The Arizona Desert Lamp

Facebook Paranoia

Posted in Campus, Culture, Media by Evan Lisull on 24 December 2008

Facebook Guide

As if being infested with insidious jihadists and monitored by ASUA election officials weren’t bad enough, Facebook seems to have another problem — it’s “official” college class websites were designed by a company for marketing purposes:

So it’s perhaps no surprise that admissions officials and students alike felt betrayed when they learned dozens of Facebook groups devoted to the “Class of 2013” at various colleges appeared to have been created by non-students who were more interested in marketing than getting chummy with future classmates.

The viral marketing ploy was first exposed by Brad Ward, coordinator for electronic communication in Butler University’s admissions office, who wrote about some Facebook peculiarities on his blog, squaredpeg.com.

After a tip from another admissions official, Ward found that many of the “Class of 2013” groups were created by the same people, none of whom seemed to have a connection to the colleges for which they were creating groups. They did have connections to each other, however. Several of the creators were affiliated with College Prowler, a Pittsburgh-based company that publishes college guidebooks.

Calling the group creators “an inside ring with a common purpose,” Ward speculated on their intentions: “Think of the data collection,” he wrote. “The opportunities down the road to push affiliate links. The opportunity to appear to be an ‘Admin’ of Your School Class of 2013. The chance to message alumni down the road. The list of possibilities goes on and on and on.”

Were these ever actually believed to be “official,” as in sponsored by the university? The reason people join these groups is to converse with future classmates, a goal that is accomplished even with this insidious corporate influence. The “marketing” here is no more subversive than the corporate sponsorship of the ZonaZoo T-shirts, the Homecoming Parade, or UA Votes (which was insidious, but due to its non-corporate sponsors PIRG).

Already, official university functions are far too enmeshed within Facebook, which is still a private, voluntary service the last time I checked. Here’s a better approach, that doesn’t involve President Shelton’s profile picture and Provost Hay’s status updates (“Meredith Hay is Too many white papers to read!!!”) — the University can have a formal, written policy of not having any official involvement in third-party websites. This way, these “official” sites can obviously not be sponsored by the University, and there will be no confusion.

In this case, the usual rules of the Internet apply. Don’t click on links that you’re not comfortable with. Don’t unreservedly trust anyone you don’t know in real life. Maintain a healthy skepticism.

The best part of the story comes in the university-officials-wring-their-hands-section, in which that old meme of older generations failing to understand technology still holds:

Jeannine Lalonde, assistant dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, said the College Prowler story prompted her to start an official group Friday morning, reversing her previous hands-off approach.

“Last night when I read the post, I completely changed my mind,” she said Friday. “I think we need to protect our brand and we need to protect our students.”

Indeed; Lord knows that students simply are unfamiliar with marketing schemes, and like lambs before the lion they will fall for everything. In fact, college students are little better than infants, and as such should be watched — nay, nannied — at all times, to make sure that they make no mistakes whatsoever.

Then, we go over to Facebook Truther Anne Petersen:

Anne Petersen, a former administrator in Penn State’s undergraduate admissions office, said she worried about how covert Facebook groups might influence prospective students. By posing as prospective students, a company could promote or besmirch a college, she said.

“When it comes to yield, that could be really important,” said Peterson, who directed electronic communications at Penn State. “That could sway some decisions about where students go.”

. . .

“It’s really kind of black helicopter [stuff],” she said. “You start to think about all of the conspiracy theories that can come out of this.”

What Petersen does not realize is that “College Prowler” is actually a front organization for global jihad. Call Michael Chertoff! Where’s my eREALID?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Moe_

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Metaphor to think about

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 24 December 2008

From an article in the Wilson Quarterly:

The humanities reached unprecedented heights of prestige and funding in the post–World War II era. But their advocates can only dream of such status today. Now the humanities have become the Ottoman Empire of the academy, a sprawling, incoherent, and steadily declining congeries of disparate communities, each formed around one or another credal principle of ideology and identity, and each with its own complement of local sultans, khedives, and potentates. And the empire steadily erodes, as colleges and universities eliminate such core humanities departments as classics (or, at the University of Southern California, German), and enrollment figures for humanities courses continue to fall or stagnate. Even at Anthony Kronman’s Yale College, which has an unusually strong commitment to the humanities and many stellar humanities departments, the percentage of undergraduates majoring in humanities fields has fallen sharply since 1986, from half of all majors to just over a ­third.

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One friend is a fan of Global Jihad. Become a fan?

Posted in Culture, Random by Connor Mendenhall on 23 December 2008

According to the folks who follow the activities of wannabe Web-jihadis at Jihadica (my favorite online source “for materials related to militant, transnational Sunni Islamism”) there’s a new plan in the works for bringin’ it to the Dar al-Harb: invading facebook.

A recent post by a member of Faloja, one of several notorious jihadi internet forums, suggests that “after great success in raiding YouTube,” it’s time to “reach millions of people” through facebook and “post media…that shows the Crusader losses.” Is there any dark corner of the world where hyperbole about “social networking” has yet to tread?

I’m no ibn al-Walid, but I’ve got my doubts about the strategic merits of a facebook invasion. If online jihadis are anything like me, they’ll just end up playing a lot of online Scrabble and constantly refreshing their profiles with little witticisms. In fact, they’ve already declared the first invasion a failure. Maybe they’d have better luck with the Causes application.

Read more at Jihadica.  (Thanks, Arfa!)

[Update: By the way, it’s worth noting that Dr. William McCants, the founder of Jihadica, is a graduate of UA’s very own Near Eastern Studies program!]

Ding-dong! The bill is dead

Posted in Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 23 December 2008

Which old bill? The billion-dollar corporate handout campus construction plan sold to the public as an “economic stimulus package” for the state of Arizona. Rep Russell Pearce (R-Mesa), chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Capital Review, has been holding up the bill since October. Now, according to the Arizona Daily Star, it looks like the bill is really most sincerely dead:

A lawmaker-approved plan to spend $1 billion on building projects at the state’s three universities and stimulate the construction industry is likely dead after a legislative committee set to review the package canceled its meeting.

The cancellation of the Friday meeting means the projects — which included $470 million to expand the University of Arizona’s medical school in downtown Phoenix — probably won’t be reviewed until the Legislature convenes next year, dimming the prospects of the package ever being implemented.

Given the state’s growing deficit, lawmakers on the Joint Committee on Capital Review have been blocking the bond-funded projects, saying that the spending needs to be trimmed or cut entirely as they look for ways to make up for a shortfall that could reach $2 billion.

The decision by Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, to stall the projects — originally passed by lawmakers during the summer — has met with criticism from Gov. Janet Napolitano and leaders of the state’s three universities, who say Pearce is ignoring the will of the full Legislature.

Although members of the committee approved $64.6 million to fund critical safety repairs at the three universities at a November meeting, they’ve held off reviewing the rest of the package, which includes $170 million to be spent at the UA’s main campus.

As I’ve said before, the part of this package earmarked for construction of two new residence halls ought to be approved—that spending would be financed by a bond now, and paid off with proceeds from student rent, which is far less of an affront to fiscal responsibility. UA is hurting for student space (visit any study lounge during late August and you’ll find a few freshman holed up in temporary quarters) so it’s too bad that sorely needed dorm capacity will be held up. But as for the rest of this bill: cue the Lollipop Guild.

Man and Environmentalism — a riposte

Posted in Politics by mattstyer on 20 December 2008

Hey folks, I’ve been having some problems with WordPress and haven’t been able to post. As you might recall,  Evan wrote a column on environmentalism over a week back, and I wrote this as a response. I pretty vehemently disagreed with Evan, perhaps as is par for the course. Evan’s post could still be at the bottom of the main page; but as a refresher here are his main points:

“It is a luxury good to be able to worry about the environment”

“Nature, for all intents and purposes, has waged a no-holds-barred war against Man for its entire existence”

“Fight for the environment insofar as it is an element of human society — an environment beholden to man, and not the other way around”

This kind of thinking will get you in a lot of trouble with environmentalists – self-proclaimed, or just people who worry about it like me.

I don’t understand: how exactly is it a luxury good to be able to worry about the environment? We can put it out of sight, out of mind because we let our economics make an externality of it. But this is not a luxury; it’s short term thinking. I’d have to argue that it’s the short term thinking that’s a luxury, enabled for us by our vast, insulating material wealth and hubris about our ability to harness the environment to our own ends. Jared Diamond has written a few books about that, and that’s not even brushing the extent of the literature about it. In the not so long term – e.g., right now – our treatment of the environment is coming to catch up with us.

But a note on the word “environment” or “nature” – why are we not a part of it? Just because we can build houses and levies to hold the elements at bay, doesn’t mean we aren’t still enmeshed in it. Isn’t that exactly why we build the stuff? Again, I think it’s the luxury of our material wealth and short term thinking it allows – under which we’ve done urban and economic planning while ignoring our surroundings – that lets us form the impression that we’re separate from it.

And I think once we realize that we’re a part of it like everything else, we also realize that to speak about it as a homogenous term (in most contexts) is simply wrong. So it’s not us vs “the environment” or “nature,” but against all the interlocking parts that comprise it. That in mind, who ordained us proud conqueror and king of the Earth? What right do we have to subsume every other creature’s ends to our own?

“Sustainable,” to my mind, is replacing “environmental” because it’s a more vague and innocuous term, and thus better suited to marketing purposes. In this country, only marketable things are of any value, or catch any sustained attention.

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Big Transformation Forward

Posted in UA Transformation Plan by Evan Lisull on 19 December 2008

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the new Colleges of Letters and Sciences:

A new academic unit called the Colleges of Letters and Science will be created through a partnership of the colleges of Science, Social and Behavioral Sciences, Humanities and University College. This unit has been developed as part of The University of Arizona’s Transformation Plan to build on interdisciplinary strengths and reduce administrative and business expenses.

This has been a long time coming. As we’ve pointed out in other posts, the most successful institutions have a handful of very large, wide-ranging colleges, which are essentially schools within the school. Because of their size, these intra-university institutions can provide services that currently need separate entities to operate — services such as advising for undecided students:

Advising for students who are undecided on majors, currently provided solely by University College, will be integrated into the new Colleges of Letters and Science to strengthen academic support for students.

The Lamp has never been a big fan of the UC, so I can’t say I’m sad to see it go. The best move for next year (presumably, when this plan would be fully enacted; I can’t imagine that it’s effective immediately) would be to convert the current UC offices into the administrative offices of CLS, saving them the problem of finding space for the new, centralized administrators.

It is worth noting that the three universities (not counting the UC) maintain their indepedent status, with their own deans and administrative control. However, the overall CLS will be run by an “executive dean,” a position to which the current College of Science dean has been named.

Provost Meredith Hay also stresses the “advising benefits” that will be accrued from the new set-up, while not exactly spelling out what these benefits will be. I could see a sort of underclass/upperclass divide in the advising: advisors for underclassmen will be well-versed in the CLS as a whole, helping to spell out the Gen Ed requirements, giving advice on majors (a la the University College), interpreting the Byzantine SAPR; advisors for upperclassmen will be more specified, and associated with programs rather than schools, providing more specified advising up through the graduation check.

You can watch Hay talk about the new institution here.

Proof that it’s a recession

Posted in Campus, Culture by Evan Lisull on 18 December 2008

Via Cato@Liberty, hard times in Cambridge town:

Even holiday parties for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences have been scaled back.

On Thursday, Harvard deans and administrators will gather in the faculty room in University Hall for one bash instead of two, normally held off-site. No spouses or other guests. Only wine, beer, soda; no hard liquor. [emphasis added – EML]

But the festivities will not entirely lose their glow. Harvard being Harvard, the faculty room is plush – adorned with crystal chandeliers, Oriental carpets, and marble busts and oil paintings of Harvard’s presidents and famous alumni. The mint-green walls are accented with Greek columns. Revelers will feast on puff pastries, canapes, and other hors d’oeuvres as a student plays seasonal music from the grand piano in the corner.

What, no noggy-hands-induced games of Diplomacy? At least they can still play a good round of slap-the-1999-Pinot-Noir.

Do we need tenure in English 101?

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 18 December 2008

These sorts of stories are always supposed to be bad news, but I’m not sure that this is such a troubling development:

A rising share of English courses at colleges are taught by full-time, nontenured lecturers who generally lack doctorates, according to a report released today by the Association of Departments of English and the Modern Language Association.

Such faculty members, most of whom are hired on multiyear contracts, “have become an increasingly crucial component of English-department staffing,” says the report, which was compiled by the English-department group’s committee on staffing issues.

This is also a frequent complaint here at the UA — specifically, there is one teacher who routinely comes up in conversation, who supposedly learned English as a second language yet teaches several sections of English 101/102.

Yet getting tenure does not make great teachers; in fact, with the lifetime guarantee that tenure provides, it may even make a professor less effective at, or less inclined towards, teaching — what’s their incentive? Overall, the professorial track has little to do with actual teaching. Most of the process is research based; and while this may lead to interesting subject matter, there’s no guarantee that the matter will be conveyed in an effective manner.

Especially in the early, required English classes, tenured professors even may be a worse fit. Having been cooped up so long in the university system, they have unrealistic expectations about the underclassmen that they teach. And while I’m all for increasing standards in just about every aspect of life, there’s no denying that much of the first-year classes here (and other state schools) are remedial in nature, getting students up to the level that they were expected to be at upon admission.

Instead of a doctor, you need a transitionary figure, someone between the pure ivory tower and the disciplinarian of the K-12 system. The grad student/lecturer fits this role perfectly. I’m certainly influenced by the fact that my grad student English 109 teacher was among the best I ever had, and one of the few who had a very real impact on my writing.

Yet there are bad sides to this set-up:

Although most nontenure-track faculty members are assigned to lower-division courses, they also teach a significant share of the upper-division courses offered to undergraduates — at least 22 percent at baccalaureate and master’s institutions, and at least 36 percent at those classified as doctoral/research.

You really do need to draw a stark line between lower and upper division classes here, having the grad students/lecturers teaching lower-level and allowing tenured professors to teach their area of expertise in the upper levels. This provides a sort of incentive, putting up with the 200-level course to get to converse one-on-one with a top academic. The exception, as far as English is concerned, is Creative Writing, where the idea of tenure is laughable. Creative Writing teachers should be writers themselves, not academics.

Another problem, which the article doesn’t touch on, is the willy-nilly way in which these lecturers are dismissed by the school. I understand that dealing with downturns and such requires reductions in the payroll, but many of these lecturers are more important figures to students than the full-time professors they come across. The bonds formed with college freshmen and their instructors often lasts for their entire time at the school, if not beyond, and should not be toyed with lightly (especially at a school like ours, with its low graduation rate). If you are going to sign these lecturers on, they should be signed for a minimum of five year contracts, to guarantee that at a minimum two classes of students will be seen all the way through.

Eggward Noggyhands: Your New Favorite College Christmas Pastime

Posted in Culture, Random by Connor Mendenhall on 16 December 2008

NoggyhandsAs Evan has noted elsewhere, “college parties are weak” come Christmastime. Though “Halloween inspires the most creative of prostituted fashions, the best Christmas party that iterates itself is the ‘Tacky Sweater Party’—ironic, yes, but hardly damning.”

Hardly surprising, either. Towards the end of the semester, students are too focused on finals and family and chestnuts roasting on an open fire to bother party planning. But I intend to cure the December doldrums, with a simple seasonal variation on a college favorite that combines youthful decadence with Yuletide cheer: Eggward Noggyhands.

To play Eggward Noggyhands, you’ll need two 32 oz. cartons of eggnog for each player, a roll of duct tape, and an iron will, because you’re going to be guzzling about 2,700 calories of holiday joy. Rules are simple: if you remove your nog before both cartons are empty, you lose. If you’re the first to finish both, then well…you’ll probably be the first actual winner of Eggward Noggyhands in the history of the world.

Best of all, it’s fun for the whole family. A few ounces of bourbon aren’t exactly the principal factor in a Noggyhands victory, so feel free to play with both leaded and unleaded eggnog—which means Grandma, your little sister, and all the brothers from the Delta Kappa house can come together and nog by the fire.

If you’re seriously considering a round of Eggward Noggyhands, remember that it’s best to see a doctor before beginning any holiday drinking game regimen. And if you’re seriously considering it, I suggest this recipe from Alton Brown. Merry nogging!

(photo via flickr user booleansplit)

Turning offense into opportunity

Posted in Culture, Random by Connor Mendenhall on 16 December 2008

From scribbles on the back page of the Wildcat to vagina theatre to chain-link fences to eighteen-foot photos of aborted fetuses, there’s nothing UA students love more than getting offended about facile bullshit. Now, thanks to Swedish performance artist Pål Hollender, irritated undergraduates can channel their offense into something besides scrambling town hall meetings and calling for campuswide re-education: a scholarship application. 

In 2003, Hollender invested 100,000 Krona in a smorgasbord of “unethical” stock picks (think MOD squad meets Larry Flynt). Now, he’s using the profits to award college scholarships on behalf of “The Pål Hollender Foundation for Ethically or Aesthetically Offended Consumers of Culture.” From the aptonymic Art Newspaper:

Hollender’s foundation is itself the work of art, which is owned by the Malmö museum. Physically it consists of 13 boxes, where visitors can post their applications for a scholarship. A text on the wall outlines the foundation’s constitution. The money the scholarship holders receive is intended “to promote insight or further education among cultural consumers with respect to what is commonly thought of as respectable culture”. Applicants must sign a declaration stating that they feel or have felt offended either ethically or aesthetically by culture. 

Hollender’s already handed out the equivalent of $4,000—so if you’re still reeling from the last campus controversy, you’d better act fast. With a little luck, you’ll recoup the cost of a plane ticket to Sweden.

(via BoingBoing)