I hate to say I told you so…

Well, actually, I love to say thatInside Higher Ed today has an update on Mike Garrison’s presidency at West Virginia University, “When the Base Disappears.”  (As many readers may remember, this has been a bee in my bonnet for several months now with a local version of this story.)  For those of you too lazy to click, here’s the nut:

Selected largely for his political experience, and lacking the basic academic pedigree of most presidents, Garrison relied on his connections as a scandal broke about allegations that a degree had been inappropriately awarded to a politically connected executive. As the charges and evidence multiplied, and as professors became more and more angry, many political leaders had his back, and his board seemed firmly in his corner. But in recent days, as some of his political backing has weakened, the flip side of his situation has become apparent. Many at the university say that Garrison’s non-traditional background as a political figure – not an academic – could make him all the more vulnerable to losing his job.

Now, how many of you struggling ABDs, adjunct faculty, assistant profs, and ultimately victorious but bitter tenured profs out there would like a fast ride to some of the top spots in state government?  Sounds pretty good, especially if you’re a policy wonk/political junkie/huge gossip like Historiann, right?  Well, imagine the outcry if one of us took one of their prominent jobs without the years of back-slapping, glad-handing, party machine-cultivating, and rubber chicken-eating that it takes to get ahead in state politics?  Outrage, I’m sure, especially if accompanied by the self-serving rhetoric of politicians and businessmen who like to play University president, only in reverse:  “State government needs to be run like a university!  We need trained academicians to bring integrity to state politics and focus on the people’s needs.  People don’t think they’re getting their money’s worth, so we need more Ph.D.’s to make government run according to academic values.”  Who the hell does she think she is?  No one in our line of work has ever heard of her!  She doesn’t have the credentials!  The outcry would never end.

Years ago, a close family member of mine kept insisting on doing his own major home repairs–not light bulb replacements or picture-hanging, or the occasional interior paint job, which is about Historiann’s speed of “home improvement,” but plumbing fixes and additions, roof repair, tiling, drywalling, etc.  This would be fine if he were retired, but his day job was being a primary care pediatrician, which means not just seeing patients all day, but being on call once or twice a week.  I liked to remind him of that simple fact we all learned in seventh-grade social studies:  the division of labor is the basis of civilization.  Did he really want drywallers, plumbers, and roofers diagnosing their kids and prescribing treatments?  Absolutely not.  Would it be appropriate to appoint a successful contractor to be medical director of the local hospital?  What do you think? 

Smear the queer

Go read Digby‘s excellent post on how Republicans tar Democrats with the lavender brush.  She’s got a great roundup of recent slurs against Obama and the Clintons (homme et femme), as well as a delightful stroll through recent American political history and the Republican penchant for roughing Democrats up by calling them fags and lezzies.  (Heterosexuality:  the last refuge of the scoundrel?)

Now I don’t give a fig about people’s personal lives, but isn’t it strange that the major offenders mentioned here (Ann Coulter, Maureen Dowd, and Kathleen Parker) lead–shall we say?–unconventional women’s lives, or had a less-than-ideal upbringing, whereas the major Dems they attack have very traditional families and personal lives?  To wit:  Neither Coulter nor Dowd have ever been married, and clearly aren’t members of the abstinence wing of the Republican party, since both are urban sophisticates who have had many affairs with prominent men.  (It’s safe to say that they’ve led lives more like Carrie Bradshaw’s than Anita Bryant’s.)  Coulter’s consistent physical presentation (for more than a decade) is that of Malibu Barbie ca. 1977 with her colored hair and thin, tanned arms and legs on full display.  It’s a commitment to a specific aesthetic, like that of a female female impersonator.  No Pat Nixonish pastel suits for her!  (Maybe that’s just her style–and it certainly sets her apart from all other women and men on political chat shows, so it may be part of her effort to brand herself.)  And Dowd herself has written about the difficulty of attracting age-appropriate men, when they seem to prefer younger women who are less successful and less outspoken than she is.  Finally, Parker (according to her bio at Townhall.com) is very conventionally married and has a son, but says that she was raised by four stepmothers.  (Nothing wrong with that–it clearly wasn’t her decision–but she sure does have a lot of opinions about Democratic families and marriages, doesn’t she?)  

Now, let’s look at the Democratic politicians they’ve attacked with such patently gendered and homophobic slurs:  John Edwards (total number of wives: 1, married with children for decades), Bill Clinton (1 wife, married with child for decades, zero divorces), Hillary Clinton (1 husband, married with child for decades, zero divorces), Al Gore (1 wife, married with children for decades, zero divorces), John Kerry (2 wives, 2 children, 1 divorce), and Barack Obama (1 wife, 2 children, zero divorces).  I’m not suggesting that one has to come from a perfect family in order to criticize other families–rather, I’m suggesting that since there is no such thing as a perfect family or a perfect marriage, as they should know, perhaps Coulter, Dowd, and Parker should stop evaluating their political opponents’ masculinity or femininity, lay off calling other people fags and dykes, and judging their marriages and families.  Just a suggestion, girls!  Kthnxbye!

Schmucks R Us: University Presidents Gone Wild!

Well, it’s May, and those of us chained to the delightfully anachronistic agricultural calendar of academe are slathering on the sunscreen, filling up the industrial-sized insulated mug of iced tea, and sitting out in the garden to finish grading exams and calculating final grades.  Inside Higher Ed today provided a good roundup of recent controversies that have been covered here at Historiann.com (or should have been!)  So while most of you are mired in the details of the work that universities are supposed to do, here are some stories about a few university presidents and administrators (you know, the people who have the power to fire you) who are doing a heckuva job.  To wit:

  • West Virginia University President Mike Garrison, a politically-connected appointee without academic credentials or experience, continues to be a universally recognized embarrassment.  (It’s under Garrison’s watch that the business school awarded an M.B.A. to the governor’s daughter despite her not having actually, you know, earned it.  The Dean of the business school and the University Provost resigned recently, but not Garrison, despite his insistence that he “accepts responsibility” for the fraudulent degree.)  The most recent related dust-up reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is that two professors are filing a grievance “after being told their offices are being relocated, a decision they were informed of the day after one of them called for President Mike Garrison’s resignation.”  Anyone who’s worked in an academic department knows that some faculty are very particular about what kind of office they have, its proximity to the department office or bathrooms, how much or how little sunlight, noise level, views, etc.–like Goldilocks, they must have an office that’s “just right.”  This strikes me as the kind of petty, thuggish retaliation that’s characteristic of a political hack, but one who is clearly very attuned to the bizarre obsessions and status games of particular academics.  Well played, Mr. Garrison!  (How long will this guy be permitted to circle the drain at WVU?)
  • Next, in a move that makes Mike Garrison look like Kingman Brewster, Jr., Baylor University’s President John Lilley has apparently reversed 7 out of 12 of his tenure denial decisions on appeal.  (Historiann has reported and commented on the Baylor outrage here, here, and here.)  The Waco Tribune reports that “[t]wo of the cases were reversed after candidates bolstered their publication records, Lilley said, and external letters about the quality of some of the candidates’ research was influential.”  Yeah, right–anyone who knows anything about tenure files knows that it’s utterly impossible to produce something in two months’ time that would reverse a tenure denial, aside from embarassing publicity, poor fundraising, and the wrath of the Board of Regents.  Good news for those faculty members who are now among the elect, but this may make the gendered nature of the tenure denials at Baylor even clearer:  “Names of candidates awarded tenure were not revealed in Lilley’s e-mail, but the Tribune-Herald was able to confirm that three of the seven were engineering faculty Russ Duren, Randall Jean and Carolyn Skurla,” two men and one woman.  (Andrea, if you’re still out there, let us know what you know!) 
  • Finally, Phyllis Schlafly was awarded an honorary degree at Washington University.  Historiann was just flabbergasted by the news that any university (other than Bob Jones or Oral Roberts) would honor Schlafly in this fashion.  What’s next?  Spellman College honors Clarence Thomas?  Calvin College invites Christopher Hitchens to deliver next year’s commencement address?  Memo to Washington University:  next year, try to find a non-self-hating woman, m’kay?  It’s not about “freedom of speech,” it’s about choosing to honor someone whose life’s work is in accordance with the professed values of your institution.  What constituency at Washington U. (or anywhere in the nation) was demanding that Schlafly’s dubious achievements should be honored?  When you choose to honor someone like that, it make you look confused and un-self-confident too.

Here’s an entirely serious end-of-the-academic year question:  Why can’t they just emulate our students and get drunk and act like a$$holes?  It’s easy, it’s fun, and as long as you don’t drive, there’s little chance that it will make the morning papers.


Barbie: the choose life! knit sportswear edition

Boy, most of you really hated “Barbie Death Camp!”  Here’s a soothing balm of Barbies and Kens in their vintage fashion knitwear.  (Connoisseurs will note that these aren’t the “real” Ken and Barbie dolls, but rather inferior knockoffs.  The male dolls here look strangely more childish than Mattel’s Ken ever looked.)

Check out that Beatles-era red skinny suit with black piping on “Ken” at the far left!  Snappy.  Also, someone should give top-row “Ken” the memo that says that heavy sweaters generally aren’t worn with swim trunks.  I kind of like that pale ice blue dress and coat combo next to swim trunk “Ken,” though–anyone know where I could find something like that?  I’ve got a big conference next month, and I’d like to look my best. 

The daylight divide in academia

Go read “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower,” a sadly provocative essay in The Atlantic by “Professor X,” who is an adjunct instructor at a private college and at a community college.  (H/t to Lance Mannion, via Suburban Guerilla.)  The article is a report from the front lines by an instructor who teaches introductory composition and literature courses to people who frequently don’t have the skills it takes to pass hir class, let alone earn a college degree.  It’s not snarky at all–ze is a compassionate person who truly dislikes failing hir students, but ze dislikes even more the falsely egalitarian notion that college is the only path to success.  I sheepishly identify with this:

The full-time, tenured professors at the colleges where I teach may likewise feel comfortably separated from those whom they instruct. Their students, the ones who attend class during daylight hours, tend to be younger than mine. Many of them are in school on their parents’ dime. Professors can fail these young people with emotional impunity because many such failures are the students’ own fault: too much time spent texting, too little time with the textbooks.

There are some returning students and other students with more complex lives taking courses in the daylight hours, but I agree with Professor X’s point about “daylight” versus nighttime students and faculty.   There is a large class and status divide between those of us for whom teaching and learning are our “day jobs,” and those for whom teaching and learning are pursued in the second shift.  To those students and faculty, our day shift must look like beer and skittles.  Professor X continues: 

But my students and I are of a piece. I could not be aloof, even if I wanted to be. Our presence together in these evening classes is evidence that we all have screwed up. I’m working a second job; they’re trying desperately to get to a place where they don’t have to. All any of us wants is a free evening. Many of my students are in the vicinity of my own age. Whatever our chronological ages, we are all adults, by which I mean thoroughly saddled with children and mortgages and sputtering careers. We all show up for class exhausted from working our full-time jobs. We carry knapsacks and briefcases overspilling with the contents of our hectic lives. We smell of the food we have eaten that day, and of the food we carry with us for the evening. We reek of coffee and tuna oil. The rooms in which we study have been used all day, and are filthy. Candy wrappers litter the aisles. We pile our trash daintily atop filled garbage cans.

That’s right–not only are they pursuing their second jobs and educations after hours, without the company of colleagues or even the minimal courtesy of the department office having the door open and a staff member to help with the copier, or to lend a stapler or a dry-erase marker.  These faculty and students are literally working amidst the refuse that the day faculty and day students have left behind:  the overflowing trash cans, the chalkboards already hopelessly smeared with dust. 

Professor X is the George Orwell of adjunct faculty and night school students.  Ze should write a book:  Down and Out in Amherst and Madison?

Intersex crossing

Date:  May 13, 2008

Time:  4:25 p.m.

Place:  Potterville, Colorado; corner of Mystreet and Oneblocknorth.

Found:  Intersex crossing sign.

(I know some jackass teenager did this with a Sharpie–but I’m choosing to read it as a comment on our restrictive and distorting gender binary and compulsory heterosexuality.  And, it’s the most interesting vandalism that I’ve ever seen in this town!)

At the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women next month, we’ve got a great panel that brings together disability studies, queer theory, and the history of sexuality in really innovative ways.  “How Do They Do It?:  Sexual Representations of Conjoined Twins in U.S. Culture” features Ellen Samuels on “Entertaining Millie and Christine McCoy:  Where Enslavement and Enfreakment Meet,” Alison Kafter on “Fabulist Past, Fabulist Future But no Queer Presence:  Desiring Disability in Sheila Jackson’s Half-Life,” and Cynthia Wu on “The Queer Pleasures and Frustrations of Chang and Eng’s Autopsy,” chaired by Ruth Alexander and with a comment by Catherine Kudlick.  Check out our program here!


Barbie Death Camp

I’m not sure what I think about this installation at Burning Man 2007, “Barbie Death Camp,” but since this blog is one of the few places on the non-peer reviewed internets where you can find deep, intellectual discussions of Barbies and dismembered doll parts, I suppose I have to cowgirl up.  (Be sure to click on the link above to see the whole slide show–this still photo is just one of many.  Thanks to Historiann’s newly tenured friend G.S. for the tip.) 

This blog says that “Barbie Death Camp” is clearly anti-consumerist, anti-corporate satire, but I’m not so sure it can be viewed only or primarily through this lens.  Looking at the slide show is disturbing–is it a feminist commentary on the  commodification and dismemberment of women’s bodies?  Is it a commentary on the ambivalent relationship girls have with their Barbies, since they frequently train their aggression on the dolls, cutting their hair and frequently removing their arms, legs, and heads?  Or is it just another example of female bodies being dismembered for our pleasure and entertainment?  (You can’t see it in this photograph, but the yellow school bus near the lower right corner has “DIE BITCH” scrawled on the side, so it’s not accidental that it’s a Barbie and not a Ken or G.I. Joe Death Camp.  I’m not sure how I feel about the appropriation (complete with toy ovens) of a specific historical event, the Holocaust.  Does it trivialize the attempted genocide of Jews, Gypsies, Gays, Poles, and disabled people in the twentieth century?  Is there an implicit commentary of the uniform perfection of Barbie bodies being destroyed in the same manner as the “racially inferior” or otherwise imperfect victims of the Holocaust?  Is it an accident that the Barbies in BDC look like they’re all white and are overwhelmingly blond, too?  What if it had been called “Middle Passage Barbie,” “Barbie Trail of Tears,” or “Killing Fields Barbie?” 

Reflecting on Historiann’s recent foray into contemporary feminist art, this project seems like it could have been included in the recent The Way that we Rhyme:  Women, Art, & Politics exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts.  It shares many of the same features:  the use of found objects in particular, but also the “outsider art” fetish that many “insider artists” have affected lately, an aesthetic of amateurism and bad taste.  (Actually, in many ways, “Barbie Death Camp” is more compelling and provoking than many of the installations at the YBCA, which seemed to labor rather humorlessly under a different kind of historical weight.)

For those of you interested in pursuing some of these issues in a more serious forum, at the 2008 Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, we’ve got a panel on “Gender, Torture, and Memory,” which features papers on American POW’s in Korea, Femicide in Guatemala in the Cold War to the twenty-first century, and women in Stalin’s Gulags.  (Unfortunately, our roundtable on “Women and the Holocaust:  Reshaping the Field in the 21st Century through Oral History and Personal Narratives,” was cancelled.)  We also have a roundtable on “What (if anything) Can Women’s History and the History of Sexuality Teach Us about Genocide and Extreme Violence,” and a Sunday morning seminar on “Historicizing Sexual Violence,” led by Estelle Freedman of Stanford University, which features many papers about rape and sexual violence in wartime and in occupied or colonized countries:  colonial and postcolonial India, Nazi-occupied territories, 17th century Ireland, 1950s and 1960s Argentina, and 19th and 20th century Kenya, South Africa, and Costa Rica.  (You can find the full program here.) 

What do you think?  Is “Barbie Death Camp” funny?  Horrifying?  Feminist, or anti-feminist?  Too clever by half?  Or just really good bad art?