Readers may recall that last December we co-hosted an open letter in opposition to a draconian law that had been instituted in Macedonia, substantially abridging the autonomy the country's universities (more info here). The letter ended up with more than 100 signatures, of which more than 50 came through New APPS.
A little while ago, I received an email update about the situation from Katerina Kolozova, Professor of Philosophy, Gender Studies and Sociology at University American College-Skopje. The news is good: the law has been suspended and, negotiations have begun between the government and the 'Student Plenums' that have been organizing against the law.
Professor Kolozova writes:
Dear friends, Thank you so much for supporting us! And it hasn't been in vain. The plenums have won today: the law on higher education against which we have protested for months, against which we have been occupying universities, writing legal analyses we had no place to present except the social media, combating the Government propaganda through arguments presented on our blogs, Twitter and Facebook, the law which practically killed the university autonomy has been abolished. The Parliament voted a three year moratorium two weeks ago, and today the negotiations between the ministries and the plenums kicked off based on a concept proposed by the Plenums.
Thank you again for your signatures of support. They helped incredibly!
I would like to congratulate all the organizers, especially those on the ground who have worked for months to prevent this law from taking effect, but also those who have been working internationally to support them. And I would like to echo Professor Kolozova's thanks to all who signed on here and elsewhere in support of the campaign.
Some six years ago, shortly after I had been appointed to its faculty, the philosophy department at the CUNY Graduate Center began revising its long-standing curriculum; part of its expressed motivation for doing so was to bring its curriculum into line with those of "leading" and "top-ranked" programs. As part of this process, it invited feedback from its faculty members. As a former graduate of the Graduate Center's Ph.D program, I thought I was well-placed to offer some hopefully useful feedback on its curriculum, and so, I wrote to the faculty mailing list, doing just that. Some of the issues raised in my email are, I think, still relevant to academic philosophy. Not everybody agreed with its contents; some of my cohort didn't, but in any case, perhaps this might provoke some discussion.
Over at DailyNous, we read that the University of Oregon has sent a letter to international graduate students warning them that they would face deportation if they were to join a strike being undertaken against the university by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF).
Several things should be said about this.
1) The threat appears to be credible. As I understand matters on the basis of conversations with folks who have had hiring responsibilities that frequently involved graduate students on the type of visa that is likely involved here, all the university would have to do is report to Homeland Security that the students are no longer complying with the conditions of their visas.
2) The above highlights the extent to which international graduate student labor is an extreme form of the sort of captive, precarious labor provided by un-unionized graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) more generally—and the importance of which once led Marc Bosquet, in one of his seminal pieces on the academic labor system, to characterize actually granted PhDs as "the waste product of graduate education." Because international graduate students typically have no legal option but to work for their university employers, they represent possibly the perfect form of GTA labor.
3) Graduate Teaching Assistant unions—which may cover more than TAs narrowly so called, also including graduate students teaching as adjunct faculty, etc.*—represent a threat to this academic labor system. I'll say a little more about this third point, and draw some general conclusions, in what follows.
[In the mean time, I encourage folks to consider adding their names to the open letter that John Protevi is hosting on his blog, calling on the University of Oregon to abandon its current tactics against the union and to grant them the very reasonable benefits they are demanding.]
Many readers of this blog will be aware of the remarkable institution known as the Collège International de Philosophie, based in Paris and supported by the French government since 1983. During its more than 30-year existence, the Collège has offered an extraordinary range of very high-quality free and public programs in France and around the world. It is, as such, one of the world's foremost institutions dedicated to public philosophy.
Sadly, the Collège now stands days away from being forced to close because the funds to support its operations have not been paid. As is detailed here, the Collège has been the subject of a number of discussions concerning its maintenance since 2012, which led to its association with the new Université Paris Lumières in 2013. This administrative association was supposed to provide a sustainable home for the Collège; but the 240,000 Euros that form the Collège's annual operating budget have been withheld by the ministry responsible for the UPL and its associated elements—leaving the institution days away from bankruptcy.
There is a petition circulating where people can offer support for the Collège—below the fold you can find, with his permission, Gabriel Rockhill's translation of the original French text (which also details the situation that the Collège is facing, and its accomplishments and history, a bit further than my remarks above).
To the long list of rich entities trying to generate academic research that supports their business model, add (maybe) Google. This piece in ProPublica discovered that the Stanford Center for Internet and Society had promised not to use any Google money to fund privacy research, after research done at Stanford led to a substantial fine for Google. The article was immediately followed by a lot of backpedaling and denials on everyone’s part (there’s an update on top), and it’s unclear at this point exactly what’s happening. The Stanford Center has also been the source of a lot of very good work on the Internet over the years.
That said, the blurring of boundaries between corporations and the academy has been going on for some time, and Stanford has always been at its epicenter. I suppose it’s encouraging that folks at least felt the need to deny the allegations
How we ought to understand the terms "civility" and "collegiality" and to what extent they can be enforced as professional norms are dominating discussions in academic journalism and the academic blogosphere right now. (So much so, in fact, that it's practically impossible for me to select among the literally hundreds of recent articles/posts and provide for you links to the most representative here.) Of course, the efficient cause of civility/collegiality debates' meteoric rise to prominence is the controversy surrounding Dr. Steven Salaita's firing (or de-hiring, depending on your read of the situation) by the University of Illinois only a month ago, but there are a host of longstanding, deeply contentious and previously seething-just-below-the-surface agendas that have been given just enough air now by the Salaita case to fan their smoldering duff into a blazing fire.
In the interest of full disclosure, I'll just note here at the start that I articulated my concerns about (and opposition to) policing norms of civility/collegiality or otherwise instituting "codes" to enforce such norms some months ago (March 2014) in a piece I co-authored with Edward Kazarian on this blog here (and reproduced on the NewAPPS site) entitled "Please do NOT revise your tone." My concern was then, as it remains still today, that instituting or policing norms of civility/collegiality is far more likely to protect objectionable behavior/speech by those who already possess the power to avoid sanction and, more importantly, is likely to further disempower those in vulnerable professional positions by effectively providing a back-door manner of sanctioning what may be their otherwise legitimately critical behaviors/speech. I'm particularly sympathetic to the recent piece "Civility is for Suckers" in Salon by David Palumbo-Liu (Stanford) who retraces the case-history of civility and free speech and concludes, rightly in my view, that "civility is in the eye of the powerful."
Mark Graber (Law and Government, Maryland) has an interesting post up on the Salaita case and academic culture over at Balkinization. Here's the paragraph that jumped out at me, as I haven't seen this particular point made before:
Each year, more and more pressure seems to be put on faculty to spend less time on traditional forms of publishing and rely more on social media in which significant incentives often exist for vulgar, juvenile, and insulting speech (I’ve never been told I should be especially careful to avoid such temptations). Take a look at the website of many law schools and other academic institutions. Many strongly suggest that the way to gain fame and respect at the institution is through the social media or other outlets where eight second soundbites are norm and footnotes forbidden. More and more of my friends who do traditional, lots of footnotes, scholarship complain that they have fewer and fewer friends (if any) in the administration and they are becoming the first to be asked about buyouts. In short, Salaita strikes me as doing exactly what a great many professors are now doing to get ahead in our professions. Having pressured us to get on the social media, the administrators at our universities can hardly complain if we adopt the conventions of the social media rather than what I think are the better norms of academic discourse.
In other words, and in a perverse sense, Salaita is being unhired for doing precisely what new academic norms and academic institutional imperatives of "relevance" encourage.
[Update: I didn't realize that these rules (and the story) are acutally seveal months old when I posted this. That said, we haven't as far as I know discussed them here, so I'll leave the post up to facilitate that.]
There has been talk for some time suggesting that the Affordable Care Act might have the effect of forcing colleges and universities in the United States to start providing health-care to many, or even all of their part time instructors. For some, this has seemed like a very promising possibility, since it might alter (perhaps radically) the fiscal calculus that has tilted in favor of ever-increasing use part-time instructors at most American institutions.
Corresponding to this, there have also been fears among those working as traditional, half-time adjuncts and even more those working those who had full or nearly full time contingent contracts that their courses would be cut or their positions eliminated. Obviously, in the grand scheme of things, we all want adjunctification to end; but if the effect of destabilization were simply to force all adjunct positions to be maximally precarious, that would, at least in the short term, be movement in exactly the wrong direction.
Accordingly, people have been waiting anxiously for the Obama administration to issue their rules for calculating how many 'hours' part-time instructors are actually working for the purposes of determining their eligibility for ACA.
They're out. And the best short characterization of them that I can think of is that the administration has imposed a set of rules that effectively neutralize any possibility that ACA will significantly affect the way universities use adjunct labor. Details and a few remarks below
A Portuguese colleague (who has good reasons to remain anonymous) has brought to our attention some very important and worrisome recent events/developments pertaining to research funding in Portugal and Europe, which are described below. Academics in Europe (and also outside Europe) wil do well to pay close attention to these developments.
UPDATE: Perhaps my original phrasing was ambiguous, so to be clear: I am not the author of the post below, rather it is a guest post by the Portuguese colleague in question.
This post serves as a warning, and a plea for help, to academics around Europe.
Thomas Frank has a nice analysis up on Salon.com on college tuition and debts. In it, he points out that the crisis is of long duration, and people have been asking for more than a generation when the “college bubble” will burst. Along the way, he shows that a number of standard explanations (overpaid professors, insatiable student demand for gymnasiums, etc.) don’t make any sense, at least not on their own. His concluding point, though, seems vitally important. Here’s a good-sized chunk of text (with significant ellipses); I’ll follow with a couple of additional thoughts:
Back in March, I wrote a long piece about the effects of institutional debt on the current, destructive trends in U.S. Higher Education. In the same vein, there's a new article by Michelle Chen up at The Nation discussing a new report by the Debt and Society group called Borrowing Against the Future: The Hidden Costs of Financing U.S. Higher Education.
The report concerns the ways in which debt manifests itself throughout the system, and how these various forms are tied to one another—thus the titlte of Chen's piece "Colleges Are Buying Stuff They Can’t Afford and Making Students Pay For It." But Chen is right to highlight the institutional debt side of the equation, which has been overlooked despite the fact that it appears to be a structural driver for other forms of debt and institutional disinvestment in education, etc. She also emphasizes the degree to which one of the most pernicious consequenes of rising debt: the degree to which it makes even public institutions essentially subservient bond ratings agencies.
In the long run, however, these amenities often don’t pay off in terms of revenue for the schools, which grow increasingly beholden to bond investors. Those financiers, in turn, often favor not the highest-quality schools but rather “the safest prospects for investment.” Because of market pressures, the researchers warn, “bond markets can reward behaviors that generate greater revenue but are at odds with the goals of public higher education.” In other words, do you want your university’s future budget projections dictated by a Moody’s rating?
Or, as I've been arguing for awhile, rising institutional debt is what is making 'revenue at any cost' into a management imperative that trumps all others and essentially stripping institutional leaders of the freedom to make management decisions on the basis considerations like their institutions' primary missions, the best interests of their faculty, staff and students, etc. I urge folks to read the whole piece.
There’s a new piece up at TheAtlantic by Elizabeth Segran on the adjunct crisis in U.S. Higher Ed and the growing movement to contest the situation. The piece has a number of helpful aspects, including providing a summary of some of the most recent research on the effects of adjunctification on faculty, students, and the overall shape of the institution of U.S. Higher Education. Especially welcome is the recognition that, aside from its obvious economic consequences and its effects on student outcomes, faculty precarity has significantly eroded academic freedom, scholarly production, and done a great deal to compromise the university as an institution of learning and critical thought. This makes it all the more disappointing that the solutions the author seems most inclined to accept would only improve the economic situation of contingent faculty while doing nothing to make them less precarious or offer more support for research and scholarship.
In what follows, I’ll explain the above in a bit more detail.
As Protevi likes to keep reminding everyone on Facebook, it's been awhile now since I first started arguing that we haven't been paying sufficient attention to the role of institutional debt as a driver of the increasingly alarming developments in U.S. universities, especially those in the public sector. I've gestured in this direction before on NewAPPS, but the appearance of a new piece on the subject by Josh Freedman on Forbes.com provides a perfect opportunity to develop the point a bit more.
Let me begin, then, by making a fairly bold claim. Taking the problem of institutional debt seriously makes it possible to provide a consistent account of many of the major problematic trends in U. S. higher education: rapidly accelerating tuition costs; significant declines in financial aid coverage; cuts to or elimination of low-enrollment departments and programs, experiments with mass-market distance learning and online education, and a general move toward 'Responsibility Centered Managment' (RCM) administrative models; dramatically increasing pressure on faculty at the level of compensation, workload, job security and working conditions; the outsourcing of many university functions to private contractors; building booms, especially those aimed at increasing campus amenities or leveraging university owned real estate for commercial purposes; and finally, continuing increases in administrative spending, especially in development offices and other areas concerned with financial management and business operations.
All of this, which may otherwise seem contradictory and difficult to make sense of, can consistently be referred back to the urgent pressure that rising institutional debt imposes upon university operations: the need to maintain a sufficiently robust revenue stream to satisfy credit rating agencies and thus keep borrowing costs, and the costs of servicing existing debt, from exploding. Freedman provides, especially in the later parts of his article, an excellent discussion of how this works.
The story is here. I think there are two things to note here:
1: the threat to jobs of our colleagues: "The head of the University of Maine System said Friday that further state budget cuts could force the system to shed 95 jobs, on top of its plan to eliminate 165 in the next budget year."
2: the use of the seemingly neutral and technocratic term "revenue shortfall" here: "Page said the potential funding cut of nearly $10 million – part of an across-the-board spending reduction to cover a state revenue shortfall – could force the system to eliminate another 95 jobs in the year that starts July 1."
The problem with the use of that term is that it hides deliberate decisions by Maine politicians to cut state taxes, thereby creating the "shortfall" that is then the pretext to gut the university. I'd say this is a perfect example of ideology, as the hidden ratchet effect of taking previous decisions as unquestionable baselines.
Discussion on FB of this post at Leiter Reports about rejection led me to remark:
I hesitate to say this, since I made it through the wars by dint of being married to the right person, but here goes. My wife likes to say "you can't take rejection personally; there are too many factors involved that have nothing to do with your qualifications. [Wait two beats.] In fact, you can't even take acceptance personally, for exactly the same reason."
Further reflections below the fold, taken from a talk on inclusivity in conference organizing (points which hold, mutatis mutandis, for hiring decisions) at the APA Eastern, 2013. (See also this post, on why we should change our frame away from "job market".)
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.
However, one additional factor needs to be put into the equation: undergraduate student-workers, who do lots and lots of service and clerical work: checking books out of the library, answering phones in department offices, and on and on. Marc Bousquet estimates in How the University Works that UG student-workers are the largest labor component, by number, at some big public schools.
Should they be part of the bargaining unit, or should the bargaining unit negotiate their work conditions and limits to the number of them employed relative to full-time clerical workers, is a good question, but one or the other is needed I think.
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.
This is how you obfuscate, ladies and gentlemen: "There's a good reason for that, says Rex Ramsier, vice provost at the University of Akron, where Gallagher is teaching one class. "Institutions have to be very mindful that if we simply tried to staff every course with full-time faculty that have full benefits, the cost of higher education at any institution would go up 30 to 40 percent potentially," he says. "The public's not going to accept that."
Notice the conflation of instructional labor costs and total costs (including admin salaries, fixed costs (building construction and upkeep, etc), which go to the bottom line of the school, and "cost" to "the public."
There's another equivocation there, between the public qua set of individual consumers (in which case we're talking about "price" to them -- tuition and fees) and public qua set of individual taxpayers.
Why is this important? A public uni could recoup its increased labor costs by two means.
This piece up at Salon gives a good narrative account of the problems with the for-profit college industry. These colleges prey on vulnerable students, making sunny promises about life after graduation. Once those students enroll, the colleges pocket the students’ federal grant and loan money. An alarming percentage of the students don't even finish a class, much less obtain a degree of any sort. What they mainly obtain is student-loan debt. The industry thus combines an incredibly brazen rent-seeking to protect their access to student financial aid with a basic finance-capital accumulation by dispossession: student loans are unforgiveable, even in bankruptcy, and so these students will forever be owing ever increasing amounts of money, which gets sent directly to Wall Street.
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.***
Quite a morning on Facebook. First, someone posted a link to this NDPR review, which prompted this reflection on my part:
The choice of doing a review or not on Objectivism entails a bit of a double-bind: "sunlight is the best disinfectant" (or less obnoxiously, "let's let the marketplace of ideas* do its work") vs "recognition lends legitimacy." The choice of reviewer is equally problematic: with a highly polarizing topic the choice of a friend or a foe stacks the deck and neutral observers are difficult to find. The Stanford EP article on Objectivism was discussed critically along those lines a while ago if I'm not mistaken.
Subsequent discussion led me to this Forbes column on (often privately funded) university centers for "free market oriented policy research."
The good news: NYU and the UAW have agreed to allow graduate teaching assistants to hold a union election.
The "sigh" moments come in the first and last clauses here:
Outside the South, graduate student unions are common in public higher education (where collective bargaining rights are determined at the state level), but have been the source of years of organizing and legal struggles in private higher education.
In the discussion that followed Anca Gheaus' guest post on the gender situation in the German academy, there was some mention of the fact that in many European job-markets, faculty searches are not truly 'open,' so that internal candidates are strongly preferred to those from outside the hiring institution. Clearly, when taken to an extreme—institutions becoming highly resistant to hiring anyone but their own PhDs and/or post-docs—such a practice can be very detrimental to any process of diversification within the academy. But I wonder if there might not be other situations in which an over-emphasis on 'open' searches is actually detrimental.
I'm thinking of the situation in the U.S. academy, where the norm is very strongly against not only hiring a department's own PhDs, but also hiring any currently employed non-tenure track faculty into tenure lines, or even adjuncts into full-time NTT lines. Given that the galloping precaritization of the professoriate as a whole is fast becoming a structural crisis, I wonder if it is not time to examine the possible merits of encouraging departments to commit to making at least a certain percentage of their full-time and TT hires from within the ranks of their current part-time and NTT faculty.
The University of Florida has been given permission to hire "100 faculty members to fill new positions it will create as part of a push to join the nation’s top 10 public research institutions," The Chronicle reports. [HT Pete Boettke] According to the university, the main fields targeted for expansion "are life sciences, massive data, cybersecurity, Latin American development." Given demographics and geography, the first and last of these priorities make eminent sense, of course. (I ignore here the non-trivial issue to what degree Florida should be investing in higher education rather than, say, in K1-12.)
Now, earlier in the year this very same university made national headlines by acknowledging that it is basically terminating its PhD program in economics. Given that "massive" data-mining is increasingly taking over economics, there is some logic in this decision (recall and here, here). But before any philosopher has misplaced schadenfreude over the demise of the once-imperial human science in the face of market-forces, it is worth noting that the economics department was "offered the opportunity to move to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences but opted to remain within the business college and become smaller." One wonders what is known about the investment priorities of the Gator's college of LAS. For more on the internal political economy at UF called "responsibility-centered management", see here.
Universities as corporate bodies are institutions with amazing longevity. They have a demonstrated record of adaptability, re-invention, and expansion. They have seen the rise and fall of Feudalism, the Reformation, the growth of capitalism, expanding suffrage, Communism, Nazism, and innumerable break-through technologies (including print, telescopes, radio, TV, etc.) One does not show such durability by exhibiting special moral courage nor by clinging to the status quo. Rather, one does so by shrewd opportunism and a firm eye on strategies that ensure long-term survival. None of this is to deny that there are not failed (e.g. Palencia) or zombie universities in which the academic ethos struggles against clientism, nepotism, state control, and a whole list of -isms taht promote mediocrity (many of which intimately familiar to us in Europe).
Only a fool bets against universities. One has to be a huge fool to bet against North American universities; these thrive in an extremely, competitive environment. To be clear: their thriving can come at the expense of many academics (e.g., adjuncts); their thriving is compatible with being a rich source of profit to alternative parties (e.g., Apple); their thriving is also compatible with providing governments with tools to spy on the whole world (enuff said). What's good for universities is not necessarily an unmitigated good. Now, for that whole, amazing history of the university, philosophy has had some place in the curriculum. Nothing lasts forever, of course, and philosophy may have changed essence along the way...because just saying.