Further Musings

Beauty smote his heart, he looked up from the forsaken land & hope returned to him

Archive for May 2012

Charity in the Forest

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May 29, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Posted in Pictures

Visiting My Part of the Blue Ridge Mountains

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Charity and I hit the mountains both of the last two weekends.  Once for a lovely little hike in DuPont Forest and today for the peak of Black Balsam Knob.  Today’s drive was a little far but once Brevard lured us in with its bakery we decided to keep driving till we got to the top of this part of NC.

In some ways these two trips have been goodbyes.  I’ll miss these mountains.  In high school I played hooky to swim in these streams and to hike these peaks.  I’m excited about moving to the Ocean State but I’ll miss these mountains mightily.

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May 28, 2012 at 8:09 pm

Insights on Organizations

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Currently reading Bureaucracy by James Q Wilson at night (#GeekAlert).  It’s amazing that wisdom and insight about how organizations function is free for the taking if you can find the book and devote the time to reading it.  As someone deeply involved & interested in three complex and important organizations (the church, the university, and government) I’m eating it up.

This bit was particularly insightful.  Reminded me a great deal of many of the church leadership meetings I’ve been to over the years where we hashed out what the mission statement of the church is:

In trying to understand the success of these organizations, one has to understand how they … decided … to perform their critical task.  By critical task I mean those behaviors which, if successfully performed by key organizational members, would enable the organization to manage its critical environmental problem… for the Texas Department of Corrections, the critical environmental problem was maintaining order among numerically superior, temperamentally impulsive, and habitually aggressive inmates.  The critical task became the elaboration and enforcement of rules sufficiently precise, understandable, and inflexible that inmates would never acquire the opportunity for independent or collective action.

Notice that I have referred to tasks, not goals.  It is often the case that many analysts and executives who wish to improve an organization begin by trying to clarify its goals.  Sometimes this is useful.  But often government agencies, much more than business firms, are likely to have general, vague, or inconsistent goals about which clarity and agreement can only occasionally be obtained.  Often any effort to clarify them will result either in the production of meaningless verbiage or the exposure of deep disagreements. 

At some level, the Texas and Michigan prisons may have had similar goals – to keep order, rehabilitate inmates, incapacitate criminals, or deter would-be criminals.  But if either organization sought to improve itself by thinking harder about these goals, it probably would have discovered that it did not know how to do some of these things (rehabilitate), could only guess at whether it was able to do others (deter) and would have been internally divided over the relative importance or even meaning of others (order, incapacitation).

At Carver High, “educating children” was to some degree a purpose shared by everyone, but if a new principal had devoted himself or herself to clarifying the meaning of education, there would have occurred an interesting seminar but not much change.

Wilson, Pg.25-26.


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May 21, 2012 at 10:13 pm

Reflections after a Year of College Professoring

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We move to RI in just over two weeks and I’ve been thinking a lot about what this year has meant and what it has been.  I took the job at Furman (and painfully left Chapel Hill) to have a test run as working as a professor.

In the end, I think this year has really helped.  After the emotional and professional turmoil of grad school my emotions and thoughts about academics felt like swirling, churning, muddy river water.  This year has been a year to let the silt settle, the water clear, and know what I want.

The year has really changed my perspective.  I hadn’t realized how different being a professor is from being a graduate student and how much more I would enjoy it.  The pressure is less.  I’m not worried about if I’m going to measure up to the department or the dissertation committee.  There is a lot less “what do I do with my life?” angst.

The days are more structured.  I taught and planned three classes a semester instead of just TAing for one class.  I see students and faculty often, and this has been really good for my mental health. And I respect myself more. I feel like an adult in a way I did not in grad school.  Students, faculty, and even the Dean see me as a valuable asset instead of a burden. That feels good.

Also, I thought I knew what it would be like to be at a liberal arts college (LAC) before I came to Furman, but sitting at the end of the year I realize that I didn’t.  I’m surprised by the depth of relationships I developed with the students in just a year.  I had students for both semesters and I didn’t expect the bond that developed seeing them twice a week for a year.  I know them better.  I’ve shaped students more here that I ever did at UNC and that has been fulfilling (and I’ve got the cards and baklava from them to prove it :-))

I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed teaching upper-level seminars.  The students are interested in the material and they care more than they do in intro classes, the only kind I had taught at UNC.

I was surprised at what good colleagues the faculty were.  The job here demands less of their souls than a research university … they are still pretty odd by normal person standards … but a lot better than the vast majority of my grad school professors.  Furman isn’t a utopia but it’s better in deeper ways than I envisioned when I took the job.

All that to say that I’m glad I gave the academy a year or two as a professor before deciding whether or not to leave it.  I’ve had space to settle emotionally, get real experience being a professor in a way grad school couldn’t provide, and keep my options open between staying and leaving academia.  Working in Raleigh or DC is still an option but placing at a Furman (or Brown) wouldn’t have been an option if I had left the academy first.

I can walk away from the academy or remain in it with some emotional maturity that I didn’t have before.

I feel a connection with a church planter headed up to Boston who I had a beer with recently. He became a Christian his first year as a professor.  He wanted to become a minster but also wanted to make sure he wasn’t running from a fear of tenure.  He tenured and then changed careers.  Seeing in through brought a sense of solidness in his decision.

A year later I feel like I can leave or stay in academia on my terms, not being driven out by my own emotional muddiness nor by a lack of respect from others.  For that, I’m grateful.

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May 19, 2012 at 8:59 pm

Drones in America

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This week’s New Yorker contemplates the future of life with drones as regular part of American life.  What will this mean for our privacy, both from the government and from each other?

The technology is amazing.  Hummingbird shaped drones that get attacked by other hummingbirds because they’re so life like.  And then there’s the swarm below.  So far these guys only function in the lab… but they’re coming… and I kinda want one!


Less fun but more technically wondrous.  How awesome would it be to work in this research lab?!

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May 12, 2012 at 8:23 am

Headed to Brown

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ImageIt’s official: I’ll be teaching at Brown next year and for at least two more after that.  The offer has been in the works for a while but today is the official day.

It feels great to know that we’ll be somewhere for at least three years.  I haven’t had that kind of surety since 1997 when I had three years left at Clemson.

Praise God!  Who could have envisioned such an outcome?  Amazing.

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May 9, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Posted in On the Job

Golfing with Dad

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Twas a pleasure to play nine with dad recently.  He holed #9 from 145 yards for an eagle.  It was a nice way to end a round!

Written by furthermusings

May 9, 2012 at 10:12 am

Posted in Pictures