Tag Archives: Towson University

Today’s College Students, Part I: Little Post-Modernists

On Thursday I will put a summer of research and writing behind me and return to my professorial duties in the classroom.  When I do, I will greet a fresh crop of college students, as I have done every year since 1999.

I often get asked if I notice any difference, if students have gotten “better” or “worse” over the years since I first began of teaching.  The question itself can often be a bit loaded; the person posing it may expect my answer to confirm their suspicions.  The truth, however, is a little more complex, which is why I often answer: “Both.”  It seems to me that as time goes by, the students entering my classroom, on the whole, are getting better at some things and worse at others.

My home institution, Towson University in suburban Baltimore, is a good place to observe such trends and vacillations among American college students.  In many ways it is a middling institution.  That is not to degrade the school, but rather to point out that in some respects it is representative of the larger American population, or at least the minority of Americans who wind up attending college. Continue reading Today’s College Students, Part I: Little Post-Modernists

Summer Hours

I have a buddy who, some time around May starts asking: “Well professor, you about done yet?”  He smiles, the twinkle in his eyes suggesting that he is at once jealous of my upcoming summer vacation, and also of the opinion that I am not worthy, that I am a privileged professor, not working as hard as “regular people” with “real jobs,” and am undeserving of this annual respite.

It doesn’t matter how many times I explain it to him.  People believe what they want to believe.

There are various stereotypes and misperceptions about college professors, and his is a common one.  It stems from the mistaken belief that we are an elite version of K-12 teachers.  We are not.  And when I say this, I mean it with only the utmost respect for teachers, including my mother, who taught high school English for three decades.  In no way do I mean to rank professors above teachers.  Rather, I am merely pointing out that, while there is some overlap between the two professions, they are most decidedly not the same job.

Teachers are called teachers because that is by far and away most of what they do.  They teach.  That includes not just time spent in the classroom with students, but also everything that goes into it outside the classroom, from the hard work of preparing lessons to the mundane task of grading papers and exams.  All of it constitutes teaching. Continue reading Summer Hours

Patching the Community

When I tell people that I don’t believe there are any communities left in America, I usually get one of two responses.  Some people’s eyes widen with the look of recognition and say something like, “You know, I’ve been thinking the exact same thing.”  Others shake their heads vigorously and insist that there are still communities.  Sometimes, they even maintain that their own neighborhood, small town, or even suburban subdivision is a community; often it’s self-evident to them that a bunch of people living in the same place constitutes a community.

But at the end of the day, mere proximity isn’t enough.  A community is not simply a bunch of people living near each other.  Rather, it’s defined by the relationships those people have with each other.  And in modern American society, when most people spend most of their waking hours away at a job, a school, or off frolicking there’s not much time left for building those relationships.

To me, one of the signs that communities have eroded is the simple lack of communication among people who live near each other.  Many Americans have little or no contact with most, or sometimes even any of their neighbors.  How can a community build the relationships needed to thrive when the people who supposedly live in one are more or less strangers?  In a modern world of harried individuals rushing to and fro, how can people build and maintain a community when they have so little actual face time with each other?  Continue reading Patching the Community

American Values in the Streets of Egypt

By Guest Blogger Kimberly Katz

On February 3, after Egyptian anti-government protesters had been out in the streets for more than a week calling for the ouster of Egyptian President and strongman Hosni Mubarak, the United States Senate took strongly bi-partisan action at a time when the rancor in Washington is at a fevered pitch.  Sure, one could look back to the lame duck session of the 111th Congress and note all sorts of successful bi-partisan legislation, including the end of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the extension of tax benefits including those to the super-wealthy.  However, where the Congress usually comes together is on foreign policy issues and, indeed, the current Senate has remained consistent on that note.

Senators John Kerry and John McCain sponsored a resolution that calls on Egypt’s now embattled president to hand power over to an interim government.  Kerry and McCain are entrenched figures in Senate foreign policy, the former currently serving as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee and its Middle East subcommittee, the latter as the ranking member on the Armed Services committee.  Accordingly, Americans should be astounded that only now do these senators publicly recognize the repressive nature of the Mubarak regime, which has benefitted tremendously from $1.3 billion in annual military aid as a result of its 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

The Kerry-McCain resolution should give pause to Americans as the history of U.S. foreign policy has been ugly across the globe, from Cuba to the Philippines, from Honduras to Guatemala, from Iran to Iraq to Tunisia to Egypt and elsewhere, from the end of the 19th century to the present.  U.S. foreign policy has actively supported known dictators, providing them with the funding and military aid that they need to brutally repress their populations at home, with commercial and strategic benefits accruing to the United States in return. Continue reading American Values in the Streets of Egypt

Bachmann Bullshit Overdrive

President Barak Obama delivered the annual State of the Union Address on Tuesday night.  The official Republican response was issued by Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.  And then in the name of the Tea Party movement, Republican Representative from Minnesota Michelle Bachmann issued yet another response.

As someone who has never voted for a major party presidential candidate, I am eager to see viable alternatives arise.  I do believe that the Republican-Democrat duopoly is, at the end of the day, a detriment to American society and a corrosive force in politics.  The parties in and of themselves are capable of great good, but a lack of competition has led to a highly partisan political atmosphere in the federal realm, where genuinely fresh ideas are few and far between. What’s worse, in many states and localities there is essentially one-party rule.  For example, in my own fair city of Baltimore, Democrats govern without external competition; Abraham Lincoln himself couldn’t get elected to a municipal office here.  And of course Democrats face the same intractable obstacles in Republican dominated areas.  In such circumstances, loggerhead bickering and ineffectiveness are replaced by calcified political operations rife with cronyism and corruption.

So while I don’t support many of the Tea Party ideas, on some level I do want to see them succeed.  At this point, almost any viable alternative sounds good.  However, I want and even expect new political movements, either from the right or the left, to do better than the status quo.  I did not see that last night from Bachmann.  Instead I saw more of the same. Continue reading Bachmann Bullshit Overdrive

Proposing Modesty

As many people have recently reminded us, back in March of last year Sarah Palin used rifle sites on a map to identify freshman Democratic Congress members who had voted for President Obama’s health care bill, “targeting” them as political opponents to mobilize against in the 2010 elections.  One of those new Representatives was Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.  And of course, Rep. Giffords was shot in the head on Saturday at a small political event at a supermarket in Tucson.  Federal Judge John Roll and five other people, including a child, were killed.

Many are now criticizing Palin very harshly for having frequently used the language and imagery of violence to symbolically make her points over the last couple of years, claiming that Saturday’s very real violence is a case of chickens coming home to roost; that she is partially to blame for helping contribute to a climate of hatred and extremism, and for helping to make violence an acceptable part of American political discourse in the 21st century.

For her part, former Governor Palin has had the good graces to offer condolences and prayers to the Giffords family.  And I think that more or less settles it.  After all, words and pictures aren’t important, they don’t have much affect on society, and they really don’t motivate people to act.  Words are just words, pictures are just pictures, and we shouldn’t make too much of them.

Continue reading Proposing Modesty

You Say You Want a Resolution

The Sporting Life:

The Public Professor’s

Saturday Sports Column


I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions.  I find the very idea of them to be ludicrous.  If a change is worth making, why would you wait for an arbitrary date to begin?

But then again, human frailty is often a cornerstone of great art, and in that spirit I have a growing affection for New Year’s resolutions.  Not the idea of making them, mind you, but of the open secret that they are made to be broken.

More and more I perceive it as an act of American cultural sophistication and adult honesty.  It seems to me a tradition grounded in a mature acceptance of humanity’s shortcomings, of embracing failure while holding our heads high.  I’m proud of us for having the courage to know deep down that there’s no way in hell we’re losing 10 lbs. this year, yet at the same time mustering the poetry and grace to perform a ritual that says, Hell yeah, we’re gonna do it! Because it’s not about the naivete of doomed aspirations; it’s about the bold lies that give us hope and grant us dignity.

Continue reading You Say You Want a Resolution

Arm Chair Assassins

On February 14, 1989, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini went on Radio Tehran to issue a public death warrant for the Indian-born novelist and British citizen Salman Rushdie.  The warrant was in the form of a fatwa, an Islamic religious ruling or scholarly decree pertaining to Islamic law, issued by a recognized authority.  Khomeini decreed that Rushdie’s novel Satanic Verses was a “blasphemy against Islam” for its portrayal of the prophet Muhammad, not to mention an uncomplimentary character who was a thinly veiled version of Khomeini himself.  The fatwa was accompanied by a $2,000,000 bounty on Rushdie’s life.  It was not an idle threat.

Rushdie was immediately put under police protection, and on March 7th Great Britain broke off diplomatic relations with Iran.  Great Britain did not restore relations for nearly a decade.  On August 3, 1989, a would be assassin named Mustafa Mahmoud Mazeh blew up himself, as well as two floors of the Paddington Hotel in London, when he accidentally detonated the book-bomb he was making for Rushdie.  He has a martyr’s shrine in Tehran’s Behesht-e Zahra cemetery.  On July 11, 1991, the book’s Japanese translator, Hitoshi Igarashi, was stabbed to death.  Later that month the Italian language translator, Ettore Capriolo, was stabbed and seriously injured.  The Norwegian publisher, William Nygaard, narrowly escaped an attempted assassination in 1993.  And on July 2nd of that year, an angry mob surrounded a hotel in Sivas, Turkey where Aziz Nesin, the Turkish language translator, was attending a conference celebrating a 16th century poet; learning of his presence, the mob set fire to the hotel.  Thirty-seven people died.  Nesin escaped the fire, though he was set upon by firemen and seriously beaten.

Now, some of the same people and publications who have decried the fatwa as barbaric, and who have defended Rushdie in the name of democracy, tolerance, and freedom, are calling for the murder of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Continue reading Arm Chair Assassins

The Dandy One

The Sporting Life:

The Public Professor’s

Saturday Sports Column


The Party’s over.

“Dandy” Don Meredith, the first good quarterback the Dallas Cowboys ever had, and better known as one-third of the legendary Monday Night Football broadcast booth, along with Howard Cossell and Frank Gifford from 1970-73 and 1977-84, passed away last Sunday at the age of 72.

While Gifford was the straight man supplying play by play, Meredith and Cossell formed a formidable pair, analysts who took center stage.  A Texas native, Meredith was a veritable quote machine, spinning folksy yarns by the dozen.  A Jewish New Yorker, Cossell countered Meredith by being unapologetically urbane and sophisticated, introducing middle America to snarkiness before hipsters were born or gays had been allowed into the popular culture (insert three finger snaps and a sigh here, please).  And the two of them played off of each other masterfully.  As they dissected the night’s game, the Country Mouse and the City Mouse joked and sparred with each other, and in the process they made MNF an absolute sensation and one of the nation’s highest rated shows throughout the decade. Continue reading The Dandy One