Job-searches to fill permanent positions bring out the gremlins: long suppressed personal animosities; un-moored from reality-fantasies about the current significance of the department; conflicting aspirations about its future; mutually exclusive, external pressures about the required profile of the winning candidate, etc. Professional philosophers act just like humans during hiring season. Even when the gremlins remain suppressed a department can fail to spot the talent staring in its face; I have seen non-great departments pass up the realistic opportunity of hiring, say, Dave Chalmers or Alva Noë (etc.). Now, one reason why such things occur is that hiring as currently practiced in professional philosophy (and I have been affiliated with seven universities in three different countries, so I am aware of the variety of practices), tends to be largely a projection of a heteronomous soul (the department) onto a thinly covered slate (the candidate). This is why each individual hiring decision is best understood as a (unfair) lottery (and, thus, departments routinely fail to hire the best talent), even though in the aggregate there may well be some collective rationality because the list of explicit and implicit collective heuristics and biases (!) deployed track talent and effort reasonably well.
One might think that the previous paragraph is an argument for 'the inside candidate' (let's call it the 'TIC argument' or 'TIC' for short). For, the slate is then covered with a rich array of data-points. Now, anybody familiar with the long-run damage of 'nepotistic' hiring from within (name your favorite rotten European patronage system) will hesitate to endorse TIC; but, perhaps, the previous paragraph is an argument for TIC-lite: that is, at hiring one should favor ceteribus paribus the visiting adjunct/post-doc (etc.), even granting that personalities change post-tenure/civil servant status. I would endorse good-faith TIC-lite*, in fact, as introducing more sanity into our collective hiring practices, except that (a) IF the gremlins do come out in a TIC-lite situation it can poison an otherwise healthy atmosphere and (b) being a rejected TIC-lite candidate is really just about the worst possible professional experience short of economic exploitation in professional philosophy. (Of course, experiencing harassment, racism, etc. are far worse, but I wouldn't call these "professional.") Below the fold, I describe two first hand experiences to bring out two horrible features of TIC-lite (in my ongoing 'what it's like' for the young series). I name institutions, but (with a single exception) not individuals and I ask commentators to respect the privacy of all involved. (Well, I am a fair target, of course.)
The key points, but do read the whole thing:
It's not helpful to make the arguments of labor’s enemies for them. So please don’t trumpet efficiency on behalf of the owners when its an argument that is almost always used as a cudgel against the rights of labor. We all know what efficiency really means: less money for labor and more for management and owners.... When management trumpets efficiency as the justification for subcontracting or any other labor practice [JP: such as changing the TT vs precarious labor ratio in HE] it's usually a front for disenfranchising labor and increasing management importance and scope.
I'm reminded of Jeff Nealon's biting and insightful "The Associate Vice-Provost in the Gray Flannel Suit" (here and here), an example of outsmarting in which he says we should welcome honest management consultants into universities, because the fat they would cut would be administration, not faculty. The trick is to find the honest management consultants!
Various sorts of attacks on academia have been a theme at Newapps since the beginning: Increasing corporatization of the university, growth of administration, take-over of administration by non-academics, funding cuts, increasing student debt, uses of MOOCS that are contrary to goals of education, increasing use and abuse of adjuncts, hyper-emphasis on "evaluation", anti-intellectualism, federal attacks on academic freedom and research independence, legal attacks on faculty and graduate student organizing, and here's a new one - "outsourcing" grading to Bangalore (coming in a pilot project from a director of business law and ethics studies, as probably was just inevitable.)
Anyway, I've been saying for some time that I'd start a thread in which we might think collectively about what can be done. Should we work within existing organizations like AAUP and APA, or give them up as hopeless? Should we take an activist/organizing approach or focus on legislation and lobbying? Should unionization be a focus - whether legally or not? Creative new ideas would be most welcome.
Marcus Arvan at the Philosophers' Cocoon has started a new series on What it is like to be a VAP. His first post is well worth a read and resonated with my own (three, very privileged!) years as a VAP.
But what caught my attention is this remark by Arvan:
Slowly, though, things began to change for the better. I attended a teaching workshop which emphasized the "flipped classroom" -- i.e. getting students to do more work in the classroom, rather than being the "sage on the stage." My wife and mother also suggested that instead of working myself into the ground prepping for classes, I should prioritize getting students to work. I did.... It has worked wonders. My student evaluations have soared, and more importantly, my students are improving beyond my wildest dreams. Getting them to work -- to do philosophy themselves, both in the classroom and at home -- works wonders.
Recognizing something akin to this is crucial, I think, to all great (philosophy) teaching.
Why do you think MOOCs will lower tuition?
They might lower production costs inside the university,* but previous means of doing that (increasing ratio of adjuncts vs TT faculty) haven’t resulted in reduced tuition (far from it). Instead the increased “profit” from cost savings has been kept in-house. Why should we expect the alleged savings from MOOCs to be treated any differently?
Louisiana has some much bizarre crap -- consider the horror show that is the K-12 voucher program, or the outrageous private prison industry -- that I'm often tempted to cite the last line of Chinatown.
In the Summer of 2010, the administration of Southeastern Louisiana University announced the closure of its French program and the dismissal of three tenured faculty members, Margaret Marshall, Katherine Kolb and Evelyne Bornier, among the most highly regarded professors on campus. In violation of University guidelines and AAUP standards, the program closure was determined without consulting the faculty concerned. Nor did the program, in fact, close: French courses are still being taught; a French minor is still offered. In further violation of University policy and AAUP guidelines, these courses are being staffed by instructors, who, in cases of program closure are to be dismissed before tenured faculty.
What's the difference between university admins and fast food franchise owners? Ha, trick question! There is no difference.
Starting in January 2014, any employee working 30 hours or more per week will be considered a full-time faculty member and will be entitled to health insurance through an employer under new federal rules, with an exception for certain small businesses. So far, several schools have cut adjuncts' hours to avoid the requirement and save cash. Matt Williams, vice president of New Faculty Majority, a group that advocates for collective bargaining rights of adjunct instructors and professors, told The Huffington Post in November he expects this type of action to happen more often.
H/T "Cynic" in comments here.
So writes Michael Bérubé, [update: citing the slogan of the New Faculty Majority], in his Presidential Address to the MLA. He reminds us that we can't let the internal rewards or "psychic wage" cover for the material conditions of many of our HE colleagues who are worse off, materially, than K-12 colleagues: "The truth, of course, is that contingent college faculty members earn lower wages, have less professional autonomy, and endure significantly greater job insecurity than unionized teachers in the K–12 system." On this point, see the Adjunct Project. And here also.
Speaking of K-12, t wouldn't hurt to recall this point I'm fond of making, and start thinking in terms of K-16:
James argues that what is characteristic of assholes is that they systematically "act out of a deep-rooted sense of entitlement, a habitual and persistent belief that they deserve special treatment." He develops a typology of different kinds of assholes, and also theorizes about the rise of "asshole capitalism," which is where:
I was asked the question in the title of this post during the closing moments of an Eastern APA job interview. I believe I stammered "that's illegal," but maybe I only thought of that response in the bar later. In reality the conversation continued with the Chair of the department after the interview and that was even less edifying. (I have shared more unprofessional interview moments here.) This by way of calling attention to our friends at Feminist Philosophy, who are having an important discussion about what to do in situations like the one I encountered. Those with wise council (I don't have any, alas) or in need of it should join in there.
A colleague in the discipline had warned me against the department with whom the 'are-you-gay-incident' occurred. (I was, in fact, trying to replace that person, but did not receive an 'on-campus-interview.') Given the deplorable situation on the professional philosophy junior/tenure-track job-market, we often forget that interviews are two-way encounters. Departments should be mindful that they are also 'selling' themselves not just to people desperate for a decent paying job in philosophy, but also to future professional colleagues in the discipline. I sometimes wonder if I will ever bump into the self-described "philosopher of economics" who asked me the question about my sexual orientation/sense of self. I imagine the conversation starts with, "Actually, we have met before. You may not recall..."
You have to be narcissistic and regularly tap into your inner anger to succeed at blogging. Given that professional philosophy has treated me extremely generously during most of my career, my blogging floats along happily on my narcissism. But sometimes what animates my blogging are the memories of the many unprofessional experiences undergone and witnessed....
Over on Leiter Reports, Amy Ferrer, newly appointed as executive director of the American Philosophical Association, has been writing a series of guest posts on the latest prospect for tenure track positions in North America. “According to much of public opinion, and unfortunately according to some in power in universities and our nation’s legislatures, tenured professors are paid too much to work too little, and can’t be removed from duty even if they’re doing a terrible job,” she writes. Currently, ¾ of teaching staff in post-secondary institutions are employed “off the tenure-track” and “The median pay per course, standardized to a three-credit course, was $2,700 in fall 2010 and ranged in the aggregate from a low of $2,235 at two-year colleges to a high of $3,400 at four-year doctoral or research universities,” according to a report from the Coalition of Academic Workers.
These are shocking trends, and it is perhaps natural to blame the poor economic climate and cling to the hope that things will turn around soonish. Of course, there is the right wing resurgence and that doesn’t bode too well. And as we saw, Ms. Ferrer puts some of the blame on public opinion. But surely things can't stay as bad as they have been for the last three years.
Hmm, yes . . . but this neglects one rather obvious fact.
Th Dec 6, 5 pm CST: I'm moving this post back up as it's received some important comments from Ed Kazarian, in response to a comment I made at Leiter Reports to a post by Amy Ferrer, the Executive Director of the APA. By the way, all of Ferrer's posts at LR deserve reading.
The past month (September 2011) we've had a series of interesting and informative posts on preparing graduate students to enter what is commonly called "the job market." The presupposition here is that the job market in philosophy begins post-PhD.
I don't want to criticize the content of the posts; as far as I can tell, the advice has been excellent. But I do want to suggest that we change our frame of reference on these matters, and specify that we have been discussing only a small segment of the complete system of employment for philosophy instruction in institutions of higher education. So I'd like to suggest we call the analysis of the complete system "the political economy of philosophy instruction."
Posted by John Protevi on 06 December 2012 at 17:00 in "Austerity"? You mean class war, don't you?, Adjunct faculty and hyper-exploitation, Global Financial Crisis, Improving the philosophy profession, John Protevi, Organizing labor, Political Economy of higher education, Teaching Philosophy | Permalink | Comments (18) | TrackBack (0)
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Teaching is Not Magic. I'm stealing this motto from my fellow-blogger, Michael Cholbi. Teaching is not some magical thing that one has innately or that one "gets" or that one gets the hang of after a few years of exposure. Most philosophers are rightly skeptical of scholarly literature in what one might call "education studies." But thankfully, philosophy has its own association of philosophy teachers (the AAPT) and its own journal (Teaching Philosophy) that both share that skepticism and recognize that good teaching is at the very least not something that every philosopher should have to figure out on her own and that it should be informed by argument, reason and evidence. Its not good enough to point one's graduate students to these resources. Graduate programs should be centrally involved in the AAPT and in Teaching Philosophy, because arguably, Ph.D programs are most responsible for the students who have learned the most. Share the wealth, folks - how did you do it?--Rebecca Copenhaver, In Socrates' Wake.
Copenhaver's post is focused primarily on the North American situation (in my neck of the woods PhD bursaries are employees not "students," etc.), but her reflections apply more widely. The post reminded me of the weaknesses of my graduate education and also, alas, the shortcomings of my current practice as a supervisor. Anyway, I encourage everybody involved in PhD programs in philosophy to go read her whole post.
Neil Levy kindly called my attention to the story: "A paper by Marcie Rathke of the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople had been provisionally accepted for publication in Advances in Pure Mathematics. ‘Independent, Negative, Canonically Turing Arrows of Equations and Problems in Applied Formal PDE’." As LRB reports, "The paper was created using Mathgen, an online random maths paper generator." Unfortunately, "Neither Marcie Rathke nor the University of Southern North Dakota at Hoople is willing to pay the ‘processing charges’ levied by Advances in Pure Mathematics, so we will never know if the work would actually have made it to publication." The exchange between 'author' and journal is priceless.
So, what did this hoax expose? LRB concludes the following:
Academic journals depend on peer review to ensure the rigour and value of submissions. The less prestigious the journal, the harder it is to find competent reviewers and the lower they will have to set the threshold, until at some point we arrive at, essentially, accept-all-comers vanity publishing. The murkier the business model and the lower the standards outside the mainstream, the harder it is for academics to challenge the status of the prestige journals, locking academics into the situation Glen Newey describes.
This little Facebook post, provoked by the Chicago Teachers Union strike (a nice post by Brian Leiter will get you started; see also here and here), got some good reactions, so I thought I'd put it here.
Public university colleagues: let's start thinking in terms of K-16, so that we highlight our solidarity with our K-12 colleagues. Because we are the leading edge, the experimental subjects, of "flexible" labor practices for our TAs, adjuncts, instructors, and other colleagues forced into precarious labor, just as our K-12 colleagues are sites of experimentation for tying evaluations to standardized testing. The admins in each area look longingly at the practices of the other. In other words, we are each canaries in the other's coal mine.
One of the things I focus on is "political affect." It's a multi-valent concept; one of the registers in which it works is psycho-somatic effects of political economic conditions. This article summarizes research which details the bad health effects of chronic job insecurity:
Research shows that the purgatory of job insecurity may be even worse for you than unemployment. And it's turning the American Dream into a sleepwalking nightmare. From young temporary workers to middle-aged career veterans, Americans are being pushed to their physical and psychological limits in what has the makings of a major national public health crisis.
To turn this back to politics in the restricted sense, we should recall the classic distinction between anxiety and fear. Anxiety is free-floating arousal; fear is targeted. You're anxious about the dark and afraid of an approaching attack dog.
Consider then the brutality of contemporary US politics (and don't be so smug, my non-US friends; it's coming your way, sound bites and attack ads and all). If anxiety is worse than fear, anxiety-gripped people will be prone to accept the bogeys on offer by politicians, because at least you can focus your fear / hatred on a bogey, whereas with systemic insecurity, all you can do is suffer. So better to focus on some chimeric Islamomexikenyanian-gay-sex-having-and-abortion-loving-latte-sipping-arugula-eating-unionized-public-school-teacher-cultural-elite-who-are-sapping-and-impurifying-our-precious-bodily-fluids than to have to think your way through the anxiety to the social system that makes you insecure.
Or better, the contemporary political discourse blocks the path to an intellectual understanding of systematic insecurity by its relentless individualism and shaming, its victim-blaming. "Insecure? what a loser! You should have picked a better career."
Some background. The annual value of targeted tax rebates and cuts in the gret state of Louisiana are now over 7 and a half billion dollars, around a third of the actual state budget, an amount that dwarfs higher education spending. These rebates are often political giveaways that make absolutely no sense, such as Walmart getting one and a half cent per dollar rebate on sales tax remittances.
Also note that the State of Louisiana has the 21st highest GDP of any state in the United States. Given the size of the population, were it a country it would be in the tiny minority of the wealthiest countries in the world. But it suffers the curse of mineral wealth, which is why one of the richest states in the country has the greatest income disparity, greatest poverty, highest per capita prison population, least funded education system, etc. etc. etc.
This information shows just how astute Lombardi's "fable" is (story HERE; please take the time to read it; it's very entertaining).
The last four years under Jindal began with a huge tax cut that rendered the code more regressive, and then continued with an even greater orgy of perpetual targeted tax giveaways. The money lost through these policies have been largely recouped through perpetual cuts to higher education. Some of it has been made up for in tuition and fee increases (four years ago the state funding/tuition plus fees ration was 6 to 4, but now that's reversed), but schools across the state have fired tenure track faculty, sometimes after declaring exigency, sometimes not. There have been no merit raises for the whole time and for the foreseeable future. And hiring freezes are the norm.
And now, if the current round of proposed cuts actually go through, flagship campus LSU would have to do the equivalent of closing two of its colleges.
It's just a fact that there is a business cycle, and if you cut taxes every time it's high and cut services every time it's low, then at some point things are going to get very ugly. I think that we are on the edge of this in Louisiana, and in fact would be over the cliff were it not for Federal welfare programs such as Social Security and Medicare putting money in middle class hands.
Thoroughly depressing story at the Chronicle HERE. Some stats:
. . .the percentage of graduate-degree holders who receive food stamps or some other aid more than doubled between 2007 and 2010.
During that three-year period, the number of people with master's degrees who received food stamps and other aid climbed from 101,682 to 293,029, and the number of people with Ph.D.'s who received assistance rose from 9,776 to 33,655, according to tabulations of microdata done by Austin Nichols, a senior researcher with the Urban Institute. He drew on figures from the 2008 and 2011 Current Population Surveys done by the U.S. Census Bureau and the U.S. Bureau of Labor.
Leaders of organizations that represent adjunct faculty members think that the number of people counted by the government does not represent the full picture of academics on welfare because many do not report their reliance on federal aid.
The story also notes that the number of non-tenure track faculty is now 70%.
According to this IHE story, the University of Colorado is re-opening its German Studies PhD program with a 4-year-to-degree schedule.
Students will spend two years focused on classwork, one year doing research (perhaps in Germany) and the final year writing their dissertation. Candidates will be encouraged to take on internships during summers to prepare for careers inside and outside of academe. Students might be steered toward "less onerous" dissertation topics or pursue digital publication, professors say, but the writing will adhere to university guidelines on length and rigor. The difference is in a lighter teaching burden and one-on-one mentoring, allowing more focus on classroom work earlier on in the program and more guidance on research and the dissertation.
Colorado administrators and others believe the program could be a model elsewhere, both in German and other humanities disciplines.
At first glance, there are two attractive elements here: 1) a compromise between the heavy coursework-and-exam schedule of US programs and the straight-to-research schedule of European programs; 2) the emphasis on "prepar[ing] for careers inside and outside of academe," that is, preparing for multiple post-degree employment markets.
But I suspect this will be a model for boutique programs that will not be generalizable. The key is the "post-degree" qualification to "employment markets." But the political economy of academic labor in higher education includes in many schools a reliance on pre-PhD labor. So when we focus on the key phrase, "a lighter teaching burden," I have to wonder about the finances here, given that so many universities have become reliant on the academic labor of graduate students and adjuncts, even as we read of experiments to tap into undergraduate labor, in the form of "a critical mass of deputized students" doing grading.
Nonetheless, this may be an interesting model for schools with the financial set-up to afford a boutique program of this sort. What do readers think about either the economics of the proposal or about its educational qualities?
Having been non-tenure track for two years after getting my Ph.D, I actually began to perspire about half way through reading THIS ARTICLE. The author presents ten ways to get yourself fired if you are contingent faculty. Of course some of them contradict each other, but these contradictions just accurately represent the messed up situation.
In addition, ther whole exercise vaguely reeks of Kremlinology. Just as the CIA really had no idea what the various cliques surrounding Andropov were up to, there's something essentially mysterious about people with arbitrary power over you.
From an IHE article on a new online course project by Penn, Michigan, and Princeton:
Koller, an artificial intelligence specialist who has taught computer science at Stanford since getting her Ph.D. there at age 25, says that the challenge of assessing student work in humanities-oriented MOOCs could be addressed through a system of “calibrated peer review.” Human readers, plucked from the ranks of the course registrants, could read short essays written by their peers and rate them according to a rubric developed by the professor. A critical mass of deputized students should be able to evaluate an essay “at least as [well] as a pretty good [teaching assistant],” Koller said in an interview.
This could be another nail in the coffin of the current political economy of graduate humanities education. Why should universities pay TAs when the undergrads can grade themselves?
For connoisseurs of the genre, the rest of the article has some great management-speak: "monetization," of course, but also "metrics," and a few others:
John Protevi has noted this strange age-defining incongruity before.
Some $11 billion in new facilities have sprung up on American campuses in each of the last two years—more than double what was spent on buildings a decade ago, according to the market-research firm McGraw-Hill Construction—even as schools are under pressure to contain costs.
“You can go into any community and talk to somebody whose son or daughter either can’t get in or can’t finish [college] because they can’t get this or that course,” says David Wolf, cofounder of the Campaign for College Opportunity, which lobbies for higher education in California. “Meanwhile, they go on campus and there’s all that fresh cement. That’s embarrassing, and it’s wrong.”
Much of the spending is occurring at cash-strapped public universities.
The University of California system has $8.9 billion in construction going up at its 10 campuses and five medical centers, and the California State University system has $161 million. Since 2008, California has cut $2.65 billion in operating money from its public universities, which have responded by reducing enrollment, dramatically increasing tuition and laying off employees. At UC campuses, student fees rose 18 percent this year. Since the beginning of the fiscal crisis, 4,400 employees have been laid off and 3,570 positions have been eliminated in the UC system.
Does anyone have an explanation for this? It's happening all over the country. The full story is HERE.
The letter with all the reader comments is HERE.
The full story is actually even more depressing, the obscenely wealthy using purported education reform to gin up the power of the huge vacuum cleaner that sucks up money from the poor and middle class.
We've known how this story ends since the 1980s, but as far as I can tell no one seems to be able to turn the damned thing off.
In reaction to Michael Bérubé's recent work pushing the MLA, of which he is now President, toward greater activity in support of NTT (non-tenure track) faculty, Josh Boldt has created a crowdsourced document on NTT working conditions. Please have a look at it, whether you are NTT or TT, and enter relevant data if you have it.
Mohan ends his excellent original post on professionalization pressures driving publication ("Journals and Tenure") with an exhortation for us: "philosophy should begin in wonder."
We are here recalled to one of our tradition's most famous and most cherished sayings, Theaetetus 155d, where Socrates says to Theaetetus: "This sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Philosophy indeed has no other origin." This is a mytho-factual claim, if I can put it that way, rather than the hortatory mode Mohan uses. Not that philosophy should begin in wonder, but that it does so begin. Thus a factual claim, although also mythic -- or at least "dramatic" -- in that it is made by the character Socrates to the title character in a dialogue concerned to interrogate (or to better to constitute) the distinction between philosophy and sophistry.
The other great classical instance that links philosophy and wonder is Metaphysics 982b12-29, but just before that passage we find accompanying philosophers not sophists but Egyptian priests, whom Aristotle calls on stage for a similar mytho-factual claim, this time distinguishing the sciences that aim at utility from those that do not. Here we find the term "leisure," which makes Aristotle's discussion one of the political economy of scholarship, which is Mohan's topic too.
Clark Glymour's recent anti-philosophy manifesto, discussed by Eric here is indeed an incongruous congeries. One half is a defense of "formal philosophy" along with an account of its importance and relation to science, some discussion of its history, and a bit of whining about how it is not given sufficient respect in the rest of the philosophical world. I have little to say about this half of the manifesto, because I agree in broad terms, and am not inclined to get into the matters of detail. I have always expressed great admiration for the sort of philosophy Glymour endorses, and for his work in particular, and I even have sympathy for the suggestion that formal philosophy of the sort done so well at CMU is under-valued in the profession at large.
If this were the focus of the entire manifesto, it would be a respectable and interesting contribution to the ongoing debate about what philosophy is and can be, but the other half of Glymour's manifesto is something else altogether.
This is a compelling statement by our colleagues forced into precarious labor conditions. Any discussion of the political economy of higher education simply must include the situation of these colleagues, and those of us in tenured or tenure-track positions must do all we can to demonstrate our solidarity with them.
In particular, we must analyze the relation of graduate student labor to adjunct labor, and insist that ABDs and recent PhDs are not "preparing to enter the job market," for they are already in the "job system." That is, they are already essential components of the labor force whose role in the political economy of higher education can only be seen in terms of a single, multi-dimensional system.
Read the whole thing; here's the preamble:
We are the non-tenure track faculty who now constitute two-thirds of the instructional workforce at universities and colleges across the nation. We are frequently invisible to administrators, yet we are the first professors and instructors that undergraduate students meet on their journey to becoming engaged learners. We are the majority. We have been silent too long, and it is time for us to reclaim our voices and outline our demands.