October 31, 2003

Privatizing the Public

After two years of severe cuts, my college's state-funded budget is down to less than $50-million, and I have $49-million in salary commitments. Not much room to maneuver.

But if we could set our own tuition, and the dollars came directly to us (as they now do not), we could double the tuition rate (which is now about $5,000 a year), and, given an enrollment of 10,000 students, we would instantly become a $100-million college. We could then say to the state, keep your $50-million, continue to pay for our capital projects, pensions, and health plans, and we promise to give the citizens of Illinois an educational product superior to the product they are unwilling to pay for in tax dollars.

-- Stanley Fish, "Give Us Liberty or Give us Revenue"

Fed up with "irresponsible politicians" who "play to the crowd and do not speak to the realities facing public universities," Stanley Fish (who recently announced his resignation as Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago) calls for a privatization of public universities. Given the breakdown of the compact between state governments and public research universities, Fish argues, public universities are already being forced into a kind of privatization "by default," which "usually means a combination of higher tuition, fewer services, aggressive outsourcing, aggressive patenting, distance education, technology transfers, and private donations." Fish suggests they should go big or go home:

They can privatize, not by default and in a desperate attempt to deal with forces beyond their control, but by design and with a view to creating conditions that would allow the flourishing of those values in whose name Bok writes.

Well, that's one response to the cutbacks. Is this a serious proposal, or a new twist on what Timothy Burke characterized (in his "A Tale of Two Administrators"?) as "a kidnapper's threat to kill a hostage. 'Don't make me do it, man!'"

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:53 AM | Comments (15)

October 30, 2003

Manuals of Guilt

My (admittedly partial) solution to the problem addressed by Laura in Gobs of Guilt (permalinks bloggered; scroll to Thursday, October 30, 2003) is to simply refuse to read the parenting books. I'm serious. I haven't looked at a parenting book in over a year (when I wrote this post, it had already been months and months). I've got enough to worry about without agreeing to discipline and punish myself over every last detail of my son's physical, emotional, intellectual, moral and psycho-sexual development.

And I have to say that I've been much more relaxed about the motherhood thing since I stopped reading the guilt manuals (I stopped reading them, by the way, when I got utterly fed up with their presumptive hostility toward mothers).

Still, even while consciously avoiding the parenting genre, it's hard to ignore the guilt-inducing messages that seem to come from everywhere. Laura is right: our mothers worried far less about this stuff. Our grandmothers worried less still. In grandmother's day, raising children was rather like raising livestock: you made sure they were fed and watered, kept them out of harm's way, and breathed a sigh of relief if they made it safe and sound to adulthood (okay, in great-grandmother's day, and yes, of course I'm hyperbolizing).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:03 PM | Comments (11)

Are You (or Have You Ever Been) an Academic?

I won't attempt to define "academic." I believe the courts have ruled that this question is best left to a jury, who must determine any given case with reference to "contemporary community standards."

In a future poll, I'd like to get a sense of how many self-identified academics are grad students, how many are adjunct faculty members, how many are tenure-track faculty members, and so on.

If you wish, please supplement your response to this poll by indicating (in the comments) your favourite shampoo and (if applicable) your favourite conditioner.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:09 PM | Comments (32)

A Happy Academic Responds to my Blog

These (and others along these lines) blogs are interesting to read because they make good points and observations about academia in the news, they have good links, and they are generally well-written. And it's not as if what many of these blogs are saying isn't true or at least potentially true-- more often than not, I agree with what I see in these spaces. But at the same time, these blogs bother me. For one thing, they too often move far too quickly from what I read as legitimate complaints to 'whining'-- and let me say that 'whining' is a word I'm not comfortable with here, but it's the only one I can come up with. I guess what I'm saying is they are telling a part of a story, one that, logically speaking, can only be a part of the story.

-- Steven D. Krause, "Steve the Happy Academic, Part I"

Since Mr. Krause is a professor of English with a PhD in composition and rhetoric, I'm rather surprised to read that "whining" is the only term he can come up with to characterize my writing on this blog. Frankly, I think I'm more inclined to rant than to whine. But he's quite right that this weblog focuses on some aspects of academia, while leaving other aspects to be covered by other academic bloggers.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:00 AM | Comments (34)

Trustees of Tenure

Every year professors at colleges around the country come up for tenure -- and, inevitably, some of them miss the mark. But what has made the decisions here so unsettling and unusual, some people say, is that by all accounts each of the four professors excelled in teaching, research, and service -- the traditional standards by which tenure candidates are judged. Nonetheless, Carroll's president and trustees simply decided that it didn't make good business sense to keep them.

-- Robin Wilson, "4 Fateful Letters"

The above-linked Chronicle piece details a tenure battle at Carroll College, a small, private, Presbyterian-affiliated college in Wisconsin. Six faculty members came up for tenure last year; four of the six were denied. "What has angered people most," reports Wilson, "is that the college plans to fill at least three of the four jobs with instructors who will not be eligible for tenure."

Critics contend that the decision was financial. The remarks of the college president, Frank S. Falcone, seem to concede as much:

'Carroll fits into the profile of many small schools in that we don't have a lot of financial flexibility, and so we've become very cautious on long-term commitments.'

Offering tenure, he says, is an expensive proposition: 'If somebody gets tenure at 35, then you're thinking about 30 more years at least.' For each professor, he says, 'our calculation is that this represents a $2-million financial obligation.'

While Carroll students are increasingly interested in its professional programs, five of the six professors who were up for tenure last semester were in the liberal arts, where enrollment has been slipping. And all six were concentrated in just three academic departments, meaning that if Carroll granted all of them tenure, it risked 'tenuring up' some departments, says Mr. Falcone.

Outside obsevers view the decision as a general attack on the principle of tenure. Thus a letter from the AAUP states, "'We believe that withholding tenure for qualified candidates in order to replace them with non-tenure-track faculty is inimical to the principles of academic freedom which tenure serves.'" And Cathy Ann Trower, "an expert on tenure" and a senior researcher at Harvard's Graduate School of Education,

predicts that the denials will raise doubts about the stability of tenure, particularly because the decisions follow the layoffs of tenured professors at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln amid budget problems last spring.

'It only takes something like this, that gets a lot of recognition, to spark a whole new wave of questioning,' she says.

Reading the above article, I immediately thought of something I came across yesterday at Critical Mass: in KC Goes to Washington, Erin O'Connor reports that KC Johnson -- of the now infamous tenure battle at Brooklyn College -- testified yesterday before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions on the subject of "intellectual diversity." His testimony can be found here.

Given his own, much-publicized battle (briefly recounted in his testimony, with a more detailed account to be found here), it is not surprising that Johnson has some concerns over the tenure review process. And let me make it clear (so that the following criticism is not misconstrued) that I was happy to learn that he won his battle and now has tenure.

That said, I am not persuaded that the actions of some of his senior colleagues in the history department at Brooklyn College can be attributed to a general takeover of American history departments by "advocates of the new social history," which is what Johnson suggests, or strongly implies, in his testimony. Nor am I convinced that his "representative sample of history departments" indicates that students are not being offered courses in "topics that most in the country consider crucial for students to learn." I am certainly open to persuasion on this point, but Johnson's brief and highly anecdotal characterization is not enough to persuade me. One rather dubious move that he makes is to cite areas of faculty research specialization as an indication of what kinds of courses are offered:

At 20 of these schools, less than a quarter of the Americanists address such topics in any aspect of their scholarly work. The University of Michigan has 25 full-time department members teaching U.S. history: only one publishes on political history, as opposed to 11 professors examining race in America and seven specialists in U.S. women’s history. Of the 11 Americanists in the University of Washington’s history department, only one studies politics, the law, or foreign policy—and he specializes in American socialism and communism.

That seems at least potentially misleading. Do the U.S. history faculty not teach anything outside their own areas of research specialization? Do these history departments not offer courses (though perhaps taught by other, ie, adjunct, faculty) in political history, legal history, and foreign policy? Perhaps not. But I have to say I'm just a little sceptical. To be sure, I could find this out if I cared to dig, but that would require more time and energy than I am willing to devote to the matter at present. This is just a blog, and I'm not testifying before the Senate. But in any case, I would need to see some concrete information on course offerings before accepting Johnson's claim.

Anyway, that's not my main point. The main reason why the Chronicle article on the tenure battle at Carroll College made me think of Johnson's Senate testimony is the following quote from said testimony:

With faculty unwilling or unable to create an intellectually diverse campus, administrators and trustees must step forward, as my case suggested. Chancellor Goldstein used my case to affirm his previously stated commitment to improving standards and promoting intellectual diversity. Several trustees likewise used the matter to articulate the basic principles under which CUNY personnel policy would operate. In the contemporary climate, responsible administrators and trustees should require careful accountings of hiring, tenure, and promotion decisions coming from academic departments. These same administrators and trustees should be ready and willing to act when such decisions prove to have been made to satisfy personal ideological wish lists rather than educational and scholarly needs.

Again, I understand why Johnson believes faculty have too much power over the tenure review process, and can appreciate why he would argue that faculty decisions should be accountable to some other body. But what I find almost shockingly naive about the argument that adminstrators and trustees must step forward to require "careful accountings" of the tenure process is the confident assumption that said administrators and trustees are as committed to the institution of tenure as the faculty who are, in Johnson's view, "unwilling or unable to create an intellectually diverse campus." What makes Johnson so sure that administrators and trustees are willing and able to create an intellectually diverse campus? And even if they are willing and able, why assume that their attempts to diversify wouldn't involve, say, a more diverse range of categories of nontenurable faculty? Apparently it has not occurred to him that administrators and trustees might not begin to demand another kind of "careful accounting," of the type that apparently led to the denial of tenure to the 4 out of 6 at Carroll College.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:22 AM | Comments (6)

October 29, 2003

Gender Poll

Given the recent interest in women and the blogosphere (for two rather different approaches to this theme, see 1). the new group blog Misbehaving.net; and 2). James Joyner's Blog Chicks Pix), I'm curious about the gender breakdown of this blog's readership.

Future polls will seek to gather detailed information on political affiliation, income level, and toothpaste preferences.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:23 AM | Comments (48)

October 28, 2003

Leaving Academe (and Searching for an Alibi)

I've read articles in The Chronicle about mothers leaving academe to have more time with their children. While those articles make excellent points about the conflicting roles of mother and professor, they neglect the larger issue of the enormous space that work fills in all our lives. In a wealthy country such as the United States, we should all be able to afford time for friends, family, exercise, healthy diets, and spiritual growth. That right should not be reserved just for mothers.

-- Cady Wells, "When Tenure Isn't Enough"

I'm sure I am in basic agreement with Wells here. Do we work to live, or live to work? We're all looking for a better "balance," as the current jargon would have it.

But do the articles by mothers who leave the academy really "neglect the larger issue of the enormous space that work fills in all our lives"? What silly women those mothers must be! Talk about missing the forest for the trees. But I rather doubt they are so silly as all that. And I strongly suspect that at least of few of them not only acknowledge the "larger issue of the enormous space that work fills in all our lives" but even place the difficulties of the "double shift" within just such a context. However, since Wells does not cite specific examples of the articles which she has in mind, I can only speculate, and am unable either to verify or refute her somewhat dubious claim.

But why turn an account of leaving the academy into an opportunity to complain of the "rights" enjoyed by mothers who leave the academy? -- which apparently include the "rights" to exercise, healthy diets, and spiritual growth, which rights are apparently currently "reserved" for mothers. Huh? Can we talk about peanut butter? Because that's what mothers eat for lunch, and that's what they clean up off the floor, the table, the couch...

Okay, let's be serious. It's clear that Wells is ambivalent and defensive about her decision to leave. And it seems that her resentment against mothers stems from her own lack of a socially approved "alibi" with which to explain her choice. Perhaps Ms. Wells could invent an elderly parent who needs her care: in leaving the academy, she might say, she is exercising her "right" to "be able to afford time for friends, family, exercise, healthy diets, and spiritual growth" -- oh, and to do the unpaid work of caregiving without which we are not like beasts but rather below the level of the wild beasts of the forest.

Or maybe Ms. Wells could read Ellen Ostrow's "The Backlash Against Academic Parents." In seeking to account for "the degree of rancor, sarcasm, and contempt" that she discovered in a colloquy on the AAUP's Statement on Family Responsibilities and Academic Work, Ostrow writes that she is

unwilling to be so cynical as to conclude that those individuals objecting to the AAUP's statement -- on the grounds that they are defending standards of excellence -- believe that this kind of inequity should exist in the academy. And it is inconceivable that scholars who hold themselves to such high standards truly believe that the solution to this ineqity is for female faculty members to 'choose' not to 'breed.'

Well, colour me cynical, because I guess I'm not quite so sanguine as Ostrow on this point. But I think Ostrow makes an excellent point:

The problem, it seems to me, is that issues of equity have been framed in the context of balancing work and family life. Understandably, this renders the concerns of people without children or other family obligations as irrelevant.

I couldn't agree more. So I'd like to cut a deal with Ms. Wells: you stop talking as though motherhood represented some kind of hobby or holiday, and I will talk more loudly and more often of the need (though I'm afraid I can't call it a "right") of everyone -- mothers, fathers, friends, neighbours, childed, childless -- for a sane and balanced life.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:55 PM | Comments (13)

October 27, 2003

If You Could Be University President for a Day

Better make that a week. No, a month. Well okay, a year.

In the comments to "A Renewal of the Academic Commons?" Timothy Burke proposes the following exercise:

Suppose you're the new president of a not so well-regarded research university and you're dissatisfied (probably legitimately) with the culture and outlook of your institution, and have a feeling that you're slipping even further. Suppose you have a lot of leeway and money to work with.

Suppose now you decide not to rebuild through pursuing stars, but instead by trying to build around the most mensch-like teaching faculty you can find, the people who do massive amounts of voluntary labor on behalf of their institutions, who care deeply about teaching, who are smart and productive but generalist intellectuals rather than specialists, who are supportive and giving in conversations with colleagues and students--basically the people who make the wheels turn round at most institutions.

Ok, good idea.

How are you going to find them?

This is an excellent question, to which I don't pretend to have an answer. I wonder if John Sexton (or anyone else, for that matter) does. Academic stars are of course identified by their publication records. But how to identify the mensch-like teachers? Though if the people to whom Burke refers are "basically the people who make the wheels turn round at most institutions," then presumably such people must already be found at most institutions? Or at least, would be found if anyone cared to look for them? Why, then, aren't they identified and valued as such?

Though I don't have the answer, I will -- somewhat tentatively -- suggest the following: to some extent, I suspect, this is not so much about individuals as it is about departmental and institutional cultures. Where research is valued, supported, and rewarded, at least some people will emerge as very good, and some few people as excellent, researchers. Likewise with teaching: offer the incentives and support, and at least some proportion of faculty will release their inner mensches.

But I guess that's not much of an answer. Anyone else?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:51 PM | Comments (27)

SMU Associate Provost Says Adjunctification is "Not a Conscious Policy"

In 1995, SMU had 164 adjunct professors. In 2002 the number of adjunct professors had almost doubled to 241.* During that same time period, there was a net loss in the number of tenured and tenure-track professors.

What is happening at SMU is part of a nationwide trend. An increasing number of lecturers and adjunct professors now fill the ranks of college faculty. Universities are hiring fewer tenured and tenure-track faculty.

-- Michael Sayder, "The Trouble with Tenure"

The above-linked article offers two (or maybe three) views on adjunctification.

James K. Hopkins, chair of the history department at Southern Methodist University, thinks this trend "'is a disturbing development.'" He believes universities are hiring more part-timers because "'it’s easier and cheaper to use adjuncts.'" If you are familiar with this weblog, then I don't need to tell you that I think Hopkins is exactly right.

Ellen Jackofsky, Associate Provost of Academic Affairs at Southern Methodist, sees things differently. Pointing out that "'It’s happening everywhere,'" Jackofsky insists that the school's increased reliance on adjuncts is "'not a conscious policy.'" Now that seems an odd way to defend a practice (our hiring practices are unplanned and haphazard -- and our very lack of conscious design should protect us against criticism). But in any case, apparently it's a good, or at least a defensible, policy (or, rather, lack of policy):

She said adjuncts help staff classes and keep class size at a reasonable level. They also have expertise that many career teachers don’t have.

'There are places where adjuncts make sense. Business, engineering, advertising…any professional school,' Jackofsky said.

When asked if SMU uses adjuncts because they’re cheaper and easier, she replied, 'Not at all.'

I wonder how many of the adjuncts hired at SMU since 1995 teach in the business, engineering and advertising programs? Given the concerns expressed by Hopkins, I would guess that some of them are teaching in the history department.

Meanwhile, Ron Wetherington, director of the SMU Center for Teaching Excellence, recommends "the guarded use of adjuncts." Wetherington sees "two advantages" to the use of adjuncts: "'One is the need for colleges and universities to fill the demand for courses with limited faculty and financial resources,' he said. 'The other is to take advantage of professionals in sharing their experiences.'" Wetherington seeks to walk a fine line, defending the use of adjuncts while insisting on the necessity of maintaining a strong barrier between the two tiers. Tenured faculty, he insists, are "'the key to a university:'"

'It is tenured, fulltime faculty who provide — and should provide — the core of university teaching and who develop and define the academic and intellectual character of the institution,' he said. 'Adjuncts do not have the institutional commitment and emotional investment in the academy that this requires.'

One might argue, of course, that it is the university that does not have an "institutional commitment" to and "emotional investment" in its adjunct faculty. One might even be so bold as to suggest that, far from being commitment-shy and emotionally distant figures, many of the growing ranks of adjunct faculty would be more than happy to tie the knot (or at least to sign a long-term contract).

By the way, in support of the pro-adjunct position, the article cites from "Do Adjuncts Have Time for Students?" where the Chroncle's adjunct-entrepreneur insists that "the determining factor is commitment" (my response to Carroll can be found here).

Thanks to Robert Schwartz for the link.

*I wonder if this should read, the number of adjunct professors had increased by almost 50 percent?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:46 AM | Comments (6)

O Canada

Dude, Canada is the great release valve of the American liberal soul. If not for Canada, there would be rioting in the streets every two weeks. As long as there's Canada, a pissed off liberal can say, 'I am this close to moving to Canada.' Take that away at your peril.

Ogged responds to a latter-day expression of American manifest destiny. He is absolutely right to say that "Canada isn't just cold America." And it's not just Quebec, and it's not just hockey. There is also the matter of donut consumption. One day while driving down Bloor Street with one of my sisters, we entertained ourselves by counting the number of donut shops (yes, we northern rustics have to make our own fun). For a good two-mile stretch, we counted at least one donut shop per block. It was only after having spent some time in the States, however, that I realized the essential difference between the two nations could be summed up as follows: Canadians eat more donuts than Americans.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:21 AM | Comments (20)

A Renewal of the Academic Commons?

As mobility in the senior ranks of faculty members has increased, so have the differences in compensation between the most sought-after professors — those whom Mr. Sexton lauds as his 'blue team' — and the 'gray team,' everyone else. Trophy professors are wooed with outsized paychecks, splendid housing, travel allowances, well-endowed research centers, brilliant colleagues — and the promise that they'll rarely encounter an undergraduate.

-- David L. Kirp, "How Much for That Professor?"

In an op-ed in today's NYTimes, David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and author of Shakespeare, Einstein and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education, endorses NYU President John Sexton's recent "summons to engagement." This is in reference to a report (which I blogged about here) in which Sexton calls for a renewal of his university's teaching mission, which would require that tenured faculty spend more time with undergraduates, and which might also involve the creation of new categories of teaching faculty.

Interestingly, and I think persuasively, Kirk views the star system in the light of a failure of the academic commons.* Of NYU's own partipation in the "frenzy of renown," Kirk has this to say:

A bevy of star hires has elevated the department's academic standing, and with it the university's. But the new recruits have only modest teaching responsibilities; especially in big undergraduate courses, the burden of teaching falls on graduate student instructors and adjunct faculty, higher education's replaceable parts. What's more, the newcomers are narrow-gauge specialists whose intellectual insularity — a disengagement from both the classroom and the common public sphere — presents a formidable obstacle to the neighborliness that Mr. Sexton now asks of his 'blue team.'

Given NYU's success at this game, it will not be easy, Kirk writes, to "pull off this sea change — a shift from 'me, myself and I' entrepreneurship to participation in a genuine community of scholars." Indeed, it may not even be possible. Certainly, Kirk does not sound optimistic.

As with grade inflation, one serious obstacle to reform is the difficulty of unilateral disarmament: "[Unless] other top-rank schools decide, improbably, to declare a truce in the star wars, his efforts are likely to fail. In higher education as elsewhere, competition, not the congregation, rules." Kirk concludes with this rather pessimistic observation:

If all big research universities were to pledge not to use lightened teaching loads as a bargaining chip, a 'common enterprise university' might stand a decent chance. But that's not how this blood sport is played. New York University knows this very well. Barely six months after the university stole him from Oxford, Niall Ferguson accepted an offer from Harvard, which for more than a century has made the poaching of star professors an art form.

*For a discussion of the academic star system, see the comments to my entry on "The Celebrification of the Academy"

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:05 AM | Comments (7)

October 26, 2003

"Trying to Stay Afloat" is "Not Quite as Fun"

Fish hasn't announced his future plans. He could retire, stay and teach at UIC or 'could be attracted by another possibility.'

-- Dave Newbart, "UIC's star to quit, says job not as fun with budget woes"

In the past month or so, I've written a couple of entries (here and here) on Stanley Fish's fight with Republican legislators. I now learn (thanks to reader Robert Schwartz) that Fish is stepping down from his post as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The above-linked article cites budgetary constraints as the main reason for his recently announced resignation. Though "Fish, 65, did not directly blame the state's budget woes, which have cut more than $54 million from UIC's budget, as the reason he was leaving," he did say "he might have stayed in the job if the funding picture were rosier." The article quotes him as follows:

'I was invited here to raise the visibility of the university and the college and to attract to the college very high-quality faculty,' he said. 'Now we've had to pause the last couple of years and direct all our energies at trying to stay afloat. It's a different kind of work and not quite as fun.'

So where will Fish end up next? Help me come up with a short list, and then we start a betting pool (tacky? yes; but surely less objectionable than the Pope Death Watch).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:54 PM | Comments (9)

A "Poster Child" for the "Brave New World of Work"

'There no longer seemed to be anything standing in the way of Keith Hoeller's academic career. By 1982, when he netted his doctorate in philosophy, he had already contributed to ten academic publications, obtained a grant from the French government, and worked for a year as a visiting professor at Seattle University. He was even on the advisory board of a renowned specialist journal -- an honor usually accorded only to full professors. And yet the decisive breakthrough failed to come. Over the past sixteen years he has stumbled from one fixed-term appointment to the next. His latest stop is [the] community college [system] in Washington state, where he gives 12 lecture courses a year -- on a part-time basis. The job only brings in $26,000 a year. Now fifty, he suspects his dream of a Chair will never be fulfilled ... It's a great deal for the universities, but it splits the country's faculty into two classes.'

-- Ulrich Beck, The Brave New World of Work (Polity Press, 2000); cited in Keith Hoeller, "Equal Pay for Equal Work"

Keith Hoeller has spent the past twenty years working as a "part-time"
faculty member, often teaching more than a full load of courses in any given year. His academic career makes him a "poster child," he writes,

for what sociologist Ulrich Beck has called The Brave New World of Work (Polity Press, 2000), where 'fragmentation of the time and place of work is compounded by fragmentation of the normal labor contract. This contractual individualization, with the introduction of cheap-rate insecure jobs, is taking place not only at the bottom but right at the top of the skills hierarchy.'

Hoeller quite correctly views his own career path as "symptomatic of an ever-growing trend since America's colleges and universities initiated this two-tiered professorial track more than 20 years ago."

His column argues for equal pay for equal work, a position that can increasingly be found in the policy statements put forth by various academic professional organizations (including this statement by the AHA, which I blogged about here), but that has yet to be realized at any college or university in this country.

One major obstacle toward parity in pay is of course the current climate of state cutbacks to higher education and increased concern over rising tuition costs.

In these tough economic times, many colleges have increased tuition, without offering the students anything more for their money and without directing any of the revenues toward fairly compensating the part-timers. Spending more of the tuition dollars on the adjuncts would do the most good for students by giving them more access to faculty members who have time to spend with them.

Though I basically agree with Hoeller on this point, I'm not so sure that colleges have not offered students more for their money. I suspect many colleges have offered students more by way of extracurricular services and amenities, though at the expense of academic quality. Making the case for investing in faculty would require convincing students, parents and taxpayers that high quality higher education begins in the classroom.

The second major obstacle, I believe, is a resistance on the part of many full-time faculty members to the goal of employment reform. In the short term, this makes perfect sense: many tenurable faculty benefit materially from the existence of a reserve army of cheap teaching labor. In the longer term, however, indifference -- and in some cases outright hostility -- to the efforts of those who seek improvements in the pay and working conditions of a large and growing proportion of faculty is more self-destructive than self-serving. When professional organizations issue policy papers on the problems of adjunctification (which they are increasingly inclined to do), they do not do so because they have suddenly developed a case of the warm and fuzzies for adjunct faculty. Rather, they do so because they recognize the two-tier system as a threat to the status and pay of the profession as a whole.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:48 AM | Comments (2)

October 24, 2003

Blogging Holiday

Leaving town for a couple of days. Blogging will resume early next week.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:52 PM | Comments (1)

The Story You are About to Hear is True (Dennis Baron's Dragnet)

Bad behavior was the most disheartening thing I had to face as an administrator. What I present here are brief summaries of four cases, but they are based on detailed investigations, interviews, and hearings. The names have been changed to protect the innocent. Unfortunately, that also protects the guilty.

-- Dennis Baron, "Faculty Behaving Badly"

Dennis Baron, professor of English and author of a series of columns at the Chroncle on the tenure review process (two of which I blogged about here and here), has a new column called "Heads Up." Having "just finished a six-year term as head of the English department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign," he writes in his inaugural column, he is now "ready to recollect that experience in the tranquility called research leave." Naturally, as an adjunct faculty member I am eager to know "what to expect when you become a department chair;" I intend to read the column regularly and to follow its advice closely with a view to my own professional development.

In this month's column we learn that "stalkers, rapists, and embezzlers... must be dealt with by the police," while "data fakers, plagiarists, and professors who glamorize their past" can be left to the tender mercies of the "ethics panels." Baron writes that he knows one department head "who wouldn't meet with one professor without a police escort." But apparently high crimes and misdemeanors are relatively rare: "98 percent of the faculty members in any given department do their jobs honorably and need minimal tending from administrators." Faculty not behaving badly, however, doesn't make for much of a column. Not surprisingly, Baron focuses on the remaining 2 percent. A couple of the cases he recounts are almost incredible (though at the same time, utterly believable).

One question:
Though "the names have been changed to protect the innocent," Baron writes under his own name and identifies his own institution. His colleagues must know exactly who and what he is talking about. I wonder how this goes over in his department?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:41 AM | Comments (19)

October 22, 2003

Starring Catherine O'Hara as...

It's good to be a University of Nebraska coach, an assistant athletics director, or an employee in the sports-information department. Not only do they rub shoulders with the football players who are the gods of Nebraska's state religion, they are also accorded certain courtesies, such as cars provided by local dealers who are fans of Cornhusker sports teams.

Dealers, in turn, are able to purchase hard-to-come-by basketball and football tickets. The latter have been sold out for 255 consecutive games, and season tickets have been sold out since the 1960s, according to Steve Pederson, Nebraska's athletics director.

-- Jennifer Jacobson, The Perks of Coaching

Via JBJ at The Salt-Box, the above-linked article reports that not only does Pederson drive "a dealer-provided 2004 Chevy Tahoe" but "his wife, Tami, drives a dealer-provided 2003 GMC Envoy." Three other coaches' spouses (and two cheers for gender equity, because one of them of is the husband of the women's basketball coach) "also drive dealer cars."

Wow. College athletics must be huge in Lincoln, Nebraska. If I am reading this correctly, these coaches aren't even giving away tickets to dealers in exchange for cars. Rather, they are selling tickets in exchange for automobiles. Those tickets must be very highly prized indeed.

Somewhat to my own surprise -- and perhaps, gentle readers, to your surprise, too -- I find myself unable to summon up even an ounce of outrage.

To be sure, I share Eric Muller's sense of dismay over the misplaced priorities which allow the Board of Trustees at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to approve "a contract for new basketball coach Roy Williams. It pays him $632,300 in year one, and a lot more than that in subsequent years." And don't tell me this about the market instead of about choices and priorities. Yes, I know our society values basketball players over Shakespeare scholars. Our society values many people -- supermodels, for example -- over Shakespeare scholars. Is that a good enough reason for a university to get into the supermodelling business in a serious way?

And of course I can't help but note that if "it's good to be a University of Nebraska coach, an assistant athletics director, or an employee in the sports-information department," it is not so good to be a tenured professor in the research division of the university-operated museum at the cash-starved University of Nebraska.

I also can't help wondering whether U of Nebraska athletics are a money-maker or a drain on the university's strained resources (note: I am not a criminal defence lawyer and we are not in a court of law -- which is to say, I am asking a question to which I do not already have the answer). On this question, there is an interesting exchange in the Letters to the Editor at the Chronicle of Higher Ed (subscription-only, so no free URL). William Dowling, Professor of English at Rutgers, wrote in with this casutic comment (August 15, 2003):

Times are tough at the University of Nebraska. The Chronicle reported that the university is seeking to eliminate the jobs of 15 tenured professors due to budget cuts ("U. of Nebraska Seeks to Lay Off 15 Tenured Faculty Members," July 4). If the measure goes through, some of these faculty members will be fired outright. ...

Given the bleakness of that news, it's cheering to learn that the budget situation in Nebraska isn't so desperate that Cornhusker athletics coaches will be affected. The Associated Press reported on July 9 that, despite Nebraska's worst football season in 41 years, the university will be paying its football coaches $156,163 in incentive bonuses. Other coaches did very well, too. ...

Those who have observed the takeover of American higher education by commercialized athletics sometimes say that places like Nebraska are not universities but semi-professional franchises that maintain a few classrooms for show [IA: that's a blogworthy byte: someone should introduce Dowling to the blogosphere] ... Given the terrible budgetary situation, wouldn't it make sense simply to abolish the university and strengthen the football franchise? ...

Harvey Perlman, Chancellor of the university, responded as follows (October 3, 2003):

Critics like William C. Dowling ('Fire the Professors, Give the Coaches Bonuses,' Letters to the Editor, August 15) should know that not only is the athletics program of the University of Nebraska at Lincoln entirely self-supporting, but it contributes $1.5-million annually to our academic programs. ...

This is the belief on which the university's current budget-cutting philosophy is based: If we must cut, we will do so to the detriment of the fewest, and we will do what is necessary to allow areas of excellence to continue to grow...

I guess I'm just a wee bit sceptical of Perlman's insistence that athletics are "entirely self-supporting." Sure, they may contribute 1.5 million to the university, but what amount do they take from the university in the first place? Does that 1.5 million represent a surplus, over and above all of the expenses involved in the running of the athletics programs? Anyway, Perlman's reply doesn't quite get to the point of Dowling's letter. After all, I've no doubt that a high-profile supermodel agency could bring in millions, over and above the costs of running such a show. Is that a good enough reason to shut down academic programs in order to focus on this lucrative branch of the entertainment field?

I'm just asking.

Anyway, as I say, I'm afraid I can't quite muster the sort of indignation that the readers of this weblog have come to expect. I'm too busy thinking about the coaches and the car dealers, and wondering whether we don't have in the transactions between these two groups the makings of a wonderful "mockumentary."

You know the kind of film I am talking about: a satiric but basically humane sendup which treats the follies and foibles of its subjects not with ironic hauteur but with something like real affection. The extraordinarily versatile Catherine O'Hara might play Tami Pederson, or could perhaps be cast as the head coach of the women's basketball team. If the latter, then perhaps Eugene Levy could play her husband. Fred Willard and car dealer are a natural fit, and I would hope to see Parker Posey in some role or other. I am serious. This could be truly funny.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:38 PM | Comments (15)

October 21, 2003

Saints R Us?

I think it was Macaulay who said that the Roman Catholic Church deserved great credit for, and owed its longevity to, its ability to handle and contain fanaticism. This rather oblique compliment belongs to a more serious age. What is so striking about the 'beatification' of the woman who styled herself 'Mother' Teresa is the abject surrender, on the part of the church, to the forces of showbiz, superstition, and populism.

-- Christopher Hitchens, Mommie Dearest

Given his avowed hostility toward religion ("I'm not neutral about religion," he states in this interview, "I'm hostile to it."), Catholics may be inclined to dismiss Christopher Hitchens' latest Slate column as the work of a hardened secularist seeking to augment his reputation as a self-styled professional contrarian. They should not do so.

Leaving aside his obvious antipathy toward the Church (which involves ignoring the scare quotes around beatification and sainthood and glossing over his grossly oversimplified account of the practice of indulgences), Hitchens makes an important point:

It used to be that a person could not even be nominated for 'beatification,' the first step to 'sainthood,' until five years after his or her death. This was to guard against local or popular enthusiasm in the promotion of dubious characters. The pope nominated MT a year after her death in 1997. It also used to be that an apparatus of inquiry was set in train, including the scrutiny of an advocatus diaboli or 'devil's advocate,' to test any extraordinary claims. The pope has abolished this office and has created more instant saints than all his predecessors combined as far back as the 16th century.

Why should the rules be changed in the case of Mother Teresa? What is five years, or 500 years, for that matter, when measured against eternity?

But the case of Mother Teresa is only the most obvious and publicized instance of a wider trend. As this CNN report notes, 473 saints have been canonized under John Paul II, "more than the combined 299 saints [canonized] by all the previous popes since 1588." There is something unseemly in this rush to canonization, and as a Catholic (albeit a lapsed one) I am quite frankly embarrassed by it. Does this new "Saints R Us" policy represent a response to the liberalism and secularism of our age? If so, I suspect it will have the same effect as the Church's 19th-century response to the liberalism and secularism of that age, which is to say that it may well do as much to undermine Church authority as did the promulgation of the doctrine of papal infallibility in 1870.

For more on Hitchens on Mother Teresa, see this post by Matthew Yglesias, whose statement that "there's nothing I love more than the smell of Mother Theresa-bashing in the morning" has generated some predictably heated commentary.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:47 PM | Comments (17)


In his latest column at the Chronicle of Higher Ed, Stanley Fish assigns a failing grade to "The College Cost Crisis"[PDF]. This is the document that was recently issued by John A Boehner and Howard P. McKeon, two Republican members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

"In any college or university in the country," writes Fish,

a student who handed in a report pieced together from out-of-date secondary sources, a report that drew sweeping conclusions from meager and misleading data, a report that substituted random anecdotes for documented evidence, a report that tried (vainly) to hide its skimpiness by filling whole pages with bar graphs and 'bullet points' (a sure sign of the absence of real content) -- well, that student would surely flunk the course.

Really? Well, perhaps a student would flunk the course at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where academic standards must be unusually -- and admirably -- high. Elsewhere in the country, I'm afraid to say, it is now almost impossible to flunk a student on the basis of shoddy work. If a student shows up with a pulse on at least a semi-regular basis and turns in the bulk of the assignments completed at however substandard a level, that student must earn a passing grade in the course. I anticipate that Boehner and McKeon will appeal their grade and, if need be, threaten the school with legal action.

Anyway, I have to agree with Fish's characterization of "The College Cost Crisis" as "a rag-bag mixture of quotes from Newsweek, various newspaper editorials, and interviews with anxious parents." Among its "key findings" (see p. 4) is the assertion that "It's not just the economy, stupid." That's fairly representative of the document's tone, and of its tendency to present its own underlying assumptions as decisive conclusions by offering as "findings" precisely what it seeks to boldly assert.

As Fish notes, one such central assumption is "that colleges and universities should be responsive to what Americans believe, as in 'Americans believe wasteful spending by college and university management is the No. 1 reason for skyrocketing college costs'" (this is also presented as a "key finding" on p. 4). Fish disagrees: "But if what Americans believe is false (as it is in this instance), colleges and universities, rather than taking that falsehood seriously and conforming their actions to it, should labor to remove it; they should engage in education, not pandering." Fair enough. If politicians are spreading what those involved in higher education believe to be misinformation and half-truths about colleges and universities, surely those involved in higher education should enter the fray to present their own analyses and viewpoints. Where Fish takes an unfortunate turn, however, is when he adds the following by way of a sort of concession:

To be sure, the study of what Americans believe is something that advertisers, vendors, and politicians are right to be interested in, and it can even be a proper academic subject, but it should not be what drives the academy's actions.

Now I think this is taking exactly the wrong attitude toward the American public. The response to a shameless pandering to the public should not be to view that same public in the light of a practically irrelevant though potentially theoretically interesting research subject.

A similarly unhelpful elitism informs Fish's objections to the notion that colleges should be more accountable to parents, students and taxpayers:

This too, according to the report, is something Americans believe: 'Americans believe institutions of higher learning are not accountable enough to parents, students, and taxpayers -- the consumers of higher education.' But parents, students, and taxpayers are consumers of higher education only in the sense that they pay for it if they want it; they are not consumers in the sense that should tie the operations of higher education to their desires or judgments.

Here I basically concur with Laura at Apt 11D, whose "Fishism" (permalinks bloggered; scroll to Tuesday, Oct 7) argues that:

Fish's elitism undermines his argument. If you work for a public university and you receive public funds, the public has a right to know where the money is going. We call that democracy. Elected representatives (even if you didn't vote for them) have the right and the duty to ask questions about how public money is used. You can't expect a blank check from the government.

The one point that I would query: as I read it, it's not so much that Fish's elitism undermines his argument as that his argument is underpinned by an elitism that will no longer fly with the public.

And on the matter of accountability, I think Fish does a bit of pandering of his own, invoking the spectre of college curricula determined by popular plebiscite in order to highlight the dangers of running the college as a business that responds to consumer demand: "Should we settle curricular matters -- questions of what subjects should be studied, what courses should be required, how large classes should be -- by surveying student preferences or polling their parents or asking Representatives Boehner and McKeon?" Well, no, of course not. But is anyone out there seriously arguing that we should?

So Fish is having none of this public accountability. Instead, he insists that

If colleges and universities are to be 'accountable' to anyone or anything, it should be to the academic values -- dedicated and responsible teaching, rigorous and honest research -- without which higher education would be little different from the bottom-line enterprise its critics would have it become.

Two points. First, I heartily concur with the idea that colleges and universities should be held accountable to academic rather than corporate values. To this end, I would propose that both "academic values" and "accountability" be taken rather more seriously than they appear to be at present. If accountability to academic values is to mean anything, it must do more than simply provide immunization against the possibly ill-informed and misguided attacks of Republican legislators. It must also ensure not only that those entrusted with policy-making at colleges and universities do indeed work to uphold academic values but also that they are judged and held accountable with reference to that very framework of values. Needless to add, the overarching theme of this weblog concerns one key area in which colleges and universities are failing to uphold such values.

Second, I have to take issue with the "either/or" framework within which Fish places the issue of accountability: either we continue to operate indepedently of public concerns or the whole thing goes to hell in a handbasket. Who could disagree with the contention that college curricula should not be decided by popular poll? But how likely is this as a scenario? And is this really what parents, taxpayers and politicians have in mind when they call for more accountability?

Who pays the piper calls the tune? Yes and no, I think. It's my belief that publicly funded institutions must be relatively autonomous from but ultimately accountable to the public. Relatively autonomous in the sense that the ideals of free inquiry and free speech -- which are no mere empty slogans, but hard-won principles the preservation of which is essential to the continuation of a free society -- require safeguards against the threats that sometimes come from popular preferences and popular pressures. Ultimately accountable in the sense that public institutions must serve, and must be seen to serve, some public mission and/or some idea of the public good. This is tricky to argue, the more so as some members of the broader public would use "accountability" to undermine the very principles on which higher education in a liberal democracy must rest. But the difficulties of presenting the case for relative autonomy are not a good enough reason to ignore the increasing calls for public accountability.

And in pragmatic terms, as a response to the various attacks on the academy -- some of which are grossly unfair, some of which, I believe, are quite well-founded -- Fish's combination of defiant tone and fortress mentality strikes me as inadequate at best, and as potentially damaging to the goal of answering half-truths and misrepresentations with persuasive counterarguments that will indeed fly with the public.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:14 PM | Comments (10)

October 20, 2003

2 Percent of all BAs

According to data published by the U.S. Department of Education in June, history degrees comprise a relatively small proportion of the totel number of degrees conferred, and the field is significantly diminished from its standing 30 years ago.

-- Robert Townsend, "History Takes a Tumble in Degrees Conferred: New Data Shows Field Lagging Behind," Perspectives 41 no. 7 (October 2003)

The above is not yet available online, but should be shortly (at which point I will add the URL). Townsend reports that in 2000-01 "history accounted for 2 percent of all bachelor's degrees." In 1970-71, by way of contrast, "history comprised more than 5 percent of the bachelor's degrees conferred." This represents a decline not only in relative but also in absolute terms: in 1970-71, 44, 663 history BAs were conferred, while in 2000-01 that number had shrunk to 25, 070 history BAs. This must surely help account for the history job market decline, and provides yet another reason for history PhD programs to scale back admissions.

Should history departments do more to encourage undergraduates to major history? And if so, what exactly should they do?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:14 PM | Comments (70)

A Letter from a "Lamb to the Slaughter"

A reader takes issue with my "don't go to graduate school" postings:

dear invisible adjunct,

I recognize that this is a long-dead topic, but I wanted to comment on your recent advice-to-undergraduates-considering-grad-school postings. As an actual undergrad considering grad school, I was a bit dismayed by the common misperceptions of people in my position by posters on your site.

Not all of us are naive, pampered, lazy, or convinced that our 'specialness' will warrant a 50K+ income. Not all of us have been intellectually spoiled by too-liberal head-patting on the part of our professors. Many of us have done real research into the actualities of academic life, both for grad students and post-grads. We know which programs offer health insurance and which will necessitate late-night calls to our med-school friends. We know which departments force grad students to squabble over money and which generally fund across the board. We've read the doctoral student quality-of-life surveys and we've charted the suicide rates per campus. We know that our living situations will likely be difficult at best (and we know the relative costs-of-living in the various parts of the country we're considering). We know that the odds of actually completing a PhD are dubious and the chances of a tenure-track job dismal. We know that academic life is no more fair, noble, rational, apolitical or pleasant than life in general.

While I appreciate everyone's concern, please don't imagine that I'm ruining my life out of some misguided vision of a utopian community of well-funded and well-fed poetry-lovers who enjoy spending their hours of leisure-time providing supportive comments for each other's research. I know exactly what I'm getting into. It's not the academy's fault and it's not the media's fault and it's not the fault of my professors. My choice is my own. My eyes are wide open. And if I am in fact offered a funded position at one of the grad schools I'm applying to (an iffy question at this point in the game), I'll accept.

And if I never work, so be it.

I choose to spend six years of my life pursuing something that I love (yes, even if by the end I will no longer love it, even if it will crush my ego and leave me a bitter, suicidal wreck, even if it will trap me in a cycle of self-loathing, poverty and fear). You can argue that my choice is moronic or masochistic, but please respect that it is, in fact, a choice.

I realize that adult life is about failure and compromise. It's just that I'd rather fail at something that I love than something that I hate.

-- lamb to the slaughter

I appreciate the email, though of course I can't agree with the sentiments expressed therein. I've already stated the reasons why I don't recommend graduate school in the humanities, and I don't think there's much point in repeating myself (the main postings can be found under the heading "Entries on the Academic 'Job Market'" in the sidebar -- of these, the most explosive by far was "1 in 5: Thomas H. Benton Explains Why You Shouldn't Go to Graduate School").

Instead, I'd like to clarify a couple of points.

First, I certainly do not see prospective graduate students as "pampered, lazy, or convinced that our 'specialness' will warrant a 50K+ income." I don't believe I have ever suggested anything of the sort, though no doubt at least a few of the commentors at this weblog have stated or implied something along these lines. On the other hand, I do see many prospective graduate students as naive and ill-informed. I don't believe this is a misperception, but that, of course, is a matter of perspective. My perspective is of course that of someone who has already gone to graduate school and come out with a PhD in a field where there are very few full-time jobs (though ample opportunities for part-time teaching).

Second, my "don't go to graduate school" postings are not addressed to any undergraduate in particular. They are intended to provide an alternative perspective on the issue, which any reader can accept or reject as he or she sees fit. Though I certainly would not recommend graduate school, I also would not presume to tell any individual not to go. Instead, I would urge anyone who is considering graduate school to do some serious research before making the 6-year commitment.

Finally, one of the main themes of this weblog is that these questions are not primarily matters of individual choice and individual blame. I don't believe that nobody should go to graduate school in the humanities, and again, I wouldn't presume to say just who it is who should or shouldn't go. At the same time, I firmly believe that many humanities graduate programs should be scaled back and some eliminated altogether. I say this not because I don't see the value in the study and teaching of the humanities but precisely because I do.

Quite simply, there are too many humanities PhDs chasing after too few full-time jobs. This overproduction has not only degraded the "job market" for PhDs but has also damaged the quality of humanities education in this country. When universities and colleges rely on a reserve army of cheap labor to teach undergraduates, they make a mockery of their stated teaching mission (which is most often expressed as "a commitment to excellence"). So long as there is a ready supply of cheap teaching labor at hand, I see no reason to expect that universities and colleges won't continue to make use of it. Thus, cutting back on the production of PhDs is one of the necessary steps toward reversing the trend toward a devaluation and degradation not only of the degree itself but of humanities teaching more broadly.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:35 AM | Comments (87)

October 17, 2003

Not Just Another Pretty Face?

Arts & Letters Daily is linking to "Do Good Looks Equal Good Evaluations?" by Gabriela Montell, which looks at the study by Daniel Hamermesh and Amy Parker that I blogged about here. A & L Daily introduces the piece as follows:

Good-looking profs get better teaching evaluations. Ugly, unkempt teachers who refuse botox, diets, or fashion advice are asking for trouble...

Now that's putting it rather strongly. No wonder Daniel Drezner is concerned.

Not to worry, Mr. Drezner. Even if looks do count in student evaluations, there's little evidence to suggest that higher student evaluations translate into better promotions and higher pay. Indeed, the Hamermesh and Parker study found that adjuncts get higher evaluations than tenure-track faculty.

Let me urge all faculty (male and female; adjunct, tenure-track and tenured) to continue to refuse botox. Just this afternoon I saw real-life example of the effects of botox in the cosmetics department at Bloomingdale's. I interpreted the frozen features on this woman's face as a cautionary tale.

You know, some people view this weblog as a real downer, a relentless chronicle of academic disappointment and despair. My fault entirely, of course, for taking it all too seriously. So I've decided to take a different tack, which involves treating the academy as an elaborate comedy of manners, or perhaps as a theatre of the absurd. I don't mind admitting that I've been inspired by Professor Rocky "Studmuffin" Kolb:

[Rocky] Kolb, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at the University of Chicago, ... notes that teaching, like acting, is a kind of performance art in which looks play a part. Besides, even nerds must answer to beauty standards (albeit lower ones), says Mr. Kolb, who posed in 1996 for a calendar featuring hot scientists, called the 'Studmuffins of Science.'

He added: 'It's a little known fact that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has a swimsuit competition for the Nobel Prize.'

Mr. Kolb, or Rocky, has a home page with a link to his publicity photograph.*

I think every faculty member should have a portfolio of publicity shots, with a generous supply of 8 by 10 glossies always at hand. These should be distributed along with course syllabi at the beginning of semester. Airbrushing is not only acceptable but strongly encouraged. And please practice signing your autograph with a dramatic flourish. Extra points if you can bring yourself to write "love you," even more bonus points if you are capable of writing "luv ya.'" Any female faculty member who can dot her i's with heart signs automatically qualifies for a Guggenheim.

*Just so you know: I do realize that Kolb has tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:24 PM | Comments (16)

October 15, 2003

Burkean Mysteries

I've long had a vague notion that reading an Agatha Christie mystery must be like curling up in an overstuffed chair in front of a blazing fire, with a pot of tea and a plate of biscuits. But I don't know this firsthand because there's no fireplace in our NYC apartment and anyway, I've yet to read an Agatha Christie mystery. No, not a one. But perhaps I should read Christie?

In "Agatha Christie - radical conservative thinker", Johann Hari seeks to rescue Christie from the enormous condescension of the English intelligentsia. As an example of the "Christie-bashing lit-crit pack" perspective, Hari cites the views of Anthony Burgess, who once opined that:

'If she was the queen of the whodunit, she used her royal rank to condone flimsy characterisation, plentiful cliché, implausibility, and verbal vacuity… All we have [in her novels] is an abstract puzzle minimally clothed in the garments of upper middle-class morality.'

Hey, don't sugarcoat it, Burgess: tell us what you really think.

So maybe Christie was a mystery-writing hack, of mediocre talents and middlebrow sensibilities? I wouldn't hold it against her if she were, and frankly, I might even count it in her favour. I'm always looking for something good to read in the tea-and-bickies mode, even though (or perhaps because) we don't have a fireplace.

But Hari suggests there is something else going on in Christie's world, which I find rather intriguing. More specifically, he reads Christie as a Burkean radical conservative:

Her work conforms to Burkean conservatism in every respect: justice rarely comes from the state. Rather, it arises from within civil society – a private detective, a clever old spinster. Indeed, what is Miss Marple but the perfect embodiment of Burke’s thought? She has almost infinite wisdom because she has lived so very long (by the later novels, she is barely able to move and, by some calculations, over 100). She has slowly – like parliament and all traditional bodies, according to Burke – accrued "the wisdom of the ages", and this is the key to her success. From her solitary spot in a small English village, she has learned everything about human nature. Wisdom resides, in Christie and Burke’s worlds, in the very old and the very ordinary.

Alright, I'll confess it: I've got a soft spot for Edmund Burke (which is why I think Kieran Healy should have emerged as the one and only winner in that Political Theory Pick-up Line contest that Josh Chaftez held many months ago). Burke or Paine? At the end of day, well, Paine, of course -- but there's something about Burke that I find strangely compelling.

"In the groves of their academy, at the end of every vista, you see nothing but the gallows." I love that line. And in this case, I think he was right. Not that he was right about everything, or even about most things. And all that purple prose about blood and chivalry and ancient ties:

But age of chivalry is gone.--That of sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators, has succeeded; and the glory of Europe is extinguished for ever. Never, never more, shall we behold that generous loyalty to rank and sex, that proud submission, that dignified obedience, that subordination of the heart, which kept alive, even in servitude itself, the spirit of an exalted freedom (Reflections on the Revolution in France).

What utter nonsense. Paine was surely right when he wrote of Burke that "He pities the plumage, but forgets the dying bird" (Rights of Man). And yet. "But age of chivalry is gone.--That of sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators, has succeeded." Who can fail to be moved by such words? (though don't even get me started on those latter-day sophisters, oeconomists, and calculators who seek to assimilate Burke to their own decidedly anti-Burkean agenda. Sorry guys, but Burke was not on your side, and as a matter of fact, he devoted no small amount of time, enery and rhetorical brilliance to the task of opposing you).

But back to Agatha Christie. Hari admits there are a couple of stumbling blocks to an appreciation of her mysteries: namely, her "hostility to feminism" and the "streak of anti-Semitism" that runs through much of her work. I'm not much bothered by the romantic fiddle-faddle of her opposition to feminism (see the Hari piece for details). On the other hand, the anti-Semitism is just ugly. Apparently, Jews figure, at least in the pre-1950s novels, as rootless cosmopolitans: Jewish characters, Hari writes, are "associated with rationalist political philosophies and a ‘cosmopolitanism’ that is antithetical to the Burkean paradigm of the English village." She did write a novel with "an extremely sympathetic portrait of the Levinnes, a Jewish family who suffer from
anti-Semitism in England," but I don't think this enough to atone for "an ugly passage" in The Mysterious Mr Quinn about "'men of Hebraic extraction, sallow men with hooked noses, wearing flamboyant jewellery.'"

So is Christe worth reading? I'm intrigued, but not quite convinced. Is there something interesting going on in her novels that can be convincingly linked to the work of Burke? Or is this just an idiosyncratic reading on the part of Hari? Or perhaps an all-too-predictable and formulaic apology (since, after all, just about any valorization of "Little England" might be tagged as Burkean)? As usual, I defer to my readers...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:57 PM | Comments (22)

Athletics versus Academics

We also found that recruited athletes -- defined as those applicants included on a coach's list -- enjoy a significant admissions advantage over other applicants. That advantage was most pronounced in the Ivy League, where recruits were four times more likely to be admitted than similarly situated applicants who were not on a coach's list, but it was present and substantial in each group of colleges for which we have data...

...In addition, recruited athletes earn far lower grades than both their fellow athletes who were walk-ons and other students. At the Ivy League universities, 81 percent of recruited high-profile athletes were in the bottom third of the class, as were 64 percent of recruited lower-profile male athletes and 45 percent of recruited female athletes. A similar pattern was present in the New England Small College Athletic Conference.

-- William G. Bowen and Sarah A. Levin, "Revisiting 'The Game of Life': Athletics at Elite Colleges"

The above-linked article is excerpted from Bowen and Levin's new book entitled Reclaiming the Game: College Sports and Educational Values. Arguing that the gap between athletics and academics is widening, the authors speak of "an urgent need to recognize that the traditional values of college sports are threatened by the emergence of a growing 'divide' between intercollegiate athletics and the academic missions of many institutions that are free of the special problems of 'big time' sports." Their study seeks to demonstrate the extent to which college athletes now inhabit a separate culture, in order to call for a return to "sports as a part of campus life, not as mass entertainment." (For a "Swarthmore-specific [yet also nationally resonant]" response to Bowen and Levin, see Timothy Burke's Welcoming the Walk-On).

Peter Slovenski says he has the answer to this widening gap between academics and athletics. In "Let's Bring Back the Teacher-Coach," he proposes a "simple and inexpensive way to clean up college sports: College presidents should make coaches eligible for tenure." Just as "the protection of tenure allows professors to teach controversial material or opinions without fear of reprisals," so too would the protection of tenure allow college coaches to "teach athletics and character without fear of losing their jobs if their teams don't always win." I doubt this represents a "simple" and I'm pretty sure this would not be an "inexpensive" solution.

Slovenski notes that "tenure existed for coaches during much of the 20th century, often involving the same formal procedures used for professors." In the next line, however, he speaks not of coaches but of physical-education instructors: "from 1900 through 1970, physical-education instructors generally had job security rivaling that of professors, which allowed coaches to teach and coach without being preoccupied with winning." If I am reading this correctly, tenure existed not for coaches but for physical-education instructors who served as coaches. I think this is a significant difference.

In any case, Slovenski wants to revive the teacher-coach and return to a model which

started to disappear as colleges gradually switched their athletics programs from the education model to the professional-sports model during the 1970s, when the rise of televised sports transformed collegiate athletics culture. Television fueled a shameless chase for glory and money by alumni, administrators, coaches, and parents.

Though Slovenski attributes the demise of the "academic tradition of teacher-coaches" to the rise of televised collegiate sports, he also assigns a good deal of blame to faculty:

Faculty members have correctly found much to criticize in college athletics, as the partnership between athletics and education has been corrupted. Trying to win games and fill stadium seats is not the same as trying to excel in character and skill. But faculty members should recognize how they contributed to the demise of the older, more-academic traditions of sports. Viewing modern athletics culture as an opponent of academic culture, professors led the way in abolishing physical-education requirements and de-emphasizing physical-education departments. But faculty members should have remembered the wisdom of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer. Athletics culture became more difficult to control once it was outside the academic system.

Is that really fair? I have to wonder. Did academic faculty actively create and promote an opposition between athletics and academics? Or did academics' newer view of athletics culture as an opponent of academic culture represent a response to a gap that had already been created and promoted by those in charge of athletics? And how much of the pressure to abolish physical-ed requirements came from students themselves?

Slovenski is surely correct to suggest that when coaches "came from the physical-education department and were on the tenure track, the academic mission of higher education had a powerful influence over athletics." But he almost certainly underestimates the difficulties of returning to "the better way of the past." In contrasting the insecure position of coaches with the security enjoyed by faculty, he relies on a notion of academic faculty privilege that seems outmoded at best. Failing to recognize that almost half of all faculty teaching at 4-year colleges and universities are now outside the tenure track, Slovenski calls for the extension of a form of protection that has been under attack these last twenty years. Given the steady erosion of tenure for academic faculty, a process that has intensified over the past decade, the idea that tenure for coaches would be "simple" and "inexpensive" seems more than a little naive. Moreover, though his proposal explicitly links the extension of tenure to the revival of an earlier teacher-coach ideal, I can't help imagining a rather different scenario: that is, tenure for coaches not as an incentive to return to "the older, more-academic traditions of sports" but rather as a reward for success in the "big sports" game that has replaced this earlier tradition.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:20 AM | Comments (4)

October 14, 2003

The Marketing of Higher Ed

A reader named Matthew (comments to Living like a Student, 21st-Century Style) writes that "Tuesday's [i.e., today's] 'Talk of the Nation' NPR show (second hour) is focusing on the market in students, taking off from the New York Times article" (i.e., the 5 October NYTimes article entitled "Jacuzzi U.?" -- no link because it's now in their archives and thus no longer available free of charge).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:22 AM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2003

Pumpkin Patch

So many topics, so little energy.

I've got a backlog of topics to blog, some of them suggested by readers, who have been sending me great links and articles. But after a weekend with the grandparents, which included a visit to a pumpkin patch, a trip to FAO Schwartz and the cooking of a turkey dinner, I'm so worn out I can barely remember my own name (never mind my own blog pseudonym). Regular blogging will resume shortly.

In the meantime, if you're interested, continue to see some pumpkin patch photos (if this works properly, these will be thumbnails that you can click to enlarge).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:48 PM | Comments (5)

October 10, 2003

Scary Comment Spam

Argh. Last night a reader kindly emailed me to let me know of a piece of comment spam with a link to a, shall we say, not very nice website (I'm afraid to use any descriptive terms that might generate still more comment spam). I deleted the comment and banned the IP address, but realized I would have to do something more serious as soon as I got a chance. This morning I discovered the same piece of comment spam to the same entry, and from a very similar IP address (only the last two digits are different). So I've deleted the spam, banned the IP, and closed the comments for that entry.

I believe there are more serious methods to really and truly prevent comment spam? But at the moment, I don't have time to sit down and read up on the topic. So I'll be checking comments and (likely) deleting more comment spam until I get a chance to figure things out. In the meantime, if you see something scary listed under "Recent Comments" in the sidebar, rest assured it's not one of the fine readers of this blog but one of those nasty spammers.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:49 AM | Comments (15)

October 09, 2003

Blogging Break

My parent arrive tomorrow to spend Canadian Thanksgiving with their grandson. I doubt I'll have much time to blog (there's that turkey dinner to think of, after all) until early next week.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:33 PM | Comments (1)

Puritanism or Professionalism? The Ban on Faculty-Student Relations

Not that puritanism and professionalism are mutually exclusive. But I'm posting on the fly, and this particular false binary seems like a handy shortcut to the central issue in this debate:

Does the ban on romantic/sexual relations between faculty and students constitute an unwarranted policing of the private lives of fully consenting adults who should be free to conduct their personal affairs as they see fit? Or does it rather represent a belated and entirely legitimate attempt to hold faculty accountable to the kinds of codes of professional ethics that have long governed the conduct of other professionals who hold positions of responsibility and authority (e.g., those other doctors, who are of course prohibited from engaging in sexual relations with their patients)?

There's an interesting discussion of this question at Crooked Timber, where dsquared defends the right of academics "to choose to have really bad sex" against the objections of those who view such relations as almost inevitably compromising (and not only of faculty dignity, but also of the principles of fairness and integrity in the matter of grading, recommendations and the like). Also see this post at Critical Mass, where Erin O'Connor argues that such bans are "not only intrusive, but unworkable."

I am really of two minds on this question. On the one hand, when I consider that the prohibition applies to adults who have reached the age of consent, a ban does seem heavy-handed and intrusive. On the other hand, when I think of the possibilities for various forms of abuse (favoritism, nepotism, and so on), a ban sounds like a reasonable limit on private behavior for the sake of broader, and by no means trivial, principles. At the moment, I lean toward the view espoused by "tom t." (comments at Crooked Timber):

A university that places limits on professor-student relationships is presumably concluding that far too many of these relationships present problems for the university, either because the student fears bad academic consequences if she refuses, or because the relationship facilitates a type of favoritism that the university deems unacceptable. Sure, there will be exceptions where a relationship is truly loving and beautiful, but the university has presumably decided that the enforcement costs of separating the sheep from the goats are sufficiently high as to justify a blanket rule.

But I'm not firmly committed to this position, and would be really interested in hearing what others have to say.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:00 PM | Comments (26)

October 08, 2003

IA to Jack Blake: My CV is in the Mail

And as I read the First-Person columns this year about the scarcity of tenure-track jobs and the complaints about the indentured servitude of the adjunct track, I will try to resist the temptation to scream, lest I disturb my academically employed wife and my well-schooled daughter in our nice, large, affordable house three blocks from the nice public library in the semi-rural South, far from academic Mecca.

-- Jack Z. Blake, "Give Us a Chance"

Jack Blake reports that "we have trouble filling tenure-track positions across the university, including in my field, journalism and mass communications." This leads him to the following conclusion:

Even in a tough economy, it appears to me, especially after reading some of the First Person columns on this site, that many tenurable academics would prefer to read Proust in a Boston Starbucks and work at slave wages as adjuncts at a big-name university than to make a difference in the lives of first-generation college students in a land in which Levi Strauss makes jeans, not critiques of cultural hegemony.

Well, I'm ready, willing and able. Granted, my first response would be to ignore "an intriguing job announcement in a creative, professional field," because my own particular field is that of history. But I can retool. And I don't even like Starbucks coffee. My application is on its way.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:26 AM | Comments (58)

Tenured Faculty: Governors or Governed?

In an earlier, more civilized era, the distance between the faculty and the administration was small. Administrators came from the ranks of faculty and returned to faculty ranks when their terms of service were over. These administrators understood both faculty and students because they were not far removed from the classroom. In fact several of the better ones continued to teach some even as they served in their administrative positions. However, in these days when institutions of higher education must be managed rather than led, many of our administrators have been trained as professional managers rather than as teachers and scholars. They are not all that comfortable talking with faculty members, and they are even less comfortable involving us in the decision making process. In the old days we were asked, now we are told. Academic Senate Retreats and Faculty Days are intended to cushion the blow. We are told, but we are told in a way intended to make us think that we are part of the process, rather than just cogs in the machinery.

-- Mark H. Shapiro (aka "The Irascible Professor"), "The Bachelor's Degree -- A New Entitlement?"

Where sit tenured faculty in the Great Chain of Being of that most perfect and complete universe that we call the modern university? Somewhere between the angels and the beasts, obviously, but where exactly do we locate that somewhere?

When I read the above-linked column, I was struck by the Irascible Professor's prefatory remarks, and especially by the observation that "we are told, but we are told in a way intended to make us think that we are part of the process, rather than just cogs in the machinery." This seems to confirm an observation I made some time ago, in the admittedly rhetorically excessive "Reconciling Corporate and Academic Cultures": Let's Bowl!. Here I suggested that the proponents of a reconciliation between academic and corporate cultures were not so much arguing for "a reconcilation between these two different sets of values" as they were proposing that "proponents of academic values reconcile themselves to the inevitable replacement of academic by corporate values."

In "Union In, Governance Out," Scott Smallwood reports on a recent development at the University of Akron, where the Board of Trustees quietly (without any prior warning and without any public debate) passed a series of amendments which "gutted" faculty governance:

There was little discussion. The motion was made and passed, and the meeting adjourned. Mr. Sheffer [professor of biomedical engineering and chairman of the Faculty Senate], says he went immediately to one of the staff members and asked what just happened. He was handed a packet of papers detailing the changes. This was not some minor change or technical detail. The amendments took away professors' say in the selection of deans and department chairs. One change eliminated the Faculty Senate's planning-and-budget committee; another altered the rules governing a financial crisis, substantially reducing the faculty's role.

Faculty governance at Akron, some say now, was gutted, and without a word of debate. 'Wouldn't it have been nice if we even knew this was coming up?' Mr. Sheffer says.

The changes were made in response to faculty unionization:

The reason for the change: The faculty members' selection of a union to represent them. So, depending on where you sit at the negotiating table, this was either an outrageous retaliation against professors for creating the union or it was essentially a legally required preparation for the first bargaining session. One national union official calls it 'retrograde behavior.' Akron's administration maintains that the changes had to be made because they dealt with issues that can be brought up in bargaining.

Given the fact that over 30 percent of full-time faculty at 4-year colleges and universities have been unionized for many years, and this while continuing to participate in faculty governance, it's hard to believe the administration's line that these changes were a necessary response to unionization. Still, I think it would be disingenuous to deny that unionized faculty stand in a different relationship to administrators than do non-unionized faculty. Does unionization replace a collegial with an adversarial relationship? Or does it rather represent a response to what is already an adversarial relationship? John Hebert says it's the latter:

'We have sort of moved over time from what would be considered a collegial form of governance to a corporate structure,' says John Hebert, a professor of management, who is president of the local union. 'We were treated as factory workers rather than professionals.'

Now, with the trustees stripping much of the faculty's governance role, a certain pretense has dissolved, according to several professors. 'They were actually just coming around from the facade,' Mr. Hebert says of the decision. To him, it is as though the trustees were saying: 'We don't really care about your opinion, so we'll put it on the record.'

Factory workers rather than professionals? Yes, quite. Once again, tenured faculty would do well to look at casualization/adjuntification not as something that is happening to those unfortunate others in some other realm of being but rather as something that is happening to their own profession.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:44 AM | Comments (15)

October 07, 2003

California Recall News

Rainier Wolfcastle Arnold Schwarzenegger has won the election.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:17 PM | Comments (2)

Tick Tock

Laura at Apt 11D asks:

When is the Invisible Adjunct going to write about the conflict between the tenure clock and the biological clock?

Soon. Because it's later than we think.

(But not until I make it through this weekend's parental visit: nothing says Canadian Thanksgiving like a trip to New York, eh?)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:40 PM | Comments (2)

Bourbon versus Yoga: Responses to the History Job Market

I'm pretty sure that fury, bourbon, and violence against plastic penguins rank among the least helpful responses to a professional setback, but after laying waste to Lighty I have auditioned several more-constructive coping techniques and found them all wanting.

I counted my blessings, adjusted my expectations, and refocused my life around processes instead of outcomes. I practiced yoga, hit the elliptical trainer, and lifted weights. I wrote an article, reworked my CV, joined an organization in a subfield I am interested in, and revised my dissertation for publication. I am fit, credentialed, and moderately well adjusted.

-- Jon T. Coleman, "Anger Management"

A history PhD asks, "What is the appropriate reaction to failure on the academic job market?" Having eschewed destructive fury in favor of constructive "process"-oriented anger management techniques, he finds that he still angry. He insists on expressing that anger:

I am making a pitch to include loud and fruitless expressions of anger among job candidates' repertoires of healing strategies. While I agree that acts of self-improvement mitigate the gloom of unemployment, I refuse to let wholesome behaviors like reviewing books and designing new courses completely dampen my antagonism.

My feelings are real, justified, and widely shared among the echelons of young scholars shut out of the tenure track. Collectively, our frustration would blow the lid off a Hilton. Exercise and attitude adjustments siphon off some negative energy, but the remainder needs to be expressed.

Well, this is a bit of a departure from the "Chronicle-Land" mode about which Rana complained a few weeks ago. And it's bound to make some readers feel uncomfortable. I'll admit that it makes me feel a wee bit uncomfortable, and I like to think that this weblog is all about the kind of honesty about the job market that Coleman recommends.

Not that I don't appreciate Coleman's candor. To the contrary, I welcome this column as a bracing antidote to the usual desperately polite and "professional" evasions that characterize most discussions of the job market. I particular appreciate his frank admission that constructive coping techniques have only taken him so far, but no farther. Yeah, I hear that. All those New Age-y "career coach" buzzwords about processes and blessings and inward journeys just leave me cold. Quite frankly (and please don't send me hate mail), if I were prepared to rest easy with such facile nonsense, I wouldn't have become an academic in the first place. But I digress.

Coleman urges job candidates to "[express] their true feelings." While "shouting 'I'm mad!' will not change the system," he concedes, "it will promote honesty -- the taproot of good scholarship." The problem here, I think, is that an honest expression of one's true feelings probably doesn't take one much farther than an honest expression of one's true feelings. What's also required is either a story or an analysis.

In terms of story, there really isn't a satisfying narrative structure within which to place an account of job market failure. 'I came, I saw, I did not conquer' is hardly the stuff of which gripping narrative is made, and who the heck wants to read someone's chronicle of despair? In this regard, it is instructive to contrast Coleman's column with that of Henry Raymond, who finally landed an academic job in the UK after three years on the history job market.

With the very title of his column, "Salvaging an Ego, and a Career," Raymond permits himself to finally publicly acknowledge the shameful truth that one dares not openly acknowledge: the job market is destructive of one's ego. And the fact that his search finally ended in success gives him licence to say a few of the things that one just doesn't say:

Like so many friends in the same position, I went through the standard cycles: self-pity, self-deprecation, self-loathing, self-indictment. I blamed myself, I cursed the profession, I consulted a Magic-8 Ball. I began steeling myself for an alternative profession.

Ah yes. Been there, done that, and thanks for reading my weblog. But while Raymond cites "the standard cycle" as though the existence of said cycle were a matter of common knowledge, as he himself almost certainly knows full well, this is not part of our repertoire of agreed-upon givens but must rather be seen either as a form of hidden knowledge or perhaps as an open secret. Raymond can bring this out into the open because he does so in retrosepect, from the perspective of one who has suffered and endured and then finally emerged in triumph. His story works, in other words, because it offers the relief of a happy ending.

Those who don't have happy endings don't have stories, or at least, don't have stories to which anyone would care to listen. Which leaves us, then, with a broader analysis which moves beyond the realm of individual experience to examine larger structures and developments.

I certainly agree with Coleman that job candidates need to be less reticent about describing the horrors of the job market. But of course it's not enough to say "I'm mad!" that this has happened. The next step is to ask, Why has this happened? and then, What, if anything, might be done to prevent this happening to others? Is the history job market crash the result of inevitable forces beyond the reach of human intervention? And if not, then what kind of interventions should be made? And if so, then it's my firm conviction that anyone who knows what is happening has a moral responsiblity to warn prospective and would-be historians of just what it is that is happening.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:41 PM | Comments (13)

October 06, 2003

New Email Address

I'm going to start using the following email address for blog-related correspondence:

ia at invisibleadjunct dot com
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

Academic Theme Park

As the process of adjunctification continues apace, with 43 percent of all faculty now part-time and university administrations claiming that, much as they'd love to, they simply cannot afford to invest in full-time faculty, it is rather discouraging to learn that millions and millions of dollars can be devoted to the building of water parks. But in the comments to Living Like a Student, 21st-Century Style, "better left nameless" (indeed) makes an excellent proposal. Instead of wringing our hands in despair over this trend, "better left" suggests, why not get in on the action:

Could TAs and adjuncts take advantage of this? Perhaps there should be a traveling carnival staffed entirely by adjuncts and TAs, with special 'academic' rides and games? Throwing darts at CVs for prizes? How about the dreaded 'Cattle Call' ride (sponsored by the American Historical Association)? A crowd of unsuspecting riders are forced to fight for a tiny number of seats for a rollercoaster. For the few that get on, many are ejected from the ride by a spring mechanism along the way and there are no belts to keep them in. Imagine a whole Western motif to it.

When a person is ejected, a Burl Ives mechanical voice yells out, 'You're history, partner!'

The AHA Tilt-a-Whirl? The MLA House of Horrors? The Academic Job Search Isolation Tank? The Grade Inflation Hot-Air Balloon Ride? Once we abandon all remaining vestiges of our archaic ideals of education and purge ourselves of all remaining traces of our old-fashioned notions of dignity, the possibilities are limited only by our imagination.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:47 PM | Comments (5)

October 05, 2003

Living like a Student, 21st-Century Style

In the abstract, Kathy Anzivino believes there must be some pinnacle of amenities that universities simply cannot surpass, some outer limit so far beyond the hot tubs, waterfalls and pool slides she offers at the University of Houston that even the most pampered students will never demand it and the most recruitment-crazed colleges will never consent to put it on their grounds.

She just has a hard time picturing what that might be.

-- Greg Winter, "Jacuzzi U.? A Battle of Perks to Lure Students"

Via The Salt-Box, the above-linked NYTimes article suggests that universities are borrowing unprecedented amounts of money in order to build resort-like centers offering "amenities once unimaginable on college campuses."

The university as theme park? The following examples suggest that on some college campuses the process of disneyfication is well underway:

Ohio State University is spending $140 million to build what its peers enviously refer to as the Taj Mahal, a 657,000-square-foot complex featuring kayaks and canoes, indoor batting cages and ropes courses, massages and a climbing wall big enough for 50 students to scale simultaneously. On the drawing board at the University of Southern Mississippi are plans for a full-fledged water park, complete with water slides, a meandering river and something called a wet deck — a flat, moving sheet of water so that students can lie back and stay cool while sunbathing.

I suppose luxury, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder:

'These are not frills,' said Daniel M. Fogel, president of the University of Vermont. 'They are absolute necessities."

The University of Vermont plans to spend up to $70 million on a new student center, a colossal complex with a pub, a ballroom, a theater, an artificial pond for wintertime skating and views of the mountains and Lake Champlain.

An artifical pond in Vermont of all places, must surely be considered a frill.

Do these examples represent isolated instances? Or do they rather illustrate a new trend? In either case, I think it's time we asked some tough questions about educational priorities and the allocation of scarce resources.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:31 AM | Comments (32)

October 02, 2003

Link and Comment

Actually, I'm too tired to comment. Which is to say, too brain-dead to give the following the attention they deserve. So I'll just briefly recommend these two items:

First, the Momosphere by Laura at Apt 11D. In the past week or so, Laura has posted several entries on motherhood and work and the time crunch and other related issues. Scroll to Taking Time Off, Kid-Free Europe, Time and Space, Nannyhood and Apple Pie, and Women with kids with brains. Laura notes that she is "throwing around the idea of writing a piece for a mainstream journal on the politics of motherhood." I really hope she follows through on this idea; I would love to read more.

Second, Timothy Burke's On Ellipses and Theses and Archives is a must-read for anyone who cares about, and who cares to think about, the practice of history. I know some critics contend that bloggers tend to exaggerate the significance of the blogosphere, and I'm willing to entertain the possibility that those critics are right. Still, I honestly don't think it's blogger bias that leads me to state that Burke's essay is more interesting and thought-provoking than anything I've encountered of late in a professional historical journal. Burke's piece is a followup to a comment he made at Ralph Luker's Welcome to My World, in response to Luker's treatment of Christine Heyrman's Southern Cross: The Beginnings of the Bible Belt.

By the way, neither Laura nor Tim have comments enabled at their blogs. I sometimes wish that they did (though can certainly understand why they might prefer not to).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:30 PM | Comments (8)

Blogging Will Resume Shortly

I've just sent off the last part of the ms for a reprint edition of an early modern text. Edited by Invisible Adjunct (though under a pseudonym so that my blog readers can't figure out who I am...or, uh, something like that). Too tired to blog any more at the moment, but lots to blog about as soon as I catch my breath.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:59 PM | Comments (4)