24 February 2014

The Alternate Dimension of Job Market Advice

The Professor is In's advice to job seekers can feel like the wormhole to an alternate dimension. Amidst the breast-beating about turgid academic prose, the many efforts to find alternate employment pathways for Ph.D.'s, suggestions for reforming higher ed, TPII draws coordinates on the narrow and elusive portal to tenure-track academic employment.

The coarse-grained version of TPII's advice is no surprise to anyone: publish!  Publish early, publish often, publish in defiance of misguided advice to do otherwise.  TPII's added value is the way she addresses the self-doubts of the not-yet-employed.  She not only urges them to publish, but shows them in a fine-grained way how to acquire the persona of the sort of established scholar who publishes as a matter of course, starting with (in her most recent post) the choice of a faculty advisor who recognizes the necessity of "the evidence that you are a productive scholar, an original thinker, an active member of your scholarly community" in the form of peer-reviewed publications.  "To go out on the market without at least one [peer-reviewed journal article] is madness."

She's right, of course.

At the other end of that wormhole, though, where many Ph.D's are not landing tenure-stream jobs and where dwindling resources for higher ed put a great deal of college teaching in the hands of poorly paid adjuncts, there is "madness" in the fact that the peer-reviewed journal article is the standard of currency for tenure-stream employment. Of the many problems bedeviling higher ed right now, a shortage of peer-reviewed articles is not one.   In fact, more peer-reviewed journal articles are pretty much the last thing that higher ed needs, particularly when the researching, writing, reviewing, editing, and publications of articles to be read by a handful of scholars takes time away from equally rigorous work that could be raising the profile of higher ed.

There are two things that institutions could be doing to demonstrate the value of higher ed to a public increasingly unwilling to pay for anything beyond narrow vocational training.  One is to put in place mechanisms to recognize and reward public engagement as equally valuable as specialized research. The firestorm of criticism that followed Nicholas Kristof's annoying article laid bare both the existence of a great deal of public engagement by intellectuals and the absence of institutional incentives for doing it.  The other is to plough resources into labor-intensive, inquiry-based teaching that can demonstrate to the future taxpayers currently in our classrooms why a a broad liberal education is of value.

To do either of those things,  Ph.D. training would have to be transformed.  The fact that most academics are, necessarily, trained at R1 institutions very different from those where they are likely to teach perpetuates the self-defeating valorization of highly specialized research.  Moreover, the steady influx of graduate students  that such institutions rely on to meet teaching needs further perpetuates the problem.

What if a year-long residency at a regional public university or community college was a routine feature of every graduate program?  What if the dissertation was replaced by a published peer-reviewed journal article and a successful semester-long gen. ed. course in one's area of specialization?  What if coursework included a semester of securing funding for and completing an outreach project?  However unrealistic these possibilities seem, they are more likely to save the humanities than futile efforts to find alt-ac work for all the Ph.D's coming through the pipeline, even if we succeed in making the Ph.D. a necessary credential for non-academic work, or make it remunerative to piggy-back college teaching on other forms of nonacademic employment.

After all, the students are there, and they need to be taught--a point that ought to ground these discussions.

19 February 2014

The Invisible Technology Subsidy

At most institutions, knowing who you're teaching, communicating with them, and getting their grade onto a transcript requires the following:
  • email
  • online enrollment records
  • http://www.rexblog.com/2011/03/30/22872
  • online final grade entry
Effective teaching also involves some or all of the following:
  • use of an institution's course management system 
  • online grading
  • digital course material  
  • Powerpoint or Prezi
  • instruction in using the digital resources of the institution's library
Mind you, this is all specific to bricks-and-mortar classrooms, not online learning.  Students navigate a digital world with or without us, and some instructors go farther--keeping abreast of learning technology and finding innovative ways to use social media, online archives, and the like to get students engaged in the material.

And who pays for the equipment?

The growing minority of tenure-stream faculty may get funding to pay for the computers, software, dongles that make that digital activity possible; adjunct faculty generally, do not.  At best, they share a computer with other adjuncts in a shared office.  A laptop is not an optional luxury for most adjuncts: it's a vital professional tool, and it neither gets paid for by the institution nor is it eligible for technical support to make it easier to use the software and systems that the institution requires of its employees. In the building where I teach, the campus wifi is not supported in shared offices, so faculty have to decamp to a library or coffeeshop in order to email students or mount grades on the course management system.

Adjuncts teaching in these conditions can--and do!--deliver a 21st-century education, but they are subsidizing it with their own investments in the necessary technology.

17 February 2014

The #alt-ac Snake that Eats Its Own Tail

Two Penn State deans ask where the people with humanities Ph.D's end up, and get an answer: college teaching, off the tenure track.  Yup--we knew that.  But the graphic evidence is still, you know, graphic. And it's nicely timed to coincide with today's NY Times editorial on higher ed (and the op-ed page gets it right this time).

Some of those savvy underemployed Ph,D's, however, have found ways to get paid to identify the problem and fix it.  Check out this solution to the adjunct problem!
1. Adjuncts must be paid enough to make it worth their while. 
Obviously, “worth their while” is a different number depending on many things: field, market forces like scarcity of qualified adjunct faculty, union rules, etc. But as an institution, if you want to attract the best teachers and ensure that they are able to reach their potential as teachers, you must pay them enough to make it worth their while to teach instead of doing other things with their time, whether those other things are income-earning or not.
Well, yes--but if institutions perceived that teaching carried value that should be properly remunerated, we wouldn't need articles like this one, would we?  What else you got?

15 February 2014

Four Years Prostrate to the Higher Mind

At our house, it's known as "The Ballad of the B- Student," on the strength of that one verse (you known the one). Lots of doctors of philosophy around here, and strangely, they often share an interest in B-grade movies.

It's only life, after all.

Teaching at a reasonably selective institution means teaching students who are really good at going to school. For some, that skill set includes intellectual curiosity--they know there's a lot of interesting stuff they don't know yet but that they want to learn about. For many, intellectual curiosity has nothing to do with education. For the latter group, being good at going to school means being really good at receiving information in preselected clumps (the course content) and repackaging it in prescribed ways (the course requirements). They know how to hit the high scores on a learning rubric, but they don't actually know how to learn anything and many of them seem to have lost the capacity to recognize that anything else might be the purpose of their education.

10 February 2014

How Many More Books Will Students Read Because I'm Not Writing One?

Research in the humanities may be keeping higher ed from giving sufficient priority to teaching, but the problem is not the research itself, it's institutional priorities that reward the creation of a supply of research but offer no incentive for any use of it other than generating more supply.

07 February 2014

If Not Restoration, a Glorious Revolution?

Education as process looks, argues Matt Reed, too much like the desire to return to a Golden Age of Education.  In "Restoration," in Inside Higher Ed, Reed describes a memorable professorial "incarnation of Mr. Magoo" for whom "classes were lectures, history was royals, and stories were laugh-out-loud funny."

The moral of Reed's story: (1) the days of his Professor Magoo were also a period of educational elitism that we do well to put behind us and (2) "the vision of giving students time away from the pressing concerns of day-to-day economics, and for letting them wander a bit intellectually until something clicks" represents nostalgia and misdirected energy:
The necessary -- urgent -- discussion should be around developing a sustainable model that manages both to be cognizant of very real economic needs and effective at maintaining -- and improving -- the best of the past. I’m guessing that technology will help, though the form it takes is still very much up for grabs. Competency-based education holds promise, though there, too, we’re in the early stages of the learning curve. Maybe it’s something else. The future is just sitting there, waiting for passionate and thoughtful people to shape it.
He's right, but the future isn't "just sitting there"--it's taking a shape already that's being determined by the economic pressures Reed mentions and in many ways it's recapping the worst of the past that Reed describes.

Dancing on the Point of a Really Old Needle (on Faith and College Teaching)

Interesting things happen over at Small Pond Science: a discussion about assigning literature in a science class, posts about what the products of excellent college teaching should be able to do, and yesterday, how to teach science to students who find their faith in conflict with it.

Terry McGlynn doesn't make reference to the Bill Nye-Ken Ham debate over creationism, but it must lurk in the background of his post.  Anyone in higher ed who clicked on Buzzfeed's "22 Messages from Creationists to People Who Believe in Evolution" is even more painfully aware than usual that, as McGlynn says
much of the country is religious, and it’s in all of our interests for this majority to use reason to understand and accept facts that have been established through science. It’s the job of the science educator to convince the faithful that science requires reason and knowledge.  
"Insulting the faithful for their faith," though, can take a lot of forms, including conflating all faith with Christianity, or with particularly fundamentalist forms of Christianity, or with forms of religious belief that set themselves at odds with science.  McGlynn defines faith as "the choice to believe that something is true without evidence," but many of the faithful worship the thing-they-believe-exists. They don't worship the principle of believing something is true without evidence.

05 February 2014

The Problem Isn't Bloat, It's Malnutrition

No, you weren't imagining it: administrative structures have expanded, and the rise in tuition has nothing to do with faculty salaries, which have stagnated.  Making matters worse, particularly for public higher ed: someone whose salary can be said to "stagnate" is doing better than growing numbers of the contingent professoriate who are increasingly replacing full-time tenure-stream faculty.
the number of full-time faculty and staff members per professional or managerial administrator has declined 40 percent, to around 2.5 to 1. 
Full-time faculty members also lost ground to part-time instructors (who now compose half of the instructional staff at most types of colleges), particularly at public master’s and bachelor’s institutions.
The problem is not just that administration has grown, it's that academic departments have not grown alongside them.

There is no doubt room to trim bureaucracy, and particularly to reconsider spending tuition and tax-payer money on endeavors that have nothing to do with the core mission of the public university (fielding farm teams for the NFL and NBA and advancing corporate business agendas come to mind).  But admissions, student support services, AA/EOE initiatives, career counseling?  For a college education to take place, a lot of things have to happen outside of the classroom, and they cost money.

What this report makes clear is that families are spending money and students are going into debt to pay for the support structure for teaching and a lot of things that may be well outside that support structure, but not the teaching itself.  They need to know that.

03 February 2014

If You Love Something, Assess its Outcome

Another article this weekend in a prominent urban newpaper about the plight of adjuncts. The world is, indeed, noticing that adjuncts are exploited and that academia, by seeking to make that exploitation invisible, is complicit in it.

Some adjuncts are acknowledging their complicity in their exploitation--or at least, the scope they have to recognize and reject the premises of their exploitation.  When Miya Tokumitsu pointed out that the "Do What You Love" mantra leads to rank exploitation, her article went viral and prompted responses.  Rebecca Schuman describes her own rejection of "teaching as a calling" in the Chronicle of Higher Education and Nate Kreutzer pointed out in Inside Higher Ed the problem with the world in which teachers work for love and their loan officers do not.

The flip side of the "pay me what I'm worth" argument is "the love I pour into this profession is worth something!"

01 February 2014

Fine, I'll Teach Students Not to Be Jackasses. Now Can We Admit More Black Students?

The big news at Heartland U. this week was that, gosh, racists still walk among us.

Despite subzero temperatures and even worse windchill predictions, classes were NOT cancelled on Monday, and the university stayed open.  The chancellor announced this non-cancelling of classes via e-mail.  The chancellor isn't a man, and she isn't white, and when students took to Twitter to complain about going to class, they chose to emphasize those two points.

The Twitter backlash was swift and extensive.  Michael Simeone has charted the twitter response on the relevant hashtags and concludes:
We’ll never know exactly how many tweets were deleted out of shame, but analysis of this tend shows a swift and harmonic response that obliterated anti-Wise sentiment and replaced it with a new conversation about white privilege. Yes, U of I students filled out a petition that got 7,000 signatures, but that does not equal 7,000 racists. Clicking a bubble that tries to get one out of class is very different from taking to social media to spread hate. The real A missing piece of the story is the response and unity of response to #FuckPhyllis.
In the world beyond Twitter, a different kind of response was taking place.