Outside the Classroom

Prairie Republic: The Political Culture of Dakota Territory, 1879-1889, by Jon Lauck (review by Joseph Stuart)
By Joseph Stuart on April 02, 2012

The four Northwestern "Omnibus States" admitted to the Union in 1889 were Washington, Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota. As a new university instructor soon moving from Michigan to North Dakota, I was delighted to read Jon Lauck's new book on Dakota Territory as an introduction to my new home. My own route of emigration parallels the great shift of half a million people from the Midwest to Dakota Territory during the 1880s that Jon Lauck describes so well in this fascinating book. His thesis is that the political culture of Dakota Territory was shaped primarily by republicanism and Christianity. He argues that these factors were more critical than class, race, gender, or environmental issues in buttressing the efforts of settlers to build a stable polity and seek the granting of statehood in 1889


Why Is It Wrong to Use the University for Political Purposes?
By David Kidd on April 01, 2012

If you like hearing people tell other people they aren't doing their job right, then you'll love "A Crisis of Competence: The Corrupting Effect of Political Activism in the University of California." The report, written by the California Association of Scholars (a division of the National Association of Scholars) is 81 pages of steely resolve and relentless truth-telling, and if it were roast beef, you wouldn't be able to cut it: it's that well done.


The existence/content distinction within Natural Law and the UN
By Peter J. Colosi on March 28, 2012

Joe Fornieri and I presented papers in October 2010 at a Natural Law Symposium at St. John Fisher College in Rochester, NY. Another presenter, who was a conservative, suggested that it is better not to argue for positive laws on a natural law basis. He said that this is dangerous because it puts too much power into the hands of liberals. His point, which I disagree with on principle, confirmed something I had been thinking as I prepared my lecture for that day.


Professor Flipflops, or Some Thoughts on How to Approach Summer, Part Two
By Glenn Moots on July 20, 2011

Part Two: Time Management and Putting the Summer into Perspective


The question of time management arises because, assuming you aren’t teaching or doing administrative work, you have more time in the summer. You not only don’t have to devote time to course prep, teaching, and grading; you potentially have whole blocks of time for dedicated research, writing, and course design. Woo hoo!


How might one organize one’s days or weeks in the summertime? The general consensus among writers (and I tend to agree) is that writing is best done in the morning and research and reading best done in the afternoon or evening (depending on your family needs). Summer is therefore a great time for getting up earlier because it’s brighter and warmer in the morning. Also, it is probably better to do some writing every day than to wait or hope for stretches of enormous productivity to balance out long periods of inactivity.


Speaking for myself, I feel better if I steadily chip away at projects during the whole summer. But this is a general rule. I also enjoy having dedicated time of non-academic activity in the summer together with equally lengthy periods of high productivity. (Ideally, these are scheduled.)  These extremes may also correspond to personal or family considerations.


As many of you know, there are unscheduled episodes with extended family, housecleaning, allergies, hospitality, car or home maintenance, or other distractions from academic projects. Go with it. Be thankful that you don’t have to juggle your classes too. Your career won’t end because of a few bad days or distractions in the summer. Along those lines, capitalize on those fits of productivity that may happen late at night or when you’re at your in-laws. Again, you don’t have to answer to the usual routine. Take advantage of that flexibility and charge ahead…


…Or not. Failure to progress on a major academic project can drive you crazy. But it isn’t an excuse for driving others crazy or neglecting your other duties and vocations – especially when you may not be obliged to teach classes as usual. If professors are supposed to be dispensing wisdom, we need to be about the chores and graces of everyday life. If you are looking for insights into wisdom, then all your attendance to family and other commitments will come around full circle into your teaching and writing. Take advantage of the summer to have a cap gun war with your kids or take a road trip to visit dear friends who won’t be around forever. This is important, too. Will your family ever really cherish your books or articles on Whiggism or nous? Or are they more likely to remember that great road trip or waterfront cottage? Hmmmm…


Also, just because you don’t feel like you’re actively thinking about your research doesn’t mean that your brain isn’t still processing it. This is why you can have insights while mowing the lawn, waxing your car, sitting on the beach, of having a cookout with friends. Don’t hesitate to launch these activities without guilt. Your brain never sleeps; it’s always working. Learn how to do things that require a different kind of thinking or, better yet, encourage active but free contemplation. Learn from time spent well with others. All of this will enrich your teaching and writing. Take a cue from the principle of Sabbath rest. You’ll come back to your projects better than you left them.


Summer can also be a good time to explore something new or overdue. Your decision to launch your own personal John Ford film festival, travel, or read outside your field can generate new ideas for writing or teaching. New specializations may sprout, so don’t hesitate to branch out.  Likewise, summer can enable you to stray a bit from the subject at hand and explore the periphery. Explore a new timeframe for your subject or a different school of interpretation, for example. This scholarly wandering can provide excellent ideas for research or teaching on the margins of what you are doing now.


Don’t forget to keep your summer in the context of the rest of the year. The only thing worse than an unproductive summer is an unproductive academic year. Therefore, see your summer as an opportune time to launch projects that will keep you productive during the rest of the year. Design a course that will be more enjoyable to teach in the fall. Write those quizzes now so that you can keep your research consistent during the regular semester. Use the summer to draft a prospectus or submit a manuscript whose next step will keep you busy during the school year. We are no less obliged to master the seasons of the year than we are to master the seasons of our lives. This requires the kind of architectonic thinking that Aristotle prescribes in his Nicomachean Ethics.


The best advice for summer is advice that holds for your whole life. Whether you type a chapter or have a squirt gun war tomorrow, take the advice of Ecclesiastes and do it with all your might. Others will have to decide whether we truly work for a living, but we must live with thankful hearts that the academic calendar can afford both a restful and a productive summer.

Professor Flipflops, or Some Thoughts on How to Approach Summer, Part One
By Glenn Moots on July 14, 2011

Part One: Preliminary Considerations


You don’t have to be a farmer to appreciate the summertime break from classes that most academic contracts afford.  Though some agitate for a year-round academic calendar without this traditional reprieve, such designs demonstrate a poor understanding of both leisure and the vocation of scholarship.


Though I am not above making the occasional joke to friends and family that they “actually work for a living,” I know full well that my workday is just as long as or longer than theirs. There is always something to be done and it’s almost impossible to put academic work aside. But none of that work is back-breaking labor and I am additionally thankful that much of it can be done more-or-less on my own schedule. Nevertheless, the “academic life” presents its own set of challenges and, strangely enough, summer is one of those challenges. I think of this every time I am tempted to close correspondence with a colleague. What to say? ”I hope you have a restful summer.” Nope. That might make me look like a slacker. “Have a productive summer”? Probably not: this makes me look like an anxious workaholic. I have since dispensed with these kinds of closings. Why not make it look like I didn’t even notice the onset of the summer? That’s it! Subtly implied workaholism!


I remember when I left a job in finance (again, humor friends and family by referring to this kind of thing as “working for a living,”) and began a full-time teaching position. Despite having a very good boss who promised to put me on the fast track to remunerative success in financial planning, the allure of summers was too strong. Yes, yes. I wanted to impart wisdom to students. Yes, I wanted to have a “life of the mind.” But I also wanted the warm and leisurely months of my youth. Little did I know that the other nine months of the year would more than balance out the so-called “lazy days of summer.” Of course, no one plays ball at the old schoolyard anymore and I don’t quite fit in the wading pool like I used to. Still, I’ve never looked back.


Since making that decision to transition to full-time teaching in 1995, I’ve had good summers and bad summers. I can remember particularly “productive” summers revising projects for publication or preparing for new courses. I can also remember more than one “unproductive” summer trying to help family or get a handle on other domestic fronts. I can recall a few summers where projects just didn’t get off the ground despite my best efforts.


With all of this in mind, allow me to offer some thoughts on how to approach summer. As we used to say in finance, your returns may vary. Be sure to read your prospectus carefully. Most importantly, think of these suggestions as a conversation starter rather than a conversation killer.


If you teach for most of the summer, then much of what I’m talking about doesn’t apply. Let’s face it: it’s really the break from classes that helps to define summer as a leisurely respite. Whether you should teach or not really depends on your particular circumstances. While I could really use the extra income that comes from summer teaching, my institution doesn’t incentivize it well. And unlike extra teaching during the year, there really isn’t the same efficiency to teaching in the summertime. I’m not already on campus. I’m not already teaching two other sections of the same course. Plus, I’m trading a small amount of money for a big block of time that I would otherwise have to “buy” with a grant. On the other hand, colleagues have told me that they find summer teaching to be more informal and relaxed. And some are well compensated for teaching during the summer. You’ll have to decide the trade-off here.


Accompanying any decision to teach or to tackle ambitious projects must be the question of what your spouse and children doing in the summer.  (Don’t forget your parents and extended family, too.) My wife and children are home all summer, so I have a different set of challenges or opportunities compared to someone who has an empty house all summer. What does the rest of your year look like in terms of family time? I am often so busy during the academic year that I really owe it to my family to take things slower in the summer. (When the kids were younger, I did find my way into a wading pool now and then.) On the other hand, my teaching schedule makes it imperative to read and write in the summer lest all scholarship grind to a halt. This trade-off obligates daily or weekly time management as well as some perspective on the relationship of summer to the rest of the year.   


In the next post, I’ll offer some considerations on time management and try to put the summer into perspective.

Public Expressions of Faith
By Anonymous on December 29, 2010

Public usage of religious rhetoric by political leaders has been a part of the American experience since the country’s colonial beginnings and, at least in recent decades, it has become a source of controversy and division.  While the practice has varied according to historical circumstance, there remain certain perennial characteristics to the way religion, specifically Christianity, has been appropriated by public officials in the United States.


A Brief History of Economic Thought for Statesmen
By Gary Scott on November 19, 2010

Few visit the economics department for merriment.  Economists post unfriendly signs above their doorways like, “I am a scientist: give way.”  Skeptical faculties rebuke them with, “Economists can never be truly educated.”

Despite economists’ impressive analytical doctrine, might they or any specialized PhDs, become over-educated or mal-educated?  John Henry Newman reminds us that, “You must be above your knowledge, not under it, or it will oppress you; and the more you have of it, the greater will be the load.”

Keep reading.


(Social Security) Apocalypse Sooner than Expected
By Gabriel Martinez on November 17, 2010

Because of the recession, payroll tax revenues have collapsed while benefits have kept increasing.  This doesn't mean insolvency (yet), but it does mean that the massive cash flow problems we've heard about are here, ahead of schedule:


Statesmanship and the Constitution
By Lee Trepanier on November 10, 2010

At the Lehrman American Studies Center Regional Seminar at Amherst, we talked about the role of statesmanship and the Constitution. Hadley Arkes talked about the importance of first principles in the Constitution, while George Nash discussed the education of the Founders. We concluded with a discussion of how to teach statesmanship and the Constiution in the classroom. One of the questions that was raised by one of the participants and that was unresolved was the relationship between first principles and the text of the Constitution. Does the importance of first principles make the text of the Constitution itself irrelevant? If not, then what role does the text have in the Constitution?


The Problems with Jeffersonian Philosophy, Part III
By Paul DeHart on November 08, 2010

Jefferson’s suggestion about the combination of Epicureanism and Christianity is utterly implausible.  It is based upon a lack of awareness about the defects of egoistic ethics and a thoroughgoing misunderstanding of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth concerning the essence of love.  The Epicurean pleasure principle is incapable of attaining tranquility.  Rather, it flounders on the shoals of the disintegrated and schizophrenic self.  And before Jefferson can even claim, with a straight face, that the teaching of Jesus should be wed to the ethics of Epicurus, he must reduce the moral horizon of the agape ethic by an almost infinite degree—reducing an ethic of self-sacrifice to one of benevolence.  The combination Jefferson suggests is so implausible, that one wonders how Jefferson could ever have advocated so preposterous an idea.     


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