Monthly Archives: May 2012

Graduate reading courses: boon or bane?

Is the language exam requirement impractical for many? You tell me.

Private University asked me  to handle a summer Graduate Language for Reading course. This is one of those mixed situations where I stop and think: A new course to add to the CV!

This is immediately followed by: Ugh, will it do them any good? A reading course during the summer. That’s not a lot of time.  This is also an interruption to my personal summer research, reading etc plans.

Answered by: But… this will fund a potential research trip in August.

In short, I’m wary of summer language institutes, though I covered one of my research languages during a summer institute.  It was like being on one of those carnival rides where you lose all sense of time and focus: hard, fast, no view of the ground (while repeating a mantra of I hate language X, I hate language X.)  But, I passed. The fall back is that 1 year later, I remember so very little of the fast-paced grammar and translation we learned in that course. To be fair, I still have the grammar and the large dictionary and think with some fiddling I could muddle through things until I built my proficiency again.

As someone who does his own work in Romance language literature, I feel that the ability to read research in other languages is extremely important. I also recognize that whereas many fields absolutely need other-language research, some may not.

In an article for the Chronicle, Edward White lays out the central thoughts on the requirement in general: students fret, hassle, fail, get grumpy over this hurdle. Faculty recognizes the problem but generally we all agree it needs to stay. (I fall into this camp: can we really be researchers without the ability, or proof of an ability, to expand past our comfortably accessed research?) White proposes that we stop allowing students to meet the requirement with “trivial” course work (glorified grammar and syntax reviews mercifully conducted by language department faculty) and start getting tough to show that we take it seriously. Demonstrate proficiency or do not move on.  He proposes that we stop admitting students who don’t have proficiency before arriving. (I can hear the screaming on this one!) He says:

The second argument seems more persuasive than it actually is. It is that if we made foreign-language proficiency an admissions requirement, our graduate enrollments would decline, perhaps sharply. That might happen if some institutions took the step while many others did not. Then students who could not meet the admissions requirement at University A would not even apply there but would instead attend University B, which allows its graduate students to meet or pretend to meet the requirement after admission. University A would have to be prepared to lose some less-qualified students, but its higher standards would surely make it more attractive to some students and faculty members.

Is a summer reading course a boon or a bane? Without prior language experience, it has the potential to own your life for that period and be extremely frustrating.  On the other hand, getting it ‘out of the way’ during the summer months will stop it from interfering with your normal teaching/coursework.

Here’s Secret Blogging Seminar’s take on making it a more productive experience. 

What was your experience? Do you have language reading horror stories? Amazing success stories? Is there a ‘perfect’ language reading course?

Cerith Wyn Evans



My love of Cerith Wyn Evans knows no bounds!  His multi-sensory creations have opened up new ways of reflecting on M, my main literary squeeze, and have captivated my imagination.  I’ve never been fortunate enough to be present at an exposition, but I admire from afar!

It was in searching for material related to my own work that I found Notes from a fruit store’s reflections and Cerith Wyn Evans.

Generally educating?

This is an old-ish article on the CUNY Pathways initiative from the Chronicle about a debate that is still raging as of five months later in CUNY’s immediate geographical vicinity, if not farther.

The topic of general education/core requirements is one of my personal soap boxes, about which I have very strong opinions.  We’ve all been lamenting the trend of declining general education standards across the boards. Though CUNY’s initiative is one of the more publicized and polemic initiatives that I am engaged in.

I’m not weighing in here in long form to spare the inevitable rant. But, at the end of the day I cannot help but scream that this is a bandage over gangrene. The problem of a dumbed-down curriculum will continue to fester, students will have learned less while reports look nicer and administrators can say to politicians “We’re doing, we’re changing, we’re  innovating.”

The race to the almighty Diploma accelerates by means of  sacrificing its content.

And merrily did he…

… wrap up the semester at Private University with an out of class-time scheduled final review for four sections.  Public University ends classes in two weeks. I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.  Not looking forward to the five (total) sections of finals I will be grading here in a week or so. But, I am thrilled for the end of the month. Uninterrupted reading, research, maybe a jaunt out of Big, Overbearing City for a while.

Interesting new reading on my primary author that delivers the rare gift of unique, cogent and lucid observations.  Every time I really hunker down into a new piece of scholarship that fascinates me, I am disappointed that I can only ever read for so long before other responsibilities force me to set the book down.  Any time I really engage my research I want to crawl into my cozy research hole and disavow the rest of the world. Given my continued enthusiasm for reading, writing and learning (I scoff at you, burn out!), I think my project would move much, much faster if I could really give into it and clear my plate of  the teaching. I’d miss my students terribly, though. They have a way of keeping me closer to the ground, less cerebral in my daily life and of much better humor (not to mention keeping my social skills honed).

When it all gets to be too much, the teaching, the keeping up with the research, I usually develop a temporary obsession as a pressure bleed off in my down time.  The current obsession takes the form of documentaries (NOVA, things on physics, space) and I’m working through Hanks’s From the Earth to the Moon.  Current Public Transit travel reading: Brian Greene’s The Elegant Universe.  

What does everyone else do to bleed off the pressure when their minds just shut down?


Help! My students ate my doctorate

or.. it was my cat. Or… my printer jammed. Or.. gay mafia.

It is true. I am (yet another person) blogging to chronicle the slow churn to insanity that teaching full time and trying to finish a PhD has put into motion. I have convinced myself that holding a full time lecturer position is very good practice. (of course, the salary is convenient).

Yet, this wonderful exposure to department duties (re: I’ll do whatever you ask because I want my contract renewed!) leaves my “real work” (aren’t we all so pithy in the tower) on the table waiting to be read, waiting to be written… waiting to be attempted.

And so, almighty Gods of Research, I confess before you that I am indeed a Sinner. Absolution has been granted by my committee who finds this position to be “extremely important” to my professional development.  “You’re on schedule” one says.  Yet another joins: “You can slow down because you’ve never dallied”  Enablers!

In truth, I’m so very grateful for this job, enjoy my colleagues and I’m thrilled when my students achieve. Yet, there are four (forty?) books on my desk that are starting to accumulate their own dust – I”m not sure if they’re generating it or collecting it but I am positive life may sprout soon.

I want to engage them. I want to know their dry, methodical secrets. But the 90 chapter exams sit next to them saying: “You hate us, but we pay your rent. We win!”

And so, the good intentions of keeping the job, paying the rent and giving students (moderately paced?) feedback pave the way to Academic Sins.  Mea culpa.

Any one in the same boat with some wisdom on fighting the fatigue and meeting personal goals?