Read my book, TEACHING BEAUTY IN DeLILLO, WOOLF, AND MERRILL (Palgrave Macmillan; forthcoming), co-authored with Jennifer Green-Lewis. VISIT MY BRANCH CAMPUS AT INSIDE HIGHER ED





UD is...
"Salty." (Scott McLemee)
"Unvarnished." (Phi Beta Cons)
"Splendidly splenetic." (Culture Industry)
"Except for University Diaries, most academic blogs are tedious."
(Rate Your Students)
"I think of Soltan as the Maureen Dowd of the blogosphere,
except that Maureen Dowd is kind of a wrecking ball of a writer,
and Soltan isn't. For the life of me, I can't figure out her
politics, but she's pretty fabulous, so who gives a damn?"
(Tenured Radical)

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

DISPOSITIONLOVE


Brooklyn College's School of Education has begun to base evaluations of aspiring teachers in part on their commitment to social justice, raising fears that the college is screening students for their political views.

The School of Education at the CUNY campus initiated last fall a new method of judging teacher candidates based on their "dispositions," a vogue in teacher training across the country that focuses on evaluating teachers' values, apart from their classroom performance.

Critics of the assessment policy warned that aspiring teachers are being judged on how closely their political views are aligned with their instructor's. Ultimately, they said, teacher candidates could be ousted from the School of Education if they are found to have the wrong dispositions.

"All of these buzz words don't seem to mean anything until you look and see how they're being implemented," a prominent history professor at Brooklyn College, Robert David Johnson, said. "Dispositions is an empty vessel that could be filled with any agenda you want," he said.

Critics such as Mr. Johnson say the dangers of the assessment policy became immediately apparent in the fall semester when several students filed complaints against an instructor who they said discriminated against them because of their political beliefs and "denounced white people as the oppressors."

Driving the new policies at the college and similar ones at other education schools is a mandate set forth by the largest accrediting agency of teacher education programs in America, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education. That 51-year-old agency, composed of 33 professional associations, says it accredits 600 colleges of education - about half the country's total. Thirty-nine states have adopted or adapted the council's standards as their own, according to the agency.

In 2000 the council introduced new standards for accrediting education schools. Those standards incorporated the concept of dispositions, which the agency maintains ought to be measured, to sort out teachers who are likeliest to be successful. In a glossary, the council says dispositions "are guided by beliefs and attitudes related to values such as caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice."

To drive home the notion that education schools ought to evaluate teacher candidates on such parameters as attitude toward social justice, the council issued a revision of its accrediting policies in 2002 in a Board of Examiners Update. It encouraged schools to tailor their assessments of dispositions to the schools' guiding principles, which are known in the field as "conceptual frameworks." The council's policies say that if an education school "has described its vision for teacher preparation as 'Teachers as agents of change' and has indicated that a commitment to social justice is one disposition it expects of teachers who can become agents of change, then it is expected that unit assessments include some measure of a candidate's commitment to social justice."

[One Brooklyn College course], which instructs students on how to develop lesson plans that teach literacy, is built around themes of "social justice," according to the syllabus, which was obtained by The New York Sun. One such theme is the idea that standard English is the language of oppressors while Ebonics, a term educators use to denote a dialect used by African-Americans, is the language of the oppressed.

A preface to the listed course requirements includes a quotation from a South African scholar, Njabulo Ndebele: "The need to maintain control over English by its native speakers has given birth to a policy of manipulative open-mindedness in which it is held that English belongs to all who use it provided that it is used correctly. This is the art of giving away the bride while insisting that she still belongs to you."

Among the complaints cited by students in letters they delivered in December to the dean of the School of Education, Deborah Shanley, is Ms. Parmar's alleged disapporval of students who defended the ability to speak grammatically correct English.

Speaking of Ms. Parmar, one student, Evan Goldwyn, wrote: "She repeatedly referred to English as a language of oppressors and in particular denounced white people as the oppressors. When offended students raised their hands to challenge Professor Parmar's assertion, they were ignored. Those students that disagreed with her were altogether denied the opportunity to speak."

Students also complained that Ms. Parmar dedicated a class period to the screening of an anti-Bush documentary by Michael Moore, "Fahrenheit 9/11," a week before last November's presidential election, and required students to attend the class even if they had already seen the film. Students said Ms. Parmar described "Fahrenheit 9/11" as an important film to see before they voted in the election.

"Most troubling of all," Mr. Goldwyn wrote, "she has insinuated that people who disagree with her views on issues such as Ebonics or Fahrenheit 911 should not become teachers."


Four students, Ms. Harned said, dropped out of Ms. Parmar's course during the semester.

One of the students was a former mechanic from Bay Ridge, Scott Madden, who said he wanted to become a teacher because "I like explaining things."

Mr. Madden, 35, said that after he disputed a grade he received from her, Ms. Parmar encouraged him to withdraw from the course. He said he changed his plans to take the course in the summer after finding out that Ms. Parmar was again teaching both sections of the required course.

"Basically, she's a socialist, she's racist against white people," Mr. Madden said. "If you want to pass that class you better keep your mouth shut."

In an interview with the Sun, Ms. Harned said she dropped out of the School of Education and switched her major to political science because of her experience in Ms. Parmar's course.

"I'm blacklisted," she said. "How am I supposed to move forward in a department I'm not comfortable in?"

That is the point of the new format, critics of the dispositions standard said.

"In its most pernicious form, then, dispositions theory is a tool for education schools to ensure that the next generation of public school students is educated solely by those teachers who have accepted the kind of extremist beliefs articulated by Professor Parmar," Mr. Johnson wrote.”

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



UD managed to get a face-to-face interview with one of the disposition mandate’s most enthusiastic proponents, a brilliant, high-ranking administrator at a well-known school of education who feels he cannot reveal his name “until each and every dispositional misfit has been silenced.” Here is a transcript of the interview, beginning with his response to UD’s skepticism about whether schools of education in this country can truly be purged of all students with non-standard dispositions.

Ms UD, I would not rule out the chance to preserve in our schools of education a nucleus of true social justice specimens. It would be quite easy... heh heh... .

UD: How long do you think this would take?

Well let's see now ah … hmm.. I would think that uh... possibly uh... one hundred years.

UD: You mean, you’re actually willing to wait a hundred years?

It would not be difficult mein Fuhrer! Heh... I'm sorry. Ms UD….

UD: Well I... I would hate to have to decide.. who gets in and who…gets purged.

Well, that would not be necessary Ms UD. It could easily be accomplished with a computer. And a computer could be set and programmed to accept factors from youth, health, and intelligence, as well as disposition. Of course it would be absolutely vital that our top school of education leaders be included among this cohort to foster and impart the required principles of caring, fairness, honesty, responsibility, and social justice….[Slams down left fist. Right arm rises in stiff Nazi salute.] Arrrrr! [Restrains right arm with left.] Naturally, such people would breed prodigiously, eh? There would be much time, and little to do. But ah with the proper breeding techniques and a ratio of say, ten females to each male, I would guess that they could then work their way toward total dispositional uniformity within say, twenty years.

UD: But wouldn’t people miss the freedom and the variety of viewpoints about life that we have long cherished as Americans?

No Ms UD ... [Right arm rolls his wheelchair backwards.] Excuse me. [Struggles with wayward right arm, ultimately subduing it with a beating from his left.] There would be no shocking memories of intellectual freedom and self-respect, and the prevailing emotion will be a spirit of bold curiosity for the adventure ahead! Ahhhh! [Right arm reflexes into Nazi salute. He pulls it back into his lap and beats it again. Gloved hand attempts to strangle him.]

UD: Doctor, you mentioned the ration of ten women to each man. Now, wouldn't that necessitate the abandonment of the so called monogamous sexual relationship, I mean, as far as men were concerned?

Regrettably, yes. But it is, you know, a sacrifice required for the future of the human race. I hasten to add that since each man will be required to do prodigious... service along these lines, the women will have to be selected for their sexual characteristics which will have to be of a highly stimulating nature.

Monday, May 30, 2005

STUNNED AND NAUSEOUS

Given all the attention paid lately to whether universities are insensitive to women’s issues, you’d think Harvard and other institutions would be a little more respectful and encouraging when a young, canny, successful, Hispanic woman entrepreneur comes along.

But the university suits are all beating up on Michele Hernandez , a spunky 38-year-old who’s making a fortune charging rich Americans tens of thousands of dollars in return for getting their children into elite colleges.

Hernandez makes one of the admissions counselors “nauseous.” Harvard’s dean of admissions finds himself “stunned.” The woman represents nothing more than the “gross exploitation of fear,” says a third. Her business, says another, is “a vile, vulgar, cynical rip-off.” "Capitalism can have a very lurid and dark side,” yet another says, “and this fits in that category."

An article in Bloomberg News reports on Hernandez’s upcoming “three-day boot camp in New York City that costs $10,000... The event will be open to five to 15 high school students at a cost of $9,999 before June 15 and $10,750 after. That is more than the $9,278 the University of Massachusetts Amherst charges for annual in-state tuition and fees. Students will get a report on their odds of being accepted by as many as 100 colleges, practice writing college essays and receive interview training.”


TERROR

"‘There is obviously a fear, maybe even a terror, among wealthy folks that someone is taking their place, their piece of the pie,’ [Bruce] Poch said in a phone interview... Parents may be worried because top U.S. colleges are trying to recruit more lower-income students, said Poch, vice president and dean of admissions at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif. Since last year, Harvard and Yale University have eliminated or reduced costs to parents who earn less than $60,000 a year.”




LESSONS IN THE FREE MARKET

UD commends Hernandez for brilliantly exploiting the hypocrisies and absurdities that college admissions and publicity offices have done so much to promote. She‘s also pleased to note Hernandez’s response to her critics:

"'I don't see why people get mad,' Hernandez said. 'Do people get mad when you hire an accountant? It is the same thing…. It is the educators who get mad when they hear that other people are making money in education… People say, 'I can't believe you charge this much.' But I say, 'Sorry. In a free-market economy, if people pay me, too bad.' "
QUOTATION OF THE DAY:

“If half the effort this student put into firebombing the English department went into studying for class, it would never have happened.”



Full story appears below:

“Police said an arson that scorched Florida Atlantic University’s Boca Raton campus more than two months ago was still unsolved Sunday, even though English professors have a pretty good idea who tossed bricks and gasoline through their office windows.

Although FAU police said no arrests had been made since the March 10 arson that closed the Humanities Building, professors said campus gossip implicated a certain freshman so upset over a bad performance in his mandatory English composition class that he flew into a rage when department heads upheld a grade assigned by their teaching assistant.

“We have a pretty good idea who would have done it,” professor Thomas Martin said. “Unfortunately, I think the investigation is going to sit on the shelf and go away, unless you get CSI out here to find some micro-fiber or something.”

Martin described the arsonist as a “strange, violent nut job of a student” who would eventually land in jail.

“It was a cowardly act and probably part of a pattern of bad behavior,” Martin said. “If half the effort this student put into firebombing the English department went into studying for class, it would never have happened.”

According to fire marshal investigators, it was around midnight when the arsonist threw bricks through three English department windows located in a corner of the ground floor of the Humanities Building.

The arsonist then poured gasoline into the offices, lit one of the rooms on fire and was apparently scared off by the sprinkler system before finishing the job.

No one was working in the building at the time, although arson remains a first-degree felony regardless of the reported injuries.

Although fire marshal investigators said in April that the prime suspect failed his preliminary lie detector test, they would not say this weekend why university police had not pressed charges.

“We’re out of the investigation now and FAU is handling the rest of the case,” said Lt. Rich Schuler of the fire marshal’s office. “They know what they need to do.”

Lt. Chuck Aurin of the FAU police said he could not discuss any suspects in the case because the investigation was still open.

The three rooms drenched in gasoline were the main office of the Department of English, the office of department chairman Andrew Furman, and the office of writing programs director Dan Murtaugh.

The arsonist set off the fire in Murtaugh’s office. Murtaugh, who teaches freshman composition, was vacationing in Bermuda at the time.

“We gave police the names of the students we thought could have been responsible, but that obviously wasn’t enough to make an arrest,” Murtaugh said this weekend. “I suspect it’s a matter of hard evidence at this point.”

Furman said FAU had relocated the English professors to the third floor of the Social Sciences Building indefinitely. A decision on whether they will return to the old offices is expected before the university’s fall semester.

“We hope to stay here for several reasons,” said Furman, whose office window was also smashed a week before the arson. “Personally, I feel a bit safer being off the ground floor.”

Although Furman said he was disappointed by comical speculation in the student newspaper about what happened to the Department of English, he said professors had not responded to the rumor mill.

“This fire was traumatizing for the department,” Furman said. “We’re still too busy dealing with it ourselves to be able to tell the students how to deal with it.”

Martin said Furman and Murtaugh did nothing to provoke the attack on their offices, which he called an anomaly.

“Dan and Andy are the nicest guys you’d ever meet,” Martin said. “They’re student-oriented, self-effacing and they don’t have any enemies.”

University spokesman Andrew LePlant said this weekend that he had no idea whether an arrest would be made in the arson.

“It’s just a wait and see,” he said.

Renovations to the Humanities Building, which required new walls and flooring due to water and smoke damaged, have totaled more than $30,000 and were nearly complete as of this weekend.

No date has yet been set for reopening the building.”
FORTY YEARS ON

Faithful readers know that UD is a die-hard fan of the Sing-a-Long Sound of Music, and that it was a high point of her academic year when she took two of her Novels of Don DeLillo students to a Sing-a-Long at Lisner Auditorium at GW a few months ago.

It is now the fortieth anniversary of the film, and a writer for the New York Times wrestles in today’s paper with the enigma of its massive success (“in inflation-adjusted dollars, it remains the third-biggest-grossing film of all time at the domestic box office.”).

“Christopher Plummer, Captain von Trapp himself, is said to have called it ‘The Sound of Mucus.’"

Pauline Kael was the first person to light on this felicity - she used it in her notorious review of the film. Mad Magazine made the phrase famous by titling its satire of the film “The Sound of Mucus.” UD has fond memories of long car trips with her family when she was a kid, during which lusty group renditions of The Sound of Mucus were enjoyed by all.

“[F]rom the very beginning, the public lapped it up. Ms. Kael lost her job as movie critic for McCall's after her infamous panning, and the film has since survived innumerable television reruns (Ronald Reagan once skipped reading an economic-summit briefing book to watch it), cast reunions and high-camp ‘Rocky Horror‘-style sing-alongs that began in London in 1999, with audience members dressed as brown-paper packages and tea with jam and bread.”

UD would like to differentiate as cleanly as she can between the high-camp singalong and the other stuff the writer tosses promiscuously into this paragraph -- the low pathos of Reagan lapping up the movie instead of running the economy; the lower pathos of aging von Trapp children.

‘"Whom could [The Sound of Music] offend?" [Kael] asked in her famous McCall's drubbing. "Only those of us who, despite the fact that we may respond, loathe being manipulated.”’

The genius of the Sing-a-Long Sound of Music is that it both acknowledges and ridicules that manipulation. There’s no denying the film’s powerful emotional manipulations (“Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, who estimates that anniversary-related activities surrounding ‘The Sound of Music’ have occupied more than 90 percent of his time in the last two months, [says]: ‘In retrospect, it's a very good story, with very good tunes. The score doesn't really sound like a score written by 60-year-old men. There's a kind of youthfulness and honesty to the songs, about how to learn music, but also how to break down barriers. It doesn't sound like someone's trying to phony something up.’”), but, equally, there’s also no denying its outstanding absurdity. The Sing-a-Long keeps the manipulation and the absurdity going very nicely.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

MEMORIAL DAY POST…

…in memory of Marc Bloch, intellectual, war hero.



From The Historian’s Craft:

"What is it, exactly, that constitutes the legitimacy of an intellectual endeavor?

No one today, I believe, would dare to say, with the orthodox positivists, that the value of a line of research is to be measured by its ability to promote action. Experience has surely taught us that it is impossible to decide in advance whether even the most abstract speculations may not eventually prove extraordinarily helpful in practice. It would inflict a strange mutilation upon humanity to deny it a right to appease its intellectual appetites apart from all consideration of its material welfare. Even were history obliged to be eternally indifferent to homo faber or to homo politicus, it would be sufficiently justified by its necessity for the full flowering of homo sapiens."



From D.W. Brogan:

"I remember vividly the day on which the news of Marc Bloch's death reached us in Cambridge, and how eagerly we pounced on the rumour — false, alas! — that he had escaped. When we learned beyond doubt that he was dead, we felt that a blow had been dealt to the whole world of learning."



From Bloch's Testament, March 18, 1941:

"During my entire life, I have, to the best of my ability, striven towards a total sincerity of expression and spirit. I hold the indulgence of lies - regardless of the pretexts it may adorn itself with - as the worst plague of the soul. …I would readily have my tombstone read no other motto than these simple words: Dilexit veritatem."
Scots ‘n Twats

UD has a thing for Scots. You don’t hear much about Scots, but when you do, it is often funny. Gorgeous George Galloway is more than a mere diversion for UD - she loves his voice, she loves his language, she loves his shameless shameless ways. His appearance in the Senate made her wonder whether the only man in her memory to match his oratory in that sort of setting - James Traficant - might have Scottish blood.

UD has already commended the Scots (type "Scottish" in that Search thing), and now she wants to do it again. You can speak of your Irish gift o’ the gab all you like, but for colorful language these days, it’s the Scots. Here’s the latest, as reported by another blogger:

“In a truly amazing display of anti-Americanism and bias, presenters of BBC Radio Scotland's "Off the Ball" football coverage are heard denigrating the US Senators who recently questioned George Galloway and at one point referred to them as ‘American twats.’”

The blogger is offended: “Until it is removed you can listen to this disgusting display of anti-Americanism by the BBC here.” He goes on to say that “The BBC owe all of Scotland and America an apology.”

But UD doesn’t want an apology, any more than she wants Mel Brooks to apologize to her because in Blazing Saddles Harvey Korman gets angry at Madeline Kahn and says “Shut up, you Teutonic twat.” She thinks it’s funny.
TENURE: CURSE OF THE RULING CLASS


"I just want to know," Morris Zapp asks an Italian university professor in David Lodge‘s Small World, "how you manage to reconcile living like a millionaire with being a Marxist."

Fulvia, who was smoking a cigarette in an ivory holder, waved it dismissively in the air. "A very American question, if I may say so, Morris. Of course I recognize the contradictions in our way of life, but those are the very contradictions characteristic of the last phase of bourgeois capitalism, which will eventually cause it to collapse. By renouncing our own little bit of privilege, we should not accelerate by one minute the consummation of that process, which has its own inexorable rhythm and momentum, and is determined by the pressure of mass movements, not by the puny actions of individuals. Since in terms of dialectical materialism it makes no difference to the 'istorical process whether Ernesto and I, as individuals, are rich or poor, we might as well be rich, because it is a role that we know 'ow to perform with a certain dignity. Whereas to be poor with dignity, poor as our Italian peasants are poor, is something not easily learned, something bred in the bone, through generations."




Most Americans avert their eyes from the ugly business of ostentatious privilege within academia, as they avert them from the larger ugliness of American ostentation. We don’t like it when Peter Singer tells us we’re selfish shits who should give most of our money to Oxfam. We want to drive luxurious gas guzzlers and have second homes, and we’re not at all keen on arguments about who suffers and how they suffer because of our desires.

Academics may talk of higher things, but few are any different from ordinary Americans in this species of bad faith, and the tenure system - a spectacular and unique privilege in this land of privilege - arguably makes them worse than ordinary Americans.

Many American university students, for instance, have had the experience of taking a class with a Fulvia. Their anthro professor is a firebrand feminist, a woman of the left who expresses her disdain for greedy privilege-mongering Republicans with their manicured golf courses and gated communities. She dresses down - printed gunny sacks or lived-in jeans - and wears no makeup.

Gradually, however, her student discovers that she drives a Range Rover, lives in a big house, has her children at Andover, and is married to an attorney who helps rich people hide their assets. Gradually the student comes to resent the aura of complacency this woman carries with her, a complacency born of lifetime guaranteed comfortable employment. Indeed it eventually occurs to this student that one might prefer the unhypocritical wealth and prestige acquisition of that ugly Republican to the shameless dishonesty of this professor. “The information society,” writes David Brooks, “is the only society in which false consciousness is at the top. For it is an iron rule of any university that the higher the tuition and more exclusive the admissions, the more loudly the denizens profess their solidarity with the oppressed. The more they objectively serve the right, the more they articulate the views of the left.”




When Ward Churchills and Timothy Shortells happen at universities -- there must be a word for this, along the lines of “bimbo eruption” -- dimbo eruption? dumbo eruption? -- it rivets national attention to the increasingly-difficult-to-justify tenure system. People realize all over again that it doesn‘t matter how dim or how dumb he is -- if a professor has tenure, tant pis.

Take a story like this, in an Oregon newspaper:

“ INSTRUCTORS ENJOY STRONG JOB SECURITY

Rules protect professors, even those with criminal records

Statesman Journal

May 23, 2005

Tenured professors are guaranteed a steady job as long as they keep a few things in mind:

Show up for class. Do your work. Don't violate any laws or policies.

Even when those requirements are not met, however, administrators must prove that a professor is neglectful or breaking laws or violating policies -- or in rare cases, is deemed incompetent -- in order to strip him or her of tenure. Actually firing that professor, especially a union-represented, tenured professor, can turn into an arduous and time-consuming task.

"It is extremely rare for a tenured faculty member to be terminated," said Ben Rawlins, the general counsel for the Oregon University System.

Instead, a professor usually receives a lesser punishment, and universities keep secret their investigations of misconduct, citing exemptions to Oregon's public-records laws.

Parents and prospective students have no way of finding out whether a professor in the state university system has a history of sexually harassing students. Parents and students also cannot find out whether a professor has been accused of, found guilty of or disciplined for sexual harassment.

At the seven universities in the state system, faculty disciplinary records are considered confidential.

The tenure system, which for years has been seen as the best way to preserve academic freedom, prevents school administrators from dismissing professors unless they commit a particularly egregious offense. Union representation often compounds the difficulty of firing a tenured professor.

Those conditions provide a climate that keeps professors, including those with criminal records and reputations for sexually harassing students, on campus. That can put students at risk.

Officials at Western Oregon University did not try to strip professor Gary Welander of his tenure, even after the Statesman Journal reported that the 59-year-old had been convicted of sexually abusing a child when he was a Portland-area elementary teacher.

As a professor of teacher education, Welander mentors and instructs future teachers and is permitted to visit public elementary schools where his students teach. WOU administrators disciplined Welander earlier this year after a former WOU student filed a $12.6 million lawsuit claiming that he sexually harassed her.

He currently is serving an unpaid, one-term suspension.

Confidential records

Privacy laws restrict university administrators from talking about sexual-harassment complaints against professors. Students who file claims, however, are free to talk about their complaint unless they sign a confidentiality agreement.

Former Portland State University graduate students Fang Zheng and Qiong Li agreed to keep quiet about their sexual-harassment allegations against a professor as part of a financial settlement offered by the state.

University administrators will not disclose whether any punishment was taken against the professor, Yih Chyun Jenq. Jenq also agreed not to discuss the claims against him. He still teaches at PSU.

In Welander's case, WOU officials refused to publicly release findings of their inquiry into his conduct.

Requests for other related documents were deemed "personal/personnel" and exempt of Oregon's public-records law, said Judy Vanderburg, the affirmative-action officer and director of human resources at WOU.



The punishment will cost Welander nearly half of his $65,232 salary, he said. He plans to return to his teaching position at the Monmouth campus in the fall.



Earning tenure and having union representation further strengthen a professor's job security. By then, if university administrators learn of a professor's criminal record, they likely will be unable to dismiss the professor unless another serious offense is committed.


Former WOU English professor Dean Bethea's case perhaps best represents the rarity of a tenured professor who is fired.

Bethea was convicted in 2002 for assaulting a student during an off-campus party. The university's faculty union represented Bethea for months as he fought to save his job.

In the end, the university's decision to fire him was upheld by an arbitrator in August 2003, slightly more than a year after the incident occurred.”






“Why,” asks Victor Davis Hanson, “does this strange practice linger on?” If it’s there to guarantee free and unfettered thought, he writes, why is thought in our universities monolithic?

“Why then does uniformity of belief characterize the current tenured faculty? Contemporary universities are among the most homogeneous of all American institutions, at least in attitudes toward controversial issues of race, gender, class and culture. Faculty senate votes aren't just at odds with American popular opinion; they often resemble more the 90 percent majorities that we see in illiberal Third-World stacked plebiscites.”

Tenure, further, has contributed to the maintenance of the university as a strikingly unjust hierarchy:

“Our universities are also two-tiered institutions of winners and losers. Despite the populist rhetoric of professors, exploitation occurs daily under their noses. Perennial part-time lecturers, many with the requisite Ph.D.s, often teach the same classes as their tenured counterparts. Yet they receive about 25 percent of the compensation per course and without benefits. Universities cannot remove expensive tenured "mistakes" or public embarrassments, but they can turn to cheaper and more fluid part-time teaching.”

As for job security, “the warning that, in our litigious society, professors would lack fair job protection is implausible. Renewable five-year agreements — outlining in detail teaching and scholarly expectations - would still protect free speech, without creating lifelong sinecures for those who fail their contractual obligations.” No, what tenure has wrought is “a mandarin class that says it is radically egalitarian, but in fact insists on an unusual privilege that most other Americans do not enjoy. In recompense, the university has not delivered a better-educated student, or a more intellectually diverse and independent-thinking faculty. Instead it has accomplished precisely the opposite.”

Max Boot agrees: “Churchill and his professorial colleagues are beneficiaries of the most ironclad protection for mountebanks, incompetents and sluggards ever devised. It's called tenure. To fire a tenured professor requires a legal battle that can make the Clinton impeachment seem like a small-claims dispute by comparison. Even if there is clear evidence of wrongdoing, professors are entitled to endless procedural safeguards against being fired. The University of Colorado wanted to offer Churchill a generous financial settlement to leave voluntarily, but that idea has been torpedoed by regents angry at the idea of buying off this buffoon. An epic struggle looms in which Churchill and his numerous faculty defenders will nail their colors to the mast of ‘academic freedom.’”

He also agrees with Hanson on the intellectual freedom argument:

“The rigid ideological intolerance of American universities makes a mockery of tenure's primary justification: It is supposed to allow scholars to pursue their work without outside pressure. Professors like Churchill are all too happy to take advantage of this freedom to mock off-campus pieties. But few dare to disagree with the received wisdom of the faculty club, where the political spectrum runs all the way from left to far-left.

The primary practical effect of tenure is to make universities almost ungovernable. Those ostensibly in charge — presidents and trustees — come and go; the faculty remains, serene and untouchable. This helps to explain some of the dysfunctions that mar big-time universities, such as the overemphasis on publishing unintelligible articles and the under-emphasis on teaching undergraduates. Armies of junior faculty and graduate-student drudges have been enlisted to assume the bulk of the teaching load because most of the tenured grandees think that instructing budding stockbrokers and middle managers is beneath them. And there is almost nothing that administrators can do about it because mere laziness is no grounds for removing someone with a lifetime employment guarantee.

The solution is obvious: Abolish tenure. Subject professors to the discipline of the marketplace like almost everyone else. But of course this is an idea too radical to be seriously entertained on campus. Comparing the United States with Nazi Germany, as Ward Churchill routinely does, doesn't raise an eyebrow among the intelligentsia, but suggesting that there may be something fundamentally wrong with a system that rewards a Ward Churchill is considered too outre to discuss.”

Amy Ridenour concurs:

"Rarely do I criticize another for being old-fashioned, but I find the very notion of tenure distastefully medieval.

Literally.

In the Middle Ages there were few institutions offering scholars the opportunity to ponder -- not just few alternatives to universities, but very few universities, period. If that were the case today, perhaps tenure for the purpose of protecting academic freedom would make some sense. But it isn't, and it doesn't.

A simple question: If professors at universities need tenure to feel free to think, how is it that think-tanks do so well without it?"




That’s one side of it, and UD has more than a little sympathy with these arguments. But then there’s this, from Winfield Myers:

“Recently, a friend who teaches at a major state university told me that he and some of his colleagues -- all tenured full professors, all known to be conservatives -- would have been gone ‘long ago’ were it not for the protection that tenure affords. It's the only thing keeping him in his job, he said, and despite the abuses it can bring, nothing else could protect like-minded scholars from being tossed out by the left-wing majority.

I think he's correct in this, and that conservatives who want to see tenure abolished should think through the implications of opening up academe to an even more thorough scrubbing of conservatives or libertarians than we've already seen. Granted, tenure is abused -- massively -- by both the entrenched left and the drunk, the lazy, and the incompetent. I've known dead wood who fit some, or even all, of those descriptions, and their presence on campus is a disgrace.

But until some way is devised to protect professors whose politics are deemed beyond the pale by sanctimonious left-wingers, tenure works to preserve their careers. Perhaps some means can be worked out that would allow universities to fire those who should never have been granted tenure to begin with, or who have abused the system since winning their lifetime positions. Surely, some means of holding professors accountable can be devised that would allow a sense of responsibility and obligation into campus life while protecting the minority of true radicals -- those who uphold high standards and who lean to the right. Reform is long overdue in higher education; let's just be careful not to leave embattled conservatives vulnerable.”

Thomas Reeves says the same thing:

“What about the protection of intellectual freedom? In fact, there is more to academic life than just the knee-jerk leftist reaction that is often celebrated in the media. Genuine thought goes on everywhere in academia and can be viewed in learned journals and books and heard in untold numbers of seminars and lecture halls. (The University of California System spends $30 million a year on scholarly journals.) Many of the best professors spend their lives seeking the truths of the universe, nature, and human conduct; indeed, that’s why they entered the academic profession. When the responsible scholarship of serious and qualified scholars clashes with conventional thought, it should be protected, for in that way alone do we advance. Heresy has long played an important role in history. Ask the historians of science.

Today, on campus, conservatives are heretics, often challenging the established principles of orthodox leftist ideology with scholarship and bold thinking. It is a dangerous business, for the people who talk the most about diversity and tolerance are rarely in the mood to welcome dissent. As an abundance of literature shows, and experience verifies, conservatives are often persecuted on campus. They must sometimes mask their beliefs in order to be hired. But tenure, once achieved, protects them. Eliminate that protection and watch conservative heads roll, both at the hands of administrators and fellow faculty members.

Instead of arguing for the elimination of tenure, conservatives should be defending it strenuously, for without its protection the heresy of thinking outside leftist orthodoxy would be eliminated. Tenure may need adjustments; conservatives should demand more objectivity and fairness in the process. But let us not abandon what has long served us well. Today, the tenure system enables free minds to step beyond the iron curtain of political correctness without fear of serious reprisal.

Tenure is not one of the major problems in contemporary academia. Indeed, it is a blessing for those, all across the ideological scale, who are interested in thoughtful scholarship. Intellectual freedom is among the most valuable features of Western civilization, and we threaten it at our peril.”



UD tends toward the defense of tenure for intellectual freedom reasons; but she thinks that tenure as it now plays out at a number of high-profile campuses is a symbolic disaster for a professoriate which already looks to many Americans hypocritical and over-indulged.
HARRUMPH

II

[For HARRUMPH I, scroll down.]




" Really and Truly Fed Up

To the Editor:

Maybe I was just in a bad mood, but I slammed down my coffee cup in exasperation while reading Nell Freudenberger's otherwise smart review of Stewart O'Nan's new novel, "The Good Wife" (May 8). Or maybe it wasn't me; maybe it was that Freudenberger's passing remark about how O'Nan "does a lot of the things they teach you not to do in M.F.A. programs" (for which, it should go without saying, she greatly admires him) was the proverbial itty-bitty piece of perfectly harmless straw, and this camel's back had finally had it.

Just to set the record straight, for all the readers of the Book Review who have not attended an M.F.A. program in creative writing — who are not, in fact, writers themselves but passionate readers (but who have heard this sort of nonsense so often they found themselves nodding thoughtfully: Yes! That's right! A good writer would never do what he's told to do by — shudder — an M.F.A. program!); just to let the young writers who read the Book Review (and who might themselves be thinking about attending an M.F.A. program someday) know: no M.F.A. program worth its salt would ever "teach" a writer not to use the second person, not to write in present tense, not to tell a story sequentially.

I don't know where Freudenberger got her M.F.A. (and I'm betting she has one; most writers do these days, for better or for worse — if for no other reason than that these programs provide a community of writers and other artists, and many of them give their students two or three years of full financial support while letting them write nearly full time and giving them the opportunity to take classes, free, in any subject that happens to interest them anywhere in the university, thus going the old move-to- Paris routine one, or two, better), but I can say with absolute certainty that neither I nor any of my colleagues at Ohio State University, all of whom are themselves not only fine writers but thoughtful, dedicated teachers, has ever told a student "not to do" anything. And to tell you the truth, although it was 20 years ago that I was an M.F.A. student myself at Iowa, I don't remember ever being told not to do, or not to try, anything there, either.

I'd call up all my friends who teach at other programs right now and ask them if they have ever told a student writer such a thing — or if they were ever told such a thing when they were students — but I'm too busy today reading my students' M.F.A. theses (which in most cases will become their first books), not one of which has anything in common with any other, except that they were all printed out in 12-point type on white paper.

MICHELLE HERMAN
Columbus, Ohio "

Saturday, May 28, 2005

David Brooks,
in tomorrow's
New York Times




" Karl's New Manifesto

I was in the library reading room when suddenly a strange specter of a man appeared above me. He was a ragged fellow with a bushy beard, dressed in the clothes of another century. He clutched news clippings on class in America, and atop the pile was a manifesto in his own hand. He was gone in an instant, but Karl's manifesto on modern America remained. This is what it said:

The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggle. Freeman and slave, lord and serf, capitalist and proletariat, in a word oppressor and oppressed, stand in opposition to each other and carry on a constant fight. In the information age, in which knowledge is power and money, the class struggle is fought between the educated elite and the undereducated masses.

The information age elite exercises artful dominion of the means of production, the education system. The median family income of a Harvard student is $150,000. According to the Educational Testing Service, only 3 percent of freshmen at the top 146 colleges come from the poorest quarter of the population. The educated class ostentatiously offers financial aid to poor students who attend these colleges and then rigs the admission criteria to ensure that only a small, co-optable portion of them can get in.

The educated class reaps the benefits of the modern economy - seizing for itself most of the income gains of the past decades - and then ruthlessly exploits its position to ensure the continued dominance of its class.

The educated class has torn away from the family its sentimental veil and reduced it to a mere factory for the production of little meritocrats. Members of the educated elites are more and more likely to marry each other, which the experts call assortative mating, but which is really a ceaseless effort to refortify class solidarity and magnify social isolation. Children are turned into workaholic knowledge workers - trained, tutored, tested and prepped to strengthen class dominance.

The educated elites are the first elites in all of history to work longer hours per year than the exploited masses, so voracious is their greed for second homes. They congregate in exclusive communities walled in by the invisible fence of real estate prices, then congratulate themselves for sending their children to public schools. They parade their enlightened racial attitudes by supporting immigration policies that guarantee inexpensive lawn care. They send their children off to Penn, Wisconsin and Berkeley, bastions of privilege for the children of the professional class, where they are given the social and other skills to extend class hegemony.

The information society is the only society in which false consciousness is at the top. For it is an iron rule of any university that the higher the tuition and more exclusive the admissions, the more loudly the denizens profess their solidarity with the oppressed. The more they objectively serve the right, the more they articulate the views of the left.

Periodically members of this oppressor class hold mock elections. The Yale-educated scion of the Bush family may face the Yale-educated scion of the Winthrop family. They divide into Republicans and Democrats and argue over everything except the source of their power: the intellectual stratification of society achieved through the means of education.

More than the Roman emperors, more than the industrial robber barons, the malefactors of the educated class seek not only to dominate the working class, but to decimate it. For 30 years they have presided over failing schools without fundamentally transforming them. They have imposed a public morality that affords maximum sexual opportunity for themselves and guarantees maximum domestic chaos for those lower down.

In 1960 there were not big structural differences between rich and poor families. In 1960, three-quarters of poor families were headed by married couples. Now only a third are. While the rates of single parenting have barely changed for the educated elite, family structures have disintegrated for the oppressed masses.

Poor children are less likely to live with both biological parents, hence, less likely to graduate from high school, get a job and be in a position to challenge the hegemony of the privileged class. Family inequality produces income inequality from generation to generation.

Undereducated workers of the world, unite! Let the ruling educated class tremble! You have nothing to lose but your chains. You have a world to win!


I don't agree with everything in Karl's manifesto, because I don't believe in incessant class struggle, but you have to admit, he makes some good points."
OUT OF THE MOUTHS OF BLOGS

[A Regular University Diaries Feature In Which UD Recognizes Pithily Stated Truths That Appear On Blogs.]


From a reader’s comment at the website The Valve :


"[If I criticize the work of a queer theorist], all of the sudden I’m manifesting symptoms of latent homophobia ….. This isn’t the time or the place to attack the raging stupidities of academic psychoanalysis and the theories built upon it, but if ever such a time and place arises...my feelings about theories built on the false foundation of psychoanalytic thought will be evidence of my muddle-headed politics.

It bothers me to no end that I can’t engage in a serious academic debate about the merits of someone’s theories without my criticisms becoming symptoms of whatever I’m criticizing. If it’s post-colonialist thought, I’ve imperialistic tendencies; if it’s queer theory, I’m a latent homophobe...when, in fact, I’m only someone who thinks that theories with psychoanalytic premises are fundamentally, fatally flawed."

Thursday, May 26, 2005

You want to be careful about
throwing around words like
Orwellian and totalitarian
...


...but in this case, Professor Michael Kellman of the University of Oregon has it right when he calls the just-released draft of proposed diversity mandates for his school "sort of an Orwellian, totalitarian plan."

Under the plan, all faculty up for promotion, for instance, would have to be "evaluated on their 'cultural competency' - the ability to successfully work with people from all cultural backgrounds."



It's fun to think about what this might mean in practice. UD envisions Peer Theater Workshops in which individual faculty members up for tenure would be placed onstage - the audience would be made up of cultural competency evaluators - and confronted with a variety of scenarios involving their being challenged by someone very different from themselves.

Like, for instance, say we're talking about UD. UD is a woman. A white, Jewish, urban, middle-aged woman. What would happen if all of a sudden she was confronted by an Asian, non-Jewish, younger male? How would she react? How would she interact with him? What strategies of cultural competency would she draw upon? To what extent could she overcome her cultural determination in terms of race, class, gender, and age?




Just thinking about it makes me nervous! But also kind of excited! It'd be incredibly validating to demonstrate to a roomful of cultural competency evaluators (and to myself!) that I truly can interact successfully with people who aren't exactly like me....


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

Update: Julia Silverman must be enjoying this. She's the AP writer whose article about mandatory cultural competency tests for faculty at the University of Oregon has, within hours of its appearance, been picked up by 44 major news outlets. The number will grow.

A fine thing it is, too, and not merely for Silverman's career. "You gotta have a swine to show you where the truffles are," says George in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. In a kind of reversal of "swine" and "truffles," you gotta have a press, bloggers, and a self-respecting faculty to show you where the Orwellians are. In this particular case, the Orwellians have been sniffed out very quickly. UD is impressed.

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

Update II: Shit! Things really are happening quickly. UD has already been up in front of her Cultural Diversity Tribunal. Despite strong efforts to convince them otherwise (here she is in action), UD has been deemed "too cosmopolitan" to interact competently with people from non-urban backgrounds. Here she is (UD's sitting right front, taking notes during a cultural competency training session) at the farm she's been assigned to for the summer, where she will "interact with the common people in an effort to enhance her cultural competence before the fall semester."
SHORTELL SPELLING WATCH


Professor Timothy Shortell's spelling is improving. He has so far corrected "turpitude" on his university webpage. This leaves the word "mandatory" on his instructions to the students in his most recent course:


"Wednesday is a review session. Attendance is not manditory. There will be no participation points or quiz. You should attend only if you are prepared to participate in the review. Bring your text, online materials and notes."



MandAtory, not mandItory.


Once we've cleared up spelling problems, we'll move on to writing style. Stay posted!

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

CURIOUSER AND CURIOUSER…

…grows the short tale of Professor Timothy Shortell. His tale will be short because the president of Brooklyn College, where Shortell has been voted chair of the sociology department, has gotten wind of the fact that the man’s a bigot, and the university has started an investigation. To the extent that tenured faculty can be neutralized, Shortell will shortly be neutralized. We must sport with him while we may.

This latest sniffing out of an extremist at a respectable American university (see also - via the Search button up there - Jacques Pluss, Nicholas De Genova, Ward Churchill, Grover Furr) adds one more name to the Stalin column (Hitler has only one entry so far, Jacques Pluss.)




Shortell is not a very good writing model for his students. His prose reads like an English translation of Enver Hoxha (“The foot soldiers are spewing lies… Just as any fascist state, the megalomania of the [American] ruling elite is paid for in working class blood.”). He cannot spell. We have already seen (scroll down) his struggles with the word “turpitude.” On his syllabi he warns students that certain assignments are “manditory.”

But what people are talking about is Shortell’s redhot hatred of religion. Anyone with the merest smidgeon of religiosity is a “moral retard.”

Yet this aspect of Shortell is also curious. He earned his Ph.D. at Boston College, a fervently Jesuit institution which describes itself thus:

“The Jesuit Community at Boston College is committed to maintaining and strengthening the Jesuit, Catholic mission of the University, especially its commitment to integrating intellectual, personal, ethical, and religious formation; and to uniting high academic achievement with service to others. Jesuits are active in all aspects of University life.”

What the hell was this hellion doing at Boston College? Was he cynical enough to have accepted fellowships from the retards? Would a man with even a pinch of principle take an offer of admission, much less scholarship money, from this deeply tainted source?

The only way UD can make sense of this execrator of religion having dallied with Jesuits for four years and gotten a Ph.D. off them is to presume that Shortell began his studies at Boston College as Father Timothy Shortell, S.J., and that something -- I won’t even begin to suggest what -- must have happened while he was there…

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

FROM THE BELLY
OF THE BEAST...



…comes some tentative questioning of the management-guru wisdom that now dominates so much of the academy. A dean of education from an Australian University (I found her essay via Pedablogue) dares to wonder whether motivational speakers, Powerpoint powwows, and professional development workshops might not be ideally suited to professors.

Erica McWilliam asks if “the sort of knowledge that is coming to count as worthwhile for all professionals, including academics,” is in fact as appropriate for medieval historians as it is for certified public accountants.

The corporate model of university education would regard a professor’s “entire self,” McWilliam writes, as something that “must be completely made over as an enterprising individual.”

The “enterprising individual” model rests on a psychological foundation.

“The discipline of psychology is [an] important knowledge component of the professional development curriculum. This is an effect of the hegemonic status of psychology in defining and explaining everything about human beings and their behavior -- organizations, personal, relational, cognitive, and developmental. … [T]he sort of knowledge which counts as developmental is generalisable economic, technological, and management knowledge, underpinned as it often is by psychological models of human behaviour and organizational life.”




Before UD would listen, much less grant a grain of assent, to the flagrante stupido that is psychology, she would disembowel herself.

Which can be arranged. “Those academics yet to be ‘converted’ to Powerpoint use for lecture presentation are unlikely to hail from Information Technology [i.e., they‘ll be English professors like UD]. However this conversion experience is only a matter of time, given the speed with which Voluntary Early Retirements are being requested and approved in Australian universities. Exit Anthony Giddens, enter Bill Gates. …The new broom of enterprise is designed to sweep away the cobwebs of ivory-towerism, including any special pleading that higher education should have special (non-market) status in the cultural order of things. …Enterprising activity is very much at the heart of recent calls for the transformation of Australian universities along corporate lines. … We need to accept firstly that universities ‘are not intrinsically different from other organizations.’”






This corporate model, with its close analogues in the United States, means the end of classroom teaching (the model assumes “that academics are deficient as teachers”) and its replacement by “flexible delivery” technology -- “online teaching, the use of Powerpoint, email and CD-Roms, multi-media and computer-assisted learning, and so on.”

“The difficulty here,” McWilliam continues, “is not that any one of those techniques is not worth knowing. It is rather that ‘flexible delivery’ threatens to collapse the complexity of pedagogical process into a ‘technology will deliver’ quick fix…”

McWilliam describes what the triumph of corporatism is doing to intellectual life. It is bringing to the university “mind-numbing simplicity,” “irony deficiency,” and ultimately the death of “radical doubt itself.”

Or as Terry Eagleton puts it in a review of a book by Frank Furedi:

"With the decline of the critical intellectual, the thinker gives way to the expert, politics yields to technocracy, and culture and education lapse into forms of social therapy. The promotion of ideas plays second fiddle to the provision of services. Art and culture become substitute forms of cohesion, participation and self-esteem in a deeply divided society. Culture is deployed to make us feel good about ourselves, rather than to tackle the causes of those divisions, implying that social exclusion is simply a psychological affair. That to feel bad about ourselves is the first step towards transforming our situation is thus neatly sidestepped."





The happy shiny corporate world, in other words, really is different from the intellectual world. UD will now offer a personal example along these lines.

UD’s husband, you recall, just won a local election. He will soon attend the annual Maryland Municipal League convention in Ocean City, Maryland (UD‘s going too! She‘ll be blogging from there!), where he will attend no doubt useful seminars on governance.

The convention kicks off, though, with a motivational speaker who will gather all the attendees in a big room and share with them the following “compelling message.”

They should “enjoy the true joy of life: the trip!”

Steve Gilliland has become one of the most sought-after speakers and trainers in America. His colorful background includes Major League Baseball, broadcasting, and eleven years of corporate management on three different levels. As founder and CEO of Performance Plus Professional Development, Inc., Steve owes his personal and professional success to using past challenges as opportunities. He is a speaker that doesn’t just challenge people to change; he motivates them to do it. In a style typically filled with wisdom, wit, and passion, Steve will provide attendees with a wealth of practical insights on what it takes to enjoy the true joy of life: the trip! Loaded with hope, direction, encouragement, and specific procedures, this powerful keynote address will show that true success is not a thing you acquire or achieve; rather, it is a journey you take your whole life long.”





To UD, this is as nakedly obvious as it can possibly be an example of flagrante stupido. If she had to sit in a room with it she would disembowel herself. She worked hard at school and listened carefully to people like Paul Ricoeur so that she would never ever have to hear these things. If people entered UD’s office at her university and announced it was time to join everybody down the hall where hope, direction, encouragement, and specific procedures were being offloaded, she would react very badly.

Maybe UD’s the only professor in America like this. Maybe she’ll be swept away in the tide of corporate history.

That's fine. Death before surrender.
RICOEUR RECURRENT

In a comment, a reader asked UD what Paul Ricoeur was like. She answered. The reader suggested that she post her answer to her main page. Here it is:


He was modest, disheveled, trim, kind. Rather lost behind those archaic-looking academic European spectacles. Shy. Radiating INTENSE well-meaningness. Lost behind an intensely thick French accent which, coupled with high-level linguistic theory, had me pretty much lost. (It didn't help that his handwriting when he went to the blackboard was illegible to me.) Unfailingly intellectually serious. No thigh-slapping, I can tell you that. The funniest thing he said was a convoluted story he told about being in Greece and seeing all these trucks that had METAPHOR written on them (this was a seminar on metaphor). How could this be? Then he figured it out! They were moving vans -- metaphor is Greek for among other things, to carry! He laughed with wild abandon at this. (If I'm remembering this wrong, and if this is completely factually inaccurate, I apologize.) A complete, unself-conscious intellectual, in other words. A model of philosophical and moral rigor.


-------------------------------------------
Seven minutes later...

Oh goodie.

"Upon disembarking into the bustle of Piraeus," my friend who lacks a good clutch wrote after a trip to Greece, "we puzzled our way through sights and sounds of a new language and alphabet. Among the first words I sounded out from the Greek alphabet was METAPHOR, painted on various trucks and vans hurtling about the seaport. I chose to believe that these were moving trucks, transforming lives as they transported chattel. Carrying change! Bearing transformation! It was a moment of memorable resonance; I had discovered a literal metaphor."
THAT EXPLAINS IT.

I was standing in my soggy ‘thesda garden yesterday, early evening, when I heard far too many military jets overhead. The sky was cloudy, so I couldn’t make any of them out when I looked up, but, intrigued by the noise, I kept scanning the sky.

I’m not especially aware of jet noise around me, but this was unusual. Lots of swiftly streaking military aircraft.

Awake much too early, I just checked the online news (while simultaneously listening to a fascinating BBC interview with Yoko Ono), and there’s this:


WASHINGTON -- Federal air defense officials say a Cessna plane violated airspace around Washington Monday evening.

Two F-16s were deployed to the area to intercept the plane, which was diverted to Montgomery County, Md., where the pilot was being interviewed by local authorities.

The pilot complied with the fighter jets.

The plane was headed from Knoxville, Tenn., to Gaithersburg, Md.

This was the first time fighter jets were scrambled since the new Visual Warning System was deployed. The system was not used Monday due to the weather
.’

Monday, May 23, 2005

Professors who can't spell
‘turpitude' should be careful
throwing around words like 'retard.'



Timothy Shortell, incoming chair, Brooklyn College Sociology Department, on religion:

“T]hose who are religious are incapable of moral action, just as children are. To be moral requires that one accept full responsibility for one's self. Morality is based on scientific rationality. In order to act in the world as an adult, one must be able to recognize that the world is structured and the situatedness of all individual action. The choices that present themselves in the course of day-to-day living are influenced by social forces (which is why we need theory). Morality is a basis for making choices, in the context of a particular political economy.

Faith, like superstition, prevents moral action. Those who fail to understand how the world works—who, in place of an understanding of the interaction between self and milieu, see only the saved and the damned, demons and angels, miracles and curses—will be incapable of informed choice. They will be unable to take responsibility for their actions because they lack intellectual and emotional maturity.

On a personal level, religiosity is merely annoying — like bad taste. This immaturity represents a significant social problem, however, because religious adherents fail to recognize their limitations. So, in the name of their faith, these moral retards are running around pointing fingers and doing real harm to others.”



From Timothy Shortell’s website:

“The cover-up of war crimes continues and no one is paying any attention. Check out Frank Rich's excellent coverage of the non-coverage. Corruption and moral terpitude will be overflowing in DC for the inauguration of our war-criminal-in-chief. The magnitude of the scandal is ignored. No wonder Americans are hated by so many people around the world.”
FIRST SIMS 2 UNIVERSITY,
AND NOW TRUMP U!




UD has already registered and taken the Trump Success test.

Here are her test results.


While she has a respectable amount of optimism and self-confidence, UD falls down badly on wealth motivation.



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

Postscript:
Good thing they didn’t ask for favorite poem!


MONEY

Philip Larkin



Quarterly, is it, money reproaches me:
‘Why do you let me lie here wastefully?
I am all you never had of goods and sex.
You could get them still by writing a few cheques.’

So I look at others, what they do with theirs:
They certainly don’t keep it upstairs.
By now they’ve a second house and car and wife:
Clearly money has something to do with life

- In fact, they’ve a lot in common, if you enquire:
You can’t put off being young until you retire,
And however you bank your screw, the money you save
Won’t in the end buy you more than a shave.

I listen to money singing. It’s like looking down
From long french windows at a provincial town,
The slums, the canal, the churches ornate and mad
In the evening sun. It is intensely sad.

***********************************************************
Another postscript:

Surprisingly cool response to Trump University from Lucianne.com’s people…
LEFT BEHIND


Some interesting language from an article by Keith Thompson in Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle about his decision to “leave the left” --

A turning point came at a dinner party on the day Ronald Reagan famously described the Soviet Union as the pre-eminent source of evil in the modern world. The general tenor of the evening was that Reagan's use of the word ‘evil’ had moved the world closer to annihilation. There was a palpable sense that we might not make it to dessert.

When I casually offered that the surviving relatives of the more than 20 million people murdered on orders of Joseph Stalin might not find ‘evil’ too strong a word, the room took on a collective bemused smile of the sort you might expect if someone had casually mentioned taking up child molestation for sport.

My progressive companions had a point. It was rude to bring a word like ‘gulag’ to the dinner table.

[The American left is] a movement increasingly ensnared in resentful questing for group-specific rights and the subordination of citizenship to group identity. There's a word for this: pathetic.

In the name of ‘diversity,’ the University of Arizona has forbidden discrimination based on ‘individual style.’ The University of Connecticut has banned ‘inappropriately directed laughter.’ Brown University, sensing unacceptable gray areas, warns that harassment ‘may be intentional or unintentional and still constitute harassment.’ (Yes, we're talking 'subconscious harassment’ here. We're watching your thoughts ...)."





And, for UD’s French readers, Paul Ricoeur’s encounter with the French left in the ’seventies, recalled by Le Monde in his obituary:

" …Ricoeur, qui a déjà été choqué par Mai 68, vit assez mal les événements qui marquent les premiers mois de 1970 sur le campus de Nanterre, alors livré aux agissements de toutes sortes de factions violentes. Victime d'attaques injustes et même d'agressions physiques, déçu par l'incompréhension du gouvernement aussi bien que par l'impossibilité de moderniser les structures de l'enseignement supérieur français, il finit par démissionner de son poste de doyen (1970). Il s'exile alors pour trois ans à l'Université catholique de Louvain, avant de regagner Nanterre où il enseigne à nouveau jusqu'à sa retraite (1981). "

Eager to escape being beaten up on in France, Paul Ricoeur also decided to accept an invitation to teach each winter semester at the University of Chicago. As a result, UD - though in over her head in the class - had a once in a lifetime intellectual experience as a participant in Ricoeur’s seminar on metaphor.
IN OTHER GRADUATION
CEREMONY NEWS…



…it was tough going there for awhile, but Rudolph Giuliani managed to climb the speaker’s platform at Middlebury College yesterday and give a commencement speech to the graduating seniors. Quotation-mark mad Albert “Ben” Gore***, a graduating senior, came at Giuliani hard last March in a campus newspaper opinion piece denouncing the “white elites of the Northeast,” the “people that call the shots here, the Trustees,” the “white billionaire New Yorkers” who forced upon students their choice of “an authoritarian, a racist and shill for a president that many, if not most, students here find morally reprehensible.” He called for Giuliani to be disinvited.

The Middlebury College student newspaper editors accompanied Gore’s comment that “Before Sept. 11 Rudolph Giuliani was a controversial politician, and to many outside the elite class, he was coming to be considered a fascist” with a photograph showing Giuliani as Hitler.

Although this choice of photo was editorially appropriate given the views expressed in the piece, the newspaper editor came to regret having chosen it, and resigned. Then the committee which had decided upon Giuliani noted that Giuliani’s name was submitted not by a billionaire junta but “by members of this year’s graduating class. …It was students who submitted his name to the committee.” And a Middlebury student named Andrew Carnabuci, a Democrat, pointed out that “Giuliani’s homeless policy,” singled out by Gore as a cornerstone of his tyranny, “”implemented the suggestions of a 1990 report by Democrat Andrew Cuomo, who at that point was working for a homeless advocacy group.”

But so what? Gore points out that much of the drop in crime for which Giuliani is credited was really about “the overall drop in the use of crack cocaine during the 1990’s.”

Ah, but why did that happen? Wasn’t it in part because of certain high-profile drug arrests in the late ‘eighties, like that of cocaine dealer John Zaccaro, Jr., son of Geraldine Ferraro and Middlebury College student? As reported by the popular comedy show Weekend Update with Dennis Miller:

Geraldine Ferraro's son, John Zacarro, Jr., was busted for cocaine possession yesterday at Vermont's Middlebury College. [scattered applause - Dennis looks up in surprise and ad libs:] I think the Board of Regents is here. ... School psychiatrists said young John had a deep-seated need to compete with his father, John Zacarro, Sr. who ... last year pleaded guilty to real estate fraud. ... [scattered applause] Geraldine Ferraro, reached for a comment, said, "I can't explain any of this but, you know, I'm sure glad I kept my own last name." …’


(And speaking of white elites, why isn’t Gore protesting the injustice whereby, in the words of another inmate, “John Zaccaro, Jr., the son of 1984 Democratic vice-presidential candidate Geraldine Ferraro, received four months in jail for selling $25 worth of cocaine to an undercover agent in 1986. For a conviction for selling the same dollar amount of drugs, I got 72 times Zaccaro's sentence--24 years.”? The struggle against injustice begins at home.)




When it came to it, the “uproar” and “firestorm” the local and national media had hoped for failed to ignite. When Giuliani finished his speech, people rose and applauded. A dozen students put red cloths around their mouths to indicate that fascists had muzzled them. A woman handed out leaflets explaining how Giuliani directed that the planes fly into the towers.






*** Gore puts his own name in quotation marks and scatters quotation marks about with abandon in his writing. At times they are meant to be sarcastic, as in his reference to Giuliani’s achievements, and to a newspaper article by someone whose views he doesn’t like as an article. At other times they seem to mark an epistemological confusion, as when he says that Bush “has done more violence to the concepts of truth and reality than any other person in recent memory.” If those concepts have actuality for Gore, why does he put them in quotation marks? UD presumes he has learned to do it from his humanities professors. But if, as the quotation marks mean to suggest, these words refer to empty concepts, then why does the president’s or anyone else’s violence against them matter?
HARRUMPH

' Calvin College, a small evangelical school in the strategic Republican stronghold of Grand Rapids, Mich., seemed a perfect stop on Saturday for the president's message. Or so thought Karl Rove, the White House political chief, who two months ago effectively bumped Calvin's scheduled commencement speaker when he asked that Mr. Bush be invited instead.

…[T]he bumped commencement speaker, Nicholas Wolterstorff, a Democrat, a former Calvin academic and a recently retired philosophy of religion professor at Yale […] said in an interview last week, "Here's a Yale professor being bumped by a Yale graduate with a very average college record." He said he planned to stay home and garden in Grand Rapids instead of attending the president's speech.
'

Sunday, May 22, 2005

INCONTINENCE

UD - to paraphrase Oscar Wilde's Algernon on the subject of his relatives - loves hearing English departments abused. She is in fact very happy in her own particular English department at her own university, but she loves hearing English departments in general abused, for the field of literary studies is ridiculous at the moment, and has indeed been ridiculous for some time.

Today’s New York Times book section contains an attractive example of English department abuse, by Christopher Hitchens, who, sniffing the most recent turgid bladder from the theory people (a book of almost one thousand pages whose $80.00 price will be borne by penniless graduate students forced to read it by their professors), singles out an entry in it titled “On the Abolition of the English Department” and writes

‘Like the other contributors to this shabby volume, [the author of this essay] ought to be more careful of what he endorses. The prospect of such an abolition, at least in the United States, becomes more appetizing by the minute.’


UD thinks it’s important for people who care about these things to be part of the reconstruction of serious literary studies, before what’s left of English departments has been so thoroughly pissed upon as to be worthless. For details, read this blog at your leisure.
PAUL RICOEUR

in whose course on metaphor at the University of Chicago UD was in way over her head, has died, at the age of 92.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME


Washington was windy and wet all day on Friday. UD was, as ever, inappropriately dressed. Her sandals squeaked.

But she had proper regalia for the degree-granting ceremony she attended. (Not that her regalia was her own. She has never gotten around to ordering her University of Chicago duds. Last year she wore a University of Maryland gown that her husband scared up; this year, a colleague who graduated from the University of Toronto lent her a nice red and white number.)

She hooded one of her Ph.D. students and watched onstage with the rest of the faculty as many other students were hooded, including a Korean man who was one of four from the same family graduating that day:



FATHER, THREE CHILDREN,
EARN UNIVERSITY DEGREES
ON SAME DAY


BY MICHAEL BARNETT
Knight Ridder Newspapers

WASHINGTON - (KRT) - Simon Lee, who believes strongly in education and family, merged those values grandly Friday when he and his three eldest children all graduated from George Washington University.

Lee, the founder and chief executive officer of the $170 million Internet technology provider STG Inc., and his two oldest children, Julie and Philip, received master of science degrees from GWU's engineering school. His middle daughter, Michelle, earned a bachelor's degree in business administration.

The celebrations mark the first time in the Washington school's 181-year history that four immediate family members earned degrees in the same year, university officials said. It's unclear how many other families nationwide may have pulled off the same feat.

Simon Lee, 56, of Falls Church, Va., said the family's achievement fulfilled a goal that most Korean parents had.

"Korean parents try to plant their dreams through their children because they were not able to succeed at them," said Lee, the son of South Korean farmers who died before he was 15.

He earned an undergraduate degree in South Korea and took graduate classes at GWU in 1980 but had to drop out to support his young family.

"I want my children to finish their curriculum at least up to a master's degree."

He began his Fairfax, Va.-based company in 1986 with one employee. It's now a major IT provider to the federal government.

Two years ago, he returned to school and asked Julie - who had been taking business classes at GWU - and Philip Lee to join him in pursuing engineering master's degrees.

"I don't need any more education to get promoted, and I don't need any education to get paid better," said Simon Lee, whose first job when he came to the United States in 1979 was keeping the books at a seafood restaurant in northern Virginia. "Why did I come back to school? Learning never ends."

Lee said he also wanted to spend time with a younger generation, jokingly drawing comparisons between himself and Rodney Dangerfield's character in the 1986 movie "Back to School," a comedy about a middle-aged man who joins his son at college.

Speaking in an engineering school dean's suite that was named for his wife, Anna, and him after they made a contribution to the university, Lee said the family's combined GWU bills approached $500,000.

Michelle Lee started her undergraduate career at Boston's Northeastern University, but transferred after her sophomore year partly because she wanted to be with her family.

"It's just kind of funny how it worked out with the rest of my family," the 22-year-old said. '



The most gratifying end of year event for UD was receiving three thank you postcards from students in her Irish Literature class. She was proudest of the one that praised her “snide remarks.”

And speaking of Irish -- We’re less than a month away from Bloomsday! Which, UD recently discovered, was the brainstorm of stormy Flann O’Brien, whose novel At Swim-Two-Birds UD placed on the Irish syllabus even though she doesn’t like it. (His humor’s too desperate for her taste.)

As faithful readers know, Bloomsday is a big deal for UD, very much worth getting excited about. Here are some preliminary Bloomsday instructions:

1.) Do not confuse the annual worldwide celebration of James Joyce on June 16 with the race in Spokane Washington that also calls itself Bloomsday.

2.) Ignore those who like John Banville call for the end of “commercialized,” “kitschy” Bloomsday. To quote O’Brien, “fuck the begrudgers.”

Thursday, May 19, 2005

So far, 48 newspapers around the country have
picked up on this seemingly very local story…





CITY PLAN WOULD CURB
GARAGE DOOR OPENING


The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 18, 2005; 7:32 AM


GERMANTOWN, Tenn. --

Some residents of this upscale Memphis suburb say ordinances have gone too far. The final straw may have been rules proposed about when garage doors can be opened.

Among other directives, the city codes would tell homeowners to open their garage doors only when entering or exiting or for "short periods of time" for cleaning and maintenance.

"I'm in favor of reasonable codes, but I think some of these things go to extremes," said resident Robert Scallions.

Because of such criticism, officials in this town known for a sharp eye for community decorum have agreed to give the proposals another look before a final vote.

Jean Wallace said she fears town regulators could come down on her because the street address on her house is spelled out in words. The rules would call for numbers only, from 4 to 6 inches tall.

"That seems very strange, especially when the house is 30 years old," Wallace said. "The builders put them up, and they used to always be like that."





The all-too-aptly named Germantown has a lot more ordinances where these came from. You can’t park your car in your driveway, for instance. Has to be kept behind those doors…. Will selectmen with stopwatches station themselves outside random driveways, timing owners as they whisk their cars in and slam the doors?

No. Being outside and walking around is unlikely to be permitted under the Germantown ordinances.
MORE ON STUDENT EVALUATIONS


A professor at SMU comments on the website Inside Higher Ed about the damage candid academic bloggers like the Phantom Prof can do to American university professors:


“When students read these blogs and the connections between that subject matter and their professors becomes clear, I would imagine a professor could charge that the blogger has caused damage to their reputation (we do live and die by student evaluations, after all).”
Gevalt.



'May 17, 2005

575 Teachers of the Year

The headline proves the case. This article sums up what is wrong with public education, why teachers will continue to be the lowest-scoring students on SAT tests, and why science and math majors and other high-quality teaching prospects will continue to avoid/flee the teaching profession:

At Lucia Mar, 575 Teachers of the Year

TEACHERS' UNION DECIDES
NOT TO PICK A SINGLE WINNER
THIS YEAR TO PROTEST SCHWARZENEGGER'S
MERIT PAY PROPOSAL

The Teacher of the Year for the Lucia Mar Unified School District cannot be named within the space of this story.

"It's everyone," said Branden Leach, president of the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association.

All 575 instructors in San Luis Obispo County's largest school district are winners, he said. "We all help children in our own special way."


via Joanne Jacobs
BLOGOSCOPY


A Lawyer Outs Himself to Sue for Privacy” the Times of London story is captioned. The headline made UD scratch her head.

A guy she never heard of before - a fellow ‘thesdan! - has given UD and the world his name and his most humiliating sexual proclivities in a bid to sue a blogger for invasion of his privacy.




This is about that silly bitch, Washingtonienne, a twentyish Hill staffer who kept a blog for a week or two which tabulated the ways and means of six of her sex partners, including this guy, the guy who’s suing.

A reporter asks a legal expert about the guy‘s chances:

“Charles Abernathy, a law professor at Georgetown University, Washington, and an expert on privacy issues, said: ‘The traditional American position here could not be clearer. If you know something first-person because you have done it with them, you have a tort-free right to tell it.’ The case was ‘an extreme long shot.’”

There’s a sad disparity in the outcome of this quickie between the guy (his name is everywhere, but UD doesn’t see why she shouldn’t, perversely, continue to protect his privacy) and Washingtonienne. She is currently rich and famous, while he is suing her for the paltry sum of $75,000 and, having given her recently released book yet more publicity, he will certainly lose the case.

You can read everything Washingtonienne said about the guy in his own legal papers, reproduced at Smoking Gun.





Marjorie Williams wrote this about Washington:

The mixture of that brittle, conservative set of social conventions and all the messy human stuff that goes on inside and among the people who try to climb to the top of the heap makes for such rich material. A lot of my stories (chiefly, my work is writing long, intensive profiles of people in government and politics) are really about what Washington admires, and why, and what it says about the political culture. … I love working this seam between the accepted narrative, usually hammered out between the Washington press corps and its sources, and the grubby human nature stuff that is nearly always as plain as the nose on your face.

The messy human stuff, grubby human nature, always seems to astonish and scandalize us when it emerges, even though, as Williams notes, it’s as plain as the nose on your face. She goes on to compare life here to “a Jane Austen novel,” but it’s like any good novel -- an endlessly interesting dance between civilized malcontents and the libido.




Which reminds UD to mention that in the wake of Andrea Dworkin’s much-discussed death, her intellectual partner Catherine MacKinnon has made something of a comeback. She gave a talk at Stanford recently, during which she compared what pornography does to women to September 11 (Dworkin used the holocaust the same way). The student editor of the Webster University newspaper correctly calls the analogy “worthless. … All she wanted to do was vilify men.”

Dworkin and MacKinnon's atrocity analogies are about their own sense of being caught up in an enormous sex war, and their effort to rally the troops. In a review of MacKinnon’s most recent book, Thomas Nagel nails it:

[MacKinnon’s] attitude to pornography and its consumers is massively moralistic. That men enjoy seeing women in these scenarios is itself what she hates. The feeble psychological experiments she cites, which correlate the viewing of pornography with changes in the answers to questionnaires about attitudes to rape,and the anecdotes about pornography being used as a guide in sexual assaults, are merely efforts to lend the weight of interpersonal harm to an essentially moral revulsion toward a form of male sexual pleasure by which she feels violated.

I do not have, as she has from her legal work, first-hand knowledge of the depths of female oppression, but I have every reason to accept her grim assurance that the lives of many women are filled from childhood with degradation, rape, violence and coercion. I share MacKinnon’s belief that many men fear and despise women. But the idea that pornography bears a significant causal responsibility for all this is remarkably unimaginative and is not supported, so far as I know, by evidence that sexual violence increases when pornography becomes more available in a society. Some of the most misogynistic and abusive cultures are those with the strictest censorship, and some of the least misogynistic, such as Sweden, were the first to lift restrictions.

MacKinnon is right to insist that the unequal status of women pervades sexuality and is not limited to the public sphere. But this causes her to undervalue sexual pleasure, which we all have to take where we can find it. The huge pornography industry serves this end by feeding people’s fantasies. Since she finds most male fantasies revolting and degrading to women, and most consumers of pornography are men, this doesn’t matter to her. In fact she wants to stop it, and therefore fixes on the illusion that she can fight inequality by controlling men’s fantasy life.

What about female sexual pleasure? MacKinnon mentions it only once, in a riposte to Judge Richard Posner’s unwise claim that men have a stronger sex drive than women. This, she says ignores “the clitoral orgasm, which, once it gets going, goes on for weeks, and no man can keep up with it, to no end of the frustration of some. (This underlies the often nasty edge to the query ‘Did you come?,’ when it means, ‘Aren’t you done yet? I am.’)” We are evidently in a war zone.

MacKinnon’s anti-liberal credo needs to be addressed seriously. It seems to me to require a moral justification that she does not even attempt to provide. It is not enough, in arguing for the deployment of state power, to point to deep social inequalities and say that this is a way to attack them. Not only do the means have to be effective, but they have to respect limits on legitimate invasion by the state of the personal autonomy of each individual within it. This too is a requirement of equal treatment, though it is individualistically defined. If it is given no weight and automatically overridden by claims of group inequality and group subordination, we will get tyranny in the name of equality – a familiar result. Catharine MacKinnon should either explain why her contempt for rights of privacy, autonomy and freedom of expression does not have this consequence, or else explain why it is acceptable.





“Controlling men’s fantasy life.” A true 1984 scenario. What Washingtonienne did was savage a man’s fantasy life, which is cruel but not actionable. MacKinnon would outlaw it altogether.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

All plots tend to move deathward. ...


says Jack Gladney, the narrator of Don DeLillo’s novel, White Noise. UD followed a little plot yesterday, and it did just that. Sadly.

It began with coffee last week in the GW student center. UD was waiting there for the opera her kid was in at GW’s Lisner Auditorium to begin. One of her kid’s friends was there too, and she was reading a rock music magazine.

“Hey look,” the girl said, showing the magazine to UD. “It’s about Ferdinand the bull.”

Sure enough, there was an article about Peter Wentz and his band, Fall Out Boy, whose latest album is From Under the Cork Tree, a clear reference to Ferdinand.

Wentz talks to the magazine’s reporter about how “his band’s new record is named after a children’s story he read when he was 4. ‘You should read it,’ Wentz says, sitting in the back lounge of Fall Out Boy’s tour bus as it idles in the parking lot of a Salt Lake City nightclub. ‘Wait, have you read The Story of Ferdinand'?

The answer is ‘yes,’ but you can probably assume that much about people who are interested in a punk band that’s both muscular and emotional - which is one description for the music Fall Out Boy make.”

The reporter then gives us a plot summary of Ferdinand, and adds that “it makes a lot of sense that Wentz has a certain affinity for it. Elliott Smith had a rendering of Ferdinand tattooed on his right bicep. As far as bulls go, he’s irrefutably emo.”




Nice convergences here -- Ferdinand the Bull, whose creator Munro Leaf lived with his wife Margaret in UD’s house (this backstory is for readers who haven’t visited UD before) a house whose front garden has not one but two topiary bulls in Leaf’s honor -- and emo, a musical style in which UD has some interest




But who is Elliott Smith?

“Elliott Smith, that gentle soul who sports a Ferdinand the Bull tattoo on his right upper arm, released his second Dreamwork's album, Figure 8, to almost Easterlike anticipation by critics and die-hard fans,” a reviewer UD googled says.

Smith’s another musician. A rock star. UD found some photos of Smith and his tattoo:

Here's one.

Here's another one.



And here’s an interview about the tattoo:

" Y3: I have to ask you about your tattoo of Ferdinand.

ES: Oh yeah, a children’s story.

Y3: I grew up on that story. The bull who was too gentle and content to attain fame in the bullfighting ring like his friends, and chose instead to while his days away in a field, smelling the flowers. It’s a great dichotomy, this powerful beast who doesn’t want to use his power.

ES: Yeah. I’d like to say I got the tattoo because of the story. I do like the story, and that’s one reason. But my initial plan was just to get a tattoo of a bull, and I like Ferdinand better than I like the Schlitz Malt Liquor.

Y3: It’s almost analogous of you and your life. I noticed it on your arm and went, “Oh my god, that’s Ferdinand.” That is just the most perfect tattoo. It’s the first tattoo I ever saw in my lifetime that I would get.

ES: I haven’t ever regretted it. It seems to make more sense with my life over time. "


Wentz’s affinity with Ferdinand has to do with personal integrity: “There’s something really honorable about following your own path and not doing what’s expected of you.” Smith’s seems to have had to do with fragility, withdrawal, and silence. Fame appears to have destroyed him.

He killed himself (or was murdered) last year. Here are some of the lyrics to one of his most famous songs -- it was the background music for a suicide attempt in the film The Royal Tenenbaums:



Needle in the hay


Now on the bus
Nearly touching this dirty retreat
Falling out 6th and Powell
A dead sweat in my teeth
Gonna walk walk walk
Four more blocks plus one in my break
Down downstairs to the man
He’s gonna make it all ok
I can’t beat myself
I can’t beat myself
And I don't want to talk
I’m taking the cure so I can be quiet
Whenever I want
So leave me alone
You ought to be proud that
I’m getting good marks
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay
Needle in the hay

Drugs and alcohol were a big part of the deathward story… a circular story from UD’s perspective, winding back around to DeLillo and his novel Great Jones Street, about a famous rock musician in search of silence.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Nonplussed

Nicholas De Genova, Jacques Pluss -- UD can’t explain why her old school, the University of Chicago, seems to graduate so many extremists. She’s begun doing a little research, though, and while she’s found nothing illuminating so far on De Genova, she has found Pluss’s graduation photo, which may have something to tell us. She’ll keep working on this.
Blog That Metaphor!



"Legitimate gripes slide very easily into blanket ignorance, and the deep persistent value of scholarship gets tossed out the window along with its baroque exterior."


Easily Distracted
[Oh - and note new address for Easily Distracted...]
HEADLINE OF THE DAY

RABBI, NAZI SCRAP
BLOGOSCOPY



My wife and I agreed to be ‘guest bloggers’ - the online equivalent of what David Brenner used to do for Johnny Carson - for Dan Drezner, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, who runs a popular libertarian-conservative blog, DanielDrezner.com. How hard could blogging be? You roll out of bed, turn on your computer, scan the headlines, think up some clever analysis while brushing your teeth, type it onto your site and you're off. But as I discovered, blogging is no longer for amateurs or the faint of heart. Blogging - if it's done well - has evolved into an all-consuming art. …I knew I wasn't going to master the art in my few remaining days. And the vicious replies were wearing me down. I've gotten nasty responses to my articles before, but blogging is somehow more personal. …By the end of the week, with other deadlines looming and my patience exhausted, I began to post less and less. …To succeed in blogging you need to understand it's a craft, with its own tricks of the trade. You need a thick skin. And you must put your life on hold to feed an electronic black hole. What else did I learn by sitting in for Dan Drezner? That I'm not cut out for blogging.”




BLOG BADE ME WELCOME

Blog bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of sloth, and thin.
But quick-ey'd Blog, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
“A guest blogger," I answer'd, "worthy to be here."
Blog said, "You shall be he."

"I, the amateur, the faint of heart? ah my dear, I cannot post on thee."
Blog took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who set the template if not I?"

"Truth, Blog, but I have marr'd it; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."

"And know you not," says Blog, "who wrote the code?”
"My dear, then I’ll upload."

"You must sit down and check your log.”
So I did sit and blog.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

A COUPLE OF
DIPLOMA MILL
STORIES




I

NEW ROLE FOR
TEACHERS UNION



' TEACHERS SEEK TO GET PAY RESTORED

‘ The teachers union has filed a grievance against Canyon Creek School on behalf of two teachers whose pay was cut in March after it was found their master's degrees came from a purported diploma mill.

The Canyon Creek School Board reduced pay for Candice Holzer, a fourth-grade teacher, and Beverly Henckel, a second-grade teacher, after Superintendent Stephanie Long determined that their master's degrees, earned online from Columbus University, required no real work.

Steve Henry, the field representative for the Montana Education Association, said each teacher has filed a grievance against the pay cut.

He said the move is a violation of the tenure clause of the teacher's contract. He also said that "they agreed to (the master's degrees) six years ago and now they're reneging on their promise."

He said the legal term for this is "strong past practice."

Long disputed the past-practices claim.

Six years ago, "the administration and the board were not aware of the caliber of the program that they completed," she said.

Both Long and Henry said the grievances are headed to an arbiter. The teachers, Holzer and Henckel, have remained at the school and plan to teach there next school year, Long said. ’




II

INTERVENTION SPECIALIST
TAKEN ILL



‘ At the Fort Worth school district, colleagues refer to district employee Michael J. Byrd as "Dr. Byrd."

The intervention specialist, who helps families in crisis, also has received a $600 annual doctoral stipend every year since 2002, when he informed the district that he earned his doctoral degree in psychology, district records show.

But now, Dr. Byrd has been demoted to Mr. Byrd.

Byrd, 44, of Fort Worth received his degree from LaSalle University. But not from the well-known LaSalle University in Philadelphia.

Rather, Byrd's LaSalle University was in Mandeville, La. There is no connection between the two institutions.

The Louisiana version is an unaccredited university that awarded degrees to paying customers. Those degrees aren't worth the paper on which they are printed.



…Byrd, a 12-year district employee who is paid $42,088 in base annual salary, earned a legitimate master's degree in religious studies in 1988 at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University, TCU records show.

The LaSalle from which he obtained his Ph.D. is no longer in business. It met with a slew of troubles, including an FBI raid and the eventual imprisonment for five years of its founder, Thomas Kirk, who was convicted in federal court of mail fraud, credit-card fraud and tax evasion.

In an interview Sunday at his front door, Byrd said he believed that the university was accredited when he attended.

"Once I graduated, then I heard someone say it may not be accredited, but I never did talk to anyone at the school," he said.

He said he did not know about a disclaimer form that some LaSalle students were asked to sign after investigations began in which the students acknowledged that they understood the school lacked accreditation.

Asked by the Watchdog if he realized that he could no longer legitimately be called "Dr. Byrd," he answered, "I have to find out about that. I have to call about that."

Byrd cut the interview short because he wasn't feeling well. ‘
ACADEMIA FISKED

The controversial Independent writer, Robert Fisk, attacks ugly empty academic jargon in a recent column, and UD applauds him for it. He’s right to suggest that the “secret language of academe” functions to “mystify [one’s] discipline” (the disciplines at issue here are the social sciences and the humanities) and exclude those outside the guild. He’s also right that

'it is about snobbishness. I recall a lady professor at George Mason University, complaining that ‘most people’ - she was referring to truck drivers, Amtrak crews, bellhops and anyone else who didn’t oppose the Iraq war - ‘had so little information.’ Well, I wasn’t surprised. University teachers - especially in the States - are great at networking each other but hopeless at communicating with most of the rest of the world, including those who collect their rubbish, deliver their laundry and serve up their hash browns.'

Sharon Howard (of Early Modern Notes) culls from Fisk’s essay some of the jargon to which he objects:

matrilineal
emic
etic
metaphorical constructs
fundamental dialogic immediacy
prosocial tendences
exilic spirituality
interplay
political and mythic interdependencies
othering
ubiquitous human psychological process of othering
problematize
meaning system
elite
paradoxicality
cognitive dissonance
dialogic injuries
cultural envelope
family psychodynamics
social intercourse

Although Howard and her commenters believe that Fisk is terribly wrong about all of this, UD agrees with Fisk that these are very stinky words and phrases, exhibiting a windy vacancy of the sort George Orwell famously complained about (“fundamental dialogic immediacy“), or a pomposity that’s to puke for (“exilic spirituality,” “dialogic injuries“), or a species of psychobabble so notorious as to have become a joke phrase in the larger culture (“cognitive dissonance”).



In response to his frontal attack on their language, a group of academics at a recent conference Fisk attended beat the shit out of him (this photo shows Fisk at Mass General immediately after the attack). (J.K.: This is a photo of Fisk, but it was taken after a group of Afghans beat the shit out of him.)
SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME



UD’s JOYCE-THEMED SPAWN
SPENDS EVENING WITH
HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN


It was summer in full-throated ease last night as UD‘s little one (now four inches taller than UD) sang at GW’s Lisner Auditorium in the premiere of the children’s opera, “The Nightingale,” based on the Andersen story. The kid was part of a small group of gray-robed girls (“Our costumes suck. The courtiers get the good costumes.”) who sang the voice of the nightingale in a work by the Latvian/Canadian composer Imant Raminsh.

There were seven in our family-and-friends audience cohort, and none of us remembered that the story ends not with Death triumphing, but with the restoration of life to the Emperor. This pleasant surprise, and the fact that it was a fine performance, accounted for our noisy weeping as the curtain fell. We fought among ourselves for tissues…

Saturday, May 14, 2005

[NOTE: In an effort to avoid what the linguist Pira Kelly has called “gender identity based harassment,” UD will translate into gender-neutrality a just-released Washington Post article about the evacuation scare in DC that occurred last Wednesday.

Because UD fears that the application of what Kelly calls “a strict ideology of gender binaries” in reading the following description of moronic behavior may result in insensitivity toward one of the two dominant genders, she now rewrites the story using the new non-dichotomous “ze/hir” pronouns
.]




'PILOT WAS ILL-PREPARED,
FROZE IN FLIGHT,
FAA SAYS


Officials to Revoke Certificate of Flier in Capital Scare, the Toughest Sanction Under New Airspace Rules

By Sara Kehaulani Goo and Sari Horwitz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 14, 2005; B01

The pilot who caused a midday panic in Washington on Wednesday failed to get briefings about the weather and restricted airspace and became lost minutes after leaving a Pennsylvania airport, Federal Aviation Administration records show.

Hayden "Jim" Sheaffer, 69, froze when ze saw a Black Hawk helicopter appear near hir right wing while flying toward the White House and had difficulty operating hir small, single-engine aircraft, officials said yesterday. It took the valiant effort of Sheaffer's student-pilot companion, Troy D. Martin, who had only 30 logged hours of flight time, to take over the controls and land the plane at an airport in Frederick, officials said.

The FAA plans to take the most extreme action against a pilot since new airspace rules were put in place in 2003 and will revoke Sheaffer's pilot certificate, according to aviation officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the order had not been finalized. The FAA does not plan to take similar action against Martin, 36, because ze is a student pilot and does not have a pilot certificate, sources said.

New details are emerging about what took place in the cockpit of the Cessna 150 during the noontime drama that led to the evacuation of more than 35,000 people from the U.S. Capitol, White House and Supreme Court. A log prepared by federal security officials shows how tensions escalated to the point where a fighter jet was "about to use missiles" to shoot the plane down.

If Sheaffer plans to fly again, ze will have to start over with flight school lessons. Those lessons cannot begin until a year after the revocation order. "Our investigation is ongoing," FAA spokesman Greg Martin said. "It's clearly a very serious incident that warrants careful and thorough review of all pertinent information."

Sheaffer and Troy Martin have been unavailable to comment since federal authorities released them Wednesday. They were forced down about 90 minutes after they took off from an airport in Smoketown, Pa., near Lancaster, headed for an air show in Lumberton, N.C.

Some neighbors said they were mystified about the whereabouts of the two [gender identifier deleted] and their families. At the Sheaffer home in Warwick Township, Pa., no one answered the door or telephone. About 10 miles away, at Martin's residence in Akron, Pa., a note on the door asked reporters to go away. No one answered the door or phone there, either. A next-door neighbor, Cindy Hamill, said of the Martins: "This family's in crisis."

The FAA is planning to cite Sheaffer for "careless or reckless manner so as to endanger the life or property of another," records obtained by The Washington Post show. Sheaffer can appeal the revocation with the National Transportation Safety Board.

Within hours of the scare, authorities said that the pilots were lost and disoriented. But the account provided in FAA documents casts Martin in a different light.

"It shows a tremendous presence of mind to be able to take the training ze had and, under a very stressful situation, to bring that aircraft to Frederick," said Chris Dancy, spokesman for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, a group representing private pilots.

Dancy said Martin was probably about halfway through hir student training, as most student pilots take about 60 to 75 hours to earn their certificate. Dancy said ze would not expect the FAA to discipline Martin because Sheaffer was the only certified pilot onboard and therefore had responsibility for the aircraft.

"But it would not be surprising if, when it comes time, [Martin] will have a very thorough check ride" when ze completes hir pilot training, Dancy said.

FAA records indicate that Sheaffer failed to take the most basic steps that are required of pilots before operating an aircraft. Ze did not check the weather report before ze left Smoketown, nor did ze check FAA's "Notices to Air[gender identifier deleted]," which serve as the agency's pre-departure required reading for pilots to alert them of airspace restrictions. Had Sheaffer checked the notices, ze would have seen that there is a 2,000-square-mile area around Washington known as the Air Defense Identification Zone.

Sheaffer became lost soon after departure, records show. The documents show that ze also failed to communicate with the FAA and provide necessary navigation information to ensure the safety of the flight.

The Cessna crossed through three layers of increasingly restricted airspace. The first, the Air Defense Identification Zone, is defined by the areas that are within a 30-mile radius of each of the Washington area's three major airports. The second, known as the Flight Restricted Zone, covers a 16-mile area around the Washington Monument.

Once intercepted by the Black Hawk and minutes away from flying over sensitive landmarks in the city, Sheaffer told investigators that ze thought ze had mistakenly flown over Camp David, another restricted airspace known as Prohibited Area P-40, FAA records show.

The FAA also said that Sheaffer was unaware of intercept procedures and did not know how to respond once ze saw the Black Hawk, customs jet and two F-16s. The F-16s flew by several times, both of them dropping flares to get hir attention.

The most dangerous breach occurred when Sheaffer crossed into Prohibited Area P-56, no-fly airspace covering the White House and the Naval Observatory. The Cessna passed over that area while being escorted away by the Black Hawk. Compounding the problem, federal authorities had difficulty establishing communication with the Cessna, a security log of the events shows.

The log shows that the Black Hawk was airborne by 11:55 a.m., as the plane kept heading into Washington. Five minutes later, the log says that "fighters are on the target" and that "flares are authorized."

At 12:03 p.m., the White House was put on its highest level of alert. At 12:04, the log shows the missiles were about to be used. No order to shoot down the plane was issued, although officials said it was the closest they have come to calling for the downing of a civilian aircraft.

The log shows that authorities initially planned to divert the plane to Leesburg. But even with the jets and helicopter roaring nearby, the Cessna was "not communicating" at 12:16, the log said. Finally, at 12:22, an entry says, "They are communicating, the fighters will force down at Frederick." '

Friday, May 13, 2005

TO: Alliance for A’s

FROM: Janice Sidley [for background, type SIDLEY in SEARCH]

SUBJECT: GRADE DEFLATION



Like Y2K, Grade Deflation is one of those catastrophes that might, if we’re lucky and vigilant, fail to come off.

In other words, we hear a lot about certain colleges and universities

1. forcing faculty to analyze their own grading patterns; and/or
2. forcing faculty to limit their A’s to a set percentage of grades.

But, as a sophomore at UC Davis - where various departments are instituting deflationary policies - puts it, ““What is wrong with everyone getting good grades?”

What indeed. Why shouldn’t every American undergraduate, and every American graduate student, receive A’s all the time?




“We don’t want to penalize students,” a sociology professor at Davis assures a reporter from the university newspaper. “But grade inflation makes [grading] meaningless.”

Meaningless? The meaning of grade-inflation is that love is better than hate, cooperation better than competition. The deflationary system, as one student notes, fosters an environment of cutthroat competition in place of mutual support: “Why make students compete against each other? Students should want to help each other. The point of education is to learn.”

As to the “meaning” of deflation -- it sounds to me as though it’s more about perception than reality: “We do not want people to have the assumption that students could get easy A’s in sociology courses,” a soc professor says. “The system is for more campus respectability.”

Talk about shooting yourself in the foot. Many students only take soc courses because they’re easy. Artificially deflate soc grades and you’ll get a mass migration into psych.



The new grade deflation policy is “just a guideline, not a mandatory system,” a Davis professor assures us. The Alliance’s position is that such policies shouldn’t exist at all, mandatory or optional. We will continue to monitor them wherever they appear.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

POSEUR ALERT


I hope Andrew Sullivan doesn’t mind my using this wonderful title of his. “Poseur Alert,” a regular feature of his blog, quotes from articles and interviews in which poseurs express themselves. Here’s UD’s contribution, taken from the “House and Home” section of today’s New York Times:


“I have a grim outlook on the world, and in particular on humanity,” [novelist Caleb Carr] said. “I spent years denying it, but I am very misanthropic. … I am a dark person… I’m a fairly ascetic person.”

…Mr. Carr estimated that his [country] house, which has about 6,000 square feet of living space and about 3,200 square feet of porch, cost about $1.25 million… [H]e wanted a house that had all the modern conveniences, from radiant heating to a satellite dish…

It’s a beautiful place, the visitor tells Mr. Carr. If you can’t find peace here, you can’t find it anywhere. “I can’t,” Mr. Carr says…
THOUGHT LEADER

So here’s UD stuck in the back of a cab in the middle of Bethesda at three o’clock in the afternoon, slow traffic. She’s asked the cabbie to switch the sound of WTOP news radio from the back of her head to the front of his, but he’s driving a new car today and doesn’t know how to do it.

There are reasons UD doesn’t watch tv. There are reasons she doesn’t listen to commercial radio. UD is made unhappy by these things, and she dislikes being trapped with them.

The soft slow voices on WTOP, exactly like those on television, want UD to keep in mind the following:

***she is stupid
***she wants an SUV
***she thinks Oprah Winfrey and Jane Fonda are interesting and intelligent

und so weiter. UD hasn’t got the sort of mind that can switch this sort of thing off -- on the contrary, she’s compelled to listen and even to think about what she’s hearing.

Which is just as well, because today she discovered the term “thought leader.” WTOP ran an ad for executives who want to get a business degree online, and at one point, in describing a local business school, the announcer said it’s full of “thought leaders” who can make you a thought leader because they specialize in teaching “thought leadership.”





But, UD asked herself as she finally got out of the cab, what is a thought leader, really?

The phrase - nay, the very concept - is controversial. There are those who confidently assert its meaning and importance, as in:

What sets a business leader apart? Some say it's imagination, or vision, or passion. At Montgomery Research, we call it thought leadership.

Thought leadership is the ability to see a trend before it starts, and the wisdom to find opportunity in every challenge. It's the confidence to act decisively because you know your company is a step ahead of the competition
. ‘



But there are those who claim that thought leadership isn’t about predicting the future so much as being a solid respected businessperson, as in

‘ Be A Thought Leader!

Small companies have to work hard to get visibility, especially when the market is crowded with competitors all vying for the same business. In high tech they face the added dilemma that IT departments don’t want to buy from a small unknown vendor, and the vendor can’t become large and reputable unless it has major customers. So, how does a company become better known with limited resources? By becoming an industry thought leader.

What’s a thought leader?

A thought leader is a recognized leader in one’s field. What differentiates a thought leader from any other knowledgeable company, is the recognition from the outside world that the company deeply understands its business, the needs of its customers, and the broader marketplace in which it operates.’




Still others insist it’s simply about doing your job well, as in

Jim is an internationally recognized thought leader in the area of facility design and integrated distribution systems. His contributions to the improvement of distribution practices have been recognized by his receipt of the prestigious Reed-Apple Award, which is given for lifetime contributions to the advancement of the material handling profession.’






Many many people are thought leaders. The long list of visiting speakers in an upcoming Stanford University course is titled not “Visiting Speakers” or “Guest Lecturers,” but “Thought Leaders.”





A few dissenting voices have begun to suggest that the terms “thought leader” and “thought leadership” are bogus:

‘ ANOTHER MEANINGLESS TERM

“Thought leadership”- another bogus term speechwriters toss around?

In my last post, I really hoped somebody would set me straight on “message drivers.”

I’ll be honest: I don’t think anybody can give me a sufficient definition of the other term that has lately been dancing on my last nerve: “thought leadership.”

We all want our CEOs to be “thought leaders.”

Which means, as far as I can tell, that we want our CEOs to “seem smart.”

And so we try to infuse their speeches with some “thought leadership.”

But to be a true “thought leader”—as opposed to a CEO who “sounds smart”—doesn’t one have to have an innovative idea that sincerely inspires “thought followers”?

It seems to me “thought leadership” is a term invented by speechwriters—no doubt speechwriters working for a big PR agency—who want to claim that they can turn their clients’ CEOs into people recognized as geniuses, far and wide.

But “genius” sounds like too improbable a goal. How about “thought leader”?

I think “thought leader” is similar to the 1990s darling term: “world class.”

Companies that wanted to claim they were the best in the world but knew they’d be laughed out of the NYSE for saying so, instead settled for saying they were “world class.”

The term was meaningless, and thankfully it has mostly evaporated.

Here’s hoping the same happens to “thought leadership
.” '



UD figures the same thing will indeed happen to “thought leadership,” but she wants to predict something about it.

As “thought leader” begins to evaporate from the world of corporations and public relations, it will begin a short second life on annual review forms in American universities. After all, the word “thought” is prominent in the phrase. Just under the category “Membership in Professional Organizations,” UD will now predict, two new categories will be inserted:

Evidence of Thought Leadership

Number of Thought Followers Supervised

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

OH, SO NOW
WE’RE INSULAR.



In a recent opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times, an English professor at UCLA refers to the “Ivory Tower” and says that “the university is meant to be an insular environment” of “walls” that “protect” professors from political pressures. Sounds good to UD! But wait…

The professor is all scared that the proposed Academic Bill of Rights is going to become law in California. His opinion piece has a scary title: Neocons Lay Siege to the Ivory Towers. And even though the bill was blocked in committee and will, UD promises, never become law, the writer is convinced it poses not merely a real but a “profound threat” to academic freedom, and in fact means imminent “state monitoring of universities.”






The professor seems to want to say that the bill is something of a Jewish conspiracy, with “pro-Israel agitators” Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer behind it, not to mention “neoconservative firebrand David Horowitz.” (Who’s monitoring prose styles at UCLA?) But UD would remind him that other categories of people like the bill, and that it doesn’t advance your argument very well to describe the whole thing as a wily Zionist plot.






The professor saves his cruelest jab against the enemies of freedom for the very end of the piece: “If this and similar bills pass, who gets hired and what gets taught could be decided not according to academic and intellectual criteria but by pressure groups, many of whose members are failed academics [italics UD’s] driven by crassly political motivations. Society would pay the price.”

Haha! You wanted to be an English professor like me but you couldn’t cut it! Haha!






Anyway … Not that I think the anti-Academic Bill of Rights forces need to be too worried, but this guy isn’t the best spokesman they could come up with. His recent scholarly work is an edition of essays calling for the reanimation of Marxism, and despite his seeming defense of the university‘s insularity, he seems to be a very out there political person who has less and less to do, in his work, with literature, his ostensible field.

All of which is fine, but you shouldn‘t be hypocritical and pretend you think the university is an ivory tower when in fact you probably have a lot of contempt for people like UD who actually do think the university is an ivory tower.

What UD is awkwardly trying to say here is that under any other circumstances, this seems to her precisely the sort of professor who’d revile ivory tower types like UD. He pulls out the Cardinal Newman language when he feels threatened.






I mean, look at a recent book he edited, Marxism Beyond Marxism (hardcover price, $106.00!). Its presiding spirit, Fredric Jameson, ushers us into the collection with an introductory essay.

This essay, written Bitter Teaparty style by a haughty disappointed person, frontally attacks insular academic people: One would have assumed that “left intellectuals were leftists first and foremost rather than intellectuals.” These new left cynics have pretty much given up the political battle for Marxism but are perfectly happy in an “opportunistic” way to have successful academic careers founded upon writing which natters on in a vaguely left manner…






Jameson’s essay is a kind of curio. He assures us history will have its way and the revolution is coming, but “we are poorly placed as biological individuals to witness the more fundamental dynamics of history,” to grasp “the radical incommensurability between human existence and the dynamics of collective history.”

Yeah, well… what with various historical events, Jameson’s position in the academic world now looks close to that of Cardinal Ratzinger in the Catholic. Enforcer of ideology, winnower-out of insufficiently committed believers, designated keener for a lost world. Reading Fredric Jameson is like attending Latin mass.

…And in that sense, the UCLA professor and Jameson do in fact represent insularity --they are among the last holdouts of Marxist orthodoxy in America. The American university should protect and encourage them. The Bill of Rights people should leave them alone.

But they should not misrepresent themselves. In the LA Times piece, UD believes, the UCLA professor misrepresents himself.
ANOTHER SOUPCON
OF SNOBBERY:

Or, Rescuing the Endangered
Blenheim Apricot




[See "Story of U" below
for background.]



From the San Francisco Chronicle:

' "You go to a place like Chicago, the only thing they're snobbish about is pizza. Here our snobbery is an attitude that we're living this ideal -- this notion of 'I have a higher plane of understanding about the social good.' I think we actually proselytize our point of view more strongly than other parts of country that are more overtly religious," [a San Francisco resident] said.

Largely devoid of bona fide religion, people in San Francisco tend to imbue lifestyle choices with a spiritual reverence. We are churchlessly holier-than-thou, hipper-than-thou and most definitely more-virtuous-than-thou. Among our temples is Chez Panisse, the church of Alice Waters, a pilgrimage for those spreading the gospel of "slow food" and nourishing their very souls on organically grown chard and heirloom Brandywine tomatoes while rescuing the endangered Blenheim apricot.” '
DIPLOMA MILLS
AND THE STATES
WHO LOVE THEM



America has much to learn from the university licensing standards of Pakistan. The Pakistani government, after investigating Preston University, a far-flung entity with campuses in their country, “classified all 15 Preston campuses in that country as ‘illegally operating.’ The Islamabad campus in particular was deemed ‘seriously deficient,’” writes a reporter for the Billings Wyoming Gazette.

Why then did a high-level Wyoming delegation which went to Islamabad and was shown a good time by Preston while it inspected its campuses (Preston has a presence in Wyoming too), determine that Preston was “in compliance with Wyoming law”? Why did some of the delegates go further and introduce legislation on their return that will help checkbook universities like Preston?

Well… first off, it looks as though these folks examined only the architecture and interior design of the campus, not whether anything went on in its rooms. They declared themselves satisfied that it has a “clean,” “two-story building,” in “good condition” with “adequate space.” I used to live in a two-flat like that, but I didn’t try to get it accredited.

Given their interest only in whether Preston’s buildings stood up, it’s not surprising that, as the reporter notes, “seven months” after the ten-day trip, the four visitors “have little to show” for it:

“For example, each of three inspection reports by Deputy Superintendent Quinn Carroll and the department’s finance director, Fred Hansen, was about 1 - ½ pages - about as long as the application form for opening a private fish farm in Wyoming.”

Gills flapping, an outraged member of the group responds to this challenge with Diploma Mill World’s magic word: “I can’t see how anyone has a problem with a decently priced education with nontraditional students.” Nontraditional! sings Tevye. Nontraditional! We are simple people! Leave us alone!

As the reporter probes the story a little more, things get ontologically obtuse very quickly.

Current laws, one of the delegates explains, “don’t gauge the quality of a school’s academics - only whether a school is really a school.” But - but - when is a school not a school? When is a school a school? What beyond academics distinguishes a school qua school? Is a school really a school, as Wyoming suggests, if it has a building with the word “school” on it?

Whatever. Bottom line: Wyoming remains a diploma mill’s best friend.

Monday, May 09, 2005

UD SALUTES…


…this year’s winner of the Hatemongers Quarterly’s Second Annual Horrible College-Student Poetry Contest.


be a man

by Michael E. Lopez, Esq.



my Ears burn with blood as
BusHitler walks across the stage (bodies)
smiles stolen
from the crowds and raped childrenhoods
here and elsewhere in his their
Patriarchal Hegemony

his their limpid cocks
shining grease from domination
gotta be a man
strip the snowy vistas
shackle up your womb (bodies)
force his their seed to grow on tax breaks for the top two percent



?why me?
i never knew his their family
?why me?
i never was rich my parents struggled
vacations in provoh not aspen
?why me?
i always loved my dog and fed him
and wept for Etheopia and Sudan (bodies)
?why me?
i only think the silent truth
words that he they dont want to hear
love beauty moon touch gentle
and truth to power
fuck him then

lots of U.S. deserve the pain and pillage
supersized lives drenched in a desert of misery
grown fat on the cries of pain we see
not me but lots of U.S.

but he they dont care if we deserve it
bend over
it hurts
march into the ovens, the Patriot Acts (bodies)
just because
and become an ash coating the
screaming shrieking desolation

of the amerikkan dream (so many bodies)
DUSTUPS, BORING AND BODACIOUS


First, two boring dustups while I was at the beach this weekend, one blogoscopic and the other academic. I shall put these two to sleep rapidly in order to get to the two stories that really interest me -- the rap sheet of the runaway bride, and the lovechildren of Albert, ruler of Monaco.



Via Scribbling Woman, there’s the blogosphere’s Pol Pot Moment, in which a blogger announces the following:

' If I had a wish right now, I would wish one thing: that we remove all of our blogrolls and take down the EcoSystem and the Technorati 100 and all of the other ‘popularity’ lists. That whatever links exist, are honest ones based on what has been written, posted, published, not some static membership in a list that is, all too often, stale and out of date, and used as a weapon or a plea. '

I guess in any human enterprise that takes on significant proportions there’s eventually such a moment, when someone’s impatience with the scheme of things gets the better of them and they decree that we must wipe it all out, start afresh, brave new world, let it go, let it all go!

Hokay. The second thingie is Jonathan Dresner’s having been deeply offended (an offense shared by other aggrieved professor-bloggers) by David Brooks, for his having said that the hapless Democrats these days are like "'alienated junior professors. No productive ideas. No sense of leadership. Just half-truths from the peanut gallery.' I've already sent my letter of protest to the Times," announces Dresner, "on behalf of junior faculty everywhere.”

Bejaysus. Your letter to the Times on behalf of junior faculty everywhere? Although UD is no longer junior faculty, she’s sure as hell still alienated, and she’d like to register her grievance, on behalf of alienated faculty - junior or whatever - everywhere against anyone who would seek to undermine that alienation. If UD weren’t alienated from America she’d never get anything done (look for her chapter in the forthcoming MLA book, Approaches to Teaching Don DeLillo’s White Noise, about how everyone who is anyone is alienated from America), and she’d lose all respect for herself besides.

As for the “no productive ideas” or “sense of leadership” but just “half-truths” -- do you really think it’s worth rising to this one? Go after Brooks because you hate high-level conservatives who write wittily and well, by all means -- but don’t pussyfoot. It makes all of us look ridiculous.




On to more weighty matters - Albert’s ever-increasing lovechildren, and the Kerri Dunn (type her name into the Search feature up there for background) of the non-alienated world.

Yes, the runaway bride, like Kerri, turns out to Have a Past.


' ATLANTA- Court records reportedly show that runaway bride Jennifer Wilbanks served jail time for shoplifting several years ago.


The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is reporting Wilbanks faced a felony charge back in 1996 for allegedly shoplifting $1,700 worth of merchandise from a mall. Records show the prosecutor in that case dropped the charge after Wilbanks completed a program of community service and restitution. That prosecutor is now serving as Wilbanks' attorney.


In a separate case, court records show Wilbanks served two weekends in jail after pleading guilty to another shoplifting charge. A judge sentenced her to probation, a $400 fine, and community service.


The 32-year-old woman touched off an extensive search last month when she vanished from her Georgia home days before her wedding. The local district attorney is deciding whether to charge her with making false statements. '



Why does a person become an English professor? UD is often asked. Because real-life turns out to be a novel. So reading a lot of novels is actually a very good way to gear up for real life.



Finally, the rate of illegitimate-heirs-to-the-throne-proliferation here is astounding, even by Grimaldi standards. UD is loving it.

Friday, May 06, 2005

STORY OF U


“Am I a snob?” UD fretted as she prepared to go to Rehoboth Beach for the weekend. She’d taught her last class of the spring semester 2005 twenty-four hours ago and was, she had to admit, a little tired. Not that she deserved two days at the beach -- her life was in every respect so privileged that she didn’t deserve an iota more than what she already so abundantly had -- but she wasn’t going to turn it down.

The class had gone well, she thought -- good attendance, an attentive and lively group, and an intriguing final class session, during which one of her best students, a UD regular who’d taken her “Novels of Don DeLillo” course the semester before, suggested that UD was unfairly dismissive of “minimalist” American fiction.

“Does my lack of respect for Raymond Carver and my veneration for James Joyce mean … I’m a snob?” she fretted as she filled her little suitcase with a swimsuit (“Madness. It’ll be much too cold to swim. A symbolic act.”), Neutrogena Dry-Touch Sunblock SPF 45 (“Again madness.”), and of course jeans and black turtlenecks galore.

“I love this Ushuaia thing,” she thought, tossing a soft oversized towel into the suitcase and recalling that she bought it online from a French store. “Does my having bought this towel online from a French store make me a snob?” she fretted.




And then she remembered what was really bothering her. “Does the fact that I cringe inside whenever a passerby asks if the topiary bull in front of my house is a chia pet mean I’m a snob?” UD for years had watched no television (“Does that make me a snob?”), but in her younger days she watched it, like everyone else, all the time, and she knew all about ch-ch-ch-chia pets. “Does the fact that I note a class divide between people who ask me about my chia pet and people who ask me about my topiary mean that I’m a snob?”

She got so twisted up about being a snob that she took an online quiz, The Intellectual Snob Quiz. Her result:

“You are 50% intellectual snob. Well, you didn't suck and you didn't rock. You might run with a pack of intellectuals, but you've got other friends out there too, who don't waste your time arguing about symbolism in Finnigan's Wake . You probably like to read, but you're also not oblivious to the wonderful world of theme parks and X-Box.”

“Does the fact that I can’t resist noticing the authors of the quiz both misspelled and put an apostrophe in the title of Finnegans Wake make me a snob?” she fretted again (even though her score fell way short of definitive snobbery).

And then, thinking of apostrophes, she recalled the raging controversy at the University of Minnesota about whether a new campus pathway should be named Scholars Walk or Scholar’s Walk:


Apostrophe boosters are in mourning at the University of Minnesota after it was decided to name a fancy new walkway the Scholars Walk, not the Scholar's Walk.

For weeks, the issue has bedeviled those at the university and beyond who care a great deal about such things.

English professors, e-mailers from across the United States, and even the Apostrophe Protection Society of England offered advice.

Boosters argued to board members of the nonprofit University Gateway Corp. that an apostrophe would add distinction by suggesting that the walkway is owned by those it honors.

However, the board voted 4-1 against the punctuation mark, worried that the apostrophe would make the four-block walkway appear exclusive at a time that the university wants to be inclusive.



“Yes,” thought UD, “whenever I see an apostrophized word I feel excluded. That’s why I can’t eat at Denny’s -- I think it’s only for Denny.”

“Does the fact that I just had that supercilious thought make me a snob?”

“But then again, doesn’t the fact that I don’t give a rat’s patootie about whether the university puts an apostrophe in suggest that I’m not a snob?”




“Face it, baby,” UD heard a harsh voice in her head say. “The very fact that you’re a tenured professor makes you - in the eyes of most people - a snob.”

In the online journal Adjunct Nation, a letter writer recently pondered efforts to get NYU professors to teach more classes:

“Maybe in a few years I’ll be out of a job, but at least I’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that the tenured snob down the hallway, who hasn’t been to a conference since Reagan was president, and who hasn’t seen an undergraduate since before he got tenure, will be back in the classroom again, where all faculty belong.”

At Inside Higher Ed, a journalism professor unloads bigtime: “Journalists shouldn’t — and won’t — put up with ivory-tower snipers pointing AK-47s at their real-world heads. …[One] professor’s elitist drivel still sticks in my craw because his snobbery runs so rampant in the academy today… incorrigible academic elitism… academic elitism at its most basic and sniveling core … ”




“Does the fact that I laugh inwardly at the phrase ‘sniveling core’ …....?...”

Thursday, May 05, 2005

AMUSING REVIEW OF
Phyllida Lloyd’s
Ring for the English National Opera
BY A CROOKED TIMBERITE


“This production of Twilight of the Gods was really very silly indeed, but also trite, one-dimensional, incoherent and offensive. I have no objection to modern dress productions of opera or Shakespeare, to radical changes of location or period. That’s fine. If a producer can give us a new insight into a work of art, or make it come alive for a modern audience, that is ok by me. But this wasn’t anything like that.

It was gratuitous and exploitative. (This was signalled before the performance even started by the programme, which contained photographs of the Twin Towers burning, a severed hand amidst post-Tsunami debris, and cows being burnt in Britain’s last episode of foot-and-mouth disease.) The culmination of this urge to grab hold of any random news image or bit of popular culture for shock value was the portrayal of Brunnhilde as a suicide bomber in Act 3. In between we were treated to Siegfried as rhinestone cowboy and Brunnhilde as Judy Garland (opening of Act 1) and Hagen as game-show host (wedding in Act 2). Why does Judy Garland metamorphose into a Palestinian suicide bomber?! I have absolutely no idea.

Utter crap.”
QUELLE SURPRISE

Course Rating Surveys Not Taken Seriously

UD has railed against the absurdity of the excessive and overlong course evaluation form more than once on this blog. She has even tried resisting this end-of-semester comic opera in various modest ways. But despite students' deafness to it, the rate me/rate my teaching libretto must be performed every semester in every class, precisely as written.

The leit motif of the evaluation form is Love me or I won't get a raise. UD figures students shy away from the form because they are as embarrassed by it as she is.



So what to do about the fact that while faculty and administrators are playing along, students aren't? "Many students rush through the evaluations... [They] ... fill out evaluations hurriedly and without a thought to what happens to them." Rather than ask whether this general indifference suggests that the heavy-handed approach to evaluation that has evolved over the last few years is bogus, the university is "working to encourage everyone to take evaluations more seriously."

The article doesn't clarify what the university intends to do toward this end, but UD has some ideas for browbeating students into submission. Money rewards. Pastries. Course Evaluation Appreciation Week. Course Evaluation Appreciation Fair.

[Wow. Here's a very straightforward form of blackmail UD hadn't thought of: At the University of Virginia, they're proposing withholding students' grades until they fill out the effing form:

"One easy method for ensuring high response rates is tying the release of grades to the completion of online evaluations. A student would take three minutes of his or her time in order to get access to that course's grade prior to the next semester. Think of it as a penny toll everyone has to pay for the benefit of the larger community."

Wow.]




Here's a fine analysis of the course evaluation phenom from the AAUP journal, Academe. Read it all.

On the assumption that you won't read it all, UD presents the following excerpts:



* Its subtitle: "Inaccurate, Demeaning, Misused"

* "Should we be willing to define "effectiveness" merely in terms of student satisfaction? In judging colleagues for tenure or raises, why are faculty so willing to trust judgments made by students in areas beyond their competence to judge?"

* "At most, ratings may identify the very best and the very worst teachers, but they are ill designed to make fine distinctions in the vast intermediate range. Moreover, the use of student evaluations against faculty members appears to adversely affect the educational experience of students. In one survey of faculty, 72 percent said that administrative reliance on student evaluations encourages faculty to water down course content. And a careful study at Duke University by statistician Valen Johnson demonstrated that students' expectations of grades influence their ratings of teachers. His finding provides a powerful incentive for faculty to raise grades. Johnson argues that 'the ultimate consequences of such manipulation is the degradation of the quality of education in the United States.' "

* "If ratings measure only student satisfaction, how does one assess the real effectiveness of a teacher? Among the many other measures available are student performance on exams and assignments, effectiveness in mentoring students, availability of the instructor, the teacher's commitment to curriculum development, involvement of students in the research of the faculty member, and teaching portfolios prepared by faculty."

* "Finally, the reliance on evaluations is bad for the health of relations between students and faculty. Jeffrey Stake, a law professor at Indiana University, argues that asking students their opinions undermines the trust and faith they need to place in the teacher. Instead of saying, 'Here is a great scholar and teacher; learn from her what you can,' the administration of evaluation forms says to students, 'We hired these teachers, but we are not sure they can teach or have taught you enough. Please tell us whether we guessed right.' "

* "As an entire career can be terminated by not-good-enough evaluations, the procedure of administering the evaluation instruments and getting them turned in forces on the faculty member what Catholics call 'an occasion of sin.' The administration sets up a system that presents the faculty with a powerful temptation to cheat, and then has to invent demeaning procedures to prevent cheating. The teacher is explicitly forbidden to touch the evaluation sheets after they have been filled out. A student has to be designated to collect and take them to the appropriate office. This procedure tells the students that the teacher is more than likely to be a cheat and a sneak, who will cook the books if given a chance. Both students and teacher pretend not to notice the shaming involved, but it is palpable in such a situation."

* "This means of judging teaching has no validity and is demeaning to faculty. Those of us who understand this truth have a responsibility to wake up our colleagues on the faculty and the administration to the facts. Perhaps when we have done so, we can move toward getting rid of this inaccurate, misleading, and shaming procedure."
AND IN OTHER P-DAY NEWS...


"Ticking Device in Bag Turns Out to be a Pianist's Tool"

Associated Press
May. 5, 2005 08:30 AM
SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME

Observations Along Strathmore Avenue, Maryland

II

[For I, see UD, April 30, 2004]



They're calming Strathmore Avenue, the main - and the only through - street in Garrett Park. I'm waiting here for a bus to the metro.

The setting at the intersection of Strathmore and Kenilworth has changed enormously since I stood on this spot last spring. Saplings, sidewalks, and vintage forest green streetlamps line the avenue. All around me, workers from the State Highway Administration drill, measure, and haul. They've just about finished the job.

The idea has been to narrow Strathmore, to make it a stretch of road that sends a driver visual signals to slow down. And traffic is indeed slower than I recall, though that might be about the presence of the highway crew more than anything else.

I don't in any case mind standing here (the bench is temporarily gone) in cool May weather, waiting.

--------------------------------------------------

UD is, as we say, on the bus. The driver has signaled that she not pay (the Ride-Ons are often free), so she sits down, bouncing around with the bus and trying to write.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

UNDOCUMENTED WORKERS



UD’s a great admirer of the website Inside Higher Ed, but one of their recent news items - about an unnamed professor who, on being told he’d been denied tenure, went berserk in the hallways of his university and ripped all of his clothes off - has her wondering whether commentators who worry about the ethics of blogging don’t have a point.

The item is filed under “NEWS,” but it’s rumor. There’s not a hard fact in it.

“The scholar was well liked and well published, according to the e-mail that arrived last week, but he was denied tenure in April. And then he lost it.

One day on campus, he started shouting expletives about the university administration (some versions of the story have this taking place in a class; others do not). He then moved into a hallway, continuing to shout and removing his clothes, taking leaflets off the walls. At some point, he was subdued by campus security officers.”

No names, no dates, no locations. No sourced details, no interviews, no nothing. From the university’s public relations office the authors are able only to get a statement that an “incident” with a professor recently occurred.

“We’re not naming the university or department here because to do so would lead to identifying the professor, who is getting help, and who doesn’t need (or presumably want) to be known nationally.”

Um, since when is everyone so sensitive? If you have a story, and if you have positive i.d., go with it all the way. If you have vague conflicting accounts [“Many people at the university involved know about the incident (or versions of it they have heard, with the ‘facts’ changing a bit), but there’s been no public discussion.”], don’t go with it until you have a real story. Or, if you want to be sensitive (not to mention that, even with a name, a professor who goes nuts in this way ain’t much of a story), don’t go with the story.

In any case, now that a high-profile education blog has broken out with the story, the university - and probably the nervous breakdowner - will be revealed one way or another.




But this shallow approach to the incident generates nothing of value, as the comments posted to the piece attest. Predictably, there are commenters who rush into this inchoate semi-story with therapeutic solicitude for the poor soul, and anger at the cruel tenure system and the cruel bureaucracy of the university. Just as predictably, there are those who say it makes sense a nut was denied tenure, and I wouldn’t want a nutcase teaching my kids... Since both species of observations are built upon nothingness - or upon the thinnest of air - they’re equally worthless.

Which is why it’s just as absurd when the editors quote various academics on their responses to whatever the hell happened here:

“I’m surprised this kind of thing doesn’t happen more often,” said Cary Nelson, a professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a frequent writer about the way academe treats junior faculty members and graduate students. “So much of the system makes people feel utterly powerless,” he said. '

See how the oxygen keeps seeping out of things? First you report a rumor about some guy who around the same time he was denied tenure screamed shit and fuck and took his clothes off in public. Something like that. Based on this wisp of a story, you solicit comments from people like Nelson, famous for years of furious condemnation of “the system.” Nelson isn’t “surprised” things like this (whatever this was) don’t happen more often; he’s clearly disappointed, since it would bolster his argument about the fundamental inhumanity of current academic practices if everyone denied tenure stripped and shouted fuck until subdued by campus police.

This response, though, is rare, which suggests to UD that it doesn’t tell us very much about “the system.”

When mailmen go nuts in public, which they do far more frequently than professors, do we begin talking about the fundamental inhumanity of the postal service, which makes people feel so powerless that they go berserk?




Nelson goes on to add his own rumor to the mix:

Nelson said that he knew of one professor …who suffered a breakdown after he was denied tenure, and responded in part by stripping naked and climbing into a college building by hauling himself up a wall, holding onto ivy, and climbing in. The professor was eventually able to reverse the decision and to win tenure.

UD loves the detail about the ivy. It’s just the kind of credibility-enhancing detail English professors are always telling their students to provide in their essays. But when you look at Nelson’s gossip more closely, it gets a bit weird. How long after the tenure-denial did the guy (it’s always guys!) start in on the ivy? Was the ivy the only mode of ingress into the building? Could he have used the front door, or had he been locked out (a security risk?) of campus buildings?

And note how Nelson says this was only “part” of this professor’s response to the denial of tenure! What the hell did he do for a second act, and why won’t Nelson tell us? Possibly because, as with the ivy, it’s more rhetorically effective to do an I could a tale unfold number than actually to report an actual story….

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME


TWIN PEAKS

When the election judge showed up at the Garrett Park, Maryland town hall last night to announce the results of our town council election, the head of the citizens' association took out a piece of wood he'd brought with him and lit it. White smoke appeared. "Habemus towncouncilus," he said.

Mr. UD, who, as it happens, was among those elected to this body, will soon be up to his ears in town business: building variances, signage policy (there's a serial sign-maker in town whose most recent work can be seen all over the place protesting Bush's social security plan), the sort of surfacing we want for the new retaining walls along the town's main street, etc.

Some people map out their modes of thinking globally and acting locally; Mr. and Mrs. UD do not. Things fall into their laps. In this case, the mayor of Garrett Park, sensing some civic greatness in Mr. UD, asked to him run.

UD admits to being somewhat excited about this new, more public life, although whatever the antithesis of a political wife is, that's UD.
BLOGOSCOPY


SELF-REFERENTIALITY

Ann Althouse quotes Camille Paglia at a recent bookstore appearance saying "I'm worried about blogging." The "self-referential" nature of blogging creates, Paglia says, a certain "decadence."

Yet Paglia concludes, notes Althouse, that "if she were just starting out now, she'd be blogging."





Self-referential? Not UD, I hope. Not too much. Recall that all blog advisors advise some personal stuff, so that one's readers have a hint of the human being behind the posts. (Recall also what everyone quoting Paglia goes on to point out - she's one of the most self-referential writers around. You don't need a blog.)

Consider too that, for UD at least, her most self-referential posts tend to yield the most communitarian dividends. Her post about her house, for instance, and its last owner - Munro Leaf, author of The Story of Ferdinand, prompted a relative of Margaret Leaf's (Munro's wife) to write to her.

A history professor, this person not only shared with UD fascinating details about the lives of Margaret and Munro, but apparently cheered up Margaret Leaf's ailing brother with an account of my posts about living in Ferdinand House.

Maybe Paglia has in mind the web diarists, bloggers like Ayelet Waldman at their worst and Liliputian Lilith at their best, for whom the blog is indeed primarily a mix of personal feelings and daily activities. But this sort of blog hardly defines the genre.

Monday, May 02, 2005

BACK ON TRACK

The spectacular spring weather that made UD lose her train of thought is less spectacular today, so let’s see if she can get back on board the blog… She’ll start modestly, with a programming suggestion for Roger Williams University in Rhode Island:

PROPOSED TOPIC AND SPEAKER
FOR INAUGURAL P-DAY LECTURE

[for explanation of P-Day, go here]
AT ROGER WILLIAMS UNIVERSITY


Professor Avinash Dixit:

“The Legacy
Of Shlomo Pines”

Musical intermission, Pinchas Zuckerman



UD next takes note of a short essay on a paradox dear to her heart -the notorious misery of tenured university professors who have everything to live for. [For UD’s own tussle with this conundrum, go here.]

“Working under conditions of complete freedom, having to show up in the classroom an impressively small number of hours each week, with the remainder of one's time chiefly left to cultivate one's own intellectual garden, at a job from which one [can] never be fired and which (if one adds up the capacious vacation time) amount[s] to fewer than six months work a year for pay that is very far from miserable” -- this, notes Joseph Epstein, falls short of an airtight case for depression. And yet tenured American professors show “a strong and continuing propensity … to make the worst of what ought to be a perfectly delightful situation.”

“The university, as reflected in … academic novels … has increasingly become rather like a badly run hotel, with plenty of nuttiness to go round,” he continues. Are universities madhouses because of miserable professors, or are professors miserable because universities are madhouses? In the Kingsley Amis novel Lucky Jim, it’s professors making other professors unhappy: the “dominant spirit” is “pomposity, nicely reinforced by cheap-shot one-upmanship and intellectual fraudulence.”

The hypocrisy has deepened today. Epstein quotes from a 1999 novel about academia:

' Whenever I'm chatting at conferences with faculty members from other universities, the truth comes out after a drink or two: Hardly any academics are happy where they are, no matter how apt the students, how generous the salary or perks, how beautiful the setting, how light the teaching load, how lavish the research budget. I don't know if it's academia itself that attracts misfits and malcontents, or if the overwhelming hypocrisy of that world would have turned even the von Trapp family sullen. '

Contemporary academic novels describe a situation in which “everyone seem[s] to be in business for himself, looking for the best deal, which mean[s] the least teaching for the most money at the most snobbishly well-regarded schools.” I suppose the hypocrisy enters when everyone feels compelled to pretend that they’re not like this - that they’re committed primarily to the life of the mind, etc.

“And so let us leave them,” Epstein concludes, “overpaid and underworked, surly with alienation and unable to find any way out of the sweet racket into which they once so ardently longed to get.”



UD considers this too harsh; and as a happy academic for all the reasons Epstein says she should be happy, UD wants to suggest that the situation is more complicated.

Which leads to her third little chat in today’s comeback post, this one on the subject of liberalism. Surely part of the reason academics are so miserable is that they’re virtually all liberals, and liberalism is currently moribund.

“The liberals can understand everything but people who don’t understand them,” said Lenny Bruce. He correctly sensed that the fundamental problem with American liberals is that they can’t conceive why anyone other than an idiot would think differently about the world than they do.

Recently, Michael Walzer and Thomas Frank both puzzled over why most Americans regard liberals so negatively, and why most Americans reject liberal doctrines for conservative ones.

Why, Frank asks, do so many Americans regard liberals as (here Frank quotes the words of a talk radio guy) "pansy-ass, tea-sipping" elitists? Why do they think of “devitalized,” “deracinated upper-classness” as “the defining characteristic of liberalism”? Why do they persist in regarding liberals as an “elite, the know-it-alls of Manhattan and Malibu, sipping their lattes as they lord it over the peasantry with their fancy college degrees and their friends in the judiciary.”?

Here’s Frank’s answer:

“The reason conservatives are always thought to be tough and liberals to be effete milquetoasts (two favorite epithets from the early days of the backlash) even when they aren't is the same reason Americans believe the French to be a nation of sissies and the same reason the Dead End Kids found it both easy and satisfying to beat up the posh boy from the luxury apartment building: the cultural symbolism of class. If you relish chardonnay/lattes/ snowboarding, you will not fight. If you talk like a Texan, you are a two-fisted he-man who knows life's hardships and are ready to scrap at a moment's notice.”

This is a remarkably lame answer to an important question. Frank insists that hostility toward and electoral rejection of liberals is really just about surface, the “cultural symbolism of class.” But surely something real, and not merely symbolic, lies at the bottom of all those tea and latte cups. The very gesture of dismissal here - conservatives can’t have substantive reasons for their attitudes - goes to the heart of what heartlanders hate about liberals.

Michael Walzer displays a similar dismissiveness. “Why,” he asks, “isn't the moral character and the value-driven politics of the near-left more widely recognized? For right-wing intellectuals and activists, values seem to be about sex and almost nothing else…” For right-wing intellectuals and activists, as for liberals, values are about many things - religion, child-rearing, community, patriotism, law-abidingness, and so on. It’s as self-destructive for Walzer to dismiss conservatives as sex-addled hypocrites as it is for Frank to dismiss them as imperceptive resenters of class signals.

Walzer concludes that it's not the nature of the left’s morality that alienates so many Americans; it is the left’s failure to present a coherent picture of its morality. “No one on the left has succeeded in telling a story that brings together the different values to which we are committed and connects them to some general picture of what the modern world is like and what our country should be like. The right, by contrast, has a general picture. I don't think that its parts actually fit together in a coherent way, but they appear to do so.”

This situation is particularly frustrating to Walzer, because after all the right is just lazily resting on established, religiously-derived morality, while the left has been engaged in a heroic task to derive its morality from a secular world: “For the right today, the market takes care of such matters, or God takes care of them; the common good arises out of the competition for private goods - - In obedience, amazingly, to God's word. On the left, however, we have to take care of moral matters by ourselves, without the help of history, the invisible hand, or divine revelation. Hence the arguments we make are almost always moral arguments: in defense of human rights; against commodification, for communal values; against corporate corruption and greed, for ‘equal respect and concern,’ against unjust wars, in favor of humanitarian interventions; against environmental degradation, in defense of future generations.”

Again note the remarkably self-destructive trivialization of conservatives: they have nothing to contribute to moral thought, because, well, all you gotta do is look in that there Bible or do one of them cost/benefit analysis type things….



No, UD would like to suggest that a large part of the reason most Americans dislike liberals is that liberals are indeed an elite, and often a rather detestable one.

UD says this as an insider. She is an English professor in a deep blue department at a deep blue university in a deep blue city. She grew up in one of the bluest regions of the country (Bethesda, Maryland) with blue parents and blue relatives and blue friends. She married another professor. The son of a Harvard professor, he grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, two blocks from John Kenneth Galbraith’s house. Blue? UD and the Mr. don’t just travel to France a lot. They have on a number of occasions lived in France.

UD hopes she has established her deep-dyed blueness.

Despite having grown up in the heart of this territory, UD dislikes much of the landscape. She regrets to report to Mr. Frank that she has met many people along her azure highways and byways who are insufferable patronizing snobs, precisely as they are portrayed by the likes of Rush Limbaugh. She has met many people convinced they are moral paragons operating at an ethical level superior to everyone else, whereas these people in actuality represent moral primitives of the worst sort. She has met countless spiritual snoots -- people who think their transcendent ideology of the moment puts them in possession of deep truths about life that conventional religious people -- mindless little sheep -- can never hope to glimpse. She has met many rank materialists, shamelessly greedy consumers, who believe themselves to be extremely responsible and compassionate people. She has met many people who give lip service to egalitarian ideas and the rule of law but who are essentially aristocrats who don’t believe rules apply to themselves.

UD has also of course met people who are serious and committed moralists of the sort Walzer has in mind; but she has met many more who are cynics with no ideals at all. These people are close kin to Epstein’s “surly with alienation” types. Leon Wurmser captures their essence: They are people for whom “narcissistic grandiosity and contemptuousness defend against a fatal brittleness and woundedness.”



Finally, UD wants to recognize today’s best line. It’s from a Harry Shearer satire that played on NPR this evening. He does the voiceover for a television commercial advertising a product called “Jitterin,” an anti-anxiety medication targeted at pre-wedding jitters. (The satire is Shearer’s response to last week’s runaway bride hoax.) The commercial ends with the tagline “Jitterin. Because the most important week of your life shouldn’t be your least medicated.”


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

UPDATE: I'm taking the liberty of transferring to this post's comment thread a fascinating comment UD recently received on an earlier post about academics and unhappiness. It's from Anonymous, a person who grew up in and around the University of Kansas. Click on Comments below and scroll down.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

LEAVING THE PAST BEHIND


“The blonde heiress, who reportedly underwent cosmetic surgery in 2003 to reduce the size of her posterior, was looking casual but svelte as she flew into Brazil's Porto Alegre airport with her fiancé this week.”