Elitism and Democracy

Bush doesn’t like “elites, these kind of professor types that love to read their names in the newspaper.”

I’ve been thinking a bit about elitism, and I have to admit it’s slowing growing on me. Mind you, this is coming from a long-held position that students should have the power in a university, and that people should govern themselves. Unfortunately, many students are not interested in that power.

Mary Cassata and I were talking before our curriculum planning meeting about whether we should make undergraduates take what they don’t want to take. It seems they are very drawn to the marketing and PR courses in order to get “credentials,” and to large, easily-passed lecture courses, while the faculty wants them to be able to communicate well (write, speak) and think critically, since we think, pretty much across the board, that this is what employers will seek out. We could be wrong, but all of us have more experience than the undergrads do (generally speaking). So then, what should we do?

I think we should spend more time educating students about why we are educating them: giving them the reasons that knowing how to write and read and think is important. But, somewhere in the back of my mind, I worry that this just won’t work.

Then, in a faculty meeting, I suggested that more student control (from the grad students) is generally good, for which I was branded a lefty by George. Ha!

Finally, there is the question of whether academics should have a voice in politics, a question that has resurfaced with the Iraq question. I think it is their obligation. Most are educated at state expense, and they should use that education to better the society. Speaking out politically is an effective way to do that. But there is inherent to this a certain degree of elitism. Do I really have a better stance on US foreign policy in the Middle East because I have a doctorate in communication? I can see if it were an issue related to the internet, or communication policy, but is my opinion worth more in the case of international relations?

Yes.

Sorry, but, yes. Those who have devoted their lives to learning not only should be allowed to participate in creating a more just society, they are obliged to do so. Now, that does not mean that they cannot do so by helping to educate others about the issues, and listening to those less educated rather than just talking to them, but academics should use the resources invested in them to help society to control itself.

Bush doesn’t like professor-types. This goes over well in Bush country, where higher education is often thought of as a waste of time. I do understand that feeling–heck, I share in it at times. But the “elite professor” is an easy target. It’s the sort of taunting a bully engages in when he feels that he is bested by someone in the class: “he’s smart, so he thinks he’s better than us.”

I don’t think I’m better than anyone, but I do think my opinions are better than most, and that others should come to my way of thinking. The elitist thinks he’s right and expects others to do what he says. I’m not sure if those two things are different.

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2 Comments

  1. Posted 10/31/2002 at 12:39 am | Permalink

    That’s interesting, I was having a similar conversation today with Jenny. I made the argument that we should do away with all those PR/Marketing type courses. I guess I’m a bit biased but it seems to me that those courses (and “courses” like Dr. Woelfels COM486) are the weaker part of the department. Am I wrong?

    –SARCASM
    I’m surprised Bush doesn’t like profs, I think he showed his commitment to education when he said “We’re going to have the best educated American people in the world.”
    –END SARCASM

  2. Posted 10/31/2002 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    I have to plead ignorance on whether the courses are “weaker,” since I haven’t sat in on any of them. I would argue that, especially at the undergrad level, they are peripheral: they should be taken only after the central grounding is achieved in communication and thinking skills. I also think they are disproportionately overenrolled by students who falsely think that they will provide a significant edge in the job market.

    In fact, there is a proposed MA in P.R. in the department, and I think that could be very good, especially at the masters level. It just seems that, given how few faculty we have to teach how many students, our efforts could be better focussed on core concepts. Of course, this is coming from someone who managed to escape teaching the Com Theory class next semester…

    Love the quote by the way: I’d somehow missed that one. :)

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