building CUNY Communities since 2009

Thank You


“Not to make it perfect, but more nearly right than wrong.”

-Robert Hunter


Dear Commons,

A little over three years ago I had the very good fortune to interview with a couple of guys at CUNY who were working on this little project called the CUNY Academic Commons.  The job was something called a ‘Community Facilitator.’  I had no idea what that meant.  That was ok because it turned out they didn’t really either.  Before the interview was done Matt Gold and Boone Gorges explained to me that the job was, in many ways, whatever I wanted to make out of it – so long as it built a community and helped share the work of the Commons.

At the time we pretty much were the community.  There were a handful of early adopters, the Commons team, and everyone else had been thrown over a shoulder and carried here by a subcommittee member. Each new member or blog or group on the Commons was quietly celebrated and looked after in the same way you freeze when a particularly beautiful bird lands next to you on a bench.  You’re excited but you don’t want to be so excited you scare them off.   In an effort to build some sense of camaraderie on the site I started this errant little blog called ‘Footenotes.’  It was the first real ‘Community Facilitator’ thing I did for the site.  While I did a lot of things after it in my broadly defined role as a Community Facilitator, it’s been watching the community grow through reading for Footenotes each week that I’ve come to understand this place and what the Commons really is for CUNY.

But, alas, where does this awkward preamble lead us?

For the past three years I have been given the enormous privilege of working with this team.  The embarrassing wealth of talent and heart that runs the Commons has been an inspiration for me and instrumental in my growth.  Every single meeting has been filed with humor and big ideas and a tremendous sense of purpose, so much so that I made sure to travel to NYC from Boston once a month for two years to make sure I could share in the energy and passion of this group.  The Commons team as taught me how to think about what’s possible in the world and where to set the bar for how a person ought to approach any project they care about in their life.  With that in mind, I’ve been given an amazing opportunity to do work I’m very passionate about and will be leaving the Commons as Community Facilitator.  To be sure, I still look forward to being an active member of the site.  Many thanks to George Otte and the Sub-Committee who help steer the Commons.  My sincere gratitude to Matt Gold, Boone Gorges, Christ Stein, Scott Voth, Sarah Morgano, Michael Smith, Dominic Giglio, and Andre Pitanga.

And, of course, thank you for sharing so much with us here on the Commons.




Got a Minute?

Given the community here on the Commons I sure many of you are already familiar with Aaron Swartz’s passing this weekend.  I don’t want to editorialize his death and I didn’t know him in any personal way.  I do, however, use many of the goods he produced for the digital community and cheered on his efforts to use this wonderful thing we call the internet toward what I always was felt was good.  His former attorney and colleague Lawrence Lessig wrote an eloquent piece about his friend and the terrible circumstances surrounding his death that I think reflects what many of us feel about it.  Alex Stamos wrote more pointedly about the prosecution’s efforts to ruin  Swartz and I also think his post deserves a serious read.   Aaron’s family and friends each wrote touching pieces about him personally and the enormous pressures he faced against both the government and his own depression.  The Electronic Freedom Foundation, BoingBoing, and online communities like Reddit (whose existence is largely indebted to Swartz) all spent some time publicly reflecting on his death, while other communities set to work protesting the circumstances they believe are largely responsible for his death.

How Swartz’s passing bears on larger issues such as JSTOR, Open Access, freedom and the Internet are things that everyone invested in those struggles are going to have to flesh out for themselves in the coming weeks and months.  For myself, if there’s anything immediately for me to take from it, it’s that the Commons community could do more to address the health of the university.  Though we all know this abstractly, it’s imperative to remember that depression is an illness.  In many cases depression can be treated.  Our university thrives on the energy and talent of many adjuncts and staff who may not have access to health insurance, making treating something that is often “easy” to dismiss like depression difficult.  Even for those in CUNY who do have access to health insurance and medical care, depression and other less obvious forms of illness (including stress) are easy to miss in friends in colleagues.

To that end I’ve created a wiki page “Health at CUNY” and if you have some time pitch in and share some links for your campus, neighborhood or even online.  My adviser from Hunter once told me that the only way to get around CUNY was to know who to talk to.  I’m certain there are tons of campus specific health resources that many of us have no idea about.  It’s a slow time of the year for the Commons so I hope to periodically revisit the page and remind folks to share it with newcomers.  Is there a gym in your neighborhood that gives a discount to educators?  Know of a yoga program that is free to CUNY staff at your campus? Anything for wellness is a fit for the page.  Does your school offer free counseling or rewards for quitting smoking?  Let us know about it.

Take care.

2012: Moments

Believe it or not we’re at the end of another year.  For the past three years this project of ours has grown from a scrappy fledgling into a vibrant and rich community.  Maybe this betrays some unhealthy lack of faith, or maybe at heart I’m still a barren cynic from the Texas plains, but I’m routinely floored every week at where this site has gone.  Every time I check out how many members we have or how many new blogs were started in a week I suspect there’s been a mistake.  The site says nearly 3,600 members? Someone file a ticket on Redmine!  400 groups you say? Boone, we’ve broke the code! In our salad days we had three or four bloggers who would diligently post, working hard to fill the blog column on the front page tirelessly.  Now I can barely keep up with it all.

It’s not just the quantity of our growth that’s impressive.  It’s the vitality of site and the depth of what we produce here that deserves some consideration.  It is a difficult thing to build and live in a community. You can raise a whole block of nice houses and they’ll never amount to much without people inside of them who are dedicated to creating a hood.  In the past I used to pick out five great blog posts from the year that deserved a long read over the winter break.  This year I’d like to show you a few beautiful moments on the Commons when we saw our community really come to life:

The Rise of the Personal – The heart of the Commons project has always been about connecting.  CUNY is big.  New York is big.  There are people at CUNY all over the city that you are never going to meet – or at least you weren’t going to.  If you stop to consider all of great ideas you’ve had in elevator conversations or chatting with a colleague down the hall you might then consider all of the ideas and inspiration you’ve missed just by virtue of where you spend your day.  This year I saw rush of new voices on the Commons, as well as some old ones, and realized that these are people I am getting to know.  These are people I never would have met otherwise, and yet, everyday we learn something new about each other and trade ideas.  Jessica Yood at Associations has been sharing her thoughts on everything from writer’s block to mindfulness.  Adam Wandt, Chris Stein, and Michael Smith have all shared moments from their personal life, their art and their love for CUNY through photography.  Helldriver continues to deliver some of the finest writing on music I’ve ever read.  Tony Picciano is always the first to break news from around the city and the nation to all of us here.  George Otte shares his passion for MOOCs and the possibilities available to us through digital learning.  I think I can safely say that conversations over at CUNY Math have been eye-opening for many of us and a gift to the site.  Impressively – this is only a meager list of the intimate fire-escape conversations we have with one another around the site.  When you pull the camera back a little for some perspective it’s truly amazing.

Loss and Change – For the first time, to my knowledge at least, the Commons team was regretfully informed that we had lost members of our community.  While any community has to eventually encounter the passing away of a friend, colleague or mentor, the folks on the Commons responded to these instances with heart and an eagerness to share.  Perhaps the most public of these losses was the passing of beloved scholar Neil Smith.   His work through the Graduate Center’s Center for Place, Culture, and Politics was celebrated by many communities the world over who left wonderful tributes and shared memories of their time with him.  Many in the CUNY Academic Commons community were personally moved by the passing away of Adam Yauch as well.   MCA was a New York City original, a pioneer of musical form, and a pivitol fixture in the coming of age of many CUNYites – Maura Smale articulated the feelings of many of us here on the Commons in a fitting tribute to MCA.

The New Internet – There were two events in our growth this year that have proven to be fundamental marks of our community’s character.  First, it’s impossible to talk about 2012 without talking about our year’s labor towards Commons in a Box.  From our first announcement of the news to release in November, the CBox project has been a dedicated effort to make what we do here everyday possible for all kinds of communities.  If you haven’t visited the site yet take a look at how other groups, from non-profits to bookstores, are using what we do here as a model for building their own communities.  The Commons makes the web local, it gives people tools to enrich themselves and those around them in ways that are unique to the place, time, and values of that community.  It’s real social networking.  To that end we saw the Commons come together this year to let congress know that our community rejected the hostile measures of internet legislation that was aimed at stifling the freedom possible with the internet.  The Commons protest of PiPA and SOPA spoke volumes about the core values that direct this community and I think that the two together point towards a deep understanding of what is possible in the world with the right tools.

Every week I look forward to combing through the site and seeing what new thoughts, stories and ideas are growing from it.  In 2012 the arc of our community’s growth swung sharply towards the rafters and I am tremendously excited to see what we accomplish and learn together in 2013.


Have a safe and wonderful New Years – I’ll see you in 2013.


Till next week.

Christmas Round-Up

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Hello Commons,

If Christmas is your thing – Merry Christmas!  As the year winds down I get to sit back and start prepping for my “best of” list for 2012.  This last week on the site we saw a big end of the year push from our cadre of bloggers here on the Commons.  Before I get into the blogs though I want to celebrate the release of Commons In A Box 1.0.  This week we finally emerge from beta!  Congrats Dev team!

This morning the New York Times had a great article up about the brick wall our students are facing as they slog their way through this economy.  More than ever, education is being undermined as a means of raising a generation up into a better life.  Where the Times leaves off, the Commons inadvertently picks up.  This week the site was packed with posts reflecting on MOOCs and their rise in modern education.  Never in the history of education has it been technically possible to educate so many people for so small a cost.  Yet we live in a time where all of the education in the world isn’t enough to salve the Great Recession’s resonating effects.   MOOCs can broadcast knowledge and skills but those candidates have to land somewhere to put them to use.

Tony Picciano put himself in conversation with The Chronicle as they got reflexive about MOOCs and their place in the new academy.  George Otte also dropped in this week to recap the year in MOOCs and look at the great range of cheers and fears surrounding them.  Bruce Rosenbloom brought us a great infographic about the changing classroom and where technology can take pedagogy.  Perhaps it is too late for Generation Y, but the Z’s are going have learning opportunities that were unimaginable even 10 years ago.  (Here’s a hint of where education is going.)

On a more uplifting note, the Brooklyn Zine Project is encouraging members to get involved in a benefit for the Sandy Hook tragedy.  I also learned that this week the Graduate Center has stress stations set up around campus to help sooth nerves and keep folks from breaking down.  We know it’s tough – keep your shoulder to wheel, grads!  If it’s noise that distracts you Mani Garcia has just the thing!

Finally this week my internet life has come full circle as my beloved Dinosaur Comics made a cameo appearance on the Commons.  Yes!

Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to watch Eyes Wide Shut.  That’s how we do Christmas.

Till next week.

Round Up!

Last week the Commons was back in full force after sleeping off Thanksgiving and gearing up for the end of semester crunch.  The blogs were humming and I still can’t believe how many folks are writing here compared to back when we started.  It’s been a pleasure watching this community of bloggers grow.  Let’s see what the Commons was up to last week:

Tony Picciano hasn’t had enough of election fever.  While the rest of us are still trying to break our daily habit of checking fivethirtyeight, Tony’s brought us some news from City Hall.  Apparently Mayor Bloomberg gave Hil a ring and asked her to run for Mayor.  I’m almost at a loss for words.  Almost.  This isn’t high school, you can’t just call up the Secretary of State and give her advice.  I’m pretty sure the diplomatic representative of the most powerful nation on earth has lot more to do than field phone calls from the Mayor.  I mean, I get that New York City is the capital of the world, but that kind of makes me think the mayor must have fibbed to Secretary Clinton’s handlers:

“Can I speak to Secretary Clinton? What? Oh, uh, well yeah, it’s, uh, a matter of security regarding New York…”

In any case we all suspect she has other things on the agenda.

(Also – for those who caught Tony’s William Buckley post, may I present Allen Ginsberg defeating William Buckley with the power of Krishna.)

Adam Wandt dropped in and shared a photo he risked life and limb for.  I love to surf now after a couple of summers in Hawaii but I can’t take diving.  I get too freaked out thinking about what’s really going on when you’re down there with a tank.  With that in mind, Adam’s story of computer failure in the deep was nerve racking.  Glad you made it up safe and thanks for sharing!

Helldriver dusted off a couple from the vault and posted them here for us.  If you’re not making time for Helldriver posts by now there’s really nothing I can do for you.  It’s interesting to read work from 2003 about New York and realize just how much has changed in even that short of a time.  10 years really isn’t much time at all everything considered, but I remember smoking in restaurants and walking briskly to my apartment on Avenue C.

Like reading about metaphysics? The Philosophy group at the GC is shaping up for spring.  Prefer lighter fair? You still have time to check out Brooklyn College’s Zine exhibit.

And there was this gem: Preach.

Till next week.

Round Up!


Hello Commons,

I got to meet some of you Friday at CUNY’s annual IT Conference.  The Commons crew was there talk about what we’ve been up to for the past year.  We also spent some time talking about our workflow process for the site.  It was a treat to see some familiar faces and introduce the site to others who haven’t come aboard yet.  The IT conference is always a fun opportunity to meet friends around CUNY and learn about some of the amazing online work being done for the university.  If you couldn’t make it this year, do make plans to come in 2013.

In the spirit of the IT conference and CUNY’s efforts to position itself as a leading site of digital learning, I highly recommend Bruce Rosenbloom’s fantastic post last week on opportunities to publish on online learning.  Online learning is a topic close to many people’s hearts here on the site and this post is sage advice for those looking for a direction to point their scholarly focus on for study.  Speaking of online learning – George Otte had another post up at Tributaries, this week looking at money and MOOCs.  It’s an interesting peek at where the money comes from for MOOC platforms and how investors hope to gain from the MOOC momentum.  For bonus points you’ll also get schooled on Bloom’s Taxonomy.

There was a little CUNY on televsion this week as David Nasaw sat down with The Daily Show to discuss his new book ‘The Patriarch.’  The Boston Globe calls Nasaw’s latest ‘magisterial‘ and it was good see Nasaw and Jon Stewart as I’m sure many CUNY students are big fans of both.  While we’re talking about TV the Copyright & Fair Use blog updated us this week on UCLA’s legal footwork to protect educational streaming video.  If you like seeing CUNY represent on television you’ll love what the CUNY Academic Commons team debuted at the IT Conference.  

Artem Altman reminded the Commons why you should join  The blog has three good reasons to sit down and build your profile, but the Commons’ Help Wanted blog has plenty more.  Tireless Community Facilitator Scott Voth has been on a tear posting great opportunities around CUNY and New York City for those of you looking to put your talents to work.


Till next week!

Your Weekly Round-Up! 11/18


Look,  I know.  It is kind of sad that Hostess is going out of business.  I realize now that I took it for granted that Twinkies and Cupcakes would always be there in the bodega, looming over the marginally healthier peanut-butter and oat bars, begging me to buy one and enjoy a delectable wave of confectionery nostalgia.  It’s true that the first bite of a Hostess cupcake immediately feels like being 11 years old again.  As an adult I’d often buy them and peel the top off, holding the chocolate (sic) skin by my fingertips and eating  it as one might savor an exotic treat from some distant, cloudy utopia.  The right is blaming the unions, the left has pointed out that senior level salaries were up an astonishing 300%  before the precipitous fall of this grocery store Oedipus.  Either way Hostess is merely another penny tossed into the well of American history.  It wasn’t so long ago when Montgomery Wards folded.  It was only in the last two years that Kodak collapsed.  Wards, Kodak, Hostess…Romney.  A whole bizarre version of America is being swallowed by the maw and sucked down into the dark, endless gullet of ontic non-being.  Very few freshman in your classroom ever rolled down a window in a car or used the phone book either.  In the end our loss of Hostess treats will only make them sweeter than they ever could have been.  Our hearts will be tender while our pancreases soldier on, newly unburdened — sadder but wiser.

Speaking of Mitt Romney (for what I pray will be the last time, so help me), Mittens reappeared in the news this week to mollify beleaguered b/millionaires still smarting from money misspent.  Romney blamed his loss on Obama’s cunning Secret Santa Strategy , wherein he bribed the poor, the young and the not whites with delectable government incentives.   Tony Picciano shared some thoughts on poor losers that deserve a nod.  Though I’m not entirely sure I believe it, it’s worth noting that hacker group Anonymous announced that they foiled a Romney/Rove plot to steal Ohio this election.  He did seem awfully upset at Fox on election night.

The Commons’ own WordPress savant, Dom, was blogging this week about what is a Child Theme in the WordPress universe.  This is an exceptional post for those of you interesting in the platform that helps support the CUNY Academic Commons.  Considering how pervasive WP is out there on the internet this is a handy post to read and come back to from time to time.

It’s been an extraordinarily busy week at the Commons with an even busier week ahead.  So with that I think we’ll wrap it up here.

Till next week.



So…Is Everyone Alright? Round Up 11/3

cc licensed image “life saver” by flickr user Didbygraham

Hey Commons — are we alright?

I can see from the blogs that it’s been a tough week for a lot us.  Sarah Morgano put together a great post with the many resources available to you through CUNY and NYC.  We’re encouraging folks to use the comments section to list other resources or information as they become available.  If you’re doing alright but you neighborhood is still flooded/powerless/wrecked/etc please note that if you plan on voting your poll location may have changed.  Gothamist has posted a list of relocated polls for the upcoming election.  You can check your address here.  Though many of you have your charity of choice, if you’d like you can easily donate to the Red Cross by texting ‘SANDY’ or ‘REDCROSS’ to 90999.

I posted a rather cavalier Footenotes early Monday before the storm truly hit.  I think many of us assumed this would be similar to Irene; menacing but mostly toothless.  It didn’t help that a lot forecasting maps looked as though Sandy might hook around the city, though it did admittedly spare us the brunt of the assault.  By the afternoon it was clear we were looking at something much different altogether.  There has been a lot written about New York’s structural problems in dealing with these kinds of storms.  The magnitude of Sandy prompted Mayor Bloomberg to endorse President Obama and sent Bloomberg Businessweek to the balcony shouting ‘It’s Global Warming, Stupid.‘  Andrew Boyarsky posted, sharing his sense of shock at the magnitude of the destruction.  Tony Picciano shared that he lost power, but was able to continue blogging and put up some heartbreaking photos of the aftermath. Cheryl Branche checked in with the community and marveled at the true heroism of folks like the NYU nurses who cared for newborns and those critically ill alike as they evacuated.  Tony found a great site where Hunter students shared their own experiences.  Bruce Rosenbloom took the opportunity to invite a discussion on academic continuity.  Many of us were on Twitter keeping each other company through it all.

And yet the day after the storm us lucky ones were back on the streets buying coffee and newspapers, surveying the damage, and wondering how to help.  From the horror of September 11th to general whimsy of the ’03 Summer Blackout we manage, if we’re fortunate, to get up and put our shoulder back to the wheel.  All over the East Coast folks looked around and went back to work.  Here on the Commons more than a few discussions broke out.   A.W. Strouse did some thinking and writing on Susan Sontag’s holy libido.  George Otte returned to Tributaries to discuss why it’s time for CUNY’s Institutional Repository (Spoiler: Because it’s the right thing to do).  In the spirit of that discussion Bill Ashton posted a great video on What is Open Access?  Tracy Robey even had some good news for History Ph.D’s

The beat goes on…


Till next week.


Rock You Like A Hurricane Round Up

cc license image ” ” by flickr user Kansas City Distrcict


Coming to you live from Zone A in Brooklyn — The late edition of Footenotes.  I was surprised to learn that my building is literally across the street from the ominous evacuation zone.  That’s mostly because the only thing across the street from me is Greenpoint’s fabled treatment plant and the attendant cluster of metal scrappers.  Normally I delight in living in the midst of Ridley Scott-esque urban blight, it scratches some weird itch I got growing up in the south, but today’s no-man’s land is a little spooky.   For those of you riding out the storm in equally surreal settings I highly recommend You Are Listening To New York – real time NYPD police chatter played over ambient music.

So now that you’re all set up and looking for things to do while you ride out the storm, why not have a look at last week’s blogs!

Open Access week just wrapped up and each day the crew over at Open Access posted some great thoughts on the subject.  I was particularly inspired by the great map of MIT’s Open Access  downloads and seeing what an impact OA can make.  Just because the official Open Access week is wrapped up doesn’t mean we can’t still celebrate OA!

Robert Duncan checked in at Transformative Games to mention that the CUNY Games Network will be presenting at the 11th Annual CUNY IT Conference.  Know who else will be at the conference?  The CUNY Academic Commons team!  Come meet the crew and hear about what we have in store for the future of the Commons.

Tony Picciano found this eloquent letter from an Olympian taking Ann Coulter to task for referring to ‘retards.’  I appreciate Mr. Stephens’ restraint and generosity.  Since I’m not exactly bound by the same sense of decorum I’m happy to report that Coulter’s latest book is tanking and that she’s been shunned by her former publisher.  I have it on good authority that her New York social calender is getting awfully drafty.

And finally this week…  Perhaps it was the tempest afoot, or maybe the impending holiday, but for whatever dark stirrings it took Helldriver returned with Mephistopheles!  Er, wait, no that says Metamorphoses.  In any event, Helldriver was back on the Commons after what felt like forever with a marvelous post.  I’m always vaguely aware that I’m only using about 2% of what New York has to give.  I try to ignore that nagging feeling I always have that there’s a secret network of delicious occasions dotted around the city that I’ll never, ever know about.  Helldriver goes out of his way to prove that.

(Edit:  I want to apologize.  I wrote that little blurb about Helldriver before I finished reading his post.  You see, part of my job is writing this round-up and I love it but I wouldn’t feel right spending a morning really sinking into a post and calling it a work day.  In hindsight I feel a little foolish about what I wrote because it seems pithy.  When someone cares so much about craftsmanship, honesty and and tearing off a little piece of themselves for, among other things, our entertainment it deserves a little better.  In short; Helldriver has outdone himself here, it is well worth your time.)

Till next week…I hope!

Round Up! 10/21

cc license image “untitled” by Tony Fischer Photography

Everyone’s neck deep in mid-terms and election season drama.  Tonight’s debate promises to be a grand finale of sorts as we eagerly sit and look out for a treasure-chest of memes.  “Binders full of women” dominated the news last week.  Personally, I was more charmed by the rap-battle-esque stage production.  Whoever thought taking away the podium would make a politician look better was either a moron or far more subversive than they get credit for.

Here on the Commons last week there was plenty going on outside of politics.  Well, not quite.  Tony Picciano pulled a great op-ed from The New York Times about the end of economic growth in America.  If you can read the Times piece, but if you’re busy be sure to check out Tony’s thoughts on it.  They’re not entirely related but there’ something in Robert Gordon’s alarm bell that reminds me of Fukuyama.  It’s certainly something to think about.

The Center for Place Culture and Politics posted about Vijay Prashad’s recent talk at the Graduate Center.  The talk itself is fascinating but I wanted to point out that the CPC’s great use of the Commons and WordPress.  Hosting video and Soundcloud through the site has drawn a lot of traffic to their page and shared the work with us in the Commons community.  If you’re interested in doing something similar with your own site be sure to check out Soundcloud and talk to the Community Facilitators.

Jean Gapetz posted a great set of links of literary maps and tress around New York.  The DHDebates blog is always packed with cool things like this.  Even if you’re not enrolled in the course you should definitely head over and comb through the wonderful collection they’ve put together.

Asif Patel pointed us towards some research suggesting that yoga may reduce some of the complications associated with cancer treatment and help improve quality of life in already healthy folks.  You’re in luck because the Commons already has it’s own Yoga Forum.  (In hindsight it looks like we lost our small yoga community on the Commons.  Come back! You were just ahead of your time.)

Finally this week, it’s OPEN ACCESS Week! Librarians and other faculty across CUNY and many other schools are raising awareness about Open Access issues and what they mean for higher education.  Be sure to check out the Open Access mixer this friday!

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