Tales of the Transcripts

December 13, 2013

I have had an unusually extensive and variegated exposure to higher education. It seems that some may find it useful to consider the sorts of courses and other experiences that a person might encounter in the process of such an education. This post provides a sketch of what it was like, for me, to attend these places, meet these professors and students, and take these classes.

This is not an exhaustive analysis of every course I ever took. That would be mind-numbing. I have taken about 70 graduate courses. This is just a seat-of-the-pants tour of some high points that stand out, as I look back on the various places and subjects I studied. I may revise it now and then. Note that many of the links provided in the following text lead to more detailed descriptions of specific courses and situations.

Introduction

First, an overview. I had two separate college careers. The first one was relatively traditional, beginning after high school graduation and continuing to graduation with a bachelor’s degree and then graduate school. The second one was nontraditional, in the usual sense of involving a middle-aged adult who goes back to school. Within each of those careers, I attended multiple colleges or universities (which I will refer to collectively, here, as simply “colleges” or “universities” or perhaps “institutions of higher education”).

Regardless of where I took courses, I maintained an underlying continuity of faith in higher education. College, I believed, was where the smart people tend to go; and as I progressed from one institution to another, I maintained the additional belief that higher education provided an openminded, welcoming ambiance for all sorts of witty, fun, creative, insightful, and eccentric individuals. College was thus, in multiple ways, very different from the rural environment in which I grew up – where, by the time of high school graduation, I had become aware of some personal lack of fit.

The Schools

It may help to introduce the schools briefly. I started as a pre-ministerial student at Concordia Lutheran Junior College in Ann Arbor, Michigan in August 1973. After completing most of the coursework needed for that school’s two-year Associate of Arts degree in my first year, I transferred to Indiana University – Bloomington. There, I experienced a crisis of faith due especially to unfamiliar perspectives gained in a secular course on the New Testament, and I dropped out to reconsider my ministerial plans. The following year, I resumed my college career, this time as a philosophy major at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).

I stayed at CSULB for almost two years before transferring to Columbia College in New York City. I received a B.A. in political science from Columbia in 1979. Columbia persuaded me that I wanted to become a corporate professional, rather than seek the PhD that I had intended to earn. Hence, I continued into the joint JD/MBA program in Columbia’s law and business schools. I graduated in 1982 and became admitted to practice law in New York and New Jersey, and did exactly that.

Unlike the vast majority of my law school classmates, though, I had not felt that my formal education had ended. During the 1980s, I took courses in assorted subjects at several other undergraduate institutions. I left New York, and my last law firm job, in 1989, and moved to Colorado. Over the next decade, I wrote, traveled, studied, played, and worked at a few random jobs. In the late 1990s, my then-wife and I moved from Maine to Massachusetts to Missouri.

By 2002, I had decided that I wanted to focus on writing, and that a position as a college professor would be especially conducive to that sort of thing. I went back to school at the master’s level at the University of Missouri – Columbia. In 2005 I transferred to a PhD program in parks and recreation back at Indiana University – Bloomington (IUB). That proved to be the beginning of a long pursuit of a double doctoral major involving the school of social work at Indiana University – Purdue University – Indianapolis (IUPUI), ending in 2011, except for a one-year break (2009-2010) to finish my master’s of social work (MSW) at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Finally, in 2012-2013 I was enrolled in a PhD program in educational statistics and research methods at the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville.

The Early Years

My brother had started commuting to a nearby college (Tri-State, Angola, Indiana) in 1969, when I was starting high school. He brought home some interesting books. I still remember one night when we were sitting in the bathroom – him on the toilet, where he seemed capable of remaining for hours, and me on the edge of the tub. He was explaining that existence precedes essence. He didn’t seem too clear on it; or maybe it’s just that I wasn’t. It was something he got in a literature or philosophy class. Probably literature; I think it was the class that compelled him to buy a copy of Camus’s Stranger, which I found fascinating. He also brought home a management textbook that I took with me on a camping trip to Warren Dunes State Park in Michigan, circa July 1971. I still remember some guy walking by and asking what I was reading. “Management,” I said. He replied, “It wouldn’t interest me.”

I mention my brother, Wade, because his quirky sense of humor informed my own early sense of what college was about. Wade is a comic genius. So I was especially attuned to peculiarities of my professors. I felt that this was part of what made college so interesting. At Concordia, I believe the prize for oddness would have to go to Dr. William Hassold, my professor for at least one course in each of modern German and ancient Greek. Hassold was the guy who, upon finding that I had forgotten to bring my textbook to class, ordered me to go home and get it. No screwing around with him. He had a legendary technique for teaching a concept in Latin called the “future most vivid.” According to the story, he would get up on his desk and you’d be treated to the sight of this hook-nosed, walleyed little guy jumping up and down and shrieking, “I *will* do it! I *will* do it!” It certainly made an impression on kids fresh off the farm. My understanding is that his Latin students did tend to remember the future most vivid.

Another professor who made an impact at Concordia was Dr. Carl Gutekunst. Gutekunst was a handsome, earnest young minister who seemed to love the Hebrew pronunciations of biblical words. For him, the God of the Old Testament was not just “God.” He was Yahweh, pronounced sort of like “Yakh-way.” I can’t really do it justice. You’d have to hear Gutekunst do it. He earns a special place in my pantheon because of his way of grading papers, or at least one of the papers I submitted to him. He gave me a C, but said I could try a rewrite. I did. He gave me a B, and said I could try again. I did one or two rewrites and gave up. This may seem like a common technique to many instructors now, but for me it was a real departure from high school. Gutekunst wasn’t interested in just labeling me as a C writer. He actually wanted me to improve. And I did, just in the space of those few rewrites; and I also gained faith that I could, in fact, improve when faced with intimidating academic challenges.

I didn’t stick around Indiana University long enough to form much of an impression of my professors there, with the limited exception of Dr. Sampley, the religion professor behind the New Testament course mentioned above. I do recall being impressed with the dark-haired, dark-eyed young women in my introductory Hebrew class. I had never seen women like that before. I believed they must look like that because they were from Indianapolis. To me, it was a big city, capable of producing something like this. Not that I was completely ignorant. I did in fact know what Jews were: they were the people who had lived in the Old Testament. Also, Jesus was a Jew. Beyond that, my knowledge was a bit hazy.

When I moved to the strange and wonderful world of CSULB, and enrolled in its philosophy department, I entered a whole new realm of peculiarity. My favorite was Dr. Eddie Quest. Seriously: a philosopher named Quest. Ed was a nice guy. I liked him. He actually wasn’t that strange; it’s just that one of my classmates, a student named Bill Bergren, got a lot of mileage out of his quirks. Dr. Quest would go to the blackboard, in our symbolic logic class, and try to think of an example to write on the board. He would stand there, with his back to us, for what seemed like minutes on end. He would be struggling with some philosophical quandary, like whether to write “If A then not B” or perhaps “If B then not A.” Bergren thought it would be great fun to get white paper cutouts to insert behind our eyeglasses, so that when Quest finally turned back around to face the class, we would all be sitting there with these completely blank expressions and whited eyes. We didn’t actually do that, but I did follow Bergren’s lead in skipping the final exam to go hiking on Mount Wilson. Quest gave me a C for the course. That was going to taint my GPA, so I petitioned to have it lowered to a D, which I could then replace with a retake. I based my petition, which was successful, on the grounds that nobody should be able to get a C after skipping a final exam.

The philosophy department mirrored academic philosophy, insofar as it was split between the continental (European) and the Anglo-American types. The latter weren’t bizarre; indeed, among them, I felt that Al Spangler helped to make philosophy interesting and accessible. But some of the continental profs were another matter. It wasn’t so much Dr. Peccorini, whose name for some juvenile reason I insisted on mutating into Pepperoni. He was OK, even if I couldn’t always understand him. Dr. Bonis went a bit overboard with his tendency to reduce ethical issues to the ultimate question of whether there was anything preventing a girl from spreading her legs. “It all comes down to ‘spread,’” he would say. “Spread.” I dunno; maybe he was just young at heart.

I did think CSULB’s Dr. Guerrière could have done better at teaching existentialism. My way of studying for his final exam was to take careful class notes, recording his interminable lectures verbatim to the extent possible, and boil them down into a solid three hours’ worth of writing, which I would then spend days memorizing word for word. I didn’t understand a bit of it, and remembered nothing thereafter. But it seemed the women loved it. Mostly guys in the Anglo courses, mostly women for Guerrière. Whatever you prefer.

For my purposes, CSULB had the greatest concentration of good teachers that I have encountered in any educational institution. Along with Spangler, there was Rifaat Ali Abou el Haj, a Princeton PhD in the history department. Dr. Haj used the simple approach of basing our grades on class participation (i.e., discussing the assigned reading from the textbook) and on three papers. Each paper had to discuss a novel of the time, in light of surrounding historical developments. So, for example, we had to discuss Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks as the last paper in our 19th Century European History class. (I also took Haj for 20th-Century Europe.) It was an engrossing, self-reinforcing way to learn history.

There would later be a taint on my relationship with Haj, unfortunately. I acquired a slightly more contemporary understanding of Judaism when, working at a McDonald’s restaurant in Long Beach, I explained to one of my co-workers that I had been trying to sell a car at a certain price but that the buyer jewed me down. The co-worker dropped his spatula and yelled, “That’s an insult to my religion!” I was, like, what religion? To me, “jewed” was just a word, like “scot-free” or “chiseled.” It had never occurred to me that it might actually have an ethnic derivation. I probably would have spelled it “jude.” Point is, I was not too clear on Jews and such, when I got to New York, and I betrayed this ignorance in a letter that I wrote back to Dr. Haj. It had not occurred to me to ask, but now I guessed that he was probably Jewish too, and therefore I made sure to include remarks about what good, intelligent people these New York Jews seemed to be. He stopped writing. Years later, I tracked him down on the CSULB campus, and tried to explain. He pretended not to remember me, a student whom he had actually hosted at his home in Santa Monica for an overnight stay prior to a Paul Klee conference in downtown L.A.

Possibly the most important class I took at CSULB was a writing course with Stephen Knafel, a PhD from Brown. His course was very simple. It went something like this. On Tuesdays, we would attend class. He would walk in, give us a set of three topics to choose from, and leave. We would sit there and write an essay on one of his topics. Then, on Thursdays, we would meet with him individually, to discuss briefly what we had written on Tuesday. The things we would write in class on Tuesday all had to be 150 words in length. They could go as low as 140 and as high as 160. Beyond that, he would subtract one point per word. He had some rules, mostly based (I think) on Strunk & White, but also prominently including this: no form of the verb “to be” is allowed. So I could not write, “I am fine.” I would have to think of something slightly more creative to say instead, like maybe, “I feel fine.” I think Knafel’s simple course was (or, should I say, constituted) the single most important experience in my writing education.

Another great teacher at CSULB: Dr. Malone, in the German department. (We never called her by her first name. I may have known it then, but I have forgotten it by now, and CSULB’s records apparently do not go back that far.) Part of her greatness was in her teaching. But the best part, for me, was that she facilitated a fantastic rapport among students. We had a wonderful camaraderie, spanning several semesters. Going to German class was just a great experience. A large chunk of the group, maybe seven or eight students altogether, were accepted into a study-abroad program, and went trooping off to spend the next year studying in Heidelberg, Germany. I was accepted into that opportunity too, and I have often wondered whether I should have taken it. I was also accepted as a transfer to Columbia College, however, and that was the path I chose.

Columbia College:
B.A. in Political Science

I have already praised and damned my Columbia education in another post. Possibly the key point to note here is that, during my five years of undergraduate and graduate enrollment, Columbia largely eliminated the belief that college professors were funny or interesting or broadly educated. These were specialists. There did not seem to be much of a Renaissance ideal, of the kind that would have Dr. Haj studying art as well as history.

But there may have been a few Renaissance types in some departments. Dr. Sacvan Bercovitch, teacher of my required undergraduate literature humanities course, seemed of that ilk. As I look into his background now, I am flattered that such a prestigious individual would have considered me a superb student. There weren’t many who viewed me that way. Of the 19 full (i.e., three- or four-credit) courses that I took at Columbia College (or across the street at Barnard), only three resulted in grades of A (as distinct from A– or lower). Two of those three (i.e., Bercovitch’s course and one other) came in my first semester there.

My primary undergraduate experience at Columbia involved extensive exposure to Jewish women and New York day- and nightlife – not that I was alone in that, among undergraduates. I sometimes wonder whether I missed the boat, at Columbia, in my Environmental Science course. Columbia has made a name for itself in that field. The course wasn’t bad, even if I took it only to fulfill a science requirement. I hadn’t taken science seriously up to that point; I hadn’t done especially well in it, or had anything resembling a mentor in it; and I wasn’t really open to the possibility of becoming a scientist now. Instead, what was most memorable from that course, for me, was that I was trying to flirt with an Iranian (actually, Zoroastrian) classmate, and did a spectacularly bad job of it.

One of my three A grades at Columbia – in fact, the only one after my first semester there – was in an introductory computer programming (BASIC) course. The instructor was a graduate student, Jay Meisner, now (I believe) a plastic surgeon. It was kind of funny because I was dating Jay’s ex-girlfriend. He didn’t seem to mind. As an instructor, he was clear, he seemed to be motivated to do well, and (as a student himself) he seemed to have a more empathic sense of what students might find difficult. I went on from that course to do a fair amount of BASIC programming in my later years at Columbia; I bought my own PC in 1983; and I have continued to use BASIC-related knowledge throughout these ensuing decades.

My worst outcomes at Columbia College were two B– grades, one in each of my two spring semesters. I am no longer certain which of these courses on my transcript was taught by which professor. But I am pretty sure that the second B–, spoiling an otherwise decent performance (for the spring semester of a senior year), came from Dr. Edinger – Lewis Edinger, I believe. I didn’t like him. One reason was that he did not know how to pronounce Lincoln. He messed up the first syllable and pronounced both Ls – “lynn-colln.” We heard him roll out that word quite frequently, because this was a course on Leadership. It did not seem appropriate for a professor at Columbia to fail to grasp that this was not like pronouncing Lawn Guyland (you know, that place east of Queens). Another reason I didn’t like Edinger was that his class was boring, as most of them were. But the main reason was that he disliked my view that Presidents Johnson and Nixon had been competent and had their strengths, notwithstanding Watergate. Edinger seemed to be ideological, as I guess most of the political science faculty were. As a result, I wrote him off, ignoring his advice to read Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book on Johnson, and ultimately he docked me for that. He was right – I should have read it, and I might have if he hadn’t made leadership so tedious.

My other B– was in a course on Communist Political Systems. (Bear in mind that this was during the Cold War.) I don’t remember who taught that course. It might have been Charles Gati. Gati, I heard, had defected from a leadership position in the ruling circle in Poland or maybe Hungary. It is fitting that I don’t remember the instructor because I don’t remember the course either, or anything from it. But I do remember that, whatever course it was that Gati taught, I found his accent hard to understand. From a student’s perspective, the main thing that I recall about the communist economies of Eastern Europe at that point is that, meanwhile, I was doing statistical typing for a research institute on 115th Street, directly across from my back window on 116th, that produced reports for the CIA. They had to calculate agricultural and industrial outputs from East Germany and those other countries because those countries, themselves, didn’t have competent accounting systems, were releasing skewed data, and/or were keeping their data secret. In other words, there was some interesting, mysterious stuff going on there. Too bad I couldn’t switch out of those Columbia College classes into an apprenticeship doing the real thing.

I don’t think the Communist Political Systems course was the one taught by Dr. Mark Kesselman. Kesselman would probably qualify as the most memorable professor I had at Columbia. He was the one who announced, at the start of the semester, that he planned to convert us all to Marxism. It didn’t happen, at least not in my case. However, his class did introduce me to a couple of Puerto Rican classmates who supported the FALN, a violent liberation movement, along with a variety of other young leftists and one hapless white guy, either a Mormon or a Moonie (I can’t remember), who took a lot of crap for being conservative. This was all a far cry from CSULB or rural Indiana, and I think it probably gave me the most to think about, in years to come. Not long ago, I did publish an article on political philosophies, and I had occasion to reflect on Kesselman’s course during that process, although not always sympathetically.

No doubt my article-writing was also informed by a course in Modern Political Thought, in my second semester at Columbia. The instructor was Dr. Eileen Sullivan, whom I liked on a personal basis; and I would have thought I was a philosophical type but, again, the course completely failed to grab me. Here’s Hume; learn this about Hume. Here’s Locke; learn this about Locke. Or so it felt. There was, as noted above, a competition for my attention with other sorts of undergraduate attractions, but I’d had some of that at CSULB too, and it had actually worked in favor of engagement with the subject matter – with, for example, Romanticism. Here, no such luck. Sullivan was the one whom I asked for advice about the wisdom of pursuing a PhD, and who advised that paying the bills was a key consideration. I’m not saying that she forced me to go to law school. But I do think that I should have chosen to major in something else (e.g., history) instead of political science, and that doing so might have exposed me to a rather different Columbia education.

Columbia Law and Business Schools:
JD and MBA

I can lump these two schools together because there just weren’t very many memorable professors or courses between them, and what was memorable can be stated briefly enough. The yearlong class in Torts (i.e., civil, not criminal, wrongs, including malpractice and other kinds of negligence) featured two interesting characters, one each semester. But first, a word about titles. Few lawyers get doctoral degrees other than the Juris Doctor, and for some reason that does not ordinarily qualify them to be called “Doctor.” Instead, they append “Esq.” to their names – e.g., Ray Woodcock, Esq. – or at least the stuffy ones do. Thus, we called our law instructors Professor, not Doctor.

So the first of these two Torts characters was Professor Hill, and the other was Professor Reese. Hill had a style of asking questions about a given case, and then proceeding on the basis of whatever we told him. Like, there was no capital-T truth of the case; there was just what we said, and that was the basis on which he taught. It was an interesting style. Reese was surely the oddest character I met on the law faculty – sort of a performer, puffing out his cheeks and exhorting students with his favorite command: “Expound!” I did not actually learn much about torts from these guys because, somewhat along the lines of a description in my book about law school (p. 61),

In most of those large classes, no one is assigned to the row of seats in back of the big classrooms, near the exits. As the semester grinds on, you see a growing fringe of students sitting back there, where the lights don’t shine too well. These are obviously not their assigned seats, and you realize that this is a form of truce. They’ll attend class, even though they don’t understand what’s going on, as long as the professor pretends they’re not there and doesn’t call on them.

In the first year of law school especially, I was busy playing catch-up with classmates who had been preparing for this for years. I may have learned as much about the law when I was studying for the bar exam as I did in my law school courses.

One of my most memorable law school classroom experiences was in International Law, taught by Professor Schacter, informally known as “Doctor Death” for his ability to put students to sleep. I witnessed this power firsthand. One day, in our seminar room, there were three male students in a row, all wearing blue shirts, all nodding off with their heads leaning on their right hands, elbows on the conference table, in almost exactly the same pose. Not bad, in a class of only about a dozen students altogether. They looked like Huey, Dewey, and Louie. The things you see when you don’t have a camera. If I’d been the instructor, I’d have shot a rubber band at them, but Schacter didn’t seem to notice.

My best semester in law school came in the spring of 1981, my second year. For one thing, I was starting to get the hang of what law was about, and of how law school works. That was the only semester when I got a top grade (E, for Excellent, in the law school’s funky grading system of the time). I got that in an independent study, and I got it because that was the only course on my law school transcript where the grade depended entirely upon an ability to check sources carefully and to write thoughtfully. I guess I was born to be a researcher, not a litigator.

Interestingly, my worst semester in law school came in the very next semester, fall 1981. I think that’s probably because I spent summer 1981 working in a law firm, and I came back to school with the conclusion that law was not the career for me. Already, my enthusiasm for being a corporate tool was fading. Almost all of my lowest grades in law school, barely passing, were in corporate law, and I had to endure two such courses in that fall semester. I did pretty well in two corporate courses in my last semester, spring 1982, but I think that’s because one if not both were taught by the witty John Coffee. As of fall 1981, my chief alternative to the law degree was just to focus on the MBA, but the structure of the joint JD/MBA program was such that it was actually going to be faster for me to finish both than just to focus on the MBA. And then the national economy went into a recession, when MBAs weren’t being hired, and meanwhile I did wind up with an offer of a permanent law job from that summer position. So I went that route.

I had actually come into Columbia with an experience as a manager of a two-store printing company, and I had liked that job and thought I might want to continue in some related direction. But the business school was oriented toward finance, accounting, and marketing; and despite my corporate pretensions, those areas held no interest for me. In a remarkable display of directionlessness, I essentially ignored that positive previous experience, and also ignored what was, for me, the newly discovered, intriguing alternative of operations research (involving e.g., the mathematical study of resource constraints, scheduling, and logistics). (I don’t remember who taught the course in which I was introduced to that sort of thing.) Sadly, after some corporate finance courses, I essentially bailed out of the MBA career path.

Since the chosen corporate route did not actually interest me, I did not take the MBA very seriously. My most compelling recollection, from my list of business school courses, is that I was willing to skip almost any of them to go play video games in the West End bar with David Horowitz, a likeminded fellow JD/MBA classmate. Skipping class by myself would have felt sinful, but with David as my wingman, it felt like an achievement. The key there, I believe, was disengagement. I know I was preparing for a corporate career, and I hoped that would mean a job that would pay well. But I was never really that interested in money. I remember telling a classmate that I didn’t know the difference between $30,000 and $40,000 per year – referring, there, to the kinds of salaries that lawyers and MBAs might expect in those days. Both figures were well above anything that I (or my dad, for that matter) had ever been paid.

It didn’t help that some business classes dwelled upon the obvious. The worst was a required introductory course taught by Dr. McNulty, who I believe was some kind of associate dean. I dimly recall McNulty as a pompous sort, not too bright, and inclined to go on and on about obvious things – which one remarkable British student would then summarize in 50 words or less. Quite impressive, and useful for underscoring the amount of time we were wasting – at least when we weren’t skipping class to play video games. Carpe diem! I wish we could have dispensed with the class altogether, and just asked that British guy to record his summaries for us. McNulty did not love me, needless to say; he was apparently able to sense my belief that he was a poor instructor, and thus gave me one of the two barely-passing grades I got in the business school.

The other business school course that sticks out in my recollection was introductory statistics. Our professor was Pepi Kochar, a turban-wearing individual with a thick accent whose last name makes me wonder whether he was one of the world’s three Jewish Sikhs. I was more interested in programming my Texas Instruments calculator to solve problems than in memorizing the endless formulas of the typical required statistics course. Another post goes into more detail on what it was like to take such a course.

That pretty much wraps up the points that leap out at me, as I review the law and business transcripts. Or I guess there is one other story worth adding. In the business school, I took a course on securities analysis with a professor named, I think, Putney. The final project required us to analyze a stock, traded on the New York Stock Exchange or perhaps elsewhere, and offer a recommendation as to whether to buy or sell, and at what price. I remember that I chose Motorola. I don’t know what I wrote about it. Whatever it was, it couldn’t have been too impressive, because I got a mediocre grade for the semester. But then, a couple months later, without any request on my part, the professor raised my grade. Apparently he decided that my Motorola prediction turned out to be accurate.

Interim Coursework

After leaving Columbia at the end of 1982, it would be more than 20 years before I would again enroll in a degree program. During those years, however, I did have some further involvement with higher education. For one thing, I think I took a typing course, or something like that, to qualify for a temporary teaching credential at a college in Maine. I applied to a couple of top sociology PhD programs in the late 1990s but was rejected – not surprisingly, given my footloose pattern for nearly ten years, at that point, and my scattered transcripts (see below), as well as my impressive lack of prior sociology coursework. I think that was the first time I had ever applied to a PhD program. It would take me a while to get more in touch with realities of doctoral study.

I don’t actually know whether higher education ever was the innovative, curiosity-driven place I had imagined in my early years. In my imagination, it could be a sign of a proper intellectual orientation to drop out, as I had done at Indiana University in 1974, when philosophical questions seem to call for readjustment – when, in other words, it is not clear what the student intends to get from the pursuit of a degree. At any rate, whatever higher education may have been in the 1970s and 1980s, by 2000 it had changed and/or my perceptions had finally moved beyond a working-class level of misunderstanding. By 2000, I was on the way to a recognition that most people viewed higher education as little more than a place to get a credential – an institutionalized place, that is, where (at least for purposes of the bureaucratic mindset governing acceptance and advancement) consistency and stability can easily supersede creativity or even an understandable kind of atypicality.

I mention those thoughts because I did take undergraduate courses at several different colleges, mostly in the New York area, during the 1980s. It didn’t seem important, at the time, to finish the courses or to get good grades. One of my motivations for taking these courses was that I wanted to stay in touch with academia. Given my feeling that law school had not led in a direction that would work for me over the long term, school seemed to provide the way in which I believed I would best be able to redirect myself. So I took an art history course, a math course, a political science course, and so forth. Nothing really emerged from all that, other than perhaps a reminder that art history was pretty cool and I was still not too stoked about math.

Those random courses supply a few fragmentary memories. One such memory came from an introductory Spanish course. I attended class and did the homework all semester. The professor had a lousy attitude, almost abusive at times. At the start of the final exam, she made a remark I didn’t like – it may have been derogatory toward me personally, or toward the class generally; I’m not sure – and I stood up and walked out. She knew exactly what was going on: she jumped to her feet and said, “Wait –” but I was already halfway out the door. No way of telling what impact that might have made on behalf of future students. Some, I hope.

Another of those assorted courses was oriented toward criminal justice. I took an incomplete, so as to be able to do a good job on the final project. But when I submitted it, the administration said that my instructor had left the state. They didn’t know how to grade my project, so they said they had no choice but to convert my incomplete to a withdrawal.

By far the most important course I took, between 1982 and 2002, was not a classroom course at all. It was an Outward Bound sailing course at Hurricane Island in Rockland, Maine. The primary purpose of this course was not to acquire sailing skills, though some of that was included. The big-picture purpose expressed in Outward Bound’s mission statement was, rather,

To inspire character development and self-discovery in people of all ages and walks of life through challenge and adventure, and to impel them to achieve more than they ever thought possible, to show compassion for others and to actively engage in creating a better world.

What I found important about that course was its introduction to the world of ropes courses, climbing, and other forms of outdoor adventure. It accompanied, and stimulated, my growing interest in finding ways to spend more time outdoors.

University of Missouri – Columbia:
The School of Social Work

In 2002, a painful divorce finally built a fire under me. It was time to go back to school and start that new career I had long been wondering about. I have already done some blogging and have produced some videos about the years since 2002; hence, the following discussion is of a somewhat different character than what has gone before: it consists to a much greater extent of links to those other materials. Those materials tend to be where one finds the fun and interesting stories about individual courses listed on my transcripts.

The summary presented here has a more negative cast than the preceding material (above). One reason is that, for me, college at this age was a very different experience, much lonelier, often much more hostile, and more palpably nonsensical in certain regards, than I think it would tend to be to someone who is young and has not already gone through undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Faculty did not necessarily seem glad that I was there. And for my part, I admit the possibility of impatience. So much needed to be improved, and yet . . . well, that is the subject of other posts in this blog. Maybe the point here is that I experienced higher ed from two very different perspectives, and had very different reactions to it.

As above, if the following material seems to ramble, perhaps it is because there is so very much to say about some of these patently overwhelming experiences and situations. Hopefully the links that I provide, leading to more detailed information, will clarify what this post can only hint at, in its role as an introduction to various aspects of my higher ed experience.

So. The question I faced in 2002 was, in which field did I want this new career? I did a lot of thinking about such matters while contemplating my divorce and walking on the Katy Trail along the Missouri River. At a certain point, I realized that I believed in what I was doing right there, namely, mental health work in the outdoors. With the Outward Bound experience as background, this decision led to a gig as an instructor at the ropes course at the University of Missouri – Columbia (UM-C).

Early on at UM-C, I took courses in several different departments. For one thing, I liked some of what I was seeing in counseling psychology. I wound up taking only two counseling psych courses, but those courses – in group psychotherapy and career counseling – exerted an outsized impact on my thinking for years thereafter. This was less true of the latter: Norm Gysbers was an authority in career counseling, and his emphasis upon the use of rigorously tested instruments (e.g., the Holland system, exemplified in the Strong Interest Inventory) to identify client issues and potentialities stood in sharp contrast against the seat-of-the-pants mindset that many counselors prefer; but for precisely that reason, it was a rather isolated experience, not reinforced in subsequent mental health training, and thus remained a rather solitary reminder that mental health work does not have to be a freewheeling affair in which therapists get to do pretty much whatever they feel like doing.

The more memorable of the two counseling psych courses focused on group psychotherapy. On the downside, Brent Mallinckrodt seemed to have pigeonholed me from the outset, like other situations where one white guy picks on other white guys to distinguish himself as white but redeemed. On the upside, Brent’s choice of textbooks for the course was excellent. In particular, we used Yalom’s text on group psychotherapy. I studied that book intensively, and I continue to cite and think about it, ten years later.

I applied to the counseling psychology program and was rejected. Missouri’s counseling psychology program considered itself one of the best in the nation; apparently they had numerous applicants to choose from, most of whom had probably displayed more of a track record in psychology (e.g., earning a psych B.A.). On the other hand, having sat through two of the program’s courses, I did not see that I was academically or intellectually inferior to those who had been accepted. I suspected that the rejection was at least partly based on non-academic factors. One such factor: I had been a client of the counseling psychology program’s mental health clinic, in the year following my divorce.

I doubt the fact of being a client per se was detrimental. Unlike social work, counseling psychology seems to emphasize the importance, for practitioners, of using their profession’s tools to sort out their own issues, and there is also considerable appreciation for learning what it is like to be a client. Nonetheless, the fact of having been a client, and of seeming to have a newfound interest in mental health in the wake of the divorce, may have triggered reasonable concerns that this interest would fade as my post-marriage life stabilized.

Subsequent experiences and conversations with UM-C counseling psychology people suggested that another likely factor in my rejection was that I was a middle-aged heterosexual white male and, as just noted in the remark about Brent, was a target for bigoted faculty. There certainly had been some experiences of hostility during my experience as a client of that program. On a few occasions, I left group counseling sessions in tears – not because of deep insights from the group experience, but because the professor kept me in the hotseat for an unduly long time and actually encouraged vicious remarks from other group clients. Altogether, my personal experience did not demonstrate that Missouri’s counseling psych program was as great as its participants liked to believe.

UM-C’s school of social work (SSW) rejected me too. When I asked why, they said my GPA at Columbia Law School was too low. It developed that they were miscalculating that GPA. They treated Columbia Law’s “Excellent” as an A, “Very Good” as a B, “Good” as a C, and “Pass” as a D. On that benighted basis, they calculated a GPA and concluded that I had been a failing student by UM-C standards. That didn’t make sense: after all, I had graduated. But they did not try to figure it out. Even if I had been marginal at Columbia, there would remain the facts that I had passed the bar exams and had been admitted to practice law (and had actually practiced law) with well-known firms in New York and New Jersey. Moreover, I had published one book and one article in a respected, peer-reviewed law journal. There weren’t any other lawyers, and few people with any graduate degrees, among students there.

After I explained these matters, the SSW reconsidered my application. Then they rejected me again. This time, it was because CSULB was refusing to submit an official transcript. It seems there was a bit of a dispute regarding student loan repayment. I was eventually able to persuade Judy Davenport at the SSW that they might be able to assume a certain degree of intellectual preparation, in a Columbia Law graduate with GRE scores of 760 verbal, 780 math, despite the absence of an official version of a transcript showing three undergraduate semesters’ work at Cal State completed nearly 30 years earlier. For some reason, none of my younger classmates seemed to face this sort of problem.

With all that out of the way, I was finally set for a year’s adventure in the UM-C SSW. It was supposed to be two years, but the first was intolerable, so I left. My feeling was that there were surely better places to get a social work education, and my graduation year at the University of Michigan (2009-2010) supported that to some extent. (Note: I have already commented on some generic aspects of my UM-C SSW experience in another blog describing my years in the Indiana University SSW, and have also discussed some relevant topics in a blog on my social work education generally.)

My reading in the field of social work education, discussions with others, and five full-time years of firsthand exposure to schools of social work in three different universities, have indicated many similarities among such programs. For example, there is a sort of racket, in social work education, whereby schools of social work typically divide up their subject matter into numerous easy courses. That is, students may do only 20 credit hours’ worth of work, if judged by the standards of more demanding professions, but they (or the government) pay for 60 credits. While there may be some SSWs with some academic self-respect, to a considerable extent it apparently does not matter where you go to school; most SSWs accredited by the Council for Social Work Education (CSWE) seem to be virtually identical nationwide, in this and many other regards.

The IU blog offers a flavor of the pervasive hostility to males that I encountered at all three of the schools of social work I attended. Another blog develops some aspects of that topic in more detail. One post in that blog presents the unfortunate outcome of my introduction to Larry Kreuger, with whom I took my first social work course in spring 2004, when I was still trying to get admitted to the MSW program. It was a course in research methods. Kreuger was a clever, interesting professor. His class and his textbook fostered, in me, an interest in research methods that persevered through the following decade and influenced my decision to enter a research methods PhD program in 2012.

Unfortunately, Kreuger was also one more social work professor who indulged the opportunity to bully students – me, in particular. His behavior was highly unethical and was found, by the UMC Provost, to be completely indefensible. Years later, I finally figured out that his attack may have stemmed from a decision to rely on inaccurate secondhand reports of an incident of domestic violence. If that was indeed the explanation, it was a regrettable commentary on a supposed expert in research methods: getting the facts straight would have yielded the conclusion that I was actually the victim in that incident, though admittedly that would not have been the outcome to which that SSW’s misandristic faculty would have been predisposed. The speed with which Kreuger changed from mentor to antagonist also began to sensitize me to the possibility of two-facedness in social work faculty.

In fall 2004, I had another class with Kreuger. (His attack on me did not commence until early 2005.) To me, this course (SW7710, Social Welfare Policy and Services) was not as good as his research methods course had been. Possibly he had already used up most of his bag of tricks in the research methods course. In this instance and many others, throughout my social work education, the same material was rehashed in one course after another. So, for example, the third of six Course Objectives identified in Kreuger’s syllabus (“Understand and appreciate how personal values and ethics develop, demonstrate and promote professional social work values and are translated into the definitions of and attempted resolutions for social problems”), albeit semi-incoherent, could be construed to overlap substantially with the fourth of five Knowledge Objectives (“understand the interaction of knowledge and values in professional social work practice”) in the syllabus for Wilson Watt’s Generalist Social Work Practice course (SW7730), which I also had that semester.

Along with problems of redundancy and coherence, there was also the problem of triviality (e.g., Watt’s expectation that students would “understand the relationship between auspices and sanction and the professional practice of social work”). Taken together, such problems somewhat inhibit my ability to report, here, what my courses were about, as I am not entirely sure they were about anything at all. I mean, of course they were, in the sense that we sat there and listened to people talk, and occasionally got into discussions about things, and read lots of words, and wrote papers. On that level, these courses were “about something” just as a spell of several years hanging out, drinking beer and bullshitting with your friends is about something: it is about whatever you did and talked about during all that time; and if social work education unfolded in a more collegial environment, it might even yield as much camaraderie and insight as those late-night bull sessions would.

What I mean, though, is that social work education tends not to be about much in particular because that is the nature of its constituent courses. They are not like a course in calculus or 18th-century Japan. In those kinds of courses, it is probably not going to be too hard to tell when the professor is getting off-topic. But what, exactly, would be off-topic in a course like Watt’s, whose third Knowledge Objective was simply that we would “acquire a firm grasp on the concepts of the Generalist Model”? Was it perhaps off-topic when Watt explained to us how a huge man, as he was, would need to be able to make himself seem very small when working with children?

Dr. Watt was not too interested in making himself seem very small when he yelled at me. One student wondered aloud how I could stand to come to class. I remember, for example, the time when Watt yelled at me for asking a question about documentation. I had taken counseling psychology courses in which issues of client records, psychological instruments, and confidentiality had been much discussed. There were concerns that, for example, too much documentation could hurt your client if some rogue prosecutor or angry plaintiff subpoenaed your records, but not enough documentation could hurt your client if your records contained insufficient information to track and advise on treatment. That, anyway, was the nature of the question I posed to Watt. He yelled at me about it because, in his opinion, this was the kind of question that a lawyer would ask, and if one thing was clear in that school of social work, it was that — as Watt himself, I think, once phrased it — “once a lawyer, always a lawyer.” Getting them to read my book and learn something would have been presumptuous because, after all, I was only a student, and in social work there is a pecking order.

Watt, whose employment may have been due to his status as the only openly gay faculty member we were apt to encounter, surely did want us to get a firm grasp on something. But I suspect it would tend to be the everpresent obligation to develop “awareness of the potential influence of racism, sexism and other discriminatory processes on social work practice,” his fifth Knowledge Objective (see also Kreuger’s sixth, “Deepen sensitivity to the mission of social welfare policy . . . as it relates to poor, vulnerable, and disadvantaged groups including minorities and women”). That is, above all else, we were to master a faux concept of diversity. And there could be a lot to learn about that. But for our purposes, there largely wasn’t. We weren’t studying how well-meaning social workers might unintentionally abuse disadvantaged clients (e.g., Margolin, 1997); we weren’t exposed to the thought that white women might be privileged at the expense of black women (see e.g., Aniagolu, 2011). We were just hearing that women are oppressed by men, and other truisms from the 1970s.

What stands out, from this undistinguished porridge of academic drivel, is not the subject matter of the courses; and aside from Kreuger, it is not the teaching ability of any of our instructors at UM-C SSW. Or, then again, there was a noteworthy black professor whom they brought in because of her skin color. They wanted to make the faculty more “diverse.” Well, and they did, but not in the manner intended. She may have been an intelligent person. I don’t know: when I attempted to pick her brain about the ostracism I was getting from faculty, she declined to talk to me, so I guess oppression of disempowered groups or individuals was not her thing. Her performance in class suggested a decidedly subpar intelligence. For various reasons, including the diversity cluelessness just suggested and the deterrents built into higher education, it is difficult to find sharp black PhDs in social work. Reasonable minds may differ on whether blacks, or social work education, benefit from hiring processes that would bring in professors like this woman. Or at least reasonable minds would differ until they sat through a session of her class.

Altogether, in 2004-2005, I took 11 courses (31 credits) in social work. From the courses that I took with Kalea Benner, aside from her judgmentalism, I remember two things. One was that I discomfited the fundamentalist Christian members of my group with a video interpreting the concept of antisocial personality disorder with the aid of excerpts from The Last Temptation of Christ. The other was the time when I notified Kalea that students were abusing her honor system for quizzes. Her approach was that we would take the quiz; the quiz would end; she would go over the answers while we were still holding our quiz papers; we would grade ourselves, marking ourselves wrong when we had made a mistake; and then we would turn in the graded quizzes. Instead, a number of students were leaving the quiz blank until she went over the correct answers, and would then write the correct answer on their quiz, and hand that in. In the next class session after I told her, she skipped the self-grading part. The quiz ended, and then she said, Please pass your quizzes forward. Suddenly there was a mighty scurrying, as a dozen cheaters tried to fill in their expectant blanks with correct answers. So much for social work ethics.

There was one professor who I thought had some potential on that faculty. She seemed like she might actually be a good practitioner. I remember one time she gave us an assignment to write or draw something within five minutes. I don’t remember the details of the assignment. Here’s what I wrote:

Round smooth stone
Suitable for David’s sling, for Goliath’s forehead.
Fit in my palm, first I saw it
Just like another, its brother
Found on the ground in Utah
Enduring there for eons, ‘til I moved it.
Used it to hold a bow drill,
Drilling wood into stone
Wood to spark, to ember, to burn
Burn into a fire to warm me
Not like my round, cold stone.
I just saw this evocative stone, just now
Smiled when I saw it,
Thought back to Utah
And to my bow-drilled fire
The fire I could not start.

This professor let other students read their works, but wasn’t going to let me read mine until I said something like, “Wait, let me read mine.” When I did, Jennifer Schulte was impressed. The professor offered a perfunctory word of praise. This was not the part that impressed me. What impressed me was that the professor had a mental disability, and she admitted it. That was a vast departure from social work custom. Moreover, she seemed to apply learning about that disability to her social work practice. This, I felt, was first-class: not to deny imperfection, but rather to use it.

I had one other memorable class from that year at Missouri: my summer internship. I seemed to be having unusual difficulty lining one up. My impression in retrospect was that someone was passing on gossip about me, probably relating to that false accusation of domestic violence. For instance, I had almost finalized an internship, but then the social worker in charge suddenly stopped all contact with me. No replies to emails or phone calls. Very strange. Sometimes it did feel as if social work was densely populated with women who liked to shut men down – to just stop talking to them, out of the blue, so as to inflict whatever confusion or pain that sort of behavior might be able to cause.

Notwithstanding all that, I did wind up with an internship. It wasn’t anything too spectacular; I just spent a chunk of the summer riding around with rural social workers, mostly young females, who were driving all over Missouri to pay visits to various foster homes and see how things were going. It seemed sloppy and ineffective. But it was informative to see foster homes and, on one or two occasions, to sit in on court-related meetings. The most interesting such meeting occurred within a “wraparound” intervention in which court people, social workers, foster parents, and everyone else involved with a kid actually sat down in one room and compared notes. Seems obvious, but apparently not how the courts ordinarily did things.

In that internship, it was also interesting to observe the social workers themselves. One was a young woman who said she had been raped and had an admittedly hostile attitude toward men. She was attractive; she played explicit rock on her car radio; she wore a pouting, wounded look that I think would be almost a beacon for potential attackers. I have often wondered if I should have tried to talk to her about any of this. It was probably safer for me not to. As long as I went nowhere near all that, I was unlikely to be accused of anything. It did seem that social work education might have been a sort of personal therapeutic intervention for her, an opportunity to address her feelings. I had to wonder why she volunteered to let me ride with her. On a different plane, my supervisor in that internship was a smart, positive, very businesslike woman who had no apparent need to play games of any sort. I could always count on Karen to play it straight with me. This was extremely unusual among social work types, in my experience. It was refreshing.

In addition to these social work courses, I did take some parks and recreation courses at Missouri. But the courses were not as noteworthy as other matters surrounding them. One had to do with Shu Cole (below). Another, involving Randy Vessell, was just the experience of being a teaching assistant. On the good side, I got to work with some of his students (and also with some of Shu’s). On the bad side, Randy had a bad habit of making me sit in his office and listen to him talk. But as forms of graduate student abuse go, it was not awful. The third involved a course taught by Jackie Card. I used it as an opportunity to put together a set of excerpts on psychological and spiritual aspects of interaction with nature. That was a rewarding learning opportunity, and I have drawn on those collections many times since.

Indiana University – Bloomington:
PhD Program in Parks and Recreation

I was admitted to Indiana University’s PhD program in parks and recreation (technically, in “leisure behavior”) in spring 2004, but I decided to defer entry for a year. There were a couple of reasons for this:

  • I already knew the place had poor academic standards. I knew that from my application. What I sent them was not an Indiana University PhD program application. It was a copy of the application that I had filed with the School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. I wrote a good cover letter, explaining why I had not bothered filling out IU’s form, but this did not change the fact that I had submitted a master’s degree application from the wrong university for a PhD program in a different field. IU’s reply was, “We can work with this.” I did think that was pretty cool, in a way. What I minded was not the procedural flexibility. It was the sense that I was going to Nowheresville.
  • I had an assistantship in the parks and recreation department at Missouri. I wasn’t too sure how the funding was going to work at Indiana University. It would have been to my advantage to understand their Chancellor’s Fellowship, for which I probably would have qualified, but I didn’t. So there was a financial incentive to defer entry for a year.
  • I visited them in summer 2004. Alan Ewert, their big guy in outdoor adventure (my preferred field), did not bother to reply to some of my attempts to contact him before my arrival. Dave Austin, their chair, looked at the wall over my head as I sat in his office and listened to his standard graduate student welcome speech. Generally, the place felt stuffy and sleepy. I had been around some people at Missouri who were pretty dedicated to, and excited about, working and being outdoors. This felt like a dud by comparison.

In retrospect, as my blog about the IU parks & rec program indicates, I wish I had not gone to IU. I should have been preparing other applications during the 2004-2005 school year. But I was somewhat distracted in the fall; it was not until spring 2005 that I finally decided against remaining at Missouri’s SSW. I think part of the problem is that I did not entirely feel like I belonged in higher education. I felt sheepish about taking a slot that maybe should have gone to a younger person, and there was also a feeling that people my age were just not supposed to be going back to school. It would take me a while to get over that. Ironically, the deplorable nature of graduate education at Missouri and Indiana would play a big role in stimulating my determination to take higher ed more seriously, for myself and for others who might encounter what I had encountered.

My first semester at Indiana University, fall 2005, was a mixed bag. I had a qualitative research course with a very nice woman named Mary Ziskin. For all that I believe in the potential value of qualitative research, I came away from that course unimpressed with a lot of the verbiage we had been reading. My final paper presented an invented, somewhat tongue-in-cheek merger of several qualitative research methods, with particular emphasis on maximizing the number of syllables used, consistent with the apparent preference in some of our assigned readings. I called this invented approach “autophenomethnography.” The only other noteworthy experience that comes readily to mind from that course was the time when I wore some patchouli extract to Mary’s class. I liked the smell, but apparently I overdid it; she said something about people’s perfume, and quietly opened a window to let my classmates breathe.

That semester, I also had a course called R562, Social Psychology of Therapeutic Recreation, taught by Bryan McCormick. Bryan, himself, would later play an important role in the unethical termination of my PhD studies. In this particular course, he seemed to think that I had submitted a critical review of him. I may have. We sat there for a semester in a quasi-discussion group consisting of a half-dozen students in a circle. Two of them were constantly engaged in chat with each other on their laptop computers, right there in our little circle, while Bryan talked. It was incredibly obvious, but I don’t think he even noticed. He was just in his mental world, telling us about things. I think he was genuinely enjoying the class. The rest of us seemed to concur in a sense that it was just painful.

My transcript says that I also had two other courses in Indiana University’s department of parks and recreation that semester. One was R702, one of the four doctoral seminars required of all PhD students in that department. The professor was Joel Meier. Like several other courses in the parks and recreation department, R702 was composed of seven or eight American students and a similar number of Asian students. Most if not all of the American students had assistantships, whereas some of the Asian students were paying full tuition. As in most other courses in that program, the American students did the talking. The Asians’ English was good enough for lectures and reading, but a number of them could not follow or participate in classroom discussion.

In Joel’s class, each student got to lead a class session. Most just gave PowerPoint lectures. When it was my turn, in imitation of the style used in the one-room school I attended as a child, I divided the class into two groups. I had one group watch a video that I had prepared, while I met with the other. I chose the groups according to national origin: Americans in the first group, international students in the second. With the latter – consistent with the seminar’s focus on teaching in the university environment – I led a discussion on what it was like to attend these courses, such as this very R702 course, in which they just sat there without participating all semester long.

The other parks and recreation course from fall 2005 was Alan Ewert’s R515, Special Concerns in Parks and Recreation. I don’t know what special concerns that course was supposed to be about, and the syllabus didn’t say. Alan’s courses had a way of seeming to cover the same material redundantly, or perhaps it’s just that there wasn’t much meat in his outdoor recreation field. Alan knew that I had these criticisms. He was originally my advisor, but I switched to Ruth Russell. Incidentally, he was probably the key player in ending my progress toward the Parks and Recreation PhD.

R515 was notable, to me, because of the paper that I wrote for the course. Later, I submitted a version of that paper for publication by the Journal of Experiential Education. They liked it but recommended some changes. I made those changes and resubmitted. Now, oddly, the Journal gave the paper to a different set of reviewers. These reviewers rejected it. This was an irregular procedure. Moreover, the reviewers appeared to have rejected the manuscript without giving it serious consideration. Having since experienced similar irregularities at several social work journals, I have wondered whether an outdoors-oriented professor in IU’s parks and recreation department may have been able to pull strings to corrupt that journal’s editorial process. There were one or two professors who might have had that kind of influence, and the desire to use it.

So that was the first of my four semesters enrolled in Bloomington’s parks and recreation program, before they cut off my funding. Rather than plow through the remaining three directly, let’s see if we can’t summarize and eliminate some items. Going to the end, the last semester was spring 2007. My activities that semester included wasting time in the university’s justice processes to appeal the funding matter, along with two classroom courses. One course was Phil Carspecken’s Y650, a research philosophy course in the school of education focusing on Habermas. I liked Phil and I liked the idea of learning about Habermas; there was just the unfortunate problem that, like most of the students, not much learning seemed to be happening. The stuff was as impenetrable as European philosophy can be. Students didn’t complain, and Phil let them slide.

The other course in that final semester was Doug Knapp’s bus trip to Tennessee. He and his students got into vans and rode off to a weeklong outing in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Doug was one more IU professor who had given me positive reviews for my work in a teaching course, but was nowhere to be found when it came to a question of whether the department should treat me according to the rules. (The biggest disappointment on that score was Shu Cole, with whom I’d had an especially friendly relationship for years, since our initial meeting at Missouri. Shu had been the instigator of my City Slickers article, but in the end – for her, as for all these practitioners of university ethics – it was about one’s own survival, and everyone else be damned.)

That leaves my courses from 2006. Among those, there was another Alan Ewert course, from which the only thing that stands out was an overnight camping trip. There was also a statistics course in which I fell behind and took an incomplete, and the summer statistics course in which I covered the material and wrapped up that incomplete. (My experiences with statistics courses are the subject of a separate post.) Another course was the independent study in which I wrote a paper for Carol Hostetter. She praised the paper in a letter of reference, but then joined the other social work professors in ostracizing me. And there was the continuation of my research internship.

One of the high points of the year was my presentation in Youngkhill Lee’s course on Advanced Therapeutic Recreation Processes, involving inter alia an interview of my mother. Youngkhill was later denied tenure. I assume – or I guess I should say, I hope – that outcome was completely unrelated to his status as the only professor in that department who gave me an A+ for my work. I mention it only because of strong indications that other professors were in fact pressured or persuaded to give me inaccurate low grades.

Finally, I was inclined, at the time, to say that Barb Hawkins’s R703 course in inquiry methodology was a complete waste, but now I think that nothing ever is. I guess that’s not strong praise. I have discussed the abusive experience with Kathleen Gilbert elsewhere. There were a couple more Alan Ewert courses in 2006, but I have nothing memorable to report from them, other than the contrast between Ruth Russell’s acclaimed style of teaching R704 and Alan’s hamfisted alternative, already illustrated in another post. Finally, I had a worthwhile course in mixed-methods research with Ginette Delandshere.

For my purposes, these courses collectively amounted to a distraction from the possibility of doing much serious work. I had leisure-related interests in such topics as unemployment (including long-term and robot-induced varieties as well as homelessness, sustainable living, and poverty), sleep, place attachment, and labors of love. It is regrettable that I had to waste so much time in that vapid mandatory curriculum, when there was so much other worthy intellectual work to be done. My feeling, in these years, was that I was indeed here to get a doctoral education, if I could just get these professors out of the way.

Indiana University – Purdue University – Indianapolis:
PhD Program in Social Work

As told in more detail in my blog on the IU PhD experience, in spring 2007 circumstances essentially forced a decision to proceed with the double PhD major that Margaret Adamek and I had discussed circa 2004. I entered IU’s SSW with a University Fellowship, and spent the next two years taking courses to meet requirements. Cathy Pike, another social work professor who wrote me a glowing letter of reference and then ostracized me, accounted for the statistics portion of my IUSSW experience. (The IU blog explores the reasons for such behavior in some detail; it seems to have originated in a vendetta undertaken by Dean Michael A. Patchner.) Except for my first semester with Cathy, all of my female professors at IUSSW gave me grades of A–, apparently without regard to the quality of my work. These female professors included Hea-Won Kim and Lisa McGuire, as well as Margaret Adamek’s reinterpretation of the A grade that another department reported informally to the SSW.

Not that things were necessarily better with the male professors. Jim Daley, displaying antipathy before we even met, was the worst, but I could hardly be impressed with Bob Vernon‘s sycophantic decision to toss his own research assistant to the wolves. Bob Bennett, a decent individual, had the unenviable job of introducing us (in S740) to the SSW’s odd PhD qualifying requirement: a long, disorganized paper that was supposedly publishable but would not in fact be.

These remarks, and most of the posts linked here, involve not only the political behavior of IUSSW faculty but also the substance of the academic experience. Substantively, the years at IUSSW were a step backwards in several regards. It is rarely if ever a good idea to require students to spend large amounts of time and money in courses that do little to stretch their minds or to put them in touch with cutting-edge work in fields relevant to real-world situations. In addition to the obvious waste of time and money, doing so tends to weaken whatever academic discipline and motivation they may have possessed upon entry into the program. Courses heavy on student presentations (especially to the extreme indulged by Daley) were particularly likely to waste students’ time. In addition, being on a commuter campus severely diminished the likelihood of instructive interaction among students, especially after administrators shut down the PhD student listserv to prevent politically incorrect discussions of gender-based discrimination within the SSW itself.

In numerous ways, the fundamental problem was that the program was not appropriate for production of PhDs qualified to teach or do research at the college level. Evidently IUSSW was not alone in that. More than one social work professor has admitted, in various terms, that social work PhD programs tend to be virtually fraudulent in the contrast between what they promise and what they deliver. One might summarize the situation by pointing out that one can obtain a position on a social work faculty by earning a PhD in a field other than social work, and that doing so may not only provide more rigorous training but may also incidentally position the graduate to seek work on faculties other than social work – in sociology, for example, or public health, if such is the field in which s/he earns the degree.

I certainly did get an education at IUSSW, but the education forced upon me was predominantly focused on the corruption of social work education, and that was not the topic I had intended to pursue there. I certainly did not intend to find myself immured in traumatic experiences of discrimination arising from fuzzy thinking, indulged by many social work writers and by my own professors, to which I have devoted much of the work appearing in a separate blog.

University of Michigan:
Master’s Degree in Social Work

I returned to Ann Arbor and attended the University of Michigan in the 2009-2010 academic year. There, I completed the MSW that I had commenced at the University of Missouri. Another post provides an extensive discussion of my coursework and other experiences at the Michigan SSW during that year. In brief summary, the U of M seemed to be a well-run place, and the SSW had certain strengths not evident at Missouri or IUSSW; but overall it began to appear that – no matter where you go – the intellectual deficits and ingrained prejudices indulged in the social work field, combined with corrupt influences endemic to American academia, would perhaps unavoidably produce a decrepit form of graduate training that was neither rigorously educational nor especially consistent with social work ethics and ideals.

University of Arkansas:
PhD in Educational Statistics and Research Methods

After finishing the MSW at Michigan, I returned to Bloomington and spent much of 2010 and 2011 preparing my qualifying papers for the double PhD majors in parks & recreation and social work – and then writing up the discussion of my IU experience in the separate blog that provided a framework for analysis of the unethical grading of those papers. When I addressed that unethicality, IU faculty and administrators were unresponsive to my communications, whether sent directly to them or posted in blogs. Evidently it had been decided that I would simply not be allowed to graduate.

Accordingly, in fall 2011, I retook the GRE, obtained decent scores (99th percentile verbal, 82nd percentile math), and began choosing among and applying to PhD programs that seemed likely to build upon and facilitate what I had learned about social work education in particular and higher education in general. By this point, experiences in graduate education had given me some clarity about PhD programs – about potential conflicts between their claims and their realities, and about threats to my fit in such programs. Needless to say, not many people in higher education are studying the failures of, and alternatives to, higher education. A separate post discusses the process by which I explored some of those issues and wound up in a PhD program in educational statistics and research methods (ESRM) at the University of Arkansas – Fayetteville in fall 2012.

At Arkansas, the honeymoon ended quickly. In fall 2012, administrators in the university’s College of Education and Health Professions decided to terminate my PhD studies within that College, apparently based on their discovery of my blogging about corruption in higher education. The termination process seems to have commenced when Dean Tom E. C. Smith removed me from a position as statistics instructor mid-semester, reportedly in response to parental pressure, after I filed academic dishonesty charges against students caught cheating on an exam in that course. It seems that some rich alumnus didn’t want his/her son or daughter to be tarnished.

George Denny, my immediate supervisor, belatedly made clear during the Christmas break that my enrollment in the Education PhD program would terminate at the end of the current academic year. By then, application deadlines for many PhD programs had already expired or were within days of expiring. It was unclear what path I should take, or what coursework I should take during the spring semester. In something of a vacuum, I took courses, described in this blog, in Teaching People of Other Cultures and The Craft of Fiction. Finally, in summer 2013, I took my last social work course.

Conclusion

In fall 2013, I went on a camping trip and did some thinking. It appeared at this point that the American graduate education system was grossly ill-equipped to make good use of students like me. Its rigidity, redundancy, expense, and other maladies had made it worse than useless for my purposes: much of it had been, in fact, a drain and a distraction from the original mission that had sent me back to graduate school.

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