I’m glad the NYT is covering this story about more colleges taking lack of financial need into account during the admissions processes this year. Students whose parents can foot the whole bill have a leg up at many places. Of course, at many places they already did, this year just a little more so. I can’t honestly say I know which is more cruel–rejecting students because there is not enough financial aid available for them to realistically attend, or accepting students when you can guess that your tuition is out of reach or a tremendous sacrifice. I’ve been down that latter road, and at the time it was pretty much heartbreaking. Fortunately for me, my parents were firm about the second mortgage they couldn’t take out, and I took a second look at my second choice, which had offered me generous funding. I got a great education and made wonderful friends.

While there are lots of good options for good students that don’t involve private school tuition, and the fact is the most college admissions stories can have a happy ending if you let them, I think it’s important to keep it in public view that students of the lower middle class or middle-middle class and students of the upper middle and upper classes have fundamentally different challenges when it comes to going to college. There are students who only have to get in, and there are students who have to get in and then get scholarships. This reality often manifests itself immediately after graduation as well. There are students who can go directly to graduate school with few worries about what will happen when their stipend just doesn’t stretch far enough for dental hygiene and students who don’t have that safety net. One group is encouraged to think about what’s possible and the other group is encouraged to think about what’s realistic. Now that educational loans are getting harder to get, the disparities are going to become even greater. We’re entering another period where it’s not even a question of whether or not you want to bet on yourself with the loans to go to the most prestigious school you get into, it’s simply going to be a question of how much cash you parents have on hand. Whole swaths of options are going to disappear for kids whose parents are not well off.

I know, I know–that’s life. Obviously, things can work out well or poorly for both kinds of student, and I haven’t even touched on the profoundly disabling effects for most students of a childhood in real poverty, but it’s important that the struggles of the real middle class not disappear, even when it looks like we are getting the same degrees and the same jobs. The barriers we face are real and long-lasting.


This morning, my Chronicle daily digest featured a new entry in The Adjunct Track column, “The New Faculty Wife” by, presumably, a woman who has given up a tenured job to follow her husband to a tenure track job elsewhere. (Sorry, a subscription is required to follow that link.) She now works as an adjunct while he works the more-than-full time that it takes to teach and earn tenure. I know these columns aren’t meant to hold deep thoughts, but there’s a glaring shallowness to this writer’s point: that the institution of the faculty wife is not dead, it’s merely been transformed to include women who put their careers second to their husbands’ and take it upon themselves to become the manager of all things domestic: “The role of the new faculty wife (and more rarely, the faculty husband) exists because it adequately meets people’s needs. So let’s pause a moment to consider its pros and cons.”
She mentions briefly that men could and often do fulfill, but leaves the rest of the piece squarely pointed at women,  always using “she” as the pronoun and by extension leaving untouched the thought that men could and should feel equally obliged to respond to the pressures of raising children, keeping a home, and navigating the annoying realities of basic living. In this piece, it’s never the spouse, it’s always the wife, and because of that, it reads like an apology for blatant sexism. This is the way it is, let’s examine it as a fact.

The pro’s and con’s she mentions sound, in this context, like one more tired repetition of the reasons that have been put forth generally over the last half century for why women shouldn’t work even if they have the choice not to rather than an analysis of how the demands of an academic career are immense and don’t really work for families. In particular, she commits what is, in my mind, the cardinal sin of reasoning that if she found full time work, most of the salary increase would be taken up by childcare costs (which come only out of her salary why? isn’t that an expense both parents take on by working?) and relishes the fact that she gets to go along for the full benefits ride while her husband has a full time job (I can understand and imagine a variety of reasons why a wife might find herself in this situation, permanently or temporarily, but to see virtue in turning your PhD into an Mrs as a benefit strikes me as unhelpful). Yes, it is hard verging on impossible to make it in academia at all, even harder to do so w/ an academic partner, and you do what you have to do to get through–but what is this adding to the solution? The message becomes, it’s hard, ladies, rather than it’s hard, people.

Underlying my frustration with this is my own experience at my current place of employment. I am, happily, the breadwinner this year as D completes his graduate studies in accounting. We live in a small town where the very good salary that our college pays can support a couple quite well, and that’s important, b/c the town is also small enough that it is not always easy for the second person to find work, especially in a one-year job situation like mine. So, when we go to parties, and I introduce myself as a librarian at the college and D introduces himself as a faculty spouse. And you know what? He’s not alone. I’d say there’s a pretty even split, at least in my trending young social circles, as to whether the trailing spouse is male or female. I know plenty of faculty husbands.

As for the argument that, as nice it as it might be to pretend that the faculty wife has become the faculty spouse, it’s still mostly women that end up in these circumstances, I say, exactly. If we talk about it like a reality, it’s even more likely to stay a reality. Changing the way we think about people’s work (not men’s work and women’s work) starts with using language that includes both genders in the decision-making process. Until the arguments for a stay-at-home mom become arguments for a stay-at-home parent, this will remain an unhelpful discussion.

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Vamos stays gone

February 12, 2009

The book “challengers” are going to get their way on keeping Vamos a Cuba, a children’s book, off the shelves:

Writing the majority opinion (PDF file), Judge Ed Carnes stated that the school board “did not ban any book [but] removed from its own school libraries a book that the board had purchased for those libraries with board funds. It did not prohibit anyone else form owning, possessing, or reading the book” and that “there is a difference between not including graphic detail about adult subjects on the one hand and falsely representing that everything is hunky dory on the other.” The cover of Vamos depicts laughing Cuban children dressed in the uniform of the nation’s Communist Party.

Oh no–children laughing in Cuba! The lies, the lies! Since when is “falsely representing everything as hunky dory” a legal basis for anything? But perhaps this judge has helped us find fit grounds for prosecuting a few mortgage brokers I met in South Florida in the years 2005-2008. Hmmmm.

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Rumors of dire consequences for registering to vote in a battleground state where you happen to attend school are much exaggerated. Just in case it comes up, I’m not suggesting anyone needs to make a public service announcement or anything. This kind of misinformation seems targeted at students who lean a certain way politically, but dispelling that misinformation shouldn’t be a partisan act if someone happens to ask one about it.

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That overly saracastic post title is an attempt to distance myself from a horrible reality that could have been my own (if I had been just a little more rich and a little less skeptical), the reality of owning a condo in the current completely frakked housing market (BSG is taking over my brain, but that’s another story…). The NYT covered it last week:

Four years ago, [Barbara Sanz] bought her first condo in a glassy new Miami tower when the building was filling up. Now nearly one in six residents in the 43-story building is battling foreclosure and their contributions to the building association are shrinking. Each of the remaining owners has had to chip in an extra $1,000 assessment and $50 more a month for cable and Internet. That is on top of Ms. Sanz’s $450 monthly maintenance fee.

So, in short, she’s 1) stuck losing value in a home she can’t sell, the kind of home that will be last to bounce back after everything is said and done, 2) forced to pay more for it than she originally agreed to, putting yet more pressure on her budget, 3) losing the services that she originally thought she was going to pay for and 4) quite possibly watching the value of her investment physically vanish before her eyes, bad in the long run and bad in the short run as living conditions get worse:

Even though she pays more, her building has broken washers and dryers and unusable exercise equipment, and her hallway is spotted with mold.

Mold is a word that strikes terror into my heart. Her building is less than five years old. To top off this suck sandwich, prospective buyers now are at least in a strong position to negotiate to avoid all of this pain, forcing more pain upon the first set of people:

His willingness to spend stopped short of $200,000 for the condo units, which once sold as high as $700,000, according to the broker, Peter Zalewski. Mr. Comoglio also wants a written guarantee that he would not have to pay more fees.

An investor like this is paying less than a third of what those first people did, and he won’t even do that unless he can get a promise that he will be exempt from the laws of physics, basically. Could this get less fair? It would certainly suck to be renting from a landlord who goes into foreclosure, but watching the home that you’ve paid for and continue to pay for, fair and square, be destroyed by others’ irreponsible behavior at the same time as hope dims for any kind of recovery for the kind of home you’re going to have to sell one day… I’m just really glad we didn’t listen to anyone who said that young people like us ought to be buying a studio somewhere as starter home, and I’m glad we didn’t have the money to listen even if we wanted to. That was bad advice, but not many people knew it yet.

Of course, people in these situations are just one group of the front line casualties, and the longer we ignore their suffering the more certainly we will suffer, no matter where we are living. I better go pet a cat, b/c this shit just makes me crazy.


January 30, 2008

A week of radio silence, and that’s still all I can manage. Usually Wednesday’s are so much better than Tuesdays, but…

Ugh: Florida, the take it in the ass state.

Ugh: adios to my presidential preference. Tear, for real.

Ugh: Milton was a sexist, selfish bastard. Ignorance was bliss.

Ugh: my future employability may depend upon me believing that the best way to make medical decisions is to plot “Quality of Life Adjusted Years” according to probabilities of treatment outcomes, and that I may one day be asked, so if being healthy for ten years is worth ten points, how many points would being sick for ten years be worth? Because I’m sure to come up with a valid answer for that one when I’m sitting on a doctor’s examining table in a little paper gown staring down some life-threatening condition.

Is this just what I get for starting 2008 with a ridiculously optimistic mindset? Or is this just the caffeine withdrawal still talking (I kind of gave up coffee… bad idea?)?

Cranky Tuesday is ba-ack

January 22, 2008

It’s Tuesday, and I’m cranky. I had a lovely long weekend that I really did not want to end so I knew that today would not e the best of Tuesdays, but really did it have to be this bad?

  1. Morning drive to work kicks off with news of massive stock losses abroad and a possible 1/2 point interest rate cut in response. This could/will affect lots of people, not just me, but yet I feel a special bond with news of impending economic doom b/c I am five months away from the job market with not just one but two humanities advanced degrees under my belt. Joy. At this rate, I should just have stuck to the plan to be unemployed at what I really love, because it looks like I might just be unemployed at what I didn’t even want to do in the first place.
  2. Following the yee gads the markets are crazy story comes a story about “human life amendments” being put on the ballots in several states, potentially, although only Colorado right now. It was described as a stealth move by anti-choice activists, although I don’t know what is all that stealthy about it. These amendments would “would give fertilized eggs state protections of inalienable rights, justice and due process,” which is just… beyond words when there are so many born human beings in our country and being actively detained by our country who do not have these things. A NARAL rep mentioned the possibility that this type of amendment, were it to pass (would it pass??), could be a wedge into contraception as well if it is proven argued by nutjobs that a given type of birth control can interfere with a fertilized egg.
  3. Then I got to work and there was the free speech zone, more coherently discussed by Amy on Incertus than I can manage right now.
  4. Then I found out that because the Christmas break period fell between two of my work contracts, the extra hours I worked to make up for the hours that I missed over the holiday are null and void, and so I will not be paid for them. This doesn’t even top my cranky list, b/c I know that as an hourly employee I have no legitimate claim to being able to make up missed hours… it just annoys me that I worked them at all under a false assumption based on missed hours I’ve made up in the past.
  5. And a final, sad piece of cranky: this bummer of a piece about why Friday Night Lights just can’t live–it doesn’t have built in ways to sell more of itself! And Heffernan’s argument about how any art that “distances” its audience is just doomed from here on out in the age of wikis and fan fiction just seems completely misplaced to me. First off, the idea that this show is just sealed away by its artistic brilliance is laughable. Yes, it’s a great television show, no, it’s not War and Peace. Also, as she proposes that shows that want to survive today have to be rhizomic kind of ignores the fact that being rhizomic doesn’t necessarily make art more resonant with its audience, it just makes it more amenable to marketing.

But not to worry, there’s a very nice little slice of crankiness I’ve got all queued up for my next post.