Our recent annual “America’s Best Churches” issue drew more than the usual deluge of reader and parishioner complaints. Hence it behooves me as editor of U.S. News & World Report to again offer a public explanation of our much-misunderstood church rankings methodology.
In thanking those who took the time to write, I would remind all in the community of believers that our rankings are intended as a public service to aid spiritual consumers in making one of life’s highest-impact personal choices. We claim no infallibility in our rankings. We strive to provide accurate, user-friendly data to allow seekers of quality worship to do their homework and grasp truth with full confidence that they are comparing apples to apples. Yes, we visibly spread the word about the handiness of our shopper’s tool, but we can’t be held responsible if certain churches choose, for example, to display, as a recruiting come-on, their U.S. News ranking on a banner atop their steeple.
We reject the assertion that church reputations are made or broken based on tables published once a year in our magazine. Nor do we find any signs that “America’s Best Churches” encourages a “one-size-fits-all” path to the mountaintop. Frankly, any American who would build an entire cosmological belief system on a two-or-three-point rise in a church’s year-to-year U.S. News ranking should probably stop, take a deep breath and meditate a bit on values, personal style, and the theistic limits of magazine journalism.
As proof of our good faith, we have always been willing to consider critiques of our research metrics and make warranted adjustments in our process for arriving at the rankings. That is why we have urged restraint upon those outspoken theologians who in recent months have been encouraging church ministers to boycott our informational surveys: A boycott will only make it more difficult for our researchers to compile a full portrait of America’s religious marketplace and present all good-faith competitors on a level laying field.
Neither our openness to methodological challenges nor our efforts to keep our influence in perspective, however, should be taken as a sign that houses of worship shouldn’t continue to seek ways to improve. Indeed, many of our reader complaints stem from feelings among congregants that our surveys failed to capture such measurable steps forward as energy-efficient stained-glass windows, form-fitting cushioned pews, and imported communion wine.
Some critics charge that our emphasis on counting average Sunday service attendance unfairly favors urban congregations over rural ones. But in recent years we have refined the formula for balancing the actual turnout with the local population’s potential. And we’ve enhanced accuracy by verifying the numbers reported by church secretaries with spot-checking through on-site visits by independent observers.
As “America’s Best Churches” has evolved over the past decade, we have adopted recommendations from our “loving critics” that we loosen some of the criteria that give higher rankings to the more doctrinaire denominations. We trust that this year’s methodology no longer penalizes parishes that favor folk masses or Christian rock over traditional organ music.
Our much-maligned “enforcement of dogma” measurement, which detractors complain is biased against Unitarians and favors Catholics and evangelicals, continues to prompt soul-searching among our nonsectarian team of clerical advisers. Suggestions for further improvements are welcome.
Matters of faith are -- don’t we know it -- highly subjective. The only dogma we maintain at U.S. News is a staffwide conviction that theology consumers who’re feeling their way to divinity should not be left to approach the deity without an up-to-date and well-packaged scorecard.
One admittedly self-interested point: It is true that “America’s Best Churches” has become one of our brand name’s top publishing successes. But as a private corporation, we don’t consider that a reason to do penance. We are hard at work on the first edition of “America’s Best Mosques and Temples.” We think you’ll find it enlightening.
Charlie Clark is senior editor and director of press relations at the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
At U of All People, Dr. Henry Fenton rose from humble instructor to professor of sociology, then to dean of liberal arts and finally to assistant provost, before retiring. Somewhere in the late '80s, he converted to Buddhism, noting that all higher education was an illusion. His style of administration exuded great calm and judgment and was admired by all except the faculty, the staff and the students. A cardboard plaque outside his former office, paid for by anonymous sources, reads “Zen and Now.”
Many on campus who knew the doctor cherish a signal event that touched them, such as the Writing of the Great Memo, which stretched from 1995 to 1999, or the Task Force of Enlightenment, which concluded that all the issues on its agenda would take ten thousand lifetimes to fix. Others recall the doctor’s dung-colored robe that was given to him by a visiting dean from Tibet, or the "Out" box on Fenton’s desk marked “satori” that was always, miraculously, empty. “Existence is suffering,” he would often intone, “but at least we’re better off than at a state university.” Even those who didn’t care for Dr. Fenton’s ways believe that he raised the art of administration to such heights, it appeared as if he were doing nothing at all.
Once, when inaugurating the construction of a new parking lot by symbolically wielding the first shovelful of dirt, he was asked by a lowly assistant professor, “Tell me, Dr. Fenton, how do you know where to start?”
The doctor scratched his head, looked into the middle distance, and smiled. “Any place where more parking is created will be welcome,” he replied. And with that, he heaved a clod of dirt into the assistant professor’s open briefcase. The assistant professor did not receive tenure, but the parking lot, now named the Henry Fenton Lot of Plenty, is revered by all who park there.
The following are some of Dr. Fenton’s more famous administrative maxims:
What is the sound of a committee with no one serving on it?
Start a study before there’s anything to look at.
Email circles endlessly in the ether.
Tenure cannot outlast death.
Before a meeting of the minds, one must have many prior meetings.
Every spring, the students return to Cancun.
Listen for the session inside the intersession: it is the sound of money.
While the faculty sleep, the pink butterfly wins the grant.
All budgets are an illusion.
To administer from home: this is contentment.
If we do not give ourselves raises, who will?
Walking along the path of rightness, here comes the provost.
Every graduation, the quad needs re-sodding.
The building of buildings acquires greater merit than the increase of faculty salaries.
Graduation is the beginning of all fund raising.
New curricula, new problems.
We are all disciples of the chancellor.
Academic scandals pass, and new ones take their place.
The wisdom of Miyazaki-sensei is useless unless he publishes his research.
Dean Ueda finally hung up on the irate alumna. The silence filled his office like a balm of nectar.
The Dean of Student Affairs is not what you think.
One foot in administration is two feet inside.
The art of saying no also involves saying yes and maybe.
The university is a universe unless it loses its accreditation.
Even a large donation cannot buy happiness. It can, however, purchase a new athletic facility.
David Galef is a professor of English and former administrator of the M.F.A. program in creative writing at the University of Mississippi. His latest books are the novel How to Cope with Suburban Stress and the co-edited fiction anthology 20 over 40.
At U of All People, we know a good thing when we smell it, and for a while we’ve envied other schools with lucrative foreign study programs in Paris and London so that students can learn French and English -- whereas all we have is a short-term exchange with the School of Applied Mechanics in Dumsk.
We’d like to change all that now, after hiring a new dean of liberal arts whose idea of travel stretches beyond Chicago, but apparently study abroad programs have grown so common, not to mention lucrative, that they poach students from each other. Got $7,500 to plunk down for a three-week biology course in the Galapagos (does not include cruise stateroom and snorkeling fees)? If so, we want your business and are willing to fight for it. Here’s what we’re prepared to offer:
Tired of being shut in seminar rooms for half the day while outside lies all of Seville, honking its horns? Try our open-air classes, which can take place anywhere from the top of a double-decker bus to a row of spread blankets on the beach. Catch a wave, check out that cute señorita, and discover the meaning of serendipitous learning!
Three months just to learn Italian verbs? Dud-io, get real! At U of All People, we understand that speaking a foreign language isn’t just about vocabulary but about absorbing the syntax of the culture. We offer restaurant Italian, club-hopping Italian, intimate Italian, and more! Let’s face it: do you want to know how to conjugate andare, or have a really good handle on the difference between spumante and gelato?
“All the comforts of home” may be a cliché, but it’s one we subscribe to. And that means we guarantee you dorm-style rooms wherever you go, special pizza and burger cafés, laptops and cell phones always available, and multiple ATM’s in every location. Got a craving for that favorite form of caffeine buzz back in the States? Our 24-hour courier service can obtain it for you at surprisingly unreasonable rates.
Scared of the tough Parisian prof who speaks an incomprehensible urban patois in between drags on his Gauloise? Worried about the grades you might get away from your coddling home institution? We’ve solved that problem by using hand-picked faculty from U of All People, professors just dying to go to overseas and therefore willing to jettison all professional standards. Check out teachers like “Doc” Munsey, the lit prof whose motto is “ A all the Way, from Paris to Calais!”
And speaking of courses, we’re creative in that area, too! We offer classes that are stimulating without being too consuming, enabling you to devote quality (and quantity) time to what really counts: checking out the action in the local bars. Here are some sample offerings for our upcoming spring semester in Prague: Shakespeare in Slavic Films, An Introduction to the Museums in Prague, and Emergency Czech.
If you (or your parents funding this boondoggle) still need more convincing, here are some more incentives:
Bad ear for languages? Nyet problema: in English, no problem! Many of our courses demand no contact with the natives, who hate America anyway, and for an additional fee, you can be accompanied by an interpreter wherever you travel.
Strapped for time? We offer terms as short as ten days—no, a week—no, three days—for those who have to get back to the States for that all-important frat party or charity fun race. You can learn a lot in a short space, especially if you don’t sleep.
Skirting academic failure and just want some time away? Our not-so-stringent requirements will make you smile, starting at a 2.0 GPA and only 10 credits already under your belt.
As for money, all tuition and fees may be paid on an equity basis to be arranged between you and your mortgage lender. We’re currently working on an indentured servant contract as an alternate route to payment.
So don’t delay -- check out what’s happening at U of All People Abroad today! Our new motto is “Going global!” and it’ll be true as soon as soon as we can work out those pesky visa arrangements.
David Galef is a professor of English in transition from the University of Mississippi to Montclair State University. His latest book is A Man of Ideas and Other Stories.
Faculty, community members, students and families arrived by snow machine, plane, or dog sled, or walked across frozen seas from surrounding villages. This is graduation in the Arctic at Chukchi campus, the northernmost branch in the University of Alaska System. Today, at commencement, it is a sunny and crisp 33 degrees. Younger residents don T-shirts and shorts.
Chukchi is situated in a place unimagined by most in higher education. The college, in Kotzebue, a settlement of 3,000 people, clings stubbornly to a gravel outcrop on the edge of the Chukchi Sea, where flat snow-covered tundra meets icy waters. Kotzebue is accessible by boat or air during three summer months; and by air, snow machine and sled in the winter.
Residents, students, and faculty live peacefully without ordinary facilities such as a dry cleaner, saloons, discos, or a car dealership. There are more snow machines and dogs than cars in Kotzebue. The town includes an airstrip for bush pilots. People headed to the landfill must pause for incoming and outgoing planes the way most students in America pause at a stop sign, looking for approaching vehicles. An itinerant hairdresser visits once each month and folks desiring a haircut schedule appointments. Only in late June and July are seagoing barges able to deliver gasoline. The price per gallon, nearly $6, remains until gas is delivered again this summer. Gas prices are expected to jump several dollars this July.
Life’s daily rituals and conveniences are all more extreme in the Arctic.
Kotzebue was founded in the late 1800s by the German Lt. Otto Von Kotzebue, sailing under the Russian flag. For 600 years the Inupiat Native occupied the area, trading ivory, baleen, various skins, wool, beads, bone tools and baskets with interior Natives and ocean visitors. As Russian traders and New England whalers introduced alcohol, firearms and disease during the 18th and 19th centuries, culture and commerce took a different turn.
Well-meaning missionaries, who endeavored to convince the “heathen” they were devil worshippers, also arrived. One legacy of exploration in the Arctic is, sadly, reflected in low rates of educational achievement for young men, and high rates of suicide, substance abuse and domestic violence, all problems that have been acknowledged by the elders and Alaska native leaders.
Graduation and commencement are celebratory as they are throughout the United States. There is great pride in finishing degrees. Chukchi campus also serves villages in the surrounding areas, through distance education programs. Students earn associate degrees, bachelor's and master's degrees.
The University of Alaska system is one of the few institutions that reaches inhabitants in rural and remote regions of the Arctic. UA scholars also engage in high-quality research on climate change, sustainable energy sources, high-latitude agriculture and in many other fields. On this day there are 20 hours of sunlight. Soon the sun will stay above the horizon for nearly a month; a far cry from winter, where, for a month or so, the suns rays rarely break the horizon, darkness prevails and temperatures sometimes drop to 100 degrees below zero. Residents are primarily Inupiat, joined by people of Asian, Siberian Yupik and Caucasian descent. Many are presently hunting waterfowl, seals and whales. For commencement, we are welcomed with muktuk, a specially cut section of whale blubber and skin -- a prized delicacy here.
On the graduation platform, as caribou meander outside, each graduate tells a story, each becoming a commencement speaker. Some depict amazing journeys through time and distance. Words are also spoken by students born into a U.S. territory, prior to Alaska statehood in 1959. There are palpable signs of relief and joy about obtaining degrees, even as the changing physical environment forebodes a warning more immediate than the tight job market.
Polar bears are moving south and inland in search of food, one apparent result of the shrinking sea ice. Tell the whale and walrus hunter that global warming is untrue or overstated and risk a reaction of confused or mournful anger. In the Arctic, the debate on climate change loses its polemical steam. Seas are opening, temperatures are rising, glaciers are retreating, villages and languages are disappearing. Whether present conditions result from anthropogenic influences, or Earth’s natural cycles, is of little consequence.
The graduation story at Chukchi is similar to what has occurred in America over the last 250 years. Alaska is the newest end point of an engaging American story. After all, Philadelphia, Boston and New York, like Kotzebue, were wilderness towns, claimed for their economic potential by European monarchs and the Dutch West India Company, the first multinational corporation. Resources were taken out of Colonial America; public policy was dictated by powerful external corporate entities.
The history of the U.S., like Alaska, has been a triumph of local control and self rule over benevolent outsiders. People came to Alaska to be free, to escape prejudice and conformity, to transcend the icy stares of those who admonish us to fit in and lament our lack of qualifications to do so. Others were brought as slaves. Indigenous peoples suffered tragically as history repeats itself.
Alaska today remains a place where dreams are made through hard work and second chances. Kotzebue itself is a town that encourages people to start anew, to conquer adversity, and to strike out in ways not normally accepted.
Which brings me to my topic this commencement; the triumph of the human spirit in extreme places. Extremes nourish the creative spirit. Indeed, extremes on the frontier underpin the most essential traits in the American character: restless inquisitiveness, exuberant confidence, a masterful grasp of the practical, pragmatism, an acute sense of destiny.
Through adaptation and resilience, we overcome personal and physical challenges. We change the future by changing ourselves in the present. An extreme place is the common denominator. Inevitably extreme places sustain different life styles, new businesses and ideas. Alaska is a creative place. I am certain this trait is linked to a highly competitive environment where life’s essentials, shelter, food and community are hard won and cannot be taken for granted.
Commencement at Chukchi represents the possibility of a new beginning. Life can be lonely and harsh, but it is precisely the juxtaposition of challenge, opportunity and freedom that draws us here. In extreme situations can we learn to live in harmony or test our potential as human beings.
Daniel J. Julius is vice president for academic affairs for the University of Alaska System of Higher Education.
It’s that magical time of the month: the faculty meeting.
I’ve only been attending these time-honored rituals for about five years, but I’ve noticed something a little unsettling about the behavior of my colleagues: Though some are as quirky and unpredictable as the Chicago weather, many cling like spandex to the same role, month after month, year after year, agenda after agenda. They seem a little typecast -- much like an actor who is always The Ingénue or The Mustache-twirling Villain.
In the interests of taxonomy and comedy, I’ve identified and named some of these character types. See if you recognize any of the following roles, which you may have played with gusto, admired from afar, or suffered through in perturbed silence. All pronouns reflect the gender of the specimens at my college, but I trust males and females of all these types can be found in the academic wilds.
Also known as The Yammerer, The Eternal Flame, and He Who Has Fallen In Love With His Own Voice And Is Happily Married Until Death Do Us All Mercifully Part. The Yakker has made many a faculty member pray for death, even a painful one, if it would only distract from the all-too-familiar tones of this bottomless bucket of bloviation. Singlevoicedly, he adds a half hour to every meeting, for no issue of any kind can pass without The Yakker attacking it at length, in depth, and ad nauseum.
It’s not that The Yakker has nothing useful to say. Sometimes he makes a solid point, but because his comments come in such massive and predictable bulk, any quality is lost in the quantity, like a dead squirrel under six feet of snow. Faculty members who have been at my college for decades have given several full years of their lives listening to The Yakker. Yet I feel the greatest sympathy for Mrs. Yakker -- also on the faculty—who has sacrificed so much more for the cause, whatever that cause may be.
Just as Indiana Jones cautioned foes, “Never bring a knife to a gunfight,” these multitaskers believe one should never enter a faculty meeting without a tall stack of student papers. Always sitting in the back, preferably behind a post or big-boned colleague, The Grader is rude but efficient.
Since The Grader contributes nothing to the meeting, there’s not much to say about her. She does raise an interesting question though: I always wonder if papers graded during a faculty meeting are evaluated differently than papers graded in coffee shops, offices, or bathtubs. Does the constant drone of The Yakker cause The Grader to bitterly dish out Cs and Ds? Or do the students seem like paragons of sane clarity next to the blatherings and blitherings of faculty? Further research is needed.
Not far from The Grader, someone is getting a few winks in, and I don’t mean the sexually harassing kind. It’s hard to say whether this character is more courageous or cowardly. I’d never have the stones to openly close my eyes (and occasionally snore) in front of my peers, but The Snoozer does. Then again, maybe it’s more lily-livered to turn away from the budgets and bureaucracy of meetings in favor of the beaches and bunnies of dreams. But let’s move on from The Snoozer, lest we interrupt the flow of drool.
I once saw a literal, professional regurgitator on the Letterman show. This guy could swallow pennies, then immediately (ew) bring them back up -- and his most dangerous trick involved a light bulb. At faculty meetings, The Regurgitator performs a function that is not as impressive or gross: the perpetual reintroducing of ancient issues and settled arguments. If there’s a dead end we’ve already gone down seven or more times, The Regurgitator will intrepidly lead us there again. If there’s a deceased horse who has lacked flogging for even one meeting, The Regurgitator will raise the whip. Nothing is ever settled for The Regurgitator; nothing is ever pointless to discuss.
Warning: The Regurgitator may cause The Eye-rollers (a well-stocked segment of the faculty troupe who are like a passive-aggressive Greek chorus) to exert themselves to the point of optical damage.
At my college, we have a few different species of Wonk, but though they display different plumages and jargon, they are all pretty much the same. Each month, they bring forth handouts and overhead presentations about rules, policy, governance, technology, assessment, and many other technical matters. The Wonk -- usually a staff member, not faculty -- is greeted with a mixture of confused boredom, technophobic fear, wistful nostalgia, and defeated resignation to a lack of understanding. Ultimately, The Wonk is a sad (though occasionally informative) role.
The Voice of Reason
Lest you think I find every one of my colleagues a source of comedy or aggravation, there is at least one person I enjoy: She is The Voice of Reason. What The Yakker takes twenty minutes to say, The Voice of Reason covers in five. The Voice of Reason can explain The Wonk’s tired wonkery better than The Wonk, while politely and swiftly bringing an end to The Regurgitator’s gross performance. Even The Grader or The Snoozer might look up from their student papers and blissful slumbers to take note of The Voice of Reason’s ideas.
If The Voice of Reason were also The Dean, our college would have few troubles, and the hills would be alive with logic and common sense.
But then there would be no need for The Unknown Humorist: a role about which -- thank Zeus -- no details are available at this time.
Al Campbell is the pseudonym for an unknown humorist who teaches writing at a public university in the Northeast.
At U of All People, high-tech teaching is up for discussion, partly because a recent report from our regional accreditor report labeled us as “hopelessly mired in the past.” The evaluators suggested that we adopt smart classrooms, including PowerPoint and clickers in our lecture halls, interactive digital whiteboards and video hook-ups in the labs, and WiFi and virtual reality in our student recreation facilities. They strongly recommended that we provide laptops for all our incoming freshmen (after which, the computers could be passed on to needy faculty members).
But not so fast. We remember the days of the overhead projector and educational filmstrips, and we cherish the past because, frankly, it’s cheaper. This is just one reason that our motto for as long as we can recall has been “We remember.”
Accordingly, we’ve consulted with our public relations committee, and we think we might be able to drive an end-run around this current craze for technology by performing an about-face and kicking sand in the face of the technophiles. We call our movement “Back to the Basics,” and here are just a few salvos:
Those anatomically curved desk-wings with full electronic hook-ups are just an excuse to plug in rather than pay attention. There’s no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and taking notes the old-fashioned way. That’s why we at U of All People are bringing back desks with inkwells and real ink in them. We’ve also found a place that will supply quills at $10 per gross and foolscap and blotters at amazing values. When one of our literature professors intones, “Much critical ink has been spilt on this question,” our students will know exactly what he’s talking about.
Tired of faculty and students using copiers to effortlessly reproduce everything they see, as the evil progeny of the Xerox Corporation grows ever faster? Bring back the ditto machines!
Remember those unlovely hand-crank apparatuses that went ka-chunk, ka-chunk and spat out a page for every turn of the rotating drum? Remember that vaguely nauseating smell of ditto spirits, and the oddly purple text it produced? So do we, and we’ve found a whole slew of ditto machines in the basement supply room under Main Hall, along with cartons of stencils from the Kennedy era. Now those who want to create a handout will have to think twice before embarking on the effort: cutting shapes on wax-backed paper with a typewriter, not to mention fixing typos with a penknife and Liquid Paper. Now that’s pedagogical commitment.
Speaking of typing: Enough with those inkjet printers and their water-soluble text, as well as laser printers and their toner issues! We want to return to the days of tappety-tap-tap, still dear to the hearts of many old-time news reporters. For our Yellow Journalism School, we’ve located a stock of Olympia manual typewriters, guaranteed not to crash in the event of a power outage. We’ll restore the romance of the press, you’ll see! Just make sure to keep a carbon copy of whatever you write.
And finally, about those annoying whiteboards where the writing gets lost in the glare from the fluorescent light bulbs, and the multicolored markers dry out after five classes: We believe that a blackboard and chalk are more ecologically green than those newfangled nuisances, and we’ve recently re-slated all our classroom boards. Each faculty member has been issued a brand-new box of chalk for the upcoming semester, with instructions on choosing eraser monitors based on class performance. Clapping erasers used to be a privilege!
At U of All People, we remember.
David Galef is a professor of English at Montclair State University. His latest publication is A Man of Ideas and Other Stories.
The notion came to me while I was on the phone with customer service for Citibank. I was walking across the empty quad trying to keep my cell squinched between jowl and shoulder, fiddling with the lock on my old leather valise -- my father’s, really, but he’s long gone. “Andy” -- "Amitava," more likely -- was having trouble locating a recent payment.
It was one of those piquant days at the beginning of the semester, the afternoon air tinged with coming cold. The quad felt bright and still. I had finished a summer of intense work on my manuscript, Neo-liberalism and the Global Lyric, and I was feeling good about my prospects for promotion. It’s not easy being a tenured radical. I have deans to appease and undergraduates to offend. Most of all, however, I have books to write, and that’s not so simple as senior colleagues make it sound. I am close to finishing my second, making me ripe for promotion to full professor -- in spite of Horowitz and his humorless ilk. I deserve it, having slaved away my virile years as an associate professor. But I’m not quite there yet. I have to complete that sticky chapter on Poetic License and Creative Commons. Then the index.
“Sir! You there sir? Very good, sir. No. I can find no record of a payment to Amazon of two hundred five dollars and ninety-five cents. You say it was for the collected works of Carl Max?”
“That’s Karl Marx, Andy, volumes one through six, and I distinctly remember making that payment. The old fashioned way. By check.”
“Very good sir. Please await the outcome of my patient inquiry while I put you on hold . . . “
I dropped my father’s valise and looked up, pasting the phone against my face. The quad was suddenly swarming with undergraduates. They surged out of classroom buildings, krill in colored T-shirts: muscles flexing, breasts bouncing, smiles flashing like newly minted money.
They were back.
I had to teach.
When would I find time to write another word?
“Sir, I am very sorry to report that despite my best efforts I cannot locate any record of a payment on the works of Carnal Mocks.”
“Andy I will consult my records. Good day -- if indeed it is day in Bangalore.”
I’d begun my day in gladness. Despondency and madness was right around the corner.
My book. My promotion.
These damn students.
Then it hit me.
Why not ship these students overseas?
Why not relocate higher education offshore?
I’ve read Friedman. I know the world is flat. I’ve heard the reports on NPR about the low cost of high-risk surgery in the developing world. If middle-class Midwesterners can fly to Mumbai to resection their large intestines, if phone calls from New York to Cincinnati can be routed through the Punjab, there’s no reason higher education can’t become a big-time player in the global economy. Colleges across America could take much better advantage of our flattened world with its telecommunications, capital flows, and transnational mobility, ridding their campuses of an unseemly physical dependence on students.
I could finish my book.
I spun on my heel -- Bruno Magli, size 9 1/2 -- and struggled against the tide of teeming flesh toward my office in Eliot. I wanted to fire off a memo to the dean with the idea hot in my head. I am lucky to have tenure, of course, and my joint appointment with the Department of Cultural Studies at least gives me a platform for interdisciplinary work. But as recently as a week ago our associate dean for alumni development and faculty research had urged a group of us associates, over buffet bisque, to “think outside the box.”
His words hit me like a headshot: “bring us your fresh ideas. We have the money to fund them, especially if they save the College money.” He spat the words out with a kind of breathless intensity. They rang in my ears as I stepped into my office, slipped my key back into the pocket of my blazer (Armani) and snapped open my MacBook Pro.
In the subject line I typed “Thinking Outside the Quad”.
dear dean squelch,
i’m writing with a bold new idea i believe can save the college large sums of money that might be better directed toward funding faculty research or alumni reunions. it fits perfectly with the new initiative announced last week by the associate dean for alumni development and undergraduate education to encourage all students to spend a semester studying abroad. while I fully support that proposal, it think it’s far too modest. why not push it to its logical conclusion? why not require every student in the college of the liberal arts to spend his or her entire undergraduate career studying abroad, preferably in the developing world?
i’m sure you can appreciate the appeal of this initiative (I call it the GLOBAL EDUCATION IMPERATIVE), but allow me to describe it in some detail. as i see it, there are several compelling reasons to relocate all aspects of undergraduate education offshore. the first is economic, and even if there were no other reasons (but as you shall see, there are!),this one would justify the whole initiative. we are all familiar with the regrettably uneven distribution of wealth across the globe. as corporations have been quick to realize but universities have not, this unfortunate fact produces a similar unevenness in costs of production. considered as a commodity, higher education requires the same outlays in labor and overhead as a pair of air jordans. it seems reasonable therefore to follow the nimble lead of the nike corporation and implement a business model that redistributes the cost of producing undergraduate education to offshore locations notable for low wages and property values. I would recommend india and malaysia. both are attractive for robust telecommunications networks and deteriorating but serviceable physical infrastructure, minimizing direct costs to home institutions for internet access and student housing. even including overseas transportation, the per capita investment in offshore education falls far short of current tuition levels, accruing to home institutions a handsome increase in revenue with absolutely no adjustment in price.
perhaps you worry about the costs of staffing so many courses at institutions abroad. that’s no worry at all, since it concerns only local managers of offshore venues. here too india and malaysia are prime locations, possessing vast and undercapitalized human resources. those countries swarm with educated persons reduced to selling trinkets on beaches or washing windshields at stoplights. they would jump en masse at an opportunity to pursue teaching as a vocation at wages quite attractive to home institutions. in the unlikely event of a shortage of qualified teachers in these locales, it would easily be remedied by our regular overproduction of graduate degrees, particularly among exchange students. such circumstances could mean job placement for a whole cadre of graduate students currently devoting untold years of their lives to professional prospects that we all know will never materialize. The GLOBAL EDUCATION IMPERATIVE will find jobs for them abroad, much to the delight of their spouses, children, and dependent relatives.
maybe the single most attractive aspect of global education today, however, is the effect it will have on undergraduates. they will be as well-rounded as they are well-traveled. they will be, in the noblest sense, cosmopolitans as they experience first hand the dynamism and energy of life in a developing country, its collective creativity in the face national underinvestment, the everyday struggles of its brave, brown indigenous people. it is impossible to put a price tag on character, of course, but this much is incontestable: four or five years of undergraduate education abroad will enrich the souls of our nation’s youth, preparing them through extensive personal experience to live as global citizens in a world that one day will be as diverse and as highly leveraged as america.
finally, an outcome that is no less a boon for being obvious: students who study abroad do not study here. they do not clutter our classrooms. they do not damage the grass. think of the savings of manhours and womanhours spent preparing lectures, advising students, leading discussions, grading papers, filing grades, managing complaints -- all the distracting inanities of undergraduate teaching. let them fall to the parochial ambitions of the offshore workforce. let us reserve the vision and energy of home institution faculty for the higher calling of research. it would be a truism to say that distinction in academic research correlates inversely to time teaching.
the GLOBAL TEACHING INITIATIVE will minimize the latter and maximize the former, with the inevitable result, desideratum of any dean, that most departments in the college of liberal arts will see a rise, possibly a precipitous rise, in nrc rankings. only undergraduates stand between an active research faculty and its full potential. they remain the vestige of an earlier, balefully nationalistic phase in the development of higher education. let’s step into the twenty-first century. let’s globalize higher education. let’s ship these students offshore and maximize profit and profitability. allow me to conclude with a vision of the future of higher education: campuses free of the beer-swilling spawn of an overfed bourgeoisie; faculties free to realize full productivity as researchers, writers, and public servants, and most importantly, students free to learn the ways of life in a world economy turned global quad.
I pushed the send button without even proofreading. That’s how confident I am. And that’s how enthused I remain at the prospect of a university without students. I’m not clear yet whether my Dean will adopt the GLOBAL EDUCATION INITIATIVE in toto, but she e-mailed me the next morning to arrange a private meeting. Her tone was not the usual faceless gray. Words like “innovative” and “luminous” peppered her message. I even detected a hint of administrative promise, or do I read too much into the phrase “future advancement”? Imagine. Me, the dean of alumni development and global education. I could do it. I could implement the vision.
I wonder, though, if I could serve in such an important capacity and finish my book.
Paul Youngquist is a professor of English at Pennsylvania State University. This essay first appeared in issue 70 of the minnesota review.
In the last three years, the History Department at U of All People has revamped its course codes four and a half times in response to complaints that the current system was either obsolete, confusing or just annoying. Clearly some coding is necessary to distinguish between what’s required for all students and what satisfies the period distribution (almost anything).
In the wake of last semester’s color-coded system, which turned out not to show up on most computer screens, the History Department Central Course Code Committee has come up with a new system (see detached memo). Please follow these codes when advising students, and remember, if you don’t like the system, you shouldn’t have begged off the committee.
HI designates History, not to be confused, though many of you are, with the new HI or Human Individuality program started by the Psychology Department; or HIST, which used to mean History but which now merely shows that you’ve been at this institution for over a decade. Example: HI 103 stands for History 103, the Study of Historical Methods course that’s now a requirement for all incoming majors (see academic catalogue 06-07) and that we foist on adjuncts to teach.
If a course is marked as HIFM, that means it’s cross-referenced with the Film Department, as in HIFM 200, Filmed History, which is not the same as FMHI, History of Film (for some reason satisfying the pre-1800 period requirement in EN, or English). HIPI constitutes our collaboration with Political Science, though we didn’t think of the way it sounded 'til after it was too late to change. Similarly, HIPE is cross-listed with Phys Ed, though this is more a theoretical possibility than anything else.
In addition, here are some special designations:
HIRT: any course taught by Professor Richard Tuttenbaum, who should have retired a while ago. Given that Professor Tuttenbaum has been using the same textbook for years, a tattered copy of Don’t Know Much about History, no HIRT course may be repeated for credit, and in fact any HIRT course counts as only two out of the usual three credits.
HITR: History in Translation, specifically French, an idea thought up by Professor Ronald Lesoeur to get that semester abroad in Paris, but which remains untaught.
HIFI: this is a joke made by our audiophile committee member that somehow got into the minutes and was uploaded into the online listings and for some tech reason can’t be deleted but which may safely be ignored.
As for numeric designations: level 100 courses are introductory classes, level 200 courses constitute our overloaded sophomore surveys, 400 level courses are tougher than 300 level courses and therefore rarely generate sufficient student enrollment, and no one knows what 500 level courses are, since we have no graduate program in history.
As you go about your student advising this fall, please print out a copy of the new course codes and refer to them whenever the need arises. In the process, please ignore all previous codes. As Santayana never quite said, “Those who remember the past are condemned to get the codes wrong.”
David Galef is a professor of English at Montclair State University. His latest publication is A Man of Ideas and Other Stories.
Advising season at U of All People is upon us, that time of year when full professors hide behind their office doors, practicing the fine art of seeming to be unavailable as clueless students roam the corridors. One Comp Lit professor averse to the whole process thought he was being smart in printing, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” in 52-point Helvetica above his door, not realizing that those who seek advising often have abandoned all hope.
“Abandon all cash” is illegal to post, though a quorum of the faculty in the Economics Department voted to issue a price list for services rendered.
In one department that shall remain nameless (all right, it was Psychology), at least 30 students made it from their first freshman days to graduation without ever being advised. Equally damning, twice that number in Psychology who were advised regularly never made it past their sophomore year.
“Tell ’em what they need to do. Post the info. If they don’t access it, that’s their problem,” the Sociology Department chair liked to repeat, a policy called into question after the university lost a major lawsuit levied by a disgruntled student who was never told that she needed to graduate. Starting this year, therefore, U of All People has decided to streamline the whole messy process of advising with this handy set of guidelines:
Advising For Students
If you don’t know who your advisor is, log in at <www.uallpeople.edu/what-me-advise?> and follow the onscreen instructions. Once you locate your advisor, contact that faculty member at once (because, chances are, that person doesn’t know either), and set up an appointment to meet.
Please bring these documents to your advising session: a #2 pencil, a #2 eraser, a list of courses you’ve taken, and a list of courses you hope to take that will be utterly compromised by the end of your session.
To make matters easier for you, we now have these resources online:
To view your unofficial transcript, go to the registrar’s homepage, input the secret code that changes daily, and click on 1. To view your fortune, click on 2. To read the instructions in Spanish, register for Spanish 101 this spring.
Advising sessions should last at least 10 minutes, despite the Theater Department’s infamous 60-second takes or the Philosophy Department’s marathon periods of two hours.
Sample questions to ask your advisor:
What courses do I still need to graduate?
Does Rhythmic Swimming satisfy the Fine Arts requirement?
Questions not to ask:
Why do I need to take science when I plan on being a novelist?
Is it true that Professor Rudin gives A’s to students who go to his parties?
Codes for checking course availability online:
C: Sorry, this section is closed or has been canceled. O: This section is open for the next five seconds, so click now. N: This slot never really existed but was posted simply to get your hopes up.
Be advised that University 101, a core course that you need to graduate, is offered only every five years.
There is no longer a Finger-Painting concentration within the Art Department.
Depending on what year you entered, graduate requirements may differ. Check weekly to see what we’ve come up with.
You need 126 credits to graduate. Taking five courses per semester at three credits per course, you still won’t have enough. If this state of affairs bothers you, see our Maymester, Wintersession, and other revenue-boosting schemes.
Transfer credit: up to 30 grudging credits, and get it in writing because we may later deny it. As of September 2008, you may not transfer any course credit from the Storefront Community College that says it exists in Scranton, PA.
Advising For Faculty
Please show up.
David Galef is a professor of English at Montclair State University. His latest publication is A Man of Ideas and Other Stories.
Mice in a maze and little people: for many (especially faculty) who work in higher education on any number of campuses, this might seem an appropriate appellation for the characters in Spencer Johnson’s Who Moved My Cheese? The theme of this brief book, studied as illustrative text in many leadership and change courses taken by administrators chasing after an Ed.D., is to read the writing on the proverbial wall and embrace change.
The characters in this story, as part of their jobs, have to negotiate a maze to find cheese and then, when the cheese supply becomes exhausted, face the choice of remaining in place or of changing the way they look at things in order to find more cheese. Two, Sniff and Scurry, move on and ultimately find a new supply of cheese. Two others, Hem and Haw, stick around, exhibiting a sense of denial. Ultimately giving in to hunger, Haw moves on, following his two adventurous friends, while Hem stays put, never to be heard from again. During his journey of self-discovery, Haw scribbles inspirational sayings on the wall, hopefully for Hem to follow, and eventually finds his friends and a new supply of cheese. As the story winds down, a mysterious noise is heard “offstage.”
At the end, they all, presumably, live happily ever after as a result of their adapting to change. In viewing the situation in modern academe, however, this concept of change is often equated to being "fashionable," rather than having a productive purpose, and many, it seems, feel that in order to attract students, we must be fashionable. When we were growing up, the “happily ever after” ending was the ultimate goal; however, might there be a reason the Grimm boys and others never told us what “happily ever after” was really like? In the following story, I've explored one possible definition of happily ever after, set in a situation that may feel familiar to many. Our story begins shortly after the ending of Who Moved My Cheese?
“Well, that wasn’t so bad, after all, was it?” Scurry asked. He looked at Haw when he said it but his remarks seemed addressed to Sniff, as well. They sat in the room that was Cheese Station N, enjoying a nice camembert smeared over Ritz, washed down with cheap Cabernet from a cardboard box with a handy spigot Sniff had managed to locate and drag in. A week had passed since Haw had come straggling into Cheese Station N.
“What wasn’t?” Sniff asked.
“No. Because it’s what we do. We’re professionals. That’s why the organization values us, because we do what we have to do and we do it well. That involves being adaptable and flexible.”
“Maybe, but ask Haw here if it’s what he does, as well.”
“Haw did okay. It just took him a while to come around. But once he did, he did okay.”
“Why are you two talking about me as if I’m not here?’ Haw asked
“Because you’re one of the little people. They’re like leprechauns; they don’t exist.” Scurry said.
“Whoa! That’s way out of line. No need to insult Haw just because he took a little longer to come around.”
“Did I say that out loud? Sorry. No offense meant, Haw. It’s just that, as they say, if you’re not part of the solution you’re part of the problem.
“I’m not part of the problem. Didn’t I even author the “Handwriting on the Wall” to document our lessons learned?
“Only after you were forced into the publish or perish situation,” Scurry said.
“That is so not right!” said Sniff. “Where do you get off being so judgmental?”
“I’m his supervisor now. I’ll be conducting his evaluations from now on. Yours, too.”
“They. Them. Us.”
“You know…THEY. As in ‘ They say…”
“When did this happen?”
“Remember that noise we heard outside shortly after Haw showed up last week?? Well, I went outside to see what it was and it was the Big Cheese himself. He was so impressed with the way I scurried until I stumbled into this cheese cache that he offered me either early tenure or a nice pay raise and an administrative position. You’re now looking at the Associate Dean for Cheese Acquisition and Curriculum Development. That also makes me your boss.”
“If I remember correctly, I was the one who sniffed it out. That’s my job.”
“Details. Details. We’re getting away from the point.”
“There’s a point to this?”
“Well, yes. You have to admit things haven’t been running as efficiently as they could. Look how long it took for you to sniff out this room. And how long it took Haw to come around. We need to make some changes around here.”
“What kind of changes?”
“I don’t exactly know yet, but, well, changes.”
“Give me a for-instance.”
“That wouldn’t be right. WE need to come up with something. I’d like you all to be on board with this thing. After all, Wheatley says that people only support what they create, and I’d like to think I have your support.”
“You mean like adding to our course offerings? I’ve been thinking of an Advanced Edam course that would really benefit our students.”
“Not really, but I like the way you think. Keep guessing; I’ll let you know if you get close.”
“I’m not going to play this game. I’m busy. I have to continue refining my cheese-sniffing skills and prepare lessons and grade projects. Plus there’s the Gruyere committee, and the Brie committee and the Swiss committee, the faculty senate…”
“Good! I told you I like the way you think. We think you have too many outside responsibilities to concentrate on our true mission so from now on we won’t trouble you with having to participate in all those things. We’ve formed a Leadership Sitback Committee that will take care of all those things for you from now on. All of those piddly committees are going to be disbanded.”
“And what is a sitback committee?’
“You know. That’s where we sit back and tell you how it’s going to be.”
“Oh come on, Sniff. You know yourself this faculty has become too independent-minded. It needs to be brought under control.”
“Oh, really? And who’s on this leadership sitback committee? Any faculty?”
“Well…no. But your interests will be represented. By me.”
“What about shared governance?”
“Does the word chaos ring any bells? Remember that leadership seminar we attended? One of the slides? It’s the least effective of the organizational types.”
“I seem to remember that other types of effective organizations can grow out of chaos.”
“You’re twisting words instead of looking at the big picture, Sniff.”
“I see. Well, go do your thing; just leave me alone. I have a job to do.”
“That’s just it. I’m here to help. By the way…”
“We think you may be losing sight of the mission.”
“You know… we. The administration. And the trustees. The guys with the money? Hello?”
“Here it comes. The threats.”
“No threats. We’re all in this together; that’s what you’re not seeing. We work together to improve things.”
“Well, I’m all about improving things, provided someone can show me some rationale. Hell, even old Haw there is capable of change when he has the proper motivation. Haw? Feel free to jump in here any time, Pal.”
“Me? Actually Sniff, I like this change stuff. It felt good once I got into it. Not to mention I got to eat all the cheese I wanted once it was over. Who knows what other good things we’ll stumble across if we start making other things happen? Besides, my “Handwriting” article was well-received. My agent tells me he thinks he can turn it into a pop psychology best-seller if I expand it a bit.”
“I see. So I’m all alone in this, hmmm?”
“Don’t think of it as an us or them situation, Sniff. As I said, we’re all in this together. We all want the same thing, right?”
“I’m beginning to wonder.”
“Well, back to the mission…”
“I thought my mission was to continue sharpening my cheese-sniffing skills and then teach our students how to sniff out their own cheese.”
“That was last semester. The trustees seem to think we’re concentrating too much on Brie and Camembert and not enough on pasteurized process slices and Cheez Whiz.”
“I see. So a bunch of used car salesmen and insurance agents who managed to buy seats on the board know what’s best for our students now?”
“I’ll ignore that. They think we’re out of touch. They want us to partner with the community. They think the current job market involves finding more of the slices and the squirt stuff, not the exotics.”
“And food service and hospitality industries. In case you haven’t noticed; we teach a little of everything. They can specialize in whatever kinds of cheese they want to find, if they feel like limiting themselves.”
“Why are you being so defensive?”
“Ah, we’re going to put this on me now? I’ll feel free to defend good practices and I’ll also feel free to change when I see the need. When I get disturbed. Remember that one? What Wheatley said, since you want to bring the experts into this, about different parts of the organization get disturbed at different times? And they feel free to change in accordance with that disturbance? And don’t forget Calabrese’s discussion of pacing requirements, while we’re talking about time frames for being disturbed and for implementing change.”
“You’re getting hostile now.”
“I’m getting disturbed, but not by what you think. And I’m thinking of making a change or two, myself.”
“Don’t be like that. We’ve always been friends. Why turn against me now just because I’m sitting in a different seat? I’m just trying to be an effective leader, and you know, as Rost said, ‘real leaders intend real change’.”
“Don’t try playing that relationship card with me. You’re being a dweeb. And I believe he said ‘real leaders and followers intend real change’.”
“And he was talking about transformation as it applies to leadership. You’ve undergone a transformation, all right.”
“It’s not what you think.”
“Enlighten me. Bring me on board. Hell, I’ve always been proactive. I’ll embrace change in a heartbeat if it helps us accomplish our mission better. I’m all about transformation if the results are positive.”
“Ummm…that’s another thing: results.”
“There’s a problem with my results?”
“Well, I took a look at your DWFI rates after the trustees mentioned them and both I and the rest of the administration feel they’re maybe a bit high.”
“My students’ grades reflect their performance. By the way, I do have a bit of academic freedom, don’t I? I’m free to teach my courses however I deem best, so long as students who succeed can meet the stated objectives. The DWFIs are the slugs and oxygen thieves. If students show up and if they do the work, they succeed. It’s simple.”
“We were just thinking your standards might be too high. Instead of having them find 4 pieces of cheese throughout the semester, why not just two? And we all know life happens. If something at home prevents them from attending classes, well, is attendance really all that important?”
“If they can’t find cheese here under controlled circumstances, how are we going to expect them to find it for themselves when they’re out there on their own? I don’t want them going out there and having an employer say ‘who ever told you that you could find cheese, anyway?’”
“That’s their problem. All we have to do is document the process. And that brings me to another thing: accountability.”
“I know all about that.”
“Not like this you don’t. From now on we’re going to document everything: we’re going to map activities to stated learning outcomes. How many left turns they have to make and how many right turns they have to make to find cheese. How many sniffs per minute. That sort of thing. You know best how to do it; you’re the pro.”
“Exactly. They brought me on board because they felt I was the best at sniffing out cheese and I had a proven track record of teaching others to find cheese. I always felt it was the results that counted. If they survive my courses they can find cheese. And as I said, if they show up and do the work, they’ll survive my courses.”
“It’s not so much the results now as the process. Do we have a systematic, documented process in place to teach cheese-sniffing? If we do that, the results will take care of themselves.”
“Don’t be sarcastic. I’m trying to help here and you’re not being much of a team player. What are you afraid of? Move beyond that fear, as Johnson says.”
“The only thing I’m afraid of is that you’re moving the cheese yourself and telling me I should anticipate it. I read, I keep abreast of changes in my field, I sniff out not only cheese, but changes in the cheese situation and I adapt accordingly, all without having to be told. Do you want MY opinion on what needs changing around here, given our current situation and the way things are going?”
“My point exactly.”
“Sniff, this conversation worries me, even as I sit here drinking your wine. You know, you’re coming up for cheese-tenure this year and it would be nice to be able to say that we’d like to keep you around forever. We value you as an important member of the team and consider ourselves lucky to have you.”
“You know, I was looking for a job when I found this one.”
“Realistic. But I’ll tell you what: none of this is worth falling on the proverbial sword over. I’ll dummy down the courses and count all the procedural goose-steps. Hell, I’ll even convince them they like Cheez-Whiz. You’ve got your bobble-head.”
“But that’s not what I need. What we need. We need you to be on-board. To embrace change. Change is a good thing. It’s natural. Organic. Didn’t you read that part of Wheatley?”
“I must have forgotten. How silly of me.”
“So…are you on board?”
“We still friends?”
“Sure. Pour some more of that wine and let’s get drunk. We’ll celebrate friendship.”
Frederick Bridger, instructor of Literature and Writing Skills at Montana State University-Great Falls, has published fiction and poetry in numerous venues, print and online. He coincidentally entered his "terminal year" a week before tenure eligibility, shortly after the existence of this story became known.