Sunday, August 21, 2011


My love she speaks like silence ...
She knows there’s no success like failure
And that failure’s no success at all.
Bob Dylan, Love Minus Zero, 1965

In Judaism there is the concept of rav hamuvhak - the identifying teacher. For example, one thinks of Plato as the student of Socrates or Margaret Mead as the student of Franz Boaz. In the world that I come from the teacher is the master of the student and the student bears the master’s mark. Thus, Israel Salanter was the student Rav Yosef Zundel who in turn was the student of Rav Chaim Volozin - as I am the student of my teachers, Rav Zechariah Fendel and Professor Jerry Hirsch.

Success for a teacher is to have students who bear his mark. In that sense, I have failed. But, as my father taught me, by sheer repetition, “we live in hope.” I still have work to do. Each day I shovel sixteen tons and what do I get? Another day older and deeper in debt. St. Peter don’t you call me, cause I can’t go. I owe my soul to the company store.
Merle Travis, Sixteen Tons, 1946.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Databases and DOplomas

Re: Renewal of the Ferris Library subscription to the Proquest Historical Newspapers Database.

Ferris State University currently subscribes to the six most important newspapers in the country including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Christian Science Monitor, the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. Over the past seven years Ferris students have accessed these databases 112,566 times. But these are hard times and the tenured historians have been asked to help our librarians as they face the “hard decisions” that have to be made. The question is, which ones can we do without? We have also been asked to suggest areas where more money needs to be spent to bolster any significant gaps.

One of the many Ferris billboards on US 131 reminds us that at Ferris students don’t get diplomas, they get DOplomas. The cost of these billboards, like the cost of our databases continue to rise. It is important for us to remember that without these billboards we would not be able to attract the DOploma seekers who pay our salaries. It is because of these billboards that Ferris is the fastest growing university in Michigan. Our local paper recently headlined a story on declining enrollments among Education majors, apparently because there are no jobs in Michigan for teachers. Our History Ed majors don’t need databases, they need jobs and the way Michigan is going to recover from our current slump is by slashing our education budgets, cutting teacher salaries and eliminating databases so that we can afford tax breaks for business. And it’s working. Forbes magazine recently reported that Detroit had a higher rate of increase in millionaires that San Jose! Last year alone Detroit saw an increase of 4% in the number of millionaires. Teachers don’t stimulate the economy, tax breaks do. It is obvious that we need lower taxes, not more teachers. That is why I have converted all my history courses into The Barry Mehler Show. I don’t need databases or even books, the show depends exclusively on YouTube videos. My focus is entertainment, not education. I urge our librarians to cancel all of our database subscriptions so that we can bolster our billboard advertising to insure a steady stream of students interested in DOplomas. Furthermore, cancelling these subscriptions would have the added benefit of giving our students more time for their Facebook pages.
[Forbes, America’s Fastest Growing Millionaire Cities 7/14/11:].

ps. No historical databases were used in writing this essay.