Category Archives: Uncategorized

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A Prophet of Higher Ed’s Financial Woes

Earl Cheit got it right.

His 1971 book, The New Depression in Higher Education, relied on good data to deliver the bad news that many American colleges were in financial trouble. The message was disconcerting, because most colleges had had a decade of full enrollments and major construction, combined with generous support from donors and state legislatures, and abundant federal grants for research. If there were problems in higher education, most news coverage focused on student protests.

Cheit …

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A Good, Dumb Way to Learn From Libraries

Too bad we can’t put to work the delicious usage data gathered by libraries.

Research libraries may not know as much as click-obsessed Amazon does about how people interact with their books. What they do know, however, reflects the behavior of a community of scholars, and it’s unpolluted by commercial imperatives.

But privacy concerns have forestalled making library usage data available to application developers outside the library staff, and often even within. And the data are the definition of…

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Don’t Ban Laptops in the Classroom

“I get it,” the professor for my short-story course said, going over the syllabus on the first day of class. She was referring to her cellphone policy, which is basically a have-some-sort-of-decorum-I-beg-you rule. She asks us to be polite and use our good judgement.

“This is second nature to you guys,” she said, holding an invisible phone in her hand. “When I was in college, I would daydream about that guy I’d been seeing,” picture him, “and I’d tune out the lecture to wonder if h…

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Why Freud Still Haunts Us

SigmundFor those of us prone to commemorations, it is a rich season. The beginning of the Great War 100 years ago, 70 years since the Normandy invasion, and the 50th anniversary of several major events in the American struggle for civil rights. September 23 marks 75 years since the death of Sigmund Freud.

Should we care? In many respects, Freud seems to be from another world. We know so much more now. Psychotropic medications are big business and are prescribed to ever-growing numbers of the “worried…

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What’s Not to Like About ‘Like’? Lots

Students clearly tend to like “like.” But can they be weaned? First, though, let’s check in with a few grown-ups.

John McWhorter, in a New York Times article (“Like, Degrading the Language? No Way”), argues that the word “often functions to acknowledge objection while underlining one’s own point. … What’s actually happening is that casual American speech is, in its ‘like’ fetish, more polite than it was before.”

Tina Fey, on the other hand, thinks the fetish a bad thing, at least if the fetishis…

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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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When BS Is a Virtue

In my classroom, we talk in an unstructured way about big themes—love, justice, beauty, the meaning of life—mostly without citing any evidence in support of our claims (certainly not scientific evidence), and almost always without coming to any conclusions. We usually do have a text in front of us, but I am hoping that it will lead us to a lively, freewheeling discussion about things we all care about—not unlike “a conversation at a bar,” as a student recently said to me, describing the class.

I…

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Needed: a Revolution in Musical Training

There may have been a time when it made sense to encourage college freshmen to follow their career dreams, no matter what supply and demand suggested. But when the national infrastructure is decaying, the national debt approaching the GDP, and the indebtedness of our college graduates aggregating to more than $1-trillion, that time has clearly passed.

From what I’ve read, we need more general medical practitioners; more nurses; more scientists, engineers, and teachers of those subjects; and more…

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Race Matters

It happened again: the single most contentious and edifying day of the semester, which I look forward to year after year. It’s the session in my editing class where we discuss racial and gender bias in language. And it’s the one in which my undergraduates, mostly blacks and Latinos from the Bronx, do the educating.

Do you prefer black or African-American? I ask them. Latino or Hispanic? Why is it wrong to call Hispanics “Spanish”? Why is the courtesy title “Ms.” neutral in a  way “Mis…

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What Data Can’t Convey

Several years ago, when passing the house where my father grew up, I noted an odd distinction. Dad, it seemed, had been more familiar with the families that had lived on his street in Cincinnati than I had grown to be, a generation later, with those who lived near our house outside Buffalo. Friendly neighbors had animated his childhood in ways in which they were entirely absent from mine.

I might have left it at that. In the course of our day-to-day lives, we all have a tendency to note little t…