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Civic Skinny

March 15, 2012
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A prof studies quilting in Ireland. And ‘creative nonfiction.’

Your tax and tuition dollars at work: Marybeth C. Stalp is an associate professor of sociology, anthropology and criminology at the University of Northern Iowa — you know, the university that is going through a financial crisis so severe that the faculty has voted “no confidence” in president Ben Allen because he is trying to solve the issue strategically.

Stalp earns $60,000 a year. But she won’t be on campus teaching in the spring semester of the coming academic year. Instead, she’ll be collecting her salary in southern Ireland, conducting “ethnographic research on women’s quilting and knitting efforts.” She is one of 111 faculty members at UNI, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University who will be taking sabbaticals in the coming year. Generally, sabbaticals mean one semester off, with pay.

Quilting is “an important means of autonomy and identity development for midlife women,” the summary of Stalp’s application says, and in her study Stalp will focus “on the meaning-making processes in women’s cultural production efforts, examining finished work from the perspective of the maker as well as exploring a more complex definition from within a sociological perspective of what constitutes art.”

Of course.

But how will this help UNI students and the state in general? “Iowa citizens, and specifically quilters and knitters, can learn about similarities and differences with Irish women.” As for UNI students, “she will infuse her Sociology of Gender and Sociology of Culture classes with this newfound international comparative research, and her Qualitative Methods course will improve with the additional research experiences of this project.”

Of course.

Her application also notes that since 2006 “she has given eleven guest quilting lectures to lay audiences.” That’s almost two lectures a year.

Meantime, the University of Iowa’s Scott Schnell, an associate professor of anthropology, will spend the fall semester in rural Japan studying the “traditional hunters of bear and other animals in the forested mountains of Japan’s interior.” This work will “promote better understanding of Japanese culture,” and “the Japanese case example, whether positive or negative, will inform people’s approaches to similar problems at home in Iowa and will promote interdisciplinarity.” Schnell earns around $70,000 a year.

Professor Schnell’s colleague, Associate Professor of Journalism and Mass Communication Frank Durham, will spend the fall semester “analyzing news coverage of partisan news ‘pranks’ by conservative media activists Andrew Breitbart and James O’Keefe.” The study will ask: “Who controls sourcing, how has the process of cultural meaning production changed, and what does partisanship mean for the news as a site of consensus?” With not a little bit of boasting, Durham says “the study will gain prominence within national professional and scholarly media circles.” Breitbart, incidentally, died the other day. Durham earns around $75,000 a year.

And the university’s Kevin Kopelson, an $88,000-a-year professor of English, will work on “Tales from School,” a work of “creative nonfiction.” “The book will be autobiographical yet imaginative as well as both confessional and satirical.” And, with that Iowa City boastfulness, he adds, “When published, the book should attract (positive) critical attention both within academia and outside of it.” What’s more, the book — which will be “easy to follow, informative and entertaining” — “will be an exemplary instance of both creative nonfiction and autobiography.” All that and this: “When published, ‘Tales from School’ should help its academic readers become better at their jobs.”

While these profs are off on their ventures in Ireland and Japan and India and elsewhere, their colleagues in math and science and engineering are taking off on projects to help make the world a safer, healthier, more productive and more understandable place. ...

Meantime, the 107 profs who went off on sabbatical last year have checked in. The University of Iowa’s Rene Lecuona, a professor of music, is back from presenting piano master classes in Brazil and Colombia. Associate Professor Helen Shen completed her academic book project, “the first book in the field that specializes in second-language Chinese adult literacy issues in the classroom environment.” And, continuing the self-congratulatory style that infuses the University of Iowa campus, she notes “it will be highly welcomed by scholars in the area of” second-language literacy development.

At Iowa State, Michael Bailey, an associate professor of history, completed his book manuscript, “Superstition in the Late Middle Ages” and also wrote an article for inclusion in the Cambridge History of Magic and Witchcraft. Aili Mu, an associate professor of world languages and cultures, “furthered her progress” on her book manuscript, “Moment of Truth: The Chinese Short-shorts Phenomenon,” a book that will explore “the popularity of this literary genre in contemporary Chinese cultures.”

And at UNI, professors Rebecca Burkhardt and Cynthia Goatley are back after taking a full year off to work on a musical about the life of former Texas governor Ann Richards. So far, they’ve written 120 pages, completed six songs, have the lyrics for seven others and are working on four more. ...

Update: That lawsuit pitting the University of Iowa’s view of academic freedom versus a would-be teacher’s view of discrimination is ready for trial, both sides told the court during a status conference March 2. Except for one thing: Prospective witnesses, who are faculty members at the university’s School of Law, are off studying or frolicking or something this summer, and “because of the uncertainty today as to the start of the academic school year for the University of Iowa College of Law, which would impact on witness availability, defendant is not in a position to agree to a date prior to September 1.”

The plaintiff, Teresa Wagner, is suing former dean Carolyn Jones, alleging the school turned down the well-qualified Wagner for a job because she’s a Republican. And a pro-choice one at that. At the time of the lawsuit, there was only one registered Republican among the 52 persons on the law-school faculty.

The status report didn’t say whether the witnesses would be unavailable because they’re attending the Democratic national convention. ...

Update: Trial now has been set for Oct. 15 in Davenport.

Media note: “Juice,” the Register’s publication for young people who like pictures of themselves, is looking for an editor, according to a help-wanted ad. The applicant must have two to four years of experience as a section editor and one to three leading a team of reporters, which pretty much puts him or her out of the target demographic. ...

“Creative nonfiction.” Sounds like Civic Skinny. …

Or maybe it’s noncreative fiction.

Did someone say “Stephen Bloom?” CV



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