Academically Adrift Reading Group

The Philosophy teaching blog, In Socrates’ Wake, is hosting a reading group on Richard Arum and Josipa Roska’s Academically Adrift .  Here are the details:

So the global academic buzz over Academically Adrift has prompted us to organize our third ever ISW reading group (following groups on James Lang’s On Course and Martha Nussbaum’s Not for Profit). Here’s our plan:

We’ll begin the group the week of February 28. You can anticipate two or three posts per week, in addition to the usual ISW content. Since the book is brief, we’re not going to adopt the chapter-based approach we followed with past reading groups. Instead, ISW contributors will offer posts highlighting themes or claims in the book, linking these themes or claims to teaching philosophy. Richard Arum and Josipa Roska, the book’s authors, have indicated they may drop by from time to time to offer comments on our discussion.

Academically Adrift?

I just saw this article in The Chroncle of Higher Ed about the recently published book, Academically Adrift, which  paints a rather depressing picture of the critical thinking skills of college grads. This paragraph caught my eye:

While these students may have developed subject-specific skills that were not tested for by the CLA, in terms of general analytical competencies assessed, large numbers of U.S. college students can be accurately described as academically adrift. They might graduate, but they are failing to develop the higher-order cognitive skills that it is widely assumed college students should master. These findings are sobering and should be a cause for concern.

The rest of the article is here, but it seems like a strong indictment of the current state of higher education.

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


I’m teaching a Summer course on ethical, moral and social theory.  As many know, summer courses are generally accelerated which makes the contact time per meeting between 2-3 (or more) hours.  The advantage is that I can show films and whatnot and actually talk about them directly following the screening.  Amongst other things I’ll be teaching Kant’s Grounding, Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morality and Marx’s Communist Manifesto. So, here’s my question:  Does anybody have any suggestions for movies, tv shows, documentaries etc to view when we consider these texts?

Much appreciated, really.

So you want to be a Professor?

Somehow I missed it, but this is an interesting article from the WSJ, “So you Want to Be A Professor.”  Along with Mark Taylor’s pretentious Op-ed from the NY Times last week (for a spirited reaction see here), it kind of rubbed me the wrong way.  For instance:

On some recent doctoral program cuts at Emory and Columbia:

But graduates students also act as teaching assistants, doing a great deal of time-consuming classroom work (and grading) that professors themselves are thus not compelled to do. In all sorts of courses, especially in their freshman and sophomore years, undergraduates may find themselves being instructed more often by a 25-year-old doctoral candidate than by the university’s full-time faculty members, who, of course, already have their doctorates (and one or two books to their credit, too). It is an odd, upside-down arrangement, but it has an economic logic: By providing cheap labor, graduate students save college administrations millions of dollars each year in salary costs.

So why the cuts? Well, the calculations work out differently for different schools. For instance, universities in lower tiers might not have to do as much because they can get away with having a higher percentage of classes taught by graduate students. But some of the schools making doctoral cuts this year gave compassion as their reason. Catherine R. Stimson, the dean of Graduate School of Arts and Science at New York University, was quoted in Inside Higher Ed: Given the state of the academic job market, she asked, referring to would-be doctoral candidates: “Is it fair to bring them in?” Continue reading

Data Obseity and Popularity: It’s Google!

Via Eurozine.  An interesting article, “The society of the query and the Googlization of our lives,” suggests we suffer from information overload and paints a rather dismal picture:

Ordinary people have hijacked strategic resources and are clogging up once carefully policed media channels. Before the Internet, the mandarin classes rested on the idea that they could separate “idle talk” from “knowledge”. With the rise of Internet search engines it is no longer possible to distinguish between patrician insights and plebeian gossip. The distinction between high and low, and their co-mingling on occasions of carnival, belong to a bygone era and should no longer concern us. Nowadays an altogether new phenomenon is causing alarm: search engines rank according to popularity, not truth. Continue reading