Friday, October 26, 2012

A Comment on the Constitution of CUR.

The text I have chosen to critique is named “Constitution and Bylaws of the Council for Undergraduate Research”. I have an individual interest in this text because this organization CUR (for short) is an organization which I will have to continually interact with in the next coming months. For example, in the beginning steps of my undergraduate research project I have already had to interact with a number of texts which this organization has produced, the most recent being a series of texts which needed to be completed for grant money and acceptance into the 2012 under grad conference.  

 This organization, from what I have experienced so far in my own project, has published documents with very specific and systematic steps to begin an individual project. From these texts, it appears to me that this organization has a goal of producing high quality, and often, new information. However, unlike most student work which is for a class or for a professor, the student’s work (for CUR conferences) will have to be very considerate of diverse audiences which might include college students, teachers, professors, the politically powerful, private and public companies, people with affiliations to universities, as well as the general public. Therefore this organization, in seeking to help students create work that will be received well, will have to also understand the possible audiences, and their various expectations. An example of some conflicting notions, that are very real, relates to high quality student projects which stand at a “cross roads” of education enrichment and capital interest. Knowing this, I would like to discuss how this text might address such an idea of “education for education” or a dissimilar stance of “education for capital gain” for this organization.
 In order to keep a sort of coherence and image (an image, I might add, includes one that must maintain “a not for profit organization”) inherent beliefs and expectations will be addressed in this text for all that might interact or participate in this organization or the conferences it organizes. Therefore, I will seek to examine how this text speaks for the goals of this organization. I will specifically focus on ways in which assumptions of the organization are either explicit or implicit in this text, hoping to find a better understanding what this organization is, and what it has to offer which will be done by focusing on key passages. I will hope to show that the difficulty of sentences in key passages are purposefully created in a way so they might have real world practicability, in the sense that they may be stripped from their original context. I will also consider how sentential elements within the text are used to frame implied ideologies or agendas of this organization.

Looking within the text, it appears that the actual word choice and how ideas are put together on a sentential level are in varying difficulty throughout this text. One difficult passage I have identified reads “In furtherance thereof, CUR may from time to time promote and carry out studies and projects consistent with its purposes, may commission others to carry out studies in its name, and may, on request, make the results of such studies and projects known to appropriate representatives of state and federal agencies, non-profit research organizations, and other non-profit agencies or foundations”. This sentence is obviously important to the functioning of this organization, but I also believe that this sentence was created in a specific manner so it might gel or fit with other related activities which this organization might participate in. To make this clearer, I see this particular passage constructed in a deliberate complex manner, to serve a particular function. This particular function, I believe, is a desire on the creator(s) part for this particular passage to have the ability to be “stripped away” and placed in another context, or activity system, while the passage’s goal remains intact. One concrete example of a situation which this passage might be “stripped away” from the original text could be someone from CUR letting a university know that it will have people outside CUR assessing a year’s conference, and cite this passage as justification for their wishes. The passage might be used alone as a “mediating artifact” which would further the goals of this organization, e.g. justification for having, as the text mentions “carry out studies… consistent with its purposes”.

On the other hand, some sentences are very simple, and do not seem to be created with the intention that they might exist outside the text. One such example is “Each Divisional Council shall consist of at least twelve but no more than twenty-four councilors, as determined by the Division”. This particular passage, while making sense and having value within the text, does not really apply to another context, aside from the particular instance which is presented in this passage.

Also on a very specific level of focus, the text has some interesting ways of addressing its agenda of, or at least what appears as, a specific goal, or ideology, of subject position when referring to people, or “members” of CUR. For example, we read “A person elected president-elect shall serve for three years”. Here the framers of this document moved away from the definite article the (as in the president-elect…) to the indefinite A. This particular choice could have been made (or interpreted to be created in this way) for a number of reasons including the fact that the indefinite article could refer to an “innumerable anyone” while the, would, linguistically, refer to a specific person. Though a minor detail, such a choice seems to suggest that anyone might hold this position, while the definite article might put the current president in a special position of power, which others feel excluded from. Another example of a certain way to address subject position is from the passage “CUR's individual members are organized into divisions…”. While easily overlooked, this passage might have been written “an individual member of CUR is…” The difference in the first (text) and second (my own) passage is of object-possession. In the first passage CUR takes possession of the “members” which gives an idea that an individual member is part of an aggregate whole of the organization, while the second passage (mine) places emphasis on the individual who happens to be, among other things, part of an organization. These are decisions which were very likely made by the framers who had a specific mission of letting its members how they should view CUR in relation to themselves.

Another very revealing passage of this text, which elucidates the object/outcomes of this organization, is the passage “CUR will sponsor conferences for students that will welcome presenters from all institutions of higher learning and all fields of academic study”. By use of the word all, which occurs twice in this sentence, it is understood that the inclusion of every institutions and every fields of academic study is a central goal of CUR.  The use of this specific adjective seems to recognize the debatable confliction or “cross road” of two existing of expectations of higher education, namely education enrichment and capital or technological progress. It is understood, for this passage, that the goal of CUR is not like other conferences which might have a specific agenda where, for example, a specific field is required, or merit is based on goals such as “who can invent the next big money making thing”. Rather, from this statement we find that this organization places emphasis on educational enrichment that is, learning something aside from any exigency which might exist. 

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