Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Mid-Week Grab Bag

Flying Chihuahua Edition

My typist has an early morning meeting tomorrow -- one of those really wacko meetings that could only happen in the academy: the salary committee will meet to award merit points for a non-existent pool of merit money (call it Excellence Without Money: Keeping It [Un]Real!) -- so this will be quick. We know many of you count on us to be your eyes and ears on the culture, and, though that knowledge humbles and unnerves us, we feel an obligation to let you know what's on our radar screens even when we don't have time to blog it properly. We don't want you to embarrass yourselves by not knowing what all the other kids are talking about at the lunch table, so here you go. Here is what matters, right now, in Roxie's World:

1. Watch this heartwarming vid of a Detroit couple whose 6-pound Chihuahua, Tinker Bell, was picked up in a 70-mph wind gust and blown nearly a mile away during a sudden storm. The miraculous tale involves a flea market, a pet psychic, and two dog lovers named Dorothy and Lavern Utley. You know we don't make this stuff up. Watch the vid:

2. Too busy to pay careful attention to all the Holy Crap, He Really IS the President! assessments of Obama's first 100 days in office? Newsweek does it quick and dirty in a 5-minute highlight reel. There really has been a lot going on, and we give the dude credit for staying cool as a cucumber. I'm pretty sure we would have melted down the moment Roberts screwed up the oath of office right there on Moment One of Day One, so paws up to the Big Guy with the Tall Wife and the Frisky Dog.

3. From the Office of Burning the Village in Order to Save It (Higher Ed. Division): You've probably seen the Times Op-Ed piece by Mark C. Taylor, chair of the religion department at Columbia, which proposes that "If American higher education is to thrive in the 21st century, colleges and universities, like Wall Street and Detroit, must be rigorously regulated and completely restructured." Among Taylor's suggestions -- and sing along if you've heard this song before -- are the abolition of tenure and the abolition of departments, which would be replaced by "problem-focused programs." By "problem-focused programs," Taylor means, um, well, for example, "Mind, Body, Law, Information, Networks, Language, Space, Time, Media, Money, Life and Water."

Moose's favorite line in the column was,"Consider, for example, a Water program," which set her mind spinning out a fantasy MLA interview in which the Water Program at Big Coastal Ag School seeks to add a lit critter to its crack team of H2O specialists. She imagined an interview committee comprised of an engineer, an economist, a meteorologist, and a microbiologist feigning interest as a desperate young job seeker tried valiantly to connect her dissertation on transatlantic modernism to the program's goals and foci. "Water is at the heart of the project," she gamely essays. "Transatlantic Modernism -- Get it?" Historiann offers a more substantive critique of Taylor's column here.

4. Further evidence that the term "post-feminist" may be premature, indeed, delusional: The MLA has released a study, aptly titled "Standing Still," which shows that English and foreign language departments "promote male associate professors to full professors on average at least a year -- and in some cases, depending on type of institutions, several years -- more speedily than they promote women," according to a summary of the report on Inside Higher Ed. In doctoral-granting English departments, men spend an average of 7.5 years as associate professors, while women spend an average of 9.8 years. The gap is even bigger in doctoral-granting foreign language departments, where men spend an average of 6.7 years as associate profs, while women average 10.2 years in the rank. I would spend time delving into the hows, whats, and whys of this gap, but my typist, who has been an associate professor for, um, awhile now, would like to move on to other topics. Go read the Inside Higher Ed analysis. It's really good, if sobering.

5. From the Office of You Say "Potato," I Say "Queer Studies," But I Wish You Would Just Stop Talking: If you haven't seen it, you really must go read Larry Kramer's petty, narcissistic, and wrong on a thousand levels speech to the Yale Gay and Lesbian Association, which bestowed its first Lifetime Achievement Award on the writer and activist. The speech is an attack not only on Yale, with whom Kramer has had a famously contentious relationship over his efforts to fund gay-related things at his alma mater, but on the projects of queer theory and gender studies and on versions of LGBT history that are, in Kramer's anything but humble opinion, overly influenced by those fields of inquiry and thus insufficiently committed to producing what Historiann wittily describes as The Big Book of Transhistorical Gayness. (Great discussion going on in the comments on this post, by the way. Don't skip 'em, or Historiann will catch you in her lasso!) Tenured Radical, herself a Yale alum, takes on Kramer, too, and Inside Higher Ed has a report with comments from several prominent historians, including a very diplomatic and now at Yale George Chauncey (whom Kramer, in his speech, tried to co-opt as an ally).

Note to self: When somebody is kind enough to give you an award, the most important thing to say is thank you. Here is a list of ten tips for writing an effective thank-you speech, and nowhere on it do I see, "Attack the institution hosting the event and fill your remarks with mean-spirited invective that demonstrates how little you know about anything other than Your Self."

Chew on that one, darlings, as you lull your own lovely selves to sleep. Sweet dreams.


  1. Thanks for the links, Roxie. I wish you and your moms would say more about that Associate Professor gap--having just passed my first 5-yera post-tenure review, it's a subject of burning interest to me. It seems like the causes may be complex, and they're difficult to talk about because they may come down to how people choose to spend their time and how the university rewards their choices (or rather, doesn't reward them.) So far anyway, being able to make decisions about how we spend our time is about the only benefit left to being a tenured proffie, since we're all about Excellence Without Money these days!

    Anyway, keep me posted if you have further thoughts.

  2. And thank YOU, Historiann, for "The Big Book of Transhistorical Gayness," which makes us chuckle every time we think about it.

    Clearly there is much more to be said on the subject of the promotion gap. We need to go study the MLA report more carefully before we leap into the fray. You are right that, in some important ways, tenure liberates faculty to make choices about how they spend their time. (As Moose is fond of saying, apropos of why she spends so much time typing for me: Tenure means never having to say you're sorry.) However, I don't think the MLA would be ballyhooing the report -- with its fairly dramatic title -- if they thought the disparity were simply the result of individual choices. MLA Exec Direc Rosemary Feal notes in Scott Jaschik's piece that departments and universities need to "value the diverse contributions that professors make to their fields and campuses." She also talks about the importance of mentoring at the associate level -- which is pretty much non-existent in Moose and Goose's department. Post-tenure, you're on your own -- at least until the Provost passes his diabolical plot to use p-t review to cut faculty salaries!

    What's it like at Baa Ram U in terms of post-tenure mentoring? And are there similar promotion gaps in history?

  3. Candy Man10:57 PM EDT

    Roxie, did you notice the name of the reporter in the Tinker Bell story? Lauren Podell! Get it? Get it? Ha!

    Oh, and that Mark Taylor guy certainly is a trip. I was thinking I might start a program in Candy Studies. Post-tenure, of course. That will undoubtedly send me on the fast-track toward full Prof. I'll send Rosemary Feal a memo.


  4. Candy studies? I think I should move to California and go to Cal PolyTech and major in wine. Or just retire to Napa and Sonoma and live the rest of my life in an alcoholic haze...mmmmmmmnnnnnn.

    Roxie, at Baa Ram U., at least in my department, there is very little mentoring at all. We tend to leave people alone, which in many ways is a blessing, but can also be...if not a curse, perhaps not ideal. I recently commented about my grad school experience that "we were raised by wolves," and I think the same holds true for me in my professional career. The mentoring I've had I've got from friends and senior scholars outside my of the deparments I've been affiliated with (or even outside of my universities.) But, my department at Baa Ram U. is just an M.A-granting program--my sense is that if and when we get our Ph.D. program off the ground that we're going to have to have more of a plan for nurturing faculty as well as grad students.

    Another factor in our lack of mentoring is that we have coasted a long time (10+ years) on the fact that we've tended to hire people with experience and publications in hand, so tenure and promotion (at least to associate) has not been much of a mystery. I think we may need to think about mentoring more seriously now that we're heavy in the middle rank, with almost everyone an Associate Prof. and only 3 full proffies.

    What's your advice?

  5. Candy Man -- I actually don't get the Lauren Podell joke, though I give a paws up to the Candy Studies program. Wine Studies, too. Margarita Studies. Hot Babes with Strong Shoulders Studies . . . .

    Historiann -- The truth is we're kinda agnostic 'round here on the subject of mentoring. Both moms were not exactly "raised by wolves" but worked with people who were busy, powerful, and not big into hand-holding. They learned a lot from the examples of their teachers and from the limited advice and direction they got -- because, when push comes to shove, you're the one who has to get through the interview, the job talk, the writing of the book, etc. It's probably good that junior faculty are more systematically mentored nowadays than they tended to be back then, but Moose thinks it sometimes verges on the intrusive.

    As for mid-career mentoring, particularly on making the move from associate to full, my hunch is that's non-existent pretty much everywhere. Would it help? Perhaps, in that conversations about goals, plans, and projects are almost always beneficial, but Feal's comment about institutions valuing "diverse contributions" really gets to the heart of the matter. In the humanities at Queer the Turtle U, the standard for promotion to full is still a second scholarly monograph (and monograph = a book between covers). Period. No credit for heroic performance in the field of program-building allowed. Or dog-blogging, amazingly.

    Not that anyone around here cares about such things, of course. ;-)

  6. I'm with you on the agnosticism about mentoring. I've always thought it was best for people to seek out their own mentors rather than be assigned one in a bureaucratic exercise (one that would invariably make more work for women associate profs, right?) I think it's a critical mark of your own professional development to seek out mentors, preferably ones outside as well as inside your institution.

    The key to solving the "leaky pipeline" and the associate professor gap I think is in how work is evaluated, and what work counts as "real" work. All of the mentoring in the world won't help if you've got a big service assignment (like inventing a new program or department, chairing a department, etc.)--unless the mentor can find another 6 hours in each day for you.

    Plus, I think most associate profs know what they need to do to move up to the next level. (If they didn't, they'd probably not have made it that far.) Some choose to stop working after dinner at night and to go ahead and have that second glass of wine. Some choose to read the Little House series to their kids each night while they're still little enough to enjoy being read to. They've earned that right--and I think some people need a few years to chill out and figure out their next major research move. There are worse things than being an associate professor for 10 years.

  7. Candy Man11:53 PM EDT

    Podell... Poodle. Dog joke, Roxie. Kind of lame, I know, but still....


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