Brûle Complètement Bun B (and Rice University)

The Facebook posts were a twitter (a contradictory statement if I ever heard one) the other day upon news that Bun B would be teaching a class at Rice. Apparently, Bun B is some sort of hip-hop rapper guy, so this is a big deal.

I perused his discography a bit, and I’m not entirely sure how well it meshes with the Spring 2011 class on Hip Hop and Religion. But considering that this is the same religion department that has a tenured professor who spends his 3-hour seminars scrolling through Wikipedia articles while reading them out loud, and must plan his class schedule around his bi-weekly ingrown eyelash removal, I suppose its par for the course.

(Maybe he’ll be a better teacher if you buy his book)

But the real benefit of this class is not its educational merit within the Reli department, which is yet to be seen, though can be judged from the future professor’s discussion of the class’ “reading list, and that dumb shit.” Rather the benefit is two-fold.

1. PR

Hey, everyone is talking about Rice! Isn’t that awesome! We’re all the news and people are posting stuff about the university on Facebook. I bet the school may even get some feature pieces in national papers or magazines talking about this class. Huffington Post will probably write something about it. Or if the Thresher folks are on the ball and write about it first, the HuffPost will just include an article from the Daily Tresher in a slideshow of “The 10 Best College Courses that Also Look Like Boobies,” or something like that.

And then Rice will finally be good enough, well known across the nation, and lose its Napoleon Complex. And Hanszen will sweep Beer Bike.

2. Racism

Rice has had a problem with race relations in the past, for a variety of reasons. And certainly no one person is to blame. Sept. 15 2006 Rice Thresher Backpage

Ah, memories

But the problems at Rice go beyond spoiled douchebags who think that the name of their stupid party or O-Week group is more important than a history of institutionalized racism. (timeline of racism at Rice) It comes down to sheer demographics.

At least when I was at Rice, there were about 100 black men there. About half of them were varsity athletes, so they were largely focused on that rather than college social events. This leaves about 50 black men. Divide that by four, for the four years in college, and you have a little more than 12 non-athlete black men per class. Divide that by nine, for the nine colleges at the time, and you have one, maybe two, black men per year at each college. The same college system that supposedly unites students distinctly divides them in this case. This cannot be a comforting scene for black students during O-Week, let alone the rest of the year.

This is not to say that people only hang out with the same race, or that they should, or that race is a complete predetermination of life experience and preference. However, there is something distinctly off-putting about looking into the crowd of peers with whom you’re supposed to spend the next four years and seeing no one who looks like you.

I do not have a link, but in a 1990 issue of the Thresher, former Rice student and current professor Alex Byrd (Sid ’90) talked about how he spent a semester (I think) at the traditionally black Howard University (if I recall correctly), and just the sense of comfort of looking and feeling like you fit in. And from personal experience, I know that I felt somewhat lost at Rice until I moved into a room of three other cynical liberal Jews.

With this demographic basis, no matter how many diversity forums Rice has, no matter how many times ADVANCE meets to discuss racism, no matter how many people attend Soul Night (I’d link to the rtv5 video but the website is down), black men will be outsiders at Rice University.

However, by bringing in the prominent face of Bun B to the head of a class, Rice sends a message that black men belong and are welcomed.

So why do I not agree with this move?

I don’t necessarily disagree with it. However, I am somewhat distraught that we are spending money (I assume Rice is paying him some to some degree. And if not, at least expending effort) for a singer to teach a class on Religion when Rice JUST ELIMINATED ITS ENTIRE FRENCH STUDIES GRADUATE PROGRAM.

Hip-hop culture has an important role in contemporary society, with vast influences and meaning, and should be studied deeply. However, French Studies is the groundwork for study of the Enlightenment, the very basis for this contemporary society in which hip-hop exists. We must study the French Revolution. We must study Humanism. Our nation was founded by Humanists and Francophiles. We cannot and should not ignore the eruption, testing, and successes and failures of Enlightenment Ideology. Especially at a time when Enlightenment ideals, and the Enlightenment itself, are being stripped from and perverted in Texas children’s textbooks. This means something. This is important.

It’s great that Rice is getting Bun B. It will be good for PR and Race Relations. But it would be even better if Rice’s aims were what is best for the nation and humanity, and not simply its Princeton Review rankings.

To quote someone I am loath to quote: This nation was created by humanists, and it will be saved by humanists.

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2 responses to “Brûle Complètement Bun B (and Rice University)

  1. love the entry, evan. very well written.

  2. Three thoughts
    1. I remember speaking with one of the college masters about this–not only do we have 12 or so non-varsity athlete black students per year at Rice, but in an effort to improve diversity at each college they were assigned so there was at least one such person at each college. As you mentioned, this makes it hard to establish a group of similar peers.
    2. Hiring Bun B probably goes well under the aegis of “advertising” (it’s certainly doing that job). What’s the relative cost of paying for one class versus supporting an entire program?
    3. This is a whole ‘nother argument and one deserving more than a couple of paragraphs, but is Rice University well served by having a small grad program in French? I’m not saying that the material is undeserving of study, I’m saying that we need to consider how well the program itself works. It’s unfortunate for the professors, as they no longer have any minions for their research and the program may wither away, but it is entirely possible to maintain a decent undergrad only program (see Small Liberal Arts Colleges). For undergrads the issue is somewhat removed–there will be a smaller choice of upper-level classes but with sufficient departmental support (which I admit is definitely not a given. See Rice Department of Slavic Students) the classes can still be taught.
    Last, how well are the grad students served by the program? The job situation for humanities PhDs really, really sucks (‘adjunct hell’ being a common occurrence for even those lucky few who manage to make it into academia), you’re poorly supported as an actual student, and if you’re planning on doing anything with your degree you need to “go big or go home.” I’m not saying that Rice shouldn’t have French/Spanish/Urdu PhD programs, but to best serve its grad students Rice needs to have some good, well-regarded programs, and better to have a few top notch Humanities programs than several middle-level ones.
    3b. From a very pragmatic viewpoint, I’m actually more offended we don’t have a graduate level Asian studies program. Come on Leebron, work those Chinese connections you’ve got.
    3c. Hanszen will never sweep Beer Bike. It would be a reversal of the natural order of things.

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