Chicago State University, America’s Little North Korea…

… (as UD has always called it) has disappeared as a university (few students attend; almost no one graduates) but continues to thrive as a taxpayer-sponsored kleptomania/litigation machine. Corruption, virtually the only game on campus (uh, plus basketball), must be kept quiet in order to sustain itself, so the school’s constantly suing or threatening to sue students, professors, and administrators who tell the truth about what’s going on. CSU loses the suits, of course, and has to pay (the good people of Illinois have to pay) big settlement and legal costs.

Here’s the latest payout, the result of the school suing two faculty bloggers who did not conform, wrote CSU, to the “high standards of civility and professionalism [that] are central tenants [sic] of the University’s values.”

Schubert in Florida

All that’s best of dark and brightThis is Florida, where supremely brilliant days give way to the blackest of cosmic backdrops. The intensity of light and lightlessness draws poets, among them Charlie Smith.

Schubert in Florida

When you slunk across my dream

I was listening

to Schubert, I was standing in a stairwell

in a beach town, listening to Schubert’s darkest sonata

Poetry, so much of poetry, is dream. I’ve said this – and tried to demonstrate it – constantly on this blog. Poetry is the navigation of dream, if you like — poetry takes for granted our hard-won, fugitive awareness at any daylight moment; it tells us we are not really in command of ourselves. Rather we attempt, every blessed day, to marshal our consciousness-forces with enough plausibility to make it through social life, though a public world, all the time in peril of being pulled under into our private stream of consciousness.

So not really dark and light, but a tissue of them, a dance with them, a struggle — a musical counterpoint — between them, and this tends to be poetry’s territory, the exploration and expression of the mind oscillating between something like what Freud meant by ego and id. If Schubert’s darkest work waltzes forward with deep obscure personal sorrow, sunniest Florida strains hard in the other direction, all communal sweetness and light even as the cosmic blackdrop is always there. Smith will place his speaker in that tug of war as he tries to drag himself out of a darkly persistent passion for an ex-lover and enter the light of day.

thinking of children

coming on love for the first time, of their hands,

trembling as they reach across an obscure space

to touch the beloved who has become everything

important in life

Well I’ll be damned, writes Joan Baez in a song about her long-ago lover Bob Dylan, here comes your ghost again.  In this instance, the woman the speaker can’t get over has “slunk” into his dream, prompting, on his waking, thoughts of early, cryptic, all-encompassing passion… and, implicitly,  personal amazement at the lifelong intensity of his passion for the woman who haunts his dreams.

and thought how ridiculous

and destructive this is, this irrepressible need

for the loved one, the cascade through the self

of another’s presence – 

His mature non-dreaming mind can see the crazy, damaging thing letting someone essentially crash into you and take you over represents; but obviously there’s not much to be done about it. (“Love,” wrote James Merrill, “buries itself in me, up to the hilt.” Whether he likes it or not.)

thinking of the music

picking my way through this like a man searching

tearfully for his most important possession, a man drifting

through one of the aging Florida beach towns

on an August day

Of course music, pure music, is pure dream; there’s a kind of structure, a kind of dream logic; and there’s an expressivity that is strong but inarticulable.  Dreams and music move along to some meaning, or at least both feel profoundly meaningful, and we pick our way through both because both often seem to contain not only the most important things but, in their self-contained power and beauty, some explanation, some justification, for the way we are.  

So… that “aging” town is our guy, having moved past passion to tearful acknowledgment of its weird loss/retention; and that Floridian August is the passion still somehow burning very bright – at least on the evidence of who goes slinking through one’s dreams.

who abruptly leaves the dolphin performance

and returns to his car

parked in the shade of a gumbo-limbo tree

and takes a nap

& dreams of his ex-wife crossing a sun-streaked lawn,

a fine woman who glances at him without desire

That “limbo” tree is a nice touch, since we’re arguing that all of us exist not in clarity of consciousness and then sleep, not in past and then present, but in a much more interesting state of limbo. And here the drifty confused impassioned old guy suddenly (not with forethought) leaves the bright dolphin display of the Florida beach and goes back to his Schubertian car (one assumes it’s his own radio he’s hearing when he stands in the stairwell) and takes the nap that generates the dream with which the poem begins: the lost lover never lost, always crossing the sun-streaked world of youth that his unconscious generates in the night.

as one would glance

indifferently at a stranger standing in an outdoor stairwell

in a beach town listening to Schubert playing on a car radio,

a stranger waiting almost patiently for a brief sadness

to quell and die down, so he might move on from there.

Tomb of the Unknown Stoner

Captiva Island, Florida.

I think this must be…

… the first book I read about Florida. I remember it in the bookshelf of the room I shared with my older sister in the second house we rented in Garrett Park. I also remember being charmed and excited by the pinkness of the motel’s buildings and by descriptions of life under Spanish moss and under a hot sun. From the outset, Florida was for UD a whole other world.

Every December, my parents loaded their four kids into our VW camper bus and drove down to explore a part of Florida. On the way, we always stayed at South of the Border. I recall the Everglades; orange groves; Jonathan Dickinson State Park (which my mother loved); Daytona Beach; a Seminole reservation. We watched a guy wrestle an alligator. We stayed at campsites.

Years later, I lived for awhile in Key West and loved it – loved everything about it (see the category Snapshots from Key West). The tropical exoticism I’d come to associate with Florida was intensely there at the southernmost point. But so was a loose oddball way of life, a way people had of rolling out the path they wanted to take and then taking it. I’ve never seen houses so expressive of philosophies of happiness as I’ve seen on Key West.

I always knew about the catastrophic overdevelopment of Florida; I always knew the state’s tacky side, and its ostentatious side. But my sentiment in favor of its beautiful strangeness hasn’t diminished since I sat in my parents’ VW staring at an armadillo crossing in front of our van.

Even here, on this well-heeled island, where I’m living the softest life imaginable in a floating world of perfect weather, warm water, and sheltering palms, I’m alive to the odd and alluring undercurrent of this state.

Headline of the Day



A family of cormorants…

… a little blue heron, and two dive-bombing brown pelicans. Morning activity along my deck, on an inlet to the Gulf of Mexico.

UD’s itinerary today:

Breakfast and shopping at the Sanibel Farmers Market; a walk through Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge (we’ll see whether the federal shutdown has messed things up there), and then the regular daily grind: shelling, birdwatching, swimming. As for the nightly grind: There’s tending to our vast dark sky, the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

For those keeping track…

… of the endless musical track which is UD‘s consciousness, the first song she felt compelled to sing on her balcony overlooking an inlet and beyond that the Gulf of Mexico, was Beethoven’s tiny morsel, Plaisir d’Aimer (not to be confused with the much more popular Plaisir d’Amour). To accompany the slow looping osprey and the calm passage of water and just the whole silence and slow time thing, UD‘s mind sought lento, sostenuto… plus something of a simple ballad. Nobody’s working up to much emotion in this song, and no one’s hopping up to a high C or breaking the run with a change of mood. It’s got the nonchalant beautiful flow of UD‘s setting and will do for today’s ear worm.

Whenever I think of going inside the house…

… another bird cackles in the mangroves, or flies just over my head, broad beak silver. Mullet leap out of the water. In the sky sometimes are little white airplanes. There’s no point in going inside because the morning breeze (after evening rain) is cooling, and the large family of egrets on the opposite shore stays there for me, letting me rest my binoculars on them as long as I like.

So sit here and let it gather, the pelican circus, and watch it revolve around you. Sanibel built a few houses, like this one, by the narrow inlets to the gulf, so that all day long you can settle on your deck and let it flow – the alligator water, the palm-shivering wind, the raptors and the passerines. They whistle about you their spontaneous cries.

UD flies…

… the friendly skies

to Sanibel Island.

Experiencing the Experiential Experientiality of University Football Games

We’ve been tracking disappearing attendance at university football games for years, and as stadia truly empty out, we’ll be interested to see which school pioneers live sex acts on a raised platform above the play in order to keep eyes focused more or less on the area of the field. “The experiential experience that a fan receives — positively or negatively — will affect a repeat customer,” says a University of Texas Vice President in an article noting that even Texas schools are lucky to fill half their seats for the first half of a game.

Kennesaw State’s football program is practically brand-new, so you can imagine the excitement it’s generated. Its 10,000-capacity stadium draws 2,000 or so on a good day, and coach is pissed. “There are 35,000 students here, and you tell me we can’t get 2,000 to come to a football game?”

The Niqab-Stomp

Under my foot the veil that once had me down

Under my foot the veil that pushed me around

It’s down to me the difference in the clothes I wear

Down to me the change has come it’s under my foot


“As a teenager, I wanted to be a moral hero, like Christ or Schweitzer, but now I’m aiming for law-abiding.”

From an essay about a philosophy professor.

Fascinating Football Fascism

From a link to an article a reader, John, sent me about how fatal violence outside and racist violence inside Italian soccer stadiums mirrors “darker developments in a broader segment of the Italian and indeed the European body politic,” UD was easily able to jump to other similarly appalled analyses of the increasingly unworkable business of putting on a football match in many of the world’s countries (scroll down). Africa, North Africa, South America, the Middle East — ain’t only Europe where the world’s most corruptly run game is also the most violent.  Football, “a sport with a deeply tribal nature and a large captive audience full of disenfranchised working-class males, and thus in many ways the perfect arena for the unscrupulous populist and his macho, nativist fantasies,” has an important “function in the rise of global far-right populism.”

Global football thugs are in some intriguing ways the haredim of Europe:

Their potential for violence is … so strong that pacifying them has been a matter of public order. 

Punishment is as half-hearted as Israel’s efforts to deal with its mobs of violent tribal male ultras – the ultra orthodox – and for the same reason. Violent-Corrupt-People-Is-Us. Absurd moves like making players compete in empty stadiums (there are more and more of these Beckettian theatrics across the globe), allowing only one team’s fans to attend (The Sound of One Side Clapping), or identifying ringleaders and denying them admission to games (guaranteeing violence on the streets — exactly where a nation’s women and children are cowering in an effort to get out of range of fascist gangs) accomplish nothing. Leaders like Victor Urban want it that way. Even as tribes become smaller and smaller (“[S]tadium attendances [in Italy] plummet every year as people decide it’s better to watch games on TV rather than amid the violence and hatred of the terraces. In Serie A, stadiums are less than 60% full…”) their political and social violence, often stoked by governments, intensifies.

Poem for the End of the Year


Let me die under a true dark sky
A certified cloudless lightless sky
Far down the Atlantic let northern lights
Dip their curtains when I die
Shallow breathing on the observation field
Skyglow gone and city brightness sealed
Let me sleep at ease in the windless clear
While mourners keep their torches low 

Let me find a window in the weather
For deep sky and a circle of telescopes
And a circle of mourners riveted
To the Milky Way

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Dr. Bernard Carroll, known as the "conscience of psychiatry," contributed to various blogs, including Margaret Soltan's University Diaries, for which he sometimes wrote limericks under the name Adam.
New York Times

George Washington University English professor Margaret Soltan writes a blog called University Diaries, in which she decries the Twilight Zone-ish state our holy land’s institutes of higher ed find themselves in these days.
The Electron Pencil

It’s [UD's] intellectual honesty that makes her blog required reading.
Professor Mondo

There's always something delightful and thought intriguing to be found at Margaret Soltan's no-holds-barred, firebrand tinged blog about university life.

You can get your RDA of academic liars, cheats, and greedy frauds at University Diaries. All disciplines, plus athletics.
truffula, commenting at Historiann

Margaret Soltan at University Diaries blogs superbly and tirelessly about [university sports] corruption.

University Diaries. Hosted by Margaret Soltan, professor of English at George Washington University. Boy is she pissed — mostly about athletics and funding, the usual scandals — but also about distance learning and diploma mills. She likes poems too. And she sings.
Dissent: The Blog

[UD belittles] Mrs. Palin's degree in communications from the University of Idaho...
The Wall Street Journal

Professor Margaret Soltan, blogging at University Diaries... provide[s] an important voice that challenges the status quo.
Lee Skallerup Bessette, Inside Higher Education

[University Diaries offers] the kind of attention to detail in the use of language that makes reading worthwhile.
Sean Dorrance Kelly, Harvard University

Margaret Soltan's ire is a national treasure.
Roland Greene, Stanford University

The irrepressibly to-the-point Margaret Soltan...
Carlat Psychiatry Blog

Margaret Soltan, whose blog lords it over the rest of ours like a benevolent tyrant...
Perplexed with Narrow Passages

Margaret Soltan is no fan of college sports and her diatribes on the subject can be condescending and annoying. But she makes a good point here...
Outside the Beltway

From Margaret Soltan's excellent coverage of the Bernard Madoff scandal comes this tip...
Money Law

University Diaries offers a long-running, focused, and extremely effective critique of the university as we know it.
Anthony Grafton, American Historical Association

The inimitable Margaret Soltan is, as usual, worth reading. ...
Medical Humanities Blog

I awake this morning to find that the excellent Margaret Soltan has linked here and thereby singlehandedly given [this blog] its heaviest traffic...
Ducks and Drakes

As Margaret Soltan, one of the best academic bloggers, points out, pressure is mounting ...
The Bitch Girls

Many of us bloggers worry that we don’t post enough to keep people’s interest: Margaret Soltan posts every day, and I more or less thought she was the gold standard.
Tenured Radical

University Diaries by Margaret Soltan is one of the best windows onto US university life that I know.
Mary Beard, A Don's Life

[University Diaries offers] a broad sense of what's going on in education today, framed by a passionate and knowledgeable reporter.
More magazine, Canada

If deity were an elected office, I would quit my job to get her on the ballot.
Notes of a Neophyte