Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Update From Orwellian Hell, LSE edition

The new Puritanism at the LSE. Given how US universities bend over backwards to court and provide information for "prospies," this is hard to understand, but apparently they are a mite testy about Erik Ringmar's blogging about his institution:

An LSE student just emailed me with this story:
I have an interesting detail to add to the free speech discussion at LSE: There’s a volunteering programme called “email-a-student”: It allows prospective students to send a mail to the LSE with questions about student life etc. which are then answered by a current student. So being a current student I went to the introduction meeting for this thing today, and I found something odd about the programme: All incoming AND (!) outgoing mails have to be sent via a LSE admissions official and will be screened. So I guess I can’t really write about everything I want to. I mean, this programme is no use if I just tell prospective students what they already know from the website!

It is very clear that the LSE undergraduate administration wants to make sure that no staff members talk to prospective undergraduates either. I got this email the other day:

subject: Prospective applicant requests for meetings with academics
I am writing to you regarding a number of requests from prospective applicants to meet with academics, received recently by the Undergraduate Admissions Office, Selectors and Departmental Managers and Administrators.

I would like to remind all staff that the School Policy states that contact details for academic staff should not be released to prospective applicants/students. In addition to this, all requests for meetings with academic staff should be forwarded to the undergraduate mail-box so that the UG team may deal with any queries that applicants may have.
Let me re-assure you that in the vast majority of cases, the undergraduate Admissions staff are able to answer any questions applicants may have. In cases where they are unable to do so, they will be happy to contact the relevant academic and liaise with the enquirer appropriately.
I am sure you understand that these measure are put in place so that academic colleagues are not placed in a difficult position where conflict of interest may become an issue. Thank you for your understanding on this matter.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Up Next: Sockhops and Penny Loafers

From Inside Higher Ed today, and just a half hour down the road from my perch:

Wabash College, an Indiana institution that is one of the country’s few all-male colleges, has restored the tradition of beanies for freshmen, The Christian Science Monitor reported. Students are generally pleased with the revival of the practice — and a college senior came up with the idea, the newspaper said.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Corax on Teachers on Film

I attended a wonderful "talk on teaching" by my good friend Corax last week. As Corax is an award-winning teacher, I anticipated his topic, "teachers on film" with great interest. I was not disappointed, and getting out on a cold rainy morning in Indiana was amply rewarded.

He started by noting that students today are "more visual" in their way of processing information. We all laughed when he told of an informal poll of one of his classes, and asked how many hours students devote to video games each week, and one response came back "I try to keep it under 30."

As a classicist, Corax wanted us to look at the rhetorics of teachers on film, especially what he called the direct rhetoric of character to character, as well as the indirect rhetoric of movie director to viewer. Corax thought this latter rhetoric had obvious messages often enough: ain't love grand, education is important, and so forth.

We watched clips from The Mirror has Two Faces, Mona Lisa Smile, and a fave oldie I HAVEN'T seen in AGES...To Sir, with Love. Ah, I can hear Lulu's crooning of To Suhhhhhuhhhh with Laaaoouuuvve.

With Mirror, we discussed the difference in teaching style in the Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges characters; with Mona Lisa Smile, the dramatic difference in the Julia Roberts character's change in her pedagogy; and in To Sir, with Love, how the Sidney Poitier character took over his classroom and gained the respect of his working-class students.

On this final clip, we expressed concern over some of Sir's tactics in doing this. Amazing to hear him call his female students "sluts" as he attempts to mold them! So....1967.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Spam Niagara

Via Mike Eldridge: 84% of all email is spam.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Humility of Never Knowing All

"I am the son of a chemist who became an authority due to his research on alkaloids. Because of this, he was occasionally called for as an expert in complicated poisoning trials. I am convinced that the courts were never very pleased with his expert testimony. He was a true researcher and always emphasized all that we do not know."

-Hans-Georg Gadamer, 1947

For Your Reading, or Sleep Inducing, Pleasure

Institutional Approaches to Entrepreneurialism: Reflections on the Case of "Babeş Bolyai" University in Cluj Napoca

Apparently this is in Romania. I wouldn't have had a clue. From an academic journal called Higher Education in Europe, so perhaps there are a few who would read it!

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Here (NIttany) kitty kitty

Boilermaker 1 pulls kitty’s tail…then…

Boilermaker 2 performs cosmetic surgery on kitty’s skull…

Friday, October 20, 2006

Worth Every Penny!: Amy Tan at Purdue

Seriously, I enjoyed the free talk last night by Amy Tan, as part of our libraries' distinguished author series. A boatload of people turned out to hear the author give a delightful (canned) autobiographical talk, where the author spoke for over an hour without notes, slightly away from the podium and mike. That placement had the effect of making the talk more informal than expected.

High points included Tan discussing her mother's influence (well-worn territory for Tannites, but I didn't know all the details). Slightly lower dips were the sentimental music that came on cue at the brief reading at the end, and bringing her dog on stage (the minute Yorkshire terrier remained in her soft carrier behind the podium, unseen until the end, when the author brought her out to the coos of the audience, and then Tan had the pooch follow her off the stage...sigh...a crowd pleaser...).

I heard, predictably, that Tan was "VERY expensive." It is interesting to see various authors and where they are in the feeding trough...where a carefully crafted crowd pleasing talk can be used on the circuit if you near the top of Amazon's listings, and where universities will pony up their funds for such. I guess Dickens and Oscar Wilde were in on this at the beginning, while Melville didn't have the lecturing chops to turn a profit there.

There is also a self congratulatory aspect to these events, eerily like a live version of a celebrity interview. At least she didn't talk about herself in the third person like rappers and athletes often do. But still, I enjoyed myself and was moved appropriately by the evening.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Nutty Professors...We are Mommsens no mo

Well, Morgan Meis over at 3 Quarks Daily beat me to it! I just read this wonderful essay in the current New Yorker this morning, over tea... Rita brought it to my attention. I had seen the tease for it on Arts and Letters Daily a few days before. After reading the essay, I was going to post just this first paragraph. Check out the complete piece, a review of a new book on the history of higher education, and its peculiar denizens.

nutty professors
By Morgan Meis

"Anyone who has ever taught at a college or university must have had this experience. You’re in the middle of something that you do every day: standing at a lectern in a dusty room, for example, lecturing to a roomful of teen-agers above whom hang almost visible clouds of hormones; or running a seminar, hoping to find the question that will make people talk even though it’s spring and no one has done the reading; or sitting in a department meeting as your colleagues act out their various professional identities, the Russian historians spreading gloom, the Germanists accidentally taking Poland, the Asianists grumbling about Western ignorance and lack of civility, and the Americanists expressing surprise at the idea that the world has other continents. Suddenly, you find yourself wondering, like Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim, how you can possibly be doing this. Why, in the age of the World Wide Web, do professors still stand at podiums and blather for fifty minutes at unruly mobs of students, their lowered baseball caps imperfectly concealing the sleep buds that rim their eyes? Why do professors and students put on polyester gowns and funny hats and march, once a year, in the uncertain glory of the late spring? Why, when most of our graduate students are going to work as teachers, do we make them spend years grinding out massive, specialized dissertations, which, when revised and published, may reach a readership that numbers in the high two figures? These activities seem both bizarre and disconnected, from one another and from modern life, and it’s no wonder that they often provoke irritation, not only in professional pundits but also in parents, potential donors, and academic administrators."

more from The New Yorker

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Live Blogging Charles Frazier on Diane Rehm's show

Brings back memories, tastes, sights: lived in Cullowhee, NC for 8 years. A magical place. Worked at this magical place.

Frazier now talking about how more than 10% on Trail of Tears were black...he just talked about yellow jacket soup, a dish served in Thirteen Moons.

His voice calls back memories. Mountain men often have a modest, modulated, but almost boring spoken voice. Frazier has this too. It is soothing to listen to him. He also says CheroKEE, the mountain way, and AppalAAchian. Nice to hear again.

But it also brings up all the sentimentality of the North Carolina mountains, where folks always want to tell you the stories about their pappies and grannies. I guess I like a small dose of that.

$8M advance for Thirteen Moons.

A dead body unearthed...and it is not Desperate Housewives

This in from the Chronicle News blog ...I have this short story to read for my higher ed in film and fiction class (aka Moo2's momma):

Joyce Carol Oates, a prolific writer who teaches at Princeton University, is drawing criticism for a new short story whose plot bears an uncanny resemblance to a tragedy that played out on a neighboring campus, the College of New Jersey, earlier this year. According to The Times, a newspaper in Trenton, N.J., Ms. Oates said the short story, “Landfill,” was influenced by the strange case of John A. Fiocco Jr., a College of New Jersey freshman who disappeared in March and turned up dead a month later in a Pennsylvania landfill.
But Ms. Oates said the story drew on other sources as well and was not intended to be a fictionalized version of Mr. Fiocco’s mysterious death. People at the College of New Jersey aren’t buying that. A professor denounced Ms. Oates for a “lack of compassion and humanity” in choosing to write about a recent tragedy that “can only add to the overwhelming pain the [Fiocco] family has already suffered.” The family has indicated that it plans to sue the college (
The Chronicle, June 6).
For her part, Ms. Oates said she is astounded by the reaction, given that there are many differences between the protagonist of her story, which appears in this week’s
New Yorker, and the real-life Mr. Fiocco. But there are also many similarities. Ms. Oates’s character disappeared after drinking, and so did Mr. Fiocco, his friends said. Both ended up in a trash bin on their campuses, and both were found later in a landfill.
Ms. Oates said the story was intended only as a reflection on what she described as the dark side of undergraduate life nowadays.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Heads Talking

While up in Evanston this weekend for a working seminar on "listening" my wife, daughter (Northwestern '07, good to see her for the weekend too!) and I went to the new B&N there on Sherman.

I picked up Harold Bloom's book on wisdom through the ages at the remainders desk (note to self: teach course on wisdom), but on the way out spied Robert Olen Butler's newest on the shelf near the door. Have followed Butler's work for a few years now. He resides in that top creative writing program at Florida State, and I watched his live writing of a short story on the Internet a few years ago. Remember that one?

Oh yes...his latest book, you ask: Severance. He put these two thoughts together: One, the human head is believed to stay conscious for about 90 seconds after being decapitated. Two, in a heightened state of emotion, human beings can talk at 160 WPM.

So, of course, what is next for Butler? A series of 240 word stories from various heads across history...Marie Antoinette, Jayne Mansfield, a chicken...even the author himself, decapitated in 2008.

We had already paid a bushel of bucks and were heading out the door, but I will probably read this book!

Revenge of the Nerds

Margaret Soltan, over at University Diaries, blogged live from the ACTA conference at Harvard. After noting the insufferable quality of many of the speakers, and of having a conference of this sort at Harvard (see Sherman Dorn's take on this here which includes links to Soltan's live posts...), she comes up with this zinger. Hats off!

Mark Bauerlein, a skinny stooped Ichabod Crane, also went after the tenurati, wondering why "one of the most pampered, protected, elite groups" in our country shows "so much conformity, timidity, and bullying." He thinks it has to do with the way we're "socialized," but regular readers know that UD has a different take. I think that by and large the people who are attracted to academia were born nerdy and frightened and then generally overparented to within an inch of their lives. The rare toughies you see among academics often represent post-nerd triumphs inside the nerd asylum. The bespectacled friendless slob who discovered in himself a genius for economic theory and now reigns as uber-nerd at MIT is never going to be a bold nonconformist. He will wield power in a very small setting, and his bullying will be revenge for his years being bullied because he was a nerd. People don't start being bold non-conformists once they get tenure if being a bold non-conformist was never in the most tenuous sense an option for them.... And think about it. What sort of person is going to be attracted to one of the few jobs in America that grants you lifetime job security in the form of academic tenure? As to the risk in going up for tenure itself -- the overwhelming number of people who go up for tenure in the United States get it. At some schools, the rate is around 95%. Of course there are exceptions to what UD is describing here. Most of them are in the hard sciences.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Great Dewey quote...who said he can't write well?

Cross posted on Education Policy Blog:

As I do my final hurried preparations to head up north, that be Evanston IL, for this weekend's working conference on "listening" in education (along with fellow blogger Nick Burbules), I read this quote from John Dewey's Democracy and Education in one of the conference papers, by fellow participant Walter C. Parker:

Since a democratic society repudiates the principle of external authority, it must find a substitute in voluntary disposition and interest; these can be created only by education.

Back to Journalism 101 for you!

My buddy Nick Burbules over at Progressive Blog Digest found this idiotic headline on CNN for the above picture:

“Killer's relatives stunned by Amish rampage”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A town, a team, and a dream: on the small screen...

I taped tonight's premiere episode of Friday Night Lights. I had to, dang it. One, I taught my grad class til 8:30, and two...I taught the book to half a dozen iterations of a course for aspiring supes in our doctoral cohort in ed leadership called "the cultural context of education."

Buzz Bissinger's book got at the thickness of school culture for me early on, as a way to ground our later theoretical explorations. In later iterations of the course, I added Prom Night by Amy Best, a wonderful look at that social and school phenomenon.

I liked FNL the book, especially for the way it wove thick description of Odessa Texas in 1988 with fine portraits of people being tested by life. I liked the film too, and thought the young man who played Boobie Miles was terrific...his descent from cocky hero to throwaway is riveting to watch, as is Tim McGraw's fine characterization of a former gridiron star now living through his son. Billy Bob Thornton can act more with his eyes than most actors can with their whole body, IMHO. The coach was a role made for him.

The look of the new TV version is a bit of the OC meets west Texas. I don't mind that, actually, as I like the OC and accept its limitations.

Some of the same tropes from FNL the film are there: the shots of the forlorn landscape of west Texas, the callers to the radio show sounding off about the coach and the team, the religious quality of the whole experience. Peter Berg directed both the film and the TV show, so it is not surprising.

The show's soundtrack is moody and atmospheric. I won't spoil the final scene or the plot and character twists from the book/film, as an encore of this episode plays Wednesday night. I will just say that the voiceover at the end blew me away.

Monday, October 02, 2006

He even brought toilet paper...

I am watching Fox News (yes, I knew it would be on there, so I tuned in to Greta who is on site) on the Amish school shootings. 600 rounds of ammunition, with multiple weapons, tools, wood to board up the door, even toilet paper. What the hell is going on with school shootings?