GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘GenY’

When Everyone Leads, Who Labors?

In Uncategorized on 2010/11/04 at 06:50

Regular contributor, Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the USA.

Anyone in the academy already knows that if a letter of recommendation praises a student as a ‘hard worker,’ the subtext reads, ‘not very bright.’ High prestige scholarships put a high premium on leadership and service to others, but at some point in the transition from Gen X to Gen Y, service fell to a distant second place. Every student I meet seems to have attended some sort of leadership seminar, institute, or retreat and leads something. Most have founded an NGO. Scholarship administrators fume that while many have founded, few have achieved much of anything. They devote hours of their time chasing down projects present only in virtual reality. I think I can identify the problem.

Leadership, as currently defined, means decisiveness – read George Bush. No waffling work ethic allowed. Go with your gut. Check your brain at the door. I cannot remember who said the following, I believe it to have been a character on the West Wing. She dismissed the second President Adams as having been so over-educated that he could not form a consensus on whether or not to have eggs for breakfast. From my own political coming of age, I remember supporters of Ronald Reagan leveling the same charge at Jimmy Carter: thinks too much, decides too little. No one – supporters or detractors – ever accused Reagan or Bush II of working too hard or thinking too much.

If leadership exists in lieu of labor, and everyone under the age of thirty takes a leadership role in everything, who is left to labor? We find hundreds of nascent projects, grandly conceived, with no-one to conduct them. The would-be workers are too busy dreaming up their own projects. Leadership demands authority in the eyes of the many, and thus we have a generation of generals without armies to command.

No doubt, the work ethic sometimes produces its own negative impacts. Every college instructor meets students who spend lots of time working (taking notes, writing outlines, coming to office hours) but neglect the essential creative thinking required to infuse their actions with meaning and produce learning outcomes. These folks spend so much time ‘working at’ something that they never make an attempt to solve the problem before them.

Nonetheless, it would have been nice if the leaders at Lehman Brothers had paused from their incessant decisiveness to spend a few hours working on the accounts they held before they led efforts to cook the books. When managers(aka leaders) scorn the input of engineers, bridges fall down (remember Minnesota?). When they dismiss the concern of ‘quants,’ who claim the columns don’t compute, banks go bankrupt.

When the desire for excess whether money, square footage, or authority outstrips the skills to construct something to sell, inhabit, or lead, we find ourselves flailing about alone in a sea of our own surplus. Readers may remember the 1999 Dilbert volume Don’t Step in the Leadership. As a society, we failed to heed Scot Adam’s warning, and in September 2008 we realized the soles of our shoes were covered in ‘leadership.’

With everyone defined as a leader, we lay claim to leadership’s accouterments. We fell victim to the cardinal sin of the over-ambitious. We believed our own press. We thought we really deserved and thus could afford the houses and cars some anonymous worker would build. The McMansion constitutes the millennial leader’s natural habitat and the Lexus its car. We bought the symbols of our so-called success then discovered bricks without mortar and motors without brakes.

The tragedy stems not from the loss of shoddy houses and cars, but from the lack of respect for old fashioned labor that resulted in their creation. My father, an engineering professor, longs for the days when his students grew up fixing things. They understood how cars worked, because they kept their parents’ cars running. When teenagers’ first cars became new cars, our society forgot first how to fix them, then how to build them at all. Housing ‘starts’ not home repairs make the financial headlines. The leaders charge on ahead towards the new, with no thought to the crumbling foundations left behind.

Universities need to educate tomorrow’s leaders, but if they are to have anything or anyone worth leading, they need to start with four years of hard labor. Class of 2014, please learn first to build the machines, solve the equations, speak the languages, collect the data, probe the meanings, frame the arguments, and craft the phrases that create the world in which we live. Then, after you have labored and mastered the art or science you profess to love, go forth and lead with confidence that your work will endure and catch you if you fall.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

My First Pesach: Diasporic Offerings of Sorrow and Hope

In Guest Blogger, That's So Next Generation on 2010/04/01 at 09:00

Guest blogger, Malissa Phung, writing from Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

I would like to dedicate this piece to Max Haiven and Alyson McCready.

Surrounded by friends, friends and family of friends, I attended my first Passover this spring. On that first night of Passover, we sat in a circle and took turns reading sections of the Haggadah, the guide to the Seder ceremony that one of our hosts had rewritten years ago for a graduate course on diaspora. At any point during the ceremony, we were encouraged to interrupt the service with any questions, comments, debates, and especially jokes. We were also invited beforehand to share our own creative work or works of inspiration that related thematically to any of the sections of this unconventional Haggadah, unconventional for its radically politicized, anti-racist, anti-Zionist, and anti-every-other-oppression-ist bent.

For the section on remembering our losses, called the Zecher, I welled up with tears when I shared this poem that I had written last year about my late stepfather who had died in 1998:


Everything I know
about Buddhism
I know
because of you.

I was only a child
then–I believed in you
I believed, I believed
in every word
you said.

One night I sat, cross-legged
and prayed, in front of
the altar because
told me to.

That night
instead of going to bed
that night because
told me to

I chanted
I chanted
a thousand
and one prayers:

Quan The Am Bo Tat
Quan The Am Bo Tat
Quan The Am Bo Tat

I was too young
to understand
the journey.

I have lost my way since
the night you left me
the night
Quan Am passed me by.

What struck me about everything leading up to that moment was the generosity and creative impulse of my hosts to recreate and re-envision this Passover for themselves and their friends, most of whom were politicized non-Jewish folks affiliated with the English and Cultural Studies department, most of whom, like my hosts, had moved far away from home to go to grad school. Being around these folks on that first night of Passover and hearing about the pains and losses associated with migration and historical oppressions triggered an acute awareness of my own diasporic losses. In that one moment as I welled up with tears, I realized that I had been mourning.

For the longest time, I had been mourning the loss of my stepfather and all the good and bad memories of him. I realized in that melancholic moment that his death had closed a definite part of my life: a life of speaking primarily in Vietnamese, a life of daily prayers and the burning smell of joss sticks, a life of family meals and reliable intimacies, a life of ritual and satisfied bellies.

As a child, my stepfather had always spoken to me as though I were an adult. We would stay up late and talk for hours about things I could vaguely understand. In an ironic turn of events, I find myself today—as a Gen Y Chinese Canadian female literary scholar approaching thirty—only capable of speaking to my family with a child’s vocabulary. This language barrier entails more than just late-onset assimilation. It entails a loss of family connections and intimacies. It leaves me feeling lonely and isolated.

Overfilling with melancholic grief, I still managed to leave the Passover with an incredible feeling of hope. I left amazed at how my hosts have made this hybrid Jewish ceremony so meaningful for themselves and their friends for the past five years, and that it evolves and changes every spring. But after completing their dissertations this year, they will be moving back home to Halifax. Another hybrid ceremony will have to be created to help fill the palpable absence they will leave behind.

Malissa Phung

Growing up mostly in Edmonton, Alberta, Malissa Phung was born in Red Deer, Alberta to ethnically Vietnamese immigrants of Chinese descent.  She now lives in Hamilton, Ontario, where she is completing a PhD in English and Cultural Studies at McMaster University.  Having completed her comprehensive exams in settler colony literatures, she is currently exploring Canadian literary representations of Chinese settlers in her dissertation project, which analyzes how settlers of colour are figured ambivalently as colonial settlers in Canada.  Every now and then, in stark moments of procrastination, she still manages to write creatively.  Her current literary project—Chinawoman—looks at the history of  Chinese sex workers smuggled into 19th Century Canada.

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Hard to get in, easy to get out

In Guest Blogger, That's So Next Generation on 2010/02/24 at 09:00

Today’s post is from guest blogger Leslie Ann Hynes, undergraduate student at Simmons College in Boston. This is the first in our That’s So Next Generation series, highlighting voices from the generation born after 1980 (GenY or Millenials)


Through an agreement with the university my study abroad program is associated with, my fellow study abroad students and I were able to take courses taught in English and offered to both Japanese and overseas students. I opted for one such class, an introductory course to Japanese popular culture.

There was no homework. The readings, it seemed, were merely suggestions, and while the only students on laptops were the international students, the professor never seemed to mind when people text messaged or got off topic during our group conversation time. The syllabus was vague about the grading requirements, or even the assignments to expect during the semester.

In the end, we had a single assignment: an eight to fifteen page long take home, open book exam. When another American student and I, unnerved by how easy this was, approached our program director to ask what was going on, he explained that it wasn’t uncommon in Japanese college-level classes for the entire course grade to ride on the final exam. We were horror-struck: our entire grade would depend on one assignment? We didn’t even know what sort of grader the professor was, what he looked for in a paper.

One day after class, we stayed back (something only the international students seemed to do) to ask those questions to the professor, himself. What kind of work was he looking for? Should we cite our sources? If so, what style? Would it be appropriate to simply cite the name of the article and the page numbers from the photocopied handouts he gave us? He told us not to worry, that a fifteen page final would be sufficient for an A, in as many words. (He wasn’t joking; I wrote fourteen pages and received an A-. If I’d been aware that he wasn’t making a generalization, I would’ve found something to put in that last page.)

Speaking to our program director again, we were told that this is actually fairly common. Except for the big universities like Todai (Tokyo University), where the major corporations and even the government scouts for new hires, college in Japan is “hard to get in, easy to get out.”

As a New Englander, I thought I understood college application stress. (I hear New England is infamous for this; being from there, I always assumed that’s just how college admissions went.) I had no idea. The system here relies entirely on a single test taken by prospective students. All through high school, students study hard, not because an interviewer will ask why they got a D- in physics and give then a chance to explain what they learned from having nearly bombed a class and why it won’t happen again, but because it will be on The Test.

“Pass on four, fail on five,” goes another idiom. Students who go to cram school and sleep only four hours a night will pass their entrance exams; those who indulge in an extra hour will not.

The campus becomes deadly quiet during examination week. This is a big deal, and the high school seniors are not to be disturbed; all of our classes are either cancelled or relocated to the library building on the far side of campus, and we’re directed to go around, not through.

Once you’re in, you’re in. Most students attend most classes most of the time, but for a handful to be missing on any given day is routine, and the professor never seems to mind. (Though if you are showing up today, he wanted you to at least do so on time.)

Another study abroad staff member explained to us that companies will really want to know about the clubs students participated in, their involvement in on campus activities and that they at least passed their classes, and it was much more common to see the flamenco or hip hop teams dancing, the English club talking excitedly together, and the (American) football team practicing than students studying quietly in the library.

It’s not as though these things don’t happen in American universities, but unlike professors I’ve had at home, the pop culture professor didn’t even seem to mind that not everybody showed up. Then again, maybe my home university is the outlier here; I can’t make sweeping generalizations of either the American or Japanese higher education system, having only attended one college in each location. (I don’t want to stand here and say “all Japanese colleges are X and all American colleges are Y.”)

What would Z look like? Biased as I am towards the American model (or, at least, the University I Attend There model), I don’t know. I like what I have at home: the coursework is more vigorous, discussions are deeper. However, I know some of my fellow (American) students enjoyed the model of the University We Studied At Here; they liked having little readings and almost no homework. Some admitted to being here more-or-less on vacation. (That is a topic for another time.)

Maybe American universities should offer more Underwater Basket Weaving courses, for fun. A class like my pop culture classes, with light reading and only a few, easy assignments: less than a survey course or introduction, something students can take for fewer credits than usual for the sake of pure curiosity (which is how most of the overseas students ended up taking an introduction to anthropology and Japanese pop culture in the first place).

Practical? No, probably not. However, if there was one piece of the university I study at here in Japan that I could bring home with me, it would be classes like Japanese Pop Culture. Not to replace the other courses, but to be presented alongside of them as enrichment.

(Maybe undergrads don’t need to do a hundred pages of reading a week to get a basic idea and decide whether or not we want to continue this line of study.)

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Aklatan/Library/Bibliothek/ライブラリ/Raiburari Re-invented

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2010/02/11 at 09:00

In my 20 odd years inside the academia, I have seen varying conceptions of the university library as a space. In the pre-electronic age of card catalogs and microfilms/microfiche, the main library of University of the Philippines Diliman (an American colonial, neoclassical treasure, with soaring ceilings befitting the pre-air conditioning period when it was built) was a refuge for freshmen in need of contemplation, solitude and occasionally,  an afternoon nap. It was akin to a medieval church, where silence is golden and dutifully enforced by hawk-eyed librarians. Food and drinks are strictly forbidden in all rooms, and can never be smuggled in as your bags checked on the way in and out. In this strict construction of space, the library predictably empties out of patrons during lunchtime and awards carrells (dedicated rooms) only to students doing their masters thesis/PhD dissertations.

In many ways, Northeastern’s (Boston) Snell library ca. 1996 echoed the call to serious scholarship that UP Diliman’s grandiose building evokes, plus-plus. For me, mining the electronic databases was as thrilling as free journal article printouts and pdf versions electronically-mailed to yourself. Those comfy round padded chairs are such a premium at the 3rd floor for international grad students who spend half their NU lives (the other being at the apartment) cocooned in them. Meals and drinks were taboo; NOT a vending machine in sight within the premises. One goes to the library to find elusive grad friends (like Taka who literally lived there!) but NOT to “hang out.” I embraced my carrell for 6 months of dutiful reading and writing for my dissertation proposal. In its tomblike silence and aesthetic austerity (and the view of planes making their way into/out of Logan airport), I labored and toiled for my PhD.

In the years following my itinerant life as professor/researcher, I had been a patron of the Meiji University (Tokyo) Ochanamizu campus library and the University of Innsbruck (Austria) SoWi and GeiWi libraries. Apart from their understandably modest English language materials, their electronic database is lightyears behind their US counterparts (too expensive they argue). SoWi’s all-glass southern wall provides natural light to the spacious reading room and the jungle of potted plants alongside it. No food, drinks or smoking allowed. Meiji gave me my first encounter of closed stacks, towering movable shelves, and discreet, enclosed spaces where food/beverage vending machines reside (it is considered POLITE to consume your food and drink beside the vending machines). In the pre-wifi enabled libraries of Japan as in Austria, young habitues were buried deep in reading, calculating and writing. They spoke in low tones and were quiet in their movements.

My return to an American university library seven years after my PhD was no less than a culture shock. Loyola’s (Chicago) art deco library building was “married” to an all-glass, smart-shaded Information Commons occupying the campus’s premier real estate– the lake front. The layout this “marriage of two spaces” created not only re-invented the library as a concept, it also brought me to a rude awakening of the follies of modern-ist thinking. A cafe with a 24/7 flat screen tv is situated in the corridor between these two buildings; food and drinks are allowed EVERYWHERE; students talk and hang out with their buddies, EXCEPT in one room (the 3rd floor at the Information Commons) where silence is strictly enforced; and wifi enabled throughout. The university library is actualized to mimic the neighborhood coffee shop where caffeine-dependent, internet-addicted, company-hungry young can be attracted to spend their precious time in; where lounges and easy chairs (facing the gorgeous lake) are in great number and laptops can be borrowed. It is the library made perfect for a generation of relativists, of no-boundaries.

I belong to an old school where serious scholarship is synonymous with silence and mental fortitude in a near empty stomach. While I celebrate the many conveniences modern libraries have made accessible to students, faculty members and researchers alike, I lament the blurring of spaces between sacred/profound (learning) and  gratuitous need. That millions of dollars are being spent to build these spanking new libraries-slash-Information Commons evoke a dying tradition where the centerpiece was the BOOKS. In US university libraries nowadays, the library is less about physically possessing the books or materials (why, you can get them remotely wherever you have internet connection) than a place to hang out, be comfortable and relaxed (as you stare at the zen-like blueness of Lake Michigan).

In the bowels of Third World university libraries like UP Visayas, books remain scarce; there is only ONE electronic database (OVID and with limited full text) and internet access intermittent with erratic signals from a remote cellular tower and power outages. But in this academia where patrons like myself make do, the library STILL evokes a romantic invitation to scholarship in its silent rooms, no-food-and-beverage policy, no mobile phone use (save texting, which we Filipinos are experts at) and hard wood seats. Without air conditioning in tropical weather, mental sinews are honed in this environment. It is, in my opinion, a better space to build character.

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