Faculty members housed in several main academic buildings at the University of Dayton were surprised Thursday to receive an e-mail from the institution telling them to take down "homemade" and "personal" signs on their office doors and in hallways, lest they be removed by maintenance personnel. Some faculty members said it was a violation of academic freedom, fearing they were being censored. "This includes information about campus events (e.g. a talk) and photos of historic figures (Nelson Mandela or Adrienne Rich), articles from newspapers, as well as anything that would note advocacy (and safe place) for any group/individual who needs it," one professor wrote in an e-mail to an academic listserv. "Is this happening at other universities you work at? How do I fight back?"
But Cilla Shindell, university spokeswoman, said the e-mail, sent at the request of campus maintenance, was merely a reminder of existing guidance that faculty members should install small bulletin boards instead of hanging things directly on doors or walls in those buildings, which were refurbished several years ago. Greg Scholtz, director of tenure, academic and governance for the American Association of University Professors, said the organization has no policy related to wall or door hangings, and a university policy against them would violate academic freedom only if it was a form of censorship. Still, said Carolyn Roecker Phelps, associate professor of psychology and president of Dayton's Academic Senate, "Personally, I do think it detracts from what we consider the life of the university. ...You can see it when you walk down the hallways. Where there are things posted on doors there are exchanges happening. Even without the person being [in his or her office], it adds a richness I think will be lost."
The teaching assistant at the University of Iowa who mistakenly sent nude photographs of herself to her class is no longer leading the section, the Associated Press reported. The photos were sent as an attachment that was apparently meant to be a file with the answers to homework problems. The university said that the TA is still employed, but is performing non-teaching duties.
The University of Kansas has ended the suspension of a professor whose Twitter comment about the National Rifle Association angered many -- but the professor will not be returning to class this year. David Guth "has been assigned additional non-classroom responsibilities in the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications for the remainder of the semester, including various service and administrative assignments," said a statement from the university. "Those assignments will be completed away from campus to the greatest extent possible. The decision, made by Provost Jeffrey Vitter and approved by Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, is based on the recommendation of a seven-member committee of faculty and staff, assembled at the chancellor’s request. The committee was asked to assess the current environment and recommend whether Guth could return from administrative leave without disrupting the student learning environment."
Lesley University adjuncts announced their intent to unionize Thursday under the auspices of the Service Employees International Union, which is driving a larger unionization movement across the Boston metropolitan area. The SEIU is mobilizing adjuncts across other metro regions, including Washington. Tufts University adjuncts voted in favor of a union last month, but Bentley University adjuncts voted against a union, they announced this week.
"By strengthening the support for part-time faculty we will improve the educational experience, and as a result advance enrollment and retention," Stella Johnson, adjunct professor of photography at Lesley, said in a news release. "We look forward to working together with the administration to solving the issues that confront our campus and profession and give higher education a brighter future."
Jack Dempsey, a longtime adjunct professor of English and public speaking at Bentley and part of the organizing committee there, said he was surprised and disappointed by the outcome -- 100 votes against and 98 for -- but said that Bentley adjuncts and SEIU were planning to appeal the decision. Because the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, preceded the voting deadline of Oct. 3, it's possible that more "yes" votes arrived at the National Labor Relations Board Office by the deadline but could not be certified as timely and counted by the time the shutdown ended, he said. Adjuncts at Bentley want equal pay for equal work compared with tenure-track professors; health care insurance coverage; and "contract rights," including hiring preferences for veteran adjuncts and compensation for courses canceled at the last minute.
The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee is questioning how the National Endowment for the Humanities awards its education grants. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama sent a letter this week to Carol M. Watson, the acting chairwoman of the NEH, in which he demanded the agency explain its peer-review process for funding grants that explore “very indefinite” questions.
Sessions pointed to seven grants the NEH funded that seek to explore the following questions: “What is the meaning of life?”, “Why are we interested in the past?”, “What is the good life and how do I live it?”, “Why are bad people bad?”, “What is belief?”, “What is a monster?”, and “Why do humans write?”
“In the current fiscal environment, I question the appropriateness of such grants,” which ranged from about $23,000 to $25,000, Sessions wrote. He also expressed concerns about an NEH-funded program called “Bridging Cultures: Muslim Journeys Bookshelves” that distributed books, films, and other resources to more than 900 libraries around the country and provided money to hold discussion forums.
The program, according to an NEH press release, “is intended to address both the need and desire of the American public for trustworthy and accessible resources about Muslim beliefs and practices and the cultural heritage associated with Islamic civilizations.” Sessions said that the program raised questions about the use of federal funds “on behalf of just one religion,” and demanded that NEH provide an itemized list of similar programs related to sects of Christianity and Judaism.
Earlier this year, the House Appropriations Committee introduced legislation that would have cut the budget for the NEH nearly in half for the current fiscal year that began on October 1. The House Republican budget plan this year said that the NEH “can no longer be justified.” In March, Congress approved legislation in March that prohibits the National Science Foundation from funding political science research unless a project promotes national security or U.S. economic interests.
It is not the first time that our cat, Finn Segal, has disappointed us by failing to live up to our expectations, but this may be the last straw. Perhaps most disconcerting is that even now he shows no concern and has stubbornly assumed his usual meatloaf position in a sunny spot.
It’s not that Finn, with a little training, could not master the computer keys. He is already adept at stepping on the capslock and delete buttons. And he darn well has a working knowledge of the internet; it’s just that this slacker would rather spend 8 hours a day watching cat and chipmunk videos on YouTube than applying himself to “International Finance.”
Especially galling is the fact that not only could our cat have been a contender, but he also let slip through his paws the definitive answer to the time-honored question of “Just who’s smarter: dogs or cats?”
In fact, I will wager a six-month supply of Revolution Parasiticide (for fleas, ear mites, and heartworm) that Finn was the first to complete an online class. Just last winter, we enrolled in an online course in "Introduction to Poetry." While it is true that we registered under my name alone, Finn was with me every step of the way.
Moreover, I am now willing, given the present circumstance and dismaying news about Pete, to come forward with an admission: Finn logged more hours than I did. By the fourth lesson, he had moved into the alpha chair in the study, freeing me up to take care of other tasks around the house and the town. I have many warm memories from that time, when I would peek into the study and see Finn curled up on my desk chair, quietly napping as a soothing voice read from the works of John Keats, Sylvia Plath and Wallace Stevens.
As of today we are instituting a new instructional regime for Finn. He will still be allowed to go outside and he will still be permitted to watch YouTube -- but only after he has completed his M.B.A.-related coursework for the day.
After all, if he could complete a session devoted to the poems of John Ashbery, Finn should have no trouble at all with “Taxation and Accounting.”
Carolyn Foster Segal is professor emerita of English at Cedar Crest College. She currently teaches at Muhlenberg College.
The Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) has learned that the Title VIII program – a U.S. State Department program that funds language training and research in Eurasian and Eastern European studies – did not receive an appropriation for the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Because the money is typically allocated one year and spent the next, that means a significant reduction in the number of fellowships and grants available in 2013-14.
The budget for Title VIII had already sustained cuts: while the funding level averaged about $4.5 million per year throughout the early 2000s, it was cut to $3.3 million in fiscal year 2012, according to an analysis of the funding situation that ASEEES published in its newsletter earlier this year.
“Government seems to be shortsighted in cutting these small programs that have large outcomes," said Lynda Park, the association's executive director.
"I think just about every specialist in our field who was trained in the last 25 years was impacted by Title VIII in one form or another.”
ASEEES is maintaining a list on its website of programs that will be suspended for the 2013-14 year. The association is advocating for the restoration of funding for 2014-15.
Not long ago,this column took up the perennial issue of academic prose and how it gets that way. On hand, fortunately, was Michael Billig’s Learn to Write Badly, a smart and shrewd volume that avoids mere complaint or satirical overkill.
Bad scholarly writing is, after all, something like Chevy Chase’s movie career. People think that making fun of it is like shooting fish in a barrel. But it’s not as easy as shooting fish in a barrel: to borrow Todd Berry’s assessment of his comedic colleague, “It’s as easy as looking at fish in a barrel. It’s as easy as being somewhere near a barrel.” Besides, it’s gone on for at least 500 years (the mockery began with Rabelais, if not before) so it’s not as if there are many new jokes on the subject.
But Billig did make an original and telling point in his critique of pure unreadability – one I neglected to emphasize in that earlier column. It has come into clearer view since then thanks to a new book by Carl H. Klaus called A Self Made of Words: Crafting a Distinctive Persona in Nonfiction Writing (University of Iowa Press).
Klaus is professor emeritus of English at the University of Iowa and founder, there, of the Nonfiction Writing Program. He is also a practitioner and critic of the genre of the personal essay, and A Self Made of Words seems largely addressed to the students, formal or otherwise, who want to learn the craft. Scholarly discourse rarely assumes the guise of the personal essay, of course. But Klaus’s insights and advice are not restricted to that literary form, and his book should have a tonic effect on anyone who wants his or her writing to do more than paint gray on gray.
To put it another way, A Self Made of Words doesn't stress writing in the personal voice, but rather the persona that always operates in writing, of whatever variety, whether formal or informal, autobiographical or otherwise.
Klaus wrote an earlier book called The Made-Up Self: Impersonation in the Personal Essay (Iowa), which I have not had a chance to read, but I assume he there goes into the original use of the word persona, meaning, in Latin, a mask, of the stylized kind ancient actors wore on stage to project a character. The author of even the flattest and most objective or empirically minded paper creates or displays a persona while writing: one that is self-effacing and indistinct, yes, but that manifests its authority through self-effacement and the absence of first- and second-person communication.
Impersonality, in other words, implies a persona. So does the introspective voice and intimate tone of a memoirist, with countless shades of formality and casualness, of candor and disguise, possible in between. The persona is not something that stands behind or apart from the written work, though it may seem to do so. The raw material of the persona is language itself -- not just the vocabulary or syntax an author uses, but the differences in intonation that come from using contractions or avoiding them, from the mixture of concrete and abstract terms, and from the balance of long and short words.
Klaus devotes most of the new book to how those elements, among others, combine to create effective writing -- which is, in his words “the result of a complex interaction between our private intentions and the public circumstances of our communication.” It is not a style guide but a course of instruction on the options available to the writer who might otherwise be unable to craft a persona fit to purpose.
Which, alas, is often the case. Michael Billig did not discuss the academic author’s persona in his book on how to write badly and influence tenure committees – at least, not as such. But it is implicit in his argument about how apprentice scholars orient themselves within the peculiar, restricted language-worlds their elders have created while fighting to establish their claims to disciplinary claims.
In effect, they learn how to write by wearing the personae they’ve been given. And there’s nothing wrong with that, in itself; the experience can be instructive. But the pressure to publish (and in quantity!) makes it more economical to rely on a prefabricated writerly persona, stamped out in plastic on an assembly line, rather than to shape one, as Klaus encourages the reader to do.