Sunday, September 27, 2009

September 27

I am writing this entry two days later than usual—on Sunday instead of Friday—since I have been incredibly busy attending the annual conference of the International Relations Association. The IRA, as my future biographers will surely know, is the academic association for specialists in international relations. Like other such associations, it holds an annual conference at which hundreds of scholars (not just professors, I found out, but even advanced graduate students) present research papers. The annual conference is never held in the same city twice in a row. It was fortunate that the conference took place in Boston this year. Prof. Briggs encouraged all his students to attend.

The conference began on Thursday and ran through noon today. I went over early on the Thursday morning, stood in line twenty minutes waiting to register, and then spent twenty minutes looking through the huge program (bound like a book!) that was given to me along with a name tag by the registration desk attendant.

I picked a panel on alternate conceptions of international security that sounded interesting, and found my way to the room where it was being held. I was a little surprised because although the program said the panel would consist of four people presenting papers and two more discussing them (plus a chair), only two paper presenters and one discussant were actually there. I would soon learn, however, that this was par for the course at these panels—which was frustrating because the one or two paper presenters I wanted most to hear were usually the ones that didn’t show.

I would also learn that attendance at these panels varied widely. The first one I attended, for example, was in a room with about fifty chairs, but there were only ten of us in the audience—at most (people felt free to come in late or leave early). The audience for some panels, though, was huge. I think it all depended on the prestige of the paper presenters. I guess it shouldn’t be surprising that everyone would want to hear the stars of the field, while next to nobody wanted to listen to grad student presentations. Not that the grad students minded. The ones I talked with were quite happy with a small audience, since their presentations tended to get harshly criticized by discussants.

I kind of felt sorry for the older professors who obviously were not stars. For a grad student, there is no shame in not attracting a large audience for his or her presentation. But for senior professors not to be able to do so just showed what duds they are. I attended one panel on revolution where although—surprise, surprise—everyone listed in the program for the panel (three full professors, one associate, and one grad student) showed up, I was the only person in the audience—until I left. To their credit, though, they proceeded with their panel, acting as if everything was normal. Maybe it was, for them.

After the first panel I attended, I went over to the book exhibit room, where fifty or so publishers had booths displaying all their latest releases. Just as among professors, there appears to be a pecking order among publishers. The booths of the most prestigious publishers were always crowded with people wanting to buy their books at the conference discount or trying to get an acquisitions editor interested in whatever they were writing. At the other end of the scale were the publishers’ booths that nobody seemed to visit and where those manning them were sitting around reading novels or just looking bored—if, that is, these unprestegious booths were manned at all, which some of them were not. The prospect of anyone even stealing their books was apparently not a concern.

I shouldn’t have used the word “manned” in the previous sentence. Although there are more men than women in academia, from this book exhibit it appeared to me that there are more women than men in academic publishing. And the women appear mainly to be young and attractive. I have to admit, I visited a few booths mainly to get a closer look at the pretty women running them. I wonder if publishers send them to these conferences specifically to lure the predominantly male participants over to their booths? [I’d probably better delete this paragraph, even if it does point out an interesting example of reverse exploitation]

At the book exhibit, I ran into Prof. Cohen from Cal State Barstow. He pumped my hand and declared loudly how great it was to see me—a little too loudly, for my taste. He insisted on taking me to lunch. But since he was on a tight budget, we didn’t eat at any of the expensive restaurants in the hotel, but went outside of it altogether to a fast food restaurant he’d already found.

I felt more comfortable talking with him there. It was fun hearing about people I knew back at Barstow as well as telling him about my classes and professors at Charles. It was nice, actually, that he was so genuinely interested in what I was doing.

Brendan, as he insisted I call him, asked if I was going to the Charles University reception at the conference tomorrow evening. I replied that I didn’t know there even was one. He then got out his copy of the conference program and showed me where it was listed. He’d clearly studied this a lot more closely than I had.

I wondered aloud whether the reception was intended for grad students like me. He assured me that all receptions listed in the program were open to all conference participants. In that case, I said, I’d probably go. He then said he’d be going too, and asked if I would please introduce him to Prof. Briggs. I said, “Of course.” What else could I say?

He thanked me, and then asked, “Are you coming to the panel I’m giving a presentation on this afternoon?”

“Sorry,” I replied, “but I have to go to my class at Harvard.” I don’t know why I said that, but it felt good. I had actually been thinking of skipping the class and staying at the conference.

Cohen took it well. In fact, he said he wished we could switch places, with him going to Harvard for me, and me giving his presentation at the conference for him. “After all those lectures of mine you listened to, you could probably give my presentation for me without even reading the paper!” he said enthusiastically. He was probably right.

He then asked if I’d be at the big IR theory roundtable tomorrow morning which Briggs, Saltz, and Arch Faircloth would all be on. I hadn’t heard about this either. He showed it to me in the program. I said I’d definitely be there. As we parted company and I walked to the T station, I realized that I’d have to miss Trizenko’s class to attend the roundtable, but I knew it would be worth it.

The next morning, I met up with Michael Radkowski and Doug Terenti (Brigg’s other first year grad student, as I thought of him) just before the big IR theory roundtable. It was being held in one of the hotel’s large ballrooms with hundreds of chairs. Even before it started, the room was pretty full. Yes, everyone wanted to see the stars! And Michael, Doug, and I all felt great being the students of one of them.

We were having a good time together when Brendan Cohen came and sat with us. It was annoying: he didn’t understand all of our “insider” talk and kept asking me to explain what we were saying—which embarrassed me a little in front of Michael and Doug. It was like going on a date and running into an aunt who then decides to tag along.

Fortunately, the roundtable soon started up. Briggs, of course, gave a masterful presentation. Although I didn’t agree with them, both Saltz and Faircloth also did very well. In fact, after their presentations, the two of them engaged in a spirited impromptu debate which Briggs was notably left out of. Similarly, people in the audience mainly addressed questions and comments to them and not Briggs. Toward the end, Cohen (who had been raising his hand in vain up to now) was finally recognized. He started by noting (again, to my annoyance) that Briggs had not published much since International Relations: A Neo-Radical Interpretation came out in the last decade, but then asked (to my relief) when we could expect his next great pronouncement on international relations.

Briggs brightened up considerably at hearing this, replying, “It should be released at next year’s IRA conference in Washington.” He then went on to give a neo-radical critique of the Saltz-Faircloth debate until the chair interrupted him and declared the session over.

I managed to ditch Cohen, going with Michael and Doug to a nearby Indian restaurant where we heaped scorn on Saltz and Faircloth and came up with lines that Briggs should have delivered in response to them. After lunch, we went back to the conference and split up. The two afternoon panels I attended were dull, and I left both early to wander around the book exhibit. We all met back up in the evening at the Charles University reception where we told Briggs what we had decided he should have said at various points during the roundtable that morning. He laughed at some of the things we had come up with and said he wished he’d thought of them. “The reason why I was so quiet,” he explained to us, “was that everything Saltz and Faircloth had to say was so dull and boring that I could barely stay awake listening to them.” We felt most uplifted by this.

Cohen suddenly appeared, clearly waiting to be introduced to Briggs. I obliged. Briggs remembered him from the question he asked this morning and seemed pleased to meet him. Briggs repeated his line about not saying much due to the other panelists having bored him, and Cohen laughed loudly. Cohen was really obsequious toward Briggs; I’d never seen him like this before. Cohen made me uncomfortable again when he started to go on about how I had been his star pupil back at Barstow. Briggs was clearly losing interest in him. Michael and Doug seemed bemused.

Fortunately, Cohen’s elegy came to an end when a remarkably beautiful blonde girl came up alongside Doug and put a lovely bare arm around his waist. Caught by surprise, it was Doug’s turn to be embarrassed. He quickly recovered, though, introducing her to us as his wife, Angie. She, then, became the focus of attention. I had not met her before, and apparently Briggs and Michael hadn’t either. Briggs asked the standard questions: where had she and Doug met, and how long had they been married. She responded in a lovely southern accent (why is it that men who speak with a southern accent sound stupid while women who speak with one sound sexy?) that they had met while students together at New Dominion University in Northern Virginia. They got married shortly after they had both graduated this past summer.

“So what do you do while Doug studies?” Briggs asked.

“Oh, I’m just a waitress now. But Doug and I have a deal: I support him while he gets his Ph.D., and then he supports me while I get mine. Right, Doug?” she asked teasingly, pinching his arm. He nodded, clearly somewhat embarrassed.

I have to admit, I envied Doug a little. It must be nice having the company of such a lovely woman.

I attended conference sessions all day Saturday and Sunday morning as well. It was exhausting, but nothing stands out in my mind that is worth reporting—except that I attended a panel where Danielle Stephens (Trizenko’s TA and one of my office mates) presented a paper. Fortunately for her the audience was small, because she was being lambasted by the discussant.

The trouble with doing area studies, as she does, is that it is just not theoretical. And so nobody who does theory can respect it. Yet while the discussant’s criticisms of her paper were undoubtedly valid, it seemed to me that he didn’t have to be so harsh in delivering them.
But being lambasted appears to be the lot of grad students who deliver papers at academic conferences. And to her credit, Danielle responded with a spirited, good-humored defense. I only hope that I can exhibit such a degree of “grace under fire” when it’s my turn—as I both hope and dread it will be at next year’s IRA conference in Washington.

Friday, September 18, 2009

September 18

Although the professors and grad students here at Charles are always finding fault with Harvard, I have to admit: I find taking a class there to be quite thrilling. The class I’m in is one on international security with Tim Saltz. Like Trizenko’s class on Russia here at Charles, both undergraduates and graduates attend the lecture sessions, which meet Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. While the undergrads also meet with TAs in very small sections of four or five students (as apparently is Harvard’s custom), the graduate students meet with Saltz himself for an hour and a half shortly after the Tuesday lecture.

Our class meets on the main campus, right on Harvard Square. I went over early on the first day the class met and walked around a little bit. The campus certainly is beautiful with its old buildings, which really are covered with ivy. I saw that there was a demonstration against the conservative Harvard professors who advised the Bush Administration on the war in Iraq. I joined the demonstration for a few minutes myself. I was glad to be a part of it. It felt good to be alive!

There were about a hundred students at Saltz’s opening lecture—which was extraordinarily well polished. At the end, the students applauded—another tradition at Harvard, I was told. Afterward, there were eighteen or so of us graduate students who met with Saltz. He had us go around the room and introduce ourselves. Most were from Harvard, a few were from M.I.T., and only two of us were from Charles: Michael Radkowski and me.

Saltz’s lectures with the undergraduates are mainly descriptive: the history of war and that sort of thing. His sessions with us graduate students, though, are more theoretical. Back at Barstow, I remember Cohen describing Saltz as a neo-realist. I was surprised to learn at the very first graduate seminar that he is a critic of neo-realism. Not only that: he appears to consider himself a classic realist! I didn’t think there were any of those left, except for a few ancient right-wingers. I’m surprised that Cohen apparently missed this about Saltz.

The grad students have to take two midterms and a final just like the undergrads. But in addition, we have to write a major paper, while the undergrads do not.

There were a few more surprises: the Harvard grad students in the class appeared to be seized with the classic realist vs. neo-realist debate, with only a few neo-liberals sprinkled in. At one point, Michael Radkowski introduced a vigorous Briggsian neo-radical statement into the discussion. What really shocked me was that at the mention of Briggs, several of the other graduate students either laughed or smiled derisively. Saltz himself shook his head, and countered Michael with a statement indicating that he did not take him seriously. Disagree with Briggs, yes. Even I did so in my senior thesis. But dismiss him? I couldn’t believe it! Things are clearly not right at Harvard.

The biggest surprise of all, though, is that Saltz is an African-American. There is, of course, nothing surprising about being an African-American. I was just surprised to find that an African-American professor could also be a conservative. It seems to me that, considering the discrimination and injustice that African-Americans have experienced, they should all be liberals, at minimum.

Michael had not looked pleased when he first saw me at Saltz’s seminar. Afterward, though, we went back to our office together on the subway (known in the Boston area as “the T”). Along the way, Michael ripped in to Saltz, describing him as a “reactionary realist reptile.” He said he wished that Briggs himself could have been there to put him in his place. He called the Harvard grad students “nothing but a bunch of upper classholes.” He said most of them were too afraid to stray too far from their “realist—neo-realist reservation” for fear of jeopardizing the job at State, Defense, or CIA that awaited “all good little Harvard boys” who successfully avoided saying anything intelligent, which would automatically disqualify them.

Although Michael criticized Saltz severely, I was gratified that he did not once refer to his happening to be an African-American. I, of course, didn’t either. After his tirade subsided, Michael asked me about the other classes I was taking. We both agreed that Briggs is the absolute greatest. He advised me to read everything on his syllabus, even if it meant going without sleep, so that I could fully appreciate Brigg’s critique of everyone on it.

“How am I supposed to get through my other three classes if I do that?” I asked him.

As far as Asquith’s methodology class was concerned, Michael advised me not to bother doing any of the reading at all, and claimed that he had certainly not done so. “Just talk the methodology talk with him and he’ll be happy. The one thing you must never do is tell him that any of it is bullshit, even though most of it is.” Michael assured me that this is what he had done, and that he’d gotten an “A” for the course.

I asked him about the mock research proposal we were supposed to do for the second semester of the class. Michael’s response was that by then, Briggs would have taught me as much as I really needed to know about methodology to get me through it with flying colors.

Michael indicated that he had never taken any classes with Trizenko, but he assured me that I wouldn’t have to do any real work to get through the one on Russia. “Don’t bother with his reading list; just keep up with the news. That’s all he teaches anyway, from what I hear,” said Michael.

I wouldn’t say so to Michael, but I was actually enjoying Trizenko’s class. Listening to him made me understand what an incredibly complicated country Russia is—so complicated that applying any sort of theory to try to understand it would not be easy. Maybe that’s what I’ll try to do in the paper for his class.

There is, however, another reason why I am enjoying this particular class: it just so happens that there are some really good looking undergraduate females in it. With the weather still warm here, they come to class in shorts or miniskirts. There’s one girl in particular who’s been sitting in the desk beside mine whom I find it very difficult not to look at. She has long black hair that falls half way down her back. But despite her dark hair, she has pale skin and haunting blue eyes. And what incredible legs! I like listening to her talk with her friends before class starts; she seems to have a mischievous sense of humor and is always laughing. Yes, I’d much rather look at her than at Trizenko during the lecture, but that, of course, would be inappropriate.

On this note, I would like to state here that, like other men, I am attracted to beautiful women. But unlike most other men, I seek both intellectual as well as sexual stimulation from a woman. Indeed, I have found that for me, sexual stimulation leads to intellectual stimulation. Thus, unlike other men whose interest in a woman might be limited to her body, I am just as interested in her mind—and I seek stimulation from both.

The problem I have found, though, is that it is difficult to find both sorts of stimulation to the high degree that I desire together in one woman. So many of those who could obviously provide sexual stimulation just as obviously cannot provide intellectual stimulation. And sadly, those who can provide the latter often seem unwilling or unable to provide the former.

Back at Cal State Barstow last year, I had a relationship with a woman from whom I did derive a tremendous degree of both sexual and intellectual stimulation. Unfortunately, my own intellectual development was proceeding much faster than hers, and after awhile I no longer received the intellectual stimulation from her that I needed. It was necessary then for me to end the relationship. She was very hurt by this. But as I tried to explain to her, she had disappointed me in not sharing my enthusiasm for my senior thesis project, which meant so much to me. Our relationship ended in bitterness. I must admit, though, I still do think about her sometimes.

I wonder if I’ll ever find out whether this girl I sit next to in Trizenko’s class can provide me with both the sexual and the intellectual stimulation which I crave. I have no doubt that she could provide the former. But could she—would she—provide me with the latter?

[Some might advise me to delete the last five paragraphs of this entry, but I will not. In addition to my intellectual life, I want my future biographers to understand the rich, complex nature of my emotional life.]

Friday, September 11, 2009

September 11

I am writing today at the end of the first week of classes. I’m taking four courses this semester. First and foremost is Barrington Briggs’s graduate seminar on IR theory, which meets Monday mornings, from nine to eleven. (Graduate courses here meet once a week for two hours.) The syllabus that Briggs passed out is twenty pages long!

Only a dozen students showed up for the class, but three of these did not come back after the break at ten. I must admit that even I felt a little intimidated. Cohen warned me that the reading assignments for graduate students are much, much greater than for undergraduates. He wasn’t kidding!

The overall structure of Briggs’s course is not all that different from the one I took with Cohen. Just as at Barstow, we will go over all the major schools of IR theory. The difference, though, is that Briggs will cover them in extreme depth, looking at all the different nuances within each school. As well versed in this subject as I am, I have not even heard of—much less read—over half the authors listed on his syllabus.

The requirements for the class are: three critical book reviews (Briggs is big on this sort of thing) and “a major paper in which the student shall set forth his or her own theory of international relations,” as the syllabus put it. Maybe I can submit my senior thesis from Barstow for this—appropriately revised, of course. Please note, biographers: I would never submit the same work for two different classes. That would be totally unethical.

I already know I’m going to love this seminar. Briggs has some of the same qualities that I used to admire in Cohen, only more intensified: he does not shy away from employing sarcasm to expose shoddy theorizing. Yet far from being intimidating, he has a way of making students feel that they are part of an in-group of cognoscenti with him. At least, that’s how he makes me feel. I would certainly hate to be on the receiving end of his sarcasm! But that will never happen, I am sure. [I won’t delete these last two sentences: I feel it is important for my future biographers to know that even with all my intellectual strengths, I too possess certain feelings of anxiety and uncertainty]

The second class I am taking is Elton Asquith’s political science methodology course, which is required for all graduate students in the program. It meets Monday afternoons from two to four. All of the incoming graduate students who were at the orientation session last week are in this class—and nobody else. The syllabus for this course is fifteen pages long. I have to admit: I recognized only a handful of the authors listed on it. [delete this last sentence later]

In the first semester of this year-long course, Asquith is requiring us to write seven—yes, seven—short papers employing different methodological techniques. The papers only have to be about five pages long each, but this is very annoying. He wants us to become familiar with many different methodologies—whether we’re going to need them or not for our dissertations. There will also be a final exam. During the second semester, all we will have to do is write up a mock research proposal and present it in class. That actually might be useful.

This semester, though, I think this class is going to be something of a trial. From his first lecture, it appears that Asquith’s main theme is going to be that no matter how sophisticated the methodology we may employ, it will always have flaws, or “threats to validity.” This being the case, we really can’t know anything for certain in political science.

After Asquith had made this point several times, one student asked a question that was probably on all our minds: “If we can’t know anything for certain in this field, then what is the point of developing increasingly complex methodologies?” Asquith responded testily that if that was his attitude, then what was the point of going to graduate school or doing anything in life since we all had to die some day anyway. Unlike Briggs, Asquith appears to have no sense of humor. Yes, this class is definitely going to be something of a trial.

The third class I’m taking is Ilya Trizenko’s politics of Russia and Eurasia course. I wouldn’t take a class on this ordinarily, but I have to for my field distribution requirements. It is different from the other two classes I am taking in that it is open to undergraduates as well as graduates. It meets Friday mornings, from nine to eleven. There are about sixty students in the class—most of whom appear to be undergraduates. The syllabus he passed out was only three pages long. But he also handed out an extra reading list for the eight or so graduate students in the class. The undergraduates have to take two midterms and a final. We have to take these also, plus write a book review and a research paper.

Unlike Asquith, Trizenko definitely has a sense of humor. His sense of humor, though, is very different from that of Briggs. Where Briggs is sarcastic, Trizenko is self-deprecating. As I anticipated, he is an excellent lecturer. Having grown up in the former Soviet Union during the turbulent eighties and nineties before coming to the U.S., he has an insider’s feel for the terrible problems of this region. I can see why he is so popular with the undergraduates.

I don’t think, though, that he will have much to offer to me and the other graduate students. His work is obviously highly descriptive and not at all theoretical. Still, I’m not complaining about a class that will not require much effort but will still be interesting.

The fourth class I am taking is one at Harvard. Students from Charles, Harvard, and M.I.T. can all take classes at the other two schools. I’ve signed up for a class there on international security with Tim Saltz, which I’ll describe later.

I wrote last week that I would say something about the “colleagues” whom I share my office with. It is important to do this so that future intellectual historians will know who my interlocutors were during what will undoubtedly be considered a crucial year in my intellectual development. Some of them may also become famous scholars—who knows?

Three of them, like me, are first year grad students. Doug Terenti is one. He received his B.A. from New Dominion University in Northern Virginia. I think I’ve heard professors from there interviewed on National Public Radio. He is taking both the IR theory seminar and the methodology class with me. He is also hoping to write his dissertation with Briggs. He seems like a smart, friendly guy. I am sure that we are going to be friends.

Another is Craig Hatfield. He’s also in the IR theory seminar and the methodology class with Doug and me, but I haven’t talked with him, so I don’t know where he did his B.A. He really appears to be into methodology. He spoke up more about it than anyone else in the first session of Asquith’s class this past Monday anyway. He and Asquith seem to know each other already. I have a feeling that Craig may be gay. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. But somehow I don’t think he and I are going to have much in common. [consider deleting this later if it turns out not to be true]

The other first year grad student in our office is Lisa Dudwick. She’s in both the methodology class and the Briggs seminar. She is rather thin, has long brown hair, and seems very quiet. She did tell me, though, that she is from Iowa, where she went to Grinnell College, and that she is into feminist theory. She plans on writing her dissertation with Theda DeKlerk. She is obviously very bright, but I don’t think we will have common intellectual interests.

The two second year grad students in the office are Michael Radkowski and Danielle Stephens. Michael is currently the TA for the lower division undergraduate international relations class Briggs teaches. Michael got his B.A. here at Charles, and so has known Briggs for quite some time. He told me that he will be writing his dissertation with him too. Michael is obviously a bright guy (he couldn’t be working with Briggs if he wasn’t), but he is not very friendly. I hate arrogance.

Danielle is the TA for Trizenko’s lower division undergraduate comparative politics class. She is really into Russian politics and plans to write her dissertation with Trizenko. She has been very friendly and welcoming toward us first year grad students. She is also something of a tease: when I asked her where she got her B.A., she said she wouldn’t tell me. “As grad students here at Charles, we’re all here on an equal basis. It doesn’t matter where we came from or what we did before,” she explained.

I, of course, knew this already. Danielle appears to be older than the rest of us. Maybe thirty? I didn’t ask her her age though: if she wouldn’t tell me where she had been an undergrad, I knew she wouldn’t tell me that!

Friday, September 4, 2009

September 4

I am pleased to be writing this entry from my Charles University-supplied computer in my new office. I don’t actually have my own office, but one of six cubicles inside Case Hall, Rm. 304. Case Hall is where the political science department is located. Rm. 304 is one of the offices reserved for graduate students. This is one of the benefits of being a graduate student here that I didn’t realize I would receive until the department’s new student orientation session, which was held today.

I was surprised that there were only a dozen or so of us new political science graduate students at the orientation. But as the department chair, George Stavros, explained in his talk, the department only offered admission to the very top applicants, and the students in this group tended to be admitted to several programs. Not everyone offered admission to the program at Charles accepted it, just as, he noted graciously, “each of you probably turned down offers from several other universities.”

Stavros was very welcoming, but I must admit, I didn’t pay close attention to him. For one thing, his specialty is the U.S. Congress—a subject which holds no interest for me. For another, being an administrator, I assume that he must either be past his prime or that he never had one. Cohen used to always say that about academics who became administrators.

Several other professors gave brief talks about the courses they teach, the research areas they are interested in, and what sort of dissertations their students are working on. Again, I didn’t take much note of the specialists on American politics. Why, I wonder, do political science departments in the U.S. have so many specialists on American politics, all doing basically the same thing, when they barely cover other areas of the world with just one specialist—or don’t cover them at all?

I was, naturally, more interested in those professors who share my international interests. One of these was Ilya Trizenko, an assistant professor (i.e., someone who does not yet have tenure) originally from Ukraine who teaches the politics of Russia and Eurasia as well as comparative politics. He is a relatively short man with thick hair both on his head and his face. The large amount of gray indicates that he is relatively older—certainly older than an assistant professor normally is. He speaks well, with an ironic sense of humor. I’ll bet he is a very engaging lecturer.

Another was Theda DeKlerk, an associate professor who teaches both women’s politics and feminist theories of international relations. We studied some of her writings in Cohen’s class back at Barstow. She is a short, thin, middle-aged woman with closely cropped brown hair. If it wasn’t for the fact that she wore two earrings, I might have mistaken her for a man before she was introduced. She appears to be very soft spoken, and I couldn’t quite catch everything she said—especially her witticisms which she herself had the habit of laughing at through her nose while saying them. But while short in stature, I know that she has the reputation of a giant in the field of feminist IR theory. [delete the two penultimate sentences later, but keep the last one]

Yet another professor, whom I realized I would have to pay attention to, was Elton Asquith. Asquith, a full professor, teaches the year-long political science methodology class that all entering graduate students are required to take. He also teaches classes on the role of ethnic, cultural, and (as he said knowingly with arched eyebrows) “other” minorities in international relations. Although he did not say so explicitly, it is obvious just from Asquith’s voice that he is gay. I wish someone would explain to me why it is that gay men—no matter what their ethnic or regional background—all speak with the same artificial, universally recognizable accent which they clearly did not have as small children. There is, of course, nothing wrong with being gay. [delete the penultimate sentence later, but leave in the ultimate]

For me, though, the highlight of the day was the talk by Barrington Briggs. I recognized him immediately from his picture on the back of International Relations: A Neo-Radical Interpretation, though he appeared somewhat older in real life. Of course, that picture was taken back in the mid-1990s. But even though he might look a little older now (as befits a full professor), the youthfulness of his spirit was evident when he spoke. He was, just as I anticipated, supremely self-confident with an incisive wit that some might mistake for mockery.

Right at the outset of his talk, he warned those of us here to study international relations that if we didn’t want to work too hard, we should tell him now and he’d supply us with one-way bus tickets to Bellevue, Washington, so we could study with Arch Faircloth at Gates University. There was no need to send us by air, he continued, since no matter how long after the start of classes there the bus took to arrive, we still wouldn’t have missed anything. Some in the room seemed a little flustered by this, but those of us in the know all laughed heartily. Yes, this was the Barrington Briggs I was hoping to find here.

In a more serious vain, Briggs told us that the political science department here at Charles observed the very highest standards of sensitivity with regard to the treatment of ethnic, cultural, and (I saw him glance at Professor Asquith as he too emphasized the word) “other” minorities. He went on to say that no sort of harassment or misconduct—sexual or otherwise—was tolerated here. This not only applied to relations between professors and students, but also—he wanted us to know right up front—between graduate teaching assistants and undergraduates. “We’ve had to get rid of a few bad apples in the past,” he told us. “And if we need to, we’ll do so again.”

It appeared to me that Briggs was eyeing Asquith while he said this. I think it appeared that way to Asquith too. There was clearly some bad blood between these two. Some might say Briggs was being needlessly provocative, but there is nothing wrong with being provocative for the purpose of eradicating racial or sexual harassment or misconduct, as far as I am concerned.

For the benefit of my future biographers, I wish to emphasize my principled viewpoint on this matter. Racial and sexual harassment and misconduct cannot be tolerated anywhere at any time. Even consensual sex between a supervisor and subordinate cannot be allowed since this involves an obvious conflict of interest. It is especially important that universities maintain the highest standards in this regard. For it is the university which creates the values to improve society. If those in the university do not maintain these high standards, the rest of society can hardly be expected to either. I am deeply gratified that Professor Briggs shares these principles with me, and that he outspokenly defended them. I did not, however, expect anything less from him.

I won’t describe any of the other professors. After they finished their presentations, sandwiches and sodas were brought in and we had the opportunity to talk informally among ourselves and with our new professors. I was deeply gratified that Professor Briggs knew who I was when I introduced myself to him. He said he recognized my name from reviewing the applications, and welcomed me to the program. I told him that I hoped I would be writing my dissertation under his direction. I decided not to mention my critique of his work that I wrote for Cohen back at Barstow. There really was no opportunity to talk about it anyway since other students and even other professors were crowding around him. Being the start of the new year, many of the professors had apparently not seen one another for several months.

After lunch, the professors all sat at tables around the room and the incoming grad students were able to consult with them about what courses to take. For those of us, like me, who just came in with our B.A. degrees, this process was fairly clear-cut: we had to fulfill all the course requirements for the degree. For those, however, who came in with M.A. degrees, the process was more complicated. They wanted to have some—or even all—of their previous work at the universities where they got their M.A.s count toward the course requirements here. I could here several of the Charles professors explaining that even though graduate courses taught elsewhere might have the same name as those taught here, their content could not possibly be similar. Some of these conversations grew quite testy; not a smart way for incoming grad students to start off.

As we each completed this process, we then went to the department office to be issued our office key. I’ll describe my office mates—my colleagues, as I need to get used to calling them—in my next entry, after I’ve had a chance to get to know them a little.