May 31, 2003

Icons of Boyhood

Tinker, tailor,
Soldier, sailor,
Rich man, poor man,
Beggar-man, thief.

My boy wears blue, not pink. Oh, and other colors too, of course: red, green, white, yellow, grey, and even, on occasion, a sweatshirt that my mother got him in a pale shade of purple that comes dangerously close to "lavender" except that there's a tow truck on the front which says, unmistakably, "boy." But not pink, not ever.

Apparently things were different just 80 to 100 years ago. Historians of clothing and costume inform us that the blue for boys/pink for girls imperative is of fairly recent vintage:

An American newspaper in 1914 advised mothers, 'If you like the color note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention. [The Sunday Sentinal, March 29, 1914.] A woman's magazine in 1918 informed mothers, 'There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is pertier for the girl.' [Ladies Home Journal, June, 1918]

Indeed, as I understand it, until very recently there were no significant gendered differences in infant, and possibly also in toddler, clothing: both sexes wore more or less the same thing, and that apparel was more or less marked as feminine. The donning of knee-breeches or short trousers was a rite of passage, through which the boy symbolically left the world of women and children and started down the path to manhood. You see this in very old photographs: "But why is that little boy wearing a dress?" Because that's what boy babies wore back then. This lingers on in the convention of the "christening gown."

Baby clothes are now highly gendered, probably more so than ever before. Some people object to this early stereotyping, and no doubt with good reason. Hence a small movement toward more unisex clothing, though it is largely limited to the type of parents my husband calls "alternayuppies:" that is, people both of liberal, progressive persuasion and, not insignificantly, of ample material resources (we came across a lot of alternayuppies in our childbirth class, by the way, at the birthing center where I myself had the ultimate alternayuppie childbirth experience, which is to say, a completely "natural" and unmedicated birth). Unisex clothing tends to be expensive and hard to come by: you won't find much of it at your local Walmart or Target.

It occurs to me that this gendering of baby clothes is more complicated than appears at first glance. Yes, of course it's silly and abritrary (it used to be pink for boys, after all), and it helps strengthen and reinforce all kinds of stereotypes that I would like to see weakened if not entirely eliminated. Still: if we think about this in relation to an earlier symbolic sytem in which all children, male or female, were basically coded as "feminine" and belonged originally to a world of women and children until roughly half of them emerged/escaped from this world to join the world of men, well, things look a little more complex. This gendering of baby clothes might actually represent a step forward. Grant that it relies upon and indeeds helps create and reinforce a basic division between male and female. It says, in effect, that both sexes begin as infants and then gradually make their way toward adulthood. Which actually might represent a move away from the "women and children" motif, in which a feminized realm that has do with infancy and childhood exists in contradistinction to a masculine world of fully realized adulthood (the problem with tightly linking "women and children," of course, is that it tends to infantilize adult women).

Anyway, I wouldn't sign my name to the above paragraph, I really am just musing on my blog. Or maybe I'm trying to rationalize? I'm a feminist. And there's no way in hell I'm going to dress my boy in pink florals. I don't know anyone who does, actually. You know it's silly and arbitrary and problematic, but you don't put your boy in a pink dress. You just don't.

But enough about gender. Let's move to class. Though that's wrong, of course, because it's really gender and class:

Here is a one-piece sailor suit with a hand-embroidered sailboat on the collar. List price: $78.00. And another, of blue linen, hand washable only, with a list price of $80.00. A shortall and shirt set, with handsmocked rescue vehicles (an ambulance, a firetruck and a police car), which sells for $58.00. A black and white gingham seersucker set with handsmocked watermelon truck described as "totally boy!" (list price $72.00, and it's machine-washable). And a blue gingham seersucker outfit with smocked train -- "so cute and masculine at the same time" -- carries the more modest (though not exactly cheap) pricetag of $38.00.

Well hey, nothing says "masculine" like hand-smocking, right?

Of course not. And therein lies the appeal. These clothes are sweet, fussy and feminine -- handsmocked and handwashable (look, if there's a dad in this country who can care for this expensive clothing properly, I'd sure like to meet him) -- but their femininity (women and children) is rescued by such motifs as that of the masculine rescue vehicles.

These are beautiful clothes. And of course they represent the higher end of toddler boy apparel (though not the highest end: there are children's clothing shops in Manhattan selling outfits of linen, cashmere and silk that start at well over $100: here's an online version [no address, but the fax number is a 212 exchange], which sells cashmere jumpsuits for infants at $180.00; no details on fabric care, but I can assure you this little beauty is not machine-washable).

What's interesting, I think, is that the parents who can afford to spend $80.00 on a linen sailor suit don't want their little tyke to grow up to be a sailor. Or a fireman, or a truck driver, or a police officer. No, they want Junior to go the best schools, in order to become a knowledge worker: a lawyer, or an investment banker, or a doctor, perhaps. But when it's portrait time, they dress the little guy in 100 percent cotton or linen, with handsmocked icons of masculinity: firemen, police officers and truck drivers.

These days, I know, we're not supposed to talk about class. And I sure hope my random musings on boys' clothing aren't interpreted as a form of "class warfare." But I find it very interesting that the gendering of "boy" in baby clothes is produced through an equation of masculinity with the kind of blue-collar jobs that middle and upper-middle class parents don't want their sons to grow up to.

The same is not true, it should be noted, of baby and toddler girl clothing. Here the motifs most often come from gardens: flowers, of course, overwhelmingly flowers, though to a lesser extent, butterflies and ladybugs (the caterpillar, by the way, is an interesting case: it's basically coded as masculine merging into unisex, while the butterfly is absolutely feminine: I defy you to find a piece of "boy" clothing with a butterfly as its motif). Women in the workforce: there is a popular image of the well-heeled professional career woman, but the fact is, of course, that women are concentrated in the service sector and in something that some people call the "pink collar" segment: low- to mid-level office work. You won't find a corresponding iconography on baby girls' clothing, nothing that says "waitress" or "support staff." Why is that? A leftover from the notion that while man does, woman just is?

So I can't help wondering if these icons of boyhood don't represent, in some new and strange way, an infantilization of working-class masculinity? The same parents who would dress their little boy in a fireman theme ("our little fireman! how adorable") would be horrified at the thought that Junior might actually grow up to be a fireman (my god! the best schools, from preschool on -- and here in New York they actually interview 2-year olds for preschools: no really, I happen to know a 2-year old who had an interview -- in order to get him into one the become a fireman?). Yes, I know we're not really supposed to talk about this stuff, we're all middle-class here and any mention of class is pretty much taboo. But I ask you: what the heck is going on with an $80.00 sailor suit?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:03 PM | Comments (22)

May 30, 2003

A Scholar-Blogger and his Peers

Kieran Healy redefines (or perhaps refines?) the notion of peer review:

(Although I have considered listing my posts as publications on my vita. I mean, the ones with comments are practically peer-reviewed.)
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:22 PM | Comments (1)

Doctor Temp

Still, in a slow economy like this one, it can be difficult to land even an entry-level job. To those who feel stymied in their job searches or frustrated by the lack of openings, I recommend temporary office work as a strategy for breaking into a new field. Many graduate students are familiar with temping as a way to earn quick money during university vacations, but temping can also be a way to audition for a full-time job at the company of your choice. In fact, while some employers might resist hiring a seemingly overqualified Ph.D. for a full-time, entry-level position, they have no such qualms about hiring a Ph.D. in a temporary position.

-- Susan Basalla, "Breaking in as a Temp"

Susan Basalla, English PhD (Princeton) and co-author (with Maggie Debelius) of So What Are You Going to Do With That?: A Guide to Career-Changing for M.A.'s and Ph.D.'s, advocates temping as a way of entering a new field. The optimistic view of "conscious temping" is that, in Basalla's words,

all we need is a foot in the door. Once we're in the workplace, others realize that we learn quickly, have strong analytical skills, and are often excellent writers and teachers. We also have an unusually strong work ethic, although we tend to take it for granted.

No doubt this is sound advice, based on a realistic assessment of current employment trends outside the academy. It's rather less optimistic, though, than the main argument of So What Are You Going to Do With That?, which can be summed up as follows: "But, believe it or not, the same skills you need to success in academia -- researching, writing, and teaching -- will give you an edge in your job hunt" (pp. 4-5). Frankly, I guess I don't quite believe it, especially not after reading an account by one of the authors of this book in which she details her temping strategies.

So I can't help raising a couple of points of a more pessimistic character.

First, contrary to what some of the "leaving the academy" advice would have us believe, it seems clear that a PhD (a PhD in the humanities, at any rate) does not carry much weight outside the academy. And why should it, after all? As Jack Miles has argued, while "humane learning has many uses in the general marketplace," the "baroque peculiarity of American doctoral education produces an animal hyper-adapted to the baroque peculiarity of the American academic habitat" (the point is also made by Timothy Burke, who suggests that "most graduate study in academic subjects ... has no other use besides the reproduction of academia in its present institutional form.")

Second, it's worth repeating the point made by Miles and Burke and by some of the readers of and commenters at this blog: You don't need a PhD to take a temp job that might then lead to an entry-level position that might then lead to a career, you can do this right after college.

Now at some level (e.g., in terms of the unemployed/underemployed PhD whose rent is due) I think advice like that offered by Basalla serves a very useful purpose. Here's the deal: you may not be able to start even at the bottom, you may need to do temp work even to put yourself in a position to then apply for an entry-level job. So in pragmatic terms, I welcome Basalla's account, which is based on her own experience, which experience includes her own employment, "career workshops for graduate students" and the research and writing for a book on what to do with a PhD outside the academy. At some point (e.g., when the rent is coming due), there's no point in wringing one's hands in despair and wallowing in miserable thoughts of all that wasted effort and all those wasted years. If temping is your only realistic option, then what else can you do but choose temping?

But I want to emphasize that there's a bigger picture here, and that it's important to let people (especially current graduate students and those who are currently considering graduate studies in the humanities) know that this picture is not pretty.

Let's be honest about this: Hollywood is not recruiting English PhDs to work as screenwriters. And if you sign on with a temp agency (which is definitely a good idea if you don't have any other immediate options and the rent is coming due), well, let's be brutally honest about this and acknowledge that you will likely find yourself working as a secretary. As William Pannapacker put it in a letter recounting his role in the famous/infamous MLA showdown:

Last weekend, I spoke at the American Studies Association convention in Seattle on a panel called 'Organizing in the Trenches.'... I was the last speaker, and by the time I came to speak, I had lost my composure. I had just read Elaine Showalter's editorial in the 'MLA Newsletter' (Winter 1998) in which she compares the humanities to the sinking Titanic, and I was overwhelmed by a feeling of absolute betrayel by the leadership of my profession.

Instead of going right into my genre piece about using the disciplinary associations to organize disparate groups, I embarked on a rambling, monologue on my own experiences, which those who follow the MLA elections and the Chronicle's on-line 'Career Network' know something about. Incoherent as I may have been, this was the one speech I have given in which the audience was really with me--not just in the sense of scholarly obligation, but on a real, emotional level.

At a cocktail party later that night, older people came up to me to say that they think the MLA president has compromised many of the ideals she once had, even to feminism. A surprising number of people roughly my own age and status thanked me for what I said. Mostly women, they feel intensely the bitter irony of having wasted eight years of their lives in preparation for becoming secretaries to 26-year-old MBAs.

Well, that's grim. But I'll call it gritty realism, because it strikes me as a fairly accurate description of a grim reality.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:57 PM | Comments (34)

Does "Blog" Have a Disreputable Air?

In the comments to "Scholars Who Blog", Zizka (of "uncool when uncoolness is necessary" fame) argues that

Getting rid of the term 'blog' would be a major step in the road to respectability. It always reminds me of P. V. Glob's book, 'The Bog People', which Alexander Cockburn did indeed blog about. Blogging just sounds too much like one of the more private bodily functions.

So Glob wrote about a bog, which reminds Zizka of blog? I'm not familiar with "The Bog People," but if this is what "blog" calls to mind, I don't wonder that Zizka has some problems with it.

I have to say, I don't love the term either, though I now use it all the time. It's just not pleasant.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:09 AM | Comments (6)

"Scholars Who Blog"

In their skeptical moments, academic bloggers worry that the medium smells faddish, ephemeral. But they also make a strong case for blogging's virtues, the foremost of which is freedom of tone. Blog entries can range from three-word bursts of sarcasm to carefully honed 5,000-word treatises. The sweet spot lies somewhere in between, where scholars tackle serious questions in a loose-limbed, vernacular mode.

-- David Glenn, "Scholars Who Blog"

"Is this a revolution in academic discourse," asks David Glenn, "or is it CB radio?" The answer, of course, as Glenn goes on to suggest, is neither. He cites a number of academic bloggers, including Kieran Healy, Matthew Yglesias, Henry Farrell, and some pseudonymous adjunct who confesses that she's "a bit of a Luddite" (ack! now what made me say Luddite?...).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:19 AM | Comments (16)

May 29, 2003

Higher Ed in the UK: The RAE

Chris Bertram of Junius has a brief post on the UK's "research assessment exercise," one of the effects of which, he claims, "has been to devalue teaching at the same time as promoting the publication of research which is headed straight for the landfill." He links to a document containing full details of a proposed revamping, but notes that these details are "not easily and quickly digestible." I wish he would say more...I have certainly heard bitter complaints about the RAE from British academics, but don't understand quite how it works.

Chris Bertram informs me that he did say more a few weeks ago. His explanation is well worth reading, even if, as he notes, what he said a few weeks ago may now be out of date.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:14 PM | Comments (2)

Excellence in Teaching

But for many students, evaluations of faculty members simply mirror their own evaluations. In short, whoever gives them the highest grades is loved. Affection need not necessarily denote respect. Any professor seeking popularity who draws the obvious conclusion will grade more leniently or assign less work.

The basic tendency is already there. The bubble-sheet evaluations gathered from students at end of term and used in promotions and tenure decisions account, I believe, for a good deal of grade inflation. Anything fostering an undue desire to be loved compromises the professional obligation to call upon students to work hard and rise above their present selves. We must submit to some forms of evaluation. Why add voluntary incentives to corruption?

-- Max Clio, "Learning from a Teaching Contest"

An assistant professor of history at a "small public university" explains why he withdrew from a contest in which "students choose their favorite teachers by ballot." He is harshly critical of the winner of last year's adjunct teacher award (it seems there are two awards, one for regular faculty, one for adjuncts), whom he describes as

a boisterous Spanish teacher known for throwing nacho parties in the classroom, providing students with backrubs, and flirting shamelessly. She also happens to grade with a light touch. All of this was a bit scandalous in itself, but to me the point was brought home far more vividly when four of my students arrived tipsy and flushed to our historiography seminar late one afternoon this winter. They readily confessed that the reason for their inebriation was that the Outstanding Teacher of the Year had taken her class earlier that day to the nearby Mexican restaurant to practice Spanish with the waiters. It appears they tested out useful phrases like 'Margarita, por favor.'

Backrubs?! This sounds so over-the-top that I am inclined to wonder whether his account is completely accurate. In any case, I think it's fair to assume that here are two faculty members who are no longer on speaking terms...

Anyway, his basic point strikes me as all too accurate: student evaluations are often measures of consumer satisfaction closely linked to a teacher's grading practices.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:46 PM | Comments (22)

Dead? or Canadian?...

When I was in graduate school (in the US, where I have remained), I remember someone telling me (a Canadian) about the "Dead? or Canadian?" game. The idea, as I recall, was to name some public, or formerly public figure, often from the entertainment field, and ask "Is he or she dead? or Canadian? (or perhaps both?)" Since I've never played, I am only speculating here, but I would imagine that the idea would be to name someone whose name now carried a certain odor? a has-been, perhaps? or maybe someone now considered unspeakably dull or embarrassingly cheesey, or what have you?

Anyway, I was reminded of this game when I came across the following news item (I call it "news" because so much news is now infotainment) about Bob Hope's 100th birthday. Bob Hope is not Canadian, of course. But neither, it turns out, is he dead. I honestly thought he was...Go figure.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:22 AM | Comments (10)

Sweatshop U?

Stephen Karlson of Cold Spring Shops raises some interesting questions with reference to some recent discussions (here and also here) on the academic job market:

...but is the research calling really the type of market in which a tournament is most efficient at identifying talent (and Cornell's Robert Frank has written some gloomy stuff about that kind of market) or is the job of teaching and grading really so burdensome that it has to be farmed out as sweated labor? Or has the enterprise of higher education mutated into a credentialling mill in which a University of Phoenix that produces no original thought sets the pace for the rest?

He also comments briefly on today's discussion (at this blog, over at SCSU Scholars here and also here, and at EconLog) on the economics of tenure and promises that a "rant comes later tonight."

One quick comment: when faculty find teaching a burdensome distraction from their "real" work, I think something has gone horribly awry. Of course it is not surprising that this is increasingly the case, given the increased demands of publication. But if I may speak frankly (and I guess I may, since I'm speaking on my blog), a good deal of what is now "produced" by humanities scholars is just shite. Not all of it, mind you, but too much of it. Quite simply, the "publish or perish" imperative pushes people to produce work before they are ready. In this respect, I think the fashionable gibberish of which critics often complain can be seen as a kind of shortcut and substitute for the type of thoughtful and well-considered work that scholars might produce if they had more time. Anecdotally speaking, I know of many scholars in my field who hardly look at the journals anymore, because there is so little worth looking at (for an interesting, and shockingly candid, exploration of this theme, see Timothy Burke's "Why Journals Suck"). But given the oversupply of candidates and the degradation of the job market in many humanities disciplines, it is all but inevitable that publication will carry greater and greater weight, for this is one area in which evaluative criteria can be based on something quantitative.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:19 AM | Comments (20)

May 28, 2003

The Online Degree: A Consumer's Guide?

Congratulations. You've made the big decision to earn your college degree online. Now for the hard part...which college do you choose? With your career and your future on the line, it's important that you make the right decision. We can help. After spending months researching online schools, we've identified the very best. You'll find them listed below.

-- The Online Degree

Here's a new website (new to me, at any rate), the owners of which claim to have spent "months researching online schools" and to have "identified the very best." Who are they? It's not clear. Their privacy policy states that gathers information on behalf of its clients. The contact information you submit through the online form is used to send you additional information about various client offerings. You may also be contacted by our clients directly.

Unless otherwise disclosed during collection, will NOT provide any personally identifying information, regardless of its source, to any third party for any purpose whatsoever. Aggregate statistics about our customers, sales, traffic patterns and related site information may be provided to reputable third-party vendors, but these figures will include no personally identifying information.

Never underestimate the power of name-brand recognition. The University of Phoenix is of course the best-known of the new online universities, which fame or notoriety translates here into "a superb national reputation for providing working professionals with a quality education in Business, Technology, Education, or Nursing."

Marketing is one thing, but nursing? Is it just me, or should we be a little concerned by this?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:09 PM | Comments (3)

More on the Economics of Tenure

King at SCSUScholars responds to the recent discussions on tenure (The Economics of Tenure and "Higher Ed in a Down Economy") with a post entitled "Thinking more about tenure," in which he suggests that "Tinkering with the system may be more costly than we realize."

"I suggested in one comment there [ie., here]," he writes,

that there's some similarity between working through the minor leagues in sports and working through graduate school to get to the tenure-track job. IA says that if so, people should be warned. Sure, but who will do so? The graduate schools, turning away business because they are looking out for you? The undergraduate advisors, who drew you into your studies to get someone good in their otherwise boring seminars? (Yes, students, we professors can get bored in a seminar too -- we don't like the sound of our voices any more than you do.) Is there anyone besides the aspiring graduate student in whose interest it is to be forewarned of the academic job market? Perhaps I'm being too simple, but I can't think of one.

I can think of at least one group other than aspiring graduate students: tenured professors, and more broadly, the members of any profession who have an interest in perpetuating the profession as a profession. In "The Economics of Tenure," I cite James Axtell (via Jason at No Symbols Where None Intended) as follows:

In 1987 the median salary of a Ph.D. in government was 10 percent higher than his academic counterpart, and in the private sector, 24 percent higher. Today [1998], the private/academic differential is 38 percent and growing, as academic salaries struggle to keep up with even modest inflation.

It is interesting to place Axtell's numbers alongside another set of figures concerning "Trends in Faculty Employment." According to the Chronicle of Higher Education's Almanac, in 1979 66 percent of faculty were full-time, 34 percent part-time. Twenty years later, in 1999 57 percent of faculty were full-time, 43 percent part-time. Assuming that Axtell's figures are accurate, it looks as though the stagnation in full-time faculty salaries has occurred at the same time as the growing trend toward part-time versus full-time faculty. Might there be a connection between these two trends?

I suspect that there is a connection. As the American Historical Association has finally recognized, "Everyone in the historical profession has a stake in ameliorating this situation. It is important to halt the erosion of tenure track positions, and where possible to increase them." That is, the trend toward the deprofessionalization of younger faculty does not only harm those faculty, but also poses a threat to the status of the profession as profession. The trend toward part-time over full-time positions over the past two decades constitutes a slow but steady erosion of tenured positions.

King argues that a multi-tier academic labor system is an efficient form of "price discrimination:"

One point about the economics of this is that two-tier or three-tier pricing -- a tenure track, a non-tenure, full-time renewable track, and an adjunct track -- does at least produce more jobs than would exist with a single track. Any principles of economics book will teach you that you get more efficient solutions with this type of 'price discrimination.' And with it comes more classes, more students, and more education. That's a thing worth having. Certainly some PhDs will lose the tournament for the tenure track, but their willingness to work without tenure or part-time produces something of real value.

It is quite true that the use of more adjuncts allows universities to offer more courses to more students. Given the cost-effectiveness of this trend, the danger, as I see it, is that entire professions become thoroughly, if not completely, adjunctified. If full-time English faculty, for example, agree to a system in which the part-timer teaches an English course for $2,500, at what point does the administration decide that the teaching of an English course is indeed worth no more than $2500? While King's analysis seems to presuppose some sort of equilibrium (the continued existence of a tenure track alongside the adjunct track), the trend in some disciplines is in fact away from the tenure track and toward the adjunct track.

The other query I would raise: while King's suggestion that "tinkering with the system may be more costly than we realize" is no doubt a valid concern (who knows what would be the unintended consequences of tinkering?), it seems to assume a good deal more power and agency on the part of faculty than is probably the case. I believe that tenure is now under attack. The public does not support it, and neither do significant numbers of university administrators. Though faculty teaching at elite, private insitutions are probably safe, those teaching at publicly funded schools are not. Without an active effort to halt (if not reverse) current trends toward part-time faculty, it is difficult to see how adjunct-heavy disciplines can maintain and defend the continued existence of a tenure track.

King responds to the above with a new entry entitled "Productivity and the Professoriate."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:33 PM | Comments (17)

May 27, 2003

Time Travel Fantasy Game

'But history, real solemn history, I cannot be interested in...I read it a little as a duty, but it tells me nothing that does not either weary or vex me. The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all -- it is very tiresome: and yet I often think it odd that it should be so dull, for a great deal of it must be invention. The speeches that are put into the heroes' mouths, their thoughts and designs -- the chief of all this must be invention, and invention is what delights me in other books.'

-- Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (1817)

It may be laid down as a general rule, though subject to considerable qualifications and exceptions, that history begins in novel and ends in essay.

-- Thomas Babington Macaulay, "History," Edinburgh Review (1828)

One reason for the gap between academic and popular history is that most people would rather read novel than essay. Given the choice between narrative or expository prose, that is, most people will choose narrative. The historian of the early modern village insists on the necessity of a detailed examination of probate inventories, and from one perspective, of course, that historian is right. But who, beyond specialists in the field, cares to read about probate records? What most people want to know is: what was it like to be a lord or a peasant circa 1600 and how did it feel? What did they wear and how did they speak and did they engage in premarital sexual relations? A cast of colorful characters, a fully realized plot, a richly imagined evocation of the quotidian detail of everyday life...this wins out over detailed analyses of crop rotation and exogenous marital practices any day. Hence the enormous popularity of historical novels and films, and the corresponding unpopularity of historical monographs.

It is easy enough to blame academic historians for failing to make their work accessible to a wider audience. And calls for a "revival of narrative" are recurrent in the field. This does all very well for political history, whether at the level of high politics or popular protest or what have you. But there are many areas of historical inquiry (certain types of social and economic history, for example) the results of which simply cannot be rendered as narrative. Though narrative history can and often does rely on the knowledge gained through non-narrative approaches, it is not necessarily possible to do this in reverse: how is the historian to plot a story out of those probate inventories?

Of course I am oversimpifying here: many historians try to combine the two, and some of them are successful. But in general, I believe that the professionalization and specialization of history has increased the gap between the kind of history that academic historians do and the kind of history that non-historians would like to read. Nor am I convinced that there is an easy solution to the problem of bridging this gap.

All of this by way of a lengthy apology for my Time Travel Fantasy Game:

If you could travel back to any time and place of your choosing, where would you go and with whom would you like to have dinner?

If I were a professional historian, I suppose I would blush with shame to acknowledge any interest in such a trifle. But since I've been deprofessionalized, I'll admit that I occassionally entertain time travel fantasies. What was it like and how did it feel and what did they wear and how did they speak and did they engage in premarital sexual relations...and what would it be like to travel back and experience the sights and sounds and smells firsthand? (In fact, such questions form the basis of an engagement with history for many professional historians, but then they are supposed to move to a higher level of theoretical sophistication and no longer indulge in such games...)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:29 PM | Comments (25)

May 26, 2003

The Economics of Tenure

In a new entry called "The Price of Tenure," Jason of No Symbols Where None Intended suggests that the academic labor system at the University of Phoenix "arguably puts the lie to an argument that is sometimes advanced in defense of tenure: That it saves the university money." As an example of this line of defense, Jason cites James Axtell as follows:

. . . the relative economic security of tenure also lowers academic salaries from the competitively higher salaries of comparably educated professionals in government and industry. In 1987 the median salary of a Ph.D. in government was 10 percent higher than his academic counterpart, and in the private sector, 24 percent higher. Today [1998], the private/academic differential is 38 percent and growing, as academic salaries struggle to keep up with even modest inflation. If colleges and universities dropped the tenure system for short-term contracts and necessarily competitive salaries, the American price tag for higher education would skyrocket. As it is now, professors pay for tenure out of their own pockets, and not with loose change.

Jason notes, by the way, that Axtell relies on Richard B. McKenzie's "Why Professors Have Tenure and Business People Don't."

What's interesting is that the historian Axtell, writing in 1998, had apparently failed to notice that many colleges and universities were in fact moving from tenure-track to short-term contracts, and that the "necessarily competitive salaries" that ensued amounted to very low wages indeed. As for that 38 percent differential between private sector and academic salaries, I would suggest that one reason for this growing gap is precisely the oversupply of PhDs who will sell their teaching labor to the university at a very cheap rate.

I'm not an economist, of course, nor do I play one on this blog. But I am increasingly inclined to believe that in their attempt to resolve "the serious problems presented by the increased use of part-time/adjunct faculty at institutions across the country," professional organizations such as the American Historical Association would do well to avail themselves of the expertise of an economist or two. They needn't go for a Milton Friedman, I'm thinking more along the lines of a Brad DeLong.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:48 PM | Comments (20)

The Second Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory)

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Joseph Duemer of reading & writing for the following pithy observation (comments to Where the Adjuncts Have Equal Status):

That presumably qualified people are willing to work for $1000 per course is the data point that puts the period to the sentence of serfdom.

Nicely put, Mr. Duemer. Your noble contribution exempts you from the burden of our taille.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:25 AM | Comments (9)

Skill Sets

Shall I part my hair behind? Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

I do not think that they will sing to me.

-- T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"

So I've been reading up on how to leave the academy. It seems I need to identify a "skill set," the better to make my skill set "transferable."

At the moment I am not optimistic. Frankly, I am not very skillful at identifying the skills that I might transfer. I am willing to attribute this to a failure of imagination.

Then I come across Gary Sauer-Thompson linking to Michele Tepper's "Doctor Outsider" essay. "This is so good," he writes, "It says there is life outside the academy for those with PhD's. It says it so well. In doing so it counters a common view amongst academics who do not, (and here he quotes Tepper)

'...seem able to imagine that PhDs who step outside the academic fold might find employment anywhere other than the typing pool. Is it so astonishing to consider that people with the skills and intellectual acuity to complete a doctoral degree might actually thrive outside the academy, in a wide range of jobs?'

Reader Paul Watson responds, "You have got to be is a miracle, in Oz in 2003, for a newly-minted PhD to get a job inside or outside academia. They’ve got choice, all right – it’s Work for the Dole with Provider A or Provider B."

Gary responds by tempering his optimism. Though he argues that "there are alternative career paths for PhD's which involve reskilling," he concedes that things are rather gloomy. His conclusion: "From a boader perspective I reckon that a generation of highly trained student has been lost to academia."

Skilled, unskilled, deskilled, reskilled...This is sounding rather grim.

And there's more.

To quote once again from Timothy Burke's latest blog entry, "Monastery or the Market," the reason

that many academics express distress at a Ph.D in the humanities and social sciences choosing a career besides academia is that they’re thinking like utility maximizers. Privately, they're asking, 'Why invest the time in doing a doctorate when most of the post-academic careers that one could choose do not require or benefit from having a doctorate?'; Look at Tepper’s own career choice: couldn’t she have done that without a doctorate?

...There are certainly professors who teach their graduate students very well, but what they teach is largely the art and craft of being an academic. Becoming a Ph.D in history or literary studies is not about deepening expertise and knowledge that can be put to general use. Most undergraduate courses that are taught well bequeath knowledge and thinking skills to students that have many possible uses. Most graduate study in academic subjects is the opposite: it has no other use besides the reproduction of academia in its present institutional form.

Quite right. As I suggested in my "PhD as Preparation for Nonacademic Careers?" I don't buy this business about the humanities PhD as an opportunity to hone a valuable set of skills. I just don't believe my history Ph.D. has given me "transferable skills" that will be of interest and of value outside the academy. I think it's important for people to say this, if only to "preempt the equivocating tactics," as Devenney puts it, used by those who wish to continue producing PhDs for academic positions that no longer exist.

That said, I can't spend the rest of my life decrying the waste, though waste is exactly what I think it. Since I'm not quite ready to give up and go home, it's time I learned how to maximize my utility.

I need a (self)-marketing plan. Maybe I'll go ask the Happy Tutor for some pointers...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:09 AM | Comments (30)

May 23, 2003

"A Conspiracy of Narrow Interests"

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang engages in "some kind of self-plagiarism" (it's okay, Alex, the AHA no longer adjudicates in cases of suspected plagiarism) to expand on a comment he made here. His expanded comment on the academic job market can be found at his own blog, and is well worth reading.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:22 AM | Comments (2)

May 22, 2003

"Higher Ed in a Down Economy"

"Frank" at Frank Admisssions is linking to an NPR series entitled "The Ivory Tower in the Real World," which carries the suggestive subtitle "Higher Ed. in a Down Economy." Today's installment (which presumably will soon be available as an audiofile):

“The Trouble with Tenure” The professor’s profession is changing. When higher education falls on hard times, cash-strapped colleges cut corners, often at the cost of faculty job security. Recent years have seen an erosion in tenure: schools are saving money using part-timers, some lure faculty with lucrative, but short-term, contracts, and states place limits on the number of tenured positions. Now, as states struggle to cover big budget deficits, the system of tenure is at a tipping point. In a time when few jobs and fewer pensions seem safe in the American economy, does a system of guaranteed employment even make sense? Sarah Gardner reports from Lincoln, Nebraska, on that state’s attempt to cut budgets by cutting tenured faculty, and how professors, nationwide, face uncertain futures. Thursday, May 22, 2003

One quick comment: the rationale for tenure is not supposed to be security against economic downturns but rather security against assaults on academic freedom, which is a rather different thing. I have more to say on this, but for now, light blogging ahead as real life intervenes.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:31 PM | Comments (17)

"Monastery or Market"

Most academics shudder at the specter of the marketplace, and blame 'corporatization' for all the ills that afflict universities and colleges. I think it is not nearly so clear-cut. It’s possible that universities and colleges aren’t corporatized enough, and in any event, most of the academics who decry the intrusions of the market into academic life are totally unwilling to embrace an alternative return to the university as a sacred, artisanal institution whose legitimacy derives from its relationship to the democratic public sphere and ideals of citizenship.

-- Timothy Burke, "Monastery or the Market?"

For me, one of the advantages of blogging is the chance to encounter ideas and arguments that challenge my assumptions and presuppositions about the world and those who inhabit it. A while ago, Timothy Burke made an intriguing suggestion at Gary Sauer-Thompson's (scroll to comments):

Regarding 'demedievalizing' the academy, one could make the argument that the problem with contemporary academia is not too much marketplace, but too little, that the 'corporate university' is inimical because it introduces a half-assed, faint-hearted market logic into what is valued and not valued within the academy and that this interacts exceptionally poorly with the sacred, artisanal, guild character of the academy.

So maybe it should be fish or cut bait, that 'valuable knowledge' should either 'knowledge that people will pay for.' OR it should be 'knowledge that is sacred.' But if it's the latter, then the entrepreneurial expansion of knowledge and disciplines in the academy is totally untenable: we need to go back to core curricula, 'tight' disciplines, and stronger filtering systems for what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable knowledge. I don't think that can happen, even if you wanted it to. So maybe we should ask what would happen if value in the academy was even more market-driven than it is now, if we had a true 'marketplace of ideas.'

I've been thinking about this comment ever since. I am highly critical of the corporatization of the university on this blog, and clearly among those who "blame 'corporatization' for all the ills that afflict universities and colleges." I tend to see the adjunctification of teaching, for example, as a function of the imposition of marketplace logic. And yet, I do have to wonder: what if the university went corporate all the way? Would this just lead to the adjuntification of all faculty? Or would it be possible to create a new kind of career path that more nearly approximates the kind of careers that professionals outside the academy typically follow? -- one that included, for example, a far greater degree of mobility (including geographical mobility)?

Burke now follows through on his earlier comment with a new entry entiteld "Monastery or the Market?" which takes off from Michele Tepper's "Doctor Outsider", but which then moves in a couple of other interesting directions as well.

What I find particularly insightful is his argument that

anyone who has ever accepted either a Foucauldian or Gramscian understanding of what the university does—who either sees it as part of a ‘truth regime’ deeply connected to dispersed forms of bio-power or who sees intellectuals as engaged in a ‘war of position’ with the aim of revolutionary transformation of civil society—has more or less opened the door to the corporatization of the university.

That sounds like a perverse claim, but the direct consequences of abandoning a vision of intellectual life as involving a progressive accumulation of knowledge whose purpose is open-ended, non-ideologically fixed critical thought for an informed citizenry in a liberal democratic society is that it leaves academics no basis for articulating a privileged place for higher education in terms of the general logics of 21st Century global society.

If the university is nothing more than another power/knowledge factory or a subversive redoubt for the production of opposition to late capitalism, then there is no intelligible argument for its continuance in a non-market form that can be made within the terms of the larger public sphere.

Here Burke says something that I have been struggling to articulate for some time. As a lefty-liberal-progressive type, I am increasingly uncomfortable with a certain lefty-liberal-progressive critique of corporatization which links a concern with the problems of the academic labor system with the necessity of, in Burke's phrase, "the production of opposition to late capitalism." As if the commitment to resolve some of the problems that beset the university necessarily commits one to an oppositional stance toward the broader culture and society of which the university is a part. Though I happen to share some of these "oppositional" positions, I'm bothered by the idea that critical thought (including critical thought about the academy) must be "ideologically fixed" in this way. Anyway, in more pragmatic terms, it's just not going to fly. The way I see it: either the university is supported by a broader civil society to which the university lends some sort of support (not uncritical or unthinking, of course, but some sort of support), or civil society will cease to support the university.

More on this later. Meanwhile, if you're interested in the corporatization of the university, you should read Burke's latest entry.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:55 AM | Comments (16)

Only Mad Dogs and Englishmen and Underemployed PhDs?

"The Invisible Adjunct raves and foams at the mouth upon encountering Laura Vanderkam's 'System Wastes Ph.D. Brainpower.'"

So writes Brad DeLong with reference to my "Tough Love for PhDs" post. Egads! Maybe I need to crank down the volume: I'm coming off as an absolute nutter. The academy did this to me. (I wonder if I could cop a plea using this as my defense? "Formerly mild-mannered and law-abiding history PhD driven to the brink and beyond by the vagaries of the academic job market..."). Though indeed, Brad DeLong says he's raving and foaming, too, and he has tenure at Berkeley. As he points out:

it's not enough for the 35% of humanities departments that give their prospective students the straight poop to do so, for the prospectives will say, '1/3 of us will get tenure track jobs? I'm good at academic pursuits, so that must mean that the odds for me are pretty good.' They don't think--or most of them don't think--Wait a minute, everybody else here is good at academic pursuits too. I've been in the top quarter of academic distributions all my life, but I have only one chance in four of being in the top quarter of this one.

I agree that this is not enough. Graduate programs in the humanities need to take the next, admittedly painful, step and limit their enrollments to more realistic numbers. Some of them need to shut down altogether. Otherwise, the proletarianization of humanities faculty will continue to intensify.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:29 AM | Comments (10)

May 21, 2003

Bomb Set Off at Yale

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - A bomb exploded in an empty classroom at the Yale University law school Wednesday, sending debris flying and students scrambling for safety. No injuries were reported.

-- Diane Scarponi, "Bomb Damages Yale Law School Classroom"

For those of us who have been wondering lately, 'Has the world gone mad?' Here is new evidence in support of the affirmative.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

Robert Reich Warns Against Graduate School

Both the AccidentalAdmin at the Financial Aid Office and King at SCSUScholars are linking to this opinion piece by Robert Reich:

This spring's college graduates are entering the worst job market in 20 years. With few good jobs on the horizon, many graduating seniors think it is time to get an advanced degree. They should think again.

....But the market value of advanced degrees is unlikely to rise enough to make the investments worth it, especially after the supply of people with such degrees expands. Even before the economy foundered, the median take-home pay of lawyers and doctors was dropping, and many newly minted Ph.D.'s couldn't find university appointments.

-- Robert B. Reich, "Get a Job"

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:14 PM | Comments (0)

Postmodernism as a Democratization of Irony?

It would be an understatement to describe this portrayal of 'the tradition' as a caricature. It asks us to believe that, until very recently, no one had noticed the existence of 'historical contingency,' and so it exaggerates quite fantastically the novelty of the historical turns... It is the same revelation of contingency which is experienced by characters like Gulliver, Papageno and Candide on their journeys of disillusionment, and the theme is not far removed from classical skepticism either. It resembles, too, the kind of lofty detachment which the Athenians detested in Socrates. In fact it might even be identified with the kind of languorous, snobbish cosmopolitanism which likes to smile at the intuitive enthusiasms of simple folk. Consciousness of the contingency of value is more like a recurrent ideal of high culture than its belated comeuppance.

-- Jonathan Rée, "The Vanity of Historicism," New Literary History, 1991

I don't know that I agree with the narrative that Rée offered in the above-cited article. In describing the recognition of contingency as a "recurrent ideal" that can be traced back to ancient scepticism, I think he underestimates the significance of a more recent and more decisive undermining of the tenets of traditional humanism. By "recent" I refer not to the various "linguistic, deconstructive and postmodern turns" of the past thirty years which are the subject of Ree's critical scrutiny, but rather to the various epistemological "turns" of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

There is a certain kind of conservative anti-pomo "campus culture war" defense of tradition that I can't quite take seriously, because I don't believe its proponents appreciate the seriousness of the challenges to the tradition which they seek to defend. On the other hand, a proponent of traditional humanism like Alasdair Macintyre I take very seriously indeed: Macintyre does not begin with the late 1960s, of course, but rather understands his tradition well enough to locate what he calls "the breakdown" of unity and coherence in the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

That said, I am intrigued by the suggestion that "consciousness of the contingency of value is more like a recurrent ideal of high culture than its belated comeuppance." I do sometimes wonder whether postmodernism -- understood here not in strictly and rigorously philosophical terms but rather more loosely as a sensibility/orientation that has exerted an enormous influence on humanities scholarship over the past few decades -- doesn't represent a democratization of the ironic and skeptical stance that was once the privilege of first a senatorial and then an aristocratic elite? There is no god but don't tell the servants; let the people have their superstitions and enthusiasms though we know differently; and so on...?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:21 PM | Comments (16)

Kings without Kingship?

My views of things are more conformable to Whig principles; my representations of persons to Tory prejudices.

-- David Hume to John Clephane (1756)

I once had my picture taken at the Old Calton Cemetery in Edinburgh. I was an academic tourist, striking an ironic pose before a monument to the historian and philosopher who thought we might have kings without kingship, but who could not have anticipated the unintended consequences.

The king is dead, long live the king
Kingship is dead, long live philosophy
Hume is dead, long since dead,
Long live Bonnie Prince Charlie on a biscuit tin.

Whig principles, Tory prejudices? I think I get that. But it's no longer relevant, of course, and no more am I.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:00 AM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2003

Toughlove for PhDs

The world has worse tragedies than Ph.D.s driving buses. Still, this mismatch between professorships available and Ph.D.s granted is a colossal waste of brainpower sorely needed elsewhere. Universities that glut the doctorate market bear much responsibility for the situation. But graduate students aren't blameless.

These men and women have chosen to spend years training for jobs that don't exist by accruing knowledge no one will pay for. The most devoted to their passion may decide that's all right. But the 'starving Ph.D.' phenomenon is here to stay. Even the ivory tower can't save anyone from that reality.

...Even enlightened students, however, delude themselves into thinking they can buck the laws of supply and demand. In graduate school, they experience the rare privilege of devoting themselves fully to learning what they love while being paid a stipend, however small, to do so. Having escaped reality once, they don't expect to encounter it again.

-- Laura Vanderkam, "System wastes Ph.D. brainpower"

Okay, okay. I get it now, I really do. I now understand that

there is no market for [my] product. When you choose a career path with no market, you have to love it enough to do it for free. Chances are, you'll do it for close to that much of the time.

I can assure that I am now well familiar with "reality," and I am willing to plead "guilty as charged" -- and without even mentioning the fact that you talk of "the system" while blaming the individual -- if you will just promise to stop lecturing at me.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:40 PM | Comments (27)

Shipwrecked; Or, I Need Another Chance

Warning: This entry is in me-zine mode.

Pa send me money now
I'm gonna make it somehow
I need another chance
You see your baby loves to dance
Yeah yeah yeah

-- Neil Young, "Cinnamon Girl"

Ship of Dreams. Ship of Fools. I am Shipwrecked, and I've washed up in Adjunctland, and I'm wondering what to do.

Rana at Frogs and Ravens has a post on "one of the problems with being a job market 'failure.'" (permalinks bloggered, scroll to Friday, May 09). It's the problem of "So, what are you doing next year?" Which is to say, the problem of what to say, of how best to explain oneself. Oh yeah.

I gave up trying to explain myself to my family. The subject became taboo, one of those areas about which we tacitly agree to maintain an awkward silence. Until I rewrote the script. Since I have a husband and a child, and my husband has a job and my child is young enough that his care and feeding is in itself a job, I let them think that that's who I am now, and oh yeah, I do a bit of teaching on the side. For pin money? Yeah, sure.

We went to a party a few weeks ago, it said "black tie" on the invitation so I sent my mother a picture. Look, said that picture, Here I am and here is my life: I live in New York, and I have a husband (an American!) who is a lawyer, and look how we go out dining and dancing and see how I look in my black silk party frock. Yeah? Well, yeah. It's all true enough in its way, though it all adds up to a lie. But never mind. My mother thinks I look "classy," she notes with approval that I have lost all the baby weight and says she will show the picture to all her friends. In truth, I think I look awkward and ill at ease, and the lipstick is all wrong, too dark and dated, but so what? I know my audience. I come from the class (lower middle class? or upper echelon working class?) that wants to have "class." I know my lines, fuck yeah, and I feed them their lines, too. And never mind that I am lying because, frankly, it's just easier this way. My parents never understood the Ph.D. thing anyway, that's something they never really got. I put myself through college, and then I went to graduate school in the States on a scholarship (a scholarship! well, that sounded "classy" too, and for a while my mother could think of me as a Scholarship Girl), and then something went wrong, some plot twist that I had not anticipated. So maybe my parents were right all along? because I don't get it anymore either, and now I wonder if I ever did.

Anyway, it works for them, but it doesn't work for me. I wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat, thinking shipwreck, drowning, wreckage, ruin and failure.

I almost drowned when I was 6 years old. My body panicked and so did my thoughts, but curiously enough, some part of my mind embraced a calm fatalism. It all happened so quickly but it seemed like ages, and finally some part of me gave up and thought, "I hope I go to heaven" as my arms and legs were desperately flailing. And then someone saw me and I was saved. Though my mother had nightmares for months afterwards: "all I could see were those little hands" she said, hands that frantically grasped at nothing. She saw them in her dreams, and I sometimes see them too.

So I guess I do know the difference, and I realize that I am not drowning. And I suppose I am not really shipwrecked, either. What I need to do, I think, is to revise and rewrite my own script -- not the one I give my parents (that's easy, I am ashamed at how easy) but the one I give myself, the one that plays through my head (and that's not so easy, because I am a tougher audience: my husband says I am too hard on myself and he may be right about that too). So enough. Get me rewrite! I've had done with this story and I want a new script.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:59 PM | Comments (17)

May 19, 2003

First Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence

The First Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to:

Mr. Thomas Hart Benton for the following proposal (see comments to A Market Solution to the History Job Market Problem?):

Why not reduce academic salaries to zero? The lower the salary, the more virtue in serving the institution. Better yet, why not make humanities professors PAY for their positions?

Well done, Mr. Benton. This excellent suggestion demonstrates an outstanding grasp of the lack of principles that now define the pursuit of excellence in higher education.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:19 PM | Comments (18)

A Market Solution to the History Job Market Problem?

I am a 33-year-old historian with three monographs (published by Cambridge University Press, Greenwood, and Rowman & Littlefield), a forthcoming six-volume edited series, and scores of book chapters, refereed articles, book reviews, paid speaking appearances, and the like to my credit. Moreover, with an M.A. in intellectual history and a Ph.D. in economic history, I have taught a variety of courses in history, economics, and evolutionary psychology at three research universities, a state college, and two private colleges.

Alas, I remain a member of the academic underclass.

-- Robert E. Wright, "A Market Solution to the Oversupply of Historians"

Here's an interesting proposal from an economic historian. He is the author of Origins of Commercial Banking in America, 1750–1800 (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001), Hamilton Unbound: Finance and the Creation of the American Republic (Greenwood, 2002), and The Wealth of Nations Rediscovered: Integration and Expansion in American Financial Markets, 1780-1850 (Cambridge University Press, 2002), and co-editor (with Richard Sylla) of the 6-volume The History of Corporate Finance: Development of Anglo-American Securities Markets, Financial Practices, Theories and Laws (Pickering and Chatto, 2003). Publish and perish? When this article appeared in the Chronicle of Higher Education (in April 2002) he was "a relatively well-paid freeway flyer." I really hope he has since found a tenure-track position, though it wouldn't surprise me to learn that he had not.

Wright seeks to explain the history job market with reference to "a few common-sense microeconomic concepts." I don't know much about economics, micro, macro or otherwise. Most historians don't. I wonder if this is why we find ourselves in such a mess? We speak of a job "market," but do we understand what is generally meant by this term?

Is there a job market for academic historians? Or is it a market of a particular type: a labor monopoly that has gone awry (or that has gone the way of all labor monopolies, I suppose some would argue)? Or should we rather speak of a job system?

I don't know.

I think I now have at least a rudimentary grasp on the supply and demand thing. There are too many history Ph.Ds chasing after too few tenure-track jobs. In other words, there is an oversupply. Some argue that there isn't really an oversupply of PhDs, but rather an undersupply of tenure-track jobs. They argue that there is sufficient demand for Ph.Ds to teach history courses, but that this demand is now being met by adjuncts and part-timers. Thus the problem is not not so much "economic" as "political": the profession or the professoriate does not have the will or the power to insist on tenure-track instead of adjunct and part-time appointments. There is probably something to this, but I still think it is related to something that should be called an oversupply: it is the production of a surplus, I suspect, that has weakened the bargaining power of faculty. We have cheapened the value of the history Ph.D. by producing too many history Ph.D.

Anyway, Wright -- who is committed to market analyses -- diagnoses the problem as follows:

While the average salary for new tenure-track assistant professors in history, around $40,000 per year, is modest given the demanding nature of the job and the many years of training it requires, the salary is, in fact, higher than necessary to attract qualified applicants. We know that is the case because it is quite common for an advertisement of a single tenure-track job opening to attract several hundred serious applicants. With rare exceptions, every tenure-track offer made in history is accepted.

And he recommends the following solution:

The solution is clear. The salaries for new assistant professors should be lowered until the number of qualified job applicants (not the number of new Ph.D.'s, which is just a subset of that group) and the number of job openings become more equal.

According to Wright, lowering the starting salary would give rise to the following advantages:

Departments could afford more tenure-track historians, which would reduce institutions' dependence on adjuncts; and search committees could no longer reject qualified applicants for frivolous reasons. New Ph.D.'s would have more freedom to speak their minds, because they would be more in demand -- thus increasing the profession's diversity. Finally, fewer new students would enter graduate programs in history if they knew their future earnings would be low, thus preventing an overabundance of history professors in the future.

I have to say I am sceptical of this solution (though I am with him 100 percent on the need to cut down on the number of new students entering history graduate programs).

I'm just not convinced that lowering the salaries (which are already relatively low) would have the desired effects. Could departments then afford to hire more tenure-track historians? Or would the money simply go elsewhere? That is, would university administration simply take the money saved on salaries and put it into faculty recruitment in other departments, new buildings, technology upgrades and the like?

Would this really tend to raise the value of history PhDs, or would it rather tend toward a further devalution? Given the two-tier system, and the way the existence of a bottom tier is already devaluing the top tier (ie., through the elimination of tenure-track in favor of adjunct and part-time positions), would lowering the salaries at the top tier help to bring about the desired adjustment? Or would it rather have the effect of further widening the bottom tier and narrowing the top tier so that history faculty go the way of the adjuncts at the University of Phoenix -- i.e., all in one tier, and that tier one of low-wage contingent labor?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:12 PM | Comments (14)

May 17, 2003

Derek Bok on the Commercialization of Higher Education

"Whether the commercialization of higher education has reached the crisis point probably is a matter of definition, but there can be no doubt that it is at least headed there. As Bok says, with characteristic understatement, American colleges and universities have fallen prey to a broad phenomenon: 'the encroachment of the marketplace on the work of hospitals, cultural institutions, and other areas of society that have traditionally been thought to serve other values.'"

-- Jonathan Yardley, Higher Education, Upping the Ante

Via the AccidentalAdmin at Financial Aid Office, Jonathan Yardley reviews Derek Bok's Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education for the Washington Post. Here's an intriguing suggestion:

It may well be the case, in fact, that the commercial pressures that business exerts on higher education -- the financial support industry offers for specialized, profit-motivated research, the funds manufacturers donate in exchange for having their logos featured on athletic teams' uniforms -- are less injurious to higher education than the pressures exerted from within. 'Universities share one characteristic with compulsive gamblers and exiled royalty,' Bok writes. 'There is never enough money to satisfy their desires,' and 'the prospect of new revenue is a powerful temptation that can easily lead decent people into unwise compromises, especially when they are under pressure to accomplish more than they can readily achieve by conventional means.'

Yardley also quotes Bok on "'a persistent tendency to exaggerate the benefits [of commercialization] and overlook or underestimate the dangers,' the greatest of which are irreversible damage 'to academic standards and institutional integrity.'"

Another title for my summer must-read list (most of which, of course, I won't actually get around to reading...)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:39 AM | Comments (2)

May 16, 2003

Quote of the Day (16 May)

Slightly adapted -- and more than a little decontextualized -- from Mark A.R. Kleiman:

"My teaching hobby has begun to interfere seriously with my career as a blogger."

(Btw, the entry itself is well worth reading).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:06 PM | Comments (0)

Lynne Cheney Creates James Madison Book Award

"But the great security against a gradual concentration of the several powers in the same department, consists in giving to those who administer each department the necessary constitutional means and personal motives to resist encroachments of the others. The provision for defense must in this, as in all other cases, be made commensurate to the danger of attack. Ambition must be made to counteract ambition. The interest of the man must be connected with the constitutional rights of the place. It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself."

-- "Publius" (Madison),* Federalist Paper 51

Lynne Cheney has set up a fund to award a yearly James Madison Book Award "to the book that, in Mrs. Cheney’s words, 'best represents excellence in bringing knowledge and understanding of American history to the next generation.'” The award carries a cash prize of $10,000. Eligible books include "historically accurate fiction as well as nonfiction" aimed at "children in elementary school and middle school."

Among other things, Cheney is known for her advocacy of an anti-PC get-back-to-basics approach to history teaching (as articulated, for example, in her "Why History Shouldn't be a Mystery"). So it's interesting to note her reliance on a rather newfangled explanation in her "James Madison: The Man Who Loved Books." In this essay, Cheney offers children a psychologized account of Madison's entry into public life, informing them that revolutionary politics delivered Madison from a "deep depression."

Anyway, I'm sure the book award is a good thing in its way. But I wish Cheney and her crowd would take a closer look at Federalist Paper 51.

*Most commonly attributed to Madison, though apparently some scholars think it might have been Hamilton?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:15 PM | Comments (3)

And Now for Something Completely Different (And Of Interest to Parents Only): Toilet Training Learning

There's been too much doom and gloom on this blog of late. And in the grand scheme of things, what does it really matter? Well, it doesn't matter, obviously. At the end of the day, it's all bloody well irrelevant, isn't it? So let's talk about the stuff that really matters when it's 6 a.m. and you're thinking, "Oh hell, another diaper change?"

Toilet training. Er, uh, toilet learning.

My son is 22 months old. Is it too early? Or, god forbid, is it too late? (have we missed the boat? destined to diaper for the next decade or so?)

I can't keep track of the new theories. Oh, I guess I could. But I won't keep track of the new theories. Those books and websites make me nervous, make me think I'm coming up short as a mother. You're guilty until proved innocent, it seems to go. And you won't be proved innocent until you're six feet under and somebody recalls that you weren't so bad, after all, you once read Picture This ten times in a row and without skipping pages even though you had the flu and your head was aching.

So what's the story with toilet training? When to start and how to proceed?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:30 AM | Comments (15)

May 15, 2003

"Reconciling Corporate and Academic Cultures": Let's Bowl!

"To the undiscerning eye of the vulgar, Philip appeared a monarch no less powerful than Hadrian or Augustus had formerly been. The form was still the same, but the animating health and vigour were fled. The industry of the people was discouraged and exhausted by a long series of oppression. The discipline of the legions, which alone, after the extinction of every other virtue, had propped the greatness of the state, was corrupted by the ambition, or relaxed by the weakness, of the emperors...[and] the fairest provinces were left exposed to the rapaciousness or ambition of the barbarians, who soon discovered the decline of the Roman empire."

-- Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, I: vii

Here's an article that should strike fear in the hearts of be of interest to humanities scholars everywhere:

"Reconciling Corporate and Academic Cultures," by Ann S. Ferren, Professor of Educational Studies and Vice President for Academic Affairs, William R. Kennan, Associate Professor and Chair, Department of Communication, and Stephen H. Lerch, Professor of Sociology and Associate Vice President for Academic Enrichment, all of Radford University (Peer Review, Spring 2001, 3.3). So it's a couple of years old (ancient history in blog time!), but has recently been circulated via Tomorrow's Professor. The article begins as follows:

While Dilbert makes us chuckle at corporate fads run amok and Doonesbury provokes knowing smiles with its satiric jabs at 'Walden University,' few faculty or administrators find much to laugh about when corporate values collide with academic traditions on their own campuses. These two very different cultures-one favoring competition, strategy, and outcomes, and the other prizing independence, reflection, and process-often seem to be locked in a bitter struggle to determine the character of higher education.

This opening can be viewed as a declaration of good faith. We know it's hard, the authors suggest, but we're on your side and we feel your pain.

The authors note, quite rightly, I think, that "this tension is bound eventually to resolve itself, one way or another." And they see two available options: "Either the relationship between corporate and academic cultures will decay to the point where institutional gridlock becomes the norm, or colleges and universities will find creative ways to bring those cultures into partnership."

Fair enough. They have identified a problem, to which they purport to offer a solution. At least they are attempting something constructive -- unlike the faculty who stand in as the embodiment of "academic values" in the article:

Yet, given their increasing exclusion from decision making, it is no wonder that many faculty retreat from campus reforms, become sideline critics, assume a skeptical posture, and demand to know, 'What's in it for me?'

Again: we understand, they want to insist, we feel your pain.

The skeptical posture of a sideline critic? Well, mea culpa -- and thanks for reading my blog. By way of apology, I could point that I am absolutely and completely excluded from decision-making. And I don't think I'm very guilty (I'm certainly not the worst offender, at any rate) of asking, "What's in it for me?" (I never have demanded to know, though perhaps I should have?). Though my not asking is not because I'm so virtuous, I will hasten to admit, but rather because I am not, or am no longer, so stupid: I don't ask because I now know the answer.

I can't help noticing that they work in a reference to the academic labor problem as just one of many examples of the collision between academic and corporate values: "Faculty-led budget allocation committees frequently bemoan the loss of teaching positions to this administrative growth,..." So the loss of teaching positions to administrative growth is explicitly and no doubt quite correctly associated here with the "corporate" framework of values. This is stated quite matter-of-factly and perfunctorily, it is just cited in passing as one of many examples of the collision. There is no hand-wringing over this fact, no sense of grave concern over the possibility that this loss of teaching positions might undermine one of the most fundamental purposes of the university. Well, it would certainly undermine one of the most fundamental purposes of the university as defined by academic values. But perhaps it wouldn't undermine, perhaps it would even support, the fundamental purposes of the university as defined by corporate values?

(They are at the gate. And they've got us surrounded.

Well, that's not fair. And not very PC, either.

But it's what I thought (though it's not the only thing I thought) when I read this article. The barbarians are at the gate. They have discovered the decline of the empire, and now they will sack and pillage, and then they will build something on the ruins, and they will call this new thing by the name of the old and not without some justification, for the old will be contained within, and will even serve as the foundations for, the new.

But this is unfair, this is unfounded. Worse still: this is cheesey. This is a cheesey History Book Club analogy. Rome and its decline, the barbarian hordes, the Latin roots of medieval Christendom...Enough. This is altogether too grandiose a scheme to describe a scuffle -- or, if you wish, a series of scuffles -- between faculty and administrators. Please crank it down a notch or two and be reasonable.

Ok, ok. I will try to be reasonable. But not before asking: will anyone preserve the manuscripts? I am told not to worry, and I really am trying not to, but I've heard about the museums in Iraq, and then there are those cutbacks in New Jersey and Florida, and can I just say, if I promise not to mention the term barbarian, that I am genuinely worried about the manuscripts?).

Anyway, is it just me? or is there just the hint of a suggestion that the faculty who "bemoan" the loss of teaching positions are being just a little bit unreasonable? So let us be reasonable. Let us read the proposal and learn how to reconcile corporate and academic cultures, and then set ourselves to the task of reconcilation.

If you have spent any amount of time at the university over the past decade or so, you will have heard some of the buzz surrounding the idea of social capital. You will realize that if social capital is not the key to all mythologies, it is nevertheless the key to the resolution of a great many problems. And you will not be surprised when I tell you that the key to a reconcilation between corporate and academic cultures is found in the notion of social capital, specifically as put forth by Robert Putnam in his famous "Bowling Alone" article (Journal of Democracy 6.1 January 1995; available online through Project Muse but access requires subscription), which our authors summarize as follows:

The political scientist Robert Putnam (1995) has pointed to a weakening of relationships in all areas of our society. He notes, for example, that more people bowl than ever before, but fewer participate on teams. Similarly, fewer and fewer people hold memberships in local service organizations, like the PTA or Rotary Club. Much of the difficulty, he concludes, lies in our lack of interest in connecting with others who inhabit a shared community.

Well, social capital sounds good. It does sound like the key to a reconciliation. The "social" resonates of the values and priorities of that earlier academic culture, what Timothy Burke has nicely summarized as "the sacred, artisanal, guild character of the academy," (scroll to comments) while the "capital" gestures neatly toward the values and priorities of the newer corporate culture. Put the two words together, and you have a very appealing synthesis: the social works to humanize the capital, while the capital keeps the social to a bottom line.

But what exactly might it mean?

In order to "help solidify interdepartmental collaborative relationships," explain the authors,

some institutions have borrowed strategies from the corporate sector, such as 'continuous quality improvement' and 'working teams.' Thus, small groups of faculty are getting together in and across departments to talk about teaching and learning. While these discussions are intended primarily to result in curricular changes to improve program delivery, the process is also designed to establish ongoing interdepartmental linkages...

... Another common approach to building social capital involves the evaluation process. Although faculty have often criticized an emphasis on accountability as being too 'corporate,' some new strategies are both suitable to the academy and seem to promote a greater sense of community. In one model, individual faculty are evaluated not merely on their individual performance but also on their contributions to fulfilling the missions of their units and their institutions.

Hmm...See, I'm not convinced that under the older regime -- that of an academic culture -- faculty were not committed to what is now called "quality improvement" and were not evaluated "on their contributions to fulfilling the missions of their units and their institutions." "Units" is new, of course, as is "program delivery," but I actually think that the above description of how the corporate enriches the academic is a pretty good description of just what an older and non-corporate model sought to achieve: you're not just a free agent, it said, you belong to a department and a college, and your role is help further the mission (i.e., the teaching mission) that lies at the very heart of the enterprise. So what's up with recasting this as something new that the corporate can add to the academic?

It seems to me that the authors are not arguing for a reconcilation between these two different sets of values: the corporates gives a little here, the academic gives a little there. Rather, they are suggesting that proponents of academic values reconcile themselves to the inevitable replacement of academic by corporate values. Since you have no real capital (not the kind that talks, the kind that really matters), you have actually and in fact very little power. So stop bowling alone. Put on your corporate-issued bowling shirt and join the team!

I guess I sound a little hard on the authors of this article. I'm sure they are correct to suggest that side-line scepticism is ultimately self-defeating. And I'll acknowledge that they are probably correct to imply that the growth of the corporate is pretty much is inevitable. I'm just not convinced, frankly, that the academic and the corporate can be reconciled in the manner that they propose.

So maybe the answer is to say, f*** the academic, let's go corporate all the way (but then hope for a new Charlemagne... )?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:38 PM | Comments (11)

Consumer Revolution in Education Continues Apace

"Coppin State College is poised to let at least eight students in its criminal-justice graduate program receive master's degrees on Sunday even though they did not pass their comprehensive exams or write final papers considered acceptable by the faculty. The college decided to let the students graduate after they sued the college."

-- Megan Rooney, "Coppin State College to Let Failing Students Graduate, Critics Charge" (currently subscription only, but I will change to free URL as soon as it's available)

Injustice in a department of criminal justice:

Today's Chronicle of Higher Education reports on an (almost) unbelievable turn of events at Coppin State College in Baltimore (thanks to reader T.H. Benton for the link).

Apparently, ten students who failed to complete the requirements for the master's degree in criminal justice will nevertheless be awarded degrees at the upcoming graduation ceremony. This after the ten students filed a lawsuit against the college, claiming that the college "had violated its contract with its students," seeking "punitive damages of $2,500" and demanding "that the college change its requirements to allow them to graduate without having passed the exam or the seminar paper." In other words, when faced with the prospect of a lawsuit, the president of the college, Stanley F. Battle, caved in to student pressure. "The president began to take their demands seriously when he was served with court papers," and, as lead plaintiff Alice Freeman notes with satisfaction, "'That woke him up.'"

I think it's important to emphasize not only that these students failed to meet the degree requirements but that they failed through a positive and actual failure: that is, they took a comprehensive exam and failed the exam. They also submitted seminar papers that their professors deemed "far below acceptable quality:"

In a letter he wrote to the head of the department in early April, Mr. Monk [a professor in the criminal justice department] described all the seminar papers as lacking sufficient references and clear hypotheses. Some were plagiarized from criminal-justice textbooks, he said. One was less than five pages long and included a single source.

The above-quoted Professor Richard Monk is among those faculty who are threatening to boycott the graduation ceremony. I can only support this symbolic protest. But I suspect it will be nothing more than symbolic. The real power lies elsewhere. This looks like yet another example of how, when push comes to shove, administrators will side with students against the faculty who are supposed to assess and evaluate according to standards that they are not really supposed to apply, let alone enforce. And if a student can receive a master's degree after having plagiarized from a textbook, the idea of standards is of course absolutely meaningless. (for more on the problem of plagiarism see this and this.)

Meanwhile, student Jocelyn Evans, who did successfully complete the requirements for the degree, is considering a lawsuit of her own. "'Do you think companies are going to hire someone with a master's degree from this school?,'" she asks, "'I want my money back. But how do you calculate the value of this wasted effort?'" Evans is quite justifiably angry at the injustice of it all, and is of course quite right to point out that the degree she properly earned is now devalued. But note the consumerist logic of her own argument, along with the willingness to pursue her grievance through the courts.

It's all about consumer satisfaction.

Is this an isolated incident? Or a wakeup call to faculty everywhere?

ADDENDUM (Friday, 16 May):

In the comments to this entry, Russell Arben Fox agrees that this is "a sad example of the continuing commodification of the university," but suggests that "it is also about class and race, about the relationship between service education and higher education, and how hard it is to stand firm in regard to the standards by which we used to define and distinguish those things, when the reality doesn't seem to either reflect or respect them any longer." He directs us to his own blog entry on the topic, as well as to an article in today's Baltimore Sun.

The Baltimore Sun reports:

An article on the Web site of the Chronicle of Higher Education quoted students and a faculty member who alleged that the school had agreed to allow the failing students to graduate after they filed suit in District Court...

...But late yesterday, Battle denied there were any plans to give degrees to students who had not earned them, and he said the allegations in the higher education journal were untrue.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:46 PM | Comments (20)

May 14, 2003

Overspecialization as Scholasticism?

Rebecca Goetz reports on some remarks made by Bernard Bailyn, "the dean of historians of early America," at a forum for graduate students held at the Colonial Society of Massachusetts:

His take on the historical profession currently is that because of the volume of publishing, our professional dialogues are now carried on in the context of a sort of scholasticism...He pointed out that when he wrote his dissertation there was only a handful of books dealing with New England in the seventeenth century.

Goetz notes that while thirty years ago her own topic -- on religion and race in 17th-century Chesapeake -- would "have only encompassed a handful of books," her biblography is now "stabilizing at three hundred items" and yet she still feels that she has not "fully researched all the secondary literature" (but I'm sure she has). Our debates, she writes, "are now predicated on a knowledge of secondary work that takes years to master and significant amounts of time to keep up with, as demonstrated by the proliferation of journals."

It is instructive to compare the history journal article of today with the history journal article of thirty years ago. What's striking is the difference not only in the number of footnotes per article but also in the number of sources cited per footnote. A friend of mine first called my attention to this a few years ago: she was doing some research which involved reading a lot of journal articles from the 60s and 70s, and was struck by the relatively modest (by today's standards) footnote apparatus in the earlier articles.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:04 PM | Comments (10)

Quote of the Day

From the Irascible Professor (aka Dr. Mark H. Shapiro):

"The guard-to-inmate ratio for our prisons is much higher than the faculty-to-student ratios for our college systems."

-- It's Cheaper to Send Someone to Penn State Than to State Pen!

By the way, though I don't always agree with him, I always enjoy reading the Irascible Professor's sharp and often funny commentary. Though he's a bit cranky at times (well after all, he prides himself on his irascibility), he's never unfair or mean-minded.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:30 AM | Comments (1)


Congratulations to Jason of No Symbols Where None Intended, who is now the proud father of a bouncing baby boy. Jason reports that his wife and son "are recovering nicely after a long and difficult labor" and describes the new baby as "alarmingly cute."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:04 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2003

More on the Straussians

Eddie Thomas has posted a very thoughtful and interesting piece on the Straussians. He begins by citing Andrew Sullivan to the effect that, as Thomas puts it, this is "a story that pops up every now and then to scare old ladies and small children." I have to say, if I wanted to scare old ladies and small children, I think I would come up with something rather more vivid and concrete than the spectre of Leo Strauss. If you call someone a Marxist, just about everyone will have some idea of what that means, though they may have differing opinions on the significance of the term. But a Straussian? Who outside the academy, and now perhaps also outside the readership of the NYTimes and the New Yorker (still a relatively small group), has ever heard of Leo Strauss or has any idea of what Straussian might mean?

In a related vein, I want to finally reply to Robert Schwartz's suggestion -- made in the comments section to my own entry on the Straussians -- that to speak of a Straussian influence in politics is to "[feed] a dangerous meme," ie, to encourage the notion that there is a sinister cabal of specifically Jewish neocons. I actually don't think this is a fair move on Schwartz's part.

Obviously Leo Strauss was Jewish, and as I understand it, his distrust of democracy stemmed in part from having witnessed the rise of Nazism, which he characterized as a popular movement with broad support and from which he of course had to flee for his life. Other Straussian scholars and admirers also have been and are Jewish. But many Straussians have not been and are not Jewish. I don't think of Straussianism as a Jewish phenomenon any more than I think of Marxism as a Jewish phenomenon. Karl Marx was Jewish too, and there has been a specifically anti-Semitic version of anti-Marxism from its very inception. Since there are specifically anti-Semitic forms of challenging and attacking Marxism, does this mean that any and all criticism of Marx and Marxism must be anti-Semitic? Of course not. So likewise with the Straussians, is how I see it.

In terms of the political angle (which is the angle of the Atlas article), the questions for me are: are there really self-identified Straussians in the Pentagon and other high places? There may not be: the article by Atlas may be inaccurate. But if so, what do they mean by the term? how and in what ways do they view their policies as having a Straussian influence? And what should we think about this?

I am still thinking about how to reply to the comments by Schwartz and Thomas as they relate to higher education and the role of the humanities in public life. I do think the humanities are in trouble. And though I am unapologetically a liberal, I am willing to meet some conservative criticisms of the academy halfway, and in some areas, perhaps more than halfway. But more on this anon.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:09 PM | Comments (11)

May 12, 2003

"Everything is Grist for the Blogger's Mill"

In the comments to Blogito Ergo Sum, Rana admits that "One week blogging and I already find myself thinking 'this would be great for my blog!'" (her new blog is here, by the way). I know the feeling.

And this reminds me -- yes: yes, this is a vanity site -- of an email exchange I had with my husband (let's call him AIA) a few weeks ago:

Me: Were you reading my blog this morning?

AIA: Big Brother is on the prowl. Yes, I was.

Me: Hey, all the cool bloggers have site meters.

AIA: That's a good justification for the Panoptiblog.

Me: Great term! I may use it on my blog.

AIA: Everything is grist for the blogger's mill. Sigh...I'm a blog widower.

So do you think this blogging thing could affect my marriage? And if so, what to do? Blog or husband? Husband or blog?

What would Ms. Mentor say? Hmm.... Looks like she might say, "If [AIA] must pout, perhaps you want out." Damn. Does she think husbands grow on trees? I'm afraid I'd have to disagree with Ms. Mentor on this one, but I guess I'll save that for another entry (on second thought, I'd better attach a disclaimer now: Yes, I am a feminist. But no, I don't think feminism implies a view of people, whether male or female, as disposable paper products. Second disclaimer: Though it intersects with feminist concerns, the issue at the heart of that column isn't so much feminism as it is the creation of a hyper-professionalized academic identity to the exclusion of all other commitments, loyalties, and obligations...)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:19 PM | Comments (19)

And you can tell a lot about institutions by how they distribute their office space...

"Working our way up and down the halls of one faculty office building, checking out the office-hour schedules posted below the nameplates, and observing the work and leisure habits of these specimens through their half-opened doors, we have been able to classify, according to their office-hour behavior, some subspecies of the North American professor."

-- James M. Lang, "Putting in the Hours"

"You can tell a lot about faculty members," writes Lang, "by how they set up their office hours." Based on findings which he describes as "early and exploratory," Lang has identified 5 subspecies of the North American professor: The Early Bird, the Door Closer, the Counselor, the Chatterer, and the Fugitive. I'd probably be somewhere between a Fugitive and a Counselor, except that...

Lang notes that his research is still in a preliminary stage:

"Given the early and exploratory nature of these observations, we would welcome notes from fellow field researchers who have studied the office-hour habits of the North American professor, and have observed other forms of both common and unusual behaviors."

Well, since he asked: there's another subspecies that is everywhere to be found though nowhere to be seen: the Adjunct who does not have an office.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:06 PM | Comments (1)

Blogito Ergo Sum?

I've been thinking about how bizarrely self-conscious an activity is blogging.

Turbulent Velvet has a really interesting post in which he argues that blogging is like letter-writing, which he understands in earlier, indeed in 18th-century, terms:

"Letters inhabit a kind of middle ground between writing and orality. They are written, but they are formally dialogic in much the same way that speech is. Letters exist in the context of an ongoing correspondence--they proceed by turn-taking, they respond to previous mentions and 'calls,' and they anticipate responses, which means that any statement made in a letter may have to be elaborated or revised or rescinded across narrative time in dialogue with another person. Statements are never finished in letterwriting the way they are in a 'closed' form like an essay, which does not open itself formally to dialogue in the same raw way."

Like 18th-century epistolarity, T.V. suggests, blogging takes place somewhere between privacy and publicity. I like this because it allows me to think of blogging as a social form: not quite public but not fully private, either: somewhere in that intermediary social realm that falls in between.

So it's not keeping a private diary and then publishing one's innermost thoughts and musings on a website. Or it shouldn't be, if you want to have any readers. Aha! There is always the consciousness of readers, and of their responses, and then of one's own responses to their responses. Back and forth we go, from blog to blog, entry to comment, and back again.

And yet there's no getting away from the self-consciousness. I am sometimes amazed (occasionally even appalled) by my keeping a blog, it sometimes strikes me as altogether too self-indulgent an activity. The "I" that is all over these pages: who is this "I" and what am I doing? What a massively insignificant authorial intrusion into cyberspace. Full of sound and fury and signifying nothing or something or just what, exactly? Is this a feat of derring-do? Hell no, it's more an act of sheer folly.

Then, too, I sometimes worry that I'll start thinking in blogbytes.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:45 AM | Comments (8)

May 11, 2003

"Consumer Protection": Statement by AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment

"Everyone in the historical profession has a stake in ameliorating this situation. It is important to halt the erosion of tenure track positions, and where possible to increase them. It is equally important to improve the working conditions and lives of part-time/adjunct faculty and their ability to support student learning."

-- AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment Press Release

The American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians have recently formed a permanent Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment. This committee has recently issued a statement with the following five recommendations:

1. the inclusion of adjuncts in "the collegial relations and communications of their departments;"

2. accurate statistical reporting by history departments on their use of adjunct faculty;

3. the recognition of standards for the "appropriate proportion for courses taught by adjuncts" (they recommend an absolute maximum of 20 percent for 4-year institutions, and of 30 percent for research institutions);

4. a pay scale for "part-time faculty [that would ] be set at a minimum of 80 percent of what a full-time faculty member of comparable training and experience would be paid for teaching a course at that particular institution;"

5. and finally, since none of these recommendations are enforceable, they recommend that "history departments should undertake to meet these standards and will be commended for substantial progress and good practices in the AHA and OAH newsletters."

The above is a start (it comes rather late in the day, but it's a start nonetheless). Implementation of any of the above recommendations would be good, implementation of all of these recommendations would be even better. But given budgetary constraints, how are history departments to implement such recommendations? To do so, they would need the cooperation of university administrations, and how are they to secure such cooperation?

What I find promising is the following request, which comes at the very end of the statement:

"Additional Request for AHA Council Action:

The AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment requests that the OAH Executive Board/AHA Council vote on the following action. We believe that this action has potential for moving for change in many places and without major long-range organizational effort.

That the OAH Executive Board/AHA Council contact all college accrediting organizations and all journals and media that list colleges and universities by various criteria and ask them to include the following information in their reports:

- number and percentage of part-time/adjunct faculty

- number and percentage of courses taught by part-time/adjunct faculty

This is a matter of public information to which prospective students and their families are entitled as a matter of consumer protection."

This I like. Here I think they are on the right tack. I suspect the only way to change things is to make this "a matter of consumer protection." This means that students and their parents are consumers, of course, which suggests that education is a product. Am I not therefore buying into the very commodification of education of which I so often complain? Yes.

I honestly don't see another way. Universities have a vested interest in continuing with business as usual, increasing their reliance on adjuncts while doing whatever they can to make this reliance invisible to parents, students, accrediting organizations and the public at large. It is very probably the case that the only effective way of pressuring them to stop the erosion of tenure-track positions is to make this reliance on adjuncts visible to the tuition-paying students/parents/consumers who currently do not understand just what it is they are paying for.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:13 PM | Comments (1)

Why Plagiarism Matters

In the light of a recent discussion of plagiarism initiated by Kieran Healy's Copycats and picked up by Calpundit for its entertainment value (while Kevin Drum accused himself of plagiarising comments from Healy's blog, Kieran allowed that this was "research"), the recent revelations about NYTimes reporter Jayson Blair provide an excellent real-life example of why plagiarism matters. I can't help wondering whether Blair ever committed plagiarism as a college student? and if so, whether he got away with it?

In this regard, Angry Bear made a couple of interesting points when he (or she?) tossed in two cents:

"Cent one: there are a lot of genuinely funny stories going around about students suddenly elevating their prose to Dostoyevskian levels, or their mathematical analysis to the level of Nash. The implication is that plagiarizers are all stupid and sure to get caught by clever professors."

"Cent two: It's always important to think about sample selection. As professors, we only observe the bad plagiarizers. There are likely rather clever (but presumably lazy) students who are skilled plagiarizers. When plagiarism is done well, professors don't know that it's occuring. So the various amusing stories are not representative of the average instance of plagiarism, but simply a random sampling from poorly executed plagiarism."

I actually don't think plagiarizers are all stupid, and I certainly don't believe I'm clever enough to catch them all. The Googlers are a breeze to catch, obviously. And the paper mill papers are also pretty easy to spot. But what about smarter versions? I've definitely received papers about which I've had suspicions, though without being able to confirm my suspicions using the usual methods. And then, too, there might be papers about which I entertain no suspicions whatsoever because the plagiarism is so cleverly done.

I sometimes suspect that student plagiarism is much more widespread than many faculty are prepared to acknowledge. So I was interested to read the following comment that Alex Halavais made at Kieran' Healy's blog:

"Last year, I asked a class of about 150 students how many had intentionally plagiarized during their time in the university, and nearly half raised their hands."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:06 PM | Comments (8)

May 10, 2003

EduBlogs with Another Sort of Edge

There's been a lot of talk in the blogosphere about the phenomenon of the scholar bloggers (much of it, of course, by and for the, uh, scholar bloggers). But there's a lot more to higher education than the academics who often (and perhaps wrongly) assume that they are at its very center. Here are a couple of edublogs brought to us by some of the insiders who arguably have a better handle on what's really going on in the university:

Financial Aid Office. This one is all about -- you guessed it -- financial aid. Can tpruett and the AccidentalAdmin really put out a compelling blog on such a topic? They can, and they do. They seem to mainly follow a link-and-comment format, calling attention to what's being said and done in the areas of admissions, rankings, student loans and various other matters of weighty concern to those inside the academy. Serious stuff, but some of it they manage to make funny with wry observations and understated irony.

Frank Admissions. This new site promises "Higher Ed with an admissions focus." "Frank" is "an admissions professional who has worked in undergraduate and graduate admissions at several selective universities" and whose blog will "collect news and ideas about higher education with an emphasis on admissions/enrollment management."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:37 PM | Comments (1)

Enlightenment and Blackmail

Gary Sauer-Thompson senses "a bit of blackmail" in my refusal of the "refusing the blackmail of Enlightenment" position. Though he has "a lot of sympathy" for my concern over the fact that, as I put in my original post on the so-called Leo-Cons, "liberalism has taken quite a beating of late," he writes that he has done his "bit to give liberalism a bit of a beating for its univeralism, abstraction and individualism."

I've yet to respond to two very interesting and challenging comments from a more conservative perspective (by Robert Schwartz and Eddie Thomas). And now here is a new challenge from the left side of the spectrum. What's a liberal to do!? -- I'm going to try to come up with a reply that addresses the questions and concerns raised by both sides.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:34 PM | Comments (4)

"Funny Money": Graduate School Tuition Waivers

In the comments to "'Eggshead Unite': Against the Union-Busters at Penn," reader JT says what I was trying to say, but says it much better than I could:

"[The] 'tuition waivers' are most certainly 'funny money,' if you mean by that a price that could not be supported (successfully charged) if exposed to the free market. An entity like a university can conduct all sorts of internal shennanigans with its budgets which have nothing to do with economic realities. To claim that an extended 7-year (or whatever) program which leads a promising young student to experience ever lower economic expectations, as non-science PhD programs do, is worth something like $20-30k per year is ludicrous on its face. (We are just talking about economic considerations here.)"

Quite right. It's one thing to take out huge loans for law school or medical school, quite another to take out such huge loans for graduate school. I can't imagine many people would be willing to do so. And I can't believe there would be many financial institutions willing to participate in this kind of lending: You want $20-30k per year to do an English degree, and your prospects for employment are what...?! -- This has "loan default" written all over it. In other words, the tuition waiver that is often defined as a huge benefit (you don't need more money to live on: look at that 25,000 dollar we just gave you) is meaningless outside of this closed system. Eliminate the waivers and you would no longer be able to attract candidates to these graduate programmes.

JT also says, "if you think the university is too corporatized, you ain't seen nothing yet." Unfortunately, I suspect this will probably prove an accurate prediction.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:38 AM | Comments (8)

Too Much Doom and Gloom?

"Geez, talk about depressing."

So writes Archidamus, a graduate student in the history department at UVA, who finds my postings too full of "angst" and my side-bar too "dreary." Dreary?! Well, damn. I was going for a different effect altogether: fun, flirty, and feminine, but with a serious side. Maybe I need a new colour scheme?

Though Archidamus admits that he himself has "plenty of complaints about the academy," he wonders "if all this doom-and-gloom is a bit overdone." Placing the issue within a broader historical perspective, he makes an observation that strikes me as entirely correct, then draws a conclusion that strikes me as fundamentally wrong-headed in its refusal to consider present and future contexts and concerns:

"Historically, people have never been able to make much of a living doing the sort of stuff modern academics in the humanities do, which is why one used to have to be independently wealthy to write history or work on poetry or whatever. If this is a real issue for anyone, they should probably just go make a living doing something else."

Anyway, he is right, of course, that this blog is not exactly upbeat in tone. And I shouldn't really give him such a hard time, since he's new to the blogosphere and says he still has misgivings about the whole business of blogging." Welcome, Archidamus. Now hit those books.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:18 AM | Comments (15)

May 08, 2003

Plagiarism dot com

With this post, Kieran Healy has achieved the impossible: he's made plagiarism funny.

I spent two semesters (never again!) teaching at a place where plagiarism was rampant. At the end of each paper grading session, I would have a small pile of papers to be "googled." I began to take a rather perverse pleasure in catching out plagiarists: finding the online source (aha!), printing up the relevant pages, then stapling this incontrovertible evidence to the student's paper with a brief explanation of why he or she was receiving the grade of F for the assignment (forget expulsion from the course: nobody in a position of authority would have backed me up on this). Amazingly enough, even in the face of undeniable proof of wrongdoing, some students would protest that they had done nothing wrong. So overall, this wasn't much fun, and really rather depressing.

I know I sound cranky when I talk about plagiarism. And god knows! I don't have the rank and status to be a curmudgeon. But it's the one thing that truly irks me. I can be a soft touch in other areas, but on plagiarism I take a hard line. It's cheating, and it's wrong.

That said, I wonder if part of the problem has to do with the sheer number of courses that students have to take at any given time? I sometimes wonder whether we don't expect both too much and too little of students? they have to juggle so many things at once, and how can they do justice to all that is required of them? In my ideal world, students would take fewer courses but would take them more intensively. This will happen when pigs fly. In any case, I say this not as an excuse for plagiarism but by way of a possible explanation.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:18 PM | Comments (26)

My Thought for the Day

A teacher is not a performance artist.

(And that's the one thought I've had all day: my mind is numbed by my students' term papers and my toddler's tantrums).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:47 AM | Comments (13)

May 07, 2003

College or University?

Via the AccidentalAdmin at the Financial Aid Office (this all begins to look like an online shadow university, doesn't it? not a college, though, and here is why):

"'College connotes a slow pace, cozy campuses, tweedy faculty, ivy-covered gothic-style buildings and a curriculum that runs to the classics. University denotes a bustling city of academic energy and scientific progress, with things always moving and shaking with an eye to the future and the main chance.'

Guess which image is more appealing to 21st-century teenagers and their tuition-paying parents? George Dehne & Associates, a consulting firm, found that two-thirds of prospective students said they planned to enroll in a public or private university, not college. Dehne found that universities were more highly regarded than colleges by employers and graduate schools and more likely to be credited with having better students, a better social life, greater diversity of students, greater prestige and stronger science programs."

-- Jay Mathews, "Colleges Upgrade Their Image"

Apparently some college officials are having a hard time deciding whether to update to the 21st century. Patricia McGuire, president of Trinity College in northeast Washington, for example, has "read research data that show U.S. teenagers believe universities are better than colleges, and potential applicants overseas associate the word 'college' with their version of high school." On the other hand, she notes, "'"We have a brand name that is distinctive in the Washington market and that means a lot to our alumnae.'"

Solid brand name recognition, but at the risk of conjuring up images of a potentially outmoded institution? Or a risky rebranding that potentially alienates the loyalty of an established base of supporters, while appealing to the sensibilities of the next generation of consumers? It's a tough call.

Leo Lambert, president of what was once Elon College and what is now Elon University, reports that while he's "not sure there's any connection," applications for admission to the school "have increased 30 percent since the switch, and campus visits are up 67 percent."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:16 PM | Comments (9)

"Eggheads Unite" (Against the Union-Busters at Penn)

"We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is every where a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals."

-- Adam Smith, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chap. VIII

"Michael Janson, a tall, well-mannered University of Pennsylvania doctoral student, seethes about the modern university: beholden to corporate donors, enthralled by corporate-management strategies, all too willing to exploit the workers -- including its own graduate students -- who make the place run. With a gracious, raised-right humility in his brown eyes, permanent-press khakis and a fashion-free haircut, Janson makes an unlikely radical: he looks like someone whose life will work out fine if he just keeps showing up. But for more than two years, Janson, a budding political scientist, has played David to the University of Pennsylvania's Goliath."

-- Daniel Duane, "Eggheads Unite"

Well, it's the same old, same old. Workers want to form a union, managers want to prevent workers from forming a union.

Deputy Provost Peter Conn thinks it "makes no sense" that "an Ivy League graduate student researching Edmund Spenser is to be identified with a sanitation worker.'" It's funny how the very mention of "union" is enough to elicit such candid expressions of class snobbery and class anxiety. But this is the Ivy League! We're not to be equated with -- gasp! -- sanitation workers. There is Spenser, and there is garbage, and we must not confuse our categories.

Quite. Let us not confuse our categories.

As I see it, there are employers and there are employees. Sometimes their interests will nicely coincide, and sometimes they will not. Increasingly, they do not coincide. And of course it's not very nice when they don't.

I'm not even going to bother with the apprenticeship argument, at least not at the moment. This entire blog is an argument against the relevance of apprenticeships and guilds and the like. I wish it were otherwise. I'm only joking when I say I want to start my own online university; I am appalled by the spectre of the University of Phoenix. I wish it did make sense to talk of apprentices and guilds. Unfortunately, it does not.

Penn's president disagrees. Penn's president Judith Rodin, who makes "more than a million dollars a year if you include other corporate-board fees" (the Chronicle of Higher Education reports that she received the handsome sum of $808,021 in pay and benefits during the 2001 fiscal year), and who has "publicly referred to herself as Penn's C.E.O.," insists that the corporatization of the university is ''completely spurious.'' She speaks of "nurturing" and "nourishing." But (well, what do you think they pay her for? believe you me -- and I say this as both an invisible adjunct and a mother -- you don't get $808,021 per annum to "nurture" and "nourish") she is apparently a skilled hand at union-busting:

"Brought in by the trustees in 1994 in part to trim the staff, Rodin infuriated Philadelphia's working class by appointing the management consultants Coopers & Lybrand and eliminating more than 3,500 positions -- breaking a decades-old union in one instance, simply by moving the Penn Faculty Club across the street to the new DoubleTree hotel."

I won't argue that unionization is the panacea for all ills. Nor will I deny that it might create new tensions and problems. I will point out, however, that graduate teaching assistants at Canadian universities and at a handful of American universities have been unionized for some thirty years. And I will assert my support of the principle that workers have the right to enter into collective bargaining units if they see fit to do so. Never mind what management wants to call them: hands or apprentices or sanitation workers or what have you. There are employers and there are employees, and if you don't think the employers have a union of their own, you are, in the words of the inimitable Smith, "as ignorant of the world as of the subject." Or perhaps not ignorant, but something worse than ignorant.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:59 AM | Comments (15)

May 06, 2003

Be Careful: It's Strange Out There

I'm not sure how long it's been since Alex Soojung-Kim Pang left the academy (though apparently it's been long enough that he had forgotten about a "peculiar academic reception food group."). In any case, he has some interesting observations on the differences between academia and the business world:

"One of the biggest differences between academia and the business world is that, by and large, in the latter you simply have no choice but to find a way to work with people, even if you don't really like them. Academics have the luxury of misanthropy and solitude, and if they don't finish their next book, absolutely nothing bad will happen to their employers. I, on the other hand, could really screw things up for the Institute if I blow a deadline, or refuse to work with someone."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:04 PM | Comments (2)

Bill Bennett Explains the Academic Job Market

"As deconstruction and political correctness were taking root in the academy throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Americans took little note. Humanities and political science departments were swinging dramatically leftward, imprecating American history and our founding. To speak of self-evident truths as anything but a cultural construct was a practical guarantee that one would not be hired to teach at a college or university. Were a doctoral candidate to write his dissertation on the seriousness of some aspect of our nation's founding, assuming he could assemble a dissertation committee that would accept the topic, he would find it close to impossible to find a starting job in academia. Many blithely dismissed this situation. Now we are reaping the effects of this foolishness."

-- William J. Bennett, Maddening Deeds at U.S. Universities

Well, I could think a few more reasons why someone might not find a starting job in academia. But this explanation has the virtue of simplicity: what Bennett calls "moral clarity."

And speaking of moral clarity, though he emphasizes that he has done nothing illegal, Bennett now admits: "I have done too much gambling, and this is not an example I wish to set. Therefore my gambling days are over."

The recent revelations ($8 million in gambling losses!) are a setback, of course, but I think he could still find a way to salvage his career as professional scold. He needs to join a chapter of Gamblers Anonymous, go through the twelve-step programme, and then come out with a public confession of his former guilt. America loves a repentant sinner, especially if he sheds a few tears in front of the camera. Then he could write another book, using his own confession/conversion narrative as a means of excoriating the vice of gambling.

But to do this, he really would have to quit gambling. Is he really ready to give it up?

Commenting on Bennett's protestations that the gambling is his own business and that, in any case, he can handle it, Kieran Healy notes that this is not only "exactly the kind of narrow, privatized view of morality that Bennett himself has made it his vocation to criticize," but also "the bluster of an addict."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:45 PM | Comments (11)

May 05, 2003

Where the Adjuncts Have Equal Status

"Kathy Sole, who teaches English on the Seattle, Washington campus is happy at Phoenix. Everywhere else she taught, Sole felt like an 'outsider.' As an adjunct she was at the bottom of the hierarchy, far below administrators and tenured faculty. Professors would hold parties without thinking of inviting adjuncts, or convene meetings without seeking the advice of their part-time colleagues. Sole always felt 'her status as an adjunct to be inferior to that of the full-time faculty.' But Phoenix is different. Nearly everyone teaches part-time. No one has tenure, and, aside from a few administrators, no one has rank. The result, Sole believes, is an egalitarian university where 'all faculty members have equal status.'”

-- Chris Cumo, "Phoenix Rising"

The other day I asked the following question in the comments section to the entry "What Ever Happened to Scholarly Conversation?"

"The democratization of higher education (the enormous expansion, the opening up of the university to women and minorities both as students and, to a lesser extent, as faculty members) pretty much coincides with the trend toward corporatization. Is the commodification of education the price we must pay for its democratization? I don't think there is a necessary and inevitable link, and yet I can't help wondering whether there isn't some sort of link? This puzzles and troubles me."

(Wow! Talk about a me-zine. Yes, this is a "vanity site." I'm just going to keep linking back and forth to my own entries and comments.)

Anyway, here's one answer to my question. Behold the University of Phoenix, an egalitarian university where all faculty are treated equally, which is to say, all faculty are treated equally badly. Chris Cumo reports that of the 12,000 faculty members that the university employs, all but 250 are adjuncts.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the two-tier academic labor system and what to do about it: policy statements have been issued, proposals put forth and debated, and so on. But the University of Phoenix is way ahead of the game: they have discovered an easy solution through the elimination of the top tier.

Interested in learning more? Give them a call at 1-800-MY-SUCCESS. (Dear God. For this I went to graduate school?)

The adjuncts don't make much money, but the university is turning profits:

"Phoenix 'makes one hell of a lot of money,' says Director of Academic Affairs Jonathan Edelman of the Western Michigan campus in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The Apollo Group, which owns the for-profit university, earned $1.1 billion in 2002, according to T.D. Waterhouse. During that same year, its stock rose 6.71 percent to $43.58 per share at year’s end. The Apollo Group expects to earn between $1.31 billion and $1.315 billion in 2003, and projects earnings between $510 million and $515 million for the University of Phoenix."

Well, now that I've got a handle on this blogging thing, I think I'm finally ready to get with the programme. I've had done with such old-fashioned notions as the history profession as guild, academic work as quasi-sacred calling, the university as a protected space offering an alternative to the values of the market. It's high time I signed on with the forces of corporate innovation. But I don't want to teach for $1000 a course. No, I'm starting to think big: I want to start my own online university.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:26 PM | Comments (12)

May 04, 2003

Mr. Smith Strauss Goes to Washington

"They have penetrated the culture at nearly every level -- from the halls of academia to the halls of the Pentagon. They are scribes and editors at publications high and low. They finance think tanks, operate think tanks or simply think at think tanks, and they've accumulated the wherewithal -- financially, professionally -- to broadcast what they think over the airwaves to the masses or over cocktails to those at the highest levels of government."

-- New York Times, Week in Review, scroll to "Graphic: Father Strauss Knows Best"

The tenured radicals? The Frenchified deconstructionists? The Marxist lit-crit establishment? The radical man-hating feminists?

No, it's the Leo-Cons, the politically active conservatives who cite political philosopher Leo Strauss as intellectual guide and inspiration and who are profiled in James Atlas' "A Classicist's Legacy: New Empire Builders." It's hard to know what to make of this piece, since Atlas seems to want to have it both ways: that is, to suggest that the upper echelons of government have been infiltrated by Straussians without quite saying outright that the upper echelons of government have been infiltrated by Straussians. "To intellectual-conspiracy theorists," he writes, "the Bush administration's foreign policy is entirely a Straussian creation." So we should dismiss any mention of a Straussian connection as the paranoid fantasy of a conspiracy theorist? Not so quick. Atlas also states as a matter of fact that "the Bush administration is rife with Straussians," and is at pains to emphasize this point throughout the article.

Atlas seems prepared to accept Harvey Mansfield's assertion that "'the open agenda of Straussians is the reading of the Great Books for their own sake, not for a political purpose,'" but suggests that the Great Books agenda "became politicized when it was appropriated — some might say hijacked — by a cohort of ambitious men for whom the university was too confining an arena." The open agenda of the Straussians: might there also be another, hidden, agenda? If so, it would not be accessible to the likes of me: as a humble historian, I am confined to the realm of exoteric meaning. But I rather doubt they have a hidden agenda: the politicians (or should we call them statesmen?) cited in this article seem remarkably candid about what they take to be the significance of Strauss for their political aims and ambitions: "graduated deterrence" and "need to err on the side of being strong."

"How well have Strauss's hawkish disciples understood him?" asks Atlas. He doesn't really answer this question. I for one would like an answer. Beyond a casual contempt for the masses (though I suppose his acolytes would say it is not casual but rather principled and serious?) and a deep hostility toward some of the most cherished values of modern liberalism, what, if anything, does Strauss offer by way of practical guidance in the areas of politics and policy? I really don't know, so I'd be interested in comments and suggestions.

One thing I do know: Liberalism has taken quite a beating of late: we liberals have been kicked around the block and back again more times than we care to mention. I think the time has come -- indeed, the time has almost come and gone -- but there is still time for a bold re-assertion of the principles of the Enlightenment. Never mind "refusing the blackmail of Enlightenment." There's no blackmail: you are free to accept or reject its tenets as you see fit. But you do have to take sides, sometimes there is no other option than to take a side. I propose coming down on the side of freedom, equality, material progress, and a resolutely this-worldly orientation toward politics.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:30 PM | Comments (18)

May 03, 2003

"Make Sure that the Faculty There Are Not All Dead"

"Before choosing any program, make sure that the faculty there are not all dead. Anecdotally, at least, it appears that some schools with excellent faculties do not have any non-dead faculty members. And some programs with exceptional faculties -- like the Apostles of Galilee -- simply have no track record, as of yet, for immortality. See the listing of Prominent Faculty Who Are Dead in Part II of the Report. (Of course, this advice does not apply to students seeking admission to the Sixth Circle -- see below.) (TH)"

-- from The Lighter Report, a parody of The Philosophical Gourmet Report (which already seems self-parodic in its ambitions: so a parody of a parody?)

Via the comments section to my entry on Anxiety and Insecurity, Ted Hinchman of diachronic agency directs us to an important source of practical information for prospective Ph.D. candidates in philosophy. Though specifically aimed at would-be philosophers, who face the daunting task of selecting from amongst such world-class programmes as The Sixth Circle of Hell, the University of Texas at Austin, and the School of Zeno and Chrysippus, this no-nonsense guide offers a wealth of advice that might also be applied more broadly. Indeed, I've been so concerned on this blog to advise people against entering humanities graduate programmes in the first place that I've neglected to provide much-needed words of wisdom for those who will insist on following their scholarly lights down the well-worn path to academic proletarianization. Take, for example, the following nugget:

"Students should also beware of 'masthead' appointments -- big names that show up on paper but rarely in person. Soon after Oxford advertised the appointment of John Locke, for example, he skipped town for a series of leaves (1665-6 in Brandenburg; 1667-1675 in London; 1675-1679 in France; 1683-1689 in Holland). Some of his orphaned advisees are still trying to schedule their dissertation defenses. (DH)"

My inside sources inform me that Thomas Hobbes' advisees fared even worse, largely because they had enrolled in a programme that lacked official affiliation, but also because their mentor had too many enemies at Oxford. Some of them lost their heads during the Rump Parliament. Please be sure your graduate programme of choice has been officially accredited by the proper authorities.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:20 PM | Comments (1)

May 02, 2003

Unpaid Helpers

"At 8 a.m. each Thursday, he meets for an hour or so with his assistants. The men among them wear ties to the meetings, as they do for classes and discussion-group sessions; the women wear slacks and blouses. No one wears jeans or tennis shoes. Mr. Halgin treats his assistants not like the unpaid helpers they are, but like colleagues. At the meeting, every TA gives a status report on the discussion groups. The businesslike atmosphere strikes a positive chord with the assistants."

-- Thomas Bartlett, "Big, But Not Bad"

Big but not bad? Frankly, I'm sceptical.

The "unpaid helpers" to which this article refers are undergraduate TAs for Professor Richard P. Halgin's "Abnormal Psychology" course at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a huge lecture class that enrolls hundreds of students.

I've no doubt Professor Halgin is a fantastic lecturer. This article reports that "he plans each 75-minute session almost to the minute, from opening remarks to closing comments. Yet the lecture does not feel canned. Mr. Halgin's delivery is casual and conversational, as if he were chatting with a friend. He does not, under any circumstances, wing it." And I'm sure he knows his stuff inside out: he's been teaching in this area for thirty years, and he is the author and co-editor of several works in abnormal psychology (the Chronicle provides a brief intellectual biography here).

But I must confess I'm a little concerned about the following:

"Given the budget strictures of many colleges, it's unlikely that most professors can hire a flotilla of TA's. Indeed, at UMass, Mr. Halgin's department provides just two graduate assistants for his course. Because two is nowhere near enough, he recruits 15 undergraduate TA's, all of whom have already passed the course with an A or a B. Each one also has to fill out an application form, write a short essay, and provide letters of reference. Mr. Halgin gets three applicants for every position, despite the rigorous process and the lack of pay. (The undergraduate TA's do get three hours of course credit.)"

So having passed the course with a B might qualify one to work as a teaching assistant? Well, I hope the grading standards are rather higher than any I've come across lately. In my experience, a B is ... hmm, how do I put this? Remember how, a few years ago, the fashion mavens declared that gray was the new black? It didn't last, of course, these trends never do, so there are a lot of gray cocktail dresses lying crumpled in a heap in the back of women's closets (black is always black, ladies: never mind the fads, get yourself one good black dress and you won't go too far wrong)... well, I think B is the new C. Or just about. It is average to slightly above average. But this is the humanities I am talking about, and of course I cannot speak to the field of psychology, where the grading standards might be much more rigorous.

Anyway, the point is, these undergraduates are working without pay. They do get course credit, of course. But I can't help wondering whether they wouldn't be better off taking courses for course credit? Though perhaps not. Teaching is, after all, an intellectually challenging endeavor, a "learning experience," to adopt the current jargon; more pragmatically, the TAship is presumably a good line on a resume. Still there is that business of not getting paid. They work for the university, and the university does not pay them. I'm going to pull out an old-fashioned word here -- it's a little bit musty and fusty, but then, I'm a little bit old-fashioned about these things, out of touch, I suppose, with the new world order -- and I'm going to call this exploitation.

Just for the record: as an undergraduate I too worked as a TA. The university paid me. But this was in that country to the north, where there are labour laws to protect against such exploitation.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:54 PM | Comments (22)

Anxiety and Insecurity: The Status of the Humanities

"I must confess that I've been guilty of such status consciousness myself. I recall with shame how, after one of my presentations, I realized that the person congratulating me wasn't an anonymous admirer (I'd been treating him with unconscious condescension), but rather the author of a book I admired. I think he heard the grinding of gears as I lurched into a more generous tone. He's been cool to me since, which is no more than I deserve."

-- Leonard Cassuto, "A Humanist's Soujourn Among Scientists"

Here's an interesting opinion piece, and especially so in light of the recent conversation about a lack of conversation. The conversation was inspired by Timothy Burke's essay, which I commented on here, and which Kieran Healy took up here.

An English professor and a science reporter (an interesting combination, no?), Cassuto recounts his investigation into a "scandal involving allegedly fabricated data in some influential superconductivity experiments at Bell Labs." He found his interview subjects candid, helpful, and "shockingly courteous as I peered into an embarrassing event in their field." But more than courteous, Cassuto notes, the physicists he interviewed were "downright friendly."

Not surprisingly, the friendliness of the physicists prompts Cassuto to reflect on the unfriendliness of the humanists with whom he spends most of his time:

"It's no coincidence that 'softer' fields are notable for their social hierarchies. One of my former graduate students described a typical conference encounter: 'the glance at the name tag and the look away -- "Oh, you're nobody." A few years ago at a party, I approached a well-known member of my field, with whom I shared a mutual friend. He didn't even bother to reply after I introduced myself. I can still see his dismissive glance...
This is more than impoliteness. It's unfriendliness. Naturally, it's no absolute rule. I've certainly encountered generosity from colleagues over the years, but I find it significant that almost every humanist I've spoken to can easily summon up recollections of mean-spirited treatment at the hands of our own scholarly community."

Of course we might ask how typical were these physicists, and how representative was their attitude toward a reporter on a scandal in their field, to whom they would want to show their discipline in the best possible light? (though Cassuto would no doubt argue that in the case of a scandal in the humanities, the reporter would not be treated with such courtesy, candor and friendliness). Anyway, his description of the humanities strikes me as all too accurate. I can't resist relaying my own recollection -- not something that happened to me but something I merely observed (as an invisible adjunct, I am but a spectator, though not a very impartial one, I will have to admit):

A panel at a major conference, with mostly "big-name" historians proposing substantive historiographical revisions to the interpretative framework that governs an important area of inquiry. During the question-and-answer period, someone asked a question that challenged one of the bases of the proposed historiographical revision. He was clearly coming at it from a more "conservative" position, I thought I detected something Straussian, perhaps, in his approach. He was very articulate and obviously very smart. If his question seemed a little bit strange or unexpected, it was a pretty good question and not something to be dismissed. His name tag revealed that he was an assistant professor at a "third-tier" place that I had never heard of. Afterwards, I was speaking with historian A (a panelist, and a friend), who was soon joined by historian B (a "big-name" historian who had attended the session, and a friend of historian A). From this point on, I was basically an observer. Well, watch and learn (and you can learn a fair bit when you're invisible). The question of the questioner came up. "Is he?..." Is he what? Well, is he one of us? of course. Where did he study and who does he know? He's at a third-rate school that nobody has heard of, which probably makes him a nobody, but then again, nowadays, with the job market so dismal, you can't be quite sure. "Oh yeah, he's...he worked with [renowned and respected historian] at [major top-ten history department.]" So then. He's not a nobody after all, he is even potentially a somebody. What's interesting is that he asked a very smart and challenging question, a question that clearly irked, a question that could not simply be dismissed. And yet it might have been dismissed, and quite easily. The extent to which his question would or would not be dismissed depended not on the force of his question but on the prestige of his connections.

This type of thing does not make for good scholarly conversation. Especially since the corollary seems to be (well, I've certainly seen this happen often enough), if you have the status and prestige in your field, you can get away with saying dismissable things that won't be dismissed.

These are the social hierarchies that Cassuto is talking about in his essay. He attributes the formation of such hierarchies to, among other things, a status anxiety stemming from the lack of status from which humanists suffer not only in relation to other disciplines but also in the eyes of a broader public outside the university. And he suggests that it is the anxiety and insecurity over their lack of status that makes for a lack amongst humanists of the kind of collegiality that he discovers amongst the physicists.

Of course we must acknowledge that none of this is peculiar to the humanities or to the academy. But to say that it also happens elsewhere doesn't seem a good enough reason not to wish it were otherwise in the humanities.

In attempting to assess the reliability of Cassuto's portrayal of the humanities, Brad DeLong admits that he has written himself into a corner: "Either I claim that Cassuto's strictures against the humanities are not to be taken seriously because he is a psychologically-unstable unreliable narrator--in which case I then have to face the charge that his psyche has been warped by his disciplinary culture--or I accept the reliability of what he reports, and thus have to take his strictures against the humanities seriously."
Hmm...I think there is actually quite a bit of middle ground between these two alternatives. First, I suspect Cassuto's depiction of the physicists is somewhat idealized, and it wouldn't surprise me to learn that they have their own social hierarchies comparable to the ones Cassuto discusses with reference to the humanities. But second, if we acknowledge that such hierarchies exist all over, we can still argue that it is a question of degree and we still make the case that these hierarchies are both more arbitrary and more rigid in the humanities. Again, I think it's a question of an insecurity that stems from a lack of status. It's not that people in the humanities are just giving their own opinions. I think the problem can be linked to at least two related issues: first, the criteria by which humanists evaluate each other's work are highly specific to the particular disciplines and opaque to people outside the disciplines; and second, the work of the humanist has little direct and obvious utility to broader public. Of course the physicists' work is also -- and to a much greater extent -- opaque to those outside the field, but people generally agree that whatever it is they're doing in those labs, they are doing something useful.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:14 PM | Comments (25)