Sunday, May 28, 2006

Catherine Stimpson: Feminist? Or Reactionary?

Nerds, along with the rest of GSOC, tend to save our personal take-downs for John Sexton, NYU president and cheif union-buster, and the billionaires for union-busting who are the NYU trustees. But these are not the only members of the NYU administration who deserve to be taken to task. Like Sexton (who contradicts the Catholic teachings he supposedly holds dear by refusing to acknowledge our right to bargain collectively), Catharine Stimpson is an NYU administrator who has bought into the power structure she is a part of and has thus become an intellectual hypocrite.

Stimpson, some readers may recall, coupled her general distaste for academic unionism in a June 2004 Chronicle of Higher Education article with the observation that "when unions arise and thrive, institutions may have given them reason to do so." GSOCers have seen Stimpson's name on many of the open letters and fake-union proposals that have crossed our desks in the last year, but we have not seen her stand up and admit what it is that NYU has done to give us "reason to do so." She also admitts the truth of many of the critiques that GSOCeers make of the contemporary university in general and NYU specificially--such as the fact that universities are factory-like and teach simply to get tuition dollars.

So why is Stimpson not a defender, not even a grudging tolerator like Alan Sokal, but rather a dedicated member of the union-busting administrator's sqaud?

Well, let's start with her background and see what we can figure out. Stimpson went to college at Bryn Mawr after growing up in Washington State. Her own stories of her past suggest that as a young person, she was interested in exploring the new, the radical, and ther rebellious. She has always been interested in interdisciplinary studies and in questions of power, and after earning her undergraduate degree she went on to earn degrees at Cambridge and Columbia. Her professional experience prior to coming to NYU has included stints at the MacArthur Foundation Fellows Program, Rutgers University, Barnard College, and a term as president of the the Modern Language Association.

Nerds don't see any clues here. Work in women's studies usually sensitizes one to issues of power and privilege. So why doesn't Stimpson get it?

Let's turn to her own words. (The quote is from her chapter in Women in Higher Education, edited by Glazer, Bensimon, and Townsend).

"First, women's studies has sought a particular ethic that values the fredom and the moral equality of all those who seek education and of those who offer it. Women's studies has promised that such an ethic will enhance education, not smash it to peices. Second, women's studies has sought to alter institutions so that they embody such an ethic....Third, women's studies has sought to change consciousness--that of individuals and that of institutions....It has meant a constant, serious, deepening awareness of sets of problems and ideas about women....Women's studies confronts vociferous forces that wish to efface some of its energetic deeds, that wish to crib, cabin, and confine its energizing future. Women's studies has shown its capacity for wild patience, a capacity necesary for survival and moral rejuvenation...."

Let's rewrite that, talking about academic labor issues instead of academic feminism:
The academic labor movement has sought a particular ethic that values the freedom of association and the moral equality of all those who seek education and of those who offer it. The academic labor movement has shown time and again that this ethic will enhance education, not smash it to peices. The academic labor movement has also sought to alter institutions of higher education so that they emody such an ethic. It has also sought to change the consciousness of individuals and institutions so that we all understand that work is being done within the ivory walls. The academic labor movement has meant a constant, serious, deepinging awarness of sets of problems and ideas about work in higher education. Academic labor confronts vociferous forces that wish to efface some of its energetic deeds, that wish to crib, cabin, and confince its energizing future. Academic labor has shown its capacity for wild patience, a capacity necessary for survival and moral rejuvanation, in spite of the continual crushing pressure placed on it by administrators and elites that include the writer of the words this paragraph is based on.

So Stimpson is clearly capable of understanding oppression and the fight against it within the academic system. But she chooses to ignore her own understanding of power and knowledge. She chooses to maintain her position as a union-buster.

Nerds ask again--why? And the only answer is that Stimpson wants to keep her cushy job and her cushy office and make a lot of money. A real women's studies scholar would understand the ways in which collective organization is better for representing the interests of academic women. A real women's studies scholar would understand that with sexual harrassment and discrimination of all kinds still affecting women across NYU constantly, an outside grievance procedure is necesary to protect women from employment abuses--particularly given the fact that the grievance procedure supervised by Stimpson's own office is clearly a joke. A real women's studies scholar would see GSOC as a vital attempt for women AND men to stand together for justice, for freedom, and for real moral equality. A real women's studies scholar would not bust unions to increase her own paycheck.

Stimpson is a dean and a member of the power structure now. She is no longer a real women's studies scholar.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I hope Dean Stimpson tosses all your whiny asses out of school, to make room for real scholars who will appreciate the opportunity bestowed on them.

Fucking hippie douche.

8/29/2006 8:03 PM  
Blogger specter of marx said...

Nerds kindly request that readers refrain from posting threatening and/or obscene comments on this blog. We invite productive critical commentary that is germane to our content, and thus have no wish to moderate comments. Please be respectful and constructive in all future posts.

Thank you.

8/29/2006 8:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obviously you are not even a student of NYU if you don't even know how to spell the dean's name correctly. It is "Catharine", not "Catherine." She would be too gracious to point this out, but I just think you're a spoiled, unhappy child, so I don't care. Yes, Catharine Stimpson is not only a feminist, but a scholar who has dedicated both her personal and professional life to the furtherance of graduate education. You don't know how lucky you have it, though I suspect you are not an NYU grad student. Anyway, the strike is over. Shouldn't you be hassling cops or something?

9/10/2006 2:49 PM  
Blogger Andrew said...

I have a great deal of sympathy for the "nerd" who wrote this piece. It is an attempted careful exploration of personality, in an attempt to put together the jigsaw pieces and resolve the hypocrisy. I don't think, however, that the hypocrisy is resolvable. Feminism has served as a vehicle for women to gain positions of power (a good thing). When arrived, Catharine Stimpson has done little to incarnate the principles of feminism, and little to help others. She has basked in the warmth of her (well deserved?) power. This is a lady who has traded on her Cambridge degree all her life, but has done little to internalise the principles of that education, and little to attempt to pass it on to others.

8/12/2007 3:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Institutions not interested in change will use weak people, like Catharine Stimpson, to maintain the status quo.

9/27/2007 10:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I went to Rutgers and was taught by Stimpson in the 80s.

She was an exciting teacher but she could be nasty too.

She's got to be 70-something now at least -- isn't it retirement time? (gasp! ageism)

Let her run the National Endowment for the Humanities for a couple years or something.......

1/02/2009 2:56 PM  

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