I'm teaching Marx this semester. My students have been, understandably, absorbed by all the news coverage surrounding the current financial crisis. Two weeks ago, I glibly announced that should global capital collapse this semester everyone in the class would get an A. I explained that they should really keep studying, though, since I was confident that the cost of the market failures would be speedily passed on to us, the citizenry, and that capitalist accumulation, newly emboldened, would continue apace. I still believe this will happen. But today's news that the bailout package failed in the House makes me wonder if maybe I won't be giving out a lot of A's this semester after all.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
"The Great Schlep aims to have Jewish grandchildren visit their grandparents in Florida, educate them about Obama, and therefore swing the crucial Florida vote in his favor." In the video, Sarah Silverman describes "some ways to talk to your grandparent about Obama ... besides loudly."
Here is a lovely bit of snark by Paul Youngquist entitled "Thinking Outside the Quad."
I'm almost afraid to circulate this modest proposal for global education. It fits the ruling administrative ideology at my own university all too well.
i’m writing with a bold new idea i believe can save the college large sums of money that might be better directed toward funding faculty research or alumni reunions. it fits perfectly with the new initiative announced last week by the associate dean for alumni development and undergraduate education to encourage all students to spend a semester studying abroad. while I fully support that proposal, it think it’s far too modest. why not push it to its logical conclusion? why not require every student in the college of the liberal arts to spend his or her entire undergraduate career studying abroad, preferably in the developing world?
i’m sure you can appreciate the appeal of this initiative (I call it the GLOBAL EDUCATION IMPERATIVE), but allow me to describe it in some detail. as i see it, there are several compelling reasons to relocate all aspects of undergraduate education offshore. the first is economic, and even if there were no other reasons (but as you shall see, there are!),this one would justify the whole initiative. we are all familiar with the regrettably uneven distribution of wealth across the globe. as corporations have been quick to realize but universities have not, this unfortunate fact produces a similar unevenness in costs of production. considered as a commodity, higher education requires the same outlays in labor and overhead as a pair of air jordans. it seems reasonable therefore to follow the nimble lead of the nike corporation and implement a business model that redistributes the cost of producing undergraduate education to offshore locations notable for low wages and property values. I would recommend india and malaysia. both are attractive for robust telecommunications networks and deteriorating but serviceable physical infrastructure, minimizing direct costs to home institutions for internet access and student housing. even including overseas transportation, the per capita investment in offshore education falls far short of current tuition levels, accruing to home institutions a handsome increase in revenue with absolutely no adjustment in price. ...
maybe the single most attractive aspect of global education today, however, is the effect it will have on undergraduates. they will be as well-rounded as they are well-traveled. they will be, in the noblest sense, cosmopolitans as they experience first hand the dynamism and energy of life in a developing country, its collective creativity in the face national underinvestment, the everyday struggles of its brave, brown indigenous people. it is impossible to put a price tag on character, of course, but this much is incontestable: four or five years of undergraduate education abroad will enrich the souls of our nation’s youth, preparing them through extensive personal experience to live as global citizens in a world that one day will be as diverse and as highly leveraged as america.
finally, an outcome that is no less a boon for being obvious: students who study abroad do not study here. they do not clutter our classrooms. they do not damage the grass. think of the savings of manhours and womanhours spent preparing lectures, advising students, leading discussions, grading papers, filing grades, managing complaints — all the distracting inanities of undergraduate teaching. let them fall to the parochial ambitions of the offshore workforce. let us reserve the vision and energy of home institution faculty for the higher calling of research. it would be a truism to say that distinction in academic research correlates inversely to time teaching.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
... which is a little like listening to Miss Manners on waterboarding. Zizek was recorded at Powell's City of Books in Portland, Oregon on September 9, 2008.
"The Giant of Ljubljana" speaks on Sarah Palin, nature, ideology, Marx, psychoanalysis, terrorism, the RNC, Hegel, The Dark Knight, Israel, golf, Kung-Fu Panda, Niels Bohr, chicken, Stalin, Lacan, underwear, Casablanca, Harvard, breasts, Gore Vidal, pornography, fundamentalism, John Carpenter's They Live, charity, organic food, global warming, torture, Karl Rove, more chicken, love, Darth Vader, etc.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
By way of Marc Bousquet, here's a sad, sad ballad about the tragedy that is grad school:
So we took on jobs a teachin'
and we worked our brains full sore.
Then we looked into our pockets
and we went to teach some more.
But when our paychecks came
there was almost nothing there.
You had spent it all on school fees
and on your own health care.
And so we got together
and we asked for better pay.
And so we got together
and we asked to have a say.
In all the ways that's schools run
right now and long to come.
So all you coming students
won't have to do like we have done.
I NEED TO ASK YOU TO SUPPORT AN URGENT SECRET BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP WITH A TRANSFER OF FUNDS OF GREAT MAGNITUDE.
I AM MINISTRY OF THE TREASURY OF THE REPUBLIC OF AMERICA. MY COUNTRY HAS HAD CRISIS THAT HAS CAUSED THE NEED FOR LARGE TRANSFER OF FUNDS OF 800 BILLION DOLLARS US. IF YOU WOULD ASSIST ME IN THIS TRANSFER, IT WOULD BE MOST PROFITABLE TO YOU.
I AM WORKING WITH MR. PHIL GRAM, LOBBYIST FOR UBS, WHO WILL BE MY REPLACEMENT AS MINISTRY OF THE TREASURY IN JANUARY. AS A SENATOR, YOU MAY KNOW HIM AS THE LEADER OF THE AMERICAN BANKING DEREGULATION MOVEMENT IN THE 1990S. THIS TRANSACTIN IS 100% SAFE.
THIS IS A MATTER OF GREAT URGENCY. WE NEED A BLANK CHECK. WE NEED THE FUNDS AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. WE CANNOT DIRECTLY TRANSFER THESE FUNDS IN THE NAMES OF OUR CLOSE FRIENDS BECAUSE WE ARE CONSTANTLY UNDER SURVEILLANCE. MY FAMILY LAWYER ADVISED ME THAT I SHOULD LOOK FOR A RELIABLE AND TRUSTWORTHY PERSON WHO WILL ACT AS A NEXT OF KIN SO THE FUNDS CAN BE TRANSFERRED.
PLEASE REPLY WITH ALL OF YOUR BANK ACCOUNT, IRA AND COLLEGE FUND ACCOUNT NUMBERS AND THOSE OF YOUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN TO WALLSTREETBAILOUT@TREASURY.GOV SO THAT WE MAY TRANSFER YOUR COMMISSION FOR THIS TRANSACTION. AFTER I RECEIVE THAT INFORMATION, I WILL RESPOND WITH DETAILED INFORMATION ABOUT SAFEGUARDS THAT WILL BE USED TO PROTECT THE FUNDS.
YOURS FAITHFULLY MINISTER OF TREASURY PAULSON
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
One of the very best: a rejection note sent by the writer Stefan Merken to an editor who had rejected one of his short stories. “Please forgive me for not accepting your rejection letter,” wrote Merken. “At this time I cannot accept a rejection of my short story. I accept more than 99 percent of the rejections I receive. Many I don’t agree with, but I realize that accepting a piece of fiction for publication is a very subjective judgment call. My acceptance of your rejection letter is also a subjective process and therefore I am returning your letter to you. I did read your letter. I read every letter I receive. Your letter was well-written, but due to time constraints from my own writing schedule, I am unable to make editorial comments. I do make mistakes. Don’t you, as an editor, be disheartened by this role reversal. The road of publishing is long and tedious. You need successful publications and I need for successful publications to print my stories. I will expect to see my story in your next publication. Good luck in the future.”
Monday, September 22, 2008
Our friend Limited, Inc. has been posting away on the current economic crisis in his usual clear-sighted way. Here's the best paragraph on the subject I've read anywhere:
It isn’t a credit crisis. It isn’t a liquidity crisis. This is an inequality crisis. The massive increase in the inequality between the wealth of the working and middle class and the upper class is the sole perpetrator of today’s implosion, and of tomorrow’s implosion too. You can’t run a consumer economy on extended credit and frozen wages. You can’t trade the residual. You can’t make the financial sector, of all sectors, the engine of the economy ... As the government transfers appalling hundreds of billions to the plutocrats and assures the CNN viewing audience that it is for the good of all, the spectator must wonder if the servility of the general population, its inertia, its ignorance, its general incapacity to chew gum and walk, will allow this, too, to pass. So far, it does look like the hugest robbery in history will proceed without a hitch, and with no suspense, even. Why dress all in black and map out the sensors that guard the vault of Fort Knox when the treasury secretary gives you a key and your own gilded wheelbarrow?
Thursday, September 18, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Curtis Bowman has posted a very interesting review of Marc Bousquet's How The University Works. The review is wide-ranging and I recommend the entire article to you. One passage in particular, though, struck a chord with me. Discussing Chapter 4: Students Are Already Workers, Bowman writes:
The growth of work-study jobs, as is to be expected, has come at the expense of full-time staff members, i.e., secretaries, library workers, and the like. Consequently, an ever greater percentage of staff-related work is performed by students.The LumpenProf's oldest Lumpkin has just started college, and along with a host of other brand new experiences has come the new experience of a work-study job. She's working in the dining hall during lunch twice a week. This is part of her financial aid package, and has been a welcome alternative to student loans. But the notion of work-study has always made me uneasy, in much the same way that using prison labor makes me uneasy. The goal of teaching students, or of rehabilitating prisoners, does not fit easily with the notion that an institution might also benefit directly from the cheap labor of these populations. That there is a conflict of interest here should be obvious. And even though Karl Marx himself writes in The Communist Manifesto, that there ought to be a "combination of education with industrial production," I have never been terribly impressed with the revolutionary potential of that particular goal.
Faculty, parents, and students themselves, often tend to focus on the positive aspects of these work-study relationships -- building character, job skills, minimizing student debt, etc. But as Bowman correctly notes, it also means universities are free to hire fewer full-time staff. This union-busting aspect of student work-study perhaps should be an issue in much the same way prison labor is when used to compete with outside workers. And parents and students might also notice, as Bowman writes, that "such steps obviously lead to a decline in the quality of the very institutions that cut costs in the above fashion. Such measures are really little more than a form of slow-motion institutional suicide."
There is also a downside for faculty that often goes unnoticed. Each semester at my institution I meet the new cohort of student workers manning the phones and copy room. But after a recent three-day back and forth over how to send a fax (that ended with me sending the document by snail mail), I begin to suspect that I may be disadvantaged by not having more full-time professional staff helping me in my day to day work.
I was initially very happy about my daughter's work-study arrangement. But now I'm starting to have second thoughts. I think work-study may just be evil. It's difficult for me to imagine, though, turning down the work-study offer and taking out student loans instead. It's equally difficult for me to imagine going on a crusade on my own campus against the use of student workers. I don't think students, faculty, parents, or even staff would support it. What do others think about this? Is this a real issue? Or is the LumpenProf just worrying too much?
Friday, September 12, 2008
The LumpenProf's oldest lumpkin has just started college this Fall. She's attending a SLAC (that stands for a Snowy Liberal Arts College). And I'm ridiculously proud of her.
The process of searching for, and applying to, colleges has been extraordinarily stressful -- both on her, and on her poor family. So stressful, in fact, that I haven't even been able to bring myself to blog about the process until now when things have, more or less, been successfully negotiated.
She is now moved into her dorm halfway across the country, has a very cool schedule of classes, and is currently just dealing with the parts of first-year student angst and stress that I'm more familiar with. This is the part I see in my own students. I'm even one the folks that inflicts some of that anguish in the form of impossibly hard readings, incomprehensible lectures, and soul-crushing exams -- the staples of academic life.
But despite the fact that I'm fairly knowledgeable and savvy about academic institutions, being on this end of the transaction has been eye opening.
Let's start with paying for college. OMFG.
First off, forget about that quaint notion of "saving for college." This is just a bizarre idea. I can not imagine any scenario where saving even a fraction of the enormous sums involved would have been possible on a professor's pay. But even if by some super-human feat of scrimping and saving we had amassed such wealth, we would have been screwed. Any money families manage to "save" for college is taken first. Then, they look at the rest of your income to see how much how you can pay. Anything beyond this is your "financial need" and is the basis for any need-based financial aid awarded. That is, saving for college actually reduces the total financial aid award. You will have to pay just as much as before -- up to the bleeding edge of what can be squeezed out of your income. And you will pay that amount for four years. The rest will be covered by the college's financial aid award. The money you "saved" for college will simply be a gift you pass on to the college that first year, which they will happily accept and then deduct from the total amount of financial aid awarded to you. You will have succeeded in saving the college money, but not yourself. "Saving" will actually cost you. Fortunately for our family, we were already mortgaged up to our ears with no real savings, so our financial aid packet was great!
So here's the LumpenProf's advice if you have a kid about to go to college. Do not save. In fact, buy a new Lexus instead. That increased debt will actually increase the financial aid you are awarded. Plus you get a Lexus.
Wednesday, September 10, 2008
I ran across two wonderful digitized shorts of two of my very favorite philosophy professors from college. Both have passed away now, so I was touched to find them still lecturing on youtube in animated form. The first is Robert C. Solomon talking about existentialsim, and the second is Louis Mackey. I miss them both.
The clips come from the film Waking Life, a film by Richard Linklater, the director who brought us Slacker and A Scanner Darkly. Louis Mackey was a huge Philip K. Dick fan.