Illegitimi non carborundum

I love the Socratic aspect of academia, and it’s the part I do best. I supervise nine independent-study projects this semester, with a total of ten students. Most of them have spent a weekend at the mud hut, or soon will. Indeed, I’m just back from the mud hut, where I spent the weekend with one of the students, the poet in resident at the renowned University of Arizona Poetry Center. He called the trip “transformative.” I meet regularly with all the students, probing and pushing until they do more and better work than any of us thought possible. Ditto for the small, hard-working herd of graduate students I advised and mentored during two wonderful decades.


It’s a good thing I love highly individualized projects, because my department head banned me from teaching in my own department when she arrived two years ago. One of her very first actions was to prevent me from teaching a class I created and then taught for ten years. Apparently students were learning all the wrong things. Instead of focusing narrowly on production of livestock and other amenities critical to human well-being, thereby training students for jobs, I was educating them to lead lives of excellence. As you can imagine, the university administration put a stop to that nonsense.
If you’re keeping score, training is for dogs. Education is for scholars.
Then, of course, there is my scholarship, which has been reviled by my college dean and university president for years. My open letter to the president, which appeared nearly a decade ago in the morning daily because he wouldn’t respond to my individual requests, got his attention and helped save the final, tiny patch of desert in the center of campus from red pavers and fountains (the fountains, which were installed nearby, were turned off earlier this year as a cost-cutting measure). The situation has since eroded, while spreading well beyond the university president. I just kept asking the hard, but obvious, questions and, in exchange, I kept getting kicked in the head. Consider this exemplary exchange, in which I pointed out the dire state of our energy situation (albeit before it became apparent to the masses), to which the dean responded with “he’s not one of us,” and I forced him to admit his error (in return, I let him keep his job and I let the university keep money in their litigation coffers).
And finally, there’s my embarrassing outreach. Imperialists would rather ignore important issues than address them in a constructive manner. And there’s no denying the imperialism of typical administrators at any Research I university. Or, for that matter, the honesty and integrity of the typical inmate relative to the typical administrator. Why, the administrators plead, would I bother to work with criminals when I could be doing important work, such as justifying livestock on public lands and otherwise promoting imperial ambitions? Never mind that, last year, the United States became the first country in history to incarcerate more than one percent of its adult population. And it’s working so well, wouldn’t you say? By nearly every measure, we’re spending more and getting less from our “justice” system than any other country (well, okay, we’re not getting less violent crime … but less of the good stuff, if not less of the bad).
Teaching? I’m doing the best work of my life. Scholarship? Likewise. Outreach? Ditto. Obviously, it’s time for me to move along.
I never thought I’d give in. I thought I’d be holding administrative feet to the proverbial fire, forcing deans, department heads, and presidents to do right until the whole thing fell down. Illegitimi non carborundum: It’s been my rallying cry for 15 years, since one of my beloved graduate students explained the phrase to me.
Alas, the bastards wore me down. And, finally, out. My last day on the taxpayer dime will be 1 May 2009, twenty years to the day after I was hired. Fittingly, 1 May is a day of celebration for labor and laborers throughout the world. My department accepted my resignation with considerable glee, and the university granted me emeritus status so I can keep working for free. Stunningly, they didn’t offer a gold watch.
Perhaps I’m cutting off my nose to spite my face. But, as my brother points out on his blog, that’ll make it easy for me to stick my head up my butt. And I can assure you I’m terrified. As I abandon the ship of empire for my lifeboat, it’s difficult to see anything but choppy seas between here and the distant horizon.
In an apt twist of fate, the Dow Jones Industrial Average started its current four-week rally the day I gave notice. That’s the power of one: I’m saving the industrial economy all by myself.
Next up: organic gardening at the mud hut, sans money. We’re all headed there soon enough.
Same-day update:
I’ve selected my post-carbon theme song, which was submitted by one of the students with whom I’m fortunate to work. It’s Peter Gabriel’s Down to Earth, and you can listen to it here.
In the spirit of engaging collapse and the people experiencing it, I’ll be blogging from the mud hut until the power goes out.

Comments 35

  • Guy, we’ve disagreed before and no doubt we will again, probably even publically, as in this blog. But I reiterate again that yours is a much-needed voice and so I hope as you begin full-time residence at the mud hut (?), you won’t let yours fall silent. Do us all the favor of keeping us posted.

  • Thank you Guy for your time and most importantly your passion. I look forward to your posts and the U of A will not be the same. Mud hut it is!

  • From Wikipedia:
    “Socratic Debate…is a form of philosophical inquiry in which the questioner explores the implications of others’ positions, to stimulate rational thinking and illuminate ideas.[1] This dialectical method often involves an oppositional discussion in which the defense of one point of view is pitted against another; one participant may lead another to contradict himself in some way, strengthening the inquirer’s own point.”
    Someone recently accused me of being a Socratic learner and thereby taking up too much class time in questioning and examining every angle of a topic before coming to a conclusion. They were absolutely right about me – I like to tear ideas apart in order to put them back together – but I was disappointed that they seemed to think it was a bad thing, and even more disappointed that I was going to have to sit and just soak in the information without tossing it around. Guy, if your students at UA are anything like me, you will be profoundly missed. Please keep stimulating the Socratic discussion in any way you can, including this forum.

  • I know you have had your benchmarks, your trigger points for moving to the mud hut. One of mine was always, when Guy goes, it’s time to pack.
    Alas, I have nowhere specifically to go yet. But I will keep the tank full and my friends on notice.
    And I will check in frequently to see what updates you have. Happy Gardening!

  • Professor Guy:
    We all admire your courage for standing up for your principles.Since this site is thru
    the U of A,how will you continue ? Will you have an independent site? Will you be living at the Mud Hut ? We will carry on together–just fill us in on the details please.

  • Thanks for the questions, Frank. As usual, I’ve been too cryptic with the information.
    I negotiated for emeritus status at the university, which allows me access to an office (for a year), the university libraries, and this site (and technical support, indefinitely). I’ll be moving to the mud hut full time as soon as I’ve completed obligations to my current batch of students (i.e., 15 May), albeit returning to Tucson now and then to visit my beloved wife and my beloved students. I suspect this arrangement will continue until the industrial economy takes its last breath. Now that I’ve quit, though, it appears the Dow will not capitulate for another year or two 🙁

  • Thanks for keeping those feet to the fire for as long as you did, in that setting. I’m fairly certain you have imbued that institution with your spirit and passion over the years, and that they will continue to do good work in that regard. I don’t know you at all except by way of what you write here, but I think you must be one of the most courageous people I’ve ever had the good fortune of ‘meeting.’ What you’re doing seems to embody the truest form of fearlessness, in the tradition of Shambhala warriorship (i.e., not by making war but by being heroic, bold and kind all at the same time). I’m looking forward to hearing about the next steps in your excellent living. Namaste.

  • I’ll remind you of the role of debate in Tibetan culture:
    The performance aspect of the debate is instrumental in building enthusiasm and enabling players to access intellectual resources that could not be accessed in any other way. It’s been said that the questions that debates deal with are so technical, it is not always possible to feel excited about their content alone.
    http://www.snow-crest-inn-dharamsala.com/tibetan-monks-debate.html
    There are also gestures used at more particular occasions. For example, when a respondent gives an answer that the questioner holds to be false, the latter must circle his opponent’s head three times with his right hand while screaming in a loud and shrill voice, “These are the three circles” (‘di ‘khor gsum). 47 In more formal settings, the whole crowd joins in with the questioner, thus subjecting the respondent to further psychological pressure. During Geshe exams, when the respondent wears a hat to mark the solemnity of the occasion, the questioner can grab his opponent’s hat and circle the latter’s head with it three times to emphasize the mistake.
    http://www.thdl.org/essays/dreyfus/physicality.html
    TTFN!

  • Professor Guy:
    Thoreau did his best work at Walden Pond.He was there about 14 months.
    On a personal note,you said you would shoot me if I came within sight of the Mud Hut,
    but you regularily invite your students there–what gives ??
    Frank

  • Frank, I never said I’d shoot you, specifically. I’ll only shoot the marauders. But I haven’t decided if you’re a marauder yet 🙂

  • About Frank’s comment and Thoreau: As Guy knows (because he helped prepare the vehicle), my wife and I lived once in a 1966 GMC school bus on the Oregon Coast for over a year–which we still consider perhaps the best year of our lives. And the mud hut is considerably better insulated, and in a drier location than the Oregon Coast.
    And Guy, if you’re worried about institutional technology issues (which I do as the advisor for my school’s student newspaper), WordPress, Blogger and other companies offer free hosting, along with more technology options (photos and video) than you have currently. WP is easy to use (hey, I’m a historian and can manage it), and I don’t think it’s tough to tranfer things from one site to another. And society may outlast your current situation, now that you’ve taken the plunge and postponed the apocalypse for the rest of us. 🙂

  • Hi Guy —
    People who question things relentlessly don’t fit in. The culture of make believe requires acquiescence and persecutes those who question it, much less who challenge it.
    But there is a counter culture out there. It is small by comparison to the dominant culture, but it is real and large enough to succor many individuals. You will continue to be embraced.
    I had communications a couple of years ago with Norman Finkelstein, the professor whose tenure was denied at Depaul University because of his conscience-driven activism combined with his intellectual rigor. Professor Finkelstein told me soon after his dismissal that what he missed most was his contact with his students, and he seemed to find that fact depressing at first. Since then, he has literally toured the world on speaking engagements, operated a website and I feel confident has retained some positive level of contact with a wider range of students and activists than he ever could have done in a local classroom setting.
    I see similar possibilities for you. I think you need to find an agent and start making a living as a public intellectual. I think you can make a living for a while by writing books, accepting speaking engagements and thus splitting time between your mud hut, your Tucson-area life, and the world at large. And you will be one of the very best at this.
    You have much to offer and the path that has brought you to this point can sort of be viewed as your internship. Soon it will be time to make your mark on the world and I believe you can and you will, if that is to your liking.
    It could be easy to dwell on unfairness issues or to wallow in self-pity. Do it for a day or two and get it out of your system. Then come back strong and give them hell.
    There is nothing you can do to save the civilization, but much that you can do to help individuals find safety. You know a lot of important things and are supremely gifted at teaching and you don’t need a University of Arizona classroom to be a teacher of truth.
    Much success on your journey ahead and I hope we will be able to track you and communicate from time to time.
    Stan Moore

  • ‘Faber Quisque Fortunae’

  • Faber est quisque fortunae suae. Isn’t it? I think my order might be off. I’m thinking the saying needs a verb, but I’m a total neophyte when it comes to Latin.
    As for the other, I don’t think it is Latin–although it sounds very much like it is. Probably kind of like this sort of Latin:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2K8_jgiNqUc
    Rident stolidi verba Latina.
    Hahahah
    😉

  • First the financial crisis and now the university will suffer a scholarly crisis with your departure??? Of course the local coffee shops will suffer further economic crisis when chocolate croissant sales plummet! Happy to have been around during the transformation years…thanks for the life lessons.

  • Charlene:
    There is no order in Latin.That’s the nice thing about the language.You can jumble nouns,verbs,adjectives,ect.in any order you want,it all comes out the same–neat huh?

  • The title of this entry ain’t Latin either.Professor Guy’s Latin is really “Dog Latin”,
    which goes by many differnt slang phrases.

  • True, I keep forgetting that, I’ve been trapped in close quarters with Spanish lessons lately. I truly hate Spanish. I don’t know why. I’m sure it is a perfectly good thing to know it, but I have an aversion to it. Probably because I have to learn it. If I didn’t have to, then I would probably enjoy the task.

  • Charlene:
    Spanish is easy–notice how all the long words are the same as in English with the exception of one letter in each word.If you know any Latin you can already read it.
    Spanish and English are called “lenguas primas”(cousin languages).

  • Charlene:
    Why do you have to learn Spanish?

  • Spanish is the easiest to learn… Aside from word order that is. As long as your first word is the descriptor you’ll be fine.
    Now German is mind numbingly difficult, as far as European languages are concerned. They’ll have compound words so long they make antidisestablishmentarism look paltry. Oh and the city of Bad Kreuznach has a name that made me laugh as much now as it did the first time I was in Germany.
    “Oh man, you got into some Bad Kreuznach there…”
    There are some cool houses on a bridge there. It’d be a rude awakening the day one of those bad boys fell in.

  • I know it is. And I don’t have trouble understanding it–unless it is spoken and then it sounds like gibberish. That’s my biggest trouble. I have to take a test to finish out my bachelor’s and I have to be able to pass the listening comprehension. So I’ve been sitting around listening to Spanish radio, TV, and other excerpts.
    I know it is easy, but I really, truly, hate the language–which makes the task difficult. It is a totally arbitrary sort of hatred, but I still hate it. Listening to a steady diet of it has only fanned those flames.
    I have to do it to fulfill a language requirement which serves little purpose other than to keep the language building funded. Why I’m stuck with Spanish, in particular, is a long story.
    All I can say is, I hate the language and hope VERY MUCH to be free of it by April 16th!
    At which point, I can study anything I like…which I assure you, will not include Spanish.

  • charlene
    the wording is correcto mundo,
    the phrase is somewhat contrary to the dogmatism
    of peak oil doomerism
    ‘Every person is the architect of their own destiny’
    comme ci comme ca
    bonsoir

  • Amen to that.
    I recently viewed the video for the Origins symposium over at ASU. Hawking provided a recorded lecture, which was entertaining, but suggested humanity needed to find another planet to continue existence as a species.
    I just can’t shake the feeling that the actual future ahead of us rests somewhere between doomerish gloom and futuristic fancy.

  • Memo to Total Turboguy:
    Do you think there is any way we can help our Charlene with her Spanish problem?
    We have tried,but it doesn’t seem to have helped her.As you and I understand ,the absolute truth is that Spanish is a great language.What do you suggest?

  • Hi Guy —
    At the public library the other day I perused the DVD section and saw an interesting DVD of past episodes of the Dick Cavett TV Show featuring rock icons. I saw photos on the cover of people like George Harrison and Janis Joplin and so I checked out the three-CD collection. I found a section with Paul Simon appearances on the show in the mid-1970’s, or about the time the Vietnam War had just ended and the Arab Oil Embargo may have been underway. Paul Simon sang his song “American Tune” which I can recall hearing on the radio years ago, and it is a hauntingly beautiful tune. Hearing it again on the Dick Cavett collection leaves a new impression on me — how the events of that era served as a preview of our time and how Simon’s sentiments must be on the hearts and minds of Americans now. Unfortunately, the politicians continue to offer false hope and illegitimate reassurances that everything will be all right.
    I thought it was very interesting to read Simon’s imagery of the Statue of Liberty sailing away to sea even as our government is making plans for a police state. And the movie “Across the Universe” featuring Beatles Songs and protests from the Vietnam Era also used the Statue of Liberty in a very interesting way in connection with the Beatle’s song “She’s So Heavy” in a scene where American draftees in their underwear carried the burdensome statue on their shoulders as they crushed the nation of Vietnam underfoot in the name of “liberty”. Creative political imagery of this sort is not only entertaining, but can be instructional and inspiring, in my experience…
    Here are the lyrics of this old, familiar tune…
    American Tune
    Words & music by Paul Simon
    Many’s the time I’ve been mistaken
    And many times confused
    Yes, and I’ve often felt forsaken
    And certainly misused
    Oh, but I’m all right, I’m all right
    I’m just weary to my bones
    Still, you don’t expect to be
    Bright and bon vivant
    So far away from home, so far away from home
    And I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
    I don’t have a friend who feels at ease
    I don’t know a dream that’s not been shattered
    or driven to its knees
    but it’s all right, it’s all right
    for we lived so well so long
    Still, when I think of the
    road we’re traveling on
    I wonder what’s gone wrong
    I can’t help it, I wonder what’s gone wrong
    And I dreamed I was dying
    I dreamed that my soul rose unexpectedly
    And looking back down at me
    Smiled reassuringly
    And I dreamed I was flying
    And high up above my eyes could clearly see
    The Statue of Liberty
    Sailing away to sea
    And I dreamed I was flying
    We come on the ship they call the Mayflower
    We come on the ship that sailed the moon
    We come in the age’s most uncertain hours
    and sing an American tune
    Oh, and it’s alright, it’s all right, it’s all right
    You can’t be forever blessed
    Still, tomorrow’s going to be another working day
    And I’m trying to get some rest
    That’s all I’m trying to get some rest
    Stan Moore

  • Dear Guy —
    The Dick Cavett collection of rock icon shows has yielded another little treasure; this one a song sung in 1974 by a very beautiful young Canadian star, Joni Mitchell. She introduced the song as words from a Canadian citizen living in the U.S. with words of advice for her American friends. Now, 35 years later, with a new president with lofty rhetoric that is belied by his warmongering policies, here are the lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s song, The Fiddle and the Drum:
    The Fiddle and the Drum
    by Joni Mitchell
    And so once again
    My dear Johnny my dear friend
    And so once again you are fightin’ us all
    And when I ask you why
    You raise your sticks and cry, and I fall
    Oh, my friend
    How did you come
    To trade the fiddle for the drum
    You say I have turned
    Like the enemies you’ve earned
    But I can remember
    All the good things you are
    And so I ask you please
    Can I help you find the peace and the star
    Oh, my friend
    What time is this
    To trade the handshake for the fist
    And so once again
    Oh, America my friend
    And so once again
    You are fighting us all
    And when we ask you why
    You raise your sticks and cry and we fall
    Oh, my friend
    How did you come
    To trade the fiddle for the drum
    You say we have turned
    Like the enemies you’ve earned
    But we can remember
    All the good things you are
    And so we ask you please
    Can we help you find the peace and the star
    Oh my friend
    We have all come
    To fear the beating of your drum

  • two words -> their loss

  • Best of luck. Thank you for your support and mentoring during my time at Arizona. When I plan a lecture or class discussion, I think to myself, “What would Guy do?”.

  • Guy,
    I have one word of advice: GOATS.
    Best of luck.
    Pete Sundt

  • I knew the time was coming, but it is still a shock. You will be missed…
    We are people who must march to the beat of different drummers and sometimes those drums sound the most difficult decisions. My life is better for having you as a teacher.

  • “I have one word of advice: GOATS.
    Best of luck.” -Pete Sundt
    I second that.
    -Colin

  • Guy,
    From a selfish perspective, I’m sorry to hear you’re leaving UA. But from a global perspective, this may be a great step forward. Given your energy and creativity, I expect May Day will mark the beginning of your being unleashed on the world. Maybe you didn’t feel the leash, but you’ll certainly have a lot more time to address the issues of the world.
    –Dale

  • With your ‘tude, no wonder you got axed.
    No offense.

  • Water fountains can be a welcome addition to desert environments. In fact, they can attract a great deal of diverse wildlife looking for a refreshing drink. But, there is beauty in dry places too.