Instead of banning laptops, what if we mandated them?

Oy. Laptops are evil. Again.

This time, it comes from “Leave It in the Bag,” an article in Inside Higher Ed, reporting on a study done by Susan Payne Carter, Kyle Greenberg, and Michael S. Walker, all economists at West Point (PDF). This has shown up on the WPA-L mailing list and in my various social medias as yet another example of why technology in the classrooms is bad, but I think it’s more complicated than that.

Mind you, I only skimmed this and all of the economics math is literally a foreign language to me. But there are a couple of passages here that I find interesting and not exactly convincing to me that me and my students should indeed “leave it in the bag.”

For example:

Permitting laptops or computers appears to reduce multiple choice and short answer scores, but has no effect on essay scores, as seen in Panel D. Our finding of a zero effect for essay questions, which are conceptual in nature, stands in contrast to previous research by Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014), who demonstrate that laptop note-taking negatively affects performance on both factual and conceptual questions. One potential explanation for this effect could be the predominant use of graphical and analytical explanations in economics courses, which might dissuade the verbatim note-taking practices that harmed students in Mueller and Oppenheimer’s study. However, considering the substantial impact professors have on essay scores, as discussed above, the results in panel D should be interpreted with considerable caution. (page 17)

The way I’m reading this is for classes where students are expected to take multiple choice tests as a result of listening to a lecture from a sage on the stage, laptops might be bad. But in classes where students are supposed to write essays (or at least more conceptual essay questions), laptops do no harm. So if it’s a course where students are supposed to do more than take multiple choice tests….

After describing the overall effects of students performing worse when computing technology is available, Carter, Greenberg, and Walker write:

It is quite possible that these harmful effects could be magnified in settings outside of West Point. In a learning environment with lower incentives for performance, fewer disciplinary restrictions on distracting behavior, and larger class sizes, the effects of Internet-enabled technology on achievement may be larger due to professors’ decreased ability to monitor and correct irrelevant usage.” (page 26)

Hmmm…. nothing self-congratulatory about that passage, is there?

Besides the fact that there is no decent evidence that the students at West Point (or any other elite institution for that matter) are on the whole such special snowflakes that they are more immune from the “harm” of technology/distraction compared to the rest of us simpletons, I think one could just as easily make the exact opposite argument. It seems to me that is is “quite possible” that the harmful effects are more magnified in a setting like West Point because of the strict adherence to “THE RULES” and authority for all involved. I mean, it is the Army after all. Perhaps in settings where students have more freedom and are used to the more “real life” world of distractions, large class sizes, the need to self-regulate, etc., maybe those students are actually better able to control themselves.

And am I the only one who is noticing the extent to which laptop/tablet/technology use really seems to be about a professor’s “ability to monitor and correct” in a classroom? Is that actually “teaching?”

And then there’s this last paragraph in the text of the study:

We want to be clear that we cannot relate our results to a class where the laptop or tablet is used deliberately in classroom instruction, as these exercises may boost a student’s ability to retain the material. Rather, our results relate only to classes where students have the option to use computer devices to take notes.   We further cannot test whether the laptop or tablet leads to worse note taking, whether the increased availability of distractions for computer users (email, facebook, twitter, news, other classes, etc.) leads to lower grades, or whether professors teach differently when students are on their computers. Given the magnitude of our results, and the increasing emphasis of using technology in the classroom, additional research aimed at distinguishing between these channels is clearly warranted.(page 28)

First, laptops might or might not be useful for taking notes. This is at odds with a lot of these “laptops are bad” studies. And as a slight tangent, I really don’t know how easy it is to generalize about note taking and knowledge across large groups. Speaking only for myself: I’ve been experimenting lately with taking notes (sometimes) with paper and pen, and I’m not sure it makes much difference. I also have noticed that my ability to take notes on what someone else is saying — that is, as opposed to taking notes on something I want to say in a short speech or something– is now pretty poor. I suppose that’s the difference between being a student and being a teacher, and maybe I need to relearn how to do this from my students.

This paragraph also hints at another issue with all of these “laptops are bad” pieces, of “whether professors teach differently when students are on their computers.” Well, maybe that is the problem, isn’t it? Maybe it isn’t so much that students are spending all of this time being distracted by laptops, tablets, and cell-phones– that is, students are NOT giving professor the UNDIVIDED ATTENTION they believe (nay, KNOWS) they deserve. Maybe the problem is professors haven’t figured out that the presence of computers in classrooms means we have to indeed “teach differently.”

But the other thing this paragraph got me to thinking about the role of technology in the courses I teach, where laptops/tablets are “used deliberately in classroom instruction.” This paragraph suggests that the opposite of banning laptops might also be as true: in other words, what if, instead of banning laptops from a classroom, the professor mandated that students each have a laptop open at all times in order to take notes, to respond to on-the-fly quizzes from the professor, and look stuff up that comes up in the discussions?

It’s the kind of interesting mini-teaching experiment I might be able to pull off this summer. Of course, if we extend this kind of experiment to the realm of online teaching– and one of my upcoming courses will indeed be online– then we can see that in one sense, this isn’t an experiment at all. We’ve been offering courses where the only way students communicate with the instructor and with other students has been through a computer for a long time now. But the other course I’ll be teaching is a face to face section of first year writing, and thus ripe for this kind of experiment. Complicating things more (or perhaps making this experiment more justifiable?) is the likelihood that a significant percentage of the students I will have in this section are in some fashion “not typical” of first year writing at EMU– that is, almost all of them are transfer students and/or juniors or seniors. Maybe making them have those laptops open all the time could help– and bonus points if they’re able multitask with both their laptop and their cell phones!

Hmm, I see a course developing….

Posted in Academia, Computers, technology, etc., Internet, Technology, The Happy Academic | 3 Comments

“Up North” Vacation Haikus

We went to Glen Arbor
Stayed in a Homestead condo,
on Sleeping Bear Bay.

The condo (view from the lake)

Empty Beach With Annette

Off-season, we had
the complex and the beach to
ourselves. It was odd.

Cool, mostly sunny,
but so buggy with midges.
That is off-season.

Work station in Glen Arbor
Working outside meant
buggy gnatty midge bugs all
over my laptop.

Midges live two days
mating in grey swarms alight,
flying up my nose.


View of Sleeping Bear Bay

Spooky view

Still, it is lovely,
the bay view always shifting,
shining, orange, blue, grey.

Empire Bluff Trail Selfie

We hiked the Bay View
Trail, Empire Bluffs, Cotton-
wood, Leelanau State Park Trails

How long were these hikes?
We don’t know, but none of the
markers were correct.

For example:

The sign said two miles
Three miles in, we discovered
It was more like five.

Amical and Chicken Pot Pie

blu Duck Confit No. 6534

Excellent eating:
Art’s, Amical, La Bécasse,
and, as always, Blu.

But with the condo
kitchen, we ate mostly at
home. Keeping it real.

It was beautiful
just hanging around the house,
watching Netflix, etc.

Annette Puzzles 1
An OCD dream
An Edward Gorey puzzle
with a thousand frogs.

Annette and I worked,
lots of writing and school stuff.
Class planning and more.

Will didn’t have work.
School was over, he was bored,
Played lots of video games.

Piles of work await
Naptime lures like siren song,
Behind but rested.

(Links to the Flickr set, and thanks to Annette for her haiku contributions).

Posted in Family, Fun, Life, Travel | Leave a comment

An Open Letter/Blog Post About Sports at EMU

Dear Interim President Loppnow, Incoming President Smith, members of the Board of Regents, Heather Lyke, and anyone else who is interested (not to mention everyone associated with EMU– students, faculty, staff, alumni, etc.– who thinks it is time to do something different with football specifically and athletics generally):

Hi, how’s it going? I’m fine, thanks.

Now that my winter semester is completely wrapped up and I’ve had a chance to catch my breath for a week or so, I thought I’d take a moment and respond to the open letter (open email?) you sent out last week (which I include in the “Read More” section at the bottom of this post), and I also thought I’d share some thoughts on the interview EMU Athletic Director Heather Lyke gave on Michigan Public Radio last Friday, April 29.

First off, let me say that I like football, I really do. I don’t love football or any sports honestly, but I do like to watch football on the weekends when it’s on, I like basketball, it’s fun to go to a Detroit Tigers game, and so forth. Second, I see the benefit of sports for students, even in college, in terms of comradery, discipline, teamwork, school spirit, and all of that stuff.  That said, I also think student athletes and their fans would get these benefits if we competed in a lower-level division or even as non-scholarship clubs. Heck, I saw these benefits for the kids when my son was playing on a soccer team in elementary school.  But I will agree there is a benefit to “the sports” in general.

Third, while the funding for sports at EMU is more lopsided than at most universities, it’s bad all over. There are only about 25 or so universities in the top division where sports is more or less a profitable or break-even proposition, and, at least according to this USA Today site on NCAA Finances, all of the schools in the MAC are subsidizing more than 50% of the cost of sports with general fund revenues. Heck, of the 231 schools listed in that USA Today page, 151 of them pay at least half the costs of stuff like football with tuition.

So yeah, in response to the HBO Real Sports special featuring EMU’s over-spending and losing ways in football, I feel your pain and I understand the administration’s and the athletic department’s desire for a full-throated defense of the program and the refusal to change. But damn, if you are going to stick to football at EMU, you need to do a better job defending it.

Your open letter, the one sent around by Loppnow et al, is completely unresponsive to the joint report presented by student government, faculty senate, and the union. I mean, I can understand why you all don’t agree with that report, but “NO NO NO NO NO NO NO” is not a counter-argument. And do some math: if we’re spending $27 million a year of tuition money on athletics, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to praise the athletic program’s success at raising $430,000 in fundraising efforts.

Then there’s that interview with Lyke. Jeesh, talk about being in a hole and thinking that the solution is to keep digging. Most of her answers were just random word salad nonsense, as in “The demand [for football] is in the belief that its a value to the university. The pride that it does bring back, and the qualities that intercollegiate athletics teaches young people, I think are irreplaceable.” Seriously, what does that mean?

I get it, there are some simple facts on the ground that are hard for Lyke to dismiss, but her inability to handle this is staggering. It turns out that the guy interviewing Lyke, Lester Graham, has a child attending EMU. At the 4:35 or so mark in that interview, Graham asks flat-out “how does my EMU student benefit” with EMU being in Division 1 athletics.

Lyke responds “What your student gets, you know… when you chose Eastern Michigan, and the time that they chose they knew they had division 1 athletics–”

“–not a factor,” Graham interrupts. “Was not a factor.”

Then Lyke, digging furiously, says something like “Correct, so it’s, um, it’s not a factor in wether or not they um they… you know, I would hope that that student find value in adding diversity to the, you know, landscape and the culture of the university. There are kids that have unbelievable talents in all sorts of things. We have an unbelievable forensics team, we have an unbelievable slam poetry team at Eastern Michigan, we have fabulous art…” and so forth.

Graham pointed out that none of these things have anything to do with support to the athletic department, and Lyke goes back to the earlier statement that we are not thinking about getting out of the MAC or football, full stop.

And then there’s this “diversity” thing, which does appear to be Lyke’s way of saying that college athletics brings a lot of African American students to EMU who otherwise wouldn’t be here. This is a particularly weird claim and it makes me think that maybe Lyke has never actually been on campus at EMU, because if you went to places on the main campus (besides the administrative building, Welch Hall, or maybe a press conference of some sort), you’d see a lot of diversity of students who have zero to do with sports.

Anyway, just to wrap this up, I’d like to make some suggestions to anyone who might be reading this.

First, if the administration, the Board of Regents, and the Lykes of the world really believe that EMU should keep spending this much money on football, then you all need to get some evidence on your side and you need to make a better argument than you’re making here. “We are going to stay in football and in the MAC because we said so” is the logic of a toddler, and people running universities and getting paid as much money as you are all being paid to do this work should know better.

If it turns out that the reason why you are all saying what you are saying is because there are no logical reasons for staying in Division 1 football (and I suspect this is the case), then I think it might be time to take a deep breath and figure out an eloquent way to exit big time sports and save face. I understand Lyke’s point about how EMU has commitments to the MAC through about 2020 so we can’t just pull the plug, but you could start talking now about the “strategic and added value” move to a different conference, to re-emphasizing different sports, and so forth.

And I have to say that if you think about this for a moment, this is potentially a huge opportunity for all of you administrators, board members, and athletic director-types. This is a chance to stand up to the “arms race” in college athletics and to finally say “enough is enough.” This is a change to do something bold, innovative, smart, and brave, and this is also a chance to truly cast EMU in a more positive light.

Finally, to the rest of the EMU community who thinks we spend too much money on sports: we can’t just let this go. If there is going to be any change at all (and that’s still a big if), we need to keep reminding whoever will listen that we’re spending too much money on this stuff. Big-time sports might make sense at the University of Michigan or Michigan State, but they don’t make sense at a place like EMU.

Thanks for reading and have a good summer,


Continue reading

Posted in Academia, EMU, EMU-AAUP | 3 Comments

And one more thing about football: location matters

This is sort of a “PS” to the post I had the other day about EMU on HBO Sports:

The joint report issued by the Faculty Senate, the EMU-AAUP, and EMU Student Government is getting some ripples of attention in the mainstream media. I don’t know what the chances are that these efforts succeed, that EMU really does drop football entirely and instead joins a non-football conference like the Horizon League (if they would have us, I have no idea how that works), but I like that the fight is underway.

There was a good article in the Detroit Free Press by David Jesse, “EMU in the market for new league for football?” I wanted to specifically highlight this quote from the EMU-AAUP’s Howard Bunsis:

“Culturally and geographically, EMU football will simply never succeed from an attendance and financial standpoint… It is a losing proposition — always has been, and always will be. We hardly raise any money for football, and our attendance is the lowest in the country. Some of you believe that we are close to succeeding, if we just throw more money at the situation. This proposition is insane.

Another way of putting it: we live in the shadow of Big Blue.

Culturally, EMU is not entirely a “commuter campus” (because there are a lot of people who live on campus or within about five miles of it), but we definitely have a lot of students who drive in from one of the various Detroit suburbs and then go home. We also have a lot of students (maybe the majority? I’m not sure) from working-class backgrounds who are working too many hours to pay the bills. Go to any “service industry” kind of place in the Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti area and I’m betting that at least 25% of the people working there are students at EMU. And we also have a lot of non-traditional students, 25+ year-olds with families and kids and the like. None of these people have time for or interest in football.

Geographically, we’re around seven miles from the University of Michigan’s campus, and if you are a college football fan– even one attending EMU– there’s a better chance you will root for the Wolverines rather than for the Emus Eagles. After all, the Wolverines are one of the most successful football programs in the history of the sport, period. Why wouldn’t you root for them? (Unless you went to Iowa as an undergraduate, but I digress).

Just to give you an example of what I mean: my son is finishing up his freshman year at the University of Michigan. He could have bought student section tickets for football before school started, but he has very little interest in sports so he passed. And yet he ended up buying tickets to a couple of the early games this last fall (when tickets are comparatively easy to get), and he’s likely to get season tickets next year. Why? “Because that’s what everyone does,” he said, “everyone” meaning all of the people he has been hanging out with in his dorm.

The culture at Michigan is essentially the opposite of EMU. You’re an “outsider” oddball if you take no interest in things like football there. Even very very casual fans like my son get swept up in the excitement of it all. Plus the students who attend the University of Michigan are the most traditional of traditional college students: 18-22 year olds from upper-middle class/wealthy backgrounds who are all living very near to campus and who generally have a lot of free-time on their hands.

The point is it’s not just that EMU can’t compete in the MAC; it can’t compete in the neighborhood.

Update: Just to give you an idea about how seriously the administration and the Board of Regents is taking the recommendation of this report from the faculty and the students, here’s a copy of an open letter to the EMU community:

Open letter to the Eastern Michigan University
campus community, alumni, friends and supporters

In the past several days, there has been considerable media coverage of reports that indicate that Eastern Michigan University is considering eliminating football, or reducing support for football by dropping down to a lower division of the NCAA and by dropping out of the Mid-American Conference. These reports are not based on any solid factual information. We have absolutely no plans to eliminate football or move into any other division or conference.

We are pleased to be a member of an outstanding conference, the Mid-American Conference, where all of our sports and our talented student athletes have the opportunity to compete at the highest levels with neighboring institutions in the Midwest. Any headlines or claims that Eastern is considering dropping football, or reducing our support of the program in any way, are false.

We are 100 percent supportive of our current Athletics administration, particularly Vice President of Intercollegiate Athletics Heather Lyke. She has assembled an outstanding support team and we already have seen positive results in terms of continuing Eastern’s championship traditions in a number of our sports, as well as in many new initiatives to increase revenues. As an example, year-to-date, fundraising has increased by nearly $430,000.

Two-and-a-half years ago, she hired an outstanding football coach in Chris Creighton. Now entering his third year and with the majority of the team now made up of his recruits, we believe the best is ahead in terms of on the field and academic performance. We believe very strongly in Coach Creighton and his efforts to rebuild the program.

We want to collectively reiterate that any notion, suggestion, or headline that in any way suggests Eastern is considering eliminating football or moving into another conference or division, is absolutely false. We will remain proud members of the Mid-American Conference football family for a long, long time.


Interim President Donald Loppnow
President-Elect James Smith
Mike Morris, Chair, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Mary Treder Lang, Vice Chair, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Michael Hawks, Chair, Athletic Affairs Committee, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Dennis Beagen, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Michelle Crumm, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
Beth Fitzsimmons, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
James Stapleton, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents
James Webb, Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents

Posted in EMU, EMU-AAUP, Ypsi-Arbor | Leave a comment

EMU is the poster child for spending on college sports out of control on HBO Real Sports Ep 229: “College Costs”

Once again, EMU is is the poster child for out of control spending in sports, this time on the HBO show Real Sports in a story reported by a guy named John Frankel. Eastern comes out looking pretty bad, and in reality, I think the actual situation right now is even worse.

While the trailer suggests this is mainly about Eastern, the episode is at least as much (if not more) about Rutgers in New Jersey. They’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars right now in order to buy their way into contention in the Big Ten (which, logically, is now 14 universities). In the last 12 years (at least according to the guy they interview in the show), Rutgers has lost over $300 million on college sports. Making matters all the worse is Rutgers has spent a ton of money on coaches that they’ve had to fire and buy out. Though one thing Rutgers potentially has going for it is since they are the enormous flagship university for the state of New Jersey, they might be able to pay off a lot of that debt thanks to alumni and just being a part of the Big Ten.

And they also talk to the president of Paul Quinn College, Michael Sorrell, and how they gave up on football. I think Sorrell makes great arguments and I love the fact that they turned their football field into a small farm/enormous garden to grow food for campus, but given that Paul Quinn College has under 300 students, I think the comparison between it and Rutgers and EMU is pretty thin.

Those problems with this report aside, it does captures a lot of what is going on at EMU and what has been going on here for years. HBO interviewed EMU professor and EMU-AAUP former president/former treasurer (I’m actually not sure what his role in the union is right now) Howard Bunsis. According to Frankel (and I guess Howard), EMU has lost $52 million in athletics in the last two years. “For all the spending, Eastern Michigan has not had a winning football season in 20 years. It’s lone claim to fame? It draws the smallest attendance of any team in all of top tier division one football. Yet this year, the team outfitted the team in three different helmets and three different uniforms, and paid its coach more than anyone else on campus.”

They did an interview/feature of a student named Kelly Adams, someone they described as a “non-traditional student,” which is of course a pretty typical student at EMU. I’m not sure she added a lot to the discussion other than to put a name and a face with what I think is a pretty typical student at EMU.

And Frankel interviewed Interim President Donald Loppnow, and his answers were pretty, um, bad. Frankel asked about Ramone Williams, the EMU student who was in the news in late 2015/early 2016 because he was homeless, living more or less in campus buildings and in his car. Loppnow said something like “a lot of our students have difficult circumstances.” Then Frankel asked about the EMU Food Pantry that has opened up– I think just this last semester. It went like this:

“And how much funding does Eastern Michigan provide for the food pantry?”  Frankel asked.

“At this point it’s strictly through donations, but we’re looking at building it into ongoing service.” Loppnow said.

“So that’s zero.”

“I wish that we could do a lot lot more to address these needs.”

“But you’ve got the money, you’re just spending it in a place that isn’t helping those in need.”

“I understand what you’re saying” said a visibly uncomfortable Loppnow. “It’s part of the overall debate, and frankly, we will be funding these areas that you indicated.”

Mark Maynard has a good post here where he quotes from a long news story where EMU Regent Jim Stapleton claimed that the board was looking at “everything,” including football. The Freep has a story here with the predictable “not planning on cutting athletics but all option are on the table,” but at the same time maintaining the idea that participating in division one athletics is an “investment” by the university. MLive followed with a story of its own and the usual hater of all things EMU comments.

But here’s what all these stories are leaving out and why I’d argue this situation is even worse:

EMU is in the midst of a budget crisis. It’s been a rumor for a long time and was the subject of an email from none other than Interim President Loppnow earlier this week where he announced that there wouldn’t be across the board but “strategic” budget cuts across all units.

What the EMU administration hasn’t been talking about is this current budget crisis is essentially a self-inflicted wound. It’s not a result of cuts from the state– that funding I believe has been fairly stable or slightly rising for few years– but rather the result of everyone on the Board of Regents and in Welch Hall believing the unrealistic projections in terms of enrollment and tuition dollars that were being presented by President Susan Martin and Provost Kim Schatzel. Well, now these two– both of whom come out of business backgrounds, mind you– are long gone: Martin retired, and Schatzel wrapped up her term as provost/interim president in December and is now the president at Towson University in Maryland.

So, what we’re looking at here is a financial crisis that is the result of bad management by the university’s top leaders and negligent oversight by the board. Maybe this latest of many stories about money pit that is athletics at EMU will truly make the powers that be take a “hard look” at the football team and such. More likely, the new president and the BoR will double-down on football, and we’ll be cutting past bone in academics yet again in the name of looking at “everything” and making “strategic” cuts.

And do not even get me started on the DID crap! (Though I’ll be blogging about once the dust there has settled…)


There was a joint report issued by the EMU Faculty Senate, the EMU-AAUP, and EMU Student Government about the budget woes at EMU and the ridiculousness of EMU athletic spending. I uploaded it as a document here. Lots of charts and graphs, and the recommendation is EMU ought to get out of the MAC and join the Horizon league which doesn’t require us to be in football.


Posted in EMU, EMU-AAUP | 4 Comments

#4C16 Recap, deep in the something of Texas

The CCCCs in Houston just wrapped up, and since I’ve posted recaps of my experiences with the conference for at least a dozen years ago, I figure I had better post something again, even if it was mostly for myself.

Honestly, I wasn’t going to go.

Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Scholarship, The Happy Academic | 1 Comment

Expanding on a Twitter Talk with @saragoldrickrab

Social media platforms like Twitter are useful for all sorts of things, including making connections with scholars/writers “out there” in academia and beyond. But these platforms aren’t very useful to host/sponsor a more thoughtful discussion about some complicated topic. Twitter is particularly bad at this.

This is why I thought it’d be useful (at least for myself) to create a blog post responding to the 25 or so Tweets I received from @saragoldrickrab last night (and another eight or so this afternoon).

And just to be clear: I have a tremendous amount of respect for Goldrick-Rab. She’s a rock-star academic who writes lots of smart stuff about education policy (I blogged here about a piece she wrote with Audrey Watters about Kevin Carey’s book), and I also blogged previously about a “Twitter storm” she was in back in July. So I’m not writing this as some effort to “mansplain” anything to her or anyone else; I’m trying to parse this out a bit more for myself and anyone else who might be interested.

Continue reading

Posted in Academia, Social Networks, The Happy Academic | 1 Comment


It bothers me, and it doesn’t bother me.

It bothers me because 50 does seems a point of no return in terms of getting older, of leaving behind what was possible, of death. I generally agree that the main definition of “older” seems to be pegged at about ten years older than you are right now: that is, to 20-year-olds, 30 seems old, and so forth. My parents and in-laws are both in their mid-70s, and I hear both of them mentioning “old” people who are in their 80s.  But there is no denying the oldness and general adultness that is 50. When I first started teaching at the college level as a graduate student, I was 22— far too young. Because of EMU’s tenure system, I was promoted to full professor by 40, also pretty young. But no one is going to confuse me any longer for being too young for pretty much anything I do from here on out, except for the highly unlikely event that I’m nominated as a new justice on the Supreme Court.

I have to leave behind the reality that there are things I can never be or never do. Not that I ever was in great physical condition (I mean I’m healthy, but I’ve never been athletic), but my chances at this stage of becoming particularly good at anything like golf or running are slim. I doubt I’ll ever pick up an instrument. I’ll keep writing and I might even manage to turn back to fiction and other creative work, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to pay all the bills as a writer, part of the naive dream/plan I had 30 or so years ago. There are many places I will never go, there are many things I will never do.

And yeah, death. People dying in their 50s or 60s is too young (Garry Shandling just dropped dead of a heart attack in his mid 60s), but it is also not outside the statistical realm of when it is people end. I heard some place that everyone should take a moment every day and just acknowledge to themselves that yes, I’m going to die. I don’t know what that means really— that is, I assume that the experience of being dead is an impossible to comprehend nothingness like the experience of what the world was like before being born— but I do know that’s going to happen. And in acknowledging that, I think the point is to recognize the value and urgency of every day and to simultaneously recognize the insignificance of it all. I really like the Beatles song off of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, one of George’s I believe, “Within You Without You,” especially the chorus:

Try to realize it’s all within yourself

No one else can make you change

And to see you’re really only very small

And life flows on within you and without you

On the up-side: I’m in a pretty good spot in my life right now, certainly better than I was for a lot of my 20s. I’m still very happily married to Annette and I’m incredibly proud of my son. I’m not the healthiest 50 year old within a 10 mile radius, I’m not the unhealthiest 50 year old, so I’ll take it. I’m quite happy with my work, and, without blowing myself up too much about it all, I feel like my career as an academic has been reasonably successful, too. I often return to something my colleague and friend Derek Mueller said off-hand one day (I’m not even sure how much he remembers this), which is that academic fame is an oxymoron, and I’m not (and will not likely become) a “big name” in my field. But I’m happy with where I’m at. We talk about moving all the time, but I’m still pretty happy with our house and neighborhood and how we’re living. We have enough money to pretty much do what we want (not that we want to do anything terribly extravagant), which is of course a huge difference between now and when I was 20-something or 30-something.

So yeah, it doesn’t bother me. Now it’s just a question of worrying about really getting old when I turn 60.

Posted in Life | Leave a comment

In the Primary on Tuesday in Michigan, I’ll Probably Vote for Hillary…

… though sure, there are a lot things about Hillary that do bug me. Long story-short, sometimes her and Bill’s careers seem a little too much like House of Cards, or vice-versa. She does seem a little too cozy with Wall Street, and I do wonder about why she’d run her own email server for personal emails instead of just getting a gmail account. So yeah, I understand my fellow Democrat (and even Republican) friends on all this.

… because at the end of the day she is the most qualified in terms of previous experience and a pragmatic record of getting shit done. I realize that in this election cycle, my support for a candidate with demonstrable “insider” experience makes me an “outlier,” but so be it.

… and I like Bernie Sanders too. If Bernie gets the nomination, I have no problem with that. I really don’t think there are many Democrats who are going to use the word “begrudgingly” in describing their support for the party’s nominee even if it isn’t their choice, which of course is not the case going on with the clown car called the Republican party. I think that Sanders running such a serious and robust campaign has made Clinton better, and if she gets the nomination, I hope she gets Sanders to do something big in the general election, maybe even as the VP. Or vice-versa.

… though I am tempted to vote in the Republican primary. I don’t understand exactly how this works, but as I understand it, Michiganders only need to be registered to vote– they can chose which primary they vote in (though I think you can only vote in one primary) regardless of party preferences.  If I did vote in the Republican primary, it wouldn’t be for Trump as a way of performing a little bit of “sabotage” or whatever. No, I’d vote for John Kasich. He’s kind of a jerky conservative guy too, but he’s the only adult in the room over there, and Trump scares the hell out of me.

.., and at the end of the day, I suspect that Clinton will clinch the nomination well before the convention, Sanders will gracefully concede, the Democrats will be unusually united because the prospect of President Trump is so disturbing, and Clinton will be the first woman president. But I sure wouldn’t want to take any of that for granted, that is for dang sure.

Posted in Life, Politics | Leave a comment

About that slide show at the University of Houston on how to be a professor and avoid being killed: a few miscellaneous thoughts

Texas passed a law last year that makes it legal to carry concealed weapons on college campuses in that state. The University of Houston faculty senate put together a controversial slide show offering some debatable and/or dubious advice that became a story in Inside Higher Ed, the AAUP blog, local Mark Maynard’s blog, and lots of other places. Here’s a link to the actual PowerPoint slide show, but the slide everyone is talking about is this one:


So, several thoughts, more or less in this order:

  • I am very much against these kinds of concealed weapon laws and the rampant arming of America and my hope is that there will be a swing in the U.S. Supreme Court (RIP, Scalia) and in federal and state legislatures in the next few years and some level of sanity can return. I have no problem with people having guns to hunt or shoot targets or whatever, and I guess you can get a gun to protect yourself if you want (though I think there is a lot of evidence out there as to why that’s a bad idea). I think there are reasonable lines to be drawn in terms of licensing gun owners, restricting automatic weapons, concealed weapons, etc. Sadly, nothing is going to change for at least the next few (5? 10?) years.
  • Frankly, the biggest concern I have about these kinds of rules allowing more guns on campuses is for students. As Casey Boyle pointed out on Facebook the other day, dumb accidents are bound to happen– as it is, half of our students are carrying around cracked up smart phones they dropped; imagine the number of students shooting themselves or others because they drop their damn gun. And don’t even get me started on the dorms and student apartments because it doesn’t take a gun safety expert to see that adding guns into the mix for young twenty-somethings who are drinking/smoking weed/whatever else (did you know college kids did these things?) is not a great idea. As it is, there’s a shooting pretty much every weekend at some college campus in this country, usually at some late night off-campus party. This isn’t going to help.
  • And I think that the argument that people with concealed weapons could stop the “crazy shooter” from killing is goofy. I didn’t attend this session (it was a scheduling thing for me), but there was an “active shooter” training for my department not so long ago, and as I understand it, one of the things that happened was someone burst into the meeting unannounced with a gun (obviously fake) and demonstrated just how impossible it would be for anyone but Jason Bourne to save themselves or anyone else against someone who has the element of surprise and a loaded gun. So I don’t know if this new law is going to lead to more shootings, but I sure as heck know it isn’t going to stop many/any.

On the other hand….

  • Let’s keep in mind that the fear that the UH faculty senate is responding to with these slides is not new with this law. This list of school shootings in the  U.S. on Wikipedia says that the first school shooting in this country was in 1764. (This list lumps K-12 schools and higher ed schools into the same category.) Obviously, the number of shootings and their accompanying deaths and injuries has been increasing, and those increases have been pretty dramatic in recent years.
  • Guns are really only the most dramatic problem faculty face from potentially dangerous students. The last EMU-AAUP contract has some language on “Student Conduct” because there were a number of incidents of students harassing faculty (typically male students and female faculty). As I wrote about in the old EMUTalk days here, there was a case at EMU where it took the administration six weeks to remove a disruptive student from a particular case, and there was at least one story that I heard about a faculty member who had a restraining order out against a student and that student was in her class and the university was slow to do anything about it.
  • The point is these threats are a) not new, and b) not limited to guns. Again, I think this new law in Texas is alarming for all kinds of different reasons, and I certainly would not be happy if the same thing were happening in Michigan (and for all I know, it will be happening in Michigan sooner than later). I’m just saying that working in schools have always had this element of danger because schools are “soft targets” filled with a lot of vulnerable people. Back in 2013, I blogged about a ridiculous article that claimed professors had the “least stressful” job. One of the categories of stressors in this article was “meeting the public,” and as I wrote back then, the people who think professors have it made because they only work with students forget the fact that students are “the public.” And to quote myself: “Every professor/ lecturer/ adjunct/ graduate assistant I know can tell you several hair-curling stories about dealing with students/the public who were insulting, mean, weepy, drunk, scary, crazy, potential violent, lazy, rude, and/or all of the above. Honestly, working with the public/students is often the best and the worst part of the job, and it is definitely one of the sources of stress in my life.”
  • Taking guns out of the equation, those first three bullet points (no pun intended) on that slide are actually not bad advice. I blogged last August in sympathetic terms about trigger warnings, and there’s something to be said for that here. Teachers should be “sensitive” when discussing sensitive topics. I don’t know about “dropping certain topics from your curriculum,” but if you’re teaching something that is going to get students so angry that it might incite violence, well, maybe that ought to be re-thought. I’m very much for challenging students’ thinking and assumptions about the world, but that’s different than trying to create conflict.
  • Most faculty already do some flavor of the last three bullet points. I don’t give students my phone number or my home address, and while I’ll meet grad students I know at a coffee shop near campus or this near-campus hangout called The Corner, I generally limit my face to face access to students (outside of the classroom or my office) to some place on campus like the student center. I try to meet students by appointment as often as necessary– not really for safety reasons but because it’s more convenient for everyone. When I meet with students in my office, I always leave the door open, though that’s more about avoiding the appearance of  sexual harassment or some other false student charge against me. (And by the way, I’ve never had any sort of charge like that from a student, but I’ve always felt like it’s best to meet with students in a semi-public space. Better safe than sorry).
  • Frankly, this slide bothers me more:


Really? you want me to take a poll of my students on this? Isn’t that liable to call out the one who has the concealed weapon? Isn’t that more likely to piss people off?

  • And then finally, the gallows humor/practical parts of me says that maybe this is another reason why it’s worth it to teach more online.
Posted in Academia, EMU, Teaching | 1 Comment