Wednesday, May 31, 2006
Mr. UD Reports…|
...that the Galbraith memorial at Harvard
today was very moving, with many old liberal lions
(McGovern, Kennedy, Steinem) telling funny stories.
William Buckley was there for diversity.
As the event ended, a bagpiper playing Auld Lang Sine
led the procession out.
Update: Details from the Boston Globe, including a way dumb remark from Michael Dukakis:
"I should have made him my campaign manager," Dukakis said of Galbraith after the service. "I might have won."
From today’s Washington Post:
Dear Miss Manners:
It’s a small subject, maybe, but one to which I’ve given some thought.
First: I’m pleased that students virtually always write Dear Professor Soltan in emails (I’ve never gotten Dear Dr. Margaret Soltan -- that sounds weird). As our email relationship heats up, the student will often shorten things to Professor, or Prof Soltan, which I also like. Some students will start our email idyll with Hello, which is fine as well. Wild hairy hippie students, for whom I have a soft spot, will sometimes go right to Hey. Or Hey! Miss Manners would be appalled, but I don’t mind.
Second: When I respond, I sign myself Margaret Soltan, or, if we’re a little more intime, Margaret S. Virtually never Margaret. Most students continue to address me, in further emails, as Professor.
To be sure, most of my activities at this point in my life are pathetic efforts to make myself feel young, so Miss Manners must be right that my disinclination to sign myself Professor Soltan is part of that whole thing. What it mainly feels like to me, though, is my all-American skittishness when it comes to formal titles. Having spent time in Europe, I’m phobic about the slightest chance of being confused with horrific Dottoressas.
BACK THEM UP!|
Get behind GM’s Fuel Price Protection Program,
a just-announced gas subsidy for owners of Tahoes,
Suburbans, Yukons, and Hummers.
Blurb Without a Content|
After lunch with a student yesterday, UD trudged in the already hellish heat to her local Borders and bought Harry Lewis's Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education.
She has now read twenty-seven pages.
It's not looking good.
Start with the blurbs on the crimson and gold back cover. Many of les blurbistes agree that Harry Lewis is "brave" and courageous."
Under no circumstances is the writing of a book by a tenured American professor an act of bravery. Whenever UD reads that an artist who has done something anti-bourgeois, or a tenured professor who has written something shocking, is "brave," she wants to hurl. Harvard professors like Andrei Shleifer can defraud the United States government and cost Harvard tens of millions in fines and themselves have to pay millions in fines and not only retain their tenure but retain their named chairs. Publishing a book, even a book critical of Harvard, cannot be a brave act if there aren't any remotely conceivable negative consequences.
This use of the word "courageous" is of course meant to give the vaguely perusing Borders customer a reason to buy Lewis's book -- the drama of the word conveys an exciting interior. ... Yet if the peruser were to look with a little more care at the content of some of the blurbs, she'd know better (UD knew better, but bought the book because she's got this blog about universities...). Here's one from The Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame -- a classic of its kind:
This is a study of higher education, that asks some very important questions and gives some rather clear answers. One may agree or disagree with the presentation, but it is certainly worth the time to study it.
Let's overlook the incorrect use of the comma after "education," and move on to the guts of the matter... except there aren't any guts... because naughty Ted has agreed to write a blurb about a book he hasn’t read. What to do? Vast existential generality is the only open path. “This is a study of higher education.” Ja, ja, that’s why I’m standing in the Higher Education section. The book asks some very important questions and gives some rather clear answers. Not clear, mind you, but, rather clear… “One may agree or disagree” is sheer Sartreian nothingness…
Copping a blurb from the head of Notre Dame because your subtitle has the word “soul” in it is the sort of cynical marketing gesture for which Lewis spends most of the book excoriating Harvard.
And about that “soul.” In a secular culture, in a secular book, this is a weasel-word. Rather like a blurb from a Major Catholic Person, it purchases you, cheaply, a patina of piety. Perhaps because he’s not a religious man, and perhaps because he doesn’t want his book shelved in the Pat Robertson section, Lewis will maintain throughout his book (I skimmed ahead) a Victorian, muscularly moral sort of argument -- not at all a religious one. But Lewis wants that soul, and he wants that Reverend, because he wants his book to give off gravitas rays. Which is a little skeezy.
As to content: "I have almost never heard discussions among professors," Lewis complains, "about making students better people." Throughout, Lewis assumes that I'm teaching morality rather than a certain content. He thinks there's something wrong with the fact that "Professors are hired as scholars and teachers, not as mentors of values and ideals to the young and confused." His own confused formulation - mentors of values? - points to the problem at the heart of his book. Teaching is not morality coaching; and indeed a good bit of what we teach is actively subversive of goodness as Lewis conceives it.
Lewis's goodness is work for the public good, the work of the world. His ideal university is a place where our professors sweeten our civic feelings so that we may all become variants of George F. Kennan. He worries about "the lessening of concern for students' hearts and souls in favor of almost exclusive interest in their minds." But this is precisely the glory of the great secular American university, which is interested in mental clarity, not the tossing off of hearts and souls like so many valentines.
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
'The university will remain|
in third-rate category until
I can spell "reined." '
[A professor at Louisiana State University was] called on the carpet for threatening the institution's relationship with the federal government and the research money that comes with that. Last November two vice chancellors at Lousiana State — Michael Ruffner, in charge of communications for the university, and Harold Silverman, who leads the office of research — brought him in for a meeting. As Dr. van Heerden recalled in an interview in Baton Rouge, La., the two administrators — one of whom controlled his position, which is nontenured — said that "they would prefer that I not talk to the press [about federal failures to protect New Orleans from Katrina] because it could hurt L.S.U.'s chances of getting federal funding in the future."
Monday, May 29, 2006
A-Fishing in Minnesota|
'The [St. Paul Pioneer Press] examined data from 2002 to 2005 and found where students [at the University of Minnesota] had the best shots at getting an A.
Haven’t yet read…|
…Excellence Without A Soul, but I’m reading and pondering its many reviews. Like the one in the Wall Street Journal, which rightly notes that Harry Lewis might have nodded even if only faintly in the direction of his clear predecessor, Allan Bloom, who twenty years ago also featured that winner of a word, “soul,” in the subtitle of The Closing of the American Mind (“How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students”), and who made similar arguments about the vapidity of some of American higher education.
The writer for the Wall Street Journal notes that, like Bloom, Lewis argues “universities should be about something. What makes an educated person? Unfortunately, too many professors and administrators, if they ever bother to think about it, would have difficulty answering the question beyond the pabulum found in most university brochures.”
Longtime readers know that UD recommends Harvard head over to Annapolis and take a look at St. John's College’s curriculum if it wants to answer that question.
Yet there are problems with Lewis’s pitch when he insists that college is about helping students to “sort out their lives.” “High ideals,” “moral authority,” “ what it means to be a good person” -- these are the attributes and inquiries Lewis excoriates Harvard for ignoring.
It’s important to disentangle, it seems to me, the coercive moralities of fundamentalist left and right (political correctness; revealed religious correctness) from this soulful impulse. Serious university education is not about inculcating moral truths; it is about disciplined, detailed, and polemical presentations of valuable cultural artifacts.
I’m not in the business of applying ointment to anyone’s soul, and I hope most of my students are able to study intellectuals who don’t think souls exist.
Finishing Schools Finished|
Two little stories that didn’t go anywhere begin this post.
Various observers have been scandalized that Tony Blair‘s son Euan and George Bush’s protegee Blake Gottesman recently got admitted to various programs at Yale and Harvard, even though Euan’s a so-so student and Gottesman’s a college dropout (from an excellent college - he left to work in the White House).
But Yale and Harvard have always been places where people likely to hold high office are sent to acquire a certain civic ethos, to inhale an air of seriousness about high-level statecraft.
Does this make Harvard and Yale finishing schools? Yes. George Bush and John Kerry, both of whom graduated with way shitty GPAs, were at Yale because of the high likelihood - given family histories and social connections - that they were headed for governorships, senatorships, and presidentships. The institutions took them not because their SATs rocked but because they were likely to hold high government positions, and it was therefore important that they be exposed to the best thought about government the country could offer.
UD sees nothing wrong with this as long as these universities continue offering seriousness about statecraft. As her friend Jim Sleeper notes in his review of Excellence Without a Soul, “before the old colleges morphed into international career factories and cultural gallerias for a global ruling class, they set civic standards for American democratic leaders such as Harvard's Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, and Al Gore.”
Yet now, says Sleeper (he‘s quoting Harry Lewis, author of Excellence, throughout here), this sort of finishing school has become
tone-deaf to the American Republic, whose liberties it relies on yet whose virtues it no longer nurtures. It has forsaken such pedagogical heavy lifting for market come-ons and a falsely compensatory moralism about sexism, racism, and “jock culture" -- ‘proxies for misgivings about deeper values.’ The college no longer turns freshmen into adults who can recognize and take responsibility for hard moral choices: ‘The Enlightenment ideal of human liberty and the philosophy embodied in American democracy barely exist in the current Harvard curriculum.’… It would be better to impose serious core curricular requirements on students than to offer ‘what they myopically claim to want,’ Lewis writes, admitting that more teaching takes time from scholarship, but the faculty needs to ‘develop a shared sense of educational responsibility for its undergraduates.’…Harvard's assumption that ‘students are free agents and . . . should study what they wish’ drains its ‘long-term commitment to the welfare of students and the society they actually serve,’ he writes. Even administrators with ‘perspective on deep and enduring problems’ have left or been forced out of ‘the new retail-store university.’
Things are made worse by what Sleeper calls “the arrogant consumer sovereignty of success-obsessed Harvard parents,” a sovereignty creating more Kaavya Viswanathans by the day. “Today's Harvard,” Sleeper observes, “is no more likely to help [a student] find an inner moral compass than Tiffany & Co. is to improve its customers' morality. Students contemplate with self-recognition [KV’s] fall from what one, in the Harvard Crimson, called “the same rickety tower of meritocracy that so many of us built on our way to our Harvard admission."
Yale and Harvard, in other words, continue to admit roughly two sorts of students:
1.) The sons and daughters of the national and international political elite, who are rarely there because of intellectual merit, but who might as well be there because they need whatever exposure we can give them to liberal democratic ideas and practices lest they become corrupt fools or mindless despots; and
2.) the carefully (sometimes corruptly) nurtured brainpan babies of the entitled upper middle class of America, who are there because they’re probably authentically smart, but whose passive cynical disposition (courtesy of their hebephrenically managerial parents) needs to be transformed by the institution into moral seriousness.
(I said “roughly.” I know there are lots of exceptions.)
When Harvard and Yale, as Sleeper and Harry Lewis suggest, themselves become epiphenomena of a cynical culture, their campuses cease to represent sites where this complex moral and intellectual development can take place.
Sunday, May 28, 2006
To Complete Your Summer Look|
From UD's daily paper, the NY Times:
"An Ecoist tote bag made of braided recycled candy wrappers has a detachable orange nylon zip pouch and leather straps ($238)."
O my brave brown companions, when your souls
From Siegfried Sassoon's poem Prelude: The Troops, 1918.
Saturday, May 27, 2006
David Brooks on Duke|
' Witch hunts go in stages. First frenzy, when everybody damns the souls of people they don't know. Then confusion, as the first wave of contradictory facts comes in. Then deafening silence, as everybody studiously ignores the vicious slanders they uttered during the moment of maximum hysteria.
Ann Althouse on Our Breed|
'In academia, summer seems to begin on the last day of class, which was somewhere back in April, and weekends only have to do with where traffic and crowds will be. "Do you have plans for the weekend?" I get asked that a lot. If I say "no," will I sound like a loser? If I explain why weekends mean nothing to me, will I seem to be bragging or will it just be boring, like answering the question "How are you?" with details of how things are going for you these days?" '
Housing Scandal in Tennessee
It’s time to revisit the nation’s most corrupt university system, Tennessee's. As she noted a couple of years ago, UD doesn’t know why Tennessee always comes out on top when the subject turns to malfeasance, but there you are.
Having given the appalling President Shumaker (a Benjamin Ladner clone) the heave-ho, the UT system now finds itself with a chancellor at the Memphis campus with similar deadly sin problems. Plus a wife.
"Should Dr. (John) Petersen (UT president) and the (Board of Trustees) decide that Bill is a valuable member of the UT organization, I may reconsider my decision. Until then I can no longer stand by and watch my husband be treated in a less than appropriate fashion."
I love this sort of writing. Acid teaparty. Wife wrote this in an email -- it’s a threat to collect her husband and leave (they pretty much just got there) -- and I guess she thought her threat would remain private, but someone forwarded it to the world at large.
Why are these people so angry?
Because this house was unacceptable.
and because this new house
(due to some scheduling problems, the tax payers of Tennessee are paying both mortgages at the moment) is also unacceptable. Yes, yes, the plasma tv ($4,500) has been installed [‘"It is troubling that someone who makes over $300,000 a year cannot purchase their own TV and continues to pressure their staff to find ways to purchase one," wrote Mark Paganelli, head of UT's audit department. ‘]; but there is so much more!
The school owns a $1 million Memphis home that underwent a recent $500,000 renovation.
Oso Raro’s Lord of the Flies Moment|
From Slaves of Academe’s Oso Raro:
For the last few weeks I have ... been participating in a faculty seminar on teaching, specifically concerning the question of difference in the classroom… [An] incident in the seminar upset me greatly, and seemed to detail a number of problems not only with thinking through difference in our teaching but also difference among the professoriate.
Bitch PhD comments:
I think that your critic was redirecting attention away from the incident *and* from your thinking about it/advice to the students, onto herself. Specifically, onto *her* emotive reaction to the incident. I don't think it's a question of discussions about institutional racism finding redirection to people of color; I think it's discussions about institutional racism finding redirection back to reassuring white people about their own self-image. In this case (as so often with liberal whites), her self-image as one who sympathizes with--feels for--the "plight" of the students of color. Because, of course, for a lot of white liberals, the problem with racism is how it makes them feel.
From a New York Times Obit|
… Mr. Guest directed … "Mister Drake's Duck" (1951), starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and [Yolande] Donlan as owners of a duck that lays uranium eggs; and "Penny Princess" (1952), in which Dirk Bogarde plays the love interest of a young woman (Ms. Donlan) who inherits a tiny European principality.
Morrissey, from UD's sister's front row seat in London the other night.|
Later today, they'll go out to lunch, after which UD will buy the Harry Lewis book about Harvard, Excellence Without a Soul. She will speedread it and then blog about it...
But meanwhile, here are some excerpts from an article about it in today's Boston Globe:
Ex-Dean Says Harvard Run Like Day Care
Friday, May 26, 2006
|Dean Bites Leg|
Gunfire Heard, Partial Capitol Shutdown|
The trains yesterday; and now this.
Update: It was a pneumatic hammer.
You Don't Need Todd Gitlin to Tell You Why the Left is Nowhere|
When There's the Sidney Hillman Foundation
From today's Chronicle of Higher Education (parentheses mine):
Two Yale University professors, Ian Shapiro and Michael J. Graetz, expected to receive a 2006 Sidney Hillman Award on Tuesday at a ceremony in New York City. Instead, they got phone calls on Tuesday morning telling them that the judges had reversed the decision to honor the professors' book on the repeal of the estate tax, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight Over Taxing Inherited Wealth.
Here's the Hillman webpage. Shapiro and Graetz have already been airbrushed out.
Excellent review, in Slate, of the ethical and legal difficulties universities have responding to self-destructive students. The writer begins with UD's school, George Washington University:
George Washington University has taken a serious beating lately. In fall 2005, the university was sued by a former student named Jordan Nott, who was barred from campus after seeking hospital care for severe depression and thoughts of suicide. In March, after the university responded in court to Nott's complaint, the Washington Post ran a front-page whammy about the case, followed by a blistering editorial called "Depressed? Get Out!"
She goes on to express (as UD did in a post at the time) sympathy for GW.
Schools aren't necessarily wrong to take a tough stand. And in fact, some quasi-disciplinary measures may be in a suicidal student's best interests.
...[If the student] depression was caused by his friend's suicide, which occurred on campus the previous spring, an administrator might have believed it was in his best interests to take time away. Two additional GWU students had committed suicide in the previous six months, so the school was legitimately worried about copycat deaths.
Indeed she concludes by endorsing the get-tough University of Illinois program -- the only program shown to have reduced the number of student suicides:
Illinois does not treat suicide as a "victimless crime" or a cry for help, but rather as an unacceptable act of violence. Students who threaten or attempt suicide are required to attend four assessment sessions, in which they are asked to respond to questions regarding the events, thoughts, and feelings that led up to the suicide threat or attempt. If they refuse to participate, they can be removed from school.
Thursday, May 25, 2006
Harvey Araton,New York Times sportswriter, suggests that the sweatbands that say "INNOCENT" on them that the Duke lacrosse ladies now sport in solidarity with the indicted guys are not a very good idea. He describes their decision to "martyr their male lax mates" (fab alliteration there) as lacking "common sense" and "maturity." Do they realize the "kind of behavior they are staking their own reputations on?" |
On a men's program that, according to a recent report after an internal investigation, was described in 2005 by a dean for residential life and housing to be "building toward a train wreck." A program found to have 52 disciplinary incidents in the past five and a half years at a rate that was accelerating. A program that produced the fateful party on March 13 at which drinking and stripping were the primary attractions and racial epithets directed at two hired dancers were reported to the police by a neighbor.
Update: Same subject, less diplomatic.
…article about college lacrosse, from ESPN. Well-written. And it features a person named Rich Heritage.
Among its observations:
While the numbers support the general impression that many college students abuse alcohol, [an] anonymous Ivy League [lacrosse] player said that a serious commitment to Division I athletics, coupled with a challenging academic workload, creates enormous pressure.
SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME|
Ecoute! If I wanted big sloppy taters served up by milkmaids, I’d have moved to North Dakota. I live in ‘thesda and dine in G’town because I want weird little Thai shrimpy things that make my tongue hurt. And I want them served by attractive supercilious young men.
If I wanted a slab of overdone steak and a menu with little biographies of the farmers who raised the cattle I’m chewing, I’d have moved to Pierre (which is in North or South Dakota). I live in Garrett Park and dine in Chevy Chase because I want gulab jamun and cardamom tea.
So why in the name of God does Agraria exist? Why did this new Georgetown restaurant open with a party last night at the tres chic National Building Museum?
Here's your opportunity to enjoy an evening of fine dining, high design, and conversations with architects--as well as the executive chef. On May 24 in Washington, D.C., the National Building Museum will host Dine by Design and celebrate the premiere of Agraria restaurant.
Agraria, it is clear, represents the worst of both worlds. It is aggressively down-home -- the nefarious work of a farmer’s cooperative -- and aggressively snobby -- its opening is not an opening but a “premiere,” as if it’s a film. If you’re a paid-up member of the Building Museum, you can chow down on its food for just over a hundred bucks a person, booze not included.
I enjoy postmodern delirium as much as the next person, but Agraria is trying to appeal to my snobbery by telling me it comes from the North Dakota Farmers Union.
Here’s an account of the place, from a heartland newspaper.
Naturally, UD has been unable to resist making a few parenthetical comments.
The ritzy Georgetown area of Washington is famous for fine dining, offering everything from French cuisine to eclectic Moroccan fusion.
Ken Lay Chair in Economics and Business Ethics|
What does this afternoon’s Incredibly Guilty verdict against Ken Lay mean for universities, you ask?
You’ve come to the right place.
Monsieur Lay, having a soft spot for the University of Missouri, gave the institution over a million dollars to endow a chair in economics -- the Ken Lay Chair.
All through his trial, the university’s been dithering - - Should we wait until the verdict to return the money? Should we return it now? Do we have to keep his name on the chair? Even if he’s convicted, should we keep the money, establish the chair, keep his name on it, but call it -- as one university trustee has suggested --the “Ken Lay Chair in Economics and Business Ethics”? So as to, you know, simultaneously honor the gesture and, as an English professor might put it, “interrogate” it?
All this soul-searching might have been put to rest a few months ago, when Lay suddenly demanded all the money back. Screw the chair thing -- he now wanted to donate it to struggling post-Katrinans.
But oh ho! Oh no! You don’t just give a university money and take it back when you change your mind!
Said Missouri. Lay threatened to sue.
Then he changed his mind again. He didn’t want the money back for New Orleans. He wanted it back to pay his legal fees.
Time reviewed these dizzying events a few weeks back:
Seven years after making a $1.1 million gift to endow a chair in economics at the University of Missouri, Lay is now trying to have the money returned. Last September, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he personally sought to have the money — as yet unused — transferred back to Houston to assist 14 charities in relief efforts, including preacher-author Joel Osteen's megachurch.
Sixty people are vying for the privilege of holding the Ken Lay Etc. After today, will they still be so eager?
One solution would be to honor only one name - either “Ken” or “Lay” - and substitute a new, diversionary name for the dropped one. Examples: The Fritos Lay Chair. The Ken Doll Chair. The Lay Lady Lay Chair.
A Blog and a Job
Workplaces are beginning to clarify policies about employee blogging, reports the New York Times, which also reviews some job-blogging success stories:
"The Devil Wears Prada," Lauren Weisberger's veiled account of her time working as an assistant to Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor, ushered in the modern "underling-tell-all" genre, abetted by other revenge-of-the-employee tales like "The Nanny Diaries," by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Both became best sellers that will be showing up on movie screens, with "Devil" opening next month.
Another new blogfront opens up.
'Wall Street's Junior Set Tells All as Banking Meets Blogging
Amit Chatwani is the toast of Wall Street's junior set. He doesn't work for a bank.
Wednesday, May 24, 2006
SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME|
"There's Just Nothing There"
A colleague of Mr. UD’s, in the University of Maryland Sociology
department, appears to be among the first Americans to own and drive a European Smart Car. Here he is, with one of the University of Maryland's many big brick buildings in the background:
And here’s WTOP radio on the subject:
It's a car that gets up to 50 miles a gallon, pollutes very little and can slip into just about any parking place.
UD LOVES articles like this.|
From the Financial Times :
'In Ulysses, James Joyce compressed his musings on life, the universe and everything into a single day in Dublin. Eircom has similarly packed an awful lot into its short history as a privatised entity.
[Goes on like this for awhile - business mumbojumbo. Final paragraph:]
A separate, securitised fixed-line network would generate low-risk returns over the long term. That would allow B&B potentially to de-gear and sell on the retail operations. Regulators should also welcome this. Eircom's odyssey of ownership looks set to continue.'
Of the Demonic
Academy X (see post below) tells part of the story. Here’s another part of it, from the point of view of a university president. These are excerpts from a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:
...[N]ationally, we educators have created a culture in which parents spend thousands on mind steroids to help their kids score 50 points higher.
Tuesday, May 23, 2006
How Princeton Stays That Way|
A history teacher at Horace Mann School in Riverdale has used his intimate view of the city's movers and shakers to pen a novel about a leafy campus in New York City where 17-year olds drive Mercedes cars, take prescription drugs to boost their academic performance, and turn to seduction and plagiarism to guarantee a slot in the Ivy League.
Here's a window shot...|
...from S.R., UD reader and proprietor of Here Be Dragons:
San Marcos, California.
As UD's friend Kim would say, "I'm jeal."
Gross National Sappiness|
Again via Butterflies and Wheels, this brief, sensible review of three books on the absurd subject (at least as it plays out in America -- see a bunch of earlier UD posts like this one) of happiness.
… With evolutionary biology we have come, full circle, back to the Greeks: happiness is in the luck of the draw, how we fare in the genetic sweepstakes, the modern name for Fortuna's wheel. Not even geography or economic position is as influential a factor.
UD sees the whole happiness race in America as one more instance of our fevered unstoppable competitiveness -- we're as driven to display our superior emotional disposition to the world as we are all the other forms of superiority.
As to causes -- UD has long believed, and believes more firmly with experience, that almost all of happiness is indeed genetic.
March on the English Department|
Via Butterflies and Wheels, from a review of Todd Gitlin’s book, The Intellectuals and The Flag:
'The left, [Gitlin] argues, took a wrong turn when it abandoned knowledge as its guiding light on the grounds that knowledge, as argued by theorists like Michael Foucault and Edward Said, was merely a masked form of power, and illegitimate power at that. "If discourse was central to power," Gitlin writes with a note of bitterness, "then the exposure and transformation of discourse was the left's central task, and academia would become indispensable ... the university would become the main battlefield in the struggle for power. ... Defeated in Washington, you could march (as a consolation prize) on the English department."
Andrew Sullivan’s had the clever idea of asking his readers to send him photos of the view from their windows.
Scroll down for some nice shots.
Here’s the view from my window:
Freezer Burn Update|
'Not only have [William Jefferson’s] lawyers "expressed outrage" at this [raid’s] blatant violation of the separation of powers, [says Jefferson, but] "all of those who consider themselves scholars in the matter have also done so." Jefferson didn't reveal how he ascertained the opinions of "all of those who consider themselves scholars"; perhaps he did so between trips to his freezer.'
-- robert kc johnson, cliopatria --
SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME|
Life is a Pigsty
Here’s Morrissey in his Oscar Wilde shirt.
UD’s sister is, faithful readers know, a huge fan. In fact, she‘s in London now, attending his concerts.
Confessions of a Syllabus|
UD has once before turned her attention to the subject of college and university syllabi -- a subject which does not seem to her one of the more important facing today's society ("today's society" is one of the American college student's favorite cliches). On the other hand, she and her university colleagues have to include copies of all syllabi in their annual reports, so there must be a very busy inspection committee.
Tim Burke says:
Syllabi should all be posted, we should have a way of making teaching practices more transparent, there should be a relatively neutral professional body interested in observing and collecting data about classroom practices. (I do NOT want that body to be education scholars, by the way, because I do NOT want college professors to have their teaching be evaluated by ed-school jargon.)
I like the idea of posting syllabi. Just as I anticipate that things like Rate My Professors will make in-house course evaluating obsolete, so I anticipate that Syllabi.com or whatever will make costly absurdities like multiple levels of syllabus review obsolete. The economist Richard K. Vedder is, Inside Higher Ed reports, about to inaugurate a center for the study of why college costs so much, and certainly much costly and time-consuming program and department and faculty review could and should take place in public on the web.
For a modest instance: Rather than have me list my enrollments for each class on my annual review -- information my university has, but which it asks me to inform it about each year -- why not have me copy onto the web the online enrollment pages for all of my courses? I'd update it, too, so you and anyone else interested can see how many students drop or add in the course of a semester, etc. Names of students would be removed.
Virtually no one is interested in any of this, of course; my various course-related pages would be clicked on by local administrators only, I'd guess. But if any prospective students, or syllabus-constructing professors, or UD readers, would care to get an idea of how I teach, how I present material, how popular my courses are, etc., they'd have easy access to it too.
Monday, May 22, 2006
Withywindle and I|
Withywindle, a commenter on a must-read thread -- scroll down to “ACTA Report, “How Many Ward Churchills?” -- at Tim Burke’s Easily Distracted, is very impressive. Knows how to write, and knows how to reason, and is willing to continue to respond to challenging comments from other commenters as he/she defends the basic proposition that American university professors who preach rather than teach should be discouraged from doing so.
UD doesn’t agree with everything Ww says, but finds Ww’s general position legit, and is particularly impressed by Ww’s ability to withstand the commenter who accuses Ww of “resentment.” UD calls this response -- popular among academics who cannot argue -- drive-by psychoanalysis (UD’s colleague Justin Frank is unbeatable at it). It is one of the main reasons the sainted Invisible Adjunct closed down her site (as it happens, Oso Raro has a spectacular appreciation of IA up today).
Another comment in the Burke thread made UD happy:
There are plenty of irresponsible professors out there who don’t understand professionalism or pedagogy on all sides of the political spectrum. Generally these same people find ways to avoid teaching undergraduates the further they advance. I am hoping that those of us who like to engage in difficult and unresolvable debates with our students remain in the game.
Happy because she hadn’t thought before this of that trajectory in her teaching life -- more and more toward undergrad teaching (though I enjoy working with graduate students on their dissertations)…. At a party on Saturday for graduating English majors, a couple of UD’s students came up to her with their digital camera. “We want to show you something,” they said, and began clicking through their pictures.
They showed me the two of them smiling in front of some big, sort of derelict buildings in what looked like New York City. And then they looked at me, waiting for me to recognize the location.
“New York City?”
“Um. I don’t know… "
“Think DeLillo!” [They’d both taken my Novels of Don DeLillo course.]
“… Great Jones Street??” [Site and title of DeLillo's early novel, Great Jones Street.]
For some people, the word "rewards" implies things like stock options. For UD, it’s when your DeLillo students make a pilgrimage to Great Jones Street.
Snapshots from Home|
(UD Rushes into Print
With the Obvious Headline)
'Federal agents searched the Capitol Hill office of a Louisiana congressman under investigation on bribery charges Sunday, while newly released court papers said agents found $90,000 in cash last year in his Washington home.
Sunday, May 21, 2006
As We Await the Duke Trial,|
Tips on Proper Usage
William Safire, New York Times:
The use of the term "exotic dancer" in a report of an accusation made against members of the Duke University lacrosse team has riled a Times reader. George Grumbach of New York notes that his dictionary defines exotic as "of foreign origin or character" and erotic as "of or pertaining to sexual love; amatory." He asks: "Is the use of exotic a euphemism to avoid overtly stating that the lacrosse team hired two dancers whose purpose was sexual titillation? If so, does it not amount to false reporting in the context of discussing how the hiring of these dancers ended with alleged sexual assault?"
Saturday, May 20, 2006
"The longer this case|
drags on, the better."
Over here, we're caught up in the minutiae of the Duke lacrosse trial. In England, a reporter for The Observer looks at the larger picture.
He begins by calling this particular "scandal... gruesome," but argues that the
story stretches far beyond the hallowed Duke campus in Durham, North Carolina, across the educational landscape of America to question what going to university really means any more. For Duke is far from alone in coping with allegations of crime, violence and binge-drinking by its sportsmen - 'jocks' - and their supporters.
Italians Don’t Go Quietly|
Professor Marcello Arsura, a pharmacologist at the University of Tennessee, used his skills for good (cancer research) and ill (meth). Here he is smiling, pre-drug raid.
And here he is “kicking and screaming” in the police car because “he didn’t want his picture taken.”
The ladies on his block ganged up on him:
B.J. Summers has complained about her neighbor for months. "We all got together all the ladies in this neighborhood. He didn't know who he was dealing with when he had all these women on him," says Summer. "We had pictures of him on the internet and we knew where he worked, everything."
Another article lists what the police found: “19 grams of meth wrapped in individual bags prepared for distribution, 72 ecstasy pills, 49 Loritab pills, 4.3 grams of cocaine and scales used to weigh the drugs.” Plus Arsura hurt a policeman when he resisted arrest, and the policeman requires surgery.
When will UT Memphis make his departmental web page disappear? Faithful readers know that UD’s intrigued by the various university policies about when and how to make disgraced faculty members vanish.
[Scathing Online Schoolmarm]
'UNIVERSITY PRESIDENTS HYPOCRITES'
Friday, May 19, 2006
Master Poldy's Day 2006|
'Bloomsday Is Coming
--new york times--
Jonathan V. Last |
Takes the Words
Out of UD's Mouth
'...In 2005, newspapers cut 2,000 jobs; this spring more people graduated from journalism schools than ever before.
Same goes for Creative Writing and Education.
Paging Doctor Clara!|
'If black is the new black, again, should its influence extend to toilet paper? Can toilet paper make it as an object of design, a touchstone of chic? More important, should it?
---new york times---
Thursday, May 18, 2006
'Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science Harry R. Lewis ’68 has branded Harvard “soulless,” arguing that the institution fails to exert any “formative force” on its students and that the faculty are “exhausted” by their work on curricular review.
Nice Call, Princeton.|
'It never feels good to be rejected, and Sean Dorrance Kelly's experience was no exception. It hurt, he says, when Princeton University's philosophy department turned down his tenure bid in 2004.
-- Chronicle of Higher Ed --
From The Onion|
(thanks to Fred for the link)
Heroic Computer Dies To Save World From Master's Thesis
Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer...|
From the official statement of Catholic University's athletics director:
[A] Web site ha[s] posted an article and photos about The Catholic University of America's women's lacrosse team. According to the article and the photos that accompany it, a male stripper was invited to perform at a freshman initiation party held off the campus of the university...
From tomorrow's New York Times:
[A few days ago, the] Web site badjocks.com posted photographs from a hazing by the Northwestern women's soccer team, leading to the team's suspension. Yesterday, badjocks.com followed up with photos from freshman, varsity and club team initiations at 12 other colleges, complete with links to the teams' rosters.
How Many Semi-Literates?|
If you’re after an intelligent effort to refute ACTA’s “How Many Ward Churchills?” report, go here and here.
If you want UD’s admittedly rather narrow take on it, proceed.
I think ACTA seriously overplays its hand, and makes a rhetorical error in invoking ol’ Ward as some sort of paradigm, in this report.
But -- the report certainly kicks up a lot of academic crap.
For instance, there are professors whose level of writing is so low that they should not be teaching a course with a writing component. Here’s an example -- a course description ACTA found:
This course examines some critical American social problems. These include problems in the economy and political system, social class and income inequality, racial/ethnic inequality, gender inequality and heterosexism, and problems of illness and health care. Emphasis will be on how these problems are natural outgrowths of our existing social structure.
This paragraph captures the sort of student writing I spend my life trying to correct. Redundancy, vagueness, jargon, cliché, death on wheels. Yet it is written by a professor. A professor who will be reading and evaluating student writing.
A student who writes well and takes this course will be made to suffer for her superior literacy. She has entered a room with a professor dedicated to the destruction of her writing.
Here’s a sentence taken from another course description:
This survey course will explore the ways American writers utilize literary and cinematic texts as tools to theorize and debate notions of race in the late 19th and 20th Centuries.
The course’s title is Writers Who Utilize Their Tools.
No. Not really.
The other doodoo ACTA sniffs out is the I’m So Excited I Just Can’t Hide It syllabus, which announces to the world a course which will change you forever! If you’ve got the guts! If you’ve got the honesty! The fearful need not apply!
[UD's comments are in parenthesis.]
Sex and Sensibility in the Eighteenth Century
AU Board of Trustees|
David Carmen, a Washington lobbyist, maintains his seat on the operatically dysfunctional American University board of trustees, despite fortissimo hints from the United States Senate that he - and his friends on the board who unapologetically made possible the Ladner fiasco - should go. AU's Carmen, one tough oiseau rebel, refuses to move his ass.
"People do not tolerate leaks anymore," he wrote his fellow trustees during the crisis, in response to an anonymous whistle blower's letter to them about scummy goings-on. Instead of examining the claims this person made -- all of them true -- Carmen tried to rally the board to expose and crush the whistle blower: "No one is so naive anymore to think that unidentified 'whistle-blowers' are public servants."
Naivete. The world of the Carmens is a tough, reality-based world in which you get what you can how you can and crush the naivete that would stop you. It was naive to think the board's misbehavior would be stopped by financial penalties they could afford to pay: "According to Mr. Grassley, the Senate investigation revealed 'shocking' comments by American's trustees that the rules could be disregarded because fines would be minimal."
Naivete. "Colleges and universities are supposed to be places you can be idealistic and altruistic," one AU student says about what happened there -- what continues to happen there. The tainted trustees "took those core beliefs and shattered them." How naive.
Wednesday, May 17, 2006
US Senate Crashes |
'Members of American University’s Board of Trustees ignored damaging audit findings on lavish spending by the university’s former president, Benjamin Ladner, disregarded possible Internal Revenue Service sanctions, and proposed retribution against a whistle-blower, according to a letter released today by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.
Don DeLillo, |
or the Durham
'[Duke player David Evans'] polygraph examiner, Robert J. Drdak of Advanced Credibility Assessment Services in Charlotte, wrote attorney Joe Cheshire that he believed "this examination strongly supports the truthfulness of Mr. Evans."
Professor Larry Gregory...|
...is a psychologist at New Mexico State University whose specialization is "personal control."
But when it comes to iMacs, well...!
A New Mexico State University professor is out of jail after being released on an unsecured bond.
Tuesday, May 16, 2006
God, this is good.|
'Earlier in the day, Petrocelli described the defendant
SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME|
Move over, Bosnia.
While digging the foundations for Canyon Ranch Bethesda, workers on the site recently stumbled upon what seems to be a vast early ‘thesdan pyramid.
Teams of lawn care professionals have been hard at work incorporating this amazing find into the wellness lifestyle location which will soon be Canyon Ranch Bethesda.
Plans for the Thesdan Pyramid include turning its large light interior into seminar rooms where residents (residents only, please; Canyon Ranch Bethesda is extremely exclusive) will be able to attend lectures by such guest speakers as Aphrodite Clamar-Cohen and Diana York Blaine.
'An investigation of a professor who likened some of the Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi found serious cases of misconduct in his academic research, including plagiarism and fabrications, a University of Colorado spokesman said Tuesday.
UD Gardens and Writes|
And Will Try
Her First Martini
'[Stanley Kunitz, Poet Laureate, who died Sunday at 100 years of age,] insisted that the secret to his longevity was his attitude: "I garden and I write and I drink martinis."'
“The recent string of events at American University,” begins Drew Miller, a university trustee, in this morning’s Inside Higher Ed -- and you just know something nasty’s coming, but he’s far, far too diplomatic to be adequate to the nastiness of what he‘s got hold of -- for that, you’d need Tom Wolfe -- “involving a president who needed a strong board to protect him from himself – has, for better or for worse, drawn attention to the challenges of higher education trusteeship. And Congress’s continuing interest underscores the pressing need for college and university boards to get their house in order – before someone does it for them.”
House in order isn’t quite the metaphor. Lampshade off the head‘s better.
Because you get Ben Ladner, and others like him, when “the prevailing culture on university boards is one of routinely succumbing to administration demands.” And why do you get that prevailing culture?
Parties, darling. Parties.
“Administrators often favor minimal board meetings and a maximum of socializing. [As a university trustee, I’ve been] amazed at the number of parties, dinners and social functions that board members attend. The benefit of these events from the university administrator’s perspective is very clear: a trustee who becomes friends with administrators is going to be more likely to cheerlead than to challenge policies and practices… [V]oting against programs that are recommended by administrators or government officials who are your personal friends is very hard for an elected or appointed governing board member to do…If you are spending more time attending the athletic events, parties, and dinners with administrators rather than researching and questioning, then you are not serving as a responsible trustee….As I delved into my work with my fellow regents, I was amazed at how willing regents were to let administrators make all the decisions. …[For instance, the board I’m on] approved $3 million for a ‘hydraulically banked indoor running track system’ so that the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s sports center could boast a state-of-the-art, world-class indoor track. This at a time when the university was increasing tuition and student fees and lobbying the legislature for more money claiming we do not have enough to pay faculty…. [We have to] limit the amount of time lost to unimportant university ‘show’ presentations [PowerPoint, baby!] and social events.”
This is a very short piece in Inside Higher Ed. Most of it's taken up with this point.
Yet “I soon realized that the 'social side' of trustee life was only part of the problem,” Miller continues. There’s also the Association of Governing Boards, the official national trustee party planner, whose “overwhelming message is for trustees to cheerlead for the campus administration. It has been my experience that AGB too often adopts the proposition that any disagreement with the administration is micromanaging or intolerable failure to support the president. If there were any doubt, recent problems at American University, where the board essentially gave a blank check to the president, should surely settle the matter: American University has been a member of the AGB for decades.”
Miller provides a useful list of reforms, none of which will happen until the first trustee squeezes out of the conga line; but among them, UD was most intrigued by this one, with implications not just for trustees, of course:
It would be great for students and taxpayers if public universities required all graduates to complete the GRE or some other relevant professional exam as a condition for graduation. We need this kind of national standard and outcome measure to enable us to judge how well we do in educating our students and compare the value added by our school relative to other schools.
This is ye olde college exit exam idea again - an idea UD likes very much, but which most university people loathe. Nice to find an ally.
Recall Those More Innocent Days…|
…when a Northwestern University women’s sport team got in trouble because some of them wore sandals to meet President Bush…
That was lacrosse. This latest thing is soccer.
…Northwestern suspended its women's soccer team Monday in response to photographs of a hazing incident that were posted on a Web site.
The freshmen being hazed were at one point blindfolded, hands tied behind their backs, and marched around.
Monday, May 15, 2006
Merapi Makes a Move|
'[Alain de Botton’s] The Architecture of Happiness is rather like a rubbery Starbucks cappuccino: it is 65 per cent shattering banality presented in a froth of Latinate polysyllables.
Breaking News, |
'David Evans, the captain of last season's Duke University lacrosse team who was indicted today in the ongoing investigation of rape allegations involving an exotic dancer at an off-campus party, denounced the charges against him as "fantastic lies."
Via Ann Althouse, some serious blog triumphalism going on among a number of contributors to a debate about art criticism and blogging:
Perhaps Andras [a contributor who made the mistake of using the word 'postmodern'] fails to grasp the blogosphere. First: People read blogs because we don't use the word 'postmodern.' (OK, that's only one reason.) Also: It sounds like Andras thinks that the blogosphere is a third-rate, pet-rockish phenomenon that will pass and the Assertive Voices will re-assert themselves. Hooey.
I've defended Patrick Henry College - a Christian college in Purcellville, Virginia, near the Holy Cross monastery where UD and her family sometimes like to go to hear the monks do their Gregorian chants - against people who dismissed its students and faculty as robotic propagandists for the Christian right.
But maybe I was wrong. Or maybe I was right.
A significant number of faculty and students are leaving Patrick Henry in protest. One student sums it up: "I didn’t come here to go to Bible school. I came here for a liberal arts education from a Christian perspective."
The school has begun banning certain books and points of view in the classroom, and as a result it's putting itself through the sort of education schools in free countries routinely get when they become repressive.
“[T]he administration did not anticipate the amount of disagreement that would occur in this community they set up,” a campus dissident says, remarking the school's "unrealistic expectation of conformity.”
One of the professors who's leaving says: "If there is a de-emphasis on the liberal arts here, it will profoundly affect the college's ability to place people in high office." (The school's well-connected in the Bush administration.)
So... early critics were right that Patrick Henry was heading toward know-nothingism; but they were wrong about its absence of internal integrity.
Menopause, the Musical is a "lighthearted look at a ubiquitous feminine passage," writes the reviewer of its Syracuse performance. "There are clever lyric changes parodying famous songs: 'Chain of Fools' becomes 'Change of Life,' 'Night Sweats' is sung to the tune of 'Stayin' Alive.'"
Show merchandise here.
From Slaves of Academe...|
...some eloquent retrospection about his undergraduate experience at PU (Prestigious University):
Consciousness is hard, but is also a requirement for both adulthood and citizenship. As I peruse the silken pages of the alumni magazine now, I wonder about the role of consciousness in what could pass as the greatest moment of historical sleep walking in our nation’s history. When you are living, as the current undergrads at PU are, in the middle of a brocaded pillow, how is it possible to achieve some critical distance? There are, in classic intellectual style, no singular answers to this question, only more questions. For of course the consciousness of which I speak here is not a unitary state, but a series of fragments, passing views, pieces out of which we somehow craft a reality.
Washington Post |
Keeps UD Up to Date
On Her Students'
...[E]xperts point to lifestyle. An increasing number of students arrive on campus taking antidepressants, some of which reduce libido and sexual function. They consume larger amounts of alcohol at one time than in years past, killing performance. Smoking, lack of exercise and anxiety also may be factors.
Sunday, May 14, 2006
From the Sunday New York Times Magazine's feature on Segolene Royal:
As Alain Touraine observes: "The main French idea is that there is an absolute contradiction between social good and economic interests. Where else do you hear this, besides maybe Belarus?"
Don DeLillo's Underworld...|
...is first runner-up (to Toni Morrison's Beloved) in the New York Times poll of best American novels of the last twenty-five years.
DeLillo's White Noise and Libra also received many votes.
This is excellent news for UD, who loves DeLillo. It's not such great news for her fall semester Novels of Don DeLillo students, since UD was thinking of sparing them Underworld (it's around eight hundred pages long) but is now reconsidering.
Saturday, May 13, 2006
Ann, Ann, You Don’t |
Know the Half of It…
…nor does the New York Times, I guess… and what’s John Jay College’s excuse?
Ann Althouse links to a story in tomorrow’s Times that features this professor of psychology at John Jay College named Aphrodite Clamar-Cohen. Ann titles her post “Not a humor story,” because the Times story certainly reads like a joke. Ann quotes the funniest parts:
Aphrodite Clamar-Cohen, who teaches psychology at John Jay College in Manhattan and sees a psychotherapist, said her dog, a pit bull mix, helps fend off dark moods that began after her husband died eight years ago. She learned about psychological support pets from the Delta Society, a nonprofit group that aims to bring people and animals together, and got her dog, Alexander, last year. "When I travel I tell hotels up front that 'Alexander Dog Cohen' is coming and he is my emotional-needs dog," she said. She acknowledged that the dog is not trained as a service animal.
There have also been at least two instances (on American and Delta) in which airlines have been presented with emotional support goats. Ms. McLallen said the airline flies service animals every day; all owners need to do is show up with a letter from a mental health professional and the animal can fly free in the cabin.
UD googled Ms. Clamar-Cohen. Given that she’s a much-published believer in alien abductions, and that much of her “regression” psychotherapy involves getting people back to where they were abducted so they can remember all the details, it does seem to UD worth asking why she’s on the faculty of a respectable university. And why the New York Times fails to inform us of her background.
The path to her Rate My Professors page is here. Out of 32 ratings (a high number -- students were motivated to write in), she gets a 1.8.
# Ratings: 32
'...dumbest professor i have ever had. all we do is presentations which she falls asleep through, but didnt give anyone higher than a B. all she talks about is her stupid cats and dogs and thinks they are the same as people!! AVOID at all costs!!! she has no idea about anything! '
'...easy class, all you gotta do is sit through other students' boring presentations. Or sleep through it, like what she does. '
C-C teaches a required class.
John Jay College or Abu Ghraib?
Question: Why is this woman on the faculty of a respectable college?
Answer: The real psychology department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice has been abducted by aliens.
Charming, moving little essay...|
... about a professor and his son in today’s New York Times. A sample:
One night we treated ourselves to a ridiculously expensive massage and an outdoor communal hot tub, clothing optional, under a million New Mexico stars. That was pretty fine. One night we went to a famous country-music joint named the Broken Spoke and watched some Texas cowboys two-stepping their ladies around the dance floor. That was even finer. We drank long-necked Lone Stars and Shiner Bock beer that night and then stumbled out into the Spoke's dirt parking lot and found our way back to our Marriott, imagining ourselves a pair of lower-case authentic American heroes.
It reminded me of this poem, by the great literary critic Yvor Winters:
At the San Francisco Airport
To my daughter,1954.
This is the terminal: the light
Gives perfect vision, false and hard;
The metal glitters, deep and bright.
Great planes are waiting in the yard -
They are already in the night.
And you are here beside me, small,
Contained and fragile, and intent
On things that I but half recall -
Yet going whither you are bent.
I am the past, and that is all.
But you and I in part are one:
The frightened brain, the nervous will,
The knowledge of what must be done,
The passion to acquire the skill
To face that which you dare not shun.
The rain of matter upon sense
Destroys me momently. The score:
There comes what will come. The expense
Is what one thought, and something more -
One's being and intelligence.
This is the terminal, the break.
Beyond this point, on lines of air,
You take the way that you must take;
And I remain in light and stare-
In light, and nothing else, awake.
Scenes from |
an AP Article
'...Yet many academics agree 2005-06 seemed exceptionally discordant. They also agree it's getting harder to be a successful president.
Ashes to Ashes,|
Mush to Mush
As with the Summers Summary [see a couple of posts below], I guess the end of the academic year means a lot of summing up articles about events at American universities. Here’s a handy list of presidential problems from today’s Washington Post:
'Prominent college presidents to resign or be fired during the last year.
Mount Merapi could erupt
in twenty-four hours.
And thanks for the heritage...
' "The H1 is where it all started," said Ben Olin, sales manager at Ed Schmidt Hummer, a Maumee, Ohio, dealership that was one of the first in the country to sell the H1. "There's a lot of heritage that goes along with it." '
Friday, May 12, 2006
A Good Summary of |
the Fall of Summers.
From the Financial Times.
It includes the following Shleifer-nugget:
Summers told the academics gathered in University Hall that because of his personal links he had disqualified himself from any of Harvard’s dealings with Shleifer.
UD's Entry for the |
Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta Contest
*** In which you write a short story made up entirely of bits and pieces plagiarized from earlier works of fiction. ***
The Tortured Artist
My tale is prompted by a newspaper story I happened to read about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage. (1)
It did not irk the poor subject of my story to live always in one shabby room; he had no need to be surrounded by beautiful things. I do not suppose he had ever noticed how dingy was the paper on the wall of the room in which on my first visit -- when I finally forced the door -- I found him. (2)
His is a story, I suppose, about a failure in intelligence. (3)
One morning he’d learned that his writing room had been broken into and looted, doubtless by a company of strange troops bivouacked on the edge of town and doubtless abetted, if only vocally, by his own fellow citizens. That night he had mounted to the attic with his hammer and his handful of nails and nailed the door behind him and threw the hammer out the window. (4)
His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines. (5) All of us, during those hard war years, had to be content to live only for the day, alone under the vast indifference of the sky. (6) But I saw on that ivory face a special expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror -- of an intense and hopeless despair. (7)
I had an inkling of a fiery, tortured spirit, aiming at something greater than could be conceived by anything that was bound up with the flesh. I had a fleeting glimpse of a pursuit of the ineffable. I looked at the man before me in his shabby clothes, with his great nose and shining eyes, his red beard and untidy hair; and I had a strange sensation that it was only an envelope, and I was in the presence of a disembodied spirit. (8)
I had never seen him reading — no, not even a newspaper. For long periods he would stand looking out, at his pale window behind the screen, upon the dead brick wall. (9) When he grew blind he would sit hour after hour in that room with sightless eyes, and seeing, perhaps, more than he had ever seen in his life before. He never complained of his fate, he never lost courage. To the end his mind remained serene and undisturbed. (10)
One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, 'I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.' The light was within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself to murmur, 'Oh, nonsense!' and stood over him as if transfixed. (11)
"Stop lying! You know and I know that I am dying. Then at least stop lying about it!" (12)
Two days later, I found him strangely huddled at the base of the wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones. (13) I leaned down to hear his final words: “There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even SMOOCH, as if it had been rubbed over and over. …I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round--round and round and round--it makes me dizzy! …I really have discovered something at last.” (14)
Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? (15)
“The feeling of banality, the disgust of banality,” he went on, “has always mingled with my fear; but now suddenly I’ve moved forward into a new knowledge, a new understanding… (16) Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in the torment of his soul. And when he has made it, it is not given to all to know it…” (17)
Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. (18)
(1) Nabokov, Introduction, Lolita.
(2) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(3) Lessing, To Room Nineteen.
(4) Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
(5) Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener.
(6) Camus, The Plague.
(7) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
(8) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(9) Melville, Bartleby.
(10) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(11) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
(12) Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych.
(13) Melville, Bartleby.
(14) Gilman, Yellow Wallpaper.
(15) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
(16) Lessing, The Golden Notebook.
(17) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(18) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
Clash of the Status Titans|
Okay, so Tom Wolfe overplays it; but it must be said that the search for status explains quite a lot in the world. Certainly in the world of academia.
So, for instance, in attempting to understand a rather fuzzy news story out of Boston University, it makes sense, I think, to invoke status consciousness as the prime motivator of both combatants currently attracting attention to the College of Communication.
They are Renata Adler, New Yorker writer and faculty member, and John J. Schulz , dean of the College of Communication.
From the outset of her teaching gig there, Adler’s vanity took a hit, as Inside Higher Ed explains:
When she started, she expected to be paid for her services within the University Professors Program, “an interdisciplinary program for gifted students,” and to teach one or two courses in the journalism department, which is part of BU’s College of Communication. Much to her surprise, and dismay, she quickly learned that she was an employee of the communications division.
We already know from an earlier story covered here at University Diaries that real journalism professors speet on hackocentric Colleges of Communication (though, status hierarchy being what it is, real professors speet on journalists who think they’re real professors, etc., etc.)
IHE, citing a Boston Globe story, writes that “Adler ha[s] recently begun raising questions about the résumé of Schulz, in e-mails she [has] sent to the dean and several other professors.”
Virtually all of Schulz’s purported bad behavior involves the self-puffery of status anxiety -- in his case, the status anxiety that comes from having an academic position but not really being an academic. Schulz is in fact many impressive things, but he hasn’t written essays for Foreign Affairs or lectured at the Sorbonne or anything. He’s a hard-bitten hard news journalist with an impressive military past, which should be enough for him, and is certainly enough for an outfit like BU’s College of Communication. But Schulz craves intellectual respectability, so he claims to have written books and earned extremely elite degrees and all.
Yet it’s unclear that Schulz actually made these claims (they appear in student publications, where Schulz says he was misquoted); it’s also pretty clear that Adler’s making false claims against him.
[Adler’s] most serious allegation against Schulz is that he exaggerated his heroism in Vietnam in a 2003 interview with the student paper. Schulz described how, as an Air Force F-100 fighter pilot, he would continue on his missions even when he ran out of ammunition, to distract the enemy.
Adler, like some other professors at BU, doesn’t like Schulz’s “autocratic and self-aggrandizing” ways -- but he is a military man, not a lily-livered academic, and he’s always going to look rough in the context of pale neurotic lifers. Colleagues at BU are scandalized that Schulz once spoke roughly to a faculty member at a meeting; they are outraged that he dismissed BU student journalists as “just kids.” But there’s nothing wrong with this behavior or this sort of comment. Only when when it takes place in the hyper-touchy precincts of universities does everyone get out their hankies.
As is often the case in stories like this one, neither Adler nor Schulz is the sort of specimen you’d want to share a meal with. But UD suspects that Adler’s campaign is going to fail, and fail badly.
Thursday, May 11, 2006
UD has already blogged your ear off…|
…about her semester teaching at the University of Toulouse a few years ago.
Tomorrow’s New York Times updates the tale, in which a “fairly wealthy country” continues to subsidize - in a stingy way - an “archaic state-owned university system: overcrowded, underfinanced, disorganized and resistant to the changes demanded by the outside world.”
…One result [of the ‘68 riots] was that the country's university system guaranteed a free — or almost free — college education to every high school graduate who passed the baccalauréat exam. University enrollment soared. The value of a bachelor's degree plummeted. …[T]he state failed to invest much in buildings, facilities and professors' salaries to make the system work. Today the French government allocates about $8,500 a year to each university student, about 40 percent less than what it invests in each high school student.
A Bit of Duke News|
Apparently there may be some damaging DNA evidence after all.
UD Blaine Blogs!!!!|
Well, folks here I am standing up in front of my very own exam room -- Rome Hall 110 to be exact!! Already some of my BRILLIANT students have come up to my desk and asked the sort of questions you only ask of the talented, multi-advanced-degreed, peace-spreading adventuress Ms. UD!!! I'm so excited that they feel so at peace, so comfortable, in my class... They can ask me anything.
And if I may I'd like to share something one of them just whispered to me as she approached my desk: "Ms. UD, I wanted to tell you how strongly I support your decision to run ...those pictures... on your blog. I know people have been giving you a hard time about it, but to me it's just another sign of how open, free and... peaceful you are! YOU HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE." That's not from me, Dear Reader; it's from one of my students. So you can shove it.
Delete that "shove it." I assure you that despite occasional outbursts which would be understandable even in a saint like Saint Theresa or a truly great man of peace like Gandhi, I'm at peace with what's happened to me. With the way sexist warmongers who fail to see the connection between nudie pix and the necessity, right now, to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq, have unceasingly sought to ridicule me, to attack me, to belittle me, to wipe me off the face of the internet! Well, let me tell these petty people, shivering with fear at the thought of their own corporeality, that they have not gotten to me. I pray for them every day - not a Christian prayer, or a Jewish prayer, or a Moslem prayer, or any mainstream institutionalized religious prayer, for I admit I am not moved by organized religion -- but rather a very personal, nature-based prayer that these tormented souls who have not attained my inner tranquillity, whose Puritanical American roots continue to choke and twist them into angry juvenile motherfuckers [delete that "motherfuckers" -- I'm fine with this], will someday, perhaps after having read my blog carefully -- or the book I'm trying to publish based on it (HI PUBLISHERS! ARE YOU LISTENING?), know the enlightenment I have known.
Ah, yes, I can feel my pulses calming now... I can actually feel my entire self, body and soul, entering gradually into the peace that only those who have truly come to understand the sick reality of American culture, the obnoxious masculinist crap that world-historical figures like myself have to put up with, can know...
Oh, here comes another student! Let's hear what she has to say: "Ms. UD, in publishing those photos on your blog you have subverted the hegemonic professorial dynamic of our time. You have stood on its head the professor/student hierarchy. You have said: Look at me! I may be a multi-advanced-degreed expert on Jon-Benet, but underneath all of my laurels and distinctions I'm just a person, just like you! If you cut me, do I not bleed???"
I want to thank this student, and Bill and Rudy and Jemima and Gloria and all of the other wonderful people who've supported me in this stressful time. I only pray that you, Dear Reader, can come to know the same rich manifold bliss in your own personal life that I have come to know in mine. And no, you don't have to be a Ph.D. like me to attain the happiness and peace I've attained! Even very simple people can get to the special place I've gotten to -- just keep reading my blog...
Wednesday, May 10, 2006
…was a disappointment. The NEH’s Jefferson Lecture is a big deal, and maybe he got intimidated. Whatever the reason, the speech was a mess.
He still looks spiffy, though clearly old, in his fine white suit; and when at one point he pushed his hair back you could see he still really had it -- hair that is, and there was a sort of youthful romantic effect in the gesture. He’s undeniably an elegant man, with a soft cultivated Southern drawl and all…
Maybe he got intimidated, or maybe it’s the nature of the Jefferson - the nation’s highest award in the humanities - to tempt recipients in the direction of oracular Truths about Human Being (Wolfe’s talk was titled “The Human Beast“). He began by flattering us, telling us we were “the kind of audience you don’t even dare imagination ever getting.“ And I worried even then that this playing to the narcissism of a crowd that’s maybe ten percent cultured and ninety percent culture vulture, was a bad sign.
Maybe it’s simply that he’s a novelist, a satirist, a chronicler of mores, and not a polemicist or a philosopher… but he simply couldn’t formulate and defend an argument. His strength is story-telling, and the parts of the speech we all enjoyed were Wolfe’s various anecdotes about -- his grand subject -- status: the centrality of status in our mentalities (“Status insinuates itself into all situations.”), the way we’re always trying to avoid social humiliation, the way most of our behavior involves the search for status…
I mean, that point of view made for funny stories, but what if you don’t agree that the Fulcrum of Human Nature is the search for status? Like his hero, Emile Zola, Wolfe is a social determinist -- for him, there’s really no autonomous mind but only a mechanism of social response. Which seems to me a pretty impoverished point of view. At its most productive, it generates great social satires like Bonfire of the Vanities; at its worst, the Diana Blaine blog.
At one point (not at any particular point; there wasn’t any organization), Wolfe lit into intellectuals, people who “think they have a set of values that make them superior, and who are aloof from their country… This is something people on the east coast can’t understand -- we’re the parenthesis states -- the entire sentence is in between.” This got hearty applause from all the aloof parenthetical people in the audience.
Then Wolfe talked about the cool NASCAR people he recently hung out with, one-issue folk (guns guns guns) who like to fight and like common sense, etc. Etc.? And? The absence of a thesis -- or even a discernable point of view - plus the weird endorsement from the audience of all the bad things Wolfe was saying about it gave the event a surreal feel -- wild and whirling words…
Via Hiram Hover, here's the Washington Post's writer on the same event.
Spanning the Globe to Bring You|
The Constant Variety of Plagiarism
Here’s another example of what UD calls
archeoplagiarism -- plagiarism which involves
unearthing, dusting off, and reusing something
written decades before, in the hope that no one
will recognize anything that old.
'The head of University of Cincinnati's German-American studies is being investigated for plagiarism.
Found Ted Kooser Poem|
UD, faithful readers know, has a regular University Diaries feature in which she makes poems out of phrases she finds in news stories. Today she offers a variant of that -- she makes a Ted Kooser poem (our poet laureate) out of phrases she has found in a newspaper article.
First, by way of example, here’s a Kooser:
A Glimpse of the Eternal
a sparrow lighted
on a pine bow
my bedroom window
and a puff
of yellow pollen
To write this sort of poem (which is not Kooser‘s alone but the provenance of much current American creative writing), you need it to be a short description of a poignant moment in your life prompted by a small something in the natural world that happened to catch your eye.
To lend this thin form of verse profundity, it’s a good idea to affix a spiritual title to it. Also, your last line should have a ‘self-consuming’ feel to it (here “flew away”), suggesting the impermanence of even your poem as it unravels at the very end.
UD now shows you how it’s done from the ground up. Here’s an article from UPI today:
Untilled Utah field becomes vole heaven
Here’s the poem:
Until Heaven [Note: UD has provided not merely a spiritual reference in her title, but a pun on “untilled”]
Two voles ran across my feet,
Deep in the unplowed fields of Utah
Brings out the cat
And the culling guns.
Their furious joy
Will soon be stilled:
No field remains for long untilled.
Make new friends,|
But keep the old;
One is Silber
And the other’s Goldin.
Today’s New York Times:
Officials at Boston University disclosed yesterday that the institution's long-term president and chancellor, John R. Silber, collected $6.1 million last year, two years after he stepped down as leader.
Tuesday, May 09, 2006
The Full Panoply.|
As with the Jetta commercial (see a couple of posts down), it’s not the overtly sensationalistic elements of another advertisement about which people are talking that strike UD, but the language.
This ad -- a self-advertising personal website to be precise - features a professor, someone a reputable university -- University of Southern California -- has hired to teach writing, even though, as her website reveals, she cannot write.
You have to go back to the late lamented Harriet Miers Blog!!! for anything like the Diane Blaine blog. In fact, if like me you’ve been missing the Blog!!! something terrible, Blaine's a godsend.
UD finds the fact of a writing professor who can’t write far more scandalous than the three topless photos of herself she’s put on her page, photos which have so offended the local tv news that it’s put up a slideshow.
Madame Blaine couldn’t be happier -- she has posted a direct appeal to literary agents -- and she remains keen to offer on her webpage further testimony of “the full panoply of my rich and meaningful life.” The photos, she explains, are “an intertextual homage to Ingres.” Beyond this gesture, she means through them “specifically to confront and erase the body loathing that my culture foists on us women.”
Naturally Blaine continues to be attacked by “my enemies” --- people who can only think of “upholding hegemonic ideologies, consciously or not, that perpetuate oppression… including hierarchies of racism and sexism among others.” But let them persist in belittling “someone like me who is demonstrably talented.” Ms. Blaine will respond with her much-remarked “wisdom and peace and compassion. …In my morning meditation I have been asking that these people who seem so infuriated by my existence find the peace that I have found and continue to seek and to spread.”
The Twisted Grammarian|
So the tv critic at Slate online is going on and on about this new Jetta commercial everyone - except UD, and you know why - is talking about, because it features a sudden scary crash. (You can watch it, as UD did, via Slate’s article.)
The spot “prompted massive amounts of reader mail. Some of you are terrified, some of you are appalled, and some of you think the ads are absolutely brilliant.” The Slate writer ponders its visual appeal: “It's a brutally frank look at the physical chaos that results when an SUV enters your sedan without an invitation.” (Is a pickup truck an SUV? Because it looked like a pickup, not an SUV, to UD.) Then he returns to the intense impact the ad’s having: “[VW’s] plan, obviously, is to get us totally freaked about car crashes. And, judging by the post-traumatic e-mails I'm getting from readers, that plan appears to be working..”
And what did UD make of it? Well, the only thing she took away from the commercial was what no one else seems to talk about -- the terrific conversational exchange the two guys in the Jetta are having before they get hit. One complains that he doesn’t know why a particular woman isn’t paying attention to him. The other says maybe you should try saying “like” less often. Do you remember that ski trip you described to her? “I like was like going down the mountain and like this guy like crashed into me and like this big crowd like gathered…”
For UD this ad is above all a public service announcement from Literacy USA, reminding Americans to stop saying “like” so much. Bravo, VW!
Monday, May 08, 2006
US News and World Report on college sports -- a few excerpts:
[A] schism ... often exists between college athletics and the wider academic community. Student athletes have long inhabited a world often less focused on learning than on winning. But what is becoming more apparent today is that the divide is widening--and that it can lead to destructive behavior...
Gordon Gee, chancellor, Vanderbilt:
"The reforms [we instituted] were partly about who was in charge--the university president or a coach." Despite dire warnings to the contrary, the Division I school has continued to field competitive teams. Likewise, the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., recently reassigned the head of athletics so that he now reports to the commandant of cadets.
Patrick K. and Kaavya|
What do these two hapless preppies have in common? In honor of Freud’s 150th, let me suggest a death wish.
In talking about Jacob Epstein (Kaavya’s Yale doppelganger) and his notorious plagiarism, years ago, of an early novel of his, Martin Amis wrote: “The psychology of plagiarism is fascinatingly perverse. ... It risks, or invites, a deep shame, and there must be something of the death wish in it.”
In Ms. V’s case, Kurt Andersen writes:
However the plagiarism happened exactly, she had already come to understand that her success so far was not just a matter of talent and discipline but of buying the right connections, cutting deals for behind-the-scenes assistance, cunning …For all her sweet Hogwarts dreams, an observant, canny, IvyWised-up kid is bound to draw certain conclusions about the way the real world works.
The self-loathing that this recognition can prompt -- the recognition that the world stinks of corruption, that you’re a tissue of parental and consultant machinations, a beautiful culmination of an ugly world busy with connections and rule-breaking on your behalf -- could plausibly issue in a sort of psychic self-mutilation, couldn’t it?
In talking about Patrick Kennedy’s ongoing agony of the alcohol, Philip Weiss evokes something similar:
I don't care whether it's Ambien or alcohol; I wonder whether Patrick Kennedy isn't — unconsciously — seeking a way out of politics with his latest run-in with the law. Kennedy last went into rehab just five months ago. According to the Almanac of American Politics he has been involved in several bizarre incidents in recent years, including shoving an airport security guard in 2000 and, in 2003, saying, "I haven't worked a [expletive] day in my life," as a way of attacking Bush's tax cuts.
While Kennedy’s father has no difficulty himself being a tissue of massagers, managers, and Senate staff members, his son is clearly a different sort of person.
Patrick Kennedy’s death wish seems to me literal and even conscious, whereas Kaavya’s (she’s much younger) still comes across as latent, tentative, symbolic. Yet both of these people are products of what UD calls Nurturing Negligents, parents whose pursuit of their own money and status doesn’t leave them time to care about their children, but parents who still insist that their neglected offspring receive the best of everything, material and social. These people are running a puppet state, with their children as puppets. What they’re experiencing once their charges grow up is a revolt.
Headline of the Day|
LOBBYISTS TRY TO
SHED IMAGE AS
Sunday, May 07, 2006
Trustees Try to |
Get in on the Action,
Are Batted Down.
Columbia Daily Tribune:
The University of Missouri-Columbia’s athletic program might face scrutiny by the Board of Curators if two curators have their way in forming a task force to study the health of the program’s athletics and academics.
Possible Addition to|
The Sparta Teapot
Featured in today’s New York Times Style magazine, the Rufus Willis Collection of coffee/teacups for Illy.
From the Illy webpage:
“Rufus Willis brings a contemporary interpretation to the traditional designs used to decorate porcelain English tea and coffee sets. In place of idyllic landscapes, Willis portrays modern urban reality and the blight caused by pollution, traffic and wars.”
Forty bucks per cup.
Inside Higher Ed...|
... will probably be running a piece about the Mark Slouka/Columbia MFA mess this week. The piece may include a comment or two from UD.
So it seems a good moment to say a few more things about the situation -- at Columbia and elsewhere.
Yet what to say about creative writing programs -- majors in college, masters in graduate school -- that hasn’t been said already, in essays and plays and satirical novels galore? The escalating scandal of one of America’s most popular, expensive, and largely worthless forms of university activity is a matter of profuse public record by now, but no one’s doing anything about it.
Instead, on a regular basis, we have what UD calls faruptions -- fine arts eruptions. These events are similar to the bimbo eruptions of Clinton’s presidency, but the explosions here involve someone -- usually a faculty member who can’t take it anymore -- erupting into print with the truth about creative writing at American colleges and universities.
All of the flame throwers toss out the same incendiary material -- no standards, no content, A’s all around, cynical professors, a majority of clueless students lacking creative talent as well as straightforward writing skills.
Even as it erupts, each fire is doused with the waters of compassion, as gooey creative writing faculty (usually women -- Jorie Graham’s famous for this sort of thing in regard to poetry) rush in to tell us two things:
1.) We love our students.
2.) Everyone’s got talent.
There are currently ninety students working toward MFAs in fiction at Columbia University. I’d guess about ten of them should be spending their time and money doing what they’re doing. But their number will increase, as a combination of affluent parents, mercenary universities, and therapeutic rhetoric enables a growth industry in aesthetic imposture.
...has a book event coming up in Washington for “Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the School That Beat the Odds,” her book about a charter school that prepares Hispanic students for college.
She’ll speak and sign books on Thursday, May 11 at 5:30 pm at William E. Doar Jr. (WEDJ) Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, 705 Edgewood St. NE, Washington, DC (near the Rhode Island and Brookland-CUA metro stops).
UD Feels A Need.|
Comment around the world on Freud’s 150th birthday is typically weird, with a clean division between observers confident of his continued crucial importance and observers who mark as obvious his utter irrelevance.
What’s come through most strongly to me over the years about Freud’s cultural and intellectual impact is the intimate mental bullying he has made possible for assholes everywhere. Here‘s Anthony Daniels, in the Times Online:
He…weakened the place of rational argument in human affairs. He made it possible for people always to argue that those with whom they disagreed were not so much mistaken about the evidence or logic of the matter as motivated by neuroses of which they were unaware. …Marx and Freud were the two patron saints of the ad hominem argument.
It’s easy to find an example of this perennial maneuver among the celebrants of Freud. Here’s one, from The Observer:
Freud… would be less interested in debating the rights and wrongs of the death penalty than why so many people on the American religious right feel the need for capital punishment.
Why do these Americans feel the need to slaughter their countrymen? What appeals to them about the idea of torturing fellow human beings to death… Hm?… And these Americans claim to be religious… I wonder why religious people in particular feel the need to commit murder on a massive scale…
There are a thousand and one uses for this line of argumentation and analysis, in which one never does or thinks anything as a result of reasoned thought and examined experience, but only and always because one feels a need arising out of urgent buried aggressivity. Roger Scruton remarks:
Freud leaps at once to his conclusion: that which is forbidden is also desired. And the horror is needed because the desire is great. If it is so great, it must be there in all of us, repressed but simmering, seeking the channels through which to flow in some disguised but virulent version.
Harold Bloom notes that Karl Kraus made this point long ago:
Kraus wounded Freud by asserting that psychoanalysis was itself the disease of which it purported to be the cure.
William Gass puts it this way, in today's New York Times:
It became fashionable to be neurotic, to be in analysis and to be able to afford it. And we were having such a good time, we scarcely noticed that this therapy — which took so long and cost so much — wasn't curing anybody.
Friday, May 05, 2006
Hunt A Student, |
Bag A President
Plagiarists tend to be lifers. Like Ms. V., they’ve always done it, and they’ll always do it. Find a plagiarist, and chances are overwhelming the plagiarist’s been at it since grade school.
Among the legion of examples here, the latest involves the president of Wesley College, a Methodist school. He almost lost his job years ago when some of his plagiarizing was uncovered. But, forgiven, he went back to work, until one day….
Jeffrey Mask, a professor of religion and philosophy at Wesley [College], said he first stumbled upon the apparent plagiarism last week while reviewing the management philosophy statement -- described on the school's Web site as being "prepared" by Miller -- as part of an effort to develop a questionnaire for faculty members to evaluate the school president.
Amazingly, slightly over half of Wesley’s faculty doesn’t give a shit that the president of an educational institution - a religious school - is a career thief. He continues to survive faculty no-confidence votes.
Stuart Klawans writes in The Nation:
[Ms. V.’s] is a story about clichés and stereotypes passing from one subliterary commercial product to another. …The real scandal, to my mind, is that trade book publishers in the aggregate now commit themselves almost wholeheartedly to the Second Helpings and their equivalent, and that American newspapers don't mind encouraging them.
Problem here is that essays like this one -- indignant exposes of packaged, formulaic, commercial fiction -- are also a species of cliché. Grubb Street we will always have with us.
Klawans gets close in this piece to saying one of the things about ordinary Americans that gets liberals into trouble -- for after all, it isn’t just the “industry” that wants no originality. It’s readers. The full weight of culpability must fall on them, no?
The only new angle I see in the Ms. V. vignette is some idiot’s decision at the outset to spin her as a serious writer -- Harvard, etc. -- when she’s a hack.
Thursday, May 04, 2006
UD just bought one.
She read about it on
PowerPoint Body Snatchers|
Turn Against Subversive
Turn that fucker back on!
… The case of Erik Ringmar, senior lecturer in government at the London School of Economics, shows how the limits of blogging are being explored in academe as in the outside world.
"So, uh, what's it pay?"|
The firing/resignation of Evan Dobelle, ex-president of the University of Hawaii, was mysterious. UD remembers trying to follow the story a couple of years ago -- trying to post about it -- and being frustrated by the lack of information when clearly something postable was behind the meltdown of his job. She let it drop
But here’s Dobelle, back again, under intriguing circumstances -- as reported by today’s Chronicle of Higher Ed:
The soon-to-be-open job of chancellor at the University of Maine System is already drawing interest. In fact, someone calling from the cellphone of a former college president, Evan S. Dobelle, appears to have impersonated an intern at The Chronicle to ask a Maine official about the departing chancellor's compensation.
15 - 20% Confidence|
According to one Harvard Business School Professor, a civil war is a real possibility following the 2008 election.
Sounds Like Ms. V's Problem.|
'This school year, the University of Michigan Law School became the latest graduate school to block wireless Internet access to students in class, joining law schools at UCLA and the University of Virginia.
Wednesday, May 03, 2006
Snapshots from Home|
“Few locations provide as much to see and experience as Bethesda.”
Paris? Istanbul? Cape Town? No, no place is quite as impressive as UD’s own ‘thesda, “a distinctive urban village inspired by the architecture and romance of Italy. Enjoy the charming piazzas, frescos and Palladian designs as you stroll to fine restaurants.”
Piazzas? Frescoes? ’thesda?
They’re part of a streetscape about to be created by the luxury resort/residence group, Canyon Ranch, right here.
This is only the second Canyon Ranch luxury spa residence in the country, and it’ll be built directly across the street from UD’s daughter’s school. One-bedroom $900,000, large units seven million plus.
UD finds plenty to ponder -- to scratch her head over -- in the publicity for Canyon Ranch Bethesda. UD, for instance, doesn’t think of granite as a stress reducer. Yet in listing your apartment’s “amenities and special touches to help you dispense with stress and enjoy life’s more uplifting moments,” Canyon Ranch starts off with “fine granite countertops.”
A local newspaper quotes a representative of the company: “If this were strictly a condominium, I would say to you it’s grossly overpriced.”
But that would overlook the “integrative team of physicians, behaviorists, therapists, nutritionists, exercise physiologists and nurses” on site. The local newspaper also describes “medical professionals on staff and medical experts available via tele-conferencing from the Cleveland Clinic.” Plus, there’s the “cooking and nutrition classes, massages, medical tests, [and] high-tech muscle analyzing exercise equipment.”
To top it off, the place is extremely exclusive. “[S]pa treatments, medical professionals, fitness classes and a gourmet restaurant [are available] almost exclusively to residents and guests,” says the local paper. Later, in the same article: “The Canyon Ranch wellness center, where all services and programs are held, will only be accessible to residents, hotel guests and possibly some non-resident members.”
The restaurant serves “fresh salads, filet mignon and lobster. The servings are not huge.” Three flakes of lobster meat for $65 sort of thing.
“You'll be thrilled every day with the fascinating surroundings of Canyon Ranch Living – Bethesda. It’s the perfect balance of sophisticated city life and private tranquility.” I’m very fond of my daughter’s school (same school I went to), but the word “fascinating” doesn’t fit. And however you spin it, the reality of the Ranch’s immediate surroundings is that you’re in the middle of a large corporate office park, framed by two commuter highways.
Here’s a wonderful new blog…|
…which I’m about to add to my blogroll: More Perfect. Hana Schank’s a terrific writer - funny, charming, many good things. Scroll down past the baby to read her take on the Mark Slouka/Columbia MFA dustup -- an event for which I’m now grateful, since it led me to her blog.
While I wouldn't go so far as to say that people in the program were functionally illiterate, I would say that a high percentage of students had no clue what they were doing in the program. They were experimenting. They were killing time. They were playing.
Ms. V: Stepford Child|
Ruth Marcus, in a Washington Post opinion piece, coins a lovely phrase --“the admissions industrial complex” -- to describe the creepy corporate packaging of many Ivy League admits.
After reviewing the womb-to-Harvard-dorm-room life of this Stepford child, Marcus writes:
It's no excuse, but with all this third-party positioning, is it any wonder that a person -- especially a teenage person -- could forget (or ignore) the fact that some of the writing in her book is not actually hers? How easy it is for authenticity to be obscured in a world in which hired help packages preschool applications, in which the line between a real relationship with an adult and strategic sucking up is blurred.
…i.e., real life isn’t a package, and people who behave as though it is have a tendency to unravel.
Only in this way can we work up any sympathy for the fundamentally icky Ms. V., whose calamities are hers alone and will do nothing to stop the admissions arms race. Ms. V. is a symbol, not a solution. Barring a significant economic downturn, there is no solution.
PAY TO PLAY|
An article in Columbia University’s Spectator today provides more details about the messy situation in its School of the Arts. Some excerpts, with UD’s parenthetical commentary:
Unlike doctoral programs, the budget for the School of the Arts is determined entirely by the tuition that it receives from students and donations made directly to the school. This means that the vast majority of students pay full tuition, currently over $35,000 per year. [This is the big question we need to answer. Why do virtually all SoA students pay full tuition?]
... in today’s NYT. UD’s totally being a good sport about the writer having used White Noise, the novel UD’s most proud of having written.
How Gatsby Got Wild
Election Eve Trashing|
Today's New York Times quotes a colleague of UD's:
Tuesday, May 02, 2006
From USA Today:
District Attorney Mike Nifong will remain Durham County's top prosecutor after winning an election Tuesday that came in the midst of his aggressive investigation into rape allegations involving members of Duke University's lacrosse team.
What does this mean for the Duke lacrosse case? Obviously it's bad news for the defense, which is still trying to remove Nifong from the proceedings.
Unlike a lot of commentators, I haven't found Nifong to be a cynical politician merely using the Duke situation to win votes. On the contrary, I've tended to interpret his aggressive pursuit of the case perfectly straightfowardly: He's convinced very bad things were done, and he's determined to punish someone for them.
the Patient Griselda
of the Publishing World...
...has finally lost patience with America's most high-profile cryptomnesiac:
Little, Brown, publisher of the novel whose author, Kaavya Viswanathan, admitted to copying passages from another writer's books, said yesterday that it would not be publishing a revised edition of her book.
I did it! You can too!
Professor Barry Munitz, a new member of the English department at Cal State Los Angeles, isn’t your ordinary English professor.
Recently forced to resign as head of the Getty Trust because of financial improprieties which included using “Getty money to buy a $72,000 Porsche Cayenne, repeatedly fl[ying] first-class, stay[ing] in $1,000-a-night hotels and ha[ving] his assistants express-mail umbrellas when he traveled,” Munitz now brings to the literature classroom a compelling message: PUT DOWN THE BOOKS AND PICK UP THE EXPENSE ACCOUNT.
“He’s amazing,” says sophomore English major Trudi Stabenow. “He shows you how a Ph.D in comp lit, which he got, can take you all the way to the top.” What’s Munitz’s secret? “Once you get the degree, you use it as what Professor Munitz calls ‘cultural leverage,’ to get into the world of the rich non-profits. Then you move up the ladder until, well, the sky’s the limit!”
Today’s New York Times reports that some of Professor Munitz’s colleagues are dismayed that a man “whose travel and expense spending are under investigation by the California attorney general's office,” and who “was required to repay the Getty Trust, one of the world's richest art institutions, $250,000 when he resigned in February,” is now a tenured member of their university‘s English department.
Munitz, however, shrugged it off: “What can I tell you. Crime pays.”
Georgetown University Student Newspaper|
Takes A Closer Look at Some of Their
Student Athletes [Note Mealy-Mouthed
Comments from Administrative Enablers]
New York Times:
Fresh passages in the novel by a Harvard sophomore, whose book was pulled from stores last week after she acknowledged plagiarizing portions of it, appear to be copied from a second author.
Only 7:29 and it’s already a good morning: A woman was elected last night to the formerly all-male Garrett Park Town Council; and Anna Nicole Smith won the unanimous endorsement of the Supreme Court.
Monday, May 01, 2006
Anthony Tomassini, as longtime readers know, is UD’s music critic of choice. For poetry, it’s William Logan, who alone has been able to put into words for her just why the Dread Kooser -- our poet laureate -- is so dread.
And here’s Logan again, in the NYTimes book review section, summing up with pith and vigor the obese Oxford Book of American Poetry:
[W]here Oxford's first anthology of American verse could have been carried around in a small handbag, the new one has to be wheeled around in a shopping cart. This bloated, earnest, largely mediocre new Oxford takes up a lot of space on the shelf without providing a clear view of our moment. That chance won't come again for another generation.
But just as fun as Logan’s review is the letter from the book's insulted editor that showed up in last Sunday’s book review. Here’s the editor’s explanation for Logan’s negative review:
[N]one of the editors have picked a poem by Logan since the series began in 1988. This means that his work was not considered good enough by John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Jorie Graham, Mark Strand, Charles Simic, Louise Glück, A. R. Ammons, Richard Howard, Adrienne Rich, James Tate, John Hollander, Robert Bly, Rita Dove, Robert Hass, Robert Creeley, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lyn Hejinian, Paul Muldoon and Billy Collins.
As for [the editor’s] cranky remark about my absence from "Best American Poetry," why, I hadn't really noticed.
And it is funny, you know, what the explanation tells you about the editor. It’s all about inclusion, isn’t it? That’s why the book’s a bohemoth. No rigorous aesthetic standards apply; rather, the idea is to make a big expensive book and tell people that because it’s so big, as the editor writes, it “demonstrates the vitality and abundance of American poetry and does so in a way that will enlarge poetry's readership.”
That’s like Brown University pointing to its Carnival Cruise Line buffet of courses and saying ain’t this vitality and abundance great!
“When students in freshman composition at a university like my own,” writes Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia, “are compelled to read third-rate imitators of Walter Benjamin, they are not inspired to organize against the depredations of capital. They are … inspired to aestheticize social analysis.”
No. They’re not inspired to do anything -- and certainly not to aestheticize anything, since what they’ve been compelled to look at is the ugliest son of a bitch on the curricular block.
Innocent freshmen compelled to admire illiterate writing in writing courses are not inspired. They are confused.
They mean well. They are ready to extend respect and the presumption of expertise to their professor. Still, they can’t help noticing that the essayists their professor enthusiastically tells them to read write atrociously. Are the students supposed to look beyond the writing to the urgent truths it contains? But isn’t this a course in writing as well as argumentation?
The sorts of composition courses Gitlin is talking about are a form of aversive therapy. They are designed to insure that students will never want to read or write anything again.
Gitlin’s remark is part of a longish essay in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, in which his exasperation with the spectacular self-destructiveness of the academic left has finally gotten the better of him, and his tired language shows it. It’s not the positions of the academic left that he’s after anymore; it’s “the pathos of the academic left,” “the downright peculiarity” of a “meager,” “helpless” band, a remnant “force… of purification” which, having withdrawn from any actual politics, flounces about denouncing traitors.
Underlying this sad turn is not so much “identity politics” as “the politics of being” (as another writer on the subject nicely calls it). As with a certain type of rock music fan, for whom, Roger Scruton writes, “any criticism of [his] music is received by the fan as an assault upon himself and his identity,” so for the politics of being people, their ideas are they themselves, and they derive gratification from embodying those ideas themselves alone. It’s rather as Auden wrote:
[T]he error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
Gitlin’s right to use the word “pathos” for the odd combination of arrogance and self-erasure which has guaranteed that “the academic left is nowhere today.”
Putting Blogging First|
“On the other hand,” writes Ann Althouse, thinking about the big gathering of law bloggers she’s just taken part in at Harvard, “I feel that I have little in common with the other lawprof bloggers. Walking around Boston yesterday … I was wondering if I was not entirely at cross-purposes with everyone else.“
At times, I exhorted them to blog like me, but I also always knew that they don't want to blog like me. Why should they? So much of their discussion was about how to get credit for blogging within their institutions and how to promote their professional standing through blogging, that is, how to exploit blogging in service of traditional law professor interests. They remind me of the journalists who mean to harness blogging to preserve and further the interests of mainstream media.
"You lifted not one finger. To the contrary, you laughed when you heard of the bombings. … You are a master manipulator. The evidence is clear in this case. You were a leader of the [Palestinian Islamic Jihad]."
Thus the judge in the Sami al-Arian case, which has finally ended:
Former Florida University professor Sami al-Arian was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison on Monday for aiding the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.
You know, speaking of well-known people I knew…|
…I’ve been pondering, since he died, saying something here about the writer Charles Newman. You probably haven’t heard of Newman, but he did rate a New York Times obituary, and some of the literary blogs noted his death.
I barely knew him. I shared a few dinners with him in the ‘seventies, at Northwestern University, where I was an undergraduate, and where he was editing the literary journal TriQuarterly.
The photo in the Times obit is ridiculous. Newman was a handsome, charismatic man, part preppie, part hippie.
He came across as intellectually, socially, and sexually aggressive. Ready for mental fight, a fist fight, a pillow fight.
He looked you over. Were you interesting? Worth his time? Little bourgeois pissing in your pants or fearless contrarian? Newman had that peculiar ‘sixties thing -- he was both a snob and contemptuous of snobbery.
His over-elaborated novels went mostly unread. But his essay on postmodernism -- one of the first, and one of the best -- is rightly acclaimed. Here’s an excerpt from it, on universities and creative writing:
Our culture has chosen to subsidize writers by employing them to teach the young, hardly an ignoble or anti humanistic impulse. And the proper question is not whether this has affected writers, but whether this is the best way to make use of writers. How does their academic involvement relate, for example, to the historically unprecedented decline in general literary and educational proficiency? The fact remains that writers have been included in faculties only since general education standards were chucked. The issue is not whether writers have somehow been circumscribed, but whether society can afford to have its most literate (if hardly its most wise) in the service of protracted adolescence? … The only charge that can be fairly brought against the modern university is also the severest -- a genuine lack of curiosity and purpose as regards the reintegration of knowledge, and a professional structure which makes intellectual reform impossible. It will remain notable primarily for producing the first generation in American history less skilled than their parents.
A Few More Galbraith Notes|
This is how I knew them, on the occasions when I visited with them -- they're standing in front of their farmhouse in Vermont, the sun is shining... Note that Kitty has to stand on a few stone steps to be anywhere near Galbraith's height.
There's a big open field in front of them, and then, down a lane, a big lake. In the winter (for some years a group of us met at the Galbraith farm over New Year's -- we sat in front of the roaring fire in the main room drinking hot drinks and talking about the year we'd each just had) you skied about the property, skated on the lake, and generally froze your ass off.
The New York Times obituary made a mistake: Galbraith had not six grandchildren but ten. "We figured it happened," said one of his sons, "because the Times wrote the obit years ago, assuming he'd die soon..."
At Cliopatria, Greg James Robinson notes that Galbraith's
death passed to a large extent unnoticed in Canadian media today, despite his Canadian birth and education. This is, on the one hand, surprising in view of the eagerness of nationalistic Canadians to claim their own (I have sometimes been tempted, after seeing one of these exercises, to define a “Canadian” as “a famous person who has lived for at least 15 minutes in Canada”). From another point of view, however, it is an apt tribute to a man who was beyond single and solitary attachments.
I encountered this nationalistic claiming tendency years ago at a Malcolm Lowry conference in Toronto. The British author of Under the Volcano lived for some time near Vancouver, and everyone at the conference called him a Canadian.