HEWN, No. 289

When in Rome...

Greetings from Rome. I was too exhausted from my flight to write a decent newsletter yesterday when I landed. I'm not sure I'm in much better shape today (even though I’ve drank coffee for the first time in almost three years).

I mean, I guess I slept a little on the plane. Painful, fitful sleep. The kind where you nod off and then cramp up; the kind where you do the math about which will be more painful: climbing over the bodies of a row of sleeping passengers or developing a bladder infection because my god you have to pee so bad and you’re still hours and hours away from your destination.

I didn't sleep; mostly I read, plowing through one fiction and one non-fiction book on the flight from LAX to FCO. The fiction was fine — it was a John Scalzi novel (The Collapsing Empire), and I always find his stuff to be a quick and enjoyable read. But I don't have much more to say about Scalzi's work than that. The non-fiction book, however — Joshua Hunt's The University of Nike — warrants a bit more of a response.

I was at the University of Oregon during its transformation under President Dave Frohnmayer and "Uncle" Phil Knight — I was there as a staff member in the Continuing Education department and then as a graduate student. I watched the student population at the school turn from those looking for an affordable liberal arts education (and that included a lot of California transplants) to those looking for a more full-throated brand experience. A bachelor’s in tailgate party. I watched Eugene turn from a hippie college town to a football college town. (And there's an adjacent story here, I'd argue, that Hunt doesn’t really look at about how the radicalism connected to student activism and the labor movement got painted as terrorism post 9-11 alongside the anarchism and environmental movements that were also centered in that little college town.) Reading Hunt's book, I realized how much of my concerns over technology companies' influence in higher ed probably probably stem from this experience in late 90s, early 00s Oregon — from watching a state decide to abandon public funding for education and instead turn to a corporation to underwrite its big public university, to fund the projects that that corporation (and its founder) deemed important.

The book deserves a longer review (particularly on this past point because this is the MOOC, the OPM, the coding bootcamp and so on); instead, jetlagged, I'll just give it my recommendation. Read it, whether you’re a sports fan or not.

Elsewhere: Ian Bogost on “The Myth of ‘Dumbing Down’.” And in that spirit, here’s The New York Times Magazine’s profile of Bruno Latour. Read books, not just the Internet.

(Roman pigeons. Image credits)

Yours in struggle,