Yelp with Care, Candy from the mouth of babes, Chris Cornell, & other random thoughts today

Academic standing posted at Angelo State yesterday. Like anyone else tasked with talking to students who earn their way onto academic suspension, I was yelled at, hung up on, and, I’m sure, called all kinds of mean, nasty, and ugly things behind my back. At least no parents have called me yet this semester. I try my best to be calm and understanding with students. They are, I silently tell myself, still 18 and 19 years old and being suspended is an ominous and an outward (and kind of aggressive but well-earned) condemnation of their academic behavior. To paraphrase a Keb Mo’ song: everyone likes to party, but no one likes to clean. Behavior has consequences for the students, and if they party too much, someone has to clean up the mess. At ASU, we’ve simply decided there’s a point at which we can’t keep taking a student’s money if he can’t pass any classes. There’s something flat-out dirty about letting a student rack up thousands and thousands of dollars in debt when she can’t pass classes. For some of our students, though, being suspended seems like the end of the road. When they call, if they don’t hang up on me first, we discuss options. There are, after all, plenty of other jobs in the sea, other universities to attend, and plenty of people live worthwhile and happy lives without a college degree. Sometimes, I tell them, relationships don’t work. This is one of them, but the world is a big place full of opportunity if we can learn from our mistakes and fall forward. We’ll still be here, I say as nicely as possible, if you ever get ready to read those books and do that math.

Day two after academic standing is usually less about anger and more about deal making. Everyone in this world, including college students, wants justice until they decide they really want mercy.

Fortunately, the internet is always around to provide relief in between sob stories. A few random thoughts about some stuff I read today:

  1. Be careful what you Yelp. I’m sure you’ve seen the article about the Yale Dean whose insensitive Yelp reviews have left her boss “grieving” and “unable to envision a way forward.” First off–grieving? Geez. How about mad? Angry? Disappointed? Don’t get me wrong, I fully support Dr. Chu’s First Amendment right to be as insulting and insensitive as she wants. If I were a betting man, I would guess Dr. Chu will send us a press release apologizing and telling the world she was trying to be humorous. Heck, if that excuse is good enough for the president, should be good enough for a Dean from Yale. First Amendment or not, though, words have consequences and if you work in a profession entrusted with educating young minds, you don’t get to tweet racist, classist, and other stereotypical comments that insult the very students you are supposed to educate. Simply put, as college leaders we have to be better than that and I get so frustrated with colleagues who can’t, or won’t, recognize that everything we write (including things like this blog) reflects on the university where we work. That doesn’t mean we can’t write about complex and difficult subjects. I have every right in the world to blog about Donald Trump, Fox News, Barack Obama, race, abortion, Elvis-sightings and any number of other controversial issues, but I have a responsibility to do so with a keen eye on the public nature of the writing and with a clear sense that our role as educators is to conduct ourselves in a manner that represents the values of truth, intelligence, and ideas. I might think Donald Trump is a horrible president and I might think he’s dumb as a box of rocks, but I can’t tweet that Trump should hang or call him a moron without offering some intelligent reasons why. Our job, in the classroom and in public forums, is to model behavior. You might think Seth Abramson is a crazy person, but he’s not threatening the president, and, by all accounts, he keeps his political thoughts out of the classroom. Most importantly, he believes in something and he’s developing an argument, not posting threatening tweets or insulting Yelp reviews. I would never accept an essay from a student that posited simplistic and immature ideas. I demand they make an assertion, develop, and defend with evidence. Most importantly, I tell them we need to hold ourselves to the same standards we hold everyone else. That goes especially for those of us in academia. So. I’m not grieving for Dr. Chu. I’m upset that she’s not savvy enough to recognize that calling people white trash and morons in Yelp reviews is inappropriate and makes the rest of us hard working college professors look like elitist, uncaring dorks.
  2. If you missed out on Girl Scout cookies this year, I think you can blame the person in this mug shot. A friend of ours sent us the link. Forget the story, though. Read the comments on twitter. Sometimes my faith in humanity is restored when people get clever without being mean and degrading. She stole 6,000 boxes of girl scout cookies. The jokes almost write themselves.
  3. I was never a huge Audioslave or Soundgarden fan, but I hate that we’ve lost another huge voice from the music world of my youth. Chris Cornell helped define the grunge movement and tapped into an angst those of us in the mid-80s felt about the world. Musically, those bands fought against the increasingly global record chains and fused punk, rock, and any other kind of music they wanted into songs filled with emotion and rage against the man. Indie music lovers of the world need to thank them everyday. They fought the good fight. Eddie Veder and Kurt Cobain sang with a raw emotion, but for my money Cornell was the guy with a voice. Don’t believe me? Take a listen to his rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U” and you decide.





Putting in Your Oar (and hoping it doesn’t break)

I started blogging a couple of years ago after interviewing Jeffrey Lyons during the Holland Symposium on American Values here at Angelo State University. Lyons was in town promoting his newest book, a collection of news articles his father wrote for the New York Post from the mid 1930s to the early 1970s. His father, Leonard Lyons, wrote about the New York night life, capturing the famous and infamous as they cavorted through the clubs and bars of the Big Apple. The stories capture an age when we could idolize the rich and famous without being overwhelmed by the scandalous and tawdry. Stars still held a kind of mythic and heroic quality we longed to admire from afar instead of eviscerate on the knife edge of social media.

Lyons, a movie critic and author himself, told our audience that his father wrote 1000 words a day, six days a week. His book, Stories My Father Told Me, Notes from the Lyon’s Den, pulls together many of those articles, serving as both a nostalgic journey and a tribute to his father’s insights into the world.

Of all the interesting things Lyons offered during the interview, the sheer volume of his father’s writing fascinated me the most. A thousand words a day, 6 days a week, on a typewriter without the benefit of spell check or other green squiggly lines warning him about various grammatical and mechanical mistakes struck me (still strikes me actually) as tremendous.

So, naturally, I decided to find out if I could do something similar–because why not engage in a tortuous exercise simply to prove a point. The first couple of months, I matched him word for word.

If you look at the dates of my last few posts, though, you’ll see I have fallen off the pace, if, in fact, two posts a month can even be considered a pace.

In my defense (or, at least, in my rationalization), my day job, unlike Mr. Lyons, doesn’t require that I go to bars and then write about those adventures. Instead, I spend time grading freshman essays wishing I was in a bar.

I also spend time writing memos, going to meetings, preparing for classes, watching my son play baseball, binge-watching Breaking Bad, and writing blog posts in my head.

Trust me–I’ve written some really good ones. Some of them are the best ideas I’ve ever heard are rattling around between the cerebral cortex, thalamus, and occipital lobe with a few still stuck over in the corpus callosum.

Finding the time and energy to get those ideas from the inside of my head to my fingers, however, has proven a bit more difficult.

Writing, I tell my students every semester, is a difficult and complex process. The words we choose and the manner with which we present them offers our readers insight into our selves, something we usually don’t know as well as we might think. More importantly, though, writing exposes both our strengths and weaknesses to an audience with whom we might not feel comfortable. When we put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), our ideas become part of a public act open to acceptance or derision, something Kenneth Burke, in The Philosophy of Literary Form, describes as an opportunity to “put your oar” into the river of conversations surrounding us. (Insert joke here about our first year students being up the river without that proverbial paddle.)

Yet, writing the blog, even as unevenly as I’ve done here of late, allows me to feel some greater sympathy for my students. Those conversations Burke describes seem so tranquil in his description. He tells us to “Imagine that you have entered a parlor.” Eventually, you catch the “tenor of the argument” and put down that oar. “The hour grows late; you must depart,” Burke writes, “with the discussion still vigorously in progress.”

What’s a parlor, my students ask, and why in the world would I leave just because it gets late?

If writing is an articulation of our ideas and a way to organize the world through language, what happens when the world seems increasingly disorganized and we have a decreased facility with language? The river of conversations, it seems, has turned into rapids, fraught with boulders of confusion. Battling through those sounds, finding your place in the conversation in Burke’s mythical parlor, becomes increasingly difficult and time consuming.

Admittedly, many of the confusions and distractions littering the river of conversations around us are of our own invitation but such has become the parlor of our daily lives.

Yet, I tell my students, when we  enter that parlor and join the conversation, the world becomes that much clearer. Likewise, when we lower the oar and set the canoe on a straight path, we create order in the midst of that chaos. Sure, we might stumble walking into the room or our muscles might get sore from all that rowing, but those are small prices to pay for the reward.

Plus, sore muscles are a sign of growth if we work them out again soon.












Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

NYT > Politics

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)