Let Summer Read 2016 Begin!

copyright 2016, U of Toronto Press

Happy July, true believers! As promised nine days ago, the shiny new Teaching Prof in Progress Book Club is launching an inaugural Summer Read virtual book discussion. And everyone who teaches (or cares about teaching and teachers) in higher education is invited… So let’s get this party started!

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promise that guy will not be there.

Our first Summer Read will be a discussion of Maggie Berg and Barbara Seeber’s The Slow Professor: Challenging the Culture of Speed in the Academy (2016, University of Toronto Press) on the Goodreads social media site. And getting involved is super easy:

Participation will also be easy.  I will post discussion questions on the Book Club’s page, and we’re off! You can respond, post your own discussion questions, and engage one another throughout the month of July until August 8 as your summer schedule allows — flexibly, on your own time.

To give you a teaser of what we’ll discuss, here are the questions for the Introduction to the book — a tad provocative, if I do say so myself? [And sorry, but no page numbers for the quotations… I’m reading the Kindle edition.]

(1) The Introduction points out the familiar 1-2 punch that motivated the authors to write the book:

  • “Flexibility of hours can translate into working all the time, particularly because academic work by its very nature is never done.”
  • “When we look at studies of academic stress, we are struck by how many situations identified as sources of work stress are about lack of time.”

Let’s start the conversation by addressing the elephant in the room: is this problem, ultimately, unfixable? What have been your experiences with this dilemma? Thoughts?

(2) At one point the authors observe, regarding policy change at our institutions,

  • “A surprising common thread in studies of the corporate university is an emphasis on change being in the hands of individual professors.”

Potentially empowering, sure, but adding to our stress? What kinds of related observations and/or experiences have you had? Thoughts?

(3) What else struck you as important in the Introduction? Observations? Questions for the group?

Intrigued???? Hope so!  Come join the club, tell your friends, colleagues and grad students about it (and the TPP blog, and the Facebook and Twitter platforms), and let’s meet in the salon!

Slowing down… feelin’ groovy? or delusional?

Sometimes tourist traps really get the job done.

So, how has your summer been so far? I have been pretty good about taking it easy and refreshing myself. While I have only very recently started back on working out and getting back in shape (only a month behind my resolved schedule), I just wrapped up a fun family vacation to Branson, Missouri — a few days of amusement park-ing, tacky-tastic touristing, and time in the pool with my kids and on the town with my best girl.

I haven’t been all lay-about idle (as my summer school prep and recent relaunching of this blog attest)… but I have been slowing down, and feelin’ groovy.

Alas, the incursions of the real world inevitably intrude as they will — time-sensitive e-mails about administrative matters from colleagues and students, and the realization that summer school will start all to soon, meaning summer school prep Must. Be. Finished. Soon.  I want to feel groovier more consistently, but sometimes going slower makes me feel anxious and guilty — not very groovy at all. Sound familiar?

[A potentially useful response for all of us after the jump!]

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Is “bad” academic writing a self-defense strategy?

There were at least two moments for me as a graduate student when I knew I was struggling to become part of a larger intellectual community: the first time I encountered scholarly writing that was so dense, complex and specialized that it made me feel stupid and resentful, and the first time I looked at a draft of my own writing and recognized some of the same patterns of overly complicated scholarship-as-legerdemain I resented in others. “Wow, I’m capable of that? Yuck.” I suspect I am not the only one to have had two such moments in my career.

While some of us take pride in being able to read and write in prose thick with jargon and layers of stylistic complexity, others are more vocal about feeling like I’ve often felt. The late Denis Dutton’s brief annual series The Bad Writing Contest took aim at these conventions of academic prose and brought them to broader attention.

“As usual,” commented Denis Dutton, editor of Philosophy and Literature, “this year’s winners were produced by well-known, highly-paid experts who have no doubt labored for years to write like this. That these scholars must know what they are doing is indicated by the fact that the winning entries were all published by distinguished presses and academic journals.”Professor Butler’s first-prize sentence appears in “Further Reflections on the Conversations of Our Time,” an article in the scholarly journal Diacritics (1997):

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Dutton remarked that “it’s possibly the anxiety-inducing obscurity of such writing that has led Professor Warren Hedges of Southern Oregon University to praise Judith Butler as ‘probably one of the ten smartest people on the planet’.”

There are any number of reasons why academic writing can feel laborious, impenetrable, and intimidating to readers — and it’s often not the case that the reason is the intellectual inferiority of the reader. Indeed, as Harvard University’s Steven Pinker points out in the Chronicle of Higher Education last week, several factors leading to problematic academic writing style might be located at the intellectual anxiety of the writer:

  1. self-consciousness: the writer’s worry that they will be perceived by others as intellectually illegitimate in their field;
  2. the “curse of knowledge”: the writer’s inability to recognize the possibility that other people may not know what they know.

Even the venerated literary critic Jacques Derrida has shared that he experiences feelings of fear and intimidation when engaged in critical scholarly writing:

Pinker’s essay is a thoughtful, useful examination of why our writing often takes the forms it does at its worst — useful for us as academic writers, and useful for us to share with our students as we attempt to guide them into the kind of writing that helps them enter an intellectual conversation with fellow experts.

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Why Academics Stink at Writing

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Scott Seymour

Together with wearing earth tones, driving Priuses, and having a foreign policy, the most conspicuous trait of the American professoriate may be the prose style called academese. An editorial cartoon by Tom Toles shows a bearded academic at his desk offering the following explanation of why SAT verbal scores are at an all-time low: “Incomplete implementation of strategized programmatics designated to maximize acquisition of awareness and utilization of communications skills pursuant to standardized review and assessment of languaginal development.” In a similar vein, Bill Watterson has the 6-year-old Calvin titling his homework assignment “The Dynamics of Inter­being and Monological Imperatives in Dick and Jane: A Study in Psychic Transrelational Gender Modes,” and exclaiming to Hobbes, his tiger companion, “Academia, here I come!”

No honest professor can deny that there’s something to the stereotype. When the late Denis Dutton (founder of the Chronicle-owned Arts & Letters Daily) ran an annual Bad Writing Contest to celebrate “the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles,” he had no shortage of nominations, and he awarded the prizes to some of academe’s leading lights.

But the familiarity of bad academic writing raises a puzzle. Why should a profession that trades in words and dedicates itself to the transmission of knowledge so often turn out prose that is turgid, soggy, wooden, bloated, clumsy, obscure, unpleasant to read, and impossible to understand?

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Feel like an impostor? This free webinar is for you!

It’s inevitable… at one point or another we’ve all felt it…

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At a certain point, the Daily Affirmation of Stuart Smalley just doesn’t cut it.

Thankfully, the folks at Academic Coaching and Writing are offering a free webinar in September on just this pervasive malady:

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Managing the Impostor Syndrome in Academia: How to Overcome Self-Doubt

Do you ever feel like you are an academic “impostor,” living with the dread that you will someday be discovered to be a fraud? Do you feel that you are not really seen for all your strengths and capabilities? Key to academic success is your ability to present yourself in a compelling manner. Howevcr, many academics are inhibited by negative self-talk that undermines the way they present their competencies. This webinar will help you to step back and assess how you present your academic capabilities and how you manage others’ impressions of your abilities.

This webinar will present some research on faculty productivity and guide you through coaching exercises to help you:

  • Understand your role in the performance of being an academic
  • Identify the three components of “Academic Presence:”
    • Recognize how academic culture may lead to negative self-talk
    • Increase self-awareness of how negative thoughts sabotage your performance
    • Step into your strengths and manifest your Academic Presence

Join Moira Killoran for this webinar September 25, 2014 at:

  • 1 p.m. PDT
  • 2 p.m. MDT
  • 3 p.m. CDT
  • 4 p.m. EDT

About the Presenter

Moira Killoran, ACW Director of Academic Coaching, is a professionally certified coach with experience in leadership, academic career and dissertation coaching, as well as in qualitative research consulting. As a consultant, she has worked extensively with faculty members, university administrators, and graduate students, assisting them to complete manuscripts, dissertations, and grant proposals. She also has worked with academics to transition out of academia and into new industries. She has been principal investigator (PI) or co-PI for a variety of studies, and has been funded by the NIH, DOD, and SSRC. Moira’s publications focus on gender and identity construction, organizational culture, substance use, and doctor-patient communication. Her faculty appointments have included positions at George Washington University and Whittier College. She received her PhD in cultural anthropology from The University of Texas at Austin, and has post-doctoral training from the University of California-Berkeley and the University of California-San Francisco in medical anthropology.

“Check your privilege” applies to professors, too

I located this image as I was surfing for blog elements — as I always do, to provide a humorous and ingratiating hook for the stuff I’m sharing. I was looking for a meme that connects with the content in the piece I’m reblogging below. This one seemed great: it references the now-familiar “cool professor” persona described by Washington State University at Pullman critical/cultural scholar David Leonard.

But after I downloaded it, the meme struck me as relevant in another way as well — it blithely appropriates the identity of a prominent African American rapper and music industry mogul. It does so ironically: the professor is not only white, but presumably much older than the typical hip hop fan, and he’s on a skateboard, a signifier of skater culture not generally associated with Jay-Z’s music. The point seems to be that this guy is doubly cool, in that he is able to seamlessly appropriate divergent threads of pop culture as part of a larger, admirable character. This prof is privileged indeed.

I found Leonard’s post in Vitae provocative and helpful. Unless I am explicitly discussing matters of race, gender, class or culture, I rarely consider my privileged status in the classroom. But this kind of self-reflexivity is important, not just for the benefit of our students but also for the careers of our talented colleagues who do not benefit from the existential privilege of a straight, white male identity. As our current moment finds calls to “check your privilege” as a source of intense cultural debate, this piece is worth your time.

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My Life in the Classroom, Where Race Always Matters

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May 20, 2014

When you walk into a classroom, what’s your demeanor? Are you approachable, even casual? Or do you favor authority and formality?

Ever since Katrina Gulliver, a professor at University of New South Wales, lamented a “culture of familiarity” in the lecture hall, I’ve been reading professors’ reflections on these questions. Reflections from professors like Will Miller, who pushed back against Gulliver: “I have been known to occasionally teach in clothes that I could mow the lawn in,” he wrote, “and apparently a student or two have at some point said I was cool. That’s not my goal, however.”

I’m a casual dresser, too, but that’s not what struck me about Miller’s essay. What stood out was this line: I may be a white male, but this has nothing to do with why I am comfortable in a classroom.

There’s a lot to digest here. But let me start with this: I am a white male, and that has everything to do with why I am comfortable in a classroom, why I am respected, and how I’m read by students and others. That is my story, and the story of my career within academe.

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Best outcomes for interdisciplinary goals: Double-down on silos?

I teach and research in Communication Studies, which has been described both as an academic discipline and an interdisciplinary field. Even those who insist on the “discipline” label as a matter of scholarly identity will admit that the discipline is internally quite “interdisciplinary”: there are not only numerous and diverse sub-fields (e.g., relational/interpersonal, organizational, rhetoric and public address, mass communication, cultural media studies, etc.), but numerous and diverse approaches to study (e.g., close textual analysis, qualitative ethnography, quantitative content and audience analyses, experimental design, etc.). One of the things I love about my discipline is the potential it has to put diverse scholars in conversation with one another in areas of common interest — for me, for example, political communication, media studies or visual communication. But like any discipline, it has its devotees of narrow research silos as well. And these folks are often accused of insularity and an unwillingness (perhaps an incapacity?) to speak to others outside their silo when cross-silo collaboration should be encouraged.

Moreover, some of my best friends are in interdisciplinary area studies! (How’s that for a backhanded compliment?) Fields such as gender studies, Africana studies, environmental studies and so on are rich with possibility not just for interdisciplinary research, but for teaching and public advocacy as well. And the growing economic and social pressures on colleges and universities have sometimes led to the encouragement of interdisciplinary collaboration for scholars in disciplines whose silos are having difficulty meeting market demand in areas such as student enrollment (he said with some distaste).

But while interdisciplinarity is enjoying a moment of seemingly uncontroversial approval in higher education, the champions of academic disciplines are pushing back… and with some compelling reasons. From my tomorrows-professor e-mail listserv (have you subscribed yet?), here’s a provocative piece originally in Inside Higher Ed (which you should also follow… details below).

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Folks:
The posting below offers a counter argument to the emphasis on interdisciplinary research in higher education. It is by Scott Jaschik and it appeared in the February 26, 2014 issue of Inside Higher Ed, an excellent – and free – online source for news, opinion and jobs for all of higher education. You can subscribe by going to: http://insidehighered.com/. Also for a free daily update from Inside Higher Ed, e-mail <scott.jaschik@insidehighered.com>. Copyright 2014 Inside Higher Ed. Reprinted with permission.

Regards,
Rick Reis  (reis@stanford.edu)

A Call to Embrace Silos

Everyone, it seems, wants to promote interdisciplinary work. College and university presidents love to announce new interdisciplinary centers. Funders want to support such work. Many professors and graduate students bemoan the way higher ed places them in silos from which they long to free themselves, if only they could get tenure for interdisciplinary work.

Jerry A. Jacobs, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, wants to end the interdisciplinary love fest. His new book, In Defense of Disciplines: Interdisciplinarity and Specialization in the Research University (University of Chicago Press), challenges the conventional wisdom that academe needs to get out of disciplines to solve the most important problems and to encourage creative thinking. The most significant ideas (including those related to problems that cross disciplines) in fact come out of specialized, discipline-oriented work, Jacobs argues. Further, he says that the idea that disciplines don’t communicate right now is overstated — and that such communication can be encouraged without weakening disciplines.

[more after the jump]

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