Monthly Archives: November 2014

“The Committee,” by Julie Schumacher–My review*

My “book review” is actually more my own review of what higher education is rapidly becoming. I do highly recommend this book to any and all who have experience with higher education in whatever position and at whatever level. It is funny as hell! In addition, as an “epistolary novel,” this book offers a terrific example of the skilled use of letters as a narrative technique. The story is constructed entirely from the wry, satiric letters of recommendation that the central character, an aging creative writing professor, writes on behalf of students and other faculty. It offers a number of real “LOLZ,” especially for anyone who has experience with higher education.

So, read the book and get those LOLZ for yourself! Meanwhile…

As a retired college professor in a different field (Phd., Mass Communication) and who has sat on numerous hiring and scholarship/award committees, I found this book about the travails of an aging creative writing professor extraordinarily entertaining and spot on in its satiric portrayal of the massively dysfunctional higher education system we have today (and may have always had — my teaching experience goes back to 1975), in particular the devaluation of all humanities fields, of which Mass Comm is one in spite of it being a good deal more practical than, say, English (my master’s degree), or Creative Writing (also part of my master’s, though not an MFA), as well as its increasingly absurd demands on humanities faculty (something that HAS changed since the 1970s).

Once upon a time professors were actually teachers and scholars. Now in many cases they are “content providers” who must provide exactly the same content across the board to everyone no matter their differences in teaching style or their scholarly interests and knowledge. I call it McUniversity, and it has about the same intellectual nutrition value as a Big Mac or a bag of fries provides to your body. Professors aren’t supposed to offer their own take on the subject matter because that means they are “shoving their personal ideology down students’ throats” — never mind that the specified content reflects its own ideological viewpoint. In my experience as both a tenure track and an adjunct, you aren’t supposed to criticize the status quo nor demonstrate to students how to do their own criticism, because the status quo is supposedly “the truth,” whereas criticism of it is “biased.” And thus McUniversities churn out more and more robots prepared to do as they are told. Which is exactly what the powers that be want.

The creation of a cadre of adjunct teachers who now provide the greater proportion of the “content” is in large part the functional foundation of McUniversities. Adjuncts (I have been one at several McUniversities/colleges) must provide their “content” in a way that is pleasing to students so they will get high evaluations, which are absolutely essential to getting rehired from term to term (although there are no guarantees even if you have the highest evaluations in the school). I tried so many times to explain to students that my job isn’t to give them what they think they want, but rather what I know they need–otherwise, why not just teach themselves? But no, the #1 reason a teacher would get low evaluations was if the course was “too hard” (translation: challenging, and because it was challenging, student would actually LEARN something they didn’t already know) and they didn’t get the “A” they expected from the day they walked into class).

While there are a few universities/colleges remaining that actually put learning and scholarship first, they are rapidly disappearing as that cadre of adjuncts (who might actually BE good teachers, but the circumstances require them to provide educational pablum so everyone can get an “A” or at least a “B”) takes over the majority of courses, because the university accountants have essentially taken control of the universities values, putting “saving money” ahead of providing a quality education.

Oh yes, I can see I need to write my own satirical book! Meanwhile I laughed all the way through this one as I recognized the conditions I had to deal with in my own professorial career (such as it was).

Now I am glad to be retired, and instead provide services to graduate students as a freelance editor and writing coach, and I am able to do what I always wanted to do but had to fight countless administrations determined to prevent, and that is to actually make a difference in students’ lives. Students shouldn’t have pay extra for what I do, but rather should receive it as an integral part of their university education. But alas, that is but a faint dream.

*This article is a book review I posted on today and it is awaiting content approval by the moderators. It includes a plug for my business, so it may not be approved. And since even if it is approved, my followers here would not likely come across it, so I am duplicating it here, minus most of the business plug (since if you are reading it here, you already found me!).

#Digiwrimo — ummmm….sorry, my brain doesn’t work that fast

I signed up for #digiwrimo with the idea in mind that it might help me develop some of the materials for the memoir I’ve been working on for decades. The launch party was 10/31 and I just learned today (11/3) that I was supposed to do some writing/media creation immediately after, as in: seconds, and then minutes.

Ummmm…I was sick that day (gastrointestinal bug) and I’ve been recovering from it. So, seeing that I am already several days behind, I think I am going to dump the project and just tag along to see what other people do.

This is an age of instant communications, and apparently it requires brains that function with lightning speed, and the owners of those brains never get sick nor need to rest.

I’ve been writing my book for nearly 40 years. It took that long to figure the story out, since I had puzzles about my life to work out and the puzzles weren’t solved until last year, after my mother died, at age 94. If I had started writing this in the age of social media I would have shared the insights of a 24-year-old, and while I was very smart back then, and an excellent writer (as I can see from reading original work I wrote back than, much of which will appear in the final version), I had no idea what the trajectory of my life would be nor of the insights I would have about the subject matter of which I wrote back then.

My work is not suited for #digiwrimo, or anything else that requires a brain that never flags. No wonder we have a world of literature dominated by the insights of 20 somethings. Wisdom requires the seasoning of years, and brains as old as mine just don’t fit into the world of communications written in nanoseconds.

I guess I am just an old dinosaur!

Well, perhaps, a WISE old dinosaur!