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Do you know who your “Committee of No” is?

Do you know who your “Committee of No” is?

One of the most useful things I have figured out in my career is that I need help saying no. Looking around at academics, it seems pretty clear that we fall into roughly two categories: those who can’t say no and those who never say yes. How to be somewhere in the middle is turning out to be the great conundrum of my professional life. This is both a personal and a systemic issue. I am personally always inclined to…

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Department Administration & the Awful Reality of the Internet Mob

Department Administration & the Awful Reality of the Internet Mob

I wrote an email this past spring that no department chair should have to write, but that increasingly, I think anyone associated with academia needs to remember we must write. It was addressed to the head of campus communications, pointing that person to a new article in a large mainstream publication, which talked in some detail about an academic field in ways that could easily draw the attention of an internet mob–those virulent wielders of word torches who are organized…

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What if we could measure value in units besides dollars?

What if we could measure value in units besides dollars?

This week in talk to your friends in other disciplines, already: going for a long walk with an economist friend reminded me that revelations happen when you make the small tweak of talking to people who ask different questions of the world than you do. Mine: the vast majority (all?) of the cost/benefit analyses of humanities higher ed measure cost in minute detail and do nothing at all to measure benefits. This problem of not measuring benefits with the same…

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Getting it Wrong in Public

Getting it Wrong in Public

The most recent Collective Twitter Gasp Event has been focused on Naomi Wolf and her book about men executed in England for the crime of sodomy throughout the nineteenth century. Wolf read decades of Old Bailey records, and built the premise of her book on the phrase, “death recorded”–which did not mean what she presumed it meant. The gasp is not so much that she misread her evidence, but that she came to understand this fact during a live BBC…

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Being a thoughtful academic is more work than just being an academic

Being a thoughtful academic is more work than just being an academic

In a long Chronicle essay that came out today, there is a point at which the author describes his dissertation advisor’s tremendous ability to nurture his growing dissertation and his spirit with a combination of extensive, timely feedback on his writing; conversations in which it seemed this highly successful academic was genuinely interested in his ideas; and thoughtful attention to him as a person and not just as a laboring mind. In other words, the writer asserted, she seemed to…

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That UIUC job ad doesn’t say what people think it says; in some ways, it’s much worse

That UIUC job ad doesn’t say what people think it says; in some ways, it’s much worse

There’s outrage all over social media today in response to a University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign job ad* that is being widely derided for asking academic adjuncts to teach courses for free. If that is what the ad were asking for, it would deserve the most acidic vitriol flung by the strongest hands, the most strident criticism shouted to the rooftops. The thing is, that is not what the ad is asking for. And what the ad is asking for is…

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The idea of Eternity

The idea of Eternity

To my great surprise, teaching On the Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection is a fascinating process of watching students fall in love with nineteenth-century prose. It certainly helps that it really is mind-blowing that Darwin in 1859 posits a theory that relies on what we now understand as the genetic heritability of certain traits. In writing a coherent theory of adaptation that depends on small changes in organisms to better suit their environments, Darwin argues that unless we discover that there is some…

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You mustn’t fancy!

You mustn’t fancy!

Bitzer is a child Not Left Behind. Give him your standardized tests. He will pass them above the fiftieth percentile. He will finish them with time to spare. Multiple-choice questions are his forte. He does not neglect to fill in scantron bubbles darkly and completely with his #2 pencil; he does not hesitate over which end is up when you place a computer mouse in his hand. During a computer-administered benchmarking test, he never, ever would sit, idly looking out…

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