Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Academic hoaxes: irritating waste of time or the most infuriating waste of time in a time of massive national lies?

A group of merry pranksters with a mean streak a mile wide and lots and lots of time on their hands perpetrated a hoax recently by submitting faked papers and getting a couple of them published. 

So whose time did they waste?

  • That of the journal editors, who are doing this for no pay.
  • That of the poor reviewers, who were forced to wade through the pretentious BS and try, in good faith, to say something not awful in case this was the misguided effort of a grad student.
  • That of all of us who have to look at this nonsense in the news at the Chronicle and everywhere else.
  • That of all in the humanities, who will now have to redouble their efforts to prove to skeptical legislators that the humanities are worth supporting. 

Academic hoaxers, or any kind of hoaxers (except Poe and Twain, because Poe and Twain) make me furious.

They abuse the trusting nature of human beings. It's a bullying move. It shows you have power over someone and that you're displaying it in front of an audience to humiliate your victim.

So you get to be a bully and make someone look like a fool. You do you. Happy now?

It's only one step away from the kind of bullying power trip that we saw in the news last week, and I don't have to say any more about that.

Abuse someone's trust. Trick them into believing one thing when you mean to hurt them. Carry out your plan and then laugh at your victims.

If you want to read more, here's some views from The Chronicle.

One of the people there said "Any academic who thinks hoaxing as such is unethical or nugatory is a dull and petty functionary."

Two points:

1. It IS unethical.
2. I'd rather be a dull and petty functionary than a jerk. 
 

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

The parable of the pies: how the sausage gets made

If you're in an academic department, and especially if you've held any kind of administrative position, you might recognize the truth of Bismarck's (or, as Wikipedia tells me, John Godfrey Saxe's) well-known apothegm, as paraphrased in one of my favorite Hamilton lyrics:
No one really knows how the game is played
The art of the trade
How the sausage gets made
We just assume that it happens
But no one else is in
The room where it happens.
 I'm not even close to the higher-up Northern Clime University "room where it happens," but at a lower level, I've had ample opportunities to see how the "art of the trade" happens in just about every set of decisions.

 But even assuming that everyone is nobly concerned with the best interests of the students and the university, differences of opinion happen while that sausage is getting made.

Let's say that your department wants ten apple pies and that the pies are not to fix something that is going horribly wrong.  You fill out the multitude of forms, talk to individuals, see the lay of the land, and then approach Admin with the request.

Admin says, "You must be joking! No pies for you."

You say, "But here are the reasons we need the pies to take better care of our students."

Admin says, " . . . "

You say, "And if you give us the pies, we can form a consortium, build partnerships, raise our standing among peer institutions, and be perceived as a local god."

Admin says, " . . . "

You say, "And we'll write a grant to get the matching funds and hope it gets funded."

Admin says,  "Well, we can see our way clear to give you five pies, four apple and one mince."

Jubilant at this success, you take this to your colleagues for the first time.

One group--let's call them the incrementalists, or Hillary voters--says, "It's a start! Let's get going on that grant. Do you think we could negotiate for two more pies?"

Another group--let's call them the ideologically pure, or Jill Stein voters--says, "You sellouts! Everyone hates mince! Why did you agree to this? We need ten apple pies, full stop.  This is untenable and ideologically impure. Ten pies or we dissolve this department! Burn it down!"

It seems to me that there can be good, sincere colleagues on both sides, but most people are probably more one than the other.

Incrementalists have some faith in change within the system--not all systems everywhere, but the specific little corner of the system that they can influence. This is sometimes true.

Ideological purists have faith that if they throw a cog in the machine or blow it up, something better will result. This is also sometimes true.

As an incrementalist who works to make things better ("bends toward justice"), I see the five pies as a glass half full. Not everyone would agree.

But I have become an ideologue in one respect: I am completely, totally, and utterly done with the loud virtue-signalling and vilification that ensues from people who haven't lifted a finger after some of us have worked our tails off to get those five pies.





Thursday, September 20, 2018

Catching up on the week and some writing inspiration

I'm getting ready for something for which have to get the writing done--have to. I've been paralyzed with anxiety about writing. What worked the other day?

Sit down and time myself like Anthony Trollope. He used to write 250 words every 15 minutes for 3 hours a day, by the clock, before he went to work. Every day. Now, you can say what you want about the quality of Trollope's novels (most of them are pretty good), but you can never deny that they are done. 

So, with the help of this https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/11/20/daily-routines-writers/:

  1. I wrote down the time in my trusty black notebook, giving myself 25 minutes (a Pomodoro) to write 200 words in 750words.com. Every time I got up from the desk or looked at email, I had to write it down. Pomodoro after pomodoro until the afternoon when I went for a walk. It worked! 
  2. I promised myself when I finished 2000 words for the day I could have chocolate. I didn't get to 2000, and I didn't get chocolate, but I got to 1300, which is more than I would have otherwise. 
  3. Writing before school isn't an option because I get up early and have a long commute, but if I leave at 2:30 the day is still relatively young and I can get some writing done after dinner sometimes. 
Other positive items:

1. Three weeks ago I gave up FB and advice columns, cold turkey, and I don't miss them. FB was making me miserable because everyone was finishing book proposals, book chapters, etc. and I was not. Deciding there was no need to torment myself, I hung a "gone fishin'" sign on the site and haven't been back--ditto for the advice columns.

2. One of my colleagues who never attends any kind of department meeting and is minimally on campus saw me the other day and said, "Where have you been? I haven't seen you around." I said, "right there in the office and around," and I did not strangle her, so victory is mine.



3. I'm really enjoying my classes. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

MLA Job List and some links

The MLA Job List opens today (September 10) at https://www.mla.org/Resources/Career/Job-Information-List.

Remember, this isn't the be-all and end-all that it used to be. As Jonathan Kramnick reminds us in "The Way We Hire Now" (https://www.chronicle.com/article/the-way-we-hire-now/244467):
To get a grip on where things now stand, start with the fact that the MLA jobs list has lost its monopoly. The low cost and simplicity of doing things online has meant that advertisements now appear on any number of platforms, including The Chronicle, Interfolio, Higher Education Recruitment Consortium (HERC), HigherEdJobs, and well beyond.
Don't forget the jobs at Insidehighered.com, too.

If you're looking for information on historical trends (and the now-infamous rosy vision of the Bowen report), here are some links.

MLA Report on the JIL 2016-17 (chart is from this source): https://www.mla.org/content/download/78816/2172744/Report-MLA-JIL-2016-17.pdf
At the Chronicle (paywalled but free with this link): On the Bowen report and what went wrong: https://t.co/gw9G30Aacg

Some older posts from this blog about job letters, still maybe useful:

The art of the job letter: http://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/2007/10/art-of-job-letter.html
The art of the job letter redux, part I:
http://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/2008/09/art-of-job-letter-redux-part-1.html
The art of the job letter redux, part II:
http://notofgeneralinterest.blogspot.com/2008/09/art-of-job-letter-redux-part-2.html

Good luck, everyone!

Friday, September 07, 2018

Off-topic: NYTimes on Joyce Maynard: "Was she predator or prey?"

It's been fascinating to see the shift in opinion on Joyce Maynard and her memoir At Home in the World.

A few years back, when I was contemplating mid-century male novelists like Updike and Salinger, I had this to say about Maynard's book:
 The whole Salinger thing that she was pilloried for is only a part of the book, and apparently, in another interwebs development I totally missed, everyone is in a pro- or anti-Maynard camp: either "How dare you malign The Great Man?" or "How dare The Great Man have acted so cruelly toward women?"  Maynard's take on the relationship, in the new preface, is not so much "what was I thinking to quit Yale and move to New Hampshire with Jerry Salinger?" as "how could he violate my innocence by overpowering me with his adoration? Shouldn't we think of 18-year-olds as girls instead of women?" It's a fair question, but really, who could have stopped her or any of us at 18? That's not a hornet's nest I'm willing to wade into in this space.   . . . 
When she shows up at Salinger's door in 1997--which I think took a lot of courage, by the way--he tells her that she had the capacity to become something but has become nothing, or something like that. She's obviously made something of herself, having had a successful career,  and she is a survivor, but is there anything in what Salinger says? Or is this just another case of a powerful man falling in love with an image that he creates and trying to destroy the image when she turns out to have a voice of her own? 
In case you didn't know, Maynard was pilloried by a lot of people for writing the memoir of her own life simply because Salinger was part of it, as though the Great Man's privacy could never be disturbed.

The attacks were really vitriolic. Chief among them was Jonathan Yardley in the Washington Post and Maureen Dowd, who took a day off from being Inspector Javert to Hillary Clinton's Jean Valjean to excoriate Maynard for being a "leech woman" (and got the point of that movie wrong, but anyway).

In a recent New York Times essay (which, by the way, is pretty much lifted from At Home in the World), Maynard links her experience to the #MeToo movement and wonders whether maybe a change is at hand:
Last fall, when word of Harvey Weinstein’s abuses of women in the entertainment industry overtook the press, followed by near daily revelations about other prominent and respected men accused of similar violations, I supposed this was the moment when my own experience might be seen in a new light. I thought my phone would ring.
The call never came. And though I believe that if the book I wrote 20 years ago were published today it would be received differently, it does not appear that enlightenment concerning the abuses of men in power extends retroactively to women who chose to speak long ago, and were shamed and humiliated for doing so. As recently as last fall — on the occasion of my having published a memoir about the death of my second husband, a book in which Salinger never appears — I was referred to as “the queen of oversharing.”
Oversharing. What does it say about us that a woman who speaks the truth of her experience should be dismissed for telling more than the world feels comfortable hearing? (And it is always a woman who will be accused of this; when a male writer confesses intimate details of his life, he’s brave, fearless, even brilliant. Consider, just for starters, Norman Mailer. Or, more recently, Karl Ove Knausgaard.)
Exactly right. Maynard has always mined her own life for material, but has she done so more than an Updike, a Mailer, a Roth, or, yes, a Salinger?

What's fascinating is that the comments in the comments section are squarely on Maynard's side. There's no one grousing about style (as Yardley did) or how dare she expose Salinger.  The tide has shifted, it seems, even if no one picked up the phone to call Maynard for an interview. Maybe there really is a sea change in attitudes.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Getting rid of some things, mostly ideas

It's fall and time to shed some things, mostly ideas.

1.The idea that computer tech is necessary, as A. O. Scott reminds  in the New York Times:

When you’re not reviewing movies, are there any tech products you are currently obsessed with?
A few years ago, when I was struggling to finish writing a book, I decided I needed to tune out the distractions of Twitter and email and New York Times news alerts so that I could make my daily word count. I started leaving the house for a few hours with no laptop or phone — just a ballpoint pen and a 5-by-7-inch notebook, the same setup I’d been using for years to take notes in dark theaters.

2.  The idea of showing up for every single thing when some of my colleagues don't bother. There are no consequences for not showing up or rewards for showing up except the glow of being a good citizen. I'll still mostly show up, because good citizenship, but it's the parable of the vineyard all over again, and no matter how many times that's been explained to me, I still don't buy the logic.

3. The idea that good researchers can't be good teachers. According to the NYTimes, the United States has only one university--Harvard--and the sum of all college experiences is broadcast through its graduates, so no need for actual reporting. The latest piece in this vein is from Adam Grant. I'm a decent researcher and a good teacher, and I remain excited about both, so I'm stacking my anecdata against Grant's and declaring this idea a sheddable one.

4. Better yet, the idea that great writers don't have dogs. Apparently it's not because they keep writers from making paragraph breaks, although you could understand if Knausgaard made that charge, but because dogs distract writers, as evidenced by the many personal experiences that Knausgaard relates. This paragraph didn't have the intended effect of making me think about the idea; rather, I too want to put down a lot of my personal experiences and have The New Yorker pay me for them.

5. The idea that generational labels have meaning. Stop it. If I hear one more time about boomers doing this or Gen X doing that or millennials being poor because of avocado toast (hint: try the student loan crisis and a gig economy), I might have to throw something--or, more likely, roll my eyes. It's an extremely lazy way of making large generalizations, and it's not helpful.

6. This is sort of inspired by Dame Eleanor's posts about keeping or not keeping things from her mother's house, but getting rid of what you don't use feels good, and so does taking pleasure in things that you do have. Those hardwood floors that caused a month of disruption last year make me happy every day, but so does getting rid of things. Growing up, my mother (like Dame Eleanor's) made a big fuss about collecting antiques, silver, etc. But honestly, how many embroidered bridge table cloths or tea sets does one non-bridge player need? Instead of thinking of it as "getting rid of" something, I'm thinking of it as "rehoming" them by sending them to whatever charities are sending their trucks by that week. Someone's going to think it's a treasure, and imagining that is more pleasing than my wondering what on earth I'm ever going to do with them.


Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Dear Ms. Undine: What's July etiquette for academic life?

Dear Ms. Undine,

I recently wrote an email to a person in my department, trying to set up a meeting a month from now. This person had her email set to auto-reply, but she responded to say that the time was all right with her. Then I wrote to her again, demanding the answer to something very minor but more complicated.

I reasoned that she, like me, is simply dreaming of the time when school starts and has nothing better to do for the next month than answer my questions. Why isn't she responding?

Signed, 
Nothing Else on My Plate

Dear Nothing,

Based on her experiences in academia, Ms. Undine suggests that the person in your department indeed might have something else to do. This something might be research that she's frantically trying to finish, or relatives she's trying to visit, or maybe just a simple afternoon in which she can continue making burnt offerings to the goddess of summer so that fall will be delayed this year. In any of those cases, your email is not welcome.

Dear Ms. Undine,

I am a student and like to get everything done ahead of time; in particular, I like to read all the books over the summer and then decline to discuss them in class because I've forgotten the details. When I wrote to my instructor demanding a syllabus, however, the instructor said that it wasn't ready. I thought teachers have a vacation for the whole summer, so why isn't it done?

Signed,
Eager for Now

Dear Eager,

You are correct: instructors have nothing else to do all summer. Your instructor is making the very best syllabus possible, and that means that she is spending every spare available moment, many hours a day, getting it ready. You wouldn't want to spoil that kind of perfection by rushing it, would you?  That would be rude.

Dear Ms. Undine,

I'm an administrator and have great powers of vision, including being able to see through computer screens. I keep sending out cheerful messages about "Remember, the X event will be early this year!" and reminders about new assessment procedures, but when I do this, I see the recipients turn pale and mutter curses about July being the summer. Why does this happen, Ms. Undine? I'm just trying to give them a heads-up about exciting university events.

Signed,
My Time is Your Time

Dear My Time,

Your faculty members do not want a heads-up. They want to keep their heads down, plowing through all the work that they thought they would get done in June and over the July 4 weekend. Your email reminds them that time is not infinite, which as poor mortals they dreamed for a week or so earlier in the summer that it would be.  Do not remind them of their own mortality, or, more important, the mortality of their summer work hours.

Dear Ms. Undine,

All my friends on Facebook and Twitter are running circles around me in terms of research and having fun. They're getting more done, and it makes me despair at my own slowness.

Signed,
Sloth and Envy

Dear Sloth,

Mark Zuckerberg has a little-known patent on something called the Facebook Enhancement Screen, and I believe he licenses it to Twitter and Instagram as well. The FES means that everyone's life looks more golden than your own and that no one tells the truth about the days when all they could do is binge-watch Love It or List It and eat thin mint Oreos. There is no protection against the FES except not to look at social media. No one will think that you are less polite if you make stealth raids into it to like content that you don't actually read.