Computing values

CAN you imagine what our colleges and universities would be like today if 20 years ago we had made the same commitment to affirmative action and cultural literacy as we are making today to computer literacy? My institution is reviewing our policies on affirmative action and multi-cultural education. Despite a record among the best in the country, our accomplishments are meager. As director of a computer center, it is more likely that I will be able to bring widespread computer education to the campus than that a truly multi-cultural environment will become a reality.

Make no bones about it, I have a great interest in expanding my college's availability to and use of computers. But I have serious doubts about our society's headlong rush into computers, and even stronger doubts about that mania extending to the academic world.

Multi-cultural education isn't the only loser to computer literacy. Scholarships, federal loans, student services, and even scientific research have all suffered while resources have snowballed into computing. But what seems unique about the cultural literacy analogy are the coercive aspects of the computer movement.

At a recent conference on computers, one speaker said that his college tells faculty in certain low enrollment departments that they have the ``choice'' of either retraining in computers or leaving the college. Twenty years ago, when ``civil rights'' was the ``in'' movement on campus, I cannot recall any college or university ever considering firing a faculty member for refusing to bring issues of concern to women or third-world people into the curricula. I doubt they ever made cultural literacy a serio us criterion for promotion. There would have been faculty riots.

The hundreds of millions of dollars spent on sabbatical retraining, workshops, recruiting, scholarships, research, and library resources could have done a great deal for affirmative action and multi-cultural knowledge over a 20-year period. Computers are wonderful tools, but our money should be with our priorities, and our priorities should be with the values which lie at the foundation of a democratic society.

Ronald G. Woodbury is a professor of political economy and the director of Computer Services at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.

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