Real stories from the Post-ac/Alt-ac world: “You Must Change Your Life”

cowgirlbeerIt’s been too long, friends!  What can I say, except that my last six weeks on sabbatical are chock-full of visitors, travel, and reunions, which have left me little time to live in the virtual world.  I’m back online now, though, and have an idee or two to share.

First, I should say that I’m a great believer in the power of personal narrative.  When I was younger, letter- and journal writing helped me make sense of the trials and errors of youth.  When I was older, blogging at served the same purpose as I wrote about some of my early professional challenges and created a space in which others could find a supportive audience and share strategies for dealing with abusive colleagues and the insanely competitive academic job market.

Around the same time, I started writing a biography of a woman in my period of study, so clearly I’m committed to individual narratives as both a storytelling device and as pedagogy:  we learn so much from reading about other lives.  They can offer us encouragement, cautionary tales, and perhaps most importantly, help us imagine other lives and different ways of living.  There is a real creativity crisis among us professors who want to offer our students ideas for career alternatives to academia (alt-ac) or post-academia (post-ac) careers.  Professors are the worst people to ask, because we took the conservative path and remained in academia!  But we can seek out stories that may give us and our students new ideas for alternative ways of making a living and living a satisfying life.  (Because trust me:  academia is not necessarily a path to either goal, let alone both!)

An old friend of mine who used to live in my hometown of Potterville, Colorado, the distinguished medieval English literature scholar Thomas Bredehoft, has started blogging about his decision to leave a tenured full professorship and his new life as an entrepreneur.  Tom was a full professor who took a position off the tenure track as a spousal accommodation, when his wife took a tenure-track position at a university in another part of the country.  After teaching off the tenure track for five years, he left traditional academia in 2012 to pursue his own alt-ac business in the rare book and antique trade.  As he continues with his academic writing, Tom wants to use his blog to consider the academic, alt-ac, and post-ac worlds, from the perspective of someone who has spent most of a career thinking about books and poetry. Continue reading

Thursday round-up: the hang together or hang separately edition

cowgirl3aFriends!  Angelenos!  Countrywomen!  I’ve been in SoCA so long you probably thought I had traded in my cowgirl boots for flip-flops permanently.  No way!  Never fear.  You can take the cowgirl out of Colorado, but you can’t take Colorado out of the cowgirl.

Anyhoo:  I’m too busy to write a real blog post this morning, but a number of items have come to my attention lately that I’d like to share with you. I hope you’re booted and ready to ride, because here goes: Continue reading

Study documents and quantifies what we’ve known all along: face-to-face instruction beats online by every measure

In-person, live instruction and class meetings offer superior results to students than online courses.  It’s true!  And you no longer have to listen to fuddy-duddy old proffies like me, who have been beating our breasts and wailing about the poor outcomes of online classes.  From a study of 217,000 unique students in California community colleges:

[R]esearchers found online students lagging behind face-to-face students in three critical areas:

  • Completing courses (regardless of grade).
  • Completing courses with passing grades.
  • Completing courses with grades of A or B.

The results were the same across subject matters, courses of different types and different groups of students. Larger gaps were found in some areas, such as summer courses and courses taken by relatively small numbers of online students. But no patterns could be found where students online performed better than those in face-to-face courses.

Hey, assessment fans:  these are the basic measures of what we professors like to call “learning.”  They’re not perfect, but the data are crystal-clear. Continue reading

Age in America: The Colonial Era to the Present, and age as a category of historical analysis

ageinamericaIs age the next new category of analysis in history?  I think it might be, and not just because I’m one of the contributing authors.  From an email from co-editor Nicholas L. Syrett I received this weekend:

Age in America has been published (New York University Press, 2015)! I’m at the Organization of American Historians’ annual meeting this weekend in St. Louis and the very first two advance copies made it here just in time (and both were sold by conference’s end). The assistant editor at NYU Press will send you your copy as soon as the books stock at NYU’s warehouse (Cori and I don’t even have ours yet). I have attached a photo of the book sitting in the NYU Press booth. Within a couple weeks it should be available to order through bookstores, etc.

The co-editors of the volume, Nick Syrett and Corinne T. Field, worked hard with contributors to get a good mix of established and emerging scholars and to cover a pretty broad swath of American history (table of contents here.)  My essay, “‘Keep me With You, So That I Might Not Be Damned:’  Age and Captivity in Colonial Borderlands Warfare,” is the first essay in the collection after Field’s and Syrett’s introduction.  There are thirteen other essays in the volume, which covers not just the expected modern markers of age and how they came to be (age of suffrage, the drinking age, the age of retirement and Social Security benefits), but also essays by Yuki Oda on age and immigration politics (“‘A Day Too Late:’  Age, Immigration Quotas, and Racial Exclusion,”) Stuart Schoenfield on age 13 for American Jews, and Norma E. Cantú on the quinceañera for Latin@ girls. Continue reading

No desk? No problem!


All the best history is written from a reclining position.

Apparently, there are no desks in the standard rooms at the conference hotel used by the annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians, and many at the OAH see this as a pretty big deal.

I was first alerted to the curious absence of desks from the hotel rooms in a mysterious Tweet from Victoria Wolcott from the University of Buffalo, and then found that this is the major conference issue highlighted in a blog post by Rick Shenkman over at History News Network, which posted a photo of a room:

 [T]here has been a problem.

Notice anything missing from this room?

It’s one of the rooms at the newly renovated Renaissance Grand Hotel in St. Louis where OAH members are staying during the convention.  It’s lovely but it’s missing a desk and chair!  As someone on Twitter posted, that’s rough on historians who are used to working during a convention:  typing up notes for a talk, emailing friends, reading the New York Times online. The hotel reportedly says that Millennials don’t want desks in their rooms.  Welcome to the future!

I’m a typically disaffected Gen-Xer and no Millennial, but I have to ask:  who uses a desk anymore, anyway?   At the next major conference I attend, I think I’ll host a salon in my hotel room and invite historians up to loll around on the beds in my room (fully clothed and perfectly chaste, of course.)  It could be the best unofficial session of the conference! Continue reading

Universities choose their students, not the other way around.

You don't get to go here or stay here unless we say so.  Full stop.

You don’t get to go here or stay here unless we say so. Full stop.

Why are people so confused about the right of both public and private universities to select their student body and establish a code of student conduct?

Public universities, as universities that are funded by and answerable to the taxpayers of the U.S. states in which they reside, have to play by somewhat different rules than private universities.  For example, they can’t discriminate on the basis of religion when it comes to student admission or faculty employment, but private sectarian colleges and universities may discriminate.  Also, I’m pretty sure that the god-bags and the crazies that scream at passing students and faculty on the main plaza at Baa Ram U. are there because our campus is a public square, whereas a private university is probably permitted to escort protesters to the borders of campus.

In short, there is as yet no constitutional right to a university education at a particular institution, so public unis–like private schools–are perfectly within their rights to establish codes of conduct for students and faculty alike.  Indeed many would argue that they’re under an obligation to establish and uphold rules for conduct so as to better ensure safe and equitable access to and experience of classroom and campus life.  (Does anyone else remember Gina Grant, the Harvard admit whose offer was rescinded 20 years ago because it discovered that she killed her mother?  Now, maybe her mother needed killing, but that doesn’t mean that Harvard or any other university, public or private, doesn’t have discretion over the students they admit, or over their on- and off-campus conduct.)

Jonathan Zimmerman apparently disagrees, as he argues today at Inside Higher Ed, citing the recent expulsions from the University of Oklahoma and the University of South Carolina for the use of a highly offensive ethnic slur.  Zimmerman, a historian and education proffie at New York University, thinks that universities can’t expel students for speech acts:   Continue reading