(Higher Educations is) A Perfect Mess

June 21, 2017
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(Higher Educations is) A Perfect Mess

David F. Larabee’s A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education reminds us that the combination that colors higher education—neoliberal fiscalization, massive student debt, conflicts between administration and faculty, and debates over the future of our public schools—isn’t anything new. In fact, as Larabee argues, it’s been around as long as … free enterprise, or rather, as long as the free market, which never guaranteed a place for higher education in society. After the jump, read an excerpt from an interview with Larabee at Inside Higher Ed, which touches on his book’s argument: in this witch’s brew of the populist, the practical, and the elite, no single individual or institution can determine the future of the system. It takes a village, for better or worse. *** Q: You seem to be suggesting not to worry too much about today’s problems, because higher education has always been a “perfect mess.” But are there issues that are notably worse today than in the past? A: First, let me say a little about the advantages of the system’s messiness. In the next section, I’ll respond about the problem facing the system today. The relative autonomy and decentralization of American higher education allows individual colleges and universities . . .

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Philip Gossett (1941–2017)

June 19, 2017
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Philip Gossett (1941–2017)

                  The world of music and opera lost one of its great champions last week with the death of Philip Gossett. It would be hard to overstate Gossett’s contribution to our understanding and experience of opera, particularly of the works of Verdi and Rossini. As the New York Times noted in their obituary, Gossett “was a pioneer in the creation of scholarly critical editions of opera scores,” and he used the knowledge he gleaned from archives and manuscripts not merely in the scholarly world, but also in the realm of performance, working with opera companies, conductors, and singers to bring the most accurate and authentic versions of both familiar and long-forgotten works to audiences around the world. In the Times, Ricardo Muti called Gossett “a blessing for the conductors that wanted, really, to bring back a certain dignity to the scores, to bring back the original ideas of the composers.” In recognition of his service to Italian opera, the Italian government awarded him the Cavaliere di Gran Croce, their highest civilian honor. At the University of Chicago, Gossett served as the Robert W. Reneker Distinguished Service Professor of Music and also as Dean of  Humanities. The . . .

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Natasha K. Warikoo on college admissions (and its flaws)

June 19, 2017
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Natasha K. Warikoo on college admissions (and its flaws)

Below follows a recent op-ed by Natasha K. Warikoo at Inside Higher Ed on our flawed college admissions process—and how it gets personal—drawn from her work and research for The Diversity Bargain. *** I recently participated in two admissions processes. At Harvard University, I chaired a committee that admitted students to one of our doctoral programs. At home, I prepared an application for my son to attend private school next year. Having just written a book about college admissions, I understood all too well that these processes are inherently flawed. I knew before the processes even started, for example, that students admitted in both instances would be more likely than the average young American to have parents with college degrees. I also knew that there would be a disproportionate number of white admits. And, I knew that participation in the process would confirm for most decision-makers and those admitted that these are fair processes that select the “best” candidates. For my son, I had a wealth of knowledge to craft his application. The writing skills I developed as a student at Brown University, my social network of elite college graduates, and my husband’s training at the University of Oxford, surely helped us craft . . .

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Barbara J. King on the legal status of animals

June 16, 2017
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Barbara J. King on the legal status of animals

From an interview with Barbara J. King at Nonhuman Rights Blog: So far in our litigation, no court has challenged the idea that chimpanzees are self-aware, autonomous beings; a New York appellate court judge even called the NhRP’s affidavits from scientists “very impressive.” And yet, all the same, our chimpanzee clients remain legal “things” with no rights even though science and law suggest they should be recognized as legal “persons” with fundamental rights. How might you account for this gap between the science of animal cognition and emotion and animals’ legal status? Why do you think the law is still lagging behind the science as far as animals are concerned? The idea of animals as property or as things is so deeply entrenched in Western systems of law;  it’s hard to shake that loose from what years of animal-behavior, anthropology, and psychology studies tell us about chimpanzees as able to reason, remember, plan, suffer, and take into account factors that affect their own well-being. In thinking about the “why,” I remember Steve talking so movingly about this: we know about the not-so-distant past in which human beings other than white men were considered as property or less-than-human in our legal systems. As . . .

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Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

June 14, 2017
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Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection

Elle Hunt at the Guardian takes on Evelleen Richards’s expansive account of Darwin’s theory of sexual selection, perhaps the biologist’s most misunderstood and least explored supposition: Richards argues that, more than natural selection, Darwin’s theory of sexual selection was uniquely his own and, perhaps as a result, often misunderstood. His theorizing drew upon a wide range of influences, many of them deeply personal, including his grandfather Erasmus’s radical writings on evolution and his own relationship with his wife. In, On Darwin and the Making of Sexual Selection, published last month by the University of Chicago Press, Richards explores this confluence of connections Darwin had to make and, just as crucially, the challenges he had to overcome in order to reach his conclusion. Given the conventional understandings of beauty, gender and sexuality of the Victorian era, it is difficult to overstate how radical Darwin’s theory was at the time. It was the culmination of a lifetime of intellectual legwork – and yet he was constantly called upon to validate it until his death in April 1882. “The accepted point of view was that all the beauty that we experience on Earth was created by God for his own and human delight,” says Richards. . . .

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Thoreau: A Life

June 12, 2017
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Thoreau: A Life

Coming this July. (A teaser, from Publishers Weekly: “The wonder is that, given her book’s richness, Walls still leaves the reader eager to read Thoreau. Her scholarly blockbuster is an awesome achievement, a merger of comprehensiveness in content with pleasure in reading.”) . . .

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How to Tame (Really Tame) a Fox

June 9, 2017
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How to Tame (Really Tame) a Fox

Below follows an excerpt from Lee Dugatkin’s piece on tameness at the Washington Post, which draws from his singular work of biology, How to Tame a Fox (And Build a Dog), a Cold War-driven suspense tale of scientific experimentation, Siberian winters, and one unconventional Space Race-era goal: recreating the domestication of dogs from wolves in real time, using the silver fox. *** He and Lyudmila began to test this idea in 1959. Every year they assessed hundreds of foxes and selected only those with the most “prosocial” interactions with humans — the ones that licked people’s hands, wagged their tails and whined sadly when interactions with humans were over.  These were the foxes chosen to parent the next generation. They would then assess whether subsequent generations became tamer over time, and equally important, whether traits associated with the domestication syndrome began popping up. They did, and quickly — remarkably quickly, given the thousands of years it took for our ancestors to domesticate dogs, cows and other creatures. Within the first decade of the fox domestication experiment, the animals were not only markedly tamer, offering up their stomachs for belly rubs, but some of them had curly tails and mottled fur. Lyudmila remembers one fox in particular from this time. . . .

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Amitav Ghosh interview in BOMB

June 7, 2017
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Amitav Ghosh interview in BOMB

Amitav Ghosh, on climate change, Ray Bradbury, and “serious fiction,” in conversation with Curt Stager, at BOMB (excerpt after the jump). *** Curt Stager: You are primarily known as a novelist. What led you to write this nonfiction book? Amitav Ghosh: Climate change became a matter of personal urgency for me while I was writing my 2005 novel The Hungry Tide. The novel is set in the Sundarbans, the great mangrove forest of the Bengal Delta. While working on the book I realized that this region was already being impacted by rising sea levels and a retreating coastline. In the years after that, even though I was occupied with a project of a different kind (the Ibis trilogy), I found myself becoming more and more preoccupied with climate change—no doubt because the impact was increasingly obvious. After I finished the trilogy, I felt a great need to put down my thoughts on environmental change and its bearing on my practice as a writer. I might add here, that the distinction between fiction and nonfiction is itself beginning to look increasingly strained in this era of anthropogenic climate change. CS: What, exactly, do you mean by The Great Derangement? Is it related to . . .

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Jed Purdy on Henry David Thoreau (and our new bio!)

June 5, 2017
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Jed Purdy on Henry David Thoreau (and our new bio!)

Laura Dassow Walls’s Henry David Thoreau: A Life (forthcoming this July) is set to be one of 2017’s blockbuster literary events: years in the making (the first Thoreau bio in a decade+) and hitting the printer at just over 600 pages, the book has already garnered pre-publication superlatives, piped up by every outlet who could get their hands on a galley, from Publishers Weekly to the Chronicles of Higher Education. And now, even the think-piece heavies are starting to weigh in—here’s an excerpt after the jump from one of our favorites, Jedediah Purdy, in his long-form piece on appreciating Thoreau, fresh off his read of Walls’s powerhouse biography, at the Nation. *** I would bet that fewer Americans have read Walden than have heard that Thoreau’s mother did his laundry. Yet Thoreau persists. Laura Dassow Walls, who teaches English at Notre Dame, has written an engaging, sympathetic, and subtly learned biography that makes a strong case for Thoreau’s importance; she also seems a little baffled that anyone could fail to admire him. Her Thoreau was an abolitionist who brought Frederick Douglass to speak at the Concord Lyceum—a kind of community university—and participated in the Underground Railroad, to the point of risking charges of treason by helping enslaved people flee . . .

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Our free e-book for June: The Political Origins of Inequality

June 1, 2017
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Our free e-book for June: The Political Origins of Inequality

Our free e-book for June is Simon Reid-Henry’s The Political Origins of Inequality: Why a More Equal World Is Better for All of Us. Download your copy here. *** Inequality is the defining issue of our time. But it is not just a problem for the rich world. It is the global 1% that now owns fully half the world’s wealth—the true measure of our age of inequality. In this historical tour de force, Simon Reid-Henry rewrites the usual story of globalization and development as a story of the management of inequality. Reaching back to the eighteenth century and around the globe, The Political Origins of Inequality foregrounds the political turning points and decisions behind the making of today’s uneven societies. As it weaves together insights from the Victorian city to the Cold War, from US economic policy to Europe’s present migration crisis, a true picture emerges of the structure of inequality itself. The problem of inequality, Reid-Henry argues, is a problem that manifests between places as well as over time. This is one reason why it cannot be resolved by the usual arguments of left versus right, bound as they are to the national scale alone. Most of all, . . .

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