The last few days before the start of a semester exist in a strange state of limbo. On the one hand, these are days free from the rat race of the semester. On the other, they are also the last opportunity to prepare syllabuses and other course materials that brim with an exhilarating cocktail of potential and uncertainty.
I am feeling this state more than usual this semester because of how the last semester ended. I have been thinking about my course policies since in the middle of last semester and pecking away at my syllabuses for weeks, but these documents were nowhere near ready for distribution. Then, on Monday, we learned that one of my colleagues won’t be able to teach this semester. This development had little bearing on my classes other than to fill up my last few open seats, but there was also a suggestion that I might be asked to pick up an online US history survey either in the place of or on top of my other courses. More than the challenge of planning and deploying an online asynchronous class in a week, what I struggled with this week was the uncertainty around which courses I needed to be preparing.
My course list did not change, in the end, and I returned to the syllabuses I had at various states of completion. And to the more usual types of uncertainty: whether the course schedule will prove manageable, whether the readings I assigned will elicit the response I’m hoping for, and whether the tweaks to my course policies will work. Adding to this uncertainty is that I have an entirely new slate of courses, which offers both the struggle and the thrill of invention.
I don’t teach until Wednesday, though, so I’m spending this weekend and the first few days of next week putting all my ducks in a row.
This week’s varia:
- The British Culture Secretary has once again asserted that the Parthenon Marbles belong in the UK, claiming also that their return sets a dangerous precedent that would “open the gateway to the question of the entire contents of our museums.” Yes, let’s follow that line of reasoning, shall we?
- Pasts Imperfect this week features Jane Draycott’s new book on prosthetics in the Greco-Roman world.
- David Perry comments on the Hamline incident at CNN, correctly pointing to this as a labor issue, especially involving contingent labor, rather than one of campus climate. He also points out how turning college teaching into gig work makes it impossible for those teachers to create stable, supportive conditions that enable student learning. The president of Hamline has issued a statement that most academics find…unconvincing.
- Last fall, a racist social media post composed by a Mizzou student went viral. The administration condemned the post, but has decided that it does not have any recourse to disciplining the student. On the one hand, the student did not post this to a public forum and I don’t love relying on college leadership to administer punishments. On the other, these incidents are altogether too common at Mizzou (where I did my PhD) and are a major reason that the university struggles to attract and retain a diverse faculty and student body.
- Erin Bartram published her comments from this year’s American Historical Association annual meeting at Contingent Mag. The piece is something everyone working in higher education should read. She condemns the AHA for inactivity while the field collapses and highlights a number of interlocking issues with contingency. But there is also this incisive line about burnout: “Like all hierarchical systems, adjunctification has always harmed the people in the middle of the hierarchy as well—because, of course, tenured and tenure-track faculty are not the top of this hierarchy. “Burnout” is a serious and growing problem, especially for scholars of marginalized groups; it’s making you all miserable, and leading some to leave the profession altogether. But let’s be clear: this “burnout” that secure scholars are feeling is phantom pain where their colleagues should be.”
- An administrator at a Columbus, Ohio, school interrupted a reading of the Dr. Seuss book The Sneetches, which is about the intersection of visible identity and economics, that was being recorded for the NPR podcast “Planet Money” after one the third grade students—unprompted—make a connection to race-based discrimination. The officials are claiming that the subject matter is not age-appropriate.
- Jay Boller at Racket examines what happens when workers at “progressive” companies try to unionize. Spoiler, a lot of the companies aren’t fans.
- Gas stoves are a major contributor to indoor air pollution, the Consumer Product Safety Commission said, and that this pollution is a major contributor to childhood asthma. This has naturally led to outrage that “the government” is coming for your gas stove (they are not). I prefer cooking with gas, at least compared to the crummy electric stoves I have often contended with. But I’m also not opposed to investing in an induction or high-quality electric set-up, especially if I can get a fancy pizza oven or finally build an outdoor wood-fired setup.
- This is an interesting profile in the WaPo (with graphics) about Starlink and satellite trains.
- Online security is not about unrememberable passwords, but about long password phrases or moving to a post-password world for identity verification. What I can never remember when using password phrases is what symbols and keys each website allows given that every one has a different set of criteria.
- There are too many guns in this country. This week a six year old student shot his teacher in Newport News, Virginia (WaPo). It subsequently came out that an administrator was alerted to the possibility that the student was armed, but a cursory search did not reveal the weapon.
- The new Republican rules package dramatically limits the ability of the Office of Congressional Ethics to investigate members of congress. George Santos is quoted as saying of the rules package, “I think it’s fantastic.” In perhaps related news, it has come out that, on top of all the lies that lured people to him, Santos’ campaign raised money by impersonating Kevin McCarthy’s chief of staff on calls to donors and the chairman of the Nassau County Republican Party has called for his immediate resignation because he ran a campaign “of deceit, lies and fabrication.
- A new survey reveals the pervasiveness of antisemitic tropes about Jews in the United States. 70% responded that they believe Jews “stick together more than other Americans,” but, even more worryingly to my mind, were the 39% who believe Jews to be more loyal to Israel than to the United States, 36% who responded that Jews don’t share their values, and roughly 25% who affirmed belief in tropes about Jews having power in business. Many of these tropes are not exclusively deployed against Jews, but their stickiness is scary and this poll points to their resurgence among young people.
- Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro stormed the Brazilian government offices, insisting that the election was stolen. The pictures and motivations echo what happened in the United States on January 6.
- The U.S. State Department will begin spelling Turkey as Türkiye. I suppose this means that I should update my standard usage, too, even if I tend to be on the suspicious side about the attempt to rebrand the country.
Album of the week: Garth Brooks, “Ultimate Hits”
Currently Reading: Tochi Onyebuchi, Goliath; Uwe Ellerbrock, The Parthians