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?”

Shoulder Devil / Shoulder Angel

How appropriate that these two articles were published on the same day:

  1. The Amazon of Higher Education: How Tiny, Struggling Southern New Hampshire University Has Become a Behemoth,” Slate (January 2, 2014)
  2. Full-Time, Structured Program at CUNY Yields More Community-College Grads,” Chronicle of Higher Education (January 2, 2014)

Once a small liberal arts school, Southern New Hampshire University recently found success by expanding and corporatizing its online division, and by taking advantage of its non-profit status to undercut for-profit degree mills like the University of Phoenix.

The focus is on graduating students, not on educating them. Instruction is carried out by what Slate calls “a small army of adjuncts hired for as little as $2,200 a class.” These adjuncts aren’t expected to facilitate learning, to shepherd their students toward knowledge of self and other. No, their main task is to “swoop in” when SNHU’s digital watchdog pings them and reports that one of their charges hasn’t logged in lately. “The instructor is just there to deliver the content,” explained the head of the online division to Slate. He apparently did not go on to say, “I know that’s messed up.”


“In [Ralph] Ellison’s America…”

In [Ralph] Ellison‘s America, the central challenge for the ‘inner eye’ was that of race, a stigmatized position almost impossible for the conventional white reader to inhabit. For [Rabindranath] Tagore…, a particular cultural blind spot was the agency and intelligence of women, and he ingeniously devised ways to promote a fuller curiosity and respect between the sexes. Both writers claim that information about social stigma and inequality will not convey the full understanding a democratic citizen needs without a participatory experience of the stigmatized position, which theater and literature both enable. The reflections of Tagore and Ellison suggest that schools that omit the arts omit essential occasions for democratic understanding.

~ Martha Nussbaum, in Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanitiesmaking the case that arts education and the democratic imagination go hand in hand

“From the survey results…”

From the survey results, a clear portrait emerges: MOOCs, at least thus far, are serving the world’s haves more than its have-nots. A disproportionate number of MOOC students are already well-educated. Globally, they’re predominately male and currently employed; in this country, they’re also older than you might expect. Far more enrollees view them as a diversion than they do as a means to a college degree or a new job.

~ The New Republic, confirming what Sebastian Thrun has already acknowledged

On Rage, Smarm, and the Academic Labor Debates

In the many posts and tweets about the late-December dust-up between Rebecca (pan kisses kafka) Schuman and Claire (Tenured Radical) Potter, no one, as far as I know, has brought up Tom Scocca’s Gawker manifesto, “On Smarm.” But I see a number of suggestive parallels.

First, though, a recap of the beef. (If you are overfamiliar with this background, feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs.) On her personal blog, Schuman “named and shamed” a UC Riverside English search committee for deciding to notify applicants about interviews only five days before the MLA Convention. She called this move “elitist and out of touch” and encouraged readers to email the SC chair and express their dismay. In an Inside Higher Ed article, UCR representatives said that the committee had fallen behind on reading  applications. They also promised that applicants unable to attend MLA would be offered Skype interviews (which they did not do until the story blew up).

In the midst of this controversy, Potter posted a rumination on the discourse of anger, using Schuman’s takedown of UCR as an example of “chronic rage” in online academic culture. Potter voiced concern about “the ways that digital media now allows us to express our rage without having to deal with actual people,” and chided Schuman for going public before getting UCR’s version of events. “Anger can be healthy,” Potter concluded, but “it can also be a real problem in a colleague if it is a chronic response to insecurity, or if it is a way to refuse the resolution of past harm.”

Spoiler alert: People got angry at Potter; Potter got angry at them; things fell apart; the center did not hold.