Attack on academic freedom

Assemblyman Dov Hikind from Brooklyn has apparently (according to the Clarion, February 2011, Newspaper of the Professional Staff Congress/City University of New York) “demanded” that the department of Political Science at Brooklyn College prevent someone from teaching a course on Middle Eastern politics because the proposed instructor was doing research on Palestinian suicide bombers. A politician with no academic credentials demanding that a college follow his way of doing things rather than following the will of the Political Science Department is pretty incredible. Even more incredible is that Brooklyn College’s Provost rescinded the instructor’s appointment because of this “demand” letter. Fortunately, the Professional Staff Congress, the Brooklyn College faculty, the Department of Political Science, and people throughout the academic community came to the defense of academic freedom and the instructor and course were reinstated.
Now two questions remain: First, why do the people of Brooklyn continue to elect Hikind who seems to think that colleges exist to further his personal political agenda? They don’t; they exist to further exploration on all issues—not just the issues you want them to and the issues that further your own closed-minded political agenda. Second, why does Brooklyn College have a provost who cares so little for academic freedom? They shouldn’t.



College Rankings

If you’re concerned with college rankings (or Car and Driver's comparisons), take a look at Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Order of Things” (New Yorker, February 14 & 21, 2011, pp. 68-75). I think he successfully demonstrates, as he concludes: “Who comes out on top, in any ranking system, is really about who is doing the ranking.”

Communication Strategies: Increasing Accuracy in Impression Formation

Successful communication depends largely on the accuracy of the impressions you form of others. Here are a few ways to increase your accuracy in impression formation.

Analyze Impressions. Subject your perceptions to logical analysis, to critical thinking. Here are two suggestions.
• Recognize your own role in perception. Your emotional and physiological state will influence the meaning you give to your perceptions. A movie may seem hysterically funny when you’re in a good mood, but just plain stupid when you’re in a bad mood.
• Avoid early conclusions. Formulate hypotheses to test against additional information and evidence (rather than conclusions). Look for a variety of cues pointing in the same direction. The more cues that point to the same conclusion, the more likely your conclusion will be correct. Be especially alert to contradictory cues that seem to refute your initial hypotheses. At the same time, seek validation from others. Do others see things in the same way you do? If not, ask yourself if your perceptions may be distorted in some way.

Check Perceptions. Perception checking will help you lessen your chances of misinterpreting another’s feelings and will also give the other person an opportunity to elaborate on his or her thoughts and feelings. In its most basic form, perception checking consists of two steps.
• Describe what you see or hear. Try to do this as descriptively (not evaluatively) as you can. Sometimes you may wish to offer several possibilities, for example, “You’ve called me from work a lot this week. You seem concerned that everything is all right at home” or “You’ve not wanted to talk with me all week. You say that my work is fine but you don’t seem to want to give me the same responsibilities that other editorial assistants have.”
• Seek confirmation. Ask the other person if your description is accurate. Avoid mind reading. Don’t try to read the thoughts and feelings of another person just from observing their behaviors. Avoid phrasing your questions defensively, as in “You really don’t want to go out, do you? I knew you didn’t when you turned on the television.” Instead, ask supportively, for example, “Would you rather watch TV”? or “Are you worried about the kids?” or “Are you displeased with my work? Is there anything I can do to improve my job performance?”

Reduce Uncertainty. In every communication situation, there is some degree of ambiguity. There are a variety of uncertainty reduction strategies.
• Observe. Observing another person while he or she is engaged in an active task, preferably interacting with others in an informal social situation, will often reveal a great deal about the person, as people are less apt to monitor their behaviors and more likely to reveal their true selves in informal situations.
• Ask others. Learn about a person through asking others. You might inquire of a colleague if a third person finds you interesting and might like to have dinner with you.
• Interact with the individual. For example, you can ask questions: “Do you enjoy sports?” “What did you think of that computer science course?” “What would you do if you got fired?” You also gain knowledge of another by disclosing information about yourself. These disclosures help to create an environment that encourages disclosures from the person about whom you wish to learn more.

Increase Cultural Sensitivity. Recognizing and being sensitive to cultural differences will help increase your accuracy in perception. For example, Russian or Chinese artists such as ballet dancers will often applaud their audience by clapping. Americans seeing this may easily interpret this as egotistical. Similarly, a German man will enter a restaurant before the woman in order to see if the place is respectable enough for the woman to enter. This simple custom can easily be interpreted as rude when viewed by people from cultures in which it’s considered courteous for the woman to enter first.
Cultural sensitivity will help counteract the difficulty most people have in understanding the nonverbal messages of people from other cultures. For example, it’s easier to interpret the facial expressions of members of your own culture than those of members of other cultures. This “in-group advantage” will assist your perceptual accuracy for members of your own culture but may hinder your accuracy for members of other cultures.
Within every cultural group there are wide and important differences. As all Americans are not alike, neither are all Indonesians, Greeks, or Mexicans. When you make assumptions that all people of a certain culture are alike, you’re thinking in stereotypes. Recognizing differences between another culture and your own, and among members of the same culture, will help you perceive people and situations more accurately.


Impolite Questions, What Are They?

We all know an impolite question when we meet one. They’re easy to recognize when you’re the person asked the questions; not so easy to recognize when you’re the one asking the questions.
One way of looking at impolite questions is in terms of positive and negative face. So, an impolite question would be one that attacks a person’s positive and/or negative face needs. Questions attacking positive face needs—that is, the need for approval, for confirmation, for compliments—would include those that imply the person is not deserving of positive expressions (“Did you really try hard enough?” or to use Deborah Tannen’s book title, “Are you going to wear that?”). Questions attacking negative face needs—that is, the need to feel autonomous and in control of one’s own behaviors and not to be imposed upon—would include those that make demands on others, the questions implying “you should” and “you have to” (“Don’t you think you should call your mother more often?” “You ought to save more money, don’t you think?”).
Another way of looking at impolite questions and perhaps a much more intuitively satisfying approach is that they ask for disclosures that you normally don’t want to make. In terms of the Johari Window model—repeated in most if not all communication textbooks—impolite questions ask you to take information from your hidden self and move it to the open self, a move you may not be willing to make at this time or to this person. Often the information asked for is inappropriate for the relationship you have with the questioner; it may be too personal or too unpleasant to discuss serious health problems, for example, with a casual but nosey acquaintance.
Impolite questions are a major part of ineffective communication but have been little studied by communication researchers, at least as far as I can tell. So, I thought I’d start collecting impolite questions. Here are just a few:
1. How come you never had children? Or “How come you didn’t have another child?” [often accompanied by a well-intentioned but grossly impolite “I’m sure Janie would have loved a little brother.”]
2. You look like you lost weight. Were you ill? A question such as “How are you doing?” enables you to express your interest and also enables the other person to respond generally or specifically as he or she wishes. On the other hand, a question such as, “Have you lost more vision since we last met?” requires specific information about a specific ailment.
3. Where are you from? This is a tricky one and I read this in a letter to the editor column. At first, it seems a fair and not impolite question—when you expect an answer like “I’m from the Bronx.” But, this writer was Asian in appearance and a fifth generation American and resented the implication that the question implies that he somehow didn’t belong here, was from someplace else, was somewhat alien, an outsider (to the insider asking the question).
4. Financial questions are well-known to be impolite and yet they’re extremely common: “How much did you pay for your apartment?” “What do you pay for rent/maintenance/taxes?” “Was that expensive?” [A backhanded way of asking the price?”] “You earn a good salary, I assume” [with a rising inflection, waiting for the salary figures].
5. “How come you never married?” Or it’s variant: “How come you’re not married yet?” beautifully portrayed in the classic film Marty where the Bronx butcher is asked this by a customer with the added note that even his younger brother got married.


Communication Strategies: Self-Esteem

Self-esteem is a measure of how valuable you think you are; people with high self-esteem think very highly of themselves, whereas people with low self-esteem view themselves negatively. The basic idea behind building self-esteem is that when you feel good about yourself—about who you are and what you’re capable of doing—you will perform better. When you think like a success, you’re more likely to act like a success. Conversely, when you think you’re a failure, you’re more likely to act like a failure. When you get up to give a speech and you visualize yourself being successful and effective, you’re more likely to give a good speech. Increasing self-esteem will, therefore, help you to function more effectively in school, in interpersonal relationships, and in careers. Before reading about ways to increase self-esteem, consider your own self-esteem by asking yourself how true (or false) each of the following are about you:
_____ 1. Generally, I feel I have to be successful in all things.
_____ 2. Several of my acquaintances are often critical or negative of what I do and how I think.
_____ 3. I often tackle projects that I know are impossible to complete to my satisfaction.
_____ 4. When I focus on the past, I focus more often on my failures than on my successes and on my negative rather than my positive qualities.
_____ 5. I make little effort to improve my personal and social skills.

”True” responses to the questions would generally suggest ways of thinking that can get in the way of building positive self-esteem. “False” responses would indicate that you are thinking much like a self-esteem coach would want you to think.

Attack Self-Destructive Beliefs. Challenge beliefs you have about yourself that are unproductive or that make it more difficult for you to achieve your goals. Here, for example, are some beliefs that are likely to prove self-destructive from Pamela Butler.
1. The belief that you have to be perfect; this causes you to try to perform at unrealistically high levels at work, school, and home; anything short of perfection is unacceptable.
2. The belief that you have to please others and that your worthiness depends on what others think of you.
3. The belief that you have to take on more responsibilities than any one person can be expected to handle.
Self-destructive beliefs set unrealistically high standards and therefore almost always lead to failure. As a result, you may develop a negative self-image, seeing yourself as someone who constantly fails. So replace these self-destructive beliefs with more productive ones, such as “I succeed in many things, but I don’t have to succeed in everything” and “It would be nice to be loved by everyone, but it isn’t necessary to my happiness.”

Seek Out Nourishing People. Psychologist Carl Rogers drew a distinction between noxious and nourishing people. Noxious people criticize and find fault with just about everything. Nourishing people, on the other hand, are positive and optimistic. Most important, nourishing people reward us, they stroke us, they make us feel good about ourselves. To enhance your self-esteem, seek out these people—and avoid noxious people, those who make you feel negatively about yourself. At the same time, seek to become more nourishing yourself so that you each build up the other’s self-esteem.
Identification with people similar to yourself also seems to increase self-esteem. For example, in one study deaf people who identified with the larger deaf community had greater self-esteem than those who didn’t so identify. Similarly, identification with your cultural group also seems helpful in developing positive self-esteem.

Work on Projects That Will Result in Success. Some people want to fail (or so it seems). Often, they select projects that will result in failure simply because these projects are impossible to complete. Avoid this trap; select projects that will result in success. Each success will help build self-esteem, and each success will make the next success a little easier. If a project does fail, recognize that this does not mean that you’re a failure. Everyone fails somewhere along the line. Failure is something that happens; it’s not necessarily something you’ve created. It’s not something inside you. Further, your failing once does not mean that you will fail the next time. So learn to put failure in perspective.

Remind Yourself of Your Successes. Some people have a tendency to focus, sometimes too much, on their failures, their missed opportunities, their social mistakes. If your objective is to correct what you did wrong or to identify the skills that you need to correct these failures, then focusing on failures can have some positive value. But if you focus on failure without thinking about plans for correction, then you’re probably just making life more difficult for yourself and limiting your self-esteem. To counteract the tendency to recall failures, remind yourself of your successes. Recall these successes both intellectually and emotionally. Realize why they were successes, and relive the emotional experience—the feelings you had when you sank that winning basketball or aced that test or helped that friend overcome a personal problem.

Secure Affirmation. An affirmation is simply a statement asserting that something is true. In discussions of self-concept and self-awareness, as noted in this chapter, the word affirmation is used to refer to positive statements about you, statements asserting that something good or positive is true of you. It’s frequently recommended that you remind yourself of your successes with self-affirmations—that you focus on your good deeds; on your positive qualities, strengths, and virtues; on your productive and meaningful relationships with friends, loved ones, and relatives.
Self-affirmations include statements such as “I’m a worthy person,” “I’m responsible and can be depended upon,” and “I’m capable of loving and being loved.” The idea behind this advice is that the way you talk to yourself will influence what you think of yourself. If you affirm yourself—if you tell yourself that you’re a success, that others like you, that you will succeed on the next test, and that you will be welcomed when asking for a date—you will soon come to feel more positive about yourself.
Some researchers, however, argue that self-affirmations—although extremely popular in self-help books—may not be very helpful. These critics contend that if you have low self-esteem, you’re not going to believe your self-affirmations, because you don’t have a high opinion of yourself to begin with. They propose that the alternative to self-affirmation is to secure affirmation from others. You’d do this by, for example, becoming more competent in communication and interacting with more positive people. In this way, you’d get more positive feedback from others—which, these researchers argue, is more helpful than self-talk in raising self-esteem.


Communication Strategies: Growing in Self-Awareness

Because self-awareness is so important in communication, try to increase awareness of your own needs, desires, habits, beliefs, and attitudes. You can do this in various ways.

Listen to others. Conveniently, others are constantly giving you the very feedback you need to increase self-awareness. In every interaction people comment on you in some way—on what you do, what you say, how you look. Sometimes these comments are explicit: “Loosen up” or “Don’t take things so hard.” Often they’re “hidden” in the way others look at you—in the expressionless face that indicates disagreement or disappointment or the broad smile that says, “I think you’re wonderful.”

Increase your open self. Revealing yourself to others will help increase your self-awareness. As you talk about yourself, you may see connections that you had previously missed. With feedback from others, you may gain still more insight. By increasing your open self, you also increase the chances that others will reveal what they know about you.

Seek information about yourself. Encourage people to reveal what they know about you. Use situations that arise every day to gain self-information: “Do you think I came down too hard on the kids today?” “Do you think I was assertive enough when asking for the raise?” But seek this self-awareness in moderation. If you do it too often, your friends will soon look for someone else with whom to talk.

Dialogue with yourself. No one knows you better than you know yourself. Ask yourself self-awareness questions: What motivates me to act as I do? What are my short-term and long-term goals? How do I plan to achieve them? What are my strengths and weaknesses?


A Speech of Dedication

Here is a wonderful speech of dedication. It was written and delivered by Professor Bernard J. Brommel of Northeastern Illinois University at the naming of Brommel Hall. I reprint it here, with Bernard’s permission, not only to illustrate an excellent speech of dedication but more important to celebrate Bernard’s dedication and generosity to education, to students, and to Northeastern Illinois University. On a personal note I want to add that it's been an honor to know Bernard and to count him among my best friends.

Dedication Remarks at Naming of Bernard J. Brommel Hall, November l8th, 2010, at Northeastern Illinois University

Bernard J. Brommel
Today marks the highest honor I have ever received! Today I rejoice with all of you and celebrate my 46 years of teaching, the last 3 decades at Northeastern. I came to Northeastern in 1971 and in many senses never left emotionally. Today I salute with gratitude my former students at Northeastern, and in the schools where I taught the 20 years before NEIU. Several are here today, going back to when I taught at Keokuk High in Iowa and Indiana State University. Wherever I taught I remained in contact, over now some 59 years with some of the students. We write; we talk on the phone; we e-mail; we visit when they come to Chicago or I see them when I am in their cities. We meet at airports when they or I have a lay over. I write recommendations years after I taught them. Ask my own 6 children—my students remain a part of my extended family. Luckily so many of my Northeastern students remained in Chicago and what a joy it has been to stay in contact.
Today this is a humbling experience. I never dreamed of this high honor. From a very poor family—one of 9 children, 3 of whom died in early adulthood with muscular dystrophy—I knew from early life that I was lucky. Why them with dystrophy, born adjacent to me in birth order? Subconsciously I always felt I had to make something out of my life. It also humbled me. No Brommel had ever gone to college. At a few days after my 17th birthday, I ran away; caught a Greyhound bus to Iowa State University. I had no money for food or rent. I had to get a job the first week. But I did have a national Sears & Roebuck Scholarship for tuition. My beloved teacher, Grace Laird, helped me write the application.
It was a teacher, Grace Laird, that made this day possible. The day before I fled for college, back in l947, she gave me her old Webster's Dictionary for she knew I did not have one. She declared, “I am your English teacher and I never want you to misspell a word; just look it up.” Five years later when I went to the University of Iowa, she gave me her worn “Dictionary of Synonyms,” declaring “You need to improve your writing by using better word choices.” I remember looking out and seeing her in the crowd when I received both my BA and MA. I look out at this crowd today and imagine I see her. Thanks, Miss Laird, for mentoring me and writing recommendations for every scholarship and position I pursued. Thanks for setting an example; I have always strived to be a caring teacher like you. I made my kids go with me to meet her whenever I returned to Iowa. She lived until 101; she left directions for me to speak at her funeral. Now whenever back in Iowa, why do I visit her grave?
Without scholarships along the way, I never would be standing here today! My creating of scholarships at Northeastern returns my debt. Here we still have too few scholarships. I could have gifted scholarships only to my Dept. of Communication, but I wanted to start just one in several departments in the College of Arts and Sciences. I chose to name each of them in honor of a former student or colleague that I thought represented Northeastern the best. Two separate gifts, one, the annual Faculty Distinguished Research Award, and a second that encourages one of our graduates each year to pursue a doctorate, each fulfils my desire to reward my colleagues, and help more of our students to complete a doctorate!
One of my closest friends, Pete, asked me recently WHY I wanted to do these scholarships for Northeastern. I had to think because I tried to give something each year, even if it was only $50. It just seemed the right thing to do. Pete's question caused me to reflect. I then realized that my own struggles to get a higher education paralleled the lives of my students at Northeastern. Many, if not most, are first generation in their families to attend college. Almost all of our students work part time jobs to stay in school—so did I. Many lacked confidence that they could measure up to professors' expectations—so did I.
I learned early on at Northeastern that our students appreciated my high expectations of them. No student in any of my public speaking classes ever delivered a talk that I had not seen in outline form and approved in advance. I wanted students' thoughts to be organized and include proof for their generalizations—prepared, of course, in complete sentences. I refused outlines that looked like a grocery list of mismatched thoughts. Their audiences/listeners deserved a reasoned thesis idea that linked their ideas together. Some students had to rewrite 2 or 3 times! I see those struggling students' faces today, smiling when they “got it right.” I always knew they could do it; they were learning that confidence came through work: earning the right to speak.
This building means many things to me. From the day it opened until the day I retired, I taught classes in Room 111. My office for many years was on the top floor. My deans had offices, as they do today, on the first floor. Randy Hudson and Frank
Dobbs were my favorite deans. Pat Reichert, their secretary-one of our finest Civil Service employees-cheered me up in almost daily contacts. I have worked for all of the presidents who have run this university at this location. I thank Jerry Sachs for hiring me. I remember his intense interview. (I appreciate his attendance tonight.)
Over 30 years ago I began talking to each president about the NEED for an endowment. (I never did trust those legislators and governors in Springfield to make college funding a high priority.) Salme Steinberg, whom I honor today, gave me the “green light” to start a Founders Society. When we began, there was less than $20,000 in endowment for Northeastern; a university that was over l20 years old with over 120,000 alumni. Today we nearly have—or had before this recent economic crash—around 5 million in gifts or estate plans. I shall not really be happy until we have a minimum of 50 million in that endowment fund for scholarships for needy/deserving students and funds for our faculty for their research and academic projects.
My fondest WISH is that my students will remember Northeastern with annual small gifts and a small percentage of their estates to this most deserving university. I pass on to each of you a motto that has guided my life: THERE WAS A TIME TO LEARN; THERE WAS A TIME TO EARN; THERE NOW IS A TIME TO RETURN.”
Today in closing I am so happy and grateful, first, to my 6 children; my friends; my former students who are here, some from far away states; my former colleagues; my president, Dr. Sharon Hahs, and Vice President, Dr. Carla Knorowski, who helped me to finalize my estate plans; members of the Board of Directors, Board of the separate Foundation, and Founders Society supporters. My students I honor; they gave me a purpose in life. It's really all about our wonderful diverse students, not about me. Yes, we as faculty have helped students to make a difference in their lives in this complex troubled world. These students in return have made a difference in me. I learned as much from them as they learned for me. This building really belongs to them!