Tuesday, June 11, 2013

In Defense of French Scholarship in a State That Apparently Forgot Its Origins

Herewith, the short entry on Louisiana and the French that I mentioned in an earlier post.  It relates to current academic events, rather than historical scholarship, and so I hope non-academic readers will accept a digression that may not be of interest to them.

While it was initially settled by Native Americans, Louisiana, as most Americans know, was colonized by the French, who named the province for King Louis XIV.  At the time of the Louisiana Purchase the region that would become the state of Louisiana had 40,000 non-Indian inhabitants, the majority of whom were Francophones.  The state remains officially bilingual today, and its largest city still celebrates its French Quarter and French heritage.  There is considerable demand for French language classes in Louisiana's high schools, and thus for university-trained French teachers.  This heritage and these demands, however, are currently far less important to the bean-counters that run Louisiana's universities than cutting costs and casualizing the academic workforce.

In 2010 administrators at Southeastern Louisiana University unilaterally announced the termination of the university's French major and the firing of its three tenured French professors. Administrators declared that the program and the classes it offered were underutilized, but 1) in the wake of the firings SLU is still offering French classes, taught (of course) by contingent instructors, and 2) SLU is a public institution in a state which needs college-trained high-school teachers of French.  The move appears to have been primarily a demonstration of administrative power over the faculty, and SLU administrators have subsequently ignored a faculty senate recommendation that the professors be reinstated and a censure vote from the American Association of University Professors.

Faced with a choice between surrendering to arbitrary power and resisting, the three fired professors have chosen to fight, in the courts. The national AAUP and its Louisiana chapter have begun to organize a legal defense fund for the three plaintiffs, to which your humble narrator, who takes both tenure and the French language rather seriously, has decided to contribute. Those who have similar priorities or merely wish to help fight the ongoing casualization of the academic workforce can find more information here.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

What Civilization Means to Me

“I found myself in the visitors' bar at Granada jail – a shiny, modern building sticking up, incongruously, out of fields of olive trees twenty miles from the city...A British photographer had asked to come along. 'Wherever I go [in Spain] they have a bar,' he said. And he was right. That morning we had had breakfast – freshly squeezed orange juice and thick, toasted rolls drowned in a garlic-flavoured olive oil and tomato pulp – at the bar in the Renault dealership in Seville. There are said to be more than 138,000 bars in Spain. This is as many as the rest of Western Europe put together. The prison was doing its bit to keep the numbers up.” - Giles Tremlett, Ghosts of Spain (Bloomsbury, 2006), p. 160.

If, as Dostoyevsky once wrote, one may judge a civilization by its prisons – and by its pubs – then modern Spain is many centuries ahead of the United States.