Selling the MAPH

One last semi-regular post–I promise.  For those who have been here from the beginning might recall that one of my concerns from way back at the pre-colloquium series of posts was how the MA delivered by the MAPH program would be perceived.  That is, while one is likely referred to the UChicago MAPH department due to their application to a Ph.D. program in History, Classics, Literature, Philosophy, etc. the degree awarded is a Masters of Arts degree in the Humanities generally rather than in a particular discipline.  So, one fear was that this cross-disciplinary approach–while allowing all sorts of awesome class cherry picking–might actually scare off an admissions or search committee comparing one applicant with a MA in Philosophy and another with an MA in Humanities.

So, what’s the final verdict you ask?  Well, from my oh-so-limited experience at applying to small, private liberal arts schools I can really honestly say that–“they don’t really know the difference or particularly care.”  It seems that most schools that grant an interview to an applicant or are otherwise seriously interested ask for a grad school transcript anyway which is used to peek behind the awarded degree and see if the candidate was actually educated in the topics/traditions that the potential school is looking for.  This means that even if your search committee is savy enough discern and have preferences for a particular approach to a given discipline–analytic v. continental in philosophy, objectivist v. constructivist in education, etc.–they will use the classes you took and the instructors of those classes to decide whether your degree really qualifies you to attend or teach at their institution.  However, it actually seems that–without prodding from an opinionated departmental head or within the context of some established debate–the little interdisciplinary differences that academics use to distinguish those with competing approaches or philosophical commitments just aren’t the sorts of marks that will distinguish one candidate from another.

Now, all that being said.  The beauty of the MAPH degree in “The Humanities” is that one can easily make a case that they are qualified to teach a broader range of classes than merely those within a particular discipline.  For example, I have successfully argued that my experience at UChicago qualifies me not only to teach history of philosophy courses but might also allow me to teach art history through the lens of aesthetics and even academic writing.  If one intends to teach at one of those schools that employs a Core or Gen Ed collection of professors then the MAPH can easily be sold as an advanced degree in a broad range of topics useful for humanities core classes.

So, if one really needs to demonstrate a graduate level grasp of a particular discipline or sub-discipline, the MAPH MA won’t hurt ones chances of doing so–assuming that the courses a MAPHer took and their grades in those courses bear out that argument–and if one needs to have a “fuzzy” degree that allows them to claim aptitude in a multidisciplinary “generalist” approach, the MAPH MA seems tailor made for doing so.  The challenge comes in knowing when–and to whom–one needs to argue for its specificity and when–and to whom—its breadth.

…..

This is the final semi-regular post in the AfterMAPH series.  I do reserve the right to add future posts for the purposes of reporting on MAPH graduate’s experiences and opinions of the value of the Master of Humanities degree in The Real World!  or in order to amend or update details or policies related to the MAPH experience.  The daily traffic on the website has cooled down considerably over the summer–due in part to the lack of new posts and also to the fact that most MAPHers past and present are trying to enjoy some time away from the specter of UChicago–but I am gratified to note that web traffic still provides occasional banner days with upwards of 75 or a hundred people stopping by to browse the archives.  It is my hope–as always–that this website will provide the kind of insider information that will allow future prospective MAPH students to make informed decisions and provide some encouragement and advice for those in the midst of writing their first analytic exposition or feeling the weight of their thesis deadline.  It has been a pleasure to serve all of you on the net and to have worked with some really first-rate people including the site’s regular contributor Bill Hutchison, and guest bloggers Vincent Mennella, Alissa Smith, and Robert Minto.

As I sit in my new office in my new position as an adjunct racing toward a new school year where I am firmly–and finally–no longer on the student side of the glass, but one of the professors, my time in Hyde Park is already a lifetime ago.  My recollections of UChicago have solidified into anecdotes rather than old news or even memories–their quick transmutation perhaps owing to the spirit of alacrity in which they were initially forged.  I don’t miss Hyde Park.  What I set out to do, I have done–at least for now–and though I miss many who still reside there, we are all getting on with the business of our lives.  I am not haunted by UChicago the way that I feel oppressed by my remembrances of childhood nor return to it in order to relive and fantasize about some happier time.  If anything, Hyde Park stands as a ongoing symbol of a finite part of my life–a living monument to a transitional phase of my own academic growth.  While I might someday return, I feel no need to revisit it to prove that I basked in–for a time–some measure of its greatness.  The fingerprints of the place are all over me, but it persists and grows apart from me in order to mold and change others as I have been molded and changed.  More briefly still, I recommend the Grey City to you though know that one does not leave as one entered–though the change is painful, it is also for the best.

My best to all of you, my readers.

Cheers,

MAPHman

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AfterMAPH – Picking up the Pieces Part 3

Yesterday’s post attempted to lay a groundwork for today’s post by addressing some of the misconceptions that graduates might have about letters of recommendation and the process of securing them.  The fundamental tenants argued in that post included the ideas that a) Professors have no obligation to write you a strong letter, so make writing a letter as convenient a task as possible, b) You are not nearly as memorable as you think you are, so include samples of your work in your request for a LoR and mention those connections that you did make with the professor or administrator–even if they seem off-topic, and c) The goal is merely to collect strong recommendations, so only solicit letters from people willing to write strong recommendations–even if their names are “up in lights.” So, how best one go about requesting a letter while remaining cognizant of these claims–either within the world of electronic document storage or without?

A One-two Punch: Stage One – Informal Requests

I prefer to approach the process of requesting LoR as an exercise asking the question “what has my professor agreed to grant me?” rather than assuming that he or she owes me something.  The initial letter, therefore, has a tentative feel and really tries to provide reasons for all its requests.  In contrast, once the faculty or administrator has consented to write a strong letter, the electronic request made through Interfolio can be much more brief and direct–while still providing the information necessary for the writer to produce a good letter. The informal request has five parts: 1) Re-introduction/relation, 2) Purpose for requesting a letter, 3) program of study/professional position description, 4) Reference materials, and 5) instructions for response.

1) Re-introduction/relation

My name is MAPHman and I just graduated University of Chicago’s MAPH program this past Saturday. I took your Fall class “The Aesthetics of Hume and Kant, the Winter course “Philosophy and Literature,” and the Spring’s “Ordinary Language Philosophy and received an A in each course.  Allow me to thank you once again for the time that you spent both inside and outside class with me. It really meant a lot just to have somebody that I’ve looked up to for so many years be willing to talk aesthetics and discuss my future in the discipline.

The purpose of this section is just to remind the potential letter writer who you are and how they know you.  On the formal side this is the place to remind them that they were your instructor for particular courses, lead the workshop that you attended, or advised you on your thesis.  On the more informal side, this would be the place to remind them of your shared interests, allude to a conversation or event–in which you had some part– that would be memorable for the letter writer, or a general statement about your relationship with them.  The goal of this brief introductory paragraph is to jog the letter writer’s memory as to who you are and how they knew/know you so that what follows in the request can  be connected to a particular person–you.

2) Purpose for requesting a letter

While I already have a position secured teaching philosophy of art and philosophy of language at my alma mater, Myskatonic University, I do plan to apply to Ph.D. programs in the next five years which is why I am asking for your recommendation regarding my capacities for future graduate study at the Ph.D. level.

When outlining the purpose for which you are requesting a letter it is important to manage the scope of your explanation.  In my undergrad days I–and I think think most–were told that the best LoR are highly tailored to a specific program at a particular school with an individual adviser–something like: I am applying to Yale’s philosophy program with the hope of pursuing my doctorate under philosopher and art historian Karsten Harries.  The problem with this approach under the new electronic model, is that letters of recommendation are requested and submitted one time and need to be applicable to all the schools to which a graduate plans to apply.  Now, that’s not to say that a student couldn’t request new recommendations down the road, but at the very least, the expectation within this new system is that one letter from one writer will suffice for one accademic application season.  However, while it might seem that the best way to avoid a too narrow scope of explanation is to write an extremely general one like “I plan to continue my academic studies at some point in the future.”  However, this explanation will likely yield both a bland, nonspecific letter and cause your potential letter writer to wonder why they are even being bothered at this point in time to write a recommendation that might not see the light of day for many, many years.

If you know of some reason why your request for a letter might seem strange or out of character, this would also be the time to explain your reasoning.  For example, if it is a well-known fact that you intended to pursue a professional position, but are now requesting academic recommendation or if–as in my case–the professor in question knows that I already have a job, then this is your chance to explain yourself.

3) Program of study/professional position description

My hope is to continue working on questions related to the “meaning” of art as communicated by the inclusion or exclusion of formal elements interpreted through some hermeneutic system akin to Grice’s Cooperative Principle which considers artistic intent as the guiding principle of critic’s interpretive work. As such my graduate work would likely follow lines similar to Noël Carroll’s work in intentionalism but with greater concern to build a theoretical model of how visual works communicate as analogous with methods and purposes of ordinary human conversation.

In case its not already obvious, the paragraph explaining your academic or professional goals should–at least for the academic side–bear a strong resemblance to your graduate study application’s “Statement of Purpose”–albeit in a condensed presentation.  The goals here are to demonstrate a continuity between the work that the letter writer has seen you complete and the work that you propose to do in the next stage of your academic career.  If this letter of recommendation is designed to further a professional goal, then this is equally the time to demonstrate continuity between the work that the recommender can attest to and the work that will be required in a proposed professional position.

This particular example was sent to a professor that shares many of my philosophical convictions and would be unlikely to have concerns about the plausibility of the work that I propose to do.  However, in the case the the letter writer would have questions about or object to certain portions of your proposed course of study, these questions and objections should be anticipated and then either rebutted or at least acknowledged.  This paragraph might easily become the longest in your initial, informal request, but if it does its job then the gloss version in the final request need not be as detailed.

4) Reference materials

I have enclosed the three papers I wrote for your classes as well as my Masters thesis on the possibility of ethical constraints on appropriative art. I thank you for being so generous with your time both past and–as it relates to this recommendation–future.

This section penultimate section should list and–if necessary–justify the attached samples of your work that you have enclosed.  Obviously, well received seminar papers from a course that you took with the professor should be included and a copy of the Masters thesis you wrote if applicable.  However, don’t overlook other documents that you might have prepared for other classes that relate both to your proposed course of study and the letter writer’s areas of interest.  The writer may not read everything you send, but at least it will be available to them if they should need it.  Many LoR requesters forget to include these sample documents which forces faculty to either strain to remember who wrote which paper when, request papers later, or even tempt them to just deny the request as a whole rather than wrestle the necessary resources from the graduate.  Because these papers are long, and sometimes dry, and the summer vacation is already upon us, I think it is a good idea to thank faculty again for their willingness to give of their time as a way of apologizing for what you are asking them to do on their time off.  I don’t know if it works, but I know that it can’t hurt.

5) Instructions for response

If you are willing to write a letter strongly recommending me for future graduate studies in the areas I have outlined on the basis of my previous work, please let me know and I will contact Interfolio in order that an official request may be made.  I look forward to hearing from you!

Sincerely,

MAPHman

If the prof says “Yes,” then you’ve done something right: you’ve provided them with all the resources they need to, provided a justification for why they should, and made it conveinient enough that they will write you a strong letter of recommendation.  In tomorrow’s post we will consider how to follow up informal request with its official counterpart and discuss what elements may be eliminated from that final request.

 Tomorrow: A One-two Punch: Stage Two – The Formal Request

MAPH: In the Balance Part 5

The fiercest charges made against the MAPH program center on the question of its value. Some outside the UofC see the program as a “piggy bank” that only pays for the lucrative scholarships given to attract Ph.D. students. Some within the University have suggested that the MAPH program is merely a simplified and condensed version of the much better University of Chicago undergraduate Core program. How would you respond to these charges and how would you explain the value of the program to someone not familiar with the University of Chicago or the MAPH program?

*****

The Worth and Value of the MAPH

Bill:

I get surprisingly (to myself) angry and defensive about the question of whether MAPH is “only” a cash cow, or if it is “worth” it. I mean, it REALLY boils my blood. While I understand the desire to know, to have some reassurance that the prospective risk will be worth the return on investment, it just seems so distasteful. It’s like reading the jacket copy of a book to try and decide if this story will change your life, or running actuarial tables on potential life partners to determine whether or not they’re likely to live long enough to spend some of your own limited life with them. It perverts the process of education, like teaching to the test. By and large, this is a question asked by people who want to know how life will be in lieu of living their way toward the answer, to paraphrase Rilke.

I would suggest that there are more important questions, such as, “Am I ready to dedicate serious intellectual and psychological resources to this project?” or “Is my ego going to get in the way of my education?” I suspect that once the more important questions have been encountered honestly, the less important questions, such “What am I gonna get out of a MAPH degree?”, will cease to be a matter of such urgency. If one doesn’t know about University of Chicago or MAPH, it is better to email current students or visit the program than it is to share uninformed snippets of third-hand grousing. Having pored over the internet looking for those snippets, I can now say with certainty that my one pre-MAPH campus visit told me worlds more than the Gradcafe forums ever did.

Don’t confuse the worth of MAPH with its value. The one has nothing to do with the other.

MAPHman:

Okay, I’m pretty sure that Bill is going to punch me–hard and in the face when he sees me tomorrow at graduation–for addressing the question in this way, but as much as I agree with Vincent’s post about the worthiness of the University of Chicago’s scholarly community and Bill’s answer emphasizing the need for students to go into MAPH with the right mindset, I’m going to answer the question pragmatically, like a bean-counter–and then back-pedal like crazy.

The MAPH program is a remedial program. Just like the 100 level Math course I had to pass with a “C” or better in college because my ACT Mathematics scores were too low, the MAPH program is designed to provide graduates of the nation’s multiform and myriad BA programs with the skills that they were not taught or failed to learn in their undergraduate programs. Many of us, even on this blog, have admitted that we came to UChicago with massively subpar close-reading and academic writing skills that have been greatly improved by the application of the Core and thesis’ tough love. I count myself as one of the better–though not nearly the best–prepared for the rigorous academic challenges of graduate studies in my discipline. I had already presented at national conferences, published work in my field before coming to MAPH, and spent much of my time as an undergraduate reflectively trying to “get behind” the game of the academy and understand its demands for scholarly writing, and yet I still was caught flat-footed by the first Analytic Exposition. The MAPH program is most successful doing what it was most tailored to do: helping rejects from Ph.D. programs acquire the skills they need to compete with students that learned how to read and write academically the first time around (assuming that those schools even attempted to teach those skills).

Now, this is not to say that MAPH students come from subpar schools or are subpar people. I came from a great school that provided me with a massive wealth of content knowledge in my discipline and at least an inkling of the demands of true scholarship. However, my school did not place a high priority on preparing its students for graduate studies–and especially not graduate studies at the level of the University of Chicago. Frankly, I think the number of undergraduate institutions that actually do succeed in making successful future top -ten-school grad students with their four-year BA programs can probably be numbered on one hand. So, I am not bad-mouthing the schools that most of us attended, but suggesting that the level of preparation required to secure a position in a top-tier grad program has become so stratospherically high and must necessarily be so precisely tailored to the needs of those institutions that the vast majority of schools would find creating BA programs designed to meet those standards a mismatch with the needs of the majority of their students.

As such, I can understand why some UChicago undergrads have suggested that the MA program is a watered-down version of their BA’s Core program, because in a very real sense that is exactly what it is. The purpose of MAPH–what it does right and with a fiery vengence–is give students from schools other than the University of Chicago a chance to develop the skills that any UChicago undergrad has already been taught as part of their common Core. Now, I would also want to add that MAPH students–having had more experience in their respective fields and a greater exposure to academia–still generally write better papers, make more insightful contributions in class, and are generally better scholars than University of Chicago undergrads. However, that is a testimony to the effectiveness of the Core’s “Foundations” class and the thesis writing frameworks at remedying our lack of academic reading and writing skills.

Now, to the question of the value of that remedial help: if there were a program out there that taught students as well and as quickly the academic skills that the MAPH program’s Core supplies and it was cheaper than the MAPH, then that program would be a better value. While UChicago’s MAPH program does have the advantage of borrowing a “world-class faculty” there is some question as how much marrow even the most committed Masters student can suck from the bone of the MAPH curriculum simply because their exposure to that faculty pool is extraordinarily limited.

Further, presumably part the Masters education should be provisioning students with a comprehensive overview of their discipline. However, the scant seven open slots of UChicago MAPH curriculum need to be filled very, very carefully to provide the same level of foundational content knowledge generally expected in a traditional two year Masters program–and I don’t think that the MAPH’s “interdisciplinary studies in the humanities” approach tends to yield a broad and balanced survey. What one would lose in the absence of Chicago’s scholarly environment or world-class faculty one would at least have the possibility of making up with a more consistent, meaningful engagement with a slightly less jet-setting collection of professors.

All that being said, I am not aware of any other Masters program from any other school that provides the level of remedial academic assistance that the MAPH dispenses so faithfully–so UChicago’s MAPH is worth every penny the program charges. The MAPH program does best what it was most designed to do and it does it with an efficiency and effectiveness absolutely unmatched. For the student that needs the remedial skill training UChicago provides, we have already demonstrated that the program is valuable. For the student who intends to study at a top-shelf school’s Ph.D. program that demands those skills, the MAPH must also be seen as worth the expense of time, effort, and financial burden.

Stay tuned for Bill’s rebuttal…

The Dark Side of “Why this is Here” or Censorship & Lies!

I’ve written a couple of posts in the past few days that attempt to address negative–or at least less-positive–aspects of the MAPH program.  Because I don’t want to be one of those people that just rants on the internet without attempting to do their part to fix the problem, I have also attempted to speak to those in positions to address these concerns over my nine months in the program.  Sadly, in general the response that I have received during these meetings has most often been either pats on the head (e.g. grading in the Foundation’s Course, oppressive hand-holding during thesis writing, etc.) or assurances that I am the very first person to be bothered by this or that issue (e.g. Master’s hoods, lack of pedagogical scaffolding for Analytical Expositions).  On various occasions I have also attempted to post less-than-wholly-congratulatory comments at the official University sponsored blogs, but in each case–if a comment was anything less than completely complimentary of the program–it was never allowed to appear on the website.

I don’t find the censorship of the “official” MAPH pages to be surprising.  Certainly, if an institution wishes to communicate with the public on pages that it commissions and maintains with its own finances, then it has any and all rights to sign-off on or some times censure what sentiments appear on those blogs.  However, when it asks the public to respond with “comments,” the implication for all who read those blogs is that the pages allow for a dialogue between the officially sanctioned press-releases of the University and concerned student and alumni responses to the same.  When a website implies a dialogue, but silently censors dissenting views they are simultaneously appealing to the persuasive power of free and open communication to further their own rhetorical agenda while preventing any such real dialogue from occurring.  In a word, they are “lying.”

Now, Maphmatically Yours was created to provide a source of unofficial information about the MAPH program, its resources, and its students so that potential students could make informed decisions when choosing to accept or deny a MAPH letter.  The vast majority of information on this blog has been positive about the program, boasting of the wealth of opportunities it provides, and extremely positive about the quality of students that contribute to the experience I have had of it.  So, when these less positive posts occur, their purpose is not to reverse all that praise so much as to suggest that with all the MAPH has done right, it owes it to itself, its alumni, and its prospective students to address these remaining faults.

If the series “Why this is Here” was all about the positive reasons for the existence of what I’ve termed “The Great MAPHmatically Yours Experiment” then this post is slipped in among a flurry of “final posts” in order to acknowledge that as fantastic as UChicago’s MAPH program is and as wonderful as all the MAPHstaff appear to be, this is not the perfect program that the official documents tell you it is–of course no program ever is.  Let this little bit of shadow only serve to highlight how bright and glorious is the light of MAPH–but don’t let that 6,o00 watt “official” floodlight blind you–as it has at least some of the administration–to the program’s shortcomings.

 

Group Dynamics: Ph.D., MA, & BAs in Class

Judging by the number of questions focused on the topic during Campus Visit Days, many potential and incoming MAPHers are deeply concerned about the quality of relations between the three distinct types of students attending University of Chicago: undergrads pursuing their Bachelors degrees, graduate students working through the MAPH or MAPSS programs to earn their Masters, and graduate students completing their coursework on the way to earning a Ph.D..  From the perspective of a MA student there are several potential reasons for all the hand-wringing.  One might have heard horror stories from other schools–as I had–about the attitude of Ph.D. folks toward the “lesser-than” MA students.  In such a scenario MA students are looked down upon as rejects from the Ph.D. program demanding resources better used by the real graduate students.  Such an attitude manifests itself in MA students sensing that every question they asks in class is “bunny trail,”  every second of a professor’s office hours they take up a concession to their own inferior abilities, and the general sense that they are allowed to attend a school only because their tuition dollars support valuable Ph.D. candidates.  However, one can also imagine scenarios were undergraduates working on their BAs have the attitude that MA students are targets for intellectual point-scoring in order to elevate their own worth.  In that scenario an MA student must watch his or her back because hungry undergraduate are just waiting for the opportunity to take the graduate student down a few rungs. Here are a couple examples of both attitudes cropping up at UofC.

“…the class was supposed to be for serious students (…) [but] conversations were hijacked by Masters students that obviously hadn’t a clue.  Masters students get permission to attend these classes so why can’t professors get more selective?” (Anon. in Maroon).

and…

“I did my undergrad at UChicago, and I can say that among undergrads, there was always general frustration with the quality of MAPH students. The program seems to me more like a glorified version of Chicago’s undergrad core curriculum combined with a few more specialized courses, but I can’t say I examined it very closely.  Do realize that you’ll often find yourself in class with a lot of self-consciously obnoxious undergrads (most, though not all, humanities graduate courses are open to undergraduates in some way or another) who’ve been reading Foucault in the original French since Autumn quarter of freshman year and aren’t afraid to let you know. (…) I wasn’t deeply impressed with the handful of MAPH students I personally got to know but my experiences aren’t necessarily representative of the program as a whole.”  (vosemdesyatvosem in Grad Cafe)

Now, these quotes taken from folks that perport to be UChicago students suggest that MAPH student’s fears of being targeted from both sides aren’t entirely groundless, but is it really the case that MAPH students are pariah–not welcome by anyone at UChicago?

Quite simply, “No!”  While there might be a few bad apples in the bushels of Univerisity of Chicago undergrad and doctoral students, I have never felt as thought I was attacked by undergrads or pointedly ignored by doctoral students.  My sense has been since I arrived at UChicago and continues to be that I, as a student, was being treated in accord with my individual strengths and weaknesses.  In some courses and in some conversations I have been one of the main interlocuters–expected and sometimes even called-on to ask questions and make comments–while in other classes I have struggled to find my voice among the many other students that have so obviously worked through their own research and ideas on a given subject.  As such, in some cases, like the 50xxx doctoral class “Heidegger and Christianity” I began as a “hanger-on” but gradually found by bearing and became someone to be respected by my classmates and the professor.   In a combination grad and undergrad class, “Meaning and Reference” the minority of Masters students so cowed the majority Bachelors students that a special facilitator was brought in at the midpoint of the class to encourage their participation.  In my pedagogy class “Composing Composition” I was one of only a handful of Masters students in a vast sea of Doc and post-Doc students it was clear that many of the doctoral students had shared many, many writing education classes together through Chicago’s Little Red Schoolhouse program (LRS)  designed to train Ph.D. candidates how to teach effectively.  However, I never felt any animosity from the Ph.D. students and occasionally was actually solicited for my perspective from “outside” the LRS.

However, the “Sword of Individual Merit” cuts both ways, and I can think of Bachelors, Masters, and a couple Ph.D. students whose classroom antics earned them eye-rolls and frustrated stares.  One of the high points of my UChcago experience was watching Prof. Ted Cohen–normally the most mild-mannered man imaginable–ripping into a student after they dismissed his challenge to their claim with a shrug, but the student had already been testing the patience of the entire class for almost twenty minutes.  Across the board UChicago student self-images are the highly combustable result of combining a certain arrogance–they did secure admission to the University of Chicago, afterall–and a particular insecurity–UChicago is a place where “your best” is seldom “good enough.”  I think both attitudes captured in the preceding quotes are the result of this strange UChicago self-image, but precipitated by some actual justification.

So, the moral of the story is this: as an MA, you will find yourself–generally–treated with the respect or disdain you deserve and those that make sweeping generalizations about the relations of Ph.D., MA, and BA students reveal more about their own arrogance and self-doubt than anything about how the groups actually get along.  So how is that for a sweeping generalization?

The Blessed State of “Doneness”

This will not be my–admittedly poor–attempt at a deep philosophical analysis, a preparatory advice column, or a scathing rant on the topic of turning in the very last assignment of my University of Chicago MAPH career.  Instead I mean this post in the spirit of Bugs Bunny’s impromptu song in “Bugs Bunny’s Bustin’ Out All Over” (1980), when the titular character bursts from his hole to sing the joys of “no more classes, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks!”

Now, one of the many mixed blessings of UChicago’s decision to demand that every graduating student have every grade for every class–including the classes that won’t end for another week–submitted to the administration by June 1st is that the last week of class is spent without any looming projects, papers, or presentations to get in the way of enjoying the final set of lectures.  Now, the obvious downside is that all those projects, papers, and presentations’ due dates are crammed into the last two or three weeks in May.  However, once one has successfully cranked them out they are left to float in the euphoria of a Blessed State of Doneness.

As long time readers of the blog will likely recall, my arrival in the MAPH program was immediately preceded by three years at a small private liberal arts school in the Midwest earning my BA with a double major of theology and philosophy.  In order to fulfill the requirements of those two majors without the luxury of previous credit hours transferring in, I took an average of 21 to 24 hours a semester and filled my first and second summers with nine hours from a community college in the former and nine hours of courses at Oxford in the latter.  In the week after my BA graduation I immediately started on the readings for the MAPH Core Course–some of which were later changed, D’oh!–in preparation for my time at Chicago.   My secondary education, then, might best be characterized by the phrase “Zero to Master in Four” so the prospect of actually being done with school for a while comes like a cool breeze after four years in a convection oven.

Now, the unintended consequence of the sudden turn from the “pragmatic triage” approach to learning toward the “learning for the simple joy of learning” model occasioned by UChicago’s convocation policy is that I am forced to recognize what my carefully honed triage approach has cost me: the simple joy of intellectual curiosity.  That is, over the last four years every book I’ve read and every lecture I’ve sat through has been processed according to its potential contributions to some future seminar paper or some imagined question on an semester final.  The idea of just reading a paper because it contains some intriguing premise or listening to a lecture without trying to discover some tidbit it might contribute to my projects is a foreign concept.  I’m excited to play with some big ideas without trying to justify the time I spend with a pragmatic excuse.

Now, because of my “sprint to the finish” approach to secondary education, my tendency toward pragmatic triage is at the extreme end of the spectrum, but I’m guessing that I won’t be the only MAPH student suddenly confronted by the realization that they have been filtering their classes through the functional requirements mandated by their theses, seminar papers, and class presentations and discarding many exciting ideas worthy of further consideration.  So, here’s to the last week of classes!  A time to bask in a blessed state of doneness that allows us to rediscover why we undertook this educational project in the first place.

Robbin’ Hood or How I learned my degree wasn’t equal to an MBA

What? Is Robin of Locksley graduating with an MBA?  I think that tights-wearing fool stole my hood!

Okay, allow me to begin with three brief caveats: 1) If you think pomp, ceremony, and academic regalia is one more excuse for ridiculously over-priced college bookstores to rip off students, then this post isn’t even going to be intelligible to you.  2) If you think that the funny robes and silly hats of academic regalia are yet another example of the unconscious classism and patriarchy of a bygone day manifesting themselves uncomfortably in a more enlightened age, then this post isn’t going to be compelling to you.  3) If you have really never given academic regalia any consideration and don’t plan to work in the academy where robes and morterboards designate past accomplishments, then this post really isn’t for you–but it might be funny to watch the silly people that care about these things throw tantrums…

University of Chicago, I love you–but you’ve let me down…

I admit that I’ve always been enamored of academic regalia. If asked why, I might point to the time I spent in Oxford watching long lines of undergraduates in sub fusc and lay-style short robes –complete with white, pink, or red carnations to signify their first exam, intermediate exams, or final exam–walking to the colleges/halls or in scholars robes marching toward the matriculation ceremonies downtown.  The cut of the robe, the color of the flower, and the style of the headgear communicates to any passers by that this person either deserves a prayer, a wide berth, or a tip of the hat.  As Americans, this might strike us as communicating information not properly anyone else’s business to the world at large.  But, when I watched older folks smiling at soon-to-be-graduates or being a little extra nice to the students with white carnations and downcast eyes I realized that–at least today–the regalia and the ceremony forms a common bond among those students past and present and the townies who mark the passing of the seasons with the fold and rustle of black velvet.

If I were entirely honest with myself, I’d also have to admit that I’ve always held romantic notions of academic style and dress largely gleaned from film.  The symbolism of the mortar board being thrown into the air, the picture of the graduation gown draped over the mirror, and the arcane language of color coded graduates sitting in groups waiting for their discipline’s turn–something that never happens in real convocation ceremonies–has always made me feel that academic dress was more than just silly costumes: it meant something.  So imagine my surprise when I learned that UChicago Masters of Arts Program in the Humanities graduates sit through a convocation, receive a diploma, but do not partake in a hooding ceremony.

Now, if you graduate from with a Masters degree from the UChicago Booth Business school, you’ll wear a black gown (as opposed to the Ph.D.s maroon) and a hood.  If you graduate from the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy Studies, you’ll wear a black gown and a hood.  If you graduate from the Chicago’s with a Masters degree from the Law School, you’ll wear a black gown and a hood.  Now, it’s not clear whether an M.Div from the Divinity School comes with a hood, but it is very clear that graduates of the MAPSS (Master of Arts Program in the Social Sciences) and MAPH program will not be receiving or wearing hoods.  Now, before someone notes that the Masters degrees from either of these programs are not discipline specific (e.g. English, History, Classics) so the hoods couldn’t have a color anyway, allow me to note that everyone of those discipline’s color is white, because all of them fall under the category of “arts and humanities” whose color is also white. (see chart here).  The hood should be black velvet with a maroon facing for Chicago’s school, color and have white trim for “the humanities.”

So why doesn’t the MAPH program have a hood?  Well, presumably the bookstore wouldn’t mind renting or selling them.  Presumably, when virtually every other Masters program at the school seems to have included them, it can’t be because UChicago has made a unilateral decision about how Masters grads ought to be dress–reserving the hood for Ph.D. candidates only.  In fact the only reason I can come up with is to designate the MAPH, MAPSS and Graham school’s Masters of Liberal Arts and Master of Education as “hoodless” is that they are non-traditional intensive programs–with regard to the MAPh and MAPSS–and non-traditional continuing education programs for the Graham School’s degrees.  It is almost as though UChicago is marking a distinction between it’s “real” programs (multi-year and full time) and its less-than programs (intensive and non-traditional).

Now, you may be asking yourself why the presence or absence of a silly sash is worth all this perseverating.  The answer is quite simple: academic regalia means something.  When one graduates from college with a BA, they wear a black gown with simple, straight, and shorter sleeves to signify that I they have complete the first phase of my academic journey.  When one graduates with an MA they wear a Master gown with unique and oblong shaped sleeves and wrist openings evoking the liripipe or tail of the Master’s hood.  When on graduates with a Doctoral degree they wear a Doctoral gown with velvet chevrons on the sleeves and velvet panels.  The piping on a Master’s hood is peacock blue, but “darkens” to royal blue in the Doctoral hood.

When at my new job,  I take my place during the formal convocations as a professor in the proscribed MAPH regalia, I will look like I a BA sitting among MAs and Ph.D.s–as someone commenting at MAPHtastic notes.  I would probably even be okay with that, were it not also the fact that the MAPH, MAPSS, MLA, and AMT alone are not allowed to wear hoods when graduates with MBAs and LL.M degrees will wear hoods.  Frankly, as a first year teacher I want all the signs of authority and education I can lay my hands on, if only to keep them from eating me alive.  The simple answer is to buy a hood like the ones used by the Booth and Harris schools but with the white trim of my discipline.  I think it is only fair because I’ve earned it and before the creation of the MAPH and MAPSS programs fifteen years ago, I would have gotten it.