Philistinism?


I read this rather depressing story in The New York Times about a Steve Martin discussion at the 92nd Street Y the other day. Martin was being interviewed about his latest novel set in the art world and…gasp… about art collecting in general. Sol Adler, the Y’s executive director, was just horrified. How gauche!  From the NY Times:

“Last night’s event with Steve Martin did not meet the standard of excellence that you have come to expect from 92nd St. Y,” Sol wrote in an e-mail to ticket holders. “We planned for a more comprehensive discussion and we, too, were disappointed with the evening. We will be mailing you a $50 certificate for each ticket you purchased to last night’s event. The gift certificate can be used toward future 92Y events, pending availability.” About 900 tickets to the event, which cost $50each, had been sold; all ticket buyers received the offer. Perhaps the audience saw that message coming. Midway through the conversation, a Y representative handed Ms. Solomon a note asking her to talk more about Mr. Martin’s career and, implicitly, less about the art world, the subject of his latest novel, “An Object of Beauty.” According to Mr. Martin, viewers watching the interview by closed-circuit television from across the country sent e-mails to the Y complaining “that the evening was not going the way they wished, meaning we were discussing art.”

It was, he said, “a little like an actor responding in Act III to an audience’s texts to ‘shorten the soliloquies.’ ” The audience cheered when Ms. Solomon read aloud the note. Still, Ms. Solomon said she had thought until that moment that things were going swimmingly. She said she was “appalled” to have their conversation publicly criticized by the Y and found deserving of a refund. Continue reading

Now Glenn Beck hates FIFA…


Hertzberg’s column in this week’s New Yorker caught my attention, if only for the idiotic ramblings of Glenn Beck and company:

Today’s conservative soccer scolds are not so good-natured. Their complaints are variations on the theme of un-Americanness. “I hate it so much, probably because the rest of the world likes it so much,” Glenn Beck, the Fox News star, proclaimed. (Also, “Barack Obama’s policies are the World Cup.”) What really bugs “silly leftist critics,” the Washington Times editorialized, is that “the most popular sports in America—football, baseball, and basketball—originated here in the Land of the Free.” At the Web site of the American Enterprise Institute, the Washington Post columnist Marc Thiessen, formerly a speechwriter for George W. Bush, wrote, “Soccer is a socialist sport.” Also, “Soccer is collectivist.” Also, “Perhaps in the age of President Obama, soccer will finally catch on in America. But I suspect that socializing Americans’ taste in sports may be a tougher task than socializing our healthcare system.” And then there’s G. Gordon Liddy. Soccer, Liddy informed his radio listeners, comes from Latin America, and first we have to get into this term, the Hispanics. That would indicate Spanish language, and yes, these people in Latin America speak Spanish. That is because conquistadores who came over from Spain—you know, tall Caucasians, not very many of them—conquered the Indians, and the Indians adopted the language of their conquerors. But what we call Hispanics now really are South American Indians. And this game, I think, originated with the South American Indians, and instead of a ball they used to use the head, the decapitated head, of an enemy warrior. Liddy’s guest, a conservative “media critic” named Dan Gainor, responded cautiously (“soccer is such a basic game, you can probably trace its origins back a couple of different ways”), while allowing that “the whole Hispanic issue” is among the reasons “the left” is “pushing it in schools around the country.”

Read the whole article  here

More Draconian Security Measures from TSA


Nothing like closing the barn door after the horse escapes!  TSA has decided to implement some security measures in response to the failed terrorist attack on Christmas day. Here’s an excerpt from the US DHS security directive that TSA has already begun to enforce on international flights:

2. IN FLIGHT

1. During flight, the aircraft operator must ensure that the following procedures are followed:

1. Passengers must remain in seats beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.
2. Passenger access to carry-on baggage is prohibited beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.
3. Disable aircraft-integrated passenger communications systems and services (phone, internet access services, live television programming, global positioning systems) prior to boarding and during all phases of flight.
4. While over U.S. airspace, flight crew may not make any announcement to passengers concerning flight path or position over cities or landmarks.
5. Passengers may not have any blankets, pillows, or personal belongings on the lap beginning 1 hour prior to arrival at destination.

Read the rest here (and the 100 responses!)

More on Mark C Taylor’s University


Mark Taylor’s Op-ed from last week received a good deal of (warranted) criticism.  The Times has published some responses to  Taylor’s piece.  Here are two:

Re “End the University as We Know It,” by Mark C. Taylor (Op-Ed, April 27):

Scholars in the United States have grown accustomed to the crass anti-intellectualism of some of their critics outside the academy. It is alarming and embarrassing to hear the same rhetoric within the ranks of my own institution.

Mr. Taylor’s absurd and dangerous proposals to abolish departments and tenure would risk trading serious — and sometimes, yes, specialized and unpopular — scholarship for fashionable but intellectually shallow and incoherent commodities.

Good interdisciplinary work often presupposes expertise within traditional disciplines, just as tenure protects scholars and teachers from prevailing prejudices and the whims of the market.

Mr. Taylor’s bizarre comparison of academic peer review with unregulated financial markets demonstrates incomprehension of the nature and purpose of higher education.

Taylor Carman
New York, April 27, 2009

The writer is a professor of philosophy at Barnard College, Columbia University. Continue reading

So you want to be a Professor?


Somehow I missed it, but this is an interesting article from the WSJ, “So you Want to Be A Professor.”  Along with Mark Taylor’s pretentious Op-ed from the NY Times last week (for a spirited reaction see here), it kind of rubbed me the wrong way.  For instance:

On some recent doctoral program cuts at Emory and Columbia:

But graduates students also act as teaching assistants, doing a great deal of time-consuming classroom work (and grading) that professors themselves are thus not compelled to do. In all sorts of courses, especially in their freshman and sophomore years, undergraduates may find themselves being instructed more often by a 25-year-old doctoral candidate than by the university’s full-time faculty members, who, of course, already have their doctorates (and one or two books to their credit, too). It is an odd, upside-down arrangement, but it has an economic logic: By providing cheap labor, graduate students save college administrations millions of dollars each year in salary costs.

So why the cuts? Well, the calculations work out differently for different schools. For instance, universities in lower tiers might not have to do as much because they can get away with having a higher percentage of classes taught by graduate students. But some of the schools making doctoral cuts this year gave compassion as their reason. Catherine R. Stimson, the dean of Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, was quoted in Inside Higher Ed: Given the state of the academic job market, she asked, referring to would-be doctoral candidates: “Is it fair to bring them in?” Continue reading

Media Frenzy Outstrips Academic Freedom, Again


It worked with Ward Churchill, I suppose. Who cares about academic freedom, really?

UPDATE: Not even by satellite!

Boston College, citing pressure from Brighton residents and Boston police officers, refused to allow former radical William Ayers to deliver a student-sponsored lecture via satellite yesterday, frustrating student organizers who accused the college of sacrificing academic ideals to assuage public anger. The move, capping a four-day controversy, followed the college’s previous decision to bar Ayers from coming to the campus.

From Inside Higher Ed

The norm for protests over a William Ayers appearance on campus these days is for conservative critics to say that the University of Illinois at Chicago professor shouldn’t be given a forum to speak because of the past violence of the Weather Underground, of which he was once a leader.

At Boston College, the debate has taken a new twist — with the college calling off a talk by Ayers planned for tonight and citing a police killing that has never been definitively linked to the Weather Underground and that Ayers and others insist his group had nothing to do with. Nonetheless, that 1970 police killing is still associated by many in Boston with the Weather Underground and remains a political flashpoint — as became clear on Friday.

Michael Graham, a local talk radio host, started calling on Boston College to revoke the invitation to Ayers, and he encouraged alumni, donors and others to call the college to demand that it deny Ayers a forum. Graham repeatedly linked Ayers and the Weather Underground to the 1970 killing of Walter Schroeder, the police officer, who was responding to a bank robbery by a group of radical students. Schroeder left a wife and nine children. His killing is periodically back in the news, and last received extensive coverage in 1993, when Katherine Ann Power — one of those involved in the incident, who had evaded capture and lived under another name — turned herself in.

Communism Conference: Ideas meet Reality?


Here’s an  interesting article about the Communism Conference in London this weekend from The Socialist Worker by Alex Callinicos, “Slavoj Zizek’s Ideas need to link with reality.”  I’ve pasted the full text below.  Callinicos raises some interesting questions about some contradictions revolving around the relationship between theory and practice and the 100 pound entrance fee, ahem.

Nearly a thousand people will be attending a conference this weekend on “The Idea of Communism” in central London.  In itself, this isn’t a big deal. Left wing conferences take place regularly in central London. The Socialist Workers Party’s annual Marxism event attracts several thousand participants every summer.

There are two things that are different about this particular conference. The first is that it isn’t being organised by a political organisation or journal, but by Birkbeck College’s Institute for the Humanities. Secondly, the conference is attracting an unusual amount of media attention. The Financial Times devoted a full page of its weekend edition to an interview with the director of the Institute for the Humanities, Slavoj Zizek, headlined “The modest Marxist”.

It is presumably Zizek, one of the most dazzling figures on the intellectual left, who has succeeded in attracting as speakers at the conference some of the best known continental philosophers – notably Alain Badiou, Toni Negri and Giorgio Agamben, along with, among others, Terry Eagleton and Peter Hallward. The emphasis indeed seems to be on philosophy. “From Plato onwards, Communism is the only political Idea worthy of a philosopher,” the conference publicity declares. Continue reading

Re-Branding Humanities?


An interesting article from the NY Times:

One idea that elite universities like Yale, sprawling public systems like Wisconsin and smaller private colleges like Lewis and Clark have shared for generations is that a traditional liberal arts education is, by definition, not intended to prepare students for a specific vocation. Rather, the critical thinking, civic and historical knowledge and ethical reasoning that the humanities develop have a different purpose: They are prerequisites for personal growth and participation in a free democracy, regardless of career choice. But in this new era of lengthening unemployment lines and shrinking university endowments, questions about the importance of the humanities in a complex and technologically demanding world have taken on new urgency. Previous economic downturns have often led to decreased enrollment in the disciplines loosely grouped under the term “humanities” — which generally include languages, literature, the arts, history, cultural studies, philosophy and religion. Many in the field worry that in this current crisis those areas will be hit hardest.

Already scholars point to troubling signs. A December survey of 200 higher education institutions by The Chronicle of Higher Education and Moody’s Investors Services found that 5 percent have imposed a total hiring freeze, and an additional 43 percent have imposed a partial freeze. In the last three months at least two dozen colleges have canceled or postponed faculty searches in religion and philosophy, according to a job postings page on Wikihost.org. The Modern Language Association’s end-of-the-year job listings in English, literature and foreign languages dropped 21 percent for 2008-09 from the previous year, the biggest decline in 34 years. Continue reading

“Gratuitous Mischief:” Tenured Faculty


I came across an article in The Symptom (over at lacan.com) entitled “Towards a Theory of the Tenured Class,” and there were some passages that just made me giggle out loud (I’m not sure because it rings true or because it’s just plain silly-I’m going with a combination of both!). For one:

To professors with a taste not just for jargon incomprehensible to common people but also for otherwise unacceptable contradictions, tenure offers authoritarian leverage in mind-fucking.

And this one:

Predisposed to pontificate, if not to bluster and bluff, they develop a resistance to doing first-hand research as beneath them, something strictly for the lower academic classes, much as those who become bosses become incapable of doing menial work. Indeed, especially if trained in philosophy, literature, and sociology, rather than history or economics, tenured profs are in my observation prone to making stuff up, often outrageously. When George Orwell once quipped that only intellectuals with a taste for peculiar ideas could be so stupid it was obvious that he didn’t know tenured profs, some of whom can be yet stupider at no cost to themselves, who are, in effect, a licensed jerks. The inspiration for this critique was a sociologist who seems to take particular glee in demonstrating how sociologically dumb an academic sociologist can be. A Victim of Tenure I rank him to be. Outrageous Stupidity becomes for the tenured the analogue of Conspicuous Consumption-an inexpensive privilege that Thorstein Veblen attributed to the “leisure class.”

Continue reading