I present Dr. Erik Loomis, Ph.D.
I don’t often make it to the moving pictures these days, and I can’t imagine this is going to alter that trend:
Blowtorch Entertainment will next month begin filming on “Tenure,” which is about a college professor coming up for tenure (Luke Wilson) and facing off against a female rival who recently arrived at (fictional) Grey College. (The part of the institution will be played by Bryn Mawr College, where the movie will be shot.) David Koechner will play the professorial sidekick to the Wilson character, and the production company is planning kickoff events next year to promote the film in college towns.
Brendan McDonald, the producer, said that he viewed academe as “one of the interesting worlds to explore” and said that he viewed the project as “lampooning the tenure process.”
I’m experiencing a massive failure to comprehend any of this. A sidekick? Are professors allowed to have sidekicks? If this is standard issue, I must say I’ve got six years of sidekickery to redeem. Or does that perk only adhere to small liberal arts colleges?
. . . link fixed. A sidekick would have taken care of this eight hours ago.
I just sent off what I hope were the final revisions to an article that was graciously accepted for publication by a journal in my field. I wrote the initial draft from August-October 2004; completed and revised it in mid-2005; shopped it around to two different journals over the next two years; and received an acceptance with mild revisions in September. The article will likely appear sometime in early 2009, at which point at least a half-dozen people will actually read it.
Really, you’d think fascist academic types would be a little more nimble than this.
Just finished my panel presentation, and I’m happy to say that I’ve achieved a new personal record in panel attendance. We had three presenters, no discussant, and two audience members (one of whom wandered in halfway through the panel). 4.5 beats the previous record of 5, set at the 1998 Pacific Northwest Political Science Association conference.
The world continues to conspire to keep the masses ignorant of Mahan, Dreadnought, and National Identity….
I know I’m new and everything, but I hate America as much as these other professors (which is to say not at all). Certainly my “Hurricane Katrina in Historical Perspective” course this spring should be competitive. After all, I’m assigning a chapter from Michael Eric Dyson’s Come Hell or High Water, entitled “Does George W. Bush Care About Black People?” Of course, the answer is no. But hey, telling the truth means you hate America.
I, too, have little hope of making the list, even though I strive constantly to “teach courses that lie, manipulate facts, propagandize students, or express a dishonest and fact-deficient extremist view on the class topic,” and most of my lectures are carefully crafted to demonstrate “fascination with silly topics that offer little academic value to students.” Seriously — it’s like Rantz has been reading my course evaluations. Alas, I think my colleagues in New York and Kentucky are more likely to be included; Rob in particular would seem like an especially dangerous candidate, given his recent adoption of heterosexual matrimony to disguise his dangeous anti-militarism.
But in my own meager defense, it appears that the esteemed neoconservative blogger and Associate Professor of political science Donald Douglas has recently exposed me as a purveyor of “postmodern, radical multicultural blather” and an adherent to a “radical, class-analysis historical frame.” His dissection of my work was not quite as persuasive as Tigerhawk’s deconstruction of the LGM logo, but he makes a pretty good case that I’m at least as dangerous as anyone out there. If Mr. Rantz is interested, I have syllabi (1, 2, 3, 4) that would, I think, bear out Professor Douglas’ argument more completely.
I’m simply asking for a chance.
So while scanning the list of Academics for Ron Paul, I noticed that one of the signers had interviewed and been rejected for a job at my university several years ago. Given the recent squabbles here about liberal bias in academia, the story of that job search seemed like an interesting supplement to David Maranto’s anecdote about being rejected from a job once (or so he believes) because he professed his allegiance to the Republican Party. Obviously, I won’t divulge any specific details here, but the candidate in question came very close to actually receiving the position in spite of some gross flaws that had nothing to do with his/her political views.
Like most state schools these days, my university operates within conditions of great material scarcity (at least where faculty and staff are concerned; our administrative expenses, by contrast, are scandalously bloated). As a result, this particular position needed to be filled quickly so that students in several different programs would not be delayed in their progress toward graduation. We needed someone who could teach virtually all the courses within his or her discipline, who could be counted on to do his/her share of university service, and who would be able to publish some articles or a book before going up for tenure. After our dream candidate withdrew to accept an offer at another university — something that happens with nearly every job search here — we were left with several backups who appeared acceptable on paper. Campus interviews proved those appearances wrong, as one candidate after another delivered miserable job talks or teaching demos, until we were left with the future Ron Paul supporter.
Long story short: S/he interviewed capably and gave a teaching demo that was well received by comparison with the efforts of previous candidates. In the end, though, the committee rejected her/him because in every “non-performance” situation — that is, during causal conversations, meals, drives about town, and so on — this person indicated that s/he probably would not be an acceptable colleague, mostly because the candidate seemed interested in nothing beyond his/her own research and its arcane theoretical underpinnings. Again, for discretion’s sake I’ll spare the details, but I’ll simply note that political views never came anywhere near the surface of conversation, because we were too busy trying to have conversations about the job itself.
And therein rests my beef with most of the complaints about “liberal bias” in higher education. To read the standard accounts, one would assume that American universities are institutions of vast material privilege, where employees actually have time to hatch deliberate, exclusionary plots or fulfill unacknowledged fantasies of an ideologically pure faculty. They’re not. I’d venture that most departments are happy to find colleagues who can share the burden and won’t turn out to be complete jagoffs. In our case, we rejected the candidate because we’re a small, resource-starved, teaching-centered campus with overworked faculty who serve a diverse student body, many of whom are first-generation college students from rural areas of a remote state. And while it would certainly have been in our short-term interest to hire someone — anyone — who could fill an empty spot in the classroom, we couldn’t risk hiring someone who showed little understanding of what it meant to be a good “university citizen.” Sure, we could have added a Republican to our faculty, but really — outside of every other consideration, what good would that have done?
Like Don Douglas, Robert Maranto, and so many other conservatives in academia, I too have suffered the heartbreak of discrimination in the job market. Prior to settling at the University of Kentucky, I was turned down for roughly 140 jobs over a three year period, my status as an angry left-wing polemicist notwithstanding. The following is a partial list, with suspected discriminatory reasons for non-employment:
University of Memphis (insufficient rhythm), University of Richmond (confessed that I bet on Syracuse in 1991 NCAA Tournament), University of Minnesota-Duluth (mocked snow in my cover letter), SUNY-Albany (not Albanian), Temple (couldn’t find Philadelphia on a map), Albright (too right wing), Georgia State University (too left wing), Austin College (thought it was “Boston” and expressed admiration for the clam chowder), UC-Berkeley (Ha!), Arkansas-Little Rock (favored school desegregation), NYU (there’s a “New” York?), Wabash (sang six lines of “Wabash Cannonball” during phone interview), Wake Forest (discriminated against because I’m gay), Vermont (anti-separatist attitude), Middlebury (discriminated against because I’m straight), American (anti-American attitudes), Elon (lost all the applications except mine, and still didn’t hire me [true story!]), Texas Tech (Texas has tech?), Swarthmore (discriminated against because I’m a lesbian), Wesleyan (discriminated against because I’m not sufficiently lesbian), SUNY-New Paltz (thought it was in New Mexico), Babson College (discriminated against because I’m pro-victory), Texas Christian (anti-Christian attitudes), Drew University (discriminated against because I’m pro-defeat), University of Georgia (allergic to dogs), Agnes Scott College (who was Agnes Scott?), Appalachian State University (declared in phone interview that they’d never beat a real football team) , Furman (asked if the school was named after Mark Fuhrman), Hamline (too transgendered), Kent State (made crack in phone interview about being tougher on students than the Ohio National Guard), Yeshiva (too Palestinian), Occidental (not Palestinian enough), George Washington (suspect views on American Revolution), University of Northern Iowa (insufficient enthusiasm for corn), Case Western Reserve University, Georgia Southern (too transgendered), Wisconsin-Madison (not transgendered enough), Puget Sound (called Tacoma “the asshole of western Washington), CUNY-Queens College (not bisexual enough), Kansas State (kept asking if Danny Manning frequented campus), Wayne State (made seemingly solid assumption that institution was named after Wayne Newton), Assumption (too bisexual), University of Illinois-Chicago (too white), Seattle University (not white enough), Rollins College (kept asking when I would get to meet Henry), Naval Postgraduate School (at the time, insufficiently anti-Air Force), UC-Santa Cruz (too pro-Governator), San Diego State (explained that I really wanted the job so I could wear shorts and a t-shirt every day), SMU (expressed too much support for death penalty… in football), Eastern Michigan (kept getting them confused with Central and Western Michigan), UW-Tacoma (too Republican), Ohio University (let JRD write a letter of recommendation for me), Canisius College (dissertation topic ran counter to the teachings of St. Canisius), Johns Hopkins (asked what the deal was with the multiple johns), Hood College (asked if they were afraid of being sunk by Bismarck College), Portland State University (insufficiently pro-heroin), Tufts (they were holding out for a better blogger), Hobart and William Smith (not Republican enough), Bucknell (kept expressing my admiration for Ithaca), Marietta (kept insisting that they should have held out for “Lockheed-Martin-Marietta”), Adrian College (not Methodist enough), Hawaii-Pacific (shouldn’t have told them that my dissertation was titled “Was Higgins REALLY Robin Masters?”), University of Guam (couldn’t bring self to actually send in completed application), Penn (kept calling Benjamin Franklin a lecher), SUNY-Geneseo (told them “9/11 Changed Everything” was dissertation title), Dickinson (over-praised US News and World Report), Vermont (not socialist enough), Georgia State (too socialist), Kansas State (kept asking why an institution named “Kansas State” was located in Manhattan), Northern Illinois (told department I thought Robert Zemeckis was over-rated), UMASS-Amherst (not anti-Confederate enough), James Madison at MSU (said in cover letter that John Jay and Alexander Hamilton were the “real Federalists”), CUNY-Brooklyn (tried to conduct entire interview in what I then believed was a “Brooklyn” accent), Hofstra (too many drugs), UC-Boulder (not enough drugs), Georgia (too anti-Confederate), Colorado State (expressed too much admiration for Fat Tire Brewery), George Washington (oh, I thought you said Gorge, Washington), Sacramento State (insufficiently pro-Governator), Penn State Erie Behrend College (kept asking “when do I meet Joe Paterno?”), Western Washington (asked “isn’t this just Eugene-North?”), Clemson (not pro-treason enough), West Florida (opined that they’d never be as good as South Florida), Maryville (too pro-treason), Rowan University (tried to conduct interview in what I then believed was a “Joisey” accent), York College of Pennsylvania (expressed pro-Athenian attitudes during interview), Alabama (kept asking when I got to meet Bear Bryant), UN-Reno (in interview, focused too much on the question of whether or not Reno really was “the biggest little city on earth”), George Mason (wrote “I mean, it’s not like the basketball team will ever reach the Final Four” in cover letter) , Canisius (not Catholic enough), Georgia Southern (too Canadian), St. John Fisher College (too Mormon), Trent University (not Canadian enough), and Utah Valley State College (not Mormon enough).
I think that my biggest problem was that so many of these schools discriminated on the basis of competence…
To respond in some detail, I’m deeply uncomfortable with the wall that PTJ wants to erect between scholarship and policy. It’s true enough that studying baseball isn’t playing baseball, but it seems absurd to me to claim that the study of baseball hasn’t informed the practice of baseball, and to good effect. Scholarship about world politics is not about “doing” world politics, but it appears that the claim PTJ wants to make is that those who “do” world politics can learn nothing from IR scholarship. Indeed, he claims that such learning might actually make policy worse. That’s true enough as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far; policy professionals have to be educated in some fashion, and erecting a wall between professional scholarship and the instruction of policy professionals makes no sense to me. I’ll also confess that I find a lot of PTJ’s writing on this question very dense, and may have misinterpreted his argument.
Perhaps I’ve become a bit cynical about political science as a discipline, but I’m not convinced that political science as PTJ wants to describe it actually exists. I understand where he’s going in his discussion of ideal types, but I find it an almost useless way of thinking about the relationship between policy and political science. On the one hand, I’m far from convinced that much of anything that the modern discipline of political science does conforms at all with PTJ’s door#2; as such, it’s hard for me to attribute much value to holding political science apart from policy. On the other, I find PTJ’s door#1 description a bit ridiculous; no one at a terminal MA program teaches realism or neoliberal institutionalism because we want our students to go out and produce a realist or neoliberal world. Rather, we teach it in order that students will have some familiarity with the debates going on in both the policy and scholarly worlds, and that they’ll have the ability at some point to interpret the scholarly advice that even PTJ allows should be given. In short, I think it’s absurd to suggest that teaching Robert Keohane in a grad level policy seminar leads to the Terror. I don’t want to claim that teaching Keohane (or Waltz, for that matter) is harmless, but I can’t believe that we want our policymakers to have *less* theoretical grasp rather than more.
To tie this back to MAs and practitioners: if I want to go into the practice of world politics, I want to learn how to make policy decisions. If I am teaching someone who wants to go into the practice of world politics, I want to give them a sense of the irresolvable dilemmas that they are going to face, and help them to develop a critical disposition that can help them grapple with those dilemmas. None of this has anything whatsoever to do with the systematic results of my scholarly investigations into anything; it has to do with exercises designed to clarify value-commitments and their implications.
I just don’t understand this at all; why wouldn’t the results of scholarly investigations be relevant to the training of policymakers?
If, on the other hand, I am advising policymakers, I probably want to present my results but then realize that it is not my job to make the tough decisions surrounding their implementation (as Weber said, politics is the slow boring of hard boards) and leave that to the policymakers. But that’s not teaching students, it’s offering a scholarly input to a policymaking process that a scholar has to remain independent of lest she or he compromise her or his detachment and turn into a partisan for one or another group or party (and thus, by definition, no longer be engaged in doing scholarship).
Why wouldn’t it be better if the policymakers in question had some theoretical training, such that they could, on their own, evaluate elements of the claims that the scholars are making? This IS teaching students; it’s teaching students to be better, more critical policymakers.
1)I still don’t see the intellectual point of a terminal MA because, contra Doug, I don’t see those classes at operating at a level any higher than what one finds in undergrad. In fact, I teach my MA theory course like I taught my undergraduate theory classes: we read Hobbes, Locke, etc., and talk through their arguments and implications thereof. Precisely what I did and do for undergrads. So from my perspective a terminal MA in IR looks like more undergrad plus a few “policy” classes (talk about some issues, generally in a completely a-theoretical way) and some “methods” classes (basic stats — which they probably had in undergrad already anyway — and sometimes “risk analysis,” which to a social scientist like myself just looks like bad research design and flawed data analysis). Yes, I get that this helps people get jobs. What I don’t get is why it helps people get jobs, and what people think that a graduate of such a program can possibly do that a well-educated undergrad can’t already do.
I suppose that a retreat into the empirical data is in order; government agencies, NGOs, and private companies come to Patterson (and presumably to other MA programs) to recruit our students, and demonstrate a clear preference for our students over similarly situated undergraduates. Members of these organizations have expressed to us that there is a clear and obvious difference in the performance of students with MAs and those without, and they prefer the former. Now, it’s possible that they’re just wrong, or that their assessment is biased, or that they’re telling us what we want to hear, but given how often I hear the same thing, I have my doubts. Moreover, I’m not sure what’s wrong with the idea that an MA should be an extension of an undergraduate degree, rather than a project dedicated to bringing students to a higher intellectual level. A terminal MA student in a program like ours receives one and a half to two years more training than a BA, and this training is both more rigorous and more specialized than that found in BA programs. I’m not sure why PTJ thinks that an MA should represent a qualitative rather than a quantitative change in a student; we like to think that a Ph.D. makes a qualitative difference (we like to think that), but it’s unclear to me why we should think about an MA in the same fashion. Students getting MBAs learn stuff that’s pretty much like what they learned in undergrad, if they were business majors; I don’t understand why policy should be thought about any differently.
3) I pity the student who comes to me hoping to be trained in job-relevant skills if their anticipated job is someplace other than academia. Academia is where I work, and I know how to do that job pretty well, so I can pass on bits of practical advice and professional wisdom. The State Department? I can find it on a map, but I’ve never worked there and have no desire to do so, so I am not likely to be of any use to students looking to be trained in how to succeed at State (or in any other DC institution).
I’m a bit appalled by the logic of this argument; if as academics we only have knowledge relevant to work in the academy, then our capacity to make any contribution to the training/education of any of our students (including undergrads) is rather trivial. I happy to acknowledge that I can’t “train” anyone to have a successful career at the State Department, but I can certainly make educated guesses as to what skills will be needed in such work, educated guesses which are in large part informed by what State Department personnel tell me.
To put it more directly, I know a lot about aircraft carriers; not as much as someone who has served on one, but a fair amount. I’m deeply convinced that students interested in policy (as well as you, Gentle Reader) ought to know more about aircraft carriers; it would be a better world if both our policymakers and our voters understood what an aircraft carrier is, does, costs, etc. I talk about aircraft carriers during my defense statecraft course, and because of my own theoretical training (and my scholarly investigations) I can situate with aircraft carrier within a variety of different theoretical perspectives, which is something that most people who have served on aircraft carriers cannot. Moreover, because I spend time in my courses giving students a basic theoretical foundation (this is Realism, etc.) they can understand this situation, disagree with it, question it, etc. Because I know that the students are interested in international affairs (I don’t know the same about undergraduates), and because I know they possess a certain level of basic academic skills (I also don’t know this about undergraduates), I can challenge the students with more difficult material and more pressing questions than I would otherwise be able to. It’s also worth noting that this kind of course is utterly unlike what one would find in a standard political science program; such a course might produce some ideas for scholarly research, but in general will be far too empirical for the taste of most Ph.D. students.
As a last note, I should say that I’m very happy that my school does not have a Ph.D. program. I think it would be enormously difficult trying to figure out in each new cohort which students I should pay attention to (because they’ll be around for six years) and which I shouldn’t (because they’ll be gone in two). It seems to me that does a disservice to both groups, but especially the latter. I do enjoy dealing with the occasionally Ph.D. student who wanders down from political science, but that’s different than having a course made up of the two different communities.
Over at Duck, PTJ has an interesting post about a student who decided to pursue a terminal MA in international relations in order to “certify idealism”. PTJ is a bit hostile to this notion, for some good reasons, but I have to say that I find it rather compelling.
I have to admit that at some level I simply do not understand the idea of a terminal MA degree in international relations, although I teach in a policy school that awards large numbers of them every year. I do not understand what is supposed to be gained through the course of study that most MA students engage in, since they don’t do enough coursework to develop a real scholarly grasp of the field (or even of their specialized portion of it) and at least in my experience they generally don’t do enough concrete skills-training to really develop themselves as competent professionals (and when they do, it comes in their internships rather than in the classroom, which is what virtually any MA in international relations will tell you if you ask them where they learned the most during their graduate school experiences). So as far as I can tell it is largely a certification and networking exercise, and an expensive one at that.
I’m not sure that I’d agree with this. The courses in a terminal MA program (at least the one I’m part of) are far more policy oriented, with a correspondingly greater focus on the empirical over the theoretical, than students would encounter in a political science program. Memos are a learned skill, as is the ability to skim the news for noteworthy events, manage time, and so forth. I design my own courses to familiarize students with the major policy debates; for example, I characterize my Defense Statecraft course as “what civilians ought to know about military affairs”. Now, it’s possible that nothing genuinely productive is happening here, but I’d really like to think that students emerge with a firmer grasp of the debates, a stronger sense of the empirical, and a few skills that they’ll need in the workplace. As such, it’s really irrelevant whether they have a scholarly grasp of the field; indeed, such a grasp might even be counter-productive.
PTJ further writes:
When I teach and work with MA students I am generally looking for those students who really wanted a Ph.D. but perhaps didn’t know it yet. Either that or I am looking for those rare MA students who are actually interested in scholarship as a vocation. This is both because I don’t know what I have to specifically offer the young professional who is primarily interested in learning a thing or three about transnational crime or the Balkans or whatever and then going out to work for some NGO (my rolodex is not really all that filled with people who work for consulting firms and policy institutes in downtown Coruscant), and partially because as a professor I largely only have one thing to offer to anyone: I press people to clarify their arguments and to take the implications of their commitments more seriously. Period. In my experience a very small minority of MA students find this helpful, and I primarily work with those students. I neither know nor care what this contributes to their “certification,” since I’m only interested in their education.
There are a lot of different kinds of students in my program, including some who aspire to Ph.D.s What I’ve noted, though, is that there isn’t really a strong relationship between academic aptitude and interest in further education. A few of my very best students have had the (eminently healthy) attitude that an MA is sufficient for their career goals. A few are interested in further academic study, although not always in a social science field. This may be a personal difference between myself and PTJ, but I came to the conclusion very, very quickly that looking for potential Ph.D. candidates would be a serious mistake, both in terms of projecting my own interests onto students who didn’t care, and in shortchanging those very talented students who couldn’t give a rat’s ass about the arcane debates that define the academic study of international relations. In general, I’ve been very reluctant to encourage even the most capable students to pursue further study, in no small part because I think that they’ll have more lucrative and productive careers outside of academia than within.
It’s odd to find myself in the less cynical position, but I have to say that I’ve very much enjoyed teaching at a terminal MA program. MA students have two things that undergraduates often lack; a commitment to the subject matter, and a set of basic academic skills. Moreover, while I do enjoy teaching theory, I’ve found that I rather prefer teaching policy; delving into the Counter-Insurgency Field Manual is not only more fun than immersing oneself in the methodological critiques of the concept of strategic culture, it also strikes me as a lot more productive.