A few weeks ago, I attended a "Regional Faculty Conversation" about the new Michigan Transfer Agreement (MTA), an effort to update and improve seamless transfer among Michigan's community colleges and public colleges and universities. There were three such conversations across the state in three days. I attended the four-hour get-together at Washtenaw Community College along with approximately 50 faculty and administrators from other programs in SE Michigan (e.g., Jackson College, Schoolcraft, Washtenaw CC, Henry Ford, Wayne State, Saginaw Valley State, UM-Dearborn, and EMU). The new MTA is an update to MACRAO, which has been the acronym used to name a comparable agreement initiated 42 years ago (though not updated since) and also for the Michigan Association of Collegiate Registrars & Admissions Officers.
The MTA was approved by the state-wide Council of Presidents last September, and it is scheduled to begin this fall. According to those who led the conversation, the state legislature prompted the update to MACROA in 2011. Generally, the agreement is a good idea. It is student-friendly and it stands to encourage efforts across two- and four-year colleges to make sure their lower division courses bear family resemblance. It brings Michigan into alignment with comparable efforts in other states. And it is long overdue. Forty-two years should not pass without such an agreement being revisited, but that's the sort of thick-crust stagnation that becomes possible absent any high education authority in the state.
I'm writing a bit about MTA, though, and translating my notes into this entry, because the agreement includes a significant change related to writing. This slide sums up that change. Additional materials from the meeting are available at the Michigan Center for Student Success website.
Essentially, the highlighted lines indicate that the old agreement, MACRAO, required students to complete a two-course sequence in writing. MACRAO is clear about this point: students had to complete six credit hours in English Composition. The MTA, however, allows students to satisfy the agreement (and therefore, to become eligible for a full general education waiver) with one composition course and a second course in composition or speech. The new requirement requires less writing, and yet we are at the same time hearing continued pleas for more writing on all sides, particularly among campus stakeholders.
It might not seem like much, but this change creates conditions at odds with the design of first-year writing programs premised on a Comp I and Comp II sequence, in which Comp I offers foundational experience with writing in college and Comp II builds upon and extends those experiences to include research-based academic writing. The new MTA appears to create a path into the university along which students could satisfy general education never having explicit, direct experience with research-based academic writing. Stop for a moment to consider this. I mean this as a fair characterization of what the MTA sets up, and I would urge caution before weighing in with axiological conclusions, tempting though they might be. Late last summer, Michigan WPAs wrote, signed, and sent a letter expressing concerns about this change, but the Council of Presidents approved the MTA and assented to its Fall 2014 implementation in spite of the request for more consideration of the change to writing and input from faculty colleagues with expertise, training, and experience in rhetoric/composition/writing studies and writing program administration.
This preamble should be enough to catch others up on a few of the concerns that continuing faculty conversations might address.
That's enough for now. Like I said, I don't see much urgency in guessing how this is going to play out. I put my name in for the committee and would consider pitching in if and when such a group convenes. I suspect we already have more consensus across programs than we have had much chance to explore, much less articulate. And in fact, one of the most promising take-aways from the regional faculty meeting was a sense that we could begin exploring something like a SE Michigan alliance of writing programs that would help us tremendously toward articulating what we hold in common curricularly and also bench-marking for the persistent WPA arguments concerning part-time lecturer (over)reliance, full-time lecturer teaching loads, course caps, and so on. Other than that, as far as the MTA is concerned, we will continue to seek better institutional data that can tell us how FTIACs who take the two-course sequence compare with FTIACs who take only ENGL/WRTG121: Comp II compare with transfer students, in all matters of retention and graduation rates as well as performance in upper division WI courses. Better data will help us understand whether we have cause to be concerned, whether we have exigency to make further adjustments to the writing curriculum at EMU.
Somewhere along the way, even though I did not mean to, I lost track of how many Mother's Days have piled up too-many-one, too-many-two, too-many-thirteen since June 1997, the month and year my mom died. I could run the numbers wicked-quickly through the tenth year or so, not that anyone ever asked, "So how many years has it been for you, without your mom?" There are years when reminiscences (reminen-siezes?) laced with grief dulls the which-year math and other years when the exact count blazes brightplain again. This time the year-count is a Mother's Day whatever. Someone abacus-else can bother with it.
Ruth Margalit's "The Unmothered" made its deserved rounds yesterday. I grabbed the link and dropped it into Pocket, retrieved it this morning and read on my phone through no-really-my-eyes-are-tearing-from-allergies while the morning's water heated toward boiling. The article offers a reflection on Mother's Days for the unmothered, those whose mothers have died, those who experience faint and sometimes gripping pangs of absence through this tribute-holiday's memory work. Read the article if you want to. Or put it in Pocket for later. Either way.
These are among the gem passages--a small bouquet of excerpts I want to press into the blog the way my grandmother used to press violets into the binding-folds of thick books for preserving. They'll save here, so I (or you and I, anyone) can re-read them around this time next year or the year after that:
Trust me, I'm too aware of the fact that my mother is gone to wish her here in any serious way on Mother's Day. But does the holiday have to be in May, when the lilacs are in full bloom? When a gentle breeze stirs--the kind of breeze that reminds me of days when she would recline on a deck chair on our Jerusalem porch, head tilted back, urging me to "sit a while"?
They say time heals. It's true that the pain wears off, slightly, around the edge, like a knife in need of whetting. But here's what they're missing: It gets harder to explain to myself why I haven't seen her. A month can make sense. (I took a trip; she was busy with work.) Even six months is excusable. (I moved; she's on sabbatical.) But how to make sense of more than three years worth of distance? How to comprehend that time will only drive my mother and me farther and farther apart?
Yes, I remember thinking. Yes, yes, yes. This wasn't delayed grief, after all. It was simply this: grief keeps odd hours, the most painful moment at the most abstract moment. Strangely, I began to think of Barthes (whose relationship with his mother famously bordered on the Oedipal) as my grief buddy. Largely preferring books to people around that time, I discovered that he wasn't the only one.
I started to italicize, add emphases-mine, and then ended up italicizing the mother-loaded hell out of these few lines, so back-tracked and thought better of it. An almost of italicizing, done and reversed back to nothing special. All of it equally special.
And this is all just to say--as if I have anything left, much less grand-culminating and insightful to say about this Mother's Day or "The Unmothered," that these sentiments operate with unpredictable, potent acuity over a life. I suppose I might have been dreaming just such an idea when this photo from April 1975, me not quite a year old and lost in The Big Nap, when this photo of her--so impressively alive, happy, and mothering as to make it unthinkable that it would ever be otherwise--was click! taken.
The latest bedtime storytime jags come from Moers's The 13 1/2 Lives of Captain Bluebear, a fantastic slingshot across Zamonia, equal velocity-measures zany, smart, and surprising. Tonight, Bluebear began his transition away from the Nocturnal Academy and out of life, what is it now?, six?, The Gloomberg Mountains. To leave the school, he has to make his way through an especially disorienting labyrinth. Bluebear walks on and on until walking gives out, Fitbit.
For several hours I remained lying on my back, spreadeagled with my gaze fixed on the roof of the tunnel. I had made up my mind to dematerialize, vanish without a trace, rust away like a piece of old iron, and thus become an integral part of the Gloomberg Mountains. It seems that rusty tunnel walls have an unwholesome effect on overtaxed brains. I would never had entertained such an idea under normal circumstances, but anyone who has brooded for hours will feel, in a truly physical sense, what it's like to rust away. It's a strange but far from unpleasant sensation. You surrender to the forces of nature, utterly serene, then slowly turn metallic. Your body becomes coated by degrees with fine, rust-red fur and starts to crumble. The rust eats into you, ever deeper. Layer after layer flakes off, and before long you're just a little mound of red dust to be blown away by a captive puff of wind and scattered along the endless tunnels of the Gloomberg Mountains. That was as far as my dire imaginings had progressed when my shoulder was nudged by something soft and slimy but not unfamiliar. It was Qwerty Uiop.
'What are you doing here?' he inquired anxiously.
'Rusting away,' I replied. (175-176)
Rusting away, I replied. Rusting away. But his school-friend Qwerty, from the 2364th dimension, comes along, sort of glop-bumps into him, and mentions that he has found a dimensional hiatus--a portal he knows by smell will, when he plunges into it (if he can summon the courage), jump him to another dimension. But Qwerty hesitates to jump, afraid of the unknown.
I won't spoil it. It's enough to take a quick snapshot of this rich bedtime reading, of Bluebear's post-Nocturnal Academy disorienteering, his will to dematerialize, to rust, and his friend, Qwerty's, rescue-interruption, motivated by his own crisis about risking a known dimension for an unknown dimension.
Reason enough to continue reading.
07/15 01:00 PM/@derekmueller: It's Completely Absurd How Hard It Is to Cancel Comcast via Deadspin
06/10 08:30 PM/@derekmueller: Without noticeable misgivings, without debate, hem-hawing, or a single furrowed brow, EMU's Board of Regents granted tenure and promotion to several soon-to-be-former assistant professors, including me, effective Sept 1. Yes, I am feeling profound gratitude to you--many friends, family, colleagues, and mentors--responsible for this. via Facebook
06/05 08:15 PM/@derekmueller: Sometimes at bedtime: "Oh, no! I forgot that we're giving a play tomorrow to another class and I have lines to memorize for a narrator and a bat." via Facebook
05/31 10:15 AM/@derekmueller: "The atlas just fell apart." via Facebook