Category Archives: Books

The Last Professors

As an undergraduate, how many of your classes were taught by professors, how many by graduate students, and how many by adjunct lecturers?

The answer partly depends on your alma mater and its location along a continuum of resources. For example, community college courses are more likely to be taught by adjuncts than by full professors, while most courses at elite schools are taught by senior scholars.

But college type is only one determinant; another factor is time. The more recently one attended a college (save but a few), the less likely one was taught by tenure-track professors. That is because tenure is eroding. And as tenured professors retire, their teaching responsibilities, when not shifted to grad students, are increasingly handed over to adjuncts, who perform the same duties at less cost to the administration, and whose proliferation on campuses everywhere threatens the very existence of tenure. Not literally a “crisis,” the tenure problem has century-old roots. But it has deepened over the past three decades, and in response most public and some private universities have been pulled in antithetical directions, toward the Ivy-grade prestige that their inclusive admissions policies disallow, and toward the for-profit model, now swelling, that offers accessible and expeditious vocational preparation.

That, at any rate, is the thesis presented by Frank Donoghue in his book The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities (Fordham UP, 2008). Donoghue, an associate professor of English literature at the Ohio State University, writes from out on a limb, since his background is not properly university administration but literary careers in the eighteenth century. Which is not to say he was unprepared: Donoghue mentions the “various incarnations of [his] seminar on academic labor,” thanks Stanley Fish for introducing that topic to Donoghue “long ago,” and provides a rich bibliography (over 175 items) to suggest the cast of his research net.

There may be a better book for quickly bringing today’s readers up to speed about the complexities of tenure erosion, but I doubt it. As concise as it is erudite, The Last Professors provides nourishing food for thought for those with a vested interest in the humanities.

It also provides plans of action, in sketch form (pp 135-end). “Professors of humanities,” Donoghue concludes, “can resist their extinction only by shifting the focus of their attention in two important ways.” First, healthy skepticism of the corporate model, to prevent its “tenets from becoming articles of faith for everyone: students, society at large, even disempowered humanists.” The second action is for humanists “to balance their commitment to the content of higher education with a thorough familiarity with how the university works.” Reading Donoghue’s monograph is a great start.

Action will be required – not just words – for the erosion of tenure to slow or reverse. But the humanist’s words are often the humanist’s deeds. Here’s to Frank Donoghue for taking action, for publishing a compelling account of a topic surely on the minds of many academics. And here’s to further action, to the future readers of that book.

She’s So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music – Laurie Stras, ed.

Stras, Laurie, ed. She’s So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music. Farnham: Ashgate, 2010.

She’s So Fine explores the music, reception and cultural significance of 1960s girl singers and girl groups in the US and the UK. Using approaches from the fields of musicology, women’s studies, film and media studies, and cultural studies, this volume is the first interdisciplinary work to link close musical readings with rigorous cultural analysis in the treatment of artists such as Martha and the Vandellas, The Crystals, The Blossoms, Brenda Lee, Dusty Springfield, Lulu, Tina Turner, and Marianne Faithfull. Currently available studies of 1960s girl groups/girl singers fall into one of three categories: industry-generated accounts of the music’s production and sales, sociological commentaries, or omnibus chronologies/discographies. She’s So Fine, by contrast, focuses on clearly defined themes via case studies of selected artists. Within this analytical rather than historically comprehensive framework, this book presents new research and original observations on the 60s girl group/girl singer phenomenon.

More information here.

Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City – Richard Elliott

Elliot, Richard. Fado and the Place of Longing: Loss, Memory and the City. Farnham: Ashgate Press, 2010.

Fado, often described as ‘urban folk music’, emerged from the streets of Lisbon in the mid-nineteenth century and went on to become Portugal’s ‘national’ music during the twentieth. It is known for its strong emphasis on loss, memory and nostalgia within its song texts, which often refer to absent people and places. One of the main lyrical themes of fado is the city itself. Fado music has played a significant role in the interlacing of mythology, history, memory and regionalism in Portugal in the second half of the twentieth century. Richard Elliott considers the ways in which fado songs bear witness to the city of Lisbon, in relation to the construction and maintenance of the local. Elliott explores the ways in which fado acts as a cultural product reaffirming local identity via recourse to social memory and an imagined community, while also providing a distinctive cultural export for the dissemination of a ‘remembered Portugal’ on the global stage.

More information at the publisher’s website.

Sounds of the Borderland: Popular Music, War and Nationalism in Croatia since 1991 – Catherine Baker

Baker, Catherine. Sounds of the Borderland: Popular Music, War and Nationalism in Croatia since 1991. Farnham: Ashgate Press, 2010.

Sounds of the Borderland is the first book-length study of how popular music became a medium for political communication and contested identification during and after Croatia’s war of independence from Yugoslavia. It extends existing cultural studies literature on music, politics and the state, which has largely been grounded in Western European and North American political systems. It also responds to an emerging fascination with the culture and politics of contemporary south-east Europe, expanding scholarship on the post-Yugoslav conflicts by going on to encompass significant social and political changes into the present day.

More information at the publisher’s website.

Islands of Resistance – Andrea Langlois, Ron Sakolsky, and Marian van der Zon

Langlois, Andrea, Ron Sakolsky, Marian van der Zon. Islands of Resistance: Pirate Radio in Canada. Vancouver: New Star Books, 2010.

While only recently have we heard the major networks broadcast warnings of rising sea levels, since radio’s invention certain Canadians have been concerned by the increasingly centralized medium and its commercial flooding of the airwaves. Occasionally alone, frequently in teams and always illegally, these activists are islands of resistance within the ocean of homogenous frequencies, pirating radio signals for personal, political and artistic expression.

More information here.