GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

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Bollywood Goes to College

In Uncategorized on 2014/02/02 at 04:33

May third marked the 100th anniversary of the first Hindi film’s release.  BBC World News spent much of the day in celebratory analysis. Those of us immersed in international education would do well to take note, because Bollywood captures South Asian educational as well as romantic fantasies.

A debate about what constitutes an international educational success takes place in Mumbai megaplexes and London lounges on screens large and small.  Famed directorYash Chopra died last October. Chopra’s passing garnered mention in New York Timesas did megastar Shah Rukh Khan’s interrogation at Newark Airport in 2009.  Such stories have traction, because the Desi diaspora fills Anglo and American labs and lecture halls. These STEM shy populations long for more.  David Cameron recently pledged to renew the UK universities’ welcome to Indian students with easier visa access.  These NRIs (non-resident Indians) drive the narratives of Hindi cinema.

(Spoiler Alert)

Chopra’s final movie, Jab Tak Hai Jaan, starred Khan and introduced its female lead as she gave thanks for achieving the best final exam result at her British university. That degree’s value in a life without love comes into question, but the expectation that the daughter of a successful Indian immigrant in London will maximize her academic potential remains intact.  Chopra’s tale as in Khan’s award winning Swades both demand that the highly educated immigrant return to India before they can lead full lives.  Academic accolades remain empty without the mother country’s cultural embrace.

Bollywood’s educational obsession crosses genders.  In the blockbuster  Love Aaj Kaal(these days) when Saif Ali Khan’s character, an English educated architect,  moves from London to San Francisco, he seeks success but experiences depression and isolation.  Deepika Padukone’s art restorer heads to India and finds professional and romantic success among ancient ruins. Paa purported to be a father-son/son-father story, but its premise rests on two Indian students’ unexpected pregnancy in Cambridge, England.  India embraces the unwed mother whose British medical degree can pay her son’s bills but not sustain his or her soul.

Pyaar (Love) Impossible critiques American academic culture and capitalism in general for rewarding appearances over substance.  The Indian glamour girl and geek, who meet on a California campus, only extricate their souls from the domination of “sellers” (of systems and sex) over “makers” (of programs and relationships) among the gleaming skyscrapers of pan-Asian Singapore, while the geek’s Indian father cheers.

Aamir Khan’s cinematic attacks on Indian educational institutions, Like Stars on Earthand Three Idiots, explain the push toward foreign institutions. Rigid, rote learning dominates primary, secondary, and tertiary education in Khan’s scathing depictions.  Students long to jump into American graduate degrees.  However, the material drive that propels students through their exam marathons in India and across continents to MBAs and other lucrative certifications falls under suspicion.  Creativity exists outside the institutional frameworks of international higher ed in Aamir Khan’s view.  Two more vehicles for Shah Rukh Khan and his billions of fans, Yash Chopra’s Mohabbatein and Karan Johar’s Kal Ho Naa Ho, cast similar aspersions on academic rigor divorced from emotional growth.

As US universities meditate upon the role of MOOCs, I dwell upon the messages in the films above and countless other Bollywood examinations of India’s educational obsessions.  I struggle with the irony that Bollywood sends these disembodied narratives into my living room much as a MOOC dispatches lectures over a laptop.  Bollywood offers a damning critique of mass lectures where faculty fail to embrace the intellect (Three Idiots) and where students easily hand off someone else’s work as their own (Pyaar Impossible).  If this is what US institutions export overseas, we have merely managed to rebrand the type of education international students seek to flee.

As US universities build campus colonies around the globe, Bollywood’s post-colonial filmmaking offers a glimpse into the potentials and pitfalls of educational empires.  The traveler’s or immigrant’s conflicted relationship with a new culture is an old phenomenon.  Likewise, first generation college students have always expressed simultaneous anxiety about success and the moral perils of affluence.  Universities have an essential role as we help late adolescents meet these challenges to their cultural roots and formulate adult world views.  A century of Bollywood depictions underscore the need for global education to offer modes of transit across physical and metaphysical oceans.

Evanston, Illinois in the US.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is a member of the University of Venus editorial collective; a contributor to The Historical Society Blog; and an associate director of the Office of Fellowships at Northwestern University, where she teaches History and American Studies. For more, follow @ejlp on Twitter or go to http://elizabethlewispardoe.com.

Patton’s March

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2013/09/29 at 23:57
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.

On 29 March – coincidentally my birthday and the day General George Patton took Frankfurt –  Susan Patton published a Letter to the Editor in The Daily Princetonian titled “Advice for the Young Women of Princeton: the Daughters I Never Had” that made a stir at my doctoral alma mater.  Like me, Patton has two sons. Like me, Patton has adopted highly accomplished female undergraduates at her alma mater as surrogate daughters.  Like me, Patton finds endless banter about“leaning in” to careers vapid unless it engages women’s private as well as public personas.  Unlike me, she advises Princeton women to graduate with a diploma and a marriage license. Ms. Patton’s prescription depends upon three flawed premises, all rooted in assumptions.

First, she assumes the young women she addressed will never enter a more elite pool of potential life-partners than their Princeton undergraduate class.  For some, that may be true.  Others will enter yet more extraordinary assemblages of talent, where ‘legacy’ candidates and athletic attributes play no role in selection.  Some young women might find a better mate (of whichever gender – legally acknowledged or not) at Yale Law, Harvard Med, or in their Fulbright cohort than among those gathered at Nassau Hall. Others may choose to never marry.

Second, Patton assumes that men date younger women, but women must date their age equivalents.  Thus she warns that while male Princeton seniors can date among four classes of females, senior women need to hurry up and grab one of their classmates before the campus crab-apples blossom.  I can only suppose that her argument emerges from the popularly held belief that women mature at a younger age than men.   I used to say one ought not date a man younger than 25, because he would be incapable of commitment.  Neuroscience says no one’s brain has fully matured until the age of 25.  If she believes that marriage is dating’s endgame, Ms. Patton should provide chastity belts to every Princeton student regardless of class year or gender.

Third, Patton assumes that if a Princeton Tigress lands her male prey while a nubile undergrad, she will manage to keep him in a nuptial cage until death does them part.  The first and second planks of Patton’s argument undermine the third.  Following her logic, if a man prefers pretty, young, and dippy to elegant, mature, and brilliant, marrying him young merely dooms a woman to one of two scenarios: either this superficial and unworthy man will dump her when middle-age brings wrinkles to her brow and/or her midriff, or he will emulate Bill Clinton and support her career while abandoning her bed. Just because he holds a Princeton degree, a tiger won’t change his stripes.

While I was writing this piece, the BBC announced Baroness Thatcher’s death.  I reviewed the “Iron Lady’s” romantic history with Patton’s letter in mind.  Margaret Roberts did NOT marry an Oxford classmate.  She married a divorcée she met through political activities at 26 and bore twins at 28. Mr. Thatcher was ten years her senior, a decorated war veteran, and millionaire businessman who never attended university.  Whether deriding or lauding his participation in “Maggie’s” career, commentators accept his necessary role in her political success.  My politics align far more closely with Hillary Clinton’s than Margaret Thatcher’s,  but given the choice between Ivy League eugenics or the Thatchers’ educationally unequal endurance, I wish the undergraduate girls cum women of Princeton the latter scenario over the former one as those who wish it march towards matrimony.

No marriage is perfect.  Indeed, I suspect that marriages between equal intellects demand greater negotiation that those where one partner defers to the other as a superior mind.  Barack Obama may have preferred Michelle to say “you’ll be great” rather than “don’t screw it up” when he approached the podium for his career-making DNC speech in 2004, but I doubt it.  When Michelle Robinson married a man she met – gasp – AFTER Princeton and a transfer student from Occidental to Columbia at that, even her Princeton alumnus brother thought he was worth the wait.

For full disclosure, I met my husband when I was 22 and newly arrived as a graduate student at Cambridge University in England.  I was as taken by the searing intellect that won him the top exam results in Philosophy as an Oxford undergraduate as I was by his curly hair and empathetic soul.  He is five years my senior and thus met my 25 year rule.  He should have run, as my brain had another three years of development left.  Lucky for me, and our two wonderful boys, he did not.  Because Ms. Patton – I suspect – would dismiss Northwestern as suitable husband-hunting grounds, she would have supported my cloistered undergraduate devotion to the library.  Thank heavens, my husband evaded the Oxonian femme fatales who his friends’ report made attempts at actualizing a variant of Ms. Patton’s plan.  They offered humorous fodder for wedding speeches, but I walked down the aisle and into a future my undergraduate self never imagined as part of a spousal strategic plan.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is a member of the University of Venus editorial collective; a contributor to The Historical Society Blog; and an associate director of the Office of Fellowships at Northwestern University, where she teaches History and American Studies. For more, follow @ejlp on Twitter or go to  http://elizabethlewispardoe.com.

 

The Good Life

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2013/06/12 at 09:20
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US. 

Sheryl Sandberg advises women to “lean in;” the dangling preposition in her book title tells me that Sandberg offers little substance. She offers process without a predicate. Yes, I just judged a book by its cover.

More problematic than the ambiguous title is the megalomaniacal image that accompanies it. I know that I am to idolise the attractive face that bedecks the facile words.  Beware the autobiography that attempts to preach solutions based on individual experience.  I no more want Sheryl Sandberg’s life than my husband (thank heavens) wants to emulate Steve Jobs.  When a book bears a solitary human face on it’s cover – whether that person is male or female, living or dead – a sermon awaits you.  The sermon may be a hagiography: classic whitewash that hides all human foibles from the reader’s view.  The sermon may be a jeremiad: woe betide the reader who succumbs to the same sins as the subject.  Ms. Sandberg’s falls into the former category.

When Ms. Sandberg leans in, she runs a company obsessed with faces and known for its questionable ethics and stocks. Mr. Jobs’ face gazed piercingly from his biography.  He too valued appearances and lent in when he verbally abused those who made his aesthetic forms function.  I would rather live in a world where neither Sandberg’s nor Jobs’ style takes precedence over the dignity demonstrated by those who pursue a good life defined in terms of humanity embraced not dollars stashed.

Melissa Harris-Perry devoted an hour of her show to a roundtable discussion of Sandberg’s book.  One panelist, Valarie Kaur, raised the issue that higher education intends to probe: what is a good life?  Kaur argued that she and her friends share my disinterest, and indeed, distaste at life lived in the ‘C Suite.’  Ironically, despite Sandberg’s desire to land more women in the corporate board room, leaning in shrinks any circle.  Rather than guiding more women to exist within the materially comfortable, but morally compromised, one percent,  we need to redefine success to include more than money.  Kaur said she and her friends look forward to childbearing with fear.  The choice between curtailing other women’s lives (low wage nannies and housekeepers) in order to liberate their own and attempting to do everything at the cost of enjoying anything justifiably frightens.  Kaur wants enough money to be comfortable and enough time to spend with loved ones and loved projects – wouldn’t we all?

So long as the subject of discussion remains individual people, whether Anne Marie Slaughter or Sheryl Sandberg, the circle remains closed.  Slaughter stepped back, while Sandberg leaned in, and Amy Chua roared.  No wonder Kaur and her friends feel confused.  If they take each individual example as possessed of the ‘right’ answer, the rising generation of women will expire from the side-effects of these mutually-exclusive prescriptions.

The conversation about the good life came at the same time that the photos of Richard Briers’ funeral ran in Britain.  Briers starred in a seventies sitcom called “The Good Life” about a London commercial artist who calls it quits to practice self-sufficiency in the suburbs.  Every episode highlighted the frisky fun of Briers’ character with his wife over that of his successful, executive neighbor and his uptight, social-climbing wife.  No crying children with their correlated stresses curbed this bit of pre-Thatcher, anti-capitalist fantasy. Hardly a feminist statement piece, the show portrayed a couple committed to making (literally) just enough as far happier, more generous – yes successful – than their frenetically affluent neighbors.

The good life has many messy forms in the real world.  I hope Slaughter, Sandberg, and Chua live their individual definitions of the good life.  I would prefer not to walk in their shoes.  I have no doubt they would hate to walk in mine.  That’s as it should be.  A world of clones would be dire indeed.

Evanston, Illinois in the US.

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe is a member of the University of Venus editorial collective; a contributor to The Historical Society Blog; and an associate director of the Office of Fellowships at Northwestern University, where she teaches History and American Studies. For more, follow @ejlp on Twitter or go to http://elizabethlewispardoe.com.

Empty Nest

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2013/03/16 at 23:49
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US. 

My biological sons have some time yet before they will fly into adulthood. However, I have entered the second half of my seventh year as a fellowships adviser.  My first blog for UVenus explained my state of being as Mater de facto et de jure.  In 2010, I had yet to grasp the full impact of my de facto children would play as precursors to the triumphs and traumas of motherhood yet to come.

On January 31st, I watched the first student I both taught and advised appear on MSNBC to discuss a brilliant piece he wrote for Slate.  It seems impossible that six years have passed since I spilled red ink on his seminar papers.  A poised and articulate young professional appeared on the screen before me, and I could not breathe.  A profound sense of loss accompanied my joy at his accomplishment.  He has flown the nest; he does not need me.

Next month I will introduce another former advisee at a campus event – as a fellow faculty member.  Again, as I compose my words of praise, the memory of our first meeting remains burned in my memory.  The lapsed years seem like seconds.  I know this is how motherhood feels.  I know that my babies first screams upon exiting the womb still echo in my ears as they approach puberty.  From the sublime ache associated with my students’ successes, I can only imagine the acuity of the pleasure and the pain that awaits me as my boys become men.

My mother aided other mothers as an adoption counselor.  She kept two poems framed on her office wall, which she gave me when she retired at the same time that I quit my tenure-line job to be at home with my newborn and three-year-old sons.  They still hang in our family room.

Parents’ Creed by Khalil Gibran

And a Woman who held a babe against her bosom said:  Speak to us of Children.  

And he said:  your children are not your children.  

They are the sons and daughters of life’s longing for itself.  

They come through you but not from you, and though they are with you, they belong not to you.  You may give them your love but not your thoughts, for they have their own thoughts.  

You may house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.  

You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.  

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.  

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

 

A Poem On Children by Margaret Mead

That I be not a restless ghost

Who haunts your footsteps as they pass

Beyond the point where you have left

Me standing in the newsprung grass,

You must be free to take a path

 

Whose end I feel no need to know,

No irking fever to be sure

You went where I would have you go.

 

Those who would fence the future in

 

Between two walls of well-laid stones

But lay a ghost walk for themselves

A dreary walk for dust bones

So you can go without regret

 

Away from this familiar land

Leaving your kiss upon my hair

And all the future in your hands.

My mother counseled birthmothers who let their babies leave within hours of their births and adoptive mothers who would devote their lives to the fruit of another woman’s womb.  She taught me long before I became a mother the many forms motherhood takes.  Every mother embarks on a treacherous journey of joy and sorrow.  We each want our children to thrive without us yet grieve their absence whether we part at two days or twenty-two years.

I can see a wonderful future in the capable hands of my advisees whose arrows I have already sent forth at alarming speed.  I hope I muster the strength to launch my sons into the world with similar force and survive the emotional tsunami in their wake.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Academic Abbey

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2013/02/06 at 11:14
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.

Earlier this month, the American Historical Association announced the anything-but-shocking discovery that tenured men benefit more from marriage than their female counterparts.  My female friends and I long ago noticed that women at the top of the academic hierarchy rarely have more than one child and a marriage in the present tense.  Scott Jaschik scrutinized the higher statistical propensity for academic women to form endogamous marriages with another Ph.D. Academic men pick partners more willing or better able to fulfill Ruth’s biblical pledge, “whither thou goest, I shall go.”

Such marital politics produce the stuff of domestic dramas played out in every sector and every age. Mr. Darcy tests the waters with Elizabeth Bennet when he asks if she thinks her newly married friend lives a suitable distance from her father’s estate. Ma Ingalls packed up Laura and Mary whenever Pa got the notion to move further afield. Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake captured the isolation centuries of new wives experienced when they set out to cross the Atlantic with husbands they barely knew.

Jaschik’s report appeared the day after Downton Abbey’s third season premier. Julian Fellowes’ reduction sauce of English stereotypes stirs American imaginations with matrimonial ephemera. The lord of the manor married American money but failed to breed profit or sons. The heiress must lower her expectations in order to keep her estate. The Irish chauffeur liberates his aristocratic lover from her hide-bound behaviors and stately home.

Academics, like aristocrats, need certain types of structures in order to survive. A tenured professor needs pupils like an aristocrat needs servants. They exist only in juxtaposition to one another. No stately home to house the servants or no university to engage the undergraduates and the top dog (to steal my tone from 1066 and All That) ceases to have anything to stand atop.

Academics drive their marital moves, but they can only manage chronic migrations if they have a doting partner to herd their progeny towards a new destination. If a tenured academic happens upon their intellectual equivalent of Downton, he (statistically more likely) digs in his heels with a fervor that would make Lady Mary blush. Two PhDs unable to share the same Downton face a marital fate scarier than the Dowager Countess’ disapproving scowl.

If the ‘trailing’ spouse has (as is more likely among trailing wives according to the AHA) a JD, an MD, an MBA, an MSW, an MAT, or anything other than a Ph.D., someone will hire her. If the partner holds a Ph.D. (more likely among trailing husbands), he confronts a choice of adjunct instructorships and administrative positions once held by the wives of the male professoriate in preceding generations. Just as those women railed against their second class citizenship as they held aloft copies of Betty Friedan’s Feminine Mystique, no one should express surprise that the husbands of tenured wives fall short the Alan Alda ideal of household helpfulness and satisfied subordination.

We all dream of marital equality. I once cringed as a newly arrived, male administrator replied, “yes,” to the patronizing observation, “so you are the trailing spouse.” Back during my tenure-line days, my husband – while fully employed at many multiples of my salary – used to field questions from faculty wives as to his experience as a “stay-at-home dad.” I doubt he liked it any better than I did when a few years later an academic wife told me, “I thought you were just a mom.” My husband and I adore our boys. We wear our parental titles with pride. However, the queries possessed the same, internalized self-loathing that Mr. Carson exudes whenever the middling or lower classes imperil the Downton way. They indicated subordination in what we understand as a marriage of equals.

Academics devalue all other occupations in the way Fellowes’ fictional aristocrats struggle to acknowledge the worth of the world beyond the Abbey. When both partners live within such stilted walls, they can appear insurmountable barriers to professional and marital success.

For those who attempt to administer academic abbeys populated upstairs & down by peculiar personalities, we could have worse role models than the indefatigable Mrs. Hughes of Downton. She neither worships nor resents. Mrs. Hughes merely comprehends and coordinates with an admirable mix of affection and authority.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Baccalaureate Bologna

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2013/01/14 at 00:39
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.

As a result of some cosmic hiccup, I have to register my baby boy for high school this weekend. Then, one of his friends asked me to explain International Baccalaureate programs as I drove him home yesterday evening. Already in a state of middle-aged-maternal angst, I embarked upon a frenzy of IB research last night and this morning. The following paragraphs attempt to disambiguate my parental self-flagellation and pedagogical frustration from a fledgling proposal.

First, flagellation:  IB programs provide the well-rounded exposure to languages, cultures, and intellectual apparatus all children should enjoy.  Why didn’t I place my boys in IB schools?  The answer addresses the problem: national exceptionalism.  To address the low standards of a US high school diploma by any international standard, Americans invented the Advanced Placement (AP) exams.  This was how elite students proved they had already completed undergraduate (ie Bachelors Degree) level courses while still in secondary (aka High) school.  My local school system prides itself on its incredible array of AP offerings from Multi-Variable Calculus to French.  However, the programs provide a shopping list – not a system.  By contrast, the IB programs I researched offered a systemic approach to bilingualism and integrated advanced curricula that most American school systems would be hard pressed to produce.  These schools then claim their graduates hold a Baccalaureate Diploma – or translated into English – a Bachelor’s degree.  Why would such a person wish to earn a second Bachelor’s degree granted by a university?

Second, frustration:  The hand-wringing over the utility of American bachelor’s degree seeks to answer the question above.  What is the added value of an undergraduate education?  Part of the American answer is simple.  US colleges attempt to play catch up for our erratic primary and secondary non-system.  If someone holds a BA from a reputable college, a graduate or professional school’s admissions committee has confidence that he or she has achieved International Baccalaureate levels after additional years – to quote Tom Lehrer – with ivy covered professors in ivy covered halls.  However, few question the added value of a BA from Amherst or BS from CalTech over an IB from the most elite international school, but why?

Third, proposal: The answer lays in the use made of the second two years of college.  The IB and AP programs mean to take students through the basics of a subject – the same goal of most core requirements met in the first and second years of college.  After A levels in England, traditional gentlemen traveled abroad on their grand tour before they entered Oxbridge.  In the US, students took flight during their Junior Year Abroad to meet the same need for international exposure before specialization.  Elite schools, like Princeton, demanded a senior thesis in the fourth and final year.  These two things – a year abroad in an immersive language program and an independent research year – constitute the nature of an honors degree whether earned at Michigan State or Stanford.  Just as the IB outlines necessary elements of their primary, middle, diploma standards, we need an international standard for undergraduate education.

Final thoughts:  The European Union’s Bologna Accord attempted this herculean task.  They outlined what a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degree should mean anywhere in Europe.  To achieve this, they chopped time off the traditionally five year continental university degree to make a three year BA and if a student spent a full year abroad a four year BAPlus.  As more US students complete their BA after three years in sync with their UK cousins, US and UK institutions create new offerings for BA/MAs that concluded simultaneously at the end of year four.  Brown University recently formalized a new program to guarantee their students a BA/MA (dubbed Brown Plus One) granted with an overseas institution over five years.  If I – someone who has given public presentations on this lexical labyrinth – barely manage to translate among the options and their meanings, what will the average eighteen-year-old educational aspirant make of it all?  In my experience as an adviser, they make short-sighted decisions simply because they cannot find a sufficiently high berth from which to take in the panoramic view.  A helping hand is long overdue.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Rules of Action

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2012/11/30 at 10:45

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US. 

The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule (again) on so-called affirmative action in higher education. The details vary case to case, but the underlying fear that a person of color stripped a paler would-be pupil of an opportunity remains constant. Programs to guarantee underrepresented minorities presence in the academy make tempers – including mine – flare whether in support or rejection of their aims. I feel particularly prone to pique at this time of year. Accomplished students from privileged families apply for awards to study overseas funded by governments or foundations. They can, and they should. However, they should also remember that the rules apply to them.

Those who complain about affirmative action argue that while they or their offspring played by ‘the rules,’ darker competitors for places circumvented the rules and won the prize. A complex irony emerges from the perception that diversity diminishes academic standards.

My first year as a graduate student adviser, I enjoined a group of African-American women to speak to their faculty mentors early and often.  One of the women told me later, that she and her friends were loathe to go to office hours as undergraduates for fear of appearing less able than their peers.  By contrast, weak students from comparatively wealthy white families consider extra help from faculty their birthright.  A bad grade means a bad teacher on the right side of the tracks.

Students should come to office hours for conversation and consultation.  However, smart students genuinely at sea in new institutions stay away while those whose parents and grandparents gave them roadmaps to collegiate success in the cradle can never get enough.  I have been told that those sufficiently wealthy to have private tax accountants rarely suffer through an audit, but those of lesser means who file themselves frequently find the IRS at their door.  The haves trump the have-nots by not only mastering whatever game they play but also the best way to ‘win’ at whatever cost.

When I see applications carelessly completed by kids who think the rules do not apply to their terribly special selves, I hit the roof.  READ the directions.  No, you can NOT submit five minutes let alone five days late when others gave themselves less time to revise in order to submit on time.   If the application says three letters of recommendation, you may NOT submit four.  If the application stipulates a 1000 word essay, do NOT squeeze in 1100.  If everyone else can suffer through the final stages of editing their well loved words into oblivion, so can you.

I know this belief in rules as guarantors of fair play makes me pathetically bourgeois.  Oligarchs and aristocrats assume their connections and/or breeding will buy them leeway with such mundane trifles as deadlines.  Mitt Romney could extend and extend his tax return until it suited him to share.  Those he despises as dependents probably filed their paperworks punctually for fear of a fine.  When I evaluate applications, I become physically ill when the candidate who worked hard to assemble materials early and correctly loses out to the kid who submits an application five seconds before deadline and suffused in sloppy errors.  The latter’s accomplishment came at the cost of other’s time and effort.  The former cared enough to respect his or her readers.

You might rightly point out that I am the princess of the unfortunate typo.  I have fallen victim here and elsewhere to my fingers fight with my mind.  Homonyms do-si-do, and semi-colons prance where a comma should appear: too true.  This month I committed a far more egregious crime in my own moral framework: I missed my deadline.  My editors here are gracious souls.  I will likely read this piece in print.  However, I trust that it will follow anything submitted on time.  I have enjoyed every advantage the world has to offer.  Please let someone who has not go first.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Trust, Funds, and Friends

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2012/09/29 at 03:29

Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.

Paul Ryan is a little bit rich. That’s like being a little bit pregnant, and we all know Ryan’s stand on pregnancy. Just as Ryan thinks life begins at conception, I think wealth begins at trust fund.

I am fully aware that one of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was a college education without debt. I am a faculty brat. From 1988-1992, I attended Northwestern University for a fraction of the tuition when my father joined the faculty in 1968. As a result, I got to study abroad for a full year on the program of my choice and enter marriage not only multilingual but also debt free. My husband brought no debt to our marriage thanks to the universal university education then promised every English subject of academic ability. We were and are the lucky ones. We appreciate our good fortune.

Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney seem to have forgotten the blessings accrued them by birth. Ryan’s grandfather’s and Romney’s father’s wealth mean that neither man had to sign away his future in order to pay for his educational present (pun intended). When disaster struck, and Ryan’s father died, wealth accumulated long before his birth was able to carry him through the crisis that might have brought his family to financial ruin. It may not have been the Romney’s mega-millions, but it provided a cushion for an existential blow. That is what trust funds do. They protect their recipients from the twists and turns of fate that otherwise buffett us on life’s stormy seas. They create trust in a secure future – a personal safety net.

Romney and Ryan both have trust funds. Ryan added his wife’s to his own when he married. These men can deride the social safety net, because – whether or not they avail themselves of it – they don’t need it. When Ryan drove the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, he did so as a tourist among the working class. Poor Romney can’t even figure out how to pass a weekend among men and women who work with their hands.

Ironically, the closest either Republican scion came to children who had to pay their own way into the professional class was in that so-called bastion of elitism, college. Romney briefly rubbed elbows with ordinary Mormons at Brigham Young University. Ryan crossed the midwest to attend Ohio’s state run liberal arts college, Miami University. Much has been made of Ryan’s intellectual leadership. From what I can discern, he fulfilled requirements for two majors but neither achieved greek honors based upon his grades nor earned election to Phi Beta Kappa as testament to the breadth and depth of his achievements in the liberal arts and sciences. In short, he failed to take full advantage of the educational resources offered him.

What both Ryan and Romney capitalized upon – literally and metaphorically – were the opportunities for networking among the elite embedded within institutions of higher education. Ryan pledged a fraternity – the best way to facilitate friendships among those of like minds and similar social strata within an otherwise diverse institution. Romney must have found too few wealthy hands to shake at Brigham Young, because he finished the job at that bastion of backroom brokerage, the Harvard School of Business.

When Romney issued the patronizing claim, “corporations are people, my friend,” he meant that corporations consist of people who are his friends. This is the lesson Ryan and Romney drew from their educations. Trust funds allow you to focus on your friends. Put in another pearl of Romney wisdom, “borrow money – if you have to – from your parents.” That loan need not stop at money. A wealthy parent, grandparent, or spouse can also loan you influential friends to pave your way to wealth and power.

This is why my favorite pundit, John Heilemann, failed to predict Ryan as Romney’s running mate. He thought Romney would want to secure Ohio with Senator Rob Portman. Romney did want to secure Ohio. By selecting Ryan, he got a ‘twofer.’ Ryan brought a strong network of Ohio connections forged in his fraternity as well as his Wisconsin constituents. That out-of-state tuition may have been the wisest investment Ryan ever made.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The Sins of Secular Saints

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2012/08/29 at 07:38
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.

I was in Pennsylvania to present at a National Association of Fellowship Advisors’ workshop when Louis Freeh took to the podium and damned those living and dead who abandoned boys to Jerry Sandusky’s brutality.  Everyone at the workshop exists within the academy, and all of us expected Mr. Freeh’s conclusions.  Tragically, no one in a room of higher education professionals seemed remotely surprised by the range of power-brokers willing to feed boys to a predator before they would consider decreasing the athletic department’s profit at Penn State.

Most those gathered were coaches of a sort.  We know all too well the pressure to ‘win’ at all costs.  Certain awards count more than others just like men’s football and basketball count more than men’s baseball or any sport a woman plays – Title IX anniversary or not.

Football and basketball coaches make more money, live in bigger houses, and garner higher praise than those who work with scholar-athletes for whom professional play – if possible – would never air on prime time tv.  They receive public ovations of which chaired professors only dream.  Football coaches bask in glory reserved for Nobel Prize winners among the professoriate.  However, Nobel Prize winners in physics don’t claim to deserve the Peace Prize as well.  Championship coaches find themselves sainted – as if multi-million dollar contracts and subsidized mansions ensured their ethics.

The National Association of Fellowship Advisors promotes holistic practices.  We vow to put the student’s personal development above any particular win.  I call it academic matchmaking.  I want to find the opportunity that best serves the student’s long-term goals, and I want the application process to be instructive on its own terms.

Of course, we would all love a ‘win’ to be an extra bonus at the end of a beneficial exercise.  No one offers us TV contracts or seven-figure-salaries, nor should they.  When the coach becomes the center of attention over the scholar or the athlete, we have all failed.  Our institutions exist to serve those enrolled as students not to aggrandize those hired to help them.

Long before the Penn State tragedy came to light, I attended another conference in Pennsylvania at the center of the current storm: State College.  I wandered into town from the conference site and tried to find token gifts to take my family.  I should note neither my English husband nor my Anglo-American sons follow football.  I was out of luck.  I think the closest comparison would have been a medieval Cathedral town full of market stalls hawking relics.

I felt uncomfortable then.  I have respected colleagues and mentors on the academic faculty and was at the conference with fellow authors from a collected volume published by Penn State Press.  Their contributions to learning found no place among the piles of Nittany Lion and Paterno paraphernalia.  I didn’t really know who Joe Paterno was.  I concluded that he was the patron saint of Penn State.

Saints forgo high salaries and private planes for the common good.  Saints seek a heavenly reward.  Coaches cash in on retirement perks.  We all see now what should have been glaringly obvious then: Joe Paterno was no saint – nor is any coach.

A great deal is at stake in this distinction.  Saints are without sin.  We believe them incapable of it.  Humans mistakenly portrayed as saints will – like Paterno – put lives on the line in order to protect the delusion.

This problem – unlike the deep-seated sources of Sandusky’s pedophilia – has a simple solution.  Cults of personality serve no one well.  Keep coaches off billboards and bobbleheads.  I am not suggesting hair shirts and gruel.  Respect and reasonable remuneration can and should belong to whomever serves the common – in this case collegiate – good.  But when the individual blinds us to the collective, beware.  We can’t eradicate evil, but we can prevent powerful people from shielding it in a selfish desire to avoid shame.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Pride, Prejudice, and Publication

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2012/07/18 at 02:13
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.

Just as the Bennet sisters had a season in which to find a spouse, academics have a season in which to cement their editorial couplings for the coming year.  Each summer, hotel conference rooms and university campuses around the globe house those who write and those who edit as they perform a series of anxiety-ridden dances.

First, you fill your card.

A year before the conference begins nervous writers apply to appear with panels.  Apply for too many and you may end up like Lydia, a cheap tease.  Apply for too few and you may spend the summer like Mary, with atonal contributions to recitals meant for others.  The perfect panel stretches you just enough beyond your comfort zone to demonstrate new accomplishments but not so far that others outshine you.  Elizabeth Bennett shines brightest when accompanied by Jane and Charlotte Lucas.  Neither Caroline Bingley nor Kitty improves her lustre.

Upon arrival, you survey the registration hall for familiar faces with whom to pass time before your first dance.  Friends exchange updates on their lives, share knowledge of the other attendees, remark upon notable absences, and down coffee in anticipation of the mental aerobics to come.

With panel partners located and caffeinated, you proceed to the appointed space for your performance.

Historians struggle with a particularly stiff line dance.  We rise in turn to read our papers.  The panel chair punctuates our proclamations with introductions of individual speakers.  Then the nervous cluster holds its collective breath and waits for the commentator’s critique.

The commentator will tell the potential editors in the room whether he or she thinks the samples just shared merit further investigation as journal articles or monographs.  If the speakers approximate Elizabeth Bennet and the editors Fitzwilliam Darcy, the commentator fills the terrifying role of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.

If the commentator damns with faint praise or skewers with a rapier wit, any recalcitrant editorial Darcy in the audience may slide out the back in silence.  If the audience contains a persistent questioner, Wickham, you might draw Darcy’s attention despite Lady Catherine’s condemnation.  How you reply to Lady Catherine and Mr. Wickham plays as serious a role in Darcy’s evaluation as quality of your initial performance.  If you demonstrate incisive intellect as you respond to critique with poise or to praise with humility, you may just halt Darcy’s departure.

What every writer wants is an invitation to an individual dance – the magic moment when the editor solicits your work solo.  A sentence that begins with “your paper” not “your panel” sends the authorial heart into a swoon.  For Mr. Darcy to like the ladies of Longbourn in general would offer no special hope to Elizabeth, who needs him to settle upon her in particular.

Of course a successful relationship requires Lizzy to see Darcy’s merits just as Darcy must see Lizzy’s.

An inept proposal or reply can bring the courtship to a premature end.  An aloof editor from a high end house poses as many problems as an overeager one from the local historical society.  The former might let your prose languish at the bottom of a pile until your colleagues have preempted your finding and made your book redundant.  Poor Caroline Bingley’s waits for Darcy’s attention in vain.  The latter may push your piece into print before it receives needed editorial polish.  Lydia elopes with Wickham before she has read the fine print of his proposal.  If like Lizzy, you spurn the aloof editor too soon, you might miss his potential for an attentive partner.  Darcy had more depth than she imagined.  Set your cap at an editorial Wickham, and you will find he has run off a younger, more naive scholar behind your back.

With luck, a Georgianna Darcy can facilitate the final match.  A third party who knows the perils but sees the potential in a tentative romance can assuage lingering doubts and nudge the couple towards the altar.

It is, after all, a truth universally acknowledged, that a scholar in possession of a manuscript, must be in want of an editor.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed .

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