Friday, March 25, 2011

First comments on the CV

Departmental and university committees are killers. I watched Merton M. Sealts, Jr., pour his energy into important university committees decade after decade and decided that every new committee was undoing all he had labored to create. You can carry your publications from school to school, I decided.

I earned my salary by teaching with originality and great passion but I avoided committees whenever I could. The one great university job I had was as director of graduate studies at USC in the late 70s. We handled things so elegantly back then! A candidate would present himself or herself, we would talk, I would look at the credentials, I would lead the candidate down to the chief professor or professors in his or her area of interest and let them talk, and then, as I fondly recall the process, we would welcome the candidate or, at worst, suggest he or she go across town to UCLA. Nothing grueling, nothing dehumanizing, everything collegial.

Mainly, my energy went first into scholarship then went into teaching what I had learned and then into publishing some of what I had learned. Sometimes teaching came first, then scholarship and then publication, as when I walked into class and found the students holding copies of the Cowley edition of TENDER IS THE NIGHT and had to improvise for 50 minutes on why they had been cheated at the bookstore. Students, even at USC, did not always understand. I went into a big undergraduate class and taught THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE the old way, wrong, then went home and got out the new Facsimile of the Manuscript parts and worked for two days and went back into the room and taught it right for the first time, anywhere. Two of the student evaluators said that I was a very ignorant teacher because I came into class and confessed that I had taught a book wrong and was going to teach it right.

At USC I had wonderful graduate students. In one class of nine students we had 11 publications, not counting mine. I modeled myself on Harrison Hayford, who would not accept a term paper, which he defined as something you got a grade on and stuck in a drawer. You had to present your paper typed according to the requirements of a particular journal in an envelope addressed to that journal with the right amount of postage affixed so he could send it off if it was good. That's how I got my start, in 1960, with "The Metaphysics of Indian-hating"--not a term paper.

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