Sunday, May 29, 2011

Shocker! Entitled Silverback Confesses He was a Slacker.

David Rubenstein, who just retired, I BET much to the relief of all his colleagues, writes an article in which he stars himself as a giant asshole who did no work, and now wants to rub everyone's faces in it.

Here's some delishus flava:
Sometimes my teaching began at 9:30 a.m., but this was hardship duty. A night owl, I preferred to start my courses at 11 or 12. With an hour or so in my office to see an occasional student, I was at the (free) gym by 4 p.m. Department heads sometimes pleaded with faculty to alter their schedules to suit departmental needs, but rarely. Because most professors insist on selected hours, to avoid rush hour and to retain days at home, universities must build extra classroom space that stands empty much of the day.
What a guy, right? You're just betting he was a joy on committees:
Committee meetings were tedious but, except for the few good departmental citizens, most of us were able to avoid undue burdens.
And here, he shows what a prince he was to the ladies:
Most faculty attended academic conferences at taxpayer expense. Some of these were serious events, but always allowed ample time for schmoozing and sightseeing. A group of professors who shared my interests applied for a grant to fund a conference at Lake Como. It was denied because we had failed to include any women and so we settled for an all-expenses-paid week at Cambridge, England.
Full text here if you haven't barfed yet.


  1. I read it; I won't read it again. He has no idea how his own university works. If he's representative of his generation, field, institution, then good riddance.

  2. We made it a page in, then retched. What a profflake; no doubt he has a book deal catering to Weekly Standard readers already in the works, talking about how great the Adjunct Revolution really is.

  3. What a flaming asshole. I don't mean just his self-confessed slacking. I mean his "see what I got away with? That's why nobody should ever get tenure! Even the ones who do research it's usually worthless crap about stuff no sane person would care about or pay for! Tenure is Stealing Money From Taxpayers! Like all those lazy-ass teachers!"

    Oh, and we're all ideologically brainwashed too - most profs vote Democrat. And that must be because they're brainwashed and not because they're, say, ethical human beings with a functioning brain.

  4. And in what world does a prof only teach two classes per semester (our load is four classes plus REQUIRED committee work)?!? Either the University of Chicago has some really cush standards for its profs or this guy was on some cash cow grant that obviously didn't require him to do anything for the money. This guy is a total ass - and after this article, why would he deserve to have emeritus status at his institution? He basically admitted to defrauding them for years...

  5. What did you expect from the conservative "Weekly Standard?" Any mofo who quotes Thomas Sowell respectfully has to be on the Right, and I'm sure his co-workers thought he was a lazy slob as well.

  6. What. A. Schmuck.

    2ndheartmom, in the world of R1s, professors do indeed teach a mere two courses per semester. Typically they have many more students in one section than do the professors with a 4/4 load, though.

    I hope that upon reading this article, the University of Chicago seeks a way to strip him of his Emeritus status.

  7. @2ndheartmom

    There are a lot of 2/2 jobs out there, mostly at R1s. For a few years I taught 1/1 in exchange for some administrative work, but the same folks who would be alarmed at what Rubinstein writes about would be alarmed at a LOT of stuff in the profession.

    But it's all out of context. For a few years I taught 13 week semesters. It sounds like I had 6 months off, but I did other things for the university during that time, and not a week went by that I wasn't in some form of prep for the coming semester.

    My pals - most of whom are outside of the academy - only see the short hours of actual classroom time. I've never been successful explaining what 'else' I do to anyone - not even Mom.


  8. @2ndheartmom

    As others have pointed out, 2/2 is the standard in the R1 world I inhabit. Of course, not all 2/2 loads are created equal. I teach one grad seminar, two undergrad seminars, and one undergrad lecture a year. Anything more would be considered a hardship by my colleagues. I think it is so ridiculously cush that I sometimes trade an undergrad seminar for an extra lecture course, which some of my colleagues think is crazy talk.

    On the other hand, my institution only gives raises for research/publication output, promotion, and outside offers--no cost of living or other inflation-based bumps--so there is a serious tradeoff there that not everyone might be happy to make.

    Other 2/2 places might have one seminar and three lectures a year. It all depends. Big grants buy you down from that, not down to that.

    But if you want to be mad at the iniquities of the system, then get mad at this: that actually wasn't Rubinstein's base load. Chicago is on quarters, so his actual load was 2/2/0, probably all seminars. Most quarter system R1s run on a 2/2/1--I used to teach that load--one grad seminar, one undergrad seminar, and three undergrad lectures a year--in a previous job--but Chicago, Stanford, Northwestern and a select few other quarter places are on the 2/2/0. Great work, if you can get it. You can be, if you are so inclined, a research/publishing machine when you only have to teach two ten-week quarters a year, but that is what such places expect.

    Not everyone is suited to that, or probably wants that. One of the infinite number of things that blow in this profession, in my view, is that people like Rubinstein who want to slack off often land in research jobs for which they aren't particularly suited, while a lot of great researchers wind up in 2/3 and 3/3 jobs that hamper their productivity. It would be much better if the job and the person could be matched better.

    Anyway, Rubinstein is a tool for all the reasons stated by others, and because his lazy ass took a research-first job from someone who could have actually done something with it. So now, after fucking the dog for a career, he decided to grab a big advance to tell some half-truths that will get the anti-intellectual right all hot and bothered. Fuck him, I say, but he'll find a ready and willing audience on AM radio and other such venues.

  9. Oooops, should have checked the article first. UIC is on semesters and 2-2, so that was Rubinstein's load. But what I said about UofC and others is still true, 2-2-0 is the standard there.

  10. I'm at the Canadian equivalent of an R1, and also have a 2/2 load, but I find that producing all of the research that is expected of someone in a position like this one to be a lot more complex and difficult than just "doing what interests me." I dunno, maybe I'm just not as quick and crafty as Rubenstein, but I work many more hours than he suggests is normal.

  11. I'm not sure whether many people understand exactly how people in other professions spend their work time; the main difference for professors is that a lot of our working hours are location-independent (though I realize that varies with both teaching load and departmental culture). That's definitely a perk. I've also talked to enough colleagues who once worked in other professions to know that there's plenty of on-the-clock goofing off in many professions; just because people are in an office doesn't mean they're working. The thing about our work (like much salaried professional work) is that it really does have to get done some time, and only so many corners can be cut (though the author seems to have found the maximum number possible).

    This guy does, indeed, sound like a slacker of the first order. It's a bit hard to tell, since both his first and last names are common (and the faculty page at his uni spells his last name Rubenstein, not Rubinstein), but he doesn't seem to have been a very productive researcher; I can only find the one book on Amazon. A system that insisted on evidence of continued research productivity after tenure in return for continuing the 2/2 teaching load would have caught him (though whether I like the idea of inflicting him on more students as a penalty, I'm not so sure).

    However, much as I'm outraged on the behalf of all of us in higher ed, I think his slimiest move comes toward the end, where he moves on to discussing K-12 teaching and tenure as if faculty in those positions enjoy the same conditions he's outlined. That's just outrageous.

  12. @Cassandra:

    You bring up an interesting idea, when you suggest that he should have been forced to show continued productivity or risk losing his 2/2 post-tenure. I like it. A lot. There are a lot of ways a system like that could work, and it wouldn't have to be punitive, although it could still be used as you describe to root out the slackers.

    One could imagine, for example, that people who decided that their active research careers were winding down might cycle on to a higher teaching load in the years before retirement in exchange for merit pay or some such. That way they would still be carrying their weight, just in a different way than before, when they were keeping the department's research profile up.

    Likewise, there could be the option to cycle on and off the higher teaching load, depending on what was going on in one's life at that moment. Coming off a book, for example, I might not want to jump right in with another full-blown project, but I have to or forego raises. If I could get a raise in exchange for a higher load for a year or two while I geared up for a new book project, I would likely take that deal, provided I could cycle back down when the research pace picked up.

    It doesn't solve the job crisis, but every course that is taught by someone on a higher-load cycle, is one less exploited adjunct, or one quarter of an exploited adjunct less. Or something like that. And it also has the virtue of reflecting the realities of a research career, which isn't always moving full throttle ahead. The big problem with places like I am at is that we have to behave as if we are always pedal to the metal, or lose face.

    And a lot of Rubinstein's schtick absolutely reeks of someone who became the butt of some nasty jokes around his department at Circle Campus, oops, I mean UIC, and now is going to make some quick cash while getting back at those who mocked him when he was still around.

  13. Also, the Lake Como thing sounds so bullshitty to an outsider, but there happens to be a world-famous research center there for faculty in the arts and humanities that is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. So lots of people organize conferences and meetings at the Bellaggio center, just as they might at Harvard or wherever. The location is nice, and the dining hall rocks, and if you are a senior person in a humanities field, I absolutely recommend applying for a fellowship there, but it is 100% legit. But Rubinstein made it sound like they were having the meeting at a resort hotel. That's just fucking dishonest pandering, that is.

    Besides, other professions choose fun locations for their meetings too. Because my research is sometimes of interest to people outside of the academy, I've been invited, from time to time, to address non-academic professional meetings. Now maybe I've just been lucky, but those meetings always seem to be at fancy resort hotels, sometimes in exotic locales, very much in-season. So to pretend like academics are somehow guilty of gaming the system for fancy trips, is just shockingly disingenuous. He'll get away with it, of course, because that's what people want to think.

    Hey Strel, want to meet me in Chicago with your van? I'll bring the duct tape, the bailing wire, the hand cranked electric detonator, and the conductive metal clips.

  14. @Archie: what you describe makes a lot of sense to me. In fact, we have something approaching that for longer-term members of my department, since the load under which people were hired has varied over time. Since I'm not on the tenure track myself, I don't understand all the ins and outs, but I think that at present junior faculty who are in the process of earning tenure automatically get a 2/2, but tenured faculty (maybe just the longer-term ones, or maybe everybody; I'm not sure) vary from 2/2 to 3/3, and do something along the lines of 3-year research plans, which need to be fulfilled to keep the 3/3. I've probably got some details wrong, but that's the gist of it.

    I think the AAUP's plan to convert contingent to tenure lines (which I realize is almost certainly pie in the sky) might provide another opportunity to create a system like this. Among other things, it would result in the creation of teaching-intensive positions at research universities, and, one would hope, some discussion of what those positions should look like (I'd argue for 3/3 plus a substantial amount of service and a modicum of research, perhaps with the option to reverse those polarities and/or reduce the teaching load if progress on the modicum of research warranted, but I'm sure that, realistically, a lot of the positions would end up being 4/4 or even 5/5, in which case a bit of service would probably be all anyone could reasonably handle), and how they should be evaluated (i.e. not by student evaluations alone). With a clearer idea of what a teaching-oriented position should look like, and what doing it well would look like (and obviously there are already models at SLACs and CCs), one would then be in a position to consider the possibility of movement back and forth between the research-oriented 2/2 and the teaching-oriented 3/3 (or 4/4 or 5/5) over the course of a career. We've already got something of a model in the movement between teaching/research-focused periods and administration-focused periods (chairs and, at least in older models, Deans and Provosts), which basically represent a rebalancing of duties to focus for a time on higher-level service activities; I'm not sure why we couldn't do the same with the other two "legs" of the stool. The key thing would be to have good methods for evaluating the effectiveness of all three activities, and some sort of system of rewards and incentive that would reward those who do well in any of the three arenas, and punish the slackers (while it has its downsides, I think a production-based-raises-only system might do a pretty good job of that over time, since inflation would eat away at the salary of someone who didn't pull his/her weight in at least one of the three arenas).

  15. Oops. "which need to be fulfilled to keep the 3/3" above should read "which need to be fulfilled to keep the 2/2."

  16. I am so sick of these mofos who want to kick the ladder they climbed out from under the people on the lower rungs. He and Mark Taylor can bite me. I'm on a 2-0-2, and between a gazillion grad students, advising, committee work, huge classes, and national-level professional service, find myself plenty busy.

  17. The thing that needs to be acknowledged amongst tenured professors is that many of us could, if we wanted to, work less than part-time, because to a large degree we structure our own workload. But goofing off is no more prevalent in academia than it is in other professions, whether public or private. Is there some sort of assumption that 9-5 people don't goof off? I could literally go into work 40 hours a week and get less done than I do being there 17 (which is about what I usually spend there during an average semester).

    There are some truths about my job, however, as a tenured professor, even if I am at a completely underfunded state college:

    If I wanted to, I could do my job very adequately and not get fired and work a complete total of maybe 20 hours a week for 32 weeks a year. This is a fact. It would require that I assign less work, say "no" a lot, do zero scholarship, and not give a shit about what people think of me. But I could definitely do that and still never even be in remote danger of getting fired. Lots of other people don't have that option.

    Another thing, which is a truth that burns many in the humanities to admit (I cannot speak for other disciplines)--conferences are not worth the money that universities pay for their professors to attend. Is there anyone out there who really thinks that the state is getting its dollar's worth out of that $1500 it costs to send you to Vegas to talk about whatever to whoever? Seriously? We ought to view conferences as what they really are: a job perk. Inessential. It doesn't cost a fucking thing to write a paper and submit it for publication instead. It's just a lot less fun.

    And so many of my peers, unfortunately, don't even take the conference experience seriously, presenting half-assed work because they want to booze it up and meet with old friends and not pay for it. Job perk. And often, a complete racket. Am I going to one this summer? Yes. Will I enjoy myself, both at the conference and seeing the sights? Yes. Intellectually and socially I'm really looking forward to it. But I'm not going to tell myself it's somehow essential to my job or that it's going to make my state a better place because I'm going. It would actually be better for my career and for my university if I sat on my fat ass and wrote something for publication from the get-go. But I make shit and have shit health insurance and haven't gotten a raise for years and years. I'll take that $1500, thank you, which is just about the amount the university cut from summer pay last year as opposed to the previous one.

    In the end, though, I think that reactions to charges that we "don't work for a living" sometimes seem a case of the lady protesting too much. The more we pay attention to this, the more we try to explain ourselves and how hard we work, the more we draw attention to the issue, when people aren't ever going to understand anyway.

    You know what? I could work less, but I don't. I have a work ethic because I have respect for myself and I care about what other people think of me. I care about doing a good job. We should admit to ourselves that we could in fact, like the author of this article, indeed put far less into our jobs if we wanted to. The other fact is that most of us don't do that.

    Just because tenured professors can slack off doesn't mean they do. But we don't do anyone any favors by not admitting that our jobs could be just exactly as "cushy" as the author's if we let them.

    If we only cared about ourselves, and weren't ashamed of doing nearly nothing for our paycheck.

  18. I certainly agree that professors aren't the only people who slack off at 4 pm on Friday or enjoy themselves at a relaxing conference once in a while. However, it's not fair to compare faculty (often state employees using federal resarch money) to people in private industry. Taxpayers have no choice but to fund universities once the election is over. Therefore, faculty should be held to a higher standard with regard to how the earn and spend the taxpayers' money.

  19. I went to a conference that was at a resort casino and I thought to myself "WTF? Taxpayers find out about this, we're screwed." Now that I'm the schmoe that has to organize a national conference, turns out that it makes excellent business sense to hold it at locations like these - trying to book a national conference in a convention centre in a city with a major airport hub involves booking at least 3 years in advance, and more like 5 years if it has its own major research or government organizations that generate their own conference activity. Las Vegas is a great place for a conference because they offer substantially lower conference costs (I guess from prior experience conference centres with attached casinos know that conference goers are going to fatten up their coffers in other ways), so the conference registration fee isn't going to bust your annual expenses stipend in one blow, they don't threaten you with a six-figure penalty if X number of hotel rooms aren't booked, and most importantly, they've got the actual hotel room space to fit everyone into the same building, either above or attached to where the conference meetings are actually taking place.

  20. The taxpayers are paying less than 13% of the cost it takes to run my institution, and the cuts will make the level of state support even less. I don't feel particularly beholden to them. This whole idea that we are spending "taxpayer dollars" is bullshit.

  21. F&T,

    Amen to that. When I taught at a public R1 our percentage was about the same--14% if I recall correctly. The taxpayer is paying arguments are mostly empty. The taxpayer is offering a minor subsidy is more like it. And if you take into account the various public subsidies that private institutions get, the difference between a University of California campus and a private university is negligible.


    I agree with much you say, but many conferences do fulfill a useful function beyond boozing it up with your pals. Young scholars get to gain visibility, and a certain amount of collaborative work (not to mention the work of the societies that organize the conferences, if it is a national conference) occurs there as well. Could that be done by conference call? Maybe, but probably not as efficiently. Sure, there are some junket conferences, but the vast majority of humanities and social science conferences are held in cold-weather cities in the off-season, when hotel and conference space is cheaper. I like Montreal as much as the next guy, but a March conference there could hardly be called a tourist excursion.

  22. Archie,

    Amen to that. In the next two years among other things I have conference in Wisconsin in Feburary and Toranto in March.

  23. Archie and F&T, I'm not up to speed on state budgeting for public universities. I thought state legislatures provided about half of the funding for a school but maybe it's less for an R1 and/or a school with a large endowment. In addition, there's federal and state financial aid to consider. All that money goes into the pot too. Am I way off on this?

  24. Maybe I'm doing conferences wrong, but I get a ton out of them. I get new ideas and resources I need for my scholarship and teaching, I've made some important connections with people who have served as mentors and helped with publication, heck, I went to a session a while ago that taught me how to write a decent cover letter to get a job (something that nobody at my home university seemed to think was their job). I barely leave the hotel while I'm at a conference, let alone see any sights. Nobody pays a penny to help me get to a conference, so I sure wouldn't shell out the money if it wasn't worth it.

  25. Read the entire article and this guy is a scumbag, but he seems to miss the point that while his pay is subsidized by the taxpayers, his "cushy" schedule is subsidized by the work of graduate students and adjuncts that do the majority of the teaching at R1s. They are the ones that fill those "empty" buildings during the 9-5 work day.

  26. @Beaker

    You are describing the situation at regional R2s and below and in poorly managed state systems. Systems with big flagship R1s--Michigan, California, Virginia, and many, many others, including where I used to teach, have been aggressively pursuing a strategy of reducing the percentage of their budget that comes from the state for at least twenty years now, and in some places longer than that. Once it became apparent in the 80s that tax revolts of various sorts were going to jeopardize budgets, those that could went what I like to call semi-private.

    The net result of this is that at a lot of these places, almost the only thing that actually comes from the state is the payroll, with virtually everything else having long since been privatized. This, perversely, means that when legislators want to show what tough motherfuckers they are when it comes to those wasteful state universities, literally the only thing they can actually touch are salaries and benefits. So they do. And thus people like F&T are forced into punitive salary and benefit givebacks, because there is nothing else those deeply concerned legislators can fuck with.

    So yeah, you are pretty far off, or maybe we should say a little out of date.

    And as for the financial aid and other ancillary payments, private schools get those too (that was part of what I was talking about before) so if those monies mean that proffies have a greater responsibility than, say, lawyers not to fuck off on the clock, then it applies just as much to private university faculty as it does to those at public institutions.

    But that argument only goes so far. Conagra takes way more from public coffers than universities, and I don't see anybody telling them that they need to stop their employees from wasting photocopy paper, or playing solitaire on the clock, because they owe it to the sainted taxpayer.

  27. @Archie:

    Well, my point is not that conferences are useless. My point is that by and large they are inessential and not worth the money.

    "Visibility" at a conference is not nearly as valuable as the "visibility" that publishing in a decent journal will provide. And attempting to publish in a decent journal actually requires a lot of work, as opposed to many of the conference presentations I've seen.

  28. I'm with noriver: I've found conferences a very efficient way to stay at least somewhat in touch with the larger profession while teaching in a 4/4, no-research-required position. I realize that my pages of conference presentations aren't worth as much as a few good articles (which I don't have -- something I'm trying to change), but I'd be far, far more out of touch -- and thus even further away from producing publishable articles -- if I hadn't been regularly attending conferences. For my department (which has provided some funding for such trips -- in the neighborhood of $500-$800 most years -- as long as I'm presenting), they're a relatively cheap way to keep me somewhat up to date, certainly cheaper than even a one-course study leave/reduction. And I, too, find them valuable enough that I pay out of pocket for additional conference travel. I do choose my conferences carefully, usually attending those on my side of the Mississippi, leaning toward the mid-size subject/period specific ones rather than the huge clusterf*cks (unless the clusterf*uck is being held within a few hours' journey), and scheduling archival work afterward when I can. But even if I only go to hear other papers, meet people, and browse the book exhibit, I find them worthwhile.

    @Ben: what Archie describes is true for my large, generally well-regarded state system as well. In fact, the steep reduction in state funding over the last few decades is the main reason why tuitions have risen equally steeply over the same time period.

  29. @Stella:

    I hear you. I just disagree. Publishing in a decent journal, especially for the less experienced scholars out there, usually involves getting a lot of brutal feedback from as many people as possible. For grad students, especially, but also for the minty fresh out there, they may not have a wide enough circle of acquaintances from whom to solicit the kind of feedback that really improves a piece. Sure, the advisor and people in the department can help, but to really make the quality leap needed for the top-flight journal, it is often best to get your ass kicked by someone whose moves you don't already know by heart--kind of like a boxer who prepares for a big bout by bringing in unfamiliar sparring partners.

    Indeed, I would argue that it is the people who just hole up who often produce the shittiest, most derivative stuff. If you have ever edited a journal, you would know what I mean. Most of what comes in is such crap that you'd be embarrassed to even ask anyone to be a referee. What is sad is that in many such cases a little more feedback from audiences outside of the writer's circle of friends and advisors probably would have fixed the obvious problems and gotten the piece over the first hurdle and on to the outside review stage. Instead, it is an opportunity wasted for all concerned, since it has to be rejected by return post, so to speak.

    Enter the conference. It is usually the only venue where a younger scholar can get the help she or he needs to really hone an argument. I put that under the category of visibility, but maybe you'd like to call it something else.

    Sure, lots of more senior people mail it in, but in my experience, the younger scholars usually really put in the effort to prepare and impress. That's why, given the choice between a session featuring a couple of junior people and one featuring some old farts (unless it is someone who is known for giving really good papers) I'll take the junior folks every time. I usually learn something, and I can possibly help someone out in the bargain.

    And unless you do a lot of outside refereeing, or you serve on shitloads of search committees, just seeing what comes out in the journals you happen to read regularly only gives you a partial view of what's going on in a field. Going to conferences is one way to see what kind of work is being done that either hasn't started coming out in the journals yet, or is not finding an audience. Either way, that helps someone like me give better advice to my grad students. And again, if you've edited a journal, you'd know that this also a key way to snag better submissions.

    So, no, not inessential, especially for younger scholars. Quite the opposite, I'd say.

  30. NEN, Toronto in March? Hells bells, that's balmy. Try Winnipeg, Edmonton or Whitehorse in January.

  31. Ben, where have you been?! Half the funding coming from the state? You slay me.

    Archie, glad you are here and have a clue. While my job *is* cushier than the crazy SLAC job I had before in terms of salary, health insurance, and retirement bennies, in this R1 job I worked 70-80 hours/week before tenure and now it's about 60. I handle the same number of students as a contingent faculty member but in fewer courses and with a TA for every 50 students in increments of 50 (so, 2 TAs for 100 students, but 1 TA for 80), I am required to split grading equally with my TAs, and there is no limit to the number of graduate students whose committees I must be on. I could only drop to the 20-hour week or whatever if I chose to never receive a raise in my life, because we get no raised except those connected to productivity, including research, teaching, and service. No one of those things can suck if a raise is forthcoming (and to give you a sense of what it earns, it comes out to 3-5% every 2-3 years at most).

    Also, I edit a flagship scholarly journal in my field, and yes, conferences are the place where emerging work gets honed into something decent enough to submit. It is not conferences OR publishing, it is conferences AND publishing.

    Not complaining about this job, but it's not possible to slack through it.

  32. Hrm, I can't say that boozing at conferences is completely wasted though.

    While it's not high intellectual work, it was under those circumstances that I was introduced to eventual mentors and publishers. It is under those circumstances that I now introduce the graduate students I mentor to those same folk. Look, nobody really cares about your master's thesis, right? But if they like you, they might be willing to take a look at your scholarship and take you on as a student, maybe you could be their outside reader, whatever.

    It's also where I find the brunt of my national service work.

    That said, I rarely take school funding for them nowadays, knowing that the above is true. I've seen what my dept's budget looks like for that, and I'd rather another earnest young face giving a paper be given that cash.

    As for the rest...

    Dude, what a douchebag. No, really. To me, tenure represents a chance to teach and research as well as I can without getting yelled at for stupid shit like teaching too advanced material, sticking strictly to curriculum, and not giving enough A's/F's/whatever. Ugh.

  33. Poopiehead,

    My significant other likes to come to conferences (on our own dime) to listen to other people's papers rather than mine. Toranto in March I rather doubt will be seen as a great vacation spot.

  34. I hear you, Southern Bubba, Ph.D. I would also like to add, douche.


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