How Did That Make You Feel? Psychology and Politics at the Administrative University

Jonathan Zimmerman, University of Pennsylvania

  • Date Feb 2, 2017
  • Venue Warner Memorial Library
    Eastern University
    1300 Eagle Road
    Saint Davids, PA 19087
The language of trauma—and, more generally, of psychology—has come to dominate campus politics, marking an important departure from prior eras. In part, that trend reflects an increased awareness of mental health in American society writ large. But it has also tended to dampen exchange and discussion on our campuses, where faculty and students self-censor for fear of insulting or offending someone else. Or they attack each other in periodic bursts of invective, which run counter to the “civility” promised by new speech and conduct codes. Designed to prevent slights, the rules also give people license to lash out when they feel slighted.
Atop this maelstrom sits a burgeoning but beleaguered army of university administrators, who now outnumber full-time faculty at American universities. Their growth has been heavily fueled by students, who demand a wide array of services even as they indict their institutions for failing to deliver them. Whereas an earlier generation of campus protesters called for less administrative oversight and regulation, indeed, today’s students want to increase it. Almost every attack on “the administration” involves a demand for more administrators, to conduct diversity trainings, manage sexual assault cases, and so on. University protesters and officials have become the odd couple of the modern campus, feeding each other in an endless cycle of hope and despair.  
Jonathan Zimmerman is professor of history of education at the University of Pennsylvania. A former Peace Corps volunteer and high school teacher, Zimmerman is the author of Campus Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford) and five other books. He is also a frequent oped contributor to the New York Times, the Washington Post, the New York Review of Books, and other popular newspapers and magazines. Before coming to Penn in September 2016, Zimmerman taught for 20 years at New York University. In 2008 he received NYU's Distinguished Teaching Award, its highest recognition for teaching.