Thursday, May 01, 2014

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Very Encouraging

WASHINGTON – Hoping to reach an estimated 1 million adjunct professors nationwide, Service Employees International Union on Monday officially launched its new Adjunct Action Network website. The union marked the occasion with a “national town hall” event for adjuncts at Georgetown University here. ... 
Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, called the website a “new way to organize in a changing world,” and to eschew some of the traditional problems adjuncts have had with organizing, such as lack of office space and a kind of commuter status. By connecting with adjuncts on their campuses and in other states through the new online forum, she said, there’s potential for adjuncts to “light up the entire country.” 
Of the Adjunct Action organizing campaign itself, Henry said it reflects at once the brokenness of “America's promise” – that is, that education is one’s path to a better life – and the “inability” of adjuncts to accept that brokenness. 

Friday, March 14, 2014


The best I found of this wonderful meme, followed by my own more modest contribution.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Guns of Academe

Why does academia draw such fire? Last week it was arming students. This week it has skipped straight to shooting faculty
While filling in today for American Family Radio host Sandy Rios, Austin Ruse commented on the media frenzy surrounding a Duke University freshman who announced that she is a porn actress. 
Ruse, who leads the ultraconservative Catholic Family & Human Rights Institute (C-Fam), promptly blamed the college’s women’s studies department and said that “the hard left, human-hating people that run modern universities” should “all be taken out and shot.”
I greatly admire the Duke student who provoked this tirade. First, she is a first year Women's Studies major. That alone is testament to her courage and perspicacity. It usually takes students a few years to find Women's Studies courses and decide it would be a good major for them.

Second, she is handling a media assault on her personal life and sexuality that few 18 year olds have ever had to face, and she's doing it with powerful eloquence.

As one of the many faculty at whom this radio death threat is aimed, I find some comfort in the fact that our students are so clearly worth the risk.

Sunday, March 09, 2014

True Rhapsody

My contribution to True Detective Fan culture.

Thursday, March 06, 2014


I've been surrounded by discussions of rigor lately. In academia, rigor seems always to go hand in hand with quality. Degree programs, departments, courses, and assignments which are deemed more "rigorous" are also seen as better. Aside from an often glaring lack of rigor in the definition of "rigor" itself, I suspect that using rigor as a proxy for quality is often misguided.

A post from Dean Dad raises many of these issues. He writes,

Which is more rigorous: a program with all required and prescribed classes, or a program with a host of electives? 
The correct answer is that the question doesn’t make sense.  It’s like asking whether red cars are faster than blue cars.  Academic rigor and freedom of choice are unrelated.  One can choose very easy classes, very difficult classes, or a mix.  A program can require very easy classes, very hard classes, or a mix.  And that’s before getting into non-objective definitions of rigor. 
That should be common sense.  But nearly every year I find myself arguing with people who believe that rigor is about control.  It’s frustrating, because the underlying assumptions -- and therefore definitions -- are different, so we wind up talking past each other.
The idea of a longer required sequence of courses, a longer list of required readings, a longer required essay, etc. strikes many academics as obviously more rigorous and, therefore, better. I have failed many times in discussions with colleagues to shift them from this way of thinking. Quality and quantity are rarely so easily linked.

The real effect of these sorts of mechanical methods of increasing rigor may simply be to make the work load less possible and/or less palatable for many students. Students who are struggling academically, students with less natural talent for reading and writing, students who have to spend more time working for a wage, or students with other compelling intellectual interests, all may fail when rigor is increased in this way. This looks like what has been achieved is making your program/class/assignment more selective since fewer successfully complete it. True enough. But finding the breaking point beyond which only the most academically gifted and well supported students can succeed is very different from fostering excellence in education. In fact, it may be a sign of just the opposite. If the only students who succeed are the most talented ones, that's not very compelling evidence for the quality of our instruction. If one gave voice lessons, but the only students who passed your course were already Grammy winners, it's not clear you're doing much good for your students. They would all sing wonderfully no matter what you were teaching. That we can teach things to wonderful students does not really say much about our teaching skills.

Instead, the goal of rigor starts to feel a bit like a form of academic hazing. We add more required readings, more and longer writing assignments, more and more difficult exams, and the result of this increased work load is called "rigor." We weed out the students unable or unwilling to suffer enough. Making something difficult and making something good are different goals. Strangely enough, making something difficult is easy, and we tend to do that well in academia. Making something good is much harder, and creating an environment where learning is facilitated is much more difficult than creating an environment where learning is hard. A fallacy of composition no doubt lurks somewhere behind many of our discussions of academic rigor.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Don't Shoot

A few years back, I wrote here about guns on campus. This terrible policy keeps coming back to haunt us. Here's a link to a more eloquent piece on the topic: 

In light of the bill permitting guns on our state’s college and university campuses, which is likely to be approved by the state House of Representatives in the coming days, I have a matter of practical concern that I hope you can help with: When may I shoot a student?

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

New Media

Here's something new. Some mad genius is currently at work tweeting Top Gun, in its entirety, frame by frame, in all of its homoerotic glory.

Every half hour, another still appears on the twitter feed of 555 µHz. It is up to the bar scene right now. 

This is one of the strangest and most wonderful re-purposing of a film I have seen in a very long time. It is a super slow-motion screening. It is non-performance art.

It includes the subtitles in the screen-captures for those of us who haven't memorized absolutely all of the dialog from the movie.

Somehow this novel treatment of the too familiar manages to create something of interest out of nothing. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Transference, Countertransference, and Search Committees

My most recent stint serving on a search committee has coincided with teaching a class on Freud. The intersections have been instructive.

There is a strange collision that happens as the fantasies and desires of the search committee members are projected onto each of the candidates in turn and find, or fail to find, some reflection or connection.

Oddly, it seems to me that the candidate plays the role of therapist to the committee rather than vice versa. The successful candidate is the one who best manages the transference of the committee members as well as their own countertransference onto the department and the imagined job. Wishful thinking runs rampant at every turn. This includes the projection of fears which are no less reliant on fantasy than are the projections of hope.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Richard Parker

Richard Parker was the name of a character in Poe's novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, published in 1838, who is shipwrecked and cannibalized by other survivors.

Richard Parker was the name of an actual cabin boy who was killed and eaten by others in their lifeboat in 1884. This led to the R v Dudley and Stephens criminal case that set the precedent that necessity is never a defense for murder.

Richard Parker was the name of the Bengal tiger in Life of Pi.

Richard Parker was also the name of one of the characters in Weekend at Bernie's.

Evidently, both truth and fiction are very strange. Q.E.D.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Off Again

Off again. Our administration is now "stepping away" from most of the extraordinarily time-consuming and ill-conceived program prioritization that took center stage last year. There will now be a brief intermission while some top administrative jobs are reshuffled, and then next year we will see if this plan re-emerges or simply disappears.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Galt or Gor?

Ayn Rand. Nothing good tends to follow after her name comes up in discussion. Currently, my favorite way to respond to such digressions is by comparing her ideas with those of another work from the same time period, John Norman's Chronicles of Gor. Although this may be somewhat unfair to Norman, I like the idea of characterizing the ideas of John Galt and Rand's other characters as Gorean economics.


Both in content and style, the two authors resonate for me. So, here is a short quiz for you: Galt or Gor?

See if you can tell if the following quotes come from Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged, or John Norman's Chronicles of Gor. The answers are in the first comment below. Feel free to share your score out of 10 in the comments as well. But no cheating. Cheating is for the slavish, weak, and corrupt.
  1. "I once betrayed my codes," I said. "It is not my intention to do so again."
  2. “I swear by my life and my love of it that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.” 
  3. “Never think of pain or danger or enemies a moment longer than is necessary to fight them.” 
  4. "In denying it we deny our nature. In betraying it we betray no one but ourselves." 
  5. "Invisible chains are those which weigh the most heavily." 
  6. “If one's actions are honest, one does not need the predated confidence of others.” 
  7. "Did I feel a physical desire for him? I did. Was I moved by a passion of my body? I was." 
  8. "Hate them for their pride and power they will pity you for your shame and weakness." 
  9. "Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach."
  10. "He will always be attracted to the woman who reflects his deepest vision of himself, the woman whose surrender permits him to experience a sense of self-esteem."

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Preparing For Classes

At the beginning of the semester, I can often convince myself that wandering through YouTube videos in search of new things to show in class is a useful way to spend my time. Below are two videos I unearthed in this quest. The first is short compilation of Sigmund Freud's home movies including clips of Herr Doktor playing with a baby and a dog. The second is a film of André Breton's apartment and art collection. I find them both charming, so I believe I will inflict them on my students this semester.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Dubstep Theory

Here is a disturbing artifact, not so far removed from the Freire Death Metal below. Dubstep theory may be the next leap forward: the sublation of philosophy and a danceable beat.

Similarly when it is said: "the real is the universal", the real, qua subject, passes away in its predicate. The universal is not only meant to have the significance of a predicate, as if the proposition stated that the real is universal: the universal is meant to express the essential nature of the real. Thinking therefore loses that fixed objective basis which it had in the subject, just as much as in the predicate it is thrown back on the subject, and therein returns not into itself but into the subject underlying the content. – from the Preface of Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Academic Kindness

A small blog, but I approve.