Apple Care and regular backups are your friends

My hard drive failed last Wednesday night. On Thursday morning the Apple Care folks talked me through a number of procedures to try to get it running again; we failed; they sent me a shipping box.
The box arrived Friday morning shortly before I left for a conference. I got my powerbook packed away and DHL called in time for them to pick it up on Friday afternoon.
Monday morning the web page showed that my computer had arrived; by noon they were repairing it; at 5:19 p.m. they shipped it back. I got it this morning before I left for class!
5 day turnaround – and if it hadn’t crossed over a weekend?
I’m very pleased, all in all — AND I had a complete back up, so it has been easy to get back to normal.
I’d like to thank the colleague who loaned me a spare laptop for the duration!

How to GET to College Graduation

One of the best regular things to read on education in America is the Washington Post “Class Struggle” columnn by Jay Mathews; this week he has an especially interesting one about a government report on success in college — how to graduate.
Lots of the advice is particularly aimed at the less-likely-to-succeed, but some of it explains things that have been bothering me here at these Colleges, a place where really all our student could do the work pretty easily. Here are some excerpts:

But many of our assumptions about how they managed that feat are wrong, Adelman says. For instance, despite our national obsession over picking the right school, Adelman shows is it not where you go to college but how you use that time in college that most closely correlates with getting a college degree. If you earn at least 20 credits your first year, don’t take more than one break from college of more than a semester (not counting summers) and keep your grades up, your chances of getting a bachelor’s degree are very good.
Also, Adelman says, it is not true that freshman year is the make or break time for undergraduates. Ninety percent of them show up for sophomore year, although those with bad first-year grades are unlikely to survive much longer.

Here in the highly selective liberal arts zone we believe in the where a lot — part of what we sell is admissions anxiety — but he makes a great point. Here’s one that I wish we would take to heart:

He says colleges that allow students to drop courses with no penalty long after an initial sampling period, or allow students to repeat no-credit remedial courses, are creating conditions that raise the likelihood that those students will not graduate. They are also are depriving other students of a chance to fill those seats.

We have an especially late drop deadline and a horrific policy of an “honorable withdrawal” that does both of those things. I have had a number of advisees who “walk but don’t graduate” — who are allowed to walk across the stage and get an empty diploma holder; if they complete the 1 or 2 courses within a set time and transfer the credit back they can get a diploma for their original class year. The usual patter is that these students have used their honorable withdrawals and dropped below the minimum number of courses in more than one semester. I’d never heard anyone point out that those students are keeping others out of the seats — which now seems incredibly obvious I’ll try to use that argument the next time we discuss the policy. And it’s not that I don’t appreciate a marginally smaller class than I had intended when the drop deadline comes close and a few seats empty out, but I do think about those who I turned away earlier in the term.

Field Trips for Peace

high school Peace Studies – protesting for credit.

Students might spend one class period listening to a guest speaker who opposes the death penalty and another, if they choose, standing along East West Highway protesting the war.
But that, students said, is part of the course’s appeal.
“We’re all mature enough to take it all in with a hint of skepticism,” said Megan Andrews, 17. “We respect Mr. McCarthy’s views, but we don’t absorb them like sponges.”

Yeah, I’ve always found that offering students course credit for standing around outside is very conducive to participatory learning. Civic engagement, protesting on school time.
And if someone got hit by a car? I’m really surprised the district doesn’t put a stop to this silliness masquerading as instruction on those grounds, alone.

Winter Wonderland

We’ve had such a warm winter so far that I’m telling myself I shouldn’t complain about the occasional single-digit morning – and it’s already 14.7! The sky is blue, the snow is so powdery neighbors are sweeping rather than shoveling, and it is (after all) Upstate New York in February.
Go here and take a look at the February page from the Très riches heures of Jean de Berry. Our sky is much bluer today.

Business Education Credentials / Law Education Credentials

This is an interesting article at about the shortage of people with doctorates in business. Here’s the problem:

A 24-year-old with an MBA can look at spending at least four or five years on a graduate assistant’s stipend or go into business with a starting salary of perhaps $60,000 or more, said Ashland University management professor Richard Symons, president-elect of the Association of Collegiate Business Schools and Programs, a business education accreditation organization in Overland Park, Kan.

I’ve always been interested in the model that lets law schools hire people with nothing more than a jumped-up bachelors degree (yeah, yeah, J.D. – remember that the real specialist degree some people in the field actually get is still a Master of Laws in Tax) teach graduate school while the business schools seem to have tried, at least, to hire people with doctorates in relevant fields.
I understand that lots of law schools hire people with the Ph.D. in some field, but they’re still very much a minority.

Roma! Gelato!

Amy Welborn is off to Rome for the first time!
I forgot to recommend a gelateria until just now – not that you can go tragically wrong in Rome, so long as you don’t eat Blue Ice – but here’s my STRONG recommendation:
My best Roman friend sent me to a place on the Via della Seggiola (it’s the street that runs beside a high courts building) a block short of the Tiber. It’s about 4 blocks down the Via Arenula from the Largo Sacra Agentina (a major bus/tram intersection). Walk down the Via Arenula, turn right on the Via della Seggiola, and the ONLY gelato place (whose name is escaping me) is AMAZING.
The owner is past president of the national association of those who make gelato by hand (associazione del gelato artigionale – a sign worth looking for on ANY gelato place!).
My favorite flavor is rice (“riso”). Since Italians think anyone who eats a single flavor at one serving is a barbarian, let me suggest rice in combination with almost any pale fruit (banana or pineapple) and a chocolate varietal.

Harvard President Gives Up

Another failed attempt to change academic culture — not that anything I read about President Summers made me think he had any great new ideas or a chance of succeeding, but he was a high-powered academic himself, once, so he wasn’t an outsider.
Here’s a beautiful bit of disingenuity in the New York Times coverage:

Though Harvard negotiated a university professorship for Dr. Summers — the highest faculty position, with rights to teach in any department — his friends said they did not know if he would take it.
His sabbatical year next year, they said, may be a moment for him to survey his opportunities, including Wall Street or the possibility of advising a Democratic presidential campaign. Several of these people declined to speak on the record because they did not want to be seen as divulging Dr. Summers’s thoughts.

I love the “sabbatical” for departing administrators — it’s our way of wanting to spend more time with our families.
Here’s Robert KC Johnson on the situation.
Here’s Tim Burke (his point 2 is especially useful on the reactionary temperament of faculties).
Here’s Alan Dershowitz, who has a horse in the race. The rest of us (me, the other links) care about the implications for education but have no particular ties to Harvard.


O.K., so I’m cleaning out the spam this morning — there was only one, but it took me to comment #666. Honest (remember, I restarted the blog in January 05 after losing everything to a database meltdown). So I tell mt.blacklist to purge it and it comes back and reports that the URL behind the comment is
Satan? Running online pharmacies?
That’s where all this spam has been coming from!

Washington’s Birthday – How President’s Day Used to Be Celebrated

I’m going to post again on the 19th century celebration of Washington’s Birthday in Upstate New York (here’s a link to what I posated last year’s President’s Day):
This is an entry from the journal of Abner Jackson, president of Hobart College from 1858 to 1867:

February 22nd.
Washington’s birthday. A holiday in College. Morning Prayer at 8:30. College celebration in Linden Hall at 7:30 P.M. Washington’s Farewell Address was read by George Boswell. There was an oration by B. F. Lee and also a poem by Henry H. VanDeusen. Very frequent applause. I presided as President of the College. Music from a brass band. All went off well and felicitously.
I wrote a prayer to-day for this festal occasion.

Some notes: Linden Hall was an opera house in downtown Geneva which the College rented for special events. The holiday in College seems to have been annual (from 1858 until 1861, at least, which is how far I’ve read), though of course it didn’t always conflict with the Church Year; there was always a reading of the Farewell Address and an oration. Hobart is an Episcopal college and in those days had daily prayer. William Smith College, by the way, is not church related. William Smith was himself a Spiritualist and in the Charter for William Smith College it is specified that the young women will not be required to attend any religious services. Hobart men were required until 1967 to attend at least a certain number of chapel services each week. Jackson mentions writing a litany or prayer for the occasion three or four times in the years he was at Hobart.

Papers. Piles and piles of papers.

I try – really I do – but there’s something about team teaching and syllabus building that ALWAYS leaves me grading papers from more than one class at the same time; in a semester with a grand total of 88 students that can be a little time-consuming.
Gosh some people are bad readers, too. Right now I’m taking a break from papers about sculptures on campus (Elizabeth Blackwell and the scissors) to grade papers comparing 3 versions of the medieval “cradle tale.” — the most familiar to most folks is probably Chaucer’s version, the Reeve’s Tale. It’s tiresome how many of them (and I’ve only marked about 10 so far) miss the simple difference that Boccaccio’s version (the Sixth Story from the Ninth Day) is about an innkeeper rather than a miller.
It’s hard to write a good paper if you haven’t read closely.

Subject lines that disappoint

Eliminate all weakness and become the king!
Unworthy though I am, I was willing to become the king for the good of the rest of you . . . but no. It’s another ad for ‘performance enhancers.’
So you’re left imagining the glory of my benificent rule!

Course Blog for Class Discussion

I’m trying yet another little experiment.
I’m teaching Art 101 – Cave Painting Through Gothic – as a big lecture course this term. I have 46 students. Today we were looking at the transition from Black Figure to Red Figure in Greek art as part of studying style – “what do we mean by style in art?” kind of stuff; fun, fun, fun, if you’re me, but it’s hard to do discussion.
I finished with the Death of Sarpedon krater by Euphronios currently in the Met and got to open a new can of worms — the “who owns art?” kind of stuff. Because there’s so little room for discussion (or so hard to get 46 people to talk evenly) I’ve used the class web page to post a bunch of links about the Met, stolen art, and the Italian government and asked them to read and comment there.
I’ll tell you if it works!

Oh my! It looks like I haven’t ever commented on this! I find it hard to believe. Here’s some background:

Here’s an article from Newsday (the NYTimes takes its stories away for subscribers only behind a firewall too soon!) about the settlement.
Here are two notes from David Nishimura at Cronaca.