Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Handout: Campus Politics and the College Novel

Colleen Gabauer, on her way east to Rochester to defend her dissertation on Friday morning, gave a wonderful talk to my class last night. Here is the handout.

Presenter: Colleen L. Gabauer
Title of Dissertation: Campus Politics and the College Novel
Affiliation: Candidate for Doctor of Education degree in Higher Education Administration, Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester
Contact Information: Recruitment Coordinator for Purdue University Interdisciplinary Life Science (PULSe); e-mail:

Research Questions:
The following questions guided the research agenda in this study:

How do novelists portray student, faculty, and administrative responses to political influence coming from inside and outside of the academy?
With this relationship in mind, to what extent do various campus constituents defend institutional neutrality and academic freedom?

How does the novelist’s depiction of various characters correspond with well known academic stereotypes?

Do various campus constituents pictured in college novels use ideology, a particular system of ideas, to gain power from one another?

How do various characters resolve dilemmas of being caught in the crossfire of campus conflict?

Methodological Approach:
A close textual reading, along with a new historicist approach to the study of literature, which relies on an inductive process that asks literature what it can tell us about history, were used to analyze the college novel for its portrayal of institutional and personal responses to political influence on the college campus.

Novels for Analysis:
15 American college novels published between the years of 1950 and 2000 are included in this investigation. These include: Mary McCarthy, The Groves of Academe (1951); Stuart Mitchner, Let Me Be Awake (1959); Georg Mann, The Dollar Diploma (1960); Bernard Malamud, A New Life (1961); John Hersey, Too Far to Walk (1966); Gerald Warner Brace, The Department (1968); John Thomas Sayles, Union Dues (1977); Rona Jaffe, Class Reunion (1979); John Kenneth Galbraith, A Tenured Professor (1990); Ishmael Reed, Japanese by Spring (1993); Arnold Silver, Shortchangers (1997); Saul Bellow, Ravelstein (2000); Christopher Hill, Virtual Morality (2000); Francine Prose, Blue Angel (2000); and Philip Roth, The Human Stain (2000).

Select Findings:
Curricular issues and research agendas are often dictated by financial resources and/or the government. That is, several institutions in this study are manipulated, by donors and government officials, into keeping the prominent ideology thriving on campus. The academy is susceptible to these influences throughout the last 50 years.

Academic freedom does not always protect faculty research interests and classroom behavior. Novels from all periods focus on subversion and un-American behavior. Values, rules, and regulations surrounding institutional neutrality and academic freedom are repeatedly contested throughout the last half-century.

Characters in these novels use the circumstances of their times for their personal advancement.

Students have a hand in political affairs on the college campus, but this is not without its qualifications.

Ideology will only continue to be an integral part of academic life, but as my historical analysis shows, one particular paradigm is never around for very long. If one ideological framework gains prominence in one decade, it is often supplanted by another in the next decade (i.e. 1950s McCarthyism to 1960s student rebellion to the growth of political correctness from the 1980s into the 1990s). The novels in this study reaffirm this notion that ideological differences are continually contested on the American college campus throughout the last 50 years.

Taken together, academic stereotypes, power relations, and socialization, as they are portrayed in the college novel, reveal a public perception of the academy that is both critical and distrusting. This harsh public perception is evident throughout college fiction written in the last 50 years.

In PC times, campus policies that protect some can simultaneously exploit others.

American institutions of higher education have become so diversified that they continually struggle to determine who they should serve and how they can best serve their students, faculty, and administration.

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