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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)

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Mr. UD Reports…
...that the Galbraith memorial at Harvard

today was very moving, with many old liberal lions
(McGovern, Kennedy, Steinem) telling funny stories.
William Buckley was there for diversity.
As the event ended, a bagpiper playing Auld Lang Sine
led the procession out.


Update: Details from the Boston Globe, including a way dumb remark from Michael Dukakis:

"I should have made him my campaign manager," Dukakis said of Galbraith after the service. "I might have won."

From today’s Washington Post:

Dear Miss Manners:

I am a student at a large university, and thus most of my communication with professors (for better or for worse) is done in writing (via e-mail). I find myself over and over in the same predicament as to how to address my professors.

When initiating contact, I always greet the professor with "Dear Dr. Jack Jones."

However, more often than not the professor will respond to my message with "Dear Seth . . . Sincerely, Jack." What is the correct way for me to respond that is neither haughty nor rude? Should I continue to use the professor's full name and title in my future correspondence, or should I assume that by using only their first name, they are inviting me to do the same?


They are inviting you to think of them as your equals and your friends, but Miss Manners advises you not to count on such pals to be good to you at grade time. Rather than mistaking a posture intended to make themselves feel young as a personal gesture, she would suggest continuing to address them by the title of professor or doctor, whichever is more used in your university (and the first name should be omitted from the salutation).

It’s a small subject, maybe, but one to which I’ve given some thought.

First: I’m pleased that students virtually always write Dear Professor Soltan in emails (I’ve never gotten Dear Dr. Margaret Soltan -- that sounds weird). As our email relationship heats up, the student will often shorten things to Professor, or Prof Soltan, which I also like. Some students will start our email idyll with Hello, which is fine as well. Wild hairy hippie students, for whom I have a soft spot, will sometimes go right to Hey. Or Hey! Miss Manners would be appalled, but I don’t mind.

Second: When I respond, I sign myself Margaret Soltan, or, if we’re a little more intime, Margaret S. Virtually never Margaret. Most students continue to address me, in further emails, as Professor.

To be sure, most of my activities at this point in my life are pathetic efforts to make myself feel young, so Miss Manners must be right that my disinclination to sign myself Professor Soltan is part of that whole thing. What it mainly feels like to me, though, is my all-American skittishness when it comes to formal titles. Having spent time in Europe, I’m phobic about the slightest chance of being confused with horrific Dottoressas.

Get behind GM’s Fuel Price Protection Program,
a just-announced gas subsidy for owners of Tahoes,
Suburbans, Yukons, and Hummers.
Blurb Without a Content

After lunch with a student yesterday, UD trudged in the already hellish heat to her local Borders and bought Harry Lewis's Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education.

She has now read twenty-seven pages.

It's not looking good.

Start with the blurbs on the crimson and gold back cover. Many of les blurbistes agree that Harry Lewis is "brave" and courageous."

Under no circumstances is the writing of a book by a tenured American professor an act of bravery. Whenever UD reads that an artist who has done something anti-bourgeois, or a tenured professor who has written something shocking, is "brave," she wants to hurl. Harvard professors like Andrei Shleifer can defraud the United States government and cost Harvard tens of millions in fines and themselves have to pay millions in fines and not only retain their tenure but retain their named chairs. Publishing a book, even a book critical of Harvard, cannot be a brave act if there aren't any remotely conceivable negative consequences.

This use of the word "courageous" is of course meant to give the vaguely perusing Borders customer a reason to buy Lewis's book -- the drama of the word conveys an exciting interior. ... Yet if the peruser were to look with a little more care at the content of some of the blurbs, she'd know better (UD knew better, but bought the book because she's got this blog about universities...). Here's one from The Reverend Theodore M. Hesburgh, President Emeritus, University of Notre Dame -- a classic of its kind:

This is a study of higher education, that asks some very important questions and gives some rather clear answers. One may agree or disagree with the presentation, but it is certainly worth the time to study it.

Let's overlook the incorrect use of the comma after "education," and move on to the guts of the matter... except there aren't any guts... because naughty Ted has agreed to write a blurb about a book he hasn’t read. What to do? Vast existential generality is the only open path. “This is a study of higher education.” Ja, ja, that’s why I’m standing in the Higher Education section. The book asks some very important questions and gives some rather clear answers. Not clear, mind you, but, rather clear… “One may agree or disagree” is sheer Sartreian nothingness…

Copping a blurb from the head of Notre Dame because your subtitle has the word “soul” in it is the sort of cynical marketing gesture for which Lewis spends most of the book excoriating Harvard.

And about that “soul.” In a secular culture, in a secular book, this is a weasel-word. Rather like a blurb from a Major Catholic Person, it purchases you, cheaply, a patina of piety. Perhaps because he’s not a religious man, and perhaps because he doesn’t want his book shelved in the Pat Robertson section, Lewis will maintain throughout his book (I skimmed ahead) a Victorian, muscularly moral sort of argument -- not at all a religious one. But Lewis wants that soul, and he wants that Reverend, because he wants his book to give off gravitas rays. Which is a little skeezy.

As to content: "I have almost never heard discussions among professors," Lewis complains, "about making students better people." Throughout, Lewis assumes that I'm teaching morality rather than a certain content. He thinks there's something wrong with the fact that "Professors are hired as scholars and teachers, not as mentors of values and ideals to the young and confused." His own confused formulation - mentors of values? - points to the problem at the heart of his book. Teaching is not morality coaching; and indeed a good bit of what we teach is actively subversive of goodness as Lewis conceives it.

Lewis's goodness is work for the public good, the work of the world. His ideal university is a place where our professors sweeten our civic feelings so that we may all become variants of George F. Kennan. He worries about "the lessening of concern for students' hearts and souls in favor of almost exclusive interest in their minds." But this is precisely the glory of the great secular American university, which is interested in mental clarity, not the tossing off of hearts and souls like so many valentines.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

'The university will remain
in third-rate category until
I can spell "reined." '

[A professor at Louisiana State University was] called on the carpet for threatening the institution's relationship with the federal government and the research money that comes with that. Last November two vice chancellors at Lousiana State — Michael Ruffner, in charge of communications for the university, and Harold Silverman, who leads the office of research — brought him in for a meeting. As Dr. van Heerden recalled in an interview in Baton Rouge, La., the two administrators — one of whom controlled his position, which is nontenured — said that "they would prefer that I not talk to the press [about federal failures to protect New Orleans from Katrina] because it could hurt L.S.U.'s chances of getting federal funding in the future."

The administrators told him to work through the university's media relations department instead.

Dr. van Heerden, [head of the university's hurricane center,] regarded the meeting as a threat to his career. "I actually spoke to my wife about it that night," he remembered, "and said: 'Look, we need to recognize that I could lose my job. Are we prepared for that? Because I'm not going to stop.' "

The vice chancellors' directive lasted less than a week: after Dr. van Heerden channeled dozens of interview requests through the media office, the administrators dropped the new requirement.

E-mail messages about the incident obtained through a formal request to Louisana State University include an angry note to administrators from one of Dr. van Heerden's colleagues, Roy Dokka. Dr. Dokka, a geologist who is an expert on subsidence, the lowering of the ground's surface because of changes below, like the pumping of water or oil from underground reservoirs, is executive director of the Louisiana State University Center for Geoinformatics. His message said that during visits to Washington "I am asked how so-and-so's irresponsible behavior is tolerated."

His message concluded: "Academic freedom can be a shield to be stupid, but it is not a license to be irresponsible on public policy issues that involve lives and public safety. The university will remain in third-rate category unless the 'cowboys' are reighned in." (The word is misspelled, possibly a result of angry haste or carelessness.)

A message from Mr. Ruffner, the vice chancellor for communications, to Dr. van Heerden after their meeting stated that the university wanted to be in on helping with the recovery of Louisiana, "not in pointing blame."

In an interview Mr. Ruffner said Dr. van Heerden's training in environmental management did not qualify him to comment on engineering matters. "We don't see him as a viable source to be discussing the engineering aspect of the levees," he said. "I have an advanced degree in communications, but that doesn't qualify me to comment on the New York Philharmonic."

Monday, May 29, 2006

A-Fishing in Minnesota

'The [St. Paul Pioneer Press] examined data from 2002 to 2005 and found where students [at the University of Minnesota] had the best shots at getting an A.

The best bet were a couple dozen freshman seminars, typically the "Intro to ..." classes, ranging from astronomy and biology to cultural diversity and "Live Theatre: Entertainment With Attitude." An average of 81 percent of those students got A's.

Another good bet were classes about sports, music or culture. During the 2003 to 2005 school years, almost all the students in 100 sports courses, including cricket and snowboarding, got the top mark.

For students that enjoyed music and giving their grade point averages a boost, there was instruction for guitar or piano. There was also "Rock II: 1970 to Present," where more than 80 percent of students in 10 sections got the top grade in spring 2005.

Other regulars on the undergraduate A list, were cultural studies concentrated on race and gender.

[Also,] most students see Introduction to Sociology as a joke.'
Haven’t yet read…

Excellence Without A Soul, but I’m reading and pondering its many reviews. Like the one in the Wall Street Journal, which rightly notes that Harry Lewis might have nodded even if only faintly in the direction of his clear predecessor, Allan Bloom, who twenty years ago also featured that winner of a word, “soul,” in the subtitle of The Closing of the American Mind (“How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students”), and who made similar arguments about the vapidity of some of American higher education.

The writer for the Wall Street Journal notes that, like Bloom, Lewis argues “universities should be about something. What makes an educated person? Unfortunately, too many professors and administrators, if they ever bother to think about it, would have difficulty answering the question beyond the pabulum found in most university brochures.”

Longtime readers know that UD recommends Harvard head over to Annapolis and take a look at St. John's College’s curriculum if it wants to answer that question.

Yet there are problems with Lewis’s pitch when he insists that college is about helping students to “sort out their lives.” “High ideals,” “moral authority,” “ what it means to be a good person” -- these are the attributes and inquiries Lewis excoriates Harvard for ignoring.

It’s important to disentangle, it seems to me, the coercive moralities of fundamentalist left and right (political correctness; revealed religious correctness) from this soulful impulse. Serious university education is not about inculcating moral truths; it is about disciplined, detailed, and polemical presentations of valuable cultural artifacts.

I’m not in the business of applying ointment to anyone’s soul, and I hope most of my students are able to study intellectuals who don’t think souls exist.
Finishing Schools Finished

Two little stories that didn’t go anywhere begin this post.

Various observers have been scandalized that Tony Blair‘s son Euan and George Bush’s protegee Blake Gottesman recently got admitted to various programs at Yale and Harvard, even though Euan’s a so-so student and Gottesman’s a college dropout (from an excellent college - he left to work in the White House).

But Yale and Harvard have always been places where people likely to hold high office are sent to acquire a certain civic ethos, to inhale an air of seriousness about high-level statecraft.

Does this make Harvard and Yale finishing schools? Yes. George Bush and John Kerry, both of whom graduated with way shitty GPAs, were at Yale because of the high likelihood - given family histories and social connections - that they were headed for governorships, senatorships, and presidentships. The institutions took them not because their SATs rocked but because they were likely to hold high government positions, and it was therefore important that they be exposed to the best thought about government the country could offer.

UD sees nothing wrong with this as long as these universities continue offering seriousness about statecraft. As her friend Jim Sleeper notes in his review of Excellence Without a Soul, “before the old colleges morphed into international career factories and cultural gallerias for a global ruling class, they set civic standards for American democratic leaders such as Harvard's Roosevelts, John F. Kennedy, and Al Gore.”

Yet now, says Sleeper (he‘s quoting Harry Lewis, author of Excellence, throughout here), this sort of finishing school has become

tone-deaf to the American Republic, whose liberties it relies on yet whose virtues it no longer nurtures. It has forsaken such pedagogical heavy lifting for market come-ons and a falsely compensatory moralism about sexism, racism, and “jock culture" -- ‘proxies for misgivings about deeper values.’ The college no longer turns freshmen into adults who can recognize and take responsibility for hard moral choices: ‘The Enlightenment ideal of human liberty and the philosophy embodied in American democracy barely exist in the current Harvard curriculum.’… It would be better to impose serious core curricular requirements on students than to offer ‘what they myopically claim to want,’ Lewis writes, admitting that more teaching takes time from scholarship, but the faculty needs to ‘develop a shared sense of educational responsibility for its undergraduates.’…Harvard's assumption that ‘students are free agents and . . . should study what they wish’ drains its ‘long-term commitment to the welfare of students and the society they actually serve,’ he writes. Even administrators with ‘perspective on deep and enduring problems’ have left or been forced out of ‘the new retail-store university.’

Things are made worse by what Sleeper calls “the arrogant consumer sovereignty of success-obsessed Harvard parents,” a sovereignty creating more Kaavya Viswanathans by the day. “Today's Harvard,” Sleeper observes, “is no more likely to help [a student] find an inner moral compass than Tiffany & Co. is to improve its customers' morality. Students contemplate with self-recognition [KV’s] fall from what one, in the Harvard Crimson, called “the same rickety tower of meritocracy that so many of us built on our way to our Harvard admission."

Yale and Harvard, in other words, continue to admit roughly two sorts of students:

1.) The sons and daughters of the national and international political elite, who are rarely there because of intellectual merit, but who might as well be there because they need whatever exposure we can give them to liberal democratic ideas and practices lest they become corrupt fools or mindless despots; and

2.) the carefully (sometimes corruptly) nurtured brainpan babies of the entitled upper middle class of America, who are there because they’re probably authentically smart, but whose passive cynical disposition (courtesy of their hebephrenically managerial parents) needs to be transformed by the institution into moral seriousness.

(I said “roughly.” I know there are lots of exceptions.)

When Harvard and Yale, as Sleeper and Harry Lewis suggest, themselves become epiphenomena of a cynical culture, their campuses cease to represent sites where this complex moral and intellectual development can take place.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

To Complete Your Summer Look

From UD's daily paper, the NY Times:

"An Ecoist tote bag made of braided recycled candy wrappers has a detachable orange nylon zip pouch and leather straps ($238)."
Memorial Lines

O my brave brown companions, when your souls
Flock silently away, and the eyeless dead
Shame the wild beast of battle on the ridge,
Death will stand grieving in that field of war
Since your unvanquished hardihood is spent.
And through some mooned Valhalla there will pass
Battalions and battalions, scarred from hell;
The unreturning army that was youth;
The legions who have suffered and are dust.

From Siegfried Sassoon's poem Prelude: The Troops, 1918.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

David Brooks on Duke

' Witch hunts go in stages. First frenzy, when everybody damns the souls of people they don't know. Then confusion, as the first wave of contradictory facts comes in. Then deafening silence, as everybody studiously ignores the vicious slanders they uttered during the moment of maximum hysteria.

But now that we know more about the Duke lacrosse team, simple decency requires that we return to that scandal, if only to correct the slurs that were uttered by millions of people, including me.

We know now that the Duke lacrosse players are not the dumb jocks they were portrayed to be. The team has a 100 percent graduation rate. Over the past five years 146 members of the team made the Atlantic Coast Conference Academic Honor Roll, twice as many as any other A.C.C. lacrosse team. According to the faculty report written by the law professor James E. Coleman and others — which stands out as the one carefully researched and intellectually honest piece of work in this whole mess — "The lacrosse team's academic performance generally is one of the best among all Duke athletic teams."

We also know that the lacrosse players are not the amoral goons of popular legend. The members of the Coleman commission interviewed many of the people the players came into contact with and found almost universal praise and admiration. The groundskeeper and the equipment manager described the current team as among the best groups of young men they have worked with during their long tenures at Duke.

"The committee has not heard evidence that the cohesiveness of this group is either racist or sexist," the Coleman report says. The current and former black members of the team are "extremely positive" about the support they received. The coach of the women's lacrosse team says relations between the men and women are respectful and supportive. "They are great kids," she has said of the male players.

The male lacrosse players "volunteered for numerous community service activities," the report says, including reading programs, mentoring programs, the Special Olympics and Katrina relief.

Curiously, Nexis searches suggest that these facts have scarcely been reported in any newspaper or magazine.

We also know, as the Coleman report makes clear, that the members of the lacrosse team drank heavily, and when they did, they behaved irresponsibly. Of the 14 cases of "alcohol-unsafe" behavior reported at Duke in the fall of 2005, three involved lacrosse players. Of the four reported cases of disorderly conduct, one involved a lacrosse player.

Team members were caught playing drinking games, publicly urinating and hitting golf balls at buildings. The report notes that their behavior was alarming and deplorable, but adds: "Their conduct has not been different in character than the conduct of the typical Duke student who abuses alcohol. Their reported conduct has not involved fighting, sexual assault or harassment, or racist behavior."

We also know that the events of the night of March 13 are anything but clear-cut. In The National Journal, Stuart Taylor has written a devastating couple of essays on the weak case of the prosecutor, Mike Nifong. Citing the lack of DNA evidence, the seemingly exculpatory digital photos and the testimony of a taxi driver, Taylor, who is one of the most admired legal journalists in the country, estimates that there is an 85 percent chance the players are innocent.

Now, with the distance of some time, a few things are clear. There may have been a rape that night, but it didn't grow out of a culture of depravity, and it can't be explained by the sweeping sociological theories that were tossed about with such wild abandon a few weeks ago.

Furthermore, when you look at the hyperpoliticized assertions made by Jesse Jackson, Houston Baker and dozens of activists and professors, you see how mighty social causes like the civil rights movement, feminism and the labor movement have spun off a series of narrow social prejudices among the privileged class.

The members of the lacrosse team were male, mostly white and mostly members of the suburban bourgeois middle class (39 of 54 recent graduates went on to careers in finance). For many on the tenured left, bashing people like that is all that's left of their once-great activism.

And maybe the saddest part of the whole reaction is not the rush to judgment at the start, but the unwillingness by so many to face the truth now that the more complicated reality has emerged. '
Ann Althouse on Our Breed

'In academia, summer seems to begin on the last day of class, which was somewhere back in April, and weekends only have to do with where traffic and crowds will be. "Do you have plans for the weekend?" I get asked that a lot. If I say "no," will I sound like a loser? If I explain why weekends mean nothing to me, will I seem to be bragging or will it just be boring, like answering the question "How are you?" with details of how things are going for you these days?" '
Unsafe, Unlivable:
Housing Scandal in Tennessee

It’s time to revisit the nation’s most corrupt university system, Tennessee's. As she noted a couple of years ago, UD doesn’t know why Tennessee always comes out on top when the subject turns to malfeasance, but there you are.

Having given the appalling President Shumaker (a Benjamin Ladner clone) the heave-ho, the UT system now finds itself with a chancellor at the Memphis campus with similar deadly sin problems. Plus a wife.

"Should Dr. (John) Petersen (UT president) and the (Board of Trustees) decide that Bill is a valuable member of the UT organization, I may reconsider my decision. Until then I can no longer stand by and watch my husband be treated in a less than appropriate fashion."

I love this sort of writing. Acid teaparty. Wife wrote this in an email -- it’s a threat to collect her husband and leave (they pretty much just got there) -- and I guess she thought her threat would remain private, but someone forwarded it to the world at large.

Why are these people so angry?

Because this house was unacceptable.

and because this new house

(due to some scheduling problems, the tax payers of Tennessee are paying both mortgages at the moment) is also unacceptable. Yes, yes, the plasma tv ($4,500) has been installed [‘"It is troubling that someone who makes over $300,000 a year cannot purchase their own TV and continues to pressure their staff to find ways to purchase one," wrote Mark Paganelli, head of UT's audit department. ‘]; but there is so much more!

The school owns a $1 million Memphis home that underwent a recent $500,000 renovation.

Yet UT bought a second Memphis home last August -- this one for $1.3 million -- because of a promise it made to chancellor Bill Owen when he was hired last year.

Because of a lengthy bid process, the school can't sell the old home until August of this year, said UT spokesman Hank Dye.

UT is paying utilities and maintenance on both homes, all at taxpayer-expense.

…Alice Owen [Angry Wife] said she took a good look at the old chancellor's home, a 5,559-square-foot home at 549 Goodwyn, and decided she didn't like it.

By August, UT arranged for the state to buy the new chancellor's home on Morningside -- complete with a wet bar, four fireplaces, four baths and a swimming pool.

Alice Owen soon found plenty to complain about with the new home too.

In a Jan. 3 e-mail to chief of staff Ken Brown, she threatened to return to Durham, N.C. The family was "promised university housing that was not safe or livable," she wrote, saying "promises of a decorating budget to decorate the chancellor's residence" weren't fulfilled.
Oso Raro’s Lord of the Flies Moment

From Slaves of Academe’s Oso Raro:
For the last few weeks I have ... been participating in a faculty seminar on teaching, specifically concerning the question of difference in the classroom… [An] incident in the seminar upset me greatly, and seemed to detail a number of problems not only with thinking through difference in our teaching but also difference among the professoriate.

…[T]he apex (or perhaps nadir) of our seminar sessions was a heated discussion of a recent racial controversy on campus. Many of the students involved in this controversy were actually enrolled in various classes of mine, and a number of them approached me: What should we do? How should we respond? How should we deal with our feelings of anger? (Although this wasn’t usually stated so eloquently, for more often my students wanted to literally go find the offending party and whup their ass: “We’re trying to find out where [offending party] lives.”)

As a faculty of colour, this is obviously not my first time in proximity to a campus racial controversy, nor the strong emotions that tend to accompany them, and I urged my students to craft, along with their feelings of anger and rage, an intellectual response to this conundrum. The reasons as to why I would respond thusly are manifold, and both personal and professional. One clearly is that physical violence has no place in a learning environment… Another is that emotional and rash reactions of this sort, as well as the pure emotive hair-pulling performed in invariably endless meetings, conforms to the vicious stereotypes of people of colour as incapable of intellectual and reasoned response….

[The idea] was to connect my students with their budding intellectual training at Cold City U: if white supremacy is a discursive system that manifests itself in both material and metaphysical ways and is moreover invisible as a system, how do we differentiate the level of risk in confronting it, as well as the level and intensity of response. In other words, how do we craft an intellectual response to the problem of white supremacy as ideology as well as through material action (literal resistance, struggle, protest, self-protection)?

The fact that this incident encapsulates many of the principles of the teaching seminar itself, principally how do we handle and accommodate different stakeholders in the classroom, would purportedly make this a perfect “teachable moment.” However, that was not they way it played out. Several white faculty were disturbed by my intellectual response to the campus controversy, and quickly moved to critique it (which of course was not the point of sharing it in the first place; I was not asking for their opinion). One of my immediate colleagues offered a professional critique that was well worded, immediately followed by an older white woman from another division who said, “Yeah, if I was your student and you said that to me [the need to develop an intellectual response], I would want to punch you in the face!”

… [S]everal other white faculty voiced their agreement with this woman’s statement at the moment (“Yeah!", “Exactly!”), in essence, saying that they believed in fact the correct response of students of colour to this campus controversy was violence, unbridled emotion, reaction, hysteria. Intellectualism was not, for these good white people, the appropriate response to this controversy. However, if the university is not the place for an intellectual response, then indeed where is that place?

…I am a trained humanist with a doctorate, but I am not a psychotherapist. I see my role as guiding my students towards fundamentally intellectual patterns of thought and critique. I, for one, am not ashamed to call myself an intellectual, a thinker, someone who uses their brain, who by choice and training privileges, to a large extent, reason over emotion… At the end of our class time together, my students leave the room and walk back into the gloom of a deeply irrational and emotive society that loathes thinking and intellectualism and intellectuals. … Our students arguably are up to their eyeballs in anti-intellectual sentiment. They certainly don’t need, in my opinion, that standpoint reified in the context of the classroom. Here, they might be able to achieve a state they cannot easily achieve elsewhere. If we don’t believe in the life of the mind, however defined, why are we here then at the university? To change society radically? A decidedly poor choice of venue, in my book, considering how rabidly conservative the Shop is.

… If this incident in the teaching seminar was meant to chastise me for my method, it in fact reasserted the belief that what we need is more intellectualism, more thinking, more methodology, in approaching these complicated situations of the new academy filled with race, difference, tension. A simple retreat into the emotive is simply not enough, for we need to find a way to broach this divide between emotion and intellectualism in ways that honour the ability of students of colour to think critically and empathetically, within and beyond themselves, and have the confidence that they can do it.

Bitch PhD comments:

I think that your critic was redirecting attention away from the incident *and* from your thinking about it/advice to the students, onto herself. Specifically, onto *her* emotive reaction to the incident. I don't think it's a question of discussions about institutional racism finding redirection to people of color; I think it's discussions about institutional racism finding redirection back to reassuring white people about their own self-image. In this case (as so often with liberal whites), her self-image as one who sympathizes with--feels for--the "plight" of the students of color. Because, of course, for a lot of white liberals, the problem with racism is how it makes them feel.
From a New York Times Obit

… Mr. Guest directed … "Mister Drake's Duck" (1951), starring Douglas Fairbanks Jr. and [Yolande] Donlan as owners of a duck that lays uranium eggs; and "Penny Princess" (1952), in which Dirk Bogarde plays the love interest of a young woman (Ms. Donlan) who inherits a tiny European principality.

There was worse to come, notably the beatnik drama "Expresso Bongo" (1960), which starred Cliff Richard as Bongo Herbert; and "Toomorrow" (1970), starring Olivia Newton-John. Mr. Guest was also one of a great many directors who worked on the poorly received James Bond spoof "Casino Royale" (1967).

Most disastrous of all, many critics thought, was "When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth" (1970), which Mr. Guest wrote and directed. Based on a story by J. G. Ballard, it starred Victoria Vetri, a former Playboy centerfold, and was, The Daily Telegraph of London wrote last week, "one of the worst films ever made."

Valmond Maurice Guest …made his directorial debut with "The Nose Has It," a wartime instructional film about the perils of sneezing.
Morrissey, from UD's sister's front row seat in London the other night.

Later today, they'll go out to lunch, after which UD will buy the Harry Lewis book about Harvard, Excellence Without a Soul. She will speedread it and then blog about it...

But meanwhile, here are some excerpts from an article about it in today's Boston Globe:

Ex-Dean Says Harvard Run Like Day Care

Harvard University leaders are running the school like ``a day care center for college students," trying to dazzle undergraduates with concerts and a new pub, rather than teaching them to be responsible citizens, a former Harvard dean writes in a newly released book.

Harry R. Lewis -- the former dean of Harvard College, who many believe was pushed out of his post for being critical of President Lawrence H. Summers -- writes that the university has gone off track in a number of ways. His book is "Excellence Without a Soul: How a Great University Forgot Education," published earlier this month by PublicAffairs.

The book is generating a lot of buzz on campus; Lewis's reading at the Harvard Coop was standing-room only, and the book is on Harvard Book Store's bestseller list. Many students are aghast at the idea they are being coddled, but some of Lewis's colleagues expect the book will be influential as the university searches for a new president and tries to breathe new life into efforts to revise the undergraduate curriculum. Several Harvard administrators whose policies Lewis criticized, including Summers, declined through spokesmen to comment on the book.

... Lewis says his book is not sour grapes over his ouster, and he dwells only briefly on Summers, writing that the president was arrogant, a poor manager, and ``voiced opinions but advanced no reasoned intellectual agenda." Rather, Lewis said in an interview, the book is the result of his attempt to make sense of the forces pushing his beloved university into a ``consumerist" mode.

He said that other elite universities suffer many of the same problems.

Parents paying the full cost of Harvard, or $41,675 this year, "expect the university to treat them like customers, not like acolytes in some temple they are privileged to enter," Lewis writes.

They routinely call professors to complain about their children's grades, he writes, and they believe that the university should erase any evidence of bad academic performance or personal misconduct, excusing those failings as symptoms of psychiatric problems or disabilities.

Harvard, meanwhile, participates in the coddling, Lewis said. Administrators, he argues, get carried away with their concern about Harvard's low scores on a student satisfaction survey, compared with peer institutions.

In an effort to improve the scores, the college has created a bloated student life bureaucracy, Lewis said. Students who rarely bother to take a subway ride to Boston to see a show want their own expensive on-campus concerts to help create a Harvard "bubble."

Worse yet, Lewis says, is Harvard's new pub, located near freshman housing. Although students under 21 are not supposed to be served beer, Lewis suggests the university is turning a blind eye.

"Desperate for approval by its students, Harvard now comes very close to saying that undergraduate drinking is acceptable as long as you don't get caught," he writes.

But one freshman, Eleanor Wilking, said the pub and other new social spaces are important alternatives to the exclusive, male-dominated "final clubs" that are not recognized by Harvard but host many student parties.

"I find this to be an exceptionally competitive environment, bordering on unhealthy, so anything you can do to alleviate that is a good thing," she said. "There's a dearth of community feeling."

Even some colleagues who agreed with other points Lewis makes differ with his take on student life.

"If the college does it, there are going to be some controls," said William Mills Todd III, former dean of undergraduate education and a friend of Lewis's. ``I would very much rather have [the pub] than see a fraternity system reborn or the final clubs increase in number."

Friday, May 26, 2006

Dean Bites Leg
Gunfire Heard, Partial Capitol Shutdown


The trains yesterday; and now this.


Update: It was a pneumatic hammer.
You Don't Need Todd Gitlin to Tell You Why the Left is Nowhere
When There's the Sidney Hillman Foundation

From today's Chronicle of Higher Education (parentheses mine):

Two Yale University professors, Ian Shapiro and Michael J. Graetz, expected to receive a 2006 Sidney Hillman Award on Tuesday at a ceremony in New York City. Instead, they got phone calls on Tuesday morning telling them that the judges had reversed the decision to honor the professors' book on the repeal of the estate tax, Death by a Thousand Cuts: The Fight Over Taxing Inherited Wealth.

"I was stunned," said Mr. Shapiro, a professor of political science. "I'd been about to get in the car to go to the city to pick up the award."

Mr. Graetz echoed his co-author's shock. "It came out of the blue for me," he said. "Obviously, I was disappointed."

The telephone calls came from Bruce Raynor, president of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, which sponsors the awards. The foundation is a project of the labor union Unite Here, of which Mr. Raynor is general president. The awards and the foundation are named for Sidney Hillman, who was a leading worker-rights activist in the New Deal era and founding president of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America, a precursor of Unite Here.

First presented in 1950, the awards honor "journalists, writers, and public figures who pursue social justice and public policy for the common good," according to the foundation's Web site.

Mr. Raynor told the authors that the last-minute reversal had been based on information that came to light about Mr. Shapiro's dealings with members of GESO, the Graduate Employees and Students Organization, in its efforts to organize a graduate-student union at Yale in the 1990s. Unite Here has been involved with GESO's continuing union drive at Yale.

In an interview with The Chronicle, Mr. Raynor cited allegations of "unfair labor practices" and unspecified "threats against graduate students" by Mr. Shapiro. [Why weren't they specified?]

"It flies in the face of Sidney Hillman's beliefs and his life," he said, "to present the award to someone who had been actively engaged in resisting union-organization attempts by graduate teaching assistants to join Sidney Hillman's union."

Mr. Raynor added, "We wish we had had this information before the award announcement went out. We regret it, and we certainly don't seek to embarrass Professor Shapiro." [No embarrassment to Shapiro -- all the embarrassment is to the Hillman people.]

Mr. Graetz and Mr. Shapiro pointed out that the book, which was published last year by Princeton University Press, does not address labor organizing. "There is no connection to GESO at all," Mr. Graetz said. "This book has absolutely nothing to do with the graduate students."

Mr. Shapiro also defended his dealings with graduate students over the years. "In the 1990s, when I was director of graduate studies in political science, I told a group of our students that I thought they had every right to try and form a union," he said, "but in my view it was not a good idea and not a good use of their time. ... I've never threatened anyone in my life, and I'm generally supportive of unions."

The move toward rethinking the award began last week. On Thursday, May 18, the Hillman Foundation ran an advertisement in The New York Times listing the 2006 winners in several categories: book, magazine, broadcast, photojournalism, newspaper, and blog, a new category this year. Mr. Shapiro's and Mr. Graetz's book was listed as the winner in the book category.

Although Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Graetz had written "an excellent book," Mr. Raynor told The Chronicle, the decision came down to "more than just the words on the page." [You've got to be a soldier of the lord too.]

Once news of the award got out, Mr. Raynor said, his office received dozens of complaints "from numerous current and former graduate teaching assistants who'd been involved in these campaigns."

"We got deluged by this information that we did not know," he said. "I brought it to the attention of the judges."

One of those judges, Harold Meyerson, editor at large of The American Prospect, said that Mr. Raynor called him on Monday and said, "Harold, we have a problem." Mr. Raynor then told him about the objections to the award but left the final decision to him and the other judges, who include Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation, and Sheryl WuDunn, an editor at The New York Times.

Mr. Meyerson read a reporter the statement he delivered Tuesday night at the awards ceremony. "Normally judges evaluate the dancer, not the dance," he said. "What we tried to do in the excruciatingly limited time available to us was to gauge the severity and credibility of the allegations. ... A crucial factor for us was that the National Labor Relations Board in the region issued a complaint against several Yale professors, and Professor Shapiro most particularly, for these actions."

As Mr. Meyerson and Mr. Shapiro both noted, the labor board never adjudicated the graduate students' complaint because their labor action failed to meet certain legal criteria.

"There was never any hearing on the merits of the complaint," Mr. Shapiro said. "People like me never got to come into a hearing and say, What's the evidence that I threatened anyone?"

Mr. Meyerson said he had consulted with a friend who was a labor lawyer, who told him that "such a complaint would not have been issued if the NLRB attorneys had not found the claims to be credible and meritorious." In the end, Mr. Meyerson and the other judges concluded that "Professor Shapiro's actions rose to a level that required the rethinking of the award."

"What we came down to was that the book was eminently qualified to win many other awards," he said, but did not fit the criteria of the Hillman Prize.

"We regret of course that this highly improbable situation ever occurred," Mr. Meyerson told the awards audience. "I'm acutely aware that for all of you this comes rather like a pickle in the middle of a chocolate éclair."

Here's the Hillman webpage. Shapiro and Graetz have already been airbrushed out.
Self-Destruction Self-Assessment

Excellent review, in Slate, of the ethical and legal difficulties universities have responding to self-destructive students. The writer begins with UD's school, George Washington University:

George Washington University has taken a serious beating lately. In fall 2005, the university was sued by a former student named Jordan Nott, who was barred from campus after seeking hospital care for severe depression and thoughts of suicide. In March, after the university responded in court to Nott's complaint, the Washington Post ran a front-page whammy about the case, followed by a blistering editorial called "Depressed? Get Out!"

She goes on to express (as UD did in a post at the time) sympathy for GW.

Schools aren't necessarily wrong to take a tough stand. And in fact, some quasi-disciplinary measures may be in a suicidal student's best interests.

...[If the student] depression was caused by his friend's suicide, which occurred on campus the previous spring, an administrator might have believed it was in his best interests to take time away. Two additional GWU students had committed suicide in the previous six months, so the school was legitimately worried about copycat deaths.

GWU also may have had reason to rely on its disciplinary code in handling a potentially suicidal student—to stay on the right side of disabilities law. The law permits schools to crack down on disruptive or violent behavior, but not, of course, to punish underlying conditions or disabilities. Thus, the school may have settled on "endangering behavior" as a general ground for taking action. That might not fit with the facts in Nott's case, since Nott denies that he attempted suicide or had a suicidal plan. But we just don't know. GWU may have chosen to rely on its disciplinary system because it provided a well-tested set of procedures, and in theory thus complied with the due process requirements of disability law.

Indeed she concludes by endorsing the get-tough University of Illinois program -- the only program shown to have reduced the number of student suicides:

Illinois does not treat suicide as a "victimless crime" or a cry for help, but rather as an unacceptable act of violence. Students who threaten or attempt suicide are required to attend four assessment sessions, in which they are asked to respond to questions regarding the events, thoughts, and feelings that led up to the suicide threat or attempt. If they refuse to participate, they can be removed from school.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Harvey Araton,New York Times sportswriter, suggests that the sweatbands that say "INNOCENT" on them that the Duke lacrosse ladies now sport in solidarity with the indicted guys are not a very good idea. He describes their decision to "martyr their male lax mates" (fab alliteration there) as lacking "common sense" and "maturity." Do they realize the "kind of behavior they are staking their own reputations on?"

On a men's program that, according to a recent report after an internal investigation, was described in 2005 by a dean for residential life and housing to be "building toward a train wreck." A program found to have 52 disciplinary incidents in the past five and a half years at a rate that was accelerating. A program that produced the fateful party on March 13 at which drinking and stripping were the primary attractions and racial epithets directed at two hired dancers were reported to the police by a neighbor.


Update: Same subject, less diplomatic.


Another one.
Very thoughtful…

…article about college lacrosse, from ESPN. Well-written. And it features a person named Rich Heritage.

Among its observations:

While the numbers support the general impression that many college students abuse alcohol, [an] anonymous Ivy League [lacrosse] player said that a serious commitment to Division I athletics, coupled with a challenging academic workload, creates enormous pressure.

"From my experience, the play-hard, party-hard label is true," he says. "But the whole deal is hard work. We're not taking Golf 101 at Florida State. You get up at 9 in the morning and go lift, eat breakfast, go watch film, go to class all day, practice for three hours, get dinner, do your homework and try to get to bed at a decent hour.”

Ecoute! If I wanted big sloppy taters served up by milkmaids, I’d have moved to North Dakota. I live in ‘thesda and dine in G’town because I want weird little Thai shrimpy things that make my tongue hurt. And I want them served by attractive supercilious young men.

If I wanted a slab of overdone steak and a menu with little biographies of the farmers who raised the cattle I’m chewing, I’d have moved to Pierre (which is in North or South Dakota). I live in Garrett Park and dine in Chevy Chase because I want gulab jamun and cardamom tea.

So why in the name of God does Agraria exist? Why did this new Georgetown restaurant open with a party last night at the tres chic National Building Museum?

Here's your opportunity to enjoy an evening of fine dining, high design, and conversations with architects--as well as the executive chef. On May 24 in Washington, D.C., the National Building Museum will host Dine by Design and celebrate the premiere of Agraria restaurant.

Designed by Adamstein & Demetriou (A & D), the firm behind Washington eateries IndeBleu, Zaytinya, and Zola, the restaurant is located in Georgetown's Washington Harbor. The event will include a four-course dinner and discussions about the space with A & D architects Olvia Demetriou and Theodore Adamstein.

Over coffee and dessert, executive chef Paul Morello, most recently of Les Halles fame, will discuss the culinary design of both the dinner and the menu. Owned by the North Dakota Farmers Union, Agraria will feature foods from throughout the country produced by family farmers and small businesses.

A reception will be held from 7-7:30pm. Dinner will run from 7:30-10:00pm. The event is $105 for museum members; $125 nonmembers. Prepaid registration required by May 21. The price includes reception, dinner, and gratuity. Liquor and wines are on a cash basis.

Agraria, it is clear, represents the worst of both worlds. It is aggressively down-home -- the nefarious work of a farmer’s cooperative -- and aggressively snobby -- its opening is not an opening but a “premiere,” as if it’s a film. If you’re a paid-up member of the Building Museum, you can chow down on its food for just over a hundred bucks a person, booze not included.

I enjoy postmodern delirium as much as the next person, but Agraria is trying to appeal to my snobbery by telling me it comes from the North Dakota Farmers Union.

Here’s an account of the place, from a heartland newspaper.

Naturally, UD has been unable to resist making a few parenthetical comments.

The ritzy Georgetown area of Washington is famous for fine dining, offering everything from French cuisine to eclectic Moroccan fusion.

Next week, Georgetown's newest chic restaurant opens it doors — offering the finest tastes of North Dakota. And hold the lutefisk jokes. [Glad to, since I don’t know what lutefisk is.]

Called Agraria, it's unlike anything that's come before. The restaurant is cooperatively owned by farmers from the Upper Midwest, who created the idea, invested $2 million to make it a reality, and who will produce much of the fresh food. Together, they share a vision of linking diners in the city with farmers on the land. [I prefer my labor invisible and alienated, thank you.]

"We're putting a face on the people who are raising the food, and we're trying to connect them with consumers through a food experience," said Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union, which offered some of Agraria's startup funding. [You’re making me nervous.]

Still, he admits, the idea of owning a fancy restaurant "is, frankly, something that farmers have not tried before."

When it opens, Agraria aims to be high-class all the way. Located on the pricey Georgetown waterfront, the restaurant features rich woods of walnut and hickory, four fireplaces, fine wines, private catering and an award-winning chef. There are also private rooms, ideal for an office party or congressional fundraiser.

At nearly 14,000 square feet, it's a huge space — and it's a country mile from the typical rural-themed restaurant decorated with rusty lanterns, gingham curtains and seed signs.

"This is a fine-dining establishment in a very affluent neighborhood," said Tom Prescott, the project manager. "We don't have any lanterns in our space."

What Agraria hopes to offer is fresh cuisine with personal stories: that all its food was produced on family farms, that its breads and pastas were milled by its North Dakota owners, that perhaps the beef just arrived from southern Minnesota, the potatoes from Idaho and the organic chicken from an Amish farmer in Pennsylvania.

…The distant hope is that Agraria will be so successful that the concept can spread to other cities. But Agraria is not entirely about money. Its owners also dream of renewing the lapsed connection between farmers on the land and consumers in the city.

"The important thing we want them to see is, farming is a very professional business, and the people doing this now are very good at what they do," Watne said.

Agraria hopes to deliver this message in bite-sized morsels, not in thick slabs.

"We recognize that when people dine, they don't want to be inundated with an educational component that is too much to handle," Prescott said. "We have subtle images," and the message is conveyed in many ways, from the décor to the menu to the waiters. [What? The waiters will be dressed as professional farmers?]

And on opening day, farmers will learn whether Georgetown is ready for fine dining from the Upper Midwest. Already, the Dakotans have been surprised to hear some things about East Coast patrons, such as the fashion at some high-end places of having a few "communal tables" for customers who like the idea of meeting new people while dining. [Communal tables? Educational pictures? Include me out.]
Ken Lay Chair in Economics and Business Ethics

What does this afternoon’s Incredibly Guilty verdict against Ken Lay mean for universities, you ask?

You’ve come to the right place.

Monsieur Lay, having a soft spot for the University of Missouri, gave the institution over a million dollars to endow a chair in economics -- the Ken Lay Chair.

All through his trial, the university’s been dithering - - Should we wait until the verdict to return the money? Should we return it now? Do we have to keep his name on the chair? Even if he’s convicted, should we keep the money, establish the chair, keep his name on it, but call it -- as one university trustee has suggested --the “Ken Lay Chair in Economics and Business Ethics”? So as to, you know, simultaneously honor the gesture and, as an English professor might put it, “interrogate” it?

All this soul-searching might have been put to rest a few months ago, when Lay suddenly demanded all the money back. Screw the chair thing -- he now wanted to donate it to struggling post-Katrinans.

But oh ho! Oh no! You don’t just give a university money and take it back when you change your mind!

Said Missouri. Lay threatened to sue.

Then he changed his mind again. He didn’t want the money back for New Orleans. He wanted it back to pay his legal fees.

Time reviewed these dizzying events a few weeks back:

Seven years after making a $1.1 million gift to endow a chair in economics at the University of Missouri, Lay is now trying to have the money returned. Last September, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, he personally sought to have the money — as yet unused — transferred back to Houston to assist 14 charities in relief efforts, including preacher-author Joel Osteen's megachurch.

Five months later in February this year, the trustee for Lay's assets went to the campus in Columbia, Mo., seeking the money to pay for legal fees instead. The trustee went home empty handed, but now university alumni — only recently apprised of the negotiations — are buzzing with indignation. The university, meanwhile, is stuck with the name — and has put off all decisions about the chair, including who will fill it, until the verdicts are in.

…Hovering over the entire saga is the question of whether it's such a good idea now to have an economic chair named after Ken Lay, given Enron’s spectacular collapse. Members of the alumni board have bandied about the question of retracting Lay's name, which was added at his request in 2002 — just after the company went bankrupt.

Although discussions with Lay are ongoing, the university is required by its agreement to honor the name. Lay's family has a longtime connnection with Mizzou: his late mother worked at the university bookstore while his father, a Baptist preacher, had strong ties to the community in Columbia. "It's not the university's goal to be antagonistic with a fine family," says Charton. The final call is up to the MU Board of Curators, an appointed board, which oversees university affairs.

The search for an academic to fill the chair continues, meanwhile, with over 60 candidates screened in the last eight months. Battistoni suggests one solution to the controversy would be to make ethics part of the lesson. "If the university is going to do a chair in economics named after him, to be true to its own values, the university should set it up as the Ken Lay Chair in Economics and Business Ethics."

Sixty people are vying for the privilege of holding the Ken Lay Etc. After today, will they still be so eager?

One solution would be to honor only one name - either “Ken” or “Lay” - and substitute a new, diversionary name for the dropped one. Examples: The Fritos Lay Chair. The Ken Doll Chair. The Lay Lady Lay Chair.
A Blog and a Job

Workplaces are beginning to clarify policies about employee blogging, reports the New York Times, which also reviews some job-blogging success stories:

"The Devil Wears Prada," Lauren Weisberger's veiled account of her time working as an assistant to Anna Wintour, the Vogue editor, ushered in the modern "underling-tell-all" genre, abetted by other revenge-of-the-employee tales like "The Nanny Diaries," by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus. Both became best sellers that will be showing up on movie screens, with "Devil" opening next month.

Busted bloggers like Jessica Cutler (a former Capitol Hill intern whose blog, Washingtonienne, is now a novel), Nadine Haobsh (a former beauty editor whose blog Jolie in NYC earned her a two-book deal) and Jeremy Blachman (a lawyer whose blog Anonymous Lawyer is being released as "Anonymous Lawyer: A Novel" this summer) were all interns, entry-level employees and worker bees who traded up on in-the-trade secrets.

...A blog and a job don't necessarily have to clash, some bloggers say.

Alexx Shannon's celebrity blog,, came up during his interviews for his internship at Paramount Pictures in Los Angeles this spring because he lists it on his résumé.

Mr. Shannon, 21, who is British and is spending a year at the University of California, Los Angeles, before finishing his studies at Kings College, London, said he signed an employee confidentiality agreement with both Paramount and Beacon Pictures, where he is now an intern. Beacon made clear that his blog, while about celebrities, would not include information he picked up at work.

Another new blogfront opens up.

From Bloomberg:

'Wall Street's Junior Set Tells All as Banking Meets Blogging

Amit Chatwani is the toast of Wall Street's junior set. He doesn't work for a bank.

From a studio apartment in Manhattan's East Village, the 23- year-old writes Leveraged Sell-Out, a Web log that chronicles the life of today's young financiers: the pastel Lacoste polo shirts, the "bottle service" at Meatpacking District clubs, the women pursuing men from Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Blackstone Group LP during bonus season.

…[Chatwani‘s] eight-month-old site gets more than 30,000 page views in the four days after he posts an essay, he says. …

Leveraged Sell-Out, DealBreaker and a half-dozen more online diaries are gaining popularity among young bankers. The sites blend blogging, a regular habit for Wall Street's college-age summer interns and entry-level employees, with an older tradition of insider memoirs such as "Liar's Poker," Michael Lewis's tale of Salomon Brothers bond traders in the 1980s.

More than four thousand students and business school graduates are starting jobs at New York securities firms in the next few months, including about 1,800 at Goldman Sachs, 1,000 at Merrill Lynch & Co. and 400 at Credit Suisse Group.

They are entering "analyst" and "associate" programs that demand hundred-hour workweeks spent answering to senior bankers, preparing presentations known as pitch-books and sitting in cubicles doing computer modeling.

About Time

"It's about time there are blogs about it," says Johanna Tyburski, 29, who left Credit Suisse in March after six years in the Zurich-based company's telecommunications banking and high- yield departments in New York. "You know that your life is crazy and not real, and there's a humor that goes with it."

The on-line spoofs and gossip pages are typically written by outsiders with contributions from unnamed industry workers. Securities firms tend to fire employees who publicly break their silence about clients or internal politics.

"People layer their communications," says Douglas Rae, a professor at the Yale School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut. "There are things they want to say to their peers that they can't afford to say to their superiors. That hidden transcript is everywhere."

Going Private, billed as "sardonic memoirs" of the private-equity world, told readers on May 22 that its anonymous lead writer received a note demanding money to keep from being named publicly. Among the site's other offerings: a May 3 celebration of Italian philosopher Niccolo Machiavelli's 537th birthday. …

`Love and Banking'

BankersBall, started in October with the tagline "Where Bankers Come to Party," has sections including "the Natty Banker," with tips on Manhattan suit sales, and "Ask the Ex- Working Girl," with advice on "love and banking." It also offers shortcuts for using Microsoft Corp.'s Excel software, the junior banker's primary tool for financial models. …

While young bankers who blog may get in trouble, the sites aren't blocked from work stations at Goldman, Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co., Morgan Stanley or Credit Suisse, spokespeople at those New York firms say.

At Merrill, access is limited by a policy blocking any site with a chat room because "the company can't supervise, retain or archive the information," spokeswoman Selena Morris says.

Wall Street's new Web chatter also includes dozens of sites focused on serious analysis of markets and the economy.

It's all part of an explosion of blogging, where Internet users post opinions, unchecked news and links to other sites as often as a dozen times a day.

…DealBreaker, a two-month-old "online business tabloid" has been getting an average of 30,000 visitors daily, says publisher and lead writer Elizabeth Spiers. More than 80 percent of readers are men, and 68 percent work in financial services, she says. The median age is 29.

Spiers, 29, is the founding editor of Gawker, the most-read New York celebrity blog. On her new site, Spiers brings the same breathlessness to investment-banking personnel shifts as Gawker does to movie-star sightings on Madison Avenue.

A DealBreaker section called "Planespotting" on May 22 included an "unconfirmed" account that a Lear jet registered to Denise Rich, ex-wife of Marc Rich, the one-time fugitive financier pardoned by former President Bill Clinton, flew from New York's Westchester airport to Arkansas's Rogers Municipal Airport-Carter Field and back…'

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

"There's Just Nothing There"

A colleague of Mr. UD’s, in the University of Maryland Sociology
department, appears to be among the first Americans to own and drive a European Smart Car. Here he is, with one of the University of Maryland's many big brick buildings in the background:

And here’s WTOP radio on the subject:

It's a car that gets up to 50 miles a gallon, pollutes very little and can slip into just about any parking place.

But buying the European 'Smart Car' and actually driving it in the United States can be very difficult.

Just ask John Robinson, a University of Maryland professor, who first got interested in the tiny, two-seater when he saw it in Paris in 1999.

He spent years cutting through red tape, making thousands of phone calls, before finally getting his car this spring. He says the obstacles never seemed to end.

"Every time you turned around, there was one or another," he says. "If it's not from the federal officials in one country or another country, it's also the situations you might run (into) with state and local officials also."

Eventually, Robinson found a California company called ZAP or Zero Air Pollution that helped get the car shipped to the U.S. and retrofitted to meet federal regulations, even though it actually pollutes less than conventional vehicles. The car was sent to a dealership in New Hampshire and he drove it back to Maryland earlier this month.

"It is really a lot of fun to drive," says Robinson. "The only difference in terms of driving the car, I think, from an ordinary car is that if you look behind you there's just nothing there."

But that makes the car very easy to park. Sometimes Robinson can drive straight into a spot, so he doesn't have to do much parallel parking.

The cost to fill up the gas tank isn't much -- about $15, since it holds just five gallons.

The car costs $30,000, and in Robinson's case cost even more, since his is a convertible.

That doesn't matter to Robinson. He likes his so much, he has another one in California -- and he's trying to get a third.
UD LOVES articles like this.

From the Financial Times :

'In Ulysses, James Joyce compressed his musings on life, the universe and everything into a single day in Dublin. Eircom has similarly packed an awful lot into its short history as a privatised entity.

On Tuesday, it agreed to its second leveraged buy-out in the space of five years. Babcock & Brown Capital, a listed Australian investment fund, alongside Eircom's employee trust, will become the Irish telecommunications operator's fifth owner since 1999. …

[Goes on like this for awhile - business mumbojumbo. Final paragraph:]

A separate, securitised fixed-line network would generate low-risk returns over the long term. That would allow B&B potentially to de-gear and sell on the retail operations. Regulators should also welcome this. Eircom's odyssey of ownership looks set to continue.'
The Hags
Of the Demonic
Admissions Trinity

Academy X (see post below) tells part of the story. Here’s another part of it, from the point of view of a university president. These are excerpts from a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

...[N]ationally, we educators have created a culture in which parents spend thousands on mind steroids to help their kids score 50 points higher.

…[An] Atlantic article [about college admissions] examines how enrollment managers "have changed financial aid -- from a tool to help low-income students into a strategic weapon to entice wealthy and high-scoring students." Oregon State's head of enrollment management is quoted as recommending that attitude in relation to competing institutions: "I'm going to go out there and try to eat their lunch. I'm going to try to kick their ass."

Not an elegant statement, perhaps, but an acceptable one if you believe that competition makes the world a better place. In this case, however, it makes the world all the more inequitable. "It's a brilliantly analytical process of screwing the poor kids," Gordon Winston, a Williams College economist, is quoted as saying. And when another admissions officer suggested that it was wrong to give money to people who don't need it if that means turning away students who do, he was criticized for proposing "unilateral disarmament." College admissions as Vietnam and Iraq; enrollment gurus as tin soldiers.

In that same issue, Ross Douthat writes that in a single decade, the 1990s, private colleges increased aid to the wealthy (top quartile) from $1,920 to $3,510, whereas poor kids (lowest quartile) improved only from $2,890 to $3,460. College faculty members who rail against Reaganomics but who urge buying well-prepared students with merit fellowships might find a strange reflection in their mirrors.

… I love the freedom Reed [College] purchases by scorning the rankings [Reed doesn‘t cooperate with US News and World Report] -- no class-size manipulations created by employing adjuncts to lower the numbers, no doctoral requirement for faculty members where that degree might be irrelevant or even insensible. Reed is a better-known four-letter word than Drew, and we may not yet have the legs to walk away from U.S. News, but never will we spend a moment allowing its quantifications to shape any policy.

It is past time to banish the three hags of this demonic admissions trinity -- the SAT obsession, the antidemocratic "merit" scam, and the U.S. News obsession…

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

How Princeton Stays That Way

Via phibetacons:

A history teacher at Horace Mann School in Riverdale has used his intimate view of the city's movers and shakers to pen a novel about a leafy campus in New York City where 17-year olds drive Mercedes cars, take prescription drugs to boost their academic performance, and turn to seduction and plagiarism to guarantee a slot in the Ivy League.

"Academy X" is hitting bookstores this week and some parents are calling its author, Andrew Trees, a regular Benedict Arnold.

"I think this is the biggest self-righteous, arrogant traitor walking the face of the earth," a member of the board of trustees at the nearby Riverdale Country School, Victoria Goldman, said. "He's sending up the entire community that he works with, and that takes nerve."

The city's private schools - where influential parents battle for everything from better grades for their children to asking federal judges to intervene in disputes - are known to be tight-lipped when it comes to what happens within their halls. The head of school at Horace Mann and several other administrators did not return numerous calls seeking comment yesterday, and some teachers also refused to talk about the book.

On its copyright page, "Academy X" is listed as being in the "Rich People - Fiction" category. Tuition at the school is almost $30,000 a year. Celebrity parents at the school include the state attorney general, Elliot Spitzer, and an entertainment mogul, Sean "Diddy" Combs.

To build some buzz, the author was listed as anonymous on early copies of the book. Mr. Trees's name was added when Bloomsbury officially released it.

In a pre-emptive strike, Mr. Trees published a letter to the Horace Mann community in the student newspaper last week, alerting it to the imminent release of his novel.

"My goal in writing Academy X is simply to satirize the follies that occur at virtually every elite private - and many public - high schools these days, particularly the insanity that accompanies the college admission process," he wrote.

The protagonist of the novel, John Spencer, is an English teacher who struggles to teach Jane Austen, but is often distracted by the students' "exposed thongs and butt-skimming skirts." A high-maintenance parent tries to bully him to boost a grade to A-minus from B-plus, while another sets him up in a rent-stabilized apartment on the Upper West Side.

In an interview yesterday, Mr. Trees, 37, said that in his five years as a history teacher at Horace Mann he noticed a lot of "entertaining things that would make a good story."

"The book is a novel. It's not meant to be Horace Mann, but it definitely draws on my experiences here," he said.

As a graduate of the Deerfield Academy, a boarding school in Massachusetts, Mr. Trees is no stranger to the world of the wealthy. He also received a degree from Princeton and a doctorate in history from the University of Virginia.

The onslaught of tell-all books about the children who reside in the city's wealthiest zip codes and the people who educate them has some schools now talking about asking teachers to sign nondisclosure forms.

"The Nanny Diaries," which centers on nannies dealing with the city's wealthy 4-year-olds, kicked off the slew of books. The most recent additions include "Glamorous Disasters," a novel by a 27-year-old Harvard graduate, Eliot Schrefer, about an Upper East Side SAT tutor who rakes in $395 apiece to boost the scores of 16-year-olds. In "The Ivy Chronicles," author Karen Quinn takes readers inside the insane world of what parents will do to get their tots into kindergarten.

Mr. Trees called himself an "equal opportunity satirist" who makes fun of parents, teachers, and students. So far, he says that the head of school is laughing along with him. "His reaction has been supportive. I know that he's concerned about what people will say about it, but he told me that he thought the book was funny," Mr. Trees said.

If the book generates problems for Horace Mann, Mr. Trees said he might be out of a job. Other private school principals said they couldn't believe that he would be invited back.

"As far as I know, I'm still coming back to teach," Mr. Trees said. "To be honest about it, clearly not everybody at school is happy about the book. I'm hopeful that once the book comes out and people read it, it will be fine."

In the meantime he has at least a few supporters. "Some parents are fulfilling a fantasy life through their children," a parent at Horace Mann who asked not to be identified said about the book release. "Some parents are embarrassingly over-involved and become stereotypes of themselves. So many of them are drooping with money and want everybody to know it."
Here's a window shot...

...from S.R., UD reader and proprietor of Here Be Dragons:

San Marcos, California.

As UD's friend Kim would say, "I'm jeal."
Gross National Sappiness

Again via Butterflies and Wheels, this brief, sensible review of three books on the absurd subject (at least as it plays out in America -- see a bunch of earlier UD posts like this one) of happiness.

… With evolutionary biology we have come, full circle, back to the Greeks: happiness is in the luck of the draw, how we fare in the genetic sweepstakes, the modern name for Fortuna's wheel. Not even geography or economic position is as influential a factor.

Several years ago in the journal Science & Spirit, another psychologist, Robert Biswas-Diener, wrote about the remarkably high spirits he found among people in a Calcutta slum and on the harsh northern coast of Greenland. "Research shows that we are the fortunate inheritors of a highly evolved emotional system that leads us to be, for the most part, somewhat happy," he wrote. "We have a tendency to interpret things positively and to adjust quickly to most events."

The downside is that this reflexive optimism can keep us from making good guesses about what will or will not bring us joy. It is not just the hard lives of others that we have trouble imagining but also our own. In Stumbling on Happiness, Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard psychologist studying "affective forecasting," shows that people have inflated expectations about the joy they will derive from a vacation, a new car or child, or a second dessert. But our failure as futurists also cuts the other way. We overestimate how bad we will feel if we get fired or lose a tooth or even a friend or mate. Rationalization, our emotional immune system, insists on putting the best face possible on even the saddest events.

"We treat our future selves as though they were our children," Gilbert writes, "spending most of the hours of most of our days constructing tomorrows that we hope will make them happy." But the children turn out to be ingrates, complaining that we should have let them stay in the old house or study dentistry instead of law.

Taken together, all these findings may seem a little depressing. But true to our nature, we can see them in a sunnier way. A whole industry has sprung up -- mass-market therapy, cosmetics, cheap luxury cruises -- promoting a kind of gross national sappiness, an obligation to have fun. A little knowledge from the psych labs may take off some of the pressure, providing grist for the inverse of a self-help book -- not a guide on how to achieve happiness but on understanding why, in the end, you probably won't.

UD sees the whole happiness race in America as one more instance of our fevered unstoppable competitiveness -- we're as driven to display our superior emotional disposition to the world as we are all the other forms of superiority.

As to causes -- UD has long believed, and believes more firmly with experience, that almost all of happiness is indeed genetic.
March on the English Department

Via Butterflies and Wheels, from a review of Todd Gitlin’s book, The Intellectuals and The Flag:

'The left, [Gitlin] argues, took a wrong turn when it abandoned knowledge as its guiding light on the grounds that knowledge, as argued by theorists like Michael Foucault and Edward Said, was merely a masked form of power, and illegitimate power at that. "If discourse was central to power," Gitlin writes with a note of bitterness, "then the exposure and transformation of discourse was the left's central task, and academia would become indispensable ... the university would become the main battlefield in the struggle for power. ... Defeated in Washington, you could march (as a consolation prize) on the English department."

Gitlin recounts a conversation with a committed feminist who, like her fellow postmodernists, thought, as did the premodern scholastics, that there was no reality other than that constituted by "discourse." For the postmodernists who dominate many of our humanities departments, it is as if the scientific revolution never occurred. "The category of 'lived experience' was, from her point of view, an atavistic concealment; what one 'lived' was constituted by a discourse that had no more -- or less -- standing than any other system of discourse."

When asked, the feminist was unable to provide a reasoned justification for her own commitments. They could only be asserted as a matter of power and will. But her problem was more than personal. If, as Michel Foucault told the Berkeley faculty in 1983, "There is no universal criterion which permits us to say, this category of power relations are bad and those are good," then there is no way to prefer a liberal society to fascism, communism, or Islamism.

What that means, by extension, is that, as in the 1930s, many leftists either sympathize with an authoritarian alternative to liberalism or have a hard time explaining why a liberal society should be defended against its enemies. The upshot is that the "fundamentalist left" -- Gitlin's description -- is reduced to the role of a spectator jeering at the American team in its conflict with terrorism.'
Windows 2006

Andrew Sullivan’s had the clever idea of asking his readers to send him photos of the view from their windows.

Scroll down for some nice shots.

Here’s the view from my window:
Freezer Burn Update

'Not only have [William Jefferson’s] lawyers "expressed outrage" at this [raid’s] blatant violation of the separation of powers, [says Jefferson, but] "all of those who consider themselves scholars in the matter have also done so." Jefferson didn't reveal how he ascertained the opinions of "all of those who consider themselves scholars"; perhaps he did so between trips to his freezer.'

-- robert kc johnson, cliopatria --
Life is a Pigsty

Here’s Morrissey in his Oscar Wilde shirt.

UD’s sister is, faithful readers know, a huge fan. In fact, she‘s in London now, attending his concerts.
Confessions of a Syllabus

UD has once before turned her attention to the subject of college and university syllabi -- a subject which does not seem to her one of the more important facing today's society ("today's society" is one of the American college student's favorite cliches). On the other hand, she and her university colleagues have to include copies of all syllabi in their annual reports, so there must be a very busy inspection committee.

Tim Burke says:

Syllabi should all be posted, we should have a way of making teaching practices more transparent, there should be a relatively neutral professional body interested in observing and collecting data about classroom practices. (I do NOT want that body to be education scholars, by the way, because I do NOT want college professors to have their teaching be evaluated by ed-school jargon.)

I like the idea of posting syllabi. Just as I anticipate that things like Rate My Professors will make in-house course evaluating obsolete, so I anticipate that or whatever will make costly absurdities like multiple levels of syllabus review obsolete. The economist Richard K. Vedder is, Inside Higher Ed reports, about to inaugurate a center for the study of why college costs so much, and certainly much costly and time-consuming program and department and faculty review could and should take place in public on the web.

For a modest instance: Rather than have me list my enrollments for each class on my annual review -- information my university has, but which it asks me to inform it about each year -- why not have me copy onto the web the online enrollment pages for all of my courses? I'd update it, too, so you and anyone else interested can see how many students drop or add in the course of a semester, etc. Names of students would be removed.

Virtually no one is interested in any of this, of course; my various course-related pages would be clicked on by local administrators only, I'd guess. But if any prospective students, or syllabus-constructing professors, or UD readers, would care to get an idea of how I teach, how I present material, how popular my courses are, etc., they'd have easy access to it too.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Just because

Withywindle and I

Withywindle, a commenter on a must-read thread -- scroll down to “ACTA Report, “How Many Ward Churchills?” -- at Tim Burke’s Easily Distracted, is very impressive. Knows how to write, and knows how to reason, and is willing to continue to respond to challenging comments from other commenters as he/she defends the basic proposition that American university professors who preach rather than teach should be discouraged from doing so.

UD doesn’t agree with everything Ww says, but finds Ww’s general position legit, and is particularly impressed by Ww’s ability to withstand the commenter who accuses Ww of “resentment.” UD calls this response -- popular among academics who cannot argue -- drive-by psychoanalysis (UD’s colleague Justin Frank is unbeatable at it). It is one of the main reasons the sainted Invisible Adjunct closed down her site (as it happens, Oso Raro has a spectacular appreciation of IA up today).

Another comment in the Burke thread made UD happy:

There are plenty of irresponsible professors out there who don’t understand professionalism or pedagogy on all sides of the political spectrum. Generally these same people find ways to avoid teaching undergraduates the further they advance. I am hoping that those of us who like to engage in difficult and unresolvable debates with our students remain in the game.

Happy because she hadn’t thought before this of that trajectory in her teaching life -- more and more toward undergrad teaching (though I enjoy working with graduate students on their dissertations)…. At a party on Saturday for graduating English majors, a couple of UD’s students came up to her with their digital camera. “We want to show you something,” they said, and began clicking through their pictures.

They showed me the two of them smiling in front of some big, sort of derelict buildings in what looked like New York City. And then they looked at me, waiting for me to recognize the location.

“New York City?”

“Yes. And?”

“Um. I don’t know… "

“Think DeLillo!” [They’d both taken my Novels of Don DeLillo course.]

“… Great Jones Street??” [Site and title of DeLillo's early novel, Great Jones Street.]


For some people, the word "rewards" implies things like stock options. For UD, it’s when your DeLillo students make a pilgrimage to Great Jones Street.
Snapshots from Home

(UD Rushes into Print
With the Obvious Headline)

'Federal agents searched the Capitol Hill office of a Louisiana congressman under investigation on bribery charges Sunday, while newly released court papers said agents found $90,000 in cash last year in his Washington home.

In a 95-page affidavit used to obtain a warrant for the office search, investigators stated that an August 2005 search of Democratic Rep. William Jefferson's home turned up the cash sum in a freezer.'

Sunday, May 21, 2006

As We Await the Duke Trial,
Tips on Proper Usage

William Safire, New York Times:

The use of the term "exotic dancer" in a report of an accusation made against members of the Duke University lacrosse team has riled a Times reader. George Grumbach of New York notes that his dictionary defines exotic as "of foreign origin or character" and erotic as "of or pertaining to sexual love; amatory." He asks: "Is the use of exotic a euphemism to avoid overtly stating that the lacrosse team hired two dancers whose purpose was sexual titillation? If so, does it not amount to false reporting in the context of discussing how the hiring of these dancers ended with alleged sexual assault?"

The difference between the two adjectives is rooted in their Greek etymologies: exotic is from exo, "outside," though that meaning of "alien" has been extended to flavors or looks as "mysteriously different." Erotic, as Eros, god of sexual love, would tell you, can describe action at home.

The adjectival difference is the easy part: exotic is "strange, foreign," while erotic is "sexy." But when married to the noun dancer, the meanings of the phrases get tricky.

Thanks to a commercial database named the Newspaper Archive, I found a 1918 review in The Elyria Evening Telegram of Elyria, Ohio, of a silent movie starring a young woman from Spain known as "the famous Doralinda, a women of remarkable personality, who has achieved a noteworthy success as an exotic dancer in New York." That phrase did not then denote the removal of clothing. From the belly dance performed by a dancer who called herself Little Egypt at the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, through the shimmying and semiviolent "apache dance" of the Jazz Age of the 1920's, to the colorful gyrations of Carmen Miranda with what seemed to be a fruit basket on her head in the early 1940's — the performers of such rhythmic writhing were often called exotic dancers.

... Meanwhile, in the 1930's, the striptease blossomed, and the "burlesque wars" broke out. The uptown set embraced the word follies, celebrating beautiful girls in costumes, while the "poor man's follies" downtown, in immigrant districts and in Harlem, embraced the bumping, grinding, take-it-off entertainment presented by impresarios of the strippers. On Oct. 10, 1942, the show-biz publication Billboard headlined an article "Strip, Strip Tease or Exotic Dancing, and the Difference." The difference was explained by an arrested bar owner in Bucks County, Pa., to a local judge: in a striptease, "the performer doesn't remove the veils that are her only adornment — but she lifts and swishes them around" while an exotic dance "has more strip than a striptease, and practically no tease at all." He was fined $400.

In her 2004 book, Striptease: The Untold History of the Girlie Show, Rachel Shteir quoted the famed striptease artist Georgia Sothern's letter to the columnist-semanticist H. L. Mencken: "I hope that the science of semantics can find time to help the verbally underprivileged members of my profession." He accommodated her with his coinage of ecdysiast, rooted in ecdysis, "the act of molting," which Gypsy Rose Lee dismissed with "We don't wear feathers and molt them off. . .what does he know about stripping?"

"In Philadelphia the word exotic described performers who abandoned bumps and grinds for slinking across the stage in a tiny costume," Shteir wrote, which was "partly motivated by local censors' attacks on striptease and burlesque, but I like to think they also revealed the genre's variety." Although Ms. Shteir cited Billboard's contrary differentiation noted above, she recently informed me that "exotic dance sounded classier than striptease because it did not suggest the removal of clothing to music. It suggested undulating in Middle Eastern or Latin American garb."

The philologist Allan Orrick of Johns Hopkins University addressed the question that we deal with today in the October 1956 issue of American Speech. Reviewing peeler, burlesque queen and stripteaser (compressed to one word), as well as news coverage of the League of Exotic Dancers, he concluded that "the word exotic is used not as a euphemism for stripper but to distinguish exotics from dancers such as 'acrobatics' and from other kinds of striptease dancers. 'Exotics' may be referred to as 'strippers,' but all strippers are not exotics. In other words, stripper seems to be a generic term while exotic denotes a subtype . . .the two words are not synonyms, and one can hardly be a euphemism for another."

That scholarly analysis is a half-century old. Usage has changed the meaning of exotic dancer, erasing such subtypes as belly dancing and acrobatics. There never was a category widely called erotic dancer; that phrase emerged only later as an attempted correction of exotic dancer, but the original phrase subsumed the meaning of the correction and outnumbers it in current usage by more than 40 to 1. In 50 years, the meaning of exotic dancer has merged with stripper as performers using both phrases leave little or nothing to the imagination.

It is still a mistake to confuse the adjective erotic (maddeningly sexy) with exotic (mysteriously foreign). But the phrase exotic dancer — which preceded stripteaser and became for a time a euphemism for it — has for longer than a generation made the usage leap to become synonymous with stripper and the more recent nude dancer.

Therefore, this language maven deems it no mistake to adopt common usage of the phrase exotic dancer to mean "one who strips off clothing to arouse sexual desire by displaying the naked body in motion."

Saturday, May 20, 2006

"The longer this case
drags on, the better."

Over here, we're caught up in the minutiae of the Duke lacrosse trial. In England, a reporter for The Observer looks at the larger picture.

He begins by calling this particular "scandal... gruesome," but argues that the

story stretches far beyond the hallowed Duke campus in Durham, North Carolina, across the educational landscape of America to question what going to university really means any more. For Duke is far from alone in coping with allegations of crime, violence and binge-drinking by its sportsmen - 'jocks' - and their supporters.

... A wave of 'jocks go wild' scandals has broken over America.

... Lectures have, in effect, been replaced by 'keg parties' and fraternity houses lead the social whirl, dominated by sports teams in which student athletes have been elevated to the status of gods, immune from criticism and free from the rigours of study. 'You tell a 17-year-old kid that he's the Chosen One and he will believe it. They live in a distorted dream world,' said Professor Harry Edwards, a sociologist at Berkeley.

... There is no overstating how big college sports are in America. At Duke the university football stadium is a deep bowl, carved into a hillside, that can seat tens of thousands of fans. It would put the facilities of many professional British football teams to shame. Not to mention the national stadiums of some countries that are competing in the World Cup.

... Murray Sperber, author of a recent critical book on college sports called Beer And Circus, believes they have eroded academic life. He sees a pattern of colleges putting more and more money into their sports teams at the expense of investing in academic departments. The reason is simple: university sports are the most effective way of recruiting highly lucrative fee-paying undergraduates.

... Experts say the universities should have seen it coming. At Duke the lacrosse team had long been known to have a drink problem. Its members had amassed 52 disciplinary incidents in five years. Fifteen of its 47 current players have court records for drunken and disorderly behaviour. Last year one senior academic warned the squad's conduct was 'building towards a train wreck'.

... Few believe the boom in college sports will stop. There is too much vested interest. The teams are supported by fans nationwide, the institutions love it for the money and media attention it brings, students love it for the parties and athletes love it for the chance of fame and riches. 'At the end of the day, there is no stopping this. One college deciding to do things differently wouldn't change a thing.

'There is no sign of even a slight change in direction, let alone turning things around,' Edwards said.

... Yet most of the athletes are not benefiting from the experience of so much attention. Many end up living in a 'dream world' convinced they are headed for superstardom, when in fact 98 per cent of college sportsmen fail to make it as professionals. As a result, most leave for the real world having neglected the studies that might get them a job. 'They live in a delusional world that is created by the institution of the college they attend... they are scrapped when they are no longer of use,' added Edwards.

... Now some believe the scale of the coverage of the Duke case and its heady blend of sports, elitism, racism and sexual crime could finally see the beginnings of a debate on America's sports and drink-obsessed college culture. 'The longer this case drags on the better,' said Lapchick.
Italians Don’t Go Quietly

Professor Marcello Arsura, a pharmacologist at the University of Tennessee, used his skills for good (cancer research) and ill (meth). Here he is smiling, pre-drug raid.

And here he is “kicking and screaming” in the police car because “he didn’t want his picture taken.”

The ladies on his block ganged up on him:

B.J. Summers has complained about her neighbor for months. "We all got together all the ladies in this neighborhood. He didn't know who he was dealing with when he had all these women on him," says Summer. "We had pictures of him on the internet and we knew where he worked, everything."

Summers claims the activities at Arsura's home have been non-stop. One night, people even came knocking on her door. "I had two men come to my door at four o'clock in the morning looking for drugs," says Summers.

Maybe that's why someone called the Shelby County Sheriff's Department.

Undercover deputies came barging in armed with a search warrant and found drugs like cocaine and crystal meth.

Another article lists what the police found: “19 grams of meth wrapped in individual bags prepared for distribution, 72 ecstasy pills, 49 Loritab pills, 4.3 grams of cocaine and scales used to weigh the drugs.” Plus Arsura hurt a policeman when he resisted arrest, and the policeman requires surgery.

When will UT Memphis make his departmental web page disappear? Faithful readers know that UD’s intrigued by the various university policies about when and how to make disgraced faculty members vanish.
Saturday SOS
[Scathing Online Schoolmarm]


[This is not a very good title. It comes from today’s Mobile Register, and it’s settin’ way up top a regular column by a regular guy whose writing UD will now examine with a fine tooth comb. Examine with a fine tooth comb is a cliché. Avoid cliches.]

[Why is this a bad title? It’s a YOU SUCK title. It doesn’t carry any information, and as a broad sweeping indictment (Broad sweeping indictment is a cliché. Avoid.) it is untrue.]

'At times like these [Cliché], we need William Shakespeare more than ever [The writer is probably about to quote Shakespeare. This will almost certainly be a cliché.]

Something tells me the renowned playwright [You might say the cliché ‘renowned playwright’ is necessary here because without this identifier your audience wouldn’t know who Shakespeare was. But then you’d be insulting your audience.] might amend one of his most famous (if often misunderstood) lines from Henry VI: "The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." [Cliché.]

If Shakespeare were writing a sports column today instead of being intently studied across the world [Failed attempts at whimsical humor depress your readers and make them reluctant to continue reading. Dropping the ‘instead of‘ clause would help, but only a little.] , he would likely add to his great line, "and college presidents, as well."

Someone needs to help these poor people in the bowties [Virtually no college presidents wear bow ties, and the one he’s about to attack certainly doesn’t. This is a class cliché -- the author will attempt here and elsewhere to play on the populist prejudices of his readers.] before they seriously injure someone with their clumsiness and utter pomposity. [The writer has failed to heed the renowned poet Yeats’s great line about casting a cold eye. From his angry title on, he has chosen heat over cold. Having done that, he’s making things worse by using intensifiers like “utter.” Cold writing -- especially when you want to arouse the wrath of your reader -- always works better than hot.]

The latest case in point comes from the president of the University of Georgia, Michael Adams. To meet him is to immediately dislike him. He is supercilious and self-righteous, haughty and highbrow. [UD has seen Adams in action and she can confirm all of this. Yet it’s a mistake to include it in this piece. It’s ad hominem -- pointlessly cutting. Tends to make your reader want to rush to his defense. Nothing wrong with being highbrow, by the way. Notice how the writer tacks it on at the end of a list of traits that are in fact offensive. Again the writer plays on his ostensibly lowbrow audience‘s prejudices, thereby implicitly putting down his audience.] And those are some of his better traits.

Adams, who committed one of the single dumbest acts in recent SEC history by running Vince Dooley out of his office as athletics director, said this week he wants the television networks to quit referring to the annual Georgia-Florida football game as "the world's largest outdoor cocktail party." [This paragraph’s fine.]

Sends the wrong message, he declares. [Ditto.]

Adams isn't alone. The good folks at [Cliché.] Florida joined the PC parade [Cliché.]. The actions come after a Florida student apparently was beaten to death during the game weekend. Police said the death had no direct correlation [Tone’s off here. Why not just say “connection”? Direct correlation makes you sound highbrow.] to the game. However, considering it was the second year in a row a student died in Jacksonville, the site of the game, the administrators decided to be proactive to try to deflect attention away from the annual drunkfest [“Annual drunkfest“ is fine. But again there‘s a weird wavering in tone in this paragraph between highbrow jargon like proactive and correlation and nice downhome stuff like drunkfest.].

SEC commissioner Mike Slive, a man who usually governs by common sense and compassion, also has gone along with this gibberish. How disappointing. Perhaps he had no choice.

So tell me this: How is CBS' or ESPN's failure to mention the game's name going to save lives in Jacksonville during the last weekend in October? It has nothing to do with it. The administrators are doing it for the same reason that beer commercials often end with the admonition to "drink responsibly." Know when to say when, huh? And while you're at, would you like another Bud?

Ever seen a beer commercial during a college sporting event? I have. If the president at Georgia or any of these people are so concerned about drinking or the image of college sports, then why do they allow their teams to compete in between beer commercials -- usually portraying scantily clad women mud-wrestling -- while the young and impressionable youth of America are watching? [In this section our writer’s getting to the point, and he’s not doing too badly. Still, the youth are the young, so he should probably have found a different word for one of those two words.]

Simple: They want to have it both ways.

Have any of you ever seen anyone drinking alcohol in one of the almighty private luxury boxes [Populist button flashing.] during an Alabama or Auburn football game? I have. Those are the suites that, by the way, go for enormous sums of money to support the football program, and there's enough drinking going on in those places to permanently destroy a breathalyzer machine. [I like “destroy a breathalyzer machine.” But again, the writer doesn’t need the intensifier “permanently,” and in fact this awkward word takes some of the punch out of an otherwise good phrase. One good way to have written it would be “and there‘s enough drinking going down in them to destroy a breathalyzer.” Everyone knows a breathalyzer is a machine, and it‘s better to end your sentence on your strongest word.] It's a like fraternity rush party at the "AARP House." [I like this too, but I’d remove the quotation marks from AARP House.]

Take away the booze in those places if you want to send a message. Of course, it might be tough to sell them if the fat-cat [Yikes. Not merely a cliché, but a circa 1900 cliché. Again he’s after the populist vote.] alums had to watch the game cold sober [Cliché.].

Does anyone really think there would be college sports without beer commercials or gambling? Take away the beer money. Take away the point spread. Then let's talk turkey. [Gevalt.] These administrators want to have their cake and eat it, too. [GeVALT.] They want to talk out of both sides of their mouths. [GEVALT.]

They don't mind holding fat cats [So nice he uses it twice.] hostage with premium sums of money attached to selling season tickets or priority seating. They don't mind bowing down to networks to start games at 10 a.m. on New Year's Day or allowing some Saturday night games to go on until midnight. It's a nice drive home from Auburn or Tuscaloosa to Mobile or anywhere at that time of night.

These folks are phony and fraudulent but apparently think society is being served when a moniker attached to a football game is removed.

Perhaps we should be more understanding of today's breed of college presidents. [Ten ton sarcasm never works well.] These individuals didn't rise to a position of authority and importance because they were great teachers or researchers or leaders. That is the way things used to be. Instead, to become a college president nowadays, you have to be a politician. You have to be able to talk out of both sides of your mouth. [In case you missed it the first time.]

Instead of straight talk from our college leaders, we get drivel. [Yick.] We get presidents trying to talk down to us instead of directly to us. [Populist vote-getter at it again. By painstakingly identifying Shakespeare for your readers you‘ve talked down to them too.] We get people who all speak from a particular manual. It's a basic course called Hypocrisy 101. [Cliché.] It's being taught on almost every big-time college campus these days by the person sitting in the president's office.'


Friday, May 19, 2006

Master Poldy's Day 2006

'Bloomsday Is Coming

New features will spice the 25th-anniversary Bloomsday on Broadway observance on June 16, commemorating the 102nd anniversary of Leopold Bloom's walk around Dublin in James Joyce's "Ulysses." Beginning at noon at Symphony Space, this year's 12-hour reading will focus more intently on Stephen Dedalus, the autobiographical Joyce character. As a result, major readings from "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" will be included, and a significant portion of the marathon will be devoted to work by Samuel Beckett, Joyce's friend, sometime secretary and disciple, born 100 years ago. Among the 80 readers scheduled to participate are Marian Seldes, Frank McCourt, Malachy McCourt, Jonathan Hadary, Stephen Lang, Fritz Weaver, Rochelle Oliver, Keir Dullea and David Margulies.'

--new york times--
Jonathan V. Last
Takes the Words
Out of UD's Mouth

'...In 2005, newspapers cut 2,000 jobs; this spring more people graduated from journalism schools than ever before.

......So what do aspiring journalists learn in school? Undergraduate courses of study vary, but if you survey course catalogs, there's a heavy emphasis on process and theory. At Ohio State, for instance, a student majoring in journalism might take some substantive core courses, such as introductory American history, math and microeconomics. But a large portion of his coursework will be taken up with classes such as Principles of Civic Journalism, Topics in Public Affairs Journalism or Industry Research Methods. An undergraduate at Missouri can take courses such as Cross-Cultural Journalism, The Creative Process, Women and the Media--there's even a class on High School Journalism.

At the graduate level, Missouri students get courses that are less about the theoretical aspects of journalism and more about the tricks of the trade: Intermediate and Advanced Writing, Newspaper Reporting and Magazine Editing are all required. For its Master of Sciences program, Columbia's School of Journalism offers Personal and Professional Style, Covering Ideas and The Deadline in Depth. (As we say in the trade, the jokes practically write themselves.)

The running theme is an emphasis on process and the "craft" of journalism: nut grafs, ledes, kickers, inverted pyramids and the rest. Yet this seems a waste of time. Schooling is expensive. A four-year undergraduate education can cost anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000. Grad school is just as bad. The one-year graduate program at Columbia is $38,500.

Yet when it comes to learning about the style and craft of writing, an education can be had for much less. sells the complete archives of The New Yorker on DVD for $63--it's hard to see how a classroom discussion of story structure could be much more valuable than reading and studying the work of the greats, from Truman Capote to David Grann.

Instead of educating future journalists on the nuts and bolts of journalism--because let's be honest, it isn't rocket science or even carpentry--it would make more sense simply to teach them things. Facts, it turns out, are useful.

Most people can write a nut graph after 30 minutes of practice, but comparatively few people can explain, say, econometrics, or fluid dynamics, or the history of the French Revolution. Aspiring journalists don't need trade-craft--they need a liberal-arts education that gives them a base of mastery in actual academic subjects.

Amazingly enough, some J-schools are recognizing this problem and trying to adapt. In May 2005, the Carnegie Corp. and the Knight Foundation partnered with five journalism grad programs (Columbia, Northwestern, UC-Berkeley, USC and Harvard) to launch a $6 million initiative to bring more academics to J-school curriculums. The goal was to get subject-matter instructors from other parts of the university--say, economics professors--and have them teach lessons in their areas to J-school students. The initiative, spearheaded by Carnegie President Vartan Gregorian, has been so well received that last March four more schools signed up.

Columbia's journalism school has embraced this notion so whole-heartedly that it established an alternate degree, a Master of Arts, in which students select a concentration in one of four disciplines: Politics, Arts & Culture, Business & Economics or Science. "We do the craft, or skills, in house," explains Columbia J-school Dean Nicholas Lemann of the new program, "and we contract out, or outsource, the substance to other units in the university."

It seems likely that other graduate programs will follow this lead and that the new emphasis on facts-over-process will eventually filter down to undergraduate programs, too. But why go to journalism school to read, say, David Hume and Adam Smith? Why not just take philosophy and macroeconomics in the standard liberal-arts programs and, with less effort and expense, pick up a course or two (at most) in how to interview a "source"?

Even there, innovation is on move. Last January, Steve and Cynthia Brill pledged $1 million to Yale to fund a program to train undergraduates who aspire to journalism. Mr. Brill, who bristles at journalism studies, wants to keep students pursuing academic majors. Instead, his program will bring a journalism career counselor to campus and a visiting journalist to teach a seminar once a semester. It's the best idea yet.

If America's universities were providing students with adequate academic instruction, instead of pumping out degrees in pseudosubjects like "communications," then J-schools wouldn't need to adapt at all. They could simply shut down.'

Same goes for Creative Writing and Education.
Paging Doctor Clara!

'If black is the new black, again, should its influence extend to toilet paper? Can toilet paper make it as an object of design, a touchstone of chic? More important, should it?

"The question for us was not why, but why not," said Paulo Miguel Pereira da Silva, the president of a Portuguese paper company called Renova, which has just begun testing its new product, Renova Black, otherwise known as black toilet paper, in this country.

Mr. da Silva wrote that he had been thinking about the idea of spectacle and how it relates to consumer products while at a trade show in Las Vegas. Black was an intuitive choice for toilet paper, he suggested, because it signals "avant-garde creative work."

"In a design sense," he wrote, black means "irreverence, maybe touching a bit on the core nature of art, which is to break rules and set new ones.

"Culturally, deep down, Renova Black invites people to break down whatever might be limiting as common sense ideas," he wrote.

Mr. da Silva ventured that his new product was "neither solely a product, an object or a communication tool," but some heady combination of all three.

...David Mandl, an architect, has a guest bathroom in his Manhattan apartment that's all steel and slate, and features the brushed stainless lavatory manufactured by a company called Neo-Metro. "I wanted to give the bathroom an edge," he said the other day. "With black toilet paper I think it would look awesome."

...Black toilet paper, [said one designer], "sounds so Halston, so balls of cocaine."

"My theory is that most everything can be chic at some point or for some period of time," he said.

...Henry Petroski, a design theorist and professor of engineering at Duke University, worried that "shock" and "bathroom" are an unhappy couple, at least when combined outside a nightclub setting. "In the end, I expect that many people who use the toilet do not want to be shocked," said Mr. Petroski, whose book "Success Through Failure: The Paradox of Design" was published this year by Princeton University Press. "They want to go to the bathroom in calm and solitude, without the intrusion of objects that distract them from the business at hand."

But Miguel Calvo, who is one curator for the Mobile Living Experiment, a design showcase dedicated to the props of nomadic living filling 18,000 square feet at the Skylight Studios in SoHo during the furniture fair next week, said he liked the "wow factor" of the black toilet paper, and was happily laying in a stock of it for his event. "All global nomads need toilet paper," he said. "Is this fabulous or banal? Who knows?"

His co-curator, David Shearer, said, "Maybe what's important is not the product but a sense of process: you've changed the color of something very ordinary, and so people are going to interact with it in a very different way."

Or perhaps, as David Rockwell, veteran of so-called entertainment architecture, said: "We've reached the logical end for thinking about that product. Black doesn't say anything to me about the particular use of the product. It's not really form following function; it's counterintuitive, so that's sort of interesting."'

---new york times---

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Book Event

'Gordon McKay Professor of Computer Science Harry R. Lewis ’68 has branded Harvard “soulless,” arguing that the institution fails to exert any “formative force” on its students and that the faculty are “exhausted” by their work on curricular review.

Lewis presented his newly-published book “Excellence Without a Soul," Monday night at the Harvard Coop Bookstore to a crowd of over 100 faculty colleagues, alumni, and various College administrators.

...“Changing direction requires...leadership that views the university idealistically, as something more than a business and something more than a slave to the logic of economic competition,” Lewis read from his book.'

---harvard crimson---
Nice Call, Princeton.

'It never feels good to be rejected, and Sean Dorrance Kelly's experience was no exception. It hurt, he says, when Princeton University's philosophy department turned down his tenure bid in 2004.

"I wondered if I'd have to leave the discipline," he says. "Maybe I wouldn't be able to be a philosopher."

But Mr. Kelly, who is 38, has bounced back, and in a big way. He has had offers of tenure from Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and Northwestern Universities, along with the Universities of Pennsylvania, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Edinburgh, in Scotland. He said yes to Harvard, where he will start this fall.'

-- Chronicle of Higher Ed --
From The Onion
(thanks to Fred for the link)

Heroic Computer Dies To Save World From Master's Thesis

WALTHAM, MA -A courageous young notebook computer committed a fatal, self-inflicted execution error late Sunday night, selflessly giving its own life so that professors, academic advisors, classmates, and even future generations of college students would never have to read Jill Samoskevich's 227-page master's thesis, sources close to the Brandeis University English graduate student reported Monday.

Heroic computer

The brave laptop, even after fulfilling its mission, steadfastly resists a technician's data-recovery attempts.

"This fearless little machine saved me from unspoken hours of exasperated head-scratching and eyestrain, as well as years of agonizing self-doubt over my decision to devote my life to teaching," said professor John Rebson, who had already read through three drafts of Samoskevich's sprawling, 38,000-word dissertation, titled A Hermeneutical Exploration Of Onomatopoeia In The Works Of William Carlos Williams As It May Or May Not Relate To Post-Agrarian Appalachia. "It was an incredible act of bravery. This laptop sacrificed itself in order to put an end to Jill's senseless rambling."

Added Rebson: "I only wish some of my other students' computers could be as selfless and brave as this one."

Those familiar with the Dell Inspiron 4100 characterized it as an ordinary machine placed under extraordinary circumstances. According to Information Technology Investigator Bob Arnett, the computer endured "constant abuse at the fingertips of this lackluster scholar," who forced it against its will to record page upon page of "overindulgent, impenetrable drivel" that some say even Samoskevich herself didn't understand.

"It was one of the worst cases I've ever seen," Arnett said. "I minored in English in college, and I can tell you, this computer went through hell. But it never lost sight of what was right, and it's comforting to know that it's in a better place now, and it took that abomination of literary masturbation with it."

"From what I read-specifically, pages one through 76-this computer was put through a lot of painful, torturous passages," said Department of English graduate faculty advisor Judith Mendel, who was scheduled to meet Samoskevich on Thursday to discuss the possibility of publishing the "atrocity" in the department's academic journal. "Thanks to this laptop's valor, Jill's classmates or future students will never have to pick their way through dense and discursive passages about 'The Red Wheelbarrow' and North Carolina farming communities. Also, I get to have a free lunch period Thursday."

Mendel said that even her most scalding critiques and fundamental dismantling of the paper's core arguments could never have demoralized Samoskevich in the way this computer's single system shutdown did. "Jill called me last night and told me that she was too crushed to even consider starting over from scratch," Mendel said. "One determined computer has triumphed over years of misapplied literary theory."

The day before the crash, the computer reportedly resisted an attempt by Samoskevich to transfer files to an external drive when it failed to recognize a USB port, convincing some that the laptop's self-destruction was premeditated.

According to Samoskevich's roommate, Pamela Roscoe, the Inspiron had been "up to something" for months.

"There were definite warning signs," Roscoe said. "It infected itself with a virus so Jill couldn't send e-mail attachments, and it would noticeably lag or shut down while she was typing out particularly long, dry sentences. I guess when she got to the chapter about how the 'imitative tactility' used in the first two stanzas of 'Young Sycamore' can act as a 'neo-structuralist, pre-objectivist perlustration and metonymy' of the importance of anti-Episcopalian sentiment in the rise and fall of central West Virginian coal miners' unions, the computer just decided that something had to be done for the greater good."

Mark Weiss, also in the English graduate program with Samoskevich, witnessed the incident at 2:39 a.m. Monday, just as Samoskevich was putting the finishing touches on her abstract so that an already exhausted Weiss could "give it one more pass."

"I had already read the whole thing twice to tell her whether her argument made sense, which it didn't, but this time she wanted me to make punctuation and grammar corrections," Weiss said. As Samoskevich minimized one of her Internet Explorer windows, the screen froze "for what seemed like an eternity," then turned blue.

"I've already forgotten why 'Queen Anne's Lace' symbolizes the advances in modern agricultural implements, but I'll never forget that brave computer's last words: 'You will lose any unsaved information in all applications. Press any key to continue,'" Weiss said.

Although the loss of the thesis meant that no one in the Samoskevich-Roscoe residence got any sleep that night, Weiss characterized his subjection to Samoskevich's frantic ravings as "a small price to pay" when compared to the laptop's self-obliteration.

"It's tragic, but I can't help but think how the laptop never had the opportunity to do anything fun, like gaming or viral video-viewing or instant-messaging," Roscoe said.

"People need to hear its story."

Faculty and staff of the English Department will gather at the Brandeis IT center Friday to honor the Inspiron with a Purple Hard Drive, traditionally awarded to computers that die at least 100 pages into a dangerously boring thesis.

Though Samoskevich was unavailable for comment, sources said she appeared to be immersed in new research on alcoholism and depression.
Those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer...

From the official statement of Catholic University's athletics director:

[A] Web site ha[s] posted an article and photos about The Catholic University of America's women's lacrosse team. According to the article and the photos that accompany it, a male stripper was invited to perform at a freshman initiation party held off the campus of the university...

From tomorrow's New York Times:

[A few days ago, the] Web site posted photographs from a hazing by the Northwestern women's soccer team, leading to the team's suspension. Yesterday, followed up with photos from freshman, varsity and club team initiations at 12 other colleges, complete with links to the teams' rosters. plucked and collated the often disturbing photos from, a site where students post and share thousands of pictures covering a variety of activities....
How Many Semi-Literates?

If you’re after an intelligent effort to refute ACTA’s “How Many Ward Churchills?” report, go here and here.

If you want UD’s admittedly rather narrow take on it, proceed.

I think ACTA seriously overplays its hand, and makes a rhetorical error in invoking ol’ Ward as some sort of paradigm, in this report.

But -- the report certainly kicks up a lot of academic crap.

For instance, there are professors whose level of writing is so low that they should not be teaching a course with a writing component. Here’s an example -- a course description ACTA found:

This course examines some critical American social problems. These include problems in the economy and political system, social class and income inequality, racial/ethnic inequality, gender inequality and heterosexism, and problems of illness and health care. Emphasis will be on how these problems are natural outgrowths of our existing social structure.

This paragraph captures the sort of student writing I spend my life trying to correct. Redundancy, vagueness, jargon, cliché, death on wheels. Yet it is written by a professor. A professor who will be reading and evaluating student writing.

A student who writes well and takes this course will be made to suffer for her superior literacy. She has entered a room with a professor dedicated to the destruction of her writing.

Here’s a sentence taken from another course description:

This survey course will explore the ways American writers utilize literary and cinematic texts as tools to theorize and debate notions of race in the late 19th and 20th Centuries.

The course’s title is Writers Who Utilize Their Tools.

No. Not really.

The other doodoo ACTA sniffs out is the I’m So Excited I Just Can’t Hide It syllabus, which announces to the world a course which will change you forever! If you’ve got the guts! If you’ve got the honesty! The fearful need not apply!

[UD's comments are in parenthesis.]

Sex and Sensibility in the Eighteenth Century

[Yeah, the first word of my course’s title is sex! Afraid? Afraid of pleasure? Afraid of confronting sex bigtime? Don’t take this course!]

This course is designed to examine "modern" [quotation marks -- because Westerners think they’re "modern," but they’re really just stupid shits] constructions of sexuality in a period presumptively called "the age of reason." [Presumptuous shits at that… They’re the nuts! They’re the ones who don’t have any reason…] Ranging from the ribald comedies of the restoration stage to the sexual terror of the gothic novel, the interdisciplinary syllabus will require students [Require -- get it? You might not like it… you might try to resist it… but we’re going to require you…] to think sexuality [Bet you didn’t know you could use “think” as a verb without a word like “about” after it! That’s the sort of jolt you’re going to get from this course!] across its complicated nexus of law and desire, morality and biology, economics and political agency. In particular, we will be attentive to the ways that sexual desire and its subjects [How do I mean ‘subjects’ in this sentence? Sign up and find out!] bring into relief modern [Oops - forgot the quotation marks around “modern“ there] conceptions of body, self-governance, intimacy, community, and privacy.

[There’s more along these lines, and then:]

Students interested in this course should know two things in advance: 1.) as an upper-level course for majors, there is a significant expectation that the participants will be serious and committed students; and 2.) some of the material this semester might be discomforting to sensitive readers [You! Yeah, you! Curled up in your nice warm amniotic sac! You won’t be able to take what we’re dishing out, baby! Don’t even think about it!]
AU Board of Trustees
Features Longest-Running

David Carmen, a Washington lobbyist, maintains his seat on the operatically dysfunctional American University board of trustees, despite fortissimo hints from the United States Senate that he - and his friends on the board who unapologetically made possible the Ladner fiasco - should go. AU's Carmen, one tough oiseau rebel, refuses to move his ass.

"People do not tolerate leaks anymore," he wrote his fellow trustees during the crisis, in response to an anonymous whistle blower's letter to them about scummy goings-on. Instead of examining the claims this person made -- all of them true -- Carmen tried to rally the board to expose and crush the whistle blower: "No one is so naive anymore to think that unidentified 'whistle-blowers' are public servants."

Naivete. The world of the Carmens is a tough, reality-based world in which you get what you can how you can and crush the naivete that would stop you. It was naive to think the board's misbehavior would be stopped by financial penalties they could afford to pay: "According to Mr. Grassley, the Senate investigation revealed 'shocking' comments by American's trustees that the rules could be disregarded because fines would be minimal."

Naivete. "Colleges and universities are supposed to be places you can be idealistic and altruistic," one AU student says about what happened there -- what continues to happen there. The tainted trustees "took those core beliefs and shattered them." How naive.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

US Senate Crashes
Trustee Party

'Members of American University’s Board of Trustees ignored damaging audit findings on lavish spending by the university’s former president, Benjamin Ladner, disregarded possible Internal Revenue Service sanctions, and proposed retribution against a whistle-blower, according to a letter released today by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

In the letter, Mr. Grassley gave the university’s trustees two weeks to respond to his request for improved transparency on the board, noting that Congress is now considering tax provisions that could affect universities. He said he was also looking at legislation that would change the structure and governance of American’s board, describing in particular a possible law to give the board the authority to fire its own members. As a Congressionally chartered institution, American is subject to such legislative changes in its structure.'
Don DeLillo,
or the Durham
Herald Sun?

'[Duke player David Evans'] polygraph examiner, Robert J. Drdak of Advanced Credibility Assessment Services in Charlotte, wrote attorney Joe Cheshire that he believed "this examination strongly supports the truthfulness of Mr. Evans."

...[Another polygraph expert] said it wasn't unusual that Drdak didn't actually use the word "rape" during his questioning of Evans.

"Rape is too strong a word," he said. "Most examiners wouldn't use it. You'd be likely to get a false positive." '
Professor Larry Gregory... a psychologist at New Mexico State University whose specialization is "personal control."

But when it comes to iMacs, well...!

A New Mexico State University professor is out of jail after being released on an unsecured bond.

NMSU professor Larry Gregory was led away in handcuffs Tuesday after he turned himself in to university police.

Police told KFOX the psychology professor faces 11 counts of embezzlement and forgery.

Police said he falsified a name to pay for $24,000 of equipment at the university bookstore last month.

"They were mostly computer-related equipment, for example, really expensive iMac computers, I-Pods, various software and so forth," said Sgt. Dennis Serna, of the NMSU Police Department.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

God, this is good.

'Earlier in the day, Petrocelli described the defendant
as a "tortured soul" who will be tormented by the demise of his beloved Enron for the rest of his life.'
Thesdan Pyramid

Move over, Bosnia.

While digging the foundations for Canyon Ranch Bethesda, workers on the site recently stumbled upon what seems to be a vast early ‘thesdan pyramid.
Teams of lawn care professionals have been hard at work incorporating this amazing find into the wellness lifestyle location which will soon be Canyon Ranch Bethesda.

Plans for the Thesdan Pyramid include turning its large light interior into seminar rooms where residents (residents only, please; Canyon Ranch Bethesda is extremely exclusive) will be able to attend lectures by such guest speakers as Aphrodite Clamar-Cohen and Diana York Blaine.

'An investigation of a professor who likened some of the Sept. 11 victims to a Nazi found serious cases of misconduct in his academic research, including plagiarism and fabrications, a University of Colorado spokesman said Tuesday.

One member of the five-person investigative committee recommended that ethnic studies professor Ward Churchill be fired, and four recommended he be suspended, university spokesman Barrie Hartman said.

Churchill, who has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, declined immediate comment Tuesday.

The professor touched off a firestorm with an essay relating the 2001 terrorist attacks to U.S. abuses abroad. The essay referred to some World Trade Center victims as "little Eichmanns," a reference to Adolf Eichmann, who carried out Adolf Hitler's plan to exterminate European Jews during World War II.

University officials had earlier determined Churchill could not be fired for his comments about the terrorist attacks, but they launched an inquiry into allegations about his research.

The committee's 125-page report said Churchill falsified, fabricated and plagiarized some of his research, did not always comply with standards for listing other authors' names and failed to follow accepted practice for reporting results.

The decision on his future at the university will be made by school officials later this year. Churchill has said if he is fired, he will sue.

Churchill's wife, Natsu Saito, who also teaches in the ethnic studies department, said Tuesday she had resigned her tenured teaching position at the school but said she and Churchill have no plans to leave Boulder.

In her resignation letter, Saito accused the university of reneging on promises to her and the department, ignoring racial harassment of the department and individuals, and treating Churchill unfairly. She said her decision to resign was not prompted by the pending report.'
UD Gardens and Writes
And Will Try
Her First Martini

'[Stanley Kunitz, Poet Laureate, who died Sunday at 100 years of age,] insisted that the secret to his longevity was his attitude: "I garden and I write and I drink martinis."'

“The recent string of events at American University,” begins Drew Miller, a university trustee, in this morning’s Inside Higher Ed -- and you just know something nasty’s coming, but he’s far, far too diplomatic to be adequate to the nastiness of what he‘s got hold of -- for that, you’d need Tom Wolfe -- “involving a president who needed a strong board to protect him from himself – has, for better or for worse, drawn attention to the challenges of higher education trusteeship. And Congress’s continuing interest underscores the pressing need for college and university boards to get their house in order – before someone does it for them.”

House in order isn’t quite the metaphor. Lampshade off the head‘s better.

Because you get Ben Ladner, and others like him, when “the prevailing culture on university boards is one of routinely succumbing to administration demands.” And why do you get that prevailing culture?

Parties, darling. Parties.

“Administrators often favor minimal board meetings and a maximum of socializing. [As a university trustee, I’ve been] amazed at the number of parties, dinners and social functions that board members attend. The benefit of these events from the university administrator’s perspective is very clear: a trustee who becomes friends with administrators is going to be more likely to cheerlead than to challenge policies and practices… [V]oting against programs that are recommended by administrators or government officials who are your personal friends is very hard for an elected or appointed governing board member to do…If you are spending more time attending the athletic events, parties, and dinners with administrators rather than researching and questioning, then you are not serving as a responsible trustee….As I delved into my work with my fellow regents, I was amazed at how willing regents were to let administrators make all the decisions. …[For instance, the board I’m on] approved $3 million for a ‘hydraulically banked indoor running track system’ so that the University of Nebraska at Lincoln’s sports center could boast a state-of-the-art, world-class indoor track. This at a time when the university was increasing tuition and student fees and lobbying the legislature for more money claiming we do not have enough to pay faculty…. [We have to] limit the amount of time lost to unimportant university ‘show’ presentations [PowerPoint, baby!] and social events.”

This is a very short piece in Inside Higher Ed. Most of it's taken up with this point.

Yet “I soon realized that the 'social side' of trustee life was only part of the problem,” Miller continues. There’s also the Association of Governing Boards, the official national trustee party planner, whose “overwhelming message is for trustees to cheerlead for the campus administration. It has been my experience that AGB too often adopts the proposition that any disagreement with the administration is micromanaging or intolerable failure to support the president. If there were any doubt, recent problems at American University, where the board essentially gave a blank check to the president, should surely settle the matter: American University has been a member of the AGB for decades.”

Miller provides a useful list of reforms, none of which will happen until the first trustee squeezes out of the conga line; but among them, UD was most intrigued by this one, with implications not just for trustees, of course:

It would be great for students and taxpayers if public universities required all graduates to complete the GRE or some other relevant professional exam as a condition for graduation. We need this kind of national standard and outcome measure to enable us to judge how well we do in educating our students and compare the value added by our school relative to other schools.

This is ye olde college exit exam idea again - an idea UD likes very much, but which most university people loathe. Nice to find an ally.
Recall Those More Innocent Days…

…when a Northwestern University women’s sport team got in trouble because some of them wore sandals to meet President Bush…

That was lacrosse. This latest thing is soccer.

Northwestern suspended its women's soccer team Monday in response to photographs of a hazing incident that were posted on a Web site.

The suspension will keep team members from participating in organized athletic activities, Mark Murphy, Northwestern's athletic director, said in a statement.

…The photographs showed women's soccer players wearing only T-shirts and shorts or underwear. Many of the players were covered in marker, and some appeared to be drinking beer. Other photographs showed players giving lap dances for what the captions said were Northwestern men's soccer players. The captions said the dances were a punishment.

……Bob Reno, whose Web site,, published the photographs, said he found them on a student file-sharing network while searching for photographs about the Duke case.

The freshmen being hazed were at one point blindfolded, hands tied behind their backs, and marched around.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Merapi Makes a Move

Good Writing
Bad Writing

'[Alain de Botton’s] The Architecture of Happiness is rather like a rubbery Starbucks cappuccino: it is 65 per cent shattering banality presented in a froth of Latinate polysyllables.

Once you factor in the (pretty, but largely redundant) illustrations and all that tasteful white space, the philosopher-prince is left with little room in which to be sensible. Over 280 pages, the effect is one of rubbernecking at a literary car-crash. De Botton's periodic losses of mental traction - he describes the Sage Gateshead as "a warmer hedgehog-related creature" - are as guiltily mesmerising as his tone of solemn wonder, which effortlessly negotiates hurdles ("its harmony with our own prized internal song"; "like a smile breaking over a child's face") that weaker-stomached writers might baulk at.'
Breaking News,
Duke Lacrosse

'David Evans, the captain of last season's Duke University lacrosse team who was indicted today in the ongoing investigation of rape allegations involving an exotic dancer at an off-campus party, denounced the charges against him as "fantastic lies."

... Although much of the possible evidence made public to date may favor the defense, the strength of key elements for the prosecution remains unknown. Details of the alleged victim's medical report and of a toxicology report from that night could be crucial. The prosecution could also have witnesses, photographs or videos of that night that might bolster its case.

Perhaps most critically, Nifong has one piece of evidence that no one in the public or on the defense can even approach: the opportunity to speak with the alleged victim.'
Blog Triumphalism

Via Ann Althouse, some serious blog triumphalism going on among a number of contributors to a debate about art criticism and blogging:

Perhaps Andras [a contributor who made the mistake of using the word 'postmodern'] fails to grasp the blogosphere. First: People read blogs because we don't use the word 'postmodern.' (OK, that's only one reason.) Also: It sounds like Andras thinks that the blogosphere is a third-rate, pet-rockish phenomenon that will pass and the Assertive Voices will re-assert themselves. Hooey.

The blogosphere is survival of the fittest, HTML-style. The good bloggers get read, others get much less-read. Individual authority must be earned -- bloggers don't have a newspaper's good name to supply them with clout or with a platform. Instead we earn it ourselves. Readers seem to respond to that: Blog readership numbers are growing, not shrinking.

But for the sake of Andras' argument, let's say that there is 'room' for 10 prominent voices on the visual arts. Right now 2-3 of those voices are bloggers. Within two years I bet bloggers are double that many. There are plenty of reasons for this: With the exception of the LAT, NYT and a few other outlets, most newspapers don't have full-time art critics anymore. Bloggers are filling that void. There are also more smart people out there who like to think out-loud about art than there are jobs at newspapers and magazines. Many of them are worth reading regularly. Some of them are gallerists, others are management consultants. There are more good new art blogs coming online every week. Bloggers are here to stay. ...

If there is smoke, and if it clears, it's not bloggers who will be losing readership. In the visual arts, there are only 2-4 newspapers with strong national, critical voices. The WSJ doesn't have an art critic. Neither does NPR. The Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, and other super-regional papers have art writers who barely leave their home turf. As the art world has shaken off regionalism for internationalism, (like commerce, science, etc.), those papers haven't adapted.

The voices that will be forgotten in the visual arts dialogue are, in order: art magazines and the academics who write for them, regional art writers (add: who don't keep up on art world changes) and writers who fail to build their own audiences. Bloggers will be -- and already are -- the winners of increased readership.

I've defended Patrick Henry College - a Christian college in Purcellville, Virginia, near the Holy Cross monastery where UD and her family sometimes like to go to hear the monks do their Gregorian chants - against people who dismissed its students and faculty as robotic propagandists for the Christian right.

But maybe I was wrong. Or maybe I was right.

A significant number of faculty and students are leaving Patrick Henry in protest. One student sums it up: "I didn’t come here to go to Bible school. I came here for a liberal arts education from a Christian perspective."

The school has begun banning certain books and points of view in the classroom, and as a result it's putting itself through the sort of education schools in free countries routinely get when they become repressive.

“[T]he administration did not anticipate the amount of disagreement that would occur in this community they set up,” a campus dissident says, remarking the school's "unrealistic expectation of conformity.”

One of the professors who's leaving says: "If there is a de-emphasis on the liberal arts here, it will profoundly affect the college's ability to place people in high office." (The school's well-connected in the Bush administration.)

So... early critics were right that Patrick Henry was heading toward know-nothingism; but they were wrong about its absence of internal integrity.
Next Up:
Prostate Follies

Menopause, the Musical is a "lighthearted look at a ubiquitous feminine passage," writes the reviewer of its Syracuse performance. "There are clever lyric changes parodying famous songs: 'Chain of Fools' becomes 'Change of Life,' 'Night Sweats' is sung to the tune of 'Stayin' Alive.'"

Show merchandise here.
From Slaves of Academe...

...some eloquent retrospection about his undergraduate experience at PU (Prestigious University):

Consciousness is hard, but is also a requirement for both adulthood and citizenship. As I peruse the silken pages of the alumni magazine now, I wonder about the role of consciousness in what could pass as the greatest moment of historical sleep walking in our nation’s history. When you are living, as the current undergrads at PU are, in the middle of a brocaded pillow, how is it possible to achieve some critical distance? There are, in classic intellectual style, no singular answers to this question, only more questions. For of course the consciousness of which I speak here is not a unitary state, but a series of fragments, passing views, pieces out of which we somehow craft a reality.

For this is certainly one thing I learned well at PU, even as (or perhaps because) the university itself was imbued in fantasy projections: things are quite often not as they seem, and excavating the self leads not to the singular omniscient subject but rather to a series of pathways and streams that are remarkable for the ways in which they are unconnected, random, divergent, and contradictory and par hasard. In short, I became, like Yellow Mary in Daughters of the Dust, "ruin't," in my case for the metanarratives of self. But better ruined than Stepford. For like Yellow Mary, I choose a certain freedom in exchange for certainty, and as we hear so often nowadays, "freedom ain't free," although in this instance this has a very different valence of meaning.
Washington Post
Keeps UD Up to Date
On Her Students'
Erectile Function

...[E]xperts point to lifestyle. An increasing number of students arrive on campus taking antidepressants, some of which reduce libido and sexual function. They consume larger amounts of alcohol at one time than in years past, killing performance. Smoking, lack of exercise and anxiety also may be factors.

"We get reports of increased stress levels starting at younger ages. These are kids living on the extreme, drinking caffeinated Red Bull and beer and working very hard," says Thomas Jarrett, chief urologist at the George Washington University Medical Center.

...[A] sophomore at George Washington... had been sleeping with a girlfriend for several weeks during his freshman year when, one night, he failed to respond. The next night, the same thing happened. The morning after that, he woke up thinking, "This better not happen again." It did.

... Almost two weeks passed until one afternoon, he plopped down on his bed, "torn up inside," and began thinking about his lifestyle. He was smoking cigarettes and marijuana, popping Adderall to work through the night to finish his econ papers. He was drinking a lot and not getting any regular exercise. His body was simply worn out.

He decided to drop his bad habits for a while, start taking walks outside and working out at the gym...

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Ah, Segolene.

From the Sunday New York Times Magazine's feature on Segolene Royal:

As Alain Touraine observes: "The main French idea is that there is an absolute contradiction between social good and economic interests. Where else do you hear this, besides maybe Belarus?"

The historic destiny of the left is to use the power of the state to protect the people from the ravages of the marketplace; the loneliness of the endeavor only increases its nobility. As Nicolas Domenach, a political commentator and an editor of the cheeky, leftish magazine Marianne, put it to me: "One could be arrogant, that is to say French, and say that someone must guard against the omnipotence of liberalism. But I would argue that France is not the exception but rather the avant-garde. If we talk again a year from now, you will see counterliberal movements across Europe."

Yet this sense of moral superiority, and the reflexive horror at the unleashed energies of the marketplace, have plainly been losing force as France's per capita wealth falls behind that of countries like Ireland and Britain. Editorials in the center-left Le Monde lambasted Villepin for his high-handed manner but acknowledged the need to reform labor markets. Scholars and journalists routinely speak of a crisis, or a paralysis, gripping the country. Gérard Grunberg, a leading scholar at Sciences Po, told me: "There is no liberal tradition on either the left or the right; there isn't even a place for a social-liberal party, because it would imply an acceptance of labor-market flexibility. It would imply that the state isn't the sole guarantor of the collective interest, which is entrenched in French culture. It is the state that embodies and guarantees the collective interests; the rest is selfish individualism."

...Royal asked me, with the air of someone pulling out a trump card, "Are you in an insecure situation?" Actually, I explained, as a contract writer for this magazine, I have little security.

Royal wasn't going to be put off the scent that easily. "Yes, but how many years does your contract last?"

"I sign a new one every year."

Now she was frankly incredulous. "You could be fired every year?" For all her own experience, Royal apparently viewed précarité as a kind of socioeconomic stigma rather than the price you might choose to pay for freedom.

...Seated beside Royal as she was driven back to Poitiers after an annual awards dinner at a sports club, I mentioned that we hadn't yet discussed some of the major issues she would face as president. What about terrorism? And Iraq? Royal responded with a surprising question of her own: "Would you ask this of a man?"

"Of course I would."

"If you were interviewing Laurent Fabius, you would never ask him, 'Can you lay out your planetary vision in 15 minutes?'"

I pointed out that she was, after all, hoping to be president of France. Royal said that it wasn't the right moment; she would present her vision when she was ready. I pressed her. "You're saying it's too early?"

Apparently I had asked once too often. Her smile vanished, and she said: "I refuse to be infantilized by being asked questions which imply that I know nothing, that I'm the result of a media bubble. I haven't heard Fabius or Sarkozy explain their vision of the world and of interplanetary coherence."

Royal's reaction felt so hyperbolic as to be either a cynical ploy — which I doubted — or evidence that her astonishing record of success had barely touched her inner sense of beleaguerment, of victimization. This, too, has become part of the Ségolène legend. Two weeks after our conversation, "Les Guignols," a popular television show that satirizes France's leading political and cultural figures, had a sketch featuring a puppet Ségolène. An interviewer asks, "Are you truly a Socialist candidate?" and Royal, her smile never faltering, shoots back, "You would never ask such a question of a man." At lunch, the waiter suggests "an excellent sole," and she retorts, "You only recommend fish because I'm a woman, and you assume I have to watch what I eat." And when she comes home to François, complaining about the obstacles she must clear as a female politician, her partner, ensconced in his reading chair, soothingly says, "Ah, Ségolène." She cuts him off: "Would you call me Ségolène if I were a man?"
Don DeLillo's Underworld... first runner-up (to Toni Morrison's Beloved) in the New York Times poll of best American novels of the last twenty-five years.

DeLillo's White Noise and Libra also received many votes.

This is excellent news for UD, who loves DeLillo. It's not such great news for her fall semester Novels of Don DeLillo students, since UD was thinking of sparing them Underworld (it's around eight hundred pages long) but is now reconsidering.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Ann, Ann, You Don’t
Know the Half of It…

…nor does the New York Times, I guess… and what’s John Jay College’s excuse?

Ann Althouse links to a story in tomorrow’s Times that features this professor of psychology at John Jay College named Aphrodite Clamar-Cohen. Ann titles her post “Not a humor story,” because the Times story certainly reads like a joke. Ann quotes the funniest parts:

Aphrodite Clamar-Cohen, who teaches psychology at John Jay College in Manhattan and sees a psychotherapist, said her dog, a pit bull mix, helps fend off dark moods that began after her husband died eight years ago. She learned about psychological support pets from the Delta Society, a nonprofit group that aims to bring people and animals together, and got her dog, Alexander, last year. "When I travel I tell hotels up front that 'Alexander Dog Cohen' is coming and he is my emotional-needs dog," she said. She acknowledged that the dog is not trained as a service animal.

"He is necessary for my mental health," she said. "I would find myself at loose ends without him."

…These days people rely on a veritable Noah's Ark of support animals. Tami McLallen, a spokeswoman for American Airlines, said that although dogs are the most common service animals taken onto planes, the airline has had to accommodate monkeys, miniature horses, cats and even an emotional support duck. "Its owner dressed it up in clothes," she recalled.

There have also been at least two instances (on American and Delta) in which airlines have been presented with emotional support goats. Ms. McLallen said the airline flies service animals every day; all owners need to do is show up with a letter from a mental health professional and the animal can fly free in the cabin.

UD googled Ms. Clamar-Cohen. Given that she’s a much-published believer in alien abductions, and that much of her “regression” psychotherapy involves getting people back to where they were abducted so they can remember all the details, it does seem to UD worth asking why she’s on the faculty of a respectable university. And why the New York Times fails to inform us of her background.

Clamar-Cohen Update:

The path to her Rate My Professors page is here. Out of 32 ratings (a high number -- students were motivated to write in), she gets a 1.8.

# Ratings: 32
Average Easiness: 3.0
Average Helpfulness: 1.8
Average Clarity: 1.8
Overall Quality: 1.8

'...dumbest professor i have ever had. all we do is presentations which she falls asleep through, but didnt give anyone higher than a B. all she talks about is her stupid cats and dogs and thinks they are the same as people!! AVOID at all costs!!! she has no idea about anything! '

'...easy class, all you gotta do is sit through other students' boring presentations. Or sleep through it, like what she does. '

C-C teaches a required class.

John Jay College or Abu Ghraib?

Question: Why is this woman on the faculty of a respectable college?

Answer: The real psychology department at John Jay College of Criminal Justice has been abducted by aliens.
Charming, moving little essay...

... about a professor and his son in today’s New York Times. A sample:

One night we treated ourselves to a ridiculously expensive massage and an outdoor communal hot tub, clothing optional, under a million New Mexico stars. That was pretty fine. One night we went to a famous country-music joint named the Broken Spoke and watched some Texas cowboys two-stepping their ladies around the dance floor. That was even finer. We drank long-necked Lone Stars and Shiner Bock beer that night and then stumbled out into the Spoke's dirt parking lot and found our way back to our Marriott, imagining ourselves a pair of lower-case authentic American heroes.

The old frets would come back by daylight and I kept believing we were going to break down at Fort Stockton or Truth or Consequences, that the car would start shooting geysers of oil, no tow truck in sight.

"Dad, you just can't let yourself think like that," laughed someone who's 39 years younger than I. At the university where I am employed, I often say to those who are also about 39 years younger than I, and to whom I am allegedly trying to impart something about writing, "Let the students teach the teacher." Let the child instruct the parent.

Belted into the leather bucket seats of that car during those five days together on the road were two headstrong men who, if the truth be told, have always sought ways to tangle with each other. We got on each other's nerves and argued about some dumb things — but not nearly as many or as often as I would have guessed. Neither of us once said it in those five days, but I believe we both understood to our toenails the central truth of what we were doing: having our last real shot together. I am losing my son to the world. Which is exactly as it should be, as it must be.

It reminded me of this poem, by the great literary critic Yvor Winters:

At the San Francisco Airport

To my daughter,1954.

This is the terminal: the light
Gives perfect vision, false and hard;
The metal glitters, deep and bright.
Great planes are waiting in the yard -
They are already in the night.

And you are here beside me, small,
Contained and fragile, and intent
On things that I but half recall -
Yet going whither you are bent.
I am the past, and that is all.

But you and I in part are one:
The frightened brain, the nervous will,
The knowledge of what must be done,
The passion to acquire the skill
To face that which you dare not shun.

The rain of matter upon sense
Destroys me momently. The score:
There comes what will come. The expense
Is what one thought, and something more -
One's being and intelligence.

This is the terminal, the break.
Beyond this point, on lines of air,
You take the way that you must take;
And I remain in light and stare-
In light, and nothing else, awake.
Scenes from
an AP Article

'...Yet many academics agree 2005-06 seemed exceptionally discordant. They also agree it's getting harder to be a successful president.

Many leaders are overwhelmed by the unrelenting fundraising demands (22 colleges are in the midst of official campaigns to raise at least $1 billion), tripped up by big-time sports programs, or bowled over by parents and students who pay more than ever and no longer hesitate to complain about the slightest imperfections.

Many also agree on another factor behind the campus turmoil: the new, CEO-style leaders that many colleges hire, and who arrive with major agendas for reform. When people like Summers push - and faculties push back - the friction can be intense.

"As the academy becomes ever more corporatized, as presidents are less academic leaders and colleagues and more CEOs, then faculty who retain the proud identity of an academic are going to be estranged," said Roger Bowen, president of the American Association of University Professors.

[The piece ends with a nice statement from GW's president.]

…"I have had 20 of the most privileged professional years that anybody could want," [Stephen Trachtenberg, outgoing president of George Washington University] said. "If I hadn't been able to do this, I would have had to be a lawyer." '
Ashes to Ashes,
Mush to Mush

As with the Summers Summary [see a couple of posts below], I guess the end of the academic year means a lot of summing up articles about events at American universities. Here’s a handy list of presidential problems from today’s Washington Post:

'Prominent college presidents to resign or be fired during the last year.

_ June 11, 2005. Jeffrey Lehman stuns Cornell University by announcing he will step down, less than two years after taking the job. He cites deep differences with board of trustees.

_ Oct. 10, 2005. American University fires Benjamin Ladner following investigation into expenses, including a personal chef and engagement party for his son, he charged to the university. Controversy over his compensation and severance package attracts attention from the Senate Finance Committee.

_ Jan 12, 2006. University of Richmond President William Cooper announces plans to step down, following clashes over his vision to improve the school's reputation. Cooper said Richmond had to attract better students "instead of transforming mush into mush," angering students and alumni.

_ Feb. 21. Harvard President Lawrence Summers announces he will resign June 30, five years into the job. Summers had clashed with critics from Harvard's core Arts & Sciences faculty, who accused him of abrasive management, and attracted attention for controversial comments on women in science.

_ March 15. Following a faculty no-confidence vote, Case Western Reserve University President Edward Hundert announces plans to resign. Hundert had aggressive plans to improve undergraduate education, but fundraising fell short, leading to budget cuts that angered faculty.'
Code Red
in Yogyakarta

Mount Merapi could erupt
in twenty-four hours.

And thanks for the heritage...

' "The H1 is where it all started," said Ben Olin, sales manager at Ed Schmidt Hummer, a Maumee, Ohio, dealership that was one of the first in the country to sell the H1. "There's a lot of heritage that goes along with it." '

Friday, May 12, 2006

A Good Summary of
the Fall of Summers.

From the Financial Times.

It includes the following Shleifer-nugget:

Summers told the academics gathered in University Hall that because of his personal links he had disqualified himself from any of Harvard’s dealings with Shleifer.

“We all saw that as a Washington lawyer’s non-answer,” a professor told me afterwards.

When pressed by [a professor] about whether he had any personal opinion about the case, Summers said he didn’t know the facts.

“A gasp went around,” said one person who was there. “The provost rolled his eyes. Afterwards, people were saying, ‘Does he think we are children that he would lie to us?’ It was the moment the presidency disappeared.”
UD's Entry for the
Sloppy Seconds With Opal Mehta Contest

*** In which you write a short story made up entirely of bits and pieces plagiarized from earlier works of fiction. ***

The Tortured Artist

My tale is prompted by a newspaper story I happened to read about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the bars of the poor creature's cage. (1)

It did not irk the poor subject of my story to live always in one shabby room; he had no need to be surrounded by beautiful things. I do not suppose he had ever noticed how dingy was the paper on the wall of the room in which on my first visit -- when I finally forced the door -- I found him. (2)

His is a story, I suppose, about a failure in intelligence. (3)

One morning he’d learned that his writing room had been broken into and looted, doubtless by a company of strange troops bivouacked on the edge of town and doubtless abetted, if only vocally, by his own fellow citizens. That night he had mounted to the attic with his hammer and his handful of nails and nailed the door behind him and threw the hammer out the window. (4)

His was an impenetrable darkness. I looked at him as you peer down at a man who is lying at the bottom of a precipice where the sun never shines. (5) All of us, during those hard war years, had to be content to live only for the day, alone under the vast indifference of the sky. (6) But I saw on that ivory face a special expression of somber pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror -- of an intense and hopeless despair. (7)

I had an inkling of a fiery, tortured spirit, aiming at something greater than could be conceived by anything that was bound up with the flesh. I had a fleeting glimpse of a pursuit of the ineffable. I looked at the man before me in his shabby clothes, with his great nose and shining eyes, his red beard and untidy hair; and I had a strange sensation that it was only an envelope, and I was in the presence of a disembodied spirit. (8)

I had never seen him reading — no, not even a newspaper. For long periods he would stand looking out, at his pale window behind the screen, upon the dead brick wall. (9) When he grew blind he would sit hour after hour in that room with sightless eyes, and seeing, perhaps, more than he had ever seen in his life before. He never complained of his fate, he never lost courage. To the end his mind remained serene and undisturbed. (10)

One evening coming in with a candle I was startled to hear him say a little tremulously, 'I am lying here in the dark waiting for death.' The light was within a foot of his eyes. I forced myself to murmur, 'Oh, nonsense!' and stood over him as if transfixed. (11)

"Stop lying! You know and I know that I am dying. Then at least stop lying about it!" (12)

Two days later, I found him strangely huddled at the base of the wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones. (13) I leaned down to hear his final words: “There is a very funny mark on this wall, low down, near the mopboard. A streak that runs round the room. It goes behind every piece of furniture, except the bed, a long, straight, even SMOOCH, as if it had been rubbed over and over. …I wonder how it was done and who did it, and what they did it for. Round and round and round--round and round and round--it makes me dizzy! …I really have discovered something at last.” (14)

Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? (15)

“The feeling of banality, the disgust of banality,” he went on, “has always mingled with my fear; but now suddenly I’ve moved forward into a new knowledge, a new understanding… (16) Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in the torment of his soul. And when he has made it, it is not given to all to know it…” (17)

Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. (18)



(1) Nabokov, Introduction, Lolita.
(2) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(3) Lessing, To Room Nineteen.
(4) Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
(5) Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener.
(6) Camus, The Plague.
(7) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
(8) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(9) Melville, Bartleby.
(10) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(11) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
(12) Tolstoy, The Death of Ivan Ilych.
(13) Melville, Bartleby.
(14) Gilman, Yellow Wallpaper.
(15) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
(16) Lessing, The Golden Notebook.
(17) Maugham, Moon and Sixpence.
(18) Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
Clash of the Status Titans

Okay, so Tom Wolfe overplays it; but it must be said that the search for status explains quite a lot in the world. Certainly in the world of academia.

So, for instance, in attempting to understand a rather fuzzy news story out of Boston University, it makes sense, I think, to invoke status consciousness as the prime motivator of both combatants currently attracting attention to the College of Communication.

They are Renata Adler, New Yorker writer and faculty member, and John J. Schulz , dean of the College of Communication.

From the outset of her teaching gig there, Adler’s vanity took a hit, as Inside Higher Ed explains:

When she started, she expected to be paid for her services within the University Professors Program, “an interdisciplinary program for gifted students,” and to teach one or two courses in the journalism department, which is part of BU’s College of Communication. Much to her surprise, and dismay, she quickly learned that she was an employee of the communications division.

We already know from an earlier story covered here at University Diaries that real journalism professors speet on hackocentric Colleges of Communication (though, status hierarchy being what it is, real professors speet on journalists who think they’re real professors, etc., etc.)

IHE, citing a Boston Globe story, writes that “Adler ha[s] recently begun raising questions about the résumé of Schulz, in e-mails she [has] sent to the dean and several other professors.”

Virtually all of Schulz’s purported bad behavior involves the self-puffery of status anxiety -- in his case, the status anxiety that comes from having an academic position but not really being an academic. Schulz is in fact many impressive things, but he hasn’t written essays for Foreign Affairs or lectured at the Sorbonne or anything. He’s a hard-bitten hard news journalist with an impressive military past, which should be enough for him, and is certainly enough for an outfit like BU’s College of Communication. But Schulz craves intellectual respectability, so he claims to have written books and earned extremely elite degrees and all.

Yet it’s unclear that Schulz actually made these claims (they appear in student publications, where Schulz says he was misquoted); it’s also pretty clear that Adler’s making false claims against him.

[Adler’s] most serious allegation against Schulz is that he exaggerated his heroism in Vietnam in a 2003 interview with the student paper. Schulz described how, as an Air Force F-100 fighter pilot, he would continue on his missions even when he ran out of ammunition, to distract the enemy.

Schulz's squadron commander in Vietnam, William E. Haynes, a retired lieutenant colonel, confirmed Schulz's account. ''He was going lower and pressing harder than the other guys," Haynes said. ''The Air Force did not hand out those awards for fake missions." Military records confirm that Schulz won the awards he contends he did, including the Silver Star.

Adler, like some other professors at BU, doesn’t like Schulz’s “autocratic and self-aggrandizing” ways -- but he is a military man, not a lily-livered academic, and he’s always going to look rough in the context of pale neurotic lifers. Colleagues at BU are scandalized that Schulz once spoke roughly to a faculty member at a meeting; they are outraged that he dismissed BU student journalists as “just kids.” But there’s nothing wrong with this behavior or this sort of comment. Only when when it takes place in the hyper-touchy precincts of universities does everyone get out their hankies.

As is often the case in stories like this one, neither Adler nor Schulz is the sort of specimen you’d want to share a meal with. But UD suspects that Adler’s campaign is going to fail, and fail badly.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

UD has already blogged your ear off…

…about her semester teaching at the University of Toulouse a few years ago.

Tomorrow’s New York Times updates the tale, in which a “fairly wealthy country” continues to subsidize - in a stingy way - an “archaic state-owned university system: overcrowded, underfinanced, disorganized and resistant to the changes demanded by the outside world.”

…One result [of the ‘68 riots] was that the country's university system guaranteed a free — or almost free — college education to every high school graduate who passed the baccalauréat exam. University enrollment soared. The value of a bachelor's degree plummeted. …[T]he state failed to invest much in buildings, facilities and professors' salaries to make the system work. Today the French government allocates about $8,500 a year to each university student, about 40 percent less than what it invests in each high school student.

…While students are ready to protest against something they dislike, there is little sense of belonging or pride in one's surroundings. During the recent protests over the contested labor law, that attitude of alienation contributed to the destruction of property, even computers and books, at some universities.

The protests also were the latest warning to the French government and private corporations that the university system needs fixing. Officials, entrepreneurs, professors and students alike agree that too many students are stuck in majors like sociology or psychology that make it difficult to move into a different career in a stratified society like France, given the country's troubled economy.
A Bit of Duke News

Apparently there may be some damaging DNA evidence after all.
UD Blaine Blogs!!!!

Well, folks here I am standing up in front of my very own exam room -- Rome Hall 110 to be exact!! Already some of my BRILLIANT students have come up to my desk and asked the sort of questions you only ask of the talented, multi-advanced-degreed, peace-spreading adventuress Ms. UD!!! I'm so excited that they feel so at peace, so comfortable, in my class... They can ask me anything.

And if I may I'd like to share something one of them just whispered to me as she approached my desk: "Ms. UD, I wanted to tell you how strongly I support your decision to run ...those pictures... on your blog. I know people have been giving you a hard time about it, but to me it's just another sign of how open, free and... peaceful you are! YOU HAVE CHANGED MY LIFE." That's not from me, Dear Reader; it's from one of my students. So you can shove it.

Delete that "shove it." I assure you that despite occasional outbursts which would be understandable even in a saint like Saint Theresa or a truly great man of peace like Gandhi, I'm at peace with what's happened to me. With the way sexist warmongers who fail to see the connection between nudie pix and the necessity, right now, to withdraw all of our troops from Iraq, have unceasingly sought to ridicule me, to attack me, to belittle me, to wipe me off the face of the internet! Well, let me tell these petty people, shivering with fear at the thought of their own corporeality, that they have not gotten to me. I pray for them every day - not a Christian prayer, or a Jewish prayer, or a Moslem prayer, or any mainstream institutionalized religious prayer, for I admit I am not moved by organized religion -- but rather a very personal, nature-based prayer that these tormented souls who have not attained my inner tranquillity, whose Puritanical American roots continue to choke and twist them into angry juvenile motherfuckers [delete that "motherfuckers" -- I'm fine with this], will someday, perhaps after having read my blog carefully -- or the book I'm trying to publish based on it (HI PUBLISHERS! ARE YOU LISTENING?), know the enlightenment I have known.

Ah, yes, I can feel my pulses calming now... I can actually feel my entire self, body and soul, entering gradually into the peace that only those who have truly come to understand the sick reality of American culture, the obnoxious masculinist crap that world-historical figures like myself have to put up with, can know...

Oh, here comes another student! Let's hear what she has to say: "Ms. UD, in publishing those photos on your blog you have subverted the hegemonic professorial dynamic of our time. You have stood on its head the professor/student hierarchy. You have said: Look at me! I may be a multi-advanced-degreed expert on Jon-Benet, but underneath all of my laurels and distinctions I'm just a person, just like you! If you cut me, do I not bleed???"

I want to thank this student, and Bill and Rudy and Jemima and Gloria and all of the other wonderful people who've supported me in this stressful time. I only pray that you, Dear Reader, can come to know the same rich manifold bliss in your own personal life that I have come to know in mine. And no, you don't have to be a Ph.D. like me to attain the happiness and peace I've attained! Even very simple people can get to the special place I've gotten to -- just keep reading my blog...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Tom Wolfe…

…was a disappointment. The NEH’s Jefferson Lecture is a big deal, and maybe he got intimidated. Whatever the reason, the speech was a mess.

He still looks spiffy, though clearly old, in his fine white suit; and when at one point he pushed his hair back you could see he still really had it -- hair that is, and there was a sort of youthful romantic effect in the gesture. He’s undeniably an elegant man, with a soft cultivated Southern drawl and all…

Maybe he got intimidated, or maybe it’s the nature of the Jefferson - the nation’s highest award in the humanities - to tempt recipients in the direction of oracular Truths about Human Being (Wolfe’s talk was titled “The Human Beast“). He began by flattering us, telling us we were “the kind of audience you don’t even dare imagination ever getting.“ And I worried even then that this playing to the narcissism of a crowd that’s maybe ten percent cultured and ninety percent culture vulture, was a bad sign.

Maybe it’s simply that he’s a novelist, a satirist, a chronicler of mores, and not a polemicist or a philosopher… but he simply couldn’t formulate and defend an argument. His strength is story-telling, and the parts of the speech we all enjoyed were Wolfe’s various anecdotes about -- his grand subject -- status: the centrality of status in our mentalities (“Status insinuates itself into all situations.”), the way we’re always trying to avoid social humiliation, the way most of our behavior involves the search for status…

I mean, that point of view made for funny stories, but what if you don’t agree that the Fulcrum of Human Nature is the search for status? Like his hero, Emile Zola, Wolfe is a social determinist -- for him, there’s really no autonomous mind but only a mechanism of social response. Which seems to me a pretty impoverished point of view. At its most productive, it generates great social satires like Bonfire of the Vanities; at its worst, the Diana Blaine blog.

At one point (not at any particular point; there wasn’t any organization), Wolfe lit into intellectuals, people who “think they have a set of values that make them superior, and who are aloof from their country… This is something people on the east coast can’t understand -- we’re the parenthesis states -- the entire sentence is in between.” This got hearty applause from all the aloof parenthetical people in the audience.

Then Wolfe talked about the cool NASCAR people he recently hung out with, one-issue folk (guns guns guns) who like to fight and like common sense, etc. Etc.? And? The absence of a thesis -- or even a discernable point of view - plus the weird endorsement from the audience of all the bad things Wolfe was saying about it gave the event a surreal feel -- wild and whirling words…


Via Hiram Hover, here's the Washington Post's writer on the same event.
Spanning the Globe to Bring You
The Constant Variety of Plagiarism

Here’s another example of what UD calls
archeoplagiarism -- plagiarism which involves
unearthing, dusting off, and reusing something
written decades before, in the hope that no one
will recognize anything that old.

'The head of University of Cincinnati's German-American studies is being investigated for plagiarism.

George Mason University's history news network reports that portions of Don Heinrich Tolzmann's book, "The German-American Experience" were taken from another book written in the 60's.

Tolzmann said he admits in his preface that he had revised and expanded on the other work, and thought that was adequate.

The investigation is expected to take four months.'
Found Ted Kooser Poem

UD, faithful readers know, has a regular University Diaries feature in which she makes poems out of phrases she finds in news stories. Today she offers a variant of that -- she makes a Ted Kooser poem (our poet laureate) out of phrases she has found in a newspaper article.

First, by way of example, here’s a Kooser:

A Glimpse of the Eternal

Just now,
a sparrow lighted
on a pine bow
right outside
my bedroom window
and a puff
of yellow pollen
flew away.

To write this sort of poem (which is not Kooser‘s alone but the provenance of much current American creative writing), you need it to be a short description of a poignant moment in your life prompted by a small something in the natural world that happened to catch your eye.

To lend this thin form of verse profundity, it’s a good idea to affix a spiritual title to it. Also, your last line should have a ‘self-consuming’ feel to it (here “flew away”), suggesting the impermanence of even your poem as it unravels at the very end.

UD now shows you how it’s done from the ground up. Here’s an article from UPI today:

Untilled Utah field becomes vole heaven

LEHI, Utah, May 9 (UPI) -- House cats are growing fatter in Lehi, Utah, after hundreds of thousands of mouse-like voles began multiplying furiously in an untilled field.

The field is slated for development and was not tilled this year. State agriculture officials say that's what allowed the population explosion of the furry rodents.

Voles have 10-12 litters a year with 5-10 young in each litter. Because the lack of plowing and tilling left their habitat intact, they are now burrowing beneath lawns and showing no fear of humans, the Provo Daily Herald reported Tuesday.

"The weird thing is they aren't afraid of you," resident Jill Clemens told the Herald. "They totally have run across my feet. They are fat and slow."

Some residents have let their cats out for as many easy and free meals as they can eat, while others are using BB guns to cull the vole herds.

Utah State University Extension Service senior horticultural assistant Pat Fugal said the simplest way to get rid of voles -- apart from tilling the field -- is to apply zinc phosphide, a poison available at outdoor supply centers.

Here’s the poem:

Until Heaven [Note: UD has provided not merely a spiritual reference in her title, but a pun on “untilled”]

This morning,
Two voles ran across my feet,
Fat, unfleet.

Deep in the unplowed fields of Utah

Their habitat
Brings out the cat
And the culling guns.

Their furious joy
Will soon be stilled:
No field remains for long untilled.
Make new friends,
But keep the old;
One is Silber
And the other’s Goldin.

Today’s New York Times:

Officials at Boston University disclosed yesterday that the institution's long-term president and chancellor, John R. Silber, collected $6.1 million last year, two years after he stepped down as leader.

The money includes $3.3 million in deferred compensation from the 32 years that Dr. Silber worked at the university and a house in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Boston that university trustees agreed he could live in for the rest of his life. Living in the house was valued at $305,000 a year. The package also includes $770,000 from an unusual arrangement in which the university rewarded Dr. Silber with an extra year's salary for every five years worked.

The compensation package, which some experts said was the largest in academia, was defended by university officials but touched off outrage among other academics.

Disclosure of the amount comes as the university is overhauling its governance policies, hoping to rehabilitate its image after several expensive mishaps.

Three years ago, the university offered the president's job to Daniel S. Goldin, the former administrator of NASA, then paid him $1.8 million not to take the job after he clashed with Dr. Silber and the university trustees. Before that, a family that donated $3 million for a library expansion threatened to sue, saying the university had used the money for other purposes. Eventually, the university was forced to return the donation.

In a written statement, Dr. Silber, 79, said the bulk of the payout, totaling $4.5 million, was money he had earned and set aside in a "segregated investment account run by the university" during his years as president and chancellor, plus returns on those investments.

"None of the deferred salary nor any of the income earned from it came from an additional payment by the university," Dr. Silber wrote. "Boston University paid me nothing beyond my salary."

"This is not a bonus," he added. "It is not a golden parachute or a gift from the university."

Dr. Silber has long been a mainstay in the annual rankings of highest paid university leaders published by The Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2004, the university reported that he earned $1.25 million. Dr. Silber, though already retired, was listed by The Chronicle as one of only five university leaders earning more than $1 million.

The university revealed details of the package before making them public through a required tax filing next Monday, said Stephen P. Burgay, a spokesman for the university. The university's current president, Robert A. Brown, receives a salary of $650,000, Mr. Burgay said.

Experts said Dr. Silber's compensation package was the steepest they had seen, and it was revealed at a time of wide discontent over tuition increases at universities that regularly outpace inflation. Tuition, room and board at Boston University is $41,600 a year, officials said.

Roger W. Bowen, general secretary of the American Association of University Professors, described the Silber package as "symptomatic" of something larger happening on campuses. "Presidents once upon a time were seen as colleagues, and professors hold on to that romantic notion," Mr. Bowen said. These days, he said, they are becoming more like C.E.O.'s. "There is outrage," he said.

"Is student access to higher education improving or otherwise?" Mr. Bowen asked. "Is faculty compensation improving or otherwise? Are health benefits getting better or worse? The answer to all those questions is they're getting worse."

"Some presidents make five times what the average full professor makes," he said. "You've got to ask, 'Is that right?' "

Sheldon Steinbach, general counsel for the American Council on Education, which represents universities, described Dr. Silber's package as "the largest compensation package that I've ever seen" in more than 30 years. Previously, $1.75 million to $2 million "has been about the tops," he said.

Joseph Mercurio, executive vice president at Boston University, said much of the money had been set aside as it was earned, "meaning we did not have to go into the '05 budget and pull $6.1 million out."

Alan Leventhal, chairman of the university board, acknowledged that the package represented "a very significant number," reflecting "an extraordinary length of time on a job that was done extremely well, given that the stature of Boston University was raised so significantly during those years."

Despite defending the package, both men said the university had instituted broad changes, including term limits for board members, policies covering conflicts of interest and reviews to bring executive pay in line with national norms.

What is most important, Mr. Leventhal said, "is that the university has taken steps to make sure that we have the right governance for today looking forward."

Mr. Steinbach noted that Dr. Silber, a fiery figure often credited with transforming the university from an unremarkable commuter institution to a reputable research center, had negotiated the terms of his compensation with the board in another era.

"The whole ethos of the post-Enron, post-WorldCom era went into effect long after the basic contractual agreement between Dr. Silber and the board was executed," he said.
He predicted that, given the efforts to improve transparency at the university, donors "will most likely view this entire incident as part of yesterday's ballgame, and a matter to just move beyond."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The Full Panoply.

As with the Jetta commercial (see a couple of posts down), it’s not the overtly sensationalistic elements of another advertisement about which people are talking that strike UD, but the language.

This ad -- a self-advertising personal website to be precise - features a professor, someone a reputable university -- University of Southern California -- has hired to teach writing, even though, as her website reveals, she cannot write.

You have to go back to the late lamented Harriet Miers Blog!!! for anything like the Diane Blaine blog. In fact, if like me you’ve been missing the Blog!!! something terrible, Blaine's a godsend.

UD finds the fact of a writing professor who can’t write far more scandalous than the three topless photos of herself she’s put on her page, photos which have so offended the local tv news that it’s put up a slideshow.

Madame Blaine couldn’t be happier -- she has posted a direct appeal to literary agents -- and she remains keen to offer on her webpage further testimony of “the full panoply of my rich and meaningful life.” The photos, she explains, are “an intertextual homage to Ingres.” Beyond this gesture, she means through them “specifically to confront and erase the body loathing that my culture foists on us women.”

Naturally Blaine continues to be attacked by “my enemies” --- people who can only think of “upholding hegemonic ideologies, consciously or not, that perpetuate oppression… including hierarchies of racism and sexism among others.” But let them persist in belittling “someone like me who is demonstrably talented.” Ms. Blaine will respond with her much-remarked “wisdom and peace and compassion. …In my morning meditation I have been asking that these people who seem so infuriated by my existence find the peace that I have found and continue to seek and to spread.”
The Twisted Grammarian

So the tv critic at Slate online is going on and on about this new Jetta commercial everyone - except UD, and you know why - is talking about, because it features a sudden scary crash. (You can watch it, as UD did, via Slate’s article.)

The spot “prompted massive amounts of reader mail. Some of you are terrified, some of you are appalled, and some of you think the ads are absolutely brilliant.” The Slate writer ponders its visual appeal: “It's a brutally frank look at the physical chaos that results when an SUV enters your sedan without an invitation.” (Is a pickup truck an SUV? Because it looked like a pickup, not an SUV, to UD.) Then he returns to the intense impact the ad’s having: “[VW’s] plan, obviously, is to get us totally freaked about car crashes. And, judging by the post-traumatic e-mails I'm getting from readers, that plan appears to be working..”

And what did UD make of it? Well, the only thing she took away from the commercial was what no one else seems to talk about -- the terrific conversational exchange the two guys in the Jetta are having before they get hit. One complains that he doesn’t know why a particular woman isn’t paying attention to him. The other says maybe you should try saying “like” less often. Do you remember that ski trip you described to her? “I like was like going down the mountain and like this guy like crashed into me and like this big crowd like gathered…”

For UD this ad is above all a public service announcement from Literacy USA, reminding Americans to stop saying “like” so much. Bravo, VW!

Monday, May 08, 2006

To Summarize...

US News and World Report on college sports -- a few excerpts:

[A] schism ... often exists between college athletics and the wider academic community. Student athletes have long inhabited a world often less focused on learning than on winning. But what is becoming more apparent today is that the divide is widening--and that it can lead to destructive behavior...

...[H]istorically, it has been athletics that have caused the greatest conflicts with the true mission of higher education. As far back as 1929, the Carnegie Foundation published a report on collegiate athletics bemoaning lax oversight, high coaching salaries, and low academic standards. Sixty-two years later, reports by the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics came to the same conclusions.

Gordon Gee, chancellor, Vanderbilt:

"The reforms [we instituted] were partly about who was in charge--the university president or a coach." Despite dire warnings to the contrary, the Division I school has continued to field competitive teams. Likewise, the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., recently reassigned the head of athletics so that he now reports to the commandant of cadets.

..."Over the past 20 years, athletics have established separate departments with separate missions: win and raise money, which isn't supposed to be the mission of a school," says Peter Roby, director of Northeastern University's Center for the Study of Sport in Society.
Patrick K. and Kaavya

What do these two hapless preppies have in common? In honor of Freud’s 150th, let me suggest a death wish.

In talking about Jacob Epstein (Kaavya’s Yale doppelganger) and his notorious plagiarism, years ago, of an early novel of his, Martin Amis wrote: “The psychology of plagiarism is fascinatingly perverse. ... It risks, or invites, a deep shame, and there must be something of the death wish in it.”

In Ms. V’s case, Kurt Andersen writes:

However the plagiarism happened exactly, she had already come to understand that her success so far was not just a matter of talent and discipline but of buying the right connections, cutting deals for behind-the-scenes assistance, cunning …For all her sweet Hogwarts dreams, an observant, canny, IvyWised-up kid is bound to draw certain conclusions about the way the real world works.

The self-loathing that this recognition can prompt -- the recognition that the world stinks of corruption, that you’re a tissue of parental and consultant machinations, a beautiful culmination of an ugly world busy with connections and rule-breaking on your behalf -- could plausibly issue in a sort of psychic self-mutilation, couldn’t it?

In talking about Patrick Kennedy’s ongoing agony of the alcohol, Philip Weiss evokes something similar:

I don't care whether it's Ambien or alcohol; I wonder whether Patrick Kennedy isn't — unconsciously — seeking a way out of politics with his latest run-in with the law. Kennedy last went into rehab just five months ago. According to the Almanac of American Politics he has been involved in several bizarre incidents in recent years, including shoving an airport security guard in 2000 and, in 2003, saying, "I haven't worked a [expletive] day in my life," as a way of attacking Bush's tax cuts.

Kennedy doesn't have his father's political temperament, let alone charisma. His achievements have been middling …including supporting the Iraq war and then accusing the administration of deceiving him. And, maybe more revealing, twice ducking a chance to run for Senate. He was obviously pushed into politics by family pressure, internalized or otherwise; he got in at age 21, and who doesn't question career choices made at that age?

It's interesting to consider that he had his crackup at the Capitol. Some hostility there toward symbols of authority? By leaving the place for good, he would do a real favor to his under-served constituents, and probably himself too.

While Kennedy’s father has no difficulty himself being a tissue of massagers, managers, and Senate staff members, his son is clearly a different sort of person.

Patrick Kennedy’s death wish seems to me literal and even conscious, whereas Kaavya’s (she’s much younger) still comes across as latent, tentative, symbolic. Yet both of these people are products of what UD calls Nurturing Negligents, parents whose pursuit of their own money and status doesn’t leave them time to care about their children, but parents who still insist that their neglected offspring receive the best of everything, material and social. These people are running a puppet state, with their children as puppets. What they’re experiencing once their charges grow up is a revolt.
Headline of the Day


Sunday, May 07, 2006

Trustees Try to
Get in on the Action,
Are Batted Down.

Columbia Daily Tribune:

The University of Missouri-Columbia’s athletic program might face scrutiny by the Board of Curators if two curators have their way in forming a task force to study the health of the program’s athletics and academics.

David Wasinger, a lawyer and board member from St. Louis, proposed the task force yesterday after MU Athletic Director Mike Alden made a presentation to the board during a regular meeting on the university’s St. Louis campus.

Wasinger, one of the board’s most outspoken members, said it seemed the department was being managed from "crisis to crisis." He said he was tired of having to spend Sunday afternoons in telephone conference calls with the board dealing with athletic department troubles.

…"I don’t know the answer," said Wasinger, who has been on the board for about a year. "What I intend to do is I’m going to make a motion that we form a task force to assess the health of intercollegiate athletic programs." Wasinger’s motion was seconded by John Carnahan III, a board member from Springfield.

Board President Angela Bennett of Kansas City told Wasinger the timing of his motion was not proper. She said the time for its consideration would be during the board’s business session later today. Other curators said they didn’t know enough about Wasinger’s idea to meaningfully comment on it.

…In his statement yesterday, Wasinger compared the athletic program to the front porch of a house. He said if the porch looked like it was not in good repair, the impression existed that the rest of the house was in poor shape, too. He said the character of MU’s athletic program performed the same function for the entire university.

"We as board members, whether we like it or not, are going to have to take a greater role in athletics," Wasinger said.

Alden told reporters during a break in the session that he believed the problems during Snyder’s departure were over and that it was time to move the athletic program forward.

"We’ve discussed these issues, and we are beyond them," Alden said. "We are excited about the future. I feel very good about where our athletic program is headed."

Alden said from what he knew of athletic departments at other universities, most report to campus officials rather than the schools’ governing boards. While Alden was answering reporters’ questions, Don Walsworth, a curator from Marceline, stepped in front of the television cameras, shook Alden’s hand and told him he was doing a great job.

Walsworth, who heads a book publishing company, supplements Alden’s salary at the rate of $50,000 per year. His company also prints athletic department program guides for a company that has a contract with the athletic department.
Possible Addition to
The Sparta Teapot
Museum Collection

Featured in today’s New York Times Style magazine, the Rufus Willis Collection of coffee/teacups for Illy.

From the Illy webpage:

“Rufus Willis brings a contemporary interpretation to the traditional designs used to decorate porcelain English tea and coffee sets. In place of idyllic landscapes, Willis portrays modern urban reality and the blight caused by pollution, traffic and wars.”

Forty bucks per cup.
Inside Higher Ed...

... will probably be running a piece about the Mark Slouka/Columbia MFA mess this week. The piece may include a comment or two from UD.

So it seems a good moment to say a few more things about the situation -- at Columbia and elsewhere.

Yet what to say about creative writing programs -- majors in college, masters in graduate school -- that hasn’t been said already, in essays and plays and satirical novels galore? The escalating scandal of one of America’s most popular, expensive, and largely worthless forms of university activity is a matter of profuse public record by now, but no one’s doing anything about it.

Instead, on a regular basis, we have what UD calls faruptions -- fine arts eruptions. These events are similar to the bimbo eruptions of Clinton’s presidency, but the explosions here involve someone -- usually a faculty member who can’t take it anymore -- erupting into print with the truth about creative writing at American colleges and universities.

All of the flame throwers toss out the same incendiary material -- no standards, no content, A’s all around, cynical professors, a majority of clueless students lacking creative talent as well as straightforward writing skills.

Even as it erupts, each fire is doused with the waters of compassion, as gooey creative writing faculty (usually women -- Jorie Graham’s famous for this sort of thing in regard to poetry) rush in to tell us two things:

1.) We love our students.
2.) Everyone’s got talent.

There are currently ninety students working toward MFAs in fiction at Columbia University. I’d guess about ten of them should be spending their time and money doing what they’re doing. But their number will increase, as a combination of affluent parents, mercenary universities, and therapeutic rhetoric enables a growth industry in aesthetic imposture.
Joanne Jacobs...

...has a book event coming up in Washington for “Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the School That Beat the Odds,” her book about a charter school that prepares Hispanic students for college.

She’ll speak and sign books on Thursday, May 11 at 5:30 pm at William E. Doar Jr. (WEDJ) Public Charter School for the Performing Arts, 705 Edgewood St. NE, Washington, DC (near the Rhode Island and Brookland-CUA metro stops).
UD Feels A Need.

Comment around the world on Freud’s 150th birthday is typically weird, with a clean division between observers confident of his continued crucial importance and observers who mark as obvious his utter irrelevance.

What’s come through most strongly to me over the years about Freud’s cultural and intellectual impact is the intimate mental bullying he has made possible for assholes everywhere. Here‘s Anthony Daniels, in the Times Online:

He…weakened the place of rational argument in human affairs. He made it possible for people always to argue that those with whom they disagreed were not so much mistaken about the evidence or logic of the matter as motivated by neuroses of which they were unaware. …Marx and Freud were the two patron saints of the ad hominem argument.

It’s easy to find an example of this perennial maneuver among the celebrants of Freud. Here’s one, from The Observer:

Freud… would be less interested in debating the rights and wrongs of the death penalty than why so many people on the American religious right feel the need for capital punishment.

Why do these Americans feel the need to slaughter their countrymen? What appeals to them about the idea of torturing fellow human beings to death… Hm?… And these Americans claim to be religious… I wonder why religious people in particular feel the need to commit murder on a massive scale…

There are a thousand and one uses for this line of argumentation and analysis, in which one never does or thinks anything as a result of reasoned thought and examined experience, but only and always because one feels a need arising out of urgent buried aggressivity. Roger Scruton remarks:

Freud leaps at once to his conclusion: that which is forbidden is also desired. And the horror is needed because the desire is great. If it is so great, it must be there in all of us, repressed but simmering, seeking the channels through which to flow in some disguised but virulent version.

…A real scientist, observing the facts, would draw the opposite conclusion. Incest [for instance] arouses horror not because we desire it but because we don’t.

…Once you are on the couch the analyst has ways of changing your mind: you are no longer criticising the theory but resisting it. You have become a case for treatment, and the answer to your problem is not a refutation but a cure. And the cure goes on for ever, since there was no disease.

Harold Bloom notes that Karl Kraus made this point long ago:

Kraus wounded Freud by asserting that psychoanalysis was itself the disease of which it purported to be the cure.

William Gass puts it this way, in today's New York Times:

It became fashionable to be neurotic, to be in analysis and to be able to afford it. And we were having such a good time, we scarcely noticed that this therapy — which took so long and cost so much — wasn't curing anybody.

Friday, May 05, 2006


In 1997, the French social philosopher Jean-Francois Revel, who died a few days ago, had a long conversation with his son, a convert to Buddhism who lives in Nepal. They sat in an inn near Kathmandu and went back and forth on the secular Western tradition of Revel and the spiritual Eastern approach of his son, Matthieu Ricard ("Revel" was a pen name).

The book, a best-seller in France, was issued in the United States as The Monk and the Philosopher: A Father and Son Discuss the Meaning of Life, and I've always liked it for the emotionally and intellectually intense atmosphere the two of them generate. One comment of Revel's seemed to me worth quoting in his memory. His son has been lamenting what he calls "the failure of philosophy," which he finds

of little use those looking for reference points or principles that could give meaning to their life. Those philosophies, cut off from the practical application that any spiritual path requires if its goal is to bring about a veritable inner transformation, were able to indulge themselves in an unimpeded proliferation of ideas, intellectual games of extreme complexity and minimum usefulness. The gap between the world of ideas and that of the individual's life has become such that those who promulgate these philosophical systems no longer themselves need to be the living illustration of them. It's completely accepted nowadays that you can be a great philosopher at the same time as living in a way that no one would even think of taking as an example. We've already emphasized that the principal quality of a true teacher is that he's a living illustration of the perfection he teaches. That perfection can't just be the coherence of a system of ideas; it should be transparently manifested in all the person's different sides. A philosopher can completely lose his way in his personal problems, or a scientist in his emotions, but a disciple committed to the spiritual path knows at once that he's on the wrong track if he notices that over the months and years his human qualities - goodness, tolerance, being at peace with himself and others - have been declining instead of growing.

To this, Revel responds:

The picture you've just sketched sums up what could be called the essential wound of Western civilization, which is basically the contrast and contradiction between the intellectual and the artistic prowess that individuals can attain on the one hand, and the frequent poverty of their moral life, or of their ethics, on the other. And it's true that it's the result of the gap left when philosophy abandoned the individual quest for wisdom. [Our philosophers] don't indicate much of a path for us in terms of how we should behave. Their ethics are based on retreat from the world. They see how mad everyone is - there are only people blinded by ambition, politicians demented by their lust for power... [S]o the best one can do is refuse to mix with any of them and just sneer at the spectacle...
Hunt A Student,
Bag A President

Plagiarists tend to be lifers. Like Ms. V., they’ve always done it, and they’ll always do it. Find a plagiarist, and chances are overwhelming the plagiarist’s been at it since grade school.

Among the legion of examples here, the latest involves the president of Wesley College, a Methodist school. He almost lost his job years ago when some of his plagiarizing was uncovered. But, forgiven, he went back to work, until one day….

Jeffrey Mask, a professor of religion and philosophy at Wesley [College], said he first stumbled upon the apparent plagiarism last week while reviewing the management philosophy statement -- described on the school's Web site as being "prepared" by Miller -- as part of an effort to develop a questionnaire for faculty members to evaluate the school president.

"I don't know why I did this, but I Googled a phrase from the statement of management philosophy and found a phrase from Samford University," Mask said Thursday. "... They were identical."

Mask, who routinely uses the Internet to research questionable phrases in student essays to find whether plagiarism might be involved, said he thought it strange that the Wesley president would think it necessary to publicly state that the school would "pay bills, honor commitments."

After finding the identical phrase in Samford's management philosophy statement, Mask contacted retiring Samford president Thomas Corts, who told him he had written it for the Birmingham, Ala., school about 25 years ago. [Note to UD readers: See that date? 25 years ago. Professional plagiarists almost always go significantly back in time for their material.]

Most of the Wesley management statement mirrors the Samford document, while omitting Samford's Baptist references. Wesley is affiliated with the United Methodist church.

…Late Tuesday night, Mask found what appears to be another incident of plagiarism while researching past writings attributed to Miller on Wesley's Web site.

Using an Internet archive tool, Mask found a Miller essay posted on the Wesley Web site in May 1999 that appears to be taken almost verbatim from a 1997 survey and analysis of public perceptions of liberal arts schools by Richard H. Hersh, then-president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges in New York.

Hersh's paper, "Intentions and perceptions: a national survey of public attitudes toward liberal arts education," includes an analysis entitled "Solving the "Practicality Gap.'"

Miller's essay is entitled "The Liberal Arts: Solving the 'Practicality Gap.'"

According to documents provided by Mask, Hersh wrote: "Not only are parents and students focused on employment as a goal -- part of a response to the last decade's obsession with getting tangible value for every nickel spent -- but employers, too are preoccupied with value. They see college education as a necessary and valuable long-term investment that enhances one's creativity, communication skills, values, and ethics -- all attributes for a lifetime."

Miller wrote: "The past decade has witnessed a national obsession with getting value and making every nickel count in tangible ways. This helps explain parents' and students' emphases on getting a job. But employers, too, are preoccupied with value, and they see college education as a necessary and valuable long-term investment that enhances one's imagination, communication skills, values, and ethics -- all attributes for a lifetime."

Amazingly, slightly over half of Wesley’s faculty doesn’t give a shit that the president of an educational institution - a religious school - is a career thief. He continues to survive faculty no-confidence votes.
Signed, Disgusted

Stuart Klawans writes in The Nation:

[Ms. V.’s] is a story about clichés and stereotypes passing from one subliterary commercial product to another. …The real scandal, to my mind, is that trade book publishers in the aggregate now commit themselves almost wholeheartedly to the Second Helpings and their equivalent, and that American newspapers don't mind encouraging them.

…So great is the will to evade these tawdry facts that even when the press exposes them -- as the Times did, to its credit, in an article on the role of book-packaging firms -- the story must end with avowals all around of the blamelessness of publishing companies. The full weight of culpability must fall instead on the author, who has failed to provide sufficient originality for an industry that wants none. By serving as the latest unwilling, moralized distraction from this round of same-old, Ms. Viswanathan has not damaged today's trade publishers but actually done them a service.

Problem here is that essays like this one -- indignant exposes of packaged, formulaic, commercial fiction -- are also a species of cliché. Grubb Street we will always have with us.

Klawans gets close in this piece to saying one of the things about ordinary Americans that gets liberals into trouble -- for after all, it isn’t just the “industry” that wants no originality. It’s readers. The full weight of culpability must fall on them, no?

The only new angle I see in the Ms. V. vignette is some idiot’s decision at the outset to spin her as a serious writer -- Harvard, etc. -- when she’s a hack.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Nice Shirt

UD just bought one.
She read about it on
Professor Ringmar's
notorious blog.
PowerPoint Body Snatchers
Turn Against Subversive

Turn that fucker back on!

The Guardian:

… The case of Erik Ringmar, senior lecturer in government at the London School of Economics, shows how the limits of blogging are being explored in academe as in the outside world.

His unconventional speech to prospective students at an open day warned them that scholars tended to have their minds on research and not on teaching them - actual teaching would be done by PhD students.

He then compounded his offence in the eyes of the authorities by posting the speech on his blog, where it joined an article drawing questioning why so few foreign staff at the school were promoted to senior academic posts.

In the ensuing row he has been reprimanded. He says he feels "bullied" for exercising his freedom of speech and is calling for the university to draw up a "blogger's charter" to let academics and students know where they stand.

… Convenor of the department of government, Professor George Philip, accused him of "departing from the prepared message" - Dr Ringmar had refused to use the PowerPoint presentation provided.
"So, uh, what's it pay?"

The firing/resignation of Evan Dobelle, ex-president of the University of Hawaii, was mysterious. UD remembers trying to follow the story a couple of years ago -- trying to post about it -- and being frustrated by the lack of information when clearly something postable was behind the meltdown of his job. She let it drop

But here’s Dobelle, back again, under intriguing circumstances -- as reported by today’s Chronicle of Higher Ed:

The soon-to-be-open job of chancellor at the University of Maine System is already drawing interest. In fact, someone calling from the cellphone of a former college president, Evan S. Dobelle, appears to have impersonated an intern at The Chronicle to ask a Maine official about the departing chancellor's compensation.

The system's office of external affairs got a call this week from "Scott Northfield," who claimed to be an intern for The Chronicle working on a survey of executive compensation. The caller wanted details on the salary and benefits earned by Joseph W. Westphal, who announced two weeks ago that he would step down as chancellor at the end of June.

The Maine official who spoke with the caller did not have the information on hand and offered to call back. However, the phone number the caller left, which had a Washington, D.C., area code, proved bogus, and no Scott Northfield works at The Chronicle.

The university's caller-ID records led to a different number: a cellphone in Springfield, Mass., that, when dialed by a Chronicle reporter, was answered by Mr. Dobelle, a former president of the University of Hawaii System. He was fired by Hawaii in 2004, but the firing was subsequently rescinded in return for his resignation and the university's payment of a mediated settlement of $1.6-million.
15 - 20% Confidence

According to one Harvard Business School Professor, a civil war is a real possibility following the 2008 election.

“We might possibly be headed for a real crash here,” said D. Quinn Mills, Weatherhead Jr. Professor of Business Administration.

To find out whether Harvard students agree with his hypothesis, Mills is running a two-week online discussion-based symposium this month that invites Harvard students to speak out about the possibility of a civil war following the next presidential election.

With the U.S. map politically polarized — northern and western states blue and southern ones red, with little bipartisan activity — Mills said he is 15-20 percent confident that America could face another Civil War if the 2008 election is as closely contested as the past two.

“I looked at the map of the last two elections and it looks a whole lot like the map of the U.S. just prior to the Civil War,” he said.

---harvard crimson---
Sounds Like Ms. V's Problem.

'This school year, the University of Michigan Law School became the latest graduate school to block wireless Internet access to students in class, joining law schools at UCLA and the University of Virginia.

The problem professors face is "continuous partial attention," an expression coined by Linda Stone, a former Microsoft executive, to describe how people check e-mail and try to listen to someone at the same time.'

---usa today---

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Snapshots from Home

‘thesdan Cultures

“Few locations provide as much to see and experience as Bethesda.”

Paris? Istanbul? Cape Town? No, no place is quite as impressive as UD’s own ‘thesda, “a distinctive urban village inspired by the architecture and romance of Italy. Enjoy the charming piazzas, frescos and Palladian designs as you stroll to fine restaurants.”

Piazzas? Frescoes? ’thesda?

They’re part of a streetscape about to be created by the luxury resort/residence group, Canyon Ranch, right here.

This is only the second Canyon Ranch luxury spa residence in the country, and it’ll be built directly across the street from UD’s daughter’s school. One-bedroom $900,000, large units seven million plus.

UD finds plenty to ponder -- to scratch her head over -- in the publicity for Canyon Ranch Bethesda. UD, for instance, doesn’t think of granite as a stress reducer. Yet in listing your apartment’s “amenities and special touches to help you dispense with stress and enjoy life’s more uplifting moments,” Canyon Ranch starts off with “fine granite countertops.”

A local newspaper quotes a representative of the company: “If this were strictly a condominium, I would say to you it’s grossly overpriced.”

But that would overlook the “integrative team of physicians, behaviorists, therapists, nutritionists, exercise physiologists and nurses” on site. The local newspaper also describes “medical professionals on staff and medical experts available via tele-conferencing from the Cleveland Clinic.” Plus, there’s the “cooking and nutrition classes, massages, medical tests, [and] high-tech muscle analyzing exercise equipment.”

To top it off, the place is extremely exclusive. “[S]pa treatments, medical professionals, fitness classes and a gourmet restaurant [are available] almost exclusively to residents and guests,” says the local paper. Later, in the same article: “The Canyon Ranch wellness center, where all services and programs are held, will only be accessible to residents, hotel guests and possibly some non-resident members.”

The restaurant serves “fresh salads, filet mignon and lobster. The servings are not huge.” Three flakes of lobster meat for $65 sort of thing.

“You'll be thrilled every day with the fascinating surroundings of Canyon Ranch Living – Bethesda. It’s the perfect balance of sophisticated city life and private tranquility.” I’m very fond of my daughter’s school (same school I went to), but the word “fascinating” doesn’t fit. And however you spin it, the reality of the Ranch’s immediate surroundings is that you’re in the middle of a large corporate office park, framed by two commuter highways.
Here’s a wonderful new blog…

…which I’m about to add to my blogroll: More Perfect. Hana Schank’s a terrific writer - funny, charming, many good things. Scroll down past the baby to read her take on the Mark Slouka/Columbia MFA dustup -- an event for which I’m now grateful, since it led me to her blog.

An excerpt:

While I wouldn't go so far as to say that people in the program were functionally illiterate, I would say that a high percentage of students had no clue what they were doing in the program. They were experimenting. They were killing time. They were playing.
Ms. V: Stepford Child

Ruth Marcus, in a Washington Post opinion piece, coins a lovely phrase --“the admissions industrial complex” -- to describe the creepy corporate packaging of many Ivy League admits.

After reviewing the womb-to-Harvard-dorm-room life of this Stepford child, Marcus writes:

It's no excuse, but with all this third-party positioning, is it any wonder that a person -- especially a teenage person -- could forget (or ignore) the fact that some of the writing in her book is not actually hers? How easy it is for authenticity to be obscured in a world in which hired help packages preschool applications, in which the line between a real relationship with an adult and strategic sucking up is blurred.

…Viswanathan, perhaps, has learned a lesson that the admissions industrial complex does its best to obscure…

…i.e., real life isn’t a package, and people who behave as though it is have a tendency to unravel.

Only in this way can we work up any sympathy for the fundamentally icky Ms. V., whose calamities are hers alone and will do nothing to stop the admissions arms race. Ms. V. is a symbol, not a solution. Barring a significant economic downturn, there is no solution.

An article in Columbia University’s Spectator today provides more details about the messy situation in its School of the Arts. Some excerpts, with UD’s parenthetical commentary:

Unlike doctoral programs, the budget for the School of the Arts is determined entirely by the tuition that it receives from students and donations made directly to the school. This means that the vast majority of students pay full tuition, currently over $35,000 per year. [This is the big question we need to answer. Why do virtually all SoA students pay full tuition?]

…“The program is too big,” Heather Samples, a student in the Writing Division, said. “There are too many students for every faculty member, and I don’t think that is a radical statement. We have too many students, and I can’t help but wonder if that’s related to the funding issues.” [She’s beginning to get at the answer. A cynical decision, based on the desperate desire of affluent Americans to be artists -- or at least play one in graduate school -- has been made. We can soak these fools.]

According to Kleinman, the school gives about 30 percent of tuition to the University. Provost Alan Brinkley said that the budget arrangement—and the tax—is about equivalent to that paid by all professional schools such as business and law.

But as Thorn Hillsbery, a second-year writing student, explained, unlike law and business school graduates, most alumni from SoA do not go on to affluent careers. [That’s right. That‘s why I call the university‘s willingness to exploit these students cynical.]

“The arts don’t have a guaranteed pathway to make a substantial income,” Hillsbery said. “Building an alumni base is harder. It’s an issue of the marketplace that the school has no control over.”

And a number of students say there are systematic problems within the school beyond financial difficulties.

Robert Broadhurst, a first-year film student, praised his experience overall, but called the school a “flawed system in which good hardworking people are rendered less effective than they would like to be.” He said this was a “pervasive feeling that results from accumulated sound bites and conversations throughout the division.”

While he attributed much of this to the difficulties of dealing with the bureaucracy of a large university, he also said that part of it came from the nature of filmmaking.

“In the world of filmmaking especially, there exists a fundamental dilemma, and there are of course exceptions, which is that most filmmakers prefer to be making films to teaching filmmaking,” he said. “For that reason, it can be difficult to lock down potential instructors because, understandably, their own professional artistic pursuits take priority.” [Note what this guy is diplomatically saying. SoA is hiring unreliable people who’d rather be filming than teaching. I wouldn’t call this “understandable.”]

Also, he said, “often the best film-makers do not make the best teachers and vice-versa.”

Erin Soros, who graduated from the Writing Division last year, offered a slightly harsher view of the school. “I heard a lot of complaints in the program,” she said. “Columbia itself is failing its students in the arts.”

“It’s a systemic problem,” she said. “People are doing the best they can.”

As in any school, discussions of the quality of the program are difficult and controversial. While Ziegler [Writing Division Chair] refused to respond on the record to Slouka’s letter [Why not? That’s exactly what a responsible Chair is supposed to do.] , which was published last week, two students printed a response challenging many of the specific criticisms of the letter and pointing out what they said are numerous factual errors.

“There are very serious dishonest claims in that letter,” Hillsbery said.

He challenged the idea that the quality of students and instruction was falling, pointing both to recent successes of alumni and rising application numbers. “Despite the expense, [students] want to come to Columbia. Why would they come if it was a bad program?”

But a number of students, including Samples, said they felt the larger point of Slouka’s criticism was being ignored. “The whole situation saddens me because I believe Mark truly had the best interests of the health of the program and the future lives of his former students at heart,” she said. “The question of the arts in academia is a really important question for many people. [That’s right. But because the situation of the arts in academia is a scandal as big, in its way, as the scandal of college athletics, few professors and administrators are going to go on record about it. Look at the response -- total silence -- to Slouka.] As a graduate student who hopes to have an academic job, I’m concerned about the health of that organization and I’m concerned about us not being able to talk about it without it becoming a catfight.”
Amusing Satire...

... in today’s NYT. UD’s totally being a good sport about the writer having used White Noise, the novel UD’s most proud of having written.

How Gatsby Got Wild

By John Kenney

"At least three portions in the book "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life," by Kaavya Viswanathan, bear striking similarities to writing in "Can You Keep a Secret?," a chick-lit novel by Sophie Kinsella." — The Times, May 2

LARRY KING My guest tonight is John Kenney, author of the new bestseller "The Great Gatsby." John, welcome.
JOHN KENNEY Thank you, Larry.
MR. KING Tell us about the book.
MR. KENNEY It's the story of a man's quest to win the heart of a woman by amassing great wealth.
MR. KING You set it in the 1920's. Why?
MR. KENNEY It just felt right to me.
MR. KING The title is interesting.
MR. KENNEY The title is always hard but one day it just came to me.
MR. KING The green light.
MR. KENNEY Indeed.
MR. KING What does it symbolize?
MR. KENNEY So many things. Mostly hope, I think. But also wealth. Money is green. A traffic light can be green.
MR. KING A lot of vegetables are green.
MR. KENNEY That's true, too.
MR. KING I was struck by the narrator, Nick Carraway. Such a keen observer of life. He was obsessed with Gatsby, wasn't he?
MR. KENNEY He was.
MR. KING And Daisy. What a character.
MR. KENNEY I modeled her on an old girlfriend of mine. Also on the actress Mia Farrow.
MR. KING I can see it. This is a big departure from your first novel, "White Noise." The character of J. A. K. Gladney. Professor of Hitler studies at a small college. Versus Jay Gatsby. Similar first names though.
MR. KENNEY I love "White Noise." I'm still very proud of it.
MR. KING As you should be. Detroit, you're on with author John Kenney.
CALLER Hi, Larry. I love your show.
MR. KING What's your question?
CALLER I was wondering who Mr. Kenney's influences are?
MR. KING Good question. John?
MR. KENNEY I have very little time to read when I'm writing but Scott Fitzgerald and certainly Don DeLillo are both very big influences. I'm very familiar with their work.
MR. KING Are there similarities between your new novel, "The Great Gatsby" and "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald?
MR. KENNEY Not so much "similarities." They're actually identical.
MR. KING I see.
MR. KENNEY Except for my name as author.
MR. KING And your book "White Noise?" Did DeLillo influence you heavily in the writing of that?
MR. KENNEY He did. Again, it's exactly the same book.
MR. KING The exact same words, in the exact same order.
MR. KENNEY Identical.
MR. KING Legal problem? Moral problem?
MR. KENNEY Not really. My agent and publisher are behind it 100 percent.
MR. KING And the books are selling well?
MR. KENNEY Really well. I'm very fortunate.
MR. KING What's next?
MR. KENNEY I'm working on a book about family, Larry. Aging parents, the siblings who've grown apart and are all struggling in their own ways.
MR. KING Title?
MR. KENNEY "The Corrections."
MR. KING The Jonathan Franzen book?
MR. KENNEY That's right.
MR. KING But with your name on it?
MR. KENNEY Exactly.
MR. KING That's great. Thank you so much. John Kenney. His new book is "The Great Gatsby." We'll be right back with Bono.
Election Eve Trashing

Today's New York Times quotes a colleague of UD's:

Thomas D. Morgan, who teaches legal ethics at George Washington University in Washington, said that Mr. Nifong might have used poor judgment in pursuing charges as quickly as he did but that he did not necessarily violate ethical rules that guide what prosecutors can say about a case publicly. He said Mr. Nifong might have solid evidence and feel strongly about the case.

"That's a completely different thing than filing motions the day before the election in order to try to essentially trash the person who may be doing the best he can to do the job he's assigned to do," Mr. Morgan said, referring to defense motions filed Monday.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


From USA Today:

District Attorney Mike Nifong will remain Durham County's top prosecutor after winning an election Tuesday that came in the midst of his aggressive investigation into rape allegations involving members of Duke University's lacrosse team.

In unofficial results in the county's Democratic primary, Nifong had 45% of the vote, with challenger Freda Black close behind with about 42%. There are no Republicans running in the general election, and Nifong only needed 40% plus one vote to avoid a primary runoff.

What does this mean for the Duke lacrosse case? Obviously it's bad news for the defense, which is still trying to remove Nifong from the proceedings.

Unlike a lot of commentators, I haven't found Nifong to be a cynical politician merely using the Duke situation to win votes. On the contrary, I've tended to interpret his aggressive pursuit of the case perfectly straightfowardly: He's convinced very bad things were done, and he's determined to punish someone for them.
Little, Brown,
the Patient Griselda
of the Publishing World...

...has finally lost patience with America's most high-profile cryptomnesiac:

Little, Brown, publisher of the novel whose author, Kaavya Viswanathan, admitted to copying passages from another writer's books, said yesterday that it would not be publishing a revised edition of her book.

Little, Brown pulled Ms. Viswanathan's chick-lit book, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life," from bookstores on Thursday.

In a statement yesterday afternoon Michael Pietsch, senior vice president and publisher of Little, Brown, said the company would not publish the second book under its contract with Alloy Entertainment, the "book packager" that helped Ms. Viswanathan develop the concept for "Opal" and shape its first four chapters. Alloy, rather than Ms. Viswanathan, signed the contract, believed to be worth $500,000 for two books, with Little, Brown.

Ms. Viswanathan, a Harvard sophomore, extensively borrowed from two novels by Megan McCafferty, "Sloppy Firsts" and "Second Helpings," both published by Crown, a division of Random House. Crown contended that more than 40 passages were copied from Ms. McCafferty's books.

Ms. Viswanathan maintained that the copying was "unconscious and unintentional."

On Monday, further allegations of plagiarism emerged when it appeared that passages in "Opal" were copied from "Can You Keep a Secret?" by Sophie Kinsella. Neither Ms. Viswanathan nor Little, Brown commented on those allegations.

I did it! You can too!

Professor Barry Munitz, a new member of the English department at Cal State Los Angeles, isn’t your ordinary English professor.

Recently forced to resign as head of the Getty Trust because of financial improprieties which included using “Getty money to buy a $72,000 Porsche Cayenne, repeatedly fl[ying] first-class, stay[ing] in $1,000-a-night hotels and ha[ving] his assistants express-mail umbrellas when he traveled,” Munitz now brings to the literature classroom a compelling message: PUT DOWN THE BOOKS AND PICK UP THE EXPENSE ACCOUNT.

“He’s amazing,” says sophomore English major Trudi Stabenow. “He shows you how a Ph.D in comp lit, which he got, can take you all the way to the top.” What’s Munitz’s secret? “Once you get the degree, you use it as what Professor Munitz calls ‘cultural leverage,’ to get into the world of the rich non-profits. Then you move up the ladder until, well, the sky’s the limit!”

Today’s New York Times reports that some of Professor Munitz’s colleagues are dismayed that a man “whose travel and expense spending are under investigation by the California attorney general's office,” and who “was required to repay the Getty Trust, one of the world's richest art institutions, $250,000 when he resigned in February,” is now a tenured member of their university‘s English department.

Munitz, however, shrugged it off: “What can I tell you. Crime pays.”
Georgetown University Student Newspaper
Takes A Closer Look at Some of Their
Student Athletes [Note Mealy-Mouthed
Comments from Administrative Enablers]
Chronic Cryptomnesia

New York Times:

Fresh passages in the novel by a Harvard sophomore, whose book was pulled from stores last week after she acknowledged plagiarizing portions of it, appear to be copied from a second author.

At least three portions in the book, "How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life," by Kaavya Viswanathan, bear striking similarities to writing in "Can You Keep a Secret?," a chick-lit novel by Sophie Kinsella.
Good Morning.

Only 7:29 and it’s already a good morning: A woman was elected last night to the formerly all-male Garrett Park Town Council; and Anna Nicole Smith won the unanimous endorsement of the Supreme Court.

Monday, May 01, 2006

William Logan

Anthony Tomassini, as longtime readers know, is UD’s music critic of choice. For poetry, it’s William Logan, who alone has been able to put into words for her just why the Dread Kooser -- our poet laureate -- is so dread.

And here’s Logan again, in the NYTimes book review section, summing up with pith and vigor the obese Oxford Book of American Poetry:

[W]here Oxford's first anthology of American verse could have been carried around in a small handbag, the new one has to be wheeled around in a shopping cart. This bloated, earnest, largely mediocre new Oxford takes up a lot of space on the shelf without providing a clear view of our moment. That chance won't come again for another generation.

But just as fun as Logan’s review is the letter from the book's insulted editor that showed up in last Sunday’s book review. Here’s the editor’s explanation for Logan’s negative review:

[N]one of the editors have picked a poem by Logan since the series began in 1988. This means that his work was not considered good enough by John Ashbery, Donald Hall, Jorie Graham, Mark Strand, Charles Simic, Louise Glück, A. R. Ammons, Richard Howard, Adrienne Rich, James Tate, John Hollander, Robert Bly, Rita Dove, Robert Hass, Robert Creeley, Yusef Komunyakaa, Lyn Hejinian, Paul Muldoon and Billy Collins.

Logan responds:

As for [the editor’s] cranky remark about my absence from "Best American Poetry," why, I hadn't really noticed.

And it is funny, you know, what the explanation tells you about the editor. It’s all about inclusion, isn’t it? That’s why the book’s a bohemoth. No rigorous aesthetic standards apply; rather, the idea is to make a big expensive book and tell people that because it’s so big, as the editor writes, it “demonstrates the vitality and abundance of American poetry and does so in a way that will enlarge poetry's readership.”

That’s like Brown University pointing to its Carnival Cruise Line buffet of courses and saying ain’t this vitality and abundance great!

“When students in freshman composition at a university like my own,” writes Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia, “are compelled to read third-rate imitators of Walter Benjamin, they are not inspired to organize against the depredations of capital. They are … inspired to aestheticize social analysis.”

No. They’re not inspired to do anything -- and certainly not to aestheticize anything, since what they’ve been compelled to look at is the ugliest son of a bitch on the curricular block.

Innocent freshmen compelled to admire illiterate writing in writing courses are not inspired. They are confused.

They mean well. They are ready to extend respect and the presumption of expertise to their professor. Still, they can’t help noticing that the essayists their professor enthusiastically tells them to read write atrociously. Are the students supposed to look beyond the writing to the urgent truths it contains? But isn’t this a course in writing as well as argumentation?

The sorts of composition courses Gitlin is talking about are a form of aversive therapy. They are designed to insure that students will never want to read or write anything again.

Gitlin’s remark is part of a longish essay in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, in which his exasperation with the spectacular self-destructiveness of the academic left has finally gotten the better of him, and his tired language shows it. It’s not the positions of the academic left that he’s after anymore; it’s “the pathos of the academic left,” “the downright peculiarity” of a “meager,” “helpless” band, a remnant “force… of purification” which, having withdrawn from any actual politics, flounces about denouncing traitors.

Underlying this sad turn is not so much “identity politics” as “the politics of being” (as another writer on the subject nicely calls it). As with a certain type of rock music fan, for whom, Roger Scruton writes, “any criticism of [his] music is received by the fan as an assault upon himself and his identity,” so for the politics of being people, their ideas are they themselves, and they derive gratification from embodying those ideas themselves alone. It’s rather as Auden wrote:

[T]he error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

Gitlin’s right to use the word “pathos” for the odd combination of arrogance and self-erasure which has guaranteed that “the academic left is nowhere today.”
Putting Blogging First

“On the other hand,” writes Ann Althouse, thinking about the big gathering of law bloggers she’s just taken part in at Harvard, “I feel that I have little in common with the other lawprof bloggers. Walking around Boston yesterday … I was wondering if I was not entirely at cross-purposes with everyone else.“

At times, I exhorted them to blog like me, but I also always knew that they don't want to blog like me. Why should they? So much of their discussion was about how to get credit for blogging within their institutions and how to promote their professional standing through blogging, that is, how to exploit blogging in service of traditional law professor interests. They remind me of the journalists who mean to harness blogging to preserve and further the interests of mainstream media.

Where are my soulmates, the people who put blogging first? Are you not in love with blogging for blogging's sake, looking to see where blogging might lead you?

"You lifted not one finger. To the contrary, you laughed when you heard of the bombings. … You are a master manipulator. The evidence is clear in this case. You were a leader of the [Palestinian Islamic Jihad]."

Thus the judge in the Sami al-Arian case, which has finally ended:

Former Florida University professor Sami al-Arian was sentenced to four years and nine months in prison on Monday for aiding the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.

U.S. District Judge James Moody sentenced al-Arian to the maximum 57 months in prison but gave him credit for 38 months he has already served. He will have to serve the balance, 19 months, before being deported, prosecutors said.
You know, speaking of well-known people I knew…

…I’ve been pondering, since he died, saying something here about the writer Charles Newman. You probably haven’t heard of Newman, but he did rate a New York Times obituary, and some of the literary blogs noted his death.

I barely knew him. I shared a few dinners with him in the ‘seventies, at Northwestern University, where I was an undergraduate, and where he was editing the literary journal TriQuarterly.

The photo in the Times obit is ridiculous. Newman was a handsome, charismatic man, part preppie, part hippie.

He came across as intellectually, socially, and sexually aggressive. Ready for mental fight, a fist fight, a pillow fight.

He looked you over. Were you interesting? Worth his time? Little bourgeois pissing in your pants or fearless contrarian? Newman had that peculiar ‘sixties thing -- he was both a snob and contemptuous of snobbery.

His over-elaborated novels went mostly unread. But his essay on postmodernism -- one of the first, and one of the best -- is rightly acclaimed. Here’s an excerpt from it, on universities and creative writing:

Our culture has chosen to subsidize writers by employing them to teach the young, hardly an ignoble or anti humanistic impulse. And the proper question is not whether this has affected writers, but whether this is the best way to make use of writers. How does their academic involvement relate, for example, to the historically unprecedented decline in general literary and educational proficiency? The fact remains that writers have been included in faculties only since general education standards were chucked. The issue is not whether writers have somehow been circumscribed, but whether society can afford to have its most literate (if hardly its most wise) in the service of protracted adolescence? … The only charge that can be fairly brought against the modern university is also the severest -- a genuine lack of curiosity and purpose as regards the reintegration of knowledge, and a professional structure which makes intellectual reform impossible. It will remain notable primarily for producing the first generation in American history less skilled than their parents.
A Few More Galbraith Notes

This is how I knew them, on the occasions when I visited with them -- they're standing in front of their farmhouse in Vermont, the sun is shining... Note that Kitty has to stand on a few stone steps to be anywhere near Galbraith's height.

There's a big open field in front of them, and then, down a lane, a big lake. In the winter (for some years a group of us met at the Galbraith farm over New Year's -- we sat in front of the roaring fire in the main room drinking hot drinks and talking about the year we'd each just had) you skied about the property, skated on the lake, and generally froze your ass off.

The New York Times obituary made a mistake: Galbraith had not six grandchildren but ten. "We figured it happened," said one of his sons, "because the Times wrote the obit years ago, assuming he'd die soon..."

At Cliopatria, Greg James Robinson notes that Galbraith's

death passed to a large extent unnoticed in Canadian media today, despite his Canadian birth and education. This is, on the one hand, surprising in view of the eagerness of nationalistic Canadians to claim their own (I have sometimes been tempted, after seeing one of these exercises, to define a “Canadian” as “a famous person who has lived for at least 15 minutes in Canada”). From another point of view, however, it is an apt tribute to a man who was beyond single and solitary attachments.

I encountered this nationalistic claiming tendency years ago at a Malcolm Lowry conference in Toronto. The British author of Under the Volcano lived for some time near Vancouver, and everyone at the conference called him a Canadian.