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!
- 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.)
- 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!)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Expat U.S. American Janice Liedl writes about her Canadian comprehensive and bilingual regional uni, and like Dr. Crazy, says that she thinks it’s doing really well for their students even given budgetary pressures.
- Feminist Avatar, a Scotswoman now teaching in Australia, reviews the issues in higher ed in both the UK and in Oz and argues that the corporate university is not just an American thing. She writes, “Instead of taking the lead on what the relationship between research and the economy/ society should be, [universities] are buying into the narrative that ‘growth’, ‘money’ and ‘the economy’ should be our social drivers. But, what is the point of the universities, if not to question these things?”
- Professor Zero offers the basic math of the demands on her time and labor in teaching and advising in a Foreign Language department, noting that her teaching alone should in theory occupy 60 hours per week! (She’s effectively picking up on Roxie’s point in #1 above, which is the burdens that fall on the “privileged” regular faculty when universities staff programs or even entire departments with adjunct faculty labor.)
- Spanish Prof writes from a prestigious midwestern sectarian uni that she’s got it pretty good for now. However, she notes that the fates of even private universities are tied quite closely in all respects to the local K-12 schools, which is not encouraging for American higher ed at large.
- Flavia at Ferule & Fescue offers twin posts on this subject: Part I is “somewhat bizarrely cheerful,” (her words, not mine) about the job her comprehensive public uni has done in promoting the liberal arts and higher academic standards, although in Part II she confides that the absence of meaningful support for foreign language teaching and scholarship at her uni bodes ill for the truly “global” university it aspires to be.
- Speaking of the relationship between K-12 and American post-secondary ed, Clio Bluestocking writes about her former life teaching “grade 13” at a community college in an area in which the K-12 schools have done a poor job preparing their students for any post-secondary education. She argues that the assumptions behind the “assessment” regime and concern about “completion rates” are more appropriate to 4-year institutions, and don’t really apply to the CC model.
- J.Otto Pohl writes from the University of Ghana about the “reverse brain drain” from the U.S. to other nations.
- Leslie M-B at the Clutter Museum writes from Boisie State U. about her predominantly working-class students and their complicated lives. Accordingly, she resents the administration’s “desire to scale up the number of students we teach, and the speed with which they graduate.” (She also resents the low status and pay scale among the humanities departments.)
- Jonathan Rees at More or Less Bunk also complains about evidence-free (and unpaid!) work speed-up initiatives and online classes at Baa Ram U.-Pueblo.
- Although Undine claims that she has nothing to contribute at Not of General Interest, she writes that the amount of student loan debt that Americans carry is deeply troubling.
- And finally, I offered just one of the things I think is wrong with American universities, or rather, with the discourses on the “crisis” in higher education: we never talk about student achievement, and treat all bachelor’s degrees like they’re equal when I suspect that grades and real achievement matter a great deal to employers and admission to graduate and professional schools. I teach at a State Uni (not a Flagship U.) that’s officially R-1, although my department functions more like a History department in a comprehensive university (we have only the M.A., not a Ph.D. program. My teaching load is 2-2, although the caps on our courses are rather high: 100-120 for survey courses; 42 for upper-division courses; 15 for graduate and undergraduate seminars.)
Keep ’em coming, friends! Be sure to send me an e-mail and/or leave a comment here if your post doesn’t track back to this thread or to the original post soliciting your ideas. And please let me know if I’ve missed anyone here inadvertently–after all, although I know it’s difficult for most of you to believe, I’m only human, and I own and manage the ranch by my lonesome.
(Speaking of all by her lonesome: so long as you’re over at the New York Review of Books current issue for the Grafton article, take a look at Cathleen Schine’s review of Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, a memoir of her only daughter’s life and tragically early death. Keep a box of tissues at the ready, if you dare. I’ve ordered a copy of Blue Nights from the library, although I’ll have to be careful about when and where I read it given the fact that I’m crying already as I type this! I know that many people thought that Didion’s previous memoir about her husband John Gregory Dunne’s sudden death, The Year of Magical Thinking, was too much grief Pr0n. However, I thought it was a moving and insightful look at the unwanted journey from wife to widow.)