Now There Is Really Nobody to Vote For

Can you guess who said this recently?

We are putting colleges on notice — you can’t keep — you can’t assume that you’ll just jack up tuition every single year. If you can’t stop tuition from going up, then the funding you get from taxpayers each year will go down. We should push colleges to do better. We should hold them accountable if they don’t.

And this (the same person):

We call this — one of the things that we’re doing at the Consumer Finance Protection Board that I just set up with Richard Cordray — (applause) — is to make sure that young people understand the financing of colleges. He calls it, “Know Before You Owe.” (Laughter.) Know before you owe. So we want to push more information out so consumers can make good choices, so you as consumers of higher education understand what it is that you’re getting.

And the following (still the same guy):

 We’re successful because we have an outstanding military — that costs money.

To resume:

– college students are consumers, which makes imposing the business model on academia a must;

– colleges must be forced into even more cuts, which makes the further erosion of the concept of tenure inevitable. One over-extended adjunct can do the teaching of 3 profs. As for research, who the hell needs it anyways? So, adjuncts in, professors out;

– the money that is squeezed out from public universities should be pored into the military because there is always a dinky little war that needs to be waged somewhere to keep Pentagon happy. And private contractors, too. Yippee.

I know that you are all aware that these are excerpts from a recent speech by President Obama. And that’s the most progressive option we get.

OK, so how am I supposed to indoctrinate my students when I’m very disappointed with all of the candidates there are? I have to teach tomorrow, people, so we need to come up with something. I can’t let a whole day of classes go without some nice indoctrination.

Quote of the Week

The real danger is that the departments of English are to become service departments, functioning in the name of commerce. Across the board, those subdisciplines which have moved in during literature’s waning hegemony (technical writing, cultural studies, composition/rhetoric, linguistics/TESOL) can all easily be articulated as pure service functions to the educational factory’s imperative to get people ready to work.

Creative writing’s sad responsibility in this eventuality then would be to administer the last rites of the imagination to children damaged beyond redemption on their way to the great maw of America, Inc.

Curtis White, Monstrous Possibility (1998).

Cool, huh? On the one hand, one can’t deny that the attempts to commercialize the Humanities have done incalculable damage to the system of higher education. On the other hand, though, you can practically hear White gnashing his teeth at the idea that all those proles who see having a job as a sine qua non of their existence dare to invade his ivory tower. Unless you have a trust fund that makes work a choice rather than a necessity on a par with breathing, White has no use for you.

This quote brings to mind all of those folks in my grad school for rich kids who kept telling me that the need to graduate and find a job as soon as possible meant I could never be a real scholar. Precisely because I remember only too well the political allegiances of the people who claimed one couldn’t develop intellectually without a trip to Europe at least once a year, I was not at all surprised to discover that Curtis White is a Marxist. Nobody despises the working people quite as much as Marxists.

Nepotism: A Scourge of Higher Education

Nepotism is a huge problem in Spanish universities. Everything is about being connected to the right people, kissing ass, networking, and placing your relatives and friends in key positions. The damage this does to the system of higher education is enormous.

Italy, it seems, has the same problem:

One reason for the poor performance of Italian institutions in world league tables may be nepotism, it has been suggested. The practice has been blamed for a “brain drain” that has seen many of the country’s best researchers move to the US or the UK after failing to progress at home because of their lack of connections.

This is an open secret in Italy. The news magazine l’Espresso and newspaper La Repubblica have reported that in Rome’s La Sapienza University, a third of teaching staff are closely related. Questions were raised after the wife, son and daughter of Luigi Frati, La Sapienza’s chancellor, were hired by its medical faculty. At the University of Bari in the southern region of Puglia, Lanfranco Massari, a professor of economics, has three sons and five grandchildren who are colleagues in the same department. And at the University of Palermo, Angelo Milone, a professor in the architectural faculty, works alongside his brother, son and daughter.

Of course, a system of higher education that is structured this way will never produce valuable research or good teaching.

Efforts are being made to infect the American academia with the same kind of nepotistic practices. The system of “spousal hiring” destroys entire departments. The most offensive thing about this kind of unfair hiring practices is that nobody even thinks of informing the students that some of their professors did not get hired competitively and are only there because they happen to sleep with the right person.

The only thing that stands between us and nepotism is our own personal integrity. This year, for example, I chaired a panel that reviewed research proposals and decided which ones to fund. One of the proposals was by a person I really adore. Nobody at the panel knew about my feelings, so I could have easily done something nice for my friend and gotten their proposal funded. However, I couldn’t act in this dishonest manner. Which is why I declared my conflict of interest to the panel members and removed myself from the discussions of my friend’s proposal.

I’ve seen what nepotism does to individuals, departments, and universities, and I’ll be damned if I ever get tempted to become part of a nepotistic culture.

Is Anything the Matter with Higher Education?

The reason why I don’t participate in the current flurry of posts that try to answer the question of “What’s the matter with higher education?” is that I don’t want to become part of the academia-bashing movement. The seemingly progressive bloggers who have jumped on the bandwagon of studiously listing all of academia’s ills don’t see that the only goal they achieve is helping the cause of those who hate the very word “education.”

As my regular readers might have noticed, I don’t enjoy wallowing in the doom-and-gloom scenarios my fellow academic so often relish. Of course, there are problems in academia, just like in any other area of life. But the idea that academia is getting worse is preposterous. The number of disabled students and students from ethnic minorities keeps growing on campuses across North America. The number of women who graduate on all levels has also exploded in the recent two decades. Professors don’t come almost exclusively from the ranks of the upper middle classes any more. When I read scholarly articles in my field, I always feel impressed by how much more rigorous the scholarship is becoming. Electronic publishing makes reading more accessible for everybody. Doing research is much simpler today when we have global communications and electronic access to archives halfway around the world.

If all of this isn’t progress, then I don’t know what is.

Yes, there is adjunctification, and it’s obviously not a positive development. But the tenured and tenure-track faculty at my college is at least 40% female. Adjuncts are also mostly women but when exactly would they have had better jobs? In the 50s and the 60s? They probably wouldn’t have any jobs at all. Of course, the situation of an adjunct is far from perfect. But it’s in any case better than the life of a miserable 50s housewife.

So I’ll be damned if I lend a helping hand to the ultra-conservative forces whose greatest dream is to rob academia of its prestige and destroy our progressive campuses. The servility of academics who fall over themselves in their hurry to dump on a great system of higher education that we have in this country and to debase themselves to serve some very dubious political goals is astounding. In this boring self-flagellation, I see nothing but the same old pseudo-liberal guilt that is now riding even higher than usual on the wave of the 99% vs 1% movement.

I say let’s stop wallowing in misery already and start concentrating on all of the amazing achievements of our academia in the recent decades. This will allow us to achieve even more, instead of promoting the misguided belief in the academia of the past that somehow managed to be so much better than the kind we have today, in spite of being all-male, all-white, and all-upper-middle-class.

The Ideology of Clothes in Academia

I read this article in Inside Higher Ed that made me feel very proud of my colleagues in academia and then instantly very ashamed of them. The article’s title is “Why I (Usually) Wear a Tie“. This is what Nate Kreuter has to say about the way he dresses for work:

For me, wearing a pressed shirt, sport coat, and tie is a way of projecting respect for my job, and respect for my students. It’s a way of saying to my students and to my colleagues, “I take you seriously, I take my work seriously, and I don’t take either for granted.” . . . In my own field of rhetoric, it’s widely understood that the images we project through our writing, speech, mannerisms, and dress play a critical role in how we and our ideas are received by the people that we work with, the students that we teach, and the community members with whom we interact. I think that junior faculty especially, but all faculty, need to ask themselves, as shallow as it may sometimes seem, “What image am I projecting?”

I strongly believe that, for educators our personality is one of the most important means of production we possess. I educate students not only with the knowledge I have but with everything I am, everything I say, do, wear, etc. I couldn’t agree more with Nate Kreuter’s belief that the image one projects as a college professor is very important.

However, when I finished reading this inspiring article, I scrolled down and read the comments. I’ll save you the trouble of having to leaf through them. here are some of the most egregious responses for your perusal:

Professors “on the soft side” of the house (social sciences and humanities) need to dress up to project an image that they’re in charge.  Professors “on the hard side” of the house (sciences and mathematics) don’t have to worry about how they work — they get respect because they clearly KNOW more than their students.

I sincerely hope this is some kind of a clumsy joke. Especially the weird “hard vs soft” part of it.

Ties constrict blood flow to the brain. Someone in an intellectual profession should appreciate the disadvantages of doing that. They are also penis-symbols. Someone in an intellectual profession should appreciate the ludicrousness of wearing such a symbol to impress students and the difficulties it raises in terms of “professionalism”. Further, women don’t wear ties and cannot seem truly professional lacking one. Is that the message you want to communicate? Don’t you find that a tad problematic? Yes, conformity feels good. Shouldn’t an academic be questioning what it means to conform to an anachronistic custom, not embracing it?

First of all, women can wear ties. I have one and I love it. I don’t wear it as often as I’d like to because tying it is an adventure and I keep untying it in a fit of forgetfulness. Besides, the entire screech about conformity is beyond superficial. If anybody feels they are being non-conformist by wearing short shorts to class, they are fools. I thought people get over this teenage rebellion phase by the age they get a job in academia, but apparently it isn’t always the case.

And what’s with these sad attempts at humor?

According to this article the 99% would be a lot better off if the geniuses on Wall Street wore t-shirts and flip flops to work, so that they’d get the disrespect they most surely deserve.  Part of that hornswoggling magic is the three thousand dollar suit, right?  Surely somebody who looks that good must be a hard working and honest professional, yes?

Here is an example of how any conversation can be derailed completely by bringing in totally unrelated issues. I know that Wall Street is to blame for absolutely everything nowadays, including the weather. But it would be nice to be able to discuss an issue without somebody starting to yell “You, the horrible one-percenter!” to shut down all disagreement.