Friday, April 29, 2005

Lagniappe: Radiohead

Okay, in an effort to expel these demons from my poor noggin, a Friday feature at ole moo2...what damn songs can I NOT get out of my head this week, and that play like an OCD loop?

This week's features:

Eminem's "Mockingbird," especially the line "I'ma break that birdy's neck." Help!

CCR's "Sweet Hitchhiker," especially the guitar riff.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Handout: Campus Politics and the College Novel

Colleen Gabauer, on her way east to Rochester to defend her dissertation on Friday morning, gave a wonderful talk to my class last night. Here is the handout.

Presenter: Colleen L. Gabauer
Title of Dissertation: Campus Politics and the College Novel
Affiliation: Candidate for Doctor of Education degree in Higher Education Administration, Warner Graduate School of Education and Human Development, University of Rochester
Contact Information: Recruitment Coordinator for Purdue University Interdisciplinary Life Science (PULSe); e-mail:

Research Questions:
The following questions guided the research agenda in this study:

How do novelists portray student, faculty, and administrative responses to political influence coming from inside and outside of the academy?
With this relationship in mind, to what extent do various campus constituents defend institutional neutrality and academic freedom?

How does the novelist’s depiction of various characters correspond with well known academic stereotypes?

Do various campus constituents pictured in college novels use ideology, a particular system of ideas, to gain power from one another?

How do various characters resolve dilemmas of being caught in the crossfire of campus conflict?

Methodological Approach:
A close textual reading, along with a new historicist approach to the study of literature, which relies on an inductive process that asks literature what it can tell us about history, were used to analyze the college novel for its portrayal of institutional and personal responses to political influence on the college campus.

Novels for Analysis:
15 American college novels published between the years of 1950 and 2000 are included in this investigation. These include: Mary McCarthy, The Groves of Academe (1951); Stuart Mitchner, Let Me Be Awake (1959); Georg Mann, The Dollar Diploma (1960); Bernard Malamud, A New Life (1961); John Hersey, Too Far to Walk (1966); Gerald Warner Brace, The Department (1968); John Thomas Sayles, Union Dues (1977); Rona Jaffe, Class Reunion (1979); John Kenneth Galbraith, A Tenured Professor (1990); Ishmael Reed, Japanese by Spring (1993); Arnold Silver, Shortchangers (1997); Saul Bellow, Ravelstein (2000); Christopher Hill, Virtual Morality (2000); Francine Prose, Blue Angel (2000); and Philip Roth, The Human Stain (2000).

Select Findings:
Curricular issues and research agendas are often dictated by financial resources and/or the government. That is, several institutions in this study are manipulated, by donors and government officials, into keeping the prominent ideology thriving on campus. The academy is susceptible to these influences throughout the last 50 years.

Academic freedom does not always protect faculty research interests and classroom behavior. Novels from all periods focus on subversion and un-American behavior. Values, rules, and regulations surrounding institutional neutrality and academic freedom are repeatedly contested throughout the last half-century.

Characters in these novels use the circumstances of their times for their personal advancement.

Students have a hand in political affairs on the college campus, but this is not without its qualifications.

Ideology will only continue to be an integral part of academic life, but as my historical analysis shows, one particular paradigm is never around for very long. If one ideological framework gains prominence in one decade, it is often supplanted by another in the next decade (i.e. 1950s McCarthyism to 1960s student rebellion to the growth of political correctness from the 1980s into the 1990s). The novels in this study reaffirm this notion that ideological differences are continually contested on the American college campus throughout the last 50 years.

Taken together, academic stereotypes, power relations, and socialization, as they are portrayed in the college novel, reveal a public perception of the academy that is both critical and distrusting. This harsh public perception is evident throughout college fiction written in the last 50 years.

In PC times, campus policies that protect some can simultaneously exploit others.

American institutions of higher education have become so diversified that they continually struggle to determine who they should serve and how they can best serve their students, faculty, and administration.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Handout: Max Bickford

I am tired...long, satisfying semester. But late April in Moo-land is, well, brain fry time. We had a good discussion of the TV series The Education of Max Bickford tonight. I have pasted in the handout. Colleen Gabauer, who is defending her dissertation on Friday at Rochester, titled "Campus Politics and the College Novel," gave a nice presentation on it, and I will have to ask if I can post her handout.

But here is my modest handout...g'night...

Higher Education in Film and Fiction

The Education of Max Bickford (CBS): A television series from the 2001-2002 season, Bickford lasted one year. It stars Richard Dreyfuss as the title character, a history professor at fictional Chadwick College, a women’s college in the East. Max Bickford is a widower; his wife died 5 years before, and he is raising two children, a daughter Nell who goes to Chadwick, and a younger teen son, Lester.

I had to hunt to find an episode to show you. The series is not available on DVD, and I could not get it from CBS headquarters. I found on Google contact information for several professors who had done a panel on the show at an academic conference. A history professor from Alfred University in upstate New York taped the episode you will watch tonight, and gave me a copy.

Marcia Gay Harden (who also starred in Mona Lisa Smile as Nancy Abbey, the etiquette teacher who befriends the Julia Roberts character) plays a fellow professor, Andrea Haskell, and Regina Taylor plays the college president, Judith Hackett Bryant. Both have key roles in the episode we will watch. (Trivia: David McCallum, who played Ilya Kuryakin on the Man from U.N.C.L.E. TV series in the 60s, blast from the past, has a recurring guest role as fellow professor Walter Thornhill).

The episode is titled “A Very Great Man” and originally aired on December 2, 2001. Here is a plot summary:

A student with extremely conservative political beliefs brings up charges against Andrea for the liberal bias she believes Andrea has against her in class, and Chadwick's mother/daughter weekend heightens Nell's feelings of loss regarding her late mother.

Historical figure Daniel Ellsberg makes a cameo appearance as himself, a guest lecturer discussing his role regarding the Pentagon Papers and the Vietnam War.

After Andrea kicks the conservative student, Ana, out of Ellsberg's lecture for heckling him, Ana decides to lodge the official complaint against Andrea -- stating that Andrea's liberal views have affected the way she treats her and grades her. Although she is at first aghast at the charges, Andrea soon begins to wonder if her disgust for Ana's views has, in fact, influenced how she grades Ana's work. Meanwhile, feeling the need to remember and connect with her mother, Nell is especially troubled to learn that Max has started a relationship with Lyla.

(AGR adds): Another plot strand involves Max’s son, Lester, and the controversy surrounding his class report on Abraham Lincoln.

Questions and Topics to Consider

1 Max is disturbed by what he sees as bias in the history text his son is assigned. Comment on Max’s reaction, and discuss the role of textbooks in today’s teaching.

2 Comment upon the exchange between Ana, the conservative student, and the college president, Judith Bryant. Should Ana have sought out the president regarding her complaint?

3 Ana and Professor Andrea Haskell argue about whether Ana has been taught or indoctrinated. Comment.

4 Why does Max believe that he “killed” Abraham Lincoln as a hero?

5 Do you find the show to be a convincing portrayal of college life?

6 Given that you have only perhaps seen this episode, venture some thoughts on why this show was cancelled after only one season.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Real Life Van Wilder?

He lives at UW Whitewater...thanks to Kate Van Oosten for the link.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

You know you are at a Moo when...

...the mall at the center of campus is regularly populated by: cars with their hoods open and tractor trailers with TOYOTA written on the side, or screaming fundamentalist "preachers" or both....

...the mall at the center of campus has a five hour religious service complete with Christian rock bands...

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Pixie and Rachel Posted by Hello

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pixie, 1991-2005

Our dog lost her battle with lymphatic cancer today. She was a big part of our family. What has helped me in the past, and may help others, is the chapter "Breaking the Bond" from my dear colleague and collaborator, Alan Beck, and Aaron Katcher's book, Between Pets and People. I would be happy to send the PDF of this chapter to anyone who might find it of help with their own animals.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Mark Edmundson on Today's Humanities Graduate Students

I think this is spot on, an insightful comment about many of today's graduate students in the humanities; from Mark Edmundson's Why Read?, pp. 123-124:

I can't stress enough how despondent graduate students in the humanities often are at this point. They're some of the most admirable people to be found in their generation. With their prestigious undergraduate degrees, their splendid grades and board scores, they could go on to big-money careers in business and law. But they refuse. They want to study something that they're passionate about. Yet over time, almost all of them see that to thrive in the profession, they must make themselves marketable, and that often means betraying themselves. It means picking a subject that fits into the current conformity. It means spending years writing things that, on some deep level, they do not believe to be true. The exertion involved in having to get up every day, repair to one's word processor, and set to work defying one's nature in the interest of future employment, is not conducive to the psyche's health, or to the body's, either. These impressively gifted young men and women deserve better.

Handout: Oleanna

Film: Oleanna (1994)

Set at a New England college, starring William H. Macy as the college professor, John, and Debra Eisenstadt as his student, Carol. The play and screenplay are by David Mamet.

Q: Why is the title Oleanna?
A: Taken from this review ((

As titles go, this one is rather obscure. Oleanna refers to a folk story about how a man (named Ole) and his wife (Anna) bought acres of swampland then sold it as farmland to those who were willing to invest their lives' savings. Once the money had been collected, the pair vanished and the buyers were left with worthless property. This became known as the "Oleanna swindle." For Mamet, higher education may be today's "Oleanna swindle."

Questions to Consider…think of your own to discuss too!

1 Comment upon the setting of the film, given what we have already discussed in this class.

2 How do the characters change in the course of the film?

3 Which, if either, character do you find most sympathetic?

4 How would you have conducted yourself if you had been in Carol’s position? In John’s position?

5 Why does John consider higher education a “ritual” and a “fashionable necessity”? Why does he query whether higher education is an “unassailable good”?

6 Are Carol’s complaints warranted?

7 Comment upon the following issues in relation to the film: The tenure system; Academic freedom; The power and prerogative of professors; Student rights; Political correctness.

Monday, April 18, 2005

My building, Beering Hall. Posted by Hello

zzzzzzzzzzz Posted by Hello

When a Tear Down is Cheaper...

University Hall...destined for rubble? Posted by Hello

Our administration reported to the BoT on Friday that several buildings on campus are in such disrepair that it would be cheaper to tear them down and build anew, than repair them. This is largely due to the gap in funding for repair and renovation that Purdue has received from the state in the last several years. I already reported how dirty the buildings have become, and now we hear that some campus landmarks may get the wrecking ball.

Included on the list is University Hall, pictured above, the oldest building on campus. About 8 years ago, a December storm blew the roof off this building, which houses the history department. The roof was rebuilt, including the beautiful and ornate cupola. On a campus not particularly noted for architectural distinctness, University Hall at Purdue is a handsome, if somewhat impractical building.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

All night long with Pixie...

My hopes of pushing ahead on projects today, Sunday, are compromised by no sleep. Our beloved dog, Pixie, is dying of lymphatic cancer, and seems to have developed another urinary infection. She was up all last night squatting in the back yard, and I finally lay down on the coach. Went to the emergency clinic today and got more antibiotic. She is on prednisone too, to keep her stable and feeling a bit better. We decided against chemo given that she is nearly 14 and has had a wonderful life.

What I did want to do today, and will have to push on forth on, is the following: wrap up on May Sarton for my class, watch Oleanna and take notes for a handout for my class, read all the PDFs of articles for my journal, in preparation for it going to the publisher for issue 21(1). I also want to finish the slim book Why Read? by Mark Edmundson, and read a dissertation and a dissertation proposal. Oh, and the lawn too. I don't think I will get to half of this, but plenty of PG Tips and Rooibos tea should help.

This is the crazy time of the year for academics. Purdue winds down in a few weeks, and grad students are furiously trying to finish and schedule this and that, undergrads are going crazy with the beautiful weather, and the upcoming bacchanal, Grand Prix weekend, and everyone seems to have a meeting, a reception, an end of the year commemoration, or what have you. I grit my teeth each April; it was worse when I was an administrator, and had to go to numerous rubber chicken events and little pieces of fruit and sweet punch receptions.

Friday, April 15, 2005

PH.Dotcom article...

An article from the Village Voice about the academic blogosphere. Finding: Not too many academics blog. Reason why proposed: Jay Rosen opines that even though there is much talk about "public intellectuals," many academics do not want to go public with their thoughts. And the blogosphere is VERY public.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Questions to Get Us Going: May Sarton's The Small Room

While I was away at AERA in Montreal, my higher ed in film and fiction class had an online discussion of May Sarton's novel, The Small Room. Here is how I started us off:

1 How does the setting, a women's college in Massachusetts named Appleton, contribute to what happens in the book?

2 One of the themes of the book is excellence, and its price. Comment.

3 Why do you think Jane Seaman plagiarized? Do you believe she was seeking escape?

4 Describe, and contrast, Lucy Winter's relationship with Jane Seaman and with Pippa Brentwood.

5 Is college teaching a "messy business" (168)?

6 On page 39, Hallie Summerson says to Lucy that it is a "good sign" that Lucy believes she failed in her teaching of a class that day, as "one always gets a negative reaction after a good class…You've given a piece of yourself away, even if it is only a certain amount of nervous energy…" Discuss.

Lagniappe: AERA reading...

  • Read most of Mark Edmundson's Why Read? while at AERA. Talked the book up to several people. The book is wonderful, and chock full of insights and stimulating ideas.
  • Read Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit while waiting for a connection at the Philly airport. Lots of fun, especially the Wittgenstein vignettes.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

...And...Back from AERA...

Just back from AERA in Montreal. Got up at 4 today, got to the airport at 5, and nearly an hour and an undressing later, was through customs. On to Philly, and then Indy, tooled up I65 with great alacrity (or as much as mon ancien Toyotee can muster), in time to get coffee and cookies for my wife's MFA defense. Her stories and novel together are wonderful. Off to an agent, I say, and so do others. All the best to you dear, you deserve it now!

Pixie, our dying pup, is still okay...phew.

AERA was wonderful. Sherman Dorn has said on his blog that he did not attend a session, but that is not a problem. AERA is a Tower of Babel, or as Brian Ellerbeck of TC Press says, a Carnival of Cognition. There are so many cross purposes and languages, and longings there. Education is such a manifold area, how can you capture it?

I spoke to several publishers about my Schweitzer book. Jim Garrison and I chatted with Brian about our reverence and education book (Brian: the idea is fuzzy, do some more work with it). It was great to meet Sherman Dorn in person about the editing of Ed Policy Analysis Archives, a journal whose board I have been on since the founding of it. Sherman is more than capable as the new editor, he is going to really run with it.

Had coffee with Walt Gmelch, now ed dean at U San Francisco, a wise man about academic leadership. Great to share ideas and discuss career trajectories. And then a meal, like last year, with the inimitable Lloyd Bond of Carnegie. What a funny guy, so warm and generous. I hope this is an AERA tradition, food and laughter with Lloyd!

I didn't get enough time to chat with Nick Burbules. We overlapped only a day, and both of us were busy that day. I want to think more about Nick's idea of a home page portal, like MyYahoo, for folks in social foundations of education. I will get the details and discuss later on this blog. But since Nick is only a few miles of cornfields away, I am sure I can find a time to get over for UIUC's Higher Ed Collaborative lunchtime series to chat more. We have the idea of doing a group blog for P-16 ed issues, sorta like Crooked Timber or The Valve, but of course different, gotta be, but we are still percolating on the idea.

Charlene Haddock Seigfried, professor of philosophy and American Studies at my institution, Purdue, and just two floors up from me, got the John Dewey Society Award. It was great to see her there, and hear her gracious words. Charlene is in Rome this year with her husband Hans, a philosopher at Loyola Chicago. Her work on pragmatism and feminism will fit in well with my Dewey seminar this fall. I really want to somehow, in the space of a semester, move from Emerson and the Romantic origins of Dewey's thought, right up to the aesthetic late Dewey. But I also want to focus on the new Dewey scholarship, and will read Ray Boisvert, Jim Garrison, Phil Jackson, and Larry Hickman.

Last year, when AERA was in San Diego, there were multiple sessions on NCLB. I didn't really crack open the program this year, as I was there only for a short time, but I sensed that NCLB was not as discussed. There is still an overriding concern about educational accountability, especially about how this is creeping into higher education with the Horowitz/ABOR stuff going on. I may be wrong about NCLB's relative lack of exposure this year, I need to examine the program more carefully. I know that Dave Berliner continues to do wonderful critiques of high stakes testing, as I reviewed his latest report.

Stop, brain is mush, need some sleep. Back to finishing the editing on my journal's next issue tomorrow. And then the book projects. G'night...our two tabbies, Gia and Hazel, are back up here with me. Good to see them.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Off to AERA...

Well, off to AERA in Montreal for a few days. Race back Wednesday very early to be here for my wife's MFA defense. I do hope our dying pup can make it...she has lymphatic cancer.

It is the mother of all conferences...some hate it for its immensity, but I always seem to find my cozy nook. The program is nearly 500 pages long, with multiple ways to look things up and cross list.

Rooming with fave buddies Jim Garrison and Tom Hunt. Gonna talk about a possible book on reverence and education with Jim. What else...oh, yes, cruising the book display...cruising the receptions, some of which cost 5 figures.

Rating receptions 1-5 spoons. Arizona State is usually a 5 spooner, great food. Michigan State...the rock and roll party with Bob Floden's band always on Tuesday night...may make it this year after a long hiatus. I don't recall ever eating much there, but I do enjoy dancin', so 5 spoons. The Dewey Society reception...usually a 4 spooner, but a 5 spooner for good company. Sippin' and quippin'.

Hope to finally meet Sherman Dorn...may even take him up on that freebie breakfast for his editorial board...

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Dusty, Dirty University...

There is no other way to say it…my university is dirtier than it was just a short while ago. Classrooms are not as clean, stairways especially are filthy. I taught last semester in a classroom that was covered, everything, including the computer, with a layer of chalk dust. The trashcan overflowed with cans and pizza boxes.

The past several summers, professors have been asked to empty their trash cans. Bathrooms were left dirty for several days. I don’t mind emptying my trash, but it is a sign of the times, perhaps, when the custodial staff is put out on the mowing crew, and the teenage summer help is not hired to do the lawns and flower beds.

Meanwhile, my university is on a building binge. Grand new buildings are going up everywhere, and at countless universities across the country, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently. The interest of donors toward funding new bricks and mortar is not matched by their interest in upkeep, and state dollars continue to shrink. So, we have a campus that is rapidly becoming one of gleaming new structures, and dirty, older ones, but no funds to clean either.

What is the situation like at your college or university?

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Let's wait til everyone leaves, then have the ceremony...

Recent letter summarizing a back and forth in the letters section of the student newspaper at Purdue, The Exponent, about (the real) Earl Butz.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Ag moves away from the table at Moo U...

Several times in the last few classes of my higher ed in film and fiction course, we have discussed the relative pecking order at our university (that will go unnamed, but it is the finest institution in West Lafayette, IN). As if you didn't know, I am at a Moo U, one of the behemoth midwestern land grants established, under the Morrill Act, to teach "agriculture and the mechanic arts."

Well, from what I see, and what I hear my students saying, agriculture has moved down the order at my university. What is prominent, as always, is engineering, especially anything "nano." The life sciences are ascendant too, with no signs of abating in, oh, maybe a couple hundred years. Mind you, agriculture is still prominent at my just isn't as prominent as it once was, imho.

To others at Moos and those who know of them, how is agriculture faring at your institutions?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Jane Smiley's Moo: Handout 3 ~ Questions

Steve Meyer
Mary Helen Nesbitt
Matthew D. Pistilli
April 5, 2005

Questions to Ponder for Jane Smiley’s Moo

Mrs. Walker seemingly wields a great deal of power on campus. Discuss the root of this power, the extent to which others know she is the one practically running the campus, and the effect her character has on the story in general.

Comment on Chairman X (for example: his supposed marriage to Lady X, role as a father, affairs, lifestyle, role at the university, feelings about other faculty & administrators).

What do you make of the character Father (Old Man Hellmich)? Does the story need him? Comment on his gruffness, very religious ways, constant reading of the Bible, etc.

On page 227 (Ch. 41), Nils Harstad notes to Helen that “The Lord’s message can come through CNN as easily as in a glorious cloud.” Given the prominent role the media plays in all our lives, comment on this statement in the context of a college campus – its students, faculty, administrators, and supporters.

On page 341 (end of Ch. 58) there is talk of a riot near Lafayette Hall. The girls comment on the reason for the riot. “Race! Thought Mary. Alcohol! Thought Keri. Maybe it’s tuition hikes, said Diane.” Comment on these thoughts in light of past riots at Purdue and other universities.

Compare the riot in Moo (p. 346, middle of Ch. 59) with the riot in Changing Places.

The faculty at Moo University portray a wide range of teaching and interaction styles. Compare the styles and mannerisms of Lionel Gift to Helen Levy. What about the other professors?

Discuss the relationship between Ivar Harstad and Helen Levy.

On page 45 (Ch. 9), Smiley writes:
“The clientele of the Black Hole consisted largely of students who, if asked a question about what single nutrient they might choose to have with them on a desert island (or in a black hole), would answer unhesitatingly, “Bud.” All earnestly believed that beer was the perfect food, and this knowledge had been kept from them by a conspiracy of adults.”
· Comment on this passage in light of the drinking culture on college campuses, including Purdue.

· The second half of that passage reads:
“While Bob knew this wasn’t true, he frequented the Black Hole because it gave him someplace to go that was decidedly different from his apartment but not unlike Earl Butz’ confinement room with the lights off. He said, “I hate parties. I like anti-parties, like the Black Hole here.”

· Comment on Bob’s stance regarding parties. Do other students adhere to this culture? Are there places (bars, hangouts, etc.) at Purdue (or other universities) that fit the same culture?

Chapter 5 is entitled “Secular Humanism.” According to the Council for Secular Humanism (, secular humanism:
“… is a way of thinking and living that aims to bring out the best in people so that all people can have the best in life. Secular humanists reject supernatural and authoritarian beliefs. They affirm that we must take responsibility for our own lives and the communities and world in which we live. Secular humanism emphasizes reason and scientific inquiry, individual freedom and responsibility, human values and compassion, and the need for tolerance and cooperation.”
Comment on this definition, the chapter title, and the relation of secular humanism to the book.
Comment on the second paragraph (as a whole) in chapter 5 (p. 24-25).

Discuss campus life at Moo University as based on descriptions throughout the book, including page 20 (Ch. 4) and depictions of Dubuque House.

Discuss Lionel Gift’s grading scale, as noted in the last paragraph of Ch. 29 (p. 155).

Comment on Dr. Bo Jones’ experiment with Earl Butz and his comment about hog:
“Hog, is a mysterious creature, not much studied in the wild, owing to viciousness and elusiveness. Can’t get the papers, you know, to take yourself to Uzbekistan, even if you had the funding. Never been a hog that lived a natural lifespan. Never been an old hog. Hog too useful. Hog too useful to be known on his own terms, you know. What can I do with this hog, when can I eat it, what can I make of this hog, how does this hog profiteth me, always intervenes between man and hog. When I die, they’re going to say that Dr. Bo Jones found out something about hog” (p. 6).

Comment on the experiment with Earl Butz, the doomed building “Old Meats” and their relation to institutions of higher education.

Comment on the symbolism behind the destruction of Old Meats.

Discuss the role of Earl Butz in the novel. Do you see him as a metaphor? If so, how? Also, compare his role as a pig to the real person.

In Chapter 50 Earl gets a new caretaker. Discuss what you think Smiley is metaphorically suggesting?

In Chapter 6 Gary is given the creative writing assignment to eavesdrop to polish his dialogue skills. If you were to complete this assignment today in the Memorial Union what kind of things do you think you would overhear?

In Chapter 43 Professor Monahan is the topic of discussion for promotion. In pondering the decision Dr. Gift says in reference to Prof. Manahan's novel:
"Can we find out the advance on this novel? How it ranks nationally on the scale of advances?"

· Do you believe this is reflective of what a real promotion committee might sound like?

· As we know Dr. Jischke is one for "metrics" and was the President of Iowa State while this novel was written. Do you think this is a "shot" at Dr. Jischke?

· Shortly before this statement it is discussed whether excerpts of his novel appearing in Playboy should be considered in the decision for promotion. Do you think it should be?

What do you think about Old Meats being turned into a "Chicken Museum?" Discuss the statement, "some ideas are better ideas. In this case, chickens are fundable, so chickens are a better idea, you see?"

Governor Early slashed the state budget by $200 million (p. 117). – How did it negatively affect education? What does he mean by comparing education to an investment?
“Education is an investment. The trouble is, they don’t run it like an investment over there, with the students as customers, because that’s what they are, you know. Now they run it like welfare, but I’m telling you, if they won’t turn it around themselves, we’ve got to turn it around for them. This administration believes strongly in education” (Gov. Early, p. 188)

Comment on Loren Stroop’s paranoia and subsequent “brain attack.”

Why do you think Smiley chose to give certain people nicknames, like “Father Lionel” and “Mother Levy” and “Just Plain Brown” and “Cates the Chemist?” Does this happen at other institutions?

Discuss the role of feminine power in the novel. What are Dr. Helen Levy’s and Dr. Cecilia Sanchez’s views?

Why are the students referred to as “customers” throughout the novel? (p. 22)

Why was there such an emphasis on Marxism, Communism and Capitalism throughout the novel?

· “It was well known among the citizens of the state that the university had pots of money and that there were highly paid faculty members in every department who had once taught Marxism and now taught something called deconstructionism which was only Marxism gone underground in preparation for emergence at a time of national weakness” (p. 19).

· Capitalism vs. communism (p. 159).

· The communism discussion in Ch. 39, relating to Communism in Europe.

o Chairman X’s views.

o The Marxist tapestry on display in Chairman X’s home years ago.

o Tim Monahan’s social realistic views.

o Cecelia’s opinion.

o Loren Stroop’s take on the matter.

o Dr. Bo Jones’ and Dr. Cates’ views.

· The destructive effects of Capitalism (p. 301).

Jane Smiley's Moo: Handout 2 ~ Activities

Steve Meyer
Mary Helen Nesbitt
Matthew D. Pistilli
April 5, 2005

Activity One for Jane Smiley’s Moo

Self Portrait

The girls living in Dubuque House all submitted self portraits, and these portraits were distributed amongst the other residents of the House (p. 10-11). Consider the manner in which these portraits were written (information shared, not shared, etc.) and write profiles for one of the following students:

Bob Carlson
Gary Olson
Lydia Henderson
Lyle Karstenson

The profiles should be written as though you knew this character around the first or second time we were introduced to them in the book. Feel free to create information about the students in order to provide a robust portrait to share with the class.

Activity Two for Jane Smiley’s Moo

Responding to the Memo

On page 119 (ch. 22), a memo is released from the Provost’s office detailing the need to trim almost $10 million from the University budget. Immediately below this is the memo written by the Chair of the English Department.

You and a group of faculty from the department must write a memo back to the Chair indicating how the cuts in the department will affect your teaching style, the classroom environment, and your ability to do your job in an effective manner.

Activity Three for Jane Smiley’s Moo

Another Point of View

In chapter 36 (pg 190), Professor Monahan assigns his students the task of rewriting one of their stories from the point of view of someone else in the story. Your task, then, is to take one of the following passages and rewrite it from another character’s point of view. Since the stories are written in third person, assume that that is the proverbial “risky… fly on the wall.” Choose one of the characters in the scene and provide insight into his/her thoughts on the matter. If dialogue needs to be written to complete the scene, feel free to add to Smiley’s original text.

Passage 1
Dr. Lionel Gift presents a lecture entitled Costa Rica: The Lessons of Development in chapter 13 (p. 67). Assume the role of Chairman X, Cecilia, or another person in the room and expand upon Jane Smiley’s characterizations of what these characters are/might be doing/thinking.

Passage 2
Several characters witnessed/were involved in Earl Butz’ escape from the destruction of Old Meats (p. 390). Pick one (or more) of the characters/non-mentioned onlooker and expand on what has already been provided. While Professor Monahan discourages using animals as a point of view, Earl Butz, himself, may be considered in your story.

Passage 3
In Chapter 47 (p. 265), Joe Doaks exhibits himself as being racist and ignorant in hurling a racial epithet at Mary. The girls retaliate in a rather comeuppance-like manner. Rewrite the scene from a non-mentioned character’s point of view who was able to hear and see the foray.

Passage 4
In Chapter 18 (p. 88), the eccentric inventor Loren Stroop meets with Dean of Extension Nils Harstad to discuss his invention (and, this topic notwithstanding, his paranoia). Assume that much to the dismay of Loren Stroop, Dean Harstad has a secretary present in the room to record notes from the meeting. Assume the role of the secretary and present the scene from her point of view.

Jane Smiley's Moo: Handout 1

The namesake of this blog is up this week for my grad class in higher ed in film and fiction. Here is the first of three handouts, from me, that will guide our discussion tonight. I go first because the three students, Matt, Mary Helen, and Steve, who have the next two handouts have outdone the ole prof. Good for them!

Higher Education in Film and Fiction

Moo (1995) by Jane Smiley

Questions for Discussion; please add your own!

1 Moo is set at a land grant university. What is your view on how Smiley characterizes the university and its people? Would you do it differently?

2 Why does Smiley call the hog, who lives in Old Meats, Earl Butz?

3 There are only a few humanities professors portrayed in Moo. Three of them are Cecilia Sanchez, Margaret Bell, and Timothy Monahan. Characterize each of them.

4 Does the novel raise issues regarding the purpose of a university?

5 What do you think of the way the novel ends? Think of a different ending to the novel, and justify your decisions.

6 IU professor (and Purdue graduate) Murray Sperber wrote about college sports and undergraduate education in his book, Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports is Crippling Undergraduate Education. Here is a snippet from the liner notes:

Acknowledged for years as the country's leading authority on college sports and their role in American culture, Murray Sperber takes us beyond the headlines and the public controversies to explore the profound and tragic impact of intercollegiate athletics on undergraduate education. Sperber explodes cherished myths about college sports, particularly at "Big-time U's," the large public research universities with high-profile men's football and basketball teams playing at the top level of the NCAA.

Using original research culled from students, faculty and administrators around the country, he proves that many schools, because of their emphasis on research and graduate programs, no longer give a majority of their undergraduates a meaningful education. Instead, they offer a meager and dangerous substitute: the party scene surrounding college sports that Sperber calls "beer and circus," and which serves to keep the students happy and distracted while the tuition dollars keep rolling in.

Comment upon this view, in particular in relation to the undergraduate culture at Moo U., and your own observations and experiences at Purdue and elsewhere.

7 Governor Orville T. Early is portrayed as an antagonist to the culture of Moo University. Comment upon the relationships that state supported universities have with state government, the citizens of the state, and the business community.

8 Unlike Straight Man, Smiley’s novel does not have a central character that is the narrator, but is told from the “omniscient” point of view, where the author serves as the observer and even chronicler of many characters. Why do you think Smiley chose this narrative structure?

9 Here is a clip from an interview with Jane Smiley at

Dave: When you approach a new book, clearly part of the challenge is to keep the reader interested and to tell a story you haven't before, but how much are you driven by telling a story in a different way than you've done before?
Smiley: Generally, my intention is to do something I enjoy this time that I missed out on doing last time. After I wrote A Thousand Acres, I missed telling jokes, so I wrote Moo. After I wrote Moo, I missed having a linear story, and that's why I wrote Lidie.

Comment upon this in relation to the structure and presentation of Moo.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Lagniappe: Googlezon to EPIC

Take a gander at this 8 minute video about a possible future for some of our well-known information technologies. Nicholas Negroponte, in being digital, and others of course, spoke about this possible reality earlier, back in the "last century."

(Via Nick Burbules)

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Lagniappe: New Group (Lit) Blog, The Valve

I tried to send this a few days ago, but Blogger was being a bit fussy. It is still a new group blog (grog?):

A new group blog, The Valve, revives the tradition of the small literary magazine. Founding editor John Holbo writes about this tradition, connecting to Lionel Trilling, and talks about the state of academic publishing; here’s a snippet:

Jennifer Crewe of Columbia University Press presents some numbers, which provide perspective. Average production cost of a university-press title: $25,000. Total number of copies of each title purchased by all university libraries in bygone days: 1,000. Number of copies of each title sold to all libraries in current crisis days: 200.A book that sells very well (say, 500 copies) might recoup: $10,000-$12,000. Average loss on average university-press title: $10,000+.Cost of subscription to run-of-the-mill scientific journal: $20,000. It's like a parody of a MasterCard commercial, but all of the "priceless" punch lines are so painfully obvious there's no reason to bother finishing the joke.

The upshot: university presses, once institutions of gentlemanly loss in the service of niche scholarship, have been forced to reorient themselves toward the bottom line. Scholarly criteria—most notably the process of peer review, whereby potential titles are sent out to experts in the field for vetting purposes—have ceded to market criteria. So the whole affair, especially the spending of lavish amounts of money on corporate-funded science journals, underlines the general fear about the steady encroachment of commercial interests into the sanctum of the university.

And there's a flipside: university presses are simply putting out too many titles. The number of scholarly monographs (book-length treatments of one subject, as opposed to collections or anthologies)in MLA-related fields in the year 2000 was twice what it was in1989, though by most accounts the achievements of scholarship in that time have probably not doubled. This is where the publishing crisis and the tenure crisis bleed together. Most schools require one book for tenure, which usually means one book within the first five or six years out of grad school—the same years that assistant professors have the biggest teaching loads and the smallest salaries (not to mention that they're often new parents, as Charlie[the subject of the article] is). To fulfill this book requirement, most young professors go one of two routes: they either rewrite their dissertations for publication, or they puff up one substantial journal article with some bibliographical essays and call it a book. But a dissertation is a dissertation and an article is an article and neither is a book, so their publication waters down the whole field and leads right back to the publishing crisis outlined above.