What I’ve Been Reading

I haven’t been posting as much I would like–something that is, I hope, starting to change–but I have been reading, and so I thought I’d put up a list of the pieces that have interested me for one reason or another:

  • It Is What It Is, by my friend Cassandra, about her “round, high, and in your face [ass] — a brazen and rebellious personality that dares anyone, including me, to attempt to silence her.  She invites stares, welcomes gropes and revels in praise — she is not one to keep quiet.” Cassandra’s new to blogging, so if you have a chance, go over to LadyCaz and let her know what you think.
  • That Dreaded Skirt, also by Cassandra.
  • The Best Birth Control in the World is for Men: “The procedure called RISUG in India (reversible inhibition of sperm under guidance) takes about 15 minutes with a doctor, is effective after about three days, and lasts for 10 or more years.” But don’t look for it any time soon in the US, since it’s not a big money-maker for the drug companies.
  • Could This Male Contraceptive Pill Make A Vas Deferens In The Fight Against HIV?: “To cut right to the chase, it’s affectionately dubbed the “clean sheets” pill due to the fact that it inhibits release of any semen whatsoever…while still permitting the circular muscles to contract….”
  • Evaluating the Adjunct Impact: “Using large samples of community colleges, studies find that as colleges use more part timers, their students are less likely to graduate or transfer to four-year institutions. And another study finds that as part-time use goes up, institutional averages in class participation (for all faculty members) go down.”
  • What Adjunct Impact?: Cites studies that contradict the studies cited in the previous article.
  • Completion at What Price?: “[T]he debut report…takes on the “completion agenda” and its heavy emphasis on workforce development [at community colleges], a fixation that the report said threatens academic quality and student access, as well as social mobility.
  • The Disposable Professor Crisis: “[A]s growing numbers of institutions turn to contingent (or adjunct) faculty to cut costs, while keeping pay as low as possible for the support staff who keep campuses running[,] students suffer… [T]he number of available services are reduced, class sizes increase, and educators are less able to provide direct assistance and mentoring to the students they are there to teach.”
  • ‘Dancing Boys': A Tale of Sexual Exploitation: “The practice of wealthy or prominent Afghans exploiting underage boys as sexual partners who are often dressed up as women to dance at gatherings is on the rise in post-Taliban Afghanistan, according to Afghan human-rights researchers, Western officials and men who participate in the abuse.”
  • Poetry, Medium and Message: “Here is a question that has been confounding or even infuriating poets for eons. So what is your poem about?”
  • Curried Lamb and Barley Grain: A recipe I made recently that I really, really liked.
  • Cinderfellas: The Long Lost Fairy Tales: In these tales, “Cinderella is a woodcutter’s daughter who uses golden slippers to recover her beloved from beyond the moon and the sun.”
  • Adrienne Rich’s News in Verse: Katha Pollit on Adrienne Rich’s death.
  • Sexting Ice Breakers for English Grad Students: “Maybe we should consider using a rhetorical device; though, to be clear, I am not suggesting that we rely on that rhetorical device every time we cowrite a paper.”
  • Ten Reasons Not To Sleep with a Poet: “8. Like other kinds of men, he will never understand the anguish of carrying a phone that does not ring.  Unlike other kinds of men, he will seem to fall off the planet for weeks at a time, lost in a place—that goddamned place you know to be a space in his head and not an actual location.”
  • Cunt: The History of the C Word: “In fact, the origins of ‘cunt’ can be traced back to the Proto-Indo-European ‘cu’, one of the oldest word-sounds in recorded language. ‘Cu’ is an expression quintessentially associated with femininity, and forms the basis of ‘cow’, ‘queen’, and ‘cunt’. The c-word’s second most significant influence is the Latin term ‘cuneus’, meaning ‘wedge’. The Old Dutch ‘kunte’ provides the plosive final consonant.”
  • Women Publishers in Iran: Farkhondeh Hajizadeh: “The process of growing censorship has reached a point that even the concept of censor does not apply to it. In a time when we all seem to be living in glass houses and have nothing left to hide, such approaches to book publishing is synonymous to a return to the Middle Ages.”
  • Repeat After Me: A review of Language: The Cultural Tool by Daniel Everett, in which Everett claims to have found evidence to disprove the Chomskian theory of language universals.
  • Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?: A professor-bashing op-ed from the Washington Post that is nonetheless worth reading so that the rebuttals (here, here (the most balanced of them), here, here, here) will all make sense.
  • What Do Professors Do All Week?: Introductory post to a series in which one professor logged the time he spent on work-related activities during one seven-day week. It’s worth reading the entire series; the links are at the bottom of the post I am linking to here.
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15 Responses to What I’ve Been Reading

  1. 1
    Robert says:

    The WaPo link to the professors-suck editorial is broken. If you were a hard-working professor instead of a lazy slacker, you would already kmow that.

  2. “Damn,” he says, flogging himself with a barbed-wire wrapped chain, “I should have known; I should have known; I should have known!” Link fixed.

  3. 3
    Sebastian H says:

    I hate it when I see an undeserved dig at the pharma companies. (Deserved digs, and there are many, are a different story).

    If RISUG birth control really is the big hot thing suggested in that article, and if it fails to make it to the US, it won’t have much to do with big bad pharma companies.

    It won’t make it here because

    A) it isn’t safe. If it isn’t safe, the FDA won’t approve it and you won’t see it here. The FDA has an ultra-ridiculous idea of ‘safe’, so many drugs available elsewhere don’t show up here. But that is big government gone wrong, not the pharma company’s fault. OR:

    B) it will cost too much to prove that it is safe. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars to go through clinical trials. If it is true that this is a cheap procedure that pharma companies can’t make money off of (which seems dubious, as if one company went through the trials and were the only ones who could provide it under the patent period, they would be able to set a higher price for super convenient one time per ten years birth control) then *they* won’t pay the hundreds of millions of dollars to go through FDA approved trials. But you should blame the FDA for making it so expensive that no one will do it. Again, big government gone wrong. OR

    C) it is a medical device, so pharma companies don’t have much to do with it anyway, but medical device companies don’t want to pay the hundreds of millions of dollars to go through FDA trials OR

    D) it is a medical procedure, so doctors can do it, but they risk the loss of their license if it is experimental and non-safe, and they risk big lawsuits as well (especially in states that allow wrongful life statutes).

  4. 4
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    The “What do professors do” article was interesting, mostly for the manner in which the writer tries desperately (and does well–he’s an English prof, after all) to classify things as “work.”

    I’m trying to figure out how many hours I’d work a week if I used that formula. Reading the ABA magazine on the toilet? Work! Meeting with some other attorneys to do professional development in a bar? Work! Helping other lawyers on a listserv? Work! Thinking about the law? Work!

    Of course, that doesn’t often FEEL like work. And it doesn’t LOOK like work to anyone else, in large part due to the incredible inefficiency of whatever-the-fuck-of-feel-like-doing-that-minute multitasking. Because it’s not really work, of the type that people are talking about.

    I was particularly amused by his summary: “Academic labor doesn’t really break down into discreet parts. You think, write, edit, prepare for class, grade papers, where and when you find the time.” Seriously. The guy has a couple of classes. Most of his week is unscheduled. What is the problem with “finding the time?”

    Man, where do I get a job like that?

  5. Just wondering, G&W, did you read all seven days? And I mean that without snark. I wish he hadn’t fudged as much as he did in some spots and I agree that some things he counts as work are iffy even if you attribute them to the nature of the discipline. But my impression of the whole week was quite different than your response.

  6. 6
    Elusis says:

    I am a fan of the Gin and Tacos response to the “lazy professors” article.

    Personally, my university employer has admitted that they assign us a workload that they expect to take 55-60 hours per week. And that’s with basically zero workload credit for scholarship and professional development. Then they promise students things like “your papers will be graded within 72 hours of submission,” knowing that most of us have 100+ students… graduate students… so of course this is impossible to obtain. Such an arrangement has the very handy effect of making students angry at us so they rate us lower on our evals, and making us miss our “performance metrics” set by administration, so when we have our performance evals, we look bad on two dimensions and thus can be threatened with termination and denied raises.

    Meanwhile because we have no time for scholarship, we can’t make ourselves attractive candidates to other universities who see faculty as something more than assembly-line workers.

  7. 7
    Ruchama says:

    Now I’m trying to figure out how many hours a week I work, as a university instructor. 12 hours of teaching. 4 of office hours. Probably about 3 of prep. Maybe 6 of grading, though that varies a lot from week to week. Usually at least two hours of meetings. Probably 1 or 2 of dealing with paperwork and stuff. Another hour or two of meeting with students outside office hours. Probably about two hours total answering student emails. So that’s an upper bound of 33 hours. I feel like I’m busier than that.

    I probably spend at least three hours a week walking between the different buildings I need to be in on this enormous campus, but I’m not sure if that counts for anything.

  8. 8
    Eytan Zweig says:

    God I hate being identified as a Chomskian. The branch of linguistics I practice certainly owes a lot to Chomsky, but it’s the ideas, not that man, that matter. Is it so hard to call us Generativists?

  9. 9
    Eytan Zweig says:

    I haven’t read the “lazy professors” article or the responses to it yet – interestingly enough, I haven’t had the time – but I’d like to point out that as a general metric, every one hour of class time I teach translates to about 4 hours of work time, including preparation, marking, and responding to student queries by email or in person. And I’m one of the lucky ones, as I am employed by a prestigious research university and according to my contract teaching only forms 30% of my job.

    Which sort of means that if I teach 8 hours a week, that’s ~30 hours of work that week; so, if I’m to fill my research and admin obligations, my contract expects me to work for 100 hours. That’s a bit over simplified, of course, because what happens is simply that the balance of what type of work I do changes during the semesters and when the students are on their breaks; but it’s a fact that during teaching weeks, I’m usually in my office or class from around 9am to around 8pm, 6 days a week (unless there was a paper due that week, in which case it’s 7 days).

  10. Eytan:

    Is it so hard to call us Generativists?

    No, but old habits die hard. When I was getting my MA in the 1980s, Chomskian was pretty much the only term that people used, as I remember it.

  11. 11
    gin-and-whiskey says:

    Richard Jeffrey Newman says:
    April 12, 2012 at 1:57 pm
    But my impression of the whole week was quite different than your response.

    I went and reread them.

    I still think it’s a bit exaggerated. OK, more than a bit. But I’ll admit that my post suggests it’s a walk in the park, and I don’t think that’s true.

  12. 12
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Richard @10 -May I ask who you got your MA with? And did they identify as pro-Chomskian or anti-Chomskian, or neutral? I’m curious. The 80s were certainly a different time as far as Chomsky’s direct influence went (or so I’ve heard), but today “Chomskian” is used almost entirely in negative contexts, and I’m wondering if that was already at least partially true back then.

  13. 13
    Elusis says:

    My previous employer did a “faculty time study” to try to understand how much time people were working and what we were working at. Actually it was done by the Faculty Senate, so we could try to have a conversation about normalizing workloads and student/faculty ratios across programs (very very tricky business, but at least done by faculty and not administration).

    The upper bounds of work time reported was 86 hours per week. The lower bounds was 45 hours per week. We were contracted to physically be on campus for 32 (the expectation at that institution was that all faculty were “scholar-practitioners” so the other 8 hours per week could theoretically be spent seeing clients in private practice, doing consulting work, etc. but of course no one could get their course prep, marking, committee work, etc. done in 32 hours along with teaching 3-4 classes so everyone just worked from home a lot). We had part-time faculty contracted for 18 hours per week who reported 30 hours of work.

  14. Eytan,

    I got my MA in TESOL (but it was essentially an applied linguistics degree) at Stony Brook University working with people like–I hope I get these names right, it was so long ago–Mark Aronoff, S. N. Sridhar and Frank Anshen. My BA is also in linguistics, a double major with English. So this would cover the years 1980-1987, with a couple of years in there doing some other things. At that time, Chomsky was still the big hero of the field–transformational grammar, the language acquisition device and all that. I have, however, not kept up with the field at all for at least the past ten years, having focused instead on creative writing and international studies. Why does Chomskian have such negative connotations now?

  15. 15
    Eytan Zweig says:

    Chomsky, in many ways, is still a big hero to many linguists. But as his own level of active involvement in linguisitics has decreased, and as the amount of important work done in generative grammar by people other than Chomsky has increased as well, I think there’s been a natural shift away from associating the whole school of linguistics with him individually. Not to mention that a lot of people, myself included, believe in universal grammar while having serious disagreements with other aspects of his theory.

    At the same time, the schools of linguistics that are opposed to the notion of universal grammar have, for a variety of reasons, clung to the concept of Chomsky as a figurehead – the more fair minded among them simply believing that the field is still as it was in the 70s or 80s, while others taking the stance that Chomsky’s ideas are so preposterous the only reason that generative linguistics are still as influential as they are is because Chomsky has populated the grad schools with mindless followers.

    Now, I should say that I’m probably more sensitive to this than many linguists – I have colleagues that quite happily self-identify as “Chomskian”, if someone asks if they are one. It’s just in my experience, if someone actually uses that term in conversation, then they almost always use it dismissively.