Thursday, July 30, 2009

Black boxes

If Marconi says something about ultra-short waves it MEANS something. Its meaning can only be properly estimated by someone who KNOWS.

     --Ezra Pound, ABC of Reading 25.

One of the reasons I find the history and philosophy of science (HPS) so useful in my work is its concern with the conditions of factuality. Bruno Latour calls facts "black boxes"; we don't worry about how they came to be determined; they're axiomatic.

HPS doesn't just open black boxes; it looks at how black boxes are made. I've seen a dictum floating around lately that strikes me as apt: "You are entitled to your own opinions, but you are not entitled to your own facts." Usually this dictum invokes the intractable reality of the fact, but to me it has more to do with social consensus. Latour argues that no statement, no matter how well it matches with data, can be a fact unless a community comes to a consensus about it, turning it into a black box. A fact can never be "your own."

To dispute a fact is to reopen the black box, inviting critique of the process by which the fact was established. Reopening a black box by definition has a destabilizing effect, because the fact is no longer being taken as a given. This is why science studies are so often caricatured as "debunking" science. And yet it is possible to examine the social and discursive conditions under which ideas become facts, and to understand where Hobbes was coming from, and still believe that there is such a thing as air pressure (to give one prominent example).

I was literally a child during the so-called "science wars"; the Sokal hoax transpired when I was about fourteen. They turned on the necessity of black boxes to get anything done.

Some things need to be black boxes, because all arguments require premises. Imagine teaching a course on twentieth-century history and having your students decide to debate whether there really was a Holocaust. It's not only inefficient; in this case it's morally repugnant. (And here we get into serious science studies territory: the intimate relationship between fact-making and morality.)

We hear from certain vocal factions that by making certain things into black boxes, we are shutting down debate. This is quite true. In my classroom, certain things are not up for debate: whether the Holocaust happened; whether women or people of color are capable of intellection or autonomy; whether there is such a thing as air pressure. If we entertained these questions, we would get nowhere.

This is exactly what Latour worries about in a 2004 essay: a tendency to open black boxes can be salutary, but can also lead to paranoid conspiracy theories (Obama's birth certificate, anyone?).
Of course, we in the academy like to use more elevated causes -- society, discourse, knowledge-slash-power, fields of forces, empires, capitalism -- while conspiracists like to portray a miserable bunch of greedy people with dark intents, but I find something troublingly similar in the structure of the explanation, in the first movement of disbelief and, then, in the wheeling of causal explanations coming out of the deep dark below.

To put it in literary terms, there was always something a little Gothic about Foucault.

And here is where I think literary criticism becomes useful to science studies: there was always something a little Gothic about science, too, whose residues emerge in culture (one prominent example would be Shelley's Frankenstein, directly inspired by the distinctly Gothic research of Luigi Galvani).

That's why the French physiologist Claude Bernard could write in 1865,

If I had to give an analogy to express my opinion about the science of life [the life sciences], I would say that it is a beautiful salon filled with light, which cannot be approached except by passing through a long and frightful kitchen. (28)
This remarkable quotation is about black boxes, cast in domestic terms. Teatime in the salon only happens by virtue of the messier labor occurring in the kitchen, and a humanities scholar would say that if we are interested in tea then we are also interested in the kitchen. Notice Bernard's language about the kitchen, however -- the space of labor and inquiry. We have feelings about it. It is "long and frightful."

Opening a black box is dangerous, yes, because in allowing disciplined scholars to examine the conditions of fact-production, we also invite less disciplined investigators to declare that facts are not facts and to argue for the legitimacy of theories legitimized by the consensus of the uninformed. (This is what leads Lorraine Daston to make a somewhat invidious distinction between a highly disciplinary and disciplined History of Science and a wilder and woollier, and less rigorous, Science Studies.)

Indeed, Latour seems to anticipate this when he titles the first chapter of Science in Action "Opening Pandora's Black Box," registering how science studies invites a world of trouble. As he puts it in the 2004 essay, "What social scientists do to our favorite objects is so horrific that certainly we don't want them to come any nearer. 'Please,' we exclaim, 'don't touch them at all! Don't try to explain them!" (240). Such a long and frightful kitchen.

Latour goes on to suggest that what's needed is a shift in focus from "matters of fact" to "matters of concern." I don't disagree, although I'm not sure Latour is so much pointing out a new direction as dividing good science studies from bad science studies (his footnotes seem to indicate the latter).

But what's more interesting to me is that feeling of fright. The upshot of Latour's 2004 essay is not that we must stop opening black boxes but that the fright must be removed and replaced by a feeling of warmth and security in our facts.

But there is a key difference between the fright mentioned by Bernard and that diagnosed by Latour, which is that for Bernard the fright is experienced by the investigator, for Latour by the believer in facts who is about to be pwned by a smug philosopher of science. For Latour, the (barbaric) critic experiences only the pleasure of domination, never the fear of uncertainty.

But can this be right? Doesn't any thoroughly sure-footed, smug critique amount to something less than critique? And perhaps the history of science can be forgiven for a overcorrecting a bit, after a tendency toward teleological just-so stories had made us so comfortable in our facts.

To open black boxes is to register the strange complexity of reality. This is a frightening pleasure: frightening because the danger is genuine, pleasurable because thinking people like a good scare.

As Jane Austen phrases it:

"The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid. I have read all of Mrs. Radcliffe's works, and most of them with great pleasure. The Mysteries of Udolpho, when I had once begun it, I could not lay down again; -- I remember finishing it in two days -- my hair standing on end the whole time." (121)

Austen recognizes as well as anyone how necessary it is to distinguish between critique and paranoid fantasies; Catherine Morland repeatedly tries literally to open black boxes only to find that they contain thoroughly banal items. When she is later confronted with a very material mystery -- that of General Tilney's sudden inhospitality -- her equally mystified mother counsels, "depend upon it, it is something not at all worth understanding" (232).

Her mother is mistaken, of course.

Austen, Jane. Northanger Abbey. 1818; New York: Penguin, 1988. Print.

Bernard, Claude. Introduction à l'étude de la médécine expérimentale. Paris: Baillière, 1865.

Daston, Lorraine. "Science Studies and the History of Science." Critical Inquiry 35.4 (January 2009): 798-813. Chicago Journals. 17 July 2009. Web.

Latour, Bruno. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987. Print.

---. "Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern." Critical Inquiry 30.2 (Winter 2004): 225-48. Print.

Pound, Ezra. A B C of Reading. 1934; New York: New Directions, 1960. Print.

Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton: Princeton UP, 1985.

Monday, July 27, 2009

A very cool short film, featuring typography.

(Via @christianbok.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

You know, I think this sci-fi novel has been written.


If you get any cognitive dissonance with this following sentence, then "man" is not gender-neutral: "Like other mammals, man breastfeeds his young."

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Lantern Lecture

Well, I got hold of W. R. Butterfield (thanks, Southern Regional Library Facility!), and was amused by the bit of the succeeding article that made its way into the scan. Museums Journal reports that a Dr. C. H. Townsend has complained of the widespread use of lantern slides at conferences:

People were annoyed by Powerpoint before it was even Powerpoint, it seems.

"The Lantern Lecture." Museums Journal 11 (1912): 346.

Three cute things to use as decoration

1. Birds.

2. Butterflies.

3. Asian women.

(Source: Elmwood Stationers.)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fairies and Indians

I subscribe to Debbie Reese's RSS feed because she puts books on my radar that usually wouldn't otherwise get there. Her blog on the representation of Native Americans in children's literature is not a litcrit blog per se--it's closer to Sociological Images, except there's only one theme: obnoxious and harmful stereotypes about Native Americans.

This is the "strong ideology" model if you like, but it's a theme that bears repeating. Debbie's posts don't have the texture, twists, and turns of, say, Aaron's. But you see the necessity of what she does when time and again she rebuts comments by offended school librarians and authors. They're offended, of course, that Debbie was offended by their stereotyping of Native Americans.

Their first line of defense is of course authorial creativity. It's not books that grossly stereotype (homogenize, Orientalize, temporally displace, and kill off) Native Americans that are miseducating children; it's the terrible people who want to censor creativity. Do we not realize that this is art.

And as a corollary, It's just a book; it's not real.

Ought we forget that there are actual children involved--some of them nonwhite? And that when we depict certain people as "magical," we move them into the realm of the not-real as well?

Is it really a terrible abridgment of artistic license to insist that historically oppressed peoples are not toys for you to play with?

Today Debbie writes about a trope in the unreal-Indians vein:
This morning, I read an article in the Telegraph about the "Latitude Festival," an annual music festival that takes place in Suffolk, England. The first one was in 2006. The article in the Telegraph isn't about the music. Instead, Neil McCormick describes the people and setting. Here's what caught my eye:
People enter into the spirit with colourful costumes: there were parties of American Indians, Smurfs and an engaging posse of pensionable old dears dressed as fairies. The audience is, it has to be said, overwhelmingly white and middle-class (and probably predominantly middle-aged).

Indians, Smurfs, and fairies.

Reading those words reminded me of an email I received on December 30, 2007 in response to critiques I posted about one of Jan Brett's books. In her email, the author wrote:
Why is there always someone who wants to rain on someone else's parade? Why can't children just enjoy a good read? I am sure you don't believe in Santa, the tooth fairy or the Easter bunny because they are incorrect in guiding young children's beliefs.

For those that want to study the American Indian ways and beliefs, good for them. For now I will read and enjoy books, just because.

It struck me that she would cast American Indians in that particular framework---of things-not-real. She is a librarian in a public school in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Santa. The Tooth Fairy. The Easter Bunny.
Indians, Smurfs, and fairies.

Debbie's post caught my attention because the Indian-as-fairy trope has been something I've been thinking about, in a back-burner way, for a few years now. The Indian in the Cupboard and Disney's Pocahontas are two twentieth-century examples, but it's also powerfully present in the literature of the early 1800s, leading up to and following the 1830 Indian Removal Act. In Lydia Maria Child's Hobomok (1826), Mary Conant is an Episcopalian misfit among the Puritans, having a "fairy" nature better suited to old England (17). In an act of rebellion carefully staged to evoke British fairy myths, she walks into the woods to find a husband:
...taking a stick and
marking out a large circle on the margin of the stream, she stept into the magic ring, walked round three times with measured tread, then carefully retraced her steps backward, speaking all the while in a distinct but trembling voice. The following were the only words I could hear,
Whoever's to claim a husband's power,
Come to me in the moonlight hour.

And again,—
Whoe'er my bridegroom is to be,
Step in the circle after me.

She looked round anxiously as she completed the ceremony; and I almost echoed her involuntary shriek of terror, when I saw a young Indian spring forward into the centre. (23)
The mapping of Indian to fairy here is unmistakable; likewise, the ideology that fashions the Indian as destined to vanish (as the fairies are said to have vanished from England, inevitably, with the coming of modernity). Comparing Native Americans to Smurfs makes them not-real; comparing them to fairies makes them an anachronism, a move that can be and has been used to justify their brutal marginalization. And indeed, Hobomok eventually honorably disappears to make way for white modernity.

We're used to the figure of the Vanishing Indian in the U.S.; in parallel, some have hypothesized that the Vanishing Fairy in British folklore is actually based on an oppressed indigenous group, the Picts (I don't have the books on hand, but I believe that Diane Purkiss, for one, entertains this theory).

What's interesting is the way that images of Native Americans can be appropriated as symbols of national identity even while that nation founded itself in part on the violent oppression of said Native Americans. This, too, finds a parallel in fairy mythology, here courtesy of John Ruskin:
Suppose you had each, at the back of your houses, a garden, large enough for your children to play in, with just as much lawn as would give them room to run,--no more—and that you could not change your abode; but that, if you chose, you could double your income, or quadruple it, by digging a coal shaft in the middle of the lawn, and turning the flower-beds into heaps of coke. Would you do it? I hope not. I can tell you, you would be wrong if you did, though it gave you income sixty-fold instead of four-fold.

Yet this is what you are doing with all England. The whole country is but a little garden, not more than enough for your children to run on the lawns of, if you would let them all run there. And this little garden you will turn into furnace ground, and fill with heaps of cinders, if you can; and those children of yours, not you, will suffer for it. For the fairies will not be all banished; there are fairies of the furnace as of the wood... (126-7)

Fairies, vanishing though they be, remain powerful signifiers of English identity. Ruskin argues that it is a tone to transform the English landscape through industry, yet there is a sense of resignation in his words. And perhaps Ruskin can be resigned because, he argues, in spite of everything, the fairies in England will persist. Even if England should lose its gardenlike character (which Ruskin hopes will not happen), England will remain English, hence populated by fairies. In a similar way, Native Americans (who, unlike fairies, are real) are appropriated as signifiers of Americanness even as their anachronism is enforced. And frequently, that enforcement arrives by way of children's literature, which is, don't you know, creative.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

On access

One thing I really enjoy about being at UC Berkeley is the genuine diversity of the undergraduate population. When I was an undergraduate at a private university, I rarely encountered transfer students, and when I did, they had transferred from Columbia or Smith. That's not to say that the population there wasn't diverse in its own way (geographically, for instance, it beat Berkeley by a mile), but here there's a regular stream of transfer students, and "transfer" almost universally means "transferred from a community college." Cal is an élite university, but it's also part of a much wider state higher education system.

One of the big concerns with the current budget crisis is its impact on UC's commitment to access. It's obvious that access will be reduced: UC and CSU are taking fewer students and raising fees. At UC Berkeley, Chancellor Birgeneau has estimated that reduced course offerings will cause students to graduate a semester later on average, which is in essence another fee hike, not to mention time that those students will never get back. This is all happening while private colleges are dropping their need-blind admissions policies, further shutting down opportunities for lower-income students.

So it will be harder for many Californians to get to campus.

But access is not just about being physically present, or being able to afford the fees. Pierre Bourdieu wrote some very famous books about this, in fact!

Power is coded in the university; hierarchical relationships are shifting and unclear (the eternal TA problem, for instance), and boundaries between the professional and the personal are invisible. I suspect this is one reason the "customer" model of the university is so attractive to some students; they don't know how to be part of an academic community and negotiate those invisible boundaries, but they do know how to be consumers. It's a system they know.

To really benefit from going to college, you need to go to class and do the reading, of course. And that's clear-cut for most people; the syllabus says "do this," and you do it or you don't do it, but in any case you know what you were supposed to do.

But that's just the beginning. College is also a place for building peer networks, for becoming acculturated in academic life (which is also a certain class acculturation), for gaining experience, confidence, professionalism, and kinds of social capital that can't show up on a transcript. And for that, you also have to venture out into the gray areas.

Suppose you want to better your lot in life by applying for a Rhodes scholarship. If the "access" we offer is meaningful, then this should be perfectly possible. But when my sister applied for the Rhodes, she needed twelve letters of recommendation. How do you get those twelve faculty letters? You have to feel entitled enough to the attention of your professors that you can persistently show up at office hours, ask them to read your work, and ask them to write nice things about you. In some ways, it very much resembles asking for a personal favor.

And you have to ask even if you went to a public high school where you had to go through a metal detector every day; even if, unlike some of your classmates, you've never traveled abroad or gone skiing or worn expensive shoes. Even if your childhood friends or your parents seem to suspect that by going to an élite school, you've abandoned them. Even if you're short on cultural capital, in other words, and feel that perhaps you're not entitled to ask.

Meanwhile, a high student-to-faculty ratio means long lines of students camped outside professors' offices, and work-study means having fewer daytime hours in which to do that kind of camping. Two sociologists found that
fully a third of all Rhodes Scholars between 1947 and 1992 earned undergraduate degrees from just 3 universities: Harvard, Yale, and Princeton. Harvard alone produced 1 in 5 Rhodes Scholars over this 50 year period. (10)
When you consider even the logistics alone, it's not surprising.

One of the most disheartening things about the current budget cuts is the reduction in small seminars that's resulting around the UC. UC Irvine even looks to be canceling its transfer seminars, which are supposed to help transfer students orient themselves in their new university. This will disproportionately affect the students who do not come from privilege.

While administrators are right to worry about brain drain in the faculty ranks, we should also worry about brain drain among undergraduates--undergraduates who don't come pre-marked as "brain" because they don't come with cultural capital or a diploma from Exeter, but who are some of the UC's most important people.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Non-plagiarized essays for your plagiarizing pleasure

Found in my spam folder:

Subject line: "Outstanding Quality & Professional Custom ESSAYS for only $7.9 -- Non-Plagiarized."

Yes, it appears that these quality essays that are available to you for $7.9x are "non-plagiarized."

That is, they haven't been plagiarized yet.

A technicality.

Works cited

I've finally come up with a title for this blog.

Citation, appropriation, and pastiche are the postmodern techniques par excellence, and yet for some reason this seems to go hand in hand with a willful resistance to documentation of any kind. Yesterday I read a review of a book that I respect; the reviewer excoriated the author for being "an appalling writer." The crime? Referring too frequently to her scholarly predecessors and interlocutors! Evidently that's just too boring to be allowed. Heaven forbid that a reader be made to take notice of a heterogeneous intellectual tradition. I've even heard someone complain about an editor noting textual variants in the endnotes. What?

I love citations. They help me do my work, follow up on interests, figure out the terrain. I hate it when books have endnotes but not a comprehensive bibliography. I despise an edition that has no note on the editorial principles. The more apparatus the better.

So here's to works cited in the age of appropriation.
A propaganda video for something I can get behind:

I certainly was amazed at the packaging involved in a recent Amazon order:

Yes, that's two boxes you're seeing! I'm not sure how a metal jam pot warrants that kind of protection.

(Via @mitpress.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Museum of Ideas

In searching around for more on W.R. Butterfield's "museum of ideas" (1912), I ran across this piece of current legislation:

H.R. 202: Museum of Ideas Act


Museum of Ideas Act of 2009 - Establishes the Museum of Ideas Commission to develop a plan for establishing in Washington, D.C., a museum that presents the history and evolution of human ideas.


By the way, Google Books is a cataloguing nightmare. Who made up their categories, Jorge Luís Borges?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

UC Regents committee has voted

From the Daily Cal:
Amid rancor and outcry from employees, a committee of the UC Board of Regents voted Wednesday morning to force its employees to take unpaid days off in an attempt to balance its unprecedented $813 million budget deficit.

The full board is expected to approve the plan when the meeting resumes Thursday.


Most faculty will see an 8 percent reduction in salary as a result of the furlough days, decreasing salaries already 20 to 25 percent below those at top private peer universities, an effect UC professors said would make it nearly impossible to attract new faculty and retain senior professors.

"As a department chair, I cannot retain these people as well as hire people," said Sandra Faber, chair of the astronomy and astrophysics department at UC Santa Cruz. "We do not have that long because our professors, particularly the assistant professors, are gong to bolt, and we are going to enter an irrecoverable slide."

Before the meeting, a number of UC professors said many junior faculty are already considering leaving the UC system. If the furlough program should last longer than a year, Mary Croughan, chair of the Academic Council, said it will damage the UC system.


Saree Makdisi, "The Last Crisis at the University of California?"

And in the spirit of free inquiry:

Rhetoric nerds will agree that the ad hominem fallacy has been invoked here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Why undergraduates should be concerned about the proposed UC budget cuts

The short version is: you will be paying more and receiving much less.

The longer version is as follows.

First, some background.

Professors' jobs are divided into research, teaching, and service.

Research means finding out new things in their area of specialty and communicating with the scholarly community about it.

Teaching you know about. But it's a little more complicated than you may know. The reason to go to school at a major research university like UC is that, ideally, you'll be taught by leading experts in the field. So, for example, you could take linguistics from George Lakoff, Victorian lit from Cathy Gallagher, art history from T.J. Clark, algebraic geometry from Ken Ribet, and political science from Wendy Brown. In the best of cases, teaching and research work together, so that the classroom becomes a place for the professor to put new ideas together and learn how to communicate them to non-specialists, and students get to learn cutting-edge material in a way that they wouldn't get it from non-experts.

You know the reality is often a bit different. You take large lecture classes. Much of your face time is with GSIs and lecturers, who may be perfectly competent teachers, but who certainly aren't the Nobel Prize-winners for which the UC is famous, or the up-and-coming young researchers that UC has long tried to nurture. And you have a hard time even getting into those classes, because of long waitlists and too few sections being offered.

That's because for a long time the UC, like most other universities, has been farming increasing amounts of undergraduate teaching out to contingent faculty (lecturers and GSIs), leaving you with less and less access to professors. It wouldn't make sense to take research time away from professors in order to make them teach more sections: then they wouldn't be researchers anymore. But of course, this affects your education.

This brings us to the third task: service. Service is a catch-all term for a wide variety of things that you rarely see, but that are crucial to running the university. Professors run graduate admissions, hire new professors, make changes to requirements in the major, design curricula, run interdisciplinary programs, and handle all kinds of academically oriented university operations. Professors have to be the ones to do these things, because they are academic in nature. You don't want someone with minimal understanding of the current state of the field designing the requirements for your major; you want people who are in the field making those decisions.

All of these service activities affect undergraduates in a variety of ways, visible and invisible, but one is very direct: mentoring. Professors talk to students, serve as academic advisors, supervise thesis projects, and write letters of recommendation. Sure, as a GSI I've written the odd recommendation letter, but you really want, once again, experts in the field recommending you for things. This is an academic issue, but it's also an access issue. Access doesn't just mean being able to afford to physically be on campus; it also means being able to take advantage of what's there, and for that, you need mentoring, especially if you don't come from an academic family.

So professors are very, very important, and we have too few of them. They're stretched very thin, because while grad students and lecturers can do (some of) the teaching, they can't (and shouldn't, because they aren't paid for it!) deliberate in the Academic Senate, redesign the major, hire new professors, or supervise theses. (I'm not against lecturers or grad students -- obviously. But they're another, complicated issue. Perhaps another time.)

Now, the current UC budget situation.

The plan is to make major cuts across the board, including cuts to all faculty and staff salaries above a certain baseline (in the form of mandatory furloughs). Here are some projected impacts of the cuts, as detailed in the New York Times:

“The impact of this cut is devastating,” Mr. Yudof said at a press briefing. “There is no way that we are going to be able to look every student in the eye and say, ‘Tomorrow, the University of California will be just the way it was yesterday.’ ”

Most of the university’s campuses will defer at least half of their planned faculty hirings, Mr. Yudof said, and the Berkeley campus expects to reduce faculty recruitment from the usual 100 positions a year to 10.

Chancellors from the individual campuses will present their cost-cutting plans next week to the state Board of Regents, which must vote on the entire budget.

Many of the planned cuts, and those already put into effect, impinge upon the university’s academic offerings.

The Irvine campus has halted admission to its doctoral program in education, and its Latin American studies program is on hiatus. Class size is expected to increase 10 percent to 20 percent next year, while faculty and staff is expected to decline by at least 10 percent over the next five years.

At the Davis campus, the Medical Center has eliminated its liver transplant program, and in the division of humanities, arts and cultural studies, 44 courses and sections are expected to be cut.

The University of California, Los Angeles, will close its Labor Center, and deans and faculty members have been told to reduce courses, majors and faculty size by 10 percent to 20 percent over the next year. The freshman enrollment target on the campus for the 2009 fiscal year may drop by as many as 500 students.

At the Santa Cruz campus, most general-education courses with fewer than 100 students enrolled have been canceled, along with the bachelor’s degree in earth sciences and the minor in music. Creation of an environmental sciences major has been deferred.

The San Diego campus has eliminated senior seminars, a small-group experience for students, and curtailed freshman seminars.

The University of California has faced financial challenges for years, leading to bigger classes, fewer course offerings and deferred maintenance — and caused some faculty members to defect to competing universities.

Tuition has risen to more than $8,700 for in-state students this fall, more than doubling from the $3,859 nine years ago.

Okay, so we're hiring fewer professors. Remember, we generally only hire professors to replace ones who have retired or left for other reasons. So we're effectively shrinking the faculty.

And then there's retention. Remember that right now we have a top-quality faculty; in fact, that's the reason UC is so good. But now we're cutting their salaries. Bear in mind that UC professors are already paid less than their peers at other universities, and it's a lot more expensive to live in California than in, say, New Jersey. (And rightly -- sorry, William Carlos Williams.) Both faculty and staff have been losing real wages for years as the cost of living has gone up and, year after year, the administration, pleading budget problems, has denied them cost-of-living increases. So some of the faculty may already be on the verge of leaving. A recent Inside Higher Ed article quoted a UCI dean on the subject:
“The privates have come calling,” says Ruiz, dean of the University of California at Irvine’s School of Humanities. “I’ve lost very valued faculty members to Yale, to Northwestern, to Penn, to Pomona, to Scripps, as well as to even.... ”

Ruiz trails off, then gives a few more names, sounding a bit surprised to mention them: Lehigh University and Fordham University. Fine institutions to be sure, but not the sort Ruiz expects to lose to in a bidding war.

“We are not able to put together the counter offers that we have in the past,” she says soberly.
Currently, we have a critical mass of brilliant people at UC, which makes it an attractive place to work in spite of the comparatively low pay. But if we lose that critical mass, the damage to our research programs could be permanent. This matters for your education now and for the value of your degree later.

The staff have been under increasing financial pressures too, and while they may not be fleeing to private universities, their furloughs will still impact you. If you think it takes a long time for bureaucracy to move now, wait until the staff have eleven to twenty-six fewer days in which to do it. (At least in my department, the staff have been overstretched for years.)

So: budget cuts are bad, and these budget cuts in particular.

But, you might be asking, why are the faculty displeased with the UC Office of the President (UCOP) instead of, say, the State Assembly? And if there's really no money, then is there really any way out of these cuts?

Good questions all. California is undoubtedly going through problems, and its budget priorities do not include higher education. That's bad, and we need to change it. But there are also reasons to be uncomfortable with UCOP's response to the state budget crisis.

1. President Mark Yudof has asked the Regents for (renewable!) "emergency powers" to effect the above-mentioned cuts. That seems worrisome.

2. Although UC administration assures everyone that the cuts are necessary, it has not proposed any attempts to close the budget shortfall by looking for new sources of revenue. The faculty and staff have wondered why their salaries are the first line of defense. UCOP has said that it has explored other options and found them nonviable; the faculty and staff have wondered why details on those other options have not been forthcoming.

3. Although UC administration assures everyone that the cuts are necessary, it has declined to release budget details to the faculty. The faculty have asked for greater transparency.

And again, this is all happening while your fees are yet again being raised.

What should you do?

1. Stay aware of what's going on. It's your university and however you may feel about university policies, they affect you.

The UCOP budget news page is here.

Chris Newfield of UC Santa Barbara is keeping close track of the budget situation at Remaking the University.

UCB professor emeritus Charles Schwartz blogs about it here.

The UC Berkeley English department has several documents posted on its blog.

2. Consider signing this petition, if you agree with it.

Please feel free to ask questions or leave comments.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

UC Budget cuts, yet again

UPDATE: Petition to the UC Regents

Mark Yudof released the proposed UC budget plan [pdf] on Friday.

The New York Times has an article that appears to be basically a press release from the UC Regents. No one is quoted who is not a UC administrator. Nice work, NYT!

A good blog on the issue is Remaking the University. There are also a number of documents up at the UCB English blog and at a site hosted by the faculty of UCLA.

The Chronicle also has an article [paywall], which laudably addresses both UC and Cal State, but gives little detail.

I'm wondering whether we'll be seeing bigger classes this fall. I sincerely hope not; students are not widgets, and it does not behoove us to cut corners in educating them.

This concerns me:
At the briefing, the current chairman, Russell Gould, announced creation of a new University of California Commission on the Future, which he and Mr. Yudof will head. The commission will consider how to maintain access, quality and affordability in a tough economic climate, what delivery models for higher education make the most sense, how big the university should be, and how to maximize traditional and alternative revenue streams.

“We’re going to have to change the way we do business,” Mr. Yudof said.

..."Delivery models"? What, we now "deliver" education, like it's shrimp lo mein? And here I thought we did these things called "research" and "teaching." Huh.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A website is listing Berkeley as the 43rd most dangerous city in the U.S. (source).
The "dangerous cities" league table shows no other Californian city with more than 25,000 residents as being more dangerous than Berkeley.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Any resident of California of the age of fourteen years or upwards of approved moral character shall have the right to enter himself in the University as a student at large and receive tuition in any branch of branches of instruction ... For the time being, an admission fee and rates of tuition such as the Board of Regents shall deem expedient may be required of each pupil; and as soon as the income of the University shall permit, admission and tuition shall be free to all residents of the state.

     The Organic Act of the University of California (1868), Sec. 31, 14

Did you get that? Free.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Interesting to whom?: A second response to Aaron Bady

Apropos of a conversation begun here, continued here, and continued further here.

...she is to conceive daughters as well as sons and sons as well as daughters

       --noted well-meaning poet Walt Whitman, "I Sing the Body Electric"


Happy Fourth, and thanks for your thoughtful reply. I can see how my earlier gloss (“Patriarchy hurts women. But that’s not the point. The point is, it hurts men.”) could be interpreted as scolding you for not writing about something entirely different. I agree that that would be an illegitimate critique, like unto a reviewer saying "okay, but why didn't you write an article on Tender Buttons instead?"* To clarify, I don't suggest that you need to write about the women in the films. What I am critiquing in your writing on these films is not the objects of inquiry but the critical position, which is one that takes for granted (and, I have been arguing, universalizes) a certain nostalgia for an all-cereal diet.

You have just very usefully elaborated on the position from which you write these posts, a position of thinking through masculinity. I find this illuminating, and, as I remarked earlier, I see that you never meant to claim transparent-eyeball status.

Yet as I wrote at the beginning of my post and in earlier comments, my objection is less to your reading than to a gesture that you have now made several times -- one that implicitly moves your argument into an impersonal theoretical register. You remarked that you symptomatically repeat the disclaimer that these films are misogynistic. I am identifying the compulsive refrain as a two-parter: "Yesyes, it's misogynistic, but that's not what's important here."

In fact, you make the same gesture in your most recent post:

To be clear — as I seem to symptomatically keep saying over and over again — these films are, in a few very important ways, very basically misogynist and I don’t mean to downplay that fact. But I think I have a good rationale for bracketing that off, at least temporarily: as with the fact that Jefferson owned slaves, the importance of the fact can sometimes mislead us into thinking that simply pointing it out accomplishes more than it does. I call this Sociological Images syndrome, the tendency to confuse pointing out a text as symptomatic of a naturalized systemic projection of power with neutralizing its power as such. Doing so can have real value, I agree — though I believe we’ve discussed this point before — but while I love Sociological Images (and I think I discovered that blog via you), they have a real tendency to identify and emphasize the misogyny of the images they dig up at the expense of reductively simplifying the constitutive complexity of those artifacts. Of course, they often have good reason for doing so; as a clearinghouse for found images and as a pedagogical resource, their commentary, it seems to me, is largely intended to provoke and to serve as a suggestion for how a discussion could begin. Saying “this image is misogynistic” is, in that context, a prelude to a much richer and deeper discussion that they, there, have the space or intention of having.

I, however, am after something slightly different. First of all, the problem with pointing out the misogyny of the Apatow movies is that it’s so obvious as to make pointing it out not particularly an interesting thing to do...

This is a methodological claim, one that sets up your approach as interesting and productive and any other approach as uninteresting and unproductive. Unexplored, because unasked, are the questions, Interesting to whom? Productive of what? Interesting and productive are evidently universals; you're not saying "I am interested in the forms of masculinity in this film because of my personal investment in XYZ." You're saying -- and I'm paraphrasing pretty closely here -- "We should not discuss this film's misogyny because that is not interesting." Period!

You've convinced me that any claim to objectivity is unintentional (indeed, you had already), but I am suggesting that this gesture, so formulated, always makes that claim, whether or not you use the (by now conventional) pronoun "I," or write it on a blog rather than in your dissertation.

To repeat my earlier post, "In a sense I'm criticizing you for doing a thing you never meant to do. But you keep seeming to mean to do it, and I think you should consider trying to put an end to that." Imagine my astonishment when you responded in part with "the problem with pointing out the misogyny of the Apatow movies is that it’s so obvious as to make pointing it out not particularly an interesting thing to do." You're still seeming to mean to do it.

The kicker is that very soon after this move, you acknowledge that I wasn't suggesting that you ought to reduce your argument to pointing out misogyny, nor indeed to reduce anything.

So why set up an argument that you know is straw and call it uninteresting, prior to proceeding to your truly deep analysis of Apatovian masculinities? Might one not go ahead and make an argument without first slaying the mother? (Second-wave feminism is, after all, the source of masculinity studies.)

Your androcentric approach, with its nostalgia for the man-cave, is, as you say, productive, insofar as it "constitute the texts as rich and interesting." It sounds like you have a situated rationale for exploring these versions of patriarchal masculinity, and that's great. To me, in contrast, these films are impoverished, not because it's the job of popular films to overthrow the patriarchy (hah) but because whatever permutations of masculinity it explores, it's always (as you've already observed) masculinity fully contained within and reinforcing of a heterosexist patriarchal framework, which makes it, to me as a feminist critic, The Same Old BS. All those multi-dudes, each oppressing women in their own way. I've seen it, and I've seen it, and I've seen it.

I don't suggest that you need to agree with me on that score, and I don't think I have ever suggested that you ought to be writing about something else. As evidenced by the complexity of your readings, to you these films are rich, interesting, and useful for thinking about masculinity, to which I say hurrah. Your reading is your reading; it's insightful; it's valid. But I wish you would not preface your readings with explicit refusals of the possibility that, for certain non-dude critics, the films' loving homages to various forms of patriarchal oppression might not be what's interesting.