Come put out your eyes

2 07 2019

University websites are of the devil.

One of my on-again off-again jobs requires me to find information on college and university websites (those offering associates and up only), which means that over the years I’ve probably looked at every single one of those websites (3000+) at least once, and a fair number, two or three times.

It sucks dirt.

Community colleges tend to be less awful, i.e., more straightforward. Maybe they have less money to throw at “innovative” designs, or maybe the people in charge of the website have less patience for bullshit, or maybe the would-be students of those institutions have somehow convinced the site designers to just give out the information already.

Elite schools, arts schools, and small liberal-arts “name” schools are often the worst offenders. Oh, here’s a website that will open with a series of scrolling images and rah-rah pull-quotes and advertising copy. Maybe there will be links to Degrees and Admissions and whatnot in a taskbar, maybe those links pop out at the menu icon, but once you click on the desired link, you are welcomed to a whole new set of scrolling images and rah-rah pull-quotes and advertising copy.

Oh, and blog posts, because of course you, a prospective student, want to read what’s happenin’! at Admissions.

You think I’m exaggerating? I am not. Consider Johns Hopkins University. Go ahead, click on the link.

Now tell me, how long does it take you to find what are the requirements for admission as an undergrad?

You can find the link either at the icon or on the bottom, which then takes you to a page which requires you to click either undergrad (with a separate link to the Peabody Institute—good luck if you don’t already know that that’s the place for performing arts) or grad, then, when you click on undergrad, you get this:

You think, Huh, I might want to apply, so let’s hit “Application Process”, then scroll down a bit to find this:

Nifty, you think. Now, what are the GPA requirements? What scores do I need for the SAT and ACT? Oh, look there’s a link to “Deadlines and requirements”:

Huh. A list of deadlines. . . wait, here’s this illustration-quote-thing:

Excellent! Just what I want. . . oh, this is just an image, I can’t click on it for more information.

Well, there is at least a link to “Standardized Test Information”, which, hmm, tells me how to submit my scores, what JHU will do with them, how they’ll calculate repeat test submissions—which is useful, yeah, but since I don’t know what the cut-offs are, how do I know whether or not to retake?


Okay, I see, there’s an FAQ link up near the top: that oughta tell me something, yes?


All rightly, then, let’s just click on every damned link on the Admissions page. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.

Ah, here’s something useful, via Discover JHU/Get the Facts: a snapshot of the Class of 2022, which includes “middle 50th percentile” SAT & ACT scores. Okay! If I’m above those numbers, I should be good, right? And maybe take again if I’m way under. . . ? What about slightly under?

I can at least find out how much everything (tuition, housing, etc) costs: just a hair under 75 grand for on-campus students, about 70Gs for off-campus.

Well, then.

I pick on Johns Hopkins because a) I had to try to find information on their website today and am thus still irritated, many hours later; and b) for a non-artsy school, it’s one of the worst.

I have nothing against Johns Hopkins as a university—it’s a very good school—but if I were some first-generation-college kid from podunk Wisconsin trying to figure out whether I should take a shot at applying to it? Fuh-getit.

That might be the point—they only want students who don’t actually need to use the website for information—but I doubt it. I think the site was designed by people who think, Ooh, this’ll look good on a phone or tablet or whatever, who like how clever/inspirational/creative it all is, but who haven’t a clue how people who haven’t a clue how universities work might actually want to use their site.

Now, it’s possible that this does work for some subset of students, and that admissions counselors are available to fill in all of the blanks, but, man, it is also possible that this joint would intimidate someone into not even bothering to contact that counselor.

(I know, in fairness I should do my alma mater. I have no faith that it will actually be good, but, sheesh, it can’t be worse than JHU.)

Having done this job, I know too much how colleges and universities are organized to have a good sense of how an undergraduate might navigate the site for information—do they know that the bulk of undergrad programs would be in a college of arts & sciences or liberal arts? do they understand general education or core requirements?—but I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re almost as useless for current as for prospective students.

And faculty? Staff? Ha, right.

So, I gotta ask: if these sites are garbage for prospective and current students, for faculty and staff, then just who in the hell are they for?


Give a little bit

18 11 2015

There are days I’d like to get paid for writing, and days when I’m glad I don’t.

The past coupla’ days, I’m glad for the not-paid, because as someone who is not-paid for her writing, I’m under no obligation to give a HOTTAKE on the Yale, the University of Missouri, political correctness, illiberal liberals, Paris, Beirut, terrorism, or refugees.

Still, I’m willing to offer up a few warmed-over thoughts on the topics listen above:

*Yale: I could give a shit what’s happening at Yale, or any of the Ivies. It’s not that I think no one should care, but that I don’t.

*Mizzou, political correctness, illiberal liberals: I don’t know what it’s like to be a black student at a predominantly white university, but if I care about that experience—and I do—then I think I should listen to those who do know a li’l something about that topic.

This doesn’t mean I’ll agree a priori with the policy solutions suggested/demanded by those students, but that there’s nothing wrong with them either talking/shouting about those experiences or suggesting/demanding policy changes.

Which is to say, I view this as a political argument, and there’s nothing illegitimate with partisans taking their own side in that argument in such a way that challenges the preexisting norms of political argumentation (which are themselves the product of such argumentation).

Translated, this means that the liberal norms of how political discourse is to proceed are themselves shot through with political values. There’s nothing necessarily wrong or nefarious about value-laden rules, nor is there necessarily anything wrong or nefarious with challenging the values or the rules.

Such challenges can be irksome to those who think the rules sacrosanct or constitutive of the content of political discourse itself, just as it can be irksome to those making a particular argument to be told that their particular mode of argument-making is against the rules.

That’s politics, not the end of the world.

On a more personal note, I think there is some value to liberal norms of discourse, and that such norms can themselves accommodate apparently or even actually illiberal arguments, which is to say, partisans get to take their own sides.

There are all sorts of caveats, nuances, etc., to this interpretation, but my main sense that this is politics, and not a sign of the apocalypse, holds.

*Okay, I care a little about what happens at Yale, but that’s in spite of it happening at Yale.

*I have nothing new to say about the bombings in Paris, Beirut, and elsewhere, beyond an expression of horror, dismay, and sorrow.

As I’ve previously said, I doubt there’s one cool trick one can try to shed those unwanted terrorists, that terrorist networks might be comparable to organized crime networks, and that, like those organized crime networks, they will be difficult to root out—by whatever means.

*I think the U.S. should not only take the 10,000 Syrian refugees, I’d be fine with New York taking all 10,000.

I mean, the only downside is that we already have a housing crunch, but—and I am being serious here—if there were room in my apartment building, I’d say, Come on in!

Not to move into my apartment, I hasten to add. I do need my space.

But if I wouldn’t be your roomie, I’d gladly be your neighbor.

Talking ’bout what everybody’s talkin ’bout

27 01 2015

There’s an awful lot of shit about which I have opinions (informed and otherwise) that I think about writing about but end up not writing about because I am lazy and I’d rather not write uninformed thoughts which others who are informed have said better but mostly, mostly, because blogging is not my job.

It’s too bad, in some ways, because I’d really like (but not enough to do much about: lazy) to write for a rent check or two, but in other ways, saves me—mainly, from having to have an opinion about what everyone else is opining about. I get to say ehhhhh. . . in response to GamerGate or the NYPD or what that one guy said that time about a thing.

Again, I have opinions oozin’ out me pores, but most I get to save for an enjoyable session of barstool bullshitting rather than having to labor to turn them into something coherent enough for a blog.

No, that may not be a high standard, but it’s one I try (most days) to reach.

Anyway, all of this is a prelude to/apology for commenting on the the Jonathan Chait anti-p.c. piece. It’s not very good, but it is long, so. . . there’s that. Jia Tolentino, Amanda Marcotte, Angus Johnston, and Lee Papa all have good responses, so in the spirit of laziness non-repetition, I, uh, won’t repeat their arguments.

But, in the spirit of value-added, I will, uh, add this: JESUSHCHRISTTHISISSOOLD STOP STOP STOP!

Not enough value? How about: this whole p.c. thing has been around for so long—not the twenty years Chait complains about, but at least thirty—and that’s just using the term “politically correct”: as Erik Loomis pointed out on another LG&M thread, “such circular firing squads have existed for the entire history of the left.”

And yeah, the p.c. of my experience was indeed a lefty phenom—a term used by some leftists (who needed to work  or sleep or go to class and thus couldn’t turn out for every fucking rally) to mock those who’d condescend to those who needed to work or sleep or go to class and thus couldn’t turn out for every fucking rally as insufficiently committed to The Cause (it doesn’t matter which one), and who (the condescenders, not the rent-payers) didn’t shower, to boot, and. . . where was I?

(Can you tell this is a post written under the influence of Wonkette?)

Oh, yes: it was a term of mockery of the left-pure by the impure-left.

Guess which side I was on?

At some point, apparently, “p.c.” became a sincere rather than a snarky tag on the left, which was unfortunate, as it allowed those on the right to pick up those snarky remains, rearrange them, and turn what had been a dart into an axe. Good for them, I guess.

In any case, I don’t want to criticize the sincerity of those who worry about microagressions or trigger warnings or whatnot, but, like Papa, I don’t have much use for those worries, either. I also don’t see the problem with having some folks worry about microagressions and trigger warnings and whatnot, because sometimes the folks who worry about things which are often dismissed are right to say, “hey, wait a minute!”

And, yes, sometimes they’re wrong, and when they’re wrong, one has the option of ignoring them or refuting them or mocking them—just as the worriers have the option of ignoring or refuting or mocking the dismissers.

This is what the bloggers, above, note—so, yes, I guess I did repeat what they have to say. But I also want to extend this, to note two more things:

1. A lot of this is coming out of campuses and college-age students, which is unsurprising.

College is the time of boundary-setting and boundary-trespass in terms of ideas and identities, and often in quite extreme ways. This is the age and the setting in which someone can be utterly and completely given over to a cause (of whatever sort) and, importantly, find that cause in common with others.

You can be passionate and not alone, and for a fair number of students, this is the first time in their lives that they don’t have to choose between the two.

That’s an astonishing moment, a kind of coming-into-oneself during which one is finally free to see where and how far she can go. After a time, some of us go through this moment, some go too far into or beyond it, and some, having found themselves in that moment, decide to remain right there.

Most, I think, pass through in some way or another—grow up, sell out, burn out, whatever—so freaking out about twenty-year-olds freaking out about boundaries—their own and others’—is pretty much akin to Grandpa Simpson yelling at clouds.

2. To extend something which Tolentino, et. al.  point toward: a lot of those bitching about the p.c. boundary patrol are often powerful in the ways that the patrollers themselves are not.

Chait worked for The New Republic and now works for New York Magazine. Hanna Rosin writes for The Atlantic and Slate, and Sullivan, well, is Sullivan. They get to be irked by others taking issue with their words—who isn’t?—but to say there’s a right way and a wrong way to criticize is its own form of boundary patrol, and one most often deployed by those with more power against those with less power.

This is something which staunch free speech advocates (and it’s always “staunch”, isn’t it? never “rigid” or “unbending”)—and, sure, I’ll count myself among them—too often overlook in their defense of words: that words matter.

Of course, they get that “words matter”—hence the defense of words—but words can have more or less juice to them, depending upon who’s speaking or writing them. Pointing out microagressions or tone policing might be annoying as all get out, but they’re also ways to poke holes in those juiced-up words, to drain them of a bit of their power.

Or, more to the point, to poke holes in those who supply the juice, to drain them of a bit of their power—over others.

Again, annoying (especially if you don’t recognize yourself as having power over others) but not illegitimate on its face. It is, in fact, a fight about the rules of the fight, which those who are used to setting the rules would rather not have—and certainly not with such ardent critics.

And, again, as a tits-forward kinda gal and a rigid free-speecher, I think there are all kinds of criticisms to be made of p.c. policing, and all kinds of arguments to be made in favor of loose words.

But you can’t just bitch about having to make those arguments—you gotta actually make ’em.


*h/t Scott Lemieux and TBogg

Why can’t we be friends

13 10 2013

I’m not friends with my students.

Friendly—yes, but hanging out with them, exchanging casual e-mails and texts, inviting them to read this blog? No.

I’m not opposed to becoming friends with students, but it’s not something I look for, and, pretty clearly, not something my students are looking for. Perhaps had I remained at a more traditional university, one in which the students were not so clearly focused on the vocational aspects of their education, I might have had more students who wanted to hang out and talk theory, which in turn might have led to friendships.

Either way, it’s fine.

I had ignored the Slate article on why befriending one’s students is a bad idea both because I haven’t and, more importantly, I thought it would be a typically bumptious Slate piece in which everything the reader thought she knew about the world is declared wrong.

So tiring, that.

But a piece highlighted by Jonathan Bernstein, in which political science professor Steve Green notes that he regularly shares bits of his life with his students, prompted me to go back and read the Slate piece. It turns out the problem is less with befriending students than with, yes, being open and friendly with them.

When students reported that their instructors engaged in a lot of sharing about their lives—particularly stories about past academic mistakes, even stories designed to stress that everyone has difficulty learning some topics—there is an immediate and negative impact on classroom attitudes. First, the students are more likely to engage in uncivil behaviors. Second, the students are less likely to see their instructors as having credibility, and the declines in instructor credibility are also associated with increases in uncivil behavior.

Slate writer Scott Jaschik notes that the study authors caution that instructor style influences 20 percent of “uncivil behavior” (packing up books early, texting), which means most of this behavior is outside of the control of the prof. Still, 20 percent ain’t beanbag, so if one wants a civil classroom, anything which detracts from credibility might work against that.

I don’t disagree with this. If one wants to establish authority in the classroom (as I most certainly do) without reverting to mere authoritarianism along the lines of “because I said so!” (as I most certainly do not), then establishing that one has the chops to stand in front of student, i.e., demonstrating one’s credibility, is the way to go. The reason you should listen to me is not because I am in charge but because I have the ability to teach you, which means you can learn something from me.

So am I wrong in thinking that telling my students, most of whom are first-generation college students from working- and lower-middle class backgrounds that I was a first-generation college student from a working-/lower-middle class background is a kind of encouragement to them? Am I demonstrating an ability to speak across apparent boundaries or am I, in transgressing those boundaries, reducing my credibility?

As Steve Greene notes, “Sharing about your personal life and sharing things that make you seen less competent are entirely different kettles of fish.” There’s also the question of whether sharing how you messed up, academically or pedagogically and then sorted it out demonstrates incompetence or competence.

Oh, and there’s the rather significant issue of the connection between uncivil behavior and learning. I have no problem believing that a student who’s texting isn’t paying attention, but is the student who isn’t texting paying attention? As for packing up books, well, that’s may be less about incivility than about needing to get to a class across campus and wanting to hit the bathroom/snack shop before that next class.

I want to be an effective teacher in a way which makes sense to me, so as a generally casual person an über-formal approach probably won’t work. I also know that the students aren’t there to learn all about me but all about the subject I’m teaching, so any storytelling ought to be minimized and only used to illustrate a pedagogical point.

Yeah, openness about oneself can go too far in terms of self-indulgence or indiscretion, but insofar as I take an open approach toward knowledge about the world, that I think that open approach is the best approach, I am skeptical that an appropriate openness with the students will cause their minds to snap shut.

When I tell my students on the first day that I don’t take myself too seriously (which is almost true) but I do take the work seriously (which is really true), I recognize that I may be sanding away some of my own authority in a way which dulls my own credibility, and thus may increase their skepticism of me.

That’s not such a bad thing: let them question me, which gives me the chance, in responding to them, to demonstrate that I do know what I’m doing, and that they might just want to follow along, to see what comes next.

We don’t need no education

24 05 2011

Pretty much says it all:

Tests for Pupils, But the Grades Go to Teachers

Published: May 23, 2011

New York City education officials are developing more than a dozen new standardized tests, but in a sign of the times, their main purpose will be to grade teachers, not the students who take them.

New York Times