UW Struggle: Writing About Guns (The Cheesechurian Candidate)

Don’t become The Cheesechurian Candidate!

As all nine readers of this blog know (Hi mom! Love you!), I recently wrote about my fears and objections about allowing concealed weapons into campus buildings in the UW System. Understanding exactly what I was getting into, I took in all of the reactions without offering responses of my own—basically, I allowed myself to be rhetorically captive.

Why? Because for people like me—especially in my professional life—social/new media is perilous on-the-job training. Like so many who completed their graduate work before the existence of Facebook, Twitter, or WordPress, a certain fluency and accountability is expected  when working in new(er) and emerging media. It’s complicated. It’s risky. People lose their jobs for missteps. My primary professional goal is to be a good teacher, and part of the job involves exposing myself to mistakes, failure, embarrassment, harassment, risk, etc, so that my students may be spared those missteps. Yes, I know the conventional wisdom is “learn from your mistakes,” and look, I’ve made more than I can count, but I have learned far more from the mistakes of others, especially teachers.

It is incredibly hard to find new ways to talk about things, to “reframe,” to find your way into words that produce that rare and meaningful change. So, what happened when I wrote openly and honestly about guns? Exactly what I expected (which is dispiriting). For those looking to wade into the same waters, maybe on a blog of one’s own, here are some observations that you are free to ignore:

The Civility Trap Continue reading “UW Struggle: Writing About Guns (The Cheesechurian Candidate)”

UW Struggle: The Impractical Dream

Convocation Photo with Green Grass


I’ll briefly return from my blog hiatus to tell you a story. For me, stories always prioritize people because people should matter most in our narratives. This goes without saying when discussing a human and social good as vital and magical as education. Pictured above are two of my colleagues from UW Green Bay. Having worked in an institution that has directly benefited from their training, knowledge, passion, and humanity, I can say that they are everything you would want in educators and public servants. They are the teachers and role models I would want my children to have, that I would gleefully pay taxes to support. They flourish when most free to use their talents and intellect to educate people, to advise and mentor them. They make people’s lives better by, among many other things, helping to position them to succeed. This is not freedom that comes with micromanagement, paternalism, condescension, vilification, or bullying. This freedom is born from trust and respect, from a recognition that we want you to work for the citizens of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Idea. These ideas that you have, we support them and we trust you. Let’s turn you loose to make them a reality. That way, the future is bright.

On the right is Angela Bauer. She’s a biologist. A neuroscientist. Let me tell you a story about Angela, someone who cares deeply for student achievement. When she discovered a statistically verifiable achievement gap in her introductory science courses, especially among underrepresented students, she said “No, this is unacceptable.” She drew a line. She and a colleague set out to close that achievement gap while increasing the number of underrepresented students deciding to major in the sciences. After 10 years of verifiable achievement stagnation, Angela, with her mind and will and heart, turned that into 8 consecutive semesters of increased achievement and enrollment. She won the UW System Diversity Award for her efforts.

On the left is Bryan Vescio, my long-standing chair in the UW-Green Bay English department. I have gone on about Bryan in other posts, but let me provide the condensed version: English is one of the strongest programs on our campus because of his vision and leadership, and more importantly, students have gone on to success as a direct result of his mentorship. We have over 150 majors in a department that, at its peak, runs on six faculty members. Bryan protected no turf, encouraged ideas and growth, and reveled in our successes, all while writing books and being a leading scholar in more than one field. He was, in short, superlative, and, at his salary, one of the best bargains Wisconsin ever had. Continue reading “UW Struggle: The Impractical Dream”

UW Struggle: Open Letter to Speaker Robin Vos (with pizza)

An offer you can’t refuse?

Dear Speaker Vos,

I am writing in regard to your recent comment, “I don’t really support tenure, period.” I understand why someone would say this, yet I would, as a tenured faculty member, love to talk with you about some reasons why you should, especially when taking into account that tenure is much more about the present (i.e. what happens in classrooms and with research today) than it is about the future (i.e. “jobs for life”). You have gone on record as someone who supports good teaching and time in the classroom, and tenure (on the teaching side of things) is much more about pedagogy than it is about entitlement.

I admit that I am nobody. I have no power or influence and can barely get my dog to recognize my authority (I yell, “Scarlet, get away from that poop!” She spares me not even a glance). Yet, I am a faculty member in the UW System, and my wife and I both work at UW-Green Bay. We would love to invite you to Green Bay to have dinner with us at Sammy’s (in my opinion, the best pizza in Wisconsin, with Wild Tomato its only rival). Bring your family; dinner is on us. Here is Sammy’s menu—I highly recommend the root beer in a frosty mug, and for pizza, my general preference is for pepperoni and mushrooms, but I am open minded about many things, especially pizza toppings.

If the journey to Green Bay is too much at this busy time, I’ll be happy to pack my family into our van and head to establishments closer to you. My connections in the southern parts of Wisconsin say that Sheboygan actually has the state’s best pizza—some place called Il Ritrovo. Personally, I find this claim dubious, but as I have yet to experience the pizza in question, I am willing to travel for the mere promise of good pizza. For great pizza, I would run there barefoot with my family on my shoulders (think Aeneas carrying his father out of a burning Troy). Continue reading “UW Struggle: Open Letter to Speaker Robin Vos (with pizza)”

UW Struggle: Alien Abduction Edition

You’re not paranoid if what you’re fearing is real. Then, you’re just right.

Never trust a legislator when reason is on the line!
Never trust a legislator when reason is on the line!

With that, I announce that the corporate takeover of Wisconsin is now complete. We’re at the point, literally, where we can’t go one hour without another jaw-dropping legislative giveaway. At 5:30 we’re prohibiting poor people from buying shoes with fancy laces and at 6:15 raccoons can teach high school English and math. And holy bright baboon’s butt, we’re not even close to finished.

Before I go on, let me quickly offer two points that must submerge into our collective (un)conscious. I will offer them without context, but trust me on this: first, there is no such thing as the “Tea Party”—there is only movement/corporate conservatism. Second, the UW does not have leadership; it has lobbyists who, unfortunately, don’t lobby for the system. Thank you. I will now proceed.

Tomorrow, the Joint Finance Committee will deal with the UW, and this I guarantee: things will emerge that are completely unexpected and shocking (see my opening paragraph about making it through an hour). Whatever those things may be, they are right now being handed to JFC committee members from the special interests who have pushed every other action that is destroying the quality of life in this state. To review, a greatly abridged list: Continue reading “UW Struggle: Alien Abduction Edition”

Is This Digital Humanagogy?

Project Participant Cole Heyn (right) with unknown Acme Packer.

Sometime early last year, I had an idea for a project related to the Green Bay Packers. I work at UW-Green Bay and the Packers are pretty much what people know about our city. When considering the meetings, the planning, and the brainstorming that led up to the project, I’d say that 90% of the work has been human, face-to-face collaboration. Even when doing digital work, we have on occasion been in the same room.

To wade further into the often senseless marsh of classification, we who worked on this project would call it a “digital humanities” project. Why? It’s built with Omeka: open-source exhibit/curation software designed with humanists in mind. And the spirit of the project itself–an exhibit built on narrative, memory, local culture, and artifacts–is speeding right down the center of the humanities highway.

All of that being said, I will quote Jentery Sayers who once said at a panel discussion, “In the end, no one cares if your project is called ‘digital humanities.’ They just care about whether or not it’s a good project.”  I’ve always interpreted this as “hack” over “yack,” or the work over the talk. Any reference to digital humanities now resides somewhere in the project’s deep structure.

Well, the project finally launched… at Lambeau Field! Please go browse and, more importantly, contribute. (But remember that the project is still a baby!)

A few things worth noting: Two students (Cole Heyn, Luke Konkol) and a former student (Kate Farley) did nearly all of the work for this project, and they arrived at this opportunity because digital humanities became an explicit part of our English, History, and Humanities curriculum, and we’ve pushed to incorporate more digital assignments in our classrooms. This digital focus has not been for show, solely tool-based, or in response to some vocational solutionism–it has been entirely pedagogical.

The Packer Project's First Team: Cole Heyn, Kate Farley, Luke Konkol
The Packer Project’s First Team: Cole Heyn, Kate Farley, Luke Konkol

Furthermore, we have a legislature in my state that is skeptical of research and antagonistic to the humanities and all non-economic intellectual pursuits. They could certainly look at a project like this and say, “Now there’s a partnership that promotes business.”

And while that might be true, what is not readily apparent in the interface is how essential humanities training has been to this project. Among other things, the team members: spent time in the university archives; collaborated with librarians; learned about metadata; took an Introduction to Digital Humanities course; worked on other public exhibits, projects, and visualizations; waded into humanities computing in the form of TEI, Omeka, HTML, and CSS; and on and on.

If this project succeeds, it won’t be because we ignored deep-humanities training and muted the curiosity that leads fools like us to study “the ancient mating habits of whatever.” It will succeed because we wholly embraced it.

Trying A New Final Project… Bookmaking

I’ve wanted to move away from essays as a final assignment, and the content of my major poetry course felt perfect for… bookmaking! Below is the assignment I distributed today, and I’m hoping (really, believing) that the students will rise to and above the challenge. Here’s the assignment…


English 322

Final Project: Option A

Bookmaking: The Mini-Edition

Comic7As English majors and people deeply interested in literature, you undoubtedly are accustomed to writing the dreaded “essay,” over and over again. And while writing itself is a magical form of making and creation, certainly there are other ways we can conjure “making” as a vehicle for thought, investigation, and criticism. Thus…

There will be books!

Yes, we will make books! While you’ve spent countless hours reading, studying, highlighting, discussing, and writing about these curious objects (indeed, one of mankind’s most enduring and successful technologies), how many of you have made one? Books are not simply “things”; they are a form of crafted rhetorical expression that I am asking you to tap.

Your basic task: Create a book, or small series of easier “fold books,” that present the work of your favorite poet this semester.  Put another way, you are making a mini-edition of one poet’s work that should include/present/remix/ad infinitum a minimum of 5 poems.  That requirement aside, you can present these poems in any way you wish—the form of the book(s) will dictate that; this replicates the major poetic lesson of the semester—form is content. I wish I could give you examples of books here, but I cannot; this is a new adventure for all of us. All I can say is that I value your creativity and imagination above all else—if you show me and your classmates that you are thinking through your creations, then you cannot go wrong.

The Unessay Component: I am borrowing the term “unessay” from Dr. Ryan Cordell, who has himself remixed the term from influences of his own.  In brief, this is where you use the book, either in its form, by inserting written commentary, a separate analysis, etc, to comment on the poet’s work you’ve selected for this edition.

More specifically, for your mini-edition:Doom4

  • Choose your own thesis
  • Think through and argue that thesis in any way you choose
  • Final evaluation is based entirely on how creative and convincing the final product is

Examples: I will bring two books into class that are filled with examples of handmade books, from very easy fold books to more complex bound and/stitched books. The first book is Making Handmade Books by Alisa Golden (I’ve been using this book quite a bit, and it’s wonderful), and the second is Books Without Paste or Glue by Keith A. Smith. I choose these books because their examples tend to be artistic and represent the book arts. Still, there is no reason why you could not find an example of your own, or even produce a digital edition that fully embraced the requirements of this assignment. Just for caution’s sake, I’d like to approve anything not taken from the books listed above.

Expense: Depending on the project you choose, there could be more expense than just paper, though certainly nothing that is too prohibitive (some board, thread, glue, etc). With that in mind, I will allow for groups of up to 3 people if the chosen project will involve sharing some expense and dividing up a significant amount of labor.

Expertise: I will see about having Stephanie Carpenter come to class for a visit/mini-workshop/advising session. She is a curator at the Hamilton Woodtype Museum and a creative genius, especially in bookmaking.

Book3Final Presentation: We will present the works during our final exam period, and I am going to inquire about the availability of the 407 Gallery in Studio Arts for an exhibition.

Again, Requirements: One bound book of any style. However, if you are doing some simpler “fold” books, then you must do a series of five of these.

Why This Project? As the introduction to this assignment says, I think we spend more than enough time analyzing text through that single container known as the essay. We can also think with our hands. We can think through problems or a thesis as we build something. I don’t see a “regular essay” as being more easy or difficult than this—it’s different. And since you are likely not used to this type of project, it will be challenging and frustrating at times.  You are students and scholars. You are made for such challenges.