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Tag: "academia"

Anti-Union Universities

[ 3 ] August 26, 2016 |

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There’s a forum at N+1 about yesterday’s NLRB decision overturning the Brown decision and granting graduate students at private universities collective bargaining rights. Want to point you to the contribution by Gabriel Winant and Alyssa Battistoni. Universities use the same arguments against unions as any other employer, plus simply claiming that graduate students aren’t workers.

The crux of the 2004 Brown decision had been that the relationship of graduate students to the university was primarily educational, and as a result did not fall under the purview of legislation designed to govern economic relationships. What a line to draw—how could anyone who works at a university fail to cross it? In overturning Brown, the Columbia decision states plainly what we’ve argued all along: “a graduate student may be both a student and an employee; a university may be both the student’s educator and employer.” The decision similarly demolishes, with reference to empirical evidence, familiar arguments that a union of graduate employees would worsen the quality of education, suck up inordinate amounts of valuable time and resources, or pose a threat to the continued functioning of the university. In other words, Columbia rejects the idea that academia is a uniquely un-unionizable industry (an idea that many employers have of their own industries: Target, for example, warns workers that “ if the unions did try to organize our team members, chances are they would change our fast, fun, and friendly culture”).

Pretense prevails among those who run the institutions. Deans often feign surprise at graduate student complaints, and claim not to notice the thousands petitioning them every semester. With impressive sophistry, administrators manage to argue that unions would at once destroy academic life and fail to accomplish anything. Columbia’s administration, for example, both warns that the union could break the budget (“all schools may have to make difficult decisions to reflect these new fixed costs”) and cause wages to fall (“Stipend levels, remuneration, and benefits may change; there is no guarantee that they will increase”). The message they’re sending is that change is impossible—that there’s no way to make your voice heard.

To us, then, perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the NLRB decision is its explicit recognition of our years of organizing outside the protection of the law, and its argument that this work in itself is admissible testimony for change. Unlike our deans, the federal government has heard our speeches and petitions, and listened to us as adult citizens capable of advocating for ourselves:

It is worth noting that student assistants, in the absence of access to the [National Labor Relations] Act’s representation procedures and in the face of rising financial pressures, have been said to be “fervently lobbying their respective schools for better benefits and increased representation.” The eagerness of at least some student assistants to engage in bargaining suggests that the traditional model of relations between university and student assistants is insufficiently responsive to student assistants’ needs.

When your employer insists that none of your actions matter, it is gratifying to learn that, through years of struggle—sometimes bitter, often seeming fruitless—you have moved the gears of the federal bureaucracy.

Really, this is a hugely important decision for academic labor.

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This Day in Labor History: February 17, 1992

[ 77 ] February 17, 2016 |

On February 17, 1992, graduate students at Yale University went on strike. This strike, one of the most prominent in the history of organizing graduate students, is a useful window into one of the most important sectors of labor organizing over the last three decades and indicative of the tremendous difficulty in organizing private workplaces in any sector in those same three decades.

Graduate student unionization has long been controversial on college campuses. Are graduate students primarily students or apprentices? The answer should be obvious that all graduate students getting paid for work are workers, but you would be surprised how many liberal faculty members simply cannot accept this idea. Graduate students are not only workers, but particularly vulnerable workers, in spite of their high levels of education. Especially in the sciences, where a lot of funding depends on the relationship with a single professor, students are quite vulnerable. That is especially true of women and the sexual harassment of female students has long influenced support for unionization among graduate student in the sciences.

The first move toward graduate student unionization took place in tumult of the 1960s, as a lot of politically active undergraduates went on to graduate school. Rutgers and CUNY were the first graduate school units to be covered by a collective bargaining contract, as they were covered by faculty contracts. The University of Wisconsin was the first graduate student union to negotiate their own independent contract in 1970. The University of Michigan and University of Oregon soon followed.

At Yale, the struggle would be and still is a much longer struggle. T.A. Solidarity was the original organizing group, founded in 1987. That turned into the Graduate Employees and Student Organization (GESO) in 1990. Students began organizing to demand union recognition. Yale administrators rejected this from the beginning, refusing to recognize the union as a bargaining unit for the graduate students. Among the union leaders was Gordon Lafer, today one of the nation’s most respected labor economists and activists.

By the time it went on strike in February 1992, the GESO represented 1300 of Yale’s 2200 graduate students. Its demands were union recognition, a pay raise, a grievance procedure, and the expansion of time granted to complete the Ph.D. The strike was announced for three days . It received significant support from other unions, frustrating Yale administrators who hoped to isolate the strikers. 49 percent of union members at Yale refused to work in solidarity with the striking graduate employees, with much greater support among the maintenance and cafeteria workers (75 percent did not show up for work) than the technical and clerical workers (about 30 percent did not show up). Many faculty were of course opposed.

“They really are among the blessed of the earth,” Prof. Peter Brooks, chairman of the department of comparative literature, said. “So I sometimes feel annoyed at them seeing themselves as exploited.”

Never has an employer seen their workers as exploited and thus worthy of being granted power.

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Despite these labor actions, Yale still refused to negotiate with the students. The 1992 strike ended without recognition although the administration did raise the pay of the TAs and provide teacher training, showing how strikes can create real victories for workers even when the union remain unrecognized as a bargaining unit. Strikes continued from time to time, including a 1996 strike that only ended when the administration threatened to fire all the strikers because they did not submit student grades as a bargaining tool, despite an overwhelming vote in favor of unionization among the students. In 2003, another strike took place but in that year, the GESO suffered a big setback as student/workers voted against unionization by a narrow margin, giving the administration much more ammunition in its continued determination to never recognize a graduate student union. But a 2005 strike again resulted in the administration providing a lot what the students wanted, including a pay raise for graduate student teachers and new initiatives on faculty diversity and child care.

Over the years, graduate student unionization has increased significantly at public universities in non-right-to-leech states, including at the University of Rhode Island. But graduate student unionization campaigns at private universities remains almost impossible to win. The only private school with a graduate school union recognized and with a contract is at NYU. 1951 and 1972 court cases ended with National Labor Relations Board rulings prohibiting the National Labor Relations Act from covering private school graduate students because they are primarily students and although that has been loosened with the 2000 NLRB case granting NYU graduate students the ability to organize, difficult barriers remain. In fact, NYU graduate students have struggled mightily with both their administration and the Bush-era NLRB to maintain recognition. In the end, university administrations are some of the best union-busters in the nation. Given the number of self-identified liberals with backgrounds in fields where they study race, class, and gender who are in administrations, it’s sickening to see them turn on treating graduate workers with respect and use the tools of oppression they decry in their own scholarship against exploitable workers, but they do it all the time.

At present, the Yale graduate students are continuing the fight to organize. Now affiliated with UNITE-HERE, major issues include mental health care, fairness in funding, and greater diversity at Yale.

When we think about the labor movement over the last few decades, we often tend to forget about the importance of the academy. Graduate students and, to a lesser extent, faculty, have proven some of the bright spots in American labor and with the collapse of the industrial unions due to capital mobility and the decline of the building trades, public sector workers of all types have risen in importance in the world of organized labor. In the case of schools like Yale, that are not public, major barriers remain to unionization but these campaigns have also developed many important labor scholars and activists, providing key intellectual support for organized labor at large. That in itself is a tremendous benefit of this organizing, even if Yale graduate students remain without recognition today.

This is the 171st post in this series. Previous posts are archived here.

Student Evals and Sexism

[ 43 ] January 25, 2016 |

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As nearly every faculty member knows, student evaluations are a horrible way to measure teaching. That’s for many reasons. Students are primarily evaluating teachers on what grade they think they will get and the easiness of the class, whether you are a white male or a person of color or a woman, how you dress, etc. Yet student evaluations are often the only way administrations want to measure teaching because a) they don’t want to put the resources into evaluating teaching and b) they want to have happy customers who return the next semester. But these evals can be tremendously damaging, especially to the boatloads of contingent faculty who increasingly teach college courses. On the connection between evaluations and sexism:

There’s mounting evidence suggesting that student evaluations of teaching are unreliable. But are these evaluations, commonly referred to as SET, so bad that they’re actually better at gauging students’ gender bias and grade expectations than they are at measuring teaching effectiveness? A new paper argues that’s the case, and that evaluations are biased against female instructors in particular in so many ways that adjusting them for that bias is impossible.

Moreover, the paper says, gender biases about instructors — which vary by discipline, student gender and other factors — affect how students rate even supposedly objective practices, such as how quickly assignments are graded. And these biases can be large enough to cause more effective instructors to get lower teaching ratings than instructors who prove less effective by other measures, according to the study based on analyses of data sets from one French and one U.S. institution.

“In two very different universities and in a broad range of course topics, SET measure students’ gender biases better than they measure the instructor’s teaching effectiveness,” the paper says. “Overall, SET disadvantage female instructors. There is no evidence that this is the exception rather than the rule.”

Accordingly, the “onus should be on universities that rely on SET for employment decisions to provide convincing affirmative evidence that such reliance does not have disparate impact on women, underrepresented minorities, or other protected groups,” the paper says. Absent such specific evidence, “SET should not be used for personnel decisions.”

Needless to say, university administrations will at best pay lip service to this problem.

Faculty Organizing at the University of Washington

[ 39 ] December 27, 2015 |

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Faculty at the University of Washington are considering unionizing, the only sensible move for faculty around the nation. Unsurprisingly, the Seattle Times is opposed to it. Unfortunately, from what I understand from a couple of sources, these arguments against unionization, especially that UW promotes its administration from within and thus we are all on the same team, are likely to win out. That’s a bad argument because it’s not like the faculty in the humanities and social sciences and arts are treated any better at UW today than anywhere else. But of course that’s where the core of union support always is in the university, whether the graduate students or the faculty. Assuming business will always be opposed, it’s often up to the sciences and some of the other professional schools like nursing to decide in the end. The two professors making these arguments are leading UW professors in the sciences. So I don’t know. I’m hardly surprised that department chairs and others who simply don’t see themselves as workers or see themselves as needing protection from university administrations or see any need for solidarity with either humanities professors or contingent faculty would oppose unionization.

But the problem with these arguments is that there is literally zero downside for faculty to unionize. You have workplace protections you didn’t have before. You have a committee to negotiate a contract rather than relying on the administration and the state alone. You have a grievance procedure. You have a way forward for dealing with workplace safety issues–which is an underrated problem on university campuses in the older buildings. You have real lobbying at the state legislature level. All of this for the price of union dues, which aren’t that high. The claim made in the article that unionization would stop UW from recruiting the finest faculty in the nation is flat out laughable. There’s no reason that a union can’t work with administration on issues that are common to both faculty and administration. That relationship doesn’t have to be constantly confrontational if the administration doesn’t try to rule without faculty input. But faculty who have not been at unionized campuses really have a hard time seeing these benefits because they don’t come from workplaces with a culture of thinking of themselves as workers, as opposed to awesome researchers are totally where they are because of their own awesomeness (as opposed to their social class, educational opportunities beginning at the K-12 level, and pure luck on the job market that probably explain more than their special brilliance or whatnot). So let’s hope the University of Washington faculty vote in this campaign, but it doesn’t sound too promising right now.

Trite Arguments About University Costs

[ 56 ] December 7, 2015 |

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On November 25, Steven Pearlstein made an argument that is guaranteed to get one’s op-ed accepted in a major newspapers: attacking professors. Basically, he looked at 4 reasons he thinks university costs have skyrocketed and what we can do about it. The first is capping administrative costs, which is largely a good idea although it’s worth noting that we also demand a lot of services from our universities today, including mental health, that add to this. Of course there’s no question that top administrator pay is ridiculous and the growth of vice-deans for this and that is a big problem. So OK, this is mostly but not completely correct.

Then Pearlstein goes off the rails. First he wants universities to be open year-round and stop giving professors their cushy summer vacations. This is stupid on so many levels. First, while he might say that these are buildings that aren’t being used all the time, he neglects to deal with any of the implications of such an argument. First is that professors aren’t on vacation, they are working on the rest of their job descriptions. Second is that a lot of professors are in fact teaching overload classes to make ends meet. That includes tenured and tenure-track professors. Third, it’s entirely unclear that there is a demand to use these buildings for classes, especially at the tuition rates students are forced to pay today. Where does that money come from? Fourth, he assumes that professors will start working 52 week years without an increase in pay, which is not possible to implement. Pretty badly argued.

Third is the more teaching, less research canard. He blithely claims that most research, especially humanities research, is worthless and so professors should be forced to teach more instead. What he fails to realize, as do so many writers on higher education, is that Harvard and Yale are not the norm in higher education. Far, far, far more professors are teaching 4-4 and doing no research at all because they don’t have time (or maybe squeezing a little in) than are teaching 1-0 and publishing a bunch. But these people are never acknowledged by those like Pearlstein who have an axe to grind against higher education. He goes on to quote a couple of random academics about research being worthless, but he doesn’t even bother to try to evaluate these claims in any kind of useful way.

Finally, he provides some nonsense about general education that exists solely in technological futurist fantasyland that has proven to be bad for students over and over again when implemented. Like most people who write about education, it becomes pretty clear that Pearlstein has spent very little time in the classroom of the average college or university.

Luckily, Dan Drezner also has a column in the Washington Post and he used to rip Pearlstein apart.

When politicians and pundits argue in favor of reallocating resources from one college major to another, they’re trying to say that they can pick disciplinary winners and losers better than universities, foundations or the students themselves. There are big risks in making that assumption, especially if you base these selections on “facts” such as welders outearning philosophers that turn out not to be true. And usually such suggestions ignore the simple fact that U.S. research universities outperform every other country in the world. Or as that Bain report acknowledged at the outset:

Few industries in the United States have achieved unquestioned global leadership as consistently and effectively as our higher education system. U.S. colleges and universities are the cornerstone of our economic prosperity and the key to realizing the American dream. Thirty years of growth have confirmed the sector’s leadership and vibrancy — the result of demographic and economic factors combining to lift higher education even higher.

I get that higher education is a ripe target in an election year. And I get that blasting the “higher ed bubble” is popular even if it is not necessarily true. But for once, I’d like critics to concede that this is a far more complex topic than just “costs are out of control.”

It shouldn’t be that tough a thing to admit.

But inevitably, in another month, some other blowhard with an anti-univeristy agenda will publish another tired essay bemoaning professors without understanding what is actually driving costs up and a major newspaper will eat it up.

…See also Hiltzik

Academic Job Applications

[ 70 ] November 24, 2015 |

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Above: And should include no more

This post is probably only of interest to academics, but then that probably describes half the readership. Increasingly, universities are asking for ridiculous amounts of material for job applications. It needs to stop. It’s unfair to the job applicants, who are already subject to all sorts of unfair and exploitative practices, most egregiously having to spend over $1000 to go to a big conference for what is often a single first-round interview. David Perry calls for a simplified application process:

California State University-Channel Islands is hiring a premodern European historian. The online job ad requires all the usual documents: CV, cover letter, teaching statement, and syllabi examples. Midway through the application process, however, surprises lurk.

First, there’s a spot to upload a writing sample, even though no writing sample is required. The university wants scanned teaching evaluations, but allows only up to 2 megabytes of data. Worst of all, as a candidate works through the online application, nine mini-essay questions with text boxes pop up with no warning. If you want to be considered as a candidate for this job — one of a relatively small number of positions open for a pre-1848 Europeanist — you’d better get writing.

We all know the supply of Ph.D.s looking for full-time work vastly outstrips the available pool of full-time jobs, and academia is struggling for solutions to that macro problem. But one thing we could do: Make the process of locating, applying for, and tracking jobs far more humane. I’ve already advocated that we put an end to costly in-person first-round interviews, move the date on which governing boards vote on an appointment to earlier in the hiring cycle, and formalize the hiring of adjuncts in order to treat them like the professionals they are.

The Cal State job ad points to yet another solvable problem: hyperspecificity in the application requirements.

Mind you, this is all for a 4-4 job that won’t pay you enough to live decently in southern California. Certainly not enough to own a home. What are the essays they make candidates answer?

What do you think about the CSUCI mission statement?

If you are a new Ph.D., briefly describe the topic, significance, and publication plans of your dissertation.

If you are not a new Ph.D., describe your current research project(s), significance, and plans for publication.

Please list those courses you would like to teach at CSUCI in the future.

What makes you a good candidate to work at a young university with plans for rapid growth?

Please explain how your career exemplifies the teacher-scholar model.

Describe one innovative idea that you implemented that enhanced student learning or success, and why you think it was so successful.

Please describe your experience with and commitment to interdisciplinarity including what it means to you.

Please describe your commitment to working with diverse populations, including how you would define “diversity.”

This is totally ridiculous. First, there’s no good reason to ask these questions. Second, the search committee is highly unlikely to read the answer. For a premodern Europe job like this, Perry suggests perhaps 300 applicants. That seems reasonable. That means 2700 short essays for the search committee, which probably consists of 3 people, to read. You know what the chances of them reading those 2700 essays are? 0%. Maybe when they cut it to a short list they would get to it. But it’s not actually possible to read 2700 essays, in addition to all the other material requested. This does nothing more than exploit people already desperate for work in an extreme buyers’ market. CSU-Channel Islands should be ashamed.

Today in Reasonable Conservatives

[ 5 ] November 23, 2015 |

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Remember when Mitch Daniels, Reasonable Conservative, was a thing when pundits were talking about Republican presidential candidates? Those were good times. Well, Daniels is now president of Purdue. There have been a lot of racist incidents during his presidency:

Last December, more than 150 Purdue students marched to Daniels’ office in a “Purdue Can’t Breathe” rally. The year before, hundreds of students chanted, “Mitch, let’s face it/It’s time to deal with racists.”

Students of colors have told stories about others on campus hurling racial epithets at them and even physically assaulting them. There were also more high-profile incidents, like when someone scrawled the N-word across a picture of Dr. Cornell Bell, a prominent African American academic and advocate for minority students, or when the words “white supremacy” were written in the Black Cultural Center. Two anonymous Twitter accounts dedicated to mocking Asian students at Purdue also elicited protests. In 2012, the FBI announced that Purdue had reported the second largest number of hate crimes on campus, including five incidents of racial bias in one year.

The 2013 protests demanded the administration take specific actions to improve the culture on campus, including doubling the number of minority faculty and students in the next years, requiring racial sensitivity workshops for faculty, and creating a zero-tolerance policy that results in expulsion for racist acts. The 2014 rally followed up with more demands, saying Daniels was too slow to act.

So his response to the protests at Yale and Missouri? Congratulations on his own great leadership.

With that kind of leadership, maybe Daniels should write a book about how his brand of leaderocity and leadertude can inspire a whole generation of leadership studies students! Because being a university president is nothing but an exercise in self-promotion and justifying your own actions to make yourself look good.

Conservatives Want to Bring Politics into Academic Hiring

[ 146 ] November 1, 2015 |

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I don’t think there’s a single more surefire way to draw attention to yourself than to claim that academia discriminates against conservatives.

As for the question of why there are more liberals than conservatives in academia–and note the op-ed conveniently leaves out economics and the enormous and growing business schools in this discussion–it’s about two things. First, studying the human past and present in depth tends to challenge the mythology about the world conservatives hold dear. I’ve known many a person who came to graduate school a conservative and came out a liberal. One includes a founder of this blog. It’s not because of some Clockwork Orange-style indoctrination. It’s because understanding the world tends to make people rethink their position. Studying the history of race, class, gender, sexuality, environment, etc., tends to do that. Given how strongly conservatives don’t want to have us study those subjects in high school or college, you can see why they would be chafing over having to deal with that in academia and worrying that studying these subjects creates liberal “bias,” i.e. a realistic understanding of society’s complexity.

Second, it’s that conservatives are unlikely to take low-paying jobs in professions that have no future. Chalk that up to conservatives being smarter than liberals I guess.

But the idea of there being an active liberal bias is ridiculous. Rather, it’s conservatives bringing politics into academic hiring by evidently wanting–dare I say it–a quota on conservatives in academic departments. I guess a professor’s politics are supposed to matter in hiring if it benefits right-wingers.

If I Reference Hiroshima in an E-Mail to a Student, It’s Because I Want to Nuke Their House

[ 71 ] June 8, 2015 |

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Above: A clearly relevant threat to 21st century higher education administrators.

The administration war on faculty has reached a new low at Oakton Community College in Illinois.

Oakton Community College (OCC) is insisting that a one-sentence “May Day” email referencing the Haymarket Riot sent by a faculty member to several colleagues constituted a “true threat” to the college president.

Lawyers for the Chicago-area college argue that the email, which noted that May Day (May 1) is a traditional time for workers to remember the riot, threatened violence. Last month, OCC demanded that the now former faculty member “cease and desist” from similar communications in the future or face potential legal action.

May Day is celebrated every year on May 1 by the international labor movement to commemorate the fight for workers’ rights. The celebration is historically associated with the 1886 Haymarket Riot in Chicago.

“Merely noting to one’s colleagues that May Day is a time when workers ‘remember’ the Haymarket Riot does not constitute a ‘true threat,’” said Ari Cohn, a Senior Program Officer and lawyer with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). “The United States Department of the Interior has designated the Haymarket Martyrs’ Monument a National Historic Landmark. If remembering the Haymarket Riot is a ‘true threat,’ the monument itself would be illegal.”

On May 1, Chester Kulis sent an email to OCC colleagues that read, “Have a happy MAY DAY when workers across the world celebrate their struggle for union rights and remember the Haymarket riot in Chicago.” The email, titled “May Day – The Antidote to the Peg Lee Gala,” was written in response to a reception hosted by OCC in celebration of the retirement of college president Margaret B. Lee.

This makes right-wing claims that I was calling for Wayne LaPierre’s assassination seem relatively cogent. How a mention of a labor action over a century ago is an actual call for violence against a person today is completely unknowable because it’s not. If he had said, “I would like to bomb the administration building like the anarchists threw that bomb at the police in 1886 and kill them all” I guess you’d have a case. This is just stupidity. Actually, it’s more than that. It’s part of the larger academic crackdown on left-leaning professors protesting the corporate university. University presidents and boards of trustees see themselves as corporate heads and want the ability to dispose of any employee for any reason, including talking back to power.

Teaching Tenure Track

[ 38 ] June 4, 2015 |

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Michael Bérubé and Jennifer Ruth have a very solid proposal for create tenure-track teaching positions for what would now be contingent faculty. In part:

In our recently published book, The Humanities, Higher Education, and Academic Freedom, we argue that the crisis in American academe has nothing to do with the intellectual content of research and teaching in the humanities, and everything to do with the labor conditions of most American college professors. We therefore propose, as a way of undoing the deprofessionalization of the profession of college teaching, a teaching-intensive tenure track for nontenure-track faculty members with Ph.D.s and good teaching records.

We know it is difficult to measure teaching, and we do not recommend that departments rely solely on student evaluations. Teaching can and should be evaluated not only by students but by extramural peer observation, by review of syllabi and course plans, by examples of professorial feedback on student work, and by careful review of professors’ own accounts of their classrooms.

Not surprisingly, our proposal has met with mixed responses. The most predictable is the complaint that our plan is too utopian or ambitious: that tenure was meant only for research faculty who can be evaluated by a national or international body of their peers, and that a teaching-intensive tenure track would dilute the very meaning of tenure. This view is not merely blinkered but mistaken; the academic freedom tenure ensures is as important for teaching and shared governance as it is for research.

I think this is a solid way forward. I don’t know that administrations would buy into it since they are turning to cheap contingent faculty in order to save money. Providing an alternative tenure track would give those faculty power, which is probably not what the average provost wants. But as far as a just yet realistic proposal from faculty on how to create better lives for contingent colleagues, I think this is a good way forward. As far as some of the professionalization questions some faculty have risen, I basically agree with Bérubé and Ruth up and down the line on how this would improve faculty lives.

The Graduate Program

[ 64 ] April 22, 2015 |

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Should people in History Ph.D. programs stop taking students because of the job crisis? American Historical Association president Vicki Ruiz is making that decision:

I remain hopeful that our efforts will widen opportunities for current Ph.D.’s. However, this optimism is tempered when I reflect on the job prospects for my recent doctoral graduates. Out of four accomplished junior historians (with seven prestigious research prizes and fellowships among them), only one has secured that elusive tenure-track position. Of the others, one has retreated from view, while the rest remain freeway flyers and/or part-time administrators. Trite as it may sound, it breaks my heart to watch them struggle.

With an additional four mentees in the pipeline, I have placed a personal moratorium on Ph.D. recruitment. I respect and support colleagues who desire to guide a new generation, but my priority remains on the career paths — inside and outside the academy — of people with whom I have a longstanding mentoring relationship. My personal moratorium embodies my hope that the association’s Career Diversity project will stimulate the retooling of graduate programs to prepare our students for wider opportunities. That will take time. In the interim, some of us are likely to slow the pump of history Ph.D.’s into the overflowing adjunct pool.

I have complex feelings about this. A couple of notes. First, I am somewhat associated with the American Historical Association pilot project Ruiz mentions to get programs to rethink graduate training because I am an alum of the University of New Mexico, one of the included schools because it punches way over its weight when it comes to placing PhDs in both academic and nonacademic positions. In February, I went back to UNM to talk about some of the things I do, joining a group of fellow alumni and a few others discussing their experiences. I really don’t know if it was helpful for current Ph.D. students there, but I hope it was. I do have to say that I took verbal exception to what AHA head Jim Grossman had to say and didn’t say at this event, which was basically to a) ignore the fundamental reasons why there are no jobs (the disappearance of history lines and adjunctification) and b) to tell every history PhD to basically be a business major and learn how to read a spreadsheet and learn to budget (a worthy enough skill, but no answer to the problem). On the other hand, it is absolutely vital that we assume that PhD students will not get an academic job, whether at Harvard, New Mexico, or South Carolina. This should be the assumption of every PhD advisor and every PhD student. Sometimes the student will strike it rich and win the lottery from any of these schools! I did and I know some people from all these schools who have in recent years. But usually they won’t. To me, that’s the first step advisors must take. What are students being trained for? Can advisors or other mentors offer skills that will get students actual jobs?

But even outside of that, I think the assumption that we shouldn’t take PhD students is a bit more problematic. Not that I disagree with Ruiz per se, as she takes an obviously defensible position. But the reality is that there aren’t good jobs anywhere in this economy outside of select fields. And some of us–myself included–are very smart in some ways, but not in the ways that this capitalist economy values. So the moral question around accepting PhD students I think revolves around whether they are funded or not. I would not be comfortable accepting students that are not funded. But if they are funded, at least they aren’t going into debt, or much anyway. To me, this is the fundamental difference between the PhD and law school. If the student is just delaying their income earning potential, such as it is in this stage of American capitalism, then that’s one decision and a potentially defensible one. If they are going into debt for that PhD, that’s a horrible idea. I find that a compelling dividing line.

But then I don’t know. There aren’t good answers. And the balance between giving students the opportunity to pursue their intellectual dreams and career goals versus placing them at a disadvantage in their lives going forward is not an easy one to maintain. I figure many of you will have thoughts on this.

Another Attack on Faculty Unionism

[ 64 ] April 17, 2015 |

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The Ohio legislative decided to stick a measure in a funding bill that would redefine all faculty as supervisors since they play some role in university governance. This would make them ineligible to have a union. I’m not at all confident that John Kasich won’t sign this.

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