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Tag: "academia"

The Graduate Program

[ 64 ] April 22, 2015 |

PhD-Degree

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 |

ohio-barn-24

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.

“We Don’t Need to Listen to this Crap”

[ 32 ] March 19, 2015 |

Janet_Napolitano_official_portrait

Above: Academic plutocrat

University of California president (and former Arizona governor and Secretary of Homeland Security) Janet Napolitano sums up the opinion of pretty much all university presidents and provosts toward any of the lowly proles protesting or advocating against their policies that concentrate resources in the academic 1 percent:

University of California President Janet Napolitano remarked to a fellow regent that they “didn’t have to listen to this crap” as protesters denounced potential tuition hikes during a meeting Wednesday in San Francisco.

Napolitano was sitting next UC regent Chairman Bruce Varner as a group of about two dozen protesters shouted loudly, denouncing potential tuition hikes when she made the remark, which she may not have known was being recorded.

As the protests began, the cameras stayed on the regents. There was some confusion over what to do. That’s when Napolitano leans over to Varner and said, “Let’s just break. Let’s go, let’s go. We don’t have to listen to this crap.” Her hot mic caught the comment.

Whether it is students not wanting to take out more debt so that schools can hire another vice-president for strategic dynamism, professors speaking unpopular opinions, or campus workers organizing, university presidents, other high administrators, and boards of trustees, see them as nothing more than flies to be swatted away. How dare they protest the corporate university! Don’t they know that CEOs and college presidents are lords of the manor who deserve every penny of their massively bloated salaries?

De-tenuring

[ 47 ] February 28, 2015 |

A disturbing proposal out of Tennessee. In response to continued decreases in state funding of higher education, the Board of Trustees has announced cost cutting and revenue raising plans that are terrible for both students and faculty but fairly expected. And tacked on is something very weird and upsetting:

Tenure and post-tenure review process: To be conducted by UT System Administration and with involvement by the Faculty Council, to look at awarding of tenure, post-tenure compensation and enacting of a de-tenure process.

A de-tenure process? First, what on earth does that have to do with the funding crisis? The answer is of course nothing but a university shock doctrine, with the Board using financial problems in order to gain power over professors. What would call for the loss of tenure? It’s unstated at this time, but one assumes the answer is anything that a provost or professor doesn’t want professors to say would be one likely category.

More here as the war on faculty continues.

Civility: The New Arbitrary Academic Standard

[ 45 ] January 23, 2015 |

This should depress any academic:

A new survey of chief academic officers is out from Inside Higher Education. Among the findings: Provosts really care about civility and think it should be part of the framework for hiring and tenure.

I see this as potentially troubling. When the Steven Salaita controversy broke, I wrote a piece for the Chronicle called “Don’t Speak Out,” in which I read the Salaita affair through the lens of my interest in public engagement for academics. I said that the lesson for academics was that if you ever wanted a job, or might want to move from one job to another, don’t have strong opinions about things.

We need more public writing, not less. We need to open pathways for more academics to speak out in public, not punish Salaita for doing so in ways that have provoked such strong feelings. But we can’t ask scholars to embrace the risks of engagement in a system in which partisan bloggers and local papers can push timid administrators to fire, or in this case unhire, academics who leap into public debates.

In theory, Provosts agree with this and support public scholarship. At the same time, from IHE:

Generally, provosts expressed concern (with little difference by sector) about civility. Asked if they were worried about “declining civility among higher education faculty,” 27 percent said that they were very concerned and 44 percent were somewhat concerned. Only 5 percent were not concerned at all.

But in more detailed questions, provosts had varying perspectives on where faculty civility is lacking.

Generally, they feel more confident of faculty civility with regard to students than to fellow professors or (in particular) administrators. And provosts typically believe that their institutions display more civility than higher education as a whole. (A pattern in Inside Higher Ed surveys of administrators is that they think their institutions are doing better in many respects than the rest of higher education.)

In short, provosts act like the CEOs they imagine themselves. Any faculty that speaks against the mission or says anything that could be considered “uncivil,” which in provost speak means “anything that could make me look bad,” does not deserve any protections and in fact should be subject to firing. Increasingly, for provosts all this matters more than scholarship, teaching, or service. “Does the faculty member reflect well on my leadership?” That’s the question. And that should put a chill in any academic who either questions the administration or has a public persona.

Cary Nelson: Embarrassment

[ 26 ] December 28, 2014 |

Cary Nelson continues to embarrass himself through his attacks on Stephen Salaita. One time AAUP head and supposed defender of academic free speech once again decides that free speech only counts if he agrees with the person. Otherwise, Nelson takes it upon himself to decide who an American Indian Studies program should hire and engages in intellectual gymnastics to explain why if Salaita was already at the University of Illinois, that would be fine but as a potential hire, he had to step in.

What a jerk.

Academic Integrity and Union Busting at the University of Oregon

[ 64 ] December 6, 2014 |

As I discussed awhile ago, the teaching assistants at my alma mater, the University of Oregon, were discussing going on strike over the university’s refusal to provide them paid sick leave. In response, the university threw academic integrity out the window and threatened to allow students to have their current grade be the grade for the course and encouraged professors to give scantron finals. Well, the TAs did go on strike and the university has moved forward with its plans. For one, the university is threatening TAs (or GTFFs as they are called in Eugene) on foreign visas with deportation if they strike. That’s a pretty low blow.

The faculty union has come out in support of their TAs. Here is its statement:

Today, the University of Oregon administration escalated its tactics against the striking graduate employees that will have profoundly negative implications for undergraduates.

The College of Arts and Sciences decreed unilaterally that final examinations and end-of-term assignments will be optional in graduate-assisted courses taught in the Departments of Linguistics, Philosophy, and Ethnic Studies.

If the GTFF strike continues after Dec. 12, the Associate Dean for Humanities in the College of Arts and Sciences will assign all grades in the affected courses, based on only a portion of the graded assignments and tests listed in course syllabi. In the Department of Philosophy, the department head and all graduate instructors have been removed as instructors of record. More departments may suffer a similar fate.

This course of action threatens to damage the mentorship between teachers and students, relations of trust among colleagues, and between the university community and the administration. It also interferes with the ability of teachers to do what they do best: to educate students. This harms students who hoped to improve their grades with end-of-term writing assignments and final examinations.

The apparent goal of this attack is to break the GTFF and not, as the administration insists, to maintain “academic continuity.”

Every effort by faculty members and the university senate to deal with the problem of assigning grades during the strike in a manner that upholds the professional integrity of teachers and the expectations set out in course syllabi has been rejected.

Furthermore, because the administration has declared final examinations to be optional, grades will not have the same value for all students.

Such callous disregard for academic freedom and the welfare of students forces faculty and students between a rock and a hard place. Rather than work with faculty to create meaningful options for grades to be delayed, the administration has chosen to compromise the integrity of undergraduate education at the University of Oregon.

I have a bit more information. I was forwarded an e-mail from the Associate Dean of Humanities, Judith Baskin. At the request of the person who sent it, I have redacted the course name this e-mail applies to. It reads as follows:

Dear Students,

I am responsible for ensuring that you receive a timely grade for
the work you have done in [COURSE NAME].

On the Academic Affairs website
(affairs.uoregon.edu/academic-continuity [1]) the Provost has advised
that students in courses taught or supported by GTFs may be given the
option to forgo the final assignment/exam and take their current grade
in the course.

Please be advised that should the GTFF strike continue to Dec. 12, I
will enter the grade you achieved in [COURSE NAME] up to December 1 as
your approximate grade for Fall term. This grade will be based on the
grading information given to me by your Instructor. If you wish you
may accept this grade as your final grade. In that case, you need
not complete any further work for this course and the grade I entered
will not be altered.

* If this is your preference please send me an email to that effect
(jbaskin@uoregon.edu) by date XXXX. Be sure to include your name,
student number, and the course number and name; you may include your
understanding of what the final grade would be. I regret that,
given the large number of courses with which I am working, I cannot
give you the grade I will be entering at this time but I assure you
that it will be based on the information your Instructor supplied for
work competed as of Dec. 1.

*

* OR

*

* You have the option to complete the final exam / assignment as
described on your course syllabus and/or by your Instructor. You may
submit that work either to the Department of [BLANK] or electronically (if this was your Instructor’s
preference) by the date and time assigned by your Instructor. At such
time as your work is graded, the approximate grade will be replaced by
a grade based on all your course work, including the final
assignment/exam. If you have any questions, please feel to email me
(jbaskin@uoregon.edu) or contact me via Blackboard.

Judith R. Baskin, Philip H. Knight Professor of Humanities

Associate Dean for Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences

So there you have it. “You may include your understanding of what the final grade may be.” Great! Tell me you are getting an A and then I don’t have to bother looking it up. And why even bother taking a final? Just go celebrate the Ducks’ victory at Rennie’s! (a local bar) Now this is some academic integritude!

How to Embarrass Yourself as a University Administration

[ 74 ] November 22, 2014 |

Graduate students at the University of Oregon are threatening to strike over the university not giving their demand of paid family leave. You can read the details of the bargaining in quite a bit of detail here. It is nearing the end of the quarter at UO, so the graduate students have as much power as they are going to have because all the grading needs to get done. So how did the university administration respond? Pretty much in the most embarrassing way possible, sending deans and directors this leaked memo concerning what to do if they had to give the finals without their TAs.

1. Consider whether the final exam can be reformatted so that it can be graded easily (e.g., Scantron or multiple-choice). Please note that the reformatted final exams should have an equal level of rigor as originally planned.

2. To provide proctor coverage for exams, please use the teaching function strategies above.

3. Provide students with the following options:

a. Forgo the final and take the grade they had going into the final

b. Take the final, but receive an “X” (missing grade) until such time that the finals can be graded

Give everyone Scantron exams! Now that’s education. Let’s not even get into the issue that students forced to take multiple choice exams do significantly worse because there is no partial credit (which is why it is basically impossible to fail a history course unless you don’t turn assignments in or never show up). In fact, let’s just forget about education entirely. Give the students their current grade without a final! Hire some scabs to serve as TAs! Make a mockery of your entire pedagogy!

Really, shouldn’t the University of Oregon just allow students to choose their own grade? That’s only fair way to deal with a labor conflict.

Job Interviews at Academic Conferences

[ 106 ] October 21, 2014 |

Forcing impoverished graduate students and adjunct faculty to travel to a random expensive city for 30 minute first round job interview is one of the least morally defensible parts of academia. Professional associations need to stop it.

[SL] Make sure to click through and read this as well. Even before the age of Skype this practice was absolutely indefensible; the application materials and perhaps a phone call are perfectly sufficient for a preliminary interview process. It’s just a bigger disgrace now.

Where “Incivility” = “Language that Makes University Administrators and Wealthy Donors Uncomfortable”

[ 52 ] September 9, 2014 |

The broad-based attack on “incivility” from academics continues. But of course “civility” can only be defined as language that makes the administrator class comfortable. Given that these administrators see themselves as equivalent to corporate CEOs, this also means they want the power to fire anyone who they deem “uncivil,” which means nothing more than “language that makes them or wealthy donors uncomfortable.” That the University of California chancellor used the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement to make this claim is especially galling.

The Real Power of the University

[ 32 ] August 25, 2014 |

In the corporate university, money is what counts. Without public support, universities have become captured by the wealthy donors and corporations who fund them. This is a major contributor to the shunning of majors like German and Philosophy (and to a slightly lesser but still significant extent, History) that means advisers receiving word from high to encourage students not to sign up for those majors, cutting positions, even retrenching departments. To replace them, Supply Chain Management* and other majors that train people to be functionaries of 21st century capitalism without providing them any sort of broad-based liberal arts education or critical thinking.

As the corporations capture the universities, it’s hardly surprising then that the university would begin following the free speech patterns of the corporation, i.e., none for employees. See the case of one Salaita, Stephen:

While many of the emails are fairly similar, some stand out. For instance, there is an email from Travis Smith, senior director of development for the University of Illinois Foundation, to Wise, with copies to Molly Tracy, who is in charge of fund-raising for engineering programs, and Dan C. Peterson, vice chancellor for institutional advancement. The email forwards a letter complaining about the Salaita hire. The email from Smith says: “Dan, Molly, and I have just discussed this and believe you need to [redacted].” (The blacked out portion suggests a phrase is missing, not just a word or two.)

Later emails show Wise and her development team trying to set up a time to discuss the matter, although there is no indication of what was decided.

At least one email the chancellor received was from someone who identified himself as a major donor who said that he would stop giving if Salaita were hired. “Having been a multiple 6 figure donor to Illinois over the years I know our support is ending as we vehemently disagree with the approach this individual espouses. This is doubly unfortunate for the school as we have been blessed in our careers and have accumulated quite a balance sheet over my 35 year career,” the email says.

There is no indication that Wise based her decision on the fund-raising issues, only that these topics were raised in communications to her. A spokeswoman for Illinois said via email that the chancellor receives many suggestions about many issues. She said that she didn’t know if the chancellor met with foundation officials about Salaita but said that the rationale behind the chancellor’s decision was the one she discussed in the email to the campus.

This is the future. If you threaten the beliefs of the fundraisers, you are fired. If you shine a bad light on the university administrators seeking to move up the food chain to ever more lucrative positions, bye-bye. If you dissent from the left, I hope you enjoy the Daniel Payne method of survival on the street. Right now, Stephen Salaita has no job and no money. It’s a dark world out there right now for academics, as free speech and academic freedom decline to their lowest levels in at least 60 years.

* Or as I like to call it, How to Exploit Bangladeshis.

Salaita Update

[ 51 ] August 23, 2014 |

Sadly, the University of Illinois, after two meetings of the Board of Trustees, has decided to stick with the firing of Stephen Salaita for his anti-Israel war on Gaza positions as stated on Twitter. We’ve had several posts here about this case and as we’ve expressed, this is an outrageous attack on the free speech of academics. To fire professors for their speech is a throwback to the bad old days of the Red Scare when professors were fired for not supporting the U.S. effort in World War I. The corporatization of the university continues apace, where employees are canned for not holding to the official corporate political line or speaking their own mind in a way that might bring unwanted attention to the school, even though in the case of Salaita, it’s not like there was even a coordinated effort against him from right-wingers. Sadly, it was other pro-Israel academics like Cary Nelson who brought him down.

In the recent past, there have been real victories when universities have tried to crack down on free speech. The case against myself is one example. I fear this is the beginning of the rolling back of those victories.

Right now, the biggest thing you can do is sign the general academic petition to demand Salaita’s reinstatement and to boycott the University of Illinois until they do so. Corey Robin has been the biggest promoter of the cause and his blog also has links to all the field-specific petitions, useful because our readers come from so many academic fields. Regardless of what you think about Salaita’s statements on Gaza, I urge all you academics to sign this petition because you are next. Or I am next. Or someone you know is next. And each and every time it creates a McCarthy-like atmosphere on our campuses that reduces the intellectual experiences of our students and depresses the freedoms of us all.

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