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Todd Suomela

Fanning the Flames While the Humanities Burn - The Chronicle of Higher Education - 0 views

  • Yet before we have even had time to digest this criticism, the authors change their mind: Perhaps diversification is responsible for shrinkage, and it is for the best! "Some of what Kay figures as disciplinary attrition," they write, "looks from our vantage point like the very necessary unsettling of white male dominance." It is not entirely clear whether they mean that the tremendous drop in enrollment and jobs can be accounted for by the attrition of white males (it cannot), or rather, more likely, that the shrinkage of the profession is a necessary and therefore justified consequence of the moral housecleaning it was forced to endure. On the latter reading, the problem with Kay’s essay is not one of diagnosis. It is rather that he fails to appreciate the extent to which both he and the discipline he eulogizes deserve whatever misfortune happens to befall them. (Indeed, these four horsewomen of the apocalypse promise that "a cleansing flame will allow us to build a better structure.")
  • Their lengthy description, displaying most fully the confusions of snark for wit and of hyperbole for exactitude that pervade the piece, is not, strictly speaking, false. Choosing what to wear for conferences and interviews is not always easy. And the attempt to meet contradictory standards (formal but not too formal, etc.) leads both men and women to come to resemble one another, as they all jointly reach toward an elusive ideal of professional suitability. But this awkward process of convergence is surely just what Kay means to convey with his description of the participants as sharing a "self-conscious aesthetic." As for misogyny, it is not obvious to me who comes off worse, the men with their "mummified" hair and pairs of identical try-hard-casual sneakers, or those women in their suits. But then again, who cares? The structuring idea of the essay, remember, is that English professors are dithering while their profession dies. It is hard to imagine a better illustration of this point than four tenure-track professors spending five paragraphs of their response criticizing a line about Ann Taylor dresses.
  • Kay says very clearly what he misses about his life at the university: talking to and reading poetry with an adviser he admires, doing work he cares about, and being part of a community that could provide him with the opportunity to talk about literature with those who share his love for it. This fantasy is the fantasy of those who wish to dedicate themselves to a life of the mind. It is mine. Here, apparently, lies Kay’s real sin. It is not his unwitting bigotry. Ultimately, the scandal of his piece has little to do with his adoring descriptions of his academic adviser or his sartorial observational satire. His sin is that he fails to embrace his own sacrifice as well justified, fails to see his own loss as the "very necessary unsettling of white male dominance," fails to welcome the "cleansing flame." The problem is not what Kay says but that he dares to speak of his own predicament — that he dares to want publicly anything at all. After all, according to the authors, Kay, despite having had to abandon his vocation, possesses a power and freedom that they can only dream of. "Our point is this: It’s not that no woman would have written an essay like Kay’s. It’s that no woman could have done so, because no woman is permitted to navigate the MLA — let alone the world — in this fashion." Kay, that is, betrays women not only by failing to portray them as sufficiently capable and accomplished but also, and without contradiction, by failing to portray the degree to which they are, compared to him, utterly powerless. What woman could go in and out of conference rooms? What woman could sidle up to a couple of octogenarians in a conference-hotel lobby?
Todd Suomela

Academe's Extinction Event: Failure, Whiskey, and Professional Collapse at the MLA - Th... - 0 views

  • At some point, though, a presenter began reading a paper that caused me to look up at once from the wiki. This was Anna Kornbluh, of the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her paper was written in the same language as the others, but scythelike; she plied the language with weird skill, as if slicing a path toward some promontory of insight — and I found, to my surprise and unease, that I wanted to follow her there and stand and look out. Advertisement Her thesis was unsparing. “We have rhapsodized demolition as liberation while literally laying ruin to the university,” she argued, “a horror to be beheld by future historians — in the unlikely event there are any.” Literary theorists, by prizing an ethos of destruction in the name of freedom, had ironically aligned themselves with the external forces — political, administrative — that had for years conspired to obliterate the institution in which they work. “Human beings,” though, “are essentially builders,” she noted, channeling Marx — “architects of ideas” as well as topplers of norms. Both gestures, affirmation and dissent, are “life-sustaining”; ideally they coexist,  equipoised, twin components of a fulfilled life. A reconstructed university — and wider world — would depend on recovering the constructive and visionary impulse, which the profession had too long devalued in favor of critique. “Get building,” she enjoined the room.
Todd Suomela

Author discusses new book about how American higher education has always been 'a perfec... - 0 views

  • The typical university is in constant tension between autonomous academic departments, which control curriculum and faculty hiring and promotion, and a strong president, who controls funding and is responsible only to the lay board of directors who own the place. Also thrown into the mix are a jumble of independent institutes, research centers and academic programs that have emerged in response to a variety of funding opportunities and faculty initiatives. The resulting institution is a hustler’s paradise, driven by a wide array of entrepreneurial actors: faculty trying to pursue intellectual interests and forge a career; administrators trying to protect and enrich the larger enterprise; and donors and students who want to draw on the university’s rich resources and capitalize on association with its stellar brand. These actors are feverishly pursuing their own interests within the framework of the university, which lures them with incentives, draws strength from their complex interactions and then passes these benefits on to society.
  • The biggest problem facing the American system of higher education today is how to deal with its own success. In the 19th century, very few people attended college, so the system was not much in the public spotlight. Burgeoning enrollments in the 20th century put the system center stage, especially when it became the expectation that most people should graduate from some sort of college. As higher education moved from being an option to becoming a necessity, it increasingly found itself under the kind of intense scrutiny that has long been directed at American schools.
  • The danger posed by this accountability pressure is that colleges, like the K-12 schools before them, will come under pressure to narrow their mission to a small number of easily measurable outcomes. Most often the purpose boils down to the efficient delivery of instructional services to students, which will provide them with good jobs and provide society with an expanding economy. This ignores the wide array of social functions that the university serves. It’s a laboratory for working on pressing social problems; a playpen for intellectuals to pursue whatever questions seem interesting; a repository for the knowledge needed to address problems that haven’t yet emerged; a zone of creativity and exploration partially buffered from the realm of necessity; and, yes, a classroom for training future workers. The system’s organizational messiness is central to its social value.
    • Todd Suomela
       
      The idea that colleges should be valued for their organizational messiness is also quite interesting. Where does this messiness fit into Bucknell?
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  • The American system of higher education emerged in a unique historical setting in the early 19th century, when the state was weak, the market strong and the church divided. Whereas the European university was the creature of the medieval Roman Catholic church and then grew strong under the rising nation-state in the early modern period, the American system lacked the steady support of church or state and had to rely on the market in order to survive. This posed a terrible problem in the 19th century, as colleges had to scrabble around looking for consumers who would pay tuition and for private sponsors who would provide donations. But at the same time, it planted the seeds of institutional autonomy that came to serve the system so well in the next two centuries. Free from the control of church and state, individual colleges learned to survive on their own resources by meeting the needs of their students and their immediate communities.
Todd Suomela

DSHR's Blog: Researcher Privacy - 0 views

  • There is a real lack of understanding, even among students and researchers, as to the extent to which their on-line activities are tracked. Libraries could do much more to educate the campus community as to the importance of ad-blockers, VPNs, and tools such as Tor and Tails.
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