Friday, September 28, 2007

Things You Don't Know About the Radical

I am from Philadelphia.

I received my first official Phillies hat for my sixth birthday.

I went to my first game, at Connie Mack Stadium, that summer. My mom taught me to keep a box score and yell "Pitcher's blowed!" at the opposing hurler. I watched every game on TV that I could, keeping the box score for the whole season. The games that weren't on TV, I listened to on the radio. That was 1964. Do I need to explain the significance of this date? There are people in Philadelphia who are more permanently damaged by 1964 than by their own birth trauma.

I once watched Dick Allen foul off twenty pitches in a row, deliberately and with precision, as Philadelphia fans booed him lustily. This was a little-known event in the struggle for African-American civil rights, but an event all the same.

I listened to Jim Bunning's no-hitter on Mother's Day.

There was a time in my life I thought Astro-Turf was the most beautiful thing in the world.

In 1980, when the Phillies won the World Series, I started to weep as Tug McGraw faced the final batter, and I didn't stop crying for an hour.

During one of my father's hospitalizations that led eventually to his death, my mother and I would occasionally leave in the evening, and go down to Veterans Stadium spontaneously, to have hot dogs and beer for dinner and watch the game. We didn't talk much: we just watched the game.

I now live in this god-awful part of the country where the only question people ask me is "Yankees or Red Sox?" And in fact, if I lived anywhere north of here, all the way to the Canadian border, or anywhere south of here, all the way to Staten island, they wouldn't even ask. The team to the North is just as hopeless as the Phillies; the team to the South is evil. As they say in South Philly, "Whaddayagonnado?"

I vowed not to follow the Phillies closely this year, as they grimly hung in within 8 or 10 games, losing franchise players to injury and having the same slightly-better-than-average pitching rotation they always have. This year they didn't even have a Jim Bunning, a Steve Carleton, a Curt Schilling -- brilliant guys who would gut out 1-0 victories, sometimes notching RBI's to make it happen, in years their teammates couldn't hit their shoe size.

And yet. A month ago, after a small losing streak, I couldn't help but notice that my Phillies were starting to pull themselves together, as they always do in August, lighting that beacon of hope that raises blood pressure from Wilmington to Trenton, from Allentown to Princeton, causing all of us to say casually, "Oh yeah, I think I'll watch the first couple of innings tonight."

Incredibly, the Mets have gone into a Phillies-like season end collapse. This morning I found myself in the car, on my way to rowing practice at 5:15, pumping my fist wildly and screaming "YEAH!" Why?

Because I heard on the radio that the Phillies tied the Mets for first last night.

I have two responses.

Dear God, no not again. And:

If I believe in them with all my heart, somehow they might just do it. There is no choice not to commit. One more time.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Sing it, Janis; or, New Kid Hits The Perfect Note

Take a look at this post from New Kid on the Hallway. I check her pretty regularly anyway, but I went over this morning because I noticed I had gotten several hundred more hits yesterday than I usually do because she had linked a post of mine about how to become visible as a visiting member of a faculty. I knew that New Kid wrote a quality blog, but I didn't know how influential it was, or how many readers she had. Wow.

It is really a very moving post, particularly if you have been following New Kid's career lately, but more generally too, because it speaks to a condition shared by many of us -- a persistent sense, no matter what we have achieved, that happiness is just out of our grasp. Everyone on the job market should read it, and everyone who is either on a tenure-track or is tenured should read it too, because I think we all have a tendency to believe that our fate is in other people's hands when actually it is not. It is only the details that are in other people's hands.

I am reminded by this post of one of the wisest lines in The Wizard of Oz (other than "Some people do go both ways"): Glinda the Good says to Dorothy at the very end, after the dear girl has nearly been killed three or four times, "You could have gone back to Kansas whenever you wanted. All you had to do is say so." Or something to that effect.

And New Kid -- girlfriend, if this many people are reading your blog, commit yourself to being a writer who writes and publishes for a big audience, whatever else you decide to do. You've clearly Got It.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Few Words About Books, Book Reviews, and Literary Critics Who Need to Tone It the Heck Down

Now and again I get emails from people asking what I think of this book or that book, referring to items posted in the section to the left, Tenured Radical is Reading. I rarely comply, but never for the same reasons. As a matter of fact, since I am usually reading three or four books at the same time, the book that is posted is more or less a random pick from the pile on my bedside table (a pile that is also currently sporting a copy of Bitch magazine, the title of which intrigued me so much that I bought it on the spot at the natural foods store check out line.) But to date, I have reviewed only two books, one a more or less trivial but entertaining gay novel, and another a management book that helped me think about how to navigate my little world where - as a wise older colleague said to me the other day -- "Several decades back there was a battle between the giants and the pygmies. And the pygmies won." You can see how very helpful a management book can be in this situation. (Apologies to any actual pygmies who are readers and are offended by being deployed as a negative stereotype.)

But back to what I think of the books that I appear to be reading: I don't think it is really fair to review someone's book without an editor looking over your shoulder, except in the more or less descriptive ways that several blogs do -- blogs whose purpose, God Bless them, is to let us know what we should be reading in their field. So that's my general rule, but there are also particular issues that crop up that prevent me from reviewing books.

I didn't review one book (even though I was urged to do so by several people) because I became so screamingly bored I had to stop reading it. I'm not even going to tell you what field it was in, because it is really mean to tell anyone --even someone really famous who makes a lot of money -- that they have bored the pants right off you. And it's even meaner to tell the entire blogosphere: it would be better just to drop the author a card. Too bad Hallmark doesn't have a "Sorry! Hated your book!" or a "Better Luck Next Time!" line available in the local CVS.

I didn't review Walter Benn Michaels' new book, The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality because I hate the title; the premise is false and intended only to sell books because people like me have to read it and a lot of other white people have been waiting to discover a good reason to stop talking about queers and colored people, even though they have no intention of talking about class; and Walter Benn Michaels clearly never talks to people who work in the fields of feminism or critical race studies who think about class constantly (can we say "intersectionality?"), or if he does, he doesn't listen to what they say. I would say it is the kind of book that could just make you hate academics, but it isn't actually very academic. There are countless factual errors, large and small, and the book is entirely driven by an "if - then" style of argumentation that relies on these false, partial or inaccurate facts. It also relies on an extraordinarily partial reading of a period of American history that Michaels either doesn't care about or doesn't know well. Thus, I realized that it would be a lot like swimming in quickmud to even try to review it. See? That wasn't a review. It was a rant. Just like the book. But if you want to rant, you should probably blog, not write a book.

What is it, by the way, with these big shot scholars, most of whom seem to live in Chicago, that they are so into writing polemics nowadays?

Back to more pleasant topics. I am reading and enjoying the book currently posted, Ed White's novel about Stephen Crane, The Hotel de Dream, because I have read every book White has ever written. In addition, I have been invited to the book party -- or a book party, I should say, since I'm sure this is one of several -- and as it is a short novel, it seems like the least I can do is read the book, even though time to read is in short supply this week. But I won't review it. Just as I think it is arrogant of Walter Benn Michaels to think he can write history literally off the top of his head, it would be arrogant for me to review a novel off the top of my head. Right? Right.

By the way, speaking of books, of which (like the rest of you) I own a great many: I bought a new wallet this weekend, and in transferring objects from the old wallet, I discovered that I actually have nine library cards, four of which have been issued by the federal government. How funny is that? I'm thinking they might need a wallet of their very own, maybe with a little folding money to pay the fines I inevitably incur when I forget to return the books and persistently ignore the emails telling me they are due.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Progress of the Radical

Early September: invitation issued by the Provost's Office for a meeting to be held from 11-1 (groan) on a Friday (groan), to help new chairs of programs and departments get on the same page with our friends at the office of Academic Affairs. Lunch will be served (ok, this partially makes up for coming in on a Friday and ruining a whole day for writing or any other kind of intellectual/creative activity.)

Mid-September: notice goes out that the putative meeting has been extended to three hours, 11-2. Suddenly the offer of lunch is failing to allay my sense of impending Doom. Call to unnamed administrator is made by the Radical to express sense of Doom, and is sympathetically received, perhaps because they Know Doom Well over there.

Today: Message that the meeting has been cancelled is received. Cheers break out in isolated locations around campus. Once again, Good has prevailed over Doom.

All is well once more in Zenith's hallowed halls and within her ivied walls.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Radical Reports In and Things Are Excellent Here in Radical Land

Its been awhile. But don't worry. I'm back, blog-dudes and dudettes.

Since I started Tenured Radical, except for vacation, I do not think I have gone six days without a new post, as I just did. I do not, as some bloggers seem to, experience guilt for neglecting my blog (one of my flaws, I have been told in my deep past by women heading out the door with suitcases in hand, is that guilt and I are not as fully acquainted as we might be.) But I do miss my audience, and I miss writing freely. I miss stealing pictures. I miss Flavia.

One of the reasons I have been absent is starting school in my dual roles as chair of American Studies and the Director of the Castle: it's a little like being Batman and Robin at the same time. There are endless small but necessary tasks to be done every day, from signing many student forms ("Holy oversubscription, Batman!") to making sure we have a proper menu for tomorrow night's Welcome Dinner for new faculty ("Thank you, Alfred.") The other reason I am absent from my beloved blogosphere is teaching. Your Radical is not only teaching the Twentieth Century United States survey to a large and interesting crowd of Zenith students, but there is -- you guessed it -- a blog for the course. This requires some attention too, and is very fun -- it's a little like writing a textbook off the top of your head. And there are also a bunch of links for the students to follow up -- our very own Tim Lacy and Chris Miller, Mary Dudziak, Clio Bluestocking,the HNN gang and the Religion and History folks. How great is this?

Why not GayProf, you ask? Because you have to earn GayProf, that's why.

A little deep background: when I last taught this course, there was no internet. Ergo, there were a great many things I lectured about that I can now assemble on a variety of electronic platforms (I would love to show you my Blackboard, but you can't get in because you don't work for Zenith. Poor you.) For example, if you click on the course blog, you will see Turner's essay on the closing of the frontier, and TR's speech on "The Strenuous Life." Presto -- primary documents delivered to a student's room. You will also see that a couple of my students have commented, and I hope more of them use it as a place to speak out. My idea -- since there are 81 souls in the class, an abnormally large group for Zenith, is that I will get higher levels of participation if students don't have to risk their throats closing in anxious spasms while declaiming in front of 80 other people. And me. And my fabulous writing tutors.

As you can tell, this class is the equivalent in size of a Small Town, with citizens, minor functionaries and a mayor (me.) Think Block Island in the winter, or Burley, Idaho. And one would in a town, we have a movie theater. That's right, all the films in the class can be uploaded to the Blackboard, so that students can go over them again if they like. We are also developing a library: thanks to Google Books, there are all kinds of texts that have been scanned, and can be linked: for free!! (Do you ever wonder how these people make money? I know -- the pop-ups. But really I feel like I am getting the best of the bargain here.) Apparently I can also post my lectures as podcasts on the Blackboard as well, although that is a tad less appealing, since frankly - I would begin to feel redundant, and I think we would be edging over into distance learning. But back to the films. Once I found out that I could upload movies and documentaries, I arranged to post my favorite Reagan-era movie ever, Tony Scott's 1986 homo-military masterpiece, Top Gun -- too long to watch in class, it is now a "reading" for week 11. Ho ho ho.

So really, the danger is not that I will stop posting to Tenured Radical -- that could never happen -- but that I will have too much fun teaching, Someone Upstairs will figure it out, realize I am not busy enough with my other two administrative jobs and four searches, and find something horrible for me to do -- like run the AP Credit Conversion Committee or something. So don't tell.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The Doctor is In: A Little Free Advice

So -- drop/add at Zenith is a little over a week old and has three more business days to run: I have learned a great many things that I did not know before. And since I have 55 advisees, I am really tired. Really. Some day I want to write up my ideas about advising (not to mention my funniest life experiences while advising) and sell them -- yes, sell them. Jesus, I have so little to sell. Even my sister writes songs -- which she does not sell, but at least she has something to sell if someone comes calling. I have a lot of old FBI files from the 1930's.

I had a terrific idea once to write an advising guide for college students, since students at Big Research U's get little or no advising (although there is a phenomenon called the Professional Advisor, which I have seen advertised in the Chronicle of Higher Education, someone who is hired to advise students and nothing else. God knows what they do when it isn't drop/add or pre-reg.) Of course the Big Secret is that a lot of students at prestigious SLACS get crappy advising too. Anyway, I just started writing this guide (to advising yourself in the absence of any, or a minimally attentive, faculty advisor) in the middle of the night once, when I should have been finishing a conference paper, and the next thing I knew I had eight or nine short, pithy chapters. And then the next thing I knew I had to finish the conference paper, and then my mind wandered, and then the next thing I knew, I had gotten a new computer and I meant to get that unfinished gimmicky-assed advising thing off the old laptop and forgot and then I put the damn computer in the trunk of my car and spilled windshield wiper fluid on the silly thing. Or rather, the jug fell over and leaked copiously, drying in gummy blue layers, over the period of months I was saying to myself that I had to get those files off the machine.

I am waiting for the next Earth Day to resolve the resulting trash situation, but needless to say, the Original Manuscript is Lost.

I am not going to reveal what I know about advising here, thank you, because in my view this is a major money-maker, and besides it would reveal to my students that I am not the Advising Genius I claim to be. But I can post a few facts learned this week, at Zenith and in conversation with faculty elsewhere.

Many advisees have a different advisor practically every semester of their college career, even at schools that hype the advising relationship. Really. People go on sabbatical even for the semester, ditch the advisees, and the advisees are never returned to them: they are passed on to someone else, who goes on sabbatical -- and the beat goes on. Furthermore, people are assigned advisees by Those Who Assign Advisees even if it is well-known that they are going on sabbatical in the next year. So a faculty member can have students in their first year and then these kids get dumped as sophomores -- surely the Eighth Grade of Higher Education, even at a SLAC-- and if they are lucky someone assigns them to a new advisor (if they are unlucky, this detail is overlooked), who often tells them something completely different than the last advisor, or maybe tells them they need to see their dean for advising.

Some students have advisors who are habitually unreachable. A couple people I saw had advisors who had no office hours posted, claimed they met students by appointment, but in fact did not return emails or telephone messages. This meant that these students' schedules were not authorized during pre-reg last spring, so they began the term with no courses. (BTW: tell colleagues this and they insist the student is lying, even if the advisor in question is well known for shirking work.) This creates a truly Darwinian situation where students who have the self-confidence, cojones or good friends to get them to another member of the faculty get classes; the ones who don't, get a random collection of classes they can actually get into or, in some cases, less than a full academic load.

I just want to say -- I talked to another colleague at another college who was steamed about this, and he thought such people should be fined. I agree. And then the money could be redistributed as a bonus at the end of drop/add to those of us who do other people's work for them. Or it could be refunded to the parents whose children are signed up for Glee Club (.5 credit), two sections of Skipping for Fitness (.25 + .25), Math for Artists, Alternative Body Art Workshop, and Poets of the Sierra Padre.

Some advisors who force students to take courses they do not wish to take, and are bored by, in the name of liberal knowledge. I ask you, stray colleague, what fucking business is it of yours if a student does not want to take Math? Or English? And why lie to them and say that they will not be allowed to graduate unless they do what you say? This is a truly freaky way to behave with a Ph.D.

There's more, but I cannot reveal it because it gets too specific, and we know that the Radical has been hung on the cross before about being Too Specific.

So I only want to add one thing, and that is advice for the advisees, who are people far more sinned against than sinners in my view, but still come in for a little advice about how to make advising a more effective part of their education. Do not come in and ask questions that you could perfectly well answer if you looked at the department web site, the catalogue, the Student Handbook, the Major's worksheet, your own academic record, or the email I wrote you yesterday. OK? I know it is not your fault: it is your parents' fault, who loved you so much that they carried you around in a down-filled basket until you were deposited on Zenith's doorstep and simultaneously made you so insecure about failure that you think that a misplaced comma on a Registrar's card could bring the whole house of cards down on your head. Do not assume you can blow me off for a week and a half, write me in the morning, and see me in the only time you have available -- 3:30 that afternoon. And while you are still a captive audience of this blog, one more piece of advice to carry into later life: don't write your appointment with me on your hand -- or any body part. Research statistics show that appointments written on skin are only kept 40% of the time in industrialized countries, and theologians can now demonstrate in new translations from the Hebrew that God gave Moses an appointment book along with the Ten Commandments.

Ok, I'm lying. But writing appointments on your arm is bush league and does not inspire confidence in your maturity. Or even that you will return at the designated hour.

And on that note, I have run to the limit of my free advice. Check in next year when I scrape the antifreeze off my old hard drive and write the Book of the Century. Or check in next week when, mercifully, the computers close and peace descends upon Zenith -- at least until pre-registration in October.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Invisible (Wo)Man: Or, Thinking About Your Year As a Visiting Member of a Faculty

Visitors are at the top of the contingent faculty depth chart, in my view, perhaps slightly below post-docs -- unless you believe, as I do, that post-docs have become a way of institutionalizing contingent faculty. But they are right up there, status-wise. What's good about such positions? A living wage, for one thing, and health insurance. Sometimes there is a little money for conferences or research expenses. Access to a university library would be another. Gaining experience without having every false move entered in your tenure dossier, and getting to apply for what we call "real" jobs with letterhead stationary would go on the list.

In my previous post, I mentioned some things I learned from Year One as a Visitor. There was actually Year Two as well, at an Urban Ivy, that helped to catapult me into the job I have held here at Zenith since 1991. One of these days I'll write about that, because I really liked those people, and they did a lot of things right. So drawing on this experience, and on my many years of hiring visitors, I offer the following suggestions to counter the problem of "visitor invisibility."

Work in your office at least two afternoons and one morning a week. More if you can really work there. I know, I know. Your former dissertation advisor has told you to compress your teaching, stay home as much as possible, and get a jump start on your book. Well, aren't there some things you could work on in your office? If you are not there, you will be technically invisible. Because you won't be there. Shall I emphasize this further?

And how can people invite you to lunch on the spur of the moment if you are actually never there at lunchtime?

Go to Campus Events. Talks, panels, receptions -- anyplace you might be able to introduce yourself casually. Watch the university calendar like a hawk, and bookmark the websites of interdisciplinary programs where there are events listed. Go to IT demonstrations of new teaching technologies. Not only are you learning something cutting edge that you can unveil at your next job interview, but the great secret of university life is: the IT people are really smart, funny, nice people who make great friends because they are not stuck up and they can be trusted not to compete with you constantly. They are often academics who decided, wisely, that the tenure-track mill wheel was not for them. Knowing such people can ease your fear that, in the event that you do not get a t-t job next year, you will be forced to live under a viaduct selling counterfeit DVDs.

Talks, symposia and the like are a particularly good venue for a new face because, with the right touch, you can ask a question and make people curious about you. They will then come up and introduce themselves (this is after they poke each other and whisper sotto voce, "Who is that?") If you don't want to go alone, find another visitor -- or that new, tenure-track person cowering in her office -- and suggest that you go together.

And speaking of people on tenure-track lines.... At Zenith, these are the most fun people, the most socially inclusive, and the most heterogeneous as a group. Ask them for advice on the best supermarket in the area, where to go dancing, if they know a good baby sitter -- whatever you need to settle in. And a lot of these people have recently been, well -- you. In the figurative sense. And they will also be some of the best people to give you advice as you pull yourself together to go on the job market again.

Get yourself on the women's studies' program mailing list. I cannot emphasize this more strongly. Gender Studies, or Feminist Studies, or whatever they call it at your university -- women's studies programs are unfortunately not the hotbeds of radicalism that they used to be, but they have also not entirely shed a political past of including people on the basis of a desire to be included. You don't study women? OK, here are the following conditions under which you might plausibly associate yourself with the women's studies program and get on the e-list for intellectual and social events:

You are a woman; your work encompasses the fields of gender and/or sexuality; you don't work on women but you would like to; you think you could benefit from a dash of feminism; you are a man who works on gender; you are a man who is supportive of women and/or feminism and/or queer people; you are a woman whose intellectual interests do not seem to overlap with the women's studies program at all but you need to get into a feminist space once in a while; you are a woman who likes to drink cheap wine and tell dirty jokes; you are a non-sexist man who can happily sit there, talking very little, basking in the light of female friendship, while feminists get drunk and tell dirty jokes.

"But what about my career?!" you shriek. First of all, never underestimate the power of social events to make connections that will make a difference to your career sooner as well as later. You get to know people who will not only give you the benefit of their experience, they also have networks that can help you on the job market. And not just the senior people -- untenured people have lots of friends who you can call to find out about an institution, what they really want in that search, who serve on search committees, and could be the person (as was the case at one of my interviews) who grabs your arm at the on-campus interview and says, "I'm so glad to meet you! Charlie told me all about you." It won't necessarily get you the job (didn't get me the job) but this guy set aside the better part of two days to make sure that everything went ok for me during the interview process. And that, my friends, does give you a better chance of getting the job.

If someone asks you to give a talk, or fill in on a panel, or give a guest lecture -- say yes. Yes, yes, yes. If there is a writing group that you can join -- join, join, join.

Finally, I am going out on a limb here, but: the people who hired you owe you a little something because, although they have lifted you out of the kind of adjuncting that means you are holding office hours on BART, SEPTA or the Metro, you are doing them a favor too by stepping in when they need help. So the first person you should make contact with is the person who hired you; the second is the senior scholar in your field; and the third is anyone else you admire. And these people should be willing to offer you one or more of the following things:

Looking over your job letters; sitting in on a class and writing a letter for your dossier; assembling a few people for a practice convention interview; listening to a practice job talk. It is not out of line to ask someone to read your work, and if you are paying attention to the advice you are getting from the untenured people, that individual might even write a letter on your scholarship for your dossier. If you are lucky, someone will offer; but you might have to screw up your courage and ask. People are busy, and sometimes when you feel ignored, it can be the case that when asked to make time for you, they will. But not until then.

The last thing you must remember is that when you become a tenured person, and you hire visitors, remember how others treated you and improve on it. When you are untenured, and get a job, remember that the visitor in the office next door isn't someone who "didn't make the grade." It's someone who wants a chance to show who they are, and what they can do.

Just like you did.

Oh yeah: and just because I would not be here without their kindness and advice, I would like to give a very belated shout out to Don, Jane, Demie, Drew, Michelle (and the other SWAPS), Carroll, Stephen, Ruth, Mike, Lisa, Evelyn and Marc.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Reminiscing: the Radical Was Once A Visiting Professor

I haven't forgotten that post I said I would do about what visitors should expect from the institutions that hire them. I even thought I might do that post tonight, as I was enjoying oatmeal with brown sugar and fresh bluberries, and a large glass of fresh squeezed o.j. early this morning at the student center. But not now, and this is why; today, as I was leaving the Castle, dead beat from a day of being chair, one of our visiting faculty came out of his office. He leaned over the bannister, gave me a big grin and said good night. Now wasn't that nice? And our other visitors are terrific too -- I can't tell you how terrific, since I promised not to write about others. But aside from saving my life, they are really great, smart people, and genuinely excited to be at Zenith, which is nice to see.

So, the night before I start my survey course for the umpteenth time, I began to have memories of being a visitor myself that I thought I would share.

In the year I finished my dissertation, I taught three classes each semester at two very different places: Upstart University, in Downtown; and Business College, which was part of the Public City System in Big City. They couldn't have been more different. At Upstart, you only taught in a seminar format, and many of the people on the faculty (of which N was one) were legendary teachers. Teaching was more or less text-based, no lecturing; there were no majors, so if you were teaching history, you had to teach what history was at the same time. I worried about prolonged silences, but they rarely occured. The students were bright and unusual: it was a little bit before massive piercings, tattoos and Goth makeup, but it was that crowd in an earlier incarnation. They were all white.

At Business College, I taught two, back-to-back sections, of the U.S. History survey, 1865 -present, each term (the present, at that time, being 1981.) It was entirely lecture format, I was expected to choose a text book and use it to deliver content that I would then lecture on as well. When I was hired, the chair of the History Department told me my class would be "diverse," my first encounter with this euphemistic word. In retrospect, I now realize that he was really saying: "White girl, do you understand that all your students will be black and Latino, first-generation college students who work forty hours a week and carry a full college load at night?" The first evening I walked into the room and realized that I had never been the only white person in the room before, ever, anywhere. The students were bright -- and unusual. And incredibly demanding. And ambitious.

At both Upstart and Business College, I had dusty little offices with other people's discarded crap in them, where I could meet my students in office hours; mostly, I just sat there and read, or prepped class. At Upstart I knew a lot of people (another story for another day), and the teaching atmosphere was invigorating and intense; at Business College, I knew no one, and even if I had, they wouldn't have been there. It was one of those colleges where a lot of great people got hired, young, in the sixties -- they expected to move on, but the job market crashed in the seventies, so they never did. Their response to this was to come to work as little as possible. And hire people like me to teach the bread-and-butter courses.

But as I prepare to start my lecture course -- and whatever else you want to say about it, the Twentieth Century U.S. survey has the distinction of being a marquee course -- I have to acknowledge that everything I learned about teaching in a lecture format, I learned that year. I would work all day on my lectures (and they were beautiful lectures: printed on a dot matrix printer, they contained everything I knew from my comps and orals), and I would come in and teach that lecture twice at night, with a fifteen minute break. It was teaching boot camp. Lecture too long? You have fifteen minutes to cut it. Students seemed bored? Jesus H. Christ, think of something! They didn't seem to get the economic issues behind the Greenback movement -- ok, how to try it a different way? In fifteen minutes.

Dig this: we had no cell phones, no email, and no internet. My computer that year was called a Kaypro, it cost two grand (which is what computers still cost), and its big feature was that it was "portable": it was like a huge, heavy metal suitcase, with a plastic handle that cut into your hand. It banged into your knee repeatedly if you carried it anywhere, like up the seven flights of steps to the top floor of the tenement walk-up where you lived. The screen was about eight inches by eight inches, and the letters were green: you formatted with all these complicated symbols, and all files -- there was no hard drive to speak of, it was all RAM, and you had to boot it with a disc -- went on four by four thin discs called "floppies."

Two days a week, in the morning, after teaching at Upstart, I would walk home to the apartment N. and I were sharing by then and stop off at the lesbian bookstore, before going home to hammer out the final draft of my dissertation; two days a week, at night , after lecturing for three hours I would take the crosstown bus home, exhausted, knowing that N had picked up Chinese food and beer, and I experienced for the first time what would be a lifetime impulse: you cut the adrenaline high of teaching with a little booze and a lot of food. (This, my friend, is one way that the unwary academic becomes an alcoholic. Not this academic, but it became quite clear to me that year how easy it could be.)

I had never worked harder in my life. And I would say that although it is not the happiest I have ever been, nor was I looking further than the next job season, I was really having fun. So much fun.

So tonight, as I try to decide what to say to my thirty-fifth lecture class tomorrow afternoon, I want to say "Thank you" -- to the first students I ever taught as a real professor, and to the people who hired me to do it. And to whatever Goddess plucked me out of the crowd to get this job: do the same for these visitors, so that in twenty five years they are looking back and saying "The first time I walked into my class at Zenith..."

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Houston, The Radical Has Landed

Well, Zenith is open for business. You can read about it from New President's perspective here. Don't you think it is interesting that New President has decided to blog? I do. And I wonder if it is his very own, or if it is minded on a daily basis by the publicity arm of the university. Somehow I can't see New President having the time to check his blog every couple of hours to make sure some whack job has not left a comment that is offensive to many university constituencies. But time will tell, and the next time you scoff at the idea that the Radical is Emulated by All, think again, dear reader.

The beginning of school means that your Radical has been hustling nonstop as chair of the best major since someone invented the American university in the nineteenth century: first year students, returning students, new visiting faculty -- all have passed through my domain (or my e-domain) and I hope are none the worse for it. Everything seems to be going well -- and I have promised not to write about people I know without their permission, so I can't give you the highlights even if I could remember them. But what I like best so far about school this year is:

The new student center. Because I feel like it is really my center, and that it has been built for me.

Yes, that's right. I know you might expect some high degree of cynicism about Zenith spending a gazillion dollars it appears not to have really been able to afford. I believe the financial cock-up has something to do with bonds, the endowment, and the inflated price of building supplies since the Iraq/Afghanistan War began. There will be some connection to the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, I am also sure. If you want to know more, ask that economist on the Lehrer news hour to do a story. But I really don't care. Whatever is wrong with Zenith's finances has been wrong since I arrived, and will probably be wrong until I retire or depart for Greener Pastures. Or Heavenly Pastures. Our futures seem to be intertwined, unless I either win the lottery or the Fickle Finger of Fate points into the pile of job applications at a major research university and says "YOU!"

Fans of the Radical might even expect snarkiness about how much the student center has increased the operating budget of the university: my sources say $1 million, but do your own research. This will undoubtedly have implications for faculty salaries, new faculty hires, and the percentage of courses taught by contingent faculty. How can it not? But here's the good part. Not only is the student center beautiful, and new, and not Methodist or faux-neo-federalist architecture, it doesn't smell like old sneakers, as the former student center did. Not only is it right behind the Castle, thus moving the Beating Heart of the University closer to Us than to Them; not only does it have a Bank of America ATM (!!!) and a fabulous computer store featuring the latest Apple products, but:

It has edible food.

Nay, I go further: the food is excellent. I say this after only two lunches, but so far, so fucking good. My first lunch was sushi and a salad, and I would like to tell you how much it cost, but for happy reasons I can't. I happened to run into a favorite administrator of mine outside the center, who had a free lunch ticket (chorus from readers: "Who says there's no free lunch?") because administrators were being encouraged to cruise the joint and look friendly. I happily joined this person, who got us lunch, thus affording scads of first year students their first glimpse of a Tenured Radical as well. The sushi was fresh and plentiful (I think there were ten pieces); the salad was a kind of make your own deal, with all sorts of groovy stuff like seaweed.

The second day, I got there before the rush and went to the bar where a nice lady makes you a fresh burrito with all the ingredients chosen by you! It was completely delicious. Then I got to the register and found out it was Free Soda Pop day for faculty and staff. Whee! What could have been a lovelier surprise? Only free dessert day, I think. Or All-The-Pizza-An-Historian-Can-Eat day. My whole lunch was a little over six dollars, and I used to pay at least that for a yogurt and an apple at the old student center, the only lunch alternative to a plate of baked transfats and deep-fried carbs.

And both times I ate outside, on a sun-drenched deck, where I can imagine working on my tan into October, Goddess willing.

So despite the fact that I have every reason to be pessimistic about the year (four searches, few faculty -- although reinforcements arrive in January), attendance at two extra conferences so that I can interview people, making a grand total of five conferences (for three of these, papers must be written in my spare time); and trying to teach and keep slogging away at various projects in process -- I am unnaturally optimistic.

And it's all because of the student center.

I'm already planning lunch for next week.