Friday, April 25, 2008

Good racial conversations

You have to like a campaign that sparks this kind of racial conversation. Michelle Obama's first roommate at Princeton, a white woman from the South, has come forward to the Atlanta paper to discuss the drama around finding out her roommate was black. Catherine Donnelly (left, with her mother), now living in Georgia, disclosed how her mother "stormed down to the campus housing office and demanded Donnelly be moved to another room."

Donnelly is very thoughtful about how the racism she and her mother had grown up with had permeated their thinking at the time, and how it still affects them today. I was very impressed with their openness and willingness to take on these topics.

As the newspaper's public editor notes, Donnelly :
decided to tell her story to prompt conversation and reconciliation among people of
different races — something Barack Obama has also stressed.

"I tread very lightly with this because it's not something that I'm particularly proud of," she said. "With all of the blogging that's going on [about the story], there are
some really angry people out there."

Donnelly might be referring to some of the nasty criticism of Michelle Obama based on her senior thesis, a sociological study of the experiences of black Princeton graduates before, during, and after their college years. (For those of you who want to read the actual thesis, has it available online. It isn't the fount of anti-white hatred some "freepers" might claim; honestly, it is a fairly decent sociological study--with a nice response rate (22%) for a mailed survey--looking at black students' connectedness and identification with black and white communities. It won't set the world on fire, but it is good for an undergraduate thesis.)

My gf (a proud Southern, Christian, white woman and active anti-racist) is proud of Donnelly and her mother, as Southern white women who are choosing to engage in a conversation about the influence of race and racism, past and present. Perhaps this can be part of the positive legacy of the campaign, one I hope will end in Obama's nomination and eventual election as President.


One a lighter note, one last thing. As a lesbian, I was incredibly amused that one of the most lasting impressions Donnelly (also a lesbian) had of Michelle Obama was of her very long fingers. I was not surprised. We lesbians notice a woman's hands. ;0)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Oh My!

The Justice Department's inspector general is looking into whether [former US Assistant Attorney Leslie] Hagen was dismissed after a rumor reached [Gonzalez assistant and civil service rule-breaker Monica] Goodling that Hagen is a lesbian.

As one Republican source put it, "To some people, that's even worse
than being a Democrat."

Guess I am just a two-fer... lesbian AND Democrat.

You know, it is sad that young people today won't go into public service. I can't imagine why. Can you?

The legacy of Alberto Gonzales, and the President who blindly supported him, will live on for a very long time. I am just hoping that President Obama can make some changes that will improve civil service and reform and revive governmental institutions, policies, and procedures. There is much work to do to repair the damage, and even more work to make improvements.

Be sure to check out the full story about Hagen on NPR.

April fools at Brown U

Inside Higher Ed has a great piece on an April Fool's joke pulled by a faculty member at Brown on his colleagues in the math department. He sent out an email letting folks know about a new admissions policy that the university would use, since the standard admissions criteria were not successfully predicting students' academic performance. They would admit 20% of students using a random selection process. As he quoted one administrator, “In the absence of any other good criterion, it seems fair to give the benevolent hand of chance a greater role in guiding the future of higher education.”

While he included a link that led to a website that said, "Happy April Fools Day," several of them failed to click on the link, relied solely on the note, and took it seriously. They of course began a conversation where they expressed their concerns, raised questions about the technicalities of it, and discussed whether the 20% threshold was appropriate.

I love this kind of prank. I wish I had pulled it myself. Ah, I will just have to live vicariously... until next year!

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Waiting for X to happen

There is a great, long-time lesbian singer, Meg Christian, who has a wonderful song called "Look within." In her intro to the song on her concert recording at Carnegie Hall with Cris Williamson, she talks about how we are all "waiting for X to happen." Like our whole life will be perfect if this one thing would just happen. "If Betty Lou would just come back to me, I would be a totally fulfilled human being," she mocks, laughing at herself and us.

She goes on to list all the things she has been waiting for. My favorite part of the song, the one I like to sing loud and heartily, is when she says in the last stanza, "...and I'm waiting for you to get your shit together!" (Okay, one of the other good lines is that she says she is "waiting for Jerry Fallwell's head on a silver platter." I mean, who wasn't, in the 1980s? It doesn't work as well, now that he is dead.)

Anyway, as someone who is working in academic administration, I feel like I am often waiting for other people to get their shit together... students who seem to fall apart at the end of the semester, colleagues who can't seem to get one simple service request done no matter how much you remind them, supervisors who can't manage the kind of complex thinking their job demands, family members who are on my nerves, etc.

Of course, I know that similar complaints can be made about me. There is that project I said I would have done and haven't managed to complete, the recommendation letter I need to write if I can only find what I did with the form, the email I need to respond to that languishes in the depths of my inbox, the increasing length of time since I saw my family in person, the next step in my research project that sits neglected, next to the unwritten manuscript I planned to have out by the end of the semester. The goals and unfinished tasks seem to mock me as I struggle to accept that some of them won't get accomplished. "My life keeps standing me up," Christian intones.

In the chorus, she challenges us to think about what holds us back from accomplishing our goals. While we like to blame busy schedules, low energy and illness, demands from family and friends, and the problems caused by all those idiots that surround us, Christian notes that the work we really need to do is our own. "Look within," she says. We are what holds us back--our insecurity, our inability to prioritize, our inability to focus and center ourselves, and perhaps our poor choice in goals.

The song also talks about another thing that holds us back: looking for kudos and approval from those around us. "I couldn't seem to make a move 'til I got you all to approve." I am certainly guilty of that, though I think I have gotten better as I have aged.

"Look within." I am finding great solace in that message. Perhaps that is what life, post-tenure, is all about. No more hoops to jump through or standards to meet, just a reckoning with our own internal drives and desires. I can live with that.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Ah, Pete, who do you think YOU are?

Okay, so I read my daily feed from Dr. Crazy and was referred to the latest Chronicle piece by Peter Plagens (no, it IS his real name) complaining about those of us who write under pseudonyms.

I take this critique personally. I mean, not only do I keep this blog under my lovely dykey pseudonym, but I have authored a couple pieces for Inside Higher Education under that same name. Each time I do, I get nasty-grams bitching about the pseudonym, why ANYONE would choose to write under such a name, and why no one should trust my opinion as I clearly am too dykified and homo-focused to even make sense. (Okay, so I had some fun at a lesbian comedy show recently, and I feel very lesborific these days.)

The responses of the writers Plagens critiques are very thoughtful, as is Dr. Crazy. I mean, Crazy, Tenured Radical, Dean Dad, and others have beaten this horse to death, so I won't spend too long on it myself. Yet, I feel a need to respond...again.

Those of us who choose to write under the pseudonym do it because of real concerns about peers, current or future employment, the freedom we enjoy in taking on topics that we might otherwise avoid, the readership we have started to create, or just because we took a liking to the voice we created with the name... I use the pseudonym for all of the reasons listed above.

Do I think about writing the blog or other IHE pieces under my own name? Sometimes. And sometimes I DO write under my own name, especially when it comes to my own discipline or my program. I have been quoted in a national publication under my own name on a very political educational issue. But as others have noted, my tone and approach has to be different in those instances. When I spoke to the national publication, I was speaking as a scholar. Here, I am "lesboprof"--who gets to curse, be folksy, and embrace a little more personal voice and style.

I think about this issue when it comes to Facebook. Yes, I have a Facebook page with my real name. I use it to communicate with students, alumni, and some friends. But I am careful not to put too much personal information on that page, because students, potential students, their parents, administrators, colleagues, and who knows all will be looking at it and judging our program. I edit my presentation of self very carefully in that setting!

I really resonate with Plagens' critique that people who say that they will just play the role of the "good kid" until after tenure often lose the ability to speak out and don't once they are tenured. I see this especially with women, in that we get pushed into playing the "good girl" role.

That said, I have never been a "good kid/girl" in that way. Seriously, I think that some of the faculty in my doctoral program--especially the white boys--wondered what drugs they had been on when they admitted me. (I believe that was probably the "wow, we can count her high GRE scores on our admissions reports" drugs.) My challenging nature continued into my life as a junior faculty person. But I make up for it with my positive nature, my team spirit, my excellent service record, my commitment to teaching, and my fairly productive scholarship. And most of the time, my outspokenness can make things better in the long run. So, I don't think Plagens can assume that just because I write under a pseudonym, I am a weenie. My colleagues, students, and former professors would disagree with him.

So, Pete, I'd suggest that you let us all decide for ourselves. And don't knock it 'til you try it!