Wednesday, February 09, 2011

On dialogue in the Department

I promised a whole host of posts a few days ago, and I promise, some of them are coming, but I write today with a concern that is both pressing and philosophical: How does dialogue occur within an academic department. Ours is one that, while not undergoing any kind of full-scale transformation, is going through some changes that need to be hashed out, question involving teaching load, course caps, tenure requirements, and faculty hiring directions.

We're a comparatively large (about 40 TT faculty) department that is remarkably collegial, though this seems facilitated largely by neglect rather than loads of outright sociable warmth. What this tends to mean is that we are free of factions, generally, but when contentious issues do come up, we are out of practice in actually hammering them out, and so those issues either get decided for us, or we decide them somewhat blindly.

Certainly email listservs might be a component of good communication, but ours is largely unused for discussion (I think people are too afraid of flame wars). And our monthly faculty meetings are usually a hurried ninety minutes, in which everybody says their piece, nobody listens, and after we get a little itchy about sitting in that room. we all go back to our offices and vote however we were going to in the first place.

In my ideal world, we'd be better at discussing our own best interests, and actually deliberating over issues. The upshot of dialogue should be that nothing gets railroaded through, but neither does warring factionalism keep us at a stalemate, or worse.

I know that such utopian departments aren't possible, for as much as we like to think of ourselves as enlightened socratic bodies in a protype democracy, truth is, we're as petty and venal and contentious as any group of self-interested humans.

But still: dialogue as a goal. How do departments facilitate it well? how do individuals within departments (say, newly tenured faculty who have little to no administrative responsibility) facilitate it? Please: what works best in your department? what is a disaster?

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Trade Big Ben

Dear Mr. Rooney,

My first memories of watching football are with my grandfather, an inspector for Koppers up to his death in the mid 1980s. For him, the team wasn't just a great football team, or even a team from a great city, but a team that represented something great about America, something about hard work, and grit, forging something great out of something humble.

And in true family fashion, I rooted for the Steelers when Franco Harris got too old to hit the hole. I rooted for the Steelers when Mark Malone trotted off the field smiling after an interception. And when Kordell Stewart couldn't make a smart play if his life depended on it. I still have the black-and-gold striped scarf I wore to school during the long ignominious stretch of mediocrity, and the drive-for-five Christmas ornament that hung on my family's tree until just five years ago.

My kids, then three, watched the kickoff against the Seahawks with their grandmother, herself a die hard fan, and then we all watched again three years later against the Cardinals. I come from a long line of Steelers fans, and I have never ever had a single compunction about waving my terrible towel.

Until this year. Tonight, as the Steelers lost a good football game, I rooted for the team, but not its quarterback.

Last season, my son had a number 7 jersey that he loved. I couldn't let him wear it anymore. I had to explain to him that while Big Ben is a good quarterback, it turns out that he's not really a very good man. I cringed every time I saw another boy wearing one this season. I even asked one fellow parent whether he felt comfortable knowing his son was rooting for someone who likely assaulted women. He said he didn't. Let Ben go.

I know Ben Roethlisberger was never convicted of a crime, but two allegations of rape in such a short period of time doesn't look good. You let Plaxico Burress go for being trouble. You let Santonio Holmes go for being trouble. Who knows who else has been sent packing for being a distraction, for not living up to the team's standards. Let Ben go.

I could make an argument that you've already gotten the best out of Roethlisberger--that his value was always inflated by the great team around him (look at the 3-1 record at the start of this season with guys who couldn't start for anyone else). I could make an argument that you could actually get his value in a trade for, say, offensive linemen, or defensive backs, or draft picks, or really, a mediocre quarterback who doesn't assault women. Let Ben go.

Frankly, I wasn't sad when the Packers won tonight. They're a good team, built and run not unlike the team I've grown up loving. What I was sad about was that I normally would have watched that game in passionate agony--that a game like this should have brought out every impulse to pace and shout and grind my teeth and jump (just like in 2009). But my heart wasn't in it. I love this team, but I hate its quarterback. Let Ben go.

Mr. Rooney, my position on this is unwavering. Every year that Ben plays for the Steelers will be a year that you ask me to give up on an important part of my family's heritage. Because you will be asking me to root for a man who has done reprehensible things and gotten away scot-free. Because you are asking me to let my kids pull for his success. Because you are asking me to believe that the Steelers are willing to look the other way just this once. My plea to you, sir, is simple. Let Ben go. Trade Big Ben.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

RBOC: Newsy

So, yeah. There's a lot to report. I want to write about fifteen posts, but for the moment I have to bullet everything, because It would take about week of constant typing to get everything I want to say on the screen.

  • Over the weekend, I saw Anna Deavere Smith's new performance, Let me Down Easy at Arena Stage. It'll probably figure prominently in one of the chapters on the next book project, and in many ways it was affecting in the ways that Smith's performances often are, but it was also a bit of an unwieldy mess that didn't grapple with some of the representational problems she's taken on more successfully in the past (specifically: performing different kinds of bodily identities--but race signifies differently that disability and pain, which she has trouble with here). I hope to post more soon, but for now: I liked it, I would recommend it, and I have a lot to say about it.
  • Yesterday I got somewhat more official (although perhaps not final?) confirmation of my sabbatical for Spring 2012. Perhaps I will spend it writing about bullet point #1.
  • This morning, I got my tenure recommendation letter form the department. Which recommended me for tenure. It's not the last stop in the process, but it's the most important one, and the most substantive in terms of feedback. Particularly wonderful--and I mean really wonderful--was reading the digested reports from the external reviewers, some of whom said nicer things about my work than I actually believe, even at my least modest. I know that these are crafted rhetorically, but that these reviewers would choose to single out some of the things that I didn't think I did very well (i.e. prose--Thanks Willow!) has had me grinning all day long. I want to write about this much more, and in a more thoughtful way, not just in the "Yay! I rawk!" way I am now.
  • This afternoon, I got an email from the press telling me that reader's reports are due in three weeks. This in response to a query I made about a month ago, and which I since was able to follow up on at MLA. Point is, this particular update then seemed kind of random, and so I assume it means that one of them has already come in, but I don't know how to read those particular tea leaves.
  • The itinerary for London Theatre Tour came in today (quite belatedly). But at least I have confirmed the plays that I've already been teaching for the last three weeks.
Frankly, I've been waiting for a lot to happen these last few weeks. A few things have not come to fruition. And while all this stuff is happened, I have been reluctant to talk about others, namely Willow's long employment (now just underemployment, but still), which will likely hang over our heads for a while longer. I'm still ambivalent about how to blog about all of that, but there are number of issues there germane to the substance of this blog and to academia more broadly, which I am trying to parse out. Perhaps I will find more time to post about those things in ways consistent with my online persona here, perhaps not. In the meantime, there's plenty going on worth celebrating, so I'll start with, I think.