Friday, December 12, 2008

Hard Times

Times are hard, you may have heard. Here in Roxie's World, where the primary wage-earners are state employees facing the prospect of furloughs in the next six months, we've had a series of increasingly frantic messages from our accounting firm (a now sad pair of number crunchers that we will call, let's see, not Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, but, um, TIAA & CREF) urging us to cut costs, increase efficiencies, and seize upon any available opportunity to make money. Right, guys -- Money-making is what we're all about here in the ad-free zone of Roxie's World.

Anyway, like other academics who got their holiday buzz killed by bad budget news this week, both moms sat in on a grim departmental committee meeting devoted to going over a list of cuts that might have to be made once the state lets Queer the Turtle U know how much of a hit it's going to have to take to get through fiscal 2009. And, please, don't even think about 2010.

Folks, we're real sorry to hear that the bailout for the auto industry has apparently fallen apart, but have you noticed that no one is even talking about a bailout for higher education? For years, public institutions like Queer the Turtle U have been stuck between the rock and the hard place of declining levels of state support and mounting pressure to keep tuition affordable. Caught in that vise, schools have fought to do more with less while scrambling to catch up to private institutions in the game of fundraising. That strategy worked reasonably well when times were good and the bubbles in stocks or real estate had a lot people feeling rich. Now? The party's over, public and private revenues have dried up, and schools are desperately trying to figure out how to cut costs without compromising the value of their brand (the ne plus ultra of higher ed under the consumer model).

Moose, who has a healthy respect for academic entrepreneurship, has a slogan for public institutions eager to prove that larger classes, smaller operating budgets, and reductions in advising and other forms of academic support are no threat whatsoever to the quality of education. She's been using the slogan informally all over campus at Queer the Turtle U this fall, but it hasn't been officially adopted yet, so, in the spirit of academic capitalism she has decided to auction it off here to one of my legions of loyal fans who works at some other cash-strapped public school. Listen up, Historiann! How 'bout it, Dog-Eared Book? the Shy One? Get in on the action, because this won't last long. Bidding opens now. Name your price in comments. All marketing suggestions (tee-shirts? coffee cups? backpacks?) welcome. Are you ready? Here is Moose's slogan for hard times in higher ed:

Excellence Without Money

Brilliant, don't you agree? Can't you just see it festooned on banners all over your campus, inspiring the young to scale the heights of pretending that everything is really just fine, no matter how many staff are laid off or how many searches are canceled or how many lines are cannibalized? Imagine the cool video your marketing department could produce, featuring a racially and ethnically mixed chorus line of smiling students dancing as fast as they can to a happy tune played by your school's marching band. Cue the tubas, kids! Let's show 'em what we're made of!

Meantime, here on the home front, we're considering a broad range of revenue enhancers to try to weather the storm of Great Depression 2.0. We realize we've been remiss in not seeking to capitalize on Roxie's World's strategic location near the epicenter of Obama Nation as the date of the coronation of the Precious approaches. That, I assure you, is about to change. Having no senate seat to auction off, we've decided to jump on the bandwagon and rent out space to the thundering hordes of Hopers and Changers preparing to converge on the national capital area around January 20. Why the heck not? Apparently, everybody else is doing it. We've already promised beds to three friends who will be in town for the occasion and actually plan to go, while we stay home and watch the festivities on teevee, having recently decided that inaugurations are like football: You see more of the action and are a whole lot more comfortable curled up on your couch than freezing your tush off in the not so great outdoors.

So, here's the deal. We figure we can sleep six more people in the house and maybe a hundred or so out in the ridiculously large back yard. We hadn't planned on renting out space there, but with word yesterday that camping will not be allowed on the national mall, we decided to make a play for the cash-poor granola-eating set insane enough to sleep outside in January. Take a look at our packages, and let us know what you'd like. Make your reservations in comments or by e-mailing me at

Bed Only:

Bed (shared) indoors, with bath privileges: $1500 @ night
Couch (shared) indoors, no bath privileges: $1200 @ night
Lawn space (no fires allowed), 1/2 bath: $800 @ night

Board Packages:

Pre-inaugural scrambled egg breakfast: $250
Eggs with Kraft cheese slices: $299
Eggs with Kraft cheese slices, coffee, and glass of Cold Duck: $499
Post-inaugural dance party and cold buffet: $899
Post-inaugural dance party and hot buffet, with Cold Duck: $1799

Transportation Packages:

Pickup/dropoff at National (no, we don't call it Reagan) Airport: $399
Pickup/dropoff at Takoma Metro (extra for early a.m. or late p.m. rides): $299


Students: none
Seniors: none
Disaffected Clintonistas: free drinks and an "Old Bitches for Hillary" tee-shirt, slightly worn

Yes, times are tough, kids, but if we all stick together, if we share the sacrifices and embrace the opportunities, we will get through our current challenges with our souls -- and, if we are lucky, our senses of humor -- in tact. Roxie's World is here for you, but as the bleeping governor of Illinois says, you've got to pay to play. So pay up, beloveds, and let's play on.

(Image credits: Seat for sale, via NYT; Rooms for rent, via PB)


  1. Anonymous1:53 PM EST

    Ach, Roxie! Wise and angry all at once. We'll need some anger to get us through since, as Karen Carpenter would say, we've only just begun. Thanks for the link to Tenured Radical's important post. And also for the slogan. I've been playing around with "Libraries without Books" ever since I learned that our University Library has been so squeezed by the digital science journal extortionists that it is in the third of four years of spending down the principal of one of its endowed funds in order to by books AT ALL. (Which means we are two years from No Books Whatsoever). And still, I saw none of my departmental colleagues at the book party for faculty who donated a single copy of their newly-published book to our dedicated but struggling library. Are we still assuming our books will *sell*? Seems as if a whole set of assumptions and behaviors will have to change. And not a moment too soon. Though this will take enlightened, strong leadership at and above the departmental level. Any chance of this from where you sit, Roxie? As in, the articulation of core principles and rearrangement of institutional priorities around them? Scary stuff, but not if the Right People are in charge. But where to find them?

  2. Look in the mirror, my friend, and you will see the Right People -- i.e., those with the courage and the creativity it will take to maintain core principles in the face of economic and institutional and disciplinary change. We've got good leaders at QTU, though one always worries about the pressures they are under and the terrible choices they are forced to make.

    We sincerely hope that in the age of change about to be unleashed leaders at all levels will have the guts to end the mindless anti-tax hysteria that has dominated our politics for the last 30 years. It's time for someone to stand up and explain that when it comes to services and infrastructure, you get what you pay for -- and that education, health care, roads, and environmental protection are definitely worth paying for. I know the idea of raising taxes during hard times is politically scary, but it seems essential. Where, indeed, will we find a leader with the courage to make that case?

  3. I'm seriously considering sleeping on the floor of my dad's office at 11th and G. At least it will be air-conditioned.

  4. Anonymous7:58 PM EST

    Hey Rox,
    One of the most inspiring/ chilling things I heard at a recent Diversity conference at the Bruce Springsteen State University was something like the following: "Hard times means we'll find out whether our institutions are serious about diversity. If it's just an add-on, it'll be the first to go. . . . " Here's hoping our respective institutions *are* serious about things like, say, LGBT Studies. . . . you catch my drift? These are, as the Chinese curse would have it, Interesting Times.

  5. Well, LGBT rights have been the first to go on the "new," "all-inclusive" national political scene. We're supposed to WAIT. Mmm. . .wait. What does that really mean? When others were told to go to the back of the bus, it was very clear what wait, step back, stand back meant. And to the same people who tell us to wait now, it's very clear what that same advice meant then. So I agree that hard times clue us in to just how serious politicians and officials and citizens are about diversity and equal rights for all.

    Interesting Times indeed,
    Courage, anyone?

  6. Moose thinks that the bailout for higher ed will only happen if students get angry and active -- not only to fight against rising tuition but to fight FOR higher levels of state support and FOR programs they care about and values they hold dear. They can say and do things that faculty sometimes can't and have a vital role to play in the work ahead.

    Eitan, you righteous dude, are you listening? ;-)

  7. Anonymous11:51 AM EST

    LOVE the slogan, "Excellence without Money!" I can see it on a t-shirt right now. I'm just afraid that the irony would be lost on university administrators, and they might love it and try to adopt it, too!

    Maybe we could set up one of those cafepress accounts and sell them on our blogs, Roxie? (At Baa Ram U., I might suggest adding a "yee-haw!" after "Excellence without Money," OK?

  8. Now you're talkin', cowgirl -- Let's monetize these suckers! And I would be fine with locally appropriate variations of "Excellence Without Money." A hearty "yee-haw" would be great for Baa Ram U, while a guttural "one, two, three, FOUR" might be suitable for Bruce Springsteen State U.

    I share your concern about administrators not getting the irony of "Excellence Without Money," which is why I think we should package each tee-shirt with a handy irony detector. Most of my readers already have them, but we will need to flood the market with them to make sure our words aren't misunderstood. Dog forbid!

  9. Maybe the universities (and the College of the Republic of Takoma Park) should rent out space for the inauguration at those prices. Instead of "a nickle a spot," like the Jacob Riis photo, they could charge "a grand a spot." They might create a budget surplus.

  10. That's a great idea, Clio, though I would hate to have to compete with the local colleges and universities for the inauguration biz. The football stadium over at QTU is almost as big as our ridiculously large back yard, so they could give us a run for our money with the camping cohort. Though, state laws regarding the sale of alcohol being what they are, I don't think they could compete for the Cold Duck crowd.


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