4.0373 Texas Comp. Controversy (2/274)

Elaine Brennan & Allen Renear (EDITORS@BROWNVM.BITNET)
Tue, 7 Aug 90 21:04:42 EDT

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 4, No. 0373. Tuesday, 7 Aug 1990.

(1) Date: Tuesday, 7 August 1990 10:17am CST (133 lines)
Subject: Continuing Saga at Texas

(2) Date: Tuesday, 7 August 1990 4:19pm CST (141 lines)
Subject: 4.0362 Texas Comp. Controversy

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Tuesday, 7 August 1990 10:17am CST
Subject: Continuing Saga at Texas

At the risk of taking up even more e-space than I have done
already over the Texas controversy, I post the following,
which appeared on the editorial page of yesterday's (8/6)
_Daily Texan_, the campus newspaper. It is an interesting
document; I've not yet seen today's paper, so I don't know
what the reaction to it has been.
John Slatin, UT Austin
Text follows:

[Editor's note: The following is the full text of a July 9
letter from Alan Gribben, professor of English, to Dallas
resident Anne Blakeney, a member of the UT Liberal Arts
Foundation Council. We believe the letter's contents along
serve as a strong enough indictment of Gribben's position.
The letter was obtained through the Texas Open Records Act
by Tom Philpott and Scott Henson, co-editors of the

Thank you for contacting me about the politicization of
the English 306 course. I feel very strongly that academic
courses at the University of Texas at Austin should not be
politicized, and I have been vocal and public about this
opinion. During my 16 years in this English department, I
have witnessed its gradual domination by a highly
politicized faction of radical literary theorists. Their
methods include character assassination and intimidation.
As an incredible result, among my 80 English professorial
colleagues only a handful today agree that neither E306 nor
any other English course should be politicized. My support
on this issue comes mainly from faculty members in other
departments and schools-- psychology, sociology, chemical
engineering, law. The fact that I-- a traditionally
inclined literature professor-- have been the main thorn in
the radicals' side has made me controversial. You have a
right to know my status in the department. You will hear
highly derogatory things said about me. But you may be
assured that I am a dedicated teacher, a producing scholar
with a national reputation and a principled person oriented
toward stability in his family's life and activities. Can
the same be said of my many detractors?

Your offer of assistance in my efforts to halt the new
E306 course, reform my out-of-control department and rescue
my academic career at the University is more than I could
hope for. If we accomplish even one of these, we might
accomplish all of them eventually. I believe that the
University of Texas ultimately belongs to the state of Texas
and the citizens who take an interest in its direction, care
about the quality and integrity of its instruction and are
willing to communicate with like-minded individuals about
its performance. Probably 30 or more people have contacted
me since I began speaking and writing in public about the
politicization of our freshman composition course, and all
were well-intentioned and resolved to help in some manner,
but only members of the Liberal Arts Foundation Council
actually understand how the University operates and what it
will take to effect any significant improvement in the
English department situation.

As I mentioned in our conversation, I have come to the
conclusion that our problems are so profound and likely to
be longlasting that:

- The English department should be placed in
receivership indefinitely, with someone like Donald
Foss (chairman of the psychology department) as its
director for several years; and then be governed by a
new English chairman appointed directly by Gerhard
Fonken, executive vice president and provost; and
- During this period of receivership the department's
faculty should be divided into a Department of Critical
Theory and Cultural Studies and a Department of English
Literature and Language. This division of the radical
theorists from the remaining traditional scholars would
give the latter the freedom to offer a true literature
and writing program. Or
- Barring the accomplishment of these steps, the two
University-wide required English courses (E 306, E
316K) should be abolished, thus ending the necessity of
hiring additional English professors at the rate they
have been recruited from the most radicalized (but
prestigious) graduate programs across the nation.
Most vital of all will be a comprehending College of

Liberal Arts dean with nerve and a determination to oversee
the recruiting policies and decisions of the English
department, which has lost all sense of tradition,
direction, civility and academic freedom in the classroom.

In short, the UT Department of English has become
dysfunctional. Its main motivational drives are basically
fear of censure by the enforcing ideological element and
hope of reward, financial or other, for adhering to their
reigning dogma. Many of the faculty radicals in English
departments are influenced by the Marxist conviction that
power itself should be the end of all endeavors, even
educational ones. This overbearing view that the individual
is helpless and must align with a cause or network stymies
any idealism suggesting that an undergraduate can trust his
or her own abilities to think independently of a radical
political group. Newspaper reporters routinely remark to me
about the pervasive "fear" they sense among our English
faculty-- something that puzzles them, since one associates
a university with the protection of free speech and the
contest of ideas. Yet just to say that our English
department ought principally to teach the history and
features of English literature, language and writing is
viewed as outrageously heretical-- so dangerous, indeed, as
to warrant slanderous attacks.

If I could specify the most disturbing trend I have
observed here in the past 10 years, it would be the
selective recruitment of new faculty members with an
expectation that they will bring with them an ideologized
sense of advocacy-- radical feminism, Marxist analysis,
militant "ethnic" studies, anti-canonical campaigns, Third
World oppression studies-- to influence students inside and
outside the classroom. Anyone who objects to these efforts
at propagandizing and political sloganeering is branded as a
hated representative of the bourgeois status quo. Rumor-
mongering has replaced parliamentary discussion as an
accepted form of achieving a departmental "consensus."

I look forward to working with the Liberal Arts
Foundation Council to return this troubled academic unit to
something resembling an English department that teaches
English rather than politics.

-- The Daily Texan, Monday, August 6, 1990, p. 4
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------135---
Date: Tuesday, 7 August 1990 4:19pm CST
Subject: 4.0362 Texas Comp. Controversy

I appreciate the cooling responses to my heat of the other day; thanks.
I hope I'll be able to meet Michel Pierssens' challenge with "an
effective essay" for SubStance. I wasn't aware that you were taking
issue with my arguments, M. Pierssens-- as I recall your message, you
addressed yourself rather to the amount of space they took up, and it
was to that complaint I took exception.

Jascha Kessler asks why people who want to teach their first-year
students to think well so often want to use texts they think the
students will get excited about, and goes on to talk about _The
Autobiography of Malcolm X_, _Soul on Ice_, and similar texts. I've
said it before, but I'll say it again: the readings for the course we
had proposed to begin teaching on August 29 consisted of six (6) cases
from the U.S. Supreme Court and other Federal courts, plus a packet of
academic essays on issues directly related to the issues addressed in
the court cases; one of our aims, and an important one, was to offer
students ways to conduct closely reasoned, civil (and civic) discourse
about ISSUES that generate passionate response-- in other words, we
would like students of whatever persuasion and whatever political stripe
to know how to construct grounded ARGUMENTS for the positions they have
arrived at after considering the issues involved. The seven major
writing assignments are directed at identifying and assessing the
strength of arguments offered by the several parties to the court cases
we will be studying, and the essays that provide contextual material.
Here, for instance, is the fifth writing assignment, which would have
been assigned on Fri., 10/19, and been due on Mon. 10/29 (references to
"group" have to do with the writing groups established at the beginning
of the semester; each group will have primary responsibility for working
on one of the court cases and the accompanying essay):


A court opinion summarizes and evaluates the arguments made by the
plaintiff and defendant and provides a rationale for affirming or
denying the case made by the plaintiff. An opinion may consist of one
or more of the following:

(1) the argument that supports the court's decision (majority opinion)
(2) an argument that dissents from the argument in the majority opinion
but supports the court's decision (minority opinion); and
(3) an argument that dissents from both the opinion and the decision of
the court (dissenting opinion).

If your group has been assigned a case in which there is a majority
opinion, a minority opinion, and a dissenting opinion, focus on one in
your essay.

Building from the work you've already done in Scripts 9 and 10
["Scripts" are informal writing assignments of 50-100 words, designed to
get students thinking about issues prior to class discussion and more
formal writing], this assignment requires you to:

(1) re-read the case assigned to your group
(2) choose an opinion (if there is more than one)
(3) re-read the relevant law(s) [these are also included in the course
(4) identify the principal claims and grounds in the opinion
(5) assess how well the grounds warrant the principal claims in the

Write an essay of about 700 words summarizing and evaluating an opinion
in the case assigned to your group. Summarize the opinion before
assessing the grounds used to warrant the argument.
[END OF TEXT FOR ASSIGNMENT 5, E306 Syllabus, UT Austin]

You will notice that students are not being invited, here, to offer their
private opinions on the issue before the court, or on other matters that
raise the emotional temperature of the classroom or the campus. They
are instead asked to examine the arguments in the case itself, and to
assess the strength of the grounds offered in support of those
arguments-- an assessment having less to do with their own preferences
than with the way the argument is constructed.

I hope that alleviates some of Kessler's concern, and the concern of
other subscribers to this list who had feared that we were simply
turning the students loose to write about explosive matters. If not, or
if it raises other concerns-- e.g., as to the propriety of introducing
complex legal matters into a classroom full of 18 year olds led by
people whose training is in English literature or composition rather
than in the law, I will ask you to bear in mind that court opinions on
matters of public moment routinely appear in the NY Times and other
national newspapers on the assumption that such things are naturally and
properly the concern of an informed citizenry. I will also point out
that we have taken care to choose cases in which the outcome was not
determined by narrow "technicalities" within the law. I will say again,
on a somewhat different point, that we have been at pains to make clear
to all who will be (or would have been) teaching this course that our
goal is to encourage all students to make the best possible arguments
for the positions they hold or arrive at; this may well prove as
discomfiting to those of us on the left as it does to those on the
right-- there are, after all, some very bright conservatives on this

None of this has very much to do with Jim O'Donnell's argument about the
multicultural dimensions of the classical texts (which point I take)--
or, to put it another way, Prof. O'Donnell's argument about the value of
continuing to teach the texts of classical antiquity has very little to
do with the debate over this particular first-year writing course; nor
does it have much to do with the debate I am sure will arise when we
come to discuss the addition of a new variant to the sophomore
literature offerings. As noted many times here, by me and by others,
readings in first-year composition courses do not typically involve
selections from the classical texts mentioned by Profs. O'Donnell and
Kessler; indeed, at this particular institution, the only composition
course in which the "Great Books" are read is the elite Plan II Honors
course, a year-long course required of all students admitted to the Plan
II Honors Program within the College of Liberal Arts. I won't dwell on
the ironies here.

No one, in my hearing at any rate, has proposed to do away with that
course, nor am I aware that anyone has proposed doing away with the
Classics Department or the hugely successful courses it offers to
throngs of undergraduates; these are courses in, e.g., Classical
Mythology and in Greek and Roman Civilization. They are not *English*
courses, and I very much doubt that members of the English Dept. would
join in a public protest if the Classics Dept were to begin revising its
offerings-- though the outgoing chair of classics, Karl Galinsky, signed
the so-called "Statement of Academic Concern" that appeared in the
campus newspaper last month. Galinsky, too, raises arguments about
multiculturalism and the classics very similar to those put forward by
Prof. O'Donnell-- my stepdaughter came back from the National Junior
Classical League convention in Denton, Texas last week and told me that
Dr. Galinsky had given a most stimulating and exciting lecture that was,
she said, sprinkled with allusions to the dangers of multiculturalism,
allusions whose point she didn't quite get until, as she said, it
occurred to her that he must be a member of the UT Austin faculty.

The course we have proposed to teach entering students has nothing to do
with these arguments; it is not and does not pretend to be a course in
literature, and does not threaten any literature curriculum, liberal,
radical, or conservative. It threatens only those with a vested
interest in the hugely profitable market for college-level writing
textbooks-- the production of which is in any case generally regarded
with considerable disdain by members of the literature faculty.

Thank you all for your patience.
John Slatin, UT Austin