Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Senate Meeting of March 19: Virtual Transcript on Cohort Hiring Issue

As a prelude to this Monday’s senate meeting, I offer this review of what was said with regard to Chris Henson’s resolution to suspend cohort hiring. What follows is a virtual transcript of the last 25 minutes of the senate meeting, if not a word for word transcription, from the CD provided to me by Venita Baker at the Academic Senate Office. (If anyone thinks they’ve been misquoted or want to fill out what they’ve said, please use the comments sections, below.)

I spent most of Saturday afternoon and evening trying to extract what follows, and I got at least one surprise—a statement by the provost in response to a question by Melanie Ram, the significance of which blew past me completely during the meeting. I have italicized this in the transcript, but I want to highlight the statement now. In response to Ram's question about the funding for non-cohort positions, Provost Covino said the following: "I recently met with the deans and indicated to them that I do have funding available to partner with them on up to 25 positions." The italics are mine. I think the senate needs to find out exactly what the provost meant. Does this mean that the provost is now going to fund other or perhaps all hires at the 50% rate at which he is now funding cohort hires? If so, that means he is virtually assuming control of all hiring. (To state another obvious fact, it is the number of hires that affect the budget, not who decides the hires.)

It is hard not to get the sense, in listening to what follows, that deans and department chairs think they are getting a special favor by being given a cohort hire--that they've hit the lotto, so to speak. But the jackpot is made of money that would normally go to the schools, so departments could hire according to their own priorities. Now it is being withheld, and the provost holds the purse strings. 

The discussion of the resolution to suspend cohort hiring started at 4:55 p.m., with scant time to develop, and began with Chris Henson reading the motion. She then made the following argument in favor of the motion, which was seconded by Jacinta Amaral.

Chris Henson (English):

“In the past, there have been budget cutbacks. I have been through a couple of rounds of those. And always during times of budget cutbacks hiring has been restricted to urgent positions, positions that were absolutely crucial. Those identified first at the department level and then, of course, that often has to be sorted out at the college and school level. But always the hires that were made in this kind of budget cutback were those that were identified as absolutely urgent hires.
“Currently we face budget cutbacks more grim than any I’ve ever witnessed, and I’ve been here for a long time. Already, as the motion indicates, we have already experienced cutbacks in numbers of sections of classes, larger class size, an additional push for even larger class sizes: mega-classes. There are in lots of departments positions that are really urgent which for a variety of reasons departments have not been able to hire, and it seems to me those restrictions will probably continue.
“If we look at the resolutions that came from the budget task force, those resolutions called for aggressive enrollment management, redesigning curricula, redesigning courses, scheduling efficiency, and for all undergraduate and graduate programs to be reviewed. And I certainly understand those are all important, but it seems to me, that all of those are probably going to lead to additional cuts in numbers of sections offered, additional pressure for larger class sizes, and if all programs are going to be reviewed, there is also the possibility that some programs could be cut. Also, it leads to the idea that hiring will in fact be restricted.
"Given all of that, and given the fact that we face a possibility of another $11 million dollar cut, it seems to me we need to go to the policy that has been in place in the past, where any hiring that is going to be made, particularly until we know about further budget cuts, and this is a matter of uncertainty at this point, that any hiring should be on an urgent basis based on the need at the department level. So, given that, what I think is most important is the first resolve, which says that the provost’s office should “suspend” cohort hiring, not that it be ended completely. That seems to me to be only a very rational thing to do in a time of great uncertainty about the budget. So I hope that you will support this resolution.”

Alex Alexandrou (Plant Science): “Perhaps the Provost can speak a little bit about this cohort policy, and what was the essential thing currently advertised, so that we get the full picture of what’s going on.”

Provost Bill Covino: “I’m not sure precisely what you want to know.”

Alex Alexandrou: “At the time this policy . . .  why you introduced this policy, what was the reason.” [this is not completely audible on the CD]

Provost Covino: Yes. We’ve been doing this for a couple of years now. The deans can correct me if I’m misremembering any part of our discussions. I went to the school and college deans, and I asked them, as is conventionally the case, to identify the high priority needs of their departments. I also asked them to think about whether any of these positions had elements that overlapped with any others, that would allow us to, consistent with out own strategic plan, and consistent with developing productive synergies, and consistent with attracting highly qualified faculty, whether any of these positions had elements that would overlap the others. So that we could make it possible for faculty hiring with membership in a cohort that would engage in collaborative work on something: research, curricular, or outreach issues.
The deans came back to me, and I said I would help to fund these positions. The deans came back to me with three categories: Category 1 was World Cultures and Globalization. This was particularly advocated by Dean Samiian; in fact, she is right now acting as facilitator of that program. Then Urban and Regional Transformation was the second cohort. The third cohort is a health cohort: Physical, Psychological and Environmental Health. The deans felt that these were broadly based categories, that there were a number of positions they indeed did need, that they would be going forward with in any case, that could benefit a dimension that in effect said to faculty who were applying that if you take this position, there will be a cohort faculty that is interested in working with you or with dimensions of what you do, built in along with your departmental faculty.  So that was the initial intent. And I don’t want to go on about how it has played out. I don’t want to take up your time. We went on to identify a cohort in water for which we also got a significant gift.”

Melanie Ram (Political Science): “Since you agree that the high priority needs of the colleges and departments are first and foremost, would you be willing to fund those positions that meet high priority needs if they did not meet the urgent needs for departments and colleges, if they did not fit into the form of cohorts?”

Provost Covino: "Yes. I recently met with the deans and indicated to them that I do have funding available to partner with them on up to 25 positions. I would like to see some of those positions considered as cohort positions, so we can continue to develop these. Other positions speak to other needs. I would like all positions to be addressing departmental and college needs that are important."

John Wakabayashi (Earth and Environmental Science) “I’m from a department that one of our faculty searches is in fact part of a cohort. We had a specific need. We had two specific needs in terms of retirements of faculty and core courses and subject areas that needed to be covered. So one of those positions, for a hydrogeologist—the cohort hire—was a need of ours anyway. But what might be more informative to the body [the Senate] is: Were there positions identified as part of this cohort hiring that were not identified as department needs?”

There was a long pause here with no answer, so Wakabayashi repeated his question: “Are there cases where there were positions that have been part of this cohort hire that searches have been initiated that were not previously identified as critical department needs?”

Although one might have expected the Provost to answer the question, it is Dean Luz Gonzalez who speaks:

Dean Gonzalez (Social Science): "I can only speak for the College. We initially .  . I think what’s missing here is the sort of things that transpired from the time we started with the cohorts to the time of the budget crisis. Initially we identified as deans a series of searches that were identified as critical to the departments. We had eight in the College of Social Sciences. Two of them, it was an agreement that they did not fit into the cohort, and those were the law enforcement, so the provost went ahead and approved those, because as I said, they don’t fit into any of the three cohorts that we have, and then after we identified those six he agreed to fund two, and so we went forward with all eight, four of them completely covered by the college, two of them by him, and your two. Then the budget, there was another issue with the budget,  we knew we couldn’t afford it, so of the critical positions we had to make a decision and eliminate four. Because we knew we couldn’t go into 11-12 with eight positions in our college and afford all of them. There was just no way. So all of them were critical. We decided to put a lot of them in cohorts because they fit. But in the end we could do four. One for criminology, one was for the department of Chicano studies, the econometrics, and an urban planner. So yes, and sort of no, but."

Dean Paul Beare (Kremen): "We had four searches this year, they were all critical. One was a cohort hire in the Water. I know in some of your searches you get hundreds of applicants. In teacher education over the years more of our searches fail than succeed, partly because almost everybody is making more money in the public schools than they make when they come to us. We searched for a science educator, which is the hardest area in teacher ed. to fill.  Amazingly we got four qualified applicants. Two took jobs before they got here. Two interviewed; they both wanted the jobs. We got one, and he said the cohort was his motivating factor to come here. That he knew he’d have peers that were interested in the same research area as him. I never expected to fill that position. I’m convinced we wouldn’t have if wouldn’t have had the cohort."

Jacinta Amaral (State Wide Senate): "I like the idea of cohort funding. However, I’m very concerned about the funding stream for this and how long would the provost’s money stay with that hire. At some point, would a department be told, now it’s all yours. What happens to cohort funding should we change provosts. How is it set up to protect departments over time?"

Provost Covino: "The funding that’s provided is permanent. It recurs every year. Of course, if there is a dramatic budget cut, it might have us considering all kinds of things, that’s another issue. But as with any tenure track hire, the funding is permanent."

Tamyra Pierce (Chair, Mass Communications Journalism) "We had a desperate need for a video production person. Where does a video production person fit into a Water Cohort? That’s what we initially asked and thought, how we were going to do that. Then we realized, oh of course, they could do a documentary and things like that. We had a massive pool, and some of our top candidates are interested and have done work with water and other environmental factors. And so when we initially thought how are we going to fit into this cohort, we could not have foreseen this. We realized we could work with it and fit ourselves into it."

At this point, Michael Caldwell asked Chris Henson for a quick review about what she said about past policy, but she clarified that she was talking about past practices.

Thomas Holyoke (University Wide Senator): “I guess as I see this, this is really an issue of control and who has it. There has been a great deal of movement of faculty into FERPing and therefore considerable loss of faculty and inability of many departments to continue to offer the programs that they have now. And I have a little bit of sympathy for the cohort idea, but first and foremost, departments need to be able to continue the programs they have and be able to hire people who are primarily able to do those programs. Now if it happens that a candidate that is perfect for the hole the department has, as determined by the department, also happens to have some other additional specialties, as I guess is what happened with MCJ, I guess I’m perfectly OK with that. But I think, as one sympathetic to this resolution that first and foremost departments during these tight budget times who are losing faculty at enormous rates need to be able to continue the programs that they feel are in the best interest of the students. And that is the type of control I think is the most important.”

I have only a few comments. First, John Wakabayashi's excellent question, "Were cohort hires approved that were not considered to be urgent departmental hires?" was never answered, though he asked it twice.

Second, Jacinta Amaral's question about the funding stream for cohort hires was never quite answered. Although the provost said the funding would be permanent, he did not say whether the funding would be permanently out of his office or whether it would shift to the schools. If the provost is "partnering" on 25 hires this coming year, whether cohort or not, this question becomes even more important. What that "partnering" means must be pinned down at the next meeting.

No detailed information was offered about the deans' reaction when cohort hiring and its funding was first announced by the provost as a policy. No information was offered by deans regarding how their department chairs reacted. No information was offered by chairs about how their faculty reacted, except implicitly by Tamyra Pierce.

Tamyra Pierce provided a good example of how departments will adjust their hiring needs--or at least their job descriptions--to get into the cohort hiring money.

Tom Holyoke hit the nail on the head.

In a previous blog on this meeting I said that the faculty had been given the usual snow job. I have not changed my position on that weather report. And just when the discussion was getting going, the meeting was brought to a close with the swift finality of a sushi chef beheading a fresh fish.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Citizens of Dogpatch are Honored to be Designated a Nuclear Bomb Test Site

Don't That Take the Rag Off'n the Bush?

President Welty's Budget Speech

Craig Bernthal

(I've had so many people ask me to keep blogging on Fresno State issues that they've convinced me to keep going to the end of the semester.)

Since I was unable to attend President Welty’s presentation on the budget (Renaissance Literature, TT 10 to 11:50), I am relying on Chris Henson’s extensive notes, most of which I am quoting verbatim. Thanks, Chris. A video of the speech should be up soon, but is not available yet. When it becomes available, I will edit this blog to include it and make any necessary adjustments in Chris's notes. This is the best we can do at this time. I have a couple of observations at the end. Chris’s notes are in blue:

President Welty focused on the budget plan for 2012 – 13 and then went looked ahead to 2013 – 14 and beyond.

He provided an overview of the funding resource shift in the last four years:
            State appropriate decrease: $47.8 million;
Tuition increase: $48.5 million (but $18.9 million of that goes to SUGs, state grants to students;
Add it up and there is a $17.5 decrease overall.

The results to staffing over the last 4 years:
            124 administrative and staff positions eliminated
204 faculty positions eliminated. [Chris is unsure that she got this figure right—I will check the video when it comes out and make a correction, if necessary.]

If Governor Brown’s tax referendum fails, another $19.5 million will be cut from Fresno State next year. This will come in the middle of the academic year. For the entire CSU, the cut will be $200 million.

Plans for 2012-13:
--Carry-forward reserves will be used to absorb the 2012-13 cuts so that no additional cuts will be made to School/Colleges or Administrative units for 2012-13.  Those units will have the same dollars as for this academic year.  There will be constraints on such things as hiring and travel.  "All hiring will be consistent with our Strategic Plan."
--expansion of recruitment and enrollment of international students
--implementation of University's "new branding"
--updating of a new strategic plan for Information Technology
--continued diversification of resources (getting more private money)
--aggressive management of enrollment

Regarding aggressive management of enrollment
     --If Brown's proposal doesn't pass, that will necessitate a 3% decrease in enrollment on this campus--800-1000 students
     --Spring 2013 admissions will be frozen
     --All applicants for Fall 2013 admission will be waitlisted until after the November election--if the governor's proposal doesn't pass, then that 3% decrease will
             affect those applications
     --Students enrolling for Fall 2012 will be restricted to no more than 16 units

Looking to 2013-14 and beyond:
      --If Brown's initiative passes, that means a more stable future--includes a 4% increase for higher education for each of the next 3 years
      --If it fails, that will mean a base budget reduction on this campus of $12.6 million for 2013-14--This is the $10.5 million in state money allocated plus $2.1 million
               fee revenue reduction because of decreased in enrollment
      --That $12.6 million reduction will mean:
                 --examination of all programs and elimination of some
     --the need to use carry-forward reserves to implement the programmatic changes
                 --the maintenance of smaller carry-forward reserves

Discussion of carry-forward reserves:
Bar graph showing history of reserves - 2009 - $27.3 million
                                                            2010 - $44.1 million
                                                            2011 - $65.7 million
                                                            July 2012 (anticipated) - $60.6 million (with $10.5 million set aside to maintain current funding to Colleges/Schools)
                                                            2013 - $40.1 million (anticipated)
The increase in carry-forward reserves has been the result of a "conscious decision" to hold reserves to prepare for the uncertainty of the budget in the next few years.
By 2014-15, it is anticipated that carry-forward reserves will be back to the more usual amount of approximately $25 million

Budget cut targets for 2013-14 - Academic Affairs - $8.9 million
(I didn't get the figures for the other units)

Lots of emphasis on the fact that he's conferring with the University Budget Committee all of this.  "I value the advice of the UBC."

Emphasis on the importance of "being as innovative and creative as possible" in the future:
Two examples:  --possibility of an IT consortium with other campuses
                               --shared service centers on this campus

At end of Welty's presentation, a call for a "sense of community" and two specific requests
--Colleges/Schools can begin to plan for 2012-13 with assumption that there will be no further cuts for next year
--Everyone should register to vote and vote for Brown's initiative

What interested me the most in this was the discussion of the carry-forward. Given the tumultuous budget years ahead and the difficulty of planning, it seems quite reasonable to have a larger than usual carry-forward, and I was happy to see that President Welty directly addressed it. But we should remind ourselves of a few facts:

First, the UBC was not consulted about this carry-forward. Neither the UBC, nor the Task Force, nor the faculty at large knew about it until a few weeks ago. (I base this on what John Constable said in his Senate presentation when I asked him about it; he was still trying to understand it himself. It certainly came as a surprise to me, and it did not become apparent until dug out of the most recent on-line budget books.) The $65 million carry-forward was a piece of critical information for the faculty to have before the Budget Task Force convened. President Welty notes that the size of the carry-forward was not a mistake, but was achieved according to plan. I entertained the idea that the carry-forward might be a mistake because we had never been informed that it was planned. I note as well that the University Budget Committee, not knowing of the plan, had no input on the figure: how was the amount of $65 million determined as a reasonable carry-forward? Why not $63 million, with some of the pressure taken off class sizes and number of sections? We can only hope that this speech begins a new practice of budget transparency and budget-planning transparency as well. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

To the Senate, and Let Them Work

Craig Bernthal

Of government the properties to unfold,
Would seem in me to affect speech and discourse;
Since I am put to know that your own science
Exceeds, in that, the lists of all advice
My strength can give you: then no more remains,
But that to your sufficiency as your Worth is able,
And let them work. The nature of our people,
Our city's institutions, and the terms
For common justice, you're as pregnant in
As art and practise hath enriched any
That we remember.  (Duke Vincentio, Measure for Measure)

The Academic Senate is set to go through the annual process of electing 1/3 of its members. At the beginning of this semester, I was afraid the Senate was in a coma. I am happy to say, that I no longer think so; in fact, the faculty owes a debt of gratitude to many hardworking, selfless people in the Senate.

We learned this year how important it is to have dedicated and watchful people as senators and on university committees. Against the ever growing tendency toward administrative centralization and top-down decision making, the Senate is the main body looking out for academic freedom, faculty consultation, and the faculty's function to determine instruction and curriculum.

The faculty needs people in the senate who look after their department's interests and those of the entire faculty. Some people see the Senate as an opportunity to start on an administrative career. From what I've seen, those hopes are usually disappointed. Others are placed in the Senate by their departments for RTP credit--and because no one else wants to do the work. What we need, more than ever, are people without administrative ambition, who have some experience, whose desire is to preserve the faculty's traditional role. One-third of the Senate will be elected soon. I hope departments encourage the best people they have to take on the job.

When I started writing about Fresno State issues this semester, I knew there'd be a time when the main function of "raising the Shire" would be no longer necessary. I think that time has arrived. No one needs to hear from me, at this point, to tell them what facts we have, and more importantly, what facts we don't have. To the Senate, and let them work.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Cohort Hiring and the Provost

Craig Bernthal

Two things struck me about the Senate meeting on Monday with regard to the motion on suspending cohort hiring. One was that, as per usual, the administration was giving the faculty a snow job. Apparently Provost Covino rather modestly suggested there be cohorts, the deans spontaneously sang “Hallelujah!” and charged out the door to get him what he wanted. They are now beside themselves with joy at the results.

            You wanna buy a bridge in Brooklyn? For cheap? I thought of doing a detailed analysis of the games being played at the meeting, but what’s the point? Like good birdwatchers, at this point, we can tell a hawk from a handsaw.
The problem that the faculty faces is not actually even cohort hiring v. not cohort hiring. The problem is the role the provost has grabbed for himself in cohort hiring. Here is what I believe: The provost ought to have virtually no role in hiring. If there are to be cohorts, they should be the product of decisions made by departments and deans working in cooperation when mutual needs can be satisfied by hiring in cohorts.

Cohort hiring as imposed on the faculty and managed by the provost is going to make a mess of the faculty by misallocating resources.

In the past, funding for hiring was distributed to the schools according to a formula taking into account many factors related to the delivery of instruction and the number of students served by each school. Departments, after prioritizing hiring needs and in consultation with their deans, made rational decisions about which positions would be filled. There was nothing arbitrary about this procedure. Choice operated within the constraints of whatever allocation was determined by the formula. Cohort hiring could be done within this model by the voluntary cooperation of departments and schools who recognized the value of creating a cohort.

Now the provost has introduced a cohort hiring process that is ungoverned by formula—ungoverned, ultimately, by anything but his own will, since he decides on the theme for the cohort. Cohort hiring is centrally funded, and those funds, which normally would have been distributed to the schools, are now withheld to pay the wages/benefits of cohort hires. The provost pays for 50% of a cohort faculty member’s salary and benefits for the duration of that person’s tenure at Fresno State. Each year, as more and more cohort faculty are hired, this central fund will grow. As time goes by, the provost’s designation of cohorts will determine more and more what this university’s faculty professes. Academic senators and their departments have to ask whether this is a good thing. Senators, do you want the provost to have the final say about the composition of the faculty of this university, or do you want your department to determine it’s own faculty needs and hence, it’s own curriculum? Ask your department whether it wants to cede this kind of power to the provost.

If cohort hiring is to be done, it ought to be funded at the college level, after money is allocated by formula, so that departments and schools can participate as they see the need. If the faculty decides that cohort hiring is good, fine. Let the schools fund them. The question is not whether there should or should not be cohort hiring but whether the provost should impose cohort hiring. The faculty could have hired cohorts under the old scheme and still can if it wants.

Cohort hiring as we now have it puts departments in the urgent position of having to acquiesce in the provost’s cohort process—i.e., kowtow to the provost’s latest decision on what the faculty should look like—or miss out on hiring altogether. Thus History, which needed a professor of Asian history, lost out because it didn’t fit into a cohort. English, which for years has been in serious need of an English Education professor, couldn’t fit that into a cohort and lost out. Sometimes departments are able to bend a need to fit a cohort, such as was the case in Mass Communications Journalism, related by Tamyra Pierce. Sometime the cohort exactly fits a need, such geology’s need for a hydrologist. And certainly deans and departments that can get hires in no other way will try to find ways to get into the cohort, even if it takes distorting a job description with RTP complications down the line. This is not the optimum way to fill urgent hiring needs during a funding crisis. Again, we see policy that in fact flies in the face of the funding crisis by less rationally allocating resources.

Here is what the Senate ought to do:

1.     Take the provost out of the cohort hiring process; it is not the provost’s job to create a faculty or a curriculum;
2.     Affirm that departments in consultation with deans are the best determiners of hiring needs and how to fill them;
3.     Allow departments and schools to form cohorts and hire in cohorts if that best fulfills their needs;
4.     Fund all hiring according to the allocation formulas for level B.

No one with a vote in the senate ought to mistake the real issue at stake: the right of faculty to determine curriculum and instruction.

Weaponized Romanticism

At the beginning of the 20th century, T. E. Hulme, in his great essay “Romanticism v. Classicism” defined Romanticism as “spilt religion.” It was religion unchanneled by any theology that acknowledged humanity’s proclivity toward evil and its debilitating effects: warped perception and stupidity. Instead, what Romanticism at its worst offered was a perpetual pantheistic liberation of the human spirit that was supposed to end in an epiphany, the individual’s identity with the cosmos at large. Hulme fingered “Lamartine, Hugo, part of Keats, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Swinburne,” as examples, but landed on Hugo as the model of spilt religion in this contrast between “Classicism” and “Romanticism”:
What I mean by the classical in verse, then, is this. That even in the most imaginative flights there is always a holding back, a reservation. The classical poet never forgets this finiteness, this limit of man. He remembers always that he is mixed up with earth. He may jump, but he always returns back; he never flies away into the circumambient gas.

You might say if you wished that the whole of the Romantic attitude seems to crystallize in verse round metaphors of flight. Hugo is always flying, flying, over abysses, flying up into the eternal gases. The word infinite in every other line.
In short, Romanticism unhooked English literature from the concept of original sin, which according to G. K. Chesterton, “is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.” If challenged on the idea of original sin, I think Chesterton might have said with Joyce, behold history, the nightmare from which mankind is trying to awake. I do not go completely with Hulme about the Romantics. Like C. S. Lewis, I enjoy teaching and reading them, but Lewis also recognized that Romanticism was, in fact, spilt religion. He merely added that the water on the floor might be worth paying attention to. Lewis’s point was that Romanticism expressed a real joy, which was a fundamental part of reality, and that joy was the one thing in life worth pursuing. Lewis’s pursuit, however, was eventually guided by a religion which never lost sight of the inherent human tendency toward moral failure and political nightmare.

Chesterton and Hulme (less so Lewis, who saw it coming) might be surprised that the spilt religion of Romanticism has mainly filled the vial of therapy, and that the therapeutic ideal has invaded every facet of western culture, even the churches. We’ve been sold therapy as a kind of technologized Romanticism.

A quick walk through Barnes and Noble or a glance at the iTunes bookstore reveals very quickly how publishing has been overwhelmed by therapeutic Romanticism. You don’t have to go to the self-help or psychology sections to see it. Fiction is overwhelmed by it: tale after tale is tailor-made for Oprah’s book club, as people free themselves from alcohol, drugs, abusive fathers, abusive husbands, abusive bosses, abusive religions, miserable little towns — all or any combination of the above. Oprah herself, of course, both keyed into this cultural wave and pushed it, making herself the media queen of therapeutic Romanticism and, happily, billions of dollars besides.

A brief glace at’s book section yields the following:

On The Descendants, by Kaui Hart Hemmings, from The New Yorker:“When a catamaran accident leaves his wife in a coma he [Matthew King] must wake from his own ‘prolonged unconsciousness,’ reacquaint himself with his neglected daughters, and track down his wife’s lover. Meanwhile, his cousins are urging him to sell the family’s vast landholdings for development — to relinquish, in his eyes, the final vestige of their native Hawaiian ancestry. Hemmings channels the voice of her befuddled middle-aged hero with virtuosity, as he teeters between acerbic and sentimental, scoffing at himself even as he grasps for redemption.”

On The Year of Wonders, by Geraldine Brooks: “Inspired by the actual town commemorated as Plague Village because of the events that transpired there in 1665-1666, Brooks tells her harrowing story from the perspective of 18-year-old Anna Frith, a widow with two young sons. Anna works as a maid for vicar Michael Mompellion and his gentle, selfless wife, Elinor, who has taught her to read. When bubonic plague arrives in the community, the vicar announces it as a scourge sent by God; obeying his command, the villagers voluntarily seal themselves off from the rest of the world. The vicar behaves nobly as he succors his dwindling flock, and his wife, aided by Anna, uses herbs to alleviate their pain. As deaths mount, however, grief and superstition evoke mob violence against 'witches,' and cults of self-flagellation and devil worship. With the facility of a prose artist, Brooks unflinchingly describes barbaric 17th-century customs and depicts the fabric of life in a poor rural area. If Anna's existential questions about the role of religion and ethical behavior in a world governed by nature seem a bit too sophisticated for her time, Brooks keeps readers glued through starkly dramatic episodes and a haunting story of flawed, despairing human beings. This poignant and powerful account carries the pulsing beat of a sensitive imagination and the challenge of moral complexity. Forecast: Brooks should be a natural on talk shows . . . .” The heroine, Anna Frith, finally liberates herself from male dominance, patriarchal religion, and backwards-European science, by fleeing to the freedom of 17th-century Islamic northern Africa, where she comes under the tutelage of an Arabian physician! Well, Viking knows what sells.

That the purpose of novels is primarily therapeutic is put forward by New Yorker columnist Flora Armetta as one of the principle reasons for reading. It’s cheaper than psychotherapy. Reading becomes
a medical prescription of sorts. According to a post at Scientific American, people who have experienced loss or trauma may find healing if they are able to turn their life stories into a narrative that hangs together and makes sense. Recent research suggests that developing a story from the events in one’s life — not necessarily a story with a happy ending, just a true and “coherent story,” as opposed to a “fragmented” one — can bring real relief from depression and anxiety.

A psychotherapist (there’s an old-fashioned word for you), assumes that analysis is the best way to achieve this coherent story. This is not surprising, but it’s also not terribly appealing. It strikes me that literature can do a lot of the work for us, and do it much more enjoyably. If “fragmented” is a good way to describe some of the best modernist and postmodern novels (I’m thinking of everything from “Ulysses” to “To the Lighthouse” to “Beloved”), we can also turn to fiction for coherence. Consider the vast body of great writing that is precisely about the process that psychotherapy evidently provides: the attempt to narrate a life story as a means of understanding it.”
James Frey, the man who lied to Oprah, wrote a do-it-yourself therapy novel, creating the perfect Oprah Book club entry, A Million Little Pieces, in which he presented himself as the Byronic hero of addiction, so proud and courageous, he refused to concede personal responsibility for his drug addiction and rebelled against 12-step programs. Of course, Frey’s memoire was shown to be a novel in disguise, and a rather bad one at that. Oprah said she felt “duped.” Oprah, we all should feel duped. We used to produce writers like Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald. Now we produce Romantic therapists who cast themselves as the anti-victims of a victimizing culture.

By themselves, these books might be taken as trivialities, cultural straws in the wind. But they represent a deluge that manifests itself in education and politics, where to be enlightened is to believe that everyone deserves the beatific vision, that technologized Romanticism, in the form of therapies of one sort or another, can supply it, and that politics can supply it en mass. The 20th century is a great testimony to the dangers of the toxic mix of nihilism and Romanticism, and we haven’t learned our lesson yet. Si se puede! On to the promised land!

To be out of faith with therapeutic Romanticism is to be a heretic. NPR’s odious Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me makes jokes about the stupidity of people in the Tea Party without spending a moment of satire on the less toilet-trained Occupy Wall Street. The Tea party just doesn’t get it: and what it doesn’t get is the Romantic worldview.

This leads to the paradoxical fact that the therapific vision is elitism for the masses, sainthood and superiority for all, except those small-minded businessmen who vote Republican. To dissent is to be a killjoy, or even worse, “insensitive.” Chesterton understood, way early in the game, the tendency of Romanticism to produce cultural elites. Commenting on Thomas Carlyle’s love of the aristocracy, Chesterton cautioned:
The weak point in the whole of Carlyle's case for aristocracy lies, indeed, in his most celebrated phrase. Carlyle said that men were mostly fools. Christianity, with a surer and more reverent realism, says that they are all fools. This doctrine is sometimes called the doctrine of original sin. It may also be described as the doctrine of the equality of men. But the essential point of it is merely this, that whatever primary and far-reaching moral dangers affect any man, affect all men. All men can be criminals, if tempted; all men can be heroes, if inspired. And this doctrine does away altogether with Carlyle's pathetic belief (or anyone else's pathetic belief) in "the wise few." There are no wise few. Every aristocracy that has ever existed has behaved, in all essential points, exactly like a small mob.
The men who wrote the constitution and debated it in The Federalist Papers had a deep understanding of universal human moral failure. They tried to write a document that would protect us against ourselves. But the moral aristocracy has now grown to include perhaps the majority of voting Americans. Despite tough economic times and an Islamist threat which is still very much alive, we are living in the “circumambient gas.”  I don’t think we can stay there forever.
©2012 Craig Bernthal

This essay is also up at VDH Private Papers: Weaponized Romanticism

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Cohort Hiring and the Academic Senate

Craig Bernthal

On Monday, the Academic Senate votes on the resolution introduced by Chris Henson, English, to suspend cohort hiring. [I introduce a correction here: today is the first reading, so a vote is doubtful.  3/19/12, CAB] That resolution, introduced in the Senate on February 13, is set forth in full at the end of this blog. The important part is what the resolution wants to do: suspend cohort hiring, including the searches currently underway. I think the Senate has two rational alternatives with regard to voting. First, it could just adopt the resolution in full. Second, given the lateness in the academic year and the amount of energy expended already in searches, it could let the current round of cohort hiring go through and vote to suspend the practice starting next year. The key word here is suspend.

I have blogged already about why I think cohort hiring is a bad practice, at least in the way it is being conducted. There is a place for cohorts and a place for the Provost to promote cohorts. There is no place for decrees about cohorts. Departments are the places where hiring decisions ought to be made because departments have the primary responsibility for making decisions about curriculum and instruction. Departments have that responsibility because they have the greatest expertise in their disciplines and what they need to mount a successful curriculum. Departments ought to be the primary political unit on campus for all decisions affecting instruction and curriculum. Cohort hiring during a putative "hiring freeze" in response to a putative budget crisis (that $65 million carry-forward, again) gives the Provost way too much power over curriculum. This vote is about much more than cohort hiring: the big issue is the marginalization of the faculty in favor of administrative control of the curriculum. For a fuller treatment of this, here is a link to the previous blog:

The Provost Creates His Own Faculty

I expect this to be an issue on which the administration really digs in its heels. On Monday, be prepared for a parade of deans speaking before the Senate to stress how important cohort hiring is to them.  (I have heard, and hope this might be confirmed if questions by senators are allowed, that 10 of this year's cohort hires have gone to Social Science. That's probably close to 50%. If this is so, the Senate ought to pursue the rationale supporting this. At any rate, expect Dean Gonzalez to be a big supporter.)

When the rhetorical barrage occurs, I hope that senators consider the following:

1. Deans keep their jobs at the pleasure of the Provost;
2. Some of these deans had napkins tucked under their chins as they contemplated the gobbling up of Science and Mathematics and the amalgamation of Arts and Humanities with Social Science;
3. Not all the deans will be speaking.
4. The Academic Senate is a faculty institution representing the faculty. How does your department want you to vote?

The deans may well have important things to say about searches now in progress, and of course, senators need to rationally consider whatever facts the deans present. But with regard to cohort hiring in general, they are not free from pressure, and the faculty's opinion is better than theirs for that reason alone. Senators, I recommend the following mantra: "I don't care what the deans think. . . I don't care what the deans think."

This is another Academic Senate meeting in which the presence of the faculty is very important. I can't think of anything that affects the culture of a department more than hiring decisions. Professors, if you can possibly make it, come to this meeting. Your presence will speak for itself.

One last thing: THE VOTE ON THIS RESOLUTION MUST BE BY SECRET BALLOT. The reasons are obvious: this is going to be a pressurized meeting. As much pressure should be taken off senators as possible when it comes to the final vote. Senators should not have to worry about incurring the displeasure of a dean or the provost when casting their ballots.

Here is the resolution:

Academic Senate Resolution on Cohort Hiring Through the Office of the Provost

Whereas:  California State University, Fresno currently faces a base budget gap of $900,000-1.2 million for the academic year 2011-12 and the possibility of an additional  $11 million cut for the academic year 2012-13; and

Whereas:  The recommendations from the Academic Affairs Budgetary Advisory Task Force (AABATF) for cuts within Academic Affairs are restricted to cuts at the College/School level and below; and

Whereas:  Colleges/Schools and Departments have already absorbed substantial cuts which have resulted in fewer sections of classes offered, larger classes, the inability to replace faculty who have retired or left, the inability to hire faculty to develop and teach curriculum in crucial areas of need; and

Whereas:  The further cuts that will be imposed will undoubtedly restrict the hiring of new faculty for Colleges/Schools and Departments; and

Whereas:  The Provost currently has a policy of “cohort hiring,” by which one or more central themes are selected and Colleges/Schools and Departments are encouraged to request a faculty position that relates to or falls within that theme; and

 Whereas: Curriculum and instruction are the purview of the faculty, and the faculty are best positioned to identify the needs of Colleges/Schools and Departments based on such factors as the specialties and interests of current faculty, current trends in the discipline, needs in the geographic region, employment potential for graduates, and accreditation requirements; and

Whereas:  The policy of cohort hiring shapes curriculum and instruction by giving priority to cohort hires and by taking away money from other hires determined to be crucial by Colleges/Schools and Departments, giving unprecedented control over curriculum and instruction to the Provost;

Whereas:  In this time of severe budget cutbacks, any hiring that continues to be possible must be directed at the crucial needs of Colleges/Schools and Departments as identified by faculty; therefore be it

Resolved:  That the Provost’s Office should suspend all cohort hiring, including the searches currently underway; and be it further

Resolved:  That the money allocated for cohort hiring either be used for faculty positions identified by faculty as crucial for College/Schools and Departments or distributed to College/Schools for other purposes vital to maintaining curriculum and ensuring students access to classes and timely completion of degrees; and be it further               

Resolved:  That this resolution be forwarded to the Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs and the University President.

St. Patrick's Day Finale: Danny Boy from "Brassed Off"

Although considered something of an Irish anthem, the words for "Danny Boy" were penned by English barrister Fred Weatherly, who later adapted them to the Irish tune, "Londonderry Air."

Frederic Weatherly, 1848 to 1929

The tear in the eye moment from Brassed Off.  Danny Ormondroyd (Pete Postlethwaite), leader of the Grimley Colliery Brass band is dying of black lung. One night, the band comes to play for him:

Friday, March 16, 2012

Irish Music in the Everyday Lives of People

"We are four Bostonians who perform Celtic folk music from Nova Scotia. We all have at least one parent from Nova Scotia. . . ."

I got a kick out of this joyful quartet of amateurs:

Some Irish fiddlers talk about what they do and where their music comes from, Part 1:

Part 2:

Part 3:

Part 4:

The Near Death of Fresno State

Craig Bernthal

Fresno State came near to dying this spring. Had the Budget Task Force’s main recommendations succeeded—to join the School of Arts and Humanities to the School of Social Science, and to divvy up the College of Sciences and Mathematics among the FTES hungry colleges of Kremen, Lyles, and Agriculture—that would have been the end. And those two schools must have seemed like fat and easy targets. One had a dean probably nearing retirement, the other was without a dean at all. The faculty senate seemed to be asleep. The other deans were amenable to an FTES feed. The senate chair was acquiescent. The prospects for ramming through the mergers must have looked good.
The only thing that stopped it from happening was a big, fast developing faculty protest that took the administration by surprise. That protest was expressed in the Fresno Bee, in several meetings and forums, in the Academic Senate, by an emeriti group that met with President Welty, and in this blog. There may have been donor protest. (I don’t know about that, but I hope so.) The rebellion was strong in Arts and Humanities, Science and Mathematics, and Social Science. It was less strong, but not entirely absent, in the other schools and library.
            What would have been lost had the Task Force recommendations been allowed to pass by a sleeping faculty? The functioning liberal arts core of the university would be gone to the detriment of every department and every student at Fresno State. Art, music, and theater—the fine arts—require students to be taught in small studio classes. I cannot believe those curriculums would have survived the move in any but the most rudimentary form. Over time, they would have decayed. In English, literature would have withered while the department became a service writing department for the university. The re-housing of Mathematics to Engineering and Biology, Chemistry, and Geology to Agriculture would inevitably, over the course of time, have subordinated those disciplines to the applied sciences for which those colleges exist. They would have atrophied as they sank in subordinate service departments, their main duty being toward general education.
            In the early twentieth century, on a visit to the Soviet Union, physical chemist, crystallographer, and philosopher of science Michael Polanyi tried to tell Soviet scientists and administrators that their desire to subordinate science to applied science was bound to fail. Only in the free play of inquiry, regardless of utilitarian objectives, does major discovery occur. Scientific advancement relies on the free play of the imagination as much as do the arts. The applied sciences depend on the “pure” sciences, and the pure sciences depend upon curiosity and freedom of inquiry. History proved Polanyi right. Science in the Soviet Union foundered. In less spectacular fashion, the same thing would have happened here. Fresno State may not be comparable to a UC in its commitment to pure scientific research; nevertheless, people do pure research here and their departments are stronger because of it. The irony is that it makes them better service departments for engineering, agriculture, business, and other fields. Splitting up Science and Mathematics would have been bad even for the schools that stood in the short term to have their FTES problems solved. It would have been bad for the students.
            The wonder is that the administration of Fresno State is this devoid of sense or scruples. The Task Force proposals would never have seen the light of day had the Provost not wanted them to be adopted. The idea that an independent Task Force put these mergers before Provost Covino, who then went into deep thought about whether to adopt them, is an incredible fiction. The faculty was asked to believe in another stretcher: that these were budget proposals—that their adoption would save money. These consolidations more probably would have cost money.
            So what was the administration trying to accomplish? The reconfiguration of Fresno State as a complete “professional” school, dealing only in applied knowledge that leads directly to jobs? The elimination of a recalcitrant body of faculty through their dispersal? A more centralized structure that allowed the Provost great control of curriculum and instruction? For my money, all of the above, with the blessing of President Welty and Chancellor Reid. One can only wonder what education appears to be in the minds of these people. The loss to the culture of the Central Valley would have been huge.

             But the attempted Task Force coup was only the first chapter of how things played out this spring. As faculty began to examine the budget, and data slowly became available, we found that the carry-forward for the university last year was enormous: $65 million. To quote a previous blog;

Here are the carry-forward figures and the places where they can be found:

06-07: $28,834.038  See the 2007-08 Budget Book, p. 13.

07-08: $30,920,037 See the 2008-09 Budget Book, p. 13.

08-09: $27,314,040 See the 2009-10 Budget Book, p. 13

For the next two entries, no page numbers are available. Look under title "Expenditure Budget Summary" in the referenced Budget Books.

09-10: $44,035,938 See the 2010-11 Budget Book.

10-11: $65,806,057 See the 2011-12 Budget Book.

            We did not know about that $65 million while the Budget Task Force was meeting, while sections of 300 or more students were being offered, while student tuition was being raised, while department offices were running out of paper and paper-clips, urinals went unfixed, etc., etc. It is impossible to avoid the accusation of fraud and deception. The Budget Task Force was convened in an atmosphere of dire emergency, of a broken contract by the state. Well, we may have long-term problems, and carry-forwards may need to be larger than usual, but we had no emergency and the necessity for having a task force was a based on a lie.
            How can President Welty now go to the students with a straight face and tell them they ought to pay higher tuition, or go to the state legislature and say we need more money, or tell the faculty they have to sacrifice more, teach larger sections, and do with less funding for research? I am very curious about how he is going to handle this on March 22. To say the least, it presents a challenge in rhetoric.
Departments are now being asked to “spend down” 1.8 million dollars. Come up with proposals, is the Provost’s call. Just think what could have been done with that 1.8 million last fall. There is always some left over at the end of the year to spend, but 1.8 million?

            The only good news in this is that the faculty came alive. Important resolutions against the mergers were introduced into the senate, as were others re-affirming the importance of the University Budget Committee in faculty consultation. A faculty group formed in opposition to the mergers and top-down attempts to control curriculum and instruction. A vote on one of the senate resolutions, against cohort hiring, is still pending, and will be discussed on Monday. The Senate has to pass it if the faculty’s traditional duty to decide on curriculum and instruction is to be maintained.
            It has been an enlightening academic year and a profoundly depressing one. We have had a disquieting disclosure of the intentions of this administration and the methods it is willing to employ to get what it wants. I had hoped that the agenda of Provost Covino and that of President Welty would turn out to be different; I no longer hope for that, having no reason to believe it’s true.  I doubt that the administrative game plan has changed or that it will change in the future. It has merely suffered a temporary reversal in an attempt to turn Fresno State into a super-Phoenix or National. The faculty will have to battle this for years, until a more rational model of education finds its way to Long Beach. For now, it is critical that the faculty follow through in two ways: it needs to take a clear stand against the imposition of top-down cohort hiring, and it needs to get the best people it has into the Senate and on Senate committees. More on those issues tomorrow. 

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Gaelic: Canan Nan Gaidheal -- Karen Matheson

In Scotland, you can find out how to write "cucumber" or "banana" in Gaelic just by going into a grocery store and looking for the signs. I asked a Scottish cabbie if he knew anyone who spoke Gaelic. He said he ex-wife was from the islands, that she spoke it, and that the other barbarians out there spoke it as well. If you want to read the lyrics to this song, which is about resisting linguistic tyranny (English--not Gaelic, unless you're the cab-driver) go to this link:

Celtic Lyrics Corner

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Ashokan Farewell (with Jay Ungar)

OK, maybe more Scottish than Irish, and all American, but here's my entry for the day for the music run up to St. Patrick's Day with Kirk Whitney at Surly Temple:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Sophie's Dancing Feet

Aly Bain, Jenna Reid, Donal Lunny:
Sophie's Dancing Feet (Transatlantic Sessions)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Transatlantic Sessions

BBC TV. I've never seen this show, but now I'm going to look for it. Where do we Americans get the music we associate with Appalachia? Great Britain, of course, and especially Scotland and Ireland:

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wild Mountain Thyme / You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive

Wild Mountain Thyme

You'll Never Leave Harlan Alive

Lent: Consumerism in the Garden of Eden

The Genesis story of Adam and Eve, their fall, and their expulsion from Eden, has, over the course of its existence, become one of the most interpreted and certainly the most influential of all the stories of the Old Testament. Perhaps the most common way to understand it is that the forbidden fruit, hanging from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, is a test of man’s obedience to God. A crude interpretation sees God as a villain, an unfair parent, denying something to his children (knowledge), and then punishing the kids when they are inevitably attracted to the one thing denied. (In Milton’s Paradise Lost, Satan tempts Eve with just such a gloss; Philip Pullman, in His Dark Materials, buys it.)
            A more sophisticated understanding is that, in a misbegotten attempt to become gods, Adam and Eve alienate themselves from God’s gift of life and prosperity. So long as Adam and Eve do not eat the fruit, they acknowledge God as the source of their being, but once they disobey and eat, they have made the decision to run their lives on their own terms, or as Father Robert Barron says, “to call their own shots.” As God himself is Being, Adam and Eve’s decision to go contrary to Being in the attempt to grab onto more being is profoundly irrational, and it alienates them from Being itself. The result is they inevitably become less than the humans they were created to be, with less freedom, more fallibility, more selfishness—and their derangement makes itself felt through all of nature.   
            I want to suggest a variation on this interpretation, along the lines suggested by Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World, and suggest that in the Fall, we also have the violation of a spiritual property law. Adam and Eve are the first thieves. This means, I believe, that with the Fall, man’s view of the natural world becomes fundamentally alienated and distorted—that taking the forbidden fruit even results in the murder of an aspect of creation.
            Let’s start with Adam and Eve’s initial situation. They are placed in the Garden of Eden not as passengers on a cruise, to be waited upon, to have their desires attended to by servants, but as gardeners. They have a job to do, albeit a pleasant one. They are to be the stewards of Eden, and then the stewards of the earth, a “steward” being someone who manages someone else’s property, in this case, God’s. In Eden before the Fall, even the animals are stewards; they don’t appropriate each other for food, but vegetarians all, live in peace and harmony. Adam and Eve eat what they need and enjoy it, and the food gives them energy to attend to their minimal tasks and their enjoyment of each other, work, and the world around them
            Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa discussions about property and ethics, starts from the proposition, derived from Genesis, that God is the owner of everything. Whatever man has, he only has in use, for the reasonable benefit of himself and the rest of mankind. We are all stewards, and our use of property rightly acknowledges a duty to the ultimate source and owner. This means don’t waste resources, don’t use them for evil purposes, be generous, don’t take too much, and respect the property of others. Live as closely to the Edenic ideal as possible.
            Now, another aspect of the Forbidden Fruit becomes evident.  It is “a pledge and recognizance” of man’s right relationship to nature.  In order for the ethic of stewardship to have meaning, its opposite must also exist. The opposite of stewardship would be the appropriation of property for one’s sole benefit: consuming the fruit to have it for oneself alone. It is important to see that Adam and Eve don’t need to eat the forbidden fruit—they’ve got plenty. Whatever they have taken before, they have taken as stewards. By refusing to eat “the apple,” Adam and Eve reaffirm their vocation as stewards and the right relation to property—God’s property, the entire cosmos. But taking the forbidden fruit is unnecessary, and therefore only an assertion of the ego, only a decision to consume just for oneself.
            This gratuitous taking symbolizes the negation of Adam and Eve’s stewardship. It reduces creation to something merely material and breaks the harmony of Eden. The animals start to hunt each other. The seasons alter. Food becomes hard to get, and man must work by the sweat of his brow to produce it.  The far-reaching effect of the sin of Adam and Eve is the deadening of the world, our inability to see it as participating in the being of God. In effect, Adam and Eve murder the spiritual dimension of materiality. We are left with a world that we see as a “standing reserve,” something mineable; worse, we see other people that way. By desacralizing the world, Adam and Eve desacralized themselves, making murder possible (the next big sin), and leading to slavery, the industrialization and bureaucratization of slaughter as exemplified in the Holocaust, mass abortion, euthanasia, the modern sense that life is burdensome and meaningless: in short, the entire “culture of death” that the Catholic Church stands against.
            The answer to the Fall, then, is the resacralization of the world, and the most powerful source of this for Catholics is the Eucharist. The bread and wine are a true example of nature made whole, the body and blood of Christ and also the product of wheat and grapes and earth and sunshine—of the entire cosmos. The Eucharist is the incarnation of Christ in the world. We focus on that small bit of the world so we can see Him in the whole world. The Eucharist is cosmic restoration, the road back to Eden. When Jesus says, love your enemies, he is pointing to the most ambitious part of a universal project. If we can do that, we can even be good stewards.

Now, to replace the amateur with the expert. Robert Barron on Creation:

Fr. Barron on the Fall: