Accountability Regimes and Academic Life

Great article by Gaye Tuchman in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, “The Future of Wannabe U,” in which she continues her analysis of the accountability regime that drives the academic life:

Annually, other job and tenure candidates list how many articles and books they have published, how many talks they have delivered (including how many to which they were invited, and by whom), how many students they have advised and taught. Now and again, senior professors, writing letters to evaluate a candidate’s suitability to get or keep a job, provide their own lists. Sometimes they, too, are so intent on constructing them that they forget to discuss a candidate’s intellectual contributions. Last year, when presenting a distinguished-research award, a top Wannabe administrator noted that the recipient had published well more than 100 articles. He never said why those articles mattered. Continue reading

Via McSweeney’s: “dream jobs that you’re glad you didn’t pursue”

From McSweeney’s, this a column about “dream jobs you’re glad you didn’t pursue.” This week’s column is “So You Wanted to Be a Marine Biologist”:

Many people went through the marine biology phase. Most of them moved on. Not you though. You saw your dreams through to the bitter end. You started college and attacked your undergraduate degree in biology with fervor. Probably about the time you got to Organic Chemistry you started questioning your choices, but you powered through with more than a little help from that homely chemistry major you suddenly took an interest in and then let down not so gently when the semester was over. Now you were four years in and committed to the graduate school path, because you knew that without a doctoral degree your career in marine biology would end at one or more of the following (in relatively descending order of acceptability):

Continue reading

TNR review of Mark C Taylor’s “unbelievably misguided book”

TNR review of Mark C Taylor’s latest book about higher education :

The syndrome has become all too common. A provocative op-ed piece appears in a major newspaper (for preference, The New York Times). Its logic is fragile and its evidence is thin, but the writing is crisp and the examples are pungent, and the assault on sacred cows arouses a storm of discussion (much of it sharply critical, but no matter). It goes viral. And almost immediately, publishers comes calling. “This should be a book,” they coo, and the author, entranced by a bit of sudden fame (not to mention, perhaps, a decent advance), eagerly agrees. He or she sets to work, and soon enough the original 800 words expand to 50,000. But far from reinforcing the original logic and evidence, the new accretions of text only strain them further, while smothering the original provocations under thick layers of padded anecdote, pop sociology and oracular pronouncement. Call the syndrome Friedmanitis, after a prominent early victim, the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman. Continue reading

Higher Education?

In an otherwise confused and incomprehensible discussion about academic life in the NY Times, Mark C Taylor made one comment that I actually agree with: “Nothing represses the free expression of ideas more than the long and usually fruitless quest for tenure.” I’ll leave aside whether or  not it’s a fruitless quest, but Andrew Hacker makes a similar case in The Atlantic.

A lot of the pressure to publish is tied in with the pressure to earn tenure. You argue that tenure actually doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do—it doesn’t preserve academic freedom.

Here’s what happens. Academics typically don’t get tenured until the age of 40. This means that from their years as graduate students and then assistant professors, from age 25 through 38 or 39, they have to toe the line. They have to do things in the accepted way that their elders and superiors require. They can’t be controversial and all the rest. So tenure is, in fact, the enemy of spontaneity, the enemy of intellectual freedom. We’ve seen this again and again. And even people who get tenure really don’t change. They keep on following the disciplinary mode they’ve been trained to follow. Continue reading

A Critique of Online Education

“Online Education is the future, or, another reason the future will suck:”

Online courses are, for lack of a better term, shit. No one who has taken or taught one can claim in earnest to have learned more than they do in traditional courses. Few could honestly claim that they learned anything at all. When the author of DIY U describes a model of students “cobbling” together a self-guided degree consisting of “course materials readily available online,” I cannot convince myself that the Yale-educated author believes that even as she is paid handsomely to type it. Perhaps 1/10 of a percent of undergraduates are mature and motivated enough to effectively direct their own course of study. What Kamenetz describes feels more like replacing the 12-course tasting menu at El Bulli with a trip to Old Country Buffet and calling it a wash. The idea that anything meeting her description would qualify as an education is prima facie ridiculous and requires no further discussion.

The real benefit, though, is that it will let more people go to college because everything will be cheaper. The adjuncting wave of the early 1990s was supposed to make education cheaper. It didn’t. Now online courses are supposed to be making education cheaper (price being conflated with accessibility in this line of argument). Despite spreading like wildfire in the last decade – from dedicated online schools like University of Phoenix to the best (and worst) brick-and-mortar schools – the price of higher education only increases. So who benefits from replacing tenured faculty with adjuncts if not the students? If students aren’t getting cheaper or better education from online courses, why are colleges so eager to establish them? The answer, as anyone on this side of the looking glass knows, is that it’s cheaper – for the university

Read the whole post here

Academia As Commons

I received this in one of the edu-factory email updates (full text and downloadalbe pdf here).  Now, I don’t really know if say, philosophical blogging, is going to amount to a sea-change within the discipline that many insist upon, but this article about open access technology and higher ed is interesting.

Academia as a Commons: How open technologies can help higher education expand collaboration, innovation and public access to knowledge.

By David Bollier

(David Bollier has been the Croxton Lecturer at Amherst College for the past semester, teaching a course, “The Rise of the Commons.” Below are remarks that he delivered at the Robert Frost Library on April 26, 2010).

I realize that any mention of digital technologies and copyright law can induce a certain mental stupor among many people. The topic is rife with many complicated legal and technical issues. But I believe that we commoners have too much at stake to leave copyright law to the lawyers and the Internet to the techies.

The very mission and identity of academia is implicated in the future of digital technologies, the Internet and copyright law. At stake is the ability of colleges and universities to act as inter-generational stewards of knowledge? to assure that their own scholarly output is freely accessible and usable?. to curate knowledge in better ways and to disseminate it as broadly as possible and to foster innovative research and learning.

Unfortunately, we find ourselves in a messy interregnum between the age of centralized mass media dinosaurs and the distributed, open, participatory platforms of the Internet. We are caught in a political and cultural morass filled with constant disruption, confusion, angst and uncertainty. There is one thing that I am certain of, however: This is the time to seize the initiative. Rarely have the forces for progressive change in education had such wide, inviting openings. Continue reading

Subprime Crisis of Student Debt

An interesting NY Times article, “Placing the Blame as Students are buried in Debt,” about student loans and financing education, given some of the recent discussions here as well as over at Ktistmatics:

So in an eerie echo of themortgage crisis, tens of thousands of people like Ms. Munna are facing a reckoning. They and their families made borrowing decisions based more on emotion than reason, much as subprime borrowers assumed the value of their houses would always go up.

Meanwhile, universities like N.Y.U. enrolled students without asking many questions about whether they could afford a $50,000 annual tuition bill. Then the colleges introduced the students to lenders who underwrote big loans without any idea of what the students might earn someday — just like the mortgage lenders who didn’t ask borrowers to verify their incomes. Continue reading

An Advice Post

I think that it’s high time we here at Perverse Egalitarianism offer our own advice for graduate students.  To that end, I’m posting last week’s New Yorker cover as a sort of carrot on the one hand, and as a little dose of “the Real” (I capitalized it so everyone can know that I’ve opened a book by either Zizek or Lacan!) on the other.  Keep on. Keep on.  (I do fear that this image is disturbingly true, however.)

Unread Books…Without Anxiety

This is the kind of excessive attitude I used to be prone to that annoys my wife so very much, but what the author forgot to discuss was the ability to talk intelligently about the 800 unread books.  Academics make a career out of it (as do those pretentious bloggers).  Regardless, this little article, “The Joy of Unread Books,” kind of made my evening for some reason. I like this connection between reading and dissapointment.

An unread book is all possible stories. It contains all possible characters, styles, genres, turns of phrase, metaphors, speech patterns, and profound life-changing revelations. An unread book exists only in the primordial soup of your imagination, and there it can evolve into any story you like. An unread book – any unread book – could change your life.

Like most readers, I love browsing in bookshops and libraries. I like to run my fingers along the spines and read titles and authors’ names. I pull the books out and flip through them, thinking about the stories inside them, the things I would learn from them, how my life would be subtly but surely different after I had read them. Sometimes I buy or borrow the books and read them. As much as I enjoy the books, I often find that the book I have read is somehow not as exciting as the book I had imagined reading. No book is ever quite as good as it potentially could have been. Continue reading

Diploma Mills

Here’s an excerpt from an interesting interview with Barmak Nassarian, associate executive director for external relations and a lobbyist with the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO), from Frontline’s “College, Inc.” program.  The section on loan defaults –also discussed in the Barron’s article I posted yesterday–is particularly revealing, I think.  In what follows, Nassarian is discussing quality and regulation.

Q: So we’re in the middle of a recession. Record demand for postsecondary education, am I right? And just the massive growth of for-profits. I mean, those would be the sort of saving features of what we’re seeing now.

Well, there’s one important additional dimension that makes all of that toxic, which I have a hard time communicating to people without being a little sort of colorful.

We live in a society that most transactions for goods and services involve the profit motive, and we’re used to that. There’s nothing wrong with it. But we’re also living in an advanced post-industrialist society where there are fundamental assumptions about consumer protection that we all walk around with. I walked into this room without examining the building, without any engineering drawings, on the assumptions that surely it was somebody’s job to make sure it’s not going to collapse on my head, despite the fact that it might have been built by a for-profit builder who might have had profit maximization as their primary incentive. Continue reading