Saturday, November 26, 2011

OMG SHOEZ (Encore)!

Everyone is doing post-Thanksgiving posts to announce that they survived the holiday and are back on the grid. Here's ours.

The Moms and the Carolina branch of the Moosians avoided the malls by watching movies yesterday. They caught a late-afternoon showing of George Clooney's new Hawaii-is-not-paradise-because-there-are-people-in-it flick, The Descendants, which you should totally see because Clooney does middle-aged learning through suffering better than anybody. The rest of the cast is splendiferous, too. Later, after a supper of yummy leftovers, the crew collapsed on the couch to watch (or re-watch) The Devil Wears Prada, because no holiday is complete without a Meryl Streep film, is it?

Anyway, you may recall that The Devil Wears Prada co-stars a lot of fairly impressive footwear. We mention this detail because today the Moms and the Older Sister of the Moosians went downtown to catch the lovely Degas show at the Phillips Collection (which we highly recommend for DC-area readers and visitors). Afterward, at Moose's behest, they popped over to Dupont Circle to do a little -- you guessed it! -- shoe shopping. Oh, dear. We think it may not have been fiscally prudent to turn Moose loose in a shoe store with visions of Miranda Priestly's contemptuous stare still dancing in her impressionable head. She came out with a pair of little black boots that are, by a long, long shot, the most expensive shoes she has ever owned. And yet, she tells herself, they are expensive, pretty, sensible shoes that I will wear for decades with pleasure and in comfort.

Of course you will, Moose. And you will be at the gym at sun up tomorrow, burning off all that pecan pie and the half dozen of your grandmother's glorious olives you couldn't resist over the course of the holiday. Whatever, Moose. A girl is entitled to her illusions. And every woman needs at least one pair of truly decadent little black boots in her life. Don't you agree, my pretties? Don't you and your inner Miranda Priestly emphatically agree?

(Photo Credit: Goose, 11/26/11)

[For previous shoe-related posts, go here and here. Yes, we know that shoe-blogging probably means we will never end up in The Chronicle of Higher Education blog network, but, well, we don't see too many dead dog blogs in that network anyway. Screw them, darlings -- We are here for you! Peace out.]

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Everyone in Roxie's World wishes you and yours the happiest Thanksgiving ever. This year, we are calling Thanksgiving "the Feast of the Liberation" to celebrate the fact that it was just about a year ago (November 30, 2010) that sweet little Ruby, the embodied dog of Roxie's World, was delivered from bondage in a puppy mill in Missouri and embarked on the course that would eventually lead to a posh, happy life with a couple of dog-crazy English profs. We've got a lot to be grateful for -- like you, for example! -- but this year, we are especially grateful to be dogg-ed again.

May your feasting be fabulous and not interrupted by waddling, pepper-spray-wielding cops. May you run out of fingers before all your blessings are counted. May you successfully avoid traffic and bad weather and the verb to shop in all its forms. May you dine on something as sumptuous as this and as sensible yet yummy as this.

Peace out, darlings. Enjoy your day. And don't take your -- or anyone's -- liberation for granted.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Image Doctoring, Without Photoshop

Screen Caps of Actual University of California, Davis websites on the morning of November 22, 2011:

(The English department's home page)

The image mavens of Roxie's World have a healthy respect for the work of universities' marketing and communications divisions. For all our snarking about doublespeak and gutlessness on campus, we appreciate the challenges of creating identities for institutions of higher education and promoting them like crazy in the marketplace. (Seriously, kids -- The Moms have drawers full of QTU tee-shirts, and Moose has a Queer the Turtle sticker on her laptop. She came up with that slogan and fought hard for the right to use it. Don Draper's got nothing on Moose.)

Truth be told, we even respect the need to protect the brand/reputation of an institution during a moment of crisis -- which explains why my typist was frantically screen-capping these images of UC Davis websites this morning before they disappear. They strike us as particularly compelling examples of institutional communication in a context of crisis. A click on that "I'm Here to Apologize" bubble superimposed on the photo of Davis Chancellor Linda P. B. Katehi speaking yesterday at an assembly on the Quad takes you to an information-rich page that includes a gallery of high-quality photos from the rally as well as links to reports on the latest developments in the unfolding story (e.g., reaction from UC President Mark Yudof, announcement that campus police chief Annette Spicuzza has been placed on administrative leave while the pepper-spraying incident is being investigated). Sure, it's all butt-covering and strategery, but to our eyes the whole package does a decent job of reporting on events in a fairly neutral fashion. We give Davis credit for giving such prominence on the home page to Katehi's apology with a strong image that bumps all the happy talk off the screen. We're not sure the effort will save Katehi's job -- but then again that's probably not the goal. The aim here is to show that the institution is making a sincere effort to make amends for an outrageously over-the-top response to student protest. Katehi is, for the moment, the face of that institutional response. It seems appropriate to feature her in this fashion.

The English profs, dog love them, take a different tack, using the home page of the department's website to echo demands for Katehi's resignation and the disbanding of the campus police department. It's astonishing, really, in the age of top-down message management, to see such a powerful example of off-the-reservation communication. Paws up to you, lit critters, for using your website to go all righteous and truth-to-power-y in the midst of crisis. We appreciate your candor, and we wish we had time to go trolling around to see what other Davis departments are doing with their websites. But we don't, alas.

We also sincerely regret that we didn't screen cap Penn State's home page at the height of the Jerry Sandusky/Joe Pa nightmare, but if you look at that (badly designed) site now you'll see a lot of tepid gobbledygook about "moving forward." It may be harder to talk about allegations of child sex abuse than a rogue cop with a spray can, but we think Davis kicks Penn State's a$$ communications-wise in this instance. What do you think, darlings?

Oh, and if you still haven't gotten your fill of Photoshopped images of the Man With the Can, go here, where you will find things like this to brighten up your day:

Don't say we never gave you nothin', my pretties. Peace out.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The Man With the Can Goes Viral

Quote of the Day:
A meme is born. Lieutenant John Pike is suddenly everywhere at once -- waddling through time and space with his little red can of pepper-spray.
Ridicule can be an effective revolutionary tool. But the cops still have the firepower so we can’t stop taking them seriously. But for the time being, this is some hilarious shit. -- Marc Campbell, Dangerous Minds
Every day, my typist wakes up and asks herself the same question: Are parody and pants-wetting laughter really adequate responses to the urgencies of our time?

Every night, she goes to sleep with essentially the same answer: Yes.

In that spirit of revolutionary ridicule, we pass along some more brilliantly doctored images of the (now suspended) UC Davis police officer whose creepily casual pepper spraying of peaceful student demonstrators has become fodder for a million intrepid Photoshoppers. (See yesterday's post for the image of Lieutenant Pike on a wickedly clever remake of the Davis website.) We regret that we are unable to give credit where it is due, because we picked most of these images up on Facebook, where things tend to circulate without attribution. Marc Campbell has been collecting and commenting on images on Dangerous Minds. Go here and here.

What's your favorite? Have you seen others? Send 'em our way, and we will update as we can. Busy day here in Roxie's World, but we'll do our best. Peace out.

Update (Noon): Of course, there's a Tumblr. Check it out.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

UC Davis Link Farm

Offered Without an Iota of Schadenfreude. Not Even a Whiff. OK, Maybe the Tiniest Scintilla, From the Department of There But for the Grace of Photoshop Goes You:

(Image via.)

November 2011 seems on track to be the Worst Month Evah for higher ed administrators in the age of Excellence Without Money -- Or Decency. Or, It Appears, a Lick of Sense. First we had the catastrophic failure of leadership in the Penn State intergenerational "horseplay" in the shower scandal. Now the interwebs are on fire with video and commentary on an incident Friday at the University of California, Davis in which campus police in riot gear used pepper spray on students who were peacefully demonstrating in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. The police were there on orders from Chancellor Linda Katehi, an engineer with impressive hair and, it seems, a bias against tents. No, wait, she has a bias against really bad publicity. Wevs, kids, she does have great hair. We're hoping she also has an up to date CV and a moving van on speed dial, just in case the chorus of calls for her resignation doesn't subside with news of investigations of the incident and suspensions of the spray-happy cops.

As a public service to our readers, we've collected some awesome bits of instant analysis by folks who are much better than we are at figuring things out while they are happening. We consider all of these must-reads for anyone who is wondering if Occupy Education has a serious shot at challenging the profoundly destructive set of values and management principles that have dominated campus administrations in recent years. And isn't that, like, everybody? Click away, dears, and get ready for the revolution. Here's hoping your campus is next -- and that your administrators will rise to rather than fall down upon the occasion.

Below is the video of that long, silent walk, which is as powerful, eerie, and inspiring as others have said it is. Watching it, it's hard not to feel that something truly extraordinary is happening. Young people, who have such cause to lash out in anger, choose instead to summon the righteous power of nonviolence and silence. Katehi walks slowly past them with her elegant coif and her perfectly arranged scarf, her hands gracefully interlocked in front of her, giving her walk of shame something of the look of a perp walk. To her credit, Katehi does not avoid the gazes of the students seated along the edges of the sidewalk. She looks at them. You can imagine them, in the darkness, looking back at her. And in the mutuality of those gazes, you may dare to suppose that something decent might be born: the chance for genuine dialogue, collaboration, and transformation.

At least, that's the way it looks to us, from a few thousand miles away, on the Sunday night before Chancellor Katehi and all those students meet again, in the different light of Monday. Watch the vid and tell us what you see and think and imagine, my darlings. As always, we long to know.

(Here is a longer version of the vid that shows the couple of minutes before Katehi exited the building. The students use the human microphone to arrange the scene and clarify the plan. As the comment passed along by Spivak notes, this version "shows how deliberate and well orchestrated the silence was.")

[Post corrected to reflect that Gayatri Spivak was not the author of a letter previously attributed to her and published on trinketization.]

Friday, November 18, 2011

Seasonal Musings

Are all gourds merely decorative, mother f_ckers? We ask, knowing full well that a butternut squash is not, technically speaking, a gourd, but, well, still, gourds and squashes are in the same family, according to noted botanical expert Wik E. Pedia, and we've had this butternut squash sitting out on the counter for weeks now, and Moose chortles to herself every time she catches a glimpse of it because it seems not terribly useful from a culinary standpoint, its thin neck not offering much in the way of squashy stuff, yet not entirely useless from other possible standpoints that one might imagine if, say, one's brain had been warped by overexposure to psychoanalytic theory in the course of one's training as a professional reader of texts -- or if one happened, on some long ago and probably drunken evening, to have heard a hilarious parody of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" that culminated in the declaration that, "A thing's a phallic symbol if it's longer than it's wide, / As the id goes marching on!" (Melanie performs it here. Go on. We'll wait for you to listen.)

Anyhoo, darlings, it's the Friday before Thanksgiving, which means that my typist has a scholarly article to finish and 37 tabs open in her browser as she cruises the interwebs in search of just the right combination of decadence and point value for this year's Lifestyle-Adjusted holiday table. We'll close, therefore, by wishing you well on your own holiday planning, inviting you to let us know what you will be serving up this year, and showing you a picture of the aforementioned butternut squash so that you can help us to answer the burning question with which this post began:

Are all gourds merely decorative, mother f_ckers? Inquiring minds want to know. Peace out, and have a, um, stimulating Friday.

(Photo Credit: Moose, 11/18/11)

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Half-Naked or Half-Dressed?

Hillary Clinton burst out laughing the other day when a scantily clad fellow bearing a torch streaked behind her and Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang as they were posing for photos together in Hawaii. Her reaction is priceless -- an utterly spontaneous hearty guffaw, complete with a delighted clapping of hands. Ah, Madame Secretary, we still carry a torch for you. Thanks for lightening up a dull, gray, overloaded Thursday.

Watch the vid, kids. We bet your Thursday could use a little levity, too. Hang in there, and maybe we'll all get treated to a glimpse of a scantily clad something or other before the day is over. Peace out.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Penn State Link Farm

(NB: If catching up on the Penn State scandal is part of your weekend plans, WaPo has a handy tick-tock story in today's paper that summarizes events since the release of the grand jury's indictments last Friday afternoon. The grand jury's report is here, but it is not for the faint of heart. Trigger warning for graphic details of child sexual abuse and men in positions of authority behaving badly.)

What can a humble dog blog say that hasn't already been said about the sordid news out of Penn State University this week about an alleged sexual predator protected and enabled for years by an athletics department and a university administration in thrall to a legendary coach and the economic power of big-time football? What do we see when we gaze at the seal of the neighboring school a few hours to the north and take American culture's latest Rorschach test?

Mostly, we see what others have seen:

Disturbing evidence that universities do a terrible job of handling sexual violence and harassment by responding to them as private, internal matters, as Tenured Radical points out in her excellent post on the scandal. Lesboprof also focuses on the administration's failure to notify police of what was obviously a criminal matter in a post that every college administrator on earth ought to read. Historiann weighs in briefly but generates a long and lively discussion thread full of thoughtful comments and good links in response to her point that the administrative failure in this case was gendered male, as all of the coaches, directors, university lawyers, and presidents whose actions protected the alleged predator rather than his young victims were men. Jennifer Doyle points out that laws that require universities to investigate and act upon allegations of sexual abuse or harassment have done little to change "the culture of silence" that serves to shame victims and enable perpetrators on campus.

Possible evidence, particularly in the pro-Paterno riots that occurred on the Penn State campus Wednesday night, of uniquely American forms of idiocy having to do with sports, idol worship, and other vulgar things. For that perspective, see Eric Wilbur, Jon Stewart, and Margaret Soltan, who focuses not on the riots but on the "stupidity" that overtakes a campus dominated by football. Of course, QTU is a school where "rioting" is as commonplace as plagiarism, so the Moms are a little less horrified by this particular behavior than others are. Gather a bunch of kids stirred up about something, bring in a few cops decked out in their Darth Vader costumes, get a couple of cameras rolling, and -- presto! -- you've got a riot on your hands. Still, we doubled over laughing at Andy Borowitz's somber announcement that the board of trustees at Penn State had responded to the rioting by replacing the entire 40,000-member student body with an interim student body: “After careful consideration, we decided we had to make a change,” said trustee Harley Manvers. “Hopefully, these interim students won’t be such jackasses.”

Y'all know we are fans of college sports here in Roxie's World. (Indeed, the Moms are washing tee-shirts and polishing up the pom-poms in preparation for the season's first trip to the Comcastle tomorrow, where they'll see if their beloved [and 11th-ranked!] Lady Terps can avenge last year's NCAA Tournament loss to Georgetown.) Nonetheless, we've grown increasingly concerned in recent years by the sense that the athletics sides of the campus in Division I schools are worlds unto themselves, operating by a different set of rules than the rest of us and not really accountable to anyone. To us, one of the most telling details in the Penn State saga is that President Graham Spanier and some members of the board had tried to get Joe Paterno to retire at the end of the 2004 season, and he refused. Joe Pa maintained a similarly arrogant "You are not the boss of me" attitude until the bitter end, as he announced Wednesday that he would retire at the end of this season and appeared to order the board of trustees not to spend "a single minute discussing my status." That seems to have been the last straw for the board, which announced his firing late that night.

Penn State's difficulty breaking up with Paterno reminded Moose of the Sturm und Drang that arose at her undergrad alma mater back in 2000 when the late Myles Brand, then president of Indiana University, fired the school's legendary basketball coach, Bob Knight. Sports Illustrated columnist Stewart Mandel noted that parallel in a post on the dangers of turning coaches into idols who answer to no one. Mandel argues that fans are partly to blame for what happened at Penn State, their worship encouraging Paterno's arrogance and his bosses' diffidence. Richard Vedder, in The Chronicle of Higher Education, considers possible solutions for the lack of accountability, including the radical yet intriguing idea that universities might "get out of the commercial intercollegiate business, perhaps by spinning off their athletic operations to separate for-profit companies (which could be sold to the public), largely erasing the fiction of the 'student athlete' that exists in the more commercial sports such as football and basketball."

We don't see big schools getting out of the sports business anytime soon, because, of course, the revenue and the brand buzz generated by athletics are desperately needed in the age of Excellence Without Money (™RW Enterprises, LLC). In the end, for us, the many facets of this tragedy -- sexual coercion, catastrophic failures in oversight, rioting fans -- come together in a phrase that kept running through Moose's mind as she contemplated the events of this sad week. That phrase might be taken as the unspoken motto of the neoliberal university: Live by the brand, die by the brand. Jerry Sandusky was protected by his close, nearly forty-year association with Joe Paterno, who was not just a legend but the public face and foundation of the Penn State brand. Tarnish the brand, and the whole shaky financial edifice might come tumbling down. Such thinking encourages the diffidence and denial that appears to have been rampant among administrators in State College, including, it pains us to say, Graham Spanier, who has been one of the good guys of American higher ed for many years. We are sorry to see his tenure as president end on such a negative note.

Live by the brand, die by the brand: Bloomberg is reporting that Moody's Investors Service will look into downgrading Penn State's revenue-bond rating in view of the likelihood of "lawsuits, weaker student demand, decreased philanthropic support, changes in its relationship with the state, and management moves" in the wake of the scandal. Sometimes, it would appear, the most strenuous efforts to avoid reputational and financial risk end up producing precisely what they intended to avoid. That's worth keeping in mind, as we all seek to learn "the lessons of Penn State."

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Care and Feeding of Adjuncts

Another Episode in the Unfolding Academic Melodrama We Call Excellence Without Money: Hard Times in Higher Ed

QTU has been in the throes of one of those periodic policy tizzies brought about when a butt-covering well-intentioned board of regents seeks to appear to address a problem by coming up with a one-size-fits-all solution and imposing it on a complex system of institutions of varying sizes and missions. (Let's call it the University System of Turtle Country.) The policy, as you might have guessed from the title of this post, has to do with the employment of adjunct faculty. The BOR approved a system-wide policy in December 2010 and charged institutions to come up with implementation plans by November 1, 2011, which explains the recent tizzy on the campus of QTU. (Oh, and the policy defines "adjunct" as a non-salaried, non-tenure-track member of the instructional faculty hired to teach specific courses and compensated on a course-by-course basis.)

Before we go any further, we will pause to remind you that this blog has a long history of opposing what our epic animated short feature, Excellence Without Money: The Movie, eloquently describes as "the wage slavery of adjunctification." We consider the slow but steady erosion of tenured and tenure-track positions and the accompanying rise of non-tenure-track and part-time positions to be one of the more disastrous results of the defunding of higher education that has occurred in recent decades. Our pal Tenured Radical describes wage stagnation and the shrinking of the tenure-eligible faculty as evidence of "the casualization of academic labor." In our view, students and institutions were better served by a system in which most of the instructional workload was shouldered by full-time, tenured or tenure-eligible faculty who had strong incentives to work hard and creatively in order to achieve job security and to be loyal to the department and school that offered it.

Nonetheless, that happy world is largely gone. (For the Modern Language Association's latest report on its disappearance, go here.) Adjunctification is not a temporary aberration but a permanent and defining feature of the brutish neoliberal university. Given that troubling yet inescapable fact, one would think that any serious effort to examine and address employment conditions for non-tenure-track faculty would be applauded by the bleeding heart tenured radicals of Roxie's World. For far too long, after all, avoidance and denial about what was happening to the academic workforce have kept us from acknowledging the explosive growth in a class of workers that are treated as the pack mules of academe. We largely ignored them, and we ignored the harsh and often humiliating conditions in which they worked.

In that respect, then, yes, the regents deserve credit for breaking an unconscionable silence and trying to set a baseline to assure that adjuncts throughout the system are treated with a modicum of professional respect. Many requirements of the new policy are laudable and, you know, humane, if you think access to a university e-mail account can be considered humane. Beyond the no-brainers (e.g., access to telephones, office supplies, and "appropriate space" for meeting with students during office hours), the policy mandates what are basically kill fees for classes that are canceled less than 30 days before the start of the semester if the adjunct contracted to teach the course can't be reassigned to a comparable course. The fee is just 10% of the contracted payment amount for the course, but that's enough to make departments think twice before canceling a class. Managing schedules and seats is a departmental responsibility, after all. Adjuncts shouldn't have to pay for someone else's poor planning.

So far, so bueno, right? How is it, then, you may be wondering, that this new policy ends up being tarred by this humble blog as an example of Excellence Without Money (™RW Enterprises, LLC)? Easy peasy, my pretties. Aside from the kill fees, the policy delicately sidesteps the issue that makes the life of an adjunct so uniquely hellish: the shockingly low levels of compensation for work that institutions of higher education claim to value so highly. The policy's major statement on compensation is 100% weaselly: "Every effort should be made to make adjunct faculty compensation professionally appropriate and competitive to the extent allowed by available fiscal resources (emphasis added).

Curiously, the policy establishes a new class system among adjuncts, creating categories of "Adjunct Faculty I" and "Adjunct Faculty II" that sound a lot to us like the old plantation system's distinction between field slaves and house slaves. Adjunct II's (who become eligible for that category by establishing a consistent record of high-quality instruction over multiple semesters) would get priority consideration in teaching assignments (OK, so maybe it's more like a frequent flyer program than a plantation) and would be assured of making at least 10% more than the minimum per-course compensation rate at the institution. That sounds pretty decent, but, as it turns out, the Adjunct II designation would be available to almost no one on the QTU campus because of the way loads are calculated. (It's one of those boring, opaque questions of FTEs and other bureaucratic mysteries. Take our word for it, will you?)

But guess what would apply to all adjuncts, both field and house, and the units that employ them. Say it with us, darlings: PERFORMANCE EVALUATION! Yes, it's true. The new policy, in the interest, of course, of supporting professional development for adjunct faculty, requires units to develop procedures for evaluating adjunct faculty performance on a regular schedule. As QTU has moved toward implementation of the policy, the regents' somewhat vague call for procedures has been interpreted to require, not just class visits and student evaluations, but what amounts to a full-on teaching portfolio for every single adjunct. Individual instructors will be largely responsible for developing those portfolios, though the employing units will have lots of new work to do in terms of collecting documents and data and conducting/reporting on class visits. Moose is really looking forward to implementing this policy in her itsy-bitsy, teenie-weenie queer studies program, in which the turnover rate among adjuncts is so high that she fully expects to be conducting performance reviews for instructors who will likely have disappeared before she's even had a chance to read their heartfelt statement of teaching philosophy. Oh, the fun just never stops, does it?

Here's the thing, kids: We are not opposed to evaluation or professionalization of the adjunct workforce. We are, however, violently opposed to increasing the burden of work on adjuncts and the understaffed units that tend to employ them without meaningful increases in compensation or resources. New policies that create new work under the guise of assuring high quality and continuous improvement while blithely ignoring the not insignificant problem of available fiscal resources are, sadly, exactly what you would expect in the age of Excellence Without Money (™RW Enterprises, LLC). Such policies can only add to the stress and demoralization of everyone who has to hold up or jump through the new hoops established by them.

Tenured Radical recently called on her comrades in the academic blogosphere to "find a way to Occupy Education." We offer this post in support of that worthy cause. Write back and let us know what's happening on your campus with regard to the wage slavery of adjunctification. One step toward changing the world is acknowledging what's happening in your particular corner of it. So tell us what's happening on your plantation in your neck of the woods. We are eager, as always, to hear from you.