This postcard comes to you from New Brunswick, New Jersey…
April 12th, 2013

This postcard comes to you from New Brunswick, New Jersey, where I am attending the annual meeting of the Northeastern Association of Graduate Schools (NAGS). Rutgers University, the state university of NJ, is the host of the event.

The entire east coast is weather bound. Some participants only got here last night, stranded for hours in various airports. It took me a lot longer than scheduled to get here, as well, and now I am focusing on getting out smoothly on the weekend. That’s the way spring rolls these days. The appeal of being here, though, is that the trees are already well into first bloom. See above. This stand of trees is just across my hotel. This town is not exactly America the Beautiful but the sight of leaves and budding blossoms gives a certain lift to the day, grey as it is. And the Rutgers campus is itself a postcard of everything you imagine a US college campus to be.

So far the meetings have been lively, good speakers and presentations. One major focus is internationalization and the challenges of accommodation. A disturbing theme is the way US universities, some of them, anyway, are struggling inelegantly with orienting international students into the American way. What happens when collective-based practices clash with deeply entrenched beliefs in rugged individualism? It’s not always pretty. The Canadian contingent is typically shocked and appalled by some of the cultural assumptions floating around this room. That’s why NAGS is always so interesting. You get to mix it up with your neighbouring peers in ways that Canadian meetings just don’t allow.

Tomorrow I become president of this modestly robust association, and so am looking forward to hosting the meetings in Toronto next year. Flying to Newfoundland in the cruelest month of April just doesn’t seem like a likely or affordable option for many of these deans, especially those who come from small communities in Connecticut or Massachusetts. Toronto the Compromise it shall be. Best I can do is get the executive to St. John’s for a planning meeting in the fall.

Looking at a slide now that shows a whopping majority of students say that the benefits of a graduate education far outweigh the cost, although the satisfaction percentage declines significantly for minority and ethnic-identified students. Interesting. What does that speak to? Much narrower employment pathways for those groups following graduation? Probably. This fact contradicts yesterday’s overconfident boasts about the egalitarian principles of American life. Hard to believe that when you scan the profiles of the members of this conference. Not a lot of color in this room, although a lot on the streets of New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Ah, America, so full of contradictions. Great trees, though.

Dr. Noreen Golfman is Professor of English and Dean of Graduate Studies. Her post secondary education included study at McGill, University of Alberta, and University of Western Ontario. She has been teaching and writing in the areas of Canadian literature and film studies for most of her career. She is the president of the Canadian Federation of Humanities and Social Sciences, founding director of the annual St. John's International Women's Film Festival, and director of the MUN Cinema Series. Dr. Golfman's blog 'Postcards From the Edge' will be updated every Thursday.

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