Monthly Archives: May 2013

La semaine

I have to work on my NEH Letter of Intent this week. I am saying this because when I shut this computer down I will have to close the document, I am likely to forget about it. I have to remember IILI and LASA deadlines as well.

Here is a lesson in logic by the coldhearted scientist. I may have a few more.

1. You cannot both say you know you are one of the last tenured professors and excoriate an unsuccessful job candidate 20 or 30 years younger than you for pointing out that this being the situation, the old training is no longer adequate and the old advice is no longer true.

2. Also, trying to say that had they just understood the old advice and used it better, they would have gotten into the meritocratic club, makes no sense if the old meritocratic club is no longer taking applications for membership, and you know it, and you have just said so.


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Writing group post

Since we started I have written and submitted a 5600 word article but it is not the article I will write for this group. I will write that article next and I will do it right. To write the present article I did not apply Boycean reason. I went into a complete binge, and I also spent a lot of time reading the news and posting different paragraphs to Facebook while I wrote. Yet I wrote fast, did not worry about perfection, attempted to be as brief as possible, and kept the hope of finishing soon firmly in mind. I point these things out in case anyone imagines I do not know how to get things done.

I will let this matter rest soon but still I want to say that certain senior faculty should note that every graduate student and adjunct you berate so as to reassure yourself that you really are superior, is going to have to get a job. Some of those jobs will have to be in para-academic firms. Their projects can bury you–or if not you personally, at least the desempeño of your métier in many institutions. Try to at least be civil, because these companies will flatter the people you alienate now, and it will be balm for old wounds.



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Symptoms of neoliberalization and complicity

Warning! For the past four years I have not been invited to vote on tenure, fourth year review, or hiring. I am not the only one and I had decided not to take it personally. When I am on these committees they tend to vote my way, not because I have the power to force anyone to do anything but because I am articulate and sensible. Since the dean, assistant dean, and chair decided that I and some others were dangerous for these reasons, they created a small, select committee to make these decisions–or so I thought. I am against that for reasons having to do with institutional governance and faculty power but since I thought it was personal, I decided to ignore it and not take it personally.

Now, however, the dean of the graduate school has resigned to go back to his department and apparently it is in part because the administration does not let him make academic decisions on academic grounds. Someone asked whether, in this situation, it were even worth even having a dean of the graduate school, and the general answer appears to be no. Nonacademic administrators are insisting on doing the job anyway, so one might as well let them, I am told.

Do you see what this means? Faculty losing power in hiring, retention, tenure, promotion; academic deans losing power in academic decision-making. “Be mature” and “don’t let it get to you” are the standard advice in this kind of situation but are bad advice now. I have to start asking other people what kinds of powers they used to have, but no longer do, and also what kinds of secretarial work they used not to have to do, and are now doing.

Also: does your university keep sending you surveys to do now? Do you think the work we put in doing the surveys is giving us voice, or is just diverting state money to the surveyors?

Next point, on complicity. It is politically correct to be supportive of adjuncts but I have some real doubts about parts of this. First of all, the truest support would be real jobs, not just invitations to lunch and the usual ways we are exhorted to be supportive. And:

a) Many of them are not willing to move, and in some cases they are not willing to finish their dissertations. That is to say, they would like real jobs and they resent people who have these, but at the same time they are not willing to do the things that the people who have them have done.

b) Every adjunct you support and cement in as an individual is occupying a job that could have been tenure-track.

c) I once actually got an adjunct’s job upgraded to Assistant Professor. Her husband, who held an endowed chair in another department, called me up asking me to cease and desist. He did not think she would be competitive in a national search, he said, and he wanted her to have the position, so as a favor to him could we just keep her downgraded? He actually wanted our department to give up a tenure line. The university was supporting him very well, even giving him extra perks, and this was what he wanted to do to it.

Discuss. What is the best thing to do for and with adjuncts, given that they are on the one hand exploited, and apparently most faculty are really mean to them and see them as untouchables, yet at the same time they are in at least some situations the loyal foot-soldiers of the neoliberal paradigm? What to do?



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Jolt from the left

Liberalism’s original sin lies in its lack of a dynamic theory of power. Much of its discourse is still fixated on an eighteenth-century Enlightenment fantasy of the “Republic of Letters,” which paints politics as a salon discussion between polite people with competing ideas. The best program, when well argued by the wise and well-intentioned, is assumed to prevail in the end. Political action is disconnected, in this worldview, from the bloody entanglement of interests and passions that mark our lived existence.



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The Great Gatsby

It is not a great film but I liked it, perhaps because it was cathartic; that summer was traumatic for Nick Carraway and really, trauma and interpretation are the topics of this journalistic article I have been writing. I want to publish its two versions and a follow-up partly as revenge or payback for academic year 2012-2013 and partly because I do think they might do some good. But the further I get, the more I realize how bad the situation is and how faculty, being what they are, probably will not step up to the plate and act.


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The latest revision — stronger, but not marvelous

Section 5 of my journalistic article. How can I strengthen it still further?

A New Curriculum

Around the time my piece was distributed in Louisiana, British political scientist Tarak Barkawi published a closely related analysis in Al Jazeera. In it he notes the use of euphemism to justify the purchase of commercial educational products over the development of an institution:

A meaningless buzzword in the mouth of a dean, such as “new majority student”, might in practice help legitimate the hiring of less qualified faculty. After all, if “teacher ownership of content” is old fashioned, why do you need to hire a professor who can create his or her own course?

He ends the article by emphasizing the the connection between MOOCs, the undermining of self-governance, neoliberal economies and deceptively reassuring rhetoric with which mine begins:

The bottom line of the neoliberal assault on the universities is the increasing power of management and the undermining of faculty self-governance. The real story behind MOOCs may be the ways in which they assist management restructuring efforts of core university practices, under the smiley-faced banner of “open access” and assisted in some cases by their “superstar”, camera-ready professors.

This sentence bears repeating: “The bottom line of the neoliberal assault on the universities is the increasing power of management and the undermining of faculty self-governance.” Recently published as well is Eric Margolis’ The Changing Hidden Curricula: A Personal Recollection, which provides much context for the changes in institutional policy and practice sketched out in the Lombardi essay discussed above, as wel as a description of the entrepreneurial New American University that is both vivid and chilling. Reading Margolis, I am struck once again by the way in which the management techniques and the new language of the entrepreneurial unversity project strive to train faculty into a new role. It is not only that, as he points out, key elements of the “hidden curriculum” of the 1950s university are creeping back into our institutions, just as the superficially modern MOOC resuccitates the lecture-and-quiz model of that era. It is that the language of crisis, of urgency, the representation of critique as superficial “fear of change,” and above all the presentation of the entrepreneurial model as a fait accompli train us as firmly as they can to further quietism. Capital now governs labor, as Corey Robin points out, and tells workers what to say; the vocabulary it teaches serves market logic better the more it severs connections with practical reality and reason. Lulled by the idea that, as members of the liberal professions, we are not labor, faculty have ignored the signs of being refitted precisely as such.

I am not in the mood for activism now. I want to close my door and write. I have tenure, so I can. I may be one of the last rank-and-file faculty members to have such an opportunity. It is a gift I do not wish to dishonor by refusing. There would be nothing more convenient than to decide the game is up, and to cultivate nothing beyond my own garden. But how shall I define myself, and describe the garden I cultivate? The energy in the adjunct movement, for example, which is organizing as established faculty take the quietist turn that also tempts me, suggests that corporatization or the complete adoption of the entrepreneurial model may not be the only path ahead. The “hidden curriculum” of corporatization is a lesson about its own inevitability, and this course is still in progress. It may be possible to brake and shift gears.

I would suggest that those of us who have tenure or are on the tenure track take the time to remember–remember, not expect to be granted, but remember and enact–the old faculty role, that tenure in its truer sense corresponded to, and that faculty had before our “deconstruction.” This means taking responsibility now, as opposed to merely lamen the “fall of the faculty.” I, of course, have always favored unionization and solidarity with contingent faculty, but this last is particularly important now. Such solidarity, importantly, does not mean only ensuring decent working conditions or making symbolic, weakly inclusive gestures like token representation. It means standing up to administrators and negotiating hard for FTEs and tenure-track lines. This is especially important given Lombardi’s insight that in the absence of this the weaker gestures, while humane, actually work toward the further erosion of faculty power. Tempting though it is to decide that all is already lost, and that the best use of time is in research, teaching, and service at the level of one’s disciplinary organizations, the journals on whose boards we sit, or in social movements outside the university, we should take active leadership roles on our campuses. We should sit on university level committees, offer to chair them, revive AAUP chapters, and stand for seats on Faculty Senate. Especially because so much of the new administrative class does not arise from the professoriate or necessarily have a background in a traditional discipline, they are isolated from these worlds and more vulnerable to sales pitches from ed-tech enterprises and political pressure than they necessarily want to be. They may appreciate our assistance in resisting the onslaught on our institutions coming from entities which truly do not have our, or our students’, or the country’s best interests at heart.

We should also guard against carelessly relinquishing the formal power we have left, as the Faculty Senate at my institution nearly did in its constitutional “editing” process last year. This is such an apparently small detail, such a dull bureaucratic task, that I wondered at the time whether my alarm at what was being attempted were an overreaction, but the fact is that we almost signed the future power of that body away. And as Barkawi points out, the undermining of faculty governance is central in the neoliberal attack on universities. Faculty governance must be recovered, and faculty must retain or regain all the integrity we can. We may not want to use all our power all the time, but we should not allow our structures of governance to be weakened or dismantled. The future is not nailed in, and it may be the neoliberal model that becomes the past.

Manuel Maples Arce’s modernist poem UrbeMetropolis in John Dos Passos’ translation, was written in response to a workers’ parade in Mexico City. In its first edition, it is accompanied by woodblocks that are not mere illustrations, but a part of the text; the human figures are tiny before skyscrapers and machinery, and along imposing avenues. Poetry and visual arts of the period, nearly a hundred years ago now, registered and grappled with the shock of the new, and the velocity of change. The machines in the landscape Maples Arce surveys with his movie camera gaze, are in high gear. “Here is my poem,” he proclaims. There are strong poems to be written yet.


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Fugue states

Time time time: to some extent it is true, one is as harried as one wants to be. My overwhelmed friend teaches community college, 15 hours of class a week, 3 courses 5 days a week, plus meetings, office hours, planning, grading, and the exhaustion of working in a turbulent institution. That is of course plenty to do but many do more and are less harried. Harriedness is an identity.

Psychic realities: my other friend’s husband wants to know, why two of our colleagues seem to be in constant states of panic. It is fear for their own survival, she said; they are running across a broad, deep lake on a narrow bridge that may collapse at any minute. Why? asked her husband; they have tenure. It is their psychic reality, I said; it does not have to do with the job.

Hattie, on Medea BenjaminI admire her; some people don’t, feeling that she should be humbler, kinder and more polite, a demand often made of women who disturb the smooth running of the machine and upset the complacent. She is courageous and strong in her convictions. I suppose Ann Coulter would be the ersatz version of this.

If people were happy as they say, would they be so upset that Rebecca Schuman has spoken of suffering?

The differences between me and the unemployed/the adjuncts are that I never expected to get an academic job, so I would not have felt betrayed not getting one, and that I would never have adjuncted (was always warned one should not do it). That means I got much better advising than they did. I understand their pain, though, because later on I got the same pressure to keep on trying when from a rational point of view the situation was not viable. If I did not keep on trying, their world would fall apart, people said. The effort around Schuman seems similar. People must, must find ways to show she was undeserving, or at least that she is indecorous.

It is convenient to decide she requires tutelage, but the reason she went into that fugue state is precisely that people keep repeating instructions and saying they should work. When they do not, it is assumed it is the fault of the student. It is never that the instructions in fact do not fit, or are incomplete. When the givers of instructions refuse to recognize that there is any blank space in their own discourse, and continue to insist that anything that goes wrong is due to the student not having understood, it creates a kind of cognitive dissonance that really does drive people into fugue states.


Thomas has an interesting post.



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