Academia at Rest: What Your Professors Did Over Winter Break

In an attempt to better understand the elusive ways of the Boston College faculty, The Heights set out on a mission to gather information on the semester-break activities of multiple professors across the different schools. Compiled here are the blessed few who responded to our emails.

From the mundane to Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield, here’s a small dose of what your professors have been getting up to for the past month.

Margaret Lombe – School of Social Work

“Over Winter Break, a graduate seminar comprised of 19 students from the School of Social Work, the Law School, and School of Theology and Ministry, traveled on an educational immersion trip to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The class was led by a team of three faculty from each of the schools mentioned: Professor Margaret Lombe, Mary Holper, and Andre Brouillette SJ, and by a coordinator from Mission and Ministry, Ryan Shannon. The class encountered the challenging reality and hope of the people of Haiti through engaging with the life, culture, and stories of those living on the island. The trip consisted of an exploration of the issues surrounding the Haiti and Dominican Republic border, immigration law, social welfare and visiting the Jesuit communities that are working to support education efforts through Fe y Alegria schools.”

Heather Cox Richardson – History Department

“The truth is that, for the first time in my entire career, I took most of the time of the break off. That meant that I also did something I haven’t done in 25 years … I watched TV. Wow, has it changed in 25 years! I was fascinated—and frustrated—by the network news. I watched a number of NBC Nightly News broadcasts, and was struck first of all by the sheer number of commercials for drugs. It was clear from the advertisements that the news-watching demographic is relatively old, and that pharmaceutical companies are pushing drugs to those consumers incredibly aggressively. There was very little time for actual news by the time they had stapled a half-dozen drug commercials together at a time. But it was not just the advertising I found novel about the national news. I read the news pretty constantly, so I have a better handle on it than most people. The news broadcasts covered the day’s stories, but the coverage was frighteningly superficial, and at least half the time got the story wrong enough to be entirely misleading. That is, the broadcast seemed to me to be several hours behind the latest information. And then, there were repeated stories about local weather, with reporters standing in extreme conditions—interesting if you lived in those areas, I’m sure, but kind of a waste of prime time for national news. And then there were the “human interest” stories, which seemed to have little point except to show folks understandably upset over a personal tragedy. It felt exploitative to me, for their tragedies did not illuminate a larger national problem, they simply showed individuals in crisis.

Watching the news helped me to understand why Americans of a certain age are so woefully uninformed about the world. The national news broadcast I watched had very little actual content, and most of that was misleading or shallow.  It was an interesting experience, but now that I’m back at work, I won’t repeat it. It’s easier, faster, and way more instructive to read breaking stories on my laptop.”

Penelope Ismay – History Department

“After the holidays, I spent 12 days holed up in a cabin in the hills and managed to finish my book!  It was pretty spectacular. I feel rejuvenated coming into the new year and new semester.”

Rob Lehman – English Department

“After grading final papers and exams, I spent the break revising a couple articles for publication—one dealing with the relationship between Immanuel Kant’s aesthetics and contemporary versions of formalism in literary criticism, the other dealing with the interplay between genius and taste in the modernist works of James Joyce and Marcel Duchamp. My other “project” was flying across the country with my 4-month-old daughter. I learned that, while babies don’t necessarily like to fly, this one at least loves the magic of O’Hare International Airport over the holidays. Don’t we all?”

Seth Jacobs – History Department

“I spent my Winter Break working on my current book project, “Rogue Diplomats: The Proud Tradition of Disobedience in American Foreign Policy.” Chapter four addresses the ambassadorships of Walter Hines Page and Joseph P. Kennedy. I had completed all of the research for the Page sections of the chapter, and my goal was to complete those sections before classes resumed. Alas, I did not succeed. As of today, I’m not even halfway toward my goal, and I’ve already exceeded the word limit I forecast while outlining the chapter. I thought I’d get better at self-editing as I grew older and more experienced, but apparently not!”

David Quigley – Provost and Dean of Faculties

“My past few weeks haven’t been that exciting. I celebrated Christmas at home in Cambridge with my wife and our three sons, we spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s visiting family in Manhattan and on the Jersey Shore, and since I returned to the office in early January, I’ve been working regularly with Mike Lochhead, the Executive Vice President, on a draft strategic plan for the university to present to the Board of Trustees for their review later this winter.”

Thomas Kaplan-Maxfield – English Department

“I was in Hollywood last week and took a tour of Paramount Studios, the only movie studio still in Hollywood itself, and the oldest of all the studios. We all give lip service to how we all live in virtual realities of all sorts, from social media and dating apps to actual VR, to fake news. But to see the actual studios where films are made and to hear the commentary from the tour guide about how everything—everything in a film is created, provided a blunt reminder that in some ways all reality is a construct. To explain, in addition to being an English professor, I build houses and am reminded daily that everything in a house has to be put there, built— the floors, walls, ceilings, but also the doors and windows, the door knobs, door stops, light fixtures and on and on. We live in our rooms and take them as given, like facts, but like facts they are made. This extends to our entire lives, as it turns out: all parts of us are constructions.

I suppose in that sense we’re off the hook for taking ourselves only seriously.”

In closing observations, it appears that statistically speaking, history department professors are the most likely to respond to unsolicited emails from college newspaper reporters. So there’s a small snapshot of the world of academia over the semester break. Until next year, loyal readers.

Featured Image Courtesy of Ashley Schneider

January 22, 2017