Review 48:2 (2015)

I want to read this and I may have figured out how to buy it.

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On teaching college composition

“The common use of the argumentative essay in US schooling dates back to unprecedented growth in higher education and a literate middle class in the early 20th Century. College was no longer the purview of an elite group from similar backgrounds, and more students meant two things: an insufficient number of teachers trained in writing instruction and a more diverse student body, less likely to share knowledge of the same philosophical or literary texts to write about.”

Read the whole thing.

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On American aristocracies

According to the New Yorker, Ivanka Trump was “born with a silver spoon in her mouth” and has “patrician” looks. I read this and said what? She is neither an aristocrat nor patrician, she is merely rich! How can the New Yorker, of all publications, misuse these terms so? I thought my attitude might be all too condescending so I asked the Aged One, 92: Wouldn’t George H.W. Bush, for instance, with his 17th century New England roots, be aristocratic in a way Ivanka Trump can never be? The Aged One, 92, said yes, and confirmed that it was indeed scandalous that the New Yorker, of all publications, would not see this. He said I should write them a letter. I do not have time to compose the said letter but perhaps I could simply send them this post.

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Survival mode

Now my problem is named, I spend too much time in survival mode.

I have learned there are the things you love, and the things you must do to support the things you love, and the things you should not do, or should not do too much of as they are not in your best interest. If you diagram these, you can learn a great deal.

Mayhew has three tiers but I would have a fourth, between the lowest and the middle tier, where I do the things I must do in order to enable myself to do the things I really must do. That additional tier is the survival mode tier. I am forced to spend some time in it, but I am also trained to see myself there, to think of myself as a person fighting for their life and not even thinking about rights … except to think, at a deep level, that the people who have and deserve rights are not those who are fighting for their lives.

I will see what all of these perceptions can do for me, and for us. How can we spend less time in survival mode, and off the bottom activity tier? Identifying them as we have done here is a good start.

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On academic freedom, again

I hope people actually respond to this. I had a huge argument today with some people in the adjunct movement, about this. They are convinced I do not understand that they are in poverty and I do not think their position is actually very well thought out. They have massive amounts of documentation of poor salaries, high teaching loads and poor working conditions. I don’t see how a move to 100% contract faculty with slightly better than adjunct pay would alleviate this. I also don’t see how nominally writing academic freedom into these contracts would really preserve academic freedom in all its aspects.

Tenured and tenure-track faculty and the professional organizations have failed to stem the overuse and exploitation of contract faculty, they say, and it is out of bad faith. We do well because they do poorly.  Neoliberalism has won, they say, the Humboldtian university is long gone, and they want decent jobs in the corporate one. I, wanting to push back and get more tenure lines while also getting good contracts for those who seriously do not want tenure lines, am not living in the real world. (This is, of course, what the adminstration says as well.) Also, it is meritocratic of me to say the Ph.D. has value or that having a research program does, and it means I do not value teaching.

Here is what I think, a grandes rasgos. 1. Without academic freedom you do not have a university, and tenure is what guarantees academic freedom. 2. Without academic freedom and tenure you weaken shared governance. 3. Universities are nonetheless very hierarchical and the faculty, without a union, do not have enough power to end the inappropriate overuse of contract positions completely. 4. It is not a question of NTT versus T faculty. Better pay for contract faculty means they are not less expensive, so there is less motivation to cut T lines. 5. And more T lines means better market. So you need  unions, and you need the professional organizations. (The NFM says the professional organizations have failed them and exists in part because of this, but without union-like action and follow-through can they do better? Does any advocacy organization have the power to remedy, by moral suasion, the economy and the kinds of business practices universities have now adopted?)

Where do the objections to my views 1-5 (above) lie, beyond the fact that people do not think I am talking about a currently existing university stucture and mission (they think the university I speak of is long dead)? What are the answers to the following anti-tenure, and sometimes anti-research line questions?: 1. “I have been a VAP in this line for 5 years and if it turns TT there will be a search and I will not be selected. I prefer it to be turned into a more permanent contract line for me.” 2. “I am an M.A. and cannot get onto the TT. I want more contract lines and also more power for people like me. The presence of Ph.D. and TT/T faculty limits my career.” 3. “All TT lines go to very new Ph.Ds. My Ph.D. is three years old, so I have more chances at NTT than TT jobs. I would therefore like the numbers of the former increased.”

Aren’t these questions all about how tenure is (mis)used, not about tenure, academic freedom and shared governance themselves? One of my objections to the project of making everyone contingent is that I do want faculty who are current in field, and I don’t see moving to an all-contingent faculty as a road to getting that at all–especially not in right-to-work states. I do think that in the context of the bad job market the search for tenure-track work and the traditional insistence that only that is viable has ravaged many people, including myself. But I also think it is very short-sighted to say the solution is to get rid of it.

I also know that at good schools, there are Ph.D. VAPs who deserve tenure-track jobs, and M.A.s with valuable experience and current expertise. But for us, here, if we cannot offer a T job, we are then reduced to searching for M.A.s living locally. This is not easy. With the tenure track, we get applications from people with a lot of skills. I don’t know how we could get comparable people on a contingent basis without offering a great deal more money. So with the tenure track, we can afford them, and we can also offer them something tangible, and we have the prospect of actually building faculty and program.

As I write this I am trying to envision more clearly an all-contingent world. There are places like that–Evergreen College. You have a lot of people there who are as good as tenured, just as our contingent faculty is (ours are effectively permanent as soon as they are hired). So people do get some form of permanence, and I doubt the anti-tenurists’ fantasy of “flushing out the bad” and opening up more jobs for the truly deserving is realized. But how real are academic freedom and shared governance there–or how real would they be if the place were bigger? What if large community colleges like Miami-Dade eliminated the tenure track–would there be academic freedom then? (Shared governance is no longer very real where I am, I must say, but does that mean we should renounce the idea of it?)

So in any case: how is it that the push to improve conditions for contingent faculty and to win back more tenure lines do not support each other? They do so far as I can tell, and I want as many people as possible on tenure lines. And that is not because of job security, it is because of the role of research in teaching and of tenured faculty in governance. Am I terribly conservative, elitist, out of date? Also, is it that bad to want at least half your faculty to have the terminal degree?

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More books on Vallejo

I always loved the spirit of Francisco Izquierdo Ríos, andino, and his writing in César Vallejo y su tierra is valuable. He first visited Santiago de Chuco in 1946 and stayed, if I do not misunderstand, in the Santa María family’s Hotel Bolívar. (Lodging in that town is rough now, perhaps it is that it has not changed since then.) He evokes the spirit of the land and says the nature of that countryside matters to Vallejo’s imagery and voices and it is true; you hear and see that part of Peru in all of Vallejo’s work, and this is important. There is a part of the book written after a return voyage in 1971 when Izquierdo Ríos met the dulce y andina Rita, who had twins for Vallejo who died. Vallejo was “alegre,” she said.

Another insufficiently read biographical work on Vallejo is Antenor Orrego’s Mi encuentro con César Vallejo (1989). There are editions available on Amazon but I do not trust the bindings and this library copy is good; I will borrow it again later. It isn’t a biography but it has important information, comments, anecdotes, and a compendium of documents and articles from the period (and testimonies, too, e.g. the 1959 symposium in Córdoba, Argentina). I would like to read this book in peace, not needing to “use” it, but to study it. Its language is dated but its intuitions, sure and its documentary value, great. Vallejo is “American” in that he is from a place, writes from it, but from the ground up, not borrowing techniques from elsewhere (Darío is European, says Orrego). Vallejo is alone and not well understood because he is original.

Vallejo, Moro, and others walked alone and suffered because they walked alone, but knew how.

Espejo Asturrizaga’s César Vallejo. Itinerario del hombre is another book I would like to reread slowly and in peace. It is yellowed and I would like a nicer copy but do not know if any can be found. One important point Espejo makes is that Vallejo was never really poor or desamparado or alone (the book covers his life up to 1923); his poems on sadness and solitude are not about material conditions of his own. His anger at Peru was about how intellectuals were treated and his work not understood; this is a different question.

My paper, when I finally write it, will look at biographies and memoirs and documents, and at Foucault and Agamben (“The author as gesture”).

There is nothing more wonderful than being able to study in a good café in a familiar and beautiful city away from home.

A different kind of book, that I am buying because I can, is Ortega’s 2014 volume in Taurus, La escritura del devenir. This is a book of criticism that has a critical thesis but there is a great deal of and on biography in it, and some documents are reproduced. Ortega says Vallejo has had some good readers, but also “malos testigos.”

I would have liked to be a Vallejo scholar but failed because of the tenure system. At the time, I needed a book in English in a U.S. university press and I could not seem to sell one on a single author, who was furthermore Peruvian and a poet, unless I claimed he were an exponent of postcolonial theory or something like that, and I could not figure out how. But Vallejo is fascinating and if I can cut through the sadness he brings up for me–none of which tiene que ver in any way, none of which is about Vallejo or even about me, the actual me–perhaps I can still do it.

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On time and money

Today I shopped for, but ultimately did not buy an item I will need. I did not buy it because it was above budget for me and I also did not fall in love with it. This, you will say, is a sensible choice: I gathered information, narrowed down, and resisted both extravagance and salesmanship.

Why, then, do I feel guilty? Because I am an academic. I am used to having to justify all time spent on anything either by saying it was absolutely necessary, or it was recreational. In this case the effort was not recreational, yet I have nothing to show for it, and I fear it may qualify as an instance of that sin of all sins: procrastination.

All of this insistence on time and money, how time is money, is some modern trip. Budgeting time, saving time, hurrying, waiting. If you had used your time better, you would have proved you were more intelligent, or more virtuous, and it would have led to Production. It is so non-meditative, and it works so hard against joy and the real work.

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