Archive for May, 2022

Quote of the day: CAMPUS CULTURE

May 15, 2022


Has hyperpoliticization changed what students expect to be getting out of university? Which is to say, their willingness to entertain uncomfortable ideas? The immense hurdle is the idea that your future income prospects and investment in those prospects are what you’re in college to pursue. The second problem here is that instead of approaching higher education as a place where you expect to be transformed in what you think the world is, what it takes to understand it, that ideal of a higher education — which is essential to developing citizens — has been almost completely displaced by the idea of bits of human capital self-investing to enhance that capital. Sopolitical views, social views, are for many students bracketed if not altogether irrelevant to what they expect a university education to be. What’s the implication of this? That those views are treated as something that you just have culturally, religiously, according to family — but not something that you develop, enrich, maybe change. To put it in brief, neoliberalism essentially aims to roll out education as vocational training, and the extreme right essentially aims to turn education into church. What you have in the middle are a bunch of kids earnestly concerned with social justice, climate crisis, police violence, screaming into that context that their views matter, and that their view should hold sway and if not dictate curriculums at least dictate the culture of campus.

How much should students’ views dictate the culture of a campus? I don’t think they should dictate curriculum. I certainly think that in the open public space of campus, what students believe and student disagreements and student political and social aspirations for the world will govern that. If I can add this: We need to appreciate that young left activist outrage about a burning planet and grotesque inequality and murderous racial violence and gendered abuses of power is accompanied by disgust with the systems and the rules of engagement that have brought us here. Young left activists are pulling the emergency brake because it feels as if there’s no time for debate and compromise and incrementalism; because many see conventional norms and practices as having brought us to the brink and kept us stupid and inert. I don’t think they’re entirely wrong. #MeToo, with its flagrant disregard for due process, did in two years what previous generations of feminists could not pull off, which was to make sexual harassment totally unacceptable in school and workplaces. Black Lives Matter in a summer pushed America’s violent racial history and present into the center of political conversation and transformed the consciousness of a generation. My point here is that if we just focus on this generation’s political style — and we have to remember youth style always aggravates the elders — we ignore their rage at the world they’ve inherited, and their desperation for a more livable and just one, and their critique of our complacency. That is part of what is going on in the streets and on our campuses. But that remains different from educating that rage and helping young people learn not just the deep histories but even the contemporary practices that will make them more powerful thinkers and actors in this world. If they’re right about our complacency, what we still have to offer is knowledge and instruction and some space in a classroom to think.

–Wendy Brown, interviewed by David Marchese in the New York Times Magazine

photo by Mamadi Doumbouya

R.I.P. Neil “Sandy” Havens

May 5, 2022

There are a handful of people who change your life profoundly. I don’t know where my life would have taken me if I hadn’t met Sandy Havens when I was a freshman at Rice University in 1972. Sandy ran the Rice Players, an ambitious and highly respected theater company in Houston, especially remarkable because Rice has no theater department and all the theater activity is extracurricular.

Sandy was such a good director, steeped in the classics yet conversant in the latest developments in avant-garde theater, that the major newspapers in Houston routinely reviewed his student productions. Shortly after I arrived on campus as an 18-year-old Air Force brat majoring in classics (Greek and Latin), I auditioned for the Rice Players’ production of Charles Marowitz’s radical Shakespeare adaptation A Macbeth and got to play Duncan under Sandy’s adventurous direction.

That’s when I caught the theater bug. Sandy saw something in me and cast me in 7 of the 8 shows the Rice Players did in my first two years at Rice, which ran the gamut from Shaw’s Heartbreak House to A Man for All Seasons, from the musical Zorba! to Jeff Wanshel’s nutty absurdist comedy The Disintegration of James Cherry. By that point, I was so smitten with theater that, with Sandy’s blessing and coaching, I auditioned for several professional theater training programs and transferred to Boston University.

Ultimately I wasn’t a very good actor but I parlayed the passion for theater that Sandy instilled in me into a career as a theater critic, journalist, and scholar.

In addition, Sandy was extremely kind and supportive of me in the process of coming out at a time and place when that was not easy.

I got to hang out a little with Sandy in Boston when he lived there while his wife Helen finished divinity school; she would go on to become one of the first women ordained as an Episcopal priest. We communicated at intervals over the years, but I think the last time I saw Sandy was when I had a very warm visit with him and Helen in Houston in 1990. I’m just one of hundreds of people who benefited from Sandy’s brilliance as teacher, mentor, artist, and friend and who are mourning his death yesterday at the age of 88.

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