fashioned aesthetics in Eagleton’s hands -- he is said to be preparing his magnum opus and in fact delivered two Kant-like lectures in quick succession last summer (if British summers can be called summers) -- and image studies in other people’s hands are emerging as well to challenge the dominant radical forces. There is always fiction writing, of course, a course that Eagleton has tried, following Williams.

Theory being a phoenix, however, having shown its resiliency since 1,000 B.C. by rising and falling and rising again in China, Greece, and Italy, cannot so easily be marginalized in footnotes. In Williams’ Wales, a Centre for Critical and Cultural Theory has been established at the newly- merged University of Wales College of Cardiff, boasting a First Five that can outplay any team outside of Duke: Catherine Belsey, Hawkes, Norris, Chris Weedon, and Peter Foulkes. It was Belsey, of course, who wrote the 1980 Critical Practice, which came as close to orthodoxy as any anti-orthodoxy book could. Hawkes not only edits New Accents, but keeps coming up with new ways of reading Shakespeare. Norris writes books in his sleep, and his latest on Paul de Man, defending rather than attacking, seems guaranteed to keep other people awake nights. Weedon and Foulkes I did not meet personally, in contrast to the rest of the critics (save Kermode) I have mentioned, who met me at lunch or tea or both to argue or to agree about the lapsed or relapsed moment of theory. From their books, however, the two seem to be comfortably enshrined among the biggies. Cardiff has, for some time, been publishing the leading journal in literary theory today, Textual Practice, and is set to hold in September, 1989, the biggest theory bash since Strathclyde’s 1986 Linguistics of Writing.

Back in England, the Critical Theory Group at Nottingham are still going strong, though much of their time is taken up by teaching. Similarly teaching-oriented are the staff of Warwick’s Graduate School of Comparative Literary Theory and Literary Translation. Because they are not based in only one university, only the Modern Critical Theory Group can afford to ford continuously their non-English, therefore non-hegemonic, way into theory, and their journal entitled Paragraph seems unlikely to fold.

Who are the big names in British theory today? Eagleton is still considered the most equal of the equals, though feminists at his own Oxford are starting to feel unhappy over his afeminist books. About his life, they cannot be as unhappy, since he recommended young feminist Jeri Johnson to take his place at Wadham, and he acknowledges his friendship with Moi in his prefaces. He also happens to edit the Rereading Literature series (second only to New Accents in influence), where Belsey’s latest feminist reading of Milton appears. Lesser stars, but just as crucial leaders in their own firmaments, are Nottingham’s Douglas Tallack, Southampton’s Robert Young, Lancaster’s Raman Selden, Middlesex Polytechnic’s Peter Widdowson, and Warwick’s Susan Basnett.

Foreign theorists remain, as always, on top of the most-admired list. Still the most quoted is Jacques Derrida, though less blindly adulatory now than earlier. At his heels are Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jean Baudrillard. If Eagleton is to be believed, however, Habermas and the Germans may stage a comeback anyday now. For feminists, still on top are the French Trinity, though there’s Spivak, who remains primarily a feminist rather than, despite her latest book, an anti-orientalist discourse theorist. At the July Warwick conference on translation, Spivak argued against her own earlier denunciation of Derrida and urged all sisters to give up the name of Woman; her paper was received in stunned but obviously impressed silence.

One last piece of trivia should finally make everything unclear. Manchester University Press’ well-intentioned and excellently-conceived Cultural Politics series, featuring offbeat readings of various texts, was being edited by Dollimore and Sinfield. Manchester, however, censored the volume on homosexuality, causing the Sussex Two to resign last September. Considering Britain’s long tradition of intellectual freedom, the scandal should have been as serious as America’s discovering that Martin Heidegger and Paul de Man supported Hitler, but only amused giggles met the incident. The three parts of Britain and its multicolored train lines may merge and emerge, but Thatcherite rightism draws the line at the third sex. Gender remains a binary opposition in strict structuralist or post- structuralist fashion; gay marxism is still a bit too offbeat in the land of Oscar Wilde.

Instead of drawing the line, we should probably be redrawing our map, to return to Hawkes’ metaphor. What I have tried to do in this first part of my Litiatco lecture is to draw a map of literary theory in Britain. It is a high-tech map, a laser-drawn hologram, constantly changing colors, yet remaining forever British.

(First delivered as an Alfredo E. Litiatco Professorial Chair Lecture on 4 February 1989 at De La Salle University, Manila, Philippines)

13 February 2008

Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is widely misunderstood. Many teachers think that, with academic freedom, they can pretty much say anything they want to say. That is not true at all. Academic freedom is a specifically limited right of certain persons. To get to the real meaning of academic freedom, we have to return to the original reason for it.

The discussion by John Henry Newman in The Idea of a University, published in 1854, serves as a good starting point. “A University, taken in its bare idea,” he said, “has this object and this mission: it contemplates neither moral impression nor mechanical production; it professes to exercise the mind neither in art nor in duty; its function is intellectual culture.” He continued, “It educates the intellect to reason well in all matters, to reach out towards truth, and to grasp it.”

The key word in this passage is truth. Academic freedom exists in order for humanity to discover the truth. Moreover, academic freedom makes sense only within the larger context of a university’s search for truth.

Flash forward to the present. In a modern discussion of it, the University of Oxford declared in March, 2007, that “staff (faculty) have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges.” There are two key concepts in this modern formulation: first, faculty members have to stay within the law, and second, they cannot be fired for expressing new ideas.

The world cannot progress unless there is a group of human beings allowed to question conventional knowledge without persecution. This freedom to think and to express what they think is, however, not an absolute right of these human beings, but is limited by what the law says.

What does the law say?

The most universal of all laws about academic freedom is that of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. What does the United Nations say?

Article 13 of the 1976 United Nations International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights focuses on the right to education. In its 1999 interpretation of that article, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights distinguishes between individual academic freedom and institutional academic freedom.

The UN Committee’s first provision goes this way: “Members of the academic community, individually or collectively, are free to pursue, develop and transmit knowledge and ideas, through research, teaching, study, discussion, documentation, production, creation or writing. Academic freedom includes the liberty of individuals to express freely opinions about the institution or system in which they work, to fulfil their functions without discrimination or fear of repression by the State or any other actor, to participate in professional or representative academic bodies, and to enjoy all the internationally recognized human rights applicable to other individuals in the same jurisdiction. The enjoyment of academic freedom carries with it obligations, such as the duty to respect the academic freedom of others, to ensure the fair discussion of contrary views, and to treat all without discrimination on any of the prohibited grounds.”

Since individual academic freedom is a very complex issue, let me devote future entries to this first provision. Today let me discuss only the second provision, which reads: “The enjoyment of academic freedom requires the autonomy of institutions of higher education. Autonomy is that degree of self-governance necessary for effective decision-making by institutions of higher education in relation to their academic work, standards, management and related activities. Self-governance, however, must be consistent with systems of public accountability, especially in respect of funding provided by the State. Given the substantial public investments made in higher education, an appropriate balance has to be struck between institutional autonomy and accountability. While there is no single model, institutional arrangements should be fair, just and equitable, and as transparent and participatory as possible.”

The second provision is about institutional academic freedom.

It is institutional academic freedom that is enshrined in our own 1987 Constitution. Section 5 of Article 14 on Education, Science and Technology, Culture and Sports, states clearly and simply, that “academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.”

It is important to note that our Constitution, following the UN covenant, grants academic freedom only to institutions of higher learning (that is, colleges and universities), rather than to all schools, such as elementary or high schools. Since individual academic freedom is a consequence of institutional academic freedom, we can immediately see that elementary and high school teachers and students do not enjoy academic freedom.

What is institutional academic freedom? Our own Supreme Court has defined it: “We have held time and again that the University has the academic freedom to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.” (G.R. No. 132860, April 3, 2001, University of the Philippines, et al., vs. Civil Service Commission)

That is what institutional academic freedom is and that is all it is. A university can hire and fire teachers, can formulate and restrict curricula and syllabi, can specify teaching methods, and can accept or expel students – all without any interference from any outside entity, not even government.

Immediately, we see why our Commission on Higher Education (CHED) is regarded by many, if not most university administrators as misled. Although it was conceived to be developmental (that means providing universities with opportunities to be world-class), CHED has often actually been regulatory, something against the Constitution itself.

It is not just a question of leadership, although the current leadership in CHED is undeniably unlawful. The problems of higher education will not be solved by a mere change of government managers. It is a question of CHED doing what it is not supposed to do. CHED is not supposed to infringe on the academic freedom of higher education institutions.

While institutional academic freedom is enshrined in the Constitution, individual academic freedom is not. Individual teachers have academic freedom only to the extent that it is given to them by their institutions.

This is clear even from the guidelines of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). Says AAUP: “Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject.” Teachers have academic freedom only within their own disciplines.

Adds AAUP: “College and university teachers are citizens, members of a learned profession, and officers of an educational institution. When they speak or write as citizens, they should be free from institutional censorship or discipline, but their special position in the community imposes special obligations.” In other words, since they are looked up to, teachers should not make statements that they cannot back up with evidence, as the word “evidence” is defined in their particular disciplines.

Still from AAUP: “As scholars and educational officers, they should remember that the public may judge their profession and their institution by their utterances. Hence they should at all times be accurate, should exercise appropriate restraint, should show respect for the opinions of others, and should make every effort to indicate that they are not speaking for the institution.”

Nearer home, our own Court of Appeals has restricted individual academic freedom even more. Teachers can claim academic freedom only if they follow the regulations of a school. In Far Eastern University vs. National Labor Relations Commission and Feliza Samaniego (CA-G.R. SP No. 83614), the Court of Appeals said, “Teachers are given leeway, under the principle of academic freedom, to conduct their classes according to the manner and form they see fit, provided they conform to school regulation.”

Illustrative of the many descriptions of academic freedom is the one attributed to former UP president Vicente G. Sinco, also a delegate to the 1973 Constitutional Convention. Sinco said that the Constitution “definitely grants the right of academic freedom to the University as an institution as distinguished from the academic freedom of a university professor.” In short, universities can claim absolute academic freedom; individual teachers within a university can claim academic freedom only if they obey the institution.

Certain institutions, such as UP itself, grant practically absolute academic freedom to its teachers. Other institutions, however, particularly private ones, limit the academic freedom of their teachers. Teachers in these institutions cannot choose their textbooks, design their own syllabi different from departmental syllabi, not wear uniforms, not observe teaching or consultation hours, and whatever else the administrators tell them not to do.

From a management point of view, this view of academic freedom makes perfect sense. After all, if a particular teacher does not like to follow the regulations of a school, he or she can always go to another school. This is the same reasoning that is behind the opinion of the Supreme Court about institutional academic freedom. If a student does not like the way a school is run, he or she can always enroll in another school.

The right to education is not denied any student, nor is freedom of speech denied any teacher by this limited view of academic freedom. After all, nobody, student or teacher, has the right to be in any particular institution. There is always some school somewhere (such as UP) which will allow students or teachers more academic freedom than is allowed in other schools. If someone will argue that he or she is not intelligent enough to be either a student or a teacher in UP, then the answer is, tough. In fact, academic freedom is granted only to very few, highly intelligent individuals.

Faculty members that cry “Academic Freedom” when threatened with dismissal by school authorities for violating school rules should look at the Supreme Court decision in the case of the University of the Philippines and Alfredo de Torres vs. Civil Service Commission (G.R. No. 132860, April 3, 2001).

In that decision, the Court said unequivocally: “We have held time and again that ‘the University has the academic freedom to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.’ Clearly, this freedom encompasses the autonomy to choose who should teach and, concomitant therewith, who should be retained in its rolls of professors and other academic personnel. This Court declared in Ateneo de Manila University v. Capulong: ‘As corporate entities, educational institutions of higher learning are inherently endowed with the right to establish their policies, academic and otherwise, unhampered by external controls or pressure.’”

The school’s administration, then, has the right to hire or fire teachers. Teachers cannot claim academic freedom as a defense against being fired.

In the United States, someone can be fired just by saying, “You’re fired.” Says Ronald B. Standler in “Academic Freedom in the USA”: “Untenured professors are at-will employees. Under the doctrine of at-will employment, an employer can dismiss an employee for any reason, no reason at all, or even a morally repugnant reason.”
Fortunately, because we are a bit more protective of the rights of workers, we need due process to fire a teacher in the Philippines. Nevertheless, after such due process, a teacher can still be fired for not following school regulations, even if these regulations are not academic (such as wearing a uniform, not smoking on campus, or observing office hours).

Our Court of Appeals made this crystal clear: “Academic freedom does not mean that a faculty member cannot be dismissed.” (25 August 2005, CA-G.R. SP No. 83614, Far Eastern University vs. National Labor Relations Commission and Feliza Samaniego.)

If this sounds like a brief for school administrators faced with disciplining unruly faculty members, that is because it is. I am tired of hearing teachers use the term “academic freedom” every time they feel harassed by administrators.

There are, however, certain teachers that can legitimately claim academic freedom when they defy school administrators ordering them to teach in a certain way. Such teachers are not many, but they still constitute a distinct class of intellectuals that have to be exempted from school rules, not just operational procedures, but even academic policies (such as adhering to a prescribed syllabus or textbook, or in the case of a sectarian school, teaching according to the tenets of a particular religion).

These are the intellectuals referred to in Cardinal Newman’s “The Idea of a University.” They are the think tank of the world. They are the reason the idea of academic freedom was born.

Who are, without any doubt, entitled to academic freedom?

Only tenured professors in a university, who have doctorates, who have published in peer-reviewed academic journals, and who follow non-academic school policies.

These are the privileged individual scholars entitled to teach whatever they want in whatever way they want. No school can dictate to them what to teach or how to teach. In a sense, the academic freedom of a school ends where the academic freedom of these scholars begin.

Unfortunately for the human race, there are very few of these scholars. Not everyone teaching even in a prestigious university has the qualifications needed to join this elite group.

Why is tenure required? Because non-tenured professors still have not earned the total respect of their peers in the university. That is why they are non-tenured. The other faculty members or the administrators of a school do not trust them enough yet to give them the assurance that they can stay in the school permanently. They are still under probation. They are still being judged by their peers.

Why are doctorates required? Because only the doctorate is the final, objective proof that a scholar has mastered everything that has to be mastered in a field. A doctoral dissertation includes what is known as a “review of the literature.” This is proof that the scholar has read everything previously written about his area of specialization. The dissertation advances knowledge in the field. By writing a doctoral dissertation, the scholar proves that she or he has done something no one else has done before. She or he has pushed the frontiers of knowledge.

Why is publishing in a peer-reviewed journal required? Because such publication is objective proof that other scholars in the field, especially those in other universities and in other countries, respect the professor. Acceptance by peers is crucial in determining whether one should be allowed to challenge received wisdom. After the dissertation, only publication in a peer-reviewed journal serves as a gauge of originality and validity of thought.

Why is adherence to non-academic school policies required? I personally do not believe that academically free professors should follow school policies, because such policies are made by people that, by definition, are the intellectual inferiors of such professors. But the law is unfortunately on the side of administrators.

Our Court of Appeals thinks so. In Far Eastern University vs. National Labor Relations Commission and Feliza Samaniego, the Court said, “Academic freedom affords a faculty member the right to pursue his studies in his particular specialty. Academic freedom does not mean that a faculty member cannot be dismissed.” (25 August 2005, CA-G.R. SP No. 83614)

American law is even clearer. Here is a typical decision: “Academic freedom is not a license for activity at variance with job related procedures and requirements, nor does it encompass activities which are internally destructive to the proper function of the university or disruptive to the education process.” [Stastny v. Central Washington University, 647 P.2d 496, 504 (Wash.Ct.App. 1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1071 (1983)]

In fact, American law is even more stringent. Here is another decision: “But we do not conceive academic freedom to be a license for uncontrolled expression at variance with established curricular contents and internally destructive of the proper functioning of the institution.” [Clark v. Holmes, 474 F.2d 928, 931 (7thCir. 1972), cert. denied, 411 U.S. 972 (1973)]

My own opinion is that academic freedom for those individuals satisfying the criteria cannot be restricted by the institution, except for non-academic matters (such as punctuality, attendance, submission of grades on time, wearing of uniforms). Inside the classroom, academically free professors should be able to do whatever they want, as long as it is in the area of their expertise.

Why? Because that is the whole point of academic freedom. There should be individuals allowed to think unthinkable thoughts, teach unteachable things, publish unpublishable ideas. These are the individuals that really are at the cutting edge of knowledge. Without them, the human race is doomed. Without them, we will stagnate, unable to produce ideas that change the world.

(Published in The Philippine Star, 7, 14, 28 February, 6, 13 March 2008)