Who lies at the bottom of the hierarchical organization of academic life? If we consider any institution's administration, would it be, say, the assistant dean of students? It would not be the student assistant to the assistant, because students, by definition, are not part of the administration. But perhaps if you are part, and you merit a student assistant, you are entitled to consider yourself -- or better yet, be considered -- superior in status to another administrative position that does not so merit.
These are deep waters. They get no less murky if we consider faculty. If an associate professor is classified higher than an assistant, and an assistant higher than an instructor, what about an instructor with respect to an adjunct? Again, I believe, organizational distinctions begin to dissolve, the closer we get to the bottom of the hierarchy; adjuncts are simply not faculty -- or at least not faculty in the same way -- once the category is invested with some claim to permanence.
What about staff? Are the people who process financial aid forms entitled to feel better abut themselves than those who do paperwork in an academic department's office? There must be those at some institutions who do.
I don't believe any institutional organization authorizes the feeling, though, any more than it authorizes the feeling of any faculty member who gets mad at a clerk in financial aid for acting aloof. With staff, we are not so much at the bottom of hierarchy as to one side of it; an institution has to have people to keep accurate records and type clear reports but it does not derive its identity from these things.
Nonetheless, when everyone is accounted for, in the impossible and incommensurate ways in which the accounting can be done all across as well as up and down campus, I believe there is someone at the bottom: the janitor. An institution has to have people to clean the toilets and mop the floors. The janitor works close to the ground. The janitor works close to us, and so, although he or she may not get paid more than the grounds crew, he or she has some claim to be in some way comprehended by our organization. But how?
Even if not unionized, at most universities and colleges the maintenance people have ways of recognizing themselves. At the one university where I taught most of my career, a special newsletter eventually came about, including maintenance with clerical staff, noting special anniversaries or years of service, and featuring awards given by the administration. Nominally at any rate, maintenance people were considered part of staff, and staff part of the university, insofar as the administration was concerned. No matter that maintenance is not part of any university in the same way professors are.
Yet of course inside the institution it does matter. For starters, janitors are no longer "janitors." They are "custodians." A custodian told me so some years ago. Once a week, for the better part of two semesters, she used to knock early in the morning, whereupon I would stop whatever I was doing and pass my trash can over to her. We would chat for a minute or two, just as we did occasionally in the hallway.
She called me, "Dr. Caesar." I called her, "Dorothy." I took her to be uttering a term of respect. Although she always seemed quite comfortable with me, I never felt quite comfortable with her.
How close or familiar are professors expected to be with custodians? (That is, the ones who remain awhile. Most work in expectation of getting transferred, and eventually do -- to other buildings or other divisions.) Should we eat with them? Unlike Larry David, who, in an episode of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," takes his maid to lunch at his country club, in a helpless gesture of gratitude (she sits frozen and wordless), I never asked Dorothy to lunch. Like Coleman Silk in Philip Roth's novel The Human Stain, is it acceptable to have sexual relations with custodians? Another uncomfortable question. In fact, everything to do with any relation between professors and custodians is unhappy, beyond perhaps cordial greeting and remarks about the weather. No wonder custodians are situated at the bottom. We can get dragged down there with them, if we are not careful.
By the same token, no wonder that graduate teaching assistants who would unionize themselves make common cause with the custodial staff. Thereby, the question of a custodian's precise place or non-place within academic hierarchy is rendered, as we say, "academic." Of course we could also say it is transformed into the question of a teaching assistant's place, and thereby sinks beneath the organizational surface all over again. Custodians can be represented. But they do not represent themselves, and so we may well consider the one in Joyce Carol Oates's novel, Marya, who regularly leaves Marya's desk drawers slightly open and puts out cigarette butts in her potted plants. A middle-aged black man, Sylvester seems to be filled with resentment against the young professor. But he does not speak.
And what would be say if he could? That despite his membership in a union, he still suffers the indignity of being at the bottom -- and of being treated as if he was at the bottom? Whatever my relations with custodians, I do not think I ever realized so fully that they could not effectively speak to me until I taught in Japan. At my university, middle-aged women in white uniforms and bakery hats cleaned the toilets. Middle-aged men mopped the floors. Everybody seemed to ignore them. They were not even invited to various of the university's annual celebrations (which included staff). In fact they were employed by an independent cleaning contractor, and so, as "outside" persons in the remorseless Japanese sense, it would be, I was assured, "unthinkable" to consider them in any way part of the university.
Fair enough. And yet there they were, inside the walls anyway in the most intimate ways, several times a week. The women shyly shrank when I said hello. One man in particular always smiled. Did they accept their position utterly, in ways unimaginable to me? Would an American counterpart such as Sylvester be, in turn, unimaginable to them? Part of what we say about ourselves as academics is founded upon what we say of our custodians, beginning, ideally, with some acknowledgment of the fact that they have not themselves entered into our discourse or that we probably enter into theirs in unknown, troubled ways.
A reshuffle of the institutional order might benefit custodians. Trouble is, somebody is always going to be at the bottom of any hierarchy. I cannot imagine an academic institution without hierarchical terms. But I can offer a memory of one provincial university in China where I taught 20 years ago. The distinction there between senior teachers and "young" teachers (nobody spoke of graduate teaching assistants) was familiar enough to me. So was the evident separation between faculty and administration (including Party officials). Where I had problems was with the relation between either of these two groups and "staff." This was not only because of the egalitarian Party ideology, whereby everyone consisted of the People, and the People consisted of everyone, all the way down.
Our chair was known as "dean." An elaborately discreet man, he never let on until nearly year's end that in fact he was engaged in a long-standing struggle to obtain a divorce from his wife. It was a very intricate story, beginning with the fact that she was from the countryside and now refused to agree to the divorce because it apparently meant she would have to return there. We knew his wife, the dean added. She was the custodian in the building where we taught. In fact, she lived there!
The dean mentioned a broom closet down the hall. Next day, I went to check. Damned if the closet was not, well, roomy. Somebody could sleep there, although you would probably have to be Chinese. Most Americans would never think of sleeping there, but somebody could. And you would certainly have to be a professor in China not to feel embarrassed or self-conscious at disclosing your marriage to a custodian.
Not only was the dean's marriage unexceptional in the China of that time; it may have been to the dean professionally advantageous (his wife demonstrating his proletarian affinities). Just so, we cannot imagine anything other than professional disaster for a dean in the United States at the present time marrying a custodian. For better and undoubtedly worse, it remains hard enough simply to imagine what administrators and professors have to say to the custodians who move among them, as if everybody was part of the same institution in pretty much the same ways, although it would probably be best for everybody, top to bottom, not to say too much about it.
Terry Caesar's last column was about students who leave in the middle of class to go to the bathroom.
A few weeks ago, sitting over a cup of coffee, a writer in his twenties told me what it had been like to attend a fairly sedate university (I think he used the word "dull") that had a few old-time New Left activists on its faculty.
"If they thought you were interested in anything besides just your career," he said, "if you cared about ideas or issues, they got really excited. They sort of jumped on you."
Now, I expected this to be the prelude to a little tribute to his professors – how they had taken him seriously, opened his mind to an earlier generation’s experience, etc. But no.
"It was like they wanted to finish their youth through you, somehow," he said. "They needed your energy. They needed you to admire them. They were hungry for it. It felt like I had wandered into a crypt full of vampires. After a while, I just wanted to flee."
It was disconcerting to hear. My friend is not a conservative. And in any case, this was not the usual boilerplate about tenured radicals seeking to brainwash their students. He was not complaining about their ideas and outlook. This vivid appraisal of his teachers was not so much ideological as visceral. It tapped into an undercurrent of generational conflict that the endless "culture wars" seldom acknowledge.
You could sum it up neatly by saying that his professors, mostly in their fifties and sixties by now, had been part of the "Baby Boom," while he belonged to "Generation X."
Of course, there was a whole segment of the population that fell between those two big cultural bins -- people born at the end of the 1950s and the start of the 1960s. Our cohort never had a name, which is probably just as well. (For one thing, we’ve never really believed that we are a "we." And beside, the whole idea of a prepackaged identity based on what year you were born seems kind of tacky.)
One effect of living in this no-man’s-land between Boomers and Xers is a tendency to feel both fascinated and repulsed by moments when people really did have a strong sense of belonging to a generation. The ambivalence is confusing. But after a while it seems preferable to nostalgia -- because nostalgia is always rather simple-minded, if not dishonest.
The recent documentary The Weather Underground (a big hit with the young-activist/antiglobalization crowd) expressed doe-eyed sadness that the terrible Amerikan War Machine had forced young idealists to plant bombs. But it somehow never mentioned that group’s enthusiasm for the Charles Manson "family." (Instead of the two-fingered hippie peace sign, Weather members flashed a three-finger salute, in honor of the fork used to carve the word "war" into one of the victims’ stomach.) Robert McNamara and Henry Kissinger have a lot of things to answer for – but that particular bit of insanity is not one of them.
Paul Berman, who was a member of Students for a Democratic Society at Columbia University during the strike of 1968, has been writing about the legacy of the 1960s for a long time. Sometimes he does so in interesting ways, as in parts of his book A Tale of Two Utopias; and sometimes he draws lessons from history that make an otherwise placid soul pull out his hair with irritation. He has tried to sort the positive aspects of the 1960s out from the negative -- claiming all the good for a revitalized liberalism, while treating the rest as symptoms of a lingering totalitarian mindset and/or psychological immaturity.
Whatever the merits of that analysis, it runs into trouble the minute Berman writes about world history -- which he always paints in broad strokes, using bright and simple colors. In his latest book, Terror and Liberalism, he summed up the last 300 years in terms that suggested Europe and the United States had grabbed their colonies in a fit of progress-minded enthusiasm. (Economic exploitation, by Berman’s account, had nothing to do with it, or not much.) Liberalism and Terror is a small book, and easy to throw.
His essay in the new issue of Bookforum is, to my mind, part of the thoughtful, reflective, valuable side of Berman’s work. In other words, I did not lose much hair reading it.
The essay has none of that quality my friend mentioned over coffee – the morbid hunger to feast off the fresh blood of a younger generation’s idealism. Berman has fond recollections of the Columbia strike. But that is not the same as being fond of the mentality that it fostered. "Nothing is more bovine than a student movement," he writes, "with the uneducated leading the anti-educated and mooing all the way."
The foil for Berman’s reflections is the sociologist Daniel Bell, who left Columbia in the wake of the strike. At the time, Bell’s book The End of Ideology was the bete noir of young radicals. (It was the kind of book that made people so furious that they refused to read it – always the sign of the true-believer mentality in full effect.) But it was Bell’s writing on the history of the left in the United States that had the deepest effect on Berman’s own thinking.
Bell noticed, as Berman puts it, "a strange and repeated tendency on the part of the American Left to lose the thread of continuity from one generation to the next, such that each new generation feels impelled to reinvent the entire political tradition."
There is certainly something to this. It applies to Berman himself. After all, Terror and Liberalism is pretty much a jerry-rigged version of the Whig interpretation of history, updated for duty in the War on Terror. And the memoiristic passages in his Bookforum essay are, in part, a record of his own effort to find "the thread of continuity from one generation to the next."
But something else may be implicit in Bell’s insight about the "strange and repeated tendency" to lose that thread. It is a puzzle for which I have no solution readily at hand. Namely: Why is this tendency limited to the left?
Why is it that young conservatives tend to know who Russell Kirk was, and what Hayek thought, and how Barry Goldwater’s defeat in 1964 prepared the way for Reagan’s victory in 1980? Karl Marx once wrote that "the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living." So how come the conservatives are so well-rested and energetic, while the left has all the bad dreams?
Scott McLemee writes Intellectual Affairs on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
As Commissioner Bud Selig and several prominent players attempted to evade subpoenas for recent House of Representatives hearings on baseball’s steroid problem, Rep. Henry Waxman observed, “What strikes me is that baseball doesn’t want to investigate it and they don’t want us to investigate it.” The California congressman summed up baseball’s policy as “don’t know, don’t tell.”
This “Selig Strategy” could also describe the academy’s response to indications that the nation’s humanities and social sciences departments suffer from a lack of intellectual and programmatic diversity. Calls for outside inquiries have been denounced as violations of academic freedom, while few if any signs exist that the very internal academic procedures that created the problem can successfully resolve it.
Instead of imitating baseball’s strategy of trying to cover up relevant information, the academy should bring transparency to the now-cloaked world of faculty hires and in-class instruction, compiling and publicizing the necessary data, probably through college and department Web sites. Such a response would allow the educational establishment to employ the habits of the academic world, namely reasoned analysis through use of hard evidence, to address (and, when false, disprove) specific allegations of ideological bias. At the same time, the exposure associated with greater transparency might deter those professors inclined to abuse their classroom authority for indoctrination.
Calls for any greater openness have encountered fierce resistance from some quarters of the faculty — as seen in many of the contests for the American Association of University Professors' governing council, for which balloting concludes on April 15. Four of the ten races (Districts 1, 3, 8, and 10) feature one candidate who defines academic freedom as chiefly a tool for protecting the professoriate’s dominant ideological faction -- to the point of resisting outside scrutiny and limiting publicly available information about academic matters. In a fifth race, for District 7, both candidates have endorsed this vision. This cohort has deemed transparency a negative force, and instead has outlined a vision of:
Imagined reality, in which leftists and far lefists -- despite myriad surveys suggesting their substantial overrepresentation on the nation’s campuses — represent a besieged minority in the academy. In 1999, for instance, District 8 candidate Ellen Schrecker doubted that if “America was to enter another Vietnam War,” junior faculty members would “express themselves as freely as we did in the 1960s.” Though the professoriate’s outspoken hostility to the Bush administration’s Iraq policy belied this prediction, the platform of District 7 nominee Jeffrey Halpern nonetheless continues to assert, "The exercise of free expression among tenured faculty is being radically curtailed in the name of national security." Radically curtailed?
Professorial privilege, in which faculty possess an apparently unlimited right to bring their political agendas into the classroom. After a 2001 job action by the California Faculty Association included calls for professors to insert pro-union statements into their course syllabi, District 1 candidate Susan Meisenhelder scoffed that administrators who protested the policy overlooked how “important university traditions such as academic freedom” allowed professors to infuse their courses with political material. In this vision of the academy, undergraduates, like administrators, cannot even publicize their dissent. In early 2005, Schrecker charged that students who criticized the imtimidating behavior of anti-Israel professors of Middle Eastern studies at Columbia University wanted “to impose orthodoxy at this university, often in the name of academic diversity.” Better, evidently, for universities to cover up classroom misconduct, especially if the professors in question are expressing the preferred viewpoint on contemporary foreign policy issues.
Freedom from oversight, in which faculty members are responsible to no one and the goal of professional organizations is to conceal information that faculty ideologues find inconvenient. District 3 candidate Roxanne Gudeman promises to contest "unacceptable intrusions” that seek “to monitor and censor the political, ideological, and ethnic backgrounds of members of the academy and their teaching and research.” (Gudeman also champions ethnic and racial diversity programs, which, if nothing else, monitor the “ethnic backgrounds of members of the academy.”) District 10 candidate Michael Bérubé has committed himself to fighting "concerted and well-organized attacks on the professoriate,” including calls for an advisory board for Title VI area studies programs -- as if professors, alone among recipients of federal appropriations, are entitled to receive public moneys without legislative oversight.
The polar extreme of these viewpoints, of course, is David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights (ABOR), which the AAUP has formally condemned as a political intrusion into the academy. The “Selig Strategy,” however, represents a remarkably ineffective response to the ABOR movement. Public support for ABOR derives from a perception that most professors have little interest in restoring intellectual diversity to the academy. In light of scandals at such prestigious institutions as Columbia and Colorado, faculty organizations issuing blanket assertions that all is well in their ranks and dismissing outside criticism as illegitimate only reinforces the impression that the professoriate has something to hide regarding the ideological tenor of classroom instruction.
There are, of course, occasions — the McCarthy Era was one, the early stages of the Vietnam War, perhaps, another — that justify aggressively utilizing the principle of academic freedom to prevent inappropriate outside scrutiny. But higher education, like baseball, is an institution whose survival depends on public support. Just as Mark McGwire sacrificed the public’s trust when he told congressmen that he would not “talk about the past,” so too will higher education’s public standing be diminished by continued claims that academic freedom allows the professoriate to ignore allegations of ideological bias. Even institutions not reliant on taxpayer support cannot long flourish in an atmopshere of widespread public distrust of the academy’s values.
Fortunately, a middle ground exists between the “Selig Strategy” on the one hand and having state legislatures dictate classroom content on the other. Transparency — not a claim that academic freedom prevents public scrutiny — represents the most effective way to respond to criticism of bias among the professoriate. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” noted Alan Charles Kors and Harvey Silverglate in Shadow University, applying Justice Louis Brandeis’ famous dictum to the problems of higher education. The Internet provides an unparalleled opportunity to demonstrate the inner workings of the academy to legislators, trustees, alumni, and taxpayers. If professors have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear from drawing back the curtains regarding personnel and curricular actions.
To my knowledge, no university requires departments to publicly explain how and why they have allocated new lines. Imagine if every other year, every college department published on its Web site a statement about shifts in lines. For example, a religion department that had replaced one of four slots studying Christianity with one focusing on Islam might explain that it did so because of increased scholarly and student interest, post-9/11, or because the field had produced important new scholarship on Islam-related themes.
My own discipline, for example, has witnessed a sharp decline in positions in political, diplomatic, constitutional, and legal history over the past generation. Perhaps intellectually compelling reasons exist for dramatically shifting staffing toward adherents of the trinity of race, class, and gender. Yet absent any public justification, it’s hard to think of a reason other than ideological bias why, say, the University of Michigan’s History Department, whose ranks already included five U.S. women’s historians, used new lines to hire three more specialists in women, gender, and sexuality — all while the department lacks even one historian currently working in U.S. foreign policy.
Even more discouraging, despite the credible allegations of in-class bias by professors, I know of no university that requires faculty members to publicly post their course descriptions, syllabi, assignments, and lecture notes. The latter requirement, admittedly, would mean more work for professors, in that notes would need regular updating, but it also would provide concrete evidence that faculty members are always revising their in-class presentations to reflect new scholarship in their fields, while seeking to teach the subject matter at hand rather than attempting to shape their students’ viewpoints on controversial contemporary issues.
Of course, this strategy also would expose improper conduct to the light of day — as when Professor Joseph Massad, of Columbia’s Middle Eastern studies department, informed one class that “Israelis introduced plane hijackings” to the Middle East and that Zionist leader Theodor Herzl allied with “anti-Semites” to “help kick Euro[pean] Jews out.” Faculty members committed to the indoctrination approach could theoretically post neutral lecture notes while maintaining wholly biased classroom presentations. But such a strategy would constitute outright deception on the part of the professor, behavior that few administrations would be likely to tolerate.
In their platform, Schrecker (who has darkly hinted of an Internet-related “virtual McCarthyism”) and her cohort oppose any movement toward greater transparency. Might they fear that sunlight would confirm some or all of the outside critique of ideological bias? More ominously, do they speak for a majority in the academy?
“The thought police,” Harvard professor Stephan Thernstrom recently observed, are now “not just outside, on some congressional or state legislative committee. They are inside too, in our midst.” The educational establishment can imitate baseball’s 1990s strategy and ignore the problem, hoping that no one notices the ever more powerful internal threat to academic freedom. But, as Bud Selig and Mark McGwire have just discovered, the “don’t know, don’t tell” approach entails substantial risks. In this situation, transparency, not utilizing “academic freedom” to shield professors from outside scrutiny, represents the best course for the academy to adopt.
KC Johnson, a professor of history at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center, is a visiting professor at Harvard University for the spring 2005 term.
It’s not always easy for professors to embrace technology. We find ourselves questioning everything from whether the transition to cyber-learning is really worth it to wondering how and when we will "master" working with computers. In a tenured profession, some think it’s better to stay in our safe, traditional worlds of literacy. Nevertheless, most of us realize that we cannot avoid our new century and the new pedagogical challenges created by its technological advances.
Having made that decision, more questions arise. If we change our courses, do we risk lowering the quality of our teaching because we are simultaneously learning how to teach with computers while also learning how to evaluate their effects? And even as we multi-task, writing e-mails to students while we surf the Web for the perfect text to teach tomorrow, can we ever keep up?
As we begin to realize the benefits and drawbacks of computerized writing, it may seem like there is an endless road of new learning challenges. As academics, we don’t often move as quickly as technology, and yet we also know that analyzing and reflecting on innovation is our ethical responsibility. Are professors today doing enough to use, improve, reflect and criticize our use of computers as tools to teach writing and support learning across the curriculum?
Despite the fears and uncertainties conveyed by these questions, it is beyond doubt that our students’ learning and literacies have changed because of the use of computers. We must understand and adapt to computers, hypertext, and ultimately learn as much as possible about our disciplines’ experiences in cyberspace because our students demand it of us, and because language is always changing. Essentially, we must move to the point where we focus on ways to fuse academic discourse with our students’“netspeak.”
Since the 1980s, writing teachers have increasingly focused on the need for their teaching to reflect the ways technology and traditional literacies are converging. In her 1998 keynote address to the Conference on College Composition and Communication, Cynthia Selfe, an early adapter and leading authority on teaching writing with computers, remarked that we "have, as a culture, watched the twin strands of technology and literacy become woven into the fabric of our lives."
All college teachers, and particularly writing teachers, must now learn to avoid overly narrow, official, 20th century versions of literacy practices or skills if we are going to effectively reach our students as readers, writers, and thinkers. Whether we teach mathematics, biology, or literature, we all know that literacy skills are really the responsibility of all educators. It is no longer acceptable for professors to claim ignorance of using computers and the Internet while claiming to be literacy teachers in the 21st century.
Innovative thinkers like Selfe not only get at why we need to teach with technology, they make it clear that we need to offer concrete ways to use hypertext. Even "Web in a can" programs like Blackboard, Blogger and WebCT can be used effectively to get students and teachers reading, writing and thinking critically about all the literacies that are used in any college classroom. Through a blend of theory and practice, we want to encourage readers of Inside Higher Education to realize that just as our profession’s news has begun to move from paper to screen, we professors must make the same move too.
Computer technology has swiftly become our key writing tool but it’s too easy to imagine everyone "gets it." Just as we take writing samples to learn about the literacy levels of our students when we teach composition, we need to determine what computing skills our students bring to our classes because we need to teach students how to fuse traditional and online writing skill. For example, instructors of first-year college writing typically work with students to teach them how to do academic research and it has become increasingly clear that it no longer makes sense to shun the Internet for the "safe" confines of the library. However, research on the net means much more than typing a few words in to Google.
A more sophisticated approach to teaching students how to do Internet research involves showing students some of the ways online searches use Boolean logic, and this is simply accomplished by visiting the Google Guide.
This self-teaching Google tutorial will sharpen awareness of how the search engine works, and it will also help students in their library research as well. Also, by using checklists and guides, we can help students to critically evaluate sources on the Internet -- not just accepting what is written as an alternate form of "the gospel." A good example of this can be seen in some checklists, created by Jan Alexander and Marsha Tate, that can easily be used with any research-based college assignment. These checklists ask that students classify and validate Web sites, as well as help students think more carefully about the qualities of information that the Web sites present.
Of course it isn’t only students who have to think carefully and critically about computers, the way they convey information, and the way that they are perceived as learning tools. Teachers have to do the same thing because computers have changed our writing and learning worlds, and as educators we can never take these changes for granted. Andrea Beaudin, a professor at Southern Connecticut State University who teaches in a wireless, laptop equipped classroom is constantly amused at the ways her students perceive the technology in the classroom. Recently, she recalled “being surprised during a writing lab when I asked students to take out paper to start jotting down ideas, and a student said, “now it’s a real English class.”
Andrea’s story reminds us that there will be times and places for other types of literate activities in a computerized classroom. Just as Andrea asked her students to use the “old” technology of paper and pen to do the work of learning because she practices hybrid notions of literacy, we will continue to work at what Cindy Selfe calls “multilayered literacy” -- a literate practice where people “function literately within computer-supported communication environments” by layering “conventions of the page and conventions of the screen.”
However, conventions of page and screen certainly converge more smoothly in theory than they ever do in practice. Something as simple as deciding to create a Web page, choosing Web weaving software, and learning it, can be a huge step for most teachers. Both of us have experienced working through steep learning curves while learning to use new Web technologies. Four years ago, Chris moved from using raw HTML code to working with Adobe GoLive and Photoshop. At times, he wanted to shot-put his monitor through any open window. However, the end result was a personal Web page that looks better, contains more useful information for students, and is much easier to update. Right now Will is working through learning DreamWeaver, and he has already started to see new possibilities for his page.
Our point here is that even techie teachers get technological blues. However, once we begin to figure a few things out, then interesting and good things begin to happen. We learn a new skill, our students get better Web resources, and both teacher and students have yet another new technology to think through practically and critically.
Professors and students both need to think critically about technology. As a key part of the critical thinking, teachers need to focus on pedagogy and how it is affected and changed by computers. Maybe some things haven’t changed -- traditional, academic literacy has always converged with new ways to use language -- though it’s fair to say that computers certainly seem to speed up an exciting convergence of language uses. We educators are working in an exciting point in literacy development and we can be more mindful of why and how to use our computers. As the traditional classroom adds cyberspace, we must work closely with students and teachers to ensure that we enter new learning spaces with critical awareness and pedagogical wisdom.
Will Hochman and Chris Dean
Will Hochman is an associate professor of English and Christopher Dean is an assistant professor of English at Southern Connecticut State University.
Tasi. Stavanger. These are the names of actual cities. For me, these constitute something more: actual names from among the most remote locations in the fantasy structure of my career. I have never been to either city -- in Moldovia and Norway, respectively. (Fifteen years ago, the one had a Fulbright position, while a few weeks ago I noticed the other as the location of a job vacancy.) Yet how not to dream of going? I have always had a desire to work somewhere else.
Where? Just about anywhere. I used to joke with a former colleague about attractive job descriptions I chanced upon. It seemed he had already once applied to every one of the departments in question, and he always knew something precise about the geographical setting of each university. So much for my fantasy, whether or not somewhere I had no desire to go in Texas was actually (according to him) quite pretty, or somewhere else maybe more attractive in Indiana was in fact the most godforsaken place on earth.
Usually, though, the most important thing about a particular place is that it has simply been, or rather represented, Elsewhere. Anywhere can be elsewhere. At various points in my career, all sorts of places have suddenly and seductively appeared, from Waterford, Maine to Portland, Oregon. To apply for a job at respective universities there was to quiver at the romance of Arctic temperatures or to thrill to -- well, I never decided precisely what Portland evoked, although I could fancy myself bent over some dense volume at Powell's Books while drinking a steaming cup of latte.
What about the job descriptions? Finally, they never mattered. The institutions only mattered a little more. The decisive consideration was always geographical location. According to my fantasy terms, anywhere was just about an equivalent term with Elsewhere, although if I chanced to have some personal knowledge of a place, I usually ruled it out. (The region too remote, the town too small, and so on.)
Otherwise, I could not do so, at least for the purposes of an initial application. No wonder, therefore, that I virtually never got any interviews. My interest in any one specific position was not academic enough!
No wonder, also, that eventually I began to seek out employment opportunities abroad. Not only is the imaginative category of Elsewhere best -- most exotically -- represented by the Foreign. Many universities throughout the world cannot easily be known in terms of the exact circumstances of their location. So more or less through chance have I found myself, for example, teaching at one of China's most provincial universities as well as one of Brazil's most prestigious. In each case, I was content. I had gotten the location I had desired.
Just as good, the respective departments had no agonizing politics, the students no recalcitrant identity, and the universities no problematic status. To be fair, I'm sure there were issues in these respective places about which both professors and students felt great passion. But neither the issues nor the passion intruded upon a visitor's experience.The nice thing about teaching abroad is that you are just passing through.
Back home, on the other hand, there remain the colleagues with whom you try not to make eye contact in the halls, the students who still have to be told repeatedly not to leave their seats to sharpen pencils, and the deans who assure parents and congressmen that the reputation of the university has never been better. That is, back home you are an academic, for better or worse, in sickness and in tenure, till death or retirement do you part.
Elsewhere? Pure fantasy for most tenured people. Tasi? High-flyers only get invited to such places, for one-day improbable conferences on even more improbable subjects. Stavanger? Who knows who applies there?
Maybe they are people who never got a Ph.D., or tenure, or a break. But in any case, you yourself have to worry about tomorrow's meeting of the Curriculum Committee, not to speak of next week's seminar preparation, the cost of the upcoming summer's new roof for the house, or, surely by then, the reader reports for your manuscript that the press has had for, it seems, years. In three or four more you can apply for a sabbatical and then take the family to, well, London. But right at this moment London seems as much a fantasy as Londrina.
What about off the tenure track? There is undoubtedly a whole class of people in the United States for whom the Tasis and the Stavangers of the world are remorselessly real places because they are the only ones where full-time employment can be obtained. In addition, prior to 9/11, certain universities in the Middle East had larger academic expat communities, where scholars enjoyed salaries and private schools for their kids that they could only dream about back in the U.S.
In any case, though, few of these people are (or were) adjuncts. Granted, adjuncts do not have to serve on committees. In theory, they are free to go anywhere. In practice, few even dream of it. If there is an Elsewhere, it is just across town or 40 miles down the road -- or else more defined by the availablity of a tenure-track job than geography or culture. Not only are adjunct circumstances remorselessly local. Adjuncts have no security. You can only have a fantasy structure to your career -- you can only have a career at all in the fullest or most meaningful sense -- if you enjoy job security.
Rather than beginning my own career at somewhere in Missouri I had never heard of I began it at somewhere else I never heard of in Pennsylvania. Perhaps this is why Elsewhere has remained so vivid to me. What if I had made the wrong choice? However, in today's terms, at least I had a choice to make. Opportunities are more scare today.
Those fortunate enough to reside in full-time, tenurable positions now are likely to have secured them with few, if any, alternatives (except becoming adjuncts). In this respect, it seems to be one thing to have working conditions in which a fantasy structure of escape or travel is embedded. It seems quite another thing to have work that neither elicits nor provokes a fantasy structure to begin with.
And yet, these two things may not in the end be so different after all. Readers may recognize the title of this column to be the same as the title of one of Philip Larkin's poems. Larkin does not romanticize Elsewhere. He begins, "lonely in Ireland." Yet, strangely, he cherishes his separateness. Back home in England, he has "no such excuse." It would be more "serious" to refuse his own customs and establishments.
"Here," the poem concludes,"no elsewhere underwrites my existence."
Should this be the case? In the poem it simply is: the very conditions of our permanent lives require an "elsewhere."
Just so, I would argue, the academic conditions of the present moment, especially the most pure -- settled, tenured, on the road to the next promotion and well past the last mortgage payment -- virtually mandate being underwritten by elsewhere. But of course one could just as well argue that 'twas ever thus. Some imagination of such places as Tasi and Stavanger enriches our lives both as members of our communities or as separate individuals.
Our dreams of being somewhere else are every bit as important as the realities of being professionals in one place. Indeed, it is because we are professionals that we can have such dreams at all.