March 22, 2004

History Papers

Writing is unnatural. As is most of what we do, which unnaturalness is only natural.*

Timothy Burke has a nice entry on some of the problems and challenges commonly encountered in students' history essays. If you've ever graded student papers in any discipline whatsover, you'll surely recognize some of the "smaller but important stylistic errors and misfires" that Burke enumerates here, though you may use slightly different descriptors (e.g., what Burke calls endless unbroken paragraphs, I term the runaway paragraph -- as in, for pity's sake, rein it in and assert some authorial control). I suspect the choice of tenses problem is, if not peculiar to, then particularly significant for history papers.

It reminds me that writing history essays is unnatural: that is, an impressively complex art and craft that takes practice, and that requires guidelines. By extension, the teaching of the writing of history essays must be likewise unnatural (which is to say, etcetera, etcetera).

*Adam Ferguson on the state of nature:

We speak of art as distinguished from nature; but art itself is natural to man. He is in some measure the artificer of his own frame, as well as his fortune, and is destined, from the first age of his being, to invent and contrive...
...If we are asked therefore, Where is the state of nature to be found? we may answer, It is here; and it matters not whether we are understood to speak in the island of Great Britain, at the Cape of Good Hope, or the Straits of Magellan.

-- An Essay on the History of Civil Society (1767), I.i

Take that, Rousseau! (I'm only sort of joking).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:07 PM | Comments (7)

March 19, 2004

"Micromanagement at its Worst"

The sponsor [Republican Shawn Mitchell] of a bill aimed at protecting the rights of conservative students on college campuses said today he would shelve the bill and allow state colleges and universities to prove that they are committed to protecting political diversity.

-- "'Academic Bill of Rights' yanked before vote"

The Denver Post reports that Rep. Mark Larson, a Republican, objected to the bill as "'micromanagement at its worst,'" and "said he had lined up enough votes to pass an amendment gutting it." Good for Larson for upholding the principle of limited government that Republicans are supposed to defend.

As proof of their commitment to "political diversity," the University of Colorado, Colorado State University, Metropolitan State College and the University of Northern Colorado have

agreed to make sure their grievance procedures address political diversity and that students know they can file a grievance against a professor who has discriminated against them because of their views.

Grievances, eh? Since the most common form of discrimination practiced by professors is that of discrimination on the basis of the quality of students' work, and since the most likely form of evidence to be cited in a grievance would be the grade received in a course, how might this play out in the actual world? Here's one scenario: Angry [lefty/liberal/conservative] undergraduate receives a C, and then files a grievance against the offending [lefty/liberal/conservative] professor, citing viewpoint discrimination. As parents threaten legal action, and case gets taken up by local media, university administrators persuade/cajole/coerce the professor to raise the grade.

Can anyone doubt that such grievance procedures would take the logic of the consumer satisfaction survey student evaluation to a new level, exerting still more pressure to further inflate the grades? Who needs the hassle? I'd like to propose a new legislative amendment designed to save time, trouble and heartache (not to mention paperwork and lawyer's fees) all around: Every student who expresses a view has the right to an A; and any grade lower than an A is not only prima facie evidence of discrimination but is also by definition a violation of this constitutionally protected right.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:22 PM | Comments (13)

March 13, 2004

Conference Calls

1. Via Electrolite:

Michael Bérubé has an idea for a conference on the conference:

One of these days I want to put together an academic conference that addresses the phenomenon of academic conferences. It will be called 'The Longer Version,' and will be distinguished by three features: one, every paper will have a respondent who, instead of waiting for the paper to end, will simply snort, harrumph, and blurt 'I think not!' at random moments during the paper. Two, questioners will be required to begin all questions by saying, 'this is really more of a comment than a question-- I wonder if you could say more about X,' on the condition that X was either unmentioned in or tangential to the paper itself. (Questions must be at least three minutes long.) And three, every speaker will be required to answer these questions by saying, 'I actually address this question in the longer version of this paper,' regardless of whether there is a longer version or not. (If the conference proceedings are published, they will consist only of sections of papers that were cut for time during the actual conference.)

I'd like to condition for just one more requirement: for every paper delivered, there should be at least one questioner the substance of whose remarks amount to, 'That's all well and good, but why aren't we talking about my work?"

2. Via an anonymous reader:

Dr. Kevin Cramer, a member of the H-German discussion board, calls for "more stringent vetting of conference announcements" after "a rather unsettling episode":

In November of last year I responded to a call for conference papers under the rubric of 'Symposium on the Psychological Interpretation of War,' sponsored by the Library of Social Science in New York (Dr. Richard Koenigsberg, Director). As this invitation appeared on my professional list-serve, I had no reason to question the bona fides of this organization (their website was also innocuous). The other participants (around 20 total, in two sessions), from multiple disciplines and major universities and institutions here and abroad, also learned of this conference through their professional list-serves and other networks. The conference took place last week.

The Library of Social Science, it turned out, was Dr. Koenigsberg's
apartment living room in a run down corner of Elmhurst, Queens. The
'Library', it seems, was not much more than a vanity project and
sometime vendor of academic books at various professional organization
conferences around the country. Incidentally, a $150.00 registration fee
was charged. There were no stipends for travel or accommodations and no
meals were provided (other than candy, fruit, and bottled water.) Dr.
Koenigsberg's doctorate is, I surmised, in psychology or psychoanalysis
but, in his own words, 'he has been studying Hitler for 30 years.'

"Caveat emptor," says Cramer. Indeed. The dead giveaway here was of course the candy. Word to the wise: if you don't see, in the words of Alex Pang, that "peculiar academic reception food group" known as the chunk o' cheddar on a toothpick, you should begin to suspect it's not really an academic conference.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:20 PM | Comments (19)

March 10, 2004

Three Wives and Three Hundred Scholarly Articles (The Good Life)

Universalizing from his own experience -- "a wonderful life" that has allowed him to publish, teach, marry, have children, travel, and attend the theatre, but that has apparently not done much to help him develop his capacities for sympathetic imagination -- David Lester purports to be " those who find the academic life to be so hard and so stressful." Such malcontents, he suggests, might "have benefited from spending eight hours down a coal mine in their adolescence." Worth reading as a remarkable instance of self-absorption and self-promotion, and especially noteworthy for the boast that he has "never had a federal grant" for his research (take that, you academic welfare bums!). The Little Professor has more.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:42 AM | Comments (49)

March 09, 2004

How Repulsive was Mr. Collins?

Mr. Collins was not a sensible man, and the deficiency of nature had been but little assisted by education or society; the greatest part of his life having been spent under the guidance of an illiterate and miserly father; and though he belonged to one of the universities, he had merely kept the necessary terms, without forming at it any useful acquaintance. The subjection in which his father had brought him up had given him originally great humility of manner, but it was now a good deal counteracted by the self-conceit of a weak head, living in retirement, and the consequential feelings of early and unexpected prosperity. A fortunate chance had recommended him to Lady Catherine de Bourgh when the living of Hunsford was vacant; and the respect which he felt for her high rank and his veneration for her as his patroness, mingling with a very good opinion of himself, of his authority as a clergyman, and his rights as a rector, made him altogether a mixture of pride and obsequiousness, self-importance and humility.

-- Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice (1813)

I'm on a Jane Austen reread streak. And as I said a couple of weeks ago, I wanted to take up the question of how repulsive was Mr Collins?, or rather, the question of Mr Collins was repulsive how? I don't really have the answer, just a couple of related questions.

In "Sleeping With Mr. Collins," Ruth Perry suggests that while Austen depicted Collins as morally distasteful, "modern filmmakers cannot resist depicting Mr. Collins as physically repugnant and representing Elizabeth Bennet's shock at Charlotte Lucas's marriage as caused as much by her own physical as moral distaste for the man." Case in point: the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice, which, more than any other film version, "emphasizes Mr. Collins' physical repulsiveness" (while also, of course, emphasizing Darcy's physcial attractiveness: hence the Darcymania that has apparently been a "mixed blessing" for Colin Firth). As Perry notes, in the BBC production Mr Collins is

particularly repulsive when he asks his cousin Elizabeth to dance, his face shining with the exertion at charm and his smile bared over too many teeth. The way he leans over her much too close, forcing her assent, feels claustrophobic, and encourages our vicarious sexual disgust at the thought of necessary physical contact with him. Any historical difference between Austen's sensibility and our own with regard to sleeping with Mr. Collins is entirely obviated by this shot.

Now, I think Perry's complaint that the film "exaggerates the physical dimension of everything in the novel" and underemphasizes the characters' "intellectual qualities" may be somewhat beside the point. I mean, Yes, of course. But that's the difference between visual and textual representation.

But it's true the novel does not offer a physical description of Mr Collins (and not much of physical description of Darcy, either: we're told he has a "fine, tall person, handsome features, noble mien," but we're not given specifics about hair and eye colour, for example. We now know that he looks like Colin Firth). There's nothing in the novel about a shiny face, too many teeth, or greasy hair. Collins is meant to repulse us with his demeanour and even more with his words (both spoken and conveyed through letters).

And I think Perry is onto something when she points out that "the physical repugnance that we in the present century feel at the idea of sleeping with Mr. Collins is entirely absent in Jane Austen's treatment of the matter." Though Elizabeth Bennett is initially incredulous ("Engaged to Mr. Collins! my dear Charlotte, -- impossible!'') and dismayed, she does eventually reconcile herself to the match, and overall does not judge her friend very harshly for marrying for "a comfortable home." As Perry puts it:

The reason that Austen is able to imagine Charlotte's sleeping with Mr. Collins with equanimity is because sex had less psychological significance in eighteenth-century England than in our own post-Freudian era; it was less tied to individual identity, and more understood as an uncomplicated, straightforward physical appetite. Sexual disgust--the feeling that sex with the 'wrong' person could be viscerally disturbing--was an invention of the eighteenth century; it was one dimension of an evolving sexual identity for women that could control their sexual reactions without the interference--whether policing or protective--of a network of kin relations.

I think that's basically right. By mid-nineteenth century, the kind of bargain struck by Charlotte Lucas would be represented novelistically as little better than legalized prostitution. Whereas in seventeenth-century writings (female conduct literature, for example), this kind of marriage can be presented not only as acceptable but even as a moral duty. Still, I wonder if Perry exaggerates the eighteenth-century character of the novel, or at least underestimates its newer, more nineteenth-century flavour. I'm thinking of this line:

'My dear Jane, Mr. Collins is a conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man; you know he is, as well as I do; and you must feel, as well as I do, that the woman who marries him, cannot have a proper way of thinking.'

Isn't there just a hint of that sexual disgust which Perry attrributes to the newer sex-as-identity notion in the bit about a woman not having "a proper way of thinking" about such things? Or am I reading post-Freudian ideas into a work that is innocent of all such notions?

As an example of pre-psychologized sexuality for both women and men, here's a little item that I'll call "Conjugal Debt Not Paid." In Alienated Affections: The Scottish Experience of Divorce and Separation, 1648-1830, Leah Leneman recounts the details of an anullment case (1693) brought by Janet Mcmaluack against her husband Archbald Mcglashan, on grounds of impotence (so the Complainer here is the wife, and the defendant is the husband):

The case of Janet Mcmaluack against Archbald Mcglashan* contains some quite extraordinary evidence. Not long after the marriage in 1686 he left her "upon the account of a Report spread abroad in the Country, That ane [one] or other of them were impotent [I'm pretty sure that legally, only he could be deemed impotent, but I'd have to look this up, which I'm not inclined to do at the moment]." Their relatives therefore decided to make a "Tryall"' They put them in bed together and stationed a relative at either end. Mcglashan lay on top of her:
And after his making some faint simulat motions, the Complainer was by the said two friends inquired if or not the Defender was any wayes virill or active, or had any erection or ejaculation by these pretended false motions, whereunto the Complainer Answered, that he was neither virill, potent, or active, and had no ejaculation nor erection at all, yea not so much virility or strength as to enter the secret of her body, Which being then by the Defender faintly tho impudently denied, the freinds forsaid for a further tryall of the matter, put down their hands betwixt the two bodies, by which they fand that what the Complainer had formerly declared, was manifestly true of the Defender, ... and publickly Declared by them in presence of diverse famous [i.e., reputable, of good fame] witnesses then present the Defender rose from his Bed and having put on his Cloaths withdrew himself from the Complainer, and ever since has had no society of Converse with her, knowing himself not capable thereof.

Okay, this is not a simple case of late seventeenth- versus late eighteenth- or early nineteenth-century ideas. I'm obviously glossing over some relevant social/economic/cultural differences: these were common folk, not gentry, in the Scottish Highlands, not the south of England. The point is, though she very probably doesn't have this particular example in mind, Perry is not just making stuff up when she speaks of an earlier period in which sex has less psychological significance and was less tied to individual identity. Early modern court records (to cite just one example of relevant sources) will back up her claim.

To modern readers, the above scenario just sounds absurd. And it's clear that the wife who participated in this "Tryall" could not have invested sexuality with the kind of psychological significance that is now considered a natural and normal part of psychosexual identity. But I'm thinking that some kind of different psychosexual identity now obtains for men too. For us, it's just manifestly obvious that such a "Tryall" would tend to actively create the very condition that the husband was being asked to disprove. Was this actually the case? Could a defendant have passed such a trial (though this particular defendant didn't)? I have no idea. What's striking is that people thought it reasonable to assume that he might. And not only did relatives, friends and neighbours consider this a fair means of "trying" the case, but the court agreed with them. The complainant was granted an annullment.

*Re: the different surnames of the married couple. Under Scottish law, a married woman kept her maiden name, but might be addressed informally as Mrs [Husband's Surname].

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:00 AM | Comments (19)

March 08, 2004

Death of Okin

Harry Brighouse reports that Susan Moller Okin died last week. This is very sad, a real loss to her profession.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:06 PM | Comments (0)

March 07, 2004

The Gap between Civil Society and Academia

In the comments to "Fighting Words from Fish," Timothy Burke makes an observation that's worth putting upfront:

At this juncture in history, the problem is not state legislatures, insensitive to academic realities as they may be. It's the gulf between civil society and academic culture, between the public sphere and intellectual labor, between the people and the professors. Fish doesn't take that gap seriously at all, and therefore doesn't see how urgent the need to renew a covenant with American society is, how much we have to explain again, with fresh eyes and confident voice, why higher education matters, why the liberal arts makes our citizens stronger, why our economic future is tied into critical thought. That will take humility, it will take acknowledging where we fall short, where we have settled for the dull compulsions of social inevitability, where we have come to doubt ourselves, where we have become hopelessly inward turning. It will take a combination of mea culpas and unyielding challenges.

I wish *I* had said that. Luckily I have readers to articulate what I haven't yet figured out how to say.

I think Burke is exactly right about this. And I think Fish mistakes the symptoms for the underlying root cause. The social compact has broken down. Academics need to take seriously the urgency of the task of renewing (or recreating) that social compact.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:54 AM | Comments (31)

Debates over Unionization

A reader who prefers to remain anonymous has proposed the following topic for discussion:

As a full-time Lecturer with a Ph.D. at a campus of a massive regional state university with a very strong faculty union, I've recently taken quite an interest in debates over unionization.

The topic I'd be interested in seeing discussed here is whether, in their efforts to win job security for Lecturers and other so-called temporary faculty, unions should make a distinction between adjuncts with Ph.D.s and those without. My university system does not, and the unfortunate effect of its advances in
gaining job security for contingent faculty is that newly arrived Ph.D.s and ABDs are being squeezed out of the system during the current budget crisis (which
is especially severe in my state) because departments are required by the union contract first to accommodate Lecturers who have been working in the system for a while, regardless degree attainment. In this system, those tend to be
terminal MAs, and Ph.D.s and ABDs are finding themselves losing work to faculty who, while playing an important long-term role in their departments that needs to be recognized, are not as qualified for their positions as the newer people.

I would be interested in hearing other people's thoughts on this issue, because most of the discourse that I read here (though I have to admit to checking
in here only periodically) and elsewhere on the academic labor movement does not explicitly address the disparity of qualifications that sometimes exists within the broad category of 'adjunct faculty,' which also varies dramatically between departments, especially at those institutions (and I speak here of four-year institutions, not community colleges) near the bottom of the so-called 'national hierarchy of colleges and universities.' I'm thinking here especially of Marc Bousquet's recent piece in the Minnesota Review
("Tenured Bosses and Disposable Teachers"), which presents the adjunct composition workforce as composed of underemployed Ph.D.s., rather than of terminal MAs. His version of the adjunct problem seems only to represent the state of affairs at
research schools and more elite colleges. In my state, Ph.D.s dominate the Lecturer category in the nationally recognized state research universities, but
not in the regional teaching universities, where the adjunct workforce is in a state of transition and, while terminal MAs still dominate the Lecturer workforce and the discussion of the prospect of gaining job security for adjunct faculty, more and more Ph.D.s and ABDs are arriving, spat out from the research institutions who exploited their labor during their graduate training, which was (or is) much more lengthy and expensive than that of the terminal M.A.s.

So I'd be really interested in seeing a discussion of how the 'Academic Labor Movement' is to define its constituency. To what extent should a union that
represents contingent faculty draw distinctions between employees based on degree attainment? How might those distinctions be made?

Not that anyone asked :), but since it's my blog, here's my opinion:

First, a union is supposed to be just that: a union. Once you start making divisions, you're undermining the potential strength your union, and helping management to follow a divide and conquer strategy.

Second, it's not at all obvious to me that terminal MAs are "not as qualified for their positions as the newer people." If we're talking about teaching, many of them are likely at least as qualified, if not more so.

Third (and I'll probably get flamed for this, but here goes), the academic profession is undergoing a process of deprofessionalization. I won't rehearse the grim statistics, which I've already cited ad nauseam (check under "Academia" and "Academic Job Market" in my sidebar). Suffice it to say that tenure-track lines are being eliminated in favour of part-time and short-term contracts, and that the bulk of teaching in the American college system is now performed by an untenured majority.

I believe that reprofessionalization would require an insistence that you don't teach at a four-year college or university without the PhD. Teaching assistantship, fine. Though it's obviously open to abuse, there is nothing inherently wrong with the notion that graduate students should serve a teaching apprenticeship by working as teaching assistants. But once you put ABDs in the classroom as primary instructors, what you're saying is that the Ph.D. doesn't much matter: those without can do it, if not as well, then at least well enough to allow the administration to save a pile of money on labor costs.

I'm firmly convinced that one reason why we find ourselves in the mess we're in is that the profession has failed to behave like a profession, which is to say, failed to maintain guild-like restrictions on the point of entry. This is not some kind of romantic pining for a warm and fuzzy artisanal world we have lost. What guilds do is sometimes not very pretty. But that's how they maintain themselves as guilds.

Does my third point contradict my second point? No, not at all. I readily acknowledge that a terminal MA can be as a good a teacher, if not a better teacher, than a Ph.D. My point is that a profession which claims the Ph.D. as the main form of certification must insist on the Ph.D. as the main form of certification. My husband worked for a law firm prior to passing the bar. There was a lot that he was allowed to do, but there were also some restrictions (eg, he couldn't represent someone in court). Did passing the bar somehow magically make his legal research and writing incalculably better? Of course not. Was he capable of appearing in court even before he had passed the bar (even though he was not allowed to do so)? Of course. But he had to jump through that hoop and get that certification before he could assume all the relevant responsibilities over which his profession claims to have a monopoly. That's guildlike. That's how they continue to assert that claim.

Now, if I were Queen of the Academy for a day, I would bring in tight regulations and restrictions which linked practice to certification (okay, first I would have to create a binding regulatory body, the lack of which is precisely the problem). I would be careful to include some kind of grandfather clause, so that terminal MAs who had been teaching for more than a year or two would be exempt from the new regulations. The point would be to create the kind of restrictions that would allow the academic profession to reclaim a monopoly on their labor.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:14 AM | Comments (16)

March 06, 2004

Lecture versus Discussion

In the comments to "We could hire God this year," David Salmanson asserts that lecturing is not teaching:

For those of you taping a lecture as an example of your teaching, don't bother. Lecturing is reading in a less interactive format. If they want to see a videotape, they want to see you interacting with students in a class discussion format: that is, teaching a class. That's the only reason I could think of for wanting to see a videotape. And incidentally, only semi-finalists would have to send the tape. I love this because you get to see what the applicant's definition of teaching is. My hope would be that everybody who sends a lecture gets tossed into the no on-campus interview pile. Of course, maybe this is why I bailed on academia for high school teaching.

"Failed Again" replies as follows:

Discussion is the only form of teaching? Now, I value a good class discussion, and have tried valiantly to use that model for years, almost entirely to the exclusion of the lecture model.

What I have found--only quite recently, at that--is that except in very small classes (15 or fewer), students overwhelmingly despise the discussion model. As someone who is quite dependent on student evaluations at this early stage of a career, I have had to pay close attention to that finding. What I have come to discover is that students (with the exception of the very small seminars) regard 'discussion' as a cop-out. They repeatedly have stressed in their evaluative comments that they want to know what *I* know about Early Modern literature, culture, history, theology, etc.--not what *they* know (which in many cases is not very much).

Discuss. (Or give a lecture).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:25 PM | Comments (54)

Fighting Words from Fish

In the past few months I have been saying nasty things in these columns (and also on radio and television) about members of Congress, Illinois state representatives and senators, the governor of Illinois, the governor's budget director, and the governor-appointed Illinois Board of Higher Education. I have called these people ignorant, misinformed, demagogic, dishonest, slipshod, and have repeatedly suggested that when it comes to colleges and universities either they don't know what they're talking about or (and this is worse) they do know and are deliberately setting out to destroy public higher education.

-- Stanley Fish, "Make 'Em Cry"

Stanley Fish takes on the Republican legislators (see this and that) and gets taken out for lunch:

In response they have sent me nice notes, trekked across the state to visit me in my office, invited me to talk with their colleagues, gone out and bought my books (and actually read them), taken me to lunch, and promised to arrange a dinner with the governor. (Not likely to happen, for, as far I can see, there's nothing in it for him.)

For Fish, the lesson is clear: university administrators and academics must abandon their defensive posture in favour of something more aggressive and perhaps even more offensive:

They have been diplomatic, respectful, conciliatory, reasonable, sometimes apologetic, and always defensive, and they would have done much better, I think, if they had been aggressive, blunt, mildly confrontational, and just a bit arrogant.

I admire his spirit.

And I agree that academics should be more assertive, and support the idea of "allowing no false statement by a public official to pass uncorrected and unrebuked."

But though I concur with Fish's suggestion that "defending the academy in bottom-line terms is a losing proposition unless you want to reach the conclusion that most of what you do should be abandoned," I'm troubled by the all-or-nothing stakes of the game he wants to play. If you're going to go down, Fish suggests, it's better to go down fighting:

Well, maybe nothing [will work]. Maybe we'll just have to learn to live (and perhaps die) in this brave new world where money is withdrawn from public higher education at the same time that ever more strict controls are imposed.

The problem is that Fish can imagine only two possible positions. On the one hand, the failed strategy of timid acquiscence to the bottom line: "redescribing the enterprise in the vocabulary of what they do" by "retelling it in the vocabulary of business or venture capitalism." Fish is surely right that this won't work for the humanities: let's face it, English literature will never be a money-maker. On the other hand, an outright refusal to even attempt to translate the language of the academy into terms that might be understood by those outside academe:

Instead of trying to justify your values (always a weak position), assume them and assume too your right to define and protect them. And when you are invited to explain, defend, or justify, just say no.

I have to believe in the possibility of a compromise between these two positions.

Again, I believe Fish is right to insist that the first strategy doesn't work, and I think it's about time someone said so. Sure, academics can attempt to redefine the academic enterprise as a type of business enterprise, but nobody will really believe them (they probably won't really believe it themselves), and when the axe falls, the humanities will be on the chopping block. But the second strategy won't work either. Yes, it might work for a celebrity academic, who might get to have dinner with the governor. But institutional viability depends on sustaining supportive relations over the longer term. And if academics don't even try to explain what they do to those from whom they seek support, how can they expect that support to continue? If the language of venture capital doesn't fit, does it then follow that there are no other languages and vocabularies available with which to explain the value of the academy to the world outside its doors?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:29 AM | Comments (14)

March 05, 2004

No Taxation without Representation

Any faculty member on the tenure track is a potential ally. You might be surprised to find how many professors are former non-tenure-track faculty members themselves. You want any and all of their support because they can help persuade their colleagues about the rightness of your cause.

-- Charles Naccarato, "Becoming Visible"

Charles Naccarato reports on a successful campaign to gain faculty senate representation for nontenured faculty members at Ohio University. It's a fairly optimistic piece ("some modest good news" is how Naccarato puts it), which places its emphasis on positive pragmatic strategies. Still, he does issue the following warning:

Be prepared for things to get personal. We academics like to portray ourselves as people who are above being swayed by personal attacks when judging the equity of an argument. If you've been in the academy for more than a few months, you probably know that this image differs somewhat from reality. It's quite natural for certain professors who are upset by change to start asking personal questions about the people making noise in the back row. Get used to hearing your name with the words 'disgruntled' and 'whiner' attached to it.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:57 AM | Comments (1)

March 03, 2004

"Jilted Entitlement"

In a recent entry on "Teachers Self-Evaluating," AKMA takes issue with the "self-deceptive, self-destructive, partisan, hollow rhetorics of jilted entitlement." It's an interesting post, and I think worth reading.

That said, I have to add that I'm a little surprised to find myself cited as Exhibit A in the proliferation of the above-mentioned "hollow rhetorics":

I read Invisible Adjunct’s blog regularly, and I used to leave comments there but quit bothering to compose elegant, finely-crafted arguments after I never won the Weekly IA Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory). (No, not really.) I am accountable to my many, many underemployed colleagues, and IA helps keep my feet to the fire.

I have to make an untimely, unwelcome observation, though. In all my reading of IA and the other sites of underemployed academics, the writers identify themselves as good (or “very good” or “excellent”) teachers and scholars...

...From what I read, everyone unjustly relegated to adjunct status is a popular, diligent, effective teacher, and many are strong researchers; are all the best teachers laboring as adjuncts (or in exile from academic), leaving only the schlubs in actual academic positions?

A couple of quick points.

First, just for the record, I don't believe I have ever identified myself as a good, very good or excellent teacher and scholar (or, for that matter, as a mediocre, bad or very bad teacher and scholar). I can't speak for my readers and commenters, of course. No doubt some of them have, at some point or another, in some entry or another, identified themselves in terms that conform to AKMA's characterization.

Second, it is not at all the argument of this weblog that wonderful teachers and scholars are adjunctified while mediocre teachers and scholars are tenure-tracked and tenured. And though, again, I don't speak for my readers and commenters, I have to say that I don't really see too many of them arguing this position either. I think AKMA is misinterpreting a sense of discontent, of grievance, of injustice, that is undoubtedly expressed in some of the comments here. What people object to, I think, is the perceived contingency of the process, the sense that the game amounts to a crap shoot. As pencil vania put it in the comments to this entry:

My friends and I did all the right things--attended a top-ten program, taught a bunch of courses, published, tried to make dissertations that stand out--and all it amounted to was tossing dice at a craps table.

To make my position clear: I firmly believe that in today's job market, anyone who gets a tenure-track job must have some impressive credentials, and must have demonstrated at least the potential to become at least a good teacher and scholar. But that is not to suggest that anyone who doesn't land a tenure-track position does not have similar credentials and potential. In a situation where large numbers of candidates are chasing after a small number of positions, the measurement of merit can only take a search committee so far, and all kinds of other, more local and particular, criteria will enter into consideration. The more candidates there are for a given position, the more these criteria will matter.

For me, it's just obviously not the case that "all the best teachers [are] laboring as adjuncts (or in exile from academic), leaving only the schlubs in actual academic positions." Which brings me to my final point (and this is a point that I made repeatedly many months ago in a series of related entries that I'm too lazy to look up and link to at the moment): my argument is that nobody who has acquired the credentials (a Ph.D.) and who performs at a minimum acceptable level should be adjuntified. To suggest or to imply otherwise is to make what I believe is a professionally suicidal argument about the value (or lack thereof) of the Ph.D. and of the credentialling process over which the profession purports to preside. Leaving aside the impact on individual lives and individual careers, this is a matter of serious concern for the future of the academic professions. I honestly cannot think of another comparable professions, the members of which would be prepared to argue that after years of intensive training, followed by certification, a significant proportion of the members of the profession would still be sufficiently lacking in merit, competency and potential as to deserve to work for minimum wage with no benefits.

To put it simply: if someone is good enough to be at the front of a classroom, that person should be working for a decent living. And if someone is not good enough to merit a decent living, that person should not be in front of a classroom.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:23 PM | Comments (59)

March 02, 2004

Semi-Open Thread: Interdisciplinarity

While I was away, the recent Jane Bast thread turned into a conversation on the value (or lack thereof) of interdisciplinarity. What does it mean? What is it worth? An empty buzzword, or a bright and shining future for the humanities?

(Regular blogging will resume shortly.)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:08 PM | Comments (28)

February 20, 2004

Dartmouth University?

John Bruce objects (permalinks bloggered; scroll to "Dartmouth and the Ph.D. Overproduction Problem").

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:19 PM | Comments (11)

Quel Scandale!

This is a dreary time of year for many of this blog's readers. Not surprisingly, spirits are rather low and tempers are a bit frayed. So before things turn ugly in the latest Jane Bast entry, let's distract ourselves with a couple of the latest academic scandals. Yes, it's a cheap ploy, and unworthy of this weblog's readership. I blush with shame even as I direct your attention to:

1. Wolf versus Falstaff Bloom. I guess this is a pre-scandal, since the New York Magazine article doesn't come out until Monday. But the story has already been picked up by major media from Sydney to Edinburgh.


Here is Naomi Wolf's "The Silent Treatment."

2. Will the real Matthew Richardson please stand up and deliver a lecture on international finance? Via, a truly bizarre story about an Oxford engineering student who flew to Beijing to deliver a series of lectures on global economics. The people hosting the conference thought they were getting Dr. Matthew Richardson of New York University, described by the Daily Telegraph as "a leading authority on international financial markets." Instead, they got a Matthew Richardson who

knew 'next to nothing' about the subject but, believing he would be addressing a sixth-form audience, ... felt he could 'carry it off'.

Mr Richardson, 23, borrowed an A-level textbook entitled An Introduction to Global Financial Markets from a library and swotted up on its contents on the flight from London to China.

As he arrived at the conference center, "'the horrible truth became apparent:'”

He said: 'It became clear to me that my audience was not students, but people from the world of commerce studying for a PhD in business studies having already gained an MBA.

'And instead of repeating the same lecture, I was required to deliver a series of different lectures to the same people over three days. The first one was immediately after lunch.'

The conference organizers are now talking about a legal action (but I suspect it would cost them more than it's worth to pursue the case, especially given the international borders).

Photos of the self-styled "Grade A Nobber" lecturing on global economics can be viewed at

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:28 PM | Comments (26)

Jane Bast Makes a Statement

I returned to my apartment and looked at my statement. Bill was right. It did seem naïvely idealistic. Too much like Dead Poets Society, and not enough like Discipline and Punish. As I sat down at my desk to begin again, I tried to channel my inner Foucault so that I could think about my work and my abilities with the appropriate critical distance.

-- Jane Bast, "Making a Statement"

With a bit of help from her mentor, Bill Jeremiah, Jane Bast channels Foucault and comes up with a personal statement.

Yes, Jane Bast of "Jane Bast, Undeterred" has applied to graduate school. It cost her 1,500 dollars.

I think it's sad that undergraduate mentors like Professor Jeremiah can no longer heartily recommend that students like Jane Bast pursue graduate studies in the humanities. She strikes me as just the sort of smart, funny, mensch-like person the academy really needs (and I'm not her only fan: several people emailed me yesterday to notify me that Jane Bast had a new column at the Chronicle). But though I can't enthusiastically endorse her plan to enter a PhD program in English literature, I can certainly wish her well.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:26 AM | Comments (81)

February 19, 2004


She might not be paid, but Carnegie Mellon University's newest staff member does all that a typical receptionist should: gives directions, answers the phone — even gossips about her boss.

'Valerie' is considered the world's first robot receptionist with a personality, university officials said Wednesday. The blonde roboceptionist interacts with people by talking about her boss, her psychiatrist and her dream of being a lounge star.

-- University Unveils Robot Receptionist

Here's a solution to the "classroom bias" problem:

Replace all human faculty with robots. The machines could be programmed to supply factual information on carefully delimited fields, and would be incapable of introducing material that was not directly related to the subject at hand or of responding to anything but the simplest "yes" or "no" query. Admittedly, students might initially find this a bit frustrating. But they'd soon learn not to ask real questions, which would increase the comfort level of everyone involved. To enhance the learning environment, the robots might be given "personalities" that simulate favourite professorial types: the cranky but lovable old curmudgeon, the high-voltage caffeine-buzzed lecturer, the ironic young hipster who really cares.

As a bonus, this would also solve the academic employment problem. Machines don't get paid, and robots don't know how to unionize. Thus, all faculty would be full-time and available 24/7 (except for routine maintenance breaks), and this at an enormous cost-savings to the university. Every machine would have tenure for life, or at least for the period under manufacturer's warranty.

Granted, this would throw a lot of human faculty out of work. But the "displaced professor" syndome would barely register beyond the Ivy Tower, and there'd be little danger of social unrest or of anything like a new Chartist movement. Does anyone miss the stockingers and weavers who were displaced by industrialization?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:23 AM | Comments (19)

February 16, 2004

One of these Things is Not Like the Other...

What does Osama bin Laden have in common with Bruce Ackerman of Yale Law School, Jack Balkin of Yale Law School, and Michael Walzer of the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton?

For any reasonable, and reasonably sane person, the answer is of course nothing at all.

Kieran Healy reports on another, rather less than sane and reasonable, response to the above question.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:49 PM | Comments (4)

Still More on Conservatives in Academia

5. Along the same lines, ostensible political views and intellectual temperament may not map well onto each other. Temperamentally, most academics are highly conservative in the (Edmund) Burkean sense: they tend to oppose any change to their own institutions and they tend to argue strongly in favor of the maintenance of core traditions and practices. Many of the critiques of academic life circulating in the blogosphere now have less to do with the party affiliation of academics and more to do with this tempermental leaning, and the behaviors or attitudes which are justifiably seen as troubling would be no different if the party affiliations or political views of academics were changed, barring major changes to the nature of the institution. Magically turn everyone in the humanities into Republicans tomorrow, and they’d still exhibit all the behaviors that everyone is complaining about. Indeed, some of the conservative critics of academia seem to me to be actively campaigning for just this option.

-- Timothy Burke, "A Pox on Both Houses, or Conservatives in Academia (again)"

Burke (that's Timothy, not Edmund) offers thirteen observations, and in so doing provides some much-needed perspective, on many of the key issues surrounding the "conservatives in academia" question. His latest post probably won't much appeal to those committed to a campus culture warrior ethos, to reductive us-v.-them dualisms, and to the notion that these are simple questions with even easier answers. Yes, of course I mean that as a high compliment. As they say in the blogosphere, read the whole thing.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:58 PM | Comments (3)

February 15, 2004

Elsewhere in the Blogosphere

(Or in that corner of the blogosphere that devotes itself to academic issues)

Just a quick entry to briefly note a couple of posts:

1. John Holbo takes up "This whole conservatives in academia thing."

2. Robert "KC" Johnson responds to my "Comment for Cliopatria Discussion" with more on "Interdisciplinarity and Student Demand"(to which I want to reply as soon as I get a chance).


There are a few points I'd like to raise in response to Robert "KC" Johson's post.

I'll begin by noting a couple of points of agreement. First, though I was thinking of "greater attention to previously excluded areas" when I spoke of student demand, I can well believe that there is also, as Johnson observes, "strong student demand for courses in political, diplomatic, and constitutional topics."

Second, I certainly share Johnson's concern over an organizational model that would eliminate the history department altogether. For all their differences in methods and approaches, I believe that historians working in very different areas and in very different ways are united by a distinctively historical perspective that defines the study of history. My suspicion is that what historians do in the history department is not going to be done as well, perhaps not done at all, under a rubric like "global studies." I also suspect that the elimination of an entire department generally stems from a cost-cutting imperative which makes lower-enrollment disciplines more vulnerable (certainly this has been the fate of some language departments at some schools: rather than continue to have a German department, an Italian department, and so on, the separate departments are combined into one language department).

Where I depart from Johnson is on the matter of disciplinarity and interdisciplinarity. His notion of the proper boundaries between the disciplines and subdisciplines is just too rigid to serve any purpose that I'm willing -- without further persuasion on this point -- to recognize as vitally, even centrally or definitively, important to the continued viability of history as a discipline. Certainly, he has a point when he argues that the value of interdisciplinary work should not be assumed as a given. But surely the same thing might be said of the value of maintaining firm disciplinary boundaries -- the more so when we recognize that, far from representing a venerable age-old ordering of knowledge, the conventional or "traditional" map of scholarly fields is of fairly recent (speaking historically, of course) origin.

Since interdisciplinarity is most often associated with newer approaches (the trinity of race/class/gender, the linguistic turn, the flirtation with French theory, and the like: it's cutting edge, or else it's trendy and faddish, depending on one's view), it's worth noting, I think, that the relationship between "traditional" scholarship/pedagogy and firm disciplinary boundaries is by no means a given. To cite just one example:

In terms of undergraduate teaching (which is one of the main concerns of Johnson's post), the "return to tradition" impulse often expresses itself as support for a Great Books or liberal studies curriculum, where courses are taught by faculty from any number of disciplines, including history, philosophy, political science, literature, and so on. And under the aegis of what discipline, exactly, are such curricula put forth? Well, under the aegis of no one discipline, obviously, because the Great Books themselves cannot easily be fit or forced into any one modern discipline (most of them, after all, were written well before the current division of separate academic disciplines), and anyway, the point, pedagically, is precisely to return to, or to recreate and reinvent, some notion of a "traditional" general education model that is seen to predate professional specialization. If Johnson's concern with "traditional" disciplinary boundaries requires him to disavow the value of the recovery/invention/reinvention of the Great Books tradition, that's fine. But then I think he would need to be explicit about the superior value of disciplinary divisions that would preclude the possibility of undergraduate courses in the Great Books mode.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:13 PM | Comments (8)

Peter Pan Syndrome?

In the comments to "Intellectual Diversity Debate", "flu in san diego" [note to "flu": shouldn't you be over that flu by now?] makes an interesting observation that I want to bring upfront:

The common denominator linking Horowitz's conservative warrior epic and much of the 'left-consensus' approach is, to my mind, the disturbing assumption that students (most of whom are at least 18) are intellectually and morally unformed creatures whose delicately vibrating innocence could be damaged forever if exposed to a real substantial argument in the classroom

I have to confess my odd positionality here: coming from Europe, I am continually shocked -- even after seven years in the U.S. -- by the blind assumption of juvenile innocence and the increasing infantilization of American citizens in general. This is a spectrum that begins with 'if you look under 30 the clerk will request ID' at the liquor store checkout and ends somewhere in a fantasy educational universe of ethereally vulnerable beings who (according to Horowitz) will be damaged by being forced to think for five minutes about race and gender, or who (according to the campus left) will be traumatized by being asked to take a brief look at the world from outside the warm certainties of some ethnic or other (e.g. GLBT) community identity.

My own experience is that students are in fact adults who often appreciate being regarded as such. I try to encourage them to drop the 'we're just college kids' identity that some of them have internalized. This creeping infantilization is an eerie reversal of the real campus revolution of the 1960s -- the one in which the students said to the faculty and the administration 'we're not "kids," by the way, so get off our backs!'

I'm reminded of Frank Furedi's essay on Peterpandemonium, which term was coined by two US advertisers to describe a trend whereby "'People in their twenties and thirties are clamouring for comfort in purchases and products, and sensory experiences that remind them of a happier, more innocent time - childhood.'" It's a cranky piece, and more polemical than fair. Still, I think Furedi is right to note that retro nostalgia now begins at an earlier and earlier age: what was once "the prerogative of elderly grandparents" is now experienced by "people barely out of their teens." We've never lived longer; we've never placed a higher premium on youth.

To return to the point made by "flu:"

Yes, college students are adults. Most of them have reached the voting age, if not the legal drinking age (Canada-US comparison: there's much more concern about underage drinking here in the States, I suspect it has to do with much higher rates of access to automobiles by those in their teens). And if college students weren't in college, presumably they'd be out in the world doing adult things.

This is why I'm genuinely puzzled by the concern over "indoctrination." I absolutely agree that the college classroom should not be an indoctrination camp. But I don't believe students are in any real danger on this score. Let's see: the college instructor meets with a group of students for 2-4 hours a week, for a 12 to 14-week period. It would be difficult to indoctrinate a group of toddlers under such conditions, never mind a group of 18-year olds. And then there are the student evaluations to keep the instructors in line.

On the other hand, I do think that college students are still relatively unformed (I know I was, at any rate). There may be something about college that keeps people in a somewhat younger state than they would be if they moved directly into the workplace. And that's not necessarily a bad thing, and might even be seen as a good thing: college as a privileged in-between stage that gives very young adults the time and space to become young adults.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:56 AM | Comments (61)

February 13, 2004

Fear of Litigation

I knew that I had just been fired, or, rather, I knew that my contract would not be 'renewed' the following semester. I wondered whether there might be some kind of internal appeals process. Cross-examination in the dean's office, perhaps?

I couldn't imagine what I had done. And nobody would tell me. I wouldn't sleep much that night.

-- Thomas H. Benton, "Ignoring My Inner Lawyer"

Thomas H. Benton contrasts the "professionalism" of his early teaching career with the riskier but more humane approach that he can now afford to take. As an adjunct, Benton writes, he "unconsciously regarded every student as a potential lawsuit" and acted in accordance with this fear of litigation:

I was never alone with a student. I documented every exchange, keeping a diary of conversations and making copies, at my own expense, of every paper I annotated. I adhered as strictly to my syllabus as if it were a legal contract. I never discussed issues that were outside of the advertised course content.

In class I studiously avoided using any of the potentially offensive words that have since been listed in Diane Ravitch's The Language Police. I even removed my wedding ring when teaching, as I had been warned to do, in order to avoid creating a 'hetero-coercive environment.'

In retrospect, Benton believes that he was not only "dour and humorless," but also ineffective as a teacher. And anyway, his extreme caution didn't prevent him from being fired, or not rehired, possibly on the basis of a single student's allegations concerning his conduct.

Now that he is on the tenure-track, he notes, he can

afford to take some of the risks that I believe make one a better teacher. I decreasingly feel the need to protect myself by strict adherence to inhumane regulations. I speak more informally; I venture jokes. I often talk about my personal life in class. And I let students talk to me about theirs. I don't recommend medications, but I do loan books. Sometimes I hold classes at my house. All of this over the protests of my inner lawyer.

Given some of the concerns raised in the intellectual diversity thread, I think Benton's column is a useful reminder of some of the complexities surrouding faculty-student relations. In contrasting the status of adjuncts with that of tenure-track professors, moroever, he also raises an important dimension to the debate, and one that is too frequently overlooked: namely, that in addition to the question of de jure limitations on classroom speech, there are often de facto limitations as well.

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

February 12, 2004

Intellectual Diversity Debate

The Fifth. Whence came our thought?

The Sixth. From four great minds that hated Whiggery.

The Fifth. Burke was a Whig.

The Sixth. Whether they knew or not,
Goldsmith and Burke, Swift and the Bishop of Cloyne
All hated Whiggery; but what is Whiggery?
A levelling, rancorous, rational sort of mind
That never looked out of the eye of a saint
Or out of drunkard’s eye.

The Seventh. All’s Whiggery now,
But we old men are massed against the world.

The First. American colonies, Ireland, France and India
Harried, and Burke’s great melody against it.

-- from William Butler Yeats, The Seven Sages

If you think you have an easy answer, you probably haven't asked a hard enough question.

Next Wednesday, 18 February the Chronicle is hosting a Colloquy Live with David Horowitz, whose Academic Bill of Rights seeks, in his own words, "to remove partisan politics from the classroom." Background pieces include Horowitz's vindication of "the rights of students to not be indoctrinated or otherwise assaulted by political propagandists in the classroom or any educational setting," along with Stanley Fish's response to the initiative, in which he characterizes "intellectual diversity" as a "Trojan horse of dark design."

Horowitz's campaign, which claims to offer a "simple remedy" to what is purportedly "one of the most pressing issues in the academy," strikes me as mischievous at best, and as very probably worse than mischievous. Fish's response, which rests on an insistence that the mission of the university must be purely and exlusively "academic" in nature, strikes me as hopelessly, if strategically, naive (but his essay is well worth reading).

Not surprisingly, the debate has been taken up by a number of academic bloggers, including Kieran Healy, The Little Professor, and Robert "KC" Johnson.


Timothy Burke cautions against "conducting heedless panty-raids through course catalogs and deciding from titles and course descriptions what the overall content and political perspective of a course might be." Well said.


A "professor of English at a hot American university on the east coast" weighs in on diversity at University Diaries.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:12 PM | Comments (61)

February 10, 2004

Unfinished Business

This morning I received an email from "another one on the margins," who asked whether I'd be willing to post the following:

I'm a member of the part-time contingent group and in a transition stage right now. To complete that transition, I feel like I owe it to myself to finish this final project: my manuscript. Landing a book contract should have been one of the happier moments and it was for five minutes. However, since getting it I've become increasingly disinterested in the topic and in completing the book. I wrestled with it as a dissertation, an article, a book proposal and now a book. Now I don't know. I am just wondering if anyone else struggles with maintaining his or her scholarship with no university affiliation, no funding and in the midst of concerns about finding a job (whether it is in academe or not) and trying not to let that interfere with scholarship. There used to be a time when research made me happy even in the uncertain job market. Now it seems like a burden. It's no longer 'fun' and I'm afraid to tell the publisher that I can't finish because I really do want to complete it.

I suspect there are readers out there who find themselves in similar situations.

Two brief points:

First, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate "another one" on the book contract.

Second, here's my quick take on the question:

It seems to me that "another one" needs to first figure out whether it is possible (given lack of money and other support) to finish the project within a reasonable time frame. I also think she should give herself permission to not finish the book if it's something she just doesn't want to do. If she let go of the sense of obligation to finish, and then found that finishing was both a realistic and a desirable option, I think she would then need to start thinking of the project as some sort of beginning, and not merely as an ending. Since "another one" is leaving academe, this would require detaching the book project from its association with academic job market/academic job prospects. To put it another way, I think she would have to arrive at an understanding of the project not as a burden carried over from a previous period in her life, but as a new thing (admittedly difficult if the book emerges from a dissertation) or at least as a thing in itself. Not easy to do, but not impossible either.

That's all rather vague, and I fear not very useful. But perhaps others can offer something more concrete.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:01 PM | Comments (18)

February 09, 2004

Academe on the New Academic Labor System

While most members of the higher education community have come to appreciate the magnitude of the past decade's increase in part-time and non-tenure-track positions, a tendency persists to treat the issue as distinct from other issues. In fact, the growth in the number and proportion of contingent appointments over the past few decades constitutes a sneak attack on academic values and on the stability of the faculty as a whole.

-- Gwendolyn Bradley, "Contingent Faculty and the New Academic Labor System"

A very quick post. This is just to briefly note that the latest edition of Academe is devoted to the topic of "The New Academic Labor System." Bradley's article provides a useful overview of the problem, which she characterizes as "grave" but "not hopeless." In terms of her diagnosis, there's very little that would shock the regular readers of this blog and not much, perhaps, that hasn't been stated and debated at this site. Some of the discussions at this weblog (e.g., here, here, and here) indicate that the substitution of "academic labor system" for "academic job market" is more controversial than Bradley seems to acknowledge (though her brief explanation is no doubt due to limitations of space). But her main argument -- that the growing use of of contingent faculty is something that is happening to the profession as a whole, and not just to the contingent faculty themselves -- is a point worth emphasizing.


John Bruce responds here.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:29 AM | Comments (26)

February 08, 2004

Poll: Your academic position

I tried this one before, but something went wrong with the script. This time I've used the CHNM poll builder, a nifty little tool that is not as flexible as, but definitely more reliable. By not as flexible, I mean that, for example, there is room for only five possible options. Also, there's a strict character limit for each option, which is why Part-Time and Full-Time have been shortened to PT and FT respectively. Obviously "contingent" covers a range of employment situations (and hides a multitude of sins). Please select the response that comes closest.

And since no IA poll would be complete without offering readers the chance to divulge potentially sensitive information on consumer preferences:

If you wish, please indicate (in the comments) your favourite brand of coffee and/or tea.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:49 AM | Comments (65)

February 04, 2004

No Pain, No Gain

To desire, or even to accept of praise, where no praise is due, can be the effect only of the most contemptible vanity.

-- Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759)


Do you want a prosperous future, increased earning power
more money and the respect of all?

Call this number: 1-646-XXX-XXXX (24 hours)*

There are no required tests, classes, books, or interviews!

Get a Bachelors, Masters, MBA, and Doctorate (PhD) diploma!

Receive the benefits and admiration that comes with a diploma!

No one is turned down!

Call Today 1-646-XXX-XXXX (7 days a week)

Confidentiality assured!

-- a piece of spam that I just discovered in my mailbox

I want it all, baby. Money, power, fame, fortune, the respect of all, and heaps of praise where praise is most decidedly not due. So sign me up! I'll take one of those B.Comm diplomas, perhaps followed by a Doctorate (PhD) diploma in Econ (though maybe I'd be better off with an MBA? if so, I'd like to order an Executive MBA: go big or go home, as I always say).

*The actual digits have been removed to protect the innocent and the not-so-innocent. The email address seems to come from Germany, but 646 is a newish NYC area code (I have it for my cell phone). Is it just me, or has the diploma mill entered an entirely new phase altogether?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:00 PM | Comments (23)

Dartmouth Dean Defines Hospitality

'The status of visitors, even popular ones, is always inherently vulnerable.'

-- Michael Mastanduno, Professor of Government and Associate Dean of the Social Sciences at Dartmouth College, on the termination of (or failure to renew) Ronald W. Edsforth's annual contract ("Professor's Departure Stirs Questions at Dartmouth")

Ronald W. Edsforth has been a "visiting professor" at Dartmouth for eleven years. Apparently some of the illustrious citizens of the Department of Government think this metic has overstayed his welcome.

(For every tenure scandal that revolves around allegedly corrupted and politicized motives, there are how many similar cases involving the nontenurable?)

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:43 PM | Comments (1)

February 03, 2004

Reduced Salary, Reduced Effort?

From Chris, a regular reader and commenter at this weblog, comes the following description of a teaching dilemma:

Last semester I held a full-time appointment teaching Freshman Comp. at a large state university. I knew from the outset that I would only be appointed for the one semester, but a new need arose that led the dept. to ask if I would be willing to teach two more comp. classes this semester, albeit as an adjunct salaried at $3000 per class. When my full-time salary for last semester is pro-rated, it breaks down to about $6300 per class plus health benefits. The adjunct position, at $3000 per class, offers no benefits. Not surprisingly, I accepted the second semester position simply because I desperately need the money.

However, I now find myself in both an emotional and ethical quandary. While employed and salaried at a full-time level last semester I gave my all, 100% and then some, and as many of the readers here realize, teaching freshman writing to state university students is no picnic. Now, though, salaried at $3000 per class,
I find my willingness to go those many extra steps to be waning. I start
to take them because they are, to some degree, ingrained, but friends,
including academics, have warned me not to.

People have said to me 'they're paying you half as much and they took away your benefits. You don't owe them a thing'. And when I say 'what about the students, don't I owe them my best efforts' these academic and non-academic friends all say the same thing: 'in short, no, they're not your problem. It's a shame they're not going to get your complete energies, but you only owe the
university $3000 worth of effort, not $6300. And that', they say, 'is the
devil's bargain the university established'. Still another friend made a
compelling analogy to professional sports: 'if you play 3rd base and are
signed by a team for the league minimum, your performance over the course
of the season, if good, will lead to bargaining power when you come back
next year to re-negotiate your contract. But in academe, the 'players'
have no bargaining power of this sort. All you may get for putting forth
the effort you put forth last semester is a pat on the back and 'thanks,
best of luck' from the dept. chair. Your responsibility here is to fashion
a ratio of responsibilities between the competing interests, all the while
keeping your and your needs paramount'.

So by now my question to the readership is obvious: what do people think
about this kind of pro-rating of effort?

This is a tough one.

Now, if this were simply a matter of a contract between employee and employer, there wouldn't be much of a dilemma. Chris would be obliged to do what he had agreed to do but no more: teach X number of classes to X number of students, hold X number of office hours, grade X number of papers. While he could certainly do more than these Xs if he wanted to, he would not be under any sort of ethical obligation to do so.

But of course it's not simply a matter of a contract between instructor and university administration. There is also the question of the students. As Chris asks, What is owed to the students, and by whom?

As anyone who takes teaching seriously can attest, the endeavour is more than the sum of the Xs and often does require going that extra mile. The problem, of course, is that the university that relies on contingent teaching labour is banking on adjunct instructors doing just that -- going that extra mile even despite the low pay, lack of benefits, lack of basic support and amenities (office space, secretarial support, and so on). To stick to the devil's bargain set by the university is to shortchange the students. To do right by the students is to help the university not do right by the instructors.

Is the adjunct who goes the extra mile behaving like a scab? Is the adjunct who refuses to do more behaving in a shamefully unprofessional manner?

To put the question another way: what are the professional obligations of someone who is expected to perform the work of a professional under conditions of deprofessionalization?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:53 PM | Comments (117)

January 15, 2004

Semi-Open Thread: Graduate School Reform

So much to blog, so little time.

Consider this a semi-open thread. The suggested topic is graduate school reform. It's clear from the comments to this entry (on PhD attrition rates) that there are some people out there who would like to see some changes to the structure and organization of humanities graduate programs. What, in particular, might you propose?

Feel free to digress and divert. As always, I welcome amusing anecdotes, heartfelt testimonials, playful badinage, and bloodcurdling tales of the academic macabre. But please keep it reasonably clean: I'm just a nice Irish Catholic girl who wandered into a PhD program (yes, of course I should have gone to law school).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:15 PM | Comments (54)

January 14, 2004

Followup to PhD Attrition

Just a quick post, as I'm down with the flu. A couple of fellow bloggers have taken up the question of graduate school attrition, which I posted about below.

Erin O'Connor notes that "there's a reason most departments and schools don't keep data on attrition--the numbers and the reasons behind the numbers are truths they just don't want to know." I think that's exactly right. My guess is that many of those directly involved in humanities graduate programs do not have even a rough sense of the numbers when it comes to both attrition rates and employment figures. And John Bruce (scroll to "Ph.D. Program Attrition Rates") writes that he's "always thought that English departments took in exactly as many graduate students as suited their purpose." Both are worth reading.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:39 PM | Comments (24)

January 13, 2004

Chronicle Colloquy on PhD Attrition Rates

In some humanities programs, only one of every three entering students goes on to earn a doctorate. No comprehensive national statistics are available, but studies suggest that the attrition rate for Ph.D. programs is 40 percent to 50 percent.

That has been the way graduate school has worked for years. It's about separating the wheat from the chaff, some professors will argue. Others may spout additional clichés about cream rising and sink-or-swim environments. The good students get through, they say.

-- Scott Smallwood, "Doctor Dropout"

"Given the hundreds of millions of dollars poured into graduate study by institutions and the federal government, not to mention the years of the students' lives," asks Scott Smallwood, "should we accept a system in which half of the students don't make it?" His article is the background piece for a Colloquy Live on Leaving the PhD Behind," to be held this Thursday, January 15, at 1 pm.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:11 AM | Comments (79)

January 03, 2004

The Pursuit of (Carnal) Knowledge

Whether or not it's smart, plenty of professors I know, male and female, have hooked up with students, for shorter and longer durations. (Female professors do it less, and rarely with undergrads.) Some act well, some are assholes, and it would definitely behoove our students to learn the identifying marks of the latter breed early on, because post-collegiate life is full of them too.

-- Laura Kipnis, "Off Limits"

I have to say, I'm not much persuaded by the above line of reasoning in support of faculty-student "hook-ups." Sure, students will encounter any number of bad actors and sharp dealers in any number of arenas as they make their way through the big wide world beyond the gates of the Tower. But that hardly seems a good enough reason for college faculty to offer advanced practicums in unsavory and unethical behaviour.

Anyway, it's scarcely an adequate response to one of the main concerns underlying the move to implement policies regulating faculty-student relations: namely, the concern with professional standards in the treatment and evaluation of students (grades, letters of recommendation, and so on).

Now, Kipnis does realize that this is one of the issues at stake, for she notes that the University of California's recent ban applies to professors and "any students they may 'reasonably expect' to have future academic responsibility for." But rather than treat this as a serious issue worthy of discussion and debate, she chooses to frame the issue as one of protectionism versus free trade in the marketplace of sexual desire: a grim and humourless regime of regulation and prohibition ruled by earnest do-gooders from the caring professions ("David, an earnest mid-50ish psychologist, and Beth, an earnest young woman with a masters in social works") versus a knowing and ironic openness to the messy complexities of experience fostered by those on the artier side of the academic spectrum (Kipnis herself, of course, along with, for example, the unnamed gay male theatre professor who resists the tidy reductionism of the sexual harrassment workshop).

When faced with a choice between the holier-than-thou or the hipper-than-thou, I need to believe there's another available option. Not that I am prepared to suggest a third way: as I've said before, I really am of two minds on this issue. While I can certainly see the problems with regulation, I think the predictable reaction against the puritanical elements of these new codes goes too far in the other direction, romanticizing the halycon days of unfettered sexual liasions.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:27 PM | Comments (51)

January 02, 2004

Big Money for Big Sports: "Excess in lieu of accountability"?

For L.S.U. Coach Nick Saban, the outcome of the championship game in the Sugar Bowl carries a personal stake as well.
If the Tigers win and claim the Bowl Championship Series title, Saban will be paid one dollar more than the highest-paid college coach in the nation, according to an incentive clause in his contract. It means his annual compensation will exceed by that dollar the more than $2.2 million package paid to the coach who will stand across the field from him at the Superdome: Oklahoma's Bob Stoops.

-- Joe Drape, "Coaches Receive Both Big Salaries and Big Questions"

The above-linked NYTimes article reports that "at least 23 college football coaches now earn $1 million" annually, which figure "sometimes does not even include the abundance of performance incentives for everything from rankings and bowl games to players' academic performances." Defenders of such salaries cite the seemingly inevitable logic of "the market," while critics who worry about "excess in lieu of accountability" invoke such possibly outmoded notions as "academic integrity" and "the college mission."

I have no hesitation in stating that a $2.2 million package for anyone employed by any college in any capacity whatsover is a crazy state of affairs.

There's an interesting comment by Southern California's football coach Pete Carroll, who earns $1.5 million per annum:

'It's all about supply and demand,' Carroll said Wednesday at a news conference in Pasadena, Calif., where his Trojans will play Michigan in the Rose Bowl on Thursday.' 'I don't think it's hard to justify that, when you take a look at the stadiums and the money that is generated by the programs and all that.

'But in another sense, in a more pure sense, it is kind of unusual that this would happen in a university setting, that there would be something that would be that far out of line. I think that's clear and it is somewhat uncomfortable at times for me to think about that because we are just coaching football. And other people are teaching some great stuff that is going to make somebody a doctor someday or a lawyer someday. And we're just coaching football.'

As I noted in this post, I don't think this issue is simply a matter of supply and demand. Yes, of course it is possible to create and then meet a demand for televised "big sports" at the college level. But the questions raised by critics of the new collegiate entertainment industry turn on whether or not it is desirable to create and then meet a demand for televised "big sports" at the college level.

Skip Bertman, L.S.U.'s athletic director and former baseball coach, dismisses the concerns of "'professors — guys with Ph.D.'s and 17-page résumés," who "'do not realize that no tax dollars are being spent.'" Well. As I've said before, I'm sceptical of the notion that athletics are self-supporting, and even profit-making. So I was interested to read that William C. Friday, chairman of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics,

points to the hidden costs a university faces in fielding a major athletics program, like facilities and upkeep. Of the 117 Division I-A programs, 40 percent reported an operating profit in 2001, according to an N.C.A.A. report released this fall that examined spending on college athletics. But without state and school subsidies, only 6 percent of athletic departments made money, according to the report.

But leaving aside budgets and operating costs and the like, what about the students? I'm troubled by the various "incentives" which award big bucks to coaches based on the performance of college students. Well, of course the money couldn't go to the students because then they would no longer be ranked as amateurs. Still, the fact that student's aren't paid big-league salaries strikes me as a pretty decisive rejoinder to Mr. Skip Bertman. As a matter of fact, we're not talking about a free market that operates on the principles of supply and demand. It's a tightly regulated system that is still quite obviously (in the case of the athletes) governed by a variety of non-market goals and expectations (eg, students don't play for money). And rightly so, I think. But then, if the students are indeed playing as amateurs in non-professional leagues, then why in the name of all that is sensible should their coaches be paid like big-league operators?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:29 PM | Comments (16)

Professors at the Pentagon?

"The public intellectuals' lack of accountability — no bucks stop at their desks — and their remoteness from the world of difficult, flawed, risky, but necessary decision-making," declares Elaine Showalter in "Judging 2003's Ideas: The Most Overrated and Underrated," "makes their critical posture seem self-indulgent despite its virtue." Well, sure. I'm happy to acknowledge that Showalter has a point.

She loses me, however, when she adds the following: "Anybody can complain, blog and find fault; the real intellectual might try to solve problems." Eh? Are we to understand that the real (as opposed to the public) intellectual is directly accountable, and indeed intimately connected to the "world of difficult, flawed, risky but necessary decision-making"? I'm not convinced that the role of the intellectual should be to solve problems in a direct, hands-on, pragmatic way. At the very least, I would need to be persuaded on this point. But I'm pretty sure that this is not, for the most part, the actual role that intellectuals (real or imagined, public or private, or what have you) currently play.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:55 PM | Comments (11)

So, how was the MLA?

Given the rather heated exchange in the comments to this thread, I'm curious to hear from readers who attended this year's MLA. Was it high, low, or medium-slow? Best academic conference ever? or the last time, cross your heart and hope to die, that you ever agree to participate in your discipline's annual three-ring circus? Give it to us straight, or tell the truth but tell it slant, or just make stuff up (no, don't lie, but feel free to exercise artistic license).


Don't miss Chun's response to my query. He's an M(L)Animal.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:44 PM | Comments (28)

December 22, 2003

Missing the Forest for the Trees

In her review of Derek Bok's Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education (which I briefly noted here), Erin O'Connor suggests that Bok has overlooked a number of key areas:

In focusing almost exclusively on athletics and corporate-funded research, Bok ignores some of the major ways universities might be said to be 'selling out.' There is no mention anywhere in the book of the fact that across the country, tuition is skyrocketing even as classes are closing, departments are downsizing, and resources are becoming ever more scarce. There is no mention anywhere in the book of the fact that on many campuses, upwards of half of all undergraduate teaching is now done not by fulltime faculty but by undertrained, underpaid graduate students and by a poorly paid and often uninsured corps of part-time, non-tenurable faculty (more than 40% of the professoriate works part-time; 70% of part-timers make less than $3,000 a course). There is no recognition that the campus labor movement that has so many university administrators up in arms – and that loudly and regularly accuses universities of sacrificing its educational mission to economic interests – is a predictable and logical outgrowth of universities' attempts to cut costs by cutting academic corners.

Quite right. It is remarkable how frequently the critics of the commercialization of higher education fail to register one of the most significant aspects of the corporatization of the academy: that is, the restructuring of academic employment from a full-time salaried profession with an unusually high degree of job security to a part-time, low-wage sector with little to no job security whatsoever. Athletics is an easy target. And it's not hard to recognize and object to transparently politicized assaults on "tenured radicals" and the liberal academy. But the real threat to tenure comes not (or not yet) in the form of a direct and explicit attack on the institution but rather in the form of a steady erosion: an indirect attack that is no less effective for coming unannounced (effective in part, of course, because it still too often goes unnoticed by those who should be vigorously opposing it).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:43 AM | Comments (5)

Death of the Author (of Letters of Recommendation)

Henry Farrell considers the implications of a practice that is apparently becoming more widespread:

Students applying for a Ph.D. usually need good letters of reference from well-known academics to get into the better programs. One of Nasi Lemak’s former students recently asked a professor at a top US research university for a reference letter, and was told to write a draft of the letter himself, which the professor would then edit and sign. Nasi Lemak did some asking around, and found a surprising number of people who seem to believe that this is acceptable practice.

His main concern is that of praise inflation:

Reference inflation is bad enough as it is; a variant of Gresham’s law means that over-inflated puff-pieces are driving out serious letters of reference. Allowing students to write their own encomiums isn’t going to help much.

Henry argues that "while the student may suggest some qualities to be evaluated," the professor should be "fully and entirely responsible for the evaluation itself." That sounds about right to me.

But while some commenters are inclined to agree with Henry that this is not a good thing, others see the matter quite differently. Decon, for example, suggests that having the student write the letter is an effective means of "[saving] the Professor time;" "js" views the practice as "a gesture of respect and trust" in the student; and cs, for whom, apparently, time is money, sees Henry's statement of concern as "all a bit precious and pious for my money Henry."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:10 AM | Comments (21)

December 17, 2003

"'Dude, Where's My Reliable Symbolic Order?'"

Some held that the [Andrew Ross Award for Dangerous Hipness] should go to a title reflecting scholarship that keeps up with recent cable-television listings. They nominated the paper "Taking Away the Threat: Cribs and The Osbournes as Narratives of Domestication," by David S. Escoffery and Michelle Sullivan, of Southwest Missouri State University and the University of Pittsburgh's main campus, respectively.

Others contended that the winner should be 'très 1990s,' just like Mr. Ross's own bad self. They argued strenuously for "Judith Butler Got Me Tenure (but I Owe My Job to k.d. lang): High Theory, Pop Culture, and Some Thoughts About the Role of Literature in Contemporary Queer Studies," by Kim L. Emery of the University of Florida.

Following tense e-mail exchanges, the judges awarded the prize to Amy Abugo Ongiri of the University of California at Riverside for her paper "Jethro, Mama, Sassie Sue, and the Midnight Plowboy: Hillbillies, 'Common Sense,' Urbanity, and Blaxploitation Film" -- on the grounds that the title was so achingly hip that nobody had any idea what it meant.

-- Scott McLemee, "Signifyin' at the MLA," Chronicle of Higher Education, December 19, 2003

The Chronicle has announced the winners of its First Annual Awards for Self-Consciously Provocative MLA Paper Titles. Categories include:

Award for Transgressive Punctuation

Andrew Ross Award for Dangerous Hipness

Award for Best Slavoj Zizek Knockoff ("which went by acclaim to "'Dude, Where's My Reliable Symbolic Order?': Gross-Out Comedies and the Rewriting of the Expressible," by Luther Riedel of Mohawk Valley Community College, in New York")

Most Provocative Panel Title

Most Provocative Paper Title

All titles come from the program for the 119th MLA Annual: "no paper titles were made up," and no names have been changed to protect the innocent.

I'd like to take this opportunity to congratulate the winners.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:55 AM | Comments (93)

December 16, 2003

Accreditation Fraud

The institution's three-year radiology-technology program costs about $33,000 to complete, and is still not accredited by the proper organization, the Joint Review Committee on Education in Radiologic Technology. Nine students have graduated from the program, and 75 are currently enrolled. Without accreditation, students cannot take the national licensing exam and earn the proper credentials for employment.

Nevertheless, a Spencerian College brochure obtained by The Chronicle clearly states that students would be eligible to take the exam.

-- Elizabeth F. Farrell, "5 Graduates Sue Spencerian College, Saying It Lied About Accreditation Status," Chronicle of Higher Education, December 16, 2003 (subscription-only)

The Chronicle reports that 5 graduates have filed "separate lawsuits in state and federal courts" against Spencerian College, "claiming that college employees lied" about the accreditation status of the college's radiology program. A.R. Sullivan, president of the Sullivan University system to which Spencerian College belongs,

called the brochure statement a regrettable error. Students have 'every right to be aggrieved,' he said, 'but not to sue us for $750,000,' the amount he says each student has requested.

A.R. Sullivan is of course wrong: the students do have every right to sue. Perhaps he meant the students don't have the moral right? There again, I'd have to disagree. But in any case, the students can, and apparently will, stand on their legal right to sue.

And of course it's hard to believe that the brochure statement was simply an "error." Oops! We forgot to check on our accreditation status before offering a 3-year program in area that requires candidates to have completed the program at an officially accredited institution. Accreditation status is a vital piece of information; for a vocational, career-specific course of study, it means the difference between a certificate worth pursuing and a certificate not worth the paper it's printed on. This almost certainly has to be seen as a deliberate piece of fraud. And even if it wasn't deliberate (which is hard to believe), the school should still be held liable for misrepresenting the status of its program.

I hope the students win their suits (chances are, they will reach a settlement before the cases ever get to trial). But it strikes me that lawsuits aren't a very effective means of regulating the brave new world on for-profit education.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:54 AM | Comments (14)

December 04, 2003

Jane Bast, Undeterred

'Natalie,' I said, bracing myself for the worst, 'I want to go to grad school.'

She let out a whoop of joy that rattled the walls. "That's great news," she exclaimed. 'You'll love grad school. I spent the best 11 years of my life there and I don't regret one minute.'

My eyes bulged. 'Eleven years?'

'And even though I still owe $70,000 in loans,' she said, 'every penny was worth it.' She handed me a cup of tea. 'Spoonful of sugar?'

'No thanks,' I said. 'I thought people pay you to go to grad school -- I thought a Ph.D. usually takes four years.'

Natalie laughed merrily. 'Don't worry about the time and the money," she said with an indefatigable smile. 'You're investing in your brain. A learned mind is the world's most portable skill set. No matter where you go, no one can take it away from you.'

-- Jane Bast, "Ignoring Good Advice"

Jane Bast, who does indeed seem "well versed in dramatic irony," offers a tale of graduate school advice in three acts. Dr. Bill Jeremiah issues a dire warning against the scheme, Dr. Natalie Poppins waxes enthusiastic over the plan, and Dr. Stephen Methuselah combines paternal kindliness with world-weary cynicism to pass the buck.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:00 PM | Comments (110)

December 03, 2003

And Some Days We are Networkers

This week I had the opportunity to participate in a focus group and had a blast. I also discovered that directing one seems a lot like leading a good student brainstorming session. So, in a spasm of networking, I asked the director if we could arrange an informational interview to learn more about this kind of work.

-- Rana of Frogs and Ravens ("Some days we are ravens, other days, frogs.")

That's a great idea. Go Rana!

(She already has a list of informational interview questions, but solicts suggestions for more).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:25 PM | Comments (3)

What is a Guild?

An "outside observer" named Ted has left a comment ("Who's Minding the Store") that deserves to be highlighted in a separate entry:

It seems that many of you are members of guilds that are so weak and dysfunctional that you can't even think straight. I'm a physician, and the difference between the guild(s) I'm in and academia are astounding.

Of course, the number of PhD.s should be capped. Going through a period of low-pay apprenticeship only makes sense if a good career awaits and the end. When I was in academic medicine I would have considered it grossly unethical to train physicians who didn't have easy access to excellent jobs. However, we didn't have a choice; slots in training programs are tightly regulated by accredidation agencies. Johns Hopkins can't add an extra resident in order to lighten the load on attending pysicians because that resident could not become board certified (or, in many states, even licensed).

PhD. candidates are not commodities; they are human beings who are being inducted into a guild. I don't understand how department chairs who are training PhD.s who don't get several tenure track job offers can look at themselves in the mirror.

What am I missing?

I think it's what are we missing. I've argued this point many times before on this weblog, but I'm going to state it again: the guild that allows an oversupply of members, and that permits -- nay, even encourages -- the use of cheap, contingent labor to perform one of the basic and central tasks of the guildmembers (ie teaching) is not behaving like a guild.

The above comment focuses on the ethical dimension to overproduction. And while I happen to agree with Ted, I realize that many academics don't. They rather adopt a caveat emptor approach. It is not the responsibility of the profession to ensure jobs, or even to inform prospective candidates of the actual job prospects in the field. Let them in, and let them find out on their own.

But there's also a pragmatic dimension. Leaving aside the ethics of encouraging young people to spend years of their lives in low-paid apparenticeships that do not lead to full-time employment, there is also the very real and very important matter of the long-term effects of overproduction on the status and strength of the profession. Failure to cap enrollments is pauperizing the profession. The signs are everywhere, for anyone who cares to read them. To repeat what I quoted yesterday from Finkelstein's The Morphing of the American Academic Profession,

Quite beyond the surge in part-time faculty appointments over the past quarter century, the majority (i.e., over half) of all new full-time faculty hires in the past decade have been to non-tenure-eligible, or fixed-term contract positions (Finkelstein and Schuster 2001). Put another way, in the year 2001, only about one-quarter of new faculty appointments were to full-time tenure track positions (i.e., half were part-time, and more than half of the remaining full-time positions were 'off' the tenure track).

To repeat: an untenured majority now performs the bulk of college teaching. And in some disciplines, I believe we have reached the point where the bargaining power of the "guild" has been so weakened that it is difficult to imagine how this trend might be halted, never mind reversed.

A couple of people have recommended that I read Marc Bousquet's latest article in College English, entitled "The Rhetoric of Job Market and the Reality of the Academic Labor System." I have not yet done so, but I'm told he takes issue with the notion that we are overproducing PhDs. I've already encountered a version of this argument in a couple of his earlier pieces, and I have to say that I basically disagree with it. It is true, of course, that there really isn't an oversupply relative to the demand for teachers. That is, it is not the case that students are no longer signing up for courses in English and history. As a matter of fact, adjunctification has occurred alongside increased enrollment, and contingent faculty are most likely to be found precisely in high-demand teaching areas (introductory survey courses, e.g.). So from one perspective, it does make sense to say that there isn't an oversupply of PhDs but rather an undersupply of full-time jobs.

But the new reality is that the "guild" no longer has the power to command full-time positions with decent salaries and working conditions ("easy access" to "excellent jobs" is raising the bar way too high: I'm more concerned with realistic prospects for half-decent to decent jobs). I don't know exactly how the profession could regain the strength to bargain effectively for better positions, but I'm pretty sure that the best thing that could happen to fields like English and history would be an undersupply of PhDs to meet the existing demand for teachers in those areas.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:57 AM | Comments (25)

December 02, 2003

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream

Uh no, that's not it. It's "To PhD or not to PhD," and it's the subject of this entry by Mike Van Winkle at The Chicago Report. I think I've pretty much exhausted this theme: my answer can be found under "Academic Job 'Market' Entries" on my sidebar.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:52 PM | Comments (2)

Who's Minding the Store?

A temporary dislocation? Or, the dawning of a New Order? We take as our point of departure what is, on the face of it, an absolutely astonishing observation: Quite beyond the surge in part-time faculty appointments over the past quarter century, the majority (i.e., over half) of all new full-time faculty hires in the past decade have been to non-tenure-eligible, or fixed-term contract positions (Finkelstein and Schuster 2001). Put another way, in the year 2001, only about one-quarter of new faculty appointments were to full-time tenure track positions (i.e., half were part-time, and more than half of the remaining full-time positions were 'off' the tenure track). This is nothing short of what Jack Schuster and I have labeled elsewhere a new academic 'revolution' — albeit a largely silent one.

-- Martin Finkelstein, "The Morphing of the American Academic Profession"

Martin Finkelstein offers what he insists is not "an exercise in expository hysteria" but "a realistic, if sobering, assessment" of the restructuring of academic employment. One valuable point that I think is worth emphasizing: in the face of the broader economic, political and social trends that are transforming the role and position of faculty, one of the academy's greatest strengths (ie., its decentralization) turns out it be a major weakness:

The point is simply that no one is in charge, no one is minding the store, just as it is being turned upside down. This is not to suggest that what American higher education needs is a coterie of external agents (e.g. the federal government, the student loan industry) jockeying to steer the transformation. Autonomy and diversity have, after all, been the hallmarks of the system’s strength. What it does suggest is that the system’s radical decentralization requires that individual institutions and constituencies assume an especially critical responsibility for self-consciously steering their own responses to the transformation with a view toward the future of both their own institution and the system itself.

Finkelstein also argues that "constructive conversation about what form our future stewardship of the enterprise may best take" depends on "the quality of our 'problem definition,'" which quality must be based on "a realistic assessment of what we in higher education are up against." On this point, I think it's interesting to place Finkelstein's attempt "to offer an interpretation of the systemic and long-term meaning of the current restructuring in American higher education" alongside Stanley Fish's latest call to arms. In The War on Higher Education, Fish calls on academics to actively fight the assault on higher education:

What is not clear is the response of the academic community to this assault on its autonomy and professional integrity. Too often that response has been of the weak-kneed variety displayed by the Association of American Universities when its president, Nils Hasselmo, offered a mild criticism of McKeon's ideas and then said 'We look forward to working with Mr. McKeon.'

No, you should look forward to defeating McKeon and his ilk, and that won't be done by mealy-mouthed me-tooism. If the academic community does its usual thing and rolls over and plays dead, in time it will not just be playing dead. It will be dead.

This is all well and good as far as it goes, but it doesn't go nearly far enough. The problem here, I think, is one of "problem definition." Fish defines the problem in highly politicized terms, as that of a

general project of taking higher education away from the educators -- by removing money, imposing controls, capping tuition, enforcing affirmative action for conservatives, stigmatizing research on partisan grounds, privatizing student loans (here McKeon is again a big player) -- and handing it over to a small group of ideologues who will tell colleges and universities what to do and back up their commands by swinging the two big sticks of financial deprivation and inflamed public opinion.

If only the academy's ills could be attributed to the efforts of a small band of anti-intellectual ideologues seeking a takeover of higher education. Then it might be possible to come up with workable responses and solutions. But of course the problems cut much deeper. Incredibly (or perhaps not), Fish utters not one word about the large-scale and systemic restructuring of the terms of academic employment -- a transformation that has to be seen as the single most significant factor in the weakening of the bargaining power of academic faculty. To repeat the point: when (as in the year 2001), only "about one-quarter of new faculty appointments were to full-time tenure track positions (i.e., half were part-time, and more than half of the remaining full-time positions were 'off' the tenure track)," we are looking at an extremely vulnerable profession: a profession that is vulnerable not only to direct attacks by Republican legislators but also to the more indirect effects of much broader and amorphous social and economic changes.

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

December 01, 2003

More on Tenure and Toddlers

A new national study has found that female professors with children are much less likely to earn tenure than men with children. Women are expected to work the hardest during their tenure-track years, precisely the time when their biological clocks are ticking the loudest. There are no part-time options on the tenure track, and if a woman steps off of that track to care for children, there is little hope of returning. Why is managing children and an academic career so much more difficult for women than men? What, if anything, should colleges and universities do to make it easier?

-- Babies, Mothers and Academic Careers, Chronicle of Higher Education

This Friday, December 5, the Chronicle of Higher Education is hosting a live colloquy with Mary Ann Mason, dean of the graduate division at Berkeley and one of the authors of Do Babies Matter?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:00 AM | Comments (38)

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 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 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 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 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 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)

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

"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)

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)

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

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 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)

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)

October 24, 2003

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


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

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 09, 2003

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

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 06, 2003

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)

September 28, 2003

No Conservatives Need Apply?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

Not Transient but Stuck in a Dead End Dedicated

A quick followup on Student-Faculty Ratio at Yale:

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

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

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

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

The Yale Insider responds:

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

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

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

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

September 26, 2003

A Solution to the Publishing Crisis?

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

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

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

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

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

September 25, 2003

Crisis in Scholarly Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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

September 21, 2003

"So you don't have tenure?"

Baby, I don't have pre-tenure.

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

She wants a letter of recommendation.

Ah. Well.

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

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

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

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

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

Settlement Reached at Yale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 19, 2003

Wasteful Spending?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 18, 2003

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

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

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


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

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

September 12, 2003

Tuition Costs Colloquy

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

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

September 10, 2003

"Closing of the Intellectual Commons"?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

September 08, 2003

Adjunct College

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

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

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

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


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

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

September 07, 2003

Why are Tuition Costs Rising?

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

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

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

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

September 04, 2003

NYU President's Radical Proposal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

September 03, 2003

Benton's Book of "Virtues"

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

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

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

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

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

Don't Worry Be Happy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Linda Marquis' self-description.

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

August 27, 2003

Pinup Profs; or, The 'Airbrushed Fantasy' of the College Brochure

1. They are all located in New England in the fall. That includes colleges in New Mexico and above the Arctic Circle, where hundreds of multicolored deciduous trees are shipped by FedEx during this yearlong season....

5. Their faculty members use extravagant hand gestures.
Photographers must often interrupt classes in American Sign Language to capture these images. Or maybe the profs are conducting groups of music students who have forgotten their instruments.

-- Paul Many, The Wonderful World of College Brochures

Here's an amusing little piece by someone who lists the top ten things he's learned about college by reading college brochures.

I'll add another one:

The teaching is done by bearded, tweed-wearing sages who inhabit the comfortable clutter of book-lined offices.

We might think of these instructors as the "pinup profs" of academic marketing.

Of course, there is a serious question here, which has to do with the persistence of the tweedy, autumn-in-New-England ideal in the face of the kinds of changes that are discussed here. Several commenters have suggested that the problems faced by the humanities can be traced in part to consumer demand: "I think that the demand being made by the public is not a change of emphasis from research to teaching," writes Bill Richards, "but rather from providing a 'well-rounded' education (whatever that means) to an education that provides practical value in the job marketplace by providing the holder of that education with a competitive edge at hiring/promotion time." I do think there is something to this. At the same time, I have to wonder, If students are increasingly interested in another kind of education, why do colleges still market themselves by invoking the older ideal?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:00 AM | Comments (27)

August 18, 2003

"A Brad DeLong Moment"

This week's recipient of the Weekly Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) forgets to thank God, the academy and her family, but makes up for these oversights with what she calls a "Brad DeLong moment."

"Whenever I hear Elaine Showalter speak on the role of the humanities Ph.D.," writes Matilde in the comments to "Weeky IA Award," "I have a very Brad DeLong moment - 'what'? I'm never sure what I find more ridiculously appalling:

1. The notion that the study of literature and history diminishes the need to have dignity in employment and food in the belly of one's children.
2. The implication that long solitary hours devoted to study and writing in a tiny specialty, alternated with crippling criticism and political shenanigans from a committee of elders that has complete power over your career prospects and future income, combined with a long period of delayed consumption, are effective tools to promote a high inner quality of life.
3. The insinuation that persons without a Ph.D. in the humanities lack the training to obtain a satisfyingly complex inner life.

A wonderful comment, and one which raises a question of obvious topical interest and of potentially global significance: has the phrase "Brad DeLong moment" been trademarked?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:49 PM | Comments (4)

Medical Residents' Antitrust Suit

The nation's medical establishment has grown increasingly anxious about an antitrust suit contending that residents are forced to participate in a system that ensures they work long hours and receive low pay.

-- Neil A. Lewis, "Medical Establishement Hopes to Thwart Residents' Lawsuit"

Today's New York Times carries an interesting item on an antitrust suit filed by several young doctors. The plaintiffs maintain that the National Resident Matching Program (aka Match) "keeps salaries artificially low — the annual pay for residents is about $40,000 and varies only marginally regardless of region or speciality — and crushes any competition that might force teaching hospitals to offer better conditions like shorter working hours." The defendants (the Times describes the "principal defendants" as "medical schools and teaching hospitals" but without specifying how many are involved -- my impression is that it involves very many) maintain that the suit "has no merit" and have filed a motion to dismiss. But though they "express confidence that they would prevail in court," the Times reports, they

are so worried that in recent weeks they have asked their allies in the Senate to enact legislation that would derail the suit, inoculating them from damages that might otherwise run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

That sounds like a rather dubious line of defence: your case has no merit under the existing law, therefore we must change the existing law. Toward the end of the article, the Times notes that it is very "rare for Congress to intervene once litigation is under way, though it did so in 1995 to protect charities that were being sued for colluding in setting rates on donated annuities."

I don't know enough either about antitrust legislation or about the Match program to have a firm opinion one way or another as to whether this lawsuit is a good idea. It seems a bold move, and I have to wonder whether they can pull it off. The plantiffs are "trying to have the suit made a class action, meaning that it would apply to any person who graduated from medical school in the four years before it was filed, four years being the maximum under the statute of limitations for antitrust violations." This will be no easy feat, and the hospitals and schools will obviously use every tool at their disposal to fight it every step of the way. And though the article has a lot of say about the defendants' attempts to stop the suit, it doesn't give any indication of how many residents and former residents are behind the plaintiffs. If the case does make it to court (it was filed in May 2002 and is currently before a federal district judge in DC, who has not yet ruled on the defendants' motion to dismiss), the plaintiffs will have a tough time playing David to the medical establishment's Goliath. Federal court litigation is extremely expensive and time-consuming: they will need a lot of support, and a lot of money.

I can't help noticing that one of the defendants' arguments sounds strikingly familiar (and to my ears, rings similarly hollow): "The industry's defense of that system has long been that a residency is not a job per se but instead a continuation of medical education in which the resident ought to be entirely immersed." The apprenticeship line, which is now most often invoked to defend the labor practices of systems that don't look anything like ye merrie olde guilds that once employed people who could fairly be described as apprentices. There are of course many entry-level and junior-level jobs that involve a good deal of on-the-job training and further education. They are jobs nonetheless: "job" and "training/education" are not mutually exclusive categories. My position on this issue: if it's not "a job per se," then neither should any money received be deemed "income per se," and you shouldn't have to report and pay taxes on your earnings. If you get a T-4 slip, you are working for pay at a real job, no matter how much, or how little, you are learning (and also, of course, no matter how much, or how little, you are earning).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:39 AM | Comments (16)

August 13, 2003

Conference Culture

I recently discovered a new weblog by another academic -- and another mother who knows what it's like to lug a large baby in a stroller up and down the NYC subway steps (permalink may be bloggered; scroll to Friday, August 08). Indeed, it sounds like she lugs two children up and down those steps. Laura, I salute you.

In her most recent entry, Laura offers some hypotheses concerning the upcoming APSA conference that she plans to attend:

1. Even though this is a political science conference, I will hear no one discuss the war in Iraq, the coming election in CA, or gay marriages.
2. The handful of women at the conference will be wearing baggy suits with elastic waists and large ethnic jewelry.
3. None of the women with tenure track jobs will have children.
4. I will meet more people without jobs than with jobs.
5. Most will be too fearful to leave the convention center to hang out in Philadelphia.

She is soliciting additional "educated guesses." So let me add one that relates to the annual American Historical Association conference:

The desperate jobseekers will be readily identifiable: they are the ones who are noticeably, if uncomfortably, better- (or least more formally) dressed.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:41 AM | Comments (17)

August 08, 2003

Go Amanda!

Best of luck to Amanda of Household Opera, who defends her dissertation this morning.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:13 AM | Comments (8)

August 06, 2003

UMass President Resigns over Brother's Ties to the Mob

Life imitates the Sopranos:

The AP reports that University of Massachusetts President William M. Bulger has resigned "after months of mounting pressure over his role in the federal investigation of his fugitive mobster brother."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:56 PM | Comments (18)

August 05, 2003

Academic Reality TV Poll

Inspired by Bob at Unfogged, a number of people have put forth proposals for a reality TV show based on the trials and tribulations, not to mention the thrills, chills and spills, of life within the academy. So let's say we wanted to sell the concept of an academic reality TV show to the network brass at a major media conglomerate (yes, of course this is beyond silly; but summer is not quite over, so just play along, okay?). Which of the following proposed programs do you find most promising? I'm not sure what the selection criteria might be, but obviously the show would have to appeal to as broad an audience as possible, and ideally would do so while also resonating powerfully (if painfully) with academics themselves.

1. PhD Island. Original concept by Bob of Unfogged, who describes the program as follows:

Ten or so (somewhat attractive) men and women in their early twenties, maybe with a token older contestant, endure a numbingly drawn-out series of trials and humiliations. These include hostile dissertation-committee meetings, labyrinthine statistical methodologies, and ramen. Some contestants are eliminated along the way -- we watch their tearful exits with the comforting knowledge that by the end of the show, it is the survivors who will envy the escapees...There will be romances and sexual liasons. Alliances, rivalries, sacrifices, even a betrayal or two -- and we'll see it all! In the end, the contestants who survive the early trials must compete with each other for the ultimate prize: a tenure-track assistant professorship at a pretty-good college in a not-bad city. To win, each preens and performs before panels of disdainful judges whose own talents are ambiguous but unchallenged. One winner is chosen -- a contestant who is probably perfectly deserving, as would have been any of the others. And like being engaged to Alex Michel, the prize is actually an unspectacular one, to which everybody but the contestants is pretty ambivalent.

2. Adjunct Survivor: Big City. Original concept by Eric Marshall, who describes the program as follows:

Casting Call: Producers of new reality television show, Adjunct Survivor: Big City, seek highly educated (Ph.D. preferred), highly skilled men and women willing to teach four courses per semester (or more)—any subject—for below living wage. Excellent benefits not included. Must have own car or transit pass. Internal Revenue Service mileage rate not provided. Equal opportunity exploiter: those seeking academic freedom need not apply.

3. Academic Fifth Wheel. Original concept by KF of Planned Obsolescence, who describes the program as follows:

I'm kind of thinking of an academic version of 'Fifth Wheel' -- two recent PhDs and two search committees meet up for interviews and a drunken ride around town in a weird disco bus. After the first segment, the PhDs switch search committees; after the second segment, each candidate (and committee) confides in the audience about how they think it's going. Then, in the third segment, the "fifth wheel" is introduced, an academic hottie of massive proportions. Will it be a recent Yale PhD with a Cambridge UP book contract, seeking to lure the attentions of both search committees? Or will it be a third search committee from a well-heeled Major U., seeking to poach the other committees' candidates? And who goes home alone?

4. Academic Fear Factor. Original Concept by Thomas H. Benton, who describes the program as follows:

You are a second-year grad student in English. There's only one TA job available: "Advanced Sanscrit." Get high student evaluations or be eliminated.

You are about to defend your dissertation. Who will be the outraged wild-card committee member? H. Milton Bowers, the 96-year-old Medievalist, Jean-Paul Metier, the postmodern theorist, or Barbie Clitoris, the feminist performance artist.

The department is pleased to offer you a tenure-track position, but first you must eat . . .

Vote now for your program of choice!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:26 PM | Comments (7)

August 04, 2003

PhD Island?

Bob at Unfogged has an idea for a new reality tv show called "PhD Island". So confident is he of its success that he is already planning the "equally cutthroat sequel, 'Tenure Island'" and is even looking forward to "Lots of Big Grants Island," "Full Professor Island," "More Prestigious Institution Island," and "Avoiding Intellectual Stagnation Island." The contest rules sound even more daunting than the now-standard practice of being judged by a jury of one's students: "To win, each preens and performs before panels of disdainful judges whose own talents are ambiguous but unchallenged." As we learned last week, students give higher evaluations to better-looking faculty; I think we can safely assume that any panel of disdainful judges would be inclined to do the same. The real question (which I raised in "Adjunct Survivor: Big City"): Are there enough academics with enough of the right kind of sex appeal to keep viewers glued to the set?


In the comments to this entry, KF of Planned Obsolescence posts a brilliant scheme for a television show modelled after "Fifth Wheel":

I'm kind of thinking of an academic version of 'Fifth Wheel' -- two recent PhDs and two search committees meet up for interviews and a drunken ride around town in a weird disco bus. After the first segment, the PhDs switch search committees; after the second segment, each candidate (and committee) confides in the audience about how they think it's going. Then, in the third segment, the 'fifth wheel' is introduced, an academic hottie of massive proportions. Will it be a recent Yale PhD with a Cambridge UP book contract, seeking to lure the attentions of both search committees? Or will it be a third search committee from a well-heeled Major U., seeking to poach the other committees' candidates? And who goes home alone?
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:21 PM | Comments (11)

Patricians versus Plebeians: the Faculty Senate

Patricians versus plebeians; nobles versus commoners; touchables versus untouchables; the quality versus the riff-raff. Call the division what you will. It's my belief that the line dividing the tenurable from the untenurable is hardening.

In an article entitled Faculty Senates: The Last Bastion of Patrician Privilege, Christopher Cumo reports on the resistance of full-time faculty to the idea of sharing governance with part-time faculty -- even (or perhaps we should say especially?) where, as is the case at Santa Rosa Junior College, the 320 full-time faculty members are greatly outnumbered by 1100 part-time faculty members. What these full-timers fear, apparently, is that part-timers might vote for the an end to tenure.

"The anxiety over tenure seems ubiquitous at Drexel [University]," where, writes Cumo, Senate member and Associate Professor of Visual Studies Brian L. Wagner "fears the hordes of part-time faculty who, if seated on the Senate, might trample tenure underfoot." Similarly, Eldon D. Wedlock, Jr., Faculty Senate Chair between 1997 and 1999 and a professor of Law at the University of South Carolina, says that "faculty fear being overrun by 'the unwashed masses.'" And Paul H. Gates, Chairman of the Faculty Senate and associate professor of communications at Appalachian State University, fears that "part-time faculty, should they gain seats on the Senate, would vote their 'self-interest' rather than for policies best for the university." One wonders, Cumo adds, "how full-time faculty who fight to exclude adjuncts from the Senate are not acting in self-interest." One also wonders, I would add, who voted for the employment policies that resulted in so many part-timers on staff that the full-timers now view them as a threat -- and in whose interest were they voting? (or, if they didn't actually vote for or against such policies, then what on earth do they mean by "governance"?)

Steven Powell, Chair of the Faculty Senate and an associate professor of Performing Arts at Drexel University, admits that some full-time faculty hurl the epithet "riff-raff" at adjuncts. But "'no tenure-track faculty member,'" he asserts, "'would tolerate having an adjunct making decisions about the tenure process.'" Powell performs the role of a latter-day Pericles when he justifies the exclusion of adjunct faculty from the Senate on the grounds of citizenship: only “citizens” can participate in governance, Powell claims, not “visitors for a term or two.” This suggests an angle on adjunctification that I had yet to consider: the adjunct as metic. Though as I understand it, at least some of the metics were far better off.

Of course, Powell's justification for adjunct exclusion does have at least a surface plausibility: who would deny that "visitors for a term or two" should be ineligible to sit on the Faculty Senate? But are most part-time faculty at his institution really just "visiting" for a term or two? If so, I have to wonder what the Senate has been up to in the past decade or so. If the faculty composition at Drexel has reached the point where the full-time faculty are so outnumbered by "visitors" that they now fear for their own jobs, I should think the Faculty Senate might want to make it an urgent priority to reform this system.

Meanwhile, Joan Williamson, past President of the Faculty Senate and a clinical professor of Nursing at the University of Alabama at Huntsville, strikes a Victorian note with her belief that "adjuncts do not need their own representation on the Senate. They need only share their concerns with a senator who will voice them to the full Senate." Now, that sounds rather paternalistic -- or should I say maternalistic? Indeed, it sounds remarkably like James Mill's arguments against female suffrage -- women did not need the vote, he argued, because their interests would be voiced by their husbands. His son thought differently, though. Perhaps Williamson should take a peek at John Stuart Mill's Subjection of Women?

Also of interest, given our previous discussion of whether academic jobseekers resemble a Calvinist congregation, is the definition of "academic Calvinism" provided by Nora Bacon, Assistant Professor of English at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a member of the Faculty Senate: “'I think the full-time faculty like to think that they’re better, smarter, generally more worthy than the part-timers—sort of a Calvinist faith that their own privilege must be deserved, with the corollary that those without privilege must be undeserving.''” One proposal mentioned in the article is to base eligibility for the Senate on publications: "say, a book or four peer-reviewed articles in the last two years with the proviso that a senate admit all part-time faculty who satisfy these standards and exclude all full-time faculty who fall short." Though, as Cumo notes, "faculty senators who do not want the tally of books and articles to shatter their Calvinist hubris might do better to quietly admit part-time faculty."

As I've suggested many times at this weblog (and most recently here), I don't see any real hope for reform unless and until full-time tenured faculty start to view part-time faculty as members of the same profession rather than as outsiders to the profession. I don't know how representative are the full-time faculty cited in this article, but certainly Cumo's piece does not inspire optimism on this score.

Someone should do a sociological study of hierarchy and status maintenance in today's academy. Well, perhaps somebody already has? but if so, is the study up-to-date? It would be interesting to see something that takes into account the dramatic increase in part-time at the expense of full-time positions over the past decade, and the growing gap between the two tiers.


Stephen Karlson thinks I am envisioning a senate "in which all full-time, tenure-track faculty members are ex officio faculty senators." Not at all. What is in dispute at the institutions treated in Cumo's article is the eligibility of faculty (or, in the case the adjuncts, the lack of eligibility) to be voted into office.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:00 AM | Comments (28)

August 03, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to sappho for an insightful caution against adjunct unionization (comments to Adjunct Unionization):

A separate adjunct union (and for that matter separate TA unions) strike me as misunderstanding where unions get at least some of their power. In order to provide real benefits (and solidarity etc) adjuncts and TAs need to belong to the same union as full time faculty--unless/until tenured/tenure track faculty recognize that all members of the profession need to be represented, none of these three sectors will have real and adequate unionization. The analogy is easiest to make between TAs and tenure/tenure track faculty, since there already exists the model of apprentice and journeyman members of unions. But, for many reasons, unionizing faculty is difficult, and for some of the same reasons, if adjuncts unionize, they increase the separatation from the 'real' members of the profession.

Well said, sappho. This is a tricky topic, and it's difficult to raise these concerns without fear of lending support to those who oppose a better deal for adjunct faculty. But while I certainly believe that unionized adjuncts would receive better pay and perhaps some benefits, and while I am certainly not prepared to argue against adjunct unionization, I think sappho has pointed to a major weakness of separate unions.

As I said in the original entry, the danger, as I see it, is that separate unions for adjunct faculty would formalize and confer legitimacy on the existence of a permanent academic underclass. Indeed, though university administrations generally (or I suppose, universally) oppose adjunct unionization, in the long term unionization might actually help them in their cost-cutting goal of reducing faculty to near-penury: that is, it might enable them to convert even more full-time positions into part-time contracts while at the same time neutralizing criticism of adjunctification ("our part-timers are treated very well, they have collective bargaining rights"). This is not an argument for the status quo, but rather an argument for the involvement of full-time faculty in the improvement of conditions for all faculty.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:00 PM | Comments (8)

July 30, 2003

Tocqueville Explains the Growing Opposition to the Tenure System

No, not really. I just wanted to get your attention. But I think he does explain a dynamic that might be applied to the division between the tenurable and the nontenurable.

"In France," wrote Tocqueville in his The Old Regime and the French Revolution,* "the nobles clung to their exemption from taxation to the very end to console themselves for having lost the right to rule" (98). In Tocqueville's account, it was the growing gap between privilege and power which opened up a space for criticism and resentment, as ancient feudal rights and prerogatives became increasingly intolerable to an increasingly isolated French peasantry:

When the nobles had real power as well as privileges,...their rights could be at once greater and less open to attack...True, the nobles enjoyed invidious privileges and rights that weighed heavily on the commoner, but in return for this they kept order, administered justice, saw to the execution of the laws, came to the rescue of the oppressed, and watched over the interests of all. The more these functions passed out of the hands of the nobility, the more uncalled-for did their privileges appear -- until at last their mere existence seemed a meaningless anachronism (30).

Replace "nobles" with "tenured" and "commoners" with "untenurable," and here's one possible explanation of why increasing numbers of contingent faculty oppose the tenure system.

*Since "regime change" is a current buzzword, let me say that I think Tocqueville's Old Regime and the French Revolution is one of the most interesting accounts of regime change ever written: in large part because it was written by an aristocrat who wanted to explain the transition from aristocracy to democracy in terms that were comprehensible both to a displaced aristocracy and to an audience whose sensibilities had already been democratized.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:00 PM | Comments (2)

Is In Loco Parentis Dead?

This question is raised by John Bruce in the comments to a post at SCSUScholars on professor-student dating. Citing rules governing alcohol consumption, John suggests that it's not dead; kb seems to partially agree but partially disagree when he states that "In loco parentis isn't dead but its locus has moved from the faculty to student affairs offices, which practice it in an entirely different manner than did the professoriate."

In this article, Glenn C. Altschuler and Isaac Kramnick argue that in loco parentis has been "virtually non-existent" for the past thirty years and suggest that it will remain moribund:

The ballyhooed return of in loco parentis, it seems to us, is little more than a series of new rules -- adopted to minimize liability and litigation -- to regulate the consumption of alcohol on campuses. Significantly, since such rules have been on the books, drunken students have virtually never been disciplined, dorm rooms have almost never been inspected, and binge drinking has reached epidemic proportions.

But these two authors also believe that "a much more important, and more positive, development in higher education is occurring: the proliferation of living-and-learning communities, which aim to eradicate the boundaries between the life of the mind and recreation, between intellectual and social life."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:40 PM | Comments (4)

July 28, 2003

Adjunct Unionization

A reader has asked me to post an entry on adjunct unionization. As said reader and I agreed, whenever I post about unionization/collective action at this weblog, reader response is underwhelming at best. Nevertheless, in the interests of responding to this particular reader (while at the same time possibly boring or alienating many other readers), I've decided to float another entry on adjunct unionization.

The most basic questions: How to start? Where to begin?

The more complex question: Is it worth it? Which question is two-pronged: First, given the very real possibility of reprisals, is it even worth the risk that an individual must take? But second, and more broadly, is adjunct unionization even worth the enormous effort it must take as a collective action? Might it not help to formalize and legitimize the permanent existence of an underclass -- ameliorating the conditions under which they work, to be sure, but sending the signal to university adminstators that adjunctification can happily continue apace, though with some minimal restrictions on the degree and intensity of exploitation?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:42 PM | Comments (19)

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to "Anonymous tt faculty member," who unravels the mysteries of the tenure system (comments to "Tenure and Academic Freedom Poll"):

It's hard to get tenure unless you have already demonstrated that you have nothing of consequence to say.

Well done, "Anonymous tt faculty member." But we rather suspect you might have something of consequence to say. It goes without saying, of course, that you should not say it until you have achieved tenure.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

Beautiful Minds

Via Critical Mass, the Washington Post reports (scroll down to "Looking Good, Grading Well") on a study by Daniel Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin, which finds that "the most beautiful university instructors get the highest rankings on student evaluations." Since

most universities consider student evaluations when giving raises and promotions, the study shows that professors' looks could affect their salaries, said Hamermesh, who has written papers on the correlation between physical beauty and earnings.

Hamermesh believes that "in a strictly economic sense," this may not be unfair: "If students pay more attention to good-looking instructors and thus learn more from them, then professorial beauty could have a 'productivity effect,' Hamermesh said." I'm not quite sure what Hamermesh means by "strictly economic." He seems to rely on the very dubious assumption that the higher a student's evaluation of a professor, the more that student has learned.

But speaking of "strictly economic," there's a profit-making opportunity in here somewhere. "'I don't know how much you can do' about beauty, Hamermesh said. 'You're stuck with what you've got.'" Obviously this professor is unfamiliar with the concept of the makeover (and is probably innocent of all knowledge of Glamour's Do's and Don'ts). I'm thinking lifestyle coach for sartorially challenged academics, which would surely be more lucrative than the adjunct career coach game (for more on this, see the comments to "An Adjunct's Commitment to Adjunctification"). But before I start charging for my services, here's a freebie that applies to both women and men: Never underestimate the importance of quality footwear, for shoes can make or break an outfit.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:27 AM | Comments (36)

July 26, 2003

Collective Action?

I think my testimony before the labor board meant something different to administrators at NYU than it did to me. As you said, for me it was a political path. It's something I felt I needed to do, the intellectual expression of my ideas and research in education. For people like us, we're connecting our intellectual life to public events.

I think I naively assumed that the Dean of the School of Education would see it the same way. I didn’t even know at the time that I testified that she was testifying on behalf of the university against the graduate students in the trial. But when I found out, it didn’t bother me in the least—I mean of course she would, she's an administrator and she represents the university administration’s interests. I don't even know what her personal views are on unionization. But I just assumed, you know, of course we all accept the principles of academic freedom and the right to express one’s ideas means that, sometimes, we're going to disagree.

-- Marc Bousquet, A Victory for All of Us: A Conversation with Joel Westheimer

As some readers may already know, Joel Westheimer was denied tenure at NYU after coming out in support of graduate student unionization and testifying before the National Labor Relations Board in favor of their right to organize. After an inquiry by the National Labor Relations Board determined that, in Westheimer's words, "there was probable cause that NYU denied me tenure in retaliation for my activities in testifying for the graduate students," the university "settled the case by paying me a financial settlement and by withdrawing the denial of tenure." He now teaches at the University of Ottawa. In the latest edition of workplace: a journal for academic labor Westheimer discusses his case with Marc Bousquet.

I'd like to raise a few points in response to their exchange.

First, Westheimer's case highlights the lack of academic freedom for those without tenure, which is currently the topic of discussion at this thread. One possible inference that might be drawn: this case demonstrates the vital necessity of the tenure system. Since university administrators will attempt to retaliate against views and actions that they find threatening, faculty must have a safeguard that protects them against arbritrary dismissal. Of course, this doesn't really address the problem of the lack of such protection for the pre-tenured (not to mention the untenurable contingent faculty). The most common response to this objection is to concede the lack of academic freedom for the untenured, but to argue that with tenure, at least some faculty enjoy security, whereas without tenure, no faculty would enjoy any security whatsoever.

Another possible inference that might be drawn: a case like Westheimer's demonstrates a very basic and a very serious flaw with the tenure system. The system places a good deal of power in the hands of tenured faculty and administrators, and raises the career stakes to a life-or-death situation. Obviously, outside of the academy, people are fired or not promoted all the time and for all kinds of reasons, some of them arbitrary and unjust. What is peculiar to the academy, however, is that tenure raises the stakes to all-or-nothing, which is precisely the reason that tenured faculty and administrators have so much power over the untenured. In fact, Westheimer basically survived the attack: he fought the decision, won a settlement, and found academic employment at another institution. But in many cases, a failed tenure bid amounts to a career killer.

Another obvious question raised by Westheimer's case: to what extent are faculty peculiarly vulnerable to reprisals in areas that have to do not with scholarship but with challenges to institutional structures and policies (e.g., in the matter of labor relations)? Of course, Westheimer himself would probably refuse to recognize such a distinction, for he views his testimony on behalf of the NYU graduate students as an extension of his intellectual work. But let's take the case of Assistant Professor X, a tenure-track Shakespearean scholar whose scholarly work challenges the dominant understanding of Elizabethan drama. It is extremely unlikely that Assistant Professor X's unorthodox approach to early modern English drama will even cross the radar screen of the university administration, though of course it will certainly be scrutinized and evaluated by other faculty members. But imagine that Assistant Professor X takes a public stand in support of unionization on campus, a position that has little or nothing to do with Shakespearean scholarship. Now, in addition to the pressures of peer review by faculty, Assistant Professor X has come under notice by administrators opposed to unionization, and is very likely subject to reprisals. It's worth noting that Westheimer was the only non-tenured NYU faculty member to testify before the National Labor Relations Board on behalf of graduate student unionization. Though it's possible, I think it highly unlikely that Westheimer was the only non-tenured faculty member at NYU who held views in support of unionization. But just as involvement in a unionization campaign in a non-academic workplace is a very risky business for employees who face reprisals, so too is it a risky business within the academy.

The pessimistic conclusion: the push for change has to come from those who are (at least currently, or in the short term) the least interested in change: i.e., from tenured faculty. The position of the untenured is simply too vulnerable. Yes, there will be the occasional Westheimer, the tenure-track faculty member who risks his or her own career for the sake of some larger goal or ideal. But then, Westheimer himself admits that he was naive, that he didn't realize the extent and magnitude of the risk he took when he testified on behalf of the graduate students. Indeed, he states quite bluntly that he "would never advise anyone to do something like this based on the idea that it is going to turn out right because things don't always turn out right in the end."

In response to Bousquet's question, "What are the consequences of cases like your own for organizing and for the experiences of junior faculty throughout the academy?," Westheimer provides both an optimistic and a pessimistic answer:

J: I have an optimistic answer and a pessimistic answer. Let me give my pessimistic answer first. The pessimistic one is that, sure, it has chilling effects when someone isretaliated against. It makes junior faculty members—regular faculty members as well—think twice before expressing their views on a particular issue in fear of retaliation.

My optimistic answer, which I would like to put more stock in, is that the amount of support that I got and the degree of success we had in the case, would, I hope, encourage junior and senior faculty members to stand their ground on issues that they feel are important. At least in the end—sometimes—justice is done.

Frankly, I would have to put more stock in the pessimistic answer.

When the conversation moves from Westheimer's particular case to some of the broader implications of his experience, I am reminded of the main reason for my scepticism concerning academic collective action. Westheimer argues that:

The tenure track faculty need to recognize that their future is inextricably bound up in the future of adjunct laborers, graduate students and part-time faculty and non-tenure-track full-time faculty, which is a hugely growing sector of academic labor.

I think we all need to realize that our collective work lives, our professional lives at the university are all bound together. The circumstances of adjunct and graduate students relate to the circumstances of the tenured faculty: senior faculty get to teach lower level work loads and to teach only the courses that they want to; they can go on sabbatical and be replaced by an adjunct professor—who is making $2,000 a course.

It can also be turned around. Once it's clear that a senior faculty member can easily be replaced by a temporary part-time laborer or an adjunct or a graduate student making a fraction of their salary, it's clear that the teaching that the senior faculty does is devalued. With the financial incentive to replace their teaching by a much cheaper employee, their scholarship is also less valued in the university.

I basically agree with the above, and indeed have pushed this point perhaps ad nauseam on this weblog. At the same time, I have to say that I disagree with Westheimer's solution, which solution involves a particular form of collective action.

My problem with the strategies of the workplace people is that they link reform of academic employment practices with a very specific, and specifically lefty, politics. Given widespread indifference and complacency on the part of faculty, I almost hesitate to criticize their approach: after all, at least they are actively engaged in a real attempt at reform. But though I personally happen to share many of their political views, I think this lefty approach is doomed to failure. I am firmly convinced that many (perhaps most) faculty are simply not going to sign on for the following:

[Westheimer] One thing that is going to be needed is a culture change and a more holistic approach to our work, where what we write about is also what we practice and strive to experience in our daily lives. This means increased civic engagement and political participation in working to improve society.

To be perfectly honest, I have grave reservations about such an academic culture change, and my politics are (at least by American standards) definitely left of center.* And I'm fairly certain that many academics will not engage in a form of collective action which links campus reform to the reform of all of society. Those who are interested in such a movement are -- and will likely remain for the forseeable future -- a distinct minority. If change and reform can only be effected by lefty activists, then I fear the case is hopeless and we really are sunk.

I suspect the only real hope lies in a concerted effort on the part of faculty and professional organizations to make a new bargain with the university: but this they simply will not do as a left-oriented labor movement campaign, it would have to be done under the banner of "re-professionalization" (see this entry for a discussion of the question "What is a Profession?")

*This gets us into the very tricky area of the campus culture wars, which I'll save for another entry.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:17 PM | Comments (25)

July 24, 2003

Tenure and Academic Freedom Poll

I bring you yet another completely unscientific poll on the question of academic tenure:

By the way, the unofficial results of the first, completely unofficial and unscientific poll on tenure ("Should Tenure be Abolished?") are as follows:

Out of 153 votes, 51 (33%) voted Yes to tenure abolition, 47 (31%) voted No, and 40 (26%) voted for the rather vague Should be Modified option. 13 voters (8%) were Undecided, and 2 eminently sensible voters (1%) declared themselves Uninterested.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:53 PM | Comments (7)

What is a Profession?

A "Random Reader" has issued what I think an interesting challenge to my use of the term deprofessionalization in connection with the academic humanities (comments to "Tough Love for Invisibles"):

To talk meaningfully about the 'deprofessionalization' of a 'profession' requires both terms to be defined--which they aren't, here. Teaching is often called a profession (as is most indoor work with no heavy lifting). But it's not one of the traditional "learned professions": those are law, medicine, and theology. And it doesn't have one of the primary indicia of a profession: limited access via qualification by the existing members of the profession. There's no academic equivalent of the bar exam.

True, most university teachers these days have Ph.D.'s. But it's not a strict requirement (Arthur Schlesinger famously lacks any graduate degree). The lack of a licensing requirement helps create the abundant supply that in turn drives salaries, etc., down. That's good for buyers (universities) but bad for sellers (would-be tenure-track teachers).

Random Reader is quite right: I haven't defined these terms, but have rather presupposed a shared, albeit loose, understanding on the part of my readers. I would define a profession as an occupation or vocation requiring specialized training along with some sort of certification. Though as RR points out, there never has been a licensing requirement and even the PhD is not a formal requirement.

And then, of course, "profession" carries all kinds of other connotations, some of which take us into the uncomfortable area of class. White collar instead of blue; a salary instead of hourly wages; rates of remuneration that support a middle-class life versus rates of remuneration that don't; indoor rather than outdoor work; some degree of autonomy (no punching the time clock) versus strict regulation and supervision of employees.

But this is all subject to challenge. As usual, I welcome comments, criticisms and suggestions.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:44 PM | Comments (29)

July 16, 2003

It's Worth It?

[W]e have too much education to be employable outside of academe, and too little experience to be employable in it. We spend hours at conferences, publish articles in journals, and teach multiple courses, but the proportions are always off. And yet, we press forward. Because we know that at the end of 300 pages, Darcy will still marry Elizabeth, and at the end of 200 pages, Pheoby will still be listening, yet we will have noticed an infinite number of things that we never noticed before. And that's worth years of education and thousands of dollars in student loans and no tenure-track jobs.

-- Margaret Marquis and Brent Shannon, We're Happy. Really.

Is it? asks Amanda at Household Opera (via Rana at Frogs and Ravens). Is it really worth years of education and thousands of dollars in student loans and no tenure-track jobs? Well, call me a philistine, because I'm going to answer with an emphatic "No."

Honestly, I hope things work out for this couple, but I have to say that their column really irked me. What is the purpose of such relentless good cheer? Perhaps one could argue that, psychologically, this is a more adaptive strategy than depression and despair? Except that it isn't, really: it would appear that unwarranted happy thoughts only serve to lighten the emotional load as they make their merry way down the path to academic proletarianization. I suppose the truly adaptive strategy is to get just down-and-out enough to prompt some positive action, though not so down-and-out that one is paralysed by feelings of hopelessness. Alas, I myself have not achieved that elusive middle, so perhaps I shouldn't be criticizing someone else's response. On the other hand, since they did enter the public domain with their account of overeducated unemployability, I guess I'm entitled to respond. What I find troublesome about their insistence on the noble worthiness of poverty and underemployment is that it lends support to those who have no interest in reforming the current job system and every interest in maintaining business as usual. By the way, I'm going to assume this couple have no interest in children; the day a child enters your life is the day the penny drops, and hard.

Yes, I'm feeling rather cranky.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:58 PM | Comments (28)

July 13, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Chris, for his characterization of academic deprofessionalization as a merging of Nietzschean nihilism with American Taylorism (comments to Demoralization: Are We Taking the Human Out of the Humanities?)

If this has led to what Foucault calls the 'tryanny of the professors,' it does so by way of an opportunistic, and flagrantly cynical melding of Nietzschean nihilism with American Taylorism. Taylor (I think his first name is Frederick, perhaps the historians can correct me) is the father of modern mangement theory, and one of his primary tenets is the enforcement of a disconnect between the person and knowledge of the employee and the task at hand. It is a very rigid approach and yet is almost taken for granted in our world of work and employment: 'you may be a poet, a spiritual seer, a brilliant scientist, but today your job is to pick up those boxes and put them on the truck, so get to work.' What is truly perverse, of course, is that this same philosophy of disconnection -- and dis-affection, and, in Ruddick's terms, de-moralization -- has become ingrained within the 'profession' of humanities professing. And I think that when 'we' (meaning adjuncts, one-years, and other non-tenured academic workers) attempt to tell of our plight to either tenured faculty, Chairs, or administrators, this 'Taylorist' distortion of Nietzschean thought is, in part, the void into which our cries disappear.

Nicely done, Chris. And let me assure you that here at we do hear you, for we like to think of this weblog as the void that fills the void.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:13 PM | Comments (22)

July 09, 2003

Demoralization: Are We Taking the Human out of the Humanities?

The question 'What’s the point?' is at once an individual cry of disappointment and a tiny fragment from a pervasive, whispered conversation that has been taking place in English departments for years. People who feel unnourished by the intellectual life in English tend to feel isolated because the myriad individual expressions of protest that are confidentially exchanged all the time have not yet been built into a shared world. The tensions within our field have reached the media and even our own journals in the distorted form of a culture war, with a clear cleavage between a traditionally humanist right and an antihumanist left. In the middle, but without a base, are people like this woman who are not traditionalists but nonetheless have convictions about 'what sustains people' that in the current environment would be discounted as conservative, humanist illusions. (She might for example be asked, 'Which "people" are you presuming to speak for?') Such scholars survive by putting a part of themselves into hiding, and their voices aren't heard. In a word, the dominant thinking in my field excludes and stigmatizes a conversation about humane concerns that many, many members of the profession secretly wish we could start to have publicly.

-- Lisa Ruddick, The Flight from Knowing

Via a new "pre-postacademic" weblog entitled Household Opera, this article by English professor Lisa Ruddick explores the "moral ignorance, or the numbness that comes with academic expertise." Among the questions she raises is whether there is "some logical connection between, for example, the academy's willed oblivion to the exploitation of part-time teachers...and the moral ignorance that’s built into the specialized intellectual training we offer, at least in the humanities." More broadly, Ruddick asks whether professional training in the humanities has a tendency toward demoralization.

As an example of demoralization, she exposes the "analytical slippage" behind an all too familiar move:

For example, let us say that there is such a thing as decency, which is a virtue. In the interest of decency, for example, a person could refrain from stealing someone else's ideas, or forego the thrill of humiliating a colleague. A second meaning of the word decency, though, is adherence to a set of communal norms that are really class norms or a screen for prejudice...This second, oppressive sense of decency calls itself by the same name as the good decency and masquerades as it; that is, a mindless bourgeois decency is the near enemy of genuine ethical decency. What current critical theory routinely does, though, is to collapse the difference, making the good thing look bad by calling it by the name of its near enemy-saying, for example, that anyone who speaks up for decency is imposing an oppressive social norm.

For Ruddick, this slippage -- the "summoning the near enemy to discredit some precious ideal that most people wouldn't part with easily" -- constitutes a moral problem. It is the problem of demoralization:

I think that the theoretical models that have dominated English and the related disciplines in the last two decades are especially effective tools for creating this kind of demoralization, because in their depletion of the meaning of such words as authenticity and humanity they eat away at a person's sense of having a vital interior life apart from his or her professional identity. I keep thinking it's no coincidence that the humanities have become in this sense a more perfectly closed world, a world with no experiential outside, in the very decades in which the depressed job market in the field has created a need for highly dedicated initiates who wouldn't keep asking if the outside world might have something better to offer them. The message we send to these initiates is: there's no real authenticity anywhere, there's no humanity you can count on, the moon outside your window is boring, so you might as well keep to your study and pray for a job.

The demoralization of which she speaks refers not only to a weakening of morale, but also to a depletion of the possibilities for creating and sustaining morally significant meaning. That these two are related is precisely her point.

I am intrigued by this article because, like the woman cited in the first quote above, I often find myself torn between "a traditionally humanist right and an antihumanist left." I can't sign on for timeless truths and eternal verities, but I've grown weary of and worried by the ruthless criticism of everything existing.* I believe I am not alone in occupying this uneasy middle ground -- though as Ruddick points out, this position is often experienced as one of isolation because it has not yet been developed into a "shared world."

Ruddick ends on a note of cautious optimism, expressing the hope that her profession might develop a culture that "without dispensing either with traditional scholarship or with critical theory, somehow uses literature as the basis for a complex exploration of the art of listening that is one of the creative forces in the world." At the moment, I see no reason to be optimistic.

*I am reminded of a wonderful essay by Gordon Schochet, in which he writes of his "more than a half-hearted endorsement of the post-modernist rejection of 'foundationalism,' which, to my mind, has been a kind of brooding presence in the epistemological firmament since the publicaction of David Hume's Treatise of Human Nature. At the same time, however, I am deeply troubled by the empirical reality of the loss of foundations and even more disturbed by the piety of recent attempts to root our lives in a restored 'morality.'" Gordon J. Schochet, "Why should history matter?" in J.G.A. Pocock ed., The Varieties of British Political Thought, 1500-1800(Cambridge, 1993).


Timothy Burke has posted a moving account of his response to Lisa Ruddick’s “The Flight from Knowing,” in which he relays his struggle to reclaim the “joy and passion of inquiry” from the "tyranny of theory."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:35 PM | Comments (61)

July 07, 2003

WordPerfect or MSWord?

I was going to write a rant against MSWord, but hasn't that been done to death?

Anyway, I much prefer WordPerfect, but I've been gradually (and painfully) switching to Word. Not because I want to, but because it seems I have to. Since just about everybody else uses Word, and Word does not do a very good job of converting WordPerfect documents (I mean, it mucks up the formatting in some serious ways -- whereas WordPerfect does a fine job of converting Word documents)...well, there is no point in postponing the inevitable: I must capitulate to the global hegemony of Bill Gates. This is not about some impulse to conformity ("and if Jimmy walked off a cliff, would you follow...?"), but about sending essays and chapters and the like to colleagues and editors, all of whom use Word. On the brighter side, I hear they're finally retiring that silly little Clippit thing, which I hate with a passion normally reserved for baby-killers and brutal dictators (what an insult to the user's intelligence! yes, I'd like to see a paperclip winking and leering at me while I'm trying to figure out why in the heck this program lacks "reveal codes".)

Okay, I guess that did turn into a mini-rant.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:29 PM | Comments (43)

June 30, 2003

More on the Academic Galaxy

In an entry posted yesterday, I commented on a Boston Globe article that takes a rather critical view of the academic star system. Acknowledging that some of the academics discussed in the article really are stars (I cited the example of Niall Ferguson, whose publication record must surely be deemed exceptional by any measure), I nevertheless raised a couple of concerns about the trend, and was even bold enough to suggest that the celebrification of the academy was the flipside of its adjunctification.

The post prompted some comments (most notably by Department Chair and Vivian) on the qualifications (or lack thereof) of adjuncts, which comments seemed, at least implicity, to acknowledge that there might be a connection between the rise of the superstar phenomenon and the growing reliance on adjuncts. To expand on my suggestion that celebrification might be seen as the flipside of adjunctification (and it is little more than a suggestion, not a fully reasoned argument: I should have stated it more tentatively in the original post):

I have argued and continue to argue that the growing use of adjunct faculty represents a devaluation of academic teaching, that is, both of the teachers and of the disciplines in which they teach. And I begin to suspect that, far from representing an impressive increase in the status and prestige of the liberal arts in general (though it does quite obviously represent a very impressive increase in the status and prestige of a few leading lights who shine forth very brightly), the academic superstar phenonemon might actually point to a decline. That is, as the liberal arts sink lower and lower in public esteem (and sink lower and lower even in the eyes of some liberal arts professors themselves, who are prepared to argue that the teaching of the liberal arts is of so little value that it can be performed by an academic underclass), the cultural gatekeepers to the liberal arts respond to this degradation by seeking to inflate the value, as it were, of a select group of its professors. I doubt very much this is the result of market forces, though we have had so many discussions of markets here at this blog that I am no longer sure just what is meant by the term. I believe that while students and their tuition-paying parents (I am speaking here of elite superstar-recruiting institutions) are certainly paying for the prestige of star faculty, they have no idea of just how wide the gap has grown between the haves and have-nots and have very little conception of just how underpaid and unsupported are the part-timers who teach many of their classes. And if students and their parents were made fully aware of the sitution, I'm not convinced they would be willing to pay quite as much money as they currently do pay.

To clarify one other point: I have no problem with the idea that a school like Harvard will want to recruit and maintain star faculty. Nor do I deny that academics can be at least roughly ranged on a scale according to various measures of merit. Or, to put it another way, to argue on a weblog (as I do argue on this my weblog) that the teaching of a course in English or history or any academic discipline whatsoever should be worth significantly more than $2,500 is not to publish a Levellers' pamphlet advocating the abolition of private property and the elimination of all ranks and distinctions whatsoever. Moreover, I am sympathetic to Derek Bok's position, which is, namely, that while this kind of thing is inevitable and in some respects positive, it carrries the real risk of negative consquences and could potentially be carried too far (eg, the use of Hollywood-type agents). As with most things in life, it really is a matter of degree. At the same time, I have to say that I am not persuaded that the publications of at least some of the academic superstars cited in the Boston Globe article represent a solid and enduring contribution to the liberal arts that will last beyond the next generation. Which is really to open up (or to return to) a series of related questions concerning the values and purposes of the liberal arts: ie, what is it that we are doing? what is it that we should be doing, and so on?

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

June 29, 2003

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner?

There are times when I read the posts at the Invisible Adjunct and wonder if somehow, by mistake, I have wandered into a congregation of Calvinists who believe in total depravity. Only this time, it's the total depravity of the job seeker. No works can avail you in your quest for salvation; you are somehow predestined to the company of the elect or the damned, which in practice means that getting the elusive tenure-track job is purely a matter of luck. (Indeed, your own merit is nothing!) This seems to me to be not quite right. A better analogy would be to how research universities treat the quality of one's teaching during the tenure process: good teaching is a 'neutral,' but bad teaching can get one fired. That is, I'm not sure if there's anything one can do to get a tenure-track job, beyond presenting yourself properly, understanding the institution you're interviewing at, being polite, being articulate, and so forth. After that, it's in the invisible hand of the job market--and, since there are more qualified candidates than there are jobs, many good people will never get hired. But there are things you can do to prevent yourself getting hired, which range from being obnoxious to the search committee to being inarticulate about your work to not understanding the difference between a Research I and a comprehensive with a 4-4 load. My father has an awful lot of horror stories about candidates unwittingly destroying themselves at job interviews, and I know I certainly screwed myself up more than once.

-- Miriam of The Little Professor

And the above description seems to me to be not quite right.

There's always a first time for anything and everything, I suppose, and this is the first time I've been designated a Calvinist. I like to think this blog is ecumenical in purpose and latitudinarian in spirit, but of course it does have its leanings. Its leanings are those of a lapsed Catholic (who is not lapsed enough, it turns out, to not be a little bit surprised to see her blog described as a Calvinist congregation) and a scholar of Hume (and we know what Hume had to say about the Calvinists).

Seriously, Miriam, I don't believe there is a single post at this blog where I suggest that the academic hiring process is purely a matter of luck and not at all a matter of merit. But of course I could be wrong about this. I would therefore be grateful if you or anyone else could point to the offending post(s) so that I might correct the error (after making a full confession and receiving absolution for my sins).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:40 PM | Comments (27)

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Timothy Burke for his incisive account of the tragicomedy of academic careerism (comments to "Do We Really Need Another 'Other'?"):

This is about how careerist tropes seize hold of and ultimately parody real causes and communities--sometimes, though not invariably, in alliance with some similar seizures and instrumental uses among identity politics activists. It would be funny if it weren't so damned annoying: the 'discovery' of a marginality is proclaimed like Columbus claiming the New World for Spain, rescued from malign and deliberate neglect. An earnest project of recovery is outlined, and a rhetoric of urgent redress accompanies it--which carries with it an implicit need to commission the discoverer as the agent of redress, speaking on behalf of the hidden, lost, concealed, suppressed history.

Then comes the people who want to reveal 'hidden complexities' in the heroically recovered marginality, while more or less maintaining the recovery narrative intact. Then comes the people who question whether the identity in question even really exists, and who pronounce it part of a system of representational binaries which enmesh everyone who tries to speak of the categories in question.

Meanwhile, the gold rush search for the next never-mentioned marginality in need of recuperation has long since moved on.

Well done, Mr Burke, and thank you for being always already insightful. Of course, even to have commented is to have implicated yourself in the binary logic of a representational dilemma for which there can be no redress and from which there can be no escape. Let this prize serve as consolation.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:26 PM | Comments (1)

The Celebrification of the Academy

It might surprise parents and students that they don't hear about star recruitment on campus tours, given that it's helping drive up the cost of tuition and fees to $38,000 at top private colleges. The institutions need the revenue to subsidize the new buildings and perks required to recruit these professors. Star compensation at these 'nonprofit' universities can top $200,000 for only a class or two a week, which in turn has widened the divide between haves and have-nots in higher education. Columbia offers fancy apartments with majestic views to woo stars (though not every home is as stunning as Sachs's town house west of Central Park); meanwhile, part-time faculty who do the bulk of the teaching are forming unions just to fight for cost-of-living wage increases.

-- Patrick Healy, College Rivalry

Here's a nice article on "the celebrification of academia" and the lengths to which some departments and schools will go in order to woo and win academic superstars. There's no question that some of these people are indeed stars. At age 39, Niall Ferguson, for example, has just published his sixth book. Ferguson, who is being courted by Harvard and NYU, observes that

'One couldn't imagine all of this happening in Oxford, where there's a kind of gentleman's agreement that we're all equally brilliant...It's extremely bad form to suggest that one person is as vulgar as to be a star. But it's rather sweet and flattering to be told you're good. And it's positively disorienting to be told you're a star.'

But does this new cult of celebrity advance the mission of the university and serve the interests both of the students and of the faculty in general? James J. Duderstadt, former president of the University of Michigan and author of The Future of the Public University in America, "is one of a handful of education leaders who see this poaching and jumping around as a threat to America's premier higher education system." Duderstadt argues that "it further erodes institutional loyalty among faculty and puts students second, behind scholars' own interests." And while Derek Bok, a former President of Harvard and author of Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education, "notes that star hiring is a duty of presidents," he worries that "it can be hazardous to a school's core mission, teaching:"

'The lower teaching loads and big perks are a little unsavory, and they can breed envy,' Bok says. 'Humanists feel more and more declasse. They see resources and salaries shifting to more commercially relevant fields of study. Their loyalty softens. It can bubble over in a visible way, like spending less time on campus with students.'...Someday, [Derek Bok] predicts, professional agents may broker deals with university presidents on behalf of star faculty, much as Hollywood producers and NFL recruiters negotiate with star talent now.

'There are a few professors already,' Bok says, 'you get their voice mail that says if you want to talk to X, you need to talk to his agent, which I find a little off-putting.'

Surely Bok is not the only one to find this just a little off-putting. More to the point, I'm sure I'm not the only one who sees the celebrification of the academy as the flip side of its adjunctification?

Ms Cruikshanks, You were asking about the meaning and purpose of liberal education?...

Thanks to Steve of One Pot Meal for calling this to my attention.


Tom of Publius Minor states that while "a star system in itself" isn't a bad thing, the current academic star system "has exceeded all reasonable limits."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:39 PM | Comments (41)

June 27, 2003

Should Tenure be Abolished? Vote Now!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:01 PM | Comments (11)

U of Phoenix Still Rising

Working adults want their college degrees -- and the raises that come with them -- ASAP. The University of Phoenix is taking their desires to the bank.

-- Jeffrey Selingo, The Profit Motive

The Accidental Admin links to the above article "just to see if I can get Invisible Adjunct's blood to boil." Are you kidding?! I'm going corporate, with the U of Phoenix as my model and inspiration. I've had done with noble ideals: labors of love, teaching as vocation, learning for its own sake, and the like. I've spent years of my life in pursuit of said ideals, and look where I've ended up. Show me the money, baby. (And did you know that the U of Phoneix made a profit of $153 million last year?)

So I'm taking notes, doing a bit of market research, shall we say, in preparation for the founding of my own for-profit institution of degraded learning. I'm delighted to learn that "the image of for-profit schools as correspondence courses promoted by Sally Struthers on late-night television has been replaced by students who drive to class in BMWs and carry briefcases." And I think the man-made lake is a nice touch: "[There] is no quad, just a man-made lake bordered on one side by two car dealerships and on the other by sleek offices." Well, why not? Out with that neo-gothic nonsense. Sure, the university was once an arm of the Church, but it should now be the arm of what must be seen as the new religion of our age.

A couple of things to note about the above-linked article. First, in its description of "an army of part-time faculty members" that "helps boost Phoenix's profit margin," the article suggests a new standard of comparison:

All but a handful of Phoenix faculty are part-timers. The university actually calls them 'practitioners' since most of them work full time in the fields they teach. Phoenix takes care of the prep work by providing them with a centralized curriculum that is developed by a small cadre of full-time faculty as well as some part-time instructors. The lighter workload for faculty is reflected in pay: Phoenix instructors in the Washington area earn between $800 and $1,650 per course, compared with $2,000 to $5,000 for adjuncts at more traditional universities in the area.

What's interesting here is that the shockingly low pay rates for adjuncts in the Washington area is cited as the norm and standard, against which to measure the even lower pay rates for Phoenix adjuncts. We have sunk very low indeed. We could sink lower still.

The article suggests that "the initial consternation over Phoenix" has died down as "local university officials...realize now that Phoenix poses less of a threat than they first believed. They say that their enrollments of adult students remain steady, or in some cases are growing:"

Traditional colleges tend to 'exaggerate the impact of Phoenix,' says Breneman, the University of Virginia dean who is co-editing a book on for-profit universities. 'They set for-profits up as the bogeyman. For-profits are not stealing market share, they are essentially extending it.'

This may well be true in terms of student enrollment: the University of Phoenix has a different consumer base, and is presumably not in competition with more traditional universities in the area. But what about rates of pay for instructors? Might Phoenix exert a downward pressure on the already low rates of pay for adjuncts at other institutions? Not to worry: Most traditional institutions "say they have no interest in turning their institutions into a business, and even if they did, it would take years to roll back all the things that affect the bottom line: student activities, eclectic course offerings and tenure." That sounds reassuring, doesn't it?

Second, the article points to the some of the absurdities of credentialing (do I hear a comment from Zizka?). Take, for example, this account of a course in human resources management:

There's no lecturing here. The students know too much for that. Almost everyone prefaces his or her answers in class with, 'At my company,' or, 'At my previous employer.' When one student asks for an explanation of 'pay-banding,' the particulars are provided not by [instructor, or rather, "practitioner" ] Caputo but by a student who works at the Department of Defense, which uses such a system to establish pay ranges for positions.

After an hour, the discussion moves to telecommuting, which Roberson could teach himself. He works out of his Silver Spring home and has telecommuted for years. No one offers anything on the subject he doesn't already know, and Roberson has trouble staying focused. ('It was a battle against boredom,' he says later.)

So Roberson is not really learning anything he doesn't already know, but needs to have his already existing knowledge officially certified: "At Sun Microsystems, he says, he has been passed over for several promotions, sometimes by people he has trained. 'The excuse was always that they had a bachelor's degree, and I didn't,' Roberson says. 'I want to once and for all eliminate that excuse.'"

Phoenix currently operates in 26 states, and continues to expand operations. According to this report by the Chronicle (subscription-only), the U of Phoenix "is expected to receive approval today to open a New Jersey campus, five years after it withdrew a similar application amid heated opposition." This comes after withdrawing an application in 1998, "after vehement opposition from many public and private colleges in New Jersey," who "criticized Phoenix for failing to provide a library in its plan for the campus and for the low number of full-time faculty members it proposed."

Apparently they've cut a deal:

This time around, Phoenix has signed an agreement to pay New Jersey City University $25,000 per year to share library resources, added more general-education courses, and required more contact between students and professors. The company also has proposed setting up shop in Jersey City, where it would compete with fewer institutions.

25,000 dollars? A mere pittance, an insult even. The university lies in ruins, and in come the carpetbaggers of the digital age. Where do I sign up and how do I cash in?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:54 AM | Comments (10)

June 25, 2003

The Supreme Court's AA Decision

For those interested in the Supreme Court's recent ruling in the Michigan affirmative action cases, I recommend the following commentary:

Brad DeLong on equality of opportunity

Frank Admissions weighing in as admission expert

Kieran Healy on the difference between necessary and sufficient causes

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:33 PM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2003

The Academic Job Search: Requirements for Candidacy

Thomas Hart Benton of Don't Go to Grad School fame (or is that infamy?) comments (Do We Really Need Another 'Other'?) on the increased expectations for academic job candidates:

Or am I remembering an MLA job ad (e.g., 'in your letter of application to Great Valley State College, please describe how your scholarship has changed the paradigm of your field as well as how you teach remedial composition.')

"In any case," Benton adds, "I guess that delusions of grandeur are characteristic of enterprises on the eve of disintegration."

The eve of disintegration? Let me assure you that your pessimism is unwarranted, and let me remind you that, in any case, it is impermissible. This is the morning of a brave new epoch of Outstanding Achievement in all areas of academic Excellence. The increased pressure to publish means that scholarly productivity is at an all-time high; the now-standard practice of students evaluating their teachers rewards hitherto unimaginable levels of shameless pandering commitment and dedication in the classroom; and the substantial inflation improvement in student grades over the past two decades points to impressive gains in students' academic performance. Climb aboard, Mr Benton, and ride the train of Progress. But please be seated right next to one of our excellence-in-research-and-teaching quality control experts: something tells me we will need to keep an eye on you.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:14 AM | Comments (9)

June 23, 2003

From CV to Resume?

I'm looking for advice on how to write a resume, and especially on how to do so when you've wasted so many years of your life in the academy that you don't have anything non-academic to put on your resume. Books, websites, hints from Heloise, personal testimonials, twelve-step affirmations...Throw it at me!

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:02 PM | Comments (13)

Supreme Court Rules on AA

The U.S. Supreme Court today upheld the use of affirmative action in college admissions in two cases involving the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, but struck down the mechanics of Michigan's undergraduate admissions policy.

-- Peter Schmidt, Supreme Court Upholds Affirmative Action in College Admissions

As many legal scholars had predicted, the Court upheld Michigan's admissions policy in the case involving the law school (Grutter v. Bollinger). In the case involving undergraduate admissions (Gratz v. Bollinger), the Court struck down the current policy as too broad and formulaic (as was predicted), but "the majority did not reject the use of racial preferences to promote educational diversity."


As he notes in his comment here, Frank Admissions will be posting about the decisions at the Financial Aid Office, where he is now a special guest blogger.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:01 PM | Comments (2)

June 22, 2003

Weekly IA Award

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Rana of Frogs and Ravens, who picks up on the Tutor's marriage metaphor to offer a sharp observation on the academic job search and to ask an interesting, if uncomfortable, question (comments to "Deprogramming from the Cult of Academia"):

[The] job search, in particular, is very much like a dating game, in which the 'prize' is an 'engagement' to get 'married' (tenured) at some point in the future. The notion of adjuncting as common law marriage is very apt, I think -- it can have the passion -- and abuse -- of a formal marriage, but with none of the security or benefits.

A question -- which is, no doubt, a variant of a larger one about the nature of academe -- why is this metaphor so apt? What does it say about the relationships between scholar-teachers and the institutions which employ them? I can't think of people in other professions talking about their employment like this, the phrase 'married to your job' not withstanding.

Well done, Rana. For my own part, I guess I can't say that I wasn't warned: after all, my mother did tell me, 'Always a bridesmaid, never a bride'...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:57 PM | Comments (16)

June 21, 2003

'An Interesting Amount of Money:' Textbook Kickbacks and Payoffs

James Williams received his letter last fall. 'Dear Professor,' it began. The form letter went on to offer him $4,000 for reviewing an introductory history textbook. 'I thought, "That's an interesting amount of money,"' says the associate professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University.

Mr. Williams filled out a form online, as the letter requested. A few days into the application process, however, he began to feel uncomfortable. When it became clear that in order to receive the money, he would have to require his students to buy the book, he backed out. He had 'several ethical issues' with accepting money to adopt a textbook, he told the company.

-- Thomas Bartlett, "Selling Out: A Textbook Example"

Four thousand dollars to review a college history textbook certainly is "an interesting amount of money." While James Williams -- much to his credit -- had "ethical issues" with accepting payment from the publisher in exchange for requiring his student to buy the book, for some of his colleagues this quid pro quo apparently represented an offer they couldn't, or wouldn't, refuse:

His colleague, Amy Staples, received the same letter. The assistant professor of history had similar reservations. But the lure of the $4,000 -- 'twice what I make in a month take-home pay,' she says -- was too strong. 'I bought a house in June, and I needed a washer and dryer. I had decided to use a textbook and -- poof! -- all the stars aligned and I got this letter in the mail.'

When asked whether she understands that she was adopting a textbook for money, Ms. Staples pauses for a moment. 'Yeah,' she says.

Well, major household appliances are expensive, so I suppose there was not enough money left over to hire a media consultant who might have advised Ms. Staples not to make the above admission to a reporter from the Chronicle. Anyway, the Chronicle reports that "most of the professors who accepted money from North West, including Ms. Staples, say they now wish they had not."

Meanwhile, North West Publishing

denies that the payments are tied to textbook adoption. As proof, Jason James, the textbook-review manager, said he could provide the names of professors who were paid for reviews but did not adopt a book. Despite repeated requests, he never did turn over such a list. The company has refused to answer other questions about its business practices.

They make the same denial on their website, where North West Publishing's "US History Reviewer's FAQ" explains why the compensation is so high:

Q: Why is the reviewer's compensation so high?

A: In the past we offered less compensation for our textbook reviewers and found that the reviews did not reflect an in-depth knowledge of the book's actual content. In many cases it was apparent that the reviewer hadn't spent enough time with the book and his/her review was not much help to our editorial team. As a result we've increased the reviewer's compensation which affords us the opportunity to be more selective during the application process and ultimately receive more useful feedback in our steady commitment to create the highest quality course material available.

Indeed. We all know how difficult it is to get an academic to write a decent review for anything less than 4K. But if professors are going to accept bribes generous compensation from publishers in exchange for textbook adoption, shouldn't their students be informed of this practice?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:57 AM | Comments (17)

June 20, 2003

Deprogramming from the Cult of Academia

The Happy Tutor of Wealth Bondage suggests a new line of work (comment to "Holiday"):

Maybe you could start a business, for parents and those who love the Adjuncts, to stage an intervention, to kidnap and deprogram.

As the Tutor recognizes, first I would have to deprogram myself:

Wealth Bondage is bad. But even worse is a truly abusive common law marriage. I came back to reread your prior posts and found myself saying, 'Why does she stay in such an abusive relationship, when she knows it has no future, that she is being used, humiliated and discarded?'

Why indeed? In fact, just such an analogy had occurred to me, too. Like so many adjuncts, I'm behaving like someone in an abusive relationship: It must be my fault, it must be me who is to blame...if only I teach one more course or publish one more article, the academy will finally stop hitting me and will finally start loving me for who I am.

Damn. Well, it's not so easy to deprogram oneself, but I'm working on it...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:03 PM | Comments (17)

June 15, 2003

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

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to Zizka, for his analysis of the humanities as a declining industry (comments to "1 in 5: Thomas H. Benton Explains Why You Shouldn't Go to Graduate School"):

We ought to get an economist on this. What we have is a classic two-tier hiring system in a declining industry (humanities). The industry also is highly dependent on a large pool of workers who rationally should be finding jobs elsewhere. To the extent that scholarship (rather than just teaching) justifies the system, the future looks grim since the scholars of the future are not being fostered. And it looks like an enormous shakedown is ahead.

Well said, Zizka. If this award carried a cash prize, your check would be in the mail. Let me add that we ought to get an economist from outside the academy: someone who neither possesses nor hopes to possess academic tenure.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:15 PM | Comments (23)

June 13, 2003

Freshman Comp Assignment?: Create a Fake Airline

A college freshman created a fake airline that offered bargain-priced tickets on flights between Honolulu and Los Angeles, authorities said Thursday.

Luke Thompson, of Yardley, Pa., incorporated Mainline Airways in Pennsylvania, established a business address in the Boston suburb of Wellesley and set up an elaborate Web site, according to Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly...

-- Martin Finucane, "Student Accused of Creating Fake Airline"

I'd say this student deserves an "A" for creativity, and an "F" for ethics.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 11:23 AM | Comments (2)

'A Paranoid Genre:' A Publisher on the Doctoral Dissertation

A professor I spoke to recently called the dissertation 'a paranoid genre,' and rightly so. The manuscript you produce as a degree requirement needs to demonstrate that you know the history of your field, that you have propitiated various deities, that you've found the right giant on whose shoulders you can climb and wave your tiny hat. Maybe that isn't paranoia quite, but it's at least a conservatism born of fear...

...A real book manuscript doesn't look over its shoulder, worrying that Foucault is running after it in a hockey mask. It has the confidence not to tell everything, like a tedious old uncle at a family reunion, but instead chooses which part of the story to tell even while knowing much, much more. Most important, a book manuscript doesn't suppress the author's commitment to the subject. That commitment might even be love.

-- William Germano, [currently sub-only; will edit to free URL as soon as it's available]"If Dissertations Could Talk, What Would They Say?"

Here's an interesting read for anyone trying to turn a dissertation into a book manuscript. Most dissertations, Germano claims, are "dry as toast and not as tasty:" dull, overlengthy, and written to fufill an academic requirement rather than to speak to a broader audience. Germano recommends the following:

Every graduate student needs and deserves instruction in writing an article for publication, instruction in planning a thesis that someone other than a committee might care about, instruction in how to maneuver quickly and safely through book publishing's hoops, instruction in how to revise one's work five times, not get sick of it, and understand that the result is worth every grindingly tedious moment spent. There are more attempts to provide those tools than there were 20 years ago, but the university has a long way to go and not much time to get there. Every graduate department or program, as well as every graduate-school administration, should be taking those fundamental tasks and building them into their core programs.

No doubt he is right about this, but don't look for these reforms any time soon.

This opens up another dimension to the "publish or perish" issue, which is briefly discussed in the Rachel Johnson article that I blogged about below. Johnson cites someone at Routledge:

‘We’re inundated with manuscripts and proposals every day,’ says Siobhan Pattinson at Routledge. ‘And what academics want is to publish something not that will sell but that will improve their position in the department. It’s a completely saturated market, so we are now focusing on textbooks’ — which cannot be submitted as research in the RAE process, I should note — ‘and less on the monograph for which we don’t pay the author an advance, which has a print run of 200, and sells for £65 a copy.’

As the academy demands more and more by way of publication, academic publishers increasingly call on academics to cease and desist from the overproduction of unprofitable monographs. As John Sutherland explains in "Publish or Perish,"

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

The problem, as Sutherland describes it, is that there is simply "no market demand" for what is currently being produced: not only does the public not "want to read the thousands of academic monographs currently being produced by the tenure-needy literary critics of America," but "not even academics buy academic books."

Okay, off to finish revisions to a chapter for a monograph that no more than a handful of people will ever read...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:14 AM | Comments (31)

Publish or Perish: the UK's RAE

So, in order to get the money necessary to teach undergraduates, academics are being forced to produce a fixed quota of books they have neither the time nor the inclination to write, which nobody particularly wants to read; an exercise that deprives their students of the only benefit they can give them, which is teaching time and expertise (even if this is only snoozing pleasurably as a student reads out his first-year essay on the origins of the Peloponnesian war).

-- Rachel Johnson, "Publish or be damned"

Via Chris Bertram of Junius, Rachel Johnson takes issue with the UK's Research Assessment Exercise, which subjects university teachers "to a production quota for published work that makes Stalin’s five-year plans look positively market-driven."

When the department of Modern History at Oxford dropped from a 5* to a 5 rating (there are seven possible grades, from 0 to 5*), "the loss of the star resulted in the deduction of a full £1 million from the faculty’s government grant." In addition to the loss of cash, writes Johnson,

donnish pride took a further kicking when the history department at Oxford Brookes University (aka the poly) was given a higher rating than the one at the university, where titans have numbered Richard Cobb, Richard Southern and Eric Hobsbawm among them. The former poly’s history department was graded 5* to the university’s 5.

Well, not that we didn't already know it, but I think we can now officially declare that the days of the gentleman-scholar are over. In Johnson's characterization, the RAE is based on the premise that "those in receipt of public money must be quality-controlled, audited and assessed on a continuous basis." I suppose one could argue (and no doubt its defenders do argue) that this quality control process (though perhaps it should be termed a quantity control process?) represents a democratization of the bestowing of prestige (not to mention money). Here is a process, after all, through which the department at Oxford Brookes earns a higher rating than the department at Oxford.

But I think Johnson is right to point out that all of this comes at the expense of teaching:

To recap: at a time when the government is increasing hugely the numbers of students entering higher education (OK, partly now by allowing catering colleges to call themselves universities, but still) and asking parents to pay for their tuition, those responsible for teaching them are being judged not by their teaching skills but by what they have managed to get between hard covers or into learned journals.
Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:18 AM | Comments (1)

June 03, 2003

A Recovering Academic Enters the Blogosphere

But when I see so many gifted people still in academe, scraping by on adjunct income with no real prospects for earning a decent living, my heart goes out to them and I want to say: You are too gifted and intelligent to be wasting your time in a profession that does not want you. Just as importantly, the world is not benefitting from your talents. Look elsewhere!

The above quote comes from Kevin Walzer, who has written about the academic job crisis "in the Chronicle and elsewhere" and who has a new blog called (appropriately enough) Kevin Walzer's Blog. Among the topics he plans to address are "writing and publishing poetry, earning a living in the business world, fooling around with computer technology (and occasionally harnessing it for useful purposes), and being a former/recovering academic." I look forward to reading more.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:18 PM | Comments (3)

Live Colloquy on Academic Blogging

Do Web logs, or 'blogs,' contribute to academic discourse? What should academics who want to blog know about the medium?

-- Colloquy Live, Chronicle of Higher Education

Tomorrow, Wednesday 4 June, at 1 pm (Eastern US time), the Chronicle will host a live colloquy on academic blogging, starring law professor Eugene Volokh as Eugene Volokh the blogger.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:00 PM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2003

"Adjunct Survivor: Big City" (Contingent Faculty and Academic Freedom)

Casting Call: Producers of new reality television show, Adjunct Survivor: Big City, seek highly educated (Ph.D. preferred), highly skilled men and women willing to teach four courses per semester (or more)—any subject—for below living wage. Excellent benefits not included. Must have own car or transit pass. Internal Revenue Service mileage rate not provided. Equal opportunity exploiter: those seeking academic freedom need not apply.

-- Eric Marshall, "Victims of Circumstance: Academic Freedom in a Contingent Academy"

Something tells me Fox TV would pass on the concept of a reality TV show based on the trials and tribulations of adjunct faculty. I just don't think academics have the right kind of sex appeal. But maybe I'm wrong: perhaps viewers would be wowed by the use of political philosophy/political theory pickup lines (Kieran Healy explains how to be a Burkean-style babe magnet here; while Kevin Drum resolves the question of why Hobbes never married here).

Anyway, the above-linked essay is about academic freedom and whether or not it applies to adjunct faculty. The problem, of course, is that, as Marshall puts it,

the usual and customary understanding of academic freedom has also long wedded it inseparably to tenure, thereby greatly diminishing its relevance for adjuncts and largely excluding them from the conversation.

Is tenure the only way to secure academic freedom? And if so, what is the significance of the fact that increasing numbers of university teachers do not and never will enjoy academic freedom? And if not, what does this do to the standard argument that the protection of academic freedom requires the continued maintenance of the tenure system?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 08:45 PM | Comments (6)

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

This week's Invisible Adjunct Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Excellence (No Cash, Just Glory) goes to John Bruce for his truly inspired description of graduate TAs as "blood corpuscles" (comment to "Doctor Temp"):

The TAs, who are grad students, attend the money-losing graduate seminars, paid for by the tuition credit they generate in addition to their subsistence cash income. In this way they serve to transfer the funds from the high-volume, high margin intro courses to the low-volume, money losing graduate seminars. Blood corpuscles.

Nicely done, Mr. Bruce. Your account of the role and function of the TA in the university's circulatory system deserves to circulate freely.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:08 AM | Comments (1)

Pursue a Liberal Arts Degree and Join the Ranks of the Non-Industrial Proletariat?

OK, fine, you got your liberal arts B.A. sometime in the last five years. What does that mean?

It means that you've succeeded in joining the non-industrial proletariat. You're $5,000--$20,000 in debt. Your parents are worried about you. You're making just enough to get by. Statistically speaking, you're working in one of the following five job categories:

* Waitperson/ barista, etc.
* Copy center
* Care center
* Convenience store
* Telephone solicitation.

-- Zizka, "Forget the B.A."

Zizka offered an interesting response in the comments to my earlier post, "A Question for Anyone Who Cares to Respond." I now discover this equally provocative piece at his website. He paints a grim picture of employment prospects for liberal arts majors. Is it an accurate one?

The Accidental Admin at the Financial Aid Office might be inclined to answer "No." In this post on "The Public and Private Benefits of Higher Education," the Accidental Admin suggests that higher education leads to, among other things, "personal economic benefits" in the form of higher salaries, higher savings, better working conditions and the like (without, however, specifying which type of higher education). On the other hand, here is an article (admittedly dealing with the situation in the UK) which suggests that "Arts degrees 'reduce earnings:'"

A degree in an arts subject reduces average earnings to below those of someone who leaves school with just A-levels, a study shows.

Graduates in these subjects - including history and English - could expect to make between 2% and 10% less than those who quit education at 18, researchers at Warwick University found...

Professor Ian Walker, leading the study, said: 'Feeling warm about literature doesn't pay the rent.'

I hope Zizka is wrong, but I certainly wouldn't dismiss his argument out of hand. And I guess it's hard to argue with this:

The people who are giving you this cultural enrichment stuff are people who need you to study with them, because if you don't, they won't have jobs. If you and your parents have to make a lot of sacrifices in order for you to study with these guys, that's perfectly OK as far as they're concerned.

Whether or not Zizka is right, I think it's important to note an important distinction here. American higher education is of course highly stratified into different tiers. If you received a liberal arts degree from, for example, Harvard Univesity or Amherst College, chances are you're not working as a clerk at a convenience store. However, the real growth in liberal arts education that occurred with the expansion of higher ed. during the 1960s took place not at the top tier (many of those schools having been doing liberal arts for a couple of centuries) but at the second and third tiers. Statistically speaking, the real question is, What are the employment/earning prospects of someone who earns a liberal arts degree at a school that is not in top tier?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:34 AM | Comments (20)

June 01, 2003

A Question for Anyone Who Cares to Respond

Marcus, my son, you have been a pupil of Cratippus' for a year already, and that in Athens. Consquently, you ought to be filled to overflowing with philosophical advice and instruction, through the great authority of both teacher and city: the former can improve you with his knowledge, the latter by her examples...

...Many weighty and beneficial matters in philosophy have been discussed accurately and expansively by philosophers. However, it is their teachings and their advice on questions of duties that seem to have the widest application. For no part of life, neither public affairs nor private, neither in the forum nor at home, neither when acting on your own nor in dealings with another, can be free from duty. Everything that is honourable in a life depends upon its cultivation, and everything dishonourable upon its neglect.

-- Cicero, On Duties, Book I

The question is:

What is the purpose of a liberal arts undergraduate education?

Imagine that you have been asked to address a group of college-bound high school seniors, many of whom are undecided as to whether or not to pursue the liberal arts path. Or perhaps you are speaking to the parents of these students, some of whom are sceptical of the value of a liberal arts degree, which they worry might prove "useless." Would you recommend that students pursue a liberal arts degree, and if so, on what grounds?

I have been thinking and wondering about this question quite a bit lately, the more so after having read Stanley Fish's "Aim Low," in which he asserts that university teachers are responsible not for "the effects of our teaching" but only for "its appropriate performance" and, more broadly, objects "to moral and civic education in our colleges and universities" on the grounds "not that it is a bad idea (which it surely is), but that it's an unworkable idea." At least a few bloggers have responded to Fish's article: Jason at No Symbols Where None Intended, for example, calls the essay "especially intelligent;" Gary Sauer-Thompson thinks the essay raises "an important issue" but suggests that Fish has "a very narrow conception of the university;" while Jack at SCSUScholars approves of Fish's message that faculty "become professionals again," and believes the views of Fish represent those of "the bulk of the sensible faculty who have been depressingly silent, and in their fears have abdicated their responsibility to actually educate their students."

I've been meaning to blog about this essay too, but have been too lazy/busy/distracted to do so. So in the spirit of "interactivity," I thought I'd throw open the question to anyone who has an interest in the current and future state of the liberal arts in higher education. What, if anything, is the value of such an education, and wherein lie its merits -- or, given recent attacks on the liberal arts, perhaps I should say, wherein lies its justification?

I suppose I should just leave it at that and see if anyone cares to respond, and along what lines. But I can't resist making a point which I think an important one. In his "Aim Low," Fish takes aim at the recently published Educating Citizens: Preparing America's Undergraduates For Lives Of Moral And Civic Responsibility (Jossey-Bass, 2003), "a product of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching" which "reports on a failure" that Fish finds "heartening." Fish characterizes the "grand and ambitious agenda" of this book as "at once too vague and too left-by-the-numbers and too ambitious," and pretty much implies that the concern with moral and civic education represents a left-liberal position: "while academics are always happy to be warned against the incursions of capitalism, they are unlikely either to welcome or heed a warning against the incursions of virtue."

What Fish doesn't acknowledge here, however, is something of which he must surely be aware, namely, that the concern with moral and civic education also animates the grand and ambitious agenda of those who call for a return to traditional standards and traditional curricula from a more conservative position. Thus, Lynne Cheney, for instance, delivers addresses on "the role of civic education in sustaining political freedom." And colleges and universities which offer "great books" programs (a useful list of such programs can be found here) typically define the mission of such an education in civic and moral terms. To quote just one example, St. John's College explains the value of a great books education as follows:

The books that are at the heart of learning at St. John's stand among the original sources of our intellectual tradition. They are timeless and timely; they not only illuminate the persisting questions of human existence, but also have great relevance to the contemporary problems with which we have to deal. They therefore enter directly into our everyday lives. Their authors speak to us as freshly as when they first spoke. They change our minds, move our hearts, and touch our spirits. What they have to tell us is not something of merely academic concern, or remote from our real interests. At St. John's books are not treated reverently or digested whole; they are dissected, mulled over, interpreted, doubted, often rejected, often accepted. They serve to foster thinking, not to dominate it.

The problem, of course, is that while many liberals and conservatives are in broad agreement that a liberal arts education should be in part an education in moral and civic virtues and duties, they don't agree at all on the specific content and direction of such an education. So perhaps Fish's proposal to abandon the moral and civic component does represent the only viable solution, and the only way to finally cease and desist from the endless and endlessly tedious campus culture wars. But I'd like to emphasize the point that an appeal to professionalism as a replacement for civics and morality does represent something fairly novel in the history of liberal arts education. And I would have to add that I am not persuaded that such a proposal should be seen as a "new and improved" one.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:36 PM | Comments (19)

May 30, 2003

A Scholar-Blogger and his Peers

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

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

"Scholars Who Blog"

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

-- David Glenn, "Scholars Who Blog"

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

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

May 29, 2003

Higher Ed in the UK: The RAE

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

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

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

Excellence in Teaching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 28, 2003

The Online Degree: A Consumer's Guide?

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

-- The Online Degree

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

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

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

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

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

May 26, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

Skill Sets

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

I do not think that they will sing to me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there's more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 22, 2003

"Higher Ed in a Down Economy"

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

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

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

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

"Monastery or Market"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I find particularly insightful is his argument that

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 19, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 17, 2003

Derek Bok on the Commercialization of Higher Education

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

-- Jonathan Yardley, Higher Education, Upping the Ante

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

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

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

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

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

May 15, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But what exactly might it mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Consumer Revolution in Education Continues Apace

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

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

Injustice in a department of criminal justice:

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

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

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

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

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

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

It's all about consumer satisfaction.

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

ADDENDUM (Friday, 16 May):

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

The Baltimore Sun reports:

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

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

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

May 14, 2003

Overspecialization as Scholasticism?

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

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

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

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

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

Quote of the Day

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

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

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

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

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

May 13, 2003

More on the Straussians

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 12, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 11, 2003

Why Plagiarism Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 10, 2003

EduBlogs with Another Sort of Edge

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

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

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

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

Enlightenment and Blackmail

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

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

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

May 08, 2003

Plagiarism dot com

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

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

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

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

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

My Thought for the Day

A teacher is not a performance artist.

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

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

May 07, 2003

College or University?

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

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

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

-- Jay Mathews, "Colleges Upgrade Their Image"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

-- Daniel Duane, "Eggheads Unite"

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

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

Quite. Let us not confuse our categories.

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 06, 2003

Be Careful: It's Strange Out There

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

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

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

May 04, 2003

Mr. Smith Strauss Goes to Washington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 03, 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 02, 2003

Anxiety and Insecurity: The Status of the Humanities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 30, 2003

When the Axe Falls, Tenure No Protection

Not if you're a tenured professor in the research division of a university-operated museum, and not if that university is the University of Nebraska.

The Chronicle of Higher Education reports that in response to serious budgetary pressures, the University of Nebraska has decided to eliminate the research division of the University of Nebraska State Museum, which involves the elimination of eight tenured professorships. While the university has found alternative positions for four of the eight professors, if its latest budgetary proposal is approved the other four professors will soon find themselves out of work.

The vulnerability of these professors stems from the fact that though they teach in other departments they do not have their own undergraduate programme: "The chancellor, Harvey Perlman, contends that the elimination of the museum's research division represents a 'programmatic decision' that won't harm the core mission of undergraduate teaching."

There can be little question that university administrators are in a bind. Their state funding was recently cut by 10 percent. 10 percent represents a significant cutback (apparently in the order of about $21 million), in response to which something must be cut. In fact, something already has been. The Chronicle notes that "while budget concerns had led to the layoffs of more than 150 staff and non-tenure-track faculty members since 2001, this was the first slice at tenured professors."

One question on the minds of tenured professors at the University of Nebraska: is this the first in a series of slices? Another question, raised by Susan W. Fisher of Ohio State University, which recently suffered a $28 million cut in state funding, is: "'If the precedent is set that an entire program can be eliminated and the tenured people did not have to be accommodated, then where does it stop?'"

A couple of other questions might also be posed. For example, how many mid- to top-level administrative positions have been cut? And since tenured professors at the University of Nebraska are understandably and, if this article is any indication, quite vocally upset about this first slice at the tenured, we might ask what, if anything, was their response to the elimination of the 150 staff and non-tenured positions?

I don't think this decision by one state-funded university should be taken as a sign that the institution of tenure is now in grave and imminent danger of abolition. This is, after all, not the first time that an entire programme has been eliminated. Moreover, the research division's lack of an undergraduate programme does seem relevant: regardless of the value of the museum (which is surely valuable in any number of ways), I think an argument can be made that it is not as central to the basic mission of the university as an undergraduate teaching programme.

Still, if the significance of this cut should not be exaggerated, I think it must be acknowledged that it is not a good sign. A number of state legislatures are proposing and implementing steep funding cuts for higher education. A number of state taxpayers are under the impression that tenured professors are at best lazy and at worst up to no good and to worse than no good. Indeed, a recent nationwide poll by the Chronicle suggests that while Americans are generally "more than satisfied with the quality of education that American colleges provide," they are "highly skeptical" of some of the practices of the academy, including that of tenure: apparently some two-thirds of the poll's respondents agreed that "experienced professors should not be granted jobs for life." Is this how the question was framed, I wonder? this would surely skew the response. But then, this is almost certainly how the question would be framed in the public sphere if tenure became a political issue. I don't think it would take much to run a successful campaign (say for a state-wide ballot initiative) urging voters to eliminate tenure as a way of making state-funded higher education more cost-effective and more responsive to the needs of the public (I don't think the abolition of tenure would do anything of the sort, but I believe it would be easy enough to convince enough voters that it would). I'm not suggesting that such a campaign is on the immediate horizon. But I also think it would be naive to rule out this, or similar, attacks on tenure as very real possibilities over the next decade or two.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:07 PM | Comments (11)

April 29, 2003

What Ever Happened to Scholarly Conversation?

"The Separation of the Learned from the conversible World seems to have been the great Defect of the last Age, and must have had a very bad Influence both on Books and Company...
....[Learning] has been...[a] great Loser by being shut up in Colleges and Cells, and secluded from the World and good Company. By that Means, every Thing of what we call Belles Lettres became totally barbarous, being cultivated by Men without any Taste of Life or Manners, and without that Liberty and Facility of Thought and Expression, which can only be acquir'd by Conversation. Even Philosophy went to Wrack by this moaping recluse Method of Study, and became as chimerical in her Conclusions as she was unintelligible in her Stile and Manner of Delivery."

-- David Hume, "Of Essay-Writing" (1742), Essays Moral, Political and Literary

"We should be more concerned with our quality of mind and less concerned with our production of scholarship, and place greater value by far on one good conversation about the nature of a good society than the publication of five journal articles. That's how we get to a new academy humming with passion for ideas and a generosity of spirit, where academics treat each other with the same tender pedagogical regard that professors at a college like Swarthmore now reserve for their brightest undergraduates, where the excitement of discussion and debate replaces the damp silence that nestles over the academic calendar like a fog."

-- Timothy Burke, "We never talk anymore"

Lack of time, writes Timothy Burke, is "the alibi that everyone uses to lightly explain away the puzzling vacuum at the heart of academic life." He's not buying it.

In a nice dissection of the heartlessness at the heart of the academy, Burke places his emphasis on the significance of fear. There is, for example, the "internalization of shame" and "paranoid wariness" that is too often the accompaniment of graduate school training. And there is also "the massive saturation of the intellectual marketplace with published knowledge and academic performances of knowledge at conferences, workshops and events," which makes academics "fear exposure of ignorance, because in truth, most of us are ignorant."

In place of "the ceaseless overproduction of derivative, second-order knowledge," Burke calls for a renewed embrace of the teaching mission and a revaluation of the vanishing art of scholarly conversation. Following Hume, we might call this a return to the ideal of conversibility, where the scholar does not work in "monkish seclusion" but rather engages with the problems and concerns of common life, mediating between the world of learning and the rest of the world. In any case, go read Burke's essay.

Re: "the ceaseless overproduction of derivative, second-order knowledge." I have to agree that it would be far better to have less production of what could then be more valuable books and articles. But I'm not optimistic.

Less production of better publications would require a much greater emphasis on qualitative rather than quantitative measurements of value. But where would the criteria of evaluation be found? As Burke notes in his essay, since the canon no longer has any authority, there is no longer a "compass to point the way towards what we ought to know." One response to this loss of compass is the move toward ever greater degrees of specialization: the more narrow the field, the easier it is to find evaluative criteria that specialists can agree upon. But this specialization is of course not a solution but rather a major part of the problem of an overproduction of work that will never be read by more than a handful of like-minded specialists.

And then there is the problem of the academic job "market" (the dismal state of which is also related to a loss of authority): an oversupply of candidates has intensified the pressure to publish, which now begins in graduate school.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:48 AM | Comments (32)

April 26, 2003

"Doctor Outsider": A PhD on Leaving the Academy

"I shift my weight and launch what is, by now, a practiced speech. 'Well, rather than stay here and do a lectureship next year, I'm going to try my luck in new media — you know, Internet stuff'....
She puts a comforting hand on my shoulder and looks deep into my eyes. 'Don't worry. You have to keep plugging away, but I know you'll find that academic job eventually!' And with one more reassuring shoulder pat, she is gone. I gaze after her in disbelief, and I feel another headache coming on."

-- Michele Tepper, "Doctor Outsider"

Here is a very interesting and provocative essay by an English Ph.D. (you can visit her blog here) who made the very wise decision to leave the academy rather than spend years "plugging away" in the hope that she might "eventually" land that tenure-track job. Not surprisingly, Tepper found that her attempt "to build a meaningful professional and intellectual life outside the academy" was "consistently denied, denigrated, or ignored" by those who chose to remain within. Her essay examines the "unexamined elitism and unwarranted defensiveness" behind such opposition.

This is well worth reading, and I'll have more to say about it later, but for now, must attend to that other dimension otherwise known as my real life...

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 07:37 PM | Comments (0)

Let's Not Do Lunch?

A graduate student in philosophy writes: "I find Invisible Adjunct depressing but I read it anyway."

I'm glad he's reading it, but then kind of sorry he finds it depressing. And it is depressing, isn't it? This is not an upbeat and cheerful sort of blog. Maybe not the kind of blog you'd want to have lunch with. You might think, 'Sure, it makes a couple of good points, but then it's rather relentless in pursuit of those points, and altogether too negative; It's really kind of draining, and geez, I just want to have a nice, relaxing lunch and I don't know if I have the energy.' No, this is not a "let's-do-lunch" blog. It's more a late night, perhaps even a 3 a.m. phonecall, sort of a blog. In short, it's a bit of a downer.

Well, adjunctification is depressing, and in more ways than I have time to name. There's the depression of wages, of course (and not only for adjuncts: reliance on part-timers exerts a downward pressure on the salaries of the tenure-tracked and the tenured, too). And then there's the depression of status (again, a downward pressure on the status of the relevant disciplines overall. Take English literature, for example, surely this is the near-perfect example. Some attribute the degradation of English to the tendency of its professors to jump on the latest theoretical bandwagons. And they do seem to go in for the latest fads and fashions over in the English department...well, let's face it, they seem to have deconstructed and to have undermined the very basis of their own discipline and to have done so from within: this is curious and probably worrisome for anyone who cares about the long-term prospects of English literature as an academic discipline. But English literature is also one of the main offenders in the reliance on casual, part-time teaching staff, and surely there is a connection? perhaps there is even a relationship between reliance on contingent labor and a theoretical concern with the marginal and the contingent: is the adjunct instructor meant to serve as some sort of experiment in the decentering of the subject?) And then there is that other kind of depression that can result from the depression of wages and status. Unemployment and underemployment are depressing topics all around.

Someone asked me the other day, "You said the purpose of your blog was partly therapeutic. Is it working?" Ack. How embarrassing. Welcome to my me-zine: it's all about me and I'm all about therapy. How cheesy does that sound? This is one of the main reasons why I write this stuff under cover of a pseudonym. It's not that I'm worried about losing tenure, I don't have tenure to lose. It's more that, in pursuit of those couple of points that are the main focus of this blog, I'm also throwing out bits and pieces of myself, and who knows where they will land and how they will be received?

Anyway, the funny thing is, I think it's actually working. The fact is, I'm feeling much better these days. Well, maybe it's partly the weather, but I'm pretty sure it's also the blog. It helps to say the things that I say on this blog. I suppose it helps to "get it out of my system," as the saying goes. Of course, there's a fine line here. I want to get it out of my system and then move on. I don't want to spend the rest of my life obssessing over these cheerless themes, embittered and angry and what have you. But then I can't seem to move on until I get it out of my system. However, I'm beginning to see the exit, I think I can cut a path and find my way out. I'm not quite finished with getting it out of my system, there are still a few more things I want to say. I will say them, and then move on.

But meanwhile, maybe I'm bringing others down? Damn. There's always a catch, isn't there? Well look: I'm only one person offering one account of one side of the story. It's a side that doesn't get enough attention, I think, but still it's only one side. There are many other sides, too. Just take this side and place it alongside the others, not as a replacement but as an accompaniment to those other sides. And for heaven's sake, don't read this stuff if you are nearing your comps or your dissertation defense: I think you should know about the side that I cover in this blog, but I don't think you need to know it as you are approaching any of these hurdles.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:15 PM | Comments (14)

April 25, 2003

Should Virgil Starkwell Have Been Promoted to Full Professor?

"The university had hired Starkwell in the late 1960s, when faculty jobs were plentiful. The story goes that the dean at the time drove around to the big graduate schools in the Midwest and the Northeast, offering jobs to anyone with a pulse and a dissertation nearing completion.
Of course that's not what actually happened: There were real faculty searches then, just as there are now."

-- Dennis Baron, "Promoting Late Bloomers"

Virgil Starkwell was hired back in those halcyon days when there was a chicken in every pot and a tenure-track position for every Ph.D. who wanted one. Ok, so the dean didn't really drive around to graduate schools handing out tenure-track jobs to anyone whose vital signs were good and whose disseration was three-quarters finished. And of course there never actually was full employment for Ph.D.s within the academy: the golden age was never that golden, golden ages never were. Still, once upon a time, during the boom of the late 1960s, "faculty jobs were plentiful" and one of those jobs went to Starkwell.

Virgil Starkwell is the subject of the latest in a series of columns on tenure review that Dennis Baron is writing for the Chronicle of Higher Education. (I blogged about Baron's Alison Porchnik case here; we now learn that Porchnik did win tenure despite her failure to "shift the paradigms" of her area of specialty.) This is an interesting and even, in its way, an entertaining series. Baron offers an inside view of the many (the very many) perils and pitfalls of the tenure review process, and he does so with wry humour. He also displays a sense of decency that some of us worry is in rather short supply in today's academy. In other words, Baron is not only the chair of an English department, he's also a mensch.

Starkwell managed to get tenure, Baron explains, just about the time that standards for tenure were tighening up (they are now much tighter still: though I don't know firsthand, of course, my numerous sources inform me that the standards for tenure now hold junior faculty members in a vice-like grip). But he seemed destined to become one of the "'lifetime' associate professors, stuck at that rank for the rest of their careers." He was, Baron writes, "one of several department members hired in the golden years whose research seemed to stall out after he got tenure." In short, Starkwell didn't publish. But neither did he perish. Instead, he become "a solid department citizen." Though he was, Baron concedes, "a little retro perhaps, when it came to new turns in the curriculum," he was "always a beacon of personal integrity," who could be relied on to "deal fairly and efficiently with colleagues and students" and who had "managed to head just about every department committee as well as serve in a number of key administrative roles."

One day, "after 20 years of scholarly doldrums," Baron recounts, "like Rip van Winkle awakened, Starkwell burst through his writer's block." He started publishing: peer-reviewed articles, a scholarly reprint of a poet's work, a monograph with "a second-tier university press." And then, "with a service record that was legendary, a revived scholarly career, and retirement not too far off," Starkwell decided to try for full professor.

Not suprisingly, objections were raised. Among the questions asked by the review committee were: "Why now?... Why not wait to see whether this burst of energy would be sustained? Did we really want to promote a consistent underperformer?" While some were willing to reward Starwell's "new productivity" with "a handsome raise" that might spur him on to continue, they worried that "promoting him would cheapen the title of full professor."

With the help of a sympathetic dean and a couple of external reviewers, Baron managed to push through Starkwell's promotion. Virgil Starkwell is now a full professor.

Should he be?

Not that I have any say in this or in any other matter relating to faculty hiring and promotion (if I did, you can be sure I would vote to give myself a tenure-track job), but I'm inclined to say Yes, they made the right decision.

Of course I am well aware (only too well aware: welcome to my blog) of some of the problems this type of case raises. And of course I am bothered by just such problems. A Starkwell hired a generation later, it's fair to assume, would not be coming up for promotion to full professor, because a Starkwell hired a generation later would never have made it to the level of associate. Publish or perish? Yes, and what's more, in today's academy it is also possible to publish and perish. There are academics on the margins who have published more than Starkwell published during those twenty years, and who have even published more than Starkwell came out with after his scholarly awakening. I personally know a few of them, perhaps you do too.

Is it fair that someone who didn't publish for twenty years now makes it to full professor while others who publish -- and who do so without the very real and material and psychological aids of an institutional home, an office, the help of support staff -- cannot even make it onto the tenure track? No, it is not. It is patently unfair: the two-tiered academic labour system that is now firmly entrenched within the university is an unfair and an unjust system.

But there are systems and then there are individual cases within those systems. And it hardly seems fair to penalize an individual for these vast systemic problems. Not when he has been a solid citizen and a "beacon of personal integrity" for twenty years, and has then topped it all of with a late but no less impressive flurry of publication. Moreover, not giving Starkwell a full professorship probably wouldn't do much to redress the job problem: since he would still be there as an associate, refusing him a full professorship wouldn't open up a tenure-track job for a junior scholar.

Then again, I have to wonder: are there adjuncts teaching in Starkwell's department? Well, it's looks as though there might be. It's hard to know for certain, of course, when dealing with such thorny and delicate issues. Many departments are rather shy about their reliance on part-timers, they like to hide their "extra" faculty, which is where we get our invisible adjuncts. But certainly there are quite a few "lecturers and instructors" (look under "People," then look under "Lecturers and Instructors") in addition to the regular faculty (in addition? well yes, adjuncts -- though it looks as though a good deal of teaching is done by these "lecturers and instructors": at what point should we say that the regular faculty are in addition to the adjuncts?). Anyway, some of these additions are obviously graduate students, so we won't count them. Marc Bousquet would say we should count them ("The myth is you work for four or five years as an apprentice, then find a full-time job," Bousquet said. "The reality is that you work 10 to 12 years as a part-timer, then find another line of work.") I'm pretty sure Bousquet is right about this. Cary Nelson, too, would undoubtedly say that we should count them, and Nelson is in fact a regular faculty member of Starkwell's department. But for the moment, let's not count them: Let's agree to the agreeable fiction (it is highly agreeable, though alas! largely a fiction) that these Ph.D. candidates who teach so many courses are serving an apprenticeship that will allow them to move up through the ranks from the lowly grind of graduate student life to the lofty heights of full professorship. Still, even taking out the graduate students, it looks like there might be a few, perhaps more than a few, post-Ph.D adjuncts teaching in this department. And what are they publishing, I wonder? And how much are they being paid to teach those courses? (actually, I don't wonder about this one, I already know the answer).

So it's all a bit of a muddle. Virgil Starkwell was hired under one set of rules, and then the rules changed, and though he spent years not following the new rules, he did make a 20-year contribution of another sort before making a real and apparently successful attempt to catch up with the new rules. And then there are the adjuncts, and another set of rules altogether. I'm still inclined to think they did the right thing. But I can't help thinking about the adjuncts.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:48 PM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2003

New Email Policy

A number of people have emailed me recently with harrowing tales of that fundamentally absurd and unjust form of trial by ordeal known as the "academic job market." Much as I'd love to quote some of this stuff, I will not do so without explicit permission. Since I didn't have a clear policy on citation when these people emailed me their stories, I've decided to err on the side of caution rather than risk making them feel uncomfortable. I really appreciate the emails, and don't want anyone to regret having taken the time and trouble to write to me.

But I've decided to set a new policy, which reads as follows:

"Unless you indicate otherwise, I will assume that I can cite and post quotations from your email, referring to you by whatever name, pseudonym or initials you choose. If you inform me that you do not want me to make reference to your email on this blog, I will not do so."

This policy is effective immediately but does not apply to any email I have already received. Again, if you have already emailed me, I'm going to assume that you don't want me to cite or quote from your message -- unless you email me with the go-ahead, in which case I may cite your tale as yet another case study in the adjunctification and deprofessionalization of academic teaching.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:08 PM | Comments (1)

April 21, 2003

Grading Hell

I'm about to descend into the ninth circle of the hell that is grading. I won't bore you with all of the details, they are exceedingly tedious and tiresome. Just a few of the highlights (or rather, lowlights):

Term Paper-Related:

The B paper that will never be an A. The A papers are easy. Not because they are "easy," of course, but precisely because they're not: they show evidence of complexity and a sense of difficulty, they do something interesting that makes them worthwhile to read. The C papers are depressing and dispiriting, but also easy enough to grade in their own way: it's a matter of pointing out all of the ways in which the paper fails to meet the minimum standard (the minimum is now a B to B-) in style, substance and mechanical execution. But there's a certain type of B paper that always gives me trouble. Not the B paper that could have been an A if only the student had done X, Y or Z, but the B paper that will never be anything but a B. There's nothing really wrong with it, there's just nothing about it that makes it more than good enough. In other words, it's average (and once upon a time would have been a C, which is now the punishment grade for work that falls below the average). It's really hard to explain average to many of today's students: the expectation is that everyone is above average, and many students now see an A- as the default. Though I have to say, the students I have this semester are not grade-grubbers, which is a refreshing change from what I have come to expect.

The paper that reads as though it were hastily scrawled on the back of a brown paper bag. Of course it doesn't look as if it were quickly scratched out on scrap paper: word-processing and laser printing make everyone's paper look clean and tidy and letter-perfect. Looks can be deceptive. I feel cheated.


Handwriting that resembles some ancient hieroglyphic code for which I lack the keys to decipherment. I don't care about the trees: if your writing is hard to make out, skip lines. Skip two lines. This is not a waste of paper. Have another blue book.

The essay question "answer dump." Here the student responds to an essay question not by writing an essay but by dumping as much material as possible onto as many pages as he or she can churn out before the buzzer goes. Sifting through the extraneous and unrelated detail is like going on an archealogical dig. I get nervous when a student asks for another, and then yet another, blue book. That is too many blue books. Don't you care about the trees?

The cut-and-paste. Here it seems the student has attempted to perform by hand what word processors now do for us automatically. It doesn't really work to do this by hand. Answer A is running along nicely for 4-5 pages, but now here are several pages scratched out with instructions to see end of Book 2, following Answer C. But no, that's wrong, because the student wrote the instructions before completing Answer C, completion of which required another blue book, so now we have Answer A, part 2 following Answer C in book 3, and what happened to Answer B?... I'm getting dizzy.

Yes, I am feeling a little bit cranky. In fact, there's a part of me that looks forward to reading my students' work to see what they have done and discover what they can come up with. But at the moment I am dreading the descent into grading hell.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:40 AM | Comments (14)

April 19, 2003

A Modest Proposal for Adjuncts

My fellow adjuncts,

Are you in disgrace with fortune and men's eyes? It sure feels like it sometimes, doesn't it? You meant to be a tenure-track professor, instead you are an adjunct. The worst is trying to explain it to your parents...all that booklearning, all those years, and all for naught?...I want to write about this, I am working on an entry, but honestly, it's so painful, it is so mind-****ingly painful, that I keep putting it aside. We need to leave the academy. You know that, don't you? Yes, and I know it too. Somehow it's tough to find the exit: it is not very well-marked, and it's hard to see clearly when the lights have been dimmed. But find it I will, and I hope you find it too. In the meantime: Listen, I know all about the sense of disgrace, and here is my modest proposal: Don't trouble deaf heaven with your bootless cries. Get yourself a blog and trouble the blogosphere. You never know, someone might actually hear you. Strapped for cash? (yeah, I know). Try Blogger: they will host your blog for free.

Yours in fellowship,
Invisible Adjunct

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:11 AM | Comments (6)

April 17, 2003

James McPherson on the "Old Boy Network"

"My own path to Ivy League employment, by contrast, was ridiculously easy. One day in 1962 the chairman of the history department at Princeton phoned my Hopkins adviser, C. Vann Woodward, and asked him if he had a 'young man' to recommend for an instructorship (then the first rung on the tenure-track ladder). Woodward recommended me -- I don't know if he even had to put it in writing -- and Princeton offered me the job, without a real interview and without having seen any dissertation chapters. This was the infamous 'old boy network,' surely the most powerful instrument of affirmative action ever devised."

-- James McPherson, "Deconstructing Affirmative Action," Perspectives, April 2003

Damn. We used to joke about this kind of thing in graduate school. But I thought the stories were fictions, or at least grossly exaggerated and highly embellished accounts that did express a fundamental truth about the differences between the generations, and more specifically about the diminished expectations of our own. Turns out at least one of the stories that circulated was factually true.

McPherson is a history professor at Princeton and current president of the American Historical Association. His reflections on affirmative action are worth reading.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:59 PM | Comments (14)

April 13, 2003

Herstory Should be History

"Henry the 4th ascended the throne of England much to his own satisfaction in the year 1399, after having prevailed on his cousin & predecessor Richard the 2nd to resign it to him, & to retire for the rest of his Life to Pomfret Castle, where he happened to be murdered. It is to be supposed that Henry was married, since he had certainly four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his wife."

-- Jane Austen, The History of England, from the reign of Henry the 4th to the death of Charles the 1st. By a partial, prejudiced, & ignorant Historian

Comfortably ensconced Precariously placed as I am within the walls just inside the gates of the Ivory Tower, every now and then I am reminded that in the world beyond the narrow confines of academic history, the coinage of "herstory" still circulates as valuable currency. I greet each reminder with impatience and dismay.

The purpose of this blog entry is to argue that herstory should be history.

1. It should be history, first of all, for reasons of etymology. Quite simply, the term "history" does not derive from a running together of "his" and "story." Rather, the term derives from the Greek term for "knowing by inquiry," which the Romans rendered as the Latin historia. The his in the Latin from which our term history emerged (via the French histoire) did not and does not denote the third person masculine possessive pronoun. Not in Latin, not in French (where "his history" or "his story" is son histoire), and not in English either.

Having said this, I have of course said very little, which is to say, I have merely stated the obvious. Problem is, the term herstory works to obscure the obvious, and seems to encourage people in the misguided belief that the word "history" really can be broken down etymologically into "his" and "story."

This is no mere exercise in pedantry. As I see it, there is both a defensiveness and a defiance to the term herstory. It is a term that boldly announces something, a term that intends to make a statement. This it does through a pretended play on etymology. It is worth asking whether this play is effective, and whether indeed this play is even very playful.

2. It should be history, secondly, for reasons of historiography (or, if you will -- though I hope you won't -- herstoriography: but can anyone say herstoriography with a straight face?). The fact is, professional historians of women and gender (and even deprofessionalized historians of women and gender such as myself) do not use the term herstory, do not call themselves herstorians, do not talk of herstorical trends, do not contribute to the herstoriography of women and gender, and so on. Are we merely dupes of "the patriarchy" (another term that needs to go, but I'll take this one on in later entry)? Or do we have some good reasons to call ourselves historians and to view our work as history? I have think we have some pretty good reasons, which I'll briefly explain as follows:

First, though it's quite true that women are largely excluded from traditional history, it is not at all accurate to characterize traditional history as "his" story. From Thucydides on, traditional (or classical) history addressed itself to an elite male audience, narrating the great deeds of great men in order to instruct a ruling class in the art of politics. The authors and readers of this history had as little interest in the great mass of men as they had in women. Indeed, while the ocassional female ruler such as Elizabeth I could certainly figure in the traditional or classical account, you will search its pages in vain to find the story of Tom, Dick or Harry.

Second, the term herstory smacks of a special pleading that is no longer warranted. The history of women and gender is now a well-established field that is firmly entrenched within the academy. The historiography of women and gender, moreover, is both enormous and enormously rich and complex. Anyone who claims that women have yet to figure in the historical record has simply not done her homework. Are the past thirty-odd years of careful and creative historical research and writing by hundreds of historians of women to be dismissed out of hand, to be accounted as nothing at all?

Third, the term sets up a kind of "separate spheres" approach that can only contribute to the marginalization of women as historical actors and historical subjects. In my opinion, the point is not to create two separate (different but equal?) streams of history -- blue for the boys, pink for the girls, or what have you -- but rather to integrate our knowledge of previously excluded groups (including women, but I would hope not to the exclusion of other previously neglected historical subjects and historical actors) into the main lines of mainstream historiography.

3. Finally, I want to conclude with my own personal and admittedly idiosyncratic reasons for objecting to herstory. I am of course well aware of the fact that my own distaste for the term hardly constitutes a valid reason for others to abandon its use. For such valid reasons, please see points 1 and 2.

If I am not mistaken, the term was first coined by Robin Morgan in her Sisterhood is Powerful (1970). Now, I will readily give Morgan credit for the mythopoetic impulse that inspired her coining of the term. It was inspired, it was perhaps even a brilliant flash of insight. But it belonged to an historical (no, not herstorical, but historical) moment, and that moment has passed (see point 2).

When I hear herstory, I think of patchwork skirts, Moosewood broccoli forests and macrame plant holders. What I don't think of is a valuable research agenda that would make a meaningful contribution to our ever-increasing knowledge of the history of women and gender. The term evokes the issues and concerns of an earlier era (which makes it of interest historically), but without translating into the issues and concerns of the present (which makes it ill-suited to serve as a designation for present and future historial practice).

Finally, (and again, this is my own idiosyncratic opinion), for all its "play" on male-oriented history, the term is remarkably devoid of wit and humour. It's just not funny.

If we are looking for playful criticism of male-oriented history, we could do worse than consult the young Jane Austen's brilliant send-up of the dull, plodding history that she was exhorted to read as a schoolgirl (though please note that Jane Austen did not object to all male-authored history, and had the very good taste to appreciate the works of William Robertson and David Hume). Among the characteristics that Austen satirized was the pretence of impartial omniscience (hers was a history by "a partial, prejudiced and ignorant historian"), and the absence of women from its pages ("It is to be supposed that Henry was married, since he had certainly four sons, but it is not in my power to inform the Reader who was his wife."). For me, this translates. Some two hundred years later, it is still fresh, and it is still funny. Will the same be said of herstory in two hundred years' time?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:26 PM | Comments (8)

April 12, 2003

Still Thinking About Graduate School in the Humanities?

I could have been someone
Well so could anyone
You took my dreams
From me when I first found you

-- The Pogues, Fairytale of New York

Sometimes, the rhetoric of economic self-sacrifice that prevails among teachers reflects what the old Marxists called 'false consciousness.' There is an artificially constructed 'supply-demand imbalance' between faculty positions and qualified candidates. So, in the desperate competition for academic jobs, wages can be lowered and benefits eliminated (with the questionable promise of a 'real' job later). Seeking to preserve their dignity and enhance their status, many teachers come to believe that their unrequited toil is a form of good citizenship or even spiritual devotion. The intensity of their rhetoric is often in direct proportion to the degree of their exploitation.

-- Thomas H. Benton, "Should We Stop Fooling Ourselves about Money?"

Ah, the old Marxists. I miss the old bastards. I really do.

My introduction to the old Marxism was the "Introduction to Political Science" course that I took during my first year at university. The professor (whom I now realize was either an advanced graduate student or an adjunct lecturer, but at the time I knew nothing of academic rank and hierarchy...would that I had remained in this state of innocence!), the professor was a young, but not too young -- say early thirtysomething -- Marxist from the old school. He was smart, he was articulate, he displayed flashes of wit and occasionally of brilliance, and he spoke with withering scorn of the mystifications of bourgoeis ideology. And all of this in a German accent. Be still my heart. Of course I had a crush on him. I can still see the diagrams that he furiously sketched out on the blackboard: base and superstructure, the Canadian class system, the whole rotten-borough system that was rotting to the core. He went at that board with anger and eloquence, chalk to chalkboard as though launching a campaign: the words rang, the chalk dust flew, and my heart thrilled to the attack. Talk about sublimation.

But I digress.

On to part II of my ranty-flavoured "Thinking about Graduate School in the Humanities?," in which I betray my bourgoeis heart. Petit bourgeois am I in upbringing (a topic about which I may blog in future), bourgeois am I to the core.

So then:

In my opinion, the application forms for humanities Ph.D. programmes should carry the warning: "Enter at your own risk." The fine print should read: "The risks include poverty, shame, humiliation, and clinical depression." You will of course find no such warning on the graduate-school application forms. And incredibly enough, even at this stage in the game, you may still encounter tenured faculty members in said programmes who refuse to even consider the very sensible proposal of limiting graduate-school admissions in order to address the problem of an oversupply of academic job candidates, and who justify their position with such nuggets as, "Well, nobody's forcing them to go to graduate school." The more fools they. And the more fool you if you don't ask yourself some pretty tough questions before you sign on with them.

Now, when I entered grad school 9 years ago, the tenured faculty members who were actively recruiting and encouraging new entrants should have known that many of these aspiring members of the profession would not find jobs. But let's cut them some slack. Let's grant them the somewhat dubious claim that they didn't realize what was going on in their own profession right under their very noses. Today they do know. Nobody can now claim not to know what are the dismal prospects for employment in the humanities. And yet there are many humanities faculty who still refuse to limit entrance rates to their graduate programmes. What does this suggest about these "professions"? To me it suggests an impulse toward professional suicide. A course here, a conference there, another grant proposal due today, another article due tomorrow, the games must go on, the life of the mind must run its course...But make no mistake: we are in sudden death overtime, with only ten minutes remaining.

Now let me try to explain just why it is I think you should think twice (no, thrice) before embarking on a Ph.D. in the humanities.

A humanities Ph.D. takes many, many years to complete. The pursuit of this degree involves an enormous investment: not just financial (e.g., salary foregone) but mental, psychological and emotional. And entry and/or attempted entry into the profession places you in a peculiar sitatution, wherein you experience a strange combination of the conditions of both alienated and unalienated labour. The conditions of alienation are bleak enough, and they are real: low wages, unemployment, under- or sub-employment, genteel poverty, exploitatation, and ramen noodles. For more on this theme, I recommend you spend some time perusing the pages of workplace: the journal for academic labor.

At the same time, if you have the passion and the interest to stick it out and finish the degree, you will probably also experience a kind of unalienated labour. You're not punching a time clock and putting in X number of hours to earn X number of dollars. No, no, you have your "work," and your work becomes an important part of who you are. You will develop and deeply internalize an identity as someone who does/as someone who is this work. You are your work, and your work is who you are. Well: I've punched a time-clock, and I've completed a Ph.D., and I'd like to let you in on a dirty little secret: unalienated labour is not all that it was cracked up to be by the old Marxists. A bit of fishing, a bit of criticism,... well, it's just not like that. You don't go fishing. Or at least, you don't go fishing very often. And when you do go fishing, you can't really fish, because you're too busy fretting about the criticism you should be doing instead: "Why am I fishing?! I should be criticizing!"

And if upon completion of your work, you fail to find a position (and this is a very real risk), you will experience it as a personal failure, and you will view your own person as an abject failure -- and this, no matter how much you know about the structure of the job system, the ratio of candidates to jobs and so on.

Now, if you were looking at a programme that took one or two or even three years to complete, it wouldn't be such a very bad thing if upon completion you couldn't find employment in your field. Granted, it wouldn't be a great thing; it would probably feel awful for a while and you would no doubt have some regrets about having spent those one to three years in pursuit of a degree that would not actually give you a reasonable shot at employment.

But how much worse to spend five or six or seven years! At a time when you could be building a viable career, and also creating a life for yourself (which might involve marriage, maybe having a child or two, possibly even buying a home or at least moving into a half-decent rental), you are toiling away in relative poverty, perhaps accumulating debt, and living under conditions of massive anxiety and insecurity. You must delay and defer so much of what many people (perhaps including yourself? be honest, now) would consider a decent, liveable life, and without even a reasonable chance that it will all be worth it in the end. And I'm not talking about fame and fortune, the pursuit of filthy lucre and lots of it, but just the basics of a modest middle-class life: say, a living wage with health insurance. Be still my bourgeois heart.

Does my desire for a modestly middle-class life betray a lack of real passion for my subject and field? Perhaps so. Certainly, I didn't always see things this way. Alas, I now shudder at the mixture of naïveté and arrogance that motivated my decision to pursue a doctoral degree in history. When I first entered graduate school, I was fully committed to what I thought of as "the life of the mind" and didn't pay much attention to such sordid practical concerns. Or at least, I tended to repress all nagging doubts and questions. But I gradually came to realize that this wasn't enough, that this would not do. That though I had no interest in becoming rich, I simply didn't want to spend the next 20 years eating ramen noodles and living in a one-room apartment.

And where I had once rather looked down at those who were busily pursuing jobs/careers/marriages/family out there in the real world while I engaged in something loftier and more pure... Well, let me conclude this overlong entry by saying two things: First, if I had to do it over again, I would not go to graduate school; and second, I try hard, really hard, not to hold it against those undergraduate professors of mine who encouraged me to go to graduate school and who actively discouraged me from going to law school because I was "too smart" for a legal career. Ach. I was smart enough, I suppose, in the booksmarts way, but it turns out I was actually rather stupid: not smart enough, that is, to not listen to such silly advice.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 12:40 PM | Comments (21)

April 10, 2003

Chronicle of Higher Education interviews "the most hated professor in America"

"If you call Columbia University's main switchboard and ask for Nicholas De
Genova," writes Thomas Bartlett, "you will not be connected to his office. Instead, you will hear a recording of a statement by the university's president, Lee C. Bollinger, saying he is 'appalled' by the anthropology professor's 'outrageous comments.'"

Bartlett interviewed De Genova for the Chronicle of Higher Education. De Genova apparently answered all but one of the questions posed to him: he wouldn't comment on whether he thought the controversy over his "million Mogadishus" comment would weaken his chances at tenure. You can read the interview here.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 09:16 PM | Comments (1)

April 07, 2003

Earn Your Degree Fast!

"When you purchase pursue your degree through AIU's online campus, your classroom is as close as your Internet connected computer. No need to rush to class right after work, spend your weekends inside a classroom, or put your life on hold. At AIU Online, class starts whenever and wherever you log in. You can participate at any time of the day or night and have the same great experience...
....Whatever your situation, AIU can take you to the next level of education and opportunity, at your convenience."

-- "Virtual Class," an unsolicited email sent to me by American InterContinental University Online

When I received this spam from the American InterContinental University Online, my finger paused over the delete button. Oh, I knew I should trash the message immediately, but (it's like picking at a sore, I suppose), I just had to read on. So I clicked on the link that shouted "Visit For Your NO COST information."

I have visited the online university, which bills itself as "A Modern Virtual Campus with a Brick & Mortar Pedigree," and I now offer the following traveller's account for the edification of my fellow adjuncts. Never let it be said that I haven't done my best to bring you up to (hyper)speed on the latest teaching opportunities for those who wish to join a team which "[creates] incredible synergiesfrom which remarkable success and overachievement is produced."

Do you want to become an online faculty memberof the AUI Online? You are but a mouseclick away from submitting your application, which should include the usual elements -- cv; cover letter; transcripts; references; statement of teaching philosophy (philosophy? that has rather an antiquated ring, but I suppose it is part of the "brick and mortar pedigree" to pay homage to the dead) -- along with something they call "datasheets," to be obtained how and where and why I cannot say. There's no mention of salary rates on the website, but they boast an impressive line of benefits: Flexibility (again, the early-modern putting-out system); Add to Your Experience; Networking with Others. Description of the requirements for employment is just the standard blather, though with the additional requirement of willingness and ability to master the principles of Fourth Dimension Learning (TM). If you are selected for one of their exciting employment opportunities, you will be required to "attend an online orientation, hosted on our Virtual Campus," for which you will almost certainly not be paid. After successful completion of this virtual (dis)orientation, you will then "teach" courses designed by their own "internal course development staff, [who] work with subject matter experts to develop all courses in-house, [so that] online faculty have more time to teach, coach and interact with students." In other words, prefab syllabi to ensure a standardized course delivery system.

Teaching I know. But "coaching" and "interacting" in a virtual dimension? This they did not tell me about in graduate school. Ah well, there's a lot they didn't tell me about in graduate school.

But let's stay positive, shall we?

If the AIU Online website is offering an accurate representation of its student body, you will also have the satisfaction of knowing that your students look like Banana Republic models. You know the look: casual elegance with a slight hipster edge, the "new neutral" tones with clean, uncomplicated lines. Not that you will ever meet any of these beautiful young people in the flesh. But you can imagine them in your virtual classroom. In so doing, please conceive of at least one exceptionally good-looking female student who is very, very blonde and at least one exceptionally good-looking male student who is a very dark-skinned African American. Imagine the two of them sitting next to one another in order to highlight the harmonious contrast. Very chic, very cool, very Banana Republic. Of course these two students wouldn't really be sitting next to one another, each would be attending class from the privacy of his or her own home, perhaps thousands of miles away from one another. But you may fantasize and synergize as you please: the virtual university is everywhere and nowhere.

There is more. For example, among the amenities it lists is something the AUI Online calls "an award-winning Cybrary." But I find that I am having trouble with my synergy. (I am redundant. Aren't I too young to be so very redundant?). So I will have to leave you to conduct your own online exploration, but not without offering this final word of warning: The Webmercial is a must-see, but please don't watch it if you are in a "down-and-out-in-the-academy" mood.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 10:27 PM | Comments (6)

What is a Visiting Assistant Professor?

Job advertisements supply direct and concrete evidence of the current state of the profession and also offer hints and clues concerning the profession's future (or perhaps lack thereof).

Here's a recent advertisement for a position as Visiting Assistant Professor:

"The History Department at Miami University invites applications for a visiting assistant professor in American History for the 2003-04 academic year. Any specialty of U.S. history is acceptable, but preference will be given to 19th century U.S. and/or women's history and/or race and ethnicity. Duties include teaching both halves of the U.S. history survey and upper-division specialty courses. Ph.D. in hand by date of appointment (August 19, 2003). Send letter of application, c.v., evidence of teaching experience, and letters of reference to the address below. Screening begins April 15 and continues until position is filled."

Ok, that's straightforward enough. For whatever reason, this department wants to hire a one-year replacement. Perhaps their regular 19th-c. American historian is going on sabbatical; perhaps it is a female faculty member who has been "irresponsible" enough to contribute to the continuation of the species; perhaps the 19th-c. American historian recently retired or is about to retire, and the department does not yet have the go-ahead (approval plus funding) to conduct a tenure-track search, but still has to meet student demand or curriculum requirements for courses in 19th-century American history. They will hire a recent Ph.D. who is currently unemployed or underemployed to do the work of an assistant professor. They will pay this person much less money than they pay a tenure-track assistant professor, but this amount will still be far more than is the current rate for "adjunct" teaching, and they will probably throw in a few of those benefits (eg health insurance) of which adjuncts can only dream.

Given the dismal state of the academic job "market" in history, this is not a bad gig. Certainly, it is far better than adjunct teaching. By the way, this department's decision to hire a "visiting assistant professor" rather than an adjunct assistant professor should not necessarily be attributed to their kind hearts and keen sense of responsibility to the profession. Such decisions generally have a lot to do with access and availablity. In an urban area, where unemployed and underemployed PhDs are a dime a dozen, a department will usually hire adjuncts to fill in their teaching gaps, because this saves them a lot of money. But the department of an undergraduate college in a small town that is isolated from PhD-producing research universities will not have access to a pool of cheap teaching labor. And they couldn't possibly induce people to move to the town for the purpose of adjunct teaching: the pay rates are too abysmally low. Instead, they must rely on a "visiting assistant professor," which is to say, someone who will hold a full-time but limited term (most often a one-year) contract.

Now here's another advertisement for a position as Visiting Assistant Professor:

"The University of North Florida seeks to hire a Visiting Assistant Professor with a specialty in modern history, to begin in academic year 2003-2004. This is a non-tenure earning position. The person hired must be able to teach both small and large-lecture sections of the second semester of our western civilization course, as well as upper level courses in the area of specialization. Candidates must have completed requirements for the Ph.D. before the contract begins. Teaching experience and evidence of potential for teaching excellence are required. Send complete dossier, including a letter of application, curriculum vitae, graduate transcripts, and three letters of recommendation to the address below. The search committee will begin considering applications on March 31. The search will remain open until the position is filled. For more information visit our Web Site. UNF is an Equal Opportunity/Equal Access/Affirmative Action Institution."

Notice anything different? Of course you do. This department is not looking for a one-year replacement, someone to fill in for the year 2003-2004. The position begins the year 2003-2004. When does it end? Impossible to know from this advertisement, but I find it interesting that they need to emphasize that "this is a non-tenure earning position." Everybody (at least everybody who would be reading this advertisement) already knows that a "visiting assistant professorship" is a non-tenure track position. A visiting assistant professorship is a full-time but temporary (usually one-year, sometimes two-year, ocassionally three-year) position. Kind of makes me wonder. For how long, exactly, is this department planning to pay host to its "visiting" assistant professor? Longer than one year, clearly, for it begins but does not end in 2003-2004. For two years? Three? Five? Permanently? I have heard of a new phenomenon whereby the term "visiting assistant professor" is used as a euphemism for "semi-permanent to permanent full-time non-tenure track position at half the salary of a regular tenure-track professorship." I may be wrong, of course, but I think this advertisement may offer a concrete example of this new variation on the ongoing indirect attack on tenure.

My husband is after me to go to law school. My husband is probably right. Off to practice logic games for the LSAT.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:00 PM | Comments (6)

March 27, 2003

Decline and Fall of the Humanities

For there is no such finis ultimum, (utmost aim), nor summum bonum, (greatest good), as is spoken of in the books of the old moral philosophers.
-- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan

Gary Sauer-Thompson has posted a thoughtful and thought-provoking response to my ruminations on the decline of the humanities within the academy. His comments nudge me toward a realization that I am guilty of just the kind of academic solipsism that I mean to oppose. "How to connect with the common life?" asks Sauer-Thompson.

That is one of the questions that serves as an organizing principle for this blog. It is a question to which I don't and can't claim to have an answer. But it occurs to me that in attempting to address this question, I am -- like so many academics -- beginning at the wrong end. That is, I wonder if I am, if not scorning, then at least discounting "public life in the name of reason whilst living [my] everyday lives within it"?

Well here's the thing: I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of humanities scholars in the hastening of our own demise. I worry that we are actually and quite actively contributing to our own irrelevance. There's a part of me that thinks, Let's leave off the Madonna studies and post-post-[marxist/feminist/colonial/you name it] interrogations and get back to some, uh, basics. Damn, that's hard to think, much less say. I'm a good liberal feminist progressive type, and I don't want to join forces with the likes of Lynn Cheney. But I can't help thinking it, and I can't help thinking that I should probably say it. We need to reconnect to the series of traditions from which we emerged, without which we have very little by way of a sense of purpose. Which needn't (and in my opinion shouldn't) imply some sort of silly rah-rah west-is-best celebration of the best that has been thought and said in America. But if we cannot affirm something -- not mindlessly and stupidly, but in a spirit of critical appreciation (and I do mean critical, but I also do mean appreciation) -- then what the heck are we about, and why?

Academics, writes Sauer-Thompson, "really do have to reinvent themselves if they do not want entrepreneurship imposed on them as scholars by the state and the market." I agree wholeheartedly. And thus far I have focused my attention on the refusal of academics to engage in such a reinvention. Which is to say, I have been looking inward rather than outward, focusing my attention on the academy's sense of its relation to the broader world, rather than on the broader's world's sense of its relation to the academy and of the academy's relation to it. You always hurt the ones you love, or, uh, something like that. But then I have to wonder: Am I attributing too much power or agency to academics themselves? Have academics led the way in the invention of that which needs to be rethought and reinvented? We'd like to think so, certainly. And if we have been the principal agents in the invention of ourselves, then I can be more optimistic about our capacity to reinvent ourselves. But perhaps we delude ourselves: perhaps we have been nothing more than camp-followers all along. Perhaps, for example, the postmodern post-structuralist post-everything turn is not the bold and original programme (or rather -- since "programme" implies a structure and unity that characterizes a pre-post, that is to say, a liberal, sensibility -- series of interventions and interrogations) that its adherents have announced, but is rather a derivative and defeatist reflection of what is happening out there, where all that is solid melts into air.

Again, Sauer-Thompson asks one of the important questions: "Or has the old idea of a liberal education for democratic citizenship been lost?" Yes, I am afraid it has been all but lost. I am pretty much persuaded by Bill Readings, who argues in The University in Ruins that the mission and purpose that once connected the university to the culture at large has been replaced by an empty and meaningless "pursuit of excellence" that connects the university to nothing more than its own increasingly precarious continuation as a well-managed and financially viable institution.

But where did the idea of liberal education for democratic citizenship come from? From within the university, or without? I don't really know the answer to this question, but I suspect it came from without. It's worth remembering, I think, that for centuries the university was essentially theological in its mission and purpose. The culture said, it is religion that matters, and the culture created spaces where theology could reign as queen of the sciences. At what point was theology replaced, or at least demoted, in favour of a more secular mission, that of preparing young men for public life and citizenship? Again, I'm not sure about this (and I'd love to find an historical account that would answer these questions). I would note that as late as the mid-18th century, David Hume was denied a position at the University of Edinburgh because it was feared that his unbelief would corrupt the morals of the young men who would have been his students (as indeed it surely would have undermined morality as it was understood by Hume's opponents). My guess is that the key move was made in the mid-19th century (I am thinking of the founding of the University of London, eg), at about the same time as the emergence of recognizably modern academic disciplines. And again, I suspect that it was the broader culture that defined and created this new mission in accordance with its perceived needs, and not the other way around.

All of which is to suggest that though I am inclined to assign some blame/responsibility to academics for abandoning a traditional mission, in so doing I am probably exaggerating the power of academics, and overestimating the significance of what academics do in relation to the broader culture. The decline of the humanities is perhaps taking place out there, with academics within the academy merely reacting to/reflecting this much broader trend. If the culture really wanted the university to provide liberal education for democratic citizenship, in other words, then that is probably what the university would provide.

Does that sound too pessimisitic? I'm not optimistic, I'll admit. But I don't mean to throw my hands up in despair and take refuge in defeatism. Rather, I want to suggest that the reconnection which Sauer-Thompson recommends needs to take place at both ends, not only from within the academy but also from without.

Another interesting question posed by Sauer-Thompson: "Would not one to way to defend the humanities from attacks from outside the university be to show the usefulness of the humanities ithrough an engagement with the issues of private life." This is something else I want to think about and take up in more detail in the near future. But for now, my answer is Yes and No, with an emphasis on No. Or perhaps, Yes, but not as it is usually or generally done. I started out as an "issues of private life" scholar, with an interest in the history of women in Britain and a fairly uncritical acceptance of "the personal is political" as both a descriptive and analytic tool. I have since moved away from this framework, for reasons both theoretical and pragmatic: that is, I don't think it's true that the personal is political (sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't), and I don't think it's useful for feminist scholarship to recreate a kind of disciplinary "separate spheres" -- which is not, of course, what Sauer-Thompson is recommending, as I read him he is recommending the very opposite. And in my own work (on women and civil society in 18th-c Britain), I seek to break down the public/private divide -- by focusing not on the private, however, but on an intermediary sphere between public and private within which women belonged and in which they played a significant role. The private makes me nervous, I guess. Or at least, I believe the very notion of "issues of private life" carries with it a lot of baggage, and cannot be easily detached from the uses (some of them problematic, especially though not only in terms of the liberal tradition that I want to defend) to which this concept has been put in the past 20-30 years of feminist scholarship.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:12 AM | Comments (5)

March 19, 2003

The Only Emperor is the Emperor of Ice Cream

Let be be finale of seem.
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.
-- Wallace Stevens

I am very new to blogging. Indeed, about three months ago, I actually had to ask someone, "What is a blog?" I had a vague notion that it was some sort of online diary or journal, but beyond that, I was so absolutely clueless that I didn't even realize that blog was a shortened version of weblog. Three weeks ago, I didn't know an anchor tag from a hole in the ground. Yes, I have been online for several years, and I have participated in several listserves and discussion boards. In terms of access to new technologies: why, I've been fully wired and web-ready for years. But until recently, it had never occurred to me that I might learn to do just a little bit more than type, point and click. It literally had never crossed my mind that I might get myself a book on xhtml and try to muddle through the basics.

Well, I'm a bit of a Luddite, I suppose. Though perhaps this is just another way of saying that I'm an ignoramus? I stand in awe of those who know code. I stand outside and wonder, as though contemplating from afar and through a glass darkly the inner workings of some vast mysterium from which I am by definition excluded. But by definition of what, exactly? Partly, of course, by self-definition: I do words, not numbers, English grammar not standards-compliant code. I settled on this self-definition by about the age of 6 or 7, and old habits of course die hard. And I'm sure I will always be a bit of techno-blunderer, though I do now know the meaning of anchor tag.

So I am new to blogging -- late to the party as usual, "always a bridesmaid never a bride" as the saying goes (I've been both, by the way, and it's more fun being a bridesmaid, despite those ghastly polyester dresses). And I am just finding my way through the blogoshere, and at the moment, I am so impressed by what's out there! Yes, there is a good deal of nuttiness and more than a little of nastiness. But there is also something very different indeed: some really sharp stuff by any number of smart and interesting and engaged people. I'm sure they all know code; I stand in awe before them. Myself, I am still trying to figure out how I want to blog and what it is I want to blog about.

I had originally intended to devote this space to a discussion of issues faced by academics, and especially by those of us who occupy that strange space on the margins, where we are in but not of, or perhaps of but not quite in, the academy. There are now some 400,000 of us, and our ranks continue to swell. And yet we remain oddly isolated and alone, and for the most part I think it is fair to say that we lack a shared space in which to discuss the issues and problems that characterize life as an adjunct faculty member.

To be sure, there is a dawning realization -- on the part of many full-time faculty and, more importantly, on the part of those various professional organizations and associations that can give a voice to our concerns -- that the trend toward adjunct teaching staff is indeed a serious problem, and not only for those who occupy adjunct positions but also for the future of the academic professions as a whole. And there is a growing literature (essays, editorials, position papers and the like) that addresses itself to the problem of de-professionalization. There is a good deal of information out there, which I diligently seek out and avidly devour.

But much as I welcome the position paper, I am also searching for something else entirely. What I want, what I would like to see, is a space that is somewhere between the level of the personal and the level of policy (I don't and won't call it the political, for reasons about which I will blog at some other time). I have yet to find this space ("Adjunct Nation" is a start, I suppose, but it is overall too cheerful, too decidedly "can-do" in its stance, to answer my -- perhaps unanswerable -- expectations). And so this blog is my small, my very small, attempt at carving out a space that I otherwise do not find. And who the hell am I? three weeks ago I didn't know an anchor tag from my own bellybutton (now where did bellybutton come from? ah! my 20-month old son is currenlty obsessed by bellybuttons, before long it will be dinosaurs, and before I know it he will be off to college, and who exactly will be teaching him?... )

Anyway, I don't want this space to be just another me-zine, all about me and what I ate for breakfast and what are my complaints: Poor me, I don't get paid enough; Pity me, I lack an office; but damn! my husband makes a mean panckake, and so on. At the same time, I certainly do have some complaints and I would very much like to express them. As I've said elsewhere, the adjunct faculty member is a blot on the copybook, an embarrassment to the profession to which he or she (at least marginally) belongs. And we who are adjuncts internalize this sense of shame and embarrassment, which is one of the reasons, I believe, that we are so reluctant to speak out. So ok, it's my page, and I can say what I like, even if I myself am the only reader, addressing myself, Frances Burney-style, to "Nobody." Though in truth, I would like to attract, among other readers, a half dozen or so of those 400,000 adjuncts out there (many of whom, I've little doubt, have yet to hear about blogging: don't underestimate the backwardness of humanities academics!). So I want to be able to get some things off my chest, but don't want this blog to be a narrowly focused and inward-turning me-zine.

And I am also struggling to find (or perhaps in some small way to help create, though even that is probably too grandiose a scheme) a space that falls somewhere between the "adjunct as entrepreneur" model which I reject outright, and the "adjunct as activist" model which I haven't yet addressed and about which I have some serious reservations. Don't get me wrong: there's a reason why I include workplace: the journal for academic labor on my blogroll. I think this journal is a must-read for every adjunct, and indeed for anyone and everyone who is concerned about the future of higher education in this country. But to say this is not to offer a blanket endorsement of its analyses, tactics and strategies. At some point in the near future, I want to take a critical look at Marc Bousquet's call for "a dictatorship of the flexible" (for whose work I grateful, but about which I am ambivalent; and no, I don't think he is being entirely tongue-in-cheek about this "dictatorship:" again, of which more anon).

So this was my original intention, and for the moment this remains my intention.

But today? Well, today I am inclined to think, What the f*** does any of this matter? And for obvious reasons. Let be be finale of seem, the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

Because much as I am passionately committed to all of the above, at this moment it seems silly -- nay, it seems worse than silly, it seems positively wrong -- for me to focus on my paltry little concerns when we are about to drop bombs on some city and Jesus (descending into me-zine mode, because it's my space and I can addres myself to Nobody), I look at my wee son who is truly the light of my life, and there is probably nothing I would not do for him (I resist the cult of domesticity that dies hard in America, sure, but would I give up my life to save the life of my son? I surely would, you want to believe it, baybee, I would do so without hesitation). And Edmund Burke was right about our "little platoons," he surely was right about this. At some level, I have to care more about my own child: a child requires so much of time and energy and investment (physical, emotional, financial and so on) that none of us would be here, I am sure, if parents didn't care first and foremost for their own children. But though my own child must come first for me, it would be morally immature, it would be morally wrong, of me to think that my child really does matter more than anyone else's.

And so I think of 20-month old children in Baghdad, and gee, I wish I had a tenure-track position in the academy, but for f***'s sake, in the grand scheme of things, my failure to obtain such a position in the field of academic history just does not matter. Clio doesn't care, and why the hell should she? It is as nothing compared to the possibility (probability?) that someone else's 20-month old child -- who does, who must, matter as much as my own child -- will die a horrid and gruesome death for reasons which, at this point, are really beyond my ken. At some point in the future, I mean to take on the "graduate students [unemployed and underemployed Ph.Ds.?] are among the blessed of the earth" which sometimes makes me angry, which sometimes makes me feel luminous with anger. But tonight I cannot be angered by that which does not really matter. Tonight I must acknowledge that I and mine are indeed among the blessed of the earth, through no virtue of our own, mind you, through a mere accident of birth, of space and time and geography. And I must humbly bow down before the awful truth that the only emperor is the emperor of ice cream.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:49 PM | Comments (7)

March 18, 2003

Everything I Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten Academic Therapy

Good grief.

Is this really necessary?

"Hoping to avoid lawsuits and rancor," writes Piper Fogg in an article entitled "Academic Therapy," "more colleges use conflict-resolution experts." The article features the work of one Sandra I. Cheldelin, a licensed psychologist, "professional conflict manager," and associate professor at George Mason University's Institute of Conflict Resolution and Analysis, who has "worked with dozens of institutions on conflicts that include ideological rifts, personal spats, and illegal forms of discrimination."

Now, Professor Cheldelin sounds like a wonderful person, the kind of person you want on hand if you host a party, because she can work the room, break the ice, and get people talking. And I'm sure she does a marvellous job working with academics, many of whom are cranky, neurotic and self-absorbed people. And perhaps her services are worth the "less than $1,000 a day, plus expenses" that she charges colleges for "her work as a private consultant."

But as I read the Chronicle's article, it occurred to me that I had discovered a new part-time career opportunity for my mother. No, my mother is not a licensed psychologist. Nor can she boast of official credentials in the area of "conflict resolution and analysis." But as a retired kindergarten teacher (and hey, "less than $1,000 a day, plus expenses" would make a nice supplement to her modest pension) with some thirty years experience in "active listening" and various other methods of "creative" conflict resolution, my mother, I am almost certain, has what it takes to get the job done.

Take, for example, the following case:

"Have you heard the one about the airline pilot who, by accident, announces his longing for a certain flight attendant over a plane's loudspeaker? Well, when a young female assistant professor heard it from a male colleague a few years ago, she didn't think it was funny. She filed a complaint against her fellow professor. The administration at the small, public university investigated but found no evidence of sexual harassment. The problem lingered. People took sides. And pretty soon, the nasty conflict had spread through the university."

And here is an account of its resolution:

"After listening to the professor who was so fond of telling jokes, she told him that it seemed as if he wanted to make people laugh and feel good, and that he clearly was upset that this woman did not feel good. Ms. Cheldelin then went back to the department and said, 'This guy wants to make people laugh, while this woman wants support -- can you help them?'
She asked everyone in the department to come up with jokes that weren't offensive to anyone in the group. She reconfigured the offices of the two professors so that one had to walk past the other to get to the coffee machine. She also encouraged them to find a shared interest. The two professors started a film club and pledged to see movies together once a month."

In other words, Let's all be nice to one another and share all our toys. Does this not sound an awful lot like kindergarten?

Off to call my mother...


As a public service, I will be offering updates on the risk of terrorist attack, as measured by the Department of Homespun Insecurity. Current threat level is: high


Just to clarify:

I haven't heard "the one about the airline pilot who, by accident, announces his longing for a certain flight attendant over the plane's loudspeaker," complaint about which on the part of a young female assistant professor led to the hiring of a "professional conflict manager." I'm sure I would rather not hear the joke, I strongly suspect that I would not find it funny.

But to file a formal complaint over a tasteless joke that is, I've no doubt, sexist and offensive and everything I hope my own son will not grow up to embrace and indulge? Well, call me a marginalized adjunct with some questions about the allocation of scarce campus resources, but I have some real problems with this approach on the part of a fellow female faculty member. Did the whole thing have to go so far that the administration ended up hiring an outside consultant who charged "less than [i.e., just under] $1,000 a day, plus expenses" to resolve a conflict that should have, and I dare say could have, been resolved between the two parties themselves?

For pity's sake, young female assistant professor: You are a grown woman with an earned Ph.D. and a position of responsibility which carries with it some important duties, including that of behaving like an adult even in the face of a faculty member who is behaving like a silly schoolboy. Are you so completely vulnerable and powerless at the hands of a fellow faculty member that you must call in the big guns over a tasteless joke? And did you try other tactics, I wonder? How about, for example, a look of bemused puzzlement which says, 'You poor thing, I wonder why you find that funny'? Or failing that, perhaps the next level of response, which involves carefully cultivating a look of withering scorn that says, 'Back off now, you silly twit, I don't find your joke funny'? Well, perhaps you tried the above and more, maybe even talked to the man and found he was resistant to your arguments. I still don't get the formal complaint.

I don't know. There is such a thing as sexual harrassment in the workplace, and there should be policies in place to deal with this problem. And I am not at all siding with those who make awful sexist jokes and comments and then meet objections to their "humour" with the reply that goes something like "Can't you take a joke? where's your sense of humour?" But at the same time, there is also the risk of trivializing the problem of harrassment with a hypersensitive and hypervigilant stance, and there is also the possibility that policies and procedures against harrassment will be overused/abused. I mean, I'm sure I would find that male professor's jokes irritating, and yet I also find myself irritated at the thought of his being schooled by a professional "conflict manager" in the telling of jokes "that weren't offensive to anyone in the group." And it's not that I think tasteless and offensive jokes are just harmless stuff and that we should all learn "how to take a joke." But there is something so infantilizing about the process, and for all involved.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:28 PM | Comments (2)

March 16, 2003

Tradition versus Traditionalism

Is there a relationship between the hermeneutics of suspicion that seems to govern so much work in the humanities and the decline of said humanities? (I say "decline" rather than "crisis" because I think we are talking about a slow and gradual death rather than an acute and sudden convulsion). I suspect there must be a relationship between the two, though I can't claim to have figured it out. I suppose it's another version of the chicken-and-egg question. Which came first: lack of interest in and support for what we do in the humanities on the part of a wider public, or lack of interest in and support for what we do on the part of ourselves?

It probably cannot be reduced to a simple cause-and-effect formula, and in any case, in practical terms it probably doesn't much matter. In practical terms, what we need to realize is the following: If we ourselves do not believe in what we do and if we ourselves either will not or cannot offer a convincing explanation of what we do and why it is we should be doing it, then we cannot expect the public to continue to lend its support to the work we do in the humanities.

Now, I am not advocating a cynical pandering to the public, ie., Let's pretend to enthusiastically endorse a series of traditions that we secretly despise in the hopes that the state legislature won't further slash our budgets. I am rather arguing that we really and truly should not despise the traditions in which we work and to which we belong.

I am beyond weary of the kind of presumptive hostility that too often passes for critical thinking in today's academy. And I say this not as a conservative but as a card-carrying left-liberal feminist progressive type. And what I want to say is, Let us distinguish carefully between tradition and traditionalism, and support the former while rejecting the latter.

By "traditionalism," I understand a non-critical and even reverential celebration of texts/thinkers/canons that are supposed to be above and beyond the reach of criticism precisely because they have stood the test of time and are now to be elevated (or relegated) to a quasi-sacred space as a collection of quasi-sacred objects. As I see it, traditionalism does not support but rather undermines tradition. The texts we study should not be viewed as museum pieces or sacred relics to be carefully sealed off and placed behind glass, out of our reach and out of harm's way. Rather, the texts we study are ours to do with as we like, and we should feel free to handle them with our grubby hands and to muck around with them as much as we please. If they have stood the test of time, then they can surely bear the weight of our criticism. And they should be approached, I think, as something living and vital, to be passed on from one generation to the next, which is how I understand "tradition."

All of which is to say, there must be some middle ground between uncritical celebration and wholesale rejection. I think we need to work harder at finding this middle ground. To my mind, this middle ground involves an understanding of ourselves as working within a series of traditions into which we would introduce our students. So, for example, we don't (or I don't) pass silently over Aristotle's defense of "natural slavery" because Aristotle is one of the great thinkers and everything he wrote should be enshrined in a space toward which we humbly genuflect with an attitude of awe and reverence. But we also don't (or I don't) dismiss Aristotle as a dead white male whose defense of "natural slavery" must serve as an indictment of everything he said and of all things Aristotelian. What is the point, really, of the summary dismissal? It is easy enough to do, yes, but isn't it just a little too easy? It's like shooting fish in a barrel. Let us do what is much more difficult but also much more rewarding: allow Aristotle to speak to us, even as we speak to him. Not rah-rah Aristotle, but not boo-hoo-banish-Aristotle, either.

I have been thinking about this issue for quite a while. One of the advantages (and they are few and far between) of life on the margins, I suppose, is that it can force upon you a kind of critical distance that you might not have if you were more comfortably situated within. And so I find myself increasingly committed to a defense of the notion of tradition, for a number of reasons and on a number of grounds. But for now, I want to emphasize a very practical and pragmatic point: namely, that if we continue to undermine the humanities from inside the academy, then we really don't have much by way of a defense against attacks on the humanities from outside the academy.


Via dolebludger, a report by researchers at the University of Warwick finds that "Arts degrees 'reduce earnings.'" Graduates in liberal arts subjects - including history and English literature - "could expect to make between 2% and 10% less than those who quit education at 18, researchers at Warwick University found...Professor Ian Walker, leading the study, said: 'Feeling warm about literature doesn't pay the rent.'" So maybe the pomo people are right? Or at least, maybe they're saying something not so very different from those hard-nosed corporate types who dismiss a liberal arts degree as "useless"?

Ok, I don't think a liberal arts degree is "useless." Nor do I think that the main thing in life should be to make as much money as possible. Nevertheless.
People do and must live in a world where there are bills to pay and mouths to feed.

Now, I have some real problems with the refusal of humanities graduate programs to scale back their admissions in order to achieve a better balance between PhDs and actual academic positions. And my objection to this short-sighted policy (or lack of policy, really) has to do in large part with the damage done to those who delay and defer a good deal of early to mid adult life (establishment of a viable career, marriage, children, etc) in pursuit of a degree that turns out to lead to nowhere. At what point, I wonder, should the same principle apply to undergraduate studies? Should we encourage young people to sign on for degrees that will drastically reduce their earning potential over the course of their lives? Or, at the very least, should we not give them full and fair warning of this salary differential?

Of course, this is only one study. And presumably there might be some who would willingly forego future earnings for the sake of other ideals and other interest. Still, it does make me wonder. Perhaps the liberal arts are close to becoming completely irrelevant, and the humanities as we know it or as we once knew it will be consigned to the museum?

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

March 14, 2003

Going Corporate: College Presidents Command CEO Salaries

I find myself increasingly impatient with the academic culture warriors. You know the ones I mean: the people from both the left and right ends of the spectrum who continue to argue -- with a level of vehemence that seems inversely related to the continued relevance of their grievances -- that the biggest threats to academic freedom and academic standards stem from the politicized antics of their ideological opponents (whether on the right or the left, as the case may be).

Get with the program, people. The biggest threat both to academic freedom and to academic standards is the corporatization of the university. And when it comes to the concerns of the "culture wars," the corporate model can basically be seen as an equal opportunity menace. Are you concerned about issues of diversity in such areas as student admissions, faculty hiring and curriculum development? Or are you rather interested in resisting recent moves toward a more multi-culti university in the name of a traditional liberal arts curriculum that you fear is in danger of disappearing? Whether the former or the latter, let me assure you that your concerns are equally irrelevant to the new breed of corporate managers. What they want to know is, What will it cost? and, How will it sell?

Don't believe me? Spend some time browsing through the articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education's "Money and Management" section. For a truly instructive example of corporatization, I especially recommend its collection of eye-opening articles on college presidents' salaries. "The Growing $500,000 Club," for example, informs us that while, "until 2000, no more than a dozen presidents of private colleges made that much money in any given year," in 2001 "the number of top leaders earning over $500,000 annually more than doubled." But perhaps even more significant than the high salaries for presidents of top-ranked private universities is the growing trend toward enormous compensation packages for the presidents of public universities. An article entitled "Private Funds Drive Up Pay of Public-University Presidents" offers the following interesting examples:

"John W. Shumaker, the new president of the University of Tennessee system, will be paid as much as $734,000 annually. Mary Sue Coleman, who in August became the first female president of the University of Michigan system, will earn $677,500 a year. Evan S. Dobelle, president of the University of Hawaii System, receives $599,500 annually. And Mark A. Emmert, chancellor of Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, received a pay raise in July that more than doubled his annual compensation, from $284,160 to $590,000."

Among the questions this raises is the one posed by Derek Bok, who asks "Are Huge Presidential Salaries Bad for Colleges?" His answer, in brief, is Yes, they certainly are. "The influence of money," he argues, "is already too strong on many campuses, distorting priorities, distracting faculty members, and eroding academic values. Lavish salaries for campus CEO's will only tend to make the problem worse."

Now, I don't have a problem with generous compensation packages for college presidents. But as with most things in life, it's a question of degree. Once we get over the half million per annum mark, and even up into the range of 750,000 to 800,000 dollars a year...well, I think we should all be asking some questions. The more so as this growing trend toward CEO-type compensation for college presidents occurs alongside a growing trend toward adjunct and part-time faculty (a wrong in itself and a very real, though indirect, threat to the maintenance of a full-time tenured faculty).

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 04:11 PM | Comments (3)

March 12, 2003

Minding the Gap

I think I crossed a line this morning, and crossed over to the other side. Now, I have been walking on and around this line for some time, and for the past few years I suppose I have been somewhat uneasily perched with one foot on either side. But this morning I decisively crossed that line, and am now faced with the realization that I have reached a point from which there is no return.

I'm talking about the "generation gap," if I may use such a quaint and perhaps archaic (c. 1970?) term. The existence and extent of which gap between me and my students became absolutely and undeniably clear to me this morning as I pondered the fact that three of my female students were wearing what looked to me like sleepwear and underwear.

Well, it's a 9 a.m. class, and today I gave the midterm exam (which gave me plenty of opportunity to observe my students' early morning sartorial splendour), and everyone was a little bit nutty because of the exam and the fact that after the exam we would all be free for the spring break (yippee!), and then, too, the students live in residence halls just a building or two away. So under the circumstances, coming to class in one's pyjamas is, if a bit unusual, not entirely unheard of.

So Student 1's apparel didn't really force upon me the realization of a gap. "Are those the kind of jammie bottoms that I myself like to wear in the privacy of my own home?" I wondered, as I noticed that Student 1 was wearing a pair of plaid flannel pants/bottoms that looked a lot like my own pyjama bottoms. They could be just a pair of extremely casual (and no doubt extremely comfy) trousers, to be sure. But when I noticed her feet, I saw what were unmistakably a pair of suede slippers. No question about it, Student 1 had come to class in her pyamas.

With Students 2 and 3, however, I was not (and am not) entirely convinced that they were wearing something other than street clothes to class. Student 2 was wearing a pair of jammie-bottom-looking striped flannel trousers (or, perhaps, actual jammie bottoms). With a woolen sweater on top (what the J. Crew catalog calls "the boyfriend sweater"), a chenille scarf around her neck, and a rose-printed silk scarf around her head (9 a.m. exam, no time to shower, having a bad hair day, etc.). But she was also wearing something else: on top of the jammie-bottom like bottoms, she was sporting what looked to me like a women's slip. Silky (probably silk, actually, these students have disposable income), with lace trim, in a pale seafoam green colour (though seaform probably isn't the right term, it probably has one of those J. Crew-like names: pool or foam or lake or what have you: some name that evokes water but with only a subtle hint at the actual colour). Student 3 was not wearing jammies. She had on a pair of jeans and sweater. But over the jeans, she had the same type of slip-like thing that looked to me like, well, like a women's undergarment, the kind we call a slip. Hers was a nice shade of pale beige (champagne? no that's too dated, probably considered cheesy now, so perhaps mushroom or cappucino).

Well, here's the thing: I was struck by the sheer fabulousness of these young women's outfits, I truly was. And at the same time, what they were wearing seemed incoherent: that is, it just didn't make sense to me. "Are those pyjama bottoms on Student 1?" "Is Student 2 wearing a slip? Gee, that looks a lot like a slip...Is it an actual slip that she bought in the lingerie department, or is it some new sort of overskirt designed to look like a slip but to be worn on the outside?" And "Is that another slip, or slip-like thingy on Student 3?" And "Is this what they're wearning now?" and "Oh dear lord, I sound like my mother!" And I had a real admiration for their early morning style: they are young and a little bit funky, and they can pull if off beautifully. But also, a wistful sense of loss as I realized that I am now very far removed from what it is that these young women are wearing to class. Not that I hadn't realized this before, but this morning it hit me with a peculiar force: my students belong to a younger generation and I of course belong to another, and older, one.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 06:42 PM | Comments (0)

Adjunct as Entrepreneur?

Jill Carroll has been writing a column ("The Adjunct Track") for the Chronicle of Higher Education for over a year. Though she offers some useful advice on such tricky dilemmas as how to hold office hours without an office, the framework within which she chooses to view the issue of adjunct teaching strikes me as incredibly naive and highly misleading.

Basically, Carroll proposes to replace the "paradigm" of adjunct as exploited low-wage worker with that of adjunct as entrepreneur. As the Chronicle put it in a feature article published in August 2001, "Jill Carroll wants adjuncts to think about themselves as entrepreneurs selling a product to a client." Carroll teaches 12 courses a year at three separate campuses -- and "that doesn't count the continuing-education classes or the literature course for convicts on probation" -- and now earns $54,000 a year. She is, the Chronicle tells us, "a small-business success story."

The keys to her success? The keys are both practical and psychological. "The key, she says, is to develop courses like products: Systemize their production until you can reap the benefits of economies of scale. Make them classes you can teach over and over, without mountains of preparation each time." But successful enterpreneurship begins with a positive attitude: "It all starts with how you think," she says. "I know it sounds very pop psychology, sounds like Oprah. But it's true."

Yes, that does sound very pop psychology. And I'm afraid such pop psychology does not meet my criteria of what could reasonably be considered as "true." Kind of reminds me of that "don't sweat the small stuff and it's all small stuff" stuff. Sure, some of it, probably a lot of it, is small stuff. But it's not all small stuff, and just saying that it's small doesn't make it small.

In her latest column, Carroll reiterates her approach as follows:

"Finally you can pursue the entrepreneurial approach, which is the one I have advocated in this column. It's worked quite well for me and for lots of other adjuncts working in larger cities. This is as much a psychological strategy as anything, in that it chooses to view adjuncts as freelance workers who sell their services to different clients within their market.
Even though we don't set our own rates or get to charge kill fees, approaching the adjunct situation within this paradigm is fruitful for the new possibilities it creates. You hustle up as much work as you can in your area, always improving your quality of service (teaching, grading, whatever), becoming ever more time-efficient and skilled in your work so that you can shoulder more clients, and earn more money, without going insane."

I think this "adjunct as entreprenuer" strategy is nothing more than a compensatory fiction. It is, as Carroll admits, largely a psychological strategy. Yes, you are marginalized, underpaid, unsupported and exploited, Carroll concedes. But instead of allowing this to make you feel bad about yourself and your position (because it will otherwise make you feel very bad indeed, and you might even find yourself "going insane"), you should redefine yourself as a freelance worker, calling yourself an entrepreneur who delivers a "quality product" to a growing base of "clients," and finding a basis for self-esteem and self-fulfillment in the "skill" and "time-efficiency" with which you deliver your product.

Problem is, as Carroll finally admits in this latest column (and I think this is the first time she has made such an admission), the adjunct is not really -- indeed, not at all -- in a position to behave like an entrepreneur: "Even though we don't set our own rates or get to charge kill fees," she concedes. Well, that's a pretty big concession. That pretty much qualifies the notion of adjunct as entrepreneur into the region of sheer fantasy. As Keith Hoeller (Cofounder, Washington Part-Time Faculty Association) pointed out in a letter to the editor in response to its August 2001 article,

"If Professor Carroll were in fact a self-employed entrepreneur with years of professional experience, she would be earning $200,000 a year and not $54,000. She would set her own rates and allow enough to purchase her own medical and retirement benefits; cover her transportation costs, office rent, phone bills, and marketing and promotional materials; and set money aside for periods of unemployment. She would also write her own contracts -- and include hefty cancellation penalties" (Letter to the Editor, Chronicle, September 14, 2001).

Indeed. For all practical intents and purposes, the adjunct is a low-wage worker without benefits who can be hired and fired at will. So in what way can the adjunct be an entrepreneur, except in his or her own mind?

Anyway, is this what teaching should be about? The delivery of units of quality service (lecturing, grading, and etc) by freelance workers with no real stakes in the curriculum, the department, the institutions in which they work? And if this is ok, then why have tenured faculty at all? Why not abolish tenure, eliminate all but a few full-time positions within any given department (cannot entirely eliminate full-time positions, must keep a small permanent base of adminstrators/overseers), and have the bulk of teaching done by part-timers ("free-lancers")? I believe this is the direction in which we are moving, and I suspect there are legions of university adminstrators who would love nothing better than to speed up this process. Call me old-fashioned, but I think this is not a good thing. My problem with the growing use of adjuncts is partly, I will admit, motivated by self-interest: I don't like to be marginalized, underpaid, unsupported, and exploited. But part of it stems from a real concern over the future of higher education, and what the shift from full-time to part-time positions signals about this future.

But I suppose a part of me has to give Carroll her due: in attempting to redefine low-paid, contingent labor as an enterpreneurial strategy, she exposes the commodification of education and the corporatization of the university to sometimes brilliant (though often absurd) effect.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 03:28 AM | Comments (4)

March 08, 2003

Instructors' Status and Grade Inflation

A study by sociologists Melanie Moore and Richard Trahan tests the hypothesis that "lower status instructors with less secure positions are more likely to assign higher grades than higher status instructors with tenured positions." The unsurprising results?: "Achieved organizational status in terms of rank and tenure is significantly related to grades awarded. Instructors with less secure positions give higher grades on average than instructors with more secure positions."

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 01:06 PM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2003

O brave new world

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education's online Colloquy, there is a discussion of maternity and academic leave policies. It's the kind of thing that makes me feel nostalgic for the Catholicism from which I have lapsed.

The level of hostility toward mothers is disturbing. The fact that it is coming from self-identified feminists doubly so. I have always been one to refute the popular notion of feminism as anti-family and anti-mother. I may have to rethink my position.

Some respondents are taking a hard line: "I'm taking the hard line approach on this one. Having kids is a choice, not a 'right.'" Others concur. Since having babies is now a choice, women should make the choice of planning wisely to carefully time their pregnancies around the academic schedule: "It seems to me that if employees want special 'perks' for having a baby, then they should
be responsible enough to schedule their baby having time, with their department." For at least one respondent, the only responsible choice is to "use birth control" and not have children at all: when some women choose to have babies, she maintains, it creates problems for the "more responsible" women to choose not to.
The unintended consequences of the rhetoric of "choice" in the area of reproduction?

An "old-fashioned feminist" finds it "refreshing" to read the vitriol that is directed against mothers. When some women attack other women for having children, apparently this means we are all freed from having to "follow the script of wife and mother that biology and cultural expectation [once] forced on [us]." We are all free to choose, but there is only one free choice that is compatible with freedom.

Or perhaps women should be "forced to be free"? Some of the respondents seem to think so.

"Naysayer" takes an even harder line, and one that can only be described as loony: "Precious grant money should not wasted on those whose interest is primarily in that which is grunted forth from their own loins." No middle ground here: it is a question of the production of valuable work in one's specialty versus the reproduction ("grunting forth") of a "brat" (uh, that would be a human being) who is without value: "Too many child-free graduate students are in supply, who would rather dedicate their time and energy in cultivating the pool of knowledge in their area of research, rather than first letting brats suckle from their breasts, and then doing the work they were trained to do--the work in which hundreds of thousands of dollars wree invested in them, to produce." If a professor wants to drop out of the "rat race" to become a "breeder," that is fine with Naysayer: let's "drop the no-longer-dedicated, entitlement-minded lump of uselessness" who is no longer behaving like a rat in a maze. Naysayer, who apparently has some issues with the female body, wants women to "Grow some balls," the growth of which would help them to "realize what a drain these entitlement moo-cows are on acedemia." Uh, this is in reference to those "breeders" who had left the rat race and who were thus no longer asking the academy for any sort of "perks" or "entitlements." But why worry over details? The main point in this muddle of unfocused rage and misdirected resentment is clear enough to see, and it is not a pretty picture.

At this point, I am almost ready to run back into the arms of Mother Church.

A recurrent theme: since the university does not provide any support or assistance for the academic who would like to take some time off to sail around the world, then the university should not provide any support or assistance for the academic who would like to take some time off to have and care for an infant. Apparently, the bringing of a child into the world, and the bringing up of that child within this world, is no longer to be viewed as an important aspect in the task of caring for the world. It is rather to considered an entirely self-directed and self-oriented pursuit that at no point should impinge on or inconvenience any other self. A purely private and individual choice, and a choice that is now defined as a kind of self-indulgence. The choice to move from the position of an unencumbered self (the childless or childfree self) to that of an encumbered self (the self who must also care for another self) is now viewed as the ultimate form of selfishness.

O brave new world, that has no people in it!

Forget past, present and future: the past is over, the future is history, and it is all me all the time, and all in an eternal present. This must be, if not the final, then the penultimate phase in the progress of nihilism.

Did I mention that I am feeling a little bit homesick for the Church?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:17 PM | Comments (2)


This is an age of immodesty.

Over at the Chronicle of Higher Education's online Career Network, Dennis Baron, chair of the English department at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, is writing a series of columns on the tenure review process in his department. One of the candidates that Baron discusses is one "Alison Porchnik" (Baron is a Woody Allen fan), whose forthcoming book manuscript has been evaluated by three external reviewers. Unfortunately, there is a "problem" with the second letter.

The letter, Baron explains, "started out with some general praise: Porchnik identified a 'significant' research problem and produced a 'competent' book. There were detailed examples of Porchnik's strengths as a scholar, and even a comment that a conference paper Porchnik gave at the MLA suggested that she was a dedicated and effective teacher."

The problem? The reviewer had called the book "competent." And in the marketplace of ideas that we call the academy, inflation is the order of the day not only in the area of student grades but also in the area of letters of recommendation and evaluation. Thus, Baron has heard "more than one colleague insist that 'competent' means the work is truly awful."

Though Baron would "hate to see reference letters go the way of movie reviews, where only extreme praise counts as positive," he does not sound optimistic. It may not be long, he notes, "before letter writers find that even 'a bold and imaginative' assessment packs as little of a wallop as 'competent,' and they start penning claims like, 'Alison Porchnik -- the subaltern speaks!' Or worse yet, 'Porchnik: Socko Boffo!'"

Fortunately for Porchnik, her department decides to support her tenure bid despite the label of "competent" that is now viewed by some as a mark of mediocrity. As Baron writes in his most recent column, "[T]he English department's tenured professors think that her scholarship, while not exactly 'paradigm-shifting,' is certainly 'field-advancing,' and vote unanimously to recommend her for tenure." But we are not yet done with the problem of the second letter, for Baron must now plead Porchnik's case with the dean and the College Executive Committee. Among the questions/objections raised by the Committee: "Why weren't there more external reviewers from places like Harvard, Princeton, or Yale?" and "Why didn't all of the reviewers say Porchnik was the best thing since sliced bread?"
Will Porchnik get tenure? Too soon to tell, so stay tuned to Baron's series.

I am struck by the notion that Porchnik's work, "while not exactly 'paradigm-shifting', is certainly 'field-advancing.'" As reported by Baron, the assessment of the English department's tenured faculty reads like some sort of concession: though Porchnik's work is good enough (it does advance the field), they concede that it really doesn't really meet the new and inflated standard of "paradigm-shifting." And I can't help but wonder just how many paradigms these faculty members have managed to shift in their own work.

I suspect not very many. In the humble opinion of this humble adjunct, the new expectation of "paradigm-shifting" work is downright silly. What can it mean? Well, just about anything and everything, and nothing much at all.

I have a sister in the business world who loves to fill me in on the latest lingo, and who is variously amused and appalled by what she calls "the slaughter of the English language" (she was an English major in college). A few years ago, the buzzword was "paradigm," and "let's shift the paradigm" could be heard in boardrooms across North America. Not anymore, of course, because they've apparently shifted the paradigm, and paradigm itself is now obselete.

Well, we academics like to see ourselves as opinion leaders not followers. But don't believe it. We are following the example of the corporate world in more ways than one, a little bit behind instead of "ahead of the curve," admittedly, but desperately trying to catch up. Hence, the use of "paradigm-shifting," which is now 4 to 5 years past its buzzword prime.

But wait, you may be objecting. Why suggest that academics have borrowed the term from corporate America when many academics are obviously well familiar with the work of Thomas Kuhn. Aren't they taking this term from his famous Structure of the Scientific Revolution, first published in 1962?

To which I reply, but surely we academics cannot be quite that shallow and silly? After all, as the title of his work indicates, Kuhn was referring to major transformations (revolutions, even) in modes or structures of understanding. The shift from a Ptolemaic to a Copernican framework, for example. You know: the big stuff. Think "advent of the printing press" and Gutenberg bible and quantum physics and the Internet. And taken in its Kuhnian sense, just how paradigm shifts could anyone expect to see in his or her own lifetime? And how many paradigm shifts could we expect to see in any given scholarly discipline? and how many in any given subfield of specialization? And if hundreds, nay thousands, of academics are now expected to shift the paradigms, then people must be using paradigm in the business buzzword sense, for surely we cannot expect academics to shift their (Kuhnian-sense) paradigms the way they change their socks?

Or can we?

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:47 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2003

The Invisible Adjunct's Anonymity

For reasons both personal and professional, the Invisible Adjunct prefers to remain in the condition of anonymity and invisibility that characterizes adjunct teaching in the post-everything academy. Just call it the Stockholm Syndrome: as a psychological defence mechanism, the Invisible Adjunct has begun to identify with and, more importantly, to cooperate with her captors (uh, employers) in the erasure of her very identity. Unless she can marshall the resources to make a bold and daring escape (the Invisible Adjunct now realizes that it is beyond futile to hope for a third-party rescue operation), she will no longer be capable of asserting an independent and fully visible individuality. Upon receipt of a solid offer for full-time, tenure-track employment, however, all would be forgotten and the Invisible Adjunct would happily reveal her identity.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 02:12 AM | Comments (0)

March 01, 2003

Ph.D. as Preparation for Nonacademic Careers?

Call me bitter and disillusioned and downright cranky (no, really; go ahead: you won't be telling me anything that I don't already tell myself), but I am really tired of hearing the following platitude:

"A Ph.D. in the humanities can serve as preparation for a wide variety of careers outside the academy."

To which I always want to reply: Uh, no, you've got the whole thing ass-backwards.

Perhaps you meant to say something like, "If you are capable of completing a Ph.D. in the humanities, then you are also capable of preparing for a wide variety of fields outside the academy." True enough. I won't argue with you there.

If you have the brains/talent/stubbornness or whatever to read a hundred books or so in a few specialized fields, take and pass comprehensive exams in those fields, pursue intensive research on a topic of your choosing, write a three to four hundred-page narrative/account based on that research, all the while perhaps preparing classes on topics about which you know little to nothing, advising students, grading papers and exams, writing conference papers and grant proposals and so on ... well, yes, if you have the brains/talents/stubbornness or whatever to do all of the above, then you surely have the brains/talents/stubbornness or whatever to pursue any number of other careers in the big, wide world beyond the academy.

But to say this is not at all to say that whatever it is you are doing in the academy can be seen as a useful "preparation" for the myriad of other things you could be doing instead. I doubt very much that it is a useful form of preparation. I rather suspect that a more useful (and infinitely less painful) mode of preparation would involve skipping the academy altogether (do not pass go, do not collect $200) and moving directly into the relevant nonacademic field.

As a kind of pep talk for people like me (i.e., underemployed Ph.D.'s working as adjuncts, finally facing the brutal reality of the job "market" in their field and realizing that they need to get the h-ll out of the academy), I suppose I can meet the above statement halfway. But as a justification for business as usual (i.e., 'let's continue to recruit people into our graduate programs even though we know they'll never find full-time work in the academy; after all, they can always find work afterwards as ... well, as something or other, Hollywood screenwriters or something...; can't think of anything too specific, but the Ph.D. must surely serve as preparation for a wide variety of nonacademic careers'), I find it intellectually specious and morally bankrupt.

End of rant. Now where is my toddler? I need to remind myself that life is pretty darn good in spite of the academy.

Posted by Invisible Adjunct at 05:45 PM | Comments (7)