Thursday, January 31, 2008

For the First Time in Ten Years

I'm teaching what used to be called Third World Literature, got renamed Non-Western Literature, and shall be renamed...what? Literature of the Global South? World Bank Literature? Postcolonial Literature?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Amazing Colleagues, Part II

With CitizenSE in danger of losing its status as the obscurest blog on teh internets, thanks to Inside Higher Ed, now is as good a time as any to pick up my series on the incredible people I work with where I left off last October--with our creative writers. James Thomas Stevens, author of Combing the Snakes from His Hair, Mohawk/Samoa: Transmigrations, A Bridge Dead in the Water, Bulle/Chimére, and The Mutual Life, is one of the most impressive people I've ever met. It's not just that he's a fantastic poet, essayist, teacher, historian, and theorist--often simultaneously. Or that he has a gift for languages, a knack for research, a zest for connections, and a healthy disrespect for arbitrary borders. It's that you can always count on him to call it as he sees it--after seeing it from angles few others could imagine. His only flaw is an intolerance for science fiction--and a stubborn refusal to admit that Almanac of the Dead is a science fiction novel--but nobody's perfect, eh?

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Announcing sf@SF: Science Fiction at SUNY Fredonia

My science fiction course begins in less than an hour, so I'm officially launching the course web site and course blog!

Monday, January 28, 2008

On Funding Public Higher Education, Part IV: The Billion Dollar Endowment Club

Late last week, NACUBO released their 2007 report, which discloses that there are now 76 colleges and universities in the Billion Dollar Endowment Club. That same week, Inside Higher Education covered new developments in the world of higher education endowments and their political repercussions. And the always-thoughtful Timothy Burke, riffing on an Andrew Delbanco/Roger Lehecka op-ed in The New York Times, considered alternatives to a renewed financial aid arms race between the Harvards (#1; $34.63B) and Yales (#2; $22.53B) and the Williamses (#1 small liberal arts college; #33 overall; $1.89B) and Pomonas (#2 SLAC; #38 overall; $1.76B) of the U.S. My goal in this post is to use Burke's analysis and proposals as a lever to shift the discussion from relations between the top and bottom of the Billion Dollar Endowment Club to relations between the BDEC and the overwhelming majority of the 4000+ higher education institutions in the U.S.--those with endowments less than $50M.

Let's start with Burke's insight that, particularly among peer institutions, endowments matter:

Each institution uses marketing literature to highlight its major sources of distinctiveness, like Swarthmore’s Honors program or Reed’s focus on individualized senior research projects. But these are like shiny decorations on top of a basically similar cake. The big difference, in the end, is the relative wealth of a given institution: that’s what determines how big and lustrous and tasty the cake really is. Swarthmore can support the range of subjects and favorable student-faculty ratio that it has because in the end, that’s what it spends its considerable money doing: having a curriculum that’s unusually wide for the small size of the institution without using large lecture courses or adjunct instructors as the primary vehicle for delivering that curriculum.

You don't have to get to the final analysis to conclude that Swarthmore is wealthy. Its $1.44B endowment (#6 SLAC and #50 overall), is over twice the size of Hamilton College's (#16 SLAC; #101 overall, $.7B)--the college I graduated from--which, by the way, has an endowment around 40 times the size of the institution's at which I work, even though we enroll more undergraduates than it and Swarthmore put together (don't even ask what percentage of Princeton's endowment ours is!). With its wealth, Swarthmore can offer about the same range of majors and courses to about the same range of students as the much larger institutions at the top of the BDEC, but distinguishes itself from them through its choice to do so in small classes taught mostly by tenured and tenure-track professors. Part of this is by necessity--they have no graduate students to apprentice exploit. But a lot of it is seeking comparative advantage--they believe that severely limiting the number of courses taught by non-tenurable faculty on their campus will better prepare the students they choose and who choose them to excel in their careers and donate enough over the course of them so that they can continue to afford to try luring future students from the larger highly selective private colleges and universities at the top of the BDEC.

Burke would like to see the SLACs that can afford to make this gamble

do a lot more to shoulder the responsibility of social mobility, to work harder to bring in first-generation college students. To a significant extent, I’d like to see Swarthmore and all of its peers shift some of the efforts we presently put into pursuing diversity across a very wide range into the dedicated pursuit of qualified applicants who would be first-generation college students, to look at economic diversity as Job #1.

Although Swarthmore could afford to add resources to this effort rather than shifting them away from other kinds of diversity initiatives, Burke's proposal is admirable for many reasons, particularly in light of Delbanco and Lehecka's "scandalous fact" that

between 2004 and 2006--an era of enormous private wealth accumulation--27 of the 30 top-ranked American universities and 26 of the top 30 liberal arts colleges saw a decline in the percentage of low-income (Pell-grant-eligible) students.

And it is clever, as well. Those schools that follow Burke's lead would be gaining, at least for the short term, another comparative advantage on their peer institutions, as there presumably are the same or perhaps greater advantages from the experience of economic diversity as of other forms. Still, implementing it would affect only the relatively few such students who could be admitted into such highly selective small colleges. This is one of the key problems with the social mobility model that Burke invokes here. Even if every single private institution in the BDEC were to act on his proposal, we'd continue to have a higher education system in which the most educational resources were devoted to the students who, in a sense, least need them.

To be sure, there are several public systems in the BDEC, but take one guess where most of the endowment resources typically flow in them. Yup, to the "flagships," the Ph.D.-granting institutions--those that value research over teaching, that substitute non-tenurable teachers for tenurable ones as often as they can, just like the Harvards and Yales of the BDEC. The portion of the endowment that escapes this gravitational field and makes its way to the "satellites," the public regional universities, guarantees that no matter how much individual administators and faculty in them value teaching, the percentage of courses taught by the non-tenurable remains shockingly high.

Let's face it: probably about a dozen of the schools in the BDEC can afford to do just about anything they want with respect to student target markets, curriculum, staffing, tuition, fees, and aid, and institutional growth. The rest are looking nervously over their shoulders at what those institutions decide to do. But if they all were to ask themselves how they could have the greatest effect on class in America, they would stop obsessing over intra-BDEC relations, stop acting as if the relations between the wealthy and less wealthy were all that mattered, and start paying attention to relations between elite and non-elite colleges and universities.

The BDEC could, for instance, turn the table on the states and the federal government. There's an easy way to shift public discussion from why the BDEC is spending so little while their endowments are growing so much to why public higher education is so underfunded. If most in the BDEC were to follow my advice and get creative about donating 1% of their capital gains each year to deserving colleges and universities that value teaching, they would not only be putting their endowments to better use but also showing up the state. If they were to act on the principle that quality education ought not to be a class privilege, they might be able to shame the state into changing how, in Marc Bousquet's nice phrase, the university works. But of course they'd have to get their own houses in order, at the same time, and stop relying so much on non-tenurable teachers.

I hope that Burke would support such a strategy, even though in the long run it could jeopardize the very comparative advantage that distinguishes the Swarthmores of the world from the Harvards. The best SLACs, after all, benefit from the exploitation of graduate employees and other casualized academic workers that is the norm in the rest of the American academic world. Were that exploitation to become the exception rather than the rule in U.S. higher education, what would become of the formerly exceptional SLACs? This is where Burke's emphasis on mission differentiation takes on added significance.

Less wealthy institutions could make a different choice than throwing poorer students overboard in order to discount tuition to less academically qualified but financially attractive upper-middle class students. They could aim to live in the “long tail” of the education marketplace. Right now, there are relatively few selective colleges and universities that try to deliver a strongly distinctive kind of education....

I think the answer for less wealthy institutions isn’t to either keep up with the Joneses or complain bitterly about the inequity of Harvard’s tuition initiatives. It’s to get out of the game of trying to be all things to all possible students, to drop services and curriculum not because of a need to indiscriminately economize but because of a strategic, deliberate decision to specialize or seek distinction in some highly specific area or philosophical approach. Frankly, I think the wealthier institutions could use a shot of this kind of thinking, too.

To return to Burke's earlier "cake" metaphor that is recalled by his closing "shot" metaphor, his advice is open to multiple readings. Perhaps Burke is playing with the metaphor that in the American educational system primary education is the appetizer, secondary education the main course, and post-secondary the dessert. Diversifying dessert offerings makes sense within this frame. Rather than trying to decorate the cake differently or use an innovative icing--or even develop a new recipe--he is calling on those outside the BDEC to stop assuming that cakes are the only dessert that need be served. Or perhaps Burke is juxtaposing the meat and potatoes education available at most colleges and universities with the luxuries of the BDEC and suggesting that less wealthy institutions get out of the dessert business entirely.

In either case, while avoiding a certain "Let them eat cake" cluelessness about class in America, Burke's metaphors obscure as much as they reveal. U.S. higher education does need a shot in the arm. But no matter what an institution specializes in or how it differentiates its mission from its peers, its students still need well-balanced meals produced and served primarily by tenured and tenure-track professionals. Unfortunately, as Bousquet shows in How the University Works, what most get instead is a system modelled after the fast food industry:

Ask any thirty-seven-year-old graduate employee, with her ten or more years of service and just beginning to peak in her pedagogical and scholarly powers, yet soon to be replaced by a twenty-two-year-old master's degree candidate: Is this a system that teaches well? And she will answer: Heck, no, it is just a system that teaches cheaply.... [T]he system of disposable faculty continuously replaces its most experienced and accomplished teachers with persons who are less accomplished and less experienced. (42)

This is why Delbanco and Lehecka's proposals for federal action, while representing a valuable first step toward solving the accessibility crisis in private higher education, don't go nearly far enough toward addressing the disease raging through the entire system.

For every college to become accessible to talented students regardless of income, the federal government must create enhanced grant programs, progressive tax incentives and programs that reduce the debt of graduates who spend time in public service.

Making higher education affordable for all matters little if the way it is done provides perverse incentives for the few colleges and universities that don't follow the sickening labor and staffing practices of the Harvards and Yales of the world into following their lead. If the best-endowed private institutions in the BDEC were instead to follow the lead of the Swarthmores and the Hamiltons of the world, their example might help restore the health of higher education in America.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two Ways to Improve the Job Search Process in English

OK, this is only a half-serious post but there's no time even for a two-thirds serious one. How to improve the job market for literature people?

1) The Reality TV Option. For the best job on the market in a given year, produce a reality tv show. That is, use an American Idol format to narrow the field down to the dozen most viable candidates, then Survivor to get down to the three finalists, and then the Presidential race (a series of debates at peer universities and votes by profs and grad students) to decide the winner. The search committee could be involved in the first two stages in creative ways, but after that it's out of their hands.

This would publicize just how amazing the talent pool is in literary studies. The long time for it to develop would allow all kinds of looks at backgrounds of the various candidates, spark interest in the humanities more generally, and be much better for all involved than the usual process.

2) The Q-School Option. Author- and period-based professional organizations (among others) could put on late-summer conferences in which applicants (only those without and in search of a tenure-track job) can choose which of, say, 5 pressing questions in the field they want to address in their talk, narrow the participants down to the top 5 on each, spend a day discussing the answers proposed by the panelists on each question, rank the panelists at the end of the conference, and, eventually, publish a book of the winners' expanded and revised essays. The questions for the next summer's conference would be agreed-upon by the officers of the society after the conference and posted by early fall, so that everyone going on the market the following fall could have the academic year to prepare their papers and submit them in early summer. As an incentive to those who don't make the top 5, all papers from the top 30 applicants could be posted on a conference blog, opening them up to comments and feedback from the profession at large. [These numbers are customizable to the size of the organization, of course.]

This would help get attention to what the leaders of the organization see as the crucial issues in the field and help them indicate who among the not-yet-tenurable they feel most deserve jobs. With the late-summer timing of the conference and blog, candidates (in the top 5 or top 30) can include the results on their c.v.s and those who are invited to present at the conference would also benefit from the day devoted to their question and answers and the chance to interact with more established people in their field.


I'm sure others can come up with better ideas. Let's get creative, people!

[Update 1/30/08: Craig Smith at FACE Talk answers my call! And I got Around the Webbed by Inside Higher Ed for the first time evah. Just for the record, I wrote this on a computer in the day care center playroom imoto and I were hanging out in while onechan was in her yochien and revised it slightly when we got home. There's a lesson there somewhere.]

Friday, January 25, 2008

A Thing That Makes Me Say "Yay"--No, Four!

The Atlantic Monthly has opened its digital archives--which go back to 1857.

That is all.

No, wait! Marc Bousquet passes along the fantastic news about Adjunct Whore....

Oops--one more thing! Elizabeth at verbal privilege has posted her poetry commonplace book. Now there's a meme I'd like to see propagate!

Oh yeah, this is my 200th post here, too.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

"It's Crowded Here with 10 People in the House"

I've found out a little bit more about Nashi and Kurari, the imaginary girls from Spain that onechan invented recently. Turns out they are orphans and they've come with their baby sister Narila to live with us. (For awhile there was a lot of backstory on their parents, but then onechan decided to off them.) They watch the house for us while we're out and give onechan all kinds of scenarios to play out when we're home (often having to do with visiting the doctor, because, I suppose, that's how we roll here).

So the title of this post is as close as my swiss cheese memory can get to a verbatim comment from onechan late this afternoon. The Full Metal Archivist and I have been batting around the idea of going for a boy sometime in the next few years and every so often we ask onechan about her feelings on the matter. Well, it turns out one of the reasons onechan would be happy to have a little brother or sister is that she wouldn't have to have so many made-up characters populating the house. Apparently it's tiring dealing with them all. At first I thought she was exaggerating, but then I stopped to think how many we role play as, make up stories about, and compare ourselves to.

So in honor of onechan, here's the updated list of extras among our dramatis personae:

  • all her real friends and cousins, whom we often pretend to be
  • the Super-Prius
  • Nashi, Kurari, and Narila
  • Suweet and Saja, and their neighbors at the North Pole (Santa, etc.)
  • Carrie Mi, Karrie Yoo, and Keri Hu
  • Jumper and Kong-san
  • Sparkychan and Gojochan
  • Doremi, Pop, Hazuki, Onpu, Aiko, Momoko, and Hana-chan from Ojamajo Doremi
  • all the Pretty Cure girls: Nagisa, Honoka, and Hikari (and Okane-san) from Max Heart, Mai and Saki from Splash Star, and Nozomi, Rin, Urara, Komachi, and Karen (and Coco and Natsu) from Yes! Pretty Cure 5
  • My Melody, Kuromi, Uta-chan, the violin guy, and others from Onegai My Melody
  • Inu Yasha, Kagome, Miroku, and Sango from Inu Yasha
  • Chiyo-chan from Azumanga Daioh
  • Bubbles, Blossom, Buttercup, Miss Bellum, The Professor, The Mayor, and Mojo Jojo from The Powerpuff Girls
  • Dora, Boots, Isa, Tico, Benny, and Swiper from Dora the Explorer
  • Olivia
  • Rosemary Wells's Yoko, Max, and Ruby
  • Corduroy and his friends
  • Pooh and his friends
  • The Disney Princesses, whose names I still can't keep straight
  • thankfully, fewer of those annoying My Little Ponies, as we get further and further away from onechan's birthday

Just for the historical record.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

CitizenSE Teaching Manifesto, Part I: The Literature/Golf Mock(able)-Epic Simile

I have to admit to having been a bit intimidated by Craig Smith's recent decision to tag the humble proprietor of the obscurest blog on teh internets alongside such bloggy luminaries as Michael Berube, New Kid on the Hallway, Tenured Radical, and Sherman Dorn. When you consider how amazing Dr. Crazy's post that inspired Craig was--not to mention those in response to it by A White Bear, Aaron Barlow, Philosleft, and Craig himself, to name just a few--you have to wonder what you can add to the conversation. At least you do if you are me. So if you know where I'm coming from, you might be able to imagine how pleased I was to discover that the idea I came up with enables me to build upon one of my favorite CitizenSE posts in recent months.

Imagine, if you will, that a work of literature is like a golf course. Think of the process of designing and constructing a golf course as similar to imagining and composing a piece of writing. And think of how whether to play, which course to play, and how to play it can be compared to the kinds of decisions that go into whether to read, what to read, and how to read. What I am trying to get at through this opening analogy (writer as golf course architect, reader as golfer) is the notion that it is the experience (of reading, of golfing) that matters. What I like about the analogy is that golf's image as an elite and elitist sport corresponds rather well to the image of literature as an elite and elitist form of writing. (And if you believe Caleb Crain, reading may become about as prevalent as golfing this century.) For that matter, the humanities as a whole, like golf, still have a rather clubby image in popular culture--both are often represented as a luxury pasttime for the wealthy to dabble in, certainly nothing useful or productive or innovative to contribute to society. But that's a matter for another CitizenSE series....

Let's get back to teaching. Golf, like any sport, is neither a natural nor an instinctual activity. You have to learn how to do it, from many people, over time. You get better at it by doing it, again and again, though improvement is hard to come by and even harder to sustain. At some point, you may decide to become a serious golfer--you start playing more regularly, watching professional tournaments on television or in person, reading golf publications for tips and examples, researching equipment options, playing golf video games obsessively, betting with your playing partners, and so on. Eventually you may decide to become a competitive golfer--you start seeking perspective on your swing from a book, pro, and/or machine, getting your clubs fitted,joining a team and learning from a coach and your fellow players, playing in tournaments and learning from your fellow competitors, and so on. To extend my analogy further, serious golfers are like literature majors, competitive golfers are like literature graduate students, professors at teaching institutions are like teaching pros, and professors at research institutions are like touring pros.

Now, how does this mock(able)-epic simile help me answer the question of why I teach and why it matters? Sure, I love pushing the serious golfers and mentoring the competitive ones as much as the next teaching pro and am overjoyed when former students make a splash in academia. And I love teaching the occasional graduate seminar and sharing my limited experiences as a touring pro when appropriate with my master's students here. But what I love the most is the challenge of figuring out how to draw new golfers into the sport, helping beginners master the fundamentals and enjoy the game, and encouraging intermediate golfers to become serious golfers. That's why I teach so many introductory and general education courses here. I want all the students I teach to come away from my courses willing to consider acting on the idea that reading literature, like playing golf, can be a worthwhile and rewarding lifelong activity.

All well and good so far, but the reading literature/playing golf analogy has much farther-reaching implications, which require me to unpack some of the key terms I just used. What are some of the fundamentals of golf? Beyond obvious things like learning the rules and etiquette of the game, developing a consistent pre-shot routine, honing your grip, stance, alignment, and swing, and building your repertoire of shots, pitches, chips, scrambles, and putts, I have in mind analyzing and assessing the hole in front of you, imagining what shot you want to hit next in light of the course and weather conditions, figuring out what kind of swing you need to make to execute the shot, and learning how to focus enough to do it increasingly consistently, under various degrees of pressure and distraction, every time you address the ball. I won't try to give the literacy/literary equivalent of every one of these golf fundamentals, but I will point out that they all involve becoming more self-aware as a reader and more attentive to the text in front of you--its form, the genres and conventions it participates in, the allusions it makes to other texts and intertextual dialogues it enters into, and so on. Just as you get more enjoyment out of golf as you become better able to make solid contact with the ball and hit it closer to where you are aiming, so, too, do you enjoy reading literature more and appreciate what writers are doing better the more familiar you become with various examples of effective uses of rhythm, imagery, metaphor, symbolism, tone, point-of-view, irony, ambiguity, and so forth. The way I try to draw new golfers into the game, then, is to teach an integrated combination of reader-response, formalist, and structuralist techniques of reading and responding to literary texts in introductory and general education courses. I try to take students--many of whom, to the extent that they have been trained to read literature, have been trained to cherry-pick a poem for a metaphor or locate a story among four core themes (Man vs....) and write about it in a cookie-cutter 5-paragraph essay--and show them that there's a bigger and better rationale for understanding and acting upon the interrelation between techniques, strategies, and experiences of reading literature.

Here's where my teaching--and, I believe, the teaching of the vast majority of my colleagues in my department and across the country--departs most dramatically from the paranoid vision of the David Horowitzes of the world. I'm not trying to indoctrinate my students into what I consider to be the one best way of swinging a club, playing a hole, and thinking your way around a course. Sure, I'll demonstrate a few shots, show them clips of how various golfers have played a given hole, and give them advice on playing a particular course. But I can't play the game for them. What I can do is to try to give all my students the tools and the opportunities to practice making their own decisions on how, when, and why to play the game. Because I know from experience that each round of golf is different, even when played on the same course by the same person, I take for granted that every person is going to have their own experience on each reading of a literary text. That doesn't mean they designed the course; it just means they're following a fairly unique path around it. And it's worth their time and effort to keep track of their path, compare it to others', and reflect on the similarities and differences, not just to modify their techniques and strategies for the next round, but to get a better sense of the range of experiences and emotions golf offers, as well.

This is where the ambiguity in the term reading in my mock(able)-epic simile matters most. Reading is not just the personal and individual and private process of experiencing a text, it is also the social and collective and public process of sharing one's experiences with others. Sure, there's a difference between playing alone and playing with partners, random or regular, but both are forms of golf. Very few people, that is, are satisfied with stopping after having arrived as their own construals and interpretations of a text for themselves alone--they want to share their responses with others, out of confusion, curiosity, competition, and more. The dialogue and debate that emerges from this process of intersubjective responding can have multiple effects--appreciation of the nuances of the course/text and of the various ways to play/read it, a desire to seek out other courses/texts by the same architect/author, development of strategic and/or critical thinking skills, self-knowledge of various kinds, understanding of and empathy with others, values-clarification, community-formation, and more. But there's no guarantee that any of these things will actually happen for every single golfer/reader in every one of my classes. Making people write and read each other's responses can help, as can responsible and responsive comments from their peers and professor, but writing is no panacea, either. Unless my students discover they like playing golf and want to get better at it, all the best teaching in the world won't motivate them to benefit from the byproducts of entering into the discipline that learning to be a better golfer/reader requires. (In this sense, learning to play golf is like learning fencing or chess or dance or a martial art.)

If I were to stop here, no doubt you'd be justified in responding with some version of "So long and thanks for all the [Stanley] Fish." Sure, I think Fish is seriously mistaken when he concludes his recent New York Times piece on the uses of the humanities with:

So two cheers for critical thinking, but the fact that you can learn how to do it in any number of contexts means that it cannot be claimed for the humanities as a special benefit only they can supply. Justification requires more than evidence that a consumer can get a desirable commodity in your shop, too; it requires a demonstration that you have the exclusive franchise.

And I have problems with the way he answers his own questions here:

The pertinent question is, Do humanities courses change lives and start movements? Does one teach with that purpose, and if one did could it be realized?

If the answers to these questions are (as I contend) "no"--one teaches the subject matter and any delayed effect of what happens in a classroom is contingent and cannot be aimed at--then the route of external justification of the humanities, of a justification that depends on the calculation of measurable results, is closed down.

But I think he's onto something about the implications of his answers there and when he claims here that

the value of the humanities cannot be validated by some measure external to the obsessions that lead some (like me) to devote their working lives to them--measures like increased economic productivity, or the fashioning of an informed citizenry, or the sharpening of moral perceptions, or the lessening of prejudice and discrimination. If these or some other instrumental benchmarks--instrumental in the sense that they are tied to a secondary effect rather than to an internal economy--are what the humanities must meet, they will always fall short. But the refusal of the humanities to acknowledge or bow to an end they do not contemplate is, I argue, their salvation and their value.

This is something I'll take up later in a series on assessment, but my response is actually implicit in my playing golf/reading literature mock(able)-epic simile. Is there any good reason Tiger Woods made $100M last year just for playing golf superlatively well? Should we begrudge Lorena Ochoa her record-smashing $4.36M in winnings during the 2007 LPGA season? Although we might question the motives of the corporations that invest in tournament (and televised) golf and sponsor players, or critically analyze the systems that make up the golf industry and connect it to others, we can't ignore that people around the world are inspired by Tiger's and Lorena's play, want to watch them compete against the best in the world at what they do, and want to join in the fun. Just look at how many Korean golfers have come to the LPGA following in Se Ri Pak's history-making footsteps and you can see that playing golf well has real effects. By the same token, the readings of academostars as well as the less celebrated among literature's touring pros--the entire scholarly apparatus that Fish attacks for being too specialized, too insular, too detached, too exclusive, too arcane, too impenetrable--provide examples for analysis, assessment, emulation, modification, rejection and more by beginning, intermediate, serious, and competitive readers everywhere, not to mention other teaching and touring pros.

This leads me to another turn of the mock(able)-epic simile screw, one which returns me to teaching. Even in my introductory and general education courses, I want my students to understand that there's more to reading literature than developing and sharing readings of texts. Often I start with something as seemingly simple but actually complex as authorial intent, ouevre, and influence: what can we glean from the way a course is laid out about the options for play that the architect had in mind when designing the course? what do his/her designs imply about the state of the game at that time? what characterizes his/her body of work and how does it develop over time? what aspects of his/her predecessors' and contemporaries' designs were most influential on his/her own work? This is where issues of canonization arise: who are the most influential architects in history? which are the best courses? the best holes? the best tournaments? what courses should serious golfers play before they die? and why? And this, in turn, turns us to issues in and around the golf industry, from those who commission courses to those who maintain them to those who manufacture and sell and market and review the equipment necessary to make, maintain, and play them. In the same way that a golf course is part of a much larger set of institutions, so, too, is any work of literature.

Sure, you don't need to be concerned with all these issues to become a serious or competitive golfer, much less a teaching or touring pro. But you don't need to enter an M.F.A. program to experience their relevance personally; anyone who wants to get published today (or knows someone who has tried) runs smack into them (at least vicariously). Even people who are stuggling just to get the ball off the ground should know a little bit about where the ball and club they are using came from, the history of the development of these technologies, what swing options they have and the history of debates over and analysis of them, where what is in front of them came from and the history of the development of various hazards (rough, trees, sand, water), and what the experiences of those who have gone through similar and other struggles have been like. Of course it's still up to them to get that ball in the air. But they can better appreciate the difficulty, why so many people have exposed themselves to it, and what they can learn from it if what they are doing gets contextualized and if they learn how to contextualize what they are doing. So while I strive to teach my students how to play golf in my intro and gen ed courses, I also want them to begin paying attention to the history, sociology, psychology, economics, ecology, and technology of the sport. This is why teaching literature for me is a wildly interdisciplinary activity, not just limited to the traditional humanities.

Of course, the institution of literature will persist whether or not there remain any professors in the humanities left to research it or teach it. But that doesn't mean that the teaching of literature in college and graduate school by trained professionals is valueless or that nothing would be lost by its disappearance. Given the ubiquity of advice on playing golf, teaching pros will always have to strive to figure out what they can bring to their students that they couldn't otherwise or easily get themselves, how to design their courses to make the best use of the time spent together in the classroom, and modify their plans and strategies in light of what they are discovering about the actual students in the course. Research matters because it means that courses get played (books stay in print) or restored (through textual editing) or rediscovered (through the production of new scholarly editions of forgotten texts). When scholars find something of value in such courses for players today and teachers want their students to learn from the experience of playing them, on their own and together, touring and teaching pros can help shape the future of golf/literature.

To me, the question of why I teach is inseparable from what I teach and how. When I return to this series, I'll use my teaching from last semester and the upcoming one to show how my answers vary by course and how my courses fit together.

[Update: Reading around others who have responded to Craig's call, I eventually made my way back to One Flew East and discovered a gem of a book review on video games, literacy, and learning. Read the whole thing, as someone is reputed to have once said. My first response was, "damn, why didn't my colleague and I follow through on that crazy Video Game Studies Summer Camp idea we had back in 1999?" My second was, "why didn't Sloucho and I get our act together back in the early '00s and actually write that Video Game Studies book together?" It took until the third response to realize that the author of the book Aaron reviews is actually fleshing out the ideas I'm gesturing toward here about teaching and learning, but with respect to video games rather than golf.]

[Update 2 1/27/08: Here's a line from the rookie who was playing with Tiger Woods on Saturday at the Buick and, like the rest of the field, got smoked:

"That was one of the coolest things ever, no doubt," he said. "He was fun to watch but just kind of fun to compare myself against him, as well. It's inspiring and very educational. I recommend everyone try it at least one time."

The title of Doug Ferguson's AP article from which this observation comes says it all: "Tiger Puts on a Clinic at Torrey Pines."]

Friday, January 18, 2008

On Funding Public Higher Education, Part III: Free Education!

Marc Bousquet has posted the first part of his interview with Adolph Reed at How the University Works. If you want a quick introduction to why higher education should be free, check it out. [Update 1/21/08: here's part 2!]

Meanwhile, for a concise and cogent critique of the current system and what to do about it, check out Craig Smith's recent post at FACE Talk.

For more on these issues, check out Part I of this series.

Monday, January 14, 2008


Craig Smith at Free Exchange on Campus just tagged me. I'm it--yay! Uh oh--now I have to live up to Dr. Crazy's inspiring example. With two girls still on antibiotics and an office move happening tomorrow, it's going to be a little while before my CitizenSE Teaching Manifesto is ready for action. Let's see if I can finish it before my taggees do:

A White Bear [Update 1/16/08: damn!]
Rob MacDougall
Marc Bousquet
Jennifer [Update 1/25/08: sweet!]
The Hobgoblin

[Update 1/22/08: Did it! Or at least started it.]

[Update 1/30/08: My tags have no power on men! Maybe a look at the list of contributors will inspire you all!]

Sunday, January 13, 2008

On the Road Again: Constructivist Family Poetry

The Full Metal Archivist started a neat little game that can eat up a half an hour on a car ride if it goes well: family poetry. Each person in the car contributes a line of poetry based on what they see outside until the poem is done. Here are two examples. Try to guess which lines are mine, the FMA's, and onechan's!

I-90 to Erie, 1/4/08

Bald trees
No leaves left
Grass-stubbled snow
Yellow with pee
Clouds with water
Weight my tears
Twinkle twinkle little star
I am the yellow one
18-wheeled dinosaurs
And 4-wheeled rabbits
Pass the sign
Of Westfield-Mayville
A V-shaped patch of blue sky
And Phantom Fireworks
Overlook empty vineyards
And old Christmas lights

I-90 to Buffalo, 1/12/08

Zombie grass lurks
The cars are golden
Two red eyes
In the Lion's Den
Skeleton towers
The trees are red
Imoto is crying

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Hawthorne Society CFP and Announcements

Got this over the transom from Leland Person and thought I'd do my part to spread the word.


1) The 2008 Hawthorne Society summer meeting at Bowdoin College is scheduled for June 12-15, 2008.

2) We have extended the deadline for submitting paper and other proposals for the Bowdoin conference until January 30th. Here’s the “Call”:

Nathaniel Hawthorne: Starting Over

The Hawthorne Conference organizers offer this wide-ranging rubric to include such topics as: Hawthorne's new start at Bowdoin, his beginnings as a tale writer; his "new" career as a novelist; his new (and constantly renewed) reputation; his interest in the beginnings of things (biblical, historical, personal); his new friends; his sense of the "new" vs. the "old" world; his definition of the "new" woman--and new man ("New Adam and Eve"); Hawthorne and the New Romanticism; Hawthorne and the New Classroom; Hawthorne and the (new) State of Maine; Hawthorne and the (new) structure of allegory; and Hawthorne in the new (21st) Century.

Please send paper topics by January 30, 2008,to Sam Coale, 39 Pratt Street, Providence, RI 02906 or

3) We announce topics for ALA 2008 and MLA 2008:

Teaching Hawthorne
Hawthorne and the Performing Arts

Hawthorne as Story-Teller
Hawthorne and Emerson


Pass it on!

Monday, January 07, 2008

On Funding Public Higher Education, Part II: Harvard's Endowment

A belated Happy New Year to Blogoramaville! Time for Part II in this CitizenSE series.

Check out this Dec. 31st op-ed by Steven Roy Goodman in The Boston Globe on Harvard's endowment. Taken together with Herbert Allen's Dec. 21st op-ed in The New York Times, which also makes Harvard the poster child for endowment disparities in the U.S., Goodman's piece helps turn up the heat on the wealthiest colleges and universities in the country. In it, he asks why universities are exempt from the federal law that non-profit organizations must spend 5% of their endowments each year or lose their tax-exempt status. And he raises other tough questions:

Why does an institution of higher learning have $35 billion in its back pocket anyway? Why has it become customary for universities to spend only a small fraction of their interest income--and not even the endowment funds themselves--for daily operations? Why do American taxpayers continue to subsidize schools that increasingly operate like for-profit companies--and less like tax-exempt educational foundations that are charged with educating the next generation?

Although Goodman and Allen disagree on how much Harvard's endowment grew in the past year (by $5.7B or $7B?!), they agree that there's a problem when so much capital is tied up in so few institutions of higher learning--a perspective obviously not shared by the Harvard, Princeton, and Yale administrations, as reported by their universities' student newspapers back in October '07. Yet even people at relatively well-off institutions--like Bard College President Leon Botstein--think the problem is real.

Is there a problem when the 62 colleges and universities in the Billion Dollar Endowment Club (according to NACUBO's most recent study; figures for 2007 should be out in a couple of weeks) are on average a thousand times greater than the endowment at my home university, which recently rose to $17.41M? It's a question I'll come back to in a couple of weeks, so let's say for the sake of argument that there is. How should it be solved?

Allen and Goodman help steer discussion of solutions away from reducing tuition and increasing financial aid at those institutions in the Billion Dollar Endowment Club and toward the funding of higher education more generally. Allen's proposed revenue-sharing solution--to tax the capital gains of institutions with endowments greater than $500K/student and distribute the proceeds pro rata to the institutions with the lowest per-student endowments--is more carefully thought-out than Goodman's rather vague closing line: "it might be time for our elected officials to rein in financial benefits for those institutions that can't manage to spend 5 percent of their tax-exempt wealth." I have a few ideas that Harvard and other private institutions in the BDEC could do with their endowments right now that don't require any Congressional action.

1) Support your graduate students better--at least give them a real apprenticeship experience if you won't recognize their unions.

2) Hire more full-time, tenure-track faculty members, not enough just to do most of the teaching the graduate students are now doing, but enough to reduce class sizes significantly.

3) Put aside 1% of your capital gains each year to be gifted to the endowments of universities your institution thinks deserve the funding. That's right: invest in U.S. higher education.

So what do you think, Blogoramaville? Any other suggestions?

[Update 1/8/08: College affordability is, of course, an important issue, but the point of my #3 is that targeted investments by the BDEC in capital-starved U.S. higher ed institutions can have an immediate effect on the quality and cost of education for more students, rather than simply a symbolic or trend-setting one.]