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

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

Sunday, October 31, 2004


In the Elegy Season

By Richard Wilbur

Haze, char, and the weather of All Souls':
A giant absence mopes upon the trees.
Leaves cast in casual potpourris
Whisper their scents from pits and cellar-holes.

Or brewed in gulleys, steeped in wells, they spend
In chilly steam their last aromas, yield
From shallow hells a revenance of field
And orchard air. And now the envious mind

Which could not hold the summer in my head
While bounded by their blazing circumstance
Parades these barrens in a golden trance,
Remembering the wealthy season dead,

And by an autumn inspiration makes
A summer all its own. Green boughs arise
Through all the boundless backward of the eyes,
And the soul bathes in warm conceptual lakes.

Less proud than this, my body leans an ear
Past cold and colder weather after wings'
Soft commotion, the sudden race of springs,
The goddess' tread heard on the dayward stair,

Longs for the brush of the freighted air, for smells
Of grass and cordial lilac, for the sight
Of green leaves building into the light
And azure water hoisting out of wells.

Saturday, October 30, 2004

[A University Diaries Series]



Dana Carvey at Lisner Auditorium:

'Carvey also struck a chord with parents in the audience by continually referring to GW as "$48,500," a take-off on the school's steep tuition, which hovers around $34,000 [GW is currently the sixth most expensive college in the United States.].

"When I went to San Francisco State, our tuition was 95 dollars a year ... and we rioted!" Carvey said.'



Jon Stewart at the Marvin Center

'ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Tucker Carlson.



...STEWART: I would love to see a debate show.

BEGALA: We're 30 minutes in a 24-hour day where we have each side on, as best we can get them, and have them fight it out.

STEWART: No, no, no, no, that would be great. To do a debate would be great. But that's like saying pro wrestling is a show about athletic competition.


CARLSON: Jon, Jon, Jon, I'm sorry. I think you're a good comedian. I think your lectures are boring.


CARLSON: Let me ask you a question on the news.

STEWART: Now, this is theater. It's obvious. How old are you?

CARLSON: Thirty-five.

STEWART: And you wear a bow tie.



Friday, October 29, 2004


The koala tea of Mercy is not strained, as the old joke has it, and this being the case, UD has happened upon a diploma mill recipient who, she thinks, deserves mercy.

Again and again on University Diaries, UD has told America's many diploma mill degree recipients the one cardinal rule they must follow: Never rise high enough in the world to prompt scrutiny. Diploma mill graduates are like royalty: "The light of day," as the British like to say, "should never be allowed to shine in upon them." To take another metaphor, you'll probably get away with having bought your education in a matter of minutes with a credit card if you stay below the radar. Rising from the depths into any sort of notoriety represents an unacceptable risk of exposure.

And, once you're exposed, people are liable to be unforgiving, especially if you're in an academic setting. After all, you're in a place where students and faculty have worked hard, or are currently being asked to work hard, over many years, to earn a degree that you've gotten by making a phone call. Appointing as public school superintendent or faculty senate president a person who considers the process of becoming educated a worthless sham would be demoralizing.

And yet, and yet, and yet (as Erich Heller, a long-ago professor of UD's used to say), there should on some occasions be a statute of limitations on moronic non-criminal acts, and UD thinks such an occasion may have arisen in the Palmyra-Macedon Central School District near Rochester, New York.

FALSE PhD SPURS PALMYRA FUROR, as the local yellow journalism has it. And yes, it turns out that the incoming superintendent of schools, William Nichiporuk, bought his Ph.D. at the notorious Brentwick University diploma mill (the Washington Post featured Brentwick a few years ago in a long story about such places). The district has "egg on its face," says a school board member. And while "furor" is too strong a word, people are upset, and plenty of them are demanding Nichiporuk's resignation.

And yet, and yet, and yet. The fellow has apparently worked hard and well for the district for the last twenty years; everyone agrees that he's been a dedicated and even excellent administrator in a variety of positions for a long time. Former school board member David Husk says, "He lives and breathes the Pal-Mac school district. He's embarrassed; he's embarrassed the school district. ...[But] Nichiporuk is the right man for the job."

Here's UD's advice to the guy: Do a total mea culpa. On camera. Say you were desperate, stupid, whatever. Say you wake up every morning wishing you hadn't done it. Say you've spent the last two decades trying to make up for what you did. "And finally, let me talk directly to the children of the Pal-Mac district. I did something wrong. Something you should never do. It's caught up with me and harmed me, the schools, and my family. I intend to talk a lot about that sort of wrongdoing if I'm able to become your school superintendent. But I also intend to talk about forgiveness, about overcoming your mistakes, and about the importance of good, honest work. I hope you and your parents will give me the opportunity to do that."

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Regular readers know that UD has a passion for plagiarism. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that UD waits, panting, for Google News to post the next case of an eminent professor whose latest blockbuster was written by another eminent professor. Or by clerks, students, assistants ... anybody but the person whose name emblazons the book.

It's not really that UD's all indignant about it, or that she enjoys seeing people brought low. Rather, UD perceives that each such case brings her a little closer to Mama Reality.

UD calls "Mama Reality" that elusive realm of existence in which The True, The Real, and What's Actually Happening reveals itself.

Like most pampered postmoderns, UD spends most of her time in an immensely pleasurable simulacral environment ... not just simulacral, infantile ... Do you realize that every evening, at around six o'clock, bells playing carousel music are heard all over UD's neighborhood, and a few moments later, the Good Humor man pulls his truck right up to UD's house? Do you realize that there's a restaurant with a bakery on the premises steps away from UD's house, so that each morning she can wander up the street and pluck a just-made cinnamon bun from their breakfast basket? The very fundament of UD's existence is confectionary.

Yet she also craves contact with actuality, the way things work, the way things are, the real thing, the heart of the matter, the Joycean epiphany, the Wordsworthian spot of time, the Sartreian perfect moment, name your poison. Therefore, UD adores that rhetorical mode which Saul Bellow, in Herzog, calls "Reality Instruction." She loves it when tough guy writers slap her silly. "You dumb bitch! Wake up for once in your wasted life and see how things really are!"

UD loves plagiarism stories because they always bring out this sort of writing, the sort of writing which allows UD to contemplate, masochistically, her disengagement from the real. Here are a couple of examples, written during various high-profile plagiarism cases:

"If you want to live in the real world, a politician has to be cut a bit of slack. Realism dictates that any reader who spots unattributed passages has to concede a certain exculpation to the politician simply on the assumption that the politician did not write the material." [Thomas Mallon]

"[W]e no longer have a culture of writing. Writing is now a specialty. So judges, politicians, businessmen, lawyers--and now it seems law professors--increasingly hire ghostwriters (whether they're called ghostwriters, law clerks, or research assistants) as specialists in writing. I am one of the dinosaurs who still does all my own opinion writing (and of course book and article writing as well). You probably are too. But let's face it: we're on the road to extinction." [Richard Posner]

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

In the world of Mercedes, Louis Vuitton, and vacation properties, high price means high status. At least some portion of affluent parents would be disappointed if college prices fell; they want the schools they patronize overpriced and thus exclusionary.” Easterbrook, The New Republic

TO: Undergraduate Oligarchs Consortium [for background, see UD posts dated 4/23/04 and 6/13/04]

FROM: Josh

SUBJECT: Rumor and Reality

Veyron/Collegiate, Veyron/Collegiate… everyone’s talking about Veyron/Collegiate. Is it for real? Is it going to happen?

Although I’ve been privy for a couple of months to some insider chat about this college-in-the-works, I’ve kept quiet until I had something of substance to share with the UOC. It goes without saying that any such school would want as little publicity as possible, and indeed that interested parties couldn’t simply “apply” to it, but would have to be invited for consideration, etc. So information as it emerges about Veyron/C. should be understood to be confidential, to be shared only among consortium members, please.

But yes, first of all, the rumors are true! A new college designed with people like us in mind is a go for liftoff in Fall 06. A group of investors looking for an appropriate educational setting for their own children and for the children of other people similarly situated decided, about three years ago, to establish an independent private college with two campuses, one in Telluride for the mountain sports semester, and the other in Monterey for the water.

Named after this year’s most expensive car in the world (“Volkswagen's forthcoming Bugatti Veyron 16.4 coupe … will go on sale … for what could be as much as $1.1 million. The 987-horsepower Veyron has a mission like that of McLaren's old F1, which could go 240 mph and went out of production in May 1998: to be beyond any other sports car out there.”),Veyron/Collegiate will undergo an annual name change based on each year’s most expensive car. (This will also, it is hoped, help keep Veyron somewhat elusive to the outside world.) Its student body will be drawn from the most affluent one percent of incoming college students from around the world. In curriculum, faculty, and activities, Veyron/Collegiate will be designed to reflect the values and concerns of this stratum.

Here’s what else I’ve learned about Veyron:

*** Private airport, private heliport.
*** Ritz Carlton timeshare residences.
*** Limousine service.

The library apparently doubles as a spa; think hot rock massage while you read. Golf carts make walking optional. Classrooms look like gentlemens’ clubs, with no restrictions on smoking, cell phones, music, bourbon. Campus will have its own Neiman Marcus annex for necessaries.

Courses are chosen with an eye toward archaism and/or inutility, as in

***History of Papyrus
***Ancient Erotica
***The Limerick

Tuition will be $100,000 per semester, with a one-time class membership fee of $500,000 due first week of your freshman year.

More information as it becomes available to me.

Sunday, October 24, 2004


Thoughtful post from Fenster Moop over at 2Blowhards, in which he defends for-profit schools like the University of Phoenix against UD’s cruel satires of them [see UD post a bit below this one, where she does stuff with the song "Rawhide"]. “My understanding is that what Phoenix does it does rather well,” says Moop.

But does it? Its company stock (Apollo Group Inc.) has sunk like a stone (28 percent since June 8, according to Bloomberg); it’s being investigated to death for all sorts of illegalities, most involving tricks played on the government, and on students, in order to maintain high enrollment and the massive federal aid that comes with it. It’s already been the recipient of what Susan Aspey, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, calls “the largest fine the department has ever imposed on a school.”

None of this differentiates Phoenix much from a number of other for-profit universities. In fact Phoenix seems slightly cleaner than the industry norm. There’s now “intense regulatory scrutiny [of] the [entire] for-profit education industry,” notes Bloomberg.

The regulatory laws are in place to “protect prospective students from being pressured, and taxpayers from potential defaults on student loans.” Among the “well-publicized legal problems with some of these companies,” as one specialist in educational stocks puts it, there‘s the SEC inquiry into “allegations that [Career Education] inflated student enrollment at colleges in Montclair, New Jersey, and Santa Barbara, California.” As the same stock specialist remarks, “That usually means there’s fire, when you see that kind of smoke.”

Fenster wonders, quite reasonably, why “lower-end customers” for education shouldn’t be allowed “a convenient, low-cost educational alternative,” for themselves. After all, rich people can go to Jacuzzi U. and get pampered and grade-inflated through. But UD would like to suggest that it’s doing lower-middle class people no favors to drag them into corruptly run schools where they take courses they can’t pass and then default on their loans. UD doesn’t think it’s very respectful of such people for them to have to be part of universities that (like one of the for-profits) use “Monopoly money…in a contest to drum up applications.”

For-Profit Update, January 31, 2005: 60 Minutes investigates. Go here.

Saturday, October 23, 2004


UD's husband's name is


which is only two names more than Georgia College and State University has had. GC and SU, which is about to change its name for the seventh time, has been known as

Georgia Normal and Industrial College
Georgia State College for Women
Woman's College of Georgia
Georgia College
Atkinson State University
Georgia College and State University.

What will number seven be? GC and SU doesn't yet know.

UD has a suggestion:


...why UD has reported in previous posts occasionally noticing a striking form of behavior among some of the students in her classes [see UD post dated 11/17/03]:

Company Urges College Students to Stop Taking Aphrodisiac

(PRWEB) October 18, 2004 -- When Genesis BioTech introduced a liquid aphrodisiac called African Fly on the internet 4 years ago, it was aimed toward older couples who wanted a natural alternative to Viagra. They never dreamed it would be all the rage on college campuses.
“It was really just a gag gift until we found out it worked”, says David (not his real name), a 21 year old senior at George Washington University in Washington, DC. “Then it seemed like everyone knew about it.”

The liquid formula is made up of 7 herbs that are indigenous to Africa. After drinking African Fly ( testosterone output is increased, bound testosterone is released and more blood is directed into the genital area. This is how it functions in both men and women. Some students refer to African Fly as “The Horny Maker."

The African Fly online order center has seen a spike in orders from college campuses all across the US. Although there is little to no danger when taking African Fly, the concern is how African Fly is used. “For years our customers were men and women who had lost the urge or ability to have sex. Why a college student would want to boost testosterone, which they have an ample supply of, is beyond me”, says V. Prillaman a sales director at Genesis BioTech.

One reason for the use of African Fly by college age men is its ability to give the user sexual stamina and overcome pre-mature ejaculation which can be a problem for men that age. Another reason could be that it works for women which could be a benefit for cash strapped student couples.

Genesis BioTech emphasizes that African Fly cannot be used as a date rape drug. Though it does make the user lose their sexual inhibitions, it will not knock a person out or make them want to have sex when they don’t want to. The concern is that the effects of accelerating the production and release of testosterone in the body when it is at its peak, for students ages 18 to 23, has not been studied thoroughly.

“A person with a high level of testosterone taking African Fly is like giving an overactive person coffee…it just isn’t necessary," says Mr. Prillaman. But so far that hasn’t stopped orders from college campuses from coming in. The company is now taking steps to inform their customers on the possible effects of African Fly on college age students through their website and newspapers.

Friday, October 22, 2004



[For I, see UD post dated 7/23/04]

Today's New York Times, Letters, page A22:


To the Editor:

As a senior at Middlebury College, one of the nation's most expensive private colleges, I have seen the comprehensive fee increase nearly $10,000 in four years to reach its current level of $40,000.

If the rise in tuition was correlated with a rise in academic vigor, most students would accept the additional cost. This, unfortunately, is not the case. Indeed, many colleges like Middlebury have used excess revenue to finance vast building projects, which, while aesthetically pleasing, do little to enhance the quality of a student's education.

We must not lose sight of the original purpose of academic institutions, for if we do, college tuitions will continue growing to unacceptably high levels.

Amichai Kilchevsky
Middlebury, Vt. Oct. 20, 2004

[University of Phoenix gets $9.8M federal fine
By Bill Zlatos
Wednesday, October 20, 2004

A $9.8 million fine -- the largest ever imposed by the U.S. Department of Education -- will not affect the University of Phoenix's recruitment practices or future expansion in the Pittsburgh area, school officials say.

"It has no effect on any of our business plans, and of course that would include expansions," said Terri Bishop, senior vice president of public affairs for Apollo Group Inc., the Phoenix-based owner of the university. It operates sites in Robinson and Monroeville and is considering moving into Washington County and Cranberry.

The university did not admit guilt but agreed to what it calls a $9.8 million "settlement" with the government, which released a 46-page report earlier this month.

The review details a climate where recruiters -- the university calls them "education counselors" -- received perks for meeting enrollment goals and pressure if they did not. The federal government alleged the university illegally based salaries on the number of students the recruiters enrolled.

In a prepared statement, department of education officials said the agreement "demonstrates the department's commitment to ensure accountability in the federal student aid programs in a firm and fair manner and to act in the best interest of students and taxpayers."

The government does not want recruiters to meet their admissions goals by offering federal aid to unqualified students.

Corporate officials, meanwhile, dismissed the government report as "misleading and inaccurate."

"Because of our settlement with the education department, we are not disclosing individual inaccuracies, but there are many," Bishop said.

According to the report, 72 percent of recruiters interviewed -- none of whom worked for the Pittsburgh campus -- said the atmosphere at the university was all about "butts in seats."

Successful recruiters could win all-expense-paid trips to places like Las Vegas or Universal Studios near Orlando, Fla.

Some recruiters who failed to meet enrollment goals were sent to the "Red Room." There they sat at a table in a glass-encased room, with senior recruiters and managers hovering over them, listening to and monitoring their calls.

"Most employees view the training as a positive experience, but it is not unusual that low-performing employees might characterize the training experience negatively," Bishop said.

The description of recruiting practices, if accurate, disappointed Barmak Nassirian, associate executive director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers in Washington, D.C.

"What is disturbing about the report," he said, "is the impression it leaves that you're dealing with what is, strictly speaking, a sales operation, and that is not what admissions is all about."

Bishop said the university agreed to the settlement "because we found this process a distraction to our business."

"While an independent audit confirmed the university's recruitment plan was in compliance with current regulations," according to its prepared statement, "the university has taken additional steps to strengthen its policies and procedures for communicating its recruitment practices to ensure they are more easily understood."

The University of Phoenix has 108,900 regular students plus 118,900 students who take classes online, but it does not disclose enrollments at individual campuses. The university received $868.7 million in federal student aid last year.

Enrollin' …rollin' …rollin' …

Keep movin', movin', movin',
Though they're disapprovin',
Keep them students movin', Phoenix!
Don't try to educate 'em,
Just rope and throw and bait 'em,
Soon we'll be living high and wide.

Boy, my head's calculatin'
My paycheck will be waitin',
Be waiting at the end of my pitch.

Move 'em on, head 'em up,
Head 'em up, move 'em out,
Move 'em on, head 'em out, Phoenix!
Set 'em out, ride 'em in
Ride 'em in, let 'em out,
Cut 'em out, ride 'em in, PHOENIX!


Tiny TV-B-Gone turns off most any boob tube
Thursday, October 21, 2004


SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Plenty of people love television, but apparently some have had enough of it.

A new key chain gadget that lets people turn off most TVs -- anywhere from airports to restaurants -- is selling at a faster clip than it would take most people to surf the channels on their boob tubes.

"I thought there would just be a trickle, but we are swamped," said the inventor, Mitch Altman of San Francisco, a self-described geek with a master's degree in electrical engineering. "I didn't know there were so many people who were into turning TV off."

Hundreds of orders for Altman's $14.99 TV-B-Gone gadget poured in one day earlier this week after the tiny remote control was announced in Wired magazine and other online media outlets. At times, the unexpected attention overloaded and crashed the Web site of his company, Cornfield Electronics.

The key chain fob works like a universal remote control but one that only turns TVs on or off.

With a zap of a button, the gizmo goes through a string of about 200 infrared codes that control the power for about 1,000 television models.

Altman said the majority of TVs should react within 17 seconds, although it takes a little more than a minute for the gizmo to emit all the trigger codes.

"I can be mischievous, but I'm not going to do anything malicious, and I don't want to make anyone's life more difficult," Altman said, admitting that he hasn't owned a television in 24 years.

"I just don't like TV, and I'd like people to think more about this powerful medium in their lives."

Altman does not contend that all TV is bad.

"There's just so little time in all of our lives," he said. "Why should we spend so much time on something we don't necessarily enjoy?"

So beware: Next time you're at a laundry or restaurant, the blaring TV might just mysteriously turn off.

© 1998-2004 Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Wednesday, October 20, 2004


A Regular University Diaries Feature

This month, Youth Wants to Know...

Does bad spelling really matter? There was that artist [see UD post dated 10/7/04] who misspelled all those names of artists and writers in her mural... which was embarrassing, for her and for the library that commissioned her work. And yet the upshot is that she's getting more money than she would have if she'd spelled the names right, because the library's paying her extra to fix everything!

So does bad spelling really matter, Doctor U?

Yes, kiddies, it does. I know I'm sounding like an old scold, but it actually does matter. Let me give you an example, hot off the press, of the trouble you can run into if you can't spell.

Today's Denver Post has an article about how desperately the University of Colorado is trying to decrease the amount of student drinking on and off campus -- there have already been two student deaths from alcohol poisoning in the Colorado system this academic year (it's only October). CU has for ages held the rank of America's Number One Party School (it recently slipped to a respectable Number Nine). The university's administration is doing everything it can think of to deal with the problem.'s how one local news outlet sums up the situation:

"CU is trying to reign in student drinking."

See how the reporter got in trouble? He ended up saying the opposite of what he wanted to say, and making UD laugh at him! Two bad outcomes! CU has reigned in drinking long enough; it wants not to reign in drinking, but to rein in drinking.


Actually, the struggle between the administration's desire to rein in, and the student body's desire to reign in, drinking (one student comments that they'll all have to start drinking harder to regain the Number One title) has caused a bit of a ruckus in the last few days. CU's vice chancellor of student affairs, annoyed by the party hearty remarks a number of students made to another Denver Post reporter, wrote angry letters to each of the students mentioned. The letters pissed off the students, their parents, and the Colorado American Civil Liberties Union.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004


It's October in Foggy Bottom, and apples are falling out of trees.

Bad apples. In commenting on the ongoing embezzlement scandal at the university [see UD's post of 10/13/04 below], two officials have picked up on the same seasonal image. A trustee, using a figure that literary critics like UD are trained to describe as "self-reflexive," calls the soon to be indicted miscreant "an unfortunately bad apple that doesn't reflect on the University but reflects on itself." And a faculty member seems to allude to Yeats's silver apples of the moon: "You've got a bad apple, and the bad apple tarnishes everything else."

The tarnishing has certainly begun. The Department of Transportation has suspended much of the multi-million dollar grant while they investigate further. GW has suspended the center's research, and has halted construction of its research building.

As regular readers know, UD doesn't subscribe to the one bad apple theory. Although she doubts that misbehavior on this particular scale is common, she's still more inclined to think in terms of bushels.


Update, a few hours later:

UD just met up with a high-ranking GW administrator while waiting in line at a kiosk for her latte. The high-ranking GWA insisted on paying for her coffee ("Now that I'm an administrator, everyone hates me. I have to buy my friends."), and UD happily took the h-r GWA up on the offer.

UD ever so subtly drew this person into a conversation about the campus embezzlement scandal, and this person said something rather beautiful and also sad about it which UD will now quote:

"I think it's time people stopped thinking that professors are more moral than other people."

Monday, October 18, 2004


(See first Class Break post below, 10/15/04.)

The physics professor in Louisiana who went berserk has been charged with terrorizing and with simple battery.

"Last fall, ... Houston was suspended for two weeks for cursing and shouting at students. [H]e was allowed back into the classroom this spring," reports a local news outlet.

Well, UD does have one thing to say on the matter. It was generous of his university to let him back in the classroom after the suspension, but enough's enough. Fire him.


Hokay, today you can either find out what it’s like for an English professor to attend the Singalong Sound of Music with two of her students, or you can get up to date on the latest academic embezzlement scandal.

You say you want both? Fine. Any particular order? Sound of Music first! Fine.


Close to Home: UD Attends the Sound of Music Singalong with Two of her Students

People dress up in S of M related costumes for the event, but the only thing UD could find was a Soviet army hat that her husband picked up at some outdoor market in Poland years ago. Nazi headgear would have been correct (for the scene in which the local Hitlerian gives Captain von Trapp hell for flying the Austrian flag), but UD made do with the Soviet thing.

On the Metro trip to Foggy Bottom, quite a number of men eyed UD’s hat (which she held on her lap) with alarm and contempt. “What now?” she could hear them asking themselves. “ A fucking Commie?”

As the train neared Lisner Auditorium, UD felt nervous and excited. She had over many years idealized this event. What if it fell short of her expectations? What if she felt constrained in her singing, sitting next to two students from her Novels of Don DeLillo class?

Anyway, here are her students, waiting for UD in front of the concert hall. They look pleased but confused when she puts on her Soviet hat. Why Soviet? they want to know. UD tries to explain.

Very strange audience mix: Elegant little girls with their mothers; fully fledged female impersonators; tough-looking women dressed as brown paper packages tied up with string; anonymous drifters who UD figures just happen to like the movie and have no idea what they’re getting into.

“You come too,” says a brown paper package to UD, as the package heads up to the stage for the costume contest before the film. “You’re in costume.”

“Yeah, but just barely,” UD replies, full of shame at her shyness. “I’ll stay here.”

Everyone has been given a little yellow plastic bag, inside of which are various props to deepen our viewing excitement (a piece of edelweiss to wave; a popper to set off when the Captain and Maria first kiss; a tiny swath of fabric to hold up when Maria makes play clothes for the children out of her room’s curtains, etc.). We are also instructed to hiss whenever the Baroness appears, to boo the Nazis, and so forth.

From the very opening scene (when we chant JULIE? JULIE? JULIE? as the camera slowly pans the Alps, and then, as the camera finally finds her, burst into deafening applause) to the last (here we reprise “Climb Every Mountain” as the von Trapps crawl over the mountains into Switzerland), both UD and her students do it all: we sing; we wave; we shout; we pop; we bow (remember the song festival’s third place winner? the woman who keeps bowing and bowing and bowing? The audience gets up and bows in every direction through this scene.).

UD is pleased to see that she’s not at all self-conscious about wearing a Soviet army hat and belting out UNDERNEATH HER WIMPLE SHE HAS CURLERS IN HER HAIR while seated in a large auditorium next to two of her students. Neither are her students in any way hampered by her presence.


UD begins to think that all colleges and universities should have a Cadillac SUV/Gated Condo on a Golf Course contingency fund. The imagination of embezzling professors and administrators is so pitiful that when they steal money from their schools they all do exactly the same thing. They buy a Cadillac SUV and a gated condo on a golf course.

The State of North Carolina Auditor Robert Campbell uncovered the latest Caddy-Course purchasing pattern at the North Carolina School of the Arts, which is part of the state university system. (Campbell is a man of such independence and integrity that one local newspaper anticipates his defeat in the upcoming election.) Comparing the scandal to Enron (though this one only involves the theft of a million dollars), Campbell says: “Money was shifted between various entities to avoid detection and the rules that apply to the main enterprise. Today, Enron is financially and morally bankrupt. Our university system cannot and should not sink to that level.”

“The damage to the school is likely to be serious and long-term,” writes the Winston-Salem Journal of this “combination of greed, arrogance, incompetence, and extravagance.”

A few people at the school thought things were getting rank even before the shit hit the fan: “Some wonder whether the school has put too much emphasis on wheeling and dealing. ‘There are those of us who believe education is education and business and business,’ [a member of the Faculty Council said, sounding very much like, well, UD]. ‘When you begin to operate education as a business, does that open the door to things like we just saw?’”

Sunday, October 17, 2004


Gotta give Jack Meyer credit for honesty. He oversees money-management for Harvard, and routinely pays each of his best managers upwards of thirty-five million dollars a year. This rate of compensation at a non-profit institution so disgusts a group of prominent Harvard alumni that they're withholding contributions to the university until it does something about it. [On 6/4/04, UD blogged about the front-page coverage of this story in the New York Times.]

Meyer, interviewed by a Boston newspaper, says what always gets said: If you want the best people, you've got to pay them. If you want to keep them on your team, you have to meet their price. No upper limit. No principle involved. You just have to keep comparing what you're paying them to what they could be paid elsewhere.

And this is the alumni group's response: It's obscene for one person to take home forty million dollars a year in salary, and it's particularly obscene in a non-profit university setting. Human beings who insist on pocketing that kind of money shouldn't be associated with universities.

Harvard's president is beginning to get the picture: "According to university sources, the big bonuses and the bad publicity they generate are a distraction for the school. No decision has been made, but those same sources say it is possible Harvard will choose to scale back the paychecks or hire outside managers."

And here's where Meyer's honesty comes in: "Meyer is well aware the issue is a sensitive one, and that in the end it may not be possible to retain what he calls "world-class" money managers in a university setting. 'The tail can't wag the dog,' he said. 'We are the tail. Harvard is the dog.' After 14 years, Meyer shows no sign of losing interest in the job. 'This is the best job in the investment business,' he said. But then he added, 'It would be nice if we didn't have the compensation problem.'"

Yes indeed, for a variety of excellent reasons, it may not be possible to retain world-class money managers in a university setting, if by world-class we mean the sort of people Meyer now compensates so excessively. It may be that world-class money managers live in a world at such profound odds with the world of the university that they should leave it.

Saturday, October 16, 2004


...UD wants to make the point (as she did in her post of 5/14/04, about the German professor Michael Wolffsohn) that academic freedom of speech represents the core value of the university, if the university is to survive as a place apart, devoted to the truth. So now in France you've got Bruno Gollnisch, a professor of Japanese language and culture at the University of Lyon and a far-right politician who doesn't like Jews, and he's made a lot of Holocaust-denial remarks.

...Like, you know, the Germans didn't really kill the Jews, or yes they did but only a few and not with gas and people who criticize people like Gollnisch are Jews blah blah. When UD was an undergraduate at Northwestern, there was a professor in the engineering department who said the same stuff -- actually, he said much worse stuff -- and NU handled it the way American academic institutions usually handle - should handle - these things. It didn't do anything. The professor was tenured, and he had free speech rights. Decades later, he seems to have failed to spark a fascist revolution. His speech certainly offended and hurt a lot of people, but it wasn't actionable.

Speech of this sort is quite actionable in Germany, and in France, and Gollnisch is in big trouble. The Justice Minister has started an inquiry against him, and he could lose his job and go to jail.

The president of his university wants Gollnisch out because of the "grave attack he has made on the honor and credibility of the university." [UD's translation.] But even with a high-profile nutcake politician on its faculty, Lyon isn't really harmed by Gollnisch. Embarrassed, certainly; but making a major national fuss about the man only elevates him, lends him a power he doesn't really have. Let him rave, UD says, and if students want to picket his classes or walk out of them, fine. But a university shouldn't run to the French Minister of Justice and order him to make the bad man go away.



"Hong Kong daily: Lawmaker holds suspect academic credentials

HONG KONG (AP) - A pro-Beijing lawmaker who gained notoriety by aiming a crude one-fingered gesture at democracy supporters came under fire Friday when a newspaper reported that he had suspect academic credentials.

The Standard newspaper charged that Philip Wong had attained two degrees from so-called "diploma mills'' in the United States, according to an investigation it carried out into his academic background.

"Diploma mills'' offer degrees for low fees and require little if any academic work.

Wong, who is also a delegate to the Chinese National People's Congress, told The Associated Press that the newspaper report was "wrong.''

Biographical data on Wong that appears on the Hong Kong Legislative Council's Web site lists academic credentials including a Ph.D in Engineering from California Coast University.

The Santa Ana, California-based unaccredited school was recently named in a U.S. General Accounting Office report into "diploma mills.''

The General Accounting Office is the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress.

Wong also lists a law degree from Southland University, which the Standard described as a defunct institution from Pasadena, California.

The Standard said the quality of both degrees was "questionable.''

Wong called California Coast University a legitimate school.

"My school was fully accredited when I was studying there. Otherwise why would I go and study there?'' Wong said.

He said as far as he knew Southland University merged with another university a long time ago.

"I'm not the spokesperson of these universities, so I can't comment for them,'' Wong said, before hanging up his mobile phone.

Wong offended many people in Hong Kong last year when he was filmed making an obscene gesture at pro-democracy demonstrators.

Most Hong Kong people favor full democracy but Beijing has forbidden it for the near term. - AP


"Candidate lists two degrees from alleged diploma mills

Lafayette: A retired cop who voluntered to act as town marshal here and is now seeking a city council seat, touts master's and Ph.D. degrees in his campaign filing from places officially listed as diploma mills by Oregon's Office of Degree Authorization.

Steve Malone...listed on his filing forms a master's in adminstration of justice from Golden State University and a Ph.D. in public administration from the University of Honolulu.

Both are owned by a man who operates them out of offices in downtown Honolulu with the help of a single employee....

Malone and his wife said they never intended to use the questionable credentials to gain a position in government. They said he listed them on candidacy forms 'for informational purposes only.' ...

'He has been very careful about not using his master's or Ph.D. degrees for political or monetary gain," said his wife Melody, speaking on his behalf, 'because he's always been aware that it was a nontraditional school.' ...

'University of Honolulu is licensed as a degree-granting institution of higher education recognized by the Accreditation Council for Higher Education,' its website boats. It goes on to note that accreditation has been 'approved by the Minister of Education of the Kingdom of Wallis and Fatuna Islands...' Wallis and Fatuna Islands are two French territories in the South Pacific. Neither is a kingdom and neither has a minister of education. ...

[Malone] said he graduated simultaneously with both a master's and a Ph.D., from different schools. He insisted he earned the degrees in good faith. But, he said, 'Those are just peanuts and popcorn. That's not stuff I care about. It's only things I did.' "

Friday, October 15, 2004


"Soon after becoming Amenia, N.Y., weekenders, Stephen Shafer, a Manhattan physician, and his wife, Elizabeth, a lawyer, became enthusiastic members of the Hudson Valley sheep community."

Today's New York Times, "Escapes" section, p. D2

Since a number of UD's readers have now forwarded to her for consideration the story of the physics professor in Louisiana who went berserk during class , UD will explain why she had not planned on blogging about it.

UD had already seen the article herself, during one of her obsessive searches online for university-related news. She had even printed the article, thinking maybe she'd have something to say about it.

But just as UD did not blog about the professor who has a record of getting into her car and seemingly deliberately running over bicyclists (don't have time to include the link this morning - I'll find it later), so UD didn't blog on the subject of this man, about whom there is not much to say of relevance to university life.

There is probably a good deal to say about him of relevance to mental life - how we remain sane, the mechanisms and circumstances by which we lose our minds - but this is University Diaries, not Diaries of a Madman.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

Okay, so urinals DO publish.

Quite a few readers have now written in to quibble with UD about her ridicule of Anne Rice's sentence in her rant to her readers on [see below, 10/11/04]. UD's readers point out that people do, notoriously, "publish" things in/on/under/over/about urinals (using "publish" here very broadly). UD concedes the point and withdraws her withering contempt.

[By the way - UD's been getting lots of reader mail lately. Very gratifying.]

The last time she gave an in-class essay exam, UD wrote a poem [see UD, 5/4/04] about it. This time, she has an itch to describe the setting in paragraph form.

Many of her students are sneezing, and all, it seems, are sniffling. Starbucks coffee and bottled water are significant elements of the scene.

There are lots of sweatshirts. A guy to UD's immediate left, front row, has on a hooded number that says


in big orange letters across the chest. Leaping cleanly over the possibility that this student intends to be ironic, sardonic, nihilistic, cynical, satirical, or any combination of these, UD is moved by the display.

Other sweatshirts are less interesting - Greek fraternity letters, varsity sports info.

Of course there are no bright colors in the room. One of UD's earliest posts [UD, 11/12/03] describes the dark-clothes-only culture at her hip, urban university. [UD's own lifelong wearing of only-dark clothes has gotten to the point (now that she's up in years and has many turtlenecks) that she needs a high-intensity lamp to sort through her clothes in the morning.] No bright clothes at all. It's all about black. Those who wish to sport a more buoyant look choose navy.

The Truth Seeker, the uniformly dark clothes, and the fact that a number of students have hats on or hoods up, lends the examination room a monastic feel. The pious silence, the hunched meticulous inscription, as if they were all working on the Book of Kells...

Up in years she may be, but UD recalls vividly the business of in-class blue book essay exams, and she empathizes.

Devil Made Him Do It

University of Alaska Diploma Mill Update:

[See UD, 9/13/04, 9/19/04, 9/21/04, and 10/9/04 for background]

"In consideration of circumstances beyond my control, I resign my position as President-elect of the UAF Faculty Senate effective immediately."

---Michael Hannigan, to the University of Alaska faculty.

Oh, and one other thing. Professor Hannigan begins his resignation letter by quoting that well-known witticism, "The politics of the university are so intense because the stakes are so low." Call UD a nerd, but she begs to differ. If the stakes were as low as he thinks they are, Hannigan's calculation that buying an advanced degree wouldn't matter to anyone would have been correct.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004


One of UD's colleagues has just been arrested for embezzlement. It's a very destructive thing for the university, because he's alleged to have stolen large amounts of federal money from the GW program he directed (he recently left the university's faculty) -- a much-touted traffic safety research center.

In one of those statements that ring with irony now, the same director said, when the center was running high, that "GW’s credibility is so strong...there’s no need to advertise the program [to graduate students] because it is recognized for excellence around the world."

That credibility has been badly damaged. To say nothing of the financial wreckage. GW committed a lot of money to a program run by a man who used federal research funds for Washington Redskins tickets, a Florida condominium, and other luxuries. He will almost certainly go to prison. UD figures GW can't abandon the program, having spent so much money on it. She figures the university will have to conceive a way to salvage it.

Stories like this one are part of the larger conflict of interest story on most American research campuses. Throw enough money at any scholarly enterprise, blur the line between academic research and profit-making sufficiently, and you'll get similar outcomes.

A couple of corrections, one fiscal and one testicular, have been sent in by readers:

1.] A reader with a background in the subject suggests that Florida is not in fact a rich state [as UD recently argued: see 10/10/04], but rather a poor state with wealthy, tax-averse immigrants. UD had never thought of it that way. Sounds right.

2.] Another reader corrects not UD but the already besieged Ms. Alquilar, l'artiste whose library mural misspellings have excited comment [see UD, 10/07/04 and 10/10/04]. Alquilar, in arguing that no one with a true aesthetic disposition notices prosaic artists' errors like misspellings, compares such pickiness to someone "look[ing] at Michelangelo's David" and "point[ing] out that one [testicle] is lower than the other."

Citing a "kind urologist" he knows, one of UD's readers points out that testicular asymmetry is not an artistic error but a human reality. Indeed, far from being any sort of mistake, it is (for various reasons UD won't go into here) apparently one of the Creator's cleverest ideas.

Monday, October 11, 2004


Not wishing to sound a scold, UD once again reminds everyone, including Anne Rice, to mind their similes as well as their metaphors:

"Your stupid, arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander. You have used the site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies."

[Anne Rice, on, in response to negative reviews by Amazon readers of her latest book, Blood Canticle.]

[ps: One way to rewrite the sentence would be: "Your stupid, arrogant assumptions about me and what I am doing are slander. You have used the site as if it were a public urinal to splatter falsehood and lies."]

Sunday, October 10, 2004


Third in a series.

[for background, see UD,10/7/04]

---"Miffed artist doesn't want to correct misspellings.
Muralist offended by 'nasty' criticism of Livermore piece."
San Francisco Chronicle, October 9, 2004 ---

...'The artist said the names were spelled correctly on her sketches, but she got them wrong as she was doing the piece. She admits noticing "Einstein" was misspelled but choosing to go forward anyway.

"I just wasn't that concerned," she said. "None of us are particularly good spellers anymore because of computers. When you are in a studio full of clay, you don't give it much thought.

"When you look at Michelangelo's David, do you point out that one (testicle) is lower than the other?"

Earlier this week, the Livermore City Council voted 3-2 to pay Alquilar $6,000 to fix the misspelled names. State law prohibits removing or changing public art without the artist's consent.

The city debated leaving the misspelled names and creating a game where visitors try to find them -- an idea that angered Alquilar.'


Public universities are forever making the case that they improve their state’s economy, drawing jobs and industry and high-tech and all of that. UD thinks in some restricted sense and in some selected places this may be true. But she is also struck by the fact that some of America’s richest states - Florida, Nevada, Alaska - have some of the weakest university systems.

Florida in particular is worth thinking about, and a number of Floridians are doing that. “Why Are Our State Universities So Badly Rated?” Howard B. Rock titles an article that appeared last month in the Miami Herald:

"Florida is a wealthy state. One need but examine the Florida real-estate market, with million-dollar houses and condos selling so rapidly. Florida is also one of the four most populous states, one of the fastest growing and with a low unemployment rate."

All of this, and yet the U.S. News & World Report’s college rankings represent an annual embarrassment for this economic power-house: Stunningly few Florida universities land even in the first three tiers, and most of Florida’s schools languish in the “unranked fourth tier.” Unranked. That means there’s almost nothing of an academic nature you can say about them - they’re not selective, they conduct no meaningful research, etc.

Here’s one thing you can say about them: Great football. “Lawmakers seem to see classes and laboratories as tedious academic appendages of useful and interesting football factories,” writes a columnist in the Saint Petersburg Times. “Florida is a large and prosperous state; its universities’ peer institutions should be Michigan, Berkeley, Ohio State, Wisconsin. These schools have Top 25 football programs as well as first-rate libraries, highly ranked programs, upper-end faculty salaries and …excellent stipends for graduate students and teaching assistants. Instead, Florida’s universities belong to the sphere of Ole Miss, Oklahoma, LSU - colleges in states still struggling with the old Southern curse of poverty and low expectations. Cuba has a higher literacy rate than Florida.”

As the economist Robert Frank points out, big sports schools tend neither to attract better students nor to make money on all those games. Athletic budgets are now immense, growing at NCAA Division I schools at more than twice the rate of university budgets overall from 1995 to 2001.

Insufficient government funding (Florida’s per capita spending on higher ed is among the lowest in the United States) and corrupt meddling in university governance sustain the problem, in Florida and in most other weak state university systems; but the root cause is cultural -- most of the people who run places like Florida and Nevada don’t give a rat’s ass about education. They don’t even know the difference between legitimate and illegitimate subjects of study. Florida politicians are all excited about the soon to be established school of chiropractic science at Florida State University - the first public such school! And sure to be the best in the nation! But, as the FSU newspaper notes, “Due to questions surrounding the legitimacy of the profession, starting a chiropractic school at FSU could potentially affect the University and its academic reputation.” FSU neither asked for nor wants this school; the gift comes from a well-connected politician who is also a chiropractor.

As UD has noted in a number of earlier posts [see UD, 5/17/04, 6/21/04, and 6/25/04], among all of the benighted state universities of Florida, the University of South Florida seems to rise most often out of the darkness of daily academic life to the daylight of national scandal. Most recently, its highly paid associate vice president and undergraduate admissions director resigned when it turned out that they’d sent falsely inflated student test scores to U.S. News and World Report. “[It’s] one thing [to try] to improve your credentials through legitimate academic programs,” says the director of data research for U.S. News; “[it’s another thing to engage in] flat-out lying about it.”

Anyway. UD asks, for the sake of asking, for the sake of provoking thought, the following question: Is it necessarily wrong for there to be some states in the United States that are rich and happy and not too bright?

Saturday, October 09, 2004


Jacques Derrida has died. My tattered copy of Of Grammatology, the torturously translated edition of his torturous master-text, has long had sentimental value for me. All first-year graduate students in English at the University of Chicago got hit up with it, I think, and we all with great veneration and trembling and perplexity red-lined our way through the thing.

My copy is particularly messed up because I’d just gotten a cat when I started reading it, and the cat would follow the movements of my underlining hand and then suddenly pounce. My hand would skate madly over the words and create a mass of red lines. Sometimes the cat’s claws tore through the book’s paper.

Although Of Grammatology was baffling and convoluted, I read it with excitement, sensing despite my incomprehension and the text’s density something new and nervy in it. I came to appreciate Derrida’s often funny subversion of established forms of European thought and discourse; his writing conveyed to me a perpetually intense youthfulness. And this is probably why I’m amazed to hear that he is dead.

The Nome Nugget has now said that the “embarrassment” of diploma mill degree holders in the University of Alaska system -- people like incoming faculty senate president Michael Hannigan -- “needs immediate action.” (UD thanks a reader for forwarding this editorial to her.) Yet things in the Hannigan matter [for background, see UD post dated 9/21/04] seem to have settled in for a wait. Having decisively lost a faculty vote of confidence and brought derision to his institution, Hannigan is sitting on his hands rather than handing over his resignation as senate president.

Perhaps he knows something UD doesn’t know. Perhaps large numbers of other faculty in the University of Alaska system are strutting about doctorally when all they really have are fake degrees, and perhaps Hannigan is threatening to reveal a horrific scandal which will draw national attention to Alaska…

But UD doubts it. She continues to believe that the combination of vanity, amorality, cynicism, sloth, and idiocy that would prompt a person to push the YES! I’M READY TO PURCHASE MY PHD NOW! button on their keyboard is a rare one, especially among academics. (Most of the diploma mill business comes from people in the government - particularly the military - or corporations.) UD doesn’t doubt that there are many unimpressive degrees among the faculty in Alaska, as there will be among faculty in any state. But a shitty accredited degree is significantly different from a simulacral non-accredited sheet of embossed paper.

The way out of the Hannigan havoc is for him to apologize, withdraw from the presidency, stop calling himself a doctor, and go back to the classroom.

Friday, October 08, 2004

To a young blogger

Margaret, are you blogging
While your neighbor is out jogging?
Blogs, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! As the posts grow older
They will come to such sites colder
By and by, nor spare a sec
To simply check
The frequent updates.

Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:

It is the goal posters prog for:
It is Margaret you blog for.

When UD was an undergraduate at Northwestern University decades ago, streaking was very popular. She recalls cheering on the sidelines one cold evening on campus as six naked students rushed by.

When, a few years later, UD was a graduate student at the University of Chicago, she attended the Lewd and Lascivious Ball, an old tradition. Admission to the Ball was free if you attended in the nude; the price went up according to how much you were wearing.

Occasions, degrees, and traditions of nakedness on American campuses - this is a much less interesting subject than you might think. Most campuses - full of young people experiencing independence, alcohol, and shocking new ideas for the first time - have always had some public funny stuff, and most administrations have, er, looked the other way. “I read recently that in the post-Woodstock era,” someone notes on a naturalist website, “students at Bennington, a college in Vermont, unremarkably attended classes in the nude if they wished.”

But as deans begin to remark and to ban the activities (they fear injuries and lawsuits) the phenomenon rises from just part of the white noise of college life to a personal freedom issue -- an issue, again, of not much interest, but some.

So, for instance, two hundred Bennington students yesterday massed in front of the administration building to protest “a reprimand handed down last month to a male student mentor for walking the campus completely nude.” Protestors argued that “Bennington College has traditionally been a clothing-optional campus.” But the new dean said nothing doing, and he will almost certainly have his way in suppressing the practice.

After all, Princeton students and alumni were unable to salvage their beloved Nude Olympics, a long-standing tradition involving rushing about naked on the night of the first snowfall at the university each year. Nude library runs remain popular but endangered at Harvard and Yale….

Sigh. UD sees no reason to bother naked people unless they’re making an obnoxious spectacle of themselves, but she must also admit that she would have enormous difficulty teaching a class if one of the students in it were naked. Naked, UD figures, is one unnerving extreme of the clothing-spectrum on the contemporary American campus -- full head and body burqa, complete with eye-mesh, being the other. And here UD cannot suppress a smile, imagining a classroom of hers in which, in the front row, next to each other, sit a naked man and a fully veiled woman. It’s not an impossible scenario.


UPDATE a few hours later: Well, excuse me! Hamilton College has got it all down to a science.

Thursday, October 07, 2004


A Regular University Diaries Feature.

II [for I, see post below, dated 10/3/04, "Device to Root Out Evil"]

LIVERMORE, Calif. - It didn't take a nuclear physicist to realize changes were needed after a $40,000 ceramic mural was unveiled outside the city's new library and everyone could see the misspelled names of Einstein, Shakespeare, Vincent Van Gogh, Michelangelo and seven other historical figures.

"Our library director is very frustrated that she has this lovely new library and it has all these misspellings in front," said city councilwoman Lorraine Dietrich, one of three council members who voted Monday to authorize paying another $6,000, plus expenses, to fly the artist up from Miami to fix the errors.

Reached at her Miami studio Wednesday by The Associated Press, Maria Alquilar said she was willing to fix the brightly colored 16-foot-wide circular work, but offered no apologizes for the 11 misspellings among the 175 names.

"The importance of this work is that it is supposed to unite people," Alquilar said. "They are denigrating my work and the purpose of this work."

Alquilar said it took her quite a bit of her own time and money to create and install the work, and that it sat idle at her Santa Cruz studio for two years until the city cleared the way for its installation.

There were plenty of people around during the installation who could and should have seen the missing and misplaced letters, she said.

"Even though I was on my hands and knees laying the installation out, I didn't see it," she said.

The mistakes wouldn't even register with a true artisan, Alquilar said.

"The people that are into humanities, and are into Blake's concept of enlightenment, they are not looking at the words," she said. "In their mind the words register correctly."

---------UPDATE, Friday, October 8: From her website [via Number 2 Pencil], Alquilar describes another of her library murals: "The words and the quotes along with the esthetics of the work is designed to engage the viewer at the basic esthetic level to the intellectual and spiritual levels if the viewer takes advantage of the vast wealth of material that the library has to offer."--------

Wednesday, October 06, 2004


From this morning's BBC NEWS:


A degree course in surf management which was criticised as a "Mickey Mouse" degree has been dropped.

Swansea Institute said it had pulled the BA in surf and beach management to protect its image.

In July, a teachers' conference delegate claimed the degree devalued both academic and vocational education.

Swansea Institute's principal, David Warner, said it was "extremely sad" a "very good" course was being discontinued because of "bigots".

'Poking fun'

He added: "We decided we would not have an intake this year because, after three months at least of attempting to explain to people that indeed this was a management course, nevertheless it was impossible to stop people poking fun at it."

Professor Warner also said: "We do not want to get an image for doing anything other than serious vocational work, and others were just making fun of it.

"This is not fair to all our other students to be tarred with the brush of this."

Students who enrolled on the course have been found alternative studies.

The college had been overwhelmed with approaches about the course and it had not been cancelled due to any lack of interest, Prof Warner said.

Applicants had required at least two D grades at A-level, while the course was set to include modules on managing surf expeditions and surf destination planning.

No decision has yet been made on whether to run the degree in future years.

During the Professional Association of Teachers' conference this summer, Swansea teacher Peter Morris said hobbies were not worthy of being subjects for serious academic study.

He added: "Clearly, surfers need a qualification in safety but I question whether that needs to be a degree.

"If it is to be a degree, surely it has to be in something that adds to the country's heritage and our nation, like classics."


UD Is Not Alone

Every time UD sees a big photograph of Dr Phil smiling at her from advertising posters all over the Washington Metro system, she reaches for her pen. She intends to sketch and inscribe a broad range of defacements and obscenities.

But then she notices - in every corridor and in every station - the eye of a security camera watching her, and yea, she sayeth unto you, she trembleth. And putteth away her penneth.

Yet how precious did that grace appear to UD just yesterday, when, on her way out of the Friendship Heights Metro station, again with trembling pen in hand, she looked upon Dr Phil and saw that someone had beaten her to it.

Dr Phil's eyes had been made bloodshot by a bright red marker; thick dribble ranneth over his chin.

There are certain charged moments in every life, moments when the dark curtain of existence lifts to reveal the sunlit kinship of kindred souls. Yesterday was one of those moments.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Television Responds to the NYU Suicides

From Washington Square News, October 5, 2004:

Students and university officials are angry about an episode of the NBC drama "Law and Order" in which a string of student suicides devastates a college campus.

The episode, titled "Coming Down Hard," was shot around the Village on Aug. 23 and will air at 10 p.m. tomorrow - one month after the sixth NYU student in a year fell to her death and a full year after Stephen Bohler fell to his death from the 10th-floor balcony of Bobst Library.

"Law & Order" defended the episode, in which detectives investigate a pharmaceutical company that provides trial anti-depressant drugs to the students who later die.

"The storyline is about clinical drug trials and not about suicide," a "Law & Order" spokesman said in a statement. "And secondly, the school is not NYU. It's fictional, as is the story."

While the episode is set at a fictional school, the connection to the tragedies that occurred at NYU is unmistakable, university officials said.

“We were dismayed by the insensitivity and poor judgment shown by the producers of 'Law & Order,'" university spokesman Josh Taylor said in a statement. "This is one story that should not have been ripped from the headlines."

Carolyn Bohler, the mother of Stephen Bohler, whose death was ruled a drug-induced accident, said the episode was conceived in "extremely bad taste - unthinking and unfeeling, or both."

She said, "There's just such a vast community that's affected by it, beyond family. It's such an affront to everybody."

Many students said they were also offended by the idea of the episode.

"It just doesn't seem right to essentially sensationalize these suicides for entertainment purposes, especially so soon after the most recent one," said Adam Yeremian, a Tisch sophomore in film and television production.


UD understands that Fox Broadcasting has something in the works along the same lines. SPLAT! is a weekly series that will follow the lives and sudden deaths of smart, hip students who attend Nova York College in Manhattan. Each episode will feature one talented, high-strung undergraduate who slowly unravels and enters into existential despair. The camera will follow the steps of the student as he/she walks up a long flight of stairs in a selected high-rise and then leaps off a ledge. During the climb, there will be a series of backstory cutaways to the student’s life at home and at college, with suggestions as to the people and incidents that might have contributed to the tragic outcome.

“Fox is proud to be able to contribute to the critical national discussion of college suicide through the presentation of SPLAT!” said a Fox executive in announcing the program.


Two professors have filed a lawsuit against Benedict College in South Carolina. Here is some background:

"Fired Benedict professors sue college, president

Associated Press

COLUMBIA, S.C. - Two former Benedict College science professors who were fired after they refused to follow a college-wide grading policy have sued the school and its president, David Swinton.

Larry Williams and Milwood Motley filed suit Friday in Richland County Circuit Court, claiming breach of contract. The lawsuits do not specify the amount of damages sought.

The professors were terminated after refusing to assign grades using Benedict's Success Equals Effort policy, which awards freshmen 60 percent of their grades based on how much effort they put into class. The policy assigns sophomores 50 percent of their grade based on effort and is not used for juniors and seniors. Effort is defined by individual faculty members and can include measures such as attendance and completion of assignments."

Judge Henry Millford of Columbia, who will hear the case, has announced that he will determine its outcome using the same Success Equals Effort policy that Benedict College uses. "The two sides can define 'effort' in pressing their case with my court in any way they wish," Judge Millford explained. "Effort may involve attendance, as in showing up for hearings; it may involve energetic use of the press to publicize their point of view. The amount each man perspires in my courtroom could turn out to be important. Success could, for that matter, involve other persuasive efforts that I won't go into here. What it will not involve is the relative legitimacy of one or another side's claims. In my courtroom, Success Equals Effort means that my decision will not be about how strong a case each side has; it will be about attitude, commitment, and comportment."

"What? You can't be serious. You'd never do that," one of my students just said to me.

He had come up to chat after class, and had mentioned, merely to ridicule it as typical of the kitschy American spectacles we discuss during our class on Don DeLillo's novels, that a Sing-a-Long Sound of Music would soon take place at George Washington University's Lisner Auditorium.

But UD responded with excitement: "Really? Thanks - I'll order tickets right away! I got tickets to the Sing-a-Long in Baltimore last year and then wasn't able to go..."

The student's face fell. UD could tell right away that he'd thought UD was somewhat cool right up to the moment when she revealed that she has been dreaming for years about attending this event.

In the rushed way of such moments, with a new set of students entering the room, UD tried to describe the happy meta-ironies of the Singalong, and how the Singalong represents for her one of the few public venues - outside of, say, a Jimmy Swaggart revival - where one can truly sing out. Yes, yes, there's the Singalong Messiah every December at the Kennedy Center. But the feel of that is very High Anglican. No giggling at the Gloria!

UD thinks this chat might have been an authentic learning experience for her student, along the lines of "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Sunday, October 03, 2004


Universities are notorious dupes for shitty outdoor sculpture.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, universities are anxious to project an air of cultural sophistication, and artworks that urge a cool acceptance of subversive notions help them out. Second, universities wish to be seen as playful, not merely serious, places. They wish to say Well, sure, we ponder Pindar, but we’re also fun, and hip. So they buy a lot of brightly colored abstract stuff - huge blue balls suspended over fountains, outsized orange projectiles - as well as zoomorphic oddities, like the hippopotamus UD’s campus has lately hauled in front of the performance center.

Why a hippo? Was George Washington a hippophile? No, but the university’s president is in search of a mascot. The University of Maryland, where UD’s husband teaches, has a deeply entrenched turtle mascot whose every appearance in statue form knits up this huge and diverse academic community with a sense of common purpose. The hippo is intended to do this for UD’s campus.

In an “unprecedented” move, however, the president of Stanford University today “terminated plans to acquire a 25-foot sculpture from prominent New York-based artist Dennis Oppenheim.” “Device to Root Out Evil” is an upended church, its steeple dug deeply into the ground, its pews sticking high in the air. The depressingly obvious meaning of this sculpture - religion is an idiot’s game because it thinks it can distinguish between good and evil the way, say, a pig’s snout can smell out a truffle - is more than enough to disqualify it from display, UD figures, in an even minimally sentient environment.

But it isn’t exactly the piece’s stupidity that did it in. Its crude message offended Stanford’s Dean of Religious Life, and he asked that it be rejected.

The sculptor is really pissed off: “I’m out $100,000 easy,” says Oppenheim. And anyway, the piece isn’t about religion: “It’s about the fusion of sculpture and architecture. … [A church] is the only structure with a protruding spire to go into the ground.”

The Chrysler Building? Disney Castle? Any New England town hall? Any Stalinist Palace of Culture? Either side of the Taj Mahal?

Anyway, after a certain amount of sniffling about censorship, Stanford will pay off the guy. He’s already named his price.

[ps: This is installation number one of a University Diaries series titled Dumb Shit That Artists Say.]

"For the first time in four hundred years, academic degrees in Astrological Arts and Sciences will be awarded to qualified students - the first graduating class of Kepler College," Kepler College of Astrological Arts and Sciences announces on its website. Accredited in Washington State for a BA in Astrology as well as an Associate of Arts degree in the History and Symbology of Astrology, Kepler warns you not to come to the graduation event on October 10 because seating is limited and it's by invitation only.

UD would also suggest that, since Kepler is on the cusp of being an online diploma mill sort of thing, it might be embarrassing to go to all the trouble of traveling to Washington only to find yourself in an empty office in an industrial park.

"The founding of Kepler College is the most important event in astrology's history in several centuries," writes one of its officials. In an article about the school, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer gives some background: "In the last century, those who employed astrologers included President Reagan's wife, Nancy, and German dictator Adolf Hitler."

As with those spare eloquent medieval chronicles -

1406 - poor harvest
1409 - plague
1441 - the rain it raineth

- so, centuries from now, historians will find enigmatic and poignant our twenty-first century diploma mill chronicles. Here's an example, the first taken from a 2003-2004 University of California, Irvine, directory of faculty, and the second from a 2004-2005:

John G. Stupar, Ph.D. University of Devonshire, Lecturer in Engineering

John G. Stupar, E.M.B.A., Claremont Graduate University, Lecturer in Engineering

"All this, by virtually everyone's estimate, is the tiny tip of a huge iceberg of deception. And the iceberg is certainly growing, fueled by nonresponses all over the country mirroring that of the government, DC, and Fox."

As with her post of 9/8/04, UD reminds you to tame your metaphors.

Saturday, October 02, 2004


"DENVER -- Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly has been yanked from a list of famous University of Colorado graduates after making stinging public comments about the school's recruiting scandal.

Reilly, a 1981 CU graduate and nine-time National Sportswriter of the Year award winner, had appeared in the football media guide alumni list in other years but was dropped from the 2004 edition.

"When he is on TV talking about his class ring and how he is embarrassed to have it, how could I include him?" CU sports information director Dave Plati said. "I couldn't consciously keep him in there. He went over the line."

Reilly also wrote a column in the February edition of Sports Illustrated about former Colorado placekicker Katie Hnida, who alleged a teammate raped her and that other players subjected her to verbal abuse and harassment.

Three other women have filed lawsuits against CU saying they were raped by players or recruits, but no sexual assault charges have been filed. An independent panel concluded that poorly supervised members of the football team had arranged sex and alcohol for visiting recruits.

Reilly said CU's actions made him feel like a non-person in the university's eyes.

"It's not unlike early 20th century Russia, where suddenly you no longer exist," Reilly said."
TO: Alliance for A’s Members

FROM: Janice [for background, see several previous posts, starting with 11/30/03]


The deflationary news out of Princeton is beyond shocking. At this wistfully transitional time of year, this October season of summer’s death, I can only offer you Keats’s immortal ode, and ask that you simply hold on and hope for better days. I’ll be in touch again as this story develops.

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With A’s the graded sheets that round the campus run;
To seed with summas Ivy-cultivars,
And fill all laps with grade-fruit ripened to the core;
To swell the grade, and plump the average
With a sweet inflation; to set budding more,
And still more, the transcripts for professional schools,
Until they think all A’s will never cease,
For brilliance has o'erbrimmed the nation.

Yet where are they now, the Four Point O’s of Spring? A’s, where are they?
Think not of them; B’s have their music too, -
While barred grades dim the soft-dying GPA
And touch the transcript with darker hue;
Then in a wailful choir the students mourn
Among the river sallows,
Sinking as the grade point average dies.
And full professors bleat from hilly bourn;
Counselors lament, and now with treble soft
The pre-meds sweat in a garden-croft;
And gathering vultures circle in the skies.

Friday, October 01, 2004



O City, city...

...except that Washington DC isn't anything like the London T.S. Eliot has in mind - no crush of people on narrow streets, no gray dawn. No gray dawn today, anyway - sunny from the start, and unseasonably warm.

On Fridays this semester, UD doesn't teach her Contemporary France course until 2:30, so she's evolved the routine of taking the Metro to Dupont Circle in the late morning. Next door to Teaism -- a tearoom UD likes but doesn't love (occasional loud New Age conversations)-- there's a pleasantly busy Starbucks with deep couches and little round tables always available.

Here UD sips her latte and eats her cinnamon crisp and writes lecture notes. Today's are about Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon.

UD likes this nicely observed account of a young American family's Paris life, but some of her students -- fluent in French, international in background, and familiar with Paris -- say they find Gopnik "snobbish." (Swims at the Ritz, whines that he can't find the coffee he likes...)

UD suspects this response reflects, more broadly, the American dislike of serious high culture, our assumption that a real interest in things like repose, excellence, and beauty, coupled with a low level of tolerance for kitsch, means the rankest elitism.

Sometimes UD thinks that her entire teaching life is about suggesting to young Americans that this may not always be the case.

UD's teaching life is under a bit of a strain lately from the non-stop, high-tech, high-security environment of Foggy Bottom. Yesterday it was the silently revolving spy blimp; today, with International Monetary Fund meetings and attendant protests taking place, it's non-stop helicopters, sirens, and loudspeakers. UD's university recently constructed an outdoor classroom on campus - there are stone chairs, a stone podium - and she'd planned to use it today. But she'd have needed a megaphone.

UD will take advantage of all the post-presidential debate Treblinka/Lubyanka chatter this morning to recommend vociferously the essay "Reading Proust in Lubyanka," by Aleksander Wat, in Four Decades of Polish Essays, edited by Jan Kott (Northwestern University Press, 1990). Here's a sample:

The pendulum of prison time swings between agony and nothingness, but in Lubyanka time has other laws and moves in a different way. [B]ooks brought us back to life, immersed us in the life of free people in the great and free world. We took fictional reality naively, like children listening to fairy tales. Could that have been the reason they gave us books in that laboratory of prison existence, where every detail had been thought out, quite possibly even by Stalin himself? Perhaps the experience of two such antithetical realities is supposed to induce a schizophrenic dissociation in a prisoner, rendering him defenseless against the investigation.

Could this be one means by which the investigator fires the desire to live, which is otherwise extinguished in a prison? I had a great desire to live, because I found Nietzsche's amor fati in every trifle in every book, even the pessimistic ones. The more pessimism in the book, the more pulsating energy, life energy, I felt beneath its surface - as if all of literature were only the praise of life's beauty, of all of life, as if nature's many charms were insufficient to dissuade us from suicide, from Ecclesiastes, and from Seneca's 'better not to have been born at all but, if born, better to die at once.' I came across books that I had read before prison and that had sapped me of my will. For example, Notes from the Underground. But there in my cell even those books sang hosannas.