A Hint to the Wise

After you have received the job offer

and signed the contract

and assumed your duties

and completed the first month of work

and received your first two paychecks

you can finally stop reciting your job talk every time you see a colleague.

Because I have to tell you, buddy, it’s getting really really old.

Why Are the Conservatives Anti-Census?

Northern Gaijin reports that the Conservatives both in the US and in Canada are waging a battle against the Statistical Abstract and the Census:

The right wing demagogues have won or should I say the Obama Whitehouse has capitulated and this is the last year for the Statistical Abstract of the United States as well as the American Census bureau having decided to shut six of its 12 regional centers at an eventual annual saving of $15 million to $18 million. . . This is similar to the situation in Canada where the Conservative government made the truncated version of the long census form voluntary.

What I don’t understand is why the Conservatives in both countries are so anti-census. Can anybody explain?

Men’s Rights Advocates Write Poetry

MRAs have been working hard to promote my blog lately, so I decided to do them a good turn and promote one of them who has written a poem. Yes, one of those poetically inclined MRAs, imagine that. The poem is so hilarious that I couldn’t conceal it from my readers. For those of you who are still not sure who MRAs are and why it is so much fun to ridicule them, here goes:

When the Feminists came for the Rapists,
I remained silent;
I was not a Rapist.

When they locked up the stalkers,
I remained silent;
I was not a stalker.

When they came for the Players,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Player.

When they came for the men who they got bored of,
I remained silent;
I wasn’t some one they were bored of yet.

When they came for me, the nice guy,
there was no one left to speak out.

Don’t tell me this isn’t priceless.

Here is the link to the site where I found the poem. But, please, don’t follow the link unless you suspect I wrote the poem myself. We don’t really want to give hits to these folks and promote their sites in this way, do we?

I found this link on this great, non-chauvinistic blog.

Ukrainian Secretary of National Security and Defense Plagiarizes From Steve Jobs

In a Ukrainian university, the way to get a good grade is to find several sources, copy paragraphs or pages from them, and hand the entire thing in. The way to get a bad grade is to develop your own argument. “Nobody cares about your ideas! Can’t you find a few authorities and copy them, like all normal students do?” my professors in Ukraine kept exclaiming.

This is why I’m not surprised that Ukrainian Secretary of National Security and Defense, Raisa Bogatyreva, plagiarized a speech that Steve Jobs gave to the students at Stanford in 2005.

For centuries, any original thought coming from a Ukrainian was punished first by the officials of the Russian Empire and then by their Soviet heirs. The result is that now it is commonly accepted that parroting somebody else’s ideas – hopefully, as close to the original text as possible – is the best way to proceed. In political terms, the main issue that Ukraine has been trying to resolve for a long time now is whether to imitate the Russians and allow them to guide the country or whether it’s best to follow the lead of the Western Europeans. The possibility of looking for one’s own way of doing things never even gets mentioned.

I am not excusing Bogatyreva’s plagiarism, of course. I’m simply explaining what the consequences of eradicating original thinking in a country are. The case of a bureaucrat plagiarizing Steve Jobs’s speech sounds funny at first. It is a lot less entertaining, though, if you see it in terms of what it says about the future of a country whose population is 1,5 times greater than that of Canada.

Is Postmodernism Dead?

“Postmodernism is dead,” proclaims Edward Docx in his recent article. This obscure British author has spent a while in the category of “promising” writers but never delivered on his promise. His most recent novel, The Devil’s Garden, sounds as trite as its title promises it to be. It is pretty obvious at this point that the book is not going to be successful, so Docx is trying to attract attention to himself by declaring that postmodernism has given way to what he calls ” the Age of Authenticism.”

If I were even slightly likely to trust Docx’s judgment, I would be quite distraught right now. “Authenticity” is a term I abhor almost as much as I do the term “community.” The two are inextricably linked, as well. We are always expected to go back to our community in order to look for our authentic roots. Or practice authenticity in order to reconnect with our community. Or any variation thereof that is as vapid as it is annoying.

The good news is that there is no reason to rely upon this writer’s opinion. A person who is capable of writing the following passage is not a prophet capable of envisioning the future. He is simply a bad writer.

We desire to be redeemed from the grossness of our consumption, the sham of our attitudinising, the teeming insecurities on which social networking sites were founded and now feed. We want to become reacquainted with the spellbinding narrative of expertise. . . If we tune in carefully, we can detect this growing desire for authenticity all around us. We can see it in the specificity of the local food movement or the repeated use of the word “proper” on gastropub menus. We can hear it in the use of the word “legend” as applied to anyone who has actually achieved something in the real world. (The elevation of real life to myth!) We can recognise it in advertising campaigns such as for Jack Daniel’s, which ache to portray not rebellion but authenticity. We can identify it in the way brands are trying to hold on to, or take up, an interest in ethics, or in a particular ethos. A culture of care is advertised and celebrated and cherished. Values are important once more: the values that the artist puts into the making of an object as well as the values that the consumer takes out of the object. And all of these striven-for values are separate to the naked commercial value.

The sham of attitudinising?  The spellbinding narrative of expertise? Brands taking up an interest in ethics? A consumer who takes values out of the object? Advertising campaigns that ache to portray? The only thing that aches here is the language that has been tortured in a very cruel manner in this paragraph.

P.S. I just found David Ruccio’s analysis of the same article by Docx. I respect David Ruccio a lot but I kind of think my critique of the article is more fun to read. Wouldn’t you agree?

The Innovative University by Christensen and Eyring: A Review

There is a lot of talk nowadays about the purported crisis within the system of higher education in North America. Every Tom, Dick and Henrietta think they have a recipe that will immediately cure the academia of all its ills. The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education from the Inside Out by Christensen and Eyring is one of such attempts to offer a recipe for a cure. In reality, however, the book is more of a symptom of what is wrong with the system than anything else.

Altogether, the book offers a lot of long-winded sentences that state not just the obvious but the painfully obvious. It is, however, very short on substance. The only practical suggestions it makes for the improvement of the higher education system are extremely trivial and well-known to anybody. Moreover, the absolute majority of universities that I am familiar with have been putting these suggestions in practice for a while.

A significant chunk of the book (about 150 pages)is taken up by a very detailed recounting of the history of Harvard University. Since the history of Harvard can be found in a variety of other sources, I felt that its role in THE INNOVATIVE UNIVERSITY was that of padding. Overall, the original content of the book could be summarized in 3 or 4 sentences. The rest is just repetitive, tedious padding.

The things I mentioned, however, are not the worst part of the book. What is really annoying about it is the attempt to analyze the university as if it were a business. Students are referred to as student-customers. Christensen directly compares selling education to selling a box of cereal. And he pushes this “idea” as insistently as he does every other inane observation he makes. With a naivete that makes one feel vicarious embarrassment for him, this author almost exclaims on a variety of occasions, “This strategy works if you want to sell cereal. So it has to work when applied to the system of higher ed, too!”

If anything will end up destroying the American system of higher education – which, in my opinion, is without a doubt the best system of higher education in the world – it is this kind of attitude. Universities are not businesses. Their goal is not to sell the product at all costs. The university’s role in society is completely different. It makes no sense to try to run a business as if it were, say, a charitable organization. Or a household. Or a college. In the same way, it makes no sense to impose on the system of higher education rules and procedures that are alien to it. A much better title for this book would have been How to Destroy a University in Ten Months Or Less because this is precisely what will happen if the ridiculous suggestions of its authors are put into practice.

I’ve been working in the system of North American higher education for a little over ten years now. Every day, I see professors, lecturers, instructors, administrators and students who come together for the purposes of sharing, cultivating and advancing knowledge. And there is nothing more beautiful than a bunch of people brought together by their love of learning and their desire to disseminate their knowledge. However, some colleges have adopted the pernicious practice of bringing in very highly paid business managers to manage campuses. These people are often brilliant business leaders who are, at the same time, absolutely clueless about how to run a university. They begin to apply their knowledge of how to run a business to an environment that is completely different. The results are always disastrous. Even if such administrators manage to raise enrollments by moving most of the courses online and destroying the emphasis on research (which are Christensen’s and Eyring’s main suggestions in this book), the university soon ends up losing all prestige and starts being referred to both at home and abroad as a “diploma mill.”

In the opinion of these authors, it wouldn’t be a problem if most of our universities turned into places that churn out useless online courses and produce no research whatsoever. As long as the “student-customers” are happy with being able to buy a diploma while investing very little intellectual effort into acquiring it, everybody will be happy. As for research, we always have Harvard.

For those of us who believe that our students and our American scholarship deserves better, this is not a valid path.

Being Healthy Is Priceless

Nothing is better than waking up after the first good night of sleep you’ve had in over a week and not feel dazed or be in pain.

Once again, I want to mention that I’m very impressed by the US healthcare system on my second encounter with it. Yesterday, I went to a place called Express Care. It’s a little clinic for those who don’t have a regular doctor in the area and those who don’t want to go to the emergency room. These Express Care places are located in many little towns in the area, including mine. The one I went to is located right across the street from where I live. What was great about it was that I got to see a nurse and then a doctor immediately and didn’t have to wait at all. Paper-filling and signing was reduced to a minimum, which is important when you are in pain. And as you can see from yesterday’s late night’s posts and today’s optimistic tone of my writing, the medical professionals there really helped.

The best thing about the Express Care place, though, was that there were posters everywhere informing people that even if they had no medical insurance and couldn’t pay, they would still be helped. So if I arrived with no insurance card and no money, the doctors still wouldn’t have turned me away. “This is the law”, the posters said.

Does anybody know if this is part of Obama’s healthcare plan, or if the laws guaranteeing that urgent medical care will not be denied to those who can’t pay existed before Obama’s presidency?