Friday, February 29, 2008

Loyal Student

Sometimes I am surprised by people. Just when I think my cynicism is about to take full control of me, someone does something that restores my battered faith in humanity. Two days ago, just such an event happened.

One of my better students is a member of the committee that is determining what the senior class gift will be. This student has been through the ups and downs of my own sabbatical proprosal and, in the process, has really come to appreciate the present plight of the honey bee. So it really didn't surprise me when he convinced his fellow committee members to seriously consider a bee hive as the senior gift.

Last week he presented his idea for a gift to an administrative committee that included the provost, the college president and the vice president of the academic affairs (who was the individual who rejected my sabbatical proposal).

The meeting started out well but ended a little abruptly. My student asked the administrators whether they'd mind bees on campus and they assured him that they were completely supportive of the gift. He went further, though, and asked them whether they'd mind if the biology department were involved in this project. Again, they were supportive. But then the congenial tone of the meeting went sour when my student asked if the sociology department could be involved as well. The president and the provost laughed nervously while the VP frowned, stated that this wasn't possible, and ended the discussion.

This student knew I was hurt by my sabbatical rejection and risked alienating administration by going to bat for me. I wasn't aware he was even thinking of doing this either. He might have failed in getting my sabbatical reconsidered but he did succeed in making the rest of my week rather pleasant.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Abelisto Begs

The following is yet another email to an adminstrator.

I am not one to beg or be pushy but, at the urging of a colleague I trust greatly, I would ask that you reconsider my sabbatical for next year. A number of things are happening on campus right now that makes my proposed project very relevant, important and engaging to students:

a. Quite independent of my own interest in the topic, both ******* and ******** are seriously considering placing bee hives in the old orchard near Yons for the partial purpose of bringing the issues of sustainability and environmental concerns to the minds of those on campus. This project would be more effective if linked to a course that provided students with the social, economic, cultural and environmental factors connected to these issues.

b. The senior class is seriously discussing donating bee hives to ***** as their senior gift. This demonstrates an interest amongst students in the issues outlined in my proposal.

c. A Resource Analysis grad. student is seeking my help on his own research on bees.

d. One student is interested enough in the environmental and social issues surrounding the survival of honey bees to interview me for his journalism class.

All of the above indicate to me that a Bee focused Global Issues course would be both valuable and engaging to our students.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Social Fields

I wrote this as an email to a colleague this morning.

I've been thinking about this article all morning and think it might be useful to expand on Bourdieu's insights in relation to our own situations at ****.

Bourdieu has noticed in his own research that all social fields (e.g. **** faculty or the world of beekeeping) are arenas of social conflict and struggle where the various species of capital (e.g. economic, social, cultural, and symbolic) are _not_ the only things at stake. The winners in these struggles not only recieve the lion's share of capital, they are also given the "authority" to define what the "rules of the game" are in further struggles. Unlike a game of baseball or football where the rules stay the same no matter who wins or loses a game, the rules do not stay the same after each contest in a social field, but are changed by the winners to some degree to favor their own interests in further struggles. As I see it, this explains alot of what has happened over the last 15 years at ****.

The faculty at **** is a dominated subfield of the **** institution as a whole. The administration has "consecrated" certain members of the faculty as "leaders", either through promotion to administrative positions or as "informal", behind the scenes, leaders. Overall, these "consecrated" individuals have some characteristics that distinguish them from others:

a. (Bureaucratic Technicians) They do not engage themselves in critical/creative scholarship in their own disciplines beyond the reading of journals and textbooks. Sometimes, this is lacking.

b. They possess an incredibly extreme Protestant Work ethic. They see hardwork and busyness as a virtue in and of itself, whether that hardwork actually leads to any significant increase in "outcomes". In systems theory language, they focus more on "outputs" than on "outcomes".

I would add one other thing. For various career trajectory reasons (e.g. being an **** alumni, being hired by administration without an outside search) these individuals demonstrate an extreme loyalty to **** as an institution. While we all love SMU, many of us have other countervailing loyalties that keep us from totally "drinking the Kool-aid". I cannot ignore the debt I have to the Jesuit and the Anabaptist traditions that influenced me through college. I cannot simply ignore the critical thinking skills I've acquired from 30 odd years as a sociologist and simply say "Oh, conflict theory doesn't apply to ****. We don't have conflicts and we all have the same interests."

So, these are the qualities of those who have won, at this point, the social struggle in the faculty and so, these are also the qualities you and I are held to and judged by: (a) bureaucratic technician skills, (b) Working hard but not smart and (c) uncritical loyalty. Those of us who can't or won't live by these rules are at a disadvantage during further struggles and are easily labeled as "obstructionists", or "anti-lasallian" if we do voice objections. Even worse, like me, the institution can simply ignore them.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

"Bee Glad...For the Hum Has No Ending"

I've been writing so much about the construction of the top bar hive "Metpropolis", I've failed to mention the piecing together of my more conventional hive -- "Bee Glad...For the Hum Has No Ending." It's a 10 frame Langstroth hive I've been purchasing bit by bit from I will use starter strips rather than foundation, a screen bottom board, and a top hive feeder. I will locate the hive, along with "Metropolis, near our house surrounded by an 8 foot wooden fence with a locked gate.

Before you ask, this hive's name is a play on a 1960s movie title: Be Glad for the Song Has no Ending. The movie centered around my favorite group of all-time: The Incredible String Band.

Even with the cold and all the snow here in Minnesota, I've started some herb plants which I will be planting in this "gated (apiary) community".