Should Graduate Students Become Entrepreneurs?

An article in Chronicle of Higher Ed suggests that in order to aspire to tenure-track positions, graduate students need to become entrepreneurs.

I find the idea very disturbing. As much as I respect people who possess entrepreneurial spirit and are talented in this area, I thought the whole point of choosing a career in academia was to be in an environment where you don’t have to be an entrepreneur. If I wanted to be in sales or marketing, I would have done just that and probably ended up making a lot more money than I do at this point. However, I chose the life of intellectual contemplation, research, and teaching. I don’t want to sell anything to anybody, not because I think there is anything wrong with selling but simply because I think that there should be some form of balance in each society. For every group of people that sells stuff, there should be a group that doesn’t.

I have no interest in approaching Google with business ideas, taking courses in statistical methods, or learn computer programming, as the author of the article suggests. I especially don’t want to do any of these things if they will take time away from my engagement with my own field. I also feel no shame when I confess that, in all probability, I will suck something fierce at these endeavors. Just like talented programmers, business people and statisticians will probably bomb at creating literary criticism and teaching Spanish.

When I worked as a Visiting Professor at a university of great renown, I had an opportunity to observe a tenure-track colleague in a contingent field who dedicated her every free moment to aggressive networking. I don’t think I ever saw her alone or with other tenure-track people. She was always in the company of higher-ups. I’d often see her interrupt conversations with students and colleagues to dash across the street towards a senior faculty member and administrator. She had an actual database of useful people she already met and had yet to meet. In terms of networking, this academic was a pro. When the tenure review came by, though, she did not have a single publication to offer. And there was nothing that any connections she had been able to develop could do to offset that.

What annoys me especially in this article is the suggestion that if graduate students embrace entrepreneurial values, this will somehow serve public good. It isn’t like we see many exhortations for business people to improve themselves intellectually and pick up a book on philosophy or literary criticism every once in a while, even though that would bring more visible benefits to society than academics who start trying to sell, market, and network.

Academia has already suffered a lot of damage because of the efforts to apply business mentality to running universities. It is a sad testament to how pervasive this push to transform colleges into businesses has been if a graduate student in English Literature writes an article for Chronicle of Higher Ed trying to sell entrepreneurship to academics.

Should Morbidly Obese Children Be Removed From Their Parents?

Whenever the impotent social services wake up in this country and do something to save children who are getting abused by their horrible parents, there is always a bunch of idiots who start screeching that the parents’ rights to abuse their kids should be protected at all costs. Here is a recent case in point:

An 8-year-old Cleveland Heights boy was taken from his family and placed in foster care last month after county case workers said his mother wasn’t doing enough to control his weight.

At more than 200 pounds, the third-grader is considered severely obese and at risk for developing such diseases as diabetes and hypertension.

What I find mind-boggling is that this case immediately provoked a very weird discussion whether this child was in imminent danger. The main argument for leaving him with his parents was that he hasn’t developed hypertension and diabetes yet. As if these were the worst things this poor kid could suffer from. We are not talking about an extra few pounds. The weight of 200+ on an 8-year-old doesn’t just happen because of a few pizza slices here and there. There must be some severe psychological trauma going on for the kid to get to this point. And that needs to be investigated and stopped.

Husbands and Video Games

I know that dumping on people who enjoy playing video games and branding them as immature, useless slobs is fashionable, but this is really going too far:

A Utah woman became so annoyed by her husband’s addiction to video games that she put him up for sale on Craigslist. Kyle Baddley, 22, spent so much time playing the recently released “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3″ that wife, Alyse, warned her mother-in-law: “I’m going to sell your son on Craigslist.” The 21-year-old soon made good on the threat, according to ABC News, by posting a classified ad on her local version of the website. “I am selling my 22-year-old husband. He enjoys eating and playing video games all day. Easy to maintain, just feed and water every 3-5 hours,” her post on the Logan, Utah, Craigslist site read. Kyle Baddley’s future home “must have Internet and space for gaming,” the ad continues. “If acceptable replacement is offered will trade.” . . .

Kyle Baddley’s father Scott said his son has since cut down on his “Modern Warfare” time and was planning a Thanksgiving trip to Florida with his wife.

Contrary to popular wisdom, people who play video games are the opposite of immature. Video games are a powerful compensatory technique for people in stressful situations. Those who play video games engage in psychological hygiene that allows them to release their anxieties and frustrations onto a game instead of onto their family members.

The wife in this situation is the immature person because she hasn’t learnede to cope with her frustrations in a productive way and decided to ridicule and shame her husband publicly instead. This kind of tells me exactly what it is he is escaping from through his gaming.

Tolerating Barbarity

I just read a post that really traumatized me:

She came to my office yesterday and I ended up talking to her for more than an hour, missing the class I was supposed to be teaching, because she started using expressions likemaybe I should just end it all when talking about her anger and frustration and rage at feeling so utterly helpless in her situation. When I asked her what she meant, she said she was thinking of just surrendering to her parents and doing what they want her to do, that maybe marriage–any marriage, to any man–was really the only way she would ever get out from under her parents’, but mostly her father’s, rule. . .

She is the youngest child in her family and so finding a suitable husband is an important goal for her parents. Once they do so, they will have fulfilled one of their primary obligations as parents to their daughters and, in fact, my student is not entirely opposed to the idea of marrying a man her parents find for her. She just wants him to be someone she feels compatible with, someone in whom she can find something that attracts her; but the men they bring for her to meet, while they are well established and could take good care of her, in the way that “good care” is defined in her culture, they have all been, she says, not only boring, but really, really (to her taste) ugly. What she wants is the freedom to choose her own husband.

I wouldn’t engage in such a conversation with any of my students because I don’t think it’s appropriate. I’d direct them to a counselor or a therapist and remind them that I’m neither.

However, here, on my blog, I can express what I think about this. My advice to anybody who finds themselves in this kind of situation is to tell your parents to stuff it and to bugger out of your life immediately. They are horrible people who hate you and who want to cannibalize your life. All the blathering about culture and religion is a sham aimed at concealing how much they abhor and detest their own child. And anybody who “tolerantly” dances around such a terrifying story is nothing but a coward.

Slavoj Žižek reminds us where this condescending acceptance of barbarity is likely to lead us:

What lurks at the horizon. . . is the nightmarish prospect of a society regulated by a perverse pact between religious fundamentalists and the politically correct preachers of tolerance and respect for the other’s beliefs: a society immobilised by the concern for not hurting the other, no matter how cruel and superstitious this other is.

The author of the post, of course, chickened out and instead of speaking to the woman in question honestly, dished out to her a set of quasi-tolerant platitudes whose uselessness he recognizes perfectly well:

I respect her desire to find a solution that somehow harmonizes with her parents’ (and community’s) religious and cultural expectations, while allowing her the freedom she wants. (Whether or not that is possible, of course, is a whole other question.)

It’s easy to dismiss people in pain by telling them that they should “somehow harmonize” the patriarchal needs of their families to dispose of their lives as if they were cattle with their own desire to reclaim the right to their existence. It must be very comforting to believe, as the post’s author does, that taking a Women’s Studies course will help the woman in question to do that. The condescension implicit in such a suggestion is truly shocking, though.

This situation has absolutely nothing to do with cultures and religions. Every culture has parents who consume their children’s lives. (There are many more posts on this blog that describe the same kind of devouring parents in the US and Canada. I can also offer a list of examples from here to the Moon of similar situations arising in my Eastern European culture.) The only reason why the post’s author fails to see that there is nothing culture-specific about this situation is his pseudo-Liberal need to condescend to people who come from other countries.

The only good thing about the post I quoted is a response from a reader called Josef:

Parents who think they should be able to choose their children’s spouses/careers/education are evil beings who do not deserve children, and that’s what I would have told her.

Hear, hear, Josef! I only wish there were more people who could respond to such situations without resorting to the verbiage of “privilege,” “multi-culturalism,” “ethnocentrism,” etc. Sadly, this is what most of the participants on that thread did. They were obviously driven by fear of hurting some vile jerk by having an honest and strong reaction to barbarity that conceals itself under the mantle of cultural difference.

Danny’s Gender Symmetry Table

The brilliant Danny of Danny’s Corner has created this great gender symmetry table:

This is just a small part of it. You can find the entire table here.

This is the kind of feminism I’m interested in.

Guilty of Ageism

To my horror, I discovered that I have ageist tendencies. The new Chair of our department is very knowledgeable about technology. This was one of the reasons we chose him, which I know very well since I was on the search committee. He is also significantly older than I am. Which makes sense, since he is a Chair and I’m a junior faculty member.

Yesterday, I came into the Chair’s office and found him listening to the radio on his computer.

“Look!” he said. “This is a radio station from my home town in Brazil.”

“This is cool,” I responded. “And I was just listening to a radio station from my native city in Ukraine in my office.”

“Really? That’s great! Do you also listen to the radio on your office computer?” the Chair asked.

“No,” I said and took out of my bag my Kindle Fire in its new red cover. “I listen to the radio on this thing.”

“Oh, what is it?” the Chair asked.

And here I started behaving like an idiot.

“It’s a Kindle,” I said. “A Kindle is . . . a thing that allows you to perform a variety of tasks. You can read books, edit documents. . .”

“Yes, I know what a Kindle is,” the Chair responded in a kind voice. “Is it a Kindle Fire? Can I have a look?”

I should have stopped right there but for some reason I decided to continue on my jerkward journey.

“A Kindle is an alternative to an iPad,” I informed the Chair. “And an iPad is . . . well, a thing that allows you to perform a variety of tasks. . .”

“I am aware of what an iPad is,” the Chair said, looking a little scared.

Of course, he is aware of what an iPad is since all the faculty members at my university receive endless emails from our bookstore extolling the virtues of the iPad. Also, he probably knows more about technology than I do.

Now I will have to shut up and bear it if my students inform me that “a cell phone is a thing that allows you to make phone calls.” Ageism carries its own punishment because it always ends up castigating those guilty of it.

Unfortunately

When you get an email from a journal where you submitted an article, you always skim it looking for the word “unfortunately.” Seasoned academic know that the rejections always state, “Unfortunately, we will not be able to accept your article for publication.”

So today I received an email from one of the journals where I had submitted an article and it started with the dreaded “unfortunately.”

“Well, thank you very much for putting me in a vile mood at the end of the semester,” I thought.

As I kept skimming the email, though, I couldn’t find the word “rejected.” It turned out that the unfortunate event the publishers referred to was that they had taken so long to confirm the receipt of the article.

Of course, I felt relieved that the unfortunately wasn’t as unfortunate as I feared.

Two hours later, I received an email from another journal where I had submitted an article. Once again, I skimmed it and saw the dreaded word yet again.

“I guess I’m destined for a rejection today,” I thought despondently.

Then, however, I saw a phrase that makes every academic’s heart leap with joy, “with minor revisions.” The article was accepted and the “unfortunately” this time referred to the fact that the journal wasn’t going to be able to publish it in the next issue but only in the one after that.

Dear journal editors, try to be careful with the word “unfortunately” because you might start causing heart attacks to people.

How Copyright Laws Killed Leo Tolstoy

Leo Tolstoy’s intellectual journey brought him to a realization that works of art and ideas should not be privately owned. Tolstoy didn’t want to make anybody believe what he did. All he wanted was to share his own work with the world.

In the last three decades of the writer’s long life, he was driven by a single powerful wish. Tolstoy wanted to ensure that after his death, everybody who wanted to read his books could do so for free. He felt that most of the people in tsarist Russia who really needed to have access to his ideas might be too poor to buy the books. Time and again, Tolstoy expressed his wish to have the entirety of his creative production made available to the world. He published articles and official statements to this effect, he begged his family members and friends to respect his wishes and make this possible, he wrote several wills making this desire of his very explicit, and he filled several volumes of his diaries with worries as to whether he would be able to make the gift of his art to the world.

The copyright laws of the Russian Empire, however, made Tolstoy’s dream impossible. There was simply no provision among them that would allow people to put the fruits of their intellectual and creative labor into open access. Tolstoy’s lawyers told the writer that only an individual or a group of specific individuals could inherit his works.

The writer’s family and friends had no respect for Tolstoy’s ideas. Or they didn’t have enough of it to renounce the huge profits that ownership of the rights to his collected works would bring. Tolstoy spent the last years of his life feeling torn apart by his relatives and acquaintances who bickered and schemed for the right to inherit his work. At that point, Tolstoy felt horrified by the idea of possessing any private property. Thirty years before he died, he transferred all of his money and land to his wife and children. However, the idea that readers would be deprived of reading his books so that his dissolute and useless sons would be able to booze their way into the grave was intolerable to the writer. In vain did he consult lawyers and beg the authorities to allow him to dispose of his creative legacy the way he wanted to.

Eventually, the screaming matches between the hopeful heirs became so impossible for the ailing old man to stand that Tolstoy ran away from home. He felt that even one more day of listening to endless arguments about copyright laws and inheritances would drive him mad. All the writer wanted was to dedicate the last months of his life to peaceful contemplation of his journey towards God. This wasn’t meant to be. Ten days after running away from home, Tolstoy died.

The bickering over the rights to his work continued for decades after that.

Clarissa Meets Che

After we spent over an hour discussing Che Guevara’s life and his assassination by the CIA in 1967, I asked students if they had any questions.

“You told us about how you listened to Fidel Castro’s speeches in Cuba,” one of the students said. “Did you ever meet Che? Or hear him speak?”

Nobody laughed.

I’ve spent the past 15 minutes staring at myself in the mirror, trying to determine whether I really look that ancient or if this is simply a bad day for me.

Well, at least nobody asked me about my experiences during World War I.

Don’t Mess With Soviet Women!

What people don’t get is that they can’t just come to a person’s blog, skim a few posts, insult their professionalism, abuse the people they work with, and expect to be treated nicely in response. It is especially ludicrous to attack a Soviet woman and to expect not to be attacked in return.

We, the women who were born in the Soviet Union, are very powerful and aggressive. You try to bully us, and we will bully you right back in ways you are not likely to forget any time soon. Don’t expect a Soviet woman to crawl into a corner and feel all sad after she is insulted. If anybody is likely to sit there and cry in this situation, it’s the offender.

So if you want to offend people with impunity, you alighted on the wrong blog. Don’t say you haven’t been warned.