Thursday, February 13, 2014

Part 5— Real and Pretend Thinking

Part 5—Real and Pretend Thinking

Is There Intellectual Life in the Universe?

Pretend and Real Thinking in Film Studies

This is part 5 in a series of blog postings on what prospective students should look for in a film school and how they can tell a good school from a less good one so that they can know which ones to apply to and which ones to avoid. Parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 appear on previous blog pages. —Ray Carney

[Continued from the preceding page] ... I’ll switch tracks from the production faculty to the Film Studies faculty, the professors of film criticism, history, theory, analysis, and appreciation. How can a prospective student tell if there is real intellectual life and ferment and excitement in the film studies faculty? A prospective student faces the same problems as he or she does with a school’s production faculty—namely that since, under the Lake Wobegone principle, every Film Studies faculty member you ask will tell you that he or she is a superb teacher, an original thinker, and that his or her classes are the most intellectually stimulating, exciting, and useful ever offered (with the dumbest and most conventional teachers being the ones who will be most ready to make these kinds of claims), it becomes impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff, the intellectual leaders from the followers, genuine intellectual stimulation from flash-in-the-pan trendiness.

Unfortunately, asking students isn’t guaranteed to get you much closer to the truth. Students are simply are not in a position to be able to assess their teachers’ intellectual brilliance and originality. (The capability to tell brilliance from flash is something even many faculty members lack.) The particular problem with asking students what they think of their professors is that they invariably base 70 percent of their assessment of the value of a course on the grade they received, and 30 percent on what I’d call the “comfort level” of the course content—meaning in the case of Film Studies the courses that will get rave reviews are ones that show pseudo-indie films (jokesy, tricky Coen brothers movies and that ilk) and kitsch (fake art) entertainment movies (Hitchcock and Kubrick thrillers, Hollywood screwball comedies and melodramas, and the contemporary equivalent) where the content makes no real intellectual demands and the instructor requires little or nothing in the way of intellectual growth. On top of that, asking students if they like their teachers and courses when you visit a university is a little like asking someone how they feel about their parents when they are standing in front of them, or asking them whether they root for their own country’s team at the Olympics. The pressure to say something positive and to support the home team is almost irresistible. It would be the rarest of students who would make a negative comment about their classes or teachers during a university event—and if a student did, you can be sure it would be the last time he or she would ever be invited to participate in a Visiting Day. (I speak from personal experience: For several years I was not included in Open House events at my own university because I veered a little too close to the truth in an answer I gave a prospective student.)

In short—it’s hard to get at the truth by asking. So to get around the “be true to your school” bias (and simple lack of perspective) from the students, and avoid the inevitable self-reporting bias of faculty to tell you that their teaching is great, I recommend applying a test very similar to the one I proposed to evaluate film production teachers. (See the preceding blog page.) As I said in that case, the advantage of the test I am proposing is that it is a simple factual one that is impossible to fake the answer to. It is immune to the distortions of PR, and pretty much guaranteed to give you a reliable indication of whether the Film Studies faculty are genuinely creative and original.

Here’s the test. It has two parts—the first an extremely low bar that all but the smallest number of faculty members should automatically pass; the second a more revealing requirement that will separate the intellectual sheep from the goats. First, check that each and every Film Studies faculty member holds a Ph.D. (the easy requirement); second (the more significant requirement), check that each and every Film Studies faculty member has published at least three or four (and if he or she is over the age of forty-five, at least five or six) full-length, single-author books of film criticism, history, or analysis with major publishers, preferably top-tier university presses. The only partial exceptions on the publication requirement are the very youngest faculty members who, if they are in their early thirties, may be acceptable if they have only published one or two single-author books. (They absolutely should have published that many or more by the age of thirty-five.)

Just as I did with the test for filmmakers, I’ve worded the formulation so that every phrase and qualification matters. I’ll start with the Ph.D. part of it. Every single Film Studies faculty member must have that degree in hand. Anything less, or any other lesser or different degree, is simply not sufficient. In several Film Studies programs of which I am aware (including my own), many courses are organized and taught by faculty who only hold masters degrees. I’m not talking about T.A.s who are supervised and monitored by senior faculty members, but teachers who function completely independently. In fact, in the Film Studies program I am member of, faculty lacking Ph.D.s are allowed to organize, teach, and grade graduate-level courses—an intellectual embarrassment that can only be attributed to a conscious policy to “cheap it out” (since hiring teachers with Ph.D.s is always going to cost more than hiring ones without). The result is what can only be called a Wal-Mart educational experience (particularly for grad students who clearly have every right to expect higher-level teaching). Film Studies is an academic field and anyone who does not have the basic academic credential as a thinker and teacher (i.e., a Ph.D.) should not be allowed to organize and teach an academic course, and evaluate student performance.

So let’s assume that in all but the most pedagogically shoddy and intellectually indefensible programs the Ph.D. certification requirement has been satisfied. The second part of the test involves checking for a certain level of publication on the part of each faculty member. That’s the single-author, published books requirement. Consider it an academic I.Q. test.

It’s important to keep in mind that every academic field defines the nature of significant publication slightly differently, and measures it in a different way. In physics, a significant publication can be a five-paragraph note in Nature. In philosophy or sociology, a professor can make a major contribution to his or her field by publishing an eighteen-page essay in a refereed scholarly journal. In biology, a professor might “publish” important findings by presenting a paper at a scholarly conference.

Furthermore, in many academic fields, including most of the sciences and social sciences, major publications are written collaboratively. Work in physics and biology, for example, is almost always done by teams of researchers, which means that major scholarly publications in those fields will have two, three, or ten names attached to them. Single authorship is not only rare in those fields, but would be suspect. Group work and co-authorship are the norm.

 Art criticism and commentary (and major scholarship in Film Studies) is not like that. The form of publication for the most important scholarship is not the scientific note, not the journal essay or monograph, and not the conference presentation, but the book. And the books that matter—whether they radically shift the paradigm and reconfigure a whole field of study or simply throw new light on a narrow topic—are not group publications, but single-author works. So that’s where you have to look to locate faculty members who are doing important work in Film Studies. Any faculty member worth his or her salt, any faculty member worth fifty thousands of your tuition dollars, should have published three, four, five, or more single author, scholarly books by mid-career. These are the people, the only people, in the field who are creating new knowledge, whose ideas and insights matter. Everyone else, every other classroom teacher, is just following their lead, paraphrasing their ideas, putting chapters from their books on the course reserve reading list.

In Film Studies if we’re talking about presenting important new ideas, we’re also talking about books with a certain degree of scholarly seriousness that are above a certain minimum length (let’s say, 250-pages or longer as a rule of thumb). That means that monographs, celebrity biographies, collections of essays, editions of every sort, journal articles, reference works, and, most of all, reviews, interviews, and the thousand other forms of film journalism—in magazines, newspapers, on television, and on the internet—don’t ultimately count. I’ve eliminated anything other than full-length books for the same reason I eliminated short films in the case of filmmakers. (See the previous blog posting.) Anthologies, collections of essays written by others, film reviews, book reviews, and other short writing forms are not only a-dime-a-dozen, but they generally mean almost nothing in the long term intellectually. Any hack journalist can edit a collection of essays (and many hack journalists do). Any hack journalist can write reviews (and many of them do). In Film Studies, single author, full-length books are the way, the only consistent way, film professors contribute intellectually to their field. They are where the ideas that change the ways of understanding see the light of day.

But you still have to decide if a book is significant. Many are not. Seventy to eighty percent of everything published in Film Studies is junk—published today and forgotten tomorrow. The easiest way you can tell if a scholarly book is at least potentially significant is to check the publisher. The book stands a chance of being important if it has been published by a major university press like Cambridge, Oxford, Berkeley, Columbia, Princeton, or Harvard. (The first three are the best university presses in the world for Film Studies and many other fields; though the other three are not too shabby.) Their books are almost never junk, and the reason why is that those presses put every book they publish through an elaborate “vetting” and “refereeing” process where the manuscript is sent out to academic specialists for comments and revisions before it is accepted for publication. Small university presses and commercial publishers don’t do that; they publish more or less anything they think will sell and augment their bottom line. Publishing for them is almost exclusively a financial decision. That might not make a difference in a highly intellectual area like biochemistry or astrophysics, where the quality and seriousness of a manuscript submission is almost guaranteed, but it radically skews what gets published when you’re talking about a trendy, flakey, pop-culture, celebrity-oriented, adolescent field like Film Studies. Almost any film topic that seems “hot,” “contemporary,” or “newsworthy”—or, for reference books, any book a commercial publisher thinks will bring in orders from libraries (the major purchasers of reference books) is virtually guaranteed to get published, whatever its intellectual merit. Take my word for it, the university presses I have listed would be the first choice of every Film Studies scholar in America; they would all publish with Oxford or one of the others if they were able to; so if none of a faculty member’s books has actually been published by any of these or a small number of other university presses, it’s evidence either that they have been rejected by them or that the scholar didn’t even bother submitting his work to such a place because he knew it simply wasn’t smart enough.

The popularity of film actually works against maintaining publication quality. The book publication situation in Film Studies is the opposite of the one in physics, biology, philosophy, and most other academic fields. It is almost impossible for a physics professor or a scholar of renaissance literature to get a serious book published. But writing on film is so much in demand that it’s really too easy for a film professor to get more or less anything he or she writes published by a second- or third-tier academic or commercial press, particularly if it deals with a living filmmaker or a fashionable intellectual or social movement. (I don’t have to list the usual suspects—from gender and multicultural approaches to sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll.) Magazines and newspapers, and small, non-academic book publishers will publish just about anything submitted about recent film, no matter how stupid or banal it is—for the same reason that universities have film programs: because of the popularity of the subject and the money it brings in. So my four to five published books requirement is actually almost too easy to satisfy for a film professor with a modest degree of ambition. That’s the reason I raise the bar a bit and say that you have every right to expect that faculty members at the university you choose should have published at least a few of their books with major university presses—as some sort of indication that what they are doing is not just part of the here-today, gone-tomorrow intellectual fashion-system.

I want to issue a special warning about two common mistakes students make when evaluating books (or courses). The first is mistaking journalism, in any form—long or short, in periodicals, in books, or on the internet—for serious publication. Film journalism—the stuff that appears every hour of every day in newspapers, magazines, on TV, and on the internet—has such a high profile in American culture that its importance is wildly inflated beyond its actual intellectual value. I’ll make the point by telling you a story. Long ago, in my youth, I was making presentations in a fancy film event in another city and was out at supper with the sponsors at a swanky restaurant when one of the best-known film reviewers of the era came up to the table and, clearly impressed with his own reputation and very full of himself, introduced himself to me as “a film critic, whose criticism I’m sure you’re familiar with.” I was indeed familiar with his work and knew who he was. He was the man every independent filmmaker in America was afraid of and desperately wanted to get a favorable review from. Given the way he had introduced himself, I decided that a little reality-check might be in order, so I replied that “I didn’t know you were a critic. I thought you were a journalist, a reviewer. What criticism have you written?” Needless to say, my response stopped the conversation dead and turned every head at the table in our direction.

Though I might handle the moment differently today, I stand by the distinction. It is an important one. The distinction between critics and reviewers, between journalists and scholars, is critical. That particular reviewer was not the first one who ever attempted to blur the difference, and give himself an intellectual promotion. As far as I can tell, most of America—along with the Dean of my College, my Chairman, and many of the faculty members in my department—is confused about the issue, and in fact ranks the journalistic reviewer as higher in the intellectual pecking order than the scholar because of the journalist’s enormously higher level of cultural visibility. My Dean and the others I have named treat work published in (or reviewed in) a magazine as being more important than a scholarly publication. They are blinded by the celebrity system, the PR system, the system that makes people care about the Academy Awards and Super Bowl commercials. They confuse circulation with value, visibility with importance, popularity with merit. Don’t make the same mistake. Don’t confuse reviewing, at any level and in any format, with deep thinking. No matter where a review is published, it’s just a review. Opinion journalism has nothing to do with being an intellectual, a scholar, a thinker. You want to aim higher than to take out tens of thousands of dollars in loans to study with a journalist who’s convinced himself he’s a “critic.” 
      The other mistake is in the opposite direction--the mistake of confusing fancy terminology, jargon, and footnotes with "intelligence." My own Film Studies program is headed by a professor who has done most of his work as a journalist or editor of other people's work, in other words not as a scholar or thinker. He makes this mistake himself. He confuses obfuscation with profundity, being derivative with being a scholar. He thinks that foreign terms, names, references, footnotes, and bibliographies are what turns something into "scholarship." It's a natural enough mistake for someone who has spent most of his life as a journalist and editor to make. Most of what students learn in his courses is how to translate films into fancy terminology and jargon and references to other people's ideas. It's the opposite of real scholarship, of course, which is ultimately simply about being intelligent and perceptive and original and insightful. The students are taught to cripple themselves with fake-scholarly crutches, forgetting that everyone they quote, every term they borrow, every footnote they insert in their papers was originally just one particular person's idea or insight--and often a bad idea or fake insight. Just because they are quoting something from a book or big-name thinker doesn't make it any smarter. The students think that by borrowing someone else's ideas, they are demonstrating their own intelligence, when the opposite is the case. They are putting their own brains on pause to borrow someone else's ideas. So guard against that kind of book also--the unreadable one full of big words and lot of "scholarly" footnotes. It's all the rage in Film Studies, where the field itself is so inherently flaky and full of nonsense that students and professors feel they have to dignify their banalities and mistakes with fancy words and a foreign intellectual pedigree.

So, in terms of my test, we’re talking easy. All you have to do is look up each Film Studies faculty member on each university web site and see how many full-length, single-author books of criticism, history, or analysis he or she has published and that at least a few of them have come out with top-notch university presses. Or go to Amazon and enter his or her name, count the titles, and check the names of the publishers. You should find four, five, or more titles that fill the bill listed for all but the youngest, most junior faculty members. And to tell you the truth, my requirements are almost too lax since virtually every faculty member will automatically have one title to his or her credit—his or her dissertation, which is required to obtain the Ph.D.—so if you want to be picky, you shouldn’t even count the first book in the listing—and just assume it was their dissertation.

If several of the books are published by major university presses, you can stop there and assume the quality of the publishers vouches for the quality of ideas. But if you want to be conscientious, go to a library, take one or two of the most recent books written by five or six different faculty members off the shelves and read a few pages. You don’t need to take them out of the library; you don’t need to read the books; just flip to the middle and read three or four paragraphs. (Of course if you’re in a university or large city library, and any or all of the titles you are looking for are not in their collection, that in itself will be evidence that the books are not major publications, and you can eliminate those writers from your list of important scholars.) The pages you are skimming are the mind of your future teacher. Is it someone you want to study with, someone who will challenge you, someone who will inspire you, someone who will move you to new places intellectually, who can express him- or herself interestingly and clearly? Be on the alert for critical jargon and theory. The writing can be hard; it can be challenging; but every word should be in a standard collegiate dictionary. That’s what you want in your classes. Jargon and specialized terminology are just forms of inarticulateness.

I’m afraid you’ll have to be on your own when it comes to judging the brilliance of each of the writers’ methods and insights. I wish I could be there to help you, to read over your shoulder and whisper in your ear, since it’s not that hard to tell who is and is not doing valuable and important work.

The best advice I can give you is to beware of the two prevalent critical roads to hell: one characterized by terminological obfuscation and mystification, and the other by a series of mechanical simplifications that translate the work into cultural, historical, sociological, and ideological categories and systems. They may sound like opposites, but they’re really the same thing insofar as, in both cases, the critic explains away the fundamental mystery, complexity, and elusiveness of a work of art—either by turning it into terminological incense and blue-smoke-and-mirrors, or by reducing it to a series of abstract, superpersonal cultural, social, ideological patterns, structures, schemes, and systems. In my experience, both ways of proceeding can be incredibly seductive to a student, since they both seem to do the impossible: They make intrinsically difficult things easy to understand by translating them into easy-to-understand (terminological or formal) formulas. The only problem is that the work of art is lost in the translation.
     Another extremely common and fashionable critical fallacy is to treat art as if it dealt with social and cultural externals—the outsides of life—systems of power relations; social and economic issues; questions of race, class, and gender; ideological, political, and social systems of relationship; etc. Generalizations about history, culture, and society become the meaning of art. This treatment of art can be incredibly appealing to a student because it gives works of art a stunning degree of power in society. The problem is that it’s not true. In fact, it’s so ridiculous it’s laughable. These professors don't understand the first thing about art. Art has no power of that sort. The power-obsessed, power-hungry critics (many of them in gender and multicultural studies, all the more unfortunately) are utopians. They want to change human nature; they want to abolish fundamental sexual, emotional, and cognitive differences between men and women; they want to reform the world. They think their kind of art (and their kind of criticism) can change those things--that it can change gender values and the nature of society. They are worse than wrong. They are in denial--in denial of fundamental truths about human nature and culture. They think their kind of art (and their kind of criticism) can change the world. They want art to fight a gender war and lead a multiculural crusade. But art makes nothing happen. And it is about insides not outsides. In fact, it understands the unimportance and irrelevance of power as a definition of human relationship. It creates and celebrates heightened imaginative states; it cultivates feelings; it builds consciousness. It does not change the world. Sorry, guys: Works of art can neither oppress nor liberate the masses. Neither art nor criticism has that kind of power—nor should you want them to have it—unless you’re Hitler or Stalin.

If you want a positive statement of what art is, of what these writers should be grappling with, should be tracing and describing, the best I can do is to tell you to ask yourself whether they are spinning their wheels espousing politically and ideologically progressive positions (the utopian view)—or are describing the situation of being a human being as you and everyone around you actually experiences it. Are they grappling with the excitements—and also with the limits, the stupidity, the wastage, the foolishness, the whole messy, confusing, sad tragedy and comedy—of life as it is actually lived and felt, and as it will always and forever be lived and felt; or are they functioning as visionaries who want to condemn and deny what life really is and turn it into something else—something actually less interesting and more formulaic, something more politically correct and boring? Do they use works of art to affirm the power of historical, economic, sociological, and ideological forces over us (how awful this would be if it were true, but fortunately it is one of those ideas that is so stupid only a professor could believe it)—or do they understand the power of the human soul to break free of these structures, to drop beneath them, to imagine its way out of them? Do they write about culture and society as if they were the ultimate reality, or about the indomitability of the individual imagination, the glory and tragedy of individual consciousness, the painful beauty of suffering and self-sacrifice, the ineluctability of loss and death, and the importance of the interior life as the source of all of the most important meanings and values? If the critic you are reading is doing the first thing and not the second, slam the book shut and run the other way, intellectually speaking, as fast as you can. They don’t acknowledge that you have a soulthe capacity imaginatively and spiritually to swerve away from any and all deterministic material conditions—and that that fact is the most important thing about you. (They wouldn’t even understand what the preceding sentence means. And if they did, they'd object to the understanding of life that it embodies.)

[For anyone who is interested, the preceding three paragraphs criticizing prevalent critical approaches to film are the kind of ideas I was formally told (in several cases, in writing) by the Boston University Legal Department, the Boston University Provost, the Dean of the College of Communication, the Chairman of the Department of Film and Television, or the Director of Film Studies that I was not allowed to tell my students in class ("too controversial") or to publish on my faculty web site ("casting the department in a false light"). These were not casual, idle, or passing threats. In terms of the first prohibition--on what I was and was not allowed to say to my students in class--specific students were deputed (without my knowledge of course) to spy on me and file "reports" with my Dean about anything I said in class that might be considered "controversial," so that I could be called on the carpet for having said it--with my pay and evaluations negatively affected of course. (As I note this spying policy was adopted and carried out in secret, without my being warned that such reports were actively being solicited and filed about my classes.) My views on race, class, gender, ideology, art, and criticism were politically "incorrect," and political incorrectness is not only prohibited but punished at BU--with the full knowledge and approval of the university Legal Department. In terms of the second prohibition--the one censoring what I was allowed to publish on my official university web site, which in the end completely withdrew my right to have a faculty web site at all at Boston University, I was explicitly told that if I didn't agree to the complete censorship and withdrawal of everything that I had posted on the site, the university would take two specific actions to destroy me professionally and financially. The first was that BU administrators would make a public posting on the university web site designed to undermine my reputation and standing (destroying me professionally); and the second was that university lawyers would be brought in to tie me up in legal maneuvers that would bankrupt me financially if I chose to fight them and resist the censorship policy. For detailed descriptions of the lengths to which these particular Boston University administrators and others were willing to go to stop me from saying or publishing these sorts of ideas and financially and bureaucratically punishing me for having said them, see the introductions to three other earlier blog pages (available in the side menu): "Censorship, Punishment, Abuse, Threats--Being Banned in Boston," "Making a Living or Making a Life--The Purpose of an Education," and "Losing Consciousness--Losing Invaluable Ways of Understanding." (The introductions to the first and third pages in this list have the most detailed descriptions of some of the techniques of torture Boston University administrators have come up with to enforce their censorship policies against me and my ideas.) A fourth blog page, posted in November 2013 and titled "The Thought Police," also contains a narrative account of the actions of BU administrators to attempt to control and suppress my publications and punish me, financially and bureaucratically, for having expressed the opinions I had.] 
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A 2016 Postscript: In the two years since I posted the previous information, the situation at Boston University has become even worse, much worse, than the one described above. Censorship and standards of political and pedagogical correctness have moved into the classroom. The Director of Film Studies and Cinema and Media Studies (the same man) at Boston University has imposed rigid codes of "pedagogical correctness" on all film studies courses, both those offered to graduate students and to undergraduates, demanding that the courses be taught and students be evaluated according to strict guidelines he has laid down, which absolutely forbid any deviation from his (incredibly narrow-minded, old-fashioned and, truth be told, intellectually primitive) critical approaches, teaching methods, and ways of evaluating students. This control of what is said and done in the classroom has, shockingly and almost unbelievably, been publicly promulgated as official university policy. The result has been that I and other teachers in the program have been told that if our courses and teaching methods don't conform to these requirements and demands, in every last detail including what books are or are not included on the course reading list, we will not be allowed to teach in the Cinema and Media Studies (film major) program. (Our courses may appear in the course listings but students will not get any credit toward their film studies degree by taking them, which of course means that no one in the film major will be able to take them.) This intrusion into the most sacred and normally inviolable relationship in the university, the relationship between the teacher and his or her student and the organization and content of courses, is not only an extreme violation of academic and intellectual freedom for the faculty member, but the most serious possible blow to the education of every film student at Boston University. Teachers must now teach the same kinds of material, in the same ways, with reading assignments not of their own choice, and evaluation methods dictated by the Director of Film Studies and Cinema and Media Studies, even if they violently disagree with the ideas about film and teaching methods he now requires be employed (as I for one am not afraid to say I do--I in fact find his understanding of film intellectually wrong-headed, and the teaching methods he requires to be counter-productive and backward in every way). It's a sad day for film teachers at Boston University but an even sadder day for film students who are now deprived of different points of view, fresh methods, and innovative perspectives. Those things are not allowed, are explicitly forbidden, in the BU Cinema and Media Studies and Film Studies programs.
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On the subject of books, I am honor bound to add a postscript: Ignore all cover blurbs and all reviews in the media, on the internet, and on Amazon or any other place. This isn’t the time or place to fill in the details, but take it from me that half or more than half of the things said about film books (and many other kinds of books) are fraudulent. The positive blurb or review has either been written by a friend of the author to do him a favor, or by the author himself under a pseudonym. (This happens all the time; I know a number of critics who have made careers of giving their own books rave reviews in major publications.) In the case of a negative review, never forget that many reviews have been written by someone who has taken a dislike to, and sets out to get even with, the author for one reason or another—or have been commissioned by a journal editor who has decided to shoot down an author for some reason. Yes, reviewing is that sick—and that compromised. Professors get their friends to write favorable reviews and conceal their relationship to the professor (this happens all the time with promotion cases in my own department, and is known to happen by administrators over me, and no one intervenes stops it—which should give you an idea of how such practices can get accepted as being “normal”). The system is totally corrupt. Don’t let it warp your judgment.

If it needs to be said, I’ll conclude by emphasizing that the “publication test” is not just to be able to give an imaginary I.Q. score to a group of Film Studies professors. Any faculty member who fails the test I have laid down—who by mid-career has not published four, five, or more full-length, single-author books with a major publisher, at least some of them with a major university press—is certifiably and provably not an intellectual mover-and-shaker. You can know with great confidence that if you take a class with a teacher like that, you will only be hearing regurgitated versions of ideas he or she was taught twenty or thirty years earlier in grad school—or regurgitated versions of things he or she read in a book written by someone else—someone you could be studying with instead, rather than hearing him or her being quoted by someone else. Is that the person you want to be your teacher?

Class is supposed to be a rollicking, fun, free-for-all, no-holds-barred intellectual football game where you and the teacher toss ideas back and forth, bounce them off each other, explode the old ones and create new ones—in every hour of every class, every day of the year. That is what a class genuinely can be if your professor is full of ideas which are constantly being created, challenged, and revised in the face of new ones that he or she is discovering. But if you’re in the other kind of classroom, you’re trapped in a garbage heap of old ideas, of recycled concepts, of received knowledge left over from twenty or thirty years before or picked out of other people’s books. Why would you want that person as your teacher? Why would you want to participate in an intellectual recycling operation? You would be getting cheated, paying forty or fifty thousand dollars to study under someone who was stuck in the old cow paths—of 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s structuralism, formalism, gender studies theories, and multicultural generalizations; someone who isn’t capable of letting go of the past (because they have no new ideas of their own to put in its place), unable to create new forms of knowledge every day, in every class they teach, semester after semester.

The very fact that someone like that is still on the faculty of a particular department (and has presumably been awarded pay raises for the past two or three decades) is proof that the problem is larger than with them alone. Their supervisors, the university administrators who hire and fire and award pay raises, obviously have no academic standards, or don't understand intellectual creativity. In other words, something is wrong with the whole program and everyone who runs it. Don’t be suckered into paying to attend that kind of program by an intellectual sales pitch on Visiting Day or by the baloney you read on the university web site. Don't turn your brain over to someone who isn't a degree-qualified, publication-certified brain surgeon. Your mind, heart, and soul deserve nothing but the best.

.... Okay. Basta. On to the next part of the picture. Evaluating courses.

Continued in Part 6—Pedagogical Betrayals of Trust
Assessing Course Offerings