May 18th, 2011
The University of Denver has become a punchline among the young people who chat around our dinner table. ("For every student, there's a different reason to love DU." But all of them love the fact that they will never see the library.)
DU has never been a very good school. But now it has given up any pretense of academic respectability. Imagine a university without a library. Well, no need to imagine. DU is ditching its library.
As I mentioned earlier, the University of Denver plans to get rid of its library in favor of a study hall with a cafe and virtually no books. The old library building will become the "Academic Commons."
I was happy to see a demonstration against this idiotic idea today. The demonstrators I chatted with are not rabble rousers. They were (tragically) sincere. They really thought that their demonstration might make a difference. Hearing a couple of them talk made me want to immediately go take over the provost's office just to vindicate their (misplaced) faith that people who speak truth to power prevail.
I have yet to hear anyone speak in favor of the trustee's plan, but the trustees apparently didn't ask the faculty for its opinion. (I'm happy to be corrected on that point, but I think it was presented as done deal. Why would the faculty care about the university's library?) Or the students. Or the librarians. Or the staff. They may have asked fellow trustee Pat Bowlen.
(Where is John Gilbert's daughter when you need her? Margot Gilbert is a trustee but apparently useless on this issue.)
Perhaps the trustees are gambling that if you have a good hockey team, no one will care about the education or research part.
Are people really that stupid? Maybe.
May 12th, 2011
I was shocked that David W. Rasmussen, dean of the Florida State's College of Social Sciences, would sell his sister (sorry, faculty positions at his college) to a Koch foundation. (And for so little! I suppose if one is a free market maniac, the $1.5 million price tag tells us what Rasmussen's school is worth.)
According to the Times, the division's programs are “designed to promote client objectives and meet the needs of target teachers, students, and parents” and “make a difference by influencing attitudes and behaviors.”
Apparently the American Coal Foundation paid Scholastic to develop a unit about coal called "The United States of Energy". From the NYTimes article:
“ ‘The United States of Energy’ is designed to paste a smiley face on the dirtiest form of energy in the world,” said Bill Bigelow, an editor of Rethinking Schools magazine. “These materials teach children only the story the coal industry has paid Scholastic to tell.”
. . .
What they do not mention are the negative effects of mining and burning coal: the removal of Appalachian mountaintops; the release of sulfur dioxide, mercury and arsenic; the toxic wastes; the mining accidents; the lung disease.
“The curriculum pretends that it’s going to talk about the advantages and disadvantages of different energy choices, to align with national learning standards, but it doesn’t,” Mr. Bigelow said.
“The fact that coal is the major source of greenhouse gases in the United States is entirely left out,” he said. “There’s no hint that coal has any disadvantages.”
In a statement, Ben Schreiber, a climate and energy tax analyst at Friends of the Earth, called the curriculum “the worst kind of corporate brainwashing.”
According to an article by Alma Hale Paty, the executive director of the American Coal Foundation, and posted on Coalblog, “The United States of Energy” went to 66,000 fourth-grade teachers in 2009.
May 11th, 2011
Unbelievable. From the St. Petersburg Times:
A foundation bankrolled by Libertarian businessman Charles G. Koch has pledged $1.5 million for positions in Florida State University's economics department. In return, his representatives get to screen and sign off on any hires for a new program promoting "political economy and free enterprise."
. . . The power of university faculty and officials to choose professors without outside interference is considered a hallmark of academic freedom.
Under the agreement with the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, however, faculty only retain the illusion of control. The contract specifies that an advisory committee appointed by Koch decides which candidates should be considered. The foundation can also withdraw its funding if it's not happy with the faculty's choice or if the hires don't meet "objectives" set by Koch during annual evaluations.
David W. Rasmussen, dean of the College of Social Sciences, defended the deal, initiated by an FSU graduate working for Koch. During the first round of hiring in 2009, Koch rejected nearly 60 percent of the faculty's suggestions . . . .
Most universities, including the University of Florida, have policies that strictly limit donors' influence over the use of their gifts. Yale University once returned $20 million when the donor demanded veto power over appointments, saying such control was "unheard of."
Rich, selfish assholes run everything, and it's good for all of us.
The contract is here [pdf].
April 20th, 2011
Can you call yourself a university if you don't have a library?
University of Denver is replacing its research library with an "Academic Commons." The university trustees think the University library has too many books. (The trustees include academic luminaries like Pat Bowlen, owner of the Broncos.)
Which books will the Academic Commons hold?
[W]e are proposing to have the on-campus collection include books published after 2002 as well as teaching material suggested by very high use (5 or more uses), recent use for courses, or by recommendation of faculty. I cautiously note that we won't have room for all faculty proposals, especially in the humanities and social sciences, but that we will do our best to build a sensible set of high use and recently published resources.
Why do we need books when we have Wikipedia and Yahoo!? Nothing important happened before 2002 anyway.
June 12th, 2009
Earlier this week, I wrote about a NYTimes article by Jonathan Glater entitled "College in Need Closes a Door to Needy Students."
The gist of the article is that, because of the recession, Reed College dropped more than 100 needy students from its next class and gave their places to wealthy students who Reed wouldn't otherwise admit.
Glatner's article gives the impression that this was a disturbing change for Reed:
The whole idea of excluding a student simply because of money clashed with the college’s ideals, Leslie Limper, the aid director, acknowledged. “None of us are very happy,” she said, adding that Reed did not strike anyone from its list last year and that never before had it needed to weed out so many worthy students. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m still doing this.”
I now think the article (and most of what I wrote based on it) is wrong, but I am not entirely sure. (I deleted my original post.)
October 29th, 2007
Stephen and Simon started playing what they called "The Wikipedia Game" a couple years ago.
Your opponent chooses some topic as a goal -- usually something unexpected like "frisbee" or "existentialism." You start at whatever page comes up when you click the random page link on Wikipedia's main page. (The link is in the left column.) Then you click on any link that's in the random article - category links, etc. are off-limits - click on any link in the new article, and the next new article, etc. until you reach the goal page. The fewer clicks, the better.
The video shows how the game is played. One fellow starts at "Newark Public Library" (which he calls "some town") and the other at "David Kreiner" ("some skier.") They both head for "Ice Cream Cake," illustrating the paths they take. (The drawing is great!)
The game is a marvelously justifiable way to waste time. After all, you ARE reading an encyclopedia - that must be edifying and laudable, right?
October 11th, 2006
LOVE IN THE CLASSROOM
—for my students
Afternoon. Across the garden, in Green Hall,
someone begins playing the old piano—
a spontaneous piece, amateurish and alive,
full of a simple, joyful melody.
The music floats among us in the classroom.
I stand in front of my students
telling them about sentence fragments.
I ask them to find the ten fragments
in the twenty-one-sentence paragraph on page forty-five.
. . .
I sit down on my desk to wait,
and it hits me from nowhere—a sudden
sweet, almost painful love for my students.
“Never mind,” I want to cry out.
“It doesn’t matter about fragments.
Finding them or not. Everything’s
a fragment and everything’s not a fragment.
Listen to the music, how fragmented,
how whole, how we can’t separate the music
from the sun falling on its knees on all the greenness,
from this movement, how this moment
contains all the fragments of yesterday
and everything we’ll ever know of tomorrow!”
Instead, I keep a coward’s silence.
The music stops abruptly:
they finish their work,
and we go through the right answers,
which is to say
we separate the fragments from the whole.
I have felt this way. Sometimes I just want to whoop aloud, grab my students by the shoulders, and shout, "It's not that important! Get out there and throw your arms around someone you love. Call your parents and say hello. Go bake bread. Be happy!"
But, "I keep a coward's silence." They wonder about my sanity enough.