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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)

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

SNAPSHOTS FROM HOME: Post-Thanksgiving

Rich, intellectual, outdoorsy - in its latest issue, Washingtonian Magazine - the local “we’ve got money and status” glossy - describes the residents of UD’s hard-by Bethesda, Maryland hamlet in this way. Reviewing the new restaurant in town, the Washingtonian describes UD and her ilk stopping first at the post office to pick up our “New Yorkers and L.L. Bean catalogues,” and then dining at the restaurant, described by another reviewer as “the Pottery Barn store with food.”

UD stopped reading the New Yorker a long time ago, and though she gets Bean catalogues by the bushel, she throws them away. Yet the Washingtonian's stereotype is true enough. It lacks only the adjective “neurotic.” UD’s husband swears he saw, one afternoon, in the post office’s trash bin, a magazine called Psychotropics Today. There are very few offices for rent in the restaurant’s building, but one of them has a therapist in it.

"All three [college football conferences] fiercely lust for fans' money, but can't keep out of each other's way, much in the fashion of the old 'Three Stooges' hospital episode in which a simultaneous page went out for Dr. Larry, Dr. Moe and Dr. Curly.

Patients and gurneys were everywhere.

The only way to make order from this chaos is employing the same method used by all other Division 1-A sports, as well as Division II and III football -- a playoff system. Be it four, eight or 16 teams, it is the only solution, has been the only solution and will be the only solution, forever and ever, amen.

But year after year, the university presidents resist, trotting out the same tired arguments, citing lengthening the football calendar, jeopardizing the student-athletes' time in class, and over-commercialization.

They skirt acknowledging that those horses left the collegiate barn 20 years ago when the schools voted to continue expanding of the men's basketball tournament to its current 64 teams. Paring down that field requires the month of March. While some university presidents shake their heads, those gestures never happen when it comes to accepting tournament revenue.

The charade of football and men's basketball players as students has long been over among the athletes. Another game or two for a handful of schools will do nothing to jeopardize either the universities' diploma mill or the athletes' general welfare.

The one thing playoffs do is draw more money to the entertainment colossus that big-time college sports have become. We know what the industry is; we're just quibbling over price."

Monday, November 29, 2004


Very gratifying to see a short essay over at Slate in which James Longenbach explains why Richard Wilbur (see UD's Halloween posting on 10/31/04 of Wilbur's great poem "In the Elegy Season") is one of America's greatest poets.


... Paul Ricoeur, who, along with Jaroslav Pelikan, won this year's Kluge Prize from the Library of Congress, for "lifetime contributions to the humanities." Ricoeur, with whom UD briefly and confusedly studied at the University of Chicago, is a philosopher of language and of religion.

UD recalls a modest, sweet-tempered, disheveled man whose thick French accent (Een ordure to understand metaphor, you have to fuckus.) and dense argumentation defeated UD.

UD is also pleased to hear that, at age 91, Ricoeur is still chugging along.

UD has long wanted to attend and even try teaching at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland. The article below, from this morning's Seattle Post-Intelligencer, doesn't make clear how odd St. John's is, with its Great Books curriculum and small classes. In fact UD wouldn't be allowed to teach at St. John's, because every faculty member is expected to be able to teach all of the courses in the curriculum, including, well, math. So the article doesn't make clear that President Martin isn't returning to just any college. He's returning to arguably the most serious liberal arts college in the country.

Martin seems to be there more to observe "the freshman experience" than to refresh his understanding of philosophy. UD wants the philosophy.

" ... Martin, the president of Randolph-Macon College in Ashland, Va., is the oldest freshman at St. John's - by four decades. Some on the faculty are young enough to have been his students back when he was a history professor.

Martin went back to school this year because he wanted to study the freshman experience in a way that would be impossible from the president's office. So he took a semester-long sabbatical from the top of the academic food chain to dwell at the bottom.

Martin didn't hide his identity from the students and faculty at St. John's. He and college administrators agreed that Martin would attend classes and events but would live off campus, with his wife and dog. He would take notes in class, but he wouldn't speak.

Martin, a lifelong educator trained to lecture, worried he might upset the balance of St. John's painstakingly egalitarian seminars if he spoke.

'He wanted to see the freshmen up close, and kind of be in the milieu, and see what effect reading and studying those things has on the way they talk with each other and the way they think about life,' St. John's Dean Harvey Flaumenhaft said.

Thus far, Martin said he has found his fellow freshmen to be strikingly focused, keen to study, averse to drugs, loyal to their parents and quite serious about politics and faith.

And he seems to fit in well with other students.

The oldest freshman sits and chats about crew practice with fellow rowers until class starts. Then, he sits and listens.

'He pretty much immediately fit in,' said David Miranda, 19, a St. John's freshman who rowed with Martin. 'Sometimes we'd talk about Plato, and sometimes we'd just talk about things that are going on day to day.'"

Sunday, November 28, 2004


"26-11-2004 05:12 Maidan-INFORM
Protest at Ministry of Education

A protest rally has been held today in Kiev in front of the Ministry of Education. Students have formed columns by their colleges: Kiev-Mohyla Academy, Kiev Polytechnical Institute, Shevchenko National University, Aviation University, KNEU, Bogomolets University. More than ten thousand students have gathered by the Ministry building on Peremogy Ave.

The youth started demanding to talk to the Minister Kremin’. However the Minister didn’t feel like coming out, so the activists had to force him to hold talks with the students. Half a hundred students managed to sneak past the guards, causing the ministry workers to ask the students ‘not to seize the ministry’. They promised Kremin’ in return.

Indeed, Kremin’ has appeared in a few minutes. He had to listen to the students chanting ‘Shame!’ (deservedly so). Then the students started demanding the Ministry to go on strike. However, Kremin’ countered that that wasn’t possible. He added that the Ministry however could announce a universal vacation in case more than two thirds of the higher educational institutions go on strike

Then the students began demanding guarantees that college boards won’t be penalized (for going on strike). Kremin’ has promised he’ll issue the respective decree. But the students, who know him all too well, demanded that he write the decree immediately, on the spot, in his own hand. He was given a placard to write on, a sheet of paper and a pen.

However the Minister refused to write and left - to reappear in 15 minutes with a printed resolution. However, he forgot to press his seal to it. Kremin’ was reminded about it, so that the resolution allowing every higher educational institution to make its own decision whether to go on vacation has been made valid. Afterwards the student column marched to the Dragomanov University, where the president still doesn’t dare to strike. Having spooked the president, the column made its way to Maidan (Independence Square), where the resolution has been announced from the tribune."

"BLACK: It started in the 1960s, but in the 1970s it went underground. We thought that when the riots ended, that perhaps the dangers went away. But the dangers are now worse, because they are now ideological dangers and philosophical dangers, and ideas that crept in, especially from France. Things like postmodernism and moral relativism. Now it has seeped into every course, and in every curriculum in the university campuses.

ROBERTSON: What are they teaching at these secular universities? I was watching a couple of interviews with Tom Wolfe, who’s written a book essentially on the sexual morality and other things about the current crop of college students. What are they teaching?

BLACK: Well, basically, what they are not teaching are the things you and I learned at college. They are not teaching freshman English nor American history, nor basic mathematics and science. They are teaching radical courses about sexuality, and benign courses on vampires and the undead. That is actually the name of one course.

ROBERTSON: Teaching them about vampires! That’s ridiculous. A college course?

BLACK: Precisely. But mom and dad don't realize what the students are learning.

ROBERTSON: Well, not only mom and dad, but big-buck donors who are funding Yale and Harvard and Princeton don't know it.

BLACK: That’s right. And that is where the answer has to come from. Mom and dad and the donors, and the students who are going to be enrolling nest semester.

ROBERTSON: Vampires…

BLACK: It is in the book. I could give you the name of it. It is a major university like Cornell that is teaching a course like that.

ROBERTSON: Why would anybody in higher education want to teach children about vampires? I mean, vampires.

BLACK: Juggling. The Physics of Juggling is a course that is being offered, and the University of Michigan offers a course on how to be gay. So there are things that are definitely shocking.

ROBERTSON: Well, that is an eye opener, isn't it? Boy. Well, what are the professors doing to indoctrinate the students? Are they just allowing the students to express themselves as they will, or is there thought control?

BLACK: Well, certainly in the humanities and sociology departments, Pat, the agenda is political, from day one. We have stories in the book about students who began the first day of class with the professor saying, “How many of you voted for George Bush?” Two or three brave students raised their hands. Then he said, “How can you be such an idiot?” And then he proceeds to indoctrinate the class to this liberal bias.

ROBERTSON: The Marxists back in the 1930s used to go after capitalism, the American way, and Russians were better and Communism was better. Then Communism fell, and they said that the only people who believed in Marxism were college professors caught in the 1960's time warp. And they’re still there. But their warp has changed. It is not Marxism anymore, is it?

BLACK: It is. In fact, Marxism is the controlling doctrine on the university campus today. Capitalism is negative to most university professors; I would say 60 percent of them, as Marxism was 30 years ago.

ROBERTSON: And what about this whole sexual revolution that seems to be so prevalent in college?

BLACK: I think this is what is so troubling to me, Pat, because it is actually taking the lives of our students. As many as 70 percent of college students are sexually active today; as many as half of those, or more, have STD's and many of them don't know it.

ROBERTSON: Back up. 70 percent are sexually active, and of that 70 percent, half of them have sexually transmitted diseases?

BLACK: That's correct.

ROBERTSON: And they are unaware of what they’ve got?

BLACK: Many of them don’t know it. And sometimes that can be AIDS and HIV.

ROBERTSON: They are carriers?

BLACK: Even at Harvard, Yale and Princeton, and other universities that I talk about in this book, and interviews I have done on those campuses, ‘hooking up’ is the new fad. That means having sex with anybody, any time, and you try not to know the name of the person with whom you’re having a relationship.

ROBERTSON: Jim, say that again?

BLACK: Are we shocked?

ROBERTSON: I am totally shocked. You know, again, Tom Wolfe. He is a pretty good author. He said these girls have these diaries with codes, and they rate the guy they are having sex with, and put code letters down as to what kind of stuff they did while they were hooking up.

BLACK: Right. Tom Wolfe's novel could be a documentary, it is so close to the facts. He spent four years getting information to write that novel and it is shockingly true. If you think it is just fiction, think again.

ROBERTSON: These are the future leaders of this nation.

BLACK: Yes, that is what scares me. Of the four candidates that ran in the 2004 presidential elections, three are former Yale students. Yale, Harvard, Princeton – these universities are right in the midst of this cultural mix.

ROBERTSON: What can we do to change it?

BLACK: Well, mom and dad and the students have to get active. Those people who are funding it, including the federal government, giving billions of dollars to these universities, need to say enough is enough."

[A woman suddenly appears in front of the camera. We see her from behind as she rushes up to Robertson and roughly shakes his hand. She is dressed all in black. She turns around to face the camera. Blood appears to be dripping from her mouth.]

[Woman]: Not so fast, leetle ones! Eenterview not yet over.

[PR, rising]: What in the name of God … !

[Woman, taking a seat.]: Seet down, steenking American! [to JB]: Yoo too.

[Both attempt to flee. Woman pulls out a pistol.]

[Woman]: Thanks God for the conceal/carry laws in thees state! Seet down, okay? Everybody calm, okay?

[Both sit.]

[Woman, her accent suddenly normal, not to say highly educated. To PR, warmly]: I love your show.

[PR]: Madam, I believe you are disturbed and in need of help. Can we get this lady some help?

[Woman]: Let me introduce myself. I am University Diaries and I teach in the deep recesses of a dark place we call Foggy Bottom.... You know Foggy Bottom, Pat. That's where the State Department is. Remember what you said recently about the State Department? “What we need is for somebody to place a small nuke at Foggy Bottom," Robertson said between prayers and advertisements on his nationwide television program. Foggy Bottom is the location of the State Department headquarters. State Department officials said they believed the comments to be in extremely bad taste, and have lodged official complaints against Robertson for his remarks.”

[PR]: I was joking.

[UD]: It also upsets me, Pat, that you never use your own college experience as an example for your listeners of how you can go astray and then find the right path again. After all, you graduated from “one of the universities right in the midst” of this evil, as Mr. Black says (your last name, Jim, excites my lust) -- Yale, that is -- and you fathered a child out of wedlock while you were in school.

[PR]: Has somebody called the police?

[UD, examining her pistol thoughtfully]: Should’ve packed your own heat, Pat. I always do. … Anyway, this afternoon, after I finished mounting my students, sucking their blood, and explaining The Eighteenth Brumaire to them, I suddenly said to myself, “UD, old girl, you must really check in on what they’re saying over at the Christian Broadcasting Network."

[PR]: Where the fuck are the cops?

[UD]: When I heard Mr. Black characterize our courses “on vampires and the undead” as “benign,” I was concerned. Benign? Mr. Black, I do not teach benignly. I may be paid rather poorly in comparison with, say, Pat, whose dealings with Liberia’s Charles Taylor have made him unimaginably rich, but on the other hand I am free, as an American university professor, to teach as malignly as I wish…. And speaking of malign, Jim, you call for a “massive uprising” against people like me. Well, bring it on, baby. Bring it on!

PR and JB bolt from their chairs.

[UD, in pursuit, firing]: Descend, ye powers of darkness!

Saturday, November 27, 2004




….grows louder, and soon the days of liberal groupthink in the American university will be over. To that end, UD has gathered, at a think tank in Washington DC which prefers to remain anonymous, two English professors, one liberal [L] and one conservative [C], to interpret and discuss the following poem. The audience for this event is composed of two hundred randomly selected students from various local universities.

[UD recites]: Rose of All the World

I am here myself; as though this heave of effort
At starting other life, fulfilled my own;
Rose-leaves that whirl in colour round a core
Of seed-specks kindled lately and softly blown

By all the blood of the rose-bush into being -
Strange, that the urgent will in me, to set
My mouth on hers in kisses, and so softly
To bring together two strange sparks, beget

Another life from our lives, so should send
The innermost fire of my own dim soul out-spinning
And whirling in blossom of flame and being upon me!
That my completion of manhood should be the beginning

Another life from mine! For so it looks.
The seed is purpose, blossom accident.
The seed is all in all, the blossom lent
To crown the triumph of this new descent.

Is that it, woman? Does it strike you so?
The Great Breath blowing a tiny seed of fire
Fans out your petals for excess of flame,
Till all your being smokes with fine desire?

Or are we kindled, you and I, to be
One rose of wonderment upon the tree
Of perfect life, and is our possible seed
But the residuum of the ecstasy?

How will you have it? - the rose is all in all,
Or the ripe rose-fruits of the luscious fall?
The sharp begetting, or the child begot?
Our consummation matters, or does it not?

To me it seems the seed is just left over
From the red rose-flowers' fiery transience;
Just orts and slarts; berries that smoulder in the bush
Which burnt just now with marvellous immanence.

Blossom, my darling, blossom, be a rose
Of roses unchidden and purposeless; a rose
For rosiness only, without an ulterior motive;
For me it is more than enough if the flower unclose.

[L. and C. are both blushing violently.]

UD: I won’t name the author of this poem - I’m wondering whether either you, Professor L, or you Professor C, know or can guess who it is.

[Long silence.]

UD: Hm? Don’t know? Well, I’ll tell you and our audience later…. So, start anywhere. You have the poem in front of you in written form as well, and I’ve handed it out to the audience, so we should be able to begin with our interpretations, liberal and conservative.

L: I’ll begin. Let me just say how offended I am. [Grabs the poem from the podium in front of her, crumples paper slightly. Reads.] “Is that it, woman?” Woman? Are we Tarzan and Jane? Yet another in a long line of poems told from the exclusive position of the dominant male, fussing over his precious subjectivity, objectivizing the female as sounding board and seed-receptor… She is silent in this poem … silenced, rather, by masculinist ideology. Will she or won’t she have a baby? What does this guy care? He won’t have morning sickness for three weeks and then undergo hours of labor…

UD: Professor C?

C: Let me just say how offended I am. The celebration of non-procreational sex in this poem is repugnant. [Reads.] "Be a rose/ Of roses unchidden and purposeless; a rose/ For rosiness only, without an ulterior motive;/ For me it is more than enough if the flower unclose." The poet clearly prefers the idea that this act will be without issue. As for references in the poem to the “tree of life,” “the fall,” “my dim soul“ -- there are hints of spirituality in here, but they are perversely twisted to refer to the crudely erotic rather than the sacred.

L: The problem with the presentation of sex in this poem is not that it’s non-procreational, but that, one, there’s no indication the partners are engaging in safe sex; and, two, the insistent use of gendered pronouns gives no indication that the author has even heard of the world outside of heteronormativity. For this poet, the “completion of manhood” can only occur under the auspices of compulsory heterosexuality.

UD: Could each of you say something about the images the poet has chosen?

L: Well, you can’t get much more tired than the “rose” as a symbol of a woman, and of passion… Drawing his symbol from the realm of dumb, inanimate nature expresses the poet’s disbelief in women as truly human… As for the glorification of smoking, and the association of smoking with eroticism (“your being smokes with fine desire”), I find this beneath contempt.

C: When I think of a rose as a symbol, I immediately think of Socialist French President Francois Mitterand and his followers holding roses at their rallies…. I’m sensing, also, in the poet’s repeated use of the image of the bush, an obscene putdown of the President….

UD: Anything more to say?


UD: Well, the author is D.H. Lawrence.

L: A sexist and a fascist.

C: A moral degenerate and a socialist.

UD: I’d like to thank everyone for coming.

A University Diaries Series...

...whose title varies slightly the title of a series that used to appear in the New Yorker, "Block That Metaphor!"


From today's New York Times, Strings Attached: Givers and Colleges Clash on Spending:

"In the four decades since Charles and Marie D. Robertson gave Princeton $35 million to prepare graduate students for government service, the gift has romped through a series of investments and blossomed into a $600 million fund that dwarfs the entire endowments of most other universities."

Friday, November 26, 2004

TO: Undergraduate Oligarchs Consortium [for background, see UD post 10/26/04, etc.]

FROM: Josh

SUBJECT: Update, Veyron/Collegiate

As promised, here is some updated news on the exciting college-in-the-works, Veyron/Collegiate.

The news is not as good as I had hoped, since already, at this relatively early stage, the board of trustees is tussling over the name of the school.

As you know (see 10/26/04 correspondence from the UOC), the institution's name will change every year, with its inaugural name, "Veyron," referring to the 2005-2006 most expensive car in the world. But now some on the board are arguing that the first name of the school should be Black Centurion/Collegiate (see news story below).

I'll let you know how things are resolved.

"NEW YORK -- A woman who was sued by American Express over an alleged scam where she posed as a Saudi princess to steal thousands has countersued the company, saying she was mentally incompetent when she opened her account and the company should have known it.

The countersuit was filed by Antoinette Millard, 40, free on $100,000 bail and awaiting trial on attempted grand larceny charges for alleged scams carried out while she posed as a Saudi Arabian princess and a Victoria's Secret model. She was neither.

Millard, a former vice president at the Brown Brothers Harriman investment bank, countersued for $2 million in Manhattan's State Supreme Court after Amex obtained a court order of attachment freezing more than $951,000 of her assets for unpaid charges.

Millard's court papers say that to "induce" her to establish a Centurion account, the account through which Amex customers get the rare and envied Centurion "black" card, the company promised she could make flexible payments.

The court papers say the promise was "false and fraudulent" and "in truth and in fact (American Express) did not allow (Millard) to make flexible payments" on the account.

Millard, her lawsuit says, "was suffering from anorexia, depression, panic attacks, head tumors and by reason of such illnesses was mentally incompetent and unable of executing or making any agreement as alleged" in Amex's complaint.

American Express "knew or should have known that (Millard) was acting impulsively and and irrationally at the time she entered into contract," her court papers say.

The larceny charges against Millard stem from her allegedly trying to steal $262,000 from an insurance company by falsely reporting that her jewelry had been stolen, the Manhattan district attorney's office said.

Prosecutors alleged that Millard, arrested in May at her Manhattan home, had in fact sold the jewelry and then tried to collect insurance on it. She is charged with insurance fraud, attempted grand larceny and possession of a forged instrument.

Millard faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted on the insurance fraud charge, the top count."

Thursday, November 25, 2004


"Academics, such as the next secretary of state, still decorate Washington, but academia is less listened to than it was. It has marginalized itself, partly by political shrillness and silliness that have something to do with the parochialism produced by what George Orwell called 'smelly little orthodoxies.'

Many campuses are intellectual versions of one-party nations -- except such nations usually have the merit, such as it is, of candor about their ideological monopolies. In contrast, American campuses have more insistently proclaimed their commitment to diversity as they have become more intellectually monochrome.

They do indeed cultivate diversity -- in race, skin color, ethnicity, sexual preference. In everything but thought."

UD trusts this means that Mr. Will will stop accepting the lucrative speaking and teaching engagements he has for decades accepted at a host of corrupt and malodorous campuses. (Readers may recall the still not resolved controversy involving ABC reporters like Will, Cokie Roberts, and others, accepting extremely high fees to speak before business and academic groups. Voluntarily withdrawing from such activity would be honorable.) UD also looks forward to another column in which Will examines the diversity of thought he encounters in corporate settings.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


A foggy pre-Thanksgiving day in Foggy Bottom. But all-American UD strides, "like a Whitman among the corpses" (as George Orwell described Henry Miller), through the gloomy high-security avenues near the White House.

Even spilling, just outside her office, the entire cup of coffee she'd carefully carried from the student center Starbucks doesn't faze UD. "Bad outcome," was all she said as she surveyed the long stain she'd made on the English department carpet.

Beyond her natural happiness (see UD post dated 7/15/04 for a discussion of this problem), UD is influenced by the season of Thanksgiving.

UD is grateful, for instance, to her weblog visitors. Because of them, University Diaries' traffic has, in just a few months, more than quadrupled.

But UD won't let it go to her head. UD is constantly tamping down her Dame Edna Everage tendencies ("This show, possums, is... all... about... ME!!"), and I pledge to you that she will never relax her vigilance. Possums.

[See UD post dated 11/20/04]

"Elizabeth Paige Laurie's parents have agreed to allow the school to rename the $75 million Paige Sports Arena, which was built with a donation from the Lauries and opened three weeks ago, the university said Tuesday.

The university board will vote Friday on the proposed new name, Mizzou Arena, said Remy Wagner, the assistant to the board's secretary. "Mizzou" is the school's nickname.

The move comes months after billionaires Bill and Nancy Laurie angered Mizzou fans, students and alumni by announcing their plan to name the arena after their daughter, who did not attend Missouri. The couple were given the naming rights after donating $25 million toward the building campaign.

One alumnus, Chris Cary, called it "Dad buying the biggest dollhouse." Nancy Laurie is the daughter of the late Bud Walton, co-founder of Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Then, last week, Paige Laurie's freshman roommate at the University of Southern California, Elena Martinez, said in an interview on ABC's 20/20 that Laurie paid her about $20,000 over 3½ years to write papers and complete other assignments for her.

[...] In a similar controversy, university officials have also indicated they will remove Enron founder Ken Lay's name from an economics professorship if he is convicted in the scandal that brought down the energy giant.

Officials said that would probably require the school to return Lay's $1.1 million donation. The Lay chair in economics has never been filled


Its author is Ryan Cordell, a student of UD's last year,
and now a graduate student in English at the
University of Virginia:

"Dear UD --

I would like to respond to, well, to your respondents' comments about the liberal bias in the academic community. Granted, I am only embarking on my own graduate education experience, but my career thus far has been markedly different from Professor Blogger's, and my classrooms have not exactly reflected those depicted by Mr. Gress. For purposes of full disclosure, I must admit that I do not consider myself a conservative; however, I would also reject the labels Marxist, Environmentalist, Colonialist, Anti-Colonialist, among myriad others.

It is not that I do not care about, say, the environment, only that this topic registers as an extraordinarily minor blip on my proverbial radar. Other schools 'o' thought, such as Marxism, are so far removed from my experience they barely register at all. My primary concern, day to day, is reading literature. What may surprise some of your readers, is this seems to be the primary concern of the majority of people I have encountered here, both graduate students and professors.

Of the four classes I attend this semester (three as a student, one as a grader for an undergraduate course), only one has any notion of a political project, and that one I took with full knowledge of these implications; I could easily have avoided it, and halfway through the semester began wishing I had. However, my three other classes are decidedly traditional in their approach to literature; we are encouraged to read the text and analyze its content in a nearly formalist way, paying some attention to its place in history and the general sweep of American or British Literature, and most attention to the words on the page. What is not given preeminence is the forceable yoking of ideology -- Marxism, Feminism, Queer Theory --to the texts.

The professor I am grading for, teaching British and American Romanticism, is a public academic, and publishes about a return to traditional modes of literary education. He even dares to assert that good writing might mean something, and rejects much Critical Theory outright as a misguided path for literary scholarship. Another professor, teaching American Fiction, urges us in nearly every class to avoid thrusting modern political viewpoints onto, say, Moby-Dick. Did one of the students in my class want to discuss the Environmental consequences of that work? Yes. Did this discussion shape the classes' analysis of the work overall? Absolutely not -- in fact, few other students seemed terribly interested in it, and it passed by without damage to Melville or any of us.

If I were forced to characterize the voting habits of these two professors, I would
probably imagine they vote Democratic. They have hinted at such affiliation, but these were at best hints, and neither seems at all inclined to enforce such a viewpoint on his students. In fact, in the undergraduate class, that professor engaged the students just before the election with the question -- "Who would Emerson vote for?" While this seems like a typically sneaky professorial trick, designed to allow him or her to proffer a liberal answer to the question, no such moment occurred. His opinion was never ntroduced, and the classroom (at least, those in the classroom who were willing to share) seemed quite divided in its response. Those people who argued for President Bush, and there is plenty in Emerson to support such an argument, were treated with respect equal to liberal respondents.

The only critic this professor has recommended this entire semester is one, he admitted privately to me, he does not entirely agree with, Alan Bloom. He recommended Bloom because, in terms of educational theory -- the idea of a return to more a more traditional university experience -- he believes Bloom has much good to say. He also hopes a few students will read Bloom and be forced to think about their political and academic stances by engaging with that conservative voice. This is certainly not the willful dismissal of alternative viewpoints that your respondents describe. What is important is that these professors are not hiding in the department, which they perhaps did during the heyday of ideologues described by Professor Blogger, but publicly standing against such a system.

Are there such professors in the department? Of course; next semester one is offering (ironically, of course) a seminar entitled "Anti-American Studies," which by the course description will justify every broad liberal stereotype one could assign to the academy. However, what is notable to me is that for every graduate student I spoke to who registered for said course with a broad grin on his or her face was another, such as myself, who was repulsed by the idea of such a course.

And this is the real marker of change, the graduate student community. Of the close friends I have made thus far, and perhaps it is my own nature leading me to these particular people, none would classify his or herself as a Marxist, or any other "ist." In fact, one of my most interesting colleagues (interesting as in "stimulating to speak to," not as in "strange" or "exotic") is an avowed, albeit subtle conservative politically and a formalist in literary approach. I am not trotting him out to point and say, "Look! a conservative!," but because he is quite comfortable in the department. His papers have been well received (he is further along in the process than I), he has worked with several prominent professors on projects, and, though many people in the department certainly disagree with his politics, they have not encouraged him to seek education elsewhere.

My department also assigns first year graduate students, such as myself, a mentor who has been with the program a few years. My mentor, a fifth year student in the midst of his dissertation, is simultaneously an English Ph.D. student and an evangelical Christian. What's more, he teaches Sunday school (horror of horrors, eh?) at his church, and this is well known within the department. His dissertation is an un-ironic discussion of faith and Christianity in Swift and Defoe, and his readers and advisors are excited about his job prospects. The market, perhaps because it was so swelled with Marxist readings and the like, is shifting to allow academics to advance without ascribing to one ultra-left ideological stance.

What is important to note here, however, is that my advisor has not been shunned by the department for his refusal to abandon Christianity, or embrace Deconstruction, nor does he "secretly sneak off to church." In fact, he invited me to come with him, which I have several times, and I also have made no attempt to hide such attendance, and have not been mocked or avoided for such actions.

I am not trying to claim some wholly balanced political field in the academy, and certainly not in English departments. There are certainly professors and graduate students still primarily concerned with decrying America, reading social policy into every novel or poem (if and when they actually read novels or poems, and not political tracts), and promoting politics to students. However, these people seem fairly marginalized, and the majority of students and professors I have encountered, beyond the few examples offered in this screed, are concerned primarily with their narrow field of study, and only passingly interested in politics and its bedfellows. Even the politics of the field, the dominance of Critical Theory, seem to be shifting.

As my advisor said to me just last week, "Critical theory is nowhere near as important today as it was ten, or even five, years ago." This statement was followed with, "but you still need to know it," but the fact that such an admission was made, in this case by a man fairly invested in the products of that system, confirmed my opinion that the era Professor Blogger describes is most assuredly waning. Perhaps in four years my opinion will have changed, but my experience thus far has been one of decided openness to both liberal and conservative viewpoints, even when the professors in question voted for John Kerry or even, gasp, Howard Dean."
OGLETREE, TRIBE, etc., Revisited

From today's New York Times [UD got it via The International Herald Tribune online ]


By Sara Rimer
The New York Times
Thursday, November 25, 2004

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts

"When it comes to students at Harvard, university policy shows little tolerance for plagiarism.
Undergraduates found guilty of "misusing sources" will "likely" be required to withdraw from the college for at least two semesters. They will lose all coursework they have done that semester (unless it is virtually over), along with the money they have paid for it. They must also leave Cambridge.
With such a policy for students, what is Harvard to do when two of its most prominent law professors, Charles Ogletree Jr. and Laurence Tribe, publicly acknowledge that they have unintentionally misused sources, as happened this autumn? Weighing in on the matter, Harvard's student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, said the university appeared to have one set of rules for its famous professors and another for its students.
The disclosures came in an atmosphere of heightened concern about academic integrity, with the increasing reliance on the Internet as a research tool making it both easier to plagiarize, whether intentionally or not, and to catch those who do.
The two professors said their errors were accidental, and no scholar has suggested otherwise, but as Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor of cognition and education, pointed out, many students could make the same argument.
"I've never had a student tell me that they intentionally plagiarized," said Gardner, who studies moral and ethical standards among academics and other professionals.
In a mea culpa posted on his Web site, Ogletree said several paragraphs in his book "All Deliberate Speed," a 380-page memoir about his life as a child of the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision, had been taken "practically verbatim" from a Yale law professor, Jack Balkin. The error, he said, had occurred in his rush to meet a deadline, when a pair of research assistants inserted the material into a draft of his manuscript and accidentally dropped the quotation marks and attribution.
The six duplicate paragraphs were discovered by a law professor who sent anonymous letters to both the dean of the law school, Elena Kagan, and to Balkin. "It was a crushing experience," Ogletree said, referring to learning of the error.
He immediately notified his publisher, he said, who then inserted an errata note in all the undistributed books.
After Tribe, one of the nation's leading constitutional law scholars, publicly expressed sympathy for Ogletree and raised questions on a legal affairs Web site about the "larger problem" of "writers, political office seekers, judges and other high government officials passing off the work of others as their own," The Weekly Standard reported that Tribe's 1985 book about the selection of Supreme Court justices, "God Save This Honorable Court," had "perhaps an 'uncomfortable reliance"' on a book by an emeritus professor at the University of Virginia, Henry Abraham.
The Weekly Standard's article was prompted by a tip from a law professor who wished to remain anonymous, according to Joseph Bottum, The Standard's books and arts editor, who wrote the article. Bottum said he found identical 19-word sentences in both books, and more than a couple of dozen instances of similar wording.
Tribe, who had been named recently by Harvard's president, Lawrence Summers, as one of 17 university professors, the highest academic ranking, immediately issued a public apology. His "well-meaning effort to write a book accessible to a lay audience through the omission of any footnotes or endnotes - in contrast to the practice I have always followed in my scholarly writing - came at an unacceptable cost: my failure to attribute some of the material The Weekly Standard identified."
His book, however, did credit Abraham's book, "Justices and Presidents," as the "leading political history of Court appointments."
Tribe declined to comment on the matter. His office released a letter that it said Tribe sent to Abraham 20 years ago, along with a copy of Tribe's manuscript; Tribe wrote that he had drawn on Abraham's book, in part, and asked for his reactions.
At the behest of Kagan of the law school, Derek Bok, the former Harvard president, and Robert Clark, the former dean of the law school, examined Ogletree's book. Kagan said publicly that she concurred with their finding: Ogletree's error was "a serious scholarly transgression." Ogletree said he had been disciplined, but neither he nor Harvard officials would be specific.
"Academic integrity is crucial to everything we do at Harvard Law School," said Kagan, who declined to talk about either case.
Tribe's book, which argued that the Senate should exert more influence over the selection of Supreme Court justices, is widely seen as having helped Democrats defeat the Supreme Court nomination of Robert Bork.
While some scholars see lapses like Tribe's as an erosion of academic standards, others view the Standard's article on Tribe as an ideological attack.
"It's payback time," said Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University Law School."


"Among parents' peeves is the fact that Nichiporuk is still listed as a doctor on the district’s Website," reports WOKR tv in Rochester about the incoming superintendent of Palmyra, New York schools, who holds a doctorate from a notorious diploma mill. At a public meeting of the school board the other night, outraged parents (who have a petition with four hundred signatures and growing in the works) demanded his resignation.

You might recall that UD, although often merciless about such things, argued in a recent post that this guy should be given a break, since he has apparently worked hard and well for the district for decades. She also, though, insisted that Nichiporuk go on tv and issue an extensive apology, etc. He hasn't done this, and the school board is sitting on its ass, and parents are getting angrier and angrier.

You'd think, in a situation like this one, removing the "Dr." bit on the school system's website would be a simple and calming thing to do. But the Palmyra school board is neither able to make a decision nor push a Delete key. It all reminds UD of the dithery response of the University of Alaska committee which was asked a few months ago to rule on the legitimacy of a professor's wildly illegitimate doctoral degree.

People tend not to like to be lied to; people tend not to like having illegitimate leaders foisted on them. Note, for instance, the unusually heavy pedestrian traffic in Ukraine lately.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

[See various posts below.]

A fellow academic blogger, Professor Blogger, writes:

Dear UD,

I was very interested in your depiction of faculty bias as not
"represent[ing] intellectual and institutional betrayal and corruption on a
truly significant scale." Presumably your experiences in academe have led
you to this determination that a few radical hotheads have given faculty a
bad name.

Nevertheless, I hope that you will consider my own experience, chronicled in
the link below. I began my graduate education in American literature but had
to finish it in another field because I am not a Marxist (cultural or
otherwise). I think that incidents like mine do, in fact, represent a
significant corruption, since they amount to a litmus test for graduate
degrees. Perhaps you disagree about its severity, or perhaps you think that
my situation was an anomaly. I offer it for your consideration.

Prof. Blogger

Here's an excerpt from the link:

"Graduate students learn that in order to succeed in graduate school, it is necessary to adopt a leftier-than-thou-art posture. In a single class, a student may simply adopt an a-political approach, but in the years it takes to earn a graduate degree, eventually the student will be forced to articulate a political position.

In the Professor's experience, most graduate students will, at that time, buckle and pretend to hold political and religious convictions that they do not. Those who successfully navigate graduate school carry that same pretense on to the job market. In his own case, the Professor had too much history to fake his way through, and so had to work his way to his degree as an un-closeted Christian, which eventually led to his political conservatism becoming public knowledge.

This nearly derailed the Professor's graduate education. At one point the graduate director informed him that he needed to adopt a Marxist approach to his work, because the institution was not in the business of granting Ph.D.s to the unemployable. Although, dear reader, you may take this as an example of outrageous discrimination (and it was), Prof. Blogger would like to suggest we also consider it as a moment of rare honesty. In fact, it was very nearly true that a non-Marxist could not get a degree from that institution. Prof. Blogger, however, changed fields and managed to find a committee of faculty who, though they shared the graduate director's political and religious affiliations, did not share his opinion that non-Marxists should not be given opportunities.

But it was a very near thing. In certain fields, primarily in the liberal arts and social sciences, religious or political conservatives rarely make it to the job market. Prof. Blogger suspects that many of the most egregious cases of discrimination are performed by faculty who secretly sneak off to church or temple, or vote Republican at the polls. These closeted conservatives may feel the need to burnish their lefty credentials frequently, lest they be discovered and purged."

Much to think about here. I agree that "in the liberal arts and social sciences, religious or political conservatives rarely make it to the job market." As for active purging of conservatives in various departments, UD is ready to believe it happens, but she continues to think it's pretty rare, and that, as Professor Blogger recounts, when it does happen, there are solutions (Prof. Blogger changed fields). She also thinks that there are ways to keep your head down, dissemble, and privately laugh at everyone while doing perfectly well in your graduate education.

UD does not know how long Professor Blogger has been out of graduate school; nor does she know what graduate school he attended. But the portrait PB paints of a lockstep Marxist collective running his department is out of date. Not even the Intellectual Diversity people speak of Marxism very much; they speak of liberalism. Indeed the very fact that the few surviving Marxists in the American academy are considered dinosaurs by pretty much everyone suggests an evolution away from irrelevant forms of leftism and toward a more centrist orientation.

But anyway, maybe it is largely a matter of personal experience. Personal experience and personality. UD, at the University of Chicago, studied with the genial and tolerant Wayne Booth (who UD seems to recall having been both religious and on the left); UD has always been by nature both libertarian and contrarian. She enjoys being left alone as much as she enjoys being at odds with everyone. This combination of enjoyments seems to have meant in her own case that the subversion poseurs of the academy in which she grew up were a challenge and a diversion, not a nightmare.

Then too, her gaze was always outward, on eternity - to people like Gillian Rose, Christopher Lasch, and Albert Camus - rather than fastened on whoever the local yokels were at any given moment.
TO: Undergraduate Oligarchs Consortium [for background, see UD, 4/23/04, and later posts]

FROM: Josh


This appears in today's Boston Herald. It's about a Harvard/Yale game party:

"When police tried to break up the party of 50 people, three residents and a guest allegedly became 'belligerent' and refused to cooperate. ``(Expletive) you,'' Mark D. Lees, 25, of Allston allegedly yelled at the officers. Lees told officers the party was full of Harvard fans celebrating the Crimson's win over Yale and that the officers 'had no idea who they were messing with.'"

The UOC has on many occasions cautioned members against saying things like this to policemen. It's exactly the sort of behavior that encourages people to think about "class diversity" initiatives in American colleges and universities.

A University Diaries Series

From today's Modesto Bee:

"Kirk Ewing, Traffic's managing director, tried to make [JFK Reloaded] seem like a public service instead of a macabre, money-making gimmick: 'This new form of interactive entertainment brings history to life and will stimulate a younger generation of players to take an interest in this fascinating episode of American history,' Ewing said."

Monday, November 22, 2004

E STRANO! E STRANO! Violetta sings. And the vast disparity between one report about goings on at the University of Pittsburgh and another report is indeed surprising. To cut to the whatever, do faculty members in the communications department there "routinely and repeatedly...engage in consensual sexual relationships with graduate students"?

An outside review of the program said yes indeed. But a later, more extensive, internal review "found no ongoing inappropriate conduct by communications professors... . The implication that female graduate students felt unsafe 'was based on a hypothetical concern posed to one external reviewer.'" "No current student has indicated that any faculty member has approached the students in a manner that was inappropriate or made him or her feel uncomfortable," said the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences.

So the department - otherwise apparently an impressive place - got into all kinds of trouble because of this outside review whose conclusions turn out to be false. Or do they? "I guess one wonders," says an official of the AAUP, "why there's such a tremendous difference between the two reports."

UD will now - knowing nothing at all of the circumstances behind this kerfuffle (UD hates the word 'kerfuffle.' Why is she using it?) - try to unpack it anyway.

First, faithful readers know (see UD post dated 11/30/03) that consensual sex between professors and graduate students does not strike UD as anything to get het up about. Yes, some people believe that by definition there cannot be "consensual" sex between two people in these positions -- even if the professor has no involvement in the graduate student's work -- but that seems to UD ridiculous. So if UD'd been on the committee, she wouldn't have included this information in her report in the first place.

Second, UD figures there probably was in the past one such relationship in the department. So some graduate student who'd heard about it said something like this to some investigator: "Well, sometimes I worry a professor's going to hit on me. I worry what might happen if one of them hits on me and I reject him. After all, the professors around here have been known to have sex with the grad students." This statement got the interviewer all jumpy, etc.

Anyway, UD certainly hopes not too much damage was done, and that the story is now over.

Speaking of stories, though, the title for the story that the Associated Press wrote about the situation strikes UD as, well, in questionable taste:

A DEEP BLUE SEA, YES. But there's more to the story...

From today's Harvard Crimson:

Harvey C. Mansfield ’53, Kenan professor of government, was presented the 2004 National Humanities Medal by President Bush in a White House ceremony last Thursday.
Standing between the president and first lady in the Oval Office, Mansfield accepted the award, given to seven other scholars, in front of an audience that included his family.

Mansfield was individually recognized “for a lifetime of scholarship on political theory and contributions to higher education. Throughout his career, he has demonstrated conviction and courage while enriching public discourse,” according to a citation from the National Endownment for the Humanities (NEH).

An active contributer in the field of political philosophy, Mansfield has published multiple texts and provided translations of theorists such as Machiavelli.

His support of Constitutional American political science has set his opinions apart, and sometimes at odds, with the majority of progressive college administrators.

Despite differing political views, Bass Professor of Government Michael J. Sandel has collaborated with Mansfield in the classroom and on the squash courts.

“In the blue-state sea of Harvard, Professor Mansfield is a bold streak of red, a one-man antidote to liberal complacency,” Sandel wrote in an e-mail.

On various occasions, Mansfield said he has spoken up “in defense of academic standards” in response to policies enforced by liberals running the University. Mansfield said that rampant grade inflation, a chaotic curriculum and a profusion of easy courses are issues that he has criticized at Harvard.

“If you want a medal you have to be a hero,” Mansfield said. “If you want to be a hero, you can’t just stand around, shuffle your feet and keep quiet.”

In 2001, Mansfield launched a campaign against grade inflation where he issued his students two grades—one submitted to the registrar based on the College redistribution and the other, given privately, which reflected what he believed the student deserved. The latter was nearly always at least an entire letter grade lower, he said.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

A READER EMAILS... response to UD's post below [UD, 11/18/04: This Just In]. The historian David Gress takes issue with UD's insouciance about overwhelming liberal affiliation among university professors:

"UD paints a picture of disinterested scholars who happen to have leftist opinions. That may have been true 50 years ago. Then, people at least tried to be fair and believed in disinterested scholarship. But that is no longer the case.

First of all, the leading forces of humanistic academia have long since ditched the notion of disinterested scholarship (although they are cynical enough to drag out the notion if they can use it to hit conservatives for alleged bias).

Second, the fields and approaches humanists and even scientists choose are often subtly and in numerous ways conditioned by their liberal biases. Climatologists want to find evidence of global warming. Historians want to debunk Western civilization or American patriotism. You can often tell these biases by the peculiar reluctance these people have to consider contrary evidence, and the ill-concealed delight (often betrayed by a grimacing, twitching smirk at the corners of the mouth; I have seen it dozens of times) with which they will list all the points they believe favor their interpretation.

All of this is betrayal of scholarship and intellectual corruption. That's the true situation. Exceptions may exist, but they are getting fewer."

UD, having seen that smirk herself, believes she understands what Professor Gress is saying.

But what's at issue is whether what Gress describes represents intellectual and institutional betrayal and corruption on a truly significant scale. And answers to that will depend on personal experience in the academy over time, since the categories "liberal" and "conservative" as used in the questionnaires are too crude in themselves, UD thinks, to tell us much about professors and their politics.

Based on her own observations in that most extreme of liberal settings, the American university English department (where in a large faculty meeting one of UD's colleagues once referred to Hillary Clinton as "The Glorious Hillary"), but also her observations elsewhere, UD would want to continue to insist that it's not that most American professors are intellectually corrupt America-haters, but rather that there is indeed a relatively small number of ideology-idiots in ideology-infected fields who write propaganda and who don't know what scholarly disinterestedness is. They deserve our contempt and ridicule.

After them, there are large numbers of mainstream liberals whose scholarly work may indeed reflect a liberal cast of mind but is not necessarily vitiated because of that.

And then there's a large body of academics, UD would argue, for whom politics, beyond voting whenever possible for a Democratic candidate, doesn't mean much.

In short, UD fails to see the same widespread assault on Western civilization and its values that Gress sees dominating the American academic system. She sees quite a lot of stupid shit being taught all over American colleges, of course; but she considers it far too generous to assume that this shit has any self-conscious, self-respecting politics. In UD's experience, it doesn't. It's just stupid.

A final note. As someone who admires, teaches, and writes about Don DeLillo, a writer whose almost sentimentally patriotic novels have been dismissed by many conservatives as what one of them calls "acts of literary bad citizenship," UD is particularly careful about charging writers and teachers with things like lack of patriotism and disgust with Western cultural values. I don't revere DeLillo because I have liberal biases that his work massages; but I can imagine someone looking at his complex and, sure, sometimes scathing view of modern America and looking at my having voted for Kerry and deciding that I'm a leftist trolling for converts. I'm very far from being a leftist, and indeed have taught, this semester, many more books by conservatives (Robert Kagan, Jean-Francois Revel, Mark Lilla) than books by liberals (Don DeLillo). Not to mention books by writers whom some people categorize as reactionaries (Celine, Michel Tournier, Michel Houellebecq).

As UD has noted in previous posts, the subject is a complicated one which should be handled with care.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

No Justice in this World... a couple of senses. One: Donald Justice, one of America's greatest poets, recently died. And two, though nominated posthumously for the National Book Award, he didn't get it. A poet named Jean Valentine, whose work is impressive but a good deal less impressive than Justice's got it.

Valentine is a member of what UD calls the Buddhaburst school of American poetry. Most of her poems are very short buddhistic bursts of insight about personal life and its passages. But there's so little there on the page that I couldn't tell you the content of the insight beyond something platitudinous that everyone already knows. The American prose equivalent is the still-dominant school of minimalism, as in the work of Raymond Carver. (It was a lovely moment, a couple of semesters ago, when a strong minority of UD's students in her Short Story class dismissed a three-pages-of-enigmatic-dialogue Hemingway story as "Something you'd overhear in Starbucks.") UD's own theory is that a post-literate, attention-deficient culture like America drives desperate writers to this sort of thing.

Great poets also tell us what we already know, of course. But their linguistic magic makes familiar truths excitingly clear and fresh. That's the sort of poet Donald Justice was.
UD SALUTES ... The University of Missouri

In naming its new basketball stadium - the Paige Sports Arena - the University of Missouri has really done itself proud. The stadium's name honors a woman whose own undergraduate experience is a kind of paradigm for the experience of so many university athletes in America:

"[Paige Laurie], the daughter of Blues owner and University of Missouri benefactor Bill Laurie, paid her roommate at the University of Southern California about $20,000 over three years to write papers and complete other class assignments for her, according to a report on ABC's news- magazine 20/20.

Elena Martinez said she was Paige Laurie's roommate freshman year at the school in Los Angeles. Martinez said it wasn't long before she was writing reports and papers for the daughter of businessman Bill Laurie and Nancy Laurie, an heir to the Wal-Mart empire. In return, Paige Laurie paid Martinez hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars at a time.

'I was Paige ... short of going to class,' Martinez told 20/20 in the show, which aired Friday night. "I learned a lot in her classes."

Martinez showed 20/20 lists of dozens of papers and projects she said she had completed for Paige Laurie, noting that she had received A and B grades on them.

Paige Laurie's name graces her father's Paige Sports Entertainment, which in turn owns the Blues and runs Savvis Center. It's also been planted on Paige Sports Arena, the new basketball arena at the University of Missouri at Columbia."

UD is thrilled to see that her course for next semester on James Joyce - er - make that Twentieth Century Irish Literature - has filled up briskly and has now reached its 35-student limit. Even though it's closed, however, any student who asks to be let into the course will be happily welcomed ... because UD is a fanatic! Whoever you are, whatever you are, if you want to study Ulysses, climb aboard! (Certes, we'll read Beckett and Yeats and all too...)

You say you really want to know how UD feels about James Joyce? Go here.

Friday, November 19, 2004


A University Diaries Series



By Eric Swedlund

A UA professor on Tuesday made a startling announcement to his students about how he shot and killed a college classmate 50 years ago.

Robert B. Bechtel, an environmental psychology professor since 1976, spoke publicly for the first time about his retaliation for increasingly harsh bullying, being declared incurably insane and finally being acquitted of murder.

Bechtel was a 22-year-old student at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania when he killed an 18-year-old student in their dormitory. He told his two classes about the shooting Tuesday, two weeks after disclosing it for the first time to his University of Arizona superiors and administrators.

He said the story is one of redemption, but more importantly one that illustrates the deep and wide-ranging consequences of bullying. Bechtel is finally speaking in an attempt to halt the culture of bullying, he said in an interview at his Northwest Side home Thursday.

"People don't understand how easy it is to destroy young lives. I didn't put it together for 40 years," he said. "What people need to learn about is the complete isolation of bullying. It's not just one kid hitting or kicking another. The whipping boy is hit by people while others just stand around. That's where the real harm comes. The person being bullied sees the whole world against him. He's totally isolated."

Many university officials and students said they were shocked that Bechtel could have killed somebody, but that speaking publicly about the shooting is courageous and could have an impact on bullying.

Alfred Kaszniak, head of the psychology department, said Bechtel told him about the killing earlier this month and talked about his decision to disclose his past.

"It's important to help bring to light the enormous consequences of bullying and the risks for recipients and the bullies themselves. This is a very, very significant problem," he said.

Kaszniak said Bechtel's message is "the sense that redemption and changing the direction of one's life is possible. His history is witness to that."

"His record the entire time he has been here and prior to that in his professional life as a psychologist has been absolutely exemplary," Kaszniak said. "I have known him to be nothing but kind, gentle, considerate and a model faculty member."

UA President Peter Likins said that in the 50 years since the shooting, Bechtel has transformed his life and "ultimately triumphed."

"To me, it's a very human story and it is not something we have any reason to be upset or alarmed about," he said.

Psychology junior Deanna Ortiz was in Bechtel's 8 a.m. class Tuesday and said the students were initially shocked into silence, but then started asking questions.

"They really wanted to know his feelings, his emotions, what was going through his mind when the incident occurred," she said. "I thanked him for opening up to us, for sharing such a private part of his life. He's very inspirational person. He's very courageous to share something that was so personal to him."

Provost George Davis doesn't know Bechtel, but said the story about what he did was "really, really jarring," especially coming only two years after three UA professors were shot and killed by a failing student who then killed himself in the College of Nursing.

But Davis said Bechtel has "gone through the courts" and the matter is "past history."

Was a student proctor in dorm

As a student proctor charged with keeping Swarthmore dormitory students in line, Bechtel said he faced constant taunts and abuse, including having his bed dragged outside and repeatedly urinated on by other students. He thought the winter break would ease the tensions, but the bullying got worse.

On Jan. 12, 1955, Bechtel suddenly decided he'd had enough and that he had to take care of the problem. He brought a gun to the dormitory, intending to shoot the bullies.

"I was going to wipe them out," he said. "I only shot one then gave the whole thing up. I had the sensation of a hand grabbing my heart and that was the end."

Bechtel entered one room and fatally shot 18-year-old Francis Holmes Strozier, one of those who had bullied him, then fired five shots into a hall closet. He woke up another student and turned himself in to police.

"I thought that I was thinking clearly. I think I had to shut down my feelings to keep from being paralyzed," he said. "I thought it was the right thing to do at the time, but once I fired that shot, I gave the whole thing up. Not only was it wrong, it was terrifying."

Bechtel said he had thought of trying to transfer before the shooting, but gave up because he'd never been able to escape bullying before. He talked to a dean, but told him the problem wasn't out of control.

"There I was, never thinking what it was going to do to my mother. I was insane; I didn't know the difference between right and wrong. I thought my mom would be happy I was rid of the bullies," he said.

While jailed for the shooting, Bechtel said a psychiatrist determined he was insane. A psychiatrist for the prosecution and a commission agreed, declaring him incurably insane.

He was ordered to Fairview State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, for the rest of his life. He initially spent time feeling sorry for himself, but work in the print shop started changing his attitude.

"I realized the difference between heaven and hell is that in heaven, they help each other. This was hell and the way to turn it around was to start helping people," he said.

Bechtel started a school, teaching other patients. He accepted the fact that he would remain there for his whole life, but was determined to make that life meaningful, even in an insane asylum.

He stayed for nearly five years before another evaluation determined he could be released. He was sent back to jail and stood trial for the murder, but was found not guilty by reason of insanity in January of 1960 and released. Strozier's parents had written Bechtel a letter, saying they forgive him.

"I think in many ways he was a better person than I was. Who knows what he could have contributed to the world?" he said. "It weighs on me forever."

Bechtel has saved newspaper clippings of his past, with headlines such as "Pottstonian Faces Trial For 1955 Frenzy Killing" and "Robert Bechtel, 22, Surrenders in Swarthmore 'Rage' Murder."

Returned to school after acquittal

Bechtel returned to school, studying at Susquehanna University and then the University of Kansas, where he received his doctorate in 1967. When he applied at the UA he said it didn't seem necessary, nor was it required, to mention the shooting, already 20 years in the past.

UA officials don't expect Bechtel will face any personnel actions because of the incident.

He met his wife in Kansas City, Mo., where they worked together, and told her about the killing on their third date, saying she was "properly paralyzed and shocked, but accepted it."

"When Bob told me I didn't cry. I was numb," said Beverly Bechtel. Thirty-three years later, she said it's time to tell the story.

"I feel very raw and very naked, but I'm willing to do it. I want to do something about how kids are treated and how all people are treated," she said.

Their daughter, Carrah, said when she heard of the shooting, it separated her life into two parts, 19 years before she knew and now 11 since.

"It ruined everything about my entire life," she said. "It's been very painful but also enriching. There are days I wish I had a different father, but there are days I know I had him for a reason."

Bechtel is the subject of a Discovery Channel documentary, examining the bullying in his life and the shooting, said director Macky Alston. The documentary is scheduled to air in 2006. "Our mission is very in sync with Bob's mission, to focus great attention on the problem of bullying," he said.

Bechtel started writing a book about his experiences in 1993 and hopes to finish it in time to coordinate a release with the documentary.

Thursday, November 18, 2004


Whenever the latest reports come out revealing yet again how overwhelmingly liberal rather than conservative the American university is, UD is reminded of a conversation Paul Monette relates between himself and a gay ex-monk.

So how many priests and monks are gay? I’d ask, to needle him. What did he think the percentages were? He’d flutter his pudgy hands, spotted with the scars of bee stings and covered with rings like a gypsy. “Oh my dear, who can say? A hundred and ten percent.”

So let’s say that the ratio of liberals to conservatives at American universities today is seven trillion to one. Et puis? Most liberals and most conservatives at American universities are pretty mainstream people who don’t go about pounding their ideologies into their students’ heads. Yes, liberalism is most professors’ default position and always has been, but it’s dumb for professors to argue, as that guy at Duke did, that professors are liberals because liberals are smarter than conservatives, or that they’re liberals because, as a Berkeley professor says in today’s New York Times, “Unlike conservatives, they believe in working for the public good and social justice.”

It’s not intellectual or moral superiority that distinguishes professors as a class - it’s niceness, and a very … slow … deliberative … style, and those things don’t imply any particular politics. Sure, the niceness tips you toward things like welfare states, but in a largely sentimental way. How much do you, as a professor, really care? What you care about is Turkish epigraphy and British epistolary novels and Arctic weather patterns.

The interesting political divide on campus is between liberals and radicals, and the dynamic whereby radicals have disproportionate power in some departments because they appeal to the guilt (also sentimental) of the liberals. But that’s a whole other story.

So UD differs with Mark Bauerlein when he writes, in his intriguing Chronicle essay on the subject, that “academics have an acute sense of how much their views clash with the majority of Americans.” UD doesn’t think academics, as a class, have an acute sense of very much outside of their field and their family. They’re academics because they care desperately about a narrow realm.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


A Board Game

This board game is essentially a test of your strategy skills. You are an American university chancellor or president, and your object is to be the first such leader in the country to make a million dollars a year. To accomplish this, you must move intelligently around the board, avoiding pitfalls and taking advantage of opportunities, all the while defending yourself against the efforts of various opponents to undermine you.

Like Monopoly, this game awards you money for good moves. The first player to reach one million dollars wins.

Play begins with each player tossing the dice; higher number goes first, and the movement around the board is, again, like that of Monopoly.

Depending on what square you land on, you will be given certain choices (Examples: “Hire/ don’t hire a public relations firm to help you mount a defense of your compensation.” “Threaten/ don’t threaten to return to the for-profit sector.”); awarded certain bonuses (Examples: “You are too important to drive your own car. Here is your chauffeur.” “If you promise not to leave after one year, we’ll triple your salary.”); or, if you are unlucky, presented with certain setbacks (“Your tuition increase of 10% backfires: students, parents, faculty, alumni, demand your resignation. Go back four squares.” “State legislature passes a resolution condemning your ‘unconscionable greed.’ Go back six squares.”).

You might also land on a square that directs you to pick up a card from the Wild Card pile. Here, anything goes. Your card might say, “Congratulations! You’ve just been given a supplemental $10,000 from a car dealer looking for university favors!” It might say, “Too bad! The press is interested in the free season tickets for your city’s football team that the campus food vendor gave you!”

A note on strategy: Chancellor's Challenge rewards risk and boldness. As a general rule, for example, it is a good idea to move quickly from campus to campus as fiscal conditions change. The best overall strategy is to aim for less intellectually demanding institutions which have a strong corporate ethos plus political corruption. Historically, players have found the State of Florida system the most attractive square on which to land.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004



Dave Kindred

"The big lies are told by the hypocrites at the top. They want you to believe it's amateur sports. It's not. ESPN reported Ohio State football brought in $53 million during its 2002 national championship season and spent only $15 million to do it. That's a 253 percent return. The Colombian drug cartel wishes it could do that well. Meanwhile, the average value of an in-state athletic scholarship was $13,379.

You'd think somebody would care that big-time college football makes drug-cartel profits from the work of teenagers who have no say in where the money goes that they make.

You'd think that university presidents would be ashamed that they're at the top of an organization that deals in an athletic version of child porn.

You'd think that university presidents would be embarrassed to stand revealed as the bosses of outfits that systematically exploit immature, unsophisticated, powerless children for the entertainment of Old Grads With Money.

But no. No one cares. No one is ashamed. No one is embarrassed.

Or, if they are, they can't admit it, because to admit it would be to invite demands that they end it. And the only way to end it is to revolutionize big-time college athletics. End the charade that it is amateur athletics. Operate it as professional athletics. That would be the honest thing to do.

But after a century and more of creating and maintaining the biggest lie in all of sports, universities can't afford to acknowledge the truth. It would cost them hundreds of millions of dollars, maybe billions.

That's because they would have to compensate the workers, the Maurice Claretts. In addition, they would face an even more loathsome responsibility. Like the rest of us and like all professional sports, they would have to pay local, state and federal taxes on their revenues. Right now, they pay no taxes because college athletics programs are counted as part of the quote-educational-unquote system.

Yeah, right. At Georgia, the school's assistant basketball coach prepared a final exam loaded with puzzlers such as: How many halves in a basketball game? At Ohio State, students took on the intellectual challenges inherent in Officiating Tennis.

It will never change."

UD, as you know, has gone from never checking her blog's usage to checking it with mad abandon. So she notes that suddenly, a couple of days ago, her readership went through the roof. And yet there was nothing really special in UD's recent posts...

The only unusual thing UD did while her traffic exploded was spend a weekend in the Virginia countryside with friends. They didn't have a computer in their cabin in the woods, so UD neither wrote in nor thought much about la blogue.

Obviously, something UD did in the Shenandoah Valley caused this groundswell. Was it her stroll through the outdoor stone chapel at Orkney Springs, an old Episcopal retreat? Her visit to a golf resort? Her fevered debate with her friends about the future of Israel, the worth of John Rawls, and how strong a British accent one of her friends has retained after decades of life in the US?

Perhaps it was UD's embarrassing misquotation of Jonathan Swift, when, thinking to impress her friends, she said, "Well, you remember Swift's lines -- 'Stella, Stella, Stella, shits.'"

"Er, no, UD," one of her friends corrected her. "Maybe you learned the Tennessee Williams version. It goes 'Celia, Celia, Celia shits.'"

Monday, November 15, 2004

A Regular UD Feature

UD is aware that irresponsible rumor-mongering by political bloggers during the last election did nothing to promote the values of our democracy, and she is certainly eager to avoid similar irresponsible rumor-mongering with her own academic blog now that the election is over. But a striking series of coincidences involving an important political player has occurred in the vicinity of UD’s university, and since no one else seems interested in putting two and two together, UD will have to do it.

First, there was the scandal, about which UD has already blogged [see UD, 7/8/04], involving the Vice President’s personal physician and his drug addiction (he has since resigned from the VP’s care). Then there was this photograph of the Vice-President, taken a few weeks back, in which his “package,” as Andrew Sullivan calls it, markedly bulges. Shortly thereafter, a doctor at George Washington University announced on the White House website that the VP had been admitted to GW Hospital for “shortness of breath.”

The VP is now out of the hospital and back to work, but we’re seeing very little of him. If you think about it, we always see very little of the VP, given his vaunted inability to connect with The People, his spells in undisclosed locations, and his now rather regular admissions to GW’s hospital.

When we do see him, he is irritable with us, short of breath, and over-extended. What does it all mean?

First, a disclaimer: UD is no physician. What appears below is personal opinion.

Putting these various elements together - the VP’s association with a drug abusing physician; the VP’s over-extension; and the VP’s recent admission to the hospital - UD would like to suggest that the Vice President of the United States suffers from what is known as priapism [the following description is taken from a medical website]:

"The condition is named after the Greek god of Fertility, Priapus, who was particularly well-endowed.

Priapism is diagnosed when an erection lasts more than four hours, in the absence of any sexual stimulation.

Certain psychiatric medications as well as certain illicit drugs can cause priapism.

Treatment must be sought urgently ... ."

It all adds up.

“These huge salaries feed into the ongoing corporatization of the academy," said Roger Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, who earned about $120,000 a year when he was president of the State University of New York at New Paltz during the last decade. "Universities do not exist to make money but to educate our students and citizens, a role that is central to our democratic society. We send the wrong message when we transmogrify our campus presidents into C.E.O.'s."

The latest enormous increases in many university presidents’ salaries (compensation in the million dollars a year range is increasingly common) has stirred the usual indignation, the customary effort to distinguish between profit and non-profit settings, the annual warning about the destructive disparity between administrative and faculty compensation, the regular fury about big tuition increases and overpaid university leaders, etc.

UD has weighed in on this scandal before [UD, 1/10/04]. She is not surprised that the rate of increase is, every year, more astoundingly high, since for a lot of university presidents no principle of personal restraint or institutional good applies.

As for the disparity between the last Duke University president's salary ($528,622) and that of Duke’s basketball coach ($853,099), UD is reminded of the college president who once said: “I hope to build a university of which our football team can be proud.”

Saturday, November 13, 2004


Note: The ballad tale told below resembles another earlier ballad, which relates a 16th century incident in the court of Mary Queen of Scots. That earlier ballad, sung by Joan Baez, may be found here.

Word is to the papers gone
And word is to tv
And word is up to the blogosphere
(Particularly to UD):
That Merry Hamilton’s added again
To a most bizarre faculty.

“Arise, arise, Merry Hamilton,
Arise and tell to me,
What thou hast done with Boisselier
Who once taught Chemistry.”

“We put her in a tiny boat
And cast her out to sea
When we found out that she belonged
To an alien clone family.”

“Arise, arise, Merry Hamilton,
Arise and tell to me,
Why is there an ex-terrorist
On your writing faculty?

Know not you of her frightful past?
Her bombs and submachine?
Her pardon by the President,
Which Kerik said ‘sickened me‘?”

“We plan to tighten oversight
Of our hiring practices, we;
That we might ‘scape the ridicule
Of bloggers like vile UD.”

Friday, November 12, 2004


This weblog has talked about the suicides of college students [UD posts dated 3/27/04, 5/2/04, 9/10/04, 9/17/04, 10/1/04, 10/5/04], and about the suicide of Spalding Gray [UD 3/9/04]. UD has also tried, as have many people, to talk generally about this horrible, perplexing and - I would also say - threatening and enraging act.

Suicide enrages because it intensifies the sound of our own doubts about the ultimate meaning and value of our ambitions, emotions, and engagements. The suicide drops an insinuation into the ears of each of us that we too, after all, can end it. High-profile, eloquent suicides, especially among the gifted and beautiful young, are the most undermining of all.

Iris Chang's sort of suicide, UD thinks, was literally about undermining. Like Diane Arbus and Sylvia Plath, Chang was drawn to, she dug into, what was worst, most frightening, most atrocious, most intractably hideous, about human beings. Tadeusz Borowski and Primo Levi, also suicides, were drawn unwillingly into the extreme degradations of which human beings are capable - they were Auschwitz inmates. But Chang pursued, said her husband after she was found dead, "one heart-wrenching story after another. I just couldn't stand it after a while. The accumulation of hearing those stories, year after year after year, may have led to her depression. But that's just speculation. I think she also pushed herself too hard."

UD proposes something slightly different - that an attraction to darkness and extremity was simply there in Chang, as it was in Plath and Arbus, and that just as their poetry and photography took a certain direction because of that attraction, so Chang's history took a certain direction. Simon Kane, the brother of playwright Sarah Kane once said: "I don't think fears about her work were a significant factor in her decision to commit suicide. I think Sarah's work was much more the effect of who she was and what she cared about, than it was the cause of her depression."

UD, as she has made clear in this blog, is a cowardly sort, and one form her cowardice takes is an active evasion of books like The Rape of Nanking, with their photographs of terrified, humiliated, and dying people. And yet UD did read this book, because she had always wondered about the event, and because reviews of the book made it sound excellent. She remembers being proud of herself - relieved about herself - as she read the thing all the way through.

But that extended encounter, a few years ago, with one particular atrocity, was enough for UD for awhile. You don't want to immerse yourself in atrocity, easy as that is to do. You will note that even the news media blacks out things like Margaret Hassan's weeping entreaty to the world, during which she fainted and was then revived by having buckets of water dumped on her by her captors. It's bad enough to hear such things described.

Some people have a very high level of tolerance for atrocity, and even a keen interest in it, either for voyeuristic or noble reasons. Chang's passionate indignation about injustices unatoned and unacknowledged was noble. It was also self-destructive.

Thursday, November 11, 2004


UD has now heard from a number of readers that the Comment function she lately strapped on to the site doesn't work, or doesn't work very well, or whatever. She's looking into it.

Today marks the first anniversary of University Diaries. About a week ago, UD overcame her fear and for the first time checked her usage. Thousands of visits were made last month, and she is overwhelmed and grateful.

UD is aware that given the eternality and amusement of certain university-related phenomena (diploma mills, dirty college sports, plagiarism), she must resist the cheap low easy road of writing mainly about them. While stand-out instances of these things will continue to be chronicled in UD, this weblog will maintain its interest in all manner of higher education material. As always, UD appreciates it when readers email her with suggestions, corrections, whatever.

UD does not do sentiment well. But she asks you to imagine her today as very like the Baroness in The Sound of Music [see UD post, 10/18/2004], as she stands in the Austrian night upon the spectacular von Trapp balcony and says: "I've enjoyed each and every moment."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


Two tales of technology old and new, on the front page of today's New York Times Arts section, form an intriguing juxtaposition.

There's the old technology of a "home recording machine with a needle that cut grooves into acetate discs," used in the 'forties and 'fifties by an Australian store salesman named Roy Preston to record concerts transmitted on the radio. One of these recordings captured the spectacular young pianist William Kapell playing Prokofiev, Debussy, Chopin, and Mozart while on tour in that country in 1953. Kapell died when the plane taking him back from that tour to the States crashed.

A close friend of Mr. Preston's (Preston died recently) discovered this jewel among his obsessively organized old recordings, and - using much more recent technology - Googled and then emailed Kapell's grandson. "It's breaking me to pieces," says Kapell's widow, also a pianist. "When I listen to these performances, it's as if he's alive and in front of me. You can imagine what this does to me 50 years later. He was inseparable from the music."

And then there's the Times review of the cutting-edge animated film The Polar Express. The result of the latest, enormously expensive technology, writes Manohla Dargis, is, throughout, an "eerie listlessness," with interiors like a "munitions factory" and a Santa's workshop whose entrance "directly evokes, however unconsciously, one of Hitler's Nuremberg rally entrances in Leni Riefenstahl's 'Triumph of the Will.'"

"The largest intractable problem" with the film "is that the motion-capture technology used to create the human figures has resulted in a film filled with creepily unlifelike beings." The filmmakers have built "a vacuum-sealed simulacrum of the world" whose effect is "depressing."

UD is struck by the way in which the singular obsessive music-lover with his grainy old technology has generated for those who knew and loved Kapell a euphoric recognition of his enduring human presence; while the grand-scale teamwork of high-tech experts working on a children's tale has generated an entire world of dehumanization.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Teaching Today: A University Diaries Series


No doubt about it, the name “Kerri Dunn” is becoming shorthand for whacked out pedagogy. Dunn, UD’s readers may recall [see UD posts of 3/18/04, 3/21/04, and 8/21/04], wrote disgusting hate speech on her own car and then claimed she’d been victimized. She was lionized every which way at Pomona College, where she was a professor of psychology, until two witnesses came forward and described what really happened. Dunn’s history of other crimes did not help her case. She’s in jail.

A few days ago, a couple of students at Pomona ran around campus writing - with an erasable marker - nasty things (“I heart pollution”) on SUVs. UD has immense sympathy with this gesture, being a rabid SUV-hater herself, but it is illegal.

The students explained to college officials that their professor in "Political Activism in Film and Media" [a German literature scholar whose work includes a 1999 paper titled “The Modern Woman and Her Sanitary Napkin: The Social Construction of Women through Feminine Technologies”] had given the following assignment to the class: go out there and exercise your political voice, with allusions to the recent election.

“I thought it was kind of unwise,” says one of the vandalized student SUV-owners, “because it seemed to reference Kerri Dunn.”

Although the circumstances are very different, UD knows what she means. Professors who make things like voting, promise-to-be-nice pledges, and the public articulation of social grievance a class requirement display a Dunnish fanaticism.

Monday, November 08, 2004


Blue State Elitist on the Loose

Last night, UD went to the Kennedy Center to watch her kid sing in the way ridiculous Carmina Burana. Kid is part of the Washington Children's Chorus, and every year her group does many CB performances around the metropolitan area, CB being a perennial crowd-pleaser, with parts for children.

The Concert Hall was sold out, and the audience rose as one at the end to give the immense production (children's and adult choruses, full orchestra, three soloists, big drums and other noisemakers) a standing ovation. (UD suspects every CB performance gets this sort of response, because the music is scientifically formulated to make you wanna shout.) A colleague of UD's from GWU's music department sang the bizarre tenor solo up in the box seats, a bright spotlight on him.

Before the performance, UD and her husband walked outside around the terrace of the Kennedy Center and waved at jets as they passed very close on their way over the Potomac River to Reagan National Airport. Washington is a visually uninspiring city, even seen from above on a clear autumn evening with all the illuminated monuments and ribbons of traffic going full blast. But it was a very pleasant moment.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

ADDENDUM to "University Diaries Salutes
the Boycotting Students
of Portland State University"

[see UD post below, 11/05/04]:


' "Being a public university in this day and age requires you to work with corporations and through corporations," said Cathy Dyck, Portland State's interim vice president for finance and administration. "That doesn't mean you sell your soul." '

Are you sure, Cathy? You know, you don't need a name like "Adrian Leverkuhn" to find yourself in this sort of predicament. You can have a cheery American name like "Cathy" too. Let us look at the particulars...

Cathy tells us that given the decline in state support for higher education, universities like PSU are forced to turn to corporations. And yet, and yet, and yet...

' ATHLETIC COSTS WEIGH ON UNIVERSITIES: UO says its department is self-supporting, but OSU and PSU receive millions of dollars that could go toward academics ' says in a recent article wherein the selfsame Cathy Dyck is called on the carpet to explain why "Portland State's athletic department, which saw its football team post a 4 - 7 record last season, had an operating loss of $3.4 million in fiscal 2003-04, a figure officials blamed in part on poor ticket sales and fewer donations. The university subsidized nearly the entire loss to keep athletics in the black. ... At Portland State, 115 student athletes compete in football and men's basketball, sports that are supposed to pay for their programs and cover 195 student athletes in other sports.... The main culprit was football... "First thing we've got to do,' said Tom Burman, Portland State's athletic director, "is we've got to turn our program around." '

Cathy's quoted as saying that getting to a point where a major American university is no longer held financially hostage to how many games their football team wins each year might take some time. So if, meanwhile, PSU has to make up that money by hiring corporate card issuers who harass its student body into spending as much money as possible, even as they're accumulating college tuition debt (the HigherOne website boasts about the million bucks or so that students at another university that issues their card have recently spent), that's something the situation, in Cathy's words, "requires." It certainly doesn't point to a university losing its soul.

Friday, November 05, 2004


... the student boycotters at Portland State University (there are more than a thousand of them as of this writing), who are refusing to use PSU's about-to-be-issued new student identification cards. Provided by a company whose name points to a serious confusion between religion and business (HigherOne), the card carries a MasterCard logo and, when you activate it on HigherOne's website, tries hard to make you open a debit account.

"I don't come to school to deal with corporate America," says one boycotter. "I come to school to learn. [The debit card] is a direct and tangible risk to the student experience."

Whether you're being forced by your English professor to vote in a national election, or pressured into opening a financial account you don't want, or forced to watch television commercials in the student center, the American university student should fight back. Ridicule. Boycott. And don't forget to order your TV-B-Gone [see UD post, 10/22/04].

[ps: Can't say Portland State is unresponsive: They've offered to distribute little stickers that students can put on top of the corporate logo to cover it up.]

Thursday, November 04, 2004


[Washington, DC, November 4] Inspired by a fellow English professor -- Merrill Skaggs of Drew University, who, upset by low voting rates among young people, made voting in the recent national election a mandatory part of her students' grade, University Diaries, a professor of English at George Washington University, has introduced a blood donation requirement for all of her classes, beginning with the fall semester of 2005.

"I checked the statistics," UD explained, "and only 37 percent of people under the age of 25 donate blood on a regular basis. That really upset me. Then I read about what Professor Skaggs did about her issue - voting - and I decided to do the same thing with mine. If I want my students to appreciate the importance of what I consider an essential civic activity, I think it's virtually an obligation on my part to incorporate that activity into my grading procedures."

UD commented that for the last decade she has been so dedicated a blood donor that the National Institutes of Health, at whose blood clinic she donates, has awarded her quite a few "Gallon Donor" certificates of appreciation, "of which I'm enormously proud." All it took was reading about Professor Skaggs's recent voting requirement for UD to realize that she, likewise, could include a certain required pint donation minimum on her syllabi. "Of course, the amount each student gives is up to them - but they're young and they can stand to lose quite a lot of blood."

You don't have to give much, but giving something is non-negotiable: "You can't get a passing grade in my Modern American Novel without at least one trip to the Red Cross," she remarked. "But the more you give, the higher your 'Grade Pint Average,' as I call it. And," she continued, "for those students willing to undergo the lengthy and uncomfortable procedure of giving platelets, there's an automatic A."

How, we asked her, is she able to verify that each student has given blood during the course of the semester? UD smiles: "Unlike Skaggs, who has to rely on the honor system, I can just check their forearms. After you give blood, the nurses put a length of sticky tape around the needlemark. So, each morning, as students enter my classroom, I station myself at the door and have them pull their shirtsleeves up so I can take a look."

One side benefit of her new policy, UD says, is that she's learning things about her students she couldn't have learned any other way. "Some of them, for instance, are anemic; some are afraid of needles; some were exposed to hepatitis during junior year abroad! Who knew?" For those who cannot donate, a five-page essay on The History of Apheresis in the United States substitutes.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004


Yesterday, George Washington University was Pleasantville [see UD post dated 11/2/04]. Today, Dogville. Sweatshirts and backpacks blaspheme the president [BUSH SUCKS. FUCK BUSH., etc.]. Students scowl, and, when they see a friend, exchange looks of incredulity. A guy in my course on France and America says he's moving out of the country. "Canada will drive you nuts too," UD tells him.

UD hopes he doesn't leave. In a few years his rage will go away and he'll be the sort of person the country needs: smart, full of heart.

UD hopes he heard the stress both candidates today placed on trying to overcome the split in the nation. Because there's an alarming division, and we ought to try to overcome it.

But oh what a strange place UD lives in! The bluest of the blue states! The distant border of a divided country! She was sitting outside at her local restaurant (the one where there's a bakery on the premises) with her sister last night -- election night. She was eating arugula and stuff, and suddenly this guy, this stranger, came up to them and placed a Talking George Bush doll on their table.

He pulled its strings and waited for UD and her sister to laugh with him when the doll said stupid things; and, being pleasant enough people, UD and her sister did laugh. "He's so STUPID," said the guy, as he got into his car with his doll. "STUPID."

On the Metro this evening (we were all eventually offloaded at Dupont Circle -- a little farther up the line, one Metro car had "drifted," as the news reports had it, into another, and this gentle movement had ended in a pretty serious crash), everyone was wearing pastels. It was the Bushies who had come to town to hear the president's victory speech and who were now on their way to Reagan Airport to get back to Topeka.

In a day or two, the pastels will fade, and the dark suits of the city -- and the black turtlenecks of UD's own GWU -- will once again dominate the skyline. But one must have a mind of pastel (to paraphrase Wallace Stevens) even after the victory speeches are over. Bluesers are losers.

At one o'clock this morning, UD's husband - a political science professor - drove downtown to the National Press Club building to be interviewed about the American election by Polish radio RMF-FM. For all their pro-American sentiment, the Poles, like most Europeans, must find our still-unresolved election baffling. UD's husband, like most commentators, stressed the moral divide between Red and Blue states that seems to have expressed itself in the voting.

Much to think about here. After her class today, UD will return to University Diaries and ponder the matter.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004


UD didn't see it, but today the student Democrats brought an actual donkey to George Washington University (currently ranked by Kaplan/Newsweek the number one campus in the country for political wonks). "I petted him," said a colleague. "They're giving out balloons and apples, too. It's like a state fair."

More like Pleasantville, actually. Everyone's body and baggage has KERRY written all over it...which is fine! UD just got back from voting for him! But the combination of a sunny afternoon, bland architecture, and uniform legible clothing worn by bright shiny people had a Truman Show/Stepford Wives feel to it.

Bright? Hasn't UD gone to a lot of trouble to describe the dark clothing her students routinely wear?

Yes, but the Season of the Pink Scarf is upon us. The background clothes GW women wear (black turtleneck, jeans) remain the same, but over the turtleneck, in a concession to autumn, they have thrown (in a variety of elegant ways) a long soft pink scarf.

It looks --- beautiful.

Monday, November 01, 2004


The Therapeutic Arming of Schizophrenics: A Debate

' Shooting Prompts Debate Over Mentally Ill and Guns

Family says man accused of killing dad not violent

By Leigh Dethman
Deseret Morning News [October 12, 2004]

Ben Gully loves the outdoors. It's a form of medication no doctor can prescribe.

It was only natural that Ben's father would agree to go hunting with him Saturday night. Ben, who was diagnosed with mental illness in 2002, begged his dad to let him go.

That therapeutic hunting trip turned tragic Saturday night when Ben Gully, 19, allegedly shot and killed his father, James Gully, 61, from point-blank range.

The fatal shooting has prompted the question of mental health experts about why a man with a documented mental illness was allowed to hold a loaded shotgun. But Dr. David Tomb, a University of Utah School of Medicine psychiatry professor, said hunting could have been beneficial to Ben's treatment.

"To make a blanket statement that somebody with severe mental illness is reason enough for them to have all the guns locked up and unable to hunt, that is probably doing a disservice to those individuals because sometimes that kind of activity with peers and family can be very helpful," Tomb said. Gully remains in the Davis County Jail for investigation of criminal homicide. Davis County Chief Deputy Attorney Bill McGuire said his office is currently screening the charges.

Witnesses told police they heard gunshots, followed by screams and shouts of profanity. A group of hunters ran toward the scene, and Ben Gully screamed for help. When asked if the shooting was an accident, the young man reportedly said, " 'No, he just wouldn't shut up and I shot him,' " said Matt Heidrich, who was hunting nearby.

"He was so anxious," said Kim Hawes, a close friend of the family and the director of an education program at Utah's National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. "Ben is such a loving, loving boy. He loved his dad."

Doctors first diagnosed Gully with a mental illness in December 2002 after he had his first psychotic breakdown, Hawes said. Doctors have struggled to pinpoint exactly what mental illness he suffered from.

"Mental illness is such a devastating disease, especially until you get a handle on it," Hawes said. "It's like any disease — you don't know until you've gone through or had a loved one go through it to know what it's like."

Gully and his mother, Mary Gully, attended NAMI's Bridges for Youth, a class geared for 16- to 26-year-old mental illness sufferers about the biology of the brain, coping skills and medications. Mary Gully became so actively involved she started teaching the class.

Doctors were working with Gully to find what medication would work to control his illness, Hawes said. Hawes said his mother told her, "I didn't even see the signs of a psychotic event coming." But knowing exactly what triggers a psychotic event is nearly impossible, Hawes said.

The family is dealing with a "double loss" and maintains Gully loved and adored his father.

"We have always feared that he might harm himself, but never ever thought he would be capable of harming others," Gully's stepmother, Janice Perry Gully, wrote in a statement. "All of us know that it was not Ben who harmed his father, but the illness itself." '


Told you UD lived in a Blue State...

Time: 7:05 AM, this morning.

Place: UD's front yard.

Random neighbor walks by; sees UD raking leaves:

Neighbor: "Sisyphean labor, Margaret, is it not?"