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

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

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Poem to End a Year By

The Trees

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Philip Larkin

Saturday, December 30, 2006

How Did I Miss This?

The Professor (a UD reader who teaches at Gilligan U.) provided me with a link to this recent piece in The Onion:

'SARASOTA, FL—Bowing to pressure from alumni, students, and a majority of teaching professors of Florida State University, athletic director Dave Hart Jr. announced yesterday that FSU would completely phase out all academic operations by the end of the 2010 school year in order to make athletics the school's No. 1 priority. "It's been clear for a while that Florida State's mission is to provide the young men and women enrolled here with a world-class football program, and this is the best way to cut the fat and really focus on making us No. 1 every year," Hart said. "While it's certainly possible for an academic subsidiary to bring a certain amount of prestige to an athletic program, the national polls have made it [clear] that our non-athletic operations have become a major distraction." FSU's restructuring program will begin with the elimination of the College of Arts and Sciences, effective October 15.'

I understand Auburn is watching developments closely.
And, now that we're home...

...yet another literary association on the Cape, whose source I've just found. As we passed the sign for Nauset, a line of poetry came to me: "The waters off beautiful Nauset." A lovely line, the waters off beautiful Nauset... but where had I learned it?

From Ted Hughes, I realized a moment later; his last book of poems, Birthday Letters, which chronicles his life with Sylvia Plath. They'd gone to the Cape, where she was happy:

I still have it. I hold it -
'The waters off beautiful Nauset.'
Your intact childhood, your Paradise
With its pre-Adamite horse-shoe crab in the shallows
As a guarantee, God's own trademark.
I turn it, a prism, this way and that.
That way I see the filmy surf-wind flicker
Of your ecstasies, your visions in the crystal.
This way the irreparably-crushed lamp
In my crypt of dream, totally dark,
Under your gravestone.

Friday, December 29, 2006


Too Much Literary Information. Watched one of the famous P'town beach sunsets and thought of the gathering of the cars for the postmodern sunsets at the end of DeLillo's White Noise. Walked by Norman Mailer's big brick house on the water and remembered sitting alone in a little tent in the Pyrennees when I was sixteen years old, reading The Naked and the Dead. Saw what was left of the waterfront theater Eugene O'Neill had something to do with and thought of the first time I read Long Day's Journey into Night -- in the back of my parents' VW van, on our way to Expo 67 in Montreal....

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Absolutely clear bright skies...

...over P'town, and we walked the windy beaches at Race Point and just tried to take in the spectacular setting. The most exciting part of the day was sitting in the back seat of the car while La Spawn got a (stick shift) driving lesson from Mr. UD in one of the enormous empty parking lots along the beaches.

Also discovered possibly the world's most beautiful shop -- WA -- and bought Asian stuff there. Told the owners that if they had a tea room we would never leave, and they said they're planning to open a garden patio when it gets warmer. "Bring your own tea and stay forever."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Blogging from Wired Puppy...

... Cafe in P'town. You walk in and sidle up to a lovely computer with free internet access. Random hail flurries, night views of lighthouses. We'll go back outside. It's a fine evening.
Berkeley Chancellor Sez:

'In the 2004-05 fiscal year, [Berkeley] spent about $13.5 million more on athletics than it earned, its highest deficit ever. ... Chancellor Robert Birgeneau said he was shocked when he opened the financial books after taking over the campus in 2004.

"When we did the in-depth analysis, we discovered the shortfall was somewhat larger than we previously thought," said Birgeneau. "We absolutely have to decrease the size of the deficit." ...

"I've been studying infections all my life, and that's what this is like for the university," said Loy Volkman, a UC Berkeley virologist who was on [a review] panel. "I don't think we have any business doing it like this. What other part of university life loses $13 million per year?"

Volkman and others also have balked at spending so much on the program when the majority of Cal athletes are admitted to the school only because of relaxed academic standards.

But Birgeneau, the former president of the University of Toronto and dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said UC Berkeley's broad sports program is essential to the campus and school spirit. ...'

---inside bay area---
Dumb Shit Universities Do

'University to cut crosses from its coat of arms

Change sparks uproar at Simon Fraser

VANCOUVER - Simon Fraser University is in the final stages of removing images of two crosses from its four-decade-old coat of arms and replacing them with representations of books.'

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Your Tax Code At Work

'Some academics and legislators, contending that college football's multibillion-dollar building boom detracts from schools' educational mission, are targeting tax laws that treat payments for luxury seating and naming rights as charitable gifts.

...Critics say these payments should not be deductible as charity because they purchase a valuable asset -- either premium seating or, in the case of naming rights, advertising. The 80% deduction is "ridiculous," says Smith College economist Andrew Zimbalist, author of a book on college sports. "I don't think intercollegiate sports support the educational mission. It's a separate activity."

A tax deduction for luxury boxes "isn't my style," says Rebecca McGowan, one of the University of Michigan's eight regents. She initially opposed the Michigan renovation out of concern that skyboxes "were going to be enormously expensive, for the benefit of relatively few people." But she switched sides after receiving assurances that more athletic revenue would be devoted to academic programs.

Mr. Duderstadt, the former Michigan president, told the Senate Finance Committee at a hearing this month that the "perverse treatment" of "mandatory fees" for luxury-skybox leases and season-ticket licenses as charitable contributions is "fueling an arms race in college sports, driving universities to debt-finance massive stadium expansion projects, exploit young student athletes, and tolerate multimillion-dollar coaches' salaries."

...Even with the 80% deduction, some universities haven't raised as much money from premium seating as anticipated. The University of Colorado has leased nearly all of its 40 luxury suites but only 38% of 1,850 club seats, which cost between $1,500 and $2,200 a year, athletic director Mike Bohn says. Revenue from suites and club seats falls just short of the $3.2 million needed to pay down debt, he said, instead of the $5.7 million that leasing all of the seats would generate.

Opponents of Michigan's renovation doubt the university will find enough customers for its luxury suites, where alcohol will be banned. "Why pay a whole bunch of money, drive up to Ann Arbor, sit behind a glass wall and not be able to get a beer," says Laurence Deitch, one of two regents on the university's eight-member board who voted against the plan last month. "I think I'd stay home."'

--wall street journal--
Boston University in the Rain...

...was an odd melange of things. Our friend David said to think of it as like Chile: it's very long and narrow, and there's a body of water -- the Charles River -- alongside it. Cars on the Massachusetts Turnpike bomb along between the campus and the river. Cambridge is on the other side of the bridge.

Josep Lluis Sert, an old friend of Mr. UD's father at the Harvard School of Design, built many of the modernist buildings that mar the campus -- dark, withering, too-many-windowed hulks that speak of anything but modernity. The Neo-Gothic buildings, which reminded UD of the University of Chicago, were fine, as were the brick postmodern low-rises.

As David's son, Peter, described "broomball," a popular and amusing-sounding game on campus of which UD had never heard, our group watched an emaciated man vomit under a light pole. It's the big city.
Ah. That's More Like It.

This is the Cambridge I know - overcast, wet.

We're meeting our old friend (from grad school at the University of Chicago) David Mayers today, who, along with his son Peter, will show les UD's and their daughter around the Boston University campus (David teaches there; Peter goes to school there).

We're still dithering over where to stay in Provincetown. We leave tomorrow.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Cambridge is, for a change...

...attractive, weather-wise. Not too cold, and the skies are clear. We've done our last-minute run around Cambridge for gifts (where all of the stores are open late in the afternoon on December 24), and are now gathering for gift-giving. TTYL.

Friday, December 22, 2006

More HOT News from UD

'Prosecutors dropped rape charges Friday against three Duke University lacrosse players accused of attacking a stripper at a team party, but the three still face kidnapping and sexual offense charges.

According to court papers filed Friday by District Attorney Mike Nifong, the accuser now says she does not know if she was penetrated during the alleged attack. Lacking any "scientific or other evidence independent of the victim's testimony" to corroborate that aspect of the case, Nifong wrote, "the State is unable to meet its burden of proof with respect to this offense."'
Breaking News.
And A Sign that
Auburn University
Might Have Taken The
First Step on the Long Road
To Sobriety.

A local newspaper, and now a tv station, report that Thomas Petee, the department chair who from his position of power gave A's to athletes in pretend courses, has been suspended with pay from the university. He "will not be in the classroom when the new semester begins."

Yeah, you're right. I shouldn't get too excited. It's Auburn, after all. And maybe they're just doing it because Myles Brand is nervous about that congressional hearing thing and has decided to go after the worst of the worst so when he's asked about it he can say they got rid of that guy...
Ruhlman Watch

The University of Tennessee continues to boast of the plagiarist/diploma mill grad on its history faculty.
Stanley Fish Has Quite the Podium... the New York Times. He also teaches at one of the very worst universities in the country, Florida International. FIU is a national scandal in many instructive ways: it has a greedy and inept president, cares almost exclusively about sports, imposes ever-higher athletic fees on a struggling student population... And rather than educate that population, it's gonna build a big, big, BIG new stadium for it...

Despite free admission [to games] for students, many have yet to catch the buzz. Although the school said it sells nearly all 17,000 seats for home games, marching band member Leoncio Alvarez said he often looks up to a half-empty stadium.

"It's sad that we have to pay so much money when the students, I guess, mostly don't even care," said Alvarez, a journalism major from Miami who plays clarinet.

Denise Cardona, an education major, said most students are commuters and do not have time to attend games. A small group -- dominated by fraternities and sororities and student government -- is in the stands, she said.

Although the university's president so mismanaged a major donor to a proposed medical school that FIU lost $20 million when he decided to withdraw the funds, and although, as a recent article in the Miami Herald points out, "FIU football's most intense national exposure came this year as a result of an on-field brawl between its players and UM's. ESPN played clips of the fight repeatedly," the university continues to put most of its resources - its students' resources - into games. It pays enormous sums for coaches, and for coach severance when one coach after another fails to work out.

FIU's leaders are cynics; its students are saps. The place has become a national story.

Where is Fish? Hundreds of thousands of people read his high-profile Times column. He is not shy about speaking his mind. He could do massive good for the school. He should speak up.

I've added my blogpal A.G. Rud's blog, MOO 2 (the reference is to the hilarious novel about academia by Jane Smiley), to my bloglist. Should have done it a long time ago, but I still rather fear to tread very often in my template. I'm convinced I'll do something fatal in there.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Very Bad Outcome

"I will either see the Provost resign and my hard-earned tenure granted at MIT, or I will die defiantly right outside his office."

When something this bizarre happens -- a professor who responds to the denial of tenure with a letter inviting colleagues to join him in a hunger strike outside the provost's office -- there's usually been a series of institutional failures. Failure to sense at the point of hiring that a person might be seriously unstable; failure to move quickly to correct a terrible hiring error once it's been made, or to neutralize the person hired so that he or she can't do too much damage... Not that the second guessing I'm doing here is all that helpful.

---boston business journal--
Adjuncts in Hell... a very new, very promising blog. It sizzles.
UD and the Holidays

What with all the airport closures and bad weather, Mr UD's been having quite the time trying to get back from Norway.

One nice thing about his having been stuck in Copenhagen, where he waited for a connecting flight that never happened -- he got a chance to spend a day with Andrzej, his nephew who works in that city's Polish embassy.

Mr UD's now in Newark, hoping to get to DC by this evening. Tomorrow, the car gets tuned up, the dog gets dropped off, the kid gets surgically removed from her madcap 'thesdan whirl, and the drive up to Cambridge begins. We'll be there, and then in Provincetown, for a few days, before returning to DC just before New Year's Eve.

Where'er I go... whate'er I do... I shall blog.
"The Public Face of the
University of Georgia"

The Athens Banner-Herald -- a newspaper UD admires more each day -- editorializes about the local school's latest problem.

A Dec. 15 Athens-Clarke County Police Department report says Gene Whitner Milner III is 6 feet 2 inches tall and that he weighs 163 pounds. What it doesn't say is that every single inch and every single ounce is nothing but pure, unadulterated punk. Nor does it say that Milner, for the time being anyway, is the public face of the University of Georgia.

Milner, 21, is a UGA student with an arrest record including charges of underage alcohol possession, possession of a fake ID, giving false information to a police officer and a probation violation. His antics got him barred from Athens-Clarke County for a time.

Milner managed to make the news again last week, as Athens-Clarke County police officers found themselves rolling up one more time to the 555 Riverhill Drive house where he lives, to investigate yet another complaint of a loud party. Early on the morning of Dec. 15, Milner found himself charged with providing alcohol to underage persons.

Despite his run-ins with the law, Milner managed to re-enroll at UGA for the recently concluded fall semester, a circumstance which the university has blamed on the fact that a student who is out of school for just a semester can re-enroll without attracting attention from the university administration.

Obviously, university officials ought to be questioning any circumstance that keeps someone like Milner enrolled when there's ample reason he shouldn't be on campus.

But that's not the most important question arising from the tragicomedy playing out between Milner and UGA. The most important question is what dreams are being dashed and what potential is going unrealized as long as Milner warms a seat in any UGA classroom. And we're not talking here about Milner's dreams or Milner's potential. Anyone who's watched this spectacle unfold can guess Milner's dreams don't extend much beyond his next house party, and his potential likely is going to be measured in terms of how successful he can be in keeping himself out of jail over the course of his life.

No, what we're talking about here is the question of what worthy student Milner is keeping out of the University of Georgia. Is it someone from rural Georgia, perhaps a young woman who sees UGA and the HOPE scholarship as her ticket out of a town too small to contain her dreams? Or someone from a suburban Atlanta school system, whose work in a gleaming high-school science lab has given him the potential to become a shining star among students interested in the university's burgeoning commitment to biological and health sciences? Or a single mom looking for a college degree to increase her earning power so she can give her kids everything they need? Or an Iraq war veteran wanting a start on a post-military career?

It's those dreams, and that kind of potential, that were at stake in the university's inability - or failure, or whatever it's been thus far - to keep Milner from further sullying the reputation of the state's flagship institution of higher education, and making a laughingstock of a university administration that has waged a model campaign against underage drinking.

There is, however, some reason for hoping the university will eventually do right by that prospective student whom Milner is keeping out of the school. It's a hope provided, ironically enough, by Milner himself, whose past record suggests strongly that, sooner or later, he'll screw up again and wind up in the back seat of a patrol car on his way to the Clarke County Jail. Thus the university will, sooner or later, have all it needs to rid itself of a "student" clearly not yet ready to accept the responsibility - or recognize the privilege - of getting a college education.

In that hope, we'd like to be the first to bid Milner goodbye. And in case he doesn't make it to graduation, here's an abridged commencement speech for him - courtesy of Dean Vernon Wormer, the character in the movie "Animal House" who uttered these immortal words:

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Man After My Own Heart

Randy Horick's my man.

From Nashville Scene:

See if you can connect these dots. The University of Alabama Geniuses will pay $4 million over the next several years for the privilege of never again seeing Mike Shula wearing a headset on a Crimson Tide sideline. They were willing to pay another $2 million to West Virginia University to buy out the contract of the Mountaineers’ football coach, Rich Rodriguez, and bring him to Tuscaloosa.

Florida, which is paying $2.1 million each season to Urban Meyer, still has an even higher obligation ($2.6 million) in severance to former coach Ron Zook. Colorado’s athletic department actually had to borrow $8 million to help pay off its ousted coaches.

And when the Gators traveled to Jacksonville in October for their annual meeting with Georgia, instead of making the 90-minute bus trip on Saturday morning, they left school a whole day before and spent a chunk of the program’s $1.2 million travel budget at the Marriott Resort and Spa in Sawgrass.

Don’t be too hard on the Gators. At Colorado (among others), it’s a familiar practice for the football team to bag the dorms in favor of five-star hotels even before home games.

The University of Texas recently expanded Memorial Stadium to the tune of $150 million. Not to be outdone, financier T. Boone Pickens wrote a check for $165 million to his favorite charity, the athletics program at Oklahoma State.

Florida State can afford to pay an annual salary of $228,000 to the president of Seminole Booster Inc.—which raised $42 million in 2004 for the university’s athletic programs.

Before the deal fell through, Alabama-Birmingham boosters were going to cover most of the proposed $600,000 for LSU assistant Jimbo Fisher to become their new football coach.

Of course you’re right if you identified having more money than sense as the operative common denominator here.

And you’re not wrong if you answered that the big problem is the obscene deluge of money flowing into major-college football and basketball.

But if you want to get at the source of many of these flows, take a gander at our federal tax code. You may not have realized it, but we taxpayers help foot the bills for the oil-sheikh-opulent salary packages and off-campus spa weekends. And we do it even when those luxuries are covered from private donations.

It’s because the NCAA, which signs billion-dollar contracts that allow TV networks to broadcast its sports entertainment products, enjoys tax-exempt status. And how can a huge entertainment conglomerate—not to mention the fans who shower money on independent booster organizations in volumes that would inspire Pat Robertson to babble in tongues—get itself a free pass from the IRS?

To hear the NCAA boys explain it, they all merit a break because big-time athletic programs are integrally involved in higher education. You have to give them credit. Not even Jon Stewart could make that up.

Of course, this may come as startling news to the rest of us, who note that defending national champion Texas graduated only 29 percent of its players. Or who remember that, University of Georgia president Michael Adams, defending the academic underperformance of his school’s scholarship jocks, noted, “We still have to compete in the Southeastern Conference.”

Congressman Bill Thomas, the outgoing chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, apparently also found the NCAA’s justifications a mite hard to swallow. “Why,” he wrote in a letter to the organization during the fall, “should the federal government subsidize the athletic activities of educational institutions when that subsidy is being used to help pay for escalating coaches’ salaries, costly chartered travel and state-of-the-art athletic facilities?”

And by the way, Thomas wanted to know, “What actions has the NCAA taken to retain a clear line of demarcation between major college sports and professional sports?”

Surely the University of Michigan, which is spending $226 million to add 3,200 luxury seats and 83 suites to its 107,501-seat stadium, isn’t drawing that line. Nor is Oklahoma State, which imposes a $2,500 “annual donation” for the right to buy tickets for the best seats. As columnist George Will observed, “These may be sound commercial decisions, but why should this commerce be tax-exempt?”

Excellent question. The new Democratic-controlled House should keep asking it, and finally close this ridiculous loophole.

No, this one action will not magically restore integrity to big-time college sports. But it would dry up many of the channels of free money now flowing into bloated salary packages, spa stays and cherry-paneled locker rooms.

If T. Boone Pickens needed to reduce his tax liability, he could still give his $165 million to some area of the university—perhaps a library expansion or scholarship fund—that actually relates to education. And maybe the rest of us, starting with the NCAA, could stop pretending that big-time football and basketball are something besides a business.
In Today's Inside Higher Ed... lunch pal (must make another date when he gets back from the MLA) Scott McLemee asks Lindsay Waters, who has written so well of the absurd book imperative in the humanities, what Waters thinks of the recent MLA report which calls for the recognition of its absurdity, and the adoption of a range of standards for promotion:

"My fear for the MLA report,” he wrote by e-mail, “ is that it will be shelved like the report of the Iraq Study Group. And there may be another similarity: The ISG made a mistake with Bush. They gave him 79 recommendations, not one. This report runs that risk, too. ...[T]he report offers up ideas that it will suit many to ignore.... Churchill said it so well — the Americans will do the right thing only after they have exhausted all the other possibilities. The problem is that this relatively frail creature, the university, has survived so well for so long in the US because for the most part it was located in a place where, like poetry (to cite the immortal Auden) executives would never want to tamper. But they are tampering now. And they are using the same management techniques on the university that they used on General Motors, and they may have the same deadly effect."

The latter part of this remark resonates strongly with me, as those who've been reading this blog for a long time know. Universities need to be left alone. To some extent they need to be ivory towers that, as Waters suggests, hold no attraction -- no reality, really -- for the managers among us.

Yet the Powerpoint brigade, to take one instance, has already stormed the tower, its pedagogical weapon deadly boredom... And more and more university presidents are justifying outrageous personal compensation by telling everyone they're managers, not... what's it called... intellectuals...

Managers, as Waters here suggests, understand widgets, and books are the widgets of what's left of the humanities in managerial universities.

If only, like corporate managers, university managers cared whether their widgets sold, or at least aroused a little interest. But, in the bizarre economy of the university, it doesn't matter whether the widgets exist in any actual sense. Most are inventoried and put away.
Auburn On New York Times
Editorial Page

The paper of record makes Auburn Exhibit A in the way-skeezy story of bigtime university sports in America. Excerpts:

The House Ways and Means Committee sent shock waves through college sports when it asked the National Collegiate Athletic Association to justify its federal tax exemption by explaining how cash-consuming, win-at-all-cost athletics departments serve educational purposes....[Auburn] is embroiled in a scandal involving athletes who are said to have padded their grades and remained eligible to play by taking courses that required no attendance and little if any work. This summer, James Gundlach, an Auburn sociology professor, laid out the problem in startling detail, telling reporters that corruption at the university was pervasive. An internal audit by the university, made public this month, has uncovered a new round of problems. It found that a grade for a scholarship athlete had been changed — from an incomplete to an A — without the professor’s knowledge. ...[U]nethical behavior often associated with big-time college sports doesn’t always end with athletes. It can easily seep outward, undermining academic standards and corrupting behavior in the university as a whole.

See various posts below for UD's ongoing commentary on Auburn.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Weekends Revisited

The Athens Banner-Herald would also like to know (see post below, Weekends At America's Worst...) why mild miscreants are barred from the University of Georgia's classrooms, and extreme miscreants aren't:

The University of Georgia red-flags students with outstanding library fees or bad behavior, but a student with a history of alcohol-related offenses - including ones that had him barred from Clarke County for a period - re-enrolled this fall.

Police arrested Gene Whitner Miller III on Friday and charged the UGA student with providing alcohol to minors after officers responded to a late- night party at the same house where a UGA freshman partied the night he died of a drug and alcohol overdose earlier this year.

After being barred from Clarke County on Jan. 4 for a string of alcohol-related arrests, Milner moved to Colorado.

He re-enrolled at UGA for the fall 2006 semester, according to UGA records.

Students can automatically re-enroll if they dropped out for less than a calendar year, UGA officials said.

But students whose records are flagged because of outstanding debts or cases with UGA's Judicial Programs office may not re-enroll unless they clear their record with the office that placed the flag, said Tom Burke, associate vice president for student affairs.

Most perplexing.
Headline of the Day

It's All in the Details

...100 and 125 windows had been smashed with bricks, rocks and chairs, and police had been pelted with bottles and pieces of concrete. ...[C]harges including disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, failure to disperse in a riot, minor in possession of alcohol, possession of marijuana, breaking and entering, mistreatment of a police horse or dog and destruction of property.

...About 60 campus, town and state police officers in riot gear were needed to squelch the riot that drew more than 1,800 students to the plaza of the Southwest residential area. Students threw bottles, cans, bricks, pieces of concrete and other items at the officers and yelled obscenities.

At least two officers were slightly injured from being hit with objects. O'Connor, who was on site during the riot, said someone threw a gallon jug of liquid from a high-rise dorm that missed her by a few feet.

"If it hit me, it would have killed me," O'Connor said.

O'Connor said two officers immediately read an order of dispersal to the mob, which responded by throwing items at them.

"You could tell right away they came out with malice in their hearts. They were bent on destroying things," O'Connor said. "They were assaulting us."

An estimate on damages had not been completed as of yesterday, but O'Connor said it's "going to be quite high." O'Connor said between 100 and 125 dorm and dining common windows were smashed with chairs, bricks and rocks, with a price tag of $250 to $1,000 per window.

Police used pepper balls, sting balls, flash bangs and smoke to disperse the crowd, at a cost of between $2,000 and $5,000, O'Connor said.

A reporter from The Republican strolls the campus of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Two of the Earliest Academic Heroes... be honored here at University Diaries -- Susan Andrews and John Creed of the University of Alaska -- are back in the news. When this blog was kneehigh to a grasshopper, UD followed with admiration these two professors' successful efforts to keep a diploma mill graduate from running the UA faculty senate.

Now Andrews and Creed are back, with an opinion piece in Alaska Report deploring the cozy relationship between big oil and the university's leadership.

First, they note that the university's president and public relations office routinely refer to compulsory "indirect oil royalty payments" to the university, which were negotiated as part of a business agreement with the state, as charitable gifts from the oil companies involved.

Apparently it's not enough that BP [one of the oil companies] has a basketball tournament at the University of Alaska Fairbanks named after the company. In November 2005 in front of basketball fans, BP officials "produced two UAF jerseys bearing the number 2.28 to represent their gift of $2.28 million," the News-Miner reported. Can UA get much more tacky?

As UA professors, we are uncomfortable watching our university president shill for oil companies.

... Pandering does carry risks. Sadly, [UA President] Hamilton's hustling for the oil patch is neither necessary nor honest. These payments are not outright gifts to the university. They are installments in a negotiated payment schedule for which the state has granted the oil companies valuable consideration. Hamilton knows that.

Our university president should not be pimping for Big Oil. We Alaskans do not employ him as an industry publicist, but as a guardian of a university's integrity.
wittle boys
make vewy bad choices
at the spearmint whino
gentleman's cwub

UD wishes coaches and university presidents would stop using baby talk when they talk about recruits who get into heavy weaponry fights. Donna Shalala is the poster girl here, with her mommy-disappointed-bad-baby thing whenever her footballers go at it; but the rhetoric is in general use.

The University of New Mexico is the latest site of an "an isolated incident where players made some very bad choices," in the words of an athletic official there.

Let's see what the kids were up to.

[A] recruit [was] shot outside an Albuquerque strip club during an official visit....[P]olice sought help finding the shooting suspects... The players and Palomar College offensive lineman Ervin "Una" Smiley went to the Spearmint Rhino Gentleman's Club, 1645 University Blvd. The athletes got into an argument with two unidentified men, accompanied by two women, around 2 a.m. Dec. 9.

The athletes were getting into Cardenas' SUV, when one of the men fired shots at the vehicle. Cardenas drove south on University Boulevard and stopped at a light at Indian School Road, where police said the man fired more shots at the SUV.

The man fired at least 17 bullets at the SUV.

The players headed to UNM Hospital, where Smiley was treated for gunshot wounds to the legs and Cardenas was treated for an eye bruise caused by flying glass.

An officer interviewing Smiley, who is 20, said the recruit appeared to be intoxicated.
Weekends at America's
Worst University

An Incident Report, from Officer G. Davis [I've highlighted my favorite parts.]:

'From: 12/15/06, 12:05 a.m. to 1:15 a.m.

Disorderly Conduct

555 Riverhill Dr

On 12-15-06 I responded to Riverhill Dr in reference to a possible loud party. I parked near the 500 block and got out on foot. I immediately could hear people talking loud and yelling. I saw a group of approximately 10-12 people standing in a yard. As I walk toward them along with OFC Patterson the group saw us and ran to the house. The location was 555 Riverhill Dr. There was 4 or 5 people standing underneath a lighted carport, some with what appeared to be beer cans in hand. They saw us walking up the drive and hurried into a side door.

As they were going inside I yelled for someone to please have someone that lives there come out. I heard someone yell "The cops are here" just before they slammed the door shut. The lights were on inside and I could see people with what appeared to be beer cans in hand along with others with plastic cups. I also saw beer sitting around. Everyone inside started running toward the back of the house and at this time I could hear people running in the back yard in the leaves. I advised dispatch of the people running and OFC Patterson went around the left side of the house while I went to the right.

I found one male coming my way breathing hard and asked why he was running and did he live there. He said yes he did and I asked for I.D. He said he was Whitner Milner and he did live there. I recognized the name from past incidents at this location involving underage drinking and people running everywhere.

At this time two females and a male came around the house in a hurry. All were identified and only one was 21. Mr. Milner did not want me to talk to the three and kept telling them to go inside. I told everyone to go with me back around front. Mr. Milner asked if he could put his dog inside and I said yes. He want into a lighted basement room but did not call the dog. He stood inside and folded his arms. I told him to come on out and around front. He just stood there. I told him again, and he still just stood there. OFC Patterson asked him if he was going around front and he said, No, I don't know. At this time we stepped toward him and he tried to slam the door. OFC Patterson stopped the door and we detained him (handcuffed D.L.-B.B.) I told him he was not under arrest at this time but due to his actions he was being detained.

Somewhere during this he asked if I had arrested him here before and was I out here the night he escaped by running and getting into a canoe and going down the river. I told him yes on both accounts. His friends told him to be quiet and he said that was fun and it was a great story. We walked to the end of the drive at the road.

I began to try and explain to Mr. Milner why we were there (noise ordinance violation). He wanted to explain the law to me because he said he knew the law better than I did. He was very intoxicated and extremely loud. I again tried to explain to him while writing his citation for noise ordinance violation. He was upset and saying we (police) hate him and he had to spend 2 weeks in jail the last time for underage possession. He began saying we kicked in his back door.

While I was doing this the others were identified and found to be underage and drinking. These two were placed under arrest. Mr. Milner continued to yell and curse at times and his friends kept telling him to be quiet and cooperate. It was determined while talking to the others the alcohol was furnished at the party. I told Mr. Milner he was under arrest for furnishing alcohol to persons under 21. He became more upset at this time.

I told him we needed him to talk to someone inside and have all of them to leave or turn the residence over to them. He said we had no right to go in his house. I told him we did not need to go in, just go to the door and talk to someone inside. He cursed a little more at this time.

We determined Mr. Turner was sub-leasing here and he was more than happy to turn the home over to someone. SPO Moss advised over the radio someone was running out the front door. SPO Johnson stayed with the individuals at the drive. I saw two come from the front of the house and run to the left of the house. One in brown fell just after leaving the door and the other wearing a white shirt and light colored pants continued running. He looked back and saw me and I yelled several times "Get on the Ground Police." As we entered into the next yard I tackled him from behind. We scuffled while I was telling him to get his hands behind his back. OFC Patterson arrived and helped get his left hand behind him to handcuff. (D.L.-B.B.).

As I stood him up he said I'm sorry about running. I'm under 21 and have been drinking. He also had an odor of alcoholic beverage on his breath. He sustained a small scrape to his upper lip area that did not require medical attention.

We went back to the driveway and SPO Moss and OFC Patterson were dealing with another female (Laura Gillis) and a male (Casen Milner).

Whitner Milner started yelling and screaming, cursing at this time. He was placed into a patrol vehicle and transported with Casen Milner.

All were searched prior to being placed into patrol vehicles and transported.


Background here, if you have the stomach for it.

...oh, and I'm just making a wild guess, but maybe this is the reason the much-arrested Mr. Milner keeps getting readmitted to school. Daddy.

You can decide if there's a family resemblance.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

News of the Weird

'Amsterdam's mayor is apologizing for plagiarizing a Pearl Harbor address President Bush made in 2001.

Mayor Joseph Emanuele used the president’s remarks as he addressed a Pearl Harbor remembrance in Amsterdam.

In a written statement released Friday, the mayor said he was struck by Mr. Bush’s words and decided to repeat them.

“I regret that I overlooked to acknowledge the author of a majority of my remarks and for this I humbly apologize,” he added.'
Gender Issues in Donkey Use

From my friend Jon:


The second biennial Hydra Donkey Conference:


A Weekend Conference to be held on the Island of Hydra, near
Athens, Friday 13th October - Sunday 15th October 2007

In October 2007 the Free University of Hydra, in collaboration with
the School of Veterinary Medicine, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki,
and the Mayor and Municipality of Hydra, is organising an
international conference which will examine, document and celebrate the role of
donkey (and also the mule) in the culture of the countries bordering the
Mediterranean basin.

The island of Hydra has a special place in Europe as a developed
economy where a large percentage of personal transport and
transportation of goods is done by mule and donkey. There are no cars. We are proud
of our mule and donkey culture.

The conference will examine every aspect of donkey and mule culture,
ranging from the economics of rearing and maintaining livestock, to
the shaping of the Mediterranean landscape, and taking in literature and
philosophy en route. Issues such as the working conditions of
animals, gender issues in donkey use, donkeys in leisure activities etc will
be addressed.

The themes of our first conference in 2004 included: donkeys in
ancient history; the donkey in religious representation; a Charter for the
Working Donkey; the tales of Nasreddin Hoja; saddle-making,
ornamentation and harnesses of mules and donkeys; the languages of donkeys and
donkey-drivers; women and their donkeys; donkeys and song; culinary
considerations of donkeys; the donkey goes to war; and mules and
donkeys as an environmentally sustainable transport option.'
From the Bowels of Bama

I often criticize professors at football-fucked schools for indifference or silence. I make a point, on this blog, of honoring those few who speak up. Here's one:

Several years ago, the largely powerless Faculty Senate of the University of Alabama voted overwhelmingly to recommend a modest “surcharge" (50 cents or so) for tickets to all athletic events. The purpose of the surcharge would have been to provide additional financial support to the university’s academic mission: books for the library, scholarships for the needy and even a few more teachers. The administration dismissed the recommendation without comment, and the Senate (like its ancient Roman counterpart) returned to its favorite pastime: passing vacuous resolutions and pretending to itself that someone was listening.

I bring this up for two reasons. Once again the Tuscaloosa community is convulsed with anxiety and anticipation over the hiring of an athletic coach. The university jet will be gassed up and dispatched, at a cost of $10,000 per hour, on recruitment missions throughout the United States. Deep-pocketed donors will be delicately massaged by oleaginous administrators schooled in the artisanship of the shakedown.

Meanwhile, local merchants will ponder the important question of whether or not to discount Shula-era memorabilia or hawk it for a premium as mementos of a hoped-for but failed effort to the restore the Augustan Age of Bear Bryant’s football imperium.

The question we might wish to ponder is this: What if the Senate-proposed surcharge had been accepted, sending a small (but significant) signal that the academic mission of the university is important enough to be noticed every time people go to a football game? What if donors were not encouraged to write a check for the athletic program without simultaneously earmarking a part of their donation for buying library books? And finally, what about this: The university corporate jet is sent on a recruitment mission, not to locate the next Dalai Lama-like incarnation of the Bear, but to hire the very best Latin scholar in the world?

My second point is related, and has to do with how the public weighs and assesses the standing of the institution. Everybody knows the football team’s ranking; they follow it with devotion tantamount to religious fervor. But do they know how the University of Alabama’s library -- without doubt the core symbol of commitment to education -- is ranked?

Here are the sad facts. Alabama is one of the 113 members of the Association of Research Libraries, which yearly compiles internal rankings. In 2004-05, the last year for which statistics are available, the University of Alabama ranked 94th (out of 113) in support staff, 98th in total expenditures, 83rd in total volumes, 73rd in current serials and 103rd in total items loaned, a measurement of the library’s use. In other words, the university ranks in the bottom 20 percent (or lower) in every measure that counts and has for decades.

Or consider how we stack up in direct comparison with other institutions.

We cannot, and never will, achieve the status of a Harvard, but consider the magnitude of the difference: Harvard with 15,555,533 volumes in its library, and the University of Alabama has 2,518,290. Would a regional comparison turn out any better? North Carolina, a state university, has 12,569,823 books, and our next-door neighbor, the University of Georgia, has 11,013,976. Even by the traditionally low standards of the American Southeast, Alabama ranks in the bottom half (or lower) in every category, even when we control for student population.

Faced with losing seasons, year after year, and substandard performance in every measurable category, would the people of Alabama tolerate a football program that stacks up as badly as the library at its “flagship" institution? Of course not. They would do precisely what the administration of the university is doing right now: selecting the next man in the “who’s going to be a millionaire" coaching contest, and then spending whatever it takes to expand and upgrade the facilities to attract the best players. Fifty million or so for a stadium expansion is not too much, is it? But what about giving the library a similar shot in the arm?

The point is that we never do that in our academic programs, and the result is (and will continue to be) a matter of the athletic tail wagging the academic dog.

The test, as I said, will come when you read in banner headlines on the front page of The Tuscaloosa News that President Robert Witt and his entourage have boarded the university jet and left to plead with and pay oodles of money to the world’s best classicist to come to the university and teach.

Or better yet, we will know we’ve gotten our priorities straight when people quote and compare library rankings to each other on their coffee breaks. Or maybe we’ll know we’ve gotten someplace when, instead of the stadium’s via sacra of giant bronze statues of mostly dead coaches, we line the path the library with marble busts of the university’s greatest scholars. All of this will take intellectual leadership, not management and marketing skill, on the part of the university’s administration.

Don’t hold your breath.

Charles W. Nuckolls is a professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Alabama. Reach him by e-mail at [email protected].


T.J. Clark, an art critic...

...sounded pretty damn sure about this twenty years ago:

The bourgeoisie has an... interest in preserving a certain myth of the aesthetic consciousness, one where a transcendental ego is given something appropriate to contemplate in a situation essentially detached from the pressures and deformities of history. The interest is considerable because the class in question has few other areas (since the decline of the sacred) in which its account of consciousness and freedom can be at all compellingly phrased.

Very elegant way of saying that regressive people like you and me, aching for the certainty and exultation that a now-absconded God gave us, turn aesthetic experience into a personal religion. Our interactions with paintings and novels are a narcissistic escape from reality, a depraved indulgence in a false and reactionary pleasuring of our own sense of freedom and awareness ...

Many humanities professors remain so frightened about the possibility that they're doing this awful thing that they make sure to assign agitprop in their classes, so that no one could possibly accuse them of not caring.

Yet having surveyed the results of this relentlessly historical approach to art, Clark now, decades later, admits to second thoughts, as Michael J. Lewis, in a great essay in The New Criterion, notes:

'When lamenting the current state of art history, Clark can sound almost conservative. He ridicules “much of the Left academy” for what he calls its “constant, cursory hauling of visual (and verbal) images before the court of political judgment—with the politics deployed by the prosecution usually as undernourished and instrumentalized as the account given of what the image in question might have to ‘say.’” Here Clark recognizes that something has gone badly wrong. Under the reign of formalism, the art object was a kind of cloistered virgin, its aesthetic integrity guarded against any kind of political or social agenda that might taint it. But in an age of agenda art, the object had lost its purity, as it were, to become a plaything of any political agenda that might claim it. In a startling passage he acknowledges as much:

My art history has always been reactive. Its enemies have been the various ways in which visual imagining of the world has been robbed of its true humanity, and conceived of as something less than human, non-human, brilliantly (or dully) mechanical. In the beginning that meant that the argument was with certain modes of formalism, and the main effort in my writing went into making the painting fully part of a world of transactions, interests, disputes, beliefs, “politics.” But who now thinks it is not? The enemy now is not the old picture of visual imaging as pursued in a state of trance-like removal from human concerns, but the parody notion we have come to live with of its belonging to the world, its incorporation into it, its being “fully part” of a certain image regime. “Being fully part” means, it turns out in practice, being at any tawdry ideology’s service.'

You could say the same of universities, you know, and what has happened to them now that their traditional belief in the relative "apartness" of their intellectual activity has turned into a belief that there's no distinction at all between the university and the world outside of it -- that anything remotely like an 'ivory tower' has been a politically despicable idea. As Clark suggests, once you decide that there are no relatively constant values, ideas, and texts for which universities stand, once universities lose their intellectual autonomy and find their only measure of worth and meaning in the degree to which they respond to a larger political world, then you are "at any tawdry ideology's service."



Daniel Green, at The Valve, says another thing that needs to be said:

What formalist ever believed a work of art or literature was literally “brilliantly (or dully) mechanical,” or, at least, that a proper response to art was one that regarded it as “something less than human, non-human”? Has anyone ever really confronted a work of art “in a state of trance-like removal from human concerns”? The very fact the a human being experiences a work created by another human being, both of whom presumably draw on very human attributes--creativity, attentiveness, for that matter even the ability to self-induce a “trance-like” state--would seem to make the transformation of the puerile metaphor of the “mechanical” response to art into something real, something to be contrasted with “human,” manifestly preposterous. Yet this association of formalist criticism of all kinds with merely “mechanical” aesthetic appreciation and “engaged” political criticism with the fully “human” world of “transactions, interests, disputes, beliefs” has been an operational assumption of academic criticism for almost three decades now, producing such an endless stream of ideologically sodden “scholarship” that apparently even Clark has had enough.

It’s good that T. J. Clark wants now to challenge the pseudo-analyses of “belonging to the world” and “image regimes,” but maybe he should have realized that his own interpretation of formalism was itself a “parody notion,” that he was exchanging one “mechanical” approach for what was inevitably to become its equally distorted mirror image. It now seems a fixed law of academic criticism that one generation will dismiss the previous generation’s preferred critical method based on its least representative, most exaggerated characteristics, while going on to practice a new method that seems designed to provoke a similar reaction from the next (or in this case, from one of its own.)
Wide World of Sports

I can't pick on the NBA for tonight's Knicks/Nuggets melee: no universities involved.

I'll make due with the two thousand students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who rioted on Friday after their football team lost a game. They

poured out of buildings and began setting fires, smashing windows, and throwing rocks and cans of beer after the university’s football team lost the Division I-AA football championship to Appalachian State University Friday night. State police were called to help university officers quell the two-and-a-half-hour disturbance, according to a university statement, and two officers were treated for bruises after being hit. More than 60 officers in riot gear used pepper spray, smoke, and other tactics to break up the gathering.

Lots of people - police and students - were hurt.

Some rioters threw bicycles -- at the police, and at their horses.

In a shocking development, the university revealed the students were drunk.

Saturday, December 16, 2006


... the way things work sometimes. I read with delight a short essay in last Sunday's New York Times, found it charming, beautiful... Thought I'd cite it on my blog as an instance of great writing...

First I did a quick Google search of the author's name - standard operating procedure for our UD - and gradually realized that the author -- Dena Crosson -- was the daughter of an old friend of my aunt's here in 'thesda.

The essay demonstrates an important and somewhat depressing rule about writing: You can absorb all the rules and practice all the tricks, but if you don't have it, your writing will never be truly great. It'll be good, maybe, but never great.

It is personality, and you either have a personality that draws people to you in interest and affection, or you don't.

By "affection," I don't mean She's so sweet! I just love her! I mean you like the writer's personality because you recognize it as authentic, sharp, different, nervy. Evelyn Waugh, Robert Graves, George Orwell, Dorothy Parker, Gore Vidal, Kingsley Amis, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, Christopher Hitchens, Camille Paglia -- none of these is a pleasant person. Pleasant isn't most people's default mode.

It's bracing to be in the presence, in the consciousness, of a real human being, with wit and complexity and unpleasantness and irritability and prejudice and self-deception and everything.

My recent one-night stand with Dr. Phil on TNT was a reminder I didn't need that the experience of dealing with a fully realized, smartly expressive human being, getting a sense of the truth of human nature and existence, is a rarity. "One almost never gets the real thing," writes Saul Bellow in Ravelstein. "What truly matters has to be revealed, never performed."

Great writing reveals. Over time, it displays the truth of what people are, along with what matters in human life.

Of course a short essay in the newspaper can't do this. But it can suggest the capacity for this; it can reveal the leading edge of an actual human being.

My husband of more than two decades bought a motorcycle, went on the Atkins diet, and began to lose his middle-age belly. He started taking martial arts classes and brought home books about Zen Buddhism, dharma and karma. He surfed the Web to find childhood classmates, looked up old girlfriends, and — well, you know the story. [Great goofy details, winding up in a place so cliched that the writer wisely leaves it up to you to finish the thought.]

I saw the red flags but ignored them. In my mind, our marriage was strong, we were in love, and he was simply making changes in his life to make himself happier. [The key to this essay's charm is the writer's easy-going acceptance of her ditziness. She's a good-hearted person who misses a lot. She knows this.] After he left for one of the old girlfriends, I saw that I should have been more vigilant, but it was too late to go back and I was forced to take up residence in Divorceland, a sad and lonely country. [In another writer's hands, this would come across as off-putting self-pity, but here, because the writer's control of her writing conveys a larger control of herself, we accept it as reportage.]

Our older daughter left for college the same week my husband moved out, so suddenly it was just our younger teenager and me in the house. Walking through my neglected, empty and shabby home felt like I was wearing dirty old clothes. [Again, no self-pity here; just the truth of certain painful new recognitions.] I had no heart for chores like cooking, cleaning or gardening and instead spent countless hours slumped at my computer playing spider solitaire and sudoku. Honey, you are pathetic. [She's going to do this clever shift of voice -- from third-person address to the reader to first-person address to herself -- throughout the essay. It works well, given that she's already established her cluelessness. A person like this needs to and will talk to herself.]

Of course there was less money than before. Not to mention more anger and grief. Everyone thought we had the best marriage. Our next-door neighbors once told me that we were their role model for the perfect combination of friendship, passion and love. [Note the short choppy sentences. This also feels psychologically authentic, given that she was in shock.]

I was embarrassed in front of my girlfriends, despite all their love and affection, because I sensed they saw me as someone who had failed to secure what most matters when you are the woman in a middle-aged couple: devotion, fidelity and support.

But the absence of my husband did lead me to one surprising realization: I was now free to abandon my former ideas about my life and come up with new plans. [This is nicely, simply said: "abandon my former ideas about my life."] Maybe I could rent out one of my empty rooms and generate some income.

Having a witness to my pathetic habits, I hoped, also would force me to clean up and live better. [Pathetic again. Her wry self-awareness is winning.] So when I received an e-mail message from my friend Georgette in Argentina, saying she was coming back to complete and defend her doctoral dissertation, I took it as propitious. I offered her a room and kitchen, bath and laundry.

It felt good to clear out her room and clean it. I bought a dresser and a rug at Ikea. I washed the windows. The day she arrived I put a vase of flowers in her room. Welcome!

Now, Georgette is like no one else I have ever met. Tall and beautiful, she has prematurely gray hair and intense dark eyes. She is Latina, which according to her means she is emotional and excitable — traits I had already seen on display during her previous United States sojourn. And then she believes in astrology, magic and the kabbalah (whatever that is).

I had never believed in such arcana.[By the way, note that Crosson knows about one rule of good writing UD has often talked about on this blog: In most cases, you should end a sentence with your strongest word. Here, it's arcana.] But Georgette’s certainty in divine intervention was compelling. Her protector, she said, is the handsome and debonair god Mercury. Mine, she told me, is Saturn: dark, cold, harsh and mean. Well, fine. [Again, note how these little well fines and welcomes and you are pathetics make the essay run along two separate but nicely compatible tracks -- her public address to you, and her private address to herself. Read Saul Bellow's Herzog, or James Joyce's Ulysses, for this trick worked up into something really big.]

Georgette produced the most beautiful deck of tarot cards I have ever seen and read my future. Money was coming, she said, but love — not so much. At least for now. It seemed that I was still preoccupied with the past. I was convinced that Mercury was a better protector than Saturn and I envied Georgette’s luck. After all, how had Saturn protected me while my husband was laying his plans?

Georgette could see more than the messages from the stars. Looking around at my unkempt house, she announced, in her fluent, heavily accented English: “On Saturdays — I clean!”

We went out to buy Pine-Sol, her preference, and a bucket, as somehow I didn’t seem to have one. [I love this somehow I didn't seem to have one. Maybe it's because I'm a pathetic domestic specimen myself, but that genial astonishment, along with an ongoing confusion about what a well-provided house should have, rings wonderfully true.] Georgette was disappointed at being unable to find the special mop and mop cloths of Argentina, but she made do.

While she was busy mopping, the moral imperative for me to vacuum and dust the living room was clear. The house was getting clean. Her energy was inspiring. Her flood of e-mail messages — from her room downstairs to my office upstairs — were always punctuated by a series of exclamation points. “Idea!!!” was her typical subject line.

I learned from her that we were in a month with an annular eclipse — a celestial event that augurs change, good and bad — making life extra hard for everybody. She warned me not to try anything difficult during such a dubious period. The eclipse foretold endings and beginnings. We would be lucky to make it through to the month without disaster, but after that, things were going to get better. [Note how the writer leaves in abeyance whether she believes any of this shit. This is also a very smart move. She's desperate, miserable, intellectually and emotionally adrift... So the confident ideologies Georgette brings into the house are okay with her... they're at least a direction...]

One evening [Like a lot of good essays, this one is essentially background material and then narration. We have now begun narration.] she sent me a mysterious e-mail message while I was paying an overnight visit to my ailing mother. Georgette wrote that she had found something in a drawer and “We have to talk; it is very important!!!!!”

When I returned she took me by the hand and led me into the kitchen, saying, “I was looking for an extension cord, and I saw it.” She opened the drawer and showed me. It was a playing card, the seven of hearts. Typical. Where was the rest of the deck?

“It is the end of your marriage!” she said. Well, O.K. I was already aware of that. But apparently this card made it official; it seems the seven of hearts in the tarot deck is the card of total disillusionment and disorder.

And what a tarot card. So different from the ordinary one in the drawer, her card was a blue and green image of seven weeping, melting fountains dripping futility into a sad pool. [Nice visual emblem of the writer's despair, which is also, because it's a card, kind of funny and tacky.]

“You must burn it,” Georgette continued. “And put the ashes in a container and bury it. During the eclipse.”

A bit unusual, sure, but I couldn’t say that my own approach to life had worked out so well. [My favorite line: "but I couldnt' say that my own approach to life had worked out so well." Funny, open-minded, self-critical and self-accepting all at once. The mark of the Real is upon it.] It is one kind of failure to have a single playing card in a jumbled drawer along with dead batteries, random drill bits, price stickers for a yard sale that never took place and seed packets from 1993. [Again, great details.] It is another kind altogether to be suddenly without a husband and to have no idea how it all happened. Obviously, I could use some help.

That night we lighted some candles, and I prepared my strategy. The next morning I held the playing card over the burner of the commercial stove my husband and I had bought back when we thought we were cool. It made a lovely flame.

Where to put the ashes? I already knew. Those ridiculous little china spice jars in the shape of roosters that he had found in a thrift store one day and happily brought home. I never liked those birds. They languished on a shelf for the next 10 or 15 years while I kept our spices in their original McCormick cans like everybody else. My husband hadn’t taken them when he cleared out. Hmm, perfect.

Georgette told me I needed to think hard about what else I wanted to put in the rooster jar. “Something sweet,” she said. “For the sweetness of your marriage, and for the sweetness of your future. A teaspoon of honey.” She had given me the “eclipse schedule” the night before: between 7 and 7:40 the next morning. The timing had to be right, she said.

I knew where to bury the rooster: in Router’s grave. Our beloved dog had been laid to rest in the backyard five years earlier — up until my husband left, the worst loss I had ever faced. Such innocence.

We had always intended to plant azaleas over his burial site but had never done so. Instead there were cinder blocks that had sunken and become overgrown with vines and weeds. How long had it been since I had been out here? I couldn’t help but notice that the yard appeared to be just as disheveled as the house had been.

I found our shovel under the porch, pried up one of the cinder blocks, and began to dig. Almost instantly I hit something whitish — was it bone? I took a small piece and added it to the rooster jar. I loved you, Router. [Again, what this writer has achieved is an emotional tone at once sentimental and absurd. It's a wonderful mix.]

I thought I had to work quickly to make sure I finished before the eclipse ended. With a marker, I wrote the word “Done” on the faded label that once said “Thyme.” Then I covered the jar with earth, patting it down with my hands, and replaced the cinder block.

Finished, I stood over the grave in my unmatched pajama bottom and top, my ailing mother’s castoff robe wrapped tightly around me.

Inside, my daughter was still choosing outfits and putting on makeup for school, unaware of my strange backyard ceremony. She seemed so impervious to everything that had happened, insouciant and preoccupied with her friendships, yet I felt fiercely protective of her and her sister. I was ready to believe that by burying the china rooster I might find some release from the pain I had been suffering, however ridiculous such a notion might be. A release that would be for the good of all of us. It was worth a try, anyway. Maybe that’s the way of faith — you just try. [Again, humor, self-aware credulity, hopefulness. A good mix.]

But as I walked back to the house, I felt no different. Even Georgette seemed oddly unexcited when I gave her my report after my daughter left for school. ‘Yes, yes, is for you,” she said. “I just thought — the eclipse — is a thing.”

But that night, as I lay in bed envisioning the rooster jar buried in the dark earth, filled with ashes, bone and honey, I thought, finally, about the sweetness of my marriage. I thought about how for many, many years my husband and I had truly loved one another and made each other happy. And I waited to see if this acknowledgment would help temper my anger and grief.

It did, a little. Maybe with time it would a little more. This small sweetness seemed the best I could hope for, but it was enough.

As for the sweetness of my future, I am sure of at least a few things: my house will get cleaner, Georgette will continue to brim with good ideas. And if I ever come across a deck of cards that’s missing the seven of hearts — well, I’ll just toss it out.
Regan Devolution

'Less than a month after a harsh public rebuke from Rupert Murdoch, publishing provocateur Judith Regan has ankled HarperCollins.

News Corp.-owned HarperCollins announced the news late Friday on the East Coast with a terse press release headlined "Judith Regan Terminated." Termination was effective immediately, the statement said.

Move was clearly a reaction -- albeit a delayed one -- to the embarrassing scandal involving a Regan tome and T.V. special with O.J. Simpson titled "If I Did It," in which he described the way he would have committed the murders of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman. That event earned across-the-board condemnation.'

Friday, December 15, 2006


Now why, UD wondered, as she moments ago headed up the Foggy Bottom Metro escalator to GW's campus, why are there white media vans with skyscraper-high antennae sticking out of them on the street in front of her?

Why, for that matter, is security at GW Hospital more stringent than usual (UD flashes her i.d. card here every morning she's on campus, in order to get breakfast at the well-located Starbucks on the hospital's first floor), with three guards instead of one?

Well, things are always hopping four blocks from the White House... Could be anything... The real question is whether UD wants a cookie or a scone with her latte...

Then, as she walked to her office, she realized it's about that Senator from South Dakota whose health crisis might tip the legislative balance of power... Which made the scene kind of icky... a wonk death-watch...
A Writer for The Nation...

...tries, somewhat awkwardly, to put the totally creepy atmosphere of Columbus, Ohio a day before the Ohio State/Michigan game in a political context. Along the way, though, he evokes the setting nicely:

OSU-Michigan rivalry transcends vulgarity: This is sports as occupier; sports as the all-consuming Moloch bent on ingesting anyone trying to read a book on the quad or toss a frisbee. ... Fire is a real fear in the game's aftermath. I heard a local sports radio announcer joke uneasily Sunday about how people should make sure they burn their old couches, not new ones--a reference to the more than fifty fires that took place after Ohio State defeated Texas earlier this year. ... This is farce carrying the threat of tragedy. The game should be an invitation to have some fun. Instead it becomes a backdrop for a raging bouillabaisse of testosterone and alienation. To the people of Columbus, and a university with a proud tradition of student organizing and solidarity, cheer yourselves hoarse for the Buckeyes on Saturday. But save your anger for the people who deserve it: the administrators who hiked your tuition while spending hundreds of thousands on stadium upkeep ...

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Oso Raro...

...always has the coolest images over at Slaves of Academe. This one made me laugh; and I thought it'd be a good visual for my quick recap of our tv-watching last night.... Christmas in Washington, on TNT, began with images of snow falling gently over the city, even though it's been snowless and around sixty degrees around here for most of the month. The show was mainly about the bigtime singing acts (Il Divo, Taylor Hicks, Gretchen Wilson), but it did provide glimpses for us of La Spawn, wearing a long blue gown, an off-white scarf (which she got to keep), and one hell of an enthusiastic smile on her face as she belted out jazzed up carols.

Mr. UD will soon have all the winter weather he'd like; he's going to Norway in a couple of days, on business. Our friend who lives there tells Mr. UD it's either "dark, cold, and rainy" or "dark, cold, and snowy."
This Story's Moving Faster Than
A Drunk Linebacker in a Hummer

First it said it wouldn't; now it says it will. For a few hours, Auburn tried to dismiss its latest athletic scandal as a purely academic, more of the same, nothing to see here sort of thing. It wasn't going to send to the NCAA results of its internal audit involving phantom courses and illegally entered grades. I mean, why bother? What else is new? It only involved a couple of athletes...

Now it's changed its mind and is busily sending off the results of the thing to the NCAA:

Auburn University reversed position Wednesday and said it would forward to the NCAA relevant information from an internal audit examining grade changes.

The audit showed that a grade for at least one scholarship athlete was changed without the knowledge of the student's professor. The change allowed the athlete to barely finish above the 2.0 grade-point averaged needed to graduate.

...Auburn continued to maintain any grade changes were not coerced by the athletics department.

That last sentence is a beaut.

James Gundlach, the professor who broke the Auburn story, may testify in Washington:

"It's been indicated to me that Democrats really want to increase Pell grants but are facing an issue of pay as you go," Gundlach said. "So cutting the tax-exempt status on big-time athletics could put a whole lot of poor kids through college and would be very much the kind of things Democrats would like to point at by the time 2008 came around."

Hearings would include examining whether big-time athletics really promotes education. Gundlach was approached last summer by the House Ways and Means Committee about possibly testifying.

"I'm still interested in testifying," Gundlach said. "The thing that makes big-time sports actually detrimental to education is it has too much money. Too much money, too much power, too much influence."
An Ancient Tale

Longtime readers know of UD's special interest in diploma mills. I've followed enough tales about people who've bought their degree from bogus and illegal diploma-distributors that I've come to see how the plots of these stories are almost always identical.

Here's one, for instance, that's developing in New Hampshire. Absolutely every statement being made and event taking place is the same statement and event I've seen in most of the other cases.

One of the two remaining candidates for Windsor Southwest Supervisory Union superintendent lists on his resume a doctoral degree from a well-known diploma mill. [Bogus PhD's are popular among school administrators, since listing one on your resume can double your salary.]

Mychael Willon was named as one of two finalists for the job on Tuesday. On his resume, Willon lists a doctorate of philosophy from LaSalle University of Louisiana. In 1995, the FBI raided the unaccredited Louisiana school and its founder was convicted of fraud. [Of all the diploma mills I've researched, LaSalle is easily the sleaziest. Easily.]

When questioned about his doctoral degree on Wednesday, Willon declined comment. [Declined comment is step one. Step two will be "It's elitist to discriminate between non-traditional educational institutions and traditional ones." Step three: "I didn't know it was a diploma mill." Step four: Even if it was a diploma mill, I really worked for that degree.]

The Eagle Times received an e-mail raising questions about Willon's credentials on Wednesday. [These stories almost always break with an anonymous communication from someone who knows the truth -- an ex-wife, an ex-employer...]

When informed Wednesday night of the details of Willon's doctorate, Alison DesLauriers, superintendent search committee chairwoman, said she still considers him a viable candidate. She said Willon began his doctoral work in Maryland and elected to finish the degree online after moving out of state. [UD always finds this part -- and it's a totally reliable part -- of the story strange. People involved in the scandal will always begin by dismissing the bogus degree as of no importance. Here, the search committee chair seems to think it matters that he moved out of state...]

"He has significant experience in the field of education and has more than the base qualifications," DesLauriers said. [This is another absolutely time-honored move: The defenders will say that the job doesn't require an advanced degree, so the whole moral cesspool thing of this person having bought a bogus degree is irrelevant. And as to this man having "base" qualifications -- he certainly does, but not in the way this woman intends.]

The superintendent position has a budgeted annual salary of $95,000 plus benefits, she said. A doctoral degree doesn't have any influence on the salary, and DesLauriers said Willon's doctorate also was not a factor in picking him as a finalist. [See the move? Doesn't matter! And note that high salary -- a strong message to your local students that cheaters prosper.]

Willon has a masters of education in curriculum and instruction from the University of Maryland, which he received December 1984. In 1977, he received a bachelors of science in elementary education from the University of Maryland, according to his resume. [Many diploma mill people have legit other degrees. They just got impatient for higher ones.]

If this story plays out the way such stories tend to do, community outrage will remove the guy from consideration.
"That one little unit there."

More efforts on the part of Auburn to pretend that the now-unaccredited university's escalating academic whoredom scandal has nothing to do with athletics.

Why is Auburn so eager to claim this? I guess because they're tired -- after decades and decades of scandals -- of getting sanctioned. Sanction-burnout.

Of course it's true that what's going on there isn't only an athletic scandal. If it makes Auburn feel any better, lots of non-athletes also enjoyed the grade-changing, bogus course-offering ministrations of faculty whores.

There are broader efforts on Auburn's part to deny the school's engrained, systemic corruption. The president insists that the latest obscenities, in which someone seems to have gone online and added students and high grades to unsuspecting professors' gradesheets (Professor James Gundlach, who uncovered the bogus course scandal, correctly says that "if it is proven that someone changed grades without a professor's knowledge, it could represent a breach of academic integrity much greater than this summer's scandal. ...[The grade changes] represent something far more serious than [the chair of sociology] giving away grades in courses that he had students in.") are "strictly within that one little unit there," meaning the extensive sociology/criminology/whatever program that seems to be pimp-central.

But only an idiot would believe that stuff like this doesn't go on in other units at Auburn. In fact, it is UD's assumption that the prostitution of academic life there has merely shifted location. If there's another James Gundlach in another unit, he or she should be prepping for some media attention.

Says in the Huntsville Times that Petee (sociology chair) could lose his tenure and his job. Don't bet on it. And don't forget that he was chair of the sociology department. One of the most corrupt professors UD's ever heard of was chair of a department at Auburn. His activities would have gone undetected had a very determined colleague not stood up to derision and intimidation from the university to press his claims against him.

Auburn has resisted and denied every step of the way, and it'll continue to do so. That's why only the same idiot would believe the bullshit the Huntsville Times writer fell for -- the happy talk from Auburn with which the reporter decided to end his article:

...Painful though it may be, Richardson said the process of dealing with the controversy that started last summer has made Auburn better and stronger. "This is clearly something we take very seriously, and we will follow it to the end," he said. "It's like going to the doctor and taking shots. I don't like to take shots. We had a policy in place before, but it was not systematically administered as it should have been. It's an embarrassment to us."

I understand why locals would like to believe that a little unit of Auburn came down with a little condition for which it had to go to the doctor. No one wants to hear they've got tertiary syphilis.


One more thing: Just checked Petee's university webpage. It's much better than it used to be. It used to have a photo of him and a description of him as department chair. Now there's no photo and no mention of his being chair -- instead, there's a pair of handcuffs.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

One For the Record Books

Auburn University's spokesman speaks:

"This is not an athletic issue,” said the spokesman, Brian Keeter. “The N.C.A.A. has not requested this report. We’ve provided a previous one to them. If they ask us to do for this, we would. But this is an academic issue.”

When asked how an issue involving an athlete’s grade change was not an athletic issue, Keeter said, “This is not an athletic issue.”
The blog Progressive Historians Asks...

What do you get when you cross electronic grading with a varsity football team?

The shitstorm that's brewing at Auburn.
UD Salutes...

...Oliver Brown, William Hudson, and Justin Jordan, spectacularly brave Texas Southern University students, whose devotion to the truth brought down a corrupt president, and made a still-corrupt school significantly less corrupt.

Here's the whole remarkable story, told by an excellent writer at Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

For background, go here, here, here, and here.
Washington State
In Exstreamas

Erin O'Connor does some more digging on John Streamas (see the post below), the sort of professor who can really do damage to a school, especially when he's part of a larger department - ethnic studies, in this case - packed with people who get their names in the papers for the wrong reasons (see the link below for details on a Streamas colleague, Professor Leonard).

Given adequate time and hiring opportunities, ethnic studies programs like WSU's will, UD predicts, become the academic-side equivalent of rogue university football teams. Their faculty will routinely hurl words and things at campus hegemonists and get reprimanded and arrested, etc.

Unlike football players, though, these guys are on teams that can vote them lifetime tenure.
Update: Warfare at Washington State

John Streamas, a professor of ethnic studies at WSU, is a confused and sputtering sort of person, all high revolutionary dudgeon, a legend in his own mind.

His syllabi are meandering messes. Although he cannot write or think clearly, he teaches graduate students.

Streamas and his department represent part of the larger ethnic studies fiasco in America. (America's attention was drawn to the problem by the University of Colorado's Ward Churchill.)

Streamas gets really angry when he sees Republicans; he screamed at a WSU student who's a Republican and who was at a campus Republican anti-immigration rally that he was a "white shit-bag."

Here is an explanatory voice message that Streamas left for university investigators:

"This is a racist university. Many of our students say that WSU stands for White Supremacist University.

I don't care about the hurt feelings of one white person. The feelings of one little hurt white boy who's got all his white-skinned privilege are nothing compared to the hundreds of people he offended with his racist fence."

(The students put up a fence symbolizing the need to control the movement of people across the country's borders.)

The university investigation has concluded, and today officials announced what we already knew: Streamas is "immature, intellectually unsophisticated and thoughtless." They're reprimanding him, but not firing him.

Nor should he be fired for having the qualities listed. Ethnic studies at WSU seeks them out in its hires.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

... But when I say later...

...I mean quite a bit later. I'm off to a Student-Faculty dinner for the university's honors program.
This and That

1.) Andrew Ferguson, in an opinion piece in, summarizes Arthur Levine's scathing report on America's schools of education. An excerpt from Ferguson:

Educating School Teachers says education schools suffer from the same afflictions that have crippled primary and secondary schools until recently: low standards of performance and graduation.

This won't surprise anyone who has spent much time at an American university, where the education school is commonly thought of as either the campus joke or the campus dump -- the spots where students and teachers who can't succeed elsewhere end up. The scores of future elementary school teachers on the Graduate Record Exam, Levine says, are 100 points below the national average.

...Yet for universities, the campus joke and dump is also -- to switch to Levine's metaphor -- a cash cow.

Lowered admission standards bring more students into the education school, Levine writes, generating revenue that subsidizes more prestigious departments within the university. This leaves little incentive for universities to clean up their teacher-training program.

...What's to be done? A constructive fellow, Levine spends considerable time showing what works in the nation's exemplary education schools. (There are some.) The examples are so compelling they just might shame other universities into following their lead, removing a major obstacle to educational improvement in the U.S.

...Education schools, for example, shouldn't treat 'education' as a major in itself. Good education schools, Levine finds, require their students to master a given subject -- English or math -- the way a normal English or math major would. Beyond this standard four-year course, good schools then add another year of instruction in how to teach the subject.

This sounds obvious enough, but it's hard to overstate how far from common sense the U.S. educational establishment has wandered.

2.) UD wrote a brief note to an official at Tennessee/Chattanooga, asking for an update on the history professor there who plagiarized his book (his university webpage still promotes the book), and who graduated from what appears to be a diploma mill. The opening lines of the response she got were so out of control that she deleted the email without reading further.

3.) Later on today, UD will post about the art historian T.J. Clark. She will also analyze some charming prose she found in last Sunday's New York Times.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Touchy, touchy.

Bigtime tenor Roberto Alagna was booed by some audience members the other night at La Scala, as he finished his opening aria in Aida.

In response to the boos, Alagna "stunned the audience and his colleagues by marching off the stage... An understudy wearing jeans took over immediately."

Having broken his contract, he won't be back for the rest of the scheduled performances.



Dumb Shit Artists Say
(A University Diaries Series)

"I left the stage because I was not well,” he said. “I am an artist. I am very sensitive.” He blamed La Scala for not halting the performance to give him a chance to recover, as normally happens when a singer is taken ill.

He denied that [La Scala's director] spoke to him for 30 minutes. “He told me just that, ‘Return, or it will be very bad for you,’ ” Mr. Alagna said.

Then, he changed tack and said his salute [he did a military salute to the audience before leaving the stage] reflected recognition that the public had spoken. “So be it. I respect your decision,” he said. “If people don’t like me, why do I have to force them to listen to me?” And yet, he continued, the real disrespect to the audience came from [the director] by canceling his [future] performances. “Those people paid to see me, to hear me,” he said.

He also hinted at darker forces arrayed against him, saying that the cover, Mr. Palombi, was already warming up in his dressing room before the performance, and that three mysterious figures made karate chop motions at him outside the stage door beforehand.

“There’s something very strange,” he said, adding that he may have been the inadvertent target of audience members who resent [the director of La Scala's] French nationality.
Target Practice at
Oregon State University

Excerpts from an article by Gwyneth Gibby in today's Corvallis Gazette:

...After a Corvallis man, Dennis Sanderson, was shot Oct. 14, in the alley behind [an Oregon State University fraternity] house, police searched Alpha Gamma Rho and found more than two dozen weapons including .22-caliber rifles and 12- and 20-gauge shotguns.

Included in the arsenal was the .22-caliber rifle used to shoot Sanderson.

Police reports from the investigation, which include reports of interviews with members of fraternity, reveal ongoing resentment about transients in the alley.

...Sanderson had just climbed out of a dumpster between AGR and Phi Gamma Delta, otherwise known as Figi, when he felt something hit his left thigh. He took a step and it hurt. When he looked at his leg he saw blood and realized he’d been shot.

...Some [of the weapons] were in a gun safe, but others were in closets and cars.

When the shooter realized he'd hit a man, he and a friend who watched him do it went to get pizza. One school official describes the incident as "something of legitimate concern." Another says that students need to work on "finding appropriate ways to interact with transients."
'Dr. Phil'

UD likes the way the Washington Post, in this morning's account of her kid's activities last night, puts Dr. Phil's name in quotation marks, as if he's not only not a real 'Dr.,' but not a real human being. An excerpt:

President Bush enjoyed a lively set of Christmas music Sunday night, swaying and bobbing his head as music stars like Taylor Hicks and Gretchen Wilson belted out classic carols.

TV host "Dr. Phil" McGraw and his wife, Robin, emceed the annual "Christmas in Washington" concert at the National Building Museum. The event benefited the Children's National Medical Center.

"Since this event began a quarter of a century ago, 'Christmas in Washington' has become one of the most cherished holiday traditions here in our nation's capital," Bush said.

As Americans gather with their families over the holidays, Bush said, U.S. troops abroad "must know that our nation is grateful for your service."

"American Idol" winner Hicks led off the show with "Santa Claus Is Coming to Town." Country singer Wilson performed "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus," while 12-year-old "America's Got Talent" champ Bianca Ryan sang "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas." Pop-opera quartet Il Divo performed "White Christmas." [I believe it's from among the men in this group, Il Divo, that my daughter announced, when she got back late last night, that she has chosen her future husband. But I'm not sure.] The lineup also included soul singers Chris Brown and Corinne Bailey Rae.

The president and first lady Laura Bush joined all the performers onstage for the finale, including "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing."

La Spawn was too exhausted for much detail on the event, but she did say that "Dr. Phil" was "sort of obnoxious," that his wife "can't read a teleprompter," and that President Bush "can't read a teleprompter."
29 Billion for
20,000 Students

Nice description, as congressional committees begin to circle, of the nonsensical non-profit status of many American universities. The writer is Holly K. Hacker, in the Dallas Morning News. Some excerpts:

...More than 100 presidents at four-year colleges and universities make at least $500,000, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education.

...American University was paying $800,000 to Benjamin Ladner as its president. Then an investigation found he had spent thousands more on such decidedly noneducational expenses as a personal chef and engagement party for his son. Trustees ousted Dr. Ladner last year, but with delicious irony, gave him a severance package worth $3.7 million.

Endowments raise more eyebrows, with some so massive they smack of hoarding. Harvard University tops the list with more than $29 billion, for a campus of 20,000 students. Meanwhile, the total cost to attend Harvard is about $45,000 this year.

And no talk of exorbitant college spending would be complete without athletics. The House Ways and Means Committee picked up that flaming torch this fall, asking the NCAA to explain why sports programs at its member colleges should stay tax-exempt.

You could almost hear the sarcasm dripping in a letter Committee Chairman Bill Thomas sent to the NCAA, with questions like, "How does playing major college football or men's basketball in a highly commercialized, profit-seeking, entertainment environment further the educational purpose of your member institutions?"

The NCAA responded, why of course, college athletics are integral to the educational experience. But it's funny, just in time for bowl season, a study from the University of Central Florida tells us several bowl-bound colleges fail to graduate even half of their football players. Reigning national champ Texas came in second-to-last place at 40 percent. (Thank God for San Jose State, which had 32 percent).

Over on the Senate side, the Finance Committee has its own list of questions. Last week, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa noted that colleges and universities can issue tax-exempt bonds. For all the federal and local tax benefits universities get, they respond, as he put it, with "a bad triple play of big tuition increases, expanding endowments and now very, very high salaries for college presidents."

So, he asked, should colleges with big endowments have to spend some of that money on tuition for working families? Should some tax breaks depend on how much colleges keep tuition in check?

Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service says it will look more closely at college revenues and spending that aren't directly related to education. It also vows to look at "supporting organizations," such as booster organizations that generate money for a school.

In a letter explaining why, the IRS wrote, "We find that some of these organizations have little activity and do not provide meaningful support to the charity they claim to support."

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Why is Auburn University Accredited?

Excerpts from a New York Times article about Auburn University, with UD's commentary in brackets.

An internal audit at Auburn University found that a grade for a scholarship athlete was changed without the knowledge of the professor, raising the athlete’s average in the final semester just over the 2.0 minimum for graduation. [Prepare for the fun rhetoric from Auburn about how this internal audit proves how seriously they take the academic integrity of the institution. The audit was done, of course, only under massive pressure from the national media, and after Auburn tried in every way it could think of to intimidate and shut up the professor who revealed the activity.]

The grade, which was changed to an A from an incomplete, was one of four A’s the athlete received in the spring semester of 2003. None of the courses required classroom attendance. [Say it with me: None of the courses required classroom attendance. Read on to discover that the computerized final exams for these and similar courses featured no supervision.]

The athlete, who was not identified because of privacy laws, received the other three A’s in directed-readings courses supervised by Professor Thomas Petee. Petee was forced to resign as chairman of the sociology department in August because of “poor judgment” in the number of his directed-readings classes, one-on-one courses similar to independent study. [He had hundreds every semester. It's a scandal that this man, who no doubt continues to do something similar to this, remains on a university faculty. He lied about what he was up to. And what he was up to was so deeply wrong that he should have been -- should be -- dismissed.]

... Petee still teaches criminology at Auburn.

The university maintained that the courses, which often involved little work but resulted in high grades, were available to all students, not only athletes. Edward R. Richardson, the Auburn president, considers the issue dead, a university spokeswoman said. Richardson declined requests for comment in person and on the telephone this week. [Irresponsibility and denial at the highest levels.]

The athletic department has maintained that it does not do scheduling for athletes, but the audit showed that someone with knowledge of the system had helped the athlete who received the four A’s and graduated with a 2.01 grade point average.

... The grade was changed without the consent of the instructor listed for the course, the sociology professor Paul Starr. He said he did not teach the course to the athlete that semester and did not recall ever meeting the athlete. [Imagine you're a professor at an American university. You get multiple emails from the university informing you after the fact that you had this and that student in your class -- but you know you didn't have them in your class -- and that you gave them A's -- only you didn't give them any grades at all.]

“It was a phantom student in a phantom class,” Starr said in an interview in his office this week. “The schedule was a very strange one. You don’t cook up a schedule like that yourself. There was obviously some kind of guidance and special allowances with someone who had that kind of schedule.”

Starr said he found out about the grade change, which occurred May 12, 2003, only eight days ago, when he received an e-mail message as part of the internal audit. ...[O]ther sociology department professors [also] received e-mail messages from the auditor this week. [Sociology, never the strongest of disciplines, has really let itself go. It needs to decouple from things like criminology if it wants to avoid recurrences of this sort of thing.]

The e-mail message Starr received Nov. 29 said, “As part of an ongoing audit, Auburn University Internal Audit is reviewing changes made to grades where the documentation was signed by someone other than the instructor of record.” [Are we clear about what's going on at Auburn? People affiliated with the sports program are getting in to the university computer, adding the names of players to professors' class lists, and assigning them A's from those professors.]

It went on to ask Starr about a course in the spring 2003 term, SOCY4300-001, an internship-type course known as field instruction. The e-mail message asked whether he was aware of the grade change and the circumstances that had caused someone else to change it, and whether he had been contacted by anyone about the change.

Starr replied by e-mail to Gottesman that he had taught it one-on-one to “no more than three students over the last 20 years.” He also informed the auditor that he was not aware of the grade change submitted on his behalf. Further, he wrote that he did not enroll the athlete or permit the athlete to take the course.

...[A whistle-blowing professor] said he told [his department chair] of a professor in the department who had been giving unsupervised tests by computer for years.

[The chair] not only stopped that professor, but she also found and stopped another professor who had been doing the same thing.

It'd do Auburn a world of good to lose its accreditation for awhile. It's a whorehouse.


Update: UD's blogpal Sherman Dorn sends her multiple links covering the sordid and more sordid tale of unaccredited Auburn University. (UD has removed its accreditation. She is confident that official accrediting agencies will also do so.) Although a sordid tale, it is not a complicated one. It's Hawaii's story, and Alaska's. Also Louisiana's. Corrupt states maintain corrupt campuses, fine green quads ruled by fuckwit cronies of the governor's.

It would never occur to the trustees of a place like Auburn that universities have something to do with intellect. The trustees are potentates, with a benign condescension toward the primitives in the stadium rafters. They smile fondly at the ritual of party-and-puke that makes their pupils glad, and they run their little one-party states -- steady-party states -- like the Big Daddies they are.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

UD Shared One Legal Form With You...

...this morning (the one her kid, Mr UD, and UD, had to sign, promising not to demand a million dollars because their kid's face flashed on the tv screen during Wednesday's Christmas in Washington show); here's another one, also having to do with the stage.

A Brown University student production of Sartre's The Flies will entrap its audience, throughout each performance, in a theater full of real flies. "There's a sense of containment and quarantine and pestilence," when you're in a small space infested with forty thousand drosophila fruit flies, "which ties in with the play very well," the director explains to a reporter from the Boston Globe.

When you order tickets online, this disclosure appears on the screen:

"I am aware that there will be 30,000 live drosophila in the audience area at this production."

If you don't check a box confirming this, you can't buy a ticket.

(There were only 30,000 flies when they printed ticket information. The drosophila reproduced faster than the producers anticipated.)


Update: UD's been trying to figure out why she finds this story so sad.

She figures it has something to do with the assault on the imagination the gesture represents, the way the director considers the total literalizing of a metaphor clever or helpful or something. Is the imagination at this point so weak that we can't have an aesthetic experience without the theatrical equivalent of marital aids?

Prepare for productions of Ibsen's Ghosts in which audience members are injected with spirochetes so they can understand what syphilis feels like.
My Piece in Sunday's Washington Post... now available online.

One of my neighbors, Peggy Pratt, who has lived in Garrett Park as long as my family, said of this piece: "You make us sound so good. We're not as good as you make us sound."

So I idealize a bit...
"The first paragraph uses 'gratis' four times;
the second paragraph says they won't pay her...

... What are they trying to tell us?" Mr UD asked UD this morning, as they both signed a form from New Liberty Productions. If they didn't sign it, La Spawn couldn't perform tonight with Dr. Phil and the President at Christmas in Washington.

Here's the form:

Name of Performer

Christmas in Washington, 2006
Waiver and Release
I hereby grant permission gratis to New Liberty Productions, Inc., its licensees and/or assignees ("New Liberty") to film, videotape, and record gratis the performance of the above named performer for the "Christmas in Washington, 2006" program on December 10, 2006, and subsequently to telecast and otherwise utilize the same gratis in whatever manner New Liberty shall deem appropriate. Such permission shall include the right to appropriate use gratis by New Liberty of the above named performer's name, likeness and voice in promotional announcements regarding that program.

I hereby represent that in connection with such performance the above named performer has complied with Section 508 of the Federal Communications Act which makes it a criminal offense for any person to accept or furnish any money, service or other valuable consideration for the inclusion of any "plug" (promotional announcements) in any program intended for broadcast.

Signature of Performer

Friday, December 08, 2006

A Report to Make
Ivan Tribble Dribble

The MLA Task Force, reports Inside Higher Ed, insists on “the legitimacy of scholarship produced in new media,” and the need to "end the assumption that print is necessarily better. (And to the extent that some professors and departments don’t know how to evaluate quality in new media, 'the onus is on the department' to learn, not on the scholar using new media.)"

Other findings: "For books that get published, readers may be few. Press runs that used to range from 600-1,000 are now more likely to be 250." That's an appallingly low number; it really makes you wonder why The Book continues to carry such weight in department decisions. It's become an empty symbol.

You know UD hates Dr. Phil, but even he knows that you have to get real eventually.

The IHE account ends with some very sensible words from Clark Hulse, a dean, who

said he saw the MLA pushing departments to accept their responsibility for evaluating scholarship, instead of assuming that anything published by a university press is good and any scholarship that couldn’t find a traditional publisher must be bad.

“We need to have the courage to deny tenure based on a bad published book and to award tenure based on a great manuscript,” he said.

As to considering different forms of scholarship — in dissertations and for tenure — Hulse said that he thought most deans would “be eager to embrace these changes.”

Today, he said, “all dissertations are produced electronically,” and most start off as a series of linked articles, so the idea that they must follow a traditional book format doesn’t make particular sense. Whether a dissertation ends up in print or ends up being a series of articles is “almost a trivial question,” he said.

What needs to be preserved isn’t the monograph or dissertation [or] any one form of scholarship, he said. “What I think is sacred is the creation of a substantial and coherent and significant body of work.”

Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Threshold Moment

In a special report, the Chronicle of Higher Ed announces the release of the MLA's publication, Task Force on Evaluating Scholarship for Tenure and Promotion. Its conclusions and recommendations are sensible and unsurprising. Enough already of the "tyranny of the book manuscript." And in a related development, departments "need to rethink not only the conception of the dissertation as a larval monograph but also, and more broadly, the entire graduate curriculum."

They sure as hell do. Lots of grad students in the humanities seem tired of English departments that offer one has-been theory course after another -- the glories of Marxist thought, the glories of psychoanalytical thought, the personal identity politics that are so much more important than the common human values of great art -- as if these things weren't dead in the water, and as if they had much of anything to do with literature. Why, students want to know, is so much of what they read in these seminars -- essays as well as novels -- so shitty? Why is so much of it considered only politically, and unable to stand up to any aesthetic or more broadly philosophical prodding at all?

You'll never get a job if you don't do theory! their professors warn.

Really? Consider two young English professors a couple of decades ago who wrote a high-profile essay, "Against Theory," which infuriated everyone with its scornful dismissal of most of the theory with which PhDs in literature are still thrashed. What happened to these two contrarians? Did they destroy their careers?

For quite awhile, one taught at Berkeley, and the other at Hopkins. One of them is one of the highest paid English professors in the country. The other is the incoming president of George Washington University.

Instead of stomping out theories like a trained bear, write your convictions.

While things in the humanities haven't yet become a "crisis," the MLA report concludes, we're definitely at a "threshold moment."
UD Again in the
Washington Post

This Sunday's Washington Post will carry an essay by UD about her town, Garrett Park, Maryland.

Find it in Close to Home, which is the last page of the Outlook section.

Fun thing: I've been asked to submit a photo of the town for the piece. Haven't told her yet, but my Technically Proficient Sister will be called upon for assistance in a matter of seconds.
MOST Amusing...

...essay by Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair which correctly notes that women aren't funny. When it comes to funny stuff, women are "slower to get it, more pleased when they do, and swift to locate the unfunny."

He offers several reasons for this, which I will review. I will then add one of my own.

1.) Men need to be funny in order to attract women sexually, whereas women only have to be reasonably physically attractive to attract men sexually.

2.) Men are childish and stupid and therefore will laugh at anything. Women are mature and intelligent and therefore are less apt to laugh promiscuously.

3.) Hitchens quotes Fran Lebowitz: "Humor is largely aggressive and pre-emptive, and what's more male than that?"

4.) Childbirth. "For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing. Apart from giving them a very different attitude to filth and embarrassment, it also imbues them with the kind of seriousness and solemnity at which men can only goggle. ... Humor, if we are to be serious about it, arises from the ineluctable fact that we are all born into a losing struggle. Those who risk agony and death to bring children into this fiasco simply can't afford to be too frivolous."

Here's a nice excerpt from the essay:

[Nietzsche defined a] witticism as an epitaph on the death of a feeling. Male humor prefers the laugh to be at someone's expense, and understands that life is quite possibly a joke to begin with — and often a joke in extremely poor taste. Humor is part of the armor-plate with which to resist what is already farcical enough. (Perhaps not by coincidence, battered as they are by motherfucking nature, men tend to refer to life itself as a bitch.) Whereas women, bless their tender hearts, would prefer that life be fair, and even sweet, rather than the sordid mess it actually is. Jokes about calamitous visits to the doctor or the shrink or the bathroom, or the venting of sexual frustration on furry domestic animals, are a male province. It must have been a man who originated the phrase "funny like a heart attack." In all the millions of cartoons that feature a patient listening glum-faced to a physician ("There's no cure. There isn't even a race for a cure."), do you remember even one where the patient is a woman?

To all of this I'd add that women seem hardwired for propriety -- social, and even physical. Take UD. She's already mentioned several times on this blog that she's a slob. But in the teeny household economy of her teeny Garrett Park household, she notices that she and she alone exhibits some vestigial concern for upkeep. The other two inhabitants of Ferdinand House could give a shit (meaning La Spawn might grow up to be one of the world's rare funny women), whereas UD finds herself biannually stirred by deep-lying tides to vacuum doghair.
Francis Visits a Bordello

Francis X. Rocca, intrepid reporter for the Chronicle of Higher Education, walks into the Italian higher education system with a flashlight and describes what he sees.

Characterized by the country's minister of higher education himself as governed along the lines of a "big bordello," the Italian university system has gone from worse to worser by introducing quickie online options for schools, same thing as our own credits-for-experience bullshit...

Just how much credit students would receive for experience was supposed to be based on evaluations of individual résumés.

In practice, however, Italian universities have routinely waived a standard number of course requirements for students according to their occupations, on terms set forth in general agreements with their employers, labor unions, or professional associations.

Accountants, surveyors, and journalists are among the many professionals who have qualified for such credits, which have proved especially popular with civil servants and police officers, for whom the acquisition of a laurea typically means an automatic pay raise and promotion.

In May a popular investigative news program on national television raised a stir with an exposé of the practice, revealing, for example, that employees of the Interior Ministry could earn a bachelor's in political science in just one year, because they are exempt from the first two years of courses.

Competition has been introduced in the form of growing numbers of universities willing to waive more credits than the next guy ("We will not be underwaived!"), and in the form of spectacular facilities:

The southern region of Calabria, a largely rural area with a population of two million, now boasts no fewer than four universities, not including a small private institution whose accreditation the education ministry rescinded last May, following news reports that it was holding its rare classes in a seaside luxury hotel.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Snapshots from Home

UD Is Conflicted.

La Spawn is part of the chorus that
will sing immense numbers of carols
and do backup for various singers
(including Gretchen Wilson, whose
"Redneck Woman" is one of the kid's
favorite songs) at this year's
Christmas in Washington concert
at the National Building Museum.

TNT will broadcast it next week.

The President and other biggies will be there.

During last night's rehearsal, the director of the chorus pointed at the little one and had her stand in front of the one-hundred member group and do some singing. "You see that face?" the director said to the singers. "You see that expression? I want all of you to have that face when you sing."

So... all of that is good, fine... But what the kid didn't tell me is that the host of the event is Dr. Phil.

UD has dealt rather well over the years with this man by pretending he does not exist.

How can she pretend he does not exist and watch her daughter on tv (That's right - UD doesn't have a tv in her house. But for special occasions she finds one and watches it.) with him at the same time?

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Note: "Writing: Love and Hate"...

... is a new post, but you need to scroll down a bit for it.
The Damien Dempsey
I Left Behind

Professor Balamuralikrishna,
With a Pipe

'Fights happen from time to time on all college campuses. NIU police responded to a fight around 11 am that was anything but typical. Lt. Matt Kiederlen has worked for the NIU Police Department for 14 years.

“When we arrived on scene the two professors had been in an argument and one of them had been struck by the other one with a small metal bar.”

Police say Associate Professor Radha Balamuralikrishna administered the blow, causing a head injury that required treatment by paramedics. An NIU spokesman said the professor charged with aggravated battery will be put on administrative leave until the case is closed.

Students at NIU say they have seen violence on campus, but its usually between fellow students. They were quite surprised when we informed them a fight between professors had taken place on Monday. Guilty or not, students say they would think twice before taking a class with the accused.

“I wouldn't be very comfortable with that, I would try to see if there were other professors I could switch to, I wouldn't be very comfortable with that at all.”

“It would depend on if he had some training, sensitivity training, but I’m sure the school is doing enough about it to make sure it doesn't happen again. But that’s really surprising to hear.”'
UD's Latest Attack on Creative Writing...

...appears in one of GW's journals of creative writing, Le Culte du Moi.
A Sheep Farm North of Baltimore

In one of my earliest posts at UD, I praised to the skies a book of essays that came out twenty years ago. Against Theory: Literary Studies and the New Pragmatism was edited by one of my Chicago professors, W.J.T. Mitchell, and featured a smart and nasty fight between two art critics - T.J. Clark and Michael Fried - that taught me a great deal about modernism.

Also in that volume -- the inspiration for it, really -- is the now-classic "Against Theory" by Walter Benn Michaels (whose recent book, The Trouble with Diversity, has been much-discussed) and Steven Knapp. Here's an excerpt from it.

Knapp seems to have gone into academic administration in a big way over the last couple of decades, because he's about to become the new president of UD's place of business, George Washington University.

He has a sheep farm north of Baltimore!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Writing: Love and Hate

"As [Gore] Vidal heads towards what he calls, 'The door marked Exit', so too does the species he represents: the famous writer. Nowadays, writers simply aren't famous any more – or rather 'to speak of a famous writer is like speaking of a famous speedboat designer. The adjective is inappropriate to the noun.' The reasons for this are twofold, Vidal believes.

'The French auteur theory of the 1950s had a lot to do with it. People who might have written books started trying to make movies instead. I remember all these terrible hacks in Hollywood coming up and telling me, ''I'm an auteur, you know." And I would say, ''I always knew you were by the way you parted your hair."

'Also, the GI Bill of Rights after the War meant that milllions of people who had never been educated before went to university. The trouble was they liked it so much they decided to stay there and become academics. And if you want to meet someone who really hates literature, then just talk to an academic.'"

Do literature professors hate literature? People like Vidal, who think they do, think so for a number of reasons which have varying degrees of plausibility.

1.) Many literature professors theorize in ugly language about literature. The ugly language tells us that they are themselves incapable of recognizing beautiful language, which is what literature primarily is; and the theorizing suggests an incapacity to respond directly to literature, and a related compulsion to cover the delicate wash of art with mental smog.

2.) Literature professors are jealous. They wanted to be novelists and poets and dramatists themselves, but weren't good enough. They channeled their frustrated aesthetic impulses into lecturing and writing about aesthetic objects, but their undying resentment of the great writer means that their primary motive will be to destroy.

3.) Many literature professors secretly believe literature is an airy-fairy sort of thing that needs butching up, not only with scientific theory, but with a primary insistence on art's political utility. Hence, they are drawn to dull, didactic stuff, like Uncle Tom's Cabin.

4.) The influence of psychoanalysis remains pernicious. Professors think literature is mainly about making readers feel better about themselves -- empowered, liberated, whatever. The result is similar to #3 -- a decided preference for mediocre literature with a marvelous message just for you. None of the difficult, often unpleasant, often irresolvable, complexity of art; none of the dense linguistic challenges and delights of the greatest writers (Joyce, Woolf, Faulkner).


Not hating literature means, in large part, loving the particularity of a great writer's voice -- and this includes essayists, for the principles of great writing are pretty steady across fiction and non-fiction. Great writers share many of the same writerly tricks, but manage to use them with unique results.

For instance, this spectacular essay in last Sunday's New York Times magazine has all sorts of things in common with the sorts of essays George Orwell wrote, yet it finds its own powerful register.

The basic move of this essay, a move Orwell made again and again, is to seem at first to narrate an event with clinical distance, but in fact, gradually and rather horribly, to mark the writer's implication in the event and its meanings. James Agee did this all over his great long essay, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men -- described the poverty of Southern tenant farmers in an almost cold photographic way, only bit by bit to sense and own up to his own inner poverty. Gerard Manley Hopkins is after the same point in his poem "Spring and Fall," in which the poet watches a little girl grieve over fallen autumn leaves:

It is the blight man was born for.
It is Margaret you mourn for.

If you want a popular culture visual of what I have in mind here, think of the final scene of The Sixth Sense, when Bruce Willis, to his horror, realizes that he's dead too. That cornered look on his face.

Why are we so moved by this writerly move? I think we're fascinated generally by epiphany, by a moment of serious insight. More particularly, though, these epiphanic expressions represent non-insipid ways to convey our shared humanity; they actually narrate the way the truth of your embodied being can creep up on you.

Procuring organs was part of the job description during my transplant-surgery fellowship, and the operation was like any other. [Note the matter of fact tone here, and the way the writer just gets into it. No handshake, no introduction. Instant narration. You are there, and the operation at hand is a routine one.] There were patients who required more care, others who seemed made for a surgeon’s hands. And though brain-dead, they all seemed remarkably alive. They bled bright red, and their chests rose and fell regularly, albeit with the aid of medications and life-support machines. [Dead, bled, red -- she's a poet and don't she know it. Wonderful weird morbid shit on offer. Admit that you love it.]

We often worked in the middle of the night, keeping the body functioning for as long as possible. The less time we exposed the organs to the stillness of death [A little poetry there, stillness of death. She's going to do something Don DeLillo, one of UD's favorite novelists, does -- mix Romantic and scientific, archaic and jet-age writing. It's difficult to do this well, though.], the greater the chances of success in waiting recipients. But every operation ended the same way. [Again, she's lulling us with the routine nature of this operation. Of course we know something's going to break the routine. We're playing along.] The senior surgeon cross-clamped the aorta, the anesthesiologist disconnected the medications and breathing tube and I snipped across the vena cava, letting blood drain into tubing connected to clear wastebasket-size canisters on the floor. [Great writers know where the great images are. She'll return to those wastebasket-size canisters collecting blood -- because they're so damn good.]

I always emerged from those operating rooms feeling more alive than when I had entered. I became energized by the act of operating, the hope of transplantation. [An important bit of information about the writer -- her routine feeling, given that she's doing something life-saving in these procedures, is to feel enlivened. But we suspect that as the narrative heats up, things, again, will become non-routine.]

That was until my 83rd procurement. [Nice use of pointless arbitrary number. As if to say it could have happened anytime.] She was a 35-year-old Asian-American woman, like me. She was driving on a Southern California road when a drunken driver collided into her car. [Please note the emotionlessness of tone. Not indifference --just calmness. The material here is incendiary all on its own. For her to write, "I was horrified to hear of a poor woman who..." would be to turn this into the Oprah show. All the reality would bleed out.] Three days later, brain-dead, on my operating table, she looked merely asleep. Her warm skin was taut, with few blemishes, and her full hips and thighs suggested a metabolism beginning to slow. Her toenails were painted pink. [So much good stuff here. Ends with the trivial detail of the pink toenails -- but they tell us that she was a fun person, well-groomed, maybe a little silly. The trivial detail packs a wallop when it's the right detail. And again notice the weird mix of science and poetry: "metabolism," a doctor's word, alongside "full hips and thighs" -- almost the language of the pornographer... which is fine, since there's something undeniably pornographic about what this surgeon is doing.]

Hasan, the senior surgeon that night, began working on her abdomen. I was to open her chest.

As I placed the pencil-like electrocautery instrument at the top of her breastbone, the surgical drape covering her right breast fell away. I pulled it up again but noticed the undulations of each rib and the gentle fall of breast tissue to her side. [See how the oscillation between soft humane writing and hard clinical writing begins to hint at the writer's own inner division? The very style of the writing tells us -- the writer doesn't have to do so directly -- that the humanity of the woman on the table is insinuating itself into the surgeon in a way she has not experienced before.] Her nipple and areola peeked through; they had a coloring and shape that I had seen on only one other person: myself. [Bang. Nice, the way she nails it with a full stop. : myself.] In fact, the very shape of her breast, the thinness of her chest and the texture of her skin reminded me of my own upper body. It was as if I were standing naked after a shower, looking in a mirror.

I stopped for a moment, unable to put my instrument back to her chest, and my nose suddenly filled with the smell of flesh burned by Hasan’s cauterizing pen. It was a familiar odor — surgeons use electrocautery in almost every operation — but this time, it found its way into the pit of my stomach. I stepped back, tasting the smell in my mouth, and looked away to try to breathe in anything but what was wafting up into the air.

“Are you sleepy?” Hasan asked gently. The clock read 3 a.m.

“I’m all right,” I replied, trying to recover.

“Come here and feel her liver.” He took my hand and plunged it into the woman’s upper abdomen. “It’s perfect.” [Typical doctor, Hasan. It's all about the excellence of the organs for him, not the disturbing continued vibrancy of this not quite dead woman. Nothing wrong with that. But our narrator is someplace else altogether.]

The abdominal incision closed around my forearm. Her liver — soft, smooth, well formed — was perfect, but my fingers felt lost in the warm sponginess of organs. Loops of bowel slid by, and her pulsating aorta persistently nudged my palm. [We love this stuff -- the down and dirty inside, er, scoop. That's another mark of great writing -- we learn words we never knew, inhabit worlds we never knew. And notice what's arguably the best bit of prose in the whole piece: "her pulsating aorta persistently nudged my palm." Glorious. Not merely because of that poetic alliteration -- pulsating...persistingly...palm -- but because we're onto quite an objective correlative here. The heart of this woman insistently beats against the surgeon's hand with the reiterated message of the surgeon's own mortality....]

Hasan asked me to hold her abdominal incision open. I tried to pull the edges apart, but her abdominal wall had a vibrant elasticity that resisted. [The not quite dead woman resists, asserts her life and her bodily integrity against the killing instruments of the surgeons.] I looked closer at the cut edge and noticed that her dermis, the layer between the fat and the outer skin, was particularly thick. It was white, pearly.

I remembered that as an intern I let medical students practice placing intravenous catheters in my arms. They always noted how difficult it was to drive those needles through. “Thick skin,” I’d say, trying to make a joke about internship. But then I would add, “My dermis is probably pretty thick.”

Looking at her dermis now, I felt as if I were looking at my own. [Only now, as we finish the essay, does the writer become fully explicit.] As we snipped away at the organ attachments, about to take her liver, pancreas and kidneys, I tried to ignore the aliveness of her body, to believe that she was only a cadaveric reflection of myself. ["Cadaveric" -- that's what we go to great writing for. Words like that.] But then, in my sleep-deprived state, I found I could not bear to think of her — of myself — as dead.

The drape across her chest continued to slip, and I would have to see her breast yet again. Her thick dermis kept resisting our attempts to keep her belly open, making it difficult to take my eyes off that strong layer below the skin. And in the end, as I watched her blood fill those canisters on the floor, I felt as if my own life force were draining away.

When we finally closed her stone-cold body, the warm blood replaced by preservation solution, my mind felt as emptied as she was. The muscles in my palms ached, and my legs were numb. I was profoundly exhausted, from sleep deprivation, overwork and an unbearable grief. [Bang. Hits hard. Because no emotion has been forthcoming until now. And now, only now, at the very last word, she lets it rip. Grief.]

Composing great writing is like composing great music. Calm, suspense, calm shattered -- you have to pace it.
Update: Columbia University
Journalism School Ethics Course

A blogger at the New York Observer is observing the still rather mysterious cheating story at Columbia's Journalism school. She has a number of posts up about it.

I've already talked about the unimpressive nature of graduate programs in subjects that don't have much content, like journalism (scroll down to "They Pretend to Pay Us..."). I'd also suggest, in cases like this one, looking closely at the format of the exam in question. Doesn't take place in a room, with a professor sitting at a desk in front of you. You're alone, on-line, and there's nothing to keep you from cheating. It's just one more instance of the abdication of real-time classroom responsibility on the part of professors. I mean, what the fuck. Throw the whole thing on-line. I've got other stuff to do, and so do the students...

Why is anyone surprised that some students take a cynical attitude toward the exercise?
A Charitable Organization

'With Sunday night's televised announcement of the BCS pairings, and the onset two weeks hence of the bowl season, college football's rich will get richer even as the NCAA's argument for keeping its tax-exempt status will get poorer. A staggering amount of money is about to be thrown around -- total payouts in excess of $100 million in the BCS events alone, $85 million of that coming from Fox TV -- just weeks after NCAA president Myles Brand's letter to Congress said, essentially, that his is a charitable organization.

Though the nation's top-ranked team, Ohio State, will be required to share its $14 million-to-$17 million bowl payday with its conference members, that school's football operation already is working with a $22.2-million surplus for fiscal 2004-05. And Smith College economics professor Andrew Zimbalist said he is confident that money will remain in the Ohio State athletic department -- likely all in football.

"The NCAA, in effect, is a trade association for coaches and athletic directors," said Zimbalist, one of the nation's premier sports economists whose most recent book is "The Bottom Line: Observations and Arguments on the Sports Business." "It's true that just a handful of schools have a surplus, and the successful football programs that do generate a surplus, since there are no stockholders involved, find a way to spend it by adding to their tutoring budget or adding a new wing to their workout facility or putting in a bonus for this person or that."

There are occasions when some football funds find their way into supporting other athletic programs, Zimbalist said, but even those bucks stop far short of the library or sociology department. And on the more common occasions when football programs lose money, athletic departments typically rein in budgets for other sports rather than trimming football.

Rutgers, for instance, is facing university-wide cuts and is eliminating six so-called non-revenue sports -- such as tennis, swimming, crew and fencing -- so that the suddenly bowl-bound football team, which is operating in the red, can maintain its current spending ($13.2 million in 2004-05).

"I don't think anybody in his right mind," Zimbalist said, "would say this does anything to fulfill the educational purpose."

The NCAA acknowledges that athletic budgets at Division I schools have increased at a rate roughly three times that of university budgets during the last decade. Brand pointed to market forces, insisting that if a similar appetite existed for telecasting "French lectures and accounting classes" as for football and basketball, "transforming those academic offerings into commercialized events would not undermine the educational purpose for which the offerings are made.

"The scale of their popularity and the revenues they generate do not diminish the importance of their educational value," he wrote to the House Ways and Means Committee. "The lessons learned on the football field or men's basketball court are no less in value or importance to those student-athletes than the ones learned on the hockey rink or softball diamond -- nor, for that matter, than those learned in theater, dance, music, journalism or other non-classroom environments."

Zimbalist's response is that Brand is "either ignorant or putting a vast spin on reality. First of all, the typical football player doesn't spend 20 hours on his sport a week, but more like 40 or 50 ... Obviously, there might be a week when a violinist might put in 40 hours for a college performance, but the norm is much different.

"And the culture of athletics at these schools is a philistine culture. It's not an intellectual culture. College isn't about generic skills; you can develop social and physical skills outside of college. There's something special about college that has to do with intellectual development. Brand used to be a philosophy professor; he ought to know this stuff."

Welch Suggs, associate director of the NCAA watchdog Knight Commission, agreed that "it's tough to see this is an educational enterprise and not a business. We've always believed that college sports has a place in higher education. It's clear, though, that the missions of athletic departments have deviated, which is why we try to lessen that deviation through the reports we put out."

A veteran NCAA official, requesting anonymity, said he was surprised that Congress "hasn't raised the tax-exempt thing before now. As coaches salaries have gone up, that alone tends to separate the endeavor from higher education. Does Coach X deserve $3 million a year? Is it a business or is it education?

"We've always said it's education, and we look at the benefits for a university as a whole, how donations go up [with successful high-visibility teams]. Also, hundreds of kids are getting scholarships, and things like skyboxes are a way to raise money to do that."

To Zimbalist, though, "the real issues have to do with the impact these big-time sports have on the educational process and whether or not the football and basketball players are actually students ... Because if these kids were properly prepared for college, and we wanted them to go to college, we could put our resources into academic scholarships. A large share of football players don't belong in college; they can't hold up, given the academic training they have."

Meanwhile, there is little sense that Congress is about to take on the NCAA's jockocracy. A decade ago, Arkansas athletic director Frank Broyles, hearing similar rumblings, was convinced he could quiet them by "calling the president." He didn't mean of the university. He meant Bill Clinton.

"I just think," Suggs said, "college sports has a lot of friends in Congress."'
Why Does Kansas State
Call Itself Huggieville?

Embarrassing Colon

'Kansas State freshman basketball player Luis Colon spent time in two dressing rooms Wednesday night in Berkeley, Calif.

His own — and California’s.

Wildcats coach Bob Huggins made Colon, ejected for striking an opponent, enter the Golden Bears’ dressing room and apologize for his late-game actions. The ejection means Colon receives an NCAA-mandated one-game suspension.

Colon, a 6-foot-10 freshman, was whistled for striking 6-10 California freshman Taylor Harrison from behind with 6 minutes, 39 seconds left in the Golden Bears’ 78-48 thumping of K-State at Haas Pavilion.

“Luis’ actions last night are inexcusable and will not be tolerated,” Huggins said in a prepared statement on Thursday. “This is a tough game and you have to be mature and maintain your emotions. Luis understands that he made a mistake and there are consequences for his actions. This cannot happen again. This is an embarrassing situation.”

Colon will miss the Wildcats’ game Saturday against Colorado State in Fort Collins, Colo. If he is involved in another incident like that, Colon faces a season-ending suspension, K-State announced.'

--youtube here--

Thanks, Mike.
Awkward Seating

In today's Inside Higher Ed, UD's blogpal, Ralph Luker, notes that "this has been an unusually troubled year for endowed chairs in American higher education." From Enron to Stephen Ambrose, embarrassing organizations and people have endowed august positions at American universities, causing problems for the schools.

Yet one should put things in perspective. It's unlikely, writes Ralph, that "any American institution will ever have to decide whether to create the Adolph Hitler Chair in Holocaust Studies" (this example makes UD wonder whether Ralph has been reading Don DeLillo's novel, White Noise). Some endowed chairs honor slightly to extremely icky people and things, admittedly; but universities should accept most of the chairs anyway and "put the money to good work."
"The Fight Over Whether
This is a Civil War or Not
Actually Matters."

Mr. UD, in today's Baltimore Sun.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

From an Advertisement in
The Sunday New York Times
Real Estate Section

"Standing as the largest single family residence in South Beach, this home is a modern work of simplicity..."
Gehry at Storrs, cont'd

In a comment, Bill R. says that the Frank Gehry building chosen for a new arts complex at the University of Connecticut -- a group of buildings attacked and then defended in the pages of the local paper by a couple of Storrs faculty members (for the defense, scroll down to Scathing Online Schoolmarm) -- looks like "a pile of wreckage." He agrees with the U Conn professor of geology who writes that the university's many plain red brick buildings nicely reflect generations of steady as she goes Yankees, and the place should stay simple and bricky rather than elaborate and steely.

The geologist even writes that if the weird and wacky Gehry thing goes up, he might leave the area. It could "perhaps even precipitat[e] my move out of the Storrs neighborhood where my wife and I raised our family."

This threat makes UD wonder about this man's Yankee credentials. He wishes to speak for the plain and simple New England aesthetic, and the morality that goes along with it, but put one project up that he doesn't like, and he moves? Cotton Mather would thunder against it in the pulpit, scrawl FOR SHAME on its curving walls, and damn Gehry to hell. He wouldn't move.

The morality part of this involves modesty and public spiritedness.

... I'm quite conservative when it comes to public architecture, especially when the building draws attention to itself at the expense of the human community. Phallic, fecal, Nazi or crucifix designs would clearly not be acceptable for an American public building.

Strange list, that, suggesting there's much to unpack in this pilgrim... I mean, okay, he's conservative in regard to public art; but consider what he thinks of as radical.

Phallic. If phallic's unacceptable, you lose most of our cities' skylines.

Fecal seems to me too underepresented in our architecture to worry about. I can't recall a case of an architect making a presentation by saying that the building proposed means to represent a pile of shit.

You don't see a lot of swastikas on American public buildings either. I suppose if Ralph Luker's Hitlerian chair endower (see below) were given free rein, the person might ask that the Nazi Studies building be constructed in the shape of a swastika. But the idea wouldn't fly.

Crucifixes, and crucifix shapes, are of course legion on the public buildings we call churches.

As I say, a list almost as bizarre as Gehry's design, suggesting that the writer has it in him to appreciate the sort of radical break with convention Gehry's construction intends.

Here's one view of a model of the thing:

Vintage Gehry, and very out of place
among the pilgrims. And yet why not?
The red brick uniformity of Storrs is
a bore. A jolt will do it good.


...psst: speaking of phallic, get a load of
gehry's japanese seafood restaurant...

Scathing Online Schoolmarm...

...simmers down this morning and shows you what a fine piece of prose looks like. And it's from an English professor! Enjoy.

Robert Thorson calls the design of the University of Connecticut's new Fine Arts Building a "metal monstrosity" and agrees with U.S. News and World Report that its architect, Frank Gehry, is "showy, self-indulgent and egotistical," the right choice perhaps for Bilbao or Los Angeles but not Storrs. My colleague feels that Gehry's "cosmic design" would fatally compromise the university's "earthy visual aesthetic." He prefers the "red brick" of the Nafe Katter Theater and the Benton Museum addition to "phallic, fecal, Nazi or crucifix designs" that he free-associates with the Gehry building.

Professor Thorson concedes that he has no artistic or architectural credentials; none are really required when you are the self-appointed guardian of "public sensibility." For him the enemy is not Frank Gehry but "artistic freedom" in general. He doesn't like architecture that is emotionally "arousing" because it militates against society's goal of keeping itself happily glued together. Professor Thorson would take the "bland" over "public arousal" every time.

I suppose this is something of a concession for a teacher who has spent his career working in buildings that aren't really architecture at all. What he describes as "red brick" is essentially cinderblock construction. With the exception of the fine Works Progress Administration-style buildings from the 1930s, the University of Connecticut was built entirely on the cheap.

Typical of Storrs architecture are the twin eyesores of Arjona and Monteith. Set in a prominent location across from Mirror Lake, these two dilapidated buildings are as much the public face of UConn as the Conn Dome or the new chemistry and business administration buildings. Yet, the architecture of the new and old UConn has a lot in common. It aspires to nothing. Let Louis Kahn, Paul Rudolph and Eero Saarinen, among other "egotistical" modernists, build Yale. Cinder-block boxes are good enough for a state institution.

UConn's most recent architecture includes an overscaled chemistry building meant to conjure up happy images of a New England textile mill and a hulking business administration building in a retro German Gothic. These structures added chockablock to the campus' familiar hodgepodge of nondescript crapola can only inspire dread. It is a campus better suited to the South Bronx than to pastoral eastern Connecticut.

President Philip E. Austin and Fine Arts Dean David G. Woods have the audacity to question the complacency of this "good-enough" UConn aesthetic and dare to imagine a campus worthy of a $2.3 billion facelift. The university received a large grant from the National Endowment for the Arts to run an architectural competition to choose a designer for a new School of Fine Arts facility.

Over a hundred architects from all over the world were invited to submit their credentials to the Fine Arts faculty. A small group of award-winning designers was invited to campus to present their work in a public lecture to help the faculty narrow down the list to three finalists. Mack Scogin Merrill Elam Architects, Zaha Hadid and Frank Gehry were asked to prepare plans and models for the building and return to present them publicly. The work was judged by an independent jury that included professional architects, a high-ranking administrator, and a faculty member chosen from outside the School of Fine Arts. I was the lone UConn faculty member on the jury.

Frank Gehry won the commission over strong competition. Among other considerations, the jury took public comments into account. I can assure Dr. Thorson that the jurors were not part of a "Gehry cult." Our decision was based on the technical merits of the design and suitability for the site. Gehry's scheme was chosen in large part because it was more than just a proposal for a single stand-alone building. He and his Connecticut partners (Herbert S. Newman and Partners) took into consideration the entire campus as well as the current plans for Storrs' new "downtown."

Dr. Thorson's position has dominated public discussion for over 60 years. As a result, Storrs is currently a town without an identifiable core and a university without a single example of quality architecture. The university community (town and gown) has finally begun to address this sorry state of affairs. There is more than enough "wooded rural ambience" around here to accommodate even a few idiosyncratic works of man. Philip Johnson's now-beloved "glass house" and Frank Lloyd Wright's Guggenheim Museum, among many acknowledged architectural masterpieces, were first met with derision. A University that aspires to greatness must be open to excellence in every form.

---ross miller---


This Blog has Followed...

...the University of Utah gun story closely over the last couple of years. Arguably the nation's gun-happiest state, Utah has municipalities that have tried to mandate the carrying and keeping of guns for all citizens.

Although its university system wishes to ban guns on campuses, the state is adamant that it may not. Here's the latest chapter in a probably endless story:

The University of Utah is hoping to strike a compromise with state lawmakers to ban guns from certain parts of campus.

In September, the Utah Supreme Court struck down a ban on guns at the school, saying campus officials could not adopt a policy that runs counter to state law. That law prevents state and local agencies from restricting possession or use of firearms on public or private property.

University of Utah President Michael Young says he is now working with legislators to see if guns could be banned in residence halls and athletic venues.

Senate President John Valentine says he's already put together an informal task force to work with Young on finding a middle ground on banning guns.
Caravans of Cabs...

...on Lexington last night, not one of them available, so UD and her sister walked to Rocky O'Sullivan's on a clear and bracing evening.

Tiny place. All seats taken. Irish accents everywhere.

I found strange the absence of cigarette smoke. I'm old enough to assume all pubs will be smoky.

Ordered a Guinness while considering what it was going to mean for me to stand in a sweltering packed room for the next two hours, listening to someone I'm not that excited about. Meanwhile, my sister quickly made friends with fellow Dempsey (and Morrissey) fans in the room.

With her taken care of, it occurred to old UD that she could donate her (untouched) Guinness to the guy at the bar who kept pointing out that she hadn't started swilling it yet. And then, having dispersed her worldly goods and seen to the welfare of her sister, she could leave.

Which she did. Outside the bar there sat a silent yellow cab with a chatty Pakistani in it who was happy to drive her back to her hotel.

A perfect night out on the town for UD, in other words, whose sister arrived many hours later, having done the long Lexington Avenue walk all over again, and having had a terrific time.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

The Madness of the Big City.

We struggled through thick crowds to reach our midtown hotel. Giggling, though, because the madness of the streets invigorates. Spawn's only request is that we bring back some rice pudding from her favorite place, Rice to Riches. Off to an early dinner before the Damien Dempsey show.
A Borat Cluster

A reader sends the following call for papers to UD. UD thanks the reader very much.

From Slavic Review: Call for Papers: Borat: Eurasia, American Culture, and Slavic Studies

Few recent works of literature or film have made Eurasia as central and, perhaps, as flagrantly irrelevant to the American experience as Sacha Baron Cohen's hit film, Borat. In many respects this movie touches on key aspects of our discipline and expertise, and it also marks the distance that "Eurasia" has traveled in the American mentality since the appearance of other epoch-defining films (From Russia With Love, Doctor Zhivago, The Manchurian Candidate). Slavic Review invites its readers to submit contributions for a cluster of scholarly essays on Borat.
Damien Dempsey?

UD's sister is taking her to New York City this weekend, to see some guy named Damien Dempsey (a Morrissey type, I gather) in some club.

Here is his photo, in which he glares at us.

I'll be blogging from there.

'Ohio University's Board of Trustees approved Friday changing the name of a building at a branch campus named for a former congressman who'd been convicted on federal corruption charges.

The Robert W. Ney Center for Health and Physical Education at the university's Eastern campus in St. Clairsville, about 115 miles east of Columbus, will be renamed the Ohio University Eastern Campus Health and Education Center.

Ney resigned from Congress Nov. 3. He pleaded guilty Oct. 13 to conspiracy and making false statements, acknowledging taking trips, tickets, meals and campaign donations from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for official actions on behalf of Abramoff clients.

Officials at the branch campus recommended the change after the Ohio Republican entered his plea, and Ney also requested his name be taken off the building, the university said in a news release.

The building was dedicated in 1997 in appreciation of Ney's work in the state Senate obtaining funding for the project.'

Friday, December 01, 2006

They Pretend To Pay Us,
And We Pretend to Work... employees under Communism used to say of their employers.

The current cheating scandal at Columbia's graduate school of journalism updates the saying from the American journalism students' point of view: "The administration pretends this is a serious academic field of study, and we pretend to believe them."

There's virtually no body of knowledge in this sort of degree program. At Columbia's, students don't get grades; everything's pretty much pass/fail, etc. Why are people surprised to find that students don't study, and that they cheat on their exams even when the exams are pass/fail, and even when the subject of the exams is ethics?

Cheating is not unheard of on university campuses. But cheating on an open-book, take-home exam in a pass-fail course seems odd, and all the more so in a course about ethics.

Yet Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism is looking into whether students may have cheated on the final exam in just such a course, “Critical Issues in Journalism.” According to the school’s Web site, the course “explores the social role of journalism and the journalist from legal, historical, ethical, and economic perspectives,” with a focus on ethics.

Nicholas Lemann, dean of the journalism school, said that students had to sign on to a Columbia Web site to gain access to the exam, and that once they did, had 90 minutes to write a couple of essays. But he was unwilling to detail how the cheating might have occurred.

Mr. Lemann said that no student had been formally accused of any violation, but that the issue had become “Topic A” at the school.

The situation was reported yesterday by

The course was taught by Samuel G. Freedman, a professor of journalism at the school who also contributes columns on education and religion to The New York Times. Mr. Freedman confirmed yesterday evening that “there are allegations of cheating.”

“We are looking into them,” he said, adding that he did not want to comment further because of privacy concerns.

Students in the course, which is required of all students in Columbia’s basic journalism master’s program, have been told they must attend a specially scheduled additional session of the course today in connection with the exam. About 200 students took the course this fall.

“We have encountered a serious problem with the final exam, and will not register a passing grade in the course for anyone who does not attend,” David A. Klatell, vice dean at the school, wrote in an e-mail message, which was forwarded to a reporter by a student. Mr. Klatell did not respond to several telephone and e-mail requests for comment.

Mr. Lemann said that he was surprised that students might have been concerned about how they scored on the pass-fail exam, and that exams and grades at the school were rare.

“We are not a very grade-intensive institution,” he said. “Our school is run on a pass-fail basis.”

Here's guessing that the form of cheating was plagiarism, with a number of exams virtually identical to one another. This is a blow-off, required course. It's not, as Lemann suggests, that students are "concerned." It's that they don't give a shit. They don't take the program seriously. At best, they think the degree might help them get a job. This sort of thing happens when people don't respect your program.
Do Not Go Quoting Poems
You Haven't Read

"'Do not go gently to that dark night' sang Dylan Thomas in a wonderful poem about death," writes James Lewis in an article about Israel at American Thinker.

From some reason, this is everyone's favorite poem to misquote. Here's the correct line:

Do not go gentle into that good night.
Am I the only person creeped out...

... by the way the V in Vilsack's presidential
compaign poster

looks just like the V in 1984's
Victory poster?