Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Common-reading grumpage

So, it's time again for the annual round of freshman common-reading grumpage over at InsideHigherEd. Depending on which of the comments you read, the common-reading selections at the vast majority of universities are too new! too liberal! too nonfictional! too lightweight! too depressing!

John Warner's comments in the thread at IHE nail a lot of the difficulties, complications, and uneasy compromises of choosing a common-reading book. (Actually, John Warner pretty much nails everything all of the time, and can we please just make him Secretary of Education already?) Since I seem to have become, much to my own dismay, chair of the subcommittee that is in charge of selecting our university's common reading, I'd like to underline his point that the book has to be acceptable to faculty from across the disciplines. This, by the way, includes faculty who aren't necessarily on board with the whole liberal arts enterprise in the first place. I'm talking about faculty who want to jettison the whole program so they can spend the entire freshman experience course going over the requirements for their particular pre-professional discipline. And faculty who complain that the last few years' offerings have been insufficiently uplifting, and can't we just do an inspirational self-help book instead? And faculty who are Very Very Concerned that the book should not depict white people in our state in a bad light. (N.B., if you're going to have a common reading book about the civil rights era -- and there were several good reasons why our selection this year really needed to be about the civil rights era -- it is going to depict white people in our state in a bad light. If you don't want posterity to judge you harshly, don't behave badly.) And faculty who think it is really too much to expect students to read a whole entire book. (Call me old-fashioned, but I think somebody really needs to tell the students who are unwilling to read books that their choices are a) to become willing to read books; or b) to choose a life-path that doesn't involve college.)

Sigh. If they would just make me dictator of everything, I'd totally pick a classic. Like Lysistrata. Or The Importance of Being Earnest. Or maybe Candide. All of which have the advantage of being fun and short. But if I did that, certain people from the Pre-Professional Discipline That Shall Not Be Named would totally flip out.

Did I mention, we've been asked to start thinking about next year's reading selection more or less immediately after school reconvenes this year? I can hardly wait.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

a ranking of selected Shakespeare plays...

... according to how likely it is that the advice "Just have a threesome already" would solve everybody's problems.

Two Noble Kinsmen: YES YES HELL YES.

Troilus and Cressida: Yes; in fact, this advice would help in at least two different ways, one of which would have prevented the entire Trojan War.

Two Gentlemen of Verona: Yes.

A Midsummer Night's Dream: Foursome, whatever. Yes.

Henry VIII: Yes, if Katherine could somehow be persuaded to agree to it. (Of course, some people might see "preventing the Protestant Reformation" as a problem in itself, but I'm not sure Shakespeare was one of those people.)

Twelfth Night: Maybe, although the more relevant piece of advice is probably "just be triplets already."

The Merchant of Venice: Somewhat, although it wouldn't really help with the whole anti-Semitism thing.

Hamlet: Sorta-kinda, although the advice would have to be delivered well before the play begins.

Antony and Cleopatra: Not really, although Antony / Cleopatra / Octavia might delay the beginning of the end a little bit.

Macbeth: No, unless we posit some sort of gene-splicing technology that would enable Lady Macbeth to have a baby that is Banquo's and Macbeth's. Still, they'd be stuck with the whole regicide thing.

Othello: No; Iago would still be in it, although he'd have to figure out a different line of attack.

Pericles: I don't even know who would be HAVING a threesome in this play, but I'm pretty sure it would not be a good idea to make the characters' lives more complicated than they already are.

Richard III: It wouldn't surprise me if Edward, Elizabeth, and Jane Shore were already having one, but it doesn't seem to have helped much.

The Comedy of Errors: I'm not sure there are three characters in this play who are not RELATED to each other. Ew.

The Merry Wives of Windsor: No; almost all of the problems in this play are caused by somebody wanting a threesome when no one else does.

King Lear: No. In fact, this advice is about the only thing that could make things even worse, because Regan would still be alive, and theoretically the rightful heir, at the end of the play.

Titus Andronicus: NO NO AND HELL NO. Somebody actually gives this advice in the text, with very unfortunate results.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Random bullets of Kalamazoo

-- There are cygnets in the pond this year! And Hans Christian Andersen was quite wrong about them: they are not in the least ugly. They are very cute, little grey-white balls of fluff.

-- Pink wine-in-a-box is even worse than white wine-in-a-box. (I think it may border on undrinkable, even by my own very-not-picky wine standards. Thank goodness for the mead and ale tasting tonight, and for various publishers' receptions, and the study-abroad-in-Glasgow people handing out samples of Scotch.)

-- So, apparently I caused an edited collection to happen, without actually meaning to do anything of the sort. Discovering that sort of thing makes one feel oddly powerful.

-- I finally made it to the Friday evening how-to-use-an-astrolabe session, only to discover that I really, really do not have the sort of mind that can understand astrolabes. But now I have a pretty souvenir cardboard astrolabe! I am not sure whether to hang it on my nonexistent Christmas tree, or name my nonexistent kid after it, or what.

-- Why does the medievalist conference always feature a singalong of '60s songs? I do not know. But apparently, one of the aftereffects of having gone to a hippie preschool is that I can't resist that sort of thing, even though my singing voice is, um, best drowned out by other people.

... Oh yeah, there were some papers. One of them was even mine.

Monday, April 13, 2015

well, THAT was weird ...

How to tell your subconscious has finally caught on to the fact that you have tenure: You no longer have random anxiety dreams about being a job candidate.

Instead, you have anxiety dreams about being on the search committee. And they involve real people who actually work at the university behaving badly in ways that would, in fact, be entirely in character for them to behave in real life.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

SAA envy

Have fun, everybody who's at SAA! I keep seeing posts about it all over Facebook and blogs, and I'm a bit envious, while at the same time aware there are all sorts of reasons why it wasn't a particularly good idea for me to go this year. Will DEFINITELY be at the next two, which are both local-ish.

A thought: conferences are a totally different experience when you're grown-up faculty than when you're a grad student. Back then, it was all about building the CV, and I went to a lot of random conferences, and didn't enjoy most of them very much because I always felt weird and wallflowerish. My real peers were at home, where there was always a lively cohort of other grad students, and no shortage of early modernists, whether grad students or faculty.

Now, I don't give a damn about building the CV, I go to SAA (sometimes) and Kalamazoo (most years) and that's about it, and conferences are all about 1) hanging out with one particular cohort of friends; 2) being around other people who are geeky about the same kinds of things I'm geeky about; and 3) being immersed in medieval / early modern stuff, and learning odd and random things about it. When you're the lone early modernist on campus, the immersion is a rare and unexpected pleasure; in grad school, it was something I took for granted.

The grown-up kind of conferencing, need I say, is SO much more fun. Only six weeks to Kalamazoo!

Friday, March 13, 2015

So, tell me about your first-year experience course...

Yeah, I know I've been a terrible blogger lately, and that it's probably bad form to break radio silence by asking one's remaining readers for help. However, I seem to have been handed a committee that is supposed to be redesigning our one-credit, introduction-to-college-life course for first-time freshmen, and it's already turning into a snarl of competing interests and desires, so I have come here seeking clarity.

Tell me, if you should feel so moved, about freshman seminar / college life skills / first-year experience courses at your institution. Do you have one? Is it primarily academic, or primarily orientation-focused? Is there a common reading book of some sort? How are students organized into sections, and do all of the sections necessarily do the same thing? What do you or don't you like about it?

Or, if you feel like playing fantasy course design, what should an ideal course of this type look like and do? (Assume a smallish regional university with students who are all over the map in terms of academic preparation.)

Thursday, February 12, 2015

bridge over troubled water

Breaking the silence (and, possibly, becoming ever less anonymous) to note that our university president has just been named commissioner of the state board of higher ed.

Very mixed feelings about this. I had only the vaguest notion of what college presidents actually did when I was first hired at Misnomer U.; they were just there, people who spoke briefly at public functions and made innocuous jokes. And then, in my first two years here, I discovered what it was like to work at a school with a spectacularly bad president. The good ones, I think, do so much work that is invisible. You notice it when it isn't there, or when it's done badly.

We had an interim president after that, who did a great deal to pour oil on troubled waters. And then Dr. B. came to us, and he was a bridge over troubled water. I remember that I was skeptical when he first came, since he was a higher ed board insider and we'd had a vexed relationship with them in the past. I should not have been.

It is not an easy job, I'm thinking. You have to be a salesman for your university, and you have to schmooze with people; but you have to have wisdom and intellect and strength of character in ways that don't typically go with the personality types that can do salesmanship and schmoozing. (It is possible that I am a prejudiced introvert.) At any rate, it was our good luck to land a president who united all of those qualities, and who was a wonky, data-driven political scientist to boot.

Good luck in your new position, Dr. B. The state higher ed board's gain is our loss.