Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Life Continues at Forty

GayProf’s ol’ odometer rolled over yet again this past June. At some point I expect that I will be due for a tire rotation. For those keeping tack, I have now entered the forties. Growing up, my mother had a plaque hanging in her bathroom with the phrase “Life begins at forty.” The optimistic assessment appeared juxtaposed to a lesser-known Rockwell painting showing a bored middle-aged woman sipping coffee with an inattentive husband buried in the newspaper. Less ironic than cruel it seemed to me.

Such pervasive messages about aging can really warp us. Even I, my dear and loyal readers, succumb to doubts. Then I think about where other people happen to have been in their lives at 40. It turns out that for many people life really did begin at forty. Well, except for the ones who were already dead. Their lives were never quite the same. . .

Whatever the case, as we all know, I use my birthday as a time to take stock of my life by making comparisons to others’ life journeys, real or imagined, at the same age. It is a little ritual that we have at CoG. Just play along and it will be fine.
    If I were Oscar Wilde at age 40, I would write both An Ideal Husband and The Importance of Being Earnest this year.

    If I were Zebulon Pike at age 40, I would be dead. It would have been nine years since I published my journals about being captured by Spanish authorities in New Mexico. It would have been six years since I was blown to bits in the War of 1812 at the Battle of York.

    If I were Rosalind Russell, I would make the film Mourning Becomes Electra this year. It would be another ten years before I would play Auntie Mame on Broadway.

    Should I have been born George Blanda, I would play professional football another eight years before retiring.

    If I were Malcom X, I would have died last year.

    Had I been Billie Holiday at age 40, I would be working with ghostwriter William Dufty on my autobiography Lady Sings the Blues.

    If I were Paul Walker at age 40, I would die unexpectedly in a fiery car crash.

    Mae West, at age 40, made her first two major movies She Done Him Wrong and I’m No Angel this year, both with Carey Grant.

    If I were Carey Grant at age 40, I would be starring in Arsenic and Old Lace.

    If I were Miguel A. Otero, I would be governor of New Mexico.

    If I were Will Rogers, I would be in the midst of a three-year contract with Samuel Goldwyn. It would be another three years before my syndicated column started appearing in The New York Times.

    If I were The New York Times, my headlines would include a public feud between Rear Admiral Bancroft Gerardi and Acting Rear Admiral John G. Walker in the U.S. Navy.

    If I were Pearl Bailey, I would release my album Gems by Pearl Bailey this year.

    If I were Cabeza de Vaca, I would land at Tampa Bay, Florida with the doomed Narváez expedition. Only three others of the original 600 would survive with me.

    If I were Tecumseh, this is the year that I would establish Prophetstown, My charismatic leadership would make this town into an early base for a confederation of tribes committed to challenging U.S. incursions into the Great Lakes region.

    If I were Stella Payne, this is the year that I would get my groove back.

    If I were Lorraine Hansberry, I would be dead.

    If I were the nation of Mexico, Queen Isabella II, Queen Victoria, and Napoleon III would all have signed an agreement to force me to resume my loan payments. This would start the time in my life that we would later refer to as the Second Mexican Empire.

    If I were George Eliot, I would publish my first novel, Adam Bede, this year.

    If I were Myrna Loy, this is the year that I would film The Thin Man Goes Home.

    If I were either Nick or Nora Charles, I should seriously be considering joining Alcoholics Anonymous.

    If I were Frances Drake, I would reach Sierra Leone this year.

    If I were Captain James Cook, I would be making my first voyage across the Pacific Ocean.

    If I were James T. Kirk, I would be the youngest admiral in Starfleet and the Chief of Starfleet Operations. Apparently, though, that just wouldn't be good enough for me. This is also the year that I would use the V’Ger incident as an excuse to displace William Decker as Captain of the Enterprise in a futile effort to reclaim my youth.

    If I were Elton John, I would win my libel case against The Sun for publishing stories about me paying young men for sex.

    If I were Eusebio Kino, I would abandon the Misión San Bruno in Baja California and return to Mexico City. Many indigenous people likely spent the year hosting parties as a result.

    If I were Freddie Mercury, this is the year that I would play my final live performance with Queen in Knebworth Park.

    If I were Popé, it would be five years before I would be one of 47 religious leaders arrested by Spanish authorities for “witchcraft.” It would be another ten years before I became a key leader in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

    If I were Huey Long, I would break with FDR and oppose the National Recovery Act on the grounds that it catered too much to business interests.

    If I were Álvaro Obregón, this is the year that I would become president of Mexico.

    If I were Ellen DeGeneres, my sitcom would be cancelled this year.

    If I were Emiliano Zapata, I would be dead.

    Were I to have been Mark Twain at age 40, then I would publish The Adventures of Tom Sawyer this year.

    If I were Muhammad, I would be visited by Gabriel and receive my first divine revelation.

    If I were Divine, I would be starring in Lust in the Dust this year.

    If I were Colonel Sanders, this is the year that I would start preparing fried chicken for folks who stopped at my service station in Corbin, Kentucky. It would be another few years before I perfected my herb-to-spice ratio. *cough*MSG*cough*

    At age 40, I would decide to visit my brethren, the Israelites, if I were Moses.

    If I were Andy Warhol, Valerie Solanas would shoot me.

    If I were Stan Lee, this is the year that I would create Spiderman.

    If I were Jame Michener, this is the year that I would publish Tales of the South Pacific which would inspire the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical.

    If I were Captain Jean-Luc Picard, I would be in command of the USS Stargazer. It would be another nineteen years before I took command of the Enterprise.

    If I were William T. Riker, nobody would care what I was doing at age 40. Poor Riker.

    If I were Noël Coward, I would write This Happy Breed and Present Laughter this year.

    If I were Pontiac, it would be another three years before I would attack Fort Detroit and start my eponymous war.

    If I were Mary Richards, I would have been fired from WJM-TV three years ago.

    If I were Walter Raleigh, this is the year that Elizabeth I would imprison me at the Tower of London.

    If I were Mary Tyler Moore, I would win my fifth Emmy award this year for playing Mary Richards (and the third Emmy for that role).

    If I were Harvey Milk, this is the year that I would be fired from my job as a financial analyst after protesting the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.

    If I were either Jamey Carroll or Derek Jeter at 40, I would still be playing professional baseball.

    If I were Meriwether Lewis at age 40, I would be dead. It would have been five years since I shot myself in the head . . . twice. Or somebody shot me in the head twice. We aren’t really sure what happened. My personal guess is that he suffered from an unrequited and totally gay love of Thomas Jefferson. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

    If I were fashionista, Alexander McQueen, I would die this year.

    If I were GayProf, I would be starting a year sabbatical after two years of intense departmental service.

    If I were Steve Carell, I would be appearing in Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s single-seasoned sitcom Watching Ellie. It would be another three years before I would make The 40-Year Old Virgin.

    If I were astrophysicist Donald Clayton at age forty, this is the year that I would propose that the isotopic effects of condensed anomalous dust within supernovae could be found in meteorites. – Or something – I was never good at science.

    If I were Vivian Leigh, I would suffer a major breakdown while filming Elephant Walk. I would be replaced by Elizabeth Taylor.

    If I were James Baldwin, I would join marchers in Selma, Alabama demanding justice.

    If I were Tennessee Williams, this is the year my play The Rose Tattoo would appear on Broadway.

    If I were Marlo Thomas, I would star in It Happened One Christmas, a remake of It’s a Wonderful Life. I would make a subtle political statement by taking over the Jimmy Stewart role with Cloris Leachman taking up the task of being my guardian angel.

    If I were Katherine Hepburn, I would make my fourth film with Spencer Tracey, the forgettable The Sea of Grass.

    If I were either of my parents at age 40, I would have three children. The oldest, now twenty, would have moved out of the house. The youngest would be thirteen.

    If I were Jaclyn Smith, I would star in the film Deja Vu.

    If I were Dolly Parton, this is the year that I would purchase the obscure theme park Silver Dollar City and rename it Dollywood.

    If I were William Clark, this is the year that I would complete my comprehensive map of the West. It would become the standard reference for a quarter century as trappers, traders, scientists, and other U.S. citizens became increasing interlopers on other people’s lands.

    If I were Jesus, I would have been dead for seven years.

    If I were Farrah Fawcett, I would star in Poor Little Rich Girl: The Barbara Hutton Story.

    If I were Paul Lynde, this is the year I would first appear as the prankster warlock Uncle Arthur on Bewitched.

    If I were Cher at age 40, this is the year that I would stun viewers of the Academy Awards with my Bob Mackie original. It would be another two years before I would win an Oscar for Moonstruck.

    If I were Kate Jackson, I would star in the quickly cancelled sitcom Baby Boom this year.

    If I were Jonathan Swift, I would be in London advocating for the government to provide the same subsidy to Church of Ireland clerics as it did for the Church of England. It would be another fifteen years before I would pen Gulliver’s Travels.

    If I were Wonder Woman, I would age another 2,451 years before joining Patriarch’s world to fight crime.

Monday, April 28, 2014

University Admini-o-crats

Over the past year, Big Midwestern University (BMU) has faced so many revelations and scandals that I half expected to see Kerry Washington lurking about the campus. All the elements that have played out would probably wake Nixon from the grave: stonewalling (university) presidents, leaked documents, budget smoke-and-mirrors, and even FOIA requests from faculty members like myself. Heck, if this level of intrigue keeps up, I am going to have to buy more trenchcoats.

BMU’s scandals have left us with the unsavory realization that a tier of for-hire consultants and professional administrators have finagled themselves into institutions of higher education. These are not faculty administrators, but rather companies and individuals who have found a way to profit from institutions of higher learning. Let’s call these folks admini-o-crats to distinguish them from actual faculty administrators. Admini-o-crats often manufacture a crisis just so that they can deploy their “expertise” as a solution. All the while they quietly siphon public funds into their own bottomless pockets.

Years of neglect and poor choices by the upper-level faculty administrators and a dozing board of regents essentially gave admini-o-crats a free hand over our campus. They arrived with a smile on their face and a promise to solve our shrinking resources by running BMU like a private corporation. The most recent yield from that practice has been nine months of faculty, staff, and student alienation around issues of labor, diversity, and fiscal management. Never have I been a part of a campus with such a low sense of morale. Our president’s reputation has crashed faster than a government sponsored health care web-page.

Things really started to unravel for her at the start of the academic year when her personal slate of admini-o-crats unveiled a master plan which they had euphemistically named the Administrative Services Transformation (AST). The titular “transformation” promised to change the most underpaid and undervalued workers on campus into easy scapegoats who could be sacrficed to show the administration’s toughness on budget issues. AST issued over a hundred notices to departmental staff across campus that their position had been eliminated. Most of these notices went to employees who were women clerical workers over the age of 40. Though many of them had literally given decades of service to the university for already unfairly low compensation, the admini-o-crats now labeled them as “bloat” and “redundant.” Few took solace in the university’s offer that they could apply for exciting new jobs in a centralized “shared services” center that would be located far off campus. Think of it as a glorified call center where faculty members would send HR and accounting requests without being troubled by the idea that a real person was actually doing labor.

My goddess, the faculty did not take kindly to the admini-o-crats dehumanizing their staff colleagues by referring to them merely as a set of “processes.” Dozens of letters of protest emerged from departments across the campus. The Faculty Senate and the LSA Faculty both called for an immediate halt. Our president, fully ensconced in a circle of admini-o-crats, at first ignored the growing unhappiness on campus. Ultimately, when she had no other choice, she deigned to respond to our very real concerns for our staff colleagues and the harm that AST would bring to individual departments. Her response made clear just what she thought of the faculty on her campus. She used a language and approach that made us out to be misbehaving five-year olds. AST would proceed, she more-or-less stated, “Because I said so.” Merciful Minerva!

It turns out that BMU has paid $11.7 million dollars (and counting) to the for-hire consulting company Accenture LLP for this little gem of a plan. Accenture’s salesmen appear to be ingratiating themselves with university presidents across the nation, including in Texas and California. Are you yet unfamiliar with Accenture? They are a global “advising” corporation spun off from their parent company, Andersen Consulting. Yep, the same Arthur Andersen involved oh-so-directly in the Enron scandal. Ain’t that a nice pedigree to invite onto your campus to manage tuition and state funds?

As far as I can discern, Accenture’s business model centers on chasing down ever possible public dollar to add to its private coffer. In exchange for BMU’s $11.7 million dollars, Accenture promised to return savings of $17 million/year. But, gosh, even as the notices of termination arrived to the targeted staff members, they were already acknowledging that they might have miscalculated those promised savings just a bit. By October of this past year, they scaled back those estimates to $5 million. Wait – Did they say $5 million? Maybe those numbers, they recently acknowledged, were skewed as well. Now the admini-o-crats in charge of AST flatly refuse to discuss numbers entirely. If asked directly (and I have), they meekly claim that they are pretty sure that AST will save BSU something . . . well, mostly sure . . . well. . . It’s not too hard to think that the board of regents and the president have signed up for a boondoggle that makes the Teapot Dome Scandal look like a trip to the gas station.

Faculty members continued to educate themselves about how this might have come into play. We were spurred on by a leaked details about the key admini-o-crat in charge of AST. Before joining BMU’s payroll, it turns out that this particular admini-o-crat took home a pay check from none other than Accenture. (Cue dramatic music and raised eyebrows). In addition to a remarkably generous salary of over $300,000, BMU also gave this admini-o-crat undisclosed bonus pay in the ballpark of another $100,000. In other words, this one admini-o-crat alone took home the annual salary of eight (8) regular staff members who had been targeted in the AST debacle. Faculty might not be fancy accountants, as the president points out, but it sure does seem like cost savings could be attained more easily if we trimmed the salaries and bonuses of folks at the top. Fortunately for us this particular admini-o-crat saw the writing on the wall moved off to peddle his financial snake oil at another institution. My sympathies to them.

More digging showed that the upper levels of the administration, starting at the CFO’s office, have developed a culture of giving each other enormous salaries and unregulated bonuses while starving the rest of the campus. Since this bonus pay was not considered part of their base salary, the administration did not have to provide these amounts in its public publishing of salaries. Thus the need for FOIA requests to find out just what was going on with all this unregulated pay. Over the past nine years, the amount of money spent on “additional pay” (read: bonuses) has grown from $13 million annually to $46 million annually. That would be in addition to the fact that the top base pay of our top administrators appears to be 30 percent (or more) higher than our peer institutions. Suddenly the president has started claiming that institutions that we use as peers to evaluate faculty scholarship really aren’t our peers at all when it comes to the administration’s compensation.

Top administrators, like their corporate equivalents, have justified their own large salaries and unregulated bonuses through an argument that they must pay for “talent.”
Such arguments strike me as suspect for a number of reasons. Most obviously, the market for top university administrators is a fairly closed one. With a finite number of institutions in the nation, we might well imagine that the number of qualified administrators outnumber the positions available at those institutions. Instead of a rational effort to hire administrators at solid salaries, universities have entered into a bizarre economic cold war where they hope to outspend the others in a futile effort to avoid the stark reality that we are all on the edge of financial ruin. So too does such an argument about talent presume that the individual workers on the lower levels of the university lack skills or talent worthy of adequate compensation or respect.

I do believe that universities like BMU indeed face tough economic circumstances that require real decisions about budget cuts. Greedy state legislatures favor tax breaks over financing public institutions. These short-sighted slashes in funding combined with a nationally ballooning student debt will inevitably cripple higher education across the nation unless we reform. Our experience at BMU, however, points to a basic question of shared values in how we will address those economic challenges. The admini-o-crats’ claims that AST is the right type of belt-tightening would appear laughable if it had not involved real working people’s livelihoods. As one last surprise twist to the story, our CFO recently announced that he would become the President of the University of Phoenix. Perhaps that proved the most telling sign of just how far off BMU had drifted from its mission. Rather than being a place where administrators worked hard to protect education and research, we allowed a legion of admini-o-crats to turn BMU into an educational McDonald's.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Baby, If You've Ever Wondered

Another year has elapsed in the adventures of GayProf. We are starting the end of my thirties and it ain't pretty, people. Fortunately, I was able to have per-celebrations visiting VUBOQ and his Amazing Friends. There was much eating and drinking and climbing of broken escalators.

Apparently the Supreme Court also decided to give me an early gift by declaring me almost-human. Well, almost-human as long as my home state's legislature or court thinks of me as such. Whatever the case, as we all know, I use my birthday as a time to take stock of my life by making comparisons to others’ life journeys, real or imagined, at the same age. It is a little macabre habit tired gimmick ritual that I have. I’m not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

    If I were Andy Travis at age 39, it would have been six years since I moved to Cincinnati, Ohio from my hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

    If I were Dolly Parton at 39, I would contradictorily record two songs entitled “Real Love” and “Don’t Call It Love" this year.

    If I were Paul Lynde at age 39, this is the year I would make my first appearance in the television show Bewitched. My role was not Uncle Arthur (which I would originate at age 40), but rather the outlandishly mortal Harold Harold who attempts to teach Samantha how to drive a car.

    If I were Mr. Carlson, it would be another five years before I hired Andy Travis as Program Director of WKRP.

    If I were Paula Deen, I would be a racist idiot.

    If I were either of my parents at age 39, I would have three children. The oldest would be nineteen and the youngest would be twelve.

    If I were Oscar Wilde, this is the year I would produce my play A Woman of No Importance.

    If I were Lyle Waggoner, this is the year that I would leave The Carol Burnett Show to play the role of Wonder Woman’s boyfriend, Steve Trevor. Aside: The realization that I was the same age as Steve Trevor sorta made me feel better about aging.

    If I were Harvey Milk, this is the year that I would move to San Francisco for the first time.

    If I were Che Guevara, I would be executed this year after failing to incite revolution in Bolivia.

    If I were Dick Sargent, this is the year I would replace Dick York as Darrin Stephens in the television show Bewitched. Apparently, Elizabeth Montgomery liked to hang around the gays. I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'.

    If I were Les Nessman, I would have met Andy Travis last year. Aside: The realization that I was the same age as Les sorta made me want to kill myself.

    If I were Adam West, this would be my last year playing Batman. I would, however, continue to do the Batusi on demand.

    If I were Venus Flytrap, it would have been ten years since Andy Travis convinced me to quit my job as a science teacher and become a DJ.

    If I were Marylin Monroe, I would have been dead for three years.

    If I were Miguel Antonio Otero II, I would have been governor of New Mexico for two years.

    If I were Mary Richards, I would have been fired from WJM-TV two years ago.

    If I were Johnny Fever, Andy Travis would have freed me from playing music by the Hallelujah Tabernacle Choir in order to play rock’n’roll last year.

    If I were Jesus, I would have been dead for six years.

    Anna Nicole Smith died at age 39.

    If I were Pearl Bailey, it would have been ten years since I appeared in Variety Girl with Bob Hope.

    If were Leonardo DiCaprio, this is the year I would bore audiences with yet another film version of The Great Gatsby.

    Activist Harry Hay officially launched the gay-rights group known as the Mattachine Society at age 39. Given it was 1951, he was considered quite daring.

    If I were Sofia Vergara, this is the year I would be voted the “most desirable woman”.

    If I were Billie Holiday, this is the year that I would first tour Europe and release my LP Billie Holiday for Clef Records.

    If I were Alois Schicklgruber, this is the year that I would change my surname to “Hitler.” It would be another 13 years before the birth of my evil-incarnate son Adolf.

    If I were Audrey Hepburn, this is the year that I would marry Italian psychiatrist Andrea Dotti.

    If I were Dinah Washington, a.k.a. “Queen of the Blues”, I would die of an accidental overdose of sleeping pills in my Detroit home this year.

    If I were Jennifer Marlow, nobody would know my age by my own design.

    If I were Octavio Ambrosio Larrazolo, I would be practicing law in Las Vegas, New Mexico. It would be another twenty years before I would be the first elected Mexican American governor in the United States.

    If I were Jenny McCarthy, this is they year I would pose for Playboy. Everyone else would wonder how I ever became famous in the first place.

    If I were GayProf, I would be under the delusion that people still know this blog exists.

    Jaclyn Smith at 39 was reigning as the “Queen of Television Mini-Movie” by starring in both George Washington and The Night They Saved Christmas.

    If I were Kate Jackson, I would be diagnosed with a malignant tumor after my first ever mammogram. It would be my last year as one of the titular characters in Scarecrow and Mrs. King.

    If I were Cher, I would have created the film production company Isis and filmed one of my most memorable roles as Florence “Rusty” Dennis in the movie Mask at age 39.

    If I were Jacqueline Kennedy, this is the year that I would become Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.

    If I were Barbie, I would become a Nascar driver this year because, why not?

    If I were Spartacus star Andy Whitfield, I would die this year of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

    If I were Franklin D. Roosevelt at age 39, this is the year I would contract my paralytic illness.

    If I were Farrah Fawcett, I would win critical acclaim for my acting in the film Extremities.

    If I were Wonder Woman, I would age another 2,452 years before joining Patriarch’s world to fight crime.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I Have Always Depended on the Kindness of Internet Strangers

Greetings! Over the past weekend, I jetted to an island other than Paradise for an academic conference. It was my good fortune to be on a panel with academic blogging true believers. Historiann exchanged her rusty spurs for a series of fabulous sun dresses; Tenured Radical rabble roused among the virtual; the Madwoman with a Laptop proved once and for all that her authorial prowess was not dependent on channeling a dead canine; and the Woman Formally Known as Goose (WFKG) served as the most delightful of mistresses of ceremonies. The panel, in other words, was filled with the cool.

It came at the right moment for me – and, let’s be honest, it’s always about me in the end. I had been wondering for quite a bit of time what CoG’s future might be. It has been a bit like CoG was my child. Only ze dropped out of college and has been holding up in my basement sneaking joints and watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory. My participation forced CoG into the light of day and to rejoin society. It also marked a new step for this ol’ blog. It meant that I relinquished the last vestiges of pseudonymity and “owned” it professionally. For the first time something related to the blog will appear on my c.v. Here is an image from our panel:

I'll leave it to you to figure out which one of the others wore the silver jumpsuit. *cough* TR *cough*

I had to think hard about whether to let go of my Diana Prince alter ego. With Cheetah and Giganta on the prowl, one can never be too careful. Over time, however, my pseudonym had become harder and harder to maintain. The blog occupied an uncertain place as more people came to know of it. At some point, it became awkward that half of my friends knew of the blog and half did not. So, too, I always wondered if any academics at my usual conferences ever stumbled upon CoG.
I felt like I was in the blogging closet and all my star-spangled panties were hanging around me.
As it turns out, my anonymity could be purchased for a price. That price was a trip to an island with tremendous historical significance for Spanish and U.S. imperialism. Or maybe, even more cheaply, I was lured by the fact that the conference hotel promised Piña Coladas so good that Joan Crawford once proclaimed them more enjoyable than slapping Bette Davis in the face. On the latter I cannot say; however, having sampled the drink in question, I would say that if I were a Joan Crawford dragqueen, I would probably take the swing.* I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’.

Let me tell you, too, that these blogging folks can be a persuasive crew. After a few drinks with Madwoman, TR, WFKG, and a delightful Yale postdoc, they convinced me to do things that I never imagined doing. No, not tequila shots via a congo line (although. . .). Rather, I opened a Twitter account.** Man, what did they put in those drinks?

All and all, the conference required me to ask just what have we been up to on this blog since 2005? Anonymously complaining about bad behavior in academia can be as fun as slapping Bette Davis in the face (Or so I am told). It becomes much harder to write about your colleagues’ shenanigans, though, if they have you in their RSS feed. So, what can academic blogs do other than pointing out our foibles?

I found myself disarmed that so many conference participants approached me through the weekend to say they were surprised that I was part of the“Digital Humanities.” So was I. Given that I am more than a bit dense, I had never contemplated that CoG was a version of that. It was a bit like finding out that I had secret skills as a dentist that I performed only while sleepwalking. Of course, to make that analogy work for CoG, it would be like finding out I was a dentist who left people with gaping, bleeding gums thanks to my less than skillful orthodontics.

The conference made me reminisce about when the little bloggy started. Then again, I have always been prone to nostalgia. I am a professional historian after all. My blog began at a pretty low point in my personal and professional life. The truly loyal readers out there will remember that many of the early posts conveyed self pity deep bitterness my reflections on a remarkably acrimonious break up with somebody who was truth challenged. My tenuous (and not tenured) position in a poisonously contentious department in the middle of TexAss only compounded those woes. From its start, then, the blog always had a certain messiness that blurred the personal and professional in ways that did not make me as wise as Athena. Well, if the blog’s author is a bit of mess, why wouldn’t the blog be one too? The blog became really important to me to combat the personal and professional isolation that I felt in East Texas. I did not have many other gay folks with whom to hang or other Chicano/a historians with whom to chat. Thank the goddess that those times have past. I will always remember, though, and be really grateful for the generosity of bloggers like Helen the Felon, Dorian, Joe.My.God, Tornwordo, VUBOQ, and others who reached out through cold dark cyberspace to be kind. Some are now famous, some faded. Whatever the case, I’m not sure I ever properly thanked them.

Thinking about the blog and hanging out with cool bloggeres reminded me that I still love the genre after all these years. Blogging offers tantalizing opportunities for us to write frankly about things that we see transpiring both in our immediate contexts and in the larger media. That type of writing does not necessarily align with my professional publishing trajectory as a nineteenth-century historian, but it sure is fun. So much so, I just might dust off those old comic books once more. . .

* For the record, GayProf does not endorse such violence.
** For the record, Historiann does not endorse the tweeting.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The CoG Best Sellers List

Time sure is flying. With the start of the semester, I barely have time to read blogs much less write one. Apparently I am not alone in being in such a time crunch. It seems that the President is so busy that he doesn’t even have time to do those little things, like send flowers to Michele for their anniversary or prepare for a nationally televised debate. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’. . .

The good news from GayProflandia is that NERPoD is having some modest success in terms of sales. Have you purchased your copy yet? It is also available for your nook or kindle.I'm not sayin', I'm just sayin'. . .

Of course, no academic book can compete with the dozens of political tell-alls or "road maps to political oblivion" that appear each election cycle. All of this political publishing has me thinking about one of my favorite recurring features on CoG: The Best and Worst Seller List. Allow me to help you navigate which books would be likely to fly off the shelves and which would be reduced to the bargain bin.

    Best Seller: Occupy Sesame Street, by Big Bird

    Bargain Bin: Mr. Snuffleupagus is Real, George W. Bush

    Bargain Bin: Horse Dressage is More Interesting than My Husband and Other Regrets, by Ann Romney

    Best Seller: The Horrors of Horse Dressage, by Ann Romney’s Horse

    Best Seller: Who Lets These People Have Pets?: An Argument for Stricter Pet Adoption Laws, by Seamus Romney

    Best Seller: Blogging for Career Success! by Historiann and Tenured Radical

    Bargain Bin: Blogging for Career Success! by GayProf

    Bargain Bin: My Indian Heritage, by Elizabeth Warren

    Bargain Bin: My Mexican Heritage, by George Romney

    Bargain Bin: Tastes Like Type II Diabetes: Favorite Southern Recipes, by Paula Dean

    Bargain Bin: Tastes Like Hate: Favorite Chic-fil-a Recipes, by Dan Cathy

    Bargain Bin: Tastes Like Gerrymandering: Favorite Recipes for a Republican Victory, by Republican Controlled Legislatures

    Best Seller: A Bunny’s Tale: My Time as a Playboy Cocktail Waitress, by Gloria Steinem

    Bargain Bin: A Dumb Bunny’s Tale: My Time as a Cosmo Centerfold, by Scott Brown

    Bargain Bin: Union Busting Ain’t Just for Republicans Anymore, by Rohn Emanuel

    Best Seller: Not Enough Money in the World: A Fair Salary for Teaching Your Spoiled Brats, by School Teachers Everywhere

    Bargain Bin: Basic Female Biology, by Todd Aiken

    Bargain Bin: Smart and Fair Immigration Reform in Arizona, by Jan Brewer

    Best Seller: My Secret Life as a Podling, by Jan Brewer

    Bargain Bin: Say Anything: My New Plan to Get the Votes of the Despicable Leeches Who Compose 47 Percent of the Nation’s Population, by Mitt Romney

    Best Seller: We’re Not That Stupid, by 47 Percent of the Nation’s Population

    Best Seller: Hope and Change, by Barack Obama, 2008

    Bargain Bin: Lowered Expectations and the Status Quo, by Barack Obama, 2012

    Best Seller: The People Have Spoken and Now the People Must Suffer, by Hillary Rodham Clinton, 2008

    Best Seller: My Life in Pictures, by Michelle Obama

    Bargain Bin: My Life in Pictures, by Chris Christie

    Bargain Bin: Fifty Shades of Crazy, by Michele Bachmann

    Best Seller: Tips and Tricks for Being an Effective Public Speaker, by Bill Clinton

    Bargain Bin: Cigar Aficionado, by Bill Clinton

    Best Seller: Where Am I?, by Apple iPhone 5 Users

    Bargain Bin: Where Am I?, by Jim Lehrer

    Bargain Bin: The Gym is My Closet, by Paul Ryan *cough* What? How else do you explain a self-proclaimed "devout Catholic" with only three children? Either he is risking eternal damnation by using birth control or . . . I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’. . .

    Best Seller: No Respect: My Life as Politics’ Rodney Dangerfield, by Joe Biden

    Bargain Bin: Living a Clean, Natural Lifestyle, by Lance Armstrong

    Best Seller: Hulk Smash: My Life with Lance Armstrong, by Sheryl Crow

    Bargain Bin: Derivative Dribble Sells! by Adele

    Best Seller: That Adele Bitch Stole My Act, by Shirley Bassey

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Online Learning

Some weeks ago the gentleman beau and I decided to take advantage of the sizzling merciless soul killing heat summer weather by taking a leisurely canoe ride. Doesn't that sound nice? After slathering ourselves in SPF-275 cream, we piled into a massive van of strangers to take the short ride to our launch point. Since we are both academic types, our conversation turned to online teaching as the van meander its way up the river. The gentleman beau has experience teaching online classes, but I do not. We both agreed nonetheless that online classes seem like bad news if one cares about quality education. We rehearsed the usual arguments against online courses: They reduce contact between professors and students; they reduce contact between students and students; they are often less rigorous; students are frequently left directionless and rarely put forward as much effort as a brick-and-mortar class; they compete with World of Warcraft for a student's attention; parents hate them and feel they are a “cheat” by the university. We hardly came up with novel critiques in other words. In that heat, one can’t expect me to be at my best. Just about the time that I began the inevitable claim that online classes were a harbinger of the pending demise of higher education as we know it, the stranger seated in front of me turned with daggers in her eyes. “I did my degree with many on-line classes,” she said curtly, “And they were really hard.” For a split second I swear that I could feel a slight tinge in a blood vessel in my brain as she attempted to telepathically explode my head.

Now this encounter took me back a bit and not just because I imagined that she hoped to spread my gray matter across the interior of the van. First, I don’t like to out-and-out insult people in public. That’s why I have this blog – I like to insult people virtually. Second, it dawned on me that my stance on online classes belied my status working for an elite institution.

Most professors and parents continue to consider online classes dubious at best (even those who actually teach them). Up until this point, taking a majority of online course work made one’s degree seem like a modern day correspondence course. Only you didn't have to draw the image on the back of the matchbook first. Despite this, two constituent groups really love the online courses: students and administrators. If they had their way, every university would have more of an online presence than a closeted Republican member of the House of Representatives looking to get laid. What? This ain’t a blog for children.

The stark reality is that most colleges and universities are exponentially increasing their online offerings. Cluck-clucking about it as a moral crisis might be easy (and fun too!), but it will not reverse the trend. Those who followed the recent showdown between the President of the University of Virginia and its governing board know that the latter felt the former moved too slowly in promoting online classes. If one of the original “public ivies” is about to cave into this pressure we should acknowledge that online classes are to be with us for quite some time. The impulse is there for a number of reasons. First, online classes are economical. Without needing to find actual classroom space, online classes can be as large as possible while still using just a single faculty member (or, worse, a severely underpaid adjunct). Second, liberal arts colleges and small regional universities are feeling the pressure from for-profit universities. As Republican-controlled legislatures and governors slash budgets to state-supported higher education the need to compete for every tuition dollar is getting greater and greater. Small colleges and universities have no choice but to try and accommodate the impulses that drive students to for-profit institutions.

Anybody who has a penchant for late-night television has seen the ads for these shady institutions promising the ease of a college education without ever having to change out of your pajamas or put down the tub of Ben-and-Jerry’s. Those ads make taking online classes seem like a virtual slumber party complete with intellectual tickle fights. Given what my students show up wearing in my actual class, though, I am left wondering if that is a real difference. It is no wonder that students who have to work or tend to family duties would find such an avenue to a college degree appealing. They simply need the flexibility.

This is no longer a debate about whether universities should offer online classes. The question now is what type of standards we are going to expect from them. The truth is that there are some students in online classes, like my fellow canoeist, who have the necessary motivation and discipline to make such a degree meaningful. It is also true that online classes continue to have the presumption of being easier than brick-and-mortar classes. This, in part, likely generated the defensiveness to my critiques. Those two things have to be reconciled.

To my mind, humanities professors (including me) have been slow to accept the new reality. This is especially true for those of us who teach at elite institutions that have not started pushing faculty to offer at least some of their classes online – yet. No, I am not advising that we all run out and start posting online classes like a blog troll posts incendiary comments. Rather, I am thinking that we need to cede the question over whether online classes provide good/bad learning environments in favor of considering how online classes can be taught using good, ethical pedagogies. Even if we are not directly involved in teaching an online class, we are nonetheless training graduate students who are most likely going to land a job at an institution that will expect, if not require, them to apportion part of their teaching effort to online classes. It is our obligation to them and their future students to start to model ethical uses of new teaching technologies.

To that end, we need to first identify and reject the models that favor corporate profit over learning. I was recently horrified when an acquaintance of mine reported that the nearby university where he teaches had purchased “modules” from some unknown company. He, the instructor of the class, had almost no control over the content, assignments, or lectures of the class that he was “teaching.” Instead, he became a glorified tech operator and grader. This, it seems to me, is not why we hire individuals with unique specialities to teach classes.

The reverse must also be guarded against. Academic associations and unions should proactively fight administrative efforts to own online classes generated by faculty members. There is a distinct danger that once a professor pours concerted effort into creating a novel and interesting online class that the material will then be pimped out as the aforementioned “modules’ to other universities. Or, even locally, the adminstration should not be allowed to replace the allegedly expensive professor with a graduate student or underpaid adjunct who simply takes control of the web materials. The content and structure of a course should be considered a type of intellectual property that belongs to the instructor.

On the faculty side, if we are going to venture into new learning technologies, then we also need to bring with us the best practices that we now take for granted in the brick-and-mortar classroom. Over the past twenty years, for instance, flat out lecturing has come to be seen as one of the least valuable means for engaging students. So I am frequently surprised that much of the online content created for classes simply involves videotaped lectures that have been uploaded for students to watch. Trust me, unless those videos include skateboarding kittens or substantive out takes from Modern Family, the students are barely going to pay attention. Much as we now create exercises and assignments that have students proactively engaged and talking in brick-and-mortar classes, so too should we dump the prerecorded lecture in favor of things that get students engaged online. This might mean that we call upon individuals with programming and technical skills beyond the average humanities professor. One model that intrigued me, for instance, originated in Canada. Students attempted to “solve”some significant historic crimes from the Canadian past. In that instance, the online materials became part of a larger puzzle that students needed to piece together. Along the way, they happened to learn important cultural contexts that informed each crime (racial attitudes, gender assumptions, regional bias). Doesn’t that sound more interesting to you than downloading a 50 minute talking head rambling on about the Articles of Confederation? Creative technological innovations, of course, will require technological and staff investments from universities and colleges. It seems to me, though, given that these courses will ultimately generate more tuition dollars than a brick-and-mortar class, it is the least that they can do.

Don’t let the blog fool you, though. I am remarkably unsavvy when it comes to technology and probably don’t have the best imagination to tackle this problem. Nonetheless, I do think that the time has come when humanities professors have to engage online learning in a serious way. It’s not going anywhere. Our best bet is that we take control of the conversation to show the difference between a quality online learning experience and the hasty for-profit nonsense.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Collegial is as Collegial Does

A few weeks ago, Dr. Crazy had a post about collegiality in academic departments. She suggested some pretty basic notions about how one should behave in such an environment. To crudely summarize, she suggests that collegiality involves no more than simply doing your job at its most basic level: teach, research, and serve to the best of one’s abilities as outlined in your contract.

I tend to agree with that assessment. Nonetheless, it strikes me that such a straightforward mandate still confuses many professors. So, allow me to provide a simple set of guidelines to help you gauge whether you are an ideal colleague or the professor everybody wishes would just die. Think about which of the following most closely resembles what you might say in these situations.

When it comes time to decide the course schedule for next semester:

    Best: “I am willing to teach a mix of upper level and service-oriented courses. While I certainly have preferences about scheduling, I am willing to negotiated with my colleagues to insure that we have a wide distribution of classes throughout the day.”

    Fair: “I have several courses that I teach over and over. They serve some basic requirements of the department.”

    Bad: “I will only teach classes between the hours of nine and noon. Teaching a survey class is clearly beneath my intellectual talents. Besides, I have a political obligation to offer an incredibly narrow graduate course that only appeals to two students every year.”

    Evil: “My class enrollment is by instructor permission only. That way I can make sure that only hot, fit students ever sign up. No fatties!”

When I take the last cup of coffee from the break room:

    Best: “I always make a fresh pot of coffee for the next person.”

    Fair: “I be sure to shut off the burner so that the whole office doesn’t fill with the smell of scorched coffee.”

    Bad: “I demand the secretary make a new pot of coffee.”

    Evil: “Coffee? I replaced all that with Postum© years ago.”

When it comes to time for committee assignments to be made, I think:

    Best: “Nobody likes service, but it is a necessary part of keeping any university operating. I will roll up my sleeves and serve on committees when needed.”

    Good: “If I really care about a particular issue, I am willing to serve on a committee or two.”

    Bad: “Gee, I would serve on some committees, but I think that my decision to have children means that I can neglect my basic duties for which I am paid. Selfish childless people can pick up my slack. After all, what else do they have to do with their empty lives?”

    Evil: “I see every committee assignment as a stepping stone to be dean one day.”

My thinking about new hires is usually along the lines of:

    Best: “I consider it a basic part of my job to advocate vigorously for new positions based on my particular intellectual training. Nonetheless, I also recognize that a diverse set of perspectives and coverage is required for a really solid academic department. Therefore, I am willing to yield on hiring decisions when other priorities are clear.”

    Fair: “I will work really hard to hire people in my immediate field."

    Bad: “If I didn’t get my way when a job position was conceived, I will do everything in my power to sabotage this search. It’s better to have a failed search than for other people to have won a new hire.”

    Evil: “If a candidate wants this job, they better invite me to their hotel room during the campus visit.”

When Running a Meeting:

    Best: “I have a clear agenda and will get you out of here in an hour.”

    Fair: “The agenda is set, but everybody can speak their mind on whatever topic they desire. It’s fine with me if we have to spend the whole afternoon chatting.”

    Bad: “Was there a meeting scheduled today?”

    Evil: “Let me tell you what we already decided as a committee.”

When Attending a Meeting:

    Best: “I did my due diligence and read any pre-circulated materials before I arrived. I listen attentively and will give my opinion based on a well reasoned argument about the best needs of the unit.”

    Fair: “I didn’t really have time to read up on this particular issue. Still, I’ll go along with whatever the majority has to say.”

    Bad: “I would have attended this meeting, but I needed to wash my cat.”

    Evil: “I am only here to point out how much I really, really, really hate the chair of this meeting.”

When I find that I am in the minority on an issue facing the department:

    Best: “I will voice my opinion and give my reasons for objecting. In the end, though, I must have faith in democracy.”

    Fair: “I will withhold my opinion but then complain bitterly to colleagues over drinks later.”

    Bad: “I take this decision very personally. It shows that there is a larger conspiracy at play to take away my power and agency!”

    Evil: “I pack a gun.”

When advising students about what courses to take:

    Best: “I emphasize the strengths of the department. I also take some time to consider the particular interests of the student and their own career ambitions. My goal is always to give a student the widest range of perspectives that we offer.”

    Fair: “I am vaguely aware of what my colleagues teach, but, whatever. I guess that I wouldn’t actively dissuade a student from taking a class with another professor -- if that is what they really want to do.”

    Bad: “I take the time to trash all the colleagues in my unit that I dislike. A student should leave my office knowing that my department is nothing but a snake pit of dissension filled with people who aren’t half as smart as I am.”

    Evil: “I take the time to explain the power of the dark side of the force and invite the student to become my protégé. Together we can topple the department chair and rule together.”

When serving on a masters thesis or dissertation committee:

    Best: “I read the entire thesis/dissertation. My goal is to provide strategies for the student to revise the work to the best of hir abilities.”

    Fair: “I read the entire thesis/dissertation. My goal is to get this over with as soon as possible.”

    Bad: “I read some of the thesis/dissertation. My goal is to show that I personally know a lot more about this particular topic than the student.”

    Evil: “I plagiarized several chapters of this thesis/dissertation. Nonetheless, I will still vote to fail the student just because I can.”

During the summer:

    Best: “I drink a lot.”

    Fair: “I drink a lot.”

    Bad: “I drink a lot.”

    Evil: “I drink a lot.”

When a hardworking undergraduate student tells me that ze is applying for graduate school:

    Best: “I am supportive and offer to write a letter. Still, I do provide a candid assessment of the job market and encourage the student to think about the time, energy, money and effort that goes into obtaining an advanced degree.”

    Fair: “I write a letter of recommendation and wish the student well.”

    Bad: “I write a letter of recommendation but also frighten the student with horror students about the academic world. I cite the Center of Gravitas as evidence of academia's moral bankruptcy.”

    Evil: “I promise to write a letter of recommendation but never quite get around to it. I assure the student that, even if the job market is terrible, they will absolutely get a tenure-track job because they are the exception.”

When a colleague in my field publishes a book:

    Best: “I buy and read it.”

    Fair: “I send an e-mail of congratulations.”

    Bad: “Do I have colleagues in my field?”

    Evil: “I tell anyone who will listen that I would have written a much better version of that same book.”

When editing an academic journal:

    Best: “My goal is to give authors clear and concise feedback as quickly as possible. No journal can accept everything submitted, but I work really hard to be fair and prompt. I understand that my authors often have tenure and/or promotion pressures. Any delay only harms their research agendas and makes my journal look unprofessional.”

    Fair: “I farm out a lot of my duties and depend almost entirely on others’ opinions. Still, I aim for an initial turn around of six to eight weeks. After all, I have a basic competence in my job.”

    Bad: “I decide that my journal will devote itself to publishing many, many ‘Special Editions’ so that I can reward all my friends by printing their articles. Others can submit manuscripts, but they really shouldn’t hold their breath.”

    Evil: “I regularly sit on manuscripts for over a year and a half (or longer if I can!). When I do finally get around to making a decision, it’s usually a negative one. Heck, somebody has to teach these young scholars a cold hard lesson. If the author doesn’t like it, then they shouldn’t have bothered my prestigious journal with their pitiful article in the first place.”

My office:

    Best: “Is a place where I work quietly.”

    Fair: “Is a place where I meet students from time to time.”

    Bad: “Is a place where I can really turn up the volume on my music.”

    Evil: “Smells suspiciously of sulphur.”

When a colleague in my field comes up for tenure:

    Best: “I diligently read as much of the file as possible. During the meeting, I aim to make sure that every candidate gets a fair hearing by offering well informed insights on the research, service, and teaching.”

    Fair: “I read the cover letter to the file and dip in and out of the other materials. Unless there are clear problems, my default impulse is always to vote in favor of the candidate.”

    Bad: “I didn’t really have time to read the file. I’ll go to the meeting and try to get a sense of which way the wind is blowing and then make up my mind.”

    Evil: “I met with the candidate a full year before they went up for tenure to remind them that they needed my vote to advance. If they didn’t spend the past several months groveling, it’s curtains!”

The secretary/support staff in my unit:

    Best: “Are not paid nearly enough given that they do 90 percent of the heavy lifting! I support any effort to improve their working conditions.”

    Fair: “Do their job well and I acknowledge that.”

    Bad: “Are fine, but I don’t understand why they won’t pick up my dry cleaning.”

    Evil: “Should only be paid for nine months given that is the length of the academic year.”

If I had not become an academic, I would have:

    Best: “Found another avenue to share my knowledge and research with a wider public. My goal would always be to find a way to enrich our intellectual conversations.”

    Fair: “Found a job that allowed me to earn much more money.”

    Bad: “Run for public office as a Republican so that I could dismantle higher education as we know it.”

    Evil: “Harvested the souls of the innocent.”

The role model who influenced my career:

    Best: “The hardworking professors who took an interest in me as a student. They not only taught me the knowledge that I need for this job, but also what it means to be a committed educator.”

    Fair: “Wonder Woman.”

    Bad: “I did it on my own. Nobody ever helped me and I was always falling through the cracks.”

    Evil: “Pope Benedict XVI.”

When writing a book review for a journal:

    Best: “I highlight the strengths of the book and the author’s intent. I limit my critique to one or two questions at most. It is important to recognize the hard work that goes into writing any monograph.”

    Fair: “I offer faint praise, but conclude with criticism.”

    Bad: “Most of my review is simply critique about what the author might have written but didn't. I can only think of holes in the work and imagine an entirely different book than the one that I am reviewing.”

    Evil: “Every book review is just an opportunity to ruin somebody’s career.”

When a colleague passes me in the hall:

    Best: “I greet them and ask how they are doing.”

    Fair: “I smile warmly.”

    Bad: “I avoid eye contact.”

    Evil: “I make a distinctive rattling sound.”