Tagged: notre dame

Big question at Notre Dame

ndcoverThe best university magazines address big questions. But they tend to address big questions that have articulated factual answers. What is the universe like if string theory turns out to be right? Why can’t the global public health apparatus eradicate malaria? How does a new set of fossil bones force a new idea about our early hominid ancestors and change our fundamental picture of how Homo sapiens evolved? 

Notre Dame Magazine has marked out its turf as addressing big questions that do not have straightforward answers. And editor Kerry Temple and his staff do not shy from big, hard-to-address questions that could be troubling to the university. The cover story in the Summer 2013 issue is one more example, posing the hard question in its title: “Is College Worth It?” Alumnus and Assumption College faculty member James Lang comes at the question as a teacher who works to make college a worthwhile experience and a parent staring down massive tuition payments. He also comes at the question as a smart and skilled writer.

Lang opens the piece with an excellent bit of verbal draughtsmanship as he introduces a student of his who seemed not to need college to help secure a good job. Andrew Hadley’s family owns a prosperous fish-processing company, and after high school Hadley had a guaranteed job that he liked. I am a connoisseur of good leads and Lang wrote one:

Andrew Hadley is a fish fixer. As the heir-apparent to the Hadley Company, an international fish-processing and import-export business, he steps in when a New England casino calls on a Thursday and says it needs 600 pounds of whitefish for the weekend. He loads the truck himself, drives it down to the casino and gently reminds the buyers to place their orders a little earlier in the week next time.

This is how you start a long piece on a topic potentially so ponderous—you start with a deft 13-paragraph sketch of a smart kid who prompted one of his teachers, in this case the author, to ask not only “Why are you here?” but “Why is anybody here, especially at these prices?”

Which is really the urgent matter, isn’t it? The list of benefits that accrue from a college education have not changed in 50 years; all that changes is how each benefit is weighted for a given generation. What makes the question urgent now is the heart-stopping cost of four years at most any college or university, and the increasing volume of critics unwilling to be brushed aside by condescending academics who often seem put-upon because someone does not care to accept their “do we really have to explain the value of this again” responses.

It is much to Lang’s, and Notre Dame‘s credit, that “Is College Worth It?” starts its attempt at an answer with the acknowledgement that it is a damned good question. Then it makes clear the answer may not be some sort of institutional sales pitch:

The worst part of the price tag of a college education today, at least according to some authors, stems from the speculation that colleges and universities are driving up prices through outdated hiring and labor practices, financial mismanagement, and arms-race spending on amenities like sushi in the dining halls and rock-climbing walls in the athletic center.

There’s a sentence guaranteed to amp a senior administrator’s blood pressure. So let’s pause here to acknowledge and praise the bosses at Notre Dame the school for allowing Notre Dame the magazine to publish pieces that contain sentences like that. Lang thoughtfully responds to that critique, mainly by citing the explanations and arguments put forth by Robert B. Archibald and David H. Feldman in their book, Why Does College Cost So Much? You may agree with them or not, but Lang does a fine job of taking the reader through their reasoning and conclusions.

At this point in my reading of the story, though, I experienced a twinge of dismay because I felt that what had begun in such a promising fashion as a provocative piece was turning into the same old answer—”Of course it’s worth it!”—only delivered in better prose. But then Lang gives space to the eduhacking movement that has been challenging the idea that the only place to obtain a college education is at a college. He finishes well with some discussion of what makes a good college student, and what makes for a kid who perhaps does not belong in college.

Too many students, by contrast, come into college without any driving questions or interests behind them. They wander from class to class, without any sense of larger purpose, checking off boxes on their degree audits, or they see the whole experience as an expensive means to find friends, earn a degree, and get a job. …These are the kinds of students who, no matter where they choose to matriculate, are probably paying too much for college.

The same issue of the magazine includes a five-page satirical comic by Michael Molinelli about the high cost of tuition that ends with Notre Dame announcing that henceforth tuition will be free but football tickets will cost $5,000 a piece. There’s also a strong, engaging profile by associate editor Tara Hunt of an alumnus chef. Makes for a pretty good issue, don’t you think?

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(Oh, there’s also some funky business with parts of the magazine that play video on your smart phone if you point the phone at the right spot on the page and engage a certain app. The instructions involve six steps. I don’t know how well it works because I’m a grumpy old analogue guy with a dumbphone, plus if you’re a regular reader of UMagazinology you know my lack of regard for enticing readers to leave your magazine for a digital device. But one of you dear readers can give it a spin and report the results in the comments section.)

UMag inbox

What all is stuffed into the mailbox this week? Let’s see . . . mm-hm . . . mm-hm . . . Portland . . . looks like a food issue . . . damn you Doyle!

The winter issue of Portland flaunts editor Brian Doyle’s unparalleled ability to convince world-class writers to contribute to his magazine. This time, damn him, he has pieces from Michael Pollan, Pico Iyer, and Edward Hoagland. Pollan to Iyer to Hoagland—man, there’s an infield. To be accurate, Pollan’s long contribution, “The End of Cooking,” is an excerpted reprint of something he published in The New York Times Magazine, and Hoadland’s “The Top of the Continent” is drawn from the essayist’s new volume, Alaska Travels. But still.

By the way, there’s a lot more to a meaty issue. I especially liked the photo essay by Steve Hambuchen of Pacific Northwest farmers, bakers, vintners, and brewers.

IC View from Ithaca College sports a redesign, as well as my favorite subhead of the week: “Alumni See Trash With Fresh Eyes.” Robin Roger edits the magazine. (Below, new cover is on the left. Relative dimensions are not accurate. The new design has the same trim size.)

The 2013 record for most people smiling and facing the camera on the cover is currently held by The Baylor Line (editor Todd Copeland:

California (editor Wendy Miller) produced my favorite lead sentence of the year, so far, in David Tuller’s “Putin v. Pussy Riot“: “In a cozy, two-room apartment in a leafy Moscow neighborhood, I gathered with half a dozen local gay and lesbian activists on a mid-August evening to drink tea, munch on zakuski (snacks), and discuss the regime of creepy Russian president and former KGB thug Vladimir Putin.” Love the opening spread, too:

Good words alerts:

— Binghamton University Magazine (Diana Bean edits) has a recurring feature called “The Other Side,” and in the Fall 2012 issue devotes it to a four-question Q&A with associate professor Steven Tammariello, who at age 43 still plays football for the semi-pro Cortland Bulldogs. (I know what you’re thinking . . . another story about a PhD biologist who plays semi-pro football?) My favorite line: “I used to be the only player with a PhD, but one of our defensive linemen earned his doctorate in organic chemistry from Cornell, so I have some company.”

— My second-favorite lead sentence so far in 2013 comes from Immaculata Magazine: “When Bob Kelly’s radio station asked if he knew a football expert who could be on their morning show The Breakfast Club, he immediately said, ‘I know just the nun!'”

— Extraordinary, moving essay by Mel Livatino, “Dogged by the Dark,” in the latest Notre Dame Magazine, Kerry Temple, editor.

Finally, since I began this post with my nose out of joint—damn you, Brian Doyle!—I will end with this great spread, from the Fall 2012 Medicine at Michigan. The photo illustration is by Clint Blowers; editor of the magazine is Richard F. Krupinski.

Some of that outside validation we all crave

This year’s edition of Best American Essays lands in bookstores today, and alumni magazines and writers are represented. Listed among “Notable Essays of 2011” are:

— Brian Doyle, editor of Portland, for “The Creature Beyond the Mountains,” which appeared in Orion.

— Patrick Dunne, for “Into the Deep,” which appeared in the Spring 2011 issue of Notre Dame Magazine.

— Kerry Temple, editor of Notre Dame, for “A Summer Night,” which he scribbled for the Summer 2011 issue of his magazine.

Congratulations to all.

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It’s Inbox Monday, and there are several tasty items in the Blogateria. And yes, I am surprised and disappointed by my resorting to such a cheesy opening. We go to press in a couple of weeks and I’m feeling a bit cooked.

Denison Magazine continues its clever innovation of cover stories that play out in the first six pages of the magazine plus the back cover. The June ’12 issue presents “Power Struggles: Why Energy Policy is More Complicated Than You Think” as four true/false questions, starting on the inside front cover with “True/False: Fracking is Bad for Us.” The illustrations by Ward Sutton are tremendous. The above is my favorite, but it was hard to pick one. (Do yourself the favor of clicking on the image to open it big in a separate window.) Part of what I love about what Denison is doing here is it breaks free of the constrained thinking (that has been my thinking until recently) that the cover story has to be the longest or the heaviest or the  most important story in your feature well, or has to be a story in your feature well at all. Every time out, I look forward to what Maureen Harmon and crew have done with the latest issue. They have figured out something unique to our magazines, and I can’t stress enough how rare and difficult an accomplishment that represents.

Zebra fish are hot hot hot. The newest issues of Notre Dame Magazine and Pitt Med both have stories on zebra fish research. My mother kept zebra fish, in and among the guppies and angel fish and Siamese fighting fish. Little did I know she was conducting research on macular degeneration and Parkinson’s. Ma, I underestimated you.

I shy from giving praise to publications produced by Johns Hopkins University, lest anyone begin to think that was the secret purpose of UMagazinology. But I’m making an exception for the new issue of Johns Hopkins Engineering, which has this terrific lead by Jim Schnabel, from his cover story on the meeting of biology and robotics:

Listen to the night music of cockroaches. Clickety clickety clackety clackety . . . Listen to their tiny, spiny feet as they careen across the tiles in your kitchen. What do you hear? What can you learn? These hardy primordial creatures zip through cluttered spaces in utter darkness at human-equivalent speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Yet you never hear them crashing headlong into things, even though the cockroach brain has only an infinitesimal fraction of the computing power of the average mammal’s. How do they manage this supendous feat with such meager neural resoures?

Nice.

I’ve never been a fan of commencement stories, but North Carolina’s did bring forth a swell cover for Carolina Alumni Review:

I’ve been waiting for years to see someone publish a feature done by a comics artist, half hoping it would be my magazine, though I never pushed the right idea. Well, The University of Chicago Magazine, in its July-August issue, has done it, covering a conference titled “The Comics: Philosophy and Practice” in the only sensible way: As a four-page comic by alum Jessica Abel.

Finally, around here we’ve joked for years about the Johns Hopkins Magazine swimsuit issue. Now, damn them, the folks at Occidental have done it. Sort of.

That’s Occidental College’s president, Jonathan Veitch, who seems to have a robust sense of humor.

Notre Dame on style

We have a running joke in our office about someday publishing the Johns Hopkins Magazine swimsuit issue. If you know us, know the magazine, and know the school, you grasp the irony, or perhaps the absurdity, on several levels. There is not much that could be classed as unlikelier. But a candidate would be Notre Dame Magazine putting out a special style issue.

For years, Notre Dame has been many wonderful things, but style conscious, style attentive, stylish . . . no. The magazine has reflected its boss, Kerry Temple, and its staff: deeply smart, thoughtful, sober, concerned with matters of mind, heart, and spirit, respectful of what endures and unafraid to question what, perhaps, ought not to endure. I like seriousness when it is in league with an active mind, and that’s how I think of Notre Dame. So even though I’d been tipped that something different was on its way from South Bend—my whisperers are everywhere—when I dug the spring 2012 issue out of my mailbox, I still laughed in surprise.

Starting with the cover, the special issue was brilliantly executed. The cover expertly mimics the fashion magazines that find their way into my house (courtesy of my glamourpuss wife): design, typography, tightly cropped portrait of London Vale, a Notre Dame alumna now working as an actress and model. The TOC lists 18 stories in the feature well, and they range from Kerry Temple’s opening essay, which is typically fine work from him and scores points for employing the word “galoot” and the phrase “a budding boy immersed in puissant femininity”, to Liam Farrell’s reporting on Notre Dame grads working at GQ, to a nicely pointed note from vice president and associate provost Daniel J. Myers about the sartorial shortcomings of university faculty, to a “live” report from fashion week by Arienne Thompson. Interspersed are pictures of Notre Dame students wearing their clothes.

I sent editor Temple a note asking him about the issue, and he replied, “In the past couple of years, I’ve enjoyed a couple of cable TV shows, Project Runway and What Not to Wear, which I watch with my wife, of course. So one evening I was talking with Arienne Thompson, the Notre Dame grad who writes about fashion for USA Today, and we got to talking about those shows and clothes and what she writes about. And we talked about her writing a piece for us, with the working title, ‘You Are What You Wear.’

“Then, one day early last fall, I was talking into the office, thinking about that, and the phrase jumped into my head: ‘Notre Dame Magazine‘s First Annual Fashion Issue.’ Like Sports Illustrated‘s swimsuit issue or ESPN‘s body issue. The juxtaposition of Notre Dame Magazine and fashion just made me smile. Preposterous.

“So at our next weekly staff meeting, I put it to the staff and talked about how the executive editor of GQ is an alumnus, then about Linda [Przybyszewski’s] book about fashion, and what Arienne Thompson might write, and what I wanted to say, and it all rolled out from there. Pieces kept falling into place, the momentum got going, we thought it’d be fun to spoof fashion magazine covers, then mimic iconic clothing ads, and we just kept laughing and saying, ‘Let’s do it.'”

(Ed. note: Because I know you’re all wondering, Linda Przybyszewski’s name is pronounced LIN-duh.)

A sampling of the good bits, for me, would include this from Paige Wiser’s essay “An Embarrassment of Clothes”:

Sure, you could blame the ’70s. But when are parents going to step up and take some responsibility? Why don’t they just admit it? “When we dress our kids, we don’t always have their best interests at heart.”

I wasn’t the only fashion victim. Look closely at a photo of any small child dressed up in a sailor suit or reindeer antlers, and you’ll see an unmistakable message in their eyes:

“Help me.”

And this from screenwriter Jamie Reidy, about the suit he bought from Macy’s for the premiere of his first movie:

Then I felt the tightness in the lower back of my suit jacket. I tried to poof it, like a concert pianist prior to sitting down on his bench. But my jacket did not budge. This would have been fine if it had no vents. But it did. Standing on Hollywood Boulevard, merely two first downs from the media lights and red carpet, Jenn [Reidy’s girlfriend at the time] confirmed that two strings crisscrossed the bottom of the jacket flaps: an X marking the spot of my fashion fiasco.

She didn’t need to say the words: That wouldn’t have happened at Neiman Marcus.

And this, from Daniel Myer’s list of 20 popular faculty styles:

[Style #3]: Why tuck in my shirt? I’ll just have to do it again tomorrow.

[Style #7]: That hole burned by 18 molar hydrochloric acid isn’t that bad. Why waste a perfectly functional pair of pants?

Temple ended his note to me about the issue, “I think we responded to an initial fun idea and so intuitively welcomed the departure from our typical heaviness, earnest examinations, and institutional duty that it got us going, kind of gave us wings. Notre Dame takes itself very seriously and the magazine reflects that, we’d been through some internal ordeals, but the time was right for us to throw open the windows and let a gust of fresh air blow through the house. And it did.”