The “Not-So-Lite” SUMMER READING LIST for Academics!
Teri Shaffer Yamada
Jeffrey J. Selingo, Editor at Large at the Chronicle of Higher Education, has extensive experience with the politics of higher education. In College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students (2013), he historically constructs with thoughtful veracity an understanding of our current disruptive-technology moment in higher education while anticipating future trends. He suggests as many as three-quarters of current higher ed institutions may not survive the shake-up over the next decade because they are financially unsound. His overview of the “lost decade in higher education” (1999-2009) and the fraud or willful ignorance in student loan and tuition discount practices entrenched in the higher education sector produces faculty outrage. This business practice of obfuscating tuition costs for profit in the education sector has certainly fostered the legislative shift to cheaper education experiments with MOOCs in California’s public ed sector (the least culpable) and elsewhere across the country, along with the growing public perception that a degree may not be worth the cost. Highly recommended for faculty.
Musician and computer scientist Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future? (2013) creatively explores the intersection of technology, economics and culture and “also looks at the way the creative class —especially musicians, journalists and photographers — has borne the brunt of disruptive technology.” See Scott Timberg ‘s review. And for another opinion on the cultural impact of technology see Evgeny Morozov’s To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism (2013). Both authors remind us how in our world of disruptive technology moderation is important as a response to the current wholesale embrace of analytics, framed as the solution to (all) problems in education. This drive for a quick-fix solution to student access, bottleneck courses, or the four-year graduation rate, through the use of technology and analytics, has unintended consequences. (1) We need the education media to embrace this discussion in a more complex, nuanced manner.
Shahnaz Habib’s review of Robert Darnton’s The Case for Books: Past, Present, and Future is a thoughtful discussion of the debate on physical and digital books, typically framed in an “either-or” proposition. To many of us, the either-or discussion is absurd. We use an e-reader for light reading or news and “codex” for the purpose of research and publications. Anecdotally, I recently discovered a student in class who had used her smart phone to scan chapters from our 654-page text and was attempting to use that digital copy for an open source quiz. It was not working well for her. She is smiling about my OMG reaction as I contemplate copyright issues among other things.
For those contemplating how to reach our new N0 CHILD LEFT BEHIND freshmen population, see Elizabeth F. Barkley’s Student Engagement Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty (John Wiley & Sons, 2010). This handbook contains many creative ideas for engaging students in active learning practices with or without the application of blended learning pedagogy. The first few chapters explain why we often don’t see engagement and motivation in independent learning among our freshman students; and how we can foster a meaningful educational experience, for both instructor and pupil, as we switch from passive to active learning strategies. In many public university systems like my own, there has been no significant funding to support faculty development in new teaching pedagogies over the past decade (if ever). Dedicated faculty, noticing the sad disengagement from learning among our freshmen cohorts, have struggled to retrain themselves in an organizational vacuum or in an institution with an administrative ideology that incorrectly demeans faculty as obstructionist and unwilling to change. Student Engagement Techniques is an inspirational example of faculty concern and creativity in new pedagogical practices nationally. (2)
As a reward for all this heavy reading, please consider Indian writer Farahad Zama’s novel The Marriage Bureau for Rich People (Penguin, 2009).
(1) This the issue of bottlenecks and barriers to 4-year graduation see Michel Feldstein’s blogpost “The Scope of the Bottleneck Course Problem” on e-Literate.
(2) For insight into how devastating ‘teaching to the test’ has been for K-12, and what the new push for analytics (if done thoughtlessly) would mean for higher ed, watch Ellie Rubenstein’s impassioned video resignation (Illinois, Lincoln Elementary School). Highland Park News (updated May, 28, 2013).
PLEASE CONTRIBUTE Your RECOMMENDATIONS!
Selling Water By the River: Reflections on AAUP and NEA’s national leadership strategy
Teri Yamada, Professor of Asian Studies, CSU Long Beach
In our current gilded age where all politics is business, we educators yearn for ethical leaders to admire. Under assault in the trenches, our faculty unions are undermined at the local level, often by both political parties who are using this bad economy to privatize public education. It is depressing as we fight the good fight against multibillionaires. Therefore, we can at least hope that our national education associations will have our backs, effectively lobbying for us at both the federal and state levels to stop this wildcat privatization. As associations who represent us, we expect NEA (National Education Association) and AAUP (American Association of University Professors) to model the highest standards of ethical conduct and leadership as we struggle daily on our campuses to organize against faculty apathy, and as we lobby our state legislatures to act responsibly for the public good. In our local fights for equity and access to public higher education for every qualified student in our respective states, in our struggle to maintain quality education and academic freedom, in our efforts to preserve secure jobs with benefits, we need help! We need effective ethical help.
Our expectation of ethical and effective leadership holds true for both AAUP and NEA. Both serve the public higher education sector as our national representatives to the media and the Department of Education in Washington D.C. How our AAUP and NEA leaders comport themselves, what they say to the media, to Arnie Duncan and President Obama, reflects back on the entire higher education sector. It is time for some self-reflection.
In a recent Chronicle of Higher Education commentary, former AAUP general secretary Gary Rhoades made a number of points about leadership and the difficult questions that AAUP must face if it is to survive as a respected and effective association. The challenges are great. But we all will be diminished if AAUP is unable or unwilling to embrace constructive criticism and prove by its actions that transformation is possible. The United University Professions (SUNY), have demonstrated the consequences of unresponsiveness by their February vote to end affiliation with AAUP after twelve years of relationship, citing a number of complaints including poor communication and lack of responsiveness.
NEA has also challenged patience. Several years ago, NEA decided to establish or form a relationship with a proprietary affiliate called the NEA Academy (1) . This Academy’s purpose it to serve as a portal to “online professional development products,” which means it provides a link to other providers’ online courses for teacher continuing education and Master’s Degrees. Claiming to have a Content Quality and Review Board, the NEA Academy has published its Requirements for Inclusion in its products list. These requirements include such standards as “content that aligns with NEA policy.” One of the top three providers for NEA Academy’s courses is Western Governors University (WGU)
NEA stipulates that its vision is “a great public school for every student” and that its mission is “to advocate for education professionals.” It promotes public education as a core value: “We believe public education is the cornerstone of our republic. Public education provides individuals with the skills to be involved, informed and engaged in our representative democracy.” The question then is why does NEA embrace Western Governors University, a private, anti-faculty union provider of online courses? How does this fit with NEA’s mission to advocate for “education professionals” when WGU is an institution that eschews teacher-based instruction; it has no teachers. Why do this when so many excellent public universities and community colleges across the nation have online programs of the highest quality which adhere to the philosophy that teachers form the core of education? Shouldn’t educators also deserve “a great public school” for their continuing education?
When our national associations fail to serve us well —as we battle on the ground to protect faculty jobs and save collective bargaining, to preserve adjunct positions with benefits and job security, to ensure quality control over curriculum, to save public education and academic freedom—we must wonder whom AAUP and NEA are serving.
(1) This relationship needs further clarification. NEA Academy charges a course fee for its portal services.
Rhoades, Gary. “Forget Executives the AAUP Should Turn to Grass-Roots Leaders” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 8 January 2012.
Schmidt, Peter. “AAUP Loses Major Affiliate at SUNY” in The Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 February 2012.
DISCLAIMER: Restructuring Public Hi Ed is curated solely by me. All editorial decisions as to what is posted are based upon my interest and concern about restructuring in the public higher education sector. These blog posts should in no way reflect upon any other person or organization since this is a “personal blog.” Please send your blog posts and comments on restructuring in public higher education for consideration to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Adjunct Professor William Lipkin has been adjuncting in History and Political Science for fifty years (right out of grad school), mainly while working as a controller in private industry. For the past 12 years, he has been a professional adjunct in several colleges and universities in New Jersey. He is the immediate past president of American Federation of Teachers New Jersey (AFTNJ), consisting of 30,000 education workers in NJ, and current Secretary/Treasurer (and co-founder) of United Adjunct Faculty of NJ. Lipkin is also co-chair and treasurer of the Union County College Chapter of UAFNJ and Treasurer of New Faculty Majority and NFM Foundation. He is a dedicated supporter of equity and respect for adjuncts in the United States.
Higher Education at the Crossroads in New Jersey
New Jersey, the former long-time home of the Miss America pageant, now has to deal with a governor who thinks he is Mr. America. In eighteen months Governor Chris Christie has orchestrated legislation that changed the health care and pension program for New Jersey educators and support
staff, forcing all public employees to pay a much larger share for their benefits while getting a lesser coverage plan. All he has done for Higher Ed is change the state from 'The Garden State' to 'The Poop State'.
The major reason that the NJ Pension Fund is on the verge of bankruptcy is that over the past 20 years the state made minimal (or no) contributions of its share into the fund, while we all paid our share from every single paycheck. The Republican governor had been held back by a Democrat legislature for over a year; but deals were cut with Democrat leaders, and they gave the governor the votes he needed to pass this legislation that increases the employees' contributions to health care and pension. This has caused a split in the legislature and between public employee unions and the trades. Earlier this month when the state AFL-CIO refused to endorse any state legislator who supported this bill, for re-election this November, over 100 members of trade unions walked out and blamed the teachers for the split. The governor has also launched an attack on collective bargaining and his supporters have introduced legislation to make NJ a 'right to work' state. There also has been a change in tenure for public institutions of Higher Ed in the state adding at least one year to the process.
As an adjunct in NJ I am part of a large group of long-suffering, exploited, at-will employees in higher education. This is especially apparent in community colleges. In NJ there are 19 community (county) colleges, each of which negotiates pay scales with its employees (union shops) or sets the
scale on their own. Nine of these colleges have recently federated under the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) to become the 3,100 member United Adjunct Faculty of NJ (UAFNJ). The per credit pay scale among these colleges ranges from $500.00 to $880.00; no health care is provided, and we all contribute into the state pension plan.
Most of us use our cars as our offices and float between three or four schools to try to make a living. We call ourselves 'roads scholars'. We get very little support at the schools, have little or no role in college governance, and can have a course taken away from us up to the first day of
class. Scheduling is a major problem and many of us turn down classes at one school only to be bumped from a class at another. We are used as an economic expediency by the schools. A big issue we have at present is that some of the colleges are blaming adjunct faculty for the lack of student success mainly due to the circumstances they themselves have created. Pay rates at public four-year colleges and universities are higher but the other problems exist there as well. Private colleges and universities in NJ make their own scale and usually freeze the rate. For example, I have been adjuncting at Seton Hall University for six years and am still making the same $700.00 rate per credit I started with.
College and university presidents in NJ are earning over $200,000 with many perks, and bloated administrations pay several vice presidents, deans and provosts six figure incomes while full time faculty have their salaries frozen and pay more into the benefit systems, adjuncts have to eke out a
living or go on food stamps, and students have to pay continually rising tuition rates. There is truly no equity in higher education in NJ.
Guest blogger Prof. Terry Garrett is currently an associate professor of government at The University of Texas at Brownsville and serves as the chair of the Government Department and Provost Fellow for Leadership. He is the current president of the Texas Brownsville United Faculty, local chapter of the Texas Faculty Association - email: email@example.com
“Lone Star Wars: The Deprivation of Higher Education in Texas”
August 15, 2011
Just a few days ago Governor Rick Perry announced that he was running for president of the U.S. This occurred despite the fact that he declared previously that Texas secession was possible. While the state clearly is no longer being considered for striking out on its own, the mindset behind the declaration is still in place. And for higher education policy in Texas, as well as the ramifications for the U.S. should Governor Perry be elected, there bodes a future of tax cuts nationally combined with spending cuts for colleges and universities. The ideological driver specifically behind Governor Perry’s higher education policy is the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF). Key to the TPPF’s strategy – and Governor Perry – are the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” designed to change public higher education in Texas. The solutions (and goals) are briefly summed here …
1. Measure teaching efficiency and effectiveness.
Goal: Improve the quality of teaching by making use of a public measurement tool to evaluate faculty teaching performance that makes it possible to recognize excellent teachers.
2. Publicly recognize and reward extraordinary teachers.
Goal: Create a financial incentive to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of teaching at Texas’ colleges and universities that will help attract the best teachers from across the nation.
3. Split research and teaching budgets to encourage excellence in both.
Goal: Increase transparency and accountability by emphasizing teaching and research as separate efforts in higher education, and making it easier to recognize excellence in each area.
4. Require evidence of teaching skill for tenure.
Goal: Highlight the importance of great teachers by evaluating teaching skill in nominating and awarding faculty tenure.
5. Use “results-based” contracts with students to measure quality.
Goal: Increase transparency and accountability to students with learning contracts between Deans, department heads, and teachers that clearly state the promises of each degree program to each student.
6. Put state funding directly in the hands of students.
Goal: Increase college access and make students the actual customers for higher education with student-directed scholarships for undergraduate and graduate education with funding from the state’s current appropriation that goes directly to colleges and universities.
7. Create results-based accrediting alternatives.
Goal: Encourage greater competition in higher education and more choices for students by creating an alternative accrediting body that would focus on results and the college’s or university’s ability to uphold any obligation or promise made to the student.
The effect of the “Seven Breakthrough Solutions” combined with severe budget cuts in the 2012-2013 biennial budget for higher education in Texas is severe. The “Solutions” are politically loaded and have policy consequences that have included professors being “measured” for teaching productivity to determine their individual efficiencies at the University of Texas system and the Texas A&M system – though in each case the TPPF and its policies were also criticized. Texas A&M, a member of the prestigious American Association of Universities, was warned by the president of the organization because of the adoption of the TPPF’s “Seven Solutions” for its adverse impact on scholarly research. With respect to the overall budget for the state of Texas, the estimate is that $1.7 billion will be cut in the next budget cycle as “the $21.1 billion budgeted for higher education represents a 7.6 percent drop from the $22.7 billion budgeted in 2010-11.” In many instances, institutions have resorted to raising tuition costs to students or have fired employees – staff and academic – in order to alleviate cuts in services or simply make them. The full effects of budget cuts and the “Seven Solutions” on the overall Texas higher education have not yet been fully realized. The prognosis for the scholarly community in terms of reasonable expectations for advancement, remuneration, and job security is not good.
Wither Texas, whither the US?
With regard to higher education policy nationally, there are many “ifs” for the U.S. if Governor Perry were to become president after the 2012 elections. The ramifications of the 2012-2013 budget cuts have not been fully realized, though much of the potential for growth in higher education in Texas has been reduced. While the population of the state continues to grow, fewer resources will be made available for incoming freshman to afford a public higher education, thus resulting in a “lost generation” of Texas students. The cost of a public higher education will be less affordable. If Governor Rick Perry wins in November 2012 and has the support of Congress, there will be little doubt that he will do the same for higher education policy in the U.S. as he has done so for Texas. There can be little doubt about that prospect. A President Perry would promote and try to implement his TPPF-based proposals much in the same fashion as another former Texan, President George W. Bush, did shortly after he was sworn into office with No Child Left Behind in 2002.
 April Castro (12 August 2011) Perry announces he’ll run for president. The Boston Globe. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://articles.boston.com/2011-08-12/news/29881167_1_governor-rick-perry-texas-governor-presidential-field
 Alexander Mooney (16 April 2009) Texas governor says secession possible. CNN. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2009/04/16/texas-governor-says-secession-possible/
 Reeve Hamilton. (5 May 2011). UT System Releases Data on Faculty “Productivity.” The Texas Tribune. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/higher-education/ut-system-releases-data-on-faculty-productivity/
 Holly K. Hacker. (24 May 2011). UT, A&M faculty productivity criticized in studies — and studies criticized, too. The Dallas Morning News. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.dallasnews.com/news/education/headlines/20110524-ut-am-faculty-productivity-criticized-in-studies-and-studies-criticized-too.ece
 Robert M. Berdahl. (n.d.). AAU Letter to Chancellor McKinney. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://Www.theeagle.com/images/eagle/ctobox/berdahl.pdf
 Diane Smith. (20 January 2011). Texas budget plan would cut $1.7 billion from higher education. Ft. Worth Star Telegram. Retrieved 8/15/2011 http://www.star-telegram.com/2011/01/19/2781778/texas-budget-plan-would-cut-17.html#ixzz1V9KGNMiX
 Reeve Hamilton. (26 July 2011). Texplainer: Will Budget Cuts Mean Higher Tuition? The Texas Tribune. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.texastribune.org/texas-education/higher-education/texplainer-will-budget-cuts-mean-higher-tuition/
 Melissa Ludwig. (2 March 2011). Grant cuts could result in ‘lost generation’ of students: Reducing Texas grants program seen as closing the door on the poor. San Antonio News Express. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.mysanantonio.com/news/education/article/A-lostgeneration-of-students-now-feared-1032771.php#ixzz1V9WoBbPH
 Education Week. (4 August 2004). No Child Left Behind. Retrieved 8/15/2011 at http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/no-child-left-behind/
For more on Perry see:
1. “Newest Presidential Contender Has Strong Views on Higher Education” in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Aug. 15. 2011.
Two other important grassroots alliances, beside the Campaign for the Future of Higher Education (CFHE), were formed this past academic year in response to the rapid dismantling of public education across the nation. Both were inspired by Diane Ravitch, author of The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010), who has become a tireless advocate for “meaningful” public education reform. These two new alliances are Save Our Schools (SOS), with its focus on K-12 but inclusive of all public education rights, and Parents Across America (PAA) a new activist group of powerful parents against the standardized test regime of No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
The two-day conference at American University preceding the march on the White House in Washington D.C. today, has been packed with scores of panels and workshops focusing on successful action plans for change in public education. Along with the panels is the SOS film festival of new documentaries that debunk current myths about the “total” failure of public education (1). Author and educator Jonathan Kozol was keynote speaker on Thursday with education researcher Diane Ravitch following on Friday.
The strongest theme that has emerged from this event is the need for a new civil rights movement that focuses on equity in public education: equity in the real quality of a deep and comprehensive curriculum in every public school, and equity in access to quality public education for every youth. In his keynote address, Jonathan Kozol reminded the audience that teachers were “warriors for justice working on the front lines of the struggle for democracy.” The savage inequalities in public education that he wrote about decades ago are worse now, he said, as the charter and voucher movements have served to re-segregate the schools. No Child Left Behind has lead to a flight of “wonderful” principals and educators from the public school system, which has become punitive and oppressive as the administration of public schools has been taken over by a business model run by “dry dreary technocrats in worship of data,” who act as “drill sergeants of the state…discouraged from promoting curiosity and originality in their students.” Two-thirds of the school year has been consumed by a culture of exams. As the race gap grows wider, school systems are eliminating art, music, drama, science, social studies, geography and sports to focus on high-stakes testing out of fear of being shut down. And by the way, this testing industry has become a multi-billion-dollar-a-year business, lead by Pearson. Kozol called for a new civil rights movement that must depend on the “energy, participation and persistence of our youth.” And for the rest of us, a “passionate impatience” for change.
(To be continued…)
(1) Two recommendations from the SOS Film Festival: “August to June” tracks the intellectual and emotional development of third and fourth graders in a remarkable school “The Open Classroom” in the Lagunitas School District in northern California, which focuses on deep learning for the “whole child.” The second is “The Inconvenient Truth Behind Waiting for Superman” which debunks the anti-public-school documentary “Waiting for Superman” that got so much press this past year. This documentary also illuminates the corruption behind the “co-location” charter movement that Mayor Bloomberg imposed upon the New York public school system after he abolished the local governance structure of the public schools and replaced it with a board of superintendents he could control through political appointments.
Guest blogger Prof. Bill Lyne is President of the United Faculty of Washington State, which represents all faculty at Central Washington University, Eastern Washington University, Western Washington University, and The Evergreen State College. Lyne is a professor of English at Western Washington University, where he has worked since 1995. He is the former president of the United Faculty of Western Washington.
BAD MOON RISING: The Situation in Washington State
Here in Washington, we’re not yet Wisconsin or New Jersey, but we’re not far behind. With a Democratic governor and both houses of the state legislature controlled by Democrats, you’d think we might be doing a little better. But with the most regressive tax system in the country (if you’re a Microsoft millionaire in Washington, you pay about 3% of your income in state taxes, if you’re struggling to get to the poverty line, you pay about 16%), a block of senate Democrats who vote consistently with Republicans, and an initiative process that allows billionaire developers to demagogue a frightened and angry electorate into thinking that tax reform would be the end of the world as we know it, we’ve seen the same sort of war on the public sphere, social services, and the middle class that’s been taking place in other parts of the country.
In the wake of a series of all-cuts budgets, thousands of people have been thrown off the health care rolls, social services for the homeless and the indigent have been cut dramatically, and you now have to pay if you want to visit a state park. Thousands of public employees, schoolteachers, and community college and university employees have been laid off. Those public employees who still have jobs will be taking three percent pay cuts, paying more for their health care, and getting less in contributions to their retirement plans.
Higher education has been cut by a cool billion dollars in the last three years and by 2013, tuition will have gone up by about 60% over four years. Last year in California, UC President Mark Yudof lamented the possibility that state support for the University of California might fall below the 50% mark. Here in Washington, we crossed that line two years ago, and by 2013, student tuition will account for about 70% of our state university budgets.
It is almost an accident that Washington has six excellent public universities. Even before bankers destroyed the economy, Washington consistently ranked in the bottom five in the nation in both total public university funding and in public university participation rates. This seems counterintuitive in a state that has one of the highest percentages of citizens with Bachelors degrees or better, until we remember that Washington is such a desirable place to live. The de facto public policy in Washington has been to outsource the education of the people who take Washington’s best jobs and have taxpayers in other states pay for it.
This year, that policy was further reinforced by a special Higher Education Task Force appointed by Governor Gregoire. This task force, chaired by Microsoft’s General Counsel and composed almost exclusively of Seattle business elites, was charge with finding “a realistic and viable long-range funding strategy that provides Washington’s students with affordable higher education opportunities.” Showing a breathtaking lack of imagination, the best these rich folks could come up was to recommend unlimited tuition-setting authority for the universities so that they might try to keep up with cuts in state funding. And just to help push the privatization plan further along, two of the major players on the Governor’s task force, Microsoft and Boeing, pledged a whopping 5 million dollars a year (from companies that earned $3.3 billion and $18.7 billion in profits in 2010) for five years to a private scholarship fund and then took a victory lap as education saviors. This from the people who were among the major donors to a campaign to defeat a higher-earner income tax that would have provided three billion dollars for education.
Along with cutting half the funding to our state universities, the legislature also recently made the very cynical move of declaring Western Governor’s University, a completely online “university” with virtually no faculty or faculty-student interaction (read about it here: http://www.ufws.org/content/i’m-going-western-governors-university), as the seventh official Washington State university. This costs the state nothing but allows it to claim it has increased degree production by ripping people off with faux populism.
For all of their lip service, it’s pretty clear that the business and political elites in our state are not genuinely committed to a robust public university system. If we continue down the road that we’re on, real university education will be more and more available only to the privileged and everyone else will have to limit their horizons to inferior vocational training. If we’re going to turn it around, it will take a genuine populist rebellion.
For more information about the situation in Washington, check out these websites:
The United Faculty of Washington State Blog:
The College Promise Coalition:
Four Year Institution Political Action Committee:
SEND YOUR BLOG COMMENTARY ON THE SITUATION OF PUBLIC HIGHER EDUCATION IN YOUR STATE TO firstname.lastname@example.org
Tuscany in late June. The hardworking farmer’s son Lucca, a charming young man of 19, is singing an aria from Puccini’s Tosca while mowing a small field of burnished grass in a minuscule valley directly below our hill-top villa. His tiny tractor makes loops around the field preparing the hay for baling into the huge round cylinders we see strewn about the Tuscan countryside of patchwork fields, rolling hills, and medieval castle towns. His resonant voice echoes and spills over the surrounding forest and fields. Lucca has discovered the perfect amphitheater, unaware of the delighted audience above. We hang over the rough-hewn rails of the perimeter fence astonished at his performance.
Later, the sun has traced its path of light and shadows over the layers of rolling hills. It hangs in momentary stillness, a poppy red orb, before disappearing below the skyline. Dusk thickens as the wind sings through the chestnut trees. At this moment I am with some faculty friends. And after several glasses of the regional Chianti, the conversation has turned to academic politics and American culture. There is such a deep contrast between the beauty of our surroundings and the depth of our existential despair. This grief derives from more than mere nostalgia for some fictitious past. It is poignant sorrow at the passing of old friends and values — the extraordinary teacher or the Dante expert, for example, leaving the academy — both scholars who have devoted their entire lives to the deep mastery of a difficult subject that American culture appears to care nothing about in its current frenzy of the superficial: reality TV and Hollywood bling. To many older professors this is a grim trend towards further degradation of intellectual life: an adulation of mediocrity, even stupid short sightedness. Some call it American anti-intellectualism. Some wear it as a badge of honor.
We have experienced a change in the academy as well that feels potentially devastating: short-term profitability as the operative ideology among many new administrators has permeated the academy in terms of “operational needs.” More students but less time to prepare for class; more pressure to publish but less time for research; rising standards with declining resources; the cult of “accountability” devoid of substance. And so we are trapped in the Wal Martization of the public university: the weakening of collective bargaining to allow for management’s needs of just-in-time instructors with no job security and shrinking benefits. The public appears to think that most academics are lazy louts who are teaching their children nothing useful, at least from most of the media coverage of academics. And where are the faculty we need to write the op-eds and public commentary necessary to establish a counter discourse? What will it take to change this? Faculty are too busy teaching too many courses while trying to raise a family, or too busy writing and publishing peer reviewed articles, a requirement established by “Retention, Tenure, and Promotion” documents that do not count publications in public newspapers as valid for achieving tenure. We have written ourselves out of public discourse and we need to write our way back in. If not, the cultural trend now casting a heavy spell over America will continue its momentum away from moderation and the capacity to compromise. And we will have become silent participants in our own intellectual death.
Current Thoughtful Commentary or Commentary for Thought:
From Johann Hari’s “In the Age of Distraction, We Need One Thing More Than Ever: Books”:
“In his gorgeous little book The Lost Art of Reading — Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, the critic David Ulin admits to a strange feeling. All his life, he had taken reading as for granted as eating — but then, a few years ago, he ‘became aware, in an apartment full of books, that I could no longer find within myself the quiet necessary to read.’ He would sit down to do it at night, as he always had, and read a few paragraphs, then find his mind was wandering, imploring him to check his email, or Twitter, or Facebook. ‘What I’m struggling with,’ he writes, ‘is the encroachment of the buzz, the sense that there’s something out there that merits my attention, when in fact it’s mostly a series of disconnected riffs, quick takes and fragments, that add up to the anxiety of the age.’
From Kim Brooks’ “Is It Time to Kill the Liberal Arts Degree?”
….”Well,” I sometimes say, “what are they (sic: current college graduates) going to do?”
The answer, at least according to a recent article in the New York Times, is rather bleak. Employment rates for college graduates have declined steeply in the last two years, and perhaps even more disheartening, those who find jobs are more likely to be steaming lattes or walking dogs than doing anything even peripherally related to their college curriculum. While the scale and severity of this post-graduation letdown may be an unavoidable consequence of an awful recession, I do wonder if all those lofty institutions of higher learning, with their noble-sounding mission statements and soft-focused brochure photos of campus greens, may be glossing over the serious, at-times-crippling obstacles a B.A. holder must overcome to achieve professional and financial stability. I’m not asking if a college education has inherent value, if it makes students more thoughtful, more informed, more enlightened and critical-minded human beings. These are all interesting questions that don’t pay the rent. What I’m asking is far more banal and far more pressing. What I’m asking is: Why do even the best colleges fail so often at preparing kids for the world?
In response, let me say that the only thing that might prepare an instructor to talk about what is happening globally is a trip to Shanghai and having read the “Financial Times” for the past five years. How is anyone supposed to “prepare” a student to comprehend the rapid change that has taken place with globalization combined with the collapse of the economic bubble in 2008? The world changed and the U.S. economy has serious structural problems unless you are among the super wealthy. Globally, there are millions of graduates looking for jobs now, from Cambodia, China, Tunisia to the United States. We need economic policies in the United States at both the federal and state levels that produce the opportunities for high quality jobs. That sort of investment is not happening. And when/if it does, it takes ten years to kick in. Currently, a graduate has greater opportunity for upward mobility in the EU than the U.S.