Category: Higher education

See Ya, Academia. Wouldn’t Wanna Be Ya.

In April 2014, I ended my career in academia — though calling it a “career” may be overstating the case. I had two months left in my fifth year of an English Ph.D. program. My wife was pregnant with our son. For the first time, I saw my professional future clearly.

It would probably take another year to finish my dissertation. With a hodgepodge of hard-won fellowships and teaching assignments, I had added three quarters to my original five years of funding. That money would support me through next winter. Then… what? Another teaching gig? One of those secret research fellowships that my department occasionally, according to mysterious criteria, handed out to advanced graduate students?

If everything went smoothly, I would defend my dissertation in the spring or summer, get a one-year VAP at my university, and go on the job market. Ah yes, the famous market for humanities professorships. Where colleges line up and throw cash at you.

I would have had as fair a shot at an academic job as any other graduate student in my field. I had worked my ass off in a name-brand program. I had presented and published research. I had assembled a credible teaching portfolio. But I, like the legions of other apprentice scholars who show up at MLA every year with the same qualifications, still faced long odds.

I don’t need to repeat the stats. We are all aware of those.



Richard Moser Lights 21st-Century Higher Ed on Fire

Via The Chronicle of Higher Education, an explanation of how the new academic labor system corrodes learning, teaching, and research in American universities. Much of what Richard Moser says here has been said before, but rarely so lucidly and succinctly.

Badass extract #1: “The search for truth, critical thinking, intellectual creativity, academic standards, scientific invention, and the ideals of citizenship have been discounted in favor of maximizing profits, vocational training, career success, applied research, and bottom-line considerations.”

Badass extract #2: “What lessons are being taught to aspiring young academics when they realize that all of their foundational courses are being delivered by people who earn what they did at their summer jobs? What values are being learned when those who teach and research – who esteem the intellect and hold high the values of citizenship – are apparently held in low regard by society and by the university community itself?”

An Ethics of the Seminar Table

I have a lot to learn. I’m not an expert, and maybe never will be; I’m sure my views will change. But right now, I don’t like what’s happening to teaching and learning in higher education.

Public funding is drying up. Tuition is rising. The tenure track is disappearing. And corporations, backed by venture capital, have smelled blood.

In the past couple of years, Coursera and edX and Udacity have partnered with wealthy institutions and begun to develop MOOCs (massive open online courses), which they are now licensing to less wealthy institutions as cheap replacements for homegrown courses. The end-game: lower instructional costs at public universities, fewer tenured professors, higher percentages of contingent faculty.

Like many other academics, I see this kind of corporatization as a threat to college classrooms. Students without the resources to attend a private school should be able to take courses designed specifically for them – courses conceived and delivered by full-time, on-site researchers and instructors.


“We Are Creating the Walmarts of Higher Education”

Via The Atlantic, an account of the political pressure on colleges to increase efficiency at the cost of quality. State legislatures want to raise graduation rates. They also want to reduce funding. So the obvious solution is not to do a better job of getting students engaged (because that would require more and better paid teachers) but to make it easier for half-engaged students to earn their degrees.

Badass sound bite #1: “Anything that creates distance in the teacher-student relationship will hurt the student.” (Mayra Besosa)

Badass sound bite #2: “In the end, education is an interpersonal endeavor.” (Karen Arnold)