A National Arts and Humanities Month announcement

So, I just learned today, half way into the month, that October in the US is National Arts and Humanities month. Who knew?

Well, from now one I will know, and it will be my business to know, because…drumroll please…I have been named the new Director of the Humanities Institute at Rust Belt University.

Our HI was founded in the 80s, but it’s been defunct for about 5 or 6 years now, so I’m essentially presiding over a “reboot,” Humanities Institute 2.0, an HI for the 21st century. I think I’ll take Doctor Who and Sherlock as my models (though with less of Steven Moffat’s disappointing sexism, thankyouverymuch), since the old HI was pretty beloved here and I want both to do it justice, but also to make it new, to make it useful for the humanities at RBU now. I’m meeting with my college’s dean this week to start the ball rolling — including putting together a steering committee, etc.– and I’m going to work on a draft mission statement today. We’ve only got a small budget to start with, so for our first semester of events and activities, I need to keep things realistic as I also seek out other funding. But my general vision for the Institute is one that makes connections: across humanities disciplines (and with those scholars who do humanities-type work in non-humanities departments), of course, but also between RBU and the wider community. I also primarily want the Institute to be an engine of advocacy and support for the humanities, both within the university and in our community.

So, internet hive mind, if your university were just starting up a Humanities Institute, what would like to see it do?

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>Best overheard conversation in light of current trends in higher ed

>Yesterday in the hallways of Michel Foucault Memorial Panopticon, I heard the following conversation as two student passed a classroom labeled “Distance Learning Classroom.”

Student #1: What’s a Distance Learning Classroom?

Student #2: It’s where they broadcast a video of a professor’s lecture from a remote location.*

Student #1: They do that?!

*Well, actually, it’s where they film such lectures — in front of a live audience! — to broadcast later to students *not* in classrooms. But as I used to say in the fifth grade, “same diff.”

>Wanna see the rest of my office?

>Long time readers of this blog may recall that I used to have a tiny (7’x’7′) but brightly colored office. I posted pictures of the colors here. It had huge windows that looked onto a leafy courtyard full of 19th century medievalism in the collegiate gothic style. In fact, here are some more pictures:


Note the gargoyle-like heads in at the top of the leaded glass windows in this one:


Now, alas, I have no view. But boy do I have space! I can have *multiple* students meet with me at once (there are two chairs supplied for them) and my books shelves and file cabinet have room to grow. And I can spread my work out on the l-shaped desk. Heck, I can *actually* *work* in my office, instead of just using it to meet with students (or rather, one student at a time in the old office). Check it out:


What you’re not even seeing is the space to the right of the door (from which the first picture was taken), which is *totally* *open* except for the five-drawer lateral file over against the wall. I have *open* space in my office. I’ve never had that before!

And how do you like my clever repurposing of one of my old curtains to get rid of the end- view of the institutional metal bookshelves, eh? (Btw, that’s the rug that brought my whole day together in the old post linked above.) For those of you who like toys and humor in office decor, if you look closely (or “enbiggen”), you’ll see: a toy Manx cat (she moves around); two Monty Python and the Holy Grail figures (in their boxes) surrounding, yes, a wooden grail (hand carved!), and a disco ball hanging under the cabinets above the computer desk. There’s also a picture from Medieval Times, a dragon with a bell around his neck, and a Nunzilla in there somewhere.

I still have to get a high enough step-ladder to hang my beaded chain-swag lamp up above the wicker chair (it’s on the top of the bookshelf now — you can barely see it), but otherwise I’m moved in and unpacked, and I have to say it’s a pretty good place to work. We’ll see what it’s like when the building is hopping, but my office, at least, is within the department main suite (since I’m grad director), so that may help.

>Welcome to our panopticon

>Things are quiet in our new building right now — classes won’t be in there until next semester — so I took the opportunity to take a few pictures.

The following are pictures of the “town square” (or some other dumb name for the center of the building) of our new digs at RBU, including a close up view of one of the classrooms with the lights on:


I’ve got a suggestion for a new name:


And here’s a picture of my office from outside its bars, er, window:


On the inside I’ve hung curtains on a tension rod, which I can close when I’m working and not having office hours, and open when I am having office hours:


Actually, I don’t entirely mind the window, since it means when it gets noisy around me and I need the door closed, but I’m still meeting with a student, the window still leaves things open to view.

But the classrooms, I imagine, are going to take some getting used to.

>See the professors teach! Watch the students learn! Discover the fascinating habits of scholars at their desks!

>When I was in graduate school, the building that then housed the English department had a room we all called “The Fishbowl” because of its window overlooking a busy corridor. As if that weren’t bad enough, many a comprehensive exam and dissertation defense was held in that room.

The Rust Belt U English department will soon be a department full of Fishbowls. Beginning Tuesday, we’re moving into a brand new classroom and office building that has been constructed inside the edifice of one of the original WPA-constructed buildings on campus. I’m excited to be getting an office that’s about 125% larger than the one I have now, and I’m psyched to have carpet that doesn’t have a quarter century of god-knows-what embedded in it, as my current carpet does.

But I’m a little concerned about the fishbowl effect. You see, every single room in this building, including our individual offices, has windows that look out onto the hallways. There’s some reason for this: because of the kind of building that’s been re-purposed, many of these rooms are on interior hallways, without windows to the outside, so windows onto hallways will prevent us from feeling like we’re in closets. But they also mean that we’re constantly on display. I’ll be putting up curtains across my window (thank god for tension rods) and only opening them when I have office hours. But when any of us teaches in that building, which we’ll be doing most of the time, in many of the rooms we’ll be facing not only our students, but also a big glass wall that looks out onto major corridors and places where people might congregate. It’s going to take some getting used to, especially for those of us (me!) who are easily distracted.

Maybe I should change the pseudonym of our university to Rust Belt *Zoo*.

>Vexed, terribly vexed (on mergers, libraries, and mismanagement)

>As of this semester, graduate students at RBU have had their library borrowing reduced to the undergraduate length of 4 weeks, where they previously could check books out for 16 weeks with one online renewal (making a whole academic year). Yes, that’s right — someone writing a thesis or a seminar paper on a literary text for which the scholarly edition is a library-bound, out-of-print behemoth can only have it for an initial period for 4 weeks. Now, they can renew it four times online, but then they have to remember to do that, because once it’s overdue, they have to bring it in. And they have to return it after 4 renewals and re-check it out if they still need it.

And why was this idiotic change made? The librarians told the grad students that it was because that’s the way the medical library does it — the one belonging to the med school with which we merged two years ago. (Books? What are books? Doesn’t everyone use journals, and mostly electronic copies of them?) And for some strange reason, all of our units and campus have to do things in exactly the same way — even if there’s no savings of time or money, even if there’s a great loss of time in switching over.

The library issue sounds like a little thing, I know, but it’s been one thing after another for the last two years, especially in the last year, and it starts to add up. This is typical of the way things go around here. Everything has to change to the way the med school does it (because the med school’s former president is now the university’s president), even if it makes absolutely no sensefor anyone else or significant portions of the rest of the university (which, btw, is a heck of a lot bigger!). And no one bothers to find out that they way they do things isn’t some obvious, universally applicable, common sense way, but rather a practice with a history and culture tied to medicine and medical schools and at best alien to the rest of us, and at worst actually a problem for the way we need to work. Next thing you know we’ll all have to wear lab coats of different lengths signifying our status. Don’t laugh. I wouldn’t be surprised.

>Crankiness

>First, the kind of crankiness you might expect: I am vexed, terribly vexed by continued craziness at my institution and by a certain electronic output by some of my colleagues, which has devolved into something from the bad old days of the UseNet. It’s embarrassing. I wash my hands of it. I will no longer read or comment on it (in my lame attempts to raise the level of conversation to, uh, actual conversation about the subject of the posts). Oh, and some of you may remember that I held a last minute workshop for the parties involved to help them make it better — more readable, more useful for their message, more interesting to a wider audience. ONE person showed up. And that person thought that only the registered bloggers could see it, so you can imagine the learning curve I was facing there.

Oy.

Can I just say, for those of you who know what I’m talking about, that there are a lot of fantastic people at my institution among the students, faculty, and staff — fantastic thinkers and creative artists and teachers and scholars (from students to faculty) and researchers and visionaries and organized minds who keep it all going. But it’s always the squeaky wheels who get heard.

In other cranky news, but not my *own* crankiness…

Did you know there are *two* Cranky Professors? Seriously, there’s the medieval art historian, The Cranky Professor, whom I already knew. And then there’s one in English, too! But she goes by the shortened nom-de-blog of Cranky Prof and blogs at Cranky Epistles. Who knew? Did you?

Why are we all so cranky?

Btw, the word “cranky” has now become completely weird to me. Does that ever happen to you — that is, you say or write a word over and over and it becomes alien in the process?

>Local color

>This weekend is the big festival weekend for my old neighborhood, Rust Belt Historic District. Weirdly, I don’t think I’ve blogged about it, even though I lived in the midst of it three years in a row and have gone back for festival every year since.

Anyway, I love festival weekend. There are home tours of the Victorian and Arts and Crafts homes of the neighborhood; fantastic street fair food at both the official vendors and the many unofficial church and individual barbecues around the neighborhood (and some of those guys have the most enormous semi-portable smoker-barbecue set-ups you’ve ever seen); and a crafts fair that seems to be getting disappointingly smaller every year but always features a booth with gorgeous fabric purses to which I’m utterly addicted (I now own three of the same small but functional size: one in various shades of eye-popping green polka dots, one with an autumnal pattern of nearly-abstract flowers with a bubblegum pink lining, and now one with a black/gray/neon orange/electric blue striped pattern and an electric blue lining).

There’s also a parade, which I missed this year, that’s the trippiest, most homemade, bizarro parade you’ve ever seen. One the “decorated” cars that’s in the parade every year is this doozy (picture from last year):


Click on the picture to “embiggen” it and get a closer look at the bizarre doll heads glued all over the thing. We saw it at a gas station on the way to the festival this year and the doll heads have multiplied.

The home tours are a little less bizarre (though one house one year had a basement room dedicated to the guy’s Star Wars toy collection) and tend to be all about the owners’ loving refurbishment of their old homes, either to restore original characteristics or to adapt it to modern living. Some of the home owners take Victorian or Arts and Crafts “authenticity” a little too far and their homes look like museums. I don’t like Victorian style myself, so the Victoriana-obsessed homes don’t do it for me, but even the shrine-like Arts and Crafts ones are a little sterile to me, and I *like* that style. Who wants to live in a museum? But Bullock and I like home tours for getting design ideas or just oohing and ahing over the exquisite details of original woodwork or molding or what have you. And this year we saw the Most. Awesome. House. Ever. It was a 3500 square foot 1912 Arts and Crafts style stucco house with an English country/Tudor-ish exterior, and it had been beautifully and expensively re-done in all sorts of good ways without messing up its original details.

Here’s the outside (the tile roof is original):


There was some painted woodwork inside, but only the door jambs on the second floor. Everything else looked like the oak it was made of, including the center hall staircase, the window seats throughout the house, and the door jambs and other oak on the first floor. And the improvements and additions they did were to die for — a Florida room with a heated tile floor, and a wall removed between the den and the formal living room to make one great room, plus bumped-out “green house” windows in the kitchen and the “studio,” which used to be an attached garage.

Here’s the Florida room, which was the owner’s addition in place of a side porch, I think (note wet bar in the far right corner):


And *oh* that kitchen! The guy who currently owns it is the head designer of a famous kitchen-ware company — the kind that serious foodies buy from — and his kitchen was full of professional and industrial quality stuff. It was also a *helluva* lot bigger than the original kitchen, the walls between old cold porches (for the iceman) and breakfast nooks having been removed, and more heated tile floors put in in parts of it (not the parts showing in the picture).

Here’s one shot of the fabulous kitchen:


Add 5 bedrooms, all of decent size (unlike the older Victorians), plus two full baths — one of the first floor and one still with the original pedestal sink and gigantic tub, as well as original subway tile (and an impressive size, too) — and the most gorgeously landscaped, private, fenced-in 1/3 acre backyard, complete with an amazing outdoor kitchen, herb and vegetable garden (cleverly hidden from the more decorative parts of the garden and yard), and intimate nooks and crannies, and this house is the most fabulous thing I’ve ever seen, especially in Rust Belt.

Here are the bathroom with the original fixtures, one part of the park-like backyard (they must have hired a professional landscaper), and the outdoor kitchen (the table was made from re-claimed floor boards from a warehouse, with legs made of re-claimed porch columns!):




And get this: it’s for sale. And since this is Rust Belt, it’s under $300,000. I kid you not.

I heart the Historic District Festival. I heart Rust Belt.

>The quirky kindness of my colleagues

>After the crankiness of the last post, I thought I should write something nice about my colleagues. One of the benefits of being somewhere relatively small in size, at least in faculty terms (smaller than we should be given our 20,000+ students), is that faculty in other departments and colleges notice what you’re up to. And then they send congratulatory notes and little tokens of appreciation. This is totally weird to me, but it’s kind of nice. I feel a bit like Liz Lemon when she visited Cleveland on 30 Rock — people are being nice! Strangers make eye contact! I’m *pretty* in the midwest! Etc.

Anyway, here’s what I mean. As you’ll recall, I won one of the university-wide teaching awards this year. This a big deal at our university; despite our status as a metropolitan research university, the faculty take teaching seriously, and a teaching award is not the kiss of death that it might be at an R1. The whole award series — for teaching, research, advising, and outreach — is taken seriously, and a big spread is done in the news that comes out of the public relations office. And the rest of the faculty read that thing religiously, it seems. I’m still getting congratulatory e-mails and comments and so forth.

But what I want to especially comment upon are two congratulatory notes I got from faculty in other colleges, both professional schools. One of them sent me a hand-written note on his personal stationery. Inside was taped a piece of paper on which was written “Open and see greatness!” Inside that was a print-out of my profile and picture from the spread in the online edition of the above-mentioned spread. Too funny! And then more recently I got another card from the dean of one our science-related professional schools, and inside was a *laminated* version of my picture and profile from the print edition of the news spread, made into a bookmark! This is totally not the kind of thing that would have happened at the big R1s where I went to college and graduate school, so it’s a little bit of a culture schock, but ultimately I find this all kind of charming. And it gives me some hope for the future of this university, that the kind of work that I do matters in some way to my colleagues, and that they see it as valuable and worthwhile.

>A cranky medievalist

>Things are making me cranky today, despite the glorious spring holiday weekend Sunday that we’re having. And everything that’s making me cranky is doing so because I’m a medievalist. It’s making me wish I’d been a modernist after all (once upon a time that’s what I thought I wanted to do).

First, there’s this article skewering the Medieval Congress at K’zoo, which Dr. Nokes has posted about and partly criticized, rightly. It’s probably better that he do so than I, since as you can see from my comments there, the thing gets my hackles up in all sorts of ways that don’t bother him.

But as if that weren’t enough, I also had a colleague forward the article to me, assuming that I’d *share* her viewpoint — he thought I’d be one of the people, like the writer, tsk-tsking the use of cultural studies and the papers on excrement. (Clearly he hasn’t even looked at my CV — not even when I was up for tenure??? — and also doesn’t know my love of fart jokes.) And he thought the article was a fair and sympathetic assessment! (As if he’d know. He’s never been to the Congress — he’s an Americanist!) It reminds me of how my dad used to always send me clippings of conservative critiques of all the leftists in academia and tell me to be careful or I wouldn’t get a job. Apparently, my colleague, like my dad, thinks I’m a conservative. My dad thinks so for complex psychological reasons I don’t have time to get into (he also thinks I’m still a practicing Catholic and a virgin, and he doesn’t know I live with Bullock). But I think my colleague keeps assuming that I’m a political conservative because, I guess, I study the Middle Ages. Why? Why assume that? Can someone fill me in here? [Edited to add: it’s the act of assuming that bugs me most. I’m sure said colleague would be annoyed if someone assumed he was a liberal just because he’s an English professor. When smart people assume, it annoys me.]

And *then* I get another e-mail, this time sent to a large list, from another colleague (apparently my colleagues have no lives and spend holiday weekends writing e-mails) in which he attached a letter to an editor defending what we do in the liberal arts. OK, nothing to get cranky about, right? Except that in a moment of misplaced, annoying cutesiness, he referred to scholars at RBU who teach “Olde English.” Ack! OLD-E ENGLISH! I do NOT teach Old-E fraking English. Way to denigrate what I do into some cutesy Ren Fest attraction. Not to mention the fact that it’s not even grammatically correct in Old or even Middle English. But that’s besides the point, since who would give a class title for a serious class in an American university in anything but modern English? Argh! Bullock managed to alleviate my annoyance a little bit though, when he told me I should write to my colleague and tell him to “go to the shoppe and buy a clue.” Hee-hee.

But seriously all of this is making me tired of being a medievalist at the moment. I’ll recover, I’m sure, but for once it would be nice not to specialize in a period that gets so abused and misunderstood. I should go commiserate with Victoria — Victorianist are probably second to medievalists in their impatience with the (ab)use of their period by the general public. And I know Will, our Shakespearean, gets sick of Shakespeare being used as a weapon in various fights about the humanities. And if I studied early American, I’d likely get sick of the abuse of the term “puritanical.” *Is* there a period of English or American literature that’s free from popular misunderstandings?