When planning her own recent humorous chapter book, Brainstorm colleague Naomi Schaefer Riley (no relation to Roscoe) apparently didn’t get the memo that the “lazy professor” stereotype has been consigned to the cultural dustbin since, roughly, her own graduation from kindergarten. As you might surmise from the title (The Faculty Lounges–har har–And Other Reasons You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For), the book relies on silly, outmoded stereotypes, arguments from anecdote and bluster from the likes of John Silber instead of evidence.
At one time or another in what too often reads like an audition for Fox News higher education
attack dog analyst, Riley deals every bromide in the deck, usually from the bottom: while accepting conservative foundation support for her own propaganda, she goes far out of her way to caricature Ford Foundation grants in support of academic freedom as a”gravy train” for left academics (would that it were so!)
Just like the beginning chapter books my son favors, Riley’s book features one cartoon illustration per chapter, usually reprinted from stock cartoon banks. None of them have anything to do with the issues; they just underscore the irrelevance of her stereotypes (“Your wife hasn’t broken the law, professor–she can leave you even if you do have tenure!”) Ha, ha, chuckle, zzzzzz.
That’s too bad, because Riley is bright and analytical, and sometimes grasps real problems with the tenure system, which is more than I can say of many contemporary observers on my own side of the political aisle.
She’s right, for instance, to note that the tenure system as we know it today is deeply flawed:
Supposed to produce courage and security, it breeds cowardice and anxiety, check. Supposed to unite the faculty, it now serves as a marker of apartheid between the academy’s minority “haves” and majority “have-nots,”check.
Supposed to encompass peer accountability for all professional activities it too often rewards those who neglect their students, family, and the profession, check.
Supposedly the pipeline for equality in the professions, the tenure system funnels academic and professional women into subordinate positions, check.
Supposed to guarantee reasonable economic return on education (you know, so that English professors can expect lifetime earnings not too much lower than good legal secretaries), tenure has become a generational lifeboat for greybeards selfishly uninterested in the crisis of young faculty, check.
All of these concerns, which plenty of tenure’s defenders are all too happy to gloss over, add up to an argument against tenure from the labor front.
Contingent-faculty activists like Joe Berry have long observed that tenure is reserved for a shrinking labor aristocracy–the group of persons who do front-line supervision of transient labor, and who provide the talent pool for upper administration. From the perspective of actual, informed unionists like Berry, tenure has frequently served as an engine of inequality.
Nor is it generally the goal of contingent-faculty unionists to win entrance into the stressful, irrational tenure crapshoot which is far from the gold standard of job security that most faculty imagine (ask anyone who’s had a department restructured or eliminated, or had an administrator declare a fake fiscal crisis).
Therefore, many contingent faculty, and left-labor faculty of any appointment type, share Riley’s sense that tenure should be abolished. (Either that, or like me and the AAUP, they feel that a reformed, teaching-centric tenure system should be the norm of faculty experience, as it was in 1972, when the professoriate was largely populated by well-off white men.)
Riley’s at her best and most revealing when she talks about how the tenured (like her father) treat contingent faculty, like her mother. At times the book is honestly reported–Riley admits that tenure isn’t the reason college is expensive–quite the contrary, it saves on salary–and that tenure is a minority experience.
I think if Riley’s analysis had taken the form of a long essay on the extremely important theme of how the tenure system marginalizes women teaching faculty, a topic scandalously under-addressed by liberals and academic feminists alike, it almost could have been one of those occasional offerings from the right that joins with the left in challenging some of the sacred cows of the liberal mainstream. (See chapter 4, “The Academic Underclass,” which appropriately excoriates “the hypocrisy of academics who claim concern for society’s marginalized while ignoring the [gendered and racialized] underclass in their midst.”)
If you subtract the ideological claptrap from Riley’s book, you have a perfectly reasonable call to invest in undergraduate teaching. However, in adding enough vitriol and borrowed observations to make a book, Riley goes awry in two basic ways, the scary and the lame.
Under the heading of scary, I have to point out that every once in a while, Riley’s mask of reasonability slips. In chapter 2, she wonders aloud, a la David Horowitz, Don’t some radical faculty members deserve to be run off campus?
A little later we learn the identities of the radicals to be run off, when she channels the radio talk shows for this sweeping non sequitur: “Whether it’s women’s studies or black studies or queer studies, the entire premise of the discipline often rests on a political agenda…. there [is] a growing sense that projects that are not strictly academic are not deserving of academic protections.”
The scary part is that we and her actual target audience know what she’s saying even though she isn’t saying anything–what is the meaning of the nonsense phrase “the entire premise of the discipline”? This is all too much like Limbaugh, rolling empty longish words off the tongue in order to manufacture a sense of cogitation and portent.
Under the heading of lame, I have to place the one argument she really makes with any vigor, that so much of higher education is “vocational” that there’s no controversy in those fields, hence no need for academic freedom. “These are all fields with fairly definitive answers,” Riley says in total ignorance of the fields she cites–like nutrition, family sciences, security, and sports history. “Faculty members don’t really need the freedom to ask controversial questions in discussing them,” she says, with unearned confidence.
It’s hard to believe that someone with two academic parents made this argument or, having made it, kept it in the manuscript–as its great gotcha! centerpiece, no less. When Gary Rhoades pointed out to Riley that nutrition faculty, just for example, engaged in plenty of controversy, she amateurishly dismisses the point rather than checking to see whether, in fact, there aren’t some fairly intense controversies in the field. Hint: there are, as in every one of the other fields she names.
But what of the obviously roiling controversies in other “vocational” fields, like legal, business, and medical education? Riley has nothing to say.
Riley is similarly cavalier with the evidence regarding faculty and teaching. There are literally thousands of studies evaluating faculty teaching, but instead of addressing any of them, Riley uses a few administrators as quote farms in support of her preconceived thesis and dials up the Limbaugh: “Tenure means they can simply neglect their students!”
At other points the just-published work is already out of date, touting the Garcetti decision, which has been successfully challenged, or Stanley Fish’s positions since recanted.
Frequently it’s just juvenile, as with the cartoons or snarkily describing the academy as a “profession” only in skeptical quotation marks.
Sometimes it’s just inept, as when she relies on John Silber’s “analysis” of tenure to make her case that it isn’t necessary to protect academic freedom–when, notoriously, it was only tenure that protected the late, beloved and irreplaceable Howard Zinn from Silber’s relentless efforts to drive him from the campus.
Much of the rest is cribbed from usual suspects like ACTA and Richard Vedder, or retread David Horowitz–Oh my gosh, the Berkeley writing classes sometimes cover controversial content!
A couple of points under the heading of full disclosure: Riley interviewed me for this book, and I make several appearances in the one chapter I thought worthy of her talents. She treats me as far less of a caricature than she might have, and I wish I had kinder things to say about the project.
Additionally, my spouse and I are, like Riley’s parents, and as many as a third of all faculty, navigating the often-breathtaking challenges of a dual-career academic couple in a system that is particularly cruel to academic women.
I share Riley’s disquiet with academic hypocrisy. On top of still rampant sexism and sex discrimination in academic employment, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything quite like the viciousness with which many academic “feminists” with tenure treat some of their “sisters” off-track.
As I read Riley’s book–which I had to buy because her publisher declined to send me a review copy–I thought often of my son, and his sunny disposition. I hope that we can find a way to insulate his good nature and deeply, deeply inquiring mind from the academic shabbiness, hypocrisy and dishonesty that Riley chronicles best from her personal experience.]]>
Given that most MLA cities aren’t as desirable in early January as Los Angeles (Toronto, you know I’m talking about you!), will the cost savings of $5,000 to $10,000 per search lead to more Skyping and less flying of three to seven socially deficient individuals across the country to imprison them in their hotel rooms for most of three days? Um, yeah, duh.
The question is: How far will this trend go? It’s leading in writing and the foreign languages, where money is tightest and allegiance to the MLA is lowest. Let’s say most of the English literature and cultural studies fields follow suit—with spikes during years of conventions scheduled for, say, Philadelphia.
Remember that the profession’s hiring class is aging faster than a horse on crack, and try to imagine the fading appeal of long flights and long days listening to the young folks (“Wah wah wah Zizek blah blah blah three manuscripts under consideration”) followed by toddling over ice-filled sidewalks for stale cheddar soup and an oxidized chardonnay. So much more comfy to tune out in front of your video screen and read your email while pretending to listen.
Indeed: No need to interview at the lousy times chosen by MLA at all. Heck, why not interview at your own convenience? Not six interviews in a row, but three interviews every Friday afternoon in December. Or November. Or January.
So what’s the impact on MLA? With fields at the leading edge of adoption at 10 percent of interviews already, let’s pick a number for a near-term plateau, a conservative number like 25 percent of all interviews bypassing MLA—probably higher in writing and foreign languages. Let’s say in five years, roughly five hundred interviews might bypass the convention. That’s roughly two thousand interviewers who might not otherwise come, and at least a couple of hundred interviewees, those whose only interviews are Skyped.
MLA’s budget is several million a year, so losing a fraction of convention income isn’t going to bankrupt it. But let’s say conservatively they collect $200 a head per attendee. That’s a hit of almost a half-million a year right there. It’s probably more, because many folks renew their dues just to attend the convention, and there’s the rake from booksellers, some of whom might no longer come, hotel bookings, etc. And half a million pays five to seven staffers, without whom MLA can offer fewer services, thus diminishing the luster of the whole operation, making credible eventual future bypassings. Chances are excellent that 50 percent or more of writing jobs alone will bypass MLA, given the deservedly poor reputation of the organization in the field. If I were doing MLA resource allocation, I’d be thinking of a likely half-million dollar hit, and praying that it wasn’t a full million.
This question and others will be discussed at the panel “New Tools, Hard Times: Social Networking and the Academic Crisis.” This Thursday January 6, 5:15–6:30 p.m., 406A, L.A. Convention Center. A special session. Presiding: Meredith L. McGill, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick Speakers: Rosemary G. Feal, MLA, Marc Bousquet, Santa Clara Univ., Brian Croxall, Emory Univ., Christopher John Newfield, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, Marilee Lindemann, Univ. of Maryland, College Park. Format: eight-minute presentations, discussion.
Also see the two offerings by the Division on Teaching as a Profession (yours truly on the executive committee): Deprofessionalized? and Governance Matters.
Deprofessionalized? Friday, 07 January. 8:30–9:45 a.m. Modern Language Association Convention 2011, Los Angeles. Plaza 3, Marriott.
Format: published discussion materials; 5-minute prepared remarks; discussion between panelists and audience.
1. A Split in the PMC? Rising Managers, Falling Professionals.Marc Bousquet, presiding. Tenure and Teaching Intensive Appointments Occupy and Escalate We Work
2. Solidarity v. Professionalism: Abetting Wayward Labor. Kim Emery, University of Florida. Deprofessionalization requires a more radical solution than re-professionalization. Academic Freedom Requires Constant Vigilance The University and the Undercommons Professionalism as the Basis
3. Precarity, Itinerancy, and Professionalism. Lisa Jeanne Fluet, Boston College. Precarious faculty professionalize themselves without many of the usual compensations. What are You Going to Do With That? The Ph.D. Problem Things I Learned From Grading AP Essays
4. What Rolls Down Hill: ‘Professionalization’ and Graduate Student Administrators. Monica F. Jacobe, Princeton University. Consequences for graduate students who provide or even donate administrative labor. Play Ph.D. Casino! Graduate Students Hearing Voices Higher Exploitation
5. Busting Faculty Labor For Fun and Profit. William Lyne, Western Washington University. Faculty work is being devalued to cut costs, increase profits and reinforce class barriers for students. Power Concedes Nothing Without Demand Public Benefits, Private Costs
6. Internal Stratifications. Jeffrey J. Williams, Carnegie Mellon Univ. As doctors farm out some tasks to nurses, practitioners and physicians’ assistants, the professoriate is shifting some tasks to sub- or tertiary professions. Remaking the University The System of Professions
7. Untitled. Bruce W. Robbins, Columbia University. Secular Vocations
Can’t make the MLA?
Join Barbara Ehrenreich, Cornel West, Dick Ohmann and many others at Left Forum 2011 (March 18-20), Pace University, N.Y.C.
Interested in joining Ohmann for a panel on working in commercialized higher ed? Drop him or Susan O’Malley a line by January 5, 2011. Have an article for Radical Teacher’s issue of the same theme? Send a proposal by May 15, 2011.
Fish Does It Again
It happens roughly once a year, usually around the holidays: Just when you’re sure that you can safely ignore everything under his byline, Stanley Fish takes notice of something worthwhile and doesn’t entirely butcher it: Carvalho and Downing’s very important but absurdly priced Academic Freedom in the Post-9/11 Era. (Yes, Virginia, full disclosure: I have a piece in it. OMG, so does Ward Churchill.) Unquestionably the must-have academic freedom book of the first decade of the millenium—ask your library to buy it.
RIP David Noble]]>
Or how about legal reform – would not lawyers scream if such a conference were organized without a substantial portion of the main participants being members of the profession representing the range of opinions within the legal field?
Why then is it when it comes to education that people think it is appropriate to have major discussions about education without fair inclusion of the voices of those who bear the greatest burden for the education of our children, the parents and the teachers? –Kenneth Bernstein, Cooperative Catalyst
So I tied off my upper arm and mainlined anti-nausea drugs Sunday and Monday in order to stomach hours of biased, dishonest, irresponsible NBC hate propaganda paid for by, you guessed it, for-profit higher ed vendors and foundations devoted to privatizing public schools.
Just as Obama’s pursued the Republican party line on education, NBC has taken a page from Fox News and Oprah. Their lineup on a two-day policy summit with a dozen conference panels –you know, the kind of panels usually filled with folks with credible expertise in the topic–features politicians, astronauts, tv anchors, musicians, corporate executives, and charter school entrepreneurs.
NBC did include one or two figures associated with parent organizations. Just not those representing the the real views of most actual parents–you know, the real parents who on balance are unhappy with Obama’s education policy, who fired a mayor to get rid of Michelle Rhee, and who–when given the chance to vote–overwhelmingly support teacher-run schools over charter-school operators.
But somehow they completely failed to include practicing teachers, scholars of learning, or even recognized analysts of education policy. All day Monday and Tuesday, the only figure in the summit remotely acquainted with the scholarship of learning wasRandi Weingarten, AFT president. She had to do double and triple duty, since she was simultaneously the only voice for practicing teachers, or for any policy recommendation other than those endorsed by Duncan’s Race to the Top.
Burn the Witch!
Incredibly, Weingarten played the same role all day Sunday. On Meet the Press and other programs, she was consistently positioned as a solitary voice against a solid bloc of panelists and journalists pounding away at the Duncan-Rhee party line. NBC positioned her on the extreme edge of the outdoor panel, literally in the wind, with her hair flying sidewise like the Wicked Witch piloting a broomstick.
Later, she faced an even larger panel completely united against her, this time featuring the propagandists who scored her appearances in Waiting with Superman with ominous chords redolent of Darth Vader.
They can feature both the director and composer of the film who painted her as the captain of the Death Star but not one credible authority on the positions being pushed by the film?
Interestingly, despite the outrageous set-up, on both programs Weingarten spoke more than any other participant–nearly as much all of the other participants combined.
Seems the shows’ hosts had to ask her to talk to nearly every point precisely because she was the only person who could provide any other perspective.
Perhaps also because she was the only person who actually had anything to say?
A Failed Hit Job
The one place where NBC allowed teachers–not scholars of learning or credible policy analysts–to have a few words was in a carefully scripted “town hall” program, segregated from all of the marquee shows and policy conference.
They stacked the audience with school administrators and charter-school teachers, all primed to spout their propaganda: “Teachers are under attack and we should be!” shouted one, on cue. “We young teachers don’t need tenure to do our jobs,” said another.
Even in the complete absence of journalistic scrutiny, the stories of these plants didn’t stand up to their own telling.
One charter-school hero stood up to mouth the no-excuses “challenge education” mantra that anybody can overcome any learning obstacle if they are confronted with sufficiently absurd expectations.
As an example, he cited his willingness to offer free day care to one of his students’ siblings in his classroom from 7am to 7pm, freeing the student from family-care responsibilities and allowing her to do her homework.
While laudable, his willingness to address the poverty of the student’s family in this way is however not, as they say, a scalable solution to the problem. Um, duh, most teachers have families of their own that they can’t and shouldn’t neglect to offer twelve hours of day care to others.
Right on the surface of this vignette is the cruel hypocritical absurdity–that those who are already sacrificing (the half of teachers who don’t quit in despair in the first five years) are not just asked but are really being forced to sacrifice more.
For instance, we could solve a lot of poverty-related issues if physicians or tv journalists or Wall Street banks turned their facililties into day-care centers and staffed them after hours.
Hey, let’s just say that everyone should work twelve hours a day for a teacher’s wage!
Any takers? I didn’t think so.
Nose Ring vs Soul Patch
NBC made the mistake of letting a few actual veteran teachers in the room (actually a tent on Rockefeller plaza). And the atmosphere was apparently charged: anchor Brian Williams called the room “a beehive, a cauldron of activity and emotion,” and joked about being in “physical danger.” (He also called one reporter “honey,” and flirted with one of the teachers on stage. Patronizing and chauvinist much? Guess we really are heading back to the Eisenhower era.)
Because NBC failed to make sure everyone in the room was an administrator or a twentysomething working-slash-volunteering before law school at a charter, we saw a couple of flashes of honest teacher feeling and insight.
These included thoughtful defenses of tenure as due process and analyses of the real issues (funding, poverty, support for professional development, workload, retention).
You could have heard a pin drop on Fifth Avenue when one California principal described her guilt at hiring a new teacher on the salary she was allowed to offer: “I basically condemned her to never owning her own home,” she said.
Astonishingly, one teacher that made it onto the show because she was acquainted with the anchor actually compared Davis Guggenheim to Hitler’s most brilliant propagandist, calling him “the Leni Riefenstahl of 2010.”
Personally I think that kind of comparison isn’t worth the backlash, but I think it could prove the most telling moment of the week.
In my experience, persons reaching for the Nazi comparison are intellectually or emotionally stunted, or else desperate. Since this apparently kind and thoughtful, intellectual person was evidently not the former, I think she was struggling to communicate–in the few seconds she was permitted -the stifled frustration and outrage of the tens of millions of parents, teachers, scholars and students who are being hurtled toward yet more schoolroom misery by this tsunami of pro-Duncan propaganda.
If you want to capture the essence of the tension that kept erupting through this scripted event, just fast forward to the middle of program, the second featured panel.
Comprising a charter-school reading teacher in blond dreadlocks and nose ring, and a public-school science teacher of the year sporting a soul patch, the panel was intended to talk about teaching technique.
Asked to describe how she succeeded as a teacher, Nose Ring was unable to manage a syllable describing or defending her teaching practice. She floundered helplessly (“well, you just show them how far behind they are in the world”) until the moderator let her off the hook, summarizing her philosophy: “Just teach ’em hard, huh?”
Invited to share his own teaching tips, Soul Patch, a public school teacher of the year, gently rebutted much of the propaganda previously circulated. American top students, he pointed out, perform at the same level as the top students anywhere in the world. The problem is inequality and unfairness, he observed.
Asked to celebrate the Duncan-Obama grim focus on STEM fields, science teacher of the year Soul Patch demurred, pointing out that his own practice and education research showed the importance of “right brain” creativity, of “movement and music right in the science classroom.”
Up until a firestorm of complaint forced them to open the forum, NBC aggressively censored the one place where teachers and parents were mainly allowed to participate–on a Facebook page promoting the event. Even established columnists for national mainstream education journals like Education Week were repeatedly “unfriended” or had their comments removed.
Obama’s Today Show interview
This was only about twenty minutes on education before Lauer moved on, but kudos to Lauer for acting more like a journalist than anyone else NBC has put forward.
To his credit, Lauer only gave the administration props for the one initiative (pre-K schooling) actually supported by research, and showed that research in the video package. He challenged the president on the unfair demonizing of teachers and teacher unions in Waiting for Superman. He pointed out that most charter schools underperform union schools.
Above all, he kept the focus on funding and support, quoting Clinton: “It’s not just a money thing, but it _is_ a money thing.” Obama tried to counter with the Republican bromide that it “isn’t a problem we can spend our way out of,” and began mouthing accountability and competition cliches.
But Lauer kept at it finally getting the President to concede that there is no problem recruiting teachers into the profession–just a massive problem retaining them.
Most young teachers find they “can’t afford to stay” in the profession, Obama confessed, “especially when it comes to having families of their own.”
Nonetheless he notes an interesting source for some doozy “last gasps” of lazy-prof stereotypes–faculty themselves. Gose speculates that the prof-on-prof stereotypers are trying to do the profession a favor, in the front line of faculty “policing their own” and targeting “perceived slackers,” etc.
The photograph and first third of the article are devoted to the emotional and contradictory views of Prof. John Hare, chair of English at Montgomery College, Maryland. According to Gose, Hare “became furious” at a distinguished scholar he doesn’t know, Florence Babb, the Vada Allen Yeomans Professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Florida and former president of the Association for Feminist Anthropology, then serving as graduate coordinator for the Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research. Recruited with the named professorship to Florida from the University of Iowa in 2005, her scholarship and service to the profession has been massive: multiple stints as department or program chair, numerous editorial boards, etc.
The trigger for Hare’s rage? Prof. Babb contested the university’s attempt to violate the contractual terms of its appointment letter in recruiting her and unilaterally downgrade the 2-course release associated with her service obligation in the Center to zero. Arbitrators eventually settled on reducing it to a one-course release, citing the figleaf of fiscal exigency.
One way of parsing Hare’s emotion is to see him as the chair of a teaching-intensive department himself trading in stereotypes about faculty with research-intensive appointments. Babb, by any reasonable estimation, works pretty hard, so Gose allows Hare to qualify his position pretty carefully.
It seems that Hare’s problem with Babb doesn’t depend on the factual question of whether she’s actually a slacker or not. It’s that she’s willing to look like one, fueling “public perceptions” that he claims harm all of us.
But the article itself says that these public perceptions are way down, so Hare’s own account of his rage just doesn’t make much sense.
What does? Is it the resentment of someone on a teaching-intensive appointment?
I wonder, but I don’t think so. By his own frequently contradictory account, Hare–like most folks with his kind of appointment–loves his job. Most of the folks I know on teaching-intensive appointment feel fortunate, like Hare, not to be subjected to the constant pressure of publishing, and to be paid for spending a lot of time with students on topics that interest them.
And as many irate commenters on the piece substantiated, it’s a fact that many jobs “in industry” are far easier than faculty appointments, especially research jobs, which tend to be radically underpaid for the difficulty of the work–it’s not the “ease” of the position, but the challenges and the self-directedness that accounts for the willingness of many to work twice as hard for half the pay.
Given what the most successful people in other fields earn these days and the kind of accomplishment it takes to earn the rank, it’s fairly hard to argue that distinguished research faculty in Babb’s bracket– earning $90,000 to $100,000 a year–are either overpaid or underworked.
In fact, as I’ve written before: plenty of undistinguished civil servants, firefighters and military officers have retirement compensation higher than the salaries earned for 60-hour weeks by extremely accomplished teachers and/or researchers in the humanities!
So what explains Hare’s irrational, data-free anger at Babb? Especially when the supposedly benighted “public” is increasingly able to do the relevant math?
The Gendering of Professional Service
One dimension of Babb’s situation that didn’t factor into Hare’s position or come out in Gose’s otherwise well-reported piece is the role of gender in who the University of Florida demanded “pitch in” and make “sacrifices” during the fiscal crisis.
It appears that Babb is the only female distinguished professor in the College of Arts and Sciences, and the only one actually forced to teach more. According to one source and multiple commenters on press reports of the case, of the many male faculty with her load and rank, many earning more, only one man was even asked to teach additional courses and, being eligible to do so–apparently as expected–chose to retire instead.
I was happy to see the comments on the Chronicle article overflowing with faculty, including the intrepid Bill Pannapacker, hastening to question Hare’s suitability as “our” spokesperson. Pannapacker targets Hare’s implication in the ideology of teaching for love, a topic I’ve written about several times before.
It’s too often assumed that “teaching for love” is a win-win situation: some people are happy with psychic rewards instead of pay, which saves a few bucks that institutions or legislators can then spend on other important projects. What’s the harm?
But a labor market arranged around working for love–rather than fair compensation–is actually one of the most sexist, racist and economically discriminatory arrangements possible. From a class point of view, as I emphasize in Gose’s piece and elsewhere: by making the professoriate an economically irrational choice, you stop sorting for the most talented people and begin to sort for the people who can afford to discount their wages. That cuts out most people, period, making the best jobs in the academy largely a preserve for persons with fortunate economic backgrounds or circumstances. And via the wealth gap, that primary economic discrimination has direct consequences for the racial composition of the faculty. By making it too hard to get a job, too arduous an apprenticeship, too poor of a return on education investment: only the wealthier among us are able to “irrationally choose” to accept psychic wages–and the wealthier among us are disproportionately white, just for starters. All of this has tremendous, documented consequences for the achievement and persistence of students from less advantaged economic circumstances and ethnicities poorly represented among the faculty.
As for gender, the rendering of faculty positions to the extreme of economic irrationality (six courses a year for $15,000, eg) assigns them disproportionately to women, especially persons–whether male or female–married to professionals and managers. The other, primary wage earner supports the economically irrational partner, a person teaching for what used to be called pin money. This structural feminizing of the job was traditionally associated with converting the positions formerly held by men (such as secretarial positions, once a high-status job) to those held increasingly by women, as Michelle Masse explains in a 2008 interview and is just one of the ways that she says higher ed forms a “pyramid scheme” especially for women faculty.
Broadly speaking across many disciplines and institution types women still tend to disproportionately hold low-paying, low-status, insecure teaching-only or teaching-intensive jobs while men continue to disproportionately hold high-paying, high-status, secure research-intensive and top administrative positions.
In an important new book, Over Ten Million Served: Gendered Service in Language and Literature Workplaces Masse and Katie Hogan take the conversation about gender and the distribution of academic rewards & responsiblities beyond the relatively well-understood territory of research and teaching to service labor. (Disclosure: the book includes a chapter adapted from HTUW.)
The book surveys the complexity of academic service, from the manifold senses of a calling (ranging from communitarian, sociable, and professional impulses to an opportunity to rebel or transform the academy) to close connections with the rise of a service economy, to specifically feminized forms of exploitation–ie, doing the university’s “housework,” or an undercompensated labor of care that in many circumstances falls harder on women. Women faculty face larger career penalties for not seeming to “care sufficiently” for the institution, and their research contributions are correspondingly discounted–I think analysis of the comments on Babb’s case at the Chron and other media outlets strongly supports this view!
Among the countless insights that Masse and Hogan develop in the collection is the emergence of a complex and contradictory “service unconscious” among feminized faculty, male and female (ie, such as the angry and confused John Hare):
We know that our [willingness to serve] sometimes damages us and supports organizational structures we don’t want to reinforce. And yet we nonetheless persevere in these behaviors and articulate their value for the best of all possible reasons: the ways in which ‘helping’ and ‘serving’ please us and fulfill our deepest-held beliefs about the importance of existence in a community and the need to achieve change and support for our colleagues and students. We know that service and sacrifice are often necessary to bring about more just workplaces, but much of the service we are pressed into is not about creating just and fair workplaces…
Hogan’s analysis alone is worth the price of the book. She contends that academic women, and men in feminized sectors, are expected to be “superserviceable,” ie to williingly do labor not recognized as such. Across vast swathes of the academy, faculty have service-intensive appointments (especially involving labor of care for students or the institution) in which the nature of their service is not even recognized.
Using data from significant assessments of the labor performed by women in both nontenurable and tenured positions, Hogan documents the unspoken demands of the academic service economy. In a final twist, she argues that the same is true for the intellectual output of persons in feminized positions, especially feminism itself–ie, that feminist research and teaching is meant to be especially “serviceable” as well.]]>
Many who learn that the University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) amputated a $650,000 state appropriation, not to mention a flow of grant money, just to rid itself of a labor center (and Glenn Feldman, the accomplished historian who directed it) will focus on regional differences. One early commenter to Peter Schmidt’s report for the Chronicle blamed “Dixie” culture, saying that this is what happens to someone who “bucks the system in that part of the country. The more the South changes, the more it remain the same.”
As a veteran of the Southern-gothic, All-The-Kings-Men style politics of one right-to-work state university with close administrator connections to UAB, I guess my first impulse was at least similar: I can still remember the liberation I felt when I left my tenured position at the scandal-ridden University of Louisville (UL), where concerned faculty were run out of town for questioning the wall-to-wall administrative solidarity that protected a dean embezzling his federal grants, a scheme of extreme work-study that has turned thousands of students into the serfs of UPS, and claims of “research-1″ status for a campus with a six-year graduation rate hovering around 30 percent.
As just one small instance of my own experience: the aforementioned embezzling dean tried to shut down the academic labor journal I founded (then being edited by one of my graduate students and my friend and colleague Wayne Ross, one of the many who left UL– in his case moving on to Canada’s answer to Cal-Berkeley, the University of British Columbia). That little act of nastiness wasn’t even one of the 30+ official faculty complaints about that one individual that the UL administrative Borg was covering up. But what drove us away was in most cases not one act; there were dozens of acts that each dissenter experienced, some raising to the level of grievable offenses, others just making life hard.
‘Sweet Home USA’ for Business
But despite that temptation, my second impulse is more analytical. The point isn’t any minor differences (even differences of degree) displayed by scandal-plagued politicos and jet-setting higher ed “leadership” in Alabama, Kentucky, and Tennessee over the past decade. The real point, as commenter Ellen Schrecker points out, is the similarities–that labor and labor scholarship continue to be under assault across the country.
I’d go further than Ellen with the similarities–it’s a question of the turn toward steadily more anti-democratic practices of education administration more broadly. Not to mention the related notion that politicians are, effectively, the “managers” of the public sphere that we can trace to Democrats Clinton and Gore, right on down to their intellectual heir and Wal-mart admirer currently occupying the White House.
It’s a pretty big picture, and one that clearly doesn’t yield to partisan analysis: the scary stuff is what Democrats and Republicans agree on. Obama’s ed secretary Arne Duncan made Tennessee sole winner of the reviled Race to the Top competition because of the state’s willingness to do to both K-12 and higher ed what he’d already done in Chicago: turn schools over to private and for-profit managers; silence teachers, students, and parents; strip down the curriculum; increase the direct voice of commercial interests in administration at every level.
Likewise, the UAB business school dean (Klock) responsible for pushing first practiced his hatcheting ways here in California. It’s not a regional issue at all or even restricted to higher education workplaces.
The many things that should concern us about Feldman’s experience in Alabama are all things happening in schools at every level across the country:
+ Administrator pro-business bias
+ Consolidation of administrator power
+ Declining faculty power and declining faculty solidarity
+ Abuse of credentialing (UAB has demanded that full-professor Feldman go back to school and earn a year’s worth of credits to retain his tenure)
+ Ever-closer ties between corporations, politics and the campus
+ Business influence on curriculum
+ The culture-struggle practice of administration, designed to produce compliant subjectivities and expel dissenters
+ A growing legal web that muzzles faculty governance speech at public institutions
+ The abuse of standards of civility and collegiality to paint an understandably upset victim as unreasonable, a tendency in which I have to say that Peter Schmidt’s reporting unfortunately participates (though to be fair to Schmidt I haven’t seen the documents he characterizes).
In general, though, on this subject I agree with the complaints of commenter “thomasjefferson”:
“Let’s see. He was a tenured, full professor at UAB for 14 years. They shut down the labor center of which he was director and then they tried to set him up for termination by trying to get him to take 18 grad hours in a subject in which they’re planning to shut down the department. And he’s not happy about that. I wonder why?”
And with commenter “mchag12″:
“The relationship with the faculty at public universities is just becoming untenable as faculty are treated as line items to be dispensed with at will by high paid administrators. What would you do, azprof, if your department was slated for demolition and your university actually asked the state legislature to defund it? Back out of the room shuffling and bowing and repeating thank you, thank you? If you think you are safe, you’re not.”
That last line by mchag says it all.]]>
Earlier this week he more convincingly took on the student evaluation of teaching and specifically, a Texas proposal to hold tenured faculty “more accountable” by giving faculty bonuses of up to $10,000 for earning high customer assessments of specified learning outcomes.
Fish makes two arguments against the proposal. He squanders pixels bolstering his weaker point, that students aren’t necessarily in a position to judge whether Fish-as-teacher-phallus has, ugh, “planted seeds that later grew into mighty trees of understanding.”
Far better is his second point:
Students tend to like everything neatly laid out; they want to know exactly where they are; they don’t welcome the introduction of multiple perspectives, especially when no master perspective reconciles them; they want the answers. But sometimes (although not always) effective teaching involves the deliberate inducing of confusion, the withholding of clarity, the refusal to provide answers; sometimes a class or an entire semester is spent being taken down various garden paths leading to dead ends that require inquiry to begin all over again, with the same discombobulating result; sometimes your expectations have been systematically disappointed….
Needless to say, that kind of teaching is unlikely to receive high marks on a questionnaire that rewards the linear delivery of information and penalizes a pedagogy that probes, discomforts and fails to provide closure. Student evaluations, by their very nature, can only recognize, and by recognizing encourage, assembly-line teaching that delivers a nicely packaged product that can be assessed as easily and immediately as one assesses the quality of a hamburger.
This part rings mostly true for me. No question, Fish is clearly wrong to generalize so broadly about students and evaluation instruments. As students enter majors and graduate programs, they are of course far more likely to welcome the sort of intellectual adventure that he describes.
And it’s just plain out of touch with the subject he is purporting to address to claim that all kinds of student evaluation are “by their very nature” (huh? philosopher much?) of the sort that can “only recognize” teaching-as-information-delivery. Nonetheless, that’s the kind administrators mostly impose so his point is valid despite the unwarranted generalization.
That said, I personally like getting student evaluations of my teaching, even the lame sort that predominate and which Fish is critiquing here. I learn things even from bad instruments poorly used by persons with little knowledge of the field or who display imperfect judgement, and so on.
My concern is with the way these instruments are misused–by activist administrators and politicians, aided and abetted by paid policy flacks. The managerial literature cheerfully describes all this as the “assessment movement” to consolidate their control of “institutional mission.”
Faculty themselves, even with tenure, learn all too quickly to teach to the instrument.
Example: long after receiving tenure (twice!) I once got mid-range scores in response to a question asking students to assess whether their capacity for critical thought improved. The next term I included a twenty-minute exercise studying different definitions of critical thought the week before they took the survey: my scores jumped to the top of the range, with no other change in the syllabus.
I use that example because it’s double-sided. On the one hand, it shows how a modest change can essentially manipulate the results or, more to the point, manipulate the students providing the results.
On the other hand this modest change, motivated by a base consideration, was also a real one: it marked a moment where I took seriously the importance of reflection in the learning process.
By asking students to reflect on what had happened to their thinking in the class, they were not only more likely to appreciate the teaching, they were more likely to appreciate, value–and retain–the change itself.
So the stupid instrument, my vanity, and a modest change resulted in better learning.
While that instance of teaching to the instrument worked out more or less fine, most responsible studies are pretty clear that teaching to the instrument is generally harmful.
For instance, one Fish commenter quoted a reliably-constructed study that concluded “professors who excel at promoting contemporaneous student achievement teach in ways that improve their student evaluations but harm the follow-on achievement of their students in more advanced classes.”
In other words: teaching to get high customer assessments produces intellectual junk food: the focus group says “yum!” but it’s all bad news after that. This is consistent with study after study on “teaching to the test” in K-12: the more tightly that management and politicians grip the handful of sand that is teaching and learning, the less they grasp.
Most of the commenters don’t address the motivation for the Texas proposal, which is to standardize and marketize the curriculum along the lines supported by the current administration. An easily assessable form of learning-as-information-download is an easily commodified form of learning: “Log in to Pixel University, where you get the exact same education as Yalies!” It’s also more easily controlled by a political bureaucracy, along the lines of K-12. Both Republicans and Democrats are actively supporting for-profit “education providers,” and the leading edge of their contribution is redefining knowledge as information delivery.
So what’s best about Fish’s effort here is the emphasis upon the nature of learning itself, which is easily distinguishable from information download.
The most difficult lesson for my first-year students to learn–the most frustrating, the one with the longest-term impact–is the construction of a review of scholarly literature, toward posing a research question unanswered by that literature. I ask them to zero in on a “bright spot” in the literature, where conflicting views are unresolved, or a “blank spot,” a question that hasn’t been posed. I try to help them to think of a modest but original way that they might advance the conversation.
The lesson takes them on a journey of the sort that Fish describes, full of frustrations and ventures into the failings of academic prose, dead ends and discombobulations. What they learn is that any act of knowledge origination emerges from a vast multivocal conversation and is framed by the professional modesty of the actual researcher. They are often amazed by the narrow frame of actual research questions, the extent of qualifications and hesitations, and the ways that knowledge is produced by error. They are often confused by the extent of collaboration, the fact that questions aren’t constructed in binary terms, the fact that questions are constructed, and by the amount of time spent acknowledging the diverse views and paths explored by one’s professional colleagues.
As Fish points out, students come to us trained to see “the master perspective” (of history-as-objective-fact, eg, rather than history-as-historiography, the writing of Helen Keller, Jack London and Einstein’s socialism into, or out of, the conversation). Or at most they see two perspectives, the binary the either/or of right and wrong, or for and against, good and evil, etc. I tell them that easy clarifications–such as “are you for or against” such and such a proposition– are usually trick questions, that making knowledge and the act of learning entail entering into a hive of confusion, ambiguity, and error.
They don’t always like this lesson, which is deeply experiential: they have to try to read difficult things, ask for help, wait in line to get journals delivered to them. But they are always glad to have had it, and it clearly yields real results in subsequent classes.
Can this sort of lesson and journey be assessed? Yes, but not so easily by the sort of instruments we use for the purpose. We do need better instruments. For instance, measurement per se is not intrinsically useful: you might say losing 20 lbs at Pixel U is the same as losing 20 lbs at Swankfield–until you learn that at one school you lost the weight by exercising, and at the other they amputated a limb.
More than better instruments, though, we need better attitudes toward these instruments. We could start with a critical understanding of why administrations and politicians support the kind of assessments they do, and not the many better alternatives.
Above all: we need to be able to offer a clear, cogent justification of education as learning and distinguish between learning and download.]]>
The latest chapter (pdf) in the cautious series by Audrey Jaeger and Kevin Eagan focuses on the critical first year in four-year institutions, following up previous efforts on community colleges and the lower division more broadly. Their conclusion: a merely “average” degree of contingency in faculty appointments and working conditions at four-year institutions affects year-to-year student retention by as much as 30 percent:
Students with average levels of exposure to full-time, nontenure-track, “other”
contingent, and graduate assistant faculty may be as much as 30 percent less likely
to persist, compared to their peers who have only full-time faculty.
Noting that at all of the institutions they studied but one, “more than 50 percent of the credits taken by students during their first year were led by a contingent faculty member,” Jaeger and Eagan dryly conclude, “given these findings, employment status of faculty deserves further discussion.”
Studying several years of data from a state system, they carefully document a close correlation with the degree of contingency in faculty appointment and retention.
In the baccalaureate, master’s, and doctoral-extensive institutions studied, they found consistent decreases in the likelihood of sophomore-year retention ranging from 2 to 7 percent for every 10-percent increase in contact hours with faculty on contingent appointment.
Disaggregating appointment categories, they found that the more contingent the appointment, the stronger the association with negative student outcomes.
Credit hours led by faculty on full-time nontenurable appointment outperformed those led by graduate student instructors and both outperformed sections led by faculty on part-time appointment.
But “greater levels of contingent faculty instruction, despite whether these faculty
are working full time or part time, typically have a negative effect on student persistence,” they emphasize.
Working Conditions Matter
At the two doctoral-intensive institutions they studied, Jaeger and Eagan found modest positive correlation between retention and exposure to graduate student and faculty on contingent appointments. This finding contradicted what they learned at the other institution in this study and in their own previous work.
This unusual finding led them to examine the working conditions of faculty serving contingently at those two institutions. Finding greater support, funding for faculty development and integration, they hypothesize that supporting part-time faculty better might have an impact.
As in their other published studies, Jaeger and Eagan interpret their results to mean that the conditions of contingency are the culprit, not the faculty. They observe that there may well be less harm in appointing faculty on a part-time basis in upper division and graduate study.
Research-Intensive Faculty Share the Blame
The shrinking minority of research faculty have developed a culture of contempt for general education. Regular readers know that AAUP conspicuously declined to sign on the latest report by the “Coalition on the Academic Workforce” in large part because this report, scripted by the staff at disciplinary associations, essentially abandoned the first two years of college instruction.
Disciplinary associations are dominated by research-intensive faculty who have been making this bargain with administrators for the past 40 years: “Keep our tenure lines in the major and grad program, and we’ll supervise students and lecturers teaching gen ed.”
Probably the number-one reason AAUP declined to sign the CAW report is the disciplinary associations’ insistence on recommending that “tenure lines should be sufficient to cover courses in the upper-division undergraduate and graduate curricula and to ensure an appropriate presence of tenured and tenure-track faculty members in the lower division.”
As my committee at AAUP analyzed it, CAW’s waffle regarding “an appropriate presence” in the lower division aimed to serve the self-interest of a tiny fraction of the faculty at the expense of students and most other faculty.
The CAW report and the minority faculty it represents flies in the face of research by Paul Umbach, Jaeger and Eagan, and many others. The recommendations are exactly the reverse of Jaeger and Eagan’s, who find great impact from contingency in the early years and less in the upper division and graduate study.
So long as privilege continues to flow to the disciplines, the CAW is cheerfully willing to underwrite the steady casualization of the majority faculty teaching the majority of students, i.e. community colleges and the first two years everywhere.
Responsible policy makers, researchers like Jaeger and Eagan, and many administrators, however, acknowledge that the lower division and general ed are the area where the US system of higher education already is the most dysfunctional by most measures of student success.
The Buck Stops With Administrators
Administrators ultimately make resource allocation decisions that shape first-year teaching.
Many administrators would willingly see more experienced tenure-stream faculty in the first-year classroom and grumpily point to the unwillingness of research-intensive faculty to appear there.
However, administrators are the ones who have steadily whittled away at a career path that this research suggests is one of the most important in the academy: the teaching-intensive tenure track.
While no faculty appointments should be teaching only—it is the teaching-only nature of most contingent appointments that accounts for much of the negative impact—appointments that are teaching intensive should be an important component of every faculty.
Much reduced from their high point in 1970, appointments to the teaching-intensive tenure track nonetheless remain widespread, especially at the M.A. and B.A.-granting institutions where the difference between their student outcomes and those of faculty on contingent appointments are most obvious.
At 9-plus teaching hours per week, with full campus citizenship and full obligations to professional development—which might include appropriately modest expectations for research activity—faculty on these appointments work hard for bartenders’ wages, but deliver real results for students.
Over the decades, administrations have lost literally millions of students by replacing appointments that enable teaching-intensive campus citizens with those that give faculty little choice except to be teaching-only freeway flyers.
As I and many others have noted, administrators have actively chosen to disinvest in faculty, spending instead on sports, infrastructure, and venture capitalism.
Even in naked business terms: were the gains they achieved with these allocations really worth the loss of millions of “education customers”?
Considering the role tuition plays in most budgets, I doubt it.
The Figure of Writing and the Future of English Studies
Dismal Science Fiction
Who’s a “Historian” to the AHA?
Conversion to Tenure
Stabilizing Persons, Creating New Lines
One of the more sinister categories of administrator opportunism is program closure, and winner of 2010 Most Egregious Sleaze in that category has to be the UK’s Middlesex University, which in a burst of vocationalist enthusiasm closed an active, successful philosophy program. The department was by far the top research producer in the school, according to the national Research Assessment Exercise (RAE), and ranked thirteenth nationally among philosophy programs measured by the RAE. (For purposes of thought provocation only, the irksome Philosophical Gourmet ranks the following at around 13th among public philosophy programs in the U.S.: IU-Bloomington, UC-Irvine, and UW-Madison, UC Boulder, and U Mass-Amherst.)
The excuse for this travesty? A temporary 2% shortfall in the percentage of income from the department. British universities are required to pay a 55% pimping-and-moneychangers’ share of their income to central administration. Supporters like John Protevi note that Middlesex will contribute 59% in 2010, but contributed only 53% in 2009–an amount that appears to be well within normal fluctuations, especially considering global financial turbulence. The grant monies pouring into Middlesex’s coffers due to the philosophers’ research amounts to several hundred thousand dollars annually.
The harms to the university’s reputation have been mounting quickly. Already Middlesex’s administration has been widely reviled during occupations and protests. Other institutions have quickly cherrypicked its top talent, petitions of protest have garnered a thousand signatures a day, and mass outrage has forced reversals of draconian suspensions of protesting faculty and students.
The Dollar Cost is High Too
This week gives us yet another example of the mounting dollar costs of the Al Haig (“I’m in charge here!)” school of administration. At Temple, a sleazy management team felt that “the economy” carte blanche to bully the nurses’ union into rolling back tuition benefits and giving up First Amendment rights in the workplace. Outraged staff walked out and management blew through $4 million a week on hotel rooms and airfare for scab labor in its doomed, month-long effort to show dominance.
A Pennsylvania compensation board just delivered the coup de grace, ruling that the administration had acted so high-handedly prior to the 4-week strike that its actions amounted to unilaterally changing the terms of employment–with the result that, for purposes of eligibility for unemployment compensation, the strike was to be treated as a lockout by the hospital… adding another $1.5 million to Temple’s bill.
Global Resistance Rising
Obviously, from the broader perspective of professionalism in the public service, of course one wants nurses, staff and faculty in a position to criticize the reckless incompetence of management. I mean, do you really want to be cared for by professionals whose speech is controlled by someone with an MBA?
Of course even from the narrowest administrative point of view this kind of high-spending thuggery is bad management.
In addition to the bad publicity, lost work time, and direct costs, this sort of humiliating failure thoroughly emboldens other unions, like the surging campaign to organize the 1,585 Temple faculty who are on contingent appointment.
It seems pretty clear that this kind of administrative bullying is generating a shock wave of global resistance, creating new opportunities to organize and make democratic change.
The day to watch this fall will be October 7th as, already, dozens of groups have committed to it as a global day of action.
More on that, and on the massive student occupation at the University of Puerto Rico, in my next post.
After that, I’ll have lots of exciting news from the AAUP annual gathering and national Council session, including new reports on how to fight administrator efforts to gag faculty (a la Garcetti), sharp reductions in dues for faculty serving contingently and graduate students, changes in election structure, and, from the committee I co-chair, a sneak peek at an important report on tenure and teaching-intensive faculty (over 80% of the faculty are teaching intensive).
I’ll also have follow-up on the iPad as e-reader story, focussing on early learning issues (or, How Apple the Money-Hungry Flash Grinch Deprives Children of Early Learning Opportunities in Favor of Mind-Numbing Game Apps.)]]>
Her perception of leftism among the faculty leads her to think that our values “should result in something much more egalitarian.” So, she asks, how is it that higher ed sustains “one of the most abusive labor markets in the world”?
Good question. One answer, of course, is that the faculty aren’t “leftists” at all, but American liberals, whose commitments to equality are relatively clear in matters of ethnicity and gender, but hopelessly confused when it comes to class and workplace issues generally.
Arguably most of the policy failures by contemporary liberals in matters of ethnicity and gender can be traced back to their blind spot regarding issues of class, labor, and the workplace.
As I’ve noted before, to produce crashing silence in a lecture hall packed with doctorates, all you have to do is ask, “Why are police departments more diverse than English departments?”
Super-Exploitation and the Myth of Faculty Leftism
McArdle speculates that the material condition of the contingent faculty (“some of the worst-paid high-school graduates in the country”) has caused the “leftward drift” of academic politics: ie, that working in a tiered workplace has made typical academics adopt egalitarian values. She’s completely wrong about that, since it was exactly the other way around: the faculty’s non-leftism (their liberal comfort with inegalitarianism in economic and workplace matters) helped bring about the system of majority contingent appointments.
Nevertheless she makes a couple of very helpful observations.
She’s especially good at pointing out that the tenured are also victims of this system. She notes that even the fortunate ones on the tenure track are “virtual prisoners” of their administration until tenure (a point now reached for humanities faculty roughly two decades after entering grad school, or in one’s forties!):
And that’s before we start talking about the marriages strained, the personal lives stunted, because those lucky enough to get a tenure-track job have to move to a random location, often one not particularly suited to their spouses’ work ambitions or their own personal preferences . . . a location which, barring another job offer, they will have to spend the rest of their life in.
This leads to the best observation in McArdle’s piece: that many faculty are clueless about worker rights and experiences in nonacademic workplaces. In faculty lore, nonacademic workplaces represent “an endless well of exploitation where employees are virtual prisoners with no recourse in the face of horrific abuses.”
McArdle believes that most academics translate their own experiences and those of their colleagues enduring contingent appointment–of super-exploitation and “monolithic employer power”–and “naturally assume it must be even worse on the outside.”(emph. original)
She’s right on both of these points. Contrary to the assumptions of most observers, faculty in the tenure stream have seriously harmed themselves and the profession by their lazy complicity with the two-tiered system of majority contingent employment. And they foolishly excuse their complicity by assigning blame to any cause but their own failure of responsibility to the profession.
This insight–of professional laziness by the tenured, who are working hard on many things, but not at defending the profession–leads to one of the obvious, clear answers to the crisis of the professoriate.
We’re experiencing a failure of professional control over the terms of professional work, what actual labor economists call a “failed monopoly of professional labor.”
Traditional professions exchange strong (even “monopoly”) control over their terms of work for a public-service mission, an arrangement that has been undermined and all but abandoned under neoliberalism and its ideologies, including the bogus analytical lens of “job market theory.” Sadly, the most common response to McArdle’s piece was the triumphant crowing of the half-smart, sprinting forward with their cliched faux analysis featuring–you guessed it–an oversupply of persons with doctorates, etc etc: “It’s simple! Too few jobs, too many PhDs! It’s simple! It’s simple! Ha-ha! I win! Shut up, whiny girls with your whiny degrees that nobody sees on Sports Center! It’s simple!”
Of course I’ve debunked the inanity of the “overproduction of PhDs” thesis many times before. There is zero such “overproduction,” since what has happened is a restructuring of demand. Regular readers know that structured demand means that work formerly done by persons with doctorates is now done by persons with an m.a. or less. This revolutionary shift was accomplished intentionally, by university management, all without much opposition by the guild of tenured faculty. Like most other senior workers after 1970, the tenured collaborated in the creation of multi-tier workplaces… trading away the future of the young for their own comfort.
The persistence of “job market theory” despite its obvious inanity is partly due to its narcotizing effect on the guilty consciences of the tenured: “Oh, it’s not my failure to defend the profession, it’s The Market.”
This doped-up intellectual response carries through the whole standard hamster wheel of the conversation about academic employment: “Gollleeee, cousin Jim-Bob, I wonder if we should put down our jugs of corn liquor and issue one of them caveat emptors to the young folks? Wouldn’t want them messing up their graduate-education purchasing decisions! Don’t want to get offen my porch, though. Guess I’ll just share my wisdom regarding this here tough job market with any young folks who happen to stop by and ask.”
So American faculty aren’t leftists; they’re liberals, deeply influenced by market ideology and fantasies about meritocratic education outcomes (wonderfully unencumbered by data). They work in institutions that manufacture and legitimate steep economic inequalities that hamper the progress of other egalitarian commitments in ethnicity and gender.
But even liberals can run a profession–when they put their minds to it.
Maybe it’s about time we stopped gassing on fatuously with outdated Fordist analogies, as if we could capture professional responsibilities and realities by pretending graduate schools are factories. Or that professional working conditions and standards are set by “markets” rather than by managers.
Maybe we should ask ourselves, “What obligations do professionals have to the profession, to other professionals, and the society we serve?”
And: “Where are we obliged to act collectively and draw the line with management on these issues? Did we cross that line about thirty years ago?”
It certainly wouldn’t hurt if we asked our professional associations to think this way as well.]]>
The current issue of American Book Review highlights their Top 40 Bad Books. Heading the list for me is One-Party Classroom: How Radical Professors at America’s Top Colleges Indoctrinate Students and Undermine our Democracy, by David Horowitz and Jacob Laksin. Since I often can’t make time to review excellent books, I don’t usually waste pixels on bad ones. But one has to make an exception for the epic badness of Horowitz’s failed hit job.
At least the first book in this series, The Professors, gave the “101 Most Dangerous Academics in America” something to brag about in their red-diaper parent-participation preschools (whilst plotting Trotskyite mayhem from behind piled bookshelves).
This cheesy compilation is too lazy even to attack faculty scholarship. It’s little more than a list of syllabi with a shrill “I see Marxism!” appended to each–150 times. The somnolence it produces is hard to describe.
Evidently they should have credited Google as the third author.
The Horowitz staffers tasked with compiling this stinker simply trolled online campus catalogs to yield course descriptions employing such “democracy-undermining” terms as justice, inequality, race, and feminism. Then the staffers wrote lame descriptions characterizing the syllabi as part of a plot to deprive plutocrats of their hard-earned profits.
Once I got the concept, I briefly held the flickering hope that I could read it ironically–as in, “hey, what a bunch of good classes I wish I’d been able to take in college.”
Wrong. The relentless, narrow-minded prose immediately disappeared my hopes of snarky thoughtcrime.
Even if you’re sympathetic to its politics, the concrete brutalism of this compilation’s formal properties will crush your spirit in a few pages–like reading a year’s worth of your daily horoscopes straight through, or a cookbook cover to cover.
I know, I know. I’m well-known for holding such anti-democratic views as that we should all have enough to eat, health care, and free education. So don’t take my word for it. Peruse a chapter over at the Random House website. Just don’t say I didn’t warn you.]]>