Things As They Are: Academic Paysage

While reading Stanley Fish’s latest post on New York Times blog and its numerous comments, I have noticed how much of the passion against “French theory” is fueled by references to “careerism” and how deconstruction supposedly helped a whole generation of charlatans get an access to the sacred spaces of the innocent academic world that mistook “deconstructionism” for a genuine philosophical school.  “So-and-so made a career as a deconstructionist! How unfair! How awful!” Of course, the evil of such situation is not in the making-of-the-career part, but in the being-a-fake-philosopher part; there is nothing wrong with careerism itself, seems to be a view in the comments.  In fact, there is a plenty of advices one usually gets (when one has the luxury of advice) from the “senior” academics on how to get published, how to get noticed, how to talk to a right person, whose ego to stroke… This reminded me of a recent post on RateYourStudents:

“The Inertia of Tradition.” Why Things Remain As They Are. 

Something has occurred to me over and over again when reading this blog, and while listening to the bitching and complaining I hear at the faculty water cooler.  There seems to be a certain determinism, a certain inevitability in our fate. One would think that we would be smart, self-critical, self-correcting people. One would think that we have a great deal of control over our jobs since there is (comparatively) little hierarchy in academia. But we keep the cycle of misery going. There are things we hate and that we can change, but somehow just don’t.

We hate “publish or perish” and lament that our teaching doesn’t count for enough, but use the same damned criteria on colleagues when judging their performance.

We hate writing all those letters of recommendation, and yet when we chair a hiring committee, we always insist on them from every applicant.

We hate being treated like shit when we are junior faculty, but sometimes treat others who are our former selves like shit when we “grow up” and get tenure. Read the rest.

I know that all of us who entered the path of academic life at one point or another have thought about these things. Take for example the whole hiring and evaluating process – this is about that time of the year when graduate students get into doctoral programs, adjuncts anxiously contemplate suicide due to the uncertainty of their position, junior faculty members move onto better pastures… The summer is coming, new students will enter institutions in the Fall, old teachers will once more hope that they will be better than last year’s – but if you agree with the anonymous blogger from RYS, things will eventually stay the same.  People will be hired because they have “academic promise” which mainly means a good CV and not excellent teaching skills – CVs are easy to evaluate, teaching is difficult to evaluate. A book contract will always beat 10 years of teaching experience, publications in known journals (even though not many read those, including the authors themselves) will always beat a good record of students evaluations – why?

Hiring committees need “objective” criteria to go through a pile of applications to get those that are going to make it into a new pile – due to the number of applicants (read, number of freshly-minted PhDs), the first pile will always be huge… This process is no different from any hiring process, however, why does academic world put so much emphasis on publications even though it is hiring teachers?  Well, publications show the candidate’s academic interests and academic “promise” (whatever that means).  But while I could understand such emphasis in the “hard sciences” where people do research, without any actual “research” being done in the philosophy departments, why do professors need a long record of publications? Mainly because it is the only way to evaluate something’s scholarship, i.e. once others judged your work to be worthy of publication (more “prestigious” the journal, the better), those reading your CV can simply rely on the judgment of others.  This is sort of a sad situation, isn’t it? Not just that philosophy departments are full of “scholars” who are horrible in the classroom, but also that these “scholars” compare their CVs like junior high boys compare their willies (simily taken from RYS’s post, but I don’t remember which one)… Is it just an American situation, or is it like this everywhere?

2 thoughts on “Things As They Are: Academic Paysage

  1. This is a good post, but one comment by the author at RYS bothered me a bit:

    One would think that we have a great deal of control over our jobs since there is (comparatively) little hierarchy in academia.

    This is somewhat inaccurate, I mean, ok, academia is not the military, but in many ways, it may as well be. In fact, I would tend to think that academia is one of the last bastions of hierarchy. Many private sector businesses and governmental agencies have moved to a more collaborative and lateralized organization, opting instead for “teams with leaders” that work together autonomously. Academia has a clear hierarchy, what isn’t so clear is the standards for advancement, which not only vary from institution to institution, but most egregiously, from gender to gender. The academic hierarchy also rewards certain research emphases which, not coincidentally, are often emphases that are likely to (in the sciences) bring in grant funds or (in the humanities (land a job in which you don’t have to teach so much). I’m not the first person to point this out, but, the less you teach in academia, the more you’ve “made it.” Yet, the hiring practices of many universities often pretend to insist they want teachers when in reality they want people who can produce research.

  2. Pingback: Things as They Are: A Rejoinder « Perverse Egalitarianism

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