AfterMAPH: Picking Up the Pieces Part 1

Well for those still lurking around the site–and a gratifyingly large number of you are–this is the first of a handful of posts intended to address a few of the lingering issues connected with a year  spent in the MAPH program.  As I’ve already suggested this is not a “regular” MAPHmatically Yours post–those have gone the way of the Dodo–and is instead the first of what I hope will be occasional update posts connected in ever more tangential ways to the MAPH experience.

However, before we get to the content of this post there is one programing note worth giving further attention.  The only thing worse than a lack of information is a great bounty of misinformation and as time–and program changes accumulate–MAPHmatically Yours will necessarily edge toward that unenviable position.  However, one of the benefits of Bill Hutchison’s new position as one of the MAPH Program’s mentors is that the threatened obsolescence is pushed at least a year further into the future.  So congratulations to Bill, to the incoming class of MAPH students, and all those that might benefit from at least another year of reliable–if possibly revised–information on the site.

The Proper Courtship and Care of Academic Recommendations

One of the all consuming questions of MAPH’s second quarter circled around the value of what the site has labeled “Rock Star” professors and the reason that those questions had real endurance is intimately connected with today’s topic: the practice of graduates soliciting letters of recommendations in order to enhance their application for future graduate study.  Ideally, strong letters of recommendation allow graduate program’s selection committees and future employer’s search committees to consider the testimony of a fellow impartial academics regarding the capabilities of graduate student applicants with whom they have varying levels of familiarity.  The old saw says that these letters become more valuable or persuasive according to 1) the quality of the testimony as measured by the quality of the relationship between impartial recommender and the graduate–longer and closer relationships are considered more telling of a student’s abilities, 2) the quality of the recommendation as measured by the actual content of the praise lavished on the graduate–the more praise heaped on the student the better, assuming that it seems sincere, and 3) the quality of the recommendation as measured by the respectability of the recommending faculty member–better known and respected professors yield stronger recommendations when factors (1) and (2) are held equal.  Thus, the “Rock Star” prof whose exploits are known far and wide, whose great and mighty deeds are sung from hill and valley, are understandably courted as thesis advisers in the hope that their recommendations will carry extra weight and distinguish candidates from among the multitude applying for any given position.  However, as long-time readers will no doubt note, at least a majority of these high-powered academic heavy weights are considerably less communicative and less prone to form lasting relationships than many a MAPHer might once have hoped.  So, assuming that one has taken classes or written a successful thesis with one of these venerable hory heads, what is the process for finagling a letter of recommendation from the lady or gent that never did learn your name or return your emails?

I Sing the Letter Electric

While my undergraduate letters–and I suspect those of the majority of undergrads from small to medium sized schools–were requested in person, printed on rag paper, and included pre-addressed stamped envelopes, in a place like the University of Chicago letters have gone high tech.  Tentatively broaching the topic of a letter with one of the more approachable of my Rock Star profs I was immediately directed to secure an account at an online dossier service called Interfolio and make my request through their web-based system.  Perhaps it was the result of the whiplash induced by the sudden recommendation reversal I had sustained earlier, but after a quick search brought me to the membership page and I discovered I would be charged $19.00 for one year, $39.90 for three years, or $57.00 for five years of service, I happily signed up for a one-year stint–without realizing that each and every document (letter of recommendation, transcript, statement of purpose, or introductory letter) had its own significant price tag.

Now, I really can’t blame the profs at a place like UChicago.  With several thousand students pouring through the doors in any given year and many–if not most–of those students wanting three or four of their professors to supply five to ten letters of recommendation for each academic application cycle–plus the back log of previous graduates spinning the wheel again and again for multiple years–one can easily imagine particularly popular–or particularly Rock Star-ish–professors having hundreds of letters to write, print, and ship–or at least having to organize the writing, printing, and shipping there of.  Under such a weight, one can easily understand the appeal of writing one letter for each student and then allowing an automated service like Interfolio to do the rest. While students might pay ridiculous sums to the service, the faculty is freed of the burden of collating and managing the incoming requests and outgoing submissions and allowed to focus on the contribution that they are best able to make: the actual content of the letter.  While the cost per letter sent of $6 is many times the cost of one first class stamp–or the large flat-rate envelope cost of $6 for a whole application set–any economy for the student comes at the expense of the possibility that their letters would have been dashed off without due reflection by professors just trying to survive the onslaught of requests, the possibility that their requests would have been overlooked, recommendations mishandled, or letters miss-sent/sent too late.

Thus, while Interfolio might not be your new best friend, electronic dossier services are–for pragmatic reasons–here to stay and likely to be the only option available for students of larger institutions.  What they lack in economical pricing they make up for in convenience to both letter writers and graduate applicants.  So, armed with my shiny new Interfolio account the rest should be easy, right?

Tomorrow: Crafting Convenient Recommendation Requests likely to Secure Timely Responses or CRRLTSTRs

MAPH Week 34: Gradautions & Gradations

Yesterday was the 511th Convocation of the the University of Chicago.  The school has three such convocations a year at the end of each of the three principal quarters of the year: Fall, Winter, and Quarter so that students may graduate as near as possible to the time that they finish their academic work.  While I had intended the one-hundred and fiftieth and final regular post here at MAPHmatically Yours to be on the day of my graduation, the 95 degree heat with 90 percent humidity coupled with the overarching busyness of the day conspired to make it one of the most grueling days I’ve spent in recent memory.  As a result having arrived  home after the Humanities Division’s diploma and hooding ceremony I was in no fit condition to sit and write this, my final regular post.  Things are better today: my sun-burn induced fever has broken, the blisters on my feet from pinchy dress shoes are no longer causing me to wince, and all my relatives–whose presence was certainly welcome at the time–have mercifully made their ways home so you and I can now speak to one another in earnest.

Act 1

I arrived at the decision to attend the University of Chicago’s Masters Program in the Humanities after having been “rejected from the finest Ph.D. programs in the nation”–to borrow a phrase coined by MAPHmatically Yours contributor Bill Hutchison.  My wife and I arrived about a month early in Chicago’s Hyde Park in order to allow ourselves time to acclimate to the city, the shoebox apartment, and this strange new role of “MAPH student.”  We had attended Campus Visit Days together in April, sat through the interminably long–and hot–Q and A sessions, and pouring over the scant and sometimes cryptic snippets on the Web all in the hopes of coming to understand what we should expect from a Masters Degree program in the Humanities and what it would demand of us.  When the curtain of MAPH’s opening Sunday evening “barbeque” finally went up it was suddenly finding oneself standing on the precipice of a new academia–more rigorous, more demanding, and even more colorful than any I’d imagined before.  But then came the readings.  Do you remember reading entire books of dense philosophical prose for each day’s class Monday through Thursday for the weeks of Colloquium?  Do you remember that too-little-butter-scraped-over-too-much-toast feeling as you stood anxiously outside the University of Chicago’s old “Assembly Room,” (Social Sciences 101) waiting for the next lecture to begin?  And then came the writing.  Had a professor ever said anything like “There is one and only one answer.  I have it and it is your job to discover it” when speaking of Foucault’s hegemonies, Lacan’s imago, or anything written by Hegel?  So many, many hours spent plundering secondary commentaries that got it wrong, drafting page after page of hopeful, facile tripe. Can you recall, still, the nausea inducing deadlines when sleepless nights bleed copious ink into the cold sunrise and filled us with terror and frustration at our own stupidity?  They made a mistake.  They let me in.  I can’t let them know how precious little I understand when they smile and vomit the excess profundity of their scholarly conquest.  I can’t do this.

Act Two

Introduced in the first, but hanging dead and rotting from around my neck the second was the thesis.  The itch at the back of my neck that first tingled a little when in conversation someone asked “Have you thought about a topic yet?” became the cracked and oozing sore on my mind by the time  I turned in the final thesis proposal to my preferred adviser and hoped for some miracle.  Then he accepted and I rejoiced because somehow I’d managed to fool the local god-king of the academy.  Perhaps all the analytic expositions of the first quarter had had some secret effect that–so subtly that I hadn’t noticed–transmuted the lead of the “best guess” at a topic into something shiny enough to pass for precious.  But all my happiness drained away when my adviser confided that the only reason he’d accepted my proposal was that he’d never seen someone try to make an ethical case for intentionalism.  So the thing scritch-scratching in basement corner of my thesis was dragged from the periphery and made to put on a little show at its center.

When I think of the Winter Quarter at UChicago I don’t think fluffy snow hanging in the air like confectioner’s sugar.  I don’t even think of three-day old snow grey to black sticking to shoes and sprayed up from automobile tires.  I think of rain bouncing up from the pavement and mist hanging like discarded streamers in the dumpster after the Senior Prom.  The eleven weeks of my Winter Quarter were spent trying to find some way into the question I’d been given in the one and only meeting between my thesis adviser and me.  The whole quarter reminds me walking to and from campus with wet socks and the gnawing suspicion that I’d be found out for the fraud I was.

Now, I’d had some success at UChicago that gave me hope too.  My first quarter seminar papers had been the best I’d ever written and I entertained hopes of publishing them.  I’d met some truly wonderful fellow MAPH students who gave of their time without thought to its cost–and value.  I could see that I was asking different questions of my writing that forced it to condense and contort into strong and steely shapes of academic argument.  It was also just at this darkest point when the the guarded and hostile relationship I’d built with my preceptor–consummated when I, like nearly all MAPHers, learned that earning an A from our preceptors in the Core course is a near impossibility–could not longer be sustained and I cracked–spilling out all my frustrations and anxieties and found myself finally working honestly with my fellow MAPH students and advisers.

However, this new-found spirit of openness and comradery did nothing to lessen the very real sense that I was falling farther and farther behind the implied schedule of thesis completion, the expectations of my advisers, and my peers in the program.  I wasn’t treading water.  I was drowning.

Act 3

Following the completion of the second quarter’s three seminar papers–one of which required a complete blank-paper revision and an entirely new topic–I knew I had only about two weeks to lock myself in a room and find a way into and through my thesis.  After trashing four twenty-plus page failed treatments I had boiled the central focus of the paper down to just three core ideas and I spent hour after hour scrutinizing each, turning them this way and that in the light of all my research, trying equation after equation in vain attempts to make them yield an answer that was not self-refuting.  Night after night I woke from anxious dreams, compelled to rub sleep from sand-paper eyes, and return again to my desk, the mountains for books, and stare at the blinking cursor.  Writing, tentatively at first, and then faster.  Finishing the pivotal paragraph or page that would fix my thesis–and then deleting that addition when I read it again.

I’d love to point to some decisive hour when the content of my course work, the contribution of some long-forgotten text, and the circumstance of my life conspired to form a singularity that birthed a “Eureka!” moment, but that is not the way it happened.  At 3am after waking up in a cold sweat and puking my guts out, as quietly as I could so as to avoid waking my wife for the second or fifth time that night, I just wrote until the page count reached the prescribed minimum and turned that first draft in.  Somehow in all the weeks of  flailing and fevered revision I’d finally understood the mechanisms of the paper–the careful balance of this point and that–and just scribbled it out.  The morning I, white and shaking, turned the paper in I skipped both my other classes and crashed on the couch at home.  I hadn’t planned to cut class.  When I walked from my adviser’s mail box my feet just kept going.  I was running away without knowing it and unwilling to reread my paper for fear that I’d discover my “success” was only a fever dream.

When my adviser returned that first draft I discovered only a smattering of brief and repetitive challenges to my thesis.  I quickly sent emails to everyone that might have any possibility of helping understand what had happened.  Did my adviser think so little of the paper that he found nothing substantive to challenge or praise?  Did my paper accomplish so little that its claims weren’t even worthy of being contested?  All my fears and anxieties, brought to the fore in those first few weeks of Analytic Expositions, crashed like a wave on volcanic rock and pulled me under again.  I wasn’t just drowning.  I was dead.  Only one of those desperate cries for help was answered, but Bill’s response was troubling in itself.  He wrote “You’re not going to have to work much harder to get an A out of Pippin for this.”

I didn’t believe him.  I rewrote the entire paper  from a blank sheet in the last two weeks before the final version was due.  I rewrote the paper to address to the two oft repeated challenges that I thought my adviser seemed to be making over and over, before the claim and after and then once more at the end for lagniappe.  With a sense of fatalism more than self-confidence I methodically, but leisurely wrote page and page until the final version was turned in with a couple hours to spare. But as it turned out, Bill was right.

I am not the genius scholar with moments of blinding insight or the erudite reader who crafts a theory as the predetermined outcome of his research and regards the outcome with neither particular joy or particular surprise.  I am not even the tortured genius burning the candle at both ends likely to die too young and appreciated only after the fact.  If I am any sort of scholar, I am the workman who persists where others walk away.  The MAPH program capably razed all the grand pretensions of my undergraduate “success” to the ground and through ceaseless effort I erected a single stone in their place.  Small and not particularly noteworthy, this stone may in time may be joined by another and then perhaps another so that if I live enough years I might eventually climb the narrow staircase of a tiny ivory tower and see over the horizon the mansions that others have built in far less time.  This dark winter of rain and mud is over and I stand, for the experience, a little wiser and a little better equipped for the challenges to come.

All praise to the savant, the son of an erudite man that did not squander the gifts afforded by his father’s success, and to the prodigy, the daughter of favorable stars whose facilities are boundless.  They are the choicest quarry of the doctoral selection committee who learned once–or always knew–the skills that the workman strains to perfect in dismal seasons of toil and failure.  But, spare some tiny morsel–a tip of the hat and no more–for the journeyman and the laborer who in time assemble a modest collection of true and solid stones that they might scale in order touch the hem of the garments of the sages who lay rich robes of maroon and black and bestow flowing hoods on those who persist in the love of wisdom.

Persist.  The MAPH program is not easy and it will not be intimidated by whatever previous success you believe yourself to have enjoyed.  The rewards of scholarly community, intellectual insight, and hard-fought contribution to the stores of our disciplines await the diligent mind.  The MAPH will raze you to the ground and allow you to build yourself anew which is, for many, the only possible path toward success left open.  Hyde Park is a strange crossroads where the rich unwashed and the pure poor rub shoulders with criminals and Nobel laureates.  The MAPH program will change you.  It will remold you in its own image or break you to pieces.  It is the contingent remedy and the necessary evil.  Good luck.  God bless you and yours. May you someday be welcomed into the ancient and honorable fellowship of scholars.


This is the last regular post on MAPHmatically Yours which was always conceived of as having a finite expiration date.  By “regular” I mean a post that is an account the MAPH at U of C through the eyes of one of its students.  I am now a graduate of the MAPH program and Bill, the website’s other “father” is soon to be part of the MAPH staff for next year.  It is my hope that “Future Bill” will return to the website to answer all those questions about how beneficial nine-months at the University of Chicago can be in securing future Ph.D. success.  I imagine that I will likely post any future events in my scholarly path that tie back to the MAPH program, the University of Chicago, and the massive number of MAPH alumnists floating about, loose in the world.

I’ve decided not to take off the MAPHman mask and reveal my real identity–something that I had always intended to do in a final post from the very conception of the blog.  My pseudonym was originally adopted to avoid the possibility that any negative things I might say on the blog about UChicago or the MAPH program would wind up hurting my grades or future prospects.  While that circumstance is no longer a likely possibility and hence no longer a concern, I appreciate the fact that as time goes on and memories fade the little hints that make this blog unmistakeably mine now will lose their specificity and significance and the MAPHman will become the “every-student” that I always hoped he might be.

For those that know the me that will go on beyond MAPHmatically Yours, know that I am still considering the possibility of a new blog perhaps related to my new position as an adjunct philosophy professor and perhaps to one or more of my other academic and artistic interests.  If there is such a blog, it will not be pseudonymous and, therefore, will not be publicly linked back to MAPHmatically Yours–but I’ll let you know where to find it, if you’d like.  The email address on the About Me page of the blog will be checked periodically, but probably not terribly regularly until next years (2012-13) admission season when I reserve the right drop back in to answer questions as I am able.

One might say that this is the first of two expiration dates for MAPHmatically Yours.  The second will come when I feel that the content of this blog no longer reflects an accurate portrayal of what one might expect to experience as a student of the MAPH program either because radical revisions have been made to the curriculum or simply because the incremental changes that naturally occur have aggregated sufficiently to make this testimony irrelevant.  The posts will be saved to the digital equivalent of a memento box to be poured over by a future me with failing eye-sight and lumbago.

Thank you.  Thank you to the University of Chicago, the MAPH Staff, my Adviser, Precepter and peers. But above all, thank you to Bill Hutchison, Vincent Mennella, and Alissa Smith who contributed their insights and experiences to the blog as guest-bloggers and to you future MAPH students for whom all this was undertaken.  Thank you!

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.

Professional Students and Student Professionals

Yesterday I took the final for my “Composing Composition” class, a course designed to prepare one to design, teach, and defend (sell) classes with rigorous academic writing components.  The final was a mock interview where I played the part of myself interviewing for a job that, in the real world, I had already won.  The interview went very well–probably due in part to the fact that in my former lives I have been both an eight time All-State speech geek and a trainer for a national retailer’s management staff–but I’d still count the experience as trippy.

Now, it wasn’t because my mock interviewer asked exactly the same sorts of questions I’d been asked in the past–she didn’t.  It was because earlier in the day I’d exchanged a volley of emails with my new employer regarding the “proper” formatting for syllabi and the table recording the performance of previous syllabi, arranged by department, course, and instructor, for two years past.  Seeing all this effort to create a metric, encode all that information (over seventy unique syllabi), and finally present it “report card” style just so that the administration could point to some “hard data” about the quality of its professors was my first taste of what I know will be the de-blooming of the academic rose.  Over the course of forty-five minutes I was play-acting the part of an eager candidate still bright eyed and innocent to the realities of professorial life while in reality I had the job and was getting the first tentative feelings that all was not sweetness and light in the ivory towers.

Now, before the comment box is flooded with people suggesting that I surrender my position to them if I’m already doubting my decision to teach at the college level, let me explain that my fluttery stomach butterflies should in no way be understood as a diminishment of my excitement about teaching or my commitment to it.  The moment that I’m trying to describe with the preceding imagery is more like the moment after one gets married and discovers that despite the companionship, delight at one another’s presence, and honeymoon frolicking there are also bills to be paid, diner to be made, and little fights over who used the last bit of paper and failed to refill the printer.  The moment I have in mind is when you recognize that all the opulent benefits of a new position arrive with pragmatic concessions.

This little reality check actually explains a phenomena that I’ve been wrestling with for the past few days.  Since I turned in my thesis on Monday afternoon, my final syllabus on Monday evening, and prepped for my mock interview on Tuesday morning, I’ve had only one assignment left to finish: my seminar paper for my final class with the incomparable Ted Cohen.  The paper has been in progress since the second session of the class.  It attempts to demonstrate that what ordinary language philosophy needs–a bright line between technical uses and ordinary performative uses of language–the method of ordinary language philosophy ultimately precludes.  That is, once one demonstrates that all meaning is context specific (indexical) and a word’s proper use evaluated according to the mutually agreed upon criteria associated with that particular context, then all performative meanings/functions of words are just the result of dissimilar contexts/purposes.  The claim is pretty simple and I’ve been working through the argument for nine weeks, but I just keep slowly chipping away at this final paper.  I mean, it is almost as though I don’t want to be finished with it.  Oh, wait a minute…

So, it seems that I’m dragging out my last few days as a student–despite my excitement at soon taking the reins as a professor–precisely because I recognize that participating in the academy as a student is a profoundly different experience than participating in the academy as a vocation.  One could say that even being a professional student is not the same as being a student professional.  Now, all that being said, my academic regalia (sans hood) was delivered yesterday, which is terribly exciting.

MAPH Week 29 – Convocation Announcement

It has been fifteen years since I graduated from high school and I  still remember the process of ordering, mailing, and receiving my high school graduation announcements.  I had–without outside consultation or even much thought–counted up the number of my immediate family, close friends, and other folks who might like to know that I was moving on with my life and come to the number 13.  So, I’d turned in my request and proceeded to think even less about those invitations as the days and weeks till graduation counted down.  Somewhere during this blissful ignorance my mom asked if I’d gotten the information for ordering announcements and I answered–thinking I’d get a pat on the head for being both punctual and frugal in my handling of the situation–that I had everything  taken care of.  Her response was not as I had expected.

“So you got one for both your sets of grandparents?”

“Of course!”

“And for all your aunts and uncles on both sides?”


“And for your grandfathers’ brothers?”

Well, I order a couple extra.”

“And for all my cousins?”

“No… You have cousins?

“Did you order one to send to the church?

“Mom, the church is my job!  Why would I send one to the church where they pay me to play drums?”

“Now, it would also probably be good to send one to the newspaper.”

“Mom, I also work there.  They already know I’m graduating.  And besides, it isn’t that newsworthy that I passed algebra and chemistry to graduate, is it?”

When all the lists were made of distant relatives–on both sides, people who had baby-sat or cut my hair or otherwise contributed to my education, and copies for local news and law enforcement agencies, I think she made an emergency order for an additional 8,988 invitations for a grand total of over 9000!  I can still remember thinking, “do all these people really care–or are my parents just trying to insure that I receive as many graduation gifts as possible?”  Last year my family had a near nuclear meltdown when my BA graduation invitations didn’t arrive as quickly as they expected and I had to call everyone and assure them that there were, indeed, colorful slips of paper winging their way through the US postal service, addressed to them, and demonstrating my appreciation for their attendance.

It seems that everyone takes these things a bit more seriously than the graduate does–at least in part, because–for the graduate–the diploma ceremony is the anti-climax that follows the real climactic moment (passing the comp exams, getting the final grades online, or successfully defending one’s dissertation).  For those of us in the MAPH program, the June 9th ceremony is even more of a strange afterthought, because all our actual work will have been done at least three weeks–due between the 21st and 25th of May.  Incidentally, this means that I and the majority of my fellow MAPHers will attend class for two weeks after we’ve already turned in our final seminar papers.

What my family understood during those earlier graduation events–and I am just starting to understand–is that graduations are only partially the products of committed individuals in darkened rooms with noses pressed to innumerable grindstones.  Graduations are also the product of countless other people supporting those students monetarily, emotionally, and spiritually–allowing them to do their best work and earn the degrees they deserve.  It is only at convocation that all those other people can share in the fruits of their labors.  So, if you’re going to graduate in a few weeks, take some time out to thank those who made it possible and if you are one of those that contributed to a graduate’s success take some time to tell your student how proud you are of their accomplishment–and your part in it.