Category Archives: Teaching


Getting Creative About Creativity Studies

The latest fad in American higher education is the teaching of creativity. Recent articles applauding the study of creativity have appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, and many other news sources. Buffalo State College and Eastern Kentucky University have made names for themselves with courses like “Introduction to Creative Studies” and “Creativity, Innovation, and Change.”

The popularity of creativity studies stems in large part from anxieties about the long-term health of America’s…


Trigger Warnings Trigger Me

Trigger warnings. I first encountered them about five years ago. We were reading a book about disordered eating. I showed images of high-fashion models next to pro-anorexic images to illustrate the idea that our culture’s ideal beauty is not really that different from an anorexic body. Two young women in the class told me I should have given a trigger warning since women with eating disorders could have experienced psychological duress from the images. It was my duty, apparently, to make sure …


Now That the ‘Evil Empire’ Is Back, So Is My Career

Last month I appeared as an expert analyst on four news shows and three radio shows. This is perhaps not unusual for someone whose specialty is foreign affairs, but what is unusual is that in each situation I was asked to talk about Russia.

I commented on the likelihood of terrorism at the Sochi Olympics, and later I commented on Russia’s intentions toward Ukraine. As a result, I found myself once again engaged with the questions that had formed the background of most of my graduate-school yea…


Home College: an Idea Whose Time Has Come (Again)

“Maybe you should home-college,” I joked to a highly educated Ph.D. friend—doctorate in medieval history, two master’s, several years of adjunct teaching experience in three fields. She was worried about how she would pay for her own offspring’s eventual college education on her tiny salary, if she did not soon land a full-time job, preferably on the tenure track.

As the words hung in the air, the idea’s utility seemed obvious. Thousands of qualified, trained, energetic, and underemployed Ph.D…


Academic Tribalism

When I was a younger scholar, a very famous cognitive psychologist came to my office to visit me during his colloquium trip to my university. I mentioned with pride that I had just written a new textbook in cognitive psychology. His quick response was, “Bob, you’re not a cognitive psychologist anymore.”

I was deeply hurt. I had been trained in cognitive psychology by some of the top scholars in the field and always had thought of myself as their protégé. True, I had strayed and done some resea…


Assignment: Research Your Adjunct Teachers

In the Fall 2013 term, having graduated from Warren Wilson College with an M.F.A. in poetry—a terminal degree, of course—I found myself teaching composition courses as an adjunct for the eighth consecutive semester. This semester, however, was different from the others not only in the workload but also in the commute: I worked on two campuses in two states, with 30 miles of freeway, part of it under construction, between them. On top of that, I taught five courses.

The first institution I taught…


Is a Picture Worth a Thousand Notes?

In a class this past December, after I wrote some directions on the board for students about their final examination, one young woman quickly snapped a picture of the board using her smartphone.

It wasn’t the first time a student had taken a picture instead of taking notes, nor was she the only student in that class who was using this photographic note-taking method. But perhaps because she was sitting in the front row, or perhaps because her phone flashed, she drew my attention.

When I looked i…



In 35 years in the academy, I have never heard a colleague say, “I am really looking forward to grading my students’ papers/exams.” Never. Not once. I thus feel confident that almost all academics agree that grading is the worst part of our job.

Part of this is simply the onerous character of the task itself, which seems worse every year. We also worry that grading will reveal that we did a poor job of teaching the course. But the worst thing about grading is that we know that poor grades will c…


The Problem We’re Afraid to Name

In recent years, I’ve had to deal with parents much more frequently than I ever imagined I would have to as a college professor. One father even tried to blackmail me into giving his son easier work and higher grades so that he wouldn’t lose his football scholarship. I’m not alone: Many of my colleagues report hearing from parents more and more frequently in the past 10 years or so.

This is certainly a relatively recent phenomenon; when I was in college, my mother would no more have considered c…


Ah, the Unhumanities!

We’ve been hearing these stories for years. Humanities majors are declining. Tenure-track jobs are dwindling. No one cares about books by English professors anymore, at least not this year. The Chronicle has run many articles on this, and Thursday’s New York Times offers a reprise.

Majors are looking elsewhere. A weak economy and increasingly expensive tuition have caused students—sometimes at the goading of their parents, who are paying the bills—to get practical and turn to the hard scienc…