The Happy Academic wants to ask Horowitz: how can I get in on that easy life?

I think a lot of folks have stumbled across my blog lately as the result of a “Ward Churchill Blog” Google search because I had a few posts earlier this month about that mess. Fair enough. I still don’t think Churchill ought to be fired over his infamous 9/11 essay, but the more I learn about him, the less crazy I am about “defending” Churchill. It’s like that bad feeling you get about defending the Klu Klux Klan’s right to march or Eminem to be Eminem: it seems to me that if you want to protect free speech, you’ve got to defend bad speech, too. This seems especially true in academia.

Anyway, that’s not really why I decided to write tonight. At least not entirely.

Churchill is still in the news in some interesting ways, including a deal where CU would offer him early retirement, and all this stuff about whether or not he is or isn’t Native American. But the piece that really caught my attention was the article “Faculty feels ‘beaten up'” in the Boulder, CO newspaper The Daily Camera (which, by the way, has one of the most annoying free registration procedures I’ve ever come across).

Basically, the article is about how the Churchill matter has been an enormous distraction for faculty at the University of Colorado, dragging folks into the mess who want nothing to do with this and to just get on with their teaching and scholarship and lives. And this is coming on top of budget problems, some other questionable administration decisions, and a bunch of controversy with the football team. I feel your pain, CU folk.

And just to add to it all, CU faculty had to deal with a “special speaker” earlier this month:

Nationally known conservative author David Horowitz told a crowd at CU that university professors work six to nine hours a week, eight months a year for $150,000. Horowitz’s comments came earlier this month, after Churchill’s essay comparing victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks to a Nazi bureaucrat ignited a political firestorm.


Well, I am indeed a Happy Academic, but I’m not that happy of an academic. Shockingly, I make considerably less than $150,000 a year, and I spend more than six to nine hours a week just answering emails from students, colleagues, and administrators. I’m only in the classroom teaching about nine hours a week, but, as anyone who has ever taught at any level can tell you, most of the work of teaching is “behind the scenes:” reading, research, planning, grading, etc. It varies from week to week and from semester to semester, but I easily spend an average of fifteen or twenty hours every week out of the classroom getting ready for those nine hours in it. Plus there’s office hours and meeting with graduate students, both of which are more or less “teaching” activities.

Plus there’s scholarly work, which is part of the job description for a university professor, especially one at a place like the University of Colorado. Giving presentations, writing articles, writing books, and doing other kinds of scholarly activities are things that most happy academics (especially those at “fancier” schools) want to do, but it’s a hell of a lot of work.

And plus there is a surprising amount of work that almost all college professors have to do that has nothing to do with either teaching or scholarship. This tends to be called “service,” and I suppose it is. But really, it’s more like “administration” in just making things within the institution… well, work.

Horowitz’s characterization of the money and the workload of a college professor is of course incredibly wrong. But I suspect his characterization jives with the perceptions most folks in the general public have on the work of a college professor, and perhaps that is really the source of all this outrage against Churchill. Not only does Churchill get paid an outrageous amount of money from tax dollars to say incredibly stupid things; he doesn’t even really work! The Daily Camera article just fuels the fire when it reports “Churchill, a tenured professor who has only a master’s degree, earns more than $94,000 a year, teaches five hours a week and charges a $3,500 guest speaking fee. Last year, he spoke at a dozen campuses.”

Anyway, other than a few unusual situations like Churchill’s, I’m not entirely sure where this perception of the highly paid non-working college professor comes from and how its sustained. Part of it is perhaps because college professors tend to work weird hours and in untraditional settings. Everyone I know in academia does most of their work away from their university office (at home, in coffee shops, etc.). Another part of it (maybe the main part of it?) is that most people in higher education are pretty happy, even the ones who complain once in a while. Academics really seem to enjoy their jobs, so it doesn’t even really seem like they are working at all, at least not working in the way that far too many people in this country “work.” Like what you see in the movie Office Space or something.

Anyway, I think the academic job I have is pretty typical and it’s a far cry from 9 hours a week at $150K/year. But I’d really like to know how I can cash in on one of these gigs Horowitz is talking about. Call me, David.

Oh, and judging by this web site, I think Horowitz does okay paycheck-wise too.

Two Oscar thoughts

Annette and I watched the Oscars last night, and this morning, I had two thoughts about the whole event. I’m sure neither of these thoughts is particularly original, but here they are anyway:

  • This year, Annette and I saw only one of the movies nominated for best picture, Sideways. What it boils down to is sitters for Will are getting harder to get and more expensive, plus we’ve both been pretty busy with other things this year.

    However, I don’t think we’re the only folks who watched the Oscars this year who felt out of touch with the big nominated films. Chris Rock had a funny bit where he was asking people in the Magic Johnson Theater complex in LA if they had seen any of the nominated movies. None of them had. Then he asked folks to name their favorite movies, and the list included things like Alien vs. Predator and White Chicks.

    Now, obviously, this was edited together this way, and it was supposed to be funny: look at all these people who didn’t see one of the movies that “the academy” thought were worthy, and look at the crappy movie these people really went to see. Ha-ha. But the thing is Rock’s bit seemed a little too true to me.

  • A closely related second point: the two most controversial and polarizing movies of the year, The Passion and Fahrenheit 911 (guess which one of these movies I actually saw), were no where to be seen. Other than the references Rock made in his opening monologue.

I’m not entirely sure what this all means, other than it seems to me that the Oscar people are walking a pretty thin and specific line in terms of what movies they see as “worthy.” It has to be arty, but not too arty; it has to be Hollywood, but not too Hollywood; ethnicity is nice, but not too ethnic; and for God’s sake, make sure it doesn’t piss anybody off.

I’ve been everywhere (almost) to most of the states in the US

Update: As my wife pointed out, “everywhere” is not the same as “to all the states in the US.” I knew that all along, but in the interest of accuracy, I made a title change…

Oh, and as long as we’re “going there,” it seems to me that there ought to be another category in this little meme: states in which one spent at least one night versus states in which one merely passed through.

Something I came across while I should have been doing something else:

bold the states you’ve been to, underline the states you’ve lived in and italicize the state you’re in now…

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C /

Go HERE to have a form generate the HTML for you.

NOW on the politics of municipal broadband networks

I stumbled into the second half of an interesting show on the PBS show NOW about broadband internet access. Here’s a link to a web site about the show. The part that I watched was about the efforts of different cities (Philadelphia and some really small town in Indiana were the examples) to set up locally owned and operated broadband Internet networks, and the efforts of companies like Comcast, Verizon, SBC, etc. to block it. Interesting stuff.

I think I’ve mentioned this in this blog before, but my hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa has had a municipally owned utility company for years and years. About a dozen years ago, CFU bought out whatever company it was that was providing cable TV, and maybe as many as ten years ago, they started providing broadband internet access. I don’t know how the business model works out, but in terms of Internet access, Cedar Falls is way wired.

Where are you on the “Political Compass?”

I came across this site this morning, The Political Compass. Basically, it’s a long survey which, based on to what extent you agree or disagree with a series of statements, calculates where you are at in the political spectrum. What’s interesting is that it isn’t as simple as “right/left”, “Republican”/”Democrat”, “red state”/”blue state.” Rather, it calculates your location on the political spectrum in quadrants– the “compass,” if you will.

I don’t know who put this thing together, and some of the statements they use to position your politics seem more useful (“The death penalty should be an option for the most serious crimes”) than others (“Abstract art that doesn’t represent anything shouldn’t be considered art at all”). But it’s still kind of interesting.

By the way, my answers put me in the lower left quadrant of the compass, which is the same place where you’ll find Gandhi, The Dali Lama, and Nelson Mandela. So I got that going for me.

Some email housekeeping, some future readings for computer and writing sorts of teaching and/or research

My first Winter Break work activity is sorting through email and, simultaneously, procrastinating/discovering stuff on the web. Here are a couple of links to thinks I want to remember for teaching that involves computers and writing kinds of things (English 516, maybe 328, other classes that have a computers and writing sorta theme, etc.):

  • I downloaded Jeff Rice’s essay “Cyborgography: A Pedagogy of the Home Page” that appears in the journal Pedagogy, Winter 2005 (5.1). It’s available via Project Muse. I’ve only had a chance to skim it so far, but it seems like it would be useful for a couple of different classes I teach.
  • All around cool computers and writing woman and fellow VCU Creative Writing program alum Cheryl Ball posted a bunch of links to Tech-Rhet a week and a half ago to things about hypertext that I think would be cool to think about teaching, maybe even this semester in Writing for the World Wide Web. They are:
    “Hypertext Gardens: Delightful Vistas” by Mark Bernstein
    A PDF version of this essay (which Cheryl uses to compare the formats– kinda cool)
    Patterns of Hypertext,” yet another site by Bernstein (Cheryl claims not to be a huge Bernstein fan, but…)
  • The CMS Matrix, which is a boatload of different CMS setups, and, which allows you to test out these systems (somehow– I haven’t figured out how yet). Both of these links come from Charlie “Cyberdash” Lowe, who also has a good posting on his blog where he shares his thoughts on the subject.
  • Bud the Teacher,” which is a blog by a guy who teaches high school about using blogs to teach at the K-12 level of things. Good stuff.

Okay. Going through my email and putting these links some place means I get to check something else off my “to do” list.

Break (sort of)

This coming week is spring winter break around here, though since I don’t teach on Fridays this semester, my break started yesterday. It’s called winter break here at EMU because this semester is not spring but winter semester (spring term runs from the beginning of May to the end of June, and summer term goes from the beginning of July to the end of August), and because it is very much winter in late February in Michigan.

In any event, this winter break is and isn’t a “break” for me. For the first time in several years, we’re not off to visit my in-laws in Florida or anyplace else; we’re just hanging around the house. This has its advantages and disadvantages: going someplace warm in the Michigan winter is always nice, but not having to deal with the hassles of travel and staying in the comfort of our own house is nice too.

This week is a break in that I am not required to go into my office and I won’t be teaching any classes. On the other hand, it isn’t a break because I will probably end up in my office at least once for a variety of different reasons, I have a bit of grading to do, I have a fair amount of prep work for teaching after the break, and I’m certain that I will have some email contact with students.

And it really isn’t a break because of some scholarly projects. I’m woefully behind on a few things and I am determined (required?) to get some significant chunks of things off to various editors no later than a week from now. So it’s probably good that I have time to devote to this work this week, but it also means I am lacking an excuse for not getting this work done.

Jeesh. I guess I’m looking forward to school starting up again!

A couple of CHE articles on my mind

Without going into any detail as to why these articles are on my mind (more on that in a couple of weeks, I hope), I thought I’d point to a couple of articles in the careers section of The Chronicle of Higher Education that are about things I’ve been thinking about lately:

  • Waiting for the Phone to Ring” is a column by a couple of academic career counselors where they are giving advice about what to do while waiting to find out more about that faculty position you interviewed for months ago. As Tom Petty says, the waiting is the hardest part.
  • Deadlines and Due Dates” by Madison “not his real name” Randolph is essentially a meditation about the challenges and joys of one professor (a fellow happy academic, I suppose?) of having it all: due dates for two different book-length projects and impending fatherhood. For me, it falls into the category of “be careful what you ask for ’cause you might get it.”