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the academic upper middle class needs to rethink its alliances
May 8, 2011 8:44 AM   Subscribe

What we have in academia, in other words, is a microcosm of the American economy as a whole: a self-enriching aristocracy, a swelling and increasingly immiserated proletariat, and a shrinking middle class. The same devil’s bargain stabilizes the system: the middle, or at least the upper middle, the tenured professoriate, is allowed to retain its prerogatives—its comfortable compensation packages, its workplace autonomy and its job security—in return for acquiescing to the exploitation of the bottom by the top, and indirectly, the betrayal of the future of the entire enterprise. Graduate school as suicide mission, in the Nation.
posted by gerryblog (232 comments total) 63 users marked this as a favorite

 
"I went to some dark places man, like applying to grad school, dark."
posted by PostIronyIsNotaMyth at 8:55 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I got a little frustrated when the whole first page went by and he still hadn't distinguished between science and humanities grad students - did I miss it? I've only seen the science side of things - isn't the situation pretty different over in the humanities? Is he referring to the humanities by default? I guess the guy was a professor of English...

And I didn't feel like giving The Nation my e-mail address in exchange for reading the rest.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:08 AM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Well, that was a wonderful start to the day. Now to write a term paper.
posted by HostBryan at 9:08 AM on May 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


This article is great top to bottom — I especially like how it deals with the myth of "oversupply" of PhDs — but I'd like to highlight one little aside that I'm going to use myself when confronted with people in favor of the abolition of tenure:
Can you imagine what the current gang of newly elected state legislators would do if they could get their hands on the people who teach at public universities?
The abolition of tenure would represent the final defeat of American academic research in economic terms, because no one would go through a PhD program if they didn't have the illusory hope of a tenure-track job at the end. But also, even before the economic disaster would come into play, American academic research would get shivved by idiot legislators opposed to stem cell research, or queer studies, or research done by people who think that Palestine should be a state, or, well, research in general.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:10 AM on May 8, 2011 [39 favorites]


At Yale, we were overjoyed if half our graduating students found positions. That’s right—half. Imagine running a medical school on that basis. As Christopher Newfield points out in Unmaking the Public University (2008), that’s the kind of unemployment rate you’d expect to find among inner-city high school dropouts.
I'm pretty sure that the people who don't get "positions" don't actually end up unemployed. There are plenty of things you can do with a humanities or social sciences PhD other than a tenure-track faculty position or a crappy life of cobbling together adjunct positions.
posted by craichead at 9:10 AM on May 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


I've had my disagreements with Deresiewicz's literary criticism but I can find absolutely nothing to disagree with here. He's dead on the money and this piece is a model for how people should be writing and thinking about the academic labor crisis. Particularly important are his understanding of the "oversupply" of PhDs as a consequence of the exploitation of grad-student labor, rather than something that can be controlled on the supply side, and the central importance of the current defunding of public universities in the destruction of young academics' hopes of a career.
posted by RogerB at 9:11 AM on May 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Salvor: Yeah, one problem with most of the how-the-academy-is-being-killed articles I see is that they're generally written by academics who have a personal stake in either the humanities or the sciences, but not both. If you're in, say, Comparative Literature, it's hard to keep in mind that although (say) Physics is being dismantled just as much as your discipline is, it's being dismantled in different ways using different tools. Most significantly, I don't think I've read anyone who manages to describe both the "humanities grad students as warm bodies to teach first year composition" problem and the "sciences grad students/postdocs as cheap lab labor" one.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:13 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


I'd read this now, but as someone who had "a crappy life of cobbling together adjunct positions" but only two days ago was budget-cutted out of even that I'm sure it'll just be depressing. Maybe later.
posted by williampratt at 9:15 AM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The abolition of tenure would represent the final defeat of American academic research in economic terms, because no one would go through a PhD program if they didn't have the illusory hope of a tenure-track job at the end.

As mentioned upthread, statements like these should be qualified with "within the humanities." I am on the verge of completing a PhD in an applied medical science and little in this article seems to apply to me or my peers.
posted by docgonzo at 9:16 AM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Salvor Hardin - Generally, these scaremongering articles don't distinguish between the humanities and sciences at all. They're meant to get people harrumphing and buying copies of the magazine/clicking on links on the website.

I would contend that yes, if you're strictly focused on something like history or English or theater life is going to get very difficult for you in academia very quickly. The fact is that education is increasingly turning towards skills, which is why (in my opinion) the best programs teach skills but also require the students to take courses in theoretical concepts and issues pertaining to their field. My background is primarily in broadcasting and mass communication, and in the programs I have been a part of skills and theory are given equal footing. This is as it should be.

However, simply placing job skills as the core concern and goal of higher education is problematic and short sighted. We're basically giving graduates knowledge of how things work without any knowledge of why they work. This is where I agree with the article - the corporatization of higher education is inherently a bad thing. If we want to improve academia and give students a better education, slashing programs and budgets is not the way to do it. Until legislators get it through their heads that education is the smartest investment they can make to improve the economy the bean counters will continue to have their way with academia.

It's a shame, but here's something the article doesn't address - for many PhD students in a lot of different fields, what other option do they have?
posted by HostBryan at 9:17 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


a crappy life of cobbling together adjunct positions.

It is what it is. Tautologically speaking.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:17 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


His bias gets a lot clearer on the last page:

These are young people who don’t know what college is, who they are, who they might want to be—things you need a college education, and specifically a liberal arts education, to help you figure out.

Academia is a big, diverse place. The problems may be systemic, but it'd be nice if the author would be a little more upfront about the focus of his experience.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 9:19 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


docgonzo: Does your discipline have the "endless postdoc positions, but no traditional academic jobs" issue? I've heard that's severe in many of the hard sciences... I'm curious to find out what subfields do and don't have that problem.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 9:22 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that the people who don't get "positions" don't actually end up unemployed.

Yes, plenty of them (us!) do. Not jobless for the rest of their lives (with any luck), but bouts of short-term unemployment are very common these days, punctuated by casual term-to-term teaching (or the usual shit temp jobs that any college grad might do) and more job searching. The non-academic jobs that these people eventually find their way into are mostly not fairly described as "things you can do with a humanities or social sciences PhD" — since they're things you could've done without one just as well.

And folks:

I am on the verge of completing a PhD in an applied medical science and little in this article seems to apply to me

My background is primarily in broadcasting and mass communication, and in the programs I have been a part of skills and theory are given equal footing

He's not talking about you, as should be obvious if you RTFA. This is a discussion about the state of the liberal-arts academy (which, btw, includes mathematics and the pure non-applied branches of science), not industrial/professional/applied fields. In fact the destruction of the liberal arts in favor of a focus on "skills" and vocational training and directly applied research is the subject of a large chunk of the piece.
posted by RogerB at 9:24 AM on May 8, 2011 [20 favorites]


This is good and, I would argue, much better written than some of the sources he cites.

I will be getting hooded on Saturday (woo!). My PhD is in ecology. This all rings incredibly true to me, although I would have placed more emphasis on how grad school itself is a racket, from the "cheap lab labor" to the "warm body" of the TA in intro bio lab to the lack of standardization in expectations of grad students, so that having the right personality or connections gets you held to a different standard from those who lack those things, and affects ultimately what jobs you are likely to get. The reality of grad school, regardless of discipline, is that so much of it is just snake fighting.

On the more organismal side of biology, most of us are still hoping for tenure track jobs. There are some jobs for ecologists in government agencies, NGOs, or environmental consulting, and jobs for evolutionary biologists in museums and such, but we really don't have anything resembling the massive industry opportunities of the molecular and biomedical folks.

I've accepted a job at a university with multi-year contracts rather than tenure. The upside of that is that all faculty are on those contracts and they are working to avoid the underclass of adjuncts. I have some qualms and doubts, but I am also more excited about the student population I'll be working with and the kind of teaching I'll get to do there than at any other job I interviewed for. And, ultimately, the job market is so tight that I wasn't going to not take a job because it didn't come with the opportunity for tenure.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:30 AM on May 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Yes, plenty of them (us!) do. Not jobless for the rest of their lives (with any luck), but bouts of short-term unemployment are very common these days, punctuated by casual term-to-term teaching (or the usual shit temp jobs that any college grad might do) and more job searching. The non-academic jobs that these people eventually find their way into are mostly not fairly described as "things you can do with a humanities or social sciences PhD" — since they're things you could've done without one just as well.
Fascinating. Among my grad school colleagues, that's really only been true of people who continue to hold out for the elusive tenure track job. People who have cut their losses have generally ended up finding satisfying jobs at libraries and archives, in university administration, working for the government, etc. Historically, those things have been considered marks of enormous failure, but my sense is that this is changing.
posted by craichead at 9:32 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


We aren't worried that PhD might not eventually get some reasonable job, craichead. A good PhD has basically replaced being an Eagle Scout or something. Instead, we're worried that PhDs will waste their lives doing adjunct teaching, making themselves miserable, lowering the pay for faculty who "made it", legitimizing crappy for-profit schools, etc.

Imho, all universities should adopt a rule that they'll simply never hire anyone who's done lowly paid adjunct teaching as a professor, similarly anyone with more than 5 years postdoc experience. If that was just standard operating procedure, then young PhDs might realize "oh I better start looking for an industry job".

There was a good sequence of article in Nature recently, mostly covering the science side, but one religion prof. weighed in.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:35 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Imho, all universities should adopt a rule that they'll simply never hire anyone who's done lowly paid adjunct teaching as a professor, similarly anyone with more than 5 years postdoc experience.

In my eight+ years of lowly paid adjunct teaching I would wager that I have learned more about applied pedagogy than many of my highly paid tenured peers, many of whom - it seems - view teaching as an obstacle or nuisance at best. And this with access to few if any of the resources at the disposal of the latter folks.

I find your flippant attitude distressingly simplistic.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:40 AM on May 8, 2011 [44 favorites]


I have no idea where people are getting the idea that this article doesn't distinguish between science and humanities grad students. I get the feeling this is because people (understandably) can't stand pagination, and only read the first page. If that's the case, well, here is the whole thing on one page (although, to warn you, that's the print version, so it'll automatically pop up a print dialogue.)
posted by koeselitz at 9:42 AM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Aint nothing wrong with an educated population.
posted by cyberdad at 9:46 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm pretty sure that the people who don't get "positions" don't actually end up unemployed. There are plenty of things you can do with a humanities or social sciences PhD other than a tenure-track faculty position or a crappy life of cobbling together adjunct positions.

Uh-huh, if they want to be under-compensated and overqualified in the private sector, there are quite a few part-time, contract positions with little or no benefits and job security they can go for as they struggle to pay off their student loans.

So people settle, deluding themselves into thinking there is that magical pay off down the road if they just endure, but that's just folksy logic meshed in with wishful thinking. Maybe there will be a reality show pitting debauched ad unemployed Ph.D. grads with one another for a chance to find meaningful employment -- now there is an untapped segment of society just ripe for prime time exploitation!
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 9:46 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


jeffburdges: “We aren't worried that PhD might not eventually get some reasonable job, craichead. A good PhD has basically replaced being an Eagle Scout or something. Instead, we're worried that PhDs will waste their lives doing adjunct teaching, making themselves miserable, lowering the pay for faculty who "made it", legitimizing crappy for-profit schools, etc. Imho, all universities should adopt a rule that they'll simply never hire anyone who's done lowly paid adjunct teaching as a professor, similarly anyone with more than 5 years postdoc experience. If that was just standard operating procedure, then young PhDs might realize "oh I better start looking for an industry job".”

Speak for your damned self. Tenured professorships are already paid too high. The problem is exactly what you say it isn't: PhDs don't get jobs. Fuck the faculty who "made it" – they are the problem. They legitimize the broken system by making good paid positions more and more impossible to find for thoughtful young grads.

In my humble opinion, every tenured professor who's been in the position for five years or more should be fired immediately, and two tenured professors hired in her or his place. Some of those lowly adjuncts who have actually worked for education for a change, maybe.
posted by koeselitz at 9:49 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


craichead said:

I'm pretty sure that the people who don't get "positions" don't actually end up unemployed.


You're wrong.
posted by chanology at 9:51 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


koeselitz, how would that not lead to 5year term positions instead of tenure? Mandatory retirement is one thing, but the long term answer is probably just better funding.
posted by Orange Pamplemousse at 9:54 AM on May 8, 2011


But do we really want our higher education system redesigned by the self-identified needs of high school seniors? This is what the British are about to try, and in a country with one of Europe’s most distinguished intellectual traditions, they seem poised to destroy the liberal arts altogether. How much do 18-year-olds even know about what they want out of college? About not only what it can get them, but what it can give them? These are young people who don’t know what college is, who they are, who they might want to be—things you need a college education, and specifically a liberal arts education, to help you figure out.

It's nice to see the article also address the whole "education as marketplace" issue eventually. Increasingly, student attitudes boil down to one thing -- I paid for it, so I should get it. They hold this to be true whether they've actually learned anything or not, and so begins a cycle of grade inflation and course degradation where the end result is an entire generation of degree holders who have achieved nothing academically but still have a 3.5 GPA.

The scary thing is how many of these students are then going into industry of various sorts, completely unable to actually do anything in their field and having never had any true pressure to perform put on them. It's a rather rude awakening.

I've heard about students suing the school from which they earned a degree which taught them nothing and having the university administration settle with them out of court for hundreds of thousands of dollars and as quietly as possible, because who wants to have a public stink made about how your graduates don't actually know anything?

All this is, of course, exacerbated by adjunct and lecturer positions, because you end up with "professors" teaching courses who are not really skilled in teaching or even have a strong background in the subject matter they are teaching.

It's truly a race to the bottom, and the sad part is, it's crippling our country and society by creating an entire class of supposedly educated people who actually don't have an education.
posted by hippybear at 9:55 AM on May 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


The perception among tenured faculty that tenure-track is the only option for a Ph.D. is exactly what is creating this problem in the first place. The idea that a student is a failure if they don't get an academic research position is both incorrect and damaging. My own advisor told me that he would never accept a student unless they would only consider an academic research career. There should be more options for a Ph.D. than to get a job creating more Ph.D.s. That's unsustainable. But (when/if) tenured faculty encourage their students (who have interest) to go into teaching and industry, then Ph.D. reproduction becomes sustainable. Furthermore, industry, teaching, and society as a whole benefit from better trained and better respected workers.
posted by yeolcoatl at 9:55 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Uh-huh, if they want to be under-compensated and overqualified in the private sector, there are quite a few part-time, contract positions with little or no benefits and job security they can go for as they struggle to pay off their student loans.
As I said, I know a number of people who have landed full-time, benefits-providing jobs that aren't tenure-track positions. Hell, I've done that, and I'm still ABD.
posted by craichead at 9:56 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've heard about students suing the school from which they earned a degree which taught them nothing and having the university administration settle with them out of court for hundreds of thousands of dollars and as quietly as possible, because who wants to have a public stink made about how your graduates don't actually know anything?


cite pls
posted by found missing at 9:57 AM on May 8, 2011


craichead: “I'm pretty sure that the people who don't get "positions" don't actually end up unemployed. There are plenty of things you can do with a humanities or social sciences PhD other than a tenure-track faculty position or a crappy life of cobbling together adjunct positions.”

Nonsense. Name those jobs. As a person who did graduate work on Aristotle and medieval philosophy, I would like you to name those jobs.

yeolcoatl: “The perception among tenured faculty that tenure-track is the only option for a Ph.D. is exactly what is creating this problem in the first place. The idea that a student is a failure if they don't get an academic research position is both incorrect and damaging. My own advisor told me that he would never accept a student unless they would only consider an academic research career. There should be more options for a Ph.D. than to get a job creating more Ph.D.s. That's unsustainable. But (when/if) tenured faculty encourage their students (who have interest) to go into teaching and industry, then Ph.D. reproduction becomes sustainable. Furthermore, industry, teaching, and society as a whole benefit from better trained and better respected workers.”

Yeah! I'll just go to work in the burgeoning Aristotle industry! Why didn't I think of that in the first place?
posted by koeselitz at 9:58 AM on May 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


found missing: well, it was all handled on the hush hush, so it's hard to find any online citations about it. Let's just say, it was a University in Eastern Washington, and involved a student who was learning about the Science of Computers.

I'll look around for actual documentation of the case, but I doubt it exists. Settled out of court usually means no public record.
posted by hippybear at 10:01 AM on May 8, 2011


Aristotle is not an industry, but learning about and studying Aristotle has tremendous benefits to society. Someone who understands the origins of logical discourse would be a far better teacher of High School English than a half-trained former party girl with a bachelors in education who picked the job because she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life.

We should not discourage students from seeking an education, and we should not discourage students from seeking higher education. A better educated population serves everybody. There is a problem in making sure that these trained people are compensated well, but discouraging people from getting an education is not a good way to solve this problem.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:02 AM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm in a class of part-time administrative workers at a college that is treated even worse than the adjuncts, if that's possible. We were in the same classification as the adjuncts and on the adjunct pay schedule. This meant we didn't get a paycheck a month or two out of the year because the adjuncts weren't teaching then. However, *we* were working all through that time. The administration would then dole out our back pay on a pro-rated basis over the next few months.

So we were like adjuncts, but we weren't. When the adjuncts formed a union the other part-timers were thrown under the bus in the negotiations.

Meanwhile my Republican boss, two levels up, is a member of a union. I find this darkly amusing.

And yes, this is just a reflection of how some workers are being messed with all over. I worked for another non-profit where one day I was called into a meeting and told that they were reneging on a promised pay raise. Immediately after that I was called into another meeting and assigned a new task: Writing and submitting our entry into a "Best Places to Work" contest.
posted by NorthernLite at 10:06 AM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Wow, people seem to have an inexhaustible hunger to read articles that all say exactly the same thing. And of course, this being an educated, liberal site, everyone has their trigger fingers out ready to condemn the death of the liberal arts and blah blah blah. Meanwhile, not a single commentator in any of the cookie-cutter articles I've seen dares to imagine a future for the liberal arts that isn't tied to the current form of the university as it exists in the US, despite an overwhelming willingness to assume the existence of shiny magic unicorns that will end corporate-style management, chasten the evil neoliberals, and return higher education to a state of solvency. There's an overriding assumption that if you question the Profession (which is really only a century old, dating to the rise of professional grad schools in disciplines like history) you're a sniveling neoliberal philistine who's sold out to global capital.

Why not, for instance, abandon the mixed research/teaching experiment entirely, since it seems to be working out so poorly? Why not adopt a national academy of sciences system in which the academy operates a network of research-only institutes, liberal-arts as well as scientific, and gets its funding appropriated as a block grant? Or why not create funds that subsidize sabbatical years for people in normal jobs who pursue liberal-arts scholarship in their spare time? Yes, these things all assume the availability of funding and willingness to change, but not necessarily any more so than just waiting for the whole thing to fall apart of its own accord and then struggling to reconstruct something on the ruins.

I've said this before, but as a grad student I don't feel particularly exploited. People in my program finish in 5-7 years without a problem, even if they don't necessarily get jobs right away; I will probably finish in 8, but that's primarily due to some abstruse language requirements for my project. (My advisor says that we are moving to a postdoc-treadmill system, as in the sciences, where even star candidates will generally spend at least a few years in postdocs before moving on to the tenure track.) I start teaching in the fall, but my problem isn't getting a 4/4 load--it's finding enough sections to get paid what my stipend paid in the first two years.

Now, I realize that my program is in a pretty unique position: it can afford to fund everyone equally and well. But by the same token, I won't regard having spent my twenties doing a degree here as a waste, even if I don't end up in academia (which seems likely). I'm not getting into debt, and my funding is sufficient to live the modest and frugal middle-class lifestyle I've been taught to associate with professional advancement. I am comfortable with the idea that I'll get the degree and then throw it away to go work with computers somewhere. The extent to which the oversupply of PhDs exists is the extent to which not every grad student is afforded the same opportunity. In other words, the real problem isn't creating careers for humanities professors--it's the fact that grad school doesn't really work as the real-life-job-avoiding nursery that it is increasingly becoming.

Think that's ridiculous? Keeping young people off the job market for a few more years is more or less the social function of higher education these days. With the dramatic decline of every industry that might once have employed literary-minded young people, it's imperative that the labor pool of people looking for those types of jobs be shrunk as much as possible. The labor market understands this. In a functioning market, people will not delay their entry into the workforce by grabbing hold of whatever guaranteed minimum-wage position is closest to hand and sacrificing a decade of their lives to it; yet probably half of the grad-school applications schools with funding receive are from people who want to escape the job market. That's a sign that society is realigning itself to make job-market entry start later. It seems to me that grad school is ideally placed to serve this role--especially since societal expectations about adolescence have expanded so dramatically--as long as we let go of the expectation that people should actually get jobs doing what they got their degree to do.

In my humble opinion, every tenured professor who's been in the position for five years or more should be fired immediately, and two tenured professors hired in her or his place. Some of those lowly adjuncts who have actually worked for education for a change, maybe.

Self-serving garbage. Where are those tenured professors going to go? No one has that many senior-hire slots open. You expect forty-five year old people to go out into the workforce? You want to go out into the workforce at forty-five?


Aristotle is not an industry, but learning about and studying Aristotle has tremendous benefits to society. Someone who understands the origins of logical discourse would be a far better teacher of High School English than a half-trained former party girl with a bachelors in education who picked the job because she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life.

Spoken like someone with no understanding of the job market for high school teachers or the realities of the PhD process.
posted by nasreddin at 10:08 AM on May 8, 2011 [30 favorites]


yeolcoatl: "Aristotle is not an industry, but learning about and studying Aristotle has tremendous benefits to society. Someone who understands the origins of logical discourse would be a far better teacher of High School English than a half-trained former party girl with a bachelors in education who picked the job because she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life."

I have a bunch of friends and acquaintances who are ABD in philosophy. Guess what? Not a single one of them has the least interest in starting a job, after seven to eleven years of school, making $29,000. Your suggestion that they go into high school teaching is ridiculous. $500 a week doesn't even allow you to pay off the interest on a Direct Loans student loan of $55,000.

You know who would be good at working at Arby's? People who have devoted their lives to learning about cooking. I bet Alton Brown is available. He's not doing anything better with his time.

You know who would be good at working at Midas? People who have worked on Formula 1 pit crews.

You know who I wish I had living in my spare bedroom for those times when my computer problems make it hard to get online? Linus Torvalds and Richard Stallman.

There must be some reason Alton Brown hasn't applied to Arby's. I just can't quite think of it. Can you help me out?
posted by chanology at 10:10 AM on May 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


Nonsense. Name those jobs. As a person who did graduate work on Aristotle and medieval philosophy, I would like you to name those jobs.
You probably won't be able to get a job that has anything to do with Aristotle or medieval philosophy. However, there are a lot of university administration jobs that require a PhD in something. Have you considered looking into those?
Guess what? Not a single one of them has the least interest in starting a job, after seven to eleven years of school, making $29,000.
Well, tough luck. If you went to grad school to make a lot of money, you're a dingbat. I don't make much more than that, but I have great benefits and good job security and am not under the impression that I'm entitled to be wealthy.

Everyone here realizes, right, that teaching high school is actually kind of difficult and isn't some sort of fall-back job?
posted by craichead at 10:19 AM on May 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


Spoken like someone with no understanding of the job market for high school teachers or the realities of the PhD process.

Actually, spoken like someone with a Ph.D. who trains teachers for a living and every day is heart broken by how little they learn in the very short time we have with them.

As for the job market for teachers? It's terrible, yes. But I suspect the job market for Ph.D.s in Aristotle is works. And that doesn't change the fact that a better trained teacher is better for their students than a lesser trained teacher, which is all I said.

Guess what? Not a single one of them has the least interest in starting a job, after seven to eleven years of school, making $29,000.

They should. Partly because a teaching salary is better than no salary, but mostly because public school teaching is the most important job anyone can have in this society. Teaching is the most direct way to have shape future generations (well, other than the entertainment industry) and it should be done by the best our universities have to offer. Comparing it to a job at Arby's and thinking that someone is above that job just because they have a Ph.D., is reprehensible. You are NOT better than them.

pay off the interest on a Direct Loans student loan of $55,000.

I take that back. Anyone who thinks that taking out a $55,000 loan for a Ph.D. is a reasonable thing to do should probably not be teaching.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:24 AM on May 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


*worse. Oops.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:25 AM on May 8, 2011


.

also,

Imho, all universities should adopt a rule that they'll simply never hire anyone who's done lowly paid adjunct teaching as a professor, similarly anyone with more than 5 years postdoc experience. If that was just standard operating procedure, then young PhDs might realize "oh I better start looking for an industry job".

I have a slightly more modest proposal, how about we just eat the surplus PhD recipients?

The problem with the "industry job" is that most Ph.D's in pure fields have the wrong specialized skill for industry and a lot of general knowledge. Name an industry that is really interested in training someone in their early 30s who has already been to boot camp once when they could get someone coming out of college or a master's program who hasn't put all the energy of their twenties into learning something not particularly monetizable?

Again, the point is that the greedheads who run this country have been systematically defunding the infrastructure of liberal democracy in their quest to lower the tax burden of the wealthy. Higher education is a part of that infrastructure just like bridges, water treatment plants, public transportation, the electricity grid, etc.

Tenured faculty in currently safe disciplines will realize just how radical the right-wing agenda is for this country when they see the jaws and teeth closing on them, and not a moment before that.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:26 AM on May 8, 2011 [12 favorites]


craichead:
"Well, tough luck. If you went to grad school to make a lot of money, you're a dingbat. I don't make much more than that, but I have great benefits and good job security and am not under the impression that I'm entitled to be wealthy."

No one is under the impression that they're entitled to be wealthy. Working shit jobs like teaching high school, graduates can't even service the debt they incurred acquiring the expertise they now have. That's a far cry from a feeling of entitlement to wealth.

I don't see how your position with respect to this comes down to anything more than an expression of disdain for people who bother to acquire expertise. No one who has done the hard work of developing real expertise, at great cost, has any reason to go back into a market with untrained people.
posted by chanology at 10:29 AM on May 8, 2011


As for the job market for teachers? It's terrible, yes. But I suspect the job market for Ph.D.s in Aristotle is works. And that doesn't change the fact that a better trained teacher is better for their students than a lesser trained teacher, which is all I said.

The Aristotle market may be worse, but the fact that there are already more applicants than jobs in high school English and Social Studies means that it's not a meaningfully better alternative for people who have focused on research and undergrad teaching rather than high school teaching. Or do you think a teacher with a subject-specific PhD is just a more leveled-up version of a teacher with an MA in education?

Tenured faculty in currently safe disciplines will realize just how radical the right-wing agenda is for this country when they see the jaws and teeth closing on them, and not a moment before that.


Oh please. College professors are some of the most reflexively left-wing people you'll find anywhere.
posted by nasreddin at 10:30 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


yeolcoatl: “Aristotle is not an industry, but learning about and studying Aristotle has tremendous benefits to society. Someone who understands the origins of logical discourse would be a far better teacher of High School English than a half-trained former party girl with a bachelors in education who picked the job because she didn't know what she wanted to do with her life. We should not discourage students from seeking an education, and we should not discourage students from seeking higher education. A better educated population serves everybody. There is a problem in making sure that these trained people are compensated well, but discouraging people from getting an education is not a good way to solve this problem.”

chanology: “There must be some reason Alton Brown hasn't applied to Arby's. I just can't quite think of it. Can you help me out?”

Well, to be fair, chanology, Alton Brown doesn't work at Arby's because it's a crappy restaurant, not because it doesn't pay well. (He already has enough money; he can afford to work at good restaurants that don't pay well.) Whereas, to be honest, teaching high school is a noble profession, even if it doesn't always get accolades.

The trouble isn't that teaching high school ought to be beneath most of us philosophy grads. The trouble is that the pay is in no way commensurate to the amount of money we paid for our education. I agree completely, yeolcoatl, that people shouldn't be discouraged from getting an education, and that one of the big problems is making sure people get compensated well.

However, I disagree strongly with your first point, namely that the problem is that most Ph D students aim for becoming tenured professors. First of all, you talk about "research positions," but that really only generally applies to the sciences; and this article, though it didn't advertise it enough, was largely about the plight of the humanities. Yeah, the sciences can branch out into industry; yeah, science grads can actually consider teaching. But for humanities grads, that's all there is – and furthermore it always will be. There will never be an Aristotle industry, or an English industry, or a great literature industry – nor should there be. There has to be an academy, there should be an academy, wherein people think and talk about these things; and that academy must learn to sustain itself.

craichead: “You probably won't be able to get a job that has anything to do with Aristotle or medieval philosophy. However, there are a lot of university administration jobs that require a PhD in something. Have you considered looking into those?”

I have actually looked into those. There seem to be fewer jobs doing those things than there are teaching – and those jobs don't pay nearly enough to be worth it, considering the student loans I'm under. And besides – your point was that there were lots of related jobs that people could be getting. Yeah, I'm doing fine right now – I'm a database programmer for a company that sells address lists to catalogs. It has nothing to do with what I was trained to do, nothing to do with what I feel like I ought to spend my life doing, but it pays the bills. But I have no hope to work in academia ever again.

“Well, tough luck. If you went to grad school to make a lot of money, you're a dingbat. I don't make much more than that, but I have great benefits and good job security and am not under the impression that I'm entitled to be wealthy.”

You don't get it. I didn't go to grad school to be wealthy. I went to grad school because I believed in the material, I believed that I could be good at it. All I want is to not starve. Now I have $100,000 in loans and I'm working in an entirely separate area, because I'm all tapped out as far as stretching myself for academia is concerned.
posted by koeselitz at 10:31 AM on May 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


If universities cannot hire lowly paid adjuncts, joe lisboa & koeselitz, then they'll either hire more professors, or more likely hire more better paid permanent lecturers.

You might achieve this by convincing the adjuncts they're better off leaving academia, ala the rule against hiring them as professors. You might achieve it by blocking federal research funds when universities hire too many lowly paid research staff. You might even go so far as blocking federal student financial aid for schools with too many lowly paid teaching staff. etc.

You simply cannot achieve jack though while adjuncts provide such a lucrative cost saving device.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:31 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


yeocoatl:
They should. Partly because a teaching salary is better than no salary, but mostly because public school teaching is the most important job anyone can have in this society.

Not according to the market, whose iron-clad judgment your argument relies upon. In fact, public school teaching, if we go by market valuation, is about forty percent less important than managing a Starbucks.

Anyone who thinks that taking out a $55,000 loan for a Ph.D. is a reasonable thing to do should probably not be teaching.

Don't worry. Most of us aren't.
posted by chanology at 10:33 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


jeffburdges: “You simply cannot achieve jack though while adjuncts provide such a lucrative cost saving device.”

That's not an argument against the existence of adjuncts, though. That's an argument in favor of unionization.
posted by koeselitz at 10:34 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Oh please. College professors are some of the most reflexively left-wing people you'll find anywhere.

Not in engineering or the sciences.. especially the applied sciences. Oh please yourself. And the thing is, even if they seem themselves as being left-wing they don't see themselves as middle managers in a industry that is both getting eaten alive by budget cuts and ruthlessly exploiting temporary labor to cover the gaps.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:34 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Education is great. Getting lectured, not so much.
posted by Swordfish7 at 10:35 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Or do you think a teacher with a subject-specific PhD is just a more leveled-up version of a teacher with an MA in education?

No, but I think that grad students working towards a subject-specific Ph.D. who show an interest in education should be encouraged to do so, instead of being told that they're disappointments. Similarly, students interested in industry, and so on.

The point is, not all Ph.D. students can become Ph.D. advisors. Ecology doesn't work like that. But it is preferable to have a society with more Ph.D.s than fewer. So some of those Ph.D. students have to do something else. Many of them are interested in doing something other than making more Ph.D.s, and rather than discouraging them from doing something else, we should encourage those who have other dreams to follow those dreams.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:37 AM on May 8, 2011


Reading these articles as an actual PhD candidate in the humanities is always so strange. Like nasreddin, I don't see being a PhD candidate as a waste of time even if I end up doing something totally different. I get paid enough to live comfortably in a city I love (and certainly am not going into debt), I learn new things every day, and I get lots of opportunities for travel that I wouldn't have if I weren't in graduate school. I'll have a light teaching load starting in the fall, which I'm looking forward to, and my department is in the process of actually reducing the required amount of teaching for PhD candidates. It's all in all not a bad way to spend my twenties. All of this is, admittedly, a result of going to a school that has the cash to treat its graduate students well-- I don't question that there are hellish and intentionally exploitative programs out there, but the assumed homogeneity of the graduate experience, which is in fact determined by individual university policies, is weird.
posted by oinopaponton at 10:41 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


If universities cannot hire lowly paid adjuncts, joe lisboa & koeselitz, then they'll either hire more professors, or more likely hire more better paid permanent lecturers.

You might achieve this by convincing the adjuncts they're better off leaving academia, ala the rule against hiring them as professors. You might achieve it by blocking federal research funds when universities hire too many lowly paid research staff. You might even go so far as blocking federal student financial aid for schools with too many lowly paid teaching staff. etc.


This is the sort of total myopia that proves the point. Seriously, this is like saying you can only get a Ph.D. if you get into Harvard: there is a lot of "low paid teaching" being done by lower research tier Ph.Ds


No, but I think that grad students working towards a subject-specific Ph.D. who show an interest in education should be encouraged to do so, instead of being told that they're disappointments. Similarly, students interested in industry, and so on.


I have a Ph.D. in mathematics and have spent the better part of ten years teaching calculus to 18 and 19 year olds. Even with emergency certification I would have to eventually go back and essentially get a masters in education in order to teach high school mathematics. Plus, even with my Ph.D. and my teaching experience, I probably don't know enough jargon to pass the 'pedagogy' part of the cert. exam.

Public education teaching is an economic cartel.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:42 AM on May 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


Not according to the market, whose iron-clad judgment your argument relies upon.

I don't know where you got this impression. There was a population ecology (basic reproductive number) component of my argument, but none of it has to do with market forces. My argument has nothing to do with the value of the market and everything to do with the value of education. In fact I have been criticized in this thread (and rightly so) for placing too little attention to the market. I'm a educator. I'm interested in making a better, more educated society, and I believe that the market should price that higher. I have no idea how that would happen, and I acknowledge that as a flaw, but I'm open to constructive suggestions. Let's make the world a better place in addition to complaining about how bad it is.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:44 AM on May 8, 2011


No one should ever borrow significant money to get a humanities phd. That's not news and hasn't been for some time. The people who did that shouldn't have, and should have known better. I have sympathy for them, but there aren't useful new lessons to learn from them here in 2011 and they shouldn't really be a part of this discussion.
posted by Kwine at 10:51 AM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I teach in a pretty good MA program in history at an obscure regional state university. Last year my colleagues were thrilled that 6 or 7 of our 12 graduating MAs were accepted into PhD programs, mostly second and third-tier schools. I felt sick.
posted by LarryC at 10:54 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


@ennui.bz

I agree that there are problems with the certification system. It's not a top priority for me, but I'll work on it. Honestly, though, you're smart. If you wanted to pick up enough jargon to pass those exams you could do it in a couple of months. Part time. Tops.

As for the rest of it, a masters in education does exist for a reason. It exists to prevent brand new graduates from having to re-invent all the beneficial discoveries in education research on their own, the way you were implicitly expected to when you were hired to teach Calculus. With 10 years experience, you probably don't need it and there are plenty of bad programs where you would learn nothing. However, I suspect if you took a few good math education courses, or even just read some of the papers, you would find a number of surprisingly good ideas that simply never occurred to you. Feel free to MeMail me if you want some.

OK, I'm going to stop baby sitting the thread for a bit and get back to grading.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:55 AM on May 8, 2011


As an aside, the introduction to Shiryaev's Probability says this about Andrey Markov :
The leading exponent of Chebyshev's ideas was his devoted student Markov, to whom there belongs the indisputable credit of presenting his teacher's results with complete clarity. Among Markov's own significant contributions were his pioneering investigations of sums of independent random variables and the creation of a new branch of probability theory, the theory of dependent random variables that form what we now call a Markov chain.
I suspect he'd never make professor at a research university today based upon that first sentence, well except he's a probabilist of course, just control for "appliedness inflation".
posted by jeffburdges at 10:58 AM on May 8, 2011


@ennui.bz

Oh one last thing, A masters in your content area is considered sufficient for the masters requirement. You wouldn't need a masters in education specifically, just the (admittedly poor) certification exam and maybe some intern hours.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:58 AM on May 8, 2011


Kwine: “No one should ever borrow significant money to get a humanities phd. That's not news and hasn't been for some time. The people who did that shouldn't have, and should have known better. I have sympathy for them, but there aren't useful new lessons to learn from them here in 2011 and they shouldn't really be a part of this discussion.”

Nope! You should borrow significant money to get an undergraduate degree, which you then spend your entire Ph D time deferring, and which you owe in full when you leave school. So, no money borrowed for your Ph D!
posted by koeselitz at 10:59 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speak for your damned self. Tenured professorships are already paid too high. The problem is exactly what you say it isn't: PhDs don't get jobs. Fuck the faculty who "made it" – they are the problem. They legitimize the broken system by making good paid positions more and more impossible to find for thoughtful young grads.

I don't actually get what you are saying here -- by having jobs, tenured faculty are screwing people without jobs? I mean, I suppose, but why stop with tenured professors? Fuck anyone who has a job; they are the ones in the way of people without jobs getting jobs. Never mind the management making those decisions.

I am a tenured faculty member. I have been in two tenure track positions, at my current institution for roughly 8 years, tenured for about two of them. I feel pretty well paid, although my faculty is behind the curve in national pay levels, and I'm not living where I'd really like, but, hey, it could be way worse. I don't really see how I screw over academic hopefuls, except, you know, by having a job.

Most of the faculty I interact with hate the current system -- our Faculty Senate (the academic voice of shared governance) has fought with the university administration in the past on getting adjunct positions replaced with tenure-track positions, and we expect to do it again. The faculty are, for the most part, really bothered by the erosion of the fields to which they have devoted their lives, and most of them work really hard to do their best for all of their students, to do their research, and to fulfill their part in the governance of the institution. So I don't really buy this "faculty cackling at the dire situation of PhD holders." It's a canard like the "lazy academic."

In my humble opinion, every tenured professor who's been in the position for five years or more should be fired immediately, and two tenured professors hired in her or his place. Some of those lowly adjuncts who have actually worked for education for a change, maybe.

You realize that it takes more than 5 years at an institution to earn tenure, right? Although you should take this plan on the road; you would have an excellent shot at becoming a university administrator or a state legislator.
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:02 AM on May 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


yeolcoatl:
My argument has nothing to do with the value of the market and everything to do with the value of education.

The word "value" is being made to do two cross-purposed jobs. On the one hand, it means "the salary a person is able to command." On the other hand, it means "what yeocoatl feels in yeocoatl's heart about the intrinsic worth of the job."

Only the former of these definitions that has relevance for the Ph.D. holder drawing unemployment benefits while waiting to hear back from a department with an opening.

The truth is that getting an education is a waste of time. Going to graduate school, more often than not, means signing up for minimum-wage work without benefits or retirement. It means being a contractor.

And this isn't a new development. The only reason that we're hearing about it now is because the situation has gotten so bad that even professors, the benefactors of this economic cartel, have begun to have pangs of conscience about their complicity in the system.

I don't understand what you mean when you say "I'm an educator." I mean, okay. Sure. Probably just about everyone in this thread has worked in a college classroom as an instructor at some point. But so what?

You suggest that we make the world a better place in addition to complaining about how bad it is. I suggest to you that we are making the world a better place by complaining about how badly compensated graduate school is. Complaining is unlikely to restructure the economic forces that make graduate school a waste of time and money, but it is likely to warn other people away from making the horrible mistake of working for an industry torn between pushing its middle-aged workers off on an ice floe and telling its minimum-wage hopefuls that their dreams are just false fires, but thanks for teaching all those classes for us, and good luck out there in the world of telemarketing.

People are articulating their anger at not being well-treated by a system that they have treated well. That is a way of making the system better, in the same way that discussing abusive behaviors is a way of making personal relationships better.
posted by chanology at 11:02 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think anyone is arguing that anyone on the planet (or at least, anyone in America) goes into the humanities or a research-oriented science field to make money. The meaningful argument, as I see it, is: The response to this trend that I see most often is:To which I respond: historically, societies that focus on business and engineering to the exclusion of everything else have been very, very efficient in the short term and completely fucked in the long or even middle term. People who believe that the market is a sound way to allocate resources tend to refuse this argument out of hand, as do people who are more interested in individual cases ("well, of course anyone going into philosophy is going to be poor, you knew that going in") than in the fate of the country as a whole.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:03 AM on May 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


yeocoatl:

"Oh one last thing, A masters in your content area is considered sufficient for the masters requirement. You wouldn't need a masters in education specifically, just the (admittedly poor) certification exam and maybe some intern hours."

How much is that going to cost?
posted by chanology at 11:03 AM on May 8, 2011


That's a much bigger problem, though, koeselitz. You'd have a hard time servicing that kind of debt on a tenure-track humanities professor's salary, too.
posted by craichead at 11:05 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


@LarryC in history is it "thing" to do an MA before a PhD or do people that don't get accepted straight into PhD programs have something against them?
posted by k8t at 11:07 AM on May 8, 2011


To which I respond: historically, societies that focus on business and engineering to the exclusion of everything else have been very, very efficient in the short term and completely fucked in the long or even middle term.

I can't think of a historical example of that kind of society. The institutions involved are too new to be able to do a good comparison. (Not to mention that business schools have a pretty weak relationship to any actual "focus on business.")
posted by nasreddin at 11:11 AM on May 8, 2011


The only smart-people fields that have any sort of payoff for the training are business and engineering

Actually, industry churns through an enormous number of engineers. In many engineering disciplines it's a de facto expectation that you will invest your own time/money in retraining lest you find yourself 40 years old with a specialized skill-set that your company decides to outsource, sell-off, depreciate, etc.

The basic issue is that business culture in the US is actively predatory. It exploits people and discards them, passing the cost off to the rest of society. That culture has infected the university system.

Oh one last thing, A masters in your content area is considered sufficient for the masters requirement.

Nope. I actually have to sit through about 9 months of education classes in my state. Though no worries, the local school systems are laying off teachers anyway.
posted by ennui.bz at 11:11 AM on May 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


in history is it "thing" to do an MA before a PhD or do people that don't get accepted straight into PhD programs have something against them?

Not to answer for LarryC, but in my (history) department, there's a mix of people with and without MAs. I've heard that preference varies on the subfield (for example, Medieval history tends to skew toward kids straight out of undergrad, while US history admits tend to be older). I personally did not get an MA before starting my program.
posted by oinopaponton at 11:12 AM on May 8, 2011


pay off the interest on a Direct Loans student loan of $55,000.

I take that back. Anyone who thinks that taking out a $55,000 loan for a Ph.D. is a reasonable thing to do should probably not be teaching.


That's an extremely unrealistic view of the way most of both society and academia --undoubtedly your institution included--treats student loans. It's never "take $55,000 to pay for a worthless PhD." It is, instead, typically something like, "We'll cover 3/4 of your credits, but you have to pay for the rest each semester--but don't worry, there are subsidized federal loans available to cover the rest" or "we cover all tuition, but not fees. Sorry we didn't mention that in the application material" or "We'll take away that paltry $500 semester grant you got last year because you requested to teach an additional class so you didn't have to get foodstamps but now make too much to get extra aid" or "you'll be making just enough to pay for your apartment, with roommates, in a cheap college town, but not enough to eat" and so on and so forth. This isn't even factoring in the genuine idiots, who took out loans to buy trombones off ebay and the like (true story in my grad program). This is just people who never quite make enough to live and whose institutions don't allow them to work outside jobs without risking loss of funding, but whose schools are always willing to offer loans, with a smile.

And the professors never seem to see this as much of a problem. My guess is that it's because most professors come from fairly comfortable financial situations (IE, their parents paid for health insurance while they were living off grant money in their 20s) and a different academic era which is completely out of touch with the usury attitudes of their institutions. A few thousand dollars taken out each semester for a decade adds up.

I was recently debating the value of getting an MFA with another MFA-holder. I cited the loss of potential income through an MFA's 20s as problematic--even if you're fully funded, you're likely to live well below the poverty line, which means that when you finally get to a job market where you're really only as qualified to work as every other BA-holder (or, worse competing with applicants with associate's; my last two jobs, in universities, at that, only required AAs and paid barely entry-level salaries), your peers who skipped out on all this valuable education have paid off their loans and started buying houses and you're trying to scrape by with, I don't know, standardized test grading and adjuncting. The person I was arguing with replied that he "doesn't consider loss of income a problem." Of course, only after did he mention that it was because he has parents wealthy enough to support him no matter how little he's paid.

And that's part of the problem--deep down, I suspect academia is a luxury only the upper class can really afford, but we tell students to aim for it as a way to enlighten themselves and liberate themselves from their working class backgrounds, essentially. And loan companies, including the federal government, are always willing to help them do that. But I don't think it really works.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:12 AM on May 8, 2011 [50 favorites]


Not to answer for LarryC, but in my (history) department, there's a mix of people with and without MAs. I've heard that preference varies on the subfield (for example, Medieval history tends to skew toward kids straight out of undergrad, while US history admits tend to be older). I personally did not get an MA before starting my program.

Yep, same here. I think our program tends to see MAs as a qualifications-raising thing you do at a name-brand institution like an Oxbridge school--there'd certainly be no plus involved if you got your MA at a school without a national reputation.

And the professors never seem to see this as much of a problem. My guess is that it's because most professors come from fairly comfortable financial situations (IE, their parents paid for health insurance while they were living off grant money in their 20s) and a different academic era which is completely out of touch with the usury attitudes of their institutions. A few thousand dollars taken out each semester for a decade adds up.

I don't really see how it's the professors' problem or something they can really fix.


And that's part of the problem--deep down, I suspect academia is a luxury only the upper class can really afford, but we tell students to aim for it as a way to enlighten themselves and liberate themselves from their working class backgrounds, essentially. And loan companies, including the federal government, are always willing to help them do that. But I don't think it really works.

I agree.
posted by nasreddin at 11:17 AM on May 8, 2011


PhoBWanKenobi is right. A "full ride" isn't always "full"...

- You think that you're getting funding for a fieldwork term, but it falls through. LOANS!
- Summer funding was cut for the whole university system and you had budgeted on having that TAship. LOANS!
- Your car dies and you live in a city with no public transportation. LOANS!
- Your diagnosed with something that shitty grad student health insurance doesn't cover. LOANS!
- You didn't get an academic job after your 4th year and there are no TAships left, so you're left with no options. LOANS!

Loans are a safety net for a lot of grad students that I know.

As PhoBWanKenobi mentions, most TA salaries are JUST above poverty level so qualifying for help is out of the question.
posted by k8t at 11:17 AM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


- You didn't get an academic job after your 4th year and there are no TAships left, so you're left with no options. LOANS!

4th year? You're expected to finish in 4? That's brutal.
posted by nasreddin at 11:18 AM on May 8, 2011


My adjunct union (to which I have to pay 1% of my income) has capped the number of classes I can teach in an academic year at 5. Very similar (the same actually) to what the full professors in my department teach.

My salary: $18,000 a year, plus 50% off my parking. No health benefits.
posted by madred at 11:20 AM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


To continue on the grad school being easier on the wealthier and specifically with those grad students that get help from their parents...

- those with higher SES parents are probably more likely to be in graduate school in the first place.
- those with parental support can spend their summers working on publications or research projects that don't pay, while those without parental support find jobs at Starbucks or whatever to get by, pushing back that precious summer time where one can spend a lot of time working on a particular research project.
- those with parental support didn't have to take on any extra TAing or RAing that they could just for the money, thus have more time to work on publications.
- those with parental support could submit to and go to way more conferences and network more (and possibly actually stay in the conference hotel and network even more!)

Yeah, haters gonna hate, but I am totally jealous of the opportunities that my better parentally-supported peers had.
posted by k8t at 11:21 AM on May 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


4th year? You're expected to finish in 4? That's brutal.
I was guaranteed funding through my fourth year. After that, I had to find my own. I think the model was that you were supposed to finish in six years: four years funded, one year with a research grant, and one year with a write-up grant. My reality has been much, much more complicated than that, and so has the path of almost everyone else I know. Assuming that I finish next year, which is my goal, I'll have spent my final three years working at a full-time job in an unrelated but still university-affiliated area. I'm actually not at all sure at this point that I want a tenure-track job, but I wasn't sure of that until I started working a 9 to 5 job and realized there were some really nice things about that.
posted by craichead at 11:24 AM on May 8, 2011


@nasreddin, 4 years if you came in with an MA, 5 years if you came in with just a BA.

I know of 3 people out of 40-some that I've seen in my time actually accomplish this. (And they generally didn't get a lot of pubs out during their grad years, came in with a very specific idea of what they wanted to study, had fellowships that reduced their TA load (in one case this person never had to TA), and often used an existing dataset for their dissertations).

But in my program no one cared and the TAships kept a-comin' until the state budget collapsed and all of a sudden it was "ummm.... yeah... so if you're approaching your 5th year, we can't give you fundings." This hit my cohort badly and some of us made alternative plans (taking non-academic research jobs that pushed back our dissertations a TON). But, oddly enough, so many grad students in my program got alternative funding - TAships in departments without graduate programs, RAships around campus - that they've actually kept funding people into 5th and 6th years.

Wish that they would have foreseen that before I bailed. :(
posted by k8t at 11:26 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't really see how it's the professors' problem or something they can really fix.

Professors steer lots of students toward academia. Contrary to the anecdote provided at the beginning of the original article, I, as a working-class student who already had some debt, had lots of professors extremely excited about writing me letters of recommendation in graduate programs in their fields, who wanted me to become a scholar. My husband (who is from wealthier circumstances, but ended up dropping out of his MA program this year because he realized it's too expensive and he doesn't want to be 40 by the time he enters the workforce) had a similar experience. Professors weren't telling us about the dire financials or the impossible workforce we'd someday face--they implied, instead, that academia was a sensible path for any bright student; that talented, driven people would find ways to get by without loans (again, not realistic for those without additional financial cushions); and, more, find a way to get jobs at the end of it.

This is the professors' problem because, as teachers and role-models, they have some obligation to give advice that takes into account economic realities and isn't rooted in some wonderful fantasyland where every student has the means and the time to devote a decade to academic enrichment.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:26 AM on May 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


I have a good deal of experience with academic unions, having been at a university that had 3 (three!) faculty strikes. Full-time tenured faculty were indifferent to part-timers and their situation. I warned the union that eventually the school would increasingly use PTs for more teaching and more courses per semester (3 courses in stead of the usual 2 tops). I was right.

It was very clear many years ago that universities, other than elite schools, were getting more and more like the corporate model. And why not? The boards and state agen ies controlling them consisted of business men..Why hire full time people and pay benefits and give tenure when you can hire cheap labor as the "crops" demand and dismiss as needed.

Even faculty will pretend that the field is worth going into, rosy, because they want students or the school would have the right to re-arrange faculty and courses (dumping teachers).

One comment here suggested that fauclty are all left wingers. Hardly. That cliche based on the simple fact that those in the humanities and the arts are more likely to be left of center and to express in writing, appearances in public etc a left wing view; fact is, though, the more nearly silent faculty in business, science, physical education and in general schools of education are Right of Center...but less vocal.

Overall the article was very perceptive though many of us saw this sort of thing years ago.
And also worth noting: what is taking place in academia has taken root and a reality in the job mark for many many fields. The university, as is often the case, a bit late to join in.
posted by Postroad at 11:29 AM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Too lazy to research more articles, but there seems to be a large number of anti-education articles coming out. Sure, a graduate degree does not guarantee a life in tenured academia - but is that what graduate education is for?

The US has become a consumer-driven economy, where in a recession, the news laments the lack of consumer spending, much of which is on duplicative crap. Once you have dishes for Christmas and Easter and Thanksgiving, what else do you need? Oh, a new cupboard. Then you need to hire someone to de-clutter your home of the masses of stuff you have acquired. An education economy, where the excess is knowledge, appeals to me much more.

Sure, there are business majors who are clueless about balance sheets, education majors who are steeped in jargon and the latest in edu-trends. So make education a little more rigorous, but I still value it more than whatever's in the newest Pottery Barn catalog, and I love getting the Pottery Barn catalog.
posted by theora55 at 11:30 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my grad program, I was SHOCKED how the faculty seemed to have completely forgotten what it was like to live on a grad student salary.

Some choice quotes:

[to a student losing funding]: "Can't you and your husband live on just his salary and pay your tuition out of that for a year or 2?"

"If you get $1600/month, what do you mean you have trouble living? Your rent is just $1200 a month!" [then reminded that this also has to be spread out for 3 months in the summer and we have no funding for the 2 conferences that we're expected to attend annually] "Oh. Hmmm."

And, we all lived in the 10th most expensive city in the U.S.

But can't they remember what it was like? It was just a few years ago for some of them. Aren't some of them paying off some student loans? What about their spouses?

Maybe the above poster is right and they tend to come from money.
posted by k8t at 11:31 AM on May 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Too lazy to research more articles, but there seems to be a large number of anti-education articles coming out. Sure, a graduate degree does not guarantee a life in tenured academia - but is that what graduate education is for?

This can not be repeated enough: a PhD is not--and is not intended to be--a fun lifetime learning experience that people can feel good about. It's a narrow professional qualification that teaches you to do one specific job. It's certainly not about goddamn critical thinking or whatever.
posted by nasreddin at 11:32 AM on May 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


I wonder if the adjunct market is also a place that those with outside support can go? (Parental or spousal or whatever...)

The average adjunct makes about $2000/class/semester, right? I don't know how big the loads are, but I'd guess a 4/4 maybe?

Rent, utilities, healthcare, etc... plus (likely) a few hundred bucks a month for student loan payments?

How could someone do this without having a spouse or something else in their lives? Wouldn't it be better financially to stay in graduate school?

And what about lecturers?

The lecturers I know get paid about $50k to teach a 5/5. Is it even worth it?
posted by k8t at 11:34 AM on May 8, 2011


The lecturers I know get paid about $50k to teach a 5/5. Is it even worth it?

Seeeriously. I was talking about this stuff with a member of my MFA cohort. She was assuring me that adjuncting isn't the only option, because she has a community college lectureship. She gets paid 43k/year for a 7/6 load. 7/6! I'd die.

At least she has health insurance, though, even if she hasn't written a single poem in a year and a half.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:38 AM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Err..OK, at my lowly institution the adjuncts make $1200-1500 per credit. If adjunct teach a 75% load which is about 10 credits then they get health insurance. At the larger, more prestigious institution near me it is closer to 2K a credit, not sure about the health insurance.

Also, my experience with grad school was different but that was 5 years ago so am not sure how to comment on faculty understanding their graduate students' social income issues/constraints. I definitely did not come from wealth.
posted by jadepearl at 11:40 AM on May 8, 2011


I wonder if the adjunct market is also a place that those with outside support can go? (Parental or spousal or whatever...)
That's my sense. The two people I know who are doing it now both have working spouses/ partners. And I know one guy who did it for a couple of years and then landed a tenure-track job, and he has a wife with a full-time job.
posted by craichead at 11:42 AM on May 8, 2011


"You know who would be good at working at Midas? People who have worked on Formula 1 pit crews."

And I'll bet they would work at Midas if no F1 teams were hiring and they had bills to pay. Pride doesn't pay the rent or fill your stomach.

"There must be some reason Alton Brown hasn't applied to Arby's. I just can't quite think of it. Can you help me out?"

Because Alton Brown has skills well beyond the Arby's level that people are actually willing to pay for?
posted by MikeMc at 11:46 AM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


MikeMc:
  1. People with PhDs who can't find academic jobs that pay enough to justify the amount of training they put in are in fact taking the metaphorical (or hell, even literal) Arby's jobs you're talking about. By implying that the problem is an excess of pride among freshly minted PhDs is genuinely hilarious. After all, the process of getting a PhD is a process involving five to ten years of learning to continually swallow your pride. Congratulations, though: you have identified what people are doing — taking crappy jobs and barely surviving.
  2. The other thing people are doing is not going into the humanities, the social sciences, or the sciences in general.
  3. The thing you need to work on now is what point 2 means for America as a nation. Most people in the thread think that this is a bad thing. Like, a really, really bad thing. That the outcome will be, like, even worse than what would happen if all the cooking shows were cancelled.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:57 AM on May 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


@LarryC in history is it "thing" to do an MA before a PhD or do people that don't get accepted straight into PhD programs have something against them?

As others have said I don't think there is a clear patter, people go into PhD programs both from MA programs and straight from undergrad. My PhD program included a couple of the later who thought that accepting MAs "diluted" our doctoral program, but there were just assholes.
posted by LarryC at 12:02 PM on May 8, 2011


MikeMc: would you advise people to intentionally lie about their PhD in order to get a minimum wage job? Cuz in my experience, businesses aren't keen on hiring PhDs.
posted by k8t at 12:08 PM on May 8, 2011


Every time I start entertaining wild "notions" because another six people ask me, "Why haven't you gotten a PhD? You're smart enough," one of these threads comes along and I want to crawl into a hole and pull the opening back in after me.
posted by adipocere at 12:15 PM on May 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Well, this again. I know I have a particular perspective, and I've rehearsed it in other grad school threads on MeFi before. I see all the structural forces described in the article, they're real and heavy. On the other hand, they are also reshaping every other industry, and society as a whole, so what are you going do do? Go to law school? There's a good idea.

I repeat this point often, but I teach in a humanities department where we place about 3/4 of our PhDs within a couple of years of finishing in good jobs. My own advisees have a near perfect record over 15 years. They're basically all working if they want to be (two just got jobs this last week, it's that time of year again). We're a top program, of course, and we fully fund our students for 5 or 6 years. We have indeed reduced the numbers of PhD students we're admitting, by about 10 percent, and we're getting people through quicker than ever now, and being much more aggressive about seeking external funding as a part of the training. I expect to see a number of PhD programs in my field close down, but surprisingly, the field itself is expanding into a contracting market. It was growing, and due for a growth spurt right as the economy tanked, and surprisingly, that has led it to hold its own. It was a downright good year for the number of jobs in the field, and for a number of PhDs who were in a holding pattern for the last year or two.

I know it's a limited perspective, and I know the overall numbers. Usually, I tell people if I can't talk them out of it, then they should go for the PhD. But it still makes sense for the very best people who can get into fully funded programs. Because really, what else do you have in mind? Perhaps journalism? Or maybe medicine? Everyone can't be an engineer or a marketing consultant.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:19 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Well, this again. I know I have a particular perspective, and I've rehearsed it in other grad school threads on MeFi before. I see all the structural forces described in the article, they're real and heavy. On the other hand, they are also reshaping every other industry, and society as a whole, so what are you going do?

As far as I can tell you seem to be saying: my own department is doing ok, everything changes why should I rock the boat.

And then:

We're a top program, of course, and we fully fund our students for 5 or 6 years.

To follow the analogy,
What we have in academia, in other words, is a microcosm of the American economy as a whole
you are someone making over $250,000 in the US saying, sure I've had to cut back a little since my investments tanked but the economy is fundamentally sound.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:30 PM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Doctors and lawyers can set up their own practice, but a professor can’t start his own university.

I've been thinking this for a while. I can teach. (Well, maybe I can. I have a PhD, which as we all know certifies nothing about my teaching ability.) Why can't I just rent out a storefront and say that I'm going to teach what I know to whoever the hell comes by? (Or do it in my living room. But I think my housemates might object, if I got successful at this.)

Sure, I can't start my own university, because universities are by definition large. And I wouldn't be competent to teach a wide enough range of subjects on my own. And I couldn't grant degrees. But why do we only count something as learning if it takes place in a large institutional setting?
posted by madcaptenor at 12:32 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I really enjoyed the article. Even though information science and librarianship seems somewhat insulated from this sort of thing, I'm still increasingly nervous about graduating. I wonder almost every week if I made the right choice to pursue higher education.
posted by codacorolla at 12:33 PM on May 8, 2011


Most significantly, I don't think I've read anyone who manages to describe both the "humanities grad students as warm bodies to teach first year composition" problem and the "sciences grad students/postdocs as cheap lab labor" one.

I'm a mathematician. Which side are we on? Oddly enough, I think the humanities side -- in math we don't tend to have large collaborations, and we need grad students to teach first-year calculus.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:34 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my humble opinion, every tenured professor who's been in the position for five years or more should be fired immediately, and two tenured professors hired in her or his place.

So you want to replace tenure with a never-ending series of temporary positions?
posted by erniepan at 12:38 PM on May 8, 2011


I wonder almost every week if I made the right choice to pursue higher education.

Oh god, me too. I got an MA in English, then started to worry about job prospects--so I went back for a Secondary Ed MAT, because when I started, there were lots of public and private high school jobs. Now the market is effed, and I'm wondering whether I haven't wasted the past three years . . .
posted by exlotuseater at 12:43 PM on May 8, 2011


Tenure-track positions are "glamor" jobs, just like artists, novelists, actors, athletes, etc. - the kind of jobs you should never ever ever bank on getting.

People in this thread are discussing changing the system, but realistically, it's not going to happen (on purpose). It would probably be easier to just spread the word that "chances are, you're not going to be a professor, any more than you'll become a pro athlete". Everyone going into college should do so with a solid career plan. If you're looking for personal enrichment, that's what double majors are for.
posted by Jpfed at 12:43 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Its weird to read this whole thread and not see one single mention of the hyper-inflationary costs of an undergraduate degree. Everyone laments the use of adjuncts and the shortage of tenure track positions, and wants universities to pay more -- but where is that money supposed to come from? How much higher can tuition go? Okay, at state schools tuition isn't the only source of income -- but given the number of states which are basically facing bankruptcy, I don't think that's a very workable solution either.

('m also surprised I've read this far and no one's linked to Dean Dad who covers these topics in detail from the perspective of a research university PhD who became faculty at a for-profit proprietary college and then administration at a community college -- trying to figure out how to pay his adjuncts.)

Finally, I'd like to point out that jobs people love doing usually aren't the ones that pay highly and offer lots of security. That's the reason nurses and teachers aren't paid well in spite of their absolute necessity to society, and it's the reason most musicians and athletes are amateurs, and screenwriters have to work on spec. There are superstar exceptions in those cases -- and probably there always will be superstar scholars as well -- but really adjuncts don't have it so bad compared to minor league baseball players. That's a much more competitive market with less job security and hundreds of days of travel and the risk of injury. And very few of them will ever make it to the majors.

I feel like going to grad school is sort of the same thing. People are always going to do it, even if the number of tenured positions dwindles to match the number of major league baseball player positions.

That said, I think the larger problem is that most of the traditional roads to a secure middle class lifestyle are like this now. See the various law school and unpaid internship threads. So what's going to happen to the middle class?
posted by OnceUponATime at 12:43 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I have a friend who made money in grad school hiring herself out as a lecturer to various places that wanted to provide adult ed in her area of expertise, madcaptenor. But it required a lot of specific things: a specialization area in which members of the general public were interested, pretty amazing entrepreneurial skills, very good contacts in the community, and an engaging lecture style that translates well to a general audience. And she didn't make a ton of money. I'm pretty sure that the people here scoffing at high school teachers' salaries would not have been satisfied with what she was making.
posted by craichead at 12:45 PM on May 8, 2011


Also the only reason this hasn't happened to medicine is that the number of doctors is artificially controlled, precisely in order to keep wages up. And I've seen that solution suggested for PhDs... But I think it's a big part of why healthcare costs are so high, and college costs are too high aready.
posted by OnceUponATime at 12:49 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


David Goodstein's The Big Crunch (1994) discribes the problem for both the sciences and the humanities accurately, although he's only trying to explain the sciences.
We stand at an historic juncture in the history of science. The long era of exponential expansion ended decades ago, but we have not yet reconciled ourselves to that fact. The present social structure of science, by which I mean institutions, education, funding, publications and so on all evolved during the period of exponential expansion, before The Big Crunch. They are not suited to the unknown future we face. Today's scientific leaders, in the universities, government, industry and the scientific societies are mostly people who came of age during the golden era, 1950 - 1970. I am myself part of that generation. We think those were normal times and expect them to return. But we are wrong. Nothing like it will ever happen again. It is by no means certain that science will even survive, much less flourish, in the difficult times we face. Before it can survive, those of us who have gained so much from the era of scientific elites and scientific illiterates must learn to face reality, and admit that those days are gone forever.
In short, there is a clear population model underlying academia which produces an exponential growth phase that's followed by a starving phase, think Malthus except all technological improvements increase consumption instead of production.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:50 PM on May 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


How many tenured faculty do we really need?
posted by planet at 12:53 PM on May 8, 2011


Everyone laments the use of adjuncts and the shortage of tenure track positions, and wants universities to pay more -- but where is that money supposed to come from? How much higher can tuition go?

The reason no one mentioned it is that there is virtually no connection between the rising cost of tuition and the labor crisis — indeed, as the article itself addresses in detail (and there's plenty of other well-publicized documentation), universities have been spending huge and ever-growing amounts of money on administration and non-instructional staff, at the very same time as they casualize the bulk of teaching labor into desperate poverty in pursuit of "efficiency." As Deresiewicz says:

What we have seen instead over the past forty years, in addition to the raising of a reserve army of contingent labor, is a kind of administrative elephantiasis, an explosion in the number of people working at colleges and universities who aren’t faculty, full-time or part-time, of any kind. From 1976 to 2001, the number of nonfaculty professionals ballooned nearly 240 percent, growing more than three times as fast as the faculty. Coaching staffs and salaries have grown without limit; athletic departments are virtually separate colleges within universities now, competing (successfully) with academics. The size of presidential salaries—more than $1 million in several dozen cases—has become notorious. [...] deans, provosts and presidents are no longer professors who cycle through administrative duties and then return to teaching and research. Instead, they have become a separate stratum of managerial careerists.
posted by RogerB at 12:57 PM on May 8, 2011 [17 favorites]


In short, there is a clear population model underlying academia which produces an exponential growth phase that's followed by a starving phase, think Malthus except all technological improvements increase consumption instead of production.

Have you discovered Hayek yet? Economic depressions are good; they clean out the chaffe in the system. If only that meddler Roosevelt hadn't got into the way, the US economy would be twice as large as it is today! and more dynamic!
posted by ennui.bz at 12:58 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Part of the problem is inadequate demand in the economy. There aren't enough jobs because of the fiscal policy pursued by the U.S. government. We've pushed "education" and "equality of opportunity" which are fine on an individual level but never addresses the overall lack of jobs.

This is just a higher education version of the jobs training programs that during the late 1960s became the preferred means of dealing with the lack of jobs in the lower income brackets. Hyman Minsky talked about this extensively and predicted that LBJ's jobs training programs would fail to do anything more than redistribute poverty and not alleviate it. You can read more about that here [PDF].
posted by wuwei at 1:07 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Woops the paywall will block you, try using this link [PDF] instead. Sorry about that.
posted by wuwei at 1:10 PM on May 8, 2011


deans, provosts and presidents are no longer professors who cycle through administrative duties and then return to teaching and research. Instead, they have become a separate stratum of managerial careerists.
Huh. So do tenured faculty want to take over those functions? Because my sense is that they don't, and wouldn't necessarily be very good at them, and sometimes have a hard time seeing why they're important.
posted by craichead at 1:10 PM on May 8, 2011


"MikeMc: would you advise people to intentionally lie about their PhD in order to get a minimum wage job?"

Probably. The more education you have beyond what is necessary to do the job you are applying for the less likely you are to stay any length of time (or so employers believe). I'm not trying to be a dick, I'm just saying that one does what one has to do until the "dream job" comes along. It may never come along but you're either going to eat shit and wait or move on. What other choices are there? Universities appear to be pretty confident that enough people will stick around and eat shit that they don't need to change what they're doing. And it appears they're right. You can agitate to change the system but in the meantime you're just getting older while your life and career are in a state of semi-suspended animation.

"The thing you need to work on now is what point 2 means for America as a nation. Most people in the thread think that this is a bad thing. Like, a really, really bad thing. That the outcome will be, like, even worse than what would happen if all the cooking shows were cancelled."

What does it mean, and how do you convey that to the people in a position to change it? Generally speaking, how do you even get people to care? The concept of a tenured job is so impossibly alien to most people that you'd have two major points to clear up before a discussion could even begin:1) What does tenure mean exactly and 2) Why should anyone receive it?
posted by MikeMc at 1:15 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Anyway, this seems like another object example of a certain generation of Americans being born into the unbelievable prosperity of post-war America, never imagining that things could be any different than they always had been. You basically had something pretty damn close to the American dream for their life-spans, and now they don't want to relinquish power, or actively work with younger generations to share their wealth. They're thrashing around, destroying the institutions that made their obscenely comfortable life-styles possible, and irrevocably fucking over their children and grandchildren in the process. History won't remember them kindly.
posted by codacorolla at 1:20 PM on May 8, 2011 [27 favorites]


jeffburdges, that's a pretty good description of the problem. The modern education system is a hundred years old and does not recognize any of the realities of our current social structures (which are themselves in state of change, as suburbia withers and dies). Most of my education experience has been unlearning all of the terrifyingly outdated stuff that was taught by an obsolete grade school curriculum. K through 12 and on through post-secondary, we spend most of our time learning junk that is not serving to better our lives or the lives of others. In most cases it is making us increasingly dependent on a industrial economy which is increasingly unreliable in providing quality of life.

We need to scrap the whole thing and ask ourselves how and what we want to be teaching our children. Unfortunately I don't think American or Canadian democracy is currently at a point where it can be trusted to rebuild the education system to improve the lives of their citizens. Instead, such an attempt would provide an obvious opportunity for the total capture of public institutions by private interests. Like energy, environment, healthcare, so goes education, succumbing once again to our institutional paralysis.

on preview, codacorolla: Yep.
posted by mek at 1:23 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


So you want to replace tenure with a never-ending series of temporary positions?

I thought it was about the cost mismatch. Right now tenure is 'job for life,' barring exceptional transgressions. But people who are full professors end up earning hundreds of thousands in addition to having ironclad job security. Now I think full professors should be paid well, but tenure is a really big deal. There ought to be a choice of either good money + tenure, or great money but no tenure. I fail to see how, say, a full professor at a law school is granted both tenure and a salary higher than the chief justice of the USSC.

As for paying for things, maybe it wouldn't be so difficult if schools spent a bit less. There are a lot of stories about the funding problems of University of California right now, and it's a real problem. But one 3 different UC campuses I've been to, every single lecture hall/auditorium has a little LCD monitor on the wall outside, which most of the time says something like 'Room D105 - Theater E.' The theaters are full of expensive, custom-built furniture. I admit that I like to arrive a little early and have the extra 2 minutes to adjust my adjustable chair for a comfy fit before enjoying a lecture or discussion panel. And I'm impressed by the small army of morlocks maintenance workers whose job it is to keep the place so clean that if anyone ever falls down and needs medical attention, it would probably be OK to just do the surgery right there on the floor.

Now, I must admit that I like this and find such luxury very pleasant any time I go to a conference or symposium at a UC school. But it seems very expensive, and that's one reason I have no plans to attend one as a student. I just can't afford that tuition, don't want to take on the debt, and am not interested in playing scholarship roulette where I'm supposed to spend money on application fees and there's no published criteria to help me estimate the probabilities of getting a scholarship. I would rather invest the time to research that in my actual studies.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:23 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


@anogbrowl those conference centers are money generators and don't reflect what students sit in.
posted by k8t at 1:28 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In fact, the population model yields a logistic curve, not ciclic behavior, ennui.bz. Ergo, Malthus, not Hayek.

There have always been enough academics with the necessary skills for those roles, craichead. I've even read articles claiming that students are much happier at universities where faculty are forced into university administration.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:32 PM on May 8, 2011


Ennui.bz, that's why I was careful to say my perspective was limited.

My point is that the system has not collapsed, even if it is under great strain.
posted by fourcheesemac at 1:32 PM on May 8, 2011


koeselitz : Yeah! I'll just go to work in the burgeoning Aristotle industry! Why didn't I think of that in the first place?

I don't mean this personally or to rub it in, but why didn't you think of that in the first place? As in, before you spent 7+ years of your life and tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars mastering something that won't get you a job (beyond satisfying the generic "college degree required" for unskilled office work?)

I fully appreciate the benefits of a broad liberal arts education - I have one myself, and firmly believe it makes me better at communicating, a more effective worker overall, and even a better coder; That said, the "BS in Computer Science" gets me the jobs, not extra 80 credit hours I took in random other subject purely for enjoyment.

We, as a society, really need to discourage people from taking more-or-less useless degrees. I would even go so far as to say that universities shouldn't allow anyone to take a liberal arts major unless they do so as part of a double major (with the other major(s) in something marketable). Not because I don't appreciate education for its own sake, but because "Shakespeare got to get paid, Son".

And to relate that back to the topic at hand, it would make moot the whole the idea of the academic "upper class" preying on those beneath them - In my college days, I knew quite a few grad students who would have told their advisor where to stick his abuse if they had any marketable skills on which to fall back.
posted by pla at 1:34 PM on May 8, 2011


We, as a society, really need to discourage people from taking more-or-less useless degrees. I would even go so far as to say that universities shouldn't allow anyone to take a liberal arts major unless they do so as part of a double major (with the other major(s) in something marketable). Not because I don't appreciate education for its own sake, but because "Shakespeare got to get paid, Son".

I actually think this is a proposal that deserves some discussion. It would certainly help liberal arts majors from being a dumping ground for lazy people looking for basketweaving classes (which they undoubtedly often are, especially if the faculty is heavily adjunctified and uninterested in keeping up a serious professional-training program). Unfortunately, I'm not convinced that the bare existence of a degree in a "useful subject" is enough any longer to guarantee the possibility of gainful employment in that field. There's no way you can run the gauntlet of unpaid internships and entry-level jobs without some serious commitment to pursuing that track in the future. Someone who's spent five years in an unrelated grad program is not going to do well on the job market for, say, web developers, if all she has is the degree.
posted by nasreddin at 1:44 PM on May 8, 2011


"We, as a society, really need to discourage people from taking more-or-less useless degrees. I would even go so far as to say that universities shouldn't allow anyone to take a liberal arts major unless they do so as part of a double major (with the other major(s) in something marketable). Not because I don't appreciate education for its own sake, but because "Shakespeare got to get paid, Son"."


No way. The notion that these are useless degrees because current market conditions don't compensate the knowledge gained adequately, is part of the point of the article. The article is decrying the predatory market influenced course that higher education is speeding towards, in which whole departments (strands of knowledge) and people are just expendable labor. Knowledge and people shouldn't be expendable, and a country as wealthy as the US of A, shouldn't treat some of its brightest citizens in this way – let alone any citizen, for that matter. I could go on, and on, but I'd suggest reading the article again, because the author says this way better.
posted by nikoniko at 1:47 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


There have always been enough academics with the necessary skills for those roles, craichead.
I think that's complete bullshit, to be honest. First of all, in the bad old days, a lot of those functions were fulfilled by faculty wives, and sadly for academia but happily for women, wives don't exist as unacknowledged, unpaid labor anymore. You actually have to hire people to organize things. And second of all, faculty whine a lot about unprepared students and their skills deficits, but they're not the people figuring out how to pick up the slack. They don't organize the study skills workshops, and they seldom teach them. They don't set up the mentoring programs. They don't know the first thing about how to sell yourself on the job market with a humanities degree, and they're not the people helping kids from blue-collar families figure out what to wear to a job interview or how to flanagle some meaningful work experience if you can't afford to take an unpaid summer internship. They don't do the day-to-day work of fund-raising or recruiting out-of-state students, which is a kind of fund-raising. There are a lot of important things that go on at big universities that faculty don't do, and would probably do a pretty bad job of if they did do them. And it kind of gets on my nerves, as someone who does some of those things, that we get dismissed as bloat.
posted by craichead at 1:47 PM on May 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


I think higher education in the liberal arts is a luxury, as stated upthread, which can only be afforded by the very wealthy. I have a degree in English. It is worse than useless to me; getting it was a waste of my time. Furthermore, the supposed benefits of the education were illusory; I have learned more through my own reading and study than through the university. I went to a top-twenty school, so it's not a question of East Nowhere State University & Used Car Emporium, either.

Please remember that prior to the 20th century, most scholars in the humanities were amateurs. I think that state is returning.
posted by sonic meat machine at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


anigbrowl: I teach at a UC. If I want to show anything on a computer in class I have to bring it myself. And I'm lucky if when I get into the classroom there's chalk.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:49 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Spending 50000 on a degree is INSANE.

I dropped out of junior college and spent a few years partying instead and I'm making slightly less than my friends that went to school are, but I have 0 debt, and I don't really feel like I missed out on any education. Anything you want to know is on the Internet for free and if you take any interest in a subject, the only thing stopping you from being an expert in it is time.
posted by empath at 1:50 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I agree with you pla. I spent four year studying history, then switched to engineering. While I find my liberal arts education personally enriching, I am well aware that it has pretty much zero utility to anyone else. The complaint is always that people with science and technology degrees don't have the cultural knowledge necessary to best employ these new powers. The converse is far more disturbing for me, a world designed and organized by people who have no knowledge or understanding of the technologies they are legislating for, protesting for/against, managing, or even use on a daily basis.
posted by karmiolz at 1:51 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


There is nothing wrong with a real liberal arts education for undergraduates.

The version that we have now, on the other hand, is simply intolerable. By design, we grant college degrees to humanities and social sciences majors with zero systemic comprehension of math or science and no working foreign language skills. While not by design, we do little to prevent people from graduating with horribly unsophisticated writing, or without a comprehensive knowledge of their supposed discipline. An English major who's read no more Shakespeare than Macbeth and a few sonnets. A history major who can't tell you who studied abroad in Paris and didn't know that it had been occupied by the Nazis in World War II. A political science major who can't explain proportional representation. (Every single one of these things from a job interview I have performed in recent years -- and, no, these students weren't stupid in the ordinary sense of the world -- just ignorant as hell.)
posted by MattD at 1:53 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


@anogbrowl those conference centers are money generators and don't reflect what students sit in.

Oh please, I know the difference between a conference center and a campus. Especially when there's a class leaving the room I'm about to enter, or I'm friends with the student organizing the event I'm attending.
posted by anigbrowl at 1:56 PM on May 8, 2011


No way. The notion that these are useless degrees because current market conditions don't compensate the knowledge gained adequately, is part of the point of the article. The article is decrying the predatory market influenced course that higher education is speeding towards, in which whole departments (strands of knowledge) and people are just expendable labor. Knowledge and people shouldn't be expendable, and a country as wealthy as the US of A, shouldn't treat some of its brightest citizens in this way – let alone any citizen, for that matter. I could go on, and on, but I'd suggest reading the article again, because the author says this way better.

These are all clichés, both in your comment and in the article, and in this case they don't even really address what pla was saying. We can agree that liberal arts degrees are useful--but you can argue that they're even more useful when paired with a practical education.

For what it's worth, I would make an adjustment to the proposal such that liberal arts majors are divided into two tracks. The PhD track would require much more serious work: independent research, publications, a large thesis--possibly a 5-year degree with a quasi-masters at the end. The non-PhD track would require you to pair your major with something like engineering or accounting.

In any case, vague platitudes like "we SHOULD be supporting the liberal arts!" or whatever don't get at the core of the issue at all. If wishes were horses, beggars would ride.
posted by nasreddin at 1:56 PM on May 8, 2011


We're talking about faculty administrative positions like deans, president, etc., not functionaries, craichead. Wives never held those jobs. As I said, there are credible claims that students fair much better when the big boss actually spent 15+ years doing research and teaching.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:59 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, my argument is that if people like pla, with pla's contempt for fields of study that don't yield immediate economic benefit, ran society, we would be facing continual economic crises, widespread unemployment, the decline of the middle classes, the increase of poverty, the decline of effective democracy, and the increasing concentration of wealth and power in a few hands.

oh.

which is to say, we in America are already trying pla's ideas, and we're beginning to reap the results. And, what's more, we tried the opposite in the 50s and 60s and saw the biggest, longest boomtime America has ever known.

Overspecializing in market-approved useful fields (the list of which right now consists of finance, business, and I guess maaaybe engineering) is a perfect way to win short-term efficiencies and lose the ability to adapt meaningfully. And then to fail, messily.

I am arguing, basically, that the market, left to its own devices, is dumb. It's a sucker. It thinks maybe half a move ahead. Because it is dumb and a sucker, it is being suckered. It is, in fact, suckering itself. The state of higher education right now is just one example, if possibly the clearest, of the market's suckerhood. Nevertheless, because I am at core an optimist, I think that the market, when properly contained to areas where it is useful and when properly trained can become marginally intelligent. However, with people who take the basic intelligence of the market as an article of faith in charge, no one will ever, ever, housebreak the thing.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:06 PM on May 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


While this brings back some awful memories it also makes me glad I'm as old as I am. I remember being told very seriously by more than one faculty member that "only fools and foreigners get graduate degrees in engineering."

That was in 1983.

My wife is six years older than me, and between her college years and mine loans replaced Pell grants. But I was OK; I've never been less than four or five standard deviations north of center on any standardized test I've ever taken, so I had a full scholarship. And I'd skipped a grade and I skipped a year of college. So I was 20 and a junior when I had a disastrous row with my parents over the issue of meeting my (now) wife and when I lost the scholarship by .01 grade point I had to step back and seriously ask myself what the fuck I was doing.

It was already clear that engineers were disposable and that my degree wouldn't be worth the paper it was printed on by 1990. My parents didn't get this and insisted that they'd kick me out of the house if I tried to change my major. (I'm living proof that not all Tiger Parents are Chinese.)

Ultimately it was too much to bear so I left both school and home and started looking for a job. Fortunately I was one of those kids whose hobby in the late 1970's was dicking around with computers and it got me a couple of starts, one of which turned out very well.

The thing I saw when I was looking at my financial options in 1984 was that college was already turning into a scam. If improving myself (which was a lot of work) benefitted society, why was I supposed to be punished for doing that with crippling loans and no guarantee that I'd actually get the good job I was supposedly qualifying myself for? My father, who had gotten his BS in Physics in the late 1960's and his Ph.D. in the early 1970's had no idea. But the stink of desperation was already in the air.

It was already a running joke that if you were a humanities major you should practice saying "Want fries with that?" Yes, in the 1980's. The economy was almost as terrible then as it is now, but the college situation did not improve during the Clinton era economic rebound.

I think the real reason most parents push their kids into college is class; if they're blue-collar they want junior to be "better," and if they're white-collar they certainly don't want junior "losing his place." But nowadays, if what you want to do is make money and live well, what you need to do is find a niche which probably won't involve so much education.

One of the most successful people I know started mowing lawns when he was a sophomore in high school. By his senior year he had four other students working for him and was making nearly as much money as his father. After graduation he really took the business off, and last I heard he was making a couple of hundred thousand dollars a year. He only works hard for the half-year strong growing season in NOLA. And since he lives modestly he has enough money in the bank that he pretty much shrugged his way through the Katrina gap.

If I had a child I would tell him: Apprentice yourself to a plumber. Join a construction crew. Learn surveying. These are skills that are always needed, can't be outsourced, and don't change much over time. Only go to college if the call of the knowledge you will get there is irresistable, and be prepared to pay dearly for it.
posted by localroger at 2:06 PM on May 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


We're talking about faculty administrative positions like deans, president, etc., not functionaries, craichead. Wives never held those jobs.

The point isn't that wives held those jobs; the point is that much of the work was done (behind the scenes) by the wives of the men who held those jobs.
posted by enn at 2:06 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


We're talking about faculty administrative positions like deans, president, etc., not functionaries, craichead.
First of all, we're not. The top part of the quote reads as follows:
What we have seen instead over the past forty years, in addition to the raising of a reserve army of contingent labor, is a kind of administrative elephantiasis, an explosion in the number of people working at colleges and universities who aren’t faculty, full-time or part-time, of any kind. From 1976 to 2001, the number of nonfaculty professionals ballooned nearly 240 percent, growing more than three times as fast as the faculty.
Most of those people are "functionaries." And also, the "careerist" career path often starts in pretty lowly areas of university administration, and then you move up. That's the way that careers work.
posted by craichead at 2:07 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I used to regret going into medicine and not pursuing a PhD and academia (one can do that as an MD, but it is a different kind of beast); but the way things have gone, I made the right economic choice. Although I give PhDs all the credit in the world—they're in many ways smarter and more dedicated than me or most of my MD brethren.
posted by adoarns at 2:11 PM on May 8, 2011


Overspecializing in market-approved useful fields (the list of which right now consists of finance, business, and I guess maaaybe engineering) is a perfect way to win short-term efficiencies and lose the ability to adapt meaningfully. And then to fail, messily.

More clichés. How is combining liberal arts majors with more specialized useful ones any worse than having an army of liberal arts majors who don't know anything? (I'm a grad student in history. I'm generally much more impressed by science undergrads than I am by liberal arts students.)

I've seen no evidence that a few semesters' worth of bullshitted 10-12 page papers about the theme of blood in Eugene O'Neill leads to any meaningful increase in societal adaptability, whatever that means. In fact, I've never seen the liberal arts side of this debate move beyond vacuous generalizations about critical thinking and "ability to communicate effectively" (clearly you haven't been reading the papers I have). Give me some evidence, from social science, history, or anywhere else, and we can have a discussion.
posted by nasreddin at 2:13 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can't tip a buick identifies business, finance, and possibly engineering as useful fields. I have to completely disagree, you are buying the crap that is being shoveled by the very system you seem to despise. Business is a joke of a degree, finance at least teaches you skills, and engineering is pretty much the definition of a degree that is of practical skill and real-world application. The post war boom was not due to the glut of sociologists, literary critics, and philosophers. It had to do with the realities of finishing an industrial revolution, the beginnings of a service economy, massive overseas expansion, and an unprecedented class of young Americans with money and varied educational pursuits.
posted by karmiolz at 2:15 PM on May 8, 2011


anigbrowl: I teach at a UC. If I want to show anything on a computer in class I have to bring it myself. And I'm lucky if when I get into the classroom there's chalk.

Me too. Actually, I can't ever remember there being chalk.
posted by k8t at 2:17 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Forcing undergrads to pair their liberal arts degrees with "marketable" (whatever that means in this economy) majors might-- if it didn't glut the general job market even further-- reduce the number of baristas with BAs, but how would that change the PhD situation? The passionless C-students floating through their English classes fueled by weed and self-delusion aren't the ones who go into academia. Maybe they were in the 1970s, but not now.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:17 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


You Can't Tip a Buick : So, my argument is that if people like pla, with pla's contempt for fields of study that don't yield immediate economic benefit

Way to fail at reading comprehension. You missed the part where I said I have just shy of enough credits to have taken a liberal arts degree on top of my CS (and for the record, I do have a liberal arts AA, which before someone calls me out as a hypocrite, I took at a community college for under $2k total and transferred into a much more expensive 4-year as a junior).

The real problem here involves the actual value of a specialized non-trade-based education. Yes, a thorough mastery of "Aristotle and medieval philosophy" may well make someone a better person in general, they may have deep insights into the present human condition that most of us would need years of similar study to appreciate. They may make for wonderful dinner-guests, full of interesting tales of our past.

They don't, however, bring much to the table as a non-academic worker. Yes, I focus on learning the skills to get a good job, because regardless of how much we would like society to better appreciate knowledge in general, in this world, no one cares if you can serve up some Chaucer with their Big-Mac.

Now, I don' like it any more'n you do, man... But good luck finding an alternative to working for a living, simple as that.
posted by pla at 2:20 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


The problem is too many people getting way into debt getting useless degrees, and it's caused by out of control government subsidies. The government needs to stop guaranteeing loans that everyone knows are just going to burden promising kids with soul crushing levels of debt.
posted by empath at 2:26 PM on May 8, 2011


Forcing undergrads to pair their liberal arts degrees with "marketable" (whatever that means in this economy) majors might-- if it didn't glut the general job market even further-- reduce the number of baristas with BAs, but how would that change the PhD situation? The passionless C-students floating through their English classes fueled by weed and self-delusion aren't the ones who go into academia. Maybe they were in the 1970s, but not now.

I think it would do a few things:
1) It would give students the opportunity to expose themselves to new kinds of work that they might not have contemplated doing for a career if they've gone through life thinking they're gonna be a famous intellectual.
2) If my 2-track solution is the one we're working with, it would give prospective grad school applicants a taste of what actual professional work in the humanities is like--lots of people are surprised when they find out that English professors spend far more time talking about books about books than actually about books.
3) It would help keep people who graduate with no marketable skills outside of their humanities major from drifting into exploitative third-tier MA and PhD programs with low admissions standards and zero funding. This is still a major problem, and in fact accounts for much of the PhD glut.
posted by nasreddin at 2:27 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


anigbrowl: I teach at a UC. If I want to show anything on a computer in class I have to bring it myself. And I'm lucky if when I get into the classroom there's chalk.

I'm talking about a little notebook-sized screen on the wall outside the classroom, where a plaque would be in a more low-tech environment. I'm sure it's not the case at every campus, but take a stroll through Boalt school of law at UC Berkeley, or through the new law school at UC Irvine, to name but two. They're very well appointed.

Just so we're on the same page: I know that buildings and other physical capital are differently funded from faculty salaries and other operating costs, and that money from tuition fees is managed differently from state spending, capital investment bonds, alumni gifts and so forth. Nor am I suggesting that classes should be held amidst crumbling ruins.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:27 PM on May 8, 2011


One of my majors is English literature at the University of British Columbia, and yes, it's absolutely a diploma mill. DO NOT GO TO SCHOOL HERE. The vast majority of students don't give a shit, don't say a word, take notes in the back of the lecture and regurgitate it onto their finals. Literature class sizes have gone from 18 to 65 in the last decade at UBC, while tuition costs have increased over 100%. Generally there are only 3-5 students per class interested in talking with the professor, researching the subject matter, or you know, learning. Everyone else is there to get a piece of paper that they expect will provide immediate financial benefit. Many are soft business degrees completing arts/composition requirements, or, god forbid, cognitive science majors. They're in for a rude awakening.

In one class in March, a professor showed a slide of a battery hen operation and said "This is your education now." I asked what that made him, and he sighed. He's the poor chicken farmer earning a 15k salary working for Tyson Foods. In another class this March, the professor told my group that we were the best class she'd taught in over 5 years, and had renewed her faith in undergraduates. I was horrified because it wasn't outside of my normal experience outlined above.

Nobody hates this trend more than the professors. The students are largely ignorant. The adminstration is generally malevolent.
posted by mek at 2:31 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The problem is too many people getting way into debt getting useless degrees, and it's caused by out of control government subsidies.

Agreed. But people should not be going to PhD programs that will put them in debt in the first place-- and this is a problem totally unrelated to the disappearance of tenure-track jobs.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:31 PM on May 8, 2011


I would also suggest that there's no reason a double major in a humanities field and a "useful" field (with the possibility of a single-major profession-oriented 5-year program as an alternative) shouldn't be a requirement for most 4-year colleges, both for students in humanities fields and in useful fields. Gen-ed requirements as they exist today are a gigantic joke unless they're made into a cornerstone of the institution (e.g., St. John's). Intro classes don't teach you anything, and a single additional class on top of that barely even gives you a sense of the advanced material in that field.
posted by nasreddin at 2:31 PM on May 8, 2011


(I'm a grad student in history. I'm generally much more impressed by science undergrads than I am by liberal arts students.)

Good for you. Now lets develop a system of higher education based on your subjective impressions. Your arguments are cliché as well my friend. Sure, let's develop systems of education that value both the liberal arts as well as the "more practical" fields of study. BUT, this all begs the question: how is this ever going to be possible in a land that doesn't value knowledge or the people who create and maintain it? RTFA before you declare that I've written more cliché's.
posted by nikoniko at 2:31 PM on May 8, 2011


oinopaponton : but how would that change the PhD situation?

Two reasons.

The first, I already mentioned - Many grad students put up with near-abusive advisors simply because they have no choice. If they had something to fall back on (aka "get a job other than as a lab-slave"), I seriously believe you'd see them both treated better and fewer would stick it out when they realize that perhaps they don't want a career in academia.

Second, imagine yourself graduating this month with a BA in Greek Literature. You have zero chance of getting a job and $80k in debt that comes due if you don't go on to grad school. What do you do?
Now imagine the same scenario, but you also have a civil engineering degree - Congrats, Obama has handed you a career on a silver platter; would you still go on to grad school?

You may well still answer "yes" to that question, and I would respect you for doing so; but you would do so out of choice, not because you have no realistic alternatives.
posted by pla at 2:32 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


The real problem here involves the actual value of a specialized non-trade-based education.
The problem with this is the same at the undergrad level as it is at the grad level: a lot of students get "specialized trade-based education" that doesn't actually prepare them for careers that they will be able to enter. At my institution, everyone's talking about this recent NYT article about business majors, which points out that business majors have the lowest average GMAT scores of students in any major. Students who want jobs in PR or corporate communications often feel that they need to be Communications Studies majors, but I'm not convinced that you're any more likely to get one of those jobs with a communications degree than with an English degree and a lot of PR experience. So maybe you're better off majoring in what you want and figuring out which student groups on campus need people to do publicity.

I think that part of the problem is that we don't give college students in general very good information about career planning, whether they're going to use that information to decide whether to go to grad school or what to major in or how to build a resume. But that's partly because nobody can predict the future, and I think everyone is a bit at a loss about how to plan a career right now.
posted by craichead at 2:35 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


And for what it's worth, I'm hearing fairly grim things about the job market in engineering right now.
posted by craichead at 2:37 PM on May 8, 2011


Good for you. Now lets develop a system of higher education based on your subjective impressions. Your arguments are cliché as well my friend. Sure, let's develop systems of education that value both the liberal arts as well as the "more practical" fields of study. BUT, this all begs the question: how is this ever going to be possible in a land that doesn't value knowledge or the people who create and maintain it? RTFA before you declare that I've written more cliché's.

I'm not exactly sure what your point is. What the hell is a "land that values knowledge"? Qing China was a good example of a land that valued knowledge: the examination system on which the whole imperial bureaucracy was based required decades of nose-to-the-grindstone study. I'm not sure Chinese culture got much out of it in the end. Even people who study Confucianism barely read any of the scholarship Qing literati produced.
posted by nasreddin at 2:37 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Double majoring in philosophy and computer science was one of the best decisions I ever made-and the way I got there was by trying out a lot of different classes in my freshman year, rather than just diving into an English major, which is what I thought I wanted to do. I was encouraged by my school's broad general education requirements-so even when I was experimenting with courses that didn't exactly capture my heart, I was still meeting requirements for my degree. Each major opened different doors; but as valuable has been being able to look at one set of options from the perspective of the other. The job I have now didn't really exist fifteen years ago; it's easy to imagine that the job I'll have in fifteen years might not exist now. College students have to learn how to be adaptable; there aren't too many careers that you can ride to on rails, if there ever were.
posted by Kwine at 2:37 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


anigbrowl - I couldn't even fathom that at my UC (SB) or any of the UCs that I've spent time in. I don't know if the law schools are exceptional though. They may have buildings with people associated with them and there is some weird reason for those plaques.

A new building was planned to be built and then the budget crisis hit. It was determined (after a long process) that it would be cheaper to finish the building than it would be to deal with the lawsuits from the construction companies/contractors/etc. for stopping the work part of the way through.

When we moved in the new building, all signage had to be created by departmental computers (with a special font at least), printed in grey scale, and slipped into the plaques.

Other examples:

- We have to BEG for letterhead and envelopes (yes, I realize that people were probably using envelopes to send in other mail) but I've had to write a memo justifying why I need the letterhead.

- Office allocation is ridiculous and reflects your relationship with the dean more than anything else.

- (the biggest thing...) Students are taking whatever class they can get into in their own major, as graduating seniors. Waitlists are long and competitive. Students come crying, begging, that they have to take your class to graduate and it is the only one that can fit in their schedule. These are big classes too... offered annually. This wasn't as big of a problem a few years ago.
posted by k8t at 2:40 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


You have zero chance of getting a job and $80k in debt that comes due if you don't go on to grad school. What do you do?

That would be a terrible reason to go to graduate school in the humanities, and people should not do that. I can only speak from my experience, but about half of my cohort came into the program after spending time doing something "practical" (we have several lawyers, people who worked for the government, and people who worked in business. In fact, I myself left a job in business that I got with my "useless" undergrad degree). Maybe this is different at other universities, but it is absolutely not my experience that people go for the PhD because they actually are not able to do anything else.

My advisors are very nice people, so I don't really know what to say to your first point.
posted by oinopaponton at 2:46 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


pla: I note how you keep switching to talking about individuals needing to work for a living. That question is solved. Yup: "don't work, don't eat" should in fact be how things are run. I am saying that:
  1. overproducing plumbers and MBAs and underproducing philosophers, mathematicians, sociologists, historians, literary critics, physicists, chemists, biologists, and so forth,
  2. or alternately tracking everyone who isn't born wealthy into the plumber-and-MBA track
  3. (which is what we will be doing RSN, since more and more people are following the very sensible advice for individuals offered on this thread)
  4. will screw us all.
  5. And that the way to avoid screwery is to use the power of the democratically elected state to pay, out of tax funds, for the things that we might need but which the market is too dumb to identify as needs. It reads as weirdly utopian to type that today, even though it's something we managed to do just fine, without either bankrupting the country or wrecking business through overtaxation, from the 1950s to 1980. It probably is weirdly utopian now, because there's a good chance we're too far gone down the road you and yours in the American right wanted. I am not making a "justice for individual grad students" argument. I am making a "good schools help the economy and the nation, and bad schools kill both" argument. I am going off of a hunch that the quality of schools in America in the 50s and 60s had something to do with the increases in quality of life in America in those decades.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:47 PM on May 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


I am going off of a hunch that the quality of schools in America in the 50s and 60s had something to do with the increases in quality of life in America in those decades.

A hunch, eh? Find any of that evidence I asked for?
posted by nasreddin at 2:51 PM on May 8, 2011


I'm sorry, maybe that was a little too snarky. The most obvious explanations for increasing quality of life in the '50s and '60s include the postwar manufacturing dominance of the United States and the fact that organized labor was powerful enough to have major leverage over employers. If you can show me some evidence that quality of life had something to do with the number of liberal-arts college graduates that the system produced, then we can talk--otherwise it's just handwaving.
posted by nasreddin at 2:54 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Nope, just a hunch.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:55 PM on May 8, 2011


k8t: I had a lot of those crying students last fall. I was teaching an elective, so you hope everyone there has some interest in it - but for some of my students it was just a course in the major that they didn't particularly care about, but all the other classes they preferred more were full. And I was turning people away, because I had a long waiting list myself. (and plenty of students from other departments wanted to take the course - and I hope would have added something to it - but I couldn't let them in...)
posted by madcaptenor at 2:56 PM on May 8, 2011


I agree madcaptenor. I tried to make my courses sound as specific as possible so that only those who wanted to be there would enroll.

hahahahahahahaha
posted by k8t at 2:58 PM on May 8, 2011


The most obvious explanations for increasing quality of life in the '50s and '60s include the postwar manufacturing dominance of the United States and the fact that organized labor was powerful enough to have major leverage over employers.
I don't think you can dismiss the GI Bill quite that easily. One of the really big changes in American life in the post-war era had to do with rapidly expanding opportunities for higher education. I'm not sure how to tease out the relationship between that and the factors you mentioned.
posted by craichead at 2:59 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nope, just a hunch.

Okay then. At least pla bothered to back up his claims with something specific.
posted by nasreddin at 2:59 PM on May 8, 2011


anigbrowl - I couldn't even fathom that at my UC (SB) or any of the UCs that I've spent time in. I don't know if the law schools are exceptional though.

I'm not an expert; my understanding is that so many people decided to sit out the recession in a law school that the institutions were insulated from a lot of the economic pain. This year enrollments are sharply down, and a lot of schools are suddenly looking at a very different financial forecast. There's been a a plethora of glossy brochures landing in my mailbox over the last few months telling me how I'd be a perfect fit for ____ law school, even though I haven't even released my LSAT scores.
posted by anigbrowl at 3:00 PM on May 8, 2011


I don't think you can dismiss the GI Bill quite that easily. One of the really big changes in American life in the post-war era had to do with rapidly expanding opportunities for higher education. I'm not sure how to tease out the relationship between that and the factors you mentioned.

Access to higher education, sure. In fact, the fact that the GI bill made higher education affordable is the reason we have all these tenured professors today.

But what any of that has to do with the number of people who majored in the liberal arts--or what it means in a setting where higher education is unsustainably expensive and constantly growing more so--is totally unclear to me. In fact, one of the hallmarks of the post-Sputnik educational push in the United States was a growing emphasis on math and science rather than the humanities.
posted by nasreddin at 3:02 PM on May 8, 2011


Yeah, maybe. Generally the money for a new building is allocated years before it is built. Building are also not often built with tuition money. So who knows.
posted by k8t at 3:02 PM on May 8, 2011


I dropped out of junior college and spent a few years partying instead and I'm making slightly less than my friends that went to school are, but I have 0 debt, and I don't really feel like I missed out on any education. Anything you want to know is on the Internet for free and if you take any interest in a subject, the only thing stopping you from being an expert in it is time.

I disagree. I think it misses something that most people in this thread are ignoring, and is one of the central points of the article: self education is fine, and is probably the best route for MOST people to learn esoteric fields of knowledge, but that information on the Internet doesn't self-generate.

Actual, peer reviewed, high quality research and academic thinking is best accomplished by the imperfect graduate system that we've developed as a country. The content of a course is only part of it, the other part is a community of practice, standards for the field, and rigorous research. With self education you don't get that. More than the problem of bunch of unemployed, over-educated people (ask Mubarak how that turned out, by the way) is the problem of intellectual stagnation within these fields.

It's astounding how this, and so many other stories, reflect a desire of the wealthy to return to the gilded age. The idea that higher academic pursuits, like studying literature, or social sciences, should be the strict domain of the children of the wealthy and an elect few middle and lower class "brought up" by way of scholarships is insane. That's not what this country is about. But greed seems to be ruling the day, and as the article says, we're not just eating our seed-corn, we're trampling that shit to mud.
posted by codacorolla at 3:03 PM on May 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick : overproducing plumbers and MBAs and underproducing philosophers, mathematicians, sociologists, historians, literary critics, physicists, chemists, biologists, and so forth

On what do you base your claim that we underproduce those categories, though? If the working world had any real demand for them, we wouldn't need to have this discussion.

Instead, others have already pointed this out - We have a glut of liberal arts generalists competing for much smaller number of "degree required, but we don't care which degree" jobs.


nasreddin : Okay then. At least pla bothered to back up his claims with something specific.

Huh? Has this gone too "about me"? I'll bow out if it has, I just thought we had a pretty good discussion going on...
posted by pla at 3:05 PM on May 8, 2011


This is depressing.

My son's entering a master's program for philosophy this fall with the intention of either being able to gain entrance to a toptier PhD. program or failing that, law school. So do I just buy stock in top ramen right now???
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 3:15 PM on May 8, 2011


It's astounding how this, and so many other stories, reflect a desire of the wealthy to return to the gilded age. The idea that higher academic pursuits, like studying literature, or social sciences, should be the strict domain of the children of the wealthy and an elect few middle and lower class "brought up" by way of scholarships is insane. That's not what this country is about. But greed seems to be ruling the day, and as the article says, we're not just eating our seed-corn, we're trampling that shit to mud.

Well, I'm not wealthy, and it might seem that I'm proposing something akin to that. I just recognize that members of the lower and middle class have other concerns which need to be addressed first, and that the way of addressing them in academia has been "sucker can take out a loan!"

I'll be the first to admit that dangling kernels of knowledge in front of students barely out of their teens is tempting indeed. I wasn't exactly in a hurry to get an accounting degree or become a plumber at 18, and my time in academia has made my critical thinking and knowledge undoubtedly better. Sadly, I can't help but turn that critical thought process to my experiences in college and graduate school, too, and see that there's something deeply broken in the way we set up our system, where, for people who are poor, the option is really just to dig oneself into debt to be able to learn. I don't know what the answer is. My gut reaction is that maybe the UK system, with its state-mandated testing to determine the type of colleges you can get into, and its focus on a fairly narrow concentrated of courses from the outset, and its general/relative low cost, might be more genuinely democratic. But I don't know, I don't know that much about it, but I'm probably missing something in there.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:18 PM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


My son's entering a master's program for philosophy this fall with the intention of either being able to gain entrance to a toptier PhD. program or failing that, law school. So do I just buy stock in top ramen right now???

Hate to say it, but probably, yes. He knows that law school is not really a viable back-up plan these days, right?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:20 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


self education is fine, and is probably the best route for MOST people to learn esoteric fields of knowledge, but that information on the Internet doesn't self-generate.

Yes, a million times this. Maybe this just isn't something the general public understands: when scholars don't have jobs that allow them to be productive and healthy, research stands still. I'm personally okay with the idea of me having to work outside academia eventually, but that doesn't mean I'm okay with watching the field I love suffer as a result of profit-driven university administration decisions. American universities are heading in a direction that cripples good research and writing, and not for any lack of ready and willing talent.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:22 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Have any universities actually shuttered their English or Philosophy programs? Or is the damage being done on lower-demand majors/departments (various regional studies, language programs come to mind?)
posted by blargerz at 3:24 PM on May 8, 2011


@St. Alia of the Bunnies, I would strongly recommend that he not go either of those routes and especially not taken on any debt to do so. IAAPhD
posted by k8t at 3:25 PM on May 8, 2011


What does a 5/5 or a 7/6 workload mean?
posted by gjc at 3:25 PM on May 8, 2011


Five classes taught fall semester/five classes taught spring semester and seven fall/six spring. That is a very heavy teaching load.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:26 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


My son's entering a master's program for philosophy this fall with the intention of either being able to gain entrance to a toptier PhD. program or failing that, law school. So do I just buy stock in top ramen right now???

Unless he's left already, I'd honestly recommend not thinking about what to do next until he's done his 20.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:27 PM on May 8, 2011


gjc - it means the number of courses that you teach per term (semester in this case).

IME, a new assistant professor at a research university aims for a 3/3. Tenured faculty, obviously, have less.

A 5/5 is usually something that an adjunct with no additional responsibilities (i.e. research or service on various committees) would do.

A 7/6 is totally nuts.
posted by k8t at 3:28 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


What does a 5/5 or a 7/6 workload mean?

5/5 is 5 classes in the fall and 5 in the spring. 7/6 is 7 in the fall and 6 in the spring.

"Standard" teaching loads at a research university are about 2/2, though elite schools are slowly shifting towards, if anything, 2/1. Standard loads at a Directional State University are commonly 3/3 or 4/4.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:29 PM on May 8, 2011


Actual, peer reviewed, high quality research and academic thinking is best accomplished by the imperfect graduate system that we've developed as a country. The content of a course is only part of it, the other part is a community of practice, standards for the field, and rigorous research. With self education you don't get that.

Yes, a million times this. Maybe this just isn't something the general public understands: when scholars don't have jobs that allow them to be productive and healthy, research stands still. I'm personally okay with the idea of me having to work outside academia eventually, but that doesn't mean I'm okay with watching the field I love suffer as a result of profit-driven university administration decisions. American universities are heading in a direction that cripples good research and writing, and not for any lack of ready and willing talent.

Is there any evidence whatsoever that the pace of research and innovation has slowed?
posted by empath at 3:29 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


@ROU_Xenophone LOL at "Directional State University"...

I told my advisor that I refused to apply to any school with a direction in its name that wasn't USC or Northwestern.

(That was like... 3 job market cycles ago. ;))
posted by k8t at 3:35 PM on May 8, 2011


Learning the basics of being an engineer has been one of the great joys of my young life. I have been thinking about grad school for a while, but the clamor of a higher education bubble has become louder in recent months, not just here but all over the place. Would I be crazy not to take my BS into the workforce next year and start paying down my debt, given the opportunity?
posted by anifinder at 3:38 PM on May 8, 2011


Is there any evidence whatsoever that the pace of research and innovation has slowed?

I don't know of any studies (who would even do them?), but the bulk of recent scholarship done in my specific area of research, which was pioneered by American scholars, is now done by Europeans. Also, adjuncts don't have time to research. Unless the tenured profs are really stepping up their productivity, what do you think the result of a smaller proportion of employed American PhDs able to research and publish is?
posted by oinopaponton at 3:39 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


We are categorically not overproducing liberal arts specialists: there's more demand for them than there has ever been (check that: to be fair there was slightly more demand for them before the crash than now. A quick 'n' dirty way to find how much demand there are for liberal arts specialists is to look at how many undergrads are enrolled in colleges, and especially how many undergrads have declared liberal arts majors). In historical terms, though, demand is way, way up: it's just that we have collectively decided that, on the whole, liberal arts specialists should work without being paid a living wage, and that they should therefore have the foresight to have either trust funds, spouses who are compensated for their labor, or a willingness to starve. This decision was made relatively recently: keep in mind that the category of non-tenure-track college instructor didn't even really exist until the mid-70s.

I assure you, even though people aren't rational economic actors on the whole, starvation wages will suppress the supply of liberal arts specialists over the coming decades.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:41 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


anifinder: Would I be crazy not to take my BS into the workforce next year and start paying down my debt, given the opportunity?

Yes.
posted by localroger at 3:41 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is there any evidence whatsoever that the pace of research and innovation has slowed?

In my field, like oinopaponton's, the really innovative work is being done in Europe where there is way better funding.

Pace? Well, it depends how you conceptualize pace.

I think that "productivity" has increased in my field, as far as I understand, but also there was a major change in that journals are now mostly electronic - thus submissions, reviews, editing, etc. are faster (supposedly) and the barriers to submit are a lot lower. You just flip your citation manager to that journal's style and you're go to go.

Also, from what I understand, the stakes are higher. In my field now, to get a good tenure track job, you likely need at least a few publications under your belt and at least 1 or 2 in a major journal. Having a super sexy research area will probably help. Having a super famous advisor will probably help. But as I understand it, getting a tenure track job was "easier" in the past without one having to have some pubs under the belt.
posted by k8t at 3:44 PM on May 8, 2011


the category of non-tenure-track college instructor didn't even really exist until the mid-70s.

This claim is highly misleading. Tenure was only normalized as an assumed condition of academic employment in the post-GI Bill era. It certainly wasn't the norm before then except at very elite institutions.
posted by nasreddin at 3:44 PM on May 8, 2011


A quick 'n' dirty way to find how much demand there are for liberal arts specialists is to look at how many undergrads are enrolled in colleges, and especially how many undergrads have declared liberal arts majors

....

In historical terms, though, demand is way, way up: it's just that we have collectively decided that, on the whole, liberal arts specialists should work without being paid a living wage, and that they should therefore have the foresight to have either trust funds, spouses who are compensated for their labor, or a willingness to starve. This decision was made relatively recently: keep in mind that the category of non-tenure-track college instructor didn't even really exist until the mid-70s.


This is just not how economics works. If wages are down, it's because there is more supply than there is demand. An increase in students getting liberal arts degree does not indicate at all an increase in demand for those who have those degrees. It does indicate an increase in supply, which would explain the low wages.
posted by empath at 3:47 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


A quick 'n' dirty way to find how much demand there are for liberal arts specialists is to look at how many undergrads are enrolled in colleges, and especially how many undergrads have declared liberal arts majors

First of all, I'm not sure what the total number of undergrads (and even liberal arts majors) tells you about the demand for specialists. If anything, it tells you about the assumed value of a college degree (any college degree). A much better metric is the success of things like nonfiction book and journal publishing and the sales of works by leading liberal arts specialists. That metric is not encouraging, especially if you consider the success of people like Stephen Ambrose (kicked out of the historical profession for plagiarism), Jared Diamond (who opines on issues unrelated to his specialty and has no real liberal-arts background), and Malcolm Gladwell (no graduate degree).
posted by nasreddin at 3:52 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


But where would Jared Diamond be if he didn't climb on the backs of people who actually know what they were talking about? It's not like he himself interacted with the primary sources when he wrote Guns, Germs, and Steel. Most humanities scholars aren't that good at selling themselves to the public, but that doesn't mean their work is fundamentally uninteresting.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:03 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick : A quick 'n' dirty way to find how much demand there are for liberal arts specialists is to look at how many undergrads are enrolled in colleges, and especially how many undergrads have declared liberal arts majors)

That begs the question, YCTaB. You can't say we have a demand for them because a lot of people take those majors. That indicates a demand for "an easy degree" nothing more.


it's just that we have collectively decided that, on the whole, liberal arts specialists should work without being paid a living wage

We don't pay them more because they have no skills that would earn them more. Simple as that. "Generally well educated" doesn't get code written, bridges build, accounts reconciled, or even, to use your own example (an odd one, since it doesn't require a degree), pipes sweated.
posted by pla at 4:05 PM on May 8, 2011


That metric is not encouraging, especially if you consider the success of people like Stephen Ambrose (kicked out of the historical profession for plagiarism), Jared Diamond (who opines on issues unrelated to his specialty and has no real liberal-arts background), and Malcolm Gladwell (no graduate degree).
Seriously? Do you think the world doesn't need biologists because Gina Kolata doesn't have a PhD?
posted by craichead at 4:05 PM on May 8, 2011


I'm not saying it's uninteresting. I'm saying there's no indication of a demand for it. It's not like the books are unavailable, either: there are piles of used and remaindered academic books sitting around anywhere you care to look. Even with small print runs, presses can barely even give them away.
posted by nasreddin at 4:06 PM on May 8, 2011


Seriously? Do you think the world doesn't need biologists because Gina Kolata doesn't have a PhD?

Biologists aren't evaluated as a profession on the basis of their ability to write books. Liberal-arts scholars are.
posted by nasreddin at 4:08 PM on May 8, 2011


Biologists aren't evaluated as a profession on the basis of their ability to write books. Liberal-arts scholars are.
Liberal arts scholars are evaluated on their ability to produce scholarship that adds significant new insights to the field. Rehashing other people's stuff in a simplistic way that makes readers feel smart is a good way to make some money, but it doesn't qualify.
posted by craichead at 4:10 PM on May 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unless he's left already, I'd honestly recommend not thinking about what to do next until he's done his 20.

The AF is just chockheavy with officers and offered him early out. August he starts school. At least he has a full stipend. And yes, he knows what his odds are with everything.


See, this is the thing. A finely trained mind has to be worth SOMETHING. Being able to think logically and clearly about things, being able to defend your thoughts, being able to parse nuance and so on, has to be worth SOMETHING. But I fear we live in a society so used to sound byte and slogan and choosing sides as if life were one big sporting event-it is discouraging for me to think that the life of the mind is turning out to itself be the most illogical path a person could take.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 4:10 PM on May 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


My son's entering a master's program for philosophy this fall with the intention of either being able to gain entrance to a toptier PhD. program or failing that, law school.

Law school is not to be undertaken lightly or treated as that thing that you do if none of your other plans work out. Even if the application rates keep going down as they did this year, there's still going to be a major glut of unemployed lawyers out there. If he really truly wants to be a lawyer, then maybe the time and effort and money is all worth it, but the fact that he's between law and a philosophy PhD suggests to me that he should maybe think a bit more about what he actually wants...?

I say this is as someone in a masters program with occasional law school urges of my own that I try to keep smacking down.
posted by naoko at 4:10 PM on May 8, 2011


Liberal arts scholars are evaluated on their ability to produce scholarship that adds significant new insights to the field. Rehashing other people's stuff in a simplistic way that makes readers feel smart is a good way to make some money, but it doesn't qualify.

I'm not sure what you're arguing here. I was discussing metrics for evaluating social demand for the liberal arts, and this one struck me as adequate. I'm not saying that we should be judging the field by the bestseller list. The crucial questions for me are: a) how well liberal-arts scholarship sells, b) how widely it's discussed, and c) what kinds of liberal-arts scholarship make it to public prominence. As far as I can tell, the answers are a) poorly, b) not widely at all, and c) the kinds of scholarship least representative of the work done in grad programs.

If you want to see a culture where the demand for professionalized liberal-arts specialists is high, go to France or Germany. People there actually buy books written by academics and approved by academics. They also discuss them. There's enough of a mass market that paperback books of criticism are sold widely and cheaply.
posted by nasreddin at 4:14 PM on May 8, 2011


My son's entering a master's program for philosophy this fall with the intention of either being able to gain entrance to a toptier PhD. program or failing that, law school. So do I just buy stock in top ramen right now???

If he was fresh out of school it would be one thing, but he was an AF officer? He will be fine, the MA will help him get into a top law school once he realizes he doesn't want a Phd :)
posted by blargerz at 4:17 PM on May 8, 2011


I think the key question here is whether the systems (undergraduate and graduate) are in need of incremental reform or in need of fundamental change.

I think a good case can be made that undergrad does not function to impart critical thinking and general education--or even specific education--skills very well. Cutting degrees to two or three years and supplementing education with a lot of technology would probably make a lot of sense. For example, if the best professor in the entire nation has lectured on a given topic, why shouldn't everyone simply watch a video of his lecture, do the assigned reading, and then maybe participate in a moderated online discussion, with TAs/professor available for office hours and online consultation? Maybe seminars could be occasional events. Regular computer-graded quizzes and problem-sets, frequently administered, could be highly effective teaching aids. Extra time could be used for internships, study abroad experiences, extracurricular activities, and so on.

Now as far as Ph.D. programs, programs in the sciences and perhaps even some of the social sciences have clear practical value for society by generating basic research. The question is, I guess, how many societal resources such programs should consume. What is the optimal number? As The Big Crunch points out, exponential growth in academia is likely forever over.

It's harder still to justify Ph.D. programs in the liberal arts apart from the simple idea of pursuing beauty and knowledge in the abstract. Perhaps they are best justified as producing increasingly sophisticated modes of thought -- and teachers of those modes of thought. Certainly in a few fields, like international relations, Ph.D. students can bring to bear this sophisticated thinking in, say, government positions.

Or perhaps society invests in these programs because, like a venture capitalist, it depends on a few superstars to make the entire investment profitable. Every once in a while the liberal arts section might pop out a John Rawls or Marshall McLuhan or John Dewey and make it all worthwhile.
posted by shivohum at 4:17 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't know where this hate-on derail for Jared Diamond came from, but I'm sitting here reading a glowing review of Collapse printed in the books and arts section of Nature by William Rees, one of those dreaded academes, in his case a Ph.D in population ecology. So no, I don't think most researchers resent Diamond for mainstreaming their work; they are quite glad for it.
posted by mek at 4:26 PM on May 8, 2011


St. Alia of the Bunnies: A finely trained mind has to be worth SOMETHING.

Things are worth what someone is willing to pay for them.
posted by localroger at 4:31 PM on May 8, 2011


So no, I don't think most researchers resent Diamond for mainstreaming their work; they are quite glad for it.

Did I come across as resenting Diamond? I didn't mean to. I don't resent anyone who makes intellectual ideas more accessible and fun. But what he does isn't scholarship. He basically digests the work of scholars for a general audience-- he doesn't do the actual research.
posted by oinopaponton at 4:31 PM on May 8, 2011


Since student loans have been brought up several times as a related issue, I hope that this information is not too much of a tangent:

Relevant to those of you fretting about your U.S. student loans: The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007 introduced two new programs, Income-Based Repayment and Public Service Loan Forgiveness. Basically, payments on your federal student loans can now be adjusted to ~10% of your income and if you go into a career in a "public service" field (e.g. government, education, health care, nonprofit) then the remaining balance is forgiven after 10 years.

If you focus on how the system actually functions instead of the terminology used to describe it, since the passage of the CCRAA it's not really a "loan" system anymore. Instead, the Department of Education now provides almost unlimited funding for students to pursue graduate education and once they graduate (or otherwise leave school) the DOE then levies what is effectively a progressive income tax on people who took advantage of this funding.

I wrote a long AskMe answer last year that went into a lot more detail about these new programs and elucidated some of the financial advantages of going back to and/or staying in grad school (full-time or part-time) even if you already have an "overwhelming" amount of student debt.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:40 PM on May 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, that's great, so you're now supposed to fucking TITHE to pay for your education?
posted by localroger at 4:45 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Education is great. Getting lectured, not so much.

Like many things, Lecturing is really beautiful when done well.

(and sometimes it takes years for the ideas to sink in).
posted by ovvl at 4:46 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


For example, if the best professor in the entire nation has lectured on a given topic, why shouldn't everyone simply watch a video of his lecture, do the assigned reading, and then maybe participate in a moderated online discussion, with TAs/professor available for office hours and online consultation?

Except that plenty of us would argue that the "best professor in the entire nation" doesn't lecture, and in fact that the best professors at many schools are the ones who don't lecture at all. And that even if one does lecture, different lectures are suited to different audiences, single lectures don't work outside of the context of the entire course, and having students watch a video of a lecturer is no different from just having them read the textbook.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:48 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


@localroger: If you can get your graduate education for free good for you, but for people who don't get a full ride, "tithing" 10% of one's income for 10 years (or until your loan is paid off, whichever comes first) is frequently a much, much better deal for the type of students/professionals who are the subject of this thread (i.e. people who stay in graduate school a long time and then go into academic or other public sector careers) than the terms of the old student loan system.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:52 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm now officially a failed academic. I've just left my PostDoc (which I hated, but that was more due to my specific circumstances than anything about PostDocs in general) and will soon be starting work with a federal government department. My job will involve research, but not in the discipline I studied (yay for transferable skills!). But I wont be doing the sort of research which can be published, so the academic job door is now effectively closed to me.

Part of the problem with us PhDs is that we've spent so much time devoted to a particular field that we believe we should be allowed to continue working in it. Whilst I may come back to my preferred field in some capacity, I'm currently mourning my attachment to my field in my life.

Most of us do, however, have pretty transferable skills. I know plenty of social science and humanities PhDs who have been spectacularly successful in the policy arena. I know a bunch more who are happily working for NGOs, doing research and managing programs and various other things. Almost none of these people are working in the discipline in which they studied. I imagine pretty much all of them came to the same point as I recently did and decided to abandon their first passion (because if the field you're not doing your PhD in is not your passion, you're doing it wrong) for the practicalities of a regular paycheque.

On the other hand, all of the PhDs I know who actually managed to get academic jobs are pretty miserable in them.

I guess, at the end of the day, no matter what I'm doing, I'll still be able to put "Dr" on my buisness card – I guess that makes all those years or work worth it :-)
posted by damonism at 4:56 PM on May 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Except that plenty of us would argue that the "best professor in the entire nation" doesn't lecture

I think non-lecturing professors outside the contexts of seminars are scarce indeed. And among those, the talent it takes to make "interactive" activities really good is scarcer still. Excellent seminars are also in short supply! A top-notch video lecture would beat 95% of the professors in either lecture-style or seminar-style classes. Heck, a video of the rara avis brilliant seminar discussion would likely beat 95% of seminars! And I've seen many online discussions that are far more informative than in-person seminars anyway.

All right, if there's a class or two with some really extraordinary non-lecturing professor, keep it, but modify the rest.

And that even if one does lecture, different lectures are suited to different audiences, single lectures don't work outside of the context of the entire course, and having students watch a video of a lecturer is no different from just having them read the textbook.


Right, so maybe it should be a great course chosen as a whole rather than a great lecture. Or a great hand-picked series of lectures that together form a course. And I disagree that an excellent lecture adds nothing to the textbook. It's another form of input and can be particularly valuable in cultivating enthusiasm for a subject if the professor is charismatic.
posted by shivohum at 5:12 PM on May 8, 2011


@Jacqueline my father had a fellowship. It did require that he do 2 years in the Navy and he only very narrowly avoided an involvement with Vietnam by getting posted to the Naval Postgraduate school at the last minute, but he did not pay one cent for his doctorate. For his undergraduate degree he had a full academic scholarship.

My wife, whose academic performance was perfectly ordinary, got her degree paid for in full by Pell grants. By the time I entered college such coverage was only available for the truly exceptional. Such as, at the time, myself.

The theory behind Pell grants was that it is in society's interest to have an educated next generation. Our society clearly no longer gives a shit about that. So for you, as an individual, to find refuge from what might be a coming economic storm, the things you were told about the usefulness of college were lies.
posted by localroger at 5:13 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think non-lecturing professors outside the contexts of seminars are scarce indeed.

Although I guess I'm not thinking of more lab-related science or engineering courses here. So those are exceptions.
posted by shivohum at 5:21 PM on May 8, 2011


I fully appreciate the benefits of a broad liberal arts education - I have one myself, and firmly believe it makes me better at communicating, a more effective worker overall, and even a better coder; That said, the "BS in Computer Science" gets me the jobs, not extra 80 credit hours I took in random other subject purely for enjoyment.

Don't be so sure of that. I know a guy who has run three successful tech companies who dismissed the vast majority of applicants as unable to think or communicate. They had good engineering or coding credentials and, apparently, adequate skills, but he could not be bothered to teach them to think about the problems he needed them to solve, assuming they could learn how. So, for him, those candidates had been really poorly prepared for the job market by a program that didn't stress the basics of a liberal education....
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:22 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Right, so maybe it should be a great course chosen as a whole rather than a great lecture. Or a great hand-picked series of lectures that together form a course."

The Teaching Company already does exactly what you propose (including written lecture outlines and suggested textbooks and other readings), just not for college credit. Perhaps a partnership could be formed with local colleges with the latter managing assignments, exams, and credits/degrees?
posted by Jacqueline at 5:27 PM on May 8, 2011


Are we all showing our bona fides to comment here? Mine: I'm ABD in one of the much maligned fields, philosophy. I went to a first tier school and my reasons for leaving academics weren't even economic since I was resigned to being poor forever. I hated the other people in my field and couldn't stomach the idea of being stuck with them the rest of my life, literally.


Now for what I want to comment on--isn't the concept of putting lectures online for the edification of all the very basis of the TED lectures? Isn't that universally considered an excellent way to spread knowledge to those who otherwise have no access to said?

I think privileging the academy over populist avenues for education is just another way to make a lot of us feel better about spending so much time writing papers on junk we can just wiki now.
posted by syncope at 5:31 PM on May 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


Threads like this are why I keep putting off grad school. I'm sure there's a large contingent of people like me, who have the drive and interest but forgo continuing education for purely financial reasons.

It would be a shame, but as far as I can tell I'm treated better in every definable metric working in "business" than I would be in the academy.
posted by 2bucksplus at 5:47 PM on May 8, 2011


I think non-lecturing professors outside the contexts of seminars are scarce indeed. And among those, the talent it takes to make "interactive" activities really good is scarcer still. Excellent seminars are also in short supply! A top-notch video lecture would beat 95% of the professors in either lecture-style or seminar-style classes. Heck, a video of the rara avis brilliant seminar discussion would likely beat 95% of seminars! And I've seen many online discussions that are far more informative than in-person seminars anyway.

I applied for jobs at primarily undergraduate teaching institutions, both public and private liberal arts (in the original sense of the term) colleges. If I had said that I intended to only lecture, I would never even have gotten interviews, let alone a job. I have to be prepared to use all kinds of active learning techniques, discussions, group work, and obviously, as a biologist, inquiry-based field and lab work, or I am not doing the job they for which I was hired and my students will not be getting the education they have been promised.

I understand that at many large research universities with large class sizes the only teaching method commonly used is lecture. But it doesn't have to be. I was a lab TA this semester for the course described (wow, I'm outing myself heavily today) and I can promise you that the students themselves told me that they got so much more out of the class than they would have from watching recorded lectures.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:49 PM on May 8, 2011


Nobody hates this trend more than the professors. The students are largely ignorant. The adminstration is generally malevolent.

To be fair, many of the students have curiosity beat out of them by a) a system that works less and less well as the state tries to pull out of it and b) the need to work to try and keep debt down.

Also, I have met many administrators who aren't malevolent. Some are, of course, but many are doing the best they can in a bad situation -- when the state's idea of "status quo" is years of $10M cuts to the budget, how are you supposed to staff the place, except with the most cost-cutting? Sure, you end up in a decade with a gutted system with no resources and no morale, but the state's not giving you much option. The state, of course, answers to the taxpayers (to some degree), who are outraged that tuition is as high as it is. Having come out of the system when it was working better, you think these people would understand that lowering the amount of tax money going into the university means raising the tuition or cheating the students, or both....
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:08 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Perhaps a partnership could be formed with local colleges with the latter managing assignments, exams, and credits/degrees?

Sounds like a great idea to me.

--

I have to be prepared to use all kinds of active learning techniques, discussions, group work,


Unless guided by an expert hand, I think these kinds of techniques can be disappointing. Yes, they sound good. But discussions often degenerate into small talk, or learning things from classmates who know as little as you. Group work can be shallow. Active learning often conveys the sense that you're learning something when you aren't.

But it doesn't have to be. I was a lab TA this semester for the course described (wow, I'm outing myself heavily today) and I can promise you that the students themselves told me that they got so much more out of the class than they would have from watching recorded lectures.

Hey, well this looks like an excellent course, and run with uncommon verve. In my experience the kind of dedication and caring that this professor puts in is likely just as responsible for his satisfied students as any specific technique he uses. I mean -- coming in 30 minutes before just to chat with people? This is not your average professor, and he's not easily replicable.

Moreover, just about everything in that blog post except the in-class polling and pre-class chatting could be packaged up and delivered online. If a video lecture is refined and refined so that it demonstrates, over many students, that it can deliver the information in a clear, concise way, and augmented by quizzes, etc., my guess is that that is about as good as can be hoped for on a mass scale.
posted by shivohum at 6:12 PM on May 8, 2011


And all of these techniques may work better when done by someone who knows what they're doing. But a lot of faculty don't necessarily know what they're doing; they don't have training in teaching. The best lectures are not as good as the best non-lectures, but the worst lectures are better than the worst non-lectures.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:23 PM on May 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


If I had a child I would tell him: Apprentice yourself to a plumber. Join a construction crew. Learn surveying. These are skills that are always needed, can't be outsourced, and don't change much over time. Only go to college if the call of the knowledge you will get there is irresistable, and be prepared to pay dearly for it.

I sort of agree, in that I do wish more people went to college because of a burning desire, and fewer because they feel expected to go.

But consider your examples. They won't be outsourced in the sense of sending your plumbing repair to a call center in India, but they can be "outsourced" in the sense of being deskilled, replaced with cheaper workers, and/or replaced with technology. And some of those fields have changed quite a bit -- a surveyor working today has to be conversant with GPS, CAD, and other high-tech stuff, while also being able to use tools and techniques that Lewis and Clark would recognize.

Anyway, I'm one of those ABD people who found (somewhat to my surprise) that the highly focused skills and specializations of grad school turned out to have a lot of value outside of academia, and be easily transferable into other areas. I'm doing very different work than what I went to grad school in, but I couldn't be doing it without that education, if that makes sense. I think that many grad students sell themselves woefully short, and are far more marketable outside of academia than they imagine.

Lastly, in case it needs to be reiterated, taking on debt in grad school (except in professional programs with robust employment prospects) is always a bad idea. As mentioned above, people use debt as their safety net, and while that's nice in the short run, it's brutal in the long term.
posted by Forktine at 9:12 PM on May 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


"Lastly, in case it needs to be reiterated, taking on debt in grad school (except in professional programs with robust employment prospects) is always a bad idea. As mentioned above, people use debt as their safety net, and while that's nice in the short run, it's brutal in the long term."

And it seems that I need to reiterate that this nugget of conventional wisdom about student debt being "always a bad idea" has been obsolete since the passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007.
posted by Jacqueline at 11:10 PM on May 8, 2011


But that depends on the graduates getting jobs in gov't, education or non-profits. What happens to the students that go into debt but then can't get jobs because the budget crisis in the States has slashed all hiring in those three fields (which are mostly dependent on gov't funding)? I do not have first-hand knowledge, but aren't those generally lower-paid female dominated jobs too? Because of course, women are financially supported by their husbands, and to get your foot in the door you often have to work an unpaid internship.
posted by saucysault at 2:53 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Unless guided by an expert hand, I think these kinds of techniques can be disappointing. Yes, they sound good. But discussions often degenerate into small talk, or learning things from classmates who know as little as you. Group work can be shallow. Active learning often conveys the sense that you're learning something when you aren't.

I'm sort of amazed by this response. Everything I have described is the bare minimum of good teaching at hundreds of undergraduate focused schools in the US and the daily use of these methods is because they work and provide the quality education that distinguishes. I know not everybody goes to schools focused on undergraduate education, but they exist, both public and private. I was lucky enough to go to St. John's, so I just sort of laugh at the idea that classroom discussions don't work since that's all we did for 4 years. However, as I have taken classes at several large state schools and a large private research university, and taught at a small liberal arts college, I have seen plenty of small classes where discussion, active learning, and inquiry-based education were wildly successful with student populations of diverse background and engagement with the subject.

I also don't know what "Active learning often conveys the sense that you're learning something when you aren't" even means. And then it occurs to me that we may be talking about entirely different types of education. If you are talking about rote learning of facts, then yes, of course, you can just watch some video and watching a video will pack in more facts per class session than discussion, active learning, or inquire-based activities. But I am talking about students gaining critical thinking and problem solving skills, the ultimate goal of all true liberal arts education, and I really don't see how that can possibly be done better than by actually having my students use those skills in class.

Finally, the idea that none of us gain teaching skills in grad school is also outdated. I took a semester long class on teaching in my discipline, went to dozens of workshops on pedagogy, spent a year in a Preparing Future Faculty program, TAd many classes, and had a teaching mentor at a small liberal arts college where I had multiple opportunities to teach. I am not that unusual. People have been discussing the "professors don't know how to teach" thing since the 60s, and universities are responding. Instead of basically outsourcing our jobs by having students watch videos, why not make sure that we know how to teach?
posted by hydropsyche at 4:24 AM on May 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was lucky enough to go to St. John's, so I just sort of laugh at the idea that classroom discussions don't work since that's all we did for 4 years.

Right, this is an outlier school by any measure. I'm not surprised that the classes here were excellent.

But I am talking about students gaining critical thinking and problem solving skills, the ultimate goal of all true liberal arts education, and I really don't see how that can possibly be done better than by actually having my students use those skills in class.

The problem is that there often isn't the space or time to go into depth about the pros and cons of any particular response to an inquiry-based activity. For example, the teacher might ask about how a particular study might be flawed. Well, there usually isn't enough time to go into the back-and-forth of it in depth, and often hearing other students talk about it is unenlightening, since these students usually put forth mundane criticisms, which is natural since they're just students.

Far often it is better to simply learn the arguments and counter-arguments that been put forth in the literature. Students then make these frameworks their own and that strengthens their critical thinking. They can then apply these skills in one-on-one discussions outside the classroom or in online discussions that have the capacity to be far more in-depth.

So most lectures end up being just ok, because being a gifted lecturer is a rare ability. And most "active learning" tends to be shallow and skim the surface of topics. But of course you say you've often seen it be "wildly successful." I'd venture to guess that where it has been successful, it's because of dedication and ability on the part of the teachers and students, not the techniques per se. Classes do of course teach things successfully, but in my experience most would be pretty easily replaceable.


Instead of basically outsourcing our jobs by having students watch videos, why not make sure that we know how to teach?


If they've been doing this since the 60s, I'm not impressed with the progress made.
posted by shivohum at 6:50 AM on May 9, 2011


I'm still having trouble visualizing the workload here. Someone has to teach three classes, which at the high end, means 12 hours of classroom time a week. (3 classes times 2 hours a piece times twice a week.) What is done with the rest of the time? Is this workload while one is also a student? How many books per year are expected to be written?
posted by gjc at 6:59 AM on May 9, 2011


Finally, the idea that none of us gain teaching skills in grad school is also outdated.

This is true. But the time where all of us gain teaching skills in grad school has not yet come. Some subjects and some universities are better about this than others.
posted by madcaptenor at 7:07 AM on May 9, 2011


Teaching a class is way more involved than just showing up to the classroom. You need to prepare lectures (this gets easier if you teach the same class more than once), hold office hours to meet with students, and grade papers and exams. Outside of the classroom, professors are expected to participate in department service, which means lots of long meetings about hiring decisions, curriculum requirements, etc. Most professors act as advisors to students, which means that they have to step into mentor/advocate shoes, read and edit dissertations, and write letters of recommendation. And then you have to do research on top of that, which, depending on your specialty, can mean lots of travel, tons of time spent in archives, etc. In history, you're expected to publish one book shortly after you get your first tenure track job, and another before you get tenure. New tenure track professors typically work about 60-70 hours a week.
posted by oinopaponton at 7:09 AM on May 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm still having trouble visualizing the workload here. Someone has to teach three classes, which at the high end, means 12 hours of classroom time a week. (3 classes times 2 hours a piece times twice a week.) What is done with the rest of the time?

Easily an equal amount of time per week is going to be spent doing work related to the class, either planning the next class sessions or grading student projects and such. Also there are administrative things required by the university for each class, plus there are many committees and such which professors are expected to serve on. Throw in a bit of your own research or writing, which also takes time, and then things like being part of student thesis panels... Also office hours, where you have to make yourself available...

It adds up pretty quickly. Teaching isn't just classroom time, and university life is a lot more complicated for faculty than simply dealing with your 3 classes a week.
posted by hippybear at 7:09 AM on May 9, 2011


(For a concrete number, my department tells TAs to devote 15 hours a week to each course taught, which includes attending all class sessions, leading one class a week, grading, and holding office hours.)
posted by oinopaponton at 7:20 AM on May 9, 2011


Far often it is better to simply learn the arguments and counter-arguments that been put forth in the literature. Students then make these frameworks their own and that strengthens their critical thinking. They can then apply these skills in one-on-one discussions outside the classroom or in online discussions that have the capacity to be far more in-depth.

Yes, but these techniques you both describe are complementary. Students are expected to read material (theory, literature, studies, textbooks, whatever) outside the class and be prepared to discuss and do group work on and with them when they are at class. In a lecture environment where you just rehash material presented in the text, attendance drops and apathy sets in because the class itself is basically remedial.
posted by mek at 8:46 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


My point is that the system has not collapsed, even if it is under great strain.
posted by fourcheesemac


It's just a little slimy. It's still good! It's still good!
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:32 AM on May 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm still having trouble visualizing the workload here. Someone has to teach three classes, which at the high end, means 12 hours of classroom time a week. (3 classes times 2 hours a piece times twice a week.) What is done with the rest of the time?

This has already been answered by oinopaponton and hippybear, but I'll throw in my experience too.

When I was teaching in grad school, I found the work very time-consuming and draining. The semesters that I taught 2 classes, I made pretty close to zero progress on my research. That was partly because I was inexperienced; a professor who has taught the same class several times will need less prep time. But the thing is, if you've only ever been a student and never a teacher, it is hard to imagine how much work goes into the class outside of class time. You see the teacher show up and, seemingly out of their sheer knowledgeableness, reel off a lecture or guide a discussion. Then you might turn in some written work or receive an assignment, but you don't see what goes into creating and grading the assignment. You might have an email exchange with your instructor outside of class, and to you it's a quick five-minute thing, but you don't see all the other email traffic the instructor has to deal with.

In a typical semester, for a typical course, here are some of the activities I would have to carry out: If you look at each of these pieces individually, they might not look very substantial (even the grading, going by my own numbers, would add up to roughly 30 - 60 hours spread out over the semester, or rather over a few intensely busy weekends per semester, because students don't like waiting 3 weeks to get their graded papers back). But it all adds up, and I can't even imagine how some people teach six or seven courses a semester.
posted by Orinda at 9:38 AM on May 9, 2011 [7 favorites]


So how do all the (usually science/math) TAs who obviously can't speak anything but Chinese yet manage all this? Is being a science TA just that much easier?
posted by jfuller at 3:00 PM on May 9, 2011


jfuller: a lot of them manage it by their students not coming to sections. I am speaking mostly as someone who didn't go to those sections when I was an undergrad. I remember one particular course, intro thermodynamics, where two sections met at the same time, one taught by someone who could barely speak English and one taught by someone who spoke it very well; I was officially enrolled in the first one but went to the second one, as did everyone else in that section.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:13 PM on May 9, 2011


So how do all the (usually science/math) TAs who obviously can't speak anything but Chinese yet manage all this? Is being a science TA just that much easier?

There are some differences between what Orinda described and my TAships in biology. We didn't really design anything ourselves when we TAed labs. Faculty taught the lectures, and we were usually handed the lab manual and quizzes and homework assignments as part of a weekly multi-hour meeting getting up to speed on what was to be done in lecture and lab that week. If one needed or wanted, very little effort was necessarily required on the part of a lab TA--the students can just do the lab straight out of the manual without guidance and they'll probably be okay. That said, I didn't know any TAs, including ESL TAs, who didn't at least try to do more, whether making up an introductory power point presentation or walking around talking to the students while they were doing the lab. We still had to have office hours and to do our own grading, as well as attend lecture so we could help the students with that material and help with grading of exams. I don't think someone who literally didn't know English would be able to do the job, but I also didn't know anybody who tried in my department.
posted by hydropsyche at 3:42 PM on May 9, 2011


Orinda can correct me, but I think that their comment describing what goes into teaching a course, not being a teaching assistant for a course. It just happens that some people are the sole instructor for courses in grad school and some are not. This depends on field, institution, financial support package, and other factors I'm probably not thinking of.
posted by madcaptenor at 3:59 PM on May 9, 2011


Yeah, to add a little clarification: my teaching experience was in the humanities, as a graduate instructor. Almost all the courses I taught were "writing intensive" and had certain institutionally mandated minimum requirements for how much writing the students should do. Most of the courses I taught were free-standing (I devised the syllabus and was the instructor of record), but some were discussion sections attached to a lecture (the professor devised the syllabus), and a couple were essentially free-standing but used a syllabus that I developed in collaboration with a small group of other instructors. My summary of teaching activities above is kind of a composite of the three types of courses, but almost all of the activities would be carried out in all of the courses. TAing for a lecture meant I was off the hook for choosing readings, but beyond that, I had practically all the same duties as in a free-standing course: I still had to meet with the students 150 minutes a week, come up with discussion topics and in-class activities, assign and grade papers, chase after wayward students and adjudicate late-paper excuses, etc. Teaching a free-standing course meant I didn't have to go to a weekly staff meeting as when TAing, but I did have to spend about 30 hours in pedagogical training and mentoring sessions. (If I were a professor or adjunct instructor, I probably wouldn't have to attend the pedagogical training, but I might have to oversee it!)

Teaching-related activities will vary between disciplines, ranks, and institutions, but the overall point is that in-class time is the tip of the iceberg. People who have only seen the workings of higher ed from a student's point of view may not realize how much work goes on outside the classroom to produce the syllabi, assignments, lectures, and evaluations they're presented with in class.
posted by Orinda at 7:27 PM on May 9, 2011


xref...
posted by kliuless at 6:33 AM on May 20, 2011


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