balloons for public higher education

Today the students, faculty, and staff of Slippery Rock University held a rally on the quad to  express their support of public higher education in Pennsylvania, their solidarity with everyone who struggles to pay for the cost of college, and their opposition to Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget cuts to the state university system. The rally culminated in the release of these balloons, which represent the rising cost of public education.

This is the opposite of snobbery, Mr. Santorum. This is about equality.

‘why didn’t he just say that’

Today I went back to the comment thread on Eric Schliesser’s post on the continental/analytic divide, which I commented on here. Generally I avoid comments sections because they are often just time-sucking, inefficient ways to have debates. Plus, there are inevitably (and I mean that in the strictest sense) wild non sequiturs, offensive, and infuriating remarks made that only serve to reinforce the notion that rational dialogue (and ultimately, if I can be permitted a hyperbolic moment, democracy) is doomed to fail. The comments on Schliesser’s post are mostly tolerable, but I want to highlight a series of comments made between Mohan Matthen, John Drabinski, and Daniel Nagase.

At comment 23, Matthen chooses a difficult, presumably impenetrable passage of Derrida’s Of Grammatology. This passage, on its own, is supposed to demonstrate the very problem with continental writing. (Incidentally, if it did perform in this way it would serve to reinforce Schliesser’s point that a lot of ‘continental’ philosophy trades in such performativity.) This is precisely the kind of game that is often initiated at Leiter’s blog and to which I alluded in my earlier post. Drabinski chimes in at comment 61 to say that the Derrida passage makes perfect sense, and then at 67 Matthen asks Drabinski to unpack the passage for him, although you can tell right away that a trap is being laid. Before Drabinski replies, Nagase (comment 77) asks Matthen to defend the legitimacy of his tactic, and largely, I think, succeeds in deflating Matthen’s tactic (Drabinski thinks so too).

Matthen pushes Drabinski at 82, but instead of taking the bait, Drabinski precisely lays out the game that Matthen is playing. What is so helpful about Drabinski’s reply at 89 is how he shows that what Matthen is trying to do is to get Drabinski to ‘clearly’ articulate the obscure Derrida passage only so he (Matthen) can then reply, ‘Now why didn’t he just say that’?, in which case Drabinski would look like a dupe and Derrida would be exposed as the charlatan that ‘analytic’ philosophers believe him to be. Read Drabinski at comment 89 for yourself; Matthen concedes the game at 92.

wolff’s plea for page numbers; or, on e-books

I concur with Jonathan Wolff that academics (and not just us) need page numbers in their e-books if they are going to replace the standard format. If they can put words on a page, why not a number in the corner of that page? I also love the idea of bundling e-books with hardbacks at a discounted rate. There are probably few people willing to buy both (duplicates, that is) at the list price, and failing a discount it’s likely that readers will find ways of making electronic versions available for free. In fact, why not throw in the e-book for free with purchase of the hardback? Perhaps this is the price publishers should pay for eliminating our ability as consumers to photocopy a chapter for use in class. Unless I don’t understand the technology fully, one of the downsides to the e-book is that you cannot make a portion of it available (under fair use law) to others for the purposes of education. This, to me, is a serious drawback.

I love my Kindle. I bought it instead of an iPad precisely so that I would not be distracted by all of the options available on the iPad. But where it fails as a technological advance is in the way it forbids me from ‘flipping’ through the text. Searching is an amazing option, but when the coordinates I’m looking for are (echoing Wolff) ‘near the top of the right-hand page somewhere in the middle of the book’, the Kindle gives me the blank stare. I don’t see how this can be regained. The other wonderful thing about Kindle books is that they’re often cheaper than the ‘material’ version. When they’re not, I’m disappointed and not yet likely to spend the money on the e-book instead of the hard copy.

Then again, perhaps ‘flipping’ is not meant to be regained. What we have to wait for is a reconfiguration of our reading practices as a reading population under the new e-book regime. Eventually–maybe even more quickly than we realize–our brains will stop taking the time to make mental notes as vague as the one quoted above, and it will generate some new mnemonic strategy for marking key passages in the text. This will be an adaptation to the new e-text, rather than an adaptation of the  text to our old reading practices. Or some compromise.

schliesser on the continental/analytic divide

I found Eric Schliesser’s short critique of a recent piece in the NYT by Gary Gutting to include a number of new ways of conceiving what continental philosophy is up to and why it cannot be easily (or completely) translated into analytic philosophy. It’s also refreshing to hear someone express a reservation about the supposed clarity of Anglo-American philosophical writing. For someone with a background in the history of philosophy, rather than the ‘standard’ analytic undergraduate training, I often find analytic writing difficult. Yes, it’s partly because I’m more comfortable reading continental thought, but it’s also because there’s a certain affected casualness that permeates a lot of analytic writing, a casualness whose rhetoric suggest that what is being said is communicable in ‘plain English’, but which often ends up remaining opaque (Schliesser’s term) and elusive/allusive.

Schliesser’s post also works to undermine the standard criticism of continental philosophy used often by Brian Leiter, who is always taking the easy shot at the style of continental writing. Schliesser makes some plausible suggestions regarding the reason, if not the necessity, of continental ‘jargon’. This is not to excuse that writing which is truly terrible, which exists, of course. It is to challenge the critics to make their complaints a bit sharper by saying something specific about the deficiencies of a particular continental author, rather than just quoting that author out of context and at his/her weakest stylistic moment.

the slowest contributor

As someone currently involved in a couple of editing projects and at the mercy of referees and reviewers, I’m thinking a lot about deadlines and the failure on the part of academics to meet the deadlines they willingly agree to. In a recent post, Harman explained his aversion to contributing to anthologies by citing several practical reasons. Among them is that they ‘move at the speed of the slowest contributor….” This is absolutely true and in a real respect unfair to the other contributors involved. In principle, the ‘slowest’ contributor should be the one who submits their piece at the zero hour. Instead, the slowest contributor is more likely to be someone who fails to meet the deadline, often by weeks or even months.

From my experience, the deadlines set for academic writing typically are framed in terms of a window. Say, 4-6 weeks, 3-4 months, etc. This builds leeway into the deadline and tries to honor the fact that writing is not an exact science and writers have their own methods for getting things done. Given 4-6 weeks, some will only hear ’6 weeks’ and make that their deadline. Others will pretend like the deadline is 4 weeks, probably for the sake of their own time management idiosyncrasy. Of course, it is not just writers who must meet deadlines. There are also reviewers–of books, journal articles, dissertation drafts…

It is not atypical for academics to miss, severely, their deadlines. A week or two seems reasonable if there is no good reason forthcoming. But more than a couple weeks seems to be clear evidence of willful neglect. In the case of anthologies, this does an injustice to the other contributors who get their pieces in on time. It not only slows down the project, but it may very well affect the job, tenure, or promotion prospects of one of the other contributors. One might object that in cases of radical tardiness, the editor should decide to cut loose the delinquent contributor. But losses like this can sometimes jeopardize the integrity of the project, either at the level of its content or its prospects for publication or success. Moreover, this overlooks the fact that what seems to be the case is that an ethical defect has been normalized in academe. Missed deadlines are to be expected, forgiven, or forgotten. What else can we do, threaten the negligent?

I’m not suggesting that delinquent contributors and referees should be punished or shamed, because these folks are often working to provide a service (refereeing) or writing a piece that has been solicited by someone else, which is occasionally analogous to a service. What I’d like to suggest is that the norm should be to only accept deadlines that are likely to be met. Barring unforeseen circumstances (many of which will not prevent a person from meeting the deadline window), most of us know whether or not we are good at meeting deadlines. Why should it be okay to neglect them when there are many persons involved who may be negatively affected by such negligence?

Something tells me that there’s an unwritten rule about exposing this kind of thing, and that I’m dragging it out into the light at my personal peril. Please set me straight if so, or provide a defense of the willful neglect of deadlines.

quick thought on rights and persons

By now we’ve all heard about the attack on ‘religious freedom’ being perpetrated by Obama and his contraception crusade. And we’re starting to hear about how Virginia lawmakers are trying to redefine personhood in just the way that Mississippians failed to do last fall. Part of the retort to the the religious freedom folks is that what’s being trampled is precisely women’s rights: the right to choose whether or not to have a child, to abort an unwanted pregnancy, and not to have an ultrasound forced upon them when they seek out an abortion.

While I am in favor of women’s rights, I want to suggest that the invocation of rights is perhaps not the best method for combating the issue at hand. What ultimately happens in cases like this is a showdown between rights claims: women claim their rights demand respect; the religious claim their rights demand respect. It then comes down to a decision about whose rights have priority. The religious will claim, like Santorum, that their rights are God-given. Some women may claim the same thing, but it’s more likely that their claim will appeal to some notion of human or civil rights. If this is how the debate is framed–or even if it’s not framed explicitly this way, it tends to get construed this way when the debate revolves around rights claims–there’s a good chance that rights with a divine origin will be favored over those ‘merely’ granted by the state or via an appeal to an abstract concept of human equality.

This is not to say that fighting about rights is wrongheaded. I mean to suggest that it may be more effective to frame the issue at the level of personhood and moral standing. This, of course, is not the kind of thing that can be sufficiently framed and debated in the cable news, but that does not mean that the discourse should not be shifted away from rights talk to talk about what a person is and why we care about what happens to them. By keeping the discourse focused on rights, the question of personhood is neglected and before long a fertilized egg is granted the same set of rights as the woman carrying it. Now there are three sets of rights set in conflict, with no clear way of figuring out how to respect the claims of all three rights-holders.

PA Higher Ed Stands to Lose Even More Funding

The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE), the university system that employs me, is under threat of losing even more funding in the coming year. And this is after already losing a significant portion in 2011. You can read about the cuts here and here.

Below I’ve pasted the text of a response from PASSHE to the proposed budge cuts, sent out to the universities affected:

Feb. 7, 2012

 To the University Community:

 (The following is a joint statement from Guido Pichini, chair of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education’s board of governors, and PASSHE Chancellor John Cavanaugh in response to Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2012-13 state budget. The governor’s proposal would reduce funding to PASSHE by 20 percent, or more than $82 million:)

 “The number one priority of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the success of our students. We agree with Gov. Corbett that the needs of our students come first.”

“We also agree with the governor that every family in Pennsylvania should be able to afford higher education. That is why we have been very vigilant, not only in keeping our tuition the lowest in the commonwealth, but also in maintaining the cost of attendance below the average in the mid-Atlantic region.”

  “We fully recognize the financial challenges facing the commonwealth. Gov. Corbett was right in saying that education is a key to the state’s financial recovery. That is especially true of our graduates, more than 80 percent of whom stay in Pennsylvania for their careers and as community and civic leaders. However, our joint goals are at risk as a result of the budget blueprint for the commonwealth presented today, which provides only $2 million more than the system received 24 years ago in 1988-89. During that period we have added 23,000 students.”

 “The proposed budget represents the latest in a cascade of reductions to the state system in the past 18 months. If this proposal stands, we will have lost more than $170 million in state and federal education and general funding, compounded by a 50 percent reduction in our capital allocation and the loss of Key ‘93 funding dedicated to deferred maintenance. Taken together, these reductions now mean that we must increasingly decide whether to renovate and maintain our existing physical plant or provide students the courses and programs they require to graduate.”

“We do our part. We have reduced our operating costs by more than $230 million during the past decade and will continue to seek additional efficiencies through collaboration. Since 2010, we have more than 900 current vacancies and/or eliminated positions throughout the system. We continue to review our academic offerings; we have eliminated or put into moratorium hundreds of programs.”

“We respond to the commonwealth’s needs. Our new programs have focused on meeting the needs of the shale industry, filling workforce training gaps in the Northern Tier of the commonwealth, and responding to the growing need for well-prepared allied health professionals, especially nurses and physician assistants. It will be challenging to continue to devote funds to these efforts without stable funding.”

“We will continue to look for ways to reduce our costs. Through the cooperation of two of our unions, AFSCME and SPFPA, we have achieved cost savings in our new agreements through the adoption of more flexible work rules and health and benefit savings. We hope to achieve similar cost savings in our ongoing negotiations with our faculty and coaches union, APSCUF, and our SCUPA employees. We need flexibility in what, where and how we deliver programs and services. It is important to recognize that about 75 percent of our operating budget is personnel costs.”

 “We appreciate the support of and look forward to working with the General Assembly and the governor during the upcoming budget process. Our budget hearings will provide the opportunity to discuss the successes we have had in cost control and reduction, as well as the impact of the proposed cuts.”

“We are also very pleased to participate in the Governor’s Higher Education Advisory Panel. The need for a true comprehensive strategic plan for higher education in the commonwealth is great. We look forward to that conversation, and to charting PASSHE’s future.”

 The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education is the largest provider of higher education in the commonwealth, with nearly 120,000 students. The 14 PASSHE universities offer degree and certificate programs in more than 120 areas of study. About 500,000 PASSHE alumni live and work in Pennsylvania.