July 28, 2005

Bulwer-Lytton failure

Alerted by Margaret Soltan, I found the winners of this year's Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. Alas, I did not earn any recognition for this scintillating entry:

Leaning backwards over the balcony after three glasses of Merlot, the dean suddenly found himself dropping into the courtyard like a delinquent duck shot by a vigilante Supreme Court justice, landing squarely on students about to be honored for making the Provost's List and finally realizing his public ambition of impacting college students in a lifelong way.

My congratulations (or condolences) to Dan McKay, the winner of this year's (dis)honor. In other news, I chug along recovering from the summer course and chipping away at small things while engaging my son in high academic pursuits such as a 13-mile ride on the Tampa Bay trail, something that readers of the Michael Bérubé column on summer projects will recognize.

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Posted in Random comments at 7:28 PM (Permalink) |

July 25, 2005

Still grading...

Fortunately, I didn't have to worry about going back to the federal courthouse for jury duty today (or again this week, according to the phone system I just called), so I just have to finish the grading. Back home now, finish the job, post grades to Blackboard, and then get on to other tasks: union membership drive logistics, EPAA, grants, academic freedom, and other things that have been on the back burner.

Mow the grass? What do you mean, I should mow the grass?

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Posted in Teaching at 3:08 PM (Permalink) |

July 24, 2005

Grading frenzy

The rest of my family (well, the humans anyway) are out of the house for the next 48 hours, and I'm grading until the work's done. Grades are due Tuesday morning (I found out after I had shifted around the last online chat), so at least I have Tuesday morning to breathe a tiny bit.

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Posted in Teaching at 2:44 PM (Permalink) |

July 22, 2005

Silliness at William Patterson University

The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education press release on the case of Jihad Daniel at William Patterson University illustrates the problems of overly broad language on harassment that in essence defines any speech as harassment if it offends someone, for virtually any reason. Apparently, the employee and grad student responded to an e-mail announcement of a showing of Ruth and Connie: Every Room in the House. He wrote back the head of William Patterson's women's studies department asking not to receive any more e-mail about films including gay or lesbian content.

Daniel's e-mail was not disruptive. It was vocal, and he clearly was not happy with the e-mailed announcement broadcast to the whole university. I think he's substantively wrong on the appropriateness of such announcements and the practicality of omitting specific individuals from such broadcasts. But he was within his First Amendment rights to write the e-mail. So what happened next was Kafkaesque: The university accused him of harassment just for his e-mail, and his fairly clear defense had absolutely no effect.

Students, faculty, and staff have the legitimate expectation of an environment that is physically safe and provides an opportunity to learn and discuss ideas without discrimination based on anything other than the merit of one's ideas. But those expectations do not cover intellectual and emotional comfort. Universities are precisely the place where you'd expect some stiff challenges to your ideas.

When challenged (gee, there's that word again),I have heard a lawyer at one university suggest that "offensive" speech could be replaced by "discriminatory" in speech-code language and leave an acceptable policy. For my 3.14159... readers, does this make any sense?

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Posted in Academic freedom at 2:04 PM (Permalink) |

July 21, 2005

Creative commons and graduate students

Chris Karr has an interesting idea to protect students from the rare faculty who steal ideas:identify their work explicitly with a Creative Commons license. This is technically to make the claims to authorship clear rather than change the legal status of work—a Creative Commons license is more a way to release some part of of copyright privileges rather than something separate—but it's an interesting idea.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 7:28 PM (Permalink) |

July 19, 2005

Bérubé on theory

Why I read Michael Bérubé's blog: items like today's, which discusses ostraninie (a Russian term which I've heard translated as "technique of the naive observer") as a starting point for the last n decades of literary criticism and broader theory. One pithy bit:

When theory works—when it leads you to see things about texts and textuality that you’d never seen before—it’s a remarkable thing: you come away thinking, “well, I’ll never look at rhetorical questions quite the same way again,” or “I’ll never look at drag the same way again,” or (for you Raymond Williams fans out there) “I’ll never think of the word ‘culture’ in the same way again.”

Then Bérubé rips into Baudrillard by discussing when theory doesn't work, but you'll have to read the entire entry for that passage. He may be appealing to my baser nature with the reference ot Williams and Keywords, but I'll forgive him.

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Posted in Reading at 10:10 PM (Permalink) |

Work horcruxes

This is going to be a fragmented week. Yesterday, I served part of my jury duty in the federal courthouse and finished an article review for a journal before I went to voir dire for a civil suit. I wasn't chosen, so I'll see if I need to head downtown again next Monday for another round. In the meantime, I had two chats for my online course, rescheduled the last two chats for this weekend, will be reading the group wiki pages and then the multimedia essay and calculate final grades, all while trying to catch up on my editorial duties for Education Policy Analysis Archives and of course seeing my family (including my mother, who flies in Wednesday night en route to taking my daughter to an Elderhostel trek next week).

For those who have read HP6, I'll just say that I have several work horcruxes. No, I didn't do anything evil to create them.

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Posted in Random comments at 12:10 PM (Permalink) |

July 17, 2005

Table formatting

I've created a table-formatting tutorial because I don't think another one exists to show how one formats academic paper tables in a way that is clean and easily readable, especially using symbols for statistical significance. Let me know what you think of it!

July 12, 2005

Pennsylvania investigations

Hiram Hover and Michael Bérubé chime in on House Resolution 177. More coverage:

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Posted in Academic freedom at 11:08 AM (Permalink) |

July 10, 2005

Ivan Tribble fisked

It looks like there has been an explosion of blog entries about the "Ivan Tribble" blogging column. Most of it is justifiably critical. The best title thus far goes to The Trouble with Tribble, by Timothy Burke. Profgrrrrl notes that she wouldn't want to work in Tribble's department, because she's already had colleagues like him (or her) before.

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Posted in Random comments at 12:17 PM (Permalink) |

July 9, 2005

More foolish search committee stuff

I've slowly come to agree with remarks I've seen in various places that the anonymous columns in the Chronicle of Higher Education constitute an attractive nuisance for whining academics. The latest case in point is anonymous Ivan Tribble, who warns potential bloggers of the dangers posed by search committees who might read one's blog and strike you from a search. Daniel Drezner has the best advice for such a search committee: don't ever hire anyone, if you're fearful that your colleague might embarrass you. Margaret Soltan points out that this provides an incentive for academics to write articles for obscure journals that few will read.

Now, I suppose that there's a risk that an academic blogger might say something embarrassing for one's institution. I suppose a search committee has the right to be paranoid about some things. So let me ask my faithful 2.37 readers: what is the likelihood that someone who crafts an anonymous column for the Chronicle will write something embarrassing? Or, more to the point, when was the last time you read a non-whiny anonymous column at the Chronicle?

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Posted in Random comments at 5:16 AM (Permalink) |

July 7, 2005

Legislative investigations and academic freedom

Today, Inside Higher Ed reports that the Pennsylvania House approved House Resolution 177, establishing a committee with the power to investigate allegations of bias in public institutions in Pennsylvania. Thus far, this is the only victory of David Horowitz's in any legislature. A few notes:

  • As usual, the resolution observes paeans to academic freedom before getting down to the dirty work.
  • The select committee consists entirely of the Pennsylvania house subcommittee on higher ed, plus two members.
  • Legislative committees did much of the dirty work of McCarthyism in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, modeled on the federal committee started in 1937 by Martin Dies (later known as the House Committee on Un-American Activities or HUAC). Here in Florida, the Johns Committee first targeted the civil rights movement and then, when it couldn't find Communism there, looked first for Communists and then gays and lesbians teaching in Florida schools and universities, including at the University of South Florida.
  • Faculty are given a whopping two days' notice of allegations and a chance to respond. The problem is not the notice but the fact that most faculty will face the dilemma of taking time off to appear before a hostile committee, on the one hand, or being told that they had the chance to respond so any failure to appear must mean the student is correct, on the other.

It is the last item that's the kicker, practically speaking. I suspect that faculty unions in Pennsylvania and non-union chapters of the AAUP will come up with a creative way to respond, and I expect my fellow historian of education William Cutler, president of the Temple Association of University Professionals, will give them an earful, as will Michael Bérubé, but this has the potential to be a sordid little committee, cloned in other states, just like the McCarthyite investigating committees.

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Posted in Academic freedom at 5:36 AM (Permalink) |

July 6, 2005

In the Georgia Archives (again)

I'm back in the Georgia Archives again this week, with a digital camera taking images of the local superintendents' reports to the state department of education from the late 30s through the early 60s. At the moment, they don't allow use of flash or tripods, so it's an interesting challenge to hold my arms still enough to take decent images. I'm doing a good job thus far, with the help of the camera's timer. It's just taking a long time even to do one year, because there are 170-180 school districts in Georgia. I spent last night thinking about streamlining this to a set of counties by category: major cities, Atlantic coast, Black Belt near the Alabama border, and the northeastern mountains near SC and TN.

I'll see if I can get permission to post some of the photographs, less for the age-grade tables I'm grabbing than some images that illustrate ... well ... it's an obvious bureaucratic tip to segregation once you see the images, but I don't want to spoil the surprise.

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Posted in Research at 5:29 AM (Permalink) |

July 4, 2005

On patriotism and principles

I'm an educational historian, and sometimes there are gems in my field that say something to the world at large. Today, it's from the wartime court decision on the Pledge of Allegiance, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette (1943):

If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. (319 U.S. 624, 642)

Happy birthday, U.S.!

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Posted in Random comments at 8:13 AM (Permalink) |

Independence is a state of mind

Thanks to former history grad student eb's reorganization of the blog no great matter, I found out about two of Timothy Burke's entries on intellectual diversity from February and December 2004. In them, Burke points out the more subtle ruts that academics fall into based on disciplinary and institutional mores and suggests that most academics are fairly conservative in thinking about academe.

In the meantime, I've been reading Hersh and Merrow's edited volume, Declining by Degrees, just out from Palgrave as the companion to Merrow's documentary of the same name. Thus far, the essays are of highly mixed quality; somehow, despite most of them being outside academe, the majority of essays strike me as self-indulgent whining about colleges rather than carefully researched or thought out. For example, even though he is usually more careful when writing about elementary and secondary schools, Washington Post writer Jay Mathews sees college's treatment of AP courses as a synecdoche for the laziness with which faculty look at their own curricula. Maybe I have higher expectations for him, but couldn't he have done a bit of independent research rather than rely on his previous work on AP courses?

Ah, well. Can't have everything. Have a happy holiday, everyone!

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Posted in Academic freedom at 5:46 AM (Permalink) |