Teacher teacher, can you reach me

30 01 2014

Classes have started again. Thank goddess.

I need the money (of course: I always need the money), but it’s more than that. While I’ve been working at home for the 2nd job, I just get. . . antsy before a new semester. Part of it is worry that my course will be cancelled, but even more so is the sense that my real work is in the classroom, so to be out of the classroom is, even if I have other work, to be out of work. My real work.

It’s taken me too long to get to this point, to know that, yeah, my real work is as a professor. Unfortunately, due to the many bad decisions I’ve made about my career, instead of being snugly ensconced in a nest somewhere in mid-level academia, I’m left to swing from semester to semester, hoping I can grab the next vine of courses just after I let go of this one.

(In 2011 those vines got yanked away a couple of times, and I crashed, hard. I won’t dig out from that financially until next year—if all goes well.)

Can I recover and manage to build some stability into my career? I dunno. You’ve only got so many years post-PhD to slide into the tenure track, and as I am some multiple of years beyond that time, I may have missed my chance(s).

But I don’t want to give it up, either. I enjoy teaching and am pretty good at it, and while I think academic publishing is a scam, I remain capable of solid research.

Oh, and have I mentioned that I am constitutionally unsuited for corporate work? Not that any corporation would have me.

I’ve gone round and round on this before, and have done nothing. Dmf has given me links to the, ah, Brooklyn Institute, I think, and there are plenty of non-CUNY institutions in the NYC area in which I could teach. (CUNY limits the number of courses adjuncts can teach any given semester & over the course of the year, so while I will send my c.v. to the campus closest to me, if I want more work I’ll have to go outside of CUNY.)

So there it is. I’ve finally figured out this is what I can do; now I need to just, y’know, do it.





Get on with your work

18 12 2013

End o’ semester, so: grading.

Still, two academy-related bits:

1) I do hope this dude gets kicked out of school. I dunno about prison—a bomb threat is serious matter, even if made for trivial (unprepared for exam) reasons—but when you mess with other students’ attempts to study when you couldn’t be bothered to do so yourself, you don’t deserve to be a part of that particular academic community.

2) Yes, yes, yes! Universities which take in far more graduate students than they know will ever get decent jobs are selfish, irresponsible, and only adding to the crisis in higher education employment.

One of the commenters noted that

This is a problem that is not going to be addressed by actions of universities. They need to organize and form actual professional societies like every other professional group that wants to have power over their field.

A nation-wide contingent union isn’t a bad idea, and the observation of another that fewer grad students won’t necessarily stop the process of “adjunctification” ain’t wrong, either.

But right now universities are feeding off the low-paid labor of grad students who are far more likely to end up as low-paid adjuncts than the relatively well-paid tenure-track professors for whom they work.

Whatever the motivation for reducing the number of grad slots, it’s a small mercy to those would-be students who won’t get sucked in to a “career” of cobbled-together courses, uncertain freelance gigs, and no dental plan.





Everybody knows the dice are loaded

14 10 2013

If you are in the social sciences or humanities: do not get a PhD.

Nothin’ against the PhD—I quite like having mine—but the time it will take you to get your degree, and the income you forgo in the long slog through coursework, research, and dissertation, isn’t worth it, because the jobs aren’t there.

(If you are independently wealthy and/or are not planning to use your PhD to crack into the academy, and you only  want to engage in deep study of subject, go for it: at a good program, you will learn more than you could dream of. But for everyone else. . . ?)

Oh, the adjunct positions are there, plenty o’ those, but full-time jobs (be they tenure-track or long-term contract) in academia, with good pay and benefits and support for professional development? Nope.

Oh, some folks are working in those unicorn-and-pony FTE tenure-track positions, working their ways from assistant to associate to full prof, and I don’t begrudge them their good fortune. While there may have been some luck in landing the jobs initially (when hundreds of people apply for a single opening, the one person who closes the deal is not just able, but also lucky), most of those professors have worked very hard to secure themselves in that track.

But the hundreds who applied and didn’t even get a cursory “nevermind”, much less an interview? Some of them lucked out elsewhere, but many of them are, like me, adjuncts, and some have left academia altogether.

My situation may not be the norm insofar as I made certain (in retrospect, bad) decisions about my career in which I took myself out of the game early. I did have some luck, but not recognizing it as such, I tossed it aside. That’s on me.

But that a large majority of the US’s higher education system relies on PhDs to present themselves as professors to their students but are not treated as such by administrators? Uh uh. And as adjunct organizer Don Kovalic observes:

They’re also destroying the academy. Because as this happens, more and more students are going to ask, “why would I get a PhD? You want me to have a PhD to teach your students, yet why would I do that? Because it seems to me if I get a PhD, I’m going to end up making poverty wages. I can do that now without a PhD. I’ll go to Starbucks and do it.”

They’re destroying their own system, and they’re going to wake up and realize that students and parents have decided that there’s no use for the university anymore.

The game is rigged, only no one wins; it’s just that some lose more quickly than others.

If it’s not quite the academic version of MAD , what  Joshua said at the end of War Games, nonetheless seems a propros: A strange game. The only winning move is not to play.

h/t: dmf





Thinking like the sea

4 08 2013

Good gifs are amusing for about as long as they last, which, all things considered, ain’t bad.

This also means they’re highly disposable: you want a quick hit, and that’s it.

Still, string a bunch of them together under a common theme, and, well, they can take on a kind of extended absurdity—as with Research in Progress.

As with all absurdity, you gotta be able to giggle at how fucked we are.

~~~

h/t Eszter Hargittai, Crooked Timber





I have heard a million tales; I have told a million more

9 03 2012

Been falling down on the blogging beat. . . and this post isn’t really going to rectify that.

Quick hits, nothing more.

~~~

Rush Limbaugh is boring. Bore bore bore boring.

I don’t care about his advertisers, I don’t care about a boycott, I don’t care if he disappears from the radio forever.

Yes, he was a total shit to Sandra Fluke, just as he was a total shit to Chelsea Clinton (and Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama and. . .) and if he doesn’t understand that women can actually enjoy sex then I can only say “ur doing it wrong!!!”

But he lacks anything other than bile and ego, and as I have my own bile and ego, I see no reason to indulge his particular brand of narcissistic nonsense.

~~~

I did coupla’ posts a while back deriding the concept of “free” (put in quotes because it was about a price point which wasn’t really zero, just offloaded on to someone else), but the notion has reemerged in another form, as a kind of justification for theft of copyrighted materials.

As someone who participated in the SOPA/PIPA protest, who believes that copyright laws are waaaay overdue for an overhaul, and who doesn’t pay for the third-party content (videos, photos) that I post, I am as much in the moral muck—if not in as quite as deep as some—as my fellow. . . thieves.

Still, I am unmoved by the argument made by some that the delay in release of DVDs or streaming of movies justifies piracy. “I’m not getting what I want as soon as I want it” is less about copyright overreach and more about selfishness.

Anyway, I’m not so much interested in filling out that argument than I am in tossing out the following stray bits:

One, is not the justification for “free” (in either form) some kind of end-state of a labor-dismissing form of capitalism? That is,  value was first removed from labor (in the forms of laborers) and relocated to the anarchic (if manipulated) realm of supply-and-demand; now value is being removed from the production process itself, such that the costs of production are irrelevant to those who demand the end product for “free”.

All that matters is the desire of the consumer, to the detriment of the processes and relationships which enable the desire to be fulfilled.

Two, is the academic publication model in any way relevant to this conversation? Professors produce content for “free” (journal articles, conference papers) or nearly “free” (books, book chapters) as a price of admission into the academic guild.

Produce a sufficient number of these “freebies” and one is granted tenure, which in turn allows one  to produce more such “freebies”.

(Yes, there are salaries and teaching commitments and of course the horrid practice of making authors pay for their own reprints, but I don’t know that any of those throws off the comparison.)

~~~

Pundits have nothing to offer people who pay attention.

There’s nothing Cokie Roberts or David Brooks or EJ Dionne has to say that anyone who hasn’t been paying long and sustained attention to politics couldn’t have said for themselves.

Now, I happen to have particular contempt for Cokie Roberts (god, her smugness!), and I may have suggested once or twenty times that all pundits be loaded on to a cruise ship, sent out to sea, and never allowed to dock anywhere ever again, but a decent pundit actually has something to offer someone who wants a quick hit of info on a topic about which she knows little.

But pundits talking to pundits about their punditry? Useless.

~~~

And because it’s been awhile, a coupla’ shots of the absurd household’s fuzzier denizens:

Catman! Catman! Catman! Nana nana nana nana CATMAN!

You have GOT to be kidding me.

Trouble, both of ‘em.





Between the pen and the paperwork

12 09 2010

I finally did it.

After clearing out the 4 boxes and separating the recorded from the unrecorded articles, I piled up all the recorded articles  until I figured out what to do with them.

All that work—years worth of work—and the one, great, broken promise that those articles collectively represented sat in my small hallway, just outside of my bedroom. For months.

Yesterday, I went through the stacked meter of them one last time, pulled out a few to offer to my bioethics students, and carried the rest to the recycling bin. Today they were gone.

I still have about another foot left; these are the articles to be entered into my database and then, like the others, taken away. And there are still the hard copies of all those Human Genome Reports, the reports from DOE and NIH and NHGRI and OTA, along with some number of articles that I couldn’t quite part with; perhaps by the time I move again I’ll have figured out how to toss these, as well.

It’s not that big of deal, I tell myself. All of this is available online, either through the CUNY library system or, if I ever remember to join the Wisconsin Alumni Association, through the UW library system. It’s all still there, not gone at all.

But it feels like waste: a waste of paper, a waste of a career. All of this work I gathered (or which was gathered for me—thanks R.!) was to have led me further into an academic life, one in which I built a political theory of bioethics, taught medical and graduate students, participated in colloquia and conferences, and secured myself inside a tenured professorship.

Didn’t happen. Obviously.

I held on to those articles, nonetheless, never quite sure of when I might—might—need them again. After all, I’m still teaching, and who knows when that Theoretical Medicine or Human Gene Therapy or Philosophical Nursing piece might be exactly what I need. I once needed them, or at least, once thought I needed them; so who knows. . . .

I know: I don’t. They’ve been a kind of heavy security blanket, boxes of files I’d carted with me from Montreal to Somerville to (storage locker to storage locker in) Brooklyn. I’m done, I said, as I refused to get rid of all that with which I was done.

So about a year ago I decided it was time. I did nothing. Then I said, Hey, I have a file of all of those articles, so it’s not like I’m losing access to everything. I did nothing. Then I disinterred them from the boxes, sorted through them, piled them a meter high in the small hallway outside of my bedroom. Where they sat. Until yesterday.

It felt good to get rid of the clutter. I have pack-ratish tendencies, but I love the relief of unburdening myself of unnecessities.

It just took awhile to admit that these thousands of pieces of paper were a part of those unnecessities.





Q&A: Caputo

26 08 2010

how did you come to his works? —dmf

dmf—who clearly knows more about John Caputo’s works than I do—asked me the above question. Given that Caputo is not widely read by political scientists nor, almost certainly, by the general public, it’s the kind of particular query which opens up to the more general: how’dja find this [relatively unknown] cat?

For Caputo and me, the answer is twofold:

1. I read a long review of his works in the online version of Christianity Today; given the length of the essay, I think it was in the Books & Culture section. I was intrigued.

2. I worked in the philosophy section of the Astor Place Barnes & Noble and noticed we had a copy of Caputo and Gianni Vattimo’s After the Death of God. Employees are allowed to borrow hardcover books from their store, so I plucked this one out.

That’s the twinned short answer; here’s the bifurcated longer answer:

Early in my grad school career I became interested in the question of knowledge. It didn’t initially cohere into an inquiry into epistemology, but I did note that many of the questions I had about x, y, or z phenomena would lead me to questions about the approaches to x, y, or z phenomena, which led, ultimately, to questions about any approach to any phenomenon—in other words, not only how do we know what we know, but how do we determine something is a ‘what’ worthy (or at least capable) of being known, and what does it mean that something has been plucked out of the everything to become a ‘what’ in this particular way.

(These kinds of questions, it should be said, can go on for a very long time. You get the drift. . . .)

Epistemological issues were all the rage (really!) in some parts of the academy in the 1990s, which is when I did the bulk of my graduate work. Early on I was a dogmatic post-modernist and quite glib in my denuciations of Liberalism, the concept of the unitary individual, and the notion that we could ever truly know anything. Ah, the joys of the supercharged nihilist!

Then time did its thing, I mellowed, and while I didn’t surrender my skepticism, I no longer held it in such esteem. I don’t know that we can know, but we seem to make do, in the meantime. I toss a lot of knowledge into the category of the ‘provisional’ and go on from there.

There’s much more behind this, of course, but this is reasonable gloss on where I am now.

So I’m much less dogmatic than I used to be, more curious, and more willing to retrieve from my own personal ash-heap notions that had seem dead, naive, or hopelessly problematic. (Note: that something was ‘hopelessly problematic’ was reason both for my know-it-all (!) nihilist self to toss it and my curious self to retrieve it.) One of those things I had tossed was hermeneutics.

My department was very strong in political theory, but most of the theorists were suspicious of the turn theory seemed to be making away from the history of thought and toward considerations of method. Still, there were courses on method, and in one of those courses we mucked around a bit in hermeneutics. This, however, was a hermeneutics of the Gadamer sort, that is, an explicitly backwards-looking interpretation of tradition and meaning.

I have my disagreements with Habermas, but I think he nails it with regard to this type of interpretation: it is the method of the museum.

So to have come across Caputo and Vattimo and their arguments about ‘weak theology’ and nihilism and radical hermeneutics, well, I was intrigued: This was not your father’s interpretive method.

Couple this with an ongoing interest in questions of existence and hop-skip-jump I am led down another rabbit hole.

The second element at play concerns curiosity and cowardice among the credentialed. You see, once you get a degree, you [are able to] assume a level of expertise about your particular field. This expertise requires you both to know the Big Names and Big Debates and to have more answers than questions; it also requires you to shun certain topics and authors as unworthy of Serious Consideration.

In short, you know whose name to drop and whose to dismiss.

Now, I had never heard of either Caputo or Vattimo when I was in grad school, and I have no reason to believe that either had any kind of reputation, good or bad, among political theorists. Still, they were (are?) outliers among my kind, which makes them risky: If others haven’t heard of them, how are you to talk about them? Perhaps there’s a good reason no one else has heard of them; perhaps there’s something wrong with you for thinking so highly of them. . . .

Please note that no one has ever actually said any of these things to me; no, the responsibility for carrying this particular set of neuroses lies with me. But having been acculturated into academia, and by remaining even tangentially involved (as an adjunct) in my field, I remain caught in those cross-currents of ‘credentiality'; perhaps as an adjunct I am even more vulnerable to questions about my legitimacy as a political theorist.

Yet I have also, because I am an adjunct who is not looking for a tenure-track position, had the space to turn around and look at what and why it is I am doing, on the margins, in the academy. What is the purpose of my presence in the classroom?

And that is where Caputo and Vattimo have led me, in their forward-looking or radical hermeneutics: What is your purpose? What is the point? What is the meaning? What are the possibilities?

Answers are fine and necessary things, and in certain contexts require their own kind of courage. But the questions! Those can always get you into real trouble.





No dark sarcasm in the classroom

17 12 2009

‘I love grading! It is the best!’

‘Grading has nothing to do with learning.’

‘Ay? No! Of course it does. It is the best way!’

‘Paugh. We do it because we can’t think of anything better.’

‘Because there is nothing better! This is what intellectuals have done since the beginning—the best, the smartest.’

‘Socrates?’

‘Okay, no, so it was different then. But Karl Marx, Adam Smith—they all had to study! They all had to take exams.’

‘So. So did we. What does that prove?’

‘No, you are wrong. It is the most just and fair way to determine how much the students have learned.’

‘What does justice have to do with learning? Justice has nothing to do with learning!’

‘And you, the philosopher. You should love grading. Write a blog on how much you love grading.’

‘Hah, no.’

‘Grading is the best, I tell you.’

‘You only love grading because you can inflict pain and assert authority.’

‘True. . . .’ (Jtte. laughs)





Be like Johnnie too good, well don’t you know he never shirks

16 12 2009

Hate grading. Hate hate hate grading.

It’s not just the labor of it—tho’ it is also the labor of it—so much as the pointlessness of the process.

Identify this, define that, explain how this fits with that. . . oh my god, I’m falling asleep already. But don’t worry, I’ll rouse myself with coffee or beer (what the hell) and read every fucking word written before scribbling a number which just might bear some relationship to the worth of that collection of words.

Dot i’s, cross t’s, jump hoops, student and teacher alike. You get a grade, I get a paycheck.

So why bother with grading at all? Well, there’s that matter of the student needing a grade and my desire for that paycheck.

Practicalities, in other words.

Please don’t think that, if I had my druthers, I’d abandon all work requirements for the students. If you are not a prodigy or genius and you want to learn, you have to work. (And if you are a prodigy or genius and you want to be good, you have to work.)

The problem is that the work required for learning is only approximated by the work required for grading, and often, not even that.

I shape and cut and alter the course requirements, but, in the end, what I grade only partially captures what they learn, and, for that matter, what they haven’t learned.

A big part of the problem, perhaps even the main problem, is that most students don’t much care about learning. They care about grades, yes, performance, at times, but learning? Mm, no.

How do I know this? Besides the dearth of students who visit me during office hours to discuss the material, or who approach me wanting help puzzling through a problem I posed, or who show any energy at all in class or in the written work? Besides the slack look on their faces when I ask them the most basic questions about the material? Besides the utter lack of interest in finding their own way into the material?

Simple: because every once in a while, one of them does learn something, and he or she is overwhelmed—because they don’t expect to learn.

Understand? They don’t expect to learn, so when it does happen—when an insight or a question percolates up and into their consciousness—they are visibly giddy or discombobulated or even scared. I never knew. . . .Is this real. . .  ? How could this be. . . ?

I’m not exaggerating. I’ve had students stand in front of me with their mouths opening and closing  and their eyes wide and darting as they attempt to corral this feeling into words. They are agape in the presence of knowledge.

I let them work their ways through it, tell them they have something real, and that they should do whatever they can to make sense, that I will help them to make sense.

It doesn’t always work. You can see them back down, or let it go, or watch as they’re distracted by other matters.

But even then, with those who seem to have tossed their insights aside, you can see an angle to their thoughts, and you know it’s still in there, somewhere.

There’s no way to capture that, that abashed curiosity, in a grade. On the margins, maybe, but in the main? No.

This is why I hate grading. This is why I love teaching.





Yesterday’s a day away

7 09 2009

It’s about time.

All those boxes of files, the folders full of print outs of journal articles, cut-outs from newspapers, clippings from The New Yorker and The Nation, transcripts from The NewsHour (and before, the MacNeill/Lehrer NewsHour), Gina Kolata and Elizabeth Farnsworth and Lawrence Wright. Time to go.

Start easy: start with the ‘Media/Polls’ box. There’s only one of those, and you know you want to get rid of those, right? You haven’t looked at its contents in six years, not since you left Montreal, not since you threw a shovelful of dirt over the remains of your academic career and lit out for your life.

One box, shouldn’t take long. One less to cart to wherever it is you’ll go next. And it’s on your list.

The first folder: ‘Media–to be filed’. What? I thought these were mostly polls, old and outdated and easily disposed of, save for pulling out the staples or off the binder clips and reshuffling the paper for reuse as the back end of lecture notes. Gallup and Roper and whatnot.

But here’s a piece by Sallie Tisdale, and another by Annie Dillard and another by an old colleague, Carl Elliott. Carefully annotated with publication date, volume, number. Haven’t read any of these likely since I yanked them out of Harper’s and The Atlantic 7, 8, 12 years ago.

Next up: Cloning. All the Times‘ pieces, the television transcripts. Here are a few pieces by Leon Kass, my Pilot-penned scrawls arguing with him in the margins.

Here is the stillborn promise of books never to be written, articles never to be submitted. Here is my dead career, never carefully tended, finally abandoned to die, mummified in filed slices.

And my career as an academic is dead, no question about it. Oh, I stroll through the cemetery regularly as an adjunct, but ‘adjunct’ is just another term for dead-end job.

I know this. I know this. I knew what I was doing six years ago, even if I didn’t know the consequences of what I was doing, even if I had no idea what I was doing. Still, I knew that the slow climb from assistant to associate to full professor was not for me, that I would not end an emeritus.

Even now that I know the consequences, I can’t say I was wrong to have dropped off the tenure track. Sure, I might even have managed the climb, secured myself in some out-of-the-way department somewhere, but it wouldn’t have been my life. A role, only.

It will be good for me, finally, to have finished with these files, to have disarticulated the stories and narratives within. But I know they meant something, once, that they mattered, once, and it grieves me to put it all behind me.

I will feel lighter, when I am done, however heavy I feel now.

Lighter, yes.








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