The attempted bombing of the Detroit-bound airliner has produced a classic epidemic of Monday-morning-quarterbacking. And we hasten to point out that the term "Monday Morning Quarterback" is not exactly a compliment. It designates those people whose only sense of consequence is to sit by while other people engage in all the work and action and then bicker and criticize, even though these kibbitzers have never had what it takes to play the game in which they pose as experts. Monday Morning Quarterbacking is a harmless pretense, unless it is mistaken for informed intelligence. When it is taken seriously, it becomes dangerous. It has become dangerous.
Current polls show that few Americans have any confidence in Congress. Many informed observers have written about the escalating dysfunction of Congress and its inability to do much more than bicker, obstruct, and resolve itself into resentful factions. The real significance is that Congress is a direct reflection of the American people. The country that fought World War II, moved forward with civil rights, and produced ideas and products that made it the world leader no longer exists. The resentment, petulance, and petty malice demonstrated in Congress shows a deterioration of intellectual discernment, The irrelevant and often foolish quibbling of the Monday Morning Quarterbacks are being taken seriously, probably because members of Congress are so slavishly devoted to garnering votes, no matter what level of inanity.
Discussions of national security are immersed in the muck of that petty egotism which deludes people into thinking that inane bickering is intelligent discussion. A survey of of the media and the blogosphere reveals how mired the nation, and therefore Congress, is in the sloughs of contention. The Dutch government, for example, is planning to subject all airline passengers going through its terminals to full-body scans. Many commenters decry that this technology has not been put in place sooner. They forget that when full-body scanners were developed and demonstrated, there was an outcry about their invasion of privacy because the images of the full body included rather detailed scans of the genitalia. A blocking device could be put in place over the crotch, but savvy would-be bombers would fasten their explosives in the crotch area somewhere. This is exactly what the Nigerian Christmas bomber did. The TSA delayed implementation of full-body scans because there was so much opposition to imaging the public's pudenda.
Then there is much criticism and accusation about the fact that the Nigerian's father informed the Dept. of State that his son was being radicalized by Islamic terror groups but he was not put on a list that would have prevented him from boarding a U.S.-bound flight. While the critics think he should have made the A-list of potential terrorists, they conveniently ignore the ruckus raised about just what criteria must be applied to curtail people's rights. Newt Gingrich, on the other hand, has said that we need to practice outright discrimination in order to prevent Islamic terrorists from entering the country or engaging in activities within it. Some people have been wrongfully placed on lists and some have been subjected to humiliating searches and interrogations. These instances show actions taken against people on the basis of false accusations. With the aborted airliner bombing and the shootings at Fort Hood, we are told that the security measures following 9/11 are not working as well as they should be. We even have some valid analysis as to why they have not worked. But the questions of abandoning our fundamental principles of freedom, equality, and equal protection of the law loom over all information and discussions of deterrring terrorisim.
Predominantly, we have the Monday Morning Quarterbacks sending up their sound and fury. Cogent and valid analysis gets intermixed and lost in the raging babble. Instead of rolling up their sleeves and asking just what caused the malfunctions of the security system and what is the best way to correct it, the people in charge are busy looking over their shoulders to hear what the pundits will say, how the polls will respond, what the bloggers say, and what kind of political spin missiles they will have to deflect. Responsible government is confused with responsive government. And it is dysfunctional.
The loudest voice in all this is those who could care less about what happens to the people of the country as long as they can find some pretext in terror attacks for accusing the Obama administration of dire things which they hope will lead to its defeat. Former Vice President Dick Cheney is the loudest cheerleader for failure. His latest sally can be easily demonstrated to be an outright lie, but truthfulness and accurate representations are not part of his party's operating standards. That fact accounts for why government will not in the current intellectual climate be able to formulate a competent and effective means for dealing with terrorists. A nation possessed by an unstable mentality lacks the capability of dealing with other unstable mentalities. The insane asylum is being run by the insane.
Dealing with the pathologies in the human personality is the toughest of jobs. It would much simpler to, as New Gingrich suggests, give in to an open policy of discriminating against anyone against whom we have suspicions. We would become like Nazi Germany, the Stalinist Soviet Union, and contemporary Iran, China, and North Korea. We would simply kill or incarcerate those we suspect or dislike. And, of course, we would lose America in the corrosive mists of our reptilian past. Those mists are present in the petty and often stunningly stupid discussion about how to deal with terrorism. They are our biggest national threat.
The difficulties of making sound and justifiable decisions about people who pose possible threats is covered in two Washington Post articles of intensive reporting on the Nigerian bomber and on the Fort Hood shooter. In both cases, the clues about the directions that these men took are ambiguous and not definitive. They follow a pattern of men who live in isolated devotion to their religion. If they were Christian, they would be termed monkish. The recriminations about missing the clues they presented are demonstrations of how much easier it is to be stupid than intelligent. People have a right to their opinions, but we have a dire need for cogent criticism of the presumptuous opinions of those who choose to be dummies.
America has gone about the business of defining itself since colonial times. It wrote itself in lofty and inspirational words and went about the business of growing into those words. During the last half of the twentieth century, America flourished. But in the 21st century, the language that dominates American consciousness has changed. It is the language of bickering, quibbling, carping, and denial. If one gauges America's destiny by the quality of its language and the reach of the words that define its sense of purpose, we clearly live in an age of intellectual decline. When people become dysfunctional, their language expresses it.
As an old man, I have seen much failure. I have seen corporations descend into failure. (I worked for one of the nation's most spectacular failures, International Harvester Company.) I have seen colleges and universities lose their way when the small mindedness of the educational bureaucracy stifled the intellects of its scholars. I am watching such a case now. I have seen communities wither away and die when the petty resentment and bigotry of the carpers in the town cafes characterized the town culture. And we have entire states, such as California and New York, demonstrating the processes of dysfunction and failure.
There was a time when Americans for the most part could recognize when a job had to be done, such as in confronting Islamic terrorists. They realized that something had to be done and there were multiple ways of accomplishing any such task. They also realized that there are a number of ways of accomplishing a task, but that the real goal is to accomplish the task and not get diverted by bickering over just how to go about the task. America, as in World War II, put aside petty preferences, rolled up its sleeves, and concentrated on accomplishing the task to be done.
As we have seen in the last Congressional session, that kind of cooperation and focus on end results is not possible. Instead, we are immersed in the language of dysfunction and personal insult and abuse. This state of affairs is exactly what terrorists hope to accomplish.
The better angels of human nature are being vanquished by its most insidious demons.
The language what swirls around us foreshadows an age of darkness, a return to those dark ages that the Age of Enlightenment dispelled. Our country is being rendered incapable of cogent resolve and competent action. The terrorists are winning because they know how to manipulate the strings of the dummies.
The creative excitement and accomplishment I witnessed over the weekend reminded me of why I became a professor. But Metropolitan State has something going on that reminded me of why I hesitate to advise talented young people to become professors. It is the educational bureaucracy which seems more focused on suppressing and destroying talent than in developing and promoting it.
The quality of a higher education institution is determined largely by how campus politics are managed. Colleges and departments are in competition for funding and acknowledgment. Good institutions pay meticulous attention to seeing that its academic units and personnel are given equitable treatment. It takes superior people to maintain equitable standards. Poor institutions, on the other hand, encourage rivalries among departments and personnel, and those rivalries produce factions and divisions among the faculty. Faculty caught up in factional disputes are dysfunctional. Consequently, the institutions in which such divides exist are dysfunctional. Their students are denied the experience of how people of diverse and differing viewpoints conciliate to produce a cohesive and inspiring academic experience.
In recent years, partisan politics have become an issue on campuses. In my time as a professor, we may have been aware of the political stances of some of our colleagues, but partisan politics were never permitted to intrude into academic business. That is no longer so. In the lesser institutions, partisan politics have become just another dimension of faculty divisiveness.
I am a firm believer that faculty who violate any rules of academic integrity should be stringently disciplined. That means that any faculty who plagiarizes or fabricates or misrepresents evidence should be fired. I have sat on review panels in which such firings were upheld. Academic incompetence, slovenliness, and dishonesty, I think, must be dealt with decisively.
Recently, my son had a conversation with a music professor where I last taught. The professor told my son he could never agree with my politics. I have never had a conversation about politics with this professor. I have no idea why my political party or convictions would be relevant to any conversation about academic business, but party politics has become a malignancy on some campuses that saps the intellectual vitality out of the collegiate environment.
In campuses where the culture has degraded into personal rivalries and resentments among faculty, the politics of the malformed egos are enough to contend with. Professors in such places find that they have to remain aloof from the campus milieu if they are to do their teaching, scholarship, and service with any effect. Shortly after I retired, I started writing a newspaper column. Some colleagues and students told me that doing so had raised resentment and ire among some former colleagues in that I did not deserve recognition for doing something they thought they could do better. Even though I am retired, I am still engaged in academic work, both in terms of scholarship and faculty issues. As a former officer on both the state and local level of faculty organizations, I am often asked to review cases where faculty have gotten into difficulty to see if there are violations of academic freedom involved and if the organizations might wish to intervene. Sometimes faculty are at fault; sometimes administrations are at fault. But in most cases, ego-driven rivalries and resentments inflate the issues into major problems, problems that would not become so if true intelligence were exercised and if collegial purpose was pursued as the driving force in the institutions. But I must say, the most admirable and accomplished people I have known were professors. But so were some of the vilest people I have known. Jealousy and resentment and a belief in their superiority is the first mark of a faculty member striving for vileness. They serve their egos, not their discipline or their profession, and they are the most threatening pestilence in academic life.
Leslie began college at Northern State University. She played in the brass ensemble for the graduation ceremony at which my retirement was acknowledged. She credited her studies there in the program for her senior recital. However, shortly after I retired, Leslie decided she needed a change. She did not play her tuba, or any of the other instruments she plays, for about three years. I do not know the specific reasons for her loss of interest, but those faculty politics I mention are not well managed at NSU and I have seen all too many promising students lose interest and get discouraged.
As an officer in faculty organizations, I was often involved in dealing with grievances and issues of integrity and fair play with faculty members. There were people at the university who did superb scholarship and provided students with knowledge and find examples of academic purpose. There were others who were devoted to personal resentments, bitching, and backbiting. In the 1980s, a change in administration operated by fanning those resentments and rivalries as a means to divide and conquer the faculty. In this context, programs and course offerings were cut, and cost-accounting rather than academic leadership and building and maintaining strong programs became the rule. The fact that Northern is the only state institution to experience declines in enrollments in recent years has much to do with how the university is managed and the kind of academic experience students find there. Under the cosmetics of slogans and claims are seething blotches of intellectual failure.
When Leslie moved to Denver and enrolled at Metropolitan State, I was pleased. I was more so when she resumed her musicianship and responded to new opportunities and a challenging and rewarding environment. Over the years, I have visited the Metro campus and met some of her professors, and have been impressed with the environment and the sense of direction provided students. Metro has an enrollment of about 22,000 and shares the Auraria Campus in downtown Denver with Denver Community College and the University of Colorado at Denver. A walk on the campus is invigorating, as students bustle about their business with energy and purpose. Metro feels like a campus should.
Leslie has met success and achieved a goal, and plans to keep moving forward. Metro supplied the opportunity and the atmosphere for accomplishment that one hopes every student will find when they enter college.
But Metro has those problems of faculty politics, too. It fired a professor of 20 years of unblemished tenure in an instance that emits the strong reek of faculty rivalries and resentment. According to an account first published in the student newspaper, the professor was undergoing her annual performance review and listed a publication which had not, in fact, been published. She presented the paper at a professional conference and paid a fee required by the organization for it to be published in its journal. She had contacted the journal's editor and says she was told it was being published. The Metro administration and board said she had deliberately lied about the publication, and it fired her for academic dishonesty.
As I stated, I believe that professors who plagiarized, manufacture evidence, or misrepresent materials that they cite should be fired. But unlike the case with Ward Churchill, who was fired from the University of Colorado, no question about the integrity of the information in the paper was raised. The paper was written and scheduled for publication,. The professor made a mistake in not having the publication on hand before listing it. In light of the professor's 20-year record at Metro, firing seems like an extreme measure. Charges of racism have been raised, and the professor had testified in behalf of another professor who was terminated, but then was awarded $300,000 in compensation for a hostile work environment. The firing under the circumstances seems terribly vindictive and vengeful.
I have been impressed with Metro. I hope it is not headed into that state of dysfunction that faculty politics can result in when they are not intelligently and effectively dealt with. And I hope Leslie's experience, not that of fired professors, is what will define Metro State.