• 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.


Takes on a Plane

Reflections amid turbulence.


January 25, 2015

Saturday brought a pretty good storm to this area, apparently as a sort of opening act for the Repent-Your-Sins Level storm we’re supposed to get on Tuesday.  Saturday afternoon found me flying into Bradley airport, in Hartford, in a nasty little puddle-jumper.  The combination of a strong storm and a small plane led to sustained turbulence of a severity I had never experienced.    

After several minutes of bouncing around the sky, one’s mind wanders a bit. What follows is a pretty accurate reconstruction of my takes on the situation, as it just kept going and I tried to distract myself.

After the first set of jolts:

The “universal community college” thing seems to contradict the “undermatching” hypothesis. The point of the attack on “undermatching” is the idea that community colleges aren’t worthy of good students.  But if they aren’t worthy, then why make them universal? Has the Obama team figured out that the “undermatching” theory was never a good idea?  Or maybe they’ve failed to connect the dots? Hell, it took me more than a week, and I live this stuff. Or maybe they see community colleges as a sort of “public option,” forming a sort of competitive floor for the rest of the market? Or maybe they know it won’t pass, so they aren’t sweating the contradictions?

At a certain point, the logic of universalism and the logic of meritocracy conflict. They work well together to the extent that they allow the folks who judge merit to look at a larger pool.  But once they start looking, it’s all about stratifying. High school is universal, but we have pretty rigidly defined “good” districts and “bad” ones, with property values to match.  Is that the direction community colleges would go?

After the second set of jolts:

You know, I wouldn’t have to do this if we had decent high-speed trains. At least if a train gets caught in bad weather, the worst that usually happens is it gets stuck. I still think it’s ridiculous that it takes several hours to get from Springfield to Boston by train, when it runs at all.  Now they’re talking about “high speed,” and still saying two hours. No, no, no.  It’s 90 miles. Make it an hour. Back in Jersey, that was about how long it took from Princeton to Penn Station on NJ Transit.  It’s totally doable.  Stop in Springfield, Worcester, Boston, done. Hell, add Pittsfield on the other end.  

But noooo.  

After the third set of jolts:

Okay, this is stupid. I know we’re not going to crash. Planes don’t crash from turbulence. No need for drama. But still. I’ll be damned if my last living act on this planet is listening to Taylor Swift. (Takes off headphones.)  

After the fourth set of jolts:

I never really noticed how calming an upright tray table can be if you stare at it long enough…

Here’s hoping all my Northeast peeps get through the Tuesday storm safely. For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t recommend spending the blizzard on a plane.


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