Fighting the Good Fight; or, I Didn’t go to Grad School to Make Apparatchiks

Higher education is in trouble. The Humanities, the Liberal Arts–more so. It’s been a rough year or so for colleges and universities throughout the United States. North Carolina was the bellwether, falling victim to an Ayn Rand-inspired hatchet job. More recently, the Republican clown car continues to disgorge governors who apparently believe that eviscerating their states’ educational systems is the surest path to the presidency. Louisiana‘s universities lost 80%–EIGHTY. PERCENT.–of their funding, rendering them public enterprises in name only, a blood sacrifice for Bobby Jindal’s single, measly, margin-of-error-prone percentage point in the national polls. Not to be outdone, the Scott Walker regime, after gorging on the still-bleeding corpse of Wisconsin’s public-sector unions, savaged what used to be a crown jewel of public institutions of higher learning. Gone is shared governance, gone is tenure, gone is any meaningful semblance of the Wisconsin Idea–and gone is a massive chunk of funding as well. In the midst of this carnage, we hear talk about “efficiencies,” and programs that should “guarantee graduates a good job”; apparatchiks trot out metrics that trace average career earnings, and bright-eyed legislative aides who majored in pre-law and Milton Friedman pooh-pooh programs that don’t lead to some sort of immediate “deliverable” or “job creation.”

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I Will Not Argue About the Confederate Flag.

The murder of nine Americans by a terrorist in Charleston Wednesday night, besides being a monumental tragedy, also gave us the absurd spectacle of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley (a woman of color) telling us “that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another” as pictures emerged of the killer wearing flags of apartheid regimes on his jacket, sitting on his car with a Confederate States faux license plate, all in a state where the only flag not lowered to half-mast was the Confederate Battle Flag that sits astride the front approach to South Carolina’s capitol. The mental gymnastics it took for Haley to blithely claim we’ll never know the motives of a killer who actually told victims what his motives were as well as literally wearing those motives on his sleeve defy imagination. She has since added more nuance to her public statements on the tragedy (for which the bar was set remarkably low), but still ignores one area in which much of the state–and nation–has focused on: the continuing official presence of the Confederate flag on the State House grounds in Columbia. How can one try to explain away the racist motives of Dylann Roof in a state where the flag of an actual racist regime occupies such pride of place? The short answer is that one cannot do so without extraordinary exertions of willful ignorance. But we also know that this hasn’t stopped racists before. Continue reading “I Will Not Argue About the Confederate Flag.”

I Come to Bury Disruption, Not to Praise It.

One of the fascinating things about language and popular discourse in the age of the internet is how quickly the cycle of expansion-to-repulsion occurs. It usually goes something like this: a word or phrase enters the popular vocabulary and quickly becomes a trendy, go-to word for the “smart set” (which was itself one of those phrases); moves into the mainstream, where it is appropriated for all sorts of purposes not related to its original meaning; and finally, after having reached peak cultural saturation, is banished to the land of annoying cliches, living out the rest of its existence on businessmens’ page-a-day calendars and motivational memes posted by your mom’s Facebook friends. The examples are legion: “take it to the next level”; “think outside of the box”; “at the end of the day”; anything with “silo”; “leverage” as a verb, not a noun—hell, “jump the shark” jumped the shark years ago. I propose we add another one to the pile. It’s a word that has not only become trite, but advocates for outcomes that range from irritating to disastrous. Ladies and Gentlemen: I hereby propose that we ban disrupt. BEGONE FOUL BUZZWORD

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I Will Not Be Lectured To. I’m Too Busy Teaching.

I was having a really good day today; recovering from post-semester burnout, recharging the batteries–all in all, getting to my Happy Place. But then I read Mark Bauerlein’s Op-ed in today’s New York Times, and now I’m all irritated. “What’s the Point of a Professor?” Bauerlein asks; he then goes on to tell us, basically, “not much.” And who’s responsible for this lamentable state of affairs, you might wonder? Well–there’s students, for one. In today’s consumerist and career-over-true-education society, they just don’t engage with professors outside of the classroom transaction. “They have no urge to become disciples,” according to Bauerlein. Why don’t they want to become disciples? Well, colleagues, there’s where it becomes our fault, too:

Sadly, professors pressed for research time don’t want them, either. As a result, most undergraduates never know that stage of development when a learned mind enthralled them and they progressed toward a fuller identity through admiration of and struggle with a role model

Who even realizes they want to become an acolyte of a rock-star professor if they never get to the right “stage of development?” College seems to be reduced, in this view, to a several-year series of rote careerist transactions between infantilized students and disinterested professors. Gone are the halcyon days of yore when professors dispensed wisdom to adoring throngs of geek-groupies, never to return. O THE POOR CHILDREN.

Who wants to be my disciple?
Who wants to be my disciple?

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A Case for Academic Activism

I’ve been on a pretty good tear through Critical Pedagogy literature lately, and one result has been some wrestling on my part with the issues of teaching, scholarship, and activism. In particular, I’ve often been struck at what seems to be a tension—often implicit, sometimes explicit—between “scholarship” and “teaching” at one pole, and “activism” at the other. In my discipline of History, the message is often quite explicit. As Graduate Student Me was immersed in the review literature, the point was driven home time and again: there is no place in scholarship for activism. They diverge at the beginning, and never again the twain shall meet. I always imagined if they did, the result would be something like the Ghostbusters crossing the streams of their proton guns. “That would be bad, right?” “Yes. VERY BAD.”

Your activist bias is ripping a hole in the space-time continuum!
Your activist bias is ripping a hole in the space-time continuum!

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On Student-Shaming and Punching Down

A few years ago, trapped in the midst of final exam grading, I started posting some of the real howlers I got as answers on Facebook. I didn’t use students’ names, and I don’t “friend” students on FB, so this sort of venting seemed like an OK way for me to keep my sense of humor during the end-term crush.

I have felt guilty about doing that ever since.

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