Saturday, December 04, 2010

Moving on with reverb

Lots of my bloggy peeps are doing the reverb writing prompts thing. I signed up for it, thinking it was a good idea that might spark some new blogging topics. I quickly realized that self-reflection is disturbing and distracting, which can be a real problem when I am trying to meet the writing and research goals I set out for the sabbatical.

I mean, the first prompt asked you to come up with one word that described your year. My instantaneous thought? Disappointing. Followed closely behind by devastating. Are we having fun now??

And yet, after some reflection, I thought those characterizations were unfair, as I have not only had the worst experience in my professional life, but also the best experience in my professional life, in the same year. (The best experience would meet the needs of prompt 3: a time when you felt most alive). The two experiences occurred within 1.5 months of each other, the good one coming later. And yet, even though it has been more than 10 months since I was so bitterly disappointed, I still find I am wrestling with my feelings about the event, which sucks. I am ready to move on, both figuratively and practically.

So, here is what the reflection prompts have led me to write: something of a New Year's Resolution... or perhaps a New Year's Hope for 2011.

I hope... to box up the disappointment and devastation from the event and package it anew as a learning opportunity, a time when I realized that hard work, success, and commitment don't always yield the desired results. My disappointment is a small event in the scheme of things, and I am ready to put it behind me. I will forgive, if not forget, and I will move on.

I hope... to slam the door on 2010 and walk boldly into 2011 as a blank slate professionally. I will go back to my job at the university as a faculty member without an administrative assignment, and I will see how that feels to me: working at home or in my work office, depending on what suits me; participating in committees only when they interest me; and being less involved with the department. I will try to maintain the publications and research, look at the job ads for anything interesting, and have some fun with work peeps.

I hope... to enjoy myself more in 2011. I will get out of the house and out of town. I will take time for lunches, dinners, and movies with friends who live nearby, and talk on the phone and visit with others who live further away. I am especially looking forward to an international trip (part work/part play) planned for Spring to somewhere I have never been.

So, my reverb reflection is all about moving forward in 2011 towards a more fulfilling and content life. Less than a month to go!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rape is a crime. Turn it over to real police.

I should not be writing this blog post. I planned to get up and work on a journal article and prepare for a conference call I have this afternoon. But after reading the news, I am appalled once again at the behavior of two higher education institutions related to a student's accusation of rape.

The situation is as follows: Elizabeth "Lizzy" Seeberg, a new student at St. Mary's, reported being raped by a member of the Notre Dame football team. (St. Mary's is the "sister school" of Notre Dame, which used to be exclusively male.) The allegation was reported to the Notre Dame campus police, who took Seeberg to the local hospital for treatment and a rape kit. She provided two written statements and pointed out a player from his picture on a Notre Dame roster. She also received assistance from the St. Mary's campus program for victims of rape and sexual assault.

What did the university do next? Let's talk about what didn't happen:
  1. Ms. Seeberg was never taken to local police to give them a statement and report the felony crime to them.
  2. Neither St. Mary's nor Notre Dame reported the alleged rape to the police.
  3. The football player was not suspended from the team or the university pending investigation; he played in the next game, a few days after the alleged assault.
  4. The football player has not been charged with a crime.
 How do we understand this? Well, here is Notre Dame's statement:
"Any time we are made aware of a student potentially violating university policies, we implement a process that is careful and thorough so that facts can be gathered, rumors and misinformation can be sorted out, and an informed decision can be made about what action to take — if action is warranted. We take our obligation seriously, we involve law enforcement officials as appropriate, and we act in accordance with the facts."
I must say that it is horrifying to me to see rape talked about as a violation of university rules. That approach equates rape with cheating on a test, disrupting class, or smoking pot in the dorm. Um, no. Just no. Rape is a felony, a violation of state law.

Why don't universities reach out to involve the local police when a student reports a rape, even though they involve them in the case of other crimes? Universities call in the police when there is a murder or suicide. In fact, we know this because St. Mary's called the local police when Ms. Seeberg took an overdose of medication and killed herself in her dorm room, just a couple weeks after the alleged rape.

The (lack of) response of the institutions (Notre Dame and St. Mary's) to the rape allegation makes a difference, as was recognized by Ms. Seeberg herself.
One source said that [Ms. Seeberg] suddenly felt self-conscious on St. Mary's campus, where the 1,600-member student body is about three-quarters the size of her old high school, Glenbrook North. She feared people would dislike her for accusing a Notre Dame athlete of a sex crime and that she would wear the incident "like a scarlet letter" throughout her college career, the source said.
That she would wear the incident like a scarlet letter, not the football player who was accused of the crime.

To add insult to injury, even after Ms. Seeberg committed suicide, the police handling the investigation were never told about the alleged rape by either St. Mary's or Notre Dame administrators or campus police. St. Mary's, for its part, wrote a letter to students and their parents about the student's death, deleting any mention of suicide, and clarifying, "Although we do not know the cause of her death, we want to stop any potential rumors by stating that no crime occurred on our campus related to her death." No, as the newspaper reported snarkily, the Notre Dame campus, where the crime of rape was alleged to have occurred, is across the street

I have several reflections on this mess. First, it is sad when a small school like St. Mary's, with only 1,664 students enrolled, needs its own rape crisis program. It is a grant-funded program, heavily focused on rape and dating violence prevention and support for survivors of assault. But just imagine what kinds of statistics they have to have to get that grant. As I know from friends who do this work on campuses across the US, more rapes happen on and off campus to college students than you would ever want to imagine. Seriously.

I am also saddened that no one seems to have explained to the student the limitations of not reporting the crime to police. Students are often unfamiliar with the criminal justice system, and many express comfort staying within a campus system that seems more familiar. Yet, the campus system simply is not designed for these kinds of crimes. For example, the rape kit (a very invasive procedure) relates to the criminal justice system, not a campus justice system; it is useless to campus investigators. Why did Ms. Seeberg have a rape kit done, if she was not connected to the police? And in most jurisdictions, if the victim chooses not to testify about the assault, the criminal case does not go forward, even if police have gathered evidence and taken statements. Most rape crisis advocates encourage victims to provide such evidence and records even if they don't want to prosecute, just in case the perpetrator is involved in another such case in the future and the evidence from the first case can show a pattern of behavior. The Notre Dame website regarding what to do if sexually assaulted is a little less than clear about this, but generally states the same information. Of course, it also offers three on-campus places to go if you have been sexually assaulted, along with an off-campus mental health center. They do not offer contact information for the local police.

I understand why universities want to keep such matters in house--less media coverage, more control over outcomes and information flow, forestalling lawsuits, etc. But colleges and universities should no longer have this kind of response available to them, to the exclusion of involving the proper legal authorities. Reports of rape and sexual assault should be passed along immediately to city or county law enforcement. That is what St. Mary's supposedly does for rapes that happen on its campus; that should also be the policy for any rapes reported by their students, no matter where they take place. The student can then decide if she would want to press charges / testify in a rape case.

Campus judicial systems are not appropriate places for responding to allegations of rape and sexual assault. Those cases belong in the legal system. Committing violence against another student, staff, or faculty member should have ramifications on campus (i.e., suspension or expulsion, exclusion from campus, being fired, losing a scholarship, being kicked out of a dorm, etc.), but that response should be secondary to a criminal justice response.

Perhaps we need a law that requires campuses to report all violent crimes to law enforcement as soon as a complaint is alleged. I am starting to think this is the only answer.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The academic's plea on Thanksgiving

A loving note from academics everywhere to our extended families:

The Thanksgiving "holiday" is officially a very busy time of year for us. We are grading like crazy, trying to finish our course preps for next semester, working on pubs and grant proposals, and we only have a limited amount of time to do everything we need to do. So, please, lower your expectations!

Some of us will not come home for the holidays, because we find it insane to try to travel far away in such a short window of time. By the time I get there, I will have to choke down dinner and return, during one of the worst travel periods in the U.S. And if I miss the connection, I will wind up alone for the holiday, and that would suck. And the last thing I need right now is to be felt up by TSA employees. We will see you in December, okay?

For those of you who are lucky to live nearby, we will certainly stop by and visit for Thanksgiving. We might even watch some football. But no, we won't host at our house. We haven't even cleaned in weeks, let alone prepped for cooking. There are papers and exams strewn around the living room, and the kitchen has only cereal and sandwich meat. That's why I am coming to YOUR house. I will stop and pick up a pie or two, if you need me to bring something. Then I have to go home and grade. And no, you can't help grade, but thanks for offering.

**This has been a friendly announcement from your favorite family academic, who you are sure only works 3 hours a week and gets summers off. **

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sabbatical regrets

 Regrets, I've had a few. 

Looking back on my sabbatical so far, there are a few things I wish I had done differently.

Didn't go after a big grant. If I had gotten a big grant, I would have the whole fucking year for the sabbatical. Instead, I only had a semester. **Sigh.**

Didn't go away for an extended working/resting trip. I wish I had rented a beach place for 2-3 weeks in the Fall to work, relax, and sit by the fire. Staying in my regular setting has meant too much contact with work people, and too much awareness of what was happening in my program. On the other hand, I have gotten to be with the gf, who has a job that would not have allowed her to be away for several weeks at a time. I am glad not to be separated from her, though we have had to work out both of us working at home. It has been nice to be with her. That said, I still daydream about weeks at the beach.

Taught a summer class. Yeah, I needed the money, so I taught the summer class. That sucked. It was a wonderful experience, though, because it was a small, specialized class and I got to actually use my own book. I came away thinking the book was actually pretty good. But the weeks of prepping, teaching, and grading were a drag that delayed the start of sabbatical time.

Let summer slip by too quickly. I sort of ignored the summer, and pretended that my sabbatical started in August, but that was a real waste. I have no one to blame but myself, but it took far too long for me to start doing my real research/writing work. I dinked around too much in the summer--reading the Kindle, attending a training, and visiting family and friends--and I didn't set to work in the way I had hoped.

Didn't start the writing group until mid-fall semester. The writing group has been a blessing, and I think I would have been more productive if I had actually had a group to help me set goals and be accountable early on. Of the five articles I wanted to write, I have only submitted one so far, and I am still wrestling with data on the second. I am maintaining a hope that I can finish and submit four before school starts in January.

Agreed to take on a new course prep for spring. Seriously, I am an idiot. Some of my sabbatical time will be taken up prepping this new course, especially because I have NEVER taught anything like this class. Worse yet, this new prep will be my 9th new course in 7 years. Of course, at my last job, I taught 8 different course preps in 2 years...where we had a 2-2 teaching load. I think I have some kind of illness--my behavior is probably diagnosable. Just shoot me.

Planned to start two new research projects when I have too much data already. I have found it difficult to split my focus on getting new research projects started and writing up data from projects I have already conducted. I came into the sabbatical with data for at least 5 articles... I really didn't need two more projects mucking up the works. I am excited about one of the two projects, which is simply an extension of what I have already done, but the second project is just languishing. I hope the latter project will move forward in spring.

Didn't get on a better eating/working out plan. I have been jealous of Dr. Crazy's attentiveness to the healthy living component of sabbatical. I went the other way: indulgence and restfulness. While it has been a lot of fun, I am going to have to pull it together if I would like to fit into all of my winter clothes!

Didn't get the printer networked. It is a little thing, but I kept meaning to call someone to make it so the gf and I could have a wireless connection to our printer, but it still hasn't happened. As a result, I have to send anything I need printed (directions, drafts, code lists, etc.) to our house computer for printing, located in the gf's office. That is a total drag, and it drives me nuts not to be able to print things off easily. I didn't realize how much I do that when I work, but it is clear now.

Well, those are all the regrets I can identify right now. I am sure there will be more before spring semester classes start.

Update:  Wow, reading this post again in the daytime, the tone is much more negative than I actually feel about the sabbatical experience. To put it into perspective, I am not that upset about any of these issues. They are more annoyances than anything else. Now, back to work!!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Another Catholic college, another anti-gay action

The newspaper in Springfield, Illinois, describes yet another anti-gay action at a Catholic institution. This time, the employee in question, Laine Tadlock, was the openly lesbian Director of the Education program at Benedictine University. After publishing an announcement in the local newspaper that she had married her partner in Iowa in July, she was "let go." (As always in these kinds of personnel situations, the firing is actually a complicated series of maneuvers. They first tried to push Tadlock into early retirement. When she refused, they offered her a new position for which she was unqualified; when she declined the new position, they decided that meant she was resigning.)

The university points to the problematic inclusion of her employer in the announcement, as is typical for such announcements. (Tadlock is employed at Benedictine University, etc.) The newspaper article explains:
In a Sept. 30 letter to Tadlock’s attorney, Benedictine President William Carroll wrote, “… By publicizing the marriage ceremony in which she participated in Iowa she has significantly disregarded and flouted core religious beliefs which, as a Catholic institution, it is our mission to uphold.”
Um, the paper also points out that they were less interested in upholding their own nondiscrimination policy, which states:
“It is the university’s policy to provide equal employment opportunity to all persons without discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, handicap, veteran status, marital status, sexual orientation or any basis protected by law.”
Are there any other heterosexual employees who would be fired for posting a wedding announcement in the paper? I think not.

What is most amazing is that this whole kerfuffle may have been kicked off by one lone "Catholic activist" who got his panties in a bunch about the announcement. "Steve Brady of Petersburg, said he complained to [newly installed Bishop] Paprocki. He also wrote and sent e-mails to other church officials condemning Tadlock and Benedictine following the announcement’s publication." The school administrators have spoken to three bishops about the issue and must have determined that the answer was to dismiss Tadlock, despite their institutional nondiscrimination policy.

She and her lawyer are considering legal options. I hope they sue. I believe they will win.

Friday, November 05, 2010

It's just service, dude

 This story in the Chronicle just cracked me up.

Apparently, the faculty at University of Missouri in Kansas City (UMKC) is so reluctant to serve that they have created a computer-based system relying on faculty to "opt out" of serving on the senate. As anyone who has ever seen an "opt out" system in place (think about parent notification for sex ed), it works because it relies on people forgetting to follow up. Is that how you want to pick your representatives? The woman who forgot to check her email, or the guy who couldn't get the computer system to work? Because the latter is how the members of UMKC picked the Chair of their Faculty Senate--an assistant professor, no less. He is a smart man, so he immediately resigned his new post and the Vice-Chair took over.

Okay, I know I am an academic nerd, but does no one else want to serve on faculty senate? I have served as a faculty representative at three different universities, and I think it is not a bad avenue for service. I learned about how the university functions. I met interesting, smart people from across the university. I helped shape university policies.Yes, some of it is mundane and breaks into wordsmithing that makes me want to kill someone, but that only happens once in a while. Senate gets you out of your office, out of your department, and engaged in the larger university. What university service could be better than that?

I am once again reminded of how few faculty members understand the importance of their role in shared governance. If we (and staff and students) don't take a role in determining the policies and practices that shape our lives as employees and the education of our students, we leave it in the hands of upper administrators and members of advisory boards who have their own pressures and agendas and have limited insight into the lived experiences of faculty, staff, and students on campus. Shared governance only works if everyone shows up--willingly, not by accident.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Second shift as a lesbian academic

As I sat on my sofa and received the Facebook instant message from a high school acquaintance (let's call him "Tom"), I pondered about what it means to be an out, lesbian academic. I didn't talk to Tom much in high school, probably because when we were in junior high, he used to come by and slam my locker shut to see if he could catch my fingers in it. It wasn't an anti-gay thing; he was just a 13 year old boy who didn't know how to act right. But they grouped us by last name, and as our names start with the same letter, we shared a homeroom from grades 8-12.

Now Tom is an adult, and his younger sibling has revealed recently that he is gay. He saw on my Facebook site that I am openly lesbian and in a long-term relationship. He did the sort of random chitchat, and then moved towards the topic of his sibling. I gave him some advice on how to be a supportive brother, and we chatted about ways to communicate his love and acceptance.

Lest anyone think this is a rare occurrence, I have to say that I have these kinds of "out of the blue" conversations a lot. I can easily recall dozens of conversations with colleagues, supervisors, students, and others who were dealing with their own sexual orientation issues or the disclosure of family and close friends. Once I was approached by a woman and her husband at an LGBT reception at a national conference who were upset because their adult gay son had not invited them to his wedding. They were struggling with his sexual orientation and his anger at their lack of support and understanding, and they needed guidance and help.

At school, I have had LGBT undergraduate students cry in my office as they worried about how they could tell their parents about their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. I have spoken to numerous LGBT grad students about managing their identities on the job market and how they might assess the culture of potential employers. I have had many heterosexual students come to my office to discuss aspects of gay and lesbian life that bothered them, such as gay parenthood or gay Christianity, trying to understand new perspectives and grow on these issues.

All of this is in addition to serving as the "Go To Girl" for all of my fellow instructors when they need a guest speaker on LGBT issues in class. I have presented at colloquia on campus and participated in LGBT panels. (I have declined the honor of advising the LGBT student group on campus, leaving that to some of the other queer faculty and staff. Thankfully, there are many other folks who can fill that role.)

Being an LGBT scholar-activist in the local community brings it own unique experiences. After appearing in the local newspaper talking about LGBT issues, I received a phone call one night from a lesbian who had just moved into town. She explained that she had looked up my phone number in the phone book, and she asked me about the LGBT resources in our area and how she might get to know new LGBT people.We chatted for a while and I connected her to as many resources as I could identify. I came away very impressed at the courage to make such a cold call, and I hope it was helpful, though we have never spoken again.

Tom apologized for taking up so much of my time at the end of our chat. And of course, his apology raised the issue that none of this outreach "work" counts in the eyes of my university. (They certainly wouldn't be impressed with that bit of trivia in the report on my sabbatical.) Yet, this extra work I do--the second shift work that most members of racial and ethnic minority groups do, as well--isn't recognized or compensated. I don't resent that (too much), because I have chosen this work, this kind of service to my students, my colleagues, and my community. While I sometimes get worried about the time and emotional energy I am spending on these issues, I know that each conversation can help make a small difference in the world for LGBT people and our families and friends. And that is what my scholarship and my teaching is really about--making students think a little better, a little more deeply, and hopefully help in the movement towards a more just society for all people, especially LGBT people.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Servant leadership

I have to admit up front that I have an exceedingly bad reaction to the name of the concept, "servant leadership." I think some of the reaction is feminist: I am not anyone's servant. Just because I do not pursue leadership roles in an effort to achieve power and privilege does not mean I want to become a servant to my peers or the larger organization of which I am a part. I am also turned off by the way the concept of the servant leader has been picked up and used by Christian ministers, business leaders, and academics (see book cover below). I do not approach academic administration wondering "What Would Jesus Do?" and I am somewhat uncomfortable with others approaching their work that way.

This issue came up for me as I was working on a statement of my leadership philosophy/approach.  I reviewed a few available online to see what people were saying about their own philosophies, and I found that a number of these statements described the author as a servant leader. I have read some about the concept and find it in some ways perplexing and irritating.

The central practices of servant leadership, as defined by Dr. Kent M. Keith, CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, are "self-awareness, listening, changing the pyramid (ie., flatten the hierarchy) , developing your colleagues, coaching not controlling, unleashing the energy and intelligence of others, and foresight." Most of these ideas are pretty straightforward and seem to fall under the rubric of reflexivity and openness to input by people across the organization, concepts that seem pretty straightforward and don't rely on the servant metaphor.

I am a strong believer in finding opportunities for growth for people across the institutional spectrum: send your student advising staff--and not just your faculty--to an out-of-town conference; include students on decision-making committees and be sure they have voting rights; encourage your support staff to participate in leadership skill development opportunities on campus, and so on. I do think that, taken to their extreme, a sole focus on bettering everyone who works at your organization can take you away from your other institutional goals--goals you are paid to achieve!

I also think we have to own that these behaviors are not really all about "serving others," but serving the larger organizational goals. Sometimes, when the staff in my unit get a new perk, they bring renewed goodwill and energy to the program. When I make decisions by considering what the other students, faculty, and staff members want, I am thinking about how to make this decision something people will actually implement and maintain. Act too high handed in a university context, and you will find that your policy/practice/program comes to nothing. The faculty forgets you said it, the students ignore it, and the staff creates lots of ways to undermine it. Put another way, buy-in facilitates actual change.

Another problem with the servant leader model, identified by Mitch McCrimmon, is that administrators who claim to be "servants" to people who work for/with them and then have to fire them (or, in a higher educational context, assign them class sections they don't want, deny resources for travel, or deny someone tenure) make make these "servant leaders" seem like a big, fat hypocrites. The truth is that I have power over resources and opportunities, and I have to make decisions about how they are distributed that some people in the organization are going to find hurtful or not in their best interests. But as an administrator, I serve the organization as well as my colleagues, staff, and students. 

Finally, I think my biggest problem with the "servant leader" identity is that when I am serving in the role of university administrator, it is my job. It is not an avocation, but in fact a vocation for which I am paid. I am a professional, and I engage in leadership as a component of my role as administrator. I am evaluated by my colleagues and superiors for my performance in meeting organizational goals. A thoughtful organization would consider such issues as staff development and support, informed decision making, and creativity in evaluating my performance as an administrator.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Celebrating the writing group

I am writing this blog entry to once again express my affection for a writing group. My sabbatical was passing me by, in some ways, as I drowned in the multiple research  and writing projects I was trying to work on simultaneously. Thanks to the self-imposed deadline that I shared with the writing group, I have one article draft done and another on deck. There is something about accountability and a sense of camaraderie that really helps me make the right decisions about how to spend my time.

I have been a member of three writing groups in my professional life, and each has been a boon to my work. All groups revolved around food--usually lunch--and included reviewing other people's work.

One group was very large and interdisciplinary, and that was both challenging and fun. It can be difficult to understand the conventions of another person's discipline, and disagreements and defensiveness occasionally ensued during those paper discussions. I sometimes had to go outside the group for useful feedback, but I did feel like I had people who were in my corner. I also learned a lot about the work in other disciplines and built wonderful friendships that I still maintain.

The second writing group was within my department, but it was a large group that was open to all comers, as it were, as long as you were pre-tenure. Once again, the group did some good work, and many of us saw our productivity improve. Some problems emerged based on temperament and style that caused some members to want to discontinue participating in the group. Several people (myself included) also struggled with doing so much extra reading of papers, which we felt pulled us away from our own work. Eventually, we decided to discontinue that group.

The newest group is small, self-selected, woman-only, and friendly in tone and style. We agreed to set our own goals, hold each other accountable to those goals, and not get stressed about how productive anyone else is... We have people versed in different topics and kinds of methodologies, so there is always someone who can comment knowledgeably on a paper. Who knows how it will shake out? It looks good, so far.

I plan to continue participating in the writing group, even when the semester sabbatical is done, because it is the best way for me to be continually productive. It makes me think that perhaps my goals for the sabbatical, which are quite lofty, are still reachable. Even if I don't meet them, though, I know I will do enough to be relatively pleased with myself.

All hail the writing group!

Monday, October 11, 2010

National Coming Out Day

In honor of National Coming Out Day, I have written a list of steps you can take to improve life for LGBT faculty, staff, and students on your campus. (These are written for (heterosexual/gender-normative) allies, but many steps can also be taken by LGBT individuals as well.

Administrators can:
  • make sure that discussions of diversity on campus include sexual orientation and gender identity and gender expression.
  • review their policies and practices in their own unit and across campus to make sure that they support LGBT faculty, staff, and students. For employees, these include bereavement and sick leave, domestic partner health care benefits, spousal accommodations in hiring, health benefits covering gender transition services, etc. Students need protections in classrooms, dorms, and on campus. If the policies and practices are not there, work for change.
  • seek out input from LGBT faculty, staff, and students on a regular basis. You won't know what people are facing unless you hear from them.
  • make sure LGBT folks are serving on committees across campus. 
  • make sure faculty who do LGBT research are supported and that their research is respected.
  • develop supportive services for LGBT students, who are among the most likely to drop out of school.
  • consider reaching out to LGBT alumni for information, student support, and financial contributions.
  • challenge homophobia, heterosexism, and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Consistently interrupting bad behaviors and poor thinking makes a difference in a unit and on campus.
Faculty can:
  • make sure to include LGBT issues as they relate to the curriculum and the discipline. This is happening in humanities and social sciences, but even in math and the sciences, it matters. For example, biologists can tell students that same-sex behaviors are common in many species and discuss how these behaviors affect biological theories of sex based on reproduction; all scientists can discuss famous scientists who were/are LGBT people; let students know that there are local and national groups, like LA Gay and Lesbian Scientists, who support LGBT folks in the math and science fields.
  • let LGBT students find ways to investigate LGBT topics in classes, when appropriate. It may be the first time these students have a chance to investigate LGBT culture, history, and research.
  • support LGBT faculty peers who are (a) out to students and colleagues, as this is a very important service that brings with it a great deal of risk; (b) doing research on LGBT topics or populations, as this research is needed, under-resourced, and often not supported in tenure and promotion.
  • consider doing research or service that benefits local LGBT communities. Business faculty could partner with a local LGBT small business group to evaluate it; historians could present on LGBT people in history to local high schools or community groups; law schools could offer lectures on legal issues affecting parents of LGBT kids; social scientists could study political and social issues facing LGBTs in the local community or the state.
  • support LGBT-supportive policies and practices in your unit and the university as a whole.
  • volunteer to serve as advisor to LGBT student group(s) on campus. You don't have to be LGBT to serve in this role; actually, allies can learn a great deal from serving in this role, and it takes the onus off of the few LGBT folks on campus.
  • interrupt comments and behaviors rooted in discrimination and oppression, whether they are in the classroom, private conversations with peers, or committee meetings. Educate people when you can.
I would also add that everyone can think about the places we lack knowledge or comfort about sexuality and gender identity, and we can learn more about LGBT issues in society, especially the needs of LGBT faculty/staff/students. Every discipline has an LGBT group within their disciplinary organization(s), many of whom do presentations at your conferences. Also, administrative groups, like ACE, CUPA-HR, and NASPA, and advocacy groups, like AAUP, also have related discussions. Go to these presentations, even though they are outside your area of research/administrative/teaching interest. As someone who has done these presentations for more than 10 years, I can tell you that we are HAPPY to have you attend.

The most important point: You can make a difference in the lives of LGBT folks on your campus. Take a little step forward--it will pay dividends for years to come!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The cheap lives of our LGBT youth

One could argue (and the perpetrators likely will) that it was a joke, a prank, to use the camera in a strategically-placed laptop to view and/or broadcast on the web video of a new college roommate being intimate with a same-sex lover. Just as it was fun for students to tease and taunt a 13 year old boy about being a fag, or to simulate sex acts in front of the class with another young gay teen. No big deal, just a little harmless teasing.

But that attitude dismisses the pain that these actions caused the targets of their homophobia, heterosexism, and disdain. This pain drove the subjects of each of these actions to suicide. Four suicides by gay young men, covered in the news, in less than one month.

Tyler Clementi, 18 years old
Seth Walsh, 13 years old

And these are only the ones we know about.

Suicide is highly suggestive, and the LGBT community and our allies need to interrupt this cycle. One online response has emerged, noted in a Salon article:
After the death of Billy Lucas, columnist and author Dan Savage decided enough was enough and launched the It Gets Better Project, a YouTube channel of messages of encouragement and survival aimed at gay and lesbian youth. As he explained in his "Savage Love" column, "Gay adults aren't allowed to talk to these kids. Schools and churches don't bring us in to talk to teenagers who are being bullied. Many of these kids have homophobic parents who believe that they can prevent their gay children from growing up to be gay -- or from ever coming out -- by depriving them of information, resources, and positive role models. Why are we waiting for permission to talk to these kids? We have the ability to talk directly to them right now. We don't have to wait for permission to let them know that it gets better. We can reach these kids."
I watched about 10 videos on the "It Gets Better Project," and I was moved, encouraged, and reminded of the pain that so many LGBT people have faced in our lives. It is challenging to be queer in our society, and those challenges cause us pain that is difficult for some to overcome. It would certainly be better if people would recognize that their pranks, their teasing, is costly--and the cost is just too high.

I was struck by a quote from local police who investigated the taunting of middle schooler Seth Asher, having interviewed many of the kids who had engaged in the taunting and determined that there was no "crime" with which to charge the youth.
"Several of the kids that we talked to broke down into tears," Jeff Kermode, Tehachapi Police Chief, said. "They had never expected an outcome such as this."

He said the students told investigators they wish they had put a stop to the bullying and not participated in it.
What a very expensive lesson to learn...too expensive. We don't have any more children and youth to give to meanness, hate, and violence.The lives of LGBT youth are not cheap; in fact, our lives, like the lives of all people, are precious. We need to identify ways to interrupt this kind of behavior--in schools, in dorms, in workplaces, in homes, and throughout our communities.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Well, there is always someone who finds an issue that bothers them and takes their response to a whole new level.

After the whole faked rape allegation at Duke University, it was K.C. Johnson. He went from writing a blog specifically about the allegation/trial/aftermath, to writing op-eds and letters to the editor, to writing a book, to tracking down all web-based mentions of his blog or commentary and attacking those bloggers and writers. His attacks on faculty and staff involved in the incident, and on bloggers writing about the incident, were pretty personal, consistent, and scathing. He also posted workplace emails and affiliations for pseudonymous academic bloggers. Worse yet, of course, were all of those bloggy fans who would take over comment sections on other folks' blogs for weeks afterward. In fact, he is still obsessed with the case, posting updates on the lawyers, judges, faculty, administrators, and everyone else associated with the four year old case. (I know something of these attacks, as one of the Duke faculty was a family member and a target of Johnson, and I have watched him go after Tenured Radical when she disagreed with him*.)

Well, K.C. Johnson has a rival for zealotry (though one not nearly so smart, but likely more techno-savvy) in Michigan’s Assistant Attorney General Andrew Shirvell. Calling himself a "concerned Michigan alum," Shirvell has spent the last six months dogging the path of Chris Armstrong, the new gay student body President at the University of Michigan. He created a blog called "Chris Armstrong Watch," on which he posts:
  • information from Armstrong's Facebook page, as well as Facebook and MySpace pages of Armstrong's family and friends;
  • video he has recorded outside Armstrong's house;
  • pictures of Armstrong, some of which have been defaced with swastikas and ugly names
Shirvell's language is shrill as he interprets everything he sees or hears in the worst possible light. He also has protested around town, including at Armstrong's home, with signs decrying Armstrong and his supporters. He called Nancy Pelosi's office to inform them that their new intern was a member of a racist campus group, another of Shirvell's charges.  Most recently, he has moved on to criticizing the local reporter who covered his story (along with the reporter's family members).

Anderson Cooper is the latest to do a story and interview with Shirvell, calling it "one of the strangers stories I've reported on," and he makes it clear how outrageous Shirvell's tactics are for any critic, let alone a state employee.

It is clear that Shirvell gets to express his own opinions as a private citizen, as his boss, State Attorney General Mike Cox notes in his press statement. Yet, is it right for someone to go after an individual so doggedly and in such an ugly fashion? And how can someone in the Attorney General's office be dependable as an unbiased advocate if he spouts such homophobic language in his personal life?

Cooper notes that Armstrong is considering legal action against Shirvell. I am not a lawyer, but the Citizen's Media Law Project notes that the Michigan law requires that a statement be both "false and defamatory" for a charge of defamation. I assume Armstrong will have to show that Shirvell posted untrue, hurtful statements that were not opinion-based or had substantial (partial) truth to them, and that may be difficult. Shirvell is quite smart--knows the law as a lawyer should, and so most entries are based on some "evidence," in the form of pictures, links, etc., and they are laced with lots of opinion.

I feel sorry for Student Body President Armstrong, who probably had no idea that he would become the target of one person's focused wrath just by running for student office in college.  Few 20-21 year old students would be prepared for that kind of attack and invasion of privacy, especially by someone who isn't even a student himself. Fortunately, public opinion is on his side, as are student governments across the Big Ten. I am guessing that little will be done to stop Andrew Shervill from continuing his persecution of Armstrong until he is out of office or graduated. Let's hope he doesn't follow him to graduate school or his first job.

Update: Check out Armstrong's class response. Below is an excerpt:
“I will not back down. I will not flinch. I will not falter. I will not succumb to any unwarranted attacks. What I will do is I will carry on with the utmost pride and vindication,” Armstrong read aloud to the assembly from a written statement. “I, along with the rest of this assembly, were elected to this body to represent the University. And nothing said about us, or regarding our personal merits, will waive our commitment to serve the student body.”

*An aside: After seeing the way Dr. Johnson has gone after other bloggers, I almost hate to even bring his name, and his blog, up. But it was the first thing that came to mind when I heard about this story.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Current excuses for not working on the articles

  1. The book on the Kindle is calling to me, and if I hurry and finish it, I can then concentrate on writing.
  2. I needed to get the tenure review finished and out the door, so it won't stress me.
  3. I am preoccupied with my future in the profession and what my next job could be.
  4. I would rather prepare for my upcoming conferences, even though they are weeks away.
  5. I can't seem to decide which of the many articles I need to write should be my first.
  6. There is more literature I need to read on the topic(s).
  7. I am on sabbatical. Shouldn't I just enjoy the time a little?
  8. Oh, my god. I am not writing! And my sabbatical is slipping away! I am a total loser.
  9. I should call my friends and get them to help me think this through.
  10. Maybe I should just blog about this.
  11. Oh, look, it is time to end my workday.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Looking for a job after tenure

I have been talking to several friends who are a few years post-tenure who are thinking about looking for new jobs. Their reasons for the searches are varied: one wants to be closer to his aging parents, another has never really felt at home in her university, and another has been commuting back and forth between the college town and the home she shares with her partner, several states away. I have had similar thoughts after not getting the administrative job I had hoped to land in my own program. But none of us actually HAS to leave, which is a different (and undoubtedly good) position to be in when looking for a job. And most of us are loath to make a big mistake, like leaving a known, stable, relatively good job for a new position in a viper pit. As a result, I can tell you that all of us are a little uncertain about the process.

One issue we are facing is how to weigh the location against the type of institution. All of my friends are at R-1 public schools. Are we willing and able to move to a SLAC? Are we committed to public schools, or would we work at a private school? A religiously-affiliated school? How important is being near family? Friends? A decent dating pool?

As a group, we also seem to be struggling with how to approach this search. Do we treat this kind of search like any previous job search: follow the ads in the disciplinary website and the Chronicle, submit the letters and CV, and hope for an interview? Or is it different, as a senior faculty member with specific location concerns? Obviously, as senior faculty at our current institutions, we need to be clear in our letters that we would expect an Associate/Full position (and I would talk about needing tenure with the Dean, if I landed the campus interview). But does it also make sense to reach out to the Dean or Chair to find out if positions might become available, if they knew we were on the market?

I do know, as a former search committee member, that several of our more senior hires came about through back channels. A senior woman was hoping to move into our area, so she reached out to the Dean and expressed interest in a position. Another senior hire was the result of a phone call from that person's current Dean to our Dean, letting us know that he was looking to move, was a steal, and we should consider him. In each case, the CV came from our Dean to the committee, and it went from there. I have also heard of other hires where a person at one school wooed a faculty member from another school to make a move.

Yet, even while my colleagues and I know these stories, it is difficult to believe that they could apply to us. Sure, superstars might get recruited, but would a Dean or Director really make a space in their program just in order to hire us? Would they turn an Assistant line into an Associate or Full line for us? And what makes someone desirable as a senior hire? Is it just federal grants and kickass publication numbers, or are there other factors (e.g., national reputation, awards and honors, administrative prowess) that might make us attractive to other big schools? I have been shocked at how my colleagues, who I find VERY impressive on paper and lovely in person, underestimate their marketability and attractiveness to other institutions. And I think we also forget how nice it is for a Dean or Director to hear that someone really wants to work with you at your institution.

I am convinced that this issue is compounded for someone like me who wants to work in administration. If I go on the market next year, I will certainly go after jobs listed in the usual places. But I think I also need to reach out to the leaders I know in my discipline and let them know I am interested in a move. I am hoping that perhaps someone who might have filled an administrative job from within might reconsider if they knew I would be interested in the job.

Anyone out there looked for a job post-tenure?  Any lessons you want to share? Any Deans and Chairs with advice? My friends and I are happy to learn from you.

Friday, September 03, 2010


I would just like to add my congratulations to the faculty, staff, and students at Eastern Kentucky University for finally winning domestic partner health benefits! The university paper describes the ten year fight to get domestic partner benefits. Ten years (and a new leader) after the faculty senate voted almost unanimously (there was, of course, one principled holdout) for the proposal, the benefits were finally approved.

I am especially proud of the students, whose advocacy helped tip the approval...
Three years ago, a group of students in the Queer Theory and Politics class embarked on a project examining the lack of domestic partner benefits at Eastern. The group soon took up the cause, staging rallies and passing around a petition that acquired more than 1,000 signatures, Miranda said. They then presented their findings to President Whitlock, who ultimately signed off on the measure.
As someone who has dragged my partner through three states for jobs, I recognize how important DP benefits are. My partner spent 6 months for no insurance coverage at all, and then spent another year or so with only a private, catastrophic coverage policy that cost a lot of money. Even now that her job pays for a small single policy, we still worry about the limitations of the coverage. If my school woukd adopt DP benefits, our lives would be MUCH better and more secure.

The numbers of colleges and universities with DP benefits are still small, but they are growing every year. Until we have wholesale healthcare reform, we need to continue fighting for equal coverage. Congrats to Eastern Kentucky! I never thought I would be rooting for the Colonels, but today, they are helping to lead the way!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

And now for something completely different

As I fight my urge to ignore my research, prepare to talk to a friend at a distant university who is hiring and might potentially be interesting in hiring the LesboProf, and try to avoid the loving beckoning of the Kindle-of-Work-Death, I just finished reading a hilarious little piece on sex at professional conferences in the Chronicle.

My favorite piece is where the author describes the actions of people by discipline:

Creative writers stand up, say "I'm leaving now," and then stare fixedly at you. Philosophers, a more intuitive lot, simply disappear into the mist, but you can find them in the hallway in front of the vending machine, slamming their palms against the display window because the Doritos bag got wedged halfway down and now they are out of quarters. Sociologists loiter in the parking lot. Psychologists will follow you to your room, so there's no need to say a word, although you may require a temporary restraining order by noon the next day. Ethnographers are fine with exiting while necking. Historians may require some cajoling, but the promise of a side trip to the 7-Eleven magazine stand will usually suffice.
Oh, yes, there are more disciplinary pickups mentioned in the piece, though my own discipline is sadly missing. Ah, well. Having been a very chaste conference-goer, after my first professional conference was marred by professorial bad behavior, I know little of the ways of the "unwashed," as the author calls them. But I delight in the gossip of untoward (consensual) conference behaviors, and thought this piece was a riot.

Hope you enjoy it. And don't forget to send in that registration for the next conference soon.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Catholics and gays: Another public row about the classroom

You know it is a very special day when an Archbishop chooses to write a public letter complaining about a specific course being taught at a local Catholic university. Or perhaps it represents an ongoing tension with a specific gay instructor teaching the class... one who wrote a letter to the editor five years ago challenging the Catholic stance on homosexuality. A letter that, in fact, was signed with his title and academic affiliation and that ultimately cost the faculty member his administrative position (but not his job) at said Catholic institution. Ah, the perqs of tenure.

I find this ongoing tension between religiously affiliated schools and the denominations of which they are a part, especially Catholic schools, to be very interesting. As someone who has always attended and worked at large publics, the challenges of the private religious school are intriguing and, at times, revealing of the struggles within major religious groups in our larger culture.

The issue of signing your affiliation to a critical letter is an issue for any academic, regardless of whether you work at a public or a private institution. I understand Mott's (stated) motivation. As he notes:
Dr. Mott, who received his doctorate in political theory from Louisiana State University and who has been at Seton Hall since 1997, said that using his title when he submitted the letter was necessary to add weight to his statements. He added that he was not speaking for the university, but as an academic and as an openly gay man. ''I was not speaking as a representative of the university,'' he said, ''and they know that. If it was the president of the university who wrote the letter, that would be a different thing. I was just a dean, I have no authority to speak for the university.''
There is something to relying on our academic titles to gain legitimacy and respect. I have struggled with this issue myself, from time to time, when I want to comment on an issue that is related to my experience as an instructor or my research. I have been exceptionally careful of what I say when I was being quoted in my role at my university, and I would not use my title if I was going to be critical of my university or public officials in my state. Of course, Mott is being deliberately disingenuous in ignoring how incendiary his letter would be when written by the Dean of a Catholic university.

But this newest hullabaloo is over a course, appropriately titled, "The politics of gay marriage." As an issue, same-sex marriage is constantly in the news, especially in New Jersey, where the argument about domestic partnerships versus same-sex marriage has waged for several years. Further, the topic is sure to draw interested students, and it provides an useful entree for investigating American political and social systems. Though the Archbishop argues that the course "seeks to promote as legitimate a train of thought that is contrary to what the Church teaches," there is nothing to show that this is true. In fact, while the Star Ledger identifies one of the textbooks (among several) that is being used, "What’s Love Got To Do With It?: The Case for Same-Sex Marriage," a book by state Sens. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union) and Loretta Weinberg (D-Bergen), a closer look at all the textbooks reveals a more balanced and academic approach to the topic.

The other books being used in class are:
  • Just Marriage, by Mary Lyndon Shanley, is a collection of perspectives from historians, political theorists, and legal scholars, including (according to Amazon,com) Nancy F. Cott, William N. Eskridge, Jr., Amitai Etzioni, Martha Albertson Fineman, and Cass R. Sunstein.
  • Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation, by Nancy Cott, a very thorough discussion of the changing role of marriage in the  culture, policy, and polity of the United States.
  • Why Marriage? The History Shaping Today's Debate over Gay Equality, by gay historian George Chauncy, provides a good discussion over why the fight for gay equality has focused on marriage as a primary political issue.
The other obvious issue here is that few of these students will misunderstand the Catholic Church's perspective on this topic, though perhaps a more nuanced understanding could be a piece of the course. But the Archbishop is disingenuous himself when he ignores the disagreement within the Catholic laity and clergy about the issue of same-sex marriage, especially as it relates to civil versus religious marriage. In fact, recent surveys have found that only a minority of Catholics in California (23% of white Catholics and 44% of Latino Catholics) and Rhode Island (32% of Catholics) oppose civil recognition of same-sex relationships. Of course, perhaps this is part of the real problem here.

A recent study using data from the Higher Education Research Institute's national surveys of student attitudes found that Catholic students tend to graduate from Catholic, secular, and other religiously-affiliated colleges supporting gay people's right to marry.

Regarding same-sex marriage, the study said there is no other issue on which Catholic students -- regardless of where they attended school -- moved further away from the church. Only one in three Catholics on Catholic campuses disagreed "somewhat or "strongly" that same-sex couples should be allowed to marry. Catholics on non-Catholic campuses were slightly less likely to disagree.

Once again, I have to ask about the appropriate role of critical thinking in a religiously-affiliated university. Seton Hall's mission states that its "students are prepared to be leaders in their professional and community lives in a global society." In fact, it sees itself as "a diverse and collaborative environment" that "focuses on academic and ethical development." Further, in its policy barring racial and ethnic discrimination, the university states, "Seton Hall University abides by values that proclaim the dignity and rights of all people. In keeping with this fundamental principle, we affirm the value of racial and ethnic diversity and welcome persons of all groups, cultures and religious traditions to Seton Hall." Its guidelines for investigating complaints of discrimination, harassment, or whistleblowing include protections based on sexual orientation, with the caveat  "(in accordance with the teachings of the Catholic Church and the proscriptions of the law)."

While one part of the university's mission is to provide a religious perspective and support for religious and moral (read: ethical) development, another major component has to be supportive of critical thinking, enhancing the life of the mind, and encouraging students to engage in civil debate about controversial topics. If these schools are not going to be fundamentalist bastions of closed minds, they have to be able to accommodate instructors and students with diverse religious, social, cultural, and political affiliations and beliefs. Otherwise, what is the difference between these schools and Sunday School?

This course is being offered as a political science class, engaging a politically volatile topic that touches on major components of American social thought, history, and policy. I am pleased that Seton Hall is going ahead with the course. It must, to maintain its integrity as an institution of higher learning and to fulfill its own mission statement.

Friday, August 13, 2010

What I am NOT doing

You know, I think that the best way to capitalize on sabbatical joyousness (and not sabbatical misery) is to think about the things I am NOT going to be doing in the next week when classes resume. I will not be:
  • listening to students pleading to get into another section of the course on a different day, because their work/play/sleep/therapy/childcare/class/travel schedule will not permit them to attend the day they actually signed up for the class.
  • preparing, facilitating, and attending 4 orientation events
  • attending welcome party for new doc students
  • meeting with advising and orientation staff from across the university to tell them about my program
  • participating in "welcome week" activities with new students to shill for the major
  • attending the "welcome" party for faculty and staff
  • making last minute fixes to my syllabus and web-based course presentation media
  • getting a key for the new smart classroom
  • scheduling committee meetings and attending bajillions more committee meetings
  • following up with university administration to see if the policy changes we recommended are actually going through
  • attending the teaching summit
  • meeting with doc students who think they might want to work with me
Now, all of that said, there are some things, even among those, that I will miss. While students complain, they also check in, show me pictures of their children, tell me about their summers and their plans for this year, and bring warmth and excitement that is contagious. The round of orientations and parties, while draining, is also a good energy booster, getting me into the spirit of a new year of possibilities. Setting out agendas for the next year's committee meetings is encouraging, expanding the opportunities of what we can do.

That said, I found the beginning of the semester for my six years as an administrator to be exhausting. Truly. It kicked my ass every year.

What am I doing the first week of the semester this year? Um, going to the beach. Yup. A solid week of watching the sunsets, listening to the waves, and reading the Kindle on the beach.

Am I bringing some work? You bet. Will I feel bad if it doesn't get accomplished? Nope.

Monday, August 09, 2010


This is what PRIDE looks like!

As a lesbian academic administrator, I am so proud of these LGBT College and University Presidents that I could almost cry. Not only did they meet for the first time in history, but they did so as OUT LGBT leaders in higher education. They even released a picture (above).

Inside Higher Ed has a fantastic article about the meeting, in which the leaders of the new group describe its purpose: 
...the group will focus on leadership development for those who are gay presidents or who aspire to be, professional development for gay people at all levels of academe, and on education and advocacy to promote equity and diversity.

We need this kind of active recruitment, support, and visibility for LGBT administrators in higher education. There are many issues for LGBT people in higher education: the high rates of LGBT student attrition; hostility on campus towards LGBT students, faculty, and staff; lack of comfort among colleges hiring LGBT administrators; the limited number of campuses with the full range of LGBT-supportive policies;  and continuing negativity towards LGBT-related scholarship in many disciplines.  There is work to do, and this kind of group can help raise awareness regarding these issues.

So, three cheers to the brave LGBT administrators who attended this initial meeting of the Queer Presidents Club! I plan to keep an eye on their development and progress. Who knows, perhaps one day I can join their ranks!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Monkey on YOUR back Monday

Okay, I am setting a new precedent: Monkey on YOUR back Mondays. Yes, every Monday I am going to write people who I need to do things for me or who are waiting on things from me so they can progress in their work.

Mondays will be the day I take the monkey off my back and place it on to someone else's. Doesn't that make "answer all my email," ""move that draft on to the next person," and "ask that question I needed to ask" sound much better? Same tasks, different perspective.

Unfortunately, the gf has already learned this trick and came bearing monkeys to share this morning. Rather than affect the stance of the monkey above, I went for a different tact. We decided to put them in a nice cage in the living room, let them watch some reality TV, and decide which of us will take them on as time permits (or dictates).

So, summer is drawing to an end and the real beginning of sabbatical is starting. Another new game I have picked up now is the false plan/deadline game. Set the start date late... then if you start early, you are an overachiever!! Set your finish date late, and if you finish early, you are a SUPERSTAR! And if you finish on time, you are still pretty awesome. (I call this the Pizza Delivery approach; tell them you can deliver in 45 minutes, and when you get there in 20, you are a GOD!)

This and more lessons in future posts... right after I finish this kindle book!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The best paid laid plans

My gf came up to me in the closet as I was putting away laundry and posed the following riddle:

How do you know that Lesboprof is officially on sabbatical?


Check the bill for the Kindle.

Yes, sports fans, last month's bill was for no less than $163, which was the cost of the **28 books** I ordered between the middle of June and the middle of July. Um, yeah. And I have to admit that none of them are books for scholarship--those I got from the library. No, instead, I have ventured into what they politely call "urban fantasy," or what I prefer to think of as kickass, sexy women who happen to be witches, shapeshifters, warewolves, vampires, and other fantastical beings. (Well, that and the new book, Denial, by terrorism scholar Jessica Stern, which I highly recommend. Be prepared that the book centers on the discussion of sexual assault and torture as experienced by Stern and others. It is a compelling story and an amazingly thoughtful reflection on the ways that violence, and denial of its effects, shape our lives.)

As for the sheer number of books, I can explain that. I have found that when I start some new urban fantasy series, many of which have 6-9 books in the series, I can buzz through 6-8 books in a week or so. And the fact that Amazon has my credit info means that I don't have to acknowledge the real cost until the bill arrives.

It is kind of hard to believe that during that same time as I was ordering and reading these books, I taught an intensive summer class, which was a new prep, no less. Well, I guess I know why my writing isn't progressing yet! And, unbeknownst to the gf, I have three new Kindle releases being delivered (and charged) next Tuesday. All of these books are part of larger series I have already read. The good news is that they are an easy and fun read.

No worries, though. I have a plan that gives me until August 1st to get my butt in gear. Any major writing that begins before that date is a bonus. I did start to review research materials and do some outlining today, which is good.

So, unless fate intervenes, I have a plan that includes 5 products (4 completed articles and a draft of a teaching case) in 5 months (August 1-January 1). And I will learn to play guitar, do several public speaking gigs, move forward on a research project, and travel a little. And, of course, do a little blogging in my spare time. Ambitious, to be sure, yet fun.

I will let you know how it goes! :-)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Teaching (about) religion: A reflection in MANY parts

Well, you know I have to wade into the discussion of the firing of the adjunct at University of Illinois. Kenneth Howell, a Catholic theologian, minister, and director of the Institute of Catholic Thought, taught "Introduction to Catholicism" in the religious studies program. A letter from a friend of a gay student in the course complained that the instructor had spoken pejoratively about homosexuality in the class many times. He cites, as an example, an email the instructor sent out to students comparing utilitarianism to the Catholic concept of Natural Moral Law, an email that explains why Catholics oppose homosexuality as a contravention of natural moral laws.

Now, Cary Nelson of the AAUP and Tenured Radical both oppose the firing (or, more accurately, the nonrenewal of his contract), and that is usually good enough for me. I am a big proponent of academic freedom for instructors, regardless of the instructors' political or social loci. I am not about supporting only people who agree with me.

I also worry when universities seem more focused on staying out of trouble--and out of court--rather than sustaining fundamental principles about student learning and the importance of diverse perspectives to quality learning communities. As one university president I met explained it, "I certainly pay attention to the university counsel, but they don't make my decisions."

That said, I worry about where the line is placed between where academic freedom of faculty ends and indoctrination of students begins. It is easy to say that as long as we don't penalize students on the basis of their opposition to my opinion, I can say whatever I want. Perhaps we go further to say that we don't use clear hate speech, like calling a student by an epithet, in class. Yet, even if we allow that students shouldn't have a right to not being made uncomfortable or challenged in their perspectives, isn't there some further standard--about endorsing and promoting racist/sexist/homophobic/anti-religious perspectives that are problematic?

I think this argument comes into stark relief in this case, as it relates to teaching (about) religion. Perhaps that is the issue--are we supposed to TEACH ABOUT religion or TEACH religion? This was not a theology class in a Div School or Seminary. It was an introductory, undergraduate religious studies course in a public university.

If I were a student in this class, as an out lesbian, a feminist, and a Jew, I would expect to be occasionally offended, disgusted, and irritated by what was said in class. I should know that going in, if I knew anything about Catholicism at all. (My biggest childhood memories are of Catholic friends telling me I was going to hell and that dead babies were in limbo--neither of which seemed very fair to me.) But I would have expected to learn about the Catholic ideas about Natural Moral Laws and the Catholic beliefs about sexuality and gender. I would not have been disappointed in Howell's class, either, as he writes:
But the more significant problem has to do with the fact that the consent criterion is not related in any way to the NATURE of the act itself. This is where Natural Moral Law (NML) objects. NML says that Morality must be a response to REALITY. In other words, sexual acts are only appropriate for people who are complementary, not the same. How do we know this? By looking at REALITY. Men and women are complementary in their anatomy, physiology, and psychology. Men and women are not interchangeable. So, a moral sexual act has to be between persons that are fitted for that act. Consent is important but there is more than consent needed.

One example applicable to homosexual acts illustrates the problem. To the best of my knowledge, in a sexual relationship between two men, one of them tends to act as the "woman" while the other acts as the "man." In this scenario, homosexual men have been known to engage in certain types of actions for which their bodies are not fitted. I don't want to be too graphic so I won't go into details but a physician has told me that these acts are deleterious to the health of one or possibly both of the men. Yet, if the morality of the act is judged only by mutual consent, then there are clearly homosexual acts which are injurious to their health but which are consented to. Why are they injurious? Because they violate the meaning, structure, and (sometimes) health of the human body.
I shudder to imagine my conversations with this professor, as I discussed whether my hands were "fitted" to manual stimulation of my lesbian partner and why so many heterosexual young women develop urinary tract infections engaging in "natural, procreative" sexual intercourse with their new husbands. (It is so common, doctors refer to it as the honeymoon infection.) Or how his "natural" understanding of clear gender divisions is ill-informed, based on our knowledge about the high rates of intersex conditions among newborns.

Nonetheless, if I had been in the class, I would have expected to be able to discuss these ideas and explain them in a sympathetic and summary fashion on exams. All the better to critique them in the future, I think.

That said, the patronizing crap at the end of the email to students would have rightly pissed me off. He writes:
All I ask as your teacher is that you approach these questions as a thinking adult. That implies questioning what you have heard around you. Unless you have done extensive research into homosexuality and are cognizant of the history of moral thought, you are not ready to make judgments about moral truth in this matter. All I encourage is to make informed decisions.
Besides being patronizing, the closing  advocates that I use in my own life. This is the part of his email that makes me uncomfortable. Aren't there valid arguments to say that Howell was not just expressing his opinion ("This is what I believe") but proselytizing? Can we hold the instructor to a different standard in the classroom than he holds in his role at the Newman Center?

I must go back to the issue about creating a hostile setting, though it is problematic in that it is beset with legal woes and argumentative hairsplitting. But really, what counts as hostile? What behaviors and statements are so egregious that they should be interrupted, and who gets to decide?

I had a friend in law school who took a criminal law class from an instructor who constantly made demeaning comments about women. When discussing cases, he often made snarky, sexist remarks about the women involved. He also brought up rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment more often than any other kind of criminal case, commenting frequently on the sex involved and belittling the seriousness and severity of the crimes. Students grumbled to one another and a few made some complaints to the other faculty, but everyone just sort of committed to getting through it. The final exam, however, was the coup de grace. One of the questions on the exam described a fictional case of rape in such lurid detail and in a way that was condemning and even made fun of the victim, that the women (and a few men) in the class decided they had had enough. The class went down to the Dean's office, exams in hand, and refused to complete the exam. It was a long time ago, but my memory says that the students were given a different exam and the instructor was reprimanded and changed out of criminal law to some other course.

I don't wish to equate these two examples--the sexist law professor (SLP) and the Catholic/homophobic(?) religious studies instructor (CRSI)--but can we use them for contrast? Is there any way to clearly differentiate the two? Should SLP get to be a jerk because of academic freedom protections? Does  CSRI get a pass on saying anti-gay things repeatedly because he articulating his personal Catholic faith?


Another question for the religious studies department: Does the Catholic religious studies instructor teach the controversies? The changes in Catholic theological perspectives over time? Because there are Catholic theologians who do not embrace his interpretation of Natural Moral Laws, who offer different interpretations. There are disagreements within the Catholic church about homosexuality, the role of women and men in the church, the role of priests, etc.

I went to a presentation about Islam at a conference once, and the presenter was a young Muslim American woman. She was not a scholar on Islam, just a lifelong believer who was raised in the faith. She shared the tenets of Muslim faith and traditions with the group, which was fine, I suppose, but she purposefully ignored some of the areas where there are real disagreements between Muslims. Several people would ask questions, and she kept acting like there was only one way a "real" Muslim would answer. At one point I said, "But that is why we have fighting between Sunni and Shi'a, right, because of differences in beliefs within Islam?"

While one might teach "what the Church says" in church or bible study, aren't we asking for something more critical, more thoughtful, and more historically and intellectually grounded in our college classrooms?

As an aside to Tenured Radical, who discusses students' complaints about a documentary she shows about "ex-gays," I have to wonder how she prepares students for it. I imagine that there are any number of young queers who take her class on Post-1968 Sexuality partly because they want to be around TR--kickass academic dyke that she is. And I would not be surprised to find that they feel hurt and betrayed by the ex-gay movie, which reinforces what they see as the larger social narratives that oppress them. So. I wonder, does TR prep the class for the movie by talking about why she is showing it? What she wants them to look for in the film? Ask them to set aside their personal reactions (pro or con) to focus on the arguments or ways sexuality is discussed?

I have also shown some pretty anti-gay stuff in the classroom. In one class on policy, I had students view two videos: It's Elementary (pro-queer) and The Gay Agenda (anti-queer). I told the students that they would not likely agree with one or both of the videos, and that they might be angered or upset by some of the things said in the videos. I explained that my agenda in class was not to argue about these arguments presented in the videos. Instead, our job was to look at HOW the arguments were presented: what pictures, messages, images, sounds, and other presentation tools were used to persuade the viewer? How effective were they? Why did the creators of the videos make the choices they did? How were the videos used to organize and advocate for change? I actually didn't get any flak from students about either of the videos. And I would use just the anti-gay one if I only had time for one video, though I would be clear to set up for students that we are watching the video to see effective political advocacy in film, not to promote the message or ideas in the film.


Obviously, I don't have answers for this problem of how to decide what is okay and not okay in the classroom. For myself, I work hard to try to challenges students to try on different perspectives, to pick at weaknesses and strengths of different arguments, and to engage in civil, thoughtful discussion about thorny, challenging social and political issues. I also try to model respect.

I am sure that someone from the outside could look at my classes and accuse me of indoctrinating students into a liberal or progressive mindset, advocating homosexuality as normal or even good, or promoting a belief in the existance of systemic, institutional racism. And it is true that I give my students data and information that can support these perspectives. And yet... I also discuss the critiques of these positions, and provide students with information and data (what there is that is good) from the other sides.  And I would argue that some of the students who like me best are conservative Christian students, who feel supported and encouraged by their avowedly lesbian, feminist, left-wing professor. I can live with that.
Check out the story (and the quotations of this blog entry and Tenured Radical's piece) at IHE.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Don't open that TIAA-CREF statement!!

Seriously. Don't open it. Even though my portfolio went up more than 7% in March, it lost value in the last quarter. All those contributions, and I LOST money. It is depressing.

To make matters worse, I am so close to passing an amount milestone. You know what I mean...think of those important milestones on the car odometer. Why that matters, I don't know, but psychologically, it does. And now I am slipping farther away from the milestone. How depressing.

The only way I comfort myself is by knowing this is a long haul kind of deal, and that with some luck, it will continue to go up as I work and contribute. Thank goodness I am not close to the end of my career.

So, throw away the statement and go to the pool. Trust me.

* I think the asterisk is meant to tell you that it isn't guaranteeing that these services will serve your personal good. Or that is how I read it now. : - (

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Daydreaming about lesbian and gay college leadership

I just finished reading the Chronicle story about the out lesbian President of Hartwick College, Margaret L. Drugovich, who lives openly with her partner and child in the President's mansion. All in all, it was a nice profile story, describing how the College and the search firm considered her sexual orientation and how Drugovich manages her identity in public and on campus. They didn't note that she has a website describing her family and a photo album of family pictures on the college's website, which I thought was typical of smaller colleges and represented a pretty bold step in being out and open.

I was struck by the discussion about public displays of affection by Dr. Drugovich's partner, Beth Steele, in the article. Steele notes that they do not hold hands or kiss in public, because someone might be offended. That led me to conduct a search on Ms. Drugovich's age, which, it turns out is only 50. (Incidentally, it took quite a while to find her age, which surfaced only in one random local story.) I thought she might be a bit older, based on the decision about lack of PDAs and the fact that she calls Ms. Steele "doll," which I found incredibly endearing if kind of old fashioned. I have witnessed wide differences in opinions about PDAs--queer or otherwise--based on age, though other factors such as religious affiliation, geographical location (current and where one was raised), and political ideology are also influential.

As I discussed the article with my partner, we daydreamed about how we might handle life if I was a college president. We noted that not holding hands or touching publicly would be too much for anyone to expect or require of us, as we are pretty affectionate as a couple. I can also guess that, once I settled in to a Presidency and folks on campus got used to us, they might catch us sneaking a kiss or two or cuddling at some point or another.

A similar line of argument--not being too strident in one's queerness--crept in related to positive comments on Drugovich's lack of "political activism."
Dick Clapp, head of the search committee and a 1962 graduate of Hartwick, reacted by performing some due diligence. He asked people on the Ohio Wesleyan board whether Ms. Drugovich's sexual orientation had ever been an issue there. ...Board members at Ohio Wesleyan assured [the head of the search committee at Hartwick] that Ms. Drugovich was the ultimate professional. "She's not going to go out and be the spokesperson for a lesbian group," he says they told him.
Now, while I agree with Drugovich that she is the President for everyone at the college, I find the definition of professionalism as a lack of activism and outspokenness to be troublesome. And, if there had been a queer-related hate crime on her previous campus and, in her role as a faculty member or administrator, she had spoken out on these issues, she is being unprofessional? What is that about?

My reaction is also likely based on the reality that I *am* an activist who has (a) worked with LGBT groups, (b) taught LGBT studies-related courses, (c) advocated for LGBT-supportive policies on campuses where I worked, and (d) been an active supporter and advocate for LGBT faculty, staff, and students. I am a frequent spokesperson on the LGBT group. However, I need to be clear that LGBT issues aren't the only ones where I am active. I also advocate for faculty and students of color, low-income communities, and first generation students. I work on gender, race, and class issues in academic policy and practice. But I would still argue that I am very professional in my roles as faculty member and administrator, and I think the question of professionalism should be divorced from this anti-identity, anti-advocacy bias.

Now I am clear that my own style and my level of outness would be a deterrent some some schools. Honestly, that has been true for as long as I have been in academe. The higher you go up the administrative ladder, the more the question of institutional fit comes into play. All I can do is prepare myself to be the best candidate I can be and look for positions and institutions that will play to my strengths, and where my identity and personal style will not be too much of a detriment.

I am proud of Drugovich, Biddy Martin, and the other openly lesbian and gay college leaders who are paving the way for the rest of us. I hope that their meeting in August goes well, and that they consider how they will best mentor the next generation of lesbian and gay leaders.