Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Abernathy from Albuquerque: Shouldn't there be 299 Spartans behind me?

I'm standing at a gate, and the 299 guys behind me are AWOL.  Every meeting is about increasing revenue, treating students like customers, modernizing the library (that means getting rid of books), making sure our research is relevant to students (I study renaissance French poets), and streamlining curriculum (that means getting rid of traditional programs in favor of online masturbation -- uh, learning). 

I try not to be nuts or anything but sometimes I feel like this is the leading edge of a new dark age, and I'm standing on it going "kor, blimey, looks dreadful down there, wot?" 

I'm no enemy of technology.  Writing is awesome.  Fire's cool.  I like medicine.  Shit, the fermentation of grain and fruit -- thumbs way the hell up for that one, yo.  But fuck me at some point the little shits have got to put the pad of their little finger under a word and say "Huh" and pick up an alphabetical list of words and look it up and say "oh, I see," and move that fat little finger six characters forward and go "huh" and do it all again. 

If this is just a four year resort, well, fuck that.  I'm not interested in being a barista at an academic coffee shop. 

Sadly, I have no other job experience.  So here I am.  A phalanx of one. 

19 comments:

  1. Hate the situation: love the writing!

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  2. Barista at an academic coffee shop...sums up my feelings perfectly!

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    1. Indeed. For me, too, these are the lines that ring most true:

      If this is just a four year resort, well, fuck that. I'm not interested in being a barista at an academic coffee shop.

      And I don't think it's even the students (or at least mostly the students) that make this feeling rise up in me, more than occasionally. It's the administrators (again, not all of them) with edifice complexes, and the "public/private partnerships" that result in logos all over everything, and the shiny new dining halls and student dorm apartments fancier by far than my own apartment and the picture-windowed gym complexes with rows and rows of treadmills and exercise bikes. The interesting thing is that a number of my students complain about all the new buildings as well. They (especially the ones who live off campus), would rather have lower tuition (and convenient parking; they always want parking). They also want/need efficient, comfortable work spaces on campus, which means libraries (with or without books) that function enough like traditional libraries to keep them from being confused with primarily social spaces like the student center. I don't think they're averse to being able to buy a cup of coffee in the library (how many of us smuggled in thermoses, or kept those little immersible heaters hidden in our carrels, if we were lucky enough to have private carrels?), but mostly they want well-lighted, quiet study spaces, and soundproof small-group meeting spaces, and plenty of terminals that allow them to access electronic resources. Some couches and comfortable chairs where they can sit with their laptops are also welcome, I'm sure, judging from use, but apparently it's the private and small-group study spaces that our students really want, to the point that they're crowded, with multiple signs reminding everybody how to behave, and complicated sign-up systems for the rooms.

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    1. Indeed. There's something in the contrast of the subject's formal dress, beard, glasses perched just so on the nose (no doubt to access the right spot on the progressive lenses) and air of concentration with the frustration expressed by the word emerging on the blackboard that just works.

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  4. You're right, unless there is a backlash soon, it will be a new dark age, where all of us either are or serve the google overlords in some fashion. I'm lucky to be at a large place where all the admins care about are magazine ratings, and except for the occasional drive to try to fire me (tenure and all) leave me alone. I am so looking forward to retirement, though. Other than writing, the other thing I'm doing is collecting old math books. I have some real classics around me; it makes me feel like an "academic prepper", getting ready for the google apocalypse. I'll be in my cave with the real knowledge of the ages.

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  5. You're not alone. In fact, I'd say this is the one place you can be among the hundreds of others who feel as you do: beleaguered, befuddled, and be-shat upon.

    As my system takes hit after hit, year after year, we all have a general sense of being rats on a rapidly sinking ship, a ship that hit an iceberg called negative public opinion. This country has always had a strong anti-intellectual strain (one that simultaneously holds boot-strapping in high regard) and Idiot America (thank you, Charlie Pierce) is in full swing. I have maintained for a while now that Mike Judge is a Time Lord, and that his film Idiocracy was meant as a warning. It's a warning no one is heeding but us. "And we will all go down together..."

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    1. And now I have to go look up Idiocracy (Time Lord I understand, even though I haven't seen the show; some things work their way into the culture).

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    2. Oh, Cassandra, Idiocracy was brilliant and ahead of its time. It's too hard to watch it now without wincing. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. Have a box of tissues handy.

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  6. And they don't even have to look in an actual BOOK to look words up anymore. How hard does it get? I may not make up much of a phalanx, but I'm behind you.

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  7. I get this, but what I don't get is the number of my colleagues who seem to think that giving students iPads and opening a student lounge in the library are wonderful notions. I actually suggested that we would be better off creating quiet spaces for discussion in the library rather than a coffee shop (a literal coffee shop -- the third one on campus, in fact, and they're all Starbucks. I am not kidding.) The colleague I said it to said "Do you really think students are going to gather and talk about ideas in their classes on their own time?" "Yes, asshole, I do," I didn't say.

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    1. Your library has quiet areas?

      While I was teaching, I went on leave to fulfill my Ph. D. residency requirements. When I left, the library at my institution was generally quiet and people went there to study.

      When I came back, the place was bedlam. I asked some of the librarians about what was going on. I was told that it was now policy to let the kiddies behave however they liked. (Students were customers, you know.) If, however, someone wanted to have a quiet area to work or study, they were exiled to some remote corner.

      I don't know if that had spread to my alma mater, but it wouldn't surprise me if it has. Since I finished my Ph. D., that place had taken on a look that was somewhere between the high school I graduated from over 40 years ago and any number of local shopping malls.

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    2. Our library has one designated quiet section on one floor. I stopped by last week to use one of the computers, and the entire time I was there I heard two library workers laughing and carrying on a conversation while shuttling carts of returned books to and fro. I've given up on expecting quiet anywhere.

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    3. Matilda:

      I noticed something similar in a nearby branch of the local public library several years ago. When I was there one weekday morning, somebody was hosting a session with a group of toddlers. The kiddies joyously expressed their "youthful exuberance" and, thereby, became an unwanted distraction for me. I had to make sure I was in a library and not on the set of "Romper Room".

      I guess the days of being shushed by librarians if one made even the slightest noise are a thing of the past.

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    4. Administrators seem to think like restauranteurs these days: noise=buzz=good (supposedly the kids like it noisy, but I'm not so sure. But noisy places probably look better in pictures to be used in promotional literature/web spaces -- more interaction).

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    5. CC:

      You're probably right there. Superficiality was my institution's main "product".

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  8. I had this exact same discussion about the dictionary today. So many words, and none like, impossible. "Liminal" and "sinuous." Not a single student in the entire group bothered. I gave them the whole thing too: back when I was a student, you actually had to go to the dictionary and flip through it. Now on a kindle, you just press down on the word and the definition pops up. Sometimes I think they are so damn lazy, but sometimes I think that its the same laziness in different ways.

    The root cause is the lack of curiosity. Even if I didn't care about the class, I would often just be curious enough to bother grasping the basics.

    Anyway, your description of students looking in the dictionary... priceless...

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    1. I remember I once used a word in a lecture which none of the students understood. Most of them had blank looks on their faces. Someone finally asked how to spell it and what it meant. My response was to tell that person to look it up in a dictionary. The answer I got was: "How can I find it in the dictionary if I don't know how to spell it?"

      With logic like that, it's a wonder I didn't develop a drinking habit while I was teaching.

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