December 27, 2003

Eat, Drink and Be Snarky

Via Blue: Zagat's outtakes. Just between you and me and the blogosphere, I don't always find the Zagat Survey a reliable guide. Perhaps they should stop censoring comments such as the following:

The city hasn't seen this much cheese since the Three Tenors played Dodger Stadium.

Eat the crayons. They taste like the calamari.

Heart-stopping food in a life-taking neighborhood.

My Russian mother makes better French food.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:44 PM | Comments (5)

Teach Yourself Movable Type

Way back in April, I posted an entry called Movable Type for Dummies?. I still get the occasional email from a reader desperately looking for just such a guide.

In the comments to that entry, reader Liam recently provided a link to Sams Teach Yourself Movable Type in 24 Hours. Does that mean 24 hours straight? I wonder. When I think of how many months it took me to get comfortable with MT, I believe it might almost be worth pulling an all-nighter...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:53 PM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2003

New Year's Resolution

If you're like me, you don't back up your data quite as regularly as you should. Liz Lawley says, "Back up your blog!" And all other critical material too (email, curricular material, research notes, etc. etc.).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:55 PM | Comments (0)

December 22, 2003

Happy Holidays!

yuletide (Custom).jpg"You must understand, good People, that the manner of celebrating this great Course of Holydays is vastly different now to what it was in former Days: There was once upon a time Hospitality in the Land; an English Gentleman at the opening of the great Day, had all his Tenants and Neighbours enter'd his Hall by Day-break, the Strong-Beer was broach'd, and the Black-Jacks went plentifully with Toast, Sugar, Nutmegs, and good Cheshire Cheese; the Rooms were embower'd with Holly, Ivy, Cypress, Bays, Laurel, and Missleto, and a bouncing Christmas Log in the Chimney glowing like the Cheeks of a Country Milk-maid; then was the Pewter as bright as Clarinda, and every bit of Brass as polished as the most refined Gentleman; the Servants were then running here and there, with merry Hearts and jolly Countenances; every one was busy welcoming of Guests, and look'd as smug as new-lick'd Puppies; the Lasses were as blithe and buxom as the Maids in good Queen Bess's Days, when they eat Sir-Loans of Roast Beef for Breakfast; Peg would scuttle about to make a Toast for John, while Tom ran harum scarum to draw a Jug of Ale for Margery: Gaffer Spriggins was bid thrice welcome by the Squire, and the Gooddy Goose did not fail of a smacking Buss from his Worship, while his Son and Heir did the Honours of the House; In a word, the Spirit of Generosity ran thro' the whole House."

-- Dick Merryman, Christmas Entertainments (London, 1740)

Christmas: to paraphrase "Dick Merryman," it's not what it never used to be.

Still, even in this our age of world-weary cynicism and post-ironic detachment, there is room for a bit of cheer and maybe even a bit of magic. A toast to you and yours! May you have a lovely holiday.

See you after Boxing Day.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:30 PM | Comments (10)

Missing the Forest for the Trees

In her review of Derek Bok's Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education (which I briefly noted here), Erin O'Connor suggests that Bok has overlooked a number of key areas:

In focusing almost exclusively on athletics and corporate-funded research, Bok ignores some of the major ways universities might be said to be 'selling out.' There is no mention anywhere in the book of the fact that across the country, tuition is skyrocketing even as classes are closing, departments are downsizing, and resources are becoming ever more scarce. There is no mention anywhere in the book of the fact that on many campuses, upwards of half of all undergraduate teaching is now done not by fulltime faculty but by undertrained, underpaid graduate students and by a poorly paid and often uninsured corps of part-time, non-tenurable faculty (more than 40% of the professoriate works part-time; 70% of part-timers make less than $3,000 a course). There is no recognition that the campus labor movement that has so many university administrators up in arms – and that loudly and regularly accuses universities of sacrificing its educational mission to economic interests – is a predictable and logical outgrowth of universities' attempts to cut costs by cutting academic corners.

Quite right. It is remarkable how frequently the critics of the commercialization of higher education fail to register one of the most significant aspects of the corporatization of the academy: that is, the restructuring of academic employment from a full-time salaried profession with an unusually high degree of job security to a part-time, low-wage sector with little to no job security whatsoever. Athletics is an easy target. And it's not hard to recognize and object to transparently politicized assaults on "tenured radicals" and the liberal academy. But the real threat to tenure comes not (or not yet) in the form of a direct and explicit attack on the institution but rather in the form of a steady erosion: an indirect attack that is no less effective for coming unannounced (effective in part, of course, because it still too often goes unnoticed by those who should be vigorously opposing it).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:43 AM | Comments (5)

Death of the Author (of Letters of Recommendation)

Henry Farrell considers the implications of a practice that is apparently becoming more widespread:

Students applying for a Ph.D. usually need good letters of reference from well-known academics to get into the better programs. One of Nasi Lemak’s former students recently asked a professor at a top US research university for a reference letter, and was told to write a draft of the letter himself, which the professor would then edit and sign. Nasi Lemak did some asking around, and found a surprising number of people who seem to believe that this is acceptable practice.

His main concern is that of praise inflation:

Reference inflation is bad enough as it is; a variant of Gresham’s law means that over-inflated puff-pieces are driving out serious letters of reference. Allowing students to write their own encomiums isn’t going to help much.

Henry argues that "while the student may suggest some qualities to be evaluated," the professor should be "fully and entirely responsible for the evaluation itself." That sounds about right to me.

But while some commenters are inclined to agree with Henry that this is not a good thing, others see the matter quite differently. Decon, for example, suggests that having the student write the letter is an effective means of "[saving] the Professor time;" "js" views the practice as "a gesture of respect and trust" in the student; and cs, for whom, apparently, time is money, sees Henry's statement of concern as "all a bit precious and pious for my money Henry."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:10 AM | Comments (21)

December 17, 2003

'Tis the Season

Ah, Christmas in New York. What says "festive" like stoned Canadians living in a truck in upper Manhattan?

But I want their happy memories of Christmas to be orchestrated our way. It must involve our stories of Santa coming in through the fire escape and buying the tree at 181st Street from the stoned Canadians who live in their truck all December (Laura, Apt 11D)
But don't even get me started on the trickier aspects of negotiating the holidays with not one but two sets of parents who are now grandparents (and with the Canadian set living not in a truck on 181st Street but in, well, Canada). 'Tis the season to be jolly well stressed out.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:49 PM | Comments (2)

"'Dude, Where's My Reliable Symbolic Order?'"

Some held that the [Andrew Ross Award for Dangerous Hipness] should go to a title reflecting scholarship that keeps up with recent cable-television listings. They nominated the paper "Taking Away the Threat: Cribs and The Osbournes as Narratives of Domestication," by David S. Escoffery and Michelle Sullivan, of Southwest Missouri State University and the University of Pittsburgh's main campus, respectively.

Others contended that the winner should be 'très 1990s,' just like Mr. Ross's own bad self. They argued strenuously for "Judith Butler Got Me Tenure (but I Owe My Job to k.d. lang): High Theory, Pop Culture, and Some Thoughts About the Role of Literature in Contemporary Queer Studies," by Kim L. Emery of the University of Florida.

Following tense e-mail exchanges, the judges awarded the prize to Amy Abugo Ongiri of the University of California at Riverside for her paper "Jethro, Mama, Sassie Sue, and the Midnight Plowboy: Hillbillies, 'Common Sense,' Urbanity, and Blaxploitation Film" -- on the grounds that the title was so achingly hip that nobody had any idea what it meant.

-- Scott McLemee, "Signifyin' at the MLA," Chronicle of Higher Education, December 19, 2003

The Chronicle has announced the winners of its First Annual Awards for Self-Consciously Provocative MLA Paper Titles. Categories include:

Award for Transgressive Punctuation

Andrew Ross Award for Dangerous Hipness

Award for Best Slavoj Zizek Knockoff ("which went by acclaim to "'Dude, Where's My Reliable Symbolic Order?': Gross-Out Comedies and the Rewriting of the Expressible," by Luther Riedel of Mohawk Valley Community College, in New York")

Most Provocative Panel Title

Most Provocative Paper Title

All titles come from the program for the 119th MLA Annual: "no paper titles were made up," and no names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate the winners.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:55 AM | Comments (93)

December 16, 2003


It has come to my attention that some of the readers of this weblog are diehard Simpsons fans (see comments to "Books Not Read"). Yeah. My husband is a bit of a fanatic, I think that's why I married him. Or maybe it's why he married me, because I'm a bit of a fanatic too. Our two-year old son is also a fan ("Mommy, we watch the Simpsons?"), if not quite, or not yet, a fanatic. But please don't tell my mother, because she thinks Bart Simpson is too "bold" and "cheeky." Well, yes. But Mum, that's just the point. If the family that prays together stays together, the family that watches the Simpsons together is the family that laughs together in the face of the utter disintegration of western civilization as we have known it. Please pass the popcorn.

So never mind books not read, what about episodes not seen? I have yet to see the episode where Maggie attends the Ayn Rand daycare and the kids use some sort of communitarian strategy to make an escape. I really want to see that one.

Now, I could do the cultural studies thing and ask you to critically interrogate the multiple meanings behind "Homer Simpson's Eyes and the Culture of Late Nostalgia" (Jerry Herron, Representations 43 [1993]: 1-26). Or I could just say what I'm about to say, which is, "Hey, here's an entry where you register your favourite Simpsons line."

I'll start things off with one of my all-time favourites, from "Lisa's Date with Density:"

Lisa Simpson, coming to the realization that she has a crush on Nelson Muntz: "He's not like anybody I've ever met. He's like a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a vest."

And I'll add just one more, from "The Simpsons Spinoff Showcase":

Ralph Wiggum: "Look, big daddy, it's regular daddy."
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:39 PM | Comments (62)

Books Not Read

As 2003 draws to a close, it’s time for me to reflect on all of the great books I did not read this year. This has been a particularly good year for not reading books. I would go so far as to say that there are more books I did not read this year than in any year in the recent past. Although a significant part of my job consists in sitting somewhere and reading something, I have still managed to find the time not to read a very wide range of material from many different fields.

-- Kieran Healy, Books I Did Not Read this Year

Kieran Healy offers a list of his "ten favorite nonfiction books" that he did not read this year, carefully arranged in the order in which he did not read them. "It is a nice question," he notes in connection with Robert Skidelsky's John Maynard Keynes: Fighting for Freedom, 1937-1946 (a "superb three-volume study [which] will likely be displaced by an abridged one-volume edition due out soon, which will be shorter and therefore easier to not read"), "whether shorter books are easier or harder to not read than longer books."

In the comments to Kieran's entry, Katherine offers a "not quite read" list, which I think raises another nice question: how much of a book can you have read while still being allowed to boast of not having read it? I'd say that if you perused the table of contents, read the acknowledgements and perhaps even took a glance at the preface, you're still on solid ground. A quick peek at the index might also be permissible. Once you have at least briefly skimmed the first chapter, however, you will have to concede that you have "looked at" the book, which is not quite the same thing as having read it, but not quite the same thing as not having read it, either.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:37 AM | Comments (10)

Accreditation Fraud

The institution's three-year radiology-technology program costs about $33,000 to complete, and is still not accredited by the proper organization, the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. Nine students have graduated from the program, and 75 are currently enrolled. Without accreditation, students cannot take the national licensing exam and earn the proper credentials for employment.

Nevertheless, a Spencerian College brochure obtained by The Chronicle clearly states that students would be eligible to take the exam.

-- Elizabeth F. Farrell, "5 Graduates Sue Spencerian College, Saying It Lied About Accreditation Status," Chronicle of Higher Education, December 16, 2003 (subscription-only)

The Chronicle reports that 5 graduates have filed "separate lawsuits in state and federal courts" against Spencerian College, "claiming that college employees lied" about the accreditation status of the college's radiology program. A.R. Sullivan, president of the Sullivan University system to which Spencerian College belongs,

called the brochure statement a regrettable error. Students have 'every right to be aggrieved,' he said, 'but not to sue us for $750,000,' the amount he says each student has requested.

A.R. Sullivan is of course wrong: the students do have every right to sue. Perhaps he meant the students don't have the moral right? There again, I'd have to disagree. But in any case, the students can, and apparently will, stand on their legal right to sue.

And of course it's hard to believe that the brochure statement was simply an "error." Oops! We forgot to check on our accreditation status before offering a 3-year program in area that requires candidates to have completed the program at an officially accredited institution. Accreditation status is a vital piece of information; for a vocational, career-specific course of study, it means the difference between a certificate worth pursuing and a certificate not worth the paper it's printed on. This almost certainly has to be seen as a deliberate piece of fraud. And even if it wasn't deliberate (which is hard to believe), the school should still be held liable for misrepresenting the status of its program.

I hope the students win their suits (chances are, they will reach a settlement before the cases ever get to trial). But it strikes me that lawsuits aren't a very effective means of regulating the brave new world on for-profit education.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:54 AM | Comments (14)

December 14, 2003

What Colour Are You?

Via ambivalent imbroglio, there's nothing like a silly internet quiz when you should be doing something else that you don't even want to think about doing. And I have to say, I'm rather impressed by the result. Not sure about the written description, but the colour itself is remarkably close to the background colour for this blog:

you are cadetblue

Your dominant hues are green and blue. You're smart and you know it, and want to use your power to help people and relate to others. Even though you tend to battle with yourself, you solve other people's conflicts well.

Your saturation level is lower than average - You don't stress out over things and don't understand people who do. Finishing projects may sometimes be a challenge, but you schedule time as you see fit and the important things all happen in the end, even if not everyone sees your grand master plan.

Your outlook on life can be bright or dark, depending on the situation. You are flexible and see things objectively.
the html color quiz

Just as an aside: no matter how desperate I get for procrastination material, I categorically refuse to take the Which Wife of Henry VIII Are You? quiz. I am unwilling to entertain the possibility that I might have anything of significance in common with any of them.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:07 PM | Comments (21)


Saddam Hussein has been captured alive.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:08 AM | Comments (34)

December 13, 2003

Guilty Pleasure: The Sopranos

Many writers, for the sake of following nature, so mingle good and bad qualities in their principal personages, that they are both equally conspicuous; and as we accompany them through their adventures with delight, and are led by degrees to interest ourselves in their favour, we lose the abhorrence of their faults, because they do not hinder our pleasure, or, perhaps, regard them with some kindness for being united with so much merit.

-- Samuel Johnson, The Rambler IV (31 March 1750)

Like many eighteenth-century critics, Johnson worried about the moral effects of the (still relatively new) form of fiction known as the novel. What he worried about was that the reality effects of the novel might undermine a deeper reality: that is, that moral truths were absolute, regardless of the story. These truths, Johnson suggested, might be more effectively conveyed through less realistic characters and plot devices than were found in the novel.

As Johnson saw it, an earlier tradition of romance had typically traced the incredible (or "wonderful") exploits of heroic characters who were obviously, and dramatically, far removed from common life in order to illustrate general moral principles that could then be applied by humbler folk to the more mundane situations of the everyday world. The novel, on the other hand, aimed at something rather different: "to bring about natural events by easy means, and to keep up curiosity without the help of wonder." It staked its claim on versimilitude (okay, if you've read any eighteenth-century fiction lately, you will realize that what passed for "natural" was highly stylized indeed -- then again, the same can obviously be said of 19th-century realism, which in many respects was much more "realistic" than eighteenth-century fiction: was it Lennard Davis who pointed out -- I'm pretty sure it was Davis but I'm too lazy to look it up -- that with an eighteenth-century novel, you don't get a precise account of, say, what the heroine looks like? you read that she is "handsome" or "a great beauty" but are left to fill in the blanks, whereas with a nineteenth-century novel you are told that she has blonde hair or brown, curly or straight -- of course he had a larger point, but I'm already digressing...). For Johnson, what was disturbing and potentially dangerous about the novel's ambition to faithfully reproduce the everyday transactions of common life was its depiction of characters "drawn from nature," warts, wrinkles and all (eg, mostly good but with some notable flaw of plot-turning significance; mostly bad but with some redeeming trait that could elicit the reader's sympathy). He wanted protagonists to be not "natural" but exemplary: clear and unambiguous emblems of vice and virtue.

Johnson's concern over the effects of fiction will undoubtedly strike many readers as a quaint relic from the museum of wrongheaded moralizing over doomed causes.

But now that I'm finally caught up on the Sopranos, I have to say that I think Johnson may have had a point. Yes, I know I'm a little behind the curve here: I have only very recently finished watching the most recent season. I plead motherhood as my excuse. And no, I'm not about to adopt the stance of the eighteenth-century anti-novelist, ranting against the evils of the circulating library and exhorting young women to avoid the seductive temptations of the novel, which will only inflame their passions and leave them prey to some vicious aristocratic rake (possibly Mick Jagger) who will bring about their ruin. Are you kidding?! How could I object to the circulating library when I'm running a weblog? Anyway, I love novels.

And I'm really looking forward to the next (and I think final?) season of the Sopranos. But I have to say I sometimes feel a bit uneasy watching the show, I sometimes experience something that might almost be described as qualms of conscience. Not enough to stop watching, to be sure, but just enough to write this blog entry. I find myself sympathizing with convicted felons and people who should be convicted as felons, and then I'll watch a scene depicting the most brutal violence and the most shocking lack of remorse or decency, and sure, I'm your basic bleeding heart liberal, and I realize that Tony Soprano learned all of this in his childhood and was born and bred up to the trade, but there's just too much blood on the floor.

It's not that I have lost my abhorrence of their faults, as Johnson put it. Far from it. But I do derive a great deal of delight and pleasure from the show, and I do sometimes wonder whether this is quite right.

Did I mention that I love Carmela? The struggles of conscience with the bargain she has struck, and the way the motives are so obviously mixed (wanting to be a good Catholic, which means not leaving your husband, but also wanting to continue to lead an affluent lifestyle even if it means, as that pyschiatrist told her, that she's a criminal accomplice). I think Edie Falco is wonderful.

Anyway, I've oversimplified my account of Johnson's concern over the novel. I think it's really a concern over the psychologized self. Which is to say, the self as enormously rich and complex, full of inner depths and layers of meaning, with some core of self-authorizing authenticity which you might be able to get at if only you could plumb those depths through psychoanalysis or a recovering-your- inner-child workshop or what have you. Okay, that's not quite fair. And of course I'm as committed to my psychologized self as the next self.

But I do want to insist that this sense of self is something relatively new. Look at the early modern witch trials, for example, and read the testimonies of people who believed themselves to be possessed. Nowadays, we psychologize: we turn inward and assume some deep mental or psychological trauma. But that's not what people did circa 1600: they turned not inward but outward: some evil agent (if not satan, then one of his minions) had come from without and launched a sort of invasion. The frame of reality was external, not internal, objective not subjective. Likewise, the understanding of morality in its origins and application. Its enforcement, for example. The standard narrative: whereas in the premodern world, the code is enforced from without, through violence or at least the threat of violence, in the modern world, the subject internalizes the code and more or less voluntarily agrees to regulate his or her own conduct accordingly (which some describe as another kind of "violence"). You don't have to be a Foucauldian to arrive at this understanding, by the way, you can read Charles Taylor, and in my opinion you should.

Part of the frisson of delight with the Sopranos: the protagonist is all about some older "feudal" code of honour and violence (or at least, a low-rent New Jersey imitation thereof), and yet he visits Dr. Melfi. In other words, the joke, and the interest, is that he has a pyschologized self, with an "inner child," or that version of self-history that we call childhood. Which makes it possible for us to sympathize, even as we recoil. Which is exactly what Johnson was worried about.

Don't get me wrong: I wouldn't trade my modern psychologized self for anything, and I'm glad we're no longer holding witch trials. But I do think it's a mixed blessing. We get a sense of some of the difficulties, I believe, when we come up against a certain type of criminal case. Someone has committed the most heinous of crimes, the most shocking act of brutality that would seem to place him beyond the reach of humanity. And then, almost inevitably, we learn that he never had a father and that his mother was a drug addict and a prostitute, and that he was neglected and abandoned, shunted about from one foster home to the next, unloved, untaught, unwanted. Yes, I'm pouring it on. We all know the story. And we all know -- because we all subscribe to the narrative of the psychologized self -- that it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that he would turn to be the kind of person who could commit such a crime. But then there's the crime, and how can that go unpunished? Where do we draw the line between a notion of responsibility that still relies on some version or other of an external framework, and our basically subjectivist understanding of the story that makes up our notion of the complex self? Because after all, and since we all subscribe to the narrative of the psychologized self, doesn't everyone -- you, me, and Tony Soprano -- have a story?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:44 PM | Comments (8)

Early Modern Portrait Prints?

Just by the by. If anyone looking at this site studies the social context of early modern portrait prints I'd be delighted to hear from them. I'm writing my PhD on links between portrait prints and the news in later Stuart London.

-- Claire, comment to "Life Outside the Academic History Box"

You can reach Claire via Claire's Seventeenth Century.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:43 AM | Comments (1)

December 12, 2003

You Can Send Him Dead Flowers

Well when you're sitting there in your silk upholstered chair
Talkin' to some rich folk that you know
Well I hope you won't see me in my ragged company
Well, you know I could never be alone

-- M. Jagger/K. Richards, "Dead Flowers"

Mick Jagger has finally been knighted. This story predictably plays off the seeming paradox of the icon of rebellion turned icon of establishment: "once a scourge of the British establishment," it notes, the "60-year-old rock n'roll lothario" has now "received its ultimate accolade." Apparently this perpective is shared by the "craggy-faced" Keith Richards, who "claimed [Jagger] was betraying the band's principles by accepting the honor."

I beg to differ. For the past four decades, Jagger has comported himself like the most dissolute and debauched of ancien régime aristocrats, even as he behaved like the most rationally calculating and profit-maximizing of contemporary capitalists. I think the knighthood a fitting tribute to his remarkable ability to bridge the gap between the old establishment and the new.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:03 AM | Comments (6)

December 10, 2003

Best-Loved and Most-Hated Holiday Songs

"How about one of those most-hated Xmas song threads?" asks Zizka.

You ask, IA delivers. But as always, I reserve the right to edit and revise in accordance with my own tastes, preferences and arbitrary whims. So it's most-hated and best-loved. Feel free to snark, or to confess a shameful addiction to the most saccharine fare imaginable: you can always post anonymously...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:52 PM | Comments (54)

December 09, 2003

The past is a (vaguely familiar but basically) foreign country

One's own past, that is. Or at least, that part of one's past that included the annual, eagerly awaited ritual of please-mum-can-we-stay-up-past-our-bedtime-to-watch-Rudolph?

What happens when your cherished memories of a yearly Christmas treat come face to face with the actual item of which you cherish the memories? I'm referring, of course, to the 1964 production of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with Burl Ives as the singing snowman. Which I hadn't watched in years and years, though of course I could have had I wanted to, because it's been on the air every December since its initial broadcast.

What happens is that, when your husband says, ten minutes into the show, "wow, what a banal piece of crap," you are forced (however reluctantly, because you're still game, and you still cherish the memories) to concede that he may have a point. What happens is that, when, twenty minutes into the program, you begin to allow yourself to think, 'This dross really is embarrassingly unwatchable,' you begin to wonder about your six-, seven-, eight-year old self: 'What was I thinking?! And am I still the I who once thought so differently, who once found this not only entertaining but even wonderful and magical? What other, achingly familiar yet never to be recovered past world did I inhabit? And can I really be so old that I now have such a keen, which is to say painful, sense of then and now?' To amuse yourself, because you've committed to watching it and you're not yet willing to follow your impulse to simply walk away, you begin to speculate: is there a homoerotic subtext to this story about the misfit elf who wants to be a dentist? have the queer theory people done anything in this line? But it's no use. It just won't do. The show is altogether too flimsy, and simply not interesting enough, to bear the weight of any such speculation.

Meanwhile, the toddler on whose behalf you are watching the show (because this show was once something of a holiday "tradition" that you think you might want to reinvent -- good god! am I really saying that the watching of a television show might constitute a tradition? yes, I am. O brave new world, that has such people in it!)...meanwhile, said toddler has long since abandoned the screen in favour of his favourite dump truck. 'We're watching Rudolph,' you coax, but half-heartedly at best, because by now you can only admit that the child has a point. 'Wrong trousers?' he replies, in an English accent. These days this kid is all about Wallace and Gromit. With Finding Nemo as a close second. And let's face it: Rudolph in 1964 "animagic" is not exactly Pixar. Though it could have its own "vintage" charm, except that it doesn't.

Ah well. We will try again with the Grinch (no, not that abomination of a remake, but the original and genuine article). I remain optimistic. I'm thinking Boris Karloff must have aged better. But if this one falls through, I think I might well be devastated.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:15 PM | Comments (44)

December 08, 2003

"Has the Bubble Burst?"

The problem isn't rivalries or other students or anything of the sort. It's not even professors, by and large, though there's always the occasional problem person.

It's that the horizons of graduate school shrink down to a very short and narrow perspective, and disallow the very ideas and explorations that many people regard (properly) as the essence of intellectual inquiry. This will not happen in any obvious way: no ogre will appear to forbid you anything. It will happen invidiously, slowly, pervasively: no one will actually do it to you, and never will you be able to put your finger on exactly how and when it is being done. Slowly but surely, however, you will be cut to fit a very particular professionalized and disciplinary cloth, and become a willing participant in innumerable rituals of abjection. Slowly but surely, you'll begin to accept the intimate intertwining of your life and your work, and pernicious forms of virally spreading authority and power by numerous other people, some of them quite distant from you in social terms, over that intertwined work-life.

-- Timothy Burke, comment to "Jane Bast, Undeterred"

Reading Timothy Burke's comment, I was reminded of Clifford Geertz's account of having led "a charmed life, in a charmed time," which allowed him to enjoy "an errant career, mercurial, various, free, instructive, and not all that badly paid:"

I entered the academic world at what has to have been the best time to enter it in the whole course of its history; at least in the United States, possibly altogether. When I emerged from the U.S. Navy in 1946, having been narrowly saved by The Bomb from being obliged to invade Japan, the great boom in American higher education was just getting underway, and I have ridden the wave all the way through, crest after crest, until today, when it seems at last, like me, to be finally subsiding...

...The question is: Is such a life and such a career available now? In the Age of Adjuncts? When graduate students refer to themselves as 'the pre-unemployed'? When few of them are willing to go off for years to the bush and live on taro (or even the equivalent in The Bronx or Bavaria), and the few who are willing find funding scarce for such irrelevance? Has the bubble burst? The wave run out?

It is difficult to be certain...All I know is that, up until just a few years ago, I used blithely, and perhaps a bit fatuously, to tell students and younger colleagues who asked how to get ahead in our odd occupation that they should stay loose, take risks, resist the cleared path, avoid careerism, go their own way, and that if they did so, if they kept at it and remained alert, optimistic, and loyal to the truth, my experience was that they could get away with murder, could do as they wish, have a valuable life, and nonetheless prosper. I don't do that any more (Clifford Geertz, A Life of Learning).

I know at least a couple of senior professors who share Geertz's perspective. They entered the profession and developed and matured as scholars and prospered as academics when things were quite different. They have a keen (and often melancholy) sense of just how different. It is worth listening to these senior academics. I think it's important for prospective graduate students to realize that it's just not like that anymore (that referring somewhat loosely to the Bubble: ie, to that tweedy, booklined, privileged and protected space of purposeful work and educated leisure and a life well examined and the rest of it.) Not that it ever was just like that. But it's even less like that now.

As Ian Samson describes it in a wonderfully evocative passage in his review of David Lodge's Thinks:

The university in his work is a cross between a Bower of Bliss and a Weeping Castle, a place full of intrigue and adventure, a realm of the senses in which ideas are made flesh, where the battle between good and evil is carried on by Kierkegaard-quoting antiheroes. Whereas anyone who has ever worked in a university knows it to be more like an out-of-town retail park, a realm of memos and little cacti in pots, in which endless seminars are conducted by semi- professional bureaucrats on the work of David Lodge. This is reality. Fortunately, Lodge writes allegory.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:25 PM | Comments (36)

Blogged Down

Real life intervenes. Hope to resume shortly.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:02 PM | Comments (1)

December 04, 2003

Jane Bast, Undeterred

'Natalie,' I said, bracing myself for the worst, 'I want to go to grad school.'

She let out a whoop of joy that rattled the walls. "That's great news," she exclaimed. 'You'll love grad school. I spent the best 11 years of my life there and I don't regret one minute.'

My eyes bulged. 'Eleven years?'

'And even though I still owe $70,000 in loans,' she said, 'every penny was worth it.' She handed me a cup of tea. 'Spoonful of sugar?'

'No thanks,' I said. 'I thought people pay you to go to grad school -- I thought a Ph.D. usually takes four years.'

Natalie laughed merrily. 'Don't worry about the time and the money," she said with an indefatigable smile. 'You're investing in your brain. A learned mind is the world's most portable skill set. No matter where you go, no one can take it away from you.'

-- Jane Bast, "Ignoring Good Advice"

Jane Bast, who does indeed seem "well versed in dramatic irony," offers a tale of graduate school advice in three acts. Dr. Bill Jeremiah issues a dire warning against the scheme, Dr. Natalie Poppins waxes enthusiastic over the plan, and Dr. Stephen Methuselah combines paternal kindliness with world-weary cynicism to pass the buck.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:00 PM | Comments (110)

Another Eye for the Straight Guy

They're filming Queer Eye for the Straight Guy around the corner...

...After I pick up Jonah from school, I'm going to check out the Fab Five. I have to talk to them about the good work they're doing, but they really have to stop putting straight guys in white denim.

-- Laura, Eyeing Queer Eye

Laura's right, of course. Guys, if you want to get dates with women, please do not wear white denim. And go easy on the hair care products.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:08 AM | Comments (19)

December 03, 2003

And Some Days We are Networkers

This week I had the opportunity to participate in a focus group and had a blast. I also discovered that directing one seems a lot like leading a good student brainstorming session. So, in a spasm of networking, I asked the director if we could arrange an informational interview to learn more about this kind of work.

-- Rana of Frogs and Ravens ("Some days we are ravens, other days, frogs.")

That's a great idea. Go Rana!

(She already has a list of informational interview questions, but solicts suggestions for more).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:25 PM | Comments (3)

Life Outside the Academic History Box

Since 1990, there has been a growing disparity between the number of PhDs in history and the number of academic jobs, with American graduate programs overproducing historians on a yearly basis...

... For years, academics have maintained that this problem was only temporary. But the facts do not bear this out. The last ten years have witnessed a growing tendency to replace tenured positions with adjunct and visiting professors. Having found a good and steady source of cheap labor, it is unlikely that universities will rush to restore more expensive tenured positions. Further complicating the problem is the growing budget crunch facing almost every state...

-- Alexandra Lord and Julie Taddeo, Beyond Academe

Via The Cranky Professor, Beyond Academe is a new website designed "to educate historians about opportunities for historians 'outside the box' -- that is outside of academia." The creators are two history PhDs who left academe after years of teaching and who "have both come to love life 'outside the box,'" so much so that they can "heartily recommend it to others."

Among the "Useful Tools" on the site: The Culture of Academia, or How to Combat the Barriers Which May Prevent You From Leaving Academia, Five Quick tips for Transforming a CV into a Resume, and Rules of Conduct. Very useful indeed. Kudos to Alexandra Lord and Julie Taddeo for creating this site!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:39 AM | Comments (47)

What is a Guild?

An "outside observer" named Ted has left a comment ("Who's Minding the Store") that deserves to be highlighted in a separate entry:

It seems that many of you are members of guilds that are so weak and dysfunctional that you can't even think straight. I'm a physician, and the difference between the guild(s) I'm in and academia are astounding.

Of course, the number of PhD.s should be capped. Going through a period of low-pay apprenticeship only makes sense if a good career awaits and the end. When I was in academic medicine I would have considered it grossly unethical to train physicians who didn't have easy access to excellent jobs. However, we didn't have a choice; slots in training programs are tightly regulated by accredidation agencies. Johns Hopkins can't add an extra resident in order to lighten the load on attending pysicians because that resident could not become board certified (or, in many states, even licensed).

PhD. candidates are not commodities; they are human beings who are being inducted into a guild. I don't understand how department chairs who are training PhD.s who don't get several tenure track job offers can look at themselves in the mirror.

What am I missing?

I think it's what are we missing. I've argued this point many times before on this weblog, but I'm going to state it again: the guild that allows an oversupply of members, and that permits -- nay, even encourages -- the use of cheap, contingent labor to perform one of the basic and central tasks of the guildmembers (ie teaching) is not behaving like a guild.

The above comment focuses on the ethical dimension to overproduction. And while I happen to agree with Ted, I realize that many academics don't. They rather adopt a caveat emptor approach. It is not the responsibility of the profession to ensure jobs, or even to inform prospective candidates of the actual job prospects in the field. Let them in, and let them find out on their own.

But there's also a pragmatic dimension. Leaving aside the ethics of encouraging young people to spend years of their lives in low-paid apparenticeships that do not lead to full-time employment, there is also the very real and very important matter of the long-term effects of overproduction on the status and strength of the profession. Failure to cap enrollments is pauperizing the profession. The signs are everywhere, for anyone who cares to read them. To repeat what I quoted yesterday from Finkelstein's The Morphing of the American Academic Profession,

Quite beyond the surge in part-time faculty appointments over the past quarter century, the majority (i.e., over half) of all new full-time faculty hires in the past decade have been to non-tenure-eligible, or fixed-term contract positions (Finkelstein and Schuster 2001). Put another way, in the year 2001, only about one-quarter of new faculty appointments were to full-time tenure track positions (i.e., half were part-time, and more than half of the remaining full-time positions were 'off' the tenure track).

To repeat: an untenured majority now performs the bulk of college teaching. And in some disciplines, I believe we have reached the point where the bargaining power of the "guild" has been so weakened that it is difficult to imagine how this trend might be halted, never mind reversed.

A couple of people have recommended that I read Marc Bousquet's latest article in College English, entitled "The Rhetoric of Job Market and the Reality of the Academic Labor System." I have not yet done so, but I'm told he takes issue with the notion that we are overproducing PhDs. I've already encountered a version of this argument in a couple of his earlier pieces, and I have to say that I basically disagree with it. It is true, of course, that there really isn't an oversupply relative to the demand for teachers. That is, it is not the case that students are no longer signing up for courses in English and history. As a matter of fact, adjunctification has occurred alongside increased enrollment, and contingent faculty are most likely to be found precisely in high-demand teaching areas (introductory survey courses, e.g.). So from one perspective, it does make sense to say that there isn't an oversupply of PhDs but rather an undersupply of full-time jobs.

But the new reality is that the "guild" no longer has the power to command full-time positions with decent salaries and working conditions ("easy access" to "excellent jobs" is raising the bar way too high: I'm more concerned with realistic prospects for half-decent to decent jobs). I don't know exactly how the profession could regain the strength to bargain effectively for better positions, but I'm pretty sure that the best thing that could happen to fields like English and history would be an undersupply of PhDs to meet the existing demand for teachers in those areas.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:57 AM | Comments (25)

NYTimes Link Generator

Via ampersand at Alas, a blog, the New York Times Link Generator offers stable, weblog-safe links. I hope more online publications follow suit.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2003

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Uh no, that's not it. It's "To PhD or not to PhD," and it's the subject of this entry by Mike Van Winkle at The Chicago Report. I think I've pretty much exhausted this theme: my answer can be found under "Academic Job 'Market' Entries" on my sidebar.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:52 PM | Comments (2)

Who's Minding the Store?

A temporary dislocation? Or, the dawning of a New Order? We take as our point of departure what is, on the face of it, an absolutely astonishing observation: Quite beyond the surge in part-time faculty appointments over the past quarter century, the majority (i.e., over half) of all new full-time faculty hires in the past decade have been to non-tenure-eligible, or fixed-term contract positions (Finkelstein and Schuster 2001). Put another way, in the year 2001, only about one-quarter of new faculty appointments were to full-time tenure track positions (i.e., half were part-time, and more than half of the remaining full-time positions were 'off' the tenure track). This is nothing short of what Jack Schuster and I have labeled elsewhere a new academic 'revolution' — albeit a largely silent one.

-- Martin Finkelstein, "The Morphing of the American Academic Profession"

Martin Finkelstein offers what he insists is not "an exercise in expository hysteria" but "a realistic, if sobering, assessment" of the restructuring of academic employment. One valuable point that I think is worth emphasizing: in the face of the broader economic, political and social trends that are transforming the role and position of faculty, one of the academy's greatest strengths (ie., its decentralization) turns out it be a major weakness:

The point is simply that no one is in charge, no one is minding the store, just as it is being turned upside down. This is not to suggest that what American higher education needs is a coterie of external agents (e.g. the federal government, the student loan industry) jockeying to steer the transformation. Autonomy and diversity have, after all, been the hallmarks of the system’s strength. What it does suggest is that the system’s radical decentralization requires that individual institutions and constituencies assume an especially critical responsibility for self-consciously steering their own responses to the transformation with a view toward the future of both their own institution and the system itself.

Finkelstein also argues that "constructive conversation about what form our future stewardship of the enterprise may best take" depends on "the quality of our 'problem definition,'" which quality must be based on "a realistic assessment of what we in higher education are up against." On this point, I think it's interesting to place Finkelstein's attempt "to offer an interpretation of the systemic and long-term meaning of the current restructuring in American higher education" alongside Stanley Fish's latest call to arms. In The War on Higher Education, Fish calls on academics to actively fight the assault on higher education:

What is not clear is the response of the academic community to this assault on its autonomy and professional integrity. Too often that response has been of the weak-kneed variety displayed by the Association of American Universities when its president, Nils Hasselmo, offered a mild criticism of McKeon's ideas and then said 'We look forward to working with Mr. McKeon.'

No, you should look forward to defeating McKeon and his ilk, and that won't be done by mealy-mouthed me-tooism. If the academic community does its usual thing and rolls over and plays dead, in time it will not just be playing dead. It will be dead.

This is all well and good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. The problem here, I think, is one of "problem definition." Fish defines the problem in highly politicized terms, as that of a

general project of taking higher education away from the educators -- by removing money, imposing controls, capping tuition, enforcing affirmative action for conservatives, stigmatizing research on partisan grounds, privatizing student loans (here McKeon is again a big player) -- and handing it over to a small group of ideologues who will tell colleges and universities what to do and back up their commands by swinging the two big sticks of financial deprivation and inflamed public opinion.

If only the academy's ills could be attributed to the efforts of a small band of anti-intellectual ideologues seeking a takeover of higher education. Then it might be possible to come up with workable responses and solutions. But of course the problems cut much deeper. Incredibly (or perhaps not), Fish utters not one word about the large-scale and systemic restructuring of the terms of academic employment -- a transformation that has to be seen as the single most significant factor in the weakening of the bargaining power of academic faculty. To repeat the point: when (as in the year 2001), only "about one-quarter of new faculty appointments were to full-time tenure track positions (i.e., half were part-time, and more than half of the remaining full-time positions were 'off' the tenure track)," we are looking at an extremely vulnerable profession: a profession that is vulnerable not only to direct attacks by Republican legislators but also to the more indirect effects of much broader and amorphous social and economic changes.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:15 PM | Comments (18)

December 01, 2003

More on Tenure and Toddlers

A new national study has found that female professors with children are much less likely to earn tenure than men with children. Women are expected to work the hardest during their tenure-track years, precisely the time when their biological clocks are ticking the loudest. There are no part-time options on the tenure track, and if a woman steps off of that track to care for children, there is little hope of returning. Why is managing children and an academic career so much more difficult for women than men? What, if anything, should colleges and universities do to make it easier?

-- Babies, Mothers and Academic Careers, Chronicle of Higher Education

This Friday, December 5, the Chronicle of Higher Education is hosting a live colloquy with Mary Ann Mason, dean of the graduate division at Berkeley and one of the authors of Do Babies Matter?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:00 AM | Comments (38)