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Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform.

Education Opinion

I’m Shocked, Shocked--Well, a Bit Surprised--That the UCEA’s Standing Behind Its “Enemies List”

By Rick Hess — October 29, 2010 4 min read

As luck would have it, I’m down here in New Orleans, and the University Council for Educational Administration (UCEA) is holding its annual conference just a few blocks away. I’m even invited to a Saturday breakfast for an advisory board I sit on. This is all mildly ironic because, for those who read Tuesday’s post on the “Enemies List” that ran in the most recent UCEA Review, I was deemed the fifth most significant enemy of public school leadership in the U.S. (For those who missed all this, check out Tuesday’s RHSU post here and then UNC-Chapel Hill professor Fenwick English’s article “The 10 Most Wanted Enemies of American Public Education’s School Leadership.”)

The significant thing about this is that English is a serious figure in the world of educational leadership. He’s a former president of the UCEA and editor of the Encyclopedia of Educational Administration. The UCEA is the leading organization for the study of educational leadership; it includes about 80 university members, including U. Arizona, U. Texas, Indiana U., U. Wisconsin, NYU, U. Florida, Florida State, U. Missouri, LSU, Iowa State, U. Maryland, U. Illinois, UVA, and UNC.

To my surprise, I’ve not yet seen any communication from UCEA officials conceding that enemies lists are a suboptimal way to promote scholarly research and debate, especially when a university-sponsored and supposedly scholarly outlet is labeling current U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and former Secretary of Education Bill Bennett as “enemies” of public education or school leadership. (Happily, I’ve had a few individual UCEA members write to say that they think the whole episode is embarrassing and that the decision to publish English’s piece was unfortunate.)

Maybe I’m naïve, but I’d have thought that UCEA executive director Michelle Young (who also serves as general editor of the UCEA Review, along with Gerardo Lopez) would’ve been eager to say, “Gee, maybe it was a mistake to run that ‘enemies list’ and let’s make damn sure we don’t do that again.” Is Fenwick’s “enemies list” really that unremarkable to these guys? So far, though, silence. And, by the way, why haven’t AERA President Kris Gutierrez or my good friend, AACTE President Sharon Robinson, taken this opportunity to blast this kind of behavior and distance their organizations from it? After all, Gutierrez went out of her way to insert AERA in the debate over Arizona’s immigration statute earlier this year--shouldn’t she be eager to denounce “enemies lists” and argue that this kind of ad hominem attack has no place in scholarly discourse?

For bloggers, journos, or interested parties who wonder what the UCEA’s deal is, some other UCEA Review staff worth asking for their take include managing editor Jennifer Cook of the University of Texas, features co-editor Andrea Rorrer of the University of Utah, and features co-editor Samantha Parades Scribner of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

What to ask? Me, I’m partial to the simple question: “Do you approve of running ‘enemies lists’ in scholarly publications with which you’re associated? If not, will you say so for the record and acknowledge that printing this piece reflected a serious lapse of judgment?”

The funniest thing about the whole deal is that readers have pointed out that English’s article is riddled with mistakes. (We won’t even bother with all the slander and guilt-by-association; with English’s charge that Arne Duncan is doing the bidding of “Republican, right-wing think tank pundits” or that E.D. Hirsch’s support for “‘core curriculum’ [is] a futile effort to preserve White privilege in a burgeoning multiracial and multicultural society.”)

English misspells the last name of former Second Lady Lynne Cheney, turns the renowned E.D. Hirsch into “Ed” Hirsch, and attacks the Progressive Policy Institute (PPI) at length for taking funds from the Bradley Foundation--which is peculiar given that the education program at PPI has apparently never received money from the Bradley Foundation. He asserts that PPI has also been funded by the Heritage Foundation--which is bizarre on many levels, not the least of which is that Heritage isn’t in the grant-making business. English reports that “Duncan has launched a $4 billion executive agenda called Race to the Top with Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funds,” which is just hilariously wrong (hello, UCEA Review editors). English says that the Broad Superintendents Academy has never indicated “who their ‘experts’ are” when the Academy’s website includes a list of faculty and instructors. Anyway, one can go on and on...

A simple suggestion for young academics aspiring to publish in the field of ed leadership: if you’re going to get into ad hominem attack--which is apparently an accepted line of scholarship--at least try to do it competently, and accurately.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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