*This blog is now defunct. I have moved to A Voice for Male Students. See you there! Thanks for your support. - TCM*

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Activism: Speaking to A&M-Commerce Students about Academic Corruption



*Thanks to A Voice for Men for posting this article and the associated video on their website!*
*To see other material related to A&M-Commerce, please click here*


As an MRA who focuses on educational equity, I spend a lot of time thinking about how best to tackle the problems affecting male students. I divide these problems into three main areas: educational attainment, the academic culture, and rights and protections. Although outside academia there are numerous factors contributing to the educational decline of boys (fatherlessness ranking high among them), within academia I believe the root of these problems is the academic culture itself. 

When this culture is not misandric, it is acquiescent to the status quo. Being mentally stuck in the social justice era of the 1960s, many in academia have not progressed beyond that point and updated their data and approach with the times. In the meantime male students have slipped further and further away, especially in the areas of educational attainment and rights and protections. While I spend a lot of time documenting these problems, my thoughts constantly return to activism and considering who in academia we can rely upon to advance the cause of equality for men and boys.

And therein lies the problem: who can we rely on? Teachers, when not politically hostile to men and boys as a group, wilt under the prospect of opposing those who are, especially if they are administrators. At many institutions tenure is being phased out at the same time that misandry is becoming firmly entrenched, allowing ideologues who have completed their long march through academia to pull up the ladder behind themselves and keep those with alternative perspectives perpetually off-balance.

Administrators are also not particularly known for their vertebrae when it comes to standing up for unpopular yet ethical views. “Liabilities” is the language they best understand, a language in which federal funding speaks louder than conscience and reason. Like faculty, they too are sometimes politically motivated to ignore the needs of male students as a group. Being the very essence of the status quo, administrators by nature are highly resistant to change and will employ a wide array of bureaucratic parlor tricks to ward off those they hope are too na├»ve, ignorant, or powerless to oppose them.

They may, for example, say, “we’re thinking about it” (when  they want you to go away), “that’s not my department” (when it is), “I can’t tell you what we do behind closed doors because it’s protected by the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act” (often lies), “ “we don’t have funding for it” (lies), “I sent you an email about it” (lies), or their secretary may say “she can’t speak with you because she’s out to lunch/sick/left early for the day/at a meeting” (more lies). I have spent more time than I would like to count chasing administrators up and down academia, and have learned from experience to have a healthy skepticism for their explanations.

Students, when fairly young, are often not overly concerned with political matters, but can be surprisingly receptive at times. It seems that every other day younger and younger students are popping up on the Men’s Rights subreddit, talking about their experiences in school and joining the ranks of those informed by an MRA perspective. I have more hope for change from students than faculty and administrators. And yet, students are often subject to the whims of educators whose idea of diversity, too often, is to oppose the freedom of speech of everyone who politically disagrees with them.

Karma MRA MGTOW has voiced that one of his main goals in going on poster runs at universities is to reach the next generation. I believe there is a lot of value to this approach. We must not only reach out to the students, but also develop creative methods to shake up academia as a means of making way for them. When it comes to direct on-the-ground activism at particular universities, I have reached the conclusion that alumni are best suited for this job. Alumni, having already received their degree, can confront faculty and administrators without worrying about their grades or careers. When speaking to students, being an alumnus grants a degree of authority not normally afforded to your average poster-wielding activist. If only for the purpose of information gathering, alumni may also have the benefit of personal and professional networks that many students have not yet developed.

When conducting activism in academia, I strongly advocate the covert use of recording devices in “one-party consent” states (where only one person in the conversation needs to be aware of and consenting to the recording for it to be legal), and the publication of that information online when corruption is discovered. In activism generally, and especially in bureaucratic settings, I advise everyone to think of recording devices as your sword and shield. Remember that reputations take a lifetime to build and seconds to destroy. While not as high a priority as funding, the prospective loss of public image and reputation is still potent. When used correctly and against the right people, recording devices effectively nail not only certain faculty and administrators to the wall, but also the institutions they represent. And when exposed as a liability or made into an example in front of their peers, the academic castles of certain corrupt faculty and administrators can just as easily become their prisons.

As some of you may know, I am an alumnus and former instructor at A&M-Commerce, and spoke last year with two administrators at that university. In our meetings, Title IX Coordinator Michele Vieira admitted to joining other administrators in taking down – not once, but five times - YouTube videos recorded by students of “outrageous harassing behavior” by professors, that those who made false rape accusations were routinely not punished, and that she could not tell me that the preponderance standard the university had adopted was justified when I asked her. I tried to work with them to change their sexual misconduct policy to be fairer to the wrongly accused, but when they cut off communication I submitted an article containing the damning recording to A Voice for Men, where it was published.

As of right now, anyone who Googles the phrase “A&M-Commerce Rape Policy” will find the videos, articles and links to the recorded interviews at the top of the search results. In addition, Googling the phrase “Michele Vieira Title IX” will return the article at A Voice for Men named “Title IX Coordinator Protects Abuser, Abusive Policy.” Students at A&M-Commerce who are wrongly accused or wrongly convicted in a university hearing, as well as their parents, will now have access to a lot of information describing what goes on behind the scenes - information they might use in their defense. When submitting the original article, I mentioned to Paul Elam that the recording and article might serve a purpose for future activism. And it has.

During the fall semester of 2012, I made several trips to A&M-Commerce to post flyers directing students to the online material, and more importantly to talk with and engage the students directly about what was going on. With my smartphone in my shirt pocket, camera turned outward, I recorded everything. I directed them to my blog, which had more information than I was able to publish at A Voice for Men due to space constraints (such as screenshots of lengthy emails between myself and administrators), and which also linked back to the article at AVFM. I have compiled some of the most representative of those recordings into a video, which is now on YouTube. In listening to their statements you will hear them say things that may surprise you. They certainly surprised me.

Above all, I was surprised at how receptive the students were to hearing me out. I encountered a man who claims to have been wrongly accused and summarily fired. One student agreed to post a flyer on the fraternity house wall. I also found a student who was already under the impression that men and boys wrongly accused of sexual misconduct were guilty until proven innocent, and another who had been interested in a career in law and had already been looking into these things.

At the end of the video, you will see that when I explained to the surrounding students in the Sam Rayburn Student Center that the deck was stacked against those who were wrongly accused, a man playing pool exclaimed “Sounds good to me. Guilty!” I later learned that this man was a staff member who I did not recognize as such because he was dressed casually in a grey t-shirt. I did not see that the back of his shirt was marked “STAFF” until I looked back over my shoulder when I was approached by another staff member asking me to leave. While I was unable to get his name (he was not wearing a name tag and I was unable to find his picture on the university website), I did manage to catch him on video.

As chance would have it I am also friends on Facebook with one of my former colleagues at A&M-Commerce, who posted a picture of the flyer on his wall and said “So someone handed this to my students before they entered class.” One of his friends named Anne Phifer, a woman with Feminist sympathies who worked as a secretary in the Department of Literature and Languages when I was an instructor there, was among those who took exception to the flyers. It is a possibility she may work there still. This is also on the video.

It is my hope that others can learn from, use, and build upon these activism strategies. This was definitely a positive experience for me. In particular, I was surprised at how receptive and thankful a lot of students were. Part of this may be due to my rhetorical approach. Before engaging students with the material, I asked them if they had a minute. If they were busy or uninterested, I wished them a good day and moved on. I kept the needs of the student central to what I was saying, was concise whenever possible out of respect for their time, and at the end asked them if they had any questions, comments, or concerns. All this can be heard in the video. The first five minutes is a recap for those on YouTube, but the rest is all new.


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