Monday, November 29, 2010

Department of Archives: GLAD Papers Go To Yale, Mitch McConnell Comes Out

Ssssh!  Don't let John Boehner know!
That's Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, queer history fans.  And Mitch McConnell didn't really come out, but doesn't the action figure at right look a lot like Mitch McConnell in a dress?  And wouldn't it be cool if he did come out, and then helped to get rid of Don't Ask, Don't Tell?

OK, dream on.  And when I dream, I dream of archives. In case you don't know why the GLAD archive is important, read on from this press release received on the Radical desk top today:

GLAD is the New England litigation organization whose precedent-setting legal victories include bringing marriage equality to Massachusetts in 2004 and Connecticut in 2008.

Covering all the major social changes and legal developments in contemporary LGBT history – from the HIV epidemic to marriage equality, from transgender rights to the “gayby boom,” GLAD’s records include correspondence, legal documents, research materials, photographs, meeting minutes, reports, publications, press releases, and financial records. The materials reveal the fascinating “backstory” to many of GLAD’s groundbreaking lawsuits – including early litigation that secured the right of a gay Rhode Island high school student to bring his boyfriend to the prom, the Supreme Court victory holding that people with HIV are protected from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the suit that led to Vermont’s historic civil union law, and the marriage equality wins in Massachusetts and Connecticut.

The materials will be available in Manuscripts and Archives in Sterling Memorial Library in New Haven.  The Yale University Library has one of the country’s most important research collections in LGBT history and the history of sexuality, including the records of Love Makes A Family; nineteenth-century diaries documenting same-sex intimacy; the papers of Harvey Fierstein, Gertrude Stein, Glenway Westcott, Larry Kramer, David Mixner, and numerous other lesbian and gay writers, artists, and activists; and one of the largest collections in the world of homosexual periodicals published before the gay liberation era of the 1970s.

“As an organization that has brought about significant shifts in the way LGBT people are treated under the law, by the government and by society as a whole, GLAD’s records will be an invaluable source for scholars, historians, civil rights advocates and students,” said Christine Weideman, Sterling Memorial Library’s Director of Manuscripts and Archives. “We’re grateful to be entrusted with preserving this vital part of history.”

“GLAD was founded in response to a series of anti-gay government actions in Boston in 1977-1978, including a police sting operation at the Boston Public Library.  That our records will now be archived at Yale’s world-renowned research library is a marker of how far the LGBT community has progressed over the last three decades,” said Lee Swislow, GLAD’s Executive Director. “We are honored to have played a part in that progress just as we are honored that Yale will ensure that the record of our work is preserved for the benefit of future generations.”

“These papers will be of immense value to historians and other scholars,” said George Chauncey, Professor of History and co-director of the Yale Research Initiative on the History of Sexualities. “GLAD’s litigation has played a leading role in mitigating the widespread discrimination faced by LGBT people, and their remarkable records will give scholars and the public a much better understanding of both the extent of that discrimination and the legal and political strategies that have challenged it.”

Records designated by GLAD as open to research will be available in early 2011.

I can just hear your mother now.  "First I had to stop using the word 'gay,' and now I have to stop....."

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Job Market Is A Lot Like The PBS NewsHour, And Other Advice For Skype Interviews

"Of course I can teach the second half of the U.S. History survey, Mr. DeMille "
As I have suggested in earlier years, the day of the convention interview may be coming to an end.  It has been spitting blood and teeth for at least twenty years, as the academic job market has taken a pounding with only occasional, and unusual, seasons of activity that cause the professional association newsletters to write perky articles about recovery.

Even when I was a graduate student, a person could expect to pick up more than one interview at a conference.  Three interviews were considered a tipping point after which it was clear that something you were doing was ringing a bell and there would be a job with your name on it.  Even visiting jobs sometimes merited sending a small committee to the AHA:  the job that washed me in the holy water of the Ivy League and sent me catapulting into a real career was a three-year non-TT gig at a school that sent a committee to the AHA.

However, the economic crash, the near-freeze in new hiring that followed in 2008-09, and the cautious thaw in pared down academic budgets in 2009-10 may have put a permanent dent in sending hiring committees to the annual conference, even though the professional organizations don't like it (go here for a great 2009 blog post by Robert B. Townsend of the American Historical Association in response to the last time I declared the death of the conference interview.)

Let's face it:  searches are expensive and time-consuming.  Depending on where the candidates are coming from, where your campus is and whether you are served by a major or a minor airport (when was the last time you tried to buy a plane ticket to or from Tulsa?  Columbus?  Flagstaff?  Williamstown?  Burlington? Ithaca? Corvallis?) a visit to campus from one candidate can cost up to $2500.  Most colleges have shaved a hundred bucks off each visit by making the faculty purchase their own alcohol, but there really isn't any way to budget less without asking the candidate to bring a sleeping bag.  One way to save real money, and a few precious days of winter break, is to not send three to five faculty to the annual conference.  This will result resulting in saving your institution a minimum of $3K, and as much as $8K.  And think what kind of money it could save the job candidates?  There are so few jobs that hardly anyone has even two interviews anymore.

So Miss Desmond, get ready for your close-up.  It's time for the Skype interview.

I did a Skype interview last spring, for a job that no one could have interviewed  at a conference for, and it does pose certain challenges that I will address below. But it also has great advantages.  Other than liberating a big chunk of the budget (either for more useful things or for hiring another dean), one great advantage to ditching the conference interview is that departments could be liberated from the tight calendar on which searches are approved and carried out.  We would, of course, also have to liberate ourselves from the idiotic idea that the "best" candidates, like the best local peaches, are only available at a certain time of year.  The latter could be a more difficult task, but look at it this way:  doctoral candidates defend at all times of year but departments hire as if all doctoral candidates defended in May.  Furthermore, given that most schools have two to three terms, and students drift in and out at will, why couldn't a faculty member begin work in January?

Great.  Now that we have that straight we can begin.

Here's what you need to think about when you are on the search committee:
  • In case you don't really understand Skype, it is essentially a videoconferencing device (a telephone, in other words) that you can download and use for free on any laptop.  This means that it is easy to use, and you don't need to have people from IT involved.  What you do need is to position the screen in some way so that the candidate can see your faces to the extent that this is possible.  Have someone in another office Skype into the room in which you will do the interviews so that you can prop the laptop up on books and gauge how well your faces can be seen.
  • There is a good chance your faces can't really be seen.  Therefore, it's a good idea to wear different clothes, space yourselves boy/girl/boy/girl, and whatnot, so that the candidate has an idea who is talking at any given time.  Even so, repeat your names occasionally.
  • Even if the visuals aren't great, the candidate can see you well enough to know whether you are picking your nose, texting, passing notes or whispering with your neighbor.  Do not do anything you would not do with the candidate in the room.
  • Do not suggest that a candidate go to an internet cafe for the interview.  This is wrong, since there is no possible way that the candidate can control for the atmosphere, the quality of the equipment, or even being able to get online at the correct time.  If a candidate cannot possibly do Skype at home or in a university technology studio, then settle for a conference call.
  • Do consider taking advantage of how inexpensive these interviews are, and expand your semi-finalist list.  I have never been on a search where we haven't knocked people off the conference interview list for marginal reasons; and I have never done a set of conference interviews where at least a third of the candidates didn't knock themselves out of the running in the first five minutes.  I have never done a search where at least one semi-finalist who was intriguing but sort of a mystery didn't hit the ball out of the park unexpectedly when asked about hir teaching, or turn out to be interesting in some way that was not revealed in the dossier.
And if you are the candidate:
  • Consider setting the stage.  That's right -- all they are going to see is your big ol' head and whatever is behind it, so use that to your advantageProp your computer up on as many books as you need to pile up to ensure you are looking directly into the camera, and then decide on your backdrop.  What books are central to the thesis?  Is someone on the committee an author whose work needs to be featured -- with lots of lovely post-its bristling out of the top?  How about a green, leafy plant, that makes you look like a mature, relaxed person?
  • They can only see you from the waist, or maybe mid-chest, up.  Be conservative around the face, since your head will fill half the screen:  facial jewelry that is larger than you have ever seen any of the untenured faculty in your department wear into the classroom needs to go for the Skype interview.  A big heavy ring in your septum is going to make them wonder about what they can't see.  On the other hand, everything below screen level they can't see so -- let it all hang out!  I mean literally!  It can be your little joke.
  • In every interview, particularly the preliminary ones, you need to get certain things about yourself on the table, regardless of how inept the interviewers are.  And yet, in the moment, those things can be hard to remember.  The Skype interview allows you to -- write them down! A Sharpie, some note cards, and a small bulletin  board (or a dry erase white board)  that can be placed behind your laptop are a worthwhile investment.  The survey you would be expected to teach?  Sketch it out, with key texts.  A little anecdote that dresses up a methodological problem in your thesis?  A phrase like "Soup kitchen/condom/fireman" will remind you of exactly what you wanted to say about it.
  • While I don't necessarily recommend this, some of us, when especially nervous, find that a quick swallow of vodka does the trick.  Guess what?  They'll never smell it on you.
  • Be bold.  Answer questions aggressively, and make sure you address your answers to the person who asked them, even though the people at the table may look like little flesh-colored balloons with wigs on.  You have to exaggerate turning your head, since you can see them just by flicking your eyes:  women, in particular, get annoyed when they ask a question and the candidate appears to be directing hir answer to the men in the room. 
Above all, be prepared to do a Skype interview if you are going on the market.  I have known several job candidates recently who were taken by surprise by this, and did not have computers that had cameras in them.  You can buy a serviceable webcam over the internet for as little as $25 and spend a couple hours learning to use it so that you are ready to go when the search committee calls.  While it isn't OK for the committee to force you to do an interview in a public place, it also isn't OK for you not to be ready to do an interview because you haven't bothered to prepare for what is an increasingly common way to do screening interviews.  When they call, they may want to schedule for next week -- or for Friday.  The web cam is as essential to your job market success as a good interviewing outfit.

You may have discovered already that many of the links embedded in this post are to other posts I have done on the job market in past years.  Read them and learn. Good luck.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Over The River And Through The Woods, To The Radicals House We Go!

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.  Tenured Radical is off the interwebs for a few days, so take care, empty your pockets of all change when you see a TSA official or a person in need, and don't eat anything I wouldn't eat!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Keep Your Hands Off My Junk! And Other Happy Thanksgiving Travel Wishes

Lesbo TSA fantasy time.  Reuters photo.
It appears that our new national crisis is the danger of being irradiated, or the indignity of being aggressively patted down,  at the airport.  In response to one outraged male victim spontaneously telling a Transportation Safety Authority employee to "Keep your hands off my junk!" people on the right and the left seem to have united in the belief that the government is going too far by making sure that airline passengers are not rigged as boobs -- er, I mean, bombs.

You can even buy a tee shirt to let the TSA know how you feel about it.

Now, I don't mean to be unfeeling.  I heard the interview with the man who was publicly drenched in his own urine during a clumsy search. I have read about the flight attendant whose prosthetic breast was examined to see if it contained plastic explosives.  I saw the shivering child, whose shirt was removed by his father when he set off the alarm, having his tiny elastic waistband inspected by a TSA employee.  I sympathize with the fears of transpeople that they will be publicly exposed in hostile environments. It seems likely that people who harbor objects on their bodies made of silicone, rubber and plastic -- people who are vulnerable anyway -- will be targeted in ways that may make difficult lives more difficult.

There's something for everyone to hate here, particularly those of us who feel we get enough radiation year after year at the dentist and by just living in a thoroughly irradiated world that is saturated with the residue of nuclear testing.

But has anyone but me noticed the high degree of homophobia in the air, as people on the right and the left describe what is terrible about body searches that virtually no one has to go through if they would just agree to walk through the scanners and allow a complete stranger to look at the outlines of their naked body for seven seconds? Few critics see this as an official erosion of privacy, a concern voiced by  the ACLU.  Americans to the end, it is sex everyone is concerned about.  A man on the news a couple nights ago described his increasing discomfort as a male TSA official slid a hand up his thigh with a thumb fully extended towards his anus. Jane Hamsher, of the progressive Firedoglake (who has dubbed the full-body visual screening devices "the porno scanners") described the enhanced pat-down in a horrified post earlier today:  200 Capitol Hill staffers watched as a female TSA worker stroked another TSA workers breasts and butt.  Afterwards, an onlooker said that "it made people so uncomfortable to watch, that people were averting their eyes."

Why pull your punches, Jane?  What's bothering most people is that they are forced to be "gay" for the minute or so it takes to complete the security procedure.  In a rant where he orders the state to "Get your hands off my teabag,"  Rush Limbaugh reveals to us that the federal government, under the Obama administration, has become gay. "Obama-led government agents are acting like perverts in some places....and make no mistake, it is the government fondling us."  Obama could say "the fondling stops here.  All Obama would have to do is call a little press conference, a little speech.  All he would have to say is the fondling stops here....We have the Miranda warning.  Well, now we have the Obama warning.  You have the right to remain silent while we fondle you.  Anything you say while we fondle you can and will be used against you."

See what I mean?  What is interesting to me is that this appears to be an entirely non-partisan issue:  the federal government is being sexual with everyone, and it makes it even worse that it is same gender!  Imagine the outcry if the TSA hired children to do enhanced body searches of children.  How pornographic would that be?

Go here to read the myths and facts on the TSA blog ("OMG! They aren't just gay, they blog too?!?")  But in the meantime, here are five things I like less than the idea being patted down by a hot young TSA employee and having her wonder whether I was born into the world with that "junk" or not:

  • Being blown up in-flight;
  • Having my Middle Eastern, South Asian and black friends being racially profiled;
  • Being blown up on the runway;
  • Being taken hostage and flown into a building;
  • Being morally responsible for the estimated 500 civilians in Pakistan who have been killed in unmanned drone strikes by the Obama administration.  For every two terrorists that are killed, one civilian is killed, which is a lot higher number than the estimated 3% of American travelers who are body searched in airports on any given day.  In addition, it should be noted that most people survive a body search, whereas surviving a drone strike is a tougher proposition.

As travelers flounder about in their homophobic panic and American narcissism, has it occurred to them that we have brought this foolishness on ourselves by fighting a prolonged war that has produced an escalated counterinsurgency, metastasizing Al-Qaeda to more countries than it ever had bases in prior to the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq?

I doubt it.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

In Case You Were Wondering: The Financial Penalties For Being Unmarried

Stigma or Pride?  Shall the Congress or the Courts Decide?
Despite the fact that I would include myself in the category of people who are utterly unmoved by the romance of gay marriage (except when I am softened by pictures of people who are moved by it), I occasionally feel pissed off about structural discrimination that awards bonuses to people who can and do marry.

Today I opened a letter from TIAA-CREF that contains an "update" to my "original contract...which states that same-sex marriages aren't recognized under current federal tax law" because of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Passed in 1996, DOMA defines marriage as a legal contract that can only be entered into by one man and one woman, and was declared unconstitutional by a federal district court last July.  It was signed into law by William Jefferson Clinton, for which (along with welfare reform and NAFTA) he will roast in the hell that hypocrites go to forever, regardless of how many other good works they perform.

The point of this form is that, should I predecease her, my partner will inherit my retirement account as if she were a stranger or a casual friend:  this goes for other federal inheritance laws designed to protect the common property of married folk.  Were I to perish tomorrow, we would have lived together in a committed fashion for over a quarter century, a state in which even the most troubled and fractious heterosexual couple might claim to be wed under common law.  What are the other financial penalties for being partnered but unmarried in the eyes of the federal government?
  • If you are gay-married under state law, you get to file two separate tax returns, which costs more.
  • If you have the good luck to have domestic partner benefits, or live in a state where you can gay-marry, you have to pay federal taxes on the amount of money kicked in by the university on behalf of your spouse as if it were income.
  • Even if you are gay-married, you cannot create a MERA (an instrument that permits an individual to reserve pre-tax dollars for the many medical expenses not covered by insurance) for both you and your partner, only yourself.
  • If your gay spouse does not have an income, you cannot count hir as a dependent and get a tax deduction.
  • Your gay spouse does not have access to any federal pension to which s/he might otherwise be entitled were s/he an opposite-sex spouse.
So all you straight married people out there who do get these things?  You are getting a big, fat, frakking bonus, and I would be interested in knowing what it is you do for our Republic to deserve it.  Or let me know what anyone in a state-sanctioned marriage would do to deserve all of these tax breaks:  if DOMA were rescinded tomorrow, and Partner and I continued living as we do but with a marriage license from the state of Connecticut, why would that federal magic trick entitle us to the extra $$?

Although I am quite sure that everyone who has a TIAA-CREF account received this letter, the vast majority of my heterosexual colleagues will throw it in the round file without a thought. To them, these financial privileges are invisible -- many, in fact, believe that they deserve them, even though they can't precisely say why when asked. For me, however, this letter is a particularly keen reminder of our  current state of sexual apartheid, and I think I will post it on my office door.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Disciplining Your Class: How Not To Go About It

Mark P. Talbert, a senior lecturer at Cornell's School of Hotel Administration, is having a bad week.  Not only did he go berserk in front of his class, the episode was recorded by a university video system, which means the quality is better than what is produced by your average cell phone held in the air by a student.  Oh yeah, and it also means the tape is in possession of university officials, who are investigating, according to Inside Higher Ed.  Talbert's little breakdown was triggered by a very loud, and I suppose facetious, yawn.  Roll the videotape!

If it isn't bad enough that Talbert exposed his students to this ill-humored rant (my favorite part is where he tells the class that they are just going to stay there until the culprit confesses), he has now exposed himself to the slings and arrows of everyone on the Internet too, and many of them are ROTFLTAO.  A discussion of the merits of losing your $hit in front of an entire class appended to the YouTube posting include one gem that will keep me laughing all day tomorrow:  "OMG i wonder what he would do if someone farted...I think he would kill all of them. lol."

Monday, November 15, 2010

Department of Economics: What Do Presidents Of The Corporate University Make?

Tamar Lewin of The New York Times, summarizing the annual salary report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, informs us that the Millionaire Presidents Club  jumped from 23 to 30 in 2009.  "The highest-paid sitting president is R. Gerald Turner of Southern Methodist University, who earned $2,774,000," Lewin writes. "However, The Chronicle said that according to the university, $1.5 million of that total compensation was a result of Mr. Turner’s cashing out a life insurance policy and buying his own."  Whose life insurance policy?  Was this a policy purchased for him by SMU?  And what is Turner's income from the many corporate boards on which he sits?  Enquiring minds want to know.

For those of you who don't want to bother reading the article, only one Ivy League president, Columbia's Lee Bollinger, is on the list with an annual 2009 compensation of $1,753. Drew Faust, of Harvard University, earned only $822,011 (by comparison, if you dig around in the Chronicle piece, you will see that the top faculty earner at Zenith makes $250K.)  Is that because Faust is a woman of principle (this is a fact, not one of my typical snarky opinions) or because she is a woman?  Or is it because she is a historian, not a former law professor as Bollinger is? Enquiring minds....(oh shut up, Radical.)

The outrage that will inevitably follow news of these salaries will, of course ignore an important paradox in contemporary higher education.  While we resent it that our university officers are paid more like corporate executives than like professors, all signs indicate that the American way is to run non-profit colleges and universities as if they were for-profit corporations.  In fact, the wealth and annual budgets of some universities causes them to resemble small nations even more than they resemble corporations.  As the Harvard Crimson pointed out in 2004, the year that Larry Summers received the 32% raise that kicked him up to the paltry mid-600K range, "at $23.1 billion, Harvard’s net assets at the end of fiscal year 2003 eclipsed the gross domestic products of Bolivia and Oman but remained just short of Paraguay and Turkmenistan."  The complexity of managing these vast sums of money may explain why, for example, President Rick Levin is only the third highest-paid employee at Yale University.  Topping the list are Chief Investment Officer David Swenson at $5.3 million, and his assistant, Dean Takahashi, at $3.5 million.

But perhaps the corporate comparison is more realistic, given the fact that privatization, "outcomes assessment," sloganeering and the corporate branding of universities and liberal arts colleges as consumer products has virtually eclipsed substantive approaches to imagining what education should look like and why. Unlike students in Great Britain, who staged an impressive riot last week because of steep hikes in university fees, students in the Untied States have continued to fork over the money in sufficient numbers to allow this transformation to continue virtually unimpeded. Oh yes, they complain, but they still participate, because like Horatio Alger's Ragged Dick they believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, in the virtues of free market models. Increasingly, and with the blessing of the federal government, we see what used to be public educational institutions being turned into farm teams for Microsoft, The Gap and United Technologies.  However, when we pay university presidents like the CEO's we seem to want them to be, all of a sudden cries of outrage rend the land.

Seriously, what's up with that?

Just in case you were calculating what your salary might be if your president earned less, here's a little reality check for you: even subtracting the money-managers, Prexie's salary is a drop in the budget -- er, bucket -- if you look at total administrative compensation at your university.  As Jeffrey Brainard pointed out in "The Biggest Campus Paycheck May Not Be The President's" (CHE, February 27, 2009), in 2006-07,  "Chief executives accounted for only 11 out of 88 private-college employees who made $1-million or more in the 2006-7 fiscal year. And only 90 presidents and chancellors numbered among the 293 who earned $500,000 or more. Many of the others drawing the biggest paychecks were medical-school administrators or professors with highly specialized skills."  Brainard also pointed to non-administrative salaries as a culprit.   Topping the list at R-1 universities will be athletic coaches in marquee sports and, astonishingly, a subset of medical school faculty: research doctors specializing in infertility.  Of course, the latter category makes sense if you consider the enormous amounts of money to be made from university owned patents on drugs and procedures for a highly commercial industry.

Until someone comes up with a coherent vision of what universities are, and what they are supposed to do, none of these issues can be addressed.  Questions we might ask are:  why are public universities serving a function as developmental leagues for promising athletes, and what does that contribute to the university mission?  Why are the costs and benefits of having research scientists working in universities rather than in pharmaceutical companies? Why does it matter for university scholars to produce knowledge that can't be sold, and what what is the relationship of the humanities and social sciences to these other, more lucrative, enterprises? What is the function of a university endowment that supports a vast number of money-making enterprises, none of which seem to be lowering the cost of tuition?  What is the desirable difference between the non-profit and for-profit sector, given that the two look more and more alike?

Final note: for a horrifying, but intriguing, take on some of these questions, see Anya Kamenetz's DIY U:  Edupunks, Edupeneurs, And The Coming Transformation Of Higher Education (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2010.) Kamentez, also the author of Generation Debt (Riverhead, 2006), imagines a stripped-down world where skilled learners educate themselves by taking advantage of everything that they can get for free, or for a minimum cost.  It is a world where prestige and faculty have little or no place, and credentialing is detached from named schools for self-motivated learners who don't see the social worlds of higher ed as worth the money.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Over There, Over There; Or, Where Are All The Soldiers On Your Campus?

Where are the demobilized soldiers on your campus? Well it depends on where you teach.  But if you are at a top liberal arts school, chances are they are "over there" at a community college.

According to Wick Sloane, writing for Inside Higher Ed, when it comes to enrolling veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, elite colleges have to admit that those students aren't there.  Zenith made a big announcement a couple of years ago that it was going to reserve a single spot in each entering class for a demobilized soldier, but we haven't heard much about it since, and -- well, is one spot enough?  I would think not, particularly when you consider the difficulty of creating relationships with other young people who (blessedly) haven't experienced anything more violent than a car accident or a football game.  Bunker Hill Community College, where Sloane teaches, enrolls almost 350 veterans; between them, Harvard and Yale enroll 4 (surprisingly, Mount Holyoke, a women's school which is about the size of one entering class at Harvard or Yale) enrolls 3 veterans. The College of William & Mary (a state-funded institution that enrolls over 8,000 undergraduates and graduate students) is at the top of the list with 24.  Several institutions wouldn't answer the question, which I thought was rather small of them.

In response, one veteran writes in the comments section that the sentiment for inclusion is laudable, but in practical terms, elite colleges price themselves out of the average soldier's range and may not offer what they need. "Many [people] can't afford college and therefore enlist in the military either as a career move or to take advantage of the educational benefits, [t]he latter of which was my reason for joining," he observes.  "Even with the assistance of the GI Bill and other veteran's benefits they cannot afford the selective institutions. I, coming from middle class family, simply could not afford to even look at many of the selective institutions. Yes, I had the test scores and the high school GPA to get in but there was no way I could have ever hoped to afford the sticker price, even with my educational assistance."  A second reason, he argues, is that after two years in the military, many soldiers want to get on the fast track to a career and want a more "professional education" than a liberal arts college provides.

This all sounds right to me, and yet shouldn't elite schools be trying harder?  It's difficult to believe that if elite schools tried to recruit students from the military they couldn't do it, and that schools with massive endowments couldn't commit some of that money to helping soldiers take on the burden of elite tuition and fees.  War veterans can present a challenge in terms of the physical and emotional burdens they bring back from combat, but meeting those challenges would cause schools to be more generally thoughtful about what they do not yet do well for all students.  Furthermore, not all veterans have been in combat, but many have gained the kind of maturity, ambition and discipline that would make them valuable members of any class.

I am curious about what it will mean for this current generation of students to know so little about a war that has altered the lives of many Americans in their age cohort, not to mention millions of people in the Middle east and South Asia.  For those historians who are making a list of why the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are different from other wars, add to that the ten years of elite college students who will go into the world, and into policy-making positions, only vaguely understanding the ways in which war alters communities, marriages, families, and individual lives. They will make decisions, in fact, that send the next generation to war without having understood this one in anything but an abstract way.

Addendum:  this week's required reading about the relationship between teaching, the liberal arts and military service is Craig Mullaney's The Unforgiving Minute:  A Soldier's Education (Penguin Press, 2009.0

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A Letter To My Students: Stop Rape Now By Doing These Ten Things

Over the past six months, we at Zenith University have been talking about rape and sexual assault.  We talk in the dormitories and program houses; we talk in faculty offices; we talk in special hearings run by the deans; we talk in a committee convened to examine sexual assault on campus; we talk on the Anonymous Confession Board; we talk in the pages of the Zenith newspaper

So enough talk, Zenith students.  It is time to act.  Direct some of the compassion that you so frequently exhibit towards people off our campus towards each other.  It is time for you to stop rape at Zenith right now. 

I have never used this blog to talk directly to Zenith students.  But because I know you read it, and because there has recently been a public announcement about sexual assault on campus, I want to  speak to you directly about how you can stop rape and sexual assault on campus without any intervention by the university at all.  Here are ten positive steps you, the students, can do to stop rape and sexual assault on campus, without any member of the Zenith administration doing anything.  These steps can be taken by men or women, by victims or friends of victims, and they can be taken today.

A person who has been raped should go immediately to the hospital and have a rape kit done.  The person who has raped you has left physical traces on your body and your first impulse will be to scrub them away, but this is critical evidence that must be preserved.  Do not go to the university health services; go directly to the hospital by whatever the quickest means is.  Do not allow anyone to talk you out of this.  If you have been forced to give someone oral sex, do not wash out your mouth.  Do not dispose of your clothes or underpants, and have someone meet you at the hospital with new clothes to put on because what you are wearing may need to be logged into evidence.  You also need to have prophylactic medication to stop or avert the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases; interrupt possible conception; be examined for any physical damage the rapist may have caused; and have any injuries documented and photographed. 

This is the one, crucial step necessary to prosecute rape as the crime that it is:  go to the hospital and have a rape kit done and your injuries documented.  You or your friend can file this rape kit under an anonymous number, and no assailant has to be named until such a time as the victim is ready to talk to the police and work with them to decide whether to file charges.  

Never ask someone who says s/he has been raped: "Are you sure?"  If a person says s/he has been raped, assume that s/he has been, and know that you can acknowledge that sexual violence has occurred without deciding whether the accused person is capable of such a crime.  You are not required to decide guilt or innocence:  you are simply required to help a person in distress get to the hospital.  Know that when you question an affirmative statement that sexual violence has occurred, you are detaching from that person and weighing the option not to be involved.

Do not allow shame over the event, or actions you may or may not have taken leading up to the event, to keep you from going to the hospital or to the police.   You are likely to feel disoriented and unwilling -- or unable -- to talk to people about what has happened to you and there is no need to do that until you have the support you need.  When bad things happen, our greatest tendency is to blame ourselves first, but that is in part because we live in a society that conveys shame about a great many things, especially sex.  Questions like:  "Why did I drink so much?" "Why did I allow myself to be fooled by this person?" "Why did I trust someone I didn't know?" "What will people think of me?" and "Why didn't I fight harder?" are not only self-defeating questions, they are irrelevant.  The person who committed this crime against you has probably done it before, and will probably do it again to someone else (see this research, contributed by a reader, the findings of which argue that the vast majority of campus rapes are committed by serial rapists who are never caught; the vast majority of rapes are perpetrated on first-year students.)  Keeping your rape a secret increases a rapist's confidence that this horrible act can be perpetrated without penalty.

Do not allow anyone to tell you that you will feel worse if you report this to the police or file charges.  It isn't true, or at least, consider that advice unproven.  In fact, research shows that people who take legal action against rapists do better psychologically down the line than people who do not report them to the police, even when they do not get the outcome they want.  Furthermore, a rapist who is successfully expelled from the Zenith campus in a confidential proceeding has suffered a setback, but has also been given a get out of jail free card to go rape someone else on another campus.

Never joke about rape or sexual assault, mock people who have been raped, or say in jest that rape would be an appropriate introduction to sexual intercourse.  At the risk of being mocked yourself, tell people who say these things that they are not funny. In fact, help to build a student culture where people do not  think people's sexuality is a joke, where people's self-esteem is not built on who they have sex with or whether they have sex at all.  Emphasize in your conversations about sex that with the pleasure of sexuality comes the responsibility to treat others with honor and respect.  Do not take these responsibilities lightly.  Do not erroneously conclude that the vast majority of rape accusations come from hook-ups that one person regrets, break-up sex that one partner is using as a weapon, or a misunderstanding about consent.  While it is true that accusations of sexual assault can be false, it is a far more salient fact that the vast majority of rapes and sexual assaults on campus are never reported at all.

If you believe that a crime has been committed, you have a moral obligation to report it and urge the victim to take steps to report it too.  Rape is a crime.  It isn't a misunderstanding, or the unavoidable outcome of having been too drunk to restrain yourself.  In some states, to not report a felony makes you a co-conspirator.  Connecticut is not one of them.  But talking about rape on the Anonymous Confession Board is not the same thing as stopping rape.  In fact, it is much worse, because accusations against entire groups of people -- primarily teams, fraternities, and the women who socialize with them  -- create a sense of mutual stigma and resentment because people who should be part of the solution close ranks around a friend or friends rather than taking responsible action against the person or persons responsible for the rape.

Do not ever tease or mock men about their masculinity; do not ever use homophobic, racist or sexist slurs; and do not engage in or tolerate behavior or speech which humiliates and harms others by degrading their personal dignity.  Rape is the ultimate act of degradation, but like bullying, it is often a product of a coarsened culture that tolerates and promotes profound disrespect for others.  Tolerance for rape and bullying displays your own selfish relief that it is not you who is the object of humiliation. Behavior which creates intimacy among a group through stigmatizing or harming others is immoral, wrong and, in the case of rape or hazing, criminal.  It creates a crude and unwelcoming student culture, and it impedes the real intimacy of love and/or friendship that occurs when people can trust others to treat them with love and respect.

Men need to talk to other men about why men rape; women need to talk to women about why they insist on making rape a private matter; and both men and women need to talk among themselves and with each other about why they tolerate rape.  Topics for such discussions might include:  why do we insist on valorizing hook-up culture without discussing an ethic of responsible sexuality?  Under what conditions do male bodies become weapons? If I am involved in a politics of decarceration, does that exclude acting to prevent a rapist from raping another woman?  If a rapist is not punished for that crime, what prevents that person from raping again or prevents others from believing they can get away with rape?  If I have seen someone being coerced into a situation where a sexual assault happened, what prevented me from intervening?  How would I intervene in the future? What is the special role of men, and men's organizations, in preventing rape? How can team captains, fraternity presidents and other campus leaders use their popularity and influence to end rape on campus?

If you can't stop people being raped at your parties, stop having parties.  On the other hand, imagine taking the following steps at your parties.  Do not let people in who cannot present an ID.  Have a sufficient number of people at your party who are willing to remain sober and to move around the room and/or the house, making sure that people are safe.  People who are intoxicated on booze or drugs past the point of good judgment should not be permitted to enter; they should not be served alcohol or drugs; and if they become intoxicated at the party, they should be escorted home by Public Safety or someone they can identify as a trusted friend.  No one should be having sex at a party.  If you insist on treating your party like a sex club, you must do what sex clubs do:  have sober, knowledgeable monitors specifically available to ensure that the sex is safe and fully consensual.

Forward this post to your friends, post it at your house, have a meeting on your hall about it, call your team or your club together and discuss it.  These are important issues for public safety and complex features of community building, and should be discussed frequently.  One Take Back the Night March every year, with cathartic crying circles where people comfort each other, does not constitute a year's worth of anti-rape activism.  A skit at orientation provides none of the practical information people need to know about rape.  A website that instructs someone what to do in the event of a sexual assault does not stop rape, nor is reading a website an effective way of taking in information or making decisions in the aftermath of a rape.

Report any rape or sexual assault you have not yet reported, no matter when it happened.  While it may be past the time that it can be prosecuted, the Zenith administration needs a far more accurate sense than it has about how many rapes there are on campus, and the places they are occurring. 

The Zenith administration can police rape, punish rape and provide resources to support you in the aftermath of a rape; only students working together can stop rape from occurring in the first place.  My hope is that institutional resources on campus aimed at combating rape will be strengthened dramatically in the coming months, and that feminist faculty will be a part of that discussion.  But the Zenith administration and the faculty are not raping you.  You are raping each other, and failing to deal with the conditions that make rape possible in your community.

And you can change that.  Now.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Planet University: Episode 2, "Last Month In Office Hours"

For the pilot episode of "Planet University"  go to our sister website at  Afternoon update:  a big welcome to readers of the National Review Online:  it's been awhile, but I'm glad to see you back again.

Disclaimer:  this cartoon and its characters are fictional.  "Planet University" does not depict actual events, people or conversations.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Department of Uniquely Tacky Political History Gifts

Seriously? Chia Obama? I saw this on TV tonight and couldn't wait to run upstairs and log in.

The good news is that Chia Obama is part of the "Proud To Be An American" series that includes Chia Washington, Chia Lincoln and Chia Statue of Liberty.  If you go to this part of the Chia Products website, you will see that Chia Washington has his green hair neatly trimmed colonial style, whereas Chia Lincoln, Chia Obama and Chia Liberty all have a neat 'fro.

We are living in amazing times. I don't think a sitting President has ever been honored with his own Chia, come to think of it. So buy one now -- for that historian who has everything. For a limited time only. $19.95 + $7.95 shipping and handling. Free shipping with two or more. Buy Chia Obama for the whole American wing of your department. It's never too soon to start thinking about the holidays.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sunday Radical Roundup: Bones, Dykes and `Toons

Bones:  Where I went to college, when someone said "Bones!" legend had it that various men soon to be employed by the national security apparatus would leap up and leave the room in a huff.  Myself, I never saw it happen.  But in the History Department at Brigham Young University they probably do run out of the room when someone says "bones," just for good measure.  Radical readers recall that week before last, a box of human skulls arrived by USPS.  They have now been partially identified, according to KSL-TV's website, as being the remains of people who lived between 1100 and 1300 A.D.  This means they are probably not former history professors, but probably the ancestors of native people.  For future reference:  according to my local expert, it is illegal to buy or sell human remains as souvenirs, and if you happen to locate unidentified remains in a house you are cleaning out, it is also illegal to mail them across state lines.

KSL still does not know why these remains were mailed to BYU.  Revenge perhaps?

Dykes: Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em.  However the exciting news is that DYKE: A Quarterly, described as "a magazine of Lesbian culture and analysis" that was published by Liza Cowan and Penny House between 1975 and 1979, is building an online archive.  So far only a few issues are up, but it's like getting a breath of fresh air from the past.  Put on your overalls and bandanna and beam yourself back to the past, Scottie.  "What is DYKE?" issue one asks. "DYKE is a magazine for dykes only!  We will speak freely among ourselves.  We are not interested in telling the straight world what we are doing.  In fact, we hope they never even see the magazine. It is none of their business.  If they chance to see it, we hope they think it is mindless gobbledygook.  We are already thinking in ways that are incomprehensible to them." (4)

'Toons:  Followers of Tenured Radical were pleased, appalled and/or frightened last Monday to see that we have a whole new way of expressing ourselves through Xtranormal's animation program.  The series "Planet University" was launched with the pilot episode, "I Want A Raise."  As one anonymous commenter pointed out, "'I want a raise' voiced in slightly stilted British accent [is] a catch-phrase just about to take off on my campus." Soon I could be the academic version of the Rickie Gervais character on Extras who can't get a job in a real movie, but then writes a horrible, and horribly successful, sit-com where he has to wear a fluffy wig, squint and say "Arr ye 'avin' a laff?  Is 'e 'avin a laff???

In addition to the several thousand hits "I Want A Raise" received in the course of a week on one of your favorite academic blogs, people who while their lives away on the Xtranormal website seem to be finding it too.  Let's hope to God it doesn't inspire them to go to graduate school.   The big news is that Roxie's World has now taken up the challenge with:  "I Want To Be Promoted."  Sing it, Roxie!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

The Space Between Us: An Election Day Wrap-Up From A Bright Blue State

Photo credit:
Exclusive report by Tenured Radical from the People's Republic of Connecticut. 

Yesterday, as I was going door to door on a get out the vote effort in Zenith, I had to admit that it wasn't much of an effort, and that it had little to do with getting out the vote.

The idea, for those of you who haven't done election day door knocking, is this.  You have a map on which are marked likely Democratic voters in a certain region (in this case it was three long blocks just outside the strip malls that lead into Zenith and four apartment buildings embedded in those malls), and you knock on people's doors.  If they answer, you ask them if they have voted; if they don't answer, you put what is called a "door hanger" on the knob that has the names and pictures of all the Democratic candidates running for statewide office.  You mark down on your sheet what the outcome of each visit was: home/not home; voted/has not voted; won't say.  There is no box for "None of your f$%#king business," a likely response among half the people who answer their door or their telephone in a Yankee state when asked about their politics.

Theoretically, my sheet indicated that there would be three visits, or "passes" made at each of these doors.  However, as I was completing the first pass at 3:00 P.M., and there had been a large box of untouched envelopes at Zenith campaign headquarters, my guess is that these people had no other visitors that day.

I encountered two people who had already voted; two who threatened to sic the dog on me (like the rest of you, we in the People's Republic have been bombarded with relentless television ads, so you can hardly blame them); and one woman who was clearly drunk or stoned who shouted through an upstairs window that I should "Goo. 'Way."About a quarter of the residences appeared to be completely unoccupied.

As I crawled down the street in my car, squinting at street numbers, and banging on doors where I suspect the people on the sheet no longer live, I couldn't help but think the Tea Party was doing a better job somewhere.  I thought about the Orange County women about whom Lisa McGirr wrote a path-breaking book, Suburban Warriors:  The Origins of the New American Right.  Goldwater enthusiasts living on snug cul de sacs, they met over coffee cake and Conscience of a Conservative, providing child-care for another as they got out the vote for a candidate whose time had not yet come.

Goldwater Republicans would have known whether anyone still lived next door, for example, as I suspect the Tea Party people do.  The primary virtue of Tea Partiers from my perspective is a seeming tenacity about activating relationships with each other in the interest of politics, and a somewhat naive belief in the efficacy of social relationships in the face of devastating social and economic structural collapse partly caused, ironically, by the individualist economic policies that they advocate.

Tea Party successes around the country should remind political historians that the spaces between us are not just metaphorical or ideological right now.  Geography, I thought as I looked for a single active Democratic voter on a winding street full of non-voters, Independents and Republicans, is so important to politics.  The sprawling forms of development that characterize my state, the "lollipop" driveways that lead back to a comfortable house with no apparent neighbors, the long hallways filled with identical double-locked doors -- mean that most of these people don't even know their neighbors, much less talk among themselves about political ideas, what is best for their community or how to activate that on election day.  They are too busy plotting the fastest route to one of my state's major highways where they will survive up to a three hour commute to the job they are grateful to have. It's also important that the vast majority of families need two incomes to keep their heads above water, much less have the resources to pay for health care, a mortgage, and college tuition. 

Who would stay home to make the coffee cake, much less invite the people over who would take their politics with cream and a little sugar? Do you know a single man or woman who would have the time, much less the vision, to self-publish an inexpensive book and mail a hundred thousand copies out of her garage, one by one, as southern Illinois conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly did in 1964 with A Choice, Not An Echo?

When I returned to Zenith election headquarters with my map filled in, I said to the twenty-something guy in a cheap suit, day-old facial hair and rakish bandanna that I didn't really think that I had done much good, particularly since anyone who planned to vote and was at work (as opposed to dead, evicted, removed to a nursing home or foreclosed upon) would probably do so on the way home. "Yeah," he said. "But the idea is that any of those people who have forgotten will come home, see the door hanger and" (he struck himself in the forehead with the heel of one hand in the universal duh gesture) "say, 'Wow! It's election day! I've got to go back out and vote!'"

Well I've got news for the Democrats.  No one with a television could have forgotten it was election day.  We have been praying for it to be over for weeks.

I realized that, once again, the Democratic Party wasn't really fighting for Zenith's votes in the contest I really cared about, the Governor's race between former mayor Stamford mayor Dan Malloy and businessman Tom Foley (who did, in fact, purchase the Bibb Mill in Macon, Georgia and suck $20 million out of it, driving it into bankruptcy, throwing its employees out on their heinies and forcing the town of Bibb itself into bankruptcy.   This is not just a nasty campaign ad, it's true.) I wasn't too disheartened.  I thought that Connecticut would stay blue because of the cities:  New Haven, Waterbury, Bridgeport, Danbury and Stamford. It did.

The exception is the governor's race, which is still in dispute.  Although much of the state trends blue in national races, the Republicans could run Howdy Doody or Al Capone for governor (they have! they have!), and the towns would go so thoroughly red for that office that the cities couldn't stop it.  If you check these results provided by MSNBC, you will see that.  Even Democrat Jim Himes, who won in a squeaker two years ago, managed to extend his cushion be about 1600 votes.  But in the governor's race, which is still unresolved as of this morning, the Republicans' sole strategy seemed to be to disrupt voting in the cities:  hence, Bridgeport was shut down for almost two hours yesterday afternoon, because only 21,000 ballots were prepared for 69,000 potential voters (nice work Democrats.)  After the court order was issued to keep the polls open after 8:00 PM, "confusion" as to which polling places were affected by the court order.

My guess?  For Malloy to to lose this, the Republicans would have to succeed in throwing out all the votes cast in Bridgeport.  You heard it here first.

I don't find the national shift to red depressing as others do: as I said to my students yesterday, I have seen much worse.  I recall watching the television during the presidential race in 1984, appalled, as Walter Mondale -- a decent and good man -- lost every single state but his own.  Now that was bad.  And I can't say that the spectacle of the next two years won't be interesting.  Will the Democrats sit back and say to Dick Armey, John Boehner and their buddies:  "OK -- you bought it, pal; now you fix it"?

More interesting for this political historians will be watching conventional conservatives and the people elected by nihilistic independents maneuver.  I predict it will be some version of what might have happened if William Jennings Bryan, Huey Long, Frances Townsend or Barry AuH2O had been elected. What have Republican operatives unleashed by financing these Tea Party people?  After inviting candidates who identify as renegades and rebels into the fold, can John Boehner exercise the iron-clad "party discipline" that has kept nearly every member of his party saying the exact same thing, over and over, and voting in lockstep to block the Democratic majority?   Will the Tea Party folk, now elected, be swayed into becoming what they ran against -- Washington "insiders" who go on junkets with corporate executives, take bags of money from the Scaifes and dream of a comfortable middle age as well-paid lobbyists?

That's what happened to those Contract With America conservative Republicans in 1994.  Their insurgent zeal shut down by their own party, they became just like everyone else, with their book contracts and their K Street offices. Similarly, although they appeared to have changed politics in 2008, the Obama people have handed the Democratic Party back to the old-time hacks who, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy's jocular comment about the Chicago votes his father was said to have purchased on his behalf in 1960, in Connecticut, keep Connecticut only as Blue as it needs to be to win.

Only time will tell.  But what makes me as blue as my state are that the spaces between us have come to characterize politics.  Here in the People's Republic of Connecticut, where we are free to gay marry and split the family farm into as many ticky-tacky houses as we like until each incoherent development merges into the next, we seem to be bluer than ever.  But that doesn't mean that democracy is working as it should. There is too much space between us, and if you ask me, both parties prefer it that way.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Announcing "Planet University;" Or, Tenured Radical -- The Cartoon Series

This cartoon is entirely fictional, drawing on last month's posts and comments on those posts, for its content. Enjoy!

In other news, see James Vernon, "The End of the Public University in England," Inside Higher Ed.