In a press release today, Iowa State University (ISU) announced that “it has concluded its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU)“. For those not steeped in the arcane associations which drive meaning and relevance in much of higher education, the AAU in question is an exclusive research collective which provides no actual benefits to member schools, but nonetheless commands and confers a great deal of prestige in an industry which values tokens of esteem to an embarrassing degree. To that point, while ISU is putting the best possible gloss on this breakup, the truth is that Iowa State would not abandon its AAU membership if it was not already under threat of imminent expulsion. [ Read more ]
Apple, Pandora, and the Snob Aesthetic
Whatever your feelings about Apple as a corporation, former CEO Steve Jobs is rightly credited with exploiting the intersection of technology and fashion. The iPhone, for example, was not simply a revolutionary device, it quickly came to signify cultural cachet. If you were obsessively checking another portable device you were a dweeb, but if you were obsessively checking an iPhone you were hip.
Because of my feelings about Apple as a corporation I have only owned one Apple product in my long life — an iPod Mini, which was received as a welcome and generous gift. In terms of music storage it was functional, in terms of sound quality it was tolerable, but in terms of design it was as cutting-edge as a device could be at the time. Unfortunately, a foundational precept of Apple’s cutting-edge design aesthetic involves obscuring and abstracting device functionality to the point of incomprehension, leaving new users in the dark about how their sophisticated devices actually function.
I still remember fiddling with my new iPod Mini and being soundly rebuffed in my various attempts to understand the interface. I also remember reading the curt instructions in the enclosed insert, and finding no information which explained how to reliably navigate the various menus. I even remember trying to fight may way into the iPod Mini menu system in the hope that there might be some onboard instructions — even a README file — but again I was defeated. Only when i logged on to the internet and conducted a wide search did I find a demonstration of the distinctive thumb swirl which was critical to the functionality of the iPod Mini interface. [ Read more ]
About That Upcoming Birthday
I was reminded recently that conventional wisdom has no inherent connection to reason or fact, or even to simple math. Over the span of a few days I ran across several individuals on social media who were talking about upcoming milestone birthdays, and as is often the case those impending dates were being viewed with a mixture of resignation and dread. In fact, such sentiments seem to be particularly common at decennial birthdays, when turning a single year older ushers in an entirely new decade of numerical ages, along with varying cultural cliches about what a given decennial portends. (Spoiler: it’s usually not good.) [ Read more ]
Wrist Seams and Typing Discomfort
Whether you consider yourself an aspiring, practicing or recovering writer, or are emotionally enmeshed with same, one perquisite which greatly appeals to many wordsmiths is the socially sanctioned synergy between creature comfort and presumed performance. Where pajama pants and a baggy T-shirt would be inappropriate for an attorney or banker, that ensemble not only ensures the necessary ease of movement over long hours spent shifting and slouching in a chair, it also provides the minimum necessary coverage to avoid arrest during excursions to various therapists. (Even for writers working regular hours in an office setting, there is usually a certain sartorial latitude granted in day-to-day practice, as compared to executives, managers or customer-facing staff.)
While there are certainly occasions when a writer should be presentable — say, in court, or at their own funeral — almost everyone agrees that what writers need to be is productive. In that context it seems axiomatic that if your work involves plumbing the depths of your imagination, psyche or intellect, you might have a hard time doing so if your senses are aggrieved. While a compelling need to limit distractions can also lead to compulsive rituals, if not histrionic demands of fellow employees, family members or random citizens — and may be motivated more by procrastination or a morbid fear of failure than any valid grievance — here we are concerned not with mental anguish about fashion but actual physical discomfort. So if you are currently debating whether to wear your new beret at a tilt or dead-level, or whether it might be time to transition to a full-blown dandy, we commend questions of both style and sanity to your personal support community. [ Read more ]
Annual Pink Wristies BOGO Sale
As fate would have it, while I was drafting a post about writers and keyboard comfort an email arrived reminding me that October is buy-one, get-one month for pink Wristies.
If you’re not familiar with Wristies — and most people are not — they are soft glove-like coverings for the wrists and palms, which leave your fingers free to do nifty things like press keyboard keys or buttons on a remote control. And yes that probably sounds like a product of interest only to people who have perpetually cold hands, but I am here to tell you that if you spend a lot of time typing on a computer keyboard you should definitely give Wristies a try. (Also good for working reporters who have to venture outside in colder weather, but leave their fingers free to take copious notes.)
Coping With the Persistence of Covid-19
One year ago to the day I published a post titled ‘Coping With the Reality of COVID-19’. In a rational world that post would not have been necessary because every nation would have implemented strict policies to suppress the virus, but we humans do not live in a rational world. Instead, we live in a world constrained by our individual and collective narratives, and for the greater majority those narratives do not allow for intrusions. And a pandemic is an intrusion. [ Read more ]
Ongoing Harreld Hire Updates — Epilogue
After five years, eight months and fourteen days of blithering administrative idiocy, illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld is now Iowa’s former illegitimate president. As warranted I will log any lingering developments on the Harreld front in this post, but I honestly don’t expect to hear from him again unless he is called to testify in court. (When this post scrolls you can find it by searching for ‘epilogue’, or clicking the ‘Harreld’ tag in any other Harreld post.)
08/09/21 — Just flagging this for the everlasting shame — as reported by Cleo Krejci at the Iowa City Press-Citizen: UIowa only Big Ten university without masking requirement for fall semester.
The bureaucratic perversion of the Iowa Board of Regents by right-wing politicians has been complete for close to a decade now, so there is little chance that new University of Iowa President Barbara Wilson will be able to convince the board to change its masking policy. (At least not until the regents have suckered as many revenue-generating students as possible to the UI campus, much as they did last year before providing the vast majority of classes online.) Adding irony to insult, the Board of Regents promotes its current president as a former physician, while at the same time allowing him to omit from his bio the fact that he is currently a casino owner and big-money Republican donor. What a world we live in when a former practicing physician is more than willing to abandon his Hippocratic Oath in service of Iowa’s thrill-killing governor, who can’t enough blood on her hands — so now she’s determined to make sure students of all ages across the state end up contracting and spreading the Delta variant.
Speaking of which…we’re only a few weeks out now from the recent tradition of the UI football program ingratiating itself to sports fans by leading The Wave at sick children looking down from the upper floors of the new UI children’s hospital. No word yet on whether the university plans to announce how many of the children at that hospital are on life support because three months ago Iowa’s Republican politicians also passed a law which makes it illegal to mandate masks for K-12. [ Read more ]
Ongoing Harreld Hire Updates — 31
The final threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
05/16/21 — So illegitimate University of Iowa president J. Bruce Harreld bid a fond farewell to the campus during a ‘Celebration of Graduates’ at Kinnick Stadium, and in so doing also seemed to declare the pandemic over. One notable absence at Bro Bruce’s big sendoff was UI College of Education Dean Dan Clay, who was perhaps too busy running his for-profit, private-sector business. Then again, after ripping Harreld repeatedly in his candidate forum, during his own failed bid for the Iowa presidency, it’s also possible Clay wasn’t invited. [ Read more ]
Ongoing Harreld Hire Updates — 30
A new threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
04/23/21 — Video of the hour-long campus forum for University of Iowa presidential candidate Daniel L. Clay can be found here. As an internal candidate there was naturally some difference in Clay’s opening statement and in the questions he was asked, as contrasted with the three prior external candidates. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, but to pretend that Clay’s familiarity with the university was not a prominent facet of his candidacy would be absurd.
Living in the real world means acknowledging the truth of asymmetries and inequities, because the search for truth is not advanced by pretending that circumstances are other than they are. There are situations in life where it is important to treat everyone exactly the same, but evaluating Dan Clay’s forum is not one of those situations. Because he is an internal candidate I do know more about Clay than I did about the external candidates, who were all unknown to me until they were introduced over the past two weeks, but that doesn’t mean I am now obligated to empty my mind of prior knowledge to render a judgement about what Clay had to say today.
In this post I focus mostly on comments from Clay which surprised me, and there were more than I would have predicted. Those surprises may bode well or ill for Clay’s candidacy, but we will dig into specifics shortly. Because of my familiarity with Clay, however, my reading of his responses may be different from that of a casual observer of the search, and on that basis alone I encourage anyone to view the archived video if they did not watch the livestream.
Finally, like any communal human endeavor, academic administration has a political component, and at an institution the size and scope of the University of Iowa you better have mad diplomatic skills if you intend to be remembered as anything other than roadkill. There is nothing wrong with putting your best foot forward when you are speaking with different constituencies, but if you want people to believe your word is good then you cannot tailor who you are to fit the political moment. People can smell that kind of administrative insincerity a mile away, and a university campus is nothing if not a community of discerning noses. [ Read more ]
Ongoing Harreld Hire Updates — 29
A new threaded post on this topic can be found here. For previous posts about the Harreld hire, click the tag below.
03/28/21 — Because there were eight qualified semifinalists who interviewed for the Iowa presidency during the rigged 2015 presidential search — plus a ninth unqualified candidate in future illegitimate UI president J. Bruce Harreld — and because the current presidential search committee has repeatedly expressed a desire to conduct a broader, more inclusive search, I initially assumed that the current committee would invite between ten and twelve candidates to participate in the semifinalist interviews at the end of next week. In various committee meetings, however — and particularly in comments from representatives of the firm facilitating the search — the number of expected semifinalists was repeatedly pegged at eight, so I began to use that target number as well. Flash forward to last Friday, and after cutting down the initial pool of 79 applicants, the committee settled on twelve semifinalists who will be interviewed on April 1st and 2nd, then reduced to three or four (or possibly five) finalists on April 3rd.
While this larger slate of semifinalists complicates the process of choosing finalists, the fact that next week’s interviews will be held online — as opposed to in-person, during what are commonly referred to as ‘airport interviews’ for that point of physical convergence — means overall time demands will be decreased, and travel requirements completely negated for all involved. (Assuming the COVID-19 pandemic lifts at some point, I will be surprised if virtual semifinalist interviews do not become the norm in academic searches, if only for their logistical ease and cost savings.) In expanding the number of semifinalists, I see that not only as a nod to this committee’s genuine interest in hearing from a wide range of candidates, but as a long-delayed response to the 2015 search, which notably concluded with the done-deal appointment of an unqualified rich old white man. To be sure, most if not all of the twenty-one members of the committee already know which of the twelve semifinalists will likely be chosen as finalists, and which candidate will likely be chosen as the next president, and industry demographics alone suggest that J. Bruce Harreld will be replaced by another white male. That outcome would not mean, however, that inviting more women and/or people of color to participate in the interview process was only done for show, because that is part of the work that needs to be done to expand future opportunities. As a candidate, if you can’t even get in the room when people are making decisions, then you have no chance. [ Read more ]
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