Category Archives: academentia

March 7, 2013, 1:22 pm

Outsourcing Friedman

Since the world is flat, per Thomas Friedman, I’m going to outsource my incredulity at his column on Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) to John Warner over at Inside Higher Ed:

Thomas Friedman has MOOCs in his sights and that should worry all sides of the debate because Thomas Friedman operates a very large megaphone that helps shape public opinion, and also he is almost always wrong about everything. Yes, that is an ad hominem attack, a logical fallacy I became acquainted with in one of the classes I took taught by a professor in college. (Or it might have actually been in high school, I’m not sure.) I normally don’t go for ad hominem because as a teacher of writing I strongly believe that what matters are the ideas not the speaker. In this case, I’m making an exception because Thomas Friedman has demonstrated himself to be so wrong, so often, that he should no longer be…

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August 1, 2012, 1:07 pm

Gore Vidal: pretty good historian, and a great character in US history.

I read Henry Adams before I read Gore Vidal, but I liked Vidal better. Both were funny, but only Vidal was having fun. Which is not something everyone understands, that you can have great fun at the apocalypse. It was perhaps his least American trait.

A critic complained about the versions of Henry Adams and Henry James that Vidal made up. Vidal responded, but they made me up. He shared with Adams an apparent sense that American politics ought to have belonged to him, and as it didn’t, American history would. As motives to write history go, it isn’t the worst. He knew that the affairs of the republic were run by a small group of people who wanted to protect its property. He judged each faction of the group more or less by its tendency to agree with him.

In consequence, he had mixed feelings about FDR, who employed his father and disagreed with his grandfather; he held enduringly…

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July 5, 2012, 6:56 pm

A physician on curing us of irritation with the liberal arts.

Longtime reader, occasional commenter Chris Johnson gives me permission to quote from his email:

I do feel discouraged by this recent onslaught against the liberal arts. I appreciate and applaud the light you and your colleagues have shone on the recent travesty at the U of VA, as only one example of this trend. Academic historians need to bang that gong as loud as they can.

I graduated from Haverford College in 1974 with a double major in history and religion. I went on to medical school, and my dean there had been a Rhodes Scholar in one of the humanities. Fully half of my Haverford classmates majored in one or another of the humanities and then scattered across their business and professional careers. This is a wonderful thing, and was once regarded as a wonderful thing. But a similar craze in medical education for “practicality” has changed things such that many, many students …

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June 18, 2012, 6:50 pm

The University of Virginia and the Moneychangers in the Temple

The University of Virginia, 1826

The President of the University of Virginia, Teresa Sullivan, was forced out last week, after mere moments on the job. She was not, it seems, sufficiently business-minded for the University’s Board of Visitors, not sufficiently in tune with the “strategic dynamism” needed in these challenging times.

If this seems woolly, it is. The board, despite a storm of bad publicity, has refused to outline anything more specific. What information is available comes mostly from a leaked email (that pesky “reply all” button bites someone again). If the timing seems short, it is. The organizers of the coup d’academic must have started a while back, having decided that Sullivan, in the months she had been in office, had not turned the ship of the University sufficiently quickly. If this seems to have been mishandled, it was. The Board does not seem to…

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June 18, 2012, 5:18 pm

FDR: not the antichrist.

(Another in an irregularly produced series)

Matthew Avery Sutton, “Was FDR the Antichrist? The Birth
of Fundamentalist Antiliberalism in a Global Age,” Journal of American History 98, no. 4 (March 2012): 1052-1074.

When and why did white evangelical Christians, or fundamentalists, become categorically opposed to American liberalism?

There is a journalistic rule that all headlines that ask questions are properly answered “no,” and this article is no exception; even to white evangelical Christians, it turns out, FDR was not the antichrist. According to Sutton, they thought he was moving in that direction, though.

This article fits in with the discovery that modern conservatism predates not only the alleged overreach of liberalism in the 1960s or early 1970s, but also World War II. As Sutton says, “As the actions of…

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June 12, 2012, 3:57 pm

Commencements, Further

So, in the “Random Cheap Shot Of The Day” post I did, there was a random cheap shot, a requirement of this blog:

Zakaria pointed out to the reporter that a fair number of people do repeat their speeches, but she brought in a “consultant who handles graduation speakers” from Academy Communications, who is definitely positively not trying to drum up business, to tut-tut further:

Randell Kennedy, the target of the shot, was kind and gracious enough to send a note about how he had actually come to be quoted in the article and I thought I would give him the last word:

My firm is a national agency based in Boston that helps colleges and universities across the country with some of their national media outreach, promoting new research, faculty penned books, quotable academic sources, op-eds-and occasionally commencement speakers. I was actually called by the Boston Globe’s higher-education …

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June 11, 2012, 4:39 pm

“The real meaning of academic freedom.”

On Friday, UC Davis Provost Ralph Hexter issued this statement on academic freedom:

In March, 1953 the Association of American Universities (AAU) adopted a statement articulating “The Rights and Responsibilities of Universities and Their Faculties.” It includes these words: “A university must … be hospitable to an infinite variety of skills and viewpoints, relying upon open competition among them as the surest safeguard of truth. Its whole spirit requires investigation, criticism, and presentation of ideas in an atmosphere of freedom and mutual confidence. This is the real meaning of ‘academic’ freedom.”

A committee of our campus’s Academic Senate has devoted considerable time and effort to examining an assertion by a faculty member of the UC Davis School of Medicine that his academic freedoms were compromised by school administrators. Our Senate’s Representative Assembly earlier…

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May 11, 2012, 4:35 am

Universitas 21 ranks US no. 1 in higher ed – on some counts.

Universitas 21, which is “an international network of 23 [sic] leading research-intensive universities in fifteen countries,” says:

Overall, the top five countries, nominally providing the ‘best’ higher education were found to be the United States, Sweden, Canada, Finland and Denmark. However, broken down into the smaller sections, it was interesting to see that the US, traditionally seen as a country with one of the strongest education systems, did not always hit the top spot. Government funding of higher education as a percentage of GDP is highest in Finland, Norway and Denmark. Taking private expenditure into account changed this significantly: on that measure funding is highest in the United States, South Korea, Canada and Chile, unsurprising, given the structure in these counties.

Some other interesting findings showed that investment in Research and Development is highest…

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May 4, 2012, 5:44 pm

Please join the debate.

Parody aside, I have a few semi-substantive thoughts on the L’affaire Schaefer Riley:

1) The original post is a byproduct of a media culture that (increasingly?  I honestly don’t know) rewards people for ginning up page views rather than for producing high-quality work.  Which is to say, for more and more people working in more and more media, the rewards are there for getting an audience to pay attention.  It often doesn’t matter why the audience is paying attention.  In short, so long as the Naomi Schaefer Rileys of the world enjoy perverse incentives for generating controversy, that’s what they’re going to do.  For example, rather than engaging with her critics (or the people she attacked), Ms. Schaefer Riley chose instead to toss fuel atop the fire.

2) The dissertations that Ms. Schaefer Riley mocked are on topics of real merit to a variety of disciplines, including my own…

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May 3, 2012, 10:29 pm

The most persuasive case for eliminating Naomi Schaefer Riley’s position at CHE? Just read the post.

You’ll have to forgive the lateness, but I just got around to reading Naomi Schaefer Riley’s recent post on Black Studies.  If ever there were a persuasive case for eliminating her position with any publication interested in matters relating to higher education, it’s this execrable piece of drivel.  What a collection of right-wing, know-nothing talking points about how the academy has gone to hell in a handbasket ever since master let the field Negroes into the big house.  The best that can be said of this sort of punditry is that it’s so irrelevant that anybody who bothers to read it will stop well short of engaging with the author and opt to parody her instead.

Seriously, folks, there are legitimate debates about the problems that plague higher education in this country:  from funding cuts at public universities, to runaway tuition costs everywhere, to meager job opportunities…

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April 5, 2012, 5:33 pm

What do you mean, “next”? More on the GOP and the UC.

Sara Robinson asks of Rick Santorum’s false claims about the UC and US history, “Did Rick Santorum just declare the next right-wing crusade?”

The thing to remember is this: Even though right-wing narratives are often factually wrong, they are absolutely never content-free. Stories like this are always about something. And the weirder and more factually challenged they sound to liberal ears, the more important it probably is for us to know what that something is.… This is almost always a clear sign that conservatives are lining up their artillery — in this case, for an open assault on America’s public colleges and universities.

The thing is, the artillery have already been lined up and firing for years. The UC has already been drastically cut. Student tuition and fees are, notoriously, “hella high” – and rising. There’s no sense in which this is the “next” crusade. It’s ongoing.

April 4, 2012, 5:14 pm

“Hmm. At UC Davis you get an F if you’re not gay.”

April 2, 2012, 7:06 pm

Whatever else is in Rick Santorum, the truth about California universities isn’t.

Rick Santorum:

I was just reading something last night from the state of California. And that the California universities – I think it’s seven or eight of the California system of universities don’t even teach an American history course. It’s not even available to be taught. Just to tell you how bad it’s gotten in this country, where we’re trying to disconnect the American people from the roots of who we are, so they have an understanding of what America should be.

I suppose that narrowly speaking, he might not be lying: he might have read “something … from the state of California” that said this. That something might of course have been scrawled in green crayon on a crumpled paper bag.

But there is certainly no substantial truth in this statement, especially the notion that either of the “California system[s] of universities” is “trying to disconnect the American people…

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March 29, 2012, 6:18 am

Good-bye, higher education.

USA Today hed reads, “Higher education vanishing before our eyes”.

Even with top grades and extracurricular activities, students may find it difficult to gain acceptance to or graduate from a four-year university after recent cuts to higher education budgets.

The month of March has been particularly bad for colleges and universities nationwide, as budget negotiations have left many institutions of higher education in the red.…

California’s State University (CSU) system announced Monday that they would close the admission process for nearly all of its 23 campuses for the Spring 2013 semester, affecting almost 16,000 students wishing to attend.

In addition, every student applying for the 2013-2014 school year will be waitlisted while officials await Gov. Brown’s proposed budget initiative to increase taxes in November. If the measure is defeated, officials will be forced to cut…

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March 15, 2012, 8:53 am

Alterman on Gaddis on Kennan.

Eric Alterman has this to say about George Kennan and John Gaddis:

Had Kennan not lived so long, Gaddis might have done a fair job as his biographer. But as Kennan, despite remaining an old-fashioned conservative in the tradition of Walter Lippmann and Hans Morgenthau, moved further and further to the dovish/diplomatic wing of foreign policy debate, his biographer rushed headlong in the opposite direction. Kennan, for instance, strongly opposed Bush’s Iraq adventure, while Gaddis sounded like Dick Cheney on steroids during this period. Cautioning Democrats not to take issue with intellectual currents underlying Bush’s foreign policy, Gaddis argued: “The world now must be made safe for democracy, and this is no longer just an idealistic issue; it’s an issue of our own safety,” later adding, “A global commitment to remove remaining tyrants could complete a process Americans be…

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