As I wrote last week, I recently spent some time at….
June 25th, 2009

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As I wrote last week, I recently spent some time at the University of Rioja in Logrono, a charming medieval city tucked into the northeast corner of Spain. My mission, to deliver a graduate course on contemporary Canadian literature and film, is now accomplished. The seminar was five days, 4 hours a day, but yet I feel as if I had been there and known the students a long time. That’s a very good feeling, indeed. It sure beats alienation, or the sense that everyone is looking at you as if you were from some unpleasant planet.

 

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I am in Spain. I know, it’s a dirty job, but, honestly…
June 18th, 2009

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I am in Spain. I know, it’s a dirty job, but, honestly, I am singing for my pimientos rellenos. Some time ago, a Spanish scholar with a passion for Canadian and especially Newfoundland writing arranged through her university to invite me to deliver a graduate seminar. I jumped at the chance. Being dean doesn’t allow for much teaching time anymore, and so most of us, if we have any fond memories of being in the classroom, frequently worry about not having enough contact with students. Teaching fuels mind and body, and there is always a concern that without practice in the classroom one’s mind can turn to beans pretty quickly. Being an administrator has its intellectual challenges and most often I feel my days are productive, but there is nothing quite like the immediacy of teaching, sharing ideas, listening to others interpret a problem or suggest an idea. I welcome the change, and the opportunity to recharge my batteries.

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As I last wrote, I was at Carleton University recently…
June 11th, 2009

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As I last wrote, I was at Carleton University recently, along with 9,000 social scientists and humanities scholars for the annual learneds congress. About a third of the papers read or posted during the week-long event were authored by graduate students. The congress is an opportunity for social sciences and humanities students to peddle their wares, or intellectual capital in this case. The idea is to dazzle the audience, get noticed, become the buzz of the wine and cheese receptions, and hope that when the position ads are posted, your dazzle will translate into a job interview.

Good luck to ‘em. Last year at this time the job market, at least in academe, promised employment openings and opportunities. That was 2008, and the phrase ‘economic downturn’ hadn’t yet achieved the stigma of cliché. But that moment of optimism was as short-lived as Susan Boyle’s well being. So much has happened. Bernie Madoff is an orange jumpsuit, hedge fund wizards are selling lemonade, GM has run out of gas, and Canada, like every other nation, is sliding deeper into deficit. All those senior professors who were thinking of retirement and at least a year in Provence or Tuscany are rethinking their futures, stogging up the job market and crowding available space in the academy.  The disappearance of mandatory retirement is one of those good news bad news scenarios, great for those who still have much to give, not so good for those who yearn for a chance to enter the tenure-track stream. (more…)

Some 29 years later I look back in gratitude…
June 4th, 2009

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I am composing this entry at the annual learneds congress of the humanities and social sciences in Ottawa. I have been attending these meetings since 1980 when I presented my first formal paper as a very nervous graduate student. I am more than loyal to these annual meetings. That first paper to a group of peers and senior scholars changed my life. It led to my first contractual teaching job and, as is obvious, eventually to this blog. For me, it’s like attending a reunion of a family I actually like. Some 29 years later I look back in gratitude. (more…)