Good morning, friends. I got nuthin’ today but a burning desire for a morning run and then a stack of essays and rough drafts of research papers to plow through, so you’re on your own. May I suggest that you go read Roxie’s World today, where co-blogger Moose has a wonderful valentine called “To Her With Love” to Indiana University English Professor and feminist hero Susan Gubar, and a brilliant meditation on the FUBAR American public university? (Roxie is of course the author of the “Excellence without Money” series inaugurated in 2008–don’t miss this latest installment!)
Here’s a little flava:
This is partly a story about luck and good timing, but it is also a story about the structural conditions of American public higher education, conditions that have changed significantly since my undergraduate days. I stumbled into Gubar’s class because I needed to pick up a senior seminar after deciding to add English as a second major at the end of my junior year. A friend recommended the course because she’d heard the co-author of a recently published book called The Madwoman in the Attic was a pretty good teacher. The seminar, with the rather dry-sounding title of “Feminist Expository Prose,” didn’t necessarily lead one to expect life-altering encounters with radical texts and ideas. I had never even heard of Mary Wollstonecraft, and Three Guineas, the Virginia Woolf text on the syllabus, was the first Woolf I would ever read. I had never heard of Charlotte Perkins Gilman either, but her Women and Economics rocked my young world, while Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s autobiography Eighty Years and More so fascinated me that I hopped in my car over Thanksgiving break to go read the author’s letters in a library 700 miles away. It was the excitement of that first research trip that propelled me into Susan’s office to announce that I had found my vocation. It’s not immodest to say that Susan took me seriously in part because I so obviously took her and the challenges of her course seriously. She paid attention to me in the office because I was paying attention to her in the classroom. Teaching and learning are all about such moments of recognition and exchange, the meshing of desires, intelligences, imaginations. What do you think about this passage? Lord, I don’t know, but did you happen to notice this one?!?
Why write about this formative experience, though, beyond my desire to pay tribute to a great teacher and a valued friend as she steps away from the classroom? I write about it because I am concerned that the conditions of possibility for such encounters are threatened in the current economic climate of higher education. There will always be great teachers, but I fear that great teaching will be much less likely to occur as we reduce the opportunities for the kind of undergraduate learning experience I was so fortunate to have with Susan back in Bloomington all those years ago.
Wow–an undergrad driving 700 miles to to gread ECS’s papers? How many of us have had undergraduate students like that? But more to the point, how many intellectually life-changing experiences are threatened by raising class caps, increasing teaching loads, and relying on ill-paid contingent faculty (who have 4-4 loads, or higher)? We’ll never know. Rage on Roxie! Rage on against the dying of the light!
(Here’s the Historiann oeuvre on “Excellence without Money” responding to Roxie’s posts, in case you missed them.)