Author Archives: gsmcclellan

Not Your Mascot

The history of misappropriation of Native American culture dates back to Colonial days. Whether for reasons of romanticism or mischief, European Americans have from the earliest days chosen to “dress up and play Indian” either metaphorically or literally. The impact of these choices on Native American people have ranged from annoying to down right deadly and all points in between.

Sports, both intercollegiate and professional, is a primary arena for this sort of racist speech. I encourage anyone who is interested in learning more about this issue to avail themselves of any of the following:

 In Whose Honor (documentary by Jay Rosenstein)

Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in Sports (pt 1) (seminar organized by the National Museum of the American Indian)

Racist Stereotypes and Cultural Appropriation in Sports (pt 2)

The Native American Mascot Controversy: A Handbook (book edited by C. Richard King)

Over the years many voices, both Native and non-Native have been raised in an effort to address this problem. Groups as disparate as the Central Conference of American Rabbis, National Congress of American Indians, National College Athletic Association, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Office of Civil Rights, the United Church of Christ, and many others have called for an end to the use of Native American nicknames or logos for athletic teams. Some of these statements have noted exceptions where specific tribes, acting on their sovereign status, approve of the use of their names and for teams which are located at tribally-controlled colleges.

In recent years there has been some progress of note, all in the realm of intercollegiate athletics. There has also been progress in that Native American people have taken to social media and broad media to bring authentic and powerful voices to the forefront for all to hear. Two excellent examples are the #NotYourMascot discussion on Twiter and the recent decision by the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation to purchase time during the airing of the NBA finals to air their Proud to Be commerical.

Sometimes some things can be so obvious that it is difficult to imagine how they cannot be seen for what they are. And yet there are inevitably some people who can not or will not have clarity of vision. Such is the case for the use of words and images in sports (both intercollegiate and professional) which are disrespectful, hurtful, and harmful to Native American people. The time has long come and gone for us to continue to permit these behaviors.

While not the first to the conversation and not the most important voice, I believe it is my responsibility and the responsibility of every person who values human dignity to stand up and say this must come to and end. Count me among those who believe Redskin=Racism and Native Americans are Not Your Mascot.





Lead or Lambaste – Which Will It Be Mr. President?

Barry Fisher, a friend from back in the days of high school (love that Facebooks helps us keep these connections) was kind enough to ask what I thought about President Obama’s recent speech on helping assure college is affordable. We’ve been busy with the opening of the new year so this is my first chance to share my thoughts on the subject.

Having proudly voted for the man twice, I have to say the plan is just one more example of when he most disappoints me. He takes an important and complex subject – college access and affordability – and boils it down into language that could mean just about anything.

My most notable concern is the effort to tie funding (state or federal) to what is euphemistically described as “success” of students. Folks using that term typically really mean “graduation” because they seem to believe that graduation is (or ought to be) the one and only one measurement of whether or not a student has achieved anything by going to college. I have some major issues with that. First, there are both non-market and market benefits that accrue from every year in college. It’s not like going and then stopping before graduation is a complete waste. Second, what does it say to students (particularly first generation students) who aren’t sure whether or not college is for them? Should they just not start? What about the kid from rural Indiana who lives on land his family has farmed for generations who takes the courageous step of trying college and then, feeling like she got a good run at it and decided it wasn’t for her, returns to her family farm where she contributes to the strength of her family and community. How did we get to a place in American where she and her institution are labeled a failure?

President Obama mentioned Indiana as a state that has tied performance to funding. Have you looked closely at what is going on in Indiana public higher education funding Mr. President? A good argument can be made that the metrics as adopted are serving to simply shift dollars to the institutions with the most selective admissions policies.

A related concern is that colleges and universities, acting rationally, will simply reshape their admissions policies to assure they are only taking on those most likely to succeed. How will that help create great learning environments or encourage upward social mobility? How will that promote access?

A third concern is with a notion that seems to inform his thinking in developing these policy recommendations. Give credit for experience. Give credit for competency. Get a credential faster. These are all manifestations of the notion that outcomes and only outcomes matter. What about the journey? What about the ways in which you come to know things and the interactions you have with others in which you share ways of knowing and learning with one another?

Higher education has made itself vulnerable to threats to academic freedom from politicians. We have not been as responsive as we could have been or should have been to changes in student demographics, new teaching technologies, or new ways of learning and knowing for our students. That said, the American higher education model remains one of the best (if not the best) in the world because it provides multiple ports of entry and respects the role of an independent faculty. My fear is that the broad (overly broad) policy recommendations put forth by President Obama could lend themselves to the erosion of these historical strengths.

Here are some suggestions for how President Obama and others in the U.S. government (and state governments) could help assure that higher education remains a good value for all:

1. A thoughtful plan to grow more meaningful jobs for college graduates would be very helpful. My sense is that the perceived value of higher education has been diminished as a function of a failing economy more than a failing faculty. There must be ways to create incentives for companies to get off their reserves and higher recent college graduates into jobs at reasonable salaries.

2. There are certainly segments of higher education where folks are pretty clearly scamming students and the federal aid system. A narrowly focused program to stamp that out would be welcome.

3. A meaningful attempt to curb the costs of medical benefits could really help.

4. A reduction in the ridiculous amount of federal paperwork required on a daily basis would too. To be fair, there is some mention of this in President Obama’s plan.

5. Speaking of paperwork, it is time that we do something about FAFSA. How many more studies do we need showing that it is an intimidating obstacle for many students?

6. While there is no specific role for the Federal government in higher education outlined in the Constitution, I’m grateful for things like Title IX, ADA, and Higher Education Act. That said, how about requiring that the various federal agencies simply reconcile their conflicting policies/interpretations so we don’t have to spend some much money on consultants and studies in the effort to head off costly federal investigations or complaints?

6. Rather than trying to redefine what a U.S. college degree means, why not create an alternative credential and let folks pursue it through other means? Then the marketplace can decide who it wants to hire.

It doesn’t help motivate students, staff, or faculty when a college-educated populist from an elite institution stands up and paints all of higher education as greedy and inefficient. Please remember Mr. President that there are a lot of hard working folks out here who are truly committed to serving students through their work in higher education. Many of those folks haven’t had raises (or have had very small raises) in several years on already pretty modest salaries. You can help lead them, or you can lambaste them.

Which will it be Mr. President?

Now I’ve Gone and Done It

In recent weeks my colleagues have been encouraging me to become more active on the web and through social media. I refer to these folks with affection as the Kool Aid drinkers, and theirs is not an easy task.

While I am not technology adverse, neither am I technology smitten. For years it has been my observation that our society is so enamored with immediate and constant interaction that we have lost our appreciation for quiet and contemplation. I’m hesitant to open myself up to even more electronic messages, images, and intrusions.

I’m also not at all sure that my life is so interesting that folks will want to follow me in whatever format. The chapters and books I edit or author are pretty well received, and I’m grateful that people feel I am making a contribution through those activities. However, they do not require me to open myself up much, and they don’t feel like they are about me so much as about a subject. The Kool Aid drinkers assure me that folks are interested, and they point to the very positive response to my Chronicle of Higher Education columns as evidence. There I feel like I’m sharing a conversation with friends, and writing the columns has been very enjoyable because they really seem to resonate with people.

So, with the encouragement/insistence of my colleagues and feedback from those kind enough to share their thoughts on my written work, I have moved into this new world. I created accounts on both Twitter and Pinterest, got a fancy new smartphone that handles all of this stuff better, and have created this web site with a blog.

I will try to post at reasonable intervals. Hopefully those posts will inspire some response. We’ll see where it goes from there.