Friday, November 30, 2012

Brian Glenn in Wes Government

I like this clip of Wesleyan classmate Brian Glenn, at the 39-minute mark in the video, exhorting current students to fight for need-blind admission. I didn't know Brian well at Wesleyan, but I enjoy his table-banging energy on this issue.

Ecrasez l'infame!

Thursday, November 29, 2012

other campuses' children

If you read Inside Higher Ed or other sources that cover "higher education," you learn that there are scandals low and high surrounding America's colleges and universities--high-level appointments without the degrees their resumes state, scandalously low adjunct pay, college degrees that lead to nothing but unpaid student loans, and much more. So Penn State's Jerry Sandusky problem is certainly news in terms of the extent of the egregiousness, but it is not the first university to invoke a "conspiracy of silence" as part of its long-term strategic plan.

(The newly indited Graham Spanier, like Sandusky now in a Pennsylvania prison with death-row inmates, continues to deny everything and vigorously defend himself as an expert sociologist who was an abused child himself and thus would never allow such crimes to occur under his watch. It very much should be understood that he, like everyone else, is innocent until proven guilty, and yet the facts that can be verified along with the economic inequalities of the whole situation--from the most disadvantaged boys being the victims to the highest paid administrators and coaches as the accused-- reminds us of the inequalities and cruelties of the entire country, and how higher education, from at least one angle, can be seen to support and even exacerbate this economic status quo.)

Somewhat like Penn State, but perhaps so much more typical in that rapes of enrolled adults are known to occur on college campuses, is the news from Amherst College that while a traumatized young woman left school demoralized and without a degree, her rapist went on to graduate with honors.

And then, closer to home for me, at Wesleyan University, like Amherst, part of the "little three," rape wasn't in the news, but President Roth announced that the school was no longer offering need-blind admission. On the one hand, when I read this I had to chuckle because no matter what anyone has ever said, it was always beneficial if your parents could pay for college when it was time for the elite "need blind" schools to pluck kids off the waiting lists, and just by random chance, year after year, almost all of these schools have been enrolling about half a student body that can pay the entire nut outright. It's not until you graduate and see your peers driving off in brand-new SUVs that you see the full impact of economic inequality on American higher education as it's currently practiced.

But still, I should be grateful, and I am, because I certainly would not have attended Wesleyan if they had not generously recomputed my financial aid package after my father lost a "good job" after we had sent in the initial forms. And I had worked a lot in high school, and saved, and so I had a chance to pay for a huge chunk of my fourth choice's costs and go on to poison my brain with Marx, Melville, Nieztsche, and more. (I'm sure there'd be no Fight for Your Long Day or teaching life were it not for Wesleyan University and what I read and saw there.)

$80,000 for four years of a private liberal arts college seemed like an amazing sum back then, and I can only imagine what students and their parents are thinking about the $120,000 that they can pay for total costs for even in-state tuition, room, and board at our "flagship" public universities these days. An adult student I spoke with at Clemson told me his in-state, full-time tuition is $6,000 a semester, which would be under $50,000 for four years and a relatively fair, if not invariably affordable, amount to pay for what's supposed to be a Top-25 state school.

A lot of people seem so happy to have Sandusky in jail, but the scary thing is that those alleged criminals at Penn State likely kept silent not because of loyalty to Sandusky but because they felt the university would lose revenue, and they understood that it's revenue that can pay salaries for quality faculty, technology, group health insurance, and more while it also gives some nonwealthy Americans a better chance to earn an affordable college degree.

But tossing the pedophile in the pokey and throwing away the key doesn't resolve higher education's inaccessibity issues, and we're left in a world where Wesleyan could be setting a trend toward a "new normal," which of course is a return to the old model, of elite colleges not acting as democratic institutions but as exclusive clubs for the young and rich. As a country, we seem to be continuing an antidemocratic trend away from equal access and affordability.

To me, this is not America, at least not the country we were taught to believe in. Which quite possibly means this is America.


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Joseph A. Domino

I just stumbled upon this Joseph A. Domino piece, and was reminded that he was one of the early supporters of Fight for Your Long Day. Thanks, Joe. (I was searching for a recent reprint of his amazon review but couldn't find it.)

In a week where I've learned that another good friend lost a job, in this case, a so-called "good job," and that Governor Corbett has his steak knife out and is taking another look at Pennsylvania public-employee pensions, I'm still stumbling upon this kind of thing all over the web, and then I get caught up in how relatively good I have it and wonder when some more awful version of life will find me.

Okay, I'm going to crouch under the desk and hope they pass by.

And then in the middle of the night, when no one is looking, maybe I'll sneak back up here and watch Bill Black "Grand Bargain or Great Betrayal" videos at Black has it all--paranoia, tenure, facts, even a fair amount of his hair, and an office that is messy but not impossibly messy in that way in which even a Philip Roth character couldn't clear a clean well-lit place to seduce his paramour (the cleaning lady).

Good luck to everyone striving for a safer and more secure future.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

peace and trade

Last week in the Foucault seminar, I was reminded of a bit of Montesquieu from my undergraduate days--before all my big plans fell apart and I graduated in seven semesters with the only degree I could hustle up under such hurried constraints (an English major).

Anyway, the reading for this coming week, the first three lectures in Foucault's The Birth of Biopolitics include his summation of Kant's Perpetual Peace (1795), a short accessible text I read in the first few years after I graduated. Foucault writes: "The guarantee of perpetual peace is therefore actually commercial globalization" (58).

That was enough to get me scurrying around the web for the bit of Montesquieu I had only imperfectly remembered, and I found it at this University of Chicago joint: "Peace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who traffic with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling; and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities."

Writing in 1748, Montesquieu goes on to note we can't expect the same peace from competing individuals within these trade-minded economies: "But if the spirit of commerce unites nations, it does not in the same manner unite individuals. We see that in countries [Holland] where the people move only by the spirit of commerce, they make a traffic of all the humane, all the moral virtues; the most trifling things, those which humanity would demand, are there done, or there given, only for money."

He wrote that last bit 100 years before Karl Marx's Communist Manifesto, and both Montesquieu paragraphs seem so relevant to today's world.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

never, not, or no longer a toss up?

Nate Silver's Political Calculus, aka Five Thirty Eight, accumulates the data from polls far and wide, but in battleground states most of all, and insists that President Obama has an eighty percent chance of winning the election.

We'll see when we get there, and one thing I know for sure is that we're getting there soon. It seems like roughly half the country, or at least its voting citizens, will be upset with the outcome, but I still suspect a majority of us will also be relieved it's over.

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