Mass firing in the History department at Boise State

This past week, the History department chair sent out an e-mail with the subject line “Grim News.” In the e-mail, she detailed extensive cuts to the History department’s funding, apparently emerging from the Provost’s office. Among the cuts are:

  • The Public History faculty line I recently vacated
  • 2/3 of the funds we use to support graduate assistants
  • Two lecturerships
  • A visiting lecturership
  • All adjunct funding

I’ll have something more substantive to say about this soon, but right now I’m grief-stricken.

In the meantime, you can read this Idaho Statesman article to get a sense of the university’s party line. As you might imagine, though, “declining enrollment” is not the whole story.

I’ll leave you with these tidbits, calculated by one of our endangered lecturers, who used to work in college finance and administration:

The department offered 49 full-semester 3-credit courses with 1,385 students total in Spring 2015. Of these:

  • 17 classes with 556 students were taught by tenure/tenure-track faculty (41%)
  • 15 classes with 449 students were taught by 3.5 lecturers (33%)
  • 14 classes with 340 students were taught by 8 adjuncts (24%)
  • 3 classes with 40 students were taught by full-time faculty not housed entirely in the history department (2%)

The lecturer estimates the department’s instructional expenses constitute less than 45% of the revenue it brings in through teaching alone, and that there’s no way the now diminished tenure-line faculty can accommodate all of the students currently being taught by lecturers and adjuncts. Even trying to accommodate them will mean History faculty won’t have time to do research during the academic year. Currently we have two NEH fellows, an NSF fellow, a Fulbright scholar, and the editor of a top journal—as well as everyone else’s research agendas—so our department isn’t exactly shirking its research responsibilities. Many of us have also service commitments that already are untenable.

The Leslie multiverse

When I returned home from the final day of my short, grossly underpaid stint as a staff writer for a newspaper named for a fish that climbs out of the water to mate, Fang–then the art director of the paper—sent me an e-mail in which he expressed his delight in working with me and announced that “in a parallel universe, we made a terrific couple!”

My first thought—after shit shit shit! (because I had harbored a crush on him for a couple months, and in ten days I would move from Long Beach to Iowa City)—was, “Wait a minute; I live in a parallel universe.”

That sentiment emerged from my experience as someone who was socially awkward and thus lived intellectually and psychologically on the margins of my world even as I seemed to bodily inhabit it.  I like to think I’ve overcome most of my social awkwardness (ha! more like embraced it), so in recent years I’ve seen myself as on a sometimes unconventional path through Earth Prime.


But then, suddenly, this summer has been all about parallel universes.

I’ve spent almost as much time outside Boise as I have in it: a dozen days or so in the Bay Area and Davis, California for a women-in-technology unconference and archival research; two weeks in a village just north of New York City for my internship with Seth; and ten days in Long Beach visiting family and trying to recover from what turned into a summer in which I worked a lot and accomplished much, but none of it what I projected in my faculty activity plan.

I stayed in Davis long enough to feel as if I had moved right back into the town. My evenings and weekends were packed with visits with friends and former colleagues, and it was downright charming—perfect, in fact, except for the absence of Lucas, Fang, and a bicycle. And indeed, in a parallel universe, I never left Davis, never landed a job in the ultra-collegial history department at Boise State, never met all the funny and awesome Boiseans whose friendships I treasure.

Then there was the internship with Seth Godin. As you know, I’m still processing it. But for two weeks I inhabited a parallel universe in which I wasn’t an academic, in which people valued my expertise and skills differently (more highly! more openly!) than in my everyday professorial life.

And Long Beach. Honestly, I’ve long had a love/hate relationship with this city. It would take a lot of therapy, and a lot more writing, for me to distill what exactly it is I believe about Long Beach—typical, I suppose, of any place where one’s family has lived for nearly a century. But this trip has been delightful thus far. I’ve spent lots of time with my sister, helping her with her business, but more importantly hanging out with her mercurial two-year-old daughter and absolutely charming three-month-old son.

Today, for example, I breakfasted with Lucas and my parents, then headed down to a local saltwater lagoon because my parents said with its restoration, it’s possible to stand on the pier that runs across it and see jellyfish.  Lucas and I saw huge moon jellies, yes, but also lots of fish, an egret, crabs, a skate, and an octopus that put on quite a show of locomotion and camouflage. Then we went down to Newport Beach, where, just as I settled into my beach chair, a pod of dolphins swam near shore and stayed for a while to play and feed.  I headed out into the waves with Lucas and my parents, and we took turns body boarding in the excellent surf. We were amused by the biggest, fastest fish I’ve ever seen in such shallow waters—maybe three feet long and six to eight inches tall. I finished out the day with my sister and her family at a concert in a park featuring a really fun 1980s cover band.  We dined on some of the best Thai food I’ve ever had.


It would be easy to dismiss such relaxing, delightful experiences as a vacationer’s indulgence. And for me, at the moment they are. And the story I’ve been telling myself all these years is that Long Beach is too expensive a place to live on an academic’s salary—hell, Boise is, too—yet millions of people manage to live in Southern California, and probably hundreds of thousands of them end up at the beach each day during the summer, even on a weekday. The secondary narrative is that even if I did see an academic job advertised here that paid sufficiently, the applicant pool is too competitive because the weather is nice and the cultural resources are plentiful.

With these thoughts running through my head, I count down the days—three, now—before I must return to Boise for the new semester (at a job, remember, I love—but whose salary is insufficient). I look at the news and see that much of the country immediately outside Boise is on fire, which means horrifying air quality (Lucas and I both have asthma). I think about how unhappy Fang has been in Boise, and how few connections we’ve been able to make in the city because everyone else at Lucas’s school seems to have deep family roots in town and established social networks that can be difficult to penetrate.*  And I wonder why the hell I’m going back there.

Because despite my mild-mannered academic life, the truth is, I fully inhabit a parallel universe—one in which as a professor I apply for stuff that seems crazy, like two weeks of 7 a.m.-to-1 a.m. days as an intern for a mystery project with a marketing genius on the other side of the country.


During that internship, Seth dedicated the last couple days to not only tying up loose ends, but to having individual conversations with each of us about where we’re headed next.  My private meeting with Seth lasted only a few minutes, but what emerged was this: I’m way too intelligent and talented to feel underappreciated, and I’m too smart to stay somewhere I’m not adequately financially compensated for my work.

As I mentioned in a previous post, later that day, during the business brainstorming session, I tossed out an idea I had no intention of following up on myself, but which a room full of frighteningly bright people seemed to think was a perfect fit for me.  I began reading the websites of other people in this professional niche, and I realized—I admit, to as much horror as delight—I would very likely succeed in it.

I pulled Seth aside and asked him what he would do if he were me, in an academic culture that (a) expects us to give 110% of our waking hours to the job and (b) doesn’t usually smile upon professorial entrepreneurialism unless it directly benefits the university.  As I remember the conversation, Seth pressed me: Was I worried people wouldn’t like me if I took on a side project that had a high financial return on a small investment of my time?  Yes, I said, I was.  Then he asked which was more important to me: making six figures or being liked by my colleagues. I averted my eyes and said, “Making enough to fully support my family.”  To which he added quickly, “They’re going to like you anyway.”

I ran this conversation by a friend and colleague, and she confirmed that yes, indeed, this narrative of doom-and-gloom was mostly in my head, and not based in reality.  The university, she says, wants faculty to be out in the community, and now that she knew about this potential side hustle, she’d think I was crazy not to pursue it.

And it is crazy not to at least give it a try. It shouldn’t prove much of a distraction from my university duties, nor a conflict with them. So I’m spending the final evenings of summer researching the field, creating a website, and filing the appropriate paperwork with the state to make everything above-board.

Worst-case scenario?  I fail, and I learn to survive on a professorial gig I love and at which by all accounts I’m excelling. Somehow, I find ways to make Idaho life less corrosive on my family’s individual and collective psyches.

Best-case scenario?  I try this for a couple of years, I’m crazy successful at it, and I get to pick which path to take: an intellectually rich but financially unstable life as a tenured historian in a state for which I’ll never be a booster, or this other thing—I promise not to be coy about it much longer—that would allow me to live wherever I want (read: near my extended family).

So here’s to parallel universes, as confusing as they can be when they become less-than-parallel and intersect.  This should be fun.

*When complaining thus, I need to acknowledge my gratitude for Lisa V. and Bert V., who have been so generous with their kindness and their Thanksgiving dinners. Without them, we’d feel completely alienated from non-university life in Boise.


Stick a fork in me

Anyone care to guess at what exact moment I climbed out of the pool today?

Screen shot 2013-06-30 at 9.29.10 PM

The next few days are going to be fun, too.  But hey, thanks to the Clutter Museum archive, I have some perspective: things could be worse.

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On the banks of expectation

Irrigation Canal, aerial view

I had never lived in a city striated by irrigation ditches, so when I arrived in Boise, I was surprised to hear water coursing under a sidewalk, come across a completely silent and barely rippled canal running behind houses, glimpse a tiny waterfall disappearing under a street, or discover what appeared to be a happy, fast little stream rushing along the perimeter of a park.  (In the image above, the canal is marked by trees, and runs from lower right to upper left.) In the summer, many homeowners receive irrigation water one day a week, but it floods their yards, sometimes inches deep. For someone from drought-stricken California, this seemed beyond luxurious–an egregious waste–but still I cooled my feet in it last summer when the swimming instructor’s backyard was five inches deep beneath the shade trees.

In my neighborhood, there’s a stretch of irrigation canal lined by a dirt road that, although it’s marked “no trespassing,” attracts solitary walkers and runners, families with small kids headed toward a local playground, and lots of people with dogs, some of whom splash in and out of the canal.  During much of the year, it has no water in it, but when it does, I like walking along it.  The most life I’ve ever seen in the water is half a dozen mallards and tufts of green algae, but its far bank is marked by dilapidated remnants of earlier generations, and it’s overgrown with all kinds of flora. If I hit it at the right summer moment, I can grab a few apricots from a feral tree near the park.


It’s sort of idyllic, this intrusion of water into the spring and summer suburban landscape.  But television ads warn us not to let our children near the canals because canals mean death.  And indeed, even the stillest of them may: who knows what chemicals they pick up as they cross the patchwork of urban, suburban, and rural lands? Even a quick glance at irrigated lawns in the spring reveals noxious agricultural weeds whose seeds the water deposits in the suburbs. Noxious weeds bring herbicides, which seep down into the soil and back into what Mark Fiege has termed the ecological commons.

Still, I’m drawn to the canals because they suggest the potential for erosion. Unlike the rivers of my native Southern California, they’re for the most part not cemented into their banks, and while the possibility of their wandering is faint, it exists—some upstream slip-up, some unclosed gate or broken meter, and the water overflows its banks and cuts new channels.


There’s always been a similar tension for me—intellectually, psychologically, and emotionally—between structure and disruption. As a K-16 student, for the most part, I benefited from my ability to flow through established channels. By the time I started my third (and thankfully final) graduate program, however, I began to realize that established channels were no longer particularly attractive to me; I had pretty much mastered the art of the seminar paper and had come to resent much of what I was being asked to read.  (I took the authors seriously, and read every word, and I appreciated their politics, but the language and attitude of these texts were just so off-putting that I felt compelled to take a vow of comprehensibility–never to write like a typical lit crit theorist or cultural studies scholar. Fortunately, I had mentors whose training was outside those fields.)

I began to look outside school for opportunities. During grad school, I started a freelance writing and editing business as a side hustle, I held a series of positions at a local science center, I consulted on an outdoor science ed program, and I developed and managed a large, popular science exhibit at the state fair. When I graduated in 2006 without an academic job, I took on a couple of fairly well-paying “alt-ac” jobs at the university and seized the opportunity to adjunct in a graduate museum studies program. I enjoyed much of this work, and I adored some of it, and I always appreciated the additional income. Shortly before interviewing for my current job, I founded a consulting firm with a colleague, but sold my ownership in it when I moved to Boise.

In the intervening time, I’ve learned to play the academic game fairly well, though there are certainly aspects of it that I could embrace more fully.  In an alternate universe, there’s a Leslie who puts all her intellectual efforts into peer-reviewed writing; she has many journal articles and a book under contract with a university press.  She reads papers at disciplinary conferences.  She writes book reviews. In her spare time, she has kept up with her French horn studies and plays in a community wind band.  Her home office is organized.

Actual me, meanwhile, is overflowing the intellectual and emotional banks of a canal that cuts across the landscape of too many disciplines. I’m more likely to pick up Fast Company or a book on digital journalism than I am The Public Historian or the latest monograph from Duke University Press. My stack of books to read comprises a mix of museum studies, poetry, programming, fiction, and business. I’m more likely to have a Python tutorial or WordPress stylesheet open on my computer than I am to be mining JSTOR. Most days, I’d rather be writing essays for a popular audience than papers for academic journals. It’s not that I don’t enjoy or have given up those other things—it’s just that they are no longer enough.

This overflowing—this mania of research and writing about technology, culture, and entrepreneurialism—has resulted in flora sprouting wildly on the banks of the relatively narrow canal of what’s expected of an assistant professor of history at a university known more for its football team than its graduation rate.  And some of those flowers have drawn passers-by into conversation in a way that my traditional academic research never has.


I’ve written before about this restlessness that manifests sometimes as a strangely driven lack of focus.  And it’s a weird restlessness, because I love my current job—the students, my colleagues, the autonomy I’ve been granted because I’ve already pretty much checked the boxes for tenure—and I’m succeeding here.

Honestly, as an adult, I’ve always lingered in the weeds of what’s expected. But now economic considerations—personal and structural (the situation in Idaho schools, for example) are driving me to think about how to take my unique combination of skills, passions, and expertise to a different context, one in which, ideally, I’d be fairly and perhaps even generously compensated for my work.

That’s a very difficult thing for me to admit. As an English major and writer, as the daughter of public school teachers, and as a student inculcated by the economic and structural criticisms inherent in cultural studies, I picked up the message that pursuing economic gain beyond the very modest is something that only shallow, selfish people do. And honestly, if it was just me, I could live comfortably in a small apartment or carriage house here in Boise. But I have a family, and between the costs of various lessons for the kid, the expected contributions to his criminally underfunded school, the cost of maintaining two aging cars (because we live in a city without good public transportation), and various ever-rising family medical costs, the salary I’m paid at Boise State isn’t sustaining us in a way that’s comfortable.

The problem, of course, is I don’t know what my next stage is going to look like, or when it might start.  I’m going to have to open up the gates on my intellectual and emotional canals, and let the water flow.  Who knows what seeds it carries, and what might grow?



I wrote all of the above more than a week ago, and in the last week, I’ve felt the shift accelerate. I finished up the semester. I helped the boy with one of our semiannual purges of his room in search of toys, games, and clothes to donate, and I realized how quickly he’s growing up and all the things I want for him that I haven’t found here. I took an overnight retreat with a friend that helped me see the bigger geographical picture and gave me time to read and scribble some notes about me instead of about my research and teaching. I’m starting to pack for my next research/conference trip, this time to Davis (for archives) and to San Francisco (for Adacamp, an unconference for women in open-source technology), and both aspects of the trip are providing all kinds of food for thought—plus there’s the nostalgia factor of visiting my old stomping grounds. And then I felt drawn to apply for a spot at another interesting event later this summer, and I secured a place there, too. This last opportunity, which I hope I can say a tiny bit more about soon, is going to bring me into contact with all kinds of amazing people with whom I might not otherwise cross paths, and I’m thrilled about it.

Plus, my birthday is on Sunday–I’ll be 38–and the date always prompts some soul-searching.

Maybe nothing life-changing will come of this reflection and experimentation–I am, after all, a person of many ideas and insufficient time to develop them all, so I have to leave some at the side of the canal, out of reach of its waters–but I’m feeling that strange blend of confidence and impostor syndrome that usually means I’m poised for some serious professional, personal, and intellectual growth.

Happy birthday, Fang.


Dude is 51. Seriously. No one believes me.

It’s Fang’s birthday again.

April 20 is an inauspicious time to have a birthday, what with it being Hitler’s birthday (also the anniversary of the Columbine High School shooting and the Deepwater Horizon explosion) and with the anniversary of the “shot heard round the world” (Oklahoma City bombing, Branch Davidian conflagration) immediately preceding it.  (Let’s not even mention this week’s drama.) Something about the dates brings out the kooks and catastrophes.

Since we moved to Idaho, Fang has met his share of kooks and endured several minor, and a few not-so-minor, catastrophes. Because we moved here on my account, I feel culpable for much of what ails him these days, though of course some of it could be chalked up to aging.  (Few people make it to 51 without some aches and pains.)


Guitar practice is a persistent source of aches, pains, and a good deal of kookiness.

Could I say honestly he has been cheery in the face of various adversities?  No.  But I didn’t marry Fang for his light heart or devil-may-care attitude.


I didn’t marry him for his Rush fetish, either. I’ve stayed married to him despite his ability to bring any conversation around to Rush lyrics.

I married him because he is steadfast and (though he’d probably won’t believe it right now) resilient.  And I’ve kept him around because he’s a caring spouse and amazing dad.  He’s a chronicler of our lives and a creative soul.


Savor it, folks. It’s Fang. . .in nature!

He’s put up with so much these past couple of years, and as I pursue my academic career, I’m so grateful he’s been willing to play, as he terms it, the “descending spouse.”

I won’t be so cruel as to wish him another 51 years, because I know that’s the last thing he wants.  But I will say this: I wish him happier days and months immediately ahead.  (Let’s plan our escape, Sweetie!)


Nice form, Sweetie. The kicks were great, too.

Happy birthday, Fang.  Lucas and I are so very lucky to have you in our lives.

UPDATE:  Here’s the text of Lucas’s birthday card to Fang.  It’s too sweet not to share, y’know?



It’s not every day I learn from a local TV station’s website that my university has launched a new college:

Boise State University announced Monday that it is building a “business garden” in the form of a new college in the capital city in hopes of “growing” a better business community in Idaho.

President Bob Kustra made the announcement of BSU’s new Venture College Monday afternoon in front of business leaders and students who are hoping to be accepted.

The idea is to allow students an opportunity to compete for start-up funds for their business idea, and then have local business executives help them get that idea off that ground and into the market.

The goal is to launch a new business from a non-traditional college model.

You’d think the university administration might have mentioned this development to, you know, faculty.  And yet I spoke with a passel of humanities and social sciences faculty today, and no one had heard of it prior to this morning.

The website for the new “college” offers a little more information:

Venture College prepares students to launch businesses. This new, non-credit program is open to all full-time students in any major. Students who successfully complete the program receive the Boise State University Venture College Badge. […]

Is Venture College for you?  Led by business executives, Venture College offers students a customized education plan, individual coaching by experts, internships and invaluable experience to launch their own businesses or nonprofits. Be a part of like-minded, focused group of friends making a difference!

What will you receive? You will be eligible to compete for limited start-up funding.  You will get real world experience. Some students will actually launch their businesses while still students.  All will gain skills valuable to employers.

What’s the commitment? Venture College is a two-semester program. It’s flexible and self-paced, but you must be able to participate in a colloquium each Friday from noon to 2 p.m. Students should plan on about spending 10-15 hours a week on Venture College pursuits.

The leadership of Venture College—an entrepreneur, a former CEO, and a former venture capitalist—will, we are told, report to the VP of Research and Economic Development, who reports directly to the university’s president.  The college “has the highest level of university commitment.” Venture College is free to students enrolled full-time at Boise State.

I might not have the exact same objections to this new, erm, venture that some of my readers have. Indeed, I find parts of the “Why Venture College?” page quite persuasive, its use of buzzwords aside.  (I was surprised not to see “strategic dynamism” appear on that page.)

Other parts are not so persuasive, in part because much of the “why” page is vague, or it outright contradicts other efforts of the university:

  • “Boise State is. . .challenging traditional educational strategies and piloting new methods for superior, relevant education.” Then why is the college offering lecture capture and Blackboard to the rest of the university?
  • “Venture College will provide self-paced, on demand access to knowledge, intensive mentoring and an opportunity to compete for resources needed to start a business.”  Self-paced and on demand suggest the program will be largely online, aside from two-hour colloquia on Friday afternoons.  Who is developing and delivering the online content?  (I also am concerned that students who are working to put themselves through school or who have family to care for won’t be able to commit to 10-15 extracurricular hours each week for two semesters.  This seems like an opportunity only relatively young, unburdened, privileged students might be able to pursue.)
  • A badge is not, to put it mildly, a college.

I appreciate that the university is trying new models and is acknowledging, albeit indirectly, that there aren’t jobs in Idaho for many of our graduates—at least not well-paying ones, as Idaho has the highest percentage of minimum-wage workers of any state. (Three-quarters of the jobs created in Idaho last year were service-sector jobs, which are more likely than most to pay the minimum wage.)  Students do indeed need to develop what the university terms the “4 Cs” of 21st-century skills: communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity.

My question is this: Doesn’t a liberal arts education promote the development of exactly these characteristics? I know I emphasize all four of these in my humanities classroom.  And I’m not just emphasizing these in an abstract way.  In fact, the assignment I handed out to my Master of Applied Historical Research (public history) students last night asks students to demonstrate they possess all these skills.  I’m asking students to write a proposal for the development of a mobile app that would be of use to public history professionals.  (You can download the assignment if you’re curious.)  Following this assignment, students will draft a grant application or—perhaps, I haven’t decided—create a slide-deck and pitch for venture capitalists or a foundation to fund the development of the app.

Undoubtedly this assignment will horrify some of you.  And it’s a far cry from the advice I heard at my first NCPH conference a few years ago that the introductory graduate course in public history should cover the basics of museum exhibition development, archival management, and historic preservation practice.  Museum stuff is close to my heart, so I do introduce current issues in the field, and I also provide students with an overview of challenges in historic preservation, but from there, my curriculum deviates sharply from the traditional seminar. If you view the syllabus for the course, you’ll see I have recommended Grantwriting for Dummies and I require students to read The $100 Startup because, regardless of whether they want to start their own consulting firms (and some students do indeed have that goal), students need to think creatively, resourcefully, and entrepreneurially, even if they’re employed by state agency or a nonprofit.

Why has my teaching and mentoring taken this turn? There aren’t many good jobs for public historians in Idaho; the best places to work are already populated by young, bright people who plan to stick around for a while, and many of the state’s museums and historical organizations are atrophying rather than moving forward; my first-year students already have figured out they don’t want to work for them.  My students want to be freelance grantwriters, historical consultants, documentary filmmakers, and museum technologists, and it’s my job to help them along on their individual journeys. Hence my interest in introducing them to MVPs rather than the MRM5.

Frankly, I also am not certain for how long I can tolerate living on a faculty salary that is lower than average, and I’m increasingly aware my spouse labors in a dying industry. Some might argue that traditional higher ed and tenure-line jobs are also going the way of hoop skirt makers. So I’ve spent the past several years studying entrepreneurship, keeping abreast of advances in technology, staying informed about developments in a couple of industries that interest me and in which I suspect I could consult successfully, and generally trying to be ready to “innovate” myself into an entirely new venture on very short notice. (Do I love my job and do I want tenure? Yes. Do I think my current career track is sustainable for the 25-30 years until my retirement? Nope!)

My main objection to Venture College, then, is that my university’s leadership doesn’t acknowledge, and perhaps doesn’t even realize, that faculty are already innovating, already teaching students to be innovative, creative, collaborative, and entrepreneurial—and not just through very “real-world” projects like the one I assigned, but through a carefully crafted combination of readings, viewings, discussions, activities, writing assignments, and presentations.  You know: a liberal arts education with an eye toward 21st-century ways of engaging with the world.

Not-so-random bullets

Back in my cultural studies grad school days, I heard frequent exhortations by left-leaning professors that the classroom is inherently a political space and we should be open about our own political stances. About half of the faculty I heard this from seemed to be saying that students’ own beliefs need challenging (and broadening), while the other half seemed to suggest that only if we come clean about our own political commitments can we be considered good teachers.  After all, we can’t go about criticizing white male [philosophers, scientists, historians, curators, politicians] for adopting a “view from nowhere” if we ourselves aren’t situating our knowledge or, in the case of teachers, our presentation of allegedly objective knowledge, in the context of our cultural habits, beliefs, and values.

Here in Idaho, many of my students aren’t especially eager to hear my feminist perspective on issues.  (On several occasions, I have had male students name the “worst professors” in my college as the ones I’m guessing are most likely to present an overtly feminist perspective on the past and present.) I deliver this same perspective in my courses, I suspect, but it’s much more moderated than it was when I was standing in the front of California classrooms.  I still present the same ideas, but I’m more likely to counterbalance them with ideas to which my most conservative students will be more sympathetic.

So, for example, in the first “half” of the history survey, I have them read Clarence Walker’s Mongrel Nation and we discuss it for a couple of days, but I also have them look at the Thomas Jefferson Heritage Society’s Scholars Commission report on l’affaire Hemings.  I emphasize slavery and gender and a relatively countercultural view of U.S. history throughout the semester, and then we read the Texas state standards for U.S. history.  For me, it’s not a matter of perfect balance–I do usually take a stance at the end of each activity–but of challenging students from both sides of the political spectrum with inconvenient facts. While my students are WTF?ing about why Jefferson isn’t more prominent and asking if the Texas standards aren’t some kind of conspiracy by the extreme right, I ask them why they don’t know more about “Benjamin Rush, John Hancock, John Jay, John Witherspoon, John Peter Muhlenberg, Charles Carroll, and Jonathan Trumbull Sr.”–the founding fathers deemed most significant by the Texas state board.  Could that be some kind of conspiracy?  (Cue sound of minds being blown.)  Such moments open good discussions about how all textbook historiography is political and that history gets practiced by all kinds of people for all kinds of ends.  (Example: Why are so many of the students in my class required to take the wide-ranging survey course instead of courses that would allow them greater space to examine issues in depth?)

My point is this: I make clear to my students that most of them are going to consider me a flaming liberal/crazy Californian/just the type of person who is ruining Idaho.  But then I win their trust, and they usually consider my position.

I owe a good deal of credit to Fang; as I was maturing out of my early-twenties jejeunosity, he modeled the whole walking-a-mile-in-someone-else’s-perspective thing exceptionally well. And he’s still really, really good at it.

I like to think I can be, too.

But there are a couple of issues where I just can’t moderate myself–as anyone who has seen my FB postings the last couple of days can attest.

Gun violence is one of those.

And yet I moved from a state (California) that scored 81 on the Brady Campaign’s scorecard to one that earned–wait for it–a 2.  And not surprisingly (to me, at least), Idaho is also one of the states where people are more likely to kill themselves or others with a gun, accidentally or intentionally.  (Not surprisingly, the map of that data bears a strong resemblance to the 2012 presidential election results.)


People on all sides of the gun control debate (and isn’t that all of us?) let emotion control their beliefs and habits.  (Fear, mostly.)  As we try to figure out how to feel more secure despite this fear, we draw on whatever personal experience we have, whether that be first-hand experience with guns or the cultural context in which we came to know about gun violence.

Over the next several days, I’m going to share a lot of links I’ve been collecting about gun violence, gun control, and gun ownership.  There’s going to be a lot of data and logic, and much of it is going to–surprise!–point out that more regulation of guns is a good idea. There will also be a good deal of personal reflection–this is my personal/academic blog, after all, so the posts are all but required to aspire to public intellectualism before devolving into maudlin solipsism.  First, though, I want to don my good-teacher cardigan and position myself vis-à-vis this subject.  Here are a few not-so-random, er, bullets that may not yet seem to all be related to the same theme:

  • The first time I saw a gun in person, it was my grandfather’s service revolver.  He was a retired police officer, and he told me I should never, ever touch a handgun.  (In the same room–my grandparents’ bedroom–many years later, as he lay dying, he would tell me to stay away from alcohol, drugs, and fast women.  He died when I was only 15 years old, but in later years I learned from my grandmother that he was sort of a walking cautionary tale.)
  • My grandmother disposed of the handgun almost immediately after Grandpa died. Very shortly thereafter, a mentally ill man who had gone off his meds tried to punch through the glass on Grandma’s front door.  He wanted to injure the home’s inhabitants, and yes, he had known there was a gun not far from the front door when Grandpa was alive.  The first thing Grandma said to me after the incident was that she was so glad she had gotten rid of that gun.
  • I grew up in a household free of guns.
  • When I was in high school, I regularly heard gunshots in the neighborhood as I was waiting to be picked up from orchestra practice on Wednesday nights.
  • There were many, many gang members in my high school.
  • I was in high school in Long Beach during the Los Angeles riots. I watched the violence unfold on TV at night, then drove to school the next morning to find the occasional building burned down between my house and the school. Never, however, did I feel unsafe.
  • My senior year, I wrote the obituary page in my high school yearbook.
  • When I was a student there, my high school was 20 percent white. There were 50+ languages spoken at home by its students.
  • I feel most white not when I’m the only white person in a crowd, but when I’m in a crowd full of white people.  I’ve never felt more conscious of my whiteness than I have in Idaho.
  • The only time I feared for my safety sufficiently that I went straight to a police station was when I was pursued on a bike by a white man in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  (I was 18.)
  • I have been a vegetarian for more than two decades, and I aspire to be vegan.  When I really commit myself I can be vegan for weeks on end, and I look and feel awesome.
  • I have a history of serious depression, and I’m not the only one in my home who struggles with it.

Being Strategic about Whatever Comes Next

(This is another über-post.  I’ve been feeling some bloggers’ block lately, and this is my attempt to just get The Big Issues out there so I can refocus.)

Since I came to Boise, I have thrived professionally.  (This isn’t to say that I’ve garnered major grants or become a publishing machine, but I’m establishing a strong foundation for whatever comes next.  My departmental mentoring committee has assured me that I’ve checked all the key boxes for tenure, though I still have two years left on that clock.)

I can attribute this phenomenon primarily to a few things:

  • A clean slate: I tend to do well with a fresh start; I step up to new challenges.  And switching disciplines (from cultural studies → history) while also starting out on the tenure track has been, well, both mind-boggling and fun.
  • Supportive colleagues: my department is ridiculously collegial. My colleagues are open to my crazy ideas and have encouraged an attitude I might describe as “entrepreneurial.”
  • A spouse who is, for too many reasons to list, the best possible dad to Lucas.
  • My (often naïve) fearlessness in speaking my mind, particularly when it comes to technology.  (Maybe more on this in a future blog post. . .)

I am grateful the stars have aligned in such a way.  I’m involved in all kinds of interesting collaborations and initiatives.  If everything continues as it is now, I’d be content to spend the rest of my career here.


(You knew there was a “but” coming, yes?)

The people I brought with me to Boise are, for reasons I won’t go into here but which aren’t of their own making, not thriving to the same extent I am.  It’s becoming ever clearer that it might be beneficial for us (all of us, not just Fang and Lucas) to be closer to family, which ideally means Southern California, where just about all my family lives in the same zip code, and where a pillar of Fang’s family also resides.

Am I actively searching for a job?  Did I even look at the academic job listings this fall? Have I applied for any jobs?  No.

Consider this post a me-putting-it-out-there-to-the-universe that within the next 5-7 years I might like to relocate.  I have some projects I want to finish, or at least see take on lives of their own, and Lucas has expressed a desire to move to California when he’s finished at his current school.  (Is this an announcement that I’m leaving Boise State? Not at all.  In fact, it’s unlikely I will, as no one in my department has left eagerly (retirees possibly excepted) in living memory.  Still, I’m open to change.)


I landed on the tenure track at a pivotal moment in higher education–by which I mean that I can see many universities, including my institution, beginning to pivot away from an instructional and academic model that interests me to one that decidedly doesn’t.  I feel compelled to stay long enough to discourage such pivoting–or, rather, to encourage the institution to pursue a smarter trajectory.

For example, there’s something chafing about being in a college of social sciences at a moment of where the larger university is emphasizing analytics. Suddenly we’re having to input all our faculty activities into a database that–because it’s called “Digital Measures”–I suspect has some kind of algorithm, programmed by the university, that spits out a quantitative assessment of faculty work.  As a humanist, this is problematic on a number of levels–first, as a junior faculty member doing unconventional work, my efforts are especially resistant to quantification.  I’m having a hell of a time fitting my work into any of the drop-down categories, and I don’t know how to handle the first/second/third author thing on conference panels where everyone contributes equally.  Second, and perhaps more obviously, I have a deep-seated philosophical resistance to such quantifying measures, a resistance that goes way beyond my own puzzling situation.

On the instructional side of this pivot, I’m skeptical, nay critical, of MOOCs—or of any online instructional model that assumes students should sit through lectures to learn content that can be tested using multiple-choice exams.  Universities seeking to scale the delivery of content are headed in the wrong direction; they should be looking instead to both broaden and deepen student participation in critical and creative thinking.  Massive courses, especially those driven by students’ content mastery, are not the way to cultivate an intelligent and engaged citizenry.

Which brings me to a related point. . .

Being a public historian in the academy is a sticky wicket

I have launched myself into a paradoxical career space.  I was hired as a public historian, although I wouldn’t necessarily have considered myself one of that species prior to my arrival here.  The further I explore public history theory and practice, the more I find myself emphasizing a vision of historical practice that pretty much goes against what typically happens in academic history, which suggests maybe the academy isn’t the best place for me, philosophically, though it certain is the best place for me temperamentally.  (Again, a subject for another post.)  In brief, I believe that we’re at a technological and cultural moment when it’s silly to continue teaching (in K-16) the same sweeping courses (the Pleistocene to 1877 survey, for example), and that it’s more important to teach students to be thoughtful citizens of the republic–by which I mean that we should be having students do considerably more primary source discovery and interpretation than I’ve seen in the classroom (here and elsewhere).  (I’ve heard a lot of lip service paid to such pedagogical practice, but have observed insufficient implementation.)

We should be emphasizing the necessity not of knowing history well, but of doing history well.  For me, “public history” comprises not merely history undertaken by professional historians for a public audience, but rather the ways the public undertakes and understands history.  With such a perspective, it’s kind of a no-brainer that I need to teach my students how to do history well–which means more that content mastery or writing a good essay in response to texts we have read in class.

I have colleagues (and readers, I’m certain) who believe doing history well means having a foundation in the facts (for example, the canonical history portrayed in U.S. history survey textbooks).  I have to ask: How’s that model been working out over the past century or so, in terms of the historical and scientific literacy of the American public?

I want to be part of an educational solution, and I’m not certain I can do that most effectively from within the undergraduate (or graduate) history classroom.

My own pivoting (or, too damn many paths before me)

One of my favorite career-finding books, and one I recommend regularly to my students, is Barbara Sher’s Refuse to Choose.  In it, she describes “scanners,” bright people who are simultaneously and/or serially interested in diverse and sometimes divergent subjects and careers.  She categorizes scanners according to their intellectual and behavioral patterns, then details the possibilities and pitfalls that accompany life as a scanner. As someone with an M.A. in writing poetry, a Ph.D. in cultural studies, a tenure-track position in a history department, and a professional background that is a crazy quilt of journalism, educational publishing, arts marketing, development communications, hands-on science learning, exhibition development, museum studies, academic technology, and higher ed pedagogy, I definitely identify with Sher’s taxonomy of scanners.  I see many paths available to me, as an academic, employee, or entrepreneur.

Instead of being excited, however, I feel stuck.  That’s largely because financially, moving to Boise was a mistake.  Not only did I take a big salary hit that wasn’t offset by a diminished cost of living, but Fang also had his hours cut and had to become an independent contractor instead of an employee, which means he both took a pay cut and has to pay self-employment taxes.  We’ve been dipping into our meager reserves more regularly than I’m comfortable admitting.  I’m very conscious, then, that my next move must be financially remunerative in a big way.

That stuckness also comes from being overcommitted (as academics are wont to be, but I’m perhaps more entangled in projects and programs than is considered normal in these parts).  It means I don’t have a lot of spare time to explore reasonable new paths.  I hereby declare 2013, then, as the Year of Letting Things Go.

Unfortunately, “letting things go” doesn’t mean just kicking back–in fact, at first it might mean kicking everything up a notch.  So, what might “letting things go” look like for me?

  • Relinquishing responsibility for or participation in projects and programs that aren’t benefiting significantly from my participation.
  • Saying no to most invitations to contribute or collaborate, even though that might mean not extending my network as broadly or deeply as I’d like.
  • Recommitting to, or doubling down on, projects to see them finished up or launched into other hands.  (I’m looking at you, Boise Wiki.)
  • Getting those various half-finished articles out the door.
  • Helping Fang get to a point in his in-progress and proposed projects so that he feels confident carrying them forward.
  • Handing off potential projects and collaborations to grad students to use as their Master’s theses or projects.
  • Hiring and mentoring interns to tackle things that would help them to develop key skills (e.g., writing for a public audience, archival research, technological savvy).

What are the benefits of letting things go by reinvesting in these projects before divesting myself of them?

  • Seeing my little projects and programs out thriving on their own will give me a sense of satisfaction and raise my profile locally and in the field.
  • Clearing brain space for more strategic thinking about with what kinds of projects and programs I become involved.
  • Allowing more time for my extracurricular writing, including blogging and those essays I’ve been wanting to write.
  • A small corps of undergraduate digital history interns tested and trained by me before they apply (as they tend to do) to our public history M.A.
  • I can focus on projects that, assuming I navigate the university’s sponsored projects and intellectual property officers correctly, might actually bring in a little additional income.

What about you, readers and friends?  What’s keeping you occupied these days, and what are your plans for moving forward, in 2013 and beyond?

A Classic Case of Misplaced Belief in Market-Driven Educational “Solutions”

(Source; h/t Audrey Watters)

Last time I checked, Boise State’s 4-year graduation rate was 8 percent.*

No, that’s not a typo.  And its 6-year graduation rate hovers at 26 percent, with an overall graduation rate of 27 percent.  One could quibble and point out that transfer students aren’t traditionally included in the university’s graduation rate calculations, but even if we’re only counting students who begin their college careers at Boise State, 8 and 26 percent graduation rates are pretty damn astounding, and not in a good way.

Not surprisingly, the university is feeling a good deal of pressure from the State Board of Education and the legislature to improve these graduation rates.  In fact, the State Board has set an ambitious goal: 60 percent of Idahoans should have a college degree or some kind of post-secondary certificate by 2020.  (Note the language of the bullet points on the State Board’s College Completion Idaho page–it’s very much about improving efficiency and quantity of post-secondary completion rates, not about quality of education.)

I’m told** by folks allegedly in the know about such things that the completion rate for online courses at Boise State is lower than the completion rate for face-to-face courses.

I’m no mathematician, but it seems to me that’s a pretty simple equation:

already low graduation rates + low completion rates for online courses ≠
improved graduation rates.

(Yes, I have written about this before.)

A digression that is not, you shall see, truly a digression

The University of Virginia, globalized

Image by Shane Lin, and used under a Creative Commons license

I haven’t commented here on the Teresa Sullivan resignation-and-reappointment scandal at UVA, and I wasn’t planning on it.  But plans change, yes?

In case you didn’t watch the whole ugly mess unfold, that link to the Washington Post provides a play-by-play of what the newspaper terms “18 days of leadership crisis.”  In brief, it appears the UVA president was pressured to resign because the university’s Board of Visitors believed she wasn’t leading the university down the right path to online education.  Specifically, their e-mail exchanges show they referred to an article in the Wall Street Journal about the coming changes in higher ed.  That op-ed enthusiastically states:

Moreover, colleges and universities, whatever their status, do not need to put a professor in every classroom. One Nobel laureate can literally teach a million students, and for a very reasonable tuition price. Online education will lead to the substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive)—as has happened in every other industry—making schools much more productive.

While that may seem like a utopian future to the WSJ contributors–and I think they and I have very different definitions of “productive”–it sounds more dirge-like to those of us who work in actual classrooms with non-hypothetical students.

The e-mails sent among the Board of Visitors folks make for enlightening and disheartening reading.  UVA professor Siva Vaidhyanathan captures their essence when he writes, “In the 21st century, robber barons try to usurp control of established public universities to impose their will via comical management jargon and massive application of ego and hubris.”  You should click through to read his entire post at Slate, but this passage bears highlighting:

The biggest challenge facing higher education is market-based myopia. Wealthy board members, echoing the politicians who appointed them (after massive campaign donations) too often believe that universities should be run like businesses, despite the poor record of most actual businesses in human history.

Universities do not have “business models.” They have complementary missions of teaching, research, and public service. Yet such leaders think of universities as a collection of market transactions, instead of a dynamic (I said it) tapestry of creativity, experimentation, rigorous thought, preservation, recreation, vision, critical debate, contemplative spaces, powerful information sources, invention, and immeasurable human capital.

In a follow-up post, Vaidhyanathan writes, “Dragas demanded top-down control and a rapid transition to a consumer model of diploma generation and online content distribution. She wished to pare down the subjects of inquiry to those that demonstrate clear undergraduate demand and yield marketable skills.”

As many faculty at UVA and elsewhere have pointed out, UVA is actually a leader in integrating digital tools and techniques into teaching and research.  Elijah Meeks, a digital humanities specialist at Stanford, praises UVA’s at once measured and innovative approach to the deployment of digital technologies in the humanities, and Vaidhyanathan details some of the successes.  UVA professor Daniel Willingham wonders if Dragas et. al. are even slightly familiar with UVA’s leadership in this area.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch. . .

Because I recently had a conversation with my university’s president that suggested he’s committed to getting this whole online education thing right at Boise State, I was surprised to see him publish a post on the UVA debacle titled “A Classic Case of Public Higher Education up against the Changing Educational Marketplace.” I’m taking the liberty of quoting the entire post:

Here’s the latest example of a public university’s governing board struggling with how to offer educational programming that meets the needs of students in our 21st century cyber world.  Historically, the faculty have control of the curriculum, but it is becoming increasingly clear that new mechanisms of shared governance must be invented to assure that decisions are made in a timely fashion that respond to changing student demands and needs.  Apparently, the University of Virginia President spent too much time justifying the status quo decision-making apparatus of the University and the Board sought new leadership with an urgency about how the University responds to its environment.  Makes sense to me.

That sound you heard? My jaw unhinging.

I had also somehow missed President Kustra’s post on a similar theme from earlier in June.  An excerpt:

Here we have a veteran faculty member in the UT College of Education going over to the “dark side” with the usual and predictable mention of the inability of UT to respond to moves like this given the cutbacks in higher education budgets in Texas.  Could it be that the “dark side” is the “enlightened side”, unencumbered by traditions of faculty and department control of curriculum that has been known to slow things up when universities are responding to rapid changes in the marketplace and community of ideas?

I know it’s hard to recover when the wind is knocked out of you so thoroughly.  Fellow faculty, I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath.

Educators go all Hans Christian Andersen on the ed tech marketplace

We’re fortunate, I think, to have faculty like Vaidhyanathan and Willingham willing to speak out about these issues, as well as folks like Jim Groom, Martha Burtis, Alan Levine, Audrey Watters, Bryan Alexander, George Siemens, Laura Blankenship, Barbara Ganley, Barbara Sawhill, D’Arcy Norman, Mills Kelly, Amanda French, Dave Cormier, Patrick Murray-John, and Gardner Campbell,*** all of whom have, over the past several years, written thoughtfully and passionately about the truly necessary revolutions in digital learning. Another champion for logic in online education is Colorado State University professor Jonathan Rees of More or Less Bunk, who has for many months been pointing out that the Emperor of Online Education has no clothes. Here’s an excerpt from a recent jeremiad:

How much experience in the classroom does Bill Gates have? How much experience in the classroom does Helen Dragas have? Come to think of it, how much experience in the classroom do most edtech entrepreneurs have? While I know a few computer science professors have gotten involved in these startups, what boggles my mind is the number of people basically fresh off the street who seem to think they’re education experts.

(Be sure to also check out Rees’s recent posts “Frankenstein’s Monster,”  “Why Stay in College?,” and “Are College Professors Working Class?”)

There are so many naked emperors in education technology–and far too many college presidents, trustees, and politicians willing to compliment ed tech marketplace “leaders” on their fine new robes.

Why I won’t be teaching online courses at Boise State anytime soon

Although I rarely act on it these days because I’m too busy pursuing tenure****, I have a deep entrepreneurial streak–something that President Kustra and others seem to celebrate in faculty–and an abiding curiosity in how we can best use digital tools to help students develop as learners and citizens. Yet I’m loath to develop any kind of online course for Boise State in part because its intellectual property policy offers a major disincentive to doing so.  The policy, published on the eCampus website, states that faculty don’t retain IP rights to their own courses:

A course (as a designed collection of assembled and authored material) produced under University sponsorship, where the University provides the specific authorization or supervision for the preparation of the course, is a work made for hire (as defined by law and Boise State policy). A course specially ordered or commissioned by the University and for which the University has agreed to specially compensate or provide other support (such as release time) to the creator(s) is a commissioned work, (as defined by Boise State policy). In either case, the copyright to the course will be held and exercised by the university.

Furthermore, faculty members must get permission to re-use their course material at other institutions:

The faculty author/developer retains the right to request permission from the university to use parts of the course or the course in its entirety at another institution or setting. Granting of permission will be at the exclusive and sole prerogative of the university.

It’s funny–I didn’t realize faculty duties added up to “work for hire” (neither does the AAUP) or “commissioned work.”

Still, it’s a bit simple to boil down my objections to online-education-as-usual to intellectual property concerns.  In fact, I’m frustrated that faculty control of e-course IP has been the most-vocalized theme among my Boise State colleagues.  Even if I found myself in a different institutional context, my primary objections to online courses would be more in line with Rees’s than with those whose misgivings about online ed are primarily related to copyright and remuneration.

See, the tools the university and ed tech entrepreneurs expect me to use—course management systems, lecture capture, and publishers’ digital “textbook” packages–are so ridiculously sub-par that I don’t know whether to laugh or scream. I’ve had several conversations with publishers’ reps where they insist on walking me through their online environments and showing me their extensive quiz interfaces even though I tell them that I don’t quiz students or expect them to know any of the “content” that’s covered in the publishers’ sample quizzes.

They just don’t get it.

One bright spot: The Academic Technologies folks at my institution do get it, as evidenced by the terrific mobile learning summer institute they hosted at the end of May.  Still, mobile learning here is in limited release, and too many of the participants were more curious about the BlackBoard app than they were about what they could have their students create or discover with the slick new iPads we all were issued.

I haven’t been present

I’ve been fairly AWOL on this blog of late, and I certainly haven’t been writing as much about educational technology as I did in the old space, circa 2006 to 2010, when the bulk of my job description involved the intersection of pedagogy and technology and when I was presenting at conferences with the Fear 2.0 posse.  Mostly I’ve been too disgusted to write about the “reforms” to Idaho education.  I know I am sick of hearing “reformers” claim that we should fire teachers so we can provide students with more technology–as Audrey Watters points out happened at the Davos-esque Education Innovation Summit.

That said, it’s past time for me to heed Watters’s call for educators to call the bluff of entrepreneurs and uninformed, wealthy folks who want to reform the educational sandbox by melting it down for silicon.  Writing of her absence from that summit, Watters says it most eloquently:

What I learned from the Education Innovation Summit is mostly something that I learned about myself (partly because I’ve learned already about a lot of this corporate ed-tech nastiness, sadly). I learned I have to maintain my presence at these events, even when the attendees make me angry or uncomfortable. I have to continue to “speak truth to power” when it comes to education and its future. I have to be a witness. I have to provide a record. I have to speak up and speak out. I can’t let my fury stop me from writing. I can’t worry about compromising myself by being at the places where the rich and powerful are at play with our collective future, because the greater compromise is to walk away and be silent. I think that’s probably what they want, after all.

As I’ve mentioned here a couple of times, I’ve been experimenting in my history classes with mobile technologies in particular, and I plan to write more about those experiments soon. I’m just now making sense of all the data I collected from my spring-semester students on their experiences with educational technology in my class and outside of it, and I will be applying to the IRB to expand this study to my other classes.  I’m looking at how we can get students using these devices to “do history”–to investigate primary sources, compile data, document people and places, create platforms to disseminate their work, and engage with the public.

Yes, of course I believe technology can be used thoughtfully with undergraduates.  I continue to approach new technologies with curiosity and a good deal of eagerness.

But ed tech entrepreneurs (and others) without classroom experience who are trying to reshape my students’ learning environments in ways that make absolutely no sense? I’m ready to go all Hans Christian Andersen on their asses.



* And oh look, this site suggests it’s 6 percent.

** I’d love to have some more specific figures for you, but apparently my “supervisor” (whomever that may be) needs to submit a request for me to have access to reports in the university’s data warehouse. Unfortunately, since all my computers are Macs and I don’t use Internet Explorer or run a virtual PC, I can’t access that data anyway.

*** Major oversight on my part: I’m not reading enough on this subject written by people of color.  Who do you recommend I read?

**** Which you’d never know from the tenor and content of this blog post, eh?

RBOC, that-time-of-the-semester, highly parenthetical edition

  • Good god—it’s been more than two months since I last blogged.
  • It’s that time of the semester. Paper deadlines and exams swoop down upon undergraduates. Students cry in my office and, quietly, at the back of my classroom—but not about the course. Even the usually-stoic-in-class veterans are teetering. One student veteran recently pointed out that his classmate, also a veteran, is much more, er, complicated than he is, though the latter student had only been to one war, and the former had been in two. (These are not UC Davis students, I am constantly reminded.)
  • I, too, have deadlines galore. Maybe I need to have a good cry in my office.  I suspect I’m teetering and haven’t yet recognized it.  (I look around the unbelievable mess of my home office: yep, definitely teetering.)
  • I decided, amidst all this deadlining, to give up sugar.  (Those of you who have ever had a meal with me know to look out the window for pigs on the wing.)
  • And then I thought, hell, why not give up dairy and eggs, too?
  • It’s only day two of those experiments, but I already feel better.  And for the hundredth time I cite the Seamus Heaney line: “You are fasted now, lightheaded, dangerous”—a great time to blog.
  • My kindergartener is so awesome.  And so is his dad.  In fact, I suspect my kid is awesome in large part due to his dad.
  • Fang’s fiftieth birthday is on Friday. How the hell am I married to a 50-year-old man? (And why do I look closer in age to 50 than Fang does?  I must investigate the attic for a portrait.)
  • Mostly I’m feeling overwhelmed with the little things at work.  So many little things! But summer is coming, and the little things will, because they must, go poof!
  • Big things, not so much with the poofing.  I wrote a proposal to Academic Technologies to make our public history master’s degree the university’s “mobile learning” program, and (to, I think, the great disbelief of my colleagues) our department won that CFP. That project will come home to roost in a big way this summer.
  • Our interim chair, who is literally counting down the days to the end of his year in that position, yesterday asked me if I was director of our public history program. Um, no. Regardless, he assigned me to speak as the director of said program when our accreditation visitors arrive next week. “Director” comes with more money, yes?
  • I’m very much in absorption mode, an intellectual sponge. Reading, thinking, reading. Downloading articles. Jotting down notes. And then—miracle of miracles—messing around the edges of articles that need substantial revision.  This is usually a sign that Big Writing is on the horizon. That’s good.  Big Writing must get done.

How are things with you, dear readers?