Position Of Prof. Schudson

Marshall College's 'Watered-Down' D.O.C. Program As Robust As Ever

Guest Commentary

By Michael Schudson
Professor of Communications

May 03, 2007 — Contrary to views widely circulated by several Dimensions of
Culture TAs and some undergraduates who have rallied to their cause as the
Lumumba-Zapata Coalition, the D.O.C. director, faculty and staff in 2007 are
just as committed to equality, diversity and social justice as their
predecessors in the early 1990s when D.O.C. began. In 1989 Thurgood Marshall
College Provost Cecil Lytle took up my idea of creating a core curriculum
for the college. He appointed me to chair a committee to devise a
curriculum, resulting in a three-quarter sequence called "Diversity, Justice
and Imagination" that is today known as Dimensions of Culture. The course
was further defined by the pioneer faculty who were the original instructors
of the course.

The primary complaint of the LZC is that D.O.C. has been "watered down" and
so betrays the ideals of Marshall College. Anyone who disagrees with their
view of the course is convicted of insufficient commitment to social
justice. Such arrogance would be laughable if it were not being taken
seriously in some quarters, and if it were not damaging the D.O.C. program.
Since I care deeply about Marshall College (where I served for two years as
acting provost) and about D.O.C. (which I taught for a number of years) as
well as social justice, intellectual integrity and academic freedom, I want
to correct some of the misinformation LZC has spread.

Important curricular changes to D.O.C. through the years include:

1. Students and TAs in the first few years had serious objections to D.O.C.
Why? Too much reading! They were right, and the faculty cut back on the
reading assignments.

2. D.O.C. 1 was too theoretical and too sophisticated for freshmen. In the
hands of gifted lecturers, it sometimes worked despite itself, but
ultimately professor Gerry Doppelt from philosophy stepped in and overhauled
an ailing course. It was revamped again some years later under the guidance
of professor Paul Frymer from sociology.

3. D.O.C. 3 is introducing more contemporary material to prevent ending the
course with works from the 1980s, and also to reflect interests of current

4. D.O.C. changes annually with the interests of faculty teaching the course
- it takes three lecturers each quarter to run D.O.C. Recruiting faculty to
teach is an ongoing issue for directors of Revelle College's humanities
course, John Muir College's writing program, Sixth College's Culture Art and
Technology course and D.O.C. These are difficult courses to teach; they
force faculty to find a balance between stretching themselves to cover
material they are themselves newly learning and adjusting the curriculum to
fit their own competences. What is unchanging is that faculty who teach in
D.O.C. do so out of a sympathy with the philosophy of Marshall College and
the focus of D.O.C. on social justice. The charge that these faculty members
have "watered down" a once pristine ideal is insulting, graceless and false.

There are deeper and more troubling matters here. The LZC is appalled that a
selection by Stuart Hall has been eliminated from this year's syllabus. So
what? Faculty change syllabi; it's our job. I have taught Stuart Hall - he's
OK. But is it heresy to omit him? No; it's a faculty prerogative called
academic freedom.

Over time, I think D.O.C. has become more respectful of students who in
sections voice reasoned arguments in support of politically conservative or
moderate viewpoints. More than a few times in D.O.C.'s history, faculty have
had to remind TAs that D.O.C.'s aim is not political indoctrination. In my
own teaching in D.O.C. 2, credible complaints from undergraduates led me to
intervene with TAs who, for instance, took offense that a student dared to
make an argument against affirmative action in a paper.

Where was the offense? The LZC has a very peculiar understanding of free
speech. They find it heinous that D.O.C. brought Juan Williams (journalist
and biographer of Thurgood Marshall) to campus because they disagree with
some of his views. Since when does inviting a leading biographer of Thurgood
Marshall to Thurgood Marshall College during Thurgood Marshall Week
constitute insufficient devotion to social justice?

Read the LZC April 13 demands if the headline accounts of them have given
you sympathy for their cause. Note that they are unhappy with one lecturer,
Nancy Gilson, because she is a political philosopher whose training included
the study of "traditional and conservative" philosophers. (Karl Marx studied
traditional and conservative political economists - did he agree with them?
And suppose Gilson did agree with "traditional and conservative"
philosophers - by what cockeyed logic would this make her an inappropriate
choice to teach D.O.C.? Is it beyond comprehension that there are
traditional and conservative thinkers with a passion for social justice?)

LZC is unhappy that D.O.C. 1 lecturer Mary Blair-Loy studied "female
corporate executives." Yes, she has - in a prize-winning book concerned with
how these women resolve the competing demands of work and family and what
the social forces are that create women's identities. This disqualifies her
from teaching a course on diversity in American life? Gender is not a
dimension of diversity worth pondering?

LZC called D.O.C. Director Abraham Shragge a "military historian," thereby
getting a grade of 50 percent - he is a historian. His work has been
primarily on the history of San Diego. He has taught San Diego history, and
also about war in American society, a topic which has quite a lot to do with
social justice in the United States in 2007. What does Shragge say about the
military? LZC could do a Google search or could read Shragge's dissertation
in the UCSD library, but why bother? The TAs had already made up their minds
to attack a faculty devoted both to social justice and to the pedagogical
principle that a fair-minded education in a required freshman class means
presenting and criticizing a range of viewpoints.

The LZC TAs are entitled to their opinions, but while teaching D.O.C. they
are not entitled to substitute them for the curriculum the faculty has
established in the course. They merit criticism, not support; they have
reduced the capacity for civil dialogue on this campus by assuming that only
people who see the world just as they do share a concern about injustice and

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