USC Honors faculty residence hall adviser reveals all in shocking expose!

InsideHigherEd, here:

I moved into an apartment in a University of Southern California undergraduate residence hall as an assistant professor in the summer of 1989. …

Over the years, I’ve watched the USC student affairs function and staff professionalize, just as they have at most other institutions. Positions that were once filled by staff members from a variety of different disciplinary backgrounds are now held almost exclusively by school of education graduates from programs that focus on postsecondary education. One consequence of that shift has been a narrowing of perspectives and opinions within this group. The education profession includes a sharply defined emphasis on social justice, and most education graduate students complete courses that cover elements of John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice. Unfortunately, competing points of view such as Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State and Utopia usually do not make the reading list.

Taken to the extreme, such a homogenous background can lead to outcomes such as the University of Delaware’s controversial residence hall program, which originators saw as a treatment mechanism for incorrect student beliefs on social issues but critics like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education have called “Orwellian.” Then there were the administrators on Yale University’s Intercultural Affairs Committee who felt compelled to offer students pre-emptive advice concerning the insensitivity of culturally appropriative Halloween costumes. USC has no staff members whose job descriptions include issuing unsolicited advice about Halloween costumes. Still, low-level tensions between the student affairs staff and me occasionally emerged over the respective roles of faculty and staff within our shared sphere and, I suspect, my libertarian views, which include a general disdain for identity politics.

My strategy for defusing conflicts with my staff colleagues was to emphasize our common ground however I could. I identified and focused on points of philosophical agreement between us, and deferred the implications of different opinions indefinitely. In general, that approach worked well. The staff could see what I was doing, and reciprocated.

My approach failed in a significant way only once. When student resident advisers were to be evaluated in part on the quality of the diversity programming they mounted, I required that any definition of “diversity” programming for and at the USC Honors House include diversity of ideas. The growing Rawls contingent on the staff was unenthused with my position, and in the end, the evaluation scheme being set up to track programming was shelved. …

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