November 30, 2003

Poll: Academic Identity

The idea for this poll was suggested by reader Another Damned Medievalist, in connection with the Tenure, Toddlers and Timing discussion (for more on this theme, see Monks and Debutantes and The Academic Artist at Apt 11D (permalinks bloggered: scroll down), The Conundrum of Tenure and Toddlers at Daniel Drezner, and More on Toddlers (Daycare and Feminism) at Crooked Timber.

If you hold an academic position, which of the following comes closest to describing your academic identity? Please feel free to explain and elaborate (and even to pontificate) in the comments section.

If you wish, please also indicate the dominant colour(s) in your work wardrobe.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:19 PM | Comments (16)

November 26, 2003

Do Not Adjust Your Sets

Blogging will resume after the holiday weekend. I'm leaving town with half-finished entries on Kimball on Enlightenment; capital punishment; and Stanley's Fish's latest call to arms. To be posted next week, along with a new poll (suggested by Another Damned Medievalist) on academic identity.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving!

Click below to see cute photos of my son.

Gotcha! (click thumbnails to enlarge):

Raffish (or; every toddler is at heart a rake):

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:21 PM | Comments (4)

November 25, 2003

Tenure, Toddlers and Timing

In general, men with children are not thought to face work/family choices. Alternatives to this way of thinking about it — analyzing the institutions that structure people’s choices, for example — are often dismissed as utopian flim-flam. It’s a good example of how social facts are mistaken for natural facts. Quite sensible people — who know that it’s silly to argue that cloning, contraceptives and representative government are wrong because they are 'unnatural,' for instance — can often be found insisting that the Pleistocene Savannah has set implacable constraints on the institutional design of work/family policies in postindustrial democracies. This is not in itself a clearly wrong claim, but, oddly, the particular constraints closely approximate the gender division of labor not of the Pleistocene Savannah but of portions of the U.S. middle class between 1945 and 1960.

-- Kieran Healy, "Tenure and Toddlers"

A very quick post. Kieran Healy comments on "Do Babies Matter?" by Mary Ann Mason and Marc Goulden. Mason and Goulden argue that babies do matter, and that they

matter a great deal. And what also matters is the timing of babies. There is a consistent and large gap in achieving tenure between women who have early babies and men who have early babies, and this gap is surprisingly uniform across the disciplines and across types of institutions. While there are some differences among the sciences, the social sciences, and the humanities, and there are some differences between large research universities and small liberal arts colleges, the 'baby gap' is robust and consistent. By our definition, an 'early baby' is one who joins the household prior to five years after his or her parent completes the Ph.D. For most academics, this represents the time of early career development: graduate school and assistant professor or postdoctoral years. These are years of high demands and high job insecurity.

Now by "early baby," of course, they are not talking about teenage pregnancy. These babies are "early" only in relation to the demands of the tenure clock, and in the world beyond academe would generally be considered rather on the "late" or "delayed" side (ie, born to women in their late twenties to mid-thirties).

Chris Bertram illustrates the point with a comparison of the typical academic career path c. 1960 and the typical career path c. 1990. "The extraordinary thing," he argues, is that "changes in academia over the past thirty years have exacerbated the pressures at the same time as universities have become more verbally supportive of gender equality, have implemented 'family friendly' and 'work—life balance' policies, and so on." Laura at Apt 11D promises "a long winded, rambling rant" as soon as her toddler goes down for his afternoon nap.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:03 PM | Comments (11)

The Luxury of Agony

To quit or not to quit? Our younger colleagues of the next generation -- those hired in the late 1980s and after -- have never been psychologically burdened by mandatory-retirement rules. Their professional futures have always been open-ended. But those of us who won a reprieve, literally at the last moment, were left in a kind of limbo: We had been accustomed to thinking in terms of a mandatory closure, but were now left to fend for ourselves in unexplored territory -- that of unhindered choice, for which we were, psychologically, mostly unprepared.

-- Henry Huttenbach, "To Retire or Not?"

From 1980 to 1997, reports Lynne A. Weikart,

CUNY funding from the state decreased 40 percent in constant dollars...
...The cuts have had a powerful effect. Between the years 1976 and 2000, the full-time CUNY faculty was reduced by half, from 11,268 to 5,594, so that 60 percent of all classes are now taught by part-time faculty.

To repeat: 60 percent of all classes at CUNY are now taught by adjuncts. To put it another way: adjuncts now make up the majority of CUNY faculty (between 7,200 and 7,500 adjuncts, as against between 5,300 and 5,600 full-time professors -- the figures vary slightly according to source, but the 60-40 divide is indisputable).

What's amazing about the above-linked piece by Henry Huttenbach is that it comes from a senior tenured professor at CUNY. To quit or not to quit? Does Huttenbach not realize that there is something rotten in the state of Denmark? Sixty percent of his "younger colleagues of the next generation -- those hired in the late 1980s and after -- have never been psychologically burdened" not only "by mandatory-retirement rules" but also by the rules of full-time salaried employment. Certainly, their professional careers are "open-ended:" they are hired by the course as contingent academic labor. How can Huttenbach speak of senior tenured faculty having to "fend for themselves" when the majority of his junior colleagues earn about $2,500 per course? Theirs is not and probably never will be "the luxury of choice" giving rise to "the agony of indecision."

Actually, Huttenbach does realize that there is an unfortunate budgetary context within which to view the issue of faculty retirement. "By the late '90s," he suggests, "as budgetary crises caused the loss of precious faculty lines," the pressure to retire diminished and "some administrators were relieved to see us hold on to irreplaceable positions until better times." I've heard this argument before, and I have to say I don't find it very convincing. "No doubt moods and attitudes," Huttenbach adds, "will fluctuate with the ebb and flow of economic (mis)fortunes."

But such "moods and attitudes" are apparently just so much unwelcome and unwarranted background noise. Huttenbach seems put out by the fact that many in the "outer world" don't view faculty retirement as a "purely private" issue.

Nor has it been a purely private decision. The outer world has had its unsolicited say, from colleagues and administrators to family and friends. With the coming of 1993 there was a distinct fear by management that I and my colleagues would stay 'forever,' permanently inhabiting precious faculty lines. These unflattering sentiments were voiced sometimes sotto voce and sometimes openly. We were described as 'ballast' or 'albatrosses.' Hints, some subtle and some less so, were voiced by way of friendly or concerned curiosity: 'So, you must be thinking of retiring by now,' a question in the form of a statement.

Well, why should it be a purely private decision? I'm reminded of Lynn Hunt's "Generational Conflict and the Coming Tenure Crisis," where she suggests that "the tenure system has fostered a kind of anarchic individualism that has sapped any collective ethos of responsibility." Using tenure "simply to prolong a career," argues James Shapiro in "Death in a Tenured Position," constitutes an abuse of the tenure system: "When tenure so nakedly serves the interests of established senior scholars, while it remains beyond the reach of most young scholars, any defense of the tenure system is badly weakened" (for a discussion of the Shapiro piece, see this entry).

I've said it before and I'll say it again, loud and clear and not in a whisper: tenure without mandatory retirement is indefensible and, in the current climate of casualization (and the CUNY system is exhibit A for the process of adjunctification) unconscionable. Senior tenured professors should be spared the agony by a mandatory retirement scheme (it needn't be age-based, it could be based on years of service).


I wrote the above an hour and didn't post it because I was afraid it sounded too snarky. But I've decided to go ahead, while adding the following: I don't want to be unsympathetic to the "fear of impoverishment in very old age." But I don't think the issue can be fairly addressed without an acknowledgment of impoverishment in younger age: many CUNY adjuncts teach more than the equivalent of a full-time load and still earn so little that they qualify for food stamps. Given the context of scarce resources, the rewards and burdens should be spread more equitably.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:46 AM | Comments (27)

November 24, 2003

A Brief Note on Parody and Self-Parody

When faced with a perhaps overly simplified either/or decision, do you:

1. Choose one or the other option (the one that comes closest, say), even though you don't really or entirely agree with the way the options have been framed; or

2. Resist the binary logic, even if it means a bladder infection?

Nate Claxton, a panelist at a discussion of "the need for gender-neutral bathrooms" at the University of Chicago's Center for Gender Studies, claims to know people "who had contracted bladder infections because choosing a gender bathroom bothered them so much that they did not go to the bathroom all day."

For pity's sake, people. There is nature and there is culture. Please don't ignore the call of nature even as you work to change the culture. A bladder infection can be serious.

Ogged wonders if this is a parody. I wonder if it's a right-wing plot to discredit:

a. feminism
b. gay marriage
c. tolerance and decency more broadly
d. all of the above

No, not really. And please don't send me hate mail.

But damn. I was in the midst of a blog entry on Roger Kimball's caricature of the Enlightenment, but I've lost my momentum. It's not always easy to a liberal. You want to resist the right-wing attacks on the academy, which too frequently involve grossly inaccurate caricature and grossly unfair parody. And then you come up against this sort of self-parodying gesture:

'Going to the bathroom is a moment where definition is very important in choosing a door,” said Mary Anne Case, one of the panelists.

She pointed out that many women’s restrooms have a caricature of a person in a dress on it. 'Going into it implies that we are willing to be associated with that image. There are only two [images] to choose from. This moment involves an act of self-labeling.'

But I'm not so easily defeated. Look for my critique of Kimball in the next day or so.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:24 PM | Comments (38)

November 23, 2003

The Foundations of a Foundation Curriculum

Just a quick post:

Joseph Duemer's university -- which specializes in engineering and the sciences -- is remaking its foundation curriculum. As part of this curricular reform, the liberal arts faculty is designing first-year humanities courses which Duemer describes as follows: "They will be writing-intensive, multi-disciplinary, will focus mostly on primary texts, & will encourage students to critique the dominant ideas of their culture." There are also plans to increase the number of liberal arts courses that students are required to take -- from four to six courses. The process represents an opportunity for the liberal arts division to "take on a greater role in the foundation curriculum, which means more students in our classes, which, in turn, means--or should mean--more faculty on the payroll."

But what kind of faculty on the payroll?

If you guessed full-time, tenurable faculty. you are of course wrong (but of course you didn't guess that). "Because I made the climb from part-time Composition instructor to full professor," writes Duemer,

I have for fifteen years opposed the slide toward part-time & non-tenure positions. But it seems to me that the only way, realistically, to implement the new curriculum will be to hire non-tenure line & part-time people to meet the needs...
...[In] order to give our students the education they need & certainly deserve, it will almost certainly become necessary to create faculty positions that: a) do not serve the profession well & b) abuse individual scholars by treating them as members of an academic underclass.

Duemer wonders "what the folks over at Invisible Adjunct would make of this situation."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:46 PM | Comments (39)

November 21, 2003

Like Circus Ponies?

Some people think I'm a little severe in my strictures against the academy. But I'm sure I've never said anything quite as harsh as this:

Our women look like circus ponies, wearing feathers, tassels, and suits designed by the folks who make clothes for drum majorettes. If a senior academic woman should wear to the annual MLA meeting a skirt made entirely out of men's shirt collars, for example, she would be considered a radical dresser as well as a feminist goddess. Whereas a normal adult woman wearing such an outfit would be regarded as just one frame short of a Looney Tune. Our men look like inmates only recently released from federal penitentiaries, forced to wear clothing thirty years out of style. They wear sweaters knit for them by the girlfriends they had during the Carter administration. These items, never flattering, now fit them around the middle like tea cozies. They have been known to wear clogs. They wear, for pity's sake, berets (Regina Barreca, "Why We Look So Bad")

I can honestly say that I have never encountered a female academic who looked like a circus pony. But maybe I'm in the wrong discipline. Barreca mentions the MLA. What do women wear to this conference, anyway?

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

November 19, 2003

Academic Job Search Strategies: The Cover Letter

My Dear [department chair],

Rejoice! After considerable rumination, I have choosen to fill the Tenure Track position in Art History advertised by your University in The Chronicle of Higher Education! Fret not, for while my decision was influenced by your university’s proximity to vast fields of wheat and several shooting ranges, I have choosen the University of [delete] because of its sparkling repuation and world-class faculty. As an art historian, one has the option of living a gigolo lifestyle, awash in cocktails and listing back and forth from auction to private showing to auction again. Nonetheless, I know that the charms of such a tawdry existence would soon fade. And so I say no - no! It is to the life of the mind that I must cling, and cling I shall at the U of [deleted].

-- Alex Golub, "Sample Job Letter"

Via Liz Lawley, Alex Golub gives Mary Morris Heiberger and Julia Miller Vick a run for their money with his own version of a winning cover letter.

Legal Disclaimer: The above is intended as satire. The Invisible Adjunct and its employees, agents and subsidiaries disclaim any and all liability and responsibility, moral, legal or otherwise, for any result (including, but not limited to, not getting the job and getting the job) obtained from any academic cover letter which salutes any department chair as "My Dear."


When I wrote the above, I did not realize that Mary Morris Heiberger had died recently. A brief obituary can be found here.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:04 PM | Comments (8)

History as Self-Help: A Draft Proposal

My fellow historians,

Our field has lost its lustre. Numerous surveys inform us that high school students rank history as the most boring subject ever; the AHA reports that the history major now accounts for a mere 2 percent of all bachelor's degrees; and all available indicators suggest the academic history job market crashed some time in the late 1990s and has yet to make a recovery. In short, things are looking rather grim.

Cast off your gloom.

Inspired by two rather different items that I came across quite recently, I propose to take us out of the rut we now find ourselves in. By "quite recently" I mean within the last hour or so. Please consider this proposal an early draft.

The first item is Rebecca Mead's review of Rachel Greenwald’s Find a Husband After 35 Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School. I like that title: it's not "how to find a husband," but rather "find a husband" issued as a sort of directive. The title also tells us, of course, that Greenwald has a Harvard MBA and that she means to apply her business expertise to the area of the marriage market. To this end, she has devised a 15-point program, which she describes as “a ‘strategic plan’ to help you ‘market’ yourself to find your future husband.” Apparently, it's all about branding, targeting and marketing:

'When you’ve finished this book, you will be able to devise and advertise your personal brand, know how to get out of your rut, be able to create a winning plan to increase the volume of men you meet, conduct an exit interview and much more,' Greenwald promises.

There is also talk of "rigorous market testing," "focus groups," "online marketing," telemarketing and even the old-fashioned direct mail campaign.

While some of her strategies sound "achingly familiar," Mead suggests, Greenwald appears to be proposing something new: never mind all this "women who love too much" agony, get out there and circulate. I'm sure Greenwald is basically right about this (whatever one thinks of the personal "branding"). And I'm not so sure this is so very different from what our mothers and grandmothers told us. But the conceit of the marketing strategy is obviously a new twist on an old theme. And it appears to resonate with some significant segment of the reading public: this review calls Greenwald "the hottest thing to hit America's dating scene since Sex and the City" and notes that her book has hit the bestseller lists.

The second item is a letter from William Robertson to Miss Hepburn of Monkrig, dated 12 January 1759. William Robertson was a leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment and one of the period's most celebrated -- and commercially successful* -- historians. As for his correspondant...well, I'm afraid I can't tell you much about Miss Hepburn of Monkrig. Indeed, I can't even supply you with her first name. I can report, however, that in his Life of Adam Smith (1895) John Rae described her as "one of those gifted literary ladies who were then not infrequently to be found in the country houses of Scotland" (already, the gifted literary lady in her country house was viewed in the light of a charming anachronism). Rae also noted that Roberston sent Hepburn the manuscript of his History of Scotland (1759) "piece by piece as he wrote it" in order to benefit from her comments and criticism.

Miss Hepburn was grieving over the recent death of her father when Robertson wrote her as follows:

It is very unlucky that the inactivity of female life does not present you with any business, which is the great amusement & resource of men under distress. How to supply this defect I know not. Can you contrive nothing so interesting as to engross your attention, & to fill up your time. Is there no History which is new to you & which you would wish to read?

Now, please don't allow yourself to be distracted by that bit about the "inactivity of female life" as "unlucky." Yes, I know what you're thinking: he's reducing a complex set of legal, economic, political and social norms and structures to a question of luck? But never mind: we can do our gender analysis some other time. Just now, I want you to consider that he has recommended the reading of history as a coping strategy, and that he has done so in all sincerity and as an expression of real concern. In other words, I ask you to think about the therapeutic possibilities of history.

Fellow historians, the solution to our malaise couldn't be more obvious, and frankly, I'm surprised it's taken me this long to figure it out: Historians need to move aggressively into the self-help market. I'm talking books; tapes; weekend seminars; greatest-hits-of-the-Hapsburgs inspirational videos; page-a-day calendars; Anthony Robbins meets Thomas Babington Macaulay and discovers he has finally met his match.

Think about it:
A Harvard MBA writes a husband-hunting manual based on the conventions of the business self-help guide. Meanwhile, the business gurus have been drawing inspiration from history for at least a decade now: thus, we have Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun, Leadership Secrets of Elizabeth I and Elizabeth I, CEO, Lincoln on Leadership, to name just a few. Where are the historians in all of this?

Consider the market potential that has yet to be tapped. Do you specialize in the history of women? An update of the Plutarchan "women worthies" mode – something along the lines of Women Who Lived Too Much – could get you a spot on Oprah. Do you have a passion for archival research? Imagine the potential audience for Finding Aids: What I Learned in the Archives about Life, Love and Happiness. Are you a Renaissance scholar? A book titled Renaissance Self-Fashioning in Ten Easy Steps could make the New York Times bestseller list. You get the picture. The field is wide open, the possibilities are limitless, and I say it’s time we get out there and circulate.

*Robertson's histories brought him fame and fortune. For the copyright to his History of Charles V (1769), he received from his publisher the unprecedented sum of £4000. I believe that's well over £200,000 in today's currency (no doubt Brad DeLong could supply a more accurate figure.)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:42 AM | Comments (18)

November 18, 2003

Semi-Open Thread: Grade Inflation

Too busy to blog, but hope to resume shortly.

If I did have time to write a proper entry, I would write one on grade inflation, a topic that has come up lately in connection with both credentialling and student evaluations.

According to this op-ed by Stuart Rojstaczer (who also has a website called, "the data indicate that not only is C an endangered species but that B, once the most popular grade at universities and colleges, has been supplanted by the former symbol of perfection, the A." Is he right about this? Is grade inflation an observable phenomenon? And if so, does it matter? And if it does matter, then what, if anything, might be done about it? And if it doesn't matter, then should grades be abolished altogether?


Two recent items on the issue of grading: The Little Professor makes an interesting distinction between the copyeditor and the holistic grader; and Max Clio, who has "a powerful aptitude for evasion, delay, and self-protection when faced with the chore of grading," writes a column about grading in order to distract himself from the task of grading.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:11 AM | Comments (57)

November 16, 2003

Which Founding Father Are You?

This has been around for months and months (and by the way, three months in calendrical time is equivalent to half an eon in blogtime). But I just re-discovered it through Ghost of a Flea, and it may be new to some readers. Anyway, I'm too spent (see previous entry) to write a post on the decline and fall of the university.

I come up as Hamilton. Does this mean "I shall hazard much" to lose my life in a duel? And will anyone volunteer to be my second?

Which Founding Father Are You?
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:05 PM | Comments (24)

Why I Can't Sleep

My son was almost hit by a cab the other day.
Friday afternoon, 2:00, 86th and Lex.

Walking south on Lexington with my son in his stroller, just beginning to cross 86th on a green light with a walk signal. This cab seemed to come out of nowhere, turning right onto 86th. JMJ. I yelled "stop, stop" while moving rightward as fast as I could to get out of the way, "stop, stop" while moving fast, faster to get out his way but I can't move as fast as he is moving, doesn't he see us moving? "stop, stop" moving faster, faster, and at least eight or ten other pedestrians yelling "stop stop" while he keeps moving. And then he stopped.

All kinds of other pedestrians, seems to me it was mostly women, yelling at the driver and yelling at me, "Get his number! get his number!" Which I might not have done if they hadn't told me to. So I fumbled around in my bag and pulled out pen and scrap paper (a receipt from the post office) and quickly jotted it down while shaking in disbelief. And then I just stood immoblized on the sidewalk while a couple of women screamed bloody hell at the driver. "I know it's hard to drive a cab in New York City," one of them yelled, "but you just almost killed a baby."
Shouldn't I have yelled at him too? Wasn't that my duty as a mother? But I didn't yell, or say anything. Just wrote down the number, then gathered myself up, pulled myself together, made myself stop shaking, and took my son home, which I haven't left since.

I've filed a report (thanks to those women, I took down his number). And now I can't sleep.

I keep rewinding and replaying the tape, and then my body twitches in revolt as my mind persists in imagining the unimaginable.

It is frightening to think of, and I need to stop thinking of it. The utter fragility of a human life. My son's life. I can't sleep.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:04 PM | Comments (19)

November 15, 2003

Student Evaluations: Your Questions Answered

Worried that students and faculty members with conservative views face 'hostile' academic environments at Colorado's public colleges, the president of the state's Senate sent letters this month asking the leaders of all 29 institutions to detail their policies on protecting academic freedom.

In his letters, State Sen. John Andrews, a Republican, asked the presidents to explain their antidiscrimination rules, their processes for handling complaints about bias, and the steps they are taking to promote 'intellectual diversity' in classes and in faculty recruiting. Mr. Andrews also asked whether faculty-evaluation forms allow students to report perceived bias against certain ideologies.

-- Sara Hebel, "Colorado Lawmaker, Concerned About Anti-Conservative Bias, Asks Colleges to Detail Rules on Academic Freedom" (Chronicle of Higher Education, Friday, November 14, 2003; subscription-only, no free URL)

The answer to Mr Andrews' question is of course, Yes. Faculty evaluation forms not only allow students to report just about anything they please (from perceived political bias to the perceived attractiveness of an instructor's "buns"*), but they also allow students to do so anonymously. Next question?

*"Mr. Lang has always earned high marks from his students at Assumption College, but he doesn't consider himself a 'Baldwin' (for the clueless, that's a term for a hot guy, popularized by the movie Clueless). Apparently, though, some of his students do. More than one of them has made comments about his 'buns' on student evaluations" (Gabriela Montel, "Do Good Looks Equal Good Evaluations?" -- for a discussion of this article, see this weblog entry).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:34 PM | Comments (18)

November 13, 2003

"Highly Reliable," "At Least Moderately Valid," and Deeply Flawed: Student Evaluations of Faculty

A couple of months ago, a reader sent me a link (via Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolutions) to Michael Huemer's critical review of student evaluations. Another reader has since recommended this article by Mary Gray and Barbara R. Bergmann. Both raise troubling questions about the usefulness of student evaluations, though to somewhat different ends.

The main concern of Huemer's piece is that of finding or devising a way of accurately measuring teaching quality with a view to improving said quality. Interestingly enough, he reports that student evaluations are actually "highly reliable" in the sense that "students tend to agree with each other in their ratings of an instructor" and "at least moderately valid, in that student ratings of course quality correlate positively with other measures of teaching effectiveness." So if they're "highly reliable" and "at least moderately valid," what's the problem? Huemer identifies a number of problems, some of which have to do with what it is that students are measuring when they "agree with each other in their ratings of an instructor."

Perhaps the most serious is that of the "open secret" of grading bias: ie., given the "well-established correlation" between higher grades and higher evaluations, student evaluations "seem to be as much a measure of an instructor's leniency in grading as they are of teaching effectiveness." Other concerns have to do with the subtle but possibly significant effects of teaching to the evaluations, dumbing down course content and avoiding controversy for fear of negative student feedback.

One serious problem, however, is that, in Huemer's reading of the literature, peer review (which is frequently offered as an alternative to student review) turns out be be even less valid than student evaluations. He thus ends by proposing a number of practical changes to the design and structure of evaluations in an attempt to correct for the effects of bias.

The main concern of Gray and Bergmann's paper is that of the impact of evaluations on faculty morale and indeed on faculty career prospects. In their opening paragraph, they boldly assert that "what originated as a light-hearted dope sheet for the use of students has, at the hands of university and college administrators, turned into an instrument of unwarranted and unjust termination for large numbers of junior faculty and a source of humiliation for many of their senior colleagues." I guess I'm a little bit sceptical of the claim that "large numbers of junior faculty" have been fired on the basis of evaluations. But in addition to some of the concerns also treated by Huemer, I think they also raise some interesting points about the use of this instrument as a "shaming" device:

Jeffrey Stake, a law professor at Indiana University, argues that asking students their opinions undermines the trust and faith they need to place in the teacher. Instead of saying, 'Here is a great scholar and teacher; learn from her what you can,' the administration of evaluation forms says to students, 'We hired these teachers, but we are not sure they can teach or have taught you enough. Please tell us whether we guessed right.'

As an entire career can be terminated by not-good-enough evaluations, the procedure of administering the evaluation instruments and getting them turned in forces on the faculty member what Catholics call 'an occasion of sin.' The administration sets up a system that presents the faculty with a powerful temptation to cheat, and then has to invent demeaning procedures to prevent cheating. The teacher is explicitly forbidden to touch the evaluation sheets after they have been filled out. A student has to be designated to collect and take them to the appropriate office. This procedure tells the students that the teacher is more than likely to be a cheat and a sneak, who will cook the books if given a chance. Both students and teacher pretend not to notice the shaming involved, but it is palpable in such a situation.

Here again, I wonder if they are overstating their case: Does the procedure really tell students that their teacher is "more than likely to be a cheat and a sneak"?

In any case, Gray and Bergmann call for a complete abolition of this "inaccurate, misleading, and shaming procedure," and propose a number of alternative measures, most of which require peer review (which Huemer suggests is not necessarily any more valid or reliable than student evaluations).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:00 PM | Comments (40)

November 12, 2003

Essential Courses, Non-Essential Faculty

Twenty years ago professors with credentials similar to today's part-timers made a good living. Their positions included job protection through tenure, sabbatical leaves, funded research, and health and pension benefits. Today, part-time faculty [at UMass-Dartmouth] have none of these benefits except a dental plan. Excluded from program and governance decisions, they are rarely welcomed to participate in the life of the university outside of their classes.

-- Andrew Nixon, "An unfair deal for part-time UMass faculty"

The above-linked article reports that 35 percent of the faculty at UMass-Dartmouth are now classified as part-time. Noting that part-time faculty now "shoulder so much of the teaching load that without them, the university could not fulfill its basic mission," Nixon finds a troubling disconnect in the inverse relationship between essential faculty and essential courses:

Part-time faculty members teach the introductory courses that full-time faculty often don't like to. These courses are considered so important that they are required for degree programs. Yet the administration does not seem to appreciate the irony that essential courses are being taught almost exclusively by a faculty it considers nonessential.

The figures cited by Nixon will not shock regular readers of this weblog. As I've pointed out in a number of previous entries (eg, this one), the AAUP reports that contingent instructors now constitute an "untenured majority" of the faculty teaching in American colleges and universities.

What I find noteworthy in Nixon's article is his argument that the reliance on part-timers is

not a recent phenomenon caused by the state's fiscal crisis or declining enrollments. During the booming '90s, when the Legislature provided more aid, the school increased its reliance on part-time faculty to reduce costs and make itself seemingly a better value.

Now that the boom is over and hard times have hit, "UMass-Dartmouth's chancellor, Jean MacCormack, has suggested becoming more dependent on part-time faculty to solve the funding shortfall." This despite (or is it because?) enrollments are actually increasing.

Thanks to reader Steve for the link.


Amanda at Household Opera visits the grocery store, wonders "for the umpteenth time why grocery baggers do such a haphazard job of arranging the groceries," posits four possible explanations for the "Decline and Fall of the Art of Grocery Bagging," and then applies her theoretical insights on grocery bagging to the state of the academy to arrive at "a plastic-sack view of higher education:"

So now, given the corporatization of the university, I'm leaning toward something like explanation 2. If the number of customers served matters more than the quality of the service, you'll bag faster and not spend the time assembling the cereal boxes into a foundation for the glass jars and the bread. If you have 100 students, you'll spend less time talking to them and giving them feedback. You can engage in nostalgia for the golden age of bagging, or of the university, if you like — but I don't see that working as a strategy for change, and I'm not holding my breath waiting for that era to return, if it even really existed in the first place.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:42 AM | Comments (25)

The Academic Job Market and the "Prestige Principle"

The paper confirms the intuition that there are self-reproducing departmental status systems within disciplines. Job candidates in all disciplines are exchanged in a well-defined manner between three classes of departments. Class I departments, at the top, exchange students amongst themselves and supply lower-tier departments with students but do not hire from them. Class II departments are on the 'semi-periphery,' generally exchanging candidates with each other (though there is a hierarchical element to this) and also sending students to Class III departments, which never place students outside of their class and usually do not hire students from within their class.

-- Kieran Healy, Solidarity and Hierarchy in Academic Job Markets

Kieran Healy summarizes the results of a recent "network analysis" of the "exchange of job candidates" in a variety of academic disciplines. "Though academics talk about 'the job market,'" he writes (for a discussion of this term, see this entry), "it will not surprise you that placement is deeply embedded in systems of departmental status that bear little resemblance to a properly functioning market." Interestingly enough, the paper finds that economics -- "the discipline that makes the study (and promotion) of markets its specialty," as Kieran puts it -- has "the highest degree of elite solidarity and hierarchical control over the placement of its graduate students."

The paper to which Kieran refers is Shin-Kap Han's "Tribal regimes in academia: a comparative analysis of market structure across disciplines" (Social Networks 25 [2003], 251-80; no free URL), which relies on data culled from the Job Tracks: Who Got Hired Where section of the now-defunct Lingua Franca. Of particular interest is Han's argument that of the "various institutional features" that "distinguish the academic labor market" from other labor markets, the most significant is that of the "prestige principle":

For the academic labor market, 'the prestige principle' is the phrase commonly used to describe how the social structure and distributive order of competition are organized and related. In the particular context of hiring (buying) and placing (selling) of new Ph.D.'s -- 'junior hirings', it refers to the strong positive correlation between the prestige of the department where one acquires the doctorate and the prestige of the department in which one finds employment. Beset with the problem of uncertainty, for the actual quality of the candidates is basically unobservable at this level, the academic departments rely on the prestige as the primary means of invidious distinction. The workings of this principle are manifested in, and reproduced by, the pattern of transactions between departments.

The "unwritten -- yet essential and elemental -- rule" of the "prestige principle," writes Han, has been "repeatedly confirmed" in the relevant literature and "continues to be one of the key structural features, upon which much of the research on the academic marketplace is focused." And while "similiar dynamics have been observed in a range of other market settings," he notes, "the academic labor market stands out in its salience, emphatically distingushing itself from the classic labor market model (pp. 252-3)."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:56 AM | Comments (86)

November 11, 2003

11 November 2003


In remembrance.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:00 AM | Comments (9)

November 10, 2003

Poll: What is your academic position?

If you are currently an academic, which of the following best describes your position?*

Please feel free to indicate your deodorant preference in the comments section.

*My thanks to all who answered my call for help in designing this poll. Since I haven't covered (and probably couldn't cover) all possibilities, I would ask that you select the response that comes closest to your situation.


Since this poll wasn't working, I've removed the script (the javascript attempts to connect with blogpoll, which makes the front page of my blog load more slowly).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:48 PM | Comments (25)

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to language hat (of the eponymous blog) for the following self-description (comments to "Academic Freedom versus Professional Standards"):

having been a college student in the late '60s-early '70s, I often feel like a superannuated Regency buck, peering around at all the prim young Victorians and trying to remember not to say 'leg.'

The prize committee, it should be noted, are not entirely persuaded that today's youngsters are quite so primly Victorian. We can't help reflecting on the enormous popularity of Britney Spears. But we are delighted to bestow our award upon a remark that almost made us spill our coffee.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:21 PM | Comments (8)

Are College Presidents Paid Too Much?

Or are they rather paid too little? Or are they, perhaps, paid just the right amount, with not a penny more or less on either side of the ledger sheet about which anyone could reasonably find grounds to query and/or complain?

There's no one answer, of course, in part because compensation levels vary so enormously. I suppose another question might be, Do salaries of $500,000 to $1 million per annum represent a real trend, or are these compensation packages rather isolated and atypical instances?

Anyway, this week (on Thursday, November 13) the Chronicle of Higher Ed. is holding a Colloquy Live on the issue of presidential compensation:

Are college presidents paid too much or too little? With some salaries now approaching $1-million, what is the justification for the increases in presidential compensation?

The guest speaker is Raymond D. Cotton, whose "Negotiating Your Contract: Lessons From the Front" addresses the question, "How can newly appointed presidents get a good compensation package without appearing greedy?" The answer, in a nutshell, for those of my readers who aspire to enter this salary stratosphere, is to not negotiate your own contract but rather get some other party to do it for you (and just so we're all clear on this point: he's not talking about joining a union).


In the comments to this entry, "(no longer a) first time poster" provides a link to this AP item entitled "Salaries of College Presidents Rising." Can you guess who was the top earner among college presidents last year? I drew a blank, and I have to say the answer surprised me. I'll give you a hint: forget about the Ivies.*

Click below to see answer.

*The answer (for those who don't want to read the AP article): Shirley Ann Jackson, president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, who commanded a salary of $891,400, which was nicely supplemented by an additional $591,000 for serving an eight corporate boards.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:38 PM | Comments (16)

November 09, 2003

Financial Aid Battle

Similar discrepancies emerge across the nation, adhering to a somewhat counterintuitive underlying theme: The federal government typically gives the wealthiest private universities, which often serve the smallest percentage of low-income students, significantly more financial aid money than their struggling counterparts with much greater shares of poor students.

-- Greg Winter, "Rich Colleges Receiving Richest Share of U.S. Aid"

File this one under "the campus culture wars are a distraction from the real battles." The above-linked NYTimes article reports that college financial aid officers are calling for a new system that would "[steer] financial aid toward the universities that poor students actually attend, rather than those with the biggest reputations." To illustrate the kind of imbalance that the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators seeks to redress, the NYTimes explains that

Brown, for example, got $169.23 for every student who merely applied for financial aid in order to run its low-interest Perkins loan program in the 2000-1 academic year. Dartmouth got $174.88; Stanford, $211.80. But most universities did not get nearly that much: the median for the nation's colleges was $14.38, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data on the more than 4,000 colleges and universities that receive some form of federal aid.

Nearly 200 colleges received less than $3 per applicant for financial aid. The University of Wisconsin at Madison got 21 cents.

Similar discrepancies characterize the dispersal Pell grant money. Where Princeton, for example, received $1.42 for every Pell dollar received by one of its students in 2000-01, the City University of New York, "which had the most financial aid applicants in the nation that year," got "4 cents on the dollar." That's quite a discrepancy. "It is the magnitude of the disparities that irks many college officials," writes Winter.

Of particular interest is the article's suggestion that the disparities derive from a kind of cronyism:

As for the origins of the disparities, most veterans of university finance agree that they date back at least to the 1970's, when regional panels of educational experts, not formulas, decided how much colleges would receive. Because each university had to make its own case for the money, those with long histories and a certain financial savoir-faire tended to do particularly well. In fact, the panels were sometimes composed of their peers.
Not surprisingly, "the call for redistribution has put many universities on the defensive." I could be wrong about this, but my guess is that federal funding is pretty much a zero-sum game: the federal government is only going to contribute so much money, so that whatever increase might go to a CUNY would mean a decrease to a Princeton. Things could get ugly. But apparently officials at the University of Phoenix can rest easy:
In fact, few universities seem to know exactly how they would fare under a new system, though the financial aid officers association has a pretty good idea of who would be the big beneficiaries: community colleges and, perhaps most surprisingly, for-profit universities.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:37 AM | Comments (5)

November 08, 2003

Still More on Credentialing (Among other Things, and from a UK Perspective)

It's true that it isn't easy to characterise what universities are and what they now do, and so not easy to lay down a 'vision' of what they might do in the future. That is partly because of the intrinsic difficulty of talking about intellectual activity in terms that are both general and useful, partly because the 'higher education sector' embraces a diverse range of institutions each of which is something of a palimpsest of successive social and educational ideals; but above all it is because the populist language that dominates so much discussion in contemporary market democracies is not well adapted to justifying public expenditure in other than economic or utilitarian terms, and it is principally as a form of expenditure - a problematic or resented one - that universities now attract political and media attention.

The result is that even, or perhaps especially, within universities, opinion tends to congregate around two almost equally unappealing extremes. On the one hand, there is the mournful idiom of cultural declinism: 'standards' are falling, 'philistinism' is rampant, 'autonomy' has been lost, and even the barbarians are going to the dogs. And on the other, there is the upbeat idiom of brave new worldism: 'challenges' and 'opportunities' abound, 'partnerships with industry' beckon, 'accountability' rules, and we're all 'investing in the future' like billy-oh. As with larger questions of social and cultural change, it can be difficult to escape the magnetic pull of these extremes, difficult to get the measure of the changes that have been taking place without either falling into the absurdity of suggesting that everything would be all right if we could just go back to universities as they were c.1953, or the equal absurdity of proposing that more ruthless cost-cutting and more aggressive marketing could soon have HiEdbizUK plc showing healthy profits for shareholders.

-- Stefan Collini, "HiEdBiz"

Though its immediate context is specifically British (more specifically, the above-linked piece responds to a recent British government White Paper on higher education), Collini's review of The Future of Higher Education raises issues of relevance to American higher ed and of interest to many of the readers of this weblog. Among the topics he addresses is one that is currently the subject of some rather lively, not to say overheated, discussion in this entry: namely, the matter of class and credentialling.

One strength of his discussion is his insistence on the significance of historical context against the "numerous ahistorical pronouncements one currently encounters about what defines a 'real' university or about what a 'proper' university education ought to be." As Collini points out, what we generally understand by the traditional university is a relatively new phenomenon:

It was in the mid and late Victorian period that two developments took place that were to determine university development in Britain for almost a hundred years. First, the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge, which had long functioned as a cross between finishing schools for the sons of the landed classes and seminaries for the Anglican Church, were reformed. The public-school ideal of character formation took hold; 'modern' subjects, such as history, languages and science, were introduced; a new self-consciousness developed about educating the governing and administrative class of the future; and the sense of the universities' place in the national culture grew. Second, in the 1870s and 1880s new universities were established in the great cities which had grown up as a result of industrialisation, such as Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds and Liverpool. Initially, these colleges were the result of local initiatives and aimed at meeting local needs: they were not afraid to teach practical subjects such as 'commerce' alongside the traditional curriculum; many of their students lived at home. A different 'idea' of the university was required to take account of them.

Thus, by the beginning of the 20th century there were already at least three different kinds of institution among British universities, even leaving aside the various medical schools, teacher-training colleges, and numerous ecclesiastical, voluntary and professional institutions. There was the Oxbridge model: residential, tutorial, character-forming. There was the Scottish/ London model: metropolitan, professorial, meritocratic. And there was the 'civic' model ('redbrick' was a later 20th-century coinage): local, practical, aspirational.

I think this longer view is important. So many discussions of higher ed. tend to presuppose an ideal model of the university as a more or less natural entity that is now under unprecedented attack either by, on the one hand, tenured lefty radicals who are bent on destroying the university as we know it, or by, on the other hand, no-nothing right-wing ideologues who are bent on destroying the university as we know it. A bit of history reminds us that, whatever else they may be, these alleged attacks can hardly be seen as violations of a natural order of things.

Given the tendency of those on the right to decry the rise and development of new areas of study, for example, it's worth noting that many putatively "traditional" disciplines are actually of fairly recent vintage. Economics, for example (though we could say the social sciences more broadly, along with much of the humanities). Adam Smith was a U of Glasgow professor not of Economics but of Moral Philosophy: just two hundred years ago, economics as a discipline did not yet exist (to be sure, Smith did lecture on something that we might now call economics, but he did so under the heading of "Natural Jurisprudence," which area was in turn one of several branches of moral philosophy). But there is something equally ahistorical, I would suggest, in some of the anti-corporate arguments made by those on the left (including, I will freely admit, my own self). The university has never been fully, has probably never been mainly or even significantly, autonomous from the values, goals and aspirations of the wider culture of which it is a part. Indeed, it would be very surprising if an institution could survive for any length of time as an insitution if it were completely separate from and even in opposition to the broader society and culture within which it would have to be situated. Collini understands this very well. And though he decries "NewLabourSpeak" pronouncements on education as the "the language of the personnel departments of commercial companies," he realizes that

it is no good just saying that universities are autonomous bodies and what goes on inside them is no business of the state's. That idea would have seemed pretty odd at most times and places in the history of universities, whether in Renaissance England or 18th-century Germany or, for that matter, contemporary France.

Not that Collini is ready to give his government a free pass, much less sign on as an enthusiastic supporter of the new regime of excellence in the field of excellence. Far from it. This is not a rave review but a stinging indictment of the lack of thought (or, in the current jargon, "vision") in the uncritical adoption of "psuedo-market guff" and "the idiom of management consultancy." As they say in the blogworld, read the whole thing.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:58 PM | Comments (3)

Help me design my next poll

My recent "Are You (or Have You Ever Been) an Academic" poll indicates that 66.5% of the readers of this weblog are currently academics, 22.5% are former academics, 6.3% have never been academics, and 4.7% agree with the statement "I am not and never will be an academic."* Meanwhile, my controversially titled "Gender Poll" suggests that almost two-thirds of the readers are male, while just over a third are female (4 readers, or 1.7% of respondents, selected neither "male" nor "female" but "other;" I believe at least 2 of the 4 were protest votes).

I've also learned that when it comes to shampoo, many readers of this weblog just buy what's on sale; and, more broadly, that a surprising number of readers are, if not eager then at least willing to talk about personal grooming products.

Next up: I'd like to run a poll on deodorant preferences academic position. Something along the lines of, If you are currently an academic, what is your rank/title/position?

But how to design the poll? Though I don't aspire to anything that might be described as "scientific" and I wouldn't pretend to have a research design or methodology (see below*), I would need to come up with a manageable number of possible responses. Now, if I wanted to keep things simple, I could have five options: graduate student; adjunct; tenure-track professor; tenured professor; and other.

Problem is, there are an awful lot of potential categories that might fall under the heading "Other." Postdocs, for example. And visiting assistant professor, which designation seems to have at least two different meanings. Then, too, "adjunct" can refer to several different types of position: though many think of it as temporary and part-time, there's that permatemp phenomenon to consider, and of course many adjuncts work the equivalent (or more) of a full-time teaching load. And come to think of it, maybe "adjunct" is not the best term: perhaps I should say "contingent" or even "transient"? And in terms of the tenurable, is it worth getting into the distinctions between assistant, associate and full professor? Should there be a special category for department chairs?

It gets complicated. So maybe I should just list the four most popular brands of deodorant, with a fifth option for "other brand"?

I could hire an expert, of course, but let's get serious: I'm not quite that serious. Still, I would like to get at least a general sense of where/how in the academy my academic readers are situated.

So I'm soliciting the advice of my readers, academic, nonacademic, expert, and nonexpert alike: please help me design this poll. How many categories, and what should they be? A couple of things to keep in mind. First, I'm particularly interested in the nontenurable versus tenurable distinction. Second, the absolute limit is 20 possible responses (that's all blogpoll can handle), and I suspect anything over 10 might prove unmanageable.

*Though I'm no social scientist, I do realize that the poll doesn't really indicate what I've said it does. If I wanted to be more accurate I would have to say, 'Of those readers who were willing to respond to the poll'...And then, of course, it would be useful to know just what percentage of readers did indeed respond. But just play along, okay?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:11 PM | Comments (16)

November 07, 2003

"Life After Academe"

But, by far, the best thing about my new job is that I can be myself. I no longer play the part of the perennial job seeker who, low on confidence, weighs how much a certain choice will help or hinder the search for employment.

I've begun to remember who I am -- not the various versions of myself that I presented to prospective employers, but the real me. I don't think I realized until this past year just how taxing the job market has been on me, and I warn even the most self-assured and resilient individuals to watch out for the toll it can take. The life I have found after academe is truly my own, and friends tell me that I have never looked better.

-- Emily Peters, "Back to High School"

After five demoralizing years on the academic job market, Emily Peters was offered a position "as a teacher and department chairwoman" at a private high school, "which meant a teaching load of three courses each semester, some administrative responsibilities, and a starting salary higher than many of my professorial friends." She accepted the job and now reports that she's never been happier. "Sure, there's life after high school," she writes, "but I'm here to tell you there's life after academe."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:05 PM | Comments (25)

November 06, 2003

More on Credentialing

In the light of this discussion on credentialing versus education, I was interested to come across (via Cranky Professor) a couple of posts by Michael Kantor at The Calico Cat. In Student Loan Rip-Off Kantor questions the value of a college education as follows:

I know it's very anti-mainstream to question the value of a college education, but I'm going to go ahead and question it anyway. My experience is that the majority of college students are just in it for the piece of paper they get at the end which they think will be a ticket to a 'good job.' Yet we have so many college students graduating with no job awaiting them at all. And then to add insult to injury, they are burdened with student loan payments of hundreds of dollars per month. This is debt that can never even be discharged in bankruptcy.

How are we benefiting society if we make kids get themselves deeply into debt so they can obtain the same jobs that people obtained a generation ago with no college degree at all? Student loan proponents will say that without student loans, people will be denied the opportunity to advance themselves. I say that without federally guaranteed student loans, the bright students who would be able to benefit from a college education will still be able to obtain funding. The marginal students, who don't belong in college anyway, will also be better off because they will be able to get the same job they would have gotten anyway, except they won't be burdened with having to pay back student loans.

He follows up with this post, where he reiterates his argument that many students are wasting time and money in college.

It will inevitably be objected that Kantor's position represents an elitist view, and not without cause. Certainly, the posts can be read as suggesting that college should be reserved for those who are truly worthy of an advanced education. But the issue of student debt is real, and for many the burden is substantial. And I have to agree with Kantor that while the children of the affluent needn't worry about the economic payoff of a college degree, other students do not have that luxury (for an earlier discussion on this theme, see "Pursue a Liberal Arts Degree and Join the Ranks of the Non-Industrial Proletariat?").

One of the arguments I make on this weblog is that professors in the humanities should stop encouraging bright young undergrads to pursue PhDs in the humanities, or at least should think carefully before doing so, and offer prospective grad students a more realistic picture of the long-term academic employment prospects. This position then leads me to ask some uncomfortable questions about the undergraduate liberal arts degree. Much as I'd love to live a world where such degrees were highly valued, the fact is that I don't. At what point does it become irresponsible to encourage young people to go into debt for degrees that may actually reduce their economic prospects and earning potential over the long run?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:16 AM | Comments (97)

November 05, 2003

Give me Liberty, but Don't Call me a Libertarian

My husband likes to say that I remind him of that Monty Python sketch where a bunch of people chant, "We're individuals! we're individuals!" and then one lone voice pipes up, "I'm not." I oppose an ideology of radical individualism on principle. But in practice...well, let's just say I like my space. Needless to say, my desire for autonomy and individuality doesn't also merge seamlessly with my duties and responsibilities as a mother. But my son and I engage in an ongoing process of negotiation and for the most part get along quite amicably.

Anyway, I thought about this gap, shall we say, between principle and practice (or between belief and temperament) when I came up as some sort of libertarian on this Political Compass survey (click here to see a graph which plots the results of bloggers like myself who were geeky enough to enter our results). Yes, of course, these surveys are at least a little bit silly, and not to be taken entirely seriously. But all the cool kids were doing it, and since I'm not really a libertarian I just had to follow suit. My "score," if that is term for it, was -5.25 on the "Economic Left/Right" spectrum, and -6.10 on the "Libertarian/Authoritarian" spectrum. Well, I'm certainly not an authoritarian, but I would never describe myself as a libertarian either. I like Daniel Davies's suggestion that libertarianism should be called "propertarianism" (though I can't agree that liberal natural rights theory is inconsistent with all forms of liberalism except liberal natural rights). Not that I'm a communitarian, but I'm a great admirer of Charles Taylor (so sue me). It seems that support for fundamental personal and civil liberties is being defined here as "libertarian." To this I object.*

*Since the survey seems to originate in the UK, I wonder if "libertarian" has a different meaning and resonance in a British context?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:26 PM | Comments (24)

"Like an 800-Pound Gorilla in the Corner"

Chad Orzel identifies one of the ironies of the tenure review process:

There's a sort of black irony here, because tenure is intended to be a means of protecting academic freedom. The job security provided by the tenure system is supposed to allow faculty to speak freely, without fear of reprisals. And yet, in the pre-tenure process, the threat of failing a tenure review is so gigantic that it actually stifles discourse by younger faculty. I haven't worked as a contract employee, so I have no real basis for comparison, but I almost think that the emphasis placed on tenure magnifies these issues to the point where the effect on my behavior is actually greater than it might be if I were worried about losing my job immediately. Which is absolutely insane.

There's no question that a tenure-track faculty member has more to lose. Still, I tend to doubt that the fears of a tenure-track faculty member have a greater effect on behavior than the fears of a contingent faculty member who can be fired at will. But to say this not to discount his main point about the "stifling effect" of the tenure review process (as an "anonymous tt faculty member" put it in a comment which admitteldy might not bear the weight of the strictest possible scrutiny but which won the "Weekly IA Award" anyway, "It's hard to get tenure unless you have already demonstrated that you have nothing of consequence to say").

Though Orzel notes that he asks "How will this affect my tenure prospects?" with respect to other issues (eg., involvement in local politics), much of his post focuses on teaching and, more specifically, on the fear of negative student evaluations. I think Timothy Burke makes a good point when he suggests (comments to "Academic Freedom Versus Professional Standards") that "it's actually striking how few students use anonymous evaluations to punish professors, rather than how many do so." But while the fears of the pre-tenured and the untenurable may be exaggerated, I believe the very possiblity that a student might punish a professor can, and often does, exert a subtle pressure toward the kind of caution that Orzel speaks of in his post.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:06 PM | Comments (9)

Academic Freedom versus Professional Standards

Erin O'Connor posts an update on a case she blogged about at length several months ago. The case is that of John Bonnell, an English professor at Macomb Community College (if you visit the college website, by the way, the first thing you'll see on the front page is a banner proclaiming an "Adjunct Faculty Job Fair") who has been suspended without pay five times since 1998. At issue is his use of profanity in the classroom -- "occasional use" in Erin O'Connor's reading, habitual use in the eyes of the administrators who have acted on student complaints to punish Bonnell for creating a "hostile environment." The case raises interesting and perplexing questions about the purpose and scope of academic freedom.

I won't rehearse all of the details of the case, which can be found in the five previous blog entries to which O'Connor links in her latest entry. Instead, I want to quote from two documents which represent the views of Bonnell and those of the college administration respectively.

The first is a press release issued by Bonnell in June 2003, in which he defines the case as a classic case of censorhip and violation of academic freedom:

On June 16, 2003, Macomb Community College suspended me, John Bonnell, without pay until August 16, 2003. I am a professor of language and literature at this institution, and had flourished for thirty years without incident, until the College took it upon itself five years ago to initiate what can best be described as a witch hunt. The College took this action to strengthen its program of censorship, a program it believes finds support from a federal judiciary that, like the College, denies the relevance of the First Amendment to American campuses. The specific trigger for this assault was the complaint of a single student who objected primarily to discussion of the sexual content in a story by a famous author. (I am not at liberty to divulge specific elements of the complaint because the College claims that students who wish to censor professors have the right to do so in virtual anonymity and in guaranteed secrecy. This is a most effective way to encourage complainants who want to modify or silence teachers whose ideas or words they find irritating.) The College and the Faculty 'Union,' apparently independently, telephoned a dozen or so students from the same class in an effort to find support for the complainant's charges. However, no substantive support was forthcoming. In fact, some of these students found the College's invasive, scurrilous, and defamatory inquisition itself very upsetting...

...As a result of this fifth betrayal in a row, I must now endure another suspension without pay. The principles of academic freedom, of due process in the face of allegations, and of union solidarity are finished at Macomb College. Free speech itself, along with the very idea of 'higher' education and, indeed, of democracy, are on the brink of perishing altogether.

Now, one reason why I am impatient with and sceptical of accusations of "indoctrination" in the classroom is that I think students today exercise a good deal of power (most notably through the mechanism of the student evaluation, which topic really deserves a separate entry). And there is obviously something profoundly disturbing in the idea that a single student complaint could result in such a heavy-handed disciplinary action.

On the other hand, when I read that a faculty union refuses to defend one of its members, this does raise my suspicions. The usual complaint against unions is that they'll stubbornly stand by their own regardless of the merits of the case, and though this charge generally comes from an anti-union perspective that I don't happen to share, I do think there's something to this. If the union declines to take up the cause, at the very least I want to know more about the worthiness (or lack thereof) of the case in question.

Where Bonnell frames the case around the principles of academic freedom and due process, the administration rather relies on the principle of professional standards. Well, of course they would, and we should ask why and to what end whenever they do so. Still, this letter from Provost Rosa Bellanca does give me pause before signing on in defense of Bonnell:

Numerous students have reported that you regularly use profane, vulgar or obscene words in class such as 'bullshit,' 'cunt,' 'cock,' 'dick,' 'pussy,' 'tits,' 'balls,' 'asshole,' 'ass,' 'shit,' 'damn,' 'cocksucking,' 'hell,' 'buttfucking' and 'blowjob.' Students report that you do not use these words in an effort to explain a concept being portrayed in an assigned text, but as part of your general vocabulary regardless of whether the language relates in any meaningful way to an assigned text, even to the point of saying in class that Smuckers Jelly was given its name because 'Smuckers' rhymes with 'fuckers' and that the 'Busch' in Busch Beer refers to a vagina. One student has complained that you repeated the word 'fuck' in class over and over in succession, raising your voice as you did so, to the point where you were yelling. Other students report that you use the word 'fuck' so frequently in classroom discussions that it appears that you simply like to use the word....

...Examples of these non-germane digressions include reports that:

* You told your students in class about how your wife once expressed a desire to perform oral sex on her infant son, whose diaper she was changing;

* You told your students in class about how, while performing volunteer work at a hospital, you developed an erection while giving an elderly man a bath and that you dealt with this situation by 'mounting' the man;

* You told your class that you used to masturbate to Playboy-style magazines;

* You told your class a story about how you once threw away your Playboy-style magazines due to something a priest told you during confession and that you began using Biblical passages as your substitute masturbatory stimulus;

* You told your class a story about how you once tried to become an 'urban legend' by putting Vaseline inside a toilet paper roll and attempting to masturbate by placing your 'cock' in the lubricated toilet paper roll, which you tried to connect somehow to a washing machine, but that you failed to accomplish this feat because your 'cock' lost interest;

* You described an incident where your wife 'held your balls' as you were laying naked in bed;...

Well. My initial response is to ask, How much of this is true? Because if even half of this can be substantiated, I guess I have some problems with Bonnell's reliance on the principle of "academic freedom" to cover such speech acts. At the very least, it looks like there is a real tension here between the principle of academic freedom and the expectation of "professional standards."

One problem with the "hostile environment" charge that has been levelled against Bonner is that there is really no limit to what might be deemed offensive. Different students have different sensibilities, and some students do not want to be challenged in any way whatsoever. As an instructor, if you're not provoking some sort of response, you're probably not doing much by way of teaching. Still, there's provocative and there's provocative. And I don't think it's necessary to play the part of "delicate feminine flower," as Erin puts it, in order to wonder whether some of the above is appropriate for the classroom.

One solution to the problem of students' complaints to insist that academic freedom is pretty much absolute: if you're at the front of the classroom, your statements are covered by this principle. But that's not how the AAUP sees it. With respect to teaching, the AAUP defines academic freedom as follows:

Teachers are entitled to freedom in the classroom in discussing their subject, but they should be careful not to introduce into their teaching controversial matter which has no relation to their subject. Limitations of academic freedom because of religious or other aims of the institution should be clearly stated in writing at the time of the appointment.

Are Bonner's accounts of his own sexual practices and predilections relevant to the subject matter that he teaches? I guess that's the real question with respect to academic freedom. But since "controversial matter" and "relation to their subject" are open to competing and conflicting interpretations, in any given case, the answer to this question is by no means obvious.

Again, given the tendency to view the student as a consumer, I'm very troubled by the idea that instructors could be disciplined or fired for failing to provide adequate consumer satisfaction. On the other hand, while "professional standards" is obviously open to abuse by administrators seeking to rid themselves of someone they don't like, this case makes me wonder whether "academic freedom" isn't also available for misuse. The issue of limitations on speech makes me very nervous, and in any sort of conflict between "academic freedom" and "professional standards," my impulse is to tip the balance in favor of academic freedom. Still, based on what I've read of this case, I have some real reservations about the merits of Bonner's case. As usual, I welcome reader comments.


This page contains a lengthy list of documents relating to the Bonnell case. It should be noted that some students vigorously dispute the charges against Bonnell and characterize him in terms such as "an excellent teacher," and "one of the most dynamic, thought-provoking teachers that I ever had and probably ever will have." Which of course raises the question: Do the accusations against Bonnell represent trumped-up charges made on the basis of a handful of complaints by hypersensitive or hostile students?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:49 AM | Comments (51)

November 04, 2003


French cooking then is a bit like higher education. The real thing is labour intensive and has got pricier over the years. And you can’t really substitute technology for the labour (e-learning) and get the same product. But, of course, people will pretend that you can and will try to pass of some shoddy substitute as the same as the good old stuff that everyone used to get. In fact, if they’re really shameless they’ll try to pass off what people get now as better ('those one-to-one tutorials are so twentieth century'). (And the other strategy: downward pressure on wages leading to recruitment pressures in the long-run is also a well known feature of university life).

-- Chris Bertram, Vaccum-packed cassoulet

Chris Bertram attributes the demise of traditional French home cooking to something called the "Baumol effect," and cites the decline in the quality of higher education by way of example.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:04 PM | Comments (1)

Pamela: Or, Virtue Rewarded

Chick lit's latest denizen is Pamela Anderson, who recently signed a $2-million deal with Simon & Schuster to write two novels. The pneumatic actress is almost finished the first book, she reports, and is having a whale of a time writing it. 'The book is about me,' she told The Daily Telegraph this week. 'You know -- sunny and silly. I don't think that you will be disappointed.'

-- Anne Kingston, Chick lit keeps on clicking

I must confess, my expectations are rather low, and I don't think I will be disappointed. In addition to her new career as a novelist, Anderson will soon be "launching a whole range of 'Pamela Anderson' products, from lingerie to aromatherapy candles," all of which reflect her "philosophy," which philosophy she describes as follows:

'Basically, I'm a free spirit,' Pamela tells me. 'I'm kind of an Everywoman. My philosophy is that you can have kids, you can wear lingerie and you can have a career. You can do everything. Free-spiritedness, that's what I call it. The trouble is, though,' she says sounding momentarily dejected, 'that a lot of people seem to think I'm just two boobs walking around who doesn't know what the hell she's doing' (John Preston, Pamela Anderson, Woman of Letters).

You hear that, Laura? Never mind reading up on second-wave feminism, the politics of housework, the motherhood mystique and what have you. It's kids, lingerie, career. Though not necessarily in that order.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:47 AM | Comments (22)

November 02, 2003

Cheaper by the Dozen

When a dozen faculty members can teach (or is it process?) 7,000 students per semester, that's got to be cheaper than that old-fashioned method that goes under the soon-to-be-antiquated term education:

The latest evidence for the continued erosion in the quality of undergraduate education in the California State University system comes from our southernmost campus -- San Diego State. The administrators there, working in cahoots with their 'instructional design' faculty have come up with a 520 seat 'smart' lecture hall that, according to a recent article by Lisa Petrillo, in the San Diego UnionTribune will allow a dozen San Diego State faculty members to teach some 7,000 students per semester. This giant lecture hall has all the technological 'bells and whistles' that allow students even in the back of the room to see and hear the faculty member. It even has devices that allow the instructor to poll the class on various questions (Dr. Mark H. Shapiro, So Much for Individual Attention!).

Heck, I poll my readers on various question. Maybe I should start charging tuition.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:33 PM | Comments (30)

Credentialing Versus Education?

A "Prof at Big State U." has responded to my "Privatizing the Public" entry with the following comment:

Fish is missing the point when it comes to the mission of public university systems. No governor or legislator would ever admit it, but Big State U. is not an educational institution; fundamentally, it's not even an institution dedicated to perfecting an 'educational product.' Big State U. is a credentialing institution. Its mission is not to 'perform groundbreaking research,' let alone 'promote arts and culture'; Big State U.'s mission is to confer the baccalaureate so that the state's residents (voters) can enter the workforce with a college degree on their resume (and a corresponding bump in their paycheck). Education is a byproduct, something that occassionally happily happens because faculty and staff give a damn anyway. Higher tuition and fees defeat the purpose of credentialing if they mean said residents/voters enter the workforce (and the economy) saddled with student loans. Governors and legislators will never allow this, and so Fish's argument is either willfully or woefully naive. The credentialing engine will continue to grimly churn and grind long after budget cuts and tuition caps have removed all possibility of education.

Frankly, and at the risk of sounding cynical, I think "Prof at Big State U." has a point.

This is one reason why I'm not very optimistic about the possibility of reversing the trend toward the casualization of teaching. Quite simply, if it were education that mattered, we would not see adjunctification. Or at least, we would not see the intensification of this trend that has occurred over the past decade ("Through the 1990s," reports the AAUP, "in all types of institutions, three out of four new faculty members were appointed to non-tenure-track positions"). But if credentialing is the name of the game, then it doesn't much matter who is teaching the courses and for what kind of pay and under what sort of conditions.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:35 PM | Comments (10)

Weekly IA Award

Weekly? Well, give or take a month or so. Once upon a time it was weekly, and the awards committee promises that it will be so again.

But before we return to our original prize-giving schedule, I'm afraid we're going to have to establish some ethical guidelines. I'll be issuing a detailed document in the next week or so, but for the moment let me just say:

Enough with the "party" invitations! those thinly veiled lobbying attempts described as "cocktails and canapes with just a few of my closest friends." People. Please. I don't care if Brad and Jennifer will be there. This much-coveted award cannot be bought (no, not any amount of cash outright, nor with any sort of downpayment promising future fame and fortune and an endless series of dissipations). The IA Award is nothing more and nothing less than a frank recognition, and a faithful reflection of pure, unadulterated merit.

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to J.V.C. for a comment posted to "A Happy Academic Responds to My Blog." While the whole comment is worth reading, it is this line that stuck in my mind (and thus earned J.V.C. the prize):

Quite simply, the field does not know itself.

For once, I have nothing to add.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:10 PM | Comments (2)