- Seeking peer reviewers! JEP x Inkcap collab, "On Gathering"
- Hi, 2024. Plus: Announcing Inkcap Courses!
- Start 2024 with a special Inkcap retreat
- Reminder! Submissions due Friday for special JEP issue, "On Gathering"
- The humanities matter. Enough with the handwringing.
- Summer writing w/ Inkcap; Slack invite; book announcement!
- Growing, Breathing, Pausing
- RSVP now for Activist and Coalitional Leadership (April 5, 3pm EDT)
- Skipping March 8, see you April 5
- Wed, Feb 8: Ethics and Epistemology of Care (Not Empathy)
- Surprising communities: On assemblages, symbionts, and the fediverse (Jan 11)
- The longest night: Solstice thoughts and greeting 2023
- Centering your values and priorities: Upcoming Inkcap events
- Centering YOUR values and priorities: Upcoming Inkcap events
- Higher ed's heartbreaks (cw: gun violence, labor exploitation)
I waited to name my consultancy after stepping out on my own, wanting to find something that felt just right. Now that the contours of this space are taking shape, I’m delighted share its new name…
Starting today, I’ll be using Inkcap Consulting for my solo work, and Inkcap Collective for this space. Big big thanks to my friend Andrea Scott for designing the fabulous logo!
There are so many connotations that I love in this name. On its surface, it suggests writing—and not only writing, but writing in ink, writing with confidence. And it also suggests pausing, using the pen’s cap as a way to take breaks, stop, refresh.
But! There’s more. Inkcaps (or inky caps) are a type of mushroom that exude thick, dark droplets from their caps toward the end of their lifecycle. The substance has been used to make ink; the spores are visible under a microscope, so documents that use the ink are difficult to forge.
Inkcaps are decomposers, creating new life from dead logs and other detritus. They are strong enough to push through asphalt. And, as fungi, they are so much more than the visible fruiting bodies; their underground networks of mycelium form critical components of a networked and collaborative ecology.
Finally, mushrooms imply noticing. I love being in the woods and looking for mushrooms. I love the ways that mushrooms draw my eye down and in, while trees and birds and light draw it up and out. Being in the forest means those two impulses are present and in a beautiful tension—I can’t look for a songbird and a mushroom at the same time. Noticing requires a pause, a spaciousness. How can such noticing help to interrupt the kind of numbness that can come with familiarity? In what ways does instability—like the massive societal instability we are facing now—make it possible to notice differently? Maybe that pause can be an act of resistance.
So: I hope the name turns out to be generative, an opening to think together as patchy assemblages in imperfect landscapes. Join me in seeking ways to work and think that are sometimes weird but always communal, quiet, powerful, spacious.
It is with both sadness and excitement that I announce that I will be leaving the Graduate Center in September in order to begin a new phase in my work on graduate education reform by starting an independent academic consultancy.
Working at CUNY for the past seven years has been an incredible privilege. I have learned so much from each of my colleagues, from our team of graduate fellows, and from the many students, faculty, and staff who have taken part in our programs. Day after day, year after year, I have continued to be inspired by our team’s visionary ideas about what might be possible in higher education. Over the past seven years, we have worked together to design a university that is truly worth fighting for.
It is impossible for me to name and thank everyone I have learned from these past seven years across the Futures Initiative, HASTAC, and the CUNY Humanities Alliance. Our team is remarkable for the ways that every person supports one another, teaches one another, learns from one another. I have complete confidence that they will carry the work forward in creative, surprising, and powerful ways. We have an amazing group of graduate fellows on board for 2021-2022 and so many plans in the works for the upcoming year.
While the higher ed landscape is still in a period of great uncertainty, that uncertainty also carries with it the possibility for something new to emerge. Watch the Futures Initiative closely in these next years; something beautiful will be happening there, I know it.
I hope now to be able to carry some of those ideas to institutions nationwide. Since Putting the Humanities PhD to Work came out a year ago, I’ve given over forty talks and interviews about why the humanities matter in today’s world; the tense relationship between a desire for equity and structures built on prestige; how the adjunct crisis and a devaluation of teaching is connected to the question of career preparation; and more. There is momentum for change right now, particularly after the pandemic. My hope is to help institutions imagine, plan, and implement structural changes that support higher education as a public good.
To all of my colleagues: thank you. I have learned so much from you, and grown so much through our work together.
(And for those of you still reading: hire me! I want to help with those thorny projects nobody has been able to tackle, those politically sensitive changes to curriculum and exam structure, those super important ideas that get pushed to the backburner because other tasks are more urgent. Reach out to learn more.)
This spring, I’ll be co-teaching a course that I’m really excited about, along with my colleague Matt Brim: Equity, Elitism, and Public Higher Education. We are teaching together as part of the Futures Initiative’s slate of interdisciplinary team-taught courses. The opportunity to teach is significant for me: the last time I taught in the formal, classroom sense was over a decade ago, in spring 2009, as a doctoral student.
Teaching as a grad student terrified me. Like most doctoral students, I had almost no pedagogical training. I was tossed into whichever class needed staffing, sometimes introductory French language classes, sometimes broad humanities courses that covered literature, art, and music over a span of centuries. One notably difficult semester found me teaching Norse mythology, which, as someone mostly studying contemporary French and Latin American literature, I knew next to nothing about. Of course it was terrifying and exhausting to teach in these circumstances: I was a precarious worker, woefully underprepared and undersupported, though I didn’t know enough about university labor structures to understand that.
Now, though, I’m coming to the (virtual) classroom with a very different feeling. I’m nervous, but not as nervous as I expected to be. Mostly I’m incredibly excited. I am coming to this classroom from such a different place than when I taught as a graduate student. I’ve been working in and around universities for more than a dozen years at this point. Even though I haven’t been teaching in a classroom, informal teaching and mentorship is a cornerstone of my role. I also know so much more now about pedagogy, university structures, group dynamics, and so on than I did as a student.
Plus, the opportunity to build a small, temporary community and to engage in a sustained inquiry and conversation together feels almost indulgent. Over the past year, largely around the publication of Putting the Humanities PhD to Work, I’ve given a record number of talks and workshops. But especially in a virtual context, these talks are so fleeting. I zoom into a space, meet wonderful people, and then it ends in a flash. As Matt and I have built this course together, we’ve prioritized a sense of slowness, trying to find a way to make and hold space as our class comes together to read and learn and digest.
Returning to the classroom also feels incredibly necessary to me. I’ve had my hands in so many different administrative areas over the past several years, and I truly enjoy working at a structural level. But classrooms are the lifeblood of the university, and as such I think it is incredibly valuable for me, as an administrator, to have a continued teaching practice. I don’t know yet what I will learn this semester, but I have no doubt I will be learning at least as much as students in the class.
Featured image by CUNY Rising Alliance.
I had the great pleasure of speaking with Dr. Teresa Mangum at the University of Iowa to celebrate the launch of Putting the Humanities PhD to Work. Following a generous introduction by Dr. Cathy Davidson, Teresa and I had an invigorating conversation about the nature of graduate education, the challenges of navigating tacit knowledge, and the value of the humanities in a moment of great unrest. The discussion moved along so briskly that we didn’t have time for a thorough Q&A with the audience, but many people added thoughtful questions in the chat and I’m happy to be able to address them here. I have included attribution when possible, and have lightly edited for clarity in some cases.
After reading Mushroom at the End of the World by Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing I’ve been mulling over some ideas about fractures in higher ed’s prestige economy, how those fractures make other ways of being and knowing possible. The precarity and opportunity of those spaces, the glimmers of light.
I think this is connected with silence/tacit knowledge—the mechanisms we cannot escape if we don’t know they’re there. Something about these silences, these fractures, seems like the space to explore. Though they bear the weight of trauma they also carry the spark of possibility, of imagining otherwise.
COVID has brought massive changes to higher ed, astonishingly quickly. This rupture brings the overall structure and assumptions into focus. Which institutions are bringing students back, heedless of all the pain and loss we have seen to date? Where are students finding care and support? Do these things ever coincide?
More than a week into worldwide protests against racial injustice in the United States, the glaring resource discrepancy between police departments and other public services—including health care, social services, and education—is more apparent than ever. Calls abound to reduce funding to police departments, and are already having an effect. NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio has announced that he will shift some NYPD funding into youth services, and the Minneapolis City Council recently moved to disband the police department all together.
Shifting funds away from punitive measures like policing and incarceration would immediately open up significant opportunities to better support individuals and communities. Education has long been a place where budget cuts happen first when city and state budgets are tight, something that the City University of New York is facing right now. Even though CUNY’s summer enrollment is up 17% as more students look to affordable online learning options in the midst of COVID-19, CUNY is bracing for budget cuts of 10-25%, which will entail significant course reductions and mass layoffs of adjunct faculty. Students from marginalized racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds will likely be hurt most significantly by these cuts, given that many are already in precarious positions—not only with respect to their education, but also with respect to their health, safety, and financial well-being. These compounding factors have been brought into painful clarity by the combined effects of COVID and police brutality. Black lives matter.
2020 is on the horizon, ushering in a time of looking back and looking forward. January will bring not only a new year but a new decade, and a metaphorical connection to 20/20 vision. In the U.S., the year also brings a high-stakes and emotionally fraught presidential election that feels something like a moment of reckoning. Naturally, this is a time of reflection for many, myself included.
I’ve been thinking especially about how much has changed in my professional life in the last ten years. At HASTAC, we’re in the midst of planning our 2020 conference at UT Dallas, with a theme of Hindsight, Foresight, and Insight. That theme resonates as I reflect on my own journey. Part of this professional trajectory connects to another unexpected ten-year mark. As Twitter reminded me, ten years ago Jason Rhody and Bethany Nowviskie started describing their work as “alt-ac”.
I’m delighted to share that Putting the Humanities PhD to Work is in production at Duke University Press, and should be out in the world in time for Fall 2020! It has a fresh new subtitle (Thriving in and Beyond the Classroom), and a structure that has been much improved thanks to thoughtful comments and questions by generous peer reviewers.
In addition, our team at the Futures Initiative is using ideas in the book as a starting point for what I think will be an exciting nationwide conference in Spring 2020. This conference, Graduate Education at Work in the World, aims to collectively imagine and redesign graduate education to support students, scholarship, and the public good. If you’re interested in these topics, please consider submitting a session proposal (by Oct 21, 2019) or joining us in NYC on April 30-May 1, 2020. Graduate Fellow Cihan Tekay (Anthropology) will be leading much of the conference development, and I’m so excited to be a part of the conversations that emerge.
What has become incredibly clear to me, both through writing the book and now through the process of developing the conference, is how important it is to embed any discussion about career pathways in a broader context of the values and structures of higher education. Even when a university has deeply-held values about its purpose and mission (such as supporting the public good), those values can easily be undermined by inequitable structures. I think a crucial starting point for reform is finding where the tensions are between values and structures, as those points of friction often illuminate tacit values that work against the university’s goals.
These are the kinds of difficult questions that are woven throughout the book. It will be released by late summer 2020, and I hope it will be useful to graduate students, faculty, and administrators alike. Read on for an updated table of contents and abstracts:
I recently had the privilege of giving a joint keynote address at the Big XII Teaching and Learning Conference at the University of Texas, Austin, together with Adashima Oyo, doctoral student in social welfare, a graduate fellow in the Futures Initiative, and the director of HASTAC Scholars. Our goal in giving the talk was to situate the push for career preparation for doctoral students in a broader context of graduate education reform, including issues such as equity, inclusion, labor practices, and more.