“Lover”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #7

Lover feels like a forgotten album. Assuming we count the Folklore and Evermore as the same album era (as suggested by Taylor’s Instagram post announcing Evermore), the Lover era is the shortest one–Folklore appeared just 11 months after Lover‘s August 2019 release. And really, it feels like the bright, summery era of Lover ended much sooner than that, once the pandemic lockdowns cast their shadow in March 2020. But it would be a shame to overlook this album. Yes, the song quality varies, and sometimes it feels like Taylor is throwing musical ideas at the wall to see what sticks. Even though she misses the mark on occasion, the strongest tracks on the album are outstanding examples of Swift’s artistry.

Lover (released 2019)
“Combat, I’m ready for combat… I say I don’t want that… but what if I do?

“I Forgot That You Existed” (6.5/10): My feelings about this opening track definitely aren’t hate, not quite love, and a bit more than indifference.

“Cruel Summer” (9.5/10): The second song on Taylor Swift albums tend to be pretty great, and this one is no exception, even if the verses outshine the chorus just a little.

“Lover” (4.5/10): I’m sorry, Swiftie fans whom I can see picking up rocks to stone me, this slow and saccharine song makes me want to reach for the “skip” button.

“The Man” (9/10): Here Taylor delivers not only an energetic track, but also punchy and incisive social commentary that I’ll probably mention every time I teach muted group theory.

“The Archer” (10/10): I think I might be in the minority, but that’s OK; I’m ready for combat to defend this track, which contrasts a minimalist style that generates tension with some of the most introspective lyrics Swift has ever sung.

“I Think He Knows” (7.5/10): Sometimes “Lover” feels not like an ode to love, but an ode to infatuation, and it’s that sense that prevents this quite listenable track from becoming a sleeper hit.

“Miss Americana & The Heartbreak Prince” (9/10): I love epic Taylor, and this is epic Taylor; it’s tough to write allegorical political commentary that also works as artistry, but this track strikes that balance.

“Paper Rings” (6.5/10): A fun and energetic tune, but I prefer the stronger song that obviously inspired it (Hilary Duff’s “Breathe In, Breathe Out”).

“Cornelia Street” (10/10): This is one of the most brilliant songs of the album, with the effective build-and-release of tension that often characterizes Swift’s best work; the use of piano here is particularly effective.

“Death by a Thousand Cuts” (9/10): The music on the verses goes for epic and makes it there, and I enjoy the gently unnerving rhythm of the strings in the chorus.

“London Boy” (8/10): A novelty song, yes, and another “ode to infatuation,” yes, but this one is a nice dose of pure (campy) fun.

“Soon You’ll Get Better” (5/10): I feel badly giving such a low rating to such a heartfelt song, but it just doesn’t do it for me; fans of The Chicks might get more mileage out of it.

“False God” (4.5/10): I get what Taylor was going for here with the sultry saxophone, but it just doesn’t quite work.

“You Need to Calm Down” (7.5/10): It’s one of the most quotable and memeable Swift songs ever, but there’s a bit of irony that the queen of declaring her opinion and expressing her emotions (see album #3, “Speak Now”) now takes the role of telling others to keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves.

“Afterglow” (5.5/10): This bleh song screams, “Hey, in another album era, I would’ve been a thoroughly forgotten bonus track on the deluxe edition.”

“ME!” (8.5/10): I’m going to come down on the side of this much-criticized song; it’s playful, peppy, bright, and cheerful, glowing with some of the best attributes of the Lover era.

“It’s Nice to Have a Friend” (4.5/10): If this song didn’t have the high-pitched chanting thing going on, I think I’d like it a good deal better; the sentiment sure is cute and sweet (and it even mentions video games!).

“Daylight” (8/10): I’m a sucker for the “here’s what we learned today!” songs at the end of Taylor’s albums, and this is a strong one, filled with the expansive sense of hope that’s part of a new day (or new era in life).

Lover mean = 7.39 (standard deviation = 1.94)

“Reputation”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #6

Of all Taylor’s albums, I’ve had the most complex relationship with Reputation. At first, I didn’t much care for it, but over time, my opinion of it has greatly improved. It’s perhaps the most consistent and most cohesive of her albums (statistically demonstrated by the fact it has the lowest standard deviation! #statsnerd), even though throughout much of it her tongue seems firmly in her cheek. This isn’t so much “Taylor Swift” as it is “Taylor Swift’s reputation“; she plays the media caricature of herself here while “old Taylor” is dead. At at the end of this epic rock opera, the final track points unambiguously toward her ‘resurrection’ on a “New Year’s Day.”

Reputation (released 2017)
“Nothing good starts in a getaway car…

“… Ready For It?” (8.5/10): Let the games begin indeed, as Taylor throws down perhaps her strongest opening track on any of her albums.

“End Game” (9.5/10): I once derided this song, but I was wrong; somehow this epic combo of Future, Sheeran, Swift, rap, and pop really works (even though it seems it shouldn’t), foreshadowing the optimistic turn at the end of the album, but first…

“I Did Something Bad” (8/10): … Taylor begins her descent into madness in an energetic track that I suspect contains more than a bit of sarcasm.

“Don’t Blame Me” (8.5/10): The “crazy Taylor” of Reputation compares her lover to a narcotic, and the explosive chorus really lifts this track.

“Delicate” (9/10): In contrast to her (pre-Folklore) tendency for big, bombastic emotions, Taylor goes for understated and a bit coy, and it pays off in what seems like the most successful single from this album.

“Look What You Made Me Do” (7/10): Musically there’s about four different songs going on here, and they work well enough together in this vengeful tune, although it was probably a mistake to release this as the album’s lead single; that crazy music video, though, is easily a 10/10.

“So It Goes” (9/10): Maybe I’m in the minority, but I think this is a hidden gem that lyrically and musically expresses the overall tone and atmosphere of the album.

“Gorgeous” (8/10): One of my rules of music is that I don’t like to hear children speaking in a song; this fun song, which begins with Blake Lively’s kid saying “gorgeous!”, is the one exception I tolerate.

“Getaway Car” (10/10): This masterpiece provides a climax and plot twist for the whole album (signaled by a rare key change no less, I think the first main album one since “Love Story” all the way back on Fearless) as crazy Taylor steals the money and the keys and drives away.

“King of My Heart” (8.5/10): And after a brief but reflective pause, this song opens with Taylor perfectly fine and alone; then a new character, the king of her heart, shows up, with the chorus and bridge so powerfully expressing Taylor’s affection for him.

“Dancing With Our Hands Tied” (6.5/10): This song is listenable enough, but never seems to achieve full liftoff; I like the light/fire/water imagery in the bridge, though.

“Dress” (6/10): This and the prior track are, in my opinion, the OKish songs on the album; they’re fine enough and fit thematically, but when I put in Reputation, it isn’t because I want to listen to these songs.

“This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things” (8.5/10): Taylor strikes back at Kanye in a raucous number that was surely a crowd-pleaser as the closing song on the Reputation tour.

“Call It What You Want” (9/10): As Reputation draws to a close, Taylor lays down her weapons and her armor, seeming to turn away from relational drama and toward a quieter and stronger expression of romantic affection.

“New Year’s Day” (9.5/10): It’s mostly Taylor and a piano in this brilliant final track, a song that is both totally like and totally unlike “Long Live” that closed Speak Now; her synthesis of both songs in the Reputation tour serves as a powerful illustration of her musical genius.

Reputation mean = 8.37 (standard deviation = 1.13)

“1989”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #5

Ah, 1989… a much-loved and groundbreaking album that, to my ear at least, has stood the test of time thus far. But I confess I have a strong weakness for this album… I love 80s pop, and I love Taylor Swift music, so put them together… yeah. Shut up and take my money.

1989 (released 2014)
“Remember when you hit the brakes too soon? Twenty stitches in the hospital room…

“Welcome to New York” (5.5/10): It’s strange that such a strong album puts such a weak first track forward; the chorus works OK, but I don’t know what she was thinking with the music for the verses.

“Blank Space” (7.5/10): I know, I can feel Taylor Swift fans picking up rocks to throw at me, and this track has grown on me over the years, but I’m still left with the feeling that it doesn’t do enough of the emotional build-and-release that characterizes Taylor’s best work.

“Style” (10/10): If I think “Blank Space” is overrated, “Style” is underrated, but perhaps I like this one because of its strong 80s sensibilities that are like musical catnip to me, kind of like…

“Out of the Woods” (10/10): … which is a powerful, encompassing song that would’ve been right at home in the year 1986, and the video full of elemental imagery is pretty cool too; to my ear, one of her best songs ever.

“All You Had to Do Was Stay” (9/10): Taylor’s fifth tracks have a reputation for vulnerable lyrics, and no, this isn’t another “All Too Well,” but in an album crowded with popular songs, it would be a mistake to overlook this one.

“Shake It Off” (9/10): It’s quite deservedly her most iconic song after “Love Story” and therefore one destined for airplay in American culture for the next 40 years, but for me personally, it was so overplayed at its height that it’s the one Taylor track that gives me a “yeah, been there, done that” feeling.

“I Wish You Would” (10/10): Again, maybe it’s my appreciation for 80s ballads, but I adore this hidden gem that I don’t ever hear anyone talk about.

“Bad Blood” (5.5/10): “Welcome to New York” suffers from a decent chorus with underbaked verses, and “Bad Blood” has the opposite problem.

“Wildest Dreams” (6.5/10): I know this is a favorite of many, but it doesn’t do much for me; I wonder if perhaps it’s just a song that resonates more powerfully with female listeners.

“How You Get the Girl” (8.5/10): This carefully-paced track might win the award for the most pure fun on the album.

“This Love” (7.5/10): It’s amazing how this song is both sedate and epic at the same time, and hello water imagery!

“I Know Places” (9.5/10): This song exudes the sense of being on the run in the dead of night, and the click of the tape recorder at the beginning and end provides great auditory framing.

“Clean” (8.5/10): More water imagery (that I think calls back to the Fearless album in at least a couple of ways) appears in this strong conclusion to a deep, creative album.

1989 mean = 8.23 (standard deviation = 1.62)


I’m going to try to post the remaining album reviews in the coming days… because I’m also planning to post a ranked list of all her songs. The list is nearly done, and it includes songs beyond the main albums (e.g., since we’re in 1989 here, let me just say that “Wonderland” from the deluxe album is one of my favorites). So, I guess both of you reading this can look forward to that soon!

Delaying the Tenure Clock May Be an Inequitable Response to COVID-19

When I did a Google image search for “equity,” this was the first hit. I’ve seen this sort of picture before, and you probably have too. Given the Interaction Institute for Social Change has made the image freely available for use, it probably has appeared on every university campus in America during some presentation on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

(Interaction Institute for Social Change | Artist: Angus Maguire. interactioninstitute.org; madewithangus.com)

The message of the cartoon is clear: Rigidly identical standards may perpetuate inequity if we don’t account for differences across personal circumstances.

With this in mind, I’d like to consider how universities are approaching the tenure and promotion process during the COVID-19 pandemic. The most common response seems to be allowing assistant professors to extend their tenure clock by a year. However, this may create inequity for those on the tenure track, particularly for those in groups already underrepresented in the professoriate.

Recently, members of the University of Massachusettes ADVANCE team, a group “focusing on offering equitable campus support for faculty members and fostering inclusion amid major shifts to higher education and deep uncertainty about the future,” proposed a series of recommendations for helping faculty navigate COVID. Regarding tenure, they recommended:

Automatically delay tenure, promotion and reviews. Institutions should immediately slow the timing of decisions on tenure and reappointment to account for the new and unexpected tasks faculty members have had to shoulder. COVID-19 has affected research productivity in many ways, resulting in reduced access to labs, travel cancellations and suspension of human-subjects research, among other issues. Tenure delays can help mitigate such negative effects of COVID-19 on women faculty, who are already navigating gender biases in evaluation processes.

https://www.insidehighered.com/advice/2020/09/04/advice-academic-administrators-how-best-support-faculty-during-pandemic-opinion

Let’s break this down. The first sentence observes that tenure-track faculty have encountered novel demands on their time and energy. In other words, assistant professors haven’t been vacationing during the pandemic. At my university, our Provost emphasized in an email to all faculty that the pandemic is “mandating our intense focus on teaching during all of 2020,” acknowledging “our planned progress on scholarship may be slowed.” In addition to whatever demands the pandemic has imposed on their personal lives, assistant professors have set aside research in order to train and transition to distance learning and hybrid classrooms.

Increased teaching workload isn’t the only challenge to research progress. The ADVANCE team notes that assistant professors often receive diminished research support from their universities, as well as more limited opportunities to collect data, present papers, and network with colleagues. For those whose scholarship requires longitudinal research, travel abroad, or field visits, the effect may be so devastating that assistant professors must reinvent their research programs.

Moreover, these burdens aren’t experienced equally across the professoriate. The pandemic appears to reduce the research productivity of women, perhaps because they are more likely to bear household and childcare responsibilities. The pandemic itself has hit ethnic/racial minority communities particularly hard, and faculty from underrepresented groups may face greater barriers to research productivity during the pandemic than their white peers.

Thus, in the classic equity image above, the tall person on the left may represent tenured faculty, who experienced plenty of financial support and opportunities for research without the calamity wrought by a global pandemic. Some fortunate assistant professors may be like the person in the middle, lacking that same support yet possessing research programs and personal privileges that enable them to weather the pandemic’s effects. And other assistant professors, perhaps especially women and members of racial/ethnic minorities, may be so burdened by the pandemic’s demands that they are like the person on the right who can’t see over the fence.

The solution offered by the ADVANCE team is to extend the tenure clock, and the University of Massachusetts isn’t alone in that recommendation. Several universities, including my own, are enacting similar policies (University of Washington, for example). The logic seems to run along these lines: Perhaps the tenure and promotion guidelines recommend ten publications in peer-reviewed journals, but due to the pandemic, an assistant professor will only have eight publications by the time the clock expires. An extra year could make up for the year lost to the pandemic, enabling them to reach that threshold of ten publications.

At first glance, this may appear like equity as depicted in the picture—faculty receive more time than usual, in the hope that after that bonus year they’ll rise to the standard. Although well intentioned, this solution may not work for all tenure-track faculty, and it may facilitate inequity rather than curbing it.

Tenure and promotion mean many things in the life of a professor. Promotion often brings a pay raise, perhaps a substantial one. Beyond finances, obtaining tenure affords status and prestige in one’s discipline. It brings greater freedom to express opinions on controversial matters, both academic and institutional. Of course, it affords job security, which is becoming ever rarer in academia and may be under particular threat during the pandemic.

Delaying tenure means delaying all of these things. Even a retroactive pay bump, which the ADVANCE team suggests, doesn’t fully ameliorate that. Moreover, an extra year on the clock may not be enough to revive research programs strongly affected by the pandemic.

An extra year fails to acknowledge the challenging work assistant professors have already given to their universities. The current cohort of tenure-track faculty, which is more racially diverse than cohorts in the past, has shifted their research to teaching and service, and done so quickly and unexpectedly. Many have done this while navigating increased demands in their personal lives. Resources and opportunities for scholarship are more limited than they were even a year ago. For some, the pandemic may make it difficult or impossible to restart their prior research programs.

And yet their tenured colleagues and administrators, a less diverse group who did not face these challenges, still wants to hold today’s assistant professors to the same standard of productivity. Perhaps that is like the person on the left wondering why the person on the right can’t see the game. Giving a year extension may be like handing that person a pair of binoculars rather than a box on which to stand.

Although a year delay in the tenure clock may serve the interests of some faculty, for others it is an incomplete solution that ‘rewards’ overworked faculty, who may feel the effects of burnout, with the ‘opportunity’ to do another year of work before they receive the fruit of their labor.

A more equitable solution might consider the faculty member’s individual circumstances, including the nature of their research program and the effect of the pandemic on it. Institutions could require faculty members to include a statement about this in their tenure and promotion application (and ask those evaluating the application to consider it). Likewise, external review letters might include that information, as well as guidance on how the pandemic has influenced the institution’s research support and work priorities.

An alternative approach has received little consideration, as far as I can tell: Rather than affording faculty an extra year to reach the standard, perhaps it is time to reconsider the standard in light of our unusual circumstances.

A recent article quoted Dominique Baker, assistant professor of education policy at Southern Methodist University: “What difference does it make if we say, ‘Instead of having 20 publications, you need to have 15’? We have total control over what this looks like, and if we don’t want people to be burned out, why don’t we adjust our expectations a bit in light of what’s happening around us?”

One objection involves the precedent this might create. To that point, for the sake of equity, perhaps we should reconsider standards again if we ever encounter another situation as pervasive, deleterious, and demanding as the pandemic. Another objection could be that relaxing tenure standards may weaken the perceived prestige of the school, but this line of thought conflates research output with faculty quality. When circumstances improve, so will productivity of all faculty.

Some might observe that delaying tenure could help university budgets in the short term during a time of fiscal crisis. Yet balancing institutional finances on the backs of junior faculty would serve as clear evidence of inequity across professional ranks and roles.

During the pandemic, assistant professors have shouldered much of the labor that is keeping universities afloat in these turbulent waters. Considering all possible ways to adjust the tenure process equitably signals to assistant professors that universities value that work. For many, and particularly those from traditionally underrepresented groups, such adjustments could be the stack of boxes that will let them see the game. Without such equity, we risk diminishing the future contributions of an entire generation of assistant professors.

“Red”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #4

Well, with the surprise announcement that her eighth album (Folklore) is dropping tomorrow, it seems like as good a time as any to drop my reviews for Red!

Overall, Red is a great album with great tracks, but I think sometimes fans focus on the standouts and forget some of the forgettable tracks. It is a great album, but it’s also an uneven album, resting in the long shadows of Speak Now and 1989 on either side. And yet, buried within rests the greatest song ever recorded by Taylor Swift.

“Red” (released 2012)
“Dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light…

“State of Grace” (8/10): In this effective album opener with a great rolling beat, we’re far from the epic pageantry of the end of Speak Now, instead crashing into a world of busy streets, traffic lights, pain, and shades of wrong.

“Red” (8/10): I like the song as a whole and “driving a new Maserati down a dead-end street” is classic middle-era Swift imagery, but for the first time in a couple of albums her vocal tone flirts with whininess.

“Treacherous” (9.5/10): The song’s worldview is deeply at odds with my own beliefs about interpersonal relationships (no–we aren’t “just skin and bone trained to get along”; yes–it is a choice to “get swept away” into the arms of a lover), but that aside, the haunting chorus (which occurs late enough in the song that you could mistake it for a bridge) really elevates the power of this track.

“I Knew You Were Trouble” (8/10): This song brings a harder edge musically than anything prior, signaling the country-Taylor era has reached deep twilight and the full transition to pop-Taylor is nigh.

“All Too Well” (10/10): Unfortunately, I won’t give this one higher than a 10. But for this song, and this song only, I will break my one-sentence-per-song rule. So many Taylor Swift fans consider this to be her best song. They’re right.

“All Too Well” is a sonic and lyrical masterpiece. First, the sound–from the soft intro and the gentle chord that concludes it, to the subtle lack of resolution in the ending, and everything in between, every instrument and note works purposefully yet carefully to create emotion. And oh does the emotion build, and I love how it catches the listener by surprise. Suddenly you’re no longer in the sweet passion of young love, but instead caught in a maelstrom of betrayal. And in that maelstrom Taylor drops maybe her most powerful lines ever: “Then you call me up again just to break me like a promise! So casually cruel in the name of being honest; I’m a crumpled up piece of paper lyin’ here, because I remember it all too well…”

That lyric is great, but I fear we ignore so much other great wordplay and imagery here. That little town street; getting lost upstate; autumn leaves; the embarrassing childhood photo album on the counter; the scarf in the drawer; and one of my favorites, dancing ’round the kitchen in the refrigerator light… the lyrics deliver punch after punch right in the feels.

I so much enjoy every 10/10 Taylor song, but hearing this one is like moving up to another level, like entering another dimension. It’s the perfect fusion of country Taylor and pop Taylor. Not every song can or should be this, but here in this song, Taylor produced her greatest work so far–and the thing was never even released as a single!! Perhaps someday she’ll top this, but for now, it is the absolute pinnacle and showcase of Taylor Swift’s art. Speak Now may be the better album on balance, but Red has the best song of them all.

“22” (8/10): “Happy, free, confused, and lonely at the same time” is such a perfect way to describe being 22, but someone diminished this song for me when they pointed out that Taylor often slurs the word “22” so badly that it sounds like “swimsuit.”

“I Almost Do” (5/10): One of the most unremarkable and forgettable songs in about two albums.

“We Are Never Getting Back Together” (7.5/10): I thought I liked this one more than I do, but after listening again, I think it’s almost a prototypical example of a Taylor song that I like OK enough but wouldn’t seek out when I’m looking for a song to play.

“Stay Stay Stay” (7/10): Taylor goes all in for playful and cute with this one, and it generally works.

“The Last Time” (9/10): I might be in a minority by giving this one a high score, but I like Swift and Lightbody’s voices together and the strong bridge kicks it up a notch.

“Holy Ground” (6/10): It’s the poster child for an OKish song that’s nobody’s favorite song.

“Sad Beautiful Tragic” (2/10): This lengthy, anemic, and exhaustingly repetitive song makes even “Last Kiss” look energetic.

“The Lucky One” (6.5/10): A poignant morality tale of the dangers of Hollywood, with themes she would revisit more personally and powerfully three albums later in “The Archer.”

“Everything Has Changed” (8.5/10): Another strong duet between Taylor and a male singer (this time Ed Sheeran), but I think “The Last Time” has just a bit more gravity to it.

“Starlight” (7.5/10): A thematically and musically upbeat song, and it’ll be awhile in the discography until Swift sounds this optimistic about romance again.

“Begin Again” (7/10): In contrast to the sweepingly epic songs that conclude Fearless and Speak Now, Taylor goes for reflectively thoughtful in the conclusion to Red; it mostly works, although it’s a track I might admire a bit more than I enjoy.

Red mean = 7.34 (standard deviation = 1.90)

“Speak Now”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #3

So now we come to Speak Now. And let me warn you upfront: This is my favorite of the albums… maybe, just maybe, my favorite album of all time. So, the scores are going to be pretty high, and yet… my favorite Taylor song is not on this album; that’s still to come.

Speak Now (released 2010)
“I had the time of my life fighting dragons with you…

“Mine” (8.5/10): By Speak Now Swift had established her reputation as a storyteller, and this album’s opening song signals that she’s going to play to that strength.

“Sparks Fly” (9.5/10): With Taylor in the pouring rain, it’s like “Fearless” (the song) version 2.0, and it kicks off maybe the best streak of songs on any Taylor Swift album.

“Back to December” (10/10): Some of Taylor’s critics (e.g., my wife…) charge her with narcissism, and yeah, they’re probably right; but in this perfectly-composed song (and occasionally elsewhere), she demonstrates her capacity for self-reflection, regret, and even apology.

“Speak Now” (9/10): The title track of the album seems relatively forgotten these days, and that’s a shame, because it’s a great example of Taylor Swift storytelling (and the giggle in one of the final renditions of the chorus is a great touch).

“Dear John” (9.5/10): It’s quite a feat that Taylor sustains such powerful emotion over the course of a song that runs over six and a half minutes, and she does it with formidable confidence.

“Mean” (10/10): This super-fun song foreshadows track #6 on a future album, when indeed she is living in a big ol’ city and shaking off the hate, hate, haters…

“The Story of Us” (9.5/10): I think this is one of the more underappreciated Swift singles, and although I can see how some might not like the “next chapter” transition in the middle of the song, for me it works and fits with the “love is a story” theme that stretches across her early albums.

“Never Grow Up” (8/10): I intended to rate this one lower, but then I listened to it, and was struck by the simplicity of Taylor with only a guitar for instrumentation; if Speak Now were a concert, this would be the song midway through where the singer sits down on a stool with a spotlight on her and chats with the audience for awhile.

“Enchanted” (10/10): Strong, passionate, sweeping, epic–it’s what I enjoy hearing from Taylor Swift, and on an album full of incredible songs, it’s a standout.

“Better Than Revenge” (9/10): I confess this song is a bit of a guilty pleasure since I don’t think it’s a great idea to revel in revenge 🙂, but my appreciation of it is held back by how Taylor overplays her hand–impugning the sexual character of her targets was a step too far.

“Innocent” (8.5/10): A bit of a sleeper on the album, Taylor’s olive branch to Kanye is sweet–too bad that didn’t last (even if it did spawn one or two good songs later).

“Haunted” (9.5/10): Remember back in “Sparks Fly” how Taylor wanted something that would haunt her when her lover wasn’t around?–well, now he’s gone, and that’s exactly how she feels.

“Last Kiss” (4/10): The only real clunker on the album, this 6+-minute song might have been decent if it had been about half as long; in other words, Taylor doesn’t pull off another “Dear John” with this one.

“Long Live” (10/10): The closing track of Speak Now succeeds where the closing track of Fearless failed, offering an expansive, epic song that sums up the theme of the album, sticks the landing, and yields one of the best Taylor Swift songs of all time.

Speak Now mean = 8.93 (standard deviation = 1.55)

Further report on TCU compensation

During the 2019-20 academic year, TCU’s Faculty Senate endorsed a report finding that TCU’s full-time faculty compensation lags behind other nationally-ranked private universities.

The AAUP recently released new data on faculty compensation, so a subsequent analysis examined that data to see if that was still the case. This analysis also considered data from IRS Form 990 filings to get a fuller picture of compensation across the comparison schools.

The Board of Trustees’ decision to permanently reduce employee compensation (by reducing the retirement contribution rate by over 30%) also motivated the report. An Open Letter expresses faculty/staff concern about this decision, and as of this writing that Open Letter has been signed by almost 40% of full-time TCU faculty.

The full report (which serves as an addition to the 2019-20 Senate report) is available here. TCU 360 has also published an article that summarizes and visualizes some of the data presented in the report.

The report offers the following summary: “The reduction in the retirement contribution further diminishes TCU’s lackluster compensation packages in comparison to other nationally-ranked private universities. In contrast, recent history indicates that TCU has spent lavishly on the compensation of executive and athletic officers, at levels exceeding almost all other comparison schools.”

“Fearless”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #2

Taylor’s first album was strong, but Fearless is a big step up in quality, memorability, and epic sweep. Here, she establishes the foundation for everything she’s done since, although in some ways she’s still finding her feet as an artist.

Fearless (released 2008)
“We were both young when I first saw you.
I close my eyes, and the flashback starts...”

“Fearless” (7.5/10): #TS2 leaps out of the gate with a dance in a rainstorm in a best dress, effectively setting the theme and tone of the album.

“Fifteen” (7/10): A bittersweet reminiscence of youth and its transience–a theme Taylor picks up again, and sometimes better than she does here.

“Love Story” (10/10): It remains Taylor’s most iconic song even today, and deservedly so–it’s the moment when she vaults from pretty good to outright amazing, and seldom looks back.

“Hey Stephen” (6/10): A decent change-of-pace song that sits in between some better songs, but the “shine, shine, shine!” in the bridge is a bit cheesy for my taste (and I say that as someone who likes “ME!” …).

“White Horse” (8.5/10): The emotional punch at the end really elevates this ballad.

“You Belong With Me” (9.5/10): A Swift classic that generated an outstanding and cute video, and then her VMA award… with Kanye grabbing the mike and starting their feud, eventually leading to more drama drama down the album road.

“Breathe” (9/10): A bit of a forgotten treasure; allowing the orchestral strings to carry the emotion of the song (rather than a steel guitar, as she might’ve done if this were on Taylor Swift) foreshadows her shift to pop.

“Tell Me Why” (4/10): And after several steps forward, she takes a step backward with a song that’s reminiscent of the forgettables on the debut album.

“You’re Not Sorry” (3.5/10): My low rating here may say more about me than Taylor or the song, as this is the kind of folksy, slow country song that I don’t care for.

“The Way I Loved You” (6.5/10): I find the lyrics in the stanzas to be a bit labored, but hey, water imagery at 2 AM is vintage Swift.

“Forever & Always” (8.5/10): The emotion is intense as Taylor recounts her feelings about Joe Jonas’ famous 27-second breakup call, although I could wish for a bit more inspiration from the bridge.

“The Best Day” (7.5/10): As a father of daughters, this sweet song hits me in the gut; your mileage may vary.

“Change” (4.5/10): When it looks like you’re straining to be epic, you’re not actually being epic; and so although #TS2 is an excellent album, it doesn’t stick the landing the way all of the upcoming albums do.

Fearless mean = 7.08 (standard deviation = 2.10)

“Taylor Swift”: A Professor Reviews Taylor Swift, Album #1

Yeah, I’m a 41-year-old male, and I listen to way too much Taylor Swift. And I’m also a social science professor, so that means I like to analyze things in the social world.

So, over the course of the past year, it only makes sense that I took some spare time to (a) rate all of TSwift’s songs on a 1 to 10 scale (for us quantitative types) and (b) to give due respect to qualitative forms of analysis, I also wrote a one-sentence review of each song.

(Can I put this on my annual report for the university? Probably not… *sigh*… although it would’ve been fun to include this in the packet when I went up for tenure… I’m sure that would’ve sealed the deal… good thing it turned out OK anyway…)

Now it’s time to share those reviews with the world, and no, I’m not putting them through peer review; just posting them on my blog! We start with the debut album (Taylor Swift), probably my least favorite of her albums, but the one that started it all (and with much to commend it).

Analysis notes: 1-4 = not very good; 5-6 = decent; 7-8 = good; 9-10 = great; 10s are reserved for true Taylor masterpieces. I did think about things like musical and lyrical quality, but ultimately the numbers represent how much I enjoy the song. So if you disagree, more power to you, and feel free to let me know why you think I’m wrong! Of course, we’ll also be looking at means and standard deviations for each album (how could we not???).

“Taylor Swift” (released 2006)
“Don’t know what’s down this road, I’m just walking,
Trying to see through the rain coming down.”

“Tim McGraw” (6/10): An acceptable ballad that establishes a floor for better ballads later on.

“Picture to Burn” (8/10): This song has great energy and the banjo injects a good dose of fun.

“Teardrops on My Guitar” (7/10): A classic Taylor song and a strong example of her country artistry, although I wish it built to a better climax.

“A Place in This World” (9/10): An underrated gem that always reminds me of its role in the 2010 Ramona and Beezus movie.

“Cold as You” (3/10): Yes, I know it’s the first of the much-lauded “Track 5” songs, but still, I find this one rather grating and I would skip it if it came on Pandora.

“The Outside” (5/10): A pleasant enough song that’s listenable, but also not particularly memorable.

“Tied Together with a Smile” (5/10): I never think about this one but when I listen to it, it’s OK enough.

“Stay Beautiful” (5.5/10): The lyrics on this one are uncharacteristically indistinct, particularly in comparison to later Taylor (something about a guy named Cory, and a radio? I dunno…), but overall it’s a forgettable song that’s maybe a bit more fun than the other forgettable songs on this album.

“Should’ve Said No” (7.5/10): A worthy hit single that aurally and lyrically echoes “Picture to Burn,” but for my money, I think “Picture” is the slightly stronger song.

“Mary’s Song (Oh My My My)” (8/10): In the debut album she hadn’t quite mastered the art of being epic, but in this forgotten treasure, she’s getting there.

“Our Song” (8.5/10): The song that ended the original version of the album is sweet, fun, and catchy, and I confess I enjoy songs that are self-referential (the song concludes with Taylor sitting down to write the song).

“I’m Only Me When I’m With You” (6/10): The beat, fast pace, and steel guitar make it a bit more memorable and energetic than much of this album’s other songs.

“Invisible” (3.5/10): I confess that young Taylor can sound whiny to my ear, at times, and she does here; the song is also so dull that halfway through I found my mind wandering.

“A Perfectly Good Heart” (5.5/10): It’s a decently OK song but not much more than that.

“Teardrops on My Guitar (pop version)” (7/10): Oh look, it’s a slightly different version of a song I’ve already heard on this album; but what “pop version” of a song still has steel guitar in the background?

Taylor Swift mean = 6.30 (standard deviation = 1.77)

COVID Learning Options for the Fall: Just a Few, Simple, Possible Scenarios

After reading and hearing about possibilities for the fall semester, both in the higher ed and K-12 worlds, I think I finally have a grasp on the scenarios I and my students might face in the coming months. As I understand it, in order to be competent and caring instructors, all we need to do is develop syllabi for each of the following possible futures:

  1. Everyone is back on campus, likely wearing masks, but otherwise things are “back to normal,” with face-to-face classes.
  2. Similar to #1, but there is still a cap on large gatherings, so big courses may need special adjustments.
  3. Health guidance doesn’t allow students to return to campus, so everything is online again, as it was in Spring 2020.
  4. All classes are broadcast online, so that some students are in class on campus, but other students can watch online if they choose not to come to campus.
  5. There’s a COVID outbreak in the late fall, so we start a week early and end at Thanksgiving.
  6. There’s a COVID outbreak in the early fall, so we start late and end just before the New Year’s Day ball drops in Times Square.
  7. There’s a COVID outbreak in the middle of the fall, so we push back the fall semester into the spring, and the spring semester into the summer.
  8. We decrease residency on campus by bringing smaller numbers of students to campus in waves, while others learn at a distance.
  9. Same as #8, but an advanced machine learning algorithm uses contact tracing data to determine which students and faculty are most at risk and moves them back and forth between online and face-to-face sections across the course of the semester; pretty cool.
  10. Same as #9, but the machine learning algorithm achieves true artificial intelligence and tries to take over the world; learning must continue while trying to avoid its killer deathbots [not cool].
  11. Bring only first-year students on campus; everyone else learns from a distance.
  12. Bring only the seniors to campus so they can enjoy their final year; hope scientists invent a vaccine for senioritis, too.
  13. Online instruction for the first half of the semester, but around Fall Break a skateboarding teenager travels back in time and stops the COVID outbreak from ever happening in the first place (and, after a scare, ensures his parents still fall in love); instruction continues face-to-face after that.
  14. Same as #13, but the teenager carelessly leaves a sports almanac in the past, enabling an unscrupulous bully to attain vast financial power through gambling; ensure equity of instructional access despite severe economic disparities among students.
  15. A COVID outbreak occurs in the tech industry and the Internet shuts down; stock up on paper, papyrus, stamps, envelopes, and maybe homing pigeons so distance learning can continue.
  16. Naturally enforce social distancing by having all classes meet between 3 and 6 am; only the most dedicated students (and faculty) will show up.
  17. Daycares and K-12 remain shut down but higher ed can open; prepare face-to-face lectures so they are equally engaging for toddlers, teenagers, traditional-aged college students, and non-traditional learners.
  18. Same as #17, but higher ed remains online only too; let the kids use their Tik Tok prowess to spice up the Zoom lectures with group dances to music “from the 70s to now!”
  19. Same as #9 and #18, but the artificial intelligence takes over Zoom; conduct course lectures in a new language the instructor invents so the AI can’t decipher it and gain new knowledge.
  20. Consolidate some learning in large online lectures, but then have students meet one-on-one with faculty, like an honors tutorial; to compensate for their extreme fatigue, the university will install permanent caffeine IV drips in faculty members’ arms.
  21. Hold classes in virtual reality; is Second Life still around? Or can we adapt Minecraft or Fortnite for that?
  22. Same as #21, but include a fun optional sidequest where students can use their nerd knowledge to discover the location of three keys and three gates that lead to an Easter egg hidden deep in the virtual world.
  23. COVID triggers a total meltdown of the world sociopolitical order, leading to poverty, anarchy, riots, famine, and worldwide nuclear war. As humanity enters a Dark Age that might last for millennia, be sure students know how to contact the professor, how to use the course management software, and how they can demonstrate measurable achievement of learning outcomes, even if both instructors and students are hiding deep in underground bunkers.
  24. Same as #23, but an authoritarian regime arises and starts forcing young adults into arena battles to the death. Consider how students who are reaped for the games can nevertheless experience equal access to high-quality active learning experiences that meet accreditation standards.
  25. “HighAdapt” option that blends any of #1-#24; if the university had to switch fluidly between any of these options with little advance notice, what would we do? How would we enact flexibility while still achieving course learning outcomes? Of course, the important thing is to have a plan that covers all possible scenarios; we need to assume responsibility for student learning, because why would we ask them to be responsible for it? That would go against everything that college should be about.

Finally, I also note that this extra planning requires just a bit more work from faculty, and so those without tenure may have to put research and creative activity on hold for awhile. That’s OK; because if faculty can’t get to their scholarship, the university is more than happy to push back the tenure clock by a year or two. In exchange for the professor’s extra teaching labor, certainly the university can delay the opportunity for financial reward, professional growth, and career stability; that’s really the only fair thing to do.