Doing the Math

A recent article by Rachel Riederer, “Teaching Class,”, has been making the rounds of social media, posted by many of my alert friends in the teaching profession. Riederer makes a point that is seeping slowly into general awareness: college teaching is a working-class occupation. As Riederer puts it:

A professor belongs to the professional class, a professor earns a salary and owns a home, probably with a leafy yard, and has good health insurance and a retirement account. In the American imagination, a professor is perhaps disheveled, but as a product of brainy eccentricity, not of penury. In the American university, this is not the case.

“At the City University of New York, an adjunct teaching full time—four courses per semester—receives a starting annual income of $24,644,” according to Riederer, who knows whereof: she is a writing-center tutor in the City University system. And that’s in New York, where Riederer notes it’s less than half the median household income.

In D/FW, adjuncts do a bit better, factoring in cost of living. A Lecturer in English at UTA, with a PhD and ten years’ teaching experience, makes $25,000 a year and gets free health insurance. Many, many, people live on less in Texas. It’s safe and physically unstrenuous work; some status and respect attach to it. People call you “Professor.” They call you other things too, but rarely to your face. And as Philip Larkin once remarked, “nobody actually starves.”

Of course, “nobody actually starves” is not exactly a great recruiting slogan for a profession. But as Riederer points out, the job market for English teachers is so bad that not starving is frequently held up to adjunct instructors as something they should feel blessed for after every microwave burrito. An administrator I know once memorably rebuked Senior Lecturers who observed that they earned less than entry-level kindergarten teachers. “Be grateful you have a job at all.” And so I am, believe me.

English and other humanities subjects, we’re often told, are simply drugs on the market, so teachers can’t be paid higher than lower-working class wages. (That $25,000 I mentioned above is about the median for the hundred or so instructors who teach for us every semester – most of them by the semester and by the course, without tenure or promotion possibilities.)

So I thought I’d do some math. UTA students pay in-state tuition of $4,439 per semester for 15 credit hours. That’s a flat rate – some take fewer hours, and some who take less than 12 hours pay more per credit hour. But at a conservative estimate, the typical UTA student pays about $888 for a three-credit course. Which is a heck of a lot less than they’d pay at Stanford or Rice.

Our typical $25,000 adjunct teaches five courses a semester, which can range between 20 and 40 students; let’s say 30 as a middle ground. Some teach more, some less; some make less money, few make more. 150 students a semester times $888 – I’m bad at calculation but own a calculator – that’s $133,200 in tuition generated by a typical Lecturer in a typical semester. The Lecturer receives $12,500 of it.

I honestly didn’t think it had gotten that bad. When I started work at UTA in 1988, I made $25K, and taught about 100 students per semester. Each of them paid about $100 per course, so I generated $10K in tuition per semester and was paid $12.5K. UTA didn’t go bankrupt because, then as now, it also received “formula funding” per credit hour from the state, a miserably small contribution but enough to top off my salary and pay for my “free” health insurance, and for overhead like power, IT, building maintenance, and supplies. And of course a university gets some other income from rentals and grants and donations and endowment income (though little of the latter, in Texas, goes toward personnel costs).

As my salary went up over the years, tuition went up too, but I continued to imagine that I was probably continuing to be a money sink overall, and that was true the last time I looked, an unvigilant ten years ago. But in the fall of 2014, I will teach sixty undergraduates who’ll pay around $888 a head. $53,280 in tuition alone, before formula funding: and I will see $38,000 of it. And I am one of the highest-paid, most senior professors in the College of Liberal Arts.

Where does all that profit go? I’d been so used to being told I was unprofitable that I didn’t realize there was any, but there is, and it’s especially drastic as one moves down the instructor ranks. Some goes toward the dreaded administrative bloat, of course: though I hasten to say that UTA is not as bloated as some campuses, and has actually consolidated some functions and eliminated some administrative positions of late; and our higher-ups are not paid very much by national standards.

As at any university, quite a bit of our non-profit “profit” is circulated back into financial aid, so that some students don’t pay that $888 (or the somewhat higher graduate-school tuition) in full. As many news items in the past couple of years have noted, though, that’s more than a bit of a bubble. If you’re offering a class for $888 and paying the instructor $83 of that, you might be able to save everybody some money by cutting tuition while raising teacher pay. But that would reduce the total amount of money in the system, and eliminate chances for it to stick on the fingers of outsourcees, vendors, lenders, cut-outs, and consultants as it makes its way through.

And of course universities have more expenses than they used to. Everybody knows that. Teaching is a smaller and smaller part of what we do at a large university, and despite what seems like a considerable ROI to me, it’s increasingly a “cost center” for the suits, as Riederer also notes. You can’t maintain a gym and a stadium and extensive programming and new dorms and apartments, and research promotion and development offices to secure more development funds, marketing ventures and branding and strategic planning and real-estate schemes, without some sort of revenue enhancement. You can apparently maintain it without chalk, because I’ve had to buy my own for years. I also bought my own computer and my own toner and my own textbooks, and I pay for research costs and travel and UTA parking – as do many of the people who make a third of what I make. IOW not much of that overhead goes back into faculty perks. But I’m not really complaining about perklessness.

I’m not really complaining, and I am open to correction. I am braced for an eloquent rejoinder from an administrator who will tell me I have no idea what it takes to keep a university functioning these days – in fact, how they’ve saved the institution from collapse because of their adroit financial brinksmanship, while I, the naïve Liberal Artist, dream on in my tenured cocoon. As they say, I’m just saying. I am just noticing that paying teachers a middle-class wage – paying them more than a tiny fraction of the tuition their students pay to be taught – is not among the things it takes to keep a university functioning.

Published in:Tim Morris |on July 29th, 2014 |No Comments »

Literary Obituary: Gabriel García Márquez

The death of Gabriel García Márquez yesterday at the age of 87 closes an era of literary history. There’s a fair chance that when somebody looks at your dates, a few centuries from now, they’ll place you as living in the age of García Márquez.

I resisted reading García Márquez for a long time, till I was about 30, even though he was a dominant figure of my lit-major undergraduate years. Though I had never read his books, he held a prominent place in my imaginary library as a mannered writer of florid, stylized tales of machismo, full of women as saints or whores, and despite his well-known leftwing politics, not much interested in using literature to advance progressive causes. As it happens, there’s considerable truth in those prejudices.

Two chance events got me to read García Márquez. I spent a few weeks in Maracaibo and traveled on the Guajira Peninsula in western Venezuela – not exactly the author’s famous Macondo, not even in Colombia for that matter, but close enough ecologically and culturally that I could picture his settings – and meet people who insisted I read his work. And then, in Texas, an old Bookstop on South Cooper offered a complete set of García Márquez’s books in a uniform edition published by Mondadori. I have given away thousands of books in the last 20 years, but not them.

Everyone reads Cien años de soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), and it is indeed the most distinctive and influential of García Márquez’s books. In Cien años, García Márquez set the parameters for what a great 20th-century novel should look like: a generational saga; an enchanted setting; bold, overdrawn, overreaching characters; a headlong, unrestrained narrative line. García Márquez didn’t invent this kind of novel – in fact, one of the great things about Cien años is that it adapts a whole genre of fiction to its own needs, transforming it via the sheer strength of its storytelling in ways that would make Harold Bloom faint.

García Márquez drew obviously from William Faulkner (Macondo and Yoknapatawpha are two of the most completely invented places anywhere in literature). But the big florid saga was around long before Faulkner: it goes back to John Galsworthy, Anthony Trollope, George Eliot, Victor Hugo, Alessandro Manzoni. And any writer in Spanish must grapple with Don Quijote. García Márquez did so by doubling the great achievement of Cervantes back on itself. Macondo, unlike La Mancha, really is enchanted, though its characters sometimes wish they could wake up home in bed with the giants turned back into mere windmills. And unlike Don Quixote, who has to travel around in picaresque fashion seeking adventures, in Macondo you just have to survive, and all the adventures of the world will come to you.

At the same time, it seems odd to compare García Márquez to Trollope or Hugo, rattlingly workmanlike writers of yarns. If he got his narrative energy from such writers, he got his style from Faulkner – but also from Marcel Proust, who couldn’t be less like him in terms of themes and story arcs. Or James Joyce – one might think of García Márquez as adapting the endless sentences of the great modernists in a strongly narrative direction, less stream of consciousness than order of the universe. There’s the single eight-page sentence of “El último viaje del buque fantasma,” for instance, or the famously interminable sentences and paragraphs of El otoño del patriarca (The Autumn of the Patriarch), his most experimental (and frankly least approachable) novel.

It’s fair to say that few world writers in the past 40 years have embarked on a long novel without modeling their work on García Márquez, or alternatively finding some way to resist and repel his influence. One finds extremely close imitations in the fiction of Isabel Allende and Louise Erdrich – though both of them, while telling stories in the pure García Márquez manner, populate those stories with defiant women and feminist themes very unlike those of the master. Carlos Ruiz Zafón in Spain (La sombra del viento/The Shadow of the Wind), Edward P. Jones in the U.S. (The Known World), Carsten Jensen in Denmark (Vi, de druknede/We, the Drowned) created some of the more impressive avatars of Macondo. And in terms of style, the majestic endless sentences of Portugal’s José Saramago and Germany’s W.G. Sebald clearly owe a great deal to García Márquez.

Which is not to say that there’s nothing to critique in García Márquez’s work. In fact, as the examples of Allende and Erdrich show, one is continually tempted to rewrite the often monumentally heedless sexism that pervades his writing. In his depiction of idealized or degraded women and the testosterone-poisoned men who desire them, García Márquez perhaps most resembles Federico Fellini among his contemporaries – but without Fellini’s rueful sense of humor, and without a Giulietta Masina. Cien años de soledad manages to avoid the worst of these excesses, which are perhaps best (or worst) seen in “El avión de la bella durmiente,” a short story that consists entirely of a man gazing at a beautiful woman for the duration of a transatlantic flight. That’s a late story, and one senses that García Márquez got more immature about such themes as he grew older; his last novel was 2004’s Memoria de mis putas tristes (Memories of My Melancholy Whores), which pursues the dirty-old-man theme with great senescent energy.

These are minor works, but more troubling is the truly great novel El amor en los tiempos del colera (Love in the Time of Cholera), a fabulous love story with an emotional register located halfway between The Age of Innocence and Lolita. To be fair, the novel features García Márquez’s strongest heroine, the indomitable Fermina Daza. But she is courted throughout, and eventually won for all eternity, by the fairly loathsome Florentino Ariza, sex addict and near-pedophile. It’s a relentless exploration of desire, but it may turn you off desire once and for all.

But all that said, what should you read by García Márquez – or perhaps, what should you read next after the obligatory pilgrimage through Cien años de soledad? García Márquez had serious creds as a journalist, and I’d strongly recommend two of his nonfiction books: the early Relato de un naufrago (The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor), one of the great survival tales, and the late Noticia de un secuestro (News of a Kidnapping), written in his early 70s to prove that he still had the reporting skills that had made him a professional writer. He still had them.

Of his shorter fiction, I love García Márquez’s El coronel no tiene quien le escriba (No One Writes to the Colonel), a story of the obstinacies of age. (Every time I walk into the office mailroom and see my inevitably empty mailbox, I mutter “El coronel no tiene quien le escriba.”) Among García Márquez’s melancholy whores, the most amazing is the heroine of “La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y de su abuela desalmada,” an utterly maddening and excessively perfect novella. One of my favorites among the short stories is “Un día después del sábado,” an atmospheric tale about a place where it’s just too hot to think.

And first and last, there’s Crónica de una muerte anunciada (Chronicle of a Death Foretold). I’ve written elsewhere about this pendant novella to the Macondo cycle, so I’ll direct readers there and just say briefly here that it’s the essence of García Márquez, for better and for worse: a story of inexpugnable love, horrific violence, and transparent secrets that will not resolve themselves. As I say behind that link, it contains one of the greatest paragraphs in Western fiction. Ángela Vicario, the rejected bride of Bayardo San Román, has written her nominal husband a letter a week “durante media vida,” for half a lifetime (94). He’s never answered; he’s never come to see her. One day, Bayardo shows up on her doorstep.

Llevaba la maleta de la ropa para quedarse, y otra maleta igual con casi dos mil cartas que ella le había escrito. Estaban ordenadas por sus fechas, en paquetes con cintas de colores, y todas sin abrir. (96)

[He was carrying a suitcase with his clothes, and another suitcase, the same size, with almost two thousand letters that she had written him. They were arranged by date, in packets tied with colored ribbon, and none of them had been opened.]

Writing does not get any better.

Published in:Tim Morris |on April 18th, 2014 |1 Comment »

Where Do I Commence

So my phone rings, and it’s my old mentor Lars Abraham, Professor Semi-Emeritus at Seattle State University.

“How’s it shaking, Lars?” say I.

“Not so good,” says Lars.

“I had a premonition you would say that.”

“Tim, morale at Seattle State is at a new low in the 53 years I have taught here.”

“And knowing you, that’s pretty low, Lars.”

“Tim, we have a new Chancellor. And his first order of business has been to order every faculty member to attend both Commencement ceremonies every year, fall and spring.”

“Wow, that’s a big imposition, Lars. You might have to get out of bed and show up for work like millions of regular people.”

“Spare me your sarcasm, Tim. Faculty have genuine grievances here. Many of them will have to spend this year’s miserable raise on buying caps and gowns.”

“Shouldn’t bother you, Lars, you own a gown, right?”

“I own a Harvard Crimson gown,” says Lars.

“I’ve seen that gown. Harvard Rust would be more like it.”

“But that is not the only imposition, Tim. There are also many faculty who have small children and need extra weekend childcare at additional expense.”

“Surely your great-granddaughters are already cared for, though.”

“Watch your mouth. There is also the problem, Tim, that this edict came down from the Chancellor without consultation with the faculty. And it is expressed as an order. We must arrive at the basketball stadium at a certain time, in full regalia, specified down to the tassel. A tassel, Tim. I lost my tassel in 1979. Our names will be on a clip board. We must show state-issued photo identification before our names will be checked off this list. And if we do not get a check mark, then awful things have been threatened. Our Chancellor said that he will punish the instructors who do not attend. He will do such things – what they are yet I know not, but they shall be the terrors of the earth.”

“That’s a bit florid for an interoffice memo, Lars.”

“That is Shakespeare, you nitwit.”

“Well, what’s wrong with that policy?” I ask. “You have to show photo ID everywhere nowadays. Vote, fly, go to a Taylor Swift concert. It’s for security reasons, Lars.”

“It is not for security reasons. It is so I do not pay some undergraduate fifty dollars to wear my robe and go to Commencement instead of me. Seriously, Tim, in the middle of the basketball stadium who is to know that it is Lars Abraham in the crimson robe or Clem Kadiddlehopper? But the Chancellor is taking names, so Lars Abraham it will be.”

“Lars, if you don’t mind my saying so, you’re whining more than usual this morning. What’s wrong with showing up in regalia and letting the students know you care? What’s wrong with showing that you’ve got that Seattle State Selkie Spirit?”

“There is nothing wrong with that, Tim. I have gone to more Commencements here than I can remember. I have shaken hands and read names and handed out diplomas. But the new Chancellor does not know that. He assumes that if I am asked to volunteer, I will weasel out. He assumes I must be ticked off a roll like a buck private before I will consent to do anything.”

“Like most faculty.”

“Tim, the central principle of life is that people will gladly volunteer to do things that they will resist doing if forced.”

“I guess you’re right, Lars. Commencement doesn’t work that way at UTA. I mean, we all go every semester, but that’s because we’ve all arrived freely at the independent decision that we should. We’re Mavericks, Lars. We push our limits where there are none. We’re at the corner of Fast and Rising.”

“What?”

“But Lars, doesn’t it amount to the same thing? It’s nice to go to Commencement, you usually go, and now you’ll be going. What exactly is your problem?”

“Well, with all of us going, the ceremonies are getting larger and longer. They are between two and three hours now, Tim. There is my bladder to consider. And it is one more day I do not get to work on my book …”

“… that you’ve been writing since the turn of the century. It’s always the same with you, Lars, you procrastinate till somebody wants you to actually do some work, and then it’s ‘Oh no, my precious writing time’.”

“Nevertheless, Tim, that time is real. Two extra days of work for five hundred extra faculty every year. A thousand days of research that could go toward achieving Tier One status. Instead it will be spent suffocating in a hot robe in an earsplitting stadium listening to somebody read to us from Oh The Places You’ll Go.”

“So you’re saying that Seattle State values the compulsion of empty attendance at meaningless meetings over actual work on its professional mission?”

“At last you show a glimmer of comprehension, Tim.”

“Well, Lars, at least they’re running your school like a corporation.”

Published in:Tim Morris |on March 7th, 2014 |No Comments »

Bon Voyage English Department!

Once again, the semester has flown by and is coming to an end. It has been a wonderful experience to contribute to this blog. I have been able to narrow down the endless list of jobs available to English majors, but have yet to find my calling. While next semester will be my last, I am indifferent of my feelings of leaving. Once I graduate, I will be left to fend for myself in the dog-eat-dog aspect of the real world by leaving the somewhat sheltered life of a college student. There is always the possibility of graduate school, an idea that will remain as a viable option. Despite my apprehension of leaving the safety net of college, I do believe my time here at UTA has given me the knowledge of navigating life outside of school. I can only hope for the best once I graduate.

Merry Christmas!

Meowy Christmas!!

Published in:Lauren McManus, Uncategorized |on December 12th, 2013 |No Comments »

Libraries, Reading and Day-Dreaming

Author Neil Gaiman gave a lecture on October 15th as part of The Reading Agency annual lectures about the importance of libraries, reading and day-dreaming.

In order to raise literacy in children, they need to know that reading is good. If a parent takes away a book because s/he considers it a ‘bad book’ then the child will believe that reading is frowned upon. In addition to having access to books, children need to read what they want to, not what you give them.  As Gaiman puts it, “A hackneyed, worn-out idea isn’t hackneyed and worn out to them…Do not discourage children from reading because you feel they are reading the wrong thing.”

“But libraries are about freedom. Freedom to read, freedom of ideas, freedom of communication.”

A library is the home of all information. From history to maps and fiction, libraries serve as a place where information is at your fingertips. With the rise of internet and computer use, libraries give the opportunity to use their computers and internet access for free. Some places around the world do not see the importance of libraries which results in closing them.  As a reader, I can only hope that libraries will not lose their place in the literate world.

Fiction has let the reader use their imagination when reading. Readers create the images, smells, etc. that the author has described. Without fiction, and books in general, our imaginations will not be fully developed or even existent. It seems as if the world’s imagination has lessened. While TV and movies provide some escape, it does not compare to the experience one gets while reading. Gaiman states that “Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different.” Imagination is a great attribute a person can possess.

I highly recommend reading his brilliant lecture.

Published in:Lauren McManus |on November 22nd, 2013 |No Comments »

Oh, that is where the phrase came from!

The origins of expressions and phrases used every day are not given much thought. Haven’t you ever wondered how the English-speaking world came to use these phrases?

Here are the histories of just a few common phrases.

“Blood is thicker than water”

Although this phrase implies the importance of familial bonds, the original phrase was actually “The blood of the covenant is far stronger than the water of the womb.” It has been suggested that the nobility changed the phrase to emphasize the importance of bloodlines.

“Cat got your tongue”

When a witty comeback fails to enter your mind, your loss of words are compared to a cat getting your tongue. According to author, Albert Jack, “having your tongue cut out and fed to cats was the punishment for liars during medieval times. Because ancient Egyptian cats were considered gods, this act was seen as a human offering to the gods.”

“To bite the dust”

We’ve all heard Queen’s hit “Another One Bites the Dust,” but did Queen know where the phrase came from? Interestingly enough, this phrase dates back 850 years before the Bible. In Homer’s The Iliad, soldiers, fighting in the Trojan War, are described dying with their faces in the dirt as if they were ‘biting the dust’.

“Wear your heart on your sleeve”

It is commonly known that “to wear your heart on your sleeve” refers to someone who openly shows their emotions and affections. This phrase originated in the Middle Ages when knights, who battled for honor, were given tokens of a lady’s affection. The lady would present the knight with the token, such as a handkerchief, as a sign she “gave her heart” to him. The knight would then put the token on his sleeve for everyone to see.

If you would like to learn more about the origins of common phrases, Albert Jack has published many books that are an interesting read. You can visit his website to explore more.

Published in:Lauren McManus |on November 14th, 2013 |No Comments »

E-reader vs. Paperback

I recently read an article on Scientific American pertaining to how technology has changed the way we read. With the invention of e-readers such as Kindle, Nook and the iPad, people are forgoing the classic paperback novel and using e-readers. E-readers have many advantages, such as holding multiple books without the bulkiness that comes with paper.

Avid readers may enjoy using e-readers while others prefer paper. There are many who vow to never use an e-reader because it takes away the physical and emotional aspect of reading a paper book. The act of turning pages, annotating in the margins, folding a corner of your favorite part, the smell of fresh pages, etc. are the pleasures of paperbacks.

The evolution of technology has allowed e-books to make up “more than 20% of all books sold to the public.” This increase raises questions as to what will happen to the publication industry. More revenue will be gained by publishing e-books, but what will happen to physical books? When asked this question, some have said that there will still be paperbacks, but we really don’t know what will happen.

Technology has vastly changed the world in many ways. The internet can give you the entire synopsis of a book and you don’t have to pick up the book let alone read it. You can even take classes online. While some of the advantages of technology are great, some take away the physicality of actions. Using an e-reader to find and download a book does not give you the same experience as going into a bookstore or library and using the Dewey Decimal System or just perusing until you find the book you need. Coming across new books when looking for something else is an exciting experience.

It has also been shown that e-readers do not give the mind the same experience as paperbacks. “Despite all the increasingly user-friendly and popular technology, most studies published since the early 1990s confirm earlier conclusions: paper still has advantages over screens as a reading medium. Together laboratory experiments, polls and consumer reports indicate that digital devices prevent people from efficiently navigating long texts, which may subtly inhibit reading comprehension. Compared with paper, screens may also drain more of our mental resources while we are reading and make it a little harder to remember what we read when we are done. Whether they realize it or not, people often approach computers and tablets with a state of mind less conducive to learning than the one they bring to paper. And e-readers fail to re-create certain tactile experiences of reading on paper, the absence of which some find unsettling.” With this being said, many students use e-readers to carry their textbooks. If students were to be ‘old school’ and use the physical textbook, there could be a rise in academic performance. The lack of focus when using e-readers leads to just looking at the words on the page as opposed to reading and understanding the text.

As someone who has read on an e-reader, I still prefer paperbacks. There is nothing that an e-reader can have that will persuade me otherwise.

Are you team e-reader or team paperback?

Published in:Lauren McManus |on November 7th, 2013 |No Comments »

10 Things I Like about U(TA)

Pretty much on a daily basis, UTA faculty get a memo from the administration that makes life a little bit worse. I don’t mean to single out UTA, mind you. Pretty much every employee of every organization gets a daily “things will get harder” memo from the higher-ups. More compliance, more assessment, more hoops to jump through, more meetings, more meaningless attendance commanded, less support. Welcome to the world of Continuous Quality Improvement, where things continuously disimprove.

I don’t want to turn into a bitter old man. Readers of this blog may be of the opinion that that boat has left the landing. But there’s always time to head back. So I thought I would write a post without snark or backbiting, and talk about ten things that I truly and unreservedly like about my job, my workplace, and my fellow Mavericks. I know, I know, we’ll see how long I can keep that up. But cross my heart, I like working here, and I ought to take at least every dozenth blog post to list some reasons why.

  1. Lectures! I am a lecture junkie to begin with. But we truly have a rich culture at UTA of live speakers who address timely topics and give excellent readings. Over the past few years, I’ve heard terrific talks by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Jon Meacham, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Jeffrey Toobin … Even Ken Burns! I don’t understand why Ken Burns dyes his hair or keeps it cut like a 1970s pop star, but it was fun to hear what he had to say. Nearer to my own “field,” I’ve gotten to hear Ramón Saldívar, Tim Johnston, Allison Hunter, Dagoberto Gilb, Davy & Peter Rothbart, Darra Goldstein, and many others. But lectures aren’t really about one’s own field; they’re about getting out and finding new fields. And I’m grateful to many, many UTAers who have organized these talks and helped me expand mine.
  2. The Honors College. I can’t imagine people more committed to the ideals of both individual and community undergraduate learning. Our Honors College fosters the liberal arts for students of all majors, and supports the kind of intensive learning experience where faculty know students’ names – and vice versa. One of UTA’s “competitors” is running a World Series TV ad with the catchphrase “101 should be a course number, not a class size.” At our Honors College, they walk the walk. Cheers (as he always puts it) to Dean Karl Petruso and his team.
  3. The Office for Students with Disabilities. Consistently one of the best-run services anywhere. The OSD accommodates students fairly, holds them to high academic standards, and issues crystal-clear guidelines to faculty. I trade a lot of paper and e-mail with the OSD, and they are always happy, helpful, and encouraging. It is marvelous to work with people who demand something from you, and have the legal authority to do so, but who treat you positively at every turn without scolding or chiding, or the assumption that you will naturally resist their efforts. We really do live up to ideals in the matter of accommodations for disabled learners.
  4. The Star-Telegram. It’s free. It’s paper. It’s seven days a week (in term-time). You can get it at the UC, the Planetarium, the Fine Arts Building. It has coupons. It has sports. It has Dear Abby.
  5. The UTA Gallery. Director Benito Huerta and his team present an ever challenging and absorbing series of exhibitions, by top-line professionals and UTA students alike. To stay in touch with contemporary art, you could travel the major cities, or you could simply walk across Cooper Street. And they have vernissages with cheese and crackers. And wine.
  6. Getting Physical Books from InterLibrary Loan. I’m no Luddite. I’m writing a blog post, after all. But I felt like someone from the Stone Age when, earlier this year, my requests for InterLibrary Loans began to be filled with helpful notes from the UTA Library that they’d bought a given book for me … in e-book form! I could sort of read these “books” on my laptop, though not very well, and anyway my laptop weighs about seven pounds and you can’t use it in the bathtub. Not that I would ever read an InterLibrary Loan book in the bathtub. Not me. Where was I? Oh, you should have seen my despair: here were books I couldn’t afford to buy, and couldn’t get from our library, and couldn’t really read on line, and now I would never get them, because since we technically “own” them, they would never borrow them for me. I wept for a while and then sent a note of complaint to the UTA Library, complete with plaintive violin score, oh woe is me. And then they bought all the books I’d ordered in physical print form, and said no problem, we’ll buy or borrow anything you want in future in paper, just let us know. At last, that elusive memo where something got better.
  7. The campus architecture. Well, some of it. But I have resolved not to tell you about what I don’t like at UTA. And anyway, there’s a lot to like. It’s unadorned orange brick instead of ivy and marble, and it’s better that way. We have a style, and we have form meeting function, and it’s a gorgeous color against that blue Texas sky. They’re not old-style college buildings, but they’re livable and classy. My favorites: the UC, the Planetarium, the new(ish) “ERB,” the Spaniolo/Pecan developments (plus their eco-smart landscaping), Nedderman Hall, the tennis center and surrounding apartments, and Architecture itself, with its inviting recessed garden.
  8. And speaking of Architecture, its Branch Library. Now, nothing against our Central Library, which is functional and sturdy, or Science/Engineering, another of my hangouts. But the Art/Architecture Library features an incisive and growing collection, lots of audio and video, a vibrant New Books shelf that’s constantly updated, and an inviting setting for research. I’ve learned more from regular stops there in the past few years than from any other campus resource.
  9. The UTA Theater Program. Well, I’ll admit, over the years, sometimes I have sneaked out at halftime, or whatever they call it when they bring the house lights up and you are allowed to move around for a bit. But I have also seen shows at UTA that I would never have known about, from a wide range of genres, and in a wide range of styles. They’re a teaching department in the best sense of the term: no UTA Theater major graduates without knowing something about the eclectic history of the stage, and knowing it in practice. I’ll single out the marvelous productions in recent years from director Andrew Gaupp, who has shown how farce is the public face of the postmodern: Noises Off, The Mousetrap, and The Government Inspector.
  10. Student Organizations. I’ve advised several over the years, including Sigma Tau Delta (the English Honor Society) and Lyric Expression (a spoken-word and slam poetry club). This fall, I’ve started to advise two more: or rather, to sit back and watch students pour critical energy and joy into them: the Comic Book Club and Food Fight –the organization for healthy cooking and sustainable sourcing. (Or rather, Dr. Joanna Johnson advises Food Fight; I just teach knife skills).

That’s ten: and I didn’t have to think very hard. Some things do go right around here.

Published in:Tim Morris |on October 30th, 2013 |3 Comments »

Importance of Letters

What has happened to the presence of handwritten letters? Remember when you received a letter from a loved one? Or perhaps a festive invitation to an event with confetti popping out of the envelope? Besides the fact that I was born in the 90s, I do have an old soul. Receiving letters in the mail that do not pertain to a bill or credit card companies claiming you are “pre-approved” to invest in their card, give me excitement. Someone out there took time out of their day to actually sit down and write a letter. That act alone points out how important to that person you are.Whether it be just a short “hi” or a long descriptive letter about an event that happened, handwritten letters provide emotions through words in addition to the reader’s role in that person’s life.

Because of technology, the use of letters has diminished. The joy of receiving mail has dwindled as well. Letters were one of the main ways of communication before the advancement of technology. The individual personality of a letter gave the reader a sense of importance and authenticity. Receiving handwritten letters is a great joy; to receive a letter is a personal act of acknowledgement out of love-whether it be familial, friendship or romantic. Without this form of communication, personal relationships through technology are not as effective. Talking on the telephone is the equivalent to a handwritten letter with the added plus of actually hearing the others’ voice.

Texting is rather vague; the use of emoticons can add personality to the message, but without the use of actual handwriting, the reader cannot know the true meaning behind the message. The punctuation, such as an exclamation point, can be entered without actual reciprocation in the writer’s feelings.

Video chat has improved greatly. This alone can be used to have a real face to face interactionwith another person. However, technology may fail and cause a lapse in video feedback.You could be chatting with a friend when all of a sudden your friend’s video feedback has been frozen. All you’re left with is a hilariously weird face and an unfinished conversation.

While technology is a great advancement, there will come a day when technology will fail due to some outrageous superhuman technological virus that we will be left without a telephone, internet, and video chat. Which will lead to chaos within the internet -dependent community as well as those who communicate via technology. How about we revive the simplicity of writing a letter and sending it to a loved one?

Published in:Lauren McManus |on October 29th, 2013 |No Comments »

The Giver Movie

Filming has begun of the highly-anticipated movie version of the beloved Newberry Award winning novel, The Giver.

Here is the run-down of the cast:

Jonas will be played by Australian actor Brenton Thwaites. He is known for his work in Australian TV such as SLiDE and Home and Away. He has also starred in the TV movie Blue Lagoon: The Awakening.

Oscar-winner Jeff Bridges (The Big Lebowski, Crazy Heart, and True Grit) will portray the Giver.

The Chief Elder will be played by the accomplished Meryl Streep (Sophie’s Choice, The Devil Wears Prada and The Iron Lady).

Jonas’s parents will be portrayed by Alexander Skarsgård (True Blood) and the demure Katie Holmes (The Kennedys).

Newcomer, Emma Tremblay will bring Jonas’s sister, Lily, to life.

Asher and Fiona, Jonas’s friends will be played by Cameron Monaghan (Showtime’s Shameless) and Odeya Rush (The Odd Life of Timothy Green).

Rosemary will be played by Taylor Swift (Valentine’s Day).

For those who have not read the novel, Lois Lowry’s The Giver is truly a memorable work. Set in a seemingly Utopian society, the main character Jonas embarks on a journey of uncovering the flaws of living in what he now sees as a dystopian society. Bound by conformity, the community has adopted Sameness, in which every citizen dresses and appears according to society’s rules. Color is obsolete, feelings are nonexistent, and climate is controlled. Being slightly different, such as Asher’s (Jonas’s friend) lateness, is frowned upon. Once a child reaches the age of twelve, they are assigned a job based on what the Elders feel is appropriate. Jobs range from being a birth mother, which is considered a demeaning job, to being Caretaker of the Old. After being taken care of in the House of the Old, the old are then “released” from society. Jonas is assigned the job of the Receiver. This job entails keeping all of the unpleasant memories in life such as famine, pain, and war. In addition to the hurtful memories, Jonas also receives memories of joy, happiness and love. With these memories, Jonas begins to question the society he lives in and the existence of Sameness. Jonas uncovers the brutality in this society and enlists the Giver’s help in making changes.

Bringing the dystopian society to life in The Giver will be a challenge. One of the main elements of the story is the absence of color until Jonas receives memories from the Giver pertaining to color. I have noticed that the characters who have dark eyes in the novel are going to be portrayed by those with light-colored eyes. In this society, variation is non-existent. There are only four characters throughout the book that have light-colored eyes. Of course, with the advances of technology, the eyes can be digitally enhanced or the actors could wear colored contacts. I have read the book numerous times and really hope that the movie is just as good. The nit-picky details are what makes the novel spectacular. In addition, Fiona and Rosemary have red hair, which is a very important detail. Jonas first experience of color is Fiona’s fiery red hair. The introduction of color will dramatically change the way Jonas thinks about the society in which he lives in.

In all, I believe the cast to be strong. Mixing mostly unknown actors with very well-known actors will generate media and create a wider audience. Of course, the book alone already has a wide fan base. Bridges and Streep will bring depth and strength to the movie. I have not seen Holmes portray someone who is not humble, but I do believe she will do justice to the character of the mother. I have only seen Skarsgård play a vampire and it will be interesting to see a more nurturing side of him. The only concern that I have concerns the casting of Taylor Swift. The role of Rosemary, a twelve year old, is mentioned a few times throughout the novel, yet her character is essential. Swift has not had much acting experience and the level of emotion needed to portray Rosemary is crucial. I do look forward to seeing the outcome of the movie and hope that justice is served.

Published in:Lauren McManus |on October 29th, 2013 |No Comments »