Wednesday, March 30, 2011

What's Cookin' In Higher Ed? The Race To Become The Stupidest State In The Union

Do I smell a conservative advocacy group in Florida too?
A young friend of ours recently visited a public college which we at Tenured Radical have admired for years.  S/he reported conversations with undergraduates about the effects of the persistent defunding of higher ed in that state, and the ways in which defunding has diminished a quality liberal arts education that people with very little money still have access to.  A prominent problem, in the view of students there, was incessant faculty turnover due to low salaries, poorly maintained library collections and the erosion of benefits. In turn, the constant loss of faculty  made it difficult to establish mentoring relationships, get recommendations for graduate school, or do senior honors work with faculty who had helped them develop the research and had planned to advise it.

The notion that college teachers are as interchangeable as hamburger flippers at Wendy's follows, of course, on the neoliberal notion that secondary school teachers are also interchangeable.  Furthermore, on no evidence, free marketeers have sold the notion that college professors will continue to work cheerfully, and to a high standard, for as little salary and as few benefits as colleges and universities choose to pay us. The only teachers you really want at your school, the logic goes, have the personalities of 18th century Franciscan missionaries in the New World, willing to sign on to thankless, ill-paid labor purely out of love for those to whom they will minister. Although this theory goes unspoken in an increasingly adjunctified world of private higher education, attacks on educational employees in New Jersey, California and Wisconsin seem to be giving new energy to strategies for disempowering and intimidating teachers at all levels.  This is particularly heartbreaking in states that seem to want to break with a long history of providing quality, public higher education to ambitious students with little money.

One problem with free market theories for reorganizing education is that they lead to a free market in educators.  This, in turn tends not to be conducive to what administrators need to deliver a quality education to students:  faculties who commit to a particular school, and create a culture of excellence, over the long term.  Policy makers who believe that free market competition creates better education for the most people have, frankly, never been in a classroom beyond their three-year hitch at Teach for America. While I don't know anyone in teaching who wouldn't consider voluntarily sacrificing money and prestige to make and keep a desired life as a college professor, I also don't know a single college professor who, on balance, believes that year to year contracts, no job security, diminishing benefits and the lowest possible pay are the basis for building a career in education.

Tell that to the Florida legislature.  Florida, of course, has been a leader in defunding education, (recently ranking 36th nationally in per pupil spending, ahead of luminaries like Mississippi) and in pioneering a terrific policy that gives troubled  schools in poor districts even less money to work with (repackaged by the Obama administration as "Race to the Top.")  Now it appears that Florida Republicans now want to do for higher ed what they have accomplished at the secondary level.  Word out of Florida today is that a bill that would prohibit the granting of tenure at state and community colleges went through a legislative committee yesterday and is headed to the state senate.  Faculty would work on annual contracts but administrators would not; only new and untenured faculty would be affected by the law.  As Denise -Marie Balona of the Orlando Sentinel reports,

Opponents argue it would prevent colleges — already strapped by budget cuts and increasing enrollments — from attracting and retaining top-quality employees.

But state Rep. Erik Fresen, who presented the bill at Tuesday's committee meeting, said the legislation is designed to help college administrators.

If administrators had more flexibility with their personnel, Fresen said, they would be able to expand and cut programs to meet student demand, which can sometimes change quickly.

"Oftentimes, the colleges cannot respond in time because of these 'handcuff' situations," said Fresen, a Miami Republican who chairs the House's K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee that voted 8-4 to approve the bill.

The bill also requires colleges, when facing layoffs, to let go of their poorest-performing employees first instead of basing decisions on seniority.

At least one community college president has already come out in opposition to the bill and, as Balona reports, Florida Gulf Coast University experimented with one year contracts but "had such trouble holding onto faculty" that it now offers multi-year contracts. But he greatest impact will be on community colleges and the students who attend them. According to, 66% of young people in Florida who continue their education beyond high school do so in-state.  Two-thirds of them, even those who plan to take the B.A., will matriculate at community colleges following high school graduation.

So it is no accident that community college presidents, who are protected under the proposed legislation, understand what a disaster this policy is.  It worth emphasizing that the right has produced a new strategy that is remarkably consistent:  going after "workers" in the name of "citizens" and "taxpayers" -- as if they were not all the same people.  In Wisconsin, Michigan, and Florida right wing special interests and their political stalking horses have provoked college professors -- who are already educated, can leave the state and will -- with the hopes of caricaturing them as a bunch of overpaid, lazy babies who are sucking at the public t!t while students languish.  But the people who will suffer, as the little story I opened with argues, are students. Students will have a longer time to graduation, they will have access to less qualified faculty who can't get better jobs, and most of their professors will be stopping off on their way to somewhere else.  This, I am sure, will get lost in the debate as free marekteers replicate the success they have had in transforning the real estate market, higher finance and Iraq in the last decade.

In the coming weeks, we at Tenured Radical will have more to say about disinvestment in higher education in many kinds of schools, as well as its consequences for students as well as faculty.  The management actively solicits guest posts on these issues. Although we have consistently bucked for the reform of the tenure system, the elimination of tenure in a climate in which any protection for public employees, is under attack and any security for the creation and maintenance of stable, dedicated faculties that can guide students through a two or four year degree, is truly unthinkable. We withdraw that position, pending a change in the political atmosphere.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Tuesday Found Objects: What You Need To Subpoena From My Zenith Computer Today

I was hanging out this morning using my university computer to download BDSM pornography and order Angela Davis posters (paid for out of my research account, of course) when I decided to take a break and check up on what my other radical colleagues were doing.

They've been busy!  So without further ado:
  • The Facts, Ma'am.  Jon Wiener, from his perch at The Nation, asks:  "What does it take to become the target of this kind of attack?"  Wiener points out that Cronon is "not Bill Ayers," but a self-avowed political centrist who published "a simple fact" that Republicans in Wisconsin did not want revealed:  their close ties to a group that drafts union-busting legislation and creates public relations strategies for passing that legislation. This fact, Wiener argues, "disrupts the Republicans’ explanation of what they are doing in Wisconsin. They say the new law there ending collective bargaining with public employee unions is an emergency response to this year’s fiscal crisis." However, "the goal is not to protect the little guy in Wisconsin but rather to help the big corporations that fund Republican operations."  Read the whole article here.  
  • It's Being A Professor Who Thinks That Is The Problem.  One issue that we need to resurrect is the neo-liberal charge that tenure promotes the prolonged employment of "dead wood" professors.  Clearly, it is Cronon's failure to become dead wood that has made him notorious and, as it turns out, dead wood profs aren't the ch!cks and d00ds that some right-winger wants to light up after all.  No, no: some poor, defeated old sot, shuffling off to class with a tattered little set of notes after a nip too many turns out to be our ideal scholar.  Tony Grafton, that guy you saw flying by your office window in a red cape, and with a big "H" on his scholarly chest, nails it in the New Yorker blog when he reminds us that, unlike politicians, historians are responsible for researching and relating the truth, and the truth sometimes hurts.  As Grafton concludes, "the Republicans seem remarkably fragile. A professor writing a blog post gives them the shivers. It’s a good thing they chose politics, and not the kind of career where the going can really get rough. Professors, for example, teach their hearts out to surly adolescents who call them boring in course evaluations and write their hearts out for colleagues who trash their books in snarky reviews. These Wisconsin Republicans may never have survived ordeals like that. Happily, Cronon has been toughened by decades of academic life. He’ll be blogging—and teaching and writing—long after Wisconsin voters have sent these Republicans back to obscurity."  
(Which reminds me that I have students standing around my office door growling in a menacing way and shaking pitchforks at me as a reminder that I should be using my Zenith computer to get their grading done right now!)  OK, one more:
  • Yes, Historians Actually Care About The Rights Of All Working People.  Eileen Boris is in the business section of the HuffPo this week, which you probably missed as you were clicking through to the ads for package tours to Cuba.  Boris asks us to celebrate Women's History Month and commemorate the Triangle Factory Fire by reminding ourselves that the vast majority of working class women, and men, are no longer employed in an industrial workplace.  While guaranteeing the basic employment rights of household workers are becoming the subject of new legislation, Boris points out, "one group of household laborers remains apart -- those paid by governments to care for needy elderly and disabled people. The California proposal explicitly excludes In Home Supportive Service workers, the type of worker whose omission from federal law the Supreme Court upheld in 2007 and the Obama administration has yet to rectify through new labor regulations. Meanwhile, Republican governors, as in Wisconsin, are eliminating collective bargaining for home care workers. An irony of current struggles might be that these public employees end up with fewer rights and poorer conditions than those who labor for individual housewives." 
As Women's History Month draws to a close, we at chez Radical admit that we have done little to celebrate it, so here's my proposal:  I would like to nominate Bill Cronon as an Honorary Woman.  This is one of the few awards available to historians that he has not received, and I think it is time.  Do we have a second?  Thank you, Historiann!  All in favor?

The aye's have it!  Sorry, Wisconsin GOP.  You lose again!

Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Found Objects: Or, What Wisconsin Republicans Would See If They FOIA'd My Email

Little things come in, and I sock them away.  But so that no one has to file any paperwork, or break my system passwords, here's what's lying around my email box today:

 How do I get these things?  Go here to buy a set of Prince William and Kate Middleton paper dolls, each with fifteen different outfits.  The dolls themselves are in their underwear, which I think is kind of interesting in the sense of what a future monarch and his queen might not have permitted even twenty years ago.   I would have understood if I had received an email soliciting me to purchase the "Past Presidents of the AHA Paper Doll Set," promising hours of fun as we cross-dressed Barbara Weinstein and Tony Grafton, but this one's a mystery, Governor Walker.  My guess is that they bought the American Studies Association mailing list.

 Do the AHA survey, save a tree.  Have you ever wondered -- as I do -- why there isn't an app for the American Historical Association?  Well go to this survey and let the AHA know how you feel about electronic publication.  I think you have probably read gripes on this blog about the high-quality journals that are partially read and have to be taken out for recycling with a back hoe.  What Americanist has time for even the most intriguing article about Byzantium?  What Byzantiumist has time for the labor movement in Victorian England?  And how about those pages and pages of painstakingly crafted reviews of books you will never actually hold in your hand?

From Comradde PhysioProffe (who has recently changed the spelling of his name): "Holy Fuckeoly!"  OK, this came into my non-university account, because CPP is propriety itself when it comes to the boundaries between professional and public.  But for those of you who are as yet unaware of the creative use this scientist makes of the English language, his take no prisoners attitude, and his minute attention to good food and drink, go check in at his house.

Triangle Fire Memories:  Last week, as I was gally-vanting around New England, other bloggers memorialized the anniversary of the lethal 1911 fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in New York's Greenwich Village, still the worst industrial accident on U.S. soil.  Now, from Vineyard Video Productions, we have "You May Call Her Madam Secretary," a documentary film about the career of a woman who was inspired by that tragedy to pursue a life in labor policy.  Frances Sternhagen presents the words of the first woman Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins, in a film that gives us the history of a generation of liberals who would have eaten Scott Walker's lunch.  Got any budget left?  The video is a steal at $49.95.

The H-Net job listing.   That's a joke son -- there are no jobs!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Because We Are All Bill Cronon: An Open Letter To Our Colleague In Madison

Where is this clause in the constitution?
Dear Bill:

Welcome to the blogosphere!  I like the design of Scholar as Citizen, and frankly, I'm also happy to have another age peer in the house.  Although I've never had a whole political party go after me (very impressive, dude!), I did suffer an attack from a fellow historian and his followers that had its hair-raising moments. 

I didn't get the death threats on my voice mail that an untenured colleague at a prestigious flagship received from the Sunshine Band.  However, I got plenty of hate mail, as well as copies of numerous emails sent to Zenith's president, members of the history department, and the board of trustees.  These various communications, and numerous letters, all called for my termination -- something that was, of course, impossible, since I already had tenure. It wasn't covered in the national media, but it was ugly all the same. On the other hand, you are more famous than I am, so it stands to reason that you would get a splashy, welcome Tea Party.

Here's my favorite line from Mark Jefferson, Executive Director of the Wisconsin GOP, who filed the FOIA on your email, quoted in the Chronicle of Higher Education:

"I have never seen such a concerted effort to intimidate someone from lawfully seeking information about their government," Mr. Jefferson said in the statement. "Further," he added, "it is chilling to see that so many members of the media would take up the cause of a professor who seeks to quash a lawful open-records request. Taxpayers have a right to accountable government and a right to know if public officials are conducting themselves in an ethical manner. The left is far more aggressive in this state than the right in its use of open-records requests, yet these rights do extend beyond the liberal left and members of the media.

Chilling.  Just chilling.  I hate it when the big, bad histowy pwofessors go aftah the eeny-weenie iddle politicians.  Pick on someone your own size next time, ok?

What is fascinating to me is that your politicians in Wisconsin seem to be so affronted by the right to free speech.  I thought the Republican party was all about our "freedoms": isn't that why they decided to trash the future of public education by diverting the money to a ten year war in Afghanistan and Iraq? Why we want everyone to have the right to not have access to affordable health care?  Every yahoo conspiracy theorist to have all the weapons he can afford?  Je ne comprends pas -- whoops.  There I go being all socialist and academic again.

Another lesson of this little episode seems to be that when a college professor says something well-researched and true he is on particularly thin ice.  I'm glad we cleared this up, because when Ward Churchill was fired, and right wing gun nuts orchestrated a campaign to force Michael Bellesisles out of his tenured job, I thought that it was poor citation, pretending to be a Native American and having an abrasive way of discussing the global context for terrorist attacks that were the issue.

Anyway, what you have discovered is that for all the trolls that are out there, plenty of colleagues will stand up for you too.  Feels pretty good, even though it is a steep price to pay to have your life disrupted at the worst possible time of year.

Whatever happens next, this episode presents some possibilities for the rest of us that are highly un-funny.  They are the kind of things we tenured radicals know, but never think about.  So for all the bloggers out there, and for all the fans of Tenured Radical, I would like to inaugurate what I will now call the Walker Rules of Electronic Communication and Knowledge (WRECK):
  • Your university email account belongs to the university.  While Bill Cronon is being persecuted by a bunch of right wing Republicans determined to reduce the American working class to pre-industrial conditions, technically your employer can enter your email account whenever it chooses.  This means that we should all be careful what we say when we write from, or to, an edu address.  In fact, it isn't such a terrible idea to add your gmail or yahoo account to the signature line of your university account requesting that all personal communication be sent there.
  • People (including students) who work in IT can get access to your university email through the web server whenever they want to.  They shouldn't, and they probably don't, but they are capable of it.  Don't put anything in an email that you would not want circulated.  This includes personal matters (sex), conflict with colleagues, and correspondence about personnel cases that reveals any information that you, the department, the referees, or the candidate might consider private.
  • The computer you are assigned by the university belongs to the university, and they can search it at any time.  They can also search your office without a warrant.  According to FindLaw, unless you are covered by a state law or a union contract that prohibits such searches, "Employers can usually search an employee's workspace, including their desk, office or lockers. The workspace technically belongs to the employer, and courts have found that employees do not have an expectation of privacy in these areas.  This is also the case for computers. Since the computers and networking equipment typically belong to the employer, the employer is generally entitled to monitor the use of the computer. This includes searching for files saved to the computer itself, as well as monitoring an employee's actions while using the computer (eg, while surfing the internet)."  Does this mean that we should all be thinking about buying a home computer for all activities we wish to ensure privacy for -- downloading pornography, getting divorced, blogging?  Maybe.  And technically, the university could prohibit you from blogging on the computer they provide, although arguably this would be an infringement of academic freedom.
  • You can't be sure you have erased something from a computer or a server.  In fact, according to Daniel Engber of Slate, you can be pretty sure that you can't erase anything permanently, even if you use a utility like Evidence Eliminator.  And even if you could, those emails that you sent are now on someone else's computer, someone else's server, and so on.  They are retrievable.
  • The Republican Party is owned and operated by vicious thugs who abuse their power to make us all into corporate servants and lackeys for capitalist special interests.  This has nothing to do with computers:  I thought I would just throw this in.  But we are reminded that there is a long  history for this sort of activity in the United States:  in the late 1830s, for example, the southern slaveocracy pushed for national legislation to censor abolitionist literature.  When they didn't get it, beginning with South Carolina, they passed state laws that allowed local officials to seize these materials and open the mail of private citizens.  The parallel is obvious, isn't?  Freedom to have absolute power over labor > constitutional right to free speech.  It's a good thing the Grimke sisters didn't have an email account.
My understanding is that  there is a campaign underway at the public unis to forward all sent mail to Governor Scott Walker (that's, Mark Jefferson (that's and GOP State Party Chairman Brad Courtney (that's Anybody who wants to dialogue with other stalking horses for international capitalism members of the state party leadership can go here for their addresses.  Some people might interpret this as an attempt to crash their servers, but you and I know that it is just an attempt to give them a little historical context.

Anyway, Bill, good luck with this.  I've always enjoyed your work, and while I know you never sought out this kind of notoriety, we couldn't be standing up for a better guy.

your friend,

Tenured Radical

Thursday, March 24, 2011

"I Feel All The Time Like A Cat On A Hot Tin Roof"

Received the news while sitting in a restaurant last night: Elizabeth Taylor, February 27 1932 - March 23 2011. I saw this movie for the first time when I was a student at Oligarch in 1976 and still think it is one of the rawest insights into love that has ever been put on the screen.

Go here for a full obituary from NPR.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Ask The Radical: Search Committee Smackdown, Part Eleventy

Buy this poster while you wait.
It's that time of the year again.  You've gotten all gussied up in your glad rags.  You polished your power point and talked the talk. You perfected the technique of subtly checking your teeth with your bread knife at dinner.  You left -- well, you left that fly-back academic interview feeling good about yourself.  And then:

Nothing.  They never call, they never write.....

Dear Professor Radical,

I have appreciated your blogs about the job market.   I've tried to follow the rules-- both written and unwritten.

Could you post another one about the rules for search committees? The closer I get to a job without getting it, the more their etiquette seems to break down. I'm a big girl and I can handle rejection. But I don't like this awkward silence for weeks after the interview.  It makes me feel like a dirty one night stand. 

 If a search committee chair doesn't know to write a letter of rejection -- well, no big deal except that neither place I interviewed has had the decency to tell me they've moved on. I'm smart and figured it out. But it just seems decent to tell me before I read it on the Wiki or, God forbid, from another candidate.

 Can't we elevate the job process to a level that is more professional than bad dating ??  Thank God for basketball or I don't know what I'd do.

Well, you should also thank the Goddess that you aren't in my NCAA men's fantasy bracket, because I'm shooting a honkin' 96%!

OK, seriously.  This sucks   And you know it's wrong, but the question is, why do they do it?  I'll tell you the top five excuses for not talking to the candidates.

#5:  "We haven't finalized the deal with the candidate we did offer the job to, so don't alienate the other candidates in case we have to go to our second choice."  You know the worst of it?  They really believe that it would cause an unrepairable breach if, in this crummy market, they offered you a job as the second choice candidate.  This is what often prevents them from making a call that says, "You know, it came down to field, but we've offered the job to someone else and s/he has two weeks to respond.  We'll get back to you the week of the 21st, for sure, and let you know what is happening."  You're thinking, "Those d00ds have their heads up their a$$es!"  Not really -- they have their heads back in the 1970s, when getting the job as a second choice really was a ticket to nowhere and the people who voted against your hire also voted against your tenure case, just on principle.  And they would have been heartbroken to be a second choice, so you would too, right?  Right?  Uh -- I can't hear you, the industrial dishwasher is too loud.....

#4:  "Was that my job?  I thought the dean was supposed to be in touch with the candidates."  At many schools, some people will never run a search in their lives, and in small departments, many people may never even be on a search committee.  I know at Zenith, you have a meeting with administrators prior to commencing your search.  They cover all the parts of the process that  have to do with affirmative action diversity hiring, but there is no instruction, written or otherwise, about how to run a search in a way that is gracious or efficient.  The assumption is that you have learned this by being searched for (the same goes for tenure:  everything you need to know to decide someone else's fate for the first time, you learn by coming up for tenure.)

As an added wrinkle, in many departments, once the candidates are produced, the search committee dissolves, and it may be no one's job to be in touch with the candidates.

#3:  "When the heck are we going to get budget approval for this hire?  Can someone call the dean, fuh Chrissakes?"  Believe it or not, at many small schools, the administration approves multiple searches, but only actually has funding for X% of them.  Departments propose their candidates, and the administration decides which ones are the "best" -- and only those departments get a new hire.  This, and other budgetary shenanigans, can hold up a process for weeks.  Throw a spring break in, and it's a real clusterf**k for the candidates.

#2: "We got our first choice! We got our first choice!  Uh -- What other candidates?"  This is what you fear, and I am afraid it is often true.  Academics can be narcissistic a$$hats, and unfortunately, because you no longer have anything to do with them, it's as if you never existed.

#1:  "That's a really awkward and unpleasant call to make and I would really rather not."  Really, this is the reason that most finalists never hear from anyone.  It's gotten too personal, and they don't want to disappoint you in person.  What they don't get, because they can't cope with this, is that you already know and you would rather be treated like a person!

But seriously, guys. This is the second person I have heard from this week who was told they would hear something in a certain time frame, and they haven't even gotten a call to be told that nothing is decided yet.

WTF, search committees?  Don't you read Tenured Radical?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Why Do The Kids Have Beans In Their Ears? It's Hazing Season Again

I'm sorry - what position do you play?
Years ago, one of my students told me about a team hazing gone wrong.  First year athletes were forced to drink massive amounts of alcohol.  Then strippers, hired by the older students, were brought onto the scene.  The strippers disrobed down to their G-strings and initiated a lap dancing thingie with the team initiates.  But then one of the students being hazed freaked out, started yelling and tried to escape (the doors were locked, of course.) Two other students passing by heard the commotion, called Public Safety, and then broke a window because they thought the person inside was in danger.

Want to know the best part?  The team doing the hazing was a women's team and the strippers were male. The young woman who freaked out, who was also drunk out of her mind, thought she was going to be raped as part of the "initiation."  The student rescuers were also male, by the way, which is a nice part of the story (although the students relating it had a kind of "can you believe those d0ucheb!gs?" look on their faces while relating this portion of the sorry tale.)

Let's leave aside the kind of money that is spent on these teams to have the whole enterprise be damaged, not only by the drinking and brutality itself, but by canceling the season when it is discovered, firing athletes from the team, and having a scandal to deal with as the coaches try to recruit other athletes.  What is so agonizing about this little Lord of the Flies scenario is that at Zenith, like all other schools, hazing is illegal and those who do it theoretically subject to severe penalties.  Students know this.  Each team gets a little talk from the athletic director at the beginning of the season explaining this in graphic detail:  I am the faculty adviser to one of the teams, so I've heard the talk that every team gets, and there is nothing unclear about the policy.

Then students go out and haze new team members anyway.  And students agree to be hazed, having been told it is dangerous and wrong, but leaving that information at the door because it is the kind of thing dumb grownups talk, talk, talk about.  (Note:  the incident I described above did not happen on the team I am connected to.)

Fast forward to the swim team scandal at Middlebury College reported by ABC News yesterday:

Little is known about what happened in early February at a swim team party. The event was designed to welcome first-year swimmers onto the team, but the school newspaper the Middlebury Campus reported that the party "crossed the line from innocent initiation to hazing."

This isn't the first time the Middlebury swim teams have faced tough punishment for hazing. In 2006, the men's season was canceled due to a hazing incident that involved alcohol. In 2003, the women's team missed two meets for hazing related offenses.

My question is:  why do people have to be initiated into athletic teams at all?  Isn't coming to practice enough?  And why does the discussion about sexual violence on campus not get connected to the fact that women are brutalizing each other too but calling it something else?  As a relevant aside about the willingness of students to participate in dangerous and painful acts that are the price of "belonging," click on the link above. After viewing an ad about psoriasis, you can see a short news item about a branding scandal at Texas Christian University, which the boy's parents only know about because the burn is so severe that he will require several surgeries to repair it.  Look at the $hit-eating grin on the face of the kid who was branded, and compare it to his parents' outrage.

Middlebury isn't saying what happened, probably on the advice of  their attorneys (the men's team was briefly pulled from competition too, but has apparently been permitted to continue their season.) Since Vermont has laws against hazing, if I were a local prosecutor I would start dumping paper on them right now since this is the second swim team scandal that has become public:  the men's team had its season cancelled in 2006.

But I think Middlebury should say what happened, because it is happening at other schools too.  I became privy, because of email address confusion and the tendency of angry people to hit "reply to all," to a second athletic scandal some years ago that resulted in a number of upper level students being tossed off the team mid-season.  I was stunned by the nature of the behavior being disciplined and the large numbers of people who must have known about it prior to it being discovered by administrators.  Furthermore, although it was probably a parent who blew the whistle in the first place, I was shocked by the number of parents who didn't think what had happened was such a big deal and that the punishment was out of line with the behavior (which was clearly illegal and a potential expulsion offense at Zenith.)  They were outraged that the administration even thought it was their business that this thing had happened on school property. Several emails said pointedly that the abrupt termination of their progeny's athletic career was a punishment to them because of all the sacrifices they had made in helping to develop that child as an athlete (which would make a lot of illegal behavior acceptable because.....?)

I may be one of fewer than five people left on campus who actually knows what happened, and this is because, like rape,  colleges balance the probability that this behavior will continue regardless of what they do against their strong desire to manage public information about the school.  The secrecy of college judicial boards undermines a critical function of punishment, which is to deter future behavior by making it clear to the larger community what constitutes unethical behavior and why it is unethical.  If Middlebury is distinguishing between "initiations" (which are OK?) and hazing (which is not), but being mysterious about the difference between the two, they aren't acting effectively to prevent future violations.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Take My Phone. Please.

"Why don't you try two Dixie Cups and a string!?"
A couple years ago I began to receive e-mails from a dear friend in the University of California system; in the signature line, the e-mails said: "ACADEMIC OFFICE PHONE DISCONNECTED DUE TO BUDGET CRISIS."  The first time I got this message the initial, draconian cuts had just been announced. Students and faculty were in the streets in California.  Many of us at private institutions were waiting for the ax to fall.  Later, we were accepting the news that there would be no raises the following year, and that by doing this our institutions might be able to avoid the layoffs of adjuncts and staff that many of the public unis were enduring.

Fast forward three years to where we are at Zenith, as far as I can tell.  We ended up laying off lots of those people, and allowing other positions to go unfilled. At street level, things are horrendously disorganized, and you have to make a special call to get someone to vacuum your office.  We have not received a raise that was not instantly swallowed by the increased cost of our benefits.  In real dollars, our pay is static and losing traction; research and conference dollars tend not to meet expenses incurred.

The health insurance situation is pretty scary too.  All employees are being asked to carry a greater share of our health insurance premium this year than last. Full professors are being asked to consider helping the administration to compensate associates and assistants by taking on the largest premiums, which is a major policy shift. Associates are not getting more than a salary bump at promotion, and are being asked to consider subsidizing in the compensation of assistants by paying larger premiums than they do, essentially nullifying much of the raise.  Staff have actually had their total compensation cut as a lesson to all of us about what the future holds.  Furthermore, everyone who works for the university is being asked to accept cuts in compensation so that the university can build endowments to pay for unlimited student financial aid and shave a percentage point off next year's tuition increase.  This will make us the second or third most expensive liberal arts school in the nation, as opposed to the most expensive (which means it is still inaccessible to the vast majority of Americans.)

Now, lest you think I am a lunatic, let me just say:  the fiscal health of the institution might require these things.  I don't really know:  I am surviving these changes by tuning them out and putting my queer shoulder to the wheel of my writing.  Because the misfortunes at chez Radical are slight this year, I also feel that the salary I am not getting could be interpreted as a kickback to the administration in exchange for having not been put in the position of making these decisions and becoming the object of outrage.  They are difficult decisions, with no easy answers, and universities being what they are, would have drawn criticism from some quarter whatever shape they took.

And yet, after almost two decades in which we have repeatedly been promised that Zenith will do something about a compensation rate that lags far behind our peer institutions, one can't help but feel that they have thrown in the towel without admitting that they have done so.  You wish they would bring that big girl out and let her sing so you could stop thinking about it.

But here's the good news.  Austerity has produced some moments of breathtakingly simple, but shining, intelligence, that may pave the way for a leaner but smarter budget.  For example, someone in the Zenith administration had the bright idea of phoning around to ask those of us who had not used the entire budget allocated for conferences already attended if all of our receipts were in.  If so, could we release the money to replenish the budget line so other colleagues might be funded for conference attendance?  My source tells me that they reclaimed $10K this way that otherwise would have been slushed into next year's budget.   I think they should use $500 of it to give whoever thought of this a bonus.

In the spirit of accentuating the positive, I have a suggestion:  why don't you take my phone?

I'm serious.  I don't know how much my phone costs, but whatever it is, it is not worth it.  Here's why:
  • I don't think a student has called me on my land line in over three years.  Students always contact me by email, grab me after class, or drop by my office. Since teaching is 1/3 to 1/2 of my job, and students do not telephone me, this means most of my work would not be impacted by the loss of a land line.
  • In the past year, I think I have received fewer than five telephone calls from administrators or colleagues outside the department and program in which I am appointed.  They contact me by email too.  Those people who know me, or like me, well enough to call me on the telephone, call me on my mobile.  Those people who call me on my office phone often do not get that call returned for several days: I don't check my messages at the office because hardly anyone ever calls me.
  • In the past year, I have probably made ten phone calls to administrators, all of which have been to deans, regarding a student in crisis.  If they are not there, I ask them to return the call to my mobile.
  • In the past three years, I have initiated exactly one conference call from my office phone.  I can now accomplish this on my iPhone.
  • I used to use the university WATTS line for work-related long distance.  I no longer need to do this, as unlimited long distance in the US and Canada is now part of a standard home telephone package and I have unlimited minutes on my iPhone in the US.
  • Because the university stopped printing an annual telephone directory, and fired or reassigned the telephone operators, I have no idea what most people's extensions are and getting them is a tedious task involving the online directory.  Worse, we have a voice recognition directory that gives you the right person about 40% of the time.  "TENURED - RADICAL," you find yourself enunciating into the receiver, for the fourth or fifth time. "Ringing - Benjamin - Clavical," the robovoice intones primly. In addition, because our landlines do not have speed dials, it is just easier to program colleagues' mobile phones (and the office extensions of administrators) into my own mobile. 
  • When I want to talk to colleagues in my building, I get up and stroll down the hall.  Since over half of my colleagues are junior to me, talking in person seems like the more civilized choice.  Furthermore, people under the age of 35 don't even have land lines at home.  Why would they need them at the office?
  • Here is who calls me most regularly on my office telephone:  robocallers and textbook sales people.  Far off in second place are colleagues and administrators; and in a close third are parents, to whom I am mostly not permitted to speak.  In total, I would say I receive ten telephone calls a month on my land line, of which 1-2 are real people; I make about 3 calls a month.
So take my phone, Zenith.  Please.  By doing this, you could free up some money in our zero-sum budget game to reduce the cost of my benefits or bump up my research money.  Or give me a tiny bonus to subsidize my cell phone costs.   Or keep the money and allow me to deduct the cost of my mobile from my taxes as a legitimate business expense.  And it would clear a lovely space on my desk where I could put a vase of spring flowers -- or a box of Kleenex, to prepare for the next round of budget cuts.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Killing Two Birds With One Stone: Tea Party Candidate Solves Social Problems, Shoots Self In Foot

Tea Party social welfare program?
In case you were wondering why we haven't solved the problem of how to get cheap food on the table without large numbers of undocumented workers who will work under substandard conditions for no money, it's because wussy liberals won't bring back the chain gang.

Okay, Jack Davis, who wants to run for the vacant seat in New York's 26th congressional district didn't quite say that.  But this is what the Tea Party candidate did say, according to reporter Jerry Zremski, as he was being screened by the GOP in that state:

that Latino farm workers [should] be deported -- and that African-Americans from the inner city [could] be bused to farm country to pick the crops.

Several sources who were in the Feb. 20 endorsement interview with Davis confirmed his comments, which echo those he made to the Tonawanda News in 2008, when he said: "We have a huge unemployment problem with black youth in our cities. Put them on buses, take them out there [to the farms] and pay them a decent wage; they will work."

Since Davis has been articulating such views publicly for at least two years, so the shock being expressed by the New York Republican Party leadership means little else than that they aren't doing their homework.

"I was thunderstruck," said Amherst GOP Chairman Marshall Wood. "Maybe in 1860 that might have been seen by some as an appropriate comment, but not now."

Davis spokesman W. Curtis Ellis acknowledged that Davis' comments "may not be politically correct and ... may not be racially correct."

Yes, Mr. Ellis, we can start there.  Davis's comments are also really st00pid One wonders how far the Tea Party tolerance for come one, come all freedom of expression will extend in the next election cycle if upstate New York Republicans (who are about as conservative as God makes 'em and not your normal bastions of political correctness) are running for the hills on this one.

Hat Tip.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Casualty Of The Archives: Put Me On Research Injured Reserve, Please

You did it again, Charlie Brown.
Two days ago I woke up with a slightly sore back.  I did what I normally do with back pain (other than worry that my advancing age is causing my arthritis flareups to accelerate):  pop two Advil and flex in the shower while hot water pounds on my lower spine.

It got worse.

Four hours later, I got up from my computer and was seized with paralyzing pain extending in a band around my spine.  Such pain, at that central location of the body, causes involuntary gasps that sound like this: "$hi-hi-hi-hi-hitte!"

I couldn't think what I had done to cause this problem.  I haven't been rowing (the recent flooding blew away our club dock, and you can't erg on the road.) The only exercise I have had during and after my travels has been my normal regime of weight lifting and a daily, sedate turn on the Exercycle.

I took two more Advil. And a Valium. No dice.

I'll spare you the rest of my treatment program (oh, hell -- why should I?  I use the Valley of the Dolls method: codeine, vodka, more Valium to stop the spasms and ice packs.)  However, as I lay in bed catching up on my grading, I had plenty of time to think.  As the pain receded and localized to a small spot on the right side of my spine, I realized that the problem was my old friend:  Archives Back.

Yes, Archives Back.  I first developed this problem three years ago after a long research trip and realized that the only way I could have hurt myself was through the twisting motion that is required to get a very heavy archive box off the cart when in a seated position and bending from the waist.  Your standard archives cart has three shelves, and torquing the spine repeatedly from a position in which arm strength is all but irrelevant puts enormous strain on said spine.  I suspect that on that original trip I damaged a disc that is easily re-injured when I do the same stupid thing all over again.

So in the spirit of sharing, here are three common health problems arising from archival research.

Back and Neck Pain.  I've already discussed how you get it and treat it (I also once pulled a bicep picking up a box from an awkward position.)  But how to prevent it?  My guess is that each full archives box (I'm talking the acid-free gray ones that meet NARA specifications, now, not the banker's boxes which are much larger) weighs about 20-25 pounds.  My suggestion?  Treat every box as if it is much larger, particularly if you are moving fast through a lot of boxes, as I was:  get up, bend your knees, and lift straight up with your knees.  A few stretches several times a day might not be such a terrible idea either; and I just get up and walk around the room every hour or so. 

Paper cuts.  I pulled a file that had a smear of blood on it, and the color indicated that there had been a casualty in the not-so-very-distant past.  As everyone knows, paper cuts are the most unexpected of injuries:  they happen in a perfectly unlucky moment of contact between finger and paper, bleed like a pig, and -- like a splinter -- are disproportionately painful.  One of my co-researchers who joined me for lunch one day had sliced a finger open, which had turned so sore she felt it every time she turned over a document.   My advice?  Bring band-aids.  But the only way to prevent paper cuts is be wearing those little white cotton Mickey Mouse gloves, which some facilities require.  They are hard to get used to, but better for the documents and for you.  (Evening addendum:  check out some of the comments.  Apparently gloves are no longer state of the art.)

Dust.  One of my favorite books, ever, is Carolyn Steedman's Dust:  The Archive and Cultural History (Rutgers: 2002), in which she speculates that the mal d'archives, or archive fever (that Jacques Derrida bloviated about in this book) might have been caused by anthrax spores surviving in the bindings of ancient leather books.  But even short of anthrax, dust is a problem, particularly for those of us who have allergies already.  I keep on top of my allergies (which at their worst cause asthma attacks) with drugs I take daily, but I still suffer from an ongoing drip throughout a trip to the archives.  This was all the more noticeable on my last trip because whatever affects me in the general atmosphere in Connecticut was not present in Southern California, so every time I emerged from whatever library I was in the sniffles went away.   What to do?  After a couple days, I doubled my medication, which helped only because it is of the non-drowsy variety:  falling asleep won't forward your research agenda.  Bring one of those cute little packs of Kleenex so that you don't have to cast your eyes about furtively to make sure that no one sees you wipe your nose on your shirt.

I also advise against wearing contact lenses in the archives:  wear glasses for a day, see how much dust they pick up, then imagine that gluing itself to your eyes.

Hand and Wrist Pain.  The two days that I was in the no-copy, no-photography archive reminded me that typing for six to eight hours a day is not something your average archive table and chairs are made for. The tables are the wrong height, and the chairs are often gorgeous, hard wood works of art with no back support whatsoever.  I once saw a famous feminist historian walk into a manuscript room with a pile of couch pillows, which I suppose is one solution, although it is awkward and a little goofy.  My approach is to sit up as straight as possible, keep my hands parallel to the keyboard, and stand up to shake my hands vigorously every 30-45 minutes.  In this latter move, you drop your arms straight down, relax them and shake. It makes you look like you are doing the Hokey-Pokey, but so what?  At my age I fear carpal tunnel syndrome more than I fear charges of eccentricity.

A note:  I am glad to be done with Xeroxing, which is hard on the documents, environmentally unsound, and always caused me to worry about radiation.  That said, other than the logistics of getting your material organized after the trip, photography has its physical hazards.  Although I advocated for the cheap digital camera in this post, the truth is I took my expensive Nikon on this trip to see if it made a difference (particularly in reproducing feminist posters and graphics from conservative direct mail that would be at least usable in a Power Point, if not in the book.)  The wrist that bore the weight of the camera was persistently sore.  Now I know why other people use tripods.

Unrelated Coda:  Check out Caleb McDaniel's instructions about  how to grade papers using an iPad.  Caleb, an assistant professor of United States history at Rice University who is writing a book about transatlantic abolitionism, has himself a a nice new blog called Offprints.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

The Social Network: Or; Does Networking Really Matter To An Academic Career?

One of 17 ways to visualize Twitter.
Why do we tell young scholars to "network," and what  do we mean by it?

As I was finishing up Samuel Delany's Times Square Red, Times Square Blue (1999) last night, I came across this gem of a quote on p. 138:
I feel that my career benefits regularly from the results of my networking.  My ultimate take on networking is, however, this:  No single event in the course of my career that I can cite has been directly caused by networking.  Nevertheless, the results of networking have regularly smoothed, stabilized, and supported my career and made it more pleasant (there is that term again) than it would have been without it.
In general I would say (and I would say this to young writers particularly):  Rarely if ever can networking make a writing career when no career is to be made.
Delany, as many of you know, is a queer science fiction writer who has also written a fair amount about the sexual landscape of New York City.  To put this quote in context, Delany is writing about the redevelopment of the Times Square district in the 1980s and 1990s, and its consequences for human relationships.  In the second half of the book, he works out the distinction between the formalized set of connections that "networks" represent (in this case he is talking about writers' conferences, and the science fiction events that are a part of his professional life), and what he calls "contacts."  The latter category, he argues, are informal, unpredictable, and are produced through a spontaneous, democratic generosity that is far more likely to produce a significant change in one's circumstances.

Delany's view that cultivating connections did not make careers surprised me, to say the least, since I have always viewed the mainstream literary world as highly networked.  Those of us who fail to break in may not be writing what a larger audience wants to read, but we often don't know (or command the respect of) the right people either.  When I was living in New York full time in the 1980s, the people who got published were also the people who were adept at getting invited to parties, meeting important people, and aggressively using those people to move up the chain.  Fran Lebowitz was, and still is, a classic example of such a person; but a great many other well-published authors, who are far less amusing, also fit that category.  Perhaps it's just an outsider's perspective, but I still see major book contracts being delivered into the hands of some people and not others because they are able to work their networks effectively and get in to see the right people. 

But what about the history world?  What role does networking play and should we counsel younger scholars to put time into it?  Has my own career benefited more from networking or "contacts"?

To answer the last question first, I would say that I would have to add a third category of connections that are neither contacts or networking, but something in between:  more dynamic and spontaneous than networking, and more durable and sustaining than contacts.  For example, I first met Historiann in a cab, a cab which she reminded me many years later when we sat down for lunch over beer and oysters, I paid for.  I was a professor with a travel budget, she a graduate student, and the cab cost the same regardless of how many people were riding in it.  I have no memory of paying for the cab, but it sounds like something I might do, as it fits my general philosophy of social welfare in which resources are redeployed to those who will, in turn, redeploy their own resources to others when they succeed. 

Fast-forward any number of years, I have become Tenured Radical, and I get an email from the author asking me to look over a new blog, Historiann, which quickly became one of the hottest history blogs around.  Since then, we have become friends and done three different projects together, none of which has probably changed our lives, but which have, nonetheless, been very pleasurable and satisfying.  So is this contact or networking?  Did the cab matter?  Would we have met in the blogosphere anyway?

Who knows.  I think the tougher question, since we are all free in the blogosphere to pursue the friendships and intellectual exchanges that we desire (and it would be interesting to hear more from Delaney about whether he thinks the Internet has altered his paradigm), is:  in the more constricted realm of the job market and academic publishing, does networking matter?

To this I would actually say no, it doesn't.  This isn't a reason not to go to conferences, of course, and I would urge all universities to fund conference attendance for graduate students and younger scholars to the fullest extent that they can.  I think it works against the stultifying tendency of the academy to keep untenured people in as subservient a state as possible for the longest possible time.  It encourages friendship rather than naked competition (many of my closest friends, and those who I still seek advice from, are women who I met through the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians as a graduate student.)  Finally, it encourages people to keep up in their own and related fields, to be challenged by others and respond to those challenges, and to become socialized.  These are all good things.

But I have never known anyone who could attribute their academic success to the fact that they were well-connected.  In fact (brace yourself for a downer):  some of the best connected people I know have suffered repeated setbacks, on the job market and in publishing, despite their ability to network and excellent reputations.  Networking is also different from having letters from influential people, whose opinion is respected by others and who testify to your excellence.  Such things count, as do the phone calls that people place before making a Big Hire, to the people they really trust (I've made those calls and received them.)  But there are simply too many people involved in any given decision for even the most influential people to have a decisive role in your future.  Paradoxically, it is not infrequent that when someone invested in your success is accidentally in a position to help you, s/he will recuse hirself from the decision entirely in order to ensure that the decision is perceived as just.   

I'm not saying that this makes academia the cradle of democracy.  I'm just saying it doesn't work that way.  Delany's best observation is:  "Rarely if ever can networking make a writing career when no career is to be made."

Where I would say that networking has helped me enormously is my ability to get things done.  The more people you know in your field, the more effective you are.  The more widely known you are as an honest person, or a fun person to work with, or someone who understands the principles of fairness and reciprocity, the more likely you are to make other people feel that you are worth spending their limited time and energy on.  In a more local sense, I find my networks among mid-level administrators at Zenith to be an invaluable resource for problem solving, information gathering, and getting channels unclogged.  If this post teaches you nothing else, it should be this:  administrative assistants hold the keys to your kingdom; information technology people are gods and goddesses; and the registrar's office is a temple.

The ability to get things done not only makes life more pleasant, and far richer when you consider time consuming projects like program development and the hiring of new colleagues, but it frees up time to write.  It also brings interesting and novel projects -- book series, journal articles, special issues, conferences, and Internet-based exchanges -- to fruition.  This, I think, reveals the basic value of networking:  when it works, it isn't about you.  It's about you in relation to others.  Scholarship, at its most effective, is about exchange, not about the grandiosity of one person.

And that's why it is worth paying attention to.

Friday, March 11, 2011

"And The Envelope Please:" CLGBTH Announces Its 2010 Prizes

Breaking news from Ian Lekus, Chair of the Committee on LGBT History (affiliated with the American Historical Association):

Margot Canaday’s The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton University Press) has been awarded the Committee on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History's 2011 John Boswell Prize. The John Boswell Prize is awarded for an outstanding book on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and/or queer history published in English during the two previous years.

The Prize Committee prepared the following commendation:  “Canaday’s stunning analysis of the U.S. state during the twentieth century carves out a bold new place for sexuality at the center of political and legal history. Through a compelling series of case studies, The Straight State tells a story about the bureaucratic regulation of sexual and civic identities that are made problematic through their interaction with state actors and processes. Canaday’s insights about how federal power made homosexuality increasingly visible over time are sure to inspire fresh directions in work not only in GLBT history, but on citizenship and state-formation in history and beyond. This is a truly original book. Margot Canaday is an assistant professor of history at Princeton University.”

Download Margot's book to Kindle here! For a cute picture of Margot go here!

Cleverly using awards for scholarly excellence to recruit the young to homosexuality, the Committee also awards prizes to undergraduate historians.  This year Shelley Grosjean has been awarded the 2011 Joan Nestle Undergraduate Prize for “A ‘Womyn’s’ Work is Never Done: The Gendered Division of Labor on Lesbian Separatist Lands in Southern Oregon.”  The Nestle Prize is awarded for an outstanding paper on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, and/or queer history completed in English by an undergraduate student during the previous two years.

The Prize Committee writes:  “Shelley Grosjean’s well-written and persuasive exploration of lesbian lands in Oregon makes imaginative use of a wealth of wonderful sources: images as well as texts. She locates these utopian experiments in the contexts of 1970s lesbian feminism and back-to-the-land movements, moving easily between the experiential details of daily life and labor and the larger political, economic, and social forces that gave them meaning. Her paper illuminates not only the visions of community that motivated so many women; it helps to explain why their practical efforts to realize those visions met so many obstacles. Grosjean is an undergraduate at the University of Oregon.”

The Prize Committee also awarded an Honorable Mention to Bradley Milam for his essay, “Gay West Virginia: Community Formation and the Forging of a Gay Appalachian Identity, 1963-1979,” noting:

“Bradley Milam tells a moving and emotionally rich story about Appalachia, a part of the United States that has, to date, been almost invisible in GLBT history. Relying on oral histories, Milam’s paper counters the urban bias of so many gay community studies. He suggests that the elements of gay life and consciousness in West Virginia emerged in a chronologically distinctive fashion that may be more typical of rural areas. Even more provocatively, he argues that many gays and lesbians in the state resolved their identities not by leaving home, but by doing exactly what they were raised to do: attend church, form families, and adhere to traditional American values. Milam is a 2010 graduate of Yale University.”

The Prize Committee, chaired by Ellen Herman, included Chris Waters and Stephanie Gilmore.

Cross posted at Cliopatria.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

If A Pirate Wants To Donate $5 Million To Your "Liberal" Arts School, What Should You Do?

"HARRGH!  We're looking for University Relations! HARRGH!"
You might want to wonder if that pirate has a camera hidden in his blunderbuss before you say a word.  Whatever you do, don't chat him up and think maybe once he really gets to know you he'll build a Women's Center instead of a Center for Swashbuckling Studies, because he could be a Republican in disguise.  Those little jokes about peglegs are going to be awfully embarassing once the Disabilities Studies folks see them in the New York Times.

I never thought I would have to give this career advice, but I would feel remiss if I did not do so at this moment in history.  In the wake of conservative activist James O'Keefe's most recent effort to help defeat the thugs Republicans are saving our country from -- women, the poor, and intellectuals -- I just want to know: why did Schiller, the president of fund raising at NPR, not even have an inkling that two unknown "Muslims" who supposedly wanted to make a major gift were not a little shifty?  Had he never listened to his own radio station?  Did he not take in O'Keefe's little scam that brought ACORN to its knees?  Or the little rumble he tried to cause over at Planned Parenthood by impersonating a donor who would give money only on the condition that underage girls and as many black women as possible would be provided with abortions?

Here's the deal, for you other folks who have been living under a rock for the past year.  O'Keefe sets up embarrassing scenarios that feature liberal groups. He then records them secretly to demonstrate what conservative activists "already know" -- that liberals are lying, law-breaking hypocrites.  Of course, the videos and audio recordings often have to be edited to actually produce the "evidence," but no matter. Then mainstream conservative Republicans leap on the bandwagon and demand hearings to express their outrage that a single government dollar goes to these organizations (as opposed to the many federal dollars that go to homophobic religious organizations and schools, for example.)  O'Keefe also has connections to the Leadership Institute, Morton Blackwell's organization that trains conservative youth (who, in turn, developed the affirmative action bake sale strategy recently used at Zenith by other students affiliated with LI.)  O'Keefe was also arrested for trying to bug U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu's telephone.

The latest O'Keefe special involves unveiling NPR as a moral cesspool and a wealthy organization that is fleecing the taxpayer.  It is timed to coincide with the annual pledge drive, as well as the debate in Congress provoked by House Republicans zeroing out what budget remains to support public broadcasting.  O'Keefe hired two people who claimed to be representatives of a Muslim organization.  They arranged to meet with Schiller  in a Georgetown restaurant claiming they are interested in giving $5 million to public radio. "The heavily edited video," according to the AP account in Salon,

shows Schiller and another NPR executive, Betsy Liley, meeting at a pricey restaurant in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood with two men claiming to be part of a Muslim organization. The men offer NPR a $5 million donation. NPR said Tuesday it was "repeatedly pressured" to accept a $5 million check, which the organization "repeatedly refused."

"The current Republican Party is not really the Republican Party. It's been hijacked by this group that is ... not just Islamophobic but, really, xenophobic," Schiller said in the video, referring to the tea party movement. "They believe in sort of white, middle America, gun-toting -- it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."

Part of what I find puzzling about this is, while it wasn't a smart thing to say, it is at least an arguable point of view with some basis on the truth.  Schiller didn't even say it on air.  Rush Limbaugh says something whacko and false about every ninety seconds right on his own radio show and nobody really seems to give a good G-d damn.  Schiller isn't even a journalist:  he's a fund-raiser.

So what was the big deal?

Monday, March 07, 2011

If You Are Considering Writing A Memoir About Your Childhood Sexual Abuse....

...Don't.  At least, not unless you have a story to tell that pushes us beyond the horror of it all.

The Daily Mail, which reviewed Margaux Fragoso's Tiger, Tiger in the United Kingdom, says it is "shocking the literary world." Why? Because Fragoso references her love for the man who abused her for fifteen years, and because it is so graphic about the sexual fantasies they shared that some critics call the book itself pornographic.  The NPR review, which suckered me into buying this ghastly memoir (oh had I only clicked "read more") comes closer to why I am shocked by it:  it is such a poorly written book.  As Dan Koies writes delicately,

But it's perilous to discuss Tiger, Tiger, because when an author asserts her moral right to reclaim her abuse and recast it as story, it's easy to seem churlish when you wish that she were a better writer — or that she'd had a more careful editor. While Fragoso's publisher, FSG, is selling the book as a cautionary tale for parents and an act of bearing witness for victims of abuse, it's also positioning Tiger, Tiger, albeit uneasily, as a literary breakthrough. But though Fragoso can write with terrible beauty, often her memoir is hampered by awkward sentences, sloppy storytelling and the kind of unbelievably detailed description and dialogue that makes you distrust a memoir's voice.

No kidding.  I can add to that.  There not a single likable, compelling or interesting character in the book, including Fragoso.  Furthermore, the "big secret" which she hints at throughout -- that she was one of many children, boys and girls, who were sexually abused by this man -- is patently obvious by the time we get the reveal in the last ten pages.  Really? You mean he lied and you weren't the special one after all? 

Understanding that child sexual abuse is a truly terrible experience, and a vicious crime, why any press would publish a memoir that doesn't compel a more passionate response by the reader is a mystery.  In fact, the chapters consist of four dreary (and mostly predictable) scenarios that are repeated over and over.  Those scenarios are:
  • Schizophrenic mother repeatedly turns her child over to abuser, sitting there watching TV and writing obsessively in her notebook while the abuser sneaks off to kiss and cuddle her daughter; 
  • Narcissistic, OCD, misogynistic father too self-absorbed to raise his own child repeatedly turns daughter over to abuser.  Fearing his own attraction to Fragoso, he pushes her away, making her receptive to the overtures from the abuser and sending confused messages about "fatherly" love that abuser capitalizes on; 
  • Abuser's girlfriend creates safe space for abuser to abuse Fragoso, her own sons, and numerous foster children, despite repeated accusations by the entire neighborhood and social workers that the abuser is, in fact, an abuser;
  • Long, self-justifying speeches by abuser about what a caring person he is and how special and unique his relationship with Fragoso is.
Yuck, yuck, and yuck.  What a good memoir on this topic would look like isn't clear to me, but none of the people who ought to read such a book -- in other words, people who match the description of any of the people in Tiger, Tiger -- could easily learn much from it beyond the fact that they are not alone.  It's important, perhaps, but it's not enough.

Really, the best advice I have ever gotten on this topic was from a friend who said to me once:  "Always watch out for Mama's boyfriend. "  Which is kind of what you learn from Tiger, Tiger, but it takes over 300 pages to get there.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

On The Road: Radical Research Tips For Historians And Other People

The National Archives
Your favorite Radical is settled in at the  Rumor Mill in Culver City, an Internet cafe that has a convenient coin laundry next door.   Research trips lasting longer than a few days necessitate either big luggage or laundry.  I opted for the second, since I had a Sunday, and since my travel wardrobe consists mostly of black tee shirts I only need to do one load.  But laundry also gives me another opportunity, which is to hang out and see a little bit of where I am.  Last night I walked Abbot Kinney in Venice and had an outstanding dinner at 3 Square Cafe and Bakery (barbecued ribs and sweet potato fries, with a cucumber, watercress and yogurt salad to start) and spent the rest of the evening checking out tee shirts that cost between forty and sixty dollars.

I had spent the day at UCLA Special Collections in the Women Against Violence Against Women papers.  For those of you who haven't heard me give a paper or a talk lately, WAVAW was one of several radical feminist groups that became involved in the effort to curb the production and sale of pornography by the mid-1970s.  This grassroots movement was soon opposed by other feminists, civil libertarians and (of course) the pornography industry itself, and has become famous as the "sex wars" of the 1980s.  This is a history which intersects (and is often confused) with a second, conservative, movement to enforce obscenity laws which, I will argue in my book, is a crucial historical distinction that has been overlooked.  This latter story is partly told in political archives:   hence my repeated trips to visit the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library (RRPL), where records that lead up to and through the Meese Commission's national hearings on pornography in the mid-1980s are located.

But the difference between these two experiences led me to think that a quick post on research trips might be helpful, particularly for those of you just starting out in graduate school who are planning research, but also for scholars who may not have been to an archive in a while.  So with that, here are a few of the Radical's Research Tips:

Expense.  This is by far the greatest barrier to research nowadays, even for established scholars.  At Zenith, research money has actually decreased over time, not just because it has not kept pace with inflation, but because it is low hanging fruit and can be cut without affecting the entire faculty.  I find it easy to get the standard research awards from Zenith, but those now available from university coffers don't usually cover my expenses anymore. While costs can be cut by staying, or traveling, with friends, and driving rather than going by plane or train, a solo one to two week research trip that includes meals, transportation and hotel can't be budgeted at much less than $150.00 a day.  That is *with*  relatively modest priced accommodations that don't smell, Southwest getaway fares (often cheaper than a round trip train ticket in the Northeast), and the lowest priced rental car (a necessity if you are doing research in a city without reliable public transit.) 

What can help you out are research funds that are sometimes available from the collections themselves to help scholars make a trip.  History graduate students should also check out the American Historical Association's Awards and Fellowships for travel money that in some cases is specially designated for you.

Call ahead -- call way, way ahead.   Everything below follows from this, and anything you can plan prior to actually arriving at the archive extends the value of your research dollar.  Don't forget that archivists like you to use their stuff, and that they know more about any collection than you can possibly find on line.  They will always help you if you bother to ask.

Finding aids that aren't on line can usually be sent via email, and detailed descriptions of your project can sometimes elicit suggestions from the archivist about other collections you might want to look at.  The good archivist can often have several boxes waiting for you when you get there, and help you prioritize the documents you want to look at first.  Some collections may be off site and will take a couple days to retrieve.  Scholars working in presidential libraries established since the 1960s should also be prepared to have erratic access to political documents that have not yet been cleared for public use.  The process of clearing presidential materials slowed dramatically during the George W. Bush administration, and although the Obama White House has a far greater commitment to access, you will find that vast numbers of documents unrelated to national security matters have not been cleared yet.  Historians of the recent political past will also find that even though categories of materials have been cleared, memos from political advisers to the president have not, on the theory that advisers should be free to give advice without being castigated for it in their lifetimes.  So don't expect to find that "smoking gun" that you might find in, say, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Presidential Library.

You also want to find out from an archivist what you have to do to get oriented, and how much time you need to build in for that on your first day.  It varies widely.  At the Reagan Library, for example, it takes about five minutes to get up and running; at the Library of Congress, getting your researchers card can take up to an hour, depending on how many researchers show up that day.  Find out what the restrictions are:  several decades ago, the New York Historical Society actually had a dress code that required women to wear skirts.  Feminism took care of that one, but other issues crop up.  For example, archives that require government issued ID cards often put trans people who have not yet (or do not ever wish to) officially transition to a gender other than the one they were given at birth are not infrequently put in the difficult position of disclosing their status to an uncomprehending person.  There are few good ways to handle this, as far as I can tell, and those who have dealt with this barrier to access might want to leave experiences in the comments section.

Finally -- and this may shock you -- there is limited seating in many reading rooms.  I have never heard of someone showing up and not getting a chair, but wouldn't that be a drag?

Getting and using the documents you need.  There is no such thing as standard archival practice when it comes to making pulls (for nubies, a "pull" is when they go and get your stuff.)  At the New York Public Library, for example, you can't put in a request ahead of time, and there are only a few pulls a day:  if you don't make the 11:00 pull, you are $hit out of luck until 1:00 -- which really means 1:30 when all is said and done.  At the Reagan, there are no rules about when you put you requests in, and the boxes appear within ten or fifteen minutes, but that isn't true at all NARA facilities.

Archives also have different rules about how many boxes you are allowed at any one time; whether you are allowed to have the whole box on the table or just one folder; and whether you have to wear little white cotton gloves to protect what you are looking at from the oil that naturally forms on the surface of your skin.  Theft of documents is a terrible problem, and you may be asked to jump through all kinds of hoops that seem like unnecessary obstacles to you but are important to keeping historical materials out of the hands of unscrupulous people who put them on the autograph market.

Copying is another variable:  National Archives (NARA) facilities have a pretty liberal copying policy, for example, although quite sensibly, they won't let you xerox documents that aren't in good shape.  The Schlesinger Library allows only 500 copies, per researcher, per year, on the sound principle that the extra handling, heat and light is too hard on the collections.

Digital photography has, I am glad to say, mostly solved these problems. I used to include a xeroxing budget in every research funding request, and I no longer do because most places will let you use a camera (with flash and sounds turned off) to photograph documents.  A cheap digital camera is possibly the best research investment you can make, and many people use a tripod, although I don't.  An iPhone produces surprisingly good reproductions, and I suspect that other smart phones do too.  Word to the wise:  even with a tripod, photographing documents can be really hard on your back.  Bring a computer in to download your research periodically and every night you should make some kind of back up.  I recommend your university server, Google's cloud, or Dropbox.  God forbid your electronics should be stolen, and poof! There goes even a couple day's work that has to be redone.

That said, I discovered to my surprise that in one of my archives, they don't permit photography, and xeroxing is almost $2.00 a page.  Be prepared to type, just like in the good old days:  most importantly, it is simply going to take you longer to make your way through a collection without copying, and you need to know that when you are figuring out how long you need to be there.  These documents should also be backed up at the end of everyday.

Check to see what is up on line first.  Increasingly, archives are preserving documents by making them available online.  Doing this work before you travel can get you oriented to the collection and give you a better sense of what, and who, you are looking for.  That said, always check the finding aid against the online collection. I was assured by one archivist that "most" of a collection I was using was available online and that I probably didn't need to make a trip to the archive:  matching the online listings to the finding aid allowed me to see that well over a third of the folders in the finding aid were not represented in digital form, and that many folders had not been reproduced in full.

What are the documents you won't find on line?  Ephemera, for one thing.  One thing I am interested in is what it cost to run a grassroots feminist anti-pornography group, and where the money came from.  Some of this information has to be cobbled together from handwritten notes, bank statements and receipts; other information can be found in IRS filings.  Neither of these is of interest to the general public, and IRS filings raise privacy issues, as does anything with a name and address on it.  The letter items are crucial to seeing who was involved, and what other groups they may have belonged to.  You also won't find the often intensely personal notes that activists wrote to each other ("Dear Sister....") that reveal interpersonal dynamics, conflict, euphoria, and burn out that radical feminist groups produced.

And finally, take time off to have fun.  I don't have to tell you how to do this, do I?  Get a guide to the city; use Yelp; buy tickets to something in advance (when traveling alone, a single ticket purchased at the last minute can be surprisingly cheap); eat at a restaurant you have always heard about; and make dates with friends, particularly in your final days when the archival work can get exhausting and mind-numbing.  Research is fun, but it can also be isolating.  You are traveling, after all:  take some time to be where you are.