September 28, 2003

No Conservatives Need Apply?

Over at Crooked Timber there's an interesting discussion of David Brook's latest NYTimes op-ed, in which he suggests that conservatives are few and far between on college campuses. I tend to agree with Timothy Burke's comment that "Brooks’ claims have some modest truth to them." To be sure, the accusation -- frequently made by those on the right -- that college campuses are hotbeds of professorial radicalism is grossly inaccurate. Most of those who make this charge probably don't realize (or else choose to ignore) the extent to which careerist imperatives mitigate against political activism. Still, I think it's fair to say that in many humanities disciplines, the default setting is roughly left-liberal (though not hard left, by any means). As Burke puts it, "it’s also true that in the humanities, at selective institutions (with the odd exception), academics lean loosely to the left and tend to regard anyone who self-defines as a conservative or who takes notably conservative stands as an oddball or lightweight." Though he also notes, and I think quite rightly, that

What Brooks misses, of course, is that this isn’t just about conservatism. Virtually anything that departed from a carefully groomed sense of acceptable innovation, including ideas and positions distinctively to the left and some that are neither left nor right, could be just as potentially disastrous.

Interestingly enough, Brooks does acknowledge the job market as a factor:

Conservative professors emphasize that most discrimination is not conscious. A person who voted for President Bush may be viewed as an oddity, but the main problem in finding a job is that the sorts of subjects a conservative is likely to investigate — say, diplomatic or military history — do not excite hiring committees. Professors are interested in the subjects they are already pursuing, and in a horrible job market it is easy to toss out applications from people who are doing something different.

In this respect, I think the most interesting quote in Brook's piece comes from Robert George, professor of Political Science at Princeton:

'Here's what I'm thinking when an outstanding kid comes in,' says George, of Princeton. 'If the kid applies to one of the top graduate schools, he's likely to be not admitted. Say he gets past that first screen. He's going to face pressure to conform, or he'll be the victim of discrimination. It's a lot harder to hide then than it was as an undergrad.

'But say he gets through. He's going to run into intense discrimination trying to find a job. But say he lands a tenure-track job. He'll run into even more intense discrimination because the establishment gets more concerned the closer you get to the golden ring. By the time you come up for tenure, you're in your mid-30's with a spouse and a couple of kids. It's the worst time to be uncertain about your career. Can I really take the responsibility of advising a kid to take these kinds of risks?'

Good question, and I give George credit for thinking about his responsiblity in such terms. But the unsuspecting reader might come away from this with the erroneous impression that a liberal professor need suffer no scruples about encouraging a liberal-leaning undergraduate student to go on to graduate school. Nothing could be further from the truth. Job market prospects and tenurablity aren't only (or even primarily) about political orientation. And if faculty do lean more liberal than conservative, this applies, I've no doubt, to contingent no less than to tenurable faculty. Though he chooses to frame the issue in explicitly political terms, George's concern about taking the responsibility of advising an undergraduate to assume the considerable risks involved in the pursuit of an academic career should also be applied much more broadly.


Erin O'Connor also comments on Tim Burke's comment with an entry titled Burke on Brooks.


The omniscient, if not omnipotent, Ogged of Unfogged has directed my attention to Virginia Postrel's response to the Brooks column.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:40 PM | Comments (56)

Not Transient but Stuck in a Dead End Dedicated

A quick followup on Student-Faculty Ratio at Yale:

Via the Yale Insider, Charles Bailyn, chair of the astronomy department at Yale, objects to the term "transient" to describe nontenurable faculty:

With regard to the UOC's letter to parents decrying Yale's supposed reliance on 'transient' instructors: as a member of the Teaching & Learning Committee for four years, I had the pleasure of reading the nominations by undergraduates for Yale's teaching prizes. Every year these letters demonstrate that some of Yale's very best teachers and advisors are 'non-ladder' (i.e. not tenured or tenure track).

All across the curriculum, particularly in foreign languages, we have dedicated non-ladder instructors who have put their full effort for many years into teaching undergraduates, something few of us on the tenure track can say. One might argue that Yale should provide greater status and rewards for these individuals, but to suggest that they are 'transient,' or that students are in any way poorly served by having them as teachers and advisors, is a preposterous undeserved insult.

Actually, I don't think it's at all preposterous to suggest that students are poorly served by having contingent faculty as teachers and especially as advisors (again, not because the faculty in question lack the ability but rather because they lack the institutional support to serve in these capacities.)

The Yale Insider responds:

A quick look at the teaching prizes awarded by this committee show that, yes indeed, 1 of the 3 prizes awarded in May 2003 was awarded to a 'non-ladder' lecturer. Thanks to Prof. Bailyn for helping give that extra boost to the career of Jane Levin, wife of Yale President Richard Levin. But lest we be misunderstood, let's be clear: No one is arguing that they're poor teachers. Only that they're poorly supported teachers (though there are doubtless some exceptions, pace Ms. Levin). And that it's a shame for Yale teachers to lack support at this great university.

I have to say that I do have a couple of reservations about the term "transient." First, it may that Bailyn is right to suggest that many non-ladder faculty have been teaching at Yale for years. Since the administration will obviously dispute the claims of the forthcoming study on which these students rely, it seems risky to use a term the meaning of which might be more or less objectively refuted. Second, though I myself do not share Jill Carroll's position that to criticize the reliance on adjuncts is to attack and belittle the abilities of adjunct faculty themselves (which concern I blogged about here), I do worry that some nontenurable faculty will interpret the term "transient" as an insult. Why risk alienating the very faculty who would be most likely to lend support to the goal of calling the university to account in the area of academic employment?

I prefer the term "contingent," though I realize it does not pack the same rhetorical punch. To say this, however, is not to endorse what I take to be the implicit message of Bailyn's letter: namely, that it is more preposterous and more of an insult to refer to a class of faculty as "transient" than to exploit and underpay that class of faculty.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:11 AM | Comments (3)

September 26, 2003

A Solution to the Publishing Crisis?

A very quick post. Brian at Crooked Timber has a solution to the scholarly publishing crisis:

Stop requiring books! If philosophers can do it, so can sociologists and historians and literary critics. Quality is more important than quantity. This is meant a little flippantly, but at some level I’m not entirely sure why the quantity standards are so different in different fields. Maybe philosophers are missing something.

My initial response: I suspect that philosophy has never, or never fully, embraced the research model. That is, what philosophers do is more a thinking through with a relatively small body of texts. There's no expectation that the philosopher go out and find more texts, compile more data, uncover new materials. Whereas in the social sciences and in many humanities disciplines (including, of course, English lit), scholarship is defined as "original research." Hence the monograph as the coin of the realm. I personally believe that in many fields, there should be less emphasis on research and more emphasis on informed commentary.

Gone for the day. Next post: my own solution to the scholarly publishing crisis...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:17 AM | Comments (9)

Student-Faculty Ratio at Yale

Eight members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee sent a letter to parents of undergraduates in late August, condemning a 'crisis of mentorship' at Yale and claiming that the University falsely reported its student-faculty ratio in the U.S. News and World Report college rankings.

-- Jessica Feinstein, "Students challenge Yale prof statistics"

More evidence in support of the admittedly shocking notion that Yale is not the best (or at least, not the happiest) of all possible worlds. Someone from the Yale Insider has sent me the above-linked item, which I find rather interesting.

"Citing statistics from a yet unpublished study conducted in 2002-03 by the Graduate Employees and Students Organization," the Yale students

decried the University's supposedly heavy reliance on non-tenure track and graduate instructors. Yale's dependence on 'transient' faculty and graduate instructors has hindered students' ability to find advisors and adequately discuss course material, the students said in the letter.

The letter's authors claim that "47 percent of faculty listed as primary instructors in the spring 2003 semester were non-tenure track and graduate instructors." They further state that "Yale's student-faculty ratio is 9.5 to 1, rather than the 7 to 1 ratio cited in U.S. News and World Report's annual survey." Dean Richard Brodhead disputes the claims, calling the letter "dishonest" and stating that "only 7 percent of classes have a graduate student as the primary instructor." He also objects to the term "transient" as applied to non-ladder faculty. Likewise, Jon Butler, chair of the history department, "said the History Department views its lector contracts, which range from one to three years in length and are frequently renewed, as long-term relationships." (A one-year contract as a long-term relationship? Butler, meet Kipnis).

I am reminded of the AHA/OAH Joint Committee on Part-Time and Adjunct Employment Press Release, which I blogged about here. At the end of that document, the committee put forth the following proposal:

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.

Take it to the tuition-payers, in other words. Consumer protection is probably one of the more promising avenues to pursue.

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

September 25, 2003

Crisis in Scholarly Publishing

The bottom line is that scholarly publishing isn't financially feasible as a business model -- never was, never was intended to be, and should not be. If scholarship paid, we wouldn't need university presses.

Without a subsidy of one kind or another, scholarly publishing cannot exist. Right now, universities are responsible for finding a way to support scholarly publishing -- but most universities are in perilous financial situations, too. That is the crisis. The most basic aspect of scholarship -- the foundation of our profession -- is at risk under the current model of who pays to publish the books and articles we write.

-- Cathy N. Davidson, "Understanding the Economic Burden of Scholarly Publishing"

The Chronicle has just published the above-linked article as a background piece to its upcoming Colloquy Live (October 2) entitled In Search of Solutions for Scholarly Publishing. Davidson insists that the oft-proclaimed "crisis in scholarly publishing" is indeed a real crisis. The purpose of her column (and presumably, of her participation as the guest speaker for the upcoming Colloquy) is "to find systemic and strategic solutions and move beyond hand-wringing and finger-pointing."

After briefly reviewing the various explanations that have been offered to account for the demise of the scholarly press, Davidson concludes that "the problem is that almost all of the above are part of the problem." The bottom line, she emphasizes, is that scholarly publishing never has been and never will be profitable (a point that was made by several commentators in a discussion on this blog several months ago). Given this bottom line, she argues, the only real solution to the crisis lies in a more equitable distribution of the unavoidable costs and burdens. To that end, she offers "10 small, practical, and workable ideas for how to distribute the economic burden of scholarly publishing."

Of particular interest to citizens of the blogosphere is her second proposal: "Publish it electronically." I suspect her sixth proposal is also relevant to some of the readers of this blog:

6. Stamp out course packs! Professors need to be aware that every course pack assigned is a university-press book unsold. University-press books are often cheaper for students than course packs, and certainly less hassle than taking on all the copyright issues these days. And it is good for everyone, including the instructor, to read a whole book occasionally.

Of course, this doesn't address the reason why instructors use course packs: which is, to offer a diverse selection of shorter readers on a given topic or theme. I wonder if there's a solution to 6 that also combines 2? Couldn't university presses follow the example of Pearson Custom Publishing and offer custom course packs that could be distributed electronically?

It's worth placing this piece alongside John Sutherland's Publish or Perish. Like Davidson, Sutherland emphasizes that scholarly publishing is not profitable:

Academic presses are no longer prestige operations into which (like their football or basketball teams) college authorities are prepared to pour large sums of money. Even academic presses are nowadays expected to break even. Make profits, even.

But where Davidson proposes new ways to subsidize academic publishing, Sutherland argues that subsidies represent a form of vanity publishing (though he is speaking here of one proposal in particular, his comments suggest that he would apply his criticism of subsidies more broadly):

Mr Greenblatt's most radical suggestion is that institutions (universities) 'provide a first-book subvention'. Pay the publisher, that is, to publish what the publisher doesn't want to publish. A bigger flaw in Mr Greenblatt's subvention proposal is that, at the sharp end, the public doesn't want to read the thousands of academic monographs currently being produced by the tenure-needy literary critics of America. Not even academics buy academic books. There was a time, long ago, when I used to scan the latest publishers' catalogues with some eagerness. Now what I feel is faint nausea and a desire to pick up the Guardian. Or Hello magazine.

There is no market demand for what is being produced. And if you publish books for the sole benefit of the author, not the reader, it's called vanity publishing. It does not make for high quality. The uncomfortable fact is that the academic literary critics of America (and the UK) should seriously consider writing books that readers - even readers outside the academic orbit - want to buy or borrow.

For Sutherland, apparently, saving scholarly publishing is, if not a lost cause then a cause worth losing: the only solution, he suggests, lies in placing more emphasis on teaching rather than publications. For Davidson, on the other hand, scholarly publishing must be saved, for the crisis threatens to undermine "the foundation of our profession."


In addition to his comments here, Chun has more to say on this topic at his new blog.


Academics of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but a full-time job and/or tenure your chains.

Brad DeLong declares that "We can move from the realm of necessity to the realm of freedom tomorrow, if we will just open our eyes and abandon our false consciousness." More specifically, in response to Chun's more pessimistic account of "book-fetishization, entrenched prejudices, and administrative neuroses," Brad maintains that "when book-fetishization, entrenched prejudices, and administrative neuroses run up against budgets, they will fall." His proposed solution: "Have every university press 'publish' books that it doesn't believe will sell 2000 copies by putting .pdf files up on their respective webservers." 2000 copies?! That's setting the bar rather high. As I understand it, under this system most humanities books would end up in .PDF format on the web (which is not necessarily a bad thing). What's the average print run for an econ book, anyway?

In any case, I'm sure he's basically right. A solution to the publishing crisis will almost certainly involve finding cheaper ways to publish scholarly work (or, to put it in policy paper speak, the scholarly publishing crisis offers the opportunity to discover creative solutions involving a more expansive definition of published scholarship). But who will make the first move? Or, as Thomas H. Benton puts it in the comments to this entry, who will be the first to disarm?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:07 PM | Comments (29)

September 23, 2003

New Poll Builder

Well, new to me.

Nice. And it's free. You can find it at Blogpoll.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:07 PM | Comments (19)

Is the AAUP's Censure Policy Deserving of Censure?

Bennington? I pondered the question for days. I believe in solidarity, and I had some concern that the AAUP censure was essentially a picket line -- that to cross it, figuratively speaking, by sending in a job application might be tantamount to treason. However, the conflict at Bennington is long past, so the effect is not the same as it would be had I applied in 1995. Communication with some local AAUP leaders led me to conclude that AAUP censure is more a guild's warning about poor working conditions, a shaming exercise, than a union's inviolable picket line.

-- Max Clio, "Bennington or Tenure?"

The AAUP censure as a guildlike shaming exercise sounds about right. The censure does not in itself carry any direct institutional or legal weight, though as the AAUP notes in "What is Censure?" "courts have often referred to AAUP principles and standards in addressing what is customary in the academic world." In that document, the AAUP defines the practice as follows:

Censure results from the Association's findings that conditions for academic freedom and tenure are unsatisfactory at a college or university. The 1940 Statement of Principles asserts that institutions of higher education are conducted for the common good, and that the common good depends upon the free search for truth and its free expression. An institution that disregards the concepts of academic freedom and tenure will have difficulty in fulfilling its basic purpose.

Interestingly enough, the AAUP includes Eric Marshall's "Victims of Circumstance: Academic Freedom in a Contingent Academy" in its list of Resources on Academic Freedom and Tenure. Marshall's article, which I blogged about here, points out that "the usual and customary understanding of academic freedom has also long wedded it inseparably to tenure, thereby greatly diminishing its relevance for adjuncts and largely excluding them from the conversation." On the front page of its website, moreover, the AAUP also provides a link to its recent Draft Policy Statement on Contingent Appointments and the Academic Freedom. This statement, which I briefly considered a couple of weeks ago (more to follow when I get a chance), argues that "currently, neither peer review nor academic due process operates adequately to secure academic freedom for most contingent faculty members."

At the moment, there are about 50 schools on the AAUP's list of Censured Administations. Not bad, eh? Only 50 out of how many thousands of community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities (I don't have the total figure, though this would be worth looking up; I do know that it's in the thousands). But wait. How many community colleges, 4-year colleges, and universities rely on contingent faculty who lack any sort of security or academic freedom? According to the above-linked policy statement on contingent appointments:

As of 1998, [non-tenure track] appointments still accounted for nearly three out of five faculty positions, in all types of institutions. In community colleges, more than three out of five positions are part-time non-tenure-track positions, and 35 percent of all full-time positions are off the tenure track. Non-tenure-track appointments make up an even larger proportion of new appointments. Through the 1990s, in all types of institutions, three out of four new faculty members were appointed to non-tenure-track positions.

Given this high proportion of contingent academic appointments, and given the AAUP's contention that such contingent appointments violate the principles of academic freedom as the association has itself defined it, it seems to me that the AAUP applies its censure very selectively indeed. Why does it not censure those institutions that rely too heavily on part-time contingent appointments? ("too heavily" is obviously open to interpretation: I'll throw out "more than 20 percent of undergraduate courses taught by contingent faculty members" as a rough guide). It looks as though the censure system focuses on isolated incidents involving egregious violations, while ignoring a systematic violation that is slowly but surely undermining the very bases of academic freedom.

I suppose that if the association took the larger threat to academic freedom more seriously, the list of censured institutions would be so lengthy that the practice might lose its rhetorical force? Still, for the AAUP to ignore the lack of academic freedom for nearly half of those it claims to represent does not strike me as very effective guildlike behavior.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:24 PM | Comments (6)

September 21, 2003

"So you don't have tenure?"

Baby, I don't have pre-tenure.

A telephone conversation earlier this evening with one of the students I had last semester. When she asked me the above question, I had to resist the urge to direct her to my weblog. When she told me was applying to grad school, I had to resist the even stronger urge to direct her to my weblog.

She wants a letter of recommendation.

Ah. Well.

I could write her a glowing letter of recommendation. But my official rank and status is that of an Invisible Adjunct Adjunct Assistant Professor. Now, the further we get from the academy, the less this business of status will matter: you write something on official letterhead and there's a "professor" somewhere in your title, and nobody knows the difference. The corollary, of course, is that the closer we get to the academy, the more this business of status will matter. Except to the students, many of whom have no idea. But then, how close are they, really, to the academy? In any case, a graduate school admissions committee is very close to the academy -- rightly or wrongly, a graduate school admissions committee is at the very center of the academy -- and here the question of status matters very much indeed.

So how to respond to this student? Well, I start by suggesting that she'll want to have a recommendation from at least one senior faculty member. "A senior faculty member?" She's thinking senior citizen; she tells me she has someone who's emeritus. Well, okay, tenured or at least tenure-track faculty member. "So you don't have tenure?" Uh, no.

I want to say, "Listen, I'm a nobody, here's my URL." Except that I don't really want to say that, and there's no way in hell I'm actually going to direct her to my weblog. Instead, we go through the roster of her potential referees. It's not looking good. She's a great student, by the way. I have to wonder if she's getting her parents' money's worth. She wants a letter from someone who knows her, someone who knows her work. Well, of course. That's what the advice literature says: better a great letter from a lesser-known professor who really knows you than a generic form letter from a famous professor who can't remember your name. But that advice has yet to take into account the growing reliance on adjuncts. What if you take a class in which you do really well, in which you do so well that you make a highly favorable impression on the instructor, but that instructor is not only lesser known but well-nigh invisible?

Hmm. Reliance on adjuncts doesn't compromise the quality of undergraduate education? What Jill Carroll doesn't seem to understand (or perhaps, doesn't want to understand) is that it's not only about teaching as strictly defined by performance of officially designated teaching duties: lecturing, grading, and the like. There is also an important "service" component of quasi-official responsiblities that are not so much contractually defined as tacitly understood. And the extent to which a department or an institution relies on adjuncts is the extent to which that department or institution does not take service to students seriously. This is not to blame the situation on the adjuncts themselves, of course, though this is how Carroll chooses to interpret criticisms of adjunctification.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:36 PM | Comments (20)

Settlement Reached at Yale

On Friday, the Yale Insider reported that a settlement had been reached. Nathan Newman now links to this NYTimes account of the new contract. Not surprisingly, both sides are claiming victory. I'd have to agree with Harry Katz, a professor of labor relations at Cornell, who "said both sides did well in the settlement, but...gave the edge to the unions."

What Yale gained was "an unusually long contract, eight years, that should ensure labor peace for the rest of this decade." In exchange for this 8-year contract, the NYTimes reports,

Yale granted its largest union, representing 2,900 clerical workers, raises of 44 percent over eight years and agreed to a richer pension formula that will increase pensions for most future retirees by 80 percent or more...

John W. Wilhelm, president of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union, the parent of the two striking union locals, said that to persuade his union to accept such a long contract, Yale had to agree to large raises in the contract's final four years and to a significantly higher pension than it had been offering.

'The key issue had always been the pensions,' Mr. Wilhelm said. Throughout the strike, he complained that for unionized Yale workers who retired last year with 20 or more years of service, the average annual pension was just $7,452. Yale agreed to increase the pension formula by 35 percent. When that gain is combined with the 44 percent wage increase, by the end of the eight-year accord many retirees will receive pensions nearly twice the size of those under the old contract.

The Times also notes that "Yale officials said the cost of the contracts would not affect tuition, partly because Yale has an $11 billion endowment."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:51 AM | Comments (7)

September 19, 2003


That's Rana's new term for the sanitized make-believe realism of the Chronicle of Higher Ed's "first person" columns.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:15 PM | Comments (7)

Hurricane FAQ

Kieran Healy explodes the myth that there's no such thing as a stupid question by pointing us to this.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:01 PM | Comments (4)

Wasteful Spending?

Salaries for teachers at the new primary school at Columbia University go as high as $100,000. The student-teacher ratio is five to one. And the school, which opens today, intends to develop individual learning plans for every student.

In a bold and costly bid to attract and hold professors, Columbia has created one of the most ambitious private elementary schools in the city — one where 20 percent of the staff members have doctorates. Formally known as the School at Columbia University, it offers a glimpse of what educators might come up with if they had the time, the money and the freedom to do whatever they wanted.

-- Karen W. Arenson, "What Would Teachers Do if They Had the Chance? This"

Individualized learning, a student-teacher ratio of 5 to 1, and "free juice, fruit and coffee all day" long. Via Laura at Apt 11D (permalinks bloggered: scroll to Lunchtime Reading and Waste), Columbia University is opening a new K-4 elementary school for the children of full-time faculty. Actually, only half the spots will go to faculty children. As the NYTimes reports:

Its original market was the children of Columbia professors. But to placate critics who argued that the university should improve local public schools rather than create another private school, Columbia agreed that half of the students would come from the neighborhood, and that it would provide the financial aid for them to attend. And to ensure that it would not skim top students from the local public schools, Columbia agreed to choose the students by lottery.

More than 1,700 neighborhood children applied for about 100 openings this year.

It sounds like a wonderful school. It also sounds like a rather expensive school:

Columbia is paying at least half of the $22,000 tuition charge for all children of faculty members (more than half for lower-income faculty members), and an average of 80 percent of the tuition of the community students. Only 6 of the 200 students entering this week are paying full tuition, school officials said.

The total cost of the school is to be more than $12 million a year, including building costs, university officials said. School officials hope to bring in revenue through consulting, product sales and donations.

This certainly seems to fall under the heading of the expansion of the university's mission, which several commenters discussed a couple of weeks ago in this thread . Is it, as Laura suggests, an example of the kind of wasteful spending that is driving up undergraduate tuition costs? Based on the information provided in the above-linked article, I don't think it's possible to know how much it will actually cost (and I doubt those directly involved with the project really know, either): we get the $12 million cost figure, but with no idea of how much revenue might be generated through "consulting, product sales and donations." Still, the NYTimes quotes Columbia president Lee Bollinger, who

declined to discuss the school's finances, except to say: 'There is no question this is expensive. But there are lots of things we have to do to maintain pre-eminence in higher education in the United States.'

On the one hand, I guess I could think of worse ways to overspend than by running a school that reserves half its places for children from outside the Tower walls. On the other hand, I think Laura has a point when she suggests that this is a "luxury item" for "big name faculty who aren't even teaching classes." And though this is not about "wasting taxpayer's money" -- Columbia is a private school: if anyone's money is being wasted, it's that of the undergraduate tutition-payers -- the sheer extravagance of the project would seem to lend support to a charge that is frequently levelled against educators and edu-administrators: namely, that they don't pay enough attention to the bottom line (or, as the NYTimes suggests, here's what they will come up with if you don't impose a bottom line).

That said: $100,000 to teach at this school!? What do I need to do to get certified?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:17 AM | Comments (7)

September 18, 2003

I Was Going to Post about Stanley Fish's Latest Op-Ed...

I was going to post about Stanley Fish's latest op-ed in the NYTimes, but Timothy Burke beat me to it. And Burke does something much more interesting than what I had planned to do: he puts Fish's defence of the status quo beside NYU President John Sexton's radical proposals for reform in order to offer A Tale of Two Adminstrators.

I had much the same response to Fish that Burke relates in his blog entry. I've read the "The College Cost Crisis"[PDF] document to which Fish refers, and I basically agree with Fish that the authors offer little by way of analysis of the problem, never mind a realistic solution to it. And yes, discussion of the crisis is often characterized by what Burke describes as "crude anti-intellectual caricatures and lazy rhetoric about the pampered professiorate," and Fish is surely within his right to respond to this kind of populist pandering. But I was struck by Fish's apparent lack of concern with some of the reasons for the growing dissatisfaction with the academy, and his seeming lack of interest in trying to engage with the critics in order to come up with some viable alternatives. "If the revenues sustaining your operation are sharply cut and you are prevented by law from raising prices," he writes, "your only recourse is to offer an inferior product." For Fish, then, there are only two possible scenarios: business as usual, or the utter collapse of the academy.


Laura at Apt11D also responds to Fish's op-ed. And she doesn't like Burke's use of "the sexist term, 'mommy track.'"

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:21 PM | Comments (9)

September 17, 2003

The College Instructor's Worst Nightmare

A student shows up with a grievance and a gun. The new twist: someone shows up claiming "to be a member of al Qaeda":

An armed man took students and a teacher hostage Wednesday in a classroom at Dyersburg State Community College in Dyersburg, Tennessee, officials said.

The group is being held in a classroom on the upper floor of the campus administration building, said college spokesman Buck Tarpley.

Very scary. He says he wants to kill himself. The unthinkable thought, of course, is that he plans to take the others along with him. I hope they make it out unharmed.


The NYTimes reports that the gunman is still holding at least a dozen people hostage. He released three students (all of them women, one of them pregnant) earlier this afternoon. They have identified him as "Harold Kilpatrick Jr., a 26-year-old Memphis man who was staying in Dyersburg with his sister." He is neither a student nor an employee of the college. He left a suicide note at his sister's house, which says he "'wanted to kill some people and die today,'" and also states that he "didn't like Americans and had spoken with al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden." Though it is obviously extremely unlikely that he has anything to do with al-Qaida, the FBI have been called in.


CNN reports:

The man who took a group of Dyersburg State Community College students and their teacher hostage Wednesday was killed by police after he began firing a gun in the classroom, Dyersburg Police Chief Bob Williamson said.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:12 PM | Comments (2)

A Light-Hearted Observation on a Weblog Comments Policy

Is a sense of humour right-wing? I think it is. I know the BBC uses right-wing to mean simply bad, but I use it to indicate support for a spontaneous society made by the free economic and personal decisions of its members. Left-wing implies support for a more centrally planned society which seeks to reproduce in the world a vision of what some people think society ought to be like.

Left-wingers see how far the world falls short of their ideal, and are impatient to put it right. They are very political, for they see problems to be solved by collective effort. Right-wingers see opportunities for enjoyment and fulfilment by people of all stations, through social interaction and enjoyment of art or nature. They have time for wry comment, irony, and an appreciation of the funny side of things.

Left-wing humour is heavily loaded to satire, and is but another weapon in the unending fight to make the world conform to their ideal. They see too many problems and injustices to allow time out for light-hearted observation on human follies and absurdities. Most right-wingers also want a better life, but even in the world's present, imperfect state, they find space enough for laughter.

-- Dr. Madsen Pirie, "Laughing all the way to the market"

Via Maria at Crooked Timber, I came across the above post at the new Adam Smith Institute Weblog. I read said post, strongly disagreed with the sentiments expressed therein, and decided to post a comment. Imagine my surprise when I was greeted with the following announcement:

*Note* - Comments are subject to moderation and so will not appear immediately.

Now doesn't that smack of left-wing nanny state interference with the free market exchange of ideas?

By the bye, I could explain why I think Dr. Pirie's understanding of society (a "spontaneous" creation made by the "personal decisions" of its members) is very far from that of Smith. But alas, as a left-winger I've little time for "wry comment, irony, and an appreciation of the funny side of things."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:32 PM | Comments (13)

3 Million Strong and How Many Readers?

Laura at Apt 11D (permalink bloggered; scroll to Wednesday, September 17) has a few questions about blogging. I'm particularly intrigued by questions 1 and 5:

1. Why do bloggers love to write obituaries?

5. There are 3 million blogs. Do blog writers outnumber blog readers?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:41 AM | Comments (5)

Wanted: Not One but Two Tenure-Track Jobs in the Same Department

We find ourselves in a most unsettling situation. We are a married couple, we work in the same academic discipline (zoology), and we are seeking two faculty jobs at the same time and in the same place. Although we have different research and teaching specialties, we would like to work within the same department...

...Our goal is to land two tenure-track jobs at a small liberal-arts college where we can pursue our separate research and teaching interests, although we are willing to compromise. Likewise, we would prefer to work in the Southeast, but are willing to consider other locales. Because we have no plans for children in the near future, we both can apply all of our time and energy to our work, without guilt. With a bit of luck and a lot of work, we hope to begin our dual academic careers by this time next year.

-- Tamatha Barbeau and Gregory Pryor, "Wanted: Two Tenure-Track Jobs in Zoology"

I can certainly understand why this couple want to find two jobs in the same city or region. But the same department? I don't know anything about the job market in zoology, but I have to assume it's much healthier than the job market in history: I can scarcely imagine a couple of historians daring to set their hopes this high.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:15 AM | Comments (55)

September 16, 2003

The Most Serious Problems/Challenges in Higher Ed Are...?

No time to blog, except to pose a question (or perhaps, a series of related questions).

At the Chronicle's online Colloquy on "Diversity in Journals," someone posted the following:

Dear Chronicle,

The entire support staff at Yale has gone on strike.

47 of the 50 states are facing massive layoffs and program cuts
in higher education.

The 'No Child Left Behind Act' is causing the most massive
restructuring of K-12 education in history.

Can you please find a substantive colloquy issue to discuss?

He may have a point.

And since Invisible Adjunct is bored silly by her own posts on the academic job market committed to cutting-edge analysis and discussion of substantive issues based in large part on reader response, this leads me to the following questions:

What are the most substantive issues/problems/challenges in higher ed? Are they economic, political, social, cultural, or perhaps a combination of some or all of the above? State budget cuts? Campus culture wars? Rising tuition costs? Tenure and labor relations? If you had to pick one issue, what would it be? Of course, you needn't confine yourself to one issue: as always, the management at Invisible Adjunct welcomes broad synoptic overviews, as well as programmatic (if unrealizable) policy proposals, though not to the exclusion of amusing (if possibly atypical and unrepresentative) anecdotes.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:11 PM | Comments (19)

September 15, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Robert Schwartz for his description (comments to Why are Tuition Costs Rising?) of the U.S. News college rankings as

the score keeping system for commuter train parking lots and cocktail parties in the northeast.

Well said, Mr. Schwartz. And apparently in some circles in NYC, it now begins at the level of preschool (sure, some of it's an exaggeration: I don't think they really require CVs from toddlers, for example; but I personally know a couple whose 2-year old had to do an interview in order to gain admission to one of the highly rated nursery schools).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:23 PM | Comments (7)

Why is Children's Software so Uninspired?

Is there some reason I’m missing why no one has done anything of this kind? Why is so much children’s software so bad? Is it the need to appeal to parents with the proposition that it’s “educational”, which usually results in insincere, uninvolving, hack-design work in children’s culture as a whole? Anybody got any ideas?

-- Timothy Burke, "Software Industry Needs More Greedy Capitalists, Part XVIII"

When it comes to children's literature, there are some really wonderful books out there, and then there are the books that, as my husband puts it, might have been written by a machine. The formula seems to go something like this: take three parts formulaic character to two parts predictable setting, sprinkle liberally with didacticism, and stir.

According to Timothy Burke, much of the software aimed at small children has been designed according to a similar paint-by-numbers formula. Burke wants to know why. I don't the answer, but I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the people who design software don't know much about children, while the people who do know something about children don't know much about software.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:01 PM | Comments (17)

September 12, 2003

Tuition Costs Colloquy

In light of recent discussion over rising tuition costs, some readers might be interested in the Chronicle of Higher Ed's Colloquy on tuition pricing.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:00 PM | Comments (12)

September 10, 2003

"Closing of the Intellectual Commons"?

Online access to journals, ebooks, and databases is a wonderful thing. But the terms of subscription to these resources often stipulate that access to the collections remain "protected" from anyone outside the subscribing institution. Since many libraries cannot afford to subscribe to both the electronic and the print versions of a journal, the move toward online versions is undermining the principle that members of the public should have access to the collections at publicly-funded colleges and universities.

Alex Pang reports on this Scientific American piece entitled "Public Not Welcome":

In June the journal shelves at the Health Sciences Library of the University of Pittsburgh began showing holes. Where current issues of Leukemia Research were once stacked, now stands a small cardboard sign: 'Issues for 2003 are available only in electronic form.' The cardboard tents have replaced print copies of hundreds of journals.... And at the library's computer terminals, where employees and students of the university can tap into the fast-growing digital collections, other signs advise that 'You need an HSL Online password to use these computers.' Restrictions in the contracts the university has signed with publishers prohibit librarians from issuing passwords to the public....

[O]rdinary citizens have for decades enjoyed free access to the latest scientific and medical literature, so long as they could make their way to a state-funded university library. That is rapidly changing as public research libraries, squeezed between state budget cuts and a decade of rampant inflation in journal prices, drop printed journals in droves. The online versions that remain are often beyond the reach of 'unaffiliated' visitors....

While libraries have always had "to make tradeoffs between different subscriptions," Alex writes, the move to password-only access sounds like "another example of the systematic closing of the intellectual commons that Larry Lessig and others have so rightly been worried about." He continues:

But just what is it that publishers think they're protecting? Do they think that members of the general public could constitute a potential new revenue stream that can be tapped if only free public access to journals is eliminated? Were they thinking, 'Gee, I would spend $9,000 a year for a subscription to Letters in Neuroscience, but since I can read it for free, I won't'? And now they will?

The more I think about it, the more this strikes me as something that started as overprotectiveness of one's IP, but collapses into something that's just mean-spirited.

Perhaps the publishers have in mind a scenario where millions of people are logging into and downloading from the collections from home (which option is generally available to students, faculty and staff whose libraries subscribe to online materials). An unlikely scenario (most nonspecialists are not going to spend time perusing the pages of Letters in Neuroscience), but I guess I can see why publishers would balk at the idea that their collections circulate so freely that the material becomes google-cached. Still, I think it's important to remember that the public is paying for the library subscriptions at publicly-funded institutions. And though the vast majority of the public will rarely if ever want to make use of these collections, I believe they should have the option if they so desire. At the very least, what about a compromise clause which goes something like this: When a member of the public makes a visit to a state-funded university library, that person can obtain a temporary password to use the resources from a computer terminal that is physically located within the library?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:34 AM | Comments (27)

September 09, 2003

POLL: Annoying Children's Television Characters

If I were a good mother, I wouldn't even know about any of the following, because my son wouldn't watch any television. Yeah, right. I'm on familiar terms with more of these characters than I'd care to mention.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:30 PM | Comments (12)

"B is for Botox"

One reason why I enjoy visiting Apt. 11D is that Laura makes me laugh out loud:

B is for... BOTOX. I'm really freaked out by the aged cast members of Sesame Street. Maria and Luis were around when we were kids. And Maria has had some serious work done on her face. The number of the day is .... 70.

Yeah, I was thinking the same thing about Maria. Have you seen the "Elmo Visits the Firehouse" video? Any more work on her face and she'll be unable to crack a smile.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:51 PM | Comments (1)

Academic Hiring: An Ethical Dilemma

Joseph Duemer posts about an ethical dilemma in hiring:

Your division hasn't hired a tenure-track line for four years & those hires were to replace someone who resigned & someone who was denied tenure; you have been making up the slack with adjunct faculty & 'visiting' full-time faculty. In fact, demand for electives is at a fifteen-year high. Class sizes are ballooning....

...Okay, now imagine that the incoming president--a respected civil engineer who has risen through the ranks at your institution, beating out two outside finalists for the job--has authorized searches for two tenure-track positions. You need someone who can do the ancient world outside of Greece & you need a political philosopher, preferably with an interest in Science Studies. It also happens that you have two long-time 'visiting' faculty members who have been meeting these needs for a number of years. They are both strong & popular teachers, one with an Ivy League PhD & one with a SUNY research university degree. The voting faculty of the division is on record as supporting the conversion of these two faculty members to the tenure track without a search, but both the outgoing & incoming presidents have refused to go along.

You & your colleagues are being asked to run national searches for the two positions. And while everyone from the president on down to the interim associate dean is telling you that you cannot run a phony search, you have also been told that if your internal candidates wind up among the finalists that you do not have to bring anyone else to campus for interviews & can offer the jobs to your internal candidates.

The fact that the incoming president was an internal candidate is a nice touch.

So if support for the internal candidates is strong enough, then the search ends up a phony: they will go through the motions, but without bringing in external candidates to interview. This is obviously unfair to the external applicants. And it's the type of practice that contributes to the perception that academic hiring is an inside game.

On the other hand, if they are seduced by the novelty of the unknown quantities and drop the internal candidates from their short list, then two people who have already proven their worth are tossed aside like old shoes. And the case becomes another example of the barriers to moving from the contingent to the tenure track. Of course, if we were talking about some other kind of employment market, we would point out that there's nothing to stop these two from applying for tenure-track jobs at other institutions. But this is the academy, where the distinction between tenurable and nontenurable increasingly functions like an old regime division between noble and commoner: if these two have been teaching as "visiting" professors for more than a couple of years, then they will be stigmatized as second-rate on the academic job market, and this no matter how impressive their publication and teaching records.

What if they dropped the plan of not bringing in external candidates if the internal candidates make it to the short list? In formal terms, this is the only ethical solution: if you're going to conduct a search, you conduct it properly. In practical terms, if hiring the internals is all but a done deal, then this would be even more unfair to the other finalists: better to be rejected early on in the process than to have one's hopes and expectations raised by a campus interview that is actually a fake.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:31 AM | Comments (17)

September 08, 2003

"An Abandonment of Reason, Ethics, and Pragmatism"

I can accept a skeptic who wearily, resignedly argues that because the President represents the United States and because he’s committed us as he has in Iraq, we have no choice but to look for the best possible long-term resolution of that commitment. I can accept someone who reminds me that there were many people whose motives for supporting the war before it began were well-intentioned, reasonable or potentially legitimate. I continue to feel, as many do, that unseating Saddam Hussein is something that anyone ought to recognize as a positive good. I can even accept, as I noted some time ago on this blog, that there are many within the Bush Administration who may have had good intentions or reasonable opinions in promoting an attack on Iraq.

I am not prepared to cut any slack to anyone who thinks that supporting the current policy as it has been shaped by the President and his advisors is sensible, effective or ethical. I’m not interested in the outrageous hair-splitting and relativist, deeply postmodernist nonsense being spewed out by many conservative commentators, the knowing utterance of lies and half-truths, the evasions, the excuses, the total disinterest in the hard questions that now confront us and the total inability to concede even minimally that many of the critics of the attack on Iraq predicted much of what has come to pass.

-- Timothy Burke, Operation Meatshield

Timothy Burke takes on the moral relativism and pomo cynicism of those who endorse a strategy (if we may dignify it with that term) whereby American troops are to serve as "flypaper" for terrorists.

As Henry Farrell has argued,

the ‘flypaper’ theory implicitly assumes that there’s a fixed amount of al Qaeda terrorism sloshing around in the international system, so that it’s a good idea to divert it from the US to Iraq - more terrorists attacking troops in Iraq would mean less terrorists attacking the homeland. But there isn’t a fixed amount - instead, US actions in Iraq are almost certain to affect the ‘supply’ of al Qaeda terrorists. Indeed, the WP article suggests that the US occupation is leading to a substantial increase in the willingness of potential fighters to take up arms, so that the invasion isn’t just drawing existing al Qaeda combatants to Iraq; it’s creating new recruits.

(Farrell, by the way, usefully compares the assumption that there is a fixed amount of terrorism in the international system to the neo-mercantilist assumption that there is a fixed amount of labor to be performed in any given economy).

Like Burke, I believe "there is a sound argument for the judicious use of force in pursuit of a legitimate war on terrorism." But while I supported the war in Afghanistan, I remain convinced that the war in Iraq is the very opposite of anything that might fairly be described as "sound" or "judicious." Now that we are there, however, I don't see any other option than to stick it out and see it through. We are in for a long haul.

I also agree that "there is a war on terror, and that we are losing it." For a variety of complex reasons, we can't really afford to acknowledge the most significant sources of the terror against which we are at war: for example, what Malise Ruthven calls the "Islamic imperialism" of Saudi Arabia.


Burke follows up with Armchair Generals R Us.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:45 PM | Comments (22)

AAUP Issues Policy Statement on Contingent Appintments and the Academic Profession

Ten years ago, the Association reported that non-tenure-track appointments accounted for about 58 percent of all faculty positions in American higher education. As of 1998, such appointments still accounted for nearly three out of five faculty positions, in all types of institutions. In community colleges, more than three out of five positions are part-time non-tenure-track positions, and 35 percent of all full-time positions are off the tenure track. Non-tenure-track appointments make up an even larger proportion of new appointments. Through the 1990s, in all types of institutions, three out of four new faculty members were appointed to non-tenure-track positions.

-- American Association of University Professors, Contingent Appointments and the Academic Profession

I'm on toddler patrol at the moment, so I only have time to post a brief notice.

The AAUP has issued the above-linked draft policy statement, which diagnoses the problems of the nontenured majority, and offers a number of "recommendations for systems, institutions, departments, or programs preparing to make a transition from an unstable academic environment characterized by overreliance on contingent faculty appointments to a stable academic environment characterized by a predominantly tenure-line faculty." Not surprisingly, then, the proposals aim at converting nontenurable into tenurable positions. No question that this would be preferable to the current state of affairs, but I have to wonder whether this kind of change is even possible anymore (especially given the growing concern over rising tuition costs: at the very least, the kind of reform outlined in this policy paper would require convincing taxpayers, students, parents and legislators that a full-time tenured faculty is more important than new residence halls or a refurbished library or what have you -- I happen to believe that a full-time faculty* is more important, but I'm not convinced that others would be easily persuaded on this point...).

More on this later --

*I don't say a full-time tenured faculty because I'm not convinced of the merits of tenure (or at least not convinced that the disadvantages of the system outweigh the advanatages), and I'd like to separate the issue of tenurable versus nontenurable from the issue of part-time teaching at proletarian wages versus full-time teaching at a half-decent salary level.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:48 PM | Comments (4)

Adjunct College

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.

So said I in early March. But here we are in early September, and I don't even have a business plan, never mind the capital that would enable me to launch my venture.

I now discover that someone else has beat me to the punch. Behold Adjunct College, where tuition is collected via Paypal. Now here's an interesting concept: "Adjunct College does not offer any college credit courses independently. Any and all accreditation depends on the cooperation-accreditation of members of the consortium that offer a given AC course." Though apparently the "flagship university" has "not yet been selected," while the "affiliate insitution" of Warnborough University has disappeared behind a "page not found." But Rome wasn't built in a day, and neither should we expect instant perfection of Adjunct College.

I still think there might be room for my own online institution of higher learning. But I'll need a name for it, of course: something that says "forward-looking and cutting-edge," but with at least a hint of gravitas thrown in to try and fake some prestige. Any suggestions?


I have found Warnborough University, which lists Adjunct College as an official learning center.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:17 AM | Comments (8)

September 07, 2003

Why are Tuition Costs Rising?

I've just come across Ronald G. Ehrenberg's Tuition Rising: Why College Costs So Much. Though I haven't yet read the book, I'm intrigued by the following description:

America's elite colleges and universities are the best in the world. They are also the most expensive, with tuition rising faster than the rate of inflation over the past thirty years and no indication that this trend will abate. Ronald G. Ehrenberg explores the causes of this tuition inflation, drawing on his many years as a teacher and researcher of the economics of higher education and as a senior administrator at Cornell University. Using incidents and examples from his own experience, he discusses a wide range of topics, including endowment policies, admissions and financial aid policies, the funding of research, tenure and the end of mandatory retirement, information technology, libraries and distance learning, student housing, and intercollegiate athletics. He shows that elite colleges and universities, having multiple, relatively independent constituencies, suffer from ineffective central control of their costs. And in a fascinating analysis of their response to the ratings published by magazines such as U.S. News & World Report, he shows how they engage in a dysfunctional competition for students. In the short run, these colleges and universities have little need to worry about rising tuition, since the number of qualified students applying for entrance is rising even faster. But in the long run, it is not at all clear that the increases can be sustained.

So what do you think? Why are tuition costs rising and what, if anything, can be done about it? Comments, questions, criticisms, hard-nosed analysis, half-baked ideas, moderate reformist agendas, radical programmes, utopian flights of fancy, rhetorical sleight of hand...The floor is open for discussion.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:33 PM | Comments (27)

September 04, 2003

No Spousal Tenure; or, the Adjunctification of Marriage

[Bowman]: Are they going to be faithful to you and publish your next sex book?

[Kipnis]: I want to stress my book is not a book about sex, it's a book about love. I have a reputation as someone who writes about sex, but I think of myself as writing about sexual politics. 'Against Love' is an experiment that I'm still trying to see how it comes out. Is the book going to get falsely characterized as a pro-adultery book? So far the longer reviews have dealt seriously with all the political aspects of the book. I have greater ambitions than being a sex writer, no offense to you, Salon's 'Sex Guy.' There are other things that interest me. I don't want to go down in history as the Adultery Queen.

-- David Bowman, "Adultery as an Act of Cultural Rebellion"

In an interview with Salon, Laura Kipnis reveals that she has "really big breasts" and very large ambitions, and insists that she does not "want to go down in history as the Adultery Queen." As an historian, I confess I have to wonder whether Kipnis will go down in history as anyone at all. But I digress.

Kipnis, who teaches media studies at Northwestern, has attracted a good deal of media attention for her Against Love, a polemic against marriage which Rebecca Mead describes as "a deft indictment of the marital ideal, as well as a celebration of the dissent that constitutes adultery, delivered in pointed daggers of prose" ("Love's Labors: Monogamy, Marriage, and Other Menaces").

Mead takes issue with what she interprets as one of the central organizing themes of the book:

Kipnis, alighting upon the psychotherapeutic bromide that relationships take work, asks, 'When did the rhetoric of the factory become the default language of love?' It’s an interesting question, but she doesn’t answer it. Instead, she takes the metaphor of work at its word, characterizing ours as an age 'when monogamy becomes labor, when desire is organized contractually, with accounts kept and fidelity extracted like labor from employees, with marriage a domestic factory policed by means of rigid shop-floor discipline.'

We find an earlier version of this argument in Kipnis's article "Adultery" (Critical Inquiry, 1998), an excerpt of which can be found here, which excerpt includes the following:

Those in happy marriages can leave now: this essay is not for you, for whom marriage is a site of optimism, not anesthesia; intensity, not resignation. No one here means to impugn, not for a second, the delights of marital fidelity, the rewards of long-term intimacies. But before you rush the exits, a point of clarification: a happy marriage would mean having--and wanting to have--sex with your spouse on something more than a quarterly basis. It would mean inhabiting a structure of feeling in which monogamy wasn't giving something up (your 'freedom,' in the vernacular), because such cost-benefit calculations just don't compute. It would require a domestic sphere in which monogamy wasn't proactively secured through routine interrogations ('Who was that on the phone, dear?'), surveillance ('Do you think I didn't notice how much time you spent talking to X at the reception?'), or impromptu search and seizure. A 'happy' state of monogamy would be defined as a state you don't have to work at maintaining.

Yes, we all know that Good Marriages Take Work. But then, work takes work, too. Wage labor, intimacy labor--are you ever not on the clock? If you're working at monogamy, you've already entered a system of exchange: an economy of intimacy governed--as such economies are--by scarcity, threat, and internalized prohibitions; secured ideologically--as such economies are--by incessant assurances that there are no viable alternatives. When monogamy becomes work, when desire is organized contractually, with accounts kept and fidelity extracted like labor from employees, with marriage a domestic factory policed by means of rigid shop-floor discipline designed to keep the wives and husbands of the world choke-chained to the reproduction machinery--this is a somewhat different state of affairs than 'Happy Marriage.'

Well. There's no question that "relationships take work" is one of the more tiresome of the lengthy list of hackneyed entries to be found in our pop-therapy lexicon. But to equate the term "work" with "the language of the factory" strikes me as a rather dubious move, and an outdated one too. What percentage of workers work in factories anymore? Does "work" still resonate of associations with the factory floor? Wouldn't it be more accurate to speak of, say, the retail and service sectors? Though this might not offer Kipnis the opportunity to display the kind of schoolboy cleverness that we find in the following (though that's sexist of me: I suppose I should say schoolgirl cleverness):

'If love is the latest form of alienated labor, would rereading 'Capital' as a marriage manual be the most appropriate response?'

"One could charitably take that 'rereading,' Mead notes, "to be a nice little joke about the preoccupations of cultural-studies academics, rather than an expression of it." Quite. In any case, Mead is having none of it. Toward the end of her review, she counters another version of "work":

Rather than seeing each individual marriage as a cog in a tyrannical industrial machine that manufactures large-scale social docility, we might re-reread Marx to come up with an alternative understanding of how the language of work might relate to the language of love. Perhaps love isn’t necessarily the alienated labor of the factory floor. Perhaps it can be the kind of work that Marx argued was displaced by the inhuman character of industrialization: the meaningful, satisfying work of the farmer or the artisan who remained organically connected to the fruits of his labor, and who was ennobled by this effort. Conducted with imagination, the labor of this love might be so gratifying as to be indistinguishable from play.

That's an interesting rejoinder. But I think it may concede too much to what strikes me as a questionable framework to begin with. Kipnis's ridicule of the "relationships take work" ethic seems to me to deliberately miss the point: the point being, that it's not like breathing, it won't always come "naturally," and it won't always be gratifying and creative and fun. And Kipnis's assertion that "a 'happy' state of monogamy would be defined as a state you don't have to work at maintaining" strikes me as so much silliness. With respect to the implict equation happiness=not work, to how many spheres of life might this equation apply? Think of the people who derive enormous satisfation from working at art, athletics, writing, cooking, and so on. Are we going to say, This is not really happiness because your happy state requires work?

Kipnis wants people to make connections between the personal and the political, between the organization of intimate life, and the organization of economic and state power. Thus, "'domestic coupledom,'" she writes, "'is the boot camp for compliant citizenship.'" Adultery, on the other hand, is not simply an act of infidelity to one's partner but also an act of rebellion against the powers-that-be.

Well, okay, I'm game. So I'd like to suggest another connection between domestic and political economy. For all her play with the "marriage takes work" slogan, and despite her insistence on the relationship between personal and institutional arrangements, I think Kipnis needs to think harder about the economic implications of her argument:

'It's generally understood that falling in love means committing to commitment,' [Kipnis] writes. 'Different social norms could entail something entirely different: yearly renewable contracts, for example.'"

I can't help thinking of flextime, removal of job security, replacement of full-time staff by part-time contingent contract workers. Doesn't this put Kipnis the cultural rebel firmly on the side of the labor and managerial practices of corporate America?


When I published this entry, I neglected to add a link that I had intended to provide: Is that Legal? had a post on Kipnis a few weeks ago.


Chad Orzel says, "you think marriage is hard work, try dating":

Monogamy has its down side, but the Maxim lifestyle Kipnis glorifies pretty much sucks all the time. There are very few activities that I hate more than trying to Meet People in bars and clubs. I don't dance well, I dislike crowds (I take up a lot of space, and spend a lot of time getting jostled), and it's surprisingly difficult to make small talk in loud rooms with people who are eight or ten inches shorter than you are.

Most of all, though, I hated the pressure, the idea that every casual conversation was a medium-stakes gamble. Play your cards right, and you can get at least one night of sex, and possibly something more. Babble like an idiot, and you're stuck sleeping on the couch because you're sharing a room with a better gambler than yourself. To twist Kipnis's analogy, if marriage is like being on the job 24/7, dating is like a neverending job interview, and it's a rare job that's worse than the interview.

And ogged of unfogged has directed my attention to yet another piece on Kipnis's book.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:27 PM | Comments (26)

NYU President's Radical Proposal

Dr. Sexton says he is determined to increase the attention undergraduates get. Besides pressing tenured professors to spend more time with undergraduates — both in the classroom and out — he wants to create or make formal new categories of faculty members. These include 'teaching professors' who are not judged by their research, 'cyberfaculty' members who specialize in the use of the Internet and 'arts professors' who do not have Ph.D.'s but are highly regarded in their fields.

-- Karen W. Arenson, "NYU President Says Teaching Isn't Such a Novel Idea"

John Sexton, former Dean of NYU law school and now President of the university, wants to renew his institution's undergraduate teaching mission. To that end, Sexton has put forth a bold proposal to create new categories of faculty whose primary purpose would be to teach undergrads. "But in an academic culture where tenure is the grand prize," reports Arenson, "Dr. Sexton is struggling with how to accord them status. He said he would find other ways to reward and honor them and assure them of academic freedom."

Rewards? honor? academic freedom? Hell, I'd sign on in a New York minute. So too would Laura at Apt. 11D (permalink bloggered; scroll to "Lunchtime Reading"). So where do we apply?

Granted, I'm a little sceptical of the "cyberfaculty" concept. I can't help thinking of the University of Phoenix, the egalitarian university where all faculty are treated equally, which is to say, equally badly (for a quick summary of the intangible rewards of teaching at Phoenix, click here).

Still, I welcome any public discussion that moves beyond a tacit endorsement of the current two-tier system. And I predict that faculty opposition to Sexton's proposal will be framed in such a manner as to utterly ignore the reality of said two-tier system. "'If there were a specific proposal saying that we are now going to recruit 200 faculty who are not on the tenure track but will teach the same courses, there would probably be a lot of opposition," Dr. Jolly [last year's chairman of the NYU faculty council] said, "because it would be a direct attack on tenure."

Well. As the article points out, "N.Y.U. already has instructors whose only assignment is undergraduate teaching, including its many adjuncts, who have little status. Typically, they teach a course for a few thousand dollars or less."

Now, here's an interesting difference of opinion. NYU's adjunct faculty union claims "the university employs more adjuncts than full-time professors (there are 2,700 part-timers per semester or 4,000 each year, and about 3,000 full-time faculty members) and adjuncts do 70 percent of undergraduate teaching." Meanwhile, "N.Y.U. officials call the 70 percent figure ridiculous, but decline to provide any other, except to say that adjuncts teach no more than 15 percent of undergraduate classes in the arts and sciences and more at some of N.Y.U.'s other schools." Who are we to believe? 70 percent does sound almost unbelievably high, but 15 percent sounds unbelievably low and frankly, I don't believe it. Whatever the exact figures (and I'm inclined to give more credence to the union on this one), the undeniable fact is that a lot of undergraduate teaching at NYU is currently done by adjuncts.

So Mr Jolly's statement prompts me to repeat a few points about adjunctification that I have already stated on this weblog too many times to mention. First, the growing reliance on adjunct faculty is already an attack on tenure. Second, as I see it, the failure of full-time tenured faculty to oppose the increased reliance on adjunct faculty means that full-time faculty have already ceded the moral high ground on this issue. Invocations of academic freedom ring hollow when the prounouncements come from those who stand idly by while the classrooms at their own institutions are increasingly turned over to an academic underclass who lack any sort of job security or academic freedom. And finally, quite apart from the moral issue, in practical terms, if you allow one kind of attack on tenure (i.e., adjuntification) without making any real effort to resist or oppose, then you shouldn't be surprised to see another sort of attack follow in its wake.


Miriam raises some good questions (permalink bloggered; scroll to Wednesday, September 03) about the vagueness of Sexton's proposal, and suggests that "what's being described here really seems to be a stepped-up adjuncting system."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:28 AM | Comments (19)

September 03, 2003

Benton's Book of "Virtues"

'It doesn't matter where you earn your degree, how much you publish, or how well you teach,' I tell my students who are going to graduate school. 'Nothing you do is enough to guarantee a tenure-track job in the humanities.

-- Thomas H. Benton, "The Five 'Virtues' of Successful Graduate Students"

Here is the latest installment in Thomas H. Benton's series on the perils and pitfalls of graduate school. His "So You Want to go to Graduate School?" caused quite a stir here, and his "If You Must go to Grad School" also generated some interesting commentary here.

In his latest column, Benton offers a catalogue of graduate school virtues: discipline, networking ability, mental health, flexibility, and patience. "I don't mean to offer some kind of Franklinesque success strategy for grad students," he writes. Not to worry, Mr. Benton. Let me assure you that you have done nothing of the sort. Your column is altogether lacking in the kind of cheerful optimism that would qualify it for inclusion in the "success strategies" genre. Indeed, I very much fear the innocent reader might walk away from your advice with the troubling suspicion that the academy is not the best of all possible worlds.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:39 PM | Comments (13)

Don't Worry Be Happy?

Remember Margaret Marquis and Brent Shannon, the unemployed academic couple who claimed that it's all worth it? Here's a sample to refresh your memory:

Because we know that at the end of 300 pages, Darcy will still marry Elizabeth, and at the end of 200 pages, Pheoby will still be listening, yet we will have noticed an infinite number of things that we never noticed before. And that's worth years of education and thousands of dollars in student loans and no tenure-track jobs.

I wrote a blog entry about this couple's column in mid-July, in which I criticized their insistence on the nobility of poverty. Many readers tended to agree. And at least a couple of commenters also took exception to the couple's rather condescending treatment of their parents.

I'm happy to report that Margaret Marquis' mother has responded in a letter to the editor of the Chronicle (5 Sept. 2003; subscription required):

We're happy they got published in The Chronicle. Really. But, as Mother 1 (letting the cat out of the bag), I'll be even happier if Margaret Marquis and Brent Shannon, my daughter and son-in-law, will be able to find two academic positions at the same institution or at least in the same town ("We're Happy. Really.," The Review, July 18). Having been in higher education for almost 30 years, I am aware of the meager employment prospects in the humanities, and all too aware of the pittance earned by adjunct faculty members awaiting the ephemeral full-time position to materialize -- issues that my loved ones brush off far too cavalierly, in my opinion.

As I watch my TIAA-CREF account, I wonder if I will be able to support these two while they find the full-time, permanent positions that match their teaching interests...

Good for you, Linda Marquis (or should I say, Madam Chair of the Department of Accountancy?)*

*Linda Marquis' self-description.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:44 PM | Comments (7)