A few brief thoughts on high school, locker room showers, and transgender

On NPR’s “Morning Edition” this morning, I listened to this, “Ex-NC Gov Pat McCrory Offers His Take On Transgender Rights.”  NPR was talking to McCrory because he was the governor who oversaw the North Carolina “Bathroom Bill.”  McCrory basically said that the reason why this law was important was because of some variation of the dangers of the locker room. If you didn’t have a law like this, McCrory said again and again, how are boys going to feel with a girl who now thinks they are a boy in the same bathroom? What’s to stop a boy from saying he is a girl so he can shower in the girl’s locker room? When will the chaos end?

Obviously, all of McCrory’s fears are complete bullshit and along the lines of the argument about what would happen if we didn’t define marriage as between a man and a woman (“why, people might end up marrying their dogs or their cars!”). What this is really about is a lack of acceptance of difference, a lack of tolerance, some kind of overly rigorous religious code, bigotry, hatred, and/or just general ignorance.

However, this story this morning did bring back memories for me of high school and showers. I never– and I mean never– took a shower at my high school. Not once.

Now, that was over 30 years ago, and I really have no idea if my experiences/memories are typical or not. I have no idea what the common practice is nowadays. Also keep in mind I was very much the opposite of a jock–debate, extemporaneous speaking, and the student newspaper were my jams– which is to say I never had some kind of coach telling me and my teammates to “hit the showers.”

My high school back then had a gym class option where you could take a special before school started version that met several days a week (maybe every day? I don’t remember) for a lot less than the full term. This meant I didn’t have to have a gym class in the middle and I could take real classes instead– and also as a senior, I think I was done with classes by about lunchtime. The before school gym class was full of fellow nerds like me, and like the rest of these folks, we all just changed out of our gym clothes into regular clothes and went to class. It’s not like we worked up some kind of vigorous sweat playing dodgeball or whatever for an hour.

And nowadays, do they even make kids go to gym class?

I still am not all that comfortable with my own nakedness in quasi-public situations. In college the showers had curtains, so it meant bathrobe on in my room, to the shower room, close curtain, take off bathrobe, shower, and repeat in reverse. The gym I go to has a nice locker room and has showers with glass doors, so for those very rare times where I get cleaned up after a workout (mostly I come home afterwards), I’ll wrap up in a big towel and be sure to close the door.

I don’t think I’m alone in this behavior. Again, I don’t use the locker room at the gym a lot so my sample size is limited, but in my experience, almost all of the men in there follow a similar routine of covering up, turning away, and trying to keep the “parts” as private as possible. Though I will say that I have seen some men in the locker room who seem a little too comfortable with their bodies and nakedness, just strutting around in a pair of flip-flops and arguing loudly about sports.  Often, this proudly naked-type is an old dude who probably should grab a towel.

Anyway, my point is this: I cannot begin to imagine what it’s like to identify as a gender other than my own or to be transitioning in some way from female to male (or vice-versa). But I have to think that the vast majority of transgender teens have at least some of the same insecurities and nervousness about their own bodies as the cisgender teens. The scenarios of locker rooms gone wild that McCrory is trying to “protect” us from just does not square with any experience I’ve ever had. Though again, I wasn’t in a sport that required me to “shower up,” and for all I know, McCrory is that too proud to be naked older dude.

Posted in Life, Politics | Leave a comment

Responding to DeVos at CPAC: Oh, if it were only that easy….

Among other things, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said at the Conservative Political Action Conference the other day:

Now let me ask you: How many of you are college students?

The fight against the education establishment extends to you too. The faculty, from adjunct professors to deans, tell you what to do, what to say, and more ominously, what to think. They say that if you voted for Donald Trump, you’re a threat to the university community. But the real threat is silencing the First Amendment rights of people with whom you disagree.

As Secretary, I don’t think the Department of Education in Washington should have more power over your decisions than you do. I took this job because I want to return power in education back to where it belongs: with parents, communities, and states.

Ugh, I wish.

If my students did say what I told them to say and think what I told them to think, then teaching would be incredibly easy. Education generally would be a non-issue, just pour knowledge in. Do you remember that scene in The Matrix where Trinity calls and instantly gets a program on how to fly a helicopter? Man, I wish that’s how teaching worked. Reality is far different. Heck, I have students who don’t bother to read the syllabus, who don’t follow basic instructions on assignments, don’t do the reading, don’t show up to class. How am I supposed to just tell them what to say or think?!

Actually, that previous paragraph isn’t true. I wouldn’t want to tell my students what to say or think, and I don’t know any teacher at any level– certainly not at the college level– who would want to do that, regardless of that teacher’s/professor’s party politics. Part of a college education is to try to get students to learn how to think for themselves. (And yes, professors and higher education as an industry tend to vote for Democrats, but it’s a lot more complicated than assuming we all think the same thing and that there are no conservatives amongst us).

This is not to say that everything is fair game, that I’m all about students (or anyone else) saying and thinking whatever they want. Climate change is a real thing. Black lives really do matter, and there are good reasons to support that movement. We should base the arguments and claims we make in academic essays (and really, in the world in general) on research and reason and not “gut feelings.” CNN, The New York Times, BuzzFeed, and other news outlets that report things you don’t agree with are not “Fake News.” None of these statements should be controversial, though I suppose each is now in dispute with a group like CPAC and in the era of President Donald Trump, who has only been president for a little over a month but it already feels perfectly reasonable to describe these times and his presidency as “an era.”

I do tell students what to think in the sense that there are indeed facts that are based on conclusive evidence that cannot be dismissed by wishing them away or conspiracy theories or baseless assertions. Attendance numbers at Trump’s inauguration really were much lower than they have been for the last two inaugurations for Barack Obama. Hillary Clinton really did receive millions more votes than Trump did, there really were not millions of illegal voters, and Trump  really did not win the largest Electoral College victory in recent memory.

Fortunately for me, none of this is that controversial because where I teach, most of my students already know and believe this. Clinton won the county where I live (home to both Eastern Michigan University and the University of Michigan) by like 25 or more points, and the vast majority of the students at EMU lean politically left. That is, to the extent that they have time for any party politics at all– so many of my students are spending so much time working a couple of different jobs and dealing with life generally while going to school, I think there’s a significant percentage of them who cannot afford the “luxury” of partisan politics and protest. But yes, my students at EMU do not require a lot of elaborate and devious left-wing brainwashing to get them to question the way things are going with Trump et al. As far as I know, faculty weren’t really involved in organizing the “not my president” protests that popped up after the election, and it’s not like I made my students go to the various womens’ marches the day after the inauguration either.

And no, none of these students are getting paid or getting extra credit in my classes.

Posted in Academia, Politics, Teaching | 2 Comments

Testing the Difference Between “Fake News” and “Unsubstantiated Reports” with Provenance and Plausibility

I’ve been thinking a lot about “fake news” versus “alleged” or “unsubstantiated reports” lately– heck, anyone who has been paying any attention to last week’s news about Donald Tump has surly been thinking about this too. And it’s not just Trump labeling BuzzFeed and CNN as sources for “Fake News;” it’s other “news” people like Chuck Todd and the mainstream/traditional media across the board— at least that’s how they responded to the claims about Trump in Russia when they first broke. Within twenty-four hours of that initial story, even the New York Times was reporting on it.

Trump is going to label anything that doesn’t support him as “fake news” or coming from “losers” or being “sad” or whatever, and maybe BuzzFeed shouldn’t have published something that was as “unsubstantiated” as the stuff that was in this report. The journalism ethics here are complicated, though I have to say I think the MSM response has less to do with the question of when is proper to publish something and more to do with the “icky” factor of the alleged “golden shower” shows. BuzzFeed’s editor Ben Smith has been pretty smart about responding to the criticism– here’s a link to an interview he did on CNN. And once again, Teen Vogue has had excellent reporting/thought pieces on Trump, as in this piece “So You Read That Scandalous Report About Donald Trump and Russia– Now What?”

Anyway, in writing now about this, I’m not that interested in the ethical question of whether or not BuzzFeed should have published this in the first place. I’m more interested in playing around with/thinking about what sorts of strategies and processes can any of us use in evaluating these kinds of stories, and not just between something that is “fake” versus something that is “true,” but also between something that is “fake” versus something that is “alleged” or “unsubstantiated.” I think these are two different things and need to be treated differently: that is, something that is “fake” does not necessarily equal something that is “unsubstantiated,” and vice-versa. And as a rhetorician who has been influenced by a lot of postmodern/post-structural theories, this is also important to me because I kind of feel we’ve painted ourselves into a corner by the ways we have tended to academically approach “Truth.”

A simple example: in recent years, I’ve been very fond of showing a video called “In Defense of Rhetoric” that was put together by graduate students in Professional Communication at Clemson University in 2011. I think it does a very good job of explaining the basics of rhetoric for an audience who has only heard of the negative connotations– as in “that’s just empty rhetoric,” or (as an example from the video) the “art of bullshit.” But I have to say that this semester, in light of everything that has happened with the election and what seems to be a rise of a “post-truth era,” I did wince a bit when, at about the 10 minute mark in discussing “Epistemic Rhetoric,” the faculty interviewed here talk about how reality itself is constructed by rhetoric, about how everything we decide is based on judging between claims. I agree with this in theory, but the problem is this approach to reality is part of what’s enabling “Fake News” in the first place. It certainly has enabled Trump and his supporters to dismiss a story he doesn’t like as “fake” because if reality is based simply on how I see it being constructed rhetorically or on simply competing claims, why do we have to choose the same thing?

So how do we evaluate these claims of “Fake” versus “alleged,” and how should the press report the “unsubstantiated,” if they should report it at all?  This is what I am getting at with this idea of the tests of “provenance” and “plausibility.” By provenance, I mean an understanding of the origin of the story. I’m thinking here in particular of the way that term is used in the art and antique world to help determine authenticity and value. An antique that is accompanied with documentation that traces the history of an object is a whole lot more valuable than the same object without that documentation, and forging those documents is always a problem. (As a tangent here, I’m reminded of the novel The Goldfinch). By plausibility, I mean the potential that a story might be true based on the other things we know about the story, such as the people and places involved, when it supposedly happened, and so forth. I think I mean something here like ethos, but I think it is beyond just the individuals or even beyond the available evidence. Plausibility for me doesn’t mean whether or not something is (T)rue, but more along the lines of the odds that it’s (T)rue.

A sense of provenance and plausibility probably exists on a spectrum of “truthiness” I’ll call Fiction and (T)rue, and here I am mostly thinking of part of what Derek Mueller and I talked about the other day and/or the way that Bruno Latour talks about “black boxes” in Science in Action. I am far from a Latour scholar/expert so this reading might be a bit off, but basically, Latour points out that new discoveries/theories in science always depend on previously made discoveries/theories that are now presumed to be “(T)rue”– not in a “Platonic ideal across all space and time” notion of “Truth,” but in a “we’ve done this experiment a lot and gotten similar results so now presume it is a fact” sort of (T)rue. Geneticist are not running the experiments to determine the structure of DNA anymore because that is now just (T)rue and tucked away into a “black box”– which is to say there could be something we learn about DNA later that changes that and thus reopens that discussion.

To tease this all out, let’s compare the “fake” news that has been dubbed “Pizzagate” versus what I think is an “unsubstantiated” story about intelligence the Russians have about Trump.

“Pizzagate” was a conspiracy theory which claimed members of the Democratic Party– lead by Hillary Clinton and her campaign manager John Podesta– were running an elaborate human trafficking and pedophile sex ring housed in the basement of a a Washington, D.C. pizza restaurant called Comet Ping Pong (apparently, you can play table tennis while eating pizza).  Snopes.com has an extensive entry about the controversy here, and the Washington Post also published this article tracing the origins of this story here, too. In my mind, this is about as extreme of an example of “fake” as it gets, but I think it’s an especially important example in at least two ways. First, the story spread through social media via ‘bots along with other conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones. Millions of people (and machines) reposted/retweeted this. Second, this story had real life and potentially very dangerous consequences since a North Carolina man named Edgar Maddison Welch, convinced the story was true, showed up at the pizza place with an AR-15 ready to free the children. Here’s a story from Mother Jones about Welch.

The allegations released by BuzzFeed about Trump were contained in a document supposedly a part of an intelligence report/briefing about stuff the Russians have on Trump to potentially blackmail or otherwise compromise him. Here’s a link to the original BuzzFeed story that contains the entire report. As a slight tangent: much of the sensationalism has to do with the practice of “urolagnia,” which is sexual excitement associated with urine. I’ll admit, I find the idea of “golden showers” both gross and, as it has been reported, darkly funny. But a) this is far from the most unusual “kink” out there, and b) hey, if it’s between consenting adults and no one gets hurt, who am I to criticize anyone’s sex life? What is frankly more troubling in these allegations are the other things that the Russians supposedly have on Trump in terms of real estate deals, grooming Trump as an “asset” to Russian intelligence, and the communications between Trump’s campaign and the Russians during the election cycle.

So, how do these stories stack up in terms of “provenance” and “plausibility?”

The provenance of both stories have already been explored and reported in some detail and the difference between these two examples are quite clear. Pizzagate emerges as a combination of pure fiction and rumors; in contrast, the allegations about Trump and the Russians was part of an intelligence dossier that has apparently been in the hands of a variety of folks (including journalists) for months. This is not to say that the allegations against Trump are accurate or even close to (T)rue; however, we know a lot about the origins of this story.

The plausibility of these two stories is also quite stark. As even Edgar Welch discovered once on the scene at Comet Ping Pong, it’s just not possible because of the building itself– never mind the craziness of the rest of the details. On the other hand, the allegations of Trump’s behavior in Russia strike me as completely plausible– although it probably didn’t actually happen. After all, Trump really did make a trip to Moscow when this is said to have happened (this was during the “Miss Universe” pageant). Further, we already know that Trump has made some cameo appearances in Playboy videos,  has bragged about grabbing women by “the pussy,” and, as reported just this morninghe is being sued by a former Apprentice contestant for sexual harassment and defamation. Obviously, these past activities don’t prove the allegations of his behavior in Moscow; however, I do think these past activities do help explain the plausibility of these allegations.

In my mind, this test of provenance and plausibility also works if we change the actors in these stories. I think it is implausible that Trump and Kellyanne Conway were running a pedophile sex ring out of a pizzeria pretty much for the same reasons it was implausible for Clinton and Podesta. But I think the plausibility changes a bit with the Russian allegations, particularly the specifics of the “golden shower” show. I think these allegations brought against politicians like Hilary Clinton, Obama, or either of the Bushes would be dismissed as just not plausible. However, would we be as quick to dismiss this kind of story if it were about Bill Clinton?

Anyway, I don’t know how useful it is to think of fake news versus allegations versus real news this way, as on the spectrum of fiction and (T)ruth, as being about measuring provenance and plausibility. I’m not sure how necessary this is either given that there are lots of schemes and advice out there for testing the “truthiness” of news of all sorts, particularly as it manifests in social media. I do know one thing: we’re all going to have to get a hell of a lot better at thinking about and describing the differences between the fake, the alleged, and the real.

Posted in Academia, Internet, Politics, Social Networks, Teaching, Writing | Leave a comment

Trying to end on a positive note

I’m not one to usually think like this, but 2016 has been a pretty shitty year by almost any measure. It’s been shitty on several different levels– the world and the country, but it’s also been a shitty year at EMU and I’ve had some shitty things happen in my own life (which I won’t get into now). Shitty shitty shitty.

But I’m determined to end on a positive “always look on the bright side of life” note here. So here are some things that happened for me that were good.

  • I got the chance to participate in some interesting, cool, and difficult to explain and categorize consulting/curriculum development things with the NICERC which took me to places like Louisiana and Arkansas and where I got to meet/work with some cool people. (Dwelling on the negative would involve wondering about the future of this program, and I’m not going there).
  • In honor of my 50th birthday (which is neither good nor bad, really), Annette and I had a great trip to New York City. We went in February, which turns out to be a pretty cheap time to go, saw many fun and wondrous things, ate ridiculously expensive food, some fantastic pizza, and hung around with great friends.
  • I got the chance to do an invited talk at Creighton University to talk about MOOCs, which gave me a chance to catch up with Bob Whipple and also a chance to hang around Omaha for a day (which is neither a good thing or a bad thing, really).
  • I wasn’t going to go to the CCCCs this year in Houston, but Annette and I had a good time. Speaking of somewhat unplanned but still good conference travel: Computers and Writing was a pretty good time too. And even though this was the year I said to myself and others that I was getting kind of sick of going to conferences, I still ended up going to three in the winter/spring terms, and I helped run the latest version of the WIDE-EMU this last fall.
  • The three of us had a long spring trip/experiment “up North” in May, spending two weeks in a condo on working vacation in Glen Arbor. I’m not sure I would spend that long up there again that early in the season, but we got in some good hikes, some good work, some good food.
  • Annette was President of the Children’s Literature Association last year, which for me meant a long weekend in Columbus during the conference staying in a fancy-pants suite. That was fun.
  • Did lots of the usual stuff over the summer with friends and the like, too: did the Dexter-Ann Arbor “run,” did a fun “amazing race” thing with Steve and Michelle that was a fund-raiser for a local cancer support group, played some golf, had some picnics, went to the July 4 parade in Ypsilanti, my parents visited, Annette’s parents visited, etc.
  • Annette and I went to see Cyndi Lauper (of all people!) and Annette and Will and I went to see Louis CK at Joe Louis Arena. Both were good; Lauper was a bit of a trip down memory lane (though she was touring in support of a country album she had made), and Louis CK was great though the arena-sized space is probably not right for stand-up.
  • Right before the fall term began and hours after we moved Will into the dorms, Annette and I went to Italy. I was invited back to this conference about MOOCs at the University of Naples, an conference I went to in 2015 that I thought was a once in a lifetime kind of thing. And then it happened again. It was a fantastic trip.
  • And Will is doing great at the University of Michigan. In April, we went to see a poster session of him presenting on science stuff; he worked in his lab doing science stuff all summer and through now; and he is still doing even more science stuff. Yes, that’s vague, but it is just a little less than what I understand it to be. He is a much MUCH better student than I ever was.
  • I don’t know if this is good news exactly, but in October, we had the not to be forgotten incident of a chipmunk in our house.
  • And last but not least, I have a contract to write/finish a book about MOOCs. I don’t want to jinx it by saying any more than that.

So yeah, it’s been a shitty year, but there was some good stuff too. Now it’s time to brace ourselves for 2017…

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Why are academics so “liberal?”

The Chronicle of Higher Education ran an interview a few days ago with Charles C. Camosy called “The Case for Trading Identity Politics for ‘Intellectual Humility,'” which more or less came about as a result of Camosy’s Washington Post “PostEverything” column “Trump won because college-educated Americans are out of touch.”  In brief, Camosy, who is conservative and a a professor of theology at Fordham University, argues that academics are too liberal and out of touch to understand why anyone would have voted for Donald Trump. Further, if academia doesn’t change it’s ways, the situation is only going to get worse.

In the CHE piece (sorry, behind a firewall), he argues that we need more “diversity” in terms of the liberal/conservative spectrum:

I don’t mean a quota coming down from the administration or anything like that. But for instance, in my own department, we looked around and didn’t see a lot of people of color. So we said, We ought to make an effort in hiring to have more diversity. That’s the kind of thing I have in mind — for departments to look around and say, Well, how much intellectual diversity do we have? Do we have even one conservative?

I don’t even like the liberal-conservative binary. I just want a person who really doesn’t have the views of the rest of us, who challenges us, who forces us to take a moment to listen to someone who’s different, who forces our students to take a moment to listen to someone who’s different.

He goes on:

One reason why racial justice was such an important issue in this election was because colleges and universities started that conversation, and it filtered down to the rest of the culture. That was a very good thing. So if we also make a commitment to other kinds of diversity, that will also filter down to the rest of the culture. We won’t see such enclaves of people over here — millions and millions of people — thinking something so diametrically opposed to people over there.

That’s a big part of my work as an academic ethicist: to show that these kinds of us-versus-them, right-versus-left, life-versus-choice binaries are too simplistic. People are much more complicated and interesting than identity politics allows us to imagine.

Fair enough, though as I’ll get to eventually, I’m not so sure that that last point about upsetting simple binaries is a position that would resonate with most conservatives.

Anyway, in the Washington Post piece published right after the election, Camosy is more blunt. He argues:

The most important divide in this election was not between whites and non-whites. It was between those who are often referred to as “educated” voters and those who are described as “working class” voters.

The reality is that six in 10 Americans do not have a college degree, and they elected Donald Trump.College-educated people didn’t just fail to see this coming — they have struggled to display even a rudimentary understanding of the worldviews of those who voted for Trump. This is an indictment of the monolithic, insulated political culture in the vast majority our colleges and universities.

He goes on:

Higher education in the United States, after all, is woefully monolithic in its range of worldviews. In 2014, some 60 percent of college professors identified as either “liberal” or “far-left,” an increase from 42 percent identifying as such in 1990. And while liberal college professors outnumber conservatives5-to-1, conservatives are considerably more common within the general public. The world of academia is, therefore, different in terms of political temperature than the rest of society, and what is common knowledge and conventional wisdom among America’s campus dwellers can’t be taken for granted outside the campus gates.

I disagree with most (though not all) of this, and before I get to the real point here, why are academics so liberal (or are they so liberal?), I think there are three important things to always keep in mind about the outcome of the presidential election:

  • Clinton’s campaign did not spend enough time in working class/blue collar places in the midwest, and arguably, she forgot the James Carville prime directive of “it’s the economy, stupid.” Hindsight is 20-20, though as this New York Times piece from the day after the election points out, there were forces within Clinton’s campaign– including Bill!– who argued that she should be spending some time courting these voters and not concentrating on urban areas. And yesterday the New York Times had this piece recapping a “debate” between aides to the two presidential campaigns where Kellyanne Conway said “Do you think you could have just had a decent message for the white working-class voters? How about it’s Hillary Clinton, she doesn’t connect with people? How about they had nothing in common with her? How about you had no economic message?” I hate to say it, but I think she has a point. But the point here is that Clinton’s loss is as much about her campaign mistakes as it was with any dissatisfaction from working class voters.
  • The exit polling data suggests that yes, level of education was an indicator of who voted for who– 51% of high school or less and 52% of some college or associate degree voters went with Trump. But it also shows that 49% of white college graduates voted for Trump (compared to 45% for Clinton), 67% of white college graduates without a degree voted for Trump, and 75% of of nonwhite voters without a college degree voted for Clinton. There’s a bunch of other data to sort through here too, but the point I’m trying to make is for Camosy (or anyone else) to suggest that race was not as an “important divide” in this election than education is just plain wrong.
  • Always always remember and never ever forget that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and by what seems to be a large margin. Yes, Trump won with the electoral college, and yes, this seems good evidence that the most significant divide in this country right now is between urban and rural areas, a divide characterized as much by race and income levels as it is by education– not to mention basic geography. Also remember that the margin of victory in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin combined  was under 80,000 out of like 12 million votes (Phillip Bump has a commentary/analysis about this in the Washington Post here), which isn’t exactly an overwhelming mandate even in these rustbelt states. And yes, I agree the Democratic party as an organization is in disarray and needs to think a lot harder about how to appeal both to voters who are interested in “identity issues” and to voters interested in “economic populism” (and as a slight tangent, here I’m thinking of this post from Freddie deBoer, someone I often don’t agree with but I think he’s right here).

However, people who voted for Clinton (and all the “liberal values” she represents) and/or against Trump are still in the majority in this country. That doesn’t mean much when it comes to Trump’s cabinet appointees or the frightening policies he might be proposing and it probably means even less if your a Muslim in a particularly red part of the country, but it does mean a lot in terms of how the citizenry can respond. The man who will be president didn’t actually “win” because a significant majority of eligible American voters either didn’t vote at all (which in my book is even worse than voting for Trump) or they voted for Clinton, and of those who did vote for Trump, I have to assume that there is some difficult to determine but still healthy percentage who didn’t so much vote for Trump as they voted against Clinton, and/or who voted for Trump as a protest. That’s depressing, that the winner didn’t really “win,” but it also means that those of us who voted for Clinton are far from alone. Or let me put it this way: the first presidential candidate I voted for was Walter Mondale. That was an entirely different kind of loss.

But I digress. Why are academics so “liberal?” Continue reading

Posted in Scholarship, The Happy Academic | 1 Comment

Why I’m voting for a Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP

While the national election is over (though of course the fight in many ways has just begun), there’s a very local election here at EMU that’s still going on. The election for members of the Executive Committee of the EMU-AAUP, which is the union that represents the faculty, is currently underway (the deadline for voting is November 21 at 5 pm).  Making it all the more interesting this year is it’s actually an election with a choice (I believe in the last couple of cycles, the leaders of the union were unopposed), and it’s an important one because of events on campus.

I’m voting for the “Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP:” Judy Kullberg for President; Ken Rusiniak for Vice President; and Mahmud Rahman, Charles Cunningham, and Tricia McTague for at large members of the Executive Committee (EC). I have a lot of respect for what Susan Moeller and Howard Bunsis and the rest of the incumbents have done with the EMU-AAUP over the years, but I also think it’s time for a change. I think the Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP people can bring that change.

This post gets a little wonky for anyone who is not at EMU– maybe for anyone who is not on faculty at EMU. So for any non-locals who decide to read on here, sorry about that in advance.

Continue reading

Posted in EMU, EMU-AAUP | 1 Comment

FWIW, some thoughts on the 2016 presidential election

As I type this (I started writing this at almost 2 am and now I am finishing it at 6:30-ish, realizing the worse has come to pass), I’m watching the cluster-fuck/train-wreck that is the showdown of the presidential election. I was hoping to go to bed about 11 last night. I was hoping and assuming (had the polls had been correct, as I’ll get to in a moment) to be in bed hours ago, satisfied with the inevitable of Hillary Clinton as president-elect. As I type, not so much. Ugh.

So, some thoughts, in no particular order:

  • Fuck the pollsters, fuck the 538s of the world. Fuck all of them. I don’t know what happened, I’m sure we will hear more about it all in the coming days and weeks, and the problems of relying on “big data” alone are clear here. We can and will debate the details, but I will never look at 538 or a similar site and say “hey, they’re predicting a 90% win for Clinton, I guess that’s all good.” These sites are useless. My hope (and expectation, frankly) is they will go out of business, which is what Nate Silver and his smug-assed types deserve. As Mike Murphy (an NBC politico) just put it, “tonight data just kind of died.” Well, where is this data coming from? The data didn’t die as much as the data collectors. Fuck those people.
  • This election result makes too clear that the U.S. is a very very racist and sexist and divided country, even more so than I thought before. Too many white people fear non-white people, and too many Americans (mostly men, I assume) are afraid of the idea of a woman being in charge. And we are a very very dumb country in that we have managed to elect someone with no experience and slogans that make Pedro’s run for student council president seem entirely about him being a policy wonk, someone who bragged about grabbing pussy, someone who is involved in countless lawsuits and is likely to be involved in many many more scandals and messes. This is disturbing.
  • I don’t worry that much about me or my family, but I worry about the people around me. A few hours before I settled in to write this, I wrote about a crazy situation where some African-American students are potentially going to be expelled for conducting a peaceful protest against some hate speech painted on the side of some buildings on campus. I could not believe that this was the path EMU administrators were taking. But now, just a few hours later, this seems like the kind of thing that is going to happen over and over into the foreseeable future.
  • Media and technology matters. Trump won because he understood and used Twitter better than anyone, and he was also able to convince the mainstream media places that it was just fine to call in for interviews and so forth. Journalism wants to be a revered “fourth estate,” and they simultaneously want to make money from the celebrity of Trump. I know they can’t be taken seriously at the same time.
  • There are a ton of “what-ifs” that are interesting yet futile to think about. What if the Republicans had nominated a reasonable candidate, say a Jeb Bush? What if Sanders had actually gone after Hilary on her emails– would Bernie had been the candidate? And would he had won? What if Joe Biden had gotten in and made a run at it? No idea. Anyway, we could go on and on and on.
  • I’m unbelievably proud of my son who has thrown himself into the college Democrats at the University of Michigan. He worked really hard on trying to make a difference here, and I hope he doesn’t stop that. If anything, I hope this result motivates him; it certainly makes me think that I need to get motivated and to be a little less complacent and cynical about how these things work.
  • Hell if I know what’s going to happen next. I want to believe that our political system of checks and balances can prevent the worse and that Trump will govern differently than he ran. I want to believe that we are in for four or more years of what I have described as a “hot mess” of a presidency– scandals and controversies and criticism of Trump from both sides. The left and the likes of me are obviously not going to be happy, but when Trump is unable to fulfill any of his major campaign promises about deporting foreigners or building walls or whatever, the nut-job majority that got him into office in the first place is going to revolt as well.
  • I think I might just go back to bed for a few years.
Posted in Politics | 2 Comments

More Racist Vandalism at EMU and More Dumb Reactions from EMU Administrators

This afternoon, Mlive published “3 EMU students who protested racist graffiti face disciplinary action.” That’s actually a pithy summary of the whole situation, especially if you’re left asking “why would EMU punish students protesting racist graffiti?”

Read on, but here’s the short version: this is about the dumbest thing I’ve seen an EMU President (James Smith) and an EMU administration do since John Fallon et al tried to cover-up/hush-up the investigation of Laura Dickinson’s murder in 2006. I’m not suggesting this is as bad— not getting the word out to the university community about a murder is obviously lots worse, and Fallon and EMU paid a heavy price for all that. But I am saying this is in the same league of stupid and about as tone-deaf. “Let’s kick out of school some African American students for protesting against racist graffiti after hours in the student center, because hey, rules are rules.” WTF?!?

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Re-Learning Some Email (and Server) Lessons

The other day on Facebook, I wrote:

I’ll say this about Hilary’s email mess: lots of people (some of my colleagues, lots of my students) don’t think it’s important to discuss and teach things like “how to send an email” or the basics of how “the intertubes works” because this is just stuff people don’t need to know. Email and stuff, the argument goes, is like your car– you don’t need to know how it works to drive it. Well, I hope this convinces people that’s wrong.

Maybe this is all obvious, but given what’s happened with this election, maybe not.

I should point out that I’m voting for Clinton and I hope you vote for Clinton too. I don’t think a “President Trump” (geez, it hurts putting those two words together, even hypothetically) would necessarily be the end of democracy as we know it and/or plunge the U.S. into Mad Max-esque dystopia, but I do know it would be a hot hot mess.

I should also point out that I think Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person (based on previous experiences, at least) to run for president in my lifetime. In a lot of ways, this is Clinton’s problem because even though I have “been with her” from the start, she has done/said/supported things over the last 30 years I disagree with, which is inevitable based on being in public life for the last 30 years. And yes, there are other ways in which Hillary and her family (I’m talking about “the big dog” here) have sometimes done stuff that doesn’t seem completely above board– again, almost inevitable for politicians in the public eye for decades.

But this email mess? In my opinion, it’s not a reason to vote against Clinton because I really really doubt there was any criminality there, either intentionally or unintentionally. (And as a slight but relevant tangent: let’s just set aside the fact that government argues amongst itself all the time but what’s a “secret” and how information should be classified and about proper procedures for handling this information. The second Bush administration apparently had an email server owned and operated by the RNC that “lost”/deleted 22 million or so emails, lots other politicians have in the past or currently still operate some version of a private server, etc., etc. In other words, lots of politicians have done a version of what Hillary did, but the difference is Hillary is running for president.)

So vote for Hillary Clinton, okay? But let’s also learn (or really, relearn) some email basics based on these mistakes, both the ones that she has made and the mistakes I know I continue to make all the time.

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Posted in Computers, technology, etc., Internet, Politics | 1 Comment

Racist Vandalism at EMU– Where is EMU President James Smith?

There was an ugly racist/hate crime vandalism/graffiti incident at EMU today, which I first heard about rather indirectly in an all-campus email from EMU VP for Communication Walter Kraft. Among other things, Kraft wrote:

A short time ago, we learned that racist graffiti had been spray painted on a wall of King Hall in the courtyard area of the building. The University strongly condemns such a racist and thoughtless act, which runs completely counter to the values and welcoming environment of our highly diverse Eastern Michigan University community. Our Department of Public Safety is undertaking a full and immediate investigation and the graffiti is being quickly removed.

My initial reaction to this email was “what the hell?” Some time passed and the story emerged. Basically, some moron(s) spray painted “KKK” and “Leave N*****s” (though not with the asterisks, obviously) on the side of a King Hall.

But not to bury the lead here: at the end of the day (today, at least), where the hell is EMU’s new president James Smith? We have this controversy on campus that is attracting strong regional (if not at least some national/education press) news attention and it has obviously (and justifiably) upset a lot of students on campus, and Smith doesn’t surface to make an actual statement before the media?!? He doesn’t appear in support of one of the student protests against this?!? That’s weak. Smith needs to be a lot more invested in the EMU community (and not just the EMU Board of Regents and football team) than this.

Okay, a rundown of the basic news:

I know there has been a lot of other news stories about this too.

Anyway, this graffiti/vandalism was identified and then cleaned up in the morning several hours before I got to campus today. It was painted on the side of King Hall, which is one of several odd buildings sort of in the middle of EMU’s campus. It’s formally a dorm that has been (sort of) rehabbed into a series of office spaces– WEMU is over there. The graffiti/vandalism/hate speech itself was on one wall in the “courtyard” area, which is actually not a very visible part of the building. It’s the kind of place you’d vandalize because you thought you’d be less likely to get caught. By the time I got to campus today, the graffiti was gone and there was a small protest/vigil of African-American students at the spot.

When I went into Pray-Harrold (where I do most of my teaching and where my office is), I saw in the lobby and on the elevator a lot of flyers that kind of looked like this (though this is a picture I took later and posted on Instagram). This, combined with the student protests that happened on campus that I’ve already mentioned, suggest to me that the EMU community is very much rallying against this simpleton hate speech and rallying for African-American students and other members of the EMU community.

So I think campus will be fine. I mean, I’m concerned about all sorts of examples of hate crimes and racism and the like that seem to be rising in this country in some correlation to the rise of the hate of the Donald Trump campaign. But at EMU specifically, I think the campus community is resilient enough to respond to some idiotic and likely drunk hateful vandals and simpleton spray-painters. It’s one of the many reasons I like working here, actually.

But again, where the heck is James Smith? I appreciate that it is Walter Kraft’s job as the VP for communication to have the initial responses to this– and by the way, I think Walter is a pretty good guy. But this was the first situation that’s happened on campus since Smith arrived where he clearly should have been out in person to speak out against this. I have no idea why he didn’t do this.

Slight addendum: To be fair, Smith did finally speak about this incident after a group of protesters showed up at the EMU President’s house.  See this story.

Posted in EMU | 3 Comments