The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

I Dared Challenge the Department Mission Statement

The First Amendment and Bennett College
(Distributed at Department Meeting)

Denigration of critical thinking. This can go as far as characterizing any independent thought as selfish, and rational use of intellect as evil. […] Severe sanctions for defection or criticism of the cult. This can even apply to negative or critical thoughts about the group or its leaders… A strong wall of protection is maintained around the cult, first by quickly eliminating critics, and second by cutting communication with them.
            —Corporate Cults, Dave Arnott


The following was submitted to the Chair of Humanities in response to her request for feedback at the previous department meeting regarding the mission statement. Permission was granted for it to be circulated at the current meeting.

Have you ever wondered why so much uniformity in Academe? Evidently, the reason is pressure to fit into a mold. Those who resist are generally kicked out of the club. Yet creativity ought not mean everyone do and write the same thing. Unfortunately, the Humanities mission statement indicates nothing unique at Bennett… just sam eness. It could have been copied from any Humanities department mission statement in the country. Perhaps we need to reflect and make an effort to devise something a tad unique. The following are a few things that ought be examined:

Whatever does “to empower students as critical thinkers” signify? Would the department have students read my News & Record Op Eds in class? Or is my kind of critical thinking not what it had in mind. I’m just curious. What limits does the department seek to place on student critical thinking? What limits does it seek to put on student “pursuit of truth”? And does not limiting such things counter student empowerment?

The term “mold” as in “to mold scholars who value human expression” evokes sameness, automaton, functionary et al. “Mold” must ineluctably conflict with “creative.” In fact, the very phrase appears devoid of meaning, if not oxymoronic. Perhaps “encourage students to become independent and scholars” might be substituted.

What restrictions does the department seek to put on “human expression”? I had to personally post my August Op Ed on the bulletin board, yet the Chair had mentioned she always hung up items published by faculty (my Op Ed on poetry was never posted either). Moreover, somebody (another anonymous Humanities member?) had defaced that Op Ed. What was written in that Op Ed evidently must fall beyond the department paradigm of human expression. What other expression might fall beyond that paradigm?

Whatever does the educationist buzzword (sameness!) “global leadership” indicate? Weren’t Enron CEOs global leaders? The truth is 90-95% of Bennett graduates will not become leaders, global or other, but rather corporate, public sector or educationist functionaries. Employing the term “leadership” ubiquitously becomes senseless, if not downright deceptive. Who dictated that “leadership” must appear in all documents of this nature? I don’t remember the term flaunted when I was a college student. Do you?

How can the department encourage “truth seeking” on the part of students, while creating a mission statement that appears less than truthful? “Truth seeking” needs to be defined or it remains vacuous. Must mission statements contain vacuous terms and proclamations… nothing but vacuous terms and proclamations? I don’t think so, but then maybe I think differently from the average educationist brought up on vacuous terminology.

What are “humanistic values”? Are they not all values that define humans? If so, then does that not constitute another vacuous term? If not, then what precisely are those values? Do they encompass niceness and goodness? If so, whose definition of niceness and goodness? What does “commitment to human expression” denote? Does it imply non-commitment to inhuman expression? In reality, is it not just another vacuous term? What does the buzzword (sameness!) “holistic instruction” suggest? What does it exclude? If it does exclude, for example, points made in my Op Eds, then how can it be holistic, as in whole?
Why not employ clear, jargon-free language in a mission statement? After all, is that not what English professors and others demand of students? Or are we now supposed to be demanding use of obfuscating, in-vogue, educationist jargon? Also, the goal of becoming “a nationally competitive department composed of world-class programs” is deceptive, if not outright pompous, and out of touch with reality. Would it not be more advantageous and sensible to set realistic goals? What is the point of setting goals that will not be achieved? Why not set the goal of moving from a third-tier institution to a second-tier one? That in itself would require immense change—not simply immense influx of dollars.

Finally, these things stated, hopefully, you might think about them rather than revert to in-the-mold, knee-jerk dismissal of the messenger with denigrating epithets. I’d certainly be willing to help rewrite the Humanities mission statement. Please allow me to repeat my suggestion that the Humanities bulletin board reserve an area for free and open criticism of all things Bennett. Moreover, I’d be willing to publish in the next issue of The American Dissident, which I edit and founded, the best “daring” criticism posted. The key to the best will, of course, be logical argumentation and degree of fear experienced by posting. Academics are not known for courage. Perhaps that might encourage courage…