Strange days…

… for ol’ UD. Sick as a dog with bronchitis plus, she lies abed and watches bits of snow settle on the garden. The world in the new year continues to shower UD with wondrous tales of serial plagiarism and quarter billion dollar football expenses, yet she can’t quite gather her thoughts about it… Whereas her efforts not to gather her thoughts about the upsetting political situation in her country are thwarted by unsettling and unignorable forms of protest. UD knows she has to draw some deep breaths and dive into everything again, but at the moment her lungs are weak.

American Professors as a Greek Chorus

“It’s going to continue to drain money from the core mission of the university. And there’s no end in sight. How many years do we do this?” keens a University of Massachusetts professor as the school’s ignorant padded armies clash by night

It’s gotten quite lyrical, this national chorus of professors lamenting the tragic infinitude of university football — or, as the latest installment in Bloomberg’s series on the subject has it, “Football is Forever.” The author of the series points out that

Once a school fields a top-division football team, it’s nearly impossible to reverse the commitment.

I can’t go on, I’ll go on would be the more modern, tragicomic, version of this classic truth: The morally and financially rancid circus of big-time university football (toss in basketball, of course) cannot be dismantled. Eight times a year an addled elephant will be made to balance on its back legs in front of four rich drunks in the luxury suites and forty poor drunks in the bleachers, plus there’s the police and the littering tailgaters and the clean-up crew and that’s all folks. That’s the show. It struts its stuff forever and forever, signifying nothing, but royally fucking over your university.

“I was at a New Years party and a mom was talking about the colleges her daughter is considering applying to. Mom said there is no way she’d let her daughter attend the [University of Minnesota], in light of the rape allegations… I think the U needs to step back and consider whether the constant negative branding some of their male sports teams create is worth it.”

Minnesota: Not just rape: Gang rape!

*************

Well, UM used to be a respectable school, and now that it’s going down the tubes the wise men are gathering (see this article and its various theories) to explain what happened.

The short version is of course reputational death by football. Like this:

ICK FACTOR ——-> INSTITUTIONAL FINANCIAL COLLAPSE

That is, your scummy team and its scummy coaches generate such massive alienation/disgust that the school hemorrhages money and reputation in every direction – ticket sales, coach buyouts, athletic facility debt repayment, lawsuits, SNL skits, declining enrollment, declining alumni support (see the comment in this post’s headline), blahblah.

Problem is, you can get this outcome in two wildly different ways: Through a president who’s nothing but a football coach, and through a president who is simply appalled to discover that a person of his or her cerebral delicacy is at a jock school, and who refuses to sully him or herself with the brainless assholes at Athletes’ Village. You can be Ken Starr of blessed memory (Ken’s still playing the last down); or you can be UM’s Eric Kaler. You can be President Booster (Oklahoma’s David Boren has held on the longest with this unremittingly nauseating approach) or President I’m Better Than This, Dammit! and you will still run an extremely high risk of implosion. Forces that transcend your provincial world (see this Bloomberg series) are in play, and only a genius tactician (like coach, president, chancellor, head trustee, and reincarnation of Jesus Christ Nick Saban) is going to be able to thread his way through the blockers.

*************
UD thanks Keith.

UD’s heart goes out to this Yeshiva University student who has discovered that unlike virtually all other American universities, his university operates under strict Omertà.

The guy writes an opinion piece in the school’s newspaper wondering about this – in particular, he wonders about Yeshiva’s … curious …board of trustees, recent haunt of Bernard Madoff and Ezra Merkin… Current haunt of the notorious Wilfs… And all-’round, COI-infested, $500 million-losing risk-taker…

You really think these big-money boys wanna talk to a pipsqueak like you? Bugsy Siegel maybe they’d talk to. Only he’s dead. You they won’t talk to.

**************

Update: The Forward takes note.

Derek Parfit, Moral Philosopher, Has Died.

Here is a long New Yorker profile of him. UD’s favorite part is not about Parfit, but about one of his friends.

If [Bernard Williams] had a highest value, it was authenticity. To him, the self was, in the end, all we have. But, in most cases, this wasn’t much — most people were stupid and cruel. Williams enjoyed his life, but he was a pessimist of the bleakest sort. He told a student that the last stanza of Matthew Arnold’s poem “Dover Beach” summed up his view of things:

Ah, love, let us be true

To one another! for the world, which seems

To lie before us like a land of dreams,

So various, so beautiful, so new,

Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,

Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain . . .

****************

What [Parfit] found most disturbing was Williams’s view of meta-ethics. Williams believed that there were no objectively true answers to questions of right and wrong, or even to questions of prudence. To him, morality was a human system that arose from human wants and remained dependent on them. This didn’t mean that people felt any less fiercely about moral questions—if someone felt that cruelty was vile, he could believe it wholeheartedly even if he didn’t think that that vileness was an objective fact, like two plus two equals four. But, to Parfit, if it wasn’t true that cruelty was wrong, then the feeling that it was vile was just a psychological fact—flimsy, contingent, apt to be forgotten.

Christmas Cheer.

It’s a beautiful thing.

What’s even more beautiful is that, the way things are going on this country’s campuses, next year the cheer will be volleyed back and forth from one side of our universities’ stadiums and arenas to the other. Call and response.

*************

But hey maybe not. Maybe when you’re down to He Hits Women cheers, you begin asking yourself whether you want to be there.

‘Administrators and trustees discussed the idea of creating a football team with an accompanying marching band and cheerleading squad as a potential enrollment booster.’

Chicago State University.

Words fail me.

Farewell 2016, U of Smell!

[There’s] the question of the board of trustees, the school’s accreditation, Foundation problems, including a forensic audit. Two football players were shot Saturday night at an off-campus party…

Then the athletic director issues a statement about a surreptitiously obtained game plan and the university again is back on the front burner, with the heat turned up.

This blog excitedly looks forward to 2017!

New Year’s Resolutions.

1. Resolved: There are no holidays.

Our text this evening is “Holiday,” a short story by Katherine Anne Porter (she began writing it in the 1920’s but put it aside for decades until finally publishing it in 1960). We will follow this story closely as we gather into this uncharacteristically lengthy post the wisdom of the ages.

Yes. UD now shares with you, on this long drunken night, the truths of being, all of which are handily packed into this obscure little tale. “Holiday” is a meandering narrative, the sort of thing hyper-connected millennials have trouble reading, because in order to read “Holiday,” you have to settle into a very very slow cud-chewing state of mind, or mindfulness, or mindlessness, as if you were seated on a thin cushion in a room in which someone is taking their sweet time with a dharma talk. Porter’s stories “read as if they were composed at one sitting, and they have the spontaneity of a running stream,” writes an admirer, and indeed “Holiday” flows real and true, but you have to stay afloat, you have to keep faith with it and nothing else, or you’ll drift over to familiar dry banks.

So relax and work with me here as we start with the title. In this story, an unnamed young woman, tense and exhausted by unspecified personal problems, takes a one-month holiday to the Texas countryside, where she rents a room in the house of a large hard-working prosperous German-American farming family. She thinks it will be therapeutic to get away from herself, but – as the saying goes – wherever you go, there you are. And this is the first great truth with which the narrator begins: “[W]e do not run from the troubles and dangers which are truly ours, and it is better to learn what they are earlier than later…” Porter had a very settled sense of our entrapment, each of us, in our particular nature – the form of being which is truly ours – and she regarded a meaningful life as one in which you come to know, to face, to accept, the contours as well as the inescapability of your particular being. In an interview, she recalls a friend of hers who “was not able to take care of herself, because she was not able to face her own nature and was afraid of everything.”

So although this may sound like a counsel of despair – sink into the hopeless business of being who you hopelessly are – it’s not that at all. Once you’ve assumed the intellectual and emotional burden of your radically limited identity, once you’ve “walked the length of your mind,” as Philip Larkin put it, you are free to embark on the courageous project of – in Porter’s words – taking care of yourself.

2. Resolved: “Human life itself is almost pure chaos.”

The narrative begins and ends with a farcical wagon ride. The family member who picks the woman up at the train station to take her to the farm has brought an old rickety vehicle for the journey:

The wheels themselves spun not dully around and around in the way of common wheels, but elliptically, being loosened at the hubs, so that we proceeded with a drunken, hilarious swagger, like the rolling motion of a small boat on a choppy sea.

At the end of the story she herself ineptly drives a similarly ridiculous wagon:

We careened down the road at a grudging trot, the pony jolting like a churn, the wheels spinning elliptically in a truly broad comedy swagger.

Where are you getting in this narrative? You started on a set of vaudevillian wheels and you’re ending on the same. If you insist on the payoff of satisfyingly rounded events – resolutions, if you like – instead of the ridiculously elliptical stuff real life throws at you, you’re not going to get anywhere actual. You’ll stay on the evasive holiday everyone tries to stay on.

And Porter really pours on the chaos. The main family member with whom her unnamed heroine interacts, Ottilie, seems to suffer from severe cerebral palsy.

Her face was so bowed over it was almost hidden, and her whole body was maimed in some painful, mysterious way, probably congenital, I supposed, though she seemed wiry and tough. Her knotted hands shook continually, her wagging head kept pace with her restless elbows.

The wheels are really falling off the world of “Holiday.” Even the seemingly well-ordered routines of the family’s all-consuming maintenance of the farm – “the repose, the almost mystical inertia of their minds in the midst of [their] muscular life” – is a facade about to be torn apart by a violently destructive storm, and by the sudden death of their beloved mother.

3. Resolved: And yet, and yet.

We struggle, strangers to ourselves amid a world in turmoil. Yet (see Resolution #2) it’s only “almost” pure chaos. The wheels don’t actually fall off, and, grudgingly, they get us there. Ottilie’s physical chaos seems complete, yet she turns out to be perhaps the most ordered and essential mainstay of the family, since she is capable of cooking and serving excellent meals. She sustains them all.

Her muteness seemed nearly absolute; she had no coherent language of signs. Yet three times a day she spread that enormous table with solid food, freshly baked bread, huge platters of vegetables, immoderate roasts of meat, extravagant tarts, strudels, pies — enough for twenty people. If neighbors came in for an afternoon on some holiday, Ottilie would stumble into the big north room, the parlor, with its golden oak melodeon, a harsh-green Brussels carpet, Nottingham lace curtains, crocheted lace antimacassars on the chair backs, to serve them coffee with cream and sugar and thick slices of yellow cake.

… Her face was a brown smudge of anxiety, her eyes were wide and dazed. Her uncertain hands rattled among the pans, but nothing could make her seem real, or in any way connected with the life around her. Yet when I set my pitcher on the stove, she lifted the heavy kettle and poured the scalding water into it without spilling a drop.

Strangers to ourselves, we perceive others as equally strange. Untouchable, unreachable. Nothing can make them seem real. Yet in time the chaos that seems to reign in ourselves and others begins to hint of an underlying order. The wheels get us there; the heavy kettle gets held and the scalding water poured.

4. Resolved: Greet the world’s overtures, especially the ones that scare you, because they may reveal the truth.

Ottilie shows our heroine a photograph of herself, taken before she became misshapen.

The bit of cardboard connected her at once somehow to the world of human beings I knew; for an instant some filament lighter than cobweb spun itself out between that living center in her and in me, a filament from some center that held us all bound to our unescapable common source, so that her life and mine were kin, even a part of each other, and the painfulness and strangeness of her vanished. She knew well that she had been Ottilie, with those steady legs and watching eyes, and she was Ottilie still within herself. For a moment, being alive, she knew she suffered…

There’s a strikingly similar scene in Don DeLillo’s early novel, Great Jones Street, when a handsome, charismatic rock star who is undergoing some sort of nervous breakdown encounters a physically misshapen boy:

I must have seemed a shadow to him, thin liquid, incidental to the block of light he lived in. For the first time I began to note his embryonic beauty. The blank eyes ticked. The mouth opened slightly, closing on loomed mucus. I’d thought the fear of being peeled to this limp circumstance had caused my panic, the astonishment of blood pausing in the body. But maybe it was something else as well, the possibility that such a circumstance concludes in beauty. There was a lure to the boy, an unsettling lunar pull, and I moved my hand over the moist surface of his face. Beauty is dangerous in narrow times, a knife in the slender neck of the rational man, and only those who live between the layers of these strange days can know its name and shape. When I took my hand from his face, the head resumed its metronomic roll. I was still afraid of him, more than ever in fact, but willing now to breathe his air, to smell the bland gases coming off him, to work myself into his consciousness, whatever there was of that. It would have been better (and even cheering) to think of him as some kind of super-crustacean or diabolic boiled vegetable. But he was too human for that, adhering to me as though by suction or sticky filaments.

The truth is human, all too human, and UD figures it’s pretty clear in these sorts of encounters that what’s being met with is one’s sense of one’s own impossible twistedness, one’s own frightening unworkability. This is reality; this ain’t no holiday. Both characters are in fact drawn to these badly damaged, seemingly alien creatures, even as they’re frightened by them. They sense that here lies the felt truth of human suffering, and they won’t get anywhere with themselves until they get up close and personal with it. For this is precisely the graphic entrapment in one’s own peculiar nature Porter was talking about, and until one perceives both its reality and the possibility of somewhat transcending that reality, one’s self won’t be very workable. Recall that both the DeLillo and the Porter plots are propelled by the close-to-nervous breakdown of the main character.

5. Resolved: Anyway, most of life will remain incomprehension – of oneself and others… But! If you are willing to keep risking being ridiculous and uncomprehending (if the fool would persist in his folly…), you will experience certain incredibly important rewards. Certain meanings will begin to glimmer; other people’s humanity may cease to feel so alien and frightening to you; and out of the felt, shared, burden/joke of everyone’s suffering may come – curiously – a nourishing sense of the delight of existence itself.

The family has gone off to the mother’s funeral, leaving Ottilie, who after all is a member of the family, behind. Our heroine hears her crying and assumes she’s in despair at having been left at home.

[S]he howled with a great wrench of her body, an upward reach of the neck, without tears. At sight of me she got up and came over to me and laid her head on my breast, and her hands dangled forward a moment. Shuddering, she babbled and howled and waved her arms in a frenzy through the open window over the stripped branches of the orchard toward the lane where the [funeral] procession had straightened out into formal order.

And so our heroine decides to take the creaky old wagon that’s left in the barn, place (with great difficulty) Ottilie in it, and take her to the funeral. And this is what happens.

Ottilie, now silent, was doubled upon herself, slipping loosely on the edge of the seat. I caught hold of her stout belt with my free hand, and my fingers slipped between her clothes and bare flesh, ribbed and gaunt and dry against my knuckles. My sense of her realness, her humanity, this shattered being that was a woman, was so shocking to me that a howl as doglike and despairing as her own rose in me unuttered and died again, to be a perpetual ghost. Ottilie slanted her eyes and peered at me, and I gazed back. The knotted wrinkles of her face were grotesquely changed, she gave a choked little whimper, and suddenly she laughed out, a kind of yelp but unmistakably laughter, and clapped her hands for joy, the grinning mouth and suffering eyes turned to the sky. Her head nodded and wagged with the clownish humor of our trundling lurching progress. The feel of the hot sun on her back, the bright air, the jolly senseless staggering of the wheels, the peacock green of the heavens: something of these had reached her. She was happy and gay, and she gurgled and rocked in her seat, leaning upon me and waving loosely around her as if to show me what wonders she saw.

Drawing the pony to a standstill, I studied her face for a while and pondered my ironical mistake. There was nothing I could do for Ottilie, selfishly as I wished to ease my heart of her; she was beyond my reach as well as any other human reach, and yet, had I not come nearer to her than I had to anyone else in my attempt to deny and bridge the distance between us, or rather, her distance from me? Well, we were both equally the fools of life, equally fellow fugitives from death. We had escaped for one day more at least. We would celebrate our good luck, we would have a little stolen holiday, a breath of spring air and freedom on this lovely, festive afternoon.

Soldier of the Confederacy

Representative Corley’s wife raises the white flag.

Excellent Writing at Year’s End.

“On the Art and the Science of the Gun,” UD would title it.

It is a summation of American culture, AD 2016.

“The pharmaceutical industry realized that they can no longer directly go to doctors to get them to prescribe their pills. Various regulations were put in place to prevent them giving gifts and pens and hats and things that we do know can influence doctor prescribing. So instead they took a kind of Trojan horse approach and infiltrated regulatory agencies and academic medicine in order to convince doctors that prescribing more opioids was evidence-based medicine…”

Academic medicine: That’s where University Diaries comes in.

The family whose name emblazons med schools and med school professorships all over this country – the Sacklers – is the same family addicting America and soon the rest of the world with OxyContin. It couldn’t have done it – it can’t keep doing it – without university researchers and clinicians lying for it in exchange for money.

Now that the opioid epidemic is so deadly that politicians and journalists can’t help noticing it, we will look forward, on this blog, to publishing the names of all the professors who did their bit to make a hideous drug respectable.

For the New Year, an Old Book about a New Life.

Yesterday was the one hundredth anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

You’d think the story of Stephen Dedalus working his way clear of sexual guilt, Catholic hell, a suffocating family, and of course Ireland itself, would skew antique these days; but just as we’re all susceptible to the New Year, we’re all susceptible to the New Life. Portrait is the ultimate successful makeover.

Put aside your awareness that Stephen’s flight beyond the nets of family country and religion will, in Joyce’s next book, crash-land him back into the same hot mess; recall instead your excitement on first reading this liberation song.

A veiled sunlight lit up faintly the grey sheet of water where the river was embayed. In the distance along the course of the slow-flowing Liffey slender masts flecked the sky and, more distant still, the dim fabric of the city lay prone in haze. Like a scene on some vague arras, old as man’s weariness, the image of the seventh city of christendom was visible to him across the timeless air, no older nor more weary nor less patient of subjection than in the days of the thingmote.

Here’s Dedalus just having broken free of the church; here he euphorically strides farther and farther away from a conversation he’s just had with a priest about joining the Jesuits. Although Stephen’s terror of damnation (he has consorted with prostitutes) has propelled him into a piety so intense that he has now been invited to enter an order, the unfolding conversation about his vocation suddenly makes explicit the absurdity of trying to murder his appetite with metaphysics. “His destiny was to be elusive of social or religious orders.” It’s the artist’s silence, exile, and cunning now, all the way.

How does this newly transformed self see the false world he’s about to leave? What are his thoughts as – manically overwhelmed by his release – he rushes about putting distance between himself and the prisonhouse?

Run that paragraph by me again.

A veiled sunlight lit up faintly the grey sheet of water where the river was embayed. In the distance along the course of the slow-flowing Liffey slender masts flecked the sky and, more distant still, the dim fabric of the city lay prone in haze. Like a scene on some vague arras, old as man’s weariness, the image of the seventh city of christendom was visible to him across the timeless air, no older nor more weary nor less patient of subjection than in the days of the thingmote.

You hear the gentle lilting hyperpoetic music of the thing? He’s looking at a city he’s about to leave – the dead world of “The Dead.” This writing is valedictory, a bittersweet backward view. All is old (“veiled,” “gray,” “faint,” “slow-flowing,” “dim,” “prone,” “vague,” “old,” “weary”) and trapped (“embayed,” “patient of subjection”). The final long sentence ends with the odd obsolescence of thingmote – literally, a raised mound on which Viking settlers met to enact laws; yet a figure too for the tiny ancient vanishing thing Dublin’s about to become in the artist’s rear-view mirror. We’re told this is a modernist novel; but at the moment we’ve got a rhyme-happy Romantic poet hurrying himself up into a pose of nostalgia for beautiful delicate ruins.

A veiled sunlight lit up faintly
The grey sheet of water where
The river was embayed.


The dim fabric of the city
Lay prone in haze.

In the days of the thingmote.

The gentle gorgeous insistent quality of these long A‘s underscores the delicacy and immobility of this arrière “arras” scene that hangs in “timeless air.” (And not to belabor the beauty, but look how the dull closed-off short I is everywhere as counterpoint: lit/river/dim/fabric/city/in.) Dublin has become a portrait for the artist. It is no longer an overpowering reality that hurts him, but an aesthetic thing “subject” to his powerful eye.

“At the Brazil lecture in April, [Joseph] Pergolizzi was presented as still affiliated with Temple. Pergolizzi said he was not aware his credential with the university had lapsed, and has let Mundipharma know.”

WHOOOOOPS! Did you catch me peddling an American university affiliation while helping the Sackler family make the world safe for opioids? Now why would I do that? Why would I present myself as an American university professor – from Temple, no less, one of whose trustees just spent decades sharing with women the amazing power of drugs – when I’m not?

It turns out I don’t understand that when you no longer have an affiliation with a university you’re not affiliated with it anymore.

That’s why the Sacklers chose me to promote OxyContin to the world. I’m smart.

“Never mind the stupidity of awarding this guy a multimillion dollar contract and firing him a few months later.”

Yes, never mind.

Hush now.

Listen up: This is a university, where people are smart. What we did was smart. This is what we did.

In [Bob] Diaco’s three years as head coach, UConn’s football squad ran up an 11-26 record. This year, the team was 3-9, and on Monday, athletic director David Benedict announced that Diaco was out, effective Jan. 2.

Under his original contract, firing Diaco in early 2017 would have cost the school $800,000. But last May – after Diaco’s second season, in which the team had six wins and six losses – UConn agreed to a contract extension that increased its buyout obligation to $3.4 million.

Six/Six. 6/6.

 

Fucking Six/Six Man!

 

The board of trustees got a major boner when we did that good.  Plus we got scared!  We thought:  Now that Diaco’s so hot hundreds of other programs are gonna wanna snap him up!  Don’t let him get away!  Don’t let him get away!

 

Oh but look.  We lost the boner.  Oh no.

 

Now you have to give us the money to give the man who gave us the boner that went down.

 

Understand?

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