Monday, June 10, 2013

The Autocracy of University Administration

Even post-research universities cling to the trappings of democracy.  Post-research universities have a number of institutions that are supposed to give the faculty platforms to contribute to decision-making by higher administrators.  One platform is the faculty senate.  The senate itself is organized as a representative democracy. The members of the senate are elected.  The faculty union is another.  Faculty are free to join or not.  These administrators of the faculty are elected by the senate.  It may come as no surprise that the administrators pay lip service to so-called shared governance.  I have already posted on the contempt administrators have for faculty.  What may be more surprising that even the seemingly democratic faculty organization of a department is actually just as autocratic as the university is.  Department Chairs are autocrats.  To be sure, Chairs are elected by the department members and Deans usually go along with the wishes of the department.  And there are committees dealing with merit pay, graduate admissions, and tenure and promotion, among other concerns.  These committees are entirely powerless, however.  They are, to use the rhetoric of a person in my department, "entirely advisory to the Chair."  So the Chair will of course she herself or himself as always doing the right thing whether the department likes it or not while faculty will see, like any group will, the Chair's rewarding of some faculty members and not others as arbitrary, unethical, unjust.  The admin is just a garden variety species of croneyism.  The longer the same admin is power, the more illegitimate the Chair will become in the eyes of most department members.  The sad result of autocracy is that morale plummets lower and lower and even the most highly distinguished members of the department finds themselves subjected to the sado-masochism of everyday academic life.  The even sadder thing is that things could be otherwise.

Game of Thrones, end of season three

Here are some thoughts on the series I wrote to a friend who said I should post them.  So I have.
Many of these stories involve matching a national political struggleto a romance (think Robin Hood and Maid Marion leading the Saxonrebellion against the Normans).  So far, GOT has refused to do this.Redhaired witch is not in love with king she manipulates.  Bastard whoescapes hangs out with burn victim girl--or is that deformed skin?Guy who lets him escape is childless and a widower. Starks are dead.Theon is castrated. One hand brother is incestuous.  Dwarf is in atriangle.  Bran is a little boy.  His sister is a little girl (didlove the scene where she and he field the guys claiming to have cutthe wolf's head off). Blondie is like Queen Elizabeth, a virginmother.  Funny that the hunky guy she seemed to like dropped out ofthe finale. it's like all out sado-masochistic death drive hasoverpowered any heteronormative plot development.  Maybe the finale isa symptom of that death drive and the stasis, the sense of waste thatcomes with it--you don't get a story; you just get sensationalizedscenes that go nowhere.  Even the escape scene with theboat--presented as funny--has no direction--just follow that star and keep the coast in view, the old guy says.Only Theon's sister lays out a rescue plot.  And there's the vaguecollective threat of the wild walkers in the oath.  But even thatthreat was staged as a scene--the opening of the first scene--thatended as a story when Stark beheaded the deserter.  It's as if bits ofstories were offered up here and there only as a ways of buildingplatforms on which horrific or sexy scenes can then be staged,sometimes the sexy becoming violent or "perverted."  The death drivemay also explain the plot holes since the multiple plots are all ineffect empty, ruses of linearity that actually stall out in staticscenes, quasi-tableaux vivant or tableaux morte.  The stalls are placed
effectively.  you expect development and then it is cutshort--literally when Stark is beheaded.  Have you noticed that therehave been very few battle scenes?  Usually we see a battle about tobegin, the battle is skipped, and we go to the aftermath.  The dwarfbeing knocked out during the battle is a good example.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Recommended Books, Recordings, and DVDs

Ludwig Van (2008) Joseph Beuys (Actor), Carlos Feller (Actor), Mauricio Kagel (Director) | Rated: NR | Format: DVD

Peter Szendy discusses

Ludwig Van (2008)

 at the end of his wonderful book

Listen: A History of Our Ears.  I just finished it.  Wow.  It is really, really good.

No Medium [Hardcover]

Craig Dworkin

George Dudamel's incredible conducting of

Mahler 9 [+digital booklet]

Los Angeles Philharmonic

I have listened to it over and over again.

Summa Technologiae (Electronic Mediations) [Hardcover]

Stanis aw Lem Joanna Zylinska

We watched this amazingly good film noir last night:

The Locket (1946)

Laraine Day Brian Aherne John Brahm

Julia Fischer is something to watch in  

Saint-Saens: Violin Concerto No 3 / Greig: Piano (2010)

Recently saw this fascinating Rene Clair film for the first time:
Prix De Beaute (1930)
Louise Brooks, et al

Bought but have not yet read this new translation of The Wild Ass's Skin (Oxford World's Classics)
Honoré de Balzac

Post on Derrida's The Post Card and Poe

Derrida and Poe both use the phrase "in the dark."

Here I am asking questions in the dark.  Or in a penumbra, rather, the penumbra in which we keep ourselves when Freud’s unanalyzed reaches out its phosphorescent antennae.
--Jacques Derrida, "To Speculate--On 'Freud'," The Post Card, trans. Alan Bass, 278

We had been sitting in the dark, and Dupin now arose for the purpose of lighting a lamp, but sat down again, without doing so, upon G.’s saying that he had called to consult us, or rather to ask the opinion of my friend, about some official business which had occasioned a great deal of trouble.  

“If it is any point requiring reflection,” observed Dupin, as he forbore to enkindle the wick, “we shall examine it to better purpose in the dark.”

--Edgar Allan Poe, "THE PURLOINED LETTER" (first page)

And here is the first sentence of Poe's story:

At Paris, just after dark one gusty evening in the autumn of 18—, I was enjoying the twofold luxury of meditation and a meerschaum, in company with my friend C. Auguste Dupin, in his little back library, or book-closet, au troisieme, No. 33, Rue Dunot, Faubourg St. Germain


Coincidence? Derrida does not use the phrase"in the dark" in his chapter on Lacan's reading of Poe's story, entitled "Le facteur de la verite." (not translated from French into English by Alan Bass, but meaning "The Purveyor / Postman of Truth").   Did Derrida post Poe back to Freud?

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Shakespeare reference in Holy Motors

 I noticed a perfect one for your conference in the film Holy Motors when I watched in  last night.  In a scene set in Père Lachaise, a gravestone says "Visit my site. ToBeOrNotToBe.Com."  I laughed. It's just part of the mise-en-scene.  There are other "visit my site " gravestone markers with nothing else.

Spring Breakers Fo-ev-ah, Bisquits

I just saw Spring Breakers this afternoon. Yes, it is a good film, one big, long music video. The most interesting thing about the way it tells its linear narrative in a  on-linear way (the editing frequently and unpredictably returns us to footage we've seen earlier and sometimes unpredictably skips ahead) is that the dialogue is almost all non-deigetic and also on a kind of "press replay" loop.  I'd guess that at least half of the few moments with diegetic dialogue also have loud extra-diegetic music.  The soundtrack is composed in by Skrillex and Cliff Martinez (Drive).  The repeated sound of a shotgun locking was rather excessive, however.  Btw, I have no idea who the actresses in the film are, but I thought all were good playing not that bad, bad, badder, and baddest "girls."  Weird and rather disquieting that the villains are all black people, however.   They all die, while all the white b*****es live.  (OK, one does get shot in the arm and then goes home.)

The film tells a sad (supposed to be sentimental?) story about (bad) grrrl (that is the correct spelling of "grrrl," btw) power and white trash Gangstas.  The trailer makes the film seem salacious.  I didn't think the film was, not that I would have minded if it had been.  (Yes, there is nudity and man, many shots of lots and lots scantily clad people, some of whom are engaging in activities in which today's hard partying college youth may or not not actually engage.  You can always drive to Daytona and find out for yourselves, I guess.  Me, I have no idea.)

Lots of inventive camera work and equally inventive uses of different film stocks and video (or digital simulations of same.).
This is the lead track, which I find hilarious.Keep listening for the vocal.

My second fave track:

To cite one of the lines that gets looped many times, "Spring Break Fo-Ev-Ah, Bisquits."  ("Biscuits" is not the actual word used in the film; that word, the word in the film, rhymes with biscuits, begins with a "b" and sends with an "s.")   This message has been rated B, for Burt.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

burt hurts with out posts, outburts, and various and sundry tele-communiques, etc. etc.

I want to add to my blog title

burthurts, with out posts, outburts, and various and sundry tele-communiques, etc. etc.

 However, I cannot apparently change the title of my blog.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Don't ask, Pa-tells

Cyrus Patell, an Associate Dean at NYU, must be the most idiotic administrator who ever lived. He wrote a long response, I'm told, to my reply to his sycophantic blog post defending the authoritarian power structure of NYU. Power gets to be silent and non-responsive as well as to speak. Every now then it has to speak to justify itself to those people it holds in contempt. And then power has to justify or walk back the stupid kind of speech it should never have delivered in the first place. See for the latest. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The Administrative Mind: Why Do University Administrators Hate Faculty?

What a post! The world owes Cyrus R. K. Patell a huge debt for providing his readers such insight into the administrative mind in “Who’s Confused?”  Everyone concerned with higher education ought to read it and post it as widely as possible.  I have linked it here: And I have reactivated my Facebook account just to post a link to it as well.  Patell’sblog post is a great follow up to the confusing NY Times article on NYU at
You might think that the role of the university is to produce informed citizens who will participate in our liberal democracy.  You might think that faculty, the people who do research and actually teach students the intellectual and technical latest developments in their chosen majors, would be at the center of the university.  You might think that the role of university administrators would be to support faculty.  Think again!  An administrator himself, Associate Dean Cyrus R. K. Patell has certainly disabused us of any such naïve notions in his column.   Patell is not at all confusing.  Faculty, he says, are not citizens in a university.  Why?  Because the university is not a democracy.  But not to worry!  For democracy isn’t a good thing either, according to Patell.  Why can’t Obama just dictate?  Forget about that circuit court decision ruling that Obamas recess appointments were unconstitutional. Forget about the Republicans in the 111th and 112th U.S Congress being the most obstructionist in the history of the United States.  No, “debate” in Congress is just   a waste of time.  Too bad we aren't living in Abu dabi, I guess.  Well, at least we can take solace in the fact that  the university is an authoritarian, top down structure.  And academic freedom?  How dumb to think faculty should have it!  Cyrus Patell knows it so stupid that it isn’t even worth mentioning.  Why would any administrator write such a candid and revealing a blog post like Patell’s?  Apparently, he just can’t stop himself.  Citing with great approval a passage written by Stanley Fish, reveals with almost blinding clarity the absolute contempt in which university administrators hold faculty.  Here it is:
At the end of my tenure as dean, I spoke to some administrators who had been on the job for a short enough time to be able to still remember what it was like to be a faculty member and what thoughts they had then about the work they did now. One said that she had come to realize how narcissistic academics are: an academic, she mused, is focused entirely on the intellectual stock market and watches its rises and falls with an anxious and self-regarding eye.  As an academic, you’re trying to get ahead; as an administrator, you’re trying “to make things happen for other people”; you’re “not advancing your own profile but advancing the institution, and you’re more service oriented.”
Ah, yes, the days when I was just another narcissistic faculty member, the days before I became an Associate Dean and could “make things happen for other people,” those “other people” who in the administrative mind obviously do not include faculty who work in a system which evaluates them as individual persons, not as members of a collective.  No, “advancing the institution,” means working to help administrators, or in the case of NYU, helping them leave NYU with huge retirement packages, packages so huge that the NY Times even ran a story about it. The NY Times interview Patell spends his blog attacking is a follow up. You might very well think that Patell is a time-server, a lackey, a sycophant, a failed academic who didn’t publish enough to be promoted to full professor, a courtier who, like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, makes love to his employment.  You might very well think that.  Patell  should be congratulated for showing us the contempt in which self-servicing university administrators so richly deserve to be held.
By the way, my grandfather went to Harvard, like Patell.  Some years ago, I scanned and posted on FB the letter admitting him and his twin brother that the then Dean of Harvard, no doubt “revered,” wrote to my great-grandmother.   Also, regarding the Puritans Patell mentions: My mother is a direct descendant of Governor Winslow.