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I’m doing some research this morning on Amazon.com about books having to do with email style and other types of electronic writing. I came across one book, Lisa Smith’s Business E-Mail: How to Make It Professional and Effective, which may or may not be a good book, I don’t know. But let me quote in its entirety the first customer review:

To tell you the truth, I haven’t read this book. But I thought this would be a convenient place to make fun of this guy in my office who sends out these ridiculously over-worded, multi-page e-mails with the delineated paragraphs and varying fonts to communicate an idea that a normal person could convey in less than 20 words. I get about 7 or 8 messages from him every day, giving me a “project status update” or whatever, whenever he hears something from someone, no matter how trivial or how unrelated it is to my role in the project.

I trust Ms Smith has addressed this problem in her book, and I highly recommend the book to anyone who sends out annoying, unnecessary e-mails to their co-workers all day long.

Ms. Smith must be mightily pleased with that…

Guardian article on academic blogging (or, I told you so…)

There are a couple of interesting articles on The Guardian’s web site about blogs right now– or they were there last week, but I’m just finding them now. There’s this article, “Inside the Ivory Tower,” which is about things like this, an academic blog. A couple of the folks I regularly read have already written about this article a bit– here’s Collin’s take on it, and here’s Clancy’s thoughts on it. I agree with both of them, but I’d also like to emphasize the positive in this piece:

Steven Shaviro (www.shaviro.com/Blog), professor of English at Wayne State University, Detroit, says blogs could supplement the peer review system. “Academic writing and publishing depends on peer review. It serves as a filter to weed out slipshod work. But it is also constraining – the norms enforced by peer review, by dissertation advisers, journal editors and so forth, often have a built-in bias against new, experimental work. So I can see blogs as an alternative space for research, not replacing peer review but existing alongside it.”

For (Jill) Walker, blogs make academics more accountable for their theories. “If I write something about people, academically, and publish it online, they’ll find it and talk back in their blogs. I have to deal with that. I can’t stay safely in my ivory tower. And frankly, I don’t want to.”

A couple of thoughts, mostly self-serving, I will admit:

* I think that Shaviro is spot-on here: I don’t think blogs are going to replace peer reviewed publications, but I do think they can work well with them. This is what I tried to do with my recent Kairos article before it was finally published. And personally, I see this blog as a useful teaching tool in that I refer back to my blog to find readings and links for classes (I don’t assign my blog as reading for my students, though I suppose some of my students read this stuff directly). In other words, it’s about more than scholarship.

* Things were pretty exciting around here back in August because I wrote a couple of posts about the value of academic blogging and how I couldn’t understand why someone would post pseduoanonymously. This irritated a lot of pseduoanonymous bloggers, many of who commented on my blog and on their own blogs that take some issue with the idea of an academic blog. See, these two entries: “Hey, I’m popular with (pseudo)anonymous bloggers!” and “More thoughts and questions about pseudonyms and blogs.” See the comments and you’ll see what I mean, I think. I’m not the first person to talk about blogs as academic spaces and how that can (or can’t) be done anonymously, but I’m just happy that a “real” publication out there is at least saying that “credible” and academic blogging is possible.

Who’s smarter, Jon Stewart fans or Bill O’Reilly fans?


See this entry from All day Permanent Red which discusses a Salon article that describes the demographic differences between Stewart’s show and O’Reilly’s show. It turns out folks watching The Daily Show are more likely to have a college degree, which just makes sense to me.

Procrastination from work/update on life

In an effort to avoid doing what I should be doing, let me write a few things here about “what’s new” around my life:

* We have mice in our garage. Actually, we had mice in the gas grill, which I discovered only after I wheeled the thing out of the garage and opened it up for the first time in at least a month (I’ve been grilling with charcoal lately). There were two of the little buggers scurrying around in there. So I bought a couple of traps today of the “catch and release” variety. We’ll see how those work. If they manage to get the peanut butter without getting caught, then I move on to the “off with their heads” variety of traps.

* I continue to be stuck on the diet at about the same place. It’s not bad, but it’s not good either. I am considering taking the advice of a friend who was on the South Beach diet, which is to go off of it for a couple of weeks and then do a full “restart” of phase 1. We’ll see.

* My “Sims 2” characters had twins for some reason. They are still babies at this point.

* Will continues to make progress with his handwriting and spelling, but we haven’t gotten back to bike riding yet. Maybe after school today.

* Fall is definitely settling in here– leaves turning, temperatures dropping, school rolling strong, etc. Winter can’t be far.

Wanted: Online English Teachers (part-time, of course)

My colleague and friend Bill Hart-Davidson sent me this image and said I should blog about it. In a way, I kind already have in the recent past. For example, there was this entry from the old blog back in May (my apologies for the blog spam there– this was always the drawback of movable type for me). In that story from the Chronicle, we hear the story of a woman who teaches completely online and who claims to be making $90K + a year. And then there’s this entry about the SAT folks looking for readers of the upcoming essay part of the exam. I have (and I guess continue to do so) thought about signing up for this for the extra cash and the experience of it all.

Now ITT is getting into the act, apparently.

There are a lot of problems with the academic system that perpetuates the use of unempowered part-time labor to teach classes like first year composition, and, increasingly at places like EMU, more and more advanced classes, too. I’m against that, obviously.

On the other hand, from a worker’s point of view, if you are going to work part-time as a composition teacher, it seems to me there would be huge advantages to doing it from home. For one thing, instead of having to be a “road warrior” forced to drive around from campus to campus, literally keeping your “office” in the trunk of your car, you could travel between different schools electronically. So I don’t know; it might not be that bad, relatively speaking.

WPA talk and more…

Jeff Rice has some interesting posts about Writing Program Administration issues, here and here. You might be better off getting to that second link by going directly to Jeff Rice’s main index page, because the links to some snappy WPA (as in Workers Progress Administration) posters that seem to have a lot of connection with Writing Program Administration. Take a look and you’ll see.

One of the things that caught me with this talk on Jeff’s site is the postings from Nick Carbone, an all-around smart guy and good writer who works for St. Martin’s press. I like what Nick had to say on Jeff’s blog and then on his own blog, but what pleased me more was that Nick is back in the blog business in earnest! I thought he’d kind of stopped blogging….

Anyway, I try to keep a delicate balance when it comes to first year writing.

On the one hand, I kind of agree with a lot of the critiques that Jeff has of the system, of the need to order, of the influence of the “textbook business” on the process. A part of me also agrees with the critique of Sharon Crowley, who (basically) argues that first year composition is more or less a waste of time and the way that it is staffed (largely with under-paid and disempowered part-timers and/or grad students) is unethical.

On the other hand, the textbook business, while indeed a “for-profit” business, is more or less propelled by academic folks like both me and Jeff. I mean, I’ve had a textbook in the works for years, and Jeff has one out right now. There is the textbook business “out there,” but a lot of the textbook business is made of the people who critique it.

Apart from the textbook issue, I actually think first year writing courses can do a lot of good for both the students who take it and the people who teach it. With all the problems of large first year writing programs (and every Writing Program Administrator knows there are a lot of problems with even the best of programs), I still think they overall serve students well in the sense that students learn a bit more about writing, about culture, about academic life.

It seems to me the biggest problem with first year composition is actually unrealistically high expectations about what the course can accomplish, this idea that if students were to just take this one course, all of their writing “problems” will be fixed forever. That never did work, it never will work, and we as a profession need to do a better job at lowering these expectations. And that actually gets me back to what Jeff is writing about: there is a tone to a number of the textbooks for the class that they can “neatly” solve writing problems that can’t be solved. In that sense, I am not sure that the textbook business and the people writing for the textbook business are making the job of Writing Program Administrator any easier.

The Happy Academic suggests you "ditch" the Chronicle instead…

See this article, “Ditch the Boyfriend,” by Elizabeth “not her real name” Fleer. It is another in a seemingly endless string of articles in The Chronicle of Higher Education that essentially argues that an academic career is more important than, well, anything, and certainly more important than a significant relationship. To quote from some of the beginning of it:

“Rule number one: Don’t talk to the media,” a senior faculty member told me as I prepared to attend a meeting of science journalists last spring. As the date for defending my dissertation fast approached, he and other faculty members at my institution were concerned that I hadn’t landed a job and were showing an increased interest in helping me out with the rest of my life, too.

“Any other words of wisdom?” I asked with a smile, since he knew full well that I tell my story of water resources and climate change in California to anyone who will listen.

“Rule number two: Don’t teach. Rule number three: Don’t fall in love.”

“And what about children?” At this point, I was egging him on.

“Definitely not! As a female scientist with the potential to do real research, you cannot have children. My wife stayed home with my children, but you can’t afford to do that. You need to focus all your energy on publishing peer-reviewed papers.”

The article goes on with Fleer discussing how she broke off an engagement to pursue her graduate program, and how, now that she was at the end of it, she was in danger of having to live in a distance relationship because her boyfriend was the one with the tenure-track job on the East Coast.

Toward the end of the essay, Fleer writes “Am I dreaming too big? Will my boyfriend and I manage to find permanent positions in the same town? Or will the strain be too much for our relationship?” (Cue soap opera organ music). Voiceover: “Tune in next time, as ‘The World of the Academic Who Dares to have a Significant Relationship Turns!'”

I’m not going to even pretend to have an answer to the particular situation that Fleer finds herself in, and I also realize that my status as a male and tenured professor makes my commentary problematic at best. But I am also one half of an “academic couple,” one where my wife, Annette Wannamaker, is under-employed as a lecturer in the EMU English department. Currently, we are “on the market” (as the saying goes), with the goal of us getting into a situation where we both have tenure track jobs. So I feel like I have some right to say something about all this.

In no particular order, here is “something:”

* I am really sick and tired of reading this “advice” to young academics that careers are more important than relationships, that the sensible course of action for Fleer is to “ditch the boyfriend.” I don’t know, maybe it is– I suppose it depends on how serious the relationship is. But a job in academia is just that, a job, which ought not to be more important than relationships and family.

* I think people who follow the advice repeatedly offered in these columns in the Chronicle– which is to always give up the relationship in favor of the academic career– are setting themselves up to become very unhappy and bitter academics indeed.

Again, I’m not saying it’s an easy choice; it isn’t. Annette and I are happily married with a child, so for us, the idea of maintaining a relationship and a family over a distance (me on the East Coast, her on the West, for example) is out of the question. I’m aware that not everyone has this strong or important of a relationship, and it might make more sense for some to take the job over the casual boyfriend/girlfriend.

All I am saying though is this blanket advice offered again and again in articles like this is ludicrious.

* Inevitably, the “trailing spouse” in these columns are always women. I suppose that is most frequently the case in “real life” too, though I’m certainly familiar with some situations in which the man was the follower. In any event, if it is a case where the man of the relationship is unable or unwilling to make any compromises in his career to give his partner a chance of getting into a tenure-track job, well, there’s something wrong with that man.

In my own case, if Annette was offered a tenure-track job some place and I had to give up tenure or even the tenure-track to follow here, I’d do it in a heart-beat. Given the sacrafices she’s made for me, that just seems right. The only thing that would get in the way of that is finances: we couldn’t afford to make significantly less money than we make now, which means we probably couldn’t afford for me to drop to “part-time” status even if she did get a job as an assistant professor. But my point is simple: my relationship is a whole lot more important than my career, and it seems pretty easy to make sacrifices to my career for the sake of my family.

Being an academic is great in all sorts of different ways. But there are a lot of things more important in life than an academic career. I realize that the Chronicle is primarily about academia and careers in it; but would it kill them to once, just once, to offer some sort of advice that would put an academic career in some kind of perspective?

My trip to “The Big House”

If you’re going to live in Ann Arbor (and within the realm of Detroit, for that matter), there are a few “cultural events” you have to experience, even if you’re not actually that interested in the event itself. For example, in Ann Arbor, you’ve got to go to Art Fair at least once– and, unless you are a fan of huge crowds and sweltering heat, you’ll probably only go once. Another example: a couple years ago, I went to the Detroit Auto Show, even though I don’t see cars as much more than an appliance and, at times, a necessary evil.

Another one of these sort of events is attending a football game at the University of Michigan’s stadium, referred to by the fans as “the big house.” We did this yesterday, and to add to the experience, the game we were at was against my alma mater, the University of Iowa Hawkeyes. Annette and I got these tickets from my friend Bruce, who I met about 20 years ago in the Quadrangle Hall dorm at Iowa. He lived right across the hall from me and had air conditioning in his room, so we got to be friends in a hurry and have remained friends ever since.

Anyway, Bruce is a HUGE Iowa football fan, had tickets to this game, and couldn’t make it. So I bought them and Annette and I went.

Let me first set the context here regarding our “relationship” with football: I am not that big of a fan. I never actually went to an Iowa football game when I was an undergraduate, and while I’ll watch it on TV once in a while and I certainly cheer for Iowa, I don’t watch it that much. Annette, on the other hand, is not even remotely a fan; in fact, I think it’s fair to say that she barely gets the rules of the game. What I’m getting at is we aren’t exactly the rabid and involved type, the kind of guy who yells “THROW THE BALL!!!” at the top of his lungs, despite the fact that he is literally a quarter of a mile from the field.

So, how was it? Well, a bit like the Detroit Auto Show: it was something we were glad we went to at least once, but I don’t think we need to do it again. Here’s a “play-by-play:”

* We’ve experienced “game day traffic” in Ann Arbor, so we well understood the need to park far, FAR away from the stadium. We parked on the State street commuter lot and walked through the golf course. It took us about a half-hour to get there, and, for Annette in particular, it was one of the most pleasant parts of the day, with great views and lovely scenery.

* When we got to the gate, they wouldn’t let Annette take in her purse, which really REALLY pissed me off. We emptied it out and left it by the gate (and happily, it was still there when we left).

* I thought about wearing some sort of “Iowa” outfit, and there were plenty of people who were there to visibly support the Hawkeyes. Annette of course didn’t care one way or the other, and while I wanted Iowa to win, I didn’t want them to win so badly as to experience the sea of Michigan fans yelling things at me. I saw more than my share of signs and shirts that said stuff like “Iowa Sucks” or “Fuck Iowa” or something like that. So I thought I’d make a wardrobe choice that would be difficult to anger anyone, and who can get mad at Spongebob Squarepants?

Even this outfit had risks, though. I got a lot of looks from people along the lines of “what the hell is that?” and one guy I walked by outside the stadium yelled over “Is Spongebob a Wolverine or a Hawkeye?” I said he was kinda neutral.

* These seats were both bad and good. They were “bad” because we were in row 93, three or four rows from the tippy-top of the stadium, and we were in a corner. On the other hand, they were “good” because it was in a pocket of Iowa fans, which meant we could cheer for the right team and not get beaten. Incidentally, that blond blob in the lower left-hand side of the picture here is the top of a dramatic helmet-head hairstyle on an old lady in front of us.

* Michigan Stadium seats 110,428– thus the term “The Big House.” A few years ago, the stadium only sat 105,000 or so. How did they add 5,000 seats? Did they build more of them somehow? No; what they did was they rearranged the numbers on the bleachers so people are even closer together than they were. Let me put it to you this way: a full coach flight was positively roomy compared to this. And just to add to it, we were being squished on all sides by drunk men of various ages, all of whom seemed to be giving off fumes that smelled of beer, chilli, and fart. And testosterone: some drunk Iowa undergrad seemed willing to “take it outside” with all of “you Michigan fucks.” What made this behavior all the more charming was this idiot was right behind a guy with a little kid. Lovely image, huh?

* The Michigan Band’s halftime show was covers of 1980’s metal and hair-band rock– Guns ‘n Roses, Poison, Bon Jovi. I kid you not.

* How was the game? Well, Iowa lost, so not so good. We left near the start of the fourth quarter after Michigan intercepted, scored, and went ahead 20 points. Iowa did score again, so they tied the spread of 13 points. At least the gamblers broke even.

* All in all, it was fun, and I might do it again if it involved some pre-game and post-game tailgating. But by and large, I think the best way to watch one of these games is in front of the TV with a beer and a bag of microwave popcorn.

Still talking about teaching in the community college

I don’t have a whole lot to add to it, but I thought I would link to this post by Mike at Vitia about teaching in community colleges. It’s a good conversation and post, and I added to it, so I thought it worthwhile to point there from here and to remember it for future reference. Another reason to potentially offer a course in teaching in the community college at EMU….

PS: John Lovas has a great post about this stuff right here, too.