Sunday, April 25, 2010

Freedom from Bad Academic Writing

The following column on George Orwell's advice to free students from bad academic writing is worth reading:
In two decades of teaching, I have worked with exceptionally bright undergraduates. Once they enter graduate school, however, they conform to the "smelly little orthodoxies" of theory and the jargon-ridden writing of their discipline. I've always despised jargon that deadens prose and will be passé by the time these young conformists hit old age. Future generations will have to decipher why words and phrases such as "subaltern," "post-structuralist," "late capitalism" meant to the scribbling class of early 21st century academics.

The advice Orwell gives is similar to advice Winston Churchill gave on good writing. This passage says it best (from Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"):
"Orwell leaves us with a list of simple rules:

* Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

* Never use a long word where a short one will do.

* If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

* Never use the passive where you can use the active.

* Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

* Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I am posting this for my own students and as a reminder to myself (fallen creature that I am).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"The Grades are In": ACTA on SIU-Carbondale


The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has written a report card rating colleges, including SIU-C. The energetic head of ACTA, Anne Neal, will be on campus this Thursday to talk about college affordability. Given the timely nature of this report and Neal's appearance on campus, I asked David Azerrad, Program Officer for ACTA to write a guest blog:

"The grades are in"

Professor Bean has been kind enough to invite the American Council of Trustees and Alumni to write a guest blog post to highlight the findings of our recent report card on public higher education in Illinois.

In the report card, we evaluated 10 public four-year universities, including SIU-Carbondale, and concluded that, on the whole, they find themselves on an unsustainable course.

Tuition and fees are spiraling out of control—they increased by an average of 56 percent during the five year period we surveyed. Graduation rates remain woefully low. No university requires the crucial subjects of economics and American history. Most don’t require college-level math either (SIU-Carbondale, to its credit, does). And significant numbers of students report an intellectual climate that is not conducive to a robust exchange of ideas—almost a third of students at UIUC and SIU-Carbondale report perceived pressure to agree with a professor’s social or political views in order to get a good grade in certain classes. On the whole, the picture that emerges is one in which costs continue to rise with no attending increase in academic quality.

We did note a couple of bright spots. All universities ensure students graduate having taken a composition class and most, including SIU-Carbondale, also have a natural science requirement. The state’s public universities have also rightly made instructional spending take precedence over administrative spending in their budgets.

Much, however, remains to be done to promote affordability.

On this note, readers may also be interested to note that ACTA president Anne D. Neal will be in Carbondale on Thursday to speak at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute conference on college affordability.

The event is free and open to the public.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lawsuit Walking: The Awful, Unlawful, Un-American harassment code

Time has passed since the SIUC administration began to "reform" the university's (unl)awful sexual harassment policies and procedures. Days before a Board of Trustees meeting FIRE lawyer Azhar Majeed, based here in Illinois, contributed a useful guest column in the Daily Egyptian: "SIUC's sexual harassment policies badly need revision."

Those responsible for the current policies and procedures were put in charge of "gathering input" from various constituency groups. The result, if possible, is even worse than what we had before: forget due process and hand all discretionary power over to a single person! God Bless America!

It's sad. SIU has walked into needless lawsuits in the past. From my vantage point, the Board ought to consider whether these "new" procedures leave us a "Lawsuit Walking."