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September 6, 2011

Women's Studies Professor Takes a Vacation

How easy do some college professors have it?  Here is a paragraph from an Aug. 28 story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about the effect of recession-hit Nevada's higher-education budget cuts at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas:

One person who hasn't spent much time on the campus since May is [Lynn] Comella.  Sitting behind a desk piled with files and loose papers from spring semester, the women's-studies professor was too discouraged by this year's session of the Legislature to return to her small fourth-floor office all summer.  "For some of us, we needed the summer to regroup," she says.

How fascinating!  A professor doesn't feel like going to work because she's "discouraged," so she takes a three-month vacation, paid for by the taxpayers of a state whose unemployment rate has hovered between 13 percent and 15 percent over the past year.

This made me curious about exactly what Comella does with herself on Nevada taxpayers’ dime when she’s not too discouraged to venture into her campus office.  So I looked her up on the UNLV women’s studies website. Here is what it says:

Dr. Lynn Comella earned her Ph.D. in Communication from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, September 2004, her M.A. in Gender Studies and Feminist Theory, The New School for Social Research, May 1996, and her B.A.(Highest Distinction) in Psychology, with minors in Anthropology and Women’s Studies, May 1990.  Her research and teaching interests include media and popular culture, gender and consumer culture, sexuality studies, and ethnographic research.  She is presently at work on a book project that explores the history and retail culture of women-owned sex toy stores in the United States.

“Women-owned sex toy stores”?  You can’t make this stuff up.

I decided to delve further, to find out what the Department of Women’s Studies (yes, there is one) at UNLV is all about.  Here is the department’s “Mission Statement”:

Throughout history and in all known cultures, power has been distributed differentially (and unequally) according to gender.  Certain men have traditionally determined what counts as "knowledge" and will, therefore, be reproduced and circulated as "truth."  Women's Studies both critiques existing androcentric theories and methodologies, and seeks to reconstruct and reproduce knowledge to include the experience of the previously excluded.

“Androcentric theories”!  “Knowledge” and “truth” as fabrications made up by male chauvinist patriarchs!  A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle!

Now for some of the department’s undergraduate course offerings. “Feminist Theory,” “Feminist Research Methodology,” “Feminist Praxis,” “Chicana Feminism,” “Critical Race Feminism,” “Feminism & Activism,” Gender & Consumer Culture,” “Bodies, Sex and Health.”  Do you have to take those courses?  Yes, you do, or at least some of them, if you want to major in women’s studies at UNLV.  Only 30 out of UNLV’s 22,000-odd undergraduates actually major in women’s studies, however.  The feminist courses draw students mostly because UNLV forces all its undergraduates to take a “multicultural course” that examines “cultural similarities and differences in the United States based upon two or more attributes (e.g. ethnicity, race, gender, age, religion, sexual orientation and disabilities).”  Women’s studies courses fulfill that requirement.

This past spring, as part of a move to cut $47.5 million from UNLV’s budget over the next two years, the administration announced it would drop several majors, including women’s studies.  Since the women’s studies department employs four full-time faculty members, including Comella, it’s not surprising that she was feeling blue.

The proposal to cut women’s studies was mostly prompted by the program’s chronically low enrollments, but there were also criticisms that the courses consisted largely of indoctrination in identity politics and feminist groupthink.  In a guest column for Las Vegas City Life, Jan Oller, former adjunct instructor in the department, wrote:

“A purely political approach and activist agenda within a postmodern paradigm benefit the egos of those whose politics are supported, but don't make for good public relations, nor a well-rounded education.  Such a politicized approach may produce activists for instructors' pet causes (i.e. undocumented migrants' rights, legalizing prostitution), but fails to produce intellectuals (individuals who can entertain and comprehend ideas which are not their own).”

The department got a reprieve at the last minute, but that didn’t seem to stop Comella from taking the summer off anyway, to “regroup”—even though she is up for tenure review in the fall of 2012 and perhaps ought to be showing some progress on that book about women-owned sex toy shops.  My suggestion is that Comella get back to work.  And also that Nevada’s dwindling ranks of taxpayers think seriously about whether a heavily politicized and seriously under-subscribed academic program staffed by lazy faculty is really one they want to continue supporting.

Comments (16)

Jerome:

Time to meet the unemployment line and real life Ms Comella. 'Would you like fries with that Mr. Oppressor?"

Professor Oller, metaphorically -maybe literally- I could kiss you on the mouth. Thank you!

SER:

When my daughter went to college (on scholarship) I warned her not to consider majoring in Women's Studies. It tells future employers that "not only don't you know anything, you will sue them."

DonM:

So what is the feminist value of Pi?

What is the multiplicative identity element for woman's studies?

For a feminist, what is the base of natural logarithms?

What is the voltage output of a fully charged C cell battery?

There ought to be one question in there that you could get right.

PTL:

Here is the best way to balance the school's budget: eliminate all departments that have "studies" in their title. All paid leaves of absence are no more. Pay for actual classes taught. Revamp Title 9 rules.

Tatiana:

Thank you for this. I knew there was tremendous waste on our state campuses, but this provides some details. Could you please do something similar with many more useless professors and programs?

Despite, or maybe because of, the frivolity of her position, Ms. Comella has been a very vocal opponent of attempts at fiscal sanity in the Nevada System of Higher Education.

Back in March, she penned an op-ed in a local paper lamenting potential NSHE budget cuts. I was among a number of commentators who took note. During the legislative session she often took to Twitter, and elsewhere, to denounce legislators and others who advocated on behalf of taxpayers rather than tax-consumers.

Henry:

"so she takes a three-month vacation" - perhaps the majority of faculty have "9 month appointments" - they aren't paid for their summer unless they are doing extra teaching. (Their 9 months pay is often divided into 12 monthly payments.)

Most of those faculty do come to their offices to work on their research, prepare for the coming semester, etc.

pashely1411:

Hmm, Jan seems to be on to something.

andrew:

While I personally think that departments such as "Women's Studies", and "Black Studies", and "Chicano Studies" are inappropriate for a university (interdisciplinary programs of people with common interests from different departments are OK for me, just not separate departments), I would point out that many faculty are on nine-month appointments. Before you get concerned about her being gone for the summer, first make sure she is on a twelve-month appt. If she is, then of course she should have been there and should face disciplinary action if she was not fulfilling her duties.

Of course, it is implicit in her statements that she thinks she should have been in her office over the summer, but it isn't an abuse of her contract if she is on a nine-month appt.

Up is down and down is up in the PC correct America.

I find that those that are most condemning and judgmental of a woman that chooses a traditional role of homemaker and stay home mom, are women like the educator in this article.

Perhaps a better book choice would be why, in 21st century are so many women choosing to return to homemaking with such zeal? I guess sex sells more.

teapartydoc:

Maybe UNLV could open a department of clairvoyant studies. Comella has obviously seen into the future, and that's why she's depressed.

Charlotte Allen:

Tenure-track college professors may be on nine-month contracts--that is, they're obliged to teach just two semesters and receive extra pay for summer school--but most are paid on a twelve-month schedule--because they are in fact full-time employees--and most of them insist that they spend their summers working just as hard as they do during the academic year preparing for upcoming classes, reading up in their fields, and tending to the research scholarship that is also part of their job. They are often to be found in their campus offices. Lynn Comella, by her own account, spent the summer of 2011 "regrouping" instead. She hadn't even filed away the term papers and other material from her spring 2011 classes, according to the Chronicle story.

Alex Bensky:

If the professor had the courage of her convictions she would insist on riding in airplanes designed according to gynocentric rather than androcentric principles. Somehow, I don't think she will.

For that matter, my guess is that if a deconstructionist picks up the phone, tells a voice he wants a pizza, and the oral text in reply is, "It will be there in thirty minutes," despite the indeterminacy of the text twenty-nine minutes later he'll start looking at his watch.

I do admire professors of women's studies and so forth...my favorite is "whitness studies." They are able to make a comfortable living out of what is, basically, and I apologize for the word, horseshit.

By the way, my guess is she's an Obama supporter. The president said just a couple of days ago that we all have to sacrifice. She should be happy to set an example.

Om Namah Shivaya:

Deconstructionism is a must to study in my opinion. It provides one with the intellectual tools to deconstruct every message and propaganda that is being thrust out to a population from every media be it religion, news, music, art, literature, movies, psychology, science, internet websites and blogs, corporations, commercials, you name it.

The actual process of deconstruction should be taught in Junior High and kids should learn to apply it to everything, including their education.

Regarding Whiteness Studies, interesting. I guess its a flip on anthropology which was designed by the British Empire to study, exoticise and "other-ise" their brown subjects in their global colonies in order to justify the "white man's burden" of "civilizing the natives".

So Whiteness Studies must be a reverse of that.

Studying White cultures through an anthropological lense. I'd definetly take a course on it.

Deborah:

Many faculty are on 9-month contracts and so are not required by their contracts to be on campus during the three summer months. The expectations of those faculty are written into their contracts and/or their role statements as well as in the stated expectations of faculty according to department, college and university bylaws. For most faculty, those expectations cannot in fact be met in just 9 months. As a result, the summer months are utilized to meet them--by writing; doing research in libraries, archives, historical sites, archaeological sites, etc.; visiting laboratories, scientific research centers, etc.; interviewing subjects for studies; meeting with scholars in their field who live in other cities; etc. Some faculty do stay in their offices in the summer, or part of the summer, utilizing their office space and equipment. However, for others, their office is not the best place for their summer research--or is not better for their summer research than other locations would be.

My point is that the fact that a faculty member is not in his or her office in the summer has very little to do with how active a scholar and teacher they are.

What I have just done is deconstruct your claims about the Women Studies professor at UNLV. Deconstruction is the process of showing the presuppositions in what seems suppositionless. The goal of deconstruction is to make us a bit less arrogant about what we think we know.

Belinda Gomez:

So, what did the good prof do on her summer vacation? Did she go into the office and use tax-payer supported resources, like electricity?

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