Wednesday, June 30, 2004
This here's a big ol' Russki oil platform somewhere real cold. Harvard University has had lots to do lately with Russians and oil.
For a couple of years Harvard's been involved in a complicated lawsuit filed against it and two of its employees by the US government, which wants millions of defrauded dollars back from the now-defunct Harvard Institute for Development. The Agency for International Development gave HID's Russia Project over thirty million dollars to advise Russians on privatization.
And HID did advise them, to some extent. But two of its principals, a judge today ruled, also used their insider knowledge to make big money: "Hay and Shleifer were advising the country on restructuring its economy. At the same time, they and their families allegedly made several hundred thousand dollars in investments in [oil and other] companies Hay and Shleifer were helping the Russian government regulate."
The personal investments were a conflict of interest because "the two men were designing laws and regulatory institutions for the Russian government at the same time they were investing money in certain businesses. That alleged violation of Harvard's contract tainted $350 million in US projects, hurt Russia's economic development, and damaged US-Russian relations, the government said."
Harvard may have to pay up to 34 million dollars; the two men directly at fault will have to pay much less than that. A hearing on damages is scheduled for July 19.
Meanwhile, the Harvard Corporation is suing one particular Russian oil company for money it says it owes Harvard. But that's just a business tussle; the HID ruling goes to the heart of Harvard's ability to police itself, and is much more important.
Fisking a Boston University I-Petition
This [grade deflation] policy is geared toward polishing the image of Boston University.
Policies like these are about substance as much as image. Harvard and some of the other Ivies are rightly suffering derision right now because of the ridiculous number of students who graduate with honors from these seemingly rigorous universities. But the universities are doing something about it not because people are laughing, but because rampant grade inflation goes to the identity and integrity of institutions which stand for intellectual seriousness.
By accepting students of the highest ability and achievement levels from all around the world and awarding grades below their abilities and achievements, Boston University is attempting to appear as a more challenging university.
This badly written sentence suggests why the writer’s estimation of BU is incorrect. BU is - as my father-in-law (a retired Harvard professor) used to put it - a first-rate second-rate university. Awarding grades at BU students’ ability and achievement level would mean far more Bs and Cs than As.
Again, BU is not merely “attempting to appear” more challenging; setting higher standards for students is being more challenging.
If students are capable of achieving the highest academic standards yet are awarded with grades below their achievement levels, where is the challenge? Only a very elite few students will earn the grades they deserve while others will be left with grades lower than they deserve.
Capability is not achievement. Am I supposed to award you an A in every course because in principle you are capable of “the highest academic standards”? I’m looking at what you actually do in my classroom. The writer seems say that, once having been certified Grade A Achievement Level, the BU student should automatically be awarded an A.
This policy is demoralizing to students. When the maximum amount of effort is applied from a student of outstanding ability and the award in return is below their achievement, these students lose motivation to continue such efforts.
Refer to UD’s 6/24 post, in which she cites a recent Carnegie Foundation paper, to find out how maximally most American students are striving in their classes.
The image of Boston University years from now will not help current students attain jobs, receive internships, or be accepted to graduate schools. The grades students leave with from the university are more important now then [sic] the image of the university and the administration is not taking this into consideration.
Again, this sort of change is about substance as much as image. If BU students graduate knowing little, despite having been given high grades in all of their courses, employers will learn to devalue the BU degree. The petition writer is correct that students today should not have to suffer for the reputation of their university in the future; and it's certainly an unpleasant roll of the dice that this particular batch of BU students happens to be attending the institution just as it decides to become serious about standards in the classroom. But since the university is in fact doing the right thing, students should accept the situation and work harder to earn top grades. Or they may transfer to one of the hundreds of remaining grade-inflated colleges in the country.
The Boston University grading policy may have long term effects on not only the students of the university but the university itself. When students graduate and become alumni, they will not forget the grading policy of the university. The alumni are major factors in funding the university.
This comment has the virtue of making the simple economic policy underlying grade inflation absolutely clear. Give us As because we pay tuition for them and because we’ll make alumni donations in return for them in the future.
When prospective students learn of the grading policy at Boston University, they will keep this in mind when making the final decision on which school they want a diploma from.
Tuesday, June 29, 2004
Malcolm Lowry died June 27, 1957, in his forties.
A handsome neurotic lush, he wrote the immortal Under the Volcano.
Sunday, June 27, 2004
CU Students to Chaucer: GO FUCK YOURSELF
(A C*NTES d'HOFFMAN UPDATE - see UD, 6/16, 6/17, 6/19)
From Rocky Mountain News:
Rachel Bandy, 32, a sociology graduate student who teaches a class on social conflict, found [medieval scholar and CU president] Hoffman's description of the C-word ridiculous.
"Nobody reads Chaucer," said Bandy, who helped organize the protest Friday. "The next thing you know we'll bring back the iron maiden for students late to class."
Bandy said she spent a decade in law enforcement where she dealt with serial rapists and people who hated her because she assisted in having their children taken away. But Bandy said she was never called the C-word.
"I had to come back to academia to hear (the C-word)," Bandy said.
The letter delivered by the students requested a formal and public apology by Hoffman.
"Your insensitive and shocking assertion that (C-word) could be used in polite conversation and/or as as a term of endearment is indicative of your complete incomprehension - or pure denial - of the imbalance of power, with respect to sex and gender, on CU's campus," the letter states.
Saturday, June 26, 2004
TEACHING TODAY (A University Diaries Series)
GALL & GALL
“This academic year [2003-2004], the university had its share of controversies, many surrounding its professors.”
You can say that again. The impressive reporters and writers on Jambar, the Youngstown State University newspaper, have been chasing down multiple stories of faculty mayhem and meltdown there during what the editor sardonically calls “The Year of the Professor.”
Let us skip over the YSU professor who got naked at the “Canfield Fair,” and the faculty member who violated his “use of a weapon while intoxicated” probation, and focus instead on William Bruce Neil, a professor of Human Ecology at YSU who graduated from the LaSalle University diploma mill, shut down by the FBI not long after Neil “earned a master's and a doctorate degree on the same day in 1995.”
First, though, a word on “Human Ecology.” UD is embarrassed to admit that she didn’t know “Human Ecology” is one of a number of new names for the now-defunct field of “Home Economics.” Another name you see in college catalogues for “Home Economics” is ”Family and Consumer Sciences.”
A decision appears to have been made some years ago that “Home Economics” sounded girly:
"Human ecology" has been defined as "the study of the physical, cultural, economic, social, and aesthetic environment that surrounds human beings from birth to death" (Alison Schneider in the Chronicle of Higher Education, 10/13/200). The relevance to the environmental movement is obvious, but these days the term is most often seen, along with "Family and Consumer Science" and similar terms, as an updated, less stereotypical, more professional (and scientific) label for the "home economics" schools found on many state university campuses (see V.B. Vincenti et al., Rethinking Home Economics: Women and the History of a Profession, Cornell University Press, 1997). For example, there are Colleges of Human Ecology at Cornell University and the University of Wisconsin, among many other campuses.
Here’s Cornell’s complete description of its department:
In 1969 Cornell's College of Home Economics was reorganized and named the College of Human Ecology.
The foundation of the new college is a commitment to meeting the needs of people. The college is committed to innovative research and educational programs that serve individuals, families and communities.
Concern for the human condition is at the heart of every activity the college undertakes. This commitment has grown out of the origins of the college and will continue to shape its future.
Way broad mandate there. Home Economics used to be a modest affair involving the domestic arts, as in fashion and cooking. Human Ecology puffs it up, like the ultimate pastry shell, into The Human Condition.
On examination, though, it’s the same thing it has always been, preparing students to work in the nutrition and hospitality industries…which is more or less what Professor Neil appears to have been about. His written work, however, adds a pinch of religion to the mix: “Did God make a mistake in telling man not to eat fat?” he asks in an essay on Advanced Theocentrics. “Man appears to need some fats." And then, further: “Most of the items sold as food in the modern supermarket do not seem to qualify as food according to the biblical definition, and they appear to be causing many health problems in our society."
There’s a lot more where that came from: Professor Neil’s cv lists six published books (titles include In the Essence of Service, Tourism the Process, and Nutrition and Menu Planning) all unfortunately nonexistent.
Intrigued by all of this, the Jambar staff asked Neil for a copy of his masters thesis or dissertation. When he did not provide them, the staff went to the irritable, aptly named Jean Hassell, chair of the Human Ecology department, and asked her
numerous times if she had a copy of Neil's dissertation. Initially, Hassell said she had seen it but did not have it with her.
When asked last week, Hassell said she was too busy to talk.
"I can't possibly help you right now and you can't have that document at your beck and call," Hassell said.
A twenty page document - a loose narrative of time spent in a hotel cafeteria - did eventually surface, and the editorial board of the newspaper made the whole thing available online. Meanwhile, however, YSU students are pissed:
The University Guidebook states that all faculty members must hold degrees from accredited universities. Neil does not have a degree from an accredited university, and the students deserve their money back.
When students come to this university, they expect education from professionals. The "Dr." in front of Neil's name is supposed to signify that professionalism. If Neil's degree was not earned from a professional learning system, then the students should not have to pay for the education he provided.
The newspaper also reports that “Gall & Gall - the Dayton-based company hired by the university earlier this month to check the credentials of employees - failed to confirm any of the jobs Neil listed on his resume.”
All very unpleasant. But the ultimate victim is Professor Neil:
When approached by a Jambar reporter in the hallway of the Human Ecology Department Monday afternoon, Neil said he was shocked by allegations that his degrees are not from an accredited institution.
"This is news to me," he said. "I am shocked."
Friday, June 25, 2004
DICK CHENEY: Man of the Fuckin' Hour
As a user of profanity herself, UD is pleased to note the Vice President's recent unapologetic invocation of the F word in the halls of Congress (it wasn't in session, so he broke no rules). "I said it...and I felt better after I said it," Cheney remarked to a reporter later that day, after Senator Patrick Leahy - to whom he angrily said it - told on him.
All true artists follow James Joyce.
UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA UPDATE
“Chaotic,” “pernicious,” “vituperative,” “toxic,” “dangerous,” “devastating.”
University Diaries is now prepared to say that, with language like this invoked by virtually all observers, the scandal at the University of South Florida English department [for background, see UD, 5/17 and 6/21] is getting way out of hand.
A third faculty member has disgraced herself, reports the St. Petersburg Times: “Debra Jacobs [Director of English Composition] selected [for her courses] a textbook she wrote, and received $26,129 in compensation without proper approval.” Several other professors are accused of sexual or financial impropriety.
But the scandal is not merely about this particular professor or that one. (Although a lot of these guys do deserve singling out for ingenuity in the service of greed: Professor Moxley [more about him in an earlier UD post], reports one paper, made a deal “to have a fiction book [he authored] published. The contract required him to buy 150 copies of the book. He submitted $1,200 he paid for the books as a printing cost.“) There’s an “ideological schism” (the classic one, between text-based and theory-based types) in the department, reports the paper, which has created “trench warfare, with factions of professors battling for control.”
USF - a tax-payer supported university - has now hired an outside firm to investigate what one department member calls a “pathological” situation, a situation which has generated “at least thirteen complaints of discrimination and harassment … during the past year and a half.”
One USF English professor believes that the mess can be cleared up only by “an outside leader for the department,” which is to say receivership. Should this occur, it will be interesting to see whether USF gets the kind of attention Columbia University got when its English department went into receivership.
Thursday, June 24, 2004
TO: Alliance for A’s
FROM: Janice Sidley (for background, see many earlier UD posts, especially 5/18)
For a minute there, I thought this writer for the Carnegie Foundation was agin’ us:
These days it seems as if nearly everyone in college is receiving A's, making the Dean's List, or graduating with honors. What's more interesting is that college students in general are spending fewer hours studying, while taking more remedial courses and fewer courses in mathematics, history, English, and foreign languages. Students everywhere report that they average only 10-15 hours of academic work outside of class per week and are able to attain "B" or better grade-point averages.
In a study for the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, former Harvard Dean Henry Rosovosky found that in 1950 about 15 percent of Harvard students got a B+ or better. Today, it's nearly 70 percent. Last year 50 percent of the grades at Harvard were either A or A-, up from 22 percent in 1966, and 91 percent of seniors graduated with honors. Eighty percent of the grades at the University of Illinois are A's and B's, and 50 percent of Columbia students are on the Dean's List.
If today's college students were smarter or better prepared, that would explain the higher grades, but that doesn't seem to be the case. Over the last 30 years, SAT scores of entering students have declined, and fully one-third of entering freshmen are enrolled in at least one remedial reading, writing or mathematics course, the highest enrollment being in math. According to Lynn Steen, a mathematics professor at St. Olaf College, 80 percent of all student work in college math is remedial.
If they're not smarter or better prepared, perhaps they're working harder? This doesn't seem to be the case either. The assumption behind most college courses is that students will spend two hours studying for every hour they spend in class, but that is rarely the case. The National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) reveals that not even 15 percent of students come close to this ideal.
I mean, this is the whole round up, ain’t it? Everyone gets A’s even though no one’s working hard and no one’s prepared and no one’s very smart… Sounds like your basic anti-A’s indictment, the sort of negative thinking the Alliance for A’s fights so fiercely against. But then the author concludes in this way:
What [really matters is what] kinds of teaching and student engagement promote "deep learning.” Can that learning be measured? What is the evidence? As basic as it sounds, few institutions in America can answer these questions with any certainty, even though learning is ostensibly the core purpose of higher education.
…There is also the issue of educational purpose—whether or not students and faculty have common goals. In October 2002, a report, "Greater Expectations: A New Vision for Learning as a Nation Goes to College," asserted that every student, not just those attending elite institutions, should receive a liberal education, not liberal in a political sense but "liberating," i.e., opening the mind.
In short, rooting out grade inflation by publicly shaming easy graders would be a band-aid, and nothing more. The larger issue is the intellectual life of a campus. It appears that there is still much work to be done to reclaim the priority of undergraduate teaching and learning on our nation's campuses.
I like the way this fizzles out! I call this pleasant rhetorical strategy “going cosmic.” The writer poses the problem precisely (lots of damning statistics), but then instead of zeroing in on actual solutions (solutions that might hurt people‘s feelings, as in that “shaming“ business), speaks soothingly about “deep learning” (which, as in my communication to members of 5/18, I think is best understood in terms of the "spa immersion" experience), “common goals,” “liberation,” and “intellectual life.” I don’t want to sound cynical, but as long as organizations like the Carnegie Foundation produce this sort of writing about grade inflation, the Alliance for A’s can relax.
Wednesday, June 23, 2004
UD’s DIPLOMA MILLS UPDATE
Republican Senator Susan Collins may be regretting some of what her government committee investigating university degree fraud, and in particular so-called “diploma mills” (illegal businesses which sell bogus BA’s, MA’s, and Ph.D.’s to purchasers who do no work for them) is turning up [for earlier UD posts on this subject, see entries for 3/29 and 5/12].
The committee’s zealous detective work has produced a list of contemporary and posthumous fake degree holders that is now making the rounds of American academia and shaking it to its foundations.
The names include a number of formerly sacrosanct thinkers, people whose reputation for probity and gravitas has long gone unquestioned. Shocked professors in the United States and abroad are scrambling to come up with answers as to how this could have happened, and what it means.
Perhaps the most stunning revelation involves Sir Isaiah Berlin, an intellectual and moral icon whose death a few years ago prompted hundreds of tributes, festschrifts, conferences, and books. A typical appraisal of Berlin appeared last year in the Guardian newspaper:
At the end of his long and remarkable life, Berlin began to be turned into a monument and a saint - albeit a very worldly, gossipy, Russian-Jewish saint. There were festschrifts edited by distinguished philosophers, great debates - not all of them admiring - over his work (particularly his concepts of liberalism and pluralism), and an exhaustive, long-term programme of collecting, editing, and republishing his scattered writings, by his executor Henry Hardy. After Berlin's death in 1997 at the age of 88, an outpouring of tributes was followed by Michael Ignatieff's affectionate, vivid biography (an essential companion to the letters).
Ralf Dahrendorf, for instance, called him the Erasmus of his time. Like Erasmus, he was "a great sage" who became "a kind of court intellectual"; he did not produce one single important work, "and is yet remembered for his brilliant and seminal ideas.”
A writer in the Boston Globe recently called Berlin “the most esteemed intellectual figure in the English speaking world.”
How then can it be that Berlin graduated not from Corpus Christi Oxford, as his curriculum vitae claimed, but rather from the similar-sounding, and now defunct (by court order) diploma mill, the University of England at Oxford? And that his Ph.D. in philosophy was granted on the basis of a one-page essay he wrote describing his “life experience” as a “a real pluralist” who “likes everyone”? (Quotations are taken from UEO records confiscated by the Department of Commerce.)
“It’s an intriguing story,” says Madelaine Jovovich, a member of Collins’s staff. “Berlin was born in Riga; his father was a timber merchant. His father was very unhappy that his son wanted to become an academic, because he wanted Berlin to go into the family lumber business… It turns out that this business was not just wood but wood products, including paper, and that Berlin’s father was, among other things, the proprietor of an early and very lucrative diploma mill, which his son did eventually agree to help run, so long as it could be kept quiet. The business was so successful that the Berlins opened a branch in Romania which continues to operate today.”
Given this new information, scholars are reviewing Berlin’s somewhat enigmatic life - in particular, his various overseas trips and contacts - with greater care. Even the Guardian columnist, writing before the story broke, noted that Berlin was a “chameleon-like” figure, a friend for instance of Guy Burgess, whom he knew to be “an amoral and risky character.”
Asked to comment about this new information, Berlin’s admirers were at a loss. “I’m speechless,” said Ronald Dworkin. “A real body-blow,” Michael Walzer wrote in an email. “I’ve got to figure he did it to please his father,” Thomas Nagel suggested.
Academics are bracing for what Senator Collins promises are further, equally staggering, revelations. “I can’t be definitive just yet,” she said to a reporter yesterday, “but I can tell you that we are scrutinizing Albert Schweitzer’s activities in Africa very carefully. The committee is also looking into allegations that one 'Karol Wojtyla' graduated not from the Jagiellonian University of Krakow, as his cv claims, but from the University of Jagellionia at Fort Lauderdale.”
Tuesday, June 22, 2004
TO: Alliance for A’s
FROM: Janice Sidley
SUBJECT: ALOFT Award?
One of our own has approached me with an intriguing idea, and I’d like to share it with you, the Alliance for A’s membership [for background on Alliance for A’s, see UD,11/30/03, and other posts].
As you may know, one of my most challenging jobs as head of the Alliance involves morale. As more and more American universities crack down on grade inflation, our group’s goal of national across the board A’s for all seems to recede, rather like Matthew Arnold’s “Sea of Faith” -- a sea which was once
…at the full, and round the earth's shore
Lay like folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
Our group exists to keep increasingly endangered A’s from being swept away like pebbles in the deflationary tide. We need to stay the course, and in order to stay the course, we need to keep our heads high.
One member, therefore, proposes an annual Alliance for A’s monetary award, bestowed upon that faculty member or department which has done the most to keep A’s afloat in our universities. The award would be known as the ALOFT (A-LOving FaculTy) Award, and would be sufficiently well endowed to draw, we hope, national attention to the awards ceremony.
Assuming we could raise, say, a couple of thousand dollars for this purpose each year, I’d like to go a step further and point to a possible first recipient: the Syracuse University English department.
Now admittedly my information on this is somewhat old (2002), but I doubt much has changed in that time. Please take a look at the following article, which appeared in a Syracuse University newspaper:
Report finds ETS department gives highest grades on campus
Published: Thursday, October 10, 2002
In 1989, many professors believed Syracuse University’s English department curriculum was indistinguishable from other universities. Now, it may have distinguished itself in an unlikely way — through grade inflation.
The College of Arts and Sciences issued a report in February on grading practices from Fall 1995 through Fall 1999. The report, which The Daily Orange received from an English and textual studies professor, showed that students in ETS courses achieved an average grade of 3.42 (B+). Of nearly 4,000 ETS grades, almost 3,000 were at least that B+. Thirty-nine were F’s.
The ETS department will look into the factors causing the disproportionate grades, but ETS department Chairman Bob Gates said the report is “not real high on (his) agenda,” because he doesn’t see the high grades as a problem.
"For me, my goal is for every student to get an A," Gates said. "I want every student to master it. It's grade inflation only if students don't earn it."
Assistant Dean Martha Sutter, of the College of Visual and Performing Arts, said grading is a difficult process. Though VPA has never conducted a systematic study on grading, there has been no evidence of it. In fact, grades tend to go in the opposite direction, Sutter said.
"I wish I didn't have to give a letter grade to someone's voice or performance," Sutter said.
Grading within other departments in Arts and Sciences lean neither toward A’s or F’s. Many, including the economics program, show a more equal distribution, with an average grade of 2.57 (C+). Of more than 6,000 grades, about 2,000 were at least a B+. More than 300 failed.
The only other programs in Arts and Sciences with higher grades than ETS were Chinese and Hindi. The top six programs were humanities.
One of the reasons ETS grades are so high is that class sizes are usually 25 students or fewer, and professors work closely with students to help them master the material, Gates said.
With such small classes, professors have no need to filter students through grading, as math and science professors must, said Charles Watson, an ETS professor and undergraduate coordinator. Lower-level science courses often have large class sizes that must be whittled down by grading for advanced study. Humanities don’t have that need.
But Raymond von Dran, dean of the School of Information Studies, said the difference is more between professional and non-professional training. A history major doesn't normally walk out and become a professional historian, von Dran said. If a bridge falls, however, the education of the engineer who designed it will come into question.
"We're a professional school,” von Dran said. “Our students have to meet a certain professional standard."
Professor Gates and the English department are obvious first recipients of our proposed ALOFT Award. Gates's response to endemic A’s in his department is firm, confident, take-no-prisoners. There’s not a shred of embarrassment or concession here. His position - which should be a template for all of us - is:
One: The more A’s the better - they mean everyone’s learning everything.
Two: The smaller the class, the smarter the student.
Three: The closer the professor gets to his or her student, the more automatic the student's A.
Four: If it’s not about keeping bridges upright, it should be an A.
As always, I welcome your feedback.
REDNECK WOMAN DIARIES
"Last weekend at Pocono Raceway, NASCAR president Mike Helton was forced to apologize -- twice -- for gaffes that largely centered on the elimination of the "racing back to caution" rule. Timing and scoring issues have also caused headaches.
Even some fans have shown their frustration, throwing debris onto tracks following races that have ended early or under a caution flag. A backup flagman at Pocono was hit with a cooler, but he wasn't hurt."
Monday, June 21, 2004
Another in a University Diaries Occasional Series
One hesitates to use the term conspiracy, but things are really beginning to smell in the University of South Florida English department.
First there was Professor Phillip Siporia (see UD, 5/17), whose house hums with all of the departmental electronic equipment he has transferred from the state campus to his primary residence. Now there's his colleague, Professor Joseph M. Moxley, who seems, among other things, to have repaired to "a remote French village" on the department's dime, in order to "clear his head," according to the St. Petersburg Times.
Yet how could Moxley have cleared his head when he was at the same time receiving (also at university expense) thousands of dollars worth of cell phone calls from friends? "I wanted to make myself available to my students," Moxley explained. From his home in a remote French village.
The department's investigation, notes the newspaper, says Moxley
asked for $185 in reimbursement for airfare already paid by another organization. He also submitted as expenses meals with his wife, saying he wanted to compensate her for marketing expertise she offered to USF. Compensating a spouse, in any form, is inappropriate, auditors said. Auditors questioned three TVs worth $1,202 that were found in Moxley's homes. Moxley said he used the TVs to edit more than 70 videos about writing and composition. The auditors said their purpose could not be substantiated.
Yes, these sums are paltry -- it's an English department, after all -- and certainly USF has much much bigger stuff to worry about -- like the case of the (now former) USF professor and accused terrorist Sami Al-Arian, which, USF writes in a report to the AAUP,
is unique in academic history. We know of no other tenured university professor investigated and charged by a federal grand jury with aiding and abetting terrorism, knowingly assisting an organization committed to murdering innocent men, women, and children and doing so by using his university affiliation.
Academic freedom and aiding and abetting terrorism are mutually inconsistent. The University of South Florida has carefully and cautiously sought to protect its faculty, staff, student body, and administration while respecting Professor Al-Arian's presumption of innocence and right to speak.
Compared to the Al-Arian thing, a couple of English professors don't amount to a hill of beans. And compared to the constant business of corporate consultant faculty using university facilities for personal profit, it's very little.
[Latest case of that - one of so many cases it's hardly worth mentioning - and deemed worth mentioning by the Associated Press only because it involves a Nobel Prize winner - is as follows:
TUCSON, Ariz. -- Nobel economics prize winner Vernon Smith and three other former researchers at the University of Arizona have agreed to reimburse the school $75,000 after an internal investigation over a for-profit consulting firm.
The state Board of Regents was expected to approve the mediation settlement next week. The researchers did not admit wrongdoing.
A university audit found that Smith, Stephen Rassenti, David Porter and Mark Olson may have personally benefited from use of University of Arizona facilities and other resources on behalf of Cybernomics Inc., in violation of university and regent policies.
The researchers now work at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
The four agreed to reimburse the university $18,750 each in salary they earned at UA.
Smith, who spent 26 years at the University of Arizona, won the Nobel Memorial Prize for Economic Sciences at age 75 in 2002 - a year after he was lured to George Mason by more money and research support. He pioneered the field of experimental economics and was long considered a Nobel contender.
Cybernomics, an independent economic consulting corporation that developed computer software for economic and market analysis, was dissolved in June 2003.]
Still, the USF incident represents, the newspaper notes, "the fourth time in three months a USF English professor has been cited for financial irregularities." The sorts of misbehaviors the reports reveal are probably endemic in many American university departments. If the USF cases become national news, expect a bigger scandal.
Saturday, June 19, 2004
RETURN TO C*NTES d’HOFFMAN: Morality and the University
In recent posts [see 6/16 and 6/17], UD, in her calm, deliberative way, showered with contempt the Revolutionary Guards of the contemporary American university - puritanical feminists, tightass trustees, and the like - who stand always at the ready to crush people like University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman for bringing the supreme university ethos of analytical disinterestedness to certain hot-button issues (often involving sex and violence) that anti-intellectuals and emotivists just wanna get all self-righteous about and then everybody shut up please.
When knee-jerk, everybody shut up, self-congratulatory emotivism starts to infect the university, you get phenomena like Pomona’s Saint Kerri Dunn [see UD, 3/18/, 3/19/ 3/21], who has just entered a plea of not guilty and soon goes on trial.
University emotivists, like the Colorado trustee, typically invoke “decency” in their diatribes - as in, no decent person would ever question, you know, the sanctity of the second amendment, or the evil of torture in wartime under any circumstance, or the superiority of heterosexual marriage. Though attached to universities, such people, oddly enough, loathe the foundation of serious thought, which involves, as a professor of political science at the University of Chicago rightly put it recently, a particular delimited type of amorality.
Now, just as the term “anti-humanist” (as Terry Eagleton once pointed out) does not designate a person who thinks you should drown kittens, so “amoral” in this context does not mean Leopold and Loeb. It means someone able to suspend her routine moral reactions to things in order to examine with dispassion, clarity, and freshness all aspects of the world, physical and metaphysical.
There’s a simple test by which you can measure your own ability in this regard: Does the name “Peter Singer” make you rabid? Are you right now fashioning an incendiary device to throw at Princeton University for allowing this abomination to exist? If so, try taking the test again later.
Today’s New York Times features a brief discussion of morality and the university, citing observers who argue that since the university above all is a place of free, unprejudiced (to the extent humanly possible), and focused intellectual inquiry, the best universities will “make little effort to provide [students] with moral guidance.”
The problem with many lesser universities and university programs founded on moral fundamentalisms of the left or the right (Women’s Studies, most schools of education, overtly religious colleges) is that they tend not to be able to yield significant knowledge, or to cultivate in their students the - temporary or permanent - liberation from inherited truths that would allow their students to call themselves educated. Going to college to have your insufficiently articulated - and almost always self-flattering - certainties deepened is not going to college.
Nor do you wriggle out the problem, as Stanley Fish correctly notes, by attaching to the university feel-good language about the cultivation of citizenship - as in the title of a recent book that the NYT writer cites: Educating Citizens: Preparing America’s Undergraduates for Lives of Moral and Civic Responsibility. This sort of tome is asking for Bluto Blutarsky to pee on it.
UD’s favorite headline of all the Bloomsday headlines Google News sent her way was datelined Eugene, Oregon: “Eugene Does Absolutely Nothing for Bloomsday.”
UD has spoken in general terms about James Joyce, Ulysses, and Bloomsday. As the world puts its Edwardian hats back on their racks, it seems right to speak a bit more personally.
UD has made fun of her Joyce fetishes - the tea cup, the sweatshirt, the mouse pad, and, I guess, the image you see above - but the truth is that she adores and reveres the writer. She even reveres the man, and James Joyce is a great deal more difficult to cherish than his work.
He was churlish, belligerent, and often cruel. His core was an intense aesthetic privacy whose sanctity and vitality he defended at the cost of his outer life, which was often squalid and embittering. You can admire the sacrifices Joyce made for his art while despising the drunken jealous shit he could be to his wife. Joyce’s children too paid a price for his disheveled existence.
But he lent them and Dublin immortality. And he transmitted to his readers that intense aesthetic vitality, prompting a corporate excitement and gratitude powerful enough to have produced the only international literary holiday in the world. When the premier of China tells of his esteem for Ulysses, you know that the novel's author has created something beautiful and universal, something difficult enough to be satisfying, something durable and true.
James Joyce’s literary descendents have attempted his miraculous mix of style, moral philosophy, character, consciousness, and place. I think Saul Bellow came pretty close to succeeding in this attempt in a work explicitly indebted to Ulysses - Herzog. Herzog’s main character, Moses Herzog, gets his name from Joyce’s novel, which includes a miniscule character -- just a name, really -- called Moses Herzog. In Herzog, Bellow uses the Joycean narrative method of constant unmarked shifts from third-person detached telling to first-person interior monologue, and in so doing manages to attain something close to Joyce‘s fluidity of consciousness and world.
Still, Joyce stands alone, a fact which maddens other novelists, from Virginia Woolf to Roddy Doyle. Throw anything you like at him. Nothing sticks. At the end of the day (speaking of which, look at the time! I'm off to bed.) Portrait of the Artist and Ulysses stand alone.
Friday, June 18, 2004
**!! NEW !!**
UD’s REDNECK WOMAN DIARIES
David Brooks has an opinion piece in a recent New York Times - “Bitter At the Top” - about a skirmish in the larger culture wars, a “civil war within the educated class” between “two rival elites” that he calls the professionals and the managers. These are all people with plenty of money, influence, and education, but the first group looks sort of like me - and probably you. “Professionals [are] knowledge workers, [and] tend to vote for Democrats,” while “managers…tend to work for corporations, brokerage houses, real estate firms and banks, [and] tend to vote Republican.”
“Knowledge-class types,” Brooks continues, “are more likely to value leaders who possess what may be called university skills: the ability to read and digest large amounts of information and discuss their way through to a nuanced solution.” Managers, on the other hand, “are more likely to value leaders whom they see as simple, straight-talking men and women of faith. They prize leaders who are good at managing people, not just ideas. They are more likely to distrust those who seem overly intellectual or narcissistically self-reflective. “
Yeah, well, who gives a shit. Today UD introduces a brand new feature which she calls REDNECK WOMAN DIARIES. A little class diversity is long overdue on this website, and, inspired by her thirteen year old daughter’s current favorite songs (sample lyrics in a sec), UD intends to do something about it. The song “Redneck Woman” is burning up the charts (indeed, the NYT just did an article about its singer/songwriter, Gretchen Wilson) out there in Actual America:
Hey I'm a redneck woman
And I ain't no high class broad
I'm just a product of my raisin'
And I say "hey y'all" and "Yee Haw"
And I keep my Christmas lights on, on my front porch all year long
And I know all the words to every Tanya Tucker song
So here's to all my sisters out there keeping it country
Let me get a big "Hell Yeah" from the redneck girls like me
UD’s daughter’s second favorite song - another huge hit - includes these lyrics:
Well, I was raised in a sophisticated kind of style.
Yeah, my taste in music and women drove my folks half wild.
Mom and Dad had a plan for me,
It was debutantes and er-symphonies,
But I like my music; I like my women wild.
Yeah, an' I like my women just a little on the trashy side,
When they wear their clothes too tight and their hair is dyed.
Too much lipstick an' er too much rouge,
Gets me excited, leaves me feeling confused.
An' I like my women just a little on the trashy side.
And her third favorite - a mad roaring hit - memorializes a “red dirt road” where every significant turning point in the singer’s life occurred:
It's where I drank my first beer.
It's where I found Jesus.
Where I wrecked my first car:
I tore it all to pieces.
I learned the path to Heaven,
Is full of sinners an' believers.
Learned that happiness on earth,
Ain't just for high achievers.
I've learned; I come to know,
There's life at both ends,
Of that red dirt road.
“High-class,” “sophisticated,” “high-achievers.” While UD’s world - at the university, on the blog - worships these words, they are words of derision out there. Let us see what else we can learn of the real world as we occasionally drop in to REDNECK WOMAN DIARIES.
Thursday, June 17, 2004
LES C*NTES d'HOFFMAN
[Update. See post directly below for background.]
"However, CU Regent Susan Kirk said media outlets are making a bigger issue of the word and its context than is necessary.
'We are making an issue about a scholar being scholarly in a deposition, which is what we would want," said Kirk. 'Betsy Hoffman would never disparage women. I am an avowed feminist and I am embarrassed of all of them (feminists).'
Kirk said she has also heard the term being used with a positive connotation, such as in New Zealand and Australia, where it is used as a term of friendship for men or women."
UD hasn't yet excitedly googled New Zealand/Naughty Bits to find out whether this is true, but she will. [Update: Search time, one minute: "Likewise, in Australia, ‘cunt’ isn’t as harsh a word as it is the U.S. When Chopper calls someone a 'silly cunt,' it’s an Australian term of endearment."]
Meanwhile, the Tale of Hoffman is spinning wildly out of control, with media outlets everywhere jumping on the Bad President bandwagon [there's another Bad President story brewing - the president of the University of Hawaii has just been fired - but so far the reasons are too mysterious for a blog entry]. "Oooh - look what she said! Did you hear what she said??" President Hoffman herself broke down in tears the other day at a damage control news conference.
Anyway, Susan Kirk nails it. Hoffman's big sin was "being scholarly." UD has spent a good bit of time describing today's business model university; she has also tried to remind you what a scholarly professor at a scholarly university might look and sound like. How an actual scholar rose to a management position at a major American university is beyond UD - and in any case, it sounds as though President Hoffman is about to be shot down precisely for having inadvertently revealed herself to be a thinking person - but this is another opportunity for us to track the ways in which anti-intellectual regents like ol' Jim down there in the previous post, cynical lawyers, puritan feminists, mercenary litigants, and a lascivious press cooperate to destroy free thought.
Wednesday, June 16, 2004
"I'm embarrassed for the university, I'm embarrassed for her, and, quite frankly, it shocks the sense of human decency. She needs to give an immediate apology ... talk about an ivory tower approach to management."
Here speaks Jim Martin, a University of Colorado regent, expressing his "outrage" over the horrific thing that the university's president said recently during a deposition in the lawsuit brought by a group of women who claim sexual assault by some of the university's football players.
How disgusting could the president's comment have been to draw the ultimate insult ("ivory tower")?
Women's groups too are "appalled," though UC sociology professor JoAnne Belknap is simply "very disappointed." The comment's "lack of sensitivity," USA Today reports, has "sparked a fresh storm of protest" on the already controversy-ridden campus.
What'd she say already?
Asked whether she agreed that a "vulgar term" pertaining to a woman's anatomy, a term used by one of the football players, was "filthy and vile," the president thought about that and said that while it was certainly a "swear word...its meaning depended on the circumstances in which it was used." Huh? replied the lawyer. Could such an abomination ever appear in a non-degenerate context? Well, President Hoffman responded, "I've actually heard it used as a term of endearment."
To make matters far, far worse, the president's spokeswoman later tried to explain: "Because she is a medieval scholar, she is also aware of the long history of the word dating back to at least Chaucer."
I doubt Jim is appeased by the president's ivory-toweresque disinterest here, her professorial attitude of neutral inquiry and historical perspective relative to this naughty word ... On the other hand, am I the only one embarrassed appalled and very disappointed that a university regent uses "ivory tower" as a term of abuse? Jim, Jim, Jim. Anyway, here's a little something for you to read on this special day from your namesake, Jim Joyce:
A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, wholly. Grey. Far.
No, not like that. A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind could lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy's, clutching a naggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman's: the grey sunken cunt of the world.
Grey horror seared his flesh. Folding the page into his pocket he turned into Eccles Street, hurrying homeward. Cold oils slid along his veins, chilling his blood: age crusting him with a salt cloak. Well, I am here now. Yes, I am here now. Morning mouth bad images. Got up wrong side of the bed. Must begin again those Sandow's exercises. On the hands down. Blotchy brown brick houses. Number eighty still unlet. Why is that? Valuation is only twentyeight. Towers, Battersby, North, MacArthur: parlour windows plastered with bills. Plasters on a sore eye. To smell the gentle smoke of tea, fume of the pan, sizzling butter. Be near her ample bedwarmed flesh. Yes, yes.
Tuesday, June 15, 2004
O Jamesy let me up out of this pooh Molly Bloom complains in the middle of her unparagraphed, unsentenced, and unpunctuated soliloquy at the end of Ulysses. Professors like me - people who routinely conduct graduate seminars dedicated solely to Joyce's novel - are trained to point out to their students that this moment in the text is an instance of literary self-reflexivity; for "Jamesy" is none other than the novel's author, James Augustine Joyce (during his lifetime, Irish detractors called him James Disgustin' Joyce), and Molly is calling out to her maker from her fictional bed, begging him to make her stream of consciousness stop.
One hundred real years after that fictive June 16, 1904, there is no stopping the Joycean flow. Tomorrow (today, if you're Australia), hundreds of thousands of ordinary people from Szombathely to Sydney will gather to recite beloved lines from Chamber Music, Portrait of the Artist, Ulysses, and Finnegans Wake.
They will dress up as their favorite Joyce characters; they will display their Joyce death mask sculptures, their James Joyce stroll gardens, their Joyce films. Scads of them a few hours ago sat at tables stretching the length of Dublin's O'Connell Street and ate Joyce-inspired breakfasts. They will sing songs immortalized by having been dropped into a Joyce story; they will sing their own Joyce-inspired music. They will drink the new Provins Valais specially labelled red and white "Cuvee James Joyce." They will stand by the side of the Liffey, the Mississippi, the Seine, and the Nile reading aloud about Paddy Dignam's funeral and Leopold Bloom's soap.
Ever since Roddy Doyle's putdown of the James Joyce industry ("They'll be offering James Joyce Happy Meals next,"), it has become fashionable to deride Bloomsday, the worldwide festival in honor of James Joyce's greatest work, Ulysses, and its hero, Leopold Bloom. And the thing has certainly gotten out of hand. It used to be the provenance of literary nerds like me, who'd get up at six in the morning on a hot rainy Washington day and join eight other jerks in some out of the way setting that someone thought looked Irish and do a marathon reading of the novel. Now it's a glitzy affair for gliterati everywhere.
They'll be dancing, for instance, in the streets of Ljubljana. Slovenia News reports that "A discreet plaque commemorating Irish writer James Joyce has recently been unveiled at platform no. 1 of Ljubljana's central railway station. In 1904, Joyce and his wife Nora mistakenly disembarked there, believing they had reached their destination - the city of Trieste." Mistakenly, mind you. But Ljubljana will take it.
"Így Szombathely Joyce híres regényalakjának, Leopold Bloomnak századik évfordulóját méltó módon ülheti meg," explains szombathely online, voice of the Hungarian town of that name, now famous because Leopold Bloom's father - an extremely minor character in the novel, and long dead when its events take place - comes from there. "As they have for years, Joyce's fans will congregate in Szombathely, a well-tended, pretty little town of some 80,000 inhabitants in southwest Hungary, in mid-June to celebrate Bloomsday, named for the fictional Leopold Bloom, the genial protagonist of Ulysses" notes a Hungarian newsletter. "But this year, with the centenary, Szombathely celebrates its ReJoyce Festival lasting over a week, to honor the Irish writer (1882-1941) who, in his revolutionary novel, put this Hungarian town on the literary map."
The organizer of the Hungarian Bloomsday is convinced he has tracked down the real Hungarian "Blum" who served as the inspiration for Joyce: "We have identified the Blum
house in Szombathely, and that is where the statue of James Joyce will be erected, as if emerging from the wall of the house."
Cities, ordinary readers, cutting-edge artists: all identify themselves with Jamesy's pooh, perhaps because this affiliation conveys both a certain seriousness and a keen aesthetic responsiveness. The hot Irish band, The Pogues, expressed this widely shared instinct to hitch a ride with him by featuring on a recent album cover a famous photograph of Joyce, and surrounding the photo with a montage of the band members dressed and posed identically. The equally hot band, Black 47 [as J.V.C. points out, for which I am grateful], sings: "To see where James had bit the dust/ I hopped a train to Zurich. / The customs man held down his hand:/ What was my business? / I wanna get laid on James Joyce's grave/ and I wanna do it instantly./ James Joyce I got no choice. / James Joyce I was only trying to find my voice."
Kate Bush's album, The Sensual World, is profoundly Joycean; in one song, Bush is Molly Bloom, "Stepping out of the page into the sensual world /Stepping out, off the page, into the sensual world…"
Molly Bloom got up out of Jamesy's pooh and entered the sensual world through the sheer literary power of James Augustine Joyce, who sang the bliss of existence. And why not, once a year, celebrate that bliss, and the way Joyce sang it, in the streets?
Ulysses, one writer points out, "is the only book in the world...to which a holiday is dedicated." It has, notes another, "become [the world's] international literary holiday." "For those who are passionate about their literature," writes an Australian observer, "June 16 is ice-cream, sex and Christmas rolled into one. [Celebrants] share a kind of trancendent, proselytising glow." "It is June 16," writes an American reporter, "not April 23 (Shakespeare's birthday) or February 23 (Keats' death) that has become the world's de facto literary holiday." "Do any [other literary luminaries] have dedicated days?" asks an Australian who doesn't think Joyce should have one either. "Memorial half-hours? Do we pause for a minute to praise the name of Lampedusa or Nabokov? And where, Paris included, has there been a talk-back session on Proust?"
The day has gotten big enough that politicians, some of whom spin Joyce and some of whom actually read and love him, have noticed, as Gideon Long, a Reuters reporter recently pointed out:
"Joyce exemplifies the European aspect of Irish identity," Irish President Mary McAleese informed a gathering of students in the Brazilian city of Sao Paulo earlier this year.
"International in his vision and impact, but always intellectually rooted in his native city of Dublin, Joyce could be said to represent the spirit of modern Ireland -- confidently Irish, comfortably European, fearlessly global in outlook."
Speaking to a gathering at Tel Aviv University, Foreign Minister Brian Cowen posited Leopold Bloom, the Jewish hero of Ulysses, as evidence of "the long history of affinity between the Irish and Jewish people".
Hailing Bloom as "a modern-day epic hero", Cowen assured the Israelis that the humble advertising salesman who wanders around Joyce's Dublin would be "very much to the fore in June of this year when we celebrate the centenary of Bloomsday".
Foreigners have also jumped on the Joycean bandwagon.
When Dominique de Villepin visited Dublin as French foreign minister this year, he reminded the Irish that Ulysses -- vilified in Ireland for years -- was first published in Paris, where Joyce spent much of his adult life.
"Joyce's journey embodies a new form of writing that criss-crosses the labyrinthine surface of the city to explore the nooks and crannies in the depths of the human soul," said De Villepin, a poet in his own right.
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, addressing a meeting of Irish businessmen in Dublin last month, observed, like millions of despairing literature students before him, that "Ulysses is a pretty hard book to read".
Wen had read it, though, and had also tackled Joyce's earlier novel "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man".
"I see the Bloomsday celebrations as a tribute to the power of the book," writes Nuala O'Faolain, an Irish novelist. "It's about celebrating our good luck that Joyce chose to write the great urban book about our city. Other cities have a patron saint, we have a patron book. Whatever way you look at it, that's something to be celebrated."
Indeed, Maurizio Pastore, an Italian studying law in Dublin and interviewed taking part in Bloomsday there, says as much: "This is so rare to see - a city celebrating its greatest artist. In Italy we don't celebrate Dante or Michelangelo. We should."
But let us look at the other side - the Doyle side - of Bloomsday in greater detail. Lots of -- call them killjoyces -- are out there, and it's worth examining their complaints more closely.
Part of the complaint involves the broader problem of the Irish culture industry, the sentimental flattening of Irishness. John Banville in the New York Times talks about "the exasperation many of us feel at the pervasiveness and bathos of the Joyce myth." John Waters, who writes for the Irish Times, agrees that the event has much to do with Joycean mythification and Irish self-mystification: "So many [Bloomsday celebrants] have no idea what they're celebrating. The whole event has nothing whatsoever to do with the meaning of the work. ...It's a shallow response born of our continuing inability to understand ourselves."
And part of the problem is disloyalty to the book itself - and to literary sensibility more broadly. "The version of Joyce these people are peddling," Banville continues, "is reprehensible, pernicious even. [Bloomsday] sets out to popularise a book that was a highly sophisticated, highly intellectualised undertaking. It is not mainstream, nor was it ever meant to be. When people claim Joyce had his eye on posterity,that is true, but it was intellectual posterity he was after, not mass approval." A British observer similarly writes: "Literature...is an essentially private act. The every-year-louder-and-louder bells and whistles that mark June 16,1904, ...is a party...an opportunity for university professors to drink too much and not feel guilty. [It] has absolutely nothing to do with its reason for existing: to move, to unsettle, to -- one hopes -- even transform individual readers. The loudest revolutions always take place in the quietest rooms." In the same vein, an Australian writer says the events are "more about frustrated show-offs and blowhards coming over all Irish in public than about a searching reflection on the motivations of James Joyce..."
Bloomsday, then, makes a mockery of the privacy, seriousness, and difficulty of authentic literary responsiveness. Banville finds the desecration of Ulysses so disturbing that he leaves town on Bloomsday.
I share this anxiety about maintaining the exile, silence, and cunning of literary experience, protecting the experience of interiority from the society of the spectacle. For me there's something both fascinating and depressing about, say, John Houston's efforts to film stories like Joyce's The Dead and novels like Lowry's Under the Volcano. Bound to the realm of the visual, even a great director makes Geoffrey Firmin look like little more than a pompous drunk. Ignorant, or semi-learned, about Ulysses, the average Bloomsday participant can make the flesh of a true Joyce student crawl.
But even with all of this, I say the more the merrier. After this centenary blowout, Bloomsdays will be more sedate anyway; and I certainly don't begrudge the blowout. Why?
One of the bitter themes of Ulysses is that reality can't be calibrated to your desires. Stephen Dedalus, when we meet him, has returned to Ireland from abroad having failed - so far at least - to realize the exuberant literary dreams that propelled him out of Ireland. He hates being back, and he hates himself. In Leopold Bloom, Dedalus encounters a man who has accepted the impossibility of certain fulfillments, who has accepted the fallibility of himself and every other human being and still been able to love. Dedalus spends the entire novel (with the exception of a few moments with Bloom) rejecting people, running away from situations, loathing his cowardice and his lovelessness. Bloom, the object of a good deal of contempt and even violence in the course of the day, remains humane, forebearing, open-hearted.
The contents of Bloom's consciousness are always - by the intellectual standards of a Stephen Dedalus - disappointing; he's an ordinary fellow of middling education with sentimental notions of world betterment; he's evading the problem of the grief he feels over his son's death, and this evasion continues to deaden his relationship with his wife. Stephen's consciousness on the other hand is always intellectually impressive. He's highly educated, well-traveled, witty, corrosive. And yet we end the book with love and respect for Bloom, not Stephen. Bloom alone's the Homeric hero. For there's no evidence that Stephen will be able to break free of his paralyzing world-rejection; whereas a day with Bloom is an education in decency and heroism and love.
Every disappointing Bloomsday reveler is a kind of Leopold Bloom. Or perhaps a Simon Dedalus. Irish, his son Stephen says of him. All too Irish.
Sunday, June 13, 2004
BLOOMSDAY COUNTDOWN: Getting Weird.
“Also on show for the day in O’Connell Street were Edwardian-style barbers, providing early 20th century wet shaves to anyone wanting them, period market stalls and trapeze acts.”
News, Scotsman, June 13 2004.
June 13, 2004
[pls note: ‘gated’ correspondence]
TO: Undergraduate Oligarchs Consortium [for background, see UD 23 April and 24 May 04 ]
SUBJECT: A bit of buffeting…
Hello all. This week has seen more than a bit of buffeting for our organization. I want to bring some of this to your attention -- not because your executive committee is particularly daunted, but because it is important that we keep abreast of developments.
National Public Radio is emerging, rather astonishingly, as one of the stronger and more consistent voices against us. Not too long ago they interviewed David Kirb, a professor at Berkeley, on the subject of early admissions: “The only parents,” he commented, “who can play the early decision game are wealthy parents. [W]ealthier kids are going to the most prestigious schools. [D]umb rich kids get into college at about the same rate as smart poor kids.”
Which brings up the related storm clouds over Texas. On the front page of today’s New York Times an article notes that that state’s “10 percent rule,” in which the top 10 percent of all graduates of public or private high schools in Texas are guaranteed admission to one of the state universities, is “coming under increasing attack…as many wealthy parents complain that their children are not getting a fair shake.” The law is under threat, with some arguing for its abolition and others arguing for significant caps on the number of 10-percenters universities will have to admit.
We’re not getting a fair shake because the type of schools from which we tend to graduate have such high standards that it’s difficult to crack the top ten percent of them, whereas less burnished schools make that accomplishment rather easy. One parent whose son was not admitted to Texas at Austin remarks: “His class was two-thirds National Merit scholars and semifinalists. Their scores are all very , very high.” Barred from the University of Texas at Austin, this man’s son was forced to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder.
As the Times reporter notes, “Any change in the rule raises the touchy subject of class.” One public high school principal got very touchy indeed, telling the reporter that “The State of Texas has done a great thing by offering this opportunity to get our most gifted students into a challenging educational setting. And the rich people don’t want them there.”
Finally, there’s the op/ed piece by the novelist Dave Eggers, also in today’s New York Times [Week in Review, page 13], in which he proposes mandating that all college and university students (he suggests exempting community college students) do significant hours of volunteer work in the community during college. Eggers claims to have as it were pissed away much of his college years playing foosball, when he could have been, for instance, chatting with the elderly at an old age home.
Rather confusingly, Eggers suggests that students receive course credit for these activities. Which leads us to wonder in what way activities which are mandated, and for which people pay tuition, may be considered “volunteer.”
In any case, the UOC would propose an exemption from any volunteer requirement at colleges for people of means. Why? Because virtually all of us grew up in houses where our mothers and aunts always volunteered, often in very high-profile ways. Our parents sit on the boards of ballet companies; they organize dinners for a wide variety of charities; they hold auctions on behalf of our schools and churches and clubs. We already know - intimately - what it means to give back, and most of us certainly intend to include volunteer activities in our adult lives.
Thursday, June 10, 2004
PEOPLE WHO NEED PEOPLE
"Students need teachers," writes The Guardian newspaper in what would seem, in most contexts, an obvious truth. But in the context of the spectacular failure of the British government's recent "webucation" (on-line learning has lent itself to a large number of depressing puns) venture, certain resounding truths have had to be re-sounded.
Thirty million taxpayer pounds were wasted on "UKeU" before the government shut it down. Few students enrolled; the cost of everything turned out to be exorbitant. Even as the lights blinked out, UKeU executives rewarded themselves with generous bonuses for a job well done. "The dream of taking the best of British higher education to the world has ended in an embarrassing closing down sale," writes Donald MacLeod.
It was all about money - part of the general marketing of the university. British campuses would get rich off of packets of information they'd transmit to end users (don't call them students) everywhere... .
Only it turns out that students need teachers. "As a series of universities around the world has discovered," writes The Guardian, "there is less demand for online study than enthusiasts predicted."
A chastened government has now announced that any new distance learning arrangements will "put a greater emphasis on public good rather than commercial objectives."
That's a thought.
In all of this, England trailed just behind the United States; the British figured they'd better get busy in the online market instead of letting us make all the money. But just as they were revving up, our own universities' e-learning enterprises were sputtering. NYU Online spent twenty million dollars on itself and then closed down. Columbia's Fathom did the same. There were a number of others just like these, all at very respectable American campuses.
It's precisely that respectability that seems to be the problem. If you're Phoenix or DeVry, you don't pretend to do anything but deliver profit-making data to real estate agents and office managers. There are all of these other things which actual institutions of higher education are caught up in -- the common pursuit of truth, for example, which turns out to be difficult to put on a disk.
Wednesday, June 09, 2004
From the campus policies website, SUNY Brockport:
"Examples of Inappropriate Behavior
in an Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Environment"
"Derogatory comments about an individual's membership in a protected group, for example, calling someone an 'old bag.'
Visual messages that are degrading to or reflect negatively upon protected groups, for example, cartoons that depict religious figures in compromising situations or displaying sexually suggestive pictures.
Jokes that have the purpose or effect of stereotyping, demeaning or making fun of any protected group. An example might be jokes about persons with AIDS or an ethnic joke.
Slurs that describe a protected group.
Nicknames that relate to a person's membership in any protected group.
Verbal or non-verbal innuendo that relates to or reflects negatively upon any protected group, for example, mimicking the walk of a person with a disability.
Sex-oriented and/or lewd verbal kidding, joking, remarks, questions or gestures.
Discussing sexual activities.
Subtle or overt pressure for sexual activity.
Comments and/or questions regarding an individual's physical attributes.
Accessing and/or displaying materials on or from the Internet that relate to or reflect negatively upon any protected group, for example, displaying sexually suggestive materials from the Internet on your computer screen."
University Diaries' BLOOMSDAY COUNTDOWN
James Joyce at University College, Dublin, 1900:
"Joyce and another student, George Clancy, liked to rouse [Professor of French Edouard] Cadic to flights of miscomprehension. In a favorite little drama, Joyce would snicker offensively at Clancy's efforts to translate a passage into English. Clancy pretended to be furious and demanded an apology, which Joyce refused. Then Clancy would challenge Joyce to a duel in Phoenix Park. The horrified Cadic would rush in to conciliate the fiery Celts, and after much byplay would persuade them to shake hands."
Richard Ellmann, James Joyce
Tuesday, June 08, 2004
Intercessional Insemination at Columbia University
Wow! Psychology Today excitedly revealed, back in 2002, the results of a Columbia University study which showed that if people pray for infertile women undergoing in vitro treatment, the women they pray for double their chances of getting pregnant. “Women who were prayed for had a 50 percent pregnancy rate, compared with a 26 percent success rate among those for whom no one prayed.”
We’re not talking here about your local priest or your canasta partner kneeling in the neighborhood church -- in this “amazing” study, total strangers thousands of miles away from the Korean women involved (none of the women were told they were experimental subjects) prayed to anonymous photos of them….
And that wasn’t all! “Instead of merely having a group of people pray for the women attempting to get pregnant,” a scientist who reviewed the experiment remarked, “the study had one group doing that, a second group praying to help the first group, and a third group praying that ‘God's will or desire be fulfilled for the prayer participants’ in the first two groups.” Kind of a chain letter thing.
This impressive protocol and its stunning results blew Roger [sometimes rendered Rogerio] Lobo, chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Columbia’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, right out of the uterine sac. “The results were so highly significant they weren’t even borderline. We spent time deciding if it was even publishable because we couldn’t explain it.”
But publish it they did, in the eminent Journal of Reproductive Medicine, and there it sat amid swelling media coverage, until various scientific oversight agencies took a look at it.
At which point the swelling went down. Efforts to talk to the three principals about it have not gone well. “One of the authors,” writes an observer, “has left the university and refuses to comment, another now claims to have not actually participated in the study and also refuses to comment [that‘d be Lobo, who now says he just put his name on the study -- a common and scandalous scientific practice that no one finds scandalous], and another is on his way to federal prison for fraud.”
That'd be veteran conman Daniel P. Wirth, about to spend five years in jail for too many crimes to mention here. Wirth has no medical degree, but did purchase a diploma mill masters in parapsychology, spiritual healing, and therapeutic touch. Before the pregnancy study, Wirth’s research involved amputating salamander limbs and then waving his hands over the salamanders to make their limbs grow back.
Dr. Lobo was “very well respected” before the paper came out, commented one reviewer. “How he got hooked into this is a mystery.”
To which I can only reply by quoting Madonna’s song, “Like a Prayer” --
Life is a mystery…
Just like a prayer, your voice can take me there
Just like a muse to me, you are a mystery
Just like a dream, you are not what you seem...
Monday, June 07, 2004
UD'S BLOOMSDAY COUNTDOWN
UD owns a mouse pad with James Joyce's face on it. She owns a sweatshirt with his face on it. She owns a teacup that has I Want to Write Like James Joyce written on it.
She named her daughter Anna Livia. She performs all of the Samuel Barber songs set to the words of James Joyce ("I Hear an Army," "Nuvoletta," "Rain Has Fallen," "Sleep Now"). She has stood in the pouring rain along the Potomac River for lengthy Bloomsday readings of Ulysses. She has waited her turn at the doors of Dublin pubs to join drunks shouting out Molly Bloom's soliloquy.
In short, if Roddy Doyle is right ("They'll be serving Joyce Happy Meals next."), then UD is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
Yet UD does not consider her Joyce thing kitschy. She considers it winsome, retro, and, above all, harmless.
In about a week, June 16 will be upon us; and to make matters more exciting, this is the Bloomsday centenary -- Ulysses takes place on June 16, 1904. For the next few days, along with her regular university-related postings, please bear with UD as she includes posts on events leading up to the big day all over the world (two hundred cities will celebrate Bloomsday). UD hopes both to cover various political, legal, and cultural controversies in Ireland swirling around the celebration, and to help you, the baffled reader, begin to comprehend this peculiar enthusiasm which UD shares with so many others.
Saturday, June 05, 2004
McMaster's Face Red
They thought things couldn't get any worse at Canada's McMaster University this graduation season:
Mix-up has wrong man honoured
Doctorate was to go to namesake
TORONTO STAR, HAMILTON, June 4 —
An apparent goof-up at McMasterUniversity has led to a prestigious honorary doctorate being given to the wrong Hugh Fraser at this week's convocation ceremonies, says the man who claims to be the intended honouree.
Hugh Fraser, the former Hamilton Spectator music critic and Hamilton Gallery of Distinction inductee who lives in Millgrove, Ont., says he was supposed to get the doctorate of letters. But somehow it ended up being given to a trombone player named Hugh Fraser from Victoria.
Fraser says McMaster University president Peter George called to say he should have got the degree but there was a mix-up. Instead, George offered to bestow the doctorate next year, an offer Fraser accepted.
Fraser was reluctant to discuss the ivory tower boo-boo, mainly because he didn't want to embarrass his namesake from British Columbia, who received the degree Wednesday along with music superstar Daniel Lanois.
This was bad enough, but at a later undergraduate college convocation at the same institution, the same nominations committee bestowed a posthumous honorary degree on Louis-Ferdinand Celine (author of the novel Journey to the End of the Night), but sent the notification letter not to his heirs but to the French Canadian singer, Celine Dion.
As Ms. Dion smiled radiantly at the podium, the head of the awards committee got up and gave a speech that honored her "uncompromising cloacal post-war anomie." He then read the following excerpt from her work:
It was in that underground vault that they answered the call of nature. I caught on right away. The hall where the business was done was likewise of marble. A kind of swimming pool, but drained of all its water, a fetid swimming pool, filled only with filtered, moribund light, which fell on the forms of unbuttoned men surrounded by their smells, red in the face from the effect of expelling their stinking feces with barbarous noises in front of everybody.
Men among men, all free and easy, they laughed and joked and cheered one another on, it made me think of a football game. The first thing you did when you got there was to take off your jacket, as if in preparation for strenuous exercise. This was a rite and shirtsleeves were the uniform.
In that state of undress, belching and worse, gesticulating like lunatics, they settled down in the fecal grotto. The new arrivals were assailed with a thousand revolting jokes while descending the stairs from the street, but they all seemed delighted.
The morose aloofness of the men on the street above was equated only by the air of liberation and rejoicing that came over them at the prospect of emptying their bowels in tumultuous company.
The splotched and spotted doors to the cabins hung loose, wrenched from their hinges. Some customers went from one cell to another for a little chat, those waiting for an empty seat smoked heavy cigars and slapped the backs of the obstinately toiling occupants, who sat there straining with their heads between their hands. Some groaned like wounded men or women in labor. The constipated were threatened with ingenious tortures.
When a gush of water announced a vacancy, the clamor around the free compartment redoubled, and as often as not a coin would be tossed for its possession. No sooner read, newspapers, though as thick as pillows, were dismembered by the horde of rectal toilers. The smoke made it hard to distinguish faces, and the smells deterred me from going too close.
The consummate Vegas professional, Ms. Dion never lost her smile.
Friday, June 04, 2004
Non-Profit Compensation at Harvard:
Obscene and Not Heard
Obscene, obscene, obscene. It's one of those words that always crop up when people attempt to convey the unconveyable disgust they feel at spectacles of surpassing human depravity. "The present commercialisation of the art world, at its top end, is a cultural obscenity," writes Robert Hughes in The Guardian. "When you have the super-rich paying $104m for an immature Rose Period Picasso - close to the GNP of some Caribbean or African states - something is very rotten. Such gestures do no honour to art: they debase it by making the desire for it pathological."
Most of us do, I think, sense something pathological underlying, say, Richard Grasso or Peter Diamandopoulos's behavior with regard to money (see UD, 5/25/04), and it's always sickening and fascinating - i.e., obscene - to watch them say what they say and do what they do when they are cornered about it.
Those men head - headed - non-profit organizations, and so their obscene greed is arguably more scandalous than the greed of random art consumers. It does enormous damage, not merely to other actual human beings, but to the nature -- even the survival --of institutions intended to benefit other human beings in non-material ways: to secure the integrity of their market transactions, to enlighten them intellectually and morally.
Perhaps that is why the word "obscene" has now been attached to another non-profit, Harvard University, by some of its most illustrious alumni, a group of whom are now withholding contributions from Harvard because, as one of them puts it, "We think the amounts of money being paid to [Harvard's money managers] are by almost any measure obscene."
I won't go into detail, but this already almost unimaginably rich nonprofit (my husband's an alum, and I follow Harvard's wealth pretty carefully) is paying the people who make it yet richer in the tens and twenties and thirties of millions of dollars every year. This morning's New York Times goes on to describe the disgust many Harvardians feel:
[C]oncerned alumni would like Harvard to lower compensation of endowment managers and use the savings for tuition and debt relief for students. These alumni say they are not impressed by [President] Summers' announcement in April that Harvard would add $2 million to its annual scholarship budget so that families earning less than $40,000 a year would no longer have to pay tuition.
Tuition for the 2004-2005 school year, meanwhile, has been set at $27,448, a 5.1 percent increase from the previous year and almost three times the rate of inflation last year.
William Strauss, a playwright and author who graduated from Harvard in 1969, said the tuition increase would produce about $60 million or $70 million in additional revenue for Harvard "about as much as two of the managers of the endowment took home last year," he said.
He said the increase in the scholarship budget, meanwhile, does little to address the problem of tuition affordability. "President Summers and various heads of the graduate schools speak in anguish about today's young generation and how it is not going into public service," he said. "Well, students graduate with these huge loans they need to pay these tuitions and cannot afford to go into government, the arts, teaching and a variety of other careers that are worthwhile but don't pay like investment banking or corporate law."
For David Kaiser, a classmate of Mr. Strauss who is a historian at the Naval War College, the compensation issue is a matter of values. He became incensed when, a few days after Harvard announced that it had paid its money managers more than $100 million, it cut 10 library workers citing budgetary cutbacks.
B-b-b-but! "Harvard," writes the Times reporter, "prefers to compare its money managers' compensation to that awarded in the private sector."
Howsomever, Harvard University is a non-profit. If you're asking me to judge your non-profit compensation scheme by a profit compensation scheme, I have to say, with that greatest of Wall Street scriveners, that I prefer not to.
Thursday, June 03, 2004
The Unpleasantness at the Smith Center
Stung by the revelation that the chairman of the Orange County school board, Keith Cook, plagiarized the high school graduation speech he recently gave at the University of North Carolina's Smith Center, the university has decided to scrutinize more closely the events for which it makes its gym available.
An alert parent, for whom Cook's speech stirred vague memories, hit the internet after the ceremony and found that the same speech had been given a few years earlier by Donna Shalala, former secretary of health and human services.
Responses from Mr. Cook and his allies on the school board only deepened the dismay on the part of UNC officials: confronted with the plagiarism, Mr. Cook first said he had written the speech; he then said that he had downloaded the speech from a site he'd found by typing "graduation speeches" into Google. In any case, said Cook, he thought it was okay to take the speech as his own, because it looked like "a generic speech."
A fellow school board member said: "I'm sure he didn't mean any harm. He had his reasons, and he's the only one who knows why he chose that particular speech."
Belyna McMurtry, head of UNC Special Events, says that the university has, as a first step, begun to check the content of other graduation speeches - high school and college - given recently at the Smith Center.
"We've so far found only one other questionable speech," McMurtry commented. She agreed to show UD an excerpt from that speech, presented by Dr. Wayne "Butch" Lapont Villeroy, Patchett Valley school board chief, to a graduating high school class three weeks ago at the Smith Center:
With your permission I will allow myself to turn your attention for a while to some particular moments.
First of all, I would like once again to thank all of you, to all brotherly parties, to their central committees, personally to you, my dear comrades and friends, for your active participation in the work of this meeting. I say this because at this meeting each of you made a thorough analysis of the international activities, shared the experience of his work and characterized the significance of our common successes. We are unanimous, we synchronize our moves and what is particularly important - we manifest unity on the issues, which constitute the essence of our policy.
Now, allow me to focus on those moments, with which I would like to complete my first statement. I would like as well to make a few comrade remarks of principle character on what the comrades, participants in the meeting said.
All of you expressed a wish, and we agree with it, for an announcement in the press about the results of our work. All comrades got acquainted with the project of this announcement, it seems to me, twice. I myself as you see, because of pressure of work, could not thoroughly develop each paragraph. In the end, a last version came out, which, it seems to me, can be approved. But Comrade Ceausescu expressed certain doubts in the possibility it to be approved in this form. Now we had an openhearted comrade talk with Comrade Ceausescu and we reached an agreement.
I congratulate you, comrades, with the big success in our work. I wish you health and happiness. I think that this meeting will help all of us to get better our bearings. I will report in detail to our Politburo about all statements of the comrades, so that afterwards we can proceed to practical implementation of what we spoke here.
In tracking down this graduation speech on the internet, McMurtry discovered the following source:
Concluding Speech at the Crimean meeting,
31 July 1973
[Central State Archive, Sofia, Fond 1-B, Record 35, File 4300]
Personal, top secret!
OF COMRADE L. IL. BREZHNEV AT THE CRIMEA MEETING
(A shorthand transcript)
Dr. Villeroy has had no comment.
3 June 04
To: Miss Manners, Washington Post
From: Lars Larson, KCMX 880 AM
SUBJECT: UNIVERSITY ETIQUETTE
Dear Miss Manners:
Hi! I'm Lars Larson, morning host of a very popular talk show out here in Oregon on radio station KCMX AM. I was recently invited to join a panel at a local university, Southern Oregon University, to talk about the first amendment. But it's the second amendment that I'm writing to you about.
I don't go anywhere without my gun, and there aren't any laws against carrying a concealed weapon on university campuses around here, but when I told the university I planned to pack heat, they told me I couldn't come unless I left the gun at home.
I feel real strong about this gun thing. If I may quote myself on my website:
Some people have asked me why I don't just compromise and leave it at home. Should Rosa Parks have taken that seat in the back of the bus? She would have gotten home just as fast. The answer is no. She had a civil right to ride in front of the bus ...and I have a civil right to carry a gun.
The thing went up to the vice president of SOU, who said the university reserved the right to keep guns off campus - even though I told the guy he was violating Section 27 of the Oregon Constitution and Oregon Statutes 166-170, which guarantee that I have a right to carry a hidden gun anywhere except courtrooms.
Okay, so far typical gun rights dispute, you see a lot of that out here, especially with universities, which for some reason think they're special.
But what I'm asking you about is whether you think the university was correct to do the next thing it did. The v.p. in a very public way said (I'm quoting from a press account of the incident): "The university has offered Larson an armed officer at the school's expense to make him feel more protected."
See now, to me this is obviously intended to embarrass me - like it's saying nobody else needs protection in a college seminar room... we got lotsa little coeds with ribbons in their hair coming out to hear you and they're not slipping Glocks into their vests... but if you, Mr. Larson, feel too nervous to be among us without personal firepower, well, we'll pay for someone with a gun to protect you...
See what I mean? To me it's like they're ridiculing me while seeming to be polite in accommodating me.
So what I'm asking is, one, should I accept their offer of my own armed officer? Should I go to the event with my gun and not tell them (I mean, that's the whole point of "concealed," isn't it?)? Or should I stand on principle and refuse to take part in the whole event?
To: Lars Larson
From: Miss Manners
Dear Mr. Larson: The rule in matters of this sort is that you accommodate yourself to the extent possible to the customs of the institution that has invited you to the event. The university's gun policy may be out of compliance with the law, but they probably have some degree of autonomy in setting certain policies, and my guess is that the majority of faculty and students and parents on its campus approve of the policy. It is true that legally speaking you are probably in the right, but legality is not the only consideration in social life.
I think you are right that the university's offer of your own private armed guard is a species of irony and intended to be a put-down. As to what you can do about this -- how many years of education do you yourself have? Are you sure you want to enter a verbal showdown with highly educated university faculty and administrators who can devise sly ways to make you look bad? In other words, I'm not saying that you have to take their disrespect lying down, but I am suggesting that you want to be sure that the playing field is relatively level before you initiate a war of words with them.
Tuesday, June 01, 2004
TO: Alliance for A’s
FROM: Janice Sidley (see UD posts beginning 11/30/03 and others)
SUBJECT: TRIGGERING A’s
La nouvelle vague in A-maintenance -- and I’m not saying it’s for everyone -- is fast-becoming known as the “conceal-carry” grading system.
In more and more states - Vermont, Oregon, and now Utah - just about anyone can carry a concealed gun just about anywhere, including on college and university campuses. The University of Utah has been trying to maintain a ban against guns on its campus, but the state legislature threatened in response to cut the university president’s salary by fifty percent; and it has now passed a law requiring the university to lift the ban. These guys mean business.
Because they love their guns! I'm an easterner, I don't get it, but these wild west guys and gals.... It's part of growing up: "I found that the plastic-framed wunderpistole is a real gun with oak leaf clusters," writes a gun lover on a website called Doing Freedom. "Mine is a biggie-sized Model 20 as old as the company itself, preserved in pristine condition in its factory box for a decade. Bored for 10mm, it shoots very straight, and works every time I pull the trigger. It's gentle enough that my daughter, only nine or ten at the time, looked up from firing it the first time with a huge grin on her little face."
One law student at UU with one of those Mormon names -- Tefton J. Smith -- explained to an interviewer from the Wall Street Journal that he knows he doesn't really need to carry a gun everywhere but it "has become a habit." Women Against Gun Control founder Janalee Tobias has said that many women are "uncomfortable to be without their guns." Out here on the coast most of us can, say, go to a ladies' room in a restaurant without arming ourselves, but some of these heartland people apparently cannot, and it's not our business to judge. We've got all habits.
Despite the conceal and carry law, UU's president and much of its faculty is still making a fuss; they're even talking about defying the legislature. UU President Bernie Machen thinks the issue "strikes at the heart of academia." "Given the unique environment of a college campus," he says, "that is not a place for guns." A reporter for the Christian Science Monitor notes that academic institutions "have long banned weapons out of concern that their presence could stifle the free flow of ideas." Guns could have a "chilling effect" on classroom debate, many faculty and administrators agree. Former Republican Senator Jake Garn says that "students and teachers must feel that classrooms are havens of learning and not a potential firing range. ... [Utahns] sometimes think gun possession is a God-given right," continues Garn, who is also a UU trusteee: "I tell them I don't ever remember seeing Jesus packing heat."
President Machen summed up this take on the question a while back:
The essence, the very heart, of a college experience is the free exchange of ideas in a nurturing environment. Students who are being introduced to new concepts, who are grappling to understand new ideas, must feel they can openly express their views and question those ideas in a safe setting. Robust debate, disagreement, and a lively exchange of ideas are essential to a college education. Neither students nor faculty should have that debate diminished by a concern over who has a gun in his or her backpack. Academic freedom is short-circuited and education is stifled if students and faculty feel threatened by the presence of a weapon in the classroom. We believe this provides the legal basis for an exception to the current law.
But a former Speaker of the Utah House who is now a gun lobbyist sees it differently:
With a concealed weapon, you don't know it's concealed. The idea of something no one knows about having a chilling effect on the free exchange of ideas just doesn't have a lot of logic. All those arguments about the ambience of a college being harmed - I find that ludicrous.
Yeah, all that "ahmbiahnce" shit... As if universities were different from any other place where folks meet and greet!
But, well... The Harvard School of Public Health did do a study not too long ago which concluded that
Students with guns were more likely to be male, White, or Native American; to binge drink and need to start the day with alcohol; to be members of a fraternity or sorority; to live off campus; and to live with a spouse or significant other. Having a gun was positively associated with driving after binge drinking, being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, and damaging property as a result of alcohol ingestion. Students with guns were also more likely to be injured severely enough to require medical attention, especially for injuries occurring in fights or car crashes. Overall, students with guns at college were more likely than others to engage in activities that put themselves and others at risk for injury.
But hey so what big surprise - guys who like to drink and drive drunk and bust up their cars and get in fights ALSO like guns! The question is - can these guys - and I think we're all getting a pretty good picture of them, having had some in our classes - really be an intellectual and even physical danger on campus? Can they be belligerent in classroom debates on social issues, say?
Well, say they can. So what? As the gun lobbyist points out, we don't know if they're carrying, so why should be we intimidated? I mean, when we encounter a drunk frat boy who just got out of jail in our classes, we have no idea whether or not there's a gun in his vest, so I don't see why...or, yes, I guess I'd say I do see why we might feel a little "chilled" in terms of classroom discourse... The Christian Science Monitor writes: "The university argues that testosterone-fueled campus high jinks or tensions over grades could erupt in deadly violence. ... 'Tensions do run high in my office," says an academic counselor in the engineering department who says he has flunked out three students this year. He asked to remain anonymous because of fears of retaliation. He is retiring at age 60 this year, he adds, in part because of fears of facing a gun-toting student one day."
But on the other hand, you know, I've read John Lott and Michael Bellesiles and I know that one of them argues that this guy, with his gun, makes my classroom safer.. and the other one argues that he makes it less safe... and, well, all I'm trying to get at with this on the one hand and on the other hand stuff is that the gun controversy persists. Even the highest profile professors in the controversy - like Lott and Bellesiles - are controversial. Both are accused of cooking their data; and Lott invented a web persona (Mary Rosh) in order to write glowing things about himself and his work...
Anyway, a lot of that is beside the point...I'm just thinking out loud a little bit on the subject. What I really want to say is that from the A-friendly perspective of the Alliance for A's, maybe concealed-carry isn't such a bad thing. Not knowing which of your students is in a position to kill you on the spot when you hand them a C will certainly conduce toward higher grades. On a conceal-carry campus, A's will be, well, semi-automatic...
Happy beginning of summer!