Saturday, March 31, 2007

Chapter the Seventy-First: In Which I Go to a Conference

I am currently at one of the big history conferences -- the one without the Europeanists, the OAH, which means we lack some diversity but make up for it in the more informal atmosphere generated when fewer people spend three and a half days together.

Part of my fun this time around is that two of my former Zenith students are giving papers here: one is finishing up his dissertation and has a lovely two year post doc, and the other has published her first book and is *on* the roundtable I am chairing. How cool is that? I actually have several other students out there who have jobs, and are colleagues/friends. One of the nice things about being the undergraduate-- rather than the graduate mentor -- is that they appear, at least, to have entirely unmixed feelings about me (see this post about the weight graduate advisors have to carry for their role in a person's career. It's kind of like being the grandparent instead of the parent.)

Anyway, these two wonderful young people are smart, interesting and fun to be with, and while they have matured, I can't honestly say they have changed. It's kind of like that scene in the Wizard of Oz where the scarecrow wants a brain, and at the end of the movie the Wizard gives him a Ph.D., as a way of saying that he was smart all along? They were fabulous before -- now they are sophisticated, mature Ph.D.'s -- and fabulous.

OK, enough, enough. Here are some conference snapshots:

On Friday, I ran into Ann Firor Scott, the Godmother of Southern women historians, using a cane to get around the book exhibit, but refusing assistance like the amazing tough lady that she is. Slightly later in the day, Suzanne Lebsock had persuaded her to take a break and use a wheelchair to get around the endless skywalk between the conference hotel and the Hilton. Whatever it is Suzanne said to persuade her, I want to know so I can use it on my mom when it comes time.

Nell Irvin Painter wearing a tiara in the book exhibit. I said "Great tiara." She said, "I'm so glad you noticed -- Catherine Clinton gave it to me."

Catherine Clinton dressed entirely in spotless light pink, with pink accessories.

The Radical mistakenly standing on line for fifteen minutes at registration for the Decorated Apparel Manufacturers Association before figuring out it was not the OAH registration (the decisive hint: seeing sequined tee shirts, and thinking, "When did the OAH start selling tacky tees?")

The NYU-Rutgers (aka, Berkshire Conference of Women Historians) mafia holding down the far end of the bar and making more noise than the rest of the room combined.

So it's been fun, fun, fun. But here is something that puzzles me - I have been to three panels (which is not too bad, considering I had to see a number of folks, including my editor, to explain to him why I had stiffed him on a deadline), and all have been *very* sparsely attended. These were good panels (the one on the Minniapolis Oral History Project had three outstanding grad students from the UMN program and a great comment from Lisa Duggan, and an audience of about seven) and I have to say, the huge effort the OAH has made to re-work the conference has been brave but not sufficient. Could we think about moving to a seminar format for most panels? Even asking people to sign up for panels in advance? Circulated papers? I dunno. But there needs to be some kind of imaginative shift so that people don't go to a lot of trouble to write papers for a conference and then not have an audience. I know it doesn't happen to everyone, but it is happening to too many people.

And here's another suggestion: just like it was a mistake some years back to hold the OAH in Las Vegas (although it was a screech to see all the historians chunking quarters into the one-arm bandits) it might be a mistake to run shuttles from the conference to the Mall of the Americas on Saturday. Just saying.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Chapter the Seventieth: In Which I Discover I Have Screwed Up

So today I learned simultaneously that:

There are Zenith students reading my blog and they know it is *my* blog; and

That a post I wrote about a month ago, in which a student figured, made said student feel mocked.

I am not going to belabor this topic because a) I apologized to the student for harm incurred that I did not intend or foresee; b) by making it a Bigger Deal I risk undermining my apology to said student; and c) I have taken down the post, as well as two others in which any other student might be recognizable. But I have a few random thoughts about my sudden campus visibility as a blogger that are, perhaps, worth sharing.

I had noticed there were a fair number of lurkers with Zenith addresses, but it had honestly never occurred to me that they were students, or that students had any way of (or interest in) locating this blog. I knew that two of my colleagues had located me, because they told me so, and both of them are finishing books, and hence liable to be logging onto websites repeatedly to see What's Up. My explanation, therefore, was that the multiple apparent lurkings were me logging on to my own blog, and them.


When I confided in a colleague later this afternoon, she and I figured out pretty quickly how I got outed on the student network, and it probably wasn't just one way. And now I feel pretty dumb, because I really did not connect what I know about the internet (that a few keystrokes on Google can get you to almost anyone but the Queen of England, and I bet even she has a Yahoo account -- to the fragility of my own status as an anonymous internet personality. As my colleague also reminded me, Zenith students dedicate themselves in their off hours to securing facts about faculty members.

I re-read the post before I took it down, and really, the student who was upset played only one of several roles in the incident in question, and it is true I was blunt (although I do not think mocking) about what I thought about the incident in the post in a way I would not have been in class. And my students don't know that blog person -- they know the *other* person, the teacher person. So that was one level on which I knew I had screwed up.

The other was this: it didn't take me more than two seconds to recognize the nature and depth of the student's upset -- because she looked how I felt when I was a young teacher and read a horrible, nasty, or thoughtless comment on an anonymous teaching evaluation from a student. It can still feel, many years into my career as a teacher, like an arrow out of the blue to read one of those comments. Needless to say, this moment of recognition and empathy short-cut any impulse but the one I followed, which was to apologize and reassure said student of my actual, real-time respect.

This incident also reinforces something I know but don't really deal with most of the time: that students at Zenith believe that the classroom ought to be a private space, whereas we faculty experience it as a public space, a place we are always exposed -- to students, to the people who will eventually read those teaching evaluations, and to gossip about what we do there that is spread to our colleagues, to parents and to other students. Hence, my (I now realize naive) belief that because something happened "in public," that four or five people were involved, and ten others witnessed it, that what I was describing was in the realm of common knowledge and it was reasonable to comment on it. It turned out I was wrong, or at least, less aware of how complicated this could be than I should have been -- I screwed up.

But this incident leaves me with a set of dilemmas, including (but not confined to):

1. Should I remain anonymous at all if some people have discovered my street identity?
2. Does it matter that students know who I am, or will they get bored and go away?
3. If I come out, will it be better because if and when I offend people they will just tell me?
4. Would it be better to come out because then I would be more actively conscious about what I write about, who is implicated and whether I am prepared to defend it?

What would Superman do in a situation where his street identity hung in the balance? Or Wonder Woman? Fortunately, I can turn to GayProf for advice on this.



I am not asking Zenith community members to stop lurking: this blog is public, not private.

"Plus He Had Donned A Helluva Hat:" HIstory Cross-Blogging at Zenith

I almost never admit that I spy on my students, and it is actually very rare that I invade student space of any kind. But this I cannot resist. It is just too funny, and it reminds me – other than Tony Grafton’s students expressing their fear that Tony’s head will fall off some day in class and crush them – why teaching is fun and teaching history among intelligent students is funnier.

Zenith has just appointed its sixteenth President, in anticipation of Mr. Big’s retirement this summer, someone who is (like President Big) a distinguished white man, a trained historian and an alumnus of the university. Unlike Big, he is also a pretty distinguished scholar, as far as I can tell (Big’s pre-Zenith accomplishments were more in the public sphere.) Naturally, most faculty I know are burrowing around on New President's cv and on Google to try to anticipate where he will stand on every policy and intellectual issue the university faces at this juncture so that they can fulminate more completely when the time comes to let him know that he is *not* in charge. ("You may be a full professor now," Extravaganza once said, "But you are not full professor of me!") But the students, in typical Zenith fashion, have cut right to the heart of things, as they usually do, in their response to New President. I clipped the following from a Zenith student blog (with appropriate edits):

anonymous said...
at least this guy graduated in the 70s…he might be a little more helpful in keeping Zenith Zenith.

anonymous said...
Plus he's the 16th president, kinda like Lincoln. So he's got that going for him.

anonymous said...
'cause it totally worked out for Lincoln, being assassinated and all.

anonymous said...
if Lincoln wasn't assassinated he would have been impeached within months.

anonymous said...
Habeas *what?*

anonymous said...
Lincoln's presidency isn't necessarily noted for his assassination or potential impeachment. Whatever his intentions, he did have a hand in the whole ending of slavery thing. And he was handsome, kind of.
Go New President?

anonymous said...
plus he had donned a hell of a hat.


This is the kind of thing that causes me to giggle on and off for the rest of the day. I guess I am a committed academic after all because I cannot imagine another sphere where it is possible to make a decent salary and eavesdrop on witty young people at the same time.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My Fantasy About Leaving Zenith

My fantasy about leaving Zenith has a number of constituent parts. At one point, it included going to law school and becoming an activist attorney who did real things to help people. This idea developed in contradistinction to the line people often feed me about how important it is to teach elite students because it is they who will go out in the world and run things, and they need to learn from people "like me."

Oh right. This is a reason to go on living: molding future world leaders and captains of industry. Just call me the Handmaiden to the Stars.

I also had a fantasy about running for office, which faded precipitously when I realized it would require hours and hours of social events, a capacity to remember lots of names forever, eating dreadful food and making compromises with people I would, to my peril, learn not to despise, like Joe Lieberman and Trent Lott. This overlapped with a fantasy about going to work for a politician I could really believe in -- for example, being someone like Josh Lymon on the West Wing, or that neat-o feminist played by the woman who now plays a neat-o drug dealer on "Weeds."

I also have ongoing fantasies about running a feminist bookstore, and starting a feminist press, both of which would require money that I do not have.

The problem with all these possible second careers is also a drastically reduced amount of time for reading and writing, unless one becomes a true workaholic, and I believe I am a little over the hill for making that transformation. But you have probably figured this out, since someone who was a workaholic would have finished that second book despite the fact that it was raining crap during the Unfortunate Events. And I am spiritually devoted to reading and writing -- although possibly less so right now to the teaching part of the Job, even though it gives me pleasure on a regular basis. I just sometimes wonder what the point is in the larger scheme of things, given what education has become. But never mind. That's an age thing, and I suspect happiness in teaching just comes and goes after the first decade or so.

So my current fantasy -- which is fueled this time of year by March Madness -- is leaving Zenith for a job at a school with a great Division I women's basketball program, and that they would persuade me to leave Zenith in the end by guaranteeing me season tickets every year. Looking at this year's bracket, this realistically narrows the field for future employment to Stanford, Tennessee, the University of Connecticut, Oklahoma, Duke, Maryland, University of North Carolina, Rutgers, and LSU. I can't see myself at Marist (they're Catholic, I'm gay) or North Carolina State (I know Kay Yow is very brave, but no.) I think Oklahoma is off the list too, partly because it is in Oklahoma, but also because of global warming and that Dust Bowl thing. Tennessee? Maybe. But my understanding from La Principessa, who spent a year in Nashville on a fellowship, is that lesbian life is pretty grim in the mountain south.

So this leaves us with Stanford, Duke, UNC, UConn, Maryland, Rutgers and LSU. We're getting there. It's very expensive to live in Palo Alto, but my feeling is that the job offer will come with a significant raise and a low-interest loan to buy a lovely house. If it was Maryland, we could live in DC -- although my affection for that town is matched by N's dislike of it. On the other hand, since I am now a UConn fan (and secondarily, a Rutgers fan), why leave winners to go to a program that hasn't made the Final Four in some time? If it were UConn, I wouldn't have to move, even though the daily commute might be a tad grim. LSU is an option, although there is the lesbian problem, which I discovered during the Pokey Chatman debate (I had thought Louisiana was where they invented sexual deviance) -- I don't want to have it alleged that I am doing my students and lose my whole blog fan base. On the other hand, Combat Philosopher lives in Louisiana, and I bet he would stand up for me. I already failed to get a job at UNC about twenty years ago, but I am not taking it personally. And I do think -- in comparison to Duke -- it might suit my politics better to work at a public school.

OK. Realistically, in this order I think, my options are: Rutgers, UConn, UNC, Stanford, Duke and LSU. In that order. I will be entertaining job offers in the comments section, so please fell free to put together a package for me to consider.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Writing, Publishing and the Opportunity to Change

Even though I am now part of the on-line publishing world because of this blog, I still have mixed feelings about how the internet changes the experience of reading. I suspect that this is because printed things that I can hold in my hand -- books, magazines and newspapers -- are so much part of the fabric of my life. In my youth, books were soothing talismans when other things were painful or scary; "The New Yorker" appearing in the mailbox was a portal to another life, a sign of hope that my bourgeois suburban childhood with its oppressive rules could and would come to an end. Because of this, although I am a person who knows that I should read "Slate" the way I read "The New Yorker," I don't: it doesn't *feel* the same. I can't take it on the train or to the gym the way I would take something printed on paper. And I never read the New York "Times" on-line. Ugh. I actually moved to Shoreline in part because I couldn't get a real paper delivered in Zenith, one that left grime all over my fingers and my morning coffee cup.

And yet, I have clearly adapted to certain kinds of changes already. I blog. I read blogs. I read academic articles on-line. For a long time after the invention of email I used to write letters, but now I don't. I will die with an archive that pretty much ends at age 35.

Because I don't write them, I also almost never receive a letter anymore either (except for the occasional thank-you note from a niece or nephew). I would say that the loss of letters has been adequately compensated for by how much I like email as a genre -- I like its immediacy and intimacy, even though having a fight over email is an awful feature of internet life I never could have anticipated and I had to learn not to do it. On the other hand, sending terrible, unretrievable thoughts to others that could be obsessed over relentlessly was not a practice invented by computer wonks. My maternal grandmother was apparently famous for sending awful letters to people when she was angry at them, to the extent that it has become an eternal maxim in my family that writing to someone is the most devastating way to express anger and is always an impulse to be checked.

The nature of correspondence has changed so radically, not just in my lifetime, but in the last ten years, that I can fully imagine that my other literary habits will too. And I am starting today.

My friend Jane Lazarre (this is her real name and she is not a character in this blog) has notified me that there is a new on-line fiction magazine called The Persimmon Tree, established in part because older women writers, many of whom are quite well-established literary figures, are having a rough time getting their work published in a corporate literary environment where movie deals and other kinds of marketing tie-ins tend to be determining factors in whether a manuscript gets to an audience in the form of a book. And even publishing in magazines is part of the marketing web: have you noticed that most magazine features, fiction and non-fiction, are now drawn from book manuscripts and are part of a pre-publication marketing plan? This isn't new, of course, but fewer short pieces are being accepted for one-time publication, thus shrinking publishing opportunities even more.

Whatever else you think of the industry, a trip to any chain bookstore suggests that publishers favor pop fiction and memoirs written by people in their twenties recovering from drug and alcohol abuse; and/or incest; and/or a strong need to cross-dress for which their parents are/are not to blame; and/or a swift rise to fame that was ill-managed. These books are also often published in six or seven different colors to match your decorating scheme and to encourage places like Starbucks to make selling books part of *their* store design (I am not kidding.) And I suspect that feminist writers -- as opposed to feminist-lite writers like Candace Bushnell and Jennifer Baumgardner - are having a particularly tough time because, although there is a substantial youth market for women's books, the vast number of younger female readers don't want to deal with an older generation's feminism that, as Katha Pollitt said unattractively but persuasively in the last "Women's Review of Books," might cause them to be associated with "hairy-legged lesbians" rather than life as a high-fashion executive or as the bisexual former girlfriend of a fashionable lesbian musician (who probably does have hairy legs, covered up by sexy ripped jeans and a lot of money.) Strangely, given how limited the academic world is, a new assistant professor has a far easier time getting a monograph published than an established writer whose book will not guarantee a (very large) profit and multiple tie-ins aimed at the youth market.

So far I have only read Jane's (completely amazing) excerpt from her unpublished novel, because she's my friend and I wanted to read it first. And speaking of marketing, take it from this feminist that you would be well-served to read Jane's other books. If you want to buy any that are in print (she also has a number that are out of print that can be purchased from used book dealers) go here. I recommend all of them. She is a beautiful writer of fiction and non-fiction, whose work is read and taught by academics, and has also served a more popular audience, for decades.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Random Thoughts to Fill the Time Before Writing (But Not Too Much Time Or Today Will Be Just LIke Yesterday And No Writing Will Be Done At All)

One of my favorite writing books is Ann LaMott's "Bird By Bird: Random Thoughts on Writing and Life." I like it in part because she is so forgiving of the many things we all do to avoid writing that she actually incorporates them into the writing process. For example, cleaning your desk and eating lunch. I also like it because it is clear from reading the book that she procrastinates mightily and yet still publishes a great deal. She doesn't publish as much as Robert B. Parker or Stephen Ambrose, but she finishes enough books and articles on a regular enough basis that she actually has a lunch to eat from money she earned writing. Of course, part of what allows academics to procrastinate is that we get paid whether we write or not, and I at least am constantly being served lunch at the various meetings I attend. OK, maybe the free lunch stops that you procrastinate right into the sixth or seventh year of your appointment as an assistant professor, but *you know what I mean.*

As part of today's writing, therefore, I have compiled a list of additional activities that can, in my experience, usefully be worked into the writing routine.

1. Paying the bills. How can you write if you fear that the telephone company might cancel your account any minute?

2. Sorting accumulated mail. There might be bills to pay in there, and all the unsolicited offers for credit cards and home equity loans have to be shredded to avoid identity theft. You don't want identity theft, do you? I thought not.

3. Drive to Staples and buy shredder. Win brownie points by sticking head in door of partner's office and asking if *she* could use anything at Staples.

4. Sort books waiting to be read that are sitting in piles in the study. Which books are for a project you wanted to do five or six years ago, but which never panned out? Get rid of them, either by selling at the handy-dandy used book store downtown or returning to the library, whichever seems appropriate.

5. Spend money earned from books on a nice lunch.

6. Do the five things your accountant needs you to do in order to file your taxes on time. You do want to file your taxes on time, since if you don't the whole house of cards might crumble. It's too awful to think about.

7. Go through email inbox to discard messages already answered or messages so old even you can't imagine answering them at this point.

8. Go to this procrastination website.

9. Send check from the Village Voice to Vanguard Roth IRA account, and calculate compound interest so that you know this modest check will actually be worth six times as much when you draw it out at age seventy.

10. Read this month's Women's Review of Books, paying particular attention to a fabulous cartoon about blogging, in which the blogger loses her job because she can't stop blogging..............

Monday, March 19, 2007

There's No Place Like Home

I made it home. 2:00 Sunday morning. Several thousand people remain in Atlanta, at least three or four hundred of whom are trying to get to Regional Airport. And I actually got up and read the dissertation that is due at Inter Library Loan today. A miracle, since I was so tired I could hardly speak. (All the words frequently came out in the wrong order. "Oh," I thought, "This is what it will be like to have a little stroke!" since in my mind I knew what I was saying, but N would look at me as if I had said "abba dabba yabba doo.")

The details of my successful departure were surreal, since in my effort to get on an earlier flight Saturday I plodded from gate to gate, assured by the Delta attendants at the previous gates that trying to get on a flight standby was a good idea. It was not. The heights of this absurdity were reached on the 5:30 flight, which was oversold by 40 seats (four-oh) and had sixty people on the standby list. After that, I went to TGI Fridays and settled in with a cold one (or three) to watch basketball for four hours.

Part of what was happening, as far as I can tell, was that some of the Delta clerks were really trying to help people. Much as the lady on Friday night actually got me on a plane by designating me as a warrior for Bush, people were showing up with boarding passes that "confirmed" a seat on the flight - but with no actual seat number. Hence the growing number of excessive people booked for the flight were really just people from cancelled flights who were now eligible to be compensated under the airlines' policies: a $400 travel voucher, dinner and a motel room for the night. If you just have a flight cancelled for weather, you get bupkus.

I understand that there are many things I don't know about how to run an airline, but it is also true that if Delta had just replaced one of its smaller planes with a 747 to Regional, they could have cleared the entire backlog in one flight. But some combination of their own lousy economics plus (I suspect) a draconian financial regimen imposed by their lenders which allows them to keep their airline going means that either they are operating with precisely the number of planes (or fewer) than they need, and the smallest number of seats possible. So that jumbo jet doesn't exist, or it's sitting in San Juan waiting for the next cruise to come in. Worse, the airlines have stopped honoring each others' tickets like they used to do. So up until Saturday noon, it was possible to buy a ticket on another airline and get to Hartford (I acually ran into a Zenith colleague who did this) but not get your Delta ticket transferred to another airline.

So before I stop writing about the airlines (aren't you relieved I haven't permanently turned into the Travel Radical?) here are my closing thoughts.

1. It is time for Congress to hold hearings on the airlines. Every penny that they are saving by these idiotic policies is being offloaded on consumers and business. And as long as Republicans care about business, the hearings could be bipartisan: many hundreds of thousands of work hours are being lost this week as executives of various kinds who tried to go home Friday try to get home now.

2. During a weather crisis, what you do in the first six hours is crucial: work hard on getting out that day or decide to get a hotel and relax until they can get you out. And forget the telephone. You have to go to the airport and stand in those lines because even if you can get to someone over the phone, unless you are physically present they have no interest in doing something positive that will result in getting rid of you. When you are standing in front of them, and they tell you they can't do anything for four or five days, say calmly and reasonably, "I'm sorry, that's not good enough." Try to rebook to an airport from which you can rent a car or take another mode of transportation home, even if that flight cancels. Even though I didn't get to Baltimore, it was my multiple cancellations that helped me get the final clerk to jiggle the system to get me home. And my physical presence (as well as some expression of sympathy for her situation) persuaded her to do her best to get me a real seat on a real plane. Airline clerks have a ton of discretion, even in a bad situation: the key is getting them to use it on your behalf.

3. In a huge transportation crisis, the clerks will tell you that you have a chance for standby when you don't. If you don't actually have a confirmed seat, you are not getting on a plane: the two or three seats that do exist will go to people with small children (the poor blighters!), the elderly and the sick. There are many people who would have been better served by getting a hotel room and taking a little vacation in Atlanta than they are currently being served living at the airport, trying to fly standby and getting six hours of sleep a night.

4. Always take your computer when you travel. My internet connection consistently allowed me to get good information when many other people were getting poor information just so the airline clerks could move them away from the desk. It also allowed me to find a hotel to stay in when those hotels linked up to the courtesy telephones in the airport were completely full.

5. Take a very long book whenever you travel. I ripped through all of John Steinbeck's "East of Eden," which I had never read, and is definitely one of the cheesiest novels I have ever read by a great American writer. It was made for an airport -- not the Pulitzer prize, which it actually won for reasons that are mysterious to me.

Saturday, March 17, 2007


Guess what? My flight to Baltimore was cancelled! I spent the night in Atlanta! I paid for a hotel room in Baltimore when I actually needed a hotel room in Atlanta! Yay!

So I went to stand in another line for another two hours where everyone was ripping their hair out and weeping. Fortunately, I have had a great deal of psychotherapy, and I said to myself: "This feeling you have, Radical, of wanting to gut the nearest Delta employee is merely unfinished childhood business. It is all those feelings you were never permitted to express when your mother was always late to pick you up and then did not understand that it was only her own narcissism, and her inability to see you as the person that you were, that unconsciously -- and yet, deliberately -- prevented your on-time departure. It is those deep feelings of loss and abandonment that were conjured up by the belief that your mother never really wanted to be a mother, and might really leave you at the departure gate -- er, the skating rink. And that terror welling up from your adult brain transforms itself into anger, so committed are you to protecting yourself from these labile, infantilizing feelings of existential aloneness."

Hence: by the time I got to the Delta representative, I was the only person in line, including the nun, who had not already been in a shouting match with someone in navy blue with red piping.

Hence again: the representative, so happy was she to be greeted by an exhausted, vulnerable "He-e-e-e-llo-o-o," with a calculated tear brimming at the edge of the eye, instead of a low growl, that she listed me as "military" on the manifest which gave me access to priority seating status. And -- unlike everyone else in that line but our boys and girls in mottled, digitized gray --today I actually have a seat with a number on a plane that will really take off at 10:35 tonight, if I don't get standby earlier.

So, worst case scenario I wait in the airport for another ten hours or so. And if you think I should feel guilty for impersonating a soldier, I don't. I consider this only partial compensation for the use of my tax dollars for this horrid, illegal war.

Hint: when stuck in airport, do not use the courtesy phones to get a room at the airport motel. It doesn't work. Use the web, even late at night. Even though the Orbitz website malfunctioned, and I had to duke it out with them this morning because they logged in (and charged for) the reservation *four* times, I think I have gotten that sorted out too. And I started the day with six hours sleep and a shower. And a nice gay boy in the lobby drove me to the airport and made me laugh and invited me to a huge party on Sutton Place in New York.

But the other outcome of this hideous end to a great research trip -- other than that I have completed and sent all extant recommendations -- is that I have a great new line. The next time a student or a colleague gets on my nerves I am going to look deeply into his/her eyes and say, gently but forcefully, "I'm sorry, I'm going to have to speak to your supervisor."


End note: Oso Raro, of course you don't steal pictures. Neither do I (imagine the sound of trilling laughter.)

Friday, March 16, 2007

Well, It's Deja Vu All Over Again

So here I am in the Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport and -- my flight is canceled because of a massive snowstorm in the northeast! Really! It’s too funny. Not.

But here’s an interesting historical note, one that reminds me of something a now-retired senior colleague, Dr. Tory, used to say when he was trying to shoot down a job candidate. “History,” he would say with an evil smile, and a look of profound pity for the rest of us who did not understand what a terrible scholar we wanted to hire, “is change over time. And I just don’t see change (pause) over (pause) time (pause) in this work.”

Well, I am reminded of this because I am having the same experience I had ten years ago. And yet it is not the same. Why? Technology.

OK. So I was at the Carter Library finishing up my work this morning when my phone went off. “This is Orbitz TLC,” said a chirpy little voice. “Your flight is cancelled!”


Now I won’t bore you with everything in between, but it is simply true that in a crisis of this magnitude, where perhaps 100,000 people are trying to get somewhere, there is no point in trying to get information over the phone, which is what Delta always urges you to do rather than coming to the airport to scream at them for their relentless incompetence in the face of any small difficulty. I bet it was Delta that was in charge of getting General Hood and his troops out of Atlanta, and they finally burned the damn city down out of frustration. So you ask yourself: what would Rhett Butler do in this situation? And the answer is clear. You have to either steal a horse and buggy, put the fragile Melanie Wilkes in the back and the irritating-but-sexy Scarlett up front, and haul *** out the old Decatur road to Tara or -- you have to go to the airport.

I went to the airport, as I could not locate Mrs. Wilkes. There I discovered, by standing in a line for two hours, that although I could not get booked to Hartford until Monday, I could get to Baltimore tonight. Step one.

Then I bought 24 hours of wireless Internet time for $7.95. Step two.

Then I logged on to Amtrak, and booked a ticket out of BWI train station at 2:36 tomorrow afternoon (which, by the way, turned out to be a very good idea: during the time I was online, three earlier trains sold out.) Step 3.

Then I went to Travelocity and booked a room at the BWI Red Roof Inn for tonight, as I am too old to sleep in the airport. Step 4.

So instead of being home by dinnertime tonight, I’ll be home by dinnertime tomorrow. Which is significantly better than Monday evening, which was the best Delta could do. Fools.

So you see, I’ve got to hand it to Dr. Tory, many years after those meetings where I would have gladly put a stake in his sorry heart: history sometimes really is little else but change over time.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Leaving Atlanta

The last time I was in Atlanta, except perhaps to change planes, was a little more than ten years ago. It was an American Historical Association Annual Meeting and Saturday night, as everyone was making the rounds of the various smokers and publisher's parties ("I'm not going anywhere that the drinks aren't free!" my friend Ethel, who now works at Harvard, said to me that night) a rumor arose that there would be three or four inches of snow the next day. Eh, what-evah, we from New England shrugged, as we shoved our way through the Oxford Press reception (chardonnay.)

By the time I was throwing elbows at the Penn smoker (foreign beer and two colors of wine), I was hearing rumours that there would not only be snow in Atanta, there would be snow up North too. A lot. And that anyone who had her wits about her would consider booking an earlier flight. Maybe that night. However, this was not an option for Dr. Radical, since I was chairing a panel full of graduate students who had been re-drafting their papers for weeks getting ready for our 9:00 A.M. panel. It was their professional debut, you see. And I was close enough to my own professional debut to be sensitive to that, and not walk out on them.

Little did I know that the decision to act like a professional would doom me to four days of hideous frozen travel.

Now this was before cell phones, and before everyone had email everywhere they went. Today, instead of going on to the Potemkin University smoker (full bar, as befits les universites nouveaux) and then the queer party at John Howard's apartment (I just don't recall what was served, except that along with the drinks was something dinner-ish) I would have emailed to the BlackBerry of a local colleague, gotten him/her to stand in for me, rebooked my flight, and hightailed it out of there on a late flight. But no. That was then, everything was lo-tech, and the best I could have done was leave a post-it on John Howard's toothbrush: "By the way -- can you do a panel in the Jefferson Room, 9 a.m.? There's a good fellow. Toodle-oo."

So instead I went back to my hotel room, got up the next day nursing a roaring hangover, and chaired and commented for the panel as the first little flakes started to fall. I remember sitting there in the hermetically sealed conference room, looking at the six or seven people from Ottumwa C.C. and University of Nebraska -- Pothole, whose idea of a good time was to hit the nine o'clock panels. I had that creeping sensation you get at the beginning of "The Poseiden Adventure," when you know it is a matter of time before Ernest Borgnine and Shelley Winters are shinnying up a smokestack.

Most of the historians who will read this blog aren't old enough to remember the next few days, but there were no good choices if you lived anywhere on the east coast, and really as far west as Chicago. Snow blanketed half the nation, and it kept snowing for days in the northeast. Every single airport was closed by 2:00 and stayed closed well into the following week. Those who had been smart enough to have booked a direct flight before ten got home; everyone else did not. My sprightly elderly colleague, Professor Chips, and I went to the airport together on the MARTA: he had a direct flight and made it as far as Regional airport, thirty miles from Zenith, but could not get to his house because it was illegal to drive in our state. He spent the next few days in the Regional airport motel. Some people just stayed at the Atlanta Hilton, which kept them on at the conference rate, but since six inches of snow is as bad as three feet in the south, I am told that over the next few days, the hotel gradually ran out of food. There were unconfirmed reports that a few graduate students were -- well, consumed. But I stress-- these reports are unconfirmed.

I made it as far as Charlotte, NC, where flights closed down as soon as I landed. I went to a cash machine and maxed out, and bought a Very Long Book (since it was an airport in the days before they sold real books in airports, and it was the Charlotte airport, I suspect it was a W.E.B. Griffin novel.) I then went to a seedy motel, which had an even seedier diner attached to it. Two days later I got a flight out to Albany, which was open for about three hours before the storm turned around and it shut again. Then I took an Amtrak train, eventually making it to Shoreline, twelve hours later.

And you ask why I have not been back to Atlanta since. Oy. To this day I remember clicking the heels of my ruby slippers at the USAir desk in Charlotte.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Which I finally logged onto tonight after fruitlessly trying to upload pictures yesterday and today. Why? Well, this is the other thing that can happen on a research trip. Spending too much time alone can lead to staying up too late catching up on interesting blogs bookmarked but not really read yet. I was reading Crunchy Granola and I learned that if you go here you can make a portrait of yourself on this Japanese website. It's kind of like working with the police artist.

"Was his chin like that?'
"No. More pointed."
"Like that"
"Yeah, but with a little dimple."

Except that instead of making a picture of the man who picked your pocket on the subway you are making a picture of yourself, picking all the features one by one. Fortunately I re-checked the large list of facial features from beginning to end before I completed the portrait because I couldn't figure out why my forehead looked so big (although I had tried different foreheads.) Then I realized I had forgotten to give myself eyebrows. Anyway, it either looks like me or it looks like my idea of me in my head. Just like this blog is my idea of me in your head. When I was done I was very happy with it. So I wanted to upload it, along with a picture of Charlie Chaplin holding a little doll in his hand, to go with the theme of sexualizing relationships of unequal power (Chaplin was always scratching an itch for teenage girls) which I *can't* seem to let go. But the upload thingie on blogger wouldn't function. I tried and tried, and it kept giving me a severe little admonition about how I had to choose a picture, even though I had done so.

Of course, I thought it was me. Then, when I read in the paper that Google is getting sued by Viacom over clips that folks are uploading on YouTube, I thought, Oh dear -- they have disabled the picture upload because of people like me and Oso Raro who are always stealing Bette Davis pictures and such. And then I thought, Oh God, they are really after me because I went Too Far and stole pictures from Gone With The Wind, which everyone knows is a Sacred Movie, and used them in a sarcastic way. So I am being punished by having my picture privileges taken away.

Then I clicked on help and realized that many other people are having trouble uploading pictures on Blogspot too. So I am very relieved and my obsessive little mind has stopped spinning and I will wait until I get home to worry about this.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pokey Chatman Update

Thank heaven for the anonymous comment function. A report just in from Baton Rouge (I think -- the writer seems familiar enough with the campus) adds nuance to the picture of the Pokey Chatman resignation. This short essay was originally posted to the comments section of my previous article, but it has enough of a new perspective to deserve a more prominent place on the blog. Tiger321 writes:

"Along with remembering that most of what's been reported is based on rumor, we should also keep in mind that the media doesn't (and perhaps can't) give the whole story. One aspect that's been mostly left out in the coverage of this saga is that there are in fact people who are supporting Pokey. LSU's campus newspaper today included an article in which a former player (who remains anonymous) does--however tactfully--defend Chatman. Also in the news today, Sylvia Fowles's comments to the press following the NCAA Selection Show last night were nothing if not supportive of Pokey. And Fowles and the anonymous former player are joined by numerous fans, at LSU and in Baton Rouge in general, who have no direct contact with the media and so, naturally, wouldn't be included in the coverage.

"The other thing that seems to be (completely) absent from the issues raised by the media and blogging communities like this one is that, should the rumors prove to be true, there is still no basis for LSU 'forcing' Pokey to resign. If her resignation was indeed of her own accord, fine--that is a separate issue. But, if her resignation was, as the rumor goes, the result of the report of her having a sexual relationship with a player and the subsequent investigation, then a different problem arises. I'm not going to jump in on the debate over the ethics of sex with students/players. I will, however, point out that LSU does not have a non-fraternization policy (though they are now working on creating one). I know of university professors here who have had 'relations' with both graduate and undergraduate students. I also know of LSU graduate TAs who have had sexual relationships with undergraduates. While these relationships are all 'frowned upon' by the university, they are not prohibited. I've looked, fruitlessly thus far, for an NCAA policy prohibiting fraternization, which could, in a pinch, explain (logically) LSU's handling of the matter. But without such an excuse, I'm inclined to believe the 'conspiracy theory'-esque lines of thinking that Pokey is no longer at LSU because she is a woman, or because she is black, or because she is gay, or perhaps all three."

Let me say too that this Radical has always been against policies that prohibit fraternization (a fabulous euphemism) for two reasons. The first is I am against policing in situations that are not inherently criminal: because a relationship *could* harm someone is not a reason to prohibit it, particularly when everyone involved is sexually mature and the pleasure in the relationship is mutual. People are routinely harmed by being married to the wrong person...oh don't worry. I won't start again. But I think it is one of the bad lessons of feminism that power imbalance in a relationship makes the person of lesser power inherently incapable of previous knowledge about the situation s/he is entering into, choice or reasonable consent. Or that the heartbreak suffered at the end of the relationship is inherently more painful and damaging than in a relationship where equality reigns.

But the other, more important, reason is: research shows that overwhelmingly, those who are disciplined under such regulations are lesbians and black men, and that the regulations themselves become as great a site of injustice and inequity as the relationships they are supposed to discourage. So putting such regulations in place creates yet another arena for letting another, possibly more pernicious, set of power relationships to play out, with permanent consequences for livelihoods and reputations.


Relevant update on my Atlanta bed and breakfast: I was discussing the Chatman situation last night with the gang at the inn as an alternative to talking about history and/or the President. And the innkeeper, a woman who is nearly sixty, told me that she had an affair with her dissertation advisor thirty years ago. Subsequently they were married, but they continue to live in separate houses to this day. Hence, the former dissertation director was not there to explain his torrid past.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Even though this is an anonymous blog, I think it is dumb to disguise where I am traveling and it gives me less to write about. So -- I am in a bed and breakfast in the Inman Park neighborhood of Atlanta. I chose this location for two reasons. One is, much as I love research, I vacillate between whether a faceless hotel is more desirable because of its precious anonymity, or whether an inn of some sort is better because you can actually be in a neighborhood and not eat at strip malls or worry about the bacteria in the carpet. You would think inns would be a slam dunk. But no. The problem with inns is having to talk to the innkeeper and the other guests (more on this later.)

The other reason I chose to eschew the faceless hotel is that this particular B & B is within walking distance of the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, and also within shot -- either by foot or by MARTA -- of Little Five Points, about six blocks of New York's Lower East Side transplanted to a Dixie metropolis; downtown Atlanta; and Decatur. Decatur is very gay, and I like to visit gay places wherever I travel. And yes, I am doing research at the Carter Library, so if you don't know who I am already, fly to Atlanta, drop by, and find out.

Of course, everyone I meet in Atlanta is stunned that I did not rent a car, something that I never did on any research trip for either of my first two books except once, when I was working in strange repositories all over Dallas, which has no public transportation whatsoever. If Atlantans are stunned by my desire to walk, something only the poor do in southern citites, I am stunned that everywhere I go I am stepping all over the Confederate dead which there are rather a lot of on this side of the city. This, in turn, doesn't seem to bother the natives in the least. About three blocks from where I sit now, Atlanta was defended --badly -- by the Confederate General Hood (a dear friend of Mary Chesnut's, as it happens.) Instead of hightailing it up the Decatur road toward the coast where he might have saved himself many casualties and, in the end, might have spared the city destruction, Hood instead stood his ground, lost the battle, retreated back into Atlanta, and helped Joe Johnston burn it down. I knew this already in the abstract way that historians know things -- having read Sherman's "Memoirs" and read/seen Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind" -- but it was a different thing entirely to be standing in a park that is about the size of a square city block and read a sign that informs you that 6,700 secesh and 3000+ Union troops died on that very spot and it only took a couple hours.

As a northerner whose work flirts with southern history (ocasionally I pose as a southern historian at conferences, but put me in a lineup with folks like Jacquelyn Hall and Pete Daniel and I look peaky) I am constantly ending up in Dixie in some archive or another, and this is definitely one of the most southern places I come. The research trip I documented on this blog last fall was in North Carolina -- Durham, to be exact, and while there are parts of the Carolinas that feel very southern, Durham is not one of them. Or more precisely, the Duke University campus is not one of them. Here in Atlanta it feels very southern everywhere, something that is merely underlined by markers documenting the war -- it's a perfectly groomed look well-to-do white women have, and a southern accent that most people have whatever their race, gender or class. And then there is the history -- the So-and-so plantation house, burned in 1864; the Martin Luther King Memorial. I suppose you get used to your own local history, wherever you live, and other folks' history is only in books until you go and touch it. Or maybe it's just that I am easily moved by history: whenever I am in D.C., I always go visit the Constitution just for old times' sake.

Anyway, to get back to the reasons *not* to stay in a bed and breakfast -- it's the innkeeper and the other guests, who can interfere with one of the great joys of being on a research trip: Being Alone. Eventually, someone always asks me what I do (N says if I would just answer "Rowing Coach!" or "Sales!" they would shut up and move on to the next guest.) When I say I am a historian, and a historian of the modern United States to boot, everyone wants to talk history around the breakfast table in that History Channel kind of way. Sometimes people have even seen me on the History Channel, which means I then have to talk about that Famous Person I wrote my first book about. And let me say -- when you do United States political history everyone wants to know what you think of whatever the President is up to, regardless of what is happening or who the President is, and, nowadays, they want to know what I think about how the war in Iraq can ever possibly end. It's exhausting. Even more exhausting than sorting through the many memoranda that Presidential staff types send each other so that I can collect all the many puzzle pieces that will need to be jiggled together to write a book. And actually, I could talk about archives forever. But no one ever wants to talk about the archive. They want to talk about how much they hated their history teacher in high school. Or how much they love World War II. Or if J. Edgar Hoover was gay.

Ah well. Since you brought up history, did anyone but me read about our pal Anthony Grafton, blog commenter extraordinaire, in a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece about the Athanasius Kircher Society? Anyway, go read it, because it appears Tony is a leading member of the Kircher Society, which will puzzle you because it sounds so very odd, but actually I have concluded, given what little I know about Tony from his books, that he must be writing a book about Kircher. If you have read The Footnote this will seem like a logical explanation to you too. If you haven't read The Footnote, do so, even if you don't like history as much as Tony and I do: it's short and fun and you are either on spring break or close to it and you need something good to read, don't you?

Friday, March 09, 2007

Is It Still The Children's Hour?

If you have not done so already, read what you can about Pokey Chatman's resignation as head coach of the women's basketball program at LSU. Chatman was, until she announced her immediate resignation yesterday, the head coach of one of the top programs in the nation, a program that trounced powerhouse Tennessee in the SEC tournament and was expected to go to the Final Four this year. A former LSU player and the protege of Sue Gunter, one of the true greats in women' basketball, Chatman is considered by many to be the best women's basketball brain, and the finest recruiter, in the nation.

And now she has resigned to "pursue other career options." This phrase sets off the homophobia alarm for me: it's equivalent to the sentence that politicians toss out when they have been defeated for re-election: "I'm looking forward to spending more time with my family." Uh-huh. Sure.

Actually, the first thing that set off an alarm bell for me was the New York Times reassuring us that Chatman had not "struck" one of her players. So who thought she did? Anyone who has ever seen Chatman on the sideline, as opposed to Pat Summit or that very successful termagent Jody Conradt who coaches at UT-Austin, could pretty much guess that she is the consummate professional. Not that Summit or Conradt do hit their players, but myself, I would stay out of reach during a tight game if I saw that kind of look on my coach's face. Now allusions to a "relationship" with a former player have begun to appear, something Chatman probably hoped to avoid by resigning, but no dice. Since everyone else is talking in euphemisms, your Dr. Radical will be blunt: she is being fired because she is a lesbian, and she probably wouldn't have been anywhere near so vulnerable (there are a great many top college basketball coaches who are known to be lesbians, at least one of whom is married to a gay man and whose long-term partner is an assistant on her staff) if she weren't black. And more precisely, she is not being fired because she is a lesbian, but because now that someone talked, she has now been publicly *named* as a lesbian.

And nobody -- but nobody -- is standing up for her. Not a single head women's basketball coach has spoken up for her, not anyone at LSU gay or straight, not a former player. Nobody.

If athletics -- the top career choice for real or for fantasy of many lesbians -- were not so damn homophobic this wouldn't be a problem either. Chatman has been regarded as the best recruiter in the nation up until now, but as a heterosexual friend who is a crew coach at a D-I school once explained to me, in the recruiting season, other coaches (some of whom are also lesbians but in the closet) will say to parents some version of the following: "Look, do you want your daughter to play for me or The Lesbian? Because that's the choice here." Hence, Renee Portland's famous edict that no lesbian would ever play for her Penn State roundball squad, was not "just" homophobia. It was a recruiting tactic tacitly or explicitly supported by the athletic department at Penn State, and possibly a smokescreen for hiding some feature of her own private life. And what did Penn State do when a player finally sued for being relentlessly harassed about her sexuality, including being ordered by Portland to "prove" her heterosexuality by dating men or be cut from the squad? They fined Portland (a woman who probably makes between 300k and 400k a year) $10,000. Now there's someone who should be barred from any contact with the young because she's dishonest, manipulative and cruel.

That Chatman should even have to consider "other career options" when she is so brilliant at what she does breaks my heart. And you know what? Bobby Knight does hit and physically manhandle his players, is incredibly verbally abusive to them and to everyone around him, and he is still a head coach of a powerful program. According to Slate Knight's transgressions have included berating cheerleaders and stuffing a fan in a trashcan on national television.

So if she were a violent man, or if she were a demonstrably homophobic woman, Pokey Chatman would still have her job and a bright career in women's basketball ahead of her. But she's not: she's a smart, black lesbian, and she has got to go.

Bonus question of the day: name at least one R-One history department where it is widely known internally and externally that most second wives of male faculty are their former graduate students? For extra bonus points, name the department where tenured faculty in search of a partner are actually told that the department does not frown on choosing a mate -- homo or hetero-- from the ranks of the graduate students. Not that I think that's a bad thing! Graduate students need love too! And contrary to popular wisdom, I still believe that men and women in their twenties are capable of consent in relationships with older people. But I am also saying: if Pokey Chatman were a tenured professor at LSU, she would not be looking for other career options today, even though she might be nursing a good case of public embarassment.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More Reasons to Abolish Tenure: It Warps the Young

A pleasure of being almost fifty is that I get my best ideas for posts from younger scholars. This week it is Horace, over at To Delight and Instruct (see link on right: I am so lazy I haven't yet learned to link within the post. Maybe over spring break.)

One of the big themes in the academic blogosphere (and it's a big theme at Zenith too) is an ongoing discussion about "what counts" for tenure, and "how much" of "what counts" needs to be assembled for a successful tenure case. Even when people are ostensibly blogging about something else, tenure anxiety floats on top like an oil spill. I am thinking about this because Horace threw out a question the other day about whether it was worth while to use his time refereeing journal articles, and a number of responses were posted on the general theme of" "Figure out what's in it for you." Several bloggers suggested that if the journal thought so highly of him, it was within reason that they should pay him back by publishing one of his articles. In the realm of "what's in it for you/me" this is a useful and creative contribution. But the whole discussion reminds me again how tenure anxiety now frames the first seven to ten years of a young person's career, how young scholars' lives are shaped to privilege individualism in an atmosphere of rising tenure expectations, and what toll this phenomenon may be taking on them and the scholarly enterprise as a whole.

My response to Horace's dilemma is mixed, although the comment I posted was a mildly snarky one, for which I apologize if it seemed too critical: that other people spent time refereeing one's own publications for free too, and that reciprocating without getting direct credit is part of the deal. But I also fear that the unspoken reciprocity that bound tenured and untenured scholars into a community of mutual interest may be broken, and that it will stay broken without some larger intervention that addresses tenure directly. As part of this, we need an honest, profession-wide discussion about colleagueship that includes all ranks and types of faculty as equal partners, and that addresses the real injustice of a tenure process that is inevitably mysterious and inaccessible to those who are most affected by it.

Here's my contribution.

I truly wish on some days that I had lived my life with a little more attention to self-interest: I've reviewed far more articles than I have published, although with the glacier pace of academic publishing, this probably isn't surprising. I have an article in press now that took three years to make its way through the process, and probably for 27 months of that time it was sitting on someone's desk waiting to be read and commented upon. I have a second article in press as of this week that only took a year to make its way through the process, but this quick (in the scale of things) turnaround is, I suspect, only because it was solicited for a special issue by two untenured faculty who need to get it out as part of their tenure dossiers.

But when I was hired as an assistant professor, it was made quite clear to me that being part of the peer review process on the journal side of things was both an honor and a responsibility. During my reappointment and tenure reviews, this kind of work and similar scholarly commitments beyond Zenith's walls -- a national program committee, being asked to participate in several public history projects --was favorably commented upon as part of my larger engagement with the profession and the respect that senior colleagues elsewhere had for my work. So while I obviously had to see my work through to publication -- these external obligations did not take the place of the couple articles and the monograph I was expected to have produced -- I did in fact get "credit" for doing this work , since it was seen as evidence of a certain kind of mature collegiality that one wanted to see in a tenured colleague.

By the time I came up for promotion to full professor five -- and then six -- and then an agonizing seven -- years later, this broader engagement (and by this time I had actually co-chaired the program committee of one of the biggest history conferences in the world) was seen as either a negative aspect of my case or irrelevant to evaluating me as a scholarly historian. I had also chaired a program and a major university committee during the time that "standards" had been raised. All of this had taken away from time for scholarship, but the understanding had been when I took on this work that a published book was not necessary for the case. Not only did this change abruptly, but I was then told that service to the profession at large would not be considered at all as part of the case. Collegial scholarly obligations had become regarded, more or less, as the equivalent of housework, as had administrative work at my own university.

As part of duking this situation out with the Evil Empire at Zenith, I simply assumed that this was part of the larger dishonesty I was being forced to deal with in the History department. That was true in a way and, as I know now, not true. Because younger people are onto something: service to the profession and colleagueship in the university is not valued for promotion as it once was.

There is no easy response to this development, but let me note attendant issues that spring from it:

1. The proliferation of post-docs (which are full-time contingent labor in drag, most of them) mean that more untenured people are being hired with a book either finished or in press, and several published articles. This means that people who are actually getting jobs right out of graduate school and have to both write and teach full time are immediately behind the eight ball in a contest for tenure that is being falsely inflated by those coming in at year one off a post-doc. This, I suspect, produces a tendency to treat the first years of a ladder track job as much like a post-doc as possible. And it will, I predict, shortly make a place like Zenith, where the teaching demands are quite heavy in some fields and the faculty insists on running the university in a parallel universe to that inhabited by The Administration, a "two-books for tenure" university.

2. The wail heard across the land: "How *much* do I have to do for tenure?" This is a serious and simultaneously unanswerable question. One wants to say reassuring things about quality and not quantity, but that is demonstrably a non-answer. Furthermore, the only thing untenured people can have any real perspective on is quantity, since who but a minority of egotists really believe that others see their work as they do? Thus, assistant professors both deal with tenure anxiety by quantifying work (a defense against the constant anxiety of not knowing whether you are smart enough to be noticed by others), and asking senior faculty to set a number that they can fix on as a goal so that they can know whether they are on target or behind. Those of us who sit on tenure cases think this is exasperating, and it has the terrible outcome of, when a young person does not get tenure, landing a lot of anxious young folk on your doorstep who say, "But So-and-so had a book out with a good press and five articles! How can this be!" But they have a point -- although raw numbers have nothing to do with why people do or don't get tenure, we senior faculty have done nothing that makes any better sense of the process for our younger colleagues.

Thus, at this point we might as well be passing out tee-shirts and coffee mugs to junior faculty that say "Me first." And it is impossible to argue with this, since we give them no alternative explanation for how tenure works, and we can't. But it also means that the kind of projects that untenured people are often ideally suited to -- curriculum building, speaker's series, refereeing articles -- because they are fresh out of graduate school with much on their minds and on the cutting edge of their fields, well forget it. Those are exactly the things that they don't want to do because it doesn't "count" and can't be "counted." And people who do those things end up looking like Betty Crocker in the T & P meetings, in comparison to the manly men and women who

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Extraordinary Privilege Department

This just in, having been sent at 9:28 this morning and received just minutes ago after I finished grading the papers and checked my e-mail:

"Hi Professor Radical -

"I know this is wierd but I just received news from Habitat for Humanity that I have been called back for another interview tomorrow that I have to be at in order to get the job. This interview is very important to me, because it would mean a step to my chosen career. To be there in time I would have to leave by at least 12: can I reschedule the exam?"

Not that I mean to plot the location of Zenith more precisely, but it takes exactly 4 hours to get to Phladelphia from here. Under what conditions might a person have to leave by noon today to get to Philadelphia by business hours tomorrow?

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Despite advice to the contrary, I finished the article. For too long have I collaborated in my own oppression. Rise up! Rise up! The tyranny of student opinion and desire has been temporarily vanquished at Zenith.

Good outcomes include:

1) Article sent, done, finissima;
2) A reputation for being the on-time Radical secured on the staff of a literary journal in Philadelphia;
3) Not sitting around weeping because "I can't seem to ever *finish* anything" (imagine this said with a moan and a little sob);
4) Students appeared not to notice or care that their papers were not returned.

Bad outcomes:

1) I still have papers to grade and they have to be returned in less than 24 hours;
2) My reputation as the on-time Professor Radical continues to wobble and/or decline.

But here's the post-script: while grading last night I became incensed at not being able to view the Rutgers-Marquette women's Big East tournament semi-final, and so I have purchased an entirely new package of channels so that the non-stop grading that will continue during the first and final two weeks of March Madness need never be done without a basketball game on!

Monday, March 05, 2007


Question: when faced with both a large stack of papers you have promised to return on Monday (but have not touched in the two weeks since they were handed in) and a Monday deadline for an article, do you choose to:

a) finish the article (screw the papers);
b) screw the article (the other contributors to the special issue will be late too) so you can stay up half the night and/or get up at the crack of dawn to finish grading the papers and not have to make transparent excuses to your students;
c) stay up late and finish the article and, if you get to bed at a reasonable hour, get up and start grading the papers so there is some hope you will finish them before spring break;
d) write a blog post;
e) none of the above.

What's your answer to this common dilemma? I'll post the decision I made -- and the reasoning behind it -- tomorrow.

Saturday, March 03, 2007


OK, instead of going into every comments section to respond, I'm going to take the risk of writing a diffuse post every once in a while and go back to various issues readers have raised.

Lesboprof: the way I know how many readers I have is that I installed that little sitemeter on the right side of the blog, atop the links section. It gives me all kinds of interesting information, although some of it is inexact. For example, it gives me referrals, which lets me know how some people got to the blog in the first place, thus leading me to interesting blogs who have linked me. As far as I can tell, the best way to acquire a lot of readers fast is to get linked to Inside Higher Ed or to be mentioned on another popular blog like Sivacracy or the Valve. My props from Siva bounced me up by twenty or thirty readers per day, and mentions on other blogs like Ferule and Fescue and Lumpenprofessoriat have also made me more visible. My post on tenure at MIT also bounced me -- there was a lot of interest from web addresses in and around Cambridge for a while, although I haven't seen those folks much since. Probably too busy changing regimes.

On the other hand, if you have your hopes pinned to remaining anonymous (I do not), be warned that being popular is not such a boon. I have already been located by at least two of my younger colleagues, who have notified me that they are readers (note: I have told no one that they are readers, thus preserving their capacity to comment anonymously should they choose to do so), but my guess from the sitemeter is that there are a couple other Zenith readers out there too. The lurking colleagues provide kind of a useful function, in that when I am writing about Zenith, particularly personnel issues, I have an internal editor that clicks on, asking me whether my friends would reprove me for what I say on line and whether or not they would be right.

To those who wrote on the topic of "denigrate:" these are very interesting and helpful, particular when taken as a group. Combat Philosopher, I share your exasperation, and while subsequent comments argue that the students are not entirely out to lunch on this, what I think all the comments suggest is that "denigrate" still falls into the ample realm of reasonable word use. And the practice of establishing petty hierarchies of virtue over things that don't matter is a real problem at Zenith because it produces an atmosphere in which being "right" is more important than thinking, and the free exchange of ideas is inevitably suppressed because students are afraid of being shamed by their peers for ideological error. Professor Z's response about how to teach this moment is particularly helpful, in my view, because it doesn't privilege my knowledge over theirs, tempting as it might be to do that. Such a move at a moment characterized by self-righteousness on their part is guaranteed to cause them to stop listening and dig in.

Neophyte, I can't tell whether you are pissed at me for being racially insensitive or pissed at the students for the politics of disengagement, as you usefully call it. I do think etymology is important - in exactly the ways that you and professor z sketch it out in your responses, but I also don't think that all words that stem from the ancient word for black need to be purged from our vocabulary. I don't mean to be dismissive here when I ask, under what conditions are allusions to black possible if a word like denigrate, which was initially produced under conditions in which white slavery was the norm, cannot be used? PS: at Banana Republic (aargh! colonialism!!!) I was told last week that lime green is the new black. And no, I won't stop shopping there, because their clothes fit, dammit, and I need a new suit for the OAH annual meeting. And the real ethical problem here that is directly related to colonialism is not the name of the bloody store but that practically every garment we buy, anywhere, is made under appallingly oppressive labor conditions in countries where all workers are invisible to us.

But once again, I digress.

If you go back to the original context in which the word "denigrating" was used -- it made a lot of sense, since I was talking about a process of racialization that in fact is associated with shame and a history of subordinaiton by race, and which a racialized group is resisting for a *reason.* So in their haste to cleanse the classroom, actually the students conveniently skipped over a rather complex point. And I guess I am in the Grafton camp, perhaps because we are both historians or because we are both middle-aged -- there is a modern revisionism typical of this exchange that acts to wipe one kind of history away in the interest of a more facile, not a more critical, just or even *comfortable* classroom environment. As Neophyte notes, that moment where white students are ventriloquizing what they assume students of color are feeling has some pretty tricky issues attached to it too. If, in fact, the word "denigrate" is associated with slavery, and I am still not convinced that the intersection of blackness with an exclusive availability for enslavement that doesn't emerge until the Early Modern period (see David Eltis and professor z on this question) awards a meaning to this word that is more or less exclusive, why shouldn't this be useful knowledge rather than grounds for a criticism/self-criticism session? African slavery is one of the primary foundations for the social, cultural and political history of the modern world. I don't think the job of the historian is to erase the traces of that in our language -- which might do the work, actually, of erasing the cultural and intellectual histories associated with American racism.

So that's what I think right now in relation to a set of incredibly thoughtful comments. And speaking of language, did anyone catch the Ann Coulter speech at the American Conservative Union going around the 'net? In discussing the current crop of Democratic presidential hopefuls, she said, interrupted by the raucous laughter of her ACU cronies, that she would discuss John Edwards, "but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word faggot." I bring this up for two reasons. One is that my use of the verb "to denigrate" in its gerundial form described a mentalite; it did not categorize a person, or group of persons, as something inherently shameful, like many other racialized nouns that we keep out of our vocabulary for good reason, but rather as the objects of a discourse that is intended to convey shame. Second, Coulter may have catalyzed yet another step in John Edwards' move into the twenty-first century. Having initially changed his position on gay marriage to say that he believes that marriage is between a man and a woman, but that his personal beliefs have no place in shaping policy, he has -- along with David Bonior -- now sent out an email to his supporters that blasts Coulter and her ship of fools for "bigotry."

And here's one of the places I do draw the line in using language: I would say that Coulter is a big bitch, but that would be disrespectful a) to my dog, Sailor, to whom I am devoted; b) to all women, for whom the term bitch has historically been used to shame or marginalize in an undifferentiated way that is linked to their reproductive capacities; and c) to the famous Bitch, Ph.D., who recuperates this word on a daily basis in her high level of radical political engagement.

So I'll just characterize Ann Coulter as dumb and rude. And John Edwards -- we dykes and faggots welcome you to the politics of equality and justice, baby.

Friday, March 02, 2007


So my tax accountant is off working his magic, and I got to go to Trader Joe's, which is right around the corner from his office. Whenever I go see Ted, it reminds me that part of getting older and more established, as well as more prosperous, is acquiring all of these people who do things for you and who need to be paid. People who work for me currently include:

Esme, a housecleaner, whose residency status, I suspect, means that I cannot ever run for office without fear that I will be uncovered as a federal felon. That is if the press doesn't get to my brief career as a petty marijuana dealer first. Or my teenage years as an adulterer. Or my current status as a lesbian.

Ted, the accountant, who is a former IRS agent and exactly the person you would want to go into an audit with: confident, peppy, adds large sums in his head. Favorite phrase of mine, said when looking at a borderline deduction: "Hey -- its not a red flag!"

Esther the dog sitter, a student at Oligarch's divinity school who recently asked me to bring with me, upon my return from Big City, a cake that she had ordered for herself from a bakery she had read about in Big City's paper of record. You might think this was burdensome to me as an employer, but one of my friends has a dogsitter who has had a variety of run-ins with the law (which my friend, instead of firing her, has mentored her through, including posting bail at one point), so I consider myself fortunate in having a dogsitter whose needs are so slight.

A financial advisor, Steven. Favorite phrase: when dealing with the fairly paltry sums of money I earn in comparison to his other clients (like my mother) he characterizes the sums I send him as "better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick."

J-J, a neighborhood teenager who shows up faithfully whenever it snows to shovel all available surfaces for twenty dollars. I would give him more, but it generally takes him about ten minutes, and I think $2.00 a minute is a good wage. If he has other activities like this he does in the summer, he will go far. I have never had to call him -- which is good because I have no idea where he lives or what his number is. Or what his last name is.

Grant, whose number I do have, and who I call when I need to have ladder work done or Heavy Stuff carried. Grant actually is a former felon, which I only know because he normally works for my friend Nat, who hires only felons through a special program run by the state that allows him to more or less exploit them in exchange for them acquiring a work history and various skills associated with the construction trade.

Betty the dogwalker, who takes Sailor for long strolls when we are only gone for the day, but not for the night, and whose pleasant, glassy expression and flat affect makes her appear to be a person very heavily drugged with something that is prescribed by a physician. Dog walking seems to be Betty's calling for this reason, and this reason alone, since as far as I can tell she is actually indifferent to dogs as anything but things that get walked and picked up after.

Who knew, back in the mid-1980's, when I was a graduate student, grubbing under the couch for pizza change when my stipend check was running out at the end of the month, that I would end up commanding all this labor?


A note: I have altered the comments function so that anonymous comments are now permitted. I seem to be getting 75-100 readers a day, which astonishes even me and I am beginning to be curious about who you are. Anyway, continue to lurk if you wish to, but it is now possible to comment without giving even a pseudonym. I might even take to answering regularly someday, like responsible bloggers do. And thanks to Dr. Z. yesterday for the helpful comment on "denigrate." I am plotting my strategy for next week's class even as you read these words.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dictionary, Please!

OK. So it was not a wonderful day for the Radical. I had been up all night with Sailor, who has her recurrent tummy trouble, I had not heard from the vet despite repeated calls, I was dealing with this personnel stuff (see post from earlier in the week), someone flipped out at one of my people who is negotiating a big job offer and my newly popular young colleague called me in a fit of outrage. After I got off the phone from calling the administrator and reminding him that he was a grown up and might want to consider acting like one until our negotiations with the young person were over, I drove to work, looking ahead at the next four days and wondering how (by Monday) I was going to get an article in, read a dissertation that was due at interlibrary loan last Tuesday, write an exam, grade a set of papers and....oh, whatever. You have some version of this life too. You know what I'm talking about.

[Here has been excised a passage in which I describe being corrected in class by several students for using the word "denigrate" in a sentence for reasons explained here They believed it was racist, much as a very public figure was once criticized (wrongly) for using the word "niggardly." I also believed the students were wrong, but subsequent events caused me to take it down a few days before the Purge of April 3. I have put it back up minus the passage that makes at least one student identifiable so that readers can see an interesting set of comments by fellow bloggers on teaching etymology and on the correct use of the word "denigrate," that followed. I comment on those comments here.