Humor/whimsy

Monsters University explores the value of diversity in college settings

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"Monsters University," more than being a comment on higher education, is a film about the limits of hard work and the value of diversity. It’s also “Revenge of the Nerds” with brighter colors and more limbs.

Exam Howlers

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Times Higher Education releases its annual compilation of amusing student writing.

Bryn Mawr unveils revolutionary, environmental email system

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Bryn Mawr unveils environmental replacement for email platform; new university rankings system announced; a dome is missing.

New Year's resolutions from a not-very-contrite professor (essay)

From: knottw@uap.edu
Professor Will Knott, English Defaultment, School of Obsolete Practices
To: gimen@uap.edu
Professor Neura Gîme, English Default Chair, U of All People
Date: Monday, Jan 4, 2016, at 10:00 AM
Subject: New Year’s Resolutions

Dear Neura:

Looking back on a tumultuous fall semester, I can see now that I may have made a few missteps. Some were acts of omission, such as such as neglecting to upload my grades from Spring 2015. Others were admittedly more commission, such as my metaphor emailed to the Faculty Senate, noting that, if brains were fuel, they wouldn’t have enough gas to drive an ant’s motorcycle around the inside of a Cheerio. Of course, I can’t take back what’s happened, especially since some of that has gone on the web. But New Year’s is a time for making resolutions, and here are mine:

1. I will try to be more aware of students’ sensitivities concerning classroom “hot” topics. Though I still think that the classroom is no place for figurative hand-holding, issuing a dozen trigger alerts per class, yes, probably does make a mockery of the system. And no one seems to like my attempts at satire.

2. As for open communication with the higher-ups, I suppose there’s really no need for me to air a scheduling grievance from a decade ago, especially with a dean who came to U of All People in 2014.

3. I should stop playing Spider Solitaire on my laptop at faculty meetings, especially since it wakes Arvy Winkle, sitting slumped next to me. I could take up Candy Crush, but it would be kinder to focus on the business at hand, even if it’s just another rigged clicker vote.

4. It’s time for me to show up for my virtual advising hours, though I’m still annoyed at the dozen students who crowdsourced a complaint, as well as that little creep who actually made an appointment and then stood me up when I did pose in front of the webcam. Maybe I also should switch from the current slot of Thursday 9:00-11:00 p.m.

5. I really must vary course material more. My Contemporary American Literature class, which I’ve taught for many years, still stops at Jack Kerouac. Who’s Jonathan Safran Foer? At least revise the Am Lit II survey final exam, which apparently has been posted on Facebook since 2011.

6. Do a little outreach, that stuff the provost keeps pushing to improve the school’s crappy PR. If Earl F. Oxford can teach Shakespeare at the library, I’m sure I could record a podcast on Kerouac to be made available at the local correctional facility.

7. Volunteer for more committee work. The Committee on Digital Media doesn’t really count, since we never received a budget. And the last time the Salary Committee met was in 2007.

8. Do more research and writing. I feel guilty about not getting back to my book about Kerouac’s typewriter, which I started in 2002. Maybe I should just turn it into a longish essay on Kerouac, or maybe just finish up that poem about a typewriter that my wife once said she liked. I could post it on my blog, Knott Kidding.

9. Forget old grudges. That implies saying hello to old Curt Mudgeon, who hasn’t spoken a word to me since our falling-out over some issue that, for the life of me, I can’t recall. Must I also be nice to the department office manager who ratted me out over the photocopy paper?

10. Remember to smile more, especially in class. “Prof Knot look like he take botox lol!” read a Snapchat post that someone forwarded me. Despite all my complaints, I do like my job, and at this stage in my life, I feel eminently suited to be a professor.

After all, who else besides academia would hire me?

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is Kanji Poems.

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U of All People strives to become a research university (essay)

At this September’s address to the minions at U of All People, the provost announced a new initiative: to become a Research I institution within the next 10 years (though the head of the Faculty Senate stage-whispered that this particular term is outdated). The next day came a correction: U of All People will become a doctoral/research-extensive or -intensive university -- or at least feature one doctoral program that’s not just in the planning stage, for chrissake (this from the Faculty Senate head, who has since been replaced by a marble bust of Sophocles).

But the idea is gaining currency here. Research schools get more money, enjoy more prestige and are eligible for reduced faculty teaching loads, so hey, why not?

First off, it’s obvious that we need a better library or information resource center or whatever they’re calling it nowadays. The Crabbe Memorial Library, built in 1955, looks its age. Never mind the decaying infrastructure or the mold problem, which a good dose of bleach could probably fix.

The collections are haphazard, depending on the discipline of the library liaison faculty member in any given year -- 67 volumes about trains, for example, from a history professor writing a book on 19th-century transportation -- and periodicals oddly slanted toward the psychology department. We have more microfilm readers than computer terminals, and you can count our databases on the fingers of one maimed hand. Though we have access to the Academics ’R’ Us search service, it barely yields results for anything beyond the last three years. Of course, we could subscribe to something like Lexis/Nexis/Protexis, but that costs. Maybe we can share expenses with the high school library in Francis, the next town over.

Second, we’d like a lower course load so that people can teach less and research more, “a chimerical idea” (comment by the provost) that the Faculty Senate has been pushing for 40 years. Our current 4/4 load doesn’t include the mandatory faculty tutoring for students at risk, implemented back in 2000, or the service requirement that involves a weekly fund-raising activity (last week, sitting in the Bean a Prof carnival booth for five bucks a shot).

More to the point: it’s difficult to pursue a research agenda when you have a stack of ungraded essays as high as an administrator’s desk. It’s been suggested that doctoral programs will allow us to recruit graduate students for slave labor teaching. It’s also been suggested, if we pursue that path, that we closely examine the Bolshevik Revolution for precedents.

Third, we need better funding for research. Ha-ha! Ah, ha-ha … cgha ghh [indecipherable coughing sound]. The Office of Research at U of All People consists of a converted janitorial closet that now houses a laptop and a guy named Dale, when he’s around. Grants are broadcast the month after their deadlines, and the last time this school saw an NEH proposal supported was back in 2006, when something accidentally got forwarded from the vice provost’s Outlook Express account.

The Summer Support Program at U of All People has been downgraded to Research Weekend. The annual grants proposal workshop, which once provided free coffee and pretzels, is now an online Q & A session with the biology department’s Professor Theodore Winkler, who once got a fellowship for something and is happy to share what little he knows.

Fourth, a Research I -- make that an expensive research institution -- should offer a full range of baccalaureate programs, at least according to the Carnegie Foundation, which should spend a day walking in our shoes. In fact, it might be nice to expand our range or update what we already offer, like the home economics program remastered as food services and management, or bring back the philosophy degree, abandoned after a survey showed that none of our three philosophy majors ever donated a dime to our coffers after graduation. We sort of envy U Too, the all-digital university that offers every online degree imaginable and some unimaginable.

Fifth, we need to award a lot of doctoral degrees, but that’s difficult when we don’t even have doctoral programs. Maybe offer a doctoral program in doctorology? All we have is a baby M.A. program in a few departments that shunt their students off to God knows where after they graduate. Perhaps other research institutions should be granting -- wonderful verb -- fewer Ph.D.s. That’s not our problem. We can’t award any degrees till we get the programs, we can’t feature the programs till we get support and we won’t get any support until we figure a way out of this catch-22.

But who knows? Maybe one day, U of All People will decide to give real research a shot and somehow buck the odds, up the standards and make the grade -- in which case, there’ll probably be some professors nostalgic for the old days, when all you had to do was sit in place in a carnival booth and get beaned by a host of resentful undergraduates.

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is Kanji Poems.

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Donald Trump becomes dean of Wharton School (essay)

PHILADELPHIA -- The University of Pennsylvania has announced that Donald J. Trump will become the next dean of the Wharton School, one of the nation's leading business schools. For months, Trump has been polling as one of the front-runners for the Republican presidential nomination, but in what some are calling a stunning move, he officially dropped out of the race at a news conference held here today.

“I think this is a bigger deal,” Trump said of his appointment. “I mean, it’s huge. Huge. It’s more prestigious, and quite frankly it pays better. And there’s more job security. Not that I need money, of course. Or a job.”

The Trump campaign has lost momentum following several Republican debates, where experts say Trump did little to win over women, minorities, immigrants and unattractive people. His lead in the polls, once 25 points, has shrunk as he has lost ground to a surgeon who also has no political experience. When asked if his decision betrays a sagging confidence in his ability to secure the GOP nomination, Trump remained steadfast.

“If you want to see me get back in the race and win this thing, I will,” he said. “But I don’t want to. I don’t need to. I can, but I won’t. I’m on to much, much better things.”

Trump’s appointment is a homecoming of sorts for the real estate tycoon. He received his bachelor’s degree in 1968 from the then Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, a fact he’s always eager to share.

“That was a good name,” Trump said, “a great name when I was here. In fact, one of my first moves as dean will be to reinstate that name. It was great back then, and it’ll be great again.”

The university’s president, Amy Gutmann, refused to address the prickly notion of renaming the school, instead focusing on the appointment of such a high-profile leader.

“We are thrilled to have Donald Trump as the next dean of the Wharton School,” Gutmann said. “His business acumen, leadership skills and fund-raising prowess will serve the school well as we continue to redefine business education in the 21st century.”

Gutmann also deflected questions regarding Trump’s previous foray into higher education -- the ill-fated Trump University, which was established a little over a decade ago and quickly dissolved amid claims of fraud and illegitimacy. Trump, however, did not demur.

“Look, Trump University helped a lot of people make a lot of money,” he said. “It was a great institution that was ahead of its time. I have no regrets, and you shouldn’t either.”

Trump mapped out his plans for his first semester in office, including raising the school’s rankings, securing donations, and strengthening the faculty and student body.

“This is a great place, but it can be better,” he said. “How am I going to make it better? I just am. It’s really that simple. I’ve made billions and billions of dollars dealing with complex things, and this is a complex thing that can benefit from my experience.

“The first job we need to do is become more selective,” Trump continued. “We let in too many losers. I mean, not really losers, but you know what I’m saying. I want to build a great wall around this place, a big wall that keeps out stupid people. I make deals all the time, and I’ll make deals with countries to get their best students. But I don’t want anyone from China. We’re losing to China. They’re eating our lunch. And definitely no Mexicans.”

One reporter asked Trump how he planned to gain the confidence of faculty given that he does not hold an advanced degree and has never taught.

“Look, I love the faculty, especially that one right over there,” he said, pointing to a woman in the third row. “I mean, look at that face. But, you know, I’ll deal with the tenure thing when the time comes. You can’t have deadbeats who don’t produce. It’s that simple. If you’re not the best in your field, you can get lost as far as I’m concerned. I’m the best at what I do, and that’s why I’m here.”

On the topic of being the best, Trump had choice words for Wharton’s competitors.

“We’re not number one,” he said, referring to the M.B.A. rankings, “but we are and we should be. I mean, come on, who really wants to go to Harvard or Stanford? They’re a disaster. With me as dean, it won’t be long before we’re ranked number one, or even higher. We’re going to hire great people. We’re going to make Wharton great again.”

Finally, Trump was asked why he hasn’t been more financially supportive of his alma mater despite having a self-reported $10 billion in net worth.

“When you have a lot of money like I do, you have to make tough decisions,” he said. “I have been very generous. As generous as I could have been? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean others shouldn’t give us a lot more. People support winners. I was a winner as a Republican candidate, and I’ll be a winner as a dean.

“It’s that simple.”

Mark J. Drozdowski is director of university communications at the University of New Haven. This is the latest installment of an occasional humor column, “Special Edification.”

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A scholar says academics shouldn't apologize for the popular entertainment they personally enjoy

I am a junior scholar with a secret: I enjoy Masterpiece Theatre’s British period drama Downton Abbey. Actually, “enjoy” is quite the understatement. And this is a very, very difficult thing for me to admit publicly.

You see, I do not watch much television. In fact, I do not even have a television. Like a “good” academic, I eschewed television watching quite some time ago and gleefully admit to this fact in certain circles -- as though a refusal to engage with popular culture by way of television watching is the academic’s badge of honor. If I watch anything at all, I stream it from my laptop as I deal with the mundane activities known to infiltrate daily life (e.g., washing dishes, chopping vegetables, folding laundry and so forth).

But I am practically addicted to Downton Abbey and can engage anyone in conversation about the brilliant characterization dreamed up and brought to life by its creator, Julian Fellowes. (Even Highclere Castle, the series’ setting, is a character in and of itself.) If I am so inclined, I can even be caught invoking a favorite line or two, as it suits my purposes (such as when the sassy cook, Mrs. Patmore, playfully suggests to the rigidly traditional butler, Mr. Carson, that if enjoying a candlelit dinner with his peers is “too democratically overpowering,” he is certainly free to explore other, less desirable options). In short, this series has left me actively refraining from counting the days until the sixth and final season airs in the States in January.

But why bring all this up?

As an academic, I find myself apologizing, or overexplaining, to other scholars my interest in this show should the topic arise. Clearly, the vast majority of the characters are white, and as such, it is not difficult to see my race represented, episode after episode. In fact, with few exceptions, race and racial diversity could not be further from the themes that carry through each season. The series mainly centers on class. Classist hierarchies, however fictionalized for ratings, dominate the narrative -- a detail consistent with the period in which the drama takes place. In conversations, I find myself explaining that I am quite “well aware of the racial and classist problematics,” as a way of introducing, framing and apologizing for my love of the show.

I am also what some might classify as a critical scholar. Indeed, critical race theory and critical whiteness studies are fields that have informed my dissertation, my research agenda, my scholarship, my work with preservice teachers and, frankly, my way of being in the world. A critical pedagogy in education is something for which I am a staunch advocate, and my life’s work involves teaching preservice teachers to deconstruct texts of all kinds for their racialized and oftentimes classist hidden curricula.

My musings about race in education have received mainstream attention, and I like to think that I am becoming more skillful at deconstructing my own positionality as a white scholar with significant unearned privilege, both socially and institutionally. I like to think that, year after year, article after article, conversation after conversation, I am becoming a bit more adept at what Professor Kevin Hylton of Great Britain’s Leeds Beckett University described in an article about critical race theory in Race, Ethnicity and Education (2012) as walking the walk, or “agitat[ing] for change and … [a willingness] to defend positions that are marginal, challenging and sometimes plain unpopular.”

Yet, in truth, my professional and scholarly life is often at odds with what sometimes occurs when I leave the classroom or the conference or put away whatever data I happen to be working with. And I find it utterly mystifying as to why an academic (or anyone, really) would have to defend the perfectly innocuous ways by which he or she experiences enjoyment.

The person’s defense often begins with three or four caveats explaining how he or she “absolutely knows how problematic [insert television show, movie, book, genre of music here] is,” and how “sorry” he or she is to have to admit this, but boy, does he or she enjoy [insert television show, movie, book, genre of music here]. It’s as though the only acceptable engagement with “less critical” forms of popular entertainment are those about which the problematic components are publicly acknowledged, or better yet, explicitly tied to critical research and teaching agendas -- as though we are not entitled to personal lives and downtime free from scholarly theories and deconstructive practices.

In truth, I find the entire dance utterly exhausting. I am acquainted with critical colleagues who enjoy rap and country music, graphic novels and reality television. I can quote, practically verbatim, the apologies and explanations that precede these admissions, as though enjoying, for example, Eminem’s music (however problematic, depending on whom you ask) somehow undermines one’s entire research agenda, academic accomplishments and larger professional goals. As though engaging certain texts for the sheer enjoyment of it is a dirty little secret, acceptable only in the context of acknowledged “problematic themes,” critical theories and apologies. My dear, dear colleagues, do trust: this is an exhausting way to be.

And so it is here that I will publicly vow to not be an exhausting academic when it comes to my colleagues’ interests. I look forward to hearing of your passions and hobbies -- perhaps they will become my own. Indeed, this is some of the stuff I live for. I relish in a catchy tune, a fun book or a television series that has inspired my own learning and inquiry into an era or topic about which I was only superficially knowledgeable before, however fictionalized for ratings.

And here is another dirty little secret for you: I read a romance novel recently and just loved it -- as in a bawling-into-my-blankets kind of love. And I assure you, my professional identity has not imploded, my years of teaching experience have not vanished into thin air and my Ph.D. has not burst into flames upon consumption.

Christina Berchini is an assistant professor in English and education studies at the University of Wisconsin Eau Claire.

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Image Source: 
PBS
Image Caption: 
Masterpiece Theatre's Downton Abbey

What presidents really mean when they write to alumni (essay)

From: Seymour Gelt, President of U of All People

To: Our Recent Graduates, Friends and Families

Happy New Year! In China, this is the Year of the Green Sheep, which betokens fortune and prosperity.

[It’s easy to contribute money online. Check out www.uap.com/donate.]

If you’ve visited campus recently, you might have been surprised by our recent growth. At the far end of campus is our new No Sweat Rec Center, with its 12,000-square-foot yoga space, ergonometric juice bar and personal trainers in a two-to-one trainer-student ratio.

Opposite from the rec center in more than location is the Six Flags Food Court, with fast food from over five nations, including ours. Stop by our Mexicana stand for a plate of re-refried beans!

[Got money? Go to www.uap.com/donate.]

But it’s easy to get money for the amenities. It’s far harder for the humanities, where the last banner year was over a decade ago, when 2002 alumnus Greg Aryus donated $100 for a couple of library books. Well, never mind the humanities, which are hopeless these days in consumer branding. As an English department faculty member recently remarked, “Shakespeare belongs to everyone,” a lovely sentiment but not, I think, one that can be monetized efficiently.

For that matter, the natural sciences, too, have experienced setbacks, though the cyclotron accident in Mayhem Hall this past June can now be safely put behind us. The only bright light at the end of the tunnel is our Shekels School of Business, which managed to place a record 33 percent of its graduates last year, if “place” is interpreted as some kind of activity for some kind of remuneration.

[Donating money online is easy, through our intermediary makeapledge.com! Just go to www.uap.com/donate, and click on the empty-coffer icon. For non-liberal arts graduates: a coffer is a box for holding money.]

Of course, times have changed. The purpose of a university education has grown a step beyond college sports, casual hook-ups and drinking. With the national economy on the skids so long that slave-labor internships look good, it’s understandable that students demand jobs at the end of their four, five or six years here. As a recent graduate asked me just the other day, “How come I took courses in Plato and trigonometry, but the only postgraduation job I could snag was holiday helper at Kmart?” To which I could reply only, “Was that you in the green elf costume?”

[Remember your alma mater! www.uap.com/donate]

Of course, another reply is to note the very real achievements of some of our graduates:

Angelo “I’m no angel” Angelino, class of 2011, is now deputy assistant at the AMA, Association of Mob Affiliations, having recently survived what he good-humoredly calls “a brush with the law.” He’s recently donated a warehouse of major appliances that “fell off the truck.”

Dominique (Dom to her friends and clientele), class of 2008, is now mistress of her own dungeon, putting her double major in psychology and leisure science to good use. Always on the lookout for a few good subs, she’s just put out a new ad: “Check out my brand-spanking-new equipment -- and new spanking equipment!” She’s recently sent in funds for the construction of three Dom dorm rooms -- all sub-basement, of course.

[Got a business to advertise? Place a notice in the UAP Recording Angel alumni magazine, at www.uap.edu/record-ang/ads]

Here on campus, we haven’t exactly been idle, either, though the salary freeze since 2006 has prompted some to start enterprises on the side. The latest to do so is Professor M. T. Soote in Business, who’s begun an entrepreneurial institute that has already parlayed three bake sales into the Comestibles Exchange, with a trading value of $5 per cupcake.

[Psst! It’s cool to give! www.uap.com/donate]

That’s about it for now -- in fact, that’s all we have -- though please remember to keep us posted, via the megaphone icon, just to the left of the empty-coffer donation icon. In addition:

  • Check out our revamped website, www.uap.edu, which includes links to all available social media (like us on Facebook!). This month, we’re offering a virtual UAP lapel pin for the biggest alum donor-tweeter.
  • Attend homecoming, which this year will feature a special reception for our largest donee, To Be Announced.
  • Drop in. The campus is probably somewhat as you remember it. Check out your old haunts and recall a time when food fights didn’t mean squabbling over who gets to eat.

[U of All People: Where begging for funds has become a way of life. www.uap.com/donate]

With open hands out,

Seymour Gelt

David Galef directs the creative writing program at Montclair State University. His latest book is the short story collection My Date With Neanderthal Woman (Dzanc Books).

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Hack of Ashley Madison website for affairs reveals many .edu addresses

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More than 74,000 accounts on Ashley Madison adultery site had .edu email addresses. Which college has the most participation on the website for affairs?

A professor's lament about students and their cell phones (essay)

Across the campus I walk
Nary an opportunity to talk
Student heads are a-sway
Faces cocked not my way
No one can say that they gawk

Cell phone ostriches all
The screen enough to enthrall
Be it Reddit or Twitter
No people to consider
A virtual social withdrawal

There is no humane conversation
Instead just digital sensation
Likely social media
Or perhaps Wikipedia
An obsessive compulsive fixation

Before each class they gather
In silence, because they’d rather
Consume Facebook postings
Of acquaintances' boastings
Than discuss the subject matter

With heads stuck deep up their apps
We could be on the verge of collapse
But completely distracted
Attention span contracted
They’ve deadened their neural synapse

But pleased are the powers that be
Social control achieved painlessly
Critical senses are dulled
Manipulated and lulled
Works better than even TV

The smartphone as rose-colored glasses
Religion it certainly surpasses
Fighting alienation
Self-narcotization
A digitized opium of the masses

Please lift your head from the cloud
Look forward, no longer bowed
Stand erect
And reconnect
And join with the human crowd

Did I just detect a soul breaking free?
An uplifted expression of glee
No, I was mistaken
We are still forsaken
’Twas nothing more than a selfie.

David Jaffee is a professor of sociology at the University of North Florida.

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Image Source: 
Getty Images

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