14 May 2014

On Free Speech and Social Justice, or, Just Who Should Speak at Commencement

Oh, dear. The Establishment media has ratcheted up the hand-wringing machine again. Those pesky kids are creating a ruckus, and It Needs to Stop.

This time it’s over commencement speakers. This morning, both Vox and The Christian Science Monitor ran stories about college students opposing controversial commencement speakers. (Interestingly, both describe the same incidents and both lead with pictures of IMF Director Christine Lagarde—Vox’s Libby Nelson wins with the facepalm pic—which makes me wonder who pitched the story to begin with. But that’s another lecture.) They have been successful, forcing at least five speakers and one honorary degree recipient to withdraw or have invitations rescinded.
Update, May 14, 15:52: My colleague Quinn Koller pointed out that Slate was also in on the issue last night, and takes first prize in the headline division: “Elite College Students Protest Their Elite Commencement Speakers.” Seems like plenty of others jumped on the story at some point today, led largely by the Legarde withdrawal at Smith College.
This is, of course, a dire threat to the future of the Republic. In Vox, The Nation’s Michelle Goldberg argues that this represents a return of an “anti-liberal left” that is [GASP!] more concerned with social justice than with free speech. CSM trots out Greg Lukianoff of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (an organization deeply concerned with the rights of conservatives students) to bandy about the “right to not be offended” trope. Both agree that these trends are deeply, deeply distressing to those concerned with academia as a place for the free exchange of ideas.

I call bullshit. (This is getting to be a habit.)

12 May 2014

Coming to UVU Peace and Justice Studies this Fall: Information and Social Justice

I'm excited to be joining the UVU Peace and Justice Studies program as an adjunct instructor this fall. I'll be offering a special topics course on Information and Social Justice based on my current research. The class is limited to 24 students, so it will operate more as a seminar than a lecture. That's especially good since there really is very little work done in this area; students in the class will be building concepts and practices rather than just studying them.

Here's what we're tentatively taking on in the course.

As information has become more ubiquitous, it has also become more contentious. Issues such as privacy and control have long been recognized. Recently, however, the question of how information and the technologies that create it affect groups in society differently has begun to challenge both activists and information technologists. This course explores the ways in which information presents concerns about social justice: the distribution of resources among and power relationships between social groups. We will study particularly how surveillance and big data challenge social justice, then consider whether open data, privacy, civil rights, hacking, and citizen data science can contribute to more just data practices. Hands-on work in the course will include using Structured Query Language to build a database (you will learn to code in this course!), blogging and other participation in social media, and a major project analyzing a data system of your choice from the perspective of social justice.

If you're interested in the course, feel free to email (jeffrey.johnson@uvu.edu), tweet (@the_other_jeff, call (801.863.8993), or drop by my office (BA203f) and we can talk about the course. If you have any suggestions for topics or readings, I'd love to see them in the comments section.

Details follow after the jump.