Category Archive 'Academia'
20 Jan 2016

Maurice Bowra

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MauriceBowra
detail, Bowra memorial sculpture, Wadham College, Oxford University.

Maurice Bowra (1898-1971) was a renowned Classical scholar and Warden of Wadham College, Oxford from 1938 to 1970.

From The Dons — Mentors, Eccentrics, and Geniuses, 1999 by Noel Annan:

Sayre’s Law holds that academic politics are so bitter because the stakes are so low.

Bowra was fierce in loyalty to his ideals. But he differed from other intellectuals in being even fiercer in loyalty to his friends. If a choice had to be made between friends and truth, friends won. His loyalty to people and institutions was passionate and uncompromising; if a friend failed, for instance, to get a post he concealed the blunt truth in comforting him afterwards and took it out on his opponents. Such tenderness did not extend to them: he pursued his enemies relentlessly. When he gave the oration at the memorial service for his old tutor Alec Smith the air was so dark with arrows he despatched, like Apollo spreading the plague among the Grecian host before Troy, that you half-expected the guilty to totter forth from St. Mary’s and expire stricken on the steps of the Radcliffe.”

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Annan also mentions, anent Bowra, some interesting German terms.

Bowra belonged to a generation who put enormous weight on friendship. Friendship was something more than casual geniality: it made demands, it imposed duties and much should be sacrificed for it. It was not to be confused with party-going, still less with Mitdabeisein [“being there” — JDZ] . Friendship implied unreserved affection and support, but it was a dry fierce heat, not humid; he was vehement, and he rebuked. He wanted his friends to do well. Like Jowett he expected them to make the most of their gifts. Whatever they produced was not enough: they must push on and do better still; and he could awaken self-confidence and dispel what he used to call ‘a sad state of Minko*.'”

* ‘Minko’ is the German colloquialism for Mindwetigkeitskomplex, or inferiority complex.

28 Jan 2015

Stuff Academics Say

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AcademicsSay

19 examples.

Hat tip to Irene Manta.

15 Jul 2014

English Departments Today

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Deresiewicz
William Deresiewicz

Critic, and former Yale professor, William Deresiewicz did a really excellent job of savaging Lawrence Buell’s The Dream of the Great American Novel

Buell’s book tells us a great deal about American fiction. What it also tells us, in its every line, is much of what is wrong with academic criticism. We can start with the language…. Here is a fair sample of Buell’s prose:

    Admittedly any such dyadic comparison risks oversimplifying the menu of eligible strategies, but the risk is lessened when one bears in mind that to envisage novels as potential GANs is necessarily to conceive them as belonging to more extensive domains of narrative practice that draw on repertoires of tropes and recipes for encapsulating nationness of the kinds sketched briefly in the Introduction—such that you can’t fully grasp what’s at stake in any one possible GAN without imagining the individual work in multiple conversations with many others, and not just U.S. literature either.

That’s one sentence. There is an idea in there somewhere, but it can’t escape the prose—the Byzantine syntax and Latinate diction, the rhetorical falls and grammatical stumbles. Schmidt’s smooth sentences urge us ever onward. Buell’s, like boulders, say stop, go back.

The truth is that by academic standards, Buell’s writing isn’t especially bad—which makes him, as an instance, even worse. By the same token, he isn’t noxiously ideological in the current style, isn’t an “-ist” with an ax to grind or swing—all the more reason to deplore how thoroughly (it seems, reflexively) his book bespeaks the reigning ideologies. Buell, whose careful terror seems to be the possibility of saying something politically incorrect—the book does so much posturing, you think it’s going to throw its back out—appears to have absorbed every piety in the contemporary critical hymnal. You can see him fairly bowing to them in his introduction, as if by way of ritual preparation. There they are, propitiated one by one—Ethnicity, Globalism, Anti-Canonicity, Anti-Essentialism—like idols in the corners of a temple.

The frame of mind controls the readings. Novels aren’t stories, for Buell, works of invention with their own disparate purposes and idiosyncratic ends. They’re “interventions” into this or that political debate—usually, of course, concerning gender, race, or class, as if everyone in history had the same priorities as the English professors of 2014. Nearly every book is scored against today’s approved enlightened norms. Gone With the Wind loses points for “containing” Scarlett and embodying an “atavistic conception of human rights” but wins a few back for being “even more transnationally attuned than Absalom,” exhibiting “maverick tendencies in some respects as pronounced as Faulkner’s,” and engaging in “an act of feminist exorcism that Absalom can’t imagine.” Go team!

In the case of Uncle Tom’s Cabin—a book that makes this kind of reading sweat, being heroically progressive by the standards of its day but embarrassing by ours—pages are spent parsing its exact degree of virtue. Witnesses are called:

    Here, as critic Lori Merish delicately puts it, Stowe “fails to imagine African Americans as full participant citizens in an American democracy.” George Harris’s grand design to Christianize Africa looks suspiciously imperialistic to boot, veering Stowe’s antislavery critique in the direction of what Amy Kaplan trenchantly calls “manifest domesticity.”

I feel as if we’re back in Salem. Maybe he should have just thrown the book in the water to see if it would float. Buell is a person, one should say, who uses terms like cracker, redneck, and white trash without self-consciousness or irony, which makes his moral teleology all the more repulsive—his assumption (and it’s hardly his alone) that all of history has been leading up to the exalted ethical state of the contemporary liberal class.

The one kind of standard that Buell will not permit himself is an aesthetic one. Like many academics now, he’d rather cut his tongue out than admit in public that he thinks a book is good or bad.

29 Oct 2013

The Making of the Professoriate

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Zachary Ernst recently attracted a lot of attention by quitting a tenured faculty position (Associate Professor of Philosophy at University of Missouri). A bit earlier this year, he explained why he believes that the few who make it through the process and arrive at tenure have been hand-selected for mediocrity and obsequiousness.

Quite understandably, faculty try to instill in their students the same attitudes that enabled them to succeed. Unfortunately, those qualities are often counterproductive for any life outside of academia. But in order to fully grasp why this fact is so important, you have to understand a little bit about how careers are made and lost in academia.

Success as a faculty member requires one thing above all else: a good reputation in your field. During the tenure and promotion process, perhaps the most crucial step will be when your department solicits letters of reference from well-known senior faculty in your chosen specialty. They will review your research output and write a candid assessment of your work. Bad letters from these faculty will destroy your chances of being awarded tenure. And because tenure is an “up-or-out” system, failing to receive tenure means that you’re fired. Furthermore, in this economy, it usually means that your career is over, too.

The very worst thing that can happen is for your letter-writers to be unfamiliar with your work. Accordingly, savvy junior faculty members will direct their research to a very specific sub-specialty so that they increase their chances of becoming known within a particular group of senior researchers. That way, even though the junior faculty member won’t know who’s being solicited for letters during their tenure review, they can be reasonably certain that their work will be known to the right people. Because it’s so time-consuming to conduct research and submit papers and books for publication (it often takes well over a year for a paper to be published in a good journal, for example), a junior faculty member can’t afford to waste any time or effort. It’s almost suicidal to write a series of papers on different topics, even if those papers are very high-quality. Instead, it’s a far better strategy to try to achieve a “critical mass” of research output in a small, narrowly-focused area. Research areas, types of output (papers, presentations, books, grant proposals, etc), venues, and everything else are selected to maximize the probability that the right people will learn about one’s work. The math is terrible — rejection rates for top journals in my field, for example, are way above 90%, and this is quite typical. With a six-year window between being hired and beginning the tenure process, it can easily take a year to get one’s research off the ground. Between the end of any particular research work and publication (assuming it’s accepted for publication), there can easily be a year or more. This is why it’s so important to relentlessly focus on a narrow specialty; there is no time to waste.

Of course, it’s possible that after being awarded tenure, a faculty member might broaden her horizons and pursue a variety of different intellectual pursuits. This would be in keeping with one major purpose of tenure — to enable an established researcher to set her own research agenda without fear of losing her job. To be sure, this does happen. But in my experience at least, it’s very rare. The reason why it’s so rare is pretty simple: the tenure process filters out the people who would be most likely to pursue diverse intellectual interests. Having survived college, graduate school, and the tenure track, it’s very likely that whoever is left standing is the sort of person who fits comfortably into the existing structure. Someone who is prone to pursuing a diverse set of interests or (worse yet) interdisciplinary research will run a much larger risk of losing her job during the tenure review process. And of course, even if you started out with a lot of intellectual interests, the sheer habit of limiting yourself to the narrow range of acceptable work can change you over the course of a decade.

In this way, faculty are like columnists for major newspapers. Columnists for, say, the New York Times are perfectly free to write whatever they like (within appropriate professional guidelines, of course). But the range of opinion expressed in those columns is terribly narrow. The problem is not that the Times is exerting pressure on its columnists. The problem is that in order to be a columnist for the New York Times to begin with, you have to be the kind of person whose opinions already fall within a specific range. The same goes for faculty. Universities are generally pretty good about not exerting overt pressure on faculty and their research. Intellectual freedom is generally respected. But the university doesn’t need to exert any pressure, because it’s already filtered out the people who would need to be pressured. Those who survive are, for the most part, narrow specialists who care little about what’s happening outside their own area of specialization.

The same is true of faculty opinions about the university itself. With a six year pre-tenure filtering process, those who are granted the freedom to change the way their courses are run, try something new, or (gasp!) criticize the university have largely been eliminated. Those who remain are perfectly free to teach, conduct research, or express themselves however they like. But the people who would actually take advantage of that privilege are gone.

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

11 Mar 2013

The Particle Physicist, the 34DDD Bikini Model, and the Suitcase Full of Coke

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Denise Milani

68-year-old Particle Physicist Paul Frampton was divorced and in the market for a new wife, hopefully a woman “between the ages of 18 and 35, which Frampton understood to be the period when women are most fertile.”

And what do you know? The lucky guy had only to log onto the Internet and start playing with one dating site, and he ran into the internationally-famous-for-her-enormous-upper-endowment supermodel Denise Milani. The couple exchanged texts and photos, and fell madly in love, though the apparently-shy model kept refusing to speak to him on the phone.

Finally, Denise Milani agreed to meet the professor in person… in La Paz, Bolivia. Alas! when he got to Bolivia, the lovely lady had been unexpectedly called away to another photo shoot in Brussels, and would he do her a favor and bring her a suitcase she’d left behind in La Paz?

Peter Frampton was arrested in Buenos Aires and received a 4 year 10 month sentence for smuggling cocaine. The real Denise Milani could not be reached for comment.

Maxine Swann tells the whole sad story in the New York Times Magazine.

Hat tip to Glenn Reynolds.

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Denise Milani’s breasts web-site.

26 Feb 2013

Physicist’s Proposal

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Her physicist boyfriend Brendan proposed by submitting this paper to her (a fellow physicist).

14 Feb 2013

Communicating With Academics: A Guide

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Hat tip to Emmy Chang.

08 May 2012

Chronicle of Higher Education Surrenders to the Left

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Naomi Schaefer Riley

On April 30th, Naomi Schaefer Riley, in a Chronicle of Higher Education blog posting, cursorily described three recent dissertation theses produced by students in Northwestern’s Black Studies department, featured in a recent Chronicle (subscribers-only) posting, and offered her own opinion that the dismal list of thesis topics listed in a sidebar constituted proof of the unscholarly futility of Black Studies as a field as currently conducted.

If ever there were a case for eliminating the discipline, the sidebar explaining some of the dissertations being offered by the best and the brightest of black-studies graduate students has made it. What a collection of left-wing victimization claptrap. The best that can be said of these topics is that they’re so irrelevant no one will ever look at them.

Everyone with two brain cells to rub together, of course, knows perfectly well that Black Studies is, and has always been, a post-1960s academical kind of N-word-geld, a blackmail payment on the part of university administrations conceded to the radical left’s demonstrations and demands for “representation” of designated victim groups within their faculties and curriculums.

Black Studies, and its allied fields Women’s Studies and Queer Studies, exist simply in order to redistribute and share the prestige and salaried positions of elite educational institutions with activist representatives of victim groups while allowing the former to disseminate agitprop pretending to be scholarship.

No one, however, is allowed to say such things, especially not from a Chronicle of Higher Education blog.

Naomi Schaefer Riley’s posting provoked one of those major temper tantrums on the part of the left which have in the past brought presidents of Harvard to book.

As the New York Post reported, a petition drive demanding that the Chronicle fire Riley was organized.

Initially apparently, the Chronicle defended its own policy of diversity of opinion and offered space to the authors of the dissertations Riley criticized to respond and more space to Riley to reply. They even published an indignant rejoinder by Riley to criticisms that she was racist, that it was mean of her to pick on poor little graduate students, that not having a doctorate herself she was unqualified to opine on dissertation topics, and that she had not bothered to read the dissertations she dissed in their entirety.

But the left turned up the heat, the African American Studies department at Northwestern played the race card, left-wing bloggers denounced Riley’s posting as “cruel” and “offensive,” and a hurricane of tweets went out on Twitter.

The Chronicle is really representative of the American academic community so, of course, the Chronicle, faced with left-wing pressure, caved, and editor Liz McMillen grovelled.

We’ve heard you, and we have taken to heart what you said.

We now agree that Ms. Riley’s blog posting did not meet The Chronicle’s basic editorial standards for reporting and fairness in opinion articles. As a result, we have asked Ms. Riley to leave the Brainstorm blog.

Since Brainstorm was created five years ago, we have sought out bloggers representing a range of intellectual and political views, and we have allowed them broad freedom in topics and approach. As part of that freedom, Brainstorm writers were able to post independently; Ms. Riley’s post was not reviewed until after it was posted.

I realize we have made mistakes. We will thoroughly review our editorial practices on Brainstorm and other blogs and strengthen our guidelines for bloggers.

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Update:

John S. Rosenberg, at Minding the Campus, calls the Chronicle’s firing of Ms. Riley “a disgraceful capitulation to the mob,” tells us that the petition demanding Riley be fired had received around 6500 signatures. He also informs us that the allegedly racist Ms. Riley is married to an African-American who is the father of her two children.

28 Nov 2011

Best Research Paper Abstract of All Time

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09 Feb 2011

More on Political Bias in Academia

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Megan McArdle contemplates yesterday’s New York Times academic bias against conservatives article. She does not pretend to have a solution, but thinks it would be nice if liberals actually recognized their own biases.

[L]iberals, who are usually quick to assume that underrepresentation represents some form of discrimination–structural or personal–suddenly become, as Haidt notes, fierce critics of the notion that numerical representation means anything. Moreover, they start generating explanations for the disparity that sound suspiciously like some old reactionary explaining that blacks don’t really want to go into management because they’re much happier without all the responsibility. Conservatives are too stupid to become academics; they aren’t open new ideas; they’re too aggressive and hierarchical; they don’t care about ideas, just money. In other words, it’s not our fault that they’re not worthy.

Besides, liberals suddenly argue, we shouldn’t look for every sub-population to mirror the composition of the population at large; just as Greeks gravitated towards diners in 1980s New York, and the small market business was dominated by Koreans, liberals are attracted to academia, and conservatives to, well, some other profession. …

I don’t actually know many conservatives who want quotas for conservatives, either–I’m sure they’re out there, but even David Horowitz didn’t go that far. Most of the people I talk to think, like James Joyner, that this may be a problem without a solution. It is just my impression, but I think what conservatives want most of all is simply recognition that they are being shut out. It is a double indignity to be discriminated against, and then be told unctuously that your group’s underrepresentation is proof that almost none of you are as good as “us”. Haidt notes that his correspondence with conservative students (anonymously) “reminded him of closeted gay students in the 1980s”:

    He quoted — anonymously — from their e-mails describing how they hid their feelings when colleagues made political small talk and jokes predicated on the assumption that everyone was a liberal. “I consider myself very middle-of-the-road politically: a social liberal but fiscal conservative. Nonetheless, I avoid the topic of politics around work,” one student wrote. “Given what I’ve read of the literature, I am certain any research I conducted in political psychology would provide contrary findings and, therefore, go unpublished. Although I think I could make a substantial contribution to the knowledge base, and would be excited to do so, I will not.”

Beyond that, mostly they would like academics to be conscious of the bias, and try to counter it where possible. As the quote above suggests, this isn’t just for the benefit of conservatives, either. Just as excluding blacks and women from academia by tacit agreement allowed for a certain amount of wrong-headed groupthink, so does excluding people with different political views. No, I’m not saying you have to hire a Young Earth Creationist to be a biology professor, but I don’t see why it should matter in a professor of Mathematics or Sociology.

Trying to be more conscious of one’s own bias, and even to attempt to work against it, should not be such a hard task for people as brilliant, open-minded, and committed to equality and social justice as I keep hearing that liberal academics are. So it doesn’t really seem like so much to ask.

08 Feb 2011

Diversity, the Lack Thereof, in the Social Sciences

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The New York Times has an amusing item about the professional bias investigators of the modern academic world finding themselves confronted with powerful evidence of a very large beam in their own collective eye.

Discrimination is always high on the agenda at the Society for Personality and Social Psychology’s conference, where psychologists discuss their research on racial prejudice, homophobia, sexism, stereotype threat and unconscious bias against minorities. But the most talked-about speech at this year’s meeting, which ended Jan. 30, involved a new “outgroup.”

It was identified by Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist at the University of Virginia who studies the intuitive foundations of morality and ideology. He polled his audience at the San Antonio Convention Center, starting by asking how many considered themselves politically liberal. A sea of hands appeared, and Dr. Haidt estimated that liberals made up 80 percent of the 1,000 psychologists in the ballroom. When he asked for centrists and libertarians, he spotted fewer than three dozen hands. And then, when he asked for conservatives, he counted a grand total of three.

“This is a statistically impossible lack of diversity,” Dr. Haidt concluded, noting polls showing that 40 percent of Americans are conservative and 20 percent are liberal. In his speech and in an interview, Dr. Haidt argued that social psychologists are a “tribal-moral community” united by “sacred values” that hinder research and damage their credibility — and blind them to the hostile climate they’ve created for non-liberals.

“Anywhere in the world that social psychologists see women or minorities underrepresented by a factor of two or three, our minds jump to discrimination as the explanation,” said Dr. Haidt, who called himself a longtime liberal turned centrist. “But when we find out that conservatives are underrepresented among us by a factor of more than 100, suddenly everyone finds it quite easy to generate alternate explanations.”

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The social sciences are build around left-wing assumptions and perspectives, so it isn’t all that surprising to me that Sociology and Anthro departments are overwhelmingly populated by left-wing democrats, but lack of political diversity in American colleges and universities notoriously extends far beyond the social sciences. English and History departments are scarcely more diverse in their political representation.

Steven Hayward, at Power-Line, describes the well-known phenomenon of conservative fear and isolation on the modern university faculty.

I have a good friend–I won’t name out him here though–who is a tenured faculty member in a premier humanities department at a leading east coast university, and he’s . . . a conservative! How did he slip by the PC police? Simple: he kept his head down in graduate school and as a junior faculty member, practicing self-censorship and publishing boring journal articles that said little or nothing. When he finally got tenure review, he told his closest friend on the faculty, sotto voce, that “Actually I’m a Republican.” His faculty friend, similarly sotto voce, said, “Really? I’m a Republican, too!”

That’s the scandalous state of things in American universities today. Here and there–Hillsdale College, George Mason Law School, Ashland University come to mind–the administration is able to hire first rate conservative scholars at below market rates because they are actively discriminated against at probably 90 percent of American colleges and universities. Other universities will tolerate a token conservative, but having a second conservative in a department is beyond the pale.

A few weeks ago, I posted a link referred to in private email correspondence by a younger person from Yale, now teaching English at a major university. As is the custom, I mentioned his name as my source for the post in a final “hat tip.” A few hours later, I received an email from that university professor, thanking me for the courtesy, but asking me to remove his name from this blog for fear that the association with Never Yet Melted might possibly out his unacceptable personal political views and jeopardize his candidacy for tenure. Conservative faculty members all over America today live in real, and well-founded, fear of being victimized by discrimination on the basis of their political views.

16 Feb 2010

Academics Under Fire

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Some news agency:

A survivor of an Alabama university shooting said the professor charged in the attack that claimed three lives methodically shot the victims in the head until her gun apparently jammed and she was pushed out of the room.

Associate professor Joseph Ng told The Associated Press on Tuesday he was one of 12 people at the biology department meeting Friday at the University of Alabama-Huntsville. He described the details in an e-mail to a colleague at the University of California-Irvine.

Ng said the meeting had been going on for about half an hour when Amy Bishop “got up suddenly, took out a gun and started shooting at each one of us. She started with the one closest to her and went down the row shooting her targets in the head.”…

Ng said the meeting was held around an oval table. The six people on one side were all shot.

“The remaining 5 including myself were on the other side of the table (and) immediately dropped to the floor,” he wrote.

Ng told the AP the shooting stopped almost as soon as it started. Ng said the gun seemed to jam and he and others rushed Bishop out of the room and then barricaded the door shut with a table.

Ng said the charge was led by Debra Moriarity, a professor of biochemistry, after Bishop aimed the gun at her and attempted to fire but it didn’t shoot. He said Moriarity pushed her way to Bishop, urged her to stop, and then helped force her out the door.

“Moriarity was probably the one that saved our lives. She was the one that initiated the rush,” he told the AP. “It took a lot of guts to just go up to her.”

Ng said the survivors worried she would shoot her way through the door, and frantically worked up backup plan in case she burst through. But she never did.

I thought it was interesting to read how when Amy Bishop’s gun jammed (or was simply empty), after she had shot six people, several of the remaining biologists were sufficiently driven by survival instinct to rise from hiding on the floor, ask her to stop shooting people(!), and then, as she presumably gaped at them in astonishment, employ superior numbers to push her out the door. After which, they proceeded to try to barricade themselves inside. It would be just too bad, of course, for anybody else who had recently offended Amy Bishop who happened along after she reloaded or cleared her jam.

Five people made no attempt to apprehend or disarm a woman who was obviously, temporarily at least, unable to fire any more rounds. As far as they were concerned, short term personal survival was the key priority. Dealing with Professor Bishop would be a job for the authorities. Let the police and the rest of the university community take their own chances. And when I look over the list of department members (not named in the article), it does seem to be the case that the majority of the persons potentially present, and not otherwise accounted for, would have been male.

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