Tuesday, April 27, 2004


Bad blogger. Bad! Bad!

Sigh. More than twenty days since last I blogged. Dissertating (is that a verb?) has now become a full-time job. Oh, I will finish it; but this last chapter and a half is kicking my ass. I need that one last inspirational book to cross my desk and help push me to the finish line. I think I found it; $40 on Advanced Book Exchange.

We're working on a unit on utopias in my composition course, and I decided to introduce the question of biological determinants of self versus sociological determinants. I have several students who refuse to acknowledge that there are any biological determinants of self, though when I sit down to talk with them, they obviously do believe that there are biological determinants. But, once I call them on it, they backpedal and try to wriggle their way out of the ramifications of their comments.

I started discussing anti-depressants with a student, and she admitted that they did have an effect on depression, and from there we moved to talking about serotonin and such.

When I pointed out that the efficacy of drugs like Wellbutrin was evidence in support of biological determinants of human behavior, she started talking about depression as being a "creation" of the drug industry, a la Foucault, and condemned doctors for over-prescribing the drugs. I certainly agree with her on that count, but I also know many people for whom these drugs have been a lifesaver--literally.

The whole conversation went like this.

And it wasn't just with her. There were other students in the office as well, and we kept getting to the point where I needed to point out the ramifications of their thinking, and the reaction--across the board--was to deny those ramifications and let a predetermined ideological position take over.

They are supported in this, of course, by many of their home departments--sociology, anthropology--basically the bulk of the humanities and social sciences. And they refuse to consider ideas outside their home disciplines, even to the point of denying that these positions exist at all. Or, turning the positions into straw men, maintaining that the sciences still subscribe to Skinnerism.

If I had comments, I'd open them up. But I'm open to suggestions as to how to deal with this. Their minds are closed to ideas outside the humanities and social sciences. Their minds are closed to the ramifications of their own words--to the ramifications of the things they've observed through the simple act of living.

How do you deprogram students and get them to think outside the carefully constructed ideological box the modern university constructs for them?

The email address, as always, is in the sidebar.

Monday, April 05, 2004


An Update on the "Theory Question" and the Academic Job Interview

A colleague recently informed me about a string of job candidates for a position in the English department at a prestigious West Coast university being rejected because of the dreaded theory question, the one the academic left insists does not exist.

Several candidates were in touch with one another at a graduate student conference (after all had gotten jobs elsewhere, and were willing to talk about the job search experience with some candor), and each told the others the same story--a job interview that ended when the theory question was answered "improperly", i.e. the candidate expressed reservations about theory.

The position did not advertise for someone who was a theorist, but was presented as a traditional, era-designated position.

Doubtless, this will be dismissed as mere heresay. But I trust the person from whom I received the information--someone I'm not about to out because a first-year assistant professor is just as vulnerable as a grad student--and the story is in keeping with other anecdotal evidence.

Frankly, there's a part of me that would like to make it a legal requirement that these interviews--which are often only a few steps removed from an interrogation--be taped, so that there is a record for all parties involved.

As for my own progress on the job market, that's something I'll address when I feel more comfortable divulging details that might allow a hostile audience to discern my identity, particularly after some recent experiences in the world of academia that have left me a bit unnerved. For now, I'll merely say that I will not be living in the same state come August.

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