Wal-Mart Edu

Marc Bousquet has an interesting response to Obamba’s initiative to pump some money into higher ed, in particular community colleges.  The short of Bousquet’s concerns, which I think is warranted, revolve–for one– around the consequences of the top-down organization of cc’s:

Louisville fails for the same reason many community colleges fail: they put cheap, permanently temporary teachers (students, retirees, moonlighters, folks willing to work for status) in the front lines of first-year courses, and then–desperate to armor-plate the curriculum against the uneven preparation of the faculty–convert the tenure stream into supervisors of the temps.  The bribe for the tenured overclass includes being freed to teach only the fraction of students who get through the obstacle course of the first year or two.

But this suckiness is what Obama and Duncan like about community colleges and enterprise universities like the U of L.  Not the low graduation rates–they’ll pull at their chins thoughtfully and agree with you there.

What they like–no, love–is the organization of community colleges, the top-down control of curriculum, the tenured management and the disposable teachers. That’s perfect! Community colleges regularly fire union officials and anyone else who gets in their way. Continue reading

Adjuncting is the Future?

Here is a rather cynical, but amusing (if not simultaneously depressing and horrifying) take on academic (capitalist) life (unless of course it’s merely intended as some sort of satire, then it’s even more amusing to me):

I recently defended my dissertation in English at a land-grant institution in the Midwest. Our department’s national reputation plunges every year as the new hires get weirder and their expertise more esoteric. Ph.D. degrees from our department, unless you’re female or a minority, don’t provide much value in the marketplace. Even if you do fit into one of those desirable categories, you’re probably screwed and headed to a $40,000-a-year job — much less if you get one of those stunningly low-paid, visiting-professor gigs.Most professors in my department express nothing but contempt for both graduate students and undergraduates. In a recent faculty meeting, professors lamented that the number of graduate students in the department had dipped below acceptable levels. Faculty members faced the prospect of canceled graduate seminars and the horrific likelihood of having to teach two (count ’em!) undergraduate courses a semester. Tsk, tsk. Literary scholarship as we know it might cease to exist, plunging the world into postapocalyptic chaos. Meanwhile the casualty rate of the department’s graduate students on the tenure-track job market approaches that of the British at the Somme. Continue reading

The Secret lives of Philosophy Profs…


An amusing article from The Philosophers Magazine, not having to do with those sexy shiny new toilets (unfortunately), but amusing nonetheless. Really, it’s a window into my ego driven, out of control RegisPhilbin-like-id, completely narcissistic soul:

Having read the repudiations of wealth in Plato, the Epicureans, and Augustine; having read about moderation and restraint in Cicero, Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Wittgenstein; and having accepted the low pay rates of the academy, philosophers ought to be, I concluded, the sort of people whose contempt for money and status would be matched only by the purity and passion of their engagement with reasoning, theorising, contemplation, and speculation. Alas.

Instead, I’ve found that the secret lives of philosophers are more often than not pre-occupied with status and acquisition. What one might call “positioning” conversations that, back in the day, had been largely confined to the dolorous waiting area for job candidates at American Philosophical Association meetings, now seem commonplace at conferences, receptions, lectures, and wherever philosophers gather. Like debutantes at the ball, philosophers now often spend much of their time dropping names, gossiping, promoting their connections, hawking their publications, passing out business cards and polishing their self-promotional web sites. Having rarely heard the phrase “Research Institution” during the first decade or so of my life in the profession, and then among only administrators, I now encounter it at nearly every professional meeting I attend. It seems to trip off the tongues of younger faculty, in particular, as easily as remarks about the football standings. Continue reading

“Gratuitous Mischief:” Tenured Faculty

I came across an article in The Symptom (over at lacan.com) entitled “Towards a Theory of the Tenured Class,” and there were some passages that just made me giggle out loud (I’m not sure because it rings true or because it’s just plain silly-I’m going with a combination of both!). For one:

To professors with a taste not just for jargon incomprehensible to common people but also for otherwise unacceptable contradictions, tenure offers authoritarian leverage in mind-fucking.

And this one:

Predisposed to pontificate, if not to bluster and bluff, they develop a resistance to doing first-hand research as beneath them, something strictly for the lower academic classes, much as those who become bosses become incapable of doing menial work. Indeed, especially if trained in philosophy, literature, and sociology, rather than history or economics, tenured profs are in my observation prone to making stuff up, often outrageously. When George Orwell once quipped that only intellectuals with a taste for peculiar ideas could be so stupid it was obvious that he didn’t know tenured profs, some of whom can be yet stupider at no cost to themselves, who are, in effect, a licensed jerks. The inspiration for this critique was a sociologist who seems to take particular glee in demonstrating how sociologically dumb an academic sociologist can be. A Victim of Tenure I rank him to be. Outrageous Stupidity becomes for the tenured the analogue of Conspicuous Consumption-an inexpensive privilege that Thorstein Veblen attributed to the “leisure class.”

Continue reading

Shhhh…It’s just me, the Prof Whisperer

I’ve been too busy to weigh in seriously on the recent debates over speculative realism, weird realism, who’s reading Kant fairly, and object-oriented philosophy this week, but I think that I’m going to make a “Kant police”  badge for Mikhail.  Regardless, I did want to call attention a post written by  the always delightful Carl Dyke over at Dead Voles:  “Shhhhhh….it’s just me, the Prof Whisperer!”  Carl’s title is “Tell me I’m beautiful,” but I like mine better.

By the way, am I the only one who hates those toilets that have sensors and automatically flush at the most inappropriate moments?  Annoying.

File under Academic Freedom

Inside Higher Education reports on a conference last week at the New School on Academic Freedom and the University.

“It is by no means clear how much the academic community has learned from the McCarthy years,” said Ellen W. Schrecker, a professor of history at Yeshiva University who, like O’Neil, spoke Thursday during a conference focused on “Free Inquiry at Risk: Universities in Dangerous Times,” held at The New School, in New York City.

Citing some examples, Schrecker mentioned the University of Nebraska’s recent cancellation of a speaking appearance by William Ayers, the education professor whose history with the Weather Underground has played a prominent role in the presidential campaign; the high-profile dismissal of Ward Churchill from the University of Colorado; and the tenure denial of Norman Finkelstein at DePaul University. “Universities are still accommodating themselves to the demands of politicians and other outsiders to eliminate embarrassing faculty members,” Schrecker said.

“In the name of financial exigency and market competitiveness, administrators have been subverting the autonomy of the faculty. Worse yet, faculties are disappearing,” she continued. “Two-thirds, that’s two-thirds of today’s teaching, is being done by what’s known as contingent faculty members. These people, no matter how skilled or qualified they may be, cannot provide the same kind of education as a traditional faculty.” Continue reading

Friday Morning: Spirals of Frustration


Not to be too narcissistic, but I’m extremely frustrated. All week long I’ve been working on analyzing arguments in my Critical Thinking courses. This week the students were to complete this straightforward (as I naively thought) assignment that I’ve used several times over the last couple of years: Continue reading

The Awesomeness of Interviews


As everyone knows, the academic job market is pretty tight, not to mention, ummm, more or less random (as SEK points out here). We all have our job market horror stories. I for one had the audacity to correct one of the people interviewing me when he used the word “disjunctive” incorrectly. I also explained in a ludicrous digression that Osama Bin Laden is a close reader of the Koran. True, well maybe, but it didn’t go over so well. Another choice “incident” was when I was explaining my dissertation/research to the lovely search committee and in true form, I made an aside about how I have a rather heterodox understanding and interpretation of philosopher X and felt that approach Y was the worst approach imaginable and the crap of the crap of the secondary lit. Guess what? Unknown to me, one of the people on the search committee had written a dissertation espousing the very thing I had described. I don’t feel bad, however. Nobody really confronted me with it, well, verbally. I just can’t help myself. Later on, as I was commiserating (by which I mean drinking heavily) with someone I convinced myself that this person had most likely–prudently of course–changed his mind about his approach. Continue reading

The Awesomeness of Students: NY Times Edition

Given some of the discussion in some of my previous posts (also here) and this post by Paco, today’s article in The New York Times, “New Class(room) War: Teacher vs. Technology,” is quite interesting. Here are a couple of choice passages:

“The baby boomers seem to see technology as information and communication,” said Prof. Michael Bugeja, director of the journalism school at Iowa State University and the author of “Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age.” “Their offspring and the emerging generation seem to see the same devices as entertainment and socializing.”…Naturally, there will be many students and no small number of high-tech and progressive-ed apologists ready to lay the blame on boring lessons. One of the great condemnations in education jargon these days, after all, is the “teacher-centered lesson.”

“I’m so tired of that excuse,” said Professor Bugeja, may he live a long and fruitful life. “The idea that subject matter is boring is truly relative. Boring as opposed to what? Buying shoes on eBay? The fact is, we’re not here to entertain. We’re here to stimulate the life of the mind.” “Education requires contemplation,” he continued. “It requires critical thinking. What we may be doing now is training a generation of air-traffic controllers rather than scholars. And I do know I’m going to lose.” Continue reading

Is Philosophy Irrelevant?

Is Philosophy largely irrelevant? Or at the very least, no different then say, gardening?

Like many other people, I always hope that when I teach logic it would help my students to argue more effectively, more critically, and really, more logically. I am not the first I am sure to be disappointed. Even the students who can understand and conceptualize the techniques of logic often can’t seem to execute these skills in day to day situations. What they learned in the logic classroom becomes irrelevant. All that ” logic stuff:” truth-tables, syllogisms, Venn diagrams, existential factuals etc. were of no use to the reasoning students face day to day, whether in another course, or while listening to our country’s leaders prate upon god knows what. The addition of critical thinking to the term logic, thus creating the Logic and Critical Thinking course, which was supposed to curb some of these problems by making it more relevant (let’s look at arguments found in our lives using some fancy techniques), but it is more of the same. Many of my students are all too ready to take things at face value, often misunderstanding rhetoric as rhetoric, misunderstanding the role ideology plays in daily life, and often have trouble recognizing the difference between a nicely constructed argument and a fallacious one when we compare them side by side. While I understand this as the my role as the teacher, e.g. to teach how to dissect, analyze and critique an argument, it’s rather disheartening sometimes. Continue reading