Posted by: clholoman | April 21, 2016


On the off chance that there might be a few new visitors, welcome to this modest blog. It started a long time ago as a diversion and a contribution to Hilbert’s social media presence. It has continued sporadically (to put it nicely) since then. Feel free to poke around using either the calendar or the tags. I don’t think there’s anything here I’ve changed my mind on dramatically. I’m sure some of the links have expired, though. Sorry about  that. And sorry if you get ads–be assured they’re WordPress’s way of supporting themselves. I’ve certainly never gotten a dime from them!

Posted by: clholoman | March 15, 2016

A Potpourri

I know, right? Long time. I’ve decided to post every six months whether it’s justified or not. Anyway, several pieces have crossed my desk in recent days that seem worth highlighting. They’re in rough order of more general to more specific, which means that the ones on higher ed, which might be of most interest to my reader(s) will be at the end.

As I noted a couple of posts ago (i.e. last year), I have added Vox to my daily reads.I still find them a little click-baity, esp. the headlines, but I guess that’s the nature of journalism today. But they do run a lot of things that are unique. I love articles like this one (even though the author’s from Duke). It serves as a nice review/primer on Fukuyama’s The End of History and places it in both its own historical context and the current environment, so that we learn something new, too. It’s easy to make a simplified version of Fukuyama into a straw man, and the author avoids that. As an excerpt, here’s a great paragraph towards the end:

Fascism is the feverish nightmare of liberal democracy: the worship of power and mobilization for their own sake, contempt for facts and procedures, the wish to remake the world by will. Democratic socialism is liberal democracy’s perennial ethical shadow. It has always begun from doubts that point toward radical aims. What is the value of equal freedom to spend a hundred million dollars on the candidate of your choice, or equal freedom to camp beneath a bridge? What is the value of elections when the economy’s vicissitudes toss aside jobs, towns, and industries with the implacable force of natural disaster? How much are equal civil rights worth when you can be humiliated at work, or when economic inequality is both acute and inherited?

On a related note (although you might not see the relationship unless you read the article above) here’s a thought provoking article from today’s NYTimes on free trade. I think I’ve made it clear in the past that I’m a pretty staunch free trader; the basic economics are (were?) persuasive that, on balance, free trade made societies better off. Yes, the costs are concentrated and the benefits are diffused, but the math still works (worked?) Now, though, as the article points out, it’s getting harder to brush aside the costs of adjustment and economists are taking note.

In domestic politics, Ron Fournier, who likes to be provocative, has this gloom-and-doomer on the meaning of Trumpism.

Third, I didn’t realize just how urgently people want to see the evisceration of the political status quo. They witnessed massive disruption in the retail, entertainment, and financial industries—in virtually every institution except for politics and government—and they can’t understand why Washington doesn’t change.

They want change in the worst way. Trump is the worst, but he’s a way to change.

I don’t have a lot to add, but think he’s likely more right that wrong. There are larger implications to be teased out on the nature of institutions and the ability of political systems to change

Finally, the new issue of Liberal Education from the AAC&U is out (Hilbert folks should be able to find a copy in the CEL, or can borrow mine.) The theme is “What Happens to Quality in an Age of Disruption?” It’s an important question (and disruption is also a theme in Fournier’s piece above, so here’s to linkages.) Disruption is a trendy concept and a lot of people have written about its applicability to higher ed (see C. Christensen’s book and subsequent debate) As I have written about before (here, for example, but really almost any entry tagged “Education) the trick is knowing what needs changing but not throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There are several important articles. Here are three, but you can work back to the entire table of contents.

An introduction from the AAC&U president distinguishing between the things we know that work and being cautious about the ones we don’t have data on yet (e.g. unbundling and competency based education, both of which have been covered in this blog.) This continues to support, I’ll note, the paths we at Hilbert are going down.

We also have a compelling new body of evidence—drawn from over two decades of experimentation with better ways to educate today’s diverse students—about what works to help students achieve expected learning. This research shows educators how they can significantly increase persistence and degree completion. It also provides guidelines on how to help underserved students—including those who are low income, minority, working, or adult—achieve the kinds of learning that educators and employers consider essential, and which democracy needs as well.

Evidence drawn from hundreds of thousands of student reports shows the educational effectiveness of a set of “high-impact practices,” which include both experiential and applied learning—internships, service learning, diversity initiatives—and rigorous course-based practices such as extensive writing, undergraduate research, peer projects, and capstone work.

And two that are particularly timely for Hilbert as they address the role of accreditors and accreditation.

Policy Priorities for Accreditation Put Quality College Learning at Risk

Quality Assurance and Accreditation in Challenging Times: Examining Priorities and Proposed Reforms

These might strike you (esp. the second one) as a little self serving on the AAC&U’s part, as they emphasize the LEAP program and rubrics which they began (and Hilbert uses), but I think they are right.

This is so important. If we can’t get the system of peer accreditation right, we will have something worse forced upon us. As Ben Franklin said (and I’m sure I have quoted before “We must  indeed, all hang together or, most assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”

Posted by: clholoman | November 7, 2015

Crossing the Streams

In my post about summer reading, I noted my profound love and admiration for Marilynne Robinson as a novelist. Since then, she has been interviewed  by (n.b.)  the President, and has a new collection of non-fiction essays published. I assume the following will be in her next essay collection, since she has said clearly that she collects her talks until there are enough to publish and then does so. Here she is on the topic of this blog:

Offering a “variety of fields of study and great freedom to choose among them,” Robinson said, American education “has served as a mighty paradigm for the kind of self-discovery Americans have historically valued.”

Our vast educational culture is “unlike anything else in the world” and “emerged from the glorious sense of the possible, and explored and enhanced the possible through the spread of learning. If it seems to be failing now, this is true because we have forgotten what it is for,” she said.

With so much emphasis on a utilitarian education today, Robinson said, “Emerson might be surprised to find us in such a state after generations of great freedom.”

Robinson attributes the current lack of support for seemingly non-utilitarian education to broad changes in political and economic ideals, a shift best characterized by the replacement of “the citizen” with “the taxpayer.”

“While the citizen can entertain aspirations for the society as a whole and take pride in its achievements, the taxpayer, as presently imagined, simply does not want to pay taxes,” Robinson said, noting that this conflict of interest has left many great public universities “like beached vessels of unknown origin … ripe for looting insofar as what they hold would find a market.”

But, Robinson added, “a human community with a history and with a habit of aspirations toward democracy, requiring a capacity in its public for meaningful decisions about its life and direction, exists apart from these [economic] forces and is at odds with them.”

Thanks to the AAC&U for bringing this to my attention.

Posted by: clholoman | September 1, 2015

Back to School, Back to Basics

I feel like I am often writing about “sub-themes” of this blog. Well today, friends, we are back to the heart of the matter. As we kick off another new academic year, not coincidentally Slate is running a fun series on what classes made a difference in many of their staffers’ lives. These are the things we mean when we talk about the importance of a liberal arts education. The most important lessons you learn are not always the ones you were looking for. And you find them in surprising places. And how often the course you may have liked least will stick with you longest.

And, on a different note, as most of you know, this is our year for re-accreditation. Here’s a nice primer on the issues around accreditation, why the system is flawed, but is also unlikely to change. So when I (and other folks at Hilbert) am fixated on “Middle States,” you’ll have some idea what we’re talking about.

Happy September–let’s have a great year.

Posted by: clholoman | August 18, 2015

Size Matters

Regular readers (if there are any left) know that maps are a sub-theme of this blog. I love maps. I love teaching about maps. One of my favorite lectures when I taught World Geography and History was an early one on the problem of map projection. I’m sure you know most of this, but anyway: it’s impossible to represent the round(ish) earth on a flat piece of paper without introducing some distortion. It might represent distances accurately, but not direction. It might be right on latitude, but distorts longitude. Etc.

The familiar Mercator projection is notorious for one aspect of its distortion. As you get farther from the equator, the sizes of land masses get badly misrepresented.

This has led to grave misunderstanding about the sizes of continents and countries. (We’ll set aside the issue of the map being centered on the US.)

But now we can fix that! Here’s a cool web site that you can drag and drop states and countries on top of one another to compare. Watch how New York grows if you drag it to the poles! Note that the lower 48, China, and India could fit into Africa with room to spare!

This is not new knowledge, obviously, just a new tool. Here’s the Atlantic article that led me to it. Make sure you watch the embedded West Wing clip. It kind of makes fun of the issue, but there are real social justice implications from the “common knowledge” that we have learned from this map.

The good news is that Mercator has (justifiably) fallen out of favor. But other projections have their own issues. Perhaps we need to go back to globes in the classroom.

Posted by: clholoman | May 27, 2015

The Heat Is On

Blog fav Dan Drezner posted his summer reading list yesterday, and that seemed like a fun idea to steal build upon. A couple of his entries look interesting to me:

And for the other side of my professional hat, I just got these (I really only ordered the first one and the second one appeared along with it; I’m not quite as pessimistic as this makes it look (yet?):

And for fun, first, two things I am in the middle of:

  • Shelby Foote’s 3 volume history of the Civil War. I’ve gotten bogged down in this at least once before, but I am attributing that to how physically large the books are–makes it hard to read in bed. I am making better progress now that I have them on Kindle, but I started over. Just coming up on Shiloh, so still a long way to go.
  • Lila, by Marilyn Robinson. If you haven’t read any of her work, start now. This is the third book in the fictional town of Gilead, and I suggest you start with the first one, with that as the title. But it’s probably not necessary. She is a prose craftsman. I read her very slowly to savor the words.

And finally, this was lent to me with a very high recommendation a good long time ago. It’s dauntingly long, but I need to read it and return to owner:

There is no way I am going to finish (or even start?) all of these, but you know what Daniel Burnham said: “make no little plans…” How about you? What are you reading or planning to?

ETA a couple of other, more summer-y, lists:
Posted by: clholoman | March 2, 2015

And one more

Last (probably) on this. A better rejoinder to the ISIS article is here (also from The Atlantic).

The author makes a helpful (if not terribly surprising) clarification:

The first thing I teach my undergraduates is that the English word “Islam” has two distinct but related meanings: the “Islam” that corresponds to Christendom (the civilization) and the “Islam” that corresponds to Christianity (the religion). The result is that the term “Islamic” has two separate but related uses, as does “un-Islamic.”

In his article and elsewhere, Wood has challenged the claim by Muslims that ISIS is un-Islamic by pointing out that ISIS members are self-identified Muslims. But Muslims who say “ISIS is un-Islamic” are not saying that ISIS fighters are not Muslims at all. They are calling ISIS “un-Islamic” the way a politician might call bigotry “un-American.”

Interestingly, he ends up at about the same place that I asserted in my last post that I believe the original author was headed, the “orrery of errors”:

All of this puts Muslims in a double bind: If they just go about their lives, they stand condemned by those who demand that Muslims “speak out.” But if they do speak out, they can expect to be told that short of declaring their sacred texts invalid, they are fooling themselves or deceiving the rest of us. Muslims are presented with a brutal logic in which the only way to truly disassociate from ISIS and escape suspicion is to renounce Islam altogether.

Posted by: clholoman | February 18, 2015

On the other hand

The article I wrote about yesterday has generated a lot of buzz. In the interest of dialogue, here’s an article that takes issue with the Atlantic piece. My initial reaction is that this response, while serving as a valuable counterweight, kind of misses the point. I don’t think the original author, Graeme Wolf, is claiming that ISIS is an “inevitable product of Islam.” And I certainly hope that Wood doesn’t get lumped in with some of the narrow minded bigots cited in the article (I have a particular problem with Franklin Graham, but we’ll leave it at that for now.)

What I think Wolf is suggesting is that ISIS’s theology or worldview or whatever, is so fully self contained and self reinforcing that it is difficult to argue against–it exists on a different plane, in some sense, from “normal” thinking. E.P. Thompson coined (as far as I know) the phrase “orrery of errors.”  (An orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system, usually mechanical. Once set in motion, it continues to operate in a self-contained manner in a way that is difficult to disrupt.) That seems to apply here.

Posted by: clholoman | February 17, 2015

Read this, please

I am a little reluctant to post this, as it is really making the rounds, so I suspect anybody who is reading this has seen it already. But this article is really indispensable. It is the first thing I’ve read that helped me make any sense of ISIS and the mindset that would lead to the barbaric atrocities being committed. It also shows the need to have really in-depth knowledge and the ability to understand sometimes subtle nuances, most notably how trying to label them as not Muslim is not just incorrect, but actually probably not helpful. How in the world do enough people get this kind of background in order to have productive discussions about vital policy decisions? (I suppose I should be heartened that this article is getting so much attention, but I am fearful of the number of people who will not even bother, given the length. (tl;dr as they say).)

I would be interested in a longer discussion of how ISIS fits into an older and broader debate about the  inherent value of modernity. Maybe it doesn’t, as it is apparently trying to replicate a society of a particular moment in history. But the brutality makes it hard (almost impossible for me, sometimes) to engage with their ideas at any level other than revulsion. (Similarly, the point that their religious fundamentalism requires them to reject any form of international cooperation or recognize the basic tenets of sovereignty on which the system is built could be interesting, but seems so beside the point right now.)

Contrast with this article from Slate. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it and it gives some useful information, but doesn’t do anything to help us put this data in any context.

(I can’t close without noting that the author of the Atlantic piece makes some grating word choices: “mujahideen chic” “a gentrifying area that one might call Dar al-Hipster;” etc. Ugh.)

Posted by: clholoman | February 10, 2015


I bet you thought this blog was dead. Ha, no! It was only pinin’ for the fjords.

Two topics for your consideration. There has been an exchange between two distinguished scholars in the op/ed pages the last two days and it makes for a fairly painless way to learn some international relations theory, and to see how reasonable people can disagree. The subject is what to do about Ukraine. Yesterday, John Mearsheimer, a noted realist (some would say hawk) made the case for not arming Ukraine in the New York Times. Today, blog fav Dan Drezner over at the WaPo, points out some issues with Mearsheimer’s analysis (and perhaps inconsistencies with M’s own earlier writings, although I’m not convinced by that.) (Disclosure:  Mearsheimer was one of my grad school profs, but I was on the other side of IR–political economy rather than security studies.) I don’t know where I come down on this yet, but it’s fascinating both as a case study in progress and, unfortunately, because the stakes are pretty high, I think.

Second, I must pay tribute to Dean Smith. To those of us of a certain age living in North Carolina, much less for those of us who attended UNC, Coach Smith was one of the towering figures. Lots of amazing words written, but here are three excellent ones:

A terrific story from a professor.

From Charlie Pierce, one of the better sportswriters working today.

And this one by (Dukie) John Feinstein, with this great quote: “John, you should never be proud of doing the right thing. You should just do the right thing.”

I am glad Coach Smith has found rest.

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