Category Archives: humor

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A Field Guide to American Higher-Ed Reformers

This short and easy-to-use field guide is designed to help both academics and lay audiences quickly identify some of the important species and subspecies that now occupy the higher-education landscape in the United States. Recognizing these various species, many of which are new to this environment, has become particularly important in this period of drastic university climate change and species migration.

1. Venture philanthropists and foundations

Species: Benevolentia disrumpo

Habitat/range: F…

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Let This Satirical Campus Newspaper Live

In 2007, a group of students at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln fought to establish the first satirical newspaper on the campus. Eight years and nearly 70 issues later, the paper still hits the newsstand every other week. Recently, however, a committee charged with allocating student fees proposed defunding it — saving students a mere 15 cents annually — for the one reason that scares and baffles me the most. “While it does create a number of opportunities for students,” the commit…

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Welcome to Ohio State, Where Everything Is for Sale

I’m excited to announce that my university has changed its motto. Out with the old and in with: “Omnia Venduntur!

Our old motto,Disciplina In Civitatem,” or “Education for Citizenship,” just sounded so, you know, land-granty, so civic-minded. It certainly doesn’t capture our new ethos of entrepreneurial dynamism and financial chicanery. Besides, the state legislature here, dominated for years now by the GOP, hasn’t been interested in either education or citizenship for a long time.

So instead…

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The Professor as Comedian

“But, no jokes.”

Thus said my first, otherwise excellent, class performance-evaluation sheet. Just starting my undergraduate teaching career at twentysomething, I had been more concerned about the mastery of the subject (accounting), the fulfillment of class objectives, the clear delivery, the professional deportment. Check. Students’ opinions had been positive too: Their professor was “knowledgeable,” “helpful,” and “concerned with their learning.” Check. Overall remark from my el…

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Prospective Literary Fitness Apps

“[Zombies, Run!] is an audio adventure that features missions in which the runner tries to escape from a horde of the undead while picking up survival gear along the way. The app … offers more than 200 missions, including one with the author Margaret Atwood, who is holed up in a tower and offering zombie intel.”
“Wearable Gear and Apps to Make Running Healthier, and a Lot More Fun,” The New York Times, November 5, 2014

Other literary fitness apps in development:

Run, Rabbit, Run! You are Rabbit…

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Betray Our Students for Publisher’s Profit?

I recently received an email from a “consultant” inviting me to help a publisher create an automatic essay-grading technology product for humanities professors to use in introductory-level courses. The consultant claimed that once completed, the program would “accurately auto-grade brief writing assignments – 500 to 900 words.” The program, the email said, “uses specific writing prompts and rubrics to achieve computer grading accuracy.”

And how will these impressive results be achieved, you ask?…

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My Syllabus, With Trigger Warnings

Introduction to United States History
Tu-Th, 2:15-3:45 pm
J. Zimmerman

This course will explore the main themes, trends, and dilemmas in the history of the United States. In accord with our college’s new policy on trigger warnings, I have affixed a cautionary note to each week’s topic. If the topic threatens to provoke feelings of trauma or panic in you, please inform me beforehand and I will excuse you from class. I’m looking forward to learning together in a safe environment!

I. Puritan New En…

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A Plan for the Modern College

As is commonly known, American higher education depends for its existence on the cheap labor of adjunct faculty members. According to recent reports, adjuncts make up as much as 70 percent of college instructors. The average yearly salary for those adjuncts is around $25,000, just above the poverty rate for a family of four, so these members of the professoriate, having put in their years working on advanced degrees while providing cheap labor as graduate students, have learned very well what t…

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American Studies Association, You Got Hacked

I write in the hope of getting a message to members of the American Studies Association. The ASA is devoted to, let’s face it, a fusty mission. It is the “nation’s oldest and largest association devoted to the interdisciplinary study of American culture and history.” Academics so behind the cutting edge of scholarship are probably not even reading this because they would have to be on the Internet to do so. But perhaps a charitable reader who knows an American-studies scholar (they may tea…

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The DIY University

As my colleagues and I began to get our courses organized for this academic year we were atwitter with anticipation. The classroom-management website we use had been totally reorganized over the summer. We were promised something new and exciting.

Most faculty members use classroom sites nowadays. Blackboard’s is a popular version. At Ohio State University the site is called Carmen. The old version of Carmen was entirely adequate. It would sometimes slow down (or crash) at the start of each term…