Thursday, February 26, 2009

Excuses, Excuses....Excused: The Teacher Learns A Lesson

When I was a young faculty member, I had a comedy routine that went like this. I would cup my hand to my ear, look intent and say to a colleague, "Listen! Do you hear that?"

You would answer, "Uh -- no. What?"

Me: "That soft thumping sound!"

You, listening hard: "What do you think it is?"

Me: "The sound of grandparents hitting the ground."

I am, of course, referring to the grandparent holocaust that strikes around midterms and finals, grandparents whose sudden death causes their grandchildren to be unable to take their exams or turn in their papers. Some students have been known to lose more than one grandparent in a single semester; others seem to have more than four elderly rellies who slip in and out of comas, are sometimes miraculously healed (Praise the Lord!) or suddenly take a turn for the worse -- just when we thought that paper was going to come in.

OK, I'm being mean.

And I would have to say something strange has happened to me with age, which is not just that I'm not as mean as I used to be, but that I seem to have more students who have genuinely bad, documentably awful things happen to them and to their family members. I don't know why this is. Maybe I'm less of a cynic, having suffered my own share of bad things over the years, and I'm just noticing more. Or maybe it's just the accumulation of years. There are students managing chronic diseases, young people who have to learn more things about their bodies by the age of twenty than I have learned in over twice that time. Students whose fathers leave Mom -- in the company of their daughter's best friend from high school. Students who are descending into madness, living inside kaleidoscope brains that make reading, thinking and speaking a nightmare. Students whose parents are diagnosed with terrible invasive diseases; or students who have a parent or a sibling who has battled cancer for over a decade and announces that s/he is giving up treatment and is ready to die. Students who have a suicide in the family. Students with a loved ones in the hands of the judicial system, or with friends who have died violent deaths at the hands of other human beings. And this is not even counting casualties and stress to students and their families from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, something that I am sure is far more visible at institutions other than Zenith.

The predominant health issue at Zenith nowadays is nothing unusual. A vile illness is going around: a nasty, juicy cold that metamorphoses into a hacking cough and/or an ear infection. Everyone has it: job candidates, students, colleagues, administrative assistants. Walk into my office presenting those symptoms, and you can get an extension on anything -- guaranteed. Yesterday after class I was transformed into my visiting nurse persona, roaming around from student to student, urging them to go to the health center because I know three separate people -- one adult and two students -- who have been diagnosed with bacterial pneumonia in the last week. Who wants to drive a student to death's door just to make a point about getting a paper on time? Not me, buster. I can't even grade when I'm sick, much less write.

I have noticed, however, that sometimes the students who have the worst problems are the ones who never tell you what's wrong if they can help it: they are the ones who grit their teeth and soldier on, taking care of personal business without making an excuse or asking for an extension. Those are the students you have to really keep your eyes peeled for. Once, about ten years ago, I demanded that a student who had handed in absolutely no work all semester, and had evaded me with increasingly transparent lies, come to office hours to explain herself. She sat down across the desk from me as I began my stern lecture about taking responsibility, the importance of trust between teacher and student, the multiple excuses -- and then I noticed that she was trembling, tears sheeting down her cheeks as she sobbed quietly. "What's the matter?" I said. She whispered something I didn't understand. "What?" I said, now more urgently.

"I cut myself," she said, eyes squeezed shut in shame, leaking fresh rivers of tears. She pulled her cardigan off and dropped it onto the floor, revealing hundreds of fine, white, healed scars crosshatching her forearms, biceps and shoulders, fresh razor marks sketched like capillaries over the old wounds. "I thought I could stop but I can't."

Moments like this have made me a gentler person, even a person who sometimes imagines the worst when actually there is nothing more or less wrong with a student that an appointment book and a weekend without partying wouldn't fix. But it has also taught me that students who keep insisting on a family emergency that they won't explain often aren't fibbing. Often they have instead a fierce sense of privacy, are ashamed, or are witnesses to human pain that is far too awful to tell to a stranger -- such as a teacher. Once I had a first-year student who finally stopped promising to hand work in and admitted that she was flunking out because she slept twenty or so hours a day. Depression, I thought, and sent her to the office we call Behavioral Health. Over Christmas, I got a call from the Dean's office. My student had suddenly died, had gone to sleep one day and not woken up: it turned out she had been in liver failure, probably for over a year, and had had liver disease for far longer than that. Undiagnosed, untreated, liver disease -- not the freshman blues after all. I have never forgotten this.

I have a friend of over twenty years duration who is a dean, and who is simply one of the wisest people I know when it comes to thinking about the young. I am always calling her for advice even about students she isn't in charge of for this reason, and because I don't always know what it means to be my better self as a teacher. I asked her why a student, who has been faced with a particularly horrific family emergency, simply disappeared rather than drop an email to explain the multiple absences and arrange for extensions. "Don't they trust us to do the right thing in the face of something truly terrible?" I asked.

"Perhaps not," my friend said. "Or perhaps they think that if they don't tell anyone their lives can still be normal."

Or perhaps we just aren't as important in the scheme of their lives as we, perhaps unconsciously, believe we are.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Radical Opposes Boycotting Israeli Scholars In The Name Of Peace

I have received numerous emails from progressive colleagues in the last three weeks about a proposed boycott of Israeli scholars. This move is intended as a protest against the recent, devastating illegal Israeli incursion into Gaza. Several messages I received this weekend cited this article by David Lloyd, professor of English at the University of Southern California. As Lloyd reminds us, the boycott strategy is not only a response to the long history of illegal Israeli interventions in the region and the Israeli government's continuous undermining of the peace process, but a response to the vicious attacks from the American right on U.S.-based scholars who question or oppose Israel's self-perceived national destiny in the region. Lloyd writes:

It is on account of this climate of intimidation and the lockdown on political discourse that we resorted to calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions in the context of an international call for divestment. Where there is no access to the political process, those who seek justice must once more do so by appealing directly to the conscience of the public.

In response to the call from Palestinian civil society and from more than 500 courageous Israeli citizens, we urge a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, not only to protest their utter silence in the face of the ongoing destruction of Palestinian educational infrastructure, but also because we believe that the call for boycott, divestment and sanctions still can influence Israel’s public opinion and avert a catastrophic outcome. Boycott, by using the moral force of non-violent means, strengthens those elements in Palestinian and Israeli civil society that are seeking a just resolution to the conflict without resort to violence, ethnic cleansing or destruction. An institutional boycott neither targets individual scholars nor seeks to silence genuine dialogue. It calls for a moratorium on “business-as-usual” with Israeli institutions that have turned a blind eye to the destruction and disruption of Palestinian schools and universities and to the denial of academic freedom. Their institutional silence is the true death of learning and of intellectual exchange. It is Palestinian, not Israeli, institutions whose isolation must be challenged: For the former it is lethal, for the latter it can be short-lived.

For decades, Israel has been in defiance of international law and humanitarian norms. Israel has claimed to engage in negotiation while continuing to extend its network of illegal settlements and roads that segment Palestine and destroy any prospect of a viable Palestinian state. It continues to expropriate Palestinian lands and to build a separation wall that denies Palestinians their right to freedom of movement. It continues its resort to overwhelming military force and the use of weaponry illegal in civilian areas. In all this, it feeds and encourages the extremists and fuels the cycles of violence and hopelessness. None of this would be possible without U.S. material support and without the impunity assured by the United States’ blind acquiescence.

We take no position on the outcome of negotiations. We do fear, however, that those Israeli and Palestinian commentators who believe that the two-state solution has been deliberately undermined by Israel’s illegal settlements and fragmentation of the occupied territories are right. The outcome will either be a state where Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews, can live together in full equality or a terrible repetition of the ethnic cleansing of the Palestinians. The latter solution is discussed openly by Israeli politicians and academics and has become all the more likely with the recent electoral successes of the racist party, Yisrael Beiteinu. Never have the prospects for a negotiated settlement seemed so fragile, and never has it been so urgent for the American public to exercise its moral force.

There comes a time in every struggle for justice when measures that have been unthinkable and unspeakable become morally imperative. In the struggle for justice for Palestine, boycott and divestment are now such measures.

Now, I want to say I find Lloyd's argument one of the most moving and persuasive that I have heard to date. But I am still profoundly opposed to boycott and divestment for the following reasons.

It does not address the real problem in the region, which is that states -- primarily the United States, Russia, and former Soviet-bloc countries -- continue to cynically pour weapons into the Middle East, as if it is possible to arm resistance fighters and the Israeli government to the teeth and also negotiate for "peace."

It does not address the fact that the United States government has been a bigger investor than any corporation, through annual foreign aid packages that have been, or are, used to (depending on the date and the issue), among other things, support illegal Jewish settlements colonizing Palestinian land, and bolster policing of a system of partial citizenship for Palestinians within Israeli jurisdictions that would be illegal in the United States.

It does not address the hypocrisy of American academics' call for a boycott at a moment in history when universities and their faculties in the United States have done nothing effective to halt (or even impede) a ruinous, illegal American war policy in the Middle East that is now expanding, illegally, into Pakistan. There has been no coherent, effective or even visible challenge to the expansion of the American military state; or to the federally-mandated military recruitment of our children, adolescents and young people in educational institutions receiving federal funds (which is virtually all educational institutions.) And our horror, as progressive intellectuals, about the atrocities committed to secure Israel's border, seems to be neatly separated from the atrocities committed against Central and Latin Americans in the name of American "homeland security:" security walls, shooting to kill by American border police, denying life-saving benefits to those without documents, strip-searches at the border, the separation of families, the deportation of children entitled to citizenship with their undocumented families, and the incarceration of undocumented people in secret, private prisons. Among other things.

Despite the fact that this boycott is clearly aimed at the Israeli state, not individual Jewish scholars, and despite the fact that false charges of anti-Semitism have been used to silence critics of Israel, the ethical mandate so movingly described by Lloyd and others does not mitigate my fear that a boycott of Israeli scholars opens the door to a revival of anti-Semitism in American academic life, and in American life more generally.

Intellectual boycotts profoundly violate the idea that a scholarly community is defined by the free exchange of ideas: this is the essence of what makes scholars different from ideologues. That the free exchange of ideas has been inhibited by groups like AIPAC does not alter my belief that we must cherish this principle and oppose all efforts to undermine it on the left or the right.

In other words, I think David Lloyd's article is sentient and elegant on the ethical issues involved, both at home and abroad. But I think boycott is wrong-headed. And I think a divestment policy that does not address foreign and military aid to Israel, American culpability for the current crisis in international relations, and the international arms trade that is feeding weapons to both sides, is fatally flawed.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In (Policy) Defense of the Humanities

by Jarrod Hayes

A month ago, Stanley Fish wrote in his New York Times blog about the rise of the corporate university and the dark future for the Humanities. Last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that the legislators in the State of Georgia object to funding faculty research 'deemed unnecessary.' This trend is disturbing and damaging, not only to the finest university system in the world, but also to the ability of universities to contribute to society in a meaningful way.

The Humanities and the varieties of research areas that arise out of these traditions are valuable in their own right, utilitarian concerns aside. Would we be better off today without the work of philosophers Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant or Bertrand Russell? This point is not my central concern here however. What Fish laments, and the comments of the Georgia legislators imply, is that there exists a sense that the humanities—philosophy, history, literature—do not serve a utilitarian role, that they are 'unnecessary.' This belief could not be further from the truth, and I make this claim, not as a scholar of the humanities, but as a scholar of international relations—a social scientist.

The claim that the Humanities do not serve a utilitarian or policy purpose is rooted in the belief that human societies can be managed without regard for the very things that make them human. Societies, and the people within them, are influenced and shaped by their individual and collective pasts and the ideas generated within and without society cemented in poetry and prose, fiction and nonfiction. Utilitarian efforts to understand and explain policy, the mechanisms of governance, and the interactions of societies cannot be undertaken independently of these humanistic elements. We in the social sciences—particularly in the study of International Relations, that most policy-oriented of the social sciences—rely on the work of the Humanities every day.

An example is in order. Iran, having just launched a satellite, is forefront in the news today. I am certain the Georgia legislators would find necessary research in International Relations focused on how the United States, and the international system, should deal with Iran. But, can we answer this question without understanding Iran's history and how that history is propagated in society through texts, art, and songs? This history, as well as the arts and literature that perpetuate and propagate it throughout society, shapes how Iranians see themselves and how they see the outside world. These views are fundamental to understanding why Iran acts as it does and what effect—constructive and destructive—various policies may have on Iran's future choices and behavior.

The Humanities play a critical role in a wide variety of disciplines. Today, we struggle to grasp how to deal with the economic crisis. In our effort to find a solution we turn to history: the Great Depression and Franklin D. Roosevelt's policy response in the form of the New Deal. Without historians to study that era and its lessons, we would have precious few intellectual resources available to bring to bear on our current crisis. Even in the natural sciences—physics, chemistry, biology, and astronomy—so seemingly divorced from the humanities have learned valuable lessons about the process of scientific investigation and discovery from the work of historians like Thomas Kuhn. Engineering, a field defined by its utilitarian purpose, depends at least in part on the imaginings of science fiction literature for ideas about what might be possible, and how society might make use of those possibilities.

The United States has the finest university system in the world. It is the finest because scholars study the entirety of the human experience and existence. For-profit institutions of higher learning—Fish cites the University of Phoenix—are not true universities but trade schools in a new guise. There is nothing wrong with that; we need trade schools as much today as we ever did as technology progresses at a lightning pace. However, we should not confuse the contributions to society of universities and trade schools. Universities generate understandings and explanations of where we have been, where we are, and where we might go. The Humanities are integral to that process, and we need to defend them and their funding both for their own value and for what they contribute to more utilitarian pursuits.

Jarrod Hayes is a PH.D. Candidate and a Bannerman Fellow in the School of International Relations at the University of Southern California. You can respond to Jarrod in the comments section, or at his email address: JarrodDOTHayesATuscDOTedu.

This is the first of what I hope will be many guest posts at Tenured Radical. If you have a piece you would like to submit, please send it to the gmail account listed above for consideration.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Goodbye, Neoliberal Kitty-in-Chief: Socks Clinton Moves To The Next Level

I understand that Friday is the traditional day for cat blogging, and I should have provided this link yesterday. But the Radical, being cat-less (and also being a lesbian, so that all associations with cats provoke the specter of unwanted lesbian-cat jokes) is not a cat blogger. So as in all things, she does what she wants.

Click here for an outstanding story by Michael Schaffer about Socks Clinton, who passed away last Thursday. While you are at it, bookmark Obit, the online publication is appeared in yesterday. Edited by Zenith alum Krishna Andavolu it is one of the freshest reads there is, and the advice column is to - uh -- die for. If you are as lucky as I am, you already get it delivered to your desk top. If not, you can arrange for it, I am sure. Tell them the Radical sent ya.

Tomorrow: a response to Stanley Fish from guest blogger Jarrod Hayes of the School of International Relations, University of Southern California.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

"There You Go Again:" Republicans Condemn Sex, Slash Education Budget

Arguably, it was Ronald Reagan shaking his head in the middle of a presidential debate with Jimmy Carter as he chuckled ruefully, "There you go again," that created an emotional turning point in the 1980 campaign. It's what we remember, anyway, that and the explosive, derisive response from the audience as Carter stood there unable to respond. This moment became symbolic of what many voters, not just right-wing voters, had come to think of Democratic governance: that the same old strategies, strategies that had not yet resolved a single social problem, were being presented as if they were new and innovative.

Well, it looks like no one is immune from regurgitating old, tired solutions to economic malaise. Having, for almost three decades, tried to deflect attention from the damage their economic policies have had on the vast majority of Americans, Republicans are once again turning to the vilification of gay sex, and knowledge about gay sex, to divert us from their past and present incompetence. I predict that future historians will find documented proof that such attacks are cynically intended to deflect the public view from the real consequences that cuts in public spending will have on education more generally. And just to give you some perspective, dear reader: for the price of incarcerating twenty undocumented immigrants for a year, you could probably fund four women's studies programs granting the BA.

Attacks on women's studies, sexuality studies and queer studies in the Georgia public university system are but one example of an urgent issue that few journalists, politicians or academics, for that matter, seem to care about yet. In the face of declining state revenues, right wingers are once again "Mapplethorping" the public. They are shilling their ideologically rigid view that even more school privatization, and deep cuts in higher education, are an appropriate fix for a plunging economy that has been jointly devastated by pirate capitalists, corporate lobbyists, and decades of neoliberal fiscal policies. How can the dismantling of higher education be turned into a happy thing, you might ask? Because you can get rid of fields of knowledge that students don't need to know, and that might even harm them, like queer and feminist studies, while preserving the teaching of "universal values." And by doing this, you can divert attention from the real consequences to real people of policies that are turning our public universities into a simulacrum of the wretched, privatized Postal Service .

A faithful reader sent this clip from about queer-baiting in Georgia:

For those of you too impatient to watch the video, Georgia Republican State Representatives Charlice Byrd and Calvin Hill, according to this website, have launched a campaign to rid the University of Georgia and Georgia State of faculty teaching a range of classes from queer theory to the sociology of sex. Public tax dollars, say these education-savvy lawmakers in an original argument, should not be going to faux scholarship that teaches students about immoral subjects that the public, in all its wisdom, would not support. Well good, because this is where the state of Georgia can really save the big bucks. To date, university officials are defending the right of the university system to hire and promote its own faculty, as well as the principle of academic freedom, without interference from the political classes. But of course, the legislature does pass the budget for these cash-strapped institutions. So administrators, in an old right-wing tactic, are being given the choice as to whether they will get back to the difficult matter of running the university or spend their time defending queer scholarship.

I find that administrators can be a weak reed at moments like this, but we'll see. And in case you are a reader from an effete, private Eastern institution, and you think that witch hunts against queer and sexual studies curricula cannot "happen here," think again. This article about Zenith, published by the Hartford Courant in May, 1999, ushered in what is known technically by administrators as a "s**t storm" about a class on pornography, taught by a tenured member of the faculty who was well-known on campus for her pedagogical rigor. In response to a vilification of the university that quickly went viral, otherwise sane Zenith administrators launched an unprecedented investigation into the course. Furthermore, when it was discovered that the faculty member who had taught the course -- an extremely shy and highly professional scholar, a popular and dedicated teacher who had worked at Zenith for over three decades -- had been awarded a coveted teaching prize prior to the scandal, all hell broke loose. Your very own Radical who, as a former recipient of the same prize, was on the committee, was pressured relentlessly (and unsuccessfully) to collaborate in an administrative decision (made where it was never clear, since no one would admit it and they sent a very polite and friendly bag man to try to talk me into it) to rescind the prize.

I don't say this to gin up old struggles which are long past, but as an object lesson to all: yes, it "can happen here," as the John Birch Society used to say, if it could happen at fruity-kazootie Zenith. Academic freedom, feminism and queers go on the block when the words "sex" and "education" appear in the same sentence: add a devastated economy, and it's all over, Baby Blue. And of course, in police states like Arizona, proposed cuts of $243 million will cripple the only education system Arizona has. And where do you go to make that kind of cut? Recent news items that show women's studies programs being targeted at Florida Atlantic and San Diego State University suggest that the first place Arizona administrators will go is to eliminate one of the most vibrant Women's Studies departments in the country, and one of the few that grants the Ph.D.

In conclusion, given the fact that the Right has been Wrong about pretty much everything in the last eight years, expect attacks on the intellectual classes, and on public funding for education to intensify, as conservatives haul out old strategies for obfuscating their incompetence and intensifying public ignorance. And expect those strategies to be aimed at women and queers first.

Monday, February 16, 2009

The Radical Is Reminded Of A Time When Intellectuals Were Witty And Television Talk Shows Were Smart

Because I have no time to post today; and because the pace of the semester has been ramped up to a new level of insanity this week; and because I think everything has been said about the last post that can possibly be said; and because the best way to stop a comments thread is to put up a new post to distract everyone; and because I am not feeling in the least witty, I would like to re-publish this wonderful 1971 clip from the Dick Cavett Show:

I would like to point out that it is not just the lefties (Cavett and Vidal) who are acute and funny (Mailer, although on the left, I know, was just such an ass I don't know why any of his wives didn't stab him before he got to one of them.) But Midge Decter's intervention reminds me that in 1971 conservatives had razor wits too, not to mention good manners and gender politics, which is why in high school I used to subscribe to what became neo-con publications, so that I could read people like Lionel and Diana Trilling, Decter, Normoan Podhoretz, and Irving Kristol. Oh sure, Decter's "Boys on the Beach" has to be one of the most homophobic essays ever written: I knew that at the time. But damn, it was well-written. And were not conservatives so worth having around for their erudition and wit? Once they were replaced by the lumpenconservatives who just took to thumping people crudely with lies and misrepresentations about culture, God and everything else, politics became a real drag, in my view.

This is brought to you courtesy of the intrepid, vacationing and always witty, Historiann.


Later: Historiann points out (kindly) that I read her post too fast: the woman in the Dick Cavett clip is Janet Flanner. Oh well. My nostalgia about witty conservatives is still for real. And my corrected misidentification adds an always welcome bisexual twist to the post.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On, Wisconsin! The Sex Prosecution of the Month

Despite everything I had to do today, I could not help but read this article in today's New York Times. As a historian who is working on late twentieth century federal campaigns against pornography in the United States, I read anything with the phrase "Sex Predator" in the headline. When that headline also includes the word "Wisconsin," as in "Sex Predator Accusations Shake a Wisconsin Town" -- well, hold onto your hat, Harry.

Anthony R. Stancl, a good student who particularly loved political science, was expelled from Eisenhower High School last fall when he emailed a bomb threat to the school. Oh yeah. Can we spell "federal domestic terrorism laws?" Left with time on, and perhaps something else in, his hands, Anthony set up a Facebook page, using a female pseudonym and a fake profile (also actionable, as a recent verdict in a cyberbullying case establishes.) As a "woman," Anthony then solicited nude pictures and videos from male classmates: 39 folders full of these images were found on his computer, although there are only 31 counts against Anthony and 31 boys from Eisenhower currently being "counseled."

"But," as the Times write, "the authorities said Mr. Stancl did not stop there. In addition, they said, he threatened to release the photos to the victims’ friends or even all of Eisenhower’s 850 students if the youths who had sent them to him did not agree to perform sexual acts he demanded. The tactic was successful, officials said. Mr. Stancl is accused of using it to sexually assault seven boys."

Not surprisingly perhaps, as it is Wisconsin, folks at Eisenhower High, "opened in 1969 and known for its championship sports teams and above-average test scores" (not, I guess, for raging homosexuality) don't have much to say. What is quite peculiar is that none of this would have come out if Anthony were not a guy soliciting guys: in other words (and read the article for yourself, folks) teenage girls and boys emailing nude pictures of themselves to each other, as well as videos where they expose themselves, seems to be Standard Operating Procedure in boy-loves-girl land.

Not that this is a surprise.

I understand the focus on criminalizing Anthony: he has a very peculiar sense of humor. And he's not what you would call a nice boy, although I would argue that enough faggy men in United States history have suffered from the humiliations imposed by "normal," supposedly nice, boys that there is a kind of cosmic justice here. I would also say part of what I find peculiar about Anthony being charged as a sex predator is that the seven boys who are admitting to having had sex with Anthony had another choice. They could have gone to Mom and Dad and admitted what a humongously stupid thing they had done by mailing beefcake to a total stranger in the first place. But they didn't. They thought it was a better idea to have sex with Anthony instead. This means that these boys are either dumber than anyone wants to admit, or that they actually wanted to have sex with Anthony when given the opportunity. Anthony is not, after all, being charged with assault, kidnapping, false imprisonment, or felony rape.

Which leads me to my main point: it is a big, nasty, open secret in American high schools that there are more gay boys in any given student population than will reveal themselves until they are much older; and that there are lots of straight boys who think it's hot to have sex with gay boys.

And in looking for illustrations for this page, I discovered just how many boys and young men upload naked and semi-nude pictures of themselves to web pages, I guess because they think it is fun. Some pages let you vote on who is the "hottest guy." It seems to be a common practice, even beyond Wisconsin, that our Anthony tapped into: try Googling phrases like "Beefcake," "hot boys," and "hot men" and see what you get. My favorite was a calendar featuring Mormon boys back from their two years of evangelizing. There is a picture of each one in his normal black tie, white shirt and nameplate getup, accompanied by a bunch of photos of them bare chested! Yay! The calendar is called: "Men on a Mission." Buy it here. Isn't that hilarious? Well, the Elders don't think so: apparently the creator of the calendar, Chad Hardy, was excommunicated by the LDS church.

But back to Wisconsin. Unfortunately for Anthony, he is eighteen, and I suspect that several of the seven boys who had sex with Anthony are not. This means that Anthony is also not as smart as he thinks he is, and will be charged under a set of enhanced statutory rape, internet and child pornography laws that make this bit of trouble at least as serious as the bomb threat to the school (how did he beat the federal terrorism rap? Enquiring minds want to know.) Fortunately Anthony has an attorney who, presumably, is pleading down these charges in exchange for not publicly exposing (heh, heh) the defensive backfield and/or the senior class president and/or half the student council of Eisenhower High as a bunch of raving queens. But Anthony's lawyer will have to agree to something in order for the many law enforcement agencies now in pursuit to forget about this. My recommendation is that all charges be dropped in return for the following:

a) Anthony stops telling people he is from Wisconsin;
b Anthony goes into therapy;
c) Anthony leaves town immediately;
d) Anthony gets an agent and attends to his true calling, writing memoirs for Oprah's book club.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Advanced Interviewing; or, My Favorite Martian

"Dear Professor Radical," wrote a longtime lurker who had finally decided, in desperation, to reveal hirself. "You told us about the job letter. About the phone call. About the conference interview. About wardrobe -- even though you obviously know nothing about clothes: everyone knows you wear nothing but black and grey trousers from Banana Republic, complemented by matching T-shirts. And yet, right on the brink of crossing the finish line, you have abandoned us. WHAT ABOUT THE CAMPUS INTERVIEW, DAMMIT?!?"

Well, I'm sorry. This has been quite a dilemma for me, in part because we have been too busy interviewing at Zenith for me to attend to any of my professional responsibilities, much less write blog posts. But I had an ethical problem as well: should I actually be giving advice about campus visits when we, in the history department at Zenith, were interviewing eleven candidates (for three jobs) this spring? I decided no. There are too many people out there who claim that they take my advice. My fear was that I risked actually appearing to be giving directions for how to get a job in my very own department at Zenith. If I were Drag King of the World, that would be all right, but actually I have upwards of twenty other colleagues who (tiresomely, I know) also have a vote in these decisions, and they may have different quirks than I. In fact I know they do.

So in lieu of giving bad advice to candidates, I thought I would give advice to those people who were doing the interviewing instead. And it's a particular kind of advice: how not to look like a fool when interviewing what we now call a "diversity candidate." Now for the sake of brevity, let's say the candidate is either a man or a woman (technically all women are diversity candidates), but may also be either of color or queer (technically queer people are never diversity candidates. Unless they are -- for some other reason.) Because these categories are too internally various, and because in fact there is surprising overlap in some of the ways you could possibly offend the people who occupy them, let's call them: Martians. And we'll assume for the sake of clarity in what follows that "you" are not a Martian, and that "I" am. Are you ready? Let's begin.

1. Do not tell irrelevant stories about your friends who are Martians, or that your daughter decided to come out as a Martian last year and how great you feel about it. I understand that you are doing this to make us Martians feel as though we are among friends, and to demonstrate your absolute lack of Martianophobia or your committed anti-Martianism. I appreciate that. Really, I do. But you know what? It suggests just the opposite. It suggests that the Martian in your presence, who is me, is making you uncomfortable, and that you are bravely overcoming it. We Martians are used to being in the minority, but it makes us impatient to have other people remind us of it all the time -- in the name of pro-Martianism, no less. So we will all do better during the interview if you stick to scholarship, teaching and what the actual requirements of the job are.

2. Do not take me to a Martian restaurant for dinner. First of all, a Martian restaurant that is not on Mars, or in a place with a significant Martian population, is likely not to be any good. It will serve Martian food cooked to the taste of the non-Martians who populate your planet. So I will find this depressing. But furthermore, it suggests that I, as a Martian, am in danger of feeling alienated on your planet because I may not be able to access my "culture." Though a Martian, as a scholar and an intellectual, I probably feel I am a little more cosmopolitan than that.

3. While we are at dinner, stay away from topics that betray how invisible the other Martians on campus or on your planet are to you. Telling me that I may wish to live on the planet one light year away because it has a larger Martian population is one way of conveying this, as is: explaining that retaining single Martians is so difficult because it is so difficult to meet and other, marriageable, Martians on your planet; or announcing that, incredibly, there is a Martian Episcopalian church that serves the entire planet right in your canyon! So even though there aren't many Martians on campus, there will be a terrific community for me. On Sundays. (Did I say I was religious? Did I?)

4. Admit it if your college does a crappy job of recruiting and serving the needs of Martians. Most colleges and universities that are not on Mars do -- it's not up to you to apologize for it. As in (1), don't tell me about the one Martian who graduated Summa and won the department prize twelve years ago. And although there may be serious Martian politics on campus, don't assume that I share your view of what it means to be progressive on these issues, even -- or especially -- if you are a fellow Martian.

5. Refrain from hinting to me coyly that there is someone I "really need to meet" but not telling me why. This is the most frequent way that people have of dropping a few hairpins that I am a Martian (duh), and this other person is a Martian, but being a person who doesn't really "see" or believe in interplanetary differences, you aren't going to say the word "Martian" (wink, wink.) Most Martians find this tiresome. We aren't at a job interview to meet other Martians: we're there to get a job. And if meeting another Martian on campus is important to me, I'll tell you so.

6. Try to police your references to Martian stereotypes, whether social or intellectual. Don't ask me, for example, why I ended up a historian and not a flight engineer; don't tell me that the special barber I need to cut the hair around my antennae is in the next town over (we don't all have antennae, ok?); and don't, for heaven's sake, if I am interviewing for a Renaissance Literature position, reassure me that the Martian Studies program is very welcoming. Don't put the chair of Martian Studies on my schedule without asking me, if I am not interviewing in Martian Studies, or set up lunch with the one other out Martian to talk about how I might like to work up a Martian survey once I get a firm grip on the courses I am actually being hired to teach.

And last of all -- if you make any of the above errors, please forget about it and move on -- don't embarrass all of us by dwelling on your faux pas and trying to repair the damage. Martians are used to being in the minority, and we can take care of ourselves, thank you very much.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Call For Papers: Conference On Undocumented Hispanic Migration, Connecticut College, October 2009

The Radical received in her inbox this morning (from colleague Frank Graziano, chair of Hispanic Studies at Connecticut College):

CALL FOR PAPERS & PREREGISTRATION: Undocumented Hispanic Migration: On the Margins of a Dream. Connecticut College, New London, CT 06320 / October 16-18, 2009. A multidisciplinary conference featuring presentations by Peter Andreas, Linda Bosniak, Leo R. Chavez, Jorge Duany, Nancy Foner, Judith Adler Hellman, Juan F. Perea, Alejandro Portes, and Saskia Sassen. Also includes presentations by immigrants; by educators, social-service providers, and attorneys who work with undocumented Hispanics; and by border-enforcement officials. Preregistration is now open. The deadline for paper and panel proposals on migration, border enforcement, and undocumented life in the United States is April 1, 2009. For further information contact Prof. Frank Graziano,

If you go to this link you can download the long call which, in addition to adding to your interest in this event, will give you a truly beautiful poster.