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Tag: "academia"

This Will Only Spur Further Aggression…

[ 4 ] June 17, 2010 |

This sounds like appeasement.

We are pleased to announce the University of Kentucky will provide a one-time, lump sum payment for eligible faculty and staff during the 2010-11 fiscal year. This one-time payment is designed to reward eligible faculty and staff at a time when economic conditions have limited our ability to offer annual merit increases.

Though we regret being unable to offer annual merit increases to our outstanding staff and faculty this year, our University administration has worked in recent months to identify more than $6 million in one-time funds needed for the one-time payment: Over 80 percent of non-UK HealthCare employees will benefit as a result.

No, Really?

[ 17 ] March 31, 2010 |

According to The Guardian, “managers” hired by universities in the UK have increased a modest 33% in the last five years.  Academic staff have increased by 10% in that time (not my department, depending on how you spin the numbers, we’ve either held steady or lost one half of a FTE), students 9%.  While it’s SOP amongst my colleagues to complain bitterly at the encroaching tyranny of administrators and bureaucracy, I consoled myself by believing that it is just grumbling, and if we didn’t target the nebulous bureaucracy, we’d find something else.  In other words, yes, we can be whiners.  However, that does not appear to be the case, as much in this article rings true.

Front line administrative staff, the wonderful people I interact with on a daily basis and who do a necessary job in a professional manner, have been cut back and consolidated on my campus in the past year.  They’re less accessible to both academics and students, and there are fewer of them.  It’s just speculation on my behalf, as I have no idea how many managerial level administrators my campus has added in the last five years, but anecdotally, I do seem to be receiving a considerably larger volume of intrusive emails from a number of different directions since I started at my current institution seven academic years ago.  It’s not a leap to speculate that financing these email senders has come at the cost of the front line staff.

This is what the chair of the Association of University Administrators (christ, they have their own interest group) has to say on the issue: “Universities, she says, are simply larger than they were two decades ago.” [. . .] Roles such as marketing and human resources have grown so that universities themselves can expand in a more ordered and coherent way. “It’s an important part of the direction of a university, because if you don’t have the right people you can’t deliver.”

Have universities really grown enough in the past five years to justify a ratio of administrators / academics / students at 33% / 10% / 9% ? Or, perhaps universities are losing sight of their core mission, which presumably is the creation and dissemination of knowledge?

In other news, I’ll be at the Western Political Science Association meetings in San Francisco tomorrow through Saturday, disseminating some knowledge I’ve helped create.  And drinking a beer or two.  (I understand that both SL and DW will be there as well).  I’ll also be slightly jet lagged, as I only arrived on the West Coast yesterday afternoon, and I fly down to SF tomorrow morning departing Oregon at 630am.  It’s a rare occasion to catch me wearing a suit and a tie.

If I don’t get a post up tonight on LGM about our paper, I’ll get it up Saturday or so.  I like to think it’s interesting.

Saturday Misc Blogging

[ 1 ] March 27, 2010 |

1. Poetic justice.  Shorter: states that had tight-fisted approaches to health care in general and medicaid in particular are worried about the burden imposed by the health care reform law. Longer: “But even with more federal help, the challenge for states like Alabama, Arkansas and Texas that now offer only limited Medicaid coverage will be substantial.”  Opinion: Cry me a fucking river.  Texas, for example, restricts Medicaid to working parents who earn 20% of the federal poverty level.  With the new law allowing medicaid access to families of four at 133% of the poverty level, or slightly over a comfortable $29,000 per year, who in hell was Texas covering in the first place?  I’m not going to draw the obvious connections between this generally enlightened trio.  The state I spend the majority of my US time in, Oregon, has relatively solid coverage, so they’re not going to get hurt too bad.

2. Obligatory British election.  The Tory lead is holding relatively steady at about 4 points.  As I’m not in the office, I don’t have my vote share -> seats matrix handy, but this smells strongly of a Labour plurality in seats.  If the difference in seats between the Tories and Labour is close enough, Nick Clegg will be there, ready and willing to officiate.  I’d like to see a formal Lib-Dem / Labour coalition in the event of a hung parliament, but I’m not counting on it.  I suspect we’ll have a minority government, from either party, that will hobble on for a year at most.

Don’t get too excited by this new MORI poll of the marginals.  While the Reuters headline needlessly downplays the Conservative’s chances as a result of this poll (the swing to the Tories in these seats according to this poll still outperforms their swing nationally) the poll covered constituencies won by 10% to 18% in 2005.  This represents a liberal interpretation of “marginal”.

The annual budget doesn’t seem to have caused much of a stir, save for how it’s going to hammer Universities with cuts of up to 14% in the UK (but we knew this already) leading to a large number of compulsory redundancies amongst academic staff.  Fortunately, our top leaders, the Vice Chancellors, see their pay increase 10% to 20% in the last year alone, with many earning more than the Prime Minister (who I am to understand has a less demanding job).  Full disclosure: the VC of my institution earns more than Gordon Brown, but we’re enterprising, so we can get away with it.

None of us should worry, really.  This being the Labour government, we have been offered 20,000 additional university places for students for the next academic year in the same budget that slashed university funding by £900 million through 2013.  I don’t know how they do it.  It’s magic.

The other aspect of the budget that has pissed people off is the 10 pence tax rise on (hard) cider of all things.  Cider’s sort of popular down here in the Southwest, and Devon, Somerset, and Dorset (real) ciders can be some of the best in the world.  It’s a good thing my partner scheduled her visit to Plymouth for last week, where she consumed a fair amount of the local cider, saving ten pence a pop.

3. I have been unplanned in my absence from blogging duties for the past couple of weeks.  Work has dominated, with the end of term, admin duties, several manuscript reviews to write (when it rains it pours), and the two papers I’m presenting in San Francisco at the WPSA (this upcoming Thursday no less) and Chicago towards the end of April at the MPSA dominating my time.  Also, add in weekends playing single dad to my daughter, and the visit of the aforementioned occasional cider drinking love of my life for a week from Oregon, I’ve had precious little time for much else.  I’m off to the US for a month on Tuesday, so I’ll have more time.  Hint: if you’re an editor of a political science journal just itching to send off a manuscript for my perusal, and are not one of the three who have sent me manuscripts in the last month, now is the time to do it.

Changes

[ 0 ] March 1, 2010 |

When this blog was launched nearly six long years ago, it was a Seattle-based blog, as all three ‘founders’ were graduate students in the political science department at the University of Washington. Shortly thereafter my two founding co-bloggers headed east to take tenure track positions in New York and Kentucky. I remained in Seattle, and spent the next several years adjuncting all over town and not finishing my dissertation. Eventually, in 2007 and 2008 respectively, I managed to get a full time non-tenure track lecturer position and finish my dissertation. These two accomplishments were a tremendous relief, emotionally and financially. However, the funding for my position has been increasingly difficult for my department to sustain, and it became clear it would not be renewed forever.

In the Fall of 2010, this blog will lose its last connection to the city of its founding. I will leave the persistent and urgent uncertainty of my career to date behind (at least for six years) as I will make the increasingly and distressingly rare leap to the ranks of tenure track faculty. I will be taking up this position at the University of Dayton in Ohio, where I will teach a range of political theory courses as well as an introductory course in comparative politics and a course on comparative democratization. Academically, this is an improbably ideal step for my career; the teaching/research mix and general intellectual environment at UD is just about perfect for my tastes and talents, and I’m remarkably fortunate, and given how many talented, sharp and accomplished people in my field who remain un- and under-employed, humbled to have been offered this job.

The difficulty, though, is leaving Seattle, a place that is very much my home. I have never lived outside Western Washington, and the city and region have become constituitive of my identity to no small degree. With the exception of my whirlwind 36 hours of a campus interview, my only experience with the state of Ohio has been a couple of hours on a layover in the Cleveland airport, and my only experience with the midwest has been a handful of visits to Chicago. So I’ll be heading east this summer with some trepidation. So, people of the internets: the purpose of this thread is to solicit advice, suggestions, warnings, and endorsements regarding any and all aspects of life and living in Dayton, SW Ohio, and the midwest more generally.

Why ISA is Different from the Olympics

[ 0 ] February 17, 2010 |

Blogging will be light over the next week while I and many colleagues descend upon the city of New Orleans for the International Studies Association Annual Conference – or, as I explained cheekily to my students yesterday, the “Olympic Games of IR geekdom” – a gathering where scholars from different schools of thought and methodological perspectives contend for the limelight, pitted against one another through the force of sheer intellect and passion for the study of world politics.

Upon further thought however, this probably ranks among the worst metaphors I’ve ever employed, for if there are any international relations scholars as megalomaniacal about their craft as are the athletes skating and boarding and luging their way toward gold up in BC, there is certainly no one in the academy cheering them on to such excess the way NBC has done the past few days.

Consider the coverage pair-skating competition, which I watched night before last before departing. So maybe it’s a sign of devotion to their careers that gold-winning pair-skaters Shen Zue and Zhao Hongbo had to forego normal married life to live out of separate dorm rooms as they traveled to competitions; and that sweethearts on separate pairs of the US figure-skating team spent Valentine’s Day competing against one another on the ice; and that pair skater Yuko Kvaguti gave up her Japanese citizenship to pursue her Olympic dream. But valorizing the fact that Yao Bin, coach of the winning Chinese team, devoted his life to coaching a gold-medal winning team to the exclusion of being present for his son’s birth and childhood? (Because of his travel schedule, his wife named the child “Far Away” in Chinese.) I read such tales as signs of the dreadful interpersonal imbalance inflicted upon athletes and their families by the vissitudes of Olympic culture, but to sports commentators, these stories apparently signify Olympian credentials and global greatness.

I cannot imagine the President-Elect of the ISA, David Lake, being introduced to give his address this Thursday with commendations for neglecting his children, partner and country in the service of his commitment to the study of world politics. On the contrary, the ISA as a profession now includes childcare at its conferences, publishes articles in its journals on how to make the tenure, promotion and publishing process in the profession more amenable to families, and includes panels and workshops on work-life balance.

Why I wonder do we valorize athletes for exhibiting the very dysfunctional Type A tendencies that most of us are lobbying in our own professions and personal lives to counteract?

[cross-posted at Duck of Minerva]

When the Shore is Out of Sight

[ 0 ] January 6, 2010 |

Via James Joyner, I’m wondering whether this really characterizes a common experience in higher ed:

All course materials, including weekly presentations, must be submitted months in advance. This, I’m told, is not only to ensure that books are ordered and copyrights cleared, but also for the various documents to pass along the line of administrative staff whose job includes vetting them in order to be sure no rules have been violated, then uploading them in the appropriate format. Moreover, a syllabus, we are constantly reminded, is a binding legal document; once submitted, it must be followed to the letter. Omissions or inclusions would be legitimate grounds for student complaint.

While the focus is on online courses, many of the generalizations seem to be intended for all college teaching. Speaking for myself, I can’t say that I’ve ever experienced anything like this. The last time anyone in authority “vetted” anything about a syllabus of mine was probably the autumn of 2000, when I began teaching my independent courses. Is the passage of syllabi through layers of administrative staff something common? Moreover, while I’ve often heard the claim that a syllabus is a “binding legal document,” I’ve always found that it means much less than it implies. I appreciate that there are faculty who attach pages of legalese to their syllabi, but a) this has always been voluntary at any institution I’ve been affiliated, and b) it’s not that onerous a task once you have the legalese; you simply attach the same handout to every syllabus.

Gone, then, are the days when I could bring my class an article from that morning’s New York Times. Now, when I stumble on a story, book or film that would fit perfectly with the course I’m currently teaching, I feel depressed, not excited. I can mention it, sure, but I can’t “use” it in the class.

Really? You can’t bring a New York Times article to class and have the students read it? I find this… implausible. For one, including the reading of the New York Times as a class requirement in the syllabus is a remarkably easy way to cover many sins. Second, while I’ve heard many student complaints in my time that I’ve believed to be illegitimate, I don’t think I’ve ever heard something quite as stupid as “she made us read a New York Times article that wasn’t on the syllabus.” More importantly, I can’t imagine any administrator actually taking such a complaint seriously.

Nor can I reorient the course in mid-stream once I get to know the students; I can’t change a core text, for example, if I find they’ve all read it before; I can’t change the materials to meet student interests or help with difficulties, as I once did without a second thought.

Indeed, I suppose that a restrictive syllabus does make it mildly more difficult to completely restructure a course halfway through the semester, or to change out major texts that the students have, in many cases, already spent money on. I guess I’m unconvinced that either of these are bad things; one of the points of a good syllabus is to allow students to plan their semester, structure their time, and choose the most helpful course of study.

And so, while I guess that some frustration at “educrats” is merited, I’m not terribly compelled by any of the above complaints. Indeed, I’m sometimes inclined to think that faculty may be a touch too attached to some of the overly feudal aspects of their positions; it’s really not necessarily to the benefit of undergraduate students that faculty be given nearly complete freedom over how to structure their courses, especially when some of those courses are required. As we all are constantly reminded, teaching undergraduates is very rarely the reason that particular faculty are hired or retained, and I can’t fault elements of administration for believing that there are aspects of undergraduate teaching that should be monitored. Another way to say this is that while I think that there should be considerable deference to the faculty vision of how specific undergraduate courses should be constituted, this deference ought not be total. Finally, I’m still deeply skeptical of the ability of teaching evaluations to act as guides to good and bad teaching.

Annals of Bad Amazon Reviews

[ 0 ] December 25, 2009 |

While working on my Statecraft and the State syllabus, I happened upon this Amazon review of Margaret Levi’s Of Rule and Revenue:

“As specialization and division of labor increase, there is greater demand on the state to provide collective goods where once there were solely private goods or no goods at all.”

From the second sentence of this book, it charts its course in oblivious contradiction of reality. In reality, of course, economic activity individuates and privatizes as society develops. The few exceptions, e.g., the Soviet Union, are typically short-lived and embarrassing to their promoters.

Ms. Levi is obviously a clever person, but sadly, as with many clever people in academia, her intelligence in this book is deployed mainly to play games of self-referential abstraction.

This book’s obscurity and practical uselessness mean that it is unlikely to be of any consequence. There probably is a good book to be written on a general theory of comparative taxation, but this ain’t it.

That’s just… super. Anyone have other examples of Amazon review that exceed stupid by utterly missing the point?

I Always Suspected That Peter Mandelson Was a Wanker

[ 0 ] December 23, 2009 |

I’ll have more to say about this later, but I’m out the door for a Christmas dinner with my partner’s family. Merry Christmas, Lord P.

Of course, the British university system never really recovered from the Thatcher slash and burn approach, only just recently recovering a modicum of respectability. Nobody really believed Tony Blair’s desire to see 50% of British “school leavers” in university was possible (or even desirable), but this is the same government, right, that now claims this:

Lord Mandelson made his position clear in the Secretary of State’s annual letter to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. He said: “My predecessor repeatedly made clear the risks of student over-recruitment putting unmanageable pressures on our student support budgets.”

And people wonder why most people no longer believe a word that the Labour government has to say about, well, much of anything.

Enjoy her! She’s a perk.

[ 0 ] September 25, 2009 |

I’ve been wanting to write about the differences in culture between American and British higher education, but largely due to my dissatisfaction with my present employer, I’ve demurred, as I do like my job security. Thanks to the Vice Chancellor at Buckingham University, I have an opening.

This is, of course, bollocks. But it does speak to a difference in the culture. We don’t have tenure in the UK any longer, which was one of Maggie’s many reforms. I can’t speak for the entire island, but at my institution, at least, having relations with one’s students is, while not encouraged, also not frowned upon. It’s treated as a natural outcome, and dealt with.

Through paperwork. A lot of paperwork.
We have these end of year meetings: panels and boards. At the panel, which is held at department level, the first item on the agenda is always “does anybody have a declaration of interest?” My first experience with this concept was back in the 03-04 academic year. So, being literally foreign to the concept of the panel meeting itself, let alone its nuances, I raise my hand at this question.
All of my colleagues stared at me from around the table, the look on their faces was “you’ve been here five minutes, and you have a declaration of interest?” When I had the floor, I naively asked, “what is a declaration of interest?”
The response was, basically, “You’re shagging one of your students?”
Holy crap. In the American university culture, there’s only a few ways you can lose your job once tenured, including disagreeing with the Bush administration, or shagging one of your students. Being trained and professionalized in that culture, I look out on my sea of students professionally: I’m paid by the state to teach them, and that’s that.
Not here. I’ve had a couple colleagues who had to fill out the paperwork (one male and one female). I do wonder, however, if the British approach is more pragmatic as opposed to American morality. Even though I personally can’t entertain the notion, it does happen.
Thanks to my friend Jenaya Dawe-Stotz for bringing this to my attention.

Torture and shaming

[ 0 ] May 12, 2009 |

One possible response.

Revolution!

[ 0 ] April 12, 2009 |

As I blame Strunk and White for adding a year to my dissertation (and thus taking a year of my life), I’m deeply sympathetic with this argument.

Fish on Churchill

[ 0 ] April 6, 2009 |

This seems like a very sensible take. As far as I can tell the charges of academic misconduct against Churchill are very, very thin gruel — as Fish says, mostly run-of-the-mill academic debates about whether the evidence is sufficiently strong rather than more serious or unequivocal charges — and it’s inconceivable that he would have been fired had he not written his stupid 9/11 essay. And however offensive the essay was, if academic freedom means anything it’s not a firing offense.

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