Category Archives: Teaching

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#FergusonSyllabus

How should academics respond to the death of Michael Brown and the non-indictment of his killer? If you teach critical race theory, criminology, modern American history, African-American studies, or any number of other subjects explicitly linked to Brown’s death, then I suspect you already have a plan. But what about the rest of us?

One of my beliefs about public engagement is that the process of becoming an academic, as both a scholar and a teacher, creates habits of mind that we can bring to b…

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Silicon Valley’s Empathy Problem

Facebook is no stranger to controversy, but last month the company found itself in a public scrap with its fiercest opponents yet. The cause? Facebook’s decision to delete the accounts of several San Francisco drag queens, enforcing a longstanding policy that users go by their real names on the site.

Here in San Francisco, the activist queens known as the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence reacted with anger and disbelief. As queens like Sister Roma rightly pointed out, alternative names are a mean…

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Confessions of a Gen-Ed Junkie

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I like teaching gen ed. I like it a lot. In fact, I like it more than my major classes. OK, so if my dean calls, I’m going to say I didn’t really mean that. But honestly—just between me and you, Chronicle readers—I do.

Here’s why:

1. I’ve always been a jumper.

No, I don’t mean that I’m suicidal. Not anymore, anyway. Back when I was in grad school, though, I found myself going nuts. You want me to write a dissertation on Victorian literature? Just Vic…

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In Defense of Theory

Is gender theory relevant to undergraduate students? Skeptics have long dismissed theory’s intellectual import largely on the basis of style. In the 90s, Gayatri Spivak, Judith Butler, and Homi Bhabha were scrutinized for their “pretentiously opaque” prose, “bad writing,” and “indecipherable jargon” respectively. Of course not all scholars are equally subject to these sorts of critiques. As Butler noted in her response, “The targets … have been restricted to scholars on the left whose work f…

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How Syllabi Can Help Combat Sexual Assault

While we deal with students primarily in the classroom, we are not insensitive to their larger struggles. As a new academic year approaches, one scourge in particular stands out: the epidemic of sexual violence on campus.  Is there anything professors can do to complement the work done by counseling centers? There is—and it involves adding only one paragraph to your syllabi.

The campus sexual-assault bill this past summer, plus the many media exposés about the campus rape crisis, have raised awa…

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Betray Our Students for Publisher’s Profit?

I recently received an email from a “consultant” inviting me to help a publisher create an automatic essay-grading technology product for humanities professors to use in introductory-level courses. The consultant claimed that once completed, the program would “accurately auto-grade brief writing assignments – 500 to 900 words.” The program, the email said, “uses specific writing prompts and rubrics to achieve computer grading accuracy.”

And how will these impressive results be achieved, you ask?…

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The Nixon Flag in My Office

On the bright morning of August 9, 1974, I stood with my parents and older brother on hot metal bleachers at El Toro Marine base, in Orange County, California. We looked up and squinted to watch Air Force One appear as a tiny speck on the horizon, grow into a full-size 707, and land on the runway in front of us.

Technically, it was no longer Air Force One. Its chief passenger, Richard M. Nixon, had officially ceased being president at noon Eastern Time, just as the plane was flying over my home …

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The Rise of the Helicopter Teacher

A week before the first paper was due, a young woman in my class raised her hand and asked where the rubric was.

Shamefaced and stuttering, I had to admit that I had no idea what a rubric was. She helpfully explained that this was a set of guidelines explaining what I expected them to write, how I expected them to write it, and how each aspect of the paper would be evaluated. A set of boxes that students could check off to guarantee that they had met my expectations. For all intents and purposes…

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Equal Rights vs. Religious Principles

Operating in a pluralistic society, America’s institutions of liberal learning have always faced a fundamental choice: to create cloistered sanctuaries from social difference, or to embrace difference as central to our teaching missions.

That choice may seem especially fraught for religiously based colleges, balanced between the demands of civil law and their desire to adhere to the principles of their religious faith. The choice played out most recently this week in the decision by the federal …

How to Reach the Underserved Third

The U.S. Department of Education recently forced Corinthian Colleges into a government-monitored wind-down of its operations and sale of viable campuses. The sale will include Heald College, the 150-year-old institution that we led for just under one year.

Unaddressed by the department action and overlooked in subsequent commentary are two fundamental and related points. First, as a society, we fail to prepare approximately one-third of our citizens—the “underserved third”—for either col…