In Response to Herb Childress

On 27 March 2019, Herb Childress’s “This Is How You Kill a Profession” appeared in the online Chronicle Review. In the article, Childress presents parts of his experience in academe to depict the incremental cruelties of academic contingency. After a series of assertions about how college faculty have been devalued through redefinition, he notes his wife’s career in academe–dissertation in 1982, thirty-year series of adjunct and similar teaching jobs–before working through his own at greater length. Interspersed with it are a number of editorial comments, some of which are startlingly resonant, that bring out the irrationality inherent to community and the peculiarities of the academic community and express some of the more curious aspects of continued alignment with academe by those who have been denied full placement within it.

Related image
It seems fitting enough.
Image from Gabrielle Matthieu, used for commentary.

Given many of the things that I have posted to this webspace (for some examples, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, this, and this), it should come as no surprise that Childress’s article attracted my attention. As I read it that attention was justified; I read Childress’s account with no small sympathy, though my life in academe has been far briefer and still lingers. And I feel a strange mixture of defeatism and relief; if he, who did as much as he did, could not land a tenure-line position, then I never really had any chance–but I, at least, recognized that and got largely away from it before the efforts could undermine my physical health and my marriage. (My mental health is perhaps a different issue, though the health of any mind that seeks to enter academe is suspect.)

Some specific comments in the article deserve consideration, as well. The assertion that adjunctification is not bad only because of “how badly adjuncts are paid” and “the inadequate opportunities for our students to build enduring relationships,” but “also about fear, despair, surrender, shame,” emotional tolls paid most by those least able to carry such burdens. There is a significant investment in time and resources in becoming an academic, and for those of us who do not have family histories of such things, the failure to achieve the intended goals after so much effort is no small injury. As others have noted, we give up much of the identities and communities in which we are reared to make the attempt, and without admission to the putative community we have striven to enter, we are left uprooted and adrift. Even I, who am back again where I grew up, feel the distance and separation, and I know I can never bridge it.

Childress’s comments likening academic life to addiction are also telling. Even for those who manage to extricate themselves, the temptation to return is always present, and indulging it is always destructive. Again, it is a thing I understand. I see, day to day, people who have tried to beat addictions and failed for the moment, trying program after program after program in the hopes that one will finally let them get clear of their problem and in a place from which they can maintain a watch against it. I see some succeed, to be certain, but I see no few fail in the attempt; I see them relapse and slide back into the grips of indulged addiction, and it seems to be worse for them every time they do. It is a chronic thing even for those who succeed, and there is no program of support for those who fight against academe in such ways. Nor is there likely to be; even more than against drug addicts, there is a prevailing animus against academics, and there is less cohesive a community of those in recovery from academe to offer support in more than sporadic and anecdotal fashion.

Perhaps most resonant for me is Childress’s comment that “we [contingent academics] are refugees from a nation that would not have us. We have found our way to innumerable continents, but still hold that lost home in our hearts. We still, many of us, in quiet moments, mourn the loss of our community as we make our scattered way across diverse lands.” It is perhaps not so quietly that we mourn, as my own posts and the works of others to which my posts respond attest; we may not parade about weeping and gnashing our teeth, tearing our hair and rending our clothes, but we do not close ourselves away, either. But of more moment is that, well, I’ve made the connection before. I’m not accusing Childress of cribbing my work, of course; there’s little reason to expect that he read my writing (I know the limits of my fame), and there’s less reason to think that I am the first person to have had the notion to make the metaphor. But because I did make the connection, seeing it again spoke to me. There is some comfort in knowing that someone else sees something I do, even if we should both emulate Hoccleve in our questioning; having the company helps.

Help me purchase the burial plot?

Class Report: SPCH 275, 28 March 2019

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of visuals (including accessibility) and sourcing (including parsing sources) before turning to upcoming assignments.

Class met as scheduled, beginning at 1800 US Central Time in a co-sat session focused on Room 105 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 32 students, unchanged from last week; ten attended on-site or live online. Student participation was somewhat subdued.

Students will please note that the regular class meeting for next week, 4 April 2019, will not take place normally. There will be an amended activity available.

No students had attended the most recent office hour; the next office hour will be Monday, 1 April 2019, at 1800 US Central Time.

Students are reminded about the following upcoming assignments, due through Canvas before the end of day, US Central Time, on 31 March 2019:

  • Discussion Thread: Brainstorming for Your Informative Speech
  • Discussion Thread: Selecting a Topic
  • Informative Speech Outline (as a Word document)

A Rumination on Fire

I have made no secret of being an indoorsman. That is, I have not tried to hide that I would rather be inside on almost any given day; did I have my way I would stay inside the walls, keep within the rooms and halls that through work on which I’ve come to have a claim. Yet it’s also true that I enjoy–and I will not deny I do–setting up a bed of coals or logs from which smoke rolls in a firepit and staring at the flame.

One such culprit; photo mine.

It is a deep-seated thing, to be sure. I am far from the first to find comfort in staring into the flames, seeing them strain against the control under which they are kept, feeling their warmth, breathing in the sweet smoke of wood turning to ash. I do not expect I will be the last; my daughter currently values the fire more for what it can do to marshmallows (she tends to set hers aflame to toast them) than for what it does to other things, but I am working on her with it. She will learn, in time, that the flame itself feels like company, an unruly friend that can easily get out of control but, if guided, does much to make things better.

I wonder if I am like the flame in that. I know that I am not always good about keeping myself in check; when I do not, I say and do things I come to regret later (as opposed to the many things I have not done that I regret not doing). But I also know that, as long as I am amply provided and suitably guided, I get a lot of things done that might be done otherwise, but neither as well nor as swiftly. And I like to think that I am an amiable companion for those who would take the time to tend to me. It is perhaps not to my credit that I need such tending to be amiable, I acknowledge, but I do not think I am alone in needing to get something to be able to give something back.

The oddities of my thoughts are taking me towards four humors theory, which I know is not good in its particulars, even if there are some things that it got right. Not being a Galenic physician–I am the wrong kind of doctor for that–I am not going to delve too deeply into it. Trying to avoid magical thinking, I am not going to go into the other resonances that might emerge and would contradict the idea of my being a fiery type of person. I am also the wrong type of person to go into that kind of work. But that does not mean I cannot go out on an early spring day, stack a bit of firewood, and enjoy setting it alight so that I can watch the flames twist and leap through what once bore boughs.

Help me get some more firewood?

In Response to Matt Giles

I recently read Matt Giles’s March 2019 piece on Longreads, “Is It Ever Too Late to Pursue a Dream?” The piece focuses on a forty-something Canadian college basketball player, Dan Stoddard, and his efforts to make a professional athletic career for himself after decades in the regular workforce. In the engaging read, Giles makes a sympathetic portrait of his subject, using him to illustrate the idea that even remote dreams can be pursued at most any age–albeit not without cost. In all, the piece comes off as valedictory of Stoddard–and those whom Stoddard represents.

Photo from the article, by Brendan Burden, used for reporting and commentary.

There are problems in the piece, to be sure. Stoddard is presented as a synecdoche for the presumed readership of the piece (which is done well, I think–I expect I’m part of that presumed readership, and I found myself carried along), and there is some tension in that. There’s also some tension in the notion that a middle-aged white guy can come into a field whose other participants have been training for most of their lives to enter; even the leading image from the article, which I use to help link mine to it, points out the difference. Stoddard has clearly worked hard to participate, but it is still not the most comfortable image in the current sociopolitical climate.

There is a large part of me that wants to identify the general hopefulness of the article as a problem, as well. Stoddard makes great progress towards his goal, though he does so with no small effort and with no small strain on himself and his family. But he is in a position to be supported as he does so, which is not something that many or most can count on having. For the great many who are still in the position Stoddard had previously occupied–and, again, I am not contesting that he is working exceptionally hard to undertake his goal, nor yet that Giles presents the struggle compellingly–are not necessarily as lucky; they do not have such support, or they lack the luxury of using that support for themselves. The hope presented, then, is not one that most can act upon; it is not available to them. And that is not much hope at all.

I know I should not be quite so cynical as all that. For many people, there is hope that sufficient drive and action upon that drive can offer what appears to be an honest shot at a goal. Even now, I might make an attempt to return to academe, and I might be lucky enough to find my way back in in a serious fashion, rather than the tangential relationship with it that I currently have (and enjoy; I’m not about to make the attempt). But I cannot shake from my mind that I would do so at costs I am not willing to pay, costs that I would not be alone in bearing. And I think that is where there is some falsehood in the hope. Who of us would be alone in taking such a risk?

Help me pursue my dreams?

Class Report: SPCH 275, 21 March 2019

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of audience analysis and understanding, working from examples to note how audiences might be successfully addressed. Class then treated various figurations of language before moving on to discuss upcoming assignments.

Class met as scheduled, beginning at 1800 US Central Time in a co-sat session focused on Room 105 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 32 students, a decline of one from last week; ten attended on-site or live online. Student participation was quite good.

No students had attended the most recent office hour; the next office hour will be Monday, 25 March 2019, at 1800 US Central Time.

Students are reminded about the following upcoming assignments, due through Canvas before the end of day, US Central Time, on 24 March 2019:

  • Discussion Thread: Peer Review of the Self-Introduction Speech
  • Discussion Thread: Speaking with Style
  • Rhetorical Analysis (as a Word document)
  • Week 3 Pulse Check

In Response to Christian Smith

On 9 January 2018, Christian Smith’s “Higher Education Is Drowning in BS” appeared in the online Chronicle of Higher Education. In the article, Smith rails against the various forms of bullshit that pervade contemporary academia; the piece lists a number of definitions of the term, some of which read as progressive, some of which read as reactionary. Smith identifies his own areas of privilege before continuing to inveigh against bullshit in academe and the effects on prevailing culture that he perceives as proceeding from that bullshit. He relates a disillusionment with the putative mission of academe against the systemic constraints upon it and the ultimate ineffectiveness of efforts to change them at local levels. Any change to come will likely be troubling for those who have to undergo it, Smith asserts, and, while he sees things as likely to resolve well, he anticipates having to deal with quite a bit of bullshit in the interim.

Image result for cow patty
A prime example.
Image from the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

I found myself interested in the article for the scatological reason: it treats bullshit, and I have some pseudo-scholarly interest in the topic. Indeed, I’ve written on the subject in presented work and in one blog post or another. And I was not displeased to find the wide-ranging definition of bullshit Smith advances in the article; I do not necessarily agree with it, but I appreciate seeing the attempt to clarify the term further than Frankfurt, Hardcastle & Reisch, and Fredal have done–even if it is unsuccessful. (It is too grounded in the concrete examples provided, of which there are many, and does not move to extrapolate from them. It also does not make reference to the earlier works in what might be called taurascatology, which seems a lamentable lack from a senior scholar.)

I was not as happy to see the reactionary tenor of Smith’s argument, though, as he hammers away at the various issues he decries. Many of them read as the same kind of talking points reiterated by informational outlets towards which he himself directs ire for their putative corruption of the nobler aspects of American life. (Really, the only change is in the level of affected politeness in the things ostensibly abjured; they’ve always been done, they’ve just been done in nicer clothing and with more forks on the table previously than now–but more forks cost more money, and maximizing profit is the thing to do.) Again, it reads as something that a senior scholar ostensibly invested in the “higher” aspirations of traditional liberal arts curricula ought to take more care to avoid; it smacks to me of the kind of sloppy thinking being abjured in the article.

But what do I know? I’m one of the second-rate PhD students trained by mediocre graduate programs at third-tier universities whose expensive sports programs drain money away from academics, after all, and so far from worthy of commenting on such matters–or such is one of the implications I get from the article. After all, did I deserve it, I’d’ve gone to a top-ranked school with well funded programs that only admits the truly meritorious, right? Not the kind where the parents of uncaring students fraudulently pad resumes to ensure they get in. Because that’s not the kind of bullshit in which academe is smothered at all…

Help me pay for a shovel.

Another Rumination on Destroying Records

It has been not quite a year since I last worked on file destruction at my workplace, and I find myself at it again, thinking on it again. Last time, I noted that the task sat ill with me, the need to get rid of information conflicting with my scholar’s attitude towards understanding, my medievalist’s lament at how little we know because of how much we have lost. And I am not unmindful of the associations between fascist and other, similarly oppressive systems and the destruction of knowledge–and I do not want to be associated therewith any more than I necessarily am because of the positions of privilege I occupy. But I am also mindful of the rights of the penitent to be forgiven, of those who have grown to have at least some of their earlier days forgotten–for I am still mindful that I have done things I would rather not have remembered, even if I seem unable to forget them.

Related image
I’m told again that this is a public domain image of a public domain painting,
Pedro Berruguette’s Santo Domingo y los Albigenses.
I still use it for purposes of commentary–but I am still not sure I need to make the comment.

I still feel some unease at the task, to be sure. But perhaps I have done it enough that it is not such a shock, anymore. And perhaps my own increasing removal from academe is helping matters; I am less sentimental about the cultures of knowledge creation and knowledge retention now than I was before. I would like to think that I more carefully curate what I keep, though it is likely more a matter of my being less apt to acquire things now than I was before than of my being more selective about keeping the things I do acquire–and with the records of my workplace, while I recall that they are testimonies of human experience, they are not mine to keep or discard. All I can do, all I should do, is follow the guidelines of my institution with respect to them, and consign to destruction those records that have passed our retention policy.

I cannot help but glance at a few as I do, though, and I wonder about those who are my age or near to it, those who have names I dimly remember from years gone by, when I was young and thought the world was. I wonder about one man, already old when he entered our records, likely dead now; is he remembered elsewhere, or is my destruction of his client file the elimination of one of the last memories held of him? I know that way lies madness, though; I know that to hold onto things for thought that they are the last comments on one person or another means that nothing can be allowed to pass away, but there are things that ought to be allowed to die.

Immortality is a greater burden to bear than any ought to be asked to shoulder. I content myself with the thought that I am sparing some from it.

Yes, work still pays the bills–but more support is still welcome.

Class Report: SPCH 275, 14 March 2019

After addressing questions from the previous class meeting, discussion turned to concerns of the communication environment and various patterns of argumentation. Reminders about upcoming work followed, and time to practice impromptu speeches and to work on assignments was offered.

Class met as scheduled, beginning at 1800 US Central Time in a co-sat session focused on Room 105 of the San Antonio campus. The course roster listed 33 students, a decline of one from last week; nine attended on-site or live online. Student participation was reasonably good.

One student had attended the most recent office hour; the next office hour will be Monday, 18 March 2019, at 1800 US Central Time.

Students are reminded about the following upcoming assignments, due through Canvas before the end of day, US Central Time, on 17 March 2019:

  • Discussion Thread: Preparing for the First Speech
  • Self-Introduction Speech
  • Reflection on the Self-Introduction Speech (as a Word document)
  • Week 2 Pulse Check

Yet Another Rumination on Roleplaying Game Design

I have made more than one post speaking to my old nerdy habit of playing tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs), as well as posts regarding my thoughts about designing them. As to the latter, I find myself taking a fair bit of inspiration from Rich Burlew’s The New World series, hosted on Giant in the Playground; I’ve discussed the series elsewhere, as well. In that spirit, then, and working from materials I’ve posted in other places, I offer what appears below.

Image result for big bang
Seems someone had a blast.
Image from

Having noted before that my attempts to develop an RPG worked from sixes, and knowing that one of the things that people tend to do is try to explain the machinations of their observable universe in terms they can understand–usually gods and the like until observational technology allows for other ideas to take firmer hold–it makes sense to me that any RPG milieu in which I might work would offer religious ideas. And since RPGs admit of things that do not necessarily occur in the “real” world, those religious ideas might even have some in-milieu truth to them. That said, I am not necessarily convinced by religious ideologies, myself, and even if I might compose what I call a series of hymns in another webspace, it is not as an act of worship that I do it.

The idea of an anti-worship, though, of a religion that abjures the influence of the gods, is an interesting one. (I admit to being inspired in part by an episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, as well.) If I follow that idea, then, and the earlier materials I’d glossed, then I would seem to need six gods to steer away from whatever people I might focus upon for the RPG milieu. The Stupid God is one against which I have inveighed at length already in what may someday be a collection of verse I would release for publication. (It might be nice to earn a bit of money in such a way.) Such a god, one that revels in and promulgates folly, would seem to be one to abjure, one to send away from the self and towards opposition. The Angry God, which I have also mentioned in other writing I’ve done, would seem to be another; there are certainly things about which to be angry, and there are benefits to being angry at times, but I’ve had a lot of anger in me for far longer than ought to have been the case, and I have not benefited from it.

Those are only two, though, and I do not know that both should be shunned as such; I have no reservations about condemning the Stupid God, for reasons I hope would be obvious, but, again, there are times anger is merited, and the god of such a thing would be useful to have on hand at such times. What to do with the others is not yet clear to me, but it is good to have some idea of how to proceed, of what slots to fill–and there is always room for things to change and grow.

May the Stupid God not claim too much of that room!

Care to contribute some more?

Reflective Comments for the January 2019 Session at DeVry University

Continuing a practice I most recently iterated at the end of the November 2018 session at DeVry University, and following closely the patterns established in previous practice, comments below offer impressions of class performance among students enrolled in my section of ENGL 062: Introduction to Reading and Writing during the January 2019 session at that institution. After a brief outline of the course and selected statistics about it, impressions and implications for further teaching are discussed.

Students enrolled in ENGL 062 during the January 2019 session were asked to complete a number of assignments in quick succession. Many, and the weightiest, were weekly written assignments leading to several short works; others included a series of quizzes and reading activities, as well as ongoing online discussion. Those assignments and their prescribed point-values are below, with relative weights shown in the figure below:

ENGL 062 Grade Breakdown

Homework assignments were assessed by means of rubrics provided by the institution. Discussion was assessed through an instructor-developed rubric. Quizzes and reading exercises were assessed as standardized testing conducted as part of University-wide course requirements.

The section met in Room 114 at the San Antonio Metro Campus on Mondays at 6pm, US Central Time, with online office hours generally being held Thursdays at 6pm, US Central Time. Specific grade data, as well as attendance data, are not being reported due to the small size of the class; there are not enough students for their information to be presented in aggregate.

I note that attrition seems to have affected the section. No student attended all class meetings, and assignments were not submitted that should have been. Given the small size of the class, however, I do not know how representative the results can be taken to be. I am not pleased with them, however, so I shall have to look for ways to do better in succeeding sessions–and I am already being assigned to teach more.

I continue to be glad to have the opportunity to have taught. Although it is not my primary professional focus anymore, it remains a good thing to do. Contributions to help me keep doing it are welcome.