Sick and tired
So on Thursday night, after grading and returning my first batch of student papers, I decided it would be a really good time to get sick. Accordingly, I woke up on Friday with a wicked sore throat and assorted other symptoms—shaking, chills, weariness, and so forth. But no coughing or sneezing! Just a general sense of unease. And that was good, because late Friday afternoon I had to drive down to Baltimore, because many months ago I told the Maryland AAUP that I would speak to their fall meeting on October 9. Armed with ibuprofen and throat lozenges, I made the three-hour drive, had dinner with my hosts, then repaired to my hotel room and crashed at 11.
I awoke from a deep sleep alert and refreshed ... at 1:30 am. I then spent the next six hours slipping in and out of weird dreams, and finally roused my now-groggy self at 7:30. My talk was scheduled for 10, and I managed to pull myself together (shower, breakfast, more ibuprofen) in plenty of time. I had just enough energy to get through a one-hour talk and 30 minutes of questions, and just enough left over to make the three-hour return trip. I got back home at 4 and crashed again. But I had to go to a reception that evening, so rallied around 5:30 and put on my nice suit and my game face.
Sunday is usually a day of rest, but many months ago I accepted an invitation to speak at this event, thinking it would be fun. And it would have been, if I hadn’t spent so much of Sunday morning and early afternoon curled up in bed. If you’ve seen TED presentations, you know that speakers don’t read papers or work from notes, so I spent much of the week memorizing my 12-minute presentation on disability in “low” popular genres. I don’t ordinarily have performance anxiety about speaking gigs, because I’m used to them by now ... but this was different: it would be part of a pretty amazing lineup, it would have to be tightly scripted and executed, it would be livestreamed and tweeted all over the place, and it would take place in front of 800 students in Penn State’s Schwab Auditorium. I took the stage around 3:30 feeling like I was swathed in cotton—and, I see, looking as if I were stuffed with cotton too. But the talk seemed to go reasonably well. I did not faint, and I did not lose my train of thought and stare helplessly out into the middle distance. Fifteen seconds before I stepped out onto the stage, I thought there was a good chance that either one or the other might just happen, just this once. At the last moment, though, my Public Persona draped itself over me, and—whew!—I got through it.
But I basically had to divert all my meager energies to what should have been routine talks, which is why I am now four days behind on everything I was supposed to do between Thursday and today. Dear everyone who is waiting for something from me, I apologize. I am back on the case, feeling much better, thanks, and will get to you momentarily. And, of course, my schedule will be a bit more flexible once I am free of this aged blog, this paltry thing.
But I have one more post before I sign off, and one more task to accomplish today. I direct your attention to the New APPS blog, which you should henceforth read regularly, and especially to this timely post by John Protevi, with the distressingly dead-on accurate title, “Stanley Fish Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About.” It’s funny, you know. I devoted a good portion of my talk to the Maryland AAUP to arguing one of the real crises of the humanities is that so many humanists say so many stupid, wrongheaded, uninformed things about their fields, all of which take the form of “we know we’re ugly and pointless and nobody takes our classes and everybody is right to hate us.” That lament, having been disseminated steadily over the past two decades, is now responsible for the widespread attitude that when university programs and departments have to be eliminated, of course the humanities should go first, because they’re a bunch of boutique disciplines and also they lose money and have to be subsidized by other departments and also enrollments have declined precipitously since 1970 and also they have been ruined by trendy theorymongers and queer feminist theory deconstructionists and also there was the Sokal Hoax, Q.E.D. And so it is that when SUNY-Albany looks to cut programs, they look first to French, Italian, Russian, classics, and theater.
To his credit, Stanley Fish knows why the SUNY-Albany decision is a travesty, but by starting from the premise that the humanities don’t earn their keep, he’s given away the store. Do read Christopher Newfield’s latest, and while you’re at it, read this indispensable Chris Newfield essay too (.pdf), and then send it to a legislator—or a New York Times blogger—near you. Two relevant excerpts:
First we must understand that though the humanities in general and literary studies in particular are poor and struggling, we are not naturally poor and struggling. We are not on a permanent austerity budget because we don’t have the intrinsic earning power of the science and engineering fields and aren’t fit enough to survive in the modern university. I suggest, on the basis of a case study, that the humanities fields are poor and struggling because they are being milked like cash cows by their university administrations. The money that departments generate through teaching enrollments that the humanists do not spend on their almost completely unfunded research is routinely skimmed and sent elsewhere in the university. As the current university funding model continues to unravel, the humanities’ survival as national fields will depend on changing it. (271)
The humanities and social sciences are major donors to science and engineering budgets. Major dogmas about university research turn out to be wrong: science and engineering research costs money, and humanities and social sciences teaching subsidizes it. Furthermore, humanities and social sciences students receive a cheap education—that is, they get back less than they put in. Making matters worse, university officials have historically perpetuated the myth that the science and engineering fields are the generous subsidizers of the “soft” humanities and social science fields. This concealment of the humanities’ contribution to the progress of science fed the vicious cycle of the culture wars: underfunded humanities fields cannot buy respectability through the media, think tanks, or prominent science agencies, a limitation that gives free rein to assertions that the humanities produce only pseudo-knowledge. This belief has lowered the humanities’ status, which in turn has justified flat or declining funding, which further lowers the humanities’ status, which encourages further cuts. (279)
Yep, that sounds about right. Read the whole thing, as they used to say on blogs. Read New APPS. And come back and read my last American Airspace post, which should be up by Friday.
Wait, you’re closing down the blog?Posted by on 10/12 at 01:54 PM
I have heard from several of my friends, still teaching in the CSU system in CA, that their universities are in bad shape and getting worse. In order to not cut out programs on paper, the campuses are cutting sections and courses down, forcing intense overcrowding in the few that remain. My feeling is that it is a trickle down phenomenon from the steep rise in tuition at the UC. Fewer admissions at the top tier (even Stanford and USC cut admissions), with higher fees, force Californians to look to CSUs. CSUs cut classes, increase class size, dilute education, and focus money on upper division curricula. This in turn, pressures students to seek Community Colleges for general education requirements, increasing class sizes and so forth. Perhaps the only fortunate light here is that, due to all of the layoffs of higher education faculty, the community colleges are able to higher better-trained and higher-degreed professors and lecturers (albeit, mostly as adjuncts).
In an editorial run yesterday at Stanford, they mention:
Second, the committee is actively targeting potential humanities majors. With Shaw’s statistics showing a mere 18 percent of freshmen even considering the humanities, C-UAFA noted “the declining numbers of Stanford students majoring in the humanities and arts.” And when cross-referenced with the dual-acceptance figures, the only schools Stanford loses students to are institutions, such as Harvard, with flourishing humanities programs, whereas we fair competitively, or better, against heavy technical schools.
Wait, you’re closing down the blog?
He must have found the mythical 10 millionth visitor.Posted by on 10/12 at 02:23 PM
Wait, you’re closing down the blog?
Just this once.
whereas we fair competitively, or better, against heavy technical schools
But do not fare so good in the Usage Department.Posted by Michael on 10/12 at 02:47 PM
I forbid the closing of this blog!
Capisce?Posted by Pinko Punko on 10/12 at 03:04 PM
Just this once.
Come and see the censorship inherent in the system. Help! Help! We’re being silenced!Posted by on 10/12 at 05:13 PM
But so there’s your angle: them sciency technical schools are “heavy;” lumbering behemoths of sauropodan largeness that are hard to steer, and so--yes, the steering thing, that’s good--and so they are plodding, all unsteered and juggernauty-like, toward doom, gloom, and, like, fascism--what the hell, Nazism! Trampling various identity-politics blocs under their very hooves, or, like, tank-treads or something. (You guys got poets, right? And ad-copy writers? Or is that Communications, I forget.)
Whereas literature departments and suchlike are ‘light’ on their feet! Malleable, adjustable, spontaneous, improvisatory! Just the thing for the brains of tomorrow’s captains of industry and cosmetic surgery in this increasingly cuhrazy world of ours!
In short, Liberal Arts: great Taste, less filling.Posted by on 10/12 at 05:21 PM
But do not fare so good in the Usage Department
Stanford has to cater to the other 82% of the campus that hasn’t any interest in speakin good. Like the GOP Pledge to America, Stanford boldly goes where it has been before: Stanford students, “while wonkish and dry as sin to many, speak to what our University has become and where it plans to go.”Posted by on 10/12 at 05:54 PM
Wait, what about the Wingnut-off?Posted by Dave Maier on 10/12 at 08:04 PM
Wait, what about the Wingnut-off?
It’ll go over big at Crooked Timber, I promise you.Posted by Michael on 10/12 at 08:55 PM
I’m a sciency type (not a scientist, but involved in science departments) and I hear the exact opposite lament. The Bio Dept has to provide those sciency electives for all those Business majors who don’t really care about planet except as a place to get a well paid job. (Sigh) I suspect that the Administration is gleefully rubbing its hands at the thought of pitting department against department, cutting all their budgets and buying Escalades for itself.Posted by Rugosa on 10/12 at 09:17 PM
My experience is that administrators tend to tell every department/division/program that they’re the reason the budget isn’t balanced and that they are being subsidized by every one else.Posted by on 10/13 at 09:31 AM
Cool that you did a TED talk. I went to our local one last year and had a blast. Do you know when they’ll post the videos?
Hope you feel better.Posted by on 10/13 at 10:19 AM
My guess is that you are coming clean about past steroid use. This would explain the speed and fluidity of your posts that far outpace the competition. I’ll bet that on Friday you will announce that American Airspace will be filed under a big asterix. Saturday begins a new drug-free era punctuated by decreased muscle mass and frequent urine tests. Moreover, you will be challenging the Washington Capitals to follow suit.Posted by on 10/13 at 10:38 AM
Not sure if you’ve read Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim but a) everybody should and b) the circumstances of your talk certainly brought to mind the lecture that serves as the climax of the book. In the future you might avail yourself of a confederate in the audience along these lines:
Over the whisky-bottle an hour and a half earlier, Atkinson had insisted, not only on coming to the lecture, but on announcing his intention of pretending to faint should Dixon, finding things getting out of hand in any way, scratch both his ears simultaneously.Posted by on 10/13 at 11:04 AM
Do you know when they’ll post the videos?
No idea, but they told me to keep my eye on Ye Youtoubes.
I suspect that the Administration is gleefully rubbing its hands at the thought of pitting department against department, cutting all their budgets and buying Escalades for itself.
I think AcademicLurker has confirmed this nicely— but for the record, not all administrators rub their hands in glee. Some prefer to twirl their moustaches.
My guess is that you are coming clean about past steroid use.... I’ll bet that on Friday you will announce that American Airspace will be filed under a big asterix.
Close! But since it’s hard to put a big asterix on the Internet, I’ve decided to divide the blog archives into two sections, the cream and the clear. You understand, I’m sure.
Besides, what’s all the fuss about steroid use? Even as I type, Prednisone is helping Lucy the Dog make the most of her twilight years, post-surgery, and I’m not so sure I would mind a shot or two myself.Posted by Michael on 10/13 at 11:07 AM
@11: yeah, Newfield has actually done research on this. I second Michael’s recommendation to read his linked articles.Posted by on 10/13 at 12:08 PM
Much has I see what you are saying about Fish’s stance here, I have some sympathy for it. Trying to argue that academic discipline X is bringing in money or is economically important (by which I suppose it is meant it trains future cogs in the machine) is in itself already conceding the game to the commodifiers of education.Posted by on 10/13 at 01:02 PM
Don’t think we’re not heartbroken. I’m going to keep hoping it’s just a hiatus.Posted by on 10/13 at 01:06 PM
with the distressingly dead-on accurate title, “Stanley Fish Doesn’t Know What He’s Talking About.”
Bah. This Protevi person isn’t so special. I could have written that title, and I don’t even know what specific occurrence he’s referring to.
it’s hard to put a big asterix on the Internet
The Bio Dept has to provide those sciency electives for all those Business majors who don’t really care about planet except as a place to get a well paid job.
Well, based on my admittedly out-of-date interactions with same, this is frequently true. The motivations are slightly more complicated for the pre-med and med crowd, but still depressingly similar.
Around here, though, there hasn’t been too much open carping about the humanities and social services skimming off the top of our money barrels. That’s because there’s nothing left to skim after the university administration takes out “overhead.” I’m pretty sure most of us have noticed that while the president collected a $350K bonus, the sociology department hasn’t exactly been erecting a solid gold pyramid for its faculty.
On the other hand, whenever the TAs grumble about unionization again, our crowd is contemptuous, because they’re students, not employees. I’ve yet to have them satisfactorily explain what they’re collecting their research assistant stipends for.
And come back and read my last American Airspace post, which should be up by Friday.
Hastur damn it, NOOOOO! Uh ... Fresca, fresca, fresca!Posted by on 10/13 at 01:13 PM
Several of the universities and colleges around here are creating core block curricula, linking the “liberal/general ed” requirements into 3 courses / quarter (semester) plus one elective choice. It seems that they can get away with fewer tenured faculty this way, in the underclass realms, using lots of adjuncts and some of those pesky TAs to lead sections. If this keeps up, incoming freshmen won’t see a full professor until their junior year; probably won’t see an art or humanity class either.Posted by on 10/13 at 02:28 PM
"Povera e nuda vai, filosofia”—F. Petrarca (1304-74).Posted by on 10/13 at 02:47 PM
Jesus, it feels like you have retired more times than Cher and Barbra Streisand combined. I for one am devastated (or at least miffed), and will not be wading through Crooked Timber, which strikes me as a slightly stuffier version of The Huffington Thing (h/t Princess Sparkle Pony) without the photos or celebrity guests.Posted by sfmike on 10/14 at 08:15 PM
You might also look at this piece by Robert Watson at UCLA, Bottom line shows humanities really do make money. Here’s the money shot:
Of the 21 units at the University of Washington, the humanities and, to a lesser degree, the social sciences are the only ones that generate more tuition income than 100 percent of their total expenditure. Cary Nelson, president of the American Association of University Professors, recently cited a University of Illinois report showing that a large humanities department like English produces a substantial net profit, whereas units such as engineering and agriculture run at a loss. The widely respected Delaware Study of Instructional Costs and Productivity shows the same pattern.
Because that evidence runs up against the widespread myth that other units and departments subsidize the humanities, and up against such well-entrenched forces within the university, it is regularly ignored or even suppressed. In the 1990s, UCLA invested huge amounts of money setting up Responsibility Centered Management, an accounting system eventually used at many universities to evaluate all the real costs of different units and the revenue they actually produce. The goal was to make budgeting fair and transparent. However, according to administrators then prominently involved in the process, when the initial run of those intricate spreadsheets showed that the College of Letters and Science was the most efficient user and producer of money, and the health sciences were far less efficient, RCM was abandoned.
Posted by Bill Benzon on 10/14 at 08:16 PM
Jesus, it feels like you have retired more times than Cher and Barbra Streisand combined.
Don’t you mean Brett Favre and Michael Jordan? Hey, wait ... I only retired once! And even then I said I might be back in 2008, and I was! But this time, seriously, it’s for real. Unless I sign with the Wizards or the Jets or the Vikings or maybe some AA baseball team.Posted by Michael on 10/14 at 11:13 PM
But this time, seriously, it’s for real. Unless....
It is the 2012 general election, replete with a-pack-of-lips!Posted by on 10/15 at 03:54 PM
Thanks for everything, sad to see your blog retire. I was cribbing from this post as I was writing my own:
http://engl243.wordpress.com/2010/10/31/so-you-want-humanities/Posted by steventhomas on 10/31 at 05:10 AM
I hate student exams as a teacher.Posted by webmaster on 02/05 at 04:13 AM
Ooooh! too bad you got a sore throat that day. I hate sore throats. It’s as if my entire day is ruined. pffFf! Anyway thanks for sharing. Do you have a video of your TED presentation?. want to view it. Hope you could post it.Posted by Motivational Thoughts on 03/11 at 04:16 AM
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whereas we fair competitively, or better, against heavy technical schoolsPosted by Daily Egypt News on 06/16 at 08:02 AM
Well, based on my admittedly out-of-date interactions with same, this is frequently true. The motivations are slightly more complicated for the pre-med and med crowd, but still depressingly similar.Posted by Applicance Repair In Orange County CA on 08/04 at 12:30 PM
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