Category Archives: Uncategorized

Translating UI President Phyllis Wise’s letter on academic freedom for the uninitiated

By now, you’ve probably read about the controversy surrounding American Indian studies professor Prof. Steven Salaita for angry tweets regarding Isreal and its Prime Minister Netanyahu, in particular. The divide goes along typical political lines, with supporters of Israel on the right nodding their heads and noting how shameful his tweets are, and how it’s about time somebody learned those liberal proffies a lesson, that rich people are in charge and they don’t like things said that upset them any, and people on the left noting geez, these were tweets. On the one side “civility” and other the other…”shit, what do you mean civility when children are dying?”

I don’t like the content of the tweets, and I doubt I’d like Salaita much, but I have to say, I don’t like what I’ve seen of UI President Phyllis Wise, either, largely because her conduct epitomizes the craven corporate “leadership” that has a stranglehold on US universities.

So for those of you who don’t work at a university, let me explain Wise’s letter for you.

The Principles on Which We Stand
Aug 22, 2014 1:15 pm by Phyllis M. Wise

Dear Colleagues:

As you may be aware, Vice President Christophe Pierre and I wrote to Prof. Steven Salaita on Aug. 1, informing him of the university’s decision not to recommend further action by the Board of Trustees concerning his potential appointment to the faculty of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Translation:

Um, yeah, I’m going to try to spin this to make it sound like he hadn’t really been appointed with tenure yet so that when he sues (not if, when ) I will at least looked like I tried to cover the university’s ass here.

Since this decision, many of you have expressed your concern about its potential impact on academic freedom. I want to assure you in the strongest possible terms that all of us – my administration, the university administration and I – absolutely are committed to this bedrock principle. I began my career as a scientist challenging accepted ideas and pre-conceived notions, and I have continued during my career to invite and encourage such debates in all aspects of university life.

Translation:
I know some of you little people are worried, but I wanted to reassure you: I’m awesome. Ok? Remember. I’m a scientist. A paradigm-shifting scientist. An awesome scientist am I, and I am looking out for you here.

A pre-eminent university must always be a home for difficult discussions and for the teaching of diverse ideas. One of our core missions is to welcome and encourage differing perspectives. Robust – and even intense and provocative – debate and disagreement are deeply valued and critical to the success of our university.

Translation:
We believe in debate. In theory.

As a university community, we also are committed to creating a welcoming environment for faculty and students alike to explore the most difficult, contentious and complex issues facing our society today. Our Inclusive Illinois initiative is based on the premise that education is a process that starts with our collective willingness to search for answers together – learning from each other in a respectful way that supports a diversity of worldviews, histories and cultural knowledge.

Translation:
We believe in debate. Really we do. Really really. There are no wrong answers, there’s no evil, let alone political evil that should be condemned. Just differing world views. That’s how we seek the truth.

Our university isn’t a corporation predicated on manufacturing young adulthood lifestyle communities centered on beer and football and sweaty incompetent sex or anything. We’re intellectuals! There’s a competition of ideas going on right here. The endeavor! Be awed by our commitment to the endeavor. And your checks can be sent to…

The decision regarding Prof. Salaita was not influenced in any way by his positions on the conflict in the Middle East nor his criticism of Israel. Our university is home to a wide diversity of opinions on issues of politics and foreign policy. Some of our faculty are critical of Israel, while others are strong supporters. These debates make us stronger as an institution and force advocates of all viewpoints to confront the arguments and perspectives offered by others. We are a university built on precisely this type of dialogue, discourse and debate.

Translation:
See? I tell you, again, the decision was not a firing. Totally not. Absolutely not. It was a decision regarding him.

What we cannot and will not tolerate at the University of Illinois are personal and disrespectful words or actions that demean and abuse either viewpoints themselves or those who express them. We have a particular duty to our students to ensure that they live in a community of scholarship that challenges their assumptions about the world but that also respects their rights as individuals.

This is what the lawyers wrote, and it really sounds good, doesn’t it, even though I have no idea what I am actually talking about here. Salaita’s tweets were a potential rights violation! That’s the ticket. I clearly have no clue what rights really are, but I know if there is one thing that plays on American’s emotions, it’s the allegation that a right might be violated. Rights! Did you know you have a right not be upset by something somebody says? That’s important. Really crucial.

But you don’t have the right to get upset about war. That’s over the line. We have standards.

Yes, I know, some misguided souls might note that most of our students are getting butt reamed by our tuition and it takes a nuclear warhead to dislodge a sexually harassing professor or a date rapist from our hallowed halls, but we stand firmly against the possibility that our students might see an upsetting Tweet or a have a professor who might not be a compliant, easily managed robot because he pops off at the mouth when he’s upset.

As chancellor, it is my responsibility to ensure that all perspectives are welcome and that our discourse, regardless of subject matter or viewpoint, allows new concepts and differing points of view to be discussed in and outside the classroom in a scholarly, civil and productive manner.

It’s my responsibility to make sure that donors are happy and feel confident that they are supporting an institution that doesn’t upset the social order very much.

A Jewish student, a Palestinian student, or any student of any faith or background must feel confident that personal views can be expressed and that philosophical disagreements with a faculty member can be debated in a civil, thoughtful and mutually respectful manner. Most important, every student must know that every instructor recognizes and values that student as a human being. If we have lost that, we have lost much more than our standing as a world-class institution of higher education.

Translation:
See, I’m just looking out for our world-class status. By warning you about how upsetting tweets might threaten our status within the hierarchy, I accomplish two clever things. 1) I appeal your own careerism; after all, we all know that faculty want to be up, not down, in the universal pecking order of universities and 2) I subtly hint that we currently *are* a world-class institution since we can’t lose something we don’t have. Clearly, I’m running a world-class institution. Yay, me, and yay us! World class, we are.

As a member of the faculty, I firmly believe that a tenured faculty position at the University of Illinois is a tremendous honor and a unique privilege. Tenure also brings with it a heavy responsibility to continue the traditions of scholarship and civility upon which our university is built.

Translation:
Remember, I am one of you. Yes, I make six times what you do, and I’ve gotten myself one enormous pay raise after another while..you can’t, but it’s important to me that you all understand that our tenured positions only go to those who have drunk most deeply of the Kool-Aid because those ones can’t be fired, I mean not hired, and we can’t have those ones being too…messy or disruptive of anything. This here is a subtle reminder of everything that my patrons hate about you people with tenure, how they absolutely loathe the very idea that somebody is not an economic slave to them, and it is a reminder not to try them too high because I don’t have the guts to stand up to them.

I am committed to working closely with you to identify how the campus administration can support our collective duty to inspire and facilitate thoughtful consideration of diverse opinions and discourse on challenging issues.

Translation:
Yes, I am so committed to working with you closely by virtue of this ex poste rationale of a decision that I made without you. See how efficient and collaborative I am?

Sincerely,

Snort!

Phyllis M. Wise

Translation:
Did I mention that I am awesome?

[cue finger guns]

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Arnaldo Momigliano’s time management

Mary Beard, over at A Don’s Life discusses Time Management. I shan’t be giving any tips, only sharing the marvelousness that is this:

Arnaldo Momigliano’s brilliant answer to a similar survey in 1965:

In my 24 hour continental timetable I divide my time each day as follows:

2 hours of pure sleep

1 hour of sleep dreaming about administration

2 hours of sleep dreaming about research

1 hour of sleep dreaming about teaching

½ hour of pure eating

1 hour of eating with research (= reading)

1 hour of eating with colleagues and of conversation on teaching and research

½ hour of pure walking

½ hour of walking with research (= thinking)

12 ½ hours of research with preparation for teaching (= reading, writing or also thinking)

1 hour of official teaching without thinking

1 hour of official administration without thinking

I like to make up all that time on administration without thinking by doing more sleep and gardening. So go away, all you people who want me to run things.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

Wisdom from Escape to Witch Mountain

Ok, so I loved the original movie Escape to Witch Mountain when I was a little kid, and it was a major disappointment in my life that no, I did not have mentalist powers and I was was not going to go off on and live in the beautiful mountains with Uncle Jesse from the Dukes of Hazzard.

I recently had a Netflixing “aliens in our world” movie marathon with both “Starman” and “Escape to Witch Mountain”* and I noticed that Escape was based on YA novel, and I’ve been reading away on it. The novel is much better than the movie, actually. It’s written from Tony’s viewpoint, and Tia is more otherworldly and mysterious than in the movie, and so far I’ve encountered this gem:

It was just like her, he thought, to ignore any money she’d found. She’d always said there must be something very bad about money, because those who needed it most never had it, and so many who already had it would do such awful things to get more of it.

*I also view Escape from Witch Mountain during movie marathons around the theme “Gratuitous Ray Milland Watching”

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Marilynne Robinson on lack of generosity in public life

If you are not reading Marilynne Robinson’s books, you are missing out. Gilead was a life-changer for me, an absolute gem of a novel. The rest of her novels are similarly magnificent. I am teaching Rawls this week in justice class, and I am also reading Robinson’s exceptional collection of essays, When I Was A Child, I Read Books. There is so much wisdom and wonderful writing in this book I don’t even know where to start.

Given that midterm elections are coming, here’s one:

But the language of public life has lost the character of generosity, and the largeness of spirit that has created and supported the best of our institutions and brought reform to the worst of them has been erased out of historical memory. On both sides the sole motive force in our past is now said to have been capitalism.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

Katherine Perez-Estolano discusses the California High Speed Rail project with USC students

As regular readers will know, I am not a great fan of this project, but Jerry Brown had a moment of clarity when he appointed Katherine Perez-Estolano to be on the California HSR Board, and she represents the project beautifully. Here she is discussing the project and the progress to date in USC’s Urban Growth Seminar.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

ReadUrbanandPlanningWomen2014 entry #24: Herbie Huff and Kelcie Ralph on Women and Cycling

I have never had the pleasure of meeting Herbie Huff or Kelcie Ralph. The bios say that Huff is a research associate at UCLA’s Lewis Center for Regional Policy Studies and the Institute for Transportation Studies. Kelcie Ralph is a PhD candidate in transportation policy and planning at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. I didn’t find a web page for Ms. Ralph, but I did find her Twitter feed (@KMRalph) where she discusses her research and practice interests.

Huff and Ralph have a piece up over at The Gaurdian Cities called “The Reason why fewer US women cycle than the Dutch is not what you think it is.” Now, these titles are always dumb click-bait, and authors are never the ones writing such silliness. Because how could they know what reasons I am thinking about? Because my guess was actually right. But I am expert ;^). However, they didn’t cite my paper on the subject in the working paper on which this summary is based. Shocking! [grasps pearls] Kids today.

But I digress.

You are supposed to guess that that the reason women in the US bike less than women in Dutch cities is all the biking infrastructure the Dutch have, and even though the Guardian was fishing for clicks with that title, I’ve seen multiple instances online where people throw pouty fits because they think that the research doesn’t validate their religious zeal about differences in infrastructure being the only difference that matters. However, if you actually read the article, the authors do not dispute the role of biking infrastructure supply as a key difference between Dutch and American contexts. Instead, they use time activity data to show that American women still do a disproportionate amount of household work, and they work more hours at paid work, than their Dutch counterparts:

Dutch women can use bikes to get around because they are less pressed for time than American women, in three fundamental ways. First, thanks to family-friendly labour policies like flexitime and paternity leave, Dutch families divide childcare responsibilities much more evenly than American families. Second, work weeks in the Netherlands are shorter. One in three Dutch men and most Dutch women work part-time, and workers of either gender work fewer hours than Americans.

Lastly, Dutch parents do much less chauffeuring of children and elderly family members than American parents. Neighborhood schools and high-quality bike infrastructure in the Netherlands make it easy for Dutch kids to walk or bike to school, unlike their counterparts in America, where rates of bicycling and walking to school have been declining for decades. Dutch elderly are also much more independently mobile than their American counterparts.

Gosh, it’s almost like social policy can help improve lives or something, and that maybe design isn’t the whole story all the time, everywhere?

The authors recognize that design contributes to all of the factors they isolate: better design can enable children to make trips without being driven, and better design also means that travel for all errands could potentially gobble up less time, and they give design its due the report. But come on: screaming and yelling that the focus always has to be on design takes the focus off differences between men and women and how women’s oppression is tied to different amounts of work. I’m sure moving that focus off difference serves somebody, but it’s not likely women. Beyond that, it muddies how design exists in social contexts, and that just makes for bad planning and policy.

One thing I would like to know more about are differences among women. Both Dutch cities and American cities have significant populations of women of color and women from global immigration, and their differences in household and workforce status, along with differences in helping networks, strike me as being potentially quite interesting. Perhap it is in the working paper, which haven’t read yet.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

Michael Sandel, Virginia Woolf and intrinsic pleasures

We are reading What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets from Michael Sandel this week in my justice class, and we’ve had a lively discussion. Sandel’s point, which is a good one, is that markets have taken over all over American life so that we don’t have much égalité or fraternité any more. He calls it the “Skyboxification” of the world, where rich people buy passes to get to the front of the line Disneyland, cut to free-flowing traffic on congested freeways, and get shorter lines for security at airports, etc.

Many of his examples are not so trivial: The buying and selling of immigration or refugee status, the trade in organs, and paying women who are drug addicts to be sterilized.

Sandel does not help us much sorting through the cases he writes about. His major point is that market exchanges fundamentally change the nature of the human interaction: that once you pay, you feel more entitled, and less connected and obligated to the people in the interaction.

I have been writing about Sandel in Chapter 6 of the book. We’ll see how far I get in answering the critique.

My students’ reactions to the various cases were, as always, the most interesting part of the exercise. Of particular interest was their reaction to paying children to read books. That, in general, got a firm “nope.” I’m not sure what I think anymore, after the two classes. The students’ various reasonings have gotten into my own brain now, and I need to do some writing to figure out what’s going on in my own head here.

However, the being paid to read discussion made me remember Virginia Woolf’s reflections in How To Read A Book:

Are there not some pursuits that we practice because they are so good in themselves, and some pleasures that are final? An how is not among them? I Have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerers and lawyers and statesmen receive their rewards–their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble–the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when He sees us coming with our books under our arms “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.”

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

David Levinson’s metro job accessibility report is out, and it’s vital for planners interested in transit

David Levinson has been working on accessibility for years, and his work is so important to those interested in public transit. He’s got two reports up we should be talking about right now. Here’s the link to the maps and the report for transit accessibility (2014), and here’s the link to auto accessibility. These are available from the Accessibility Observatory. There’s lots there to read because David and his research group are very productive, but here are some of the numbers that I have been playing with this morning:


Number of jobs accessible by car relative the number of accessible by transit by travel time (2014)

City 20 minutes 40 minutes
Boston 31.0 18.4
Chicago 36.4 19.6
Dallas 161.0 80.6
Portland 66.7 18.5
Los Angeles 96.1 39.6
New York 10.1 6.2
San Francisco 57.6 12.8
Washington, DC 38.9 10.2

All these are my calculations based on numbers I took from the two reports, so if they are messed up, I did it, not David. I typed this up before coffee.

This little exercise was eye-opening to me in several ways. First the no-brainer: We’ve always known that in US transit, there is New York and there is everybody else. That’s true here. Second, the 20 minute versus 40 minute distinction strikes me as being really important. For many cities thought to have good transit (San Francisco, Boston, Chicago), the competition enters in at the 40 minute mark, not the 20 minute mark. The rest of these numbers…oye. The Los Angeles numbers, oye. The Portland numbers, face palm.

I may spend the rest of the day in bed.

edited to add–David emailed me and said my original numbers were off…I found a bunch of typos. He’s going to have a proper report up in a month…so stay tuned for that. When I fixed the typos, the numbers got worse.

Seriously. Staying in bed. Do we have any ice cream?

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

On Aristotle and thanking dogs

Acknowledgements in books or dissertations are very funny things. People get sniffy if one goes on too long, but they also get mad if their own perceived contribution is slighted in any way. The former does have a point. I wrote before about Noreen Malone’s commentary about the breathlessly overblown, name-dropping acknowledgements section of Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean-In:

She also lets us know that Scovell wasn’t the only person who adjusted her schedule. Harvard Professor Hannah Riley Bowles “interrupted her vacation to spend hours on the phone discussing her work,” a description that was surely meant to express genuine gratitude, but mainly just clarifies the global pecking order.

I am so important, even Harvard proffies and Oprah come a-running. Or these folks are just exceptionally generous. Same diff?

I got a fair amount of crap for thanking my dog, Zz, in my dissertation. Zz was a marvelous little dog I got when I was 22 years old, and who had traveled with me from Iowa, to Chicago, back to Iowa, then to California throughout grad school and my dissertation, and then finally passed away at the age of 17, when I was living in Virginia. He was an exceptional little fellow, always up for a walk or snuggle, and his friendship mattered tremendously to me.

So what’s the point of thanking him in the acknowledgements? Dogs can’t read. He can never know what I wrote, even if I read it to him. That’s just stupid, people said, and still say. That’s treating animals like they are people, which is wrong. (I don’t think so, but it’s a common argument.)

But saying thank you is only partially about the recipient. I’m convinced Aristotle was right about virtue: it develops via practice. I practice gratitude on purpose. I’m not as good at it as I want to be, but I figure the only way to get better is to do what I’d do if I wanted to play the guitar better: keep working, keep trying to find new ways to do it, keep at it, time and again. If a waiter fills up my coffee, I say “thank you.” If a student holds a door for me, I say thank you. The waiter is just doing his job. Should he be thanked for doing his job? Yes, yes he should because we all need to feel like our work matters beyond whatever coins we receive for it, and because I myself need to remember that I’m not entitled to things. I’m not entitled to coffee, even if I pay for it; it’s not the sum total of what happens between me and waiter. I’m not entitled to a door being opened for me. I’m not entitled to friendship, either human or animal; it has to be acknowledged, cherished, and fostered. Whether anybody cares if they are thanked or not, letting myself forget my debts, big and small, is bad for me. I am proud of much of my work and what I have achieved in my life, but it’s self-delusional to believe your own bootstrap stories.

To wit, thank you for reading. :)

Here’s a picture of ZZ:

ZZ close up

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized

Fabulous urban links to read

The Rise and Fall of Public Housing in New York by Richard Price

Emma Staub moved to Nashville, the city, because of Nashville, the television series. Media, of course.

Rebecca Onion covers the crazy quilt of neighborhoods by ethnicity from an 1894 map of Manhattan in Slate.

The Road to Civilization: A Conversation with Sid Meier from Ars Tecnica.

The Toronto Star lists 10 books that capture its beautiful city.

Comments Off

Filed under Uncategorized