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Houston, The Radical Has Landed

September 1, 2007, 7:16 pm

Well, Zenith is open for business. You can read about it from New President’s perspective here. Don’t you think it is interesting that New President has decided to blog? I do. And I wonder if it is his very own, or if it is minded on a daily basis by the publicity arm of the university. Somehow I can’t see New President having the time to check his blog every couple of hours to make sure some whack job has not left a comment that is offensive to many university constituencies. But time will tell, and the next time you scoff at the idea that the Radical is Emulated by All, think again, dear reader.

The beginning of school means that your Radical has been hustling nonstop as chair of the best major since someone invented the American university in the nineteenth century: first year students, returning students, new visiting faculty — all have passed through my domain (or my e-domain) and I hope are none the worse for it. Everything seems to be going well — and I have promised not to write about people I know without their permission, so I can’t give you the highlights even if I could remember them. But what I like best so far about school this year is:

The new student center. Because I feel like it is really my center, and that it has been built for me.

Yes, that’s right. I know you might expect some high degree of cynicism about Zenith spending a gazillion dollars it appears not to have really been able to afford. I believe the financial cock-up has something to do with bonds, the endowment, and the inflated price of building supplies since the Iraq/Afghanistan War began. There will be some connection to the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market, I am also sure. If you want to know more, ask that economist on the Lehrer news hour to do a story. But I really don’t care. Whatever is wrong with Zenith’s finances has been wrong since I arrived, and will probably be wrong until I retire or depart for Greener Pastures. Or Heavenly Pastures. Our futures seem to be intertwined, unless I either win the lottery or the Fickle Finger of Fate points into the pile of job applications at a major research university and says “YOU!”

Fans of the Radical might even expect snarkiness about how much the student center has increased the operating budget of the university: my sources say $1 million, but do your own research. This will undoubtedly have implications for faculty salaries, new faculty hires, and the percentage of courses taught by contingent faculty. How can it not? But here’s the good part. Not only is the student center beautiful, and new, and not Methodist or faux-neo-federalist architecture, it doesn’t smell like old sneakers, as the former student center did. Not only is it right behind the Castle, thus moving the Beating Heart of the University closer to Us than to Them; not only does it have a Bank of America ATM (!!!) and a fabulous computer store featuring the latest Apple products, but:

It has edible food.

Nay, I go further: the food is excellent. I say this after only two lunches, but so far, so fucking good. My first lunch was sushi and a salad, and I would like to tell you how much it cost, but for happy reasons I can’t. I happened to run into a favorite administrator of mine outside the center, who had a free lunch ticket (chorus from readers: “Who says there’s no free lunch?”) because administrators were being encouraged to cruise the joint and look friendly. I happily joined this person, who got us lunch, thus affording scads of first year students their first glimpse of a Tenured Radical as well. The sushi was fresh and plentiful (I think there were ten pieces); the salad was a kind of make your own deal, with all sorts of groovy stuff like seaweed.

The second day, I got there before the rush and went to the bar where a nice lady makes you a fresh burrito with all the ingredients chosen by you! It was completely delicious. Then I got to the register and found out it was Free Soda Pop day for faculty and staff. Whee! What could have been a lovelier surprise? Only free dessert day, I think. Or All-The-Pizza-An-Historian-Can-Eat day. My whole lunch was a little over six dollars, and I used to pay at least that for a yogurt and an apple at the old student center, the only lunch alternative to a plate of baked transfats and deep-fried carbs.

And both times I ate outside, on a sun-drenched deck, where I can imagine working on my tan into October, Goddess willing.

So despite the fact that I have every reason to be pessimistic about the year (four searches, few faculty — although reinforcements arrive in January), attendance at two extra conferences so that I can interview people, making a grand total of five conferences (for three of these, papers must be written in my spare time); and trying to teach and keep slogging away at various projects in process — I am unnaturally optimistic.

And it’s all because of the student center.

I’m already planning lunch for next week.

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