Monday, December 22, 2014

GayProf's Holiday Gift Guide 2014

Holidays always seem like a period of extreme endurance to me. For weeks we struggle with crowds of shoppers, awkward conversations with distant relatives, and even more awkward conversations with close relatives. Everybody scrambles and agonizes over what gift to buy that special somebody in their lives. For me, I don’t need lots of things just to prove that people adore me. No, no. In the immortal words of Pearl Bailey, just give me a five-pound box of money. Cash, after all, is always the perfect size and always the perfect color.

Not everybody, I recognize, has my pragmatic sense of the world. Many of you want to send just the right message with a present this year. To help you all out, here is my [almost]annual gift guide. Allow me to decipher just what those hidden messages are behind the gifts we give.

    THE GIFT: Tortoise shell hair combs with jeweled rims.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: I clearly had not anticipated that you were going to cut your hair like a Coney Island chorus girl. Why, oh, why did I sell my grandfather's gold watch for these damn things?

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Hey, at least my hair will be long and luxurious again in a few months. Good luck growing a new gold watch.


    THE GIFT: A 500-page summary outlining the CIA’s illegal and ineffective use of torture.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: Your Congress is hard at work and on top of things – thirteen years after they happen!

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: If somebody actually ends up doing jailtime for this, it would be the best Christmas present ever!

    THE GIFT: A commemorative statue of Batman’s 75th anniversary.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: You’re kinda a nerd.

    WHAT THE RECEIVE THINKS: A statue of Batman -- the lesser Zorro.

    THE GIFT: An announcement by Jeb Bush that he will be running for President of the United States.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT:This nation has been foolish enough to let two other members of this mediocre family become president. Why not me?

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Isn't there a way to keep this family sequestered on an island somewhere?

    *** THE GIFT: A poem about a visit from St. Nicholas

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: Aren’t I clever?

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Other children get actual gifts from St. Nicholas. All I got was a cloying set of sloppy rhyming couplets. Worst. Christmas. Ever.

    THE GIFT: Normalized relations with Cuba.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: This has been a complicated and difficult set of diplomatic negotiations that will have lasting impact on this hemisphere and beyond.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Finally! I will be able to get a bottle of Havana Club rum without having to smuggle it across the U.S.-Mexican border.

    THE GIFT: Flesh, wine, and pine logs

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: You shall dine well tonight and be warm!

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Uh, that’s nice for tonight. What about the other 364 days when I live in grinding poverty? This neighborhood is a dump! We get landslides from the mountain; the forest fence needs repair; and I can't even remember the last time that Saint Agnes’ fountain actually had water in it! Your cruel tyranny has allowed the accumulation of wealth among the few.

    THE GIFT: Crystal wine glasses

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: Your stemware situation is grievous.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: These are better than drinking out of a bottle in a paper bag I suppose.

    THE GIFT: A collection of money to replace the missing deposit that your uncle was supposed to make for the savings and loan.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: We are a shockingly selfish set of humans making a token gesture. We will never really acknowledge our parasitic dependence on you or that our lives would have certainly turned to crime and/or alcoholism had you not been around.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Great, I get to avoid jail time for a mistake that I did not actually make. Otherwise, my life remains focused on playing nursemaid to an entire community. God, I hate this town.

    THE GIFT: A diamond tennis bracelet.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: Television tells me to buy these.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: If I look closely, I can almost see the blood inside each one.

    THE GIFT: A video of our employees making paper airplanes out of boarding passes.
    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: You all are sheep and won’t notice the cripplingly expensive airfares we charge despite the low prices of fuel.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: The holidays are that special time of year when I become nostalgic for the era when our nation actually enforced its anti-trust laws.

    THE GIFT: A three-month gym membership.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: I plan to break up with you soon, but I want to make you feel as badly about yourself as possible beforehand.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Gee, if ever I begin to doubt what a small person that you are, I can just think of this gift.

    THE GIFT: A “shared services” center designed by an outside consulting firm for $11 million.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: Faculty who protest this should really just shut-up and teach.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Apparently I work at a university that values its employees at the same depth as a Texas Wal-Mart.

    THE GIFT: The opportunity to carry flesh, wine, and pine logs through the bitter cold so that I can look like a saint.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: Walk in my footsteps and you will find the winter’s rage freeze thy blood less coldly.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: You know what would freeze my blood less coldly? If you handed over your ermine cloak, you selfish bastard.

    THE GIFT: A blog post after months, or even years, of absence.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: I can still be funny, right?

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Oh, are you still alive?

    THE GIFT: The complete DVD box set of WKRP in Cincinnati.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: Aren’t you nostalgic for the time when AM radio stations played rock’n’roll?

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: What is a radio station?

    THE GIFT: The opportunity to guide my sleigh through a blizzard.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: I used to think you were a cruel freak of nature. Now that you have some marginal use to me, I am more than glad to exploit your labor.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: After tonight, I am converting to Judaism and running away with Hermey, my gay lover.

    THE GIFT: A Republican controlled Congress.

    WHAT THE GIVER MEANT: I hate America.

    WHAT THE RECEIVER THINKS: Looks like I picked the wrong holiday to quit drinking.

Well, on that final cheerful note, I will simply extend my best non-sectarian, non-denominational winter greetings to you all. Enjoy the gifts whatever their hidden meanings.

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.