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Why doesn’t anybody want to edit JPER?

The Journal of Planning Education and Research is a nice journal. It’s the journal of the Associated Schools of Collegiate Planning, and the current, have-done-their-fair-share editors at Georgia Tech, Subhro Guhathakurta and Nancy Green Leigh are ready to step down and pass the torch, and as far as I can see, nobody wants to do it. And the question is: why?

I don’t actually have any evidence as to why other than my own situation, but I do think my situation is fairly indicative of associates in elite research universities. To wit: I’d love to help out and do it, but I can’t do so without extreme damage to my career. I suspect a lot of people are in similar situations.

Academic planning is in a weird stage, and I, like quite a few associates, are in a weird place. I am Gen Xer, and I think quite a few associates are either Gen Xers or Gen Yers, and we have spent our entire professional careers behind, and now ahead of, and thus sandwiched, between much larger professional demographics: Baby Boomers and Millennials.*

But being sandwiched as such, this group of associates has tenure, but we do not have our last major promotion the way the boomers generally do, and we exist in troubled departments and precarious job security, much like any Millennial entering in the few, precarious tenure track jobs that are opening up out there. Everybody keeps telling me that the Boomers are “retiring so jobs will open up”….well, I’m not seeing that reflected on the ACSP Job Bank. I’m seeing one year after another of a handful of jobs. Either Boomers are hanging on (for good reason; this is a group of potential retirees who have had one shock after another to retirement assets) or, when they do retire, their lines are disappearing into the giant black hole of higher education that has sucked secure, tenure-track positions into oblivion to create an army of contingent, insecure, short-contract positions. Raises are hard to get, jobs are hard to get, and promotions are hard to get.

In other words, Gen Xers and everybody after them demographically have lived in a world of precarity in higher education, and that kind of precarity means that we are bludgeoned with institutional expectations that do not include service to “the profession.” This is bad because a great deal of the academy runs on the idea of service. In the neoliberal world order of bean-counting and bludgeoning those who fail to rack up beans, however,service is for suckers.

This problem is particularly true for people like me in the elite or aspiring R1s. It might be ok to show up to a board meeting now and then, as long as that is high profile enough (like the ACSP governing board), but anything that requires time and energy? No. Because we live in universities–particularly those of us in policy schools where the economists rule the roost (period, the end)–we can’t spend our time on ‘the profession’ unless there is some obvious quid pro quo or prestige “cookie” attached that is readily understood by those outside the planning academy.

Editing inside the planning academy has its own dangers. Editing a journal is a big, time-consuming job, and it’s a job where you are likely to piss people off even as you become more visible in so doing. For those of us who still need people to write us letters for that last promotion, pissing people off is dangerous.

My own experience with something similar (though less work) is indicative. When I became an associate, friends and mentors with the Faculty Women’s Interest Group all gathered around me and got me to become the FWIG president. It was an organization that badly needed new blood, and I understood that. I’m sure they were well-intended, but I should have said no and stuck to my guns because it was way more work than I expected, and it got me precisely nothing at USC, except distracted and tied up away from my research. Perhaps a better scholar could have managed those responsibilities and my research, but for me, the job took up time and yielded me little other than “people thought I did a good job.” Swell!

Particularly wonderful was a recent experience when senior female scholar introduced me as the “Co-President of FWIG.” I wasn’t the freaking co-President. I was the president. But no. Perception matters more than reality, and in the mind of a woman whom I *need* to understand that I showed leadership all by my little self, I was a co-president.

A more assertive person would have corrected her, but I am not that person. Sheryl Sandberg is that person, and good on her, but I am not.

And poof! just like that, service contributions vanish into the wind. It’s a little ironic that, by leading a feminist organization, a woman (me) damaged her chances at promotion.

It doesn’t help that older scholars in planning don’t seem to see the reality that governs the lives of the younger people around them. When we associates and below say “I’m sorry, I just can’t do that” we are met, legitimately, with huffs that “Well, *I* did thus and such, and it’s part of the job and you have to pay your dues in this world, ya know.”

Sure, absolutely. I don’t blame older scholars for being annoyed; certainly they paid their dues and they have done a ton of work keeping organizations like ACSP and journals and whatnot going, and the refusal among younger scholars “to step up” must feel like either laziness or self-interest or both. But these scholars came up in world where the institutional expectations were somewhat different. Yes, service always displaced other publication work. But now, in an environment of such precarity given a choice between an extra paper a year in a high-impact outlet and external service, a scholar is, simply, *stupid* to choose the latter.

Fame and impact aren’t “being well-known” in the planning academy anymore. Fame and impact are now measured in Richard Florida terms. You want to be the Michael Sandel of justice, not just a scholar well-known among scholars. If you are not the Michael Sandel or the Richard Florida or the Famous Brand Name, you are not going to be among the winners in the winner-take-all world.

All this is by way of noting that planning as field exists in an academy that doesn’t appreciate it very much. My dear associate dean at USC, who is very sympathetic to me, wrinkles up her nose at me every three years or so and says “Have you thought about publishing in economics journals” or “what about health journals?” or “How about geography journals?” The upshot: urban planning is a small academic field and the powers that be would like their planning faculty yes, to teach planning to MPL students, but to publish in the “real” (e.g. higher status) disciplinary journals, not planning journals, because planning is a small field and it’s all about the impact numbers.

If these journals aren’t important enough to publish in, how do you suppose we’d get treated by taking a bunch of our time to *edit* one? Yes, if an associate became the editor of the Journal of Urban Economics, the department would have them a big old party with all the trimmings. But not a planning journal, and though I like JPER a great deal, it’s not in the top 10 urban studies journals.

All that is a recipe for young scholars to stay away, to not step up, as much as it might hurt us all to say no.

* I’m not really all that interested in essentializing either group, as I doubt the accuracy of that thinking, other than the idea that age cohorts have in common some major public events (though I doubt they all take away the same understanding of those events, and thus, I doubt those events provide much in the way of social or political unity or cohesion) and economic conditions

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Good luck, my darlings; become mightier still #USC

Go flourish. We are ridiculously proud of you graduates.

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If you love higher education, promote pants (apparently)

Ok, I am confused. Fox News has been all over this story, which is supposedly about a “naked or fail” final in a visual arts class.

Where to start? Well, nudity is apparent in about 2500 years of art history, so I kind of get where the idea is going, but it also doesn’t sound like the students are actually required to be naked; it sounds to me like they can just do some sort of “gesture” that expresses eroticism, viz:

The visual arts class at UCSD, according to the professor, involves students acting out a series of gestures the very last one they’re asked to perform, in the syllabus is labelled erotic self.

The professor, Ricardo Dominguez told a news station it’s true- students would have to get naked, in a dark, candlelit room.

“If they are uncomfortable with this gesture, they should not take the class,” Dominguez said.

UCSD’s Department of Visual Arts Chairman, Jordan Crandall released this statement:
“In part, he said “students are aware from the start of the class that it is a requirement and that they can do the gesture in any number of ways without actually having to remove their clothes.”

Can you figure out what the heck is going on? First it says that they have to be nude, then by the end he says that they do not have to remove their clothing.

So somebody’s mommy complained. Oye. As somebody who routinely causes both the mommy brigade and students to grass to administrators in outrage, I have so been there.

But still, it does have the gloss of the very best lazy tropes of the academy, some of which are common cultural currency, others of which are red meat for conservative h8trz of higher education: that proffies are slimey old gits that prey on nubile young co-eds (Donald Sutherland, Animal House), that the arts from Mapplethorpe onward has become little more than porny nonsense, and that universities are bad stewards of young adulthood.


Nudity is a pretty common in today’s performance art scene, and I grok why the class has this aspect to it, particularly if it is an elective course. This is the sort of thing that I could see a young artist wanting to push himself/herself to do, if they haven’t already. The candlelight strikes me as odd, but perhaps that is done so that the students have light and shadow to work with as well as their bodies. Don’t you want universities putting students at the cutting edge of contemporary art, and if so, we shouldn’t let reactions dampen exploration.

Nonetheless, this sort of thing is the last thing higher ed or arts programs need with conservatives gearing up to dismantle higher education. Sometimes, the costs of something outweigh whatever benefits.

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Getting your body caftan-ready for summer

The Cut at NYMag has this lovely essay on the caftan. It’s too lovely not to share, and please note the luscious usage of the word “Pyrrhic.”

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Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega (@raulpacheco) on using Evernote for research

I, too, am a great fan of Evernote. Here, Dr. Pacheco-Vega shares some public notebooks as a resource. Highly recommended.

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Aristotle on friends, slaves, and humans

Aristotle gets to be a good deal more gratifying to read later in the EN, when he takes up questions of friendship and human relationship. We are back to conviviality. Aristotle is a serious guy, and so very instrumental, so even his discussions of friendships have a certain, dour edge to them (at least to me). Nonetheless, the last two books–Books IX and X–do a great deal to shore up all his first books’ fretting about virtue by clarifying what he means, exactly by pleasure and happiness, and the connections between them and a key idea: meaning.

I’m getting a mite ahead of myself in my discussion, though. What caught my eye the other day as I was reading through was this interesting bit from Book VIII, Chapter 11, Section 7:

ἀλλ᾿ οὐδὲ πρὸς ἵππον ἢ βοῦν, οὐδὲ πρὸς δοῦλον ᾗ δοῦλος. οὐδὲν γὰρ κοινόν ἐστιν· ὁ γὰρ δοῦλος ἔμψυχον ὄργανον, τὸ δ᾿ ὄργανον ἄψυχος 7δοῦλος. ᾗ μὲν οὖν δοῦλος, οὐκ ἔστι φιλία πρὸς5 αὐτόν, ᾗ δ᾿ ἄνθρωπος· δοκεῖ γὰρ εἶναί τι δίκαιον παντὶ ἀνθρώπῳ πρὸς πάντα τὸν δυνάμενον κοινωνῆσαι νόμου καὶ συνθήκης·

For master and slave have nothing in common: a slave is a living tool, just as a tool is an inanimate slave. Therefore there can be no friendship with a slave as slave, though there can be as human being: for there seems to be some room for justice in the relations of every human being with every other that is capable of participating in law and contract, and hence friendship also is possible with everyone so far as he is a human being.

“A slave is a living tool” ἔμψυχον is rather important to this concept, and I’m not easy with any of my possible translations. That bit above comes from Henry Rackham. Terrence Irwin translates it as “a slave is a tool with a soul, while a tool is a slave without a soul.” Irwin’s is more economical, and more lyrical, English. My little dictionary treats ἔμψυχον as “inspirited”, which conveys much more than simply “living” and perhaps less than Irwin’s “soul.” It doesn’t occur to Aristotle that the act of defining another person as tool immediately creates a barrier to seeing that person as fully human. He doesn’t allow it; he notes that slave and master are not friends; their interests are too different, but it is possible to separate what is human from what is slave, and that essential human-ness means that a common humanity might be shared.

Justice in relations too, might obtain with all those among humanity who live in ‘law and contract’–Rackham’s translation. Irwin deals with the troublesome modifier κοινωνῆσαι with “capable of community” in front of “law and agreement.” Shared? Jointly held? What is the social glue that attaches one to laws and agreements if, by law, one isn’t free to dissent? Nonetheless, there is a kernel of universal humanity here from Aristotle.

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Horace Rumpole on bootstraps

Bootstrap stories are a particular irritation of mine, as they tend to reinforce individuals’ self-mythologing rather than practicing gratitude for all the help we have been given along the way. Yes, individual agency and choice matters, and you have undoubtedly worked very hard. But so do all the rest of us, and I, for one, think it’s a mistake to forget about parents, friends, teachers, and contexts that made success and achievement much easier, and a great deal more fun.

I have been revisiting the Rumpole novels of John Mortimer as a break from Aristotle, who is boring the pants off me right at the moment with all his prissy blather about prudence and incontinence and no doubt he’s right about all that, and living that way will keep you out of debt, thinner, and with far fewer hangovers, but it does make for a long, ungratifying read, like spending hours listening to some ruddy Puritan tell you how to live. Gone is the convivial banter of Socrates, replaced by a very long, very tiresome, sermon.

So it’s been with some relish that after I am done with my Aristotle for the day I get to go read about old Horace Rumpole, that Old Bailey hack, who had this to say about bootstraps:

Sir Michael Smedley was to many people the ideal businessman, who had been able to pull himself up by what are still in some relentlessly market-oriented circles, known as his bootstraps. This phrase ignores the fact that no one except mountaineers and footballers wears boots nowadays or has any idea where the straps are kept.)

Mortimer is a crafty writer and good prose stylist, and here he takes the bombast out of the bootstrap, noting the irony of the allusion to a outmoded article of clothing to refer to a contemporary phenomenon–the idea of self-made people.

I would note, however, that that California Highway Patrol still wear boots, and they (boots) are dead sexy. #justsaying. Though I suspect they don’t have straps.

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It’s time for a faculty (council) meeting


Yeah, I’ll be in a meeting listening to the full professors while other associates and assistants get to do their research. Because I apparently was bad in a previous life.

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Dyson, West, and Obama

When I first saw Dyson’s essay about Cornell West in The New Republic, I winced for a bunch of reasons, but I wanted to wait to see what black commentators would say before I formed my opinions. Lots of good writing, but none that I’m fully on board with, even though some of these are favorite, go-to writers of mine. This piece, from Malaika Jabali at For Harriet, is entitled The Audacity of Pettiness: Black Intellectuals Need to Find Something Better to Do. Hers is, essentially, a call to unity, arguing that these arguments are petty. I’ve always admired Jabali, but I think that framing misses a lot. Glen Ford over the Black Agenda report is more critical, arguing that Dyson is trying to curry favor with the Hillary camp by trying to make Obama’s enemies his enemies. I don’t think so, but Ford has some excellent reasons for criticizing Dyson’s actions here, and why unity is not necessarily the right call, to wit:

Black America has plummeted to such economic depths under Obama’s watch that there is no possibility of ever reaching economic parity with whites absent a social revolution, the beginnings of which we may be witnessing in the growing mobilization against brutal police enforcement of the oppressive social order.

Dyson’s essay frankly shocked me. His scholarly work strikes me as much, much better reasoned than his sprawling assessment of West. I wish Dyson hadn’t written his essay, and I really wish TNR hadn’t published it, not because black intellectuals should show unity around either West or Obama, but because there’s no way Dyson speaking on West can ever be anything but screwed up. Dyson has made his career writing about social and cultural meanings of black celebrity and, in particular, black maleness and celebrity. As a black male celebrity academic, West would be a likely object of study for Dyson. But West and Dyson were close; West was a mentor and friend, and that means it’s personal, no matter how hard somebody tries to be objective. And that is not scholarship or grist for TNR because it’s something very unique to scholarship and the academy.

The entire episode is ugly and is predicated on puerile assumptions among most spectators of the controversy:

1) that black people can’t disagree politically about complicated things, and if they do, it’s a petty squabble rather than a genuine disagreement about priorities or how the world works.

To me, the fact that people are losing their shit over the fact that West criticizes Obama, or that Dyson disagrees with West, demonstrates what a ridiculous hothouse the few, annointed black intellectuals we have live in, and TNR exploited it. Nobody penned any calls to unity when Robert Reich went on tears about President Bush. Why not? Because white people are assumed to be grown-ass people who are capable of principled disagreements about complicated things like “how to run the world properly” while black people are assumed to think the same things, and if some of their leaders don’t, then there’s something amiss here instead of, well, the fact that smart men can disagree about difficult things.

West’s (and Smiley’s) criticisms of Obama have been very, very pointed because the issues in play (poverty, mass incarceration) kill people. I think some vehemence is warranted. And nobody promised any president he was going to live in a criticism-free bubble.

2) that a scholar can only be a scholar if he spends all his time producing one scholarly product after another. Yes, West has become a scholar-activist, and to some degree, a performance artist, but most scholars never write a book as fine as Race Matters (Dyson has; he has two very fine books to his credit IMO) and sometimes, all we get is one fantastic book and a collection of middling ones (which is not true of West; he has many fine short-form contributions, too)–particularly in the later stages of a career. I think speaking out against poverty and mass incarceration is at least as important as anything else one might do later in one’s career, which as far as I can see for many full professors involves yammering on about how important their contributions are and silencing everybody around them who isn’t *them*. So Dyson’s “He used to do real scholarship” criticism of West can be spread around liberally in the academy,

and finally

3) people often break with their mentors at some point, and sometimes the relationship straightens out, or it doesn’t, but either way, it’s not the world’s business. Even if a scholar writes about it, it’s really, really difficult for people who are not within the academic context to understand how much influence mentors have simply on the emotional and intellectual lives of the people they teach. I’m sure variants of this are true in other contexts; I’m sure people who bring young people along in law firms or other businesses have special relationships that I don’t understand, either. Usually, people say this to diminish academia (because when isn’t that fun?), but I don’t: academia is an odd place, and intellectual work is intensely, intensely idiosyncratic and personal. If West really was a mentor to Dyson when Dyson was a young scholar, that closeness does not yield better information about who West is. From TNR and celebrity culture’s perspective, it yields juicy information, but it’s not good information, because I think it’s nigh-on-inevitable that academic mentors are always–always–viewed (whether currently or in hindsight) through funhouse mirrors of attachment, anger, and emotion. Being taught and nurtured is exhilarating. It is also, often, painful. Those come in cycles, and you love your mentors, you hate your mentors, you decide they are the smartest people around you, you decide you have outgrown them and are smarter, you realize that they are just human beings and learn to appreciate them for what they do, repeat. Mentors are not perfect. They lose interest in proteges and drop them, too.

Undoubtedly that last bit of writing reveals a lot about me, and maybe there are people out there who have emotionless, functional relationships with their mentors. Good on them. But that’s not what I experienced as either a protege or as a mentor myself, and it’s not what I see happening around me. Learning to do academic work at the level that West and Dyson do it–it’s hard and the relationships that take you there are messy. (Anybody see the movie, Whiplash?) Writing about your mentors is never straightforward; no matter what you do, it’s going to seem fawning or dishing to those outside the relationship.

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The Paper Chase on when meetings go south

While I was frittering away time in Seattle this week, I re-read the Paper Chase, a book that is just as charming as the movie. The character of Susan, actually, is much more interesting in the book than in the movie, where she just comes off as rather neurotic.

Except for that, the movie follows the book rather closely, and anybody who saw the movie with remember the difficult study group, full of competitive law students, that Hart and his friend, Ford, put together. The other members of the group are Kevin Brooks, a student who struggles in law school because of depression; Bell who is obsessed with property law and doesn’t want to outline anything else (and is a bully); and Anderson, who is what the other students call a “robot”–a studying machine who learns everything, but has little love or affinity for the law.

During one of their less-productive meetings, when the insults rage and pettiness ensues, Ford reboots:

Ford rocked back in his chair.

“All right, we’re just going to sit here quietly for the next three minutes. No one is going to say anything. Then after we’ve all enjoyed the silence, we’ll start this meeting over again.”

The movie skips this brilliant bit of dialogue, which is a shame, because all of us who have these kinds of meetings recognize the need to put adults in time-outs.

Here is the movie version:

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