Thursday, April 29, 2004

Is this why I pay my taxes?

I wasn't actually going to blog about this. I wanted to explore a bit more on Henry Farrell's bit on Academic Calvinism. Fortunately, it's been followed up several times, perhaps best by Naomi Chana at Baraita. I have to say, she's one of the people who makes one believe in an academic Elect, she's so damned good. Still, it is a conversation we have fairly frequently at our institution. The odd thing there is that most tenured faculty consider their positions to be a combination of merit, timing, and sheer dumb luck. Most of them spent time in the part-time trenches before they got their TT jobs and have seen a lot of good people go unrewarded. Oddly enough, the adjuncts have a different attitude. Many seem to think that merit shouldn't come into question at all, when faced with inside candidates who should be entitled purely for having taught developmental English scut-work classes for the last 10 years. That's what I was going to blog about today.

Instead, I'm blogging about something else. My politics may be showing a bit, but I hope that even some of my more conservative readers will agree that at least part of my objections are valid. I pay taxes. I accept that a lot of the taxes I pay go to things I really don't believe in, like egregious amounts of corporate welfare and Rick Santorum and Tom DeLay (I have nothing against the fact that they are duly elected representatives, mind -- Clearly they represent the view of the majority of their constituents. I'm just glad they don't represent me). I do think that there are lines that shouldn't be crossed, however, and the last paragraph of this press release crosses one of them. This is, as far as I can tell, a real press release from the Department of Treasury Office of Public Affairs. The last paragraph reads as follows:
America has a choice: It can continue to grow the economy and create new jobs as the President's policies are doing; or it can raise taxes on American families and small businesses, hurting economic recovery and future job creation.

Last time I looked, the President's (any president) political campaigning was supposed to be kept separate from the day-to-day workings of government. Moreover, I don't really think that the Treasury Department should be campaigning for the incumbent. It's not on.

In a related note, this story also irks me. The story tells of a systematic redaction of information that is contrary to the Bush administrations political and moral agenda. I don't know that the Bush administration is the first to do this, but then I haven't always blogged, either, so my comments would have been invisible at any rate. The National Council for Research on Women does have a Feminist agenda (disclaimer to those who would like to think I haven't considered the source. I suppose one might even debate Linda Basch's statement that
Taken cumulatively, this has an enormously negative effect on women and girls.

Even I wouldn't say that, although I certainly agree that an absence of information is detrimental. More importantly, I think that actions like this:
The National Cancer Institute's Web site was changed in 2002 to say studies linking abortion and breast cancer were inconsistent; after an outcry from scientists, the institute later amended that to say abortion is not associated with increased breast cancer risk.

and this:
Its report cited a fact sheet from the Centers of Disease Control that focused on the advantages of using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted disease; it was revised in December 2002 to say evidence on condoms' effectiveness in curbing these diseases was inconclusive.

and even this:
At the Labor Department's Women's Bureau Web site, the report said 25 key publications on subjects ranging from pay equity to child care to issues relating to black and Latina women and women business owners had been deleted with no explanation.

are together examples of plain immoral and unethical behavior. We have a right to have full information when making medical decisions. Our taxes pay in large part for the kinds of studies and reports mentioned, and we have a right to see what we paid for. Morality can't be founded in ignorance. And choices can't be moral if they are made out of fear.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

too cool for school

:: how jedi are you? ::

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

We happy few

Via Rana, who followed up on a post by wolfangel, there's some discussion on several of the recent First Person columns in the Chronicle. First, to the happy zoologists, best of luck. Apparently, this duo found jobs in the same general field their first year out and at the same institution! Woohoo!

But seriously. it's nice they found jobs, but I have to agree with most of the comments. They were extraordinarily lucky, and it's hugely annoying that they seem not to realize just how exceptional their circumstances are.

We received a wide range of e-mail responses to our first two essays about our job search. Some readers were encouraging, but the truth is, most were condescending and caustic. Some readers, put off by our optimism, seemed almost eager to see us fail. Such metaphorical face-slapping was eerily reminiscent of our experience applying jointly to graduate schools, when we were told by certain faculty members that our chances of both getting accepted to a doctoral program in the same department were slim to none.
To all of those skeptics, we say: Call us lucky. Call us charmed. Call us assistant professors.

This from a person who claimed:
The only bleak moment came when I was informed that other candidates were being interviewed for the position I had applied for. My spirits were crushed, but only briefly.

Perhaps the fact that people were caustic, condescending, and metaphorically slapping them in the faces was because most of us actually realize that competition is tough. Generally very tough. It turns out that ABD wife was happy to take any of several positions for which she was qualified. How often does that happen? Don't get me wrong -- if this couple are happy, then I'm ecstatic for them. My irritation isn't out of misplaced envy -- I'm always happy to hear that someone got a job, unless they're completely useless. I correspond regularly with colleagues against whom I have competed and may compete again in future -- we congratulate and commiserate with each other as appropriate. What gets me is that these folks are so seemingly clueless about the entire process, and are nevertheless so damned smug. Meanwhile, the Invisible Adjunct has left the profession.

Speaking of adjuncts, my own point of outrage in the last Chronicle comes from the latest Jill Carroll column. It's not that her advice on joining unions is wrong per se, it's just that it's not right.
Why am I not certain? Because I would have to assess whether a union would hurt my situation. Possible employer retaliation is always a concern when dealing with unionization. The labor movement in this country is replete with stories of employers who simply opt to hire nonunion employees when they feel their arms twisted by unions. While a university probably wouldn't or couldn't just immediately fire all of its unionized adjuncts, it might eventually phase them out and replace them with nonunion adjuncts.

Well, duh. That's always the argument against organized labor, though. I work on a union campus, which has its own special atmosphere. All one union, yet the adjuncts treat the full-timers as enemies. Still, when I mentioned a strike once, everybody else said, "Oh, no -- we can't do that, it's against the law." The reality is, if you aren't under contract, you aren't on strike. Adjuncts could make a point (at least here) by refusing to sign contracts. The adjuncts wouldn't be fired -- but there would probably be plenty of people to take their places, unless the union were at least state-wide. Isn't it funny that grad students who are TAs can strike, yet MA and PhD adjuncts can't?

At any rate, Carroll walks a fine line between defending the rights and reputations of adjuncts and their qualifications and bending over for the institutional Man, promoting the idea that adjuncts can be happy and productive with their lot, if they just shift their expectations or work a bit harder. Adjuncts should be happy that they have metaphorical shoes, because there are a lot of PhDs who go around barefoot. While it's a good thing that she's carved out a niche that she's comfortable with, it cannot justify a system that is so patently unjust and which, in the long run, really will damage higher education as a whole. What Carroll's attitude demonstrates most clearly is that a large number of academics are no better off than Wal-Mart workers when it comes to job security fear as a motivating factor. What is sadder to me is that the Wal-Mart workers seem more able to make their own circumstances known, while we academics, with all of our skills, generally bury our heads in the sand.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

Life interrupts blogging

Well, I should have been working on my book review this weekend, but it was sunny and warm, and the veggies needed transplanting. So, I planted a bunch of heirloom tomatoes and three kinds of basil, carrots, and radishes. Cukes go in tomorrow from seeds, and broccoli starts from the spouse's greenhouse. Then it's all about turf/sod. Lots of rolls of it to be removed from the yard. Thank goodness the days are long, because here's what else I need to do:
  • Prep this week's classes (showing Le Retour de Martin Guerre makes that a bit easier)
  • Write a midterm for the survey
  • Aargh! correct paper proposals!
  • Begin work on online Ancient course,due end of quarter
  • Write a book review for an online journal
  • write a grant application
  • start outlining an article
  • write many thank you notes to friends and colleagues
  • blog
  • keep up with the garden.

Why am I telling you this? Simple -- I'm not feeling academic bloggy, but hope that putting my "to do" list out in public will make me get it all done. More academic stuff later -- John Holbo has made it more of an imperative -- I think.

Oh -- last note for the day. saw this on Friday night -- loved most of it. Saw this last night -- apologies to all my friends who warned me. What a waste of part of my life. Forget red and blue pills -- this one begs for a cyanide capsule or serious alcohol.

Monday, April 12, 2004

What's the point of all those diplomas ...

...If the damned students are going to argue with you at every step? I have two killers this quarter. Pleasant, but young men with attitude, I do believe. I think they might have more respect if I were a male person like them. As it is, they just argue. And argue. And split hairs that I tell them don't exist. Ugh.

Eszter at Crooked Timber has a fun post here -- I got over 45% on the nerd quiz. I'd already seen the Chernobyl photos -- hauntingly beautiful.

That's me blogging for today. I'm far too annoyed to blog about anything else today. It was a typical Monday.

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

The 'F' word strikes again, or the lumpers strike

The economist next door and I got into it this morning because he used the f word. I replied that it wasn't an economic system, and that there was a very good argument for it not being a system at all. I said that if he wanted to talk about manorialism, that was pretty much economic, but that the feudal thing was an arrangement (or series of arrangements) between members of a warrior nobility. As it went on, I realized we were in the middle of a classic lumper-splitter argument. He claimed to be looking for similarities, while I will always look for the exceptions -- and with feudalism, it's all exceptions. He brought up an author I'd never heard of, and about whom the economist knew nothing, I brought up Duby, Ganshof, and Brown, all strangers to the economist, and we had to agree to disagree. I dunno -- I just am not very good at making those big, overarching statements without documentation. That, and I like to know that I'm comparing apples to apples in terms of using words like "class." Oddly enough, the conversation came out of my trying to justify extra credit for attending a free dinner to learn more about world poverty, sponsored by some of my colleagues. His justification went something like, "but isn't there poverty and hunger and war in the stuff you cover?" Of course there is ... I just don't know that it's a productive use of class time to discuss even the very real similarities between the devastation wrought by the 30 Years' War and that wrought by war and drought in the Horn of Africa. That just seems to me more of a PoliSci or Econ or even Philosophy kind of discussion.

It's also the kind of thing that drives David Horowitz crazy. I don't supposed he'd really be pleased to have anecdotal advice that disagrees with his theory on liberals in the classroom. I'm the most liberal (pretty much the only liberal) among my grad school cohort. Most of them are employed, and none of them hide their conservatism. Another colleague who just got a TT job is also pretty damned conservative, but I won't say who it is till he mentions it on his blog. Moreover, I think the man's insane if he thinks students won't use political discrimination as a new way to work the system. They already do. Students frequently use essay exams and papers to rant (coherently, if one is fortunate) about issues barely related to the assignment. If they receive a low grade (in my class, any essay that has no thesis and/or does not address the question is going to get a pretty low grade), they assume it's because I didn't like their views. Me, I think that an essay purported to be on the effects of the World Wars on women's and minority civil rights and socioeconomic status should not be five pages of how women's rights are bad for society, though it's ok that black people get to vote now. I got that paper once. Really. As for the report of the student who wrote on "Why Saddam Hussein is a War Criminal" rather than "Why George Bush is a War Criminal," I have to say that, if the assignment really exists (I can't find any citations that don't go back to Mr. Horowitz or Students for Academic Freedom), it sounds ill-judged. That said, it's for a criminal justice class -- if the idea of the assignment were to compare the actions of the Bush White House with the standards of international law or with the actions of other people accused of war crimes by those same standards, it seems perfectly vaild. The student's paper doesn't fulfill the assignment. Perhaps he should have addressed the assigned question but included all the examples he could find that prove George Bush is not a war criminal. If he'd done that, his argument for political discrimination might hold some water. It's good to compare apples to apples.

Monday, April 05, 2004

It's hard to spring forward when you lose an hour of sleep!

It's division meeting day, I'm sleepy, and very behind. Somehow I need to re-read all of The Debate on the English Reformation by Wednesday, finish an online course proposal, and write a lecture for tomorrow morning's class. Hence the lack of blogging of note.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Medieval Academy: days 2 and 3 or, I am a scholar, too

Or am I? Am I a scholar if I think like one, talk like one, but don't produce like one? It's a good question, I think. Medieval Academy answered it for me. A funny thing about contingent work is that it makes it very easy to marginalize oneself. By this I mean specifically that, not having a "real job", one begins to believe oneself to be less deserving, less capable, less than those colleagues who have made it. It is the most insidious part of contingent work, I think. In my case, I hold on to the knowledge that I am a really good teacher and a good colleague. I have external validation for this, which helps, and it's been good in that I know I want a job where teaching is the primary focus. It even allows me the luxury of knowing I'd be perfectly happy at a community college, because I truly believe in their mission and find the relationships at that level really rewarding. When I look around at other contingent faculty (in person and in the blogosphere), however, I realize that we are all quite capable of taking the long-term negative point of view, the one that somehow makes teaching the All. Taken a step further, contingent faculty can easily find themselves in a downward spiral of resentment that only worsens when teaching experience doesn't quite make up for not having kept up with the field, and the all-too-rare new line is filled by someone who hasn't been teaching as long, but has delivered papers, etc.

What has this to do with Medieval Academy? Well, first, I got to say thank you to Constance Bouchard. This is an amazing woman. One of the things the American Historical Association has been addressing more and more lately is the problem of contingent faculty. Professor Bouchard recently wrote addressing the problem from a pretty unique perspective -- she adjuncted for fourteen years before getting a tenure-track job. During that time, she produced some very well-respected work. I didn't get a chance to ask if she had a supportive spouse or independent wealth, which can and often do play a role in adjunct productivity, but in many ways, it didn't matter. Right in front of me was an example of a woman who hadn't given up.

Also, I ran into people I'd met at other conferences. These people acted as if I were one of them, as did most of the people I met, despite my "local community college" title on my badge. I asked questions, some not as coherently formulated as I would have liked, and they were addressed -- in fact, sometimes people came up afterwards and told me the questions were good. One nice grad student actually hunted me down a day after I asked him a couple of questions and said that they had helped him to clarify part of what he was working on. Finally, I had a very nice conversation with a reasonably well-known personage who spoke to me as a colleague and to some extent as a mentor (pretty damned cool on 36 hours' acquaintance) on teaching approaches, materials, and why the hell wasn't I putting some of my ideas on paper. All I can say is that the conference was like having someone take a shovel to my thick head. I really do love the scholarship. and any exile I feel is self-imposed. So I'm going back to basics. Even if I haven't got the time to read more that 20 pages a day, or write more than a couple of paragraphs here or there, they add up. No more, "I can't have it both ways." I can. I am too a scholar -- if somewhat snail-like in pace.

As far as the conference itself went, I thought the teaching Medieval Islam panel disappointing. Only one of the panelists took a practical approach. The others were all crusades people, and gave very interesting points of view, but took up a good bit of time with them, so that the actual discussion was limited to a few questions. The lack of time really meant that there was almost no sharing of pedagogical approaches, useful sources, etc. I think, though, that it did lead to some interesting and useful private conversations over the course of the weekend.

The panel on feuds was really good -- really brought some good questions to mind on the nature of feud and how closely it is tied to kin-groups: can there be feuds within kin-groups? what is the line between war and feud? What is the line between civil war, war, and feud? I also enjoyed the Carolingian panel -- the only one. The 8th and 9th centuries get short shrift these days, as what used to be the Early Middle Ages becomes more and more subsumed into the more-recently-defined Late Antique. Now it seems that the Merovingianists are Late Antique, but the Middle Ages seem to start in a lot of people's minds with the 10th c. At any rate, it was an interesting panel, although really more on texts and scholarship than I normally like. Still, it also gave me some good ideas. There were a couple of other panels I went to that were good, but frankly, I was pretty sleepy. I'm sure many readers know how it is -- meal, sit in stuffy room, often darkened; break with coffee in small cups, sit in stuffy room; meal, not enough time to get fresh air, sit in stuffy room; coffee, sit in stuffy room; alcohol, sit up talking too late; early meal, sit in stuffy room ...for three days.

Still, it was a good conference, as far as I can tell. On the down side, no one has cleaned my house in days, and only I can prep this week's classes, so I'm off.

Friday, April 02, 2004

Medieval Academy, Day 1

Finished posting my Blackboard stuff, put a book on reserve, and ran down to the conference. The first person I saw was someone who was on my committee. I wasn't sure he'd remembered me after all these years, but he did. He's a Fellow, though, so I got the distinct feeling I was a lesser person. Went to some interesting papers, including Heidi Marx-Wolff's really interesting study of madness and possession (and saintly cures thereof) in 14th c. Italy. Also a really cool paper in the same panel by Cynthia Ho on the representations of the life of St Francis in Orta. The third paper was iffy, at best, I thought. Just not too well organized or presented, although there were some interesting points. Part of a dissertation in progress, though, so it was understandable.

The reception at the end of the evening was fun. Met some very nice folks, and even managed to get kinda spoken down to by one of the respected dinosaurs known for his acerbic nature (or so I gathered). A good time was had by all. Now I'm off to learn about teaching Medieval Islam in a post 9/11 world.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Teaching and Arsenal

What do they have to do with one another? I really like them both. I got the dread evaluations (last quarter's) back yesterday. The worst class average was a 4.34 on a scale of 1 to 5. I am beaming quietly. One actually had a comment that said I should get tenure! Chance would be a fine thing -- I don't even have a TT job! Still, it's nice to be liked. Truth be told (ah, the clichés are flowing today), I was very lucky. I had classes full of people who were bright, likeable, and willing to participate, even when they didn't always do the work. It's easy to teach people who want to learn, and it's very hard not to benefit from all that positive energy. This quarter seems to be going the same way -- I have students who are working ahead on our discussion boards, and someone commented today that I put things into context really well. Imagine! even better -- this is not and April Fool's joke.

So, I'm off for a day or two, but hope to blog a bit about the conference. The toughest part is that I will have to record the big game. this is not good. Not quite as bad as my sister scheduling her wedding for the same weekend as the World Cup Semi-Finals, but almost. Not sure why we should be that concerned, though. Edu's doing well, and there's a very solid midfield without Gilberto. Cole is a loss, but frankly, I'd just as soon he didn't play against United, since they bring out the thug in him more than most. Besides, Clichy seems to be doing rather well. As for Cygan, I admit Wenger might have made a good buy, but he's not really up to the quality of the rest of the team. Still, if Campbell's groin injury flares up, things could go pear-shaped.

Shoot -- If there weren't going to be a morning panel on teaching medieval Islam, I'd stay home and watch the game.