Florida Polytechnic University’s re-envisioning of a public research institution is making some radical departures from the norm, including scrapping the idea of tenure. The state’s union leaders, however, say that decision should be reversed if administrators are serious about their aspirations for the university.
Instead of tenure, faculty members “will be offered fixed term, multi-year contracts that will be renewed based on performance,” the university-to-be announced on Tuesday.
“We want to be a leading university, and we wanted to attract faculty who think out of the box, and who are ambitious and creative,” said Ghazi Darkazalli, vice president of academic affairs. “We don’t want them to be worrying within the first five or six years whether they’re going to be tenured or not.”
Right! They’ll only have to worry about whether they’ll be rehired at the end of their contract or not. Totally different.
Whether you think tenure is a good idea or not, this remains a classic of disinformative deflection. And this sentence from later in the article is special too: “For now, the university does not know who will teach its courses – or what students will learn in them.”
In his late book The Four Loves C. S. Lewis writes,
St. John’s saying that God is love has long been balanced in my mind against the remark of a modern author (M. Denis de Rougemont) that “love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god”; which of course can be re-stated in the form “begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.”… I suppose that everyone who has thought about the matter will see what M. de Rougemont meant. Every human love, at its height, has a tendency to claim for itself a divine authority. Its voice tends to sound as if it were the will of God Himself. It tells us not to count the cost, it demands of us a total commitment, it attempts to over-ride all other claims and insinuates that any action which is sincerely done “for love’s sake” is thereby lawful and even meritorious.
Lewis notes that we commonly associate such a demand for “total commitment” with erotic love, but claims that other forms of love can make equally tyrannical demands. (In his fiction especially he shows a peculiar interest in how the love of women for their families may come to be all-consuming — consuming the women and their “loved ones” alike.)
Certain kinds of places also have this tendency to assume the divine or the demonic. This is most obviously true of the forest to which people flee for refuge, or from which they flee in terror. Among the writers who understand this best are Shakespeare — think of the Forest of Arden in As You Like It and the numinous Greek wood of A Midsummer Night’s Dream — and Tolkien — think of the dangers of the Old Forest and the blissful peace of Lothlorien. Whether we come to the wild wood willingly or not, we don’t emerge untransformed. Bottom and Gimli represent us all, in this respect. The forest is a great power: it may be worshipped or shunned, but never ignored.
What is true of the wild wood is equally true of its opposite, the city. In the city we locate our deepest hopes and most powerful fears. Juvenal, the great Roman satirist, offers an unexpectedly beautiful account of the origins of the city:
When the world began, what fashioned us mutually only
Granted them so much mind, us intellect, so that mutual
Empathy would drive it to seek and offer help; draw
Scattered individuals into community; migrate from the
Ancient forests, leave the woods our ancestors inhabited;
Build houses, and join another roof to our own hearths;
So that, thanks to our neighbour’s threshold, the mutual
Confidence achieved would render both our sleep secure;
Protect with our weapons the fellow citizen who staggers
From some deep wound, or has fallen to the ground;
Give the common bugle-cry, as a signal; be defended
By the same turrets; our gates locked by a single key.
But note the line that follows immediately:
Yet now there is more harmony among snakes.
Indeed, “the wild beast spares its relatives with similar markings,” yet when brought into intimate contact humans slaughter one another with no apparent discrimination. The city that had been the image of human co-operation has become instead the image of senseless hatred. First the god, then the demon. It is because our hopes for the city are so great that we turn against it so fiercely when those hopes are disappointed.
And transformation: few return from the city unchanged. How often the Bildungsroman concerns the boy from the provinces whom the city makes almost unrecognizable to friends and family. Tom Rakewell, in Hogarth’s series of paintings The Rake’s Progress, may stand for them all, as may, equally, Balzac’s Eugene Rastignac or Dostoevsky’s Raskolnikov. On the other side we find the countless stories of those raised on strict morals and narrow perspectives who come to the city and find their vocational or sexual bliss. In our myths of the city fortunes are made or lives ruined; rarely does anything less momentous occur.
(for other entries in this series, click the citymeditation tag below)
Jeffrey Selingo, who has written a book about American colleges and universities, says: “One of the fears, and one of my fears, is that we might become a country where the next generation is less educated than the generation that preceded it.”
A major part of the problem is that colleges and universities have invested more strenuously in amenities than in education, with the assumption that students absorbed in the delights of their dining halls and climbing walls won’t notice that their teachers are largely underpaid adjuncts who have to jump from course to course and college to college to try to get something close to minimum-wage levels of pay. (Consider this: “About 70 percent of the instructional faculty at all colleges is off the tenure track, whether as part-timers or full-timers, a proportion that has crept higher over the past decade.”)
You want to think some about amenities? Then read Freddie DeBoer’s account of his visit to the France A Cordova Recreational Sports Center at Purdue University.
The Cordova Recreational Sports Center is five stories and about 338,000 square feet— not a misprint— of Gleaming Fitness Palace. I don’t say “gleaming” loosely. Like most new construction at American universities, the GFP is a beautiful melding of glass and steel, designed, no doubt, by some pricey architect.
It really is lovely to look at. It looks like… money.
But why is the investing in such amenities problematic? Because colleges borrowed heavily to create them at a very bad time to go deeply into debt, and in the naïve belief that their amenities would be uniquely wonderful. But if everyone is doing it, or has already done it, then the amenities cancel each other out, leaving schools with the old problem: how do we distinguish what we have to offer from what everyone else has to offer?
How about this? Maybe someone could have the imagination to say: By the quality of our teaching. I am waiting for some bold college president to come forth and say, “You won’t find especially nice dorms at our college. They’re clean and neat, but there’s nothing fancy about them. We don’t have a climbing wall. Our food services offer simple food, made as often as possible with fresh ingredients, but we couldn’t call it gourmet eating. There are no 55-inch flat-screen TVs in the lounges of our dorms. We don’t have these amenities because we decided instead to invest in full-time, permanent faculty who are genuinely dedicated to teaching and advising you well and preparing you for life after college. So if you want the state-of-the-art rec center, that’s cool, but just remember that the price you’ll pay for that is to have most of your classes taught by graduate students and contingent faculty, the first of whom won’t have the experience and the second of whom won’t have the time to be the kind of teachers you need (even when, as is often the case, they really want to be). Our priorities here are pretty much the reverse of those that dominate many other schools. So think about that, and make a wise decision.”
Tim Keller is right about the biblical account of the human story: it begins in a Garden and ends in a City. The New Jerusalem envisioned in the latter chapters of the Revelation to John comes down from Heaven, like an emanation from the mind of God, made of pure gold and surround by a great twelve-gated wall comprised of jasper and emerald and amethyst and carnelian and all other precious gems. But it has has grown up around that ancient Garden: the Tree of Life stands in the midst of the City, with twelve kinds of fruit; “and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”
W. H. Auden believed that we are all, temperamentally, either Arcadians or Utopians. Which means that “Our dream pictures of the Happy Place where suffering and evil are unknown are of two kinds, the Edens and the new Jerusalems. In this scheme, “Eden is a place where its inhabitants may do whatever they like to do; the motto over its gate is, ‘Do what thou wilt is here the Law.’ New Jerusalem is a place where its inhabitants like to do whatever they ought to do, and its motto is, ‘In His will is our peace.’”
Auden confessed that his own personality was intensely Arcadian, but here he gives the Utopians a more orthodox motto: “Do what thou wilt is here the law” derives from the Abbey of Thélème, an idealized and utterly luxurious monastery in Rabelais’s satirical Gargantua and Pantagruel; “In His will is our peace,” by contrast, is uttered by one of the blessed in Dante’s Paradiso. Those who look longingly back towards Eden are fundamentally out of step with the biblical story: the Utopians who look always forward towards a perfected City have, essentially, got it right.
That said, Utopians are more dangerous than Arcadians, because they tend to have difficulty distinguishing between the City that will at the end of history fall from the mind of God and their own political preferences. As Auden writes in a prose-poem describing a “twilight meeting” between an Arcadian and his Utopian “anti-type,”
When he closes his eyes, he arrives, not in New Jerusalem, but on some august day of outrage when hellikins cavort through ruined drawing-rooms and fish-wives intervene in the Chamber or some autumn night of deletions and noyades when the unrepentant thieves (including me) are sequestered and those he hates shall hate themselves instead.
Those who suspect that the most morally earnest Utopian can fall victim to these confusions also suspect endeavors like the Giuliani-led renewal of Times Square. Yes, we prefer safety to crime, and renovated buildings to crumbling ones; but order invariably comes at some cost to human freedom, and the power to bring about such order addicts its user. The Utopians cleaned up Times Square yesterday, and they regulate soda sales today, and who knows what they’ll do tomorrow? No wonder Transmetropolitan and Top Ten appeared just as the clean-up of New York got seriously under way: it was a case of pre-emptive nostalgia. But nostalgia for a given place and time becomes easier when you’re delivered from its pains and dangers.
images via Shuttershock
I decided to read Transmetropolitan, even though it required a significant investment of time and money. It’s a political story, basically: the city as the center of politics, of power, of corruption, and of resistance to corruption. Spider Jerusalem fights the good fight against politcal evil and in the end wins — as much as one can win in such a contest; all political victories are relative, contingent, and temporary — but at the cost of his health. A broken man, at least apparently, he returns to his mountain cabin and devotes much of his time to growing vegetables. Visiting him there, his old editor Mitchell Royce says, “So this is it? You’re going to stay up a mountain for the rest of your life growing shit like a hillbilly?”
“I know you,” he continues. “You can’t stay away, weirdo brain-wrong or no. You couldn’t last time, and you won’t this time. You’ll be back.” Looking back at the first issue, I think that that doesn’t seem to be true: Spider wanted to stay away from the city, but was forced back. But who knows? Perhaps he was glad to have the excuse. He certainly readjusts to city life immediately. And the last panels of that concluding comic suggest that he will indeed be back, that as long as the City calls him he’ll answer. And it’s not like anyone in his right mind would want to live on a mountain for the rest of his life growing shit like a hillbilly.
When Niccolò Machiavelli was exiled from Florence by the Medici, he moved to the countryside. In a famous letter to his friend Francesco Vettori, he wrote,
And what my life is like, I will tell you. I get up in the morning with the sun and go to a wood of mine that I am having cut down, where I stay for two hours to look over the work of the past day, and to pass time with the woodcutters, who always have some disaster on their hands either among themselves or with their neighbors. And regarding this wood I would have a thousand beautiful things to tell you of what happened to me with Frosino da Panzano and others who want wood from it. And Frosino in particular sent for a number of loads without telling me anything, and on payment wanted to hold back ten lire from me, which he said he should have had from me four years ago when he beat me at cricca at Antonio Guicciardini’s. I began to raise the devil and was on the point of accusing the driver who had gone for it of theft; but Giovanni Machiavelli came between us and brought us to agree.
Later in the day, he says, he would get into similar scrapes at the local inn. “Thus involved with these vermin I scrape the mold off my brain and I satisfy the malignity of this fate of mine, as I am content to be trampled on this path so as to see if she will be ashamed of it.”
And yet. There’s something else to be told about this life of rural exile, so far from the heart of things in Florence.
When evening has come, I return to my house and go into my study. At the door I take off my clothes of the day, covered with mud and mire, and I put on my regal and courtly garments; and decently reclothed, I enter the ancient courts of ancient men, where, received by them lovingly, I feed on the food that alone is mine and that I was born for. There I am not ashamed to speak with them and to ask them the reason for their actions; and they in their humanity reply to me. And for the space of four hours I feel no boredom, I forget every pain, I do not fear poverty, death does not frighten me. I deliver myself entirely to them.
Such reading, and not the exercise of political power, is “the food that alone is mine and that I was born for.” This letter is like a little holographic card: tilt it one way and every word testifies to the emptiness of life outside the city; tilt it another and Machiavelli’s exile looks like a felix culpa, a fortunate fall. Maybe Machiavelli’s experience is the mirror image of Spider Jerusalem’s: he was forced out of the city, as Spider was forced into it, but came to see that what he had not chosen was precisely what he needed.
Here’s some of the ways I found Glass to be valuable.
All right, Luke, tell me about it!
Instant access to a camera: no need to reach into a pocket and turn on a phone. The camera is as accessible to you as your own face. Even more so with interactions through wink commands.
Wink commands. I don’t know.
First person perspective: I found myself enjoying filming events as I saw them -through my own lens on the world.
Kinda like what happens when you use, you know, a camera?
Sharing that perspective: the ability to instantly share what I am seeing with other people in real time is awesome.
Why is that awesome? Seriously, I’m wondering.
Alternate head space: being able to step into and view a digital world for a few moments throughout the day was both intriguing and useful.
“Alternate head space”? Also: “to step into and view a digital world for a few moments” — like what I do with my iPhone or laptop? Dude, sometimes I’m in that digital world for hours.
My own audio: Glass has a bone transducer that amplifies audio only you can hear. In practice, it’s imperfect. But the potential is clear.
You lost me at “bone transducer.”
Voice control: as usual, Google’s voice recognition is best of breed. I had no problems being understood and transcribed clearly.
So pretty much what iPhone and Android users already have.
Heads up directions: I found myself walking down the streets of Chicago with two bags in my arms and enjoying the ability to get directions to where I was going right in front of me.
Okay, that’s pretty cool. But Google Glass and two bags to carry? That’s hyper-conspicuous consumption, dude.
I pause in my labors every decade or so to utter this lament: Dorothy Osborne (1627-1695) continues to be one of the most neglected of English writers. She wrote nothing but letters, but what letters!
Most of those that survive were to William Temple, whom she loved and wished to marry, against the most passionate wishes of her family, who thought that they could make a better match for her. Her older brother, the head of the Osborne family after the death of their father, was utterly determined to break Dorothy’s commitment to Temple and convince her to marry one of her wealthier suitors (or “servants,” as she always slyly refers to them). Over a period of some years the brother’s aversion to his Dorothy’s beloved intensified, until, in February of 1654, a point of crisis was reached. Osborne wrote to Temple to tell him the story, and her letter is, I think, one of the most beautiful in the English language:
All this I can say to you, but when my brother disputes it with me, I have other arguments for him, and I drove him up so close t’ other night that for want of a better gap to get out at, he was fain to say that he feared as much your having a fortune as your having none, for he saw you held my lord Lisle’s principles, that religion or honor were things you did not consider at all, and that he was conﬁdent you would take any engagement, serve in any employment, or do anything to advance yourself. I had no patience with this. To say you were a beggar, your father not worth £4,000 in the whole world, was nothing in comparison of having no religion nor no honor. I forgot all my disguise, and we talked ourselves weary; he renounced me again and I deﬁed him, but both in as civil language as it would permit, and parted in great anger with the usual ceremony of a leg and a curtsey, that you would have died with laughing to have seen us.
The next day I, not being at dinner, saw him not till night; then he came into my chamber, where I supped, but he did not. Afterwards, Mr. Gibson and he and I talked of indifferent things till all but we two went to bed. There he sat half an hour and said not one word, nor I to him; at last in a pitiful tone, “Sister,” says he, “I have heard you say that when anything troubles you, of all things you apprehend going to bed, because there it increases upon you and you lie at the mercy of all your sad thoughts which the silence and darkness of the night adds a horror to. I am at that pass now, I vow to God I would not endure another night like the last to gain a crown.” I, who resolved to take no notice what ailed him, said ’twas a knowledge I had raised from my spleen only; and so fell into a discourse of melancholy and the causes, and from that (I know not how) into religion, and we talked so long of it and so devoutly that it allayed all our anger. We grew to a calm and peace with all the world; two hermits conversing in a cell they equally inhabit never expressed more humble, charitable kindness toward one another than we. He asked my pardon and I his, and he has promised me never to speak of it to me whilst he lives, but leave the event to God Almighty, and till he sees it done he will be always the same to me that he is. Then he shall leave me, he says, not out of want of kindness to me, but because he cannot see the ruin of a person that he loves so passionately and in whose happiness he had laid up all his.
These are the terms we are at, and I am conﬁdent he will keep his word with me; so that you have no reason to fear him in any respect, for though he should break his promise he should never make me break mine. No, let me assure you, this rival nor any other shall ever alter me. Therefore, spare your jealousy, or turn it all into kindness.
Dorothy Osborne and William Temple married on Christmas Day of that year, and their marriage lasted until her death. You may see the full text of their correspondence here, and my 2001 tribute to Osborne here.
Duke University faculty members, frustrated with their administration and skeptical of the degrees to be awarded, have forced the institution to back out of a deal with nine other universities and 2U to create a pool of for-credit online classes for undergraduates.
The courses were to be offered by Duke and other top-tier universities in a partnership organized by 2U, formerly known as 2tor. Unlike massive open online courses, or MOOCs, only a few hundred students were expected to enroll in each course – which would feature a mix of recorded lectures and live discussions – but each course would be divided into sections of no more than 20 students led by an instructor, perhaps a graduate student.
“Only a few hundred students.”
“This had more to do with the politics of telling the provost he didn’t consult enough with the faculty, which I feel was bologna,” Bass said. “But, yeah, that’s how it went.”
Lange said Duke will continue to explore online offerings. “I don’t take this as a, ‘Let’s not do this,’” he said. “I take this as a, ‘Let’s figure out what the best way to do this is.’”
How many times do we have to tell you? No means Yes.
I was talking with my students yesterday about how often people prefer friendsourcing to crowdsourcing: asking someone you know and trust about the best Mexican restaurants in a given town, or which books on Gerard Manley Hopkins are most helpful, or what you should listen to next if (God forbid) you really like Mumford & Sons. Google — and Yelp, and iTunes, and many another data-driven instrument — wants us to believe that such recommendations are best made algorithmically, but that really only works well if you’re a Standard American, perched comfortably at the top of the bell curve of distribution. If your preferences are at all eccentric, you’ll find algorithms inconsistently helpful at best and downright unfriendly at worst.
Algorithms also tend also to produce too many results, leaving you still a good deal of material to sort through and rank. You end up reading more than you want to read or even have time for. This is likely to be true even for your own self-built RSS feed. Wouldn’t it be nice to have someone — some really intelligent person — to do your filtering for you? Wouldn’t it be great to have someone to whom you could truly say “Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter”?
For instance, think about how much gets written about baseball every day. More than I could possibly read, even among the dozen or so sites that I have subscribed to via RSS — or had subscribed to, until I discovered The Slurve, the fabulous daily newsletter created by Friend of TAC Michael Brendan Dougherty. I’ve removed all those baseball sites from my RSS feed, and just wait peacefully for The Slurve to show up in my mailbox in the morning. You really should subscribe if you like baseball.
The problem is, now I wish I had a Slurve for everything. An intelligently curated — I hate that word when it is misapplied, which is usually, but there’s a proper use — an intelligently curated daily (or even weekly) newsletter on soccer, and one on academic life, and one on the digital humanities, and one on the arts….
One more point to note: the email newsletter is one of the oldest forms of digital news distribution, like the listserv, which Farhad Manjoo has praised. It may well be that we came closer to getting the problem of digital news delivery right fifteen years ago, and have left the better solution behind in favor of shiny happy Apps. But I should stop here lest I fall into full-out Grumpy Old Tech Man Mode.