Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Are you sick of people trying to pay you for your work? Are you tired of increasingly long lists of job requirements? Will you do anything to avoid the word “adjunct” from appearing on your CV? Then you should consider applying for the position of “Volunteer Professor” at Southern Virginia University!

Tempted but not yet convinced? Wait, there’s more!

“In exchange for their service, the university provides volunteers with complimentary apartment-style housing and five meals a week.” That’s nearly one meal per day!

“In addition, volunteers are welcome to participate in the full life of the university attending concerts, recitals, plays, athletic competitions, and student life events. They are also welcome to use the library and recreational facilities.” These generous benefits will help keep their bodies and minds in shape in the absence of health insurance!

“On weekends volunteers enjoy visiting historic sites in and around Virginia, including Monticello and Civil War sites, Williamsburg and Washington, DC.” (Assuming that they spend their evenings begging for money to pay for these excursions!)

“At least once a month volunteers gather for a Family Home Evening or pot-luck dinner.” (Applicants should be advised that fruit obtained from the dining hall during their five weekly meals does not constitute a suitable pot-luck contribution – please see the above note about begging.)

“Inquiries and applications may be mailed to Provost Madison Sowell, 1 University Hill Drive, Southern Virginia University, Buena Vista, VA 24416, or sent by email attachment to madison.sowell@svu.edu. Preference is given to those who can volunteer for at least two semesters and whose specialty coincides with one of the teaching areas listed above.”

Many will enter, few will win, though by entering some will have already lost.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. For free!

Recent news about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s appointment to the Duke University board of trustees reminded me of Bill Cosby. Not because Tim Cook has been accused of horrible crimes (he hasn’t), but because Bill Cosby served on the board of trustees for Temple University from 1982 to 2014, when he resigned. The fact that Cosby apparently only attended one meeting during his 32 years on the board would have caused me to wonder why he was chosen if another article hadn’t noted that he had helped raise millions of dollars for the school.

Immense personal wealth is the other thing connecting Cook and Cosby, as well as the others who have recently been named to Duke’s board. Among them are The Coca-Cola Foundation Chairwoman Lisa Borders, PRM Advisors founder Patricia Morton, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, and ValueAct Capital CEO Jeff Ubben. For at least the next six years, each of these people will be charged with guiding Duke’s “educational mission and its fiscal policies.” Unfortunately, I doubt any of them know very much about higher education.

The appointments of millionaires to a school’s board of trustees doesn’t surprise me because I have seen the role that board members play in my six years as a faculty member. It is true that they often have the “official” say in hiring and promotion, as well as voting on school policies, but from my experience their most important role is often one of donating money and fundraising. Before a capital campaign is made public there is a “silent” phase in which board members are approached for donations. When the campaign goes public, then, the school can announce that they have already raised millions of dollars. Even at my relatively poor former institution there were multiple millionaires on the board of trustees. Millionaires who knew very little about the day-to-day operation of a small private liberal arts college.

It is not surprising, then, to see these board members argue that colleges should be run like businesses. I doubt that I would make a good corporate board member since I lack detailed knowledge about how corporations function and care much more about things like social justice than stock dividends. The difference is that since I don’t have this knowledge so it would be absurd for me to be asked to serve on a corporation’s board. The reverse, though, is not true. The University of Illinois’s decision not to hire Steven Salaita appears to have been based not on academic concerns but on fundraising concerns raised by the board of trustees.

This is a problem. It is time to separate the roles of major donors and major decision-makers in higher education. Maybe we could create special boards to oversee the economic advancement of each institution. The problem with that is that in order to do so we would have to admit that our interest in these people is primarily financial and that we do not actually trust them to steer our great institutions of higher learning. Because that would be absurd.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about the impending collapse of higher education via your news feed.

Right now there are a lot of things going on in the world. Tenure is being threatened. ISIS is ISISing. Rachel Dolezal is identifying as black. Donald Trump is running for president. LeBron James is taking on the entire state of California in the NBA finals.

With so many things going on it is easy to spend all of the time you had planned to work on a given day (between the hours of 2 and 4, for example) reading things on the internet instead of actually getting work done. If you, like me, suffer from summer doldrums, it may be that you just need some motivation. Here, then, is the key to fighting summer distractions:

I’m going to take his advice starting first thing tomorrow…

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links to motivational posters via your news feed.

A recent discussion on Crooked Timber centers on whether higher education is due for a scandal. Daniel Davies argues that scandals typically involve things that are taken for granted in one domain being discovered by the public. Given this, Clay Shirky suspects that low teaching loads might lead to such a scandal. He writes:

What the public doesn’t understand (and what many academics don’t understand that the public doesn’t understand) is that the social compact between taxpayers and selective public colleges has been re-written. Up through the 1960s, state schools committed most faculty to teaching most of the time, while directing only a few institutions to hire and promote based on research. (Clark Kerr, PBUH, designed his famous Master Plan assuming that very few California schools should be able to offer Ph.D.s)

This limitation proved unsupportable. After WWII, research was where both the money and prestige was. This shift in our self-conception coincided with the spectacular but unsustainable support we got from the states after Sputnik. For fifteen glorious years, academies were funded as if we ran missile systems instead of monasteries. We used the money to reduce our teaching loads (in the old Carnegie model, a 4-4 load was considered full time) and allowed course release for anyone who brought in additional research dollars.

When our Cold War funding began to ebb in the mid-1970s, rather than go back to the classroom, our selective institutions began calling up an army of TAs and adjuncts to shoulder the teaching load, a transition so enormous that contingent faculty is now the majority, and we tenured faculty the minority.

As long as college was still cheap, and a degree consistently raised income, the public was largely indifferent to the increased reliance on contingent faculty to fill the gap left when we reduced our teaching loads. That period is ending. Constantly rising tuition and the emergence of a Bachelor’s degrees as a prerequisite for middle-class life is exposing the American academy to a degree of scrutiny and skepticism that little in our history has prepared us for.

Shirky argues that recent events to increase teaching in the North Carolina system are emblematic of this sort of change.

The problem for colleges and universities is that as they have reduced teaching loads for faculty members, they have increased demands for research. Although I have a 3-2 teaching load and small classes, then, the demands for publication are much higher than at my previous institution where I taught a 3-3 load, where they were slightly higher than those at institutions with 4-4 loads (or higher). More publications are associated, somebody must assume, with more prestige (even if this is more closely related to endowments), making our institutions worth the high cost of attendance. I would argue, though, that publication expectations and teaching loads are out of alignment. I teach one fewer course per year than somebody in my position thirty years ago, but my publication expectations are an order of magnitude higher. As I wrote in my post on academic false consciousness:

Because administrators want to increase the rankings of our institutions, they want each generation of faculty to be better than those who came before. They want us to publish more and in “better” journals while teaching more students with fewer resources. They want us to become internationally-known experts in our fields while denying sabbatical requests that would allow us to finish a book. And we do it. … Administrators have continually raised the bar for tenure-track faculty members and rather than refusing to play their games, we buy into the idea that the administration’s view of the world is real and meaningful.

It seems like the logical result would be to reframe the expectations of faculty at many institutions, increasing teaching loads and decreasing publication requirements. It seems that there is room for a college or university to find success by increasing teaching loads but maintaining small class sizes and drastically reducing publication requirements, making its message to parents that their children will always have small classes and never be taught by an adjunct. This sort of change, though, would require faculty and administrators to be on the same page. Anybody who has sat through faculty meetings can also attest to the fact that logic is not always high on the list of things that are on display.

In my view, the institutions that are going to successfully navigate the transition that higher education is undergoing will be those that can most quickly figure out who they are and how they can best fulfill their niches. Those who try to continually operate under the rules of the old system likely have bleak futures.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about the impending doom of academia via your news feed.

I recently saw the movie While We’re Young, which could accurately be described as “self-absorbed assholes of every age” (nearly the entire movie is summarized in the trailer above). I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the movie but I did like the parts that mentioned sociology – specifically, C. Wright Mills’s The Power Elite, which is also the name of a documentary that Ben Stiller’s character is slowly working on. His descriptions of his documentary, a sprawling, eight-years-in-the making film in which he attempts to connect nearly everything also reminded me of dissertations in general. Not since Emilie De Ravin told Robert Pattinson that she doesn’t date sociology majors has sociology played such a prominent role in a movie. At least they didn’t describe Mills as a psychologist!

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links about my taste in movies via your news feed.

Sociologists recognize that many things are social constructions. This means that things like gender norms are not based on actual biological differences but on accepted social beliefs – there is no biological reason, for example, that men cannot wear makeup and skirts and women must shave their legs. As is the case with gender norms, social constructions can allow arbitrary ideas to be seen as “normal” representations of the “truth.” This can be harmful, whether by limiting individual expression and opportunity in the case of gender roles or by actually increasing health risks in the case of those who will not vaccinate their children because of now-debunked research. Thanks to the amplifying power of the internet, social construction even affects the way that corporations produce and market our food.

According to a recent article in The Atlantic, Diet Pepsi will no longer contain aspartame not because of scientific research, but because of customer perceptions that it is linked to harmful health outcomes. Similar concerns have been related to the rise of low-carb foods in recent years and, more recently, gluten-free foods. Next up might be protein. I recently saw a commercial extolling the virtues of the protein in yogurt, and the aforementioned Atlantic article states that Coke is introducing a new milk with 50% more protein than regular milk.

With information more easily accessible than ever, it is important to spend a few seconds seeking out the research the posts we see online. Otherwise, we might find ourselves skipping cancer screenings because we eat bananas.

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. Your life depends on it!

First parental contact

In my first ten years of teaching I had no shortage students complaining about their grades. In one instance, a student who had earned a B+ was so sure that his grade should have been rounded up to an A- that he sent me a series of e-mails with quotes from his parents’ friends, who were professors, stating that they would have rounded his grade up if they had been in my position (including one who said, “Honestly, the guy sounds like a jerk”). Eventually, despite threats to appeal the grade, the student relented. Later in his academic career, the student asked me for a letter of recommendation. I suggested that another faculty member might be able to write a more positive letter (jerk status confirmed!). This is a rather long way of saying that I have had many students complain about grades, but I have been lucky not to have any direct contact with their parents. Until now.

This semester, a student earned a grade that was less than ideal. I did not, however, receive an e-mail from her asking me to change it. No, the first message I received came from her mother. I did hear from the student after I explained that FERPA prevented me from responding to the mother’s questions but that I would be happy to discuss the issue with her daughter. My explanation to the daughter was apparently not sufficient, because the next e-mail I received was from her father. The issue has not yet been resolved, but I am appreciative of the people in Academic Affairs who have taken the matter over. Since it is largely out of my hands at this point I’m not sure if I will receive the forthcoming e-mails from the student’s siblings and extended family.

Aside from the idea that students (and their parents) think that my grading practices are so arbitrary as to be easily changed, these situations are the most frustrating to me when I have given students multiple opportunities during the semester to work with me to improve their grades and they have not taken advantage of these opportunities. Since I do not foresee myself providing a mid-summer extra credit opportunity for my spring students, I would advise them to be proactive about their coursework while they are still in the course! Otherwise, their options are: (1) Appeal their grade; or (2) Invent a time machine…

“Like” Memoirs of a SLACer on Facebook to receive updates and links via your news feed. Alternatively, you can have your parents “like” it on your behalf.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 98 other followers