Monday, December 21, 2009


It's been awhile, but I now feel an old familiar holiday feeling I used to have - anticipatory dread of the holiday job application rejection season.

Because of an ages-old tradition of inhumane psychic brutality, the American Philosophical Association runs the largest chunk of tenure-track university faculty job searches. (I suppose the official rationale has something to do with the integrity of the search process and the profession, but I'll leave such bullshit aside.) The way the APA runs this show is as follows:

They hold the "Eastern Division" meeting of the APA every December 27-30 in a large Eastern city, generally rotating between New York (this year's site), Boston, Atlanta, Washington, and Philadelphia. The location and date assure maximum possible disruption of the holiday, highest possible travel and accommodation expenses, and greatest possible travel difficulties.

At the meeting, there is a main program of papers and presentations, as well as meetings of numerous philosophical societies (for instance, the group for "Realist/Antirealist Discussion" usually meets there). But the main event is the job interviews.

University philosophy departments across the continent (yes, including Canada) who have made early decisions about hiring a tenure-track faculty member tend to hold initial interviews at the APA. The way this used to run, I believe, was that job candidates and people with job openings would all show up, and the meeting would be a kind of open-enrollment job fair. That never happens anymore. Although some departments set up additional interviews at the meeting, almost all of them have slated their interviews already.

So why go to an expensive hotel in the dead of winter, between Christmas and New Year's, if you've already selected your 10 candidates and won't be inviting any walk-ins? Is it just because you like hanging out with the group for Realist/Antirealist Discussion, and can't get out to see them otherwise?

To really understand why this tradition subsists despite all the very good reasons to stop it, you have to go to one of the meetings. I'll save you the trouble. It's depressing as hell. Hundreds of (mainly newly-minted Phd) unemployed philosophers hang around looking like an army of Eeyores, or carting around massive briefcases full of their CVs and writing samples and trying to look impressive as they ask knowing questions in conference sessions. They're all desperate for what they imagine to be the ultimate job. A sorrier looking pack of mutts you'll never see. They all have the look in their eye like they just want to know what they have to do to avoid getting beaten with the newspaper again.

Meanwhile, during the week before, with your plane ticket and hotel already booked for 3 glorious days hanging around the lobby of the Marriott (or whatever), your future in hock to pay for the privilege, you wait around home for the phone to ring, setting up that last-ditch interview chance. Every so often the mail brings you another form letter from another college thanking you for your interest and explaining that it was unilateral. That's the joy the APA meeting and job search tradition brings to hundreds of people every holiday season.

I don't have a ticket. I'm not going. It would have cost over $1000 for me to go sit feeling stupid and forlorn in New York, and if I'd wanted to make a holiday of it and bring my loveliest with me, add an extra $500 to the trip, while we anticipate my imminent unemployment. So no, I'm not going. I am waiting, however, for a phone call that may never come.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

rallies last week at CSU Stanislaus

I just wanted to post links to youtube video of rallies on campus this week.

The student walk-out on Wednesday drew 200-300 people. Some great speeches, some weirdness, and afterwards a march through the administration building, to a busy streetcorner, and back. (The occupation of the president's office followed all that.)

So, the start of the rally:

Midway through this chunk of it, if anybody's interested, I suggest being hopeful and organizing:

And then, on Thursday, the music and art students' performance in the administration building. Have a hanky at the ready.

I haven't seen video of the whole Thursday performance. It was beautiful and tremendously moving, as I mentioned in my earlier post.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

holiday wake for the music and art programs

We attended a wake today, held by the students in the art and music departments, for their own programs. It was a heartbreaking, powerful, symbolic protest, that the soulless and gutless administrators callously ignored even though it was happening right in front of them.

There's a holiday tradition on our campus of the university's tremendously accomplished choir singing carols in various buildings. This year, they decided to alter this tradition in protest. This year they suffered a $209,000 cut, and next year they stand to suffer another $205,000 cut in their funding. As a result, the program could stand to lose 2/3 of their students.

So they held a holiday wake for themselves. They sang dirges along with carols, and in the end, they sang "Joy to the World" in four-part harmony, in their building-filling voices, while they one-by-one covered their mouths with black gags and silenced themselves. They put themselves, symbolically, to death, in the building occupied by the administration that has spent more than $500,000 on new administrative positions just this year, instead of funding their programs, and blamed the state's economy for it. They mourned their tremendously successful program on the same day the university administration announced the arrival of a new associate vice president for human resources, and candidate visits for a the third dean of business in the last calendar year, and for the new provost. Easily, far more has been spent on replacing administrators - during a period of "hiring freeze" - than it would take to continue this vibrant, creative program going strong.

Lauren was crying throughout their concert. I was fighting tears, mainly successfully, because for me anger trumps despair.

All I could do today was bear witness. What a stupid, vicious, corrupt waste! What a terrible abuse of power! Imagine - choosing to sacrifice music and art for that!

(I was going to write something analytical about the obvious indication of budget priorities is presented by the constant hiring of high-level administrators during a hiring freeze, but my heart's broken. Can't do it.)

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

note on protest and power

Briefly: Power is not located only in "seats" or palaces. An action protesting governmental action doesn't have to take place in the so-called seat of governmental authoritarian power. Because authoritarian power is deployed ubiquitously over broad regions, and in countless exchanges and interactions, resistance can happen anywhere. Moreover, resistance should happen everywhere (which is as much a prediction as a prescription).

Any intelligent contemporary media theory would point this out. Networked communication is networked power. Resistance can be an overtaking of the machinery of the network, a reverse-flow, or even just cognitive dissonance. Tactics and strategy do not have to be concentrated, nor even apparently rational (not according to the instrumental rationality of a dominant force) to be effective. And "effective" does not need to mean "winning, today."

But the people who are publicly denying that small-scale action and media networking are effective are only doing so cynically or in reaction to the real threat to their power that those nodes of resistance create.

Finally, human energy and fun are forms of counter-power.

That's what I'm learning so far from CSU resistance movements.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

uncomfortable questions

The last week or so, several people have asked me about what I'm teaching next spring. The fact of the matter is, I don't know whether I am teaching next spring. I don't know if I'm teaching in Winter Term come January.

This has got me a little freaked out.

I don't have much more to say about it at the moment. Life hasn't been in this much flux in a while. Losing steady employment is like that. Potentially losing a career is like that, too.

I heard a story this afternoon on the local NPR station about budget cuts to services provided to California inmates, in particular education and job training services. The story included a soundbite from a woman who has taught printing classes at a California prison for many years. She's 46, thought she had a career going, and now is pretty much stuck. Man, I can relate.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

scholarship opportunity at the CSU

Given the recent news of the CSU's great success at getting students to apply for admission to the university campuses they won't be able to attend, I thought it'd be timely to present again the:

Schwarzenegger-Reed Scholarships

The Schwarzenegger-Reed Scholarships honor California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and California State University Chancellor Charles Reed for their leadership in, and commitment to higher education in California.

All California residents qualified to attend the California State University under the 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education (i.e., those graduating in the top third of their high school classes), who are denied admission to the California State University due to enrollment reductions.

The Schwarzenegger-Reed Scholarship will fund full tuition and fees for any qualified student who has been denied admission to a California State University because of enrollment cuts.


The Schwarzenegger-Reed Scholarship will be revoked at such time as the recipient becomes admitted to, and enrolled in a California State University.


Send letter of application explaining the circumstances of your being refused admission to the California State University, along with a copy of a high school transcript showing qualification under the 1960 Master Plan, to:

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger
State Capitol Building
Sacramento, CA 95814

Here's the actual press release from the CSU:

CSU Breaks Record for Student Applications

A record 609,000 prospective students have applied for admission to the California State University, up 28 percent from last year. The largest increase came from community college transfer students whose applications increased 87 percent over last year with a total 195,113 applicants. First-time freshmen applications were up 12 percent with just over 412,000 submissions.

A large number of students—nearly 74,000—applied on Nov. 30, the final day of the priority application period which began Oct. 1. Ten thousand of those came in between 10 and 11 p.m., the highest volume of the day. Applications from African American, Latino and Native American students rose by more than 24 percent from the previous year.

Monday, November 23, 2009

hopeful pessimism

I am a hopeful pessimist. That’s not as self-contradictory as it may seem.

I’ll stipulate some definitions:
An optimist is a person who, in the absence of evidence to demonstrate it, believes a situation will improve. A pessimist is a person who, in the absence of evidence to demonstrate it, believes a situation will worsen. A hopeful person is one who, in the absence of evidence to demonstrate it, believes efforts to improve a situation are worthwhile. A hopeless person is one who, in the absence of evidence to demonstrate it, believes efforts to improve a situation are not worthwhile.

There are hopeless optimists. They believe that efforts to improve a situation are not worthwhile, but that nonetheless the situation will improve. Some libertarians, for instance those who believe in the “invisible hand,” appear to be hopeless optimists. They believe that efforts to improve the situation of impoverished people are not worthwhile, and are in fact destructive, because the only way to improve the situation of impoverished people is to do nothing – the situation will simply improve.

Hopeless pessimists believe that the situation will worsen and that our efforts to improve it are not worthwhile. Some hopeless pessimists believe our efforts are impotent against whatever force is making the situation worsen. Some believe our efforts will only make matters all the worse. A sort of extreme version of the hopeless pessimist believes that we are doomed, and that our efforts to avoid doom only make us more, or more quickly, doomed.

Not me. I’m a hopeful pessimist, on most matters. Ecologically, for instance, I believe we are doomed, but that our efforts to improve the ecological situation, even if they won’t make us less doomed, could make our doom less terrible than it might be. I am extremely pessimistic about California’s near future and the future of the CSU. Indeed, the CSU as it has been known may be doomed. But in this case, I am terribly hopeful (I mean hopeful in a terrible way), because I believe that the efforts of all of us who care about the CSU and about California matter a great deal, and are worthwhile because of the solidarity they create. That solidarity is valuable even if the CSU is doomed.

It’s a good philosophy. It keeps me energetic.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

more doom

California faces a $21 billion deficit on top of an already slashed budget this year. First on the list of targets will be higher education.

Somehow, the fact that the state gets a 400% return on its investment in higher education hasn't appealed to supposedly fiscally prudent legislators from the party which claims to be fiscally prudent. Perhaps prison spending is somehow more lucrative? (Which it might be, if you or your friends have lots of money invested in private prison companies the state increasingly contracts with.)

In any case, I'm struck by this a new way this morning. This isn't just a matter of cynically cutting the higher ed budget to punish the more-often-Democratic-voting faculty and graduates of California's colleges. It's also not really a panic reaction to the low revenues.

The Master Plan for California higher education was nothing less than a trust among the citizens of California. It was a commitment to cooperate in support of the future of all of us. In a way, it expressed a moral commitment to lend mutual support to the aspirations of all.

What some have managed to do is so corrupt and distort public dialogue, that no one ever speaks of mutual cooperation or common good any longer (except for crazy academics, apparently). The entirety of political and social life has been reduced in this rhetoric to individual competition and consumption. Mutual regard, cooperative enterprise, social or political solidarity - hell, community - are values that have all but disappeared from public discourse.

I think that dismissing solidarity and cooperation as values and as forms of human social life is ignoring at least half of what human life is about.

The rhetoric that eliminates all consideration of these values calls upon us to treat one another with mutual contempt and suspicion, to disregard one another's humanity.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

no confidence

Yesterday the academic senate voted to send a resolution of no confidence in the campus president to a vote of the general faculty. I have little doubt it will pass, but also not much more doubt it will have no real effect. (Like I've written before, higher ed executives in the US are, like their corporate counterparts, essentially unaccountable kleptocratic elites.)

The senate also began consideration of a resolution of censure against the interim provost in response to an editorial he wrote in the local newspaper. It's basically slanderous about faculty.

One of my CFA friends emailed me about it, and I started thinking about the significance of a vote of no confidence. I seem to be in the minority about this, and I'm puzzled about it.

To me, a vote of no confidence in the campus president doesn't seem like that big a deal.

For one thing, campus presidents are people in positions of authority. I don't have respect for authority. I'm unimpressed with titles and suspicious of aspirations to power. The step from that basic attitude to no confidence seems really short to me.

Plus, the vote of no confidence likely won't mean very much, because our campus president has the approval of the chancellor. Charlie will send us a letter like the one he sent to the faculty speaker at Humboldt, but I bet it won't be as polite.

Then again, even if he takes the hint and leaves, he'll only be replaced by someone of a similar magnitude of similar undesirable traits. That's not because there are no good candidates for executive administrative positions out there. It's because there is little will to hire them, especially if they see the mission of higher education in anything but the crudest fiscal terms, or see the faculty as anything but a source of chaos and trouble.

None of which are reasons not to vote no confidence in the campus president. They just don't provide a strong reason to do so.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

death throes

The CSU has been underfunded systemically for a decade or more. The campuses and the academic departments have struggled to make do, hired more contingent faculty like me, and simply had less resources and provided less service to students.

Now the CSU is under direct attack. The attack isn't coming from insane neocons like David Horowitz and his paranoid mob of anti-intellectual zealots (no link - he's unworthy of any attention). It's not coming - at least not directly - from the neocons in the legislature, who have already done their part anyway by assuring that the CSU continues to starve, slowly, to death.

No, this is an attack on the CSU by the CSU. Specifically, an attack on core programs and majors by CSU administrators. At Dominguez Hills, they're running through an accelerated program review, with whole departments on the chopping block. At Pomona, I just found out, they're going to do the same thing, with the criterion that any major with fewer than 150 undergraduate students will be put on the table for discontinuance.

The arbitrariness of the methods demonstrates pretty clearly that the future of the CSU, in these people's hands, is to become just like a for-profit proprietary technical school. They don't understand, don't respect, and will not defend the values of intellectual enterprise, for research or for teaching and learning. It's as our campus prez put it in his infamous Chronicle of Higher Ed piece a couple weeks ago. They view public higher education with any component of rigor, academic integrity, or intellectual reaching, as a privilege that neither the public, nor our students, nor the faculty, have any business expecting.

In addition, it shows how prudent they are. Do they have any reason to believe the new markets they imagine will come to the universities for technical training (rather than proprietary institutions we used to pride ourselves on not resembling)? Not that I can see.

So I'm on the philosophy teaching job market, which means I'm throwing myself to the four winds. I could end up in Buffalo, or Ohio, or British Columbia - anywhere.

That's personally distressing, of course. Being on the philosophy job market is its own kind of torture. But what's even more upsetting is that this is the result of a direct, unnecessary, opportunistic attack on the idea of public higher education, on the pretext of the budget cuts but in practice far more extensive.

Friday, October 23, 2009

why public higher education is a good idea
or not, depending

The CSU has been taken over by an administration that does not understand or care about the unique mission of public higher education. They see education as a privilege, and therefore see it as properly allocated according to who can pay more for it. Public higher education, on this view, is only worth whatever dregs the public deigns to spend on it. And if the public - like here in California - denies funding, this must mean that university funding isn't worth the public's money. Instead, public institutions should do more with less. The only educational value these administrators understand is the maximization of cost-efficiency.

First of all, maximum cost efficiency is not an educational value. The best education is neither the cheapest nor the one that generates the most graduates for the least cost. This is as useless a standard of education as overall grade-point average, because in either case, the outcome you're measuring has nothing to do with the quality of education.

But as a recent comment has it, quality of education is best determined not by standards of rigor established by faculty with field expertise. Quality of education is best determined by cost-efficiency. Let's recap that argument one more time: The appropriate way to judge the quality of university education is not to judge the quality of university education but to ask whether the university graduates people cheaply.

I won't belabor this point further, nor spend any more time unpacking the rest of this. It's making quite a stir among faculty across the CSU, because it basically explains the playbook for dismantling the CSU. This is why I wanted to have someone at the rally holding a sign that depicted one of our buildings burnt to the ground, with a Phoenix rising from its ashes. (I know - too conceptual. That's always been my fatal flaw as a creative artist.)

Maybe the question is more fundamental. On some level, what is being challenged is not just the way public education is done, but whether there should be any such thing as public university education.

The main reason I think public higher education is a right of citizens is because I believe in the social justice of equal opportunities for people to make good lives for themselves. The CSU was built to serve the educational needs of people who would never be able to afford private university education. The rationale for opening education to a larger populace made sense in 1960 and continues to do so now, I think: a well-educated public serves the public's interest.

One - indeed primary - way public university education serves the public's interest is economic. A well-educated worker generally earns more, and therefore contributes more to the economy through taxes, but in particular through spending. All told, we know, every dollar spent on the CSU is repaid to the state more than 4 times. It makes no economic sense at all not to fund public higher education. And yet, there is a large group of citizens in California and across the US who see public funding as government waste. I should hope more government programs would be as wasteful as one that generates a 400% return on investment.

On this basis, this narrow, mercenary, blinkeredly-fiscal basis, public funding for higher education is a benefit to the entire public. Current executive administration of the CSU basically denies this, for reasons they can't articulate, because they haven't got any. They don't make the case. They say, instead, that there's no money. When they are urged to pursue more public money, and use this argument to make the case, they say, instead, that there's no money. Funding to the CSU has been cut repeatedly this decade - in years of economic growth as well as decline - and every single time, CSU execs have shrugged and said there's just no money there.

The question that puzzles so many of us is, why? Why would you not fund a program that repays so handsomely? Why would our administrators fail to make this case?

I think the answer is implied in the comment linked above, in particular, the notion that higher education is a privilege, not a right. This basic denial of the social justice of public funding for higher education is the key to this. It's not a matter of serving the public good at all, but expressly of denying the public this good. Why do that, other than to redirect these economic goods into the hands of fewer and fewer people?

It may boil down to such a pecuniary interest. But the public's interest in education is not only economic. Public education serves a social and political good as well. It's true that educated people generate more economic activity, because of the economic value of their knowledge and skill. Educated people are more economically efficient, when considered solely as labor.

The "problem," from one group's standpoint at least, is that education has this side-effect, of helping people develop their own ideas and ways of thinking - critical skills and attitudes for active citizenship. Educated people ask uncomfortable questions about justice in their societies. Yes, so do less well educated people. The difference is that better educated people are also better at analyzing the problems, articulating what is wrong, reasoning out solutions, making the case for these solutions to the public at large. An educated public is socially and political dynamic. More to the point, education has the reputation of leading people to be more progressive politically.

The attack on the CSU is a two-pronged attack on the class of people who increasingly resemble peasants in our society: it undermines their opportunities for economic advancement (denying access, saddling them with school debt), and it undermines their opportunities for political and social understanding, activism, or resistance. De-funding public higher education is a terrific way to consolidate economic and political power for those who already have it.

And this gutting of the peasant class' last best hope for making their lives better is sold to them on the basis of the notion that they can't afford to fund it. It seems pretty obvious to me that we can't afford not to fund it.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

save our classes rally

We had a pretty damn good rally, for our little politically-inert campus. We think around 150-200 people showed up, the speeches were good, the crowd was inspired. We got 150 or so cards signed urging support for AB 656 (an oil severance tax to help fund higher education), and I think over 100 letters to our campus president.

I was emceeing, so when a couple of my organizing pals suggested turning the rally into a march, I had to be the one to start that. So I suggested going for a walk over by the administration building. On the way, we started chanting "No more budget cuts! Save our classes!" It sounded good. The problem, I realized, is that there's no way around the building - access on the east side is cut off by a fence. The easiest and most direct way to get from the south side of the building back to the center of campus (where we started from) is to walk through the middle of the building - through the cavernous mall-like promenade, on either side of which three stories of administrative offices rise and loom. So I decided to invite the crowd to come see the interior of the administration building, and they decided they would keep shouting, all the way through the building. That was fun.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

depressed? oppressed?

On Friday I was talking with a friend on campus about my lack-of-employment prospects at the university. As happens, the topic of the general condition of the university came up. My friend said the university is suffering from depression.

This struck me two conflicting ways. On the one hand, it's as good a diagnosis as any for the overall malaise and incredibly low morale among faculty and staff. Budget cuts, hostile relations between administration and other constituencies on campus, strategic efforts to divide and to cast a pall of doubt, confusion, and mistrust - all of this has had the predictably effect of making most people who are aware of the situation despair. In public meetings about the situation, most faculty and staff are dumbstruck. No, strike that. Most faculty and staff don't go to these public meetings, because most of them, though aware of the terrible straits we're in, are paralyzed with fear, or with whatever it is that convinces them to keep blinders on, do their work, and imagine that their quiet acquiescence will keep them safe.

They do what they do because they feel they have to do it, to avoid the repercussions they have heard of or witnessed others suffering for standing up a little. This makes sense, because most people don't want to be yelled at by people with more power than they have, and almost no one really wants to be fired. Subjectively, they may not feel themselves to be depressed at all - nor perhaps fearful, over-stressed, or over-worked.

But if we accept the premise that an organization can have a general level of well-being, and that, as a complex system, it can have a set of attributes constituted by the interactions of its members, then the university could be depressed, even if a handful of individual faculty or staff (or administrators) aren't depressed themselves - and more to the point, even if they don't recognize the organization's depression.

I ran a quick Google search this morning trying to find something cogent written about this phenomenon, with no real luck. (I'm not particularly interested in organizational change in response to the Great Depression, for instance.) What I did find was a checklist of symptoms, causes, and treatments written by a "corporate coach," which in many respects doesn't apply to universities.

That led to my second reaction, which is to remember that the whole notion of a corporate organization having attributes of this sort is linked to the ideology of the corporation being a person - that dangerous legal fiction so central to US corporate law.* Diagnosing the university as depressed, taking that systematic view, psychologizing and even medicalizing the situation, shifts this discourse in ways that are a little disturbing. For one thing, they offer a rationale for avoiding political confrontation that might in the end be our best hope.

What if, unlike human beings suffering depression, this diagnosis misidentifies what is better called oppression? The two conditions call for two very different reactions, I believe. Depression calls for treatment - pharmaceutical, cognitive, psychotherapeutic, electro-shock, instituionalization,... - to make the patient better. Depression treatments in the capitalist medical context are inextricably linked to an ideology of individual responsibility and productivity, in service to capital accumulation. Why cure it for the sake of maintaining the status quo of economic and political relations? Oppression calls for resistance, developing solidarity and power, direct action and regime change.

I suppose most oppressed people suffer depression. But a lot is at stake in identifying whether the cause is institutional "depression" or political oppression.

*(And now, part of me is considering the ways in which the human person is an anthropocentric fiction which is employed across many disciplines for assigning attributes, especially praiseworthy and blameworthy ones, to the complex organizations we are. For an individual human person, depression is a felt subjective condition and orientation to the world, but it's not clear to me that the neurons and chemical reactions in my brain experience themselves as depressed, and I'm not sure what it means to the teeming bacteria throughout my body or the cells of my body which are not entirely genetically my own.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

new song

This is one of those less and less rare instances of a Paper Cats song I wrote both music and lyrics for. (I'm playing 12-string and electric guitars - double tracked, mind you; Lauren is, of course, singing.)

To The Sunrise

I was caught in a tangle
of twilight and daydreams
spending myself
on just getting by
doesn't the wind
sound lonely tonight?

The more that I looked back
the more that I stumbled
and mumbled myself
and forgot to look up
doesn't the wind
sound sadly tonight?


maybe the garden will grow us
a flower


The more that I looked back
the more that I stumbled
and mumbled myself
and forgot to look up
doesn't the wind
sound sadly tonight?

But nobody's watching
and nobody cares
and nobody matters
and nobody's here
wouldn't the wind
hold you closely tonight?


maybe the garden will grow us
a flower
maybe the sunrise will give us
a day

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

job search begins

Having heard from my interim department chair that, by current plans handed down by college deans, there will be no work in the department for me next year. So I'm looking for work. I hate that.

I looked through the American Philosophical Association's Jobs for Philosophers publication this afternoon. It didn't take long. I found 5 jobs I have a reasonable fit for, and 4 of them where I might actually be considered, perhaps.

I never wanted to come to California. I didn't like the Central Valley when I got here, and, truth be told, there's a lot about it not to like. Some crappy things have happened to me here, too.

But through the years, especially the past 6 or so, I've fallen in love with my campus, and with California, and of course with Lauren, and this has made being here not merely tolerable, but a life worth living. Now, I don't want to leave California. I may not have the choice. In academia, you get to choose what you get your degree in, you get some choice of what you study, a little choice of what you teach, but virtually no choice where you live.

Dusted off my CV a bit this afternoon, too. Surprisingly, it's mainly up to date. I don't seem to have a letter of application anywhere, so tomorrow I'll be writing that up. Ugh.

Monday, October 12, 2009

the awesome leadership of Governor Schwarzenegger

Yesterday, after threatening for weeks not to sign any bills because the legislature wasn't passing a bill he wanted, Governor Schwarzenegger finally acted on the 700 bills on his desk. Demonstrating the kind of political courage only he could, he vetoed SB 86 and SB 218, despite their broad bipartisan support. Clearly, Schwarzenegger will not follow political fads by signing bills just because they are politically popular.

Indeed, in this case, the bills were wildly popular. SB 218 passed the state Assembly and Senate with only 1 negative vote! But the Governor looked at it and realized how wrong it would be. SB 218 would have required the California State University - the largest publicly-funded university system in the world - to inform the public what it does with public funds. Specifically, it would have required CFA administrations to inform the public of the balances, investments, and amounts of money in their "foundations" - which is the public-university version of an endowment.

SB 86, which also received wide support, would have prohibited the CSU from giving raises to executives in years when the CSU budget is cut. Again, Schwarzenegger vetoed this wrong-headed bill, despite its popularity, since it would have prevented the CSU from rewarding administrators for making the hard decisions we pay administrators big bucks to make (in this case, the hard decision to pay administrators more big bucks).

Schwarzenegger was elected in the Gray Davis recall debacle on the promise of reforming government. He's certainly done that. This set of reforms sets a clear precedent for CSU execs, one consistent with the Governor's political ideology. Public university administrators, like their counterparts in corporate America, are an elite class a royal class, whose actions should never be overseen or regulated by the public their subjects. The only political principle, and the only acknowledged concept of governance, is their privilege to rule over their fiefdoms without let or hindrance.

I think I know who's getting my next furlough letter.

Friday, October 09, 2009


Yesterday we went to a meeting called by the academic senate executive committee to discuss collegiality, civility, and shared governance. To the dismay of some faculty there, two administrators showed up. Some felt that put a chill on discussion. (In the free speech world, a "chilling effect" is second to "prior restraint" in the list of speech-limitation no-nos.)

I don't think I learned much about collegiality, civility or shared governance, and I don't think the administrators there did, either. There was a little, exceedingly polite, venting of frustration with the way shared governance is being practiced (or not practiced) on the campus.

One thing I did notice was the uneven distribution of faculty representation at the meeting. The colleges of business administration and of humanities and social sciences were over-represented, compared to their population on campus, I think, and for certain the colleges of natural science, art, human and health sciences, and education were under-represented. (No one from art or education.)

I'm left with a question about what the attendance means. Fatigue? Morale so low these faculty don't believe there's any hope? Misrecognition? Lack of legitimacy of current faculty leadership (this one's hard to believe given the overwhelming votes in support of faculty leadership as recently as the fall general faculty meeting)? Fear of reprisals?

Sunday, October 04, 2009

one thing

It's been quite a while since I added an item to my ongoing series

Doc Nagel's Top 100 Things

11. Melons. I just love 'em.

This morning I cut open what will likely be our last melon of the season. It's a small, "seedless" watermelon. It's been in storage a while, I can tell, because it's not as bright, the flesh isn't as clean and smooth, and there's just a hint of the beginning of fermentation in the sugar. Still, a good, sweet watermelon, on October 4, is nothing to dismiss.

I believe there are more than a dozen common melon varieties, many hybrids created from the basic melons. As a kid, I knew two, and only two: cantaloupe (which my mom always called "musk melon") and watermelon. I didn't encounter honeydew until I was in college. My favorite has always been watermelon. In fact, I don't understand people not liking watermelon. They make me wonder.

Lately, we've been alternating melons: watermelon one week, cantaloupe the next, then another watermelon, an orange flesh melon (which I think is a cantaloupe/honeydew hybrid), then watermelon, then a sharlyn, then another watermelon,... Occasionally, we'll grab the odd canary or crenshaw, or even a yellow watermelon.

One of the best things to do with melon is to cut them open, scrape the seeds out (of the "true melons"), and stuff your face with them. Another good thing to do is to carve them with a melon baller, then wrap each ball of melon with prosciutto, put them on a stick, and drizzle them with a reduction of good balsamic vinegar, a little sugar, and perhaps something like ruby port (all reduced to a thick syrup). Then stuff your face with them.

10. Fruit stands. I just love 'em.

Our local favorite fruit stand has already undergone its annual metamorphosis from summer fruit-a-rama-thon to pumpkin oasis, which is the first signal that they'll be closed for the season all too soon. We stop by for fruit generally twice a week from May to October, and essentially don't buy fruit from anywhere else except a farmers' market during that period. Then the bastards shutter up and go away from Halloween on, and we enter that dark, desperate period during which we plod hopelessly up and down the produce aisles, looking for anything that resembles actual food.

But don't cry for us, those of you living in climates that don't grow fresh fruits and vegetables for roughly 10 months of the year (except that, really, we can grow vegetables the other 2 months, too). We make do, somehow, with our recent memories of fruits gone by.

Ah, watermelon! We hardly knew ye!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

my philosophy of life

Sometimes, people ask me, "Hey, Doc Nagel! What's your philosophy of life?"

(See, because I'm a philosophy instructor.)

And when I answer, I say:

One of my favorite ways to spend time is, if I'm getting into an elevator, and I'm the only person in the elevator car, when the doors close, I wedge myself between two walls of the elevator car, and I shimmy up the sides until I'm braced up against the side walls up on the ceiling of the elevator, and I hang on up there, and wait. Then, when the elevator is called to a floor, and the doors open, and someone looks inside and sees me hanging up on the ceiling of the elevator car, they have that moment of hesitation, that moment of doubt. They're not sure what's going on. For all they know, I might be a criminal mastermind in the middle of a jewel heist, or I might be a crazed knife murderer who has a fetish for elevator riders, or I might be a psychiatric patient who has stopped taking his meds. They don't know I'm just a nut who likes hanging out on the ceilings of elevators.

It makes an impact.

Suddenly, their worlds have been altered, irrevocably. The world, for them, is now a place where they can't be sure they won't wait for an elevator, only to have the doors open to show them there's a guy on the ceiling, staring down at them.

They have to wonder about the world now, at least for a while. If a simple elevator ride can turn out to be such an incongruous experience, well, what next?

After a while, people stop asking.

Monday, September 28, 2009

furlough - day 2

My letter of the (furlough) day is to Chancellor Reed of the CSU. Faculty, especially in the CFA, have a lot of questions about Reed's leadership of the CSU and his commitment to fighting for funding for the CSU. So I decided I'd ask.

One important thing about this letter, from my perspective, is that it demonstrates my ability to communicate in writing - an important job skill I'll be counting on once I need to look for another form of employment.


Mr. Charles B. Reed
Chancellor, California State University
401 Golden Shore
Long Beach, CA 90802

September 28, 2009

Dear Chancellor Reed,

I am a full-time lecturer in the Department of Philosophy at California State University, Stanislaus – just one of the 23 underfunded campuses in the CSU system. I have taught here for eleven years, and contributed my time and energy to the university through uncompensated scholarship and service, just like many of my fellow lecturer colleagues routinely do.

Today is my second furlough day this academic year. I am taking the time today to write to you urging that you take a more active role advocating for the good of the CSU. Let me remind you of your words when announcing the higher education funding “compact” you agreed to with Governor Schwarzenegger:

“Gov. Schwarzenegger is to be congratulated for his exceptionally strong commitment to higher education, particularly given that the state still is experiencing fiscal difficulties. He clearly knows CSU’s and UC’s impact on the state’s economy, and recognizes that to keep the state strong, higher education must continue to produce graduates for the workforce and to provide research capabilities and community service that benefit the state and its residents,” said CSU Chancellor Reed.

This quotation, from the CSU press release of May 11, 2004, indicates your belief that the Governor understands the importance of the CSU to our students and to the state’s economy and fiscal well-being. However, it now appears that the CSU is not a significant spending priority for the governor at all. The governor, and the legislature, must be made to account for these decisions.

Instead, the CSU has offered employee furloughs and increased student fees. These are not solutions for the CSU’s long-term funding.

You, more than anyone else, are in a position to speak on behalf of the CSU. You, more than anyone else, should understand the significant role the CSU plays in the economic and social well-being of all Californians.

You are tasked with being a steward for the interests of the entire California State University system. This means, I believe, that you have a responsibility to advocate the common interest of the students, faculty, staff, and administrators of the CSU. That common interest is stated well in the Mission of the California State University:

  • To advance and extend knowledge, learning, and culture, especially throughout California.
  • To provide opportunities for individuals to develop intellectually, personally, and professionally.
  • To prepare significant numbers of educated, responsible people to contribute to California's schools, economy, culture, and future.
  • To encourage and provide access to an excellent education to all who are prepared for and wish to participate in collegiate study.

Chancellor Reed, I submit to you that respect for this mission demands a commitment to work to fully fund the CSU. Do not allow the CSU budget to be slashed still further. Join the California Faculty Association in support of AB 656, to provide a guaranteed and predictable revenue stream for higher education in California. Demonstrate your support for the CSU, and your own stewardship of the CSU.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

ethical responsibility and faculty work

Before my Professional Ethics class on Monday, I found a presentation by an ethicist named Michael Davis about engineers’ ethical responsibilities in large organizations. One claim Davis made had to do with the relevance of professional ethics in large organizations. To paraphrase: large organizations exist to do large tasks. They do them by dividing them into smaller tasks and assigning them to a series of people. The more thoroughly ‘bureaucratized’ one’s work is, the less one can know about how it fits into the whole task, how it affects other people, or how one’s work affects other members of the organization.

This is entirely true of large corporations, and is a fundamental reason they exist. They limit the ethical and legal liability of individuals by spreading it throughout the organization. Some nameable engineer at Ford is less individually responsibly for deaths and injuries caused by Explorer roll-over accidents and exploding tires, because that responsibility is spread out.

Davis takes this to its logical conclusion: at a certain level of bureaucratization of tasks, professional ethics becomes impossible to retain, because the modicum of responsibility accorded each individual becomes too small to permit professional ethical standards to remain relevant.

For example, if a for-profit university were to divide up the tasks involved in teaching a class to the point where one person designed the course, someone else was responsible for ‘managing’ the course, another person ‘delivered’ the course, yet someone else graded assignments, etc., at a certain point it would be impossible for any of these people to hang on to the ethical obligations of faculty – in effect, none of them would even be faculty.

The next day, at the first Academic Senate meeting for the year, there was a presentation on the role of the academic senate and of “shared governance” in the university – faculty’s democratic right and ethical responsibility to develop academic policies. This was presented by way of an orientation for new senators, but this year the particular spin on it emphasized the faculty’s responsibility more than I recall in years past (or perhaps it was on my mind already).

The idea is that faculty, as experts in their fields and as experts in the direction of university education, have the primary responsibility for all academic and academic personnel matters affecting the university. This is essentially a claim to a professional “monopoly on service” and “self-regulation” which are basic elements to any profession’s legitimacy.

What happens, I thought, when the bureaucratic order of the university divides faculty work up into segments small enough that no one can occupy a position to take that responsibility? What becomes of the legitimacy of the claim to professional status? What becomes of the idea of ethics as applied to what employees of universities do?

So began my present inquiry into the current state of professional ethics of college faculty. I think it is vitally important to consider that the majority of college faculty in the US are part-time, and that upwards of 75% lack the security and professional autonomy afforded by tenure. In my mind, as a basic approach to the matter, these facts must make a difference in how we understand the condition of ethical responsibility of faculty. Someone in a position which precludes ethical responsibility may still have it, but exercising it or insisting upon it in those conditions makes very little practical sense, I should think.

Back to teh Interwebs, to find material on professional ethics and academia. I found that the American Association of Colleges and Universities has published this year a report on “The Future of the Professoriate.” According to a brief article in Inside Higher Ed by one of the authors of the report, the report claims that the difficult employment and work situation of academics, and the erosion of tenure, are due to a lack of understanding of and commitment to the social contract faculty have with the public. I haven’t read the report itself yet, but one of its two authors has written that the only way to restore tenure, and tenure-track faculty, is for faculty to embrace that they have a commitment to the public good, and to clarify that commitment to the public at large. The failure of faculty to do so has led to the economic conditions (withdrawal of support for public institutions being the main factor) that have undermined tenure.

Initially, this strikes me as the tail wagging the dog. I will look forward to seeing what evidence there is that faculty do not understand their work as a public service, or bound by a social contract. In any case, I have to confess that this interpretation strikes me as dubious to begin with. Few faculty I’ve ever come across, and fewer still of the majority-underclass part-time contingently serving faculty who are my closest colleagues, have seemed unaware or uncommitted to their ethical commitments to the public. In fact, in my experience, it has been those outside of academia, and some executive administrators, who have expressed this doubt and misunderstanding – not the faculty themselves.

And for the most part, also not the students we serve. Now there’s a quandary for you: If, by and large, students believe their faculty are strongly committed to serve them (their clients), and have clear and active ethical commitments to their professions, then wherefrom does the perception arise that faculty have failed in this? Could it be an artifact of the bizarre media image of college faculty as intellectual oppressors and un-fire-able political wackos? Could it be a prejudgment of persons with their own agendas, for instance against public funding of higher education? Or who demand that universities operate on the same autocratic, hierarchical principles as some of the worst-run corporations, since for some reason these are models of “success”?

I’ll be working on this a bit and posting some stuff in the coming weeks.

Monday, September 21, 2009


We went to see Crosby, Stills, and Nash on Saturday night at Ironstone Vineyards up in Murphys. The winery has lovely grounds and an amphiteater, which was sold out - about 7000 people. For some reason, I was anxious about going to the concert all last week. I'm not sure what that was about, but the anxiety dissipated as soon as the show started.

The concert was terrific. The sound quality was good, and it wasn't too loud where we were on the lawn. We were a really good audience, too, very into the show. They were just awesome performers. Given the kind of music they are known for, you wouldn't expect a high-energy sort of show. Obviously there wasn't a whole lot of jumping around dancing craziness, but the singing and playing performances had a ton of energy, just all in the music itself. David Crosby, for instance, just doesn't move around much at all, but he's still totally present in the songs themselves, particularly when he's playing.

Crosby had a bad sore throat, he explained, so he had a hell of a time, but got through the evening, and in a certain range you would never have guessed he was ailing at all. Graham Nash sounded just like Graham Nash, but Stephen Stills now sounds like Tom Waits and Bob Dylan's love child.

I don't know why, but I was not prepared to be knocked silly by their guitar playing. Stills is just excellent, and in several styles of guitar - fingerstyle, rock, blues, and folk strumming stuff. I would aspire to be that good, but I frankly don't think I ever will be. David Crosby is no slouch, either. They played two of my favorite Crosby songs - Guennevere and Deja Vu - which are both played in non-standard tunings (which I love).

CSN were the main inspiration for me to learn to play the guitar, and to play the way I do. It was excellent!

But now I am tired. We drove home after the show, and didn't get to bed until 3 am Sunday. Then I made 8 or 9 different tapas dishes on Sunday, cooking between turns of our role-play game. Then, of course, I got up for class this morning.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

my letter to Senator Denham

I wrote my letter to Jeff Denham. Denham scores 100% favorable by the California Chamber of Commerce, and a 31% rating from the Consumer Federation of California.

Dear Senator Denham,

I am writing to urge you to support improved funding of the California State University. During this time of grave economic difficulty, funding the CSU is vital to the state’s recovery from recession.

As a senator concerned with protecting the economic interests of his constituents, you must already recognize the significant role the California State University plays in the state’s economic growth. Three recent reports on the economic and fiscal impact of the CSU all agree that California receives a tremendous return on funds invested in the system. The entire northern San Joaquin valley benefits from the economic contributions of CSU Stanislaus graduates.

A well-funded CSU will extend educational opportunities to your constituents – opportunities they might otherwise not have. As you know, at CSU Stanislaus, a large proportion of our students are first-generation college students. The significance of their access to affordable, high-quality CSU education is nearly impossible to overstate. It improves their lives and the lives of their children.

The California State University contributes to the common good of all Californians. California’s historical commitment to public funding of education at all levels – in particular of higher education – was a major factor in realizing the California dream of prosperity. It has represented a unique civic partnership, renowned worldwide for its foresight, democratic spirit, and power to provide opportunity for all.

It is time to renew the promise of California. I urge you to help find the resources and revenue necessary to fully fund the California State University.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

furlough - day 1

Tomorrow is my first furlough day for the academic year. It's a non-instructional day, but seeing as how I have sworn that I will not do any university work on my furlough days, I won't be checking my email, won't attend any meetings, won't see to any student issues or questions.

What will I do?

I'm going to write a letter to my state senator, explaining why the need for furloughs is the result of the scandalous revocation of the state's commitment to funding public higher education, despite the documented 441% return on investment the state gets from the CSU. I'll probably also post that letter here.

I'm going to spend some time re-reading the Collective Bargaining Agreement between CSU and the California Faculty Association. I'm going to look into the ongoing investigations CFA is doing on how the furlough and budget cuts have been implemented, to see how I can contribute.

It's a furlough. It's a day I've been required not to work. It's not a vacation.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


The institution I affectionately call Cow State Santa Claus seems headed toward some kind of catastrophic meltdown. Relations between faculty and administration are not merely untenably volatile, they are as close to violence as could be without actual physical attacks.

I tire of recounting and documenting the strife. I'm also now, for the first time in a very long time, actually worried about retaliation for being candid. (I'm on the tenuous track - a non-tenurable lecturer.)

At the campus president's "state of the university" address today, he informed the audience that the problems at the university are the fault of faculty leadership. This parallels the recent comment of CSU Chancellor Charles Reed that the problems at Santa Claus are because the faculty here are "toxic."

The "problems" are as follows:

1) For several years, the university has been running a $4 million deficit. Suddenly, last academic year, the administration decided to solve the deficit all at once, while facing deep cuts from the California state budget crisis. Faculty objected. The administration did it anyway. Result: 187 tenuous-track faculty had their work cut or eliminated (out of 250) for this year. 114 classes were cut this fall.

2) Several junior faculty, still working through the anxious years prior to getting tenure, have received letters from administrators telling them that they are not meeting scholarship expectations, despite those faculty getting strong support from their departments and colleges. The faculty have objected, saying that this is a teaching institution, that the mission of the university and the workload of faculty must mean that research demands cannot be made to look like a Research-1 university.

3) Faculty involved in budget committees have asked, repeatedly, for several years, for budget and financial reporting information that clearly accounts for how the university spends money. Several of the faculty involved in those committees have been accounting professors. The faculty have been told, variously, that the information was already given to them, or that it does not exist, or that they do not need it, or that the information they have is sufficient already.

The president is right that faculty leadership hasn't changed all that much in the last few years - certainly not as dramatically as administration has changed. We've had 4 provosts, 4 vice-presidents of business and finance, 3 vice presidents of university advancement (the foundation leader), and countless deans, over the past 5 years. Perhaps if faculty leadership changed as rapidly as administration, faculty would have a perspective more like administration's.

[As I was writing this post, I quipped to my loveliest that I was writing a post that could get me fired. She suggested that was somehow unwise. I replied that, given the way the CSU is budgeting, I'm as likely as not to be fired, anyway. Time, undoubtedly, will tell.]

Kiss kiss.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

scientific method?

I really, really don't get it. Certain web sites seem especially prone to presenting what seem to me to be incredibly stupid ads. I can't tell which of the premises of these I find most craptastic. It might be the "Obama says...." ads with totally unrelated animated gifs on them, of a dog in a car window, or a woman talking, or this one, with a woman jogging. The ads always say that President Obama has said something about mothers going to college, or people refinancing their houses, or about reducing debt. (Nothing he's actually said, of course.)

So, what is it that makes advertisers think that having the irrelevant gif files and irrelevant reference to Obama saying something he never said would have a positive effect on their website traffic or their businesss? Have they studied this marketing ploy and drawn the conclusion that the real big money in whatever loan scam they're running is going to come from people who are, for reasons perhaps best plumbed by psychiatric medicine, motivated positively by the two women dancing crazily in an office gif? Or are they looking for people who are incapable of stopping themselves from clicking on animated gifs whenever their eyes are caught by them? Is that a good market?

I've already vented about the ads that look like links to news stories that appear on news sites. Most of them are auto fill-in scripts that put together fake headlines about the mom in [insert name of central city of metro statistical area estimated to be in region of user based on (a) IP address of browser, (b) ISP account info stored in cookie, (c) zip code stored in cookie, or (d) zip code of registered owner of IP address of site] who [(a) lost (b) earns (c) whitened her teeth] [insert (a) 47 lbs, (b) 6 lbs of fat, (c) 43 lbs, (d) $63/hr] [insert (a) following this one simple rule, (b) on the internet, (c) with this one simple secret, (d) acai berry juice, (e) herbal V 1agra!!!!!!].

Generally, they are as relevant to your own life as all the following:

Now, see, they lost me here. They needed an animated gif of somebody buying coffee and a donut, whereupon I would, of course, immediately click on the ad.

On the other hand, as idiotic as these are as advertisements, as poorly as I think they reflect on the level of creativity and initiative (and, one imagines, also profitability) of internet advertising, they operate as a rather fine index of the average American's lifestyle.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

one last summer feast

My loveliest is singing in a local production of a musical, and we invited our friends Jennifer and Andrew out to visit, see the show, and be fed prime rib. Then we invited our buddies X-ina and Guerin, and also Lauren's boss and our friend Lee. Then Jen and Andy changed plans.

Still wanting to celebrate the show, and cook something special, we decided to wait on the prime rib, and instead I started thinking about gnocchi. The first time I made gnocchi, I thought to myself, well, I'll never do that again. I thought that the second time, too. I'm still making gnocchi. I made an extra-large batch, so there'd be some frozen extra gnocchi (it freezes quite well, uncooked; I don't know about par-boiled, but I think that would make sense too), and it is a lot of work to do it at all, so what the heck.

Last night, I made two different sauces for it - a gorgonzola cream sauce with spinach, much like the version served at L'Osteria in North Beach (SF). I added nutmeg (which I adore) and Kierschwasser to the sauce, to give it a different twist. The other sauce was an altered version of Mario Batalli's lemon sage butter sauce. There's leftover of the gorgonzola sauce, but you can't have any, because I'm mean.

Then came a salad, then came the main course - roast pork loin, stuffed with shallots, fennel, sage, and breadcrumbs, with a pan sauce made with some vermouth, my own demi-glace, and the drippings browned on the pan, along with long fine julienned carrots and zucchini, which I also roasted. I wish now I'd snapped a picture. The presentation was pretty cool, with the slices of stuffed roast down the middle of our big white porcelain platter, and the heaps of vegetables on either side.

I mean, I knew, as this plan started coming together on Thursday morning, that fennel would stuff pork very nicely. I didn't bargain for this to go so tremendously well. This was one of my best efforts, I think. But on balance, I gotta say, people who cook, you should stuff a pork loin with fennel. Your mouth will thank me.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

presidential imperial authority

I just heard a story from BBC news about the failure of the Obama administration to launch a criminal investigation into torture techniques employed under the authority of the Bush administration. Their various political and academic experts/talking heads came to the consensus position that there is every legal reason to go forward with an investigation, but every political reason not to.

The elephant in the room: presidents are effectively above the law. Now, progressive Bush critics have been saying for several years that Bush had placed himself above the law, on this and a host of other issues (for instance, the unprecedented level of his use of signing statements), but it struck a different tone for me after hearing this story.

For purposes of this little flight of imagination, suppose that torture is both morally wrong and illegal under federal and international law. Suppose further that some president - call him President Lush for purposes of illustration - had ordered that torture be used in an attempt to extract information about planned terrorist operations in the US (in this case, let's suppose further that we are referring to foreign terrorists, trained and motivated by a ruthless religion-exploiting leader who was in turn trained by the CIA - you know, just for the sake of illustration - and not domestic terrorists trained and motivated by a completely different ruthless religion-exploiting leader).

If you're following so far, the scenario is: (a) President Lush ordered torture to be done, and (b) that torture is illegal. What the BBC story made clear is that, under these conditions, no future President in his or her right mind would attempt to prosecute these crimes, because that future President's political viability would be instantly destroyed by the party of President Lush and their media blowhards.

This leaves no domestic avenue for criminal justice to apply to President Lush. Meanwhile, President Lush might be prosecuted by an international criminal court - say, a war crimes court. This might well work, except that the military power of the US makes President Lush above international law as well. It's unimaginable that any sitting president would turn over President Lush to the international court, and it's unimaginable that any international body would, or could, come grab him.

So there you have it: we no longer have a Presidency. We have an elected Emperor, whose domestic power is limited by Congress, but whose international, military and paramilitary power is unchecked, unlimited, and beyond any meaningful legal authority or oversight of any kind. Let me remind that the military budget of the US is 48% of all the world's military spending - and it's not clear that this represents the entirety of the military and paramilitary budget. That's trillions of dollars of unchecked power.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

file under: probably shouldn't mention...

I've been dealing with the fallout from the CSU budget cuts - specifically, the faculty furlough and the slashing of hundreds of lecturer positions. It hadn't occurred to me until now that I'm going through the stages of grief. Today I'm angry.

And this is what I think I shouldn't write about, but compulsively am anyway. The budget catastrophe is, actually, old news. The CSU has been under assault since the rise to power of Der Gropenfuhrer in 2001. Budgets have been cut four times, and Arnold has promised the citizens of California that he would "starve" the public sector. The public loved this, apparently, because they re-elected him, apparently not realizing that by "the public," he meant them, their schools, their roads, their cities. Funny, that. Apparently.

I've been telling people about this for, roughly, 7 years. I've been soliciting their attention and help for about five. Please, I'd say, write your legislator. Write a letter to the editor. Come to a rally. Tell your students. Help us elect education-friendlies.

I got a lot of thank-you notes. But other than the CFA activists on campus, and an effort this past year that students organized for our more local problems, not a lot of people got involved. Some faculty smirked at me. Some seemed to think I was overly paranoid, combative, harshly critical of the CSU administration, the Board of Trustees Saboteurs, or the political process.

Now, lecturers keep contacting me, asking what I can do to help them out. Part of me, today, is thinking that it would have been nice if they had joined the fight years ago.

Mainly, though, I'm angry at the smirkers. You disliked my belligerent attitude? You scoffed at my anxieties? Now, you'll have a lot more time to contemplate it. And I'll be paying for your unemployment insurance. You're welcome.

See, that's not fair. I realize that my anger is part of the grieving process, and that I'm not just grieving the jobs of so many faculty and staff, so many educational careers of our students, but also my own career. I know that this is a reaction to the anxiety - or perhaps certainty is the better word - that my career, my passion, the only meaningful work I ever imagined I could do, is going to end in a year.

In a couple weeks, the mushroom cloud will ooze over our students, and they'll be asking why their classes have disappeared, why their enrollments have been canceled and they have to try to re-schedule classes, with no spaces left in any of them. Most of them won't have any idea what's hit them. That's gonna be fun, too.

Friday, August 21, 2009

fantasy conversation

I suppose everyone has made-up conversations in their own heads, and I suppose further that they do especially with people they expect confrontation from: ex-lovers, parents, people in authority. I tend to have them with college administrators.

I had one today, in which an administrator on our campus (whom I shan't name, not out of fear but out of a random attack of discretion) asked me why I'm so repulsed by administrators, why I assume all of them are out to get us.

"Well," I said, in my head, "like managers and executives in corporate America, college administrators are basically unaccountable to anyone whose lives and careers they affect. For one thing, their incredible degree of vertical and especially horizontal mobility means that they move on somewhere else before they can be taken to account for what they've done. But perhaps even more significant is that the administrators who aren't overtly, gleefully malfeasant have a direct self-interest to protect - displaying total obedience and fealty to executives. The entire system of management rewards base aspiration and punishes moral autonomy."

To which, in my imagination, the administrator replied with portrayals of shock and dismay.

I put it differently in my head another time: "The basic problem is that the executive class bears no responsibility for its actions, relations with other constituencies, and so on. They simply move on, having 'fixed' (in a veterinary, not a mechanical, sense) the university, to 'fix' another one."

I just wanted to vent a bit. Thanks.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

pardon me while I have a strange interlude

I can't find a site that lets me upload a streaming mp3 large enough for this track. It's 13 MB. Sorry.

If you hit this link to Myspace (ugh), it should work. I hope. Dammit.

I'm not sure this is actually music. One might suspect I can't actually play a guitar (there are admittedly a couple minor flubs). But this is how I meant this to sound. Honest. This is a tune based on a scale I've been playing for years, and which isn't really a scale. All that I know about music tells me the intervals are totally wrong. It makes me very happy.

Working title was "Almost Music." Then I decided to name it after a weird bit of business in my favorite Marx Brothers movie. Groucho says, "Pardon me while I have a strange interlude," referring to the Theater Guild play titled Strange Interlude.

The tune is composed of chords and scales built on a scale starting at A and going as follows: A A# C C# E F G# A. People who know about music recognize the total wrongness of such a scale. Sorry about the flubs. Not sorry about the scale. Deal.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

are we gonna get sued?

Andrew brought it up, I think. The impact of the state budget cuts to the CSU, and of the furlough deemed necessary to achieve salary savings to make ends meet, is that the CSU is admittedly doing all that it can to cut enrollment and reduce class offerings. What no one ever seems to make a fuss about is that these budget-cutting policies probably violate state law and executive orders from the CSU Chancellor's office.

For instance, executive order 523 (EO 523 in pdf), issued in 1988, sets out formulas for determining eligibility for regular admission to the CSU. The goal of that EO is to create a policy that will permit the CSU to comply with California ed code sections 40753, 40754, and 40601 (at the time; I'm not sure the numbering has remained consistent).

Some deans have proposed shifting basic courses to extended education, across a number of departments. These are regular, credit-bearing courses, so shifting them over to extension would save some bucks - students would pay an additional fee per unit, and faculty would be paid much lower extension rates and receive no benefits. But the policy would also probably violate EO 804 and relevant ed code sections.

The furlough program will make it very challenging for the CSU faculty to comply with EO 79, Individual Faculty Obligation to Meet Classes. (This is one of my favorites. It's fun to speculate exactly what was going on in 1969 - when the EO was promulgated - that required this policy.)

This academic year, the entire CSU - 23 campuses, maybe 18,000 faculty when all the contingent faculty are caused to disappear, around 400,000 students - will almost certainly fail to follow its own policies, and may violate state law regarding higher education. So, does this possibly subject the CSU to a massive law suit, say, a class action, literally, on behalf of the students? Or a criminal investigation by the attorney general? (Is the CSU about to commit massive fraud?)

Sunday, August 09, 2009


So, the house my parents lived in in Ohio a few years back was firebombed this week. I hope the photos are large enough to show that the roof is, well, gone in the middle. The bomb was apparently through through a rear window, possibly upstairs. The master suite is was located in the rear. The bomb burned through that entirely, and also a bedroom in the front of the house.




I wonder what you do after a house is firebombed. Do you rebuild it? In this case, you'd be essentially rebuilding the entire place, so perhaps it's just as easy to raze the damn thing. And is it difficult to sell a place after something like that? Apparently, they're having a hard time selling a house in San Francisco that was the site of a triple murder a few years ago... I'd think firebombing would maybe lower property values.

Anyway, I didn't spend a lot of time there, but my recollection is that it was a really nice house.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

back to things

12. Crosswords and other word games found in newspapers. I just love 'em. Back when I subscribed to the Modesto Bee (their motto: One Of America's Newspapers?), I did the crossword, the Jumble, the cryptogram, and the anagram games every day. Now that the Bee is far less a part of my life - which is almost entirely a good thing - I do the online crossword from the San Francisco Chronicle (their motto: San Francisco Is Hipper Than Anywhere Else, And Even Though There Is No Real Proof Of This, And Indeed A Lack Of Evidence Showing It's Any Hipper Than, Say, Portland, We Will Continue Our Policy Of Smug Use Of The Phrase "The City" To Refer To San Francisco, As Though No Other Place Even Qualifies As A City. I know - unwieldy, ain't it?). I've looked but cannot find any other of the daily word games online.

13. Strawberry tarts. I just love 'em. I happen to make a mean strawberry tart, and I happen to have made one yesterday, which we sampled last night as dessert. Boy, howdy. (I'd post a picture to brag and to create envy/hunger, but we left our camera in Hayward.)

Whenever I make a tart, we run lines from an old Monty Python sketch, in which a Pepperpot (a Python in drag) offers her husband a series of desserts all including rat as an ingredient, ending the list with "strawberry tart." It turns out the strawberry tart also has rat in it, three of them, so the husband asks for a slice "without so much rat in it." Subsequently, a church police officer (it's complicated) refers to it as "rat tart," which is funny, but also the more accurate description of any strawberry tart with three rats in it. Consequently, we refer to strawberry tart as "rat tart."

Friday, July 31, 2009

anxiety, doom, etc.

It looks, tentatively, like I'll have a full-time teaching job this coming academic year. It also looks like the CSU budget will be cut much more next year, so this could be my last year teaching philosophy.

In those circumstances, it's pretty difficult to avoid being terribly anxious. I get especially anxious in anticipation of something dreadful (as opposed to when it actually happens), when I have a pretty clear idea what that dreadful thing will be, when I can't control whether or how the dreadful thing will happen, and when those who do have that control I have good reason to suspect of working against me.

Let's run a quick check down this list, to see whether these conditions apply. Yes, yes, yes, hell yes.

Am I doomed? Experts disagree. I say I am. My loveliest says no.

I am easy to convince that I'm doomed. I have always been keen to conclude that I'm doomed. I've been right, in fairly serious ways, on a couple occasions.

So if I proceed to list a few of the many reasons I have to feel fortunate and rich in this lower-middle, working-class, renter's existence, it would be a transparently obvious effort to combat anxiety.

I am in love.

I am in a very loving, very supportive, creative, inspiring, passionate, steady long-term mate-ship. My love is a wonder to me, and the biggest wonder of all her wonders is that she loves me. I feel like that every single day.

I have been incredibly lucky to have the chance to do what I love for a living. Hardly anyone gets that chance. The only job I ever wanted other than teaching philosophy is being a rock star - and that seems unlikely at this point (people do start second careers, though).

I get to play guitars every day. I get to write songs, when I can. I get a lot of joy from that, and from music generally.

I am a really good cook. I've turned at least 3 people on to several foods that they previously either didn't like at all or would never think of eating, because I cook them just that well.

I am healthy. I'm relatively fit. I own three pairs of hot pink high-tops.

I can write. I have a PhD in philosophy, which I don't think can be revoked, so that has to count as both a lasting accomplishment and an opportunity I was lucky to have and take advantage of.

At this point, I'm not crazy, sick, homeless, or being shot at or tortured by anyone.

Okay then.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

X-ina's Birfday!

Happy Birthday Christina!

Here's a link to her song (I took out the autoplayer because it was playing two songs at once, very confusing):

Xina's Birfday

This is not the very first Paper Cats recording in which I sing. It is the first that has been made public, for the simple reason that I'm terribly shy about singing. I feel that I have about the worst singing voice ever. My love, who sings beautifully, and loves singing, encourages singing at all times and everywhere, but generally I cannot comply... unless I sing in this goofy voice I've compounded and developed from muppets, Bobcat Goldthwait, and Barney from The Simpsons.

The song is kinda cool, actually. And it's a birfday present, so what the hell.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

open mic night and fried things

Paper Cats rocks out!

We had our second public performance on Monday night at an open mic night at a bar in Hayward called the Bistro. Our friends Jen and Andy were going with our grad school buddy Paul, who is also a song writer and rock legend, at least to us. We hemmed and hawed, but in the end overcame our anxieties and misgivings and did a set. We played four songs: a new one that doesn't really have a name yet, and friend-favorites All The Quirky Singer-Songwriters You Can Eat, Fifth of July, and Lancelot's Song.

And we proceeded to close the bar, at close to 2, watching all the rest of the open mic-ers. I was glad we did. They stayed to hear us, after all, and the last two were terrific: a fingerstyle player who did excellent versions of two Beatles songs and a few other things, and a straight-ahead rocker with a vague resemblance to Jackson Browne. Of course, that meant we didn't get to bed until around 4-ish, and woke up Tuesday in less than ideal physical condition.

I'm so glad we did it, and now I feel a little more confident that we can play songs, in public, and not have rotting fruit, skunky beer, or broken furniture thrown at us.

The afternoon before, we went to the Hayward/Russell City blues festival, and heard some good Texas blues, ate some fried catfish and snapper, and generally enjoyed the heck out of ourselves. I forget to enjoy life sometimes, which might seem ridiculous, but it's nonetheless true. Especially this past year, I've been so focused on such awful crap, spent so much time and energy on it, that I was alienated from fun.

Plus, being around my friend Andrew, who is a psychology Phd and faculty at a junior college, is incredibly therapeutic. I feel mentally healthier after a couple days with him, always.

We came home to 100 degrees, and no Internet access. Something Happened to our modem and wireless router, both 6 years old, and no matter what I tried, they simply would not work. This morning I bought a new modem, which seemed to be the problem, but then when I connected the router, it came on, then sort of fritzed, and the router equivalent of dashboard idiot lights came on and stayed on. So we bought a new router - a much faster one, so in all this isn't so bad. It took 5 hours to get the damned things running properly, configured properly, hooked up to DSL line and through password gateways and all the rest of it. But now we're up. Now that I've spent 10 hours on this annoying, expensive problem, I think we're gonna watch something funny.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

ethics and the CSU budget crisis

The CSU administration and Board of Trustees come up pretty often as examples in my Professional Ethics course. Their ways of handling the CSU budget, personnel issues, and policies affecting students raise ethical questions. For example, the CSU administration's usual bargaining strategy is to say that whatever the faculty want - increased pay, job protections for lecturers - is entirely impossible. We spent 2 years bargaining our last contract, with our first raises in years (which we've stopped receiving as of last year). We settled mainly because the faculty voted to strike, and at about the same time, the CSU administration was publicly embarrassed by the revelation that they had a $2 billion reserve fund, while claiming they had no money to pay for faculty raises. This kind of thing raises some ethical questions for my students.

My students ask how ethical it is that the CSU administration and Board of Trustees continues to make them pay larger fees, while making it harder to get a good quality education. They ask how ethical it is for the administration to cut faculty and staff, raise student fees, and seemingly suffer less than anyone else. They ask why each of the campus presidents receives a housing allowance equal to my gross salary.

I tend to evade these questions. I don't think a Professional Ethics course should be focused on making moral judgments of people, and the tone of the questions always seems judgmental. I understand why my students would be upset to hear about the ways the CSU administration has handled budgeting of the university, even in relatively good budget years. I'm just not convinced we achieve very much by calling particular administrators unethical.

It's a different story this year, too. The budget problems are enormous. So, if I'm lucky enough to have a job teaching Professional Ethics this year, I think the questions will be focused differently:

What exactly are the ethical implications of having to make massive cuts to the budget, lay off hundreds of employees, turn away thousands of students, and essentially abandon the mission of the CSU? How to go about doing good in such circumstances? How to go about assessing the actions people take?

I'm going to set aside what I think is the obvious case of the Chancellor's Office refusing to offer any substantive details of the furlough proposal to address faculty concerns about its feasibility, or its beneficial effect in reducing layoffs, class cancellations, and other havoc. The CO routinely ignores calls for open discussion or cooperation. Instead, I want to ask, what would be a good way for the CO to handle cutting the budget, and why?

I have two basic impulses for framing this. One is to identify whose good we should be concerned with, and the other is to identify what kind of good we're talking about.

As a starting point, I'm gonna assume that doing good involves doing what one can not to cause avoidable harm to others. This is a fairly uncontroversial utilitarian position (I've stolen the phrasing from Gene James). I think we can also prioritize which others we want to avoid harming, by saying the most innocent should be spared the most harm. Innocent here means being most susceptible or vulnerable, having the least choice about the situation, and/or being to a reasonable degree ignorant of the causes and effects of the situation. In this case, that points to students - students, not taxpayers. This leads to an initial question: how do you handle a $583 million cut (on top of last year's $300 million cut), while avoiding harm to students?

Now, what kind of good is higher education? The 1960 Master Plan for education in California suggests that education is a public good. Well educated citizens make valuable and productive employees in information-based economies. The individual students who go to the CSU and get degrees benefit economically from that opportunity, but beyond that, their contributions to the economy of the state benefit everyone else as well.

I don't hear much in the current discussion that suggests these are central concerns. The bottom line appears to be the bottom line. Thus, it seems reasonable to the Board of Trustees, to many in the legislature, to the governor, to the chancellor, to add yet another student fee increase. Education is in the students' interest to pursue, so they should pay for it, is how the fantastically simplistic argument goes. Meanwhile, cutting employees' hours (or, effectively, their pay - since it is hard to see how faculty workload would genuinely be reduced) denies students a portion of the education that they are going to be paying more for. Add to that the havoc and disruption that would follow from current proposals to cut programs, merge departments, or possibly shut down entire campuses.

I'm not saying the state should absolutely not cut the CSU budget. Given the times, I would only be asking for someone else to suffer more. But the proposals floating now seem to cause a lot of avoidable harm to students, and to deny the public good served by education.

What other solutions are there? I don't have one in hand. For one thing, I'm not privy to the real budgets of the CSU's 23 campuses - no one is. So I don't know whether every resource is being used effectively. How much money could be diverted into educational programs if we suspend extremely expensive (and not well regarded) programs for outcomes assessment? Or halted expansion of degree programs, particularly graduate degrees? And could this be the moment to reconsider the top-heavy growth of management (expanding over the last 10 years at 15 times the pace of faculty)? Or to reconsider the fact that on most CSU campuses, only about half the budget goes toward instruction?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


No news is no good news on the CSU budget front. We're still looking at the same $583 million cut, and the word on the street is massive faculty layoffs are about to be issued. I know already that many of my friends and colleagues will be out of work, and I'm not at all sure I'll have a job this coming academic year, even though 9 of the 33 classes scheduled for fall by the department are, for now, being taught by people below me on the hiring food chain. Even if I knew that the department wasn't facing more than a 30% cut, this would obviously be an incredibly cold comfort.

And of course, the years to follow look as bad, or worse.

I'll omit the rant that I think should rightfully follow here, against short-sighted fiscal policy, terrible management, bizarre legislative priorities, and the crazed, ignorant public sentiment that taxation is extortion (especially given that California, despite all the protestations, imposes relatively light income and property tax burdens). I'm not up for a rant at this point.

When I was a kid in Ohio, about the scariest random occurrence in my life was tornado warnings. I was, and remain, deathly afraid of tornadoes, hurricanes, and thunderstorms (despite having lived a couple of the one, one big of the other, and innumerable of the third).

There's nothing you can do if a tornado is on its way. You go into the basement and hope it doesn't remove everything above your head. You listen to the scratchy radio Emergency Broadcast System announcements, and you wonder how long you might have to live on the big cup of water you've just gotten from the tap. You listen for the long uninterrupted blast from the old Civil Defense siren that warns of the twister on its way.

That's where I am right now, hiding in the basement. And about 13,000 other CSU faculty are there with me.

Monday, July 06, 2009

new song!

First time in a long time. I've been playing around with this for over a year, thinking I might write a lyric, but have never been satisfied with anything I've come up with. So I think it's just going to remain a tune.

I'm trying to get at a feeling of exhilaration and joy that I get only in large cities, and that I've mainly had living in or visiting people who live mainly outside their apartments - in the city itself. If the city is your home, you have the biggest living space you could ask for.

Monday, June 29, 2009

the CSU's furlough proposal

The CSU has proposed a "furlough" plan to their employee unions, as part of a program for dealing with the net half-billion dollar cut to the CSU budget for this coming academic year. The Chancellor's office plan is similar to plans proposed by other state agencies - cutting two days a month from employees' work schedules, without compensation obviously. The Chancellor's office informed the union leaders that the furlough would save about $275 million for the whole CSU. The proposal is to cut two Fridays from each month.

On its face, a furlough plan for the CSU is absurd. Anybody who knows anything about higher education knows that classes are almost always grouped by days of the week. Some classes are taught on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, some are taught on Tuesday and Thursday. On a few campuses, classes are taught only Monday-Wednesday and Tuesday-Thursday, with special all day classes, labs, or other activities scheduled on Friday. In short, cutting two Fridays a month for the academic year would make gobbledygook out of every academic calendar.

My first reaction to this, about a week ago when I first heard about it, was that this was typical of the Chancellor's office: they have no idea how higher education works, and no idea what academic calendars are, or really, what faculty labor is like. For instance, let's compare three faculty members. Faculty member A teaches four classes each day Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. That faculty member would have Friday classes cut two times each month, for around 6 void Fridays a semester. Faculty member B teaches three classes on Tuesday and Thursday, and one on Wednesday night. For that faculty member, the cut to the Friday work schedule means - well, what? Faculty member C teaches only night classes, including one that meets every Friday night. The two-Fridays-a-month furlough means that that faculty members Friday class will miss six sessions over a semester. On our campus, that's nearly half the course.

But this week, I've been getting email updates about meetings between union leaders and campus presidents, and now the CSU administration's strategy for the furlough is more clear: it's a way to cut pay without calling it a pay cut.

The furlough would mean that faculty would have their pay cut relative to the amount of work they do while they are working - during the 10-month academic year. Two days a month from that 10-month year results in around 10.75% cut in salary for faculty. But there can't be any effective way to cut the actual work, and what we're hearing is that the CSU has absolutely no intention of identifying or giving account of the cuts to the faculty work.

Let me put this in context: like most faculty I know, I actually work, during the academic year, at least 6 days a week. That's because I teach Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and need to prepare to teach those classes on days when I'm not teaching them. (Contrary to what some people, notably the Chancellor of the CSU, seem to think, faculty work outside the classroom in order to be able to teach while in the classroom.) They might cut Friday classes twice each month, but there's no way they can meaningfully cut faculty workload during an academic year.

They're simply taking the opportunity of the budget catastrophe to extract more work for less pay. If I was a little more paranoid, I'd suggest that this is also helpful in attempting to undermine the power CFA generated by successfully organizing a contract fight in 2005-2006, or furthering a union-busting effort.

Oh, and what is the carrot in this proposal? The Chancellor's office threatened the employee unions that if we didn't accept furloughs, there would be mass layoffs. And if we do? No guarantee that there won't be layoffs. Meanwhile, of course, the CSU is still not subject to meaningful public scrutiny of its books.

I would have written about this earlier, but I've had this hideous chest cold all week. I haven't had real sleep in two days. But I figured, if I don't write about this, then the chest cold will have won.