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

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

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Two College Prep Typologies
In Today’s New York Times


Amusing review of the college prep philosophies various teachers hold in Alan Bennett’s new play, The History Boys. The setting is England, but the types are familiar enough from the States, as Charles McGrath notes.

The flashiest method is that of Irwin, a young hotshot brought in by the headmaster (who, as played by Clive Merrison, bears a startling resemblance, physical and temperamental, to Mr. Burns, the scheming nuclear power plant owner on "The Simpsons") to add a little sheen to a class of eight senior boys swotting away in preparation for the Oxford and Cambridge entrance exams. The idea is not so much well-roundedness as to make the boys seem the equal, in cleverness, glibness and false sophistication, of competing candidates from the elite private schools.

For Irwin, education is essentially a stunt in which the whole point is to distinguish oneself in interviews and exams. His favorite strategy is to attack received opinion, just on principle, and stand it on its head. "The wrong end of the stick is the right one," he tells the boys. "A question has a front door and a back door. Go in the back, or better still, the side." He suggests Stalin as an example: "Generally agreed to be a monster, and rightly. So dissent. Find something, anything, to say in his defense. History nowadays is not a matter of conviction. It's a performance."

Irwin is in part the playwright's not-so-hidden dig at revisionary historians like David Starkey and Niall Ferguson, who have made careers out of debunking some of Britain's most cherished beliefs. Mr. Ferguson has famously argued about World War I, for example, that Britain was as much to blame for starting the war as Germany, and that Britain need never have got involved.

Americans looking for an analogy closer to home need only think of the online magazine Slate and The New Republic in the heyday of Michael Kinsley's editorship, when a routine tactic was to take some familiar item of conventional wisdom — that Wal-Mart is bad, or that magazine fact-checking departments are good — and demonstrate that it's all wrong.

But as most successful students already know, the Irwinian method is practically foolproof and works on everyone except teachers like Hector, Irwin's antagonist at the school. A fat, shambling, bow-tie-wearing eccentric, Hector believes in learning for its own sake and in turning out truly well-rounded human beings, not the fashionable Ivy League sort. His pupils are required to learn by heart great swaths of Hardy, Auden and Larkin, but also the songs of Gracie Fields. A typically rollicking class might include a re-enactment of the cigarette-smoking scene from "Now, Voyager" or, for a French lesson, a skit taking place in a brothel: "Pour dix francs je peux vous montrer ma prodigieuse poitrine."

Hector takes a very dim view of the exam process, and doesn't seem to think it matters very much whether the boys go to Oxbridge or not. "I count exams, even for Oxford and Cambridge, as the enemy of education," he says at one point. "Which is not to say that I don't count education as the enemy of education, too."

Hector belongs, in short, to the great tradition of memorable, idealistic and life-altering schoolteachers, in the same company as Mr. Chips, Miss Jean Brodie and the Robin Williams character in "Dead Poets Society." That's both his appeal — especially in our age of results-oriented education — and his limitation. He's the teacher we all wish we had, including the Oxford-educated Mr. Bennett, who has said he wrote the play in part because no such figure had ever turned up in his classes at a Leeds grammar school not unlike the one in "The History Boys."

And then there is Mrs. Lintott, who stuffs her pupils so full of facts that they invariably excel at their A-levels — the equivalent of our Advanced Placement tests. She gets the fewest lines and the shortest shrift but is also the least fragile of the characters and the most contemporary figure at an institution that seems a little otherworldly, more 50's than 80's — the kind of school where the fumbling gropes of a closeted gay teacher are genially tolerated by the students, if not the administration, and where, amazingly, no one listens to rock music.

Irwin isn't an anachronism exactly; he's just so slick that these days he wouldn't be caught dead in a classroom. He'd work for IvyWise helping students enhance their portfolios and add contrarian, attention-getting touches to their personal essays: "Why Flunking Driver's Ed Was Good for Me."

Mrs. Lintott's position is a somewhat unfashionable one both in the play and in real life these days, where mere competence sometimes seems undervalued. She is not a particularly exciting teacher, we gather, just a highly effective one. Her great virtue is the way she suggests to the boys on the stage and the grownups in the audience that education has its limitations. If you don't get into one college, she reminds us, you will almost certainly get into another, and while education may be a necessary preparation for life, it is in no way a substitute for it.


David Brooks, in a charming but sort of pointless column, also analyzes a certain pre-collegiate world:

In every high school there are students who are culturally and intellectually superior but socially aggrieved. These high school culturati have wit and sophisticated musical tastes but find that all prestige goes to jocks, cheerleaders and preps who possess the emotional depth of a cocker spaniel. The nerds continue to believe that the self-reflective life is the only life worth living (despite all evidence to the contrary) while the cool, good-looking, vapid people look down upon them with easy disdain on those rare occasions they are compelled to acknowledge their existence.

These sarcastic cultural types may grow up to be rich movie producers, but they will remember their adolescent opposites and become liberals. They may grow up to be rich lawyers but will decorate their homes with interesting fabrics from the oppressed Peruvian peasantry to differentiate themselves from their jock opposites.

In adulthood, the former high school nerds will savor the sort of scandals that befall their formerly athletic and currently corporate adolescent enemies — the Duke lacrosse scandal, the Enron scandal, the various problems that have plagued the frat boy Bush. In the lifelong struggle for moral superiority, problems that bedevil your adolescent opposites send pleasure-inducing dopamine surging through your brain.

Similarly, in every high school there are jocks, cheerleaders and regular kids who vaguely sense that their natural enemies are the brooding poets who go off to become English majors. These prom kings and queens may leave their adolescent godhood and go off to work as underpaid sales reps despite their coldly gracious spouses and effortlessly slender kids, but they will still remember their adolescent opposites and become conservatives. They will experience surges of orgiastic triumphalism when Sean Hannity eviscerates the scuffed-shoed intellectuals who have as much personal courage as a French chipmunk in retreat.

NYT is dumping on UD’s

soon-to-be-favorite museum too!
My memories of the man?

His enormousness. He sat in his living room (book-lined; big piano; Persian rugs) in an oversized chair, which he dominated. For diminutive UD, sitting across from Galbraith was like looking at the Lincoln Memorial.

He had a deep slow sly voice, which he used (on the occasions I was there) to tell elaborate, funny stories about politics or his travels or academia.

A wealthy man, he was unpretentious. His farmhouse in Vermont was spartan, though rich in the memorabilia of a life well-lived. His country library was full of old Anglo funny stuff: Dickens, Thackery, Wodehouse.

Here’s a nice quotation from him, reminding me of one of my favorite Camus passages: “If wrinkles must be written upon our brows, let them not be written upon the heart. The spirit should never grow old.”

Camus, in “Return to Tipasa,” wrote: “In order to prevent justice from shriveling up, from becoming nothing but a magnificent orange with a dry, bitter pulp, I discovered one must keep a freshness and a source of joy intact within, loving the daylight that injustice leaves unscathed, and returning to the fray with this light as a trophy.”
Shleifer Thrives;
Galbraith Dies

And it’s tempting to see my headline as a shorthand version of much that’s gone wrong with Harvard in the last few years.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

This is what happens
When you have one too
Many problems on your campus.

First, a guy (the peripatetic Mark Slouka!) writes in indignant defense of a maligned fellow writer, Sven Birkerts:

Birkerts is writing some of the best criticism in America today, an assessment clearly endorsed by the [New York Times] Book Review, which publishes him, and by Harvard University, which recently hired him. Whatever species of bee it is that Marcus has in his bonnet, he should release it as soon as possible and come in from the schoolyard.

Then, a blogger responds:

H-h-h-h-h-old up!! H-h-h-h-harvard hired him!? Boy oh boy, Greil Marcus [he who took off after Birkerts] must have totally hit his forehead with the palm of his hand and peed in his pants after realizing his terrible, terrible misjudgment. We bet three, chubby Larry Summerses and one Opal Mehta with her tail between her legs that Marcus writes a retraction next week profusely apologizing for the error of his ways.
How could anyone think a teapot museum
in Sparta North Carolina was pork?

Faithful readers know that UD’s a tea freak who makes pilgrimages to places like Mariage Freres in Paris, orders tea from special online teahouses, and drinks painstakingly brewed loose leaves throughout the day.

Mariages Freres has a little tea museum across the street from its main tearoom. Can't we compete?

Yet the Washington Post lumps Sparta’s museum (still in the planning stages, but it's got a hell of a website) in with other obvious examples of congressional pork:

In Washington, pork has become synonymous with congressional earmarks; in fact, most media outlets -- including The Washington Post -- define it as such. So does the new "Pig Book," which was released this month by Citizens Against Government Waste and catalogs 375 of last year's goofiest earmarks, such as the Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative and the Sparta Teapot Museum.

I can’t speak to the urinal initiative, but I can certainly tell from its website that Sparta’s got a great collection of pots, and that the museum will be cool:

Aside from 12,000 square feet of gallery space for permanent and temporary exhibitions, the museum will have education space for adults and children; a lobby/reception hall available for the community; a multi-purpose auditorium for lectures, artist demonstrations, small performances, and film; a museum shop, a tea room/café, and administrative space.

What could the small performances be? How often can you do “I’m A Little Teapot”?

The collectors who made all of this possible are featured on their own website . The husband says: “On the average, we buy one or two teapots a day.”
People Who Think You’re Stupid

Lots of stuff about blogs in a survey of new media in The Economist, which notes the rising fortunes of the sort of thing you’re reading now and the declining fortunes of newspapers. Like Andrew Sullivan and other commentators, The Economist suggests that “It’s about democratisation” -- the rise of the individual voice and of conversation.

Which is interestingly juxtaposed with a review of a new book in the same issue: Politics Lost: How American Democracy Was Trivialised by People Who Think You’re Stupid, by Joe Klein:

Today political professionals - consultants, pollsters, and admen - test out every phrase [a politician might utter]. The result is a veritable Hobson’s choice: the droning inanities of a John Kerry versus the scripted platitudes of a George Bush.
Valedictory for Ms. V

Not Writing But Sleeping

Nobody heard her, the V. girl,
But still she lay weeping:
I was much less alert than I thought
And not writing but sleeping.

Poor chick, she always loved lifting
And now she's caught
The publisher pulled her book
And it can’t be bought.

Oh, no no no, I was too fake always
(Still the hyped one lay weeping)
I’ve been basically bogus all my life
And not writing but sleeping.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Erin O’Connor Sent Me This…

…because she knew I would love it.

From The Morning News:

Inspired by recent events, we wondered not “why does anyone plagiarize,” but “why aren’t more people better at plagiarizing?” And so we are launching a contest to see if there is a “writer” out there who can create a coherent and original piece of fiction completely made from the works of others.

(Which is about as coherent and original as modern fiction can get, right?)

The TMN “Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta” Contest

The Rules:
—You are limited to 750 of somebody else’s words.
—All lifted material must be cited (author, work, page number). This is the only part where you have to be honest; unlike professional publishers, we’re actually going to check.
—You must plagiarize from a minimum of five different books by as many authors as you wish. The only demand we make is that those books were published at some point, somewhere.
—You must lift only phrases, whole sentences, or passages. No single-word citations allowed.

All entries must be received by midnight on Friday, May 12, or by the time we check our email on Saturday morning, whichever comes later.

Entries will be judged on the creative use of their source material as well as the excellence of the finished story. The winner of the TMN “Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta” Contest will have his or her story published on The Morning News, and will also receive a TMN T-shirt and mug to remind them of this, the moment ethics in writing died.

Please send all entries to [email protected], and good luck!

I'm already brainstorming!
Ms. V. and the Unintentional Fallacy

"Like 'unintentional larceny,' the term 'unintentional plagiarism' is an oxymoron... [T]he appropriation of another's work is rarely unintentional."

The Guardian
Pallid, though commendable...

...effort to respond to Slouka's attack on Columbia's MFA. Two students in the program write a stiffly bureaucratic though perfectly acceptable piece of English prose to defend the place.

Yet they've got quite a job on their hands. There's the lack of letter grades, which they can only spin in the way everyone tries to spin it:

The pass/low pass/fail system (a correction to Slouka’s piece) allows students to experiment and take risks with their writing, a core belief of the writing division. Slouka’s desire for excellence in advocating a letter-grade-based system is laudable. However, it overlooks the benefits of more complex methods of literary evaluation such as extended written critical feedback and the individual conference. Columbia’s faculty provides both, thus anticipating the responses we writers will receive from the outside literary community. This approach fosters a collaborative environment in which students are encouraged to help one another cultivate a variety of literary skills rather than merely competing for grade point averages.

That two writers who write like certified public accountants would also talk about taking risks with their writing is funny. And don't tell me that writing short stories is different from writing opinion pieces -- both forms can either exhibit or fail to exhibit interesting, risk-taking style.

If the program has increased in size, it is because a higher percentage of accepted students has enrolled each year.

Which is not an answer to the charge that the program is cynically accepting too many students in order to take their money, since admissions committees, knowing that their number of acceptances is growing, are supposed to offer fewer acceptances.

Moreover, Slouka’s attack on “teaching the teaching of writing” to “students who have not yet learned to write” implies that there is a fixed point at which a student will have finished learning how to write.

Slouka's point, as the quotation suggests, was that some students have not yet begun to learn to write.
A Letter to Harvard Magazine

"In my judgment, the recusal of Summers from the government case charging a senior Harvard faculty member and others with fraudulent activities while entrusted with the task of helping the Russian government privatize its state-owned utility and other companies (“HIID Dénouement,” March-April, page 67) has been swept under the rug by Summers and the Harvard Corporation. The good name of our University has been besmirched to an extent that requires that the individuals guilty of this gross breach of trust should have been dismissed.

There can be no question that a willful failure to respect their collective and individual dedication to ideals that this institution stands for, in order to enjoy personal gain, was what occurred. Who is most responsible for protecting the University’s integrity? The Corporation and the president.

Who will doubt that, in some future situation, when our government is looking for professional assistance in sensitive matters, requiring not only expertise but trustworthiness, this sorry episode will come up? In my eyes, the moral stature of the University has been inexcusably and irrevocably reduced by the action of those directly involved, the president, and the Corporation. This was the main justification for the forced departure of Summers, but the Corporation still has unfinished business, if it has the will: to revisit this whole episode and repair the damage done to the integrity of the University."

George Vlahos ’53
Byfield, Mass.
Here’s One to Watch.

It’s impossible for an outsider to judge the merits of the case against the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute - she barely squeaked through a faculty no confidence vote recently - but one thing’s certain: Her unconscionable salary, almost one million dollars a year plus extensive benefits (I think I’m recalling correctly that she’s the highest paid university president in the United States), isn’t going to help her case.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Some Kaavyats

From Joshua Foer in Slate

...Even if cryptomnesia is a real memory glitch that happens to all of us from time to time, however, it's hard to figure how it could lead to the involuntary swiping of 29 different passages.

...This seems like as good an opportunity as any to clear up the greatest enduring myth about human memory. Lots of people claim to have a photographic memory, but nobody actually does. Nobody.

...Viswanathan is hardly the first plagiarist to claim unconscious influence from memory's depths. George Harrison said he never intended to rip off the melody of the Chiffons' "He's So Fine" when he wrote "My Sweet Lord." He had just forgotten he'd ever heard it.
How Opal Mehta Got Withdrawn
As Long as Mark Slouka...

...has us thinking about this country's pitiable MFA programs, here's a letter Michael Blumenthal wrote a few years ago -- the Chronicle of Higher Ed published it -- to his creative writing students:

A Letter to my Students


As I prepare to depart your august institution, I am aware that I will hardly be leaving a mournful group of tear-struck students in my wake. On the contrary, many of you will be glad to see me go. For, I well realize, many of the expectations engendered, and nurtured, by your previous instructors in what we call -- at times euphemistically -- "creative writing" have been disappointed, if not downright dashed, by my presence among you over the past 10 weeks.

Several weeks before the end of this quarter, I was struck by a certain "Love Letter and Thank You Note" addressed to you and my other temporary colleagues by one of the younger, departing professors of creative writing -- a warm and seemingly charming person -- in which she declared her devotion to what she described as "student-centered, relationship-based teaching," and attributed her own, self-described success (which I have come to equate, simply, with popularity) to the fact that she "love(s) my students." She "started loving my students," she went on, "because I saw such inspiring, fragile, invincible, vulnerable beauty in them." She saw, our young poet did, "the same kind of beauty in them I see in the just-about-to-fall spring petals on the trees..."

Not satisfied with providing her own encomiums to her capacities as a teacher, our young colleague -- whom many of you had as a teacher -- also furnished testimony from one of her students' mothers, who, after having sat in on her class and observed what was no doubt the unabashed praise of her offspring's work, said to our erstwhile young professor, "I wish the media would cover stories like this [class] -- we'd all feel a lot more hope about our future in this country."

This being California, our young, about-to-go-on-to-greener-pastures professor couldn't, of course, simply content herself with an outsider's praise. "When people feel loved, nourished, supported and respected; when people feel recognized, seen, and known; when people feel unique and valued," she went on, "they feel confident enough to explore their gifts, to develop those gifts, and to make significant contributions to the human community." To which I can only add: Amen.

In her defense, my younger colleague is probably a victim of what a friend of mine contends (and I wholeheartedly agree) has become, increasingly, the purpose of university life itself -- the presentation of moments of self-gratification, little assurances and narcissistic stabilizers that confirm: Yes, I am smart, I am creative, I am loved. Personally, however, I prefer Goethe's approach -- of which you will come, in time, like it or not, to see the wisdom: "If I love you," the great bard wisely asked, "what business is that of yours?"

And now, my young friends, at the risk of both dashing one of your dear mother's hopes, and relieving any of you who may be experiencing a certain sadness at my departure, let me make a terrible confession: I do not love you. While I have come to like several of you quite a bit, admire some others, feel sympathy for some, and a cool distance toward others, I must confess that for none of you have I developed that rare, precious, and deeply human feeling I would describe as love.

Nor, let me assure you, am I someone incapable of feeling that emotion we call love. I love my son and my close friends. I have loved both my wives in different ways, and several lovers before and between them. But I was not brought here -- your former professor's mushy rhetoric notwithstanding -- to love you, but, rather, to teach you, as I hope I have, something about the beauties, challenges, hardships, joys, and dignity of making, and reading, poems, I was brought here not to be an oracle of love, but because presumably I knew a bit more about being a writer than you do; so that, with some luck and application on all our parts, we might together learn something about that difficult and demanding vocation.

Several years ago, a friend of mine, a long-tenured professor of creative writing, warned me -- in a gesture both well-meaning and sincere -- not to "shit in your own backyard," an act for which my ancestors, the Germans, have a much more poignant, and efficient, term: Nestbeschmutzer -- someone who dirties his own nest, a term popular among the Nazis as well. But thanks in no small part to colleagues like the one who has showered you with her love and testimonials to "the endless possibilities of the human spirit," I have long ago ceased to think of the world of creative writing and its instructors as my "nest" (much as I would like to hope that I have a home of sorts in the world of literature), nor have I continued, except for occasional forays such as this one, to inhabit that backyard. So I can afford, as I am doing now, to take liberties, preferring to cite a line from one of my own generation's better poets, Bob Dylan: "When you got nothin', you got nothin' to lose."

On our first day of class this quarter, I told you that, insofar as I was concerned, there were three possible things to be gained from a class in creative writing: the ability to become better, more discriminating readers; a greater capacity for truth-telling and, with it, the acceptance of hard truths from others; and a greater respect for the difficulty of writing itself. If I have done my job, whether you have come to "love" me or not, you may have learned something about all three, and I can leave here a satisfied, if not universally beloved, teacher.

Which leads me to yet another confession you may, or may not, want to hear: I do not need your love. (And is there, I wonder, a more abused, and misused, word in all of the English language than "love"?) For I am, in that sense, a lucky man: I already have the love of most, if not all, of those whose love I need. What I need from you, or at least would prefer, is something more befitting our student-teacher relationship: your respect. And respect -- let me assure you, from the lofty vantage point of middle age -- is something both more enduring, and more necessary of being earned, than are the vagaries and vicissitudes of what we so often mistakenly call "love."

Nonetheless, I am well aware that you are under the impression that you have been "nurtured" and "loved" by certain teachers who have been far more popular with you than I have been. But let me let you in on yet another little trade secret: You have been neither loved nor nurtured. You have, rather, been lied to and betrayed. Though the mother's milk that flows from such breasts may temporarily satisfy your ravenous appetites for praise (and its donors' hunger for tenure), it is not, I assure you, a very nourishing brew.

You have been told that the not good is good, that the unworthy is the worthy. Rather than being commended on the hard work and noble intentions of your ambition (when it was worth commending), you have been praised for the beauty and rightness of its product (for poetry, as the poet Howard Nemerov once put it, is "getting something right in language").

And, perhaps worst of all, to paraphrase Auden, rather than being respected for wanting to learn how to play an instrument, you have been virtually handed a seat in the orchestra, endowed with a feeling of professionalism without either the hard work or genuine apprenticeship that normally precedes it. This, today, is what passes for "nurturing"; once upon a time, it went by another name: deceit. But to give you such unearned praise -- as a friend of mine, a long-tenured professor who has taught at Johns Hopkins, Stanford, and the University of Chicago, recently reminded me -- "is not only to give [you] nothing at all, it's to deprive [you] of the one thing we have to hold onto; real work and an objective correlative."

Nor has anyone, I suspect, bothered to acquaint you with the dark subtext that underlies all this nurturing and lying and love: That dishonesty -- for a writer even more than for most "ordinary" people -- is an acquired, and contagious, habit. That if you are lied to by your teachers and encouraged to lie to one another and, ultimately, to lie to yourself, the habit of lying will ultimately permeate both your soul and your work, and you will be incapable -- even if you are otherwise graced with the gifts of language, subject, time, and peace of mind -- of uttering in your work that most difficult, and necessary, of truths: the truth, as Matthew Arnold put it, "of what we feel indeed."

And so, my young friends, I leave you with perhaps not the most stellar student evaluations, but also with the luxury of not needing them, seeing as how the department of which I aspire to be a tenured member has no office here, nor at any other university. And if some day, as has happened to me on numerous occasions in the past, I should receive a letter from some -- or at least one -- of you, saying, "Although I didn't particularly like you at the time, or feel sufficiently praised by you, I realize now that I learned something about poetry, and about the struggles and exhilarations of being a writer, from being in your class" it will feel as good to me as being praised by one of your mothers, or covered by the media.

It will even -- let me assure you -- feel better than being loved.

Respectfully yours,

Michael Blumenthal
The Theory of the Leisure Suit

David Brooks, NYTimes, this morning:

'[In 1996], Michael Tomasky published "Left for Dead," which argued that the progressive movement was being ruined by multicultural identity politics. Democrats have lost the ability to talk to Americans collectively, Tomasky wrote, and seem to be a collection of aggrieved out-groups: feminists, blacks, gays and so on.

At the time, Bernstein and Tomasky were lonely voices on the left, and the multiculturalists struck back. For example, Martin Duberman slammed Tomasky's book in The Nation, and defended multiculturalism:

"The radical redefinitions of gender and sexuality that are under discussion in feminist and queer circles contain a potentially transformative challenge to all 'regimes of the normal.' The work of theorists like Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Jeffrey Weeks, Marjorie Garber and Judith Butler represents a deliberate systemic affront to fixed modes of being and patterns of power. They offer brilliant (if not incontrovertible) postulates about such universal matters as the historicity and fluidity of sexual desire, the performative nature of gender, and the multiplicity of impulses, narratives and loyalties that lie within us all."

Duberman insisted that postmodern multicultural theorizing would transform politics, but today his gaseous review reads as if it came from a different era, like an embarrassing glimpse of leisure suits in an old home movie.'
Slate’s Jack Shafer…

…offers a pretty good list of the real reasons people plagiarize:

Ambition Often Exceeds Talent: I know of very few examples in which an exceptional writer got caught plagiarizing. Sometimes writers accept jobs or assignments beyond their talents. When the deadline whistle blows, they find themselves facing this cost-benefit quandary: Shall I tell the truth and bail, damaging my career for sure, or shall I steal copy and only risk damaging my career?

Writing Is Hard Work: A corollary to ambition exceeding talent. Even prolific writers, who can toss off a thousand words an hour, complain about the difficulty of writing. Writing well is a difficult enterprise. So is writing poorly. With so many examples of good writing out there to "borrow," why suffer only to write poorly?

The Thrill Factor: As anybody who has ever shoplifted a pack of Bazooka bubble gum can tell you, people steal not only for material gain but for psychic gain. It's a gas to pad the company expense account, leave a restaurant without paying, or rifle though a friend's medicine cabinet to steal his most potent medications.

Evening the Score: If you hate your boss at the car factory, you might express your fury by sabotaging every tenth car on the line. If you hate your editor or your publication, perhaps you stick it to him by plagiarizing. It doesn't make sense, but neither does sabotaging every tenth car.

Force of Habit: If nobody catches you running stop lights in college or tickets you for doing the same at your first newspaper job, you eventually stop paying attention. One day, red, yellow, and green all mean "go."

Contempt for the Business: Show me the writer who calls himself and everybody he works with a "hack," and I'll show you a potential plagiarist.

Even If You Get Caught, You'll Probably Get Away With It: Trudy Lieberman reported in the July/August 1995 Columbia Journalism Review that many journalists caught plagiarizing paid little or no price for their transgressions. Lieberman describes a "circle-the-wagons" mentality in the news business when plagiarism breaks out. Providing a number of examples, she also notes the double standard of journalists who gave Sen. Joseph Biden holy grief when he committed plagiarism in a presidential campaign speech but cut their colleagues slack.

That “contempt for the business” thing in particular interests me. UD’s been following plagiarists for a long time, and many of them have been raised by amoral, ambitious parents who believe in nothing, who believe that everything is corrupt, and who want all social and financial goodies for themselves and their families.

Life, they believe, is brutal winner-take-all warfare. They pride themselves on their ability always to figure out an angle whereby each corrupt game of life can be won, as with plagiarist Blair Hornstine’s father, who figured out that if he could lie and say his daughter had a physical impairment, she could be exempted from gym and therefore get a higher GPA than anyone else at her high school.

What’s striking about many of the plagiarists UD has followed is that they don’t have to break rules to do well in life, but they appear to derive gratification, along with a confirmation of their Hobbesian view of life, from continually breaking them and winning. These are the ‘thesdanians in UD’s world who insist on building their mcmansions bigger than the already-generous rules allow - not because they care about the extra space, but because it’s important to them to show their neighbors their rule-breaking, contemptuous superiority.

Plagiarists, in short, tend to be self-destructive game-players who harbor real venom against civil society. Blair Hornstine and Ms. V. are their unfortunate children.
The Etiology of Ms. V.

' "In a way it's kind of like working on a television show ," said Cindy Eagan, editorial director at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, a sister imprint of Ms. Viswanathan's publisher, and the publisher of the "Clique," "A-List" and "Gossip Girl" series. "We all work together in shaping each novel."

…The company that eventually became Alloy was founded in 1987. It had its first hit with the "Sweet Valley High" series. The company, then known as 17th Street Productions, was sold in 2000 to Alloy Inc., a large media company that owns the teenage-oriented retailer Delia's, and changed its name to Alloy Entertainment. Since then it has become a 'tween-lit hit factory. '
Here we are as in olden days,
happy golden days of yore…

…as the name “Benjamin Ladner” again graces the pages of UD’s hometown paper, The Washington Post.

Although the disgraced ex-president of American University now lives in gilded exile, having been given a $3.75 million departure deal, the US Senate has all this time been examining that severance, and the tainted board of trustees at AU that made it possible:

The chairman of the Senate Finance Committee is expected to call for significant reforms on American University's governing board -- including the possible removal of some trustees -- after talks between the two groups failed, according to sources familiar with the discussions.

The talks, held during the past few weeks, were an attempt to quietly put to rest a review by committee staff members of the $3.75 million departure deal awarded last fall to ousted AU president Benjamin A. Ladner after the board concluded that he could be fired for cause.

Ladner was ousted in October after auditors questioned hundreds of thousands of dollars in expenditures by him and his wife, Nancy, over three years. He reimbursed the university more than $100,000 and agreed to amend tax forms to report additional indirect income from the school for services such as a personal chef.

The deal infuriated many on the private university's campus in Northwest Washington, with faculty, deans and students voting no-confidence in the board for its actions.

Sources, who declined to be identified because of the confidentiality of the proceedings, said a key reason the talks failed was that the board declined to remove some trustees who had been seen as most prominent in the decision to award the severance package.

As a result, the sources said, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Finance Committee, will send a letter to the AU trustees within days recommending changes in governance. Grassley's committee has been investigating financial abuses in nonprofit organizations.

The recommendations are expected to include a request that board leaders oust certain members, as well as provide a stronger voice on the governing panel for faculty and students, according to the sources.

Because American University is congressionally chartered, Congress could formally step into issues of governance, but the sources said Grassley's recommendations would not be binding…

It remains astounding to UD that friends of Jack Abramoff and similarly rancid Washington moneybags retain seats on AU’s board. I suppose the Senate committee is equally astounded.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Henry, at The Occasional Review

…analyzes with some care the Columbia Spectator writer’s unimpressive prose. It was an analysis I didn’t want to do, though I saw the same thing, because I wanted to focus on the larger scandal of Columbia’s MFA program that the writer inelegantly describes. But Henry’s more or less correct that the writing

illustrates how a writer can - while making assertions that are, for all I know, totally accurate - expose himself … thoroughly as a pompous jackass. And in a few hundred words! I also find it rather amusing that a professor who accuses students of being barely literate is such a terrible writer.

Henry, like UD, also singles out the language that a “senior colleague” the writer quotes uses. But while UD had only a brief parenthetical comment to make about this colleague’s English, Henry goes to town on him:

[Slouka] … provide[s] a thumbnail sketch from an unnamed "senior colleague," who has apparently been hanging out a lot in the 17th century: "How I wish I could believe there will be some surcease, some righting of the ship in the foreseeable [future]. Alas, I fear it will not be so." My stars, will there be no surcease? Alack, what poverty my muse brings forth - O, Gods, blame me not if I no more can write!

This is cruel but funny.
In Which We Are Reminded...

...that as a Harvard-affiliated plagiarist, Ms. V. is in excellent company:

"While colleges tend to respond very harshly to student plagiarism, when it comes to professors they often look the other way," according to Chronicle reporter Thomas Bartlett.

They did for best-selling historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, who has a new book out about Abraham Lincoln, even though she's never come clean about the passages she internalized from other authors most notably Lynne McTaggart. McTaggart wrote

"Kathleen Kennedy: Her Life and Times," which Goodwin "internalized" for her book "The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys."

Is it a coincidence that Goodwin is a former Harvard history professor and a member of its Board of Overseers?

Come to think of it, others accused of internalizing for their books have included famous Harvard law professors, including Lawrence Tribe, whose "God Save This Honorable Court" internalized parts of Henry J. Abraham's "Justices, Presidents and Senators," and Charles Ogletree, whose "All Deliberate Speed" internalized passages from Jack Balkin's "What Brown v. Board of Education Should Have Said."

So let's not be too hard on Viswanathan. In her crimson ivory tower, internalizing isn't exactly original.
Maud Newton...

...links to Felicia Sullivan, a Columbia University MFA who offers a little stream of consciousness in response to the Slouka attack on that program:

[M]y response: A - fucking - MEN. The comic highlight of my year? A letter from Columbia asking me to donate money to the MFA program and its students. Are you kidding me?! I wish I could have gotten some of my money back from some of the incompetent professors who i’ve suffered classes with (including a professor who told a whole dinner party of students about my cocaine “problem” and subsequent leave of absence almost two years before, because well, everyone knew about your little problem, felicia - REALLY? THAT’S NEWS TO ME. GREAT TO KNOW I’M THE TOPIC OF GOSSIP IN THE ADMINISTRATION), half the students who were straight out of ivy league colleges, brimming with attitude and felt they knew more about everything than everyone …, so few teaching positions that you have to complete against PHD candidates for, scholarships that are laughable, and endless favoritism, networking events (i’ve only heard this because I refuse to go to one) that resemble awkward cattle calls, and boy, could i go on. I thought about shutting my mouth and saying nothing, but I’m sure the administation at Columbia couldn’t stand me anyway, so no matter.

Sometimes I wish I would have gone to New School. Then I wouldn’t be grinding my teeth to the roots in my sleep, fretting over fucking student loans.
Master of the Bench

From Inside Higher Ed:

For one high school student, it was presumably a magical prom night.

For several students at Baylor University’s law school, it was a noisy inconvenience.

Some students are still fuming that the dean of the law school, Brad Toben, allowed his son to have a high school pre-prom party in — of all places — a portion of the school’s library on Saturday evening, while several of them prepared for a hectic week of exams. A section of the library was closed for the event, and some students said the dinner was an unnecessary distraction during a stressful time of year.

Soon after the party began, some students and faculty members started complaining, and Toben quickly realized that he had made an error. He first apologized to the Waco Tribune-Herald, then forwarded his apology via e-mail to students and faculty members over the weekend.

“I exercised very poor judgment in the matter,” wrote Toben. “Many students were very angry and upset by the use of the space for this purpose, and at, as they have noted, the worst of times during exams. They are right. This was a breach of a basic principle that the law center is for the students’ benefit. I am very sorry and ask that you accept my apology.”

Courtney Hicks, a law student at the school, said that she and several of her classmates appreciate the apology, but feel that the dean has more work to do in remedying the situation.

“I think students would have appreciated a personal apology as opposed to a forwarded e-mail with a link to a newspaper article,” Hicks said. “Perhaps graduating law students will receive such an apology this upcoming Saturday at graduation.”

She added: “Although I respect Dean Toben as a person and as a contributing leader to the Waco community, I and other students feel as though this event only exemplified the lack of connection he has with the Baylor Law student body.”

Some faculty members think Toben has paid his punishment, and it’s time to move on. “The faculty knows he made a mistake, but they also fully appreciate the sincerity of his apology and don’t want to see him suffer further for this — which tangibly harmed nobody,” Brian Serr, a law professor at the school. “He is a good man.”

In an e-mail Serr sent to students on Tuesday, he wrote that he “fully appreciate[s] how upsetting it was to many that the library was set aside for reasons having nothing to do with the mission of Baylor Law School during such an important time in your legal education.”

“But apologies have now been made repeatedly and in various venues, it is now highly unlikely that such a use of the law library will ever be made again (certainly not at finals), and it is now time to move on,” he continued. “You deserved to win on this point, and you have won.”


"[Toben] is a Master of the Bench in the Judge Abner V. McCall American Inns of Court… "


Master of the Bench

Welcome, M'sieur
Sit yourself down
And see the best
Prom party in town!

Library’s free,
It’s just for me,
And a few losers
On Level Three.

Seldom do you see
Men as big as me
A VIP supreme
Who's content to be…

Master of the Bench
Keeper of the key
Owner of the campus
And the li-brair-ie!

Kick the students out
And if they should pout
Hand the little suckers
An apology!

Glad to do my son a favor
Cater all the legal stacks
So let the students sue me
I will simply sue the students back.

Everybody bless the law dean!
Everybody bless the mensch!
Everybody raise a glass
To the master of the bench!
More BM for Ms V from NYT

If there is a Barry Bonds in college today — and remember that when Mr. Bonds started using steroids, as the book recounts, the substances were not banned in professional baseball — then perhaps it is someone like Kaavya Viswanathan. That Harvard sophomore won admission to the university partly through the ministrations of a consulting outfit named IvyWise, which charges $10,000 to $30,000 for its services. Then she wrote a roman à clef about the process, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life."

Now, Miss Viswanathan has been accused of plagiarism, and, in an interview with The New York Times, has acknowledged an "unintentional and unconscious" pattern of appropriation from two other books. Of course, Barry Bonds has insisted that all he ever knowingly took were nutritional supplements.
Infinite Regress
of Unconsciousness

Ms. V's comment about unconscious plagiarism has made her a global laughingstock.

Mr. UD had a brainstorm this morning about how she can get out from under the ridicule. "She should say she was unconscious when she said she was unconscious when she...."
Ms. V. Runs Into More Static

From an editorial in the Daily Herald, Washington State:

What is the response to this blatant theft? From Viswanathan's statement: " ... I am a huge fan of her work and can honestly say that any phrasing similarities between her works and mine were completely unintentional and unconscious."

Unbelievably, the publisher of Little, Brown plans to reissue the book with "the inappropriate similarities" eliminated. Additionally, Viswanathan plans an acknowledgement to McCafferty in the new version. What could the acknowledgement possibly say? "You might want to read 'Sloppy Firsts' first"?

What's really scary is that Viswanathan did not sit down, write a book and send it to a publisher. No. She collaborated with 17th Street Productions Inc., a book packager that specializes in teen narratives and helped her develop her story.

Little, Brown publisher Michael Pietsch said he did not think Viswanathan's "inappropriate similarities" were caused by the pressures of being both a student and an author, or because of her collaboration with 17th Street Productions. Problem is, she wasn't an author. But she sure had motivation to become one when that $500,000 advance was offered. Talk about pressure. And that's in addition to her school work. Viswanathan wants to be an investment banker, not an author.

Little, Brown should pull the book, rather than revising it. Somebody here needs to acknowledge that stealing of that magnitude isn't done "unintentionally or unconsciously."


UPDATE: I knew they'd come through! They just had to collect their thoughts.

According to Kenan Professor of Psychology Daniel L. Schacter, a former chair of the department, examples of unintentional plagiarism by writers have been reported in the past.

Psychologists refer to the phenomenon as ‘cryptomnesia,’” Schacter wrote in an e-mail. “Psychologists conceive of cryptomnesia as a failure of source memory, where one retrieves previously stored information, and attributes that information to the wrong source.”

“Various forms of source misattribution have been studied extensively—they represent a common type of memory failure,” he added.
Athletics the Most Likely Place

If an allegation were made against another member of the university community, the clamor would be less, says Duke law professor Paul Haagen, chairman of the school's Academic Council.

"Somebody makes an allegation against somebody in the physics department, people think, 'OK, there's a terrible person in the physics department,'" he says. "Somebody makes an allegation against the lacrosse team, that's an allegation against Duke University. ... Athletics is the most likely place to have a major scandal in a university, and the scandals roil you in ways that just about nothing else can."
Merde Now Pretty Steadily
Hitting the Ventilateur
For Ms. V

'Harvard University Assistant Dean John Ellison will investigate student author Kaavya Viswanathan, a teenage novelist who said she unintentionally took passages from other books.'

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Ms. V. Officially
In Deep Doodoo

The New York Times:

"[T]he publisher of the two books she borrowed from called her apology 'troubling and disingenuous.' ... Steve Ross, Crown's publisher, said that, 'based on the scope and character of the similarities, it is inconceivable that this was a display of youthful innocence or an unconscious or unintentional act.' He said that there were more than 40 passages in Ms. Viswanathan's book 'that contain identical language and/or common scene or dialogue structure from Megan McCafferty's first two books.' Mr. Ross called it 'nothing less than an act of literary identity theft.'"

Both the other writer's agent and her publisher are talking lawsuits.

“So, I went to visit a friend at UC Santa Cruz last week,” a student of UD’s told her this afternoon.

UD was so tempted to say that cliché thing about Santa Cruz -- “Oh? Did you cavort in a meadow and smoke dope?” - that she practically had to slap her hand over her mouth.

“It was amazing,” her student went on. “It was a celebration of 420. You don’t know what 420 is? It’s a hemp fest. Last week was Santa Cruz‘s annual hemp fest. Everybody cavorts in a meadow and smokes dope. I took some pictures. I’ll forward one to you.”
UD will soon…

…be going to Tom Wolfe’s Jefferson Lecture here in Washington, and in preparation for that she’ll read some Jane Jacobs. Jacobs, who died today, wrote The Death and Life of Great American Cities and was among the first to perceive the fiasco of modern urban planning. James Kunstler interviewed her a few years ago at her home in Toronto:

[S]he declared… starkly in "The Death and Life of Great American Cities" that the experiment of Modernist urbanism was a thumping failure, and urged Americans to look instead to the traditional wisdom of the vernacular city and its fundamental unit, the street, instead of the establishment gurus. This was the first shot in a war that has been ongoing ever since. Decades later, her book become one of the seminal texts of the New Urbanism (along with the books of Lewis Mumford).

(UD’s faithful readers will recall her admiration of Mumford and the spot of Mumford excitement at her house not long ago.)

There’s a little something in the interview touching on the controversy about whether and where you should go to college:

JHK: You hadn't gone to college, by the way?

JJ: Well, I hadn’t wanted to go to school after I finished high school. I was so glad to get out.

She did, though, take some courses at Columbia:

But I was angry at what was happening [to cities] and what I could see first hand was happening. It all came to me first hand. I didn’t have any abstractions about American culture. In the meantime I had gone a couple years to Columbia but I hadn’t been taking classes in American Culture. I sat in on one in Sociology for a while and I thought it was so dumb. [See one post down.] But I had a wonderful time with various science courses and other things that I took there. And I have always been grateful for what I learned in those couple of years.
Via Ann Althouse

…a sociologist laments

the continued transformation of the discipline into a series of seminars where everyone sits around agreeing with one another and wondering why the rest of the world refuses to be so enlightened, where people are made to feel like they should be secretive and apologetic about the extent to which they hold beliefs that stray even-teensy-baby-steps from the orthodoxy.

Sociology is “a pie that shrinks… the more sociology is perceived as just ideology-in-increasingly-casual-empirical-disguise…”

It's like sociology is engaged in this campaign to purge the air in its hallways from heterodox thought as much as possible, and then it simultaneously wonders why students trained in this sterile environment have trouble articulating their ideas to the general public. I've thought about starting to pretend to be more politically conservative than I am in seminars just to feel less complicit in all this.

Mr. UD began graduate student life at the University of Chicago in sociology, but quickly switched to political science. “They took Talcott Parsons seriously,” he said, rather enigmatically, when UD inquired about this. Then, as today, he agreed, sociology has never had room for non-left political thought.
More Foul Weather
For Finnerty

'A Duke University lacrosse player charged with raping a stripper was ordered Tuesday to stand trial in an unrelated assault case.

Collin Finnerty, 19, appeared in D.C. Superior Court for a hearing in which a judge determined he had violated the conditions of a diversion program he entered after being charged in a November assault in Georgetown.

Finnerty and two friends were accused of punching a man after he told them to "stop calling him gay and other derogatory names," according to court documents.

The charges would have been dismissed under the terms of the diversion program once Finnerty completed 25 hours of community service, but the terms also required he not commit any criminal offenses.

Finnerty remains free pending a July 10 trial date in the Georgetown case. He could face up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000 if convicted of simple assault.'


Update: Plus, no fun allowed:

'D.C. Superior Court Judge John Bayly Jr. imposed new conditions for Finnerty as he awaits trial. Finnerty must obey a 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew, not be present anywhere alcohol is sold or consumed, have no contact with Bloxsom, and check in with court by phone every Friday.'
I was much further out than you thought
And not sleeping but writing.

Maud Newton links to someone purporting to be a writing teacher of Ms. V's at Harvard who comments:

'Kaavya was my student last spring (in a section where I was a TA). I was surprised to learn she had written a book, as her writing was awful– I had given her low grades on her papers.

I feel bad for her, even though she was always falling asleep in section (as if you don’t notice a snoozing person sitting at a conference table for ten). Plagiarizing from chick lit has to be some kind of double whammy against artistic integrity.'

No way of knowing whether the commenter is for real. But the comment sounds real enough.
Joke Novels and their
Relation to the Unconscious

“That long list of excuses authors have given for writing a book that turns out to contain parts of somebody else's book just got a little longer,” writes the Washington Post about Ms. V. “Add to the ‘Oh, I thought those were my notes’ and the ‘I was in too much of a hurry,’ this one: unconscious copying.”

figures it’s only a matter of time before the people who assemble the ever-expanding volume of official sanctioned for-real no-shit psychiatric disorders add this one to their book.

"Unconscious Plagiarism: Debilitating recurrent pre-psychotic condition characterized by trance-like states during which automatic writing, much of it plagiarized from introjected material, may take place."

Monday, April 24, 2006

Ms. V. Pt. II:
Nothing to See Here

Damage control has set in. Turns out she did it in her sleep, so it wasn't really plagiarism: The copying, she says in an email, was "unconscious."

Plus she apologized to the original author; the publisher will put "an acknowledgment" in subsequent printings (acknowledging what? that she plagiarized while unconscious?), and that should do the trick, right? So shut up.

And anyway, "the central stories of my book and hers are completely different," says Ms. V. Here's the New York Times's take on that:

But Ms. McCafferty's books, published by Crown, a division of Random House, are, like Ms. Viswanathan's, about a young woman from New Jersey trying to get into an Ivy League college, in her case, Columbia. (Ms. Viswanathan's character has her sights set on Harvard.) Like the heroine of "Opal," Ms. McCafferty's character visits the campus, strives to earn good grades to get in and makes a triumphant high school graduation speech proclaiming her true values.

And the borrowings may be more extensive than have previously been reported. The Crimson cited 13 instances in which Ms. Viswanathan's book closely paralleled Ms. McCafferty's work. But there are at least 29 passages that are strikingly similar.

Other difficulties remain for Ms. V. "Megan [the plagiarized writer] alerted us. We've alerted the Little, Brown legal department. We are waiting to hear from them," says Megan's publisher. So that's one problem.

Then there's Harvard:

It was unclear whether Harvard would take any action against Ms. Viswanathan. "Our policies apply to work submitted to courses," said Robert Mitchell, the director of communications for Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "Nevertheless, we expect Harvard students to conduct themselves with integrity and honesty at all times."

And finally, perhaps most painful of all, there's this:

Ms. Walsh, [her] agent, said that "obviously, I was shocked," to learn of the copying. "But knowing what a fine person Kaavya is, I believe any similarities were unintentional," she added. "Teenagers tend to adapt each others' language."

Teenagers tend? The whole point was that Ms. V. is no typical teenager but rather a prodigy, mature beyond her years.

I mean here we'd just revved ourselves up to believe in her staggering exceptionality, and now we've got to downshift like a son of a bitch...
How Megan Got Her Prose Back

Everybody’s writing about the latest plagiarism case - a Harvard undergrad who apparently started writing novels in her mother’s womb - but only the Independent has the proper lead:

A 19-year-old Harvard student whose debut novel, [How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life], was set to become the next sensation of the American literary world has been accused of plagiarizing another US coming-of-age novel.

Written when Ms Viswanathan was still in high school in New Jersey, the novel earned her a $500,000 (£280,000) two-book contract and a film deal with DreamWorks. Largely thanks to lavish media coverage of her precocious success, the book has shot up the New York Times bestseller list. It was number 32 in the hardcover fiction list last week

Yesterday, however, the Harvard Crimson published strikingly similar passages from the new book and from the 2001 novel Sloppy Firsts, by Megan McCafferty, which is about teenage life in New Jersey.

You can see how the star-making machinery (as Joni Mitchell called it) was all geared up for this one: Our very own Francoise Sagan, a dark ethnic beauty, amazingly precocious...

Luckily, this sort of James Freyesque mechanical failure happens so often lately, the same machinery can now be pretty quickly shut down. As quickly as Viswanathan has shut down her own blog.

--thanks to jw for the tip--
From Today's Spectactor Newspaper,
Columbia University

'I believe that there are times when collegiality must take a back seat to honesty­—when one’s natural desire to avoid unpleasantness must be set aside in the name of what one believes to be the greater good. This is one such moment for me.

As a second-generation Columbian, I am writing in the hope that I can help correct a situation which I believe to be an insult to the Columbia name and to the tradition of excellence I hold dearly. I should note that as a tenured professor in the department of English language and literature at the University of Chicago, and chair of the creative writing program, I have little to gain by this exercise.

Though I was denied tenure at Columbia last spring in a process rife with procedural irregularities — and then denied an appeal in a process notable for its lack of transparency and its cavalier disregard for the University’s own rules — I regret to say that I no longer desire that distinction. That said, I retain enough respect for the University I was associated with for so many years to hold it up to its own standards. Having failed to institute reform from within, I am left with no choice but to bring the issue to the public eye so that reform can be brought about from outside. Toward that end, I will be mailing a version of this letter to the Trustees of the University this week.

There is no point in being coy. Despite the presence of a small minority of talented and committed faculty members and an equally small core of serious, gifted students, what prevails at the writing division in the School of the Arts, and to some extent at the School of the Arts as a whole, is an institutionalized and self-perpetuating culture of mediocrity so out of step with the general climate of excellence for which Columbia is rightly known that most would be shocked to be apprised of the details. A senior colleague of mine recently put it quite neatly: “Leaderless, rudderless, standardless. The worst among us sense the vacuum and rush to fill it with their own kind. So sad. How I wish I could believe there will be some surcease, some righting of the ship in the foreseeable [future]. Alas, I fear it will not be so.” [Note to readers, if UD ever starts saying things like "How I wish I could believe there will be some surcease, some righting of the ship," take her out and shoot her.] I would like to believe otherwise.

Allow me to elaborate. A short list of documentable facts — I’ll begin with the smaller issues and proceed to the larger ones — would include master’s theses that are routinely passed despite the fact that the level of writing exhibited in them is remedial at best and virtually illiterate at worst, tenure-track hires of close personal friends of the chair who have, quite literally, not a single publication credit to their names and who are hired over candidates with two and three books — resulting in a situation in which students often have more experience and more publications than their instructors, and an institutional culture in which those who have done nothing for 10 or 15 years hire others like themselves in order to make their own lack of accomplishment less visible and, for the same reason, discriminate against those who are active in their fields.

What makes this self-perpetuating cycle of mediocrity possible, in large part, is a variation on the standard academic advancement process, virtually unique to the School of the Arts, called Professor of Professional Practice. Originally intended to offer the equivalent of tenure to distinguished practitioners in the arts who lack the standard academic credentials associated with tenure — a worthy idea — POPP has instead evolved into a convenient in-house mechanism by which those who in some cases have done nothing for a decade or more advance themselves and others like them. Though some of the SOA’s most distinguished faculty — the poet Richard Howard comes to mind — hold the title of Professor of Professional Practice, the fact remains that the standards of review for POPP are laughably low — no one, to my knowledge, has ever been denied renewal in the history of the School of the Arts — while those for tenure are dramatically higher and, what is worse, stunningly arbitrary.

The overall climate of mediocrity to which I refer extends to the standards — or, more precisely, the lack of standards — to which students are held. Grading options for all courses are pass/fail. No one fails. The few theses that are failed because they are unreadable — by mavericks like myself and a few others — are often mysteriously changed to a passing grade after a few cosmetic changes have been made —a process which undeniably cheapens the value of a Columbia MFA and does a profound disservice to the truly outstanding students Columbia still manages to attract.

When I inquired at a faculty meeting last spring, whether there was finally any level of writing low enough to merit a failing grade in the Columbia writing division, I was told by one tenured colleague — to general nervous laughter — that she felt bad failing anyone paying so much money. This is shameful enough. Add the fact that when compared with its peer institutions the writing division at Columbia is an unconscionably bloated program which brings in more students every year — with the predictable effect on quality — while offering a minute amount of financial aid, what we have is something resembling a diploma mill hiding, unbelievably, under the Columbia name.

Why has this situation been allowed to continue? I’m afraid I have no answer. When I wrote of these matters to University President Lee Bollinger, whose verbal support for the arts is well known, I received no reply. When I explained the situation prevailing at the School of the Arts — both verbally and in writing — to Provost Alan Brinkley, he seemed patently uninterested, just as he seemed uninterested in the manifest procedural irregularities that marred both my tenure process and my appeal. It is possible that this lack of interest might have something to do with Provost Brinkley’s attitude toward the place of the arts in academia; during one of our conversations he told me that some members of the University faculty simply did not believe that individuals in the arts should be awarded tenure, and added that this was a point of view he himself had some sympathy for.

I mention this ambivalence — or antagonism — towards the arts not only because it has direct bearing on my own case, but because it also explains in large part the University’s fiscal stance toward the School of the Arts. To speak bluntly, despite the administration’s — and particularly President Bollinger’s — much-touted support for the arts, fiscal reality routinely puts the lie to the administration’s rhetoric. The writing division’s essential function is to serve as a financial udder; every year, the division’s students are milked and a large proportion of the money produced is promptly siphoned off to other parts of the University, thus perpetuating the cycle of impoverishment and mediocrity.

I mention this not only because it is unethical to charge students $35,000 a year to be taught by writers who don’t actually write, can’t conduct a seminar, or, even more absurdly, teach classes on the teaching of writing — though they themselves do not write — to students who have not yet learned how to write, but because this climate, tacitly supported by the administration, has already harmed the University’s ability to hire and retain qualified junior candidates. Having just completed three hires for the University of Chicago — which has asked me to institute precisely the kind of rigorous, text-based program so strenuously resisted at Columbia, and whose support for the arts is genuine and tangible — I know well that many candidates are aware of the mediocrity of Columbia’s program as well as the randomness of the tenure process, and they are going elsewhere despite the appeal of both the Columbia name and the advantages of living in New York City.

For the sake of the University and the students it serves, therefore, I ask that the powers that be take whatever steps necessary to correct this situation: that they stop the absurd cycle of mediocrity and impoverishment I have described; that they correct the climate which has let slip away the likes of Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Cunningham and American Academy of Arts and Letters novelist Maureen Howard while retaining people in senior positions who have never published a book; that they give some thought not only to the multimillion-dollar arts building slated for construction in Manhattanville but to the quality of the programs it will contain. I ask, in short, that they insist that the University live up to its own reputation, as it so obviously, in this case, has not.

The author is a professor in the department of English language and literature and the chair of the creative writing program at the University of Chicago. '
A News Article,
And Then…
Act I,
The Importance of Being Andrei

Andrei Shleifer ’82, the economist embroiled in a fraud scandal that cost Harvard $26.5 million to settle, will return to teaching here this fall.

Shleifer, who was on leave this year, confirmed in an e-mail Thursday that he will be back to teaching Economics 1030, “Psychology and Economics,” his popular course co-taught with Professor of Economics David I. Laibson, as well as a junior economics seminar and a graduate course on law and economics at Harvard Law School.

But Shleifer will likely return with the controversy around him still swirling.

An 18,000-word article in January’s Institutional Investor magazine detailed Shleifer’s alleged efforts to use his inside knowledge of and sway over the Russian economy in order to make lucrative personal investments, all while leading a Harvard group advising the Russian government that was under contract with the U.S.

Neither Harvard nor Shleifer have admitted guilt in the matter. But a federal court ruled in 2004 that Harvard had breached its contract with the U.S., and that Shleifer and an associate were liable for conspiracy to defraud the government.

Last August, Harvard paid $26.5 million to settle the lawsuit, in addition to $2 million that Shleifer paid himself.

The controversy reignited on campus in February, as professors cast the details described in the Institutional Investor article as instances of favoritism and misconduct by Lawrence H. Summers.

The outgoing University president is a close friend of Shleifer, and the article suggests that Summers shielded his fellow economist from disciplinary action by the University.

Indeed, there has been no known action taken against Shleifer yet. But the Financial Times reported in March that Shleifer was under investigation by the Faculty’s Committee on Professional Conduct, and some professors have called on Harvard to issue a public accounting of Shleifer’s dealings in Russia.

The controversy has exposed a sharp split inside the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. While some professors outside the economics department have lambasted the University for not taking any action against Shleifer, many economists here have publicly defended their John Bates Medal-winning colleague as a vital intellectual asset.

“We think about him not as the guy who was involved in the AID lawsuit­—we think about him as the exciting, intellectually active colleague that we’ve always known,” Laibson said on Friday, referring to the U.S. Agency for International Develoment, which directed Shleifer’s group.

Meanwhile, Andrew D. Gordon ’74, the chair of the history department, last week called the defense of Shleifer on the strength of his academic achievements an “astounding” argument.

“If somebody has acted unethically or illegally, the fact that he or she is a Pulitzer Prize winner or a Nobel Prize candidate is totally irrelevant,” Gordon said. “I’m very puzzled to hear that from economists who are usually very logical thinkers.”

While Gordon said “it would be logical” for the Faculty to issue a public report if, in fact, he is under an internal investigation, Laibson said he wasn’t sure.

“I have no idea if such a report would clear the air or further inflame an already tense situation,” Laibson said.

Georgios N. Theophanous ’06, an economics concentrator who had Shleifer as a thesis adviser, called the professor a “very accurate” speaker and “remarkably energetic” thinker. He also rejected the relevance of Shleifer’s legal troubles to his standing as a Faculty member.

“He is an excellent professor and does remarkable research and those to me are the two main criteria that you should be using in deciding whether or not he’s going to be a valued professor,” Theophanous said. “The other stuff, that is for other people to worry about.”

The Importance Of Being Andrei.
Act I

A. Did you hear about my work in Russia, Lane?

Lane. I didn’t think it polite to listen, sir.

A. I’m sorry for that, for your sake. I don’t work ethically - anyone can work ethically - but I work with wonderful profit yield.

Lane. Yes, sir.

A. And, speaking of wonders, have you got my list of courses for next semester?

Lane. Yes, sir. [Hands it on a salver.]

A. [Inspects it, and sits down on the sofa.] Oh!... by the way, Lane, I see from the Crimson that a number of my colleagues are complaining about my returning to the classroom under an ethical cloud.

Lane. Yes, sir; quite a number of them.

A. Why is it that a genius clearly in line for a Nobel Prize attracts such jealous scrutiny? I ask merely for information.

Lane. I attribute it to the low motives of less impressive persons, sir. Also anti-Semitism.


A. Hallo! Why all these cups? Why cucumber sandwiches? Why such reckless extravagance in one so young? Who is coming to tea?

Jack. Oh! merely Aunt Augusta and Gwendolen.

A. How perfectly delightful!

Jack: Yes, that is all very well; but I am afraid Aunt Augusta won’t quite approve of your having defrauded the Russian people and cost Harvard University tens of millions of dollars in fines.

A. May I ask why?

Jack: My dear fellow, the way you brazen out what you’ve done is perfectly disgraceful.

A. I have no doubt about that, dear Jack. The federal courts were specially invented for people like me. Luckily, I’ve got off scot-free -- or almost -- what's a million dollars or so in penalties to me, really? -- and Harvard doesn’t care. Another cucumber sandwich?

Jack: For heaven’s sake, don’t try to be cynical. It’s perfectly easy to be cynical. Especially for economists.

A. My dear fellow, it isn’t easy to be anything nowadays. There’s such a lot of beastly competition about. [The sound of an electric bell is heard.] Ah! that must be the Committee on Professional Conduct. Only relatives, or committees on professional conduct, ever ring in that Wagnerian manner.


A. Pray don’t talk to me about the weather, my dear colleague. Whenever people talk to me about the weather, I always feel quite certain that they mean something else. And that makes me so nervous.

C: I do mean something else.

A. I thought so. In fact, I am never wrong.

C: And I would like to be allowed to take advantage of the news media’s temporary absence...

A. I would certainly advise you to do so. The media has a way of coming back suddenly into a room that I have often had to speak to it about.

C: [Nervously.] Mr Shleifer, ever since we hired you we have admired you more than any economist…we... have ever hired since... we hired you.

A. You really love me?

C:. Passionately!

A. Darling! You don’t know how happy you’ve made me.

C: Our own Andrei!

A. But you don’t really mean to say that you couldn’t love me if I’d, say, defrauded an entire country and destroyed Harvard’s relationship with the federal government?

C: But you haven‘t done that. You’ve admitted no guilt.

A. Yes, I know. But supposing I had done it? Do you mean to say you couldn’t love me then?

C: [Glibly.] Ah! that is clearly a metaphysical speculation, and like most metaphysical speculations has very little reference at all to the actual facts of real life, as we know them. be continued...
Certified Ivy League Material

Pithy, concise article in Forbes that goes beyond - way beyond - noting (as UD and many others have) the relative unimportance of where you go to college so long as you’re smart and ambitious and go somewhere reasonably good.

Although there is clearly a correlation between earnings and a four-year degree, a correlation isn’t the same thing as a cause. Economists like Robert Reischauer ruffled feathers several years ago by pointing out that talented, driven kids are more likely to go to college in the first place — that they succeed, in other words, because of their innate abilities, not because of their formal education. Bill Gates, who dropped out of Harvard to start Microsoft, certainly doesn’t fit the stereotype of a low paid college dropout.

In fact, more than a couple of billionaires never graduated from college. Larry Ellison, cofounder of database giant Oracle, dropped out of the University of Illinois and is now worth $16 billion. Fellow billionaire John Simplot, inventor of the frozen French fry, never even finished high school. Neither did Alan Gerry, who built the first cable television network in upstate New York and then sold it to Time Warner Cable for $2.8 billion.

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that what really matters is how smart you are, not where — or even if — you went to school. According to a number of studies, small differences in SAT scores, which you take before going to college, correlate with measurably higher incomes. And, according to a report from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the lifetime income of high-school dropouts is directly associated with their scores on a battery of intelligence tests.

By this logic, the real economic value in a Princeton degree is not the vaunted Princeton education, but in signaling potential employers that you are smart enough to get into Princeton. Actually, attending the classes is irrelevant. [Should the comma be there? Sentence makes sense either way, I guess, but reads better without.] A few years back, we even went so far as to speculate that an entrepreneur could build a healthy businesses by charging, say $16,000, to certify qualified high-school graduates as Ivy League material. (See: “Is Yale A Waste Of Money?” ) College-skippers could invest the $144,000 savings and have a nice nest-egg built up by the time they are in their mid-30s. And they could use their formative years between 18 and 22 to learn an actual trade.

For, in truth, most professions — journalism, software engineering, sales, and trading stocks to name but a few — depend far more on “on-the-job” education than on classroom learning. Until relatively recently, lawyers, architects and pharmacists learned their trade through apprenticeship, not through higher education.

Certainly some jobs — medical doctors and university professors — require formal education. But many do not, and between the Internet and an excellent public library system, most Americans can learn pretty much anything for a nominal fee. By all means, go to college if you want the “university experience,” but don’t spend all that cash just on the assumption that it will lead you to a higher-paying job.

[What about all that vaunted social networking you're supposed to get by going to a grand ecole?]

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Snapshots from Home
A Regular University Diaries Feature

On this spectacular spring day, eye-popping azaleas all over the place, UD went to the town center -- a building called Penn Place --

-- to cover the dedication of a sculpture to her town, Garrett Park, Maryland.

Faithful readers know that UD is a reporter for the Garrett Park Bugle, the town newspaper (whose circulation falls far short of the circulation of this blog, which averages 740 visits and 1,047 page views per day at the moment, for which I thank you).

Anyway, UD’s standing there in the crowd, scribbling in her notebook, when a friend from town comes up to her. “I see you have a blog. I discovered it Googling ‘Duke lacrosse.’ My father’s a history professor there, and my niece went there. The stories I've heard over the years about the lacrosse team! ... Do you know what they call girls who date players? Lacrostitutes.”

UD enjoyed learning this new word, which already has an entry in the Urban Dictionary.
About Bok.

With a little commentary from UD.

In the Bok view, American colleges and universities are victims of their own success: they answer to so many constituencies and are expected to serve so many ends that no one can agree on even a few common goals, and in the meantime they have grown complacent. Few people have studied how much college students really learn and improve, Mr. Bok says, but the data that exist aren't very encouraging. [Which is why people like UD think an exit exam wouldn’t be a bad idea.]

In some cases, students actually appear to regress.

Among the findings he cites: over four years, students in science and engineering tend to get worse at writing, not better, and students not in science or engineering experience a similar decline in quantitative reasoning. [The absence of a required core of serious courses will do that to you.] Students tend to improve at critical thinking, but not by much, and the very process of fulfilling the requirements for a major can sometimes have a dumbing-down effect. [Paging Creative Writing.] A great many majors, Mr. Bok says, impose a lot of requirements without really teaching a student how to think deeply about a subject. [And some subjects - Communications, Psychology - aren’t deep.]

Meanwhile, studies show that the number of students enrolling in foreign language courses has steadily declined, and so has the level of literacy that most of them achieve. In fact, no one really knows the best way of teaching a foreign language, Mr. Bok says, just as no one knows which of the various schemes for teaching writing makes the most sense. The only thing certain is that senior professors won't be taking on the chore of teaching either of these classes, which will be farmed out to adjuncts and grad students. [Efforts to get senior professors at UD’s university to teach “Writing in the Disciplines” courses have been modestly successful. UD does it and enjoys it.]

When it comes to apportioning blame for this state of affairs, Mr. Bok does not exclude college presidents. As a group, presidents have so bungled the problem of college athletics, he says, that the system is now unfixably corrupt and hypocritical. [Note: Unfixably.] And their lousy track record, he adds, should make trustees want to keep an eye on their presidents when it comes to negotiating other big money deals.

But he also suggests that administrators are close to powerless when dealing with the one faction of the university that by and large has a stake in poor undergraduate education, or at least in not doing much to improve it: the faculty, many of whom are more concerned with advancing their own careers than with spending time in the classroom. As Mr. Bok ruefully writes, "success in increasing student learning is seldom rewarded." It's easier for college presidents to raise money and build buildings.
Ducal Drama Drags On

Useful, and then rather odd, piece in the Washington Post by the legal analyst Dahlia Lithwick, whose main point is that

Everything we are hearing, about the DNA tests and the photos, is selective, secondhand and anecdotal. We are being played by the lawyers, with leaks and well-chosen sound bites. …Pick your fact. Each of them can, it seems, be spun both ways.

True, true, and well worth keeping in mind through the ducal drama. Yet after cautioning us against drawing subjective conclusions from this ongoing case, Lithwick herself concludes:

This case serves as yet another depressing reminder of all that is wrong with this country: Our sons are spoiled misogynistic bigots, and our colleges are hotbeds of polarizing identity politics. Race and gender and poverty still tear us apart.

This is itself a species of emotive and unhelpful rhetoric.

The case isn’t about all that’s wrong with this country -- only some of what's wrong with a rather narrow and unrepresentative part of it, the hyperprivileged young.

Very few of my male students have ever seemed to me spoiled misogynistic bigots, though I suppose they could be in their off hours.

What’s striking about places like Duke and, say, Princeton, to which it’s often compared, is that they’re the opposite of polarizing anything, being significantly composed of students drawn from a small pool of private schools.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A review of the New York Times coverage...

... of the Duke story so far, by the paper’s public editor. A few excerpts:

The paper has published more than 20 stories in its continuing coverage. The dozen or so thoughtful messages I have received on this subject from readers have mostly complained of unfairness to Duke and the lacrosse players.

For instance, some readers complained about Selena Roberts writing about a “code of silence” among the players. These readers point out that

[T]hree co-captains had gone to the police station for interviews and even volunteered to take lie-detector tests, [which]... at first left me with some concern about fairness. But I think it has become more apparent, based on the public record, that the players have volunteered little eyewitness information. And that means Selena Roberts, a Times sports columnist, had ample reason for her recent concern about a "code of silence."

More broadly, the public editor is at pains to defend the bigtime page one coverage of the story. It’s an important story, he writes, because of the “allegation of rape,” but also because (in the words of the sports editor) of “the general behavior of a high-level sports team at a prestigious university."

Indeed, the public editor goes on to write that

Even if the sexual assault charges should completely collapse, the allegations of racial slurs and other questionable behavior by members of a top-ranked athletic team that have been brought to light raise important issues of race and class at a prestigious university… Covering the legal proceedings that seem likely to focus on the extremely serious charges of sexual assault and kidnapping is vital. But the paper needs to keep an eye on the allegations and reports about the racial insults voiced by various players, and on the lacrosse team's seemingly flawed culture. If the rape and kidnapping charges do not hold up, the story doesn't end. The Times should be prepared to continue covering what is done about the racial-insult allegations, given the prominence of the team and the university.

...[L]ast summer the N.B.A. altered its age limit, and this year's high school seniors cannot jump to a 20,000-seat professional arena from a 20-desk classroom.

Players must now turn at least 19 during the year in which they are drafted and be one year removed from their graduating class.

...[One player] will make a pit stop at the University of Texas this fall and will be eligible for next year's draft.

...]T]he league changed its rules because too many high school players, many of whom were drafted mainly on potential, fizzled after signing million-dollar contracts. And most of the players who succeeded, like Kobe Bryant and Jermaine O'Neal, sat on the bench before blossoming.

"We consider draft picks to be really big assets," the N.B.A. spokesman Tim Frank said. "We just felt like our teams would be better prepared and have more information on players if they were able to see them on a little higher-level competition."

...Bob Cimmino, who will coach one of the teams in tonight's game, said that players with N.B.A. futures should seek financial security before an education.

"My advice always is, if you're mentally mature and the money is there, take it," said Cimmino, the coach at Mount Vernon High School in Westchester County. "You can always go back to college. The only reason why I ever went to college was to put myself in a position to make more money. Learning comes into it and learning is fun. But you got to set yourself up in life."
From the Greeley Tribune.

'At [Colorado State University], the cost of competing at the Division I level isn't getting cheaper. An annual athletic budget of $15.9 million isn't going to cut it anymore.

This week, CSU president Larry Penley asked students to consider adding $15 per semester to their student fees to help fund the athletic department.

...It's sad to think that the trickle-down effect of competing in college athletics comes down to money from the students, some [whom] have no direct connection to the athletic department.

Oh sure, administrations jazz up their selling skills by trying to convince the biology or music major how they'll benefit from higher visibility to the athletic department…'
Human Value

"Because of when most people go to college, their identity becomes closely associated with the identity of their university."... Let the college's standing drop in publications that rank universities [a Cornell student says] and "my value as a human being feels like it's dropping."

...The [Cornell image improvement] committee's roots lie in a Cornell-Yale football game in Ithaca four years ago. Yale fans in the stadium were wearing hats and other neat gear unlike anything Cornell offered for sale, [a committee member] said. He talked about that with students sitting nearby, including leaders of the campus Republicans and Democrats.

All were in agreement, he said. "Nobody was wearing our stuff," he said. "We didn't have cool hats, we didn't have cool hoodies."
How Far Short
of High Standards
Is a Cesspool?

"Asked to describe the state of the [University of Kansas] athletic department [until recently], one current KU administrator said: 'It was a cesspool,'" notes a Knight-Ridder article this morning. As a result:

The NCAA has [now formally] alleged that Kansas' athletic department demonstrated a "lack of institutional control" during a six-year period that was marred by academic fraud within the football program and unreported rules violations in other sports.

Not since the Jayhawks won the 1988 basketball championship and then went on probation the following year has the university been in such hot water with the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The most recent Big 12 school to earn the dreaded "lack of institutional control" was Baylor University after its national scandal surrounding the 2003 murder and cover-up of one of its basketball players.

"We set very high standards for ourselves at the University of Kansas," Chancellor Robert Hemenway said Friday. "We recognize that at times we fell short of those high standards."

“[S]exual assaults … are as endemic to the big-time college sports machine as the recruiting rat race,” writes a New York Times sports reporter, and UD likes his use of “endemic,” since there are still plenty of college sports types (she heard them at the Knight Commission meeting she attended at GW a few months ago) who will deny this and talk about a few bad apples, etc.

Yet having stated baldly the incredible fact, the incredible scandal of college sports -- that it asks us to accept as endemic, as the price of admission, a sideline in sexual degeneracy among some college sportsmen -- the writer (in a remarkably badly written piece) insists that we should not, in seeking to understand this phenomenon as it has played out among some of the country’s most advantaged young people, make any reference to the wealth, privilege, SUVs, and McMansions from which many of the Duke players emerged. That would be a no-no. That would be stereotyping. That would be suggesting that “the accusations brought by a 27-year-old woman that she was sexually assaulted last month by three Duke players are related to where and in what size house they grew up.”

"It troubles me, the way the media has been falling back on old stereotypes," [an observer of the sport] said in a recent interview. "Clearly, the details in the Duke case indicate that poor choices were made and may have resulted in a tragedy. But does this story get juicier when you play up that these kids are from a so-called preppy background? Does it make it more divisive?" …I think it does, and that's a sad commentary on where we are as a society."

Somehow, what ZIP codes the players' families live in, what high schools they attended, what they wear and, yes, the color of their skin are supposed to be clues as to why they developed reputations as devilish Dukies, and why two or three could end up in jail….[P]laying the preppie card is the trite and wrong way to address [the crisis.]

There’s an obvious difference between gross social generalization and serious consideration of the social factors that might have contributed to the barbarity of some lacrosse players. That a number of the players drive SUVs slightly less gargantuan than Hummers, for instance, is not an innocent fact. I don’t have to leave it alone for fear of being labeled a stereotyper. Some people like aggressive and intimidating cars because these cars reflect their own propensity toward violence. Liking to scare and intimidate other people and flaunt their superiority to them, these same people tend to purchase vast and expensive houses that make people who enter them feel small, overwhelmed by the thought of their owners’ financial muscle.

Is there a word for these people? Yes. It’s “Americans.” Millions of Americans are like this. They use their considerable wealth to shut out the non-wealthy world and to keep it at arm’s length when they have to be out and about in it (hence the virtually armored cars). They raise their children with a sense of their untouchable superiority to others.

All you have to do is look at the imagery and language of many of the ads for the big cars I have in mind to see that they often appeal to these people’s aggressive acquisitiveness and aggressive display.

When this sort of community lionizes particular young men among it because they are good at playing a notably aggressive sport, when it rewards its most testosterone-laden population for all sorts of aggressive behavior, on and off the field, the problem of endemic cultural violence deepens.

And when such young men engage in sexual degeneracy as a group -- after which they close ranks about it as a group -- cultural generalization is not something to avoid out of fear of the preppie card, but rather something to take up as a moral responsibility.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Nice one.

via Crooked Timber, a bumper sticker seen recently in traffic:

“If evolution is outlawed, only outlaws will evolve.”
Just a Reminder... we're dealt all the details of the women's joy-rides and probations, and the men's assaults and diversionary programs: As I've noted before, we're into Trailer Park Meltdown territory at this point in the Duke story, with many of the principals involved in the events that night a little on the trashy side (to allude to one of UD's daughter's favorite songs). Play up the class war aspect of this all you like, of course; but remember that, high or low, several participants are basically petty crooks.
The Detroit Free Press…

…isn't letting go of the Baker College scandal. [For background, go here.] Now it turns out that Baker also has the highest loan default rate of any institution in the state:

[Already under discussion by] legislators for dominating a state tuition grant program while producing low numbers of graduates, [Baker] also leads the state in student loan defaults, according to federal statistics.

Baker students defaulted on 521 federal loans in 2003, the last year for which figures are available. Those defaults accounted for almost one-fifth of all the defaults at 74 private colleges, community colleges and universities in Michigan that reported the figures to the government.

Baker's loan default rate of 7.4% was double the statewide average. Amounts in default were not available, though the average full-time student loan at Baker was about $3,900 in the 2003-04 school year.

Baker, the state's largest private college, with headquarters in Flint, attracts many low-income students and working adults who qualify for state and federal tuition grants and loans. A state House budget panel briefly debated Wednesday whether to hold a hearing on Baker in response to a Monday Free Press story. The report outlined how Baker receives $20.3 million -- or 38% -- of the Michigan Tuition Grant fund for private college students, yet graduates about one in five full-time students.
Once again , a Colleague
Of UD’s Distinguishes Himself.

This time, in the best newspaper on the web .

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Marquette on Top
Of its Game

From an editorial in Marquette University’s newspaper:

Head Coach Tom Crean's salary …topped $1.6 million last year, according to a recent article in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Considering that his base salary in 2002 was a little over $560,000, his current salary represents an exceptional rate of increase. Taking into account the lack of NCAA tournament victories — zero after the team's 2003 Final Four trip — it is even more astounding.
Here’s Where
Teamwork Gets You.

They’re a fanatically bonded band of brothers. Their omerta in the wake of rape allegations is the talk of the town. But the problem with loyalty above and beyond is its tendency, when the shit hits the fan, to befoul both innocent and guilty.

So, for instance, a lot of Duke lacrosse players want the hell out of Durham and have approached other universities about taking them in. Pre strip party, this would’ve been a cinch. Now:

Syracuse University will not allow any Duke lacrosse players to transfer to its school, even though some Blue Devils are reportedly seeking their release amid the rape investigation that has rocked the school, the Syracuse Post Standard reported Thursday.

"I think it would be inappropriate," Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross said.

Syracuse coach John Desko said Duke has notified him that Blue Devils sophomore attackman Zack Greer, who led the nation with 57 goals last season, wants to transfer out of Duke and apparently to the Orange, since it's standard procedure that athletes will ask the schools they are leaving to contact the schools to where they want to go, the Post Standard said.

The Orange originally recruited Greer before he chose to go to Duke.

Look at it this way. Even when they’re no trouble, a lot of male university athletes are, well, trouble. You’re always worrying about their schoolwork, their drinking, their sex lives, their corruption by money, adulation, etc., etc. Why invite already road-tested boors to your campus?

I know. Some of Duke’s players are good guys who’ve never done anything wrong. But as long as they’re wedded to bad guys, they can forget much of a future.
Daily Grilling

The Washington Blade newspaper provides details of Colin Finnerty’s next court appearance, and of the face-busting that got him there:

Finnerty is scheduled to appear before D.C. Superior Court Judge John Bailey Jr. at 9:30 a.m. on April 25, when a decision could be made to try him on misdemeanor simple assault charges.

…According to court records for the Georgetown assault, Bloxgom told police "he was minding his business" [in front of The Daily Grill restaurant] when Finnerty and two other men "began picking on him for no apparent reason."

Records say Bloxgom "told them to stop calling him gay and other derogatory names." When Bloxgom tried to walk away, the three men "attacked him, busting his lip and bruising his chin." Bloxgom was treated for his injuries.

Also arrested were Daniel D’Agnes, a Georgetown University student, and Patrick Bonanno, who attends Providence College in Rhode Island.

Finnerty, D’Agnes and Bonanno reportedly played on the same high school lacrosse team.

The Daily Grill.

A sedate backdrop for an assault.
Your Google Icon Today... in honor of Joan Miro's birthday (born 1893). When UD was a teenager, her parents sent her to Barcelona for a summer, to stay with the family of a Catalan colleague of UD's father and to pick up some culture. Although this was so long ago that Franco still ruled, UD vividly remembers the impact of walking into the family's diningroom and seeing a huge Miro canvas taking up most of one wall.

"It's a pictorial history of our family," my father's colleague explained to me. His father had been a friend of Miro's.

On that same trip, UD met Antonio Tapies, an international man of mystery in black turtleneck and dark shades.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Regular readers know that UD

…is interested in the anthropology of her world, which she calls ‘thesdan Culture. Now some Long Islanders are beginning to examine some of their own folkways. Here’s a columnist in the Long Island newspaper, Newsday:

Apparently, [the Duke team’s history of bad behavior] is what passes for entertainment among today's top scholar-athletes, the highest-ranking graduates of Chaminade and Delbarton and other fine suburban high schools.

…For two 20-year-old sophomores on the Duke lacrosse team, both from high-income suburban ZIP codes around here and fine Catholic schools, the landscape just got even uglier.

…For better or worse, these are our young achievers. We sent them out into the world. And whether we like it or not, their actions reflect on all of us.

…The headmaster of Seligmann's school in Jersey put out a statement yesterday, unreservedly backing him.

"Knowing Reade Seligmann as well as we do here at Delbarton," said the Rev. Luke Travers, "I believe him innocent of the charges included in the indictment."

How could the headmaster possibly know what happened so far from high school and nearly two years away? He can't possibly. But his refusal to face the ugly facts as they are now emerging mirrors all of our own.

He -- and we -- need to confront this dreadful and unfolding story before it gets too far beyond us and all of us are subsumed in a kind of home-team defensiveness.
Some Legal Details

From a legal analyst for Sports Illustrated:

About Seligmann’s alibi:

The police and the prosecutor will scrutinize this evidence in exquisite detail, and if they find something is askew, that something doesn't fit in the alibi evidence, they will not hesitate to charge Seligmann with yet another crime. That would be obstruction of justice.

About the possibility that a third player will be charged:

The question we must ask is whether this third player is in the process of negotiating with the prosecutor and is seeking immunity from prosecution or is seeking leniency for his testimony against the other players. Has the prosecution succeeded in driving a wedge into the veneer of solidarity the team has presented so far?

About the absence of DNA:

Its absence is not important. There are hundreds of men in penitentiaries across the United States who were convicted of rape without their DNA being found on the victim. It does help the defense to some extent, but it's not conclusive. The whole idea that DNA evidence was somehow conclusive was the invention of the defense lawyers. Its absence hasn't stopped the grand jury from charging these guys.

About whether there’ll be a settlement:

There won't be a settlement. When you're talking about an alibi, you don't have much leeway to negotiate out of a case -- 95 percent of criminal cases are negotiated, but this isn't one of those cases. These guys come from wealthy families and have the money to fight it.

...And here's a thought out of left field from old UD -- the most ominous thing, for the defense, that I've read about the woman in the case (can't remember where I read it, but pretty certain I did) is that she was in the Navy. This may mean that she can be disciplined and respectful and articulate on the stand.
A Regular University Diaries Feature

On my deck this afternoon, reading and sipping tea and enjoying the smoke from a scented candle, I became aware of multiple helicopters buzzing the sky just above me. One was bright red, like this:

Clearly something was wrong along the Brunswick line that runs near my house -- a bunch of helicopters now stood motionless above the tracks.

I went to the MARC website.

MARC rail service on the Brunswick Line has been halted due to a trespasser disrupting service.

All rail traffic is presently stopped until further notice.

An empty MARC train returning from Brunswick has struck a trespasser in Rockville. The railroad will be closed for an indefinite period until the police and coroner complete their investigation. Based on past experience, this could take 2 to 4 hours.

Not too surprising. When the weather turns warm, people are all over the tracks.

… certainly bouncing around the blogosphere today. There’s the Jack Anderson story:

During his life and career as a muckraking journalist in Washington, Jack Anderson cultivated secret sources throughout the halls of government—sources who passed on information that allowed Anderson to investigate and write about Watergate, CIA assassination schemes, and countless scandals. His syndicated column, Washington Merry-Go-Round, earned him the enmity of the corrupt and powerful—so much so that during the Watergate years, associates of Nixon had discussed assassinating the columnist. … His archive, some 200 boxes now being held by George Washington University’s library, could be a trove of information about state secrets, dirty dealings, political maneuverings, and old-fashioned investigative journalism, open for historians and up-and-coming reporters to see. But the government wants to see the documents before anyone else. Agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation have told university officials and members of the Anderson family that they want to go through the archive, and that agents will remove any item they deem confidential or top secret. …

And there’s the Carol Darr story:

Carol C. Darr [is] director of the Institute for Politics, Democracy, and the Internet, which is affiliated with George Washington University. Someone in her position, the bloggers [on the left and the right who hate her guts] believe[d], ought to be an enthusiastic defender of online politicking in all its forms. Instead she [is] urging the Federal Election Commission — where she had worked as a staff lawyer in the 1970s — to bring certain kinds of blogging under the umbrella of campaign-finance law.

It’s typical of clueless UD never to have heard of this person, though she’s a colleague.

Both stories are chronicled in recent posts at Crooked Timber.

On the Darr -- Libertarianesque UD can’t be happy with her language about some regulation of blogs. But I need to read in more detail what she’s proposing.

On the Anderson -- Here I think I can be of some use. My office is directly across the street from the library. I can probably get hold of a master key pretty easily and scrounge around a bit. As soon as I do, I’ll let you know if there’s anything interesting in the boxes.
Useful commentary…

…from CBS about Duke lacrosse. Some excerpts:

“Clearly, there is more to this story than what has been made public; than what defense attorneys or the prosecutor have disclosed," CBS News legal analyst Andrew Cohen says. "There has to be because what has been talked about publicly is a terribly weak case; one that even an eager grand jury would not have embraced the way this one did."

…"The damning evidence is her saying these young men raped me. Conventionally, that's the way the rape cases are proved," Mickey Sherman, a defense attorney, said on CBS News' The Early Show Tuesday.

CBS News legal analyst Wendy Murphy agrees.

"It was reported yesterday that she identified two of the three men she said raped her with 100 percent certainty from photographic identification procedures. That's pretty good evidence when you consider there were 46 guys there," Murphy said on The Early Show.

…[A CBS correspondent] met with defense attorneys, who showed her the time-stamped photographs taken at the lacrosse party where the alleged rape occurred. In all, she saw 23 photos, which attorneys say prove their clients' innocence — in part because they show that the woman was already bruised and cut when she arrived at the house. Because of the cuts, they say if a rape took place, her DNA should have been discovered.

However, "if you really look at the photographs, they provide a 27-minute gap, which is exactly the amount of time the victim says she was in the bathroom being raped by three of these guys," Murphy told The Early Show co-anchor Rene Syler Monday.

…Murphy tells CBS News: "It could be a year now before we see any actual trial. There could be a deal going on behind the scenes that's going to make this case go away very quickly because it's incredibly embarrassing and harmful both to Duke as an institution and to that region, where they've had terrible, terrible race sensitive problems for a long time."
Ever on the cutting edge…

…the students at UD’s institution, George Washington University, have not only been onto the whole hookah thing for some time (hookah use is now officially cool due to today’s New York Times coverage of the device’s popularity among college students), but have already militated on its behalf.

When a GW student’s hookah was confiscated by university police a couple of years ago, he wrote an editorial in the school newspaper protesting. The result:

University Police officers will no longer be able to confiscate hookahs without reasonable suspicion of drug use, after GW recently clarified its policy regarding the water pipes. Student Judicial Services last month clarified its policy following complaints by a student.

The policy states that "students may possess and/or use hookahs in University-owned and controlled properties as long as the hookah is being used with tobacco products," said SJS Assistant Director Michael Gieseke.

Gieseke said previous difficulties surrounding the policy stemmed from UPD's practice of confiscating hookahs without telling students they could get them back if the pipes tested negative for marijuana. Hookahs are water pipes originating from the Middle East that can be used to smoke tobacco or marijuana.

The policy before clarifications was not as straightforward, sophomore Tim Kaldas said. Kaldas wrote an opinion piece in The Hatchet last month complaining that GW was reluctant to explain its policy after UPD confiscated his hookah.

"UPD informed me that I could not take the hookah back to my room because I was not permitted to have it on campus," he said. "This was a bit different from what they told me when they took it."

Gieseke said he had a "productive" discussion with Kaldas after the incident.

"Since that conversation, we have taken steps to make sure all University officials have a clear understanding of the policy," Gieseke said. "In addition, my office is developing outreach programs for students living in the halls."

But he said UPD would continue to test hookahs for marijuana when they believe it is necessary.

"While a hookah's primary purpose is to smoke tobacco, the University has also witnessed students using them to smoke illegal substances," Gieseke said. "University policy states any item that can be used as paraphernalia will be confiscated and tested during an administrative search."

The policy makes clear that UPD is unable to confiscate a hookah without reasonable suspicion of drug use.

"Students' rooms will not be administratively searched solely on the basis of a student owning a hookah," Gieseke said.

Kaldas said he is content with the rule's clarification, which took place last month.

"The policy is now what it should be," he said.

UPD Chief Dolores Stafford said she was unaware of policy changes but said there have been several instances in which students have used hookahs to smoke marijuana.

Several D.C universities have a hookah policy similar to GW's.

While Georgetown University has no specific rules regarding the possession of a hookah in a dorm room, if a pipe is used to smoke drugs, students face penalties ranging from fines to suspension.

Stafford, a campus crime expert and president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, said there has not been a discussion about universities' hookah policy on a national level.

UD will pick up the ball and begin the national hookah policy discussion. First, here’s some of the New York Times article:

Hookah bars have been cropping up in Middle Eastern immigrant enclaves, like Little Egypt in Astoria, Queens, and have made inroads in chic downtown areas of many American cities. Now, college students are discovering their appeal.

A few decades ago, hookahs were seen as exotic delivery systems for marijuana and hashish, but these days students view them as almost virtuous (even if health officials disagree) because most students indulge only once or twice a week, always sharing and so inhaling less than they would with a full-fledged cigarette habit.

…Cafes are not the only place where college students use water pipes. At Yale, one of the fraternities, Alpha Epsilon Pi, has a hookah room that is for quiet socializing and relaxation — and the calmest area during parties.

"We decided our top floor should be a place where you could get away from the loud music, meet new people, hang out and talk," said Ian Bishop, a fraternity brother.

"We could pull out Taboo or Twister, but there's something nice about sitting around a hookah, blowing smoke rings," he added.

I love the bit about Twister.

When UD was teaching in Toulouse a couple of years ago, she discovered a little hookah café steps from the the school her daughter attended (itself steps from an old church housing the remains of Thomas Aquinas). Not liking to smoke anything, UD didn’t do the hookah, but she loved sitting in that place, smelling the aromatic smoke, lying on thick pillows, sipping mint tea, reading books. Just the place to revisit Gide’s Faux Monnayeurs.
Collin Finnerty
Has a Lot on
His Plate.

From USA Today:

Collin Finnerty, one of two Duke lacrosse players charged with rape and kidnapping Tuesday, could face a separate trial on assault charges in Washington, D.C., that could put him in jail for six months.

Because of his arrest in Durham, N.C., the U.S. Attorney's Office might revoke Finnerty's diversion program at a hearing next week and try him for misdemeanor assault, principal assistant U.S. Attorney Channing Phillips told USA TODAY on Tuesday. The charges could bring 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.

"That decision is under review," Phillips said. The U.S. Attorney's office will make the call before a status hearing on Finnerty's case April 25, Phillips added. The hearing was scheduled before Finnerty's arrest in Durham.

…Finnerty, 19, and two friends were arrested Nov. 5 in Washington after allegedly attacking a man outside a bar. Finnerty entered a diversion program and was ordered to perform 25 hours of community service within six months.

Under diversion, prosecutors agree to drop criminal charges if defendants complete assigned obligations within a set time. But Phillips said prosecutors can revoke diversion if a defendant is arrested again within the court-set period.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Elliptical, shimmering.

More trashing of a new book (for UD’s discussion of an earlier trashing, go here) whose clueless posturing has dismayed serious leftists the world over. A few excerpts from the review reveal trends in the humanities which are -- thanks to the damage books like this one continue to do -- on their way out:

The remarkable fact about humanities professors isn't how slavishly left-wing their politics are but how smart the smart ones are, and how dumb the dumb ones are.

...When I entered grad school, in the late '80s, literary (and later cultural) theory was still the primary venue for public intellectual life. One no longer wanted to be incisive, direct, widely read; one wanted to be elliptical, shimmering, and widely feared. By the time I exited grad school, the pseudo-profundities and outré politics of the academic left had devolved into frivolity.

The reviewer now cites a typical sentence from the book under review:

"By and large, however, the state now stands in such naked, brutal relation to all but the most pleasure-domed of our eminent bourgeois that the chief executive is now less representative than, in a multi-mediated, fictional sense, representational: the imagined or invented persona of a no less simulacral people whose condition[s] of existence are thereby occluded."

A glutton for his own and his reader’s punishment, the reviewer hits us up with more:

[The author] believes that the consensus leftism of the '90s set itself up too explicitly against identity politics and thus wrote off "the way blacks, Latinos, women, queers, and others have transformed utterly the very category and meaning of 'the poor' or 'the left' on behalf of whom they write." To this sentence—with its inverted commas ("the poor," "the left," the graphic equivalent of up-speak), vacuous intensifiers ("utterly," "very"), and tongue-tied syntax ("on behalf of whom they write," instead of "on whose behalf they write")—one cannot be kind….Juvenile sneer words (Jefferson is the country's "ur-cracker") share space with stale lit-crit jargon ("subtended"), and all attempts at wit are downright puzzling. "Nixon's Deep Throat told reporters to follow the money; Clinton's deep throats say follow the money shot." Come again?

Imagine tons of this juvenility tossed out in real time and you understand why Camille Paglia describes the atmosphere of the MLA convention as “snide groupthink.”
Slade Not Going Quietly

Having been voted out of a job by her board of trustees, Texas Southern University president Patricia Slade will appeal the decision. Slade seems to have spent tens of thousands of university funds on her personal glorification via spectacular houses and gardens, etc.

When people search for something good to say about Slade, they always talk about how she doubled enrollment at TSU. But why is it good to double enrollment at a university whose graduation rate is pathetic? Nurture a few people all the way through to graduation; don't fling your doors open merely in order to boast that a lot of people go to your school.

Losing her presidential gig is the least of Slade's worries, though. There's the possibility of prison as well:

The Harris County District Attorney's Office is also investigating. Officials said if she misapplied more than $200,000, it could be a first-degree felony, which could be punishable by five to 99 years in prison.

Slade has decided to cast herself as a Christlike figure, put on earth to suffer for our sins:

Shortly after the vote, she spoke to supporters at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.

"I do understand that perhaps I was brought here for such a time as this. This is not the time for me to sit down," she said.

Just as well. Her chairs have been repossessed.
Via Chris's Signifying Nothing...

... an article in the Herald-Sun notes:

A high-level review of the men’s lacrosse team’s disciplinary records last year prompted Duke’s athletics director to warn the coach his team was “under the microscope” and that players needed to improve their conduct, the director said Monday.

At the time, the team’s reputation nationally was for winning games. Today, the team stands disgraced, with two players indicted on still-undisclosed charges stemming from an alleged gang rape at a team party, the season terminated and the coach forced out of his job.

Although the team’s reputation for drinking and debauchery has drawn attention since the rape allegation last month, an explicit warning to Coach Mike Pressler about the team’s behavior has not been previously revealed.

Pressler has been portrayed as an innocent victim of events, but this news puts a different spin on things.

In a comment thread at Chris's, a few Duke/Durham insiders speculate about repercussions beyond the resignation of Pressler -- perhaps up to Duke's president.


UPDATE: Here's the New York Times on some of the same prehistory:

Last December, the university's executive vice president, Tallman Trask III, had reviewed disciplinary records of athletic teams and considered the number given to lacrosse players — 15 in three years — to be a "red flag." But he said the incidents had been so minor, for holding beer cans in public and public urination, that it would not have raised worries about rape.

University officials, however, have said that the coach of the men's lacrosse team, Mike Pressler, had not issued any reprimand to Mr. Finnerty [one of the indicted players] over his assault charge.

Mr. Finnerty had been arrested with two teammates from his high school lacrosse team in the Georgetown section of Washington on Nov. 5, after a man told police at 2:30 a.m. that they "had punched him in the face and body, because he told them to stop calling him gay and other derogatory names," according to court records.

Mr. Finnerty's lawyer in that case, Steven J. McCool, said that the student had entered the District of Columbia's diversionary program, and that the assault charge would be dismissed after the completion of 25 hours of community service.

Art Chase, the Duke sports information director for lacrosse, said that Mr. Pressler had been aware of some, but perhaps not all of the details of Mr. Finnerty's case.

"Coach did his own investigation looking into the matter and he allowed the court system to iron itself out there in regards to the player," Mr. Chase said.
Here are details...

...on the two Duke players now under arrest. Finnerty has been in moderately serious trouble before, as the article notes.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Two of Duke's
Lacrosse Team Players
Have been Indicted

And, from the New York Times article I've linked to in the title of this post, something rather ominous for the defense:

Defense lawyers have told reporters that the second dancer at the party has contradicted the accuser. But that woman spoke with a local television station over the weekend, under conditions set by her lawyer that she could not be asked about specifics at the party, and she did not contradict the accuser.

"Out-and-out lies," the second dancer told MSNBC of the defense lawyers’ comments about her testimony. "It’s making me believe more and more every single day, every single news story that I hear coming from them, that they have something to hide and they’re scared of what’s to come.”
The Duke story... moving pretty fast now. It's still unclear whether any team members will be indicted. As always, Chris Lawrence at Signifying Nothing is your best bet for updates and intelligent analysis.

For what it's worth, a few premature thoughts: If no one did anything illegal, and therefore no one gets indicted, that's great. If the women at the heart of the case will make such poor witnesses that even with illegality the case won't get made, that's bad, but we'll have to accept it. It's an incredibly murky story, and as time passes it gets murkier.

The barbarian behaviors and statements of some of the team members, during this incident and before it in a variety of drunken settings, remain a problem for Duke University. They would remain a problem for any university that insisted on being regarded as a respectable academic institution even as some of its highest profile undergraduates routinely behaved like swine. "To use an old phrase, they saw themselves as being cool cats, and they used my neighborhood as their sandbox," says a Durham neighbor of some of the players. A writer in the LA Times notes:

Despite elements specific to time and place, the Duke case joins a growing list of scandals — notably at Oklahoma, Miami, Nebraska and Colorado — that share a common thread. One by one, they have reinforced a growing sense that college sports are spinning out of control, riddled with pampered athletes who consider themselves above the law.

"I think it's dangerous to see [Duke] as an isolated incident," said Michael Messner, a USC professor who has written several books on gender issues in sport. "This is a really good opportunity for us to look at the culture of men's sports and ask ourselves, 'If the shoe fits, wear it.' I think it's a systemic problem."

Yet universities look the other way:

What we see in American culture, whenever you have problems like this, you turn to your publicity person," said [a Duke professor] who played lacrosse at Harvard.

Damage control, Wood says, can take the place of addressing what he and others consider a growing disconnect between academics and athletics.

The divide begins when a university recruits a young man or woman based on athletic skill, rather than academic prowess. Money is another component. College sports have become big business, generating tens of millions in revenue.

Messner... refers to the modern, big-time athletic department as "a semi-autonomous fiefdom. It takes a good, strong administration to make sure the athletic department doesn't get treated that way."
Why Is Baker College a College?

'The most recent available federal tax filings showed that in 2003-04, Baker [College] (link later) had more top executives than more complex state universities with similar enrollments. The top 38 Baker executives earned average salaries of $125,544.

Cummins' annual salary was $253,667, according to tax documents. By comparison, the presidents at Western Michigan, Central Michigan and Eastern Michigan universities are paid $225,000 to $269,100 a year.'

Lots of executives, and generous compensation for them, yet the college they administer has a graduation rate you'd need an electron microscope to detect:

'Taxpayers are spending millions of dollars to help needy students attend Baker College, Michigan's largest private college, where the chances are about one in five that a student will walk away with a degree.

With more than 30,000 students at nine campuses around the state, Baker College received $20.3 million last year in state-funded Michigan Tuition Grants. That's 38% of the much-debated financial-aid program.

Baker's graduation rate -- 19.2% -- lags behind all but one of the state's 27 other private colleges that reported the figures to the government.

"This cries out for answers," said state Rep. Chris Kolb, D-Ann Arbor. "I think people would be very surprised one college is getting one-third of the money and graduating only one out of five students in a timely manner. We have done zero oversight of this program."

Baker Chief Executive Officer F. James Cummins said last week it's misleading to judge the school on graduation rates because the college attracts many students with "formidable hurdles to retention." '

One wonders on what basis, then, one would judge Baker. If it's a college, that is. If it's a college, it's distinguished from a one or two year vocational program by its students going to and graduating from its college program.
Trying to
Wash Your Hands of
Mass Communications

Once again, UD's in Cambridge at an alien computer, so she can't yet provide the link, but this is from today's Boston Globe. It's about the ongoing effort to make journalism a respectable university subject, in part by decoupling it from 'mass communications':

"The journalism department at Boston University is abuzz with news. Bob Zelnick, the longtime ABC News correspondent who has chaired the department for four years, announced last week that he will step down in order to become professor of national and international affairs within the department. Zelnick said he hated the administrative aspects of the job, including the three hours each day he spent responding to e-mails.

On his way out, Zelnick started a debate about the nature of BU's College of Communication, arguing that journalism shouldn't be housed side-by-side with the department of mass communication, which includes advertising and public relations. The two, he said, should be treated as adversaries. Zelnick said the journalism program has become increasingly competitive with the best in the country, but 'we will never get a Grade A, first-rate, nationally recognized journalist to lead this department as long as it's linked' to mass communication."
From Princeton University's...

...newspaper. [Link when I get to a computer I understand better.]

"Once, while in class, I had an instant messenger conversation with a friend. We didn't really speak about anything important. Somewhere during that conversation, I said to the friend sitting on my left, "Dude, laptops are distracting." A certain grad student, sitting on my right, turned to me, chuckling, and said, "They really are!"

Maybe I'm pissing in the pool here, but I'll admit that if I have a laptop with Internet in class, I am probably not paying too much attention. I don't think that I am alone. Look around McCosh 50 next time you have a class there. Nearly everyone who has a computer in class is using it to take notes. Try the same thing in Friend 101 or Frist 302. Why the difference? McCosh 50 doesn't have wireless.

Laptops are distracting. Laptops with wireless are even more distracting. Yet the University insists on installing wireless in almost every nook and cranny of the school. If Princeton's mission is to educate (which I certainly hope it is), then the proliferation of wireless Internet in classrooms is certainly contrary to that goal. But wireless alone is not the crux of my point; it is representative of a larger phenomenon that we don't put enough thought into how new technology that we adopt will affect Princeton as a learning environment.

Many people have an "Ooh, cool!" reaction when they see a neat bit of technological wizardry. I know I got that feeling when the video iPod came out. I really want one. But I'm not going to buy it because it would be a waste of money and a huge distraction; my old iPod is good enough. It seems to me that Princeton gets that same "Ooh, cool!" feeling about technology on an institutional level and does very little to curb it.

Take for example the recent proposal to introduce Internet TV (IPTV) to campus. The proposed system would deliver some television service to students' computers. Right now, many students do not have TVs and need to go out of their way to watch television. Practically everyone has a computer. The only possible outcome that can come from the introduction of IPTV service is that more students will watch TV.

Representatives of the University will tell you that they took the proposal to the Undergraduate Life Council to gauge student enthusiasm. Let's be honest here. Students can be enthusiastic about things that are not good for them (see also: beer). It is the job of an educational institution to foster an environment that is conducive to education, not to abdicate responsibility for the contours of that environment to the student body.

For me, the most troubling application of technology on this campus is the widespread use of PowerPoint in teaching. Forget for now all the points I might make about how poor a teaching tool PowerPoint is. Forget how hard it is to make useful PowerPoint slides (or read some Edward Tufte). Forget that PowerPoint acts as a crutch for lecturers and allows them to avoid lecturing. Forget that the existence of PowerPoint lecture notes acts as a crutch for students who would prefer not to pay attention. What is of real concern to me is that the existence of downloadable PowerPoint lecture notes simply discourages students from going to class.

Granting arguendo that these notes fully represent the material covered in lecture (I'm sure), I cannot help but think that there is something to be missed by skipping class. If there isn't, then what is the value of a Princeton education? What are we experiencing as Princeton students that cannot be gleaned from downloaded PowerPoints?

Don't mistake me for arguing that we should live as the Amish, without any cool gadgets in our classrooms. It might be that we can have wireless Internet, IPTV and PowerPoint and maintain a strong learning environment. My hope is that, as technology becomes more powerful, ubiquitous and seductive, we will make sensible choices about which new gadgets belong at Princeton and which ones are too costly.

As for myself, after my earlier admission I'll probably have to leave the PowerBook in my room from now on. Damn. Maybe I'll learn something."

Saturday, April 15, 2006

As with the Duke players... with University of South Florida professor Sami Al-Arian, it's always right, when people are accused of things, to withhold judgment. Al-Arian has now, however, admitted to terrorist activities, and we can go ahead and judge.
Attorney Casts Ferreting Net,
Causes Miscarriage

'Among the players' families and supporters, there is a growing conviction that justice miscarried the moment the local district attorney cast an accusatory net over 46 of the team's 47 players by ordering DNA samples from each in order to ferret out three.'

Friday, April 14, 2006

Can’t Help Hatin’ those Blogs.
By Ivan Tribble.

Fish got a blog
At the New York Times.
He'll never be
A colleague of mine...

Can’t help…"
UD's on her way to...

...Cambridge for the weekend. Light blogging for the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, though, if you have or know of a nice three-bedroom house in Washington's Cleveland Park neighborhood (or thereabouts) which you'd like to rent for the next four to six months, email [email protected]. She's a friend of UD's, looking for temporary housing.
Foggy Bottom

UD’s mother has long been an active member of the Mason-Dixon English Cocker Spaniel Club (here‘s a link, so you can go there right away), and sometimes the club meets at UD’s mother’s house (which, faithful readers know, is just a few houses down the street from UD’s own here in Garrett Park). Among the many people UD’s run into over the years hanging out with their dogs at her mother’s is Ursula Banzhaf, wife of one of UD’s more notorious colleagues, the righteous litigator, John Banzhaf.

Banzhaf’s latest thing, chronicled this morning by Inside Higher Ed, is to sue a particular administrator at GWU for not enforcing the no smoking within a certain number of feet of campus buildings rule.

Banzhaf says that university administrators have repeatedly declined in recent months to respond to requests by students and others to restrict smoking near the entrances to buildings on the campus. A “gauntlet of tobacco smoke” surrounds many an entrance to campus buildings, Banzhaf says — except those, like the entrances to the law school and the building that houses the university’s president and other top administrators, that already display signs barring smoking near the entrances, Banzhaf notes with some irony.

UD’s walked this lonesome valley for a couple of decades, and she’s got to report that for her at least the gauntlet’s gone missing. Gauntlet? Gauntlet? A pretty word, certainly, gauntlet… Even a pretty phrase, “a gauntlet of tobacco smoke,“ and UD’s always looking for found poetry… But let’s see what the word means… “A form of punishment in which a person is forced to run between two lines of men facing each other and armed with clubs or whips to beat the victim.”

I dunno. I’ve never seen smokers at the university array themselves in this fashion. And while I dislike cigarette smoke in closed spaces, I don’t mind it outside, and it’s hard to see how anyone could claim it’s a form of punishment. It is a mild irritant. If I had to find an appropriate word to describe the occasional gathering of a bit of smoke at the edges of campus doors, I’d say there’s a slight fog of smoke in Foggy Bottom, much of it issuing from sad, guilty people who cringe somewhat at your approach, expecting you to be John Banzhaf.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Scathing Online Schoolmarm
Strikes Again

'Breast-Feeding Display On Campus To Raise Awareness

Breast-feeding in public is what six women did Wednesday in a very public arena at the [University of Texas] campus.

They say, whether you squirm or not, they have the right to feed their children wherever they are. [Pronoun reference?]

Forget the argument: is breast-feeding good or bad for a baby? The issue many women have is a baby can get hungry anytime, and if they're breast-feeding, they may just be in a coffee shop or restaurant when they feel the need to feed. [Overuse of the “to be” verb. And again pronoun confusion.]

The women who were breast-feeding on campus Wednesday say they shouldn't be made to feel ashamed.

Does the site of breast-feeding make you uncomfortable? [Spelling? Do you mean to ask me whether the place of b-f makes me uncomfortable, or the “sight” of b-f?]

A public feed [This phrase is new to me and conjures images of pigs in a trough. I don’t think this association is what you want.] on UT campus with moms and babies was both a public art demonstration and a very public statement. [Whoa. Was this installation art and a protest? You need to clarify that earlier in the piece.]

"In our society, breasts are conceived of in a sexual manner in advertising, in magazines and what not," art student Brooke Gassiot said. [Is this the most intelligent comment you were able to elicit?]

Gassiot is an artist, a student and a mother.

"It's nothing to do with sex. It's completely normal. It's feeding. It's eating. That's why I wanted to have a dinner with these mothers, so it re-enforces the idea that we're just eating. We're just feeding our children," Gassiot said. [Again, were you able only to find someone who believes that the sight of breasts has nothing to do with sex? Who believes that people think breast-feeding is abnormal?]

Public breast-feeding has been an issue for years. Some think it ought to be kept in the home. The moms who were on campus have a different opinion.

"Breast-feeding in public is sort of, I guess, taboo. So, I got a lot of stares. But, it hasn't stopped me in any way from breast-feeding," mother Virla Jameson said.

"I'm kind of shy, and that's the reason I decided to do this. Just to kind of show how important it is and to help me also get over my shyness of breast-feeding in public," mother Charlotte Bergdorf said.

It is still an issue, one that has prompted some businesses to post signs that breast-feeding is welcomed. [Example, please. Better yet, a photo. I have never seen a BREAST-FEEDING WELCOME sign, and am having trouble imagining what sort of business -- outside of a sex shop -- would hang one.]'


Update: Okay, okay.

But - does this seem weird to you? Why doesn't the mother in the image have any hair? Are we trying to be gender-neutral?


An Article in
The Arizona Republic,
With A Little Parenthetical
UD Commentary

'Money magazine and released their list of the 50 best jobs in America on Wednesday, and software engineer was at the top spot.

But if the Buzz had its druthers, we'd be launching a new career as a college professor, which ranked second on the list.

It isn't because college professors make so much money. The job has other advantages, such as a low stress level, flexibility and plenty of room for creativity. Oh, yeah, and college professors reported the lowest average number of working hours per week, 30, and the highest average number of vacation days, 31.

Well, in theory, anyway. Dennis Hoffman, an economics professor at Arizona State University, said he has heard all that stuff about what a cushy job he supposedly has, especially the part about all the time off.

"I just love that one," Hoffman said. "It's not the 9 to 5 grind that some folks might endure, but if you add up all the hours for the week, it's more like 50 or 60. [You’ll need to be more specific.] Most of my colleagues are pretty much pounding away. [At what? Articles in their field? Reading? For most academics, these are pleasant activities-- they entered the field because they like to do them. I wouldn‘t call it pounding away. I‘d say people who work at quarries are pounding away.] "

He also noted that because of all the schooling it takes to become a professor, you don't really get started on your career until you are nearly 30. [In other words, look how long you get to be a student.] And then there is the "publish or perish" pressure, especially at research universities [Publish or perish pressure is primarily a pre-tenure phenomenon. And at most schools almost everyone who comes up for tenure gets it.]'
More Kicks than Pricks

They're kicking up their heels the world over today for the centenary of Samuel Beckett, with folks dressed up as some of his most winsome creations (Vladimir, Estragon) cavorting on the streets of Dublin. (Paris, London, New York, and Tokyo are also holding celebrations.)

"Jenny Holzer," reports the Globe and Mail, "will project quotations from Beckett's writings onto Dublin [and London] landmarks, so you can literally read the writing on the wall of Ireland's greatest nonliteralist."
Professor Second Best
Job in the United States

Inside Higher Ed links to Money Magazine’s ranking of best jobs in the country, which has college professor at number two:

Money Magazine has ranked the job of college professor as the second best job to have in the United States. The rankings are based both on salary and on letter grades awarded on various factors. Professor received a B for stress, A for flexibility, A for creativity and C for difficulty. Software engineer was the only job to rank higher.

Here’s the list.

Here’s how they got the result:

To find the best jobs in America, MONEY Magazine and, a leading provider of employee compensation data and software, began by assembling a list of positions that the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects will grow at an above-average rate over 10 years and that require at least a bachelor's degree.

Using compensation data, we eliminated jobs with average pay below $50,000; total employment of less than 15,000; dangerous work environments; or fewer than 800 annual job openings, including both new and replacement positions.

Next we rated positions by stress levels, flexibility in hours and working environment, creativity, and how easy it is to enter and advance in the field.

We then ranked the jobs, giving double weight to compensation and percentage growth. Data for the top 50 appear here. Any job that fell in the bottom third of two job-satisfaction categories, or in the pay or growth category, was removed from consideration for the top 10.

And here’s a little background reading from University Diaries (I’m picking this up from part of an earlier post which runs somewhat beyond the subject at hand but might help explain things):

UD next takes note of a short essay on a paradox dear to her heart - the notorious misery of tenured university professors who have everything to live for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Frank’s answer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UD hopes she has established her deep-dyed blueness.

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

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

Wednesday, April 12, 2006


'The interim head of the University of Arizona's classics department has stepped down amid accusations he gave preferential treatment to a UA basketball player.

UA officials said the school is investigating the claims after a majority of upper-level classics professors signed a letter March 28 indicating their collective "vote of no-confidence" in Alexander Nava.

The professors alleged that Nava allowed the player to enroll in classes without the proper prerequisite courses and that he implored an adjunct instructor not to drop or fail the athlete during the season, although the instructor told the Citizen he was not pressured.

…The eight professors who signed the letter to College of Humanities Dean Charles Tatum accused Nava of "academic fraud" and having "extraordinarily poor judgment and administrative incompetence."

…In the letter, the eight classics professors wrote that Nava had "abused his power without submitting the necessary paperwork to the director of graduate studies in classics."

The unnamed student was enrolled in a six-unit graduate-level independent study course when one to three units is the norm, the letter said.

Faculty members said Nava should have consulted with the department because the student did not have the necessary prerequisite courses.

The course, Classics 599, consists of independent study agreed upon by the student and professor.

It was not clear exactly what the student was studying.' [As usual, UD was able to find out:

Historical/Comparative Grammar of Latin
Introduction to Latin historical/comparative grammar via reading of pre-classical texts, including both literary texts (Cato, Ennius, Saturnian poetry) and non-literary forms (early inscriptions, the Twelve Tables, the Latin grammatical tradition); the position of Latin among the languages of ancient Italy; the development of the literary language.

[Just kidding. Got the description off the Princeton Classics website.]
An Opinion Writer
In Cornell’s Paper
Looks Back Fondly
At a Visiting Lecturer

' The Class of '56 must be pissed. The "Superclass," known for its enormous financial contributions to Cornell, established the Frank H.T. Rhodes Class of '56 visiting professorships to honor the former Cornell president and to provide an unprecedented opportunity for undergraduates to interact with people who, as the program statement notes, are "at the pinnacle of their careers in scholarship, public life, government, international affairs, health, nutrition, agriculture, business and industry, the professions, the arts, communication or any comparable field."

The visiting professorship was wildly successful at first, attracting big names like former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno '60 and renowned African-American author Toni Morrison MFA '55. But in 2003, the faculty-run selection committee took a turn for the worse, selecting as a Class of '56 visiting professor then-former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who was a failed politician, a Sept. 11 conspiracy theorist and a certifiable nutjob. In other words, she wasn't at the pinnacle of anything.

The selection committee offered McKinney the professorship without running its decision through the president, the provost and the Board of Trustees, as was required. Not wanting to rock the boat, new president Jeffrey S. Lehman '77 decided to let it slide. At the time, Board of Trustees chair Peter C. Meinig '62 noted that what went wrong is analogous to a fraternity brother inviting a pledge to join before the entire fraternity agrees.

Unlike Cornell's other Greek houses, however, this fraternity tarnished our campus's image nationwide when she was appointed. Aside from her general lunacy, McKinney was undistinguished in every way. Indeed, the campus seemed almost united in its opposition to her appointment. American Studies Professor Glenn C. Altschuler noted, "There is not in my judgment either in Cynthia McKinney's expertise, in her career in Congress or in her published statements a sufficient justification for inviting her as a recipient of this prestigious position." Professor Theodore J. Lowi exclaimed, "Cornell can do better." The University received between 150 and 200 letters criticizing McKinney's appointment, with only a negligible number written in her support.

But alas, three years later, Cynthia McKinney has finally distinguished herself! McKinney is likely the first Frank H.T. Rhode Class of '56 Professor to punch a cop!

By all available accounts, McKinney was rushing into a House building and bypassed the security metal detector, as congressmen are permitted to do. A Capitol police officer did not recognize McKinney, who recently changed her hairstyle and was not wearing her Congressional pin, and asked her several times to stop. When she did not do so, he attempted to stop her physically. Instead of deigning to inform the police officer that she, in fact, is a Congresswoman from Georgia, McKinney decided to forgo the formalities and punched the officer.

In a television interview, the hard-hitting Soledad O'Brien could not even get McKinney to state her version of the events. Accompanied by her lawyer, McKinney rambled about hairdos, unrelated lawsuits and how the Republican budget "drowns America's children in a sea of debt." Though she was quick to self-righteously (and incoherently) proclaim herself a victim of racial profiling, she refused to explain why she punched a police officer.

This is not particularly shocking to anyone who has attended one of McKinney's lectures on campus. Ignoring difficult questions is McKinney's preferred mode of conversation, but she executes it poorly. As Sun columnist Jim Shliferstein '06 recounted in a column entitled "Retort Card: Grading a Prof" (read the whole thing!), McKinney clumsily parried three audience questions asking her to reconcile her interventionalist stance on Rwanda with her isolationist stance on Iraq, demonstrating in the process that her knowledge of Iraqi history approached zero. I couldn't take it anymore and confronted her directly. She babbled some more about sanctions, ignored my question and moved on.

Indeed, McKinney's pattern for handling audience questions was this: ignore, evade and then redirect the conversation. Her illogical and irrelevant references to unrelated geographical entities in her "answers" prompted frustrated audience member David Friedlander to qualify his question by asking her to respond without referring to either Haiti or Florida. As Justin Weitz '07 noted in classic understatement to a Sun reporter after the event, "I think people realized she wouldn't answer questions [directly]." Now, instead of evading confrontation, McKinney resorts to physical assault.

Unfortunately, Cornell's campus recently has seen an actual act of racism as of late, where a Cornell student, Nathan Poffenbarger '08, allegedly stabbed Union College senior Charles Holiday while yelling racial epithets. Like McKinney, Poffenbarger will soon go before a grand jury to determine whether there is enough evidence to indict him. The University wisely decided to suspend Poffenbarger indefinitely. It should do nothing less with Cynthia McKinney. '

[One observer] said that students can miss out on the best fitting institution by falling for the hype. “All good marketing campaigns are made around concern and worry in people,” he said. “We’re made to worry, so all of the SAT prep classes are filled, and all of the colleges have so many applicants so they can reject a lot, and the media plays on this. Of course,” he added, “how difficult a college is to get into has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of learning at that institution. That’s been shown time and time again by studies.”

via inside higher ed
The Dugouts of Debauchery

Once again, that figurative language lover, Selena Roberts of the New York Times, has turned out a feast of an article, this one an overview of recent scandalous university athletic practices, including -- prominently -- Duke University's lacrosse mess. Some excerpts:

Before Duke's entry into the expanding sports noir category, complete with a hard-boiled district attorney, an exotic dancer and a team's dark secrets, there was the University of Colorado.

There were once killer parties in the fresh-air haven of Boulder, Colo., where sex, alcohol and marijuana were used as recruiting currency to lure blue-chip football players.

Before Duke's lacrosse members established a "Lord of the Flies" ethos in Durham, N.C., with its own mores, handshakes and drinking games, there was the University of Vermont.

There was once a hazing ritual in the free-love world of Burlington, Vt., where the ruling party of athletics, as in the prestigious hockey team, forced freshmen to binge drink and walk naked while holding each other's genitals.

What is the lifespan of a perverse subculture? It's the longevity of institutional denial minus the instant of a public disclosure. Once unseemly details find light — as in TV camera lights — there is a mad scramble to purge the lapsed caretakers.

At the nadir of each Colorado and Vermont embarrassment, it was clear that early attempts to obfuscate the truth by officials morphed into belated accountability. And nothing induces more university firings — euphemistically called a resignation — than an athletic program with an underbelly. By unofficial count, almost a dozen top university officials over the past five years, from athletic directors to presidents, have been forced to turn in their pompoms over a program scandal.

(This count does not include ousted coaches, like Baylor's Dave Bliss, Iowa State's Larry Eustachy and Alabama's Mike Price. Their bold lies, drinking demons and misjudgments — respectively — occupy a different space in the X's and O's of athletic self-indulgence.)

...The News and Observer of Raleigh, N.C., has reported that a third of the lacrosse team's current players have been charged with misdemeanors, from public urination to underage alcohol possession; and for years, the baseball team was known for its rowdy behavior, alcohol abuse and, yes, obligatory parties with obligatory strippers.

There were many complaints about the baseball team. President Richard H. Brodhead knew, so did the athletic director, Joe Alleva, according to The News and Observer, but nothing moved Duke officials to begin an internal inquiry into the dugouts of debauchery.

Now they are under the lights. Now they act, fretting over the atmosphere of degradation, over the symptoms of misogyny. Now they are appalled by the e-mail message of a lacrosse player, Ryan McFadyen, who disclosed his wish to kill and skin strippers.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Note on Duke Lacrosse

Fellow bloggers and readers have been generous in praising my coverage of the Duke scandal, and I’m very grateful. I haven’t said much about the story for a few days, and I want to say why.

From the outset, I said this thing is extremely complicated (its complications are best chronicled by my fellow blogger Chris at Signifying Nothing -- he’s right there in Durham, a visiting faculty member at Duke), that there are dizzying numbers of participants and informants and forms of evidence involved, and that just getting to a reasonably plausible sequence of events for that night is going to be insanely difficult.

Deepening this complexity are the now well-aired class and race issues, in which even if no sexual assault took place, the very fact of rich white Dukies -- teenagers -- using poorer black Durhamites as variants of sexual slaves is disgusting.

Yet more broadly, American hyperaffluence and its pathologies -- here among the drunken obnoxious entitled young -- have been put on vivid display and roused complicating emotions from onlookers.

Americans, thank goodness, don’t have the reflexive resentment of wealth that many non-Americans do. Most of us have no problem with wealth (many of us are ourselves pretty well off, after all), but when it seems excessive, and excessively irresponsible and arrogant, we can be made to feel indignant. Our basic sense of justice and fair play, our meritocratic attitudes, can only be offended so often before we begin to growl.

Take, for instance, Americans’ attitudes toward lobbyists. At GWU today, there was a panel discussion on lobbying, mainly involving lobbyists attempting to put a good face on their currently disgraced profession. They were not happy when a journalist on the panel piped up.

…Jeffrey Birnbaum, The Washington Post’s lobbying columnist, was not …diplomatic. When the moderator asked panelists to tee off on their least favorite provisions in congressional lobbying-reform bills, Birnbaum took the opportunity to criticize corporate power. “I guess it’s my job to be the skunk at the garden party,” Birnbaum said. Lobbying scandals “remind the American people how much they dislike organizations that are wealthy enough to buy their way in.”

Americans don’t like patently unfair advantages related to the possession of lots of money. Likewise, they don’t like what the Duke lacrosse players seem to represent along these lines (and, again, the story is sufficiently complex that this may be an entirely unfair reading of many of the players) -- people who don’t seem to have much sense of morality, but who are lionized and promoted through life because of their athletic prowess and their money. We already know that quite a few on the Duke team have been lawless, their lawlessness overlooked by a school that wants a winning team.

So unfortunately for the Duke players, they’re already disliked by most of the people following this story (obviously the McFadyen email didn’t help, though I actually think too much has been made of this idiotic missive) because of their almost too-perfect symbolism of trends in our rich country that we find unsettling.

Yet it could be the case that they’re all perfectly innocent of anything other than the disgusting but not illegal act (far as I know) of hiring a stripper and having a nasty tussle with her when she disappointed them in some way. Could be they’re guilty of assault but not sexual assault. Could be they’re guilty of nothing.

In any case, the story continues, and becomes more complex, as the boys’ powerful teams of attorneys get going, etc. We’re in for a long season of claims and counterclaims and shockers and snoozers. I’ll cover as much of this as seems appropriate (keeping in mind that the focus of this blog is university life), but I thought now would be a good time to issue a general statement about the case.
Spanning the Globe
To Bring you the
Latest News of
Campus Life, UD Presents…

Cellular Slurring

' "Hey this is Jen . . . um, and I used to . . . hey guys the bathroom . . . OK, I am looking for my boyfriend. . . . I did call 911 . . . I am at Billy Bob's . . . and I, uh, drank a lot of Absolut before I came and I am definitely not 21 but we're not so sure it matters because no one under 21 doesn't drink . . . whatever, it's college . . . "

This soused student's nonsensical message is one of the many ill communications filling the airwaves on any given night — a typically rambling example of the campus trend of drunk dialing.

Although no precise figure exists for the practice in this country, a recent Virgin Mobile survey in Australia found that of the 400-plus questioned, 95 percent had drunk dialed. (The company offers an intervention service, which allows certain numbers to be blocked until the next morning, though Virgin says there are no plans to offer this service in America.) And in 2005, according to new-media research company Telephia, Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 are the ones talking the most on cell phones, averaging almost 22 hours a month.

This gabby group includes the micro-generation currently in college, which is discovering that with modern technologies come new consequences. Marshall McLuhan observed that when people's sense ratios change, they themselves change. The ubiquitous cell phone not only provides ample opportunities to communicate, but has a way of altering one's actions as well. Armed with a Nokia in one hand and a PBR in the other, students are getting fluent in cellular slurring. '

-- more detail at the village voice --

' "Truth is beauty" reads the tagline for Cosmedicine, a premium-price skin-care line launched in February at Sephora beauty-products stores. But the real selling point is in the promotional copy that calls Cosmedicine the only skin-care line tested "in consultation with Johns Hopkins Medicine."

The clear pitch to consumers is that the products' performance is backed by science, not merely beauty hype. Behind the promise is an extraordinary pact between a New York company, Klinger Advanced Aesthetics, and Johns Hopkins Medicine, an umbrella organization made up of the university's health system and medical school.

John Hopkins's name is prominent in product displays and in online descriptions of the products, which are sold by Sephora, a unit of LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton. '

Come closer. Come in closer! Come as close as you like. I’m Francis Crick, Nobel-prize winning geneticist, and I’m here on behalf of the Cosmedicine skin care line, a Johns Hopkins University-affiliated company. As studies endorsed by prestigious Johns Hopkins University attest, the Cosmedicine line of skin care products will leave your skin smoother, healthier, and younger in no time. Don’t believe me? Ask Max!

Yes indeed, Francis, Cosmedicine took my “laboratory” skin and gave it that day-at-the-beach look. And Botox treatments at the Cosmedicine spa made me look and feel my best all over. We’re not at liberty to divulge the secret formula behind the miracle powers of Cosmedicine, but we can show you one of our scientists at work on it!

Oh! Hello! You’ve caught me at work on the Cosmedicine Code, a secret set of chemical formulae specially designed to make your skin more glowing, more fresh, more clear, than you’d ever dreamed possible. Did someone say you’ll look “relatively” better? Haha! There’s nothing relative about it. This is absolutely the best product on the market. After all, it’s got the Hopkins name on it.

Monday, April 10, 2006


From today's New York Times:

Financial aid officers ... say some middle- and upper-middle class families may not have saved enough [for their children's college education] in part because they thought, incorrectly, that financial aid would compensate. But financial aid calculations focus on assets (other than a home) and past, present and future income, and while such calculations allow for living expenses, the assumed lifestyle may be more austere than what many families have enjoyed or are willing to accept.

"We can't be awarding financial assistance based on discretionary choices" parents have made in spending their money, Ms. McGuire said. "You say that as nicely as you can: I can't give you more money because you have a large consumer debt. I have got to have an analysis that is not rewarding you for discretionary spending."
The Pretty Truth
About the Best
And Brightest

It’s always good to be skeptical of these studies, but one shows that only 34% of “high-achieving students” cared about the commercial ranking of the universities to which they applied. More precisely, “High-achieving students say that broadening their intellectual capabilities is more important in college than preparing for a career, and that the quality of specific academic programs influence[s] their college choice more than an institution's overall reputation.”

Which is a promising trend, suggesting not only that smart students realize college is about intellectuality rather than careerism, but also that smart students don’t feel compelled, lemming-like, to rush to the most famous or high-prestige or expensive college that takes them, but rather are properly focused upon the actual value of various programs at various schools.

Serious students seem to realize, in other words, that admission to, say, Brown University, while an exciting outcome, may not be the best thing for their education.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Snapshots from Home
A Regular University Diaries Feature

‘thesdan cultures aren’t just in Bethesda, of course -- they’re all over the greater Washington suburbs where UD grew up, and where she still lives, in a small ‘thesdan town called Garrett Park.

Northern Virginia is a ‘thesdan culture too, and a thoroughly ‘thesdan dispute - rich v. rich - is raging there even as we blog. Since there’s some amusing prose involved in the dispute, she’ll share it with you.

UD has met Zbigniew Brzezinski on a number of Poland-related occasions (UD’s husband, remember, is Polish). He is an extremely well-mannered Pole of a certain generation -- scrupulously polite, a bit icy, old-fashioned. She likes the type because they’re easy to deal with by obeying the forms.

Outside of formal occasions, the Zbig type can be more difficult.

Years ago, when it was rural and pre-pretentious, the man bought a house and some acres in Northern Virginia. Being a European, he did not restlessly move to bigger and bigger houses over the years, but stayed in his rather modest (by ‘thesdan standards!) estate.

Steadily, throughout those decades, McMansions sprouted around him, houses for which Zbig expresses, in the Washington Post article about the dispute, open contempt. They are "reflective of cultural pretension and pomposity." They "make the whole area look like a joke, a Disneyland imitation of the European aristocracy, without the land."

Clearly Zbig has been seething for thirty years as crude rich ‘thesdan culture has had its way. And now, because of a sidewalk, he’s been given a chance to exact a little revenge.

What with all the new houses, residents would like a sidewalk through the area, including the area in front of Zbig’s house. A small request of him, perhaps (the county can’t proceed without the homeowner’s permission), but one to which he is bringing all of the rhetorical and strategic resources of his years of international diplomacy. "Dr. B is treating this transaction as if he were negotiating a strategic arms treaty," writes one neighbor to another in an email.

Here’s a sample from a letter he wrote to the homeowners in response to their request:

"As you can see, there are a number of complex issues that have to be evaluated in some detail. And there will be more, once experts and lawyers have been consulted, as will need to be by all concerned."

Here’s a sample from another letter:

"What commitments are envisaged, how guaranteed, and by whom regarding the preservation of our privacy by replacing new fencing, tall planting and/or brick wall, etc. What alternative proposals are there regarding the foregoing?"

The neighbors have figured out what’s going on and are pissed off, but they know further efforts are futile. They’re not going to get their sidewalk.

Zbig describes this whole thing to the Post reporter as “a clash of civilizations,” and indeed it is. It is a clash between garish new-money ‘thesdanians and a change-averse Pole from a good family. The Pole, a cultured man who appreciates the value of restraint and tradition, has long felt private disgust at the Babbittry that has destroyed his little country road. This is his chance to go public.
Sloppy, all over the place, sort of opinion piece…

…on Duke lacrosse today in the New York Times, by a writer who lives in Chapel Hill and has had some dealings with Duke. The only valuable paragraph is this one:

The university once offered respite from our country's most rabid competitive impulses. Once upon a time, there was even a core curriculum assuring that every student in every field had read the same great works, including sacred texts, Shakespeare, the Greeks. Once science reigned unchallenged by religious strictures. Once institutions of higher learning ranked ... higher. Now corporate America, athletic America, Defense Department America form a unified competitive team.

That last sentence is a bit bogus, but the writer’s general point that universities like Duke have sold out to various disreputable interests is valid enough.
UD has known for some time…

…that she is a man. Anatomically female, to be sure; and happily married to a man. But for all that, a man.

She says this not to be provocative or weird but rather to help explain why she finds annoying a remark that a professor, who studied which novels men love and which women love, recently made about men’s choices.

See, the women go for romance and happy endings -- Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre -- and they’re also apparently always thumbing through this same stuff year after year for consolation, blah blah. Whereas the men, who tend to read one book, enjoy it, and then look for another, like what UD likes -- novels of ideas, philosophical and political: Ulysses, Crime and Punishment, Kafka’s Metamorphosis, 1984. They also go for books written from a rather dry detached, "dark" point of view: Lolita and Catch 22 and Brighton Rock.

One man mentions that his favorite book isn’t fiction but rather Robert Graves’s World War One memoir, Goodbye to All That, which happens to be one of UD’s all-time favorites too -- and it’s got the same dry unsentimental thing that most of the other man-novels have going.

So here’s the professor’s conclusion: "The men's list was all angst and Orwell. Sort of puberty reading.”

Puberty reading! Unlike obsessive attraction to stories of females bagging rich bounty! How unevolved of men to find spiritual extremity and social cataclysm rather than love and marriage riveting!

--- via ralph, cliopatria ---
A New York Times Article
With Parenthetical UD Commentary

Perch for the People?
Or the Powerful?

[Way to alliterate!]

Bill Martin, the director of athletics at the University of Michigan, does not like the term "luxury boxes." He said he did not necessarily want to build private rooms of elite seats atop the flowing rows of bleacher benches that rise gently skyward from the football field of Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.

"I use the term 'enclosed seating,'" Martin said in a recent interview. "It doesn't have to be all a bunch of little cubicles. The motivation to build enclosed seating is to pay for fixing the infrastructure of the bowl itself and updating this 80-year-old grand old lady. It's not to build luxury boxes." [In fact, Martin’s favorite term for this proposed area is ‘Anti-Terror Surveillance Seating.' “At a time of increased Middle Eastern militancy,” he notes, “we’ll be building a ‘see without being seen’ feature which will allow local dignitaries to keep an eye on the sky for the safety of the more exposed fans.”]

But opponents of the renovation say that enclosed seating is simply a euphemism for luxury boxes. They say that adding such seating would amount to a small neighborhood of exclusive little cottages atop what is affectionately called the Big House, which has a seating capacity of 107,501.

They say the renovation would permanently change the egalitarian personality of one of the nation's most famous college sports stadiums. No formal proposal has been presented on the public agenda before the university's eight-member Board of Regents, although ideas have circulated and debate has been spirited behind closed doors.

Most members of the Big Ten Conference, and many other colleges, have added exclusive and high-priced football seating in recent years, part of a trend to find ways to add revenue in college sports. Opponents of the installation of exclusive seating at Michigan Stadium said it was a drift toward professionalism and commercialism, all the more reason to oppose it.

John Pollack, a New York City resident who is the son of a Michigan professor, is leading the opposition with a grass-roots campaign called Save the Big House. Among his allies are Fielding H. Yost III, the grandson of the legendary Michigan football coach, and James J. Duderstadt, a former president of the university and a current professor of science and engineering.

"You are taking the classic football stadium in America and turning it into every N.F.L. venue," said Pollack, a former speechwriter for President Bill Clinton. "It will ruin the stadium architecturally. To enshrine wealth and power in glass and steel at the leading public institution totally undermines the values of the university itself."

On March 23, the debate intensified when a letter from 33 current and former faculty members was sent to the Regents. It warned of "lavish entertainment facilities for a privileged few" and of "the growing stratification of our society and a sad corruption of our university's defining traditions."

Duderstadt, who was president of the university from 1988 to 1996, was among those who signed the letter. He said Friday in a telephone interview from Ann Arbor that the university was founded "primarily to serve the working class" and that exclusive seating would send the wrong message.

Rather than add boxes, Duderstadt said, Michigan Stadium could expand upward with more rows of common seating, similar to what was done to Notre Dame Stadium a few years ago. John Heisler, a senior associate athletics director at Notre Dame, said in an e-mail message that Notre Dame "made a conscious decision not to enter into the sky-box business" because it is a professional sports concept.

Martin, Michigan's athletic director, said revenue from covered seating would finance a major renovation needed throughout the stadium, which opened in 1927.

Last year, Michigan began to sell seat licenses for prime locations. This fall, the top price for a seat license will be $500.

"When I came in six years ago, we had a deficit of $5 million," Martin said of the athletic budget. "I fixed it through bells and whistles." [Let’s pause and savor that five million deficit. How’d it happen? Bet it’ll happen again! But even if it doesn’t, at least it’s made possible the prostitution of Michigan’s sports program.]

Martin said the stadium, despite its mystique and history, was "economically and functionally obsolete." He said that the revenue from new seating would pay for construction of wider aisles, more restrooms, better concession stands and improved access for the handicapped. [Great list, conjuring images of incontinent old ladies in wheelchairs gazing with misty-eyed gratitude at the drunken louts in the luxury boxes: Bless you, gentlemen! Bless you! ] He said surveys showed that fans want these amenities.

"We have to update the infrastructure," Martin said, adding that his department is spending $8 million for routine repair of concrete. Work has been going on at the stadium; a few large cranes and several sections with benches removed were visible on a recent visit.

"We want to improve the environment and the game-day experience for everyone who attends the games," Martin said. [It‘s not just about ordinary fans; it‘s about rich fans who don‘t want to mingle with ordinary fans.] "I do have to pay for updating Michigan Stadium, and there is no other economic model that I know of to do it."

No cost estimate has been made public, although Duderstadt said he had heard the project could cost as much as $300 million.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the university, said: "There's been no serious investment in the infrastructure in 50 years. We don't have a workable plan yet. There are a lot of options on the table."

The Regents, who are publicly elected, meet April 21.

Athletic departments at other Big Ten universities reported generally favorable results from their new seating and said they had little opposition to their construction. Bill Jones, the senior director of ticketing at Ohio State, said it was an "unbelievable success" to build 81 suites. Each suite has as many as 16 seats and leases for as much as $75,000 a season.

"The suites generate $6.5 million annually," Jones said, adding that "club seats," which are outside the suites, generate $4.5 million. He said the biggest demand on the waiting list is for the suites, which are mostly isolated from the public concourses. [God yes. If I live in a gated community, I should also be able to attend a gated football game.]

"You don't have every Tom, Dick and Harry walking down the hall just trying to see who they know," Jones said. [God yes! Thank God someone understands.]

Ron Mason, the athletics director at Michigan State, reported less success. He said that 17 of 24 new suites were sold last season, but only 277 of 830 club seats. Mason said he expected sales to improve this fall.

He said an unforeseen bonus was the popularity of the restaurant area attached to the club seating. The restaurant is rented year-round for corporate parties and wedding receptions and will eventually generate $250,000 in revenue outside football, Mason said.

One contentious issue, he said, was alcohol, which is banned in the common seating but allowed in the boxes. [We…elllll… Ffffug..…Ah’m shell out 75 thou… I get to dowhaIwah…]

Opponents of suites at Michigan have predicted that the university will face pressure to allow alcohol there and that it could alter the atmosphere in the stadium.

Tim Curley, director of athletics at Penn State, said that a $93 million renovation of Beaver Stadium, which was completed in 2001, included 60 new suites. He said that "it went very smoothly," with little opposition.

At Wisconsin, the associate athletic director John Chadima said that 72 new suites were sold out and that there was a waiting list.

"There are liquor sales throughout the premium seating areas," he said, adding that money from leasing the suites helped pay for a renovation that included making wider concourses. He said that Scott Draper, an assistant athletic director for football at Michigan, had visited Wisconsin to study the renovations.

Chadima said that Wisconsin fans "were very thrilled" because they knew Camp Randall Stadium in Madison was in need of a face-lift.

"There was not much talk about haves and have-nots," Chadima said. When told of the opposition at Michigan, Chadima said that he understood the feeling but that private luxury seating was "the way of the world" in modern sports, and that includes college stadiums. [Reality principle, people! Get with it!]

Pollack, who is leading the Michigan opposition, remains undeterred. He said support for Save the Big House had grown since it began in July. He produced a sheaf of printed e-mail messages generated by his Web site,

During an interview on a snowy spring afternoon, Pollack ate a cheeseburger and sipped a soda at a pub near his home in Greenwich Village. He had a book with him, "The Big House: Fielding H. Yost and the Building of Michigan Stadium" by Robert M. Soderstrom, which was published last year.

Pollack, a season-ticket holder for Wolverines football, traces his loyalty to his days at the university's nursery school, which was part of the education department at the time. Both sides in this debate want what is best for Michigan, he said, and opponents have been civil despite their disagreement.

Referring to his allies, who signed the letter that urged the Regents to reject the idea of luxury boxes, Pollack said that "these guys are old-school Michigan in the best sense" and that they "want to protect the character of the stadium we love."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Individual Soul

In tomorrow’s New York Times, David Brooks suggests that in considering why the Duke lacrosse thing happened we “steer…back past the identity groups to the ghost in the machine, the individual soul.”

It’s a useful corrective to the all but universal “environmental, sociological explanation of events” there.

Several decades ago, American commentators would have used an entirely different vocabulary to grapple with what happened at Duke. Instead of the vocabulary of sociology, they would have used the language of morality and character.

[C]haracter ha[s] been corroded by shock jocks and raunch culture and [some of the lacrosse players have] entered a nihilistic moral universe where young men entertain each other with bravura displays of immoralism. A community so degraded, you might surmise, is not a long way from actual sexual assault.

You would then ask questions very different from the sociological ones: How have these young men slipped into depravity? Why have they not developed sufficient character to restrain their baser impulses?

Yet what UD finds particularly interesting about this explanatory approach is that many of the young men on the team went to extremely morally serious Catholic schools for boys. When Brooks laments the weakening of the belief that “each of us ha[s] a godlike and a demonic side, and that decent people perpetually strengthen[ed] the muscles of their virtuous side in order to restrain the deathless sinner within,” he overlooks the fact that it’s precisely within such a belief system that a number of the Blue Devils grew up and were educated.

We all share raunch culture; only a few of us spend twelve years of our lives in Benedictine-run schools. What happened?
The Stanford Band

After UD finishes donating to Bocconi University (see below), she’s going to see what she can do to help maintain the (non-alcoholic) traditions of Stanford University’s band:

'Stanford alum Eugene Danaher knows exactly how to fix his alma mater's problem: get rid of the Leland Stanford Junior University Marching Band.

Over the years, the band and its antics have made the news too many times for this 1946 graduate. Once, Danaher even picked up an international newspaper while vacationing in Europe and read about the band parodying polygamy at Brigham Young University.

He has written letters to the university president, alumni association president and the dean of student affairs to "excise this cancerous student activity" to no avail. He has detailed its sins, which he insists include, among others, urinating on the stadium floor in October during halftime against Arizona State. It matters little to him that the band fired its tree mascot in February for public drunkenness.

"Michigan at Ann Arbor -- they have clean uniforms and snappy routines," said Danaher. "There are plenty of examples of bands that could be used as models that could bring the Stanford band back into the fraternity of good bands."

People either love or hate the band. Rarely do they feel neutral about it. Stanford's band is a scatter band, meaning its members race wildly onto the field for football halftime shows instead of orderly marching. Such bands are a tradition at Eastern schools such as Columbia, Harvard and Yale where they are called scramble bands. Despite their prevalence, Stanford's band has managed to attain a national reputation in sports circles and is the most famous in the West.

Yet it's at a crossroads. Next year, the band will move from its beat-up temporary quarters into a renovated squash court. It will perform in a new stadium. And a new athletic director will help oversee its operations. The changes come in what former and current band members describe as a more restrictive climate.

Halftime scripts undergo closer scrutiny. The band is on alcohol probation.

All the flux has prompted the band's current assistant manager to agree to stay past graduation in 2007 to shepherd the changes.

"The next year or two is really going to be very important in determining the next 10 to 20 years of the band," said junior Adam Cohen, the assistant manager. "Once they set the precedent -- 'You're not allowed to do X,' it's nearly impossible to change it back. It works in a positive direction, too, once we establish this is the way we enter the stadium, this is the cool stuff we do on game day, this is what we do in the shack."

The university doesn't want to squelch the band's spirit, but there are rules of conduct, said Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs. The band and university are working together to chart the future.

"When not responsible, one is held accountable, and we have a process to address that," he said. "This is a free-spirited group."

Sometimes Stanford's halftime skits are apolitical, but over the years the band has developed a critical mass of controversial shows that have ended with Stanford apologizing: At the University of Oregon in 1990, band members lampooned the environmental controversy over loggers and the spotted owl. At BYU in 2004, the band's five dancers wore wedding veils.

Perhaps most famously, in a 1991 game against Notre Dame, a Stanford band member dressed as a nun conducted the band using a crucifix for a baton. The Fighting Irish indefinitely suspended Stanford from their stadium. The band kept it up, and in a 1997 game at Stanford, members parodied the Irish Potato Famine with a skit featuring Seamus O'Hungry. That last one created such a furor it made a syndicated Ann Landers column.

And then there's the controversy the band would rather forget: that time in 1982 when band members, thinking the clock had run out on Cal's kickoff return, ran onto the field, only to have Cal score the winning touchdown -- thanks to a zany series of laterals -- during all the confusion.

But in the end, the Stanford band has the moral and financial support of band alumni. And that means something.

Former band members chipped in enough for a seven-figure renovation of squash courts to replace the old "band shack," which is housed in a temporary portable decorated with road signs, a poster of nearly naked women, trash and an empty unmoored toilet that has, on occasion, served as a punch bowl. One room is so abused, the school condemned it.

In spite of all that -- or maybe because of it -- the allure is great. Sophomore Kalena Masching remembers dressing as a Stanford band member with a clown nose and mismatched shoes as an eighth- grader in Palo Alto.

"I like that it accepts everybody," she explained. "You can show up and be anything here."

You don't even have to know how to play an instrument. The band promises to teach you how.

Giancarlo Aquilanti, the band's musical director, oversees Monday practices. A sweater tied around his shoulders, he doesn't seem a likely leader for a wild band. The university had trouble finding a permanent director following the retirement of Art Barnes in 1997, who led the band for more than 30 years. Giancarlo, who teaches music theory and composition, didn't jump at the opportunity.

"I get involved only for music reasons," he said, adding that he doesn't touch field shows. "I do rehearsal and arrange music and teach students to play instruments."

Stanford's band used to be a traditional marching band. When Barnes began his tenure in 1963, he insisted that the students run the band. And now he points out -- or perhaps laments -- that although he was a full music professor, 90 percent of what he's known for is the band. So why did he lead it?

"No one else would," he said. "The music department was and still is esoteric."

Although the band continues to get in trouble, former band members say it plays with more limits than it used to.

Steve Blasberg, a 1972 graduate, can remember a time when the band could say anything but a blatant obscenity. And there wasn't a fear of lawsuits back then. No one had to sign a waiver before traveling. Band members drank publicly like other students. The band never would have taken preemptive action and fired its tree mascot for public drunkenness the way it did in February.

As if to underscore his point, the band's new tree -- which underwent tryouts involving a bra made of taffy -- was recently suspended from the NCAA basketball tournament for its antics.

But frankly, getting in trouble is part of band lore and therefore part of the fun. And so in some ways, members appreciate rankled alums like Danaher.

The latest embarrassment for Danaher came when he heard a winter Olympics television announcer say the cacophony of clowns and other riotous behavior during the closing ceremonies looked like the Stanford band. These comments, he wrote The Chronicle, "reflected very unfavorably."

The band, though, isn't going to be disbanded any time soon, said vice provost Boardman, who added it's now "part of Stanford's culture."

As for Danaher's complaint about band members peeing on the stadium floor, band members argue their legend has skewed reality. Maybe someone peed on the floor in 1986. But not this year, said sophomore Sam Urmy.

"The band made important administrative changes, and no one is peeing on the floor now." '
Plus de Paglia

Here's some more of what Camille Paglia said during her appearance at George Washington University.

She fired up her trademark inflammatory rhetoric from the start: Universities are madhouses, tuition is a rip-off, professors are sterile hyperprofessionals, so absurdly over-specialized that fundamental offerings like art history surveys are disappearing. "Smash all specialties. Any person in the humanities should be able to teach any period of literature, the visual arts, music..." (This put UD in mind of St. John's College, where this sort of faculty flexibility is something of an expectation.)

Among current college programs, Women's Studies is a particular travesty. "Never take a Women's Studies course."

You seldom see poetry taught with any seriousness on American campuses. "There's been a recession of poetry as a force on campuses because poetry deals with nature, and extreme social constructionists don't want to hear about it."

The personal manner enforced by events like the MLA convention is "psychic death," "snide groupthink."

The failure of the university left to allow for authentic debate has enabled a massive and successful conservative reaction.

Why should college now be compulsory? Or high school, for that matter? Students who don't want to be dragged through years of higher education should be allowed to drop out and fashion lives of their own.

The point of a liberal education is the cultivation of the sort of personal happiness that sustains you through life's vicissitudes -- rather in the way religious faith used to sustain people.

When Paglia concluded (she had to be asked by the organizers to stop talking; she clearly could have gone on forever) and questions from the floor began, UD expected some hostility. But there was a kind of adulation from the crowd; people liked her, found her witty and amusing (she did her much-practiced parody of "the genteel house style of American academics"), and basically asked questions that would prompt more fun observations from her.

Afterwards, on an unseasonably warm early spring night, on a street end-on to the White House, scads of GW students lined up for Paglia to sign their copy of Break, Blow, Burn.

Friday, April 07, 2006

"A highly-educated woman...

...who chooses to stay at home and not to work - that is destruction of capital," Dijksma said. "If you receive the benefit of an expensive education at the cost of society, you should not be allowed to throw away that knowledge unpunished."

UD’s friend Cold Spring Shops quotes this; he found it quoted by UD’s friend Photon Courier (who's indignant about it). It’s from a Dutch labor party member of parliament, Sharon Dijksma, and it’s a good way to begin peering in to the very elite can of worms the events at Duke have opened.

The Duke thing has exposed not merely the barbarianism at the heart of various elite university subcultures; it has, more broadly, made manifest the seething anger of ordinary people living among the extraordinarily privileged.

These people are angry because the rich are thumbing their noses at them in a number of ways. Here’s one:

Growing numbers of women who’ve enjoyed extremely expensive graduate educations in law, business, and medicine, are working for four or five years and then quitting the world of work entirely to raise their children.

Middle-class women don’t have this option; it’s only an option for the wealthy and privileged, which is to say for the women who’ve taken places in the best undergraduate and graduate schools away from middle-class women who have also applied for them.

Because they are rich, these women have thrown their expensive professional educations away when they felt like raising children. Elite-graduate women who drop out of the workforce do it because they can -- because their families are already wealthy, or because their husbands are making enough money to support everyone on one income. Most middle-class women are guaranteed to keep working. They have to.

So while middle-class women are slaving away at a couple of jobs to afford night classes at the local third-tier law school, they watch wealthy women get subsidized through the best law schools and then nonchalantly throw the immense social investment that’s been made in them away when it no longer interests them.

Dijksma’s wrong, of course, to say such women should be “punished.” But they should certainly be judged. Here, for instance, is Linda R. Hirshman.

From an article in Slate :

[L]acrosse guys are a different breed.

[If anyone is] wondering how alcohol-fueled misogyny could fester at one of the nation's top schools, then they simply don't know lacrosse. A brief sociological account is in order. Lacrosse players hail from the privileged, largely white pockets of the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic. They unite and form tribes in Eastern prep schools, where they can be spotted driving SUVs with "LAX" stickers affixed to the rear windows. Many grow addicted to dipping Skoal and wearing soiled white caps with college logos on them.

They gain entry into top colleges by virtue of their skills with the stick. They graduate, start careers in New York, marry trophy wives, and put lacrosse sticks in their kids' cribs.

More than any other sport, lacrosse represents the marriage of athletic aggression and upper-class entitlement. While a squash player might consider himself upper-crust, he can't prove his superiority by checking you onto your ass the way a lacrosse defenseman can.

[A]n unusually large proportion of college lacrosse players spend their high school years in sheltered, all-boys academies before heading off to liberal co-ed colleges. Most guys from single-sex schools are able to adjust. Others join the lacrosse team. The worst of this lot become creatures that are, in the words of a friend of mine, "half William Kennedy Smith, half Lawrence Phillips." In the warm enclave of the locker room, safe from the budding feminists and comp-lit majors, their identity becomes more cemented…

In the eyes of their bookish classmates, lax guys occupy the far end of the dirt spectrum…
“Slade wants the university
to be seen as first class
in every way, [her attorney] said.”

Slade would be disgraced Texas Southern University President Priscilla Slade, who spent hundreds of thousands of university dollars pampering herself. Now that she’s cornered, it’s time to whip out the same bullshit other similarly disgraced university presidents have whipped out.

She’ll be fired soon.
Although Everyone’s Favorite Metaphor
For The Duke Lacrosse Story…

…is “The Perfect Storm” (i.e., a confluence of every conceivable destructive plot element), for UD it has now headed into what she calls Trailer Park Meltdown. Here, the principal actors, most of whom have criminal records or unpalatable pasts, produce nothing as glamorous as a perfect storm, but rather

A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water…

What? I’m not allowed to quote T.S. Eliot? You think it’s pretentious to quote The Waste Land? Predictable? Pathetic? You’re the one who page-viewed a blog by an English professor.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Truth About
the Sorbonne

Why students like me
abhor these French protests

By Clémentine Gallot in Paris

Published: 07 April 2006

To the outside world, the name of the Sorbonne is synonymous with academic excellence and prestige. But to those of us who, like me, have to study there, the reality is sickeningly different.

In the historic Latin Quarter buildings, you're lucky if you can find a chair to sit on during lectures, let alone a computer to write essays.

Doors to tutors' offices remain firmly shut for most of the academic year. It's not uncommon to have to take an exam without a desk to write on. One of my tutors has resorted to taking seminars in the Luxembourg gardens.

To make matters worse, for the past month I have had no teaching whatsoever, despite the fact I'm a third year philosophy student and have important exams approaching. As soon as the protests against the CPE (Contrat Première Embauche) youth jobs law began last month, our classrooms were taken over by students and, for the first time since 1968, the Sorbonne has been occupied day and night by protesters campaigning for change.

More than half of France's 84 universities have been blocked off. My university is constantly surrounded by riot police and a metal barrier to protect our venerable institution. Which is all well and good, unless you're a student who actually wants to study.

We don't know when the wall will come down. There are rumours that exams could be postponed until later in the year, in which case, my studies may never be completed. The students protesting against the jobs law have picked the wrong battle - and certainly the wrong way to fight it. I'm not against demonstrations. But I just don't see how blocking access to our universities in support of such a weak attempt at reform as the CPE will help make the changes that the system so badly needs.

The attitude of the state towards its young people and their education, its abysmal lack of funding for the university system, is revolting. French universities are given even less money by the state than secondary schools. In a speech last Friday, President Chirac said the country's universities were "places of excellence". Well, M. Chirac, you only get back what you put in. And when I look around me and see decrepit lecture theatres overflowing with students scribbling notes on their knees, this kind of " excellence" is difficult to distinguish from abject mediocrity.

Difficult too to see how students are supposed to pay their way through university with the paltry amount of money they receive from the state. True, registration fees are minimal (€140 [£100] per year), in keeping with the idea that French education is a public service which should be free and open to everyone. But loans are rare, scholarships highly prized but few and far between. Students are expected to live at home and depend upon their parents. There is, other than for the privileged few, no other option.

I'm just not convinced it's worth it anymore. When I started at the Sorbonne I believed that anyone should be able to attend university. In France, as long as you have the bac (A-level equivalent) you are entitled to a place. But now I've seen the result of the selection-free system - disproportionate teacher:student ratios, soaring drop-out rates - I've changed my mind.

When politicians talk about youth unemployment, they should ask themselves why does France need 65,000 psychology students - a quarter of Europe's total student number in that subject? What use is training to become a sports teacher when 45,000 other people graduate with the same degree and there are only 400 job openings per year?

The protests of the past few weeks, while I disagree with their tactics, have crystallised the anger and fear that is gripping young people at the very age when they should be making plans and building futures. I went to university with high hopes. But it will take much more than a half-hearted attempt like the CPE to give us back some confidence.

I leave next term to study abroad. I've had enough of France and its peculiar brand of "excellence".

[Clementine Gallot, 22, is a third year philosophy student from Paris.]

--- The Independent
Apologies... those readers who asked that I head back downtown to GW this evening for the Ward Churchill/David Horowitz thing so that I could blog about it.

I've tried hard, ever since I read the announcement of this unlikely event, to convince myself to attend. Especially since a good number of you asked me to. But I cannot.

It is as if you asked me to listen to Ivana Trump and Paris Hilton debate the sculpture of Britney Spears giving birth on all fours.

I just couldn't.

But I'll read the transcript and see if there's anything to be said.
The last time we saw young Ryan McFadyen…

…he had jumped into his GMC Yukon and trucked off into the night, far away from Duke University, from which, after the publication of his email detailing the sadistic necrophilia he had planned for a local stripper, he “has been removed,” writes Newsday.

Only nineteen years old, McFadyen has evolved a degree of sexual hypocrisy that would be the envy of his fellow (fictive) Catholic, Stephen Dedalus. The hero of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, you recall, spent his days as one of the most pious boys at his Catholic school, and his nights in the arms of Dublin whores. For his part, Ryan

attended a "Take Back the Night" march against domestic violence on campus on March 29, about two weeks after the [Duke lacrosse team] alleged assault.

"I completely support this event and this entire week," the player told Duke's student newspaper.

Note the smooth ability to issue appropriate statements to the newspaper. Not just this event. The entire week. You can quote me on that.

McFadyen didn’t attend just any Catholic school. These were monks:

The independent college preparatory school for grades 7 though 12 is run by the Catholic Benedictine monks of St. Mary's Abbey "and is rooted in the values of the Christian community," according to a welcome message from Travers on the school's Web site.

"Each boy must assume responsibility for gaining both knowledge and judgment, which will strengthen his faith, his membership in the life of the school, and his contribution to broader society," he wrote. "In short, while the school offers much, it also seeks boys who are willing to give much."

A Benedictine rule of silence is certainly being observed all over:

No one answered a knock at the door of the $1 million house McFadyen's family owns in Mendham, a few miles down the road from Delbarton in nearby Morristown. Nor did neighbors on the street.

His coach at Delbarton, Chuck Ruebling, did not return a call seeking comment, and the school's headmaster, Rev. Luke Travers, declined comment.

"We have nothing to say," he said.
UD’s been surfing…

… in search of good, fresh writing about Duke lax (which she has learned to call it.... She has learned a number of new words as a result of this incident. But there are still some lax-related [when you cease being a lax player, do you become an ex-lax?], or just sports-related, words and phrases she does not understand. She has marked them when they occur in the text below.):

Advantages of the
Privileged Lacrosse Sect

Brian Clarey
Yes Weekly

I’ve been thinking a lot about lacrosse this week, and not so I can make stupid jokes.

After the alleged rape of a NC Central student at the hands of perhaps 40 Duke lacrosse players at a party, after said lacrosse team collectively dummied up when the police tried to get to the bottom of the case, after the injury report on the young woman involved was made public, I’m in no mood for jokes.

There’s nothing funny here.

It is an odd twist of fate, however, that connects me to the tragedy.

I know something about lacrosse.

I grew up on Long Island, perhaps the world headquarters for the game once played by Native Americans, as they say, on fields five miles long. Long Island is where lacrosse was born, the cradle of virtually all modern face-off theory [??], and the place where the legendary NFL running back Jim Brown, before he squandered his talents on football and made a couple of unwatchable movies, was known as the greatest midfielder ever produced in Nassau County, if not the world.

Furthermore, I grew up in Garden City, a global epicenter for lacrosse.

The incredibly waspy game, along with drunken golf and an obscure form of elevated cold weather tennis [??], are the official sports of my hometown.

It’s no joke in Garden City. Even today you can see 10-year-old kids hanging out in playgrounds or walking through their neighborhoods with pricey lacrosse sticks in hand, catching imaginary passes, cradling tennis balls or scoring on phantom goalies.

It is the hope of all these young men, and their status-conscious parents, that they will one day play varsity lacrosse at Garden City High for the legendary coach Doc Dougherty.

In my day Dougherty was an icon. His teams were made of iron and they rarely lost; when they did it was rumored Dougherty made them jog home from the game behind the bus in full gear. Losing at home, of course, was unheard of.

I know Dougherty firsthand only through the remedial gym class I was forced to take senior year, when he’d toss a slew of basketballs to my artsy buddies and me before retreating to his office to read the paper, drink teacher-grade coffee and yell at the jocks cutting class to quit hacking off [??] in the locker room.

But he was revered in my town by the school that coveted the titles he’d bring year after year, by the cigar-smoking members of the Garden City Men’s Association who relived their glory days through the success of the program and also by the parents whose children played for him — every starter on the Garden City High School varsity lacrosse team got, and likely still gets, a lacrosse scholarship to schools like Hobart, the University of Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton.

And Duke.

There are four students on the current Duke roster that came from my hometown, including captain Dan Flannery who according to the Durham Herald-Sun lived in the house where the party was held and who is alleged in documents to have used an alias to hire the stripper.

That’s what she was — a stripper. And much has been made of this fact, though she was also a student, a mother and a daughter. And the cops in Durham agree on one other label: rape victim.

Flannery’s name is in the Garden City High record books for leading the Trojans in points from 2000 to 2002, right next to the names of some of my friends from back in the day.

Though, to be honest, most of the guys on the team weren’t my friends. Most of them existed in an orbit that a clumsy wiseass like me could never attain in the universe of high school.

And I remember a lot of guys from my high school lacrosse team as complete jerks, not quite as mean as the football guys because they were not as stupid, but jerks nonetheless. Especially during a winning season.

Duke, by the way, was ranked as the No. 2 men’s college lacrosse program in the country this season, a season which has been wisely interrupted by Duke President Richard Brodhead.

But still nobody on the team is talking. No one, not even the sole black member of the team who must have felt some offense when the reported racial slurs — “Thank your grandpa for my cotton shirt” was reported by the Raleigh News & Observer — started flying. I can almost hear this team, this band of boys, huddled as a group with their sense of entitlement and privilege wrapped around them like a blanket, saying, “If everybody keeps their mouth shut, they’ve got nothing on us.”


I placed a call to Dr. Lawyer, also a graduate of Garden City High, who shed some psychiatric and legal light on the issue.

“In a group mentality like that they probably couldn’t appreciate the full weight of what they were doing,” he says. “But if the jury system works, they’ll soon be able to appreciate exactly what they were doing to the young woman in question. It will be happening to them in prison.”

Dr. Lawyer is good with the quotes like that.

I placed another call to my uncle, Tom Pagano, who is superintendent of schools in Ocean Township, NJ and played football for the same high school, Delbarton, as five members of the 2006 Duke men’s lacrosse squad.

“Actually,” he reminded me, “I only went [to Delbarton] for a year. I was kicked out.”

As an academician and a former athlete, he spoke authoritatively on the subject: “Parents think that by getting their kids into sports they’re keeping them away from drugs and alcohol, but we’re finding that the jocks are the biggest abusers…. They’ve had accommodations made for them for years… social, academic, legal. It really shows us the privileged status of athletes. And it makes you wonder: is this the first time they crossed the line, or is this just the first time they got caught?”
A Regular University Diaries Feature

More Heartache for Ivan Tribble


WITHIN the next 12 months, every academic in an Australian law school should be blogging on a regular basis, or seriously considering their future in academia.

This is not such a crazy proposition. It is probably still the case that, in Australia at least, blogging is considered a distraction from true scholarship, rather than a new addition to it.

This was the case also in the US, but is rapidly changing. According to a study by George Washington University Law School professor Daniel Solove, there are now 182 law professor blogs in the US, up 40 per cent from just five months ago.

Later this month, law professors from around the US will converge upon Harvard Law School for a conference devoted to exploring the impact of blogging on legal scholarship.

In Australia, most academics in law schools are happy to pump out their one or two journal articles a year or the occasional book, and occasionally consult Westlaw or Lexis to update themselves on legal developments.

Academics cannot be criticised for this - it's what is expected of them - just as workers in the Cadbury factory are expected to pump out the Freddos and family-sized blocks.

But surely it is time to open up this traditional approach to examination. Surely things can be done better.

There is a touch of arrogance in how scholarship is defined in academia. The majority of law academics still consider great tombs of case extracts and heavily footnoted law journal articles to be the only way academics can possibly devote themselves while maintaining credibility.

These books and articles are such a great contribution to the profession and the community, it is argued, that there is no time for anything else. The manner in which law schools are funded, and academics promoted, certainly provides some justification for law academics maintaining this view.

But it is time to get real. Yes, books and articles are of some service and it is a credit to academics to complete a book or write an article that is accepted by a reputable journal, but the value of legal blogging can no longer be discounted.

According to my count, there are fewer than 10 law academics in Australia who blog regularly. This should change. Blogging is not a distraction from scholarship - instead, it should be recognised as being the most effective mechanism for legal scholarship.

Blogging requires law academics to sharpen their writing skills - what is expressed in 10,000 words in a journal article must be expressed in 1000 words maximum in a blog post. This is do-able. Journal articles are supposed to be a forum for novel ideas that add to the existing literature. If a novel idea cannot be expressed concisely in a blog post, I believe there is something wrong with an academic's writing skills. Blogging will help improve these skills.

Blogging also allows for ideas to be circulated immediately, which is useful for law academics because the law is constantly developing, with legal issues arising daily. Having to wait months or even years for an article to be published in a law journal takes the buzz out of jumping on an emerging issue, and therefore probably deters many academics from having a go.

The added beauty of blogging is that academics are not burdened by having to pad their contribution with references to articles and books by others - who says they know any better anyway?

In return for this sharp, snappy, relevant writing, which blogging demands and facilitates, the reward is that many more people are likely to read what an academic has to say (some law blogs in the US attract more than 5000 readers day). At a time when universities are moving towards research quality frameworks and impact ratings, this has to be a good thing.

It is said that the average law review article in Australia is read from start to finish by three people. Months of intense scholarship is devoted to enriching the minds of three people - these inevitably being academics, students and the occasional practitioner. On top of that, you might get 50 to 100 people (at most) reading the article's abstract or introduction.

So government funding is being pumped into a system that is based on an interpretive community of academics competing for the article with the largest number of footnotes and most sophisticated use of prose.

Why not reallocate that funding towards law academics reaching out to the world through effective blogging? Blogs can be easily found through a simple Google search (unlike many Australian law reviews, which are still only available in hard copy via the library, and American law reviews, many of which are accessible only via Westlaw or Lexis), making them a handy source of research for students, practitioners and other academics.

Moreover, the succinct and contemporary nature of blog posts help to make the law understandable and accessible - promoting the fundamental principle of the rule of law.

If Australian law academics really are serious about being progressive, relevant and dynamic, blogging cannot be resisted any longer.

Law schools need to be smart and think laterally about their research. Blindly adhering to a "traditional" understanding of scholarship that fails to embrace the huge potential of blogging will be what distinguishes the quasi-TAFEs from the real 21st-century law schools.

--- James McConvill, senior lecturer at La Trobe Law School, Melbourne, in The Age.
Today's Quotation

“[D]uring my college years I started finding pieces of information interesting so I began looking up other information such as cockroaches can live anywhere from 14 days to one month without a head."

An associate professor of English at North Greenville University who recently won $20,000 on Jeopardy.
Harvard and Yale Alumni…

…looking for something meaningful to do with their donation money should consider giving it to Bocconi University in Milan.

Harvard and Yale, with their billions of endowment dollars, certainly do not need that money; whereas Bocconi is a fine university struggling against massive odds to be better. To give to Bocconi is to help an entire country inaugurate a respectable system of higher education, since Bocconi, despite the efforts of the corrupt Italian state to undermine it, is becoming an exemplar of excellent university education there.

Bocconi was the first in Italy to grant degrees in economics, and today the Italian ministry of education rates it among the nation's best in that field (alongside the smaller University of Modena and Reggio Emilia). The institution specializes in economics, management, finance, and law, and its M.B.A. program was recently ranked 20th in the world by The Wall Street Journal.

…"Italian universities are in the hands of a caste of barons who have no interest in making them function," says Fabio Scacciavillani, a Rome-based economist with Oxford Economic Forecasting, a multinational research and consulting group, "and the few who do care are trapped in a spider's web of medieval government regulations, and by a gang of colleagues who promote only their faithful disciples, friends, or relatives. Bocconi can be a happy island of sorts, but only in a sea of inefficiency, corruption, and bad administration."

…[The] unofficial Italian tenure system [is] one of "co-optation within institutions," through which a scholar's entire career, from undergraduate studies to full professorship, unfolds inside a single academic department, with promotion depending on the patronage of its elders.

This practice (also prevalent in some other European countries, particularly Spain) undermines the quality of research that a university produces, by shielding its scholars from outside competition and cutting them off from wider currents of thought…

Bocconi’s selective admissions have enraged other Italian universities:

…"We were strongly attacked by the other universities," says Andrea Sironi, a professor of finance. "Because they had no selection at all, they were taking all our worst students which were not admitted here, and we were taking their best. So of course it's not nice. ... But that's the way it works in the world."

…One prominent critic, Marcello Fontanesi, rector of the University of Milan-Bicocca, argued in a national newspaper that such a competitive admissions policy could actually lead to lower standards, since comparative measures are no guarantee of the skills necessary for higher-level work.

Uh huh.

It’s heroic of Bocconi to continue fighting against “a heavily regulated national higher-education system, rife with cronyism and hostile to the concept of free competition as the best arbiter of merit,” as today‘s Chronicle of Education, in an article about Bocconi, describes it. Americans should support that fight.
Via Allison ...

...a letter from the president of Duke to the Duke community, in which he lists five actions the university will take in response to the situation. Here are some excerpts UD finds of interest:

[T]he episode has brought to glaring visibility underlying issues that have been of concern on this campus and in this town for some time—issues that are not unique to Duke or Durham but that have been brought to the fore in our midst. They include concerns of women about sexual coercion and assault. They include concerns about the culture of certain student groups that regularly abuse alcohol and the attitudes these groups promote. They include concerns about the survival of the legacy of racism, the most hateful feature American history has produced.

Compounding and intensifying these issues of race and gender, they include concerns about the deep structures of inequality in our society—inequalities of wealth, privilege, and opportunity (including educational opportunity), and the attitudes of superiority those inequalities breed. And they include concerns that, whether they intend to or not, universities like Duke participate in this inequality and supply a home for a culture of privilege. The objection of our East Campus neighbors was a reaction to an attitude of arrogant inconsiderateness that reached its peak in the alleged event but that had long preceded it. I know that to many in our community, this student behavior has seemed to be the face of Duke.

…[There is] a deeper problem for which significant corrective actions are called for. [I only include this because it’s the sole writing mistake in an otherwise fine letter.]

…[We will initiate a] Campus Culture Initiative involving faculty, students, and staff. The task of the Initiative is to evaluate and suggest improvements in the ways Duke educates students in the values of personal responsibility, consideration for others, and mutual respect in the face of difference and disagreement. The goal of this initiative is not to tell students “what to think” in some simplistic or doctrinaire way. Nevertheless, this is our chance to take the ethical dimension of education much more seriously than heretofore. An important task of the Initiative will be to enlist the faculty more fully in this broader work of education. Since we need to engage the whole of the student population in this process, we will also need to involve all of Duke’s overlapping student groups and communities and learn how they can be parts of the solution.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Duke Lacrosse News

Coach has resigned; season’s shut down. Look for expulsions of selected team members to follow. Their parents won’t complain -- I’m sure parents and sons are terrified at this point, and want out.

McFadyen, the now-notorious emailer, will drive away from Duke in the GMC Yukon truck that his parents decided was an appropriate vehicle for a lad of nineteen with violent tendencies.
Two Posts
For the Price
Of One

Let’s see if we can bundle Camille Paglia and Duke lacrosse into one post.

During questions and answers after her talk at GW the other night, Paglia was asked about the situation at Duke. Here’s what she said, more or less:

University athletes these days are a kind of master race. They get special favors, special dispensations. Does this sense of entitlement lead to crime? How does the ethos of the college sports team turn into Attila the Hun?

It’s true that athletes at most campuses -- elite and non-elite -- get special treatment in all things. But the effort here is to understand how one team’s players at Duke -- among the most notable, high-profile, elite schools in the country -- managed to go so badly wrong.

What’s distinctive about campuses like Duke is that almost everyone’s the beneficiary of special favors and dispensations. The Duke lacrosse team stands at the top of a ladder of entitlements on various rungs of which stand most of the students at these sorts of schools. Overwhelmingly, the students are from wealthy, indulgent families, and they have pretty much always experienced themselves as special. As perhaps better than other people.

Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons offers a satirical take on these students; but if we want a deeper understanding, we need, I think, to turn to American historians and cultural critics -- among whom, for me, the late Christopher Lasch is among the most powerful on the question of why America is currently generating a rather scary elite subculture. I’ll also look at the work of Thomas Frank and Mickey Kaus.

Lasch argues in his book The Revenge of the Elites (an almost too pertinent title in the present case) that the essential character of America’s elites has changed in the last few decades. From a civic sense of noblesse oblige, they have retreated into self-indulgent escapism, a removal from common American life which Robert Reich has called “the secession of the symbolic analysts.” (“Symbolic analysts” because these are people whose jobs typically involve the analysis of data rather than the generation of goods. Recall the difficulty Sherman McCoy in Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities had in explaining to his daughter what he -- an investment banker -- did for a living.)

Moving in an abstract world in their workplace, symbolic analysts shift to a highly controlled world of private pleasures outside of work (movies like The Truman Show try to get at this). Here’s Lasch’s description:

To an alarming extent the privileged classes - by an expansive definition, the top 20 percent - have made themselves independent not only of crumbling industrial cities but of public services in general. They send their children to private schools, insure themselves against medical emergencies by enrolling in company- supported plans, and hire private security guards to protect themselves against the mounting violence against them. In effect, they have removed themselves from the common life. It is not just that they see no point in paying for public services they no longer use. May of them have ceased to think of themselves as Americans in any important sense, implicated in America’s destiny for better or worse.

…Instead of supporting public services, the new elites put their money into the improvement of their own self-enclosed enclaves. They gladly pay for private and suburban schools, private police, and private systems of garbage collection; but they have managed to relieve themselves, to a remarkable extent, of the obligation to contribute to the national treasury. Their acknowledgment of civic obligation does not extend beyond their own immediate neighborhoods.

And here, in very similar language, is Mickey Kaus, in his book, The End of Equality:

We’ve always had rich and poor. But money is increasingly something that enables the rich, and even the merely prosperous, to live a life apart from the poor. And the rich and semi-rich increasingly seem to want to live a life apart, in part because they are increasingly terrified of the poor, in part because they increasingly seem to feel that they deserve such a life, that they are in some sense superior to those with less. An especially precious type of equality - equality not of money but in the way we treat each other and live our lives - seems to be disappearing. … [T]he wealthiest 20 or 30 percent of Americans are ‘seceding,’ as Robert Reich puts it, into separate, often self-sufficient suburbs, where they rarely even meet members of non-wealthy classes, except in the latter’s role as receptionists or repairmen…

Imagine the smirks of these people, and their children, when their universities sanctimoniously speak of the value of economic and social diversity. Marooned in wealth monocultures, they mouth democratic cliches but cultivate an icy conviction of their personal exemption from common life. The heavy, high-riding vehicles they drive when speeding through the public realm convey to the rest of America superiority, aggression, and untouchability.

Naturally the rest of America hates these people’s guts. Even if some of these people are slightly more evolved than what I’ve described -- even if they are David Brooks’s bourgeois bohemians -- they are, as Thomas Frank points out, still loathed:

[P]eople know that in everyday life they are being screwed in a hundred ways, and that the people who benefit from this screwing are the ones they see driving Volvos and drinking lattes and enjoying life in Bethesda [UD’s hometown] or Georgetown or wherever.

But there’s a twist: the children of Bethesda and Georgetown know that they themselves have been screwed over -- by their own parents. One of UD’s commenters got at this recently:

I went to Landon's sister school and my sister was friends with some of the boys on Landon's lacrosse team. The cheating scandal discussed in this article, and the recent Duke scandal, don't really shock me. Yes, cheating was widespread at Landon and other local prep schools, as was heavy drinking to the point of alcoholism by age 18. But I don't think, as UD suggests in a later post, that either privilege or alcohol is the issue, per se. In many ways, I think it's the parents. In my experience, parents of prep school kids were more committed to their own work and social lives than parenting. I saw parents with very high expectations of their kids, but little commitment to teaching their children values. Money and socializing always seemed to come before family. Parents often turned a blind eye to drinking or even supplied the alcohol or the money for renting beach houses where kids spent unsupervised weeks drinking and having sex. There is only so much Landon, or Duke, can do when the parents exert enormous pressure on their children without teaching them values.

I take issue only a little with this insightful remark. These parents have in fact taught their children values, values thoroughly internalized by some of the men on the Duke lacrosse team. These values are hyper-competitiveness, materialism as emotional compensation, neglect of non-instrumental human relationships, exclusivity and the fanatic small group bonding that accompanies it, and contempt for the less wealthy and less socially successful.

What I’m suggesting is that the Duke lacrosse players represent a kind of Darwinian extreme, an evolutionary high point, in our immensely successful country’s trend toward affluent aggressivity.

As often happens in Alexandrine cultures, a certain ironic reversal has begun to set in with cases like that of Duke, as learned inhumane behaviors go too far -- as the young begin, as the young will, to test the constraints on their imperial powers.
I’m Not Gonna Seriously Start Worrying
Until One of The Duke Guys is Named
Chaim Cohen…

…because then a couple of Harvard professors will decide the whole lacrosse/strippers thing is part of a plot to control American foreign policy.

Luckily, so far, all the team names are Irish or WASP, by my reckoning. (Can Jews disguise themselves behind non-Jewish names? Don’t ask me.)

So… the latest, from my blogpal Chris, is a just-released email apparently from one of the players, Ryan McFadyen, written That Night:

After tonight’s show, i’ve decided to have some strippers over to edens 2c [McFadyen‘s dorm room]….. i plan on killing the [bitches] as soon as [they] walk in and proceeding to cut their skin off while [ejaculating] in my duke issue spandex.”

Here again UD wonders about prose style… What word did censors take out in order to substitute the already pretty bad “bitches”? Hos? Cunts? The N word?

“Ejaculating” is less of a challenge.

But, as Chris says, what’s with the spandex? Is McFadyen on the swim team too? Here UD revealeth her ignorance of the intricacies of lacrosse, for she thinketh of spandex as swimming suit material…
He Said It;
I Didn't

'NCAA stooge Myles Brand, who may now become a leading contender for Captain Obvious, reacts to the Duke lacrosse rape allegations thusly:

NCAA president Myles Brand said behavior at a Duke men’s lacrosse party last month was inappropriate, regardless of whether the alleged assault of an exotic dancer results in criminal charges.'

-- from chris at signifying nothing --

PS: Post Preview: I'm working on a post about Camille Paglia's talk at GW, and one on the Deeper Meanings of the Duke Disaster. Ne quittez pas.
A Duke Lacrosse Player
at Play in UD's Neighborhood

'A member of the Duke University lacrosse team was charged last fall with assaulting a man in the Georgetown section of Washington.

Collin Finnerty, 19, of Garden City, N.Y., is one of the 46 members on the 47-man lacrosse team who submitted DNA samples two weeks ago in a rape investigation here that has rattled the community and brought increased scrutiny of the players.

...He and two of his teammates from high school lacrosse were arrested on Nov. 5 in Washington. At 2:30 a.m. that day, Jeffrey O. Bloxgom told the police that the men had "punched him in the face and body, because he told them to stop calling him gay and other derogatory names," according to records at the Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

Bloxgom also said that the three men "without provocation had attacked him, busting his lip and bruising his chin." He was treated for minor injuries.

Finnerty has entered a diversion program, and the simple assault charge against him will be dismissed upon completion of 25 hours community service, said his lawyer for that case, Steven J. McCool.

Under the diversion program in Washington, the charges are dropped if the defendant completes community service there and stays out of trouble, said O. Benton Curtis III, an assistant United States attorney assigned to Finnerty's case

...Art Chase, the Duke sports information director for lacrosse, said the men's coach, Mike Pressler, had been aware of some of the details, but perhaps not all, of Finnerty's situation.

"Coach did his own investigation looking into the matter and he allowed the court system to iron itself out there in regards to the player," Chase said, adding that Pressler had not reprimanded Finnerty.'

new york times

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Saporito appeared, on many occasions, to violate every public entity's edict of spending money prudently," the monitor said, noting he also submitted for reimbursement a $275 charge for membership to the Continental Airlines President's Club and a $47.70 book "Inside the Boardroom" that he purchased from Barnes & Noble.

Saporito would be Robert Saporito,

senior vice president of academic affairs at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, a rare example of a totally corrupt university, top to bottom.

Saporito "resigned last week in advance of the report after being confronted with some of its findings by UMDNJ's interim president, Bruce C. Vladeck."

Stern outlined $4,015 in "suspicious" expenses by Saporito, and an additional $4,922 in "questionable" expenses, including numerous hotel reimbursements for purported "late night meetings" that show a check-in time before 8 p.m.

UMDNJ, which was criminally charged with Medicaid fraud in December, agreed to retain [a fed] to oversee its finances after U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie threatened to indict the university if it did not. The university remains a target of an ongoing probe into political dealings, sweetheart contracts to insiders, and jobs to those with connections.

...[T]he university's last president actually created a ranking system for political referrals, said the monitor, giving candidates scores from "1" to "3" based on their connections. Some of the details of the report were first disclosed in a story in the Sunday Star-Ledger.

Inglesino said that in some instances local elected officials would accompany job candidates to the university. Others attempted to directly intervene to protect people they had gotten jobs for from later being fired.
Via Chris at Signifying Nothing...

...a powerful rebuke from Duke's provost to a Duke professor's letter (for said letter, which calls for the expulsion of the entire lacrosse team, scroll down to UD's update of the post titled "Getting Them to Talk").

Of course,UD being UD, the main rebuke she picks up on is purely stylistic. The provost knows how to write. The professor does not. The provost's succinct and literate letter puts the professor's to shame.
MIT Case Settled

In a moderately high-profile university legal case whose outcome may hold lessons for the higher profile Duke case, Elizabeth Shin's parents have settled their case against MIT for an undisclosed amount -- but certainly far less than the multiple millions they were demanding in their lawsuit.

Parents who sued MIT over the apparent suicide of their daughter, arguing that the university did not do enough to protect her, have settled the case that riveted college officials nationwide. In a surprising twist, MIT and the parents of Elizabeth Shin now agree that the young woman's death probably was an accident, not a suicide.

The lesson lies in that twist. For years a certain version of this student's death has been out there. Now it turns out that it was wrong. Maybe. Establishing the clear truth of complex events is close to impossible. The Duke thing is far, far more complex.

Monday, April 03, 2006

And along the same lines…

UD’s Joyce-themed spawn reports that among her friends going to college next year the most devoutly to be wished school of them all is… UD’s own alma mater, Northwestern.

- Northwestern? said UD when she heard this. Really?… Well, I can sort of see why. Did I ever tell you that NU is built on lake fill and you get this great huge lake view from lots of buildings? You can sit in the library, or the student center, and just gaze…

- Mom, replied the child. You’ve told me that four hundred times.
In time for college acceptance/rejection letter season...

Cold Spring Shops has a roundup of articles and studies on whether attending an Ivy League university makes any real difference to your success in life. The answer keeps coming back no:

Three articles, three different story lines, one common message. Start with a Washington Post Magazine article evaluating the premium from attending a name college:

Research implies that is actually the case. According to these recent studies, when you do a cold, hard analysis -- removing family dreams and visions of class rings -- the Ivies and other elite private schools simply aren't worth the money. The answer isn't conclusive, and there are skeptics -- at the Ivies and elsewhere. But at the least, the research should give parents pause and prompt them to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before steering their child to an elite private college.

Yes, I've noted this before. But it bears repeating: institutions of higher education have a responsibility to challenge their charges.

The debate about the value of an exclusive education is not new. For years, many people, particularly those at the high-end public universities (the public Ivies), have argued that the value of four years at an elite private school is overstated. The conventional wisdom on those schools is more the result of long-held impressions than actual results, they say.

In the late 1990s, two academics decided to measure whether those elite private schools really delivered on what they promised. Alan Krueger, an economist at Princeton, and Stacy Dale, a researcher with the Andrew Mellon Foundation, compared 1976 freshmen at 34 colleges -- from Yale, Stanford and Wellesley to Penn State and Miami University of Ohio. They separated out a subgroup of those freshmen who had applied to the same pool of elite colleges. They then took that subgroup, now full of elite and public school grads, and compared their wages in 1995.

The findings? The income levels of these graduates were essentially the same, though very poor students seemed to get a slight benefit from an elite private education. For most students, there was no real post-college earning benefit gained from an elite undergraduate degree. The better predictor was where the students had applied.

That's economics research. Confirmation is coming from practitioners in other disciplines.

In their 2005 update of their book How College Affects Students, two professors who study higher education, Ernest Pascarella of the University of Iowa and Patrick Terenzini of Penn State, raise similar points. The book, a synthesis of three decades of research, finds that "little consistent evidence suggested that college selectivity, prestige or educational resources had any net impact in such areas as learning, cognitive and intellectual development, the majority of psychosocial changes, the development of principled moral reasoning, or shifts in attitudes and values." In other words, you might be a different person when you leave college, but not because of how hard it was to get into the school you chose.

Dale, a graduate of the University of Michigan, goes further. While there is something to be said for the intellectually stimulating environment of, say, Harvard, she says that such an environment can cut both ways for some students. "A student who goes to Princeton and finds himself in the middle of the pack might get discouraged. After all, everything up to this point in his life has probably been about how special he is. At a different school, that same student might be something more exceptional and catch the eye of a professor who takes an interest in him."

And while there is, without question, some advantage to meeting future CEOs, law firm partners and members of Congress on those storied campuses, the effects can be overstated, Dale says. After all, the alumni networks of big public schools are, by definition, big and broad. And the power of elite schools may be waning. A study by the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania (an Ivy) found that in 1980, 14 percent of top executives at Fortune 100 companies received their undergraduate degrees from an Ivy League school. That figure was down to 10 percent by 2001. At the same time, the percentage of executives with undergraduate degrees from public colleges and universities climbed from 32 percent in 1980 to 48 percent in 2001.
Getting Them
To Talk

In a thoughtful summary of the Duke situation so far (which includes the fact that pictures and videos were taken at the party -- something I didn’t know), Tim Dahlberg at the San Diego Union-Tribune writes this:

University officials say there is little more they can do, but there is. A good start might be to suspend the entire team from school if players don't start talking to police.

That should get some tongues wagging.

If it doesn't, start revoking scholarships and kicking players out of school. If nothing else, their parents will be so angry that they'll make them talk.

I’m not sure I agree. This begins to feel like a very complicated story, and everyone wants to move carefully. I suspect that the lacrosse players aren’t going to school anyway. I suspect they’re semi-underground, hiding from the mob.

And whether they talk or not, investigators seem to have quite a bit of evidence about that night, with one thing and another.

The team’s common silence is in itself a damning piece of evidence, which their attorneys must know. Expect them -- some of them -- to start talking soon.


UPDATE:: In a pompous, overlong letter, a Duke University English professor also says that the team should go. Not in order to get them to talk. He just wants them to go away.

Surely the answer to the question must come in the form of immediate dismissals of those principally responsible for the horrors of this spring moment at Duke. Coaches of the lacrosse team, the team itself and its players, and any other agents who silenced or lied about the real nature of events at 610 Buchanan on the evening of March 13, 2006. A day that, not even in a cliched sense, will, indeed, always live in infamy for this university.
While the Duke Story's Cooling Its Heels,
There's Always Bad Writing to Keep Us Occupied

An opinion piece at College Sports TV, graded by an English professor.


Looking at the ramifications of the
Duke situation on Division I Lacrosse

As I mentioned in my column last week, I am not in a position to editorialize [about?] the legal ramifications of the Duke Lacrosse scandal. We will all have to wait until the facts circumvent [circumvent? Do you mean surface?] before we can really pass judgment. In the meantime, it is not fair to burry [bury?] any person, or group of people for that matter before the facts are revealed. After dissecting this situation (on the field), I would like to shed some light [you've gone from burial to dissection to illumination -- a rather awkward set of metaphors] on how this adversely affects the Division I season and Duke Lacrosse. I have come up with the following thoughts. [Drop this sentence.]


Is it fair to the opponents of Duke to have to continue with their season without knowing the permanent status of the team's (Duke) season? [Awkward sentence in terms of pronoun reference and redundancy.] Game planning and routines for teams is critical in a sport that has a season as short as lacrosse. If you are a coach that has a date scheduled with Duke this season, when will you find out the status of the game? Or, in the event the game is cancelled, how do you feel about having potentially fourteen days between games (many teams play Saturday games only at this point in the season [close parenthesis needed here] ? Some teams handle time off well, while others play their best ball when they are on the field as much as possible. I know if I coached a young team that had a date with Duke ["date with Duke" is good -- alliteration, etc.] , I would not be happy with the time off, as I would want my team with less experience to be able to play ball, and gain valuable game experience before playoff time. Many people have brought up the fact [you are referring to a claim, not a fact] that common opponents that Duke has had to cancel should schedule games against one another if they do not have scheduled date[s?] already. Negative. The NCAA ruled a few years back when teams would pick-up late season games with cupcake competition [cute] to pad (getting wins to become playoff eligible) its season record. Games are limited to begin with, and yes, one contest can make or break a season. Why should a team that had Duke on its schedule suffer?

C Pretty weak writing overall (see my parenthetical comments); and a major spelling error in a title is a real no-no.


UPDATE: It's all been fixed! Editorial second thoughts or scathing online schoolmarm? Who knows...


Sunday, April 02, 2006


From Allistan, a blog written by a Duke University student.

'I want to talk about Duke's judicial system. I want to talk about the fact that Duke's judicial system is seriously, dangerously broken, and that brokenness is what leads to incidents like this…. I want to talk about how I believe that the status of Residence Life is directly responsible for Duke's social culture, and I want to talk about how unfair that is.

Every time Duke gets an endowment (which is becoming more and more common), I hear students complaining about how that money isn't invested in what they want to invest it in - housing. Dorms still aren't air conditioned, the water quality is highly suspect throughout campus, and Epworth is slowly sinking into the ground, inch by groaning inch. Why do they not fix housing, people wonder.What few Duke students understand is that RLHS is an entity with an independent operating budget. No matter how much money is pledged to Duke, RLHS never gets a cut of it. They are totally dependent on rent revenues from the rooms students occupy to maintain their payroll and repairs.

This is a large part of the reason why Duke has a mandatory three-year on-campus living clause - without that money, RLHS would be unable to maintain repairs on the dorms, thus encouraging more student flight from sub-standard housing, ultimately leading to a downward spiral in which dorms are closed altogether. Of course, RLHS does not want that, and I am willing to bet that one of the motivating factors behind the imminent Central [campus] revamp is RLHS' desire to keep seniors on campus so as to keep getting money from them, rather than having them flee to the Belmont.

Here's another thing people don't necessarily understand: Duke's alcohol system and, by extension, our domestic honor system as a whole, is fucked. I would go so far as to say it is ratfucked, even. Duke students will beg to differ with me on this, I am sure. I bet some would even say that there isn't ENOUGH drinking going on on-campus, Duke is trying to kill the school's social scene and that makes Duke the Enemy, and all that claptrap I keep reading in the Chronicle.

The students who make this kind of statement are a. stupid and b. allowing their own penchant towards committing various illegal acts to cloud their judgment. The campus-wide amnesia about Raheem Bath's death in 1999 allows Duke students to forget that Duke's social scene will, in turn, kill them if given half a chance.If they stopped for a minute and thought about what they were saying, Duke students would realize the truth: Duke does not have it out for underage alcoholics on campus. I say this with total certainty.

I would venture the guess that every single solitary resident of Duke's campus has a repeat offender living on their floor with them. Repeat offenders are students who get written up once and are a bit nervous. They go to the RC and receive a dressing-down. Then they drink in their room again, and get written up again, go back to the RC, get a dressing-down.

The third time it happens, they may have to write an essay on personal responsibility. But by the fourth or fifth or sixth time it happens, the repeat offender realizes that they will NEVER get in any real trouble for what they have done. I know of residents who have been written up more than ten times without getting booted out of housing (the purported consequence for repeat offenders). I know of residents in Brown, the freshman substance-free dorm with a supposed first-strike-you're-out policy, who have gone on drunken rampages and not suffered anything more than a stern talking-to.

And, lest you label me a Puritan, I am not necessarily talking about low-key Coronas and a football game here. I am talking about drinking that leads to destructive behavior, obnoxious behavior, vandalism, and midnight hospital trips.

On the flip side of this coin you have the school administration, which likes to pretend every so often that they're thinking of abolishing fraternity sections to scare them straight. These same administrators then go to tailgate before football games, an event at which I would venture to guess more than 75% of the attendees are underage (but 100% of the attendees are wasted), and hand out water bottles so that no one gets dehydrated. These same administrators then make a big show out of hemming and hawing and fussing about student integrity and the honor code when shit like underage drinking busts and other extra-legalities go down, seemingly ignoring the fact that they're FACILITATING THIS KIND OF BEHAVIOR. And no one has ANY plans to change ANY of the standard policies.

Why does this kind of shit happen at Duke, you ask. The answer is two-fold: first, there is an old guard of alumni and trustees that pines for the old days at Duke when beer ran like water down the middle of the quad and are loath to make any strong policies enforcing OBEYING THE GODDAMN LAW. These people ignore the fact that although drinking at 18 was legal when the majority of them were here, that is now no longer the case, and they are being idiots. Many of these same people have legacy children who are now Duke students and would yank their donations should daddy's little girl ever be punished for drinking.

Second, because of RLHS' independent operating budget, they will not (ever)(ever)(ever) evict someone from housing. Ever. They need the money, and they can't afford the outrage, and so this complacency has set in that allows everyone in the system to keep violating the rules with no consequences. The only way RLHS can even strike back at these people is if they are members of a fraternity, in which case the fraternity can be (and has been, in two cases) disbanded. But because the individuals do not get kicked off campus, they are free to, oh, rent a house somewhere off East and resume their activities there.

The bottom line is that, despite all its high-flown rhetoric to the contrary, Duke consistently promotes the creation of a society where its residents have no respect for the law or the consequences of their actions on others, because this respect is never forced upon them. So despite the horror of it, the utter evil and heinousness of the acts performed that weekend, no Duke student or official should be able to pretend that this rape is an aberration from the spirit of this school. Regardless of whether alcohol was involved in the rape (though it was), this is about how Duke creates a fundamental culture of disrespect and disregard of the law. Alcohol is just the medium.

[N]ot all people who make illegal alcohol-related decisions are rapists. I know that. I drank underage on occasion myself, and I didn't get in trouble for it either, and I am not evil because of it. But Duke's alcohol policy serves to reinforce the pre-existing sense of entitlement some of our students come packaged with, and it's that sense that was in play two weeks ago when this rape happened. If Duke took its mission to create the new giants of this world seriously, it would impress on them that there ARE consequences for transgressive actions.THIS is what causes the strain in Duke-Durham relations; THIS is what ensures that Duke will never have the undergraduate population of intelligentsia to which it aspires, and will instead continue to play daycare to a bunch of drunken, spoiled brats with the moral intelligence of two-year olds; THIS is the dynamic that creates a subgroup that will go out and drink themselves into oblivion, cheering themselves all the way, just after having been accused of raping a woman who was just putting herself through SCHOOL, for Christ's sake. And in doing so, the university that seems to pride itself so on creating America's Future Leaders will vomit up a subgroup of young men and women intent only on getting away with whatever it is they happen to have done this time.

RLHS must be allowed access to the university's endowment, and that endowment must be wrested from the hands of the AARP-ready alumni who pine for the old days of Duke. Until this happens, Duke will continue to be segregated between earnest, (mostly) law-abiding, hard-working kids and drunken yahoos. When RLHS and a conscientious administration have the power to curb the irresponsible, destructive behavior that goes on here every year it will be possible to close the Duke-Durham divide and produce a student body of the kind to which a university of this caliber is obligated.

I'm TIRED of it. I'm TIRED of this fucking school, because for every repeat offender it churns out Duke disrespects not only me and every law-abiding, morally-intact member of its population who's just here to get a damn education, not only Durham and its citizens who are forced to put up with the repeat offender's bullshit when their sense of entitlement spills over the retaining walls of East onto the streets, but the mission of higher education to which it supposedly adheres so deeply. This is not the school to which I thought I applied.'

Saturday, April 01, 2006


She's older, more mellow, a successful public person. She filled up the big bright brand-new lecture hall in GW's spiffy international affairs building. Her charming amble along her now-familiar points of interest - the death of the humanities; passionless teachers and scholars; people who fear their own autonomy - held no surprises for UD, who's been reading her essays for years.

It was pleasant to sense the actual person she is: rather wary, after decades of intellectual turmoil; a little tired herself of some of her shtick. But still, as her comments expanded, with her heart in it.