Friday, September 24, 2010

Liberal Arts' Declaration of Independence

    I think at this point in the history of the American academy, folks in the liberal arts might benefit from old-school privatization.  I don't mean the neo-liberal kind, where you replace state funding with funding from multi-national corporations who fund research that they think will be profitable for them, but the kind embodied in the old German word Privatdozent (I recognize that is pretty low down in the old academic totem pole, but that's just a sign of where the academy is today).
   What if liberal arts professors ran their own classes and "bid" to have them fulfill requirements in the course catalog?  In my current position, I make about $100-200 a student a course.  When I taught adjunct at an Ivy League school it was somewhere nearer to $250 a student a course.  But students at my current institution only pay about $1000 a course (so I make a little over 10% of what they pay) whereas they pay a hell of lot more than that at the Ivies (let's lowball it at $6000 which would mean I was making less than 5% of the tuition take).  If folks with tenure calculated their rate, it would be better, but adjuncts and T.A.'s would be even worse off.
   I wager that I could put together my own support and bid on a license and still do better.  If departments banded together (putting together faculties that cover needed courses, replacing a competitive approach with a collaborative one, getting health insurance, providing a at certain degree of security/stability, negotiating a package license with universities), they could do better still. In fact,when departments are functional, this is essentially what they do.  Instead, we in the "service" departments teach lots of classes, put lots of asses in lots of seats, and get paid a fraction of what professors  in other departments make.  But we're still told that we need to trim back, because we aren't bringing in big research dollars.
   It's true, we're not, but I'd wager that we're bringing in more than enough to cover ourselves.   What we can't cover is huge overhead, much of which just so happens to be eaten up by administrative salaries.  For the record, administrators don't teach too many classes (that's not their job --- I know).  Originally they were hired to "administer" the business end of teaching so that could teachers could, well, teach.  Now, they run teaching as a business.  Faculty are their employees, and whether they support themselves or not is less important than whether they are operating as cheaply as possible.  Now, to their credit, since most universities are not-for-profit, administrators only make inflated salaries, and not obscene salaries.  So they have to do what people at any non-profit do.
  Spend the money on the raison-d'etre of the institution!
  Haha, I'm just kidding.  They do what any non-profit does.  Spend it on crap and perks for themselves that nobody really needs!
  If teacher's can't keep up the tremendous amount of capital it takes administrations to run themselves comfortably, perhaps they should declare their independence.
  That, or the guillotine.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Trading Up: Round Five of NPR's 3-minute fiction contest

Some people swore that the house was haunted.  But haunted houses are, as a rule, aged, decrepit, crumbling affairs.  There’s a difference between something falling apart and being torn apart.
They were laughing as they entered the first-floor master, near the great room, whose wiring had been ripped out.  He had said something hilarious to the realtor, who was laughing warmly.  She was laughing, politely --- she was a good sport --- but he could hear the laughter’s sharp edges.  He laughed to show he was harmless.  They were buying a house together, which means love.
I can get you a deal on the plumbing.  From my brother-in-law, actually.”  The realtor pointed through the French doors, four panes of frosted glass kicked out, to the big master bathroom, which had once been tricked out with fancy bronze and copper fixtures.  She wanted them to be sure they knew the house was still a steal.
“That’s very kind of your husband’s brother,” he said.
“My sister’s husband, actually.”  The realtor’s eyes flicked down to her hands, her ten bare knuckles.  He looked at her hands, at her face, smiled.
She turned around, said she wanted to see upstairs.  She was debating if she should walk out the front door.  But they’d all come together in the realtor’s car, a convertible Beamer, a lot like the car she’d drove when she met him.  But she had legs, didn’t she?  She’d run cross-country in school.
The realtor caught her arm gently.  Her honeyed voice told her she should really see the separate his and hers closets.
She was desperate to flee, imagined the old owners running, shaking the house’s dust from their feet, but she was cornered by manicured nails that were gripping her arm tightly, blanching the skin beneath.
“There was a full-length mirror in here, but it’s broken now.  You should put a new one in. You can really see the true colors of things with all the natural light in here.”
The big skylights let the Nevada sun pour in and made the huge clouds of dust look like snow.
The snow was falling on two prone bodies.
Both women shrieked.  He came running in, to save them, no doubt.
The bodies scrambled up.  They were children, nine or ten, twins maybe, two androgynous, blank faces.  They saw the adults had cornered them.  They shrank into the back of the room.
“Are you two okay?” he asked, gently, taking ownership of the house that wasn’t yet his.  He approached them slowly, carefully.
They said nothing, hugged each other, stared at the grown-ups.
His arm bumped a  loose shelf, which fell down, kicking up more dust.  In the blizzard, the children’s bodies became silhouettes.  Because he was a man, and knew how to behave manfully, he held out his hands, palms up, so they’d see he was safe.
While they were still silhouettes, their outlines began to blur until their bodies were replaced by two outlines of light.  The outlines became columns of dust, of air, of light, shimmered, vanished.
He turned around, puzzled, but ready to comfort the two women, as was his wont.
She looked at his eyes.  She couldn’t remember the last time she’d really loved him.
She turned and ran, past the scratched-up walls, the hole-in-the-wall-sockets, out the front door. She didn’t stop at the car, just kept running, couldn’t decide if she should run for the city that shone like a mirage in the distance or for the real, substantial desert.
He sighed, but didn’t follow after her.
Nothing was ever the same again after that.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Poetry in Translation: Corona


From my hand, autumn eats up its leaf: we are friends.
We shell out time from the nuts and we teach it how to move,
But time turns right back towards its shell.

The mirror shows Sunday.
Sleep comes in a dream.
Truth comes from the mouth.

My eye climbs down towards the sex of my beloved.
Our eyes take each other in.
We speak together, dark things.
We love one another like poppy loves memory.
We sleep together, wine in conch shells,
Like the sea in the moon’s bloodbeam.

We stand slung together at the window, they look up at us from the street.
It is time that they know!
It is time for the stone to allow itself to bloom,
For the heart to pound offbeat.
It is time for time to come.

Yes, it’s time.

Paul Celan, from Mohn und Ged├Ąchtnis