Category Archives: Higher Education


Advice to a Student Who Didn’t Like His First Year of College

Dear —–,

Thanks for your note today; your mom told me you’d be writing to me to get some advice about how to make your second year at college better than your first.

Let’s begin: The best way to get off to a good start with your professors is to call them “Professor,” and, if they’re women, not “Miss” or “Mrs.”; “Ms.” is preferable to either of those, but I’d stick with “Professor” since you know the person whose advice you’re asking happens to be one of those.

It’s also good to spell that perso…


20 Funny: The August Version (Part 2)

11. “Have you ever wondered about the stupidity of the term ‘o’clock’?  Americans have happily incorporated into our everyday speech a term that makes us sound like leprechauns.” Gene Weingarten, Pulitzer Prize-winning writer for The Washington Post, from The Hypochondriac’s Guide to Life. And Death.

12. Voice-mail prompt: “After the tone please leave your I.Q. or your blood pressure, whichever is higher.” Lewis Frumkes, author of How To Raise Your I.Q. by Eating Gifted Children.

13. On health f…


Small Government = Big Trouble

In the arresting words of an Atlantic headline, ”We Now Have Our Smallest Government in 45 Years.” The proportion of government workers in the population is down to where it was in 1968, a decline of about 10 percent from its peak in the year 2000. Since the official end of the Great Recession alone, there are 600,000 fewer folks on government payrolls.

If you’re a fan of Arthur Laffer, whose eponymous curve was the most deceptive geometrical form since the Stars and Bars, and who still enjoys t…


Watchdogs or Show Dogs?

Jenny Dyck Brian

Jenny Dyck Brian

It is no secret that many academic physicians work for the pharmaceutical industry as speakers and consultants. Less widely known is that the pharmaceutical industry also employs academic bioethicists.

Beginning in the 1990s, a number of pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies began to set up bioethics advisory boards, ostensibly to obtain guidance about controversial ethical issues. Over the years, the ties between industry and bioethics have gradually grown closer, with com…


13 Ways of Looking at ‘Yeshiva’

The blackbird whirled in the autumn winds. 
It was a small part of the pantomime.

As you may well not have heard on your corporate nightly news, the Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has been near-paralyzed by years of Republican dirty tricks leading to resignations and scandal that included frequent leaking of confidential board proceedings to former Republican board members advising the Romney camp.  With the Department of Justice eyeballing the corporate hacks in question, howe…


Do You Remember Your First Computer?

(Photo by Marcin Wichary via Flickr/CC)

On November 30th of 1984, I let a Macintosh computer into my life. Do you remember your very first computer? If you’re anywhere close to my age, I bet you do.

I was a graduate student living mostly on what I made from teaching two sections of basic comp  at Queens College and on loans. But I was also working at the Development Office at Queens where, at six dollars an hour, I wrote most of what turned into a hugely successful grant for the place.

I receive…


The Big Lesson From Regnerus’s Bad Gay-Parenting Study

By this point in time it seems clear that something went really, really wrong with Mark Regnerus’s study arguing that gay and lesbian parents are bad parents. Regnerus claimed that gay and especially lesbian parents had too much “household instability” to make them a family form worth investing in (by which I assume Regnerus meant that such families deserve no state benefits or privileges). Immediately there were questions about the study and Social Science Research, the journal that published i…


Hooray for Mark Emmert!

(Photo at

In an interview with The New York Times on Monday July 23, National Collegiate Athletic Association President Mark Emmert was asked, “So with the Freeh report coming out about 10 days ago, did you already have options on the table or did all this happen in a 10-day crunch?” to which Emmert answers, “It all happened in a 10-day time period.”

He didn’t pretend, he didn’t waffle, and he didn’t prevaricate. And he didn’t use the word “crunch.”

Mark Emmert took action swiftly, witho…


The Aurora Shooting and Lone-Wolf Grad Students

A conversation on Friday morning about the killings in Colorado by, allegedly, a 24-year-old “former honors student” went something like this:

Friend: “The shooter was a medical student? Don’t they still test for ability to handle stress? What happened to the rigorous standard for the mental health of those entering medical programs?”

G: “For this kid to get into medical school, he had to have recommendation letters saying he could work as part of a team. To find out who wrote those letters woul…


2 Lessons From the Penn State Scandal

Last week, Judge Louis Freeh, a former director of the FBI, released a copiously detailed, lengthy report about Penn State’s role in Gerald Sandusky’s sexual abuse of boys on campus.  The report notes that there was a “total disregard” for the young boys who were the sexually abused victims of Gerald Sandusky—the former coach.  According to Freeh, the most senior members of the university’s governing structure, “failed to protect against a child sexual predator harming children f…


‘Unfortunate Experiments’ in New Zealand and Minnesota


Near Dunedin, New Zealand

Another spectacular winter morning in Dunedin, New Zealand.  Clear blue sky, frost on the ground, lush green hills plunging into the South Pacific. It is hard to complain about the setting, still less about the kindness and decency of the inhabitants.  It has been nearly 22 years since my wife and I first landed in Dunedin, in August of 1990, when I began a postdoctoral fellowship at the newly established Bioethics Centre at the University of Otago.  I still wonder…


6 Things Your Dissertation Director Wishes You Knew

(photo by Drew Coffman via Flickr/CC)

1. Only you can figure out how to manage your personal and emotional life; as advisers we can listen, challenge comfort, and offer guidance. The guidance we can offer most effectively is of the professional sort.

You must handle your domestic conflicts in the appropriate arena while keeping a check on how they affect your productivity.  Please don’t ask us to assist you with anything apart from your work too often, too regularly, or with too much of an empha…


When Teaching Goes Well, Life Is Good

Dear PK,

Your letter about how amazing it was to talk with your graduate student–the one who really GOT what you were saying and changed the direction of her plans–and then asked me why I recognized earlier in life the pleasures that teaching provides made me incredibly happy.

I’m not saying that only because it’s incredibly generous to me. You’ve always been that. But I’m saying it because you helped to remind me why teaching–good teaching– matters.

Coming to the profession as someone who has a…


Top 20 Smart & Witty Lines for July 2012

1. “I have never allowed my schooling to interfere with my education.” Mark Twain

2. “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.”  Mark Twain

3. “I base most of my fashion taste on what doesn’t itch.” Gilda Radner

4. . “Why are they called illegal immigrants? They’re undocumented workers. If someone broke into my house and vacuumed my rug, I might be puzzled. But mad?” Wanda Sykes

5. “Laughter rises out of tragedy, when you need it the most, and rewards you for …


MacFarlane’s ‘Ted,’ Waugh’s ‘Sebastian,’ and Betjeman’s ‘Archie’




Grown men with teddy bears? A new movie with Mark Wahlberg? The 1981 Granada series with Anthony Andrews and Jeremy Irons? A heartbreaking poem about a teddy bear– mentioning Adler, Jung and Freud in its final stanza?

Okay, so my first thought, when faced with grown men and furry toys, is of the terribly well-groomed Aloysuis belonging to Sebastian Flyte in Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited.”

Then I think immediately of Archie, a.k.a. Archibald Ormsby-Gore, the strict Baptist teddy bea…


Lawn Boy: the College Years

Not the Harvard Commencement Ceremony

Not the Harvard Commencement Ceremony

We’re on the road, my son Crawford and I.  It’s time to visit colleges, and our schedule is brutal.  Hot car, blinding sun, 12 colleges in 10 days, Ann Arbor to Sewanee. Onward we drive, Zevon on the stereo, afternoon into night, our mission fueled by gas-station coffee and Doritos. When we stop, it is for college admissions tours, barbecue, and, on one occasion, a broken alternator belt. I don’t even like to think about how far we have traveled.

The trip ha…


Herb Gans Is Right

Gans (photo at–click on image to get to hosting page)

My dear former professor, Herb Gans, has written a piece in Identities that is causing quite a stir among sociologists, especially cultural sociologists such as myself. The piece, which Gans himself admits is a “polemic” and therefore often unfair, is a rant against cultural sociology for separating itself from what he calls structural sociology. Although this might seem like a purely academic argument, I think it has much …


Have Economists Learned From the Great Recession?

If an unanticipated earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale had just sunk the island of Manhattan, I’d like to think that departments of geology worldwide would be feverishly reexamining their research priorities, curricula, and syllabi. But I have the impression that no such urgency is evident in the profession of economics after most of it resoundingly failed to anticipate the global meltdown of the last decade (and continuing).

Poking around the Web to see who else is interested in this…


On This Rock

Cary Nelson

Cary Nelson completes his third consecutive term as AAUP president next week. No one serving in that role has accomplished so much with so little against a mountain of obstacles that would have sent weaker personalities scurrying back to their carrels and laboratory benches. During his tenure, he averted near-certain financial collapse, calmed near-annual rebellions from the union affiliates, appeased traditionalists, weathered the unionization of the staff, oversaw the departure of …


On Predatory Publishers: a Q&A With Jeffrey Beall

Jeffrey Beall

If your incoming flow of email spam looks anything like mine, it probably features a regular invitation to submit an article to a journal you have never heard of, or to be a part of its editorial board, or maybe even to edit the journal.  The names of the publishers vary, but the invitations usually look something like this one, which arrived last week.

Deae Carl Elliott,
I am very pleasure that you can read this letter. Given the achievement you made in your research field, w…