Understanding Absolutely Nothing

Recently, The Morning Watch published “MSU Class: Understanding Patriarchy Assigned, Syllabus Says, “Keep an Open Mind” About Incest”.

I will keep my thoughts brief. Such a piece is deserving of no response – but the very nature of internet communication and incentives in academia necessitates it.

In essence, the piece critiques Professor Fox of the sociology department for assigning readings from the peer-reviewed work of a highly respected social theorist, bell hooks.

The perspective of The Morning Watch on the subject matter of this class is encouraged. In fact, hooks writes in order to begin a productive conversation with readers and to eventually reach better understandings of the ‘truth’ that the Morning Watch finds so valuable.

The only critique of Professor Fox that The Morning Watch leverages is of the idea that the class talks about incest and asks students to keep an open mind. However, this ignores the entirety of what is actually written in the syllabus of Professor Fox’s class. The syllabus says:

“This week we start to examine the subject of incest. Please keep an open mind as you read about this emotionally charged subject. It is difficult not to be prejudiced against this subject matter but it is important that as social scientists we learn to maintain objectivity as we study social problems such as incest (Bold added).”

They quote part of this syllabus, but leave out the last sentence which changes the entire meaning of the statement. Ignoring the context of Professor Fox’s syllabus is irresponsible and a deliberate effort to defame a professor who is attempting to engage students in new subject matter. Professor Fox is not asking students to become ‘okay’ with incest, but rather to be open to understanding incest as a social problem. Taking the phrase ‘please keep an open mind’ out of context is just an effort to create a problem that does not exist in Professor Fox’s curriculum.

However, publishing a piece which presents a substantive critique of bell hooks as a critique of a specific, young, fixed-term, female professor at a major university is irresponsible. As much as the editors of The Morning Watch are entitled to their opinion about bell hooks’ work, they are not entitled to frame their critique of Hooks as a critique of a young academic without job security. Articles such as the one published by The Morning Watch reframe the best efforts of energetic instructors to force students to engage with a variety of literature as flaws with the curriculum itself offered by those instructors.

Before putting pen to paper, The Morning Watch should consider the impact its articles have on the professional careers of those discussed. In reality, The Morning Watch has no critique of Professor Fox’s teaching. They have a critique of her curricular design, which clearly neglects to note the actual influence of Professor hooks on the subject matter of Professor Fox’s class. However, by simply publishing these half-baked critiques in the modern era of the internet, The Morning Watch will subject an instructor to undeserved scrutiny which Michigan State University might feel compelled to respond to, perhaps in ways that jeopardize the long-term professional standing of an academic who lacks job security.

Actions have consequences. Before shitting everywhere, The Morning Watch should think about that.

– Guest Contributor

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