Why do things like "professional development," "continuing education," "team-building," and (yes, this too) "assessment" always have to tend towards infantalizing the poor people subjected to them?
It's one thing to bureaucratically humiliate people by making them waste huge gobs of time. But this business of making them engage in ritualistic idiotic performances (which always involve to some extent enthusiastically presupposing that everyone is not in fact wasting time) is a much higher echelon of evil. How can the adult human beings in this video (courtesy Washington Post) have any self-respect?*
Mark my words. First they came for the high school teachers. . .**
[*To be fair, everyone involved in making the video and smuggling it to the Washington Post gained back their self-respect fourfold.
**If I was doing my normal thing and putting a rock video in the upper right hand corner, it would probably have been Jane's Addiction's "Idiots Rule." But I realized that it didn't scan because even if team-builder/professional development/assessment types are self-deluded enough to believe in the rightness of what they make the rest of us do, it takes quite a bit of intelligence to get people so complicit in their own immiseration.]
There's a worrying piece over at Inside Higher Ed quoting the president of "a mildly selective private nonprofit institution that is tuition-dependent" saying that the institution has begun to reject some applicants that it would previously have admitted because of worries about meeting outcomes targets in the ratings system proposed by President Obama in his Higher Education Plan last year. Not surprisingly, the effect of this shift has disproportionately affected applicants from disadvantaged backgrounds — and while this is only one case,* it seems to neatly exemplify what many have feared will be the effect of the proposals.
I've written before — and I plan to write more — about the effects of prestige races on the state of higher education in the U.S. Until now, these races have been fostered primarily by the proliferation of ranking systems (US News and World Report, etc.) as structuring elements of the enviornment in which institutions are operating. It is not difficult to link competition for prestige to the sorts of spending and other institutional policy decisions that have led to rising costs of attendence and increased institutional debt loads** — all of which has also created pressure on institutions that traditionally serve less advantaged populations to abandon or de-emphasize those missions. The Obama proposals, as the article shows, seem to have already added to that pressure without even having been put into effect.
*There are definitely reasons to think carefully about what type of institution is being disucssed here, which may not be typical of those doing the most to serve students from disadvantaged populations.
**See, for instance, this New York Times piece from 2012
In his critique of Posner’s economic analysis of law, the late Ed Baker offers some remarks that might help us to understand current developments in educational policy. Posner defends what we will now recognize as a number of the core commitments of neoliberal policy, in particular the fundamental efficiency of markets and the price mechanism for the optimal allocation of social goods. The more people want something, the more they are willing to pay, and so goods get bought and sold (as they move from those who value them less – sellers – to those who value them more – buyers) until everyone is as happy as they can be, given constraints on resources.
On February 18, the tenure track and non-tenure track faculty who make up the University of Illinois-Chicago faculty union UICUF Local 6456 will walk out of the classroom and onto the picket line for a two-day strike. Barring a dramatic change-of-heart by university administrators at the bargaining table the weekend, it will be the first faculty strike at a major research university in a very long time....
Every entering UIC student takes at least one writing course; most take two. Not surprisingly, our writing courses are overwhelmingly taught by lecturers (i.e. non-tenure track faculty), on year-to-year contracts and paid a standard salary of $30,000. Furthermore, although the administration carries on endlessly about the importance of merit, they’re unwilling to mandate a promotion track for non-tenure track faculty, the whole point of which would be to reward merit....
The term “shared governance” is invoked to disguise this evisceration of power but what it mainly means is that faculty senates can “advise” the administration and the administration can then do whatever it wants. To call shared governance real governance is like saying your dog has an equal say in how your household is run because sometimes when he whines he gets fed.
One of our issues in this strike is to take back decision-making power over the issues that matter to us — curriculum, teaching conditions, the distribution of monies, and the like. The administration is fighting ferociously to retain that power — since giving it up would in effect be returning it from management to workers.
Full disclosure: I met Jeremy Gilbert at a Deleuze conference in Wales in the summer of 2008. He gave an interesting paper on Deleuze, Guattari, and Gramsci and I ended up talking to him at pub. The conversation was one of shared interests that went beyond Deleuze, it was a Deleuze conference after all, to include Simondon, transindividuality, and the broader problem of reimagining collectivity in individualistic (and individuated) times. As anyone in academia knows, the experience of meeting someone with shared interest is often ambivalent. There is the joy of finding someone to talk to, of feeling less alone in the wilds of academia, coupled with the sadness of feeling less original, less insightful. The latter feeling is of course intensified by a publishing culture that is predicated less on collective projects and more on developing a highly individuated name for oneself. In the years since then, as our projects progressed (his made it to print first) we joked about constituting a new school of thought, Transindividual Ontology and Politics (TOP)?
It seemed appropriate to begin a review of Common Ground: Democracy and Collectivity in an Age of Individualism with such a story, one that illustrates the way in which commonality of interests and ideas intersects with an institution geared towards individuation and competition. That we live in an “age of individualism” perhaps goes without saying. However, such a judgment raises as many questions as it answers. At what level are we to locate the individual? Is it, to borrow, words from Foucault, an “illusion,” an “ideological effect,” or a real functioning element of society? In short, are people deluded into seeing themselves as individuals, or is individuation a real material effect?
As a card-carrying Deleuzean, I'm supposed to be scornful of the concept of "ideology."* But it does have its uses, and here's a great example of ideology qua naturalizing the social.
Fatal traffic accidents occurred in New York, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. Authorities said a woman suffering from Alzheimer's disease froze to death after she wandered away from her rural western New York home. And in suburban Philadelphia, as the storm approached, a worker at a salt storage facility was killed when a 100-foot-tall pile of road salt fell and crushed him. Falls Township police said the man was trapped while operating a backhoe.
I'd rewrite that this way:
A cruelly insufficient social safety net (the Alzheimer's patient) and dangerous work conditions caused by cuts to public workforce (the backhoe operator -- I wouldn't be surprised if he was working for a private contractor; at the very best he was probably pulling a double shift, hence exhausted) plus the grossly insufficient public transport system and poorly maintained roads, coupled with economic desperation (the car drivers -- dollars to donuts they were trying to get to a crappy service job, but don't worry, the Walmart where they worked will put out a collection basket) continued its reign of terror today, with the winter storm being the proximate cause that only a fool, knave, gull, or ideologue would blame for the social conditions that exposed these people to its effects.
There was a story in today's NYT about a number of colleges that are lowering tuition, sometimes drastically. The argument is that they can do this without loss of revenue, since so few pay full tuition anyway. Thus, they are lowering tuition and cutting financial aid and making a splash vis a vis the current concern over high tuition.
The article makes a number of useful points: that colleges have done a terrible job at advertising how few people actually pay the official tuition amounts that sound so scary, or that there is a significant phenomenon of high tuition causing a perception of quality. But one obvious point goes utterly unmentioned in the NYT coverage: that cutting both tuition and aid hurts the most economically vulnerable and benefits the less vulnerable. (The NYT mentions that the college it most focuses on will retain mert-based scholarships, but fails to discuss the effects of cutting need-based.)
All of which leads me to float a suggestion for discussion - one that I once raised with our university president at a party, predictably being responded to with a chuckle and a raised eyebrow: let's raise tuition. A lot.
This Slate article* about the recent Johns Hopkins plan** is symptomatic of a seriously -- and unfortunately widespread -- mistaken approach to the political economy of higher education, namely, a short-term and ahistorical focus on the TT section of the entire labor system, mislabeled as "the job market."
Abstracting for the moment from the details of the Hopkins plan, the article's premise that "there aren't enough [tenure-track] jobs for PhDs" is an unfortunate reification of the multiple decisions of university administrators to produce the current situation by their hiring decisions. The endorsed conclusion "therefore we should restrict the number of PhD students," by unquestionly accepting the premise, just reinforces the dynamic that produces the current situation.***
A few days ago, while trying to open the interwebs thingy to allow me to start entering my grades, I was prevented from doing so by a pop-up menu that referenced LSU's Policy Statement 67. The text included unsubstantiated and highly dubious claims such as that most workplace problems are the result of drugs and alcohol abuse by workers. And this was only a few weeks after all of the chairs at LSU had to provide verification that every single faculty member had read a hysterical message from our staff and administrative overlords that justified expanding the extension of pee-tested employees at LSU to now include faculty. The wretched communiqué justified pee-testing faculty because of new evidence showing that marijuana is harmful to 13 year olds.*
Anyhow, when I scrolled to the bottom of the popup, I had to click a button saying not only that I read the document but also that I "agreed" with it.
I honestly don't get this. Are my beliefs a condition of employment at LSU? There was no button that said I read it but didn't agree with it.
While reading this recent KCNA article about the execution of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un's uncle, I was really struck by just how transparently stupid the thing is from beginning to end. It never really tells you what the uncle did that was so bad, but just accuses him of broad classes of sin:
The accused Jang brought together undesirable forces and formed a faction as the boss of a modern day factional group for a long time and thus committed such hideous crime as attempting to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of our party and state.
The closest it ever gets to actually specifying anything is when it says that Jang didn't clap enthusiastically enough at one meeting!
When his cunning move proved futile and the decision that Kim Jong Un was elected vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Workers' Party of Korea at the Third Conference of the WPK in reflection of the unanimous will of all party members, service personnel and people was proclaimed, making all participants break into enthusiastic cheers that shook the conference hall, he behaved so arrogantly and insolently as unwillingly standing up from his seat and half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people.
Clearly this functions to get people in line so as to be enthusiastic in their public displays of affection for dear leader. But I think there's something more universal going on in the whole piece.
It should be clear that bludgeoning people into publicly acquiescing to transparent stupidity is a powerful way to make them complicit in their own immiseration. Orwell came very close with the 2+2=5 thing, but he didn't quite get it. It's much more subtle and powerful. The linked to article doesn't state any mathematical falsities, but just insults the intelligence through vagueness, unsubstantiated insults, and insults that presuppose ridiculous world views ("thrice cursed dog" etc.).
I think this kind of thing is much more common than we presuppose. For example, even to be able to talk about Obamacare in many contexts you have to go along with the presupposition that private insurance for health makes sense in the first place. Or when you are at an assessment meeting at your University, you just have to go along with a lot of pernicious, false presuppositions even just to discuss how to use the newest interation of the unhelpful web interface. Or consider Protevi's recent expose of a bit of utterly typical administrative newspeak.
Just to get along and navigate basic things in life you have to communicate as if a bunch of stupid nonsense actually makes sense.
Obviously this trope is used to much more destructive effect in North Korea (mass starvation, intergenerational gulags, etc.) but I'm not sure that our own public discourse is any less ridiculous than that of the KCNA. Jello Biafra is perhaps our saving grace on this score.
If the links don't work, just reset your browser history and they will open up. Here's a nice bit:
But the pilot classes, of about 100 people each, failed. Despite access to the Udacity mentors, the online students last spring — including many from a charter high school in Oakland — did worse than those who took the classes on campus. In the algebra class, fewer than a quarter of the students — and only 12 percent of the high school students — earned a passing grade.
The program was suspended in July, and it is unclear when, if or how the program will resume. Neither the provost nor the president of San Jose State returned calls, and spokesmen said the university had no comment.
But like "conservatism" for the Republican party, for academic administrators MOOCs apparently aren't something that can ever fail us, but rather only something we can fail.
Mr. Siemens said what was happening was part of a natural process. “We’re moving from the hype to the implementation,” he said. “It’s exciting to see universities saying, ‘Fine, you woke us up,’ and beginning to grapple with how the Internet can change the university, how it doesn’t have to be all about teaching 25 people in a room.
“Now that we have the technology to teach 100,000 students online,” he said, “the next challenge will be scaling creativity, and finding a way that even in a class of 100,000, adaptive learning can give each student a personal experience.”
Nice discussion of Philip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Wastehere. The first half of the book theorizes neo-liberalism from a Foucaultian perspective and the second half excoriates the economics profession, e.g.
According to Mirowski, there was a moment after the 2008 crash when the economics profession could have performed some rigorous self-criticism and made an honest assessment of what had gone wrong. But the proposed technocratic fixes — addressing the “efficient markets hypothesis” in finance, adding so-called bounded rationality to microeconomic models to make them “behavioral,” and adding various bells and whistles to macroeconomic models — were particularly ineffective in reforming or even clarifying what is going on in financial markets. And the various “explanations” of the crisis that were brought up for debate in mainstream publications and through a network of economic policy “experts” ended up not serving any notion of scientific inquiry but instead were means of deflecting, confusing, and delaying any progress toward uncovering truth or consensus.
So how did the economists get away? According to Mirowski, they are protected through a web of prestige that stretches across the academy to quasi-accountable offices of the government like the Federal Reserve, as well as the network of policy think tanks that provide so-called expertise. This miasma of prestige has become too important to the actual logic of financial capitalism at this moment — elite economics dominates all these important international institutions, and there’s been a subtle wagon-circling at that level. Thus, like the banks, economists themselves are too big to fail.
The whole article is a fascinating read, and shows what a scam neo-liberalism is. It's weird to think that we live in a carny-like reality, where something only succeeds to the extent that a certain number of marks systematically misunderstand how it succeeds.
My six year old Thomas is reading Star Wars books designed for six year olds. He's actually very good at it, but he does consistently misread the word "universe" as "university." Since it occurs quite a lot in these books, he's constantly telling me things like the following:
My name is Qui-Gon Jinn.
I am a Jedi.
The Jedi are a very special group of beings.
For many thousands of years, we have worked to promote peace and justice in the university.
In the end, the university’s rationale for the campaign relies heavily on a narrative of state defunding. For example, as a Detroit News article relates, “President Mary Sue Coleman called the campaign ‘audacious’ and said no gift is too small since universities need philanthropy with states no longer able to support them to the degree they must for schools to be globally competitive.” This narrative seems difficult to square with the actual role of the endowment in funding university operations. The endowment contributes only 4.5% (of its total holdings) to the general operation funds of university each year. The principal stays invested. Thus, if we look at the breakdown of revenue sources at the university in 2010 the endowment contributed only $253 million. Student tuition however generated over $1 billion, while state funding totaled $315 million.
The endowment clearly has very little to do with making up for lost state funding. Its purpose lies elsewhere. And that elsewhere is in the university’s move to behave more and more like a hedge fund, mobilizing donated capital to secure new revenue streams. It does this by taking advantage of its tax-exempt status to build up a hoard of money that it then invests around the world in shady funds and places it would rather the university community did not know about. In so doing, the university is slowly becoming an important player on Wall Street but to play with the “big boys” it needs more and more capital, which requires constant fundraising campaigns. This money is destined for investment not students. Little of it will ever reach students in the form of scholarships or be used to offset increases in tuition.
The SUM seems to be the sort of thing many universities should have:
Inspired by the Quebec student movement of 2012, the Student Union of Michigan (SUM) is an organizing platform based at the University of Michigan dedicated to fighting the privatization of higher education and instead building a truly democratic, open university run by students and workers. We stand in solidarity with student and worker struggles around the world.
Philosophers should read this online issue of MLA Profession, since so far MLA > APA on professional issues. (Don't believe me? Check the date on this APA page.) Which doesn't mean it should stay like that; but it does mean we have a good model. Think of the leading folks writing on US HE issues: Bérubé, Massé, Newfield, Bady, Bousquet: they're all English folks. Let's fix that by developing a robust set of philosophers working on HE in general and philosophy work conditions in particular. IMO, these issues require us to drop the near-exclusivity of focus on the TT sector of the employment system, and to see it as one sector only. The last slides of this presentation tries to do that; the earlier slides are a stab at a brief historical survey. A conversation starter rather than a definitive statement.
A "sardonic" tweet by a "Duke sociologist"* about this year's Nobels in economics generates an op-ed response in the New York Times by a MacArthur ('genius') fellow and Harvard economist, Raj Chetty. [HT Matt Zwolinski] It's been a few decades since an elite economist felt the need to notice a sociologist. Chetty reveals what is at stake:
the headline-grabbing differences between the findings of these Nobel laureates are less significant than the profound agreement in their scientific approach to economic questions, which is characterized by formulating and testing precise hypotheses. I’m troubled by the sense among skeptics that disagreements about the answers to certain questions suggest that economics is a confused discipline, a fake science whose findings cannot be a useful basis for making policy decisions.
If economics is not "a useful basis for making policy decisions," its seventy year, lucrative (jobs, funding, prestige, etc.) reign as the the privileged discipline in the policy sciences ends. (The only time I have discussed Chetty's views on the blog, I provided historical context for that claim.) Before I turn to Chetty's argument for why economics is "useful" in the relevant fashion, it is worth noting that he accepts the idea that consensus in methods ("formulating and testing precise hypotheses") and answers ("simple, unassailable finding") is an adequate proxy to a discipline not being a "fake science." Such consensus, need not prevent it being "ideology," too.
AMERICANS WHO WONDER what the heck is happening to their public colleges can find answers in the British case. While American educational and political leaders deny the negative outcomes of the actions they barely admit to be taking, the United Kingdom’s Tory government has offered explicit rationales for the most fundamental restructuring of a university system in modern history. The stakes are very high. Both countries have been downgrading their mass higher education systems by shrinking enrollments, reducing funding for educational quality, increasing inequality between premier and lower-tier universities, or all three at once.
Oddly, policymakers are doing this in the full knowledge that mass access to high-quality public universities remains the cornerstone of high-income economies and complex societies. The public has a right to know what politicians and business leaders are really doing to their higher education systems, why they are doing it, and how to respond.
Neil Levy writes with an aperçu that works, as do all the best ones, on both form and content levels: "What's supposed to be odd about that? Compare: 'Oddly, thieves take what does not belong to them in the full knowledge that the rightful owners might be upset.' "
In the end, that’s the real danger we are now facing. Not just the
shutdown, but the rise of the shutdown strategy. By unraveling the
threads of our joint commitment to shared governance, it raises the
chances those threads will be rewoven into something else: something
deeply, and tragically, undemocratic.--Michael Lynch, Opinionator, New York Times, 10/15/2013
Plato's most important observation in political philosophy is that no constitutional system lasts forever. As Michael Lynch discerns in the important piece that I quote above (it's the concluding paragraph), there are dynamics internal to the democratic process that may lead to its own unraveling. Lynch mentions three distinct ones: (i) if "legislative gridlock" becomes "a fixture of American
political life, it will be more tempting, more reasonable, to think that
someone should “step in” to make the decisions. The chorus
calling for action — for the president, for example, to go around the
Congress — will only increase." (ii) When politics stops being perceived to be about (Madisonian) give-and-take, then the sense of shared identity will unravel. (iii) A permanent albeit powerful minority systematically makes normal state functioning impossible--the so-called regular "shut-down strategy." [In (iii) I blend Lynch and Schliesser.]
In response to (i) the Cato's Institute's Roger Pilon, remarks: "Well, that’s already happening – witness the many lawless changes to the
Obamacare law that have been unilaterally imposed by the president,
without so much as a notice to Congress. But it’s not because of any
shutdown threat. It’s because (iv) respect for constitutional limits is today
so atrophied." [HT Jason Stanley on Facebook] From context, it is clear that Pilon is thinking of the growth of the welfare state ("special interest juggernaut poured through with one redistributive
program after another, leading to the unsustainable war of all against
all we see today.") Given his focus on limitations, it is surprising that Pilon does not express concern about the limitless growth of executive power that leads to permanent foreign wars and the surveillance state. Either way, we can recognize in (iv) Hayek's old road to serfdom thesis. But with this particular twist that, rather than edging our way toward totalitarianism, we have already returned to the state of nature ("war of all against
all.") Obviously, if we are in the state of nature then the need for a Hobbesian sovereign to get us out of it will be embraced by all minimally rational agents.
Yesterday I had one of those thank God for tenure moments.
At a meeting of the"Assessment Officers" of over 100 LSU programs as well as most of the relevant deans, I blurted out, "Well, that's perfectly silly," after a dean announced that she would send back for substantial rewriting annual report that did not interpret the assessment "data sets" to entail problems that would be rectified in the "action plan."**[Please read notes ** and **** below to get some idea of just how much make-work this is.]
Then, when the hundred plus group of otherwise intelligent people looked at me, I didn't do a very good job articulating why this kind of thing was stupid during the cultural revolution in China and just as stupid today. I just said that if a unit is doing well there's no reason to find problems and that you can't expect units to get better to infinity.
This precipitated another long speech by the poor man in charge of LSU's compliance with SAAC's accreditation mandates involving assessment.*** This speech reiterated how there's always room for improvement and how this process should be helpful.**** I wanted to explain to him that he had John Calvin's doctrine on the depravity of man dreadfully wrong, but didn't say anything. Besides, everyone present needed guidance on the constantly changing computer interface that makes us enter data in all sorts of new ways and also at six months intervals recursively assess how well we are assessing.
Neil has an interesting analysis of "why Congressional Republicans are taking extreme bargaining positions
that shut down the government and risk defaulting on debt." He points to Republican "primary problem, which "makes Republican officeholders do the crazy things that the Tea
Party likes, because they fear losing their primaries even more than
they fear losing the general election." This has it backward in two important respects. First, it fails to understand the rationality of the Tea Party caucus. Second, by demonizing the Tea Party as "crazy," it facilitates the far more dangerous tendency among educated people to grow impatient with democracy and pine for rule by experts.
First, since 1988, the Republicans have won the popular vote once: in 2004. Their House majority is now primarily a product of gerrymandering and superior mid-term turn-out. If you look at the congressional Tea Party heartland (see this good map at the New Yorker), it is primarily rural, elderly, white, and Evangelical. With the exception of 'Evangelical,' perhaps, this is not the future of America. And even born again America is remarkably fluid when it comes to so-called 'life-style' choices--the generational shift of opinion on Gay Marriage has been phenomenally fast. That is to say, these are folk that know they will loose national elections time and again. Obviously Republicans can still put together winning national coalitions, but as the Tea Party heartland learned under the three Bush presidencies, these will not reflect their values and interests. They are not acting as co-partners in government awaiting their turn at the helm, but as the legal opposition. They are playing a lousy hand superbly and -- best of all -- by democratic means.
That's not crazy.
(1) Denigrate public education, and public institutions in general, as drains on private wealth and “job makers” to the point that no one would dare ask for increased support. This will assure that public universities are relegated to second-rate status with inferior facilities and loads of part-time faculty members, and will forever have a negative stigma placed on them relative to private universities.
(2) Take advantage of economic downturns to instigate “taxpayer outrage” in order to remove support from public universities so that they must either raise tuition or cut back on their programs. Afterward, condemn those institutions for raising tuition in order to support lazy, socialist professors teaching irrelevant subjects like anthropology and philosophy.
(3) As state support recedes, encourage a student-loan system that will create a “market for higher education.” Saddling students with lots of debt will make them enterprising and rational consumers of educational products and will encourage them to safeguard their economic interests. Refer to these changes as “empowering students.”
It goes on. Some of the comments aren't bad either. Emphasis on "some," however.
[I am grateful to
Vasso Kindi for accepting our invitation to contribute her reflections after The Guardian
reported that austerity measures pushed the University of Athens to suspend
Universities suffer from nepotism, political patronage, inertia, and structures
that breed favoritism and unaccountability. They are in desperate need of
reform independently of the current financial crisis. Moreover, most Greek graduates
were, until recently, channeled to the public sector where they were hired
merely by only showing their Universities degrees. This meant that, for a great
number of students, learning mattered less than obtaining the degree itself.
University of Athens (UoA) is currently shut down because there is a strike of
the administrative staff. They are protesting against plans, required by the
memorandum signed by the Greek government and its creditors, to reduce 12,500
employees of the public sector by the end of 2013. The universities, which are
all state-owned, will lose 1349 members of their administrative personnel and
the UoA 498 out of 1375. Those who are on strike have prohibited access to all
university buildings. We cannot have classes, exams, register new students. We
cannot even go to our offices.
Herman Melville got it wrong. Bartleby the Scrivener did not in fact die in that prison cell. Instead, he was awarded tenure.
Of course today's Bartlebies cannot just say "I prefer not to" when asked to run the committee charged with collating all of his colleagues' TPS reports* (and entering into a fairly inscrutable database the raw data, the collated reports, and lies about how this data will improve the department to infinity, as well as attending brainwashing sessions about how the TPS reports and database is changing, and then doing all the work over again when the people at the TPS office find something wrong with the formatting, etc., etc. etc.)
Instead what today's Bartlebies do is just make sure that every time they are asked to do service, they do a horrible job. And they do a horrible job with so much unapologetic aplomb that the resulting cluster-**** becomes the fault of the person who actually asked them to contribute to departmental service. If you are really good at the jujitsu, you make it significantly more work for others whenever you are asked to help them with anything, and soon they stop asking.
Everyone reading this has at least one colleague or professor who has made an art form of this very kind of passive-aggressive jujitsu. And the learned helplessness is always a bit of a con. If your organizational skills are good enough to do all the things necessary to get tenure, they are good enough to do your bit of the soul crushing meaningless labor handed down by the administrative class.
Prior to the reign of "assessment," (I am *just* old enough to remember those halcyon days) I was significantly bitter towards the Bartlebies among us. I mean, someone has to do the administrative work and passive-aggressive helplessness is taking advantage of people who are willing to do it (plus, it shows that anarchism probably won't work, which is a sad commentary on humanity).
But in the era of TPS reports, I can't help but admire the Bartleby.
man has ever been so advanced by Fortune that she not threaten him as greatly
as she had previously indulged him. Do not trust her seeming calm; in a moment the
sea is moved to its depths.—Seneca,
In context, Seneca’s acceptance of epistemic uncertainty (or here) is as
much about natural events (the sea) as political events—in the previous line we’re
reminded of the fates of Pompey, Crassus, and Lepidus. Political mastery does
not guarantee immunity against a violent end. Seneca is not blind to the probable destination of his political
fall. More important, the violent underpinning of Roman political
institutions means that nobody is truly master [dominus] in their “own homes” [domesticis]: “just as many have been
killed by angry slaves as by angry kings.” Somebody that “scorns his own life” [vitam suam contemptsit] will not be
afraid to die, in order to kill. Seneca offers a veritable picture of a state of nature under the rule of law:
“every one possesses the power which you fear.”*
One might think that Seneca is anticipating Spinoza: the state of
nature is never fully absent in civil society. But Seneca’s position here is
compatible with a more optimistic possibility: if one can remove the sources of
anger and scorn of self, one might have a more secure and, perhaps, even less
uncertain environment. One may not be able to calms the sea, but the ship of
state might be made more even-keeled. It is an open question if Seneca’s
proposed emendation of minds [emendato
animo] is strictly limited to a kind of enjoyable [freuris] self-help (recall),
or (if we cheating-ly glace ahead toward Letter 7)
also by way of improved state institutions and social norms.
Monday, Inside Higher Ed published an article breathlessly reporting that a "major new study" [summary, pdf] conducted by three Northwestern professors for the National Bureau of Economic Research had shown that "new students at Northwestern University learn more when their instructors are adjuncts than when they are tenure-track professors." Unfortunately, the uptake by IHE and others ignores the one salient fact about Northwestern's 'adjunct' pool that the authors let creep into one of their footnotes: "[a]lmost all classes taught by non-tenure track faculty at Northwestern are taught by those with a longer-term relationship with the university" (p. 9n8 my emphasis).
The study itself is flawed in other ways: 1) the narrow basis upon which these claims are grounded; 2) the authors' failure to consider specific factors about the faculty being studied, their relationship to the courses being taught, or the contracts under they were hired; and 3) the generalizability of the results being presented. Indeed, the authors' provide very little reason to think that 'non-tenure track' faculty at Northwestern are comparable to a similarly named group of faculty at other institutions. As such, the study provides a poor rejoinder to the large body of research that suggests that adjunctification is as bad for students as it demonstrably has been for faculty.
It may well be irrational to believe that history is progress after the unprecedented moral and political calamities of the twentieth century. But it does not follow, as [John] Gray apparently assumes, that history has no meaning. There is another possibility. To my knowledge Gray never endorses it, and it extremely difficult for a post-Darwinian mind to grap, but it has been presumed true by most civilizations and philosophies of the past, and is still so regarded by many non-Westernized cultures today. The possibility is that history does indeed have a meaning, purpose and end, and that these can easily be discerned by human beings, but that the direction of history's development is backward not forwards. History is not progress but regress, not advance but decline, and it leads to destruction rather than to utopia.--David Hawkes reviewing John Gray "The Silence of Animals" in TLS (30 August, 2013).
Let's distinguish four main conceptions of history:
Eternal Return. Within philosophy this goes back to Book 3 of Plato's Laws. It was revived by Nietzsche (and is part of the sub-structure of much continental philosophy and via Ian Hacking it is seeping into philosophy of science). It accords well with a cyclical conception of history with a rise and fall narrative or with periodic destruction of civilization(s) (think of the Atlantis story in the Timaeus and Bacon's riff on it). I expect it to become increasingly attractive to people as we head for man-made environmental catastrophe.
What follows a little bit after the jump is shamelessly plagiarized from a couple of years ago post from my old blog.
I'd initially wanted to write something today new about how soul destroying I'm finding having to write a proposal for Sabbatical Leave for Fall 2014, but I realized I was probably just cranky. . .
The thing is, it's not that big a deal if I don't get the sabbatical. And it's not that big a deal the way the non-academic suits lording it over us have changed the social contract, where these things used to be pretty guaranteed as long as you've been getting good annual reviews. Maybe they are still pretty much guaranteed, and the proposal is just more hoops for us to jump through. I don't know.
And I don't think that my general extreme discomfort with having to sell myself in this way is suitable for a post. [i.e. Why can't I just honestly say that
I'm competent most of the time? Sometimes I'm inspired, but about a
third of those times it turns out that I was inspired to do something terrible. In my experience, this describes just about everybody. What does
this do to our souls to have to constantly pretend otherwise when we sell ourselves to employers and administrative overlords? I don't know.] I suspect that this problem is both too specific (concerning my own social neuroses) and too general (in a capitalist society everyone has to violate all sorts of Gricean norms the while selling themselves).
Instead, what I'd like to post about concerns the presuppositions the designers of these reports make us assent to. For example, in my report I am specifically ordered to show how what I write will make a non-trivial contribution to LSU's own "flagship agenda." This is a classic case of lawyer's presupposition. "Are you going to contribute to the flagship agenda? Yes or no." is just as bad as "Have you stopped beating your wife? Yes or no."