Prof urges colleagues to promote 'progressive politics' in class

A professor at the University of Massachusetts-Boston wants business professors to engage in more “intellectual activism” to promote “social justice.”

"Intellectual activism is progressive. It is not politically/socially regressive and conservative,” Dr. Alessia Contu asserts in an article, urging business professors to join the fight towards “progressive politics” by adopting an “intellectual activist” stance in the classroom, which she calls a “form of political work” inspired by “black, feminist, critical race scholars.”

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This activism, she explains, calls upon professors to fight for “progressive and collective politics, for example, that of workers’ struggles, struggles against economic greed, white supremacy, neo-colonialism, imperialism, hetero-normative patriarchy, and environmental exploitation.”

While she acknowledges that business schools aren’t exactly known as a hotbed of progressive politics, Contu argues that there are myriad small opportunities for professors to engage in progressive “intellectual activism” while on the job, such as infusing “intersectionality” into syllabi, asking “radical questions,” and “building progressive alliances.”

Intersectionality, she adds, is “a key value, method, and strategy of intellectual activism” that can be deployed by a business professor at any time during their work.

“One can take any of the practices in our academic praxis and subject them to the intersectionality ‘test,’” Contu asserts, referring to the practice of evaluating “justice claims” based on the “intersections of privilege and penalties” that apply to a given set of identities.

“In teaching consider for a moment the decisions regarding your syllabus, the method you use, the case studies you choose,” Contu urges colleagues. “Do they address any of the social and economic struggles that your students, their peers, and their families face?”

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She also states that intersectionality should be deployed when writing job recommendations and writing research grants.

“When you write up a review for a journal; or a recommendation to an appointment panel or a research grant committee; or put together a panel for a conference, are you considering how what you say (or do not say) counters gender and racial ‘biases’, or instead perpetuates them?” she asks. “How do any such decisions you take in your daily work practices forward and support social justice?”

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As the chair of her department at UMass-Boston, Contu argues that business professors should serve a greater mission to disrupt patriarchal hegemony and promote progressive politics through their work.

“We need to occupy the spaces in the hierarchy to explore/exploit and explode the authority that comes with it,” Contu says, adding that doing so would help create chances to do “work that advances the constitution of business schools as progressive, engaged, and critical working spaces.”

Contu told Campus Reform that she considers intellectual activism crucial to democratic societies.

“Professors are important agents in education which is a fundamental societal institution especially in democratic societies,” she asserted. “This work is beneficial because it favors the abilities for all to understand and work towards deepening the values and practices of democracy and widening our freedom.”

Contu did not respond to a follow-up inquiry on why she thinks professors should engage in explicitly progressive activism while at work.

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @Toni_Airaksinen