Sunday round-up: the “crisis in higher ed,” your turn edition

Girl howdy did my post last weekend soliciting your views on the “crisis in higher ed” get an avalanche of replies, like, immediately!  It was almost like you were just waiting for someone to ask!

As regular readers will recall, I commented on Tony Grafton’s recent essay in the New York Review of Books, in which he reviews the current jeremiads about what’s wrong with American colleges and universities these days and called for “curious writers . . . [to] describe some universities and colleges, in detail, with all their defects.”  I solicited your views, dear readers, and am blown away by the number and diversity of viewpoints you have contributed.  So today I offer you a very briefly annotated bibliography of the responses.  Please click and read them for yourselves!

  1. Roxie at Roxie’s World must be reading the New York Review of Books up in heaven, because she wrote a post fully 24 hours before I solicited her opinion on what’s wrong with modern American universities.  Her answer?  The unconscionable reliance on adjunct labor, which is after all at the heart of most Excellence Without Money strategies.  (Just go to her blog and search Excellence Without Money to read her catalog of crimes against education over the past three years.)
  2. Roxie also kindly reminded me that Tenured Radical got in on the game even earlier with this post calling for faculty “to get off the Education Carousel and get to work Occupying Education.  Faculty, in particular, are becoming more like each other than not, regardless of where they work.  While some of us will age out under the old system of tenure and stratified privilege, increasingly we too must come to terms with the effects of the neoliberal education agenda (shrinking salaries, reduced and more expensive medical benefits, the destruction of entire fields of study to eliminate tenured positions, political attacks on unionized faculty and staff, higher workloads) in the here and now.”  (Just to name a few of the problems facing us in higher ed!)
  3. Notorious Ph.D., Girl Scholar says from her perch at Crisis State University (after Walt Kelly’s Pogo) that the enemy of higher education “is us,” that is, the American voters who have consented to withdraw their support from higher education at both the state and federal levels.
  4. Lance Manyon writes from Flagship Public U. that Americans in general approach university education in a way that’s too career-oriented rather than thought-oriented, and urges other faculty not to fall into the trap of buying into this vision of education.
  5. Dr. Crazy, in a brilliant riff on Foucault and the repressive hypothesis, asks who’s failing and on what terms?  From her position at a comprehensive directional university where she teaches a 4-4 load (plus usually some summer courses), she thinks that her university does just fine in offering first-generation college students a fine education at a bargain price.  Continue reading

What’s the matter with higher ed? Too much talk about degrees, not enough talk about achievement.

I’ll have a comprehensive post up tomorrow with all of your wonderful links and contributions to this conversation, but I thought I’d lay out briefly something that I’ve been thinking about this week with respect to the ongoing “crisis of higher education” conversations we’ve been having.  In particular, I’d like once again to address the subset of these conversations in which people whose college years are 20+ years behind them, and who frequently hold degrees from the Ivy League or other elite private colleges and universities, nevertheless counsel the youth of today that college just ain’t worth it, that it’s a waste of money, and that there are plenty of people with bachelor’s degrees wishing they could find a job flipping burgers or washing cars. 

What’s missing in these conversations is any sense of the responsibility that students have for their own educations.  In this respect, the discourse on higher ed very much reflects the discourse on K-12 education, in which teachers have been identified as the only people with any power or responsibilty for a student’s progress in their classrooms.  Similarly, these articles preaching that college is a waste of time foster the notion that mere enrollment and graduation with a degree should be all that’s required for a ticket to middle-class security.  In the case of higher ed, which is 1) not compelled by the state, and 2) costs them cash money, we should ask what besides money the students are pouring into their own educations. Continue reading

Brief thoughts on Penn State

I don’t have any special knowledge of what’s going on there–to be clear, I went to Penn by the way, which is in Philadelphia and on the entirely other end of the state of Pennsylvania.  I’ve never been within 60 miles of State College, to my knowledge.  (Like most Penn grads, it rankles me to be associated with Penn State.)  But readers have written to ask when I’ll comment on the accused child rapist who was protected by the football program there, so here goes:

  1. I’ve seen a lot of commentary to the effect that “institutions do a poor job of policing themselves.”   That may be a part of the problem, however, it seems clear to me that this is more of a gender problem than anything.  The facts of the case so far show that men are reluctant in the extreme to interfere with the sexual prerogatives of other men, even when their sexual behavior is criminal.  Furthermore, this is not just a comment on the institutional power of the football program at Penn State–all of the university administrators accused of crimes and/or who lost their jobs yesterday are all men.  I would expect that a female AD and/or a woman vice president or president of the university would have acted swiftly on eyewitness accounts of child rape and would have called law enforcement, not because women are more virtuous or braver than men, but simply because women who make it into positions of authority tend to be more willing to blow the whistle than their male peers.  Continue reading

Why I’ve fallen down on the (uncompensated) job this term

A self-portrait, minus cowboy hat.

I was wondering the other day why I’ve managed to get so little scholarship or blogging done since classes started in August.  Why, why, why?  Is my middle-aged brain incapable of nimble, complete synaptical connections?  Am I lazy?  Am I distracted?  Too much wine at dinner?  Then I remembered:  I’m teaching 2 new classes this semester, a team-taught undergraduate class on the History of Sexuality in America, and the graduate historiography class (or as I call it to make it seem less intimidating:  Introduction to Historical Practice.)  So, lots of lecture writing and new-book-reading is what’s keeping me busy.  No doy.

Apparently, my tiny brain only has so much room for innovation at this stage of midlife.  I think that age and/or complacency has a lot to do with this.  Continue reading

Assistant Professor, Public History, Colorado State University

Baa Ram U! Sheep be true!

Dear Friends,

Although the blogosphere can usually be fairly characterized as a bunch of malcontents b!tching about one thing or another, I’m pleased to report a tiny sliver of sunlight piercing the clouds of darkness and despair:  my department is running a search for the first time in four years!  We are looking for a specialist in public history to contribute to our public history M.A. curriculum as well as to teach undergraduate courses in hir area of specialization.  The big news here is that we are open to any subfield, globally and temporally.  This search is neither limited to American historians, nor to any particular emphasis in public history.  From the h-net posting:

The Department of History seeks to fill a position in Public History open to any subfield.  Entry-level Assistant Professor, tenure-track, nine-month  position beginning August 15, 2012.  The Ph.D. in History or related field must be completed by the time of employment.  The preferred candidate will contribute to the department’s undergraduate and graduate curriculum and programs.  Applications are invited from candidates who offer promise of significant research and publication and who can work effectively with faculty, students, and the public.  Send letter of interest, vita, graduate transcripts, evidence of teaching effectiveness, three letters of recommendation, and a writing sample (article or chapter length) to Dr. Janet Ore, Chair, Public History Search Committee, Department of History, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO  80523-1776.  Applications will be considered until the position is filled; however, to ensure full consideration applications should be submitted by January 15, 2012. 

If you are trained in public history and/or have experience in the field, please take a look at our current faculty and our graduate public history curriculum as it exists, and make the best case you can for what you can do for us.  Continue reading

Tony Grafton on the higher education crisis, and your turn to talk back!

Via my colleague Nathan Citino who reads the New York Review of Books, we learn that Tony Grafton has written a thoughtful review of the raft of books on the “crisis” of higher education in the United States published recently.  He dislikes the polemics that pick one enemy–the lazy-a$$ed faculty who allegedly never teach, or the inflated ranks of administrators who allegedly suck up six-figure salaries without contributing to the core mission of education.

However, Grafton appears to agree with Historiann’s analysis of the free farm clubs that unis run for the NFL and the NBA, reserving some choice disdain for the fact that “head football and basketball coaches earn millions and their assistants hundreds of thousands for running semiprofessional teams. Few of these teams earn much money for the universities that sponsor them, and some brutally exploit their players.”  But even I must acknowledge the fact that even if Baa Ram U. fired the coaches and told the men’s football and basketball teams to hold a bake sale if they want uniforms and travel money, it’s unlikely that the money saved would actually be invested in rebuilding the faculty or otherwise improving the quality of classroom education we offer.  (I still think it’s a fantasy worth preserving, however!)

The problem as Grafton sees it is not just that students buy into the Animal House vision of student life, with an emphasis on a social life built around sports and alcohol and drug-consumption rather than an intellectual life built around independent study.  He argues that American universities themselves foster the Animal House sensibility, rewarding faculty only for their research and never for their teaching, and providing a range of amenities for students that lure them anywhere but the classroom or the library: Continue reading