• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

Synchronous courses, old friends, a mystery solved and a tribute.

April 3, 2020

I’ve been reading all sorts of apocalyptic warnings about the dangers of synchronous online teaching, but the feedback from faculty and students locally has been notably positive. Granted, it’s early days yet and people are, so to speak, grading on a curve. But even granting that, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how pleasantly surprised many folks have been.

I’ll admit being concerned about course completion rates this semester, but if they come in lower than usual -- which I suspect they will -- it will be tough to disentangle the effects of synchronous online teaching per se from the effects of midsemester disruption and the effects of economic shocks (lost jobs in the retail sector) and parenting shocks (sudden homeschooling). If ever there were a time to back off on the usual accountability measures, this is it; confounding variables are thick on the ground.

As the shock and novelty wear off, we should start to get a truer read. In the meantime, though, we’re incorporating more synchronous options into our summer course plans.


Paradoxically enough, the forced isolation of the last few weeks has made it easier to reconnect with old friends in other states. I had a chance this week to talk to High School Friend on Wrong Ocean for a while, as we both fought off boredom. TW has been even better about it, devoting each night to reconnecting with someone different. Unlike normal times, at least now, there’s a very good chance that folks will be home when you call.


The Great Toilet Paper Panic of 2020 has its first good explanation. Apparently, the TP market is really two markets: commercial users and residential users. They two kinds are produced differently, often by different companies. When folks were forced to stay at home, the usual balance of demand between commercial and residential uses shifted to an unprecedented degree. Since TP isn’t a high-margin business, and demand is usually pretty steady, the producers of the residential kind don’t have a lot of spare production capacity.

Although one could read that as pessimistic -- the shortages may linger for a while -- I found it comforting. The popular assumption of catastrophic hoarding is likely overblown; we can explain the shortage without assuming mass psychosis.

Kudos to Will Oremus for answering the question we were all afraid to ask.


Finally, a tip of the cap to the late Adam Schlesinger, best known for his work with the band Fountains of Wayne. He was a year ahead of me at Williams; when I think of him, I remember how he looked at 21. He had a sort of hangdog look that made him seem much older.

If you’ve never heard it, the song “Hackensack” is a quiet bit of genius. It works on every level.

One Eph to another, it was too soon. It was much, much too soon.


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