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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)

Monday, January 31, 2005


...but you really should, if you haven't yet, take a look at the blog Veiled Conceit, a wickedly funny running commentary on the New York Times wedding announcements. Zach, the author, is on a roll lately...
"While I am immensely proud
of my administrative accomplishments...

... in the chair's position over the past two-and-one-half years, it is my considered view that the present political climate has rendered me a liability in terms of representing either my department, the college or the university in this or any other administrative capacity," writes Professor Ward Churchill in a statement issued this evening, announcing his resignation as chair of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado.

UD wonders if, by “the present political climate,” Churchill means that if he’d made his September 11 statements during a Carter or Clinton presidency, they would have been received differently.

Churchill is not a martyr to rightwing extremism or whatever he thinks he’s living under. He’s a victim of his own inhumanity.

UD also wonders - Where are the letters and editorials from his students defending Churchill? He has taught and administered at CU for a long time. Surely someone should have written something by now, conceding, for example, that Churchill’s latest remarks were indefensible, but that they should not obscure the good he has done as a teacher, a role model …

Anyway, the next move for Churchill is, UD thinks, clear. Withdraw from the speaking engagement at Hamilton (big crowds are now expected, and the security situation will be a nightmare), and get to work on his next Up Yours, America book, which will sell, after all this attention, like hotcakes.

" Jooste's Novel to Remain on Sale
Despite Admission of Plagiarism

By Aziz Hartley
Cape Times

Despite an admission that South African writer Pamela Jooste had copied someone else's writing, her novel, People Like Ourselves, will remain on sale.

This was confirmed yesterday by Stephen Johnson, managing director of Random House.

"We have no plans to withdraw copies of the book," he said.

The Cape Town-based Jooste has meanwhile gone to ground in the Eastern Cape and could not be contacted.

The Sunday Times reported yesterday that Jooste had plagiarised sections of an article by Wits academic Lindsay Bremner published in the paper's lifestyle supplement three years ago.

"Bremner's lawyer, Claire Wright, confirmed that Jooste had infringed Bremner's copyright," according to the report.

Johnson could not indicate yesterday how many copies of People Like Ourselves had been printed.

Asked whether he knew of any other sections of the novel that might have been plagiarised, he said there were none.

Johnson was reported to have said they had become aware of the problem after they were informed by a representative of Bremner in November last year.

He said Jooste could not reached.

"She is in-communicado. We expect to speak to her some time next week.

"She is on holiday in the Eastern Cape," he said.

According to the Sunday Times report, Jooste's lawyer, not named, had admitted she had used approximately 400 words penned by Bremner, who received the first Sunday Times Bessie Head fellowship in 2001.

The lawyer had also written to Bremner conceding Jooste had failed to attribute authorship of the passages used in the book and apologised for embarrassing Bremner."


Embarrassing Bremner? Whatever. More detail here.


[For background, see various posts below.]

A gun-toting hater of the United States who wishes death upon its citizens and disintegration of its political foundation holds a tenured appointment as a full professor at a public American university, where his salary is $90,000 a year. Radical fringe houses have gathered his screeds into books. In line with prevailing standards, his university doesn’t care - doesn’t know - that his books are without argument, literacy, reason, or mercy. For purposes of promotion, the University of Colorado, like almost everyone else, counts books. It doesn‘t read them, or look at who published them.

Faced with the glare of national attention upon this fanatic, the Dean of Arts and Sciences says: "As a faculty member, he's spent his career talking about oppressed people's rights, and the essay [about September 11] tries to make some kind of connection ... I think his comments were ... ill-thought-out and hurtful, and I certainly don't agree with them…. It's hard to say he's overstepped his bounds. I don't quite know what the boundary is."

This sort of comment has the flavor of a parent who, faced with the fact that his child has brandished a gun and threatened to kill him, says: “That was ill-thought-out and hurtful. I certainly don’t agree with what you’ve done.” With this sort of comment, we have entered the realm of Flo Whittaker, a character in Randall Jarrell’s academic novel, Pictures from an Institution:

‘Flo took nothing personally. If she had been told that Benton (College), and (her husband) Jerrold, (and her children), and the furniture had been burned to ashes by the head of the American Federation of Labor, who had then sown salt over the ashes, she would have sobbed, and sobbed, and said at last -- she could do no other -- “I think that we ought to hear his side of the case before we make up our minds.”’

Though Churchill’s Dean doesn’t see what the fuss is about, the CU Regents are upset, and have scheduled a special meeting to discuss the situation.

Whatever they do or say, they know they're stuck with this man. As James Twitchell notes, in Branded Nation, “[W]hat distinguishes the academic world is a lifetime hold on employment. About 70 percent of today’s faculty have tenured or tenure-track jobs. Even ministers get furloughed. Museum directors get canned. But make it through the tenure process, and you’re set forever.”

Yet one of the many destructive effects of this professor, UD predicts, will be to damage the already-shaky institution of academic tenure.

In earlier posts (among them, “Smug Tenureds,” UD, 5/14/04), UD has considered the powerful arguments of people like Richard Chait at Harvard, who suggests that tenure as a universal feature of American colleges and universities has outlived its purpose, and that, while retaining tenure in some situations, institutions of higher education should offer a range of other, non-permanent arrangements as well. This rather reasonable suggestion has been met with near-total opposition by university faculty. But the anti-tenure forces are growing.

If Ward Churchill did not exist, these forces would have had to invent him.


Updated Update: See?

Sunday, January 30, 2005


James B. Twitchell, an English professor at the University of Florida with an engaging prose style, has written a book called Branded Nation, which argues that American colleges and universities have become consumer brands rather than intellectual communities. An excerpt from the book appears online in The Wilson Quarterly, and UD quotes from it below (UD thanks one of her readers, Bill, for the link).

Readers of this blog will recognize most of University Diaries’ recurrent themes (the easiest way to "Search" UD is to put a key word up there in the Search box) in what Twitchell has to say. But Twitchell says this stuff more strongly than UD.

Consider UD’s early posts about distance education (11/21/03, for instance) and the disappearance of the classroom. Those posts look anemic next to this:

“From a branding point of view, what happens in the classroom is beside the point. I mean that literally. The old image of the classroom as fulfillment of the Socratic ideal is no longer even invoked. High Ed, Inc., is more like a sawmill. A few years ago, Harvard University started a small department called the Instructional Computer Group, which employs several people to videotape about 30 courses a semester. Although it was intended for students who unavoidably missed class, it soon became a way not to attend class. Any enrolled student could attend on the Web, fast-forwarding through all the dull parts. This is ‘distance education’ from a dorm room, at an advertised $37,928 a year.”

[By the way, for some intriguing university branding ideas, see Fenster Moop.]

Or what about UD’s more recent posts on the controversy at Harvard over its endowment and the salaries it’s been giving its money men (1/11/05, etc.)? Here’s Twitchell on the subject:

“Ask almost anyone in the education industry what’s the most overrated brand and they’ll tell you ‘Harvard.’ It’s one of the most timid and derivative schools in the country, yet it has been able to maintain a reputation as the uber-brand. …Why is Harvard synonymous with the ne plus ultra? …Because of what goes in: namely, the best students, the most contributed money… Everyone knows that Harvard is the most selective university, with a refusal rate of almost 90 percent. But more important, the school is obscenely rich, with an endowment of almost $20 billion [If UD may break in here: That figure is now 22.6 billion. It's hard to keep up.] Remember that number. It’s key to the brand. The endowment is greater than the assets of the Dell computer company, the gross domestic product of Libya, the net worth of all but five of the Forbes 400, or the holdings of every nonprofit in the world except the Roman Catholic Church....

In a marketing sense, the value of the endowment is not monetary but psychological. Any place with that many zeros after the dollar sign has got to be good. The huge endowments of the nameplate schools force other schools, the second-tier schools, to spend themselves into penury. So your gift to Harvard does more harm than good to the general weal of Higher Ed, Inc. It does, however, maintain the Harvard brand. … Every two weeks…Harvard‘s endowment throws off enough cash to cover all undergraduate tuition.”

And on the subject of money: recall UD’s posts (8/6/04, etc.) about legacy admissions and the emergent trend toward “developmental admits.” Here’s Twitchell:

“At many schools, there’s a buried pipeline that connects the development office with the admissions office. Most academic administrators prefer that it be buried deep, but from time to time someone digs it up. In The Wall Street Journal for February 3, 2003, Daniel Golden reported on how the formal practice of giving preference to students whose parents are wealthy … has profound implications not just for affirmative action but for the vaunted academic ideal of fair play.”

UD’s post on Veyron/Collegiate (10/26/04) seems, if she’s reading her stats properly, one of her most popular. Here’s Twitchell on the same subject:

“[T]he cost of tuition has become unimportant in the Ivy League. Like grade inflation, it’s uncontrollable - and hardly anyone in Higher Ed, Inc. really cares. As with other luxury providers, the higher the advertised price, the longer the line.”

Review UD’s post in response to Walter Kirn’s Atlantic piece on the meritocracy (1/21/05); then look at Twitchell:

“[T]he elite [colleges] are not as concerned with learning as they are with maintaining selectivity at the front door and safe passage to still-higher education at the back door. … The … nifty irony… is that, among elite schools, the more the consumer pays for formal education (or at least is charged), the less of it he or she gets. The mandated class time necessary to qualify for a degree is often less at Stanford than at State U. As a general rule, the better the school, the shorter the week. At many good schools, the weekend starts on Thursday. .. Hardly anyone in Higher Ed, Inc. cares about what is taught, because that is not our charge. We are not in the business of transmitting what E.D. Hirsch would call cultural literacy… . We’re in the business of creating a total environment, delivering an experience, gaining satisfied customers, and applying the ‘smart’ stamp when they head for the exits. The classroom reflects this. Our real business is being transacted elsewhere on campus.”

Or again, recall UD’s post about Gregg Easterbrook and David Brooks (1/12/05), who offer truths about the college “selectivity” hysteria that UD sees all the time among ‘thesdan parents. Twitchell’s on to that one too:

“[Though] no one in the business will openly admit it, getting into college is a cinch. The problem, of course, is that too many students want to get into the same handful of nameplate colleges, making it seem that the entire market is tight. It most certainly is not.”

UD’s early series on grade inflation, starring Janice Sidley (11/30/03, etc., etc.), looks longwinded next to Twitchell’s condensed version:

“At the turn of the 20th century, one percent of high school graduates attended college; that figure is now close to 70 percent. This is an industry that produces a yearly revenue flow more than six times the revenue generated by the steel industry. …College has become what high school used to be, and thanks to grade inflation, it’s almost impossible to flunk out.”

Twitchell doesn’t, in this excerpt, touch on the other side of the impossibility of flunking out -- the impossibility, for millions of students, of actually graduating (see UD, 5/27/04). Which has produced universities full of wandering disheveled stars…

There are some fine little factoids in Twitchell’s book. Who knew that ye olde University of Southern Mississippi, magic fiefdom of Shelby Thames (12/12/04), is “planning a full-fledged water park”?

Saturday, January 29, 2005


UD is no spring chicken, but she exhibits that pathetic trademark professor thing where an older person cluelessly goes about thinking they’re still young… She’s on her way toward becoming the female equivalent of the moldering male professor who’s still wearing a pony tail even though it's gone all gray and wispy...

One nice thing about UD, though -- she doesn’t give a shit about what young people are doing. She has zero interest in keeping up with the latest whatever. If you can’t learn about it by reading the Arts pages of the New York Times, UD hasn’t learned about it.

Yet, on a recent Google News search, UD found herself intrigued by some news out of her academic home, George Washington University. Turns out there’s a student singing group on campus that’s getting a bit of attention lately. This is from MTV News:

' "[A] group of students at George Washington University is …bringing a cappella to the hoodie [UD doesn’t know what ‘hoodie’ means] and studded-belt set.

They're called Emocapella (spelled with one "p," which, in itself, is way emo) [UD doesn‘t know what 'emo' means], a bunch of sensitive lads who harmonize tunes by emo faves like Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday and Saves the Day at nearly sold-out concerts in activity centers and dorm-room socials all across the GW campus. Once or twice a year, they even pack into rented vans — DIY style — [UD doesn’t know what ‘DIY’ means] and hit up colleges all across the Northeast, hoping to pour out their pain to the masses.

"Actually, part of the reason we started the group was to get girls. Girls like sensitive guys," said Emocapella president (and self-described "sensitive guy") Lee Seligmann. "And it's definitely helped with the girls. We're the only all-guy a-cappella group on campus."

OK, so maybe preaching the emo-gospel isn't the main focus of the group. Seligmann cops to being more of a classic-rock fan himself (Led Zeppelin are his favorite), and is hard-pressed to even define the term "emo." According to him, the whole group is only half serious. But don't tell that to Taking Back Sunday, who invited Emocapella to perform with them back in December 2002.

"They opened for us at one show in Washington, D.C., and it was amazing," Taking Back Sunday guitarist Eddie Reyes said. "We are very flattered that they covered one of our songs."

And don't tell it to the many, many emo fans inhabiting chat rooms and operating blogs all over the Internet. Emocapella, to put it mildly, aren't exactly their favorite group.

"When we first came out, there was a lot of talk on the Internet about us. Lots of 'You guys aren't emo!' and stuff like that," Seligmann laughed. "I kind of think that people in emo and punk bands take themselves very seriously. We mainly do this for fun."

But there are instances in which Emocapella tiptoe the line between fun and dedication. Witness, for example, their rigorous rehearsal schedule ("We practice twice a week for two hours, but usually less," Seligmann said), or the long hours they poured into recording their debut album, the appropriately titled I'm Sorry.

"We recorded the album in two days, in two sessions," Seligmann said. "And the album is selling pretty well. I mean, we have a lot left, but I think it's doing pretty well. But I wouldn't know. I've never really made an album before."

As for the future of Emocapella, Seligmann is brutally honest. The group lost nine members to graduation last semester, and finding new (and sufficiently emo) singers to fill the void is going to be tough. Plus there's the issue of rampant tardiness at Emocapella rehearsals. But the group pledges that it'll still perform the occasional "guerrilla-cappella" concert — basically a spur-of-the-moment show on GW's lawn — because, as Seligmann puts it, "Sometimes people stop and watch. But it usually depends on when we perform and how drunk people are."

But before he calls it a day, Seligmann said he'd probably like to have one more crack at GW's annual "Battle of the A Cappella Groups," which Emocapella has, somewhat improbably, never won.

"Oh, we never win those. The first year, we won 'Most Energetic,' which is kind of like the 'E for Effort' award," Seligmann said. "Last year we didn't win anything. But that's OK. Not winning is way more emo anyway."

It turns out that one of UD's recent, and very impressive, students, Brian Becker, is a member of this group, to which he has returned after a semester in Paris. Brian has agreed to be interviewed by University Diaries about emo and other things. Watch this space.


INSTANT ADDENDUM: Ooh, look what UD just found! Not only is her clever punning post title actually totally old and lame, but emo is beginning to define itself! The plot thickens...

[UD Inserts Skeptical
Parenthetical Commentary into the
Local News Article Directly Below.


Change in leadership, not speakers, cited [uh huh]

Sat, Jan 29, 2005


CLINTON -- Hamilton College will take a closer look at the Kirkland Project, a college committee in the spotlight recently for its selection of outspoken speakers.

Kirk Pillow, associate dean of the faculty, said college President Joan Hinde Stewart has appointed a review committee to look at the programming of the Kirkland Project.

But Pillow said the review is not tied to the committee's recent selection of controversial speakers. [right]

Those speakers included Ward Churchill, a professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder who compared Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi figure; and Susan Rosenberg, who declined a lecturing invitation after it became known she had been imprisoned for 16 years for possessing explosives and linked to a robbery that left two downstate police officers dead.

Pillow said the review was planned because the Kirkland Project's director, Nancy Sorkin Rabinowitz, is going ["]on sabbatical["] this summer.

"This is a fitting time to review the project, given the change in directorship has been planned," he said, "but it's also true that recent events have complicated the situation. The choices have been controversial in recent months."

Pillow said the college has been receiving calls from alumni, community residents and family members of Sept. 11 victims about Churchill's upcoming appearance on Feb. 3. A few of the calls were supportive, but most have been critical, he said.

"The controversy is obscuring all of the great things that happen on our campus all the time," he said. "We don't get coverage for all the great things that happen here." '


[You can't accuse UD (see UD, 10/8/04)of failing to cover the great things ...]

Friday, January 28, 2005


Campus alcohol abuse, corrupt sports programs, conflicts of interest among university trustees, political corruption in the appointment of members of governing boards: one University of Georgia trustee has managed to pack all of these elements of the badly run American university system into one news item.

No doubt, as Donald M. Leebern Jr. complains in the pages of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it’s merely the “warped liberal agenda” of that newspaper which accounts for the attention he’s been getting -- but if only ten or twenty percent of what the AJ-C is reporting about him is true, it does seem newsworthy.

Where shall we start? With a public university system whose Board of Regents is stuffed with “well-heeled political appointees” and “millionaire political contributors” like Mr. Leebern? With Mr. Leebern’s recent decision to “provide his private plane to fly six members of the University of Georgia girls’ gymnastics team and coach Suzanne Yoculan to New York, a clear violation of NCAA rules”?

(Yoculan lives with Leebern; they are going to be married. “A personal relationship with an employee of the University System ought to be reason enough for a regent to resign,” suggests the paper.)

And then there’s the wine Leebern’s company, Georgia Crown, marketed with the university alumni association logo on the label, “in violation of a regents policy” which prohibits University of Georgia trademarks on alcohol.

Plus, “the attorney general ruled last summer that members of the Board could not do business with the University System except in special circumstances.” Wine Emergency!


Immediate Update:

Despite all of this, the governor just reappointed Leebern to the Board of Regents, which he's been on for over a decade.

In the words of the governor's press secretary, "Mr. Leebern is imminently qualified to serve on the Board of Regents."

Okay -- we're willing to wait. But give us a ballpark figure. Another ten years?


Slightly Later Update (January 31): "You are correct. It's our typo," writes an editor at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution to UD. This lets the governor's press secretary off the hook.

[UD wouldn't call a confusion between two words ("imminent" and "eminent") a typo. She'd call it a "mistake."]

…the students at Hamilton College, who happened upon the same photo of Ward Churchill UD did (she linked to it in her post dated 1/26/05) and have now distributed it around campus as part of their protest against his upcoming visit:

Posters have gone up showing Churchill holding a machine gun, questioning whether his appearance is a good use of tuition money and repeating Churchill's "little Eichmanns" quote, school officials said.’

While Hamilton’s students have quickly grasped and acted upon the obvious -- they shouldn’t be asked to underwrite the expression of loathesome reactionary ideas -- faculty and administration are slower on the uptake. They mutter about how everyone’s gotta have an open mind and how, you know, college is about learning to handle shocking new points of view and all.

' "We try to train them to be critical thinkers and to respond intelligently to what they hear," said Nancy Rabinowitz, a comparative-literature professor and director of the program bringing Churchill to Hamilton. "I think the students should hear his whole argument before they boil it down to a few sound bites." '

Hamilton students may be boiling Churchill’s argument down, as Professor Rabinowitz suggests. But Churchill would like to boil Hamilton students alive. He is a hater.

He hates white people, rich people, urban people, and a whole lot of other categories of people.

American universities, like the University of Colorado, where Churchill is a department chair, are free to harbor fanatics with guns, but it’s always nice when people at those universities and in their communities recognize the haters among them and protest against them. Hamilton College is free to honor a man whose revolutionary excitements have made a hater out of him, but UD thinks it’s nice when people at Hamilton recognize what their institution has done and decide to rebel against it.

WARD CHURCHILL (Chair, Ethnic Studies,
University of Colorado at Boulder)

“The individuals in the buildings that they hit were being far too busy acquiring the best cup of cappuccino in New York or Washington DC and arranging dinner dates on their cell phones, eternally braying like mules at the top of their voice and disrupting everybody’s else’s public space. This was a certain gesture of social ecology that [the 9/11 pilots] were engaged in that day. Okay, there are fewer of these folks around now frankly, and, well, I’ll leave the dot dot dot after that one.”

Thursday, January 27, 2005


Lots of news, UDites, even if you don't count the fact that UD's kid is slated to sing with her chorus at a benefit this March at the Kuwaiti Embassy, at which the guests of honor will be Colin Powell and ... ANGELINA JOLIE! (Apparently Jolie has forgiven UD for that little post [UD, 3/29/04] awhile back...)

In other news:

** The Florida Board of Governors has just decisively voted down the chiropractic school that politicians tried to impose upon Florida State University. UD is happy, but not surprised.

** There's a murky tale growing murkier by the minute out of the University of Virginia, involving allegations of sexual misconduct with students by a professor there. He was apparently summarily dismissed from various positions at the university, and of course his name is permanently besmirched, etc. But what has he done? To whom? According to his account, he has done nothing wrong, and he hasn't been told what he's been accused of. He was just told he'd done wrong and the following unpleasant things were about to happen to him...

** Another developing university story, a kind of younger brother to the Summers mess, involves a Dartmouth adminstrator having said (or rather written) something just as obviously true as the statement that men and women have innate differences -- and getting into just as much trouble as Summers is in. The Dartmouth story demonstrates that boys are just as touchy as girls. In the Summers case, the National Organization of Women has demanded his resignation; in the Dartmouth case, a bunch of jocks have demanded this guy's resignation.

His sin? He wrote a private letter a few years ago to a fellow college administrator in which he said the following:

"I am writing to commend you on the decision to eliminate football from your athletic offerings. I wish this were not true but sadly football, and the culture that surrounds it, is antithetical to the academic mission of colleges such as ours."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


It’s not that hard to be happy (to continue the theme of the post directly below). Not as long as the Kirkland Project at Hamilton College exists.

You can sort of trace their line of thought at Kirkland. Having failed to appoint Susan Rosenberg (see UD, 11/13/04 and 12/8/04), they sought revenge upon the New York City policemen and others who blocked her appointment.

They came up with the idea of bringing to campus a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado who will discuss an essay in which he writes that because the people in the World Trade Towers on September 11 worked for “the mighty engine of profit,” they were not “innocent civilians” but “little Eichmanns.”

One look at Kirkland’s latest find tells you what Kirkland sees in him.

Kirkland’s tactic has worked. People are again upset. A Hamilton College spokesman says: “To deny students the opportunity to encounter people outside the academic community is to fail to provide a liberal education.”

UD finds this a peculiar statement. The latest Kirkland find is not from outside the academy, but is a department chair. If the spokesman means outside the academic mainstream, there’s nothing more mainstream than professors using language that would make Leonid Brezhnev blush in order to denounce capitalism and deconstruct its sponsor:

"I don’t want other people in charge of the apparatus of the state as the outcome of a socially transformative process that replicates oppression. I want the state gone: transform the situation to U.S. out of North America. U.S. off the planet. Out of existence altogether. …[So] let’s just start with territoralities often delineated in treaties of fact—territoralities of 500 indigenous nations imbued with an inalienable right to self-determination, definable territoralities which are jurisdictionally separate. Then you’ve got things like the internal diasporic population of African Americans in internal colonies that have been established by the imposition of labor patterns upon them. You’ve got Appalachian whites. Since the U.S. unilaterally violated its treaty obligations, it forfeits its rights—or presumption of rights—under international law. Basically, you’ve got a dismantlement and devolution of the U.S. territorial and jurisdictional corpus into something that would be more akin to diasporic self-governing entities and a multiplicity of geographical locations."

The mighty profit engine currently values these sorts of comments at about a dime a dozen.

But will Kirkland’s strategy backfire? Sure, they’re smiling now, they got a little of their own back … But what happens next? If the free market’s maw chews this guy up and spits him out the way it did Rosenberg, then what?

There’s really only one Contestant Number Three, UD thinks, and she should be available in six months or so.

“The pursuit of happiness is making me miserable,” announces a Canadian journalist in the Toronto Star, by way of introduction to a long article surveying the burgeoning field of “positive psychology.”

It doesn’t make UD miserable. On the contrary, regular readers know [see UD posts dated 9/25/04, 7/15/04, and 7/13/04] that, for UD, extensive reading in the science of happiness is a hoot. She’s even written a poem - an update of a Renaissance poem about happiness - demonstrating the strides we’ve made in the definition and understanding of happiness in our time.

To refresh your memory, she’ll first record the original poem. Then, drawing upon sources in the literature, she’ll offer her own.

Sir Henry Wotton

How happy is he born or taught
That serveth not another’s will,
Whose armor is his honest thought,
And simple truth his highest skill;

Whose passions not his masters are;
Whose soul is still prepared for death,
Untied unto the world with care
Of princes’ grace or vulgar breath;

Who envies none whom chance doth raise,
Or vice; who never understood
The deepest wounds are given by praise,
By rule of state but not of good;

Who hath his life from rumors freed,
Whose conscience is his strong retreat,
Whose state can neither flatterers feed
Nor ruins make accusers great;

Who God doth late and early pray
More of his grace than goods to send,
And entertains the harmless day
With a well-chosen book or friend.

This man is free from servile bands
Of hope to rise or fear to fall,
Lord of himself, though not of lands,
And having nothing, yet hath all.

University Diaries

How high on the State-Trait Cheerfulness Inventory does he score
Among whose signature strengths is self-realization;
Whose most buildable component and societal contributor
Derives from his context of experience-optimalization;

Whose Transgression-Related Interpersonal Motivations
Not his masters are; aye, whose Inspiration Scale
Prepares him to undergo mood elevations
Equal to his Psychological Well-Being Scale and
Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale.

He envies none whom chance doth raise,
But aces his Gratitude Questionnaire;
Upon whose Happiness Formula (H [happiness] - S [set barriers to happiness] + C [circumstances] + V [voluntary variables]) the Lord does gaze
To see impressive Personal Growth Initiative there.

Yea, though his VIA Strengths Inventory
His Psychological Well-Being Scale doth trail,
No matter: God knows the greatest glory
Lies in the Subjective Happiness Scale.

In sum, his happiness set point,
Measured by the Meaning in Life Questionnaire,
Doth all his earthly days anoint
With excellent surcease of care.

Monday, January 24, 2005


...and there's always something happening on that front. For instance, Wyoming has recently made it clear, reports The Casper Star-Tribune, that it intends to retain its crown as Queen of the Mills:

"CHEYENNE --- If the Wyoming Department of Education wants to remove the state's image as a haven for diploma mills, it apparently will have to take action on its own.

Earlier this month the Joint Interim Education Committee voted against introducing an accreditation bill supported by the Department of Education to require private degree-granting, post-secondary universities to become accredited in the state."

Wyoming is now among the few places in America that welcome diploma mills. Make a note of it. Note also this nicely written piece of advice - part of a list of recommendations for the new year - from Matt Simonton, a student at Washington University:

" 9. Buy your Ph.D. from a bogus diploma mill

Here are your options. (1) Remain in school for another grueling decade, slavishly writing your pathetic doctoral dissertation while working a part-time job at Applebee's. (2) Pay a measly $3,600 for a Ph.D. from prestigious Hamilton University, where you can work at a leisurely pace in one of their 'self-based external programs.' All you need is the money, the time to take online courses and a 2,000-word thesis. Plenty of diploma mills, or 'correspondence schools,' exist, ranging from Hamilton, a converted Motel 6 in [drumroll...] Wyoming, to Adam Smith University, which operates out of a hostel in Monrovia, Liberia, to Stanford University (of Arkansas). Sure, many of these institutes of higher learning have been discredited as fraudulent, but hey, if you can pull the wool over the eyes of some corporate interviewer using a degree you purchased for three months' pay at Blockbuster Video, what's stopping you? Earn your Ph.D. in 2005! "


Little Foxes

UD, as you know, lives in Bethesda, an almost-urban suburb of Washington DC. Almost-urban… yet, as she writes this, she is feeling the awe and wonder of just having witnessed, from her living room windows, two foxes “tying.”

Yes, mere yards away from her, on the snowy hillocks of her wooded acre, a pair of orange foxes …

Sunday, January 23, 2005


In her first Mama Reality post (see UD, October 27, 2004), UD described her masochistic craving for Reality Instruction (the term is taken from Saul Bellow) in all things.

She just got a big satisfying wallop of Reality Instruction from Michael Lewis, in the business pages of The Providence Journal . He's writing about the Harvard story that dominated the news until Lawrence Summers began pondering aloud the vas deferens between men and women -- the story about the compensation of Harvard's soon to depart money managers (for background, see UD posts dated 10/17/04 and 1/1//05):

“We have arrived at a point in the money-management game where the going rate for the people who play it well is indefensible even to the people who understand it. No one wants to be seen thinking it is normal for someone to make $25 million a year.

But there's another reason for Harvard's reticence, touched on by the class of 1969. The modern university still likes to pretend that it is not a business.

Or, rather, that it is a business when it is a seller, and a university when it is buyer. It charges people huge sums of money for its services, but then, when it employs them, invokes its special nature as an excuse to pay them as little as possible.

Harvard can decline to pay its money managers market rates in the same spirit that the University of Oklahoma can decline to pay its football players anything at all -- because to do so would violate the sanctity of the university.

Most of the time this above-it-allness is a convenient pose for a university. But this time it is a very expensive pose, as even freshman money managers can turn pro.”

The gist of the reality instruction here is that there are two possibilities, and two possibilities only, for a university:

1.) The university may assume an arrogant, cynical, above-it-all pose and assert that it has some "special nature" or "sanctity" that absolves it from market forces;

2.) or it may get real and play along with the market in all things, since it knows the university is just another business.

What's striking is that for Lewis there is nothing in between #1 and #2. There's not even a whiff of a hint of an intimation in what he has written that a university is indeed a special sort of thing, different from a profit-maximizing business; and that it is precisely the glory of excellent universities like Harvard that they produce the sort of alumni capable of posing, with clarity and a sense of responsibility, basic moral questions about limits.

"The drive to scholarly overproduction which now reaches even the least selective institutions and touches every corner and niche of academia is a key underlying source of the degradation of the entire scholarly enterprise. It produces repetition. It encourages obscurantism. It generates knowledge that has no declared purpose or passion behind it, not even the purpose of anti-purpose, of knowledge undertaken for knowledge’s sake. It fills the academic day with a tremendous excess of peer review and distractions. It makes it increasingly hard to know anything, because to increase one’s knowledge requires every more demanding heuristics for ignoring the tremendous outflow of material from the academy. It forces overspecialization as a strategy for controlling the domains to which one is responsible as a scholar and teacher.

You can’t blame anyone in particular for this. Everyone is doing the simple thing, the required thing, when they publish the same chapter from an upcoming manuscript in six different journals, when they go out on the conference circuit, when they churn out iterations of the same project in five different manuscripts over ten years. None of that takes conscious effort: it’s just being swept along by an irresistible tide. It’s the result of a rigged market: it’s as if some gigantic institutional machinery has placed an order for scholarship by the truckload regardless of whether it’s wanted or needed. It’s like the world’s worst Five-Year Plan ever: a mountain of gaskets without any machines to place them in.

You could try to contest this if you wanted to measure academic productivity by looking to the importance or significance of particular scholarly work. But even that inevitably will lead to some ghastly results, whether you use a citation index or Google Scholar.

So my simple suggestion is this: stop. Administrations and faculties need to stop caring how much someone writes or publishes or says, or even how important what they’ve published is according to some measurable or quantifiable metric. Not only because trying to measure productivity in terms of scholarship destroys scholarship, but because it detracts from the truly important kind of productivity in an academic institution.

What really matters is this: how different are your students when they graduate from what they would have been had they not attended your institution, and how clearly can you attribute that difference to the things that you actively do in your classrooms and your institution as a whole? What, in short, did you teach them that they would not have otherwise known? How did you change them as people in a way that has some positive connection to their later lives?

That can be about income. It can be about happiness or satisfaction. It can be about civic or political contribution to their communities. It can be about competence. It can be about imagination. Not all these things can be quantified, but all of them can or ought to be made as concrete as possible.

Many colleges and universities, public and private, have gotten lazy about this essential task. They’ve relied on evidence of the income gap, and on hazy assumptions about the interior impact of a college education on character, personality, and ability. We fall back on profiles of our accomplished alumni and so implicitly claim credit for their being what they now are—but our collective ability to account clearly for such particular results in terms of particular things we do is often far weaker than we let on. Truthfully, alumni for most colleges and universities do that job for their alma mater better than the alma mater can do for itself.

I can tell you what difference I think going to Wesleyan made for me, but if I were going to be skeptical about my own recollections, I might wonder if I would be attributing to a coherent institutional design the accident of my encounter with particular individual professors and a certain amount of auto-didactic effort which was made easier by the ambiance of the general environment and associated resources. Hanging around with a bunch of smart peers and smart teachers in a materially bountiful environment might help most people to form and sharpen their intellects and skills, but I’m not entirely sure that most colleges and universities are entitled to strongly claim that the good results of that process systematically derive from the careful design of their four-year programs. Reading Walter Kirn’s “Lost in the Meritocracy” in this month’s Atlantic Monthly [for UD's take on this article, see UD, January 21, below], describing how in his years at Princeton he and his friends shammed their way through classes and began to have the terrible suspicion that the professors and administrators were shamming right along with them, my doubts redoubled.

It’s the only productivity that matters, however we try to measure or account for it. What do we do by design that we can reasonably say produces a positive, identifiable difference in the lives of our students and our wider community? Scholarship enters that question somewhere, but hardly at all in the ghastly spew of excess publication that contemporary academia demands."

[see UD, 9/3/04]

‘[Monica] Saumoy, [a] pre-med student [currently at Princeton], said she is not sure that [graduating from Princeton] will help her get a spot in medical schools, where top students from schools with less prestige than Princeton will also apply.

"I've heard that med schools don't really care what school you came from," Saumoy said. '

…know what this journalist means, and know that he’s right [see many January UD posts, below, and archived]. His mixed-up metaphors, however, would confuse anyone else...

But asking wimpy trustees to take point in shooting down what the Legislature already had approved and financed is typical of the kind of political calculus from which the Board of Governors is supposed to insulate the universities.”

Saturday, January 22, 2005


JVC Comments is back (under a new name), after a short break from blogging. He's put up a series of beautifully written posts about the travel he did while he was away.



By Mike Boehm

Times Staff Writer

January 22, 2005

Internationally known artists Chris Burden and Nancy Rubins have retired abruptly from their longtime professorships at UCLA in part because the university refused to suspend a graduate student who used a gun during a classroom performance art piece, a spokeswoman for the artists said Friday.

"They feel this was sort of domestic terrorism. There should have been more outrage and a firmer response," said Sarah Watson, a director at Gagosian Gallery in Beverly Hills, which represents Burden and Rubins. "People feared for their lives."

Neither Burden nor Rubins would comment when contacted by The Times. They submitted their retirement paperwork Dec. 20, over the school's winter break.

The handgun incident occurred Nov. 29 at UCLA's graduate art studio annex in Culver City.

The brief performance involved a simulation of Russian roulette, in which the student appeared before the class holding a handgun, put in what appeared to be a bullet, spun the cylinder, then pointed the gun at his head and pulled the trigger, according to one student's account that was confirmed by law enforcement sources. The weapon didn't fire. The student quickly left the room, then the audience heard a shot from outside. What ensued is not clear, but police said no one was hurt.

The incident prompted investigations by university police and the dean of students' office into whether the student violated criminal law or student conduct codes. There is some confusion over whether the gun was real.

The Los Angeles County district attorney's office determined Friday that there was insufficient evidence to bring criminal misdemeanor charges, spokeswoman Jane Robison said.

Lawrence Lokman, UCLA's assistant vice chancellor for communication, said the dean of students' office was continuing to investigate whether university rules against weapon possession were violated, which could lead to disciplinary action. University officials said no action had been taken and that the student was continuing his studies.

Lokman said students can be suspended immediately, without the usual process of hearings and appeals, if the dean of students' office considers them a safety threat to themselves or others. In this case, he said, after an assessment by "qualified psychological experts," the dean's office determined that suspension was not warranted. Watson, however, said Burden and Rubins felt that the student should have been suspended while the investigations were continuing.

Burden made his name in the early 1970s with influential and controversial performance art. In his best-known piece, "Shoot," performed in a Santa Ana gallery while he was a graduate student at UC Irvine, Burden had an assistant stand 15 feet away and shoot him in the upper arm with a .22-caliber rifle.

Watson said Burden's work was controlled and that the audiences never felt in jeopardy. The UCLA case is different, she said, because it was a surprise action and "there was genuine fear."

Even before the incident, Watson said, Burden and Rubins were unhappy at UCLA because of budget cutbacks and bureaucratic issues that "got in the way of them adequately running an art department." Burden headed the new genres program, which includes performance, installation and video and digital art; Rubins oversaw sculpture instruction. What they perceived as university officials' lack of urgency about the handgun incident, Watson said, "was sort of the last straw."

Burden, 58, and Rubins, 52, are married. He had taught at UCLA since 1978, and she since 1982. Burden stopped doing performance art in the late 1970s and transitioned to sculpture, often making pieces that reflect on political issues or creating erector-set-like works inspired by the world of civil engineering.

Rubins is known for huge assemblage works made from parts of scrapped vehicles and appliances, including a sculpture of steel wire and old airplane parts that dominates an outdoor plaza at the Museum of Contemporary Art in downtown Los Angeles.

Burden, whose annual salary was $128,300, and Rubins, who earned $88,300 per year, both were scheduled to teach courses and advise master's degree candidates during the current winter quarter and coming spring quarter — duties Carolyn Campbell, a spokeswoman for the School of the Arts and Architecture, said are being assumed by other faculty members.

University officials provided no details about the handgun performance, which took place at the Warner Building, a warehouse-like structure where graduate art students have studios.

The student who did the performance is Joseph Deutch, 25, according to the campus police log entry on the case. Campus police said that in the course of the investigation, Deutch handed over a gun that was not a real firearm. Robison, the district attorney's spokeswoman, said there was "insufficient evidence to show a gun was discharged or any bullet fired."

Barbara Drucker, who chairs the art department, and Ron Athey, a visiting instructor who taught the course and was present during the performance, conducted a meeting at the Warner Building a week after the incident to dispel rumors and allow students to air any concerns, as well as to emphasize rules against possessing weapons on university property, a university spokeswoman said. Athey, known for piercing and cutting his body as a form of performance, did not return calls.

A graduate student who attended the meeting said a few students expressed safety concerns but more were alarmed that the university, if it disciplined the artist, would be cracking down on freedom of expression.

UCLA has 11 remaining tenured art professors. Those contacted declined to comment about their colleagues' retirement; others did not return calls or referred them to university spokespeople.

Christopher Waterman, dean of the School of the Arts and Architecture, said Friday that he didn't foresee the art department losing stature despite the abrupt loss of professors he described as "world-renowned artists, great creative forces."

"Change is a natural thing, and we're looking forward to conversations" about strategy for shaping the department's future in the search to fill the two vacant professorships, he said. '


UD’s father-in-law, now 91, went to high school in Warsaw with Jan Nowak, a great defender of freedom who died yesterday. Nowak’s book, Courier from Warsaw, detailed his regular harrowing trips between London and occupied Poland to alert the world to the Warsaw ghetto uprising and the Polish underground. But in his long life Nowak also headed Radio Free Europe, advised American presidents on how best to support Polish dissidents, and generally took eloquent stands on any number of issues involving democratization, social justice, post-war Polish/Jewish relations, and internal Polish politics.

' "He served the nation in the most difficult moments of our history," former Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek was quoted as saying by the PAP news agency. "I have a feeling of great loss." '

Friday, January 21, 2005


Hokay, UD’s husband ran out this evening to the local Borders and elsewhere to stock up on stuff before the big winter storm (well, six inches or so are predicted) that’s about to hit DC. The lines were too long at the movie rental place, so he gave up on that. But he brought back from Borders the latest Atlantic magazine for UD, because she wanted to read “Lost in the Meritocracy,” by Walter Kirn, about which a lot of academic bloggers are blogging (scroll down to January 13).

There are lines in Kirn’s essay which echo almost perfectly lines in an earlier essay on a similar subject by Gregg Easterbrook. For instance (as UD quoted in an earlier entry titled "Being Bland," and dated 1/12/05), Easterbrook argues that

The college admissions process has become almost entirely a test of your ability to please adults — or specifically the sorts of adults who are college admissions officers. There's nothing wrong with pleasing such people. But once you get out into the world, where there are no rules and things are not structured and your own initiative is more important than your ability to please, then everything changes. I do think we've seen that the top schools increasingly are producing extremely conventional people. Not that there's anything wrong with producing conventional people, but you might think that graduates from Yale or Wellesley or Amherst would be the ones to go on to be really artistic and creative or become great engineers or inventors and make important discoveries. You're seeing instead that the important discoveries and the artistic creativity are coming from people out of places like Colby and Colorado College — because they haven't gone through this process of sacrificing their lives to conventionality.

Similarly, Kirn describes chatting with a friend from his ordinary Midwestern town one summer between Princeton semesters, a friend who, despite his modest education, has been reading Emerson with seriousness and is eager to talk about him with Kirn -- a person he assumes (Kirn’s a Princeton English major, after all) to be just as eager and more knowledgeable:

I didn’t know how to tell him [that] I couldn’t quote the Transcendentalists as accurately and effortlessly as he could. I couldn’t quote anyone. I’d honed more-marketable skills: for flattering those in authority without appearing to, for ranking artistic reputations according to the latest academic fashions, for matching my intonations and vocabulary to the background of my listener, for placing certain words in smirking quotation marks and rolling my eyes when someone spoke too earnestly about some ‘classic’ work of ‘literature,’ for veering left when the conventional wisdom went right and then doubling back if the consensus changed. … If my schooling had taught me anything, it was how to mold myself - my words, my range of references, my body language - into whatever shape the day required …

Unfortunately, Kirn’s essay ends up arguing for something that I don’t think Kirn intended to argue for. One reasonable conclusion to draw from “Lost in the Meritocracy” is that only extremely rich people should go to schools like Princeton. Kirn describes a college culture in which the vast majority of the students -- rolling-in-dough Percodan-snorters -- are happy and well-adjusted, and the tiny minority of middle-class students like Kirn are miserable and alienated.

Why wouldn’t they be miserable? Kirn describes the rich majority as unceasingly sadistic toward the middle-class minority on campus.

Kirn’s eagerness to be truly educated at Princeton, for instance, marks him as a serf who deserves to be spat upon. It bothers Kirn that he feels like a fraud in his literature classes, whereas the rich students take to intellectual fakery with the insouciance they have brought to the many other forms of fakery in their lives. Their affectless irony, honed over two decades of school and domestic existence, allows them to sail through the poses and hypocrisies of the classroom setting, but Kirn has trouble adopting their ways. In a kind of Nick Carraway -- Tom Buchanan dynamic, his earnest Midwestern ambition keeps making a fool of him.

Kirn says he only began to be educated, intellectually as well as morally, when he left the feudal world of Princeton behind.

To which more than one reader, reflecting upon Kirn's essay, might say: What a waste. An extremely rich student could have taken Kirn’s place and gotten all sorts of wonderful things out of the experience.

…headlines the Boston Herald in today’s follow-up article to yesterday’s piece about Stephen Goldsmith, a former mayor of Indianapolis and a current professor, specializing in privatization, at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government.

Whether or not he is, as the Herald claims, in flagrant conflict of interest, Goldsmith is a busy man. He is a “top domestic advisor to President Bush,” a senior vice president of a firm that makes its money off of privatization, and a Harvard professor. [Wait a minute... lemme check something... WOW! Look at his website! He's even busier than I thought! A guy this good at scholarship, government, and business ought to be sized up for the next President of Harvard -- especially now that Summers's lease hath a shorter and shorter date.]

“This guy is the patron saint of privatization… Harvard, which promotes this guy as a scholar, should have full disclosure of his conflict of interest,” says Jeff Waggoner, whose job involves arguing against public contracts being awarded to private companies like the one Goldsmith runs.

“One local professor,” writes John Strahinich, the reporter for the Herald who’s trying to make something of all this, “said he wasn’t surprised. ‘I’ve always felt the Kennedy School is an ethically challenged place,’ said William Mayer, a noted author and professor at Northeastern. ‘This is the sort of thing that ought to be revealed. I don’t know why they don’t.’ ”

Thursday, January 20, 2005


In today's USA Today.

FORT WAYNE, Ind. - Landing at Fort Wayne International Airport, you don't sense anything is amiss. In fact, it's all quite pleasant.

Grandmother-types hand out sugar cookies to arriving visitors. The Avis clerk is downright friendly and efficient. And driving into town you pass golf courses and garden apartments, high schools and one of the locals' favorites, The Oyster Bar.

But once you arrive downtown, you start looking at the natives with a keener eye. Are they really as dumb as people say? Hard to tell, although the local hockey team is called the Komets. Yes, with a K.

This heartland city of 255,000 has been dubbed the dumbest town in all the land by Men's Health magazine. It came in dead last, losing out at the bottom of the heap to the likes of Laredo, Texas.
The survey is the talk of the town or at least among those who read, and there appear to be thousands. More on the readers in a bit.

A front-page column in the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel last week came with the bold, all-caps headline: SO THEY SAY WE'RE NOT THE BRIGHTEST BULB IN THE THE BOX ... WHAT DO THEY KNOW?

Columnist Kevin Leininger suggested their "F" was basically "an evil Liberal Media Conspiracy." He threw out the fact that 8 of the 10 smartest cities were in blue states, and eight of the dumbest were in red states. He doesn't think it's a coincidence that "a certain amount of cultural elitism was at work here."

While it would be understandable if Fort Wayne residents were seeing red these days, most are taking their newfound reputation for stupidity in stride.

"I always thought we were the fattest, not the dumbest," says Angela Jurczak, 26, a junior at IPFW, which stands for Indiana University-Purdue University at Fort Wayne.

The elementary education major says it's hard to believe her hometown came in dead last in the smarts department. "I would have guessed we're at least a C. Not an F. That's kind of sad."

Sad, yes, but many residents also think it's dead wrong, questioning how the magazine came up with its findings.

"In each case, we try to gather enough statistics from good sources to get what we think is an accurate snapshot," says Matt Marion, who oversees the monthly MetroGrades page for Men's Health. "We feel pretty confident that what we're showing is the state of the city, where it is, how it's doing."

Marion even offers a little advice for city residents. "If any of this resonates to be true ... look inward to see what you can do to make yourself better."

Dan O'Connell, head of the Fort Wayne/Allen County Convention and Visitors Bureau, admits Fort Wayne is "sort of a vanilla city" but says he was "floored" by the study, citing the number of museums, colleges and universities that call Fort Wayne home. "We're spending $40 million-plus ($64 million, actually) on a new library," he says. "I think that says something about our citizens. We're building a library, not a stadium."

Jeff Krull agrees. As head of the Allen County Public library since 1986, he is overseeing the expansion, which will house 2.6 million volumes, more than three times the national average for a city its size. Fort Wayne long has been known for its library system, including a genealogy section that rivals that of the Mormons in Salt Lake City.

"We're the largest public genealogical collection in the nation," says Krull, a Williams College grad. Last year, 2 million people used the library, borrowing 5 million books, he says. And that was with two of the 13 branches closed.

Judy Zehner of Fort Wayne's Science Central, an impressive hands-on children's museum, wasn't as politic as Krull, asking questions left and right about the survey.

"I mean, how many cities do have one?" she asks, referring to the survey's Nobel Prize winner criterion. "You're getting my dander up. I'll tell you that!"

Zehner admitted the city is still recovering from the "manufacturing mentality." And, she adds, "our school system is hurting from budget crunches ... but we have to move on from that."

Mayor Graham Richard is putting a good face on the survey, too, but he realizes the potential damage to the city's long-term reputation.

"It's unfortunate these things come out, and you try to find out how they did this," says the Princeton grad over tea in his ninth floor offices overlooking the city.

The mayor talked of the city's blue-collar roots and the hard work of citizens to build Fort Wayne into the second largest city in the state, behind Indianapolis.

But the days when Fort Wayne manufactured the first washing machines, TV sets and refrigerators are long past.

Richard looks upon the study as a "rear-view mirror," saying he's more interested in the future and in getting the city's "best and brightest" to come back, a trend he sees slowly happening with the arrival of a few small high-tech companies. "We're in the transition period."

But Gerry Prokopowicz, who served as Lincoln Scholar for nine years at Fort Wayne's Lincoln Museum, says more needs to be done to get the city out of the dunce corner. "Some people in Fort Wayne are aware that the steady diminishment of its intellectual capital is directly connected to the town's stagnant economy and are trying to do something about it," says Prokopowicz, who teaches history at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C. "Unfortunately, they face a strong current of anti-intellectualism mixed with complacency and ignorance that characterizes much of the local business leadership."

Prokopowicz says what discouraged him most about the study was a recent quote he read from a Fort Wayne official who said he didn't pay much attention to these things.

"Maybe it's time to start paying attention to these quality of life issues," he says. "Maybe it's not always the messenger's fault."

John Commorato Jr. at Hyde Brothers Booksellers on Wells Street hasn't yet fled but, like Prokopowicz, he admits he's tempted. He'd like to see the city be more welcoming to the arts underground which, he says, is thriving despite little encouragement.

As for the intelligence of the residents, he has solid proof it exists: the used books that come and go from the cluttered store, which has volumes stacked from floor to ceiling. "Used bookstores are usually only as good as the people locally, and most of what comes in the door is local," he says.

No one was reading at Cindy's Diner ("We serve the whole world, fifteen at a time") one morning last week, but all customers lining the counter had heard about the survey.

When John Scheele, the affable owner and short-order cook, announces a reporter is in their midst looking for intelligent life in Fort Wayne, Stephen Hinkle, president of the local Easter Seals organization, pipes up immediately. "That's an oxymoron!" Which he then points out is a pretty big word for such a stupid city.

"A lot of people here play "dumb, says Darrell Jaggers, president of the Salin Bank and Trust Company. "He's like the farmer who says he doesn't know anything when the city slicker shows up. It's a quiet kind of thing. It's very interesting."

Gloria Diaz, a Fort Wayne native and columnist for the Fort Wayne Reader, the local arts and entertainment newspaper, thinks the city suffers as much from low self-esteem as low grades.

"I tend to agree with the study," says Diaz, arguing that the city has failed to emphasize such attractions as its inexpensive real estate, for example, as a lure for new blood and business. (The median price for an existing home in Fort Wayne is $99,700, compared with $188,500 nationwide, according to the National Association of Realtors.)

She also thinks residents are unwilling to spend on what's important, like education. "You have to spend money to make money."

Russ Choka, the 81-year-old owner of the Coney Island hot dog shop ("Our Buns are Steamed"), is more circumspect.

"What do you expect me to say?" he asks.

"I've traveled all around the world, and nothing tops (Fort Wayne). They may be bigger but not better. Why do people always come back here to die if it's so bad, if we're so dumb?"

He pauses, then wonders: "I don't sound stupid, do I?"


[ps: Guess this is the Men's Health magazine they're talking about. Looks really dumb.]

Laura Bush and UD are reading the same thing.

Today’s New York Times has a front page feature about her in which the reporter asks what book she has on her night table at the moment.

The ‘really, really wonderful’ Essays of E.B. White, she answers.

UD picked up the essays at Louise Horn‘s estate sale (see UD post dated 12/13/04) a few weeks back, and she’s been reading one or two of them every evening. She likes White’s description of William Strunk, Jr., author of the iconic Elements of Style:

" [The book] was known on the Cornell campus in my day as ‘the little book,’ with the stress on the word ‘little.’ I must have once owned a copy, for I took English 8 under Professor Strunk in 1919 and the book was required reading… [It] was privately printed (Ithaca, N.Y.) and …copyrighted in 1918 by the author.

It is a forty-three page summation of the case for cleanliness, accuracy, and brevity in the use of English. Its vigor is unimpaired, and for sheer pith I think it probably sets a record that is not likely to be broken.

…From every line there peers out at me the puckish face of my professor, his short hair parted neatly in the middle and combed down over his forehead, his eyes blinking incessantly behind steel-rimmed spectacles as though he had just emerged into strong light, his lips nibbling each other like nervous horses, his smile shuttling to and fro in a carefully edged mustache.

…He despised the expression ‘student body,’ which he termed gruesome, and made a special trip downtown to the Alumni News office one day to protest the expression and suggest that ‘studentry’ be substituted, a coinage of his own which he felt was similar to ‘citizenry.’



" They blew it last year. The most applications in GW history and instead of cutting down on the number they accepted, they took the largest class ever, and dropped GW's ranking to 52nd in the nation. Now, with the recently announced drop in Early Decision I applications, we're seeing the long-term results of decisions that put profits ahead of prestige.

... [George Washington] University officials should be spending less time giving themselves pay raises and more time considering the best interests of the students.

For example, in 2004, President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg was one of 13 university presidents making more than $600,000 a year. Instead of allowing himself to be put into the ranks of the highest paid university officials in the nation, he should be more concerned with putting his students into one of the highest ranked Universities in the country. While Trachtenberg has gotten pay raises every year since 2001, GW has managed to drop lower in rank.

Then again, maybe that's because there's a correlation between his pay and the number of student applications. "(Trachtenberg) added that his salary is determined based on the quality of GW's management, the number of freshman applications and the value of the University's endowment" (GW Hatchet, Nov. 22, 2004). So basically every time GW takes more students - and incidentally lowers its selectivity rating - Trachtenberg earns a pay raise.

Well, that may no longer be an issue. This year Early Decision I applications dropped by almost 200, to around 950. If it turns out that GW's dropping rank is making potential students look to other places, will anything be done? If regular decision application numbers also drop, will President Trachtenberg take a pay cut? Is anything at all being done to attempt to bring GW back up after this year's slip to 52nd in the nation?

"Now, prompted by the debate raging over the future of a plan for a chiropractic school at Florida State University, [Florida Senate President Tom] Lee wants to keep lobbyists from serving on boards that govern the state's public universities, including the boards of trustees at each school and the statewide Board of Governors.

'We have 17.4 million Floridians,' said Lee, R-Brandon. 'We can't find 100 talented people who don't butter their bread with the Florida Legislature to serve on [these boards]? Give me a break.'

In the case of the universities, Lee wants to avoid the appearance of lobbyists being pressured by legislators to support programs such as the chiropractic school, funded last year by the Legislature at the insistence of FSU alum and then-Senate President Jim King -- even though the university did not then and still does not want it."

He's Drew Westen, a psychologist at Emory University. Here's some of what he said:

“[The question of the] shortage of women in senior posts in science and engineering is … a scientific question… Do men and women differ in math ability? ….[F]emales tend to score higher in tests of language … boys tend to be much more likely than girls to score at the extremes, [both to have more] learning disabilities… [and be] exceptional at math. ... [T]here is some emerging evidence linking abilities to sex … [But] biology findings favor women as much as men…[Women are much stronger than men linguistically.] … [But gender stereotypes as children are raised are also in play.]…Did President Summers misspeak? … [I don't know, but I] hope this…won’t deter Summers from raising … disquieting questions…”

Don't listen to Westen, though. He's prejudiced. He hasn't been through Emory's diversity workshop. Look at his department webpage:

'Dr. Westen received his B.A. at Harvard University, an M.A. in Social and Political Thought at the University of Sussex (England), and his Ph.D. in clinical Psychology at the University of Michigan, where he subsequently taught for six years. For several years he was Chief Psychologist at Cambridge Hospital and Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School. Prior to moving to Emory in 2002, he was at the Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders at Boston University. His major areas of research are personality disorders, eating disorders, emotion regulation, implicit (unconscious) processes, psychotherapy effectiveness, and adolescent psychopathology. His holiday song, "Oy, to be a Goy on Christmas," still airs on the radio in New York during the holiday season.'

Not only does Westen's Harvard pedigree render him incapable of dispassion. His rank bigotry against Christians makes him little more than an object of pity.



'PINKER: Look, the truth cannot be offensive. Perhaps the hypothesis is wrong, but how would we ever find out whether it is wrong if it is “offensive” even to consider it? People who storm out of a meeting at the mention of a hypothesis, or declare it taboo or offensive without providing arguments or evidence, don’t get the concept of a university or free inquiry.'


Wednesday, January 19, 2005


The Lawrence Summers business has now become an intellectual tsunami and an institutional firestorm, by turns drowning and scalding Harvard’s beleaguered leader. In a desperate bid to save himself, Summers conferred last Tuesday with a group of high-powered women academics. “I want to listen, mainly,” he said at the time. “And, frankly, I want to see if there’s a way I can get myself out of this mess.”

After a three-hour conference, both parties emerged with a plan by which the divisions could be healed and Summers could maintain his stewardship of the university. Summers and a spokeswoman for the group took turns at the microphone in a hastily called joint press conference, during which they described in detail a purification ceremony that will take place on Saturday in the room where Summers’s comments were uttered.

“What I’m going to do,” Summers said, “is sprinkle salt over the doorway and windowsills of the room. I’ll then light a white candle. Before the ceremony, I will have prepared a fireproof bowl with garlic, peppermint, clove, thistle, sweet grass, and sage in it. I’ll light it so it smolders, and I’ll then recite the following spell repeatedly:

In the name of the Eternal Lady and Lord I bid thee part.
I consecrate and clear this space.
Let nothing but joy linger here.

Once everything’s finished burning, I’ll go outside with the ash and sprinkle it over the earth, our Mother.”

Tuesday, January 18, 2005


From a GWU library representative:

"I realized this in early November and ordered all of the Pynchon books we didn't have. It sometimes takes a while for them to arrive and be processed. This is definitely the kind of feedback I need, though, in trying to fill in gaps in the collection. I'm going to go ahead and rush order another copy of Crying in the meantime."


[for background, see UD below, 1/17/05]

'Nancy Hopkins, a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who once led an investigation of sex discrimination there that led to changes in hiring and promotion, walked out midway through [Harvard President Lawrence] Summers' remarks.

"When he started talking about innate differences in aptitude between men and women, I just couldn't breathe because this kind of bias makes me physically ill," Hopkins said.'


One of UD's readers who is a George Washington University student pointed out in a comment a few weeks ago that GW's library doesn't own a copy of Thomas Pynchon's great postmodern novel, The Crying of Lot 49.

UD just wanted to mention that she's relayed the problem to the English department's library representative, who has sent a formal request for the novel to the subject specialist at the library.
[see UD, 7/12/04]

From a commemoration of Marjorie Williams [see UD, 1/17/05]:

"In 1990 she captured the vanity and the grasping that would ultimately undo Bush the First's budget director Richard Darman in [a] 10,000-word profile for the Washington Post Magazine. Apparently stunned into stupefaction by the Williams gaze, Darman takes Marjorie to his home overlooking the Potomac where it's his idea to lead her on a narrated tour (the wife and kids aren't there) at jog-speed. First the priceless view of the river, then quickly through the living room and up the stairs as he repels questions about the family photos and into his bedroom, outfitted with a pair of four-poster twin beds. Marjorie notes aloud that he's reading T.S. Eliot's "Four Quartets," and he amends sharply, 'Re-reading.'"

Monday, January 17, 2005


Lord knows UD enjoys giving Harvard a hard time, but she's having trouble joining the hordes of women storming out of his lectures and calling him "pompous" for having said at a recent meeting of economists that there seem to be innate differences between men and women. Some people might "prefer to believe" that differences in math and science performance, for instance, are entirely social in nature, but "these are things that need to be studied."

Or at least Summers said something like that. No one seems to have recorded his comments, which Summers, now under fire, says were in any case not his own views, but the views of some researchers, which he was summarizing for the audience. Plus, say conference organizers, he was "asked to be provocative."

Anyway, UD is offended. UD is way offended. UD is offended by the elitist snobbery that made this meeting of top economists "invitation-only." In words that UD trusts she was able to deploy non-pompously, one of the offendeds explained that only "this country's most accomplished scholars" could come. Humph.
1958 - 2005

"In Washington … I've always felt right at home. There, I have the pleasure of falling toward the raffish end of the fashion spectrum. (Trust me, it isn't hard.) It's an easy city -- small, leafy, navigable; a place where you can have a green backyard just a 10 or 15 minute drive from downtown.

Of course it's a hive of conformity and caution, but that's part of what I like about it--about covering it, anyway. The mixture of that brittle, conservative set of social conventions and all the messy human stuff that goes on inside and among the people who try to climb to the top of the heap makes for such rich material. A lot of my stories (chiefly, my work is writing long, intensive profiles of people in government and politics) are really about what Washington admires, and why, and what it says about the political culture.

… I love working this seam between the accepted narrative, usually hammered out between the Washington press corps and its sources, and the grubby human nature stuff that is nearly always as plain as the nose on your face. Washington's status codes are charmingly straightforward: An assistant secretary is better than a deputy assistant secretary, but sitting next to a deputy assistant secretary is better than sitting next to a Cabinet member's wife. As in a Jane Austen novel, it is this very hierarchical, preordained quality that throws the city's strivings into high relief; no one gets distracted by wondering if they got the right pedicure."

Sunday, January 16, 2005



GW’s basketball team, though it lost its last game, continues to be a big story. Here’s some pretty obscure language from a Washington Post article about the loss:

"The whole affair was wild. Out of rhythm for much of the afternoon, the Colonials could not buy a basket in their half-court offense before deciding to embark on a 17-0 binge and knot the score with 7 1/2 minutes left. U-Mass.'s Chris Chadwick and GW's T.J. Thompson traded huge baskets in the final 28 seconds of regulation like pugs trading overhand rights.

There was also that battle of diminutive coaches frantically working the sideline, GW's Hobbs vs. U-Mass.'s Steve Lappas, a genuine beggar for calls. They played a no-harm, no-ambulance game approved by a liberal officiating crew.

As a whole, when neither their vertical leap nor their jumpers worked, the Colonials finally started to move their feet laterally, cutting off angles and lanes. That's why they came back.
Via the very promising new website,
Inside Higher Ed
[see links to the right]:

(They picked this up from American Prospect. The book - University, Inc., by Jennifer Washburn - isn't out yet; this is an excerpt.)

"[W]hen the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis’ longtime director, Professor John D. Graham, was nominated by President George W. Bush to become the government's "regulatory czar" at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (part of the Office of Management and Budget), it helped to expose just how extensive Harvard’s financial conflicts really were.

Congressional hearings revealed that Graham's center solicited tobacco money and worked with the tobacco industry to disparage the risks of secondhand smoke. (Harvey Fineberg, a dean at the Harvard School of Public Health, demanded that one check from Philip Morris be returned. In response, Graham wrote to the company asking if it might send the $25,000 back to the Harvard center via the Philip Morris subsidiary Kraft Foods instead.)

Graham's center also argued that cell-phone use by drivers should not be restricted, even though its own research, which was funded by AT&T Wireless Communications, showed that such use could lead to a thousand additional highway deaths a year. As a member of the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific advisory board subcommittee on dioxin, a known human carcinogen, Graham argued that reducing dioxin levels might "do more harm … than good." His Harvard center, meanwhile, was heavily funded by dioxin producers.

So how does this growing web of academic-industry ties affect research outcomes? A vast body of work suggests that industry-funded research is far from impartial. In 1996, Stanford researcher Mildred Cho co-authored a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine that found that 98 percent of papers based on industry-sponsored research reflected favorably on the drugs being examined, compared with 79 percent of papers based on research not funded by industry.

An analysis published in The Journal of the American Medical Association in 1999 found that studies of cancer drugs funded by the pharmaceutical industry were nearly eight times less likely to reach unfavorable conclusions than similar studies funded by nonprofit organizations.

More recently, a systematic review of 1,140 clinical trial studies, published by researchers at Yale in 2003, concluded that, from cancer to arthritis to cholesterol, the evidence is overwhelming that when research is industry-sponsored, it is "significantly more likely to reach conclusions that [are] favorable to the sponsor" than non–industry-funded research.

Far from being independent watchdogs capable of dispassionate inquiry, universities are increasingly joined at the hip to the very market forces the public has entrusted them to check, creating problems that extend far beyond the research lab."


“For President Bush's second inauguration this week, soldiers in full battle gear and toting M-16 rifles equipped with grenade launchers will be on hand to protect a restricted, pedestrian-only zone from George Washington University to Capitol Hill and everything in between.”

Ah, to be sure they’re envying us over at the University of Utah! Students and faculty there can carry their own wee guns, yes; but here it’s about grenade launchers and M-16s …

UD’s brogue is onaccounta she’s about to begin teaching, this Tuesday, her Modern Irish Literature course -- though already the Thursday meeting of the class has been cancelled, GW having decided to close the campus on Inauguration Day. … UD is always being shooed off campus because of IMF protests (see UD, 10/1/04), or presidential speeches (3/25/04), or inaugurations.

Joyce’s still sad music of humanity hasn’t much of a chance here.

In Snapshots from Home, UD has chronicled, among other things, the pretty much non-stop excitement of teaching in Foggy Bottom -- the presidential candidates on the quad (UD, 3/25/04), the white spy blimps in the sky (UD, 9/29/04), Crossfire in the student center (10/30/04 and 1/7/05). It’s hard for her to imagine a university more ‘of the moment,’ and less inclined to quiet reflection, than GW. Her literature classes take place amid the large din of jets in and out of Reagan National, and the small din of cellphones pulsing in her students’ pockets. When UD attempts to reconstitute for her listeners Stephen’s morbidity, guilt, humor, and self-disgust, his intricate hidden self, she knows that the blatancy of the famous world which is her setting will always shout down her efforts.

And yet, and yet, and yet -- perhaps the victory, for UD, is sweeter than it’d be if she taught at William and Mary. I mean the victory that occurs when you occasionally overcome the power of all that noise; when you notice in some of your students an awakening of real attentiveness, real seriousness.

Saturday, January 15, 2005


Faithful readers know that UD follows with panting enthusiasm all of the latest studies on human happiness -- who's happy, how they got happy, how she can get happy, how she can stay happy (see UD posts dated 7/13/04, 7/15/04 and 9/25/04). Fortunately for UD, happiness is a growth-industry. Many many books and articles dedicate themselves to UD's exhilaration.

The latest Economist magazine (a publication UD reads from back to front because the culture pieces are in the back and the finance pieces in the front), reviews a new book on happiness by a British guy who makes what Robert Frank calls the "cascade effect" a central part of his argument.

Here's The Economist, summarizing the British guy's book [italics mine]:

Among many things, the behaviourists have found that it is relative, not absolute wealth, that matters most to people. Mr Layard cites as evidence a study in which Harvard University students claimed to prefer earning $50,000 a year when their peers are on only $25,000 to a world in which they earn $100,000 while their peers get more than double that amount. The survey sample is anything but representative, but you get the point.

So, Lord Layard's thinking goes, by spending 90 hours a week in the office, you may be improving your own income, but you are also causing other people to feel less satisfied with theirs. They may be encouraged to work longer themselves just to keep up, taking from the time that gets devoted to family and community.

It is, the author argues, something similar to environmental pollution, where one person's action (or a company's) makes others worse off. Fortunately, he notes, economists have already figured out how to deal with such externalities: tax them so that the polluter internalises the cost of his actions. And so, near the top of Lord Layard's list for improving human happiness, comes the following recommendation: much higher rates of income tax to tame the rat race.

The author [thus] singles out income inequality as a psychic wound uniquely worthy of state intervention.

And here's Robert Frank with more on this cascading, unhappiness-making economic effect:

[T]he behavior of the wealthy has been the root cause of a serious economic squeeze confronting the middle class, whose incomes have failed to keep pace with the prices of housing, tuition, health insurance, and a host of other basic services during recent decades. Through a chain of events, the increased spending of the top 1 percent, who earned three times as much in 2000 as in 1979, has placed many basic goals out of reach for the median family.

The links in this chain unfold roughly as follows. When the incomes of the wealthy rise, they eventually spend more on houses, cars, clothing and other goods, just as others do. Upon learning that someone at the top has built a 60,000-square-foot house or purchased a new Ferrari Scaglietti, most of us feel no inclination to alter our own spending.

But among those just below the top, such purchases have an impact. They subtly change the social frame of reference that defines what kinds of houses and cars seem necessary or appropriate. Additional spending by top earners thus leads others just below them to spend more. And when they do so, others just below them are affected in the same way, and so on, all the way down the income ladder.

In short, burgeoning incomes at the top have launched "expenditure cascades" that have ended up squeezing the middle class.

... [T]he expenditure cascade launched by top earners has placed a real burden on middle-and low-income families. This is not to say that top earners have done anything wrong. Certainly it was not their intent to cause trouble for those below. Yet the runaway prosperity they've enjoyed in recent decades has imposed significant tangible costs on the middle class.

Happiness seems to be relative - if there's rough equality of circumstance in your vicinity, you will be more or less content; but excess compensation, excess goods nearby, produces an anxious, misery-making conviction in you that happiness is impossible without that same high level of income and purchasing power. Down and down this phenomenon cascades, from the highest economic classes to the slightly less high, to the upper middle, to the middle, and so forth, each level floundering in depressive, competitive work and expenditure.

Yeah, so what? What's this got to do with the American university?


It occurs to UD that Harvard University (which after all sponsored one of the definitive studies of the subject) could do all American universities a favor by voluntarily renouncing the spectacular cascade effect it has set going by amassing a $23 billion endowment. This out-of-all-proportion number is prompting an institutional cascade of the most blatant sort; for when Harvard has 23 billion, Yale must knock itself out to approach that number, even though before Harvard got that rich, Yale thought it was pretty well off with its 10 or so billion .... Princeton, meanwhile, suddenly feels a pauper, etc., etc. The result is that universities, like individual Americans, become miserable money-grubbers.

Yes, we could, as Layard suggests, tax Harvard's excess; but why not first see whether Harvard would be willing to recognize the damage its enormous endowment is doing to all universities, and begin to shrink it?


By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief
Published January 15, 2005


We are deep in the woods now.

The next time someone tells you they are trying to get politics out of the state university system, go barf.

A few years ago we abolished the old Board of Regents that ran the state's 11 universities and created new boards of trustees at each university. Everyone was saying we did it to have more local control of the universities and less politics.

(The real reason it disappeared was because legislative leaders wanted a medical school at Florida State University and the Regents didn't. The Legislature abolished the Regents and voted for the medical school.)

Along came U.S. Sen. Bob Graham to push a Constitutional amendment that restored a statewide board to govern universities. Only we didn't get rid of the new boards of trustees.

We're getting the politics out of the universities, the Graham folks argued as they persuaded voters to approve the measure.

Okay, where are we?

The governor still appoints all of these people. Now he appoints not only the governing board but the individual trustees at each university. No politics here.

If you needed a poster child for politics in the university system, we now have it.

Last year legislators tucked a $9-million-a-year perpetual appropriation into the budget for a new chiropractic school at FSU. The university didn't ask for a chiropractic school and it would appear a great many academics and doctors at FSU don't want it under any circumstance.

But former Senate President Jim King, one of FSU's best-known boosters, wanted the school for his friend, Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, who happens to be a chiropractor and an FSU grad.

Enter the new Board of Governors, a bit miffed that FSU and its board of trustees would proceed with a chiropractic school without consulting the folks who govern all universities.

The cart was clearly before the horse here. And the FSU Board of Trustees, chaired by former House Speaker John Thrasher, was clearly in the middle of the fight.

Thrasher and former Secretary of State Jim Smith, both on the FSU board, lobby for a living, depending on the Legislature to butter their bread. On the Board of Governors sits yet another lobbyist, Steve Uhlfelder.

Enter Senate President Tom Lee, who sees this swamp and decides having lobbyists sit on these university boards is a very bad idea.

Lobbyists usually bend over backward to keep legislators happy. University trustees shouldn't have to.

If we didn't have enough politics swirling in the academic air by this time, consider what happened next.

Uhlfelder picks up the phone in a rage and unloads on Lee, suggesting that he will use the Senate president's own fundraising to embarrass him if he doesn't drop his opposition to lobbyists on the boards.

Uhlfelder has since apologized but he may have just had the most expensive temper tantrum in town. Big corporations that hire lobbyists don't like it when the guy they are depending on has angered a Senate president.

We didn't have enough politics in this situation. Next the governor starts calling around to the FSU trustees. He even calls Thrasher out of the meeting in the midst of the heated chiropractic debate.

He was just congratulating me for having the new medical school named after me, Thrasher insisted later. Yeah. Sure.

The trustees decide to punt. Instead of deciding whether FSU should have a chiropractic school, they kick it to the board of governors for a vote this month.

That way the lobbyists on the FSU board don't have to make enemies in the Legislature.

There can't be a better demonstration of the problem.

If the Senate president doesn't want lobbyists on those boards, the odds are pretty high that will happen, one way or another. Lee is reviewing the possibilities of changing the law, but he also has a trump card.

Uhlfelder's term on the board of governors expired Jan. 6. Guess who has to be reappointed and confirmed by the Senate?

"I would not confirm his appointment," Lee said Friday.

Pretty clear to me.

Friday, January 14, 2005


[for Pathetic I, see Addendum
to UD post below, dated 1/12/05]

"It's sad that it's big news. 'Hey kids, we hired a party master for you,'" said Alexandra Moss, 22, a senior from New York City..."

Yes, the new paid position of Fun Czar at Harvard University is becoming big news.

"A spokeswoman at Yale University in New Haven, Conn., said such a position does not exist at Yale because 'students here already know how to have fun.'"

Her next comment makes you wonder: "We have hundreds of social clubs and organizations, so there really doesn't seem to be any particular need to have it."

No doubt Yale's Chaunticleer Ensemble is having a terrific time, but this isn't quite the point...

At least at Harvard people sense there's something lacking... And lack, as you know (see UD post below, "The Content of Their Character"), is not a Harvard value: "Yesterday, Harvard students weighed in on the 'Fun Czar,' saying the school's pockets are so deep they don't mind if administrators want to throw some cash at a commander-in-fun." [Along these same cash-throwing lines, recall UD post dated 7/23/04 about mandatory student iPods at Duke.]

One theme running through a number of UD's posts lately is this business of having hired people live your life for you -- generate your SAT score, produce your party, write your essays, praise you. The grade-inflated, hyper-managed, surprise-free, pleasure-rigged environment of the well-heeled American private college extends the sort of life the country's better-off children have lived since birth. It's enviable. Over the long haul, as Alexandra Moss senses, it's sad.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

UD SALUTES: The University of Utah

When we last visited Ms. Christina Axson-Flynn (see UD posts dated 5/8/04 and 7/14/04), she had succeeded, through legal settlement, in getting the University of Utah to institute a “religious accommodation policy” in which students would be able to “opt out of coursework if it conflicts with their beliefs,” their “sincerely held core beliefs.”

Ms. Flynn sued in the first place, for instance, because, although a drama student at the university, she refused out of religious conviction to utter any lines that contained swear words.

But although the university has gone ahead and written something up, the Academic Senate doesn’t like it, sees it as a threat to academic freedom, and is basically sitting on it in hopes that it’ll go away. “Is one student’s ‘sincerely held belief’ religious in nature or might it have been adopted just last week?” ask faculty members. What will it do to the university’s reputation when it becomes “the first university in the nation with an official policy that allows students to seek accommodations in course content”?

UD salutes the University of Utah Academic Senate for upholding the sincerely held core belief of the American university - that freedom of expression is central to education.

(By the way, in a strange irony, Ms. Axson-Flynn’s theatrical career is taking off like mad. She has just been cast in a starring role in the upcoming American production of Jerry Springer: The Opera. UD asked Ms. Axson-Flynn how she could possibly perform in an opera so notoriously foul-mouthed that the BBC executives who insisted on airing it have received death threats. “I’ll sing 'fuck',” she answered, melodiously. “I just won’t say it.”)

I. Ignorant: In a Yale Daily News article about a new federal mandate that universities give lectures to their students about the Constitution on Constitution Day, the Yale reporter writes:

“Constitution and Citizenship Day [marks] the anniversary of the first meeting of the 1787 Constitutional Convention.“

The 17th of September 1787 was not the first, but the last meeting of the convention, the meeting at which the Constitution was signed.

II. Hysterical: The article quotes one Yale historian saying that the new mandate proves the American government is becoming the “thought police.”

UD is confident that even if pressed to offer some form of instruction about the Constitution on September 17 (the staff of the newspaper, at least, could use it) Yale can come up with something amusing and subversive. It could invite a group of flag burners to demonstrate constitutionally protected speech.

III. Correct: But yes, Yale is right to protest the provision, inserted into a spending bill by icky Robert Byrd.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005


“Between 1980 and 2001, the percentage of top executives whose undergraduate degrees came from Ivy League schools fell by nearly a third from 14 percent to 10 percent,” writes Daniel Gross in today‘s Slate. “Others who paid through the nose for their sheepskins also lost ground. The percentage of top execs who attended private non-Ivy schools (Williams College, Notre Dame, Stanford, etc.) fell from 54 percent in 1980 to 42 percent in 2001. Meanwhile, the proportion of those who attended public universities soared from 32 percent to 48 percent. A similar dynamic was seen in graduate degrees as well: far fewer on a percentage basis from Ivy League schools and far more on a percentage basis from public universities.”

In considering why “prestigious degrees aren't as valuable at America's largest corporations as they were a generation ago. If you want to run GE, you might be better off attending the University of Connecticut than Yale,” Gross suggests that “something has changed about the character of the student bodies at many Ivy League schools in recent decades. With the rising ability of the wealthy to smooth the path to admission by paying private-school tuition and hiring college advisers and SAT-prep tutors — and with college tuition far outpacing financial aid growth — rich kids are more likely to get in, and to attend, Ivy League schools than in the past. A widely quoted study from the Century Foundation found that 74 percent of the students at 146 selective colleges surveyed came from the top socioeconomic quartile, while only 10 percent come from the bottom half! Harvard President Larry Summers devoted his 2004 commencement speech to this phenomenon.”

Because of deep-pile family wealth, Gross says, “on a percentage basis, fewer Ivy League graduates than public school graduates today need to find stable, high-paying jobs at big companies. More of them can afford to traipse around Asia for a year or pursue a career in film-making. It could be that the already rich and comfortable are simply less interested in pursuing careers in large corporations than their less-comfortable public-school peers for purely economic reasons.”

A Harvard law blogger has a similar take: “At a school for the ruling class, e.g., Harvard or Yale, it really doesn't matter how effective the pedagogy is. If Biff doesn't learn calculus his daddy can still buy him a seat in Congress. What Biff really needs to do is meet other members of the ruling class even if they are from different majors … Similarly a school targeted to children of the ruling class need not worry about the parents' ability to support Muffy for 4 years. Much more important is that Muffy have plenty of time off to take the Grand Tour of Europe, hop the family fractional jet for the December trip to St. Barts, spend a summer interning in Cousin (Senator) Bob's office.“

Gregg Easterbrook and David Brooks disagree. They say it’s not that Ivy grads don’t want important jobs, but that many of these people are too boring and spiritless to get such jobs in the first place. “The college admissions process,” writes Easterbrook, “has become almost entirely a test of your ability to please adults — or specifically the sorts of adults who are college admissions officers. There's nothing wrong with pleasing such people. But once you get out into the world, where there are no rules and things are not structured and your own initiative is more important than your ability to please, then everything changes. I do think we've seen that the top schools increasingly are producing extremely conventional people. Not that there's anything wrong with producing conventional people, but you might think that graduates from Yale or Wellesley or Amherst would be the ones to go on to be really artistic and creative or become great engineers or inventors and make important discoveries. You're seeing instead that the important discoveries and the artistic creativity are coming from people out of places like Colby and Colorado College — because they haven't gone through this process of sacrificing their lives to conventionality.”

If Brooks and Easterbrook are right, recent Ivy grads aren’t rejecting corporate life for film-making and Asia-treks. They're sitting around being bland.


ADDENDUM, January 12, 2005: PATHETIC.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005


In an incalculable blow to Harvard University's solvency, its top money men resigned en masse today, tired of incessant carping from alumni and, er, other interested observers (see UD post dated 10/17/04) about the up to $35 million each of them got in annual compensation from the non-profit institution.

Harvard's $22.6 billion endowment is only just managing to stay at twice the value of Yale's (its closest money rival), and this turn of events bodes ill for the maintenance of that sum. All of the economists with whom UD consulted agreed that with the departure of Jack Meyer and his cohort, and their inevitable replacement by, as one financial manager put it to UD, "losers willing to work for ten mill," Harvard's endowment will shrink to somewhere between ten and fifteen billion dollars.

To put it most starkly: Harvard's wealth is about to slip from the GNP of Kazakhstan all the way down to the GNP of Bulgaria.

Reports from Cambridge indicate that a cloud of anxiety has descended over the campus, as students and faculty attempt to maintain confidence in the university's future even as its foundations are shaking. "Winter is upon us," said one student, clutching her scarf to her chest. "How will we make it through?"

But one faculty member, in the philosophy department, saw things differently. "People pull together in times of crisis. Maybe we've had it a little too easy at Harvard for a little too long. Let's see what this sudden economy of scarcity does for our collective character."

UD found this rather a nice approach to Sontag ... until the very end!

' What might academics do to honor this singular force of nature who largely shunned universities and institutional cover, but who credited her years at Chicago, Harvard, and Oxford with providing her the "best university education on the planet"?

Here's a life kit for those who would do something:

At least once, write an article, for a publication read by other than professional peers, that says absolutely what you really think.

Pay no attention to whether it will offend the chair, disturb the editor at that university press you're courting, threaten your ability to cling to the same institutional home all your life, or support clichés you privately reject. Strip it of all eponymous crutches -- Derridean this and Foucauldian that -- all citations to prestigious academics meant to add false authority to your views. Hone the sentences to so fine a form that one of them might stand up and saunter away from its paragraph, looking for a new home -- perhaps a book of quotations, or the marble wall of an august institution of learning.

Better yet, write a novel, with all the uncertain certainty that implies. Then, as a final touch, at the spot where dedications go, add a simple phrase: "For Susan Sontag."


This sort of advice is what Philip Larkin described in "Poetry of Departures" :

...To hear it said

He walked out on the whole crowd
Leaves me flushed and stirred,
Like Then she undid her dress
Or Take that you bastard;
Surely I can, if he did?
And that helps me stay
Sober and industrious.
But I'd go today,

Yes, swagger the nut-strewn roads,
Crouch in the fo'c'sle
Stubbly with goodness...

Yes, UD was flushed and stirred by Romano's insistence that she say fuck it and do and say what she wants! When she wants! How she wants! Screw institutional affiliation and the whole business of impressing people by telling them where you are and what you do there! I'm FREEEEEEEEE.....

Then UD looked at Romano's self-description at the bottom of his essay:

"Carlin Romano, critic at large for The Chronicle and literary critic of The Philadelphia Inquirer, is a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities at New York University."

Four affiliation namedrops in one sentence. Carlin, Carlin, Carlin...

1919 - 2005

'The questions that absorb the younger economists are too narrow, he says.

Economists, for example, cannot just chronicle the rise of output as an economy grows. There must also be a judgment about the quality of that output: Does it show up as more school construction or warmer clothing in winter or as more channels of bad television programs and higher pay for chief executives.

New York Times, January 1999

Monday, January 10, 2005


Yale is handling the forced resignation of disgraced faculty member Florencio López-de-Silanes in an intelligent and classy way. (Among other no-no's, the faculty member, whose specialty was corporate governance, double billed the university for expenses over a rather long period of time.) The university is keeping his webpage up for now, but has added a note to it -

'(resigned, effective June 30, 2005; currently on leave of absence, Spring 2005) '

- and has also, of course, issued a terse but informative announcement explaining the reason for his departure.

This approach makes more sense to UD than the other things universities do with the webpages of the administrative and faculty damned -- the thieves, plagiarists, fake degree holders, spouse slayers, and child porn downloaders at our universities, whose downfall must in some way be managed. Some universities just keep these webpages up, trumpeting the marvelous accomplishments of a colleague who now molders in jail. Others, in an Orwellian, "nothing to see here" sort of move, take the pages of the damned down right away, which to UD looks creepy.

Far better to follow Yale's lead: Acknowledge for a decent period of time the person's association with the university, and also note that this association is about to come to an end.

A leftwing British journalist based in Washington DC, a writer for the Independent newspaper and for Counterpunch, gets in his car one afternoon and drives toward the monastery in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia that UD and her husband like to visit on occasion.

He turns off of Route 7 shortly before he gets to the monastery and heads for a less rarefied religious institution -- Patrick Henry College, the small new college composed largely of home-schooled evangelical Christians. He spends some hours walking around the campus and talking to students.

Horrified by what he has seen and heard, Andrew Buncombe drives home and writes “The Bible College that Leads to the White House,” an article first published by the Independent, but picked up by a number of other outlets concerned about what Buncombe calls the “cultish” takeover of America by colleges like Patrick Henry. (“THOU SHALT BE LIKE BUSH” is the headline The New Zealand Herald chooses for the piece.)

Since in structure, style, and content, Buncombe’s article is an instructive example of propaganda, UD will fisk it.


The point of Buncombe’s article is to frighten you into thinking that fascist robots are being manufactured in pleasant totalitarian higher education settings and then infiltrated into the highest reaches of the American government. Buncombe does this quite effectively. UD will show you how, in case you’d like to do it too.

Buncombe’s short article only has about twenty paragraphs, but almost each one of them features adjectives like “clean-cut,” “cheerful,” neatly-kept,” “close-mown,” “extraordinarily pleasant,” and “terribly pleasant,” to describe the demeanor of the students and the tidiness of their setting. The students and the administrators are always “smiling” and “charming,” and everything’s neat, neat, neat …

And after all, what could we or Buncombe object to in such attributes? Did Buncombe get in his car seeking a collegiate sewer with turds floating in it? Yet each reiteration of these adjectives somehow feels a bit more eerie, a bit creepier … you can’t put your finger on it exactly, but at some point in the article all this good stuff morphs into what Buncombe identifies as “bland, unquestioning niceness;” these “suited,” “attentive” students turn out to be living in “the 1998 film Pleasantville,” a landscape of McCarthyite conformity and barely suppressed viciousness: “For all the warm welcomes, for all the smiles, for all the openness, there is something a little unsettling about Patrick Henry and the cultish devotion of its students. This is, after all, an establishment that claims to challenge its students to think for themselves, and yet establishes a fixed, rigid framework - both culturally and intellectually - in which they are to operate.”


A “little” unsettling? Buncombe is an objective reporter and all, so he doesn’t say what we’re thinking at this point, but he quotes Nancy Keenan, from People for the American Way: “The number of interns [from Patrick Henry] going into the White House scares me to death. People have a right to choose [where their children are educated], but we are concerned that they are not exposed to the kind of diversity this country has. They are training people with a very limited ideological and political view. If these young people are going into positions of power, they have to govern with all people in mind, not just a limited number.“

Possibly Nancy Keenan has also expressed fear about the lack of intellectual diversity at secular American universities, where students are likely never to be taught by anyone who’s not a liberal democrat, but UD doubts it. Similarly, she doubts that Buncombe, who worries about a “statement of faith” students at Patrick Henry sign, has expressed anxiety about the loyalty-to-diversity pledges some students in Women’s Studies and other courses are asked to sign before they can participate in mainstream American university classes.

As for the “alarming” overrepresentation of Patrick Henry students in significant internships at the White House and in other high-profile government positions, UD wonders whether Buncombe found the overrepresentation of Harvard’s best and brightest in the Kennedy administration equally alarming. They too, as Buncombe says darkly of Patrick Henry students, were “on a mission to change the world; indeed to lead the world.” But unlike the students at Patrick Henry, the Ivy Leaguers were not, for instance, required every morning to go to “chapel” (Buncombe puts the word “chapel” in quotation marks, as if we do not know to what it refers, or as if the students say they‘re going to “chapel,” but are really going someplace else).


What’s most horrifying about Patrick Henry is that even though it’s placing its zombie students “in positions of authority and influence,” it’s doing it “in plain view,” with “utter transparency,” Buncombe concludes. It doesn’t, in other words, have the decency to be a hidden conspiracy.

But there is a long tradition in America of such plain view political conspiracies.

UD’s husband graduated from a private school in Boston in 1968. Out of that school’s very small graduating class -- 24 people -- 7 were accepted to Harvard. That’s thirty percent. Among those students were children of Harvard faculty who had worked in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and who would themselves go on to become Democratic party activists. An impressive number of this second generation’s children in turn have gone to Harvard and been important in the Democratic party, etc.

UD is describing a well-established culture of feeder schools representing the liberal elite of the United States as it replicates itself in our government. Shocking, isn’t it, that the workings of this expansive legacy program are utterly transparent and in plain view…


Six months after Buncombe’s scary evocation of its cultish devotees and its fixed, rigid framework, Patrick Henry’s debate team went to England and defeated Oxford’s moot court team: “There were extraordinarily impressive performances,” said Andrew Graham, master of Balliol College. “They were good. If I would’ve been in my mid-20s and had to appear in front of Supreme Court judges and be cross-examined by them, I imagine it would’ve been terrifying.” The Patrick Henry students “had a month to prepare their arguments and learn the intricacies of British contract law.”

How in the world did these cultists manage to worm their intellectual way into something as alien as British contract law, I wonder? Or is British contract law indistinguishable from Biblical prophecy? Buncombe’s British. Maybe he knows.

Sunday, January 09, 2005


…two great essayists and individualists who died recently, were both what Paul Fussell, in his book Class, call “X’s,” and this is one reason people are having a bit of trouble categorizing them and summarizing their lives. Here are some excerpts from Fussell’s final chapter, “The X Way Out” :

“You become an X person, or to put it more bluntly, you earn X-personhood by a strenuous effort of discovery in which curiosity and originality are indispensable. And in discovering that you can become an X person, you find the only escape from class. Entering X often requires flight from parents and forebears. The young flocking to the cities to devote themselves to ‘art,’ ‘writing, ‘creative work’ - anything, virtually, that liberates them from the presence of a boss or supervisor - are aspirant X people, and if they succeed in capitalizing on their talents, they may end as fully fledged X types.

…What kind of people are Xs? The old-fashioned term bohemians gives some idea; so does the term the talented. Some X’s are intellectuals, but a lot are not: they are actors, musicians, artists, sports stars, ’celebrities,’ well-to-do former hippies, confirmed residents abroad, and the more gifted journalists, those whose by-lines intelligent readers recognize with pleasant anticipation.

… X people can be described as (to use C. Wright Mills’s term) ’self-cultivated.’ They tend to be self-employed, doing what social scientists call autonomous work. If, as Mills has said, the middle-class person is ’always somebody’s man,’ the X person is nobody‘s, and his freedom from supervision is one of his most obvious characteristics. X people are independent-minded, free of anxious regard for popular shibboleths, loose in carriage and demeanor. They adore the work they do, and they do it until they are finally carried out, ’retirement’ being a concept meaningful only to hired personnel or wage slaves who despise their work.

…When an X person, male or female, meets a member of an identifiable class, the costume, no matter what it is, conveys the message ‘I am freer and less terrified than you are,’ or - in extreme circumstances - ‘I am more intelligent and interesting than you are: please do not bore me.’

…The question of whether to select a black or a beige raincoat never troubles X people, for they don’t use raincoats at all: they either get wet and pay no attention or wait under cover - they are not the slaves of time clocks - until the rain stops.

…Instinctively unprovincial, X people tend to be unostentatiously familiar with the street layouts and landmarks of London, Paris, and Rome - and sometimes Istanbul and Karachi. This is in accord with their habit of knowing a lot for the pleasure of it, as well as their more specific curiosity about people, no matter where or when they live. Hence the X interest in history, literature, architecture, and aesthetic style.

…Regardless of the work they do, the Xs read a great deal, and they regard reading as a normal part of experience, as vital as ‘experience,’ and often more interesting. They never belong to book clubs.”

From Francis Morrone, at 2Blowhards, UD discovers a peculiarity she shares with Sontag and Davenport:

'Neither ever learned how to drive a car. [Well, UD learned how to drive a car, and even drove one - badly - for some years. But she hasn’t driven in over a decade.] But for a Manhattanite, that's no big deal. No one ever notices. For a Lexingtonite (Lexingtonian?), it's the stuff of high eccentricity. Some years ago in an essay in the Hudson Review Davenport wrote about a visit to the Lexington post office:

"When I tried to renew my passport there a few years ago, a passport kept functional for thirty years, I was told that if I couldn't show a driver's license I couldn't renew my passport. (I will not spin out the Gogolian scene that ensued, though it featured my being told that I didn't deserve to live in this country, my pointing out that I could scarcely leave it without a passport, and on around in circles that left the art of Gogol for that of Ionesco, until I got the State Department on the phone, and had my new passport, together with an apology, in three days.) The point of the anecdote is that the pedestrian is officially a second-rate citizen and definitely an obsolete species." '

Throughout last year, University Diaries noted the demise of quite a few alcohol-poisoned American college students, especially students attending school in states like Oklahoma and Colorado, whose universities and university towns are death-traps for the unwary alcoholic (see UD, October 20, 2004).

In response to the problem, a number of universities - among them, UD’s alma mater, Northwestern, which is featured in a long article about the problem in today’s New York Times Magazine- are banning alcohol from campuses, or dorms, or fraternities, or parties, or whatever. (The NYTimes writer doesn’t note that Evanston itself, home of NU, is home also to the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.) Some schools, like Alfred University, have banned fraternities and sororities altogether: “The Greek system is beyond repair,” says the chair of Alfred University’s board of trustees.

Fraternity membership is in any case down 25% since 1990; and it’s possible that these new constraints upon their raison d’etre will naturally diminish them over time until they are no more….

The Times article helps UD understand why she, a “fraternity-mocking English major” (as the NU grad who wrote the Times piece calls himself), has always found fraternities and sororities pretty rank. Like a lot of people who become professors (see UD post dated February 11, 2004), UD is both group-averse and kitsch-phobic. Life in frats, judging by the Times article, represents a distillation of her dreads: it’s about sloppy sentiment in large gatherings.

So, for instance, in place of the pissed-boy bonding at the heart of frat life, reformers have inaugurated equally embarrassing alcohol-free campaigns: frats, according to the Times, are now about “Brotherhood - Our Substance of Choice,” and “Balanced Man” programs. Ick.

Saturday, January 08, 2005


“Are we ready?”asks Stanley Fish in the latest Chronicle of Higher Education. Are we literary academics ready for the next big thing, which turns out to be, says Fish, religion? “We had better be, because that is now where the action is. When Jacques Derrida died I was called by a reporter who wanted to know what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. I answered like a shot: religion.”

UD does not think we are ready. She suggested as much in an earlier entry on this weblog (February 1, 2004), from which she will now quote:

Sounding every inch the fundamentalist, Jonathan Culler, in a 1986 essay called “Comparative Literature and the Pieties [Culler, Jonathan. "Comparative Literature and the Pieties." Profession 1986: The Modern Language Association of America (1986): 30-32] warns that for the “sake of the political and intellectual health of our nation,” university teachers must incorporate a thoroughgoing critique of religion into their classes.

In practice, this would mean that when teaching Paradise Lost or the Inferno or the later poems of T.S. Eliot or Graham Greene’s The Power and the Glory or fiction by Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, George Eliot, Charlotte Bronte, etc., humanities professors would be obliged to “compare Christianity with other mythologies [and] make the sadism and sexism of religious discourse an explicit object of discussion.”

Professors in the humanities are particularly obliged to do this because, “almost alone in universities, we are the ones who explicate and decline to criticize religious conceptions, themes, and doctrines.... Instead of leading the critique of superstition, comparative literature is contributing to the legitimation of religious discourse.”

Rather than critique religion in the way Culler suggests (UD figures the deal in the classroom would go something like this: “Just as some people believe witches eat people and poison wells, so Jane Eyre believes God brought Rochester back to her.”), humanities professors collude with repressive religious institutions:

“The complicity of comparative literature with religion in our own day,” Culler writes, “is a subject that has scarcely been broached but that cries out for attention, not least because religion provides an ideological legitimation for many reactionary or repressive forces in America today and thus is arguably a greater danger than the ideological positions comparatists do spent their time attacking.”

[A new University Diaries feature]

"Some chronically underpaid professors are appalled that the Board of Supervisors would consider paying $500,000 a year--at the top level of the national pay scale for college presidents--to a federal bureaucrat who lacks a terminal academic degree.

In a letter to The Times-Picayune, physics and astronomy professor A.R.P. Rau laments the money thrown at chancellors and football coaches while LSU trails most Southern flagship universities in faculty salaries, pays near-poverty wages to janitors and fails to offer health insurance to graduate students. Rau writes, 'In truth, it is not the poverty of the state that's to blame but a poverty of the imagination and a poverty of the soul.' "

A. Ravi P. Rau
Professor of Physics
Ph.D., 1970 - University of Chicago
Atomic Theory

Friday, January 07, 2005

TO: Undergraduate Oligarchs Consortium [For background, see UD posts dated 4/23, 6/13, 10/26, 11/23, and 11/26, all '04.]

: Josh

From the latest Economist Magazine [via Andrew Sullivan]

(N.B.: The writer even uses the word "oligarchy.")

"America's great universities are increasingly reinforcing rather than reducing these educational inequalities. Poorer students are at a huge disadvantage, both when they try to get in and, if they are successful, in their ability to make the most of what is on offer. This disadvantage is most marked in the elite colleges that hold the keys to the best jobs. Three-quarters of the students at the country's top 146 colleges come from the richest socio-economic fourth, compared with just 3% who come from the poorest fourth (the median family income at Harvard, for example, is $150,000). This means that, at an elite university, you are 25 times as likely to run into a rich student as a poor one.

One reason for this is government money. The main federal programme supporting poorer students is the Pell grant: 90% of such grants go to families with incomes below $41,000. But the federal government has been shifting resources from Pell grants to other forms of aid to higher education. Student loans are unrelated to family resources. Federal tax breaks for higher education benefit the rich. State subsidies for higher education benefit rich and poor alike. At the same time, colleges are increasingly using financial aid to attract talented students away from competitors rather than to help the poor.

Another reason may be “affirmative action” — programmes designed to help members of racial minorities. These are increasingly used by elite universities, in the belief that race is a reasonable proxy for social disadvantage, which it may not be. Flawed as it may be, however, this kind of affirmative action is much less pernicious than another practised by many universities: “legacy preferences”, a programme for the children of alumni — as if privileged children were not already doing well enough out of the education system.

In most Ivy League institutions, the eight supposedly most select universities of the north-east, “legacies” make up between 10% and 15% of every class. At Harvard they are over three times more likely to be admitted than others. The students in America's places of higher education are increasingly becoming an oligarchy tempered by racial preferences. This is sad in itself, but even sadder when you consider the extraordinary role that the same universities—particularly Conant's Harvard—played in promoting meritocracy in the first half of the 20th century."
VIA Butterflies and Wheels:


Catherine Bennett
Thursday January 6, 2005


It is to be hoped that Tony Blair's intervention in the debate on faith and the tsunami has reassured some of the worshippers perplexed by this apparent waywardness on the part of a benign, omniscient deity. Questioned by Edward Stourton yesterday on the Today programme, the prime minister said he agreed with the Archbishop of Canterbury - who thinks the disaster is compatible with belief in a merciful God (prime ministers, you gather, are not the only individuals who occasionally need an undisturbed vacation). It is only a pity that in the course of his impressively wide-ranging interview, Stourton did not go on to consult Blair on behalf of another group of devotees who may now find their beliefs severely tested.

Why, many formerly trusting followers of horoscopes may be asking, was this colossal event not presaged in the stars? Or, failing that, in someone's palm, crystal ball, tea leaves or chicken's entrails? How, in the circumstances, are they to carry on believing? If an event such as this can go unpredicted by leading, professional astrologers, could it mean the whole edifice of astrology is an abject superstition? That the constellations are not, as previously advertised, heavenly guides to life on Earth, but as indifferent, and as meaningless as "a patch of curiously shaped damp on the bathroom ceiling" (as Richard Dawkins once, unforgettably put it) ...

Peta High, chair of the International Association of Professional Astrologers, insists that there is absolutely no reason for belief in astrology to be shaken, even if, to her knowledge, no astrologer predicted anything of the kind. Looking back, of course, it's a different matter. High says she has retrospectively cast a chart for the area showing a disturbing conjunction of Jupiter (vastness) and Pluto (devastation), which, even if it had been spotted earlier, might have been interpreted as an augury of quite a different kind of catastrophe. "It's much easier for an individual than it is for a country," she says. Could some of the individuals brought down in this catastrophe have had astrological foreknowledge? "Probably there was tough stuff in the charts for all these people," High says, hastily adding that she means individualised birth charts, not sun-sign horoscopes. "They will have stuff in their natal charts." So maybe an early-warning system wouldn't have worked anyway.

At the Astrological Association, someone has emailed to say the disaster was predicted, on the record, in Norway; a claim which, if true, could signify a very profitable year for Norwegian astrologers, even as it raises questions about our native practitioners, who work, after all, with exactly the same celestial material. None of the professional astrologers whose forecasts appear so prominently in our newspapers so much as hinted, in their predictions for last year, at a particularly grim end to 2004. Not even Justin Toper, even though he ventured, among a host of forecasts made last January, to present Express readers with their "unique travel guide" for planning holidays: "What are the ideal dates for your star sign to get away for a romantic break - or take a trip of a lifetime with your family?"

But the work must go on. Having overlooked the biggest natural disaster for 40 years, the soothsayers are now busy selling predictions for 2005, whether over the internet as individual 12-month forecasts (available from Russell Grant for £34.95 apiece, Full Astro Travel horoscope, £49.95), or to newspapers, as sun-sign horoscopes. In our more sensitive sister paper, the Observer, Neil Spencer identifies Neptune as "a key player ... its ongoing alignments with benign Jupiter sound a note of optimism in world affairs ..." Introducing pages of predictions in the Daily Mail, Jonathan Cainer - "Britain's Top Astrologer" - is more preoccupied with the contribution of the recently discovered planet Sedna, which now appears to be making up for lost time. "Undoubtedly," he says, Sedna is "a symbol of hope for all humanity ... the planet of emotional intelligence." Undoubtedly? On the Astrology News website, there is already speculation that the tsunami "because it involves destruction originating from a submarine source ... appears to fall in line with the mythological themes of Sedna". Suggesting that the California Institute of Technology scientists whose decision it was, last year, to name the planet after the Inuit sea goddess, may be more competent in the divination department than all the UK's astrologers put together."

[for background, see UD, 10/30/04]

When you walk into the bright soaring lobby of GW University’s just-redesigned student center, you encounter huge posters of the four Crossfire heavies (um, Tucker Carlson? … that Clinton operative … two others guys … UD doesn’t really know any of their names because she doesn’t watch television). Their heads and bodies are immense, and they are posed in a tight semi-circle, and they are glaring down right at you … their big dark eyes are drilling into you with contempt and omniscience…. Directly, menacingly, condescendingly they glare as you tiptoe by on your way to the Starbucks for your little latte ….

And you try not to look, but the posters are enormous and compelling, and when you do look - because you have to, because they draw you in! - you feel so small, so … inoperative, and you hate that feeling…

This self-hatred feels even worse when you realize that you are supposed to greet these Pharaonic lobby monuments with excitement and gratitude. Of all the venues their tv show could have chosen, it chose GW; of all of the audiences it could have chosen, it chose GW students…

UD’s commitment to this weblog is such that she has even vaguely, intermittently, without much conviction, thought about going to one of the Crossfire shows and blogging about it.

But now she learns that this is not to be, for the show is over, as the new boss at whatever channel (CNN?) transmits it explains:

The high-volume negativity of Fox-style journalism is out the window; the theme for 2005 is "respecting the audience," as Klein makes clear later in the same interview: ''I doubt when the president sits down with his advisers they scream at him to bring him up-to-date on all of the issues."

Zut alors. It turns out that, all this time, the show has not been respecting its audience, ie., UD’s students. What a double standard. Every semester GW’s faculty distributes multiple course evaluation forms on which students are repeatedly asked to certify that we have respected them … even as the same university glorifies as gods a quadrumvirate which has been wiping its collective ass with our undergraduates!

Good riddance.
PULSE Program

Given the tendency toward the mainstreaming of chiropractic [see UD, 12/31/04], spa-therapy [UD, 5/18/04], and astrological schools in American universities, and given the belief of a majority of Americans in things like psychic healing and ESP, UD sees a way to help the NCAA out of one of its many problems:

“The NCAA has given itself lots of pats on the back since Division I passed a system for measuring classroom performance of teams and penalizing poor performers,” writes the Indianapolis Star. “Until now, though, no one has had to decide the sensitive issue of how tough to make the standards. At stake are scholarship losses starting with recruiting during the 2005-06 academic year. Complicating the task of establishing a standard is the differing types of schools in Division I. For months, a committee has been grappling with questions on issues such as holding an urban commuter school to the same standard as Duke.”

To address this problem, UD proposes a new, nationwide university degree program called PULSE --- Psychic Unity of Lymphatic Sensate Energies --- in which students would be graded and would graduate based upon their degree of intellectual, spiritual, physical, metaphysical, ethical, lymphatic, and holistic vitalism. The program would be open to all students, but would be particularly attractive to athletes, who tend to be markedly vitalistic in orientation, mentation, and activity-directed behaviors.

How would PULSE students be measured in terms of progress, commitment, and excellence? At the commencement of their studies, their pulse would be taken. At the conclusion, their pulse would be taken again. The differential in pulse rates would then be measured by wellness experts, and terminal degrees (cum laude, magna, summa) granted on the amount of difference over four years or fewer (if the student is leaving for the pros).

Nor is this all. In order to earn their degree, students would need to pass an oral examination in which they would be grilled by their coach on how they think they have increased not only their vitality, but their ability to work collectively toward a goal.

UD calls upon the nation’s journalists to impose a moratorium now on puns relating to the controversial chiropractic school planned for Florida State University.

So far, the story, and the many plays on words its chroniclers in the press have not been able to resist (“make no bones…readjust the priorities…a bonehead move…show some backbone…any spine the board may muster…force the so-far supine board…school a nagging pain…”), have been restricted to the southland, but as the item inches north and west, UD fears another slew of puns as papers as far as Boston and California start in.

“Pun Fatigue” is the name that punsters like UD give to the enervating condition brought on by the overuse of puns - a condition that, far from yielding the characteristic jollity of punning, leaves one spent, sad, and reviewing the basis of one’s existence.

Thursday, January 06, 2005


from UD
to the public relations office
at Boston College

When you are defending a faculty member accused of "a serious breach of professional and scholarly standards" through the use and close paraphrase in a recent book of another professor's ideas, do not say

"William Meissner, SJ, MD, is one of the nation's most respected experts on psychoanalytical theory and the author of more than 285 publications, including 27 books."

These numbers do not decrease suspicion. They increase it.

The scientist who blogs at Rhosgobel has a good review of chiropractic literature here.

[For background, see UD post titled "UD-BE-GLAD," dated 10/22/04.]

In today's Washington Post
By Marc Fisher

"TV-B-GONE is the most stirring form of citizen empowerment since universal suffrage."

Wednesday, January 05, 2005


University Diaries’ valuation on Blogshares, a fantasy stock market in blogs, just doubled. Thanks as always to my readers, who keep UD at 2,000-plus hits a day, and to those who link to me.

In a recent comment, a reader reminded UD that GW's library is plug-ugly.


(ps: Did you know that "plug-ugly" is not an adjective meaning very ugly, but a noun meaning a ruffian, gangster, or bully? UD did not know this until she just now looked it up. For decades, UD has been using this wonderful word to mean very ugly, and she is not going to stop now.)

UD’s daughter was born in George Washington University Hospital, a building vaporized by demolition crews shortly after that happy event. Despite its fame as the site where President Reagan was resuscitated, the hospital - a few hundred yards from UD’s English department office - was old and smallish and situated in the sort of dynamic urban environment that demands something spiffier.

For months now, UD has gazed from her sixth-floor windows at the white barriers surrounding the now-empty space that used to be the building in which she gave birth. Its chalky floor and roundish shape remind UD of a bullfight arena … but certainly, she reflects as she scans the expanse, George Washington University does not intend to use it for that purpose … and yet … what will it be?

SQUARE 54 WILL GIVE ONE LOCAL DEVELOPER A VERY HAPPY NEW YEAR,” headlines a story in the latest Washington Business Journal:

Square 54, the site of the old George Washington University Hospital on Washington Circle, is one residential-retail-university-use project that has four of the region's largest developers -- Boston Properties, CarrAmerica, Hines and The JBG Cos. -- holding their breath while the university decides who gets the ground lease. What the developers put in those proposals is one of Washington's best-kept secrets. The Staubach Co. is coordinating everything for the university. GW says its decision will come in the first quarter of 2005.

So UD will soon know what new glories await her as she steps out of the Foggy Bottom Metro … she figures, first of all, on at least two more Starbucks in there (she was just telling fellow blogger Fenster Moop, in a comment, that GW has a Starbucks in the student center and is about to open another one in the library) … does “residential” means dormitories? And “university use” must mean some offices and classrooms…. ?

Anyway, it’s nice to know the spot is so hotly contested, with the region’s largest developers holding their breath and all. Whatever plan wins, UD knows one thing: The result will be another postmodern paradise designed to pamper, please, and astound her.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005


... is not the most EUphonious of blognames, but the blog itself is a wonderful, well-informed, running account of the Florida State University story (see various UD posts below). Here is its self-description:

FSUblius is an anonymous individual blogger. Inspired by Publius, under whose name the Federalist Papers were published, FSUblius hopes to see reason prevail over politics in discussions about academic programs at Florida State University. FSUblius does not purport to be FSU, or to represent its official views. FSUblius remains anonymous to promote dialogue and to protect FSUblius and FSUblius' co-workers from retaliation in the highly politicized climate that governs higher education in Florida.


UD will use this wonderful word, coined by blogger, to title posts of hers that have to do with the subject of blogging itself. As says:

I decided that I needed a new word that would adequately describe my investigation into the blogging phenomenon. Accordingly, I propose the word blogoscopy to mean - a close scrutiny, observation or investigation of phenomena relevant to the blogosphere. Derived from blog - a shortened version of weblog, and blogger - the person who engages in the act of blogging, both of which are components of the blogosphere, and scopy (Greek) -skopiâ, from skopein, to see, a suffix meaning - viewing; seeing; observation: as in microscopy.

Here's a bit of self-consciousness about blogs, from Cathy Seipp's Media Moments 2004:

May: I go to a Media Bistro party here in L.A. and get into a conversation about blogs with some guy from KPFK, the lefty Pacifica Radio station.

A recent Blogads survey indicates that 80 percent of blog readers are men. “More women should write blogs!” the KPFK guy exclaims. “Then more women would read them.”

“Should we make women read blogs even if they don’t want to?” I asked. “Should we limit the amount [UD can't help pointing out that this should be "number"] of male blog readers...or prevent more men from starting blogs, since there are already so many?”



His argument sort of fizzled out there, as I guess even a loyal KPFK-er isn’t quite willing to enforce Stalinist methods for making All Blogs Equal In a Non-Sexist Blog Paradise.


(For original "Sentence," see UD post dated 10/15/04)

"Lewellyn, whose organic sculptures made from beaver-chewed wood decorate the hallways, said the downtown (North Dakota State University) campus turned out well, although it needs a spot for vending machines."

"Oklahoma was the only college in the nation that canceled classes the day Dean Martin died," (comedian and University of Oklahoma alumnus Argus Hamilton) jokes.


…is the diagnosis that UD (not a professional psychologist) would have to give many of the thousands of stragglers returning to their homes from this year’s catastrophic MLA convention in Philadelphia. Everyone seems to agree that the scope of this year’s disaster was greater than any that has gone before: “It was virtually unimaginable,” according to one participant, “in terms of any conceptual categories we have traditionally had at our disposal.”

It wasn’t just about unintelligibility, static conformity, irrelevance, irrationality, and a permanently bad job market this time around; English professors, according to Robert Scholes, the head of the organization, have now lost all cultural authority, and are actively disrespected when they are not ignored.

Why us, oh Lord? One explanation, also from Scholes, seems plausible to UD: “There needs to be an overall recognition that what you say has to be reasonable. That it has to be answerable to certain disciplinary considerations. Within this discipline, you can only say x if y and z are in fact reasonable suppositions."

When the president of a disciplinary organization dedicated to public discourse about literature and language issues a statement urging that its members represent a discipline and use reasoned argument, you know things are bad. It’s like the head of the Pediatric Oncologists’ Association having to announce that from now on members of the association must work on curing cancer in children.

Harvard University is currently setting the gold standard for how to deal with faculty plagiarists (do nothing), but less glorious universities, like SUNY Plattsburgh, continue to do things the old-fashioned way. Plattsburgh has just dismissed the head of its Quebec Studies program, Professor Donald Cuccioletta (his last name, UD is pretty sure, translates into “puppy bed”):

The school said it learned from a Montreal newspaper in October that Donald Cuccioletta was terminated at the University of Quebec in 2002, accused of plagiarism in a chapter he contributed to a book he edited. … A Canadian colleague said two passages in Cuccioletta's chapter, about 180 and 85 words, were identical to those in "Do the Americas Have a Common History?" by Columbia University historian Lewis Hanke in 1964. Cuccioletta named Hanke in the bibliography but never directly attributed the passages to him. At SUNY Plattsburgh, Cuccioletta was interim director of the Institute of Quebec Studies and an adjunct instructor in Canadian studies. He could not be reached for comment Monday.

As the Chronicle of Higher Education (via History News Network) points out, the tendency of universities to hush this sort of thing up allowed Cuccioletta to jump from his Canadian university to oblivious Plattsburgh: “After the [Canadian] department chairman learned of the alleged plagiarism, … Mr. Cuccioletta was not rehired. But the news did not travel 60 miles down the highway, where Mr. Cuccioletta was also teaching at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh.”

The only question left is: Where will Cuccioletta go next? And the answer, mes chers lecteurs, is obvious: Harvard.

UD is puzzled by fellow blogger Fenster Moop’s response to Gregg Easterbrook’s end of the year letter (to read the letter, see below, UD post dated December 30, 2004):

I found Gregg Easterbrook's tongue-in-cheek holiday letter both fun to read and difficult to take. I am a somewhat reluctant blue-stater, but I am a blue-stater nonetheless (as well as a boomer and a bobo). I work hard to have Easterbrook's pen not point at me, and do a passable job of it, but my bone is not that far from the surface and it's not difficult to cut close to it.”

I’ll put aside questions of how specifically “blue state” and “bobo” the attributes of the woman writing the letter are (Drop her reference to Mandela, and couldn’t she as easily be writing from Arizona? Is her corporate greed and guiltless abuse of her maid bobo?) and simply ask how closely Moop - a thoughtful, morally serious contributor to the 2 Blowhards blog - can in fact identify with this woman.

Easterbrook’s satire is fun, but like most serious satire it conveys contempt for its object -- in this case, a boastful, arrogant, belittling, cheating, oblivious, money-grubbing American hog. Many variants of this woman exist in red as well as blue America, but rather than raging at them as they dose their kids with Ritalin and hand them the keys to the Hummer, Easterbrook has chosen satire.

UD would respectfully like to doubt Fenster’s assertion that he needs to “work hard” to escape Easterbrook's penpoint. Everything she has read of Moop’s suggests that it’s not hard for him to be a decent person. Which is all one needs to evade Easterbrook.

[From today's St. Petersburg Times]:

'If the school dies, professors should think about the consequences, state Sen. Jim King, an FSU graduate who championed the school, warned Monday.

Legislators may ask FSU to cut millions from its budget next year to pay back the $9-million allocated last year for the chiropractic school.

"I would also suggest that (professors) evaluate with their department heads what kind of cuts there will have to be," said King, R-Jacksonville. If professors derail the chiropractic school, he added, "I think the Legislature would be angry."

...According to one widely retold story, King tongue-lashed medical school students who confronted him about the chiropractic school.

King said the conversation never happened. He said he won't retaliate against any individual, either, if they help kill the school.

"Would I be disappointed? Yes," King said. "Am I going to be vindictive? No."

He added: "I'm a Scorpio. I'm much more subtle than that.

Monday, January 03, 2005

in which UD is forced to acknowledge
that her beloved newspaper of record
is sometimes a mite out of touch.

From today's New York Times:

"Ms. Gruber's life was troubled from early on. She was born and grew up on West End Avenue near 103rd Street on the Upper West Side, the daughter of two history professors. She attended the private Bank Street School ... "

"Ms. Gruber lives next door to a firehouse, Ladder 25, and felt the loss of firefighters at close quarters on Sept. 11, 2001. Like many others, she experienced a 'life is short' moment, and she decided to have gastric bypass surgery."

UD’s father, an immunologist at the National Institutes of Health for his entire career, was a staunch empiricist. His rationalism had a strong impact on UD, who still finds it shocking that there are people with advanced degrees from good colleges who believe in astrology and have no grasp of scientific method.

Although UD is far less radically empiricist than her father was, she is an enthusiast of the enlightenment, which has made her life as a literature professor somewhat trying. Arguments, whether about paramecia or poetry, should be clear, reasoned, evidence-based, plausible to a lot of people, and generally applicable, UD figures. Wishful thinking, exceptionalism, rhetorical convolution, and charismatic theatricality -- the pillars of her profession -- make UD blush.

But a focus upon the threat to reasoned thought in the academy that comes from the humanities shouldn’t distract us from other sources of magical thinking in the American university. Because they often make bogus therapeutic claims, some psychology departments, for instance (see UD post dated 4/12/2004) , are more insidious than English departments. Similarly, many schools of education instruct their graduates in how to subject our most vulnerable citizens to duncery.

There’s nothing intrinsically irrational in the study of psychology, or education, or theology for that matter; at their best, these represent disciplined ways of exploring with careful neutrality various human phenomena. But just as history can be coarsened into peace studies, anything can be degraded into a species of emotivism. Even the hard sciences.

Along those lines, the story out of Florida State University, where an escalating war rages between the university’s furious medical faculty and a politician who rammed a new FSU chiropractic school through the legislature (see UD posts dated 12/29/04 and 12/31/04), is beginning to get serious press attention. Who will prevail? And what can this high-profile fight tell us about the definition and the defense of the legitimate university?

Prompted by a reader who thinks highly of chiropractic, UD has spent some days reading up on the profession, its theories and its practices. She concludes that in an extremely modest sense, chiropractic has a contribution to make. There are some practitioners (given the weak educations most have received, UD thinks the number of such people small) who can lay their hands on a person’s back and make that person (temporarily) feel better.

Such a modest contribution amounts to less than a profession or an academic field - it amounts to a narrow therapeutic activity. But chiropractic has pumped itself up into a whole big pseudo-profession which now routinely approaches legitimate American and Canadian universities with the idea of establishing a chiropractic medical school in them. Plenty of marginally legitimate, or illegitimate, chiropractic schools already exist to teach students the hocus-pocus vitalistic jargon that dominates the field, and chiropractors who come out of these schools seem to do pretty well in terms of employment and salary. But they are restless for respectability.

The failed effort by Canadian chiropractors to establish a medical school at York University a few years ago demonstrates, writes a physicist at York, how “tenuous truth's foothold is within the contemporary university.” Administrators seduced by the money the chiropractors were offering, and social scientists who disdain truth claims (“contrary to arguments made by some sociologists, no university has a responsibility to take in an alternative medicine community simply because a significant minority of the population uses its therapies. Many adults believe in astrology, but university administrators wouldn't entertain a serious suggestion to merge with a school of astrology.”), pushed the merger quite far, though it was ultimately rejected - soundly - by York’s faculty.

The problem, though, will recur: “With ever-shrinking budgets, university administrations are challenged more and more to devise creative ways of securing funding. Enter alternative medicine, whose popularity with the public is growing rapidly. Colleges of acupuncture, homeopathy, and naturopathy have become ubiquitous in major centers, along with chiropractic colleges. Can there be any doubt that those with deep pockets will seek legitimization through affiliations with universities in the future?”

Although plenty of bogus therapies have infiltrated universities via psychology departments, the hard sciences have policed their borders well so far, and UD is confident that even in a notably corrupt state like Florida serious science will prevail against the philistines. But these dustups allow us to focus upon the essential nature of the university as a place apart from the sentimentality, the credulity, the fuzzy thinking, the passive dependency upon experts, and the herd mentality that comprise the mental world of many people.

Sunday, January 02, 2005


Sports writing, UD has decided, is the great leveler. Sports writers write as badly in New York as they do in Muncie.

UD thinks this is because newspaper editors equate sports writing with figurative language. Foreign policy reportage demands the dignity of abstraction, but sports writing is down to earth, baby. It’s about action-packed, you-are-there excitement.

Even in the lofty New York Times, UD’s paper of record, sports writing comes at UD with a staggering offensive rush. It trips her up with a trillion metaphors and then it bashes her nut in until UD can feel her verbal skills (her SAT Verbals were high -- dramatically so juxtaposed with her NonVerbals) losing consciousness and concussing.

Aw shut up, UD, you may say. You’re supposed to let this sort of writing wash over you. Instead of sitting there in your lineless bifocals trying to make sense of it, drift along.

The excessive trash of the "College Coeds Gone Wild" video has been exceeded by the obscene state spending of "College Caretakers Gone Loony."

Were the Gators the careless triggermen or innocent market victims?

"I'm sure some will say Florida is the cause," Florida's athletic director, Jeremy Foley, said in a telephone interview, "but Florida didn't set the marketplace."

Was it Notre Dame? The leprechauns were desperately pursuing Meyer with a pot of gold. Was it Louisiana State? The Tigers had established the bar with an $18.45 million deal for Nick Saban only to see him jilt them for a $22.5 million deal in the N.F.L.

Was it Bob Stoops? He sends the Sooners into bake-sale mode every time he winks at another suitor.

The culprit is not the obvious. On the surface, the spiraling salaries seem like a clairvoyant snapshot of the foreboding "arms race" passage authored by the deep thinkers behind the 2001 Knight Commission report.

UD knows this has something to do with excessive compensation for college coaches, but for her it is mainly about a writer whose enthusiasm for metaphor has gone psychotic. Earnestly, UD attempts to take into consideration each of the writer’s figures -- the garbage, the porno, the hitmen, the lambs, the jilters, the bakers, the spirals, the clairvoyants, the photos, the philosophers -- but they bomb past her on their way to some inky elusive goalpost.

Saturday, January 01, 2005


"Reading Carson McCullers paperbacks and quoting everyone from George Sand to Molière while swishing through the house with a terminal hangover in a red paisley dressing gown, his white hair stuffed into a cowboy hat, his gut hanging out of his underwear and his fat, hairy feet overlapping the sides of his dirty sandals, he’s Truman Capote with the vapors. What some call flamboyant bravery others dismiss as too much ham for the salad. But conjuring memories of my own student days in the bayou belt, I recall English professors on Southern campuses who were the spitting image of everything Mr. Travolta says and does in this film."

----- From Rex Reed's review of A Love Song for Bobby Long in The New York Observer.

"The whole age can be divided into those who write and those who do not write. Those who write represent despair, and those who read disapprove of it and believe that they have a superior wisdom - and yet, if they were able to write, they would write the same thing. Basically they are all equally despairing, but when one does not have the opportunity to become important with his despair, then it is hardly worth the trouble to despair and show it. Is this what it is to have conquered despair?"

Soren Kierkegaard