Saturday, February 27, 2010

Smokin' Sunday Radical Roundup: Ciggies, Spys, Sports and Sex Scandals

I Would Do Anything For Love -- But I Won't Do That: Thanks to Ralph Luker at Cliopatria we at Tenured Radical have links to articles by Robert Proctor and Jon Weiner about historians who have testified on behalf of the tobacco industry between 1986-2005. They include Stephen Ambrose, Otis Graham, Paul Harvey, and Michael Schaller. Consultants for the industry who have not testified include Herbert Klein and Irwin Unger. Out of 57 scholars there are exactly two women -- which means what? That the tobacco industry doesn't employ women, or that women told them to take a hike, since smoking is also linked to breast cancer and women are a bit more militant on this issue?

"That's Doctor Moneypenny, James": This has got to be the coolest job I have ever seen posted -- did you even know that there was something called The International Spy Museum? Well there is, it's in Washington D.C., and they are looking for a Curator/Historian! According to the ad posted on H-Net, it is "the only public museum in the U.S. solely dedicated to the tradecraft, history, and contemporary role of espionage." I don't see a deadline, so get your application in now.

I wonder if you get extra points for sending your materials in code on a microdot carefully secured to an otherwise ordinary magazine? Hmmmm?

We'll Know What's In The Closet When We Stop Cleaning House: Faculty at SUNY-Binghamton, beset by a men's basketball scandal, are concerned that those who allowed it --nay, cultivated it -- are still in place. "Interviews with students, administrators and faculty members revealed just how corrosive the trade-offs were in Binghamton’s pursuit of athletic glory," the New York Times reports today. The "crisis of confidence" is most acute in the Department of Human Development, where 10 out of 16 players were enrolled as majors. Many of these players had come from other schools; the department accepted transfer of credit in"courses like Theories of Softball and Bowling I, and [players] were given preferential treatment to stay eligible." Such preferential treatment included running special sections of required courses, compressed into a short time frame, that would allow the players to concentrate on basketball and graduate with virtually no marketable skills. Meanwhile, ordinary requests from regular majors -- like having food available at the downtown location where their classes had been moved -- were denied.

Two questions that no one ever seems to ask in this situation: what was the point of having a high-profile basketball program at SUNY-Binghamton when the university is already well known, for its academics, as one of the finest universities in the system? And why do such scandals, minus the occasional recruiting violation that apparently caused Pat Summitt and Geno Auriemma to stop speaking, so rarely occur women's programs? Despite the fact that we know that the money spent on marquee men's sports is rarely returned, even in alumni donations, administrators with dreams of sports glory repeatedly screw over faculty and students, and do so claiming that they are gilding the rose of education by trying to deliver a basketball championship. They also cynically use large numbers of athletes, the vast majority of whom will never be able to finance a life playing pro ball, and thus could really use a college degree and an actual major. It is just not true that big-time college sports make a college or university better! Sports are, and should be, a co-curricular activity: they are meant to keep students in good health, create community, inculcate self-discipline, teach competitive individuals to work as a team and produce leaders. What aspect of programs that cheat, and that elevate the interests of a few community members over the interests of the whole, teaches this to athletes or the student body at large?

But in cheerful sports news....

Silver Medal, Baby! Congratulations to my colleague, Zenith's own Head Coach of Women's Ice Hockey Jodi McKenna, who helped to lead the United States team to a silver medal as an assistant Olympic coach. Nice. Your women are lucky to have a Division III liberal arts education and such a fine example of athletic excellence.

Last But Not Least, German People Naked: Many apologies to those of you who hit the Tiny URL in a recent Tweet (which also posted to Facebook), and thanks to those friends who sent me urgent text messages alerting me that there was an issue with the link. In a mighty strange move, that click would have led you to a German amateur pornography site, where not so nice looking people were sprawled about in quite ugly ways. I really dislike it when pornography is forced on me or others against their will, and it causes my best feminist self to bridle. What is even odder is that most legit porn sites ask you to certify you are of majority age before clicking into them, thus making it a choice for all of us. Perhaps because Germans don't have the same laws we do, this one took you straight to the nasty bits. Anyway: microbloggers, check your Tinies before tweeting! I suspect this is either a glitch that the Tiny people need to work out, or a virus of some kind.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Wadical Woundup: Guns, Money and Conference News

"Hey, Amy" (Wait For It) "Where You Going/With That GunInYourHand?" For the most complete summary to date of the Amy Bishop Case, the University of Alabama-Huntsville prof who murdered and wounded her colleagues execution-style, go to today's New York Times. As we all know by now, Bishop's post-tenure denial rampage was not her first killing. However, today's story raises a pointed question. The 1986 "accidental" fratricide in Bishop's childhood home was immediately followed by Amy, then a college student, not calling 911 as one normally would in an accidental shooting, but demanding a vehicle from a car dealer, at gun point, claiming that she was being chased by an angry husband. Why did not someone, anyone, at least have her evaluated by a psychiatrist at some point after this and many other, less fatal, episodes of grandiosity? More than one person in Bishop's life was clearly not operating in the land of the real, since the final tragedy in Huntsville was preceded by numerous occasions when Bishop's behavior was violent, vicious and delusional. Added bonuses in the Times Sunday coverage are revelations about the anonymous tips after the Huntsville killings about the possibility that Amy had set a "herpes bomb" in the building; and the scary photo of Amy with hubby James Anderson, one of the people I would be pretty angry at if I had been widowed or orphaned by Bishop. Anderson is a corporate researcher who is also Bishop's intellectual collaborator -- if I were a prosecutor, or a civil litigator working for a bereft family, I would want to depose him about what he knew and when he knew it. Wouldn't you?

A final note: I know the Second Amendment lobby (several of whom are personal friends of mine) would say that if Amy's brother, or subsequently, the Huntsville biology department, had been packing, someone might have taken Amy out earlier. But I'm not sure I want to live in a world where you have to go to family dinners or department meetings dressed by Smith and Wesson. U haz gun control?

U Haz Gunz But No Research Moneyz? Ok, I'll stop. I don't know why Historiann and I think it is so funny to write in LOL cats language -- we've never discussed it -- but we do, and it sure dresses up a news item like this one. The American Historical Association has two grant deadlines coming up: the J. Franklin Jameson Fellowship in American History, co-sponsored " by the AHA and the Library of Congress. It is awarded annually "to support significant scholarly research in the collections of the Library of Congress by scholars at an early stage in their careers in history. PH.D. degree or equivalent required." The Jameson, of which your favorite Radical is an alum (lesson? Classy grad school credentials not required) has a March 1 deadline. On March 15 space history weenies will want to have filed for the Fellowship In Aerospace History, "supported by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), annually funds one or more research projects for six months to one year. Proposals of advanced research in history related to all aspects of aerospace, from the earliest human interest in flight to the present, are eligible, including cultural and intellectual history, economic history, history of law and public policy, and history of science, engineering, and management." Up, up and away, as Astroboy used to say.

Here's a hint, Junior Historians Guild: small grants like this are not only good for pushing your work forward and signaling to your colleagues that you are serious about your research agenda, they establish what is called a "grant record," which then pushes you up the food chain for bigger, more prestigious grants.

Conference Deadlines Redux: Please note another change in the Berkshire Conference sidebar -- we at Tenured Radical are in receipt of an extended deadline of March 19 2010. Go here for the call. Having trouble getting the panel together? Ask one of the thematic sub-chairs for help, or join H-Women and troll for conference buddies in the listserve like so many other people are doing.

"I was Gonna Go To Barbados, But The Job Market Tanked": Got no plans for spring break? Why not toodle up to Harvard for the 10th annual Graduate Student Conference, "International Society and Its Discontents", March 12-13 2010? It looks like a superb conference, and even if Cambridge (like almost every other college town) has lost most of its independent bookstores, it's still one of the premier academic theme parks in the country. So drift on up, listen to some panels, meet your future colleagues, suck a little air and you will come home smarter. Guaranteed. And if it's like the graduate student conferences I remember, there will be a ton of couch surfing, so don't be shy -- tell the organizers you have no place to stay and I bet they will help you.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Don't Shoot! A Meditation on Civility

The sensationalism of the Amy Bishop tenure case, in which a University of Alabama biologist shot numerous colleagues in the head after her failed appeal, has us all unnerved and fascinated. Of course, the news reports that are piecing together a portrait of a sociopath, a ticking time bomb who happened to have become a university professor, have already helped us build distance between "us" and "her." The Bishop story, which is being reported over at University Diaries in press clippings and terse, incisive commentary (that makes you think Margaret Soltan really could produce the thriller or mystery we all long to write) is, however, countered by the more prosaic and recognizable case of Bill Reader, a journalism professor at Ohio University. Reader seemed to be on track for tenure and now -- isn't exactly. Why? There are allegations that, although he is not a sociopath, he may be a garden variety bastard (or not) who is being portrayed as a sociopath by colleagues who voted against his tenure.

Hence, the Reader case raises a set of more serious issues for all of us, in my view.

According to Inside Higher Ed, prior to his tenure case, Reader "had received nothing but glowing annual evaluations with no mention of untoward behavior in his file." But when the case was reported out of the Journalism School, with a positive but very split vote, three female faculty members who voted against the case filed harassment charges against him, citing threats allegedly made by Reader that were related to them by third parties. The rumour was that Reader "was 'out for revenge' against those who had opposed his bid for tenure." Subsequent to the filing of these charges, "recommendations by the journalism school's director, a college-level review committee and dean have all come out negatively."

It's always difficult to know what happened when reading public reports of these things. Apparently Reader was prone to nasty email exchanges, one of which, ignited over the failure of colleagues to sign a card for a departing colleague, was particularly unpleasant. I doubt that he was the only one who sent flaming e's, although he was in a position to know he could be harmed by such behavior and clearly failed to perceive it. But many people suffer failures of self-perception on email, as adrenaline and self-righteous wrath washes over their -- no, let's say our -- brains. Even those of us who don't have grievances filed against us have probably participated in terrible e-mail exchanges that we are embarrassed about in retrospect, whether we believe we were right or wrong at the time. Reader apparently isn't embarrassed about the greeting card incident, however, which tells you nothing about his suitability as a colleague, but a lot about what constitutes normal behavior at the Ohio State J-School. “I opted for vitriol," he states. "I have no regrets. Before my e-mail, there were few signatures; afterward, there were many.”

Really? Even now you are not ready to stand down about that stupid greeting card?

Inside Higher Ed sees this case as part of "a continuing national debate over the extent to which 'collegiality' ought to be considered in the awarding of tenure," and on the surface I suppose it is. But Reader's supporters, and presumably Reader himself (who was not informed or or able to respond to the harassment charges until several negative decisions on his case had already been made), say the tenure process has been tainted by these allegations. I tend to agree with this somewhat narrower interpretation. So does the Faculty Senate at Ohio, which has reversed the negative rulings, and sent the case forward to the next level. The attorneys standing outside their office sharpening their knives probably had nothing to do with it, although this is a situation where a little gentle advice from the AAUP can go a long way.

I don't know whether I would like Bill Reader or want to work with him, and it's difficult to tell from the few facts that can be gleaned from the IHE piece, of course. But take it from someone who has been bullied: what is wrong in that department goes beyond Bill Reader and points to a winner-take-all culture where there is more than one person with no commitment to civility. Although there are clearly people who believe they have been victimized, the search for authentic victims is likely to produce instead a vivid picture of professional relationships dominated by gossip, faction and spite, in which people who insist they are wedded to "procedure" manipulate it cruelly to get their way. It's not for nothing that novelists as different as Mary McCarthy, Randall Jarrell, C.P. Snow and Ishmael Reed have spent anywhere from a semester to a career with us and consistently pointed out these very qualities.

Academia, one might say, is characterized by strong personalities out to win an argument, and sometimes the desire to win gets out of hand. The origins of the bad behavior at Ohio University, either Reader's abusive emails and threats over signatures on a greeting card, or individual faculty members trying to have more than one vote on a tenure case by launching an internal grievance process, might well be a departmental culture in which the need for authority and the disregard for appropriate behavior is pervasive at all ranks. I also find it useful to remember what every child psychologist knows: that people who bully have often themselves been bullied. I once saw an older historian who was famous for hir nastiness, public temper tantrums and contempt for colleagues, treated with such contempt and rudeness (in public and for no good reason whatsoever) by hir prestigious dissertation director of three decades ago that it literally took my breath away.

This observation didn't make me like this person any better, nor did it make me more willing to be subjected to verbal abuse by others. But it did create a little window of understanding that subsequently caused me to look around the world I live in differently; to understand the ways in which we replicate the behavior of others, often unconsciously; and to place my own actions under the lens that I used to evaluate other people's behavior towards me. The lesson, in my view? We need to model judicious and civil behavior at all costs, and speak to people honestly when they breach the bounds of civility, not wait until a high stakes moment to declare them unfit for our company. We all need to insist that our authority and reputations be taken seriously by others, but not demand it by damaging them, in turn, after the fact. It is quite possible to work productively with people one neither likes or respects, and it is possible to have one's judgement not be sustained by the judgement of the majority without going nuclear: people outside the academy do it all the time.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Valentine's Day Super Sunday Radical Roundup

Do As I Say Not As I Do Department: Yesterday, when I thought that a mysterious Web Presence was taking out my illustrations and leaving a ghastly grey hole in their place, I took a bunch of the affected pics down. This was precipitous. Further research on Websense (that I should have done at the time perhaps, but I was maxing out the archives hours) suggests that it is a network device that is location specific, not a bot at all, much less a tool of the capitalist patriarchy. Here I am sitting in a Starbucks on 93rd and Broadway (which I think is a tool of the capitalist patriarchy) and my blog hasn't been mangled by lost pictures and ominous messages at all. Still the mystery remains: why did Websense knock out a picture of that sexy Radical cowboy?

Feeling Helpless About Haiti? Have An Archives, Museum Or Public History Degree? Well, the last thing they need in Port-au-Prince are a bunch of historians coming down to help dig or rescue children (Baptists from Idaho are taking care of that, from what I hear.) But the Blue Shield is looking for archivists, restorers, curators, librarians, architects and other experts to volunteer to help assess the damage to Haiti's libraries, archives and cultural treasurers. You can volunteer on-line at the link in this post, and the Blue Shield will assess your credentials and see if you can be enrolled in this vital project.

Conference News: The Deadline for the AHA 2011 Annual Meeting in Boston is tomorrow. Unlike this year's event in San Diego, you won't have to bust through a line of angry queers with Ph.D.'s: in fact, they will be down the street getting married, since this is legal in Massachusetts. Also note a changed date in the sidebar for the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians: we at Tenured Radical have been notified that the deadline for proposals has been extended to March 15. So date up your favorite chick historians now for the Best Little Conference in 2011! And feminist history menz? You haz cheesebuhgeh too. Don't be shy: apply.

Website Of The Week: Check out the Disability Social History Project. This rising field has a lot going for it, particularly in the ways that it opens up new ground in queer, critical race, and feminist history; not to mention political and cultural history more broadly. This interesting site is written by Stephen Dias, a long time disability activist who participated in the Section 504 demonstration in San Francisco in 1977, and is produced by Patricia Chadwick.

Can I Get A Witness? Are you starting out your career in religious studies? The Center For Young Scholars in American Religion is looking for you! To wit:

"Young Scholars in American Religion 2010-2012: Call for Applications. The Center for the Study of Religion and American Culture announces a program for early career scholars in American Religion. Beginning in October 2010, a series of seminars devoted to the enhancement of teaching and research for younger scholars in American Religion will be offered in Indianapolis. The aims of all sessions of the program are to develop ideas and methods of instruction in a supportive workshop environment, stimulate scholarly research and writing, and create a community of scholars that will continue into the future."

Go to the website for details.

Department Of Things You Won't Learn About The Candidate In A Convention Interview: It appears that Amy Bishop, the University of Alabama prof who went postal when her tenure case was turned down, accidentally shot her brother as a college student and was subsequently a suspect in an attempted pipe-bomb murder at the Harvard Medical School in 1993. Now, I watch television and read police procedurals: suspicion in the pipe-bomb case may have followed from the fact that Bishop had already been implicated in a violent death. Nevertheless, as Margaret Soltan at University Diaries suggests, Bishop may have ended up in Alabama because Massachusetts was getting a little, um, warm.

And Finally.... In case you didn't already know that Duke History Dude Timothy Tyson is a rock star, the movie based on his book Blood Done Sign My Name goes into release this week. Here's a nice interview on NPR where this southern anti-racist progressive scholar discusses the personal roots of this civil rights story. I wonder what ever happened to the other book about justice in the Carolinas that was supposed to be a major motion picture?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

For Valentine's Day: A Snapshot From The Men's Movement, Circa 1988

Just found this in the archives and I liked it so much I thought I would share it. In discussing how it is that some men became committed to feminism, John Stoltenberg told the 13th National Conference on Men and Masculinity, held at Seattle University on July 8, 1988:

“I’m thinking of men whose loyalty to a particular woman in their lives – a mother, a lover, a cherished friend – has brought them to an intimate, almost insider’s view of what life for women is like under male supremacy – and these men have made a personal vow to stand behind her and not abandon her, to wholeheartedly be her ally.”1

One can't help but think that Stoltenberg was thinking about his love for and commitment to his life partner, Andrea Dworkin, as well as making a more general observation about the other feminist men he had worked with over the years.

In other news, a bot or webtool of some kind, called "Websense," that is intended to find and eliminate stolen illustrations improperly posted to blogs, made off with the photograph of the town crier attached to last Sunday's Roundup. Fair enough. But it also took down my profile picture, taken by me and, I presumed, owned by me. Very strange. Perhaps I am wrong and I did steal this photograph of myself from someone else. I would be grateful to anyone who can explain this phenomenon, but until then, I will simply assume that it is the patriarchy doing its insidious work once again.

I have, however, replaced the stolen picture of myself which I apparently do not own with an informal shot of J. Edgar Hoover, taken in Miami Beach, which I am quite sure I do own (or at least in a limited way), since I paid Corbis-Bettman a fortune for it. So until I can find a new picture of myself, in the immortal words of Joan Crawford, "Don't fuck with me, fellas."


1 See John Stoltenberg, “The Profeminist Men’s Movement: New Connections, New Directions,” a speech given at the 13th National Conference on Men and Masculinity, Seattle University, July 8, 1988; reprinted in Changing Men, #20, Winter/Spring 1989, 7-9.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Sunday Radical Roundup: Libraries, Lefties, and Lonely Lovelorn Ladies

This Week In Library Fun: Amidst the excitement about the reopening of the St. Agnes Branch of the New York Public Library, other libraries in the system are slashing their hours on February 16 in response to budget cuts from City Hall. (Why does the mayor always take out the neighborhood libraries in a budget crisis when he could fire twenty or thirty cops and get the same $$? I ask you.) Changes affect nearly all branches except those on Staten Island and the privately endowed research libraries in Manhattan. Go here for new hours. At least for now, scholars and organized crime families will continue with the service they have, but there could also be no starker example of the distance that is growing between the actual public sphere and the privatized public sphere.

On The Left, On The Left: Tom Manoff, a former civil rights activist who has been the classical music critic for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered since 1985, has a terrific interview with feminist author Jane Lazarre up on his website. Lazarre, the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, is currently working on a book about her father Bill, who fought with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. Not only is Lazarre (the author of Beyond the Whiteness of Whiteness: Memoir of a White Mother of Black Sons) her typically thoughtful self about writing, race and politics, but the interview also gives a few hints about what I predict (you heard it here first) will be a blockbuster book about the American left. Want to interview Lazarre yourself, or better yet, book her for a reading during Black History Month or Women's History Month? You can reach her through her agent, Wendy Weil.

While We're Still On The Left: Go here to sign the petition to the American Historical Association Council, asking them to use INMEX, a conference booking group that works with unions "to ensure its clients are booking their events in destinations that are free from labor disputes and helps steer professional associations away from meeting venues that are likely to be disrupted by a boycott, a picket line or a strike." I know this makes INMEX sound like a protection racket, but trust me! It's the right thing to do. If this works, all we need now is to make conferences more affordable -- I know more than one graduate student who bled green in San Diego without being offered a single flyback. And has anyone looked at the rates that are being charged for rooms at the OAH annual meeting?

That Ever-Elusive M.R.S. Degree Just Got Tougher: I am waiting for Historiann to fire with every muzzle-loading fowling piece at her disposal on this story by Alex Williams from today's New York Times. It's about the the woes suffered by female college students who can't find a boyfriend because -- there aren't enough boys on many campuses to go around! At the 60% female University of North Carolina, Saturday night "has grown tiresome: they slip on tight-fitting tops, hair sculpted, makeup just so, all for the benefit of one another, Ms. Andrew said, 'because there are no guys.'" And the ones that are available, it appears, are a little soiled, since they are either previously owned or are cheating on the girl friend they have. Tales of taking what you can get and having the man you did catch snapped up right under your eyes help Williams sing the heterosexual blues: "Thanks to simple laws of supply and demand, it is often the women who must assert themselves romantically or be left alone on Valentine’s Day, staring down a George Clooney movie over a half-empty pizza box." Worse, girls feel terrible pressure to -- what do they call it now? Give it up? -- in order to seal the deal.

I mean, please, Alex: this is a throwback to Cold War domesticity, where we pretended there were no gay and lesbian people on campus and that if a girl didn't leave college with a ring on her finger she was damaged goods. In the face of budget cuts, tuition increases, a market crash that took college savings with it, and a crisis in lending to college-bound students, could you have written a more shallow piece about higher education? Could you? And girls, if the details of what you are doing at college are not as (or more) important than what you are doing on Saturday night, and you really can't do without a man, swap that English or psych degree for a Physics major, why dontcha? Boys never make passes at girls who sit on their asses. Or do what both genders do at Zenith and other liberal arts colleges -- keep the English major and trade in your sexual preference for a couple of years. Or trade in your gender!

Finally, For Those Of You Not On The CLGBTH Listserve: How many times do I have to tell you to join? Sheesh. This week, we have a CFP for a conference in Vancouver, BC, “'We Demand': History/Sex/Activism In Canada," August 25-28, 2011. From the organizers:

On August 28, 1971 over two hundred lesbian and gay activists gathered on Parliament Hill to demand the federal government bring an end to laws and practices that criminalized, marginalized, and stigmatized lesbians and gays. Acting in solidarity with their central Canadian allies, Vancouver activists staged the same action on the steps of their city’s Court House. It was the first recorded national political action undertaken by gay liberationists and lesbian feminist activists in Canada.

”We Demand” marks the fortieth anniversary of the 1971 action. The conference seeks to showcase current work on all aspects of the history of sexuality in Canada, from pre-contact to present times.

Keynote speaker: Ann Cvetkovich, author of An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures.
Other confirmed speakers include Mary Louise Adams, Karen Dubinsky, Gary Kinsman, and Steven Maynard.

We are currently accepting proposals for panels, individual papers, roundtable discussions, poster sessions, and other means of communicating ideas and generating discussion. We welcome submissions from scholars, archivists, educators, public historians, and past and present political activists from all sexual fronts.

Panel and round table submissions should include a session title, a brief description of the panel or round table, abstracts for each paper of no more than 250 words, and a brief biography or one-page c.v./resume for each presenter and for the session chair. Individuals should submit a 250-word abstract plus a brief biography or one-page c.v./resume. Those submitting proposals for other types of presentations should contact the organizers for further instruction. The deadline for submission is 1 June 2010.

Please send queries and submissions to: wedemand2011ATgmailDOTcom.

Friday, February 05, 2010

A New Deal For Higher Education: Start With More Small Classes For Everyone

Because I have the advantage of a faculty fellowship at Zenith's Center for the Humanities this semester, I teach only on Thursday. All Thursday morning I prepare for class; all Thursday afternoon I teach it. It's very tidy, and also very satisfying. Because of my blogging ethic I can't tell you what happens during class, but I can tell you I like our meetings immensely. I can also tell you that I have fewer than ten students enrolled. To be honest, there are six.

But wait -- you will say: fewer than ten students? Have you become unpopular? Does your dean know? How is that a good use of the university's money?

Well, the truth is, normally my classes are overenrolled, so I consider this to be some kind of cosmic payback for years of overwork in the classroom and elsewhere. For a variety of reasons, plenty of my colleagues teach fewer than ten students per class all the time; this is an uncomfortable fact in an economic climate where teaching more, more, more is being subtly but persistently urged on all of us. At Zenith, open up what we call the "curriculum tools" to work on your course descriptions for next year and you will find that seminars and colloquia that were always capped at 15 have been bumped up to 17 or even 19 by some anonymous person (happily, you can just lower these numbers again and hit "save.") Nineteen, as everyone knows, is the magic number, since in its annual rankings the U.S. News and World Report uses classes under 20 students as part of the algorithm that moves a school up - or down. Lecture classes that are in high demand (translate: their parents call the provost when they are shut out of a class) are also expanding. Surveys and introductions to the field that have, in the past, been capped at 40 have been bumped up to 45 or 50 by the same invisible hand. And two or three times a semester, our faculty is offered the opportunity to teach a fifth, perhaps a sixth course, at the same wages we pay adjuncts: there is a small M.A. program in liberal studies, there is the new summer school for undergraduates that is intended to offer an intimate learning experience and stop the budgetary bleeding, and there is a special pot of money that would increase offerings of small classes in the curriculum.

Put aside the question of whether an optional 3-2, or 3-3, or 2-1-2, counts as speed-up during a time when there are thousands of jobless Ph.D.'s dying for work. Try, if you can, to ignore the pensions that have tanked, and the flat-lined faculty salaries that have made colleagues everywhere desperate for additional income to keep up with the financial responsibilities they have. There is something positive to pay attention to here. In its own, oblique way, Zenith is recognizing something that real educators -- as opposed to people who make policy about education and have never taught, or legislators who see education budgets as low-hanging fruit -- have always known: small classes are better, and there should be more of them. Discussions, in which the teacher can both model and encourage critical thought, are better venues for learning than lectures.

Why do we teach large classes if we know students learn better in small classes? Because, given the economic and pedagogical philosophies that govern education now, we must teach large classes. They allow us to standardize part of our curriculum. Large classes make it possible to require gateways and foundation courses that, in turn, permit us to control the size of a given major through a minimum grade or aggregate grade (not to mention congratulate ourselves for "having standards.") Large classes are economical: we process more students with fewer faculty, and often those faculty can be extraordinarily ill-paid and inexperienced but still do the job. For example, any graduate student who has passed her comps can teach the United States history survey. Perhaps it won't be a transcendent experience, as it would have been with the late Howard Zinn, but if the point is content delivery and a level of energy that will keep a room full of teenagers engaged, graduate students can do it as well or better than your average mid-career history prof.

But why, you might ask, is a small class better intellectually? And what counts as a small class?

The second question is an important predicate to the first. A seminar of 19, or even 15, is a small-er class, but it doesn't count as a small class nor does it count as an intimate learning experience except by comparison to fifty or eighty minutes spent in a lecture room with 99 other people. But what possibilities does a class of 10 or fewer students open up? Let's take student writing, something most faculty claim they care about, and which is the object of large annual budget appropriations to help students do it well. Whether writing centers actually accomplish this task is hard to know, but they have not changed one thing we do know: that the average 4-5 page essay, of which somewhere between two and four will be assigned for each class, is currently a drag to assign, a drag to write, and a drag to read. Students either learn to churn them out or they don't, and if they don't, it becomes a terrible emotional burden for them as well as an imagined learning disability that affects the pleasure they might otherwise take in learning.

How about those of us who read these essays that are often the academic equivalent of forced labor? Everyone who views teaching students to write as a professional commitment (which isn't everyone, as we know) is aware that it takes a minimum of 30 minutes -- and often more like 45 minutes -- to read, think about and make intelligent comments on each paper. For a class of 15, this means somewhere between 8 and 12 hours, minimum, will be spent on a set of papers to give students even the minimal feedback they deserve for their thoughts. Hence, grading those papers becomes a full-time occupation for between one and two working days.

And for what? So that students can receive a grade at the end of the course. Ask your students how many of them enjoy their writing; imagine writing as something they might do for a living; or if they can recall a college paper they have written that was a real learning experience. And ask your students how many of their teachers, perhaps as a way to get off what they view as a hamster wheel of evaluating papers that no one wanted to write in the first place, return their papers with a letter grade and a one-line comment that is nice, rude or indifferent.

Talk about alienated labor. And yet, there is a solution to this problem: an increase in small classes that is not part of a general plan of university speed-up. Fewer students per faculty member could lead to more, and better, attention to each student by intellectuals who are freed up to be truly interested in what students bring to the table as people, as opposed to how students can be more efficiently processed.

The professor who had ten or fewer students might be encouraged to take student writing seriously if s/he actually had time be interested in it, and time to know the students well enough to care what they think. When you see ten students in office hours, rather than twenty, you can teach each student where s/he is, rather than where the curricular matrix dictates s/he should be. When you receive ten papers rather than twenty, you could actually read, think about and respond to each one -- rather than grade them, hand them back and move on. You could assign enough writing to help a student develop a set of thoughts consistently over the course of the semester that were uniquely tuned to that student's interests. Students might be encouraged to enjoy, and invest in, their writing more if they truly believed that it was part of a more intimate learning experience rather than merely a vehicle for assigning a grade.

Of course, the truth is that students really want to talk to us and talk to each other. The smaller the class, the more fully engaged and spontaneous class discussions can be and the less likely it is that the room will be taken over by a minority of learners who have the confidence to dominate, and silence, a room full of people. In a seminar of ten or fewer students everyone gets to speak, and better yet, will develop the interest in others that will facilitate respectful, engaged exchanges among people who disagree. The professor, in turn, will have a better opportunity to notice, accommodate and use to advantage the differences in learning styles and intellectual interests that make each student unique.

A commitment to smaller classes could transform higher education, not just by creating a better classroom experience for learners and teachers, but because it would require an enhanced commitment to the hiring of more faculty rather than more technicians, tutors and administrators to cope with the problems and dissatisfactions that large, alienating classes produce. There are many reasons why the job market is glutted with well-educated Ph.D.'s who are dying to teach, but one of them is that over time our tolerance for large classes has grown dramatically over time, even at elite liberal arts colleges that have the resources to do better. Currently, colleges want to have it all: they want the option of growing class sizes even further and lay claim to a spirit of innovation that promises individual attention to each of 19 -- no, 25 -- no, 50 -- no 150 -- students. That individual attention is often actually delivered, not by faculty, but by tutors, math centers, writing centers, teaching assistants, learning centers, computing centers, academic deans -- many of which come at a significant cost, in personnel, in new buildings, and in an ongoing commitment to maintaining infrastructure and technology.

Why not just make a commitment to funding small classes?