Category Archives: What Is A Scholar?

Education and Reeducation

In shorthand.

Important to note for this week is how I was taught that normalcy was a façade. In reality we were barely tolerated: we hadn’t been wanted, we were not liked, and it was wished that we would go away. Our successes were events carefully arranged for our amusement by our parents, and if they were not there behind the curtain, creating an illusion or paying others to do so, the truth would be revealed to us. We would see that we were incompetent, and we would also be shunned, as we were not desirable or pleasant.

I remember feeling in graduate school that because my great-aunt had left us college money — such that my parents did not have to pay for college and I did not have to work during the academic year or take out loans — my B. A. was fraudulent, and my presence in a Ph.D. program was fraudulent as well.

Axé.

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Henry Giroux Today

Having a bad day today. Maybe the hangover from being denied tenure by the right-wing stooge John Silber, the then president of Boston University, in 1981 still stings. Since those dark days, I have always had some hope in the university, recognizing that it was an important site of struggle and filled with contradictions. I am losing that hope. I consistently meet administrators who are not only unimaginative but cowardly and incapable of supporting programs whose value cannot be reduced to cost-efficiency metrics. These people do not just lack a vision, they constitute a kind of academic walking dead, albeit with the ever present smile on their faces–a kind of sickening embrace of civility. They are truly incapable of providing support and resources for faculty fighting for economic and political justice, faculty who take risks, join hands with those colleagues who have been reduced to Wal-mart workers, and act in solidarity with students who refuse to be reduced to customers. Where are the administrators from the ranks of the humanities and liberal arts? In too many instances we have dead-beat administrators drawn from the empirically based disciplines who do not have a clue as to what scholarship is about and increasingly reward the most unfit people with university awards, academic positions, and committee assignments–all the while making clear that qualified people should not apply. Rigorous and courageous scholarship has now gone the way of typewriter. Faculty are rewarded for committee work, grants, and a general attitude that can only be viewed as supine. Even worse, these individuals organize themselves in clicks exercising power that represents the worse form of cronyism. They barely publish, have no international reputations, and feed on gossip and innuendo, reproducing themselves in hires who mimic their own idiocy. I am sure there are exceptions in North America, but dark side of neoliberalism has just about killed the university as a democratic public sphere. All that is left is the detritus, filled with losers and dead beat careerists.

Axé.

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Steal this university!

The book seems dated now, but I did not pay enough attention when it came out in 2003, although I read the reviews. It is about how the for-profit ethos has crept into universities. I do not know whether I knew enough then to understand the book as I do now.

I learned a very great deal from the third chapter, about the inefficiency of merit raises, whose points are supported by this recent article on metrics. And I am fascinated with the poor behavior of some professors I know in the 1995 Yale strike.

The truly important insight I had while reading in this book, however, was that much of the academic advice I have received and been confused by came from professors dealing with the slow encroachment of this model. Either they were in a position to take advantage of it (e.g. had other people to grade for them and were otherwise in a position to say, don’t spend time on teaching), or were themselves struggling with it and saying things that did not make sense entirely, because they, too, were in a new world they did not fully recognize because it used (in another way) the vocabulary of the old, and were looking through a glass, darkly.

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“Where you stand is where you sit”

Here is a book about how to be an academic administrator and it looks quite good.

It is from 2006 but glancing at it I thought it would be older, as it seems to come from an era so much kinder and gentler and humane. The university was already savage, of course, but it really seems to me that things took a hard turn for the worse with the 2008 economic crisis. Others may perceive the shift differently, or may not have perceived it yet.

Axé.

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More about the anxiety

I love co-working and dislike working in isolation, but I see now that I have a longstanding (although not evident) anxiety condition for which Boicean-style advice is a trigger. I am also so naturally organized, disciplined, and motivated that the Boicean-style admonishments feel demeaning, as I know that what I need is time to contemplate, not exhortations to rush.

Both of my parents have anxiety conditions. My father manages his rather well, and my mother allowed hers to disable her almost completely. I have always imitated my father, because it was clear where my mother’s choices led. In addition, when I was small my mother and brother would entertain themselves by imposing upon me, and imposition and needling have been anxiety triggers for me ever since.

I seem so calm, people do not realize I suffer from anxiety, but the calm is only my deeper nature, combined with my longstanding policy, because of the anxiety, of not participating in histrionics.

The first time I really felt the anxiety (the feeling I am identifying as anxiety now) was as a teenager, living with a family who liked to procrastinate and then hurry. In my family we take our time and are on time, but this family would insist upon waiting and then go into a frenzy about how we were about to miss the ferry. The frenzy would make me shake. Why are we even going to town, if we must create such suffering for ourselves around it? I would ask.

I am claustrophobic. My father talks about this openly: “I need space, light, and windows, and I will not work in a cubicle.” This is why I do not like living in small towns without easy access to a variety of hiking trails and views from different heights. A lot of my energy in fact goes to tolerating the feeling of enclosure in Maringouin. And any city will have a variety of paths and heights, and that is why I like cities better. If I am to take anxiety seriously, and treat it seriously now, I should structure in time spent in less claustrophobic environments. I should stop considering this a luxury or a guilty pleasure.

Most fundamentally I do not like to be needled or imposed upon, manipulated, pushed, or told to rush. It is a separate issue that I do not really need exhortation; the key issue is that the imposition, the needling, the poking, the attempts to distract and disorient, are all ancient. I used to have this happen to me all day and have to remain calm, because my mother was ill and my brother was younger, and I was still small and could not stop them from taunting me, and my mother would advise that the more imperturbable I could be, the sooner they would stop. So I am imperturbable, but it is also a fact that I can still look imperturbable when I am in fact at a breaking point.

I don’t actually disagree with Boice at all, it is just that I always worked that way. When I was over 30, people discovered Boice and started lecturing condescendingly at me about him, and my anger at them about that is unabated. I had a project I disagreed with, and I wanted to use Boicean time to work with that. But these new converts said, do not question what you are asked to say, just say it and reap the rewards of having said it. It was I, and not they, who knew how to write.

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Slowly and with lots of sleep

I am now able to do some work I had thought impossible because I got lots of sleep and I am working slowly–or, at the speed I need to work.

The reason I have always wanted to leave academia is that we are supposed to work very quickly, do a poor job (anything else is “perfectionism”), get up before we are rested, schedule everything in a rigid way, never meditate and not “waste” a minute.

If I had never been lectured at about the need to use timers and alarm clocks, I would never have hated academia. If I had received that lecture while still a student, I would have quit.

The reason I hate the lecture so much is that it is so belittling. People imagine one has never had to be efficient before.

Axé. 

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Notes on language and power

This is important for my languishing article. It is hard to manage because it is about language, but wants to be about neoliberalism and educational policy. If I keep remembering it is about language, I may be able to finish it.

Axé.

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